In this instructable I want to go through the process of net making from beginning to end, starting with carving the net needle to weaving the net itself. I also plan in incorporating a string making tutorial for those who want to duplicate this project from absolute beginning to end. For the sake of simplicity, and to prevent the instructable from ending up with 20+ steps, the string making and the weaving tutorials will be limited to one step each, in the form of short videos and are completely optional to the rest of the instructable.
A Bit Of Background;
As a child I was fortunate enough to have a parent that worked for Museums of Canada. This often meant that school holidays were spent exploring the museum displays. As a teenager, I was expected to volunteer during summer vacations. On the plus side, it meant that I was able to view artifacts up close, and even handle some that were closed away from the public. Fed by my need to create, this inevitably led to a lifelong obsession with recreating many of the artifacts I saw there, which is where many of my instructables come from.
Now like many, I was fascinated with archaic weapons such as the atlatl and the bow, and I have spent many hours replicating those items, but nothing fascinated me more than the day to day items that lithic cultures used. The one item that fascinated me most was net making.
Paleo Uses For The Net;
I came to realize that, of all the tools available to prehistoric man, nothing was more versatile than the simple net. As a fishing tool, it allowed it's user to catch food in bulk and was unsurpassed. It dawned on me that modern day hook and line setups were less about a guaranteed meal, and more about equalizing the odds for the fish in the name of ecology, which is essentially why many countries have outlawed the use of nets to all but indigenous cultures.
A net was equally as useful on land. Splayed over a rabbit hole, predatory animals, such as the ferret or snake were inserted into a second hole, or a fire was built just outside the den, and as the rabbit attempted to make its escape, it found itself tangled in the net. In modern terms, it is a very humane way to catch an animal and provides the most calories for the least amount of work.
The net was equally useful for birds. Strung out over a V shaped stick, it allowed the hunter the reach to catch birds mid flight, and again was very humane and calorically beneficial.
Most of all, it provided a convenient way of transporting large amounts of gathered material. It was a backpack, a hand bag, a shopping bag etc, all rolled into one.
Step 1: Tools and Supplies
- Good sharp knife
- (optional) crooked knife
- String - nylon, cotton or natural fiber such as hemp or jute
- Cedar/birch/pine log - any wood will do, but cedar is the easiest to carve and would be a first choice
- Two 2" rings - can use metal or wood. Optionally you can use cedar root that has been wound into a loop
- (optional) sandpaper - using beach sand on a piece of leather is the 'traditional' form
Step 2: Splitting Your Wood
Nice dry, aged wood would be the best, however you can work with freshly cut pieces, which, in fact are somewhat easier to carve, but will need time to dry before use. I would avoid using hardwoods like maple and oak, as they will be infinitely more difficult to carve and for our purposes, softer woods will be sufficiently strong.
Split your log into shingles roughly 3" wide by 10" long and 3/4" thick. There's no need for precision, but the closer you make them the less carving you will need to do to get them to rough shape. Leaving them slightly larger than the finished shape will go a long way to preventing imperfections from the splitting process from ending up in your finished work.
Step 3: Roughing Out the Shape
To start with you need to thin out your shape. This can be most easily achieved using a crooked knife. The advantage of the crooked knife, when thinning wood isn't the shape of the blade, but the shape of the handle. Unlike a regular knife, the grip, on the crooked knife, is reversed with a angled thumb placement on the end of the handle that is used as sort of a cantilever. The work is braced against the body and the knife is drawn toward you. I'd highly recommend getting one if you intend on getting into carving.
Thin your board down until it is roughly 1/4" thick and flatten it. Next you need to reduce the width from 3". Now, needles come in many sizes, but the most effective size is between 1.5"-2", depending on the size of the netting you intend on making. A good standard size would be 1.75" however you should endeavor to carve a few of them in varying sizes.
Finally you need to adjust the length. Between 8-9" is sufficient but I've seen them as long as 12". The idea is that the longer it is, the more line it will hold without thickening the needle so much it won't pass through the loops. Once you've adjusted the length, taper one end to a point. It doesn't have to be sharp, and, in fact, a slightly rounded tip would be preferable.
Step 4: Carving the String Channel
There's a lot of variation in the channel size in the reference material and most of it seems to be personal preference. I've built needles of different shapes and sizes and have found that a shorter channel, tho it holds less string, is also thinner and able to pass through the loops more easily. A longer channel (such as the museum image in the introduction) tends to bulk around the mid section and can actually inhibit smooth weaving. In my opinion, a channel length of 2.5" with a needle that's 2.25" long by .5" wide seems to work the best.
Start by scribing the rough shape of the channel with the tip of your knife, then use the round of your blade to start removing material, but don't go all the way through. Flip the needle and mirror it on the other side, removing material until the rough channel is formed.
Once the channel has been roughed out, you can refine it with your knife. Again, a crooked knife is useful as its double edge and hooked end allow you to carve both edged simultaneously without having to constantly flip your piece.
Step 5: The Tail String Guide
The guide, at the tail end of the needle is simply to keep your string from sliding off of the needle as you weave. It doesn't have to be very large as generally, the 'tabs' are 1/4" wide by 1/4". Because you'll be carving the end grain, it's easier to bevel each edge, then removed the thinned material rather than attempting carve it out directly. Trying to carve it out directly, especially on exceptionally dry soft wood can cause it to splinter, regardless of how sharp your knife is so thinning before gouging is the best way to avoid that.
Step 6: The Spacer Board
A good standard sized spacer board is around 2-2.5" wide, 5" long by 1/4" thick, however you may want to make some in varying sizes for different projects. Just remember that your spacer board dictates the size of your loops, especially on the second run and that your needle will need to fit through. You can carve the spacer board in much the same way as you did your needle.
Sanding is a good idea, however it isn't necessary. If you intend on keeping to traditional construction, and don't want to use store bought sandpaper, you can employ an age old trick. All you need is a piece of leather and some beach sand. Sprinkle the sand on the leather piece and use it in the same way as you would the store bought paper. The only drawback is that you need to bring your work to the paper and not the other way around, and the sand will constantly need to be replenished. Other than that, it should work great for you.
Step 7: Loading Your Needle
Make a loop in one end of the string and place it over the tip of the channel needle. Then bring the string down, around the base and up the other side wrapping it around the tip of the channel needle. Continue back and forth like this until your net needle is full.
Don't overload your needle. A needle that is overly full will be difficult to use, especially on nets that use smaller loops. It's rare that one full needle will ever complete a full project so expect to create joins in your net, and reload your needle a couple of times anyway.
Choice of String;
Any thin string will do and in any material. If it's your intention to make dip nets, you can even load your needle with fishing line.
Step 8: Basic Net Weaving Technique
Here's a basic double knot technique for net weaving. There are many different knots you can use, however when using synthetic material this is the one I'd recommend.
I've included a couple of still images along with the instructional video for the sake of clarity. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask in the comment section.
Step 9: Optional String Making Tutorial
As promised, I'm including an optional string making tutorial for those who would like to create their net needle completely from scratch. There's a certain pleasure in creating a complex tool from scratch and again, if you have any questions on the process, feel free to ask in the comment section.
Step 10: Finished
That's it. The net needle is a good addition to any outdoor/bushcraft/survival kit and knowing how to make one can go a long way to prepping you for the wild. As an old tutor once told me, "the nights are for making string" so I'd just like to add to that, "the nights are for making nets".
As usual, I hope you enjoyed the instructable and thanks for following.