Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Early Mora Knife Advertisement

Here is a look into the past. This is an advertisement for Frost's Mora knives that ran in the 1920s and possibly into the 1930s. This is the classical model, and resembles the current line of classical Mora knives.

The advertisement shows the Mora No. 23 and the Mora No. 33 models. The No. 23 had a birch handle, while the No. 33 had a curly birch handle. Otherwise the models were identical. Both models had a blade length of 13.2 cm or 5.2 inches. The sheath was made of Unica, a vulcanized paper product.

Monday, November 29, 2010

How to Re-Profile an Axe

Over the last few months I have talked a lot about axes. I have often mentioned that some of them can be re-profiled and put to good use, while others are too thick. I realize that the concept can be a bit vague, so I want to try to provide some more details.

The part of the axe with which I am concerned here is what is labeled in the above picture as the Axe Blade/Cheek, and Cutting Edge Curvature/Sharpening Bevel.

A good multi purpose axe will have both a thin edge curvature, and thin cheeks/overall blade. Not all axes need to be ground that way. There are many tasks which can benefit from a more robust tool, but I think a thin blade with a narrow edge curvature makes for a good overall wood cutting blade.

Some axes, fall outside of that description. Some have thin cheeks, but the edge curvature is too wide/thick, while others are thick overall.

In the above picture you can see three different axe grinds. Open the picture for a larger image. The first is what I would consider good. The cheeks/overall blade is thin and the edge curvature is narrow.

The second, shows a grind that is overall too thick. As you can see from the picture, if you attempted to grind down the edge of the blade, because the whole head is so thick, you would have to grind down the whole head. I would not bother with such an axe. Such a re-profiling would take a huge amount of work.

The third grind is the type that I would not consider ideal, but is very workable. The cheeks/overall blade is thin, but the edge curvature itself is wide/thick. As you can see, it is possible to thin out the edge curvature without effecting the rest of the axe head.

The thinning out process involves filing down the thick part of the edge.

It is similar for the way you would sharpen a convex edge with a file, but instead working the whole convex curvature of the blade, you only work the parts you want the thin out. Eventually you will work it down to a level where you get the curvature you want and can transition to sharpening.

For this kind of job I would recommend using a file. I’ve been using a 200 grit 8 inch file with good results. Depending on how much metal you have to remove, you may want to get a more aggressive file. I would not recommend using a grinder because the heat form the grinding process can ruin the temper of the edge.

All modern axe heads are workable in this manner. Some older ones, from prior to the 1950s may be too hard for some files. You will need to find an extra hard file in order to work on them. Most however, should not be a problem.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Short Trip in the Woods

After all the Thanksgiving food, I wanted to take the dogs out in the woods. I also wanted to use the occasion to start on some knife testing I’m planning on doing.

When we got to the forest, it became clear that the rain we had had in the city was a serious storm up in the mountain.

There had been so much rain that a small river that is usually mostly dried up and easy to cross had turned into a serious obstacle. While it was still fordable, it’s not something I wanted to do with two dogs and the girlfriend.

We had to pick another direction. As you can see, a lot of trees had been knocked down.

The dogs had a good time as always. I’ve been very happy with how well the little one is getting to be with recall. She is turning into a great outdoor dog and has no problem keeping up with the big boy.

The girlfriend was unfortunately a bit underdressed. Because of the rain everything was wet and the temperature had dropped.

We had to cut our trip short, but I did manage to do some of the testing I had set out to do. In another week or two I should be able to have those reviews out.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Craftsman 1.25lb Camp Axe (Wooden Handle) Review

Here is yet another affordable hatchet review. For this one I will be looking at the Craftsman 1.25lb Camp Axe. The axe head has a clear coating, which I removed before the testing.

Vaughan and Bushnell for Sears
Axe Head Weight: 1.25 lb
Axe Length: 14 inches
Axe Head Material: Unknown carbon steel
Handle Material: Hickory
Cost: $17.00

This is not the cheapest hatchet on the market, but it is still what I would consider a cheap hatchet. The reason why I wanted to test it is because it has a very good and solid look to it, and I wanted to see if the performance would keep up with the expectations.

For this review, just like with all other hatchet reviews I do, I will be comparing it to the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet, a well reviewed and well respected hatchet in the bushcraft community.

