Every September for the last 5 years many of the ladies of Bramley, Hampshire have come together for a very special race. It’s called Iron Mumand these ladies train very hard throughout the months leading up to it. Many will have started for the first that year having not trained in any way for years (or never) and in a matter of a few short months are running, cycling and sprinting in this race. My wife Alison is one of the organisers and for the first few years she had me out on the route doing marshalling. Thankfully that came to an end two years ago when I was redeployed to the fun day, and now I get to play at bushcraft while the ladies are out running. Catch is though, I have to help about 20+ kids (and the occasional mum or dad as well) achieve an ember using a bowdrill. Luckily for me I enjoy the whole fire-making business.
The day for me starts early as I have to set up my bushcraft area and help with setting up the race. Normally I start about 6am setting up my tipi as a focal point for the bushcraft. I have the fire area set up near the tipi and an Atlatl range set up behind it.
Inside my tipi hanging on a rope from the centre pole is a Burdock hanger for my jacket and bits and bobs. I will be posting a How To…. on these hangers shortly.
One of the main things I have to prepare are the drill pieces for the bowdrill. I will go through quite a few before the day is out.
Once everything is set up it is good to get a brew on. I like to use the Kelly Kettle for this as the fire area is self contained. Also it is good for these kind of shows as people can learn some basic fire starting skills using one. In this picture though is Tom Gilbert (a fellow member of BCUK) who was perfectly capable of getting the Kelly going and a brew on.
Last year I got my first customers even before the race started. I try and explain all the different parts but sometimes the queue is too big or the kids just have that look in their eye that says ‘Just get on with it!’.
To give that feeling of teamwork (and maximise the number of kids having a shot) I try to get them to double up with me. The need to master the bowdrill solo only starts to take hold in the teenage years, so all the kids I work with are usually very happy to work as part of a team in firemaking.
My son Finlay though was very insistent on just the two of us having a go. Thankfully the day was warm, the wind was gentle and steady and I had plenty of dry timber, so we got lots of embers really quickly.
The kids were pretty enthralled with seeing a glowing ember and were really protective of what they had just created. The wind was just strong enough to be helpful with the embryonic ember’s start in life but potentially strong enough to immediately blow it apart if it was not protected. Kind of a Catch 22 situation, but the kids managed to protect their embers until they were strong enough to pop into a tinder bundle.
Each ember produced a nice bundle of flame. With these tinder bundles I generally hold them unless the kids are really keen to do so. I then get all the kids to queue up behind my shoulder and take turns blowing it into flame.
While all this was going on, the stance next to me was doing a bit of hay bale throwing. Never tried this before and only got it about half as far as the winner (must be a knack thing, obviously). The kids shied away from this one so my friend Michael and myself took turns throwing the bale with any of the kids who wanted a go. Turned out to be a hit after that. (Michael though had done his shoulder in earlier so when his good wife Helen found out what he had been up to there were a few choice words said) 😉
The other activity I offer is an Atlatl range. It is very small but it has a good turnover of kids. Michael is quite happy to run this stand for me (thanks mate). I have a range of different Atlatls for the kids to use so that even 3 year olds can use them. We give each of the kids a bit of tuition to begin with before letting them loose with what is basically a spear-chucking device.
The range is strictly controlled with a clear target and launch area.
After a few tries most of the kids can get the dart into the roped off area. There is something fundamentally satisfying about throwing an Atlatl dart and I find whoever picks one up and uses it gets the same satisfaction. Must be something imprinted into our genetic makeup (like watching the flames in a campfire).
After the race (I saw nothing of it to tell the truth) those volunteers who had helped out at all 5 races received a lovely gift of an engraved metal wine stopper.
I thought I would finish on this picture: my wife Alison saw it and asked, ‘Where does your beard end?’ 😉
As explained in the previous article, an Atlatl is basically a spear-chucking device. Many different types have been made by different societies: there is nothing in the archaeological record (as far as I know) of this type of Atlatl, but then as it’s made completely of organic material there is no surprise there. I decided to investigate this type after researching the Lovelock Cave Atlatl. There is debate over how darts were launched by that Atlatl and whether a point was used or whether a strip of cordage was used.
The One Stick -Split Stick Atlatl I made for this post was done using primitive tools only and a single shoot of goat willow (Salix caprea). I made the Atlatl just to prove to myself I could make one out of a single stick (shaft, wedge and cordage). All you would need to make one using modern tools would be a good sharp knife. The piece of willow I selected was about 1.5 metres long and about the thickness of my thumb. This was far longer than needed but I wanted it this length to get lots of cordage from the bark and to use part of the excess wood as a wedge (needed in making this type of Atlatl).
The first thing I did was to cut into the bark all the way around the stick about 12cms from the thickest end, leaving an area of bark slightly larger than my fist. This bark-covered end acts as a handle area.
I used an old deer rib bone to scrape the dark outer layer of the bark off rest of the stick, leaving the handle untouched. If you leave this on the bark, the cordage you make from it will not of the highest quality.
After scraping off all the bark I re-cut around the stick just above the handle area to make sure all the inner bark was disconnected from the handle area.
I then cut a line through the inner bark from the handle to the end of the stick to start to open the bark up.
I used my thumbs to peel open the bark. Other tools that make this job easier are a small wooden wedge or the back of your knife blade. In late spring the bark comes off easily so my thumbs were all I needed.
Wherever possible try and take the bark off in one piece so you can make long strands for easy cordage making. Do not worry if this does not happen, all it means is that your cordage may take slightly longer to make.
I wedged the flint knife into a groove in the log and then sliced the bark into strips. I managed to get a good amount of strips out of this one piece of bark. I then left the strips to dry out in the sun. Cordage is best made from rewetted strips of bark as the bark shrinks considerably when it is dried out for the first time.
I decided that I wanted my Atlatl to be about 64cms long (fingertip to armpit for me) so I used a piece of flint knapped as a discoidal (curved) knife to saw through the stick. This takes far longer than using a modern knife but I find far more satisfying.
Keep sawing until you can feel you can snap the wood without splitting it down its length. Once snapped, trim the end of the Atlatl smooth.
The spare piece of wood needs to be trimmed down and cut to size to make a wedge. This will be used to form the split stick part of the Atlatl.
I used my flint adze at first to blank out the wedge, making it about 10cms long.
Then I used my flint knife to trim the wedge to its final shape.
I used my flint knife to split the non-handle end of the Atlatl open. As the knife has a flat spine I just hit the back of the knife to start the split. Be careful to keep the split in the middle of the stick. A piece of cordage should really be tied off on the shaft where you want the split to stop. I forgot to do this but thankfully the split did not travel too far. I made my split 20cms long.
I used my discoidal knife to create a small groove around each split limb for the cordage to grip onto.
Before inserting the wedge I did tie off the split with some of the dried bark using a constrictor knot.
Afterwards I used more of the bark strips to secure the wedge by wrapping them around it to hold it secure.
I had plenty of bark left over after this, which was good as I wanted to make some cordage to create a strap to hold the dart in place before launching.
I completed a piece of cordage about 50cms long to give me plenty to tie onto the Atlatl. I used a constrictor knot on each split to hold the cord in place. Jonsbushcraft blog has an excellent tutorial on making cordage.
I was very happy with how this Atlatl turned out.
You can see the dart has a groove instead of a hole at the end. This allows the cordage to hold the dart in place before launching.
The finger pinch hold is just the same as a normal Atlatl with a point.
I think the launch with this type of Atlatl feels slightly different but once you get used to it I find the release is as smooth as it is with a normal pointed one.
I made this Atlatl purely for the joy of making one with primitive tools and to see if it was possible to produce a hunting tool out of just a single stick.
I have no idea whether hunters in pre-history used this type of Atlatl but I certainly now know they would have found it the easiest thing in the world for them to make.
Back in early September of 2013 my good friend Dave Lewis invited me over to Danemead Scout Camp to help work with some cadets from the North London Enfield Sea Cadet unit that he was planning to put forward as a team for the London Area Sea Cadet Chosin Cup competition in October.
I had worked with the team earlier in June focussing on their navigation skills so this time the focus was team working. The Chosin Cup marks highly on good team working and we both felt that Enfield had a very good chance of winning. As well as the teamwork we wanted to give the cadets some time to relax and enjoy the outdoors in a way that they would not normally have the opportunity to.
As part of the team working training I briefed the cadets that I wanted them to set up their own group tarp, fire and individual hammocks. They had learnt many of the necessary skills before so they just needed a little refresher on bushcraft knots and off they went.
The white platform the cadet is standing on is actually one of my archery targets made by Mark Gater of G-Outdoor. An excellent bit of kit that has many uses other than just a target. I did a review of the G-Tuff Field target on Bushcraft UK back in 2011.
Now a recurring theme of the weekend was the lack of time I got to sit on my EDC hammock chair. I love this chair so I was a little upset at its overuse by others 😉
The cadets were also taught how to use Laplander saws safely so they could prep their own fire for the evening: the wood slightly propped up and sawn off to the side with the arm supporting the branch crossed over the top of the blade.
The cadets needed no help getting the fire going with firesteels as they had done this many times before, and then it was time for a well-earned rest.
On the Saturday after noon we had a visit from our friends Jim and Maria Stilgoe with their sons David and James. I had never met baby James before so it was nice to do so out in the woods. David on the other hand is not one to sit around for long and was soon off exploring and had a great time with Jim shooting the Father and Son bow.
After a bit of shooting David needed a bit of a rest and soon found his first hammock – ‘And the little one said roll over’ comes to mind here 🙂
As I was saying earlier I did not get much of a chance to use my own hammock chair. It makes a perfect seat for mother and baby I think.
Camping would not be camping without a toasted marshmallow or two. And the occasional cremated one.
That evening around the fire the cadets had made I got some cracking Fire Faces.
After a good night’s sleep (we were only out for one night) it was time to crack on with more activities.
The focus on the Sunday was to improve the communication between the team members when doing tasks. Here the cadets are working together to set up a river crossing activity by manoeuvering a log to act as one of the make-believe river banks.
I taught them a new way to create an emergency stretcher from a single piece of rope (not the usual Mountain Leader version).
At break time you can guess I was still minus a hammock.
Dave set up the river-crossing activity and talked the cadets through what he wanted. They set up an excellent crossing and soon all were over the other side.
To finish off we got the Atlatls out and had a ping. It is good for the cadets to practise this as it is a standard test at the Chosin Cup now. I took a short video of the cadets using the Atlatl that weekend.
The best thing about the EDC hammock is that it has a zip. Somehow the cadets found this rather fun. I had given up now on ever getting a seat 🙂
I had a great time over the whole weekend as all the staff and cadets knew what they were doing, they wanted to be there and the weather was perfect. You do not get that too often when teaching outdoor education so it is one weekend I remember fondly – apart from the hammock stealing!!!
Once a year the London-based Adventure Training instructors of theSea Cadets like to get together and have a training weekend in a remote location. Apart from having some time catching up with each other we use it as a time to skill up some of the newer instructors in map reading and climbing skills. Many of them are training to be assessed as Walking Group Leaders. Summer Mountain Leaders or the Single Pitch Award (outdoor single pitch climbing).
So this January we decided to head for Dartmoor as we managed to get booked into the army camp at Okehampton.
Everyone arrived on the Friday afternoon or evening and we spent our time catching up on things, prepping kit and planning the activities for the weekend. The weather forecast was a real mixed bag with Saturday looking good and Sunday looking atrocious. We decided to do the walking on Saturday and abseiling (and possibly climbing) on the Sunday.
We were up early and had an excellent breakfast before setting out. I had plenty of porridge before a good fry up. There was no one on the counter so I managed to get two sausages and two pieces of bacon 🙂 If you have ever eaten in an army camp you will know how rare that is.
We walked out of the camp and straight onto Dartmoor. It was quite windy but the sun was out so it was a pleasant start to the day. This was the first time I had been out on the hills for over a year and a half so I was looking forward to it.
Jacob took this picture I think on his GoProcamera strapped to his rucksack. That is one bit of kit I would like to get one day. It takes stills and video and you can attach it to just about anything.
We decided to have a look from on high at the viaduct we would be abseiling from on the Sunday but on the way we came across a year-old lamb with its head stuck in a fence. The ground was fairly churned up around it so it looked like it had been there for quite some time. Eventually Dan and Jacob managed to free the poor thing and before anyone asks I was not tempted to turn it into supper 🙂
As the guys headed off I went off on my own slightly higher up to see what I could see in terms of plants and tracks. Jim took this picture of me sky lined and I think it is the best picture taken of me on the hills ever. Cheers Jim.
After having a look at Meldon viaduct (with a few gulps) we headed off up to Yes Tor. The streams were very high so we had to follow them for quite a distance to get a safe crossing point. There are few bridges around here and to cross safely you need to be able to do it in one step. Eventually we found a decent spot where everyone could cross safely.
When choosing a spot to cross make sure that you can not only cross over in one step, but that you can also cross back the other way in one step. This is best done where both banks are at the same height.
I spotted a couple of small trees by the side of the stream and asked the guys if they were OK having a break there. As soon as they agreed, out came my little EDC hammock. Normally I just set this up as a chair but the trees were just that bit too far apart so I went for a conventional set up. I really rate this hammock. It crams down to nothing so I can stow it away in my rucksack but in a matter of a minute it can be set up. I normally set it up with an Evenk knot on one end and a Tarp Taught hitch on the other. You can pick one up from UKhammocks for about £15.
Anyway I was happy to get off the wet ground and have a break. Jennifer took these pictures but when I asked if she wanted a go was not too keen (need to convert you to hammocks this year, Jen).
Moving on up to Yes Tor the ground became increasingly saturated. Even the rabbit holes were flooded.
I spotted very few flowering plants except some flowers on the gorse bushes (tasted nice) but spotted a few fungi and lichens. The Devils Matchsticks (Cladonia floerkeana) really stood out because of the lack of flowers. Also on the way up I spotted four separate clumps of fox scat and the hairs of the prey were clearly visible. There is a good write-up on the Dartmoor Fox here on the Legendary Dartmoor site.
Someone in the group spotted a puddle with some bubbles in it. After having a good look I could see that the bubbles were caused by escaping ground gas. When I bent down to take a picture I noticed Perry’s reflection in the water. With the walking poles it turned out surprisingly arty.
The wind was in our faces the whole way up Yes Tor and we met a number of youngsters out doing the Ten Tors. I was happy to be doing just one Tor in that wind. No reports that night of anyone missing so they all must have made it back. Normally the challenge is in May so these guys had picked a tough time of year to do it.
A quick snap of Jim just after he had tied his shoelaces. It was good to see you back out with us Jim.
Up on the summit the wind was so bad you could hardly stand but Dean insisted on a picture. Next to the summit is a large flagpole on which the army hang a red flag if there is live firing in the area.
After reaching the top I spotted a little alcove in the rock and asked Ben and Matt if they had any climbing kit to help me set the hammock up. They pulled out a full rack of kit and in no time the hammock was up again.
While I was chilling out Dan had gotten his rope out and was practising some abseiling skills as part of his Mountain Leader training under the watchful eye of the boss Perry. The hut in the background is for army personnel to use when the range is in use.
After a while, even sitting in the lee of the Tor, we started to feel the bite of the wind. A quick check of the map and we were off again. I think Jen and John were feeling the cold at this point, I know I was as my fingers were starting to stiffen up.
The next stage was out onto the open moorland to do micronavigation with compasses. We were looking for a metal marker out on a spur when we came across this lone pole. Up close you could see the gaping exit holes of high calibre bullets. The tiny marks were from lower calibre bullets that had just ricochted off and I think the small pyramid shapes were bullets that had gone through one side but not out the other. Not something you see very often.
It was at this point that some of the guys headed off to do some more micronavigation training. I took a wander off down to the artillery range at the base of the valley, which is dotted with little ponds formed out of shell impact craters. The army use this area as the ground is so soft that much of the energy of the shells is absorbed by the peat. I would love to do a survey of this area as there are so many little microclimates dotted around down there.
Next to the impact area is a rock bunker for observers to sit and watch the shells impacting. It was muddy inside but would keep you pretty safe.
I caught up with the others heading back to the camp and had a great chat with Jen and John on the way back. This helped me as my right ankle had really tightened up at this point. A sign of old age, not being on the hills for ages or both (the latter probably).
All the blokes stayed in this building but as Jennifer was the only lady in the group she got one of the new buildings all to herself.
Sunday morning was all change on the weather front. As well as the wind it was the usual Dartmoor horizontal rain. Some of the group decided to walk around to the viaduct (about 2 miles away) and the rest of us took the minibus with all the kit we needed.
After parking up I came across this elder tree covered in jelly fungus (Auricularia auricula-judae). A real tasty treat for foragers.
Meldon viaduct outside Okehampton is 50 metres high and provides an excellent spot for abseiling. We had permission from the army to do this and were given the keys to access the underside walkways. It would have been far too dangerous to abseil from the centre in the high winds so we picked a spot about a quarter of the way along the span. The height at this point was about 25 metres. Some of the guys wanted to go over the kit that they would be using with Dan so while they did this I cleared the landing spot, set up my hammock again and had a bit of a chill. I needed a ladder for this set up but it was worth it.
The set up of the abseil did not take long and was done by Dan, Ben and Matt. Matt went first and I went second followed by Jim. This is a free abseil set up: no bouncing off a cliff face, you just launch yourself off the side and drop down at whatever speed you want.
Matt filmed his descent on his GoPro camera strapped to his helmet. I have not seen the video yet but will link to it when I can.
It was my turn next.
Dean had never abseiled before (apart from a quick practice a few minutes earlier on a short section about 10 feet high) so this took guts to do. I remember my first abseil and can clearly remember seeing my legs shaking furiously.
I took these pictures from the bottom after I had abseiled. Jim is on the left and Dean is on the right.
After this I took three videos of the the others that abseiled that day.
We very nearly did not do the abseil at all owing to the atrocious weather earlier on but I’m glad we did in the end.
It was a great finish to the weekend. I got the picture of Graham and myself to show the amount of water flowing over the dam as it was an impressive sight.
Lined up below in the group photo in the Back row (left to right) are Dean Barnett, John Kelly, Jennifer Burdett, Jacob Leverett, Jim Stigoe and Ben MacDonald. Front row George Aitchison, Graham Brockwell, Perry Symes, Matt MacDonald and Dan Keefe.
A big thank you to Graham and Perry for organising this weekend, and to all of you for being such great company. To those who could not make it – there is always next time.
Back in August of 2012 at the BCUK Bushmoot I learnt how to make a Bhutanese Bow with Wayne Jones of Forest Knights. As far as I know Wayne is the only instructor in the UK running classes in making this type of bow. I hope he runs another one at this year’s Moot.
This is a quick bow to make when you have an instructor like Wayne to guide you. The bow is made up of two pieces of tapered bamboo joined together in the middle by some sort of cordage or tape around the handle area. I tried to take pictures of all the steps but must admit to missing a few as I got so wrapped up in the whole process. To make up for this I rehandled the bow at home and took some pictures of the missing steps.
I have done a bit of research about this type of bow. It seems that archery is a national sport in Bhutan with many villages in the country running archery competitions. Kids as young as three are taught how to use the bow. Due to the nature of bamboo the outer layer of the bamboo becomes the belly of the bow and the inner part becomes the back: as the outer layer is very hard it will not take the expansion forces exerted as you draw the bow (it will crack), but as it is a grass the inner area (which is fibrous) is more flexible.
Below on the left is a picture of the finished (reworked) bow and on the right Spikey is holding the tube of bamboo we used to make it.
