This year at the Wilderness Gathering my friend Des Cattys was showing his love of Log Rocket stoves to visitors. I decided to drop in on one of his sessions to watch how he constructs one. Like Des I am intrigued by these stoves and I am always looking to improve on their construction so watching someone else at work building one is a chance not to be missed.
If you want more detail on making one of these stoves have a look at my How To…. on building a Log Rocket stove. There are many variations on them and I have included some of them on my Bushcraftdays blog in my How To section.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
Let me introduce you to what I call the Mortise and Tenon Campfire Crane. This is a crane I made up at the the BCUK Bushmoot this Summer.
The idea came about as usual in a discussion around the fire with my good friends Charlie Brookes and Ian Woodham.
As you can see the arm of the crane can be set high or low (and ranges in between) and if set up correctly the upright can be easily rotated to swing your pot away from the fire.
I would classify this one as more Pioneering than my usual constructions as it relies on some string to work. It is one for the long term camp however if you were on an overnighter with a couple of hours spare it would make a good project for an evening.
I will be describing the construction of the crane as I go through the post however I thought it would be helpful to have a completed picture of the crane marked up with the relevant work areas for you. Please refer back to this overview at any stage.
My tools for the job included my knife, a small saw and and axe but you may find having a pen or pencil to hand will be useful.
I took a rod of Sycamore (fairly well seasoned) and sawed it in two. In the picture you can see I have left the thicker end longer than the thinner end. The thicker pole will become the upright and the thinner pole will become the arm.
Carving the Upright
On the thinner end of the thick pole that was to be the upright I marked out the shape of the Tenon tongue and then cut two stop cuts into the side of the pole.
The stop cuts are put in to so that when I batton the waste wood off the split does not run on down the upright.
I used my knife to batton off the waste wood (make sure your knife blade is at 90 degrees to your body when you do this).
Once I had the Tenon tongue shape split out I carved one side of it into a curve. This is important to allow the arm of the crane to be raised up and down.
To finish the upright I axed out a point at the bottom and about half way down it I carved a small wedge-shaped recess. This wedge-shaped recess needs to be on the opposite side of the curve to the Tenon tongue.
The recess does not need to be that deep, just enough to allow some string to catch in it.
Carving the Arm
About a third of the way along from the thicker end of the arm flatten the wood with your knife on opposite sides. This gives you a decent working surface to carve out your Mortise hole.
In the bottom left picture you can see how I used the top of the upright to help me gauge how big to make the Mortise hole. Mark out your Mortise hole with a pen or pencil (mark out both sides of the arm).
I used my knife and a piece of waste wood as a batton to cut out the Mortise hole. I took my time here so I would not split the wood along the length of the arm.
Once I got about half way down the depth of the Mortise hole I started on the other side.
As I use the tip of my knife for this work I always ensure the work piece is secured on a flat surface. I have seen the after effects of a knife going through someone’s hand and it is not a pretty sight I can assure you.
Soon I had my Mortise hole cut through and tidied up. As I did not want to make the Mortise hole too large I tested out the Tenon tongue in it and trimmed the tongue down slightly so that it would fit in the Mortise hole easily.
The Tenon tongue when fitted should sit slightly proud. You will probably find you will make lots of little adjustments here as you test the action of your crane at this stage.
To finish the arm off I carved a groove near the thick end of the arm (for the string to grip), chamfered the thick end to tidy it up and cut out a groove at the thin end of the arm for attaching a pot handle (I will show this in detail in a further picture).
The Mortise and Tenon Crane
I spent a long time working out a way of making the arm fully adjustable with just the usual items in my rucksack. After discussing this with Ian and Charlie I opted for a simple system with string and a wooden toggle.
Below you can see that the upright and the arm are connected by string and a toggle on the left hand side.
I tied off some doubled-up string to the arm groove and knotted it along its length with some simple overhand knots. This produced lots of little loops the toggle could fit into.
I attached a toggle to the upright groove and inserted the toggle into one of the loops in the string from the arm. Depending on what loop I put the toggle into I could adjust the height of any pot hanging off the other end of the arm.
The groove for the pot handle I made with a backstop and a slightly angled forward section. This shape allows the pot to remain secure when the arm is either raised or lowered.
To insert the upright I had a separate pole to act as a pile driver. I hammered this into the ground first and then inserted the upright into the hole I’d created.
The upright can then be rotated quite easily to move your pot off the fire. I found that I could pour water from the kettle while it was still attached to the arm as the handle sat snugly in the angled section of the pot handle groove.
I like this crane for the challenges it set me and the fact that I could overcome them with just the kit I would normally carry.
I plan to re-visit the string set up as there must be a simpler method to keep the arm securley attached while giving me the ability to adjust its height.
Feel free to suggest an alternative method for this but remember it needs to be created with what you would normally expect to carry in your rucksack or about your person while out in the woods.
This will be (for the moment at least) the last How To…. on building campfire cranes however I have really enjoyed exploring this very diverse and little documented area of Bushcraft.
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.
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.
Day 24 of the 30 Days Challenge found us back out in the woods – not for pictures of plants or animals but to collect some wood – some very special and magical wood.
A couple of years ago my good friend Mad Dave Delaney at the BCUK Bushmoot introduced me to the Fire Spirit. These little fellas are supposed to be created so that they can be burnt on the campfire and a then a wish is made upon them.
My kids love them but refuse to burn them (even for a wish). Catherine has had one now for a couple of years and it needed a make over but Finlay needed a new one altogether.
We looked firstly for a branch with a good fork (these will be the legs) in it, trimmed it and another straight piece for the arms. Once both were trimmed we headed back home to assemble everything.
