Homesteading

5o+ Reasons I’m Thankful for My “Country-as-Cracklin’-Cornbread” Raisin’

by Todd Walker

5o+ Reasons I'm Thankful for My Country as Cracklin' Cornbread_ Raisin' _ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Being raised in the South, these are a few things I’m thankful for today. I’ll bet some of y’all can add to the list.

  • A dust trail behind a truck coming down the long dirt driveway meant you had visitors or someone was lost and in need of directions.
  • The memory of your first green persimmon when you wiser cousin assured you it was an apple.
  • Daddy’s brains and eggs with a side of country ham for breakfast.
  • The day Daddy walked me down the church aisle and stood with me as I was “washed in the blood” and later baptized.
  • Watching Mama skid the black Pontiac to a stop on the dirt road, wait for the dust to pass, and fetching her snake-killing rock from the boot to dispatch a rattler her tires missed.
  • Eating Thanksgiving dinner at Mother Vaughan’s tiny house, where she and Papa Vaughan raised 10 children, followed by pick up football games in her front yard with cousins.
  • Feeling the painful pinch of a crawdad on your finger under a rock in the creek.
  • Camping beneath the Southern stars on Henry and Randy’s trampoline.
  • Watching your line straighten with a speckled trout hooked on the flats of Apalachicola.
  • Riding your pony dressed like John Wayne and shooting your cap gun.
  • Cane pole fishing in a watering hole in the front pasture.
  • Feeling the mud squish between your toes while walking over the freshly plowed bottom field searching for arrowheads after a spring rain.
  • Shooting Daddy’s single-shot 20 gauge at a squirrel directly overhead and getting kicked to the floor of the jon boat in the middle of Little Echeconnee Creek.
  • The smell of Daddy’s Southern cornbread dressing cooking on Thanksgiving Day.
  • Paddling a seasoned fly fisherman all day on the lake just learn his tricks.

5o+ Reasons I'm Thankful for My Country as Cracklin' Cornbread_ Raisin' _ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

  • Watching the lukewarm summer rain dance on the lake and listening to the rhythm on the tin roof of the plywood shack we called The Cabin.
  • Listening to the grown folk tell family stories which we thought were unbelievable.
  • Finding Mama and Aunt Cindy in the hog pen after school, elbow deep in mud, helping a sow in labor.
  • Pulling over on the dirt road a mile from the house to eat a watermelon on the tailgate of Daddy’s pickup.
  • Building a treehouse with scrap lumber and previously bent nails.
  • Eating the first peach of the season straight off the limb.
  • Skipping rocks across the Flint River to determine how many children you’ll have one day ~ thankfully, that didn’t come true.
  • Riding calves in the pasture in the dark.
  • Cow patty fights.
  • Swinging over creeks on wild grape vines.
  • Scalding hogs and scraping hair in late Autumn.
  • Boat (broken sticks) races in ditches during a Summer gully washer.
  • Freaking out when a Cottonmouth wants to join you in the jon boat while frog gigging.
  • Walking the bottom creek to reach the wooden bridge several miles away.
  • Carving our initials on the Beech tree next to the creek feeding the lake.
  • Dirt clod battles.
  • Listening to Merle Haggard on 8-track on a sleepy Saturday morning.
  • Camping on horseback.
  • Shooting a real gun for the first time.
  • Listening to old timers spin yarns and solve the world’s problems at the Grill.
  • Trying to stay vigilant on a 24 hour detail “protecting” our bumper harvest of corn at the big city farmer’s market but falling asleep on burlap sacks anyway.
  • Loading hay bails on the trailer in the heat of a Georgia summer.
  • Old weathered barns.
  • The smell of saddle leather and horses.
  • The prick of a catfish fin in your hand.
  • The tickle of horse’s lips as she eats sweet feed from your hand.
  • Singing “Amazing Grace”, all the verses, in a small town church.
  • Riding our bikes seven miles one way to the Hays General Store across the street from the Dickey’s Peach packing shed.
  • Sitting in the swivel barber’s chair at Mr. Lindsey’s filling station and sipping on my RC Cola with salted peanuts fizzing and floating inside the bottle.
  • Filling your chest waders after stumbling in a beaver pond while duck hunting in February.
  • Living in a small town with no red lights, a general store, post office, one church, a cotton gin, and a peach packing shed.
  • Riding on the back of a pickup truck on dusty dirt roads.
  • Burning household trash in a 55 gallon drum.
  • Pronouncing pecan correctly… Pee-can.
  • When the judge looks out the courthouse window and asks, “Melvin, those your cows coming down the road?” and dismisses Daddy from jury duty to round ’em up.
  • We still called sushi bait.
  • Grits. We have grits and redeye gravy!
  • When someone says, Fixinto or Piddlin‘, we know what they mean. I reckon so.
  • Hauling a load of trash to the dump and shooting bottles Daddy tossed in the air to help my dove shooting skills.
  • Chasing fireflies on summer evenings.

If the good Lord made anything better than being raised in the South, He kept it to Himself.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

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: Doing the Stuff, Homesteading, Self-reliance | Tags: , , | 2 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: , , , | 7 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

How to Hone Ax Skills and Chop Your Way to Functional Fitness

by Todd Walker

how-to-hone-ax-skills-chop-functional-fitness

Crazy eyes! They stare at me when I tell folks I’m cutting a cord of firewood with an ax. No chainsaw, no bucksaw, no maul… just an ax.

Real-world ax skills require massive, deliberate action.

February is history as are 88% (probably more) of the 2017 New Years resolutions. Following the season of overindulgence, these were the top five according to the Google:

  1. Exercise more (38 per cent)
  2. Lose weight (33 per cent)
  3. Eat more healthily (32 per cent)
  4. Take a more active approach to health (15 per cent)
  5. Learn new skill or hobby (15 per cent)

Expensive gym memberships, designer workout clothing, and faddish fitness equipment were purchased by folks really wanting to keep their resolutions. I’m so over the whole gym thing… have been for years. Here’s why…

  • Gym workouts are too predictable and safe
  • And the big one, they’re indoors!

