How To…. Primitive Skills – Bone Knife Bark Sheath

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.

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Sweet Chestnut Bark Sheath

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.

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Trimming and starting the cut

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.

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The Rosette cut

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.

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A wooden flower

Using the Adze in a safe manner away from my body I trimmed off all the brash from the limb.

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Trimming 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.

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Scraping and de-barking

The tools I used for the job:

1) Adze

2) Flint

3) Piece of wood

I cut a further piece of bark off the limb as well.

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Fresh bark ready for drying

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.

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Re-soaked pliable bark

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.

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Bark strips

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.

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Chosen strips

Firstly fold all your strips in half with the inner part of the bark showing as it is the smoother side.

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Fold the strips in half

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.

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Weave 1

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.

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Weave 2

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.

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Weave 3

Soon your sheath will take shape.

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Keep weaving

Keep going with the weave and stop when you have enough to securely hold whatever will be kept in it.

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Ready to close off

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.

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Closing off

When you have closed the top off, trim all the ends so that you cannot see where the weave ends.

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Trimming the excess

All the ends were trimmed so that the ends were hidden by the weave. The sheath is ready for a dangler strap now.

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Ready for a loop attachment

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.

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Re-soaked rawhide

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.

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Bodkin in use

Attach it as you like and it is ready. I think I used a simple Larks Foot knot here.

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Dangler attached

This sheath completed my primitive belt order (the smallest one on the right).

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My Primitive belt order

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.

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Let your imagination create what you want

A How To…. on making the bone knife can be found here – Primitive Skills – Bone Knife/Bodkin.

Good luck and enjoy experimenting.

George

Wilderness Gathering – August 2013

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).

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First some Icecream – then later a bit of carving

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.

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A Bushcraft World

Like all the other visits I meet new friends such as the talented carver Jon Mac of Spoon Carving First Steps and good friends of old such as Phil and Ben Brown of Badger Bushcraft.

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Friends New & Old

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.

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Have you seen these hoodlums?

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.

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Fish Spears & Netting

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.

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Coastal Survival Class – Cold smoking fish in a cardboard box

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.

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Coyote Kids Club

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.

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Quick Dinners

No big meals this time as we were kept too busy with classes but excellent all the same.

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Lovely Food as usual from Fraser

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.

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A tad damp

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.

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Jason in bowdrill action

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.

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My neighbours keeping busy

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.

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Catherine the pump monkey and primitive carving

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.

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Atlatl with Steve Kirk from the Bushcraft Magazine

I don’t know what Sarah (of Wilderness Spirit) thought when the Gimp appeared one afternoon – he is harmless really :-).

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The Gimp and the Lovely Sarah

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.

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Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

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.

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Wilderness Gathering fun

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.

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The Pond

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.

Cheers

George

Links

Badger Bushcraft

Ben Orford

Bush Farm

Coastal Survival

Coyote Kids Club

Dave Budd Handmade Tools

Jon Mac Spoon Carving First Steps

The Bushcraft Magazine

Wilderness Gathering

Wilderness Spirit

Woodlife Trails

How To…. Primitive Skills – Bone Knife/Bodkin

Primitive Bone Knife

During the summer of 2009 I completed the  Woodcraft School Primitive Technology course. 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.

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Bone Utility Knife and Sheath

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.

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Fresh Bone and Flint

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.

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Slippery Work

After an hours work I had the bone cleaned up.

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Ready for Carving

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.

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Removing a Knuckle

After scoring the line John Rhyder (course instructor) showed me how to scorch the line to make it a little brittle in that area.

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Scorching the Bone

A close up.

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Scorch line

Once the line was scorched all the way around a little gentle tapping was all that was needed.

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Gentle Tapping

A crack soon appeared.

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Cracked Bone

To finally remove the knuckle I carried on scraping with the flint.

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Removed Knuckle

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.

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Flint Score Lines

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.

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Making the Groove

The awl tip taking shape.

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Awl Tip

Eventually I was able to prise a section of bone out.

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Removal of Bone

I went through two pieces of flint carving the bone out.

Eventually the general shape of the knife was produced.

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Basic Shape – Front

And the other side.

