Bushcraft

Off Grid Medic: Surviving Wilderness Emergencies When Definitive Care is Miles Away

by Todd Walker

Off Grid Medic: Surviving Wilderness Emergencies When Definitive Care is Miles Away ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

More and more people are getting back to nature to enjoy its beauty and benefits. The list of outdoor activities seems endless. With these pursuits comes risk of injury. Common injuries like scrapes, sprains, burns, bites, and blisters can turn serious in remote locations. I’ve had my share of bumps, bruises, stings, and close calls. Thankfully, none were life threatening… but could have turned sideways quickly.

Note: All injuries depicted look real but are not. If you’re queasy about blood and guts, you may want to reconsider reading the rest of this article.

A skill set I’ve neglected for years is wilderness first aid. Teaching students outdoor self-reliance skills at RISE spurred me on to train with one of the best Wilderness Emergency Care instructors available, Mark DeJong, owner of Off Grid Medic. We were also fortunate to have Michelle Pugh, an accomplished long distance hiker, author of two books of her adventures, and Off Grid Medic staff instructor teaching our class. Their style of teaching fits perfectly in my “Doing the Stuff” wheelhouse. You won’t sit and watch boring power points in a sterile environment. Courses are held where outdoor enthusiasts roam – the woods. Our class was hosted by Georgia Bushcraft, LLC.

Besides imparting real-world knowledge, Mark works his magical moulage abilities by transforming last night’s rib eye bone into a patient’s open fracture. These realistic injuries aren’t for shock value but to help students “train like you fight.” Discovering a bone protruding from the skin or an impalement in a training exercise will give you a clue as to how you’d respond in a real wilderness emergency.

Off Grid Medic: Surviving Wilderness Emergencies When Definitive Care is Miles Away ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

See what I mean? Some of Mark’s handiwork on “Dutch Oven” Bill.

Wilderness First Aid

Urban first responders are equipped with tools and reinforcements to get patients to definitive care within minutes typically. For wilderness rescuers, hospitals and doctors might be hours or days away. Environmental stressors, evacuation over rugged terrain, limited medical resources, and other unknown variables present unique challenges for patient care and treatment.

If you interested in professional training in wilderness emergencies, contact Off Grid Medic. Below are a few things to consider if you’re ever in the role of wilderness rescuer.

You’re Number One

You can’t rescue a victim if you step into a dangerous situation and become one yourself. Before rushing in, assess the situation, location of patient, and possible hazards; dead tree limbs overhead, steep/loose ground, freezing water, etc., etc. Take care of yourself and team before providing care.

As an example, use the Reach, Throw, Row, Go steps to protect yourself in an open water rescue.

  • Reach: Use when victim is close to shore line and can be reached with by hand, pole, paddle, etc. without having to enter the water.
  • Throw: Victim is too far away to be reached, throw a line, rope, PFD attached to rope, if the victim is conscious and able to grab the rope.
  • Row: Rescuers will use a boat/canoe/kayak if Reach and Throw isn’t an option. Get close enough to use Reach, Throw, or lift the victim into the craft.
  • Go: This is the last and least safe option for rescuers. It may be necessary due to the victim being unconscious or unable to grab a rope.

McGyver Mentality

Even if you are a medical professional, the wilderness changes the game. After your initial patient assessment, a typical first aid kit may not contain every item you’ll need in remote emergencies. Be prepared to improvise… a lot.

Off Grid Medic: Surviving Wilderness Emergencies When Definitive Care is Miles Away ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Space blankets come in many styles. Buy good quality, sturdy blankets.

For a few more ideas on outside-the-box first aid items, this article of ours may help.

Besides a first aid kit, I’ll wager that you probably have the following items in your supplies. If not, consider adding them.

  • Emergency Shelter: Start with proper clothing for the rescuer, space blanket (not the cheap mylar sheets), control body temperature, body wrap for victim, shield from elements, signaling device (orange), etc.
  • Duct Tape: Wound closure (butterfly stitches), splints/wraps, slings, neck/head immobilization, fire starter, and uses too long to list here.
  • Ziplock Baggies: Exam gloves, wound irrigation, occlusive dressing for large burns, sucking chest wound taped on three sides, and more.
  • Rope/String: Splinting, litter bed, lashing a litter together, emergency shelter, etc.
  • Bandana/Cotton Material: Bandages, sling, splint padding, dressing, wet dressing, etc.
  • Metal Container: Disinfect water for hydration via boiling, cooking, warm liquids, hot/cold pack, etc.
  • Fire Kit: Emergency tinder, lighter, road flare (not joking), signaling, warm patient and rescuers, comfort, cooking (unexpected stay), water disinfection, etc.
  • Knife/Saw/Ax:  Tools to make other items for rescue (litter, fire, etc.), remove insect stinger, collecting firewood, etc.
  • Head Lamp: You’ll need your hands free to attend to a patient in dark conditions.
  • Compass: Preferable one with a mirror and magnifying lens – all kinds of uses beside navigation.

To Splint or Not to Splint

Sprains, strains, and closed fractures are not always distinguishable. Open fractures are easier to diagnose since the bone protrudes from the skin. A closed fracture may not show deformity in a limb. The rule of thumb is to splint if a limb is painful, swollen, or deformed – this applies to sprains and strains. Immobilize the limb(s) before the patient is evacuated.

Off Grid Medic: Surviving Wilderness Emergencies When Definitive Care is Miles Away ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Makeshift splint by Mike and Jessica. Interesting note: I taught Mike middle school P.E. in 1985. Man, I’m old!

We learned to splint limbs with resources on hand and materials from the wilderness. Without a modern SAM Splint, you’ll have to get creative. Two sticks, cordage, and a shirt stuffed with leaves will pad and immobilize an arm or leg.

Off Grid Medic: Surviving Wilderness Emergencies When Definitive Care is Miles Away ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

SAM Splints are great to have in your pack.

Off Grid Medic: Surviving Wilderness Emergencies When Definitive Care is Miles Away ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Mark demonstrating the B.U.F.F. splint – Big, Ugly, Fat, Fluffy – on Michelle.

Slings for an arm/shoulder/collar-bone injure have to offer support and keep the limb secured to the body. Through hands-on experimentation, my partner and I found that zipping her arm inside her light jacket created a snug fitting sling which was comfortable and warm. There’s more than one way to sling a limb.

Off Grid Medic: Surviving Wilderness Emergencies When Definitive Care is Miles Away ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Another diy sling.

Transporting the Victim

Depending on location and terrain, rescue reinforcements may be far way or unable to respond in remote areas. You’re injured friend will have to be carried out. A makeshift litter can be made from poles and string.

Off Grid Medic: Surviving Wilderness Emergencies When Definitive Care is Miles Away ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Happy people carrying a litter full of Casey.

Two Litter Options: 

  1. Large group of 6-8 people
  2. Small group with as few as 3 people with backpacks

Large Group: Cut two saplings about 8 feet long and sturdy enough to carry weight. Cut 5-6 sturdy cross pieces about 5 feet long. Position the two long poles parallel next to the victim. Place the cross poles under the long poles at intervals which support the head, mid back, hips, knees, and feet. Lash the poles together using square lashing or any knots to secure them in place. If time is an issue, or cordage is sparse, use a jam knot with two short pieces of bank line or paracord.

Off Grid Medic: Surviving Wilderness Emergencies When Definitive Care is Miles Away ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Demonstrating square lashing and jam knot techniques.

Transfer the patient to the litter. Team members lift at the extended cross poles and walk.

Small Group: Use two saplings as above. If sturdy rope is available, wrap the rope around the poles to create a bed. The pole ends are tucked into the lower part of the shoulder straps of two backpacks. This allows two people, with proper fitted backpacks, to transport a victim.

Off Grid Medic: Surviving Wilderness Emergencies When Definitive Care is Miles Away ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Two poles inserted in the backpacks straps to carry our patient on a rope litter. Obviously, they wouldn’t be facing each other if not in the class.

The culmination of our three-day, 20 hour training was a nighttime rescue. I mentioned that Off Grid Medic likes to keep it real for “train like you fight” scenarios. Mark and Michelle didn’t let up and provided excellent, realistic, hands-on training the entire weekend!

If you’re a camper, hiker, woodsman, or Scout leader, consider learning wilderness first aid. This is an entry-level course into the world of wilderness emergency care. Contact Mark for next-level courses and continuing education. I offer my highest recommendation to the Off Grid Medic team for their professionalism, knowledge, and real-world training.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +YouTubeInstagram, 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: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, First Aid, Medical, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

How to Make and Use a Long Lever Bow Drill Set

by Todd Walker

The Bushcraft Journal, a free online magazine, has a wealth of articles dealing with outdoor self-reliance. This post is based on a recent article by Gary Johnston of Jack Raven Bushcraft.