Lifting heavy stuff in the gym is loaded with one-dimensional sameness. Running on a flat, rotating rubber mat has to be the most boring exercise ever invented. Any increase in fitness levels will obviously benefit anyone who enjoys the outdoors. But exercising for the sake of exercising is one reason people lose interest.

Why not combine resolution #1 and #5 (above) and actually get stuff done around the homestead, backyard, or base camp? I’m aware that many reading this will be limited in both skills and resources (trees). For those in the beginner stage of ax work, I would highly recommend spending time learning how to safely swing an ax. This is dangerous work. If you’re not a bit nervous before swinging your ax, you’re probably too cooky and will soon be humbled. The danger aspect is what keeps me focused while swinging sharp steel attached to a long stick. There is, however, nothing as satisfying in this woodsman’s psyche as honing an essential self-reliant skill and staring at a stack of ax-cut firewood seasoning.

The functional fitness aspect of wood chopping is a natural byproduct of ax work. Are you gonna bulk up like bodybuilders admiring their sculpted bodies in the mirror? No. If that’s your goal, stick to the gym. You will see noticeable gains in stamina for real-world, ever-changing daily tasks. Moreover, there’s the practical reward of watching a firewood pile grow which will provide heat to your family.

There are many more qualified axmen to learn from than me. I’ve wielded an ax most of my life but never in such a concentrated manner or time frame as the last six weeks. Hopefully, my experience will benefit some, and, perhaps, encourage others to start using our most basic of woodcutting tools. The ax is back!

Tree to Firewood

Old school professional boxers knew the benefits of swinging an ax. Jack Dempsey, George Foreman, and Mohammad Ali, to name a few, were known to chop wood for peak performance. As mentioned previously, finding available resources to chop may limit your adventure. An alternate workout, one I did several years ago, is to swing a sledge-hammer. But swinging a blunt object won’t increase your firewood supply.

There are far too many concerns and safety issues which need to be addressed to turn a standing tree into split firewood with an ax. I’ve covered a few Ax-Manship topics on our blog over the years. Before launching into serious ax work, I can’t recommend The Ax Book highly enough. Mr. Cook covers these topics more thoroughly.

Felling, limbing, bucking, hauling, splitting, and stacking your own firewood, in the woods, on uneven terrain, is physically demanding. According to Dudley Cook, after cutting a cord of firewood with an ax, “you will cumulatively lift about 24 tons for each cord.” Especially if you haul logs back to camp on your shoulder.

Not everyone will choose to cut their firewood with an ax only. If all you have available for a functional fitness workout is a long log, the following movement is an excellent way to exercise your major muscle groups.

Shoulder Log Lift

I’m in the middle of the Axe Cordwood Challenge at my base camp. There are some interesting obstacles with my scenario. Once a tree is down, my means of conveyance is to haul the logs back to base camp on my shoulder. I have neither machine nor animal to transport the wood. I’m the mule… or jackass in many cases.

Daddy taught me this method for hauling heavy pipe early in my youth in his plumbing/welding business. Balancing a long, heavy object on your shoulder is a skill every woodsman should learn.

I’ve found it easier to lift a longer pole than shorter logs of the same diameter. A six to nine foot log needs less vertical lifting force than a 4 footer of the same diameter. The reason is that a longer log tips over the shoulder (fulcrum) without needing extreme vertical force to get it into position.

Here’s the technique on video…

One would be wise to make a pad to protect your neck and shoulder. My makeshift pad is a cloth possibles bag stuffed with a shemagh I carry in my haversack.

How to Hone Ax Skills and Chop Your Way to Functional Fitness ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

My makeshift shoulder pad. That’s one crooked red oak on the ground in the background.

Also, when limbing the tree, be sure to cut all limbs even with the trunk. Protruding limbs, even slightly raised, will not only poke into your shoulder and neck, but find a way of snagging every vine along your path of transport.

If it’s too heavy to lift one end, don’t attempt a shoulder carry. Split it into manageable rails first. You’ll develop a feel for what you can and can’t shoulder by standing the log vertically.

How to Hone Ax Skills and Chop Your Way to Functional Fitness ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Notice the amount of bend required to position my shoulder at the midpoint of this 6 footer vs. the 9 footer in the next photo.

How to Hone Ax Skills and Chop Your Way to Functional Fitness ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A 9 footer of smaller diameter. Longer logs require less vertical lifting power.

Once the log is vertical and balanced, position your feet near the base with your heels close together. Squat facing the log where your shoulder will meet near the balance point of the pole. Keep your back straight, grip the base of the log, and let the pole lean back over the shoulder as you lift by straightening your legs. A slight backwards rocking motion helps. Lifting with your back bent is inviting serious injury.

Position the log to balance slightly toward the rear, not forward. To adjust the lay of the log on your shoulder, hold with both hands and give a slight bounce with your legs to move the log forward or backward. When set properly, walk with one arm cradled on top of the log as your travel. Use your other hand if needed over rugged terrain. Here’s where nature’s gym throws a real-world workout at you.

Wear sturdy boots, take your time, and watch for tripping hazards. If you stumble, and a tumble is imminent, drop the log from your shoulder and get out of the way in the opposite direction. If possible, hedge your bets by walking inclines with the log on the downhill shoulder.

When you arrive at your destination, reverse the process to unload the log. With the end place on the ground, flop the standing end over. You’ll create a stack of long logs ready for splitting on a chopping platform. For smaller stock, just toss it off your shoulder taking care to avoid a kickback of the falling timber.

How to Hone Ax Skills and Chop Your Way to Functional Fitness ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

An updated photo of my ax-cut firewood stash.