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Basic Shape – Back

A messy but necessary job is to remove the remaining marrow. I just used a small stick for this.

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Removing the Marrow

To give the knife a basic edge I used a piece of sandstone.

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Sanding the Edge

Any rough edges I tidied up with flint.

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Final Touches 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.

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Side Profile of the Knife/Bodkin

Here the knife is sitting on the inner bark I used to make the sheath out of.

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Ready for a Sheath

Like any knife it needs a sheath. I did produce one using primitive methods and documented all the steps.

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The Sheath How To…. is next

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.

More on the bark sheath can be found here – Primitive Skills – Bone Knife Bark Sheath.

George

Bushcraft UK Bushmoot 2013 – For my friend Drew

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.

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BCUK – What it is all about – Sharing and having fun

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.

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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.

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The whole 2013 Bushmoot gang

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.

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The Glampers

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.

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Evening Primrose

This year there was Victorian theme to the Moot but Spikey being Spikey decided to come as a monkey.

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Spikey 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.

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Dean’s fabulous work

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.

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Father & Son Bow Making

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.

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Flying Arrows 1

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.

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Flying Arrows 2

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.

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Fraser and crew

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.

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Pretty Chefs

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.

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Coastal Foraging

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.

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Seaweed prep

It was great to meet Craig’s baby son Sion for the first time at the Moot.

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Happy Craig with his son Sion

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.

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Morning Mods Meeting

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.

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Drew’s Hover Hat

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.

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Starter Skills – Knife Safety

Emily having a go at the Evenk knot.

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Starter Skills – Bushcraft Knots

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.

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Starter Skills – Knot testing

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.

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Starter Skills – Fire Skills & Pot Set Ups

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.

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Tree planting

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.

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Drew’s plaque & tree

Beautiful words.

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Andrew Dunn – Our friend – Gone but not forgotten

The service was finished when Drew’s father Philip spread Drew’s ashes in to the waves at Methyr Mawr.

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Goodbye to Drew

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.

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Ye Naughty Corner

In the evening after the service we had a Victorian themed party. Jean had a great time chatting with everyone

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Drew’s Mum and Lady Eleanor

The costumes were brilliant.

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Spot Spikey?

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.

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Three Cheers

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.

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Grass rope tug of war

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.

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Carving

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.

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Bowdrill Face

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.

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Woodland Smoker

All lined up neatly.

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Tasty snacks

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.

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Group Bow drill success

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.

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Water Divining

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.

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Roll making in a sand oven

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.

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Fish hook carving

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.

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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.

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Fox Stalk

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.

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Final Food

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.

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An evenings entertainment to finish

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.

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Wayne at Work

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.

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Drew’s Story Book

Cheers

George

My favourite 2013 plant pictures

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.

February

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.

Holly
Holly – Ilex aquifolium

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.

Lords & Ladies - Primrose
Cuckoo-pint/Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum) & Common Primrose (Primula vulgaris)

March

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.

Early Bluebell leaves
Early Bluebell leaves (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)

The picture of these Crocuses was taken outside our church and it is a sight I love to photograph every year.

Crocus
Crocus

April

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.

Pussy Willow
Goat/Pussy Willow (Salix caprea)

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”.

Primrose & Foxglove leaves
Common Primrose  & Foxglove leaves (Digitalis purpurea)

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.

Snowdrops
Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis)

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.

Butterbur
Butterbur (Petasites hybridus)

May

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.

Bluebells
Bluebells

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.

Magnolia
Magnolia tree (Magnolia)

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.

Snake Head Fritillaria
Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris)

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.

Bugle
Bugle (Ajuga reptans)

Bugle

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.

Ribwort Plantain
Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata)

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.

Self Heal
Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris)

June

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”.

Sundew
Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia)

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.

Orchid
Common Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii)

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.

Bistort
Common Bistort (Polygonum bistorta)

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.

Meadow Crane's Bill
Meadow Crane’s Bill (Geranium pratense)

July

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)

Borage
Borage (Borago officinalis)

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.

Honeysuckle
Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum)

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.

Wood Aven - Herb Bennett
Wood Aven/Herb Bennett (Geum urbanum)

August

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.

Evening Primrose
Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis)

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.

