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Jon's Bushcraft Blog...
latest bushcraft projects, crafts, tutorials, and deep thinking.

 
 
Got a dream? Be true to yourself, make it real! Blog post -
June
2016


“What is my dream?”, I asked myself that question several years ago. My answer was: To live in a beautiful place with nature surrounding me (I visualised a cabin in the forest), and through a combination of ‘hunter gatherer’ skills and vegetable growing, I dreamt of being as self-sufficient as possible.

Of course, the dream was all about what I like and find interesting most of all. Basically, I was dreaming about being true to myself, to follow what I REALLY WANTED. Not some ‘second best prize’ of a job that didn’t totally fit the bill.

Now then, near my past home in the UK, there is a big old oak tree that stands in beautiful parkland. That tree is so old and wise; you can feel its presence. On one of my daily walks, thinking deep about life, incidentally passing by the oak tree, I realised how precious and important my dreams were, “I must NEVER forget them” I thought. So I held a branch of the tree and asked it to remind me to always be true to myself, and make sure I never forget! This was my way of ensuring that what was so precious to me would never be forgotten, and when making choices in life about opportunities and ‘whatever’, the tree which I passed just about every day would remind me. And the tree did remind me… In a way, the tree became a living symbol for what is truly important for me in life.

From then on, it was too hard to betray my dreams; I couldn’t go back on what the wise old oak was whispering back to me. I was going to peruse what I wanted and never give in…

So with my dreams set in stone, this was to influence all the twists and turns and decision making of my life in the proceeding years. One thing I have come to realise is that once a decision like this is made and you visualise it, and want it without doubt, then the channels of the universe will align to make your dream happen. It sounds crazy, but this has been confirmed to me many times now.

So after a lot of ‘stuff’ happening since dreaming that dream, guess where I am now, writing this blog post… I’m sitting in my cabin in Norway, surrounded by forest and beautiful nature; mountains; lakes; bird song; and a river running by. I’m just about to head outside and cook dinner on the campfire, eating fish I caught in the lake, wild greens I foraged, and vegetables I have grown. So, you dream a dream, make a concrete decision that it’s what you want, and then act. Do this and your reality WILL transform. Great gifts await…

I hope this inspires you to dream too.
 


 

The wise old oak


Spring time this year. Caught these trout with my friend Torjus Gaaren. Note, it is perfectly healthy and even beneficial for the fish population to catch this many fish in my area. Fish were shared with the local community.

 

My prepared veg patch this spring. On a friend's land; there are always options to get what you need...

 


 

My latest Book, titled: Willow Basketry A How-To Guide January 2016
 

 

I have just published my third paperback book, titled: Willow Basketry: A How-to Guide. I am very excited and proud to have finally completed this.

Brief book description:
Through a series of easy to follow step by step projects, this book will teach you the fundamental skills and techniques as used in many every-day baskets. Clear instructions and more than 280 photos and diagrams will guide you through every aspect. Projects include ‘your first basket’, a simple bowl; a log basket; a garden trug; a potato basket; and a foraging basket.

The book is available as a paperback from Amazon, or as an eBook (at a reduced price) from my website.

For the product page which includes a full description, click here

 

 

 

 

 My move to Norway - My dream and path January 2016

That’s right; I am now a resident of Norway! Telemark is my home county. I moved here from the UK last year (mid 2015). Wow what an adventure!

As much as I love Britain and its nature, over the past years I began to feel like a wild bear in a cage; particularly with there being no right to roam in England or Wales. What’s more, for a long time my dream has been to work towards being as self-sufficient as possible. Realistically, I didn’t feel that this could be achieved in the UK, at least not without lots of hassle. And so, for my personal freedom and sanity, moving to another country was the logical option in my mind.

Apart from the epic landscape and freedom, Norway is home to one of my best friends: Torjus Gaaren of livingprimitively.com . He is a true expert in wilderness living skills. I saw what kind of life he has, and thought, “I want that too!”.

Torjus has taught me an incredible amount of skills, which are needed for living off this land. For that I am very thankful. By combining these things with my existing skills, I have already made huge steps on my path towards self-sufficiency.

