Survival Skills

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

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: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Gardening, Homesteading, Lost Skills, Preparedness, Primal Skills, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

How Cherokees Used Trees of Southern Appalachia for Food, Medicine, and Craft

by Todd Walker

How Cherokees Used Trees of Southern Appalachia for Food, Medicine, and Craft - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Foraging wild food requires practice, knowledge, and experience on your landscape. Notice I used the word your land. What you’ve read in books and watched on YouTube may not apply to your locale. While survival principles may never change, self-reliance is local.

Many of us are self-taught in skills of wilderness living. However, one way to shorten your learning curve is to find an experienced skills practitioner in your area who is actually Doing the Stuff. After receiving instruction, you gain knowledge. Knowledge weighs nothing but is not enough. You make knowledge applicable through time and experience and context. There is no substitute for time in your woods.

I had the recent pleasure of attending my third class at Medicine Bow, A Primitive School of Earthlore in the North Georgia Mountains. If you look up Renaissance Man in the dictionary, Mark Warren’s bio should appear, but won’t. He’s not only a walking encyclopedia of woods-lore, he won the U.S.National Champion in Slalom/Downriver combined and the World Championship Longbow Tournament in 1999. On top of his wealth of outdoor knowledge, he is also a musical composer and published author.

Mark’s knowledge of the Cherokee uses of plants and trees is the foundation for anyone interested in wilderness living and self-reliance. I wrote him an email after the class asking assistance on a question for this article. I wanted to know the degree to which Cherokees depended on domesticated crops verses wild foods.

Mark’s response:

“Everyone knows about Cherokee farming and the 3 sisters (corn, squash, and beans), but the wild growth of forest and field was actually “farmed” too, by pruning or clearing for light. For example, swamp dogwoods were pruned to encourage survival shoots for basketry and arrow shafts. Large areas along flood plains were burned to help create a monopoly of river cane (for the same two crafts). A lot of those “brakes” can still be seen. The same is true of foods. I have a sense of why Amicalola was sacred to the Cherokee. I suspect it was for the prolific sochani that grows there. It’s also called green-headed coneflower. Cherokee women in NC still harvest it in spring and freeze for the year.”

Click here for more information on Sochani (Green-Headed Coneflower).

Think about this astounding bit of research…
“The Cherokees of the 19th century are listed as having around 800 plants in their repertoire (Mooney, 1992). This from a pool of about 2,400 species of plants to work from or about a third!” ~ Source

Every year I add more plants and trees to my food-medicine-craft list. But 800! I’ve got a lot to learn and experience.

“In the school of the woods, there is no graduation day.” 

~ Horace Kephart

Trees of Southern Appalachia

Wild plant foragers get excited this time of the year. Green shoots make their way through the soil for another growing season. Autumn turns to winter and the smorgasbord disappears. But trees, they stand ready to share their resources year-round.

Winter tree identification would not be challenging if trees would stop dropping their leaves. Mark taught winter botany lessons which I had never been exposed to. Sharing all I learned would take several articles. For our purposes today, we will explore 3 of my favorite trees in my woods and how the Cherokee and settlers used them for food, medicine, and craft resources.

Tulip Tree

Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) it is not a poplar at all. It is actually in the Magnolia ((Magnoliaceae)) family of flowering trees. There are many common names for Liriodendron tulipifera besides Tulip Poplar… Yellow Poplar, Canoe Wood, Yellow Wood, and Tulip Tree. That is one reason it is important to use scientific names of plants and trees… if you can manage to pronounce them. This will remove any confusion over common names.

Related Resource: Trees for Self-Reliance

Food

The Tulip Tree, while not a nutritional powerhouse, is a favorite of mine mainly for craft and outdoor self-reliance. Tulip Tree blooms are a main source of nectar for honey bees which produces a dark, amber honey loaded with antioxidants.

  • The only part of a Tulip Tree that I know is edible is the nectar in the flowering blooms.
  • Edit: Darryl Patton, The Southern Herbalist, sent me a message saying he collects, dries, and pounds the inner bark into flour for baking in his spring classes. Thank you, Darryl.

Medicine

Tulip Tree’s inner bark and leaves were used medicinally by the Cherokee and settlers in Appalachia for treating…

  • Poultice from leaves for inflammation and sores.
  • Inner bark tea for periodic fevers, diarrhea, pinworms, as a digestive aid and for rheumatic pain.
  • Supposedly, inner bark was chewed as an aphrodisiac.
  • The bark could also serve as a substitute for quinine in treating malaria.
  • Tooth aches.
  • Used as a tonic to induce perspiration to treat fevers.
  • Root bark and seeds useful as a wormer for the body.
  • Cough syrup from bark.

Craft

  • Fire Craft ~ Wood for friction fire, inner bark for tinder, hot, quick burning firewood which does not produce long-lasting coals like other hardwoods.
  • Cordage ~ Inner bark fibers can be processed into cordage and rope.
When Primitive Skills and Prepping Have Sex | www.TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Indigenous cordage: Clockwise from 12:00 ~ Dogbane; Tulip Tree; Okra, and Yucca.

  • Containers ~ Outer bark crafted into berry baskets, arrow quivers, and larger pack baskets.
  • Carving ~ The soft hardwood lends itself to easy carving of spoons, bowls, pottery paddles, canoe paddles, and even the canoe itself. One common name of this tree is Canoe Wood.
This design will be carved into the Tulip Tree and used to imprint designs on primitive process pottery.

This design will be carved into the Tulip Tree paddle and used to imprint designs on primitive process pottery.

  • Insulation ~ Shredded inner bark can be stuffed between layers of clothing to create dead air space to retain body heat in a survival situation.
  • Roofing/Siding ~ Outer bark slabs used for shingles and siding on shelters.

Hickory

Hickories make excellent wildlife resource as squirrels and feral pigs love to eat their nut meat. Pignut (Carya glabra), Mockernut (Carya tomentosa), and Shagbark (Carya ovata) are the three hickories I’m most familiar with in Georgia, Mockernut being the most common.

Food

  • Sap ~ Sap water from hickories can be consumed without treatment.
  • Nuts ~ Contains fats (18g/serving), protein (3.6g/serving), and carbohydrates (5 g/serving) – Serving size = 1 oz.
  • Hickory syrup from crushed and processed nuts.
  • Cooking oil from nuts.
  • Kunuche (ku-nu-che) ~ A traditional Cherokee hickory nut soup.
  • Nuts with exterior husks are useful as charcoal for cooking food.
Scott Jones using hickory nuts as charcoal

Scott Jones (Media Prehistoria) using hickory nuts as charcoal.

  • Hickory Milk ~ “They pound them to pieces, and then cast them into boiling water, which, after passing through fine strainers, preserves the most oily part of the liquid; this they call by a name which signifies hiccory milk; it is as sweet and rich as fresh cream, and is an ingredient in most of their cookery, especially homony and corn cakes.” – Source

Medicine

  • Infusion of boiled bark for arthritis pain.
  • Inhaling fumes of young shoots on hot rocks as a treatment for convulsions.
  • Cold remedy
  • Liver aid
  • Gynecological aid
  • Dermatological issues

Craft

How to Handcraft a Custom Ax Handle from a Tree - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

This ax handle started out as the hickory tree pictured in the background

Hickory was used by the Cherokee’s for…

  • Stickball sticks
  • Crafting bows
  • Handles – (Here’s my tutorial on carving an ax handle from hickory)
  • Firewood
  • Smoking meats
  • Furniture
  • Inner bark of Mockernut and Shellbark Hickory used to finish baskets
  • Ashes from hickory were used by settlers to make quality lye for soap.
  • Inner bark used for cordage. Mark described a method of slicing down a hickory limb to remove the bark and twisting it to make a strong rope. I’ll explore that method in a later post.
  • Green nut husks used as dye – (My bed sheet tarp was dyed with hickory and black walnut dye)
  • Nut oil mixed with bear fat as an insect repellent.

Pine

There are 36 pines in North America to choose from. These evergreens are easy to spot for anyone. To narrow down the species, count the needles. The Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) is the only species in Eastern North America with 5 needles in the fascicle sheath (the paper-like sheath surrounding the base of the needles).

