Camping

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: , , , , , | 11 Comments

The Beginner’s Guide to a Well-Hung Hammock

by Todd Walker

A Beginner's Guide to a Well-Hung Hammock ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Several years ago I decided to give hammock camping a shot. It was miserable!

I’d been better off laying in a zipped body bag. That first morning felt as if my shoulders had been clamped in a vise while wrapped in a cheap tortilla shell. Claustrophobic, sore, and sleepless was not my idea of happy camping.

Here’s the thing. I’m stubborn and didn’t give up on hammock camping. With a few adjustments on my hanging technique, my hammock raised my sleeping to new levels.

Here’s how to avoid the misery of my horrible hammock hang…

A Well-Hung Hammock

“One of the hallmarks of the veteran woodsman is the way he contrives to make himself comfortable in camp”. ~ Warren H. Miller

A Beginner's Guide to a Well-Hung Hammock ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A typical backyard hammock with spreader bars is not what you take camping.

Camp hammocks are gathered at each end unlike the rope hammocks with spreader bars in the backyard. Ever been dumped out of one of these hammocks? It happens easily because they have a high center of gravity. I stretched my first camp hammock horizontal as tight a banjo string. I thought this would help me lay flat. That’s the biggest mistake I made.

Set the Sag

This is how I make my ENO DoubleNest hammock smile. Smile = Sag.

Wrap your suspension straps (mine are ENO Atlas straps) around two live tree as your anchor points. My straps are a little over head-high depending on the distance between my trees. Now clip the carabiners to the strap loops. Remember to leave a little sag.

In our video below, I replaced Atlas straps with mule tape for my suspension straps. Use whatever works for you.

I have a fixed ridge line (550 paracord) which runs between the two carabiners at both ends of the hammock. Expert hammock campers recommend a non-stretchy cord. I use 550 paracord because that’s what I have a lot of. My set up allows me to adjust the ridge line length, and, thus, make it sag just right.

Here’s how…

A Beginner's Guide to a Well-Hung Hammock ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A bowline knot through one carabiner.

One end of my ridge line is permanently attached to a carabiner. The other end loops through the opposite connector and is tightened with a Trucker’s Hitch knot. I can easily tighten or loosen the line to make my hammock smile just right.

After hanging your hammock, step back to see if it smiles back at you. The middle should be low with both ends high.

Dig the Diagonal 

Why do I like sag better than tight? The sag allows me to lay diagonally so I don’t become a shrink wrapped banana. Sag has revolutionized my sleep!

A Beginner's Guide to a Well-Hung Hammock ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Sag allows for a diagonal lay for comfort. No shoulder squeeze!

A smiling hammock is easy to enter and exit. Stand next to your hammock. Spread the fabric with both hands, sit back, and lift your feet over. Now you can easily adjust your body to a diagonal position without fighting taut sides. You’ll know the sweet spot when your body lays flat. To exit your comfortable bedding, hold both side of the hammock and swing your feet over the side to stand up. I sometimes grab the ridge line for assistance.

A Beginner's Guide to a Well-Hung Hammock ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Makes a great camp lounge chair, too!

Knots to Know

I already mentioned the Trucker’s Hitch I use on my fixed ridge line. There are three simple knots I use for my setting up my rain fly (tarp). We’ll cover all three below:

  • Bowline
  • Trucker’s Hitch
  • Prusik Loop

It’s difficult to describe knots in writing. Grab some practice rope and watch this quick video demonstration of these three knots.

Here’s a tip for quickly setting your ridge line for your rain fly/tarp. Wrap the Bowline end around your anchor tree. Instead of threading 25 feet of cordage through the Bowline to cinch it tight to the tree, use a toggle (Our first video above shows an even quicker way to secure a non-weight bearing ridge line). Slip a bite of cordage through the bowline to form a loop. Place a finger-size stick (toggle) through the loop and pull tight against the tree. This ridge line only has to support a lightweight tarp – not your body weight.

Wrap the opposite line end around your other anchor point at the same hight. Secure it with a Trucker’s Hitch.

Place your rain fly/tarp over the ridge line. I have a Prusik Loop which stays connected to my tarp ridge line near the Bowline end. Slip the Prusik Loop through a tie out or grommet hole on the Bowline side of the ridge line. Insert a toggle.