Here you can see the Craftsman 1.25 Camp Axe next to the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet.

The handles of both hatchets are rated at 14 inches, but while the handle of the Craftsman Camp Axe is exactly 14 inches, that of the Wildlife Hatchet is closer to 13.5 inches, accounting for the difference in the picture. The handle of the Craftsman Camp Axe is comfortable and well finished. It has clearly been stained.

The grain of the handle (left) is very good. Even though it is hard to see from the picture because of the stain that has been used on the handle, the grain is almost perfect.

The head of the Craftsman 1.25lb Camp Axe is a quarter of a pound heavier than that of the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet. It is attached to the handle using a wooden wedge and two metal wedges. The hardness of the metal is unknown, but did not seem to be particularly soft in any noticeable way.

The head has a good overall grind. The cheeks are narrow and the eye is not too wide. The convex of the edge however is fairly wide and thick; much thicker than that of the Wildlife Hatchet. In fact, the cutting edge itself is formed by a small secondary bevel at the tip of the convex grind. The hatchet came completely dull and required work to bring it to a good sharpness. Just like with all cheap axes, I would recommend using a 200 or so grit metal file to start the sharpening process. It will save you a lot of time.

When it came to performance, there was no comparison between the Craftsman 1.25lb Camp Axe and the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet. The Wildlife Hatchet significantly outperformed the Craftsman Axe. This was no surprise considering the thick convex grind of the Craftsman Axe.

I did however really like the shape of the craftsman head as well as the handle, so I didn’t want to give up on it. I decided to see if I can thin out the edge of the hatchet to make it more closely resemble that of the Wildlife Hatchet. After all, I managed to do it fairly easily with the Northern Tool 24oz Camp Axe. So, I started thinning out the edge using a file. The edge turned out to be thicker than I expected. After two hours of filing, I was nowhere near to approximating the convex of the Wildlife Hatchet. At that point I got up and decided to do some more testing. The thinner edge performed much better, but still fell behind the Wildlife Hatchet.

That is when I noticed an even more significant problem with the Craftsman 1.25lb Camp Axe. As you can see from the picture, the head started to come loose from the handle.

That is an unacceptable failure of the product, as it makes for a very dangerous tool. It also means that the axe has to be re-handled, a task not every one wants to undertake.

The hatchet does not have a full sheath, but does come with a rubber edge cover. It works well to protect the edge, but will most likely fall off in your pack; it did in mine.

I had very high hopes for this hatchet. It looked like a very solid tool. Unfortunately, the testing did not support the original observations. While the head has a good overall grind, the edge is too thick. In fact it was so thick that even with a considerable amount of work I was not able to get it as thin as I wanted. That being said, it is possible to do with additional work. The cheeks are thin enough to allow for a re-profiling of the convex of the edge.

The handle is good, but is not securely attached.

All things considered, even though the Craftsman 1.25lb Camp Axe comes in at just $17.00, I can not recommend it as a purchase. It will just require too much work to bring into working shape.

As far as I know, this is the only bushcraft appropriate axe produced by the manufacturer under this product name.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

On the Quality of Cutting Tools

Just like any self respecting woodsman, I spend a lot of time thinking about my tools, in particular my cutting tools. :) Perhaps because we all think about our knives and axes so much, we all have strong opinions on the matter, and love nothing more than to fill the internet forums with them. Here I want to touch on a few things, just so you know my thoughts on the subject, and consequently can better judge the statements I make.

Even though metal working has been part of our society for a very long time, it still carries a certain sense of mystery and magic about it. Perhaps that’s why we see so many unsupported statements about the products that metal working produces. We all fall into the trap of believing that someone has a magical way of making tools, and that is why they are so much better than anyone else’s. This is nothing new. It reminds me of a story of a blacksmith in the middle ages who would only quench the swords he produced in the urine of red headed boys in the belief that it made the blades stronger.

The reality is that considering the level of technological development today, just about any manufacturer can produce quality cutting tools with respect to materials. Production of good steel is nothing new, nor is the process mysterious. Similarly, with the existence of computers, the tempering process is just as well documented and transparent.

But, you say, there certainly are differences between tools. Of course there are. The differences however are more often than not the result design characteristics rather than steel quality.

There are three separate things to consider when judging the quality of a tool, and they often get mixed up:

The first is the actual quality of the metal-is it too soft, is it too hard, etc.