How to Make and Use a Long Lever Bow Drill Set - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

As Gary mentions in his article, many people would like to learn to make fire by friction with a bow and drill but many not have the physical stamina to twirl up an ember. Others may have bad knees or other injures which prevent them from ever attempting fire by friction. This method alleviates knee pain and weak wrists.

Here are the steps our students at RISE Academy used to make fire using this method…

Long Lever Bow Drill Set

Step 1: Gather the Stuff

  • Bearing block: About a yard long log and 3-4 inches in diameter
  • A platform like a firewood round knee-high
  • Long bow about chest high for multiple bowers
  • String for bow and normal stuff you’d use for regular bow drill fire – tinder, welcome mat, etc.

Cut a 36 inch long, 3-4 inch diameter, tree to be used as the bearing block. Flatten the underside on one end of the log. Carve a pivot hole about 3 to 5 inches in from one end of the long bearing block. We found a wide pivot hole about 1/4 inch deep to be about right. We used a hearth and spindle (cedar on cedar) which the students found produced embers in the traditional bow drill set.

In the video below, we show two separate groups of students successfully using this long lever bow drill set. It makes for a great team building or family project.

Step 2: Attach Bearing Block to Tree/Pole

How to Make and Use a Long Lever Bow Drill Set - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The bearing block attached to a bamboo riser on the student-built outdoor classroom.

Lash the other end of the long lever to a tree or pole. Use a square lashing or tie knots until it holds to the anchor point level with the top of the spindle. The long lever bearing block takes advantage of mass and mechanical advantage to easily apply downward pressure on the spindle during bowing. In fact, I applied too much pressure in the beginning which caused problems.

Step 3: The Longer Bow

How to Make and Use a Long Lever Bow Drill Set - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Sixth graders using the longer bow.

For two or more people doing the bowing, use a longer bow to achieve more spindle rotations per stroke. By yourself, stick to a normal arm-length bow. And yes, this method works well if you’re spinning solo. The anchored bearing block steadies the point of contact against my shin – which is one of the struggles I see a lot with first-time friction fire makers.

Load the spindle into the long bow, place the spindle into the hearth board divot, and mate the top of the spindle to the long lever bearing block. The person “driving” the bearing block will place his/her foot on the hearth board resting on the stump. Steady the bearing block against the shin with two hands.

How to Make and Use a Long Lever Bow Drill Set - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Extra length at the end of the lever bearing block give ample room to connect with the shin.

You can also set this entire rig up without elevating the hearth board. It’s certainly kinder on the knees when elevated.

Step 4: Twirl an Ember

For a group effort, have two bowers hold opposite ends of the loaded long bow. Oh, have them stand offset to the plane of the bow so nobody gets a stick in the gut. Start the pull/push slowly to gain a rhythm like a lumberjack crosscut saw competition. As the charred dust builds into the hearth board notch, pick up the speed in bowing.

How to Make and Use a Long Lever Bow Drill Set - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Getting into a rhythm

If the first two bowers tire, and you have alternates waiting, the bearing block “driver” gives the command to switch. Including all the hands builds teamwork and ownership to the effort. While the switch takes place, check the condition of the char dust in the notch. Even if it is smoking on its own, allow the other bowers a turn in spinning.

Step 5: Blow the Ember into Flame 

Celebrate your creation of a fire egg (ember) and allow it to grow by fanning it with your hand. High-fives all around! No need to hurry as you will likely produce a larger-than-normal amount of char dust in the hearth board notch.

How to Make and Use a Long Lever Bow Drill Set - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A nice pile of smoldering char dust!

Once the fire egg is resting in its nest of tinder material, have each team member take a turn blowing the ember into flame. At that moment when heavy, white smoke billows from the nest, get your camera ready to capture the magic of fire from scratch!

How to Make and Use a Long Lever Bow Drill Set - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Road-kill pine straw and cattail fluff for the win!

How to Make and Use a Long Lever Bow Drill Set - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Almost there.

Place the burning nest in the fire pit and add prepared kindling for the fire to eat. Let the high-fives and fist-bumps begin! Your team has just created fire by friction and welded bonds of friendship never to be forgotten!

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +YouTubeInstagram, 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: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Primal Skills, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Self-Reliance Skills on a Sewer Line and Secondhand Beaver Pond

by Todd Walker

“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.”

~ John Lubbock

Self-Reliance Skills on a Sewer Line and Secondhand Beaver Pond - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Far from “wilderness”, an outdoor classroom sits atop an underground sewer line. When choices are slim to none, one takes what Nature provides. A concrete retaining wall manages storm-water from the school’s asphalt parking lot.

The black chain fence on top of the concrete wall, a legal requirement to keep kids out, is easily breached. Inside the “concrete pond,” a wetland ecosystem invites exploration. Cattails, a willow tree, and unidentified flora thrive in the “secondhand beaver pond,” less North America’s largest rodent. From the adjacent paved paradise, an uneducated eye would miss all the Nature possibilities.

At RISE Academy, our motto is “Second Chances ~ New Beginnings.” Our student’s have given the sewer line a second chance. The once weedy, vine infested location is now home to an outdoor classroom built by their own hands. In turn, their new beginnings are real and tangible. Math shifts from theoretical to the real-world as they determine angles, read a tape measure, and problem-solve structural design. Then there’s the reading, writing, science, and history to keep it all in context. Oh, and the physical skills of connecting bamboo securely. I’m happy to report that their construction stood up to Irma’s recent storms.

Our journey to self-reliance has begun on a pristine waste place beside a retention pond… our Nature. Even though our place may earn the top spot on the un-wilderness scale, the benefits of being out there are priceless. Interactive and authentic learning happens in our Nature. If nothing else, the lingering scent of woodsmoke in hair and clothing will hopefully remind them of the importance of surface-area-to-volume ratio and the science of fire.

Self-Reliance Skills on a Sewer Line and Secondhand Beaver Pond - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

She was so proud of her first fire with spark ignition.

Self-Reliance Skills on a Sewer Line and Secondhand Beaver Pond - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Students scraping tinder material off bamboo to create a high surface-area-to-volume ratio.

Another benefit of being out there is becoming attached to the land. A mom told us that her son wants to bring a rake to clear vines and roots from his outdoor classroom. He recently commented on the bamboo structure, “I can’t believe we built this!”

Appreciation for our Nature doesn’t happen until we get kids outside to connect to all its gifts. Twigs, sticks, and rocks become personal. The tinder cattail shoots, once tasted, expands their notion of food and Nature being a grocery store. Dirt under their nails connect hands and hearts to their habitat.

 

 

 

Self-Reliance Skills on a Sewer Line and Secondhand Beaver Pond - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Students and hip waders go well together.

Self-Reliance Skills on a Sewer Line and Secondhand Beaver Pond - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Digging cattails for food, craft, and fire resources.

Studies show promising results for connecting kids to nature.

Our spot may not look like “virgin” wilderness, but it ours to curiously wander.

Designed for Doing

The things we have to learn before we do them, we learn by doing them.

~ Aristotle

The real world can’t be experienced on smart phones. Self-reliance is about doing the stuff, dirty hands, employing our senses, and discovering our potential. The first step is engineering an environment designed for doing.

All the math, science, history, reading, and writing typically shoveled into young brains is hardly ever retained. It’s a horrible strategy that keeps kids tied in knots of anxiety over test scores. Once they regurgitate facts floating in their head, the purge cycle begins to make room for the next test.

Here’s a thought…

Deep learning takes place by untying the tangled web of schooled knots. Instead of telling students what we, or the state, think they need to know, allow them to experience their interests.

But what about the curriculum and those dreaded high-stakes tests?

Remember we’re talking about deep learning not rote memorization of facts.

This little blog is an example of the importance of following one’s interest…

I never had an interest in writing. After my first 12 years of schooling, two college degrees, low C’s in every college English class, and over 500 blog posts, I still can’t dissect a sentence properly, not even if my life depended on it. I found that mastering parts of speech is not a prerequisite to writing. I’d bet my best double bit ax that most writers don’t think about this stuff either. They simply write.

Tim Smith’s blurb on his Jack Mountain Bushcraft blog concerning grammatical errors sums up my attitude as well, “Anything that appears to be an error in spelling or grammar is actually the author’s clever use of the vernacular, and as such is not an error, but rather a carefully placed literary device that demonstrates his writing prowess.”

Who really needs to know all the details of the English language? English teachers.

Being writing-challenged was no fault of my teachers. They tried. I simply wasn’t interested… except for that awakening in sixth grade. Our English teacher (Aunt Cindy) turned us loose in the school yard to sit under trees and get creative. Our class wrote and illustrated two books of poetry and short stories.

Unfortunately, that window of feral writing slammed shut in 1973 when I was thrown back into the cage of participles and prepositions. The point I’m making is simple – find what interests you and pursue it with passion. For someone who hated writing, I’ve penned over 600,000 words (conservative estimate) about Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance. Following my interest has taught me more useful stuff than any classroom or textbook.