I could go on for hours about all the things I have done and made in the last year. However I would rather sum things up with the lessons and realisations which have been most profound to me; many of which are actually psychological:

Some realisations & lessons from my time in Norway so far:

  • Community and friends are everything! This is the case in so many aspects, and is not to be underestimated.
     
  • Share what you have without worry that you won’t receive back in some way. Giving is receiving as they say…
     
  • As expected, self-sufficiency is not an easy life, but it is a fulfilling life. I have felt many times that no matter how worn-out or uncomfortable I am (e.g. cold and wet), deep down I am still happy and feel that I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else. There is actually a lot of happiness to be found in hardship
     
  • In the beginning, if you are not used to this life, there will most likely be times which are very psychologically challenging. Any weakness in your mind will be trying to convince you to give up and return to the comfortable life… The trick is to push past this. It can sometimes take days, but one day you’ll most likely wake up and feel optimistic again. You will be stronger for going through these mental tests and your thresholds will be pushed to higher levels.
     
  • Hardship makes you stronger.
     
  • You don’t have a God-given right to anything. You have to make your reality...
     
  • Determination will get you to where you want to be.
     
  • In life I have learnt to Instinctively try to follow my 'path'. In terms of direction and lessons, I have learnt to trust in the universe to bring to me what I need. My experience in Norway has confirmed this.
     
  • Living this way of life which is so in touch with nature makes you realise how far we have come from what is natural for us physically, mentally and spiritually. All people used to live off the land a relatively short time ago; our modern way of life is a mere scratch at the end of a time-line of human existence.
     
  • It is easy to underestimate how much food you need to hunt, gather and grow.
     
  • Animal parts which most modern people refuse to eat are actually the best parts, both in terms of flavour and nourishment. I am talking about things like:  liver, kidneys, spleen, brain, tongue, nose, hooves, bones and very fatty meat. People are seriously missing out! In fact, if you are a hunter-gatherer and you don’t eat these things, you will probably die before long.
     
  • In order to overcome fears, you have to face them; for example, believe it or not, I used to be quite squeamish about the idea of gutting and butchering animals. But since just getting stuck-in, I now really enjoy the task! To overcome a fear is incredibly rewarding!
     
  • You cannot live off protein and greens alone, you need plenty of fat or carbohydrates too (I choose mostly fat), otherwise you’ll become ill from protein poisoning. For example, if you catch a ton of fish, if they don’t have a good amount of fat content, then you can’t survive off that alone.

My rented cabin
 

A catch of brown trout one Spring morning

 

Preserving: smoke drying trout in a tipi
 

 
 
My latest Book (& eBook) - Willow Craft 10 Bird Feeder Projects February 2015
I am very happy and proud to announce the publishing of my second paperback book! Titled: Willow Craft 10 Bird Feeder Projects. This is also available as an eBook (see below). The paperback book is available for purchase from online retailer Amazon. See the product page here:
 Amazon.co.uk or  Amazon.com

E-Book version:
(Standard .pdf file) is available for £6.50 HERE on my eBooks page. (Delivery to your email within 15 minutes)

Book description:
Through detailed stage by stage instructions, this book will show you how to make 10 different bird feeders from willow using classic basketry techniques.

You do not need any prior basketry experience to undertake the projects. Everything you need to know is here, including guidance on tools and materials.

"As a basket maker and nature enthusiast, I have had a lot of fun making the projects presented in this book; as well as the continued joy of watching the birds feed from them. My aim in writing this book is for you to experience the same, and also be inspired with the basketry; a craft which can be put to so many uses!" - Jonathan Ridgeon

My First Physical Book - Willow Craft 10 Simple Projects November 2014
 
 

NEWS UPDATE

Book reached #1 best seller in basket making category on amazon.co.uk!