Move down the ridge line keeping the tarp taut to keep the toggle in place. Repeat the same procedure in the above paragraph – but use the loop of the Trucker’s Hitch just like the Prusik Loop. Toggle this loop and pull the tag end of the Trucker’s Hitch to tighten the tarp. Adjust the tarp, right or left, by moving the Prusik Loop and loosening/tightening the Trucker’s Hitch loop.

Stake out the four corners of the tarp. My tarp/fly has tie out line already attached for this purpose. I use a Trucker’s Hitch to secure and tighten the lines around the ground stakes. This creates an A-frame around your hammock.

Another tip worth knowing for warm weather hanging. To take advantage of a breeze, I use a 5-6 foot stick to lift the corners of my tarp. Make a single wrap around the stick at the 4 or 5 foot mark. Take the remaining line and secure it to the ground stake as described above. If you’re lucky, you may have saplings or trees at the right spot making the sticks and stakes unnecessary. This method lifts the corners of your tarp allowing welcome airflow in warm weather.

Cool Weather Hanging

The beauty of hammocks in warmer weather is they allow convective cooling from breezes. I like sleeping cool to cold. However, when temps drop below 60 degrees F, I add a layer of insulation to the bottom of my hammock. Under quilts are available but expensive. I spread a cheap closed cell foam mat inside my hammock and lay out my sleeping bag on top of the mat. This system works for me when temps are in the high teens in Georgia.

Where to Hang

Give careful attention to the 4 W’s when selecting a campsite.

  1. Widow Makers: No dead limbs or trees overhead. Never hang your hammock from a dead tree(s).
  2. Wind: Hang to take advantage of the prevailing wind direction for cooling or warmth.
  3. Water: Close to rivers or creeks but not too close (flash floods). If possible, avoid stagnate, standing water (bugs).
  4. Wood: If open fires are allowed, look for a campsite with standing dead trees close by but not within reach of your hammock.

Hanging from a dead tree is inviting disaster. Not only from falling limbs, but the entire tree could topple over on you.

Additional Resources: 

  • My friend, Glenn (Outside the Box channel), inspired me to continue to tweak my hang with his video below…

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: Camping, Doing the Stuff, Self-reliance | Tags: , | 3 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

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

3 Essential EDC Fire Starters I Carry Everywhere

by Todd Walker

3 Essential EDC Fire Starters I Carry Everywhere ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

What’s in your pockets? If you look at the popular trend of pocket dumps on social media, the answer appears to be everything, except the kitchen sink. I seldom see fire tools in these pocket dumps. Of course, our Everyday Carry items will look different depending on our jobs, lifestyle, and skill level.

Several of us from the Prepared Bloggers are sharing different EDC (Everyday Carry) items we never leave home without. Being the pyro that I am, I choose fire. Be sure to read the other value-adding articles by my friends in the links below this article.

The concept of carrying essential items on one’s person is smart habit. If ever separated from your main preparedness kit, the stuff in your pockets, plus your skillset to use said items, may be the only tools available.

The tool doesn’t determine your success. Your skills determine the tool’s success.

The quote above applies to preppers, survivalists, campers, carpenters, homesteaders, accountants, school teachers, and, well, all of us.

Pockets of Fire

If you frisked me, no matter the locale (urban or wilderness), you’d discover a minimum of three ignition sources in my pockets…

  • Mini Bic lighter (open flame)
  • Ferrocerium rod (spark ignition)
  • Fresnel lens (solar)
3 Essential EDC Fire Starters I Carry Everywhere ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

L to R: Key chain Exotac fireRod, mini Bic lighter, wallet fresnel lens, and two wallet tinders: duct tape and waxed jute twine.

Let’s break these down and discuss the advantages, disadvantages, and a few tips to successfully use each fire tool. Keep in mind that these are simply ignition sources and do not guarantee a sustainable fire. For more info on the importance of fire, you may find this article useful.

Bic Lighter – Open Flame

Since a road flare isn’t practical for EDC, I carry a mini Bic. The resemblance of road flares to dynamite puts people on edge, especially law enforcement officers. I do have them in my vehicle kits though.

The times you really need fire is usually when fire is hardest come by. I’ll take an open flame over sparks, solar, and especially fire by friction every day of the week and twice on Sundays! As mentioned previously, you must put in deliberate practice to hone your fire craft skills by actually Doing the Stuff or these fire tools just look cool in pocket dumps on Instagram.

To learn more on building sustainable fires, browse our Fire Craft Page.

