Using Nothing But His Bare Hands, Survival Genius Can Kill, Forge Tools, and…Build Houses?

April 13, 2018

John Plant says to hell with your basic survival kits. The Queensland, Australia native has proven that he can make it in the wild with nothing—no pocket knife, no matches, no string, and not even a full set of clothes. Wearing only his shorts, Plant takes experiments in self-reliance to the extreme by vanishing into the forest for days at a time. While thus isolated, he puts his ingenuity on display by building tools, appliances, and even full houses with nothing but his bare hands and the resources he finds in the wild. Check out these five videos of Plant piecing together amazing things from nothing.

  1. Stone Axe

Stones of roughly axe-headed size are fairly common in Plant’s corner of Queensland. For an axe to be useful, though, it has to be sharp. With no modern tools available, the survivalist had to resort to a truly primitive sharpening method to get the stone he selected into shape: beating it with another rock.

After bringing the axe-head to an edge, he was able to use it as a chisel to cut down a sapling that was the right size to serve as a handle. Still using the sharpened head as a knife, he then carved out a cavity in the handle that he measured to be just a hair narrower than the wide end of the axe-head. By fire-hardening the cavity, he was able to wedge the head into the handle so firmly that it needed no additional binding. The fully formed axe was a foundational tool for Plant, one that enabled him to tackle more advanced projects that called for significant wood-cutting.

  1. Bow and Arrow

Created from Primitive Technology’s YouTube Video

Plant next set out to create his own version of the most important weapon in the primitive hunter-gatherer’s arsenal: the bow-and-arrow. His stone axe was put to immediate use in cutting down a small tree of the right width and cutting it to around four feet long. He then used another stone chisel (which he sharpened by—you guessed it—banging rocks together) to taper the outside of the bow back toward its tips.

With the bow itself carved, Plant turned his attention to finding materials that would work as a string. He settled on the bark of a fast-growing tree species that’s extremely weak internally but has very tough, rigid bark. With his stone chisel, he sliced off thin strips of the bark and wove them together in an alternating pattern that wouldn’t unravel. He was careful about the length of the strips. They had to be slightly shorter than the bow itself to give it its curvature.

After stringing the bow, Plant set about making arrows. With the stone chisel, he cut thin branches roughly two feet long, shaved the bark off, and fire-hardened the tips. Charred wood is extremely easy to whittle down, so he was able to hone his missiles to a lethal point. After fletching them with feathers he found scattered in the bush, the setup was complete. As you can see in the GIF, the finished weapon has plenty of juice. Plant himself estimates his bow would be deadly on animals as large as Australian wild pigs at moderate distances.

  1. Spear Thrower

While a bow would certainly get the job done on small to medium-sized game, anything larger would require more firepower. To fill this gap in his arsenal, Plant set out to build a spear thrower using a traditional Aboriginal design. This contraption would allow him to fire off a spear with much more velocity and range than he could achieve by hand throwing.

First, with the help of his stone cutting tools, he took down a four-foot long tree with a small branch stemming off near its base. In order to fashion these raw materials into a thrower, he whittled off the small branch into a spur-like protrusion that would ultimately hold the spear.

The spear itself was a straight, six-foot long branch roughly an inch in diameter. We’re talking about a heavy-duty projectile here. Plant carved a cup into its base for the spur of the thrower to fit into. When the user flings the thrower forward, it causes the spear itself to flex slightly. This rubber band-style effect is what imparts so much additional energy—up to four times more than that of a modern compound bow.

  1. Natural Draft Furnace

While wooden implements like those described above were early man’s constant companions, real technological progress was made with the advent of metalworking. Plant wanted to see whether he could build a furnace hot enough to melt ore using only the resources he found in the forest. Guided by the understanding that the heat generated by a draft furnace is determined how rapidly air can be drawn through it, he designed a system made of clay that ultimately reached up to 1200 degrees Celsius.

He first dug a hole roughly a foot in diameter and placed a ring of rocks at the bottom. These rocks would form the skeleton of the bed on which his fuel would burn. Next, he coated these rocks with mud that he generated by mixing clay and water in a nearby pit. This process of producing clay that he could mold and shape easily by hand was an integral part of the project in that it provided Plant with virtually all of the raw material.

Once the bed had settled, he began building upward in a vertical, cylindrical column. A foot or so from the base, Plant inserted a tuyere, or air entry pipe. This implement, fashioned, of course, from clay, allowed air to be drawn into the furnace at a single point. Over a matter of days (to allow for drying and hardening), he continued to build upward until the furnace reached a height of about six feet. Limited as always by his environment, he fed the flames at the base with wood instead of charcoal. Despite this slight handicap, the natural draft furnace was able to generate temperatures extreme enough to melt ore.

  1. Tiled Roof Hut

All these creations have obvious utility in terms of helping a person survive in the wilderness. This final feat of jungle engineering goes beyond that—it would help a person thrive. In what Plant describes as his most ambitious project to date, the tiled roof hut from the GIF above took around 100 days to complete. The finished product, built completely without the use of modern tools, looks more like a vacation getaway than a desperately cobbled together hut.

In the first phase of construction, Plant used his stone axe to gather the foundational wood needed for the dwelling. He also built a floor kiln that would later be used to not only cook, but heat the entire house from the ground up. When he finished work on several frames for the tile that would come later, the initial building stage was completed.

An entire month was devoted to the production of tiles themselves. Using the molds he’d created in the first phase, he shaped clay into tiles of the correct dimensions by leaving the mud to set near a fire. After a period of two days, each batch of tiles was placed into the kiln to fire-harden. Ultimately, Plant manufactured 450 flat tiles and 15 curved ridge tiles.

After framing the structure’s roof with wooden beams cut with his axe and lashed together, he meticulously layered the tile over the structure’s skeleton. Only then did he begin to fill in walls with the same clay he used to make the tiles. The structure’s ultimate design was one that Plant was able to consult with various modern resources on, but let’s be clear: there’s no asterisk attached to this project. This 21st-century survival genius was able to build a full-size, completely weatherproof hut with underfloor heating with his bare hands. If you’re ever forced to pick a person to be stuck in a survival situation with, think carefully before you blurt out, “Bear Grylls!” John Plant just might have him beat.