Monday 31 May 2010

Odds and Ends.

I am missing some images, so I went up to Elm Cottage today to take some more pics of the ball headed club I made many years ago. Whilst there I spotted a couple of other items so I took some pics of them also.

The ball headed club I made many years ago.

This split bag I also made a long time ago. It is worn under the belt or sash, half hanging down each side.

A reed holder, one of two made for me by my close friend the late Mr Geoff Howarth of Tamworth.

One of my favourite items, a grease lamp.

Saturday 29 May 2010

The Gun, The Knife, And the Axe, Oh and don't forget the Tinderbox!

The gun, knife and axe have always been the symbols of the woodsmen and pioneers, with these tools they could/can survive in the wilderness indefinately. I suppose the tinderbox was taken for granted as it does not get a mention, or perhaps these hardy people depended on the flint lock for making fire. Certainly many old cabins still have the bullet holes in the interior walls to the left of the fireplace, this from people who forgot to plug the vent on a loaded gun before making fire with the lock. One spark to find it's way into the vent is all it took to fire the gun!
Fire has been important to man since it was harnessed/used in the paliolithic period. It cooked meat which helped older people eat and therefore they lived longer. Fire meant warmth in winter and it kept carnivourous animals away from the camp and sleeping places. It is said that fire was responsible for the first social groups, the warmth and protection bringing people together. Fire is still important.

"Fire and candle" was a term used in the 17th century meaning one's home or dwelling:
"And if any ffreeman should bee absent out of the Citty a space of Twelve moneths and not keep fire and candle and pay Scott and lott should lose his freedom."

"The Pattent with the rest of Papers needful Given to the Jury, and the Sheriffe sworn to Keepe them from fire & candles & etc untill they bringe in their verdict."
Colonial American English; Words and Phrases Found in Colonial Writing, now Archaic, Obscure, Obsolete, or Whose Meanings Have Changed. Richard M. Lederer, Jr. A Verbatim Book, Essex, Connecticut. 1985.

Not being able to make fire in the wilderness at best could mean a very uncomfortable night, and at worse, death.
“…rain began hammering down so heavily that, one hundred miles from the nearest trees, and with nothing available but moss, nobody could start a fire.”

Samuel Hearne, 1770.
“Fierce winds and blowing snow reduced the men to huddling among large rocks, unable even to start a fire.”
Samuel Hearne, Canada, 1770.
“This induced me to resolve not to travel more by land without my gun, powder and shot, steel, spunge (punk wood) and flint, for striking a fire…”
Patrick Campbell, 1792.

So the ability to make fire is important, so we should do all we can, even when using primitive methods, to make sure that our equipment is first class. Here are some things you can do within historical boundaries to ensure that you can make fire under the worst conditions.
1) Learn the skills involved in primitive fire lighting, whether it be flint and steel or some other method. Learn where to find dry kindling in wet weather, and what you can do if you run out of prepared tinder.
2) Make sure you are carrying with you: Dry prepared tinder; a small amount of dry kindling in the form of dried grass and twigs; keep your fire works in a greased fire-bag to keep them dry; and make sure your fire works are always with you even when you are not carrying your main pack.

My greased leather fire-bag which contains my tinderbox, some kindling, and a small beeswax candle for helping dry out damp kindling and making it burn.

My gunpowder bag which when empty of gunpowder contains spare tinder. This bag or wallet is also greased to make it water resistant.

“ takes fire readily from the spark of a steel: but it is much improved by being kept dry in a bag that has contained gunpowder.”

Samuel Hearne, Northern Canada, 1772

Daniel Defoe and Jonathon Swift.

For I had about me my flint, steel, match, and burning glass.

Gulliver’s travels, 1726.

Swift, Jonathan, 1667-1745 

Provided with candles and a tinderbox, which I had made of the lock of one of the muskets, with some wildfire in the pan.

Robinson Crusoe. 1719.   

Daniel Defoe.

One of my favourites, a classic adventure story. Robinson Crusoe.

The 16 year old George Washington as a surveyor.

