How to Make Lightweight Oilskin Tarps from Bed Sheets

How to Make Lightweight Oilskin Tarps from Bed Sheets

Weighta unit of heaviness or mass; any heavy load, mass, or object; the vertical force experienced by a mass as a result of gravitation.

Gravity. It’s unescapable… on this planet. It keeps us grounded. But it also weighs us down.

I consider myself to be in decent physical condition. Even so, at my age, every pound added to my backpack affects the gravitational pull and energy needed to carry the stuff. I’m no ultralight hiker by any stretch, but I do try to lighten my load every chance I get.

I’ve wanted to own an oilskin tarp for some time now. They’re durable but too pricey for our budget at this time. A quality oilskin tarp (new) will set you back $200. My motto, when it comes to gear, is buy the best you can afford. Or, go the common man route and make your own.

The idea for this project came from William Collins’ 4 part series on his YouTube channel. I’ve condensed his method into a short tutorial for you.

Stuff You’ll Need

  • 100% Egyptian cotton bed sheet (flat). The higher the tread count the better. I used a king size which measures 8.5′ x 9′.
  • 20 oil lamp wicks (1/2″ x 6″). They come in packs of 5 at Wally World.
  • Boiled linseed oil – 3 to 4 cups (depending on the size of your cloth)
  • Mineral spirits – 3 to 4 cups
  • Dye (optional) unless your sheet is the color you desire
  • Containers
  • Heat source
  • Rubber gloves

Prep the sheet: Before the dyeing process begins, wash the sheet in cold water and washing powder. Then dry on high heat to close and tighten the woven fibers in the sheet.

Sew the lamp wicks on all corners and at two foot intervals along the edges. I sewed these on by hand. A sewing machine would take less time but that’s how I roll. I added 3 additional loops down the center of the sheet to allow for more options when configuring my tarp.


Step 1: Making Natural Dye

I filled the bottom of a 10 inch pot with green hickory nuts from a tree in our yard. Thank you, squirrels! Use an old pot that you don’t mind staining. I then added several black walnuts (green hulled) to the mix which happen to be dropping from trees now.



With the dyeing agent (green nuts) in the pot, fill 3/4 full with water. Bring to a boil on an outdoor fire. Allow to slow boil for an hour or more. The longer you boil, the darker your dye will become. I was going for an earth tone.

You can also break the green hulls off the black walnuts to increase the surface area and improve the extraction process. Be aware that the hulls will stain anything they touch – skin included.


If you choose not to make your own natural dye, RIT dye is available at most grocery stores.

Step 2: Dye the Sheet

Test the color of your dye on a piece of scrap cloth. If you’re satisfied, strain the dye mixture into a clean container. A window screen over a bucket works well.


Place the sheet into the container. Use rubber gloves to prevent staining your hands. Turn and squeeze the material for a thorough coverage.


Leave the sheet in the dye for 24 hours. Longer for a darker color. To keep the sheet submerged, I place the lid of cast iron dutch oven on top. Not recommended. The greasy drip spikes on the lid left a polka dot stain pattern on the bed sheet. What was I thinking!? I replaced the heavy lid with one of DRG’s small dinner plates and a 25 lb. dumbbell.


Step 3: Set the Dye

Wring the sheet over the container to remove the excess dye. I hung mine over a double clothes line out back to dry.

Once dry, wash it in cold water with washing powder when your wife isn’t home. No, it won’t stain the washing machine tub. The cold water sets the dye. Dry the sheet on high in preparation for the waterproofing.


Step 4: Waterproofing

Mix equal parts boiled linseed oil and mineral spirits (drying agent) in a container. I used a 5 gallon bucket. You only need enough to completely saturate the cloth. I used two cups of each and found dry spots on the sheet. Another cup of each did the trick. Other DiY’ers have “painted” the oil on their cloth. For the best coverage, message the oil into the material in a bucket. You’ll probably want gloves for this step.


Squeeze the excess mixture from the sheet back into the bucket. Funnel the extra waterproofing liquid in a smaller container and label it for later projects. I used the empty mineral spirits can.