Teach Only When Cornered

The biggest challenge now is to facilitate this interest-led, experiential learning style for our RISE students.

Teach only when cornered, otherwise let the people learn.
– Keith King

What little I know, or thought I knew about teaching, has disappeared like the smoke of our fire ring. And rightly so. Our students are teaching me more about what matters in their lives than any college professor could ever hope to share. Their curiosity and enthusiasm for hands-on learning experiences keeps me scrambling to stay one step ahead of their hunger to figure out how this world works.

There are more questions than answers.

My best teacher response is, “I don’t know. Let’s figure it out.” And we continue our journey together.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +YouTubeInstagram, 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: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Government "Education", Self-reliance | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Campfires From Scratch: No Boy Scout Juice Required

by Todd WalkerCampfires From Scratch- No Boy Scout Juice Required - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Liar, liar, pants on fire!

I discover at a young age that pouring Boy Scout Juice on sticks for a “quick” campfire was not real smart. Boy Scout Juice is a vague term which includes all sorts of liquid accelerants. We had gasoline at the cabin that day. I can’t remember who to blame for this grand idea, Henry or Craig, but I vividly remember the low whoosh sound that transformed a flickering kitchen match into a flaming mushroom cloud billowing up my legs. Screaming and wild dancing, reminiscent of cartoon characters, commenced in a desperate attempt to extinguish my now flaming trousers.

When the scent of singed hair and screaming finally settled, a silver dollar size blister on my calf taught us all a lesson that day.

Accelerants are dangerous and unnecessary in traditional fire craft. Cheating, some might call it. I’ve often said that there is no such thing as cheating when you really need a fire. Use a road flare if you have one. Camping ain’t an emergency. In modern camps, building a sustainable fire, less the fancy accelerant-impregnated fire starters, seems to be a lost art these days. I find the process of preparing a wooden meal to feed my fires pleasurable, even meditative.

Our irresistible fascination with fire was passed down by early humans who, through observation and notions and necessity, came upon the crazy idea of harnessing the flame. They weren’t content to live out their days cold and wet. This simple, powerful tool warmed hearths, made pottery, fashioned other tools, cooked meals, made potions, dispelled darkness, forged bronze, just as we use it today. The only difference for us moderns is that we route fire through insulated wires. But we’ve lost the aroma of wood smoke in our modern processes. Ah, that wonderful smell!

Many moderns never learned how to build a campfire, not from scratch. We hope this whets your appetite. Gather around our fire ring as we burn a few sticks and embrace the warming gift of fire.

Fire from Scratch

To transition from modern to a traditional fire-starter, you need things. Things like wood and air. These two are the easiest to procure. The third thing, which can be the most difficult to come by, is a heat source hot enough to complete the fire triangle, and, as intended, set stuff alight.

The heat source, modern or traditional, won’t produce a sustainable fire without properly prepared wood. I’ve witnessed, on occasion, fire-starting fails by people using a plumber’s blow torch. Lightening is another option… but you must wait patiently near the chosen tree.

For this exercise in fire-starting, our heat will come in the form of sparks from rocks and metal. Those of the traditional camping style call these materials flint and steel (not to be confused with ferrocerium rods). Sharp rocks are used to scrape micro particles from the steel which oxidizes rapidly into sparks. If you’d like to know the Secret of Flint and Steel, our previous article may help.

Campfires From Scratch- No Boy Scout Juice Required - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Flint and steel

Moderns may scoff at flint and steel as a fire maker. Why not use a Bic? It’s your fire. Use whatever ignition method you like. In my experience of teaching and learning fire craft, an open flame offers no distinct advantage until you understand how a fire eats. Practicing traditional methods makes the learner more attentive to the finer details of planning a fire’s menu.

One test for beginner and experienced campers is to start a campfire using a single match. This experiment gives immediate feedback as to how carefully the fire-chef prepared the menu. If the match ignites and consumes your meal, you’ll be ready to practice more traditional methods.

A true primitive Fire from Scratch method requires rubbing sticks together. If you’re interested in twirling up fire, read and practice these articles: Bow drill and hand drill.

Wood Size Matters

The most common failure in feeding a fire is wood size. I’ve used the analogy before of creating a fire meal plan – breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s worth repeating… with a bit of a twist.

 

Don’t cheat on preparing the appetizer for flint and steel ignition. If you’ve ever placed a delicate fire egg (ember) in a tinder bundle (via friction methods), you understand the importance of this starter meal. The same holds true for charred material aglow from flint and steel sparks. A baby ember’s appetite is delicate. If it likes the first offering, it will be stimulated to eat more of your carefully prepared fare.

Campfires From Scratch- No Boy Scout Juice Required - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Top to bottom: fat lighter’d shavings and curls, pencil lead to pencil size twigs, and larger fuel.

In many flint and steel demonstrations viewed on computer screens, char cloth is laid on the rock in such a way as to catch a spark flying from the scraped steel. I’ve found that having a larger landing strip for sparks increases the chance of glowifing the charred material. Try sending your sparks into the target-rich char tin. Once you see points of light in the tinder box, place your appetizer on top of the glowified stuff and blow it to flame. Remember to close the lid of your tinder box to starve the glowified embers of oxygen for your next fire.

Campfires From Scratch- No Boy Scout Juice Required - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Aiming sparks into a char tin

You can also make your own South African tonteldoos (tinder box) for more flint and steel options.

Appetizer aflame, your fire is ready to ravage the kindling salad above it. Surface-area-to-volume ratio (SAV) plays an important role in the combustion of cellulose. This is a fancy way of describing a particles fineness. The more fineness (higher SAV), the more readily wood will burn. Fine twigs/sticks have low ignition times and burn quickly.

Arrangement

Ever watch a cooking show? Chefs know the importance of plating a meal to be visually appealing. Presentation can cause the guest to be attracted or reject the meal based solely on appearance and arrangement. We eat with our eyes.

Here’s a little good news…

Your arrangement of wood (fire lay) doesn’t have to be pretty to be palatable. Fire eats ugly. More information on four down-n-dirty fire lays can be found here.

Campfires From Scratch- No Boy Scout Juice Required - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Appetizer below the salad (twigs) with fuel ready to eat.

When plating your fire’s meal, keep in mind that different arrangements affect how a fire eats.

  • Loose fire lays allow more oxygen to flow through the fuel to burn hotter and quickly dry sticks to the point of combustion. Give your fire plenty of elbow-room to eat.
  • Arrange too tightly and the fire will be choked to death from lack of oxygen. However, once a coal bed is established, a tight arrangement of larger fuel will provide longer burn times.

Boy Scout Juice Substitute

This stuff doesn’t come in liquid form, but it’s the closest thing in my Georgia woods to an accelerant. Fat Lighter’d, fatwood, lighter wood, lighter knot, etc. is the resin-rich heartwood of many dead pine trees.

Fat Lighter’d Facts

  • All natural with no petroleum products
  • Won’t catch your pants on fire at ignition like accelerants
  • Smoke from fat lighter’d makes a great mosquito repellant in a smudge pot
  • The long leaf pine, which was clear-cut to almost extinction, is the best pitch producing pine tree
  • The term ‘fatwood’ came about from the wood in pine stumps being “fat” with resin that was highly flammable
  • There are between 105 and 125 species classified as resinous pine trees around the world

Not every pine is created equal. In my experience, one tree in the pine family, White Pine (Pinus strobus), makes poor fat lighter’d. I discovered its lackluster lighter’d on a winter trip with my buddy Bill Reese. We set up camp on the scenic Raven Cliff Falls Trail near a fallen White Pine. I figured all pines would offer up that beautiful, flammable fat lighter’d for our initial fire needs. Not so. With much labor, I finally nursed life into our traditional fire.

Know the wood in your woods.

Once you develop a taste for traditional fire-making, you’ll realize Boy Scout Juice is not required for a comforting campfire menu.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +YouTubeInstagram, 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: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

Secrets of the Forest: The Best Outdoor Education Book I’ve Read

by Todd Walker

Secrets of the Forest- The Best Outdoor Education Book I've Read - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

I recently began working with at-risk youth in our county’s alternative school, Rise Academy. My “job” is to offer project-based learning opportunities to develop self-reliant skills in our students.

My curriculum guide is a blank slate. There are no state approved guides for Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance in academia. I must write my own. Out of necessity, I began to pull from my own experience and those of my mentors. Fortunately, one of my teachers, Mark Warren, director of Medicine Bow, recently published the first in a series of four books, Secrets of the Forest.

Secrets of the Forest, Volume 1, is broken into two parts:

  1. The Magic and Mystery of Plants, and…
  2. The Lore of Survival

I ordered and quickly devoured Volume 1. If you’ve ever wondered how to transfer lost knowledge and skills to our next generation, this book series is your guide. Mark is no newcomer in the world of primitive skills and nature study. He’s been passing on his knowledge to young and old for over a half century. I’ve had the pleasure of attending several of his classes in Dahlonega, Georgia. Mark is a walking encyclopedia of earth-lore and the skills required to call Nature home.

