Practically Seeking

August 2007 (Issue 4)

Hey there,
Wow, what a whirlwind month!
From workshops in the mountains of New York state to Mentoring in the Mojave; an absolute contrast in environments, but a great example of how so many skills are transferable no matter where you go.
Teaching kids (and adults) to throw an atlatl at Patuxent Encounters was awesome, in spite of the intense heat. We also got to hang out and catch up with several good friends. It was great to see you all — we had a fantastic time!
If you get a chance to check out this event next year, they have a great American Indian village set up and I recommend the trip.
These next couple of months will see us in the Midwest for several activities, then off to Texas again in November. So if you're interested in setting up a workshop while we're out that way just let us know.


What's New Upcoming Events Skill of the Month Eddie's Bookshelf Practically Speaking Final Note

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What's New


We're On The Road Again — To The Midwest!

August 31 – September 2
We're heading to Brownsville, OH (just east of Columbus) for the Flint Ridge Knap-in at the end of August. We'll be driving across on the I-76 & I-70, so if you live somewhere in the area along our route (Philadelphia, Lancaster, York, Harrisburg, Bedford, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Dayton, Cincinnati) and would like us to stop off for a workshop or some one-on-one instruction, let us know. We'd love to spend some time working with you!

Chicago, Chicago, Our Kind of Town

September 15 – 16
Well, Aurora actually, but it's close!
We're off to Chicagoland for a Skills 2 You Tracking workshop in mid-September. (There are 2 spots left in the class, so call if you'd like to attend!)
We'll be driving across on the I-76 to the I-80/I-90, past Philly, Lancaster, York, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Akron, Cleveland, Toledo, South Bend — it's a long drive! So if you are somewhere along our route, or in the Chicago-Milwaukee-Indianapolis-St. Louis area and would like to set up a workshop or some individual mentoring while we're in the area, give us a call!

Upcoming Events

Flint Ridge Knap-In

August 31–September 2

One of the big ones! It makes no difference if you've never picked up a rock before or if you're an avid knapper. Flint Ridge is one of the largest gatherings of flintknappers in the United States. Learn, Knap, have fun!
More Information on Flint Ridge

Free Open Skills Nights

August 15
September 19
October 17

Come on out and join us for our FREE Open Skills nights the third Wednesday of each month. Bring a project you're working on, a plant ID guide, an animal tracking book, or just come meet us and check out our new place. We look forward to having you here!

Chicago Tracking Class

September 15 & 16

We have two spaces available in our upcoming Tracking Workshop outside of Chicago. If you'd like to join us call 732-276-8159 or e-mail us at We'd love to have you there!

Upcoming Workshops


10–12   Survival Skills 1
     17   Foraging & Gathering**
     18   Trapping, Simplified**
     19   Fire by Friction**
24–26   Baskets, Bowls, Bark & Pottery


  7–9     Advanced Flintknapping
15–16   Tracking Essentials (Aurora, IL)
21–22   Awareness 1: Reconnecting
28–30   Bow-making: Survival Bows


  6–7     Archery Fundamentals

**Weekend Special —Take any 2 classes, get 10% off the second class. Take all 3 & get 20% off the third!

Skill of the Month

Pebble Tools

Pebble Tools

The Pine Barrens of New Jersey have a couple of things in common with the Blackland Prairie of Texas. One of which is little to no good stone of sufficient size and consistency from which to knap large tools. (Boo...Hiss...) In fact, this is true for many areas of the United States, Canada, and the rest of the world.
Fortunately for man-the-tool-maker, there is one usable resource that can be found pretty much everywhere: Pebbles.
It's easy to produce a cutting edge from a variety of types of pebbles using a technique called Bipolar Percussion. All the same rules apply for selecting a good pebble as do when you are looking for good pieces of larger types of stone. First, your stone must be free from inclusions. (Those cracks you can, and can't, see on the surface and throughout the rock.) Second, the more "glass-like" the appearance (in both texture and luster), the better. And remember, shiny is sharp, dull is durable.

For photos to go along with these step-by-step instructions check out our website.

How to Make Pebble Tools

  1. First, you will need to find a good supply of pebbles. They can be any size, though for ease of use, it's best if you can find ones that are at least 1½–2 inches long.
  2. Smaller pebbles with no inclusions are better to use than larger pebbles with inclusions.
  3. You will also need two larger, mostly round stones. These two stones should be at least three times the size of your largest pebble. One will be your hammer stone and the other will be your anvil; choose a stone with a slightly flatter bottom as your anvil to make it more stable.
  4. Hold the pebble suspended just slightly over the anvil stone, only a few millimeters, with your non-dominant hand. By suspending the pebble in this way you get a double percussion effect, making it more likely your pebble will break on the first strike. You may also wish to wrap your pebble in a leather thong or plant fibers to help protect your fingers from accidental hits.
  5. Taking your hammerstone in your dominant hand, tap down lightly on the pebble to check the stability of your set up. If there is too much wiggle, change the pebble position around on the anvil until you find a spot where everything feels stable. Otherwise, your stone could roll and you'll smash your fingers. Not fun!
  6. Strike the pebble HARD and DECISIVELY with the hammerstone. If nothing happens, that's okay. You may not have anything happen the first couple of strikes. Continue to strike your hammerstone in the same place and repeat until you get a fracture.
  7. Your pebble may split in half or into any number of pieces. You're goal is to create a tool that is relatively easy to hold and has a sharp enough edge to complete your task.
  8. The resulting sharp edge can be used much like knife for cutting flesh, abrading notches or scraping.

