Friday, September 30, 2011

Basic Saw Use Part 2: Sawing Large Wood

This is the second part of the video on saw use. Here I focus on working with larger pieces of wood with a portable saw. It is rare that on an outing in the woods you would have to bring down large pieces of wood using this technique, and I very rarely do so, but it’s good to know the theory in case you need it. As always, when working with large pieces of wood, make sure that you are clear out of the way before the wood is cut.

For more information on saw use and maintenance, read the Crosscut Saw Manual by Warren Miller. It covers most of the fundamentals and is a great starting point for anyone interested in the subject.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Basic Saw Use Part 1: Sawing Small Wood

This video is part 1 of 2, and covers some basic saw use techniques. This first video focuses on working with smaller pieces of wood.

Please keep in mind that saws, just like all other cutting tools, get dull over time. Properly sharpening a saw can be a complex procedure, and is one with which I am not sufficiently familiar, so I will not try to go over it here. Taking care of your blade will give it a long life, and these days, particularly with smaller saws like the ones you see in the video, most people simply replace the blade rather than sharpening it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Platypus 4L Platy Water Tank Review

This product was provided to me for purposes of the review by Appalachian Outdoors. Appalachian Outdoors is not the manufacturer of this product, they are simply retailers, and supply a large number of outdoor equipment and gear.

For many years now I have been using an MSR Dromedary water bladder to carry larger quantities of water when needed. Unfortunately, the past year I have been having problems with the water in the bag having a horrible taste. I imagine this is an issue with the tap water I am using, because I have never had that problem before. Either way, I decided to look for an alternative.

I managed to find a 3L Platypus bladder, and it has been working fairly well. When Appalachian Outdoors gave me the opportunity to select which items I test, I noticed the 4L Platypus Water Tank, and decided to give it a try.

The water tank seems to be made from the same material as the other Platypus bladders, and in design is very similar. It holds 4L of water, and has clear volume demarcations on the side. The bladder weighs 2.5oz and will cost you anywhere from $25 to $30. In size it is 26.6 inches by 10.5 inches.


The way in which it is different, offers the greatest advantages as well as disadvantages when it comes to this product. The way this 4L tank differs from the familiar bladders is that in addition to the usual spout, it has a Ziploc style closure on top of the container. This does several things. It allows for very easy filling up. If you are treating your water chemically in camp, it is very easy to fill up and let it sit. The sitting portion is also made easier by the design, as it has a bottom which will allow the tank to stand up almost like a non-flexible bucket. The tank even comes with handles for easy carrying.


Unfortunately, this convenience comes at a price. The Ziploc style closure is not something I would trust in my pack. I did several tests with it, and while it will stay closed if you turn the container up side down and shake it, when you apply pressure from different angles, like you would have in a backpack, the closure can fail.

Unfortunately, this eliminates this bladder as one I would be willing to carry in my backpack. The risk of it opening, no matter how small, is unacceptable to me. On the other hand however, this is a great design for use in camp. If you are going to carry it empty, and fill it up when you set up camp, it is very useful and comfortable to use. In that respect I would much rather have it than the MSR Dromedary bag. However, since I like to be on the move most of the time, I am going to have to keep on looking. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fire Fixins Review

This product was provided to me by the manufacturer for purposes of testing it. For more information, or to place an order directly with the manufacturer, contact

Fire Fixins is a fire starter made by a father and son team from Ohio. It is comprised of a bundle of jute rope which has been impregnated with wax, and a piece of fatwood attached to the bundle. The whole product costs $4.


The two tinders can be used separately or in combination. Both tinders are capable of taking a spark from a ferrocerium rod, and as you can see from the video, are water resistant, if not water proof.

Using the tinder is easy. Take a piece of the jute rope, pull the fibers apart so that you expose the fine threads inside and put a spark to it.


The tinder catches very quickly and provides a good flame.


The fatwood can either be used as kindling in order to strengthen the flame from the jute rope, or it can be used as tinder in and of itself. To do that, just scrape off some fine shavings. I like to do that by using the spine of my knife.