I am proud to announce that my book Willow Craft 10 Simple Projects, (first published as an eBook), is now published in physical form and can be purchased as a paperback book from online retailer Amazon. See the product page here:

 amazon.co.uk

or

 amazon.com

Alternatively, this book is still available in eBook form and can be bought from my eBook page HERE. (Delivery to your email within 15 minutes)

Book description:
This eBook will show you how to make some of the most popular and inspiring willow craft projects other than baskets. There are items for both the home and garden, and all are great fun to make. You do not need any previous experience, the detailed instructions have been designed to guide you every step of the way. Packed with colour photographs and diagrams showing clearly how to complete every stage.

 
New How-To Article Added  -  Making an Ammo Can Stove
 
I have made this portable stove as a source of heating for inside my canvas bell tent, it should be ideal for winter camping when temperatures drop below zero. Also, I just thought it would be a fun thing to make...

People have made such stoves in many different ways. They are mostly used in colder climates like Canada and Scandinavia. The following article shows my own design, bear in mind that this is the first stove I have ever made, I am not an expert where stove use and design is concerned so the design may not necessarily be the best.

To see my full step by step instructions on how I made this stove click here

 

New Article Added  -  Making a Berry Picker
 
I have updated an old article showing how to make another design of berry picker; the 'berry scoop'/ 'berry comb'. They are excellent for picking berries such as Bilberries and Cowberries. Both designs have multiple prongs like a comb, the picker is used by pushing the comb through the foliage of the berry bushes, the fruit which is too large to pass between the prongs gets plucked free. Many berries can be picked at once and the picker is frequently emptied into your foraging basket. With a good berry picker you can potentially pick huge quantities in just 1 day!

 

 
     
 

Cowberry Harvest - Late summer at Cannock Chase park north of Birmingham

 

Materials used - small wine crate and broken garden rake

 
         
For this project I recycled some items I had lying about; a mini wine crate and some tines from a broken garden rake. You could of course use other materials, some plywood off-cuts would be perfect for the box, and for the prongs you'll need to be a bit inventive, there are some suggestions of other materials in the article.

To see my full step by step instructions on how I made this berry picker click here

 

 
My New Skin on Frame Canoe - Job Done!
The moment I had been waiting for after months of work; I made the final touches to complete the construction and took to the water.

I cant put into words how satisfying it feels to step into and paddle a canoe I have made. All I can say is that it gave me a very warm feeling of achievement. Canoeing is the nearest thing to physical poetry that I know and is good for the spirit...

You can view the full 'build-along' pictorial article showing how the canoe was made by clicking HERE
 


 

You can view the full 'build-along' pictorial article showing how the canoe was made by clicking HERE

 

Jon's Bushcraft Basketry Courses Feature in Living Woods Magazine - July 2012


Rob Exton reviews my Introduction to Basketry Course in the Living Woods Magazine

To view the article in full click here

Rob Exton Concluded that... "This is a great way to spend a Sunday, in the middle of the country (Meriden is not far away), so many of you are within striking distance for a day trip. Jonathan is a delightful young man who is patient, calm and very skilled. He is a clear teacher and enabler who deserves to do well in his chosen way of life. Mostly though, I must recommend this course for its sheer value for money. At £55 including tea and coffee it has to be one of the best value courses in the country."

Click the following link to visit the Living Woods magazine website www.living-woods.com

 

Ongoing project   - Canoe build-along
 
My Third Skin on Frame Canadian Style Canoe...

The following story will be updated as and when I complete new stages...

Click here to see the full story as it unfolds...

After all the fun and enjoyment I've had out of my last two skin on frame canoes, I have decided to build another one, this time it will be a two man canoe in the same Canadian style that I like so much. There are no plans for the canoe I am building, all I know is that I want it to be around 4.5 meters long and about 90cm wide at the centre Most of the jobs will just be done by eye.

This is not a canoe made from 100% wild materials like a birch bark canoe, but a mix of traditional wood working skills, some cotton canvas and even a few wood screws. The emphasis for me is always on doing a proper job, speed is not the essence. I am always reluctant to use power tools as I feel mistakes can be made quickly with such hasty devices. Hand tools fit better with my calm and patient nature anyway.


And so I begin...

