Log Cabin Foundation Piers are Complete

by Todd Walker

A solid foundation is essential no matter what you’re building; a business, relationships, liberty, self-reliance, or a log cabin in the woods.

At my age, it’s tempting to build the log cabin so it only last my twenty or so years I have left (God willing.) But then there’s the generational thing I’d like to pass on to my children, grandchildren, and their children, just as Daddy intended when he bought this land 53 years ago. When I’m long gone, it is my hope that they will embrace this log cabin as a legacy of self-reliance and liberty. So I best build it to last!

When I mention to friends and family that I have 32 piers for my 1,000 square foot log cabin to rest on, they look at me kinda funny – like I’ve lost my mind, actually. Since this isn’t a conventionally stick-built house, I over-engineered on purpose.

The wall logs I harvested off our land average 14 inches in diameter on the butt end and 36 feet long minimum (estimated weight = 1,725# each). The longest sill logs are 46 feet long (estimated weight = 2,556# each). Now let’s go with just the 36 footers stacked 10 high on four walls, not including chinking or roof. I’m estimating the load to weigh around 34,500 tonnes for just the wall logs. I don’t know what a finished stick-built house weighs, but I’m glad I’ve got my 32 piers.

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Digging It!

Once the lot was graded, I laid out the footer/pier foundation locations. My cousin, Chris, who grew up on this land with me, has acquired all kinds of cool toys over the years. He has loaned his tractor to skid logs, graded the lot with his loader, and he’s digging footers (pictured below) in our soil made of shellrock, Georgia red clay, and sand. It was a challenge even for his mini-excavator. Shellrock is tough!

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I call on my cousin Chris when I need heavy equipment.

The footer holes fill with water after rain showers and have to be pumped or bailed with a bucket. I used the bucket method on two holes. Then the “work smarter, not harder” phrase came to me as I stood in muddy muck boots drenched in salty sweat.

I’ve got a sump pump! And a generator! That ended my bucket bailing. That pump sucks so well I named it Sleepy Joe!

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Being overzealous, I drained the other 30 holes. Shovel in hand, I began cleaning out the loose dirt and mud until my courage drained. Fatigue makes cowards of us all.

That night it rained and recreated 32 small, muddy bathtubs. I’m a quick learner though. From that point on in this ditch-digging adventure, I tackled one hole at a time to avoid that distinct sucking sound.

The one-hole-at-time strategy is not efficient in the least. But given that my crew consisted of me in the beginning, it saved time and labor in the end by only shoveling holes once.

Then one fine day, help showed up. She’s not unfamiliar with the project as she has helped fell, skid, and skin logs here. Melonie (Mel of the Mountains) was a welcomed sight as she used her bakery skills to apply mortar between blocks. No waste and greatly sped up the pier building process. She also stacked block at each footer hole, hauled 60 pound bags of cement/mortar, built frames for footers, and backfilled piers with a shovel.

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Melonie, who ran an award-winning bakery in Atlanta for 16 years, had the idea of using a piping bag instead of me wasting mortar with my trowel.

Once a hole is shoveled and leveled somewhat, I then level the footer box, add rebar, mix concrete in the wheelbarrow with a hoe, and pour it smooth. While still wet, I set the first layer of blocks in the concrete. Laying the remaining blocks was a matter of following the bottom pattern. Easy peasy!

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Leveling a footer box and backfilling piers in the Georgia heat and humidity.

My largest piers were constructed with three blocks on the base layer. These large piers will support sill logs and also serve as a solid foundation for the ridge pole support logs (RPSL) down the center of the cabin and the purlin support logs (PSL) on either side of the ridge pole. Both of the RPSL and PSL will stand vertically on these piers to reach their respective roof structural logs.

I also cemented J-hook rebar in several block cells on the building perimeter. Sill logs will be pre-drilled to match the rebar locations. The rebar will be guided through each sill log as it is slowly lowered onto the piers.

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Rebar anchors for sill logs.

Once the log is in place, the rebar will be hammered flush over the top of the log to anchor it to the piers. This first layer of wall logs will take the most time and effort to install. Then the stacking begins!

This coming week I’m going to sort, label, and prep logs for the wall construction.

Thanks for following the journey, and, as always, Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance.

~ Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on FloteOdyseePinterestYouTubeInstagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa

Categories: Homesteading, Life-Liberty-Happiness, Log Cabin, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

Homecoming: My New Log Cabin Build

by Todd Walker

In March of 2021, just before my pancreas scare, I decided to build a log cabin on the land I grew up on. I needed a place to retire and our land would provide the resources needed for the project. All I needed was the energy and sweat equity to do the stuff.

My little 10×12 practice log cabin taught me many things. The most important being that log cabin building is nothing but hard work. Counting the cost, I launched with ambition and hope that I could hold up physically. This go round I’d be using all the power tools and equipment I could to easy the pain.

My plan is to construct a 30×32 foot log cabin on the exact spot our family first camped in tents on this land in 1969. Many memories were made in my seven-year-old mind, the most painful being my first chigger infestation. It’s a wonder I grew up to love the outdoors after that miserable, scratchy weekend.

To get started, I needed trees, lots of trees. Pine is plentiful and relatively easy to access on our property. The longest lengths would need to be 45 feet long to accommodate the 12 foot front porch that will overlook the lake.

It’s different building with logs of this length. The longest log on my practice cabin was 21 feet. Now I had to find trees long and straight enough to span a distance twice that. Cruising timber takes patience and perseverance. I spot what appears to be a perfect fit straight away but I walk 90 degrees around the tree, use my ax to plumb that side, and a bow from that angle disqualifies, or saves the tree’s life. When I find a keeper, I do my happy dance and tie a strip of orange surveyor’s tape around it!

As my friend Cokey always said at the onset of any hard work, “It’s like hauling logs, you gotta really want to do it!” I managed to cut about half of the logs needed this summer in crazy hot weather. My cousin, Chris, loaned his tractor out for the skidding part. Nylon chokers and ropes held up for a while to drag hard-to-reach logs out of the woods. I later converted to chains for safety purposes.

