Last weekend found me in the New Forest here in Hampshire in the UK. I was with the Sea Cadets and we were running a full on weekend of Adventure Training activities and we were based at Ferny Crofts Campsite.
My picture of the week though goes to a more relaxed moment as some of the cadets were sitting around the campfire toasting some marshmallows under the watchful eye of these fire faces.
I will be writing a full report on the weekend sometime soon however I thought I would share just a little bit of what was a magical weekend with you.
At the beginning of February this year I drove down the A303 towards Dorset here in the UK in ever worsening weather conditions.
My good friend Fraser Christian of Coastal Survival had organised a meet up of some of the guys who help him out at various events throughout the year. By the time I got to his village the weather had deteriorated to storm conditions.
The pictures below show his parachute getting a right battering and even later on in the shelter of the parachute the airflow really helped shoot the flames of the fire up.
Before going to up to Fraser’s woodland location I met some of the the guys – Fraser, Steve, Si, Danny and Nick in the local pub to have a few beers (and to dry off from the drenching I got from walking from the car park to the pub).
Even though the weather conditions were still extremely poor when we got to Fraser’s woodland site we soon made ourselves comfortable. The food and mulled cider were soon on and I even managed to get a picture of the parachute looking like some sort of downed UFO.
We were joined later in the evening by Tom who is one of the other Coastal Survival instructors. He had cycled his way through the storm to get to us but seemed happy to be out there in the wild conditions (I think that it is a pre-requisite of any outdoors pursuit instructor to show they can be comfortable outdoors whatever the weather throws at them).
Due to the high winds the flames of the fire kept shooting up, so as usual I had my camera out grabbing some shots of fire faces and figures in the flames. If you look closely you will see a few faces. I can also see a deer and a water buffalo in the left hand picture below.
We spent the evening listening to the wind, catching up on the year gone by and planning trips for the coming months. Around about 10pm the wind dropped sufficiently I felt it safe enough to venture out and put my own hammock and tarp up.
I slept for a full ten hours that night and woke the next morning feeling calm and refreshed. The guys already had the kettle on the go so all I needed to do was fill my cup and wait for my breakfast from Fraser.
One thing about working with Fraser is that you never go hungry and I will never get in the way of an expert chef wanting to cook me breakfast :-).
As part of our bed and board for the night we agreed to get out and collect some of the brash wood Fraser had stored around his woodland to replace the wood we had used the night before.
We said goodbye to Tom at this stage before stringing up the brash wood to take back to camp.
Once the chores were done I set off on my own to see what flora and fauna were about that morning. Little Tinker always makes for a great shot but I soon found an excellent badger print in the damp ground.
I spooked a deer on my travels through the wood but managed to get one decent long range shot of her as she ran across a field.
Even though this was early February there was a dash of colour about with the plants.
The teasel was looking particularly majestic with new seeds sprouting within the previous years seed head. I spotted a number of primroses for the first time this year at Fraser’s and the lesser celandines were sunning themselves nicely.
Finally I spotted an elder tree covered in some lovely looking jelly fungus.
It was soon time to head home again however the drive back was a delight due to feeling refreshed and the sun was out 🙂
Thanks to Fraser for hosting us for the weekend and the rest of the guys for being such good company.
It has been a dream of mine to one day head on over to Scandinavia to practise my bushcraft skills, particularly in winter time. Time and money have so far not allowed me to do that however that has not stopped me from researching some of the ways of lighting fires in the snow or wet conditions.
I have seen many a Scandinavian (sometimes referred to as Swedish candles though Finnish seems the origin for many ) candle at bushcraft meets that have been carved using a chainsaw however I do not own one. My research showed me that chainsaws were not required and there are many other ways to light a fire in the snow or on wet ground other than candles, such as long fires and log rocket stoves.
This post brings together all my posts over the last couple of years on this subject. You will find if you click on the title for each section it will bring you to a more detailed post on making these fires.
Trawling You Tube one evening a few years ago I came across a video titled the Log Stove from Hobbexp. Up until that point I thought to make a candle you needed a chainsaw. Hobbexp showed me that you could make a perfectly good candle with just an axe and some kindling.
The one below was made using a birch log and stuffed with birch bark and spruce resin (and a couple of battoned-down pieces of green wood to keep the splits open). These candles can burn for a good couple of hours, are easy to set up and look great. I have no idea how many I have made over the last couple of years.
I got another idea for a candle during my research once again from You Tube from ‘bushcraftmyway’ titled the swedish torch/stove – my way. I liked this stove as it could be made from damp wood (ideal in the UK).
I tied some seasoned but damp birch rods together with bramble strips and willow bark then stuffed in tiny pieces of kindling and Vaseline-coated cotton wool. I decided to use the Vaseline and cotton wool so as to give the damp wood a chance to dry out.
