Bushcraft

How to Mitigate the 6 Deadly Sins of Ax-Work

by Todd Walker

How to Mitigate the 5 Deadly Sins of Ax-Work - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Photo credit: Casey Deming, GeorgiaBushcraft.com

On the heels of my ax-work classes at the Georgia Bushcraft Spring Gathering, I wanted to cover some of the risks of swinging a tree clever. It’s our job to mitigate some of the risk. Even then, accidents happen.

At the Gathering, my buddy, Karl, shared a recent ax injure he incurred when his ax glanced from the wood he was splitting. He graciously, or not so gracious if you have a weak stomach, allowed me to share his injure here for educational purposes.

********* WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTOS OF BLOOD AND A OPENED FOOT **********

The ax glanced and struck Karl on the top of his left foot severing one bone completely and halfway through the second bone.

The two bones circled took the brunt of the blow.

A nasty ax gash.

Shoes, even leather boots, aren’t much of a deterrent to a sharp ax.

Stitched and cleaned up.

The photos above make it crystal clear how dangerous a moving ax can be. However, not all injuries to wood choppers come from the business end of the ax meeting flesh, or from negligence. Trees don’t always cooperate. They’re known to drop dead limbs on unsuspecting victims below. Trees and axes are not to blame. They do what they do without malice or remorse.

Taking an ax to the woods with the intent of chopping is serious business. 99% of my ax work is done alone in the woods. Even though I try to employ best-practices, the risk of becoming a victim is always in the forefront of my mind. I’m no expert and my ax-related advice should not be trusted but verified through experience.

5 Deadly Sins of Ax-Work

Vernon Law is credited with saying, “Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward.”

We can never eliminate all the dangers of swinging an ax. We can only lessen the gravity of missing the mark through commonsense risk management. The good news is… true repentance will change your actions, and, hopefully, save you from the pain of these painful mistakes.

1.) Arrogance

“Only the penitent man shall pass.” ~ Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

The toughest woodsman is no match for tonnes of wood crashing to the forest floor. Even a wrist-size limb falling from 50 feet above can crush a shoulder or skull. While toughness is a fine virtue, be humble. The moment an axman approaches his work with superiority and a been-there-done-that attitude is the moment he gets blindsided.

There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Confident ax skills inspire. Arrogance will get you hurt or killed. This holds true more so for seasoned axmen than beginners, and, in my experience, men over women.

2.) Entanglements and Hang Ups

Any obstruction in the ax swing arc must be cleared before work begins. Check overhead for nearby limbs and vines which may snag and deflect an ax in mid swing. I’m obsessive about removing the smallest twig when standing on top of logs to buck. I figure if I’m swinging inside my frontal zone (described below) inches from my feet, I can’t afford a stroke to veer.

How to Mitigate the 5 Deadly Sins of Ax-Work - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A screen shot from a recent video of an overhead limb which snagged my ax.

Fell enough trees and you’ll have one hang up mid-fall. My first strategy, if the tree butt didn’t release from the hinge, is to try to free it from the stump. Some times the impact on the ground will jar the hang up loose. If not, I’ve had some success moving the butt of the tree backward using a long lever pole. Place the lever under the butt end and lift repeatedly to slide the tree butt backwards until it releases.

A safer and less strenuous way is to use a come-along attached to an anchor behind the tree stump. Without a modern come-along, a powerful winch can be made from two logs and a rope/cable. Ratchet the tree butt until it releases. You may be tempted to cut the offending tree which caused the hang up. This is a high-risk endeavor. Be sure to have all your medical/life insurance up to date. You and/or your surviving family will likely need it.

One hazard I hope to never encounter again was the yellow jacket sting between my eyes on my downward stroke in the video below. You’re only defense is to run like you stole something!

3.) No Exit Strategy

When felling trees with an ax or saw, preparing two or three escape routes is wise. When the tree begins its decent, get out of Dodge on a pre-determined path. The safest exit is at 30 degree angles from the back notch of the tree. Put your back against the tree and extend your arms like you’re about to give your mama a hug. Your arms are pointing to your best escape paths. Next safest is in a line opposite of the direction of fall. If this path is chosen, or the only option, put great distance between you and the stump to prevent a kickback from nailing your body to the ground.