Wayne Jones researched the bow for me as well and found this in the Bowyers Bible: ‘Unless the bamboo wall is unusually thick it’s best to overlap two billets at the grip secured by a couple of rivets made of nails or dowels, the grip is then wrapped with rawhide, sinew or even tape. Overlapping stiffens the midbow and increases poundage per bow length. Such bows can be made in minutes. Even though “quickie” bows, they are excellent in every regard.
This design is a good choice for kids’ bows: quick and easy to make, and fairly indestructible.’
Wayne brought a supply of large bamboo to the Moot for us to use. With this type of bow you need to use very large bamboo so that when you split it into quarters you get fairly flat limbs. I do not know the type of bamboo that was used or where Wayne sourced it but I am sure if you were to ask him he would help you.
In the first picture below Wayne is showing us two limbs made from one piece of bamboo he had carved earlier. As bamboo gets thinner as it grows higher you need to make both limbs from the same piece of the column to ensure both limbs are of the same width and thickness.
I cut out a section of tube that was 103 cms long to begin with so that when the two limbs were joined together the bow would be my height. NB I am not 2m 6cms tall, but as the limbs overlap at the handle these measurements produced a bow of my height. You will need to experiment for yourself.
I used an axe to batton out the bamboo into quarters and selected the best two pieces to work with. I made sure when I was battoning that I kept the blade of the axe at 90 degrees to my body. This would ensure that if the axe slipped out of the split it would swing away from me.
Here you can see many of the battoned-out pieces of bamboo ready to be shaped into limbs. You can clearly see the node plates on the inside of each limb, which keep the structure rigid. These need to be knocked off and eventually filed flat.
In this picture you can see Mark using the back of his axe to knock off each piece of the node plates.
To make full use of each limb it is best to use string to mark out its shape. Allow an extra half centimetre or so so you can finely trim the limb after you have axed the shape out. I made the handle area (thicker end) about 5 cms wide and the tip of the limb (thinner end) about 3 cms wide. Once you have blanked out the first limb you can use this one to mark out the second limb so it is the same shape.
Keeping the limb to one side of my body, I experimented first with using an axe to cut the excess off but soon swapped it for a large chopping knife loaned to me by my friend Sargey (Andy Sergeant). This was so sharp with such a good weight behind it that I soon had the first limb blanked out. I then used a smaller knife to trim the limb down to the line I had marked with the string. I used this finished limb to mark out my second limb and repeated the whole process until I had two roughed-out limbs.
I used various tools such as my Japanese rasp, a cabinet scraper, a small knife and wood files to smooth out what was left of the node plates and to curve all the edges of the limbs. If you do not smooth off all the edges, you don’t just risk a splinter, there’s a good chance your finished bow will develop a split when you draw it.
Take your time smoothing the plates and edges down.
The outer layer of the bamboo is left untouched and this will become the belly of the bow. The smoothed inner side will become its back.
I used a rounded file to produce the nocks to hold the bow string. Make sure you get them the right way round.
Make sure the edges of the nocks are sanded down so there are no sharp edges. A sharp edge will potentially cut your bow string and could cause a split to occur.
When I first built this bow I left the handle area as you see it in the picture below. After shooting the bow I found the handle area just too wide for a comfortable grip.
I marked out one handle so I would lose 1 cm on each side, making the actual handle 3 cms wide. Then with a sharp knife I carved out the excess.
I then used the first carved handle to mark out the second handle and carved that one as well.
To take this picture I got my son Finlay to hold the tape taut and my wife Alison rolled the bow to tape the limbs together.
This method ensures the limbs stay in the correct position and the tape is put on as firmly as possible. Once I had the limbs secured I taped up the middle of the handle by myself.
I find that the tape does not offer a good grip so I put on a leather handle using a common whipping technique.
Tillering is the process of testing the bow to see if it forms a balanced curve on each limb. Initially we had just a piece of paracord attached to the bow to do this. The tillering stick in the picture allows you to see if the limbs are balanced. If they are not balanced you need to remove a small amount of the inner side of the bamboo using a light rasp or cabinet scraper wherever the limb looks stiffest. This is one part of the process that is very hard to show without taking a whole string of pictures and probably where going on a course and getting one-to-one tuition on it pays dividends. Dick Baugh wrote a good article on tillering on the Primitive Ways website that is worth a read.
Wayne supplied some Dacron for our bow strings. I twisted one end as you would do to make cordage and used that to make a timber hitch for one end of the bow.
For the other end I created a loop using the Flemish twist method. Sam Harper in his blog Poor Folk Bows has an excellent article including a video on making the Flemish twist and the timber hitch.
The finished bow. This was taken after I had reshaped the handle. I plan to wrap the exposed tape in strips of rawhide to cover them up.
I like this bow much better now that I have rehandled it as it is far more comfortable to hold. I think some more of the cadets will also want to use it now because of the reduced handle size.
A nice shot of the bow in action with an arrow in flight.
If I could ever source some of this bamboo I would definitely make one or two more. In comparison to my Ash Flatbow and Holmegaard this bow shoots just as well but took only a fraction of the time to make.
If you have further information or links on this type of bow I would love to hear from you.
I’ve mentioned the Atlatl several times in previous blogs, so I thought it was high time I wrote a post devoted to this, one of my very favourite bushcraft activities. I’m going to introduce you to the three different types of AtlatlI use when teaching this art, together with some historical references to them I’ve found in the course of my research. For one of my types of Atlatl there is no historical record, and the exact makeup of other types are sometimes just a best guess, so please feel free to leave comments if you know more, as it is all a big learning curve for me. There are many different types of Atlatl but here I will concentrate on the three I regularly use.
What is an Atlatl?
An Atlatl is a spear-chucking device traditionally used for hunting or combat purposes It was developed in pre-history by many different societies. Some societies still use the Atlatl to this day, others used it alongside the bow while other societies stopped using the Atlatl after they developed bows. An excellent modern day comparison to help you understand how an Atlatl works is to watch a dog walker using a plastic tennis ball thrower. The ball travels much further than normal as the plastic ball thrower extends the thrower’s arm length and as the arm sweeps forward the plastic thrower is bent back, storing energy. This energy is released as the thrower does a final flick of the wrist. The dog is happy as it gets a longer run and the thrower is happy as he gets longer between throws :-).
The name Atlatl comes from the Aztec society but in Australia it is known as the Woomera. An excellent overview of the Atlatl can be found in Wikipedia.
I like Atlatls as they are relatively simple to make, cost me next to nothing to make, students can make them and learn to use them easily and will provide hours of fun for kids from the age of about three years up (I still classify myself as a big kid).
When teaching this skill I always set up a proper range so that the darts can be thrown safely. I normally work on a range of about ten to twenty metres but a good Atlatl can reach up to a hundred metres in a competent thrower’s hands.
Here is a selection of some of my Atlatls. I will be posting in the near future a couple of How To…. guides on making some of these Atlatls.
I have simple Atlatls that just have a point at the rear to attach the dart to, Split Stick Atlatls with cordage instead of a point, and other Atlatls that have a front ‘Y’ rest for the dart.
The simple type of Atlatl shown below on the left just has a point at the rear to hold the dart in place before releasing it. You will see how this works later in the post. This is the easiest type of Atlatl to make. I generally use the base of a piece of hazel coppice (lots of other woods will work as well) for this where there is a fork in the wood near the ground. All I have to do is after cutting the shoot is to shape the smaller fork into a point with a knife and whip a para cord handle onto the main. The Primitive Ways website gives an excellent description of constructing a simple Atlatl.
The Atlatl on the right is also a simple one but made in a primitive manner, without modern tools. I used a thin yew branch, attached a rawhide handle and attached a carved antler point to the back.
Once you have mastered the finger pinch grip these simple Atlatls are very easy to use and great fun can be had at very little cost. The Atlatl gives greater power to your throw by extending your arm length, enabling you to throw the dart faster and further.
Atlatls with Front Rests
I was on holiday in the Cheddar Gorge area of the UK a few years ago and spotted in the Museum of Prehistory some reproduction Atlatls on display. They had been reproduced as closely as possible to Atlatl finds in the local caves. One of them had a forked rest and I found that intriguing, as up to that point I had not found any reference to this type of Atlatl.
I soon found out that this style of Atlatl with a front rest is great for kids. As the dart is supported by the rest no finger pinch grip is required, making it easy for kids as young as three to use this type of Atlatl.
In my research into this type of Atlatl I also came across a post by Mike Richardson In Primitive Ways explaining how if the thrower has to wear gloves (for example in arctic environments), the normal finger pinch method of holding the dart is not an option so a rest is attached to the front of the Atlatl. This along with some cordage wrapped around the dart allows the gloved thrower to have the dart locked in place but still easily released with a flick of the wrist. I have used this method numerous times and the cordage wrap/lock has no detrimental effect on the release of the dart.
I made some Atlatls up with metal bolts as rests as I found the original wooden rests I had made were easily broken by my cadets so I had to design a ‘Squaddie-proof’ alternative. Not pretty but very effective and robust.
In the picture above and the one below you can see that the cordage wrap on the dart is locked up against the fork of the rest, ensuring the dart does not fall off before release. After a short piece of tuition most kids (except the very young) are able to set this up for themselves.
In the picture below you can see a wooden rest I made by wrapping a piece of shaved wood around the shaft of the Atlatl and tying it in place with some natural cordage. I inserted a further wedge piece in the rest to tighten the cordage wrap. This proved an interesting experiment but was too fragile for most of the cadets to use.
Again in the picture below you can see that, as with the Atlatl with the bolt, the dart is well locked in place requiring only a flick of the wrist to release it. I have not come across any historical evidence for the cordage wrap on the dart as a holding mechanism. It may not be authentic, but I like it as it opens up the world of Atlatl to the very young who find holding the dart and Atlatl in one hand difficult.
The Split Stick Atlatl
The Split Stick Atlatl I found documented on the Primitive Ways website as well. No point is carved at the end but a piece of cordage is used instead to hold the dart in place. There is very little archaeological evidence for this type of Atlatl and much debate if it was ever used but I like it and with a little practice it is just as accurate as an Atlatl with a point. A good online discussion on this can be found in the PaleoPlanet forum.
I call this one the ‘One Stick Split Stick Atlatl’: I made the whole thing using primitive tools and out of just one piece of willow just to prove to myself that an Atlatl could have been made just using one straightish piece of stick. I will be posting a How To…. guide on making this Atlatl.
A sideways view of the Atlatl showing the finger pinch grip.
One of my favourite Atlatls is the Lovelock Cave Atlatl which I reproduced as closely to the original as possible. This Atlatl was found in a cave over a century ago but the original was lost; thankfully, though, not before someone had made a detailed drawing of it. A copy of the drawing can be seen in the post by Mike Richardson on the Split Stick Atlatl. It has a fork at the rear and the drawing shows a small groove around each fork. I have read that this was where a small piece of carved wood or bone was attached as a point to hold the Atlatl. I decided though to see if the Atlatl would work with just some cordage wrapped around it. Again there is no historical evidence that this was done but it does work well. A good comparison of both attachments to the Lovelock Cave Atlatl can be read in the PaleoPlanet forum here.
Sideways pictures showing the finger pinch method.
A couple of pictures showing the dart attached to the cord wrapped around the fork.
A little experiment with a split stick and a rest. The rest did eventually split as the pine wood was quite weak with the hole drilled into it.
The rest here is based on the Cheddar Gorge replica I saw but instead of a point at the end I made it into a fork with cordage. This works perfectly well with a bit of practice.
I really love making Atlatls and everyone I work with loves to have a go with them. I need to spend some more time on making different types of darts next to go with my shed full of Atlatls.
I was due to run a DofE course for the Sea Cadets in Brecon last August but sadly it got cancelled at the last moment due to a lack of funding. Thankfully though my friend Fraser Christian from Coastal Survival heard about that and invited me down to a Coastal Hunter Gatherer course he was running that weekend.
This was an excellent course, I learned a lot and would recommend it to anyone wanting to know how to live comfortably on the coast. It is not an easy course as you really have to work for your dinner but well worth the time.
Fraser runs the course on the Dorset coast and in the nearby local woodlands. I really liked the fact we could forage and fish on the coast during the day but retire to the woods in the evening. Kind of reassuring for an old bushcrafter like me.
The spot I managed to secure for my hammock turned out to have a magical view out over the Dorset countryside. There are not many spots suitable for hammocks but Fraser does have a large army tent that some of the students slept in.
After breakfast we headed out for the coast. On the walk out to the rock pools Fraser explained how to watch the local sea birds to spot the locations of possible shoals of fish.
I had missed the first day of the course when they had put out nets and lobster pots in the rock pools (we were in an area well away from any local fishery nursery area, the closed season had passed and all the nets used were of a legal size).
Overnight about 9 or 10 fish (a mixture of Wrasse, Mullet and Sea Bass) had been caught in the two nets they had put out. I have put a link to two videos at the end of the post showing the fish being pulled from the nets.
Fraser then showed all the students how to de-scale, gut and bleed out all the fish we had caught. I don’t think he was too impressed with our efforts at de-scaling the fish 🙂
We experimented with trying to catch shrimps by throwing the offal from the fish into a rock pool to attract them. What really got them interested though was the blood on our hands. If you were quick you could just flick them out of the water.
I was taught previously by Fraser just to bite the back of the shrimp for a quick snack. Not for the squeamish but tasty all the same.
Jennifer had fun out in the sea collecting sea weed for the pot. We had fun just sitting there watching her as on quite a few occasions she nearly went under. Sea weed is best harvested from the sea as you will get less sand trapped in the leaves, making the preparation process for the pot later easier to do.
The limpets were harvested using a stone: walk quietly, a quick smack and they are ready to pick up. These limpets were cooked over an open fire in their shells, we ate some straight from the shell and some we chopped some up and added to a stew.
We caught no lobsters in the lobster pots but plenty of crabs. These were used to make a stock for dinner later that night.
I think all the guys were pretty happy with the catch on the day.
Once they were all bagged up it was back to camp to prepare dinner.
The crabs were simply mashed up and made into a stock. Not too sure of the exact process here but I am sure Fraser would explain it all if you contacted him, or take a look at his book Eat the Beach which has lots of information on catching and cooking food from the seashore.
We prepared the sea bass and wrapped it in some burdock leaves. This was cooked directly on the embers of the fire and came out very moist and succulent.
Fraser taught everyone how to properly fillet the other fish and we cooked some of them directly on the grill. The fillets we did not use were hung above the fire to dry out and take on some of the flavours of the wood smoke. We ate these smoked fillets the next morning for breakfast.
In between all this cooking I managed to take some time out and do a little bit of carving. This is my relaxation therapy.
A couple of my plates of food from the weekend. Fraser supplied a few of the basics like noodles and potatoes but everything else was foraged. The spoon in the top picture was also a little carving from the weekend.
On one of the walks we collected some herbs for tea. This is a morning brew of Ground Ivy, Bramble and Wild Mint. Very refreshing.
There were also foraging and net making classes. I thoroughly enjoyed both these classes and learnt new stuff in both.
Each student gets shown how to make their own gill net which they can take home with them.
On the last day we went down to Chesil beach. We took a stroll along the land nextbeach looking and identifying all the edible and medicinal plants we could find. We found plenty of sea kale and horseradish (not in this picture) at that time of year.
As soon as we got to the beach we set up the little shelter and Fraser taught us how he sets up his rods for beach casting.
Then it was down to the shoreline to see how it should be done and then have a go ourselves.
No fish were caught that day but everyone had fun casting out past the surf.
I filmed three videos on my iPad while I was on the course, two bringing in the nets and one on the initial prepping of the fish:
Long Line Net Gather 1
Long Line Net Gather 2
Initial fish preparation
I was very chuffed to be invited along to Fraser’s Coastal Hunter Gather course and will be looking to attending again in the future.
Fraser is bringing out a video tutorial course this year so I looking forward to seeing how that develops as coastal survival is a subject I want to explore more now.
I wasn’t going to post about our family summer holiday as I thought it wasn’t particularly relevant to this blog but after having a look at the pictures again I noticed there were quite a few bushcrafty ones. This post will just focus on some of the fun bushcraft stuff we did and I will not bore you with all the hundreds of beach and plant pictures I took.
Our good friend Lou worked as a manager at the YHA in Golant in Cornwall so we pitched our tipi in the gardens of the hostel, combining a holiday with a visit to her. The hostel itself is a Regency period building so it felt quite grand to be camped out in front of it for a week.
Alison got the hammock for herself and a cup of tea in bed every morning, I got the tipi and the kids.
This was at times a very busy holiday but I certainly found time to catch up on my sleep loss. Over the whole holiday I concentrated on getting as many pictures of different plants as possible. This beautiful one of Catherine was taken in the grounds of the Eden Project.
We got a visit one day from our friends Steve, Kirsty, Buddy and Herbie. As per usual the barbie was down to the boys but I got the feeling Steve was in a managerial mood
The boys were happy to re stock the fire as boys do and a relaxing dinner was had by all. Steve and Kirsty live with the boys in Cornwall where Kirsty runs her own business Kirsty Elson Designs (Kirsty is a fabulous artist) and Steve works in youth development and would like to do more in the way of bushcraft.
You just cannot beat some time with a bow and your kids. The Father and Son bow is excellent for introducing kids to bows as they are quite easy to draw.
Catherine had a ball wherever she went, be that with the ducklings or with sand. Our kids love their toys and gadgets but they’re good at making their own fun as well.
I got a message on Facebook one day from one of my bushcrafting buddies Jonny Picket, inviting us to a birthday bash in his woods he was organising for his partner Janie Sarchet. We were camped just the other side of the River Fowey from them. Jonny and Janie have a lovely farm near the coast and had decorated part of their woodland for the party.
After arriving I took Finlay down to the coast with Jonny and one of his friends to watch them spear fishing. No fish but a pretty spectacular spider crab was found. Finlay and I had a great time rummaging around all the rock pools.
After getting to know everyone it was a case of chilling and waiting for the meat to cook in the massive metal hangi type oven. Alison got talking to Janie and has since published in the Kindle store a book that Jane had written called Project Egg. Janie also has an excellent blog site called The Hedge Combers and as best said by Janie – “Our ultimate aim is to build up a resource of useful posts, ideas & recipes, invaluable to anyone starting out on their own self sufficiency, gastro-adventure“.
It was great to catch up with other bushcrafting buddies including Pete Thomas and Ashley Cawley. They all made our family feel very welcome.
I had fun helping to cut up all the meat from the hangi and nibbling on a piece or two but best of all was the junk drumming session we all had at the end – we did not roast Pete in the end as it might look from the picture above :-).
A happy Lou and Finlay taking some time out to shoot (well Finlay patiently waiting his turn).
I took time out to just sit and carve. It was such a beautiful campsite it would have been a shame not to.
Other nice memories were finding this nest of little chicks and watching the slightly bigger ones idily poking the fire (what kid does not like doing this).
Every day was either spent on the beach or wandering through the woods exploring – we went to some fabulous places including The Eden Project, the Lost Gardens of Heligan and St Michael’s Mount.
I had a great time with Finlay working on his archery and look forward to getting out to some camps with him this year to shoot some more. I think Catherine and Finlay will get quite competitive in the future with their bows.
I do not know who was happier about hitting the target.
This has got to be my favourite picture of the holiday with the kids playing happily in the flowers.
And finally back to Alison. As I said she got not only the hammock but also a cup of tea every morning. She does make hammocking look stylish.