“Fryday 8th we breakfasted at Casseys and Rode down to Vanmetris’s to get all our company together which when we had accomplished we Rode down below ye. Trough in order to Lay of Lots there we laid of one this day The Trough is a couple of Ledges of Mountain Impassable running side and side together for above 7 or 8 Miles and ye River down between them you must Ride Round ye back of ye. Mountain for to get below them we Camped this Night in ye Woods near a Wild Meadow where was a Large Stack of Hay after we had Pitched our Tent and made a very Large Fire we pull’d out our Knapsack in order to Recruit ourselves every one was his own Cook our spits was Forked Sticks our Plates was a Large Chip as for Dishes we had none”

“Saturday 26 Travelld up ye Creek to Solomon Hedges Esqr one of his Majestys Justices of ye. Peace for ye county of Frederick where we camped when we came to Supper there was neither a Cloth upon ye Table nor a knife to eat with but as good luck would have it we had knives of our own.”

George Washington 1748. (age of 16).

Friday 28 May 2010

Plant Tinder Preparation.

A quick word about using cotton or linen cloth as tinder. Using cloth in the 18th century was probably mostly restricted to the homes, and not used in wilderness situations. Cloth was a valuable commodity and was not thrown away lightly. Cloth would probably have been used as cleaning rags before it was finally used as tinder. Tow rag was a very course cloth and probably the first to be used as tinder.

The term tinderbox can be used to describe a box or container itself used to contain tinder, and to prepare tinder. The tinderbox comes in many forms and is made from a variety of materials including iron, brass, silver, and wood. The wooden tinderbox was the type often used in homes, and it had a damper lid which fitted neatly inside the box for smothering the smouldering tinder.

The term tinderbox can also be used to describe one's fireworks, or all the items used such as flint, steel, and tinder. A lock from a flintlock musket for instance was termed a "tinderbox" by Daniel Defoe in his book Robinson Crusoe.

This flint lock on this gun can be used to make fire on or off the gun. In Robinson Crusoe Defoe chose to have Crusoe use just the lock alone. Whether he removed the lock or found it as a spare lock I can't recall.

In the same way this tinderlighter was used in homes to make fire, and this one also has a candle holder so one can light one's self around the house at night. The tinderbox and the tinderlighter often were combined with the use of spunks, a sulphur tipped splint which would catch fire from smouldering tinder.


To prepare tinder material it often had to be charred. Amadou, a tinder material produced from the fungus Fomes Fomentarius, was treated with potassium nitrate and sold on the streets and in apothecary shops.

Tinder material that had to be charred, such as tow rag, was charred directly in the fire and then smothered in the tinderbox. This method I believe was also used in wilderness places using plant materials. Sparks were struck directly into the tinderbox to make fire, the kindling dry grass or teased rope or other being offered to the smouldering tinder in the tinderbox and blown into flame.

In this image above you can see the damper in place in the tinderbox, and the illustration also shows that sparks were in fact struck directly into the tinderbox. Of course in reality the damper would be removed before striking sparks onto the tinder.
Also it is important to note that the steel is struck a dowward blow with the flint, not the other way round. Striking the steel with the flint directs the sparks downward into the tinderbox.

This is my tinderbox which I carry with me inside my greased fire bag which is carried inside my belt pouch so it is always with me.
Note the uncharred tinder material in the tinderbox, this will become charred from using the charred tinder in the box. Also note I am using a musket flint. This one is an original Brown Bess musket flint.

Thursday 27 May 2010

Making Cordage.

I had a request today from a friend re describing how to make cordage, so here is the section from my book "Primitive Fire Lighting, The Fire-Bow".

Making Cordage.

There are many plant fibres that can be used to make cordage, but the only one I have found so far, in the New England Area that is strong enough to withstand the strain of fire-bow fire lighting, is the inner bark of the stringy bark tree. If you do not have this tree available, then you must either experiment with other plant fibres in the area, I have been told that nettle fibre makes a good cordage, or you must use some other resource, such as animal skin, corded strips of clothing material or leather moccasin ties or bootlaces. In an emergency try whatever you have on hand first that you think may be suitable. Don’t forget the length cut from the leather waist belt. If it is not long enough then you can splice or tie two lengths together. Just keep the join to one end and not in the middle of the bow.