Escaping perpendicular to the line of fall increases the risk of being struck by falling limbs from adjacent trees. I’ve witnessed trees “jump” and roll several feet to the side of the stump hinge by contacting adjacent tree limbs during the fall. Another overlooked danger is a dead spot halfway up the tree which breaks and falls back toward the woodsman as the bottom half falls in the direction of its lay. Be vigilant, drop your ax, and sprint for your life.

How to Mitigate the 5 Deadly Sins of Ax-Work - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Fortunately this log snapped halfway up and fell sideways from where I was standing.

4.) Violating the Frontal Zone

There are two basic ax swings: lateral and vertical. Certain guidelines should be followed for each swing. Take a look at the diagram below to better understand your frontal zone.

Adapted from The Ax Book

In The Ax Book, which I recommend you devour until the pages are dog-eared, Dudley Cook describes the frontal zone as two parallel lines running along side the outside edges of your feet when chopping. All lateral swings should be outside the parallel lines, always. The inertia of an ax in full, extended-arm swing only stops when acted upon by an external force. The ax head has a stopping point, and that point could be your body if you disregard the frontal zone guidelines.

There are two relatively “safe” strokes one can make within the frontal zone: a.) backed up, and b.) bucking. The backed up stroke is what beginning choppers are most familiar – splitting wood on a chopping block. The solid chopping block offers a backstop for the moving ax. Of course, as in Karl’s case above, there remains inherit dangers. Watch our video below to gain some safety tips for splitting firewood, the most common ax-work of campers and homesteaders.

Bucking is simply separating a log into lengths. The diameter of the log to be bucked determines my technique. Larger diameter logs (12+ inch range) allow me to stand on top to cut two V notches. Swings are always below my feet. If I miss my intended target below my feet, my body is out of harms way.

I stand on the ground to buck smaller diameter logs. The log itself is my back up. Accuracy is essential at the top of the bucked notch when your feet are on the ground. Even though the log is between you and your legs, miss the top of the notch and you now have a non-backed up swing in the frontal zone… and a very bad ending.

Another video of ours demonstrates the importance of accuracy on the top of notch cuts when bucking on the ground…

A third stroke in the frontal zone, which I’ll mention, but do not recommend, is the most dangerous and best performed with a saw. Situations arise where a high limb needs to be removed. My risk management strategy is to choke up on my ax handle with one hand and strike the limb at a 45 degree angle without completely severing the limb. A few lighter followup blows usually separates the limb. My forward hand gives me more breaking power as the ax follows through.

5.) Washed in the Blood

“All bleeding eventually stops. The challenge is stopping blood loss before the supply runs out.”

~ Mark DeJong, Off Grid Medic

Injuries related to axes and trees can be deadly. A first aid kit should be in close proximity to your work area. One item which you should consider carrying on your person is a tourniquet. If a catastrophic ax wound occurs where sever bleeding will result in death, this is your only option to see your family again. Practice applying this device on your own body before you actually need it.

A personalized first aid kit will treat the most common injuries such as scrapes, bumps, blisters, and bruises. I carry large sterile bandages, gauze rolls, and Band-Aids. My tourniquet fits in my cargo pocket of my kilt or pants. A few other items I include in my ziplock first aid bag are:

  • Acetaminophen for pain
  • Wound dressing
  • Tweezers and needle – mostly for tick removal, ugh
  • Aspirin, proven to assist in heart attack treatment
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) for stinging/biting insects – plantain isn’t always available in the woods and I don’t react well to stings
  • This ziplock first aid kit rides in my haversack along with other kit items for core temperature control and comfort – more info on these items can be found here

6.) Losing Your Head

A sharp hunk of steel flying freely through space is a scary sight… if you happen to spot it. It’s like shooting an arrow straight overhead and wondering where it will stick. Ax heads give an ample warning to observant axmen. A slight gap appears where the ax eye was seated on the handle. Continuing work with this slight slippage is full of hazards. Stop, re-seat the head, and pound a metal step wedge into the top of the handle. My working axes aren’t pretty, but they are tightly fit cutting tools.