Teasel & 6 spotted Burnetts
Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum)

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.

Burdock
Burdock (Arctium lappa)

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.

Reedmace
Reedmace/Cattail (Typha latifolia)

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.

Have a great Christmas

Cheers

George

Links

What happened to the holly leaf-miner?

PLANTAIN IS FOR MORE THAN JUST STINGS AND BITES

How To…. Build a Finnish Candle – Raappanan tuli – Part 6

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.

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Raappanan tuli candle/stove

The log I used was 45cms in length.

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One slightly damp birch log

Firstly split the log but not right in the centre – slightly off centre.

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Split off just over a third

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.

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Split out just over another third

The wood did not split straight down so I ended up with two centre pieces.

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The wood in the middle gets split into kindling

After splitting the centre pice into kindling I shaved off all the bark to use as tinder.

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Shave the bark off as well

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.

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Chop into each half of the wood to create a fuzz effect

Two large fuzz sticks. This technique multiplies the surface area the flames have to catch on to.

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Glorified fuzz sticks

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.

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Set up

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.

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Support stick in place if needed and ready to go

I stuffed loads of birch bark and small wood shavings into the gap and lit it.

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Plenty of birch bark as tinder

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.

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Instant flame

The bottom of the limbs had caught fire but would not self sustain.

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Everything was damp so hard to keep going

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.

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Added dry kindling in a vertical position

In no time the candle was lit the whole way up both limbs.

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Took off well

From the point when I added the vertical kindling the pot took less than ten minutes to boil.

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Boiling water in no time

Happy to get my brew.

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Usual Brewage

I let the kindling burn down to see if the limbs would stay alight but they were still too damp.

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A continual battle with the damp wood

Here you can see the area on the top where the moisture was being boiled out.

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Boiling wood

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.

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Baby dragon fire face

I added the last of my damp tinder and kindling and the limbs finally started burning freely.

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Final Flames

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.

Cheers

George

Perkele’s post on the Raappanan tuli candle

How To…. Build a Finnish/Swedish Candle – Log Rocket Stoves – Part 5

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.

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Three Log Rocket Stoves in action

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.

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Take three logs

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.

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Drill a pilot, measure and drill a chimney

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.

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Measure for the burn area

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.

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Drill the burn area out

I used a knife to trim the excess wood in the burn areas of stoves 1 & 2.

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For the wood-fed stoves drill two holes for the burn area and finish with a knife

The finished burn area holes.

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Burn areas for all 3 stoves

Here you can just see the holes at the top of the logs where the chimneys are and the holes for the burn areas.

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Stoves ready to be filled

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.

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Insert a wick if you want to make stove 3

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.

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Fill with your choice of flammable material. 1) Cotton wool & Vaseline 2) Crumbled firelighter 3) Wax to cover the wick

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.

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Set up to fire up and with green wood pot stands

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.

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All the additions 1) Dry kindling 2) Damp twig kindling 3) Wax wick

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.

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5 minutes burn time

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.

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10 minutes burn time

After 15 minutes stoves 1 & 2 started going well with the burn area in stove 1 getting bigger.

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15 minutes burn time

Stove 3 was getting stronger and stronger with no help required.

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15 minutes burn time

The flames were steady now under the pots.

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2 & 3 going strong

After 20 minutes even stove 2 (the damp log) was going well.

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20 minutes burn time

25 minutes after ignition (20 minutes of heating) the first pot was boiling.

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25 minutes burn time

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.

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Stove 3 is the winner

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.

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30 minutes burn time

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!).

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Stove 2 comes in second

An hour after ignition, winning stove 3 had burnt right through to the back.

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Stove 3 (the winner) at 45 minutes and 60 minutes burn time

I started to add dry kindling into the top of stove 2 and we had a proper candle now.

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Stove 2 dried out and now with dry kindling after one hour burn time

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.

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Experiment over after an hour

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.

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Two hours after burn time a little waft and number 2 stove is flaming 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.

Summary

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.

Cheers

George

Links

Marcels Workshop – ‘How to make a Fire Log 2013′

Wooden rocket stove or alternative swedish fire stick

Bushcraft Days Carvings – 2013

Carving is my therapy

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.