Skinning Logs with a Spud

Without a doubt, this is the most labor intensive aspect of the build.

When the sap is rising in Georgia pines (mid-March through late September), my tool of choice for de-barking logs is a long handle scraper I found at Harbor Freight. The 4 inch wide beveled blade gets under the bark and separates the cambium layer from the sapwood efficiently.

To start a fresh log, I remove a strip of bark the entire length of the tree. The spud is then worked under the bark. With enough of the metal spud under the bark edge, the 4 foot wooden handle is used to pry sections of bark from the log. When the sap is rising, it’s possible to remove wide, long sheets of bark.

In the winter months the bark will only release when strongly encouraged to do so. A drawknife outperforms the spud. However, I have no desire to hunch over, straddle, and peel logs with an edged tool.

cabin 1 drawknife

One of my first logs skinned with a drawknife for my “Practice Cabin” in February 2018.

Seeking a shortcut, I thought to myself, “There must be a machine that will debark logs and save my back.”

The Log Wizard

I ordered this handy-dandy tool near the end of July, 2021. With dreams of upping my log skinning game, I gladly laid down two Benjamins and some change. It’s basically two planer blades attached to the end of a chainsaw. DJ, my brother-in-law, is one of those guys who can fix just about anything. I dropped by his place, and sure enough, he drilled two precision holes in an extra 18 inch chainsaw bar and I was up and running.

I was not impressed with my first attempt at removing bark with the Log Wizard in July. There were two reasons.

First, it gouged the sapwood after removing bark. I thought it was operator error on my part. DJ gave it a whirl with the same result. I figured it was an expensive experiment and tossed it in the box of forgotten tools.

Secondly, it was considerably slower in removing bark in comparison to my trusty spud. Where I could remove wide sheets of bark with my spud, the Log Wizard required that I touch ever square inch of the tree to completely skin a log.

log wizard

The Log Wizard in action.

After Christmas 2021, I resurrected the Log Wizard to debark winter logs. I even rigged an overhead cable to help support the weight of the chainsaw. This design relieved the stress on my shoulders but was still slow as molasses in winter.

After peeling a few logs with the Log Wizard, I decided to switch back to the drawknife. I built sawhorses which held the log up at a more comfortable height for debarking. This sped up the process considerably.

I’ve got enough logs on the landing to stack walls 9 logs high.

Grading the Building Site

The foundation piers on the back of the cabin will be at least 18 inches high. Moving forward 42 feet to reach the front porch, piers would be over 5 feet tall without grading the lot. I don’t want that many steps for my retirement log cabin.

I recruited Chris, my cousin from across the lake, to crawl his Cat loader over to dig up root balls and start the grading process. A few big pines needed to come down near the build site. They weren’t suitable for wall logs, too crooked. After felling the trees, I bucked them to length for sawmill lumber. Chris wrangled the root balls and brush into a huge burn pile.

The lot was graded as best as possible with a heavy machine. I then called on another family member to do the finish grading. Joe grades building lots like it’s his job, well, it is actually. He showed up with a skid steer and leveled the lot in less than an hour and a half. I was amazed at the skill and accuracy as he operated his machine!

The next project will be digging for foundation piers. I’m trying to decide if I should go with poured concrete piers or cinder block piers. If any of you followed my other log cabin build, you’ll remember I used big stone piers like the old timers used.

Once the piers are set, I’ll start stacking wall logs.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

~ Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on Flote, Odysee, PinterestYouTubeInstagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , | 3 Comments

Chinking the Log Cabin

by Todd Walker

The cracks and gaps between the logs needed to be filled to make it look like a real log cabin. The process of filling the gaps is called chinking. Before modern products came along, chink was made of mud and/or clay, and straw. Chink serves as an insulator against cold wind, moisture, and insects.

When I started this project in January of 2018, I thought of using Georgia red clay for chinking. That idea lost momentum as the project drug along. I decided to go with masonry mortar. It’s quick, easy and relatively cheap.

I chose to use the Butt and Pass method of log home construction. The folks teaching and using this method recommend masonry cement or mortar for chink. Nothing I read suggested adding anything to the mortar mix to help prevent the chink from cracking over time. Butt and Pass log cabins are not known for settling as other construction styles are prone to do.

My mix ratio of water to one 60 pound bag of mortar was 3.5 quarts to 1 bag. The bag instructions said one gallon per bag. I found that much water made the mortar too wet and had a hard time hanging in the gaps.

We mixed the mortar in a wheelbarrow.

Before slapping any mortar in the gaps, I used my pneumatic framing gun to drive nails 2-3 inches apart in all the cracks between the logs on the outside of the cabin. I dropped the air pressure so an inch or so of the nail stuck up above the wood. Some gaps can be fairly large in the corners due to the Butt and Pass method. I had to get creative there. I then went back and bent the nails vertically to give the chinking something to hold on to.

A lot of nails went into this process.

Once I nailed all the outside gaps, foam (Great Stuff) was sprayed into the large corner gaps. I then stuffed fiberglass insulation into the remaining gaps between the logs. It’s important to not stuff the gaps too full of insulation. There should be a little space between the nails and the insulation in order for the mortar to grab the nails. After the foam set up, I trimmed the bulging foam to make it recessed from the nails.

Now comes the fun part! Experimentation with applying the mortar was frustrating. I tried scooping it in the gaps with the masonry trowel. Most of the mortar ended up on the ground.

Then my good friend Melonie of Mel of the Mountains, who I’m apprenticing under for brain tanning deer hides, came to help with the chinking. She owned a bakery for sixteen years and made extravagantly decorated cakes. While on a scaffold board at the top log of the cabin, I glanced over at her while she was chinking and was shocked at how easily she applied the mortar. When I questioned her ease with this skill, she said it’s the same technique as icing a cake. She held the mortar board up to the gap and swiped the mortar into the gap and smoothed it with her trowel. Amazing! That was a game changer for me.

The same as icing a cake she says.