How to Mitigate the 6 Deadly Sins of Ax-Work - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Step wedges added in the field on my favorite double bit. Looks gnarly but hold this working ax head on securely.

Don’t lose your head! Take great care to keep your ax sharp and securely attached to the handle.

If you’re even slightly tempted by any of these deadly sins, put your ax down before you meet your Maker.

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, Doing the Stuff, Lost Skills, Preparedness, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Campfire Cookery: How to Cook Tasty Meals Over an Open Fire

by Todd Walker

Campfire Cookery - How to Cook Tasty Meals Over an Open Fire ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Prepping a cook fire depends on what type of cookin’ you’ll be doing and the fuel available. In my area of Georgia, we have an abundance of hardwood to choose from. I’ll describe my experience with wood we burn. Not every area is as fortunate. That doesn’t mean you can’t cook up goodness over a campfire. Use the resources available in your woods.

The problem with campfires is they don’t have a knob to dial the heat up or down like a kitchen stove. Learning to managing your cook fire for what you’re cooking is key. If all you’re having is ramen noodles and hot cocoa, a hot burning twig fire will get the job done. Cast iron cooking needs a whole new arrangement of hot coals. Baking biscuits in a reflector oven requires radiant heat from flames.

This is not a comprehensive guide to open-fire cookery. I’ll give you basic guidelines that have worked for me when baking and cooking at fixed camp. If you cook in your kitchen, you can cook over a campfire.

Cooking at a permanent or semi-permanent fixed camp is different than when sauntering from one camp location to the next. This article won’t apply to the ultralight hiker cooking freeze-dried meals with a cup of boiling water. Weight is not as big of an issue if you’re canoe or car camping. So load the equipment you need to whip up stick-to-your-ribs food and take to the woods and streams.

Wood Processing Tools

Charcoal briquette don’t grow on trees. You’ll have to collect wood and make your own coals. An ax and saw are tools you’ll find useful. We have two pages on our blog if you need to hone your ax skills: Ax Cordwood Challenge and The Ax-Manship Series. Our YouTube channel also has instructional videos in a few playlists you may find helpful: The Axe Cordwood Challenge and Ax-Manship.

You need dry/seasoned wood for your cook fire. Look for standing dead trees since you don’t want to wait six to nine months to season your wood. Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) is a good choice for dry kindling in my area. Red cedar works as well. Both burn fast and hot but won’t produce the hot bed of coals you’ll need for grilling. Add hardwoods like oak, hickory, and beech for long burning coals. Can’t always be choosy so use what you have available.

Campfire Cookware

Improvising in the woods is often what happens to get food cooked. No need to if you bring the cookware needed for meals. Keep in mind that we’ve got a way to tote this stuff; car, canoe, mule, etc., etc.

My load of cooking stuff is in a constant state of evolution. But I think I’ve settled on a system. Tim Smith of Jack Mountain Bushcraft introduced me to stainless steel milk pails a few years ago in his book, The Woods Cook. As a Master Maine Guide, Tim has been feeding folks professionally over an open fire since 1999.

Below are a few items I use to cook at fixed camp and our outdoor classroom at RISE Academy…

  • Cast Iron skillet
  • Steel Fry Pan: Lighter than cast but doesn’t cook as evenly
  • Stainless Steel Pails: 2 quart with six-inch rim (6 inch pie tin for lids), and a 9 quart with a nine-inch rim (9 inch pie tin for lid)
  • Pot/Lid Lifter makes it easy to handle pails and lids when hot
  • Cast Iron Dutch Oven: 10.5 inch with a flanged lid and three legs
  • Improvised Reflector Oven: Stainless steel drywall mud pan is large enough to bake a few muffins/biscuits/cookies at a time
  • Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil: Great for hobo meals
Campfire Cookery - How to Cook Tasty Meals Over an Open Fire ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Top row left to right: 9 quart SS pail with pie pan lid, 2-two quart pails with pie pan lids, coffee tin. 2nd Row: cold handle steel skillet, square cast iron skillet, dry wall mud pan. Bottom: 10.5 inch dutch oven in a box with lid lifter.