Ash Platter

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.

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Ash platter from a wind blown tree

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 🙂

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Pointed Hazel spoon

Birch Bowls

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.

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Burnt Birch bowl & a Scooped Birch bowl

Cherry Spoon

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.

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Cherry Spoon – side view

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 🙂

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Cherry spoon – underside

Quaich

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.

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Hornbeam Burl Quaich

Knobbly Spoon

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.

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Knobbly spoon (cannot remember the wood type)

The underside of the handle really showed up the gnarled wood.

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Knobbly spoon – underside

Burl Bowl

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.

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Hornbeam Burl bowl

Spatula

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.

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Ash spatula

Spalted Spoon

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.

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Spaltef Hazel spoon

My Noggin

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.

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My new Noggin

I am looking forward to the New Year and seeing what different woods I find to carve around the campfire.

Cheers

George

Northern District Advex Competition – July 2013

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.

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Our little Minion Mascot for the weekend

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.

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Base camp set up and a bit of hammock seat testing

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.

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Friday camp set up

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 😉

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Officers relaxing

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.

Saturday

In the morning I managed to get a group picture of each of the teams before the hard slog began.

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Enfield & Haringey Units

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.

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City of London & Waltham Forest Units

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.

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Finchley Unit and some of the staff relaxing over breakfast

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.

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All the units had to produce a route card for the weekend

Sunday
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 😉

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River crossing and First Aid stances

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.

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Mine clearance

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.

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Observation and Seamanship stances

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.

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Archery stance

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.

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Endurance race

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.

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Final crossing and a happy group

A special award was given to Enfield unit for saving a Fawn that had become tangled up in some wire fencing. Well done guys.

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First place for animal rescue. They rescued a fawn trapped in a fence.

Enfield receiving the Fawn award and Waltham Forest receiving their Third place certificate.

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Enfield Unit receiving the ‘Fawn’ award and Waltham Forest Unit receiving the 3rd place award

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.

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2nd place to Enfield Unit and 1st place to Finchley Unit

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.

Cheers

George

Links

The Sea Cadets

How To…. Build a Finnish/Swedish Candle – Fire Face Candles – Part 4

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.

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Read on to see how to make yourself a Fire Face Candle

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.

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Drill a Pilot hole

Then with the 24mm drill I used tape to mark out how deep I needed to go and drilled the chimney out.

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Mark your depth and drill out the chimney through the pilot hole

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.

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Mark the height where the mouth will go

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.

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Drill the Mouth until it reaches the chimney

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.

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Decorate with eyes and facial features

In all it took me about half an hour to get to this stage.

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Three candles decorated with the drill

I filled a pot up with wax and three wicks and heated it til the wax melted.

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Melt candle wax and soak the wick

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.

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Insert the wick in through the mouth

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.

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Tamp the wick down into the chamber and fill with wax

So after about 45 minutes I had three Fire Face Candles ready to fire up.

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Three Fire Face Candles ready to fire up

I set them out in the garden ready to be lit later.

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Set up as background lighting for the marshmallow fire in the evening

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.

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Firing up with the first 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.

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Wick burning in 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.

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First one going well but the other two failed initially

They did not take long to fire up properly. Lesson learnt I think.

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Blockage removed and now going well

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.

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45 minutes into the burn and the first one (on the left) is burning through

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.

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The kids loved them

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.

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One hour into burn time (from the first one) and all three are working well

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.

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One hour 15 minutes

My favourite picture of the evening. It looks like the front face of a Saxon warriors metal helmet to me.

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Now that is what you call a Fire Face

A view from above .

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View from above

In the end the candles lasted just under 2 hours so I was very pleased with the results.

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One hour 30 minutes (left) and two hours (right)

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.

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Onto the fire for some more Fire Faces – Can you spot them?

A wonderful end to a wonderful day.

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Final Faces

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.

Cheers

George

Link

Marcels Workshop – ‘How to make a Fire Log 2013’

Fire Faces and Figures

Just for fun this post.

 

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.

 

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Watership Down Ghostly Bunnies

 

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I enjoyed taking them and I hope you enjoyed looking at them as well.