How Cherokees Used Trees of Southern Appalachia for Food, Medicine, and Craft - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Hemlock is a part of the pine family and grows in southern Appalachia. Like other pines in our region, the inner bark is edible.

Food

  • Pine nuts are edible and tasty.
  • Inner bark was eaten when other foods were scarce. Should be boiled/cooked since it is high in turpenes. Can also be dried and ground into a flour.
  • Pine pollen can be collected and is edible and used like flour.
  • Long strips of inner bark can be boiled to make pine noodles.

Medicine

  • Pine needle tea has the following medicinal properties: antiseptic, astringent, inflammatory, antioxidant, expectoranthigh in Vitamin C for colds – flu – coughs, congestion, and even scurvy.
  • Shikimic acid, the main ingredient in Tamiflu, is harvested from pine needles in Asia.
  • Pine resin applied to skin conditions.
  • Arthur Haines describes on his YouTube channel how pine pollen provides multiple avenues of protection against radioactive cesium.
  • Warm poultice of pine resin will draw splinters and foreign matter from skin.
  • The inner bark can be fashioned as an antiseptic Band Aid for cuts and scraps
  • Chew softer sap straight off the tree like a gum for sore throats and colds. You could pre-make “gum” with these ingredients: bees-wax, pine sap, and honey.

Craft

See more useful fire craft articles on our Bombproof Fire Craft page.

  • Wood for shelters and bows for bedding.
  • Rescue Signals ~ A pre-made signal fire built with green pine boughs on top will generate enough white smoke to be seen for miles.
  • Pine needles were used to make baskets and resin was used as a sealer.
  • Logs were used in home building.
  • White pine and hemlock are both good wood for friction fire.
  • Dried and ground hemlock inner bark used as flour.
  • Dried pine “flour” is useful when rubbed on the body to cover human scent while hunting.

Mark says that Cherokees called trees “The Standing People.” Trees do not walk to new locations like animals in search of food. They are always in the same spot. Learning to identify trees and their resources will put you in a better position of appreciation and stewardship of your natural environment.

To mention all the trees used by the Cherokee would be better addressed in book form. In this article, we’ve highlighted three of my favorite trees in our woodlands. I’ll write future blogs covering more. Here’s a teaser on future posts… Dogwood, Sourwood, Basswood, Black Walnut, Persimmon, Beech, Black Cherry, and the list continues.

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: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

 

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Herbal Remedies, Lost Skills, Medical, Natural Health, Preparedness, Real Food, Self-reliance, Survival Skills, Wildcrafting | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

The Number One Knife Skill for Wilderness Survival and Self-Reliance

by Todd Walker

The Number One Knife Skill for Wilderness Survival and Self-Reliance - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Humans have employed six simple machines throughout history to reduce the amount of work required for tasks. Of these six, my favorite for outdoor self-reliance is the sexy and sleek wedge!

Huh!?

Sleek and Sexy? A wedge sounds rather dull and useless.

Hold on a second. You may change your mind about the humble wedge.

A wedge is an incline plane sharp enough to cut and separate stuff. Stuff like wood, meat, and even metal need to be divided into smaller parts in a civilized manner. No need to gnaw your steak like a caveman.

You see, like all our cutting tools, a knife is a wedge. Hence my love affair with this simple machine!

“I learned how much of what we think to be necessary is superfluous; I learned how few things are essential, and how essential those things really are.” ~ Bernard Ferguson

It’s not just the aesthetics of forged metal that attracts my attention. The wedge may be the most useful tool a person can carry in a pocket or on a belt.

Why?

Knives are designed to do more than spread peanut butter! In skilled hands, stuff can be made. Important survival stuff. Developing knife skills is the best way to replace all those shiny-object-survival kit items. Safely wielding a sharp wedge has always been a top priority for woodsmen and woods-women throughout history.

Survival vs. Self-Reliance

Somewhere along our collective outdoor journey, survival took on the connotation of simply staying alive. I personally don’t get too caught up in the latest terminology… Woodcraft vs. Bushcraft, Survival vs. Self-Reliance, etc., etc. All I know is that spending time in the woods is my passion.

Survival is part of self-reliance. A big part. You can’t develop outdoor self-reliance skills if you’re dead.

Look up a few old “Survival” writers in the 60’s. Survival was much different from how we view it today. These early survivalists taught us more than just making it through a 72 hour scenario. Survival was wilderness living skills back then.

Dial back to the golden age of camping and woodcraft and you’ll find that the knives of Nessmuk, Kephart, Seton, and Miller played an essential role in all their tramping and wilderness adventures. This simple machine (wedge) was a value-adding tool for, not only survival, but for camp comforts and wilderness living skills.

Before addressing skill, let’s begin with safety…

Knife Safety

A sharp knife is a safe knife. Dull knifes take more force for cutting and increase the risk of injury. You want your knife shaving sharp.

Below are a few tips for basic knife safety for outdoor self-reliance…

  • Cut in a direction away from your body. That’s good advice for beginners and seasoned woodsman. However, there are safe methods to cut wood towards your body when carving spoons that can transfer to outdoor self-reliance skills. Experience and band aids will teach more than reading.
  • Work with your knife outside the triangle of death (an imaginary triangle between your knees and crotch).
  • Work within the blood circle when others are nearby (a circle made with your outstretched arms as you turn 360 degrees).
  • Grip and body mechanics ~ standard grip, reverse grip, chest lever, knee lever, and thumb assisted grip for push cuts in fine carving tasks. (These will be covered in detail in a later post.)

#1 Knife Skill ~ Fire

No matter the season or environment, a solid belt knife rides on my hip. If I’m ever separated from my main pack, my knife is on my body. In this case, it is now my one tool option. A good fixed blade knife is your number one tool in a wilderness setting.

Why such a bold statement?

One word… Fire!

Fire covers a multitude of survival sins. That sharp, metal wedge attached to your hip may be your only hope for fire. Campfires are certainly mesmerizing. We build them for much more than to simply stare into the flickering flames. Fire is your best sleep aid. And sleep is the most overlooked skill in outdoor self-reliance.

“The quality of a survival kit is determined by how much it can help you when you need to sleep.  If you can sleep well at night, you have it made.” ~ Mors Kochanski

Which is more important, knife or ax? I totally agree with Mr. Kephart’s statement below.

The thought that a heavy hunting knife can do the work of a hatchet is a delusion. ~ Horace Kephart

However, stuff happens! Situations can relieve you of a fine ax. In that case, you’d be wise to have a knife able to process enough tinder and kindling for fire. In my woodlands, an abundance of small kindling material is available without ever removing my knife from its sheath. However, when it comes to tinder material, a knife really speeds the process.

Processing Wood

Feather sticks are all the rage in bushcraft and an excellent skill to practice. Pretty little curls bunched up on the end of a stick are created by controlled wood removal. Surface area created from these fine curls is what makes them burn so easily.

The classic feather stick

The classic feather stick with a twist

I found a down-n-dirt way to make feather sticks over at Toms Backwoods channel using a spoon knife pictured above. If you have a spoon knife in your kit, use it to process tinder/kindling if you need to do so in a hurry. Here’s a quick video demonstration of the process…

Feather sticks are pretty and all, but my favorite way to make tinder material is using the dull side (spine) of my knife instead of the cutting edge. This technique takes less skill than feather sticks but is a super quick and easy way to produce wood shavings for tinder. Scrape the outer bark of a cedar tree in the same manner to produce a bundle of fine and coarse tinder material. Georgia fat lighter is my all-time favorite, though…

Ax-less, a solid knife can process firewood using the baton method. The baton technique is frowned upon by many in the outdoor community. But as mentioned previously, beating a knife through a piece of wood is my Plan B if I don’t have a proper wood processing wedge (ax). A full-tang knife with a 4 to 5 inch blade should be robust enough to produce tinder, kindling (smalls), and fuel size wood from a single wooden round.

A funny note on smalls: A fellow bushcrafter from across the pond wrote me confused over the term “smalls”. In his part of the world, “smalls” referred to skivvies. I’m not advocating the burning of your underwear. Smalls are pencil lead to pencil size sticks (kindling) used in fire craft from where I come from.:)

Knife and Spark Ignition

The steel in your main carry knife is another fire resource. That is, if you carry a high carbon steel blade. The thought of striking the spine of your expensive wedge with a sharp piece of rock to produce sparks is an abomination to knife junkies. However, knowing that your blade can serve as a backup flint and steel ignition source may one day give you fire if that’s all you have available.

