Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mors Kotchanski Interview, 1975

Most Kotchanski is a very well respected wilderness survival and bushcraft expert. This is a short interview with him from about 1975. It appears to have been done for a TV show and it is intended for an audience which has no knowledge of bushcraft. The information is basic, but still worth seeing.

Part 1

Part 2

Friday, October 29, 2010

Tool Kit of Otzi the Iceman

In 1991 two tourists in the Italian Alps discovered a mummified body. After an investigation, it was revealed that the mummified man lived sometime between 3350 and 3100 BC. The iceman is estimated to have been around 5 ft 5 in in height and about 110 lb. He was around 45 years at the time of his death, making him old by the standards of the time.

Otzi lived at the beginning of the copper age in Europe, so his discovery, along with the artifacts present on his body offer an interesting glimpse into the tools and equipment available to the traveler during that time.

The Axe

The first tool he had with him was certainly the most valuable at the time. It was a copper axe. The axe blade was 3.7 in long, and was secured to a yew handle. The handle was 24 in long. The blade was attached using birch tar and string, and more than half of the blade was inserted within the handle. The blade was made of almost pure copper and was worked using cold-hammering after casting.

The Knife

Another tool he had with him was a small flint knife. The knife measured 5.2 in in total length. The handle was made of ash, and the sheath of woven lime wood bast. A string was attached to the back of the knife.

The Retoucher/Pressure Flaker

The iceman also had a tool designed for flint knapping. It consisted of a piece of lime tree branch, which was pointed on one side. On the pointed side a hole was drilled, into which a bone plug (stag antler) was inserted with which the knapping was done.

The Arrows

A quiver of arrows was also discovered alongside Otzi. It was made of leather, and held 14 arrows made of viburnum sapwood. Two of the arrows were completed. They had flint tips, held with birch tar and bindings. The other 12 arrows were unfinished. In the quiver several pieces of antler were also discovered. Their use is still debated.

The Bow

Otzi was also carrying an unfinished yew bow. The stave was 72 in in length. As I am unfamiliar with bow making, I can not tell you what size bow would customarily be made from such a size stave.

The Birch Bark Containers

Two birch bark containers were also discovered, possibly used to carry some other items. They were about 5.9 in to 6.0 in in diameter and about 7.8 in in height. They were stitched together using tree fiber. Tests have shown that one of them contained maple leaves as well as spruce needles and charcoal. It is possible that this was a method for carrying an amber from the last camp site.

The Backpack

The backpack was very deteriorated at the time of discovery, but it appears to have had a frame consisting of a bent hazel branch about 6.5 ft long, held together by two 15.7 in larch wood pieces at the base. The pack was probably about 3 ft in length.

The Net

A net was also discovered, made of tree bast. Such a net was probably used for catching rabbits or birds.

The Belt

Otzi had a long belt with a pouch on the side. In the pouch he had several flakes of flint, a 2.8 in long bone awl, and a small drill. The majority of the pouch was filled with tinder fungus. Some traces of iron pyrites were also found, indicating that he was perhaps using a “flint and steel” method of fire lighting.

I find it very interesting to see how closely his kit resembles what many bushcrafters carry today. The only difference is that he is not carrying any means of quick shelter, and would have to rely on his clothing and the surrounding environment.

It is also interesting to see that the small amount of copper he possessed was used on the axe, and not the knife. This once again points to the significance of the axe to people who truly rely on their tools to survive in the wilderness.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sami Family in Norway c. 1900

Note that the gakti are still being made out of leather at that time and lack the decoration to which we have become accustomed.

Detroit Publishing Co.
This image is available from the United States Library of Congress.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Husqvarna Hatchet Review

Here is another hatchet tested in the pursuit of quality tools with reasonable price tags-the Husqvarna Hatchet. It is hard to explain how impressed I am with this tool.

Axe Head Weight: 1.21 lb.
Axe Length: 13 inches
Axe Head Material: Undisclosed Swedish steel.
Handle Material: Hickory
Cost: It can be purchased at most places online for under $40.00.

The Husqvarna Hatchet is not what I would call cheap, coming in at almost exactly $40.00. Compared to other hatchets however, it is the clear winner when it comes to price. A similar Wetterling Hatchet costs about $75.00 and a Gransfors Bruks Hatchet $110.00.

Just like with other hatchet reviews, I will be comparing the Husqvarna Hatchet to the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet, a well known standard in the bushcraft community.

Here you can see the Husqvarna Hatchet next to the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet.