Cheers

George

How To…. Build a Finnish/Swedish Candle – A Comparison – Part 3

Welcome to Part 3 of this series on bushcraft candles.

If you have not seen Parts 1 or 2 of the series you may want to have a read of them first. Follow these links:

How To…. Build a Finnish/Swedish Candle – No Chainsaw – Part 1

How To…. Build a Finnish/Swedish Candle – Wet/Damp Wood – Part 2

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.)

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Three little Hot Rockets

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.

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Western red cedar

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.

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Battoned out sections

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).

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Bramble wrap and birch bark filling

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.

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Dry Birch logs and a fluffy centre

Comparison

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.

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Set up  ready to be fired 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.

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One match ignition

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.

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Cedar = slow start – Birch = fast start

Here you can see the difference between the candles after about ten minutes.

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Brew time again

Makes for good Woodland TV as well.

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A flame wrapped kettle

The bramble wrap was looking a bit toasted at this stage but was just hanging in there.

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The bramble just about 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).

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Cedar kicks in while the kettle boils

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).

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A fuzzy comparison

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.

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Cedar fireworks

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.

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Death of the Birch – Long live the Cedar

Look closely into the flames – can you see the Fire Face?

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First 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.

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Second Fire Face

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……………

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Is it the end of the Cedar?

pushing the segments into a tipi shape and within seconds we had flame again.

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Final Flame

Conclusion

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 😉

A nice video on the cedar type candle is Bushcraft Swedish candle Fire Log

Cheers

George

How To…. Build a Finnish/Swedish Candle – Damp/Wet Wood – Part 2

This is Part 2 of my bushcraft candles experiment, if you have not read Part 1 yet have a look here How To….Build a Finnish/Swedish Candle – No chainsaw – Part 1.

Part 2 – Damp/Wet Wood

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.

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Brew time

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.

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What you need

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.

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Form a tube with the logs

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.

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Secured with natural cordage

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).

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Making a flat surface

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).

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Lighting up

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.

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Charcoal as an extender

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.

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Ready to boil

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.

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Adding twigs

In about 15 minutes I had a boiling kettle and a nice cup of coffee made.

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Coffee ready

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.

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Back to life

Here you can see how wet the logs were, the moisture is being boiled out of the top.

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Boiling logs

At this stage I fed the candle with some bigger pieces of wood and left it to burn for half an hour.

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Stocking up

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.

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Half hour later

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).

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Wet tinder

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.

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Flames again

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.

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Dried out

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.

Part 3 – How To…. Build a Finnish/Swedish Candle – A Comparison – Part 3

Cheers

George

Bushcraft skills: the Swedish torch/stove – my way

How To…. Build a Finnish/Swedish Candle – No chainsaw – Part 1

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.

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Chainsawed Candle (with Halloween pumpkin!)

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.

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Axed candle

Some of the pictures you can get are quite stunning. This is from my Fire Face collection and I call it the Seahorse.

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Excellent Fire Faces

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.

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Axe Battoning

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.

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Batton a cross

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.

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Resin is an ideal fire starter for a candle

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.

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Green wood wedge and some tinder

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.

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Build up layers

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.

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Poor fire from the bottom

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.

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Slow to build up flame

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.

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Lots of layers and start from the top

A well-lit candle now and an ideal place to boil water for a brew.

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Time for a brew

I have gotten some fantastic pictures from these candles.

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Evening flames

Even the embers are beautiful.

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Glowing embers

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.

Cheers

George

How To…. Build a Finnish/Swedish Candle – Damp/Wet Wood – Part 2

Log Stove video by Fredde (Hobbexp)

The Kent County Show with Badger Bushcraft

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.

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Phil of Badger Bushcraft

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.

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Stall and demonstration area

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.

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Nothing for sale here

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.

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Items for Education

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.

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Plant ID competition

I must admit to being impressed with the skull collection that Phil now has. They were a real attraction to all the kids.

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The Badger Bushcraft Skull Collection

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.

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Whats happening here then?

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 😉

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Bowdrill Heaven

The kids waited patiently until it was there turn and wherever possible I worked with groups of 3 or 4 at a time.

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Waiting patiently for their turn

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.

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Now that is a happy fire face

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.