The old adage, “Chop your own firewood and it warms you twice,” is a big fat lie! In my experience, the number is more like 7-10 to turn a standing tree into firewood. If you’re up to it, you’ll develop ax skills along with upping your functional fitness level. For those interested in either, check out the additional resources below…

Additional Resources:

Disclaimer: If you choose to use an ax in any manner to chop your own firewood, recognize the inherit dangers and take responsibility for your own wellbeing and safety. I am not responsible for anyone doing stupid stuff, or any other stuff. Even doing non-stupid stuff holds risks of injury and/or death when wielding an ax.

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, Doing the Stuff, Homesteading, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

2 Ax Techniques for Fast Firewood Splitting

by Todd Walker

2 Ax Techniques for Fast Firewood Splitting ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

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

“Let’s get out of the wind.”

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

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

“Ya think he’ll notice?”

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

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

The Twist Technique

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

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

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

Stance, Swing, and Safety

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

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

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

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

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

The Tiger Technique

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

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

Safety Concerns 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Ax Techniques for Fast Firewood Splitting ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

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

2 Ax Techniques for Fast Firewood Splitting ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

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

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

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

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

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

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

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Functional Fitness, Homesteading, Lost Skills, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Ax Chopping Platform: Speed Up Firewood Cutting Safely

by Todd Walker

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

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

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

The Ax Chopping Platform

Adapted from The Ax Book (D. Cook)

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

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

Step 1: Cut Base Logs

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

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

The opposite, or back cut separates the log

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 2: Secure Base Logs

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

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

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

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

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

Step 3: Secure the Stop Stick

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

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

Stop Stick secured with front kickback guard installed

Step 4: Attach Front Kickback Guard

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

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

Step 5: Install Rear Kickback Guard

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

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

A wired rock works for an improvised backcountry weight

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

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

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

Step 6: Wire and Notch the Tail

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

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

A view of the wired Tail end of the platform

Step 7: Get to Chopping

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

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

The Axe Cordwood Challenge

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

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

Here’s the thing, for me at least…

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

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

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

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

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

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

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

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

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

The Authentic Lumber Sexual Guide to Ax Work

by Todd Walker

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

I’m not sure when the bastardization began. But, make no mistake, it’s happened.

From a distance, there was an aura about the young man, he looked as though he had just stepped out of a 19th century lumber camp photo, like a man who knew the secrets of ax work and living off the land. The beard, plaid flannel (red and black of course), skinny britches rolled up a few turns to show off his vintage L.L. Bean boots with just a hint of wool sock protruding at the top. I imagined the aroma of wood smoke from his stack of flapjacks and coffee would hit me as I pushed DRG’s shopping cart past him on the frozen food aisle. Nope. Just another fashion-fabulous hipster.

A lot of my authentic southern readers may have never heard of this crossbred, the lumber-sexual. My Publix sighting confirms they’re here and not going anywhere no time soon. They seem to have migrated from their native habitat up north, the over-priced Minnesota coffee shops. Apparently, the lumberjack look was a new twist for hipsters. Remember the rhinestone cowboy craze from the 70’s? Same thing. They are born from cross-breeding a metrosexual and urban hipster (google these terms to get up to speed). The closest they’ve come to chopping a tree was the cutting of the Yule log at the office Christmas party. I guess the look and feel of simple lumber attire conjures up nostalgia, and, presumably, a boost in manliness.

I get it, chic clothing trends, like chiggers in a Georgia summer, never cease. A hipster sipping a passion tango herbal tea on a leather sofa at the corner coffee shop posing as a lumberjack seems non-congruent in my mind. I’ll give ’em one thing, they can buy an authentic lumber-look, even earth scented beard balm, but, to their chagrin, they can’t buy callouses. Those come by doing the stuff old lumberjacks did.

For the lumber sexual who stumbles upon this article, and feels the need to stop playing dress up, and would like to add authentic skills to match his attire, learn the art and lore of ax work. That wall-mounted ax over your headboard longs to feel its hickory handle whist through crisp air, hear metal separate wood fibers, and watch dinner plate size wood chips fling loose. This alone will assuredly add authenticity to your next filtered Instagram ax-selfie.  An added bonus… the calloused handshake over a craft beer reeks of masculinity… adding to your woods cred.

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

No worries. Fixin’ Wax helps.

This guide may also be useful for the non-lumber sexual…

Authentic Ax Work (Not AXE Grooming Products)

Outside of fire, little else can contribute more to living comfortably in the wilderness than knowing how to properly use a well-chosen axe.

~ Mors Kochanski, Bushcraft, 1988

The ax is the oldest, most under-appreciated, yet invaluable tool which serves not only as a wilderness lifeline, but a simple machine that connects your hands to the forgotten craft of ax work. You’ll need an authentic ax to get starter. Don’t waste your money on box store axes. Once in my life, only once, I traded a Benjamin and some change for a Swedish ax just because of their reputation of forging fine steel. I was not disappointed.

A more budget friendly way, my preferred path, is vintage American made axes. Forgotten and left to rust in the corner of grandpa’s shed, these old treasures are waiting to be born again and eat wood.

For more guidance on choosing an ax, check out our article here.

How to Swing an Ax

All ax swings are inherently dangerous. Some are safer than others. But that’s part of the lure of ax work. Learning to reduce the risk of maiming (or worse) is your first priority.

It may not seem obvious, but the very first step, before your first swing in the woods, is to clear every vine, twig, overhead limb, camera man, and pet away from the area of your ax arc. The smallest thing can snag the ax on both backswing and forward chop. Look up and down the tree you plan to chop for any dead limbs. These hangers earned the name widow-maker for a reason. Even a small limb plummeting from 30 feet can crack your skull or destroy a shoulder. I know of a dead pine with a trunk split cradling a wrist-size limb in the crotch, tempting me to sink my felling ax into its trunk, but I resist, hoping and waiting for a gust of wind to bring it down. My gut tells me three thuds of my ax and DRG may be a widow. Follow your gut. Wise axmen strike the tree with the poll of their ax to loosen any potential hangers. Be prepared to drop the ax and follow exit routes you’ve cleared beforehand.