I’ve written a few times about using my favorite spark ignition source, flint and steel, here and here. While ferro rods create hotter sparks, they are consumable. A fire steel should last you a lifetime and then be passed down for the next generation to enjoy… like a good knife.

Remember, fire is life out there. How much is your life worth? I’d say way more than an expensive cutting tool!

To further you fire craft skills, I’ve got an entire page dedicated to this outdoor self-reliance skill. Your wedge (knife) is an essential tool for creating fire.

More knife skill articles are on the way. Stay sharp, my friends!

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: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

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

4 Easy Ways to Estimate Height in the Woods

by Todd Walker

Ever wonder about the height of a tree on a nature walk? Or how far you’d have to climb to summit a rock face? Curiosity may be the only reason you’d ever need to know or use these techniques mentioned below.

4 Easy Ways to Estimate Height in the Woods - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Without being overly dramatic, accurate estimations could save you in the outdoors. Take campsite selection, for instance. You find what seems to be a perfect spot to camp. Water and firewood are close at hand. There’s even a fire pit with a bit of wood laid up from previous campers. Being smart, you look up to scan the horizon before dropping your pack. You’re scouting for the 4 W’s. You spot in the distance a very tall, very dead tree. How tall? And could it reach your campsite if it fell?

Do a quick estimate on the height so you can sleep without worry of that tree crashing through your tent.

Here are 4 accurate ways to estimate the height of trees and other structures if you don’t have a compass. By the way, always carry a quality compass!

Lumberjack Stick

This is the easiest method with no math calculations involved. Grab a small stick or twig. Ax handles work, too.

Put some distance between you and the tree or object. Facing the tree, hold a stick/twig vertically so that a 90º angle is formed between your outstretched arm. Align the tip of the stick with the top of the tree. Move your hand up or down on the bottom of the stick until your thumb aligns with the base of the tree while the tip is in line with the treetop.

Now rotate the stick ninety degrees clockwise, for the left-handers, or counterclockwise if the stick is in the right hand. Be sure to keep your thumb on the pivot point (origin) – base of the tree. Make a note of where the tip of the stick appears to touch the ground. If you have a partner, they can stand and mark the spot with your directions. The distance from this spot back to the base of the tree is the approximate height of the tree.

This is an easy method to determine the path of a tree you want to fell in your yard or camp. Check out the video of two of these methods in the woods…

Portrait Method

Knowing the height of a cliff could help you decide whether to climb the obstacle or not. Place an object of known height at the base of the cliff. This object could be a person or walking staff. Stand back away from the rock face. Hold a small stick, as described in the Lumberjack technique above, so that the tip is aligned to the top of the person or walking staff and your thumb is sighted on the base of the known object.

4 Easy Ways to Estimate Height in the Woods - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Portrait Method

Move this known unit of measure, thumb to tip of stick, up the cliff face to give you an estimate of its height. Let’s say your obstacle measures 4 units. Multiply the height of your known object (person or walking staff) times 4 to determine the height of the cliff. [Ex: 6′ x 4 units = 24 feet]

Use Your Shadow

On a sunny day, a tree casts a shadow. The shadow on the ground is one side of a right triangle. The distance from the top of the tree to the end of the shadow is the hypotenuse. The tree forms the third side of the right triangle.

Remember how we used Pythagorean Theorem (right triangles) to determine distance? Well, we’re using two right triangles again. This time we are using two triangles of different size yet proportional.

Here’s how it works and what you’ll need…

Measure the distance of the tree’s shadow. Now place an object of known height (yourself or walking stick) in the sun. Observe where this shadow ends and measure the distance or length of the shadow.

Now we have three measurements:

  • Tree shadow
  • Your shadow
  • Your height

What we want and need is the missing measurement – the height of the tree “x”.

3 Easy Ways to Estimate Height in the Woods - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Set up a proportion using the corresponding sides of each triangle as illustrated in the diagram above. Be sure to place the corresponding sides across from each other. For instance, the shadow lengths are the numerators (top numbers) and the height measurements are both denominators (bottom numbers). You can flip-flop these numbers as long as the sides correspond to each other.

Cross multiply and divide to find the missing length. In the example given, the height is 24 feet. If you do your math right, this is a very accurate method.

Eleven + 1 Method

Here’s another accurate way to determine height which only requires a stick.

3 Easy Ways to Estimate Height in the Woods - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

11+1 Method of Estimating Height

From the base of the tree, measure 11 equal units straight away from the tree. The key to using this method accurately is to make the 11 units about the same distance as the object you wish to measure. For instance, you may estimate that a tree appears to be about 30 feet tall. 30 divided by 11 gives you a rough estimate of about 3 feet per unit. One of my walking steps would work for my unit of measure. For a tree double that height, I would use two steps as my unit of measure.

Mark the spot of your 11 unit on the ground. Drive a straight stick in the ground so that it is vertical/plumb. Measure one more unit away from the stick and mark the spot.

Bend down to the ground with your dominate eye as close to the ground as possible at the 12th unit. Sight in the base of the tree to the bottom of the stick. Now look up the stick until your line of sight crosses the stick at the top of the tree. Mark this spot on the stick. The distance between these two points in inches equals the height of the tree in feet.

Your Body as a Measuring Device

It’s always helpful to know your personal measurements in the event you are without a measuring device. The most common way is to measure with steps.

Other personal measurements you should know are…

  • Thumb to pinky finger (8 inches for me)
  • Elbow to finger tip (19 inches)
  • Arm pit to finger tip (28 inches)
  • Height standing flat-footed with hand extended above head (88 inches)
  • Finger tip to finger tip with arms spread forming a “t” (73 inches)
  • Outside boot measurement (12.5 inches)
  • Personal height (5′-10″)

Another clever way to know certain lengths is to know the length of your ax or other bushcraft equipment. The Plumb BSA Ax I carry is 26 inches long. Adding marks to the ax handle in one inch increments will also save time and calculations should the need arise. Don’t forget that Leatherman Multitools have both inch and centimeters marked on the side of these tools.

Each of these methods can be used without any special equipment. All you need is a stick and some basic math skills.

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: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

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

How to Estimate Distance in the Woods with Right Triangles

by Todd Walker

As an eighth grade math teacher, a lot of the stuff we teach kids makes no sense. Students rarely get a chance to apply mathematics in the real world. We’re too busy pushing through the state mandated curriculum to get our hands dirty applying the concepts being taught.

How to Estimate Distance in the Woods with Right Triangles - TheSurvivalSherpa.com (1)

 

A little dirt time in the woods or a homestead would go a long way in helping students (and teachers) trade theory for action. So put on your boots. School of the Woods is in session!

Like any other skill, estimating distance takes practice. The method I used in the video below is based on the Pythagorean Theorem → a² + b² = c². Don’t freak out about the formula. We won’t even use it!

Here’s the cool thing about this method…

There’s no math calculations involved! No square roots, no dividing, no multiplication, no algebra. If you can walk a straight line and count simple steps, you can use this method to estimate distance. In fact, all you really need is a stick.

Estimating Distance with Right Triangles

Estimations are more than guessing. They are based on calculations and useful for many tasks in bushcraft, homesteading, and outdoor self-reliance.

Here’s a quick refresher on geometry terms we’ll be using. A right triangle has two short sides called legs (a & b). The long side of the triangle is the hypotenuse (c).

What if you needed to ford a river, build a fence, or erect a foot bridge over a creek in the woods? I’ve never seen any of my woodsmen friends pull out a 100 foot measuring tape from their pack. But you can get an accurate estimation of width without a measuring device.

Here’s how it works…

Step #1 ~ Locate a Landmark

Note: This method requires a fair amount of open space along side the river or creek. Hilly terrain will affect your estimate as well.

How to Estimate Distance in the Woods with Right Triangles - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Drive a stick in the ground to mark Point A

Spot a landmark (tree or rock) across the divide you intend to cross (Point X). Standing directly across from the landmark, mark the ground with a stick or scrap of your boot. Point Y is where you begin counting your first 20 steps.