To use the inner bark of the stringy bark tree you must first strip away the outer bark. If you use a tomahawk or hatchet or knife to remove the outer bark you may find that the inner bark will come away with the outer bark. In which case peel away the inner bark from the outer bark afterward. If you pound on the outer bark with the poll of your tomahawk or using a rock, the outer and inner bark will peel away from the tree relatively easily. Whether stripping the inner bark from the tree trunk or the outer bark, the tree must be alive and the bark in a “green” state and the lengths of inner bark must be in as long a length as you can produce.

The material you use to make the cordage bowstring has to be folded length-ways. If you have enough length to make the string in one piece once folded, then fold to equal lengths. If however you do not have enough length in the one piece, and you need to splice in another length, then fold the material with one side longer than the other.

Now hold the length of material/inner bark between your teeth at the fold. Holding one length in one hand and the other side in the other hand twist both lengths separately in the same direction by rolling them between thumb and forefinger. Once each length is twisted quite tightly, fold them over one another in the opposite direction to the way you were twisting them. Do this until you reach the required length you need.

The author making cordage using strips of cloth, by holding the upper end between his teeth, whilst twisting with his fingers(and yes, if you are not careful, it is easy to cord ones beard into the cordage!).When the cordage gets longer, you can take it from your teeth, and place it beneath your foot.

If you have to splice in an extra length, then stop short of the end of the shortest length, and separate the end into a fork. Now taking up a new piece of material/inner bark, split this into a fork also and slip these forked ends into one another and continue twisting and cording.

Showing the splicing of a join, and the completed cording of that join.

This cordage may only last the one time, so each time you want to make fire in this way you may need to make a new bowstring. Using stringy bark I have occasionally been able to use the same string twice, but don’t depend on it. In a survival situation you need to make sure you keep the fire going once lit. If you have to move for any reason and take the fire with you, use a large piece of tinder, or a long length of the yacca flower stem, and set it smouldering. This will last a good while and you can carry it with you and use it to start your next fire.

Saturday 22 May 2010

Another Great Trail Food.

In the 18th century the seeds of the pumpkin were roasted and eaten and the best were saved for next year's seed. These days the pumpkin pulp and seeds all too often end up in the chook run or the compost bin. My wife roasted a batch of pumpkin seeds this weekend as we had pumpkin soup for lunch.

There were a lot more pumpkin seeds, but I could not stop eating them once I started! In the end I had to stop long enough to take this picture!

Roasted they will keep for ages, providing you don't eat them of course (!), and they make a great trail food.

More On The sunflower. Kindly supplied by Lynne Olver, The Food Timeline.

Sunflower info.

We're finding several references to Native American sunflower cultivation and use, but precious little regarding the dehulling process. Below please find two passages (one from the Eastern Woodland/Iroquois, the other from southwest American Zunis). Attached please find an 18 page scholarly article "The Sunflower among the North American Indians." While it does not specifically answer your question, it does provide a wealth of information and resources for further study.

"The sunflower...was frequently cultivated, either together with corn and beans, or in patches by itself, and furnished an oil which was highly esteemed. The Hurons and Iroquois generally are said to have sown but little of it, though they made from it an oil 'to annoint themselves.' The Indians of Virginia made of it 'both a kind of bread and broth.' The oil was said, by a Mohawk informant, to have been made by roasting the seeds slightly, then pounding them in mortar, after which the material was boiled and the oil skimmed off. The oil, at present, is used principally for ceremonial purposes, such as the anointing of the masks used by the False-face society. It was also stated by Chief Gibson to be good for the hair and to prevent it from falling out or changing colour."

---Iroquois Foods and Food Preparation, F. W. Waugh, facsimile 1916 edition [University Press of the Pacific:Honolulu] 2003(p. 78)

 "There is also another large herb, which resembles the marigold, about six feet high. The head is a span in width with the flower. Some believe it to be planta solis[sunflower] From its seeds a kind of bread and also a broth are made."