The second is the sharpness of the tool. This is of prime importance when it comes to knives and axes, but very often a person’s inability to properly sharpen the tool is attributed to the quality of the metal.

The third is the design of the tool. A thick blade will always have a harder time cutting through a material than a thinner one, even if equally sharp. This says nothing about the metal or the sharpness of the tool, but is rather a design characteristic.

We very often ascribe characteristics to the quality of the material, which in fact should be attributed to the design of the tool, or the fact that the tool has not been properly prepared/sharpened. So, we will take a dull knife, try to cut with it, and conclude that the steel is not good. We will similarly take an axe, try to use it and conclude that it is not made of good steel, when in fact the inability to penetrate the wood is a direct result of the thickness of the blade.

Another source of confusion is the fact that people love to make unsupported statements. We often hear about how one type of steel is better than another, how carbon steel is better than stainless, how one knife is “garbage” when compared to another. 99% of the time, those statements lack any support. The people making them have done no testing, but are rather regurgitating what they have heard from someone who heard it from someone else. Any level of investigation will show that the statements lack any support. Most of the times, all of the comments can be traced to one person who says that he saw something happen at some point, or did some type of test, but all the pictures were lost.

That is why when I test any tool, the first thing I do is sharpen it. The fact that it came dull is a noteworthy issue, and may demonstrate the degree of care that has gone into the product, but does not make the tool bad, and it certainly does not make the material from which it is made bad. I believe that all tools should be tested only after sharpened to a comparable level. Don’t compare a dull axe to a sharp one and then talk about how the sharp one is better than the dull one. That goes without saying, but says nothing about the tools. I personally do not put much weight into which tool comes sharp, because if you are using a tool, you will have to know how to sharpen it any way.

I also try to specify when the lack of performance of the tool is a result of a specific design characteristic. Don’t try to chop down a tree with a splitting maul and then complain about the steel quality.

That is not to say that there aren’t bad tools. There have always been, and there will always be manufacturing defects. On top of that, you have certain manufacturers who for financial reasons limit the quality controls of their products, so you get a wide variation in quality. Even others, simply have poorly designed products, which will not perform well no matter how much care is taken with them.

That said however, don’t buy the hype. Look for sources of information which are actually based on some empirical research, not just the word of a bunch of guys fighting to make their way on to the bandwagon.

Well, it’s been a while since I did one of my rants, so this should hold me over for a bit.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Big Thank You!

I just want to take a moment to thank Chris of Midwest Bushcraft and Mike of The Sharpened Axe for letting me guest post on their blogs. I greatly appreciate it. If you haven’t seen their blogs yet, they are well worth a look. Both of them contain some great information.

I also want to thank all of those who keep reading my blog. Without you guys, there wouldn’t be much of a reason for me to write. :)

San Bushmen, Namibia

Here is an old image of a group of San Bushmen in the area of Namibia.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Camping and Woodcraft by Horace Kephart

In 1906, Horace Kephart published The Book of Camping and Woodcraft. In 1916, he published the second edition under the name Camping and Woodcraft; a Handbook for Vacation Campers and for Travelers in the Wilderness. Both editions contain huge amounts of information of camping and general outdoor activities, with the second edition expanding more on issues concerning the casual camper.

The book is very comprehensive, and as a result, large sections have become largely irrelevant. For example, he goes into great detail about tents and sleeping bags, technology which has been outdated by about 100 years. There is however a lot of very good and relevant information on the subjects of woodsmanship.

As far as I am aware, the publication is in the public domain. A copy of The Book of Camping and Woodcraft can be obtained here, and a copy of Camping and Woodcraft; a Handbook for Vacation Campers and for Travelers in the Wilderness can be obtained here, and a number of other places online.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Cooking Kit of Horace Kephart

Horace Kephart is one of the most respected authors in the bushcraft community, having authored Camping and Woodcraft, published as a two volume book in 1916.

This is a look at some of his personal gear, specifically his cooking kit.

It is clearly a very compact design, made to nest into a felt lined canvas bag.

The kit is comprised of a canteen. Its dimensions are 9.5 inches x 6.5 inches x 3 inches, giving a total volume of about 3 liters. There is also a nesting cup, which judging by the dimensions of the canteen, must be about 1.5 liters in volume. The kit also contains a plate and a pan with a folding handle.