Step #2 ~ Start Stepping

Turn 90 degrees away from Point X and take 20 steps in as straight a path as possible. Drive a stick in the ground at your 20th step. This is Point A. The stick should be tall enough to see later in this exercise. You may want to tie a bandana or other material to make it easy to spot.

Step #3 ~ More Stepping

Continuing in a straight path from Point A, take 20 more steps. Mark this spot as Point B with a small stick or rock.

Step #4 ~ Turn 90º

Standing on Point B, turn 90º with your back towards the river or ravine. Begin walking perpendicularly away from the river. Be sure to count your steps. As you step, look back towards the stick on Point A. Stop when you visually line up with Point A and Point X (the landmark across the river). This is Point C on the diagram.

The number of step from Point B to Point C is the approximate distance across the divide.

In an emergency situation where you may need to cross a river or creek, a tree could be felled to help you safely navigate the divide. Knowing the width of the river or creek now, how can you estimate the height of a tree you’ll need to bridge that gap?

We’ll cover estimating height on our next post. Stay tuned!

A little update. I used my video in Math class yesterday. Afterwards, we went outside to test the theory in the real world. Have some fun and take your kids out and practice this self-reliant skill.

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: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Homesteading, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , | 14 Comments

27 Basecamp Projects Guaranteed to Elevate Skills and Fun in the Woods

By Todd Walker

The thought of going to the woods for rest and relaxation is a foreign concept to most moderns. Others see it as an oasis. The later enjoy the simplicity of woods life for many reasons. Through experience, they’ve learned to be healthy, comfortable, and relaxed in the woods.

27 Basecamp Projects Guaranteed to Elevate Skills and Fun in the Woods - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Learning the art of “smoothin’ it” in the woods, as Nessmuk called it, is well within reach for even my novice middle school students. If you really want to learn how to camp in comfort, check out The Revival of Classic Camping.

If your camp is an oasis in the woods, you’re more likely to find the unplugged benefits of nature. Not only that, but you’ll gain valuable self-reliance skills in the process.

Below you’ll find 27 projects and skills developed while turning my basecamp into a comfortable personal space in the woods.

Shelter

The Art of 'Smoothing It' in Struggleville

Overhang catches and rolls heat into the shelter

We’ve discussed the importance of emergency shelter here, here, and here. However, a basecamp shelter should be semi-permanent and built for comfort.

My grandson and I hanging out at basecamp

My grandson and me hanging out at basecamp

My shelter design takes advantage of the properties of radiant heat from a fire one step away from the opening. The heat enters under the two foot lip overhang and circulates through the entire structure. This action makes the shelter more efficient than a simple lean-to.

Skills Learned

  • Ax-Manship ~> The ax is the oldest and most under-appreciated, yet invaluable tool which serves, not only as a wilderness lifeline, but, as a simple machine that connects your hands to a forgotten craft.
  • Campsite Selection ~> Consider the 4 W’s.  You need wood… lots of wood… for shelter construction and fire. Standing dead red cedar and a few other saplings were used for my shelter.
  • Knots/Lashing ~> Square, tripod, and diagonal lashing hold my shelter together. Timber hitch, clove hitch, trucker’s hitch, and other useful knots were also used.
  • Simple Machines ~> Here are my top 3 simple machines for shelter construction: Wedges (cutting tools), lever, and pulley.

Camp Tools

In this category, you’ll find ideas to make camp life enjoyable.

  • Saw Buck ~> This tool may be the most used of all the stuff at my camp. The obvious use is for bucking firewood. Max, my grandson, prefers this as a camp chair.

How to Build a Sturdy Sawbuck with Logs and Rope - www.TheSurvivalSherpa.com

  • Camp Maul ~> You’ll use ax and knife skills to craft this woodsman hammer. Watch our video here.
  • Shaving Ladder ~> My newest addition to basecamp. Wish I had discovered this long ago!
  • Takedown Buck Saw ~> A good bucksaw makes life easier when processing wood on my saw buck.
  • Cooking Tripod ~> A sturdy tripod is a multifunctional piece for every camp.
  • Stump Vise ~> A round section of wood used to hold stuff while working with both hands.

Camp Skills

  • Sleep ~> The #1 hallmark of a good woodsman.
  • Fire ~> My favorite skill to practice. You’ll find many articles on fire craft on this page.
  • Cooking ~> Nothing beats the smell and taste of a pan of dry cured bacon sizzling over an open fire. Basecamp cooking affords you the luxury of not eating from freeze-dried bag food. Check out my buddy’s YouTube channel, Feral Woodcraft, for more camp cooking tips. Bring your appetite!
6 Life and Survival Lessons Learned from Backpacking - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Dry cured bacon and dehydrated eggs… not your typical trail breakfast

Camp Crafts

Now that you’ve got tools made and a belly full of camp cooking, it’s time to make some fun stuff!

  • Tree Bark Arrow Quiver ~> Tulip Poplar (Magnolia) bark has been used by indigenous people and traditional craftsmen in Appalachia for thousands of years.
  • Primitive Pottery ~> Not my best skill by far, but making your own containers from clay gives you options.
  • Pitch Sticks ~> This project turns pine sap and charcoal into glue.
A spoon I found growing in a Black Walnut limb on our land

A spoon I found growing in a Black Walnut limb on our land

  • Greenwood Spoon Carving ~> Employ your ax and knife skills to craft eating utensils for camp.
  • Burn and Scrape Containers ~> A primitive skill useful in making spoons, bowls, and even canoes. Watch our video on making a cup here.
  • Leather Ax Sheath ~> Make a hands-free ax carrying sheath for tramping and scouting from basecamp.
  • Ax Handle ~> While I didn’t make this hickory ax handle at basecamp, it’s doable with the above mentioned tools.
  • Plumber’s Stove ~> On rainy days, you need a way to cook in your semi-permanent shelter. It also adds enough heat to knock the chill off.
  • Fire Pit ~> Wooden reflector walls are popular for bushcraft shelters. However, stone is better at retaining heat from your fire. Lay rocks to form a chimney effect to draw air for clean burns.
The large rock in the back acts as a chimney

The large rock in the back acts as a chimney

  • Frog Gig ~> A sapling and knife skills can have you eating in no time.
  • Camp Table ~> Every camp needs a horizontal surface (table).
Red cedar planks lashed a top two poles between trees

Red cedar planks lashed a top two poles between trees

  • Roycraft Pack Frame ~> A fun project to do with kids.
  • Build Community ~> Now that you’ve got your basecamp equipped and comfortable, invite friends over and burn sticks together. A lot can be learned from each other around a warm campfire. You’ll quickly become the smartest woodsman around.

My basecamp is never finished. There’s always more stuff to do and things to craft to make camping in the woods fun.

Note: This week marks the fourth year anniversary of Survival Sherpa. I started writing here a few weeks before Dirt Road Girl was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. This little blog has provided much-needed clarity on our journey.

Our hearts are always encouraged by the ongoing support from each of you here. We’ve had the pleasure of personally meeting several of you and count it an honor to call you friends. Hope each of you have a merry Christmas and a self-reliant New Year!

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: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

 

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , , | 23 Comments

A Glorified Shaving Horse: How to Build a Paring Ladder in the Woods

by Todd Walker

When I first discovered this old device, my mind was officially blown at its simplicity. Peter Follansbee makes furniture with 17th century hand tools. His work and research is fascinating! If you search the term “Paring Ladder”, you’ll find his article which is responsible for the idea of this post. You won’t find much else on the internet about this apparatus.

How to Build a Paring Ladder (Shaving Horse) in the Woods - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

While carving a handmade ax handle in my shop with hand tools, my shaving horse and bench vise proved essential for the process. Lugging my shaving horse to the woods is not something I’d find enjoyable. I modified the paring ladder’s traditional design to meet my need for making wooden stuff at camp.

Woodcraft and bushcraft projects hone self-reliance skills and make camping comfortable. For this build, you get to work with sharp objects in a scenic setting, cutting stuff, lashing stuff, and shaving stuff. What’s not to like?