Most folks I know take only one pot to save pack space when camping on foot. Having two or more pots is a game changer around the campfire. The beauty of these milk pails is that they nest together decreasing the footprint when compared to the several cylindrical cook pots. This is a space-saving advantage if you’re traveling on foot or any other means of transportation. The pie pan lids also double as plates when you’re ready to eat.

Campfire Cookery - How to Cook Tasty Meals Over an Open Fire ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Both 2 quart pails nest inside each other and fit in the 9 quart pail with room for other items if necessary.

Campfire Cookery - How to Cook Tasty Meals Over an Open Fire ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The end result of nesting.

Managing Cooking Fires

You’d best process or collect enough kindling-size wood to keep your heat steady. Once lit, keep adding kindling sticks to maintain a robust fire that eats through the top of your fire lay. Take advantage of these hot flames by hanging a pot of water from a cooking tripod for coffee, tea, or cocoa. A second pot can be added to disinfect drinking water.

Campfire Cookery - How to Cook Tasty Meals Over an Open Fire ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Cowboy coffee on.

Once your fuel has burned long enough to produce a nice bed of coals, drag or scoop a pile of hot coals from main fire. When grilling meat at fixed camp, I’ll use two green wrist-size sticks (if I can’t find my metal pipe) to support a grill grate over the coals. Adjust the height of your grate up or down for temperature control. No grate available? Lay the steak directly on the hot coals. Sounds unsanitary but I end up eating a little ash in most of my camp meals anyway.

Campfire Cookery - How to Cook Tasty Meals Over an Open Fire ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

I keep a grill grate at fixed camp for times such as these. Bacon wrapped filets!

For a camp dutch oven with three legs on the bottom, sprinkle coals on top of the flanged lid and around the perimeter at the bottom of the oven. With experience, you’ll learn to adjust the amount of coals to control the temperature of whatever you’re cooking. You can’t count wild coals like store-bought briquettes.

Campfire Cookery - How to Cook Tasty Meals Over an Open Fire ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

At a recent Georgia Bushcraft work weekend, Jeff and Melonie cooked two delicious dutch oven cobblers and shared with the cold, hungry crew!

To bake small servings of baked goods, I found that a stainless steel drywall mud pan does the trick. Place the reflector oven on the ground level with your fire. The drywall pan isn’t really large enough for a baking rack. You need radiant heat from flames for baking. Stoke the fire with your driest kindling sticks so that the flames cover the opening of your reflector oven throughout the baking process.

Campfire Cookery - How to Cook Tasty Meals Over an Open Fire ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

DRG and I baking cookies on our date night in the woods.

To gauge the heat entering your reflector oven, place you palm just in front of the oven and count to 5 quickly. If you reach 5 before nerves in the back of your hand tell your brain to jerk out of the heat, you’re at a good baking temperature (around 350 F). Any lower in the 5-count and the temperature in your oven is above baking temperature.

I fill cupcake liners with cornbread mix and place them directly on the bottom of the pan. Rotate the muffin tins as needed to brown and cook evenly. This diy oven has no handles so be careful when lifting it from the fire’s edge. Thick leather gloves or a pot/lid lifter, described above, are recommended.

Hanging Pots

At my fixed camp, I prefer a bipod system instead of a tripod for hanging pots over the fire. Two sturdy poles are lashed together with a long pole (waugan stick) laid in the top of the crotch. The other end of the waugan is lashed (loosely) to a tree opposite my fire pit. Minor height adjustments can be made to the waugan by spreading or closing the bipod. You can also swing the entire system off the fire safely by lifting and moving the bipod while the opposite end of the waugan pivots around the tree.

Of course, if you don’t have a tree near your fire pit, a tripod system may be your best option. Add a crossbar to the tripod to suspend more pots.

If you favor traditional woodcraft style, here’s our article on carving several useful pot hooks. I use carved pot hooks and modern chain to hang pots from my pot suspension system. Carving your own pot hooks boosts your knife skills considerably. Use whatever suits you.