Using pitch or glue you can embed several of these flakes into a stick of wood to make longer macuahuitl-type blade (Aztec sword).

Pebble Tool Challenges


Make yourself a set of pebble tools from different rocks and in different sizes and experiment with them to see what you can cut, and which are better for scraping.


Use your new pebble tools to harvest some hand drill materials and notch your fireboard.


Experiment with different hafting techniques and configurations. How can you use pebble tools to make a knife or an arrow point? (Send us a photo of your results!)

Eddie's Bookshelf

Desert Survival Skills

Desert Survival Skills

—David Alloway

Several years ago, after reading Desert Survival Skills for the first time, I had the privilege of speaking with David and made plans to attend classes at his school in the Big Bend region of Texas. Sadly, he passed away unexpectedly and I was unable to learn from him in person. But thankfully for all of us, David left this book behind, from which we can all continue to learn.

David was extremely well versed in all aspects of desert survival, and was the first non-Australian to actually complete the unbelievably grueling 200-mile Pilbara Trek across western Australia. When I was preparing for my own trip to the Mojave a few weeks ago, this was the first book I referenced as I brushed up on my desert skills.

David reminds us that "in the desert water IS life", and I added much of the practical and useful information he offers on this topic to my water lecture in the Tracker School Standard course.

A funny guy with a great sense of humor, David includes many anecdotes of where people went right, and where they went wrong in real desert survival situations, and helps you to learn from these stories. Many of his practical techniques are unique to this well-written and fun to read primer on survival skills, and will transfer readily to other environments and situations.

I highly recommend this book as one of the best works on the topic of survival, and consider Desert Survival Skills a must have for any serious student.

For more information on this and other recommended books, see our website.

Practically Speaking

Reed Boat Model

Grandeur of Scale — Does size matter????

In our fast-paced daily lives, how do we determine what skill to practice? Should you build a bow? That can take three or four dedicated days — weeks if you're only working on it part-time. Spend hours making a big pot or a large basket? How about harvesting the materials for, and then building a reed boat? It can be overwhelming, can't it?

With the demands of work and family, finding the time for skills just seems to keep getting put on the back burner. But surprisingly perhaps, the time it takes to learn the core principals of a skill can be greatly reduced by making scale models. Yes, there are some drawbacks to these smaller versions, but building models can introduce you to the fundamentals of a new skill so that when you do have the time available to go full-scale you'll be far more efficient.
For example, we built a model of a reed boat last fall for which it took only about 15 minutes to gather the phragmites, and an hour or two to build. What we learned from that model helped me to know exactly what problems I may encounter and what design changes I want to make when I build the full-size version.

A ¼ scale bow can be finished in about half a day. A two-inch diameter pinch pot will take you about 15&ndas;20 minutes. While a regular size deer hide can take hours and hours and hours to de-hair, scrape, brain, and stretch dry, an 8-inch square of deer hide takes MUCH less time to process, while still taking you through the full experience. How's that for a great way to save time and still get your hands into something?

Besides requiring much less time and far fewer materials, another benefit of working small scale is that you frequently have to be even more precise, which will improve your overall skill at anything. Experiment with how small you can build a working bow drill set. (My best mini-kit has a four-inch flex bow.) Try for as much accuracy and detail as you can muster. The more you put into working a skill, the more you get out of it.

And oh yeah, have FUN!

One Final Note

Thanks again to all of you with whom I have been fortunate to have worked this past month. I've had a wonderful time and hope y'all have had as well. There are some very good new workshops on the horizon and I am looking forward to seeing ya there. This Fall & Winter we will be offering Bone Working, Natural Dyes (the Poke berries are almost ready!), Soap and Salve Making, and an Acorn Processing workshop. Keep an eye on the Schedule page of the web site, as the dates will be up soon.

If you know folks who enjoy primitive skills, or just like spending time in the outdoors, we hope you'll pass this information along. And if they like what they see, they can opt to subscribe if they wish.

We're planning on being in Texas sometime around Thanksgiving, so if you're down that way and want to schedule some time, let us know so we can start to plan it out.

I leave you this month with the words of an old family friend, Connor Harrington, of whom I have fond memories from when I was a child: "Love everyone, Trust few, Always paddle your own canoe".

Eddie Starnater
Practical Primitive

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