Hopefully our video will explain the process…

Here’s how to build a shaving horse alternative from stuff found in the woods…

Gather Stuff

  • Uprights/Rails ~ I used two standing dead cedar saplings; one was about 3 inches in diameter, the other was 2 inches. Young cedars grow straight. Tulip Poplar (Magnolia) is another straight grower.
  • Rungs ~ wood for two ladder rungs. The traditional paring ladder has 3 rungs (I don’t know why).
  • Platform ~ a board used as the work surface which supports the working stock. I split and hewed a 5-6 inch diameter dead cedar log which was about 4 foot long.
  • Cordage ~ paracord, tarred bank line, or any strong lashing material.
  • Tools ~ ax, knife, saw, wooden maul, wood wedges, and draw knife.

Step #1: Harvest Uprights

Cut two uprights about 8 foot long with an ax or saw. Once down, de-limb the rails by cutting from the trunk end of the tree toward the top of the tree. Removing limbs in this fashion prevents the limb from splitting strips of sap wood off the pole.

You can save the tops of the saplings for ladder rungs if they are large enough (2+ inches diameter). I used two split staves of cedar from half of the log used to hew my platform board. I’ll explain in a later step.

Step #2: Lash the Uprights

With the rails even and laying side by side, apply a tripod lash about 18 inches (elbow to finger tip) from the top of the poles. Below is our Tripod Lashing tutorial if you need to learn this knot.

Once you’re done lashing, spread the uprights to make a “V” at the intersection. Lean the “V” against a tree with the bottom spread wide and about 3 to 4 feet from the base of the tree.

Step #3: Attach Rungs

Measure down (eyeball it) about a foot below where the poles cross and make a score mark for the location of the first rung. Use either a square or diagonal lashing to secure the rung to the rails. Check out our square lashing tutorial for assistance.

How to Build a Paring Ladder (Shaving Horse) in the Woods - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Add a second rung about a foot below the top rung in the same manner as above. This rung will be longer than the top rung since the base of the uprights are spread apart.

Step #4: Hew a Platform Board

I had originally planned to bring a 2 x 6 of dimensional lumber to camp for this piece. I was glad I forgot. This gave me an opportunity to split and hew a 6 inch diameter cedar log (maybe 5′ long) left over from when I built my shelter two years ago.

Lay the log to be split on the ground. I like to place long logs in a “Y” branch on the ground when splitting. Start a split in the log with your ax. Continue the split with wooden wedges until the two pieces are separated. Repeat the process to split off a section of one half log to form a board about 2 inches thick.

Of course, my cedar log was twisted and didn’t cooperate when I tried to split off a board. It split into two wedged billets. Not wanting to chance the same fate for the other half log, I hewed the round side down with my ax.

A Possum Mentality Note: Save all the wood chips and bark for future fire tinder/kindling.

Your platform board should be long enough to fit between the two rungs with the lower end reaching mid-thigh when in place. Your thigh will press down on the board to create the pinching pressure needed to secure stock in the shaving ladder.

Step #5: Notch the Platform Board

Place the platform board between the two rungs. Test the fit and length so that the bottom of the platform board reaches your thigh and about 4 inches extends past the top rung. Score the bottom of the board where it rests on the second rung.

How to Build a Paring Ladder (Shaving Horse) in the Woods - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Seven notch fits the wedged rung perfectly

Satisfied with the fit, remove the board for notching. Use your ax and a maul or baton and make a notch where you marked. The notch should be about 3/4″ deep. Not deep enough to compromise the boards strength, yet deep enough for the board to bite into the rung.

How to Build a Paring Ladder (Shaving Horse) in the Woods - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A view from underneath

Since my rungs were made of wedged billets, I cut a seven notch which mated very well with the rung. If using round rungs, be sure to carve the notch enough to fit securely.

Slip the platform board in place with the notch on top of the second rung. The notch should keep the board from slipping in use.

Step #6: Use Your Shaving Ladder

Lift the bottom of the board on the fulcrum (second rung) and place the wood you want to shave between the board and the top rung. Release the board to rest against the top rung.

How to Build a Paring Ladder (Shaving Horse) in the Woods - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Pinch the work piece with pressure from your thigh

 

Put downward pressure on the platform board with your thigh to pinch the wood against the top rung. Use your draw knife to begin shaving. To turn your work piece, lift the platform to release pressure, turn the wood, and shave some more.

To adjust the height of the platform, raise or lower the ladder on the tree. There are more ideas I’d like test with the shaving ladder. I’ll update you when I do.

Straight grained green wood is a pleasure to carve on this paring ladder. I also shaved a piece of seasoned cedar with no problems… except for the occasional knot. All sorts of camp crafts can be made using a paring ladder.

How to Build a Paring Ladder (Shaving Horse) in the Woods - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The paring ladder held a section of seasoned Beech in place with little effort

Even in your shop or garage, it won’t take up as much room as a shaving horse. For a shop shaving ladder, I’d actually make the ladder more permanent and designed like the one in Peter’s blog from the first paragraph.

If you’ve ever used a paring ladder, I’d really like to hear your ideas and learn some new tricks.

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: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

 

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Frugal Preps, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

How to Handcraft a Custom Ax Handle from a Tree

by Todd Walker

I stand in countless hardware stores mumbling my frustration… “can I get a double bit ax handle, please!?”

How to Handcraft a Custom Ax Handle from a Tree - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Finding a suitable handle for a double bit ax restoration project is like searching the proverbial haystack for that lost needle. It’s a horrible waste of time. I could have ordered a handle from a few U.S. ax handle suppliers. But I’d never made my own ax handle.

Mike, our across the street neighbor and good friend, had a large hickory snap in a recent storm. I loaded my chainsaw and wood cutting tools into our garden wagon, pulled into his yard, and cut the fallen tree into firewood lengths.

One four-foot section at the base of the tree had spit down the middle in the fall. For some reason, I didn’t cut these two split sections into firewood. A few weeks later I’d understand why…

Mike was taken from us. The unexpected, sudden loss of his life nudged me into action. The two uncut sections eventually made their way to my backyard  for a labor of love.

Before the ingenious Paleo person came up with the idea of lashing a stick to a sharp stone, people simply palmed axes in their hands to chop stuff. The invention gave primal man leverage and a powerful mechanical advantage needed to work more efficiently. Later, in the Iron Age, this idea changed the course of human history when wooden handles were attached to metal cutting tools. Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance just got easier!

To make your own ax handle, here’s some stuff you’ll need…

Tools and Material

  • A Tree ~ Hickory was available so I used it. Other suitable trees include ash, white oak, sugar maple, or hornbeam (ironwood). A tree with a diameter of at least 10 inches with straight grain will give you the best chance at finding a billet to use.
  • Wedge(s), Sledge Hammer, and/or Spitting Maul ~ A metal wedge is used to split the round into quarters. A splitting maul can be used if you don’t own a wedge. Wooden wedges can be used after the initial split in the log.
  •  Ax or Hatchet ~ Used to cut the rough shape of the handle.
  • Draw Knife ~ Refines the shape
  • Rasp ~ For removing detailed amounts of wood
  • Shaving Horse ~ Holds stock in place while working the draw knife or rasp. A bench vise will also do the job.
  • Wooden Maul ~ Hitting stuff
  • Pencil and Measuring Device ~ You’ll do a lot of drawing and measuring
  • Fine-Toothed Saw ~ Cutting the slot to accept the wedge and cutting handle to length. I used my Japanese saw from my carpenter’s tool kit.
  • Sand Paper – 80 and 150 grit

Here are the steps used to make my handcrafted hickory handle which holds sentimental value.

Step #1: Split the Log

Lay the log on flat ground. My log was already halved when it fell. With a full round, drive a wedge in the top of the log to start a split down the middle of the wood. Continue the split with another wedge or splitting maul. Once separated, use an ax to cut any wood fibers holding the two pieces together.

IMG_3817

Lay the half on the ground (flat side down) and split it into two quarters. Depending on the size of your log, you may need to cut quarters into eighths. Now you have billets with about 4 to 6 inches of bark on the outside of the wedged-shaped wood.

Step #2: Find a Handle

Look at the end of the billets and select one with annual growth rings that run straight through the length of your handle. Avoid billets that have twists and defects (knots).

IMG_3808

The growth rings should run length wise on the long part of the rectangle

Draw a 1.5 x 5 inch rectangle on the end of the billet with the growth rings running as straight through the length of the rectangle as possible. The closer the growth rings are to each other the stronger the handle will be.