Cold hands loose dexterity and make normally simple tasks, striking a lighter, difficult. Modify your EDC lighter by removing the child-proof device wrapped over the striker wheel. Pry it up from the chimney housing. Once free, pull the metal band from the lighter. Two metal wings will point up after removal. Bend the wings down flat to protect your thumb when striking the lighter.

What if your lighter gets wet?

On a recent wilderness survival course, I taught our boy scout troop how to bring a wet lighter back to life. Each threw their non-child-proofed lighter into the creek. After retrieval, they were instructed to blow excess moisture out of the chimney and striker wheel. Next, they ran the striker wheel down their pant leg several passes to further dry the flint and striker. Within a few minutes, lighters were sparking and each scout had a functioning fire tool again.

The lighters I carry in my bushcraft haversack and hiking backpack are more tricked out than my plain ole’ EDC Bic. Here’s a few ideas I’ve picked up for adding redundant lighters which may be of interest…

3 Essential EDC Fire Starters I Carry Everywhere ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

This full-size Bic is wrapped in duct tape holding a loop of cord which attaches inside my haversack. The green cap (spring clamp handle end) idea came from Alan Halcon. It keeps moisture out and prevents the fuel lever from being accidentally depressed.

3 Essential EDC Fire Starters I Carry Everywhere ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The cap removed reveals the child-proof device missing.

Advantages

  • A mini Bic will give you approximately 1,450 open flames.
  • A wet Bic can be back in service within a minute or so.
  • So easy to light a five-year-old can use one.
  • Designed to be used with only one hand.

Disadvantages

  • It’s difficult to monitor the fuel level unless the housing is clear.
  • They are consumable… eventually.
  • Extreme cold limits a Bic. Keep it warm inside a shirt pocket under your overcoat.
  • A mythical disadvantage is that lighters won’t work in high altitudes. If Sherpas use them on Mt. Everest, this lowland sherpa is sold.

Ferrocerium Rod (Firesteel)

In the bushcraft/survivalist/prepper community, ferro rods have the hyped reputation of being a fail-safe fire maker. The device is simple and won’t malfunction, they say. Scrap the metal off the rod, and, poof, you have a fire, even in the rain. Sounds good but don’t buy the marketing hype!

“Much of the social history of the Western world, over the past three decades, has been a history of replacing what worked with what sounded good.”
~ Thomas Sowell

In my experience teaching both children and adults, using a ferro rod for the first time ends in failure more times than not. Yet everyone is told to add one to their emergency fire kits. I carry a small one on my key chain because I enjoy practicing fire craft skills. They’re a novel way of making fire but, like any skill, require practice to become proficient.

3 Essential EDC Fire Starters I Carry Everywhere ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The fireROD by Exotac  has a watertight compartment which will hold a full cotton makeup pad for tinder.

Of these three ferro rod techniques – push, pull, and thumb lever – the latter is my favorite on softer firesteels. It offers more accurate placement of sparks. The drawback is that the thumb lever requires more fine motor skills and coordination which go bye-bye in an adrenaline spiked emergency scenario. That’s why I carry a Bic!

If you’ve never tried the thumb lever technique, here’s a short video demonstration which may help…

One of the many reasons I practice fire by friction is the fact that it teaches the importance of preparing proper tinder material. Marginal tinder takes more heat to combust. Even with 3,000 degree ferro rod sparks, you may fail to ignite damp, finely shredded tinder. The amount of heat needed for ignition depends on the amount of surface area compared to its volume. Think in terms of small hair-like fibers. When you think you’ve got fine tinder, shred it some more.

Even without a “proper” striker or knife, any object hard enough to scrap metal off makes a good substitute.

A ferro rod/metal match is not my first choice in fire starters. It’s a fun bushcraft tool to use though.

Advantages

  • Scraped with a sharp rock, broken glass, or any object sharp enough to remove metal particles, 1,500º F to 3,000º F sparks spontaneously combust as they meet air.
  • Sparks even in wet conditions.
  • The average outdoors person will never use up a ferro rod.
  • Can ignite many tinder sources.
  • For more info on ferro rods, click here. My EDC rod is way smaller than the one in the link.

Disadvantages

  • They are consumable… eventually.
  • They’re difficult to use if you’ve never practiced with this tool.
  • Intermediate skill level needed.

Fresnel Lens

A quality fresnel lens is useful for starting fires, examining plants and insects, splinter and tick removal, and reading navigational maps. I carry a 4 power lens in my wallet. It takes up about as much space as a credit card. I ordered a 3-pack from Amazon for under $7.