Plate and Enjoy

The entire experience of cooking over an open fire, collecting firewood, starting your fire, managing the flames, and timing the meal is a celebration of sorts. Everything doesn’t always go as planned, but that happens in the kitchen, too. I’ve had some major flops in camp cooking. In the end though, and you’ve probably heard it said, food tastes better flavored with woodsmoke from campfires.

Campfire Cookery - How to Cook Tasty Meals Over an Open Fire ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Hobo packet of potatoes and onions with filets.

Serve your food up on warm plates. I lay my 9 inch pie tins on coals or propped up near flickering flames just before the last recipe is done. Nothing disappoints like what used to be hot cheese eggs on a cold plate. My daddy always said, “It just ain’t right! Ya gotta eat ’em hot.”

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, Real Food, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments

How to Make Reverse Twist Two-Ply Natural Cordage

by Todd Walker

How to Make Reverse Twist Two-Ply Natural Cordage ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

 

Arguably, the most underrated and overlooked primitive technology is rope and string. That is until you run out of modern cordage. A whole new appreciation for stuff that binds will quickly become apparent.

Ropes and knots predate the ax, the wheel, and possibly the controlled use of fire by our ancestors. Think of stone tools. These had to be tied to the end of sticks. Shelters stood with joints bound by fibrous lashing material. Animal sinew, catgut, and hide were used as well. But, as my friend, Mark Warren, says, it’s easier to get your hands on plants since they don’t run away from you.

Fibers that Bind

In my area of Georgia, tree bark, roots, leaves, stems, and stalks can be used for bindings. For our cordage class at school, we used Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) and cattail (Typha) for fiber materialCattail from our second-hand beaver pond, and tulip poplar from my stash I collected over the years.

You’re not limited to a few choices in nature. Below are 18 cordage fibers made and displayed by Scott Jones at one of his workshops I attended. If you’re into primitive skills and technology, I highly recommend you pick up his books, Postcards to the Past, and A View to the Past. Both are essential for any primitive practitioner on your Christmas list!

When Primitive Skills and Prepping Have Sex | www.TheSurvivalSherpa.com

18 indigenous cordage fibers Scott Jones has on display for demonstrations

Besides the 18 listed below on the display, we also used okra stalk, that’s right, the garden variety, to make cordage in his class.

From L to R:

  1. Red Cedar
  2. Bald Cypress
  3. Atlantic White Cedar
  4. Red Mulberry
  5. Black Locust
  6. Yellow (Tulip) Poplar
  7. Winged Elm
  8. Paw Paw
  9. Basswood
  10. False Nettle
  11. Blue Star
  12. Milkweed
  13. Dogbane
  14. Evening Primrose
  15. Spanish Moss
  16. Button Snakeroot
  17. Yucca
  18. Cattail

Different materials require different methods of extracting fibers. For our purposes, and to keep this article manageable, we’ll stick with the two materials we used in class – tulip poplar and cattail.

Preparing Fibers

As mentioned earlier, I collect tulip polar bark every chance I get. This tree has many uses – (see here and here). It’s best to harvest in late spring and summer as the bark will “slip” off the trunk with ease. The inner bark is what you’re after. I like to use inner bark from fallen limbs or dead standing saplings. Simply soak the dried bark, a process called, retting, in water for a few days to a few week. At my fixed camp, I toss large sections of bark into the creek and weigh them down with rocks. The soaking helps break down the stuff that holds the outer and inner bark together. After the bark is retted, the inner bark should peel in long, useful strips.

Hang the strips to dry. Pre-dried fibers are less prone to shrinkage even after wetting them during the cordage making process. Separate the strips into finer fiber bundles (hair-like fibers) for stronger cordage. Or you can start twisting wider strips for expedient cordage.

We have a nice stand of cattails next to our outdoor classroom. At this point in the season, the leaves are dead and brown. For green leaves, cut and dry until they turn brown. You’ll notice these leaves twist better when damp. Even a morning dew enhances their flexibility.

Cattail leaves can be striped into smaller widths for stronger cordage but wasn’t worth the effort for our class. For expediency, we used whole leaves. Here’s how…

Reverse Twist Two-Ply Method

For our beginner cordage-makers, we used whole cattail leaves and wide strips (1/2 inch) of tulip poplar inner bark. Larger material allows the student to see how the twisting works and is easier to handle than fine fiber bundles.