Secrets of the Forest- The Best Outdoor Education Book I've Read - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Mark showing an impromptu lesson on stringing a bow during a Winter Tree Identification class.

Part 1: The Magic and Mystery of Plants

Students at Medicine Bow are fully submerged in experiential, hands-on learning. Reading Mark’s book is no different. Over 200 original activities are included to engage one’s senses in the forest. Making your own Botany Booklet, written and illustrated by you, is worth the price of this first volume. It only consist of six sheets of folded paper (12 pages) but will set a student on a path of discovery in the amazing green world surrounding us.

Secrets of the Forest- The Best Outdoor Education Book I've Read - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Sassafras

“Plant study is the foundation upon which all survival skills are built.” ~ Mark Warren, p. 16

Mark is quick to point out that modern humans have lost the instincts of our paleo ancestors regarding plant usage. Therefore, we must approach our study of plants on an academic level. Eating the wrong plant, or wrong part of a plant, in the wrong season can be deadly. However, embracing the study of plants and trees for food, medicine, and craft is worth the time and effort.

I’ve read many online discussions of outdoorsy people expressing their desire to become more proficient in plant identification and use. Many have purchased botanical field guides specific to their locale. These guides are helpful for identification but rarely offer hidden secrets of a plant. In Chapter 6, 100 Plants ~ And Their Many Gifts, Mark offers insight into plants/trees of southern Appalachia which I’ve never read in other botanical books. Color photos of each plant await at the end of this chapter to aid in identification.

Chapter 10 is devoted entirely to Poison Ivy. Anyone spending time outdoors will appreciate the information on this rogue plant. From identification, protecting ourselves, treating the rash, and even making oneself immune, Mark covers it all.

Part 2: The Lore of Survival

“If you get lost out there, the world around you may seem your enemy, but it’s not. It’s just that you’ve forgotten what your ancestors knew a long time ago.”

~ Natalie Tudachi, Blue Panther Woman of the Anigilogi clan, Let Their Tears Drown Them (p. 167 – Secrets of the Forest)

Reading this volume will give you knowledge, but knowing is not enough – there must be urgency in doing the stuff. As with Part 1, many hands-on activities accompany The Lore of Survival section. Chapters include:

  • The First Step ~ getting started in survival skills
  • The Ties That Bind ~ cordage
  • Oh Give Me a Home ~ shelter building
  • Sticks and Stones ~ the multi-use rabbit stick
  • Water, Water Everywhere ~ water purification
  • Hors D’oeuvres of Protein ~ adventures with larvae
  • A Kitchen in the Forest ~ cooking in the wild
  • An Army of Silent Hunters ~ traps and snares
Secrets of the Forest- The Best Outdoor Education Book I've Read - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Describing the finer details in a tracking class at Medicine Bow.

Mark’s approach to wilderness survival centers around the primitive technology used by the Cherokee who called Southern Appalachia home. Our relationship with “the real world” (forest) becomes intimate as we integrate primitive survival skills. This may seem overwhelming, depending on the forest to provide your needs, so take one skill of interest and practice until proficiency is developed.

Of particular interest to me, since I’m allergic to yellow jacket stings to some degree, is the section on making yellow jacket soup. Larvae, not adults, are used to make a nutty flavored, protein-packed soup. Mark gives detailed descriptions on how to “safely” dig and harvest larva from a yellow jacket nest. My experience with the business end of these stinging insects has prevented me from attempting a heist. However, after reading his experience, it sounds doable even for me.

Secrets of the Forest- The Best Outdoor Education Book I've Read - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Hands-on learning in a creek studying animal tracks and sign.

I respect Mark Warren a great deal, not only for his passion to share this lost knowledge, but more so because he lives what he describes his book. He traded theory for action decades ago. When purchasing his book or attending his classes, you’ll quickly discover that Mark is the real deal with a depth of experience sorely lacking in the world of outdoor education.

If you teach wilderness living skills, scouts, school children, or just interested in expanding your own outdoor education, I highly recommend Secrets of the Forest! Order yours at his site: Medicine Bow.

Update 08/11/2017: Calling Up The Flame – The Art Of Creating Fire -and – Feeding The Spirit – Storytelling And Ceremony : Vol. 2 – by Mark Warren just became available.

While you’re there, check out his class schedule. I’ll be attending The Art of Archery class in September. Mark knows a thing or two about archery. He was the World Long Bow Champion in 1999.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +YouTubeInstagram, 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: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

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

A Tenderfoot’s Guide to Chopping Firewood at Camp

by Todd WalkerA Tenderfoot's Guide to Chopping Firewood at Camp ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

 

“Next to the rifle, a backwoodsman’s main reliance is on his axe. With these two instruments, and little else, our pioneers attacked the forest wilderness that once covered all eastern America, and won it for civilization.”

~ Horace Kephart, from Camping and Woodcraft, 1917

Not much has more appeal to a young camper than having the opportunity to use an ax. The lure is irresistible. Yet, ax lore is rarely passed down to our younger generation.

The following is a common sense guide which will help a tenderfoot, young or old, learn to safely use an ax for the most basic camp chore – chopping firewood. Keep in mind that “safe” is a relative term. There are risks inherit when an ax is moving, or, even when idle.

Our aim here is to manage the risk, not eliminate it. Not teaching children to cope with the risks and dangers of handling edged tools will never prepare them for real-world self-reliance.

Ax Selection

As I mentioned in our beginner’s guide on knife craft, only you, the parent or guardian, will know when your child is responsible enough to use edged tools. My oldest grandson was seven when I began teaching him how to handle a hatchet.

I recommend a general purpose ax for the beginner. The handle length and weight should fit the user. My favorite felling ax is a double bit. This is NOT the ax for a tenderfoot of any age. A poll ax has only one cutting edge and is recommended for first-timers.

Read our Ax Selection article for more details on choosing your first ax.

A woodsman should carry a hatchet, and he should be as critical in selecting it as in buying a gun.

~ Horace Kephart, from Camping and Woodcraft, 1917

Kephart’s advice is sound on carrying a hatchet. And to the tenderfoot, using a short camp hatchet may seem to be the wise choice. However, shorter handled axes are more dangerous to use than longer axes.

Here’s why…

If I miss my target when swinging my 16 inch hatch, the follow-through, when standing, is likely to strike where I do not wish to strike – my body. A full-size ax, 30 to 36 inches long, would likely strike the ground before reaching a foot or knee. For a young boy or girl, swinging a longer ax which weighs 3 to 4 pounds is ridiculous to even think. In the end, the size of the ax must fit the user.

A more suitable choice might be a 3/4 ax, or “Boy’s Ax.” They tend to be armpit to fingertip length with a head weight in the 2 pound range. If camping on foot, this ax trims a few pounds off your pack. Felling trees, splitting firewood, making kindling, and pounding tent stakes can all be done very well with a sharp boy’s ax.

“Safe” Chopping Techniques

There are two basic ways to safely swing an ax: Lateral and vertical chopping. Before you even lay a hand on your ax, be sure no obstructions, people, or pets are in your chopping zone (a circular area two handle lengths around you). Even a small vine or twig can cause your ax to deflect away from your intended target.

Lateral Swings

Lateral swings (diagonal and horizontal) are used mostly to chop down trees. Any stroke outside your frontal zone is considered a lateral swing. What’s your frontal zone?

Adapted from The Ax Book

For more in-depth coverage of lateral swings, read our article link here. I DO NOT recommend that a tenderfoot attempt tree felling until he/she becomes proficient with vertical swings while chopping firewood.

Vertical Swings

Splitting logs into smaller firewood happens to be the most used vertical swing by the average camper. There are three categories for this powerful stroke. For the tenderfoot, we will only concentrate on #1.

  1. Backed-up
  2. Non-backed (dangerous even to experienced woodsmen)
  3. Bucking, or chopping below the level of your feet (not a beginner skill)

The backed-up stroke is the safest of the three for a tenderfoot (or experienced woodsman). Backed-up strokes are performed on piece of robust wood (chopping block or log) wide enough to stop the ax swing momentum. The earth can serve as a back-up but you never want to ground a sharp ax in the dirt.

A Tenderfoot's Guide to Chopping Firewood at Camp ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Notice the position of the wood on the chopping block – to the far side.

Practice your vertical swing by standing a small log (about 6″ in diameter and 12″ long) on top of a wide chopping block. Position the log near the back of the chopping block, not the center or near edge of the block. This allows more room for the ax to strike the chopping block as it separates the round log – or misses completely.

Note: For younger children using a short ax or hatchet, this exercise should be modified. Here’s how I taught my grandson to chop kindling. Adult supervision required!

