Waterproofing Cotton: Poncho experiment #2

This post has been a long time in coming... but I've finally finished and tested another homemade poncho.


To review
After the above experiments I took another 5.11 shirt (left over from when I did SAR in CA), and treated it with beeswas and pure linseed oil (not "boiled"). That worked about as well as the commercial treatment, and I actually used it as my raincoat backpacking. I still basically got soaked, but slowly.


Based on that experiment my theory was that the polyester was keeping the cotton from really taking in the treatment the way I'd like and binding well in to the fabric. So, I decided I had to try it with pure cotton. I still had the bottom sheet of the 800 threadcount sheet-set, so I decided to give that a try, figuring that it's properties of shedding water once the fibers swelled might help as well. I really wasn't satisfied with my first couple of attempts at treatment though, The wax wouldn't go on evenly and it kept cracking off, so kept trying. Finally I think I figured it out.


Here's my recipe:

1) A bunch of beeswax (maybe a lb), dots are easiest (and cheapest), but a block will work. I did not use toilet-rings despite their cheaper price because I couldn't find any that said they were specifically beeswax and didn't have other things in them, and I wanted to get this to work with the old materials.
2) Some normal unboiled linseed oil (maybe 8 ounces)
3) A can or more of mineral spirits (turpentine should work fine too)


Pour all three in the top of a double boiler (I use two cooking pots that nest, with some sticks in the outer one), with water in the lower pot. Heat until the wax melts, mixture will get cloudy first, and then comparatively clear. Let cool to room temperature. This is the key, at room temperature it should still be liquid! Lay out your fabric, and paint the stuff on with a brush. The fabric should look like it's soaking wet, this means you got the mixture all of the way through the fabric. Let it dry, flip it over, and do it again... this is just to be sure it got all the way through, and get some extra was on it. Finally, let this hang in the sun a couple of days so the linseed can oxidize, the stickiness will go away and the smell fade as well.


One more bit of info. From reading it seems that Linseed oil is pliable after it "dries", but beeswax is way more waterproof. Thus, as you add more linseed oil you make the final treatment less brittle (it doesn't crack off as much), but it gets a little less waterproof. My mixture above leans heavily on the waterproof side, because that's what I wanted to test first. If you want to read more about this, go read about "spar varnish" this recipe with less mineral spirits can actually be used as a spar varnish, and from what I've gathered is pretty much the original mixture called with that name (probably using turpentine instead) historically.

Note that I do NOT use "boiled linseed oil". True boiled linseed would be very interesting to try, but the product sold at the store as "boiled linseed oil" is not, it's actually linseed oil with hardeners and such in it. When I tried this on my first tarp it never dried properly and stayed sticky and stank to high heaven eve after drying for over a month on the sun.

How well does it work?
I just went for a walk for 1:15 in a moderate rain, and my shoulders are damp. Everything else that was under the poncho is bone dry, meaning also my legs down to my knees. An important other factor (given my last tarp experiment), no residue was left on my shoulders except a few crumbs of cracked off wax. If you look at classic riding coats these had a lifted shoulder panel for this reason...

There is only so much waterproofness you can expect from a thin layer of cotton, even treated. Overall, I'd say this is not good enough for a cowboy roll (for that I think you'd need a thicker cotton), but I think it will be good enough for my purposes as a rain poncho. I plan to treat my over-shirt in the same manner which is thicker and thus hopefully even more waterproof. The two together I expect to work very well even in long rains. Here's the poncho holding some water, add more though, or touch the fabric, and it starts running out.


There's always more testing to do, but overall I think I'm happy with the poncho. It's a lot lighter than 10 ounce would be, and I suspect I've managed to emulate the waterproofness of a classic old (thin) tincloth. I'd be fascinated if someone has evidence to the contrary.

I've also slept out in it wrapping my alpaca fur sleepingbag, and it worked great for warding off dew. In mist, very light rain, or snow it would work fine in this capacity as well... even though I think I'd get too wet in a full-out downpour. Obviously it still works as a tarp, it worked even before it was treated for that. I've used it several times as a groundcloth and it's also plenty good enough for that.

How I made the poncho
The poncho is 8x6, so a little big as a wearable tarp. The width I just deal with, it's nice while walking and a little annoying while doing things. Tying a rope around the waist makes it far more manageable though. I think this will be okay since I'll have a wind-shirt to wear for short spurts around camp or say, if I need to do some climbing, anyway.

Clearly though, even with the rope, 8' is too long for a poncho, so it has a button-up flap in the back taking up maybe 18" of fabric. This is like a classic nylon poncho, you can open it up to cover a pack, or when using the poncho as a tarp say, as a shelter or ground-cloth (all uses I have planned). The buttons are simple stick buttons cut around the middle and tied on. The hems I did by hand.

The neck is the most interesting component. This is a separate piece of fabric that was sewn such that water would run off. I decided that full-felled seams were a PITA, so this is just a normal seam layered properly. This design allows me to cinch the neck tight so there's only a small hole while using the poncho as a tarp, or I can cinch it around my neck while using it as a poncho to help keep drips from going down it. The plan is to combine this with a hat (as in my first picture), which I often wear in the rain anyway.