SOURCE: Hariot, A Brief & True Report (online) :


 “The nuts and sunflower-seeds were shucked by being reheated in the roasting-tray, and, while still hot, rolled lightly under the muller, or molina, on a coarse slab of lava. The brittle shells were broken by this slight pressure, while the oily meats, rendered soft by the warmth, came out clean and perfect. In this shape they were usually eaten. If designed for thickening soups or stews, which purpose they served admirably, or for use as shortening, they were carefully parched yet again until friable, then slightly ground on a fine-grained stone. So rich were the sunflower and suthl'-to-k'ia seeds that no amount of drying made it possible to reduce them to meal except in the condition of paste. As such, however, they were formed with the fingers into little patti-cakes which, laid on leaves, or hardened by roasting deep buried in the ashes, were eaten with other food in the place of meat, supplying the lack of the latter, at least to the taste, most admirably."

SOURCE: Zuni Breadstuff (p. 252-253)



Lynne Olver (IACP), editor

The Food Timeline


Friday 21 May 2010

Trail foods and survival foods. Sunflowers.

Sunflower seeds were being eaten by the woodland Indians at least 3000 years ago. The seeds were sometimes cooked whole, hulls included and added to other foods. Finding primary information on the preparation processes has not been easy, so I have had to turn to experimental archaeology. Modern information sais that it is not good to eat the hulls raw, because they can damage you insides.
We do know though that seeds were ground for making bread. I tried using my mortar and pestle to remove the hulls without damaging the seeds, and it worked!

After grinding the seeds in their hulls gently for a while, I tipped the contents into a bowl and added cold water. The hulls floated to the surface leaving the seeds at the bottom of the bowl. The hulls were easily removed from the surface of the water.

Three original grinding stones for grinding grains/seeds.

Tuesday 18 May 2010

More On Period Foods. The Bogong Moth In Australia.


The Bogong moth is one of the most interesting insects in Australia. It has a brown to black body with a wingspan of up to 5 centimeters, (2 inches). It can be recognized by the unique markings on its wings. It has a dark arrow shaped spot, a dark comma shaped spot and a lighter spot all on the top two wings. The bottom two wings are a lighter beige color with a dark brown trim. The moth's life story is actually very captivating. The eggs are laid at the base of plants in New South Wales and Queensland. Four weeks later a light brown to black coloured caterpillar breaks out of the egg. It hides during the day in the soil or under fallen leaves and plants and feasts at night. Farmers consider these caterpillars pests and have named them cutworms because they cut pieces of plants to bring them in their homes to eat. Their diet varies between cereals, peas, cauliflower, cabbage and alfalfa. These caterpillars grow to be about 5 centimeters, (2 inches), long and then form a cocoon around themselves in the homes they have made for themselves. After four more weeks the moth finally emerges from the cocoon.

When the summer months are just around the corner the moths decide that it is time to migrate to a cooler environment. They start a journey of up to 3 000 kilometers, (1865 miles), to caves in the Australian Alpes. Tens of millions of these moths together start their journey together. There have been problems in cities that are on the flight path. It seems that since the moths fly at night each time they come upon a city the moths confuse the city lights with the sun rising and swarm the cities trying to find dark hiding places. Entire walls of buildings are covered in moths. Eventually they find their way to the Alpes where they spend the summer months huddled on walls and floors of caves. Many animals come to these caves during those months, as the aboriginals had done before, to feast. The moth's body is 60% fat and very nutritious. It is because of this fat in their bodies that the moths can migrate without even feeding once. When the summer months are over the survivors make their way back to the plains to lay their eggs and then die so that the cycle can start all over again.

There is still a festival dating from the times when Aboriginals went to the caves to feast on moths held every year on the last Saturday of November called the Ngan Girra Festival where 5000 people get together to celebrate.

Bogong moths have been eaten by native Australians for thousands of years, but now the following information has come to light:

The annual migration of bogong moths is bringing toxic levels of arsenic to caves in the Snowy Mountains, scientists have discovered.

Each moth has a small amount of arsenic in its system. After migrating from farmland in New South Wales and Queensland, they gather in the caves in their billions, many dying and falling to the ground.
Last year, with heavy rains, the moths' bodies were washed out of the caves and the accumulated arsenic killed all the vegetation outside.
"I don't think there is a record of similar movement [of arsenic] anywhere else in the world," said Dr Ken Green, wildlife ecologist with the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service, who noticed the dead vegetation earlier this year.