There’s a learning curve to every skill you’re tackling. Chinking is no different. Having the right tools helps. I used a one and half inch masonry trowel which is rectangular in shape to apply and smooth the mortar. The joints are somewhat convex. A flat finish didn’t appeal to me.

The corners were a challenge to create a smooth finish. The trowel wouldn’t get into the spaces to smooth the mortar. I ended up using my gloved hands to smooth the finish as best as possible. If anyone has a better idea, I’d sure like to hear from you!

Working the mortar with the trowel.

Once the chinking was complete, I stood back and realized that my log building actually looked like a traditional log cabin! A very satisfying feeling came over me.

Satisfied!

Below is the chinking video on my YouTube channel if you’re interested in this sort of thing.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

~ Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestYouTubeInstagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in the blog, I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Doing the Stuff, Log Cabin, Lost Skills, Self-reliance | Tags: , | 2 Comments

How to Build a Rustic Outdoor Swing Bed

by Todd Walker

How to Build a Rustic Outdoor Swing Bed - thesurvivalsherpa.com

This rustic swing bed provides mind-blowing naps! A swing bed is typically hung under a large porch or other roofed structure. Since I have neither of these structures, I decided to build one from rot-resistant Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and hang it under the trees at the log cabin.

Here are the materials and tools I used.

Material List

  • Rot-resistant lumber milled or purchased. Pressure treated dimensional lumber could be used but will not offer the rustic feel I was going for. My main frame was approximately 4×4’s with live edges.
  • 1x? boards for slats. Limbs used for footboard spindles.
  • Rope or chain. For hanging my bed from two trees, I chose 5/8 inch poly rope I already had for my log cabin projects.
  • Screws. Trim screws, 3 inch deck screws, and 6 inch TimberLoc screws.
  • Polyurethane to help preserve the wood and color of the red cedar.
  • 2 – Two inch wide auto tow straps.

Tools

  • Chainsaw mill. My Alaskan chainsaw mill has provided lots of lumber for several projects over the years. See DRG’s dining room table.

How to Build a Rustic Outdoor Swing Bed - thesurvivalsherpa.com

  • Impact driver and drill… for driving screws and drilling pilot holes and rope/chain holes. Use appropriate sized drill bits as needed.

Size It Up

When this project came to mind, I had no real idea how large a frame I needed. Then I remembered DRG’s air mattress she bought for her tent but never got to use. The queen air mattress measured about four inches short on length than a typical queen mattress (60×80 inches). And since the swing would be under trees (no roof), the air mattress is waterproof and the best choice.

Size Dimensions
Twin 39″ X 75″
Twin XL 39″ X 80″
Full 54″ X 75″
Qu 60″ X 80″
King 75″ X 80″
California King 72″ X 84″

Chart courtesy of American Mattress.

I built the frame to handle the 60×80 inch queen mattress if I ever move the swing under a roof. On the frame, I added 5 inches to the queen width and about 15 inches to the length to accommodate the mattress and give enough room for corner holes for hanging the bed.

How to Build a Rustic Outdoor Swing Bed - thesurvivalsherpa.com

These milled pieces have live edges.

Live edges had to be shimmed to make a flush top surface for the frame. I drilled pilot holes and ran the 6 inch screws in to secure all corners.

How to Build a Rustic Outdoor Swing Bed - thesurvivalsherpa.com

As you can see above, two of the three sides are taller. This is to provide a headboard of sorts for the top and side of the bed. The shorter side would of course be the footboard. The short side is about 16 inches tall with the others being about 24 inches.

I used the toenail method to screw the four corner posts to the frame. I used both deck and TimberLok screws. I was pleased with how sturdy it turned out.

I ran a 2×3 down the middle of the frame lengthwise to help support the bed slats. Since I didn’t want to mill one inch boards, I used 1×6 cedar boards from a box store. Trim screws secured the slats to the frame.

How to Build a Rustic Outdoor Swing Bed - thesurvivalsherpa.com

Corner posts and slats installed. A ledger board was screwed to the frame to give the ends of the slats a resting place.

How to Build a Rustic Outdoor Swing Bed - thesurvivalsherpa.com

Vertical spindles installed the two tall sides.

How to Build a Rustic Outdoor Swing Bed - thesurvivalsherpa.com

Red cedar limbs made the footboard spindles.

I attached the footboard spindles with trim screws. If you’ve ever cut down a red cedar tree, you know how many limbs become available to you for other projects.

Choosing non-natural rope will give your swinging bed longer life. Natural fiber rope tend to degrade in weather sooner.

How to Build a Rustic Outdoor Swing Bed - thesurvivalsherpa.com

Drilling 3/4 inch holes in the four corner beams to accept the 5/8 inch rope. Tip: tape the end of the rope tightly to form a sharpened pencil point to insert into the hole. You’ll thank me later.

How to Build a Rustic Outdoor Swing Bed - thesurvivalsherpa.com

A simple overhand knot holds the rope secure.

How to Build a Rustic Outdoor Swing Bed - thesurvivalsherpa.com

Applying an exterior polyurethane to highlight and protect the beautiful color of red cedar.

With a two-point connection, the bed is less stable getting in and out than if you had a four-point connection. I used two towing straps with hooks wrapped around two trees near my log cabin.

How to Build a Rustic Outdoor Swing Bed - thesurvivalsherpa.com

Philip giving it a test run after helping me hang the bed.

How to Build a Rustic Outdoor Swing Bed - thesurvivalsherpa.com

The air mattress is 18 inches high, too high really for this swing bed.

Bug proofing is handy here in the south. I bought two of the bug nets pictured below. One of these nets is intended for a twin size cot or mattress. I figured two sewn together would cover a queen size mattress. I was right. Melonie, who helped install the log cabin subfloor and porch deck, was nice enough to cut, design, and sew these two together in her “spare” time.

How to Build a Rustic Outdoor Swing Bed - thesurvivalsherpa.com

I bought two mosquito nets, which when sewn together, made a full-coverage net for the bed.

How to Build a Rustic Outdoor Swing Bed - thesurvivalsherpa.com

Queen size bug net hung with bamboo frame.