The handle of the Husqvarna Hatchet is an inch shorter than that of the Wildlife Hatchet, coming in at 13 inches as opposed to 14 inches.

The grain of the handle on the Husqvarna Hatchet (left) is as close to perfect as you can get. The example I have has better grain than the Gransfors Bruks (right). You can see that the grain is very straight, and it runs the length of the handle.

The head is heavier than that of the Wildlife Hatchet. It comes in at 1.21 lb, a quarter of a lb more than the Wildlife Hatchet, which has a 1 lb head. The weight of the head falls right between the Grannsfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet and the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe. The head is attached with a wooden wedge, very similar to the method used by Gransfors Bruks, except that no metal pin is used.

While the heads are close to the same size, and have a very similar edge profile, the Husqvarna Hatchet is less concave near the eye, giving it an advantage when splitting wood (not counting the weight difference).

The Husqvarna Hatchet is of very high quality. It was shaving sharp and ready to use out of the box (I know that is important to some people). Both the head and the handle were well finished.

In testing, which included chopping, splitting and carving tasks, I found the Husqvarna Hatchet better suited for me than the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet because of the additional weight. Even though both tools are equally sharp and have a similar grind, the added weight of the Husqvarna Hatchet required me to use less force in my swings. This of course is a personal preference and the choice will depend on one’s body size and method of use.

The leather sheath is held securely and resembles the Gransfors Bruks sheaths. It was a bit dry when I got it, so it required a light oiling.

In all honesty, other than the weight difference, which was a chosen design characteristic, I was not able to find any difference between the quality of the two hatchets. Other than the large price difference, all other characteristics matched up exceptionally well. In fact, I was so impressed by the performance of the Husqvarna Hatchet, that I have replaced my Wildlife Hatchet with it as my main chopping tool.

I can not explain why the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet is three times more expensive than the Husqvarna Hatchet, but it is in no way three times better. In fact, I can not say that it is better in any way. The two hatchets seem identical in terms of quality, and very similar in design. I am very glad that I had a chance to use the Gransfors Bruks Hatchet before buying the Husqvaran one, because otherwise I would have never believed that the two would be of the same quality, or that I would end up choosing the $40.00 hatchet over the $110.00 one.

As far as I know, the manufacturer produces additional bushcraft appropriate axes: The Traditional (Multipurpose) Axe (2.55lb head; 25 inches in length).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lumberjacks in Canada c. 1895

Big tree; big saw; big axes.

Image is stored at the McCord Museum.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Flint Knapping: Articles, Tips, and Tutorials from the Internet

This is a compilation of information and resources on flint knapping. It was put together and edited by Michael Lynn, and is one of the best resources on flint knapping that I have been able to find. The information is on point and well illustrated.

As far as I am aware, this information has been released into the public domain, and a copy can be obtained here and here.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Friction Hold Ojibwa Bird Trap

To make this trap you will need about 10 ft of cord (I am using para cord) and either good cutting tools or a lot of luck.

The first thing you need to do is find a suitable post on which to build the snare. The higher it is the better. It should preferably be in an open area, where it would appear to be an attractive place for birds to land. The one I am using here is surrounded by trees, so it’s not great, but will do for this demonstration.

You will need to make a hole in the post. If you are lucky, the piece of wood you have found will be of such a shape that you can easily make a hole with your knife. More likely however, you will have to pull out your saw and axe and shape it in such a way as to allow for a small hole to be made. Here I did it by chopping off part of the tree.

The hole has to be just large enough for the string to pass through. Now take your knife, and enlarge the hole on one side.

Put the string through the hole. Take the end that is on the side where you enlarged the hole and make a noose. Tie the other end of the string either to a large rock or a branch that is under tension.

Now take a long thin stick, and shape one of its ends so that it can be stuck in the enlarged part of the hole.

To set the trap, pull the string so that either the rock is off the ground, or the branch is under tension, and place the thin stick in the enlarged part of the hole so that it pinches the string and keeps it in place. If the stick falls out too easily, reshape it so that it goes further into the hole.

This will always be the hard part of any trap. The trigger has to be loose enough so that it sets off the trap, but it has to be secure enough so that it does not trigger on its own. You will have to play around with it a bit.

Now that the stick is in place, put the noose over it. When a bird lands on the stick, the stick will fall, releasing the string. The rock will fall, pulling and tightening the noose, and hopefully catching the bird.

Or so the story goes...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mora Knives

Most of you are very familiar with the Mora knives, and if you are not, all you need to do is take a look at any of the bushcraft forums to see how well respected they are.