Baton an ax on the mark unless you're very accurate swinging an ax

Baton an ax on the mark unless you’re very accurate swinging an ax

Stand the billet on end and score one of the long rectangle lines with an ax and wooden maul to start a split. Remove the ax and finish the split with a wedge. Repeat the process for the remaining lines on the rectangle. If all goes well, you’ll have a piece of stock in a rough rectangular shape.

Step #3: Hew the Handle

Stand the billet on a wooden anvil at a slight angle. Begin hewing the form of the handle. Score down the length of the handle in 1 to 2 inch spacing with a sharp ax or hatchet. Then go back and remove the score marks with controlled chopping/slicing motion of the ax. This technique is safely done by chopping with the ax perpendicular to the wood anvil.

Use a small ax or hatchet to remove as much wood as possible on the rough handle

Use a small ax or hatchet to remove as much wood as possible on the rough handle

Work down the billet on all the sides until you have a rough shaped handle. Remember that you can’t add wood back once it’s removed. But the more you take off in this step, the easier your job will be in our next step.

IMG_3844

Step #4: Refine the Handle

Sketch an outline of handle shape on the roughed handle. Place the stock in a shaving horse or some type of vise that will hold securely.

Way too much stock left for draw knife work... back to the ax work

Way too much stock left for draw knife work… back to the ax work

Begin shaving off the wood that isn’t the handle (outside the lines). A sharp draw knife is essential. Go with the grain to remove material. If the knife digs into the stock at a sharp angle, you’re going the wrong way. Turn the handle around and work the grain the other way.

IMG_3884

Leave the handle portion that fits in the eye of the ax as a rough shaped rectangle for now. Concentrate on material removal on the shaft. The shaft should begin to take the shape of an oblong handle with narrow edges that run the same plane as the ax bit(s). The wider sides of the shaft help prevent the handle from turning in your hand when using the cutting tool.

Step #5: Rasp Time

Once the shaft is close to your finished size, begin removing wood from the head end with a draw knife. Check the size needed by placing the ax head against the end so that it is about a 1/4 inch larger that the ax eye. Place the axhead against the end and draw a line from the inside of the ax eye.

My marker wouldn't fit and draw inside the eye very well so I finished the outline free-hand

My marker wouldn’t fit and draw inside the eye very well so I finished the outline free-hand

Secure the handle and begin removing wood from the head with a rasp. Get the head close to size and try fitting the axhead on the handle. If it goes on the tip of the head, tap the butt of the handle with a wooden mallet or maul until the axhead stops moving on the handle. You’ll hear a ringing sound instead of thud once it’s seated.

Remove the axhead from the handle. You’ll see marks on the head showing you how much more wood needs to be removed for a proper fit. Rasp more off the head end and check the fit again. Take your time and remove small amounts of wood until the axhead fits down to the shoulder of the handle with at least a 1/4 inch sticking out of the top of the ax eye.

IMG_3905

To remove the axhead from the handle, I carved another piece of hickory slightly smaller than the ax eye but larger at the opposite end to be used as a punch. Place the axhead on a raised platform so that the handle is off the ground. I used my shaving horse for this task. Drive the handle out of the eye with the wooden punch and hammer or wood maul. You’ll do this procedure several times while testing the fit.

Rasp work in my shop vise

Rasp work in my shop vise

With the axhead removed, begin shaping the shaft and head of the handle with your rasp.

Step #6: Sand the Handle

With the handle close to size, begin sanding to smooth the surface. I began using a broken 42 inch 80 grit sanding belt by hand. I eventually switched to my orbital sander with 80 grit paper to speed up the process. 150 grit finished the handle.

IMG_3999

How it feels in your hands is what matters

How it feels in your hands is what matters

Step #7: Cut Slot and Wedge

With a fine edged saw, cut a slot in the head end of the handle about half the depth of the ax eye. I used a piece of scrape leather in my bench vise to prevent marring the sanded handle. Japanese saws are excellent for fine, clean cuts. They cut on the pull stroke.

IMG_4021

Make a wedge from a scrap piece of wood. I used a piece of seasoned Tulip Poplar in my shop. The grain orientation of the wedge ran perpendicular to the grain of the handle.

Step #8: Hang the Ax

Time to hang the ax on the finished handle. You should be good at this by now. Whack the butt of the handle with a maul while holding the handle in a vertical position. Smack the butt until you hear that solid ring when the axhead seats on the shoulder.

Look for a small curl or two on the shoulder of the handle

Look for a small curl or two on the shoulder of the handle

Trim any curls off where the ax eye and shoulder bottom out. Check the alignment of the head on the handle by sighting down the handle towards the bit of the ax. The center line of the handle should line up with the ax bit. If not, remove the ax and sand wood from either side to achieve alignment.

Tulip poplar wedge going in

Tulip poplar wedge going in

When everything is in line, drive the wedge into the slot on top of the handle. Add a little wood glue to the wedge. The wedge, properly seated, will expand the top of the handle in the eye to secure the axhead to the handle. Cut the wedge off with a saw and sand the end until 1/8 to 1/4 inch of handle is sticking out of the axhead.

Customized sticker for a custom ax handle

Customized sticker for a custom ax handle

I cut this straight handle at 29 inches. This is a good length for the 3 pound Warren Axe and Tool double bit ax. It’s a custom handle that feels good in my hands. That’s all that really matters.

Step #9: Oil the Handle

Apply a coat of boiled linseed oil to all the exposed wood. Repeat this application daily for one week. Then once a week for a month, and once a month for a year. 

This ax handle started out as the half pictured in the background

This ax handle started out as the half log pictured in the background

My next project is to make a double bit sheath for this special ax. I’ll let you know when it’s done. Nothing beats making stuff with you own hands!

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: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , , | 17 Comments

7 Secrets for Burning Sticks in the Rain

by Todd Walker

Mother Nature is neutral. She does not care if you’re able to survive what she throws at you. That’s her nature… uncaring, unpredictable, wild and beautiful.

7 Secrets for Burning Sticks in the Rain - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

I love a rainy night. But, come on! When I started this article, it had rained 16 out of the last 17 days in Georgia. Figuratively and literally, we were soaked to the bone. Nothing outside was dry… tinder, kindling, and fuel were saturated… perfect weather for some survival training.

You can’t control Mother Nature, but you can learn skills to survive her storms. I recently wrote about three skills that forgive your shortcomings in Core Temperature Control. All three are important. But if you could only work on one of these skills, I would recommend fire craft.

Why?

Fire covers a multitude of ‘sin’ in your survival skills. ~ Me

Here’s my short list of what a sustainable fire can do for you…

Becoming a proficient fire crafter requires practice. Even in optimal (dry) conditions, a Bic lighter won’t start a sustainable fire if you don’t do proper fire prep. Add rain to the equation and your attention to detail becomes crucial.

You need an edge.  Every person who successfully burns stuff in the rain has that edge. That edge is the difference in… staying warm vs freezing, signaling rescuers vs staying lost, living vs dying.

I don’t have any magic tricks up my sleeve for burning stuff in foul weather. The few secrets I do employ are outlined below.

Burning Secret #1

Cheat!

If you’ve read or watched any of our emergency fire craft stuff, you know I promote cheating. Fire is life and you’d better be ready and able to cheat death. That’s the kind of cheating you’ll be proud of.

Here are a few of my fire cheats…

Carry a minimum of three different ways to generate the initial heat needed for ignition. I wear my dedicated fire kit on my belt. This pouch contains three sources of ignition…

  1. Bic lighter – open flame
  2. Ferrocerium rod – spark based ignition
  3. Magnifying lens – solar ignition (no good in the rain)

But wait, there’s more!

7 Secrets for Burning Sticks in the Rain - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Three more fire tools

Dig around in my haversack and you’ll find a head lamp and steel wool for electrical fire. Unbuckle my hygiene kit and a small bottle of hand sanitizer offers a rapid chemical reaction (exothermic) for fire. There’s also a redundant Bic lighter wrapped in duct tape hanging from a zipper in my pack. This last item is a self-contained ignition and tinder source for foul weather fires.

Burning Secret #2

Find dry stuff.

No brainer, right? It’s not as easy as it sounds after a few days of Georgia gully washer.

I’ve had my share of foul-weather fire fails from not carrying some form of dry tinder material in my kit. Wiser now, I carry stuff that gives me that edge we talked about earlier.

