Doing the Stuff

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

by Todd Walker

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

~ John Lubbock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

Students and hip waders go well together.

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

Digging cattails for food, craft, and fire resources.

Studies show promising results for connecting kids to nature.

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

Designed for Doing

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

~ Aristotle

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

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

Here’s a thought…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teach Only When Cornered

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

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

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

There are more questions than answers.

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

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

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

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

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

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

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

Campfires From Scratch: No Boy Scout Juice Required

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

Liar, liar, pants on fire!

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

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

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

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

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

Fire from Scratch

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

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

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

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

Flint and steel

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

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

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

Wood Size Matters

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Aiming sparks into a char tin

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

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

Arrangement

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

Here’s a little good news…

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

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

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

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

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

Boy Scout Juice Substitute

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

Fat Lighter’d Facts

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

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

Know the wood in your woods.

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

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

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

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

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

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

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

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

by Todd Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 1: The Magic and Mystery of Plants

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

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

Sassafras

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

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

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

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

Part 2: The Lore of Survival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

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

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

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

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

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Lost Skills, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , | 12 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

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

Logs to Lumber: Hand-Hewn Timber the Old Way

by Todd Walker

Logs to Lumber: Hand-Hewn Timber the Old Way - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Technology, a modern marvel, keeps our hands clean and our hearts distant from the trees which built and furnish our homes. Very few ever experience turning a log into dimensional lumber with an ax and saw. Those days are long gone except for a few holdouts, myself included. While our production rate is dwarfed by modern milling methods, resurrecting  traditional skills is worth every ounce of effort, sweat, blood, and fears.

In 1969, we left the city and moved to the country. The old house at the front of our family farm rested on massive hand hewn timbers. Crawling between the stone pillars at age 7, I still vividly remember the ax-scarred wood, a signature left by men who carved out a living homestead from trees.

It was just an old dilapidated house. But those timbers told the forgotten story of the old ways.

And, like their story, my journey to preserving lost skills continues… in the old ways.

Hewing Timber by Hand

There are three basic steps in hewing timber: scoring, juggling, and hewing. There’s no complicated gear list required to turn round logs into square timber. Here’s what you’ll need.

Tools

  • Ax(es) – Start with what you’ve got. A dedicated broad ax (hewing ax) is not required.
  • Saw – Something to cut the end of the log flat. A chainsaw is not traditional but certainly advised if you don’t have a good crosscut saw.
  • Log Dogs – Two large metal staples to secure the log in place while hewing. A 2×4 nailed/screwed to the log works as well.
  • Marking Tools – Chalk line and carpenters pencil.
  • Level – To create plumb and level lines for the layout.
  • Measuring Device – Measuring tape or ruler for layout dimensions.
  • Cant Hook – Not essential but helps when moving larger diameter logs.

Tree Selection

Tulip Poplar grows fast, straight, and uniform. However, if you’ve ever split this wood, you’ve probably noticed that the grain tends to run off in a spiral fashion to one side of the log. My experience hewing, which is limited, Tulip Poplar caused me to change directions of swinging a few times to follow the grain orientation in such a way as to cut across the grain. This prevented my ax from following the grain deep in the stock.

I’m now experimenting with pine. Whatever tree is used, green wood hews easier than seasoned. A tree with clear grain and no knots (or not many of these rascals) is desirable.

Dog the Log

The first order of business is securing the round log to prevent movement in the hewing process. You’ll need two shorter logs which the longer log will rest on perpendicular. These supports are called cribbing. Larger cribbing logs will lift the work off the ground to a more comfortable working height. Your back will thank you.

Drive one end of a log dog into the long log with the other end driven into the cribbing log. Repeat this step on the opposite end. This process is called dogging the log.

Logs to Lumber: Hand-Hewn Timber the Old Way - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A dogged tulip poplar at my fixed camp.

My crude log dogs are two pieces of rebar which I forged in my shop. This metal is not the best as it can be brittle and break under stress while forging.

Below is our video of the tulip poplar hewn above.

Lay Out Dimensions

Cut both ends of the log perpendicular with a saw. Now you have a smooth surface to lay out the dimensions of your timber on opposite ends of the log.

Logs to Lumber: Hand-Hewn Timber the Old Way - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A 10 x 10 inch square layout on one end of the log.