Today I woke to some lovely sunshine, a rare treat so far this winter. I’m writing up all the little adventures I had last year, and looking back at my diary I realized the next one in line also happened on a lovely sunny day, in fact it was an idyllic day.
The day after I came home from the Wilderness Gathering in August I took my two kids and one of their friends to the local National Trust property, The Vyne in Hampshire. The house itself is beautiful but the grounds and woodland are my real playground. They have a kids’ play area built around the theme of a Hobbit house with none of the usual swings or slides but plenty of cranes, water, stones, wood and sand to get stuck into.
I sometimes get so caught up with what I am focussed on when studying bushcraft that I lose site of the wonder of everything else. My kids remind me of this when they are out and about exploring and discovering new things.
I have walked past this tree a couple of times with my eyes down on the lookout for a new flower to photograph but when the kids look at it they see a magical figure with hairy nostrils. If you look at the tree from their angle (and I did) you can easily imagine this.
To my son this ditch is a world of wonder: I just see the plants on the side but he see trolls under the bridge. It was here that I started to remember all the bridges I had crawled under as a kid in search of those damned elusive trolls. It was a fun time though a bit wet and even though my mother would scold me I would always find another bridge.
The National Trust have built this excellent play area but all Finlay wanted to do was collect as many sticks as possible and build a shelter. This need to build something out of a pile of sticks must be imprinted somewhere in our brains and I guess for many people that need is erased as they grow up: thankfully for me that has never happened.
While Finlay was off building, Catherine was in the sand pit patting it all flat. I like to think she was creating a sand pit trap (to collect tracks) as she has done this before but I think she was just dreamily making shapes. I really like my daughter’s artistic side and it is nice sometimes to just sit and watch where her imagination takes her.
We spent a bit of time around the pond where the kids lay down beside the edge and waited for the carp and ducklings to come a-calling. The kids asked if a carp would eat a duckling. I have no idea. I just told them that the carp were kept well fed so as to leave the ducklings alone (sometimes you just have to sound confident).
I like this pond as the dragonflies put on quite a show of acrobatics. We spent a good half hour just watching what was happening here. I do not normally get that length of time for an activity like this but since Mother Nature was being kind and always up to something here the kids (and I ) were kept enthralled.
Sometimes you can be wandering through the woods trying to keep the kids occupied and what you see just stumps you – No way could I beat these guys sending kids up and down the tree like yoyos. Next year I want to get the kids on this activity (that includes me of course).
Idyllic days require some fancy food – Catherine took the bottom picture just before we went home 🙂
This How To…. lays out some simple steps to make a bark sheath for a knife. I have also used this method to make a quiver for my arrows and with a sightly different method you can easily make containers.
I took these pictures in 2009 when I was on the Woodcraft School Primitive Technology course. The sheath was made using only primitive tools as required by the course. To do this I made for myself a flint knife, flint adze, some discoidal flint knives and also used the bone bodkin that I showed you how to make in the previous post. For more modern methods I would say you could do this job with a small saw and a small knife.
I started the project by selecting a suitable Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa) limb from a coppice stool to take down. After checking the tops for any dead wood I started to clear away the undergrowth using some flint. Clearing the undergrowth away ensured a safe working area around the limb. I used a large sharp piece of flint for this. Also I made sure I had clear exit routes around the limb I could use when it came down.
I had created for the job a Flint Adze. This is a piece of worked flint attached to a handle with rawhide. Unlike traditional tree felling where a wedge is created and then a back cut made I am made a rosette cut all around the tree using short chopping motions. You can see the rosette cut appearing in these pictures. The small branch you can see in the foreground got in my way so I cut this down.
You can see that the Adze creates tears in the wood but is very effective in cutting into it. As I got into the heartwood I had to support the limb as I did not want it to fall uncontrollably and eventually I was able to let the limb to fall under control. I did not need to back out of the coppice stool as the limb was light enough to control. Had it been any heavier, my cleared exit routes would have come into play.
Traditionally the stump would have been left like this. I however sawed the stump cleanly at the base. If a stump is cleanly cut (with a little angle) then it has less chance of getting infected and will eventually have new shoots grow out of it.
Using the Adze in a safe manner away from my body I trimmed off all the brash from the limb.
Using the flint that I had cleared the undergrowth with I scraped off all the outer bark of the limb as this is too brittle to work with. All I wanted to use was the inner bark. My friend Paul held the limb to secure it: this speeded up the process as I could use both hands.
I scored a line down the limb through the inner bark with my flint and also scored a line around the limb at the top and the bottom. Then, using a small piece of wood I’d found on the ground, I peeled away the inner bark from the limb. This was done in April so the sap was rising, making the debarking of the limb very easy.
The tools I used for the job:
3) Piece of wood
I cut a further piece of bark off the limb as well.
I left the bark to dry out overnight and then re-wet it the next day before cutting it into strips. If you use the bark straightaway after harvesting it, anything you weave will become loose as the bark will shrink slightly as it dries. This shrinkage does not happen again if you let it dry out first then just re-wet it to make it supple enough to work.
To cut the strips I had a flint knife prepared for this.
I cut the strips by eye only but I am sure you could rig up a worktop to cut consistently wide strips. The good strips are on the right and the offcuts on the left.
With practice you will be able to gauge how many strips you’ll need for your size of sheath. This was a small sheath so I estimated 6 strips.
Firstly fold all your strips in half with the inner part of the bark showing as it is the smoother side.
I have documented the first 12 steps of the weave in the next 3 pictures. Each numbered bullet point relates to a numbered picture below.
1) Lock the right hand strip onto the top half of the left hand strip. 2) Lock the next right hand strip onto the bottom half of the left hand strip. 3) Lock the third right hand strip onto the top half of the left hand strip. 4) Lock the second left hand strip onto the top of the first right hand strip and weave through the other strips.
5) Lock the third left hand strip onto the bottom of the first right hand strip and weave it through the other strips. The ‘point’ of the sheath is now complete. 6) Fold back the top of the first left hand strip. 7) Fold the bottom of the first left hand strip diagonally over the other left hand strips. 8) Then flip back up the top of the first left hand strip.
9) Lock the next right hand strip onto the bottom half of the left hand strip. 10) Flip the whole sheath over. There should be a single strip on the right now. 11) Now fold the bottom right strip diagonally over the other right hand strips and weave it in. 12) Starting again on the left hand side keep repeating the whole process.
Soon your sheath will take shape.
Keep going with the weave and stop when you have enough to securely hold whatever will be kept in it.
The top can seem a little bit tricky at first but all you need to do is turn the ends back on themselves and weave them into the sheath. Just tuck each end in as neatly as you can: it’s tricky as each end will be different, you might need to experiment.
When you have closed the top off, trim all the ends so that you cannot see where the weave ends.
All the ends were trimmed so that the ends were hidden by the weave. The sheath is ready for a dangler strap now.
I used some raw hide I had left over from making a bag. I wet it to make it more pliable and then rolled it in my hand.
The bodkin I had made earlier came in handy here to make a gap in the weave. I then used a small stick to push the rawhide into the gap made by the bodkin.
Attach it as you like and it is ready. I think I used a simple Larks Foot knot here.
This sheath completed my primitive belt order (the smallest one on the right).
This type of weaving can make some very useful items. I have been using the quiver on a regular basis since 2008 and it shows no sign of wear and tear.
Last August found my daughter Catherine and I making our way down to the Wilderness Gathering. Located near West Knoyle in the beautiful South Wiltshire countryside is the Bush Farm Bison Centre. I have been visiting this gathering for the last ten years.
The Wilderness Gathering has a commercial feel to it though it still maintains its bushcraft origins. I love the fact that it is so close to where I live, there are organised classes all day for my daughter, I get to meet lots of old friends, make new ones, learn new stuff and get some more kit. For the last two years I have been helping out Fraser Christian from Coastal Survival as he is a good friend of mine (I have added all the links at the end of the post). This helps me out a lot as I get a chance to learn lots of new bushcraft skills I can use with my Sea cadets.
The first thing Catherine headed for on arrival was the farm shop to get some ice cream but she soon got into the bushcrafting spirit, particularly keen on doing a bit of carving (this still scares me).
There are plenty of stalls to visit such as the Bushcraft Magazine, to chat at, to buy from and to get some great ideas.
Fraser runs courses for the Coyote Kids Club such as making shrimp traps made out of recycled materials.
Like all the other visits I meet new friends such as the talented carver Jon Macof Spoon Carving First Steps and good friends of old such as Phil and Ben Brown of Badger Bushcraft.
The boys from Silchester – Mark Beer (Lupus), Nick Currie and from the Bushcraft Magazine Paul Bradley. I have learnt a lot from these guys over the years. Always good to catch up, chat and share skills.
This year I helped Fraser run a course on making fishing spears and nets (well, took a lot of pictures really). The fish spears are easy to make and the net making was run as a Masterclass.
A very popular class Fraser ran was how to cold smoke a fish in a cardboard box. Due to the damp weather the smudge fire kept going out but after a few hours we managed to smoke the fish and it was added to an excellent stew.
My daughter Catherine always has a great time at the Gathering as there is plenty for her to do with the Coyote Kids while I am working.
As per usual the food is good with Fraser cooking. I was trying out a new set up here on my fire pit using racks set at different heights for cooking different foods.
No big meals this time as we were kept too busy with classes but excellent all the same.
Caught this shot in one of the many showers this year, thankfully though most people just shrugged the rain off and got on with things.
Over the road from our stand was my friend Jason Sears teaching some group bowdrill. Every time he got the sets out he always had a good audience as folk knew they could participate. Rain was no barrier to this bushcrafter when it came to lighting a fire.
Other neighbours included Ben Orford demonstrating great green woodworking skills and JP from Woodlife Trails expertly taking the visitors through all the steps of creating fire by friction.
I try and get Catherine involved in as many activities as possible. She jumped at the chance to be a Pump Monkey for Dave Budd while he created some knives. I also got a present from my friend Stephen Herries of a burnt-out log – he claims I stole it off him 😉 – which gave me a chance to get my flint adze out and do a bit of primitive carving. The log is a rather nice long bowl now.
Steve Kirk of the Bushcraft Magazine ran an Atlatl making class this year which proved very popular. I learnt this skill at the gathering 10 years ago and have taught it to hundreds of people since then. The shooting of these darts make for some great pictures.
I don’t know what Sarah (of Wilderness Spirit) thought when the Gimp appeared one afternoon – he is harmless really :-).
Catherine was very chuffed to meet her friend Molly again this year. I think that Catherine will be able to turn her hand to many things as she grows up based on these pictures.
At the end of the Gathering I had a great evening with the guys from the Tribe watching Billy the Bushcrafter (Catherine really) being set upon by Beccy’s little ferret.
Last but certainly not least is the pond in the centre of the farm. This is one of my favourite places, I have spent many a relaxed hour sitting beside it.
There is much more to the Wilderness Gathering than the few pictures I took last year so check out some of the links I have put below.
I am looking forward to this year’s Wilderness Gathering and catching up with everyone again.
During the summer of 2009 I completed the Woodcraft School Primitive Technologycourse. I do not know if John Rhyder still runs this course but he still does a lot of excellent craft courses.
I originally wrote this How To…. for Fenlander and his Natural Lore blog back in September of 2009. It is a subject I love so thought it would be good to include in my How To…. section as well. I apologise for the quality of some of the pictures, I think the light was poor at the time and my fingers were quite slippery from the marrow.
The course required that at least one our craft items had to be made using only primitive tools and techniques.
I decided to make myself a bone knife and a bark sheath for it. The knife I made from a Lamb’s thigh bone and the sheath was made from Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa) inner bark. The How To…. on making the sheath can be found here – Primitive Skills – Bone Knife Bark Sheath.
This post concentrates on the knife only. I have put another link yo the bark sheath at the end.
The techniques I used were from what I had researched at the time and I am sure there are many other methods to do this.
As a word of warning please do have a First Aid Kit on standby as the flint is very sharp and thoroughly wash your hands after wards.
I wanted to be able to use the knife as an Awl for working hides, as a Bodkin for when weaving and as a general knife for cutting cordage and meat.
This post will concentrate on how the knife was made. The next post will be about the sheath.
The bone I used was a thigh bone known as the Shank. Hence the names ‘Lamb Shank’ as a cut of meat and the word ‘Shank’ as a primitive knife.
As I was using primitive tools and techniques only I scraped all the fat and flesh off with a piece of flint.
Other students tried burning the fat and flesh off but the made the bone brittle so it easily shattered. It is slippery work that requires a lot of patience. One slip and the flint will cut you as cleanly as any sharp knife.
After an hours work I had the bone cleaned up.
I decided that one knuckle would make a good handle but the other had to be removed.
I scored a line around the whole bone near the knuckle I wanted removed. Apologies for the slightly out of focus picture. The score line was about a couple of millimetres deep.
After scoring the line John Rhyder (course instructor) showed me how to scorch the line to make it a little brittle in that area.
A close up.
Once the line was scorched all the way around a little gentle tapping was all that was needed.
A crack soon appeared.
To finally remove the knuckle I carried on scraping with the flint.
Once the knuckle was removed then I decided on the shape of my knife point. I did this by gently scraping with the flint on the bone to define my knife shape.
Then making sure that the bone was on a stable surface and held in a secure grip the tedious scraping began. The carving out of the knife shape took a number of hours.
The awl tip taking shape.
Eventually I was able to prise a section of bone out.
I went through two pieces of flint carving the bone out.
Eventually the general shape of the knife was produced.
And the other side.
A messy but necessary job is to remove the remaining marrow. I just used a small stick for this.
To give the knife a basic edge I used a piece of sandstone.
Any rough edges I tidied up with flint.
Below you can see the side profile of the knife. This curve is useful as a Bodkin in basket weaving. In the next post you will see that this was the knifes first job.
Here the knife is sitting on the inner bark I used to make the sheath out of.
Like any knife it needs a sheath. I did produce one using primitive methods and documented all the steps.
This whole process took a whole afternoon for me but I did find it very relaxing taking my time and really thinking about each step.
Afterwards I left the knife hanging for a few months in my garage to air dry and keep it away from any inquisitive rodents.
The beginning of August found me preparing for my annual trip to Merthyr Mawr in South Wales to attend the Bushcraft UK Bushmoot.
I have written this post as a record of the classes and events at the 2013 Moot but it is in its own way a dedication to our Drew.
I have been attending the Moot since 2005 and always have a great time. Not always relaxing but always a good time. This year we lost a good friend in the Bushcrafting world – Andrew Dunn. He was known to us as Drew but the handle he liked to be known as was Drew Dunn Respect. This year’s Moot was dedicated to our Drew.
The Bushmoot is normally held at the beginning of August each year and can last up to two weeks. I usually get there for a week and a bit depending on what else is going on. I like to think of the Moot as a meeting of like-minded people with a vast diversity of skills and experiences that they are happy to share with each other.
My arrival at the Moot was delayed this year by a day as I ran some bushcraft classes at our village summer school so I was very happy to see on my arrival that my whole camping area had been taped off for me. Eventually I found out it was my friend Charlie Brookes who had done this and I was very grateful he had as I have become very attached to my little pitch (I got thrown out of my original pitch years ago by the owners of the ‘Naughty Corner’).
The first few days for me are usually a time to catch up with good friends, prep my classes and take time to chill out in my hammock.
A couple of days later Karen and Clare turned up, not with their usual tents and tarps but with this mobile palace. Seemingly Clare said it was a wedding present she and her husband had given to themselves. It was fun though getting the mobile palace through the trees to a decent spot.
The mobile signal is pretty bad in Merthyr Mawr but there’s a particular spot I go out to where I can get a signal to phone home. The spot looks out onto the dunes and there every year I find these beautiful Evening Primroses growing. One of the great things about Merthyr Mawr is the diverse range of plants that grow there and so makes it a plant photographer’s heaven.
This year there was Victorian theme to the Moot but Spikey being Spikey decided to come as a monkey.
I was chatting with my friend Dean Allen one day at my campsite discussing the Welsh spoons he carves. The conversation got onto his other work and I had to take this picture. Dean has a great eye for detail as this picture shows.
Quite a few of the guys are bowyers and we set up an archery range at each Moot. For a few years I have run a class making Father and Son bows as they are so quick to make.
As I was helping to run the Starter Skills course this year one of the other instructors ran the bow-making course. These bows take only an hour to make but can easily shoot sixty or seventy metres.
Cap’n Badger, Wayne Jones of Forest Knights, Paul Pomfrey and myself normally run the archery range. The Father and Son bows are double limbed and are great for the kids.
The adults love shooting them as well. Over the last couple of years I have developed an interest in getting these pictures of flying arrows. The slightly slower speed of these arrows being released makes for a good picture.
A couple of years ago Drew worked with me to build one of these bows. He was not sure if he could at first and was quite shy about starting but once he got going there was no stopping him.
My good friend Fraser runs a company called Coastal Survival and has been coming to the Moot for a few years now. Sad to say that Bella (the larger dog) passed away this year due to complications from a possible snake bite earlier in the year. She was a great dog, always inquisitive and great with the kids.
Alongside Fraser is our big Al and what a lovely pair of chefs they make 😉 between the two of these guys I have had some fantastic food at the Moot.
On one of the days I popped down to the coast to do a bit of foraging with them. No fish that day but plenty of shrimp and limpets. Drew did a few Coastal trips with Fraser so I know he would have loved this.
We also collected a lot of sea weed (sea lettuce I think) which Clare was laying out to get rid of sand particles and to dry it out. Karen is making grass rope in the background as a decoration for the mobile palace.
It was great to meet Craig’s baby son Sion for the first time at the Moot.
For myself and the rest of the Mods the day starts with ‘morning prayers’ (Tony’s morning briefing) and this is soon followed by a larger meeting with everybody under the main parachute.
This picture was taken in 2011 and shows the main parachute where we have the morning meetings to discuss the day’s events. Ever the practical joker, Drew found his hat missing one day and finally spotted it at the apex of the chute.
In one of the Mods’ meetings we came to the conclusion that a’Starter Skills’ course was required, covering knife safety, carving (we made tongs for the fire), knots, fire lighting and some simple pot stands.
Emily having a go at the Evenk knot.
The kids all learnt the skills at the same time as their parents and had fun here testing that the knots had been set up properly.
Sargey finishing off the fire lighting class of the Starter Skills course. This course got a lot of good feedback so we will try and run it again next year.
Some of the members (Cap’n Badger and crew) had organised a very special Memorial Service for Drew. His parents Jean and Philip attended the Moot this year for the service along with Drew’s brother Steven and sister Stacey.
Steven and Stacey helped to plant the Atlantic Pine tree in Drew’s memory.
After the tree was planted we put in a plaque that the guys had commissioned. The whole ceremony was extremely moving. Dave finished the service with a very moving eulogy to Drew. There were not many dry eyes in the glade.
The service was finished when Drew’s father Philip spread Drew’s ashes in to the waves at Methyr Mawr.
Taken a couple of years ago, this is the sign for Drew’s favourite place at the Moot. The Naughty Corner was set up as a place for people to come to and relax without worrying too much about noise levels. Drew was always at the centre of things here and was the first place he asked to go to when he first joined us. One year the roof of the shelter here got badly damaged in a storm and it was Drew who took it upon himself to climb up and fix it.
In the evening after the service we had a Victorian themed party. Jean had a great time chatting with everyone
The costumes were brilliant.
I managed to get the majority of the Victorians together for a group shot and was quite surprised to see how many rifles they had brought along. The majority were actual period pieces.
