Practically Seeking

June 2007 (Issue 2)

Hey there,
Welcome to the second issue of Practically Seeking. It's been a busy month for us, because, as some of you already know...
We've Moved!
Practical Primitive is now based on a beautiful five-acre spot in Toms River, NJ. Lots of great woods to run around in, but still convenient to the Garden State Parkway, Rt 70 and Hwy 9, and just a short walk from the bus so you can get here easily with or without a car. Directions and our new contact info are on the website. Drop by and see us soon!
We also had HUGE fun at the Baltimore Bowmen Traditional Classic. It was a fantastic weekend of seeing old friends and making many new ones. We had a great time doing some flintknapping and working on bows -- I even got to shoot the course a few times! And thanks to Julie there's a whole new group of folks proudly sporting Practical Primitive t-shirts after making their very first bow-drill fire. Congrats again to you all!
Hope you enjoy all the great info in this month's issue. As always, if you have any questions or comments, e-mail me!

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

What's New


Our New Class Schedule is Up

We're very excited about all the great workshops we've been able to make available in our new home. From a full array of Survival skills, to Tracking essentials, three different Bow-making workshops, and a whole series of Flintknapping classes (including, for the very first time, my special Advanced Flintknapping class), there's something on this schedule for everyone, no matter your skill interest or experience level. If you have any questions about the schedule or any of the classes, e-mail us at

Go Directly to the New Schedule


Join Us the Third Wednesday of Every Month

for "Open Skills Night" at Practical Primitive -- any subscriber of Practically Seeking is welcome to attend. This is a free and informal get together, so bring along any type of skills project you're working on. It was this kind of gathering that Eddie found so helpful when he was first learning Flintknapping and he's looking forward to spending time hangin with a whole new group of folks. So if you're in the area, or are gonna be, we hope you'll drop by!
Give us a call or send an e-mail if you're planning to attend.

Practical Primitive Logo


Get Your Very Own Practical Primitive T-shirt

Check out the website for photos, and to find out how to order yours.

Available in sizes Small to X-Large, and in women's styles

Upcoming Events

Sawmill Traditional Archery Rendezvous

June 21-–24

We had such a great time at the Baltimore Bowmen Rendezvous that we've found another Traditional Archery weekend to attend. If you're in the area be sure to stop by the Practical Primitive booth and say hi! More Information on S.T.A.R.

Patuxent Encounters

August 4–5

Eddie was very psyched to be asked to run the Atlatl range at this fantastic 2-day event honoring the lasting contributions that Native Americans have made to the cultural fabric of the nation. It's going to be a great weekend for the whole family -- maybe we'll see you there!
More Information on Patuxent...

Skill of the Month

Burning Fire

The Fire Structure

Fire is such an amazing gift. Without fire we would be living in a cold, sick, miserable and hungry world (if we had managed to survive at all!) I can recall so many evenings sitting by the fire, cooking, talking with friends, making music, or just lost in thought. Fire always teaches me something. It provides the calming influence that quiets the mind, allowing it to become receptive to insights from within, and without. I am always amazed by fire, often awed, and sometimes befuddled and humbled (right Ken?!)

Here are some principles to keep in mind when building a proper fire structure:
The Fire Triangle (Heat, Fuel, Oxygen):
Each side of the triangle needs to be in balance for proper combustion to occur. If you are getting incomplete combustion (smoke) one side is out of balance.
Each layer serves to ignite the next:
Be reverent in constructing your fire, always doing your best to build it perfectly, rather than just throwing a bunch of sticks together as I so often see done.

Now let's build that fire!

  1. Select a well-drained area of ground and excavate a shallow, sloping depression about twice the diameter of your future structure, and only a couple of inches deep.
  2. Collect your firewood and sort it into piles based on diameter, starting with toothpick and working up to wrist-sized. Make each larger diameter a couple of inches longer than the last so you will end up with a perfectly conical structure. All wood should be dead and dry, and snap easily and cleanly. You will also need to collect enough dry, fibrous material (such as cedar inner-bark, dry grass or pine needles) for an apple-sized tinder bundle and a tinder blanket of (approximately) 4x6 inches.
  3. Place three thumb-diameter sticks in the ground to form a pyramid, about half the height you want your finished structure to be. If you plan to light your fire by friction, your doorway should be facing the prevailing wind, whereas if you have a single match, face that opening to the leeward side.
  4. Place a row of thumb-diameter sticks on the ground within your pyramid with the ends facing the doorway, with another layer on top of that, perpendicular to the first. This will keep your tinder bundle off the ground as well as provide good air flow for combustion.
  5. Working clockwise from your doorway, lay a few of your pinky-diameter sticks into your pyramid base. This will serve to support the next layer -- the tinder blanket.
  6. Create a loose blanket of dry, fibrous material and drape it over your pyramid, starting at one side of the doorway, all the way around and back to the other side of the door. It should resemble the covering of a teepee, but be light and airy.
  7. Starting at the door and working clockwise, place several layers of your thinnest material on top of your tinder blanket. Repeat this process, using progressively larger diameter sticks for each layer, until you have reached your desired fire size. Save a few sticks of each size to close your doorway after ignition.
  8. Ignite your tinder bundle and place it within the opening. Once the initial layer begins to light use the sticks you have set aside to close the doorway opening. Now get those marshmallows ready!