Note on boiled linseed oil: Properly dispose of any oil soaked rags used to wipe spills. As the linseed oil dries, it creates heat and can combust spontaneously.

Worried about burning down your shop or barn while the tarp hangs to dry? Don’t be. Spreading the tarp to dry dissipates the heat.

Step 5: Cure the Sheet

Hang the oiled sheet vertically under a covered roof outside. In a hurry, I laid my sheet over the double clothes line. This method created two lines down the middle section of the sheet. Plus, it rained that evening. Dumb move. The next morning, water was standing on the sheet between the two lines. I hung the sheet under my attached shed behind my shop the next day.


The drying time on the oiled sheet depends on humidity. Well, it rained for three days after I applied the oil. You guessed it, the tarp stayed tacky. When the weather cleared, it dried in 48 hours.

Now for the moment of truth… is it waterproof?

I hung the dried tarp on the clothes line and unreeled the garden hose. I set the nozzle on “shower” and pulled the trigger. This was my common rain shower test. It passed! No moisture behind the tarp when wiped with a paper towel.




Now for the hurricane test. I set the hose to “jet” from three feet away and blasted the tarp. The paper towel underneath remained bone dry!


Even with standing water between the clothes line, no drips or moisture anywhere. Good to know the tarp could be used to harvest water in a survival scenario!


As far as durability, I’m pretty sure my bed sheet tarp won’t outlast an eight ounce canvas oilskin tarps. Maybe it will. Time will tell. I’m testing it this weekend at the Pathfinder School Basic Class. I’ll update y’all on its performance.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

By Todd Walker

Why Being a “Tree Hugger” Builds Self-Reliance

I’ve never considered myself a “tree hugger” as defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

noun: someone who is regarded as foolish or annoying because of being too concerned about protecting trees, animals, and other parts of the natural world from pollution and other threats [Emphasis mine]

Yesterday I annoyed a few motorists crossing a narrow country bridge on a tree hugger outing. Not intentionally, mind you. It’s just that I needed to photograph a beautiful American Sycamore stretching its molten limbs over a muddy Georgia river. One trucker let me know how foolish I looked by blaring his air horn as I perched on the bridge railing snapping my shutter. Unaffected, I continued my craziness.

The thought of being a tree hugger, as previously defined, may not describe you, but every person on the journey to self-reliance and preparedness would benefit from hugging a tree or two.

You’re conflicted, right? Well, don’t be.

It’s our responsibility to protect, use, and conserve our natural resources. We’re stewards of this land. Our Appalachian ancestors understood the properties of trees and how to use the wood, bark, leaves, and roots to build a sustainable life. There were no box stores with stacks of dimensional lumber to build a house. If a handle shattered, they knew the best wood to use for re-hafting an ax. Tulip Poplar was abundant and used to build houses and hand-hewn log cabins. The Appalachian pioneers knew their wood!

A young sycamore growing near the roadside

A young sycamore growing near the roadside

A young sycamore growing near the roadside

There are boat-loads of info on edible weeds and medicinal plants. I’ve found a lack of printed material on the medicinal/edible uses of trees. I have many of the Foxfire book series and always look to add more to my self-reliance library. Clue me in if you have more tree resource books, please. So, like any good Doer of the Stuff, I’m embarking (pun intended) on a tree education journey as part of my Doing the Stuff Skills list. Who knows, maybe you’ll be convinced to embrace your inner tree hugger.

Ready, set, hug!

The first tree to wrap your arms around is the American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis). It can reach heights over 130 tall, over 10 feet in diameter, and grow to be 600 years old. George Washington documented in his journal in 1770 a sycamore with a diameter of 14 feet (45 feet in circumference). Trees this large usually have hollow trunks that house animals of all sorts. It’s been reported that settlers even used hollowed Sycamore trees to shelter livestock.

