Snow Day! And a Busy One at That

A Winter Wonderland in the middle of nowhere

The fun part about being in the wilderness!

So this is how it all went down. We got a bunch of sleet and ice with a mix of snow and rain yesterday and the night prior. To put it shortly, the roads were a mess. My boss became a twit worried about travel, and pushed off having us come in. So I was home with snow and a bunch of projects that needed finishing.

Usually, a day off for me begins at the local store, which is about 5 miles away from where I hit the black top. I went in, ordered my omelet, and then shot the shit with the local guys for a while over coffee and food. It’s what we do.

When I got home, I didn’t want to waste a minute. Mostly the kittens stayed in, but two of them were quite insistent about playing outside, so I let them roam in the snow while I dug through a pile of oak staves that has been curing in my pole barn for months now. I figured it was high time to split them up and bring the better pieces inside to finish drying.

Curing wood is a tricky matter, so I’m constantly experimenting with ways to prevent the ends of the wood or body from checking (developing annoying cracks that ruin dimensional lumber). These logs were coated on the sawed ends with latex-based green paint (the stuff I used on my walls), and they dried just fine for the most part. They range from 3-4 feet in length, and I split them into some fine pieces. Billets, as I call them.

Left-over pieces on the right, with a few billets mixed in, ready for cutting on the left.

What the hell is a billet? Well, that’s a great question. The term ‘billet’ is tossed around quite a bit in several industries, but mainly lumber and metalworking. A billet is basically a chunk of material that is made into a utilitarian shape for a general purpose. Some of these chunks above will be used for axe handles, so the handle billets are cut from the heartwood that is farthest from the core of the tree. They way I split them out ensures the grain is running a certain direction, and the quality of the piece is sufficient for my task. Bat makers use the term billet to describe pieces of wood (hickory?) that have been turned on a lathe into a giant dowel from which baseball bats can be made easily. Wood turners might also refer to pre-cut square-profile blocks of wood as billets. Where as lumber is used as pieces of something larger, a billet tends to be a larger piece that is trimmed down to whatever the maker is producing.

The process of splitting them out got my gears turning on another way of producing useful stuff around here, by taking care to split off nicer pieces from my firewood pile in such a way that they can be rendered into a more regular dimension (squarish) and then cured for turning blocks later on.

The process of curing takes months or years, so it’s best to take the prime quality stuff and pack it away for later, even if you don’t have a specific purpose in mind.

But enough of that, for more info you can check out the YouTube video, and while you’re at it, why not subscribe to my channel? I’ve been more active making vids lately than I have blogging:

I also spent some time in the morning addressing some other issues around here. I’ve been working on a clay project, but I haven’t been talking much about it except on instagram. I plan on working it into my Primitive Tech series on YT, but I really want to make sure that I fully grasp the project scope and develop at least a basic familiarity with the skill-set. I don’t need to be a master cobbler, but for that playlist, I at least want to ensure that I’m putting out the best information I can, and that the video meets the premise of what I’m trying to accomplish. Namely, putting my scientific mind into ancient tech, and working with it, learning, etc. so that I can deliver on-point information about this stuff, and how to really get your hands into it. You only understand the in’s and out’s of much of this stuff by doing it. I want to fill in some of those gaps that don’t appear in other vids or blog articles.

The outdoor oven looking like a snowy little house. This was one example of experimentation by doing that turned out well.

Anyway, the first batch of clay has been outside freezing, but I finally got the idea to hang it from the ceiling joists above the tub. +1 for exposed ceilings!

From here in, though, it’s going to be a long road. I’m not super familiar with clay, so I’m curing it gradually so that I don’t over-dry it. I’m testing it’s work-ability, reading up on the science of clays as well as the clay arts, and I’ll soon be doing some bush-crafty clay firing experiments without a kiln. Once all of them ducks are in a row, I plan on doing a full run-through, from digging it out of the dirt to finished glazed pottery. I might even talk a bit about ancient pottery wheels and make a couple. Did you know that the first use of the wheel was for pottery? I always thought it was for moving heavy stuff long distances.

I also made four more of my little cedar mallets. They might do well at the market, and if not, there’s always a use for a little bashing stick around here. I think they’re cool, and they’re kind of decoration-size, but still useful for fine woodworking that needs a softer touch than my five-pound basher.

Busy as usual. There was more, but I spent so much time editing and posting videos and keeping up with the normal chores that I can’t recall the small stuff. The big thing on my mind at the moment is the 19 pounds of raw clay sitting on my countertop waiting to become pottery and firing experiments. Might be a really fun weekend, or a tad frustrating.

But this is the fun part for me. Might look like work to someone else, but I love getting out there and playing in the wilderness to learn the tricks of the human experience first-hand. Our most ancient technology came from what is available by nature, and I can revisit that one bit at a time from the comfort of my comparatively modern cabin.

Here’s another shot of the snow before it melts.


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