Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fall, Acorns and Traditional Crafts

Ok friends, we've decided to merge our foraging and crafts blogs into one, which will be this one. After all, it's all traditonal, old world activity, so why th' dichotomy? If you're unfamiliar with our crafts blog i'll just tell you that all th' work i do is done without power tools, i don't even own any. I don't say this to brag but to clarify that it's more about th' process than the end result, more about that later...Now we can do posts like this one...
spoon rack

This past week has been rife with activity- Acorn processing and wood carving and turning to name a few. The above picture is a spoon rack i carved from a split elm sapling. Wooden spoons are beautiful on their own, but displayed in a nice rack they are outstanding, why hide them in a drawer?  All th' spoons were carved by me except th' two in th' middle with th' white and blue handles, which were carved by Jarrod Stonedahl, another journeyman of traditional living.

But lets talk about fall, and food gathering for a bit... anyone for some acorns?

burr oak acorns, big.
Anyone in Fort Collins reading this blog? If so, you wanna do me, or yourself rather, a favor and go out gather up some oak nuts? We're really running out of room to store them, and it's hard for me to pass them by. There's still a lot out there. I'll even help you eat them if you want. But seriously, my neighbors are starting to think that Ishi lives in my garage... help us out why don'tcha. Just look at this tree, it's covered with large acorns, half an hours worth of picking supplied us with over ten pounds. And there's a lot of half-hours in a persons life.

And don't think this is unusual around here, there's trees all over like this. You'll see. 

Let's get crackin shall we...

Look at th' inside of th' shell, how beautiful it is...
Here's a Burr Oak acorn on th' left, and an average size, unidentified as of now, acorn on th' right.

Th' Burr Oak acorns are enormous, so be carefull while drying them out, as they take a very long time.  Sometimes you'll come across ones with sunken in centers like in th' picture below.

Don't waste your time gathering these, as this is what you'll find inside.

We crack and pound all our acorns by hand. I've used blenders and coffee grinders before, but they don't work as well as pounding with a hammerstone. And more importantly, they don't work th' same way on me. And this is also why i don't use power tools, th' real reason. When i'm pounding acorns, in th' sun, with a rock, it does something to me. It takes a long time, but it's time well spent. My mind is fee to wander, while my hands perform th' task at hand. I smell the acorn, i breathe it in along with th' scent of dry leaves. (Do you know how good pounded acorns smell?) If affects me in a subtle, yet powerful way. It's th' same with carving wood with hand tools. Th' time spent changes you, makes you, builds you into a more patient, more thoughtful person. The end result becomes less important than th' way you get there. Th' native americans, and traditional people all over th' world, spent thousands of years pounding acorns with rocks, who are we to say we've come up with a better way. Have we really counted th' cost of what we've given up? Have we counted th' cost of th' tools that we now depend upon, that we consider necessary for life? It's hard, because we are so disconnected from th' price we pay, to even realize that a toll is being extracted. We don't remember what it's like to be able to drink water from our rivers and streams, or that there used to be mountains in Wyoming and West Virginia that no longer exist due to coal mining. Or that there were no landfills here a few hundred years ago. Me cracking acorns with a rock, or hewing out a piece of wood with an axe isn't going to change all that, but me and you doing it, and you, and you too, well then, things might start to look different. Or at least we'll be different, and that's worth it.

acorn pounding

Here's Beth and Fynn partaking of some fall activities, as i was hewing some bowl blanks one day.

axe hewn bowl blank
This is black locust wood, which has a relatively easy to work yellow sapwood and a seriously hard and pretty brown heartwood. It makes really pretty bowls and bows. 

pole lathe turned bowls
Before I made these two i was really turning in th' dark. I was so focused on getting a bowl that i didn't pay enough attention to how i got one. Then i was forced to spend two weeks away from my shop. I got craftsmans withdrawal. But something happened. I learned (again) to slow down. When i got back home i took my time, went slower, focused more on making nice clean cuts and keeping my tools sharp. I slowed down and my bowls and spoons came out better and in half th' time or less. Here's th' rest of what came of that locust log, as well as a couple of Aspen spoons.

This one got cold, so i had to carve a hat for it.

 Here's a couple made from opposite sides of th' log, th' one on th' left has th' sapwood on th' bottom, heartwood on top, and th' one on th' right has th' heartwood on th' bottom, making a different, and in my opinion nicer looking bowl, though it takes longer to hew because of th' greater amount of heartwood you're chopping. These are fresh off th' lathe, where as th' darker ones have been oiled already.

Here's that bow i was carving in th' last post, it's almost finished, and pulling about eighty pounds right now. Just needs to be CAREFULLY tillered down to about fifty-five, and it's ready for th' hunt. 

Ash bow, ancient European style

And two Aspen spoons.

Well, i hope you've had some good food for thought, even if you can't eat the acorns. Drop us a line and let us know what you think. I'll leave you with a few more scenes of fall.

Bag full of acorns. Now that's some whole foods.


  1. Wonderful acorns, beautiful bowls.

  2. Some seriously good woodwork/woodturning Rico! I love those bowls and spoons.
    We have an Oak tree in the garden, it produced its second crop this year: about a dozen large acorns, and they have just dissapeared, all of them...? I searched for them yesterday, not a single one on the ground...No coffee this years!

    1. thanks Joel- most likely th' squirrels got 'em, or Jays, if you have those where you are, love them also, or another forager... but it wasn't me, i promise!

  3. Great post Rico! I love baking white acorn paste into flatbread. Thanks for the links you posted on my page as well. I loved the music and the articles were a fantastic read!

  4. Going through the Yesteryear Building at our State Fair, this year, I was struck with just how old our craftspeople have become, with no one on the way up. I've been meeting these folk since 1990 and simply let time pass. We had already lost two of our very gifted folk in the early summer and it really hit home. No one had an apprentice with them to continue their work. I'm sure there must be someone where they live, doing this, but that's just an assumption (and, we know what that means). Very hard to see this. Continue your good work and passing on of these old skills.