The rapid growth rate of this deciduous tree causes the bark to shed in molten fashion like a birch tree. Its camouflage pattern of light green and brownish gray with creamy white background splotches causes the trunk to stand out in late fall and winter when forest leaves lay on the ground. The exfoliating bark and coloration makes the sycamore one of the easiest deciduous trees in the eastern woodlands to identify in the winter.


The Sycamore and Self-Reliance

The fast growing American Sycamore likes wet bottom land near streams, rivers and ponds in full sun. Their leaves are similar to maple but not as spectacular since they turn a boring brown in the fall. Beavers find the bark appetizing.

In Bushcraft

Bushcraft refers to the art of crafting in the bush (woods) with minimal tools and lots of skill.

  • Sycamore’s fibers intertwine making it an excellent wood for spoon and bowl carving. The wood tends to warp in the drying process, so use dried, seasoned wood.
  • Not rot resistant and shouldn’t be used for longterm structures exposed to the moisture.
  • The sap offers a year-round source of hydration in warm climates.
  • The sycamore can also be tapped like a maple tree for syrup or sugar. However, it takes a lot of sap to make small batches of sycamore syrup.
  • Shade-casting crown of large trees offer shelter from the sun.
  • Large leaves (up to 10 inches across) can be used as a wrap for slow cooked food over coals for an added sweet flavor.

This green leaf measured almost 9 inches across

In Woodwork

  • Sycamore is grown commercially for pulp and rough lumber.
  • Interlocking grain makes nice accent pieces for woodworking.
  • Turns easily on a lathe for bowls.
  • Beautiful specking on gun stocks.
  • Music boxes; guitars and violins.
  • Hard to split which makes sycamore an excellent butcher’s block.
  • Quarter sawn makes this wood more stable for projects. Flat sawn tends to warp.
  • It gets one of its nicknames “Buttonwood” from it ability to create durable wooden buttons.
  • The wood is food safe and was used for food crates and barrels in the past.

In Medicine

Inner bark tee was used for a wide variety of treatments by Native Americans.

  • Colds, coughs, and lung ailments
  • Measles
  • Emetic – cause vomiting
  • Laxative
  • Astringent properties to treat skin issues and eye wash
  • Sweet sap on the inner bark used for wound dressing
  • Sap can also be used to make wine

The American Sycamore is a pioneer species. About forty years ago, we stopped cultivating a small field on wet bottom land on our family farm. Today we have a large stand of native sycamores growing wild.


What was once several acres of corn we pulled by hand

Being a “tree hugger” should not carry a negative stereotype or denote a political affiliation for those of us building self-reliance skills and pursuing a more sustainable lifestyle. Embrace your love of trees and learn to be stewards of these towers of the forest!

Have you hugged a tree today?

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

By Todd Walker

27 Survival Uses for Common Mullein Besides Cowboy Toilet Paper

Ever been caught in the woods with nature calling you to a squatty position? If you forgot the Charmin, you’d still be a happy camper with Cowboy Toilet Paper (AKA – Common Mullein). It’s velvety soft leaves have wrangled many a woodsman and camper from certain disaster over a cat hole.

The fuzzy leaf of this botanical wonder may cause skin irritation (contact dermatitis). That’s not a bad thing if you happen to be a Quaker in the new world. Since Quaker women weren’t allowed to wear make up, these resourceful ladies rubbed the hairy leaves on their cheeks for a homemade blush to attract suitors. Hence the name Quaker’s Rouge.

If employed as Cowboy TP or camper’s wash cloth, wipe with the flow of the hairs not against. Use caution with sensitive behinds. If a rash occurs, plantain is usually close by.

Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is easy to identify making it a safe gateway herb to wildcrafting and medicinal plants. The leafs, stalk, and root are safe for medicinal purposes.

First year plants grow as a rosette with large, wooly, hairy, velvety leaves. The silver-green foliage gives the plant an artificial waxed appearance. They grow in well-drained disturbed soil by roadways, abandoned fields, waste places, and even gravel, rocky soil in full sun.

10 Survival Uses for Mullein Besides Cowboy Toilet Paper

Second year growth can reach heights over ten feet.