All of the items are made of tin. While steel was available at the time, it was much heavier, and pots tended to be made out of thin sheaths of tin or copper.

This set was manufactured by Abercrombie & Fitch Co., a company known for its clothing line, but which also made limed selections of camping equipment and even axes, mostly for promotional purposes.

He also carried the necessary eating utensils, comprised of a fork and a small and large spoon.

They are all made of hand carved wood. The fork measures 7.9 inches in length, the small spoon 7.5 inches in length and the large spoon 11.5 inches in length.

This appears to have been a personal kit. Many of his writing refer to additional gear which was clearly carried by mule train or divided amongst the group.

The items are stored at the Hunter Library Special Collections, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC, and is the source of the above images.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Cheap Alternative to the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe

We are all familiar with the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe. It is arguably one of the most popular bushcraft tools, and is the axe of choice for many. One of the reasons why it has become so popular is that it is very compact and easy to carry. It has a head weight of 1.5lb and a handle length of about 20 inches. The big down side of the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe is the price tag. It costs well over $100.00. For many it is worth the price, but not everyone can afford it.

That is why I decided to try to find a lower cost alternative, which would provide a reasonable level of performance. After a lot of searching, I’ve reached the conclusion that there is no production axe other than the Wetterling ones, now also owned by Gransfurs Bruks which come close to the same specifications.

Recently I looked at the Collins Hunter’s Axe, but the quality was too low, and I found the 18 inch handle to be too short. For me, a small axe must have a handle of at least 20 inches. Snow and Nealley makes an axe with an 18 inch handle as well, but since I’ve found that length handle to be too short, I will not be testing it. Besides, the Snow and Nealley is not cheap at all.

Since I was not able to find a low cost production alternative to the Small Forest Axe, I decided to look at old axe heads and see if a particular type can be refurbished. Unfortunately, most old axes are of the full axe type variety, with a head of over 3.5lb. There certainly aren’t enough 1.5lb heads out there for people to start refurbishing them.

I did however luck out during one of my hatchet tests. I tested the Northern Tool 24oz Camp Axe as a hatchet, but noticed that the head was 1.5lb. That was too heavy for a hatchet, but the quality of the head seemed good. That is why I decided to try to do some work to one of them and see if I can easily make a Small Forest Axe substitute from it. I know that not everyone has access to a workshop, expensive tools or specialized skills, so I wanted to get it done with just basic tools.

After some work, the finished product was this:

Head by Northern Tool + Equipment, Handle by Gransfors Bruks
Axe Head Weights: 1.5 lb
Axe Length: 20 inches
Axe Head Material: Unknown carbon steel
Handle Material: American hickory
Cost: $23.00

Here is how I made it:

I took a Northern Tool 24oz Camp Axe. It cost me $10.00. I used a drill and a chisel to remove the head from the handle. It was very well glued so it took me some time to remove. I then used some sandpaper to remove all of the paint from the head.

One of the things that I noted during my review of the Northern Tool 24oz Camp Axe is that I thought the convex of the cutting edge itself was a bit too thick for my liking. The cheeks of the axe were the right thickness and the head overall had the right proportions, but the last 3/16 of an inch before the cutting edge was a bit thick. I’m sure that for many that thickness would be fine because it makes the edge more durable, but for the high performance axe that I wanted, it was too thick.

I remedied the situation by filing it down a bit. I used a 200 grit 8 inch file to do the job. It took me about 15 minutes of work. I would strongly recommend getting a file if you will be doing any work with cheap axes. It makes the sharpening process much faster, and you can pick one up for about $3.00. I then used a set of sharpening stones to get it sharp enough to cut paper. The thickness with which I ended up was very similar to that of the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet, and was noticeably thinner than the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe (right).

Now that the head was ready, it was time to find a handle. I looked high and low for a good 20 inch handle, but could not find one. I eventually decided to just buy a Gransfors Brucks Small Forest Axe handle. They are very hard to find in the US. I found only one store (Country Knives) that carried them, and they were selling them for about $45.00, way too much for the intended goal. In the end, I ended up buying it from a UK site for $13.00. Update: a new store just started selling Gransfors Bruks handles in the us (Omaha Knife). They sell for $30.00 which is what you will have to pay if you contacted Gransfors Bruks directly in the US in order to get one.