Back to the other activities being conducted at the Moot. There were a lot of classes being run all over the site so my pictures only reflect a portion of the classes but I hope it gives you a feel for what we do.
Perry Magee from the National Tracking School came to the Moot this year. I did not get to the grass rope making class but watched the kids having a tug of war with what they had made.
Dean Allen, Mad Dave and a few others had an introductory class on carving. These lads know their stuff and the kids got some really quality tuition.
I have spent many an hour around the campfire carving with Drew as this was something he really wanted to get to grips with.
I ran the usual bowdrill classes for individuals and groups. No matter how many times I teach someone this skill I still love to see that smile the first time they get an ember.
My friend Mark Oriel is a butcher by trade and now manages a small farm in the West of Wales where he runs his own bushcraft/homesteading courses. This year Mark ran a very successful Jerky smoking class.
All lined up neatly.
One of my classes focuses on getting families working together to create fire using the bowdrill. There are not many things that bring everybody in a family together but the group bowdrill is one.
I was chatting with Perry Magee about some fire drill mechanisms he had and the conversation got onto water divining. I was sceptical at first but after some expert and clear teaching from Perry we were off. I found underground water, managed to follow a pipe and here Pete was trying to see if the rods would indicate human presence (me) and it worked. How it works no one knows, but it works.
Fraser from Coastal Survival runs a few courses at the Moot and this one was on breadmaking. Fraser created a sand oven to cook some rolls in. I did not take part in the class but the ladies who did thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
This was the fish hook carving class run by Steve Mesquite Harral – Paul Pomfrey (looking dashing in his utilikilt) was splitting down spruce root for the binding.
Some stunning artwork was seen in the woods. I cannot remember who produced this but it certainly inspired the kids to get out there and make their own woodland art.
One type of game the kids love are the stalking games. I call this one the fox stalk and is just organised madness.
At the end of the Moot we always have a group dinner where everyone either cooks something for everyone or helps to organise it. The ponnased salmon went down a treat.
This year musical friends of the boss (Tony) agreed to come over and play for us. I think they were called the Merthyr Tydfill Country Band but were all based over in Nashville. Tony had just asked them on the off chance they would turn up and turn up in style they did. The generator we had blew the lights out if I remember rightly but we all still had a cracking time that evening, drinking, eating, dancing and listening to good music.
After the main training days were over there were a few private courses run. Here Wayne from Forest Knights was running a bow making course. I learnt to make a Bhutaneese bow with him the year before.
Everyone agreed that the 2013 Moot was dedicated to our friend Drew. I do miss Drew but hope to see his parents, brother and sister at one of the Moots again sometime in the future.
Happy Christmas to everyone. I hope you are having a great time and looking forward to a good New Year.
As the weather here in the UK has been a tad damp and windy I thought it would be good to just bring a bit of colour at this time.
My Facebook friends will no doubt have seen the monthly albums of plants I have been posting over the year. I took a look at them again and decided to pull a few of the ones from each month that I particularly liked for the blog.
The plants may or may not have a bushcraft use, they are just the ones I really liked and not some sort of ID guide.
If I decide on a bit of foraging I only pick plants that I have 100% identified and that it is legal to do so. If you have positively identified a wild plant and have never tried it before then I advise you to test your tolerance to it first. A great explanation on this can be found on Robin Harfords Eat Weeds site. The test is clearly laid out and simple to remember.
I will name each plant and one or two uses (if I know of any). Apart from online references which I will link to in the post my main source of reference will be from the excellent and little-known plant ID book by Charles Coates called The Wildflowers of Britain and Ireland.
One of the hidden gems of the Common Holly tree (Ilex aquifolium) is found on its leaves. Here you will find the home of the Holly Leaf Miner larvae (Phytomyza ilicis). I studied this little larvae in university and it still intrigues me to this day. The adult fly lays an egg in the stem of the leaf and when it turns into a larvae it burrows into the leaf. A large circular exit hole (over 1mm) usually means the larvae has hatched successfully. A small circular hole usually means the larvae has been predated by a parasitic wasp and a triangular tear as you see here means a blue tit has had a snack.
I have put a link to an excellent PDF on the Miner by the Field Studies Council at the bottom of the post.
Learning to identify plants when not in flower is a must for bushcrafters so as to be able to forage successfully year round.
On the left you can see the purple spotted leaves of the Arum plant sometimes known as Cuckoo-pint or Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum) and on the right the crinkly leaves of the Wild/Common Primrose (Primula vulgaris).
I advise people not to touch Arum as it can cause quite nasty allergic reactions if not handled correctly. Arum has traditionally been used as a soap (called Portland Sago) and the starch from the root was commonly used to stiffen Elizabethan ruffs. My favourite use though I found in Coates: “Victorians omitted it from their flower guides because of its suggestive shape. For some reason, young men placed it in their shoe to gain the prettiest dance partners”. Unless you are an expert in processing this plant I would advise you just to identify it in all its different stages and leave it be.
The Primrose is a different resource entirely. The word Primrose comes from the latin Prima rosa meaning ‘first rose’. Once identified properly this makes an excellent addition to any salad or a tasty snack while foraging as the leaves and flowers are edible. The leaves and flowers can be used to make tea and I have heard of friends making a wine using the flowers.
The beautiful Blubell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) starts to stick its leaves out in March. I loved the way this one had managed to pierce some leaf litter from the previous year. Bluebell in conjunction with some other species can be an indicator species for ancient woodland.
The picture of these Crocuses was taken outside our church and it is a sight I love to photograph every year.
Another lovely sight in the early spring is the appearance of the catkins on the Goat/Pussy Willow (Salix caprea). This tree, apart from its medicinal uses, makes for excellent cordage from the inner bark and is a great bowdrill wood. Watch out when you burn it as it does tend to spark a bit. These are male catkins I think and are one of the earliest indicators of spring, appearing long before the leaves.
I took this picture of the Primrose with the flowers and the Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) on the right without the flowers as a comparison. When both do not have flowers they can be confused for each other. The Primrose has a more rounded leaf tip and the Foxglove has a very pointed leaf tip. As a forager in the early spring/late winter it is important you can comfortably identify both these plants. Foxglove is still used today in a synthetic form as a heart drug, so is, as Coates states, “Best left for the Bees”.
Until I looked in Coates I did not know much about Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) other than that they always appear in late winter. Turns out they are not native to the UK and were only first documented in the wild in 1770. In the past the flower was likened to a death shroud so it was seen as unlucky to bring a single one into your house but OK to bring in a bunch. These flowers as you can guess come from the local graveyard – kind of apt in the light of this new knowledge for me.
Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is not a plant I see too often in the wild. This one I found on the edges of a wood in the grounds of a stately home. As well as being rather beautiful it has some medicinal uses for treating migraines.
A sight that cannot be beaten is a carpet of Bluebells. I did watch a programme where Ray Mears crushed the bulb up in his mouth and spat it out to make a form of primitive glue. Not something I’ve tried personally but I have had limited success using the crushed leaves for fletching primitive arrows.
This picture I took at Mottisfont House in Hampshire. I think it is a Magnolia tree but it does makes a perfect canvas for some climbing children.
According to Coates the Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) is a favourite of rabbits which is possibly a reason I do not see it very often in the wild. It is such a striking flower with these drooping petals.
Bugle (Ajuga reptans) is a common plant found around my village growing in the long grass of the meadows. This plant has long been used to treat wounds but from reading Coates it seemingly has been used by herbalists to help treat hangovers. You just never know sometimes.
Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) like the other plantains is a great bushcrafters’ plant. It is a hardy plant able to withstand a lot of foot traffic. The leaves can be made into a poultice or ointment to help stem bleeding or to soothe burns and stings. One herbalist explained to me that chewing some of the seeds helped to keep mozzies away and some of my bushcrafting friends have made cordage from the fibrous sinews in the leaves. My favourite use is to squeeze the juice out of the leaves and rub it on nettle stings to ease the pain. I have put another good link at the end of the post about Plantain.
Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris) is one of these plants that most people do not give a second glance. Personally I think it is one of the most beautiful flowers we have. Traditionally used by woodland workers to help close up cuts.
I always come across Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) while leading groups out in the New Forest in the early summer. It is an easy plant to miss but if you keep your eyes open for well lit, low lying boggy areas you will spot them. Apart from its medicinal properties for treating breathing issues it seemingly has a reputation as an aphrodisiac – Coates notes: “Known as a love charm for its ability to lure insects, it was secreted in girls’ clothing by amorous men”.
I think that this is the Common Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) but I may well be wrong. I have spotted quite a few different types this year either in long grass or in woodland glades. In Scotland I have found many on the coast growing in sheltered areas of rocky outcrops.
There is one ditch in my village that has a clump of Common Bistort (Polygonum bistorta) growing in it. This is a plant that likes ditches and damp places. I have no bushcraft use for it but I do enjoy the sight of it as I pass by.
The Meadow Crane’s Bill (Geranium pratense) was used to treat wounds in the past. Coates notes that it has been used as a medicine since Roman times. It seems a very versatile plant for herbalists treating a wide range of ailments including diarrhoea, as a gargle for sore throats and for treating toothache.
This fine example of Borage (Borago officinalis) was from the Eden Project in Cornwall though I do spot this plant on many of my trips. It is edible and has medicinal uses. It’s originally from Southern Europe where the leaves are added to different pasta dishes and soups. Before we added cucumber to Pimms seemingly the preferred addition was Borage leaves (source Wikipedia)
Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) is another bushcrafter’s friend. Not only is the peeled bark/skin an excellent source of tinder, it is the little devil that makes all those beautiful spirals on young shoots such as hazel that make great walking sticks. Coates suggests it has some medicinal uses as the leaves and flowers contain the active ingredient of aspirin.
The Wood Aven (Geum urbanum) is one useful plant and has quite a history. Medicinally it has been documented in use as far back as the Greeks and to this day herbalists still use it to help treat fevers and other ailments. The root has a clove-like smell and so was traditionally hung in houses to keep away evil spirits. My favourite use however was as a flavouring for beer. Coates lists lots of other uses: one to know and try out.
I took this picture of the Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) at our BCUK Bushmoot in South Wales. A visitor from the States and another medicinal/edible plant. Coates notes that the roots were once eaten as a prelude to wine drinking as we eat olives today. He adds that it contains vitamin F which is helpful with protecting arteries from fatty decay.
I love to look at the Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum): as far as I am concerned it is a work of art. I use the stem as a hand drill and love to watch the Six Spotted Burnetts feeding off the head. The heads were traditionally used in the clothing industry to raise the fibre of cloth after weaving.
I ask the young ones to feel the leaves (gently) and I love seeing the look on their faces when they feel the barbs on the back of the leaf. When they spot the water that collects as a small pool at the base of the leaf I tell the little ones that this is where fairies come to drink. As a small child you could well believe this as the plant does look like it has magical properties.
Burdock must be one of the most well known bushcrafters’ plant. It has a two-year life cycle and the root of the plant at the end of its first year’s growth provides good carbohydrates and vitamins. Coates comments that the young leaves are edible which I agree with, but personally I cannot stand the taste of the leaves at any time. The base of the stem when the plant is young is quite palatable though.
I have friends who use the dried-out base of the second year plant attached to a bow drill spindle and swear by it. I like to use the second year stem as a clothes and kit hanger, trimming the branches from the stem leaving a small point protruding where each branch was and hanging it up in a tent for my bits and bobs. This was a traditional method on the Isle of Lewis where I come from as there are very few trees on the island so wood is hard to come by.
A plant of many names is the Reedmace (Typha latifolia), other names being Cattail, Fairy Woman’s Spindle and now officially Bulrush (caused so much confusion that one). The root, like that of Burdock, is a great source of carbohydrates, you can make a flour out of the seed head (also makes great flash burn tinder) and a passable hand drill. A plant with too many uses to list.
If you have reached this far well done. I did not want to put in so many pictures but it was very hard to choose which pictures to put up.
Apologies if I got anything wrong but I hope you enjoyed them.
Welcome to Part 6 of this series on bushcraft candles.
On my ‘to do’ list was the Raappanan tuli candle. From my research on candles it seems that this is the original Finnish candle. I became aware of this type of candle from reading Perkele’s blog (link to the aticle at the end of the post).
It is a simple but effective system using only one log. The log provides the support limbs and the tinder/kindling.
This system works very well in dry cold environments where you have well seasoned dead standing timber. I, on the other hand, had a few pieces of damp birch collected from the woods a couple of weeks ago, but decided to try it out anyway.
The log I used was 45cms in length.
Firstly split the log but not right in the centre – slightly off centre.
Then split off another piece about the same size from the other side so that you are left with a flat piece of wood in the centre.
The wood did not split straight down so I ended up with two centre pieces.
After splitting the centre pice into kindling I shaved off all the bark to use as tinder.
Then using your axe, chop into the split areas of the support limbs (the full length) to create a fuzz stick effect. This will give something for the flames from your initial fire to catch on to so that the limbs start to burn quickly.
Two large fuzz sticks. This technique multiplies the surface area the flames have to catch on to.
The set up is very simple. I banged one limb into the ground, laid some kindling flat on the ground (the ground was wet) and banged in the other limb. If you were using a wider but smaller log stability would not be such an issue.
The support stick was just a twig dug into the ground and jammed up against one of the limbs that I was concerned might fall over.
I stuffed loads of birch bark and small wood shavings into the gap and lit it.
The kindling went up well but due to the dampness of the log the limbs would not catch fire at first. I had to continually feed the kindling into the burn area and soon ran out without the limbs catching fire.
The bottom of the limbs had caught fire but would not self sustain.
Plan B was to get a dry log from inside my house (one that had been intended for our open fire), split it and place the dry kindling in a vertical position instead of a horizontal lay. This totally transformed the candle.
In no time the candle was lit the whole way up both limbs.
From the point when I added the vertical kindling the pot took less than ten minutes to boil.
Happy to get my brew.
I let the kindling burn down to see if the limbs would stay alight but they were still too damp.
Here you can see the area on the top where the moisture was being boiled out.
About 30 minutes after the start of the fire the logs finally started to burn on their own. Got quite a nice fire face out of it as well.
I added the last of my damp tinder and kindling and the limbs finally started burning freely.
I found this candle a real challenge to keep going but that is not because the concept is wrong, but because this type of candle needs to have really dry wood to work well.
I am sure that when I try this again with dry wood it will go like a rocket. It is such an simple and effective method and I wish I had been making this type of candle years ago.
I have written six articles on different candles so if anyone has ideas on other candle types please leave a comment on their idea below.
Welcome to Part 5 of this series on bushcraft candles.
Take one log, drill a couple of holes, add some combustibles and strike a match – you have yourself one Log Rocket Stove.
After building the Fire Face Candles I was intrigued by Marcels Workshop video on You Tube (link at the end of the post) where he mentioned that his candles would make good stoves. I was sure that they would but after seeing another You Tube video by James Hookway using a slightly different method I was unsure which one to use. So this post is not just a How To…. on building a Log Rocket Stove but it is also a report on comparing the two types.
I wanted to investigate these stoves as I felt that they fitted in well with the Finnish/Swedish Candle theme of this series. I also added a third stove to test out using a damp log just to see if it would work.
I have numbered the stoves 1), 2) and 3)
1) A dry western red cedar log to be fed with dry kindling 2) A damp birch log to be fed with damp twigs picked off the ground 3) A dry western red cedar log fitted with a wick and filled with wax
I should have tested each log separately but for ease of photography I decided to test all of them at the same time.
I drilled a small pilot hole into the centre of each log with 12mm drill piece. Then after marking my 24mm drill piece to the required depth I drilled out the main chimney.
While drilling I secured the log between my feet but if you do not feel comfortable with this method I advise securing the log to a workbench.
Next you need to measure where the burn chamber will be. I normally mark the log somehow (with tape this time) above the base of the chimney. This will create a small chamber in the burn area you can fill with combustibles for your fire and still allow plenty of airflow into the stove.
Again after securing the log, drill into the side at your marked spot until your drill piece enters the chimney. For stoves 1 & 2 I drilled two holes (side by side) to create a wider burn hole to feed kindling into the burn area. For Stove 3 I only drilled one burn area hole as I would be using a wick in the stove.
I used a knife to trim the excess wood in the burn areas of stoves 1 & 2.
The finished burn area holes.
Here you can just see the holes at the top of the logs where the chimneys are and the holes for the burn areas.
Stove 3 – I melted some candle wax and dipped a wick into it, ensuring the wick got fully soaked in wax, and then inserted it into the stove. I used a pair of pliers and a stick to push the wick into the burn area hole and then from the top pushed all the excess wick into the well at the bottom of the chimney.
I decided to try combustibles I would normally find in my bushcraft bag.
I stuffed Vaseline coated cotton wool into stove 1, crumbled fire lighters into stove 2 and pored melted wax into the well of stove 3.
I cut and trimmed some green hazel to act as pot stands and placed them all side by side in the garden.
There was very little wind again that day so I made sure I had a chopping board handy to use as a wafter.
I decided to feed dry split kindling into stove 1, damp twigs into stove 2 (stove 2 was also a damp log itself) and stove 3 would have only the wick and wax.
My daughter lit each candle with one match each.
I needed to keep an eye on each stove (this is why I should have tested each one separately) as each one went out in turn as I was dealing with another. After relighting they all managed to stay alight. Stove 3, which had the wick, needed no further tending whatsoever. Stoves 1 & 2 required constant attention to maintain the flame in the burn area. Too much kindling choked the air off, too little and the flame died out.
At this stage the burn area of the log started to burn but not much of the chimney, so I relied on feeding twigs into the burn area to keep the stove going.
After 10 minutes I put the pots on. Each had half a litre of cold water in them. Stove 3 was going well and needing no tending as the wick was well alight now. Stoves 1 & 2 were still struggling and requiring constant attention. At this stage stove 2 was still giving off a lot of smoke as the wood around the burn area dried out.
After 15 minutes stoves 1 & 2 started going well with the burn area in stove 1 getting bigger.
Stove 3 was getting stronger and stronger with no help required.
The flames were steady now under the pots.
After 20 minutes even stove 2 (the damp log) was going well.
25 minutes after ignition (20 minutes of heating) the first pot was boiling.
Stove 3 was the winner as it had held a steady flame throughout. With a little bit more wind I think we could have knocked a few minutes off this time.
Stove 1 was fully lit now (the chimney wall was burning well) and did not need any more kindling. The burn area had widened to a point that you could not easily add any more fuel (it just fell out) but all it needed was a bit of wafting to keep the flames going. Again if the wind had been there I think this stove would have performed much better.
I had given up on the damp twigs in stove 2 by now and added some of the dry split kindling I had been using in stove 1. This made a vast difference and the stove suddenly burst into life.
Five minutes after coming to life stove 2 had boiling water with stove 1 shortly after. These two stoves I feel would have performed much better if I had been giving them individual attention rather than trying to keep all three going, photograph them and analyse what was going on (I find the multi-tasking thing difficult!).
An hour after ignition, winning stove 3 had burnt right through to the back.
I started to add dry kindling into the top of stove 2 and we had a proper candle now.
After one hour I would have said that stoves 1 & 3 were a bit too delicate now to use as stoves. Stove 2 was still going well but I had to waft the other two to get the flames you see in this picture as there was still no wind.
Two hours after ignition all the stoves had burnt out. I put all the fallen pieces of wood into stove 2, gave it a quick waft, and away it went again.
I thoroughly enjoyed doing this experiment with the three stoves but in retrospect I should have either tested each stove separately or had some helpers to tend individual stoves.