Start the lay out at the top end of the log (smallest diameter). Measure and mark the center of the log with your ruler and pencil. This may not be in the pith of the tree. Place your level on the mark and draw a plumb line down the middle of the log. Measure over from that line your desired width and make a mark. If you’re finished timber width is 10 inches, this mark would be 5 inches from the center mark. Repeat this layout on the opposite side of the center mark. Use the level to mark both of these vertical plumb lines.

For a 10 x 10 inch square timber, measure and mark from the center line up 5 inches and down 5 inches. Draw the top and bottom lines level. All four lines should be drawn to the edge of the log.

Repeat this lay out on the butt end of the log.

Snap Chalk Lines

Strip or flatten the bark off the log where your chalk line will be snapped. I use my felling ax for this step. Cut a notch or slice on the pencil line at the top edge of the log. Secure your line on the end of the log and run the line through the notch, down the length of the log, and through the other corresponding line notch at the opposite end. Secure the line and snap the chalk line.

Logs to Lumber: Hand-Hewn Timber the Old Way - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Be sure to snap the line vertically to preserve the plane laid out on the end of the log.

Snap the line by lifting and releasing the string vertically. This will create a plumb line down the length of the log. This is the plane you will follow for a squared off timber. Note: If you lift the line out away from the log, your plane will not match your layout on the end of the log.

Scoring

The pine I’m hewing now is the largest diameter (18 inches) I’ve worked. This size is large enough to stand on to score. I’ve only done two types of scoring: slash and juggling (or joggling).

Slash scoring is done by making a series of overlapping ax cuts down the length of the log. These slash cuts are angled (30-40 degrees) into the log and about 3 inches apart down the side of the log. A sharp felling ax with a 36 inch handle is what I use. The longer handle makes reaching the bottom side of the plumb line “easier.” There’s really nothing easy about hand-hewing timber.

Logs to Lumber: Hand-Hewn Timber the Old Way - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

V-notches cut to the line create jogs which are removed in the juggling process. The notches don’t have to be super clean.

The other scoring method I’ve used is juggling. Also called joggling due the joggles protruding between the V-notches down the side of the log. If the log is large enough to safely stand on, step up on the top of the log and cut notches to the line about a foot apart the entire length of the log. Make your notches about twice as wide as the depth needed to reach the line. Standing on top the log gives me a better read on making my notch vertical down the entire plane of the log.

Logs to Lumber: Hand-Hewn Timber the Old Way - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A view from above a V-notch. The blue chalkline is faintly visible to the left.

Slash scoring, in my experience, is best when there is not a lot of wood to be removed to reach the line. With more than a couple of inches to be removed, juggling works better for me.

Juggling

You’re now ready to remove the joggles or the slashes, depending on the scoring method used. For simplicity sake, I’ll describe the method for removing joggles. Either way, this step holds the most potential for injury. The reason being, if your juggling on the ground, is that your making powerful vertical ax strokes which are not backed up in your frontal zone.

There are ways to reduce the risk of an ax in the foot. The safest way is to swing from on top of the log to remove the jogs… that’s if the you’re able to stand on top of the log. Be sure to keep your feet behind the chalkline and the swings below your feet.

Logs to Lumber: Hand-Hewn Timber the Old Way - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Jogs removed with a felling by standing on top of the log. I tend to cut too close to line. About a half-inch of wood should be left for the hewing process.

You can remove jogs while standing on the ground. With the log to your left, place your right foot forward and about two feet to the right of the log. Your left foot should be well behind your body with the left leg braced on the log.

I’ve also removed joggles by standing on the opposite of the log. This is very safe but requires that you turn the log at an angle so you can reach the joggles with your ax. This also means the log must be repositioned to plumb before hewing. On smaller diameter logs, straddling the log is an option.

I like using my felling ax to remove joggles. I’ve seen some use a broad ax to do the job. And then again, Tim at Oxbow Farm (link to his YouTube channel) has demonstrated hewing beams using his felling ax only. Do what works for you.

When the joggles are removed, there should be about a half-inch of wood proud of the chalk line. This remaining wood will be removed in the next step.

Hewing

Hewing to the line transforms a round log into square timber. The hewing swing is not a full ax stroke. It’s mostly performed through forearm movement. Hewing is best performed with a circular slicing motion on each swing regardless of the style of ax used.

