Sunday, April 21, 2013

Upcycling Part I: From Trash to Tools

"I can't sleep. My mind is going a mile a minute!" "Well stop thinking about it! I'm not your father!" "Dude, it's not that. I'm thinking about something completely different!" "It's the trash isn't it?" "It's the sweet, sweet trash!" Frank and Charlie, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

I remember in first grade when Ronald McDonald came to school preaching "recycle, reduce, reuse." Maybe it was just the way I had been raised, or perhaps the influence of my awesome and insightful beatnik teacher Mr. Van Gorden, but I distinctly remember wondering how a clown wearing a plastic jumpsuit, plastic nose, plastic wig and shoes, representing some of the least healthy food in America (served in Styrofoam) was going to educate us on the environment? I know, big thoughts for a youngin', but I guess I've always marched to the beat of my own drum. All said and done though, the creepy clown had a point, but today's post is aimed at looking beyond "recycle, reduce and reuse", though these topics are certainly linked. 

The old saying goes "One man's garbage is another man's gold." A statement with which any hoarder would certainly agree. I do not advocate bringing home every "gem" found in back alley's and junk piles and stockpiling them like pack rats for later use...not if you ever want to bring a date home at least. But I strongly support upcycling whenever possible.

Upcycling is the process of taking an old discarded item that was intended for one use, augmenting its shape and using it for a new function. In archaeology, we use the term use-life to describe how artifacts have functioned over time and are eventually deposited into the archaeological record. For instance, a stone bowl that has been broken through use, is then used as an anvil stone for shellfish processing, broken again through time, a fragment of this is later grooved and lashed to the end of a plant fiber line and used as a fishing weight. Upcycling has been a human tradition throughout the world for generations.

For at least 2.6 million years our ancestors made stone tools. After European contact, indigenous peoples around the world who still relied on this technology, found a new And so, from the dumps, landfills, and shipwrecks that Native flintknappers encountered, a wide array of upcycled glass found its way into their traditional hunting and processing assemblages. 
Inspired by the works of historic knappers from Australia and North America, I spent the last few days gathering glass, transforming and refining its shape into effective tools, the old way. From a plate glass table, bottle bases, and a sky scraper window smashed on the concrete, a wide spectrum of colors and projectile points emerged. My flintknapping kit consists solely of an antler tine cut from a black tailed deer shed antler I found while working as a shepherd on the north coast, a hammerstone which was a river cobble that came to me in the planes below the Grand Tetons, and a fragment of leather left over from my buddy Nicholas' fine leatherwork.

Weather it is a scrap of aluminum upcycled into a clam gauge (as my buddy Kirby recently did with his friend Garo, the Wild Blue Chef), or a scrap of steel blacksmithed into a one-of-a-kind knife (post soon to come), or the hobo stove you cook your grunion on that was once no more than a coffee can and a disposable aluminum pie plate, upcycling is fun and creative! This tradition says "forager" to the core! 

So get out there, want the waste, grab the garbage, take the trash, reuse the refuse, remember to bathe afterwards...and always strive to keep the old ways alive! -By Kevin Smith

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