Given time (and some more logs) I will be redoing these stoves and seeing how they operate on their own and with a bit of wind. I also want to get myself a drill piece about 35mm wide as I feel that will help when it comes to larger log stoves.
Definitely not a stove for the ultra-light bushcrafter but one to be chucked into your wagon before going on a trip.
I will make a few more up for the New Year and bring them to some of my courses to see what people think of them.
My thoughts on each stove
Stove 1) Did not perform well without wind and the burn area became unusable quickly. When given steady wind by wafting this stove worked well and soon the chimney area was alight. It took longest to boil the water but that was because the flame kept dying out as there was no wind and I was too busy with stove 2 to keep it fed with kindling. I wonder if a large dry log (possibly of a harder wood) would be better for this type of stove rather than the small one I used.
Stove 2) As I expected, this stove took longest to get going. Everything was damp (log and twigs) so I used a number of broken pieces of fire lighter to keep it going. When I started to use the dry kindling the stove really took off. This stove was also bigger than stove 1 so the burn area was bigger and I think that helped it to perform better.
Stove 3) Apart from needing to be re-lit at the beginning, this stove was a dream to use as it required no maintenance. The wick that is encased in wax in the well of the stove ensures ample burn time for the log itself to light up.
There’s a lot of detail here but actually the principle is very simple:
Take one log, drill a couple of holes, add some combustibles and strike a match – you have yourself one Log Rocket Stove.
I do love to sit by a campfire and do a spot of carving. To me it is a very therapeutic pastime but often I don’t get much chance to do it when I’m out running a course. Thankfully though this year I managed to squeeze in a spot of carving on a few trips.
Early this year I had been helping out at my friends Phil and Philippa’s farm. We were cutting up an old ash tree that had been blown over in the winter gales. I spotted a piece of wood that had been split open down its length and so was fairly easy to carve into a thin platter.
Pointed Hazel Spoon
This spoon was made when I realised I had come away with no eating utensils for the weekend – but thankfully I had remembered my knife 🙂
The large dark bowl was from a piece of birch my friend Stephen found in a hedge at this year’s Wilderness Gathering. The log was partially burnt out and then dumped when no longer required. It was very spalted and rotten in places. I carved out the charcoal with a flint adze and scooped as much of the wood from the bowl as I could with a crook knife.
I left this bowl to dry very slowly over four months. I also painted the ends with gloss paint to try and stop any cracks from happening. So far it seems to be crack free.
The smaller bowl was a demonstration piece I carved at the Kent County Show with Phil Brown of Badger Bushcraft. Again the wood is birch and this one is destined to be a Christmas present.
I was given a piece of cherry wood by my friend Charlie Brookes earlier this year. On holiday in the summer in Cornwall I decided to pass an evening around the fire carving a spoon for my friend Louise.
The wood was very dry but when it was finally sanded, oiled and boned it developed a small crack on the bowl. I was gutted but Louise loved it 🙂
A few years ago I came across a wind blown hornbeam with the most fantastic burl growth on it. The thing filled my rucksack after I had removed it from the tree (I had to give all my kit to the cadets I was with in order to carry the burl myself).
I made a number of items from it this year. This one is a Quaich which to any non-Scottish people I would describe as a communal drinking cup – in particular whisky.
I made this spoon in the summer for my friend Jennifer while I was on the Coastal Survival Hunter Gatherer course. I just like the knobbly bit and thought it would make for a good handle.
The underside of the handle really showed up the gnarled wood.
Another from the burl. This time I made up a large dinner bowl. It is very rough looking as you have to go with what the wood is saying to you. I gave this bowl away to the parents of a very dear friend of mine who passed away this year as he was a fellow carver.
Another implement for my friend Louise. A simple spatula but a pleasure to carve. We had a great holiday this year in Cornwall and camped in the front garden of a Georgian house. The house has been converted to a Youth Hostel and was managed by Louise.
I was sawing up some wood for a campfire this summer and picked up this piece. It had been left in an old fire that had not been cleaned up. The spalting looked too good for the fire so it provided a good hour’s carving for me.
My last piece from the burl was this cup. In Scandinavia a popular name for this type of cup is a Kuksa or Kasa. I prefer the Old English name of Noggin myself.
I am looking forward to the New Year and seeing what different woods I find to carve around the campfire.
A particularly tough walk as the route was 27km long with full kit
In July this year we had our annual Sea Cadet District Adventure Training competition in a rather sunny Pippingford Park in the Ashdown Forest.
Five teams from Northern District within London Area Sea Cadets attended the weekend. There was supposed to be a sixth but seemingly they thought it was the following weekend.
The weekend itself is a competition to test the cadets’ skills in navigation, team working, seamanship, first aid, communication and campcraft skills. The top three teams get invited to attend the London Area Chosin Cup competition later in the year to compete against the winning teams from other Districts within London. Over the last few years we have relaxed this criteria so that if a unit comes outside of the top three, they can enter for the Chosin Cup if they really want to. The competition is still very competitive but a bit more open now at all the levels.
Thankfully I do not have to do much of the organisational paperwork for the event as my good friend Keith Coleman has that firmly taken care of. Admin has never been my strong point.
I try to arrive early on the Friday and set up the parachute and the rest of the admin area. I was a bit gutted this year as I left the long extending pole I use to put up the parachute rope behind at the site and have never seen it again.
My hammock seat was well used this weekend but thankfully since then some of the guys have bought their own ones now.
Once we are set up it is a case of chilling out until the cadets arrive. The campfire cooking rig has been donated (on a long term loan) to the Sea Cadets by my good friend Mark Beer. It made a big difference to the amount of food that can be cooked quickly over the open fire.
Our District Officers Mark Macey and Mark Weston were both keen to try out a hammock but as yet have not volunteered to sleep in one. Apparently for Mark Weston this was the first time since he was a young lad that he had camped out. Good on you Mark for staying out. It seems though that his good lady Chrissie has learnt the art of delegation and supervised the whole tent set up business 😉
The teams all arrived on the Friday evening and set up camp. After they sorted themselves out they were sent straight out for a night navigation excercise with all their kit. We found all the teams eventually and had them set up camp.
In the morning I managed to get a group picture of each of the teams before the hard slog began.
Each team is supposed to have 6 cadets and they need to be totally self sufficient for the whole weekend. Kit checks are undertaken as soon as they arrive to ensure they have all the basics such as a sleeping bag, tent, waterproofs, water etc. They loose marks for any kit that is missing from the kit list they are sent out before the competition. I always bring extra sleeping bags, tents, jackets, roll mats and gloves as there are usually a few missing pieces.
While the cadets sort themselves out on the Saturday morning the staff tuck into a good breakfast as the day is a long one. By the time any night navigation exercise is finished at the end of the day they could have been on the go for 18 hours.
As part of the navigation assessment, each team has to produce a route card for the day’s walk. The route goes all around Ashdown Forest and there are various checkpoints they have to get to. At some checkpoints they are set various tests on Sea Cadet skills. This was a particularly tough walk as the route was 27km long with full kit – do not ever say that being in the cadets is a breeze, it can be tough.
I do not have any pictures of the cadets while they were out but by the end of the day two teams had completed the whole course and the others were either picked up or had just missed out one or two checkpoints.
This part of the competition is undertaken just in Pippingford Park. The cadets have to navigate to different stances in the training area and complete different tasks.
All the stances are designed to test personal skill, team work, leadership and communication skills.
One of the stances was to rope up a river crossing system, using their seamanship skills, to be able to carry the whole team across.
All cadets are trained in First Aid so we usually have a stance on this. It can be quite weird listening to all the theatrical shouts and groans that come from this stance 😉
Teamwork and communication are skills scrutinised on the mine clearance stance. Pretend mines are hidden and the cadets have to probe for them. If they find one they mark it with a tyre.
The Observation stance is set up with objects or people set out in front of the cadets. Some are obvious to spot but due to the skill of the Royal Marine Cadet instructors who set up these stances can be extremely difficult to find.
The challenge on this year’s Seamanship stance run by Paul Townsend was to use a variety of ropes, poles, blocks and tackles to set up a rig to conduct a Colours ceremony. I like this stance as it brings together Sea Cadet skills originally aimed at use on board ship out into the woods.
My favourite – the Archery stance – was run this year by Charlie Brookes. All the cadets look forward to this stance both for the fun of it and for its competitive spirit within each team and between teams for the highest scores.
At the end of the Sunday we have an Endurance race. A course is set up through the woods going through streams, over logs, under them, up and down steep slopes. Each team gets to run it twice: first to get to know the route and secondly as a timed event that can be scored.
We finish with a final river crossing and a group picture. The looks on the cadets faces tell you very clearly that they had a great time.
A special award was given to Enfield unit for saving a Fawn that had become tangled up in some wire fencing. Well done guys.
Enfield receiving the Fawn award and Waltham Forest receiving their Third place certificate.
Second place (and the Team Leader award) went to Enfield and the winners were Finchley unit. Both these teams scored highly in what was a very tough but fun weekend.
As well as being a weekend full of assessments this course was a great training event for the teams that went forward to Chosin Cup later in the year but more on that later.
Welcome to Part 4 of this series on bushcraft candles.
This type of candle is slightly different to the others I have been building in this series. The main difference is that these Fire Face Candles require the use of power tools for speed of build. (I suppose they could be built with carpenters’ hand tools but that will be for another post.)
In my research on this series I came across a You Tube video on this type of candle from Marcels Workshop called ‘How to make a Fire Log 2013’. I have put a link to the video at the end of the post.
These candles were made for decoration only in my garden (for a party) but they could be used as stoves if you want. My last post in this series I think will be on testing slightly different variations on this method as rocket stoves.
As you can see you can get excellent Fire Faces out of these candles. Here is how you make one.
I used a long western red cedar log for the candles. After sawing it into 3 smaller logs I marked a hole on the top and drilled a small pilot hole down into the log. I did not place the mark dead centre so as to ensure the faces when they were completed lit up well.
I found it helpful to drill a pilot hole before switching to a larger drill piece (24mm): I did test going directly to the larger piece without a pilot hole and found for this type of wood drilling in through the top with a pilot first worked better.
The drill piece for the pilot I used here was 12mm. As it was shorter than the log I did not need to mark it with tape in case it came out the bottom. I secured the log between my feet as my vice was not big enough. If you are concerned about this drilling method I would advise that you secure the log to a work surface somehow before drilling.
Then with the 24mm drill I used tape to mark out how deep I needed to go and drilled the chimney out.
I laid the drill piece beside the log again and using the tape marked off the area where I would drill the mouth. The trick is to make sure that the mouth is above the bottom of the chimney. This will create a ‘well’ that you can fill with the wick and wax.
I used an 18mm drill piece to create the mouth. The 24mm drill would have worked just as well I imagine (I will use that for the Rocket Stoves). Here you can see on the right that the mouth connected with the chimney nicely.
I drilled out some eyes (connecting to the chimney) and using the drill decorated the logs with facial features. I did secure the logs for this but if you have the time and skill a good knife will do the same job.
In all it took me about half an hour to get to this stage.
I filled a pot up with wax and three wicks and heated it til the wax melted.
Using pliers and a stick I pushed the wick into the mouth down towards the base of the chimney. Leave a good 2 or 3cms protruding from the mouth at this stage.
I used a stick pushed down the chimney to tamp the wick down into the well. If you do not leave some wick protruding through the mouth it may all get pushed into the well. Then I filled the well with melted wax by pouring it in from the top of the chimney. The wax goes everywhere: I did all this outside.
So after about 45 minutes I had three Fire Face Candles ready to fire up.
I set them out in the garden ready to be lit later.
To fire them up just take a match and light the end of the wax-coated wick protruding from the mouth. In no time I had one going well.
This picture was taken through the mouth and you can see the wick is burning well at the base of the chimney.
The other two candles did not fire up initially. That was because I hadn’t trusted the wick alone and had inserted some pig fat impregnated paper into the chimney of each of these two. I thought this would help them along but all it did was cut the airflow and so the wick kept going out. After a bit of faffing about and decision making I stripped everything out apart from the wick and re-lit them.
They did not take long to fire up properly. Lesson learnt I think.
I was quite surprised how long they lasted for. This picture was taken 45 minutes into the burn and you can see the face on the first one is starting to burn out. Next time I may place the chimney more centrally in the log.
The kids loved the candles and would come right up to them to peer into the faces. I think that the next time I set them up I will put them in a cordoned off area as I was a little bit concerned that some of the more boistrous kids could knock them over.
I brought them all together to get a better picture and also so that they were in one area where I could keep an eye on them. This picture was taken about an hour after I had lit the first one.
One hour 15 minutes later and the first one had lost its face but was still going strong. There was a bit of wind on the night I tested them and this really helped maintain the flames. When I tested my first candles there was no wind and I had to continually waft them to keep them going.
My favourite picture of the evening. It looks like the front face of a Saxon warriors metal helmet to me.
A view from above .
In the end the candles lasted just under 2 hours so I was very pleased with the results.
As there was plenty of wood left on the candles I popped them on the fire and finally sat beside it relaxing with my wife Alison after everyone had gone, the kids were in bed and we’d finished clearing up.
The candles had one last spurt of life and I got a few more Fire Faces to add to my collection.
A wonderful end to a wonderful day.
In summary I would say that these were a pretty easy candle to make if you have the tools and they do last for a decent amount of time.
If I do get hold of some bigger logs I will try this again to see if I get the same results.
My last post in this Finnish/Swedish Candle series will be to look at using power tools to create rocket stoves from logs.
I am no artist but I like to capture what I see in the flames of a fire. I find it quite therapeutic watching a good campfire and I always have a camera ready for when a fire is giving off the right type of flame to see some faces or figures.
Here is a selection of just some of the faces and figures I have captured over the last couple of years. In some, the pictures of the face or figure are very clear to see (one or two have more than one face) but for a few they are not so easy to spot.
I am not going to describe what I see as you may see something totally different.
I enjoyed taking them and I hope you enjoyed looking at them as well.
I must admit to having taken thousands of pictures of flames over the years – they are very much alive to me
Part 3 is a comparison between two different candle types. I decided to fire up two candles at the same time to see how they fared against each other.
The candle on the left was made by driving a cluster of very dry birch poles into the ground and filling the centre with different tinders and kindling. The candle on the right was made from a single western red cedar log split into segments and again filled with different tinders. (All of the tinders in this test were natural. As the wood in both candles was extremely dry I did not feel the need to use anything man made such as Vaseline or cotton wool.)
Western red cedar log candle set up
I had stored this log in my garage for a number of years and it was bone dry. I like using cedar for a candle as the inner bark makes excellent tinder.
I placed the log on top of another log and, using a batton, hammered the axe into the log (picture 1). It’s important to keep the handle of the axe pointed away from you at 90 degrees so that the blade will swing away from you if it slips.
Then keep battoning the log until you get a number of segments (picture 2). I went for 8 segments as there was very little wind and I wanted as many air gaps as possible for a good draft: if there had been a bit more wind I would probably have settled for just four segments.
I used bramble to tie it all together and also to test how long the bramble would last just on its own (picture 3).
In between each segment I placed a folded piece of the bark (picture 4). This acted as extra tinder but also helped open the segments up to create airflow.
Into the centre I placed natural fluffy tinders and lots of birch bark I had collected earlier that day (picture 5).
Birch logs candle set up
These logs had been cut off a dead standing birch tree that day. They were all bone dry and about 60 to 70 cms long (picture 6). I hammered them into some soft ground in the shape of a circle. They need to be well hammered in, deep enough that they are sufficiently stable to hold a kettle or pot.
Into the centre I added layers of twigs and fluffy tinders filling up the whole candle (picture 7).
I wrapped bramble around the candle just as an experiment to see how long it would last. This type of candle does not normally need a cordage wrap around it if you have secured it properly into the ground.
If you were out and about in the woods you would more than likely go for something like the birch log set up as these logs are easier to come across. The cedar log set up though is I think quicker to set up as the splitting out with the axe is faster than the time it takes to saw all the birch logs up.
I got my son to light the cedar candle first as I thought that this one may take the longest to get going (picture 8). My daughter then lit the birch candle next (picture 9). Both were lit with just one match and from the centre of each candle.
The cedar was slow to catch but remained steady for about 15 minutes (picture 10). The birch went up like a rocket so I decided this would be the one to put the kettle on (picture 11). Picture 12 shows a good comparison between the two candles. This was about 5 minutes after ignition.
Here you can see the difference between the candles after about ten minutes.
Makes for good Woodland TV as well.
The bramble wrap was looking a bit toasted at this stage but was just hanging in there.
The cedar started to produce a good flame after about 15 minutes (picture 15) just as the kettle started to boil (picture 16) on the birch candle. It was at this stage that the bramble fell off the birch candle. The section of the bramble wrapped around the bottom of the cedar candle did not get burnt through, I noticed (as in the Wet/Damp wood candle in Part 2 of the series).
Another fuzzy picture I am afraid but it does show a good comparison of both candles after about 20 minutes (took this after making my brew).
This picture was taken at about the 30-minute stage and shows the burn area extending nicely with a good eruption of sparks (common with cedar): notice that the bramble is still holding strong.
Pictures 17 & 18 were taken one after another at different angles about 50 minutes after ignition. The birch candle had burnt out but I was very impressed to see that the cedar was still going strong. The bramble on the cedar candle I am afraid to say had had it by now and was burnt through. Thankfully I had also pushed each segment of cedar slightly into the ground so it stayed upright.
Look closely into the flames – can you see the Fire Face?
And another one. I must admit to having taken thousands of pictures of flames over the years – they are very much alive to me.
Still with the cedar candle, picture 19 was taken about 1 hour 30 minutes into the burn and picture 20 after about 2 hours. I did not want to finish with a shot of some embers so it was a simple case of……………
pushing the segments into a tipi shape and within seconds we had flame again.
Set up – I would say it was very close as both were fairly easy to build but the cedar was marginally quicker. I will probably use this method more often in some sort of camp where you have access to these rounds of cedar (or similar wood types) but when out and about I would more often use the birch log method (and I do).
Ignition and initial burn – Both were equally easy to light with dry tinder. For the initial burn the birch log candle wins out for me with that rocket effect at the start and getting me that brew quickly. If all I was after though was a gentle candle effect then the cedar is the one I’d want.
Ongoing flame – For me the winner in this category was the cedar. It lasted twice as long as the birch and gave off some great faces and fireworks to keep me interested. The birch log candle must not be totally discounted even at this stage though, as the hot embers left were of good enough quality that I could have used them to start up a more traditional fire lay.
Overall – My preference goes to the cedar candle as it gave a strong enough flame after 15 minutes to boil water or cook some food on, lasted a long time, was a great Woodland TV and, like the birch log candle, there were enough hot embers at the end to kindle a more traditional fire lay.
Part 4 in this series will look at some Rocket Stove Log candles I came across in my research for this series. They are quite fun to make but I am still looking into them – aka I have not got it quite right yet 😉
Never, ever give up on your fire: your life may depend on it
I went for a wander with my children in the woods last weekend to collect some wood and tinder for one of my candles. We had a chat about dead standing wood and how to identify it. Thankfully there are still enough leaves on the trees to make that job easy for them. They selected a birch that had lost the race for light and had no leaves on it. All the small side branches snapped easily off it and, much to my children’s delight, when I pushed the tree it tipped over easily exposing the root.
I trimmed and sawed the tree on site but quickly realised that even though the wood was not rotten in any way it was wet to its centre. Not an ideal situation for a making a quick and easy candle, just a situation that required a bit more preparation.
As you can see from the picture below, even though the wood was wet I still got my coffee.