If you’re grown and strong enough to handle a full or 3/4 ax, stand facing the chopping block. Grip the ax handle with one hand at the base of the handle with the other on top of the bottom hand. Touch the target with the ax in outstretched arms. Raise the ax overhead and strike the top of the log. As you strike the target, bend your knees so that the ax follows through parallel to the ground. This adds another layer of protection to prevent the ax from striking your body on a miss hit or glancing blow.

Increase Ax Accuracy

Accuracy is more important than power. Here are a few tips to help your accuracy…

  • Focus your eyes on the exact spot your want to strike. Aim small, hit small.
  • On the down stroke, the ax handle should follow an imaginary line drawn with your nose if it were a long sharpie marker… right through the small, focused target.
  • Relaxing your grip on the ax to keep your upper body (arms and shoulders) loose. Your brain will automatically tighten your grip for impact.
  • Let the ax do the work. You can add power to strokes as your accuracy increases.

A fun way to practice accuracy is to stand a kitchen match or toothpick vertically in a chopping block. Using a safe stance and full swing, try to split the match/toothpick. You may never strike it but this gives automatic feedback on how close you come to your tiny target. If you actually light a kitchen match on a swing, well, you’re an elite axman!

Improvised Back-Ups

What if there is no “proper” chopping block available at your campsite? Here are two alternative methods I’ve used over the years.

A Tenderfoot's Guide to Chopping Firewood at Camp ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

This is a Y-branch from a Red Oak I’ve used for years at fixed camp.

With a little effort you may happen upon a large Y-shaped branch. Place a round piece in the “Y” on the ground. Straddle the bottom of the Y. Strike the round cradled at the top of the Y. Keep in mind that the Y is not as high off the ground as your previous chopping block. Therefore, bend your knees even more to keep the downward ax swing parallel to the ground. Once a round is split, place the halved log back in the Y with the round side up. It’s much easier to split from the round side than the flat.

You may only find a straight log or split wood to use as a back-up. Lay the round to be split perpendicular over the back-up log. Stand with the back-up between your feet and the round. In other words, the round touching the ground should NOT be on the same side of the back-up log as your feet. That setup is inviting injury.

Splitting Without Swinging

To half and quarter smaller logs safely, keep this technique in mind. This works well with smaller axes and camp hatchets. With the ax in your strong hand and the round in the other hand, place the ax bit on the opposite end of the round. Lift the ax and round together and tap them on a chopping block to start the ax bit in the wood. The handle should run parallel down the length of the round now. Now you can lift them both and slam them down on the chopping block. Repeat until the round separates.

A Tenderfoot's Guide to Chopping Firewood at Camp ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Always kneel to the ground when using a short ax/hatchet.

If the wood doesn’t separate, slam the pieces again so that the ax bit sinks into the chopping block. Now give the wood a sideways twist with your off-hand and it usually separates.

A Tenderfoot's Guide to Chopping Firewood at Camp ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The ax bit serves as fulcrum as you twist with your off-hand to separate the wood.

To cut smaller stuff (wrist-size and smaller) to firewood length, chop at a 45 degree angle to the grain… on a back-up, of course. The end that separates can go flying so be careful.

top-tools-for-mechanical-advantage-bushcraft

This forked tree stacked the firewood as it broke.

You may not even need to chop long, wrist-size firewood. If you have two trees close together, place the round between them and use leverage to break the round into pieces. Or, just burn them in half over the fire.

Here’s a video demonstrating a few points in this article for those who like moving pictures 🙂

Safety Reminders

As I mentioned previously, an ax can cause injury while in use or when idle. Practice the following to decrease the risk to you and others.

  • Keep your ax sheathed when not in use. When in use, sink the single bit into a heavy chopping block instead of laying it on the ground unsheathed.
  • Keep your swing zone clear.
  • Axes are daylight tools. Never chop in dark conditions.
  • Only use a sharp ax. Dull axes will not bite into wood and glance off.
  • Only chop firewood that is backed-up properly.
  • Always check that the axhead is securely fixed to the handle. If it becomes loose, stop chopping.
  • If you become fatigued, stop and rest.
  • An ax is a tool, not a toy!

Additional Resources

As you become proficient chopping firewood, expand your ax skills. Check out the resources in our Axe Cordwood Challenge Page with links to our ax videos/blogs and other skilled axmen I respect.

This is the third post in our First-Timer’s series aimed at getting people outside. Here are the previous articles:

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, 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: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Self-reliance | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

9 Extras Guaranteed to Make First-Time Campers Happy

by Todd Walker

9 Extras Guaranteed to Make First-Timer Campers Happy ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

We do not go to the green woods and crystal waters to rough it, we go to smooth it. We get it rough enough at home.”

~ George Washington Sears – “Nessmuk”, Woodcraft

A tenderfoot’s first camping trip will be remembered forever, good or bad. Whether car camping or backpacking, comfort in the woods should be the aim. There are no “Roughing It” badges awarded in camp life. The more pleasant the experience, the more likely you’ll want to go again.

New to camping? Our last article on knife craft may be of interest to you. Click on this highlighted link to read more.

No matter how many times I camp, I’ve learned that the following items in my pack are multifunctional and comfort-adders to my outdoor experience. Add these to your normal camp checklist.

Extra Tarp(s) 

Shelter comes to mind first. My ENO ProFly rain offers enough cover for my hammock and personal gear. If teaching a class at gatherings/campouts, I haul more stuff which needs to be sheltered. Car camping affords the luxury of packing several tarps whether you sleep in a hammock or tent.

9 Extras Guaranteed to Make First-Timer Campers Happy ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Besides my ENO Rainfly, I use extra tarps for equipment/supplies and a welcome mat under my hammock.

Employ an extra tarp as a ground cover under your tent or a welcome mat under your hammock. I find rolling out of my hammock onto a dry surface comforting. No wet/dirty feet to dry before lacing my boots. My haversack and extra gear rests on this vapor barrier preventing ground moisture from transferring while I sleep.

An extra tarp has come in handy on trips when it rained sideways. Tarps can be quickly set up over your camp kitchen or eating area for shade and rain protection. Think of being cooped up in your sleeping quarters on a rainy day in the woods. An 8×10 tarp will provide a dry outdoor living room to enjoy the sound of falling rain while whittling a tent stake, watching wilderness TV (a.k.a. – campfire), or cooking meals. Be sure to set your tarp high enough over a campfire so it won’t melt – 7-8 feet works with an open fire.

Poly tarps are relatively cheap but add max comfort when camping. Don’t hit the trail without an extra one or three. And blue tarps are okay. In fact, one of my Pathfinder instructors once told me that blue is easier to spot in the woods than other colors if you need to be found.

Extra Cordage

If you’re like me, my hammock and rain fly has cordage attached and ready for quick setup. Did you bring enough line to hang extra tarps and stuff? And what line should you use?

I like 550 paracord for certain jobs like ridge lines. However, braided nylon tarred bank line comes in a compact spool with hundreds of feet. A one pound spool of #36 bank from Wally World offers over 500 feet of cordage. Don’t want to take a whole spool, pull off 50 foot hanks and stow in your pack. Below is a photo of how I store hanks of cordage…

9 Extras Guaranteed to Make First-Timer Campers Happy ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Take the hank of cord off your fingers, wrap the loose end a few times in the middle of the hank, and tie with a half-hitch.

There are too many uses around camp for rope to not pack extra.

Extra Towels

No matter the season, it is my practice, when water is available, to sleep clean. However, when water is scarce, I whip out the wipes and clean a day of sticky, sweaty funk off my body.

Get small packs designed for diaper bags if backpacking. If weight isn’t an issue, buy the jumbo container to clean the whole family. They’re also handy to clean dirty picnic tables and pet fur. Moose and Abby, our fur-babies, make it their mission to rub their neck in the most disgusting, rotted, foul-smelling stuff in the woods.

9 Extras Guaranteed to Make First-Timer Campers Happy ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Dry towel and wet wipes.

When cooking at home, I sometimes hang a hand towel over my shoulder like my daddy. I do the same at camp. Only difference is I tuck it into my belt or dangled from my front pocket. I wipe my hands often while cooking and use it as a napkin while eating. When done, toss the towel in a ziplock bag and stow it in my cook kit.

I carry both cloth and paper towels. Used paper towels are burned or packed out. The beauty of cloth towels is they can be washed and hung out to dry.

Extra Lighting

I have three primary sources of light when I camp: Luci solar lantern, head lamp, and LED Light Specs. Here’s the breakdown of each…

I clip my Luci lantern on my hammock ridge line for nighttime illumination (see top photo). This cool solar lantern never runs out of batteries. Just inflate it like a beach ball and choose the setting; low, high, or flashing. It lights up my entire hammock area and only weighs 4 ounces.

luci-solar-lantern-review

A safe, renewable lighting source

A head lamp frees you to use both hands for camp tasks. Keep a set of spare batteries taped together and labeled with the date of manufacture. This allows you track when you need to add fresh batteries in your pack. If you purchase a head lamp, buy one with a red light to keep your camping mates happy. Nothing ticks folks off more than having a white, blinding light in the eyes.