Mora is a line of knives produced in Sweden, and they are very similar to puukkos in design. The blades are thin, short and with a single bevel grind, which has come to be referred to as a Scandinavian grind because of it’s assumed prevalence in the region. The knives use either a rat tail tang (the tang runs the full length of the handle, but narrows to a point in the back) or a partial tang in their design.

The Mora knives with which most people are familiar are produced either by KJ Eriksson or by Frosts. In 2008 the two companies merged and now the knives are produced under the name Mora of Sweden.

The modern Mora knives with which we are familiar were primarily designed to function as general purpose utility knives, and similar designs are produced by most Scandinavian manufacturers who make construction equipment. They have gained popularity in the bushcraft community because of their versatility and the high quality they provide for a very low price.

Most knives in the line can be purchased for anywhere from $10 to $15.

If you listen to some people, you may come out with the misconception that these are the “perfect bushcraft knives”. Aside from the fact that there is no such thing, it is important to note that the knives have limitations.

We must not forget that we are working here with a fairly thin blade with a very limited tang. It is not uncommon to breake such a knife. Below you can see an x-ray picture of four Mora knives. Note the limited tangs they use.

The knives use a process where the handle, made of a plastic composite, is molded around the tang of the knife. Some of the more traditional models like the Mora #1 and #2, used to use a rat tail tang, which was held by a friction fitting in the back of the knife’s wooden handle. Recently however, they have started to use a partial tang as well, held in the handle by epoxy, as can be seen in the below picture.

While these images may be frightening, it must be noted that the knives are surprisingly strong. The knives will take a lot of punishment and are more than sufficiently strong to perform any cutting task. If you are planning on batoning or truncating wood with them however, failures may occur.

This does not make a knife either bad or good, it is just a limitation of the design for which you have to account and plan your woodworking accordingly. If you have a hatchet or an axe with you for the heavier wood work, then a Mora knife may be ideal for you. If on the other hand you would like to use your knife to split wood or do any other heavy work, this may not be the perfect knife for the job.

I am sure someone will immediately come out with a video showing that you can baton with a Mora. Of course you can, you just have to understand that at that point you are pushing the knife to its limits, and that it might fail.

The knives come in both carbon steel and laminated stainless. I find them to be of equal quality. You have to decide which type you want.

So which of the Mora knives should one consider for a general purposes bushcraft knife? My favorite was the 510, which has now been discontinued and replaced by the 511, which I don’t like because of the finger guard.

Another favorite is the Mora Clipper 840...

...and so is the Mora #1 and #2.

There are numerous other models which will perform equally well. It all comes down to which one looks and feels right to you. Their performance characteristics are about the same.

Some people like the Mora 2000, but I find it to be a strange design, and it does come at a higher price tag.

Recently Mora has even come out with a line of knives specifically designed for bushcraft. The one shown here is the Bushcraft Force.

I find this to be another example of a bushcraft tax. In my opinion the knives are not significantly different from any other knife in the Mora inventory, but because they are “bushcraft” knives, they cost three times more than a regular Mora knife, coming in at over $30. There are some minor differences and design variations, but they are in no way three times better than any other Mora knife. Remember that Mora made its reputation in the bushcraft community on the merits of its regular knives, not these new bushcaft ones.

If you are looking for a good knife at a low price, you can not go wrong with a Mora, as long as you respect its design limitations. Ultimately however, a knife is a personal choice, and the one you carry will depend on what feels comfortable in your hand and for what purpose you wish to use it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Marble’s Belt Axe No 9 Review

Continuing my pursuit of quality tools with reasonable price tags, I decided to test out the Marble’s Belt Axe No 9.

Marble’s; made in China
Axe Head Weight: Estimated to just under 1 lb. I have not been able to find exact specifications.
Axe Length: 14.5 inches
Axe Head Material: Forged Carbon Steel, 50-52 Rockwell hardness.
Handle Material: Unknown wood
Cost: It can be purchased at most places online for under $30.00.

In this review I will be comparing the hatchet to the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet. The reason for the comparison is that they have similar specifications in terms of length and weight, and someone looking for a low cost replacement will most likely be looking for a replacement for the Wildlife Hatchet. The Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet is a well known and reviewed tool which has a lot of well earned respect in the bushcraft community.

So, I got the axe and I must say, I was very disappointed when I took it out of the box. The head looked too small, the handle looked too narrow, and all around, it did not measure up to the hatchets I was accustomed to seeing.