For photos and step-by-step instructions on building your fire structure check out our website.

Learn more about building all types of fire structures, as well as how to light them without matches and in any weather, at our upcoming Fire-by-Friction workshop!

Fire Building Challenges


Build a fire as outlined above and observe as the combustion process takes place -- you will notice several distinct phases. How is this fire different from others you have built or sat around in the past?


Try the exercise above using different types of wood for each layer of your structure. Notice how the different woods produce differing qualities of heat and light. Avoid pine, as the smoke can make you feel ill.


How small a fire can you build and still keep going? I have spent several cold-weather nights under a blanket with a fire smaller than a peach and remained more then adequately warm. (See the website for photos.)

Learn more about how to build this virtually invisible "Scout Fire" at our upcoming Fire-by-Friction workshop.

Eddie's Bookshelf

Stikky Trees Stikky Night Skies

Stikky Trees
Stikky Night Skies

—Laurence Holt

What an excellent series of books! The easy-to-follow and simple-to-learn style of "Stikky" is great for teaching kids and adults alike.

Stikky Night Skies will teach you how to find six constellations, four stars and a galaxy, as well as how to navigate at night...
Stikky Trees has you recognizing, at a glance, the 15 most common trees in the United States...
"In just one hour, guaranteed!"

I love the Stikky approach to teaching, (which is very similar to my own style!) Beginning with small pieces of knowledge, they systematically build a comprehensive picture, organize what you've learned around a goal, such as "How to Find North", and give you plenty of practice exercises so you begin to internalize the information. But most important, they turn learning into a fun activity that you can engage in with family and friends.

These books are a really fun read. You won't want to stop at the "pause points", and the "next steps" sections are filled with links and information that can take you as deep into the subject areas as you want to go.
Whether you get these books for yourself, your kids, or even someone you know who's always been intimidated by the world around (and above) them, you won't be disappointed. You'll all get stuck on "Stikky"!

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

Practically Speaking

Wild Violets

Wild Plant Gardening: A Practical Approach

Last month I discussed the common approach of using field guides to learn about wild edible & medicinal plants. This month I want to offer you a somewhat more "Practical" alternative — Wild Plant Gardening.

Safe, fun, and family-friendly, Wild Plant Gardening is a great way to learn how to positively identify and utilize huge numbers of common edible & medicinal plants without the concern of depleting your local environment. Contrary to garden-grown produce, most plants grown from wild stock require less-than-ideal conditions, (we have plantain growing all over our driveway) while providing you with far more nutritive value.

If those conditions don't occur naturally at your house, fear not. Creating the proper growing environments does require some work, but the cool thing is that you can use containers to create "micro-gardens" suited to the specific growing conditions, soil types and moisture requirements of any plant. (My dad uses discarded boats as containers! They look kind of funny, but work really well.) This technique can really help you folks stuck in the asphalt jungle. You can create miniature deserts next to miniature swamps right on your rooftop or balcony. Those of you with a bit more space can really get into things. Back in Texas I had all sorts of microcosms constructed all across the acreage I lived on, and we've begun the same process here at our new Practical Primitive home.

There are several excellent online sources from which you can obtain seeds. Richter Herbs, Horizon Herbs & Seeds of Change all have a great selection of seeds at very reasonable prices. (Be sure to reference the Latin name in your field guide to assure that you are getting the correct varietal.)

Plant the seeds as recommended, following the directions on the package, and don't forget to label what you've planted in each container or "garden" plot. As the plants grow you can harvest and use some, while continuing to observe the remainder through the balance of its life-cycle. This will really help you when it comes to identifying their truly wild counterparts in any season. Growing your own wild plants will teach you about the ideal habitats, light preferences and soil types of each plant, so when you run across those conditions in the wild you will know exactly which plants to be on the lookout for. Be sure to journal your observations and results. When working with many different plants you don't want to get confused!

The ways in which you can experiment with this process are virtually endless and limited only by your imagination. You may even decide to take things to the extreme, chuck your lawnmower and turn your entire yard into a beautiful and natural wild plant habitat. If that sounds appealing, be sure to check out the Complete Book of Edible Landscaping: Home Landscaping with Food-Bearing Plants and Resource-Saving Techniques by Rosalind Creasy.

While the idea of growing anything may be intimidating to those of you out there with a "black thumb", remember that these are plants that have evolved to grow in the harshest environments, under the poorest conditions, and without any help from you or me! There is a vast and amazing world of plant brothers and sisters out there waiting to meet you. So find, or create, some poor, rocky, dry, sandy or marshy soil, grab some seeds and give it a try!

If you'd like to learn more about wild plants, check out our upcoming Medicinal Plants 1 class.

One Final Note

Well, summer is upon us and we are getting busy with events and workshops. We've had a great deal of fun this spring and I have really enjoyed getting reacquainted with folks I've not seen in several years. Keep working to do your best, become your best, and don't forget to commit a few random acts of kindness!

Eddie Starnater
Practical Primitive

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