My reading glasses have LED lights on the outside of both lenses. I know. Coolest thing ever! I use these to find stuff hidden in my pack at night. When I turn in for the evening, they go in my hammock pouch along with my head lamp.

Extra Plastic Bottle

This tip is for our guy readers. Sorry ladies, not much help to you. To stay nice and cozy in your hammock or tent when nature calls, a sports drink bottle is a reliving solution. Do your business carefully, cap the bottle, and sit it aside.

9 Extras Guaranteed to Make First-Timer Campers Happy ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The label is for unsuspecting, thirsty friends 🙂

On a funny note, one of our Georgia Bushcraft members had a horrible hammock experience. It seems he forgot his mosquito net was surrounding him as he attempted to toss the contents of the open bottle. Not a happy camper!

Extra Toilet Paper

While we’re on the subject of bodily functions, you don’t want to run out of this essential item! There are ways to perform the needed paperwork without TP, but a novice may find them a bit primitive. Cowboy toilet paper is an option. So pack plenty of your favorite, soft wipes, even at campgrounds.

Extra Plastic Bags

Do not forget these! Pack several different ziplock sizes. They keep stuff dry and sealed or wet stuff separate from your dry stuff. Use them to pack trash and other dirty stuff out when you break camp.

Oh, and always pack extra trash bags, the big ones. All my packs have a minimum of two contractor grade trash bags. They’re useful for collecting firewood and keeping it dry, pack covers, and even emergency ponchos. Too many uses for these bags to list here.

Extra Shoes

Your feet are an important part to comfortably enjoying camp life. They got you to your scenic spot, now pamper them. In warm weather camp, my flip-flops are welcome relief after a long day in my boots. On colder trips, I change into my insulated leather house slippers while sitting around the campfire. Neither pair weighs much, but boy do they add comfort to my tired feet!

Extra Tape

A-Waterproof-Tinder-Bundle-Hack-That-Guarantees-Fire

Use a carabiner to attach the duct taped lighter to your kit

Last, but certainly not least, is duct tape. Not all duct tape is created equal. Gorilla Tape is the strongest I’ve found. My buddy, Dave, teaches a class on making duct tape water containers. If you do it right, a water-tight container can be fashioned from this often forgotten piece of gear.

Here are just a few uses:

  • Emergency first aid uses; bandages, splints, etc.
  • Repair leaky tarps and tents
  • Wrap a camp ax handle for temporary repair. Makes an expedient ax sheath too.
9 Extras Guaranteed to Make First-Timer Campers Happy ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Gorilla tape wrapped around a piece of cardboard for the win!

  • Grommet hole repair
  • Wet weather fire starter. Burns like napalm.

  • Your imagination is the only limiting factor for duct tape.

 

These are the extras that make me a happy camper. How about you experienced campers? What extras comfort items do you take camping?

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, 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: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Gear, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , | 11 Comments

A Beginner’s Guide to Knife Craft for Kids

by Todd Walker

A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

I’ll never forget my first one. It had two blades, one long, one short, which folded into the wood grain handle with a snapping sound only good pocket knives make. I had crossed over, in my mind, from boy to man with my knife in the bottom of my jeans pocket. I had finally become a part of a long line of Southern knife toters.

No man in my family would ever be caught without a sharp pocketknife while wearing pants. The tool was used for everything from peeling a fresh Georgia peach, gutting a blue gill, cutting bailing twine, sharpening a carpenter’s pencil, and for the inevitable splinter removal while chopping firewood. But, by far, the most relaxing task was whittling on a stick as the aroma of wood smoke soaked into our clothes and canvas tent.

Without a knife, a man from my parts was close to useless.

For this tutorial on beginner knife use, we’ll cut through all the fluff and get back to the basics of selecting and using a knife safely.

Knife Selection

As the parent, only you will know when your child is responsible enough to use a knife. When that time comes, allow him/her to hold and use several knives to test the fit in smaller hands. My first knife was the pocket knife described above. For camping and other outdoor activities, we’ll focus our attention on sheath knives (non-folding).

However, if you decide to go with a jack knife (pocket knife), which is hard to beat for simple whittling, steer away from multitool types. They’re too fat, bulky, and uncomfortable for longterm use. Buy a folder with three or less blades. The handle should have smooth edges to prevent hot spots which lead to blisters. When gripped, your child should have enough room to rest his thumb on the knife handle and not the open blade.

A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Two blade, three blade, and a multi-blade knife.

No need to spend a lot of money on a kid’s first sheath knife. I bought my grandson his first fixed-blade knife, a Mora Companion, for under $15.00. This four-inch blade has a non-slip handle which fits his hand. There is also a slight knob on the forward handle near the blade for added protection against slipping a hand down the blade. The carbon steel is easy to sharpen and maintain. The scandi grind really bites into wood to produce fine, controlled shavings when whittling.

A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

L to R: Mora Companion, Mora Classic, and a smaller Classic. Below is Fixin’ Wax and steel wool.

The spine of the sheath knife (opposite of the cutting edge) isn’t given much thought to new campers. It’s not the business end of your blade, right? Not true. A 90 degree spin comes in handy for many camp tasks such as creating fat lighter shavings, sparking ferro rods, and smoothing wood surfaces. If your knife spine is rounded, take a bastard file to the edge and create right angles on the spin. Our video below demonstrates the usefulness of a sharp spin in fire craft…

A fixed blade sheath should hold your child’s knife firmly in place. If you turn the sheath upside down, the knife should stay put.

Knife Safety

Our gun community does an excellent job of teaching gun safety to children. The same should be taught concerning knives. A knife is a tool, not a toy. A sharp knife holds potential for serious injury, even death. There are inherit dangers with edged tools. With proper training, supervision, and experience (and a few band aids), your child will soon build confidence in his new skills.

Here’s a few safety guidelines to remember:

  • To remove a knife from a belt sheath like the Mora Companion, grip the handle and place your thumb on sheath tab. With gentle downward pressure from the thumb, the knife will release. Do not forcefully pull the knife as you will lose control of the blade. Return the knife in the same manner, in a controlled manner, until the blade snaps back into the sheath. In the beginning stage of practice, you may want to add a strip of painters tape to the cutting edge until you demonstrate proficiency in the process.
A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Grip handle and press the thumb tab to safely remove blade.

A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

  • Only use a knife when your Blood Circle is clear of others and obstacles. To define the Blood Circle, stand with arms outstretched. Turn full circle to make sure no other person is within this space.
  • Never whittle with a knife within your Blood Triangle. It may seem natural to whittle between your legs while in the seated position with knees spread. Cutting within this danger zone, a triangle formed between your knees and crotch, is inviting disaster. One slip and the blade could plunge into the femoral artery.
  • For basic whittling, always cut away from your body. There are times when cutting towards the body is acceptable, but these strokes are for more advanced users.
  • With a knife in hand, it is your responsibility to make sure no person is within your Blood Circle. If someone enters, stop whittling and sheath your knife.
  • Keep your knife sharp (We’ll cover sharpening in a later article). It may sound contrary, but a dull knife poses more danger than a sharp one. It takes more applied force to make a dull knife cut wood or potatoes. A keen edge slices with more control.
  • Never attempt to catch a falling knife.
  • Keep your knife sheathed when not in use. Do not walk, much less run, around with an unsheathed knife.
  • To pass your knife to someone, hold the spin between your curled index finger and thumb with the handle towards the person. When the fellow grips the handle, don’t release the blade until he says “thank you.” This lets you know he has a firm grip on the handle.
A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

“Thank you”

Knife Care

Carbon steel blades are sharpened more easily than stainless steel. However, high carbon will rust if neglected. Always wipe excess moisture from the blade after each use. Lubricate your blade with a food safe oil before stowing your knife for your next adventure.

If a rust spot appears, hit the area with 0000 steel wool and apply oil. My go-to lubricant is my DiY Fixin’ Wax. This stuff has many uses for camping and woodcraft.

Whittling Skills

Once you’ve learned and demonstrated the above safety tips, it’s time to do some whittling. You’ll need a softwood stick with no knots. Pine, tulip poplar, and basswood are all good choices. If green, pine will coat your blade and hands with resin. Fixin’ Wax will remove the sap from both. Dowels from hardware stores will work as well. Find a stick about an inch in diameter and about a foot or two long. A longer stick can be tucked between your elbow and side for extra stability while whittling.

Overhand Grip

The overhand grip will be your most used method in basic whittling. Place the spine side of the handle in the palm of your strong hand. The spine/back of the handle should lay in the “V” between your thumb and index finger. Don’t put a death grip on the handle until your knuckles turn white. Relax your hand. Your brain will tell your hand when to grip the handle tight in use. With your arm and fist extended in front of you, the cutting edge will face away from your body.