After the initial disappointment wore off, I took a closer look. I noticed that the edge of the blade was rather wavy, although it was reasonably sharp, at least much sharper than the Trail Boss, which I reviewed earlier. I spent about half an hour sharpening it and taking out the waives from the edge.

Here you can see the Marble’s Belt Axe No 9 next to the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet.

The handle is half an inch longer than that of the Wildlife Hatchet, but it is much thinner. I have large hands, so I like a thicker handle.

The grain of the handle is pretty straight, but it is very wide grain meaning that the material is weaker.

I was not able to find the exact weight of the head, but knowing that the head of the Wildlife Hatchet is about 1 lb, the one of the Marble’s Hatchet feels just a bit lighter. The head is attached using a metal wedge which is inserted in the handle.

The head also looks smaller than that of the Wildlife hatchet, although the eye is smaller as well, and it is not nearly as concaved as the Wildlife Hatchet in the middle of the head.

After the preliminary look over, I took the hatchet out for a more thorough test.

The more I used it, the more I liked it. After being sharpened, the performance of the hatchet was exceptional when it came to both carving and chopping. In virtually all tests I did, it was able to either outperform or keep up with the Wildlife Hatchet, to my great surprise.

After an hour or so of use however, I encountered a huge problem. The metal wedge which secures the handle to the head started to come loose, and the head started sliding off the handle. This is certainly unacceptable as it poses a serious danger to the user.

When I got back, I took apart the axe, and put it back together using Gorilla Glue epoxy. That fixed the problem without much work.

The sheath is actually a good design and keeps the axe head well protected. It was however very dry when I got it. It required a lot of oil to get it back into shape.

Because of the head attachment problem however, and the waives on the cutting edge (even though they were easy to remove), I can not recommend this hatchet for anything other than a project. If you wish to put in some work into your axe, then this may very well be the right one for you, especially for under $30. If however you need a tool that you can take out of the box and use, I can not recommend this hatchet. The axe head seems to perform very well, and the grind is very good, but overall, the tool needs work before use.

As far as I know, the manufacturer produces additional bushcraft appropriate axes: The Mini Belt Axe (10.75 inches in length), and The Hunter's Axe (14.25 inches in length). Head weight for either axe is unknown at this time.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bushcraft Tools

Sometimes it is hard to distinguish what people call bushcraft, from any other type of camping or backpacking. I personally do not think there is any need for such distinctions, but there are a few tools, which are often found in the bushcrafter’s bag, but are missing from that of the backpacker. These tools allow a person to more directly interact with the environment.

In the northern forests, these tools most often include a knife, a chopping impliment, and a saw. One popular combination of tools following this pattern is featured in the below picture. It is favored by Ray Mears, and because of his endorsement, has gained wide popularity in the bushcraft community.

It features a knife of fairly small proportions, no longer than 6 inches, but most often around 4 inches in length. Many these days prefer a Scandinavian or single bevel grind, but it is in no way required or even necessarily preferred. The most important part is that the knife be comfortable for you to use.

The second tool is a small axe, with a handle no longer than 20 inches, and a head weight around 1.5 lb. The Gransfurs Bruks Small Forest Axe has become the standard for these axes.

The last tool is a small folding saw such as a Kershaw or a Bahco Laplander.

This combination of tools allows for completion of a wide range of tasks, from fairly heavy woodworking such as chopping to fine work like carving.

The picture below features a variation of that combination, and is the one I have been finding a lot more useful.

The combination features a knife, a larger saw, and a small hatchet instead of the axe. The reason why I prefer this combination is that I find it much easier to process large wood with the saw rather than the axe. This reserves the axe/hatchet for carving and splitting. The hatchet fits that role much better for me. Again, the combination allows for the completion of a wide range of tasks in the bush.

In addition to the above tools, you may want to add some specialized tools. I like to carry a small 2-inch carving knife and a crook knife in case I want to do any delicate carving.

The tools you carry will always depend on the tasks you have to perform in the woods, as well as your local environment. There is no wrong combination as long as you can do the work you need to complete and do it in an efficient way.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Importance of a Sharp Axe

A few days back I did a review of the Cold Steel Trail Boss, and I have a few more axe reviews in the works. There is one thing however, that I failed to stress enough during my last review, and I think it is important enough to make a separate post about it. I have also gone back to edit the Trail Boss review.

I was prompted to write about the issue by several posts where people describe how their axe keeps glancing off the wood instead of biting into it. The answer is simple; the axe is not sharp enough. I can not stress enough how important it is to keep a sharp axe.