Ideally, you want level ground to plant your feet for chopping. That’s not always possible. If you’re new to ax work, find level ground free of tripping and slipping hazards and sink those vintage Danner boots in firmly.

For right-handers like me, grip the end of the handle with your left hand and your right hand on top of the left. Reverse this arrangement for southpaw. As you were taught in little league baseball, do not cross your wrists, right on bottom and left on top for right-handers, on swings. Coach Melvin told me this would break my wrists.

There are two basic ax swings: lateral and vertical. Certain guidelines should be followed for each swing.

Lateral Chopping

Lateral swings (diagonal and horizontal) are used to fell a tree, cut saplings in one swoop, and finish chops to separate a log while bucking. Any strokes outside your frontal zone is considered lateral swings. What’s your frontal zone?

Adapted from The Ax Book

Adapted from The Ax Book

In The Ax Book, which I recommend you devour until the pages are dog-eared, Dudley Cook describes the frontal zone as two parallel lines running along side the outside edges of your feet when chopping. All lateral swings should be outside the parallel lines, always. A miss hit or deflection from a full, extended-arm swing only stops when it strikes a target. Inertia forces the ax head to a stopping point, and that point could be your body if you disregard the frontal zone guidelines.

There are too many additional considerations such as, proper notching (face and back cuts), lean and lay, hang-ups, kick-backs, which can’t be covered in this one article, which is already a long but value-adding read, for you to safely chop down your first tree. I plan to write more on the subject later. Until then, read The Ax Book and watch more videos in the additional resources listed below.

With that being said, we will concentrate on ax swings which require wielding sharp steel within the frontal zone (toward your feet).

Vertical Chopping

Since the chainsaw removed the ax from most wood cutting, splitting firewood is by far the most used vertical swing presently. But, wanting to add authenticity to your life, there are other vertical strokes you should master.

Vertical chops fall into three categories…

  1. Backed up
  2. Non-backed, and
  3. Bucking, or chopping below the level of your feet

Backed Up

Backed up strokes are performed on another piece of robust wood (chopping block) wide enough to stop the ax swing momentum once it cuts through the target. The shorter the ax handle, the more dangerous the ax. The popular “boys ax” measures from armpit to finger length and makes a great all-purpose tool. However, care should be taken to understand that missing your target on vertical strokes with a shorter handle will likely bury the ax in your lower extremities. Keep the ax parallel to the ground at impact by bending your knees and waist during the downward stroke. This shortens your body and will likely sink the axhead in the chopping block, not your leg.

When chopping wrist-size green wood for your firewood pile, I’ve found this methods effective. Hold one end of the stick (about as long as you are tall) with your left hand and lay the other on a chopping block (backed-up stroke) with a notch or saddle on the edge of the stump. Accurately strike the stick where it rests in the notch at a 45 degree angle. Continue feeding the stick through the saddle notch until the last stove-length piece is left in your left hand. The angled cut should never be perpendicular to the stick. If struck too close towards your body, missing the saddle notch, the cut end will fly back toward your face like a wooden missile.

Steven Edholm has a great video demonstrating this technique on his channel, Skill Cult. He captures the wooden missile moment.

Another method, which I’m building at base camp now, is the Chopping Platform described by Mr. Cook. I’ll post the project once it’s complete.

Non-Backed Chops

Of all the vertical swings, this one possesses the most potential for injury. This stoke is not for a novice. Even experienced woodsmen make this cut only when other options are unavailable.

There may be an overhead limb which needs cutting. The safest way would be to saw the limb. However, an ax can be used with these precautions. Strike the limb with a modified grip by sliding your right hand half way up the ax handle to gain more control of the ax should it slice trough the limb. Strike at a 45 degree angle using only enough force to cut a portion of the limb’s diameter. Remember Newton’s first Law of Motion? An object (your ax) will keep moving until acted up by another force to stop its motion. Don’t let that other force be your body.

Do this ax stuff enough and you’ll encounter the bent sapling. I felled a broken Sweet Gum tree for the upcoming Chopping Platform project. In the limbing (de-limbing) video below, I demonstrate how to relieve tension with a non-backed, properly place ax stroke. Cutting a spring-loaded sapling near the ground unleashes unbelievable tension stored in the tree. If cut through, the potential energy converts to kinetic energy, and will not only mess up a well-groomed beard, but kill with a throat punch or head shot.

Bucking

Any wood large enough to stand on is fair game. The ax swing is safely backed up by the log being chopped as long the stroke stays below the level of your feet.

Again, clear all obstacles from the arc of your bucking swing. Hew two flat surfaces on either side of the cut line at the top of the horizontal log giving you a solid platform for your feet. If the log is on the ground and rocks while standing on top, step off and secure it by driving wooden wedges under each side for stabilization. Mark the width of your V notch with your ax on the side of the log to match its diameter.

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

One side of a Sweet Gum log bucked

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

The opposite, or back cut separates the log

I’ve used two methods to buck logs. First is to make a small V notch and widen it gradually to the desired width and halfway through the log. In my experience, I find the second method, described below, a more effective bucking technique.

Stand on top of the fallen tree and begin cutting a small (2-3 inch wide) V notch on the first mark with controlled strokes. This notch serves as the side cut for the larger notch. Now begin chopping the other mark at about a 45 degree angle. Use a pattern of overlapping cuts on the full length of the second mark (bottom to top). You should begin to loosen large wood chips from the entire notch at this point. Repeat this chopping pattern on each side of the notch to about halfway through the log.

Turn 180 degrees and face the other side of the log to repeat the same pattern. Ideally, you want the point of the two V notches to meet a hair off-center in the middle. When the log is close to separation, step to one side of the notch, the one securely supported, and separate the log with a few well placed strokes.