Sunshine is loaded with electromagnetic energy in the form of photons. A fresnel lens simply harnesses the energy to a focused point creating enough heat to start a fire.

A few tips I’ve learned may help here. Not all tinder material will combust. You’ll get smoke and char but may never have an actual flame. In the short video below, within a second you’ll see smoke on crushed pine straw. Once a large area was smoldering, I had to blow the embers into a flame.

Increase your odds of solar ignition by keeping the lens perpendicular to the sun’s rays and the tinder. Move the lens closer or further away until the smallest dot of light strikes the target. Brace your hand to steady the spot of heat. Smoke should appear almost immediately. Afternoon sun is stronger than morning sun. Keep this in mind when practicing this method.

3 Essential EDC Fire Starters I Carry Everywhere ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Keep the lens perpendicular to the sun’s rays to concentrate the most radiant energy on your tinder.

Just for fun, I discovered that cocoa powder, which I carry in my bushcraft kit, makes a useable coal with solar ignition. Have fun playing and experimenting with fire!

Advantages

  • Beginner skill level. Ever drive ants crazy with one as a kid?
  • Can ignite different tinder materials
  • Lightweight
  • Saves other ignition sources on sunny days.
  • Never wears out. Always protect your lens from scratches and breakage.

Disadvantages

  • Dependent on sunshine.
  • May only create an ember which can be coaxed into flame.

EDC Fire Tinder

Duct tape and waxed jute twine ride alongside my fresnel lens in my wallet. You’ll also find a full-size cotton makeup pad stuffed inside the cap of my ferro rod. Wrapping a few feet of tape around an old gift card gives you an emergency tinder source for open flame ignition. Setting fire to a foot long strip of loosely balled duct tape will help ignite your kindling. There are so many multi-functional uses of duct tape, fire being one of them, that you should always carry at least a few feet in your wallet.

The waxed jute twine can be unravelled to create surface area for spark ignition. Unraveled, it can also be used as a long-burning candle wick. Either way, it’s nice to have another waterproof tinder in your pocket/wallet. Here’s a link if you’re interested in making your own waxed jute twine.

If all you have for ignition is a ferro rod, duct tape will ignite, but again, don’t count on it if you haven’t practiced this method. See our video below…

It never hurts to have multiple fire starting methods on your person. Drop us a comment on other EDC fire starters that I haven’t mentioned.

Be sure to scroll down and check out the other articles by my friends at the Prepared Bloggers.

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.

 

The Prepared Bloggers present - Everyday Carry Bag. What will you find in ours?

The Prepared Bloggers are at it again!

Everyday carry, or EDC for short, refers to items that are carried on a regular basis to help you deal with the normal everyday needs of modern western society and possible emergency situations.

Some of the most common EDC items are knives, flashlights, multitools, wallets, smartphones, notebooks, and pens. Because people are different, the type and quantity of items will vary widely. If you have far to travel for work or have young children, your EDC could be huge!

But, even if you’re just setting out for a walk around the neighborhood, taking your essential items with you in a pair of cargo pants with large pockets, may be all you need to be prepared.

Follow the links to see what a few of the Prepared Bloggers always carry in their EDC.

Shelle at PreparednessMama always carries cash, find out why and how much she recommends.

John at 1776 Patriot USA tell us the 5 reasons he thinks his pistol is the essential item to have.

LeAnn at Homestead Dreamer won’t be caught without her handy water filter.

Justin at Sheep Dog Man has suggestions for the best flashlights to carry every day.

Bernie at Apartment Prepper always carries two knives with her, find out what she recommends.

Nettie at Preppers Survive has a cool way to carry duct tape that you can duplicate.

Todd at Ed That Matters tells us about the one item you’ll always go back for…your cell phone

Erica at Living Life in Rural Iowa knows how important her whistle can be when you want to be safe.

Todd at Survival Sherpa always carries 3 essential fire starters wherever he goes.

Angela at Food Storage and Survival loves her Mini MultiTool, it’s gotten her out of a few scrapes!

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, DIY Preparedness, Doing the Stuff, Gear, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

2 Ax Techniques for Fast Firewood Splitting

by Todd Walker

2 Ax Techniques for Fast Firewood Splitting ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The permanent scars on my parent’s car port floor are a reminder of that grand idea Craig and I came up with while splitting firewood in 1977. The winter wind felt like we were tied to a whipping post.