A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Back of handle fits into the V between your thumb and index finger. It’s like you’re shaking hands with the handle.

The first step will be to remove the bark from the stick. This helps you get the feel for how the blade bits into the wood. With the stick gripped in your off-hand, begin slicing the bark off your stick with controlled slices an inch or so below/past your off-hand. Try not to dig your blade into the wood beneath the bark. When half the bark is removed, flip the stick and remove the other half.

A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Remember to work outside your Blood Triangle.

Now sharpen one end of the stick to a pencil point. Gradually begin shaving small amounts of wood off to a point. No need to hurry the process. Just relax and enjoy whittling. If you get tired, stop and rest. Fatigue leads to careless mistakes.

A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Gradual strokes to get to the point.

A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Try to make your stick resemble a sharpened pencil.

Thumb Lever/Push Cut

This technique, a bit more advanced, allows you make controlled cuts for notches and detailed carving work. Yep, it’s time to notch the opposite end of the pencil point your just whittled. You’re about to create your first tent stake.

Using an overhand grip, rock the blade of your knife perpendicular on your stick about an inch or two on the end opposite the pencil point. Cutting across the grain of wood with an edged tool is difficult and applies lots of downward pressure. It’s best to place the stick on a support (a chopping stump, large log, etc.). Rock the blade until you create a 1/8 to 1/4 inch kerf across the grain.

A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Cut across the grain on a solid support.

You’re now ready to use the thumb lever. Grip the stick with your off-hand about an inch or so from the kerf you just rocked. Maintain your overhand grip with the blade resting an inch down from the kerf. Grip the stick with your off-hand just behind the blade. Place your off-hand thumb on the knife handle in the “V” of your strong hand. Angle the blade into the wood and push the handle with your off-hand thumb until the blade reaches the kerf. Again, take small, shallow cuts until you reach the bottom of the kerf. You’ll want to rock the blade in the kerf until your reach about 1/3 the diameter of the stick. Continue alternating between each cut for a smooth notch to tie off your tent or tarp line.

A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

You thumb acts as a fulcrum to leverage your blade through wood safely.

A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

One last cut to finish your tent stake. On the notched end of the stick (the end you’ll pound on to drive the stake), whittle off a small portion of the right angle edge (1/8 inch) of the rim. This chamfer cut will help prevent the stake from splitting when pounded into the ground.

A Beginner's Guide to Knife Craft for Children ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Use the thumb lever to remove the sharp edge. Keep your fingers safely below the top edge of the stick.

Congrats on making your first tent stake!

As your skills progress, try carving a few simple pot hooks for your camp kitchen. I think you’ll find your journey into woodcraft and camping to be very rewarding. Knife craft is only the beginning… now get outside and whittle something useful!

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, 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: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

My Top 5 Woods Loafing Lessons

by Todd Walker

My Top 5 Woods Loafing Lessons ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Photo credit: Bill Reese, Instinct Survivalist

Early on I took to the woods and never outgrew it. Exploring every creek bend, barefooted as the day I born, cane pole in one hand, and one of Mama’s soup cans half-full of hand-dug worms, fishing has never been as fun. Chiggers, aggravating as they are, were no match for my need to be out there. Georgia red clay joined my toes and soul to our woods.

Not much has changed in my mid 50’s. The Monday morning question always comes from a few of my students…

“Mr. Walker, did you go to the woods this weekend?”

“Yup. You know I did.”

“I saw your video. You were chopping wood.”

My eighth graders live vicariously through my outdoor adventures. They want to learn how to use an ax, identify plants and trees, rub sticks together to build a campfire, get muddy, and sleep soundly in the woods. Their innate curiosity gnaws at them like a beaver on a Sweet Gum. But those pesky rules. I stop the stories and press on through the math lesson. But some stuff just doesn’t add up.

I wonder, would time in the woods help these students? Recess is a historic relic. No green spaces for free-play and wild exploration, just red ink on paper. You know my thoughts if you’ve read any of my work. Kids, and especially all of us over-busy and strained grownups, could benefit from the human-nature connection.

Science proves it. But woods loafers don’t need studies as proof. We experience the benefits firsthand with everything that’s wild and free and good in the woods.

Woods Loafing

Some friends and coworkers have the idea that I live in the woods like Jeremiah Johnson based on this blog and social media. Not hardly. I live in a typical neighborhood. I’m fortunate to have my fixed camp a short drive from my house. Like the vast majority of readers, town is where I live and make a living. The forest is where I play and learn.

Here are five lessons I’ve learned from being a woods loafer…

#1) Be Wild

The distinction between “wilderness” and wild places (nature) needs to be made. The disturbing attitude that wilderness skills are not as real unless demonstrated in a wilderness setting is invalid. YouTubers go to great lengths to get the setting just right so as to build credibility and authority and views. Break that “wilderness” protocol with a touch of civilization, even an occasional airplane overhead, and the hardcore purist may unsubscribe.

I love going to Back of Beyond, a place Mr. Kephart was so fond of. However, if I had to wait to practice wilderness living skills in a vast wilderness, I’d still be a novice. Some of my most memorable woods loafing lessons have come close to home.

My backyard is full of wild things and nature. The tract of land surround my middle school is full of wild nature, despite being bordered by a railroad track and I-20. Practicing skills, or just observing nature, need not take a tank of fuel and three hours of driving to reach. Read our Backyard Bushcraft Skills: No Wilderness Required article for practical ideas.

Developing wilderness living skills is my greatest unfinished work. I’m not moving to a vast wilderness to live alone like Dick Proenneke. However, building a log cabin with hand tools is on my woods loafing bucket list.

Tulip Poplar- A Rich Resource for Year-Round Wilderness Self-Reliance - www.TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Reconstructing old cabins with tulip poplar at Foxfire Museum

#2: Be Still

Drop me in any patch of woods and my eyes shine like new money. Every sense awakens. Sounds, aromas, textures, sights, even tastes are heightened. From where I park my truck, the walk to my fixed camp would take only a few minutes at a normal pace. Intentionally, many trips there take much longer.

Creeping slowly along the creek side to spot crawdads or admire trout lily blooms bending low requires a deliberate decision to slow down. Instead of breaking into the woods like a jack hammer on concrete, make as small a ripple as possible. In doing so, the non-human participants of nature are more likely to return to their normal everyday life.

I sometimes find a comfortable spot where I can sit and be still. Try this yourself. Look out over the landscape and relax your eyes. Look but don’t focus on anything in particular. Allow time for your ripples in the forest to settle. You’ll begin to notice movements and sounds and critters you would have missed by tramping through the woods. Jot down reflexions and observations in your note pad or journal.

I watched this family of otters feasting on crawdads one day as I sat quietly on a creek side. Pardon the shaky camera.

#3: Be Curious

The idea of wilderness living first came from animals. They lived in the forest before humans. We learned how they moved, stalked, and slept by observation and curiosity.

For instance, the concept of staying warm in an emergency debris shelter came from our bushy-tail friends. A squirrel’s home, nestled in a tree fork, viewed from the ground may appear to be just a large bird nest with an open, cupped design. However, upon closer inspection you’d find the two tree homes differ greatly. A squirrel nest is not open but an enclosed dome shape built of sticks, leaves, and shredded forest material. This design is efficient for shedding water and holding warmth in cold weather.

My Top 5 Woods Loafing Lessons ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The inside of a debris hut built at a Georgia Bushcraft Campout

Math is all about making sense of patterns. Have you noticed patterns in nature? How about the spirals on a pine cone? Or the number pattern of limbs on trees? There’s actually a name for this, the Golden Ratio (phi = 1.61803…) or the Fibonacci sequence.

If you’d really like to get your geek on in the woods, research theses terms and start counting tree limbs and flower petals. Not every plant and animal displays the Fibonacci pattern but enough do to make this a valid pattern occurring in nature.

#4: Be Resourceful

Wild nature provides more than just a refreshing walk in the woods. Resources are at every turn. I wonder as I’m woods loafing if the dead tree up ahead would give me fire by friction. Or if fibers from the green plant to the left would make strong cordage. As my human-nature journey continues, my eyes are keen to spot a tree or plant I’ve used for food, medicine, or craft. Experiencing the usefulness of woodland resources for yourself builds confidence, comfort, and appreciation for nature.

A while back a misguided youth vandalized my fixed camp. One of the first things I checked on inside my shelter was my collection of wood, stone, and bones. A few modern items went missing, but my most prized resources were of no value to the vandal. You learn to value the trees, rocks, dirt, leaves, bark, and vines you can name and use. Become intimate with nature’s gifts.

A Swiss Army Bread Bag as a Common Man's Haversack

Pine sap collected to make pitch glue sticks. The vandal saw no use in this resource

Not all resources in nature are physical and easily seen.