To cut closer to the bottom of the log, bend your back and waist and swing with fully extended arms. Chopping closer to the top of the log requires that you straighten your back but maintain extended arms on full swings. Do not choke up on the ax handle to make cuts at the top of the log. Pay attention to fatigue and rest as necessary.

For accurate downward strokes, swing the ax in line with your nose as you look at your target. Ax control and accuracy will develop with practice.

For the lumber sexual, authentic fashion is job one. Hijacking the ax, the lumber attire, and the beard on Instagram will develop neither the skills nor the callouses of lumberjacks. To be completely honest, I really couldn’t give a warm spittoon of tobacco juice that you look like an authentic lumberjack. You may have bought the look, complete with an expensive ax, but you can’t buy old skills. So grab an ax – chop, chop. And no, you can’t borrow mine…

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

A few of my working axes

You may loan your last dollar to a friend; but never loan him your axe, unless you are certain that he knows how to use it.

~ Horace Kephart, Camping and Woodcraft

Ax Work Resources:

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

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

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

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

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

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Homesteading, Lost Skills, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , | 16 Comments

How to Make an Appalachian Berry Bucket from Tree Bark

by Todd Walker

How to Make an Appalachian Berry Bucket from Tree Bark ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Containers made from tree bark existed long before plastic bags, cardboard boxes, and canvas haversacks came about. With every trek in the woods, I find useful resources. That glob of pine sap, stones, bones, or wood somehow ends up going home with me (much to the chagrin of Dirt Road Girl).

It’s a condition which I wish to never be cured.

Scott Jones sums up this affliction with this quote in his book, Postcards to the Past

“The Eskimo say that only a fool comes home empty handed!

~ Lewis Binford, in Looking at Currated Technologies – 1979

If you suffer from this same condition, you’ll need a something to transport your found treasures back home or to your camp. While any container will usually work, nothing compares to a handcrafted bark container for both functionality and aesthetics for us out of doors types.

Traditional Berry Buckets

The best time to harvest tree bark is when the sap is rising in late spring and early summer. I know, I meant to post this tutorial in June. You’ll have to wait a few months to skin a tulip tree ((Liriodendron tulipifera). So bookmark this one for when the sap starts to rise again. 

Material and Tools

  • Knife – about all you really need
  • Ax or saw if you plan to fell a tree
  • Awl or drill
  • Cordage
  • Tulip Poplar tree
  • Rim wood
How to Make an Appalachian Berry Bucket from Tree Bark ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Very few tools are needed for bark containers

Find the Right Tree

Tulip Poplar is a fast growing (soft) hardwood with many uses in the southeastern United States. Other candidates for bark containers include; basswood, cedar, white birch (which we don’t have in Georgia), and others.

You’ll know you’re barking up the tree at the wrong time once you’ve attempted to peel the bark off. If the sap isn’t rising, the bark won’t come off easily. I look for young tulip poplar trees growing under dense canopies. They tend to grow straight with fewer lower limbs and have thinner bark. A 6 to 7 inch diameter tree is ideal.

To fell or not to fell… that is the question. I’ve done both. For smaller containers like my knife sheath, I simply cut a patch of bark off the tree.

You’d think completely girdling around would doom a tree to death. However, as a test this past spring, I removed a section of bark from the entire circumference of a small tulip tree (5 inches in diameter) and it still has its green leaves in early October. Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) is similarly resilient tree.

[Edit: A fellow woodsman commented on the above paragraph who is concerned that people with access to public land only would take my statement as scientific fact and start completely girdling trees. My actions are not scientific and should only be done on land you own. I was totally surprised that the tree is still living after removing bark from the entire circumference. Also, this particular tree was in a thick grove of tulip poplars. Please, only take trees from private land keeping forest management in mind.]

Score and Skin

Score the bark down to the sapwood with a knife or hatchet. I use a solid stick to strike the back of the blade after a free-hand score mark has been applied to the bark.

Once scored, press the tip of your knife into one corner and lift to separate the outer and inner bark from the sapwood. From that point, I use a wedged stick to run along the edge to loosen and lift the bark. With a gap created, you can use your fingers to further separate the bark from the tree. Warning: There are little spikes under the bark which will draw blood. Go slow and be careful bare handed. Gloves are recommended, but I enjoy the texture and feel of wet sap and bark.

If harvesting large quantities from felled trees, I use a wedged stick to separate bark instead of bare hands. When you’re near the point of full separation, you’ll know the bark is free when you hear a distinctive, satisfying snap sound.

Cut to Length

Place the bark flat on a level surface and cut to length. The length of bark should be a bit over double the intended height of your bucket. Trim all edges smooth to create a long rectangle.

How to Make an Appalachian Berry Bucket from Tree Bark ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Bark length should be double that of the intended height of your container

Score a Football

With the outer bark facing up, measure and mark the mid-point of each long side of the rectangle. Use your knife to score an arch which runs from side to side. Repeat this step to form a football shape on the outer bark. Be careful to not cut through the inner bark. This layer of bark acts as a hinge when folding the basket sides together. When scoring in my shop, I use a utility knife with a about 1/8 inch of blade.

How to Make an Appalachian Berry Bucket from Tree Bark ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The size of the “football” determines the opening size at the top

Turn the bark over with the inner bark facing up. Place your hand on the middle of the bark and gently pull one long end to a vertical position. Now fold the other side. Your berry bucket is taking shape.

Bore Edge Holes

Use an awl or drill to bore a line of holes on both edges of the bucket. The spacing is up to you. I usually leave an inch and half to two inches between holes which are placed about 1/2  to 1 inch from the edge. The hole diameter should be large enough to accept your cordage/lacing.

How to Make an Appalachian Berry Bucket from Tree Bark ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

My friend, James Gibson (Knob Creek Forge), traded this handmade awl to me

Lace Edges

Artificial sinew makes strong lacing. It can be purchased online or at craft stores. I’ve also used tarred bank line, leather, and a few other types of string. The artificial sinew can be threaded into a leather stitching needle to make quick work on this part of the project. I’ve seen some buckets laced with other inner barks like hickory (Carya).