I enjoy cooler evening temperatures in the swinging bed at the log cabin. The whippoorwills serenade and I usually nap. It’s a peaceful place indeed!

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

~ Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestYouTubeInstagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Camping, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Homesteading, Log Cabin, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Log Cabin Update

by Todd Walker

Log Cabin Update 2020

My last cabin update on the blog was from November 2019. Work had stopped on the cabin since DRG’s passing in March of this year. People asked me when I would get back to building the cabin and I’d respond, “When I get motivated again.” Well I’m finally motivated.

July has typically been a very productive month for me on the log cabin build. This holds true for 2020 as well. What follows is a series of photos highlighting the progress.

 

Log Cabin Update 2020 - thesurvivalsherpa.com

The swinging porch bed. A whole new how-to post is upcoming on this one.

I built this red cedar rope swing to add to the cabin site. The air mattress is queen size and really too tall for the swing. However, after extensive testing, it works just fine!

Log Cabin Update 2020 - thesurvivalsherpa.com

Mosquito netting is a must when napping!

Flooring

The porch needed something other than old, temporary plywood with spotty coverage. I went with 1x6x12 pressure treated boards. Melonie was nice enough to lend a hand on both the porch and the subfloor inside the cabin!

 

Log Cabin Update 2020 - thesurvivalsherpa.comLog Cabin Update 2020 - thesurvivalsherpa.com

 

Log Cabin Update 2020 - thesurvivalsherpa.com

Log Cabin Update 2020 - thesurvivalsherpa.com

The finished porch floor.

Log Cabin Update 2020 - thesurvivalsherpa.com

Log Cabin Update 2020 - thesurvivalsherpa.com

Mel laying down the glue.

Log Cabin Update 2020 - thesurvivalsherpa.com

Subfloor complete!

Front Door

I had been carrying a salvaged heartwood pine door around for about 15 years. I knew I would use it on the cabin as soon I started this project. Philip helped me hang this with hand-forged hinges, hasp, and nails gifted and made by Tim at Oxbow Farm. What a great craftsman and friend!

Log Cabin Update 2020 - thesurvivalsherpa.com

Hammering cut nails into the hinge holes.

Log Cabin Update 2020 - thesurvivalsherpa.com

Cut nails

Log Cabin Update 2020 - thesurvivalsherpa.com

Log Cabin Update 2020 - thesurvivalsherpa.com

Log Cabin Update 2020 - thesurvivalsherpa.com

Front door finished!

Gable and Loft Floor

To expedite the build, I decided to go with T1-11 plywood to cover the gable ends. I also used this material upside down on the loft floor so the bead board would be visible from the porch below.

Log Cabin Update 2020 - thesurvivalsherpa.com

Log Cabin Update 2020 - thesurvivalsherpa.com

Log Cabin Update 2020 - thesurvivalsherpa.com

Taking a break on the newly laid loft floor.

Log Cabin Update 2020 - thesurvivalsherpa.com

One of the stained glass windows DRG bought several years ago. Thought it would go well as the center window of the cabin.

Log Cabin Update 2020 - thesurvivalsherpa.com

Log Steps for the Front Porch

Dimensional lumber would have been an easy choice for the steps. No, we needed to stay with the rustic look. I spent the morning walking the woods to find dead-standing red cedar the right diameter for the stringers and steps. Once hauled back to the cabin, I used my chainsaw mill to make the steps.

Log Cabin Update 2020 - thesurvivalsherpa.com

Log Cabin Update 2020 - thesurvivalsherpa.com

Notching stringers to accept the half-round log steps.

Log Cabin Update 2020 - thesurvivalsherpa.com

Step one.

Log Cabin Update 2020 - thesurvivalsherpa.com

Satisfied and taking a break on the second step.

Log Cabin Update 2020 - thesurvivalsherpa.com

Still has some tweaks we want to make but it’s a functional set of rustic steps!

Thank you friends and family for the outpouring of love and support over the years, and especially since my lovely DRG passed away. You are simply the best!

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

~ Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestYouTubeInstagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Doing the Stuff, Homesteading, Log Cabin, Preparedness, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

If You Build it, They Will Come

by Todd Walker

If You Build it, They Will Come - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

I’m not one to ask for help often. But I’m glad I did. They kept showing up in the Georgia heat and humidity ready to sweat through 90+ degree temperatures.

The Crew disassembled the log cabin in one day at the end of June. Once the logs were moved to the new site, I started putting the puzzle back together. I managed to stack 7 courses on the sill logs before The Crew reached out and scolded me for not extending an invitation sooner. “All ya gotta do is ask.” I’m still amazed, but shouldn’t be, that they keep coming to this party. True friends do that, ya know.

Now we’re to the point of needing metal for the roof. Here’s a look at the progress since my last log cabin update (July 31, 2019).

 Stacking Wall Logs

If You Build it, They Will Come - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Just before The Crew showed up.

Re-assembling the wall logs was like a paint by numbers set. Dianne had labeled the logs before we took it down. It was just a matter of putting numbers back where we found them on the walls.

If You Build it, They Will Come - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Jeff and I swinging “Good Times” to secure logs with rebar pins.

If You Build it, They Will Come - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Two 21 foot plate logs finished up the walls.

Setting the Ridge Pole

I dreaded this task. I wasn’t sure if the plan would work. How could we get a 21 foot log over thirteen feet above the floor, balanced and secured atop two vertical ridge pole support logs?

Turns out that raising the ridge pole (RP) may have been the easiest part of the build. We cut and peeled two ridge pole support logs (RPSL) and attached them to the back and porch walls with 1/2″ all-thread rod. The poles reached about 5 feet above the plate logs to give me the pitch I wanted for the roof.

If You Build it, They Will Come - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Peeling the freshly cut ridge pole support logs with draw knives.

If You Build it, They Will Come - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Lifting the second ridge pole support log into place on the front porch.

We attached 2×6’s to the top of each RPSL as temporary lifting poles. A 2×6 spacer board was screwed between the RP and the temporary lifting pole. This would give the space needed for the RP to rest on the center of the RPSL’s when lifted in place. Two chain falls were secured to the 2×6 lifting poles before the RPSL’s were lifted into place.

