028 Blacksmithing, Apprenticeships, Pushing your Limits and Becoming Better at your Craft with Sam Ritter

In this episode I chat with professional blacksmith Sam Ritter about his journey as a craftsman. We chat about how he got introduced to blacksmithing, what his path was to going full time as a smith, why it was important for him to be around and learn from a master smith, becoming better at your craft and pushing your capabilities, his use of modern tools in a traditional craft, and much more. We also spend a bit of time chatting about traditional apprenticeship and journeyman stages and how being exposed to other masters techniques can influence your progression and aesthetic in the craft you choose to pursue.

I really enjoyed having this chat! It definitely made me realize how much I need to spend time around individuals who are great at what they do. Hopefully I’ll get more of that in the future!

Resources Mentioned

Sams Instagram account (@ritterforge)

NorrHälsinge Järnsmides Gille — the blacksmithing guild Sam helped found.

Gränsfors Bruk axe making courses

Folk Craft Revival Podcast Episode 7

2020 Reading List

What did you read this year?

Did you read more or less than last year?

Personally, my list of books I went through is significantly shorter this year then it was in 2019– partly intentional and partly due to changing life circumstances. For example, I got a job which no longer allowed me to listen to audio books or podcasts while working. Also, I was camping for a couple months during the summer and didn’t have access to a library. That said, a portion of it was also a deliberate attempt to cut back on my reading because I feel like I am such a book lover that I can, at times, spend more time reading about how to do things than I do actually doing them.

And I wanted to change that.

I do still love books and all that I can learn from them, it just needs to be tempered with a little more hands-on action! So how do the numbers stack up? In 2019 I read 64 books, 4 of which were fiction. In 2020 I read 22 books– 21 non-fiction and 1 fiction. An astounding decrease in the amount read…. Hopefully that correlated to an increase in projects completed and skills learned!

Favorite Books From 2020

You may notice a couple of trends if you compare the reading list from 2020 and 2019. First off, most of the books I read for relaxing “down time” are still non fiction, mostly histories and accounts of explorations. I’ve always been fascinated by what you can pick up about a time period by reading an account of a persons life or specific event.

Secondly, I seem to have this morbid fascination with reading about man eaters! Haha I know I enjoy adventure and hunting stories, but I never realized how many books I read about hunting down man-eaters (mostly felines) that go on killing sprees. In 2019 I read 5 books recounting tales of hunting man-eating animals, in 2020 they comprised 3 of the 22 books I read.

I guess they fill that realm that occupies the nature side of things (you can actually learn lot if looking for it: the hunter needs to be pretty in tune with their surroundings and know wildlife well in order to successfully kill animals that are actively hunting them), overcoming challenges, and the suspense/thriller genre that most people turn to murder mysteries for. . . At any rate, they seem disproportional represented in my reading!

As far as favorites go: my favorite book of 2020 that I read to in the how-to realm was Root Cellaring by Mike and Nancy Bubel. It’s an older book, but it definitely got my wheels turning and will likely result in me putting in a lot of effort to dig a large hole in the ground this next summer. . . Growing and preserving food is a fundamental skill in my mind, and frankly makes me giddy thinking about stocking a cellar full of food. We’ll see if the magic wears off when I have to put in all the work for it instead of just dream about it! Along those same lines, I also REALLY enjoyed Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying,Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation which opened my mind to possibilities that I hadn’t thought about. Read them both.

Outside of the how-to realm, my top books this year were Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Kemmerer and Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexievich. I particularly mention Secondhand Time because we tend to think of the communist russia, the cold war, and the collapse of the USSR from a single perspective. . .the American one. It gives you a very fascinating glimpse into the phyche of the russian people and what it meant to be a soviet. Not from the typical perspective from the other side of all this, but from the common people who lived and died as soviets (the book is a compilation of interviews the author had with various individuals recounting some of what they had lived through). As a warning though, it also has some deeply disturbing parts and you’ll read in graphic detail about the horrific atrocities that some people have and will inflict on others. Not a feel good book.

If you read any particularly good books this year let me know about them, I’m always looking for a good read!