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Handrill Demonstration

At the back of the shelters we had set up home. I had a few people asking about the hammock set up.

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My home is the hammock – Phil has the tipi. No roughing it here.

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.

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A little visitor in the evening

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.

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Lots of hammock testing

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.

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Carving Demos and time for tea

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.

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Cooking Kit

Other neighbours included the Kent Beekeeping Society and Steve who was an expert wood turner.

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Our neighbors – The Beekeepers and Bodgers

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.

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Quiet times – Busy times

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.

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Benefits of Badger Bushcraft

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.

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Badger Bushcraft

I had a great weekend and look forward to hopefully going again next year.

Cheers and maybe see you there.

George

Bushcraft Memorable Meals – Part 3 – Dinner with Coastal Survival

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.

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Time to chat

It is always good to stop for a brew. I love my tea and coffee but a foraged brew tastes that much sweeter.

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Time to brew

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.

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A bit of this and that

A recurring theme in this post will be the Meat Feast pictures. Apologies to all the vegetarians reading this 🙂

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Meat Feast 1

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?

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Seashore nibbles

On trips with Fraser we catch quite a few crabs. They make an excellent stock.

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Maritime Stock

Breakfast is something I tend to get left with so at least there is something I cooked here.

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Breakfast

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.

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Sea Bass delight

I made sure not much remained of the bass.

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Cleaning out the bones

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.

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Limpet cooking

I think the patties were made up of the leftovers of a previous day’s meal.

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Homemade patties

All these meals included foraged ingredients.

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Fireside Food

Cooking rig experiment – pots set at different heights for boiling and simmering.

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Stew

Some more protein.

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Meat Feast 2

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.

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Smoked Mackerel

Before and after pictures.

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Chops (top) and Seaweed Stew

In between classes a quick and easy meal is an omelette

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Pepperoni omelette

The stove in the picture below is actually an old cutlery drainer and we were using pine cones as fuel.

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Midnight cooking

Last of the Meat Feast pictures. I enjoyed every one of these roasts.

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Meat Feast 3

Omelette for breakfast this time………..

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Breakfast omelette

…..sometimes it can be fish, potatoes and eggs………..

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Fish breakfast

…..but there are days when only a bacon buttie will do.

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Bacon Butties

Even the cat eats well here.

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Feed me!!!

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.

Cheers

George

For more information, see:

Coastal Survival

Eat the Beach – by Fraser Christian

Adventures in the New Forest – To play and to learn

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.

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Sea Cadets in the woods

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 🙂

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The Boss

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.

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Accommodation

Even managed to get my friend Perry Symes to try out a hammock again and this time he enjoyed it.

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Hammock heaven

A big part of the weekend is to teach navigation to cadets and adults. We do get to some beautiful locations.

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Going Walkabout

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.

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Step lightly

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.

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Meeting new friends

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.

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Beautiful weather

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.

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Looking at nature

As per usual on any trips now I have my EDC hammock chair ready to deploy. Best £15 I ever spent.

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Chill out time

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.

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Hanging out

As part of their training cadets are trained in how to use an emergency shelter. These things are a real life saver.

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Emergency Shelter use

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.

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Learning about tents the fun way

We run lots of activities including using firesteels, group bowdrill and team games.

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Activities

The cadets lit this fire with firesteels and are having their break relaxing and watching a bit of ‘woodland TV’.

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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.

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Food glorious food

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.

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Sausages and melting chocolate

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.

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Smores – The best

Another sweet favourite is to cook chocolate cake mix in oranges. Messy but tasty.

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Chocolate oranges

A regular feature now is to build a candle for cooking on.

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Cooking Candles

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.

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Our Field Kitchen

As we are running courses on campcraft there are plenty of classes discussing kit and its uses.

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Kit class

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 😉

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Class debrief

At some point in the weekend we always get the Atlatls out for a quick ping.

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Atlatl fun

There are plenty of areas to do some stalking skills as well.

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Stalking games

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.

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Area clean – Nice and smart

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.

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Area clean – Not so smart

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.

Cheers

George

Sustainability Centre & Woodcraft School

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.

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Arrival and already thinking of his future

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.

