Spruce it up

This article is not about the 18th century per se, but rather about general woodsmanship.


I generally prefer doing my reenacting outdoors in the forests. Sweden is about 80% forested area so there is a lot of space to use… Much of this forested area is spruce so spruce comes up a lot in woodsmanship around here.

The most common way to use spruce is to make your bedding with it. It is generally very good for this but few have a good grasp on how much is needed, and how to apply it. Some just collect a few branches and put them on the ground. Lets look at a better way.

To gain as good an insulation from groundcold as a modern camping mattress it needs to be about half a meter high. This generally is three or four armfulls, depending on how you arrange it. It you just heap it, it will take more and compress faster. But if you stick the ends into the ground and have them tilting up in an angle you will get a springy function and it will be way more effective. This way they will not compress as fast and you will generally have a softer more effective bed, with the added bonus of no hard endtwigs poking you. Align them in rows until you have your allotted area covered.


Branches arranged by sticking them into the ground. Giving a high and insulated bed.

Doing the dishes

For doing the dishes the spruce is an excellent choice. It will provide you with a dishbrush and detergent.  Lets get all out educational with step by step pictures and all!

So, you just eaten and reached that happy reclining state in came where your belly is full and you are about to stretch out. 20160507_152157Now is the time to do the dishes. Of course you have fried something greasy and its starting to stick to the skillet.

Fist step, use some small branches to just clear out the big chunks and give it a good starting scrub.20160507_192829

Next, put some branches into the pot and pour water on them. Get quite many and try to get them to fit into the pot. If you like you can chop them up. 20160507_192912

Fill up with water over the branches…..20160507_192942

…and get back to camp. Now we put the sprucesoup on the fire. This will give us hot water for our dishing but there is an additional perk. Spruce contains quite a lot of saponine which acts as detergent. Even pine has a lot and birch, eventhough birch is mostly used as a detergent for cloth. Cooking the branches will release the saponine and give you detergent for your dishing up. 20160507_193209

When the needles have lost colour and you can see a sort of oily film on the water, the dishwater is ready for you. This is the oils and saponines that have released into the water.


During the time the dishwater gets ready you can fashion a clever dishbrush. and get ready for the actual dishing. See all those little saponines swimming happily in the water, ready to do your bidding as detergents?20160507_195801

Now you have dishwater to use for most of the dishes that needs to be done after the meal. Everyone is happy and double happy that your demonstration of ‘how to do the dishes’ have resulted in all the dirty dishes being made.






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2 Responses to Spruce it up

  1. Fred says:

    so, what if there is no spruce around?
    my forest is mostly yellow/grey birch, Maple, iron wood, and some pine.


    • johankaell says:

      It is usable for some things.

      Pine also has saponins and can be used to dish.

      You can also brew a very nourishing tea of pine!

      For that you need pineneedles.
      Take enough to fill the pot. Pour water on so it just only covers the needles. Boil until the needles have lost its colors.
      Now the tea us ready to drink.
      Pineneedle tea is the basis of survival as it contains vitamins, oils and nutrients the body needs.

      Birch is great to do laundry in.
      Just use birchleaves in a plastic bag. Put your sicks in it, add water and blow air into the bag. Hang it on your back pack. As you walk it will slosh around, releasing saponins and clean your socks.

      The birchbark is so usefull it is hard to get into here. But you can basically make everything from it. In sweden it is do important it even have its own name “näver”. It can be used to make shoes, bags, backpacks, roofing, and lots more.

      It is also great for lighting fires.

      None of the above makes good groundcover though.


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