Read on to see how to put one of these candles together.
This type of candle is ideal for ground conditions where it is very hard (it is self supporting and easy to reposition) or where the ground is waterlogged (the burn area is raised up off the ground). I have used this method on a number of occasions but until now I have always hammered the individual logs into the ground to form a circle. It was on one of my occasional trawls of You Tube that I came across a video from Bushcraftmyway showing this adaptation that is free standing. I have put a link to the video at the bottom of the post.
To begin with I trimmed the small logs to a length of about 50cms and collected a mixture of flexible bramble (scraping the hooks off), willow and birch shoots to use as cordage.
I gathered all the logs between my thighs and lashed them together with the bramble at first. I used bramble to begin with as the willow and birch I had gathered was quite thin and I thought might snap too easily. I also wanted to test the bramble out to see how useful it was in its ‘raw’ state, without actually stripping it down and turning it into cordage.
It was easy to wrap the birch and willow around the candle for extra support after the bramble was on. I also kept the cordage near the bottom to keep it all away from the flames of the candle.
If you are smart you will have cut all the poles to the same size, as you can see I had not (picture 1). However with the bundle tied up you can turn the whole thing on its side and trim them to size (picture 2). It will never be a perfectly flat surface but it’s good enough for a kettle ( picture 3).
I pulled the tops of the logs apart and put a smaller, pointed log in the centre to keep the top slightly open (picture 4). Then I stuffed very fine kindling (broken branch tips) into the centre and placed on top some Vaseline-smeared cotton wool and some resin (picture 5). (When you are lighting up wet wood you need to use the best fire-lighting method to hand). One match and the candle was away (picture 6).
I had some charcoal ends left from a previous fire so added them on top. These are great for adding that extra heart to the fire.
Next I added small twigs in a criss cross pattern on top of the charcoal. This is a good fire lay for the candle as it is stable and you can make a number of layers (picture 7). Once the fire is going properly pop the kettle on (picture 8). I half filled this group kettle which would have made brews for at least six people.
I had prepared a mixture of twigs for maintaining the fire. Some had been hung up and some had been found on the ground. As you can see here they did contain a lot of moisture but thankfully the fire was hot enough to boil that moisture off easily.
There were enough gaps at the top of the candle to keep popping twigs in to feed the fire.
NB if you think there is any possibility of the candle falling over, do not let small children feed twigs into the fire: if they push too enthusiastically they could topple it.
In about 15 minutes I had a boiling kettle and a nice cup of coffee made.
By the time I had my coffee the fire had died down as the support logs were so wet (picture 9). I added some more twigs and had to ‘waft’ it for a while (using the white board you can see in picture 10). I happened to build this candle on a day with no wind in a sheltered spot so wafting was a must. If you have a gentle breeze flowing through the logs all you’ll need do is keep adding twigs.
Here you can see how wet the logs were, the moisture is being boiled out of the top.
At this stage I fed the candle with some bigger pieces of wood and left it to burn for half an hour.
This picture was taken after about one hour of burn time. When I came back to it the flames had died down to just dark embers, but after about 30 seconds of gentle wafting the flames were back again. Never, ever give up on your fire: your life may well depend on it.
I was thinking at this stage about what my friend Rich59 from BCUK had taught me about tinders many years ago. He broke all the rules when he showed me how to get a flame from damp tinders so I thought what the heck and grabbed a load of damp (some quite wet) leaves and pressed them into the candle (picture 11). After a bit of wafting I got the leaves really glowing with a small amount of flame (picture 12).
Using the criss cross fire lay method again I built up quite a few layers of twigs for a second time. This method really helps to draw the air up through the twigs and so boost the flames.
Now my candle was quite dry and it produced a great flame for a good two hours. Granted it did need to be maintained but for a pile of unpromising wet logs I was very happy with this candle.
The cordage wrap lasted right until the end so I would be happy to use some old rope if I had to.
This is a good project to try because many bushcraft skills are covered, from knife and saw use, natural cordage-making, fire-lighting and fire lays, and most importantly it’s a reminder to always persevere when it comes to maintaining your fire when the going gets tough.
Spend time on preparing your candle and the payback will be a beautiful column of flame that will captivate any audience.
Read on to see how…………
A favourite evening activity of mine while in the woods is to build a large torch to light up the area around my campsite, and this version has a dual purpose as a handy self-contained stove too.
This type of log stove is commonly referred to as a Swedish Candle in the bushcraft world, but there’s some debate over its origins. Some history I have come across it is that it was used by Finnish soldiers during the winter war of 1939/40 between Finland and the then Soviet Union as a quick way of cooking in deep snow. Soldiers would just ski up to a dead standing piece of wood, cut it to size, split it and put a wedge in the split. After setting a fire in the split they would place their billy can on top to heat up the contents.
In dry arctic environments, dead standing wood does not contain much moisture so catches light easily. In our more maritime environment in the UK we have more moisture in our dead wood so it takes a bit more work to get a fire going. I use a lot of fluffy stuff (eg cotton-grass heads, thistledown or common reed heads), birch bark, spruce or pine resin and anything else I can find to get it going. When you finally succeed though it makes an excellent alternative woodland TV.
On a number of courses I have attended the instructors used chainsaws to make the vertical cuts. This makes the job very easy and you can set up a number of them around the camp quickly.
I do not have the luxury of owning a chainsaw so I had a trawl around You Tube and came across a good video from Hobbexp on making one of these candles without the use of a chainsaw. A link to that video is at the bottom of this post. I took a number of attempts to get a system that works for me but as you can see from the results it is worth it.
Some of the pictures you can get are quite stunning. This is from my Fire Face collection and I call it the Seahorse.
I typically use a length of well-seasoned birch as my candle but any wood that’s not too hard would work. As I never seem to find the ideal piece of dead standing wood when I need it I always keep a little stock in my store to bring along to camps.
First, split the wood with an axe and a batton. Be very gentle with the first few taps of the batton to make sure the axe does not slip.
Create the first split to a depth of about 50 or 60cms then create another split at 90 degrees to the first. To make the candle stand up, rest it against something that is not flammable (I sometimes use a cooking tripod) or dig it into the ground.
Once the candle is in position, add a green wood wedge down each split to keep the four parts of wood separated, then you’re ready to light your candle.
One of the best aids to lighting a fire is resin. I collect it when out and about in conifer plantations, using a flattened stick to prise it off the tree. It makes it much easier and also you do not need to clean your hands or knife so much. Adding lots of resin to the split keeps the initial flame going for longer, giving the wood time to catch.
Here you can see the green wood wedge keeping the split open and the start of the build-up of tinders. Tapping the green wedge in can make the log split a bit more – as you can see here – so be careful that you don’t allow the split to run all the way to the bottom.
Here you can see I have placed some resin in the split along with some paper impregnated with pig fat. Keep building up different layers of tinders.
I started the fire in this candle with only a small amount of tinder at the bottom of the split to demonstrate how poor the flame would be.
The flame was very slow in building up and when I placed small twigs on the top it dampened the flames down. (Instead of small twigs it is better to use dry pine needles as they are very flammable.) Starting the fire at the bottom will work, but you will need to spend far more time tending it; better to start the flame higher up as shown below.
Just remember the saying about the 7 P’s – Prior Preparation and Planning Prevents Pretty Poor Performance. Spend time on preparing your candle and the payback will be a beautiful column of flame that will captivate any audience.
Here I have built up lots of layers of resin and birch bark and lit the flame from the top. I don’t know the physics of it but if you start your fire at the top and let it burn down through the layers it works much better.
A well-lit candle now and an ideal place to boil water for a brew.
I have gotten some fantastic pictures from these candles.
Even the embers are beautiful.
The beauty of this set up is that if you keep adding tinder, resin and small twigs this candle will last a good couple of hours.
I have been experimenting with a couple of alternative candles today and will post the results of my thoughts on them in Part 2 of this How To…. soon.
June and July are time for County shows all over the country. This year at the end of June I agreed to help my good friend Phil Brown out at the Kent County Show.
Phil runs his own bushcraft company called Badger Bushcraft. Phil is based in Kent and does a lot of work with schools in the South East of England. His website at Badger Bushcraft covers all the angles on how he works with schools so I will not go into depth on that here.
I have known Phil since about 2005 and we have both studied together under John Rhyder at Woodcraft School on a number of his courses. Just like in the forces you go on long courses, meet people, go through some pretty hard stuff (and good stuff) and come out at the other end with some good friends. Phil is one of these good friends and over the last few years has given up his time to help me out on my Sea Cadet courses so it was only right to help out where I could for him. Not difficult as we both share the same passion for teaching bushcraft.
Phil’s aim for the weekend was to network with visitors who had links with schools. All the craft items were for display purposes. My role was to demonstrate some activities. These included, using firesteels, bowdrill, hand drill, knots, carving and looking at hammocks set ups.
Phil had his own shelter for the craft items and I brought along our own Coleman Event shelter to do the demonstrations. I am glad I brought it along as the heat all weekend was very intense.
I brought along some of my craft items and so did Phil. We could hardly fit them onto our tables in the end. I lost track of the times people came up asking how much we were selling things for. Some could not believe that we were not here to sell stuff but to just network and demonstrate.
The hat you can see in the picture Phil found in Romania. It is made out of amadou from the bracket fungus Fomes fomentarius. A good explanation can be found here on Wikipedia.
Running over the weekend was a small competition. It was to identify the plant shown here at the bottom of the table. It is highly toxic and was very hard to ID (I had no idea what it was until told). People got a chance to use some ID books to find out what it was and we got an eventual winner. The prize was a weekend course with Phil if I remember. The plant if you have not guessed it is a Thorn apple (Datura stramonium) More info on it can be found here at the RHS web page.
I must admit to being impressed with the skull collection that Phil now has. They were a real attraction to all the kids.
Much of my time was spent in the demonstration area. It got very crowded at times. I spent a lot of time working with adults and kids doing group bowdrill and practising using firesteels.
The demonstrations all went well apart from one time when I was working with a young lad. For whatever reason we just could not get that ember. Possibly due to my drops of sweat putting the ember out 😉
The kids waited patiently until it was there turn and wherever possible I worked with groups of 3 or 4 at a time.
I did a number of one to one sessions with adults and a few got that final happy flame face I so love to see.
Interspersed in between the bow drill I got the hand drill out. I think I did 4 demonstrations on the Saturday which thankfully were all successful (it was very hot and dry so ideal conditions) but I did collect a couple of blisters and my hands did feel bruised.
At the back of the shelters we had set up home. I had a few people asking about the hammock set up.
Around the fire that evening we had a little visitor that wanted to dive bomb the fire but thankfully chose not to do so at the last moment.
On the Sunday i set up a couple of different hammocks for people to try. Everybody was a bit nervous at first trying them but those that did were converted. The hammocks that I set up were the DD Frontline and the UK Hammocks Woodsman.
I tried out one of Phil’s Ben Orford hook knives and it worked a treat. I quickly cut out the inside of a small bowl. I was working on a small birch log and explaining to people as they came by what I was up to. The bowl has seasoned now and hopefully will be a Christmas present. I demonstrated my gas wood burning stove and discussed various styles of pot hooks.
We had set up an area with some stoves and different types of pot hooks for people to look at. Also one of our neighbours had a mobile planing machine. He had been making planks out of Birch and the off cuts were donated to us. The sensible thing we could see was to carve some chopping boards out of them. I think we gave away a few in the end to people who stopped to chat and were really interested in what we did.
Other neighbours included the Kent Beekeeping Society and Steve who was an expert wood turner.
Phil got his Eco Burner going. Really outshone my little gas wood burner. He has written a good write up about the Eco Burner here. Some of the time we had a quiet spell and we managed to get a brew going but much of the time we had quite a crowd.
I took a picture of one of Phil’s boards showing the benefits of bushcraft within the community. Certainly makes you think about what this subject can do to help people both young and old.
If you work in a school in the South East and are interested in teaching nature based activities to your students then drop Phil a line sometime.
I had a great weekend and look forward to hopefully going again next year.
This theme of ‘Memorable Meals’ is a subject that is very close to my tummy. To watch my wife Alison cooking a meal for me is an absolute joy but I have to accept that though she loves the outdoors and camping – bushcraft is not quite the same passion for her as it is for me. I do try to cook well for myself when Alison is not around but being of a military mind I usually end up tucking into a standard issue MOD rat pack.
Thankfully to help counter this laziness of mine I have a number of friends – both military and civilian – who happen to be excellent outdoor chefs. Looking at my picture library I was struck by all the pictures I had taken over the last couple of years of some fantastic meals I have eaten while bushcrafting.
One of these excellent chefs runs his own outdoor cookery school – Fraser Christian of Coastal Survival. Fraser is a qualified chef and expert forager who actually lives off the land and the sea. I have recently bought his superb book Eat the Beach on Kindle. As well as covering all the edibles on the shoreline it goes into detail on how to identify and cook plants found further inland.
I will try and explain what all the dishes were but I will mostly let the pictures speak for themselves. (I can’t remember all the ingredients.)
For me nothing beats sitting around a fire chatting and watching a great meal being produced. I usually end up with getting lumbered with cleaning the dishes but that is a fair price to pay I think.
It is always good to stop for a brew. I love my tea and coffee but a foraged brew tastes that much sweeter.
As well as Fraser, another expert chef and forager is Alan Smylie. Thankfully these two guys get along when it comes to cooking and foraging. They seem to complement each other somehow without any of the drama I have seen with co-chefs in the past.
A recurring theme in this post will be the Meat Feast pictures. Apologies to all the vegetarians reading this 🙂
As a forager it is always good to munch as you go along, and we are not just talking plants here – shrimps and fish eyes, anyone?
On trips with Fraser we catch quite a few crabs. They make an excellent stock.
Breakfast is something I tend to get left with so at least there is something I cooked here.
Fraser and Alan live off the land and they showed me an excellent way to cook sea bass parcelled up in the embers of a fire. This method of cooking ensures the fish stays very succulent.
I made sure not much remained of the bass.
Walk on the sea shore and you will see limpets everywhere. They do not take long to cook and are great on their own or added to a stew.
I think the patties were made up of the leftovers of a previous day’s meal.
All these meals included foraged ingredients.
Cooking rig experiment – pots set at different heights for boiling and simmering.
Some more protein.
I took this picture after Fraser had done a class on cold smoking mackerel in a cardboard box. After this we broke up the smoked mackerel and added it to a stew.
Before and after pictures.
In between classes a quick and easy meal is an omelette
The stove in the picture below is actually an old cutlery drainer and we were using pine cones as fuel.
Last of the Meat Feast pictures. I enjoyed every one of these roasts.
Omelette for breakfast this time………..
…..sometimes it can be fish, potatoes and eggs………..
…..but there are days when only a bacon buttie will do.
Even the cat eats well here.
I hope you enjoyed these foraged food and feasting pictures.
I am aiming to get back down to see Fraser again in the near future for some more fabulous bushcraft-style belly fuel.
Every year for as long as I have been in the Sea Cadets we have made an annual trip to the New Forest. This started out with just our unit (City of London) but has since grown to include units from all over London.
The aim of the event is to provide cadets for the annual HMS Hood Remembrance Service at Boldre Church and to conduct a range of adventurous activities. The last trip was in June this year and we managed to run a a Basic Expedition Leaders (BEL award) assessment course, D of E Bronze expedition, lots of Junior Sea Cadet activities, cadet camping qualifications and run an adult Adult Adventure Leader assessment. A very busy weekend all in all. The majority of our cadets come from London and some get very few opportunities to head out into the woods for the weekend to play and learn.
The pictures below have been selected from a number of different years.
I normally arrive early on the Friday to set up the parachute and other group shelters. The cadets and the rest of the staff will arrive later on the Friday night. Our accommodation is usually at the Ferny Crofts camp site in the New Forest. It has a wide range of facilities and activities but the best thing about it is that you can set up hammocks and have a fire.
Meet my boss – Chief Petty Officer Paul Townsend. He is the Commanding Officer (CO) of City of London Sea Cadet unit based on HMS Belfast. Paul is in overall charge of the camp and leads the honour guard at the HMS Hood Remembrance Service at Boldre Church in the New Forest on the Sunday. Apart from being a good CO, seamanship instructor and sailing instructor he is not too bad at the old adventure training as well 🙂
Our sleeping accommodation is a mixture of tents and hammocks. Over the years we have introduced cadets to using hammocks and now I do not have enough hammocks for all the cadets who want to use one. Thankfully some of the older cadets have bought their own now.
Even managed to get my friend Perry Symes to try out a hammock again and this time he enjoyed it.
A big part of the weekend is to teach navigation to cadets and adults. We do get to some beautiful locations.
This was a particularly tricky spot to navigate. Liz took her time but it was fun to watch. Liz was on the assessment course for the BEL award I was helping to assess. I was told that later the same day a couple got stuck in this area and had to be rescued by the emergency services.
At some point on the saturday we like to stop off at the Beauly Station Hotel with all the cadets and staff for a bit of refreshment. It was here we were introduced to Helen and Simon’s son James. A real hit with Jason.
The weather this year was thankfully gorgeous unlike some previous years. This was my friend Charlie Brookes’s first visit to the event. Apart from being a bushcraft instructor he is an excellent navigation instructor.
While out and about I like to make sure that everyone is well aware of what is happening in Nature around them. My friend Liz Rowan took the picture of the snake. That is one thing I am yet to see in the countryside – maybe one day.
As per usual on any trips now I have my EDC hammock chair ready to deploy. Best £15 I ever spent.
Problem is though, everybody else likes it as well. I love the fact that when you are sitting in it it appears your feet are floating in the air.
As part of their training cadets are trained in how to use an emergency shelter. These things are a real life saver.
Teaching classes on putting up tents can be a bit dry so I like to see a bit of fun being injected into the learning.
We run lots of activities including using firesteels, group bowdrill and team games.
The cadets lit this fire with firesteels and are having their break relaxing and watching a bit of ‘woodland TV’.
The Juniors have to cook food over an open fire to complete their Sea Cadet Green training module, so lighting their own fire then cooking over it gives them a great sense of achievement.
The wood under the fire came from a massive pile of old pallets that the Scouts provided so that the local woodland is not stripped of dead wood – got to leave a home for the bugs.
I was introduced to Smores a few years ago at the BCUK Bushmoot and they have proven to be a hit with the cadets (and the adults). They are toasted marshmallows squeezed between a couple of biscuits, ideally with melted chocolate drizzled over.
Another sweet favourite is to cook chocolate cake mix in oranges. Messy but tasty.
A regular feature now is to build a candle for cooking on.
As we cannot cook every meal on an open fire we always have a field kitchen in a large Roundhouse we rent out. The cadets have to work in shifts helping out. Some great food has been created here with very few resources. Well done guys.
As we are running courses on campcraft there are plenty of classes discussing kit and its uses.
Dave is having a bit of a debrief here with his group to reinforce the learning. Don’t know if he is talking about wood or if he is just tired 😉
At some point in the weekend we always get the Atlatls out for a quick ping.
There are plenty of areas to do some stalking skills as well.
At the end when we pack up we like to ensure the place is left cleaner than we found it. Here is the ideal skirmish line set up before starting to sweep the area.
Unfortunately however working with cadets can be like herding cats. So instead of keeping in a nice straight line and sweeping efficiently across the area it all soon degenerates into a bit of an aimless-looking wander. Thankfully though we always manage to get the place cleaned up.
I hope we have many more years going to the New Forest for the HMS Hood Remembrance Service. It is great to see the cadets head out to the service and just as good to see them enjoying the woods.
If your unit has never been down to this event and you’d like some information just let me know.
Back in May the Sustainability Centre in Hampshire was hosting its May Fair. I decided to take my kids down for the day with one of their friends and I was joined for the day by my friend Rick. Thankfully the rain kept off until it was time to go home.
I love going down to the Sustainability Centre as there is such a wide range of things for both kids and adults to do. They even have an area for hammocking which is always a bonus for me.
Rick arrived on his motorbike and the kids all got to sit on it. I think Finlay was most taken with the bike though.
We went for a good wander around the woods and had a few finds through the day. Catherine was a little bit sad to find a dead wood pigeon. I was more taken with the stove than the kids I think but we were all fascinated by the squirrel print that my friend John Rhyder pointed out.
The centre has a number of tipis and yurts for hire which were all open for the day so the kids were straight in there.
There were many stands displaying alternative technologies and lifestyles but the kids loved the Dream Catcher lady the most.
After finishing their Dream Catchers we found a bug hotel and its little sign.
My friend John runs Woodcraft School. I trained under John on his instructor programme back in 2008, a course I thoroughly enjoyed and got a great deal out of – I would recommend it to anyone.
At the fair John was leading a walk looking at the different plants that were starting to come through that month, both edible and medicinal.
We looked at quite a number of plants such as wild strawberry and ribwort plantain.
Other plants included silverweed and nettle. Finlay was a bit dubious at first even though he has eaten some before but did venture a little nibble of nettle.
A plant that was covered in a lot of detail was herb bennett – also known as wood avens. Its root has a very clove-like smell and so was hung up in wardrobes to ward off moths. It is a plant still used today in some areas to flavour beer and has many medicinal uses. A good site that goes into more detail on the plant is Dals Wildlife site.
Next on the list was burdock, a great plant for the carbohydrates found in its root. The whole plant is edible but the leaf is a tad on the bitter side (in fact to be honest it’s absolutely horrible). I don’t think the girls were taken with it. It was good to hear John covering these plants again and it reminded me that I needed to get my books out again.
Ever seen a greenhouse made out of plastic bottles? If not come down here and see for yourself. We were all gaping at this thing – so simple but at the same time so complex.
One of the reasons the kids love to come down here is the circus area. I must admit to trying and failing miserably on the unicycle 🙂
At the end of the day it was a tractor trip to the carpark and home.
This is a great place to visit for the day or to camp over. There are areas dedicated to the growing of wild plants and to displaying sustainable ways of living. There are bushcraft and green woodworking courses on offer and there is a beautiful Natural Burials woodland to stroll in.
Around a fire some time last year my friend Kev Lomas asked me about helping out the Royal Marine Cadets (RMC) in his area (Southern Area Sea Cadets) with some Bushcraft. As Kev had helped us in London Area a lot over the years I was keen to help out.
Another reason was that the course would be on the Isle of Wight and there is nothing better than walking through dappled woodland in the Spring on a sunny day on the island (there are no deer on the island to eat all the flowers).
The course was at the end of April this year and the weather was fine and warm. I had a smooth trip over the Solent with with just a little fog to begin with but it soon cleared up.
I went down on the Thursday to set up camp and I am glad I did as it took us all Thursday afternoon and Friday to set everything up. The camp we stayed at was deserted and the woodlands were beautiful – though I did manage to get my heavily laden van well and truly stuck in the mud trying to set up. Luckily once emptied she leapt out of the mud to save my embarrassment.
There was to be about 25 cadets on the course with about 5 instructors. One of the instructors called Sgt Tony Moore had attended the same instructor course with Woodcraft School that I had completed so it was good to swap stories. (The chicken below, by the way, is a plastic one we found in the woods.)
When the cadets arrived they were briefed on the activities. I think some were a bit disappointed to find out I was a Blue Jacket (a Sea Cadet instructor) rather than a RMC instructor but when I began describing all the skills they would cover and how these could cross over into their field skills they started to come around (I think also that it helped when Kev mentioned I was ex-Airborne).
We had the Padre around for the weekend and he was keen to be involved. As well as trying out a normal hammock he was very taken with my UK Hammocks EDC chair.
A tradition in the RMC is to introduce the cadets to the Coca Cola tree. Many of the older ones had seen this before and sniggered at the back watching younger ones’ confusion as Kev pulled the ‘tree’ out of the ground all the while explaining how rare it was 🙂
Many of the cadets brought their own knives along so we had a good chat about the pros and cons of the various different types. I then issued some fixed-blade bushcrafting knives for them to practise with.
They all managed to make wedges and learn the art of battoning wood, making the kindling they’d later use for their fires.
They used firesteels to get their fires lit and then we boiled water in our Kelly Kettles for a brew. I love using the term ‘brew’ to Marines as you can see the grimace appear on their faces. To them the correct term is a ‘wet’ and they are very proud of the difference (no idea why).
We bought in some mackerel and the cadets prepared them and made up some Ponassing rigs.
A bit of a scrum to be fed but they all enjoyed it.
During the day we went out for a wander looking at tracks and signs. We found some owl pellets, scavenged birds’ eggs and also some early orchids.
In the woods there were clear Badger trails which were easy to follow. We came across this nice print near their latrine.
On the Saturday afternoon we dug up some worms so they could be cleaned out overnight. The next day a quite passable omelette was made with a bit of worm as protein.
Tony had fun showing the cadets how to prep rabbit.
As we had quite a lot of fish that was not Ponassed we fried it off in the Muurrika.
In the evening the staff helped the cadets set up 10 hammocks. This took quite a while but was worth it as some were very keen to try them out. One cadet was about 6 foot 5 inches and was determined to have a go. His head could not fit in the hammock so it was quite a challenge to make him comfortable. He survived the night however, and said it was a relaxing sleep.
Again on the Sunday we went for a wander to see was out there in terms of foraging. The cadets were introduced to hawthorn, birch and beech leaves (all tasty in the spring). The small plants we looked at were nettles, wood sorrel, burdock, plantain, reedmace and primrose to name just a few.
The ranges were an ideal spot to get the bows out.
We also introduced the cadets to the Atlatl.
You do not often see so many being launched simultaneously like this.
I had a fantastic weekend and so did the cadets, based on the feedback I received. I am looking forward to doing something similar with the RMC in London and also with the Southern Area RMC again next year.
Probably not but when we do, we like to explore and adventure.
Two particular walks earlier this year stick out in my memory due to the flora and fauna that we came across and the fun we had. Both walks were in the same piece of woodland near our village.
On the way to the woods one of the routes takes you though our local church. The early spring flowers were quite beautiful.
As soon as we entered the woods the kids spotted something.
Needless to say it was not just the kids that were excited.
Eventually the deer took off. To see a herd of deer move as one is like watching a wave move through the woods. Quite a stunning sight. I was sorry that we had disturbed their rest but still delighted to see them. I was so glad that the kids were with me.
I was particularly delighted when Finlay pointed out some Cramp Balls to me as they are great fire starters when dried out. Enough to make any Bushcrafting father proud 🙂
We came across a fairly fresh kill site. The kids were straight in there looking at the feathers.
From looking at the feather tips the single score would indicate a bird of prey kill. If it had been a land animal such as a fox the tips of the feathers would have been jagged due to the tearing action of the animal’s teeth.
The slots from the deer were crystal clear for them to spot.
I did not ask my kids to collect tinder but they just went and collected anyway. Must be in the genes.
As usual the kids needed to be extricated from the trees. Thankfully Alison was on hand as my hands were too busy with the camera 😉
The next walk was a much more relaxed affair. It was time for the Bluebells to appear.
Some days Catherine wants to explore and some days nails are more important. Must be a Mars – Venus thing.
Thankfully Finlay wanted to do the Mars thing. He was determined to be able to lift this tree higher.
The bluebells were looking beautiful that day.
Also the orchids were standing lovely in the woods.
Finlay was more interested in finding bridges to cross and search under for Trolls.
I do love spending time in the woods but it is special when you are with your own family.
My kids love to use all the latest gizmos but thankfully they love the outdoors just as much.
Back in 2010 at the BCUK Bushmoot I saw a wood gas stove that my friend Ian Woodham had built for himself. Needless to say I was very impressed with this stove.
One of the reasons I love it is that it’s so easy to put together: it requires no welding and only the most basic materials and tools. Even with all the testing and photographing I did, this stove took only the better part of an afternoon to make.
Yet despite its simplicity it’s actually very efficient: there’s a primary burning area in the centre and the smoke and gases from this primary burn are channelled to the top of the stove to be re-burned. I found a good image of this in Wikipedia – Wood gas stove – Principle of operation.
I used a standard metal paint tin, a large dogfood tin, a Fray Bentos tin, a Jubilee clip, a metal rod and four bolts (with nuts and washers). The tools I used were a power drill, small hammer, metal file and tin snips. If you own a Dremmell (or similar tool) your life will be much easier.
Just click on any picture to see more detail.
In order to allow airflow through the bottom I marked out some ‘arches’ around the base and then cut them out. I used my drill for this and then some pliers (at this stage I did not have my tin snips). I also added some little holes in between each arch. If I had had the tin snips from the start the job would have looked much neater. I did not take a picture of the drilling stage as my hands were full, but I used a rounded piece of wood secured in a vice to support the tin (on the inside) as I drilled into it. I also used the file to smooth off any sharp edges.
I then used the dogfood tin to mark a circle on the lid, then made another circle about 1cm inside that. I drilled holes all around the inner circle to make it easier to cut out.
Using my new tin snippers (went out to buy a pair) I cut lots of slits and then folded them back. These folded pieces of tin are needed later.
Ensure that the dogfood tin fits snugly.
Using a drill and my piece of backing wood on the vice I drilled loads of small holes in the base of the (empty) dogfood tin. I then drilled bigger holes on the sides at the top and bottom. I put twice as many holes at the bottom than at the top. If I was to make another stove I would make these holes even bigger. The small holes on the bottom allow air to rise up into the primary burn area and the bigger holes on the side at the bottom allow air in and gases to escape (to rise up to the holes at the top). The holes at the top allow the escaping gases to be sucked back into the top of the stove where they are then re-ignited. A very efficient system when you think about it.
Use your hammer and file to beat flat any sharp areas on the inside.
After re-inserting the dogfood tin into the lid I secured it with a Jubilee clip.
I also replaced the plastic handle on the paint pot using a metal rod to make a fire-proof one. Now with the burner, air holes and handle finished it was time to construct the hot plate. Thankfully Ian had shown me his secret: a Fray Bentos tin, which fits this size of paint pot perfectly.
So take one Fray Bentos tin (empty – what you do with the contents is your own business), mark a circle roughly the size of the one on the paintpot lid, and drill holes all round the line to make it easy to cut out.
My son Finlay was keen to help hammer all the jagged edges flat.
The next stage is to drill four holes for the bolts and then attach them to the Fray Bentos lid and voila – one hot plate ready. The hot plate fits perfectly into the lid (into the recess) of this type of paintpot.
I fired up the stove with some small twigs and was able to keep it going for a good while by dropping in just the twigs I found lying around. After testing the stove out I used a blowtorch to burn off a lot of the paint on the outside of the stove to avoid fumes in my brew. Here you can just make out the gases being reignited as they come back in through the top holes of the burner.
One stove in action.
I had fun building this stove and had the idea of building a better one but to tell you the truth this one works great so I’ve never got round to it.
Have a go and see what you can come up with.
We moved down to Bramley in Hampshire in 2007 and for a while it felt as if we had no other family around us. My mother and stepfather were in London but soon moved back up to the Isle of Lewis to look after my Granny. A little while later I heard that my cousin Louise had moved down to Hampshire with her family. Like a typical Isle of Lewis bloke I did not make any contact with Louise initially but I am glad that over the last couple of years I have made the effort to do so.
Louise is a headteacher for Romsey Abbey Primary School and lives very near the National Trust site at Mottisfont. This is a beautiful location where my whole family love to visit. Louise has an interest in Bushcraft and has set up a training course for her pupils with my friends Mollie and Nick from the Field Farm Project.
This year my family have had a couple of visits down to Mottisfont where we were joined by Louise and her family.
Thankfully our children get on like a house on fire – or in this case a tree in blossom.
As per usual the extraction of the kids from this kind of environment is typically complex.
Much of my time at Mottisfont apart from having fun with the family is spent taking pictures of flowers. This year on Facebook I compiled monthly albums of flowers and many of Mays flowers come from Mottisfont.
The kids found the Shepherds hut and wanted to make it into a den.
Both families – seems just like yesterday when Louise and I were just kids ourselves mucking about on the Isle of lewis
I love the art at Mottisfont – Quite a realistic horse – Typically the girls want to stroke it and the boys want to pull the tail 🙂
Icecream – Typical bushcraft food when dealing with kids.
Alison, as you could guess (a campervan fanatic), is keen to get a campervan now. I think Darcy is trying to say to her Mummy Victoria – ‘Don’t put me in there with these strange people Mummy!!’
My kids were very taken with the bug hotel at Mottisfont
I am glad to see that climbing is a trait that flows through both families – there are dolls up there as well.
Wander through the woods at Mottisfont and you will find some strange stuff.
One of the joys this year was to meet little Darcy – our liitle cousin.
Michael and Louise – As nice a couple as you will ever meet.
Victoria and Charles with another keen climber – Elliott.
Our kids spent a lot of time paddling in the stream so Darcy wanted in on the action.
While Darcy was learning the finer points of paddling with Grandpa I was teaching the rest how to climb a waterfall.
I think Alison was very taken with Darcy – I did try and put my foot down on the baby thing but was totally ignored 😉
Back at Louise’s house we were introduced to the fine art of picking apples. I must admit that Louise can make a fine jam from all the fruits she grows in her garden.
Some lovely pictures and more importantly some lovely memories.
At the end of March this year (29th to the 31st) I was invited by my friend Dave Lewis to help out with training his cadets from Enfield Sea Cadets at Danemead Scout Camp. Danemead is near Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire. The staff with Dave and myself were Keith Coleman, Alan Lewis, Emma Deasey and Allen Holloway.
The aim of the weekend was to start navigation and team-working training in preparation for our District and Area adventure training competitions. From the outset I could see that Dave had a proactive team who were very keen to work together. This was the first of a number of training weekends that culminated with the team winning the Area Chosin Cup for Adventure Training and also winning the Team Leaders cups at both District and Area level.
This was the beginning of that chain of events though. Danemead is one of my favourite campsites as it is near to most of the Units I work with but feels sufficiently remote to offer good training.
The weather for the weekend was a mixed bag, generally cold with sleet and rain but with sufficient periods of dry spells to make it comfortable.
The cadets love to try out hammocks so on the Saturday we put up some for them to use. We have managed to fundraise some money to buy some hammocks from UK hammocks.
These Woodsman hammocks are like little nests. You lie diagonally so you end up with a much flatter sleep. I am afraid if you have never slept in a hammock then the only way to understand what I mean is to try out a hammock that allows you to sleep diagonally.
Not a pretty picture I am afraid but I am snug as a bug in my hammock.
Due to the winds and rain we felt it better to put up the big tarp rather than the usual parachute.
Key to operating at this time of year is to have a warm brew on hand and the fire as usual provided the evening’s Woodland TV.
Also there was some heartening food in the mornings.
Over the weekend the main focus was on navigation and leadership skills. All the cadets brushed up on their map and compass skills. While out and about we also focused on group leadership and set some scenarios such as First Aid.
The navigation was undertaken in some of the beautiful woodland and farmland around Danemead.
During the Saturday walk we had sunshine, rain, sleet, snow and sunshine again. Thankfully the snow did not lie.
On the trek we came across a dead fox in an old disused caravan. The fox did not look like it had been there long. As it was the end of the winter it may have curled up here and been to weak to move. We came across another dead fox later that day at the side of the road which had probably been hit by a car (but no obvious trauma signs on it).
As we went along we spent time studying tracks and scat. Some of the cadets I’ve worked with a number of times don’t think I am too mad for spending so much time looking at animal poo – but they all do when they come out with me for the first time.
During the walk I spotted a muntjac laid up under some brush but as we got close it bolted. Up close we spotted the hairs it had left behind (coin included for scale).
Also there is a Wildlife Park nearby and we came across these sawed bones near the fence. Makes you wonder what is around at night!!
I was chuffed to see the cadets pointing out all the feeding stations they could find.
We came across a shelter so took the opportunity to get a picture and get a bit of shelter. The cover was not great but it certainly got them out of the wind. We did check to make sure it was clean enough and strong enough before we used it. I personally like to dismantle shelters I build after use, but this one did come in handy.
Apart from navigation we set up some archery as this is a regular event on the adventure training competitions. Prior to starting though as everyone was a bit cold Alan took everyone through a bit of gentle Tai Chi to warm us up. Everyone did enjoy it (eventually).
Then we had fun.
They got pretty good with the Atlatl as well.
In between classes a cadet will make their own fun (though I suspect they are not allowed to do this officially!)
I think this is the weekend I introduced Dave to the EDC hammock chair. This chair sits in my pocket ready to be used whenever we stop for a break in the woods.
I thoroughly enjoyed this weekend and it was the first of many for Enfield Sea Cadets on the adventure that culminated in winning this year’s Chosin Cup competition.
I feel that we do need to remind ourselves about the importance of ‘Adventuring’ every now and then.
Ask yourself the question, “When was the last time I had a really good adventure?”
Now be truthful to yourself.
Was it recent? Was it enjoyable? Was it different?
In my line of work as an Adventure Training Instructor, health and safety and risk assessment are the norm. Everything has to be planned and assessed for each activity I am involved in. I have to be qualified in each activity I run because I work with youngsters and inexperienced adults.
Once I have planned and assessed an activity, it is no longer an adventure to me, although I hope it will be for the kids and other adults that take part in that activity. Don’t get me wrong: I do enjoy my work, but taking a group out on organised walk in the woods or mountains is not really an adventure for me as it has already been planned in great detail.
Where the adventure for me comes in is, for example, when my group is trundling along a woodland path and I call a halt, then say something like “I’m bored now: let’s see what’s down there”, pointing off into the deep and dark woods. These off-piste adventures usually go for a few hundred metres so the group can get back onto the pre-planned route quickly.
What’s interesting is how such adventures often seem to scare people, not really I think because the woods are deep and dark but because they are leaving the path. As a nation I think we have had it drummed into us since childhood that we need to stick to the pre-planned path or we could never be found again.
In some places leaving the public footpath means trespassing, but not always. It is all about knowing where to have your adventure. The Countryside Right of Way (CROW) Act has opened up a lot of new land for adventuring (get the latest OS map of your area to see where the CROW access is). Also speaking to local landowners and explaining what you do can open up whole areas to adventure in.
Scanning my map before entering the wood tells me what I need to know in regards to health and safety and I am constantly assessing risk as the group moves through the wood. But I am seeing new things all the time , and that makes it an adventure for me. For many in the group they are realising for the first time in their lives that it’s possible to get off the beaten track and enter a whole new world, and that is their adventure.
If you’re going to lead an adventure like this, teach your group to always look back at their route so that the path is recognisable if they have to turn back because of an obstruction. Mostly though, take your time and explore and enjoy your new surroundings.
Have an adventure every time you go out so you can say it has been recent.
Take your time and explore so you can say it has been enjoyable.
Finally, have your adventures in various locations so you can say they have been different.
The next instalment of Bushcraft Memorable Meals. The theme is ‘Before & After’ – I’ve paired up pictures of food ready for cooking with the finished product.
I went for a visit to Dingly Dell at the BCUK Bushmoot last year and had a great chat with Steve Mesquite Harrall and John Fenna. John had this pot of pre-prepared nettle soup thawing out by the fire for the group meal we have. Unluckily I did not get to taste this as the hordes beat me to it but I was told it was a good soup. However…………..
Previously I was at one of the Moots at Mark Beer’s site and Jon Searle poured me out a quite extraordinary bowl of nettle soup.
One of my favourite ways to cook fish is to Ponasse it over an open fire. This one was prepared for the BCUK Bushmoot group meal.
It is gently cooked over an open fire and this time I did get some and it tasted a treat.
Every year my sister sends me down a Guga in the post. This is a young Gannet and my family still are allowed to undertake the annual Guga Hunt to a rocky island called Sula Sgeir off the coast of the Isle of Lewis every August. This is my favourite food. I have put a link to a website at the bottom of the blog that explains the hunt.
The guga is boiled for half an hour and the water is then changed and boiled again for another half hour. Alison does not let me cook it in the kitchen as the house reeks of guga for days – personally I don’t see the problem with that.
Thankfully though my kids love this annual feast.
I was taught by Ian Holt Jones at John Ryder’s Woodcraft School how to butcher venison and prepare it.
We had some memorable meals on the Woodcraft courses.
I love to bake bread and have a savoury tooth.
After sitting the pot in embers the results can be quite delightful.
My cadets love pizza so being outdoors is no excuse for not having any. Thanks to Simon and Helen Hunt for experimenting with this campfire pizza oven at Ferny Crofts this year.
The results were brilliant. I only got a little piece as the cadets kept getting in front of me.
For the perfect bushcraft breakfast, split one green log, peg on some bacon and……….
Lay it by the fire and enjoy.
To finish pop out and collect some blackberries (get others to do the job if you can) and…………
…hopefully some excellent cook like my wife Alison will bake you a beautiful crumble.
I hope you enjoyed this little ‘Before & After’ blog: I know I certainly enjoyed eating it all.
Since about 2007 one of my local Bushcrafting locations has been in the woods near Silchester.
This was organised by my good friend Mark Beer as he was a Forester working for the Benyon Estate. My last overnight visit was in February this year but I did pop up and visit the lads for a few hours while they were out this summer.
Sadly access to the site is very limited now as Mark no longer works there so I thought instead of just writing about my last visit I would write about some of the different Bushcraft activities we got up to over the years.
This was probably the last picture I took in February.
Apart from Mark Beer and Adam Cottrell who are in this picture other regular members who attended were Nick Currie, Mat Howes, Andy Smith, Jon Searle and Rod Anderson Boyle. There have been many more who have attended in the past so please forgive me for not listing everyone.
As usual we had a parachute set up most of the time as our main admin area. I have spent many a happy hour around the fire under this chute. I was either carving, building something, listening to the music from all the different instruments, eating, planning my next picture, drinking endless tea from the old civil service kettle or just usually shooting the breeze and accepting the usual jibes from my friends relating to my Scottish ancestry
My kids have visited the site a few times over the years where they were always welcomed. Catherine was very happy to sleep in her hammock here and was always keen to dance around the fire to the music of one of the flutes. They are always keen to learn but this is one place where I could generally relax (cadet free zone) and learn from all the guys who would be there.
One of the things I liked about spending time here was to listen to all the different music that was played. If it was not someone playing a guitar you would be listening to flutes or the Jaw harp. It made sitting there carving all the more pleasurable.
I have learned a lot here while out and about on the mooches from the guys. So much so that my colleague Sea Cadet instructors have been known to raise an eye brow or two when I start on about looking for Pignuts (or some other such environmental subject).
One of my passions is to get my bows out on these meets. I have shot some remarkable bows over the years here that the lads have brought along.
This target by G-Outdoors has been used here for a few years now and is still going great after all the abuse we gave it.
I will let the pictures say it all now.
Hopefully I will get back out there sometime soon.
I have been very lucky over the years to have made many friends in the world of Bushcraft. I cannot call myself a chef in any form but many of my Bushcraft friends are either very good cooks or can be classified as chefs. I was struck by how many of my pictures I have taken have been of the food I have eaten while Bushcrafting.
One of my favourite methods of cooking is to Ponnasse fish.
I do not intend here to make this a How to…. article on preparing food (I may do that in the How to… section) but just publish photos of some of the great meals I have tried over the years while out Bushcrafting.
A freshly foraged pan of Paella simmering while Jordan, Dave, Fraser and myself natter.
I spend a lot of time eating out of MOD rat packs so really appreciate being in the company of good cooks.
One cracking plate of Paella from last years BCUK Bushmoot.
One of my favourite meals of the day while in the woods is my breakfast. Thankfully Alison is always keen to cook outdoors.
It is not always about big meals.
Then again they can get quite big.
An Osado from my time in Chile with Raleigh International.
I will work through my library and post up later some more of my memorable meals.
A very quickly made bow – It should take anyone competent with a knife and saw about 1 hour to make. The bow is made up of two poles – The larger is the Father and the smaller is the Son. I still have the first Father & Son bow I made about 5 years ago and it still shoots well. I use these bows typically on ranges of less than 20 metres but on a high arc they will shoot an arrow between 60 and 70 metres. Not bad for something made in an hour but only about 20 to 30lbs in draw.
I was introduced to this sort of bow from Mark of Kepis Bushcraft when he posted a You Tube video where he made one for his son (I have put a link to the video at the bottom of the article). I realised instantly that this would be an excellent tool to use with my Sea Cadets. Funding is always tight so the thought that I could make bows quickly and that they could shoot well got me going.
I was originally told that there was no historical record for this type of bow apart from being created by some locals in the States during the 1930’s to fool some Anthropologists but since have come across these types of bows being called the Penobscot or Wabanaki bow (I have included a link at the end of the article to the Primitive Archer website to give more detail on the history). So far from my reading this type of bow dates back at least 1500 years and comes in a number of different types.
My cadets like to refer to the bow as the X Wing Fighter Bow. I can kind of see why.
This step by step is to guide you through how I make one of these bows. I have tried to make the steps as clear as possible but please leave a comment if you are unsure about any stage.
I do not make them in a primitive way as my aim is to have a useful tool in limited time that my cadets or my own children can use quickly. After researching this bow more though I will be interested in making one in a primitive way.
I typically use coppiced shoots of Hazel but I will use young Ash if it is available. I have tried Sycamore before but I found that this wood tended to snap easily.
I cut poles about thumb thickness in diameter (but use what you can find). I always make my cut at the base of the coppice so to stimulate regrowth.
I like the Father pole to be as straight as possible but the Son can either be straight or curved. When making one for myself I cut the Father to the height of my chin. With younger children I normally make the bow just bigger than them. I have found if you make the bow too short they can snap quickly. For the Son I normally cut another pole about two thirds of the length of the Father.
I work the Father first. I let the pole roll in my hand to determine the Belly and the Back of the Bow. To keep things simple the side of the pole facing the ground will be the Belly, the side facing the sky will be the Back. If you want to play about with recurve shapes feel free to switch things around.
I then mark the Belly side with my knife.
I use string to measure the length of the pole
Fold the string in half.
Lay the doubled up string back on (the Belly) the pole).
Make another cut on the Belly side to mark the centre of the bow.
Holding the pole in the middle with the Belly facing me I then make a mark on either side my fist to show where the handle area will be.
The marks I have made also help me to see clearly which part of the pole is the Belly at this stage. I want that as I am leaving the bark on this bow and I have found I can lose sight of pen or pencil marks on bark. If you take the bark off then pencil or pen marks will work well.
Getting that Curve
The next stage is to see if you can make both ends of the pole curve evenly. I usually find that the thicker end of your pole needs to be shaved down. I work from the end of the pole backwards to the handle area shaving off small pieces at a time. I will take off more wood from the tip of the pole than I will from the handle area. You want to have a tapered shape on each limb.
Keep testing the pole until you get a consistent curve on both limbs.
I do not like to go past the Pith of the wood as this will cause the limb to form a hinge and snap. If you are getting near the Pith then take some wood of the side of the limb.
Trim back the wood on both sides if needs be. If you can get a good curve then stop but it does not need to be perfect (you are not making a Longbow).
Cut the Son pole to about two thirds the size of the Father. I have seen though where the Son is very curved that it can be half the size of the Father.
I find the Belly of the Son as I did with the Father and mark it. Any trimming of the limbs this time is done on the Back of the bow and not the Belly. This is because the Back of the Son will be attached to the Back of the Father.
Mark the centre of the Son with string.
Trim the limbs (on the back) and test for a good curve.
Producing the X Wing
It is far easier to join the limbs if you have some help (thanks Roddy). I sometimes join the poles with a common whipping and sometimes just use strong tape. For this bow I am going to use tape and then at the end make a handle with a bit of whipping.
With one person holding the two poles (make sure the Backs of each poles are touching) the other person can attach tape. I find it best if you roll the poles rather than wrapping the tape. Tape the whole handle area.
If the Son has a very pronounced curve you do not need to do the next step. Most of the bows I make have poles that are not very curved so I put spacers in near the handle. Take one small branch and trim if necessary.
Then using a baton hammer the spacer down to the handle.
Trim the spacer. Be very careful to keep your hands clear of the blade here. Out in the woods I don’t always have a handy makeshift table to work on.
Repeat on the other side and you will find that the Son pole goes into a more pronounced curve.
Tape around each of the spacers to secure them (or whip them).
I then lay the bow on its side to work on the nocks. The nocks on the Father pole need for this type of bow to be in the shape of an X. This is to accommodate the string to the Son and for the main bow string. I firstly make an X cut.
Then cut the knock out until I get this shape. Make the edges of the nock that are closest to the handle as flat as possible so as to catch the bow string when it is strung.
To make the nock on the opposite side of the pole roll the knife around the pole from the middle of your completed nock and repeat the cuts. Repeat the whole process on the other limb so you have four nocks.
The nock on the Son should be pointing towards the nock on the Father. An X nock is not needed but just a single nock on each side. Remember to repeat the nock on the end of the Son.
Here you can see the nocks lined up. On some primitive Father & Son bows the Son limbs are tied of to the Father limbs about half way down the Father limb. I do not do that with these quick bows as I find the poles are not wide enough to incorporate a separate set of nocks half way down the limb. Experiment if you can though and let me know if it works for you.
Keeping things as cheap as possible I like to use Bailer twine for the string (thanks Phil). Either tie the ends off or use tape to seal the ends to stop it fraying. I like to use tape. Bailer twine has the benefit that it does not stretch under tension. Use whatever string that comes to hand but try to find something that does not stretch. In a primitive bow the string could have been made up of sinew broken down into fine strands and woven into cordage.
I decide firstly which part of the bow will be the top and which will be the bottom. On the bottom I attach the Son to the Father with string. Use knots that you can easily untie. Also the string needs to be taught but not overly tight.
To make the main bow string cut a length about one and a half times the length of the bow and make a loop at one end. To make this loop I just made an overhand knot on the bight. The loop needs to be small enough to catch the nock when you string the bow but big enough to be slid down the upper Father limb when unstringing the bow. Try to keep the knot loose until you get the loop the right size.
Get someone to help you measure how long you need to make the bow string (thank you Kate). With the loop attached to the upper Father limb hold it in place about one hand width down from the nock and tie a knot to the bottom nock on the Father pole. This will allow about a brace height of one fist.
Again your knot should be able to hold under strain but easy enough to untie to make adjustments. I like to wrap the string around the nock then back on itself (shown in the enlarged example around the tree) then I wrap the remaining string a few times around the nock before finishing with overhand wraps or similar. This makes it easy to untie to make adjustments.
After warming the wood up by bending it from the middle slide the bow string loop up into the top knock. To do this I trap the bottom of the Father bow on my instep, hold the handle in one hand and with the other hand both bend the upper Father limb and slide the loop into place.
Ideally the brace height (handle to the bow string) should be a fist and thumb in height. You may need to adjust the string length to get this.
Then attach a piece of string to the end of the other Son limb and tie it off over the bow string loop on the father limb in a knot that will come undone easily. Try and get the distance of these limbs to match the distance on the other end. This way you can always brace the bow fully.
When unstringing the bow all you need to do then is untie the knot on the top Father limb (the string to the Son) and then slide the loop on the Father limb down towards the handle.
As Bailer twine can be hard on the fingers I roll tape onto the nocking area of the bow string (you may not need to do this if your string does not cut into your fingers).
It is not a requirement but I like to make the handle more comfortable with some Common Whipping.
The Finished Bows
Two happy children looking forward to trying out their new bows. Finlay’s bow developed a hinge so I added some extra tape to support it. It still shoots well.
Bows in action.
This is just one way of making this type of bow but it has been tried and tested by hundreds of Sea and Marine Cadets over the years.
Good luck and it would be great to hear of anyone making one of these bows.
One wintry day last January while my kids and one of their friends were pelting me with snowballs I figured it was time for a little distraction for them.
I asked them if they fancied helping me build a little home in our garden from snow.
As you could guess they were up for it. I like to think that given the chance most kids would be up for something like this.
So off we started. We gathered up as much snow as we could to form a mound. You can produce a shelter like this quicker if you pack all your rucksacks into the centre and pile snow around them. Then when you dig it out you can just pull the rucksacks out. We just used snow though.
When you think you have enough snow piled up you need to compact it down as much as possible. I used the back of a spade for this. I have read that it is advised to let the snow settle for 24hrs but in any sort of survival situation make the best of what you have. I found that after really packing it down it was very strong. I am sure different types of snow will react in different ways.
I cut down a load of sticks and stuck them all into the dome to a depth of about 30cms with a little bit left protruding at the surface. This is helpful when you are excavating the snow out.
I used a saw and spade to dig the snow out.
When I came into contact with one of the sticks I would stop excavating that area and move on.
The main bulk of the interior of the Quinzhee came out easily but I did spend quite a while smoothing the inner surface down. Both to ensure the snow was still packed well and to stop any drip points forming.
My daughter is lying fully flat here. When I tried it I had to curl up slightly.
The boys were happy.
The structure stayed up for about a week before the thaw made it to unstable for the kids to go into it.
Welcome to the first of my Bushcraft Step by Steps.
I will be building a range of Step by Steps in the future.
Like all good Bushcrafters I like to use a knife for much of my work and over the years I have taught many Sea Cadets how to use a knife. The following Step by Step covers some safe knife handling techniques. At the end of the article I have included a link to an excellent article on Knife Law in the UK. The first thing to consider about your knife is the sheath. Ensure your knife sheath is in good repair and is attached securely to you. Here (picture 1) my knife is attached via a dangler to my belt. I also carry a small necker knife on some cord around my neck. This sheath is made of leather but when I use a knife when prepping any food I prefer to use a stainless steel Mora knife (or similar) that has a plastic sheath as plastic is easier than leather to clean after preparing food (I try not to put my knife back in the sheath while prepping food but do forget sometimes).
When un -sheathing your knife look at what you are doing (Picture 2). Always be aware of where the knife edge is. This sheath has been wet formed around the knife so when the knife is sheathed it is locked in. I pull on the knife gently so that it unlocks from the sheath then I draw the knife out slowly with the back of the blade touching the leather. When using a knife that is not attached to me I again pull gently on the knife to unlock it but then rather than removing the knife from the sheath I remove the sheath from the knife. This means that the hand holding the knife is still and it is the hand holding the sheath that is being moved. Far safer to teach this method with groups of children.
To begin with hold the knife in an all round grip being careful to make sure your forefinger is clear of the edge of the blade (Picture 3). Be aware of who is around you at all times. I was taught to consider the ‘blood bubble’. Your blood bubble is the area around you out to two arm lengths. Anyone coming into that area while you are working with a knife has a good chance becoming a ‘burst blood bubble’. All potentially very messy so if someone comes into your bubble stop work and put the knife in its sheath.
A good safe position when trimming some wood is to work to your side (Picture 4). Here I have my knife arm locked with the blade at 90 degrees to my arm. Rather than moving my knife I moved the piece of wood I am working on. When using this position I like to use the part of the knife edge closest to the handle as this causes least movement to the knife. This technique works equally well with the knife held out in front of you while standing up.
Here the movement can be seen in the wood and not the knife while in a sitting position (picture 5).
Using a log to rest the work piece on you can get some very powerful and safe cuts.
Place the end of the work piece on a log (to your side or well in front) and with your knife arm kept straight push the knife down on the work piece (Picture 6). If your knife arm is kept straight you will be using your shoulder and back muscles so giving you a much stronger cutting force. Be aware where on the log the end of the work piece is located so that it does not tip the log over or that you end up rapping your knuckles. I like to use this technique working off to my side.
A very safe and powerful cut is to use your knee as a brace for the back of your knife (Picture 7). Again the knife is locked and you are moving the work piece to make the cuts. Brace the back of the blade below the front of the knee (if sitting) or against a small tree (move the wood not the knife). Here your main area to keep an eye on is that your forefinger on the hand holding the work piece does not come into contact with the blade tip.
When sitting and you do not want to work to your side then place your elbows on your knees while working with a knife (Picture 8). This ensures that the tip of the knife is well away from your ‘Triangle of Death’ – that is the area from your groin out to your knees. Any cuts in this area are potentially fatal due to the close proximity of the femoral artery in your thighs. In this picture I am making very fine cuts with the knife creating a bevel at the end of the work piece. I like to use my thumbs for fine work to push on the back of the knife as I find this gives me more control. Be careful not to put undue strain on your thumb as this can lead to stress on your lower arm. If more pressure is required then return to a full grip with the arm locked out.
A very powerful and controlled cut is to use the Chest Lever position (Picture 9). With your arms locked against your chest and pushing your ellbows into you while expanding your chest provides a powerful cut. This is actually a very safe method when done properly as the knife hardly moves.
For fine cuts, push your thumbs against the back of the handle or blade (or some people prefer one thumb on top of the other) (Picture 10). Remember this is only for fine cuts requiring little pressure.
You can make these fine cuts safely all the way around a stick in order to snap it cleanly (Picture 11). When you have made fine cuts all around the stick turn the stick around and make another series of cuts around the stick to produce a V-shaped channel.
Keep repeating this until the stick snaps easily (Picture 12).
Here I have created a wedge to use when battoning with a knife (Picture 13).
When battoning with a knife ensure the work item is on a stable platform well in front of you and the knife is placed in a position 90 degrees from your body (Picture 14). If the knife then slips the follow through line is away from you.
Then use your wedge that you created before to safely split the wood and release the knife (Picture 15). With the wedge you can split the wood far enough apart so that the knife can be removed smoothly or it drops out onto the ground.
With your split wood you can make some feather sticks to get your fire started (Picture 16). Here I am kneeling, my arm is locked out and the work piece is off to one side on a stump.
When you have completed your task, put the knife back in its sheath keeping your fingers away from the blade as you do so (Picture 17). (Take care: this is a common time for cuts).
An excellent article on knife law in the UK can be found on the Bushcraft UK site – UK Knife Law
I believe passionately in the importance of teaching kids about the outdoors and about themselves. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing the pride and delight on the face of a child who’s made fire for the first time out of nothing more than sticks, grass and elbow grease. In a world where kids are cushioned, cossetted and cocooned, where they spend most of their leisure time staring at screens, getting them into the wilderness and engaged with the most basic skills of hunting, tracking, shelter-building and camp-fire cooking is transformative.
I’ve been involved in outdoor education pretty much all my life, and a qualified Bushcraft instructor for the last 5 years. I will be adding posts on my adventures and adding ‘Step by Step’ tutorials on some crafts and skills.