Like Abraham Lincoln said: "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe."

When it comes to axes in particular, there are two reasons why you need to keep it sharp. The first is obvious; sharp things cut better. The second reason is that the geometry of efficient chopping with an axe necessitates that it be kept sharp.

Imagine that there is a tree in front of you. If you swing the axe and hit it perpendicularly from the side, at a ninety-degree angle, the edge of the axe will cut in. If you keep pulling the axe out and swinging it back in the same way, you will spend the rest of the day making cuts into the wood, without much progress.

A much more efficient way to chop wood with an axe is to start by selecting the area where you would like to cut. Then picture a wide V shape with a point ending at least in the middle of the tree trunk. Then begin to cut it from the top and the bottom. The cuts in the pictures here were made with a Cold Steel Trail Boss, the hatchet is used just to illustrate the point.

When a cut is made on the top and the bottom, the material between the two ends of the V should fall off, or can be removed by a slight twist of the axe.

Keep doing that until you reach the point of the V. Then, start on the other side of the tree trunk.

The wider the V, the faster you will remove wood from the tree, and the faster your cut will go.

What does this have to do with your axe being sharp? Well, in order to make a wide V cut, the axe must be very sharp. Because you are coming in at a steep angle towards the wood, if the axe is not sharp, it will not bite into the wood, but will rather glance off. That will force you to narrow the V, bringing the axe blade more perpendicularly to the tree, making the cut a lot less efficient.

How sharp is sharp? Some people like to keep their axes shaving sharp. I do not think that is necessary because that sharpness will go away after the first few cuts. The axe has to be sharp enough however to smoothly cut through a piece of paper, just like you would test a knife.

Few other points:

One, make sure you are using the right axe for the job. If the axe is too small for the size tree you are cutting, it will be much harder to remove the chips of wood between the V cuts, making the job much harder.

Two, if your axe is sharp, but still glances off the wood, you might be using an axe that has too wide of a grind. If the profile of the axe is wide, as it would be on a splitting axe, it will also have a hard time biting into the wood.

Three, the same geometry applies to carving. You very often need to approach the wood at a steep angle, and an axe which is not sharp will glance off rather than cutt into the wood.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Cheap, Lightweight Backpacking Food

As I have mentioned before, the style of camping I like to do involves hiking fairly long distances into the bush. That means that all of my gear has to be contained within my pack, and the pack in turn has to be light enough that I can carry it over that distance.

Consequently, the food I carry has to be light. That most often translates to dehydrated food. The more water you can remove from your food, the lighter it will be.

Here I want to go over what I most often carry into the woods. I avoid any expensive purpose made backpacking food, and instead simply go into my local supermarket and look for appropriate items.

One of them is your standard 8oz box of rice and beans. The one I have in my picture is an Iberia brand, but Goya and any other brand will work just fine. The rice and beans are already dehydrated, and are flavored, so you don’t have to worry about that while cooking.

I divide the contents of the box into two servings. The instructions on the box indicate that you need 2.5 cups of water for the whole package, so for half of it 1.25 cups of water should be fine. I like to use 1.5 cups because I find that otherwise the rice is a bit hard. The instructions indicate to bring the water to a boil an then add the rice, but I like to put it in the water immediately, and then start heating it up. After it starts boiling, the rice will be done in about 10 min.

Another good option is instant mashed potatoes. They are faster to make than rice and beans because all you have to do is bring the water to a boil and add the powdered potatoes. I use half a cup of potato powder to one cup of boiling water. It is better to have less water than more because you can always add some room temperature water to the mix.

I also like to mix into the potato powder some gravy powder or other seasoning. The potatoes by themselves can be very bland. Again, I place everything in individual serving Ziploc bags.

An old classic is Ramen Noodles. When it comes to cooking them, the process is identical to that of the rice, except that one packet of noodles requires 2 cups of water. I wait until they are finished cooking and I remove the excess water before adding the flavor packet.

Just like with the other items, I place the contents of the bag into a Ziploc bag. I crush the noodles before doing that, so they are easier to eat with a spoon and pack to a smaller size.

All of the individual bags are placed into a larger Ziploc bag.

Together with a spoon, some Pop Tarts, a small bottle of oil and seasoning mix, they get placed in a water proof bag. Other good items you can add are granola bars and nuts. Keep in mind however that nuts can be heavy.

This is pretty much all of the food I carry. It does not go bad, it is cheap, light weight, packs tightly, and does not require elaborate cooking.