After a bit of tender care the wood started to dry out and I easily managed to boil a kettle on it. This is an excellent way to get a fire going in damp/wet conditions. The remains of the candle after it had burnt down provided me with a great bed of coals to maintain a more traditional firelay.
All this research led me to compare this rod style of candle with the more commonly split log candle. I set up the rod candle this time with very dry rods and split a spruce log with my axe into a number of wedges.
I tied them all together with natural cordage and lit them. The rod candle took off very quickly as it was stuffed full of very fine kindling however the split log candle lasted longer as it took longer to fully get going.
Again I managed to easily boil a kettle on both of these candles. Both are simple and easy to make.
The idea for this one came from Perkele’s Blog Spot but the post is no longer available. I think this candle is regarded by many as the original Finnish Candle.
A log is split from top to bottom and pieces from the central core are then axed out to act as kindling. Lots of cuts are made into the inner faces of the candle to give the flames plenty of surface area to catch onto.
It took me a while to get the flames self sustaining, but once they’d caught the candle worked well. It looked precarious as the two pieces of wood are not lashed together but they stayed upright till the end.
The Rakovalkea Gap fire hails from Finland and I was taught a similar method by my friend Kevin Warrington (Laplanders Natural Lore) back in 2007. I came across the term Rakovalkea around about 2011 after seeing pictures of this fire being made by the Finnish army on the internet.
This is a scaled-down model I made however it was fully functioning and its set up makes for a long burn time with easy adjustment to increase or decrease the flames. This has proved to be the most most popular post on my website.
I decided to include this little fella as it is excellent for cooking in damp or wintry conditions. It is a wood gas stove and burns very efficiently. I was shown this by my friend Ian Woodham back in 2011 at the Bushcraft UKBushmoot. As soon as I got home I made one up and documented it on my blog.
I made this out of a metal paint pot, a large dog food tin, a Fray Bentos pie tin and a few bits and bobs. It works a treat and needs very little fuel to keep it going. I like to use dry seasoned pine/spruce/larch cones in the stove as they burn for a good length of time.
Now the kids love this stove – whenever you are having a barbie in the garden or if you are having a family camp make one or two of these up.
The principles are the same as the log rocket in the previous post except for the faces you can carve on them. Once they get going the faces really light up. They are perfectly able to be used as a normal log rocket stove for cooking or boiling but have the extra appeal factor of the face. A good video on this is the one made by Marcels Workshop.
Log rocket stoves have always appealed to me as a woodsman however when I am lightweight camping I do not fancy carrying around pre-prepared ones. Recently on Facebook Paul Hasling posted an article on making one with an axe and saw with no need for a drill. One of the other Scout leaders posted up a step by step guide on making one but it is in Spanish – the pictures though speak for themselves – Rocket Stove de Madeira.
I was instantly attracted to this method however when I was next out in the woods I could only find damp logs. To overcome this I split the log into six pieces and added Raappanan tuli cuts inside the chimney. This damp log rocket stove took slightly longer to get going as the internal wood slowly dried but once it was going there was no stopping it.
The final post in this series came to me one evening when I was wondering how I could operate in the woods without an axe. I figured it was worth a go trying to make a log rocket stove with just my Mora knife (I did use a small saw to trim the log).
With some battoning and the use of a wooden wedge I was able to split a decent sized log and fashion a perfectly good log rocket stove.
This exercise really is an excellent way to test out your knife skills.
Is the story over on candles, long fires and log rocket stoves? – I think not. I will continue to research this intriguing subject and if you have any ideas that I could try out to add to this library of knowledge I would really appreciate hearing from you.
I had a great time constructing contraptions to use around the campfire last year so I thought a little summary post of them all was in order.
This post is not about how to construct any of the contraptions themselves (I will link to the relevant How To…. guides in the title of each section) but my personal thoughts on them. I appreciate campfire gadgets are not for everyone and they may be seen as overcomplicating the cooking process however I think they are great fun to construct.
Before building any gadgets it is good to have an actual fire. I was asked to help build a raised firepit/platform by my friend John Rhyder at the Woodcraft School training area. John wanted a dedicated area for his students to cook on without having to bend down too far.
After a lot of discussion with his wife Caron we opted for a rectangular shape instead of a square. Caron argued that this shape would give a large cooking area but would be safer than a square, as the students would not have to stretch too far to reach the centre of the fire. This is an ideal construction for a fixed-base camp, with plenty of room to cook on and to sit around.
Collapsible pot hanger
I love little wooden contraptions and these little collapsible pot hangers are ideal for the lightweight bushcrafter. They can be made in numerous different ways and are easily broken down to be stored inside your pot. One of the things I like about carving them is that the joints that hold them together are generally simple but need to be carved perfectly if the hanger is to take the weight of a heavy pot without coming apart.
