I recently went to Winter Count about a week ago now and wanted to briefly share what I learned. See the website for a more thorough explanation of what it is https://wintercountcamp.com/
I learned something I didn’t realize was possible: forging steel tools over a fire with hand made bellows. With careful instruction, I took a piece of high carbon steel the size of a Laffy Taffy and turned it into a sharp crooked knife. The steel was heated through bark tan bellows feeding oxygen into a hot fire of mesquite charcoal that seemed no more complicated than a campfire. The bamboo tubes from the bellows fed into a ceramic clay tube that can handle the heat of the coals. A wall of ashes and rock was built around the clay tube to form a bowl for the coals to stay in, yet still allow the bellows to push oxygen in.
I’ll post a picture of the knife I made soon. It’s a step above the knife I made from a file. In fact I’ll likely cut that knife up and make three or more knives or other tools if I can get a forge going. I just need to figure out how to make pottery out of found clay somehow to make the doorway for the bellows. Luckily the bellows are pretty self-explanatory and made of bark tan leather which I already know how to make.
The teacher also explained how to collect iron sand out of the washes/arroyos using a magnet! He said he collects enough to make tools out of. Pretty amazing.
I got close to finishing a flint point that would likely fit on an atlatl dart. I used a moose billet, hammerstone, and copper pressure flaker to reduce a large rock to a pretty dangerous weapon. Long time knappers, especially Larry Kinsella, provided some amazing instructions!
I’m still looking for moose billets if anyone has any! I’m just going to make a pressure flaker out of copper wire and a broom handle for now.
This class was nuts. The teacher taught us how to fletch and make foreshafts on rivercane arrows in a couple hours. Fletching suddenly seems a whole lot easier. Foreshafts are removable points on the the later 1/3rd of the arrow that can hold a stone point (or not). Using a foreshaft means you can recover the fletched lower 2/3rds of the arrow and re-use it. See his class online here! https://youtu.be/P9pHlOvaovg
Jeff the instructor, along with another experienced bowmaker Alicia, looked at my Yew bow I was working on all week during down time. They said I was done with it! Jeff suggested boiling the tips and recurving them back, which I’m going to do soon. This all while teaching us how to shoot like Ishi on the shooting range after the arrow making class, of course.
Jeff gave me some good tips on shaft straightening too, so I hope to try that. I kinda want to make a big ass atlatl dart with the point I made. I’ve been seeing some mean looking mastadons on my block that need whatfor, so it’s pretty crucial I get it done soon.
This is just the highlights of the classes I took. I learned more at Winter Count than I did at several other gatherings I have attended. The experienced instructors make the difference. That I can now potentially forge my own tools and make my own arrows is nuts to think about…though these skills will take several lifetimes to master. The classes I feel I missed out on were felting and pottery, but I can try to learn those on my own.
I wanted to share some of this stuff while it’s fresh. I’m sick so I don’t have pictures right now, but I’ll post some soon. I won’t be sharing pictures of the blacksmith setup at the gathering as I didn’t ask permission to, but if anyone has any questions about how I explained it feel free. I will post pictures once I get my own setup going.