7 Secrets for Burning Sticks in the Rain - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Gorilla Tape ~ the magic foul weather fire starter

In my foul-weather fire starting experiences, Gorilla Tape gives me that edge. Using duct tape is like pulling fire from a magician’s hat! Once lit, a ball of tape will provide the heat needed to drive off moisture and bring wet kindling to ignition temperature. The wetter the wood, the more tape you’ll need. Keep in mind that small stuff ignites faster than large stuff.

Other not-so-secret sure-fire starters in my pack include…

  1. Commercial fire starters
  2. Homemade fire starters

Burning Secret #3

It’s all about that snap!

Cheating on fire prep is a loser’s game. Spend as much time as necessary to collect 2 or 3 times more small stuff than you think you’ll need. Cutting corners collecting smalls in a dry forest is forgivable. Do it in the rain and you might end up fire-less.

Where do you find smalls in a rain-soaked wilderness? Dead twigs hanging off the ground is the best place to start. When collecting smalls, if they don’t give an audible “snap”, put it back. You and the trees are soaked to the bone. The last thing you need on your fire lay is green sticks.

When it’s raining, I’m not particular about what tree the smalls come from. A few of my favorite trees that give me small fuel, even when the tree is alive, include (remember, they gotta pass the “snap” test)…

  • Cedar – Low hanging branches often have dead twigs and the bark, even when wet, can be brought to ignition temperature quickly when processed into fine fibers.
  • Beech – I find lots of pencil-led size kindling on these live trees. If you’re lucky, you might find a clump of black sooty mold to help extend your fire.
7 Secrets for Burning Sticks in the Rain - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Black sooty mold hanging from a Beech tree

If you’ve acquired basic knife skills, you can quickly create your own smalls from inside larger fuel logs. Baton an arm-size log into halves, quarters, eighths, sixteenths, etc. until you have a pile of dry fuel.

Burning Secret #4

Burning stuff in the rain blows.

Literally. It’s very likely that you’ll have to pump air to the base of your wet-weather fire. When is the right time to blow?

Blowing on a gas-based fire like a birthday candle removes the fuel (gas from melted wax) and extinguishes the flame. However, wood becomes charcoal after burning off gases. Blowing on coals will only raise the temperature of the fire. You may need to blow on a small bed of coals to nurse the fire along with wet wood.

There’s a bit of technique involved in blowing on fires. Remember that heat rises. A chimney uses this principle to draft air up from the bottom of the fireplace and out the top. Blow air horizontally at ground level not from the top of the fire lay.

Be careful not to inhale smoke. Turn your head away from the fire and breathe in fresh air. Positioning your kneeling body up wind helps. If you have a long piece of tubing, which I don’t carry, it will safely add distance between your face and the flames. You’re not going to have time to craft a fire tube from river cane when you need a fire in the rain. Just kneel down and blow.

Burning Secret #5

Cover your fire.

A tipi fire lay is one of the best fire lays to cover your fledgling fire. Properly constructed, a tipi fire takes advantage of the chimney effect to dry wet wood and provide some needed shelter to the fire beneath. Slabs of tree bark can also be added to the outside of the tipi like roof shingles.

I’ve also used a larger log to shelter a fire in the rain. Lay the log perpendicular on top of two rocks or larger logs with the fire beneath. A large flat rock on top will work too.

Stuff tinder and kindling under your rain gear, a piece of tree bark, or in your haversack/backpack until you’re ready to light the fire. Stow your best smalls between your knees and under your crotch as your prep your fire lay… especially if you’re making a one stick fire. The dry smalls you’ve created should be shielded from rain.

Burning Secret #6

Build a base.

Wet ground saps the heat from fire. Lay a foundation of sticks or tree bark on the ground to keep your tinder material off the wet earth. The base is the spot you’ll place a your metal water container on to boil water once the fire is established.

Burning Secret #7

Practice.

That’s right. You’ve gotta get wet to practice burning stuff in the rain! Don’t miss out on your next rain storm. Throw on your muck boots, a poncho, and go start a fire. You’ll learn some valuable foul weather lessons in fire craft.

Got any tricks up your sleeve for burning sticks in the rain? Do share!

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: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

3 Skills that Cover a Multitude of Survival Sins

by Todd Walker

From the biblical perspective, sin is “missing the mark.” In wilderness survival, not hitting your target in one skill doesn’t have to mean certain death. However, fall short in these three critical survival skills, and, dude, you’re screwed!

3 Skills that Cover a Multitude of Survival Sins - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

You won’t get a second chance to see your family again if you can’t stay warm and hydrated. Core Temperature Control (CTC) is the redeeming factor.

Cold and Wet: The Perfect Storm

Your body does a remarkable job regulating core temperature. However, add moisture to the equation, drop the temperature slightly, and you’ve got a perfect storm for hypothermia.

Water saps body heat 25 times faster than air. And 70 to 80% of your body heat is lost through your head and neck. The remaining heat loss goes through your fingers, hands, and feet. The simple act of breathing in cold air and expelling warm air will chill your body.

A slight change in core temp, even by a degree or two, will affect your bodily functions. Shivering, lack of coordination, slurred speech, and numbness in the extremities are signs of hypothermia. Decrease to 91.4ºF (33ºC) and you lose consciousness. Complete muscle failure occurs at 82.4ºF (28ºC).

Core Temperature Equipment

This article is not addressing wilderness living skills or long-term self-reliance. We’re talking about surviving. You can’t very well pursue long-term stuff if you’re not equipped to survive the a short-term storm. And, by storm, I mean – when you need immediate help and none is available – in the wilderness or urban setting.

The first step to being equipped is to always carry equipment. No matter how many debris huts you’ve built, you’d be a stupid survivalist, and possibly a dead one, to not pack some sort of emergency shelter option, fire kit, metal container, cordage, and a knife.

Below is my emergency kit I carry no matter how long I plan to be in the woods.

  • Emergency Space Blanket ~ The best 12 ounce item in my kit for core temperature control. I also carry two contractor grade garbage bags – too many uses to mention here.
  • Fire Kit ~ Three different ignition sources – open flame (Bic lighter), spark ignition (ferro rod), solar ignition (magnifying lens), sure fire (diy and commercial), duct tape, and a bit of dry tinder material.
  • Knife ~ There is no such thing as “The Best Survival Knife”. However, your cutting tool should have multipurpose attributes and be hair-popping sharp.
  • Metal Container ~ A metal water bottle can be used to boil water, make char cloth, cook meals, and perform self-aid duties.
  • Cordage ~ I carry both 550 paracord and tarred mariners line.

These items are my bare bones kit and go with me camping, hiking, backpacking, and hunting. Don’t think you’ll ever need these kit items? Think again. Read this real-life survival story of an injured hunter in the Idaho wilderness.

Core Temperature Control Skills

Conserving body heat is the key to survival. Your body produces heat from biochemical reactions in cells, exercise, and eating. Without a furry coating like lower animals, insulation to maintain a body temperature at 98.6 degrees F is critical.

It all starts with…

Skill #1 ~ Shelter

Sins of Sheltering: Not carrying an emergency space blanket and wearing improper clothing.

While having an emergency space blanket is important, your shelter is built before you ever step over the door sill of your warm and cozy home. Your clothes are your first layer of shelter.

Ever see men with Sasquatch hair at the beach. No matter how thick it appears, that rug won’t insulate when wet and cold.

To trap body heat, layer your clothing. Layers create dead air space much like the insulation in house walls and attics. Layering is activity-dependent. But the basic concept applies to any outdoor cold weather activity.

Here’s my layer system…

A.) Base Layer ~Your base layer should fit snuggly to your body. Long sleeve shirt and underwear made of polyester blend for wicking perspiration away from my body. Sock liners go on first before wool socks. Thin wool glove liners are worn inside my larger leather mittens.

B.) Insulation ~ Yes, I wear cotton, and sometimes fleece, on top of the base layer. This is dependent upon my activity. If I’m really active in really cold weather, I wear a wool sweater. Wool is my favorite insulation layer. Here’s why…

  • Wool fiber absorbs up to 36% of its weight and gradually releases moisture through evaporation.
  • Wool has natural antibacterial properties that allow you wear it multiply days without stinking up camp. Not so with synthetics.
  • Wool wicks moisture, not as well as synthetics, but better than cotton.
  • Wool releases small amounts of heat as it absorbs moisture.
  • Wool contains thousands of natural air-trapping pockets for breathable insulation.

