Primitive Technology: Making a cane water filtration system

Originally published at: Primitive Technology: Making a cane water filtration system | Boing Boing


Um, okay, no disrespect to John, but this is a dangerous claim. If you’re talking about something you claim can clean dirty water and make it safe to drink, you need to test that output in a lab.

“Some MIT folks said a similar thing about pine branches” is not sufficient to declare efficacy here. Neither is “I drank it once and and didn’t seem to get sick”.


I think I’d have spent that time looking for a better water source. I’m not drinking that!

Clearing out the sediment doesn’t make it safe.


I am curious to see his process for building a microscope and the other lab equipment.


I’ve ranted about this before, but your joke alludes to the fundamental problem he’s having with his channel. People keep expecting him to advance up the human tech tree, but he can’t. He’s reached the limit of what one person can do. From here out, it takes division of labour and specialization. He’d have to spend the next decade single-handedly digging an iron ore mine and a coal mine to go any further, if his land happens to even have ore on it (which, odds are, it doesn’t).

I think this is also why all the copycat channels (like the Thai and Vietnamese ones that get hundreds of millions of views) are all fake. They look more advanced by building hot tubs and other fancy things, but none of it would actually work, nor can it really be done by hand.


Also the 99% claim. (Which is very vaguely worded)

If that’s the total reduction… Yep you are still getting sick if that water had anything in it. And that’s assuming his branches have the same filtration capacity as pine…

Having been on a week long hike with someone who was unlucky enough to get Giardia half way through I’ll stick with proven water treatments.

I am also tired of the attention internet experts get compared to actual experts.


He already has the pots and the ability to make fire. Wouldn’t boiling the water be safer and faster?


A filter-then-boil approach seems like the safest way to go but of course that would mean dedicating a whole lot of time and energy toward a drink of water. In a real life situation one person living alone off the land probably couldn’t expect to spend that much work just for their drinking water or they wouldn’t have enough time in the day for other essential tasks like securing food and shelter.


I think the very end was supposed to show a leaching method as opposed to the cane method? Or was it in addition to the cane filtration? In any event, it seems like the more efficient method…ya know…if this is the sort of ill advised thing you’re gonna try to do.

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Whilst I am full of admiration for his capabilities and achievements, my reaction was the same as to many human discoveries.

“Who first thought to do that and see if it would work?”

I doubt it really was MIT engineers, but wouldn’t the kind of primitive people he is loosely emulating simply find and live near to a source of potable water?

Potable water is not so easy to find, and in the absence of pretty advanced technology, the only way to tell whether or not it’s potable is to drink it and hope you don’t get sick.

Well, it may not be so easy to find these days but, in a much more sparsely populated natural environment, I suspect most primitive peoples managed to do so.

No, there have always been dangerous microorganisms in water, especially in tropical climates where conditions are conducive to their thriving.

No what? That most primitive peoples didn’t find sources of potable water? (The corollary being that most suffered death and disease as a result?)

I don’t disagree that there have always been dangerous things in some water. That many people suffered/died as a result.

Natural springs where water comes up filtered through the bedrock are pretty safe as potable water.

Many primitive peoples would have found these and lived near them. Possibly even ‘most’. And no, they are not perfect either. But probably better than wondering if sucking water through a cane would make it better.

How many times would someone have to fall ill before the tribe or whatever decided to move on to a better source of water? (Or were all wiped out.)

So perhaps I should modify my original statement to include the implied term:

Because otherwise they ceased to be people, primitive or otherwise.

Not most, but a lot. Even to this very day.
And people in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, etc. cannot just move somewhere else with clean water from natural springs.

From WHO: “Microbiologically contaminated drinking water can transmit diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio and is estimated to cause 485 000 diarrhoeal deaths each year.”


Not now, they can’t. We are not talking about now.

I am sorry, but what period of human history are you talking about when people not only had access to enough water sources to be able to pick and choose based on water quality, but could just pack up and relocate there?

ETA: Also, the water quality in any given location is not going to be consistent. You don’t take one drink and get sick right away. Everyone drinks every day, and a percentage of them get sick under transient conditions, and a percentage of those die. For a lot of human history, that’s just the way it was. It’s not a new thing that has arisen in modernity. There have never been enough fresh springs to go around.

…is disingenuous to say the least. For the majority of human history, since we came down from the trees, we have been a largely mobile race. That’s how we spread across the planet. For much of that time we did not live in static settlements, but in small groups that upped sticks and moved on, or moved around seasonally (between known sources of - possibly variably - potable water), as needs dictated.

Or are you referring to ‘human history’ as only the period from when we did settle in one place?

What the primitive man videos are illustrating is not how settled civilisations are founded. More like how primitive people developed some capabilities and foundations that would subsequently enable settled civilisations.

ETA I don’t think this debate is going anywhere and I have to go out for some chores now. Good day.

Such people still exist right now, and were much more common in many parts of the world just a few hundred years ago. When we talk about primitive societies, we are not just talking about thousands and thousands of years ago. So yes, I am talking about all of human history up to and including now. Because “civilization” did not happen all at once all throughout the world. Just because some societies became agrarian five thousand years ago doesn’t mean that humanity was out of the “primitive” stage at that point because (again) there are people living exactly as you describe right now.

And yes, throughout all of that human history up to and including right now, many people died and continue to die because they did not and do not have access to clean, safe water. That is not a biproduct of agrarian or even urbanized societies. It is a matter of biology.

So no, primitive societies could not always just pick themselves up by the bootstraps and find fresh water to drink. And the seasonal supplies of potable water that you describe weren’t always there and weren’t always potable.