Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Trail Blazer Take Down Buck Saw Review

For years now I have carried the same set up for wood cutting and processing. Other than specific knives, it has been comprised of a Kershaw folding saw (it appears to be identical to a Bahco Laplander saw) and a Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe. This set up has served me well.

Lately however, I have noticed some troubling patterns in my tool use. More often than not, when collecting wood, I am relying almost exclusively on my Kershal saw. I simply find that either because of lack of skill, or design, I can do the same cutting task much faster with the saw than with the Small Forest Axe. The axe mainly comes into play when I am splitting wood and carving.

As a result, I have started to rethink, the cutting tools that I carry. If I am relying so much on my saw, perhaps I should carry a more robust saw. Consequently, I purchased the 24 inch Trail Blazer Take Down Buck Saw.

The saw, disassembles completely, and all the parts fit quite nicely in the main handle tube. The whole set fits into the 25in x 1in tube.

In addition to all the components, there is even space for an extra saw blade.

The saw assembles in about a minute without any tools. Here I have taken a photo of it next to my Small Forest Axe for comparison purposes.

The assembled saw is quite large and robust. The saw weighs 1.55 lb. It is heavier than what I was hoping for, but it is still much lighter than the Small Forest Axe.

The saw is sold in an 18in length as well as the 24in that I got. I chose the 24in version because I wanted to get the largest saw I can carry within my back pack. For me that is 24in. Any larger would stick out of the pack. The saw retails for anywhere from $25 to $40.

A lot more testing would be required to see if this saw is worth carrying. It will probably be a part of a complete rethinking of my tool use. I will keep you updated. The only thing that I can say at this point is that this looks like a good robust tool. Time will tell if it is right for me.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Big Survival Show Review

This is a brief description and review of some of the survival and wilderness living TV series either currently on the air, or that can be found on DVD. Here I am only looking at TV series, not specials or movies. There may be other shows out there, but I am only reviewing the ones I have seen.

Shows currently on the air

Beyond Survival

Beyond Survival is the newest show by Les Stroud. In it, he visits different indigenous tribes in an attempt to learn from them survival skills, as well as some of the other aspects of their lives. I had high hopes for the show, but can’t help feeling disappointed. The show seems to focus way too much on different customs and traditions of the tribes Les visits, and while that is valuable information, it has very little bearing on the subject of wilderness living. Very few skills are examined during the show, and even then, only in passing. You may be able to catch some hints and tricks here and there, but that does not appear to be the main focus of the show.

Man vs. Wild

Man vs. Wild with Bear Grylls undoubtedly ranks as the worse survival/wilderness living show on TV. It is a show designed to entertain more than to teach, and as a result, the “skills” demonstrated during the show are not only improperly thought, but are right down dangerous. Not only will you not learn anything, but you may actually learn inaccurate information. While jumping off of cliffs, and exploring caves might make for good television, it increases your chance of dying in a survival situation. You can see my review of the current season here.

Man, Woman, Wild

I have been very pleasantly surprised y this show. The premise is that Myke Hawke, an experienced outdoorsman, is left in the wilderness to survive along with his wife, who does not know much about the outdoors. The fun naturally ensues. While the premise might not be conducive to a very educational show, I must say, that the information provided has been both accurate, well presented, and rather realistic. The show remains focused on actual survival skills, and does not get bogged down in artificially created drama. It is well worth seeing.

Dual Survival

Dual Survival is one of my favorite survival shows. The first season is over, but it seems fairly certain that a second season will be picked up. The show puts together a mismatched pair of survival experts, Cody Lundin (a self described barefoot hippie), and Dave Canterbury (an ex military survivalist). I am sure that the intent of the show was to create a large amount of drama between the two of them, but the result is far from it. While having different styles, Cody and Dave seem to have great respect for each other, and work well together. The result is a very informational show which gives you different points of view on each situation.

Shows that are off the air


Survivorman is the show that put Les Stroud on the map for most people. In the show, Les is stranded in the wilderness, and has to survive for a week. He is truly alone, as he does not have a camera crew, but rather films himself. The show provides very valuable information. Its biggest benefit is that it provides a realistic evaluation of different survival skill and methods. You see exactly how long it takes to do a task, and you see every time it fails. You gain an appreciation for what it is like to do a task when you have not eaten for three days. The show is a must see.

Other shows by Les Stroud that are worth seeing, but have been excluded because I do not think they deal directly with the subject of this post are Survival: Summer, Survival: Winter, and Snowshoes and Solitude.