If You Build it, They Will Come - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Ridge pole secured on front porch wall.

If You Build it, They Will Come - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

All-thread in a counter-sunk hole which will be plugged with wood.

If You Build it, They Will Come - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Chain falls ready for lifting.

We predrilled holes for the rebar pins in the RP before lifting. With rigging in place, we slowly lifted the RP to the top of the RPSL’s. This went smoother than I could have imagined. JT aligned his end and drove a rebar pin through the RP into the RPSL with 3 inches of rebar above the RP. The 3 inches of rebar was bent over on top of the RP for added holding power.

If You Build it, They Will Come - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

JT pinning the ridge pole in place.

Even though we measured hole placement on the RP, my end was 4 inches short of center on the RPSL. I re-drilled my end from the scaffolding we built. I drove in my rebar to secure the RP. Time for much needed break!

If You Build it, They Will Come - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The ridge pole once the temporary lifting poles and chain falls were removed.

Rafters

I had originally planned to use log rafters and log gables on this project. However, with all the delays we encountered with the disassembly and reassembly, I opted for dimensional lumber to expedite the process. This is just a practice cabin, by the way.

We sank a deck screw in two of the 2″x6″x14′ laid out at a 45 degree angle. The screw allowed the boards to “scissor” on top of the RP as we rested the tails on the top plate logs.

If You Build it, They Will Come - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Staging rafters over the ridge pole and top plate logs.

We slid the rafters down the RP and set them on 2 foot centers. We eyeballed the first rafter’s placement on the plate logs and toe-nailed it into place. I probably should have sawn the RP and plate logs flat to get a level run on the rafters. To correct the situation, we’ll have to lift or lower individual rafters at the top plate logs as needed. There’s always challenges when using dimensional lumber on raw logs.

If You Build it, They Will Come - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Jeff snapped this shot after we ran out of lumber for rafters.

Gable Framing

The gables, as mentioned earlier, will be dimensional lumber. I’m not sure what I’ll use for sheathing the gables. A few ideas are floating in my head.

A top plate log needed to be installed between the long porch plate logs. We skinned a log, measured and cut to length, and pinned it. We used two of the original ax-hewn floor joists from the first build to vertically support the cross member.

If You Build it, They Will Come - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Jeff and JT doing the heavy lifting on the cross member.

We laid two rafter boards flat over the RP to create a top plate for the gable studs. We started framing under the RP and worked our way out to the plate logs with 2×6 studs. Dianne did a fine job of cutting bevels and lengths for the studs.

If You Build it, They Will Come - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

This pics shows the flat 2×6 top plate studded up from the inside of the porch.

If You Build it, They Will Come - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Gable view from the outside of the porch.

If You Build it, They Will Come - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The Crew on gable day!

The sleeping loft will be above the porch where The Crew is standing. Like most of the plans on this project, we’ll figure it out as we go.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

~ Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestYouTubeInstagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Homesteading, Log Cabin, Self-reliance | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

Deja vu: Building an Off-Grid Log Cabin… Again

by Todd Walker

Deja vu: Building an Off-Grid Log Cabin... Again

Three 21 foot logs, the crowning roof logs, lay on the ground debarked with pine sap oozing like beads of sweat. They would serve as my ridge pole and two top plate logs. Then it happened…

The landowner’s son, my good friend, walked to the cabin site and told me that the family was putting the land up for sale. I was shocked, not so much about the fate of my “practice” log cabin, but because he was raised on this beautiful land his entire life. He apologized about all the work that I had put into the cabin.

“It’s a practice cabin, buddy,” I said.

A year and a half of felling, bucking, skinning, stacking and pinning logs together. My options were limited. Let it sit unfinished and eventually rot to the ground. Or move it. DRG and I moved to the property across the road just a few months ago. Yep, that would be its new location.

Weeks before the news, I had arranged a work day with a group of our friends to finish up the walls. The building party turned into a demolition day. Each log was labeled and numbered to make reassembling the log puzzle less confusing. Stick by stick, the team worked all day to tear down 1.5 years of work, some of which they helped build.

Deja vu: Building an Off-Grid Log Cabin... Again

Many thanks to these fine friends on demolition day!

Deja vu

After the dust settled, the job of rebuilding began. I figured reassembly would take less time. I was right.

Foundation

I decided to go back with dry-stack stone piers for the foundation. This would save money since the land had plenty of stones for stacking. Boulders I couldn’t physically lift, there were several, I used my rope come-a-long to inch them onto a trailer. My friend’s tractor would have made this task a breeze, but it was in the shop for repairs.

One lesson learned from the first stone foundation was I didn’t need to be exact on stacking each pier. I got them close to level using a water level and tweaked them as needed once the sill logs were on top. Dimensional lumber would require each pier to be exactly the same height. If you enjoy putting puzzles together, this job is for you.

Deja vu: Building an Off-Grid Log Cabin... Again

Dry-stack piers

Sill Logs

I needed to start stacking logs. The challenge was to transport the two 1,000 pound, 18 foot sill logs from the previous site to their new home. My log hauling operation consisted of Donkey Kong (4-wheeler) and Junior (LogRite Arch). This duo had successfully hauled all the other cabin logs across the creek, up a 75 yard incline which makes young men huff and puff, and across the road to my place.

I crossed my fingers and headed toward the creek with a sill log in-tow. Donkey Kong crossed the creek and stalled with its front tires off the ground. The opposite end of the long log was stuck on the other side of the creek. I knew then that I was in for a long afternoon of winching up a steep hill. After five winching episodes, we made it to the top! And in 90+ degree Georgia heat with high humidity. I was soaked.

I rebuilt my lifting tripod at the new site, hung the chain fall, and started setting sill logs. The first row is important and takes the longest to get set. To square the corners, the Pythagorean Theorem was used to form a 3-4-5 triangle at each corner.

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

From the first build: The corner nail is near the head of the hammer where the two chalk lines intersect. The tape measure forms the hypotenuse of the right triangle.