#5: Be Healed

Woods loafing is my process for body-mind-spirit alignment. It allows me to focus inward and center my mind and body for optimal performance.

My Top 5 Woods Loafing Lessons ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Raven Cliff Falls

Five years ago, after regaining her strength from chemo treatment, Dirt Road Girl wanted to go back and visit her favorite hiking destination, Raven Cliff Falls. Our slow pace and frequent stops allowed us to take in more scenery than ever before. There are times in life, unforgettable moments, where spiritual healing takes place. This hike was one of them.

Spiritual stuff is impossible to measure. But it’s real. Infinitely real. I experience the Infinite when woods loafing. Nature subtly draws my soul to that which is bigger and smarter than I. What appears to be primordial chaos in nature is full of order. Discovering this order through woods loafing humbles me and makes God smile.

Go. Get out there!

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, 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: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

Categories: 180 Mind Set Training, Bushcraft, Doing the Stuff, Self-reliance | Tags: , , | 11 Comments

Off-Grid Firewood: Lessons from Staying Warm with an Ax

by Todd Walker

Off-Grid Firewood- Lessons from Staying Warm with an Ax - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Imagine having only one off-grid tool to heat your home, would your family stay warm or freeze to death? Silly question, right? Only a lunatic would rely on one tool for firewood getting… especially with the antiquated ax. Call me crazy, but I chopped a full cord (128 cubic feet – 4’x4’x8′) of firewood with an ax.

Here’s why and a few things I learned in the process…

Off-Grid Firewood ~ Stay Warm with an Ax

I began Steven Edholm’s Axe Cordwood Challenge on February 7th and finished a cord of ax-cut firewood the last day of winter, March 19, 2017. I took the challenge to hone practical ax skills which were commonly known and practiced by our woodsmen, homesteader, and pioneer ancestors.

This was one of my most rewarding and satisfying journeys of self-reliance I’ve undertaken. Stacking that last stick of firewood made me pause to appreciate the journey more so than the finish line. In fact, finishing one cord actually whetted my appetite for another.

In the process of this challenge, I’ve compiled a fair amount of video footage documenting some ax skills and techniques. For those interested in video format, you can find these on our Axe Cordwood Challenge Playlist. Another resource you may find a bit of value in is our Ax-Manship Playlist.

Risk Management

The only way to improve ax-manship is to swing axes. Even with good technique and accuracy, your body is at risk from not only sharp steel, but falling timber and dead limbs being dislodged high overhead. There’s no way to insure safety 100%. You can, however, mitigate a large portion of the risk by using common sense.

Off-Grid Firewood- Lessons from Staying Warm with an Ax - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Chopper Beware: This dead pine broke midway up during the fall. Give a wide berth when felling trees.

Even so, you have to accept the potential for injury. One tree I felled got hung up. To free it, I had to fell a smaller tree (5 inches in diameter) under great tension. Misreading the direction in which the tree would release its tension, my last chop sent the tree into my thigh. Fortunately another tree stopped the full impact. It could have much worse than a bruised muscle.

Off-Grid Firewood- Lessons from Staying Warm with an Ax - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Not a part of the Cordwood Challenge, this dead pine hung up at the top and stump. This set up helped free the base by leveraging with a rope and 10 foot pole.

Even bent saplings as small as your wrist pose a huge danger to the wood chopper if cut without a strategy. Here’s a video link demonstrating a safe method to release stored energy.

Off-Grid Strategy

I chose to cut a cord of wood at base camp. Not because I’m more pioneering than other’s who have undertaken this challenge, it’s just that base camp is where the trees live. And firewood hides in trees.

In my off-grid setting, the greatest challenge, in my mind, was transporting large diameter logs on my shoulder over uneven terrain, vines, and ravines without a modern means of conveyance. My strategy was to fell, buck and split logs too heavy to lift for transport.

Off-Grid Firewood- Lessons from Staying Warm with an Ax - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Red Oak logs hauled back to camp

Splitting Strategy: Wedges and Maul

To accomplish the plan with an ax only, I carved two sets of wedges (or gluts as Kephart called them in Camping and Woodcraft) from a dogwood tree to be used at each felling site. Each set contained 4 wedges – Fat Set: a steep incline plane; Skinny Set: a gradual taper with less slope. Both were useful for different tasks. I found that the fat gluts inserted into smaller splits would bounce out after a couple of blows from my wooden maul or ax poll. The fat set could be driven deep to separate stubborn logs after the skinny set opened the split wide enough to accept the fat wedges.

Off-Grid Firewood- Lessons from Staying Warm with an Ax - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Pine halved for hauling

The skinny wedges, inserted in the initial ax split at the butt of logs, performed beautifully to further the split down the logs – even on seasoned red oak.  I found the one pine tree I cut to be the most cantankerous to halve. You’d think a soft wood would split more easily than hard. However, once halved, the pine split into rails more easily with my ax without the aid of wedges. That is, if the log was knot-free.

The dogwood wedges held up to a great amount of pounding even though they were green (non-seasoned). I had the idea to make a maul from the base of the dogwood tree which gave me the wedges. I discovered that dogwoods have a hollow space in the root ball which travels a foot or more up the trunk depending on the tree’s size. This fact makes this species unsuitable as a maul unless you cut the hollow part off. Hickory, oak, or other hardwoods have a solid root base and makes a fine maul for driving wedges.

Other DiY Tools: Chopping Platform

As my strategy dictated, after hauling logs and rails back to base camp, further splitting and cutting to length was necessary. I made a chopping platform based on the one described in Dudley Cook’s authoritative work, The Ax Book. Without a doubt, the chopping platform was the most used and multifunctional DiY tool throughout the challenge.

Initially I had planned on using it for chopping smaller rails to firewood length. It also served as a splitting and bucking platform. I experimented with bucking smaller logs (5-6 inch diameter) on the platform instead of separating them into rails first. The platform offered a solid back up for vertical ax strokes (swinging towards your feet) when bucking.

80% of the wood was split into long rails and cut to length on the chopping platform. In case you’re not aware, ax-cut wood will not stand on end for splitting. The remaining 20% was bucked to length on the platform, tossed on the ground, and split using the Tiger technique (video link).  This method worked well on all clear grained wood. When knots were present, I learned quickly to lay the round on the chopping platform to split.

Make Every Stroke Count

The first human I witnessed felling a tree with an ax was Mama. With that moment etched in my five-year-old mind, I was hooked on axes.

Technique

The ax swing is a basic physical movement. However, proper technique employed efficiently saves energy and time. A tinderfoot, unfamiliar with technique, gnaws into a tree with a flurry of misdirected chops and slashes until the tree submits or he gives up. The wood chips produced are as fine as flower bed mulch.

The super computer in our skull coordinates with our muscles to strike where our eyes look. I’m not saying that you don’t need repetition to develop muscle memory. You certainly do. Practice makes permanent… not perfect.

Every stroke is made under control. Muscle up on swings and accuracy suffers. Use your natural swing and let the tool do its share of the work. When felling, the least practiced skill due to the low number of trees needed to produce a cord of wood, a pattern of overlapping strikes is followed for both the face and back notch. A small notch is created as the base for larger notches. With the small notch complete, large wood chips are freed more easily as you progress. A slight twist of the ax after each stroke helps to loosen and remove chips on the top and bottom cuts of the notch. Repeat this blueprint until you near the center of the tree. Do the same 45 degree notching technique on the back cut.

Aim and Accuracy

My ax placement dramatically improved over the course of this challenge. Cleaner notches in felling and bucking were evident with more purposeful practice. One tip I’d offer in bucking is to swing the ax through a line vertical with your nose as your eyes focus on the target.

As my accuracy grew, I concentrated on cocking the ax handle back with my wrist at the peak of my backswing before the downward stroke. This seemed to increase velocity of the ax head. Accuracy and velocity equates to more work done with less effort.

Trading Theory for Action

Early in my teaching career, I was the sage on the stage dishing out book information and theory. As I grow gray, I’ve come to realize that lessons last when students are given the opportunity to learn by doing the stuff. Building knowledge through experience makes math relevant in the real-world. This is even more true with ax-manship and self-reliance skills.

Remove electricity and the combustion engine from the firewood equation and suddenly the ax becomes relevant. Modern tools, which I own, can get the job done more quickly. But I needed to experience, in context, what it takes to cut a cord with an ax only.

By Doing the Stuff, opportunities and learning took place…

  • Emergent skills were honed
  • Unpredictable situations improved learning
  • Reflected on consequences, mistakes, and successes
  • Improved woodland management
  • I could indeed keep my family warm with an ax

In full disclosure, a bucksaw was used for one back cut on the last tree felled. My buddy, Kevin, came out for about an hour and cut the face notch. A large wild azalea, which I refuse to cut, prevented safe ax work on the back cut. This was the only time a tool other than an ax was used.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, 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: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

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

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