 
 
To start I've purchased a plank of naturally air dried Ash wood from the timber yard about 7" x 1" x 5m. At first I wanted to use a long sapling from the woods to fashion my Gunnels from but I was unable to locate one straight and long enough for my needs. By purchasing the plank I would also have enough wood for many other parts too such as the long keel baton etc. The wood didn't come cheap though... about £90 for this one plank!

The first job was to rip cut along the length to cut off two laths suitable for Gunnels. This job could be done with a circular saw but I am quite stubborn and don't like to use power tools all that much :-)

 

 

     
 

Using a Shave horse and Draw Kinfe I then worked the two gunnels down to final dimensions which is about 20mm x 55mm. I then made a gradual taper towards the ends shaving it down to about 3cm high with no change to the width.

 

 

Now it was time to steam bent these tapered ends upwards which will give my canoe some nice curves (known as Indian ends). I am using quite a simple but effective method to steam the wood. Firstly I wrap the wood in Hessian material, then give it a good soaking and finally wrap it up in tin foil. Then I cook the wood over the fire like a fish. The wood doesn't burn if the material is wet enough.

 

 
         


Click here to read more...

 

 

Post - 08/02/2012   - Hand Made Skis
I had never been skiing before or even held a pair of skis, but making a pair seemed like a fun idea. I was mainly inspired by a video of native Reindeer herders in Sweden, and also by my good Norwegian friend - Torjus (his website: http://livingprimitively.com/ )

One of the first things I learnt about skis is that they are not actually just flat pieces of wood with a bend at the end; they also have an overall bend meaning that the centre of the ski will stand off the ground slightly when not stood on (see picture on left). This bend serves to spread the weight of the user more evenly over thick snow, and instead of the centres of the skis dipping down into deep snow the skis just become flat. 

I used much the same tools as I would use to make a bow - A draw knife and shave horse; a hatchet, a large Farier's rasp and a cabinet scraper.

The wood is Ash wood. I split two billets from a large fresh log which some tree surgeons had left on a fire heap! I worked the wood while it was fresh as that makes the job a lot easier! Luckily the billets had an overall natural curve which I utilised. The only bends I needed to make were those for the ends.
To steam bend the ends I wrapped the wood in hessian fabric from an old sack, I then soaked this with water and wrapped the the lot with Turkey aluminium foil. I then supported this over a nice hot fire for perhaps 45 minutes (note how a log protects the unprotected wood from the heat. The pieces of wood on top of the foil are just holding a flap of foil down.) Its just like cooking a Salmon in foil really,  hehe.

 

 

 
Before wrapping the ends with hessian and foil, I had already rigged up some cord which would enable me to swiftly make the bend and hold it in shape; one loop tied to the top and another long length secured at the centre of the ski. When the wood had been steamed for long enough (perhaps 45mins), I could then quickly unwrap the wood, thread the long cord through the small loop at the top and then pull down forcefully to bend the wood and hold it in shape.

The rest of the work to do included:
-Chiselling out a rectangular slot hole through which I could secure the bindings
-Carving the decorative ends in a traditional Swedish style
- Applying pure Pine tar with a brush (made by 'Bickmores' as a horse hoof treatment, and purchased from the 'horse health' website)
-heating the tar and wood with a blow torch as it is applied helps to make it go into the wood better. Excess tar is rubbed off with a rag.
-Applying Bees wax to the undersides to make the skis glide better (without the tar and wax; snow would stick and clog the skis up.
-The final job was to then weave the Willow to make the bindings, these will ensure my feet are securely fastened to the skis. The Willow is soaked and twisted like a withy beforehand to make it more pliable.

Then it was just a case of waiting for some snow to have some real good fun!

100% satisfying!!

 

   
   
     


 

Post - 21/09/2011   - Birch bark containers

I recently made these two Birch bark pots, they are stitched differently to the way I have previously made containers; this is now my new favourite method. As well as being very decorative, the 'stepped' stitching ensures that the bark doesn't split along its grain, which would be likely if so many stitching holes were made right next to each other along the same line. Making stitching holes through two layers of bark also helps the bark not to split.