Wagon/Waugan Stick or Burtonsville Rig
This is an excellent cooking rig for bushcraft beginners to learn. It has lots of different parts and requires a number of different knife cuts to produce the hanger and the hanging poles. I have heard this set up called many different names from Waygon or Waugan stick and Mors Kochanski refers to it as the Burtonsville rig. All have their own stories behind them however the common factor is that it a very easy set up and offers the bushcrafter a wide range of cooking heights.
Double French Windlass
The Double French Windlass is a cracking cooking rig. I was taught this by my friend Steve ‘Mesquite’ Harral at the Bushcraft UK Bushmoot a number of years ago. I used it at this year’s Bushmoot for two weeks and it allowed me to cook with a number of different pots at one time with the ability to have them all at different cooking heights.
Single Fork Aures
I read in the Wildwood Wisdom book of a type of adjustable crane first documented in the early 20th century by a Scout Master called Victor Aures. It is a simple device however it is reliant on finding a branch with a specific set of smaller branches off it. I discovered a variation on this crane a number of years ago that required only a single fork in the branch and after a bit of splitting and splicing you have a fully adjustable crane.
Gibbet Aures Crane
This variation on the Aures crane does not rely on splitting the wood but on the addition of other branches so that the whole thing hangs off your upright pole. It is easy to find all the parts which is probably why this is the version of the Aures cranes I most commonly see around campfires.
Classic Aures Crane
It took me a long time to find the perfect combination of branches for this crane. I have never seen another one before except as a drawing in the Wildwood Wisdom book. The hardest part in making this crane is the thinning of the wood to create the loop. It is a real challenge but also very enjoyable and satisfying.
The Three Cranes
I really liked making these cranes and would encourage you to have a go at them if you like campfire projects. They are not for you if you prefer simply to put your pot on the fire, but if you like to tinker and experiment, have a go.
The idea for this crane came to me a number of years ago while making myself up a little squirrel cooker from some metal rods. I have cut the notch out using an auger in the past but nowadays I usually just use my knife. I like this set up as you can make your crane out of one pole. With the addition of an adjustable pot hanger you have a crane that offers a variety of cooking heights without having a bulky tripod set up over the fire.
Simple Dovetail Crane
I got this idea from a Scouting page a number of years ago and it is very simple and quick to carve. The part that takes the longest to make is the adjustable pot hanger. I would recommend if you decide to experiment with making these cranes that you start with this one as the dovetail notch is so easy to cut out.
Lap Joint Crane
Still sticking with the single pole theme, another easy crane to make is the Lap Joint crane. The main thing to remember is to make sure that the squared-off fit of the upright is consistent along its length with the notch in the arm.
Once weight (eg a pot) is applied to the end of the arm, everything locks together. I have found that this crane works best when the pot is hung off the very end of the arm. I have experimented with hanging the pot half way along the arm only to find it all collapses. It is a good and simple crane to make – treat this one with respect, though.
This is my all-time favourite crane. With the dovetail notch the arm cannot fall off (unlike the Lap Joint crane) and it offers a wide variety of heights to choose from when cooking. The arm is very easy to adjust even when there is a pot attached and will take you no more than an hour to carve.
Heavy Duty Crane
This one came about from an article I spotted in a Scouting site. Some of the Dutch Oven pans I use can be extremley heavy. This crane offers a number of different cooking heights and will not bend in the slightest even with the heaviest pot attached (well, the heaviest I have, at least). I have though learned to take the pot off the arm with this one before changing the height.
Mortice and Tenon Crane
This was the last crane I worked on last year and the one that is the most technical, I think. The joint is a simple tenon and mortice set up however there were a lot of angles to consider (I have discussed then in the article) and the string I used to adjust the height could possibly do with further development. It is however an excellent crane with lots of movement up and down and side to side.
In time I hope to add a few more How To’s…. to this series as I find the whole subject of campfire contraptions so fascinating.
When the weather is inclement and the ground is really wet then the option of making a rocket stove needs to be considered.
This How To…. sets out the steps I took on a wet and windy December morning to make a Damp Wood Log Rocket Stove with only the tools I normally carry in my rucksack.
I have dabbled with making different types of Finnish Candles for cooking on and they are excellent for when the ground is wet. Over the years I have also experimented with making Log Rocket stoves but restricted my activities to the workshop as I used drills to make them.
I recently stumbled on an idea on Facebook from the 1st Facebook Scout Group by Paul Hasling. This is the first time I have seen a log rocket stove done without the use of drills so I was instantly taken with the idea. Another Scout instructor José Xavier put Paul’s pictures together into a quick helpcard called the Rocket Stove de Madeira. This is a very simple design where a log is split four ways, a chimney and firetray are carved out and it is all put back together again with string. I will certainly be showing my Sea Cadets how to make one.
First though I wanted to make one when out in the woods with only what was to hand. It being December, there was nothing that was bone dry so I found a dead Birch and cut a section off. It was still damp to the touch, however it had been dead for over a year so it was slightly seasoned.
For the job I had my knife, saw, axe and a pen. Using another round of wood I split the log in half by battoning it with my axe (keep the blade of the axe at 90 degrees to your body when you do this).
After splitting the log in half I split each half into three even sections. With very dry wood you only need halve the halves again to make four sections however my wood was damp so I wanted to produce as much surface area as possible which is why I opted for six sections.
Using a stick and a pen I marked a line on each section about a quarter of the way from the bottom and also numbered each section. These marks were put in so that I could cut in stop cuts so to make it easy for me to cut out the chimney section.
My friend Keith Coleman suggested using tape as a depth gauge for this and it worked a treat, with each stop cut ending up the same depth.
Creating the Chimney
Using the tape as a gauge again I marked a line at the top of each split section and then, using my knife, battoned off the excess wood.
The stop cuts help as the split does not travel all the way to the bottom and so creates a lintel that the fire will sit in.
After a little bit of whittling with my knife each segment had the wood removed so that the chimney would be formed when it was all put back together.
It is important to keep all the shavings and little chunks of wood from this process as it can be used as kindling for the stove.
The Raappanan Tuli style
Now the secret of making damp wood burn is to produce as much surface area as possible for the flame to catch. I learnt this from researching and making the Finnish Raappanan Tuli candle.
On the inside of each segment cut as many burrs as you can so that the flame from your kindling has something to catch onto. I tried out different types of cuts here and some were easier to carve than others – your wood will soon tell you what works well.
Next up is the opening for the firebox. I selected two segments that fit together (having them numbered really helped here) and marked out with a pen two rectangular areas just above the sill I’d created. I made sure the marking went all the way round to the other side of each segment.
I then used a saw to cut into the wood in the shaded area. Do as many cuts as you can as this makes it easier to remove this waste wood.
I then used my saw at an angle to cut out the wood and finished the job off with my knife.
When finished the idea is that you want an access point big enough to put your kindling into the firebox area at the bottom of the chimney.
I found some old sisal string tied to a tree and used that to tie everything back together. It was pretty damp anyway and I hoped that would last longer than the copious amounts of paracord I tend to carry around with me. I think some thin wire would be the ideal thing to use though.
From the top you can see how wide the chimney was. I have no idea what would be the optimal size to have so you may need to experiment for yourself.
As the wood was so damp I decided to go for the sure-fire method of lighting the stove up – good old cotton wool and Vaseline. This worked well however I needed to use 4 Vaseline-coated cotton wool balls to maintain the fire.
I have used shredded birch bark mixed with spruce resin on a number of occasions to light Finnish candles before but I didn’t have the time to collect the resin this time.
Once the fire had started I added tinder/kindling down through the chimney and in through the firebox. The main thing at this stage is to not over-fill the firebox but allow the airflow to be maintained. It means about 10 minutes of work but the damp wood inside the chimney area will dry out and the overall heat of the fire will increase.
Maintaining the Fire
I placed three pebbles on the top of the stove for the kettle to sit on securely.
The gap created by the pebbles also allows you to drop tinder/kindling down the chimney. I like to use strips of birch bark here as it is so pliable and flammable.
If the wind is low or changes direction you may need to get down low and blow directly into the firebox to keep the fire going. Once the wood has dried out a bit you will not need to do this so much.
I gave the stove about 10 minutes before putting the kettle on and then in about 15 minutes the kettle was boiling. Not as fast as modern stoves but for what is in effect a wet log not bad.
I have to thank Jess Edwards for a number of these pictures at the end. Jess is a great photographer and keen bushcrafter so it was great to concentrate for once on the tinkering and leave the photography aspect in someone else’s capable hands.
Once the coffee was made I was able to have a good look at what was happening with the stove. As I looked closely I could see the moisture in the wood boiling off. If you look in the bottom picture you can see the water boiling away on the surface.
The stove kept going for another hour before I had to put it out as we were leaving.
Overall I was very impressed with this Log Rocket stove with the Raappanan Tuli twist and I will be using it again on my courses.
Thanks again to the Scouts for documenting this stove – I hope you like my little twist on it?
One thing that the BCUK Bushmoot is renowned for is its kid friendly environment. The Moot provides a massive playground for both structured (by lessons) and unstructured learning (through play).
As I grew up as a kid on the Isle of Lewis I would head on out in the morning to find adventure and return home when my stomach demanded attention. As I live in a village now that has busy roads running through it the Moot is one of the few places I know of that I am happy for my kids to go out and make their own adventures as I once did.
We stress that parents are responsible for their children however we encourage a sense of adventure. I let my kids run off and play within the main area of the Moot site and under adult supervision on the massive expanse of the sand dunes of Merthyr Mawr.
There are plenty of woods, dunes, trees and buildings to explore in the area around the Moot to satisfy the sense of adventure in any kid.
There are workshops specifically for the kids and other workshops where they learn alongside adults. Kids are encouraged to attend the Starter Course we run for anyone new to bushcraft or looking to work on their basic skills.
These basic skills include learning about knots, fire lighting, carving and safely using a saw (to name just a few). Wherever possible I like to get the kids learning these skills alongside their parents so that they can work together later as a family. Kids under 16 are allowed to use knives and saws however they must be under the supervision of an adult when they are using them or carrying them.
Even in this digital age of the xBox and the Playstation kids are always attracted to sticks, be that the Atlatl, bows or staffs. I like to think that the classes we teach kids bring some of that make believe digital world to life without any of the violence or gore. We always teach the kids to treat these tools with respect and only to use them when permitted.
My good friend Fraser Christian of Coastal Survival has been coming to the Moot for a number of years now. Fraser is always keen to teach kids in his classes. Some of his courses include campfire baking, net making, coastal foraging and survival training.
One thing I love about the Moot is that it is situated on sand dunes that have over the years become a woodland. This makes for an amazing place to launch yourself of heights or climb trees. Natures own playground you could say.
There are lots of activities aimed primarily at the kids from treasure hunts with our resident Pirates under the leadership of Cap’n Badger, to craft courses and games.
One of the games I run from time to time is a stalking game. Below you can see the kids trying to leopard crawl up to get some sticks without being soaked. This is a great game to teach kids all about their senses and in particular about staying quiet in order to see more wildlife around them.
For many a year now we have had story telling sessions around the fire of an evening for the kids (and adults too). Womble is a great story teller and keeps the kids captivated with his interactive stories.
The Moot organiser is Tony Bristow and depending on the dates of the Moot his birthday sometimes falls during it. It usually is a time to bake a cake and dish it out. Needless to say Tony gets a little piece however there are many hungry little ones looking for their share 🙂
The Moot is for kids of all ages be that young at heart (yes I mean you Spikey) or taking their first steps out in the adventure of life. My kids love coming along to see their ‘Moot friends’ and I hope they will continue to do so for years to come.
Looking at the BCUK forum I see that there is talk already about organising activities for the kids for next year.
A big part of any Moot is food and at the BCUK Bushmoot it comes in all forms.
Looking back over the pictures I have taken I was quite staggered at the range of food you can find at the Moot. I cannot profess to being any sort of cook (I prefer to build cooking constructions) however I appreciate good food when I see and smell it.
Many years ago at the Moot I would help out with teaching how to butcher rabbits and pigeons so that they were ready for the pot. Many of the instructors at the Moot will do these classes and each year you are bound to find a class going on somewhere preparing some meat stuffs for the pot.
I leave the butchering of Deer and such like to some of the members more competent in this field though I could quite happily run a class if I had to.
Up until a few years ago at every Moot we had a Hangi – an underground oven. A large pit would be dug in the sand and it would be lined with non porous stones (to avoid stones exploding). A large fire would be lit above it and kept going for a few hours.
Once the fire died down pre-prepared food parcels would be placed on the hot stones and covered in sand and hessian to slowly cook.
This is a great group cooking method and we had many a fine meal out of the Hangi
The Hangi has not been run for a few years as it has been superceded by Ponnassing. We try to buy in some salmon or other similar large fish and cook them as you see below over an open fire.
In the picture below at the top right you can see some Dutch Ovens that Neil was using to cook some food. Neil creates such an intense fire that the pots with regular turning can be used as cooking vessels without being on the actual embers at all.
The Ponnassing did not happen this year because of difficulties in getting fish however I hope it will be back on the menu next year. All the fish when it is cooked is added to the group meal.
About five years ago we introduced to the group meal some Dutch Oven food. Many of the members of the Moot cook a meal in a Dutch Oven (or similar type of pot) and bring it along to the group meal. Each dish is clearly marked with its ingredients so we do not get any allergy issues.
The queue for this meal is massive with everyone looking to get a taste of something new. I am always amazed at what people can produce over an open fire – a real banquet is produced each year.
Baking is something I love to do around the campfire. At the Moot it happens all over the place.
The baking classes can be over subscribed so we usually have a number of instructors running classes. Everything is covered from simple twizzle stick bread, dampers, loaves, rolls and even cakes (cheers Ian Woodham for the cakes).
I love the look on someone’s face when they open up a pot and look upon their first loaf baked over an open fire – about as magical as when you create your first flame from a bowdrill. My friend David Willis (Bushcraft with David Willis) ran the class you can see in the picture below and it was enjoyed immensely by everyone.
As I said I do not do much cooking at the Moot and that is because I am rather spoiled by certain friends. For example my friend Fraser Christian (Coastal Survival) is a top rate chef and loves to cook.
Fraser likes to forage on land and sea for his food and then to cook rather amazing meals. I have no wish to upset that routine so I am happy to help out in the gathering and cooking process with the ultimate aim of getting a fantastic meal.
For many years at the Moot I would come along on my own and so would keep my own cooking fairly simple (whenever I could not cadge a meal off someone else). Over the last couple of years my family have started to come along so I have to start to think about cooking a bit more.
I am not bad at a good breakfast however thankfully my wife Alison is an excellent cook so I am not stretched too far 🙂
Looking at my pictures I came across these ones from my friend Mark Oriel who is a butcher by trade. One year he managed to spit roast a whole pig which went down a treat with everyone.
He also ran an excellent class building a smocker in the woods so as to preserve different meats.
One thing I have learned coming to the Moot is that Bushcrafters do not generally tend to go hungry – quite the opposite could be said in truth.
To make all this happen you need people with different skills. We come together and share these skills to make some truly memorable meals in what many others may say is an inhospitable environment – we just call it home.
There are many other classes going on in terms of cooking and foraging so the best way to see what is on offer is to come along to the Moot. Next year it will be at the beginning of August on the coast at Merthyr Mawr in South Wales.
My ongoing quest to learn all I can about campfire cranes has brought me to this Heavy Duty Crane (just something I have made up to describe it).
This crane works on the same principle of the Simple Dovetail Campfire Crane I documented in a previous post. The main differences are in relation to size and how you adjust the height of the pot above the flames.
I see this crane more for the long term camp due to its size.
I constructed the crane using just an axe, saw and knife. I chose a pole that had been cut down a number of months ago (sycamore wood) so it was fairly well seasoned (the girth of the pole was just big enough so that I could not close my fingers around it). Green wood would work well enough for the short term however as the wood dried out you may find the dovetail joints you create would loosen slightly.
To begin with I sawed the pole into two pieces. The cut was about a third of the way along the length from the tip (the thin end) of the pole – this would become the arm. The bottom two thirds of the pole (the thicker end) would become the upright.
The Arm Joint
Using my axe and knife I carved the thicker end of the arm piece into a triangular shape. I took my time over this to ensure all the sides were as even as possible (carpenters measures with my eye).
This would form the ‘male’ section of the dovetail joint on the crane.
The Upright Joint
As you saw in the first picture in the post the upright has a number of female dovetail cuts carved into it. Make as many as you see fit however due to the length I had I opted for four.
To help me in carving the female notches on the upright I used the triangular section on the arm as a guide. I marked out two triangles on either side of the upright making them fractionally smaller than the arm triangle (remember you can always take wood off – it is harder to put it back on again).
I also off-set the triangles slightly so that the tip of the arm would be pointed slightly upwards when it was inserted (you do not need to do this if your arm has a bend in it). Joining the tips of the two triangles I scored a guide line for my saw.
Once that was done I made a cut with my saw on each side of the triangles and a couple in the middle.
I used my knife and a piece of wood to batton (hitting the handle of the knife with a stick) out the excess wood, tried the arm to see if it fitted and then kept on carving out the notch until the arm fitted the notch. This takes time but if you take it slowly you will get a snug dovetail fit between the upright and the arm.
Once I was happy with the first joint I started the process slightly lower down for the next joint.
Make sure you leave a few centimetres gap at the between each triangle so that the joint remains strong.
The bottom two pictures show how the arm connects into the upright. I like to have the apex of the triangle on the arm slightly protruding from the female section of the joint on the upright.
This process takes time and when I made this upright I completed two in the evening and the other two the next morning (hence the change in t-shirt). Taking my time though meant that I had four snug joints that would be good for long term use.
Finishing the Upright
To finish the upright I carved a point at the base and chamferred the top. All this is designed to make it easier to insert the upright into the ground without causing damage to the joints.
I have a tendency to make crane arms in a standard way. After axing out a basic shape (taking care not to touch the triangular end) I formed the final shape with my knife.
I like to put lots of notches along the upper side of the arm to give the bail handle of my pot something to sit in. Having lots mean that I have the ability to adjust the placement of the pot on the horizontal plane as well as on the vertical plane using the upright.
To finish the arm off I usually put a little dimple near the tip of it so I can hang an adjustable pot hanger off it if needed (picture later).
I like to use a stout stick as a pile driver when using a crane so that I do not damage the upright when putting it into the ground.
The ground in my garden is fairly loose so it was not a problem however some of the sites I use can be quite hard and stony.
As this crane was to take heavy weights I really compacted the earth around the base of the upright and gave it a few more taps to drive it in. If you remember to chamfer the top and give the upright a strong point you should be able to drive the upright in securely.
My first test was to see what weight the crane could take. I filled my Super Potjie Dutch Oven about half full and filled the group kettle up.
With some cranes you can see the arm bend when the pot is put on however when I added all this weight it did not shift in the slightest.
Below you can see how the adjustable pot hanger is attached to the end of the arm (into the dimple).
My sister sent me my favourite treat of the year – a Guga (young Gannet) and I cooked it outdoors using the Heavy Duty crane.
It took the weight easily enough however I did trim about a millimetre (the girth) of the triangular section so that it could be easily inserted and extracted from the upright as I sought the ideal heat.
I had the pot low down at first to boil the water and then raised it so it would simmer gently for an hour.
My search to find and document as many different campfire cranes brought me to this simple type of dovetail crane. I first came across this idea from a blog post by Ken Cole Jr on the Scout Pioneering site. I expanded on their idea with adding an adjustable pot hanger to the crane.
It is similar in concept to the Cooking Crane I documented previously except that the socket on the upright is created by cutting into the side of it instead of through the middle of the upright. This leads to a far quicker construction time.
I also like these vertical campfire cranes as there is little for people to trip up on around the campfire and like my previous post on the adjustable dovetail crane this simpler version is built using just a single pole.
I used a sycamore pole on I had on hand trimmed it into two pieces using my folding saw.
The larger pole you can see below was destined to be the upright and the thinner piece was to be the cranes arm.
I started work on the arm first carving a triangular end on one side. I took my time here to make all the sides even in shape.
Once the arm had the correct shape carved out I used it as a template to mark out the dovetail socket I would cut into the upright.
It is worth the time doing this as you want to produce a socket that the arm will fit into snugly.
Once the shape had been marked out with my knife I used my saw to cut into the upright, one on each side and then a couple of cuts through the middle.
I used my knife then to carve out all the loose excess wood and to smooth all the sides out.
I continually kept trying to insert the triangulated end of the arm to see if it would fit. As I wanted to keep as much wood on the arm I just used my knife to keep carving of more wood from the socket area on the upright to enlarge it. Eventually the arm was able to be inserted into the socket and released without too much force but still fitted snugly.
To finish the upright I chamfered the top so that it would not split when I hammered it into the ground and carved a strong point on the other end.
I hammered the upright and checked to make sure all the angles looked good. I like to have my crane uprights to have a little lean away from the fire but not too much as this could cause the arm to swing when it had a heavy load.
Hanging the pot hanger
The arm needs a little flat platform carved on the end with a little dimple in it the pot hanger to balance on. I have explained in a previous post on carving an adjustable pot hanger on how to make one of these.
Just make sure that you carve the flat platform on the correct plane in relation to how the arm fits into the upright – I used the triangular end as a guide for this.
You can see in the picture below the end of the arm has a slightly flattened surface and a slightly curved surface underneath it.
If your pole is long enough you could carve your pot hanger from it. In this case I had plenty on hand so just used one I had made before.
You can see in the picture below how the pot hanger sits on the tip of the arm in the little dimple. It looks very fragile but it can hold a lot of weight if everything is carved properly.
I decided to shorten the arm of the crane as it bent a bit with the weight of the full kettle so rather than cut the end with the dimple I just extended the triangulated area of the arm so that it could be adjusted easily(I did trim the back of the arm later).
I was quite happy with the arm being this length for the weight of the full kettle.
I also brought out one of my Dutch Ovens and filled it with water to test out the crane. I decided though to carve another shorted arm so that it would stand up to the extra weight better.
This shorter arm did bend a little bit but it did not break. Just to make sure I left the pot hanging off the crane for two days without any problems.
I took the crane to a Sea Cadet camp last weekend and it was used all weekend to keep the kettle on the go. There were a lot of staff around the campfire most of the time but due to its minimal footprint the crane did not get in anyone’s way.
I really like this crane for various reasons, these being it is simple, quick to make, tidy and strong.
If you have never made a crane before I recommend this type as one to experiment with.
The final part of the Aures Crane Trilogy – The Classic.
I call this one the Classic as it is the design laid out in the book Camp-Lore and Woodcraft. The author Daniel Beard called it a rustic crane fashioned along similar lines as the iron cranes found commonly over 100 years ago over open fireplaces.
The crane is named after Victor Aures, a Scout Master from Buffalo, NY. I found a good article on this from an issue of the Boy’s Life from 1915.
You do not see the classic crane often since it requires a specific configuration of angles on the forks and it’s all too easy to cut through the thin layer of bark and sap wood needed to form the loop on one end.
I stumbled upon a good piece of hazel recently with a strong main fork and the necessary secondary fork at right angles to the main one.
I had a good pole that I was going to use as the upright and measured the top limb for trimming. I estimated with my eye the amount of wood I would need on the top limb to form the loop (I call this section the tail before it is formed into a loop).
After sawing off the excess I started the slow process of removing all the excess wood on the tail. It is easy to remove the wood at first but try and remove it evenly as you work.
I tend to work from the end of the tail and work up the crane towards the fork. This helps in reducing the chance of chunking through the wood and destroying the crane.
In the pictures below I have worked my way down to the pith and then just passed it. I forced myself at this stage to take my time and work methodically.
Eventually I could make the wood bend slightly (it was only a couple of centimetres wide now). I scared myself when the bark cracked but that is OK – it is the sapwood that needs to bend.
When bending down the wood do it slowly and do not try and force it.
I finally had just a thin piece of sap wood left that could be bent a bit more but not fully. To help this process along I used the tip area of my knife to cut out some more of the wood without making it any thinner than a couple of centimetres.
To help the bending process I left the crane in a stream to soak up some water. If you have the tools to steam bend wood the job would be much easier.
Once the tail was very pliable I flattened an area where the tail would be whipped to the crane then marked the tail and the main body of the crane with a pencil so that I retained the size of loop I wanted while I whipped it.
In the book Camp-Lore and Woodcraft, Beard’s drawing shows the tail being tied off with strips of bark. I will use bark when the crane has fully seasoned (it will shrink in the process) but for now I whipped it with some old paracord. I whipped it twice with different cord as that is what I had to hand.
The loop should be big enough for your upright and positioned so that when the crane is hung on it and braced on the fork, the pot arm is level and pointing slightly upwards.
The Pot Arm
I then went to work on the pot arm, carving out little notches so that I could adjust the position of the pot easily along its length.
I also put my usual dimple on the end for hanging another adjustable pot hanger off it.
I took the crane out on a Bushcraft course with the Royal Marine’s Cadets and it was soon in action.
It is very easy to move the crane up and down with light pots (I advise removing heavy a pot from the crane before adjusting the height then replacing it).
The crane also swings easily away from the fire. If you do not trust the loop to hold a heavy pot, you can back it up with a loop of cord.
I really enjoyed making these three Aures Cranes and hope to see a few more over fires at Bushcraft meets in the future.
This is the second of my blog posts on the Aures campfire crane trilogy. I call it the Gibbet crane based on a pot hook I found mentioned in the book Camp-lore and Woodcraft. The crane does look a bit like a traditional gibbet but the name apparently refers to the overlapping joints used in its construction rather than its likeness to an instrument of execution.
This is a great project for the longer-term camp or if you want a bit of practice carving joints and whipping.
As usual the tools for making the crane are to be found in most bushcrafters’ backpacks – a knife, saw and axe. I saw this crane set up many years ago at a camp however I have seen little written up about it in books or online.
I found one piece of wood with a strong fork and a smaller catapult-shaped fork (bottom left below) and I cut a limb with a branch coming out (top left below).
The first job I did was to strip off all the bark from all the pieces.
I placed the large fork up against the pole it would hang off to measure where I needed to trim each limb. To do that I just used my knife to mark the limbs. The top limb needs to be marked to the left of the pole (as you see in the picture below) and the bottom limb needs to be marked to the right of the pole as you see it below.
Carving the top limb
To begin with I trimmed the top limb at its mark with my saw, leaving the bottom one for the moment.
I laid the small hook beside the end of the top limb so that the hook was pointing towards the big fork and marked where I wanted to trim it. I did not want to leave it too big – just big enough to be whipped to the big fork.
I wanted the joint to be strong so I put a stop cut into the top of the upper limb so I could cut out a lap joint (also known as a Gib joint).
I then battoned off the excess so I was left with one half of the lap joint, then I trimmed the bottom of the small hook flat to fit snugly against it.
Not a perfect fit but good enough.
I then used paracord to whip the two together, on both sides of the hook. I left excess string tied in a knot as the wood was green. As it dries out the wood will shrink and I will have to redo the whipping.
Carving the bottom limb
I flattened the upright of the ‘Y’ piece and split out a Gib joint on the lower limb. You have to make sure all the cuts are done on the correct planes so that the hanger will fit on the upright pole without twisting.
After a bit of whipping it was time to set it up and make sure it worked correctly. In the bottom right picture you can see clearly how it all comes together.
Carving the pot arm
I have a particular way of carving the hanging arm (you be as creative as you like). I axe out the basic shape I want, trim it smooth with my knife and cut in lots of grooves along the upper part to allow the pot to be hung on various areas of its length.
Once all the grooves are cut I tend to put a dimple in the end so I can attach an adjustable pot hook. This allows me to hang two or three pots from the crane.
Using the Crane
This sequence of shots shows the method I use for adjusting the height of the crane when it has a heavy pot attached to it. I swing the crane away from the fire, remove the pot, adjust the height of the crane, attach the pot again and swing it back over the fire.
With light pots you do not need to remove the pot but just lift the crane slightly so it detaches from the upright and then just move it up and down.
In this picture you can see how the arm works with an adjustable pot hook attached to the end of the crane arm.
It looks precarious but with the usual level of care you take around any fire I have found this system works well.
Dinner could be in one pot and the kettle on the other leaving plenty of room to sit comfortably around the fire without having lots of uprights protruding out (which can be a problem with other campfire cooking rigs).
I took the set up out on a recent bushcraft course I was running to show some colleagues and set it up with a fixed crane. All in all it worked a treat.