When you have a good pile of shavings, put a spark to it. It does not catch as easily as the jute rope, but it will catch. Just like the jute, the fatwood is water resistant because of the high oil content in the wood. It should be able to catch a spark even after it has been exposed to water.


Overall, I am very happy with this product. It worked exactly as advertised. When compared to the tinder I usually use (cotton balls and Vaseline), it takes a bit longer to prepare, but on the other hand, it makes a lot less of a mess. You can prepare the tinder without getting anything on your hands.

Something that you can not see in the video or pictures is the smell of the product. The fatwood really adds a nice smell, which makes the product a pleasure to use. I am usually very performance oriented in my reviews, but this fire starter just had a good feel to it. I you are someone who likes using natural materials, I think Fire Fixins will hit the spot. Even without those characteristics however, this is a well performing product. For the price, you just can’t go wrong.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Henry Taylor Acorn Gouge Review

Woodworking has come to comprise a good portion of our bushcraft activities. As a result, many of our tools are geared towards that task. Many of us carry belt knives which excel at those woodworking tasks. Other than the all purpose belt knife, most people interested in bushcraft will also most likely have in their possession a crook, or spoon knife. The curved blade of that knife allows for the removal of wood from concaved surfaces such as a spoon.

For some time now, I have been using crook knives for exactly such tasks. First I used the Mora 164, and then the Mora 162-see here. I even tried one of the horseshoe knives. In the end however, I was not happy with any of them. They just did not feel right in my hand, and I could rarely manage to finish a project without cutting myself with the crook knife.

So, I started searching for a better way. It is no secret that people who do woodworking in a shop use chisels and gouges to perform these carving tasks. However, in the bush, where a light weight portable tool is needed, the crook knife seemed like the best option. That is until I found the Acorn gouges.


The Henry Taylor Acorn gouges are made in England and come in a variety of configuration. They vary in size of the cutting surface (measured in inches), and in the degree of sweep/curvature of the cutting surface (indicated as different number values - 6,8,10,etc, with the lower number indicating a more open curve). The one I use and that you see in the pictures is a 5/16 inch, sweep #6 straight gouge. I purchased mine for $23.

They are very small. You can see it next to a Mora 164 here.


I have found the gouge to be very easy to use. I have had much better luck working with it than with the crook knives. It performs the job admirably, especially on hard woods. If you are working with soft green woods, the crook knife will probably have an advantage because its larger cutting surface will allow you to remove more wood with each pass.

Overall, I am very happy with this tool. I have been carrying it instead of my crook knife for a few months now. It may not be the right choice for you, but it is a fairly good alternative for those who have not had the best of luck with crook knives.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Axe Restoration-Selecting an Axe Head

In this video I go over some of the basic things I look for in an axe head that I plan to bring back to a functional condition. Everyone has their preferences in terms of design, but there are some common defects that I would try to avoid if possible.

Issues to avoid:

1. Pitting of the Metal-While surface rust is not a big problem and can be easily removed, pitting corrosion of the metal is something to avoid. Holes in the surface of the axe head formed due to corrosion will weaken the structural integrity of the axe and decrease its performance.


2. Deformed or Mushroomed Poll-This is a clear indication that the axe has been abused. While in some circumstances the damage can be corrected, it will require a lot of work and should lead you to suspect further damage.


3. Deformed or Over Stressed Eye-A deformed or mushroomed eye should certainly be avoided. You should also be careful if you see an eye that has a lot of screws or nails driven into it, as this may be an indication of damage. If nothing else, it shows that the user did not take very good care of this axe.


Another form of damage to the eye is damage that occurs to the top of the eye. Sometimes people who have failed to properly fit the handle on their axe will take a hammer and try to drive the head onto the handle. This can result in damage to the eye.


4. Disproportional Eye-Many people tend to have an idealized vision of vintage axes. The reality however is that defects were a common thing even during the golden age of axe manufacturing. One of the common defects is a disproportionally punched out eye. For one reason or another, the punch that formed the eye was at an angle to the head, and that resulted at the eye being at an angle. This will translate into the head sitting at an angle tot eh handle once hung. This is a very difficult problem to correct.


