Category Archives: crafts

crafts – a special selection

To celebrate over 300 pages of posts and 24,000 visits to Mark the Wilderness Guide I will be publishing a selection of postings on various subjects – all in one place – to browse. These postings and articles date back a couple of years. Every few days a new selection on a different subject will be posted. Today it is ‘crafts’.


‘Crafts’ is a rather broad church that encompasses many of the skills and equipment to extract, process and use the raw resources around us (safely) in order to create useful or pleasing items. Being able to take un-usable raw materials and create something out of them not only helps to exist in the wilderness by helping us access and utilise our environment but it provides a creative interface with nature that is both aesthetically pleasing and spiritually rewarding. Importantly, it also provides a route to understanding the properties and nature of things and helps preserve and pass on the knowledge of for forefathers and foremothers to a new generation – to help them continue to connect with the land around them.

Click on the links below to view the postings.

  1. making pine pitch glue – nature’s superglue
  2. magical rowan – yes you can make jelly from it but also makes a great carving wood
  3. stone age arrow – a step-by-step guide to making an arrow
  4. homage to arne – a cult spoon
  5. field maple teaspoon – Stradivari was the first to choose the wood of this tree for his iconic (and very expensive) violins.
  6. making a leather knife sheath – every knife needs a good sheath
  7. making a leather belt – every knife sheath needs a sturdy belt
  8. forest oak gall ink – nature’s ink for scrolls or art! Also how to make a quill
  9. unicorn honey dipper charm – is it an ornament or a breakfast item?!
  10. spalted sycamore spoon – a bit about spalting
  11. celtic dragon cup – Cornwall’s own Kuksa
  12. trapper snow shoes – foraging and making some snow shoes for deepest winter
  13. survival (branch) snow-shoes – emergency snowshoes – made very quickly
  14. quick split root cordage – one of the quickest ways to get lengths of cordage
  15. kuksa – functional art – we love kuskas – it is a cup or is it art?
  16. winter solstice ring – a ring with soul
  17. sharps for christmas? – start thinking about those useful tools for the Christmas list
  18. wild cherry tea-spoon – cherry is a lovely carving wood
  19. carving a canoe paddle – is it just a massive spoon or spatula?!
  20. making a leather axe mask – every nice axe needs a decent mask to protect it and its owner!
  21. uk knife law – some useful tips before you take your tool into the town square
  22. the king of rings – oak, we love it.
  23. i may ring – the magical hawthorn ring
  24. wildcraft perspectives: ancestral craft
  25. noggin for new year – always need a toasting cup for the New Year
  26. one ring to bind them all
  27. how to carve a spoon
  28. these sticks are made for walking – walking sticks – things of beauty but also save your knees
  29. the elder penny whistle – a useful thing to alert people with
  30. briar rose ring – very runic wood
  31. primitive forging – bashing metal at the forge
  32. the humble spoon – it might be humble but diggers are important
  33. cherry bark container – thick bark, easily peeled makes for a durable container
  34. a laurel ring for emma – a mini ring for a mini person
  35. sakura ring – a memorial ring
  36. bodger’s shave-horse – old bits of wood given a new life
  37. knife making – sharps…lovely
  38. making rushlights – poor man’s candles – but easy to make and useful when nights draw in
  39. biface flint spearhead – the best and biggest biface I have ever made

making pine pitch glue

Strong, convenient, flexible and fast setting (faster than the fastest super glue it seems). Easy to make, easy to store and easy to transport once made. It also makes a good seam sealant for bark containers (or canoes) aswell as fixing things like arrow heads to shafts. It also can waterproof things such as sinew and be diluted (with a spirit) to create a type of varnish.


harvest resin from an injured pine, spruce or fir tree


the ‘dirty’ resin


hardwood charcoal from a fire – added to the resin it helps temper the glue – for flexibility, strength and durability rather than brittleness and stickiness.


rabbit (herbivore) droppings (scat) – added to the resin it helps temper the glue – for flexibility, strength and durability rather than brittleness and stickiness.


rabbit droppings powdered to add to the resin – in combination with the charcoal use a total of between 10 and 25% ‘filler’


charcoal powdered to add to the resin – in combination with the droppings use a total of between 10 and 25% ‘filler’


heated resin, loosely sieved through woven sieve to remove most debris


rabbit scat and and charcoal added (between 10% and 25%)


take off heat and it starts to harden very quickly!


as it cools add to a stick and roll on a flat stone to make a resin ‘lolly’ for storage and ease of future application (you need to heat this again over heat to soften it).


Finished lolly of pine pitch glue. Make small lollies as reheating can make the glue more brittle and small lollies are more useable for fine work.


heat the glue up to soften it and allow it to be daubed or dripped


drip pitch glue into area requiring it and fix item in place quickly as it sets within seconds

Very effective. Although playing around with the temper (charcoal and dung or grass/fibres) can change its toughness, flexility or brittleness. Constant re-heating of the resin can make it brittle. Boiling the initial resin too hard can also make it more brittle too as it can burn of some of the turpens and oils.


magical rowan

Rowan 1_20130912044631566_20130912045026589

This time of year I really notice the Rowan or Mountain Ash. Probably because of its garishly bright red berries. I should pay more attention to it because it is one of those rare companions of the high moorland that I find myself passing, leaning against or camping under. It is our highest (altitude) growing deciduous tree. Finding the cold, windswept slopes a place few others dare to call home.

Rowan is a member of the Sorbus species, a sub-set of the Rosaceae (Rose) family and relation to the Malus (Apple). If you look closely you will see the fruits are like tiny apples in shape and form. Rowan’s closest relatives are the Whitebeams and the Service Trees. All three of these species have had their fruits used as foods. Rowan contains the alcohol sugar sorbitol.