10 Survival Uses for Mullein Besides Cowboy Toilet Paper

10 Survival Uses for Mullein Besides Cowboy Toilet Paper

You may know this European weed transplant by other common names such as flannel flower, Quaker’s rouge, bunny’s ear, candle wick, great mullein, torchwort, miner’s candle, poor man’s blanket, hag’s taper, ice leaf, or Cowboy Toilet Paper. Whatever name you use, mullein has been a valuable mulituse tool for self-reliance for thousands of years.

Here’s why…

Properties of Mullein

Understanding the properties of herbs allows you to get the most out of  your herbal medicine chest. Here’s the plant’s medicinal profile:

  • Analgesic – pain relief
  • Anticatarrhal – reduces inflammation of the mucous membranes (lungs, sinus, etc.)
  • Antispasmodic – suppresses involuntary muscle spasms
  • Antitussive – relieve or prevent coughs
  • Astringent – contraction of body tissue, typically on skin
  • Demulcent – forms a soothing film over mucous membranes
  • Diuretic – increases urine production
  • Expectorant – aid in the clearance of mucus from the airways, lungs, bronchi, and trachea
  • Mucilant – coat and protect mucous membranes
  • Vulnerary – promotes healing of wounds, cuts, and abrasions

For more information on medicinal properties of herbs, check out Bk2natuR’s Herbal Dictionary and other natural goodness!

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An additional awesome herbal/wildcrafting resource can be found at Common Sense Homesteading. Laurie, a blogging friend of mine, has a great series called Weekly Weeder with 48 posts on using your weeds for culinary and medicinal purposes. I highly recommend her stuff!

As you can see, Common Mullein has many more uses than emergency roadside TP. Take a look…


  • Mullein tea (expectorant) helps facilitate lung function and removes congestion and mucus from the respiratory tract. Dried leaves may also be used as a smoke inhalation.

A dehydrator speeds up the drying process. Set your dehydrator on its lowest heat and process until dry. I set this batch on 95º for about 18 hours for crispy leaves.

[Side note: Even though out Excalibur uses little electricity, I want to build a solar dehydrator. If you have successfully built your own, please contact me. Thanks!]

10 Survival Uses for Mullein Besides Cowboy Toilet Paper

10 Survival Uses for Mullein Besides Cowboy Toilet Paper

  • Oil infusion of the yellow flowers for ear aches

How to make Mullein-Flower Oil Infusion

A.) Locate a group of blooming mullein plants (June-September) and harvest the yellow flowers. You’ll need enough to fill a small jam or jelly jar half to three-quarters full. I ended up with about half a jar of flowers. This is tedious and time-consuming. Allow the blooms to dry for an hour or so to remove some of the water content.

10 Survival Uses for Mullein Besides Cowboy Toilet Paper

B.) Fill the jar with olive oil or any oil you like and screw the lid tightly. Steep the infusion in a warm, sunny spot for about 2 to 4 weeks. Shake the infusion once a day – if you remember.

10 Survival Uses for Mullein Besides Cowboy Toilet Paper

C.) Pour the infused oil through a strainer (cheese cloth or bandana) into another container for storage. Label, date, and store in a cool dark cabinet. For ear aches or wax build up, place a few (2-3) drops into the ear a couple of times daily until the problem clears up.


  • Improves soil as a nitrogen fixer and heals the worst soil conditions
  • Feeds bees and other pollinators
  • Compost material
  • Some birds enjoy the seeds
  • Rotenone, found in mullein, is synthesized for insecticide
  • Goats won’t eat it so mullein is a good way to add some green to goat-ravaged land

Bushcraft and Self-Reliance

  • Mullein leaves can be used inside shoes as a cushion and warmth
  • Blanket mullein is one alias outdoor enthusiasts should keep in mind for emergency blanket
  • Saponins in the seeds are said to be useful for stunning fish for easy collection – use only in a true survival scenario
  • Dried leaves and seed pods make an excellent tinder for fire starting
  • Dip a dried seed head stalk in tallow, bees-wax, or pine sap for a long-burning torch (torchwort, miner’s torch)
  • The stalk can be used to create a friction fire – bow or hand drill style

Creek Stewart at Willow Haven Outdoor has a great video demonstrating the friction fire technique using mullein below:

Common Mullein is the common man/woman multi-tool of herbal self-reliance. Ah, a new alias… Common Man Mullein!

