Instructor Josh Barnwell's portrait

Making Bone Tools: Craft and Kinship with Instructor Josh Barnwell

“As people who value life and feel the weight of responsibility for every life taken to continue our own, learning how to utilize every part we can of these animal bodies draws us deeper into ties of kinship with the more than human world.”

Instructor Josh Barnwell of Be Well Outdoors will be joining us for his third year at Firefly Gathering 2023 from Cookeville, TN. Josh offers classes at the Gathering primarily in bone craft, making bone tools like awls, needles, and fish hooks, while sharing decades of experience connecting people to the natural world in a real and meaningful way. 

In this interview, Josh shares about the integral connection between working with bone and connecting to the living world, and how he found this path as an instructor. Read more from Josh below, and join him at the Annual Firefly Gathering, June 20-25, 2023!  

Q. What draws you to teach classes in bone craft?

I first took interest in crafting with bone as a teen. I was learning how to process deer and getting hides to tan into buckskin, but the deer were really the only resource I had access to. So, I learned how to make bone tools like scrapers to scrape the hide, then bone awls to further craft with the buckskin I was making, and slowly [I found] more and more things that I could make from this- often overlooked- material gift. 

Learning and teaching earthskills borders on obsession for me, that feeling of connection that comes with going into the land and creating something from what appears to be nothing is an empowering experience that I love to embody and share with everyone. Even though I primarily teach at gatherings now and don’t often take classes, the opportunity to connect with others who practice these ways leaves me feeling so full of new things to try and so satisfied I couldn’t imagine not being part of that. 

Q. Was there an “ah-ha” moment for you on this path?

Looking back it seems as if this was always the direction I was headed in, I could picture in my head how I wanted to be but the real ah ha came when I attended my first Earthskills Rendezvous spring of ’06. Joining in with that community and getting to see so many people who were striving to live this way gave me such a clearer view of what was really possible.

My mom has always been my biggest supporter and nurturer of my passions. From getting me books that taught me things I wanted to know, to bringing me to that first earthskills gathering, she held the space for me to be who I am and always helped me on my journey, even when she didn’t fully get it. I love you, Mom!

Q.Why is it important for people to engage with this making bone tools and bone craft in general?

One of the things I love most about teaching bone craft is it opens up the door to connect to animal lives in a deeper way. As people who value life and feel the weight of responsibility for every life taken to continue our own, learning how to utilize every part we can of these animal bodies draws us deeper into ties of kinship with the more-than-human world. 

Q.What does The Firefly Gathering in particular mean to you?

Firefly Gathering is exceptional to me in the way that they bring so many people together in celebration of these skills and each other. Learning cool earthskills brings so many together but what keeps me coming back is the feeling of community that they foster so well.

My favorite memories from Firefly all seem to revolve around gathering by fire and hearing and seeing people’s excitement for what they’re learning and doing while there. It’s infectious!

Q. What do you think the single most important thing folks can do right now to make the world a better place?

Slow down, connect more. 

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Excited to deepen your connection to the more-than-human world? Check out Josh Barnwell’s full schedule of workshops on at www.bewelloutdoors.com, and join him at the Annual Firefly Gathering this June. See examples of Josh’s classes from last year here, and find your Passes & everything you need to know about the Gathering here.

We can’t wait to have you back at the Gathering, Josh!

WRITTEN BY

Firefly Gathering

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Kimberly Dunn

Finance Manager (she/her)

Having grown up in a multicultural family, Kimberly’s love for languages and traditional cultures is infused into everything she creates. After many years overseas, she now calls the Appalachian mountains her home and continues to keep the adventure alive by staying close to the wild. Kimberly is a singer songwriter, dancer, women’s circle facilitator, personal finance astrologer, bookkeeper, yoga teacher, and chef.