How to Make an Appalachian Berry Bucket from Tree Bark ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Stitching the river cane handle into the sides of DRG’s berry bucket

Note: As the bark dries, it will shrink and the lacing may need to be re-tightened.

Start lacing at the bottom edge near the football cut with the edges joined together. Tie off with a simple overhand knot and run the stitching up the edge. Make a pattern if you like. Secure the lace at the top of both seams.

Add a Rim

Cut a flexible stick long enough to form a rim around the top opening of your bucket. I like to use two thin strips of white oak about the size of a hardware store paint stirrer. Thinned enough, they flex just right and add a little contrast. The rim will prevent the bark from curling in as it dries.

How to Make an Appalachian Berry Bucket from Tree Bark ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A white oak rim to finish off the bucket

Bore another series of holes along the rim edge. Place the rim wood pieces on the edges and lace them in as you did the sides. Leave enough lacing on both ends to make loops if you plan to add a carry handle made of rope. If you’re using two rim pieces like mine, you’ll need to bore holes in the ends to tie them together to hold the form you want.

I made a handle out of river cane for Dirt Road Girl’s berry bucket. It hangs in the living room with dried flowers as a conversation piece. Looks pretty too!

How to Make an Appalachian Berry Bucket from Tree Bark ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

This one will probably never transport berries… imagine that

Other Bark Containers

Once you’ve made one berry bucket, you’ll want more. With a bit of creativity and imagination, you can begin making many functional and aesthetically pleasing alternative containers from tree bark.

How to Make an Appalachian Berry Bucket from Tree Bark ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

An arrow quiver made from tulip poplar bark

How to Make an Appalachian Berry Bucket from Tree Bark ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Neck sheath for one of my Mora knives

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 chanced. 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, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Homesteading, Preparedness, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Off-Grid Winch: Incredible Power from Two Logs and a Rope

by Todd Walker

The power of simple machines, smartly employed, are capable of moving most anything. Over the years I helped my daddy move really heavy stuff in his plumbing/welding business and on our farm. He once moved and installed a new 3,000 gallon metal water tank at our elementary school using only ropes, pulleys, and levers… by himself.

Daddy didn’t possess superhuman strength, he simply understood the power of simple machines.

Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.

Archimedes

Off Grid Winch - Incredible Power from Two Logs and a Rope - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

I first discovered this ingenious flip-flop winch from a YouTube demonstration by Mors Kochanski, the Godfather and author of Bushcraft. A search of flip-flop winches on YT will garner several clips demonstrating the power of using two logs and some rope. So why would I add my video to mix? Because it’s only theory until you put it into action by Doing the Stuff!

The flip-flop winch combines two simple machines, lever and pulley (wheel and axle), as a force multiplier to free vehicles stuck in the mud, safely dislodge hang-ups when felling trees, and/or move heavy rocks. I decided to pull my truck up a slight incline in a field.

Flip Flop Winch

In an emergency vehicle kit, weight and space are not an issue – unless you tool around in a Smart Car. For this winch, all you need are two logs and some rope. Of course, you’re not hauling eight foot logs in your vehicle. You will have to cut those with your truck ax or takedown bucksaw.

Material and Tools

  • Ax or Saw – cut two logs about 8 feet in length
  • Rope – non-elastic is preferable for safety reasons
  • Cordage – enough to make two loops about 1 foot in diameter
Off Grid Winch - Incredible Power from Two Logs and a Rope - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

L to R: Green paracord loops, 100′ of rope, truck saw, truck ax. Top pole – lever pole. Bottom pole – pulley pole.

Cut Two Poles

You’ve hit a ditch or snow bank (rarely happens in Georgia) in the hinter-boonies and need to get unstuck. Reach into your vehicle emergency kit and fetch your saw or ax. You have an emergency vehicle kit, right? Be sure to add 100 feet of strong rope to the kit if you haven’t already. A tow strap won’t be useful with this winch unless it’s really long.

Scout for a straight tree (dead or live – it’s an emergence) to cut. Anything between 4 to 6 inches in diameter is suitable. Cut two lengths in the 8 foot range. De-limb the poles by chopping any branches off with your sharp truck ax. You can saw them off but proper ax-manship makes quick work of the de-limbing. This process is best done by cutting from the trunk end to the top end of the pole. Keep the pole between your body and the moving ax.

Lever and Pulley Pole

Now that you’ve got two poles, one will be used as the “lever pole” and the other will be your “pulley pole.” I noticed in my video that I called the drum pole a “barrel” pole interchangeably. In this written tutorial, I will use “pulley pole” to hopefully clear up the verbiage. The terminology is not that important. What you need to know is that the pulley pole is where the rope will coil similarly to that of a modern come-along.

Off Grid Winch - Incredible Power from Two Logs and a Rope - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Using Rig 2 causes the rope to coil on one side of the pulley pole

A larger diameter pulley will winch more rope with each revolution. The pulley pole I used was a standing dead pine which was a bit lightweight for the job. I was forced to drive two stakes in the ground to prevent the pulley pole from swinging in towards the tensioned rope in our video. With two people available, the stakes wouldn’t be necessary. A heavier pulley pole will solve the issue as well. I wanted to simulate and experiment with the lowest quality wood I could scavenge. The lever was a smaller dead cedar but the most solid of the two poles.

Locate an Anchor

The base of a live tree is perfect. A dead tree is not a good candidate. You’ll risk toppling the tree down if the object you’re pulling is really stuck or heavy. Wrap the rope around the base of the anchor twice and tie it off with a tensioning knot.

Off Grid Winch - Incredible Power from Two Logs and a Rope - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The base of a Sourwood tree was used as an anchor point.

Ideally, you want the anchor point and the object you’re pulling to form a straight line sighted down the rope.

Off Grid Winch - Incredible Power from Two Logs and a Rope - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Both truck and anchor point are lined up for optimal pull.

