by Todd Walker
“One of the hallmarks of the veteran woodsman is the way he contrives to make himself comfortable in camp”.
~ Warren H. Miller, 1915 (Quote from Master Woodsman‘s excellent site)
Ready to rough it in the great outdoors? Nope.
I’ll admit, I do enjoy putting myself through natures gauntlet to test my wilderness survival skills. But there comes a time when you want to pull up a stump, sip on hot cocoa, and simply stare at flickering flames.
Last winter I built a semi-permanent shelter as my personal space in the woods… my wilderness lair, if you will. Nothing too elaborate. Sparse woodland furnishings add a degree of comfort and manliness to its appearance and utility.
My base camp was built for outdoor education, adventure, skills training, and is very rudimentary. It could use a camp makeover for comfort’s sake. To add desired comforts, or ‘smoothing it’ as Nessmuk called it, a work bench for making stuff is in order.
No woodworking bench is complete without a vise. This simple tool holds raw wood to be transformed into something useful besides campfire kindling.
Thanks to Mother Nature, I was able to take advantage of a fallen red oak. With the root ball in tact, the dead tree is at perfect horizontal height. And conveniently located 20 feet downhill from my base camp. Don’t have a fallen tree? No problem. You can use a multipurpose camp stump to craft your vise. Dave Canterbury has some excellent videos on making one.
Here’s the tools you’ll need to pack into base camp to build your stump vise. Depending on your woodcraft skills, you may get by with less or need more. I had a comment on my video that this project would only take 2 minutes with a chain saw. True. But again, what do you do when chainsaws stop humming? And who wants to hear chainsaws in the woods? I go to escape noise pollution.
Plus, you get to practice building stuff with hand tools. Besides, the reward of creating stuff in pioneer fashion is much more rewarding… to me anyhow.
- Saw – a bucksaw large enough to cut kerfs into large diameter logs
- Fro – optional, could use your ax, but it’s a cool tool to use
- Wooden wedges
Step 1: Wood Removal
Make several perpendicular cuts with your saw into the log. Space each cut about an inch apart at the same depth along the top of the log. This cut section should be 9 or 10 inches long with cuts about 2 inches deep.
Increasing the distance between cuts may save saw time but will make removing these sections more difficult.
Removing the first kerf cut is where the fro shines. Use a maul to drive the pointed end of the fro into one of the cut sections from the side. Torque the handle to pop the first kerf cut out of the log. Once the first kerf cut is removed, the others pop out easily. Pound the fro into the next kerf and pop it out. Continue until you have a flat work top on the log.
Step 2: Angle the Last Cut
I found through experience that cutting a 10 to 15 degree angle into one end of the newly created workbench indention is essential for split rails. Cut and remove this wood from the end of your flat table top notch. Rails fit nicely into the slot and can be held firmly in place with a series of wooden wedges.
Step 3: Cut Wedges
Use your saw to cut a shallow V notch in the end of a 3 inch diameter log. Use a longer log inside a Y branch like I used in the “Splitting Long Logs” video for stability. Cut the wedge to size (about 3 inches long) after cutting a V notch in the end.
Cut a few other round wedges in various lengths to fill the gap between the V wedge and the end of your vise. You’ll also need to carve a few shims about 1/8 to 1/4 width.
This might make more sense on my video.
Step 4: Test Fit
Lay a split rail into the cleated notch on your workbench. Place the V notch wedge against the opposite side of the rail. Depending on how wide you made your stump vise, you’ll likely need a few more round wedges to fill the gap between the V wedge and the 90 degree side of the table top.
Tap a few shims between the round wedges and the edge of your vise to snug up the rail. With both sawing and draw knife work, the rails held fine. I had to tighten the shims a few times after hitting a knot in the rails with the draw knife. That was not too bad considering the amount of pressure exerted on the knots.
A stump vise not only holds split rails like a champ, it gives you options. Anything from wooden tool handles, to self-bows, to mortis and tenon furniture can be shaved and carved… with both hands free!
Not only does crafting camp comforts build self-reliance, they could keep you in the woods longer and more often. Here’s to smoothing it!
Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,
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