I bought my handle here. They seem to however be quickly running out of stock. Some other sites where you can find a Gransfors Bruks handle are here, here, and here. Keep in mind that the price will fluctuate depending on the exchange rate. When you are shipping it from over seas make sure to use airmail rather than UPS. If you use UPS, it will cost you over $30.00. It is a waste of money. You may be able to find 20 inch handles by other manufacturers which I am sure will work fine. One good source can be found here.

Now came the time consuming part. I spend about two hours sanding and filing the handle so it would fit well in the axe head. I didn’t use any epoxy on the head itself, but I did use some to secure the wedge into the handle.

When the epoxy was dry, I took the axe into the woods for some testing. My hope was that I had made an axe that would not fall too far behind the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe.

The result was shocking. The axe I made noticeably outperformed the Small Forest Axe. So much so, that I decided to go back to a location where I had done some testing with the Small Forest Axe on a piece of 3.5 inch hickory. The last time I tested it, it took me 60 seconds to chop through it with the Small Forest axe. It took me 45 seconds to go through it with the new axe.

I believe the added performance comes from the thinner grind of the new axe. It is still convexed, but comes very close to the grind of a competition axe. Of course, my worry was that because the edge was thinner, after being used in hard wood, it would dull very quickly. When I came home, I tested it on a piece of paper, and it had no problem cutting through it. That was after going through an 8 inch piece of oak.

The new axe is a bit more likely to stick to the wood than the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe because it has more of a wedge shape, but I did a lot of chopping with it, and it was not a noticeable problem.

The balance of the axe is as good or better than the Gransors Bruks Small Forest Axe.

Other than the drill and chisel I used to remove the head from the old handle, these are all the tools I used to put together this axe: Gorilla glue epoxy, sandpaper, a 200 grit unidirectional grind 8 inch file, a hammer, and a set of sharpening stones.

I made a cheap sheath for it from some canvas material I had around.

The total cost was $23.00 and took me probably about five hours of work time to put together. This is not something that I do all the time, so my skill level is not high, nor did I use any special tools and equipment. The result is a $23.00 axe that can outperform the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe. Try it for yourself and see.

Friday, November 19, 2010

C9 by Champion-Low Cost, High Performance Clothing

If you have not heard yet about the C9 line of clothing by Champion, you need to take a look.

The line is made exclusively for Target. The products include everything from base layer athletic clothing to cold weather jackets and pants. All of their clothing items are divided into three categories: base layer, mid layer and outer layer.

The whole line is made of breathable, moisture wicking material. From everything I have been able to find, the quality of the product and the performance level is equivalent to that of the top end clothing manufacturers in the field. The fit and finish of each item is excellent, and there is nothing to indicate any level of compromise in the manufacturing process.

The best part about the C9 clothing by Champion is of course the price. Everything seems to be at least a third of a comparable brand name item. I bought a pair of cold weather pants for $30, a vest for $25, and a cold weather jacket, including a mid layer and a removable water resistant outer layer for $60. All of the items combined cost me less than I would have spent on just the vest from a brand name manufacturer.

All I can say is, go to your nearest Target and start buying before they come to their senses and increase the prices. For some reason, the Target website is showing a very limited collection of Champion clothing, much more limited than I have seen in the stores.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Mouleyre Shepherds of Landes France

Here you can see a group of shepherds in Landes, France using stilts to tend their sheep.

An experienced stilt walker can reach much higher speeds than a man of foot, and the stilts provide a better view of the field.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Collins Hunter’s Axe Review

One of the most successful axes in bushcraft has become the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe. One of the reasons for its success is that is it light weight (1.5lb head) and relatively short (20 inch handle), making it easy to carry in a ruck sack. For some reason however, there are very few competitive options out there from other manufacturers in this category axe. Here, I want to take a look at the Collins Hunter’s Axe because it is close to the specifications of the Small Forest Axe, and comes at a much lower price.

Manufacturer: Truper Herramientas (bought out Collins Axe in 2004)
Axe Head Weight: 1.75 lb
Axe Length: 18 inches
Axe Head Material: Unknown carbon steel
Handle Material: Hickory
Cost: $11.00

Obviously, this is a very cheap product. As such, I would expect wide variation in quality control of the tool. Still, for $11.00, it is well worth a look.