Logs to Lumber: Hand-Hewn Timber the Old Way - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Reverse this stance if you have a right-hand hewing ax.

Note: The pictures shows me using my broad ax which is hung left-handed. I’ve yet to re-handle it for right-hand hewing. However, when hewing with my felling ax, I hew right-handed, which is described below.

Stand with the log to the left of your body for right handers. Place your right foot forward and away from the log with your left foot back. Brace your left leg against the log for stability. Grip the ax handle right hand forward and left to the rear. The forward hand should be close (6-8 inches) to the ax head.

The traditional broad ax handle in America was short, in the 20 inch range. Handles were steam-bent into S-shapes or dog leg patterns to help the hewer’s knuckles clear the log edge on swings. My handle is straight and causes me to bark my knuckles from time to time.

Start from the top of the log and work towards the butt end. Begin with gentle strokes on the line to separate the remaining wood. Continue to raise and lower the ax in a controlled manner as you follow this kerf to the bottom of the log.

Logs to Lumber: Hand-Hewn Timber the Old Way - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Very thin shavings can be produced using a broad ax.

Each swing should end in a slicing motion. Some of the chips removed will be as thin as potato chips. When your forearms need a break, and believe me, they’ll be screaming, standup and sight down the log edge to check for plumb. I usually notice that my bottom edges have un-hewn wood proud of the plumb line.

The process described above is repeated on the remaining three sides of the log. To hew the opposite side of the log, remove one log dog and reattach it on the hewn side of the log. Removing both dogs at once may shift the log out of plumb. With two sides are hewn flat, the timber will lay steady on the cribbing. If the cribbing is level, the remaining two sides can be hewn plumb. Adjust as needed.

Logs to Lumber: Hand-Hewn Timber the Old Way - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The hewn surface isn’t as smooth as I’d like on the first pass with the broad ax. It needs a another pass to help smooth out the side.

My journey in the traditional skill of hand-hewn timber has just begun. I’m rewarded with useable timber, rough to experienced hewer’s standards, and a deeper connection to simple technology and the old ways.

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: Doing the Stuff, Homesteading, Lost Skills, Preparedness, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

My Top 5 Woods Loafing Lessons

by Todd Walker

My Top 5 Woods Loafing Lessons ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Photo credit: Bill Reese, Instinct Survivalist

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

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

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

“Yup. You know I did.”

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

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

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

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

Woods Loafing

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

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

#1) Be Wild

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

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

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

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

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

Reconstructing old cabins with tulip poplar at Foxfire Museum

#2: Be Still

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

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

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

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

#3: Be Curious

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

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

My Top 5 Woods Loafing Lessons ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

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

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

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

#4: Be Resourceful

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

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

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

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

Not all resources in nature are physical and easily seen.

#5: Be Healed

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

My Top 5 Woods Loafing Lessons ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Raven Cliff Falls

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

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

Go. Get out there!

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

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

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

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

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

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

The Urgency of Doing: Knowing is NOT Enough

by Todd Walker

Bewildered, you approach two doors. One reads Self-Reliance. The other reads Books About Self-Reliance. Which will you open?

500 years after the life of Leonardo da Vinci, his words resonate in my soul.

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

In one of his thousands of notebook entries, da Vinci wrote, “I know I am not a man of letters, experience is my one true mistress, and I will cite her in all cases. Only through experimentation can we truly know anything.”

In 1452, born a bastard son, Leonardo’s future was bleak. No formal education was offered to illegitimate children in his day. Apprenticeships to professional guilds was out of the question. He had no choice but to bootstrap his way out of a situation which he had no control over. In spite of all the obstacles, da Vinci reached genius status as a painter, engineer, botanist, scientist, anatomist, sculptor, and inventor.

How did he become the ultimate Renaissance Man?

He traded theory for action.

Designed for Doing

For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them. ~ Aristotle

There are two classes of knowledge: Experiential and Theoretical. Near the end of my undergraduate studies, I was introduced to Experiential Learning Theory. It’s worth another look when comparing book learning to hands-on self-reliance.

Book Knowledge (Conventional Training)

I’m not anti-book. I have books stacked, shelved, and archived all over the house. However, it is one thing to read about self-reliance and another to apply what you’ve read for self-reliant living. Skills only become yours by doing.

