Back to Basics – Back to Bushcraft

Over the last year or so I have found that my Bushcrafting has been taking a bit of a backseat to my other Adventure Training responsibilities so it was great to get back to some Bushcraft with fellow instructors from London Area Sea Cadets at one of our regular Multi Activity Staff Training (MAST) weekends.

It was a bit of CPD weekend for some and a bit of a new adventure for others. We took our time setting up camp on the Friday in the Mereworth Woods training area we had been given access to as the students were not due to join us until the Saturday morning – a kind of calm before the storm you could say.

Back to Bushcraft

Saturday

The weather was on the whole kind to us with no major showers but the tarps were up just in case. Graham got his cuppa in bed that morning (being an officer and all that) and then modeled his Buffalo sleeping bag for us by the fire – I have no idea why the thing has a full face zip – weird ūüôā

Morning Sir

Along to help out and do some CPD were Dave, Alan, Charlie and Graham. The instructors from the Adventure Training team looking to learn the basics of Bushcraft were Ben, Lee, Sam and Gary. We like to run these Bushcraft courses from time to time to expand out Expedition Leaders skill set so that they can pass the knowledge onto their cadets.

Time for Tea

Before they were allowed to have a cuppa on the Saturday morning the students had to learn about lighting a fire. Off they went to learn about gathering dead standing wood, processing and grading it before learning to use firesteels – needless to say the tea and coffee was soon brewing.

Brew Time

Saw and Knife use

After their brew it was time to learn how to use saws and knives safely.  Once the wood was gathered they learnt about safe knife cuts and battoning. I like teaching in this way as there is no need to get axes out (and we did not have time to cover them anyway). The students produced some strong tent pegs and looked at the techniques for making feather sticks for fire lighting.

Saws and Knives

Camp Set Up

One of the things I wanted the students to do over the weekend was to set up their own camp. They learnt some of the basic Bushcraft knots with Charlie and how to throw a line through the trees. Soon they had their parachute up and firewood collected. Once that was all done they spent time with Dave and Graham learning how to put hammocks and tarps up (no ground dwelling on this weekend).

Camp Set Up

Atlatl Carving

A popular activity at cadet camps is Atlatl dart throwing so Dave and Alan spent a couple of hours with the students getting them to carve their own Atlatl throwers. All the skills that they had learnt in the morning with the saws and knives were used here with some finer knife cutting technique thrown in to get the points done.

Atlatl Carving

As this was CPD time for the experienced instructors Dave went off earlier on the Saturday and experimented with Spruce roots as cordage. After digging up a little he split them down and removed the bark (with the forked stick) before using it to bind his demonstration Atlatl dart for his class. He also used Sweet Chestnut bark as a flight for his dart – worked perfectly well.

Natural Cordage -pictures courtesy of Dave

We had a nearby glade that was soon set up as arrange and the darts were soon pinging away. I have used Atlatls for years and shown hundreds of people how to use them – they never fail to intrigue people and offer hours of fun either in their construction or use.

Time on the Range

While Dave and Graham ran the range I went back with Charlie and Alan to help gather the material for ponassing some fish. Dinner was to be Trout, Chicken and Vegetable Kebabs. As well as ponassing we wrapped and bound one Trout in Sweet Chestnut leaves  (these were the biggest we could find) and its inner bark. The fish was then cooked over the open fire when the coals were nice and ready.

Dinner Prep

Alan ran our little galley and had the students helping him out on all the stages. It was not long before everything was cooked and even less time until everything was eaten.

A Busy Galley

We retired to the students parachute for the evening to watch the fireworks display – Sweet Chestnut wood sparks fantastically. Luckily we did not get one of the many thunderstorms we could hear nearby pass over us, so we remained dry while we watched the fireworks.

Kick Back Time

Sunday

After a good nights sleep it was time for the breakfast feast. My wife Alison had made me up a pancake mix and Alan soon had the skillet working hard  cooking pancakes (with a few rolls baking away on the side in the Dutch Oven). As well as pancakes we had the students cooking fresh sausage rolls over the fire (another great cadet pastime.

Breakfast Delights

Bowdrill

Straight after breakfast – out came my bow drill kit. This was not a full on bowdrill workshop but a taster to show how ‘assisted bowdrill‘ works. When we do this activity with cadets we always do it with the assistance of an instructor (or as a group of four or five) due to a lack of time usually. We used a couple of different methods and got good embers every time.

Bowdrill Techniques – pictures courtesy of Dave and Ben

Grass Rope Making

In the Sea Cadets we work with ropes a lot (seamanship and all that) so I showed the guys how to make rope using grass. This is a fast rope making technique and we can create enough (with the right material) to make enough rope to do a seamanship class if needed (or just make earrings).

Rush Rope

Char Cloth

To finish Dave showed the students how to make some char cloth in a tin – we did not have time to finish it all off but they got the principles.

It was soon time to pack everything up and head home. Normally it is just the instructors that do most of this work so it was great to see all the students getting stuck in to put everything away in the correct manner so that it can be deployed quickly the next time we run a course.

A bit of Charcloth and Wrap Up

It was great to be back out doing Bushcraft again and sharing knowledge on the subject. I hope some of the guys are with us in a few years helping to deliver this course as having a good understanding of Bushcraft really enhances their skill set for teaching cadets. I hope to be back running another course at MAST next year.

Cheers

George

How To…. Make Quick and Strong Grass Rope

For years now I have been making rope out of various different natural materials. This has generally been a relaxing though time-consuming process for me, until Perry McGee from the National Tracking School taught me at the Bushcraft UK Bushmoot that it could be a fun and frantic process as well.

Now this may not be the prettiest, smoothest or most perfectly formed rope, but it is fast to make, strong enough for most camp jobs and can be made out of many different grasses. This is a technique that is not just for bushcrafters but for any outdoor pursuits leader (I am a Mountain Leader as well) as a way of putting a rope together in an emergency.

Grass Rope – Quick and Strong

Harvesting

For this blog I had a wander along a nearby stream and harvested some dead grasses and some leaves from a Pendulous sedge. To harvest the grasses I would advise you to wear gloves and use something like a Laplander saw to cut the grass.

Gloves are useful to protect you from hidden brambles etc and also because you can easily slice your fingers open on some grasses. I do not use a knife as I find grass quickly blunts its edge, so instead I hold the grass firmly half way along its length and sweep the base of it with the saw before pulling the grass away. Pulling grass straight out of the ground with bare hands will eventually lead to cuts on the inside of your fingers.

Harvesting

The X and Y start

To start your rope off begin with two evenly thick strands (this thickness will determine the overall thickness of your rope). I vary the individual lengths of the grass within each strand so that as it thins out and I add in more grass later the joins will be staggered (this will make a stronger rope).

Form the X first (the ends of the grass nearest to me are called the standing ends) close to the standing end and then wrap one of the standing ends under the other strand, back through the middle, and join it to the other standing end to form the Y shape. You can see all the steps below.

X and Y

Laying in the rope

In the pictures below I am holding both the standing ends in my left hand (on the right in the picture) and twisting the strand closest to me a couple of times towards myself.

Keeping the tension on the twist, I then turn the newly twisted strand away from me over the top of the other strand and clamp it in place with my left thumb (I have added a video at the end of the post to show you this in more detail). Once done this means the other strand will be closest to me, and it’s simply¬†a case of repeating the process of twisting the closest strand towards me a couple of times, then turning it away from me over the top of the other strand and carrying on.

Twist and Turn

It does not take long to start forming the rope but you do have to be careful when using whole pieces of grass as you can easily cut yourself. The rope made from this fresh grass will be perfectly usable in the short term however as it dries out and shrinks the strands will loosen.

If I had wanted to make rope for long-term use I would have stored the harvested grass until it had dried out and then re-wetted it before making the rope. This would mean the rope would not shrink and loosen afterwards.

Pinch and repeat

Adding more grass

Eventually one of the strands will start to get thinner. It is at this point you will need to add in more grass. I lay a fresh piece of grass into the strand that is thinning out with the short end sticking out by a couple of centimetres. After twisting and laying in the strand as normal I twist the small piece sticking out back and incorporate it into the other strand.

Every time a strand starts to thin out I add another piece of grass in this way.

Laying in new strands

Once I have finished the rope to the length I want I finish the end of by twisting the two strands tightly and tie it off with an overhand knot.

To finish you can trim off any pieces of grass that are sticking out with a knife if you want to tidy it up.

Finishing Off

Uses

Perry insists that students on his tracking courses should be able to make thick coils of rope the length of their body in about a minute. I have a bit to go to be able to do that but as you can see below the rope – whether it is thin or thick – can be used for many purposes.

You can evacuate a casualty, construct a hammock, make coil baskets or even a great tug of war rope to keep the kids (of all ages) happy.

Many Uses

As the steps can be a little hard to follow with just pictures I put this short video together to show you the process in action.

Have fun, and I’d love to see pictures of the rope you make!

Cheers now.

George