Here I will be comparing the Collins Hunter’s Axe to the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe, since that would be the axe one would most likely look to replace with this cheaper alternative. Here you can see the two axes next to each other.

The handle on the Collins Hunter’s Axe is clearly shorter by about two inches, but is a bit thicker. I found the handle to be too short to comfortably use the axe with two hands. I would say that 20 inches is the minimum I would need for a small axe. This is just a personal preference.

The handle grain of the Collins Hunter’s Axe is just horrible. It is actually, completely horizontal. Compare it below to that of the Gransfors Bruks (left). In the Gransofrs Bruks it is nearly vertical, as it should be, while in the Collins it is horizontal, the worse possible grain alignment for an axe handle.

Quite honestly, until now, I was sure that such a bad axe handle did not actually exist, but was just something people drew for demonstration purposes in books. I guess I was wrong, because here is one of them. Grain like this takes away all of the strength from the handle.

The head of the Collins Hunter’s Axe is heavier than the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe by a quarter pound. It is attached to the handle using the common method of a wooden wedge and a round metal peg. The attachment seems very secure.

The grind of the Collins Hunter’s Axe is very wide. While the head itself is not that much thicker than that of the Small Forest Axe, the convex of the cutting edge is much, much thicker. In fact, it is not convexed at all, but rather just flat ground. Needles to say, the axe was not sharp. It would be very difficult to work with a grind this thick, because even if the axe was sharp, it would have a very hard time penetrating into wood because of the thickness. In order to make this head usable for anything other than splitting, it would have to be completely re-ground, all the way back to the eye. Considering the rest of the quality of the axe, such a task would be a waste of time.

Another major problem with the axe is the head itself. I do not mean the grind which I mentioned above, but rather the fact that this axe seems to have been made by a blind man who hates his job. If you look in the picture below, you will see that the eye of the head is not aligned at all. It is off to one side. You can see that on the left there is less metal than on the right side of the eye. This is not an optical illusion, someone in fact failed to center the hole. This makes an axe very dangerous and likely to fail when used. I will not even bother talking about balance of the axe.

The axe comes with no sheath.

As you know from the rest of my reviews, I strongly believe that low cost tools can be put to good use, and are often worth putting a bit of time and effort in order to turn them into great tools. The Collins Hunter’s Axe is not one of those tools. In fact, it is so bad that I will not even bother taking it out into the woods for testing. I would not use this axe even if you paid me.

I am sure that there is variation in the product, and that I might have gotten a particularly bad example, but the fact that such a low quality tool will be allowed off the production line, demonstrates that this company does not care in any way about its product.

It is sad to see what has happened to a once great axe manufacturer.

As far as I know, the manufacturer produces additional bushcraft appropriate axes: The Commander Single Bit Axe (3.5lb head; 36 inches in length), The Boy's Axe (2.25lb head; 28 inches in length), and The Camper's/Scout Axe (1.25lb head; 14 inches in length).

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

An Ax to Grind: A Practical Ax Manual, by Bernie Weisgerber

An Ax to Grind: A Practical Ax Manual, is published by the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service. It is a great compilation of information about axes, from some history, to how to repair an old axe. The book does not go into any significant debt, but the information provided is very valuable, and well worth a look.

To the best of my knowledge, this book is in the public domain, and a copy can be obtained here (large PDF), here, and several other places online.

Friday, November 12, 2010

24 in Trail Blazer Take Down Buck Saw vs. Bahco Laplander/Kershaw Saw

In this post I want to do a short comparison between some apples and oranges. Clearly the above tools are very different when it comes to design and intended function. They are both saws, but designed for different scale of wood cutting.

First, a few words about what I have used here. I’ve been testing the modified version of the 24 inch Trailblazer. There is also a 18 inch one on the market. You can see the modification I’ve made here. For the testing I’ve also used a Kershaw saw. They are identical to the Bahco Laplander, except for the handle color. As far as I know they are the same tool, just marketed as Kershaw in the US. Bahco also makes a pruning saw which is identical to the Laplander, except for the handle color.

The 24 Inch Trailblazer comes in at 1lb 7oz (23oz); the 18 inch Trailblazer at 1lb 5oz (21oz). The modifications probably shave off an ounce or two. The blade is 24 inches in length. The saw retails for anywhere from $25 to $45. You can see the review of the saw here.