Country Tracks

Country Tracks was a show hosted by Ray Mears, originally aired on BBC. It is a series of short episodes, in which Ray covers topics from navigation for fire lighting. It is very information dense and well worth seeing.

World of Survival

World of Survival was another series by Rey Mears, aired on BBC. It is similar in format to Beyond Survival, but I find that it gets the focus much better. In the show Ray visits different indigenous tribes and learns skills from them. While some of the information is not directly skill related, the shows are rich in information.

Extreme Survival

Extreme Survival was a series by Ray Mears aired on BBC. In the show Ray explores different environments which present a difficulty for survival. Each episode spends a large amount of time recounting actual survival stories. I find that while such stories are interesting, the amount of information presented is drastically reduced.


Bushcraft was a series by Ray Mears, aired on BBC. In the series Ray explores different aspects of bushcraft ranging from bow making with stone tools, to canoe building. The show is very rich in information. It is a must see for anyone interested in in the subject.

Wild Foods

Wild Foods is yet another show by Ray Mears made for the BBC. This is my favorite of Ray’s shows. In it he explores different foods that might have been eaten by our ancestors, and possible ways of preparing them. The show focuses mostly on Britain, but it provides an amazing insight into the lives of our ancestors.

Other shows by Ray Mears that are worth seeing, but have been excluded because I do not think they deal directly with the subject of this post are Ray Mears Goes Walkabout, Survival (the show deals with different wild animals) Northern Wilderness and Real Heroes of the Telemark.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Out of Town with Jack Hargreaves

This is an old television show that I bumped across. The only way I can describe it is that it is as if though you are speaking to your grandfather. It is a mixture of stories about the countryside and visits to people who live pre-industrial lifestyles within Britain.

Some episodes are quite interesting, offering a glimpse into a more traditional form of living. Others can get tedious. Fast forward through the episodes, to find the parts that you like.

I have imbedded Part 1 of Episode 12 and have provided links to Parts 2 and 3. You can find the rest of the episodes on YouTube.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

There are about two dozen episodes available.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Belt Carry-Part 2

The third item of kit that I have on my belt is what people often refer to as a possibles pouch. It is just a small bag in which I keep some small items. For that purpose I use a container that I found at an army surplus store tagged as a jungle binoculars container. Just about any container that you can hang from your belt will do the trick.

I have a number of small items inside. I have tried to organize them to the best of my ability.

Here is the list:

Top Row From Left to Right

Tools Envelope

Button compass-There are many on the market. Make sure to get one that is liquid filled. They are of much higher quality.
Commando wire saw-These are higher quality than a basic wire saw. I am always shocked how quickly they can cut through wood. In case you are left with just your belt kit, the combination of commando saw and knife will serve you well.
Small ferro rod-Just a back up fire starting method in case I leave the larger ferro rod somewhere after using it.

DC4 sharpening stone-It is small, but it gets the job done. I use it for both my knife and axe.

First Aid Envelope

Assorted Band Aids-I bumped across these Band Aids that already contain antibiotic. They come in sizes from 2in x 4in and below. I carry an assortment of them.
Razor blade
Fresnel magnifying glass-Size 2in x 4in. It is also very good for starting fires.
Adhesive tape
Two squares of gauze-Size 2in x 2in. Between the gauze and the adhesive tape, you can bandage a decent size cut or wound.

Water Purification Envelope

16 Katadyn water purification tablets (chlorine dioxide)-Chlorine dioxide is the only chemical on the market that will kill protozoans such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium as well as bacteria and viruses. The down side is that it can take up to four (4) hours to kill Cryptosporidium. All the other pathogens however are killed fairly quickly.
Sheet of aluminum foil-Size 2ft x 4 ft. It can be used to boil water or cook. It’s not ideal because it loses strength in the flames, but it’s better than nothing.
Three plastic bags for water storage-Many people carry condoms for storing water. I find these bags to be a lot more durable and they pack to about the same side. These are simply bags that you get in the grocery store for fruits and vegetables. They are the ones on a roll in that section of the supermarket.

Second Row From Left to Right

Film canister containing cotton and Vaseline fire starter/tinder-For more details on this form of fire starter, have a look here.

Film canister containing fishing kit and sewing kit-I carry an assortment of needles, string, fishing line, hooks and lures.

A roll of duct tape-You can never go wrong with ducks tape. It can also be sued to repair holes in you water carrying bags that I listed above.

Pills envelope-Bring the pills that you are likely to need and use.