2 Rigging the Systems

Midway between the anchor and object lay the two poles perpendicular to one another. Run the rope on top of the pulley pole about a foot from the larger end of the pole. Pull the rope back under the pole to form a loop. Insert the lever pole into the loop from the side of the pulley pole where the loop is formed. Give yourself about a foot of lever sticking through the loop.

 

Off Grid Winch - Incredible Power from Two Logs and a Rope - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The loop formed to receive the lever pole.

There are two methods of rigging the winch. Rig 1: One causes the rope to coil on both side of the pulley pole where the lever pole crosses (demonstrated on the video). Rig 2: This technique causes the rope to spool on one side of the pulley pole. I’ve found that the latter method causes less side-to-side torque since the rope remains in a straight line.

With the winch rigged, pull the slack out of the line and tie to the object you’re pulling. Another tension knot will work.

Start the Flip-Flop

Flip the lever pole up and over the pulley pole. Once on the ground, check the first wrap on the pulley pole. This is the time to straighten the loops around the pulley before real tension begins. Try to keep the rope from spooling on top of the previous coils as this may weaken the rope. With each flip-flop, the rope will begin coiling on the pulley pole.

Off Grid Winch - Incredible Power from Two Logs and a Rope - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Rig 1: This set up will spool rope on both sides of the pulley pole (shown in the video)

Note: I’ve watched others spool rope on one side of the pulley pole only. This technique decreases the swing of the pulley pole towards the rope under tension. To use this method, place the rope attached to the anchor and the object on the same side of the lever pole before flip-flopping.

Off Grid Winch - Incredible Power from Two Logs and a Rope - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Rig 2: One revolution with the rope spooling on one side of the pulley pole

Off Grid Winch - Incredible Power from Two Logs and a Rope - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Notice how the rope coils to one side of the lever pole (Rig 2). With the rope in line, the pulley pole is less likely to torque in towards the tow rope..

Now, flop the pulley pole over the rope for the next flip of the lever. If the pulley pole was magically suspended off the ground, no flop would be required. This would become a Spanish windlass. You’d simple spin the lever around a wheel and axle. The earth prevents this continuous spin. But the ground is what keeps the system from unraveling. The flop of the pulley pole is necessary for the lever to make another 180 degree revolution.

Off Grid Winch - Incredible Power from Two Logs and a Rope - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The rope spooling down the long end of the pulley pole (Rig 2).

Continue this of flip-flop action until the object is freed. Six full revolutions around the pulley is what it took to inch my truck up the incline to level ground in the video.

Flip-Flop Tips When Alone

If you practice the technique with rope coiling on the pulley pole on both sides of the lever, you’ll find that the pulley has a tendency to swing in towards the rope as tension increases. My fix was to drive two stakes on opposite sides of the rope where the pulley pole lands on each flop. If the ground is too hard for stakes, a heavy rock or object may prevent the slide. As mentioned above, a heavier pulley pole would decrease the chances of this happening.

Experimenting with the rope spooling on one side of the pulley pole remedied the torque issues. I recommend using this method (Rig 2) vs. the rope spooling on opposite sides of the lever pole (Rig 1).

Also, under tension, the lever pole can rise off the ground with either method. Attach a loop of cordage on the tow rope where the flipped lever lands. Slide the loop over the lever on each flip once a good amount of tension is present.

Off Grid Winch - Incredible Power from Two Logs and a Rope - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A Prussic Loop is a quick way to connect to the standing rope

Disconnecting the Rig

Obviously, once a vehicle is freed, the rope is no longer under tension. However, when pulling a tree or rock, tension can be released by reversing direction of the flip-flop. Once tension is removed, the spooled line can be handled safely.

Safety Concerns

There are inherent dangers when tension is applied to a rope or cable. If the rope has elasticity and snaps, the potential energy turns to kinetic energy moving like a slingshot or bow and arrow in opposite directions. Use rope without elasticity, nicks, abrasions, and a working load suitable for the task.

If you’re alone, you must cross over the rope in this process. Minimize the risk from flying rope by laying a heavy coat or blanket (if available) on the rope at both ends. With two people, nobody has to step over the taut line.

Another safety precaution is to wear leather gloves and eye protection. A smart thing to have handy is a knife handy to cut the rope if you somehow manage to get a hand pinched between the rope and pulley. Not sure how that might happen but better safe than sorry.

This powerful simple machine takes practice to perform properly. With a minimum of tools and some rope, the flip-flop winch can be a life saver on the homestead or in the backcountry. Add it to your preparedness toolbox. Give it a try and share your results.

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 the 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, DIY Preparedness, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Gear, Homesteading, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , | 16 Comments

River Cane: 25 Self-Reliant Uses for “Cherokee Plastic”

by Todd Walker

Bamboo can quickly takes over yards and even entire fields. Though it has many uses world-wide, non-native woody grasses are not our topic of discussion. Today we’ll cover what some describe as the Cherokee Nation’s equivalent to modern plastic… River Cane.

River Cane- 25 Self-Reliant Uses for -Cherokee Plastic- - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

River cane (grass family, Poaceae) is the only native bamboo in the eastern woodlands. Three have been identified: River cane (Arundinaria gigantea), Switch cane (Arundinaria tecta), and a newly discovered (2007) native bamboo called Hill cane (Arundinaria appalachiana). Source

Historical accounts of vast canebrakes stretching for miles along river floodplains were noted by early explorers of the New World. William Bartram, America’s first professional botanist, described clums of river cane “as thick as a mans arm.” John Lawson (1674-1711) recorded that one culm (hollow stem) of river cane could hold “about of pint of liquor.” Cheers!

Without delving into the botanical differences, which would require more space than this article allows, the historical use of cane is well documented as a rich resource for self-reliance. It’s uses are not lost on modern primitive practitioners and experimental archeologists.