Conventional training (here’s a book, go read it – or lectures) is based on knowledge transfer which arrogantly assumes what the individual needs to learn and how the student learns best. The focus is on the needs of the educational system, i.e. – passing high-stakes tests, school rankings, etc. – and not the individual’s interest or learning style. This is the “sage on the stage” model where information is taught externally but rarely applied internally.

I saw a funny but applicable cartoon the other day about wilderness survival which went something like this…

A guy wearing his bug-out-bag is approached by a woman.

Girl: What’s inside?

Guy: Survival books.

Girl: What if you have to survive longer than 72 hours?

Guy: Right. I need a bigger bag of books!

Again, books aren’t bad – correction, some are actually bad. Book knowledge is entertaining but not very useful until it’s applied through hands-on experimentation in context to the real-world. Conventional training is about memorizing facts. Experiential learning consists of applied knowledge acquired from doing. The urgency of doing is real.

Designed for Doing- Conventional vs Experiential - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Experiential Learning

The cornerstone of learning for me is my experience. Your experience will be different from mine. Where we go astray is trying to mimic what another “successful” person has achieved. By doing what they do, dressing like them, copying their “keys to success”, to the point of hero-worship, we lose our unique self and temperament. Being a fan of someone is one thing. Becoming their mini-me will only limit what you could have become. You and I must live our own story.

Other people’s ideas, even my own ideas, will never be as authoritative as my experience.

Experiential Self-Reliance

One of my goals is to get people to think about what they think they think.

~ Scott Jones, Postcards to the Past

Here’s a few thoughts I thought I thought along my journey.

A.) Planning

Quit it. This may come as a shock to OCD minds, but by the time you’ve got every detail planned out on how to do stuff (which I’m guilty of), you’ve just wasted a lot of valuable time. You really don’t need a 31 step plan like the experts say.

Procrastination often cross-dresses in plan’s clothes. It’s tricky like that. Just start and make adjustments as you move forward. Taking action has a way of bringing a plan together. The perfect plan does not exist. Stop wasting time on the sofa.

We tell ourselves, “I’m going to start learning a new skill. I’m just going to start tomorrow.”

B) Failing

Do it fast. You can’t plan for all the mistakes. Since I know I’m going to fail, I want to fail fast. The quicker I flop, the faster I can make adjustments and shorten my learning curve.

C.) Beginning

At the onset of my recent Cordwood Challenge, I had legitimate fear. Failure and bodily injury were on the top of the list. Looking at that measly pile of wood I chopped the first day, self-doubt doubled down.

Here’s the thing about beginning. It has power to overcome fear and doubt. When we start, providence moves us a step closer to what we were created to do. This may seem overly dramatic, spiritual, or too philosophical coming from a wood chopper. Maybe so, but many doors were opened for me personally and professionally since that first ax swing.

The benefits of bold beginnings are often invisible. Most people give up before reaping their rewards.

D.) Doing the Work

Self-reliance is a byproduct of the Work. Reading about it is not the Work. It’s physical, dirty, sweaty, smelly, and satisfying. It comes dressed in overalls with a hoe in its hand.

I’ve had the privilege of learning skills from very talented people. How did they reach such high skill level? To put it simply, they isolated themselves with their Work. True artisans spend thousands of hours alone hammering, chopping, baking, writing, carving, experimenting, failing, reflecting, and acting again on an idea.

Whatever Work you were born to do, start doing it.

A side note to our regular readers: I haven’t published an article for over a month. I don’t offer apologies. This has been a much-needed break which has given me time to think about what I think I think.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

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

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

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

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

 

Categories: 180 Mind Set Training, Doing the Stuff, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , | 14 Comments

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

by Todd Walker

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

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

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

Off-Grid Firewood ~ Stay Warm with an Ax

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

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

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

Risk Management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Off-Grid Strategy

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

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

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

Red Oak logs hauled back to camp

Splitting Strategy: Wedges and Maul

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

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

Pine halved for hauling

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

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

Other DiY Tools: Chopping Platform

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

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

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

Make Every Stroke Count

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

Technique

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

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

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

Aim and Accuracy

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

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

Trading Theory for Action

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

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

By Doing the Stuff, opportunities and learning took place…

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

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

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance

Todd

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

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

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

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

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

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