“Let’s get out of the wind.”

“How ’bout the car port? The wood’s gotta be stacked in there anyway.”

Not our best idea ever, but we set up shop on the two-year old concrete floor. Driving the metal wedge with 8-pound sledge hammers, a few, quite a few actually, shot like bullets through the wooden rounds followed by a distinctive twang of metal meeting concrete.

“Ya think he’ll notice?”

“Nah. It’s just a few dimples. And we’ll stack wood on top anyway.” Upon further inspection, they were chunks, not dimples.

Had we known of these two splitting techniques, we could have saved Daddy’s new floor… and a lot trouble when he got home from work.

The Twist Technique

The normal way to turn big rounds of wood into little stuff is to use a splitting maul or hammer and steel wedge. These tools are heavier than an ax and doesn’t mind eating grit, even an occasional rock under ground. But they’re heavy fellows and not convenient to tote to base camp. A proper ax is easier to carry and does a noble job of separating wood rounds.

There are many frustrating ways to split wood. Typically, one balances a round atop a chopping block, takes aim, swings, and one becomes two pieces. And neither piece stays on the platform for further splitting. The cycle of bending over, balancing a half-round atop the chopping block, and splitting again is about as fun as a pulling teeth. Even using an old tire to hold the stick together while splitting requires lifting and placing the wood inside the tire.

If you want to speed up the splitting process, put a twist on your swing.

Stance, Swing, and Safety

Trees, like people, are different yet have similarities. No matter the wood species, when possible to determine, split rounds from top to bottom. That is, position the wood vertically as it grew in the forest, top end up, bottom (butt) down.

Longer axes are safer than short-handled ones. When splitting, even on a chopping block (backed-up vertical stroke), with a boys ax (24 to 28 inch length), if you miss the target and chopping block all together, your follow through will likely turn your foot into a clove hoof. A 36 inch or longer handled ax extends the swing arc and would stop in the ground on miss hits.

With that in mind, and the fact that we’re not using a chopping block, we’re actually splitting what would traditionally be used as a chopping block – a big, round chunk resting on the ground. A slight twist or flick of the handle at the moment the ax meets the wood will prevent the ax from traveling through the length of wood.

To start, target the outside edge of the round. For my swing, I aim about 3 inches in on the outside edge of the chunk. My right hand grips the bottom of the handle and flicks or twists to the right on impact. You’ll be moving around the chuck steadily removing wood so make sure your area is clear of all tripping hazards and swing obstructions.

Clear, straight-grained wood like the Red Oak in the video makes for fine splitting… until you hit a knot. At that point, the twist technique is not effective. Other tree species can be difficult to split even with a splitting maul. Sweet Gum, for instance, reveals a mangled, interlocking grain which frustrates the most seasoned wood splitter. The best strategy to get through knots with an ax is to strike dead center on the knot. Or, just designate the piece a long-burner.

The Tiger Technique

Steven Edholm, who issued his crazy Axe Cordwood Challenge, along with my fellow participants have tried to come up with a name for this splitting method. Nothing official has stuck. What I’m calling this golf-like-swing is the Tiger. You may have figured out by now I’m referring to Tiger Woods, professional golfer.

Whatever you choose to call it, the Tiger is my favorite and fastest method for turning a pile of large rounds into small, burnable chunks. Before the Safety Sally brigade shuts me down for even suggesting you use what appears to be a dangerous ax swing, allow me to explain the method behind what seems to be pure madness.

Safety Concerns 

I covered the basics of swinging an ax inside and outside your frontal zone in a previous article. There are inherit dangers anytime you swing 3 and a half pounds of scary-sharp steel. I get it. No matter how many times I grip my ax, my mind pictures a few online ax injuries, which can’t be unseen, as I soberly begin swinging. Even then I must follow, without exception, the protocol of safe ax use.

A few concerns always pop up from Safety Sally folks who have never attempted the Tiger. It just looks awfully dangerous. Here’s the gist of their advice/concern…

  • A glancing blow and the ax hits your leg. Don’t split that way.
  • The log should be propped up against another back rest.
  • Looks like an accident waiting to happen – especially with a double bit ax.
  • That’s a hazardous way of splitting wood. I’ve chopped and split wood growing up. Never chopped that way.