Below are three books on primitive skills and technology which have helped me on my journey of experimental archeology and the practice of primitive skills…

I never had the pleasure of personally meeting and learning from Steve Watts but he treated me like a good friend through our online communications. His recent untimely passing spurred me to re-read his book, Practicing Primitive: A Handbook of Aboriginal Skills.

I’m fortunate to have Scott Jones, a student and colleague of Mr. Watts, less than an hour from my Georgia home. I’ve had the pleasure of attending several of his Workshops at the Woods. I have both of his books, A View to the Past, and his most recent work, Postcards to the Past: Context and Continuity in Primitive Technology, gifted to me by my good friend, Kevin Bowen.

My pursuit of primitive technology and skills is largely due to these two authors. Outside the modest cane fishing pole, most of the cane projects within this article come from Watts and Jones.

Though my cane craft is limited, every Georgia country boy I know is intimately familiar with catching blue gill from ponds and creek banks with a homemade cane pole. The use of river cane extends far beyond boys fishing and raising cane on hot summer days. Below I’ve listed 25 traditional uses for this amazing plant.

25 Uses for River Cane in Self-Reliance

Hunting

  • Arrow Shafts ~ A preferred material for Southeastern Native American tribes.
  • Atlatl and Darts ~ Cane was used to make darts for these spear throwing tool. Jones describes in Postcards from the Past (pg. 193) and has made spear-throwers entirely from cane.
  • Knife ~ Some tribes made fire-hardened knives from cane capable of skinning game. I have a deep cut on my knuckle which is finally healing from a brush with sharp river cane.
  • Blow Gun ~ Nodes (joints) were removed to form a long, hollow tube of cane to blow darts from. These were effective in hunting small game animals and birds.

Fishing

  • Fish Trap ~ The Cherokee used a funnel style trap at an opening of rock dams and weirs in steams to catch fish.
River Cane- 25 Self-Reliant Uses for -Cherokee Plastic- - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Cane fish trap in progress

  • Split Cane Gig ~ Easy to carve and fire-harden harpoon style gigs for fish or other aquatic species.
  • Floats ~ A small clum between both nodes can be used for a line float on a cane pole.
  • Jug Fishing ~ Bundle several lengths of cane together with a line and hook attached for passive jug fishing.

Containers

  • Baskets ~ Cane was split into splints and woven into baskets for food gathering and storage, clothing storage, ceremonial uses, and day-to-day containers. Natural pigment were used to dye and decorate.
  • Mats ~ Woven mats were used for covering walls, floors, bedding, burial, and seating.
  • Cane Vial ~ The hollow portion of a clum makes a great container for storing liquid, salt, pepper, medicine, needles, etc.
River Cane- 25 Self-Reliant Uses for -Cherokee Plastic- - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A vial for my repair kit

  • Sheaths ~ I traded with James Gibson (Knob Creek Forge) for this handy antler-handled awl with a river cane sheath.
River Cane- 25 Self-Reliant Uses for -Cherokee Plastic- - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A simple but effective sheath

Wildlife

Canebrakes are an ecosystem unto themselves.

River Cane- 25 Self-Reliant Uses for -Cherokee Plastic- - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A small canebrake

  • At least 23 mammal species, 16 bird species, four reptile species and seven invertebrates that occur within canebrakes (Platt et al. 2001). Source
  • Swainson’s warbler builds it’s nests in dense canebrakes.
  • Canebrake Rattlesnake (endangered) live and hunt in canebrakes.
  • Whitetail deer eat young shoots in the spring.

Farming

  • Food ~ Attractive to many grazing bovine, young cane was the highest yielding native pasture in the Southeast. Indians managed large canebrakes by controlled burning every 7 to 10 years. For humans, boil and eat young shoots in early spring and summer.
  • Riparian Buffer ~ Canebrakes improve water quality by filtering ground water nitrates/phosphates, trapping sediment, and stabilizing erosion.
  • Tomato Stakes ~ If river cane isn’t abundant in your area, use bamboo instead.
River Cane- 25 Self-Reliant Uses for -Cherokee Plastic- - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Bamboo or cane is a great garden companion

Construction

  • Shelter ~ Cane and other flexible saplings were used in wattle-and-daub walled houses.
River Cane- 25 Self-Reliant Uses for -Cherokee Plastic- - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The crew from Georgia Bushcraft constructing a shelter from river cane’s cousin (bamboo).

  • Watercraft ~ Bundles of hollow river cane lashed together to form pontoons.
  • Pipes ~ Stem for smoke pipes.
  • Blow Tube ~ Perfect for making burn and scrap containers and spoons.
River Cane- 25 Self-Reliant Uses for -Cherokee Plastic- - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A burn and scrap spoon made while camping with Bill Reese (Instinct Survivalist)

  • Furniture ~ Chairs, beds, tables, etc.

Crafts

River Cane- 25 Self-Reliant Uses for -Cherokee Plastic- - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Two excellent resources: A river cane handle on a tulip poplar bark berry basket.

  • Paint Brush ~ A short, hollow portion of river cane will accept animal hair or plant fibers to form a brush.
  • Jewelry ~ Necklaces, bracelets, and pendants can be made from cane.
  • Burnishing Tool ~ Used to burnish leather edges or other craft items.

Music

  • Flute ~ A famous poet from Georgia, Sidney Lanier, was also a flutist. It is said that he made his first flute from river cane collected on the Ocmulgee River in central Georgia.
  • Whistle ~ Hank at Sensible Survival shows you how to make a simple survival whistle.

We are fortunate to have such a rich native resource growing in our Southeastern woodlands. Efforts are being made to reestablish river cane on land once covered with native bamboo. Keep stewardship in mind when harvesting from canebrakes. Select only what you need without over-harvesting. Non-native bamboo can be substituted for many of these projects mentioned.

In what ways have you used cane for self-reliance?

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

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Categories: Bushcraft, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Gardening, Homesteading, Lost Skills, Preparedness, Primal Skills, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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