The Bahco Laplander weighs 6.35oz. There is a lot of confusion when it comes to marketing the saw. You will see it described as being a 7 inch saw in some places and a 9 inch saw in others. The reality is that the blade is 7 inches long, while the whole closed saw in 9 inches in length. The Bahco Laplander costs about $35. You can get the Kershaw or the pruning version for about $25. Unfortunately, paining the handle green makes it a bushcraft saw, and you have to pay the appropriate bushcraft tax.

I tested the saws on a 3.5 inch branch of hickory by timing the cuts. The Bahco Laplander cut through the branch in 2 minutes and 5 seconds (125 seconds). The Trailblazer cut though it in 17 seconds. For comparison purposes, it took me 1 minute (60 seconds) to chop through the same branch with a Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe.

Obviously I am comparing two very different tools. The Trailblazer is much, much faster than the Bahco, more than seven times faster. However, it is more than three times heavier.

Is it worth carrying the extra weight? For me it is. Even though it might appear that you can just use a Small Forest Axe, the saw is more than three times faster. This adds up when you have to cut more than one log. It also requires a lot less energy to use.

What I’ve done is move from a Small Forest Axe and Kershaw saw combination, to a Trailblazer and Husqvarna hatchet combination. For me it has been a good move. Whether or not it will work for you will depend on the type of tasks you perform, and what you enjoy doing.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

New Gear for the Canteen Cup

I am a big fan of the US Army canteen cups. They hold about three cups of water, are very durable and light. For many, they are the only cooking pot they take in the woods.

If you are a fan as well, then you should definitely know about the Canteen Shop. They provide a good range of products, and some very cool custom gear. One of the new products coming out in 2011 will hopefully be this new cover for the canteen cup.

You can see the prototype in this video along with some other gear.

I can’t wait until I can get one and test it out. I just hope that it is not too heavy.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How to Prepare Acorns in the Woods

In many areas of the world wild edibles which can truly provide the means of continued survival are hard to find. Particularly in Northern forests, wild edibles of significant nutritional value are quite rare.

One of the seasonal resources that is available is acorns. In early fall, they can be found in great quantities, littering the ground around any Oak tree. Acorns have been collected on a large scale and used as a significant source of food by many indigenous populations.

The problem with acorns is that they contain tannic acid. Different species will have more or less tannic acid. In addition to being dangerous when consumed in large quantities, the tannic acid makes the acorns taste very bitter. Before they can be eaten, the tannic acid has to be removed from the acorns through leaching.

The most basic way in which this can be done is by placing the crushed acorns in running water for a period of a day or more. This is a slow method, and requires the right type of resources. For the modern bushcrafter, who has access to a cooking pot, there is an easier way.

Gather some acorns and remove the caps. Here I used a small amount in order to make it easier to photograph.

Do not gather any acorns which have holes. The hole is a clear indication that a worm has made the inside it’s home.

Crack all the nuts and remove the shells.

The nuts inside the shell will differ in quality. The longer the nut has been on the ground, the more it will shrivel. In some case it may get moldy or become dark. Discard all such nuts. The ones that are just a bit dry are still good to eat. The one of the left here is not.

Place the nuts in a cooking pot and use a stick to crush them. Here I figured I would use my new canteen cup.

Cover the acorns with water and get a fire started. The way I do the actual cooking depends on the type of wood I’m using. Here I was using Oak, which forms nice coals.

In situations like these, I like to let the fire burn down, and cook directly on the coals.

Bring the water to a boil and let it boil for about 10 minutes. Remove the water, and replace it with fresh water. Put the pot back on the fire, and repeat the procedure several times. The amount of times you will have to do it depends on the type of acorns you are using. The more tannic acid they contain, the longer it will take. You know they are done when they stop tasking bitter.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Some Pictures From Last Weekend

This is one of my favorite times of year. I am not a big fan of high temperatures. Here you can see some pictures from the top of the mountain. I am not sure f the height, but it's still below the tree line.

Most of the undergrowth is gone, making it easier to bushwack, but in turn it becomes more dangerous. The dead plant material covering the ground makes it very likely that one will step in a hole and twist an ankle.

After doing the test for the Northern Tool 24oz Camp Axe, I got a small fire going, not an easy task as it had rained the previous two days, and cooked some acorns.

That's all. I'll try to put up some more posts soon.