DISCLAIMER: This information is offered for educational purposes only. Do your own due diligence before foraging wild edibles and medicinal plants of any kind.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


The Top 8 Reasons You Need a Possum Mentality to Survive What’s Coming

Top 8 Reasons You Need A Possum Mentality To Survive What's Coming

When times are good, abundance flows like sweet treats from Willie Wonka’s Chocolate factory. Thinking that this river of abundance will never dry up is, as Willie Wonka sang, Pure Imagination.

Entire nations have experience hyperinflation, sever shortages, and even collapse. In every crisis (personal, local, or national), we all need to adopt a Possum Mentality when things go south.

I know the animal’s official name is opossum, but possum just rolls off my southern tongue with ease.

It doesn’t matter if you’re so broke that you can’t pay attention, middle class, or living in luxury’s lap, you too can learn from North America’s only marsupial.

Both of my parents passed down the possum mentality to me and my siblings. They taught us to figure out a way to get the job done with whatever resources were available.

My mom was raised in a two bedroom house with 9 siblings. They raised their own food. Clothing and shoes were passed down and worn out. Papa V (my grandfather) drove from Texas to Georgia with a milk cow in the back seat of his car. He made a cow diaper from a burlap feed sack to get the bovine home. Now that’s resourceful – I don’t care where you’re from! Got milk?

In honor of my parents – and all our past generations that survived and thrived by adopting a possum mentality – here are my top 8 reasons you need a Possum Mentality…

# EIGHT – Live anywhere

The Possum: They prefer woodlands, but, as many urban dwellers are intimately aware, these critters are frequent raiders of city trash cans and dumpsters.

Possum Mentality Development

  • Having the ability to live in urban or rural farmland and all places in between.
  • Adapt to any surroundings.
  • Reuse unconventional dwellings – barn, shed, earth home, cave, hay bale home, etc.
  • Be willing to relocate if necessary for better opportunities and resources.

# SEVEN –  Picky eaters starve

Possums are anti-picky eaters. They’re not the fastest animal in the woods so they forage on anything they can catch. Their appetite for calcium is met through crunching on the bones of carrion. And yes, I’ve eaten road kill before. Other items on their menu include: snakes, bugs, and slugs.

Possum Mentality Development

  • Correctly identify and eat wild foraged food.
  • Cultivate your gardening skills now before you’re life depends on your green thumb.
  • Backyard chickens are growing in popularity – get some.
  • Eat offal – you know, the organs of animals – an overlooked nutrient dense meat by most moderns.
  • Don’t forget to eat the bone marrow. Try it roasted!
  • Develop cooking skills and recipes to use what’s available.
  • Learn what bugs and insects are edible – just in case.

# SIX – Not easily poisoned

The Possum: Resistant to poisonous snake venom. For those of you afraid of snakes, you might want to reconsider running possums out of the yard. They eat these slithers. Possums are also immune to rabies for the most part.

Possum Mentality Development

While we humans don’t posses these super-possum immunity traits, we can avoid poisonous stuff and trauma.

  • Avoid harmful chemicals in our food.
  • Don’t do stupid stuff depicted on most “reality” survival shows. Walking around naked in a jungle with minimal equipment is my idea of stupid. Same goes for typical Bear Grylls stunts.
  • Use your 5 senses to observe and respond to surrounding. Follow your 6th sense (gut feeling) when all else fails.

# FIVE – Intelligence and skills

The Possum: They may look dumb but North America’s only marsupial is smarter than you might think. They have the ability to remember food locations better than rats – even better than your average house pet. A possum can out maneuvered rats and cats in a maze too.