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Our finds

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.

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Best Friends Forever

There were many stands displaying alternative technologies and lifestyles but the kids loved the Dream Catcher lady the most.

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Dream Catcher Construction

After finishing their Dream Catchers we found a bug hotel and its little sign.

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Dream Catchers and Bug Hotel

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.

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John Rhyder of Woodcraft School leading a walk on edible and medicinal plants

We looked at quite a number of plants such as wild strawberry and ribwort plantain.

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Edibles – 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.

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Nettle tasting

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.

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Discussion on herb bennett

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.

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Burdock tasting

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.

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Plastic Bottle Greenhouse

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 🙂

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The Circus

At the end of the day it was a tractor trip to the carpark and home.

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End ex and off home on the tractor (well to the car really)

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.

Maybe see you there next year.

Cheers

George

Bushcrafting with the Royal Marine Cadets on the Isle of Wight

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.

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Beautiful ferry crossing

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.)

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Prepping the camp

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).

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Briefing time

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.

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The Padre was around all weekend and keen to take part (in a relaxed sort of way)

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 🙂

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The rare Coca Cola tree

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.

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Knife class

They all managed to make wedges and learn the art of battoning wood, making the kindling they’d later use for their fires.

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Knife skills

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).

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Make a Fire – Make a Brew (sorry I should say a Wet)

We bought in some mackerel and the cadets prepared them and made up some Ponassing rigs.

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Ponassing class

A bit of a scrum to be fed but they all enjoyed it.

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Enjoying the fruits of their labour

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.

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Owl pellets

In the woods there were clear Badger trails which were easy to follow. We came across this nice print near their latrine.

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Badger print

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.

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Digging up worms for an omelette

Tony had fun showing the cadets how to prep rabbit.

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Rabbit prep

As we had quite a lot of fish that was not Ponassed we fried it off in the Muurrika.

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Frying up the remaining fish the cadets had prepped

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.

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We set up 10 hammocks

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.

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Foraging – Primroses

The ranges were an ideal spot to get the bows out.

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Arrow away

We also introduced the cadets to the Atlatl.

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Airborne Atlatls

You do not often see so many being launched simultaneously like this.

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Broadside

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.

Cheers

George

Flora, Fauna and Fun – Spring Adventures

Do I get out and about with my children enough?

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.

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Early Spring flowers

As soon as we entered the woods the kids spotted something.

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Something out there

Needless to say it was not just the kids that were excited.

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Who’s looking at who?

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.

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Spot the odd man out?

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 🙂

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Cramp Ball – Daldinia concentrica

We came across a fairly fresh kill site. The kids were straight in there looking at the feathers.

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Fresh Raptor kill site

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.

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Complete Quills with the characteristic beak mark

The slots from the deer were crystal clear for them to spot.

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Finlay finding deer slots

I did not ask my kids to collect tinder but they just went and collected anyway. Must be in the genes.

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Catherine tinder gathering

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 😉

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The usual tree extraction

The next walk was a much more relaxed affair. It was time for the Bluebells to appear.

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Chilling in the bluebells

Some days Catherine wants to explore and some days nails are more important. Must be a Mars – Venus thing.

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Girl time

Thankfully Finlay wanted to do the Mars thing. He was determined to be able to lift this tree higher.

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Boy time

The bluebells were looking beautiful that day.

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Need to work on the cam and concealment

Also the orchids were standing lovely in the woods.

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Lots of orchids

Finlay was more interested in finding bridges to cross and search under for Trolls.

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Finlay’s favourite bridge

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.

Cheers

George.

How To…. Build a Wood Gas Stove

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Wood Gas Stove

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.

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The parts

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.

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Arches cut out
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Arches marked out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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.

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Drilled lid
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Cut out lid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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Cut slits in the lid
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Fold then down

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ensure that the dogfood tin fits snugly.

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Snug fit

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.

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Lots of holes in the bottom
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Holes on the side (top & bottom)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Use your hammer and file to beat flat any sharp areas on the inside.

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Flatten the sharp edges on the inside

After re-inserting the dogfood tin into the lid I secured it with a Jubilee clip.

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Jubilee clip to secure the burner

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.