Conclusion:This recipe seems pretty decent, and a huge improvement on any other recipe I've tried. I think my final product is usable for my overall "no cotton backpacking" gear. I'm curious to try the treatment on my canvas shirt as well, and find out if a thicker fabric helps.

Lastly, here's another old post relevent to the safety of this gear

I've added grommets to this, using the methods from http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2017/02/myog-plasticless-backpack.html, and I'm finding it far superior to sewing on tieouts.

More pot hanging methods

Here's another interesting cooking method. Really a followup to: http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2016/07/pot-hanging-methods.html
After we rolled the truck I ditched the wooden poles in the snow while trying to get everything back in the truck in below-zero whether after dark so it could be towed off, and we haven't replaced them yet.
But, we had twine and some trees!

This setup uses one main rope strung between two trees (our ropes were two short, so I joined them using carrick bends). Then a third running to another tree and tied to the first with a double-half-hitch (clove-hitch, but on rope). This third rope lets us adjust the position left-right over the fire.

Lastly a rope was tied using a bowline over the first rope, so it could easily be slid along it. Then the pot-hook tied to that rope with the usual taught-line hitch, so you can adjust the height.

It worked so well, when we wanted to make pasta at the same time we just added another pot-hanging rope!


MYOG: Plasticless Backpack

I've been using this backpack for some time now, including for search and rescue trainings, hiking the JMT, etc. and I love it
http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2010/10/myog-external-framepack-mod.html. Since that post I did indeed replace the hipbelt with one for a kelty pack, a little hacking and I got it to work quite well.


So, my goal is to emulate this pack. I thought about making a pack from scratch, but having software experience I realized maybe that wasn't the best approach. It would be an adventure, but if I wanted a final result that functioned, why not try replacing things piece by piece? Plus, while maybe I'll replace the aluminum frame eventually with something homemade, I could retain aluminum frame for now and get a backpack with no plastic in it much faster.

When I got the pack it had 2 fabric panels (made of nylon in a canvas like weave I believe) which hold the frame off the back.


So, I decided my first task was to replace these. I had some 8 ounce canvas lying around, but I didn't have any grommets. Also, the last project where I tried grommets in that fabric didn't turn out so well, as the grommet pulled out: http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2014/07/dyi-chair-seat.html. For this I wanted something that would hold up well and not suddenly fail while out in the bush.

Years ago I got my hands on a book called "arts of the sailor" from which I learned a lot of my knot and ropecraft. I remembered it having a description of how to make a grommet using thin twine. This is where kindle's excel, as I had the book with me!

I had the waxed linen I use for almost all of my projects. After sewing up the canvas in to the right shape, with a triple layer end to help support the grommets, I started in on the grommets themselves. The first step is to make a ring-splice:

Next poke a hole in the fabric with an awl, and ream it out to the right size (ideally pushing the fibers aside, rather than breaking them). And then begin sewing the ring on to the fabric with a whipstitch that passes through the reamed out hole.


Here's my first completed grommet, not the prettiest, but it should work


I did 3 on each side of 2 panels, by my 6'th one they were looking a lot prettier, the second panel I did is on the bottom. Using the same linen twine I legrolled some 8 strand 2 ply cordage to actually tie the panels on. In total making these 2 panels took probably a day and a half of sewing, because I wanted them to be extremely solid, and was doing it by hand. Interestingly, more of that time was spent sewing the panels themselves and reinforcing the ends than was spent on making the grommets.


With that done, the next step is the shoulder straps. Having recently replaced my roll quiver, at least for now, with a bamboo tube, I had some spare leather lying around, so I cut the shoulder straps from that. The cord tying it to the frame is nylon, since that's what I had, but it'll be easy to replace with something else, probably silk or linen so it doesn't chafe my side too much.


This is a usable backpack as is, and fine for a 2 or 3 day trip, and with no plastic (save some old stickers on the frame :P). To make it really nice I'll need to build a hipbelt as well. I'm looking at a base-weight of ~20 lbs for my no-plastic kit, so I need the pack to carry at least 35lbs well, preferrably 40+. At those weights, while I could do without a belt, I'd really like one.

The belt is a little more complicated, I'm thinking leather, but I have to get it shaped right, and figure out a way to suspend the pack from it that doesn't roll the belt... I may go with the partial belt, like the original, or a belt that goes all the way around, like the kelty hipbelt I had on it until recently.

Now that I learned how to make a proper twine grommet, I kind of want to go back and add these to my cotton tarp, as the tie-outs need repairs every so often due to wear.


I've now used this for 6 days of backpacking recently (in 3 back to back overnight trips, 20 miles each), and another 3 day trip a little while back, this included some near winter weather.

I've been using hemp twine for the shoulder-straps. It works, but I've also been using it for my waterbottle and that one simply broke eventually, so I probably need a tougher twine.