Possum Mentality Development

  • Exercise your cognitive skills regularly.
  • Knowledge weighs nothing, but Doing the Stuff with your survival smarts is invaluable.
  • Greasing the groove (repeated practice) cuts deep ruts in our limbic system (non-verbal part of our brain) and reduces reaction time in stressful situations. Your survival skills become almost automatic. Repetition is the mother of all learning.
  • Play ‘what if’ scenarios in your mind and then practice your response in a controlled environment.
  • Read, write, and create stuff. Your brain will thank you.
  • The less you know, the more stuff you need.

# FOUR – Resourceful Scavenger

The Possum: Being resourceful is woven throughout this critter’s characteristics. They save calorie resources by not digging dens for themselves. They find abandoned ground shelters of other animals and set up house. They’ve even been found nesting in squirrel nests in trees.

Possum Mentality Development

I can’t pass up a scrap metal heap without rummaging for reusable high-carbon steel. A pile of pallets equals usable wood for homesteading projects. I hoard containers too.

  • Learn the characteristics of trees in your area for tool handles, log cabin building, bow making, arrow shafts, furniture, and medicinal purposes.
  • Find alternative uses for items outside their intended purpose.
  • Map fresh water sources in your locale – and hidden sources in your house.
  • Budget money and resources with a possum mentality.
  • Unlike possums, humans are pack animals. Build tribe and local community. Neighbors matter.

possum mentality

Possum mentality built DRG’s garden fence from pallets, old doors, and windows

# THREE – Physical Ability

Climbing, swimming, hanging. You don’t have an opposable thumb as a big toe or a long, hairless tail like the possum. These appendages are unique to this animal which they use for doing what possums do. Children’s books wrongly depict adult possums hanging from their tails while sleeping. They’re too heavy to hang that long.

Possum Mentality Development

Most of us modern humans have yet to tap into our full abilities when it comes to functional fitness. This will all change if modern conveniences disappear. You can prevent massive physical shock to your body by stressing your muscles beforehand. Be strong to be useful.

Here’s some unconventional hacks to help you make the most of your physical ability without too much pain. Fatigue makes cowards of us all.

  1. Eat smart fuel – plants and animals, including the healthy fat.
  2. Be a walker. Walk long, slow distances frequently (2-5 hours/week). This is equivalent to low-level aerobic activity our ancestors employed when hunting and gathering.
  3. Lift heavy stuff (2-3 times/week). Bodyweight exercises excel in this area; roll rocks, lift logs, toss hay bales, carry toddlers, or climb a tree. Or just hit the gym if your threshold for boredom is high.
  4. Run really fast occasionally (once every 7-10 days). Maximum intensity on foot, your bike, or in the pool swimming. The ability to move fast is tied to survival.

# TWO – Defense

The Possum: “Playing possum” is a last line of defense for our critter friend. When threatened, they attempt to escape if possible. Cornered, they’ll hiss, show all 50 of their sharp teeth, and growl.

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Possum Mentality Development

  • Develop situational awareness and avoid threats when possible.
  • Improvise defensive weapons at your disposal. Here’s a peek into my teacher toolbox.
  • Acquire and become proficient with modern tools of self-defense.
  • Acquire and become proficient with primitive tools of self-defense. Options make us anti-fragile.
  • Be an opportunist.

# ONE – Adaptable

The Possum: Scientists say the possum has been around for 70 million years. Being able to adapt to changing environments and situations is a hallmark of possum living.

Possum Mentality Development

  • Stand on principles but be flexible with methods.
  • Be willing to change your strategy, mindset, and surroundings as needed.
  • Prepare to embrace the change that has to happen.


Self-reliance skills, whether you’re in a crisis or not, are great to have in your toolbox. I’ve got a good feeling that this is a “preaching to the choir” post for our readers. If so, what did I miss? Add your thoughts on developing a possum mentality in the comments.

Oh, one last thought on possum mentality… properly prepared, they make a tasty meal.

Keep Doing the Stuff,

by Todd Walker

Neighboring Matters: Preparing For Unknown Unknowns

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