Remembering the importance of dead air space, your insulation layer should fit loosely and be breathable. Apply the acronym C.O.L.D. to your insulating layer…

  1. C – Keep CLEAN
  2. O – Avoid OVERHEATING
  3. L – Wear loose LAYERS to create dead air space
  4. D – Keep DRY

C.) Outer Layer ~ Waterproof is not your friend. Yes, it will keep rain and wetness out, but it will also seal perspiration in eventually soaking your insulation. Wear a weather-resistant shell that allows moisture to escape. The main concern for this layer is to block wind.

Your head, hands, and feet are included in this layer. I’m partial to wool hats to keep my bald head warm. In subzero temps, I wear my shapka, a Russian red fox winter hat, I bought in Siberia in the early 90’s.

Cold feet are deceptive. Frostbite can happen before you know the damage is done. Wear polyester sock liners with wool socks inside your footwear of choice.

Jamie Burleigh under an emergency space blanket shelter with garbage bag bed

Jamie Burleigh under an emergency space blanket shelter with garbage bag bed at The Pathfinder School.

D.) Waterproof Shelter ~ Again, for emergency essentials, you can’t beat a good space blanket to block wind, rain, and reflect heat back to your body. Combined with a plastic painter’s tarp, a Kochanski Super Shelter can keep you warm in subzero condition in street clothes.

Use two large contractor garbage bags filled with leaves, wet or dry, for an insulating ground pad. They don’t add much weight or take up much space in your kit.

There are many more options for waterproof covering. The above list is for your emergency kit.

Skill #2 ~ Fire Craft

Sins of Fire Craft: Not carrying multiple ignition sources and all-weather fire starters.

Fire covers a multitude of ‘sins’ in your survival skills. Even if you deliberately commit the offense of not packing emergency shelter, fire forgives your lapse in judgement. Scantily clad in the wilderness? Fire covers your wrongdoing. No matter how you “miss the mark” in skills or equipment, fire can redeem you.

If you’ve spent any amount of time in the woods I’m sure you’ve heard Mother Nature humming these classic lyrics…

“… Like it always seems to go, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

Are you a fair-weather fire crafter?

That’s a good place to start. Nothing wrong with learning in the most fire-friendly conditions. You’ve got dry tinder, kindling, and fuel to burn. This may not be the case when your life depends on making fire in the wind, rain, and snow.

Cheating is NOT a Sin

There is absolutely no such thing as cheating when it comes to building a life-sustaining fire. Who cares what Bushcraft purists think! Your loved ones aren’t worried about style points in fire craft. They want you home alive. So cheat!

For the weekend camper or woodsman, carry these foul weather fire cheats…

Fire Cheat #1 ~ One of the most overlooked fire starters that should already be in your pack is duct tape. Loosely wad up about 2 foot of tape and ignite it with an open flame. A ferrocerium rod will ignite duct tape. However, you have to shred the tape to create lots of surface area. This isn’t your best option if your fingers are losing dexterity in freezing temperatures.

Fire Cheat #2 ~ DiY fire starters made of wax-soaked jute twine or cotton makeup remover pads. I also carry commercially made sure fire that will burn on water.

Fire Cheat #3 ~ Always carry enough dry tinder material to start a fire in sucky weather.

Fire Cheat #4 ~ Know where to find the best possible tinder material and how to process it to create surface area. Dead hanging branches, pencil lead size to pencil size, provide kindling even in the rain.

Fire Cheat #5 ~ Fat lighter’d (aka – fatwood, resin-rich pine wood) is my lifesaver in the south. Discover your best natural fire starter wherever you’re located or plan to travel. I keep this stuff in all my kits. It’s abundant where I live.

Fire Cheat #6 ~ Dry wood is available in all weather conditions if you know where to look. Standing dead Tulip Poplar (Magnolia) is one of my go-to fire resources. The trick to getting to the dry wood is splitting the wood down to tinder, kindling, and fuel size material. The inner bark makes excellent tinder bundles!

Post #500: The One Stick Fire Challenge

One 2 inch diameter stick of tulip poplar made all this: L to R: Thumb, pencil, pencil lead, and bark tinder

And that brings us to the next skill that forgives survival sins…

Skill #3: Knife Skills

A knifeless man is a lifeless man.

The “survival” knife market is full of gadgetry. Gadgets are for gawkers. You don’t need a Rambo knife to survive. You just need a solid knife and some skill. 

Carry a good knife and practice with what you carry. Your knife may become your one-tool-option. Here are a few characteristics I look for when selecting my main knife…

  • High carbon steel blade that is non-coated. Coated knives can’t be used to create sparks off the spine with a rock to ignite charred material. Carbon steel is easier to sharpen in the field than stainless steel.
  • Blade length between 4-5 inches.
  • Full tang (solid metal under the entire handle) lessens the chance of breakage when an ax is not available to split wood and you have to resort to the baton method.
  • A 90 degree spine is useful to strike ferro rods, process tinder, scrape wood shavings for fire, and many other uses.
  • Most importantly, your knife should feel right in your hand as you use it. The best “survival” knife is the one you have on you and are proficient with.

Knife Sins: Carrying a knife but never becoming competent with your blade.

You’re not going to be carving spoons and bowls in a short-term survival situation. Your cutting tool will be used to make shelter and fire to control core temperature. Knife skills can be easily developed and honed in your backyard.

Since fire is the most forgiving if you “miss the mark” with proper shelter, we’ll cover the cutting tool’s use in fire craft first.

Have Knife, Will Burn

Even if you’ve committed the first two survival sins, your blade can save you. A knife in skilled hands can create fire from scratch. I don’t rely on friction fire as my first choice but do practice the skill in case I run into unknown unknowns.

With my buddy Bic in my pocket, I still need to process sticks to make fire quick. Both the cutting edge and spine of your knife are used to create surface area needed for ignition.

Remembering that you’re cold and wet, your fine motor skills are probably suffering. Pretty feather sticks are for style points. Style won’t save you. Fire will!

Split a dead wrist-size stick with a baton and knife into thumb size pieces to get to the dry stuff. Split a few of those pieces into smaller kindling. Grip your knife with a reverse grip (cutting edge facing up) and use the spine of your knife to scrape a pile of fine shavings off one of the larger split sticks. If you’ve got fat lighter’d, scrape off a pile of shavings the size of a golf ball. Ignite this pile with a lighter or ferro rod and feed your fire its meal plan.

Here’s a demo of a one stick fire in the rain…

Knife and Shelter

Debris shelters can be built without a knife. Sticks can be broken to length between two trees without a cutting tool. Keep in mind that this type of shelter will take a few hours and lots of calories to construct correctly.

The role of the knife in emergency shelter building is secondary compared to its importance in making fire. You won’t even need a knife to set up a space blanket shelter if you prepped your emergency kit ahead of time.

Blades are expedient in cutting cordage, notching sticks, harvesting green bows for bedding, making wedges to split larger wood without an ax, and a number of other self-reliance tasks.

Basic emergency knife skills every outdoors person should practice include…

  • Safely handling a knife ~ cut away from your body, avoid the triangle of death (the triangle between your knees and crotch), cut within the blood circle when others are nearby (an imaginary circle made with your outstretched arms as you turn 360 degrees), never attempt to catch a falling knife, keep it sheathed unless in use, and keep your blade sharp.
  • Creating surface area for fires ~ splitting sticks, feathering sticks, and shavings.
  • Grip and body mechanics ~ standard grip, reverse grip, chest lever, knee lever, and thumb assisted grip for push cuts in fine carving tasks.
  • With a piece of quarts, chert, or flint, use the spine of your high carbon steel knife for spark ignition on charred material.

Forgiveness

All three of these survival skills are needed for emergency core temperature control, but I’d place fire on top of my forgiveness list. Fire can make water potable for hydration, warm poorly clothed pilgrims, cook food to create body heat, smoke signals, illuminate darkness, and comfort the lost.

What’s your top skill for controlling your core temperature? Share if you don’t mind.

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: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, equipment, Gear, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival, Survival Education, Survival Skills, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 33 Comments

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