Deja vu: Building an Off-Grid Log Cabin... Again

Five sill logs set and squared at the new site.

Log Courses Going Up

Before disassembling the cabin, each log was labeled to make putting it back together a no-brainer. It’s like paint by numbers.

Deja vu: Building an Off-Grid Log Cabin... Again

Logs staged in order for assembly.

Deja vu: Building an Off-Grid Log Cabin... Again

Deja vu: Building an Off-Grid Log Cabin... Again

A fine sight!

Deja vu: Building an Off-Grid Log Cabin... Again

Four rows complete!

Every log you see was felled and bucked with an ax, with a few back cuts using a one-man hand saw. Logs were debarked with a barking sud or draw knife. Most of the assembly on the original site was done with a brace and bit and sledge hammer. I chose this pioneer method the first time around. On the rebuild, I’m running power tools with a generator. The use of modern tools has sped up the process considerably. I even have a shop fan to move hot air around the new site.

Floor Joists

Those who have followed this log cabin build may remember the hand-hewn log floor joists on the first build. I made the decision to abandon this floor system. Why? Two reasons…

  • During disassembly, we discovered that one sill log notched to accept the floor joists had significant decay. This log came from a dead-standing pine tree which seemed to be solid. I opted to replace it with another log.
  • Even if the sill log had remained solid, I quickly realized that the alignment of the two notched sill logs had to be perfect to accept the hewn log joists.

Pressure treated lumber was used as joists. It was cheaper on some boards than non-treated. Plus, I’m not sure how long it’ll take to get a roof over the cabin. The old plywood subfloor was salvaged and tacked on the new joists as temporary flooring.

Deja vu: Building an Off-Grid Log Cabin... Again

Shimmed and screwed rim joists.

Installing flat boards on round logs had a few challenges. There are gaps between the two, some almost 1.5 inches. I used shims to keep the 2×8’s rim joists plumb. Six inch screws secured the joists where large gaps appeared. Joist hangers were set on 16 inch centers for the 10 foot run on the floor.

Deja vu: Building an Off-Grid Log Cabin... Again

Temporary flooring with lifting tripod .

Deja vu: Building an Off-Grid Log Cabin... Again

The front porch joists are 2×6’s to cover a span of less than 6 feet.

We’ll keep practicing until we finish this log cabin. We’ve been here before.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

~ Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestYouTubeInstagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Doing the Stuff, Homesteading, Log Cabin, Self-reliance, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

BANGARANG! Lost Boys Grow Meat in the Ground

by Todd Walker

BANGARANG! Lost Boys Grow Meat in the Ground - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

I couldn’t believe what a student told me in Science class a few years back!

“You grow meat in the ground.”

What!?

I fought back the urge to laugh. He was dead serious. Clearly, “No Child Left Behind” wasn’t working, or was it. We’re all ignorant on certain subjects, but growing meat in the ground?

This was not a joke or prank like asking a plumbing apprentice to fetch the pipe stretcher off the truck.

His alienation from the real world was all too evident, alarmingly so, as he truly believed what he believed. I dug deeper. He said, as if this was common knowledge, “They (rancher-farmer) buy meat, like rib eye, unwrap the plastic, and bury the steak in the ground like garden seeds. It grows and farmers pick it, re-wrap it in plastic and people buy it in the grocery store.”

Yup, this conversation happened. It felt like the scene from Neverland in the movie Hook. I was in the middle of a rainbow-colored food fight with the Lost Boys screaming BANGARANG!!

My ‘Lost Boy’ had never been to a farm. Ever. He’s not alone. The complete lack of hands-on experience with the real world, not the electronic variety, is at epic levels.

Students stitching bark baskets.

Our children have lost a vital, primal connection with nature, the real world. They suffer from a condition called Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD).

The term coined by Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods, is a result of our plugged-in culture which keeps kids and adults indoors. On average, kids spend 1,200 hours per year staring at electronic screens. The disconnect from nature goes against what human brains are hard-wired to experience… the Great Outdoors!

Research shows that children who learn and play outdoors are enriched personally and academically in many ways:

  • Improved attention spans
  • Enhanced creativity
  • Increased academic success
  • Improved reading comprehension
  • Higher levels of self-discipline, language and social skills

The cure for NDD is simple. Get outside.

“It is one of the blessings of wilderness life that it shows us how few things we need in order to be perfectly happy.” – HORACE KEPHART, Camping and Woodcraft, 1917

From personal experience with my oldest grandson, introducing him to woodcraft skills created a hunger to get outside. After his first hike to my fixed camp in the woods, he was noticeably anxious. Within 15 minutes of settling in, he turned to me and said, “Ya know Pops, I don’t feel so scared now.”

Professionally, I’ve witnessed transformations in students diagnosed with all sorts of three and four-letter ailments. This study reinforces my observations. Students who struggle to function inside the four-walled school-house seem to thrive outdoors. I’d argue that all students, especially those who willingly conform to the box-mentality, need to go wild.

The Hand-Brain Connection

Instead of swiping a finger over a pad, children need to touch dirt, clay, wood, leather, fibers, animals, hand tools, and day-old campfire charcoal. Using fingers and hands to manipulate tools to create useful things from nature’s resources builds the relationship with the real world. Hands-on learning with reflection on the act of doing the stuff gives a depth of experience no book or screen can offer. Experience is the rocket fuel for learning.

Our First Year of Building Self-Reliance Skills at RISE Academy ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Cutting rounds for “burn and scrape” spoons and bowls.

Other research shows that working with our hands makes our brain happy. Cutting tree bark, boring holes with an awl, and stitching sides to make a berry basket develops dexterity, a physical skill lacking in our smart-phone culture. Looking at an actual physical thing you created with your hands has rewards beyond the crafted item. The importance is not so much the product but the active practice and engagement.

Junior high shop class supplemented the hands-on education I caught from helping my daddy in his plumbing and welding business. I use the term “caught” since that’s how Daddy passed on his trade skills. Mr. Johnson, our shop teacher, taught us how to use all the cool power tools in that dusty cinderblock classroom. And we made stuff, some of which I still have to this day. No bloody fingers were left on the table of that monstrous radial arm saw either. Helicopter parenting was not a thing during the Nixon Administration.