The container on the right is made from the bark of a dead tree. When stripping the bark from the logs the wood inside had actually started to rot away but the skeleton of bark was still good to use, that's because of all the natural tar it contains. the smaller container is made from fresh bark I managed to salvage from some logs left behind by tree surgeons. This bark is such a nice material, its a shame so much of it just ends up on peoples fire heap!

Some of the crafts I make are quite intricate, so for a change I thought I'd show you how to make a simple little bark box like this...

Strip your bark from felled or naturally fallen trees. The only tools you need to make this little box are a pen knife, a ruler, and something to score lines with.

The folds are simply held together by two stick pegs inserted through slots in the bark.

   
  Start by cleaning up the outside of the bark. removing any loose material. Pulling your thumb over the bark side-ways works well. Now cut the bark into a neat rectangle.  
   
  Carefully score the folding lines onto the bark as represented by the diagram. I used a bradawl for this job.  
   
  Fold the corners up Make four small slots ready to receive the pegs which hold the folds securely in shape.  

 

   
  Cut two sticks to length and shave them down thin. If they are a bit flexible that will help with the fitting. Insert the pegs on either side... job done! How simple and effective is that!  

Also see my tutorial on how to make other simple birch bark containers/ pots.. click here
And my step by step guide to making a Birch bark basket  Here

 

Post - 19/09/2011   - Primitive Trapping

Trapping is only something you'd do if you needed to feed yourself, it should then be carried out with much care and respect. However, it can be fun to learn how to lay traps with no real intention of actually catching anything; that's what I've been practicing today.... I find it fascinating how a few carefully prepared sticks can be assembled with a snare to create a very effective trap. The trap here on the right is a type of Rabbit snare. Many types of trap utilize a toggle which is held in place by another stick; when the stick is dislodged the toggle is released and up goes the noose. A trap like this can surprisingly be set to an extremely fine tolerance.

Of course, tracking skills and good knowledge of your prey's behaviours will also mean the the difference between success and failure; or the difference between a humane and inhumane catch.


Click images to enlarge

 

In primitive situations when you are using a snare made from natural fibres, the animal needs to be lifted off the ground to prevent it from biting through the snare line (or its leg) and escaping. This is done by attaching the snare to a springy branch, when the animal sets off the trigger mechanism, the noose tightens around its neck and the tensioned branch lifts the animal upwards. This tension also prevents any chance of the noose loosening.

Placing sticks either side of the trap and the animal trail guides the animal into the snare opening. There are other things that need to be thought about too, such as trying to make your trap as inconspicuous as possible; masking your scent (usually by smoking your snare and parts over a fire); and making as little disturbance to the animals trail so that it will not become suspicious... animals are more clever than you'd think!

 

Another 'neck hold' trap. This is another example of a toggle based snare with the main line under tension. The central stick would be baited in the middle. She snare is held up with tiny 'Y' shaped sticks. It should be easy to see how this works.  


A simple 'Eye' made from a section of naturally hollow Elder wood helps the snare to slip freely along.

Please respect my wishes and only use these traps in survival situations. Never leave a practice trap set!

 

 

Post - 17/09/2011   - Harry Potter Elder Wand

I'm not actually a big Harry Potter fan but I made this wand with the intent of selling it  :-)  I thought it might be an interesting item to show and share. I carved it from genuine Elder wood with just a normal Bushcraft knife. The Elder wand is said to be the most powerful wand there can be. You'll think I'm mad but the finished wand strangely did feel quite powerful in the hand. I guess the power of intent is quite strong and maybe wands could be used to direct your intent. We've all heard about the power of the mind; people using their mental power to stay strong and overcoming illness is a good example.

The knobbly sections are burnt with hot irons heated in the camp fire.


 

Post - 14/09/2011   - A New Kuksa Cup Carved

I recently finished carving a new Kuksa cup from Sycamore wood. This is now my number one drinking vessel. I use it all day every day. Water tastes so much better these now...

Click here to see my kuksa carving tutorial.

 

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