What’s interesting is that other seasoned axmen comment on the effectiveness of this method. This is a lateral swing and is preformed outside the frontal zone. The important part is to keep your feet ahead of the point of ax impact. Clear-grained wood separates with alarming speed… and will fly many feet in the wood lot.

When clearing and area for ax work, I use this same swing to remove small saplings close to the ground. As the ax arc begins its upward motion, the bit separates the sapling cleanly. Again, follow the Frontal Zone rules for safe swinging.

Just like any other ax technique, Doing the Stuff is the key to improvement. You can’t watch the video or read about it to become proficient. Study proper technique and go split some wood.

Here’s a few photos of my firewood stack at base camp. The Axe Cordwood Challenge is coming along nicely and teaching me some valuable lessons on the journey.

2 Ax Techniques for Fast Firewood Splitting ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The front stack is all ax cut: felling, bucking, splitting, and cutting to length. The Red Oak in the rear was sawn and doesn’t count in my Cordwood Challenge.

2 Ax Techniques for Fast Firewood Splitting ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Red Oak and Tulip Poplar stacked. You can see the difference between the sawn firewood and ax-cut wood.

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, Functional Fitness, Homesteading, Lost Skills, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

How to Make Perfect Hobo Coffee without Modern Gadgetry

by Todd Walker

How to Make Perfect Hobo Coffee without Modern Gadgetry ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Of all the pleasures of camping, sipping a freshly brewed cup of joe around the morning fire is, as the old TV commercial hummed along, the best part of waking up. Sorry, now the jingle is stuck in your head. Many campers employ a variety of gadgetry and complicated contraptions in pursuit of the perfect cup of coffee.

Wanna simplify the whole process? Of course you do.

The process is so simple you’ll kick yourself for purchasing, and packing, that expensive French press!

Harlton’s Hobo Coffee Maker

I dubbed this simple, yet amazing, bush coffee maker the “Harlton Hobo Coffee Maker” after watching a Karamat Wilderness video loaded with Kelly Harlton’s bushcraft ingenuity. I highly recommend this channel for simple solutions and philosophy of crafting in the bush!

Here’s what you’ll need to make one on your next adventure…

Materials

  • Cotton Bandana – Kelly uses a pre-cut triangular piece of parachute material
  • 3 finger-size, arm-length sticks
  • String long enough to tie around the sticks bundled together

This may be the shortest tutorial in the history of this blog. It’s so simple not much explaining is required.

Step 1: Build a Tripod 

Bundle the three sticks together. Tie your string around the sticks with a quick knot to hold them together. Fold them out to form a tripod. The height of the tripod needs to be high enough to allow your coffee cup to sit under the bandana.

If you’d like to make a more permanent tripod for base camp cooking or your backyard, check out our video below. This is a bit overkill for the Harlton Hobo Coffee Maker though. Just tie the sticks together.

Step 2: Attach Bandana

I keep a few multifunctional bandanas in my haversack. If you have a large bandana, you can fold it diagonal to form a triangle. If not, just tie two corners on two legs of the tripod with the remaining two corners secured to the third leg with a simple over hand knot.

Check to make sure your coffee cup will sit under the bandana funnel. Adjust as needed.

Step 3: Add Coffee Grounds in the Funnel

Not real complicated here. Depending on how you like your coffee, between motor oil or brown tea, add enough grounds to satisfy. I make my first cup strong. A couple of scoops filtered trough into my 16 ounce kuksa is about right for my taste. The next cup filtered through the grounds will be weaker.

Step 4: Add Hot Water

How to Make Perfect Hobo Coffee without Modern Gadgetry ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

An old bush pot I keep at base camp

Boil up some water up in a pot over the fire or stove. Once she’s boiling, place your cup underneath the bandana filter and slowly pour hot water over the grounds. Gauge the amount you pour for one perfect cup of steaming hot goodness. Have your buddy’s cup ready to slide under to catch the next cup if you happen to over pour the first cup. Don’t waste a drop.

How to Make Perfect Hobo Coffee without Modern Gadgetry ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The first cup dripping into my cup

All that’s left to do is sit back and enjoy. I’ve found my first cup is easier to swallow than my buddy’s embellished fishing tales.

Clean up is a breeze. Untie your filter and shake out the spent grounds. Be careful not to whip the filter in the air or you’ll cover yourself with used coffee grounds. Rinse out and hang the bandana to dry while you cook up a hearty breakfast fit for a woodsman. If you’ve got to get moving, tie the filter on the outside of your pack to dry while tramping to your next campsite.