In certain far flung places they will make or infuse wine with the berries. They can have quite an astringent quality about them. For this reason I tend to make a jelly with them to go with cold cuts of meat. The sweetness and the astringency acting a foil for game or goose or fatty pork.


The berries over here on Dartmoor ripen end of September and early October. Having the first frost on them (if possible) helps moderate the bitterness of the berries. However you can freeze the berries (or freeze the subsequent juice) to the same effect, because sometimes waiting for the first frost will mean all the berries have been eaten by the birds! However many do not bother with freezing and just go ahead an appreciate the tartness of the final jelly.

The recipe is simple. Take your harvest, put in pan and put just enough water in to cover 3/4 of the berries. Chuck in a couple of diced apples or apple cores for added pectin. Cover and boil until soft and mushy. Remove and strain through muslin. Measure the juice and add around the same again in sugar so you have a 50:50 mix (the proportion of sugar will increase as you further reduce volume through boiling). Boil/simmer until it starts to get viscous then on a chilled plate (put a couple of plates in a cold place like the freezer or outdoors and rotate using them as testers) and then place a small dash of the liquid on the plate, leave it for a minute in a cool place (outside or the fridge) and push it with your finger to see if it wrinkles as it sets and forms a skin.) Continue using cold plates until it does. If it does this obviously then it is ready to ‘bottle’ into sterilised jars. Simple!jams-etc_20130912050311456

The leaves of the Rowan look a bit like Ash (hence the name Mountain Ash), and the wood is similarly tough and flexible. Here I am making a use of these qualities by making a quick wilderness bowsaw:

But it is its finer grain, its smoother, harder, denser and altogether more beautiful qualities that I like the most. It makes for a great carving wood, as you can see here with this ‘barley twist’ coffee spoon.

Of course you are not restricted to just carving spoons. Due to the trees ability to ward off spirits of evil intent it makes an excellent magical wand too!

stone age arrow

There is something deeply satisfying about making something from foraged materials and made using foraged tools. So, here is a step by step guide to making an arrow. The only thing I have skipped is processing the sinew.


The separate components of the arrow are:

  • Shaft  – in this case is was seasoned bamboo  – found in the overgrown and forgotten woodland garden. It is straight and strong. It saves time finding something that needs more processing (ie: shaving bark, straightening over heat and paying attentionto the grain)
  • Flint – this was foraged from a recent trip to West Dorset, a place rich in high quality flint deposits
  • Sinew – from a dead deer found out back of the farm
  • Feathers – from a pheasant and a crow (for the cock feather)
  • Flint knife  – to trim the feathers, make the nock and arrowhead groove and to cut the sinew
  • Pine pitch glue – to glue the head and help position the fletches
  • Bluebell bulb glue – to secure the fletches (feathers)

Making the arrowhead

Knap a thin flake of flint. It does not have to be big. An arrowhead of half and inch can kill a deer. Mount it vertical for hunting. This is the way a rib-cage of an animal runs. Position the arrow horizontal for tribal warfare (!)

In this instance I made the arrowhead with a pair of ‘seating’ grooves and a pair of sinew grooves to secure it to the shaft (more on this later)


(right to left): flint nodules, antler (tine) pressure flakers, antler (crown) soft percussion strikers, pebble hard percussion strikers, protective hide for thigh, protective glove and glasses.


selection of crude flint scrapers and crude arrowheads (and small cutters/knives) with hard percussion strikers (pebbles) for scale.


flint arrowhead with mounting grooves and sinew grooves

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homage to arne

Arne Jacobsen was a giant of functional design. From buildings to chairs Arne left his mark on the world of modernism in the same way as Le Corbusier and the Bauhaus did. His spoon from 1957 is a classic example of the simple, modern, clean utilitarian approach.

I was so taken with this design when I saw it that I carved a spoon in homage to his design genius. The wood for this spoon was harvested by the light of the Mead Moon from a field maple on Dartmoor. The seventh Moon of the year is known as the Mead Moon and usually rises in late June or July. The Mead Moon rides high at the fullness of the Earth’s fertility. This year it was just after the Summer Solstice.

It is a time when the rewards of the farmer’s long hours of labour are most apparent with the ripening of the fields. It is a time of wonder and enchantment, when the miracle of growth and rebirth are evident upon the Earth. It is a time for celebration – most probably with mead and dancing by the light of the silvery moon!


field maple teaspoon


Field maple (Acer campestre) produces the hardest, highest density timber of all the European maple species. A tough wood with a warm creamy-brown colour, silky shine and a fine-grain. It was traditionally used for wood-turning, high quality carving and musical instruments (particularly harps). Antonio Stradivari was the first to choose the wood of this tree for his iconic (and very expensive) violins.

The sap, like all maples, can be used to make maple syrup or wine.

Passing a young child through the branches of this tree has traditionally thought to encourage good health and a long life for the child

Here is a small tea or coffee-spoon made out of greenwood. It was made with just an axe, a knife and a hook-knife. Pale now, it will develop a lovely creamy-brown as the fresh wood is exposed to air and light.




making a leather knife sheath

Now that you have made a decent belt then maybe its time to make a decent sheath for your knife (or even an axe mask). Look at these two posts on other hints on how to stitch, edge, burnish and bever leather.



Here is a quick tutorial on the steps to make a sheath:

  • 4mm veg-tan shoulder
  • cut outline of sheath and protective welt
  • add buckle and stitch strap
  • fold and epoxy with welt in place
  • groove to recess stitching
  • pierce with saddlers awl – note diagonal position of holes
  • saddle stitch (type of stitching method)
  • bevel edge and burnish
  • protect knife and wet mould
  • carnuba wax and seal edge
  • add double dangler for belt


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