The tightening strings on the back panels on this went *over* the metal stays. When I strap bags to the pack the bags push on the twine and loosen the back panels. I moved them so they run under the back stays, instead, directly behind the panel, this solved the problem.

Lastly, the lack of a hipbelt has NOT been a problem. This surprised me. The last 3 overnight trips were all in the mountains of New Mexico, with no reliable water sources. As a result I was carrying ~7 liters, or ~14 lbs of water. Added to my maybe 17 lbs of gear, and ~3 lbs of food, I was carrying over 34 lbs. It's rare I get over ~36 lbs, so that's a pretty good test for me. My shoulders did get sore at the heaviest weight, but they were recovered by morning... no big deal. So, I think I don't need a hipbelt.


Prairie Fires

After getting our truck back in traveling fashion, we headed down to our friend Adam's place in Missouri, where it's the time of year for controlled burns. I wrote about Adam once before http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2016/10/ecological-restoration-with-adam-weiss.html.


When Europeans set foot in the Americas, the midwest was mostly open Prairie. The reason for this is that fires regularly rolled across the plains. The Prairie ecology is made up of plants that have evolved with fire. Without fire they can't outcompete other plants, and in fact, many will fail to even germinate, as they've developed germination directly after a fire (the one time where there is no other full-grown vegetation to compete with) as a competitive advantage. Before we began farming these areas, much of the great plains had 10 feet of organic matter in the soil. Talk about rich fertile soil, and if nothing else that's an incredible amount of carbon burial.

I realize how counterintuitive this is... burning prairie *facilitates* carbon burial because prairies bury carbon as very slowly decomposing organic matter beneath the soil. When you burn a prairie, you're only burning the bit above the soil, furthering the ecology capable of storing it underneath. Each time it's burned the carbon released is soon reburied as the field sprouts up again, so even this carbon stays in a closed cycle until buried as root masses and stalks and such under the soil.

Anyway, all this means that if you want to bring back native plants and animals to these areas, you have to burn them... and as a bonus, it's really fun!

It's winter, so in general things are colder, and many perennial plants are dormant so will survive the burning. Adam says you can burn at other times though, depending on what plants you are trying to keep. Adam's obsessed with the weather and watches it like many people watch Facebook these days. For this burn he carefully chose a day with humidity low enough when things would burn well, after a decent spell without rain. If the humidity is really low the fire could easily run out of control though, and he wanted an easy to control cool fire for this burn. He also waited until the wind was very low, again to make the fire easier to control. This tends to happen most evenings even if it's been a nice sunny day (good for drying out the dew).

First we checked the fire-breaks were solid. Then, after making sure we had sprayers loaded, and weren't wearing plastic clothing, he gauged the wind direction. Then he went to the downwind end of the field and lit up a small fire, so he could watch the smoke


Seeing that this was squarely the downwind end of the field he spread that fire across the downwind side. This is called the "back fire".


Once it had burned a few feet in to the field, he put a line just a few feet upwind of the first line of fire. This line has fuel downwind of it, but only maybe 6 or 8 feet of it, so it burns much faster, consuming that fuel, but not hot enough to be a problem and jump across. I think this is just a way to speed up the backfire.


This creates a really nice fire-break as it clears all burnable material away.


Using these two techniques he works his way around the field, working the edges towards the upwind side. Moving further forward only after he's confident the ever growing firebreak (due to the fire slowly marching in to the wind), is wide enough he can be confident it's not likely to jump, or at least would be easy to control if it did. (this picture is of a different fire, but is illustrates the point well).


Lastly he goes across the upwind side of the field and lights *most* of it (though not all)... The opening he leaves gives any small mammals such as rabbits an avenue of escape. Even if you don't care about small furry creatures (who are part of the ecology too) Adam's friend pointed out, a rabbit on fire running through the rest of the prairie will cause a mess really quickly.


This last fire is called the "head fire", as it's upwind of the fuel. Having lots of fuel downwind to burn it roars up in to a huge inferno, and this is why Adam did it in that order, because the back fire marching in to the wind from the other side of the field has by now created an enormous fire-break that even that hot fire is unlikely to jump.


And now... here's some more cool pictures of fire :D


We also burned a section of woodland, after raking around each tree (Adam doesn't normally do this, but he had an overly hot wildfire run through here a couple of years ago just before his planned controlled burn, so he wanted to give the trees an easy time of it). This was a much cooler fire, hot enough to reduce the number of seedlings that come up and keep an open woodland with a very different ecology, but not hot enough to kill off full-grown healthy trees. This is another type of natural fire ecology. Adam had more help with the woodland burn, as the fire-breaks are necessarily not as good. This is the head fire marching slowly up the hill (the wind is light, and fuel sparse, so it was slow in this case).


This fire got hot enough it singed my cheek at one point. I found it pretty difficult to capture just how dramatic the fire was. Flames 20 feet tall at times when the head fires got going across the prairie areas.

IMG_20170128_183836 IMG_20170127_174920