2020 Books in Review

Physical Books

  • Composting Toilets: a Guide to Options, Design, Installation, and Use by Gord & Ann Baird
  • The Grand Canyon Expedition by John Wesley Powell
  • Four-Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman
  • Missing Links Discovered in Assyrian Tablets: The Remarkable Discovery of Assyrian Tablets That reveal The Fate of “The Long Lost Tribes of Israel” by E. Raymond Capt
  • The Year-Round Hoophouse: Polytunnels for all Seasons and all Climates by Pam Dawling
  • Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying,Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation by The Gardeners & Farmers of Terre Vivante
  • The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
  • Navajo Native Dyes: Their Preparation and Use by Nonabah G. Bryan & Stella Young
  • Death in the Dark Continent by Peter Hathaway Capstick
  • Making Native American Hunting, Fighting, and Survival Tools by Monte Burch
  • Bush Craft by Mors Kochanski
  • Montana Native Plants and Early Peoples by Jeff Hart
  • Root Cellaring by Mike and Nancy Bubel
  • The Last Ivory Hunter by Peter Hathaway Capstick
  • Death in the Long Grass by Peter Hathaway Capstick
  • David Thompson’s Narrative of His Explorations in Western America, 1784-1812 by Joseph Burr Tyrrell

Audio Books

  • Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexievich
  • Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff
  • Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal
  • *The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin Mckinley
  • Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
  • Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration by David Roberts

027 Fish Leather and Ancestral Skills with Janey Chang

Janey Chang joins us to do a quick dive into how to tan fish leather using tea leaves (or other tannin sources). We also chat about her introduction to fish skin tanning and ancestral skills in general, why she loves ancestral skills, oil tanned fish leather, natural dyes, teaching others and nature connection.

I loved the enthusiasm that Janey brought to the conversation!

Even if you’ve never tanned anything, if you take a listen I’ll bet you have some plans to remedy that in your future!

Resources Mentioned

Saskatoon Circle Gathering — the website for the gathering (saskatooncircle.com) now seems to redirect to a gambling site. . . I’ll check back in the future and see if it gets fixed. Until then, if it sounded like something you’d be interested in check out this list of gatherings.

janeychang.ca — Janey’s website, check it out for upcoming class info!

Fish Leather by Lotta Rahme — Available from Lotta’s website here, or through Janey here.

Adventures in Fish Skin Tanning FB Group

Janey’s Facebook page

Janey’s Instagram

Fingerweaving Basics and History with Kris Daman

026 Fleece Rugs, Keeping Sheep, Heritage and the Shetland Islands with Helen Hart


In this episode I chat with Helen about some of the traditional crafts she’s involved with, how she became involved in them, and what draws her to them. We talk about keeping sheep, natural dyes, fair isle knitting, burning peat, willow basketry, the fleece rugs she makes, and so much more! Like many of us she is a dabbler in many traditional crafts, with a passion for learning about heritage crafts– in particular those from the Viking era.

Oh yes, and I also spend way too much time asking about the Shetland Islands. . . =) I didn’t know much about them and Helen was gracious enough to indulge my curiosity! Fortunately she has a passion for learning and understanding the local culture as well as sharing what makes it special.


@hart_of_shetland — Helen’s instagram page, go take a look at the rugs she’s making!

hartofshetland.co.uk — Helen’s website

If you’re interested in learning more about the Fire Festival (Up Helly Aa) or the Shetlands in general I’d suggest taking a look at www.shetland.org

025 Home Butchery and Using the Unusual Bits with Jake Levin

Do you raise and butcher your own livestock? Process the game animals you hunt? This episode is for you. . .

And me! I have very limited butchery experience, but it’s something that fascinates me. There is a definite art to the trade, but at the same time it seems so straight forward and like you would be following basic principles throughout the process.

Regardless, this time of year would have been the traditional butchering season in northern latitudes and just about every rural family would have been processing their yearly meat in addition to putting up their harvest for the winter. Many of us no longer raise, slaughter, or butcher our own animals anymore (something I think keeps us too removed from the reality of what is going on with our food), but I thought that I would like to do an episode that revolves around home butchery and talk about some of the basics.

I also believe that we (Americans at least) let too much of the animal go to waste these days, and that if we truly respected the life we were taking we would utilize more of the parts that often get discarded. Fortunately, Jake is a nose-tail butcher so we also discuss various cuts that often get overlooked and what you can do with them.

Resources Mentioned

therovingbutcher.com (also the best place to buy The Smokehouse Handbook authored by Jake)

The Roving Butcher on Instagram

The Roving Butcher on Facebook

Butchering Beef by Adam Danforth

Butchering Poultry, Rabbit, Lamb, Goat and Pork by Adam Danforth

Butchering Chickens: A Guide to Humane, Small-Scale Processing by Adam Danforth

Youtube video of Bryan Mayer breaking down a pig

Northeast Organic Farming Association

Raven and Boar Farm

Hancock Shaker Village

The Butchers Guild of America

The Farm Travelers Podcast