Also, keep the fiber material damp during the whole process.

Start in the middle of a strip of fiber material about arm’s length long. Pinch the ply with the index finger and thumb of both hands with 2-3 inches between your pinch points. Begin to twist the ply away from your body with your right hand in a clockwise rotation and left hand counterclockwise. This will cause the ply to twist until it naturally bends into a kink/loop.

How to Make Reverse Twist Two-Ply Natural Cordage ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

How to Make Reverse Twist Two-Ply Natural Cordage ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Forming the loop.

Pinch the loop with your left hand (index finger and thumb). You now have two plies extending in a “Y” formation. Pinch the strand furthest from your body with your right hand close to your left hand (about 1/4 to 1/2 inches). Twist your right hand away from your body in a quarter turn or 90 degree rotation.

How to Make Reverse Twist Two-Ply Natural Cordage ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Starting the outside ply twist.

How to Make Reverse Twist Two-Ply Natural Cordage ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A full 90 degree rotation of the outside ply.

While holding the twisted ply between your thumb and index finger, reach your middle finger on your right hand around to grab the strand closest to your body. Grip this ply with your middle finger against your index finger. Now twist back a quarter turn to the original starting position. This motion brings the outside ply over the inside ply. The two plies have now switched places. Release the ply you were pinching and repeat the process on the “new” outside ply.

How to Make Reverse Twist Two-Ply Natural Cordage ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Rotating back 90 degrees with the opposite ply pinched with the middle finger.

Once you get the mechanics down you’ll be able to hand-twist tightly woven cordage like a champ. One student picked this motion up quickly and made a few feet of cattail cordage in less than 30 minutes.

How to Make Reverse Twist Two-Ply Natural Cordage ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

RISE student twisting cattail cordage. He began teaching other students the technique.

Splicing Technique

If both plies are even when you begin twisting, you’ll end up backtracking (unwinding twists) to make a splice. With experience you’ll find that starting the kink/loop with one ply longer than the other will take care of this problem.

When you get to the end of your rope (about an inch left on the outside ply with a longer inside ply), and need to make longer cordage, a splice is needed. Take another length of fiber material of similar diameter and lay it in the “Y” with an inch of material overlapping. Pinch the overlapping new fiber on the existing two-ply cord you’ve already made. With the new ply running parallel with the short outside ply, pinch these together with your right hand and continue the two-ply twisting technique described above. This splicing technique will continue until you twist a length of cord long enough for your needs.

How to Make Reverse Twist Two-Ply Natural Cordage ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

New fibers added in the crook of the “Y” to be spliced.

How to Make Reverse Twist Two-Ply Natural Cordage ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Trim the overlapping spliced end when your cordage is complete.

Note: For any left-handed folks, reverse the instructions.

Trim the overhanging spliced material on the finished cord. Now you can terminate the end of your cord with a couple of half hitches.

Start using your new cordage for primitive binding projects like a Hoko knife.

How to Make Reverse Twist Two-Ply Natural Cordage ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Tying it all together with natural cordage.

Below is a video we did during class on making cordage for those interested…

The reverse twist method is useful when smaller lengths of tightly woven cordage are needed. We’ll do a future post on a method called the “Thigh-Roll”. This technique is a speedy way to make large quantities of natural two-ply cordage… and easier on your hand muscles.

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, Doing the Stuff, Lost Skills, Primal Skills, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

Hoko Knife: How to Make a Simple Stone Cutting Tool

by Todd Walker

The blood of our ancestors flows in our own veins. Our aboriginal legacy is written in the very make-up of our bodies. The ancient caves and campfires of our pasts call to us from within. Primitive Technology is our inheritance as well. It is a world heritage which knows no race, creed, or color. It is foreign to no one. It is the shared thread which links us to our prehistory and binds us together as human beings.

Steve Watts ~ “Primitive Technology, A Book of Earth Skills”

Hoko Knife: How to Make a Simple Stone Cutting Tool ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

It seems with every generation, the disconnect between the earth and her resources widens. But deep inside us all, our primal roots desire to reconnect with the raw resources that have sustained our species for millennia. Touching our Stone Age past offers this tangible connection.