Fenix E01 flashlight and spare battery-For a review on the flashlight, have a look here.

Third Row From Left to Right

A BIC lighter (white)-This is the most underrated fire starter you can get. With a lighter you can start a fire without much experience and under very difficult conditions. I know other ways seem more worthy of the woods, but this is the sure way to do it. Some people complain that lighters can fail, but in reality the likelihood of that is a lot lower that you falling off a cliff. Get the white lighter because you can see how much fuel you have left.

An “Army” size ferro rod-This is a fun way to start fires. You need some experience to use it effectively, but because it has no moving parts, eventually, you will be able to start a fire with it. For tips on using a ferro rod, take a look here.

Box of waterproof and windproof matches

Two bundles of artificial sinew-This is some of te best cordage I have been able to find. It packs in a very small bundle, but is strong enough for shelter building.

So these are the items I carry on my belt. The only additional item I have on me other than clothing is a bandana.

These items constitute things that I would not want to be without as well as items that I use frequently. There are some emergency items, in case I am separated from my pack, but many are simply things I reach for often.

One item that you might consider adding to the above kit is a plastic bag or an emergency poncho. It is a very valuable item for shelter building. So far I have not been able to comfortably integrate it into my kit (without stuffing it in). I like my items to be fairly loosely packed so I can access them easily. I don’t want my possibles pouch to turn into an emergency kit. If however you can find a way to bring such an item, it would be a good use of your space.

When selecting what to bring, make sure the items make sense to you.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Belt Carry-Part 1

I have been getting a good amount of requests to make a post about all the gear that I use. I have been reluctant to do it because the ideal camping gear is something that varies from person to person. Just because I use something, does not mean that it will work for you and your style of outdoor life.

That being said, I remember that when I was first starting out, that is exactly what I wanted to see, so I understand the motivation.

I will try to provide a list of my gear. I will also try to specify how and why I use it, and what other choices might be out there.

I’ll start with the tools I carry on my belt.

The first thing is a knife. I use the Fallkniven S1. I have modified it sightly, removing the finger guard, and wrapping the handle with cord in order to make it thicker.

This is a convex edge blade. You can get it very sharp, and it is very durable. However, it takes some work to sharpen when compared to a single or double bevel blade. The blade length is 5 in. Many people like a 4 in blade, but I find it to be too short, and limits the type of slicing cuts you can do. This is a personal preference and depends on how you like to use your blade.

The knife is not cheap. Prices have recently gone up, well over the $100 range. There are good cheap alternatives. In fact, most knives that are on the market will get the job done. Anything from a Mora to a ESEE knife will do, as long as you keep it sharp. Technology is a beautiful thing, and these days even the lowest level knife producer can manufacture a very usable knife.

I may try to make a longer post in the future specifically on knives. It is a subject on which there are many opinions, and a more in debt look is required than what I can provide here. For now, I will leave it at this. For some of my ramblings about knives, you can take a look at this post.

The second item that I carry on my belt is my canteen.

I like having a canteen instead of just a bladder because it allows me to carry water without my backpack, and I find them to be much more durable.

Inside the cover I also have a canteen cup, with some 550 para cord stuffed on the bottom of the cover. In the front pocket of the cover I carry a mini BIC lighter, some waterproof matches and four water purification tablets. I use the Katadyn chlorine dioxide tabs. They are supposed to kill everything in the water, but you will have to wait for it. I keep them only as a back up.

These canteens are very durable, and so are the canteen cups. They are almost impossible to brake. Another option for this set up would be a Nalgene type bottle, with a metal cup on the bottom. Some people prefer this arrangement because they can get a metal bottle is case they have to boil water. I prefer the canteen because it stays closer to your body, and does not bounce around while you are walking. I find the canteen cup adequate for boiling water.

For more information on how I carry the canteen, you can have a look at my Carrying a Belt Kit post.

Continued on Part 2...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Ten Bushcraft Books by Robert Graves

This is a compilation of pamphlets on different topics related to bushcraft, ranging from Ropes and Cordage to Snares and Traps.

It is on point and sufficiently illustrated. The publication manages to pack a large amount of information in an easy to read form. It is well worth a look.

As far as I am aware, the publication is in the public domain, and a copy can be obtained here, here, and a number of other places online.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Knots for Every Need

Okay, so I’ve been thinking of putting up a series of post on different types of knots that people might find useful for the outdoors.

Unfortunately, I soon realized that I know nothing about knots, and that photographing that which I do know in a manner that would make any sense, would take forever.

