Winter Count reportback

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(Dennis Lanigan) #1

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

Primitive Blacksmithing

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!

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.

(Andrew) #2

Can we just start kidnapping rad instructors?

(Dennis Lanigan) #3

I want to add that if you think skills gatherings are a waste of time it or too much money, I have to say that you’re wrong. 4 out of 5 doctors agree. I have done work trade to go to gatherings and it’s not that big of deal.

Many instructors teach for free at gatherings. They get free entry and food, but that’s it. Jeff Martin, for example, is a great instructor and shared so much. Support his YouTube channel Primitive Lifeways. Other teachers have over 15 years of experience and it shows. It’s a great deal anyway you put it if you, like me, learn best in person.

I do feel instruction should be free. Eventually I want there to be free/at cost Feralculture skill events for land dwellers who have skin in the game. I see hide tanning classes for $500 and it drives me nuts.

But for now, gatherings are where it’s at. This is a 30+ year movement that can’t be ignored and has much to teach to any rewilding movement.

(Alexander Meander) #4

thanks for sharing your experience with Wintercount @dennis. it sounds amazing. while i have heaps of friends who are regulars at primitive skills gatherings in the southeast (firefly, rivercane, falling leaves, and more) i have yet to be able to jump into that scene as much as i feel i would like to. i was asked to teach at firefly last year but i turned it down due to buy-ness around here and the pregnancy that was taking extra energy.

i seem to always find a reason to not go to the southeast gatherings. whether i have too much to do, no extra time for work trade, not enough extra money to pay outright, not enough energy for intense social interaction for days, no one to take care of the animals here, and so on. i mean, it does indeed present more challenges to be tied to land the way that i am. it is a pretty intimate relationship. in the 5+ years i have been here i have not left for more than two nights in a row, and that has only happened twice i think.

anyway, all of this is me trying to say that your post is helping me to realize that this is likely the most established expression of a lifeway we all want to live and promote. i need to stop making excuses and make this a crucial part of my existence.

in closing, i will say that while my plant knowledge and other aspects of providing food and medicine from the landscape are well-established and matured (including indigenous food/medicine plant propagation) i have a lot to learn regarding skills that create material objects. looking forward to that journey. but first i got to finish planting trees!

(Dennis Lanigan) #5

I think a huge hole in Earth skills gatherings are people offering plant propagation techniques. Or even plants/seeds for sale. Seems like Natalie (Bogwalkwer of Firefly) offers stuff like that, but it’s not common at gatherings I have gone to.

I have gone to basket workshops where you can take cuttings home though.

(Dennis Lanigan) #6

Here’s some iron I found in an arroyo. Getting enough to make something, let alone adding carbon, is super intimidating to me.

(Alexander Meander) #7

@dennis, indeed, there does seem to be that lack from what i have heard. it is an interesting division of skills really. i consider the work that i do an earth skill or ancestral skill, yet most of the gatherings focus mostly on material skills. which is great and all, but it does seem to leave a huge gap when you consider that food and medicine are two of the most important things that we can procure for ourselves (as well as “reinhabiting the land”. i think the division is likely due to the fact that most plant folk are in other worlds and are not necessarily as into the ancestral lifeway so much as they are into permaculture or simply gardening/orcharding. i think many of them also tend to focus on non-natives, domesticates, and cultivars as opposed to natives and the propagation and selection of wild plants. anyway, it is certainly something i have noticed. last year i was asked to teach a plant walk on wild foods and forest succession and the class coordinator told me they were lacking in good plant walk folk, which was surprised me considering the amount of knowledgeable plant folk in the area.

edit: i also often wonder if this is based (partially) on the more nomadic to semi-nomadic lifestyle choices of most of the earth skills folks, versus people like me that actually live permanently on a piece of land and actively have to do the sort of work i do to regenerate an abundant wild landscape.

(Dennis Lanigan) #8

The crooked knife I forged

The arrow.

And the reason for the band aid.

(Dennis Lanigan) #9

I think there are those who can do a spectrum of homesteading to primitive skills to feral living. But it’s rare. Steven Edholm and Tamara Wilder are my inspiration for being generalist but in a very place based way. See and Tamara teaches tons of CA specific skills and classes, where Steven delves more into domesticated seed saving and apple breeding besides the place based stuff. I think Tamara has been leading dogbane planting classes after the wild fires up there; she also helps run the Buckeye gathering.

I think Quail Springs is living that full spectrum

It’s becoming more dominate on the west coast anyway. Peter of Rewild Portland also is into planting back but I haven’t seen classes at echoes in time or in the skills series yet.

A lot of fire ecology and tending the wild nerds up the west coast too.

(Kevin Tucker) #10

@dennis thanks for the report back and can definitely agree that these kinds of events can be really awesome. Makes me wish I had money for them! But they take a lot of time and money to organize, so it’s not like you’re being scammed. That’s more likely to happen when some hipster is running an afternoon workshop for a bunch of cash. World of difference.
But pretty lucky to get away with just a bandaid while working with obsidian. We’ve got a lot of flint around here and can’t help myself from working techniques without ever using leather or gloves, can get pretty bloody even with that.
The arrow looks sick and congrats on getting validation for your bow work. Hope that goes well for you.
Feel like you made many personal connections?