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Drill out the centre

My son Finlay was keen to help hammer all the jagged edges flat.

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Boys and hammers

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.

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Snug fit

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.

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Re- ignition

One stove in action.

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Flamer
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Ready for a brew
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Plenty of hot embers
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At Base Camp doing its job

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.

Cheers

George

Natural Lore and the Sea Cadets

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Kevin & George – Early days

My friend Kevin Warrington of Natural Lore asked me to put up a post or two on his blog while he and Teres get to know their new baby daughter.

I was very pleased to hear the news yesterday of the birth of little Kelly. Congratulations to you both: I remember when my kids were born and how chuffed I felt.

I last posted for Kevin back in September of 2009 so was pleased to be asked to write again for him.

The post I published today can be viewed here on Kevin’s Natural Lore page.

Cheers

George

Visits to the Rosens

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.

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Pure Blossom – Finlay, Catherine and cousin Hermione

As per usual the extraction of the kids from this kind of environment is typically complex.

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Time to extracate

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.

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My boy Finlay in amongst the  Fritillaries

The kids found the Shepherds hut and wanted to make it into a den.

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Shepherds hut – they wanted to make it a den

Both families – seems just like yesterday when Louise and I were just kids ourselves mucking about on the Isle of lewis

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The tribe – Michael, Louise, Elliot, Hermione, Finlay, Alison, Me, Catherine, Victoria and baby Darcy

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 🙂

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Fabulous art

Icecream – Typical bushcraft food when dealing with kids.

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Where does time go by?

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!!’

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The Rosen Coolmobil

My kids were very taken with the bug hotel at Mottisfont

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Bug Hotel

I am glad to see that climbing is a trait that flows through both families – there are dolls up there as well.

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Oldest Plane tree in the country

Wander through the woods at Mottisfont and you will find some strange stuff.

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Woodland art

One of the joys this year was to meet little Darcy – our liitle cousin.

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Little Darcy

Michael and Louise – As nice a couple as you will ever meet.

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Ahh – good friends

Victoria and Charles with another keen climber – Elliott.

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Fun as it should be

Our kids spent a lot of time paddling in the stream so Darcy wanted in on the action.

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Teaching the Grandpa way

While Darcy was learning the finer points of paddling with Grandpa I was teaching the rest how to climb a waterfall.

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They did have three points of contact at all times

I think Alison was very taken with Darcy – I did try and put my foot down on the baby thing but was totally ignored 😉

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Happy Alison

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.

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Apple gathering (the Rosen way)

Some lovely pictures and more importantly some lovely memories.

Cheers

George

Enfield Unit training at Danemead – March 13

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.

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Danemead – A good playground

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.

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Little nests

Not a pretty picture I am afraid but I am snug as a bug in my hammock.

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Snug as a bug in a rug

Due to the winds and rain we felt it better to put up the big tarp rather than the usual parachute.

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HQ Tarp

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.

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Brewage

Also there was some heartening food in the mornings.

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Breakfast – the best meal of the day.

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.

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Nav briefing

The navigation was undertaken in some of the beautiful woodland and farmland around Danemead.

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Beautiful woodland walks

During the Saturday walk we had sunshine, rain, sleet, snow and sunshine again. Thankfully the snow did not lie.

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Proper variable March weather

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).

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A sad sight – dead fox found in an old caravan

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.

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Tracking

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).

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Muntjac hairs

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!!

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Animal bones

I was chuffed to see the cadets pointing out all the feeding stations they could find.

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Squirrel meal

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.

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Taking some shelter

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).

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Cold day warm up – Tai Chi (conducted by Alan Lewis)

Then we had fun.

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Practising archery for the competitions

They got pretty good with the Atlatl as well.

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Practising Atlatl for the competitions

In between classes a cadet will make their own fun (though I suspect they are not allowed to do this officially!)

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Impromptu fun

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.

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Some staff chilling in the EDC Hammock Chair

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.

Cheers

George

Adventuring in the great outdoors

I wrote this article for my good friend Kevin in 2009 for his Natural Lore Blog.

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.

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Deep Dark Woods

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.

So….

  • 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.
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Explore and you will be amazed at what you find.

Happy adventuring.

George