Luckily, there is a website which provides great tutorials about knot making. It is called Animated Knots by Grog. Make sure to check it out.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Cleaning Up Tips-the Sponge

Nobody likes to clean dishes in the woods, but unless you are willing to eat out of a plastic bag, it is unavoidable. A sponge can make a big deference. You don’t however need to carry a full size sponge. A small one will do the job just as well.

What I did was take a regular sponge with a harder abrading surface on one side.

I then cut it in half, and again in half.

For a while, I carried one of the small pieces. What I noticed however, was that I never used the soft part of the sponge, and that the soft part made the sponge hard to dry, causing it to mold.

Eventually, I pulled the two sections of the sponge apart, and kept only the hard abrasive part.

Or, if you are smarter than I am, you can buy just an abrasive pad, and cut it down to the size you want.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Equipment Too Good to Use

We have all fallen into this trap at one point or another. We search for years for that piece of equipment that is just right. Eventually we find it, we take out a second mortgage on the house and buy it. Here it is; the perfect tool! Of course, now that we have this trophy of a tool, we can’t possibly risk using it. No, we will keep it in a very visible location on our person, so everyone knows we have it, but we will continue to use our old equivalent so the new tool does not get scratched.

I run across this most often when it comes to knives. Some people are willing to spend more on a knife (often because Famous Bushcrafter X uses it) than on the rest of their gear combined. Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with that, as long as it is purchased for the right reasons. If it is a superior tool, and you have the money, go for it. Too often however, I see people who have a knife on their belt that they never use, instead choosing to use a cheap alternative while the “higher quality” knife stays securely in its sheath.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand wanting to buy a work of art and keep it on display at home. What I don’t get is trying to pass it off as your bushcraft or camping knife. If you do not use it as a knife, then it is not your bushcraft knife. You can keep it in mint condition, and post pics of it till the cows come home, but be honest about what it is. You have just spent your money on bushcraft jewelry. It looks good, but it has no practical use.

Never spend so much on a tool, that it keeps you from using it to its fullest.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Making a Buck Saw in the Field

A saw is a very valuable tool in the woods. It is easy to use without much experience, and it can cut down a tree much faster and with more precision than an axe. An unavoidable characteristic of a wood cutting saw is that the longer the blade, the more efficiently it works. While a small folding saw such as a Kershaw or Bahco Laplander is a useful tool, ideally, a large blade would be carried.

The downside to a larger saw of course is the weight. A 24 in or a 30 in saw blade requires a bulky and heavy frame. Few of us can afford to carry such weight.

One solution to the problem is to only carry the blade, and construct the saw from materials you find in the woods. The most common ways are the bow saw and the buck saw. Here is how to make the latter.

You will need three strong pieces of wood. One of them should be the length of the blade, the other two should be 2/3 of the length of the blade. You will also need a small thin stick and a length of rope at least twice the length of the blade.

Take the two short sticks, and using your knife, gauge out a conical hole in each piece of wood. If you are using a 24 in blade, the hole should be at least 10 in away from one of the ends.

Take the end from which you measured the distance to the hole, and split it with your knife. Make sure the split is perfectly aligned with the hole that you gauged out.

Take the side that you just split, and make a small indentation opposite to the gauged out hole, about half an inch from the bottom.

Insert the blade in the split part of the stick, and secure it with a bolt or a stick (the bolt goes through the hole of the blade). The bolt should rest in the indentation you just made.

The gauged out holes should face each other.

Now take the long stick, and sharpen the two ends so they fit in the gauged out holes in the short pieces. Shorten the stick as necessary so that when it is placed in the holes, the two short sticks are parallel to each other.

Take the rope and wrap it around the end of the short sticks, opposite to the blade. There should be at least one wrap around of the rope, so there are at least two strands of rope between the sticks. Now insert a small stick between the strands of rope and begin twisting it until you get the desired tension. When done, the small stick will just rest on the long center stick.

The tension created by the rope will pull the blade, making it stiff, and allowing for use of the saw.

The reason for why it was important to space the gauged out holes away from the edge of the sticks is so that the saw can be used more efficiently. For example, with a 24 in blade, you can theoretically cut through a 20 in piece of wood (leaving the other 4 in of the blade for the motion). If however, you had placed the long stick of the buck saw 5 in away from the blade, even if you cut from opposite sides of the piece of wood, you would only be able to get in 10 in, before the long center stick got in the way. By placing it 10 in away from the blade and cutting from both sides of the piece of wood, you can now get in 20 in. You can do the same math for any length blade.