Practically Seeking

February 2008 (Issue 9)

Hey there,
Happy Leap Year!
And to those of you special folks who happened to be born on February 29, a very happy birthday to you all!
Well, the weather is warming and spring is (hopefully) just around the corner. In the same way that we are looking forward to new spring growth soon coming up, we are excited about the trips & programs that are blooming for us. We will be in Nova Scotia in March as well as in the Boston area, so if you're near by we hope you'll drop in for a howdy. We love the opportunity to renew old acquaintances and make new ones. Our World of the Hunter-Gather Intensive Skills Program starts March 1 and I am soooo stoked about helping our participants discover ways to find that balance in their own lives, as they learn all that we have in store for them. We're planning to start a Practical Primitive blog next month, to which they will be able to post, so you can all share in their experiences. Also, we've posted our workshop schedule through the end of September, so we hope you'll take a look at that and come out to join us one day soon. It's shaping up to be a busy year!


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

What's New


Our 2008 workshop schedule is now posted on the website through the end of September and it's going to be a busy summer!
We've brought back several of the workshops you've told us are your favorites, plus there are Five NEW classes this time around, and we hope you'll check them out:

Our FIRST YouTube Video!

See our first Practical Primitive video on YouTube!
A couple of weeks ago we were experimenting with Bow Drill on the Night Vision setting of the video camera and caught some pretty cool footage we wanted to share.
Eddie began spinning up a coal in the complete darkness out on our deck while the rest of us watched on the camera's preview screen. It was amazing to see how much earlier the coal was visible through the night vision lens than with the naked eye.
Our friend Seth took the footage home, added a few "special effects" and, while it may not be the most sophisticated fire-making video ever, it sure gave us a chuckle.
Check it out on YouTube to see for yourself, and listen to the dialogue to hear when the coal finally becomes visible to Eddie.

Upcoming Events

New England & Nova Scotia

Our trip north is set for March, and it's all about the Flintknapping! We're looking at stopping south of Boston for two one-day knapping classes, then heading on north to Wolfville, NS for a four-day Flintknapping clinic.
If you'd like to join in, or just get some more information, e-mail us at

West Coast Tour

May 20 – June 15
We've set some of the workshops for our trip this spring, and are really looking forward to heading west! We will be attending the West Coast Tracker Round-Up near Bend, OR where there will be a rock run to Glass Buttes and much flintknapping and other fun skills-type stuff over the Memorial Day weekend.
We are also planning several classes in the Portland area, including Archery, Tracking, Stalking & Camo, and Foraging & Gathering which are posted on our new schedule. In addition, we're still talking with some folks up in Washington's Olympic Peninsula, Vancouver, B.C., and outside of Santa Cruz, CA. As other workshops get confirmed we'll post them on our site, so keep checking back.
We have some days we're holding open for Mentoring time, so if you'd like to schedule some one-on-one instruction with Eddie let us know.
For more information on the WCT Round-Up or any of our other West Coast Workshops, give us a call or send an e-mail to We'll see ya there!

Free Open Skills Nights

March 19
April 16
May 14

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!

Skill of the Month

Untempered Clay

Primitive Pottery: Adding Temper to Clay

Last month we discussed how to process clay using the Water-Extraction method. I hope that many of you tried it out and now have some raw material with which to work, because this time around we're going to be discussing The Tempering Process.
Now that we've taken all the sand and impurities out of our clay it's time to make the clay usable for pottery by adding some temper back in. All clay, whether naturally harvested or commercially produced, is different and as such responds differently when handled, molded, dried and fired. Two of the most important characteristics with which we need to contend are shrinkage and the ability of the clay to withstand thermal shock. Temper (also called "grog") helps us control both. The goal is to find the correct amount of temper for the clay with which we are working, and for the item we wish to create.
Temper can be bought, found, or made of many different possible materials. I have made temper from aquarium gravel that I crushed down to an appropriate size, crushed shells, old broken pottery that I have pulverized down into little pieces, sometimes even coarse sand. The one material that I don't recommend using is beach sand, as it is most often too round. Temper must be "edgy", so that the clay can really stick to it. The most important thing, no matter what you use, is to ensure that your temper is a consistent particle size, of a consistent material, added in known proportions. (Which is why ya got rid of the other stuff last month!)
Some clays will do just fine with no temper at all, while others will require a fairly large amount. The balancing act comes with knowing that if we add too little temper the pot may crack while drying or firing, but if we add too much, the clay may become crumbly and not hold together well in construction or use. A rule I tend to follow is, the more often a container will be subjected to temperature changes (i.e., a cooking vessel) the more temper I will add.

Want to learn more about using clay for pottery? Join us at our next Primitive Pottery workshop.

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

How to Determine the Appropriate Amount of Temper for your Clay:

  1. Remove enough of your moist, pure clay to make a ball about the size of your fist.
  2. Divide that ball into eight equal-sized portions and form each portion into a ball.
  3. Flatten each of the balls into disks approximately 1/8-inch thick. Set one of the disks aside as your "control" portion. You will not be adding any temper to this disk.
  4. Create a pile of temper that is about the same size, in both diameter and thickness, as one of your disks.
  5. Mash one of the disks onto your pile of temper, then flip it over and do the same on the other side, as though you are coating chicken with flour. Place this disk to the side, then do the same with each of the other seven disks. As you coat each disk with the temper, place it on top of the others to create a little tower.
  6. Once all seven disks are coated, smash down on the top of your tower, mushing all the disks together. Continue to work the disks all together into a new, single ball, making sure that your temper gets distributed evenly throughout. Your clay now has about a 10% temper ratio.
  7. Divide this newly tempered clay into eight equal portions, roll each into a ball and flatten into disks just like you did with the last ones. Take one of the disks that is about the same size as your untempered "control" portion, and set it aside.
  8. Make another pile of temper and repeat the process of adding the temper to each of the other seven disks, mushing them all together and making sure this additional temper is evenly distributed through the ball of clay. You have now raised your temper to approximately 20%.
  9. Repeat this process two more times, always remembering to set one of the disks aside before you begin. Each time you are increasing your temper by about another 10#37;. In the end you will have five disks: one with no temper, one with 10#37;, one with 20#37;, one with 30#37;, and one with 40#37;.
  10. Now form each of your disks into a shallow bowl. If you notice the clay cracking as you work it into shape, don't worry. Just put some water on your fingers and work it on to the cracked areas until you have added enough moisture back into the clay that it no longer cracks. Make sure to keep your disks in order! Using a twig, nail, or other sharp object, label your bowls 1 through 5 (or 0 through 4) so you will know which bowl contains what amount of temper.
  11. Leave them alone for a few days and watch how each disk responds to drying. If you want to speed things up you can treat them as you would a pot, and slowly warm them up near a fire. Once they are completely dry, check which disk or disks have the least amount of cracking, breakage or crumbling. That is the percentage range of temper that will be best for your clay. (If you find not enough difference between the dried disks, go ahead and fire them in order to get an even more accurate result!)

So once again this month, get your hands dirty, and have fun!

Eddie's Bookshelf

Wild Cards

Wild Cards: Edible Wild Foods

— Linda Runyon

A couple of weeks ago I finally had the opportunity to meet Linda Runyon. For those who don't know of her, Linda is a fascinating lady known for her incomparable knowledge of edible plants. She has been featured in many national publications, including People magazine, and has lived a foragers lifestyle for decades.

While Linda has published several excellent books (which I will review in future issues), this month I've chosen to highlight another of her products which is just a little bit different; her Wild Cards.

A pocket-sized pack of playing cards, Wild Cards are a great reference tool for adults, and a fantastic method of introducing kids to edible plants in a fun new way. Each of the 52 cards in this playable deck has basic identification, preparation, and use information on a different common edible plant.

While they are not comprehensive, each card provides a photo, drawing, range map, and essential information on one plant, as well as a hint or two on how to prepare or eat that plant. They are a very useful "trigger" for those interested in learning more about edible plants, and the fact that they are compact, easy to carry and provide good information is an extra bonus for those out to explore this fascinating botanical world.

You can learn more about Linda, purchase her Wild Cards, and see her books on her website, She also has an informative free newsletter for which I recommend anyone interested in plants sign up. (Tell her Practical Primitive sent ya.)

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

Practically Speaking

Six hour pot

Willing to Listen

On our journey to acquire skills we must ALWAYS be willing to listen and ready to try alternative ways of doing things. There is never just one way to do something — as I have said many times, the only "right" way is the way that gives you successful results, consistently. All too often I see people who have become so totally focused on a single thought, topic, or way of doing things that they miss the realities and options that are right in front of them. Living in this type of "closed loop" only creates a rut that gets deeper and deeper.

You never know when the next opportunity will arise to give you a new piece of the puzzle, and take your skills to a completely new pinnacle — something I experienced again myself on our trip to North Carolina last month. I have been doing primitive pottery for many years, and while the road to success was long and at times frustrating, I learned much from both my successes and my many failures. Over the years I have developed a personal challenge that I call "Pot in a Day" — the objective being to produce a functional pot, "from dirt to done", in under 24 hours. This skill can make all the difference in a survival situation when you need to purify your water. There are plenty of places where finding appropriate bark to make a container or good rocks to use for boiling is all but impossible, whereas clay is nearly universal. Often where one material is lacking the other is abundant, and being able to make a usable pot quickly may be the only way you will survive. I know only a few people who have completed this challenge successfully, but I digress.

At the 10-day Winter class where I was Guest Instructing I had the opportunity to spend some time with Greg High — a master potter who specializes in prehistoric reproductions. I learned a couple of new techniques from Greg which, when I combined them with what I already new, enabled me to produce a completely finished pot, capable of boiling water, within 6 hours; a new personal best! (That even included an hour and a half rain delay!) I also had the privilege of working with Doug Myers, an expert in Cherokee blowguns, and learned a huge amount from him. I had never built a blow gun before and was very excited with my new weapon. (I hope to bring Doug up for a blowgun workshop later this year, so keep an eye on the schedule. In the mean time you can see articles he has written in The Society of Primitive Technology Bulletins.) Both Doug and Greg, in turn, saw me doing things in ways that they had never tried and, I hope, learned a new trick or two to add to their own skills bags. All of the instructors there have been practicing these skills for a very long time (I won't tell you how many years of combined experience we have&helip;) but since we were all ready and willing to watch and listen to others, we all came away having learned new things.

So my advice to you is this: Always be ready to move outside of your established circles. Seek out additional instruction. Watch others, and be willing to listen. You and your skills will rise to new heights, which will benefit us all by expanding everyone's knowledge base and helping to better preserve this fragile bridge between past and future.

One Final Note

We had our Open Skills Night this past Wednesday, and sat with many good friends around the campfire as we fired some pottery and watched the absolutely stellar lunar eclipse unfold above our heads. It had been overcast all day, and we'd had snow flurries blurring the sky, but the clouds disappeared and the sky cleared just in time for moon's show to start.
Great conversation and plenty of laughter filled the air around the warmth and bright light of the fire, and a great sense of hope and optimism and family surrounded us all. I choose to take that as a sign that this a year will bring many good things as we all continue to strive to stay in a close relationship with the earth.
As the excitement of spring begins to fill the air, I encourage you to find a new skill which excites you and, by practicing it, allow it to renew your spirit.

Be Well,
Eddie Starnater
Practical Primitive

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