5. Misshapen Bit-In many cases damage to the bit can be corrected fairly easily with some filing. However, with some axe heads, the bit has been ground in such a way that correcting it will be a massive task. A common form of this a bit that has had more metal removed from the top section of the axe head than the bottom. It results in an edge that slants towards the upper portion of the axe head. A lot of work will be required to bring such a bit back into shape.


Not all of the issues covered in the video are listed here.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Snow & Nealley Boy’s Axe Review

As you guys may remember, a while back I did a review of the Snow & Nealley Hudson Bay axe. I ended up being very disappointed with the extremely low quality control of the manufacturer. Well, I decided to give them a second chance, and review their Boy’s axe.

l (12)

Manufacturer: Snow & Nealley
Axe Head Weight: 2.25 lb
Axe Length: 28 inches
Axe Head Material: Unknown carbon steel
Handle Material: Hickory
Cost: $68


The Snow & Nealley Boy’s axe is reasonably priced as a mid range axe. A quality axe with a $70 price tag would be a bargain, although, if the quality is low, it is more money than I would want to risk. For this review I will compare it to the Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe just for reference purposes. Clearly the Boy’s axe is quite a bit heavier.

l (32)


The handle of the Snow & Nealley Boy’s axe (left) has a good shape to it, but on the one I got, the grain orientation was horrible. As you can see from the picture, it is completely horizontal. The handle is covered in varnish, which is not bad, and is well applied, but I know many people prefer to remove it on their axes.

l (57)

The head of the Snow & Nealley Boy’s axe is a very well designed Dayton pattern head. In terms of design, I could not find any faults with it. The edge needs to be thinned out for the axe to be exactly how I like it, but that would not take more than 20 minutes with a file and stone. The head is attached to the handle using an aluminum wedge. You can not see it in the picture because the top of all Snow & Nealey axe heads is covered with black paint. In terms of quality however, the head leaves a lot to be desired. The eye was again not well aligned, so the head sits at a slight angle to the handle. While this defect is not nearly as bad as that on the Hudson Bay axe I reviewed earlier, it is still something that should have been caught in quality control. That being said, this was still a usable axe.

l (40)

The axe has fairly good balance. It is slightly bit heavy, but overall, the balance is good.

l (64)

The axe comes with a leather sheath that covers the bit. However, as with all sheaths of this design that I have encountered, it comes right off in the pack. It appears that they use the same sheath for several of their axes, so the fit is not great.

The performance of the axe will depend on what you do with the edge. Out of the box, it was not what I would call sharp, and the edge was too thick for my liking. The whole bit itself was fairly thin, but the edge needs work. A thinned out and sharpened edge should give you a well performing axe. Out of the box however, you should not expect too much. The axe is a little heavier than I would like. I don’t know if it is the heavier head or the thicker handle, but it feels heavier than the Council Tool Boy’s axe.

As a design however, the axe is a good one. Other than minor things, I can’t find too many faults. The quality control however is once again where the axe is let down. While not nearly as bad as the last Snow & Neally axe I reviewed, the quality control with this one is still inexcusably low. Perhaps Snow& Nealley can merge with Condor Knife and Tool, so we can get a well designed axe that is well made.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Traditional Swedish Woodworking: Clogs, Spoons and Chairs

This is a video shot in 1923 for Swedish television, or at least featured there, which films several people working on different woodworking projects with simple hand operated tools.

Many of those skills have been lost over the years, although fortunately there are still people out there working to preserve them.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Through Siberia, The Land of the Future, by Fridtjof Nansen

This is a book documenting the journey of the Norwegian explorer through Siberia. The book is not a bushcraft tutorial, but much can be learned from its pages and a good number of photographs of the indigenous people. The book was published in 1914.


To the best of my knowledge, the book is in the public domain, and a copy can be obtained here, here, and a number of other places online.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Mountain Climbers, 1930s

Here are two more great images taken by Thomas B. Moffat in the 1930s.