The tree stump in front of our single-wide trailer must have had a coffee can of nails sunk into it. I’d sit there and smash steel, and my thumb occasionally, into wood grain like it was my job. I was 8 or 9 at the time and content to “waste” nails. The repetitions served me well on a few tree houses in my youth, and the subfloor in our new house Daddy built in 1975.

There are still Lost Boys out there shouting BANGARANG!, out of touch with the real world. There was, and I still have hope that there can be, a generation of boys and girls who fixed their own flat bike tires, carried pocket knives to the woods, picked rows of butter beans, and were content to be swallowed up by nature.

What if we could grow bacon on vines? I digress.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

~ Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestYouTubeInstagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Doing the Stuff, Self-reliance | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

Real World Secrets of Stalking and Tracking Wild Animals

by Todd Walker

My legs felt like a bowl of jello sliding down an old wash board. I crouched in a non-human silhouette stalking in Ultra Slow Motion. A twig beneath my foot snapped and my prey jolted his head toward the sound. I froze and hoped my screaming quadriceps would support my motionless body until he dipped his head to graze again.

What was my prey? A deer realistically mimicked by our instructor, Mark Warren. This was my first of several classes I’ve attended at Medicine Bow in the north Georgia mountains.

I discovered Mark and his primitive school of earthlore from reading his first book, “Two Winters in a Tipi: My Search for the Soul of the Forest.” With every turn of the page, I knew I had unearthed a rare gem in the mountains of Southern Appalachia. That was over three years ago. To date, Mark has published his fourth volume of “Secrets of the Forest” and two books in a historical novel trilogy on “Wyatt Earp: An American Odyssey.” These books reflect Warren’s lifelong pursuits as a naturalist, instructor of Cherokee survival skills, and wild west history.

Over a year ago, I shared my thoughts on the first book in the Secrets of the Forest series, calling it, “The Best Outdoor Education Book I’ve Read.”  I should amend my statement to include volumes II and III in my assessment. Knowing Mark’s passion for archery and canoeing, the last volume in the series, which I’ve yet to read, I’ll bet he saved the best for last. For now, I want to highlight Volume III…

Eye to Eye with the Animals in the Wild and At Play in the Wild

The opening of this article was one of many exercises our class took part of in a two-day class at Medicine Bow. Reading this volume brought back my Real World experience as vividly as the day I studied a one-foot square plot of earth for slight changes Mark secretly made. Revisiting my field notes from the Stalking and Tracking class reveled just how much knowledge and experience had been shared that weekend. However, I had one regret – not taking better notes. Not a problem. I now have at my fingertips his many years of experience in a beautifully illustrated, photographed, and written field guide.

Who would benefit from this book?

The obvious benefit is for hunters pursuing game with traditional archery equipment. Hunting an animal with primitive weapons requires that one be as close as possible to the intended prey. In doing so, an ethical hunter shows respect and thanksgiving to the animal for providing nourishment and many sustainable resources.

Observers and photographers of wild animals would do well to practice stalking and tracking. Many phantoms of the forest you’ve only dreamed of capturing in your lens will appear when practicing these techniques. No telephoto lens required.

Anyone wishing to challenge their physical prowess should add stalking to their workout regimen. The level of functional fitness needed to stalk wild animals is different from any sport or recreational activity I’ve ever experienced. Mark told us that martial artists found the most success of anyone attending his stalking class. Even more so than professional athletes.

The main benefit I personally received under Mark’s instruction was the complete immersion in nature. Slowing down to a snail’s pace uncovered small, “invisible” wilderness details unnoticed when trekking full speed with human locomotion.

I approached this otter family to within 15 feet as they fed on crawdads in the creek.

An analogy Mark used was that of a rock tossed into a pond. The impact ripples to every shoreline. A stalker’s task is to minimize the wake in the animal’s living space. One’s goal is to become part of the “wild” world and not merely a visitor.

“Stalking and tracking are symbiotic. Tracking teaches where to stalk. Stalking teaches how to interpret a nuance in a track.”  ~ Mark Warren

Real World Secrets of Stalking and Tracking Wild Animals - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Mark describing details to a young student during our tracking class.

Educators will find lessons, exercises, and games throughout this volume. In our age of electronics, parents have the challenge of disconnecting kids from devices and coax them into trading virtual screens for forest streams. Mark offers hundreds of ways to make this transition fun, educational, and experiential.

If you are searching to find a unique gift for someone special this Christmas, I would recommend checking the book link at Medicine Bow. I’ve not found a more comprehensive book detailing the lost art of tracking and stalking.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

~ Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestYouTubeInstagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, Doing the Stuff, Lost Skills, Primal Skills, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

The Caveman Catalyst in Your Tinderbox

by Todd Walker

The Caveman Catalyst in Your Tinderbox - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The human love affair with fire is intimate and ancient. Over the flames we cook, celebrate, spin tales, dream, and muse in the swirls of wood smoke. Fire is life. Its warming glow draws us like moths to a flame.

It’s not a stretch to believe that a Stone Age chemist recognized the idea of using carbon for future fires. Disturbing the leftover carbon ashes from the night fire, she stares at sparkles of light glowing like the pre-dawn stars above. She carefully nurses a baby “star” back to life to warm her hearth and home.

It ain’t rocket surgery. Even cavemen knew the importance of the sixth most abundant element in the universe.

Carbon and Future Fires

The game of chasing lightning strikes for each fire was no longer required. This unreliable practice was abandoned for twirling sticks together to create enough heat to initiate the combustion of blackish, carbonized dust. Even with a dependable friction fire apparatus, a more elemental plan was stumbled upon for their next fire. Carbon was the caveman catalyst for future fires.

The Caveman Catalyst in Your Tinderbox - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Carbonized dust glowing from friction.