The beauty of Kelly’s simple bush coffee maker is its weight, and the fact that you craft it on the spot. No modern gadgetry required to make the perfect cup of camp coffee.

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: , , , | 11 Comments

Ax Chopping Platform: Speed Up Firewood Cutting Safely

by Todd Walker

ax-chopping-platform-speed-up-firewood-cutting-safely-thesurvivalsherpa-com

On a modern homestead wood lot, one cranks a chain saw, cuts logs to the length, and splits the rounds to season. The motorized saw makes quick work of large and small wood. But in an operational base camp, lugging a chainsaw, bar oil and fuel, on a regular basis is not practical. A good ax weighs less but can get the job done. However, there are challenges to cutting firewood (not splitting) to length with an ax.

Here’s a simple solution which not only saves your ax bit from grit and rocks in the ground, but allows you to use a powerful vertical chopping stroke safely – described in our last ax work article. To cut a winter supply of firewood with an ax only, take the time to build this speedy chopping platform.

The Ax Chopping Platform

Adapted from The Ax Book (D. Cook)

Here’s what you’ll need to build your own…

  • 2 Base Logs – six to seven-foot hardwood logs about 10-12 inches diameter
  • Stop Stick – 5 inches diameter by one foot
  • Sturdy, heavy gauge wire
  • Ax, of course
  • Saw – chainsaw will speed up your project
  • Pliers for twisting and cutting wire
  • Hardware – 4 nails, 3 feet of cable or chain
  • 5 pound weight

Step 1: Cut Base Logs

For axmen, chop down a hardwood tree with your felling ax. Buck it twice to get two 7 foot lengths. Or crank your chainsaw for the task. Either way works.

The Authentic Lumber Sexual Guide to Ax Work ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The opposite, or back cut separates the log

I chose a half-broken Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua). City folk hate them in their yards due to their pesky, prickly fruit, a scourge on bare feet and medieval projectiles when mowed. Trash trees in the view of many. But very resilient.

Now for the fun part… getting them back to camp. My good friend, Cokey, pork-butt-smoker extraordinaire, speaking in full southern drawl, always has this to say about any hard work,

“It’s like haulin’ logs. Ya gotta really wanna do it.”

Ax Chopping Platform: Speed Up Firewood Cutting Safely ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

This size log would normally be split lengthwise, then quartered to haul back to camp.

And I did. I flopped and rolled my two sticks, dodging trees and obstacles, back to camp. My peavy was a fine companion to have along the journey.

Step 2: Secure Base Logs

For the sake of clarity, the end of the platform where the chopping happens we’ll call the “Head“. The opposite end of the platform will be, you guessed it, the “Tail.

Position the two logs side-by-side so the fat end of one mates up with the skinny end of the other. This will form the trough to hold the long wood you plan to chop into smaller wood. It’s a good idea to lay two length of cedar, or other rot resistant wood, perpendicular at the ends of the logs to keep them off the ground. This also makes the wiring job you’re about to do much easier, i.e. – passing wire under two real heavy logs.

Your choice in wire matters. In my video, the electric fence wire couldn’t stand the pressure. I cut lengths of rusty, but still strong enough, barbed wire from a fallen hog wire fence line near base camp. Be resourceful.

Wrap the wire around the Head of the platform and twist tight with pliers. You could also use a stout stick as a windlass. Beat the exposed barbs down if you use wire in the barbed variety.

Mr. Cook illustrates three wooden dowels driven through the two logs horizontally. If you’re building this project at your homestead, that may be feasible. Or, just drill and run all-thread rods through and secure with nuts and bolts. In the woods, I used the simple method, wire.

Step 3: Secure the Stop Stick

Butt the stop stick against the newly installed wire crossing the trough. Twist it down until taut. Too much twisting and you’ll sheer the wire and have to start over. Fencing pliers come in handy but other pliers work. Another option would be to use a Spanish windlass to tighten the wires. Ted, a member of our Doing the Stuff Network, pointed me to the Cobb & Co Hitch method.

Ax Chopping Platform: Speed Up Firewood Cutting Safely ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Stop Stick secured with front kickback guard installed

Step 4: Attach Front Kickback Guard

If you’ve ever had a wooden missile fly at your face while chopping through a horizontal stick, you’ll appreciate the importance of this step. A whole lot of pain accompanies a stick in the eye. To prevent this stick-to-the-face event, install a piece of domed wire 6 to 8 inches past the stop stick.