It is very interesting to me to see the clothing they are wearing. Many of us today would call it semi-formal wear, while at the time, no self respecting man would have been seen walking in it in the city.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Selecting a Bushcraft Axe

The process of selecting a bushcraft or backpacking axe gets a lot of air time these days, and rightfully so. A good axe can make a big difference in the enjoyment of the outdoors. In this short video I just wanted to throw out a few comments that may aid you in that process.

Axe Manufacturers:

There are several axe manufacturers that I would recommend based on my experience with them. Keep in mind that this are just my opinions based on my limited experience with axes. There are other axe manufacturers out there that I have not recommended because I either believe their designs or the quality of their products to be lacking. For details on specific axes, please look at the reviews in the Axe section of this blog.

Current Axe Manufacturers:

Gransfors Bruks-Any discussion of axes has to begin with Gransfors Bruks simply because of the popularity of their products. While expensive, their axes go through rigorous quality control making sure that when you buy an axe from them, it will be ready to use out of the box, without any significant defects. They offer a good variety of axes. While I don’t find their designs to be the best, they are very good.

S.A. Wetterlings-Wetterlings is another Swedish manufacturer that produces good quality axes. When Gransfors Bruks came out with their current line of axes in the 1990s, Wetterlings copied the designs (with minor variations) and continues to produce them at a lower cost. Correspondingly, the quality control is a bit lower, so do not be surprised if you find some defects. Overall however, Wetterlings axes are a good, lower cost substitute for the Gransfros Bruks axes.

Hultafors/Hults Bruk-Just like Wetterlings, hultafors copied the Gransfors Bruks designs in the 1990s, coming out with their classic line of axes. They do however still produce their Agdor line of axes, which has been around for a long time, before Hultafors purchased Hults Bruk, the actual axe manufacturer. Their axes are of good quality, and depending on the model, can be quite affordable. Unfortunately, Hultafors does not sell their axes in the US, making them very hard to find.

Husqvarna-Husqvarna is a vary large company that contracts with other axe manufacturers to make their axes. Currently, they have contracted with Hultafors. As such, the axes you buy from Husqvarna are a close copy of the Hultafors axes. Husqvarna manages to sell them for fairly low prices, making their axes a very good value.

Council Tool-Council Tool is an American company that continues to make good axes. Until recently they have been a whole seller of axes, and little marketing was done towards the individual end user. They have very good axe designs in different head patterns. Their products do not come well finished, and the quality control is less than perfect. If you buy a Council Tool axes, be ready to sharpen it yourself, and possibly deal with some defects. That being said, the company is great at taking care of any problems with their products. Most of their axes come at fairly low prices. They have recently released a Velvicut line of axes, which has a price tag similar to the Gransfors Bruks axes, and hopefully similar quality control.

Barco-Barco Industries is another American axe manufacturer that makes good quality axes. They own the patents for the Kelly axes, and continue to make several of the models. Their axes are well priced, but just like the old Kelly axes, they comes unfinished. You will have to put a grind on the axe yourself. Unless you know how to work on axes, this may not be a good choice for you.

Vintage Axe Manufacturers:

Plumb-Plumb made a wide range of axes, and I am big fan of all the models that I have seen. They are thinly ground, and make for good bushcraft axes.

Collins-Old Collins axes are of very good quality. While not the most highly collectable ones, their Homestead brand is one of my favorites. Keep in mind that axes are still being produced under the Collins name, but the quality has no comparison.

True Temper-True Temper made a very wide range of axes. I find some of them to be very good, while other much less so. The ones that I have used and like are the Kelly Perfect, Kelly Flint Edge, and Kelly World’s Finest. The Flint Edge axes tend to be a little thicker, although still very workable as a bushcraft axe.

PowrKraft-This is not one fo the most popular brands for collectors, but I find their axes to be very well made and the designs are well suited for bushcraft.

Other-The four names you see above are just some of the ones that I like, or are popular and easy to find on the market. However, when it comes to vintage axes, it is hard to find a manufacturer that would not be considered good. Competition was so high, that none of them could afford to produce a sub par product. On top of that axes were still a widely used tool, so defects were easily noticed. If you find an old axe head, and you like the head geometry, and it does not appear to have been damaged, or the temper destroyed, it is hard to go wrong.