Charcoal speeds up that wonderful exothermic reaction of combustion. Align a convex lens perpendicular to full sun on different non-charred tinder material. Smoke will rise in a minute. Do the same with charred material and a glowing ember is birthed in seconds. Weak flint and steel sparks produce the same glow.

When material containing carbon is heated without enough oxygen, charred material is the result. We teach our students to make char cloth at school. One side of the Fire Triangle is neglected by heating material in a closed chamber (Altoids tin). [I have a class set of Altoids tins stored in an old cassette tape container. Only a few students have ever heard of these “ancient” musical devices.] The lid hinge vents the volatile gases as the material is heated. When baked, the black charred material takes a spark from flint and steel.

Un-Burned Carbon in Ashes

Over the years, David West sparked my interest in the role of wood ash impregnated in tinder through his experiments on his channel. View his entire Ashed Tinder Playlist here. This, my pyro friends, has been a game-changer for me. Rubbing wood ash on any tinder material accelerates the combustion process.

Saving wood ash from previous fires has become an important part of my fire kit. A few years ago at a Georgia Bushcraft Gathering, I had a young kid ask during a Rudiger Roll (fire roll) demonstration why I added ashes to the cotton ball before rolling between the two boards. I had no real scientific explanation. I just did what I saw David West do.

Here’s my theory. Though wood ash looks nothing like charcoal, enough non-burned carbon remains in ash to significantly lower the temperature required to ignite tinder. Saturating any un-charred tinder (inner bark, jute twine, plant fiber, cotton material) with wood ash provides an excellent fire extender. In the video below, David shows a 4 foot strip of ashed denim burning/smoldering for 3 hours in time-lapse.

Following the lead of Stone Age chemists, making plans for future fires was smart. The thumb drill (lighter) was several millennials away from store shelves. Fire was not automatic. I make it a habit of separating burning logs in the fire pit at the end of each class at school. These partially charred sticks of cellulose are the stepping stone for the next morning’s fire lay. No need to start from scratch each day when charcoal is plentiful in the fire pit.

Carbon Steel and Rock

Flint and Steel was the most popular fire-making method up until matches and lighters lit up our world. Even without iron strikers, sparks could be delivered to charred material using the right combination of stones. The common catalyst in all primitive fire methods is carbon.

Modern re-enactors and nostalgic woodsmen continue to use flint and steel as fire starters. The method takes less energy and practice than fire by friction. The typical flint and steel kit consist of a high-carbon steel striker, a sharp rock (doesn’t have to be flint – any hard, silica based rock will work), and char cloth in a metal container.

However, cotton cloth does not grow in the woods. For a flint and steel kit to be sustainable long-term, natural materials can be carbonized.

My best experiences using charred natural material include:

  • Punky wood – Decaying wood which is spongy when squeezed between thumb and finger. My favorite is the sap wood of Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana). I’ve had good luck finding it on the underside of blown down cedars in the right stage of decay.
The Caveman Catalyst in Your Tinderbox - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Punky cedar sap wood has a stringy consistency which makes great char material.

  • Pithy weed stalks – Crack open the woody stalk of dead Mullein (Verbascum) and remove the spongy pith. Cook it in a container like char cloth for an excellent F&S spark-catcher.
  • Natural tinder/cordage – Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) twisted cordage has worked but not as well as the previously mentioned materials. Yucca (Asparagaceae) cordage works as well.

The only non-charred natural material I’ve found to consistently take a weak spark from F&S is:

  • Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) – This fungus grows on birch trees in higher altitudes. It is called True Tinder Fungus as it will catch a spark from F&S. It also will smolder for a long time for a fire extender.
The Caveman Catalyst in Your Tinderbox - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Thin slices of chaga ignited with flint and steel sparks.

I have friends who have achieved F&S embers using other non-charred material. Phillip Liebel, instructor at Flint and Steel Critical Skills Group, discovered that the inner lining of gourds will take a spark from F&S. It’s a very fine, papery material which burns rapidly. Joshua Enyart, founder of Flint and Steel Critical Skills Group, has used the Milkweed (Asclepias) pod to make fire with F&S. I’m sure there are other non-charred natural material out there that will work. Just recently I attempted the following with no success…

  • Dog hair – Moose, our oldest rescue dog, sheds fine clumps of hair. A few sparks landed and fizzed out without catching. Looked promising.
  • Cattail duff – White fluffy stuff is always worth trying. Still a no-go for me.
  • Mullein pith – Did not work. I sliced some to form a fine, triangular edge. Sparks landed on the edge with no glow.

The above works well when carbonized, except dog hair. In my experience, any natural tinder material you’d normally use to build a tinder bundle will take a spark from F&S when charred. The exception to this is fat lighter’d (aka – fatwood). Don’t char fat lighter’d in a tin. You’ll end up with resin coating the bottom of your container.

Non-charred and Un-natural F&S Ignition 

Good luck finding the elusive steel wool tree in the wilderness. I keep a pad of 0000 steel wool in my pack for cleaning axes and tools in the field. For stubborn tinder, add a pinch of steel wool and strike it with F&S. Once the spark catches and begins to spread like tiny dynamite fuses, the tinder becomes super-heated from rapid oxidation.

Gun powder will also ignite with F&S sparks. Flintlock rifles utilized this technology to explode powder and launch projectiles down range. A modern woodsman will likely have a cartridge of some kind which contains gun powder. Carefully remove the bullet from the brass cartridge and pour out a small amount of powder charge. Be ready to transfer the heat from the lit powder to your tinder material. It goes up in a flash.

Carbon Ash Experiments Coming

The South African tonteldoos pocket tinderbox I made rides in my F&S kit. It works well as long as the charred surface is charred well. With sporadic use, the dark char turns brownish from knocking around in my kit. In a future post, I plan to experiment with the mop head strands to see if impregnating them with wood ash will aid in ignition on brownish charred ends. This should be interesting.

The Caveman Catalyst in Your Tinderbox - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A student achieving ignition with the Tonteldoos.

We’re also planning a post on making charred material without the typical metal container. Stay tuned.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

~ Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestYouTubeInstagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

 

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Primal Skills, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , | 13 Comments

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