I cut a section of that old hog wire long enough to arch over the platform creating a two-square wide hood of sorts. It hugs the top of the stop stick with about 6 inches overhanging the platform logs. I used two 16d nails and washers to secure the four ends to the sides of the platform logs. This gives me enough room to chop firewood lengths while safeguarding my noggin from flying firewood.

Step 5: Install Rear Kickback Guard

As experienced wood lot choppers know, as the stick you’re chopping to size shortens, especially the final two short lengths, the butt end is free to fly, and often does. Another kickback guard will hold the last length in the trough. However, this rear guard can’t be secured permanently over the trough or the stock your chopping won’t rest flat between the platform logs.

Ax Chopping Platform: Speed Up Firewood Cutting Safely ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A wired rock works for an improvised backcountry weight

Screw or nail a section of chain or wire to the chopping side of the platform with a weight attached to the end of the chain. This will allow you to toss the restrain over the stock in the trough as it shortens.

The distance between the front and rear kickback guards depends on the length of firewood you need. For instance, at base camp, 18 to 20 inches is about right. Mark the trough at your desired length. From that mark, attach the rear guard about the same distance as the front guard towards the Tail end of the platform.

On a homestead, any metal 5 pound weight can be located to hold the rear guard in place. In the forest, not so much. I stole a jagged-edged rock from my fire pit, wrapped it with wire, and attached it to the end of my chain restraint. When engaged (flopped over the logs), the weight rests about midway down the opposite side of the platform.

Step 6: Wire and Notch the Tail

To wire the Tail, cut a 90 degree notch in the end of both logs. The depth of the vertical cut should be slightly past the depth of the trough. Now cut horizontally to meet the vertical cut and remove the notch and create a ledge. Wrap wire around the log ledge and twist taut. If you run the wire tight in the corner, you’ll have a small, horizontal “table top” to sit your hot cocoa while sitting on the platform around the campfire. Flat horizontal surfaces are a luxury at base camp.

Ax Chopping Platform: Speed Up Firewood Cutting Safely ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A view of the wired Tail end of the platform

Step 7: Get to Chopping

Green wood is easier to chop than seasoned. Both are easier to separate when chopped at a 45 degree angle to the grain. Feed your stock into the trough up to the stop stick. Position yourself at a 45 degree angle where you can make a full vertical, backed-up stroke in the trough on your marked chopping spot. The stock is easily separated with a single, well placed stroke. On thicker stock that doesn’t, rotate the stick in the trough and chop it once more. That ought to do it.

Remember to “engage” the rear guard as the butt end of the stock shortens and gets itchy to jump off the platform.

The Axe Cordwood Challenge

In our Ax Chopping Platform video, I mentioned Steven Edholm’s “Axe Cordwood Challenge” on his YouTube channel, Skill Cult. Some may be wondering, why in the world would a person chop a cord of firewood, a stack measuring 4’x4’x8′, with an ax only?! They’re still manufacturing chainsaws, ya know! They do indeed. I own a couple of these modern marvels.

But, the ax, a simple machine, unlike the chainsaw, requires minimal field maintenance. Granted, the chainsaw cuts firewood to length quicker than an ax. To accommodate modern cutting, you’ll need to haul the gas-oil-mix can, bar/chain oil, an extra bar and chain for saws stuck in a log, and other field maintenance tools. You’ll probably carry an ax alongside the motor saw as a backup anyway. But with modern means of travel, four-wheelers and trucks, that’s not a huge deal.

Here’s the thing, for me at least…

In my mind, more significant is the fact that ax-manship is an old-soul skill which few moderns wish to re-kindle, never seeing the possibility of a future dependent on axes to stay warm. It is neither convenient nor easy. However, ax work is my most personally rewarding, satisfying, and warming undertaking I’ve done over the years.

You find an axman, one who turns a tree into firewood by felling, limbing, bucking, splitting lenght-wise for hauling, and then, chopping wood to length, and he’ll confirm that the most challenging job of staying warm with his ax is chopping to final burning size. This chopping platform greatly increases the speed, safety, and efficiency of making long logs short.

So, Steven, I’m taking you up on your challenge. Updates will be posted on my progress. If nothing else, I’ll be in great shape from swinging steel and hauling logs.

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, Lost Skills, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , , | 12 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: