Practically Seeking

January 2008 (Issue 8)

Hey there,
I am so excited for the upcoming year! As I reflected back over 2007 (one of the best years of my life) I realized just how far we have come since this time last year, and am so grateful for all those I have had the privilege to interact with in workshops, by e-mail, and through this newsletter.
As for 2008, it's going to be fun! Our first Intensive Skills Program, The World of the Hunter-Gatherer, is full and we are very excited to be working with such a fine bunch of folks. You'll be hearing more from them once the program starts in March. We have have some other cool projects in the works as well, so look for some exciting announcements as this year progresses. (Well, we think they're exciting anyway!)
For now, we're putting together some classes in Nova Scotia for March and our West Coast Tour is slowly coming together for May and June, meaning our 2008 travel schedule is filling fast. We'll be posting our Spring and Summer workshops shortly, and hope that we'll get to see you in 2008. Let's all have a great year!


P.S. We''re off to the 10-day Advanced Skills class down in North Carolina and will be gone for almost two weeks. We'll be checking messages and e-mail, but if we're a little slow getting back to you we hope you'll understand!

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

What's New

Practical Primitive Logo

Coming Soon!!

Our 2008 workshop schedule will be posted shortly, so keep an eye on the website to find out what's coming up for the new year.


We've updated our Events page with the Knap-ins and Traditional Archery gatherings that we are planning to attend this year. We'll be driving to them all, so if we're coming to, or through, your area and you'd like us to stop by, let us know. Or come out to the event and drop by our booth to say hello & hang out for while. We'd love to see you.

Upcoming Classes

Our Spring and Summer 2008 Workshops will be posted shortly, so keep an eye on the website.

In the mean time, here's what's coming up!
18 – 27    10-Day Winter Advanced Skills (Tryon, NC)
1 – 3        Medicinal Plants
9              Shelter 1: Survival & Immediate Need
10            Drum Making
15 – 17     Primitive Pottery
23            Working with Rawhide

Upcoming Events

New England & Nova Scotia

March 5 – 13
We're heading north in March, and hoping that Old Man Winter will take a little break while we're on the roads!
Some folks in Nova Scotia are having us up to do some Flintknapping, and we'll be driving through Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine to get there, so if you'd like us to stop along the way for a workshop with your group, or some one-on-one instruction, let us know!


May & June 2008
Our "West Coast Tour" is starting to come together and we will post workshop dates and locations as soon as they are set.
If you're in the western U.S. or Canada and would like us to come to your area, let us know. We'd love to hear from you, so give us a call or send an e-mail and let us know what you'd like to learn!

Free Open Skills Nights

January 16
February 20
March 19

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

Eddie and Jack

Processing Clay the Easy Way: Water-Extraction

Today we usually think of clay only as being used for pottery, but in truth its uses are almost endless. For thousands of years man has used this substance for a whole host of things, from pigments to medicines. One of the most abundant materials on earth, clay can be found almost anywhere — just look for areas where the ground has broken into a bark like pattern (as on a tree) or areas where water tends sit longer after a heavy rain.
Clay can be extracted from many of these sources quite easily, and whether you plan to use it for pottery or one of the multitude of other traditional uses, the goal is to remove as many impurities as possible and the process is the same. While some clay deposits are pure enough to be used raw straight out of the ground, these are the exception; most clay is found in conjunction with sand.
Many people have never considered the idea that they could make their own clay, or are intimidated by the perceived difficulty of the process. One method, as suggested in many "living with the earth" books, is to pound the dry clay into powder and then winnow (sift) the fine clay particles on to a collecting surface. While this method does work, and in some circumstances may be the only method available to you, it is highly inefficient and requires a huge energy expenditure, violating the primary rule of survival — conservation of energy.
The method that I prefer, and teach, is the water extraction method. The big benefit of this method is that usable clay can be extracted from the most marginal of soils. The clay shown below was processed from soil that was almost 70 percent sand and, using other methods, would have been considered unusable.
For this exercise we started with 10 pounds of soil that had a marginal clay content and a large amount of sand. The material would barely adhere together when pinched between the fingers, but could certainly not be molded into even a basic shape such as a small log. However, by the time we were finished, we had a little over 3 pounds of high-quality pure clay — more than enough to make several pots.

Want to learn more about using clay for pottery? Join us at our Primitive Pottery workshop in February!

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

How to Water-Process Your Own Clay:

  1. Fill a container about one-third full with the soil, then add enough water to fill the container. (Gallon jars or 5-gallon buckets both work well, depending on how much raw dirt you have. Using clear containers can be advantageous to the beginner.)
  2. Crush the wet mud between your fingers to as small a size as possible, breaking up all the clumps. Once your mixture is as lump-free as possible, allow the material to hydrate for several hours.
  3. Stir the mixture thoroughly, then allow it to settle for a few minutes. Clay is lighter, and floats above the heavier sediment. Look carefully as the mixture begins to settle and you will see a color change that indicates where the suspended clay particles and sediments meet. This "clay water" is what you want to keep.
  4. Pour off the clay water into a separate container. Watch carefully while you are pouring and when you see sediment starting to gather on the lip of the container, STOP! Repeat steps 4 & 5 as many times as necessary to extract the greatest possible amount of clay from the sediment. Stop pouring sooner rather than later! You don't want sediment sneaking through into your clay.
  5. Take the clay water you have collected and repeat the same process of diluting, mixing and settling, and pour this further refined clay water into a third container. This step will help to get rid of the smallest bits of sediment.
  6. Once you have removed all the sediment, leave the clay water to settle, undisturbed, for at least a few hours (a full day is even better). This allows the clay particles to settle to the bottom of the container.
  7. After the clay has settled the water should be virtually clear and there should not be any noticeable color change lines within the settled clay. If you see that a sediment layer has appeared below the clay (indicated by a layer of darker, coarser material at the very bottom), repeat steps 4, 5 and 7 until you have removed all the remaining impurities.
  8. Carefully pour off the suspended water, watching the lip of your container. When clay begins to pour off with the water, stop pouring, set the container down and allow the contents to settle for a few minutes. Continue this process until as much water as possible has been poured off and only clay is left in your container.
  9. Take a section of old bed sheet, t-shirt or other finely woven fabric, drape it over a bucket and pour the wet clay into the center. Pull the edges of the fabric together to make a "bag" in which to hold your clay while it dries. Tie the top of the bag closed, pulled snug around the top of your new clay ball.
  10. Use some sturdy rope or cordage to hang the clay bag some place where it can remain undisturbed for several days. You should see water dripping out of the bottom of the bag as the clay begins to dry. The water should be clear, or have a slight clay-colored tint. If you can feel any grit or see any particles, your bag material is not of a fine enough weave and you are losing clay. Find something tighter and re-bag.
  11. After two or three days open your bag and check if your clay is still soupy, or if it has firmed up. If you are unsure, scrape a small amount if clay into your hand and if it will form into a ball that retains it's shape easily, you're good to go! If not, re-tie the bag and allow it to hang another 24 hours before checking again. Once your clay has reached a usable consistency it can be removed from the bag and placed into a permanent container, ready to be tempered and molded for pottery, or used for whatever project you have in mind.

Next month we will discuss how to further process clay for pottery.
Until then, get your hands dirty, and have fun!

Eddie's Bookshelf

It Will Live Forever

It Will Live Forever: Traditional Yosemite Indian Acorn Preparation

— Beverly R. Ortiz as told by Julia F. Parker

Since mentioning the flour in our Ash Cake skill last month many of you have had questions about how exactly to process acorns. Acorn is a nutritious and delicious staple that was an integral part of the diet of many indigenous tribes, for thousands of years, and It Will Live Forever is the best book I have ever come across on the subject.

Julia Parker, a member of the Yosemite Miwok/Paiute tribe, describes in detail how acorns have been gathered, dried, stored, cracked, pounded, winnowed, sifted, leached, cooked and eaten by her people for generations. It was from this book that I learned the importance of particle size many years ago. And believe me, it makes all the difference! On top of that, you will get valuable information on making soap root brushes and processing cordage material, see some amazing basketry, and gain some real insights into what most would consider to be a lost art.

But this is more than a book about how to make acorns edible. Acorn becomes more than just a nut and the preparation becomes more than just a list of necessary steps. Through the process of making acorn you will venture into a way of looking at creation that is sadly lacking in our world today. There is much to be learned from Ms. Parker's anecdotes, and it is not only her story but the story of all those who came before. Simple, detailed, insightful; read this one several times, then read it again.

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

Practically Speaking

Bone Work

"Remember, Primitive means FIRST, not WORST!"
— Scott Silsby

People are often amazed at what can be done with "first" tools and "first" technology. Stone is frequently more effective than steel for scraping and for cutting, and can produce finer results. Compound bows may shoot farther and faster, but self-bows have a long, proud, proven history and can be used in circumstances where a compound just will not work. Modern fabrics are great, but there's nothing like a good pair of moose hide mukluks on a cold winter day.

As the students in our recent Bone Working class discovered, once you understand how to apply appropriate principals to proper materials, you can create whatever you need. One of the most popular items to make was a set of bone tweezers!! I was kind of surprised, expecting folks to want to make compound fish hooks instead, but as anyone who has spent time outdoors (especially in New Jersey) will tell ya, it's only a matter of time until you find a tick. These folks had all spent plenty of time outdoors and recognized the value of being able to create a good set of tick pliers in any situation.

The point I want to get across is, don't be afraid to try something the "first" way. It may be new to you, but that's no reason to assume it won't work just as well, or better. Remember, that's the way it was done for thousands of years before we came along.

There is a reason that established indigenous peoples had the leisure time to develop such high levels of artisanship in their skills. Their lifestyle worked. Their technology worked. They devoted their "free time" to taking the skills of their everyday life into the realm of art, instead of passively starring at the "Idiot Box". So this year make the choice to step out! Discover a new material with which you can work. Learn all of its properties and make something from it.

Try something Practical. Make something Primitive. Discover what it& #39;s like to live "First".

One Final Note

I know that most of what is on television is crap, but every once in a while a piece of dialogue will jump off of the screen with a real message for life. Last weekend, when we were watching Stargate Atlantis, this quote really hit me:

"The Future is Predetermined by the Character of Those who Shape it."

Whether you apply this concept to the state of your own life, the fate of our planet, or a survival scenario, there is a real lesson in these words.
Your attitude, knowledge and abilities all constitute aspects of your character. The earth, and the skills of the earth, will shape and build that character, leaving you in a much better position to help educate and shape the character of future generations. The circle becomes complete.
May this New Year bring health and happiness to you and yours.

Be Well,
Eddie Starnater
Practical Primitive

P.S. If anyone out there happens to have a little bit of Christmas cash that's burning a hole in their pocket, or is looking for a new way to help out, we ask you to condsider making a donation to one of the fine organizations that helped us save the lives of those hoarded animals in Clifton, TX. You can find their contact information here.

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