A simple way to introduce primitive technology to students is by making a Hoko knife. This stone cutting tool was discovered on the Hoko River archeological site in Washington State. A landslide destroyed the native fishing village about 2,700 years ago preserving artifacts of their material culture.

Steps to Making a Hoko Knife

Materials needed:

  • Sharp stone flake
  • Wooden handle
  • Cordage

A.) Stone Flakes

You don’t have to possess mad flintknapping skills to construct this simple cutting tool. The original Hoko knife was made of a thumbnail size flake hafted with spruce root to a cedar handle. Archeologist believe this delicate tool was used to butcher fish for eating and longterm preserving.

Hoko Knife: How to Make a Simple Stone Cutting Tool ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Discarded flakes from Justin Cook.

Our stone flakes were gifted to our class by a good friend and master flintknapper, Justin Cook of Wayback Wilderness. He had a pile of flakes left over from his flintknapping class at our Georgia Bushcraft Fall Campout and offered them to me. I gladly accepted.

You can also make your own flakes. Find a stone which breaks like glass. As you know, broken glass creates sharp edges. My friend and primitive skills mentor, Scott Jones, introduced me to bipolar flaking. Use a hammerstone and stone anvil to strike smaller stones which fracture into sharp, straight, useable flakes. Flat, long flakes work best for this application.

B.) Wood Selection

Next to our outdoor classroom, a willow (Salix) tree grows in our secondhand beaver pond. I cut a finger-size branch for handle material. I also had a section of box elder (Acer negundo) left over from friction fire kits. We used both for our project since they’re split easily and evenly. Experiment with woods in your locale to find what works for you.

Hoko Knife: How to Make a Simple Stone Cutting Tool ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Willow on top, Box Elder on bottom.

C.) Cordage

Since we haven’t taught natural cordage yet, students used manmade cordage to haft the flakes in place. A partial spool of tarred bank line is what we had left over from our bamboo shelter construction project. Natural cordage options in our woods include inner bark of several trees, dogbane, yucca, cattail, and many more. Artificial sinew, real sinew, or leather would also serve as good bindings.

D.) Assembly

Split one end of your handle with either a stone flake or metal knife. If the split starts to run off to one side, bend the thicker half more than the thinner half to even up the sides. The split should be long enough to accept the flake with room for binding the split end.

Hoko Knife: How to Make a Simple Stone Cutting Tool ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

With the flake inserted in the split stick, lash the split ends together. With modern line, we used a jam knot to start the lashing (clove hitch also works). After 4 or 5 tight wraps, we tied two half hitches (down-n-dirty clove hitch) to secure the line. This provides enough friction to hold the flake securely. The problem point with this method is the chance that the handle will continue to split on the un-lashed side. To help prevent this, give the backside of the flake one wrap to reach the other side of the handle. Terminate the lashing just above the flake with two half hitches.

Hoko Knife: How to Make a Simple Stone Cutting Tool ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Wrapping both sides of the stone flake.

Hoko Knife: How to Make a Simple Stone Cutting Tool ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Hoko Knife: How to Make a Simple Stone Cutting Tool ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A finished Hoko knife bound with jute twine.

Without fish to butcher, we used our new stone tools to scrape bark off handles. I need to bring a mess of fish to class soon for some experimental archeology. One student asked, “Would this thing cut the head off a fish?” We shall find out.

Hoko Knife: How to Make a Simple Stone Cutting Tool ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Two students tag teaming the lashing job.

Hoko Knife: How to Make a Simple Stone Cutting Tool ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Using his Hoko knife to scrape bark.

Hoko Knife: How to Make a Simple Stone Cutting Tool ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Proud students of primitive technology.

Additional Hoko Resources:

  1. Hoko Knife, by Dick Baugh, Primitive Ways
  2. The Hoko River Complex, Native American Netroots 

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, Doing the Stuff, Lost Skills, Primal Skills, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

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: , , , | 1 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: , , , | 7 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: , , , | 5 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: , , , , , | 15 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

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