At this time of year where I live in New England we get Bogong Moths flocking to the lights of our house at night, and in the morning they are still here. Some are food for the birds, other hang on to life tenaciously.

This one about five and a half cm long or 2 1/4 inches.

More News.
Ken Green: OK, well they do generally come from agricultural lands. The arsenic source, we're not too sure, there's not that many arsenic compounds currently used in agriculture, but it was the pesticide of choice up until about the 1950s, 1960s, when DDT came in, and it's quite possible that arsenic, in fact it's quite likely that arsenic is still in the soil. The moths are picking it up as they feed and then when they concentrate in the mountains in their billions, these small amounts of arsenic are being concentrated.

Paul Willis: While you've got high arsenic levels for Bogong moths in the Snowy Mountains, at other sites in the ACT and in Victoria that also have high concentrations of Bogong moths, you didn't get those high levels of arsenic.

Ken Green: Yes, that was quite interesting, because it's always been postulated that perhaps the moths in particular mountain areas come from different sources. They do have a definite migration pattern and perhaps these moths are going from Point A out west, to a particular mountain peak. If that is the case then it looks like this arsenic is being brought into only particular mountain peaks by particular moths from particular areas.


Sunday 16 May 2010

18th Century Multi-Purpose Equipment. Making Fire.

The lock on my flintlock fusil can be used to make fire, by placing tinder in the pan instead of gunpowder and going through the procedure for firing the gun. Sparks shower on to the tinder, and the smouldering tinder is tipped into a dry grass kindling nest and blown into flame.

Also gunpowder (black powder) can be used to make fire by rubbing a little into some unprepared tinder or even your handkerchief or neckerchief, you can then strike sparks onto this to make fire.

Unprepared tinder stored in a powder wallet/bag will absorb gunpowder dust, and this too can be used to make fire.

My greased leather gunpowder wallet.

Historical Reenactment Overseas.

Friday 14 May 2010

More On Flint & Steel Firelighting.

I have decided to write a little more on flint and steel fire lighting. I just watched a video that showed a chap using flint and steel. I am not going to say that he was doing it wrong, but in my opinion he could have been better prepared and there is a better way of doing it. I will not post this on that site, because in that way lies grief! Instead I will simply post here how I suggest it can be done with better results.

Firstly I strike the steel with the flint, I do not strike the flint with the steel holding a piece of tinder with the flint. The latter method does work & may well have been one of the traditional ways of making fire, but personally I prefer to use a tinderbox.

If you keep your tinder in a tinderbox and the tinderbox is itself kept dry inside a fire-bag, then you can strike the sparks directly into the tinderbox. You can then either take the tinder out of the box and place it in a dried grass kindling nest, or do what I do and simply put the kindling grass to the tinder in the box and blow it into fire. Then you close the lid of the tinderbox and snuff out the glowing tinder.

This is my greased leather fire-bag. This keeps my tinderbox dry, it also contains a beeswax candle stub, and a small amount of kindling.

The tinderbox has another function. If you want to make a lot of charred cloth for tinder then you can use a tin with a lid with a hole in it and use it as a small oven. You place the cloth in the tin, put on the lid with a hole in it, and put the tin on the fire. This is not how it was done originally in the 18th century or earlier, but it does work. When the smoke or flames stop pouring from the hole in the lid, you remove the tin from the fire and plug the hole in the lid with a twig/stick.
Wait until cool and remove the charred cloth.
But when you are using plant tinders in the field, the easiest way is to char the tinder directly in the fire, then place it in your tinderbox and close the lid. Job done. You can even add some uncharred tinder in the tinderbox as it will slowly get charred with use when you strike sparks into the tinderbox and make fire from the tinderbox.

Thursday 13 May 2010

New Forum For The "New England Colonial Living History Group"

Our group now has a new site/forum. Anyone can read the posts on this forum, but only active members can make posts and post replies. You can access this forum at: http://livinghistory.proforums.org/