Needless to say we could not go to the woods without climbing a tree or two 🙂
We found lots of leaves in the garden to dress the Fire Spirits. We used hemp cord and damp reed leaves to bind everything together.
Catherine’s Fire Spirit was just a bit loose on the bindings so with a new dress and some fresh cord she was ready to go again.
Finlay helped me to carve a face on his Fire Spirit (the first time I have given him a knife) and then it was a case of dressing his Fire Spirit and attaching the arms.
I have never seen a pram being used as a cooking stand but it worked 🙂
I was looking at the weather forecast for today and there was a possibility of thunderstorms in the afternoon. So for the 30 Day Challenge I thought a bit of shelter building learning was the order of the day.
I have a load of sycamore rods in the garden from some pollarding I did last winter so decided to put them to use.
I prepared three interlocking poles for Catherine and Finlay to put up to start their shelter. Once they had locked them I got them to lash them together with a bit of paracord. Then they had to collect all the other poles together ready for constructing the shelter walls.
I think you could say that they were happy with their haul 🙂
They took it in turns at first to select a rod, measure it, saw it with me and then place it in its correct position.
This lasted for a little while alternating back and forth but I felt that this level of accuracy was testing for most adults never mind a couple of active kids so eventually I let them off to play elsewhere and cracked on with this bit myself.
As I neared the end I got Catherine and Finlay back involved finishing the tail of the shelter off.
Shelter building takes time so for tonight we just put a tarp over it secured down with some logs. In a day or two we will cover the shelter with some spruce boughs and give it a soft bed – but that is for another post.
So the difficult bit began 😉 Time for play.
I must say that Catherine really got into the spirit of making a camp setting up her own play fire and rigging her own cooking rig (thankfully no thunderstorms appeared).
I have never seen a pram being used as a cooking stand but it worked 🙂
While we were on holiday in France at my friend Rick’s cottage he was telling me about some of the trees in his garden. He has an old, gnarly pear tree currently propped up by sticks as it was blown over in a storm a few years ago. It still bears fruit, but only on one side.
Rick agreed that I could trim a branch off the non-fruiting side as that would take some of the weight off the side that was being supported. I like to carve fruit woods when they are green as the wood is easy to remove.
I cut the limb off very close to the trunk so as to minimise the chance of infection damaging the tree. I made a single cut as the branch was easy to support as I cut it. Also the cut was made as close to the Collar as possible so as to give the tree the best chance to heal itself.
The bark was easy to strip off with my axe – being very careful where my fingers were at all times – and then I used my saw to cut it down further so I had a piece I was happy to carve.
One piece of the branch made a perfect hammer for battoning my work piece in two. I make sure that the blade of the axe is 90 degrees to my body so that if it slips the edge of the axe swings away from me.
This piece did not split evenly as the wood was quite twisted with its age.
To make the split more even, I put the work piece on its side and split it further. A slower method but more controlled I think.
After splitting I cut out some wood from one of the halves to give it a flatter look.
I used my axe to take of some of the excess wood around what would be the bottom of the platter. As the shape was going to be a shallow curve I did not put any stop cuts in but just chipped away, starting from the ends and chasing the wood back to the centre.
To finish the flattening of the top part of the platter I finished with the axe and moved onto my knife.
Once the work piece was as flat as I wanted I drew the shape of the bowl area and used my crook knife to start removing the wood from this area. As the wood was very green this excess was removed very easily.
I also used my palm gauge and my bowl knife in this process. These are the only bowl-carving knives I have and I switch between them depending on what the wood is saying to me as I try and carve it out.
These tools make a real difference to carving the bowl area but are ones you really need to practise with a lot to be as safe and efficient as possible with when using them.
Once I was happy with the amount of wood removed from the bowl area, I moved onto the back. I like to take my time when working on this area as it is all too easy to cut out large chunks of wood and suddenly reveal a great big hole in the bowl. I use a variety of cuts: brake cuts towards me, small pressure cuts using my thumbs and powerful but small chest lever cuts to name just three. With all cuts, the main thing to remember is that you must always be aware where the blade will end up if the knife slips.
I had a lovely time over a couple of evenings working on this carving – this is what I call relaxing.
I had kept a lot of the chippings from the carving and when I had removed enough wood I put the platter and lots of the chippings into a plastic bag and kept it in my garage (a nice cool area) for a month to slowly dry out. I added some water to the chippings every few days for the first week to keep them and the platter slightly damp.
This slow drying process allows the whole of the platter to dry in a much more even manner. The platter would potentially crack if the outside dried at a much faster rate than the inside (caused by pressure differences).
After a month of drying I used different grades of sandpaper from rough to very smooth to get rid of most of the lumps and bumps.
I coated the platter with 3 layers of olive oil (allowing each coat to dry fully before applying the next).
Then over a couple of nights I used the back of a spoon to rub the surface of the platter so that it became silky smooth (known as boning). Sometimes you get a very shiny surface doing this but I think that this wood may need to season for a bit longer as although it became beautifully smooth it stayed a bit dull.
The fibres of the wood may raise up again over the next few weeks but a light sanding and boning will soon have it smooth again.
This is my 99th blog post and I am glad it was about something I was very happy to carve. The platter is destined to go back to France as a present to Rick for letting us use his cottage for what was a very lovely holiday – Brittany Adventures.
This How To…. illustrates some simple steps to carve a small spoon you can easily make when you are out and about.
I was training on campcraft in Crowborough (Ashdown Forest in the UK) recently and in between classes decided to carve this simple spoon. A nearby willow tree had been felled a few years ago and lots of shoots had re-grown from the stump.
I selected a shoot and sawed it off near its base. Cutting the limb cleanly at the base will allow the tree to heal itself quickly and send out a replacement shoot the following year.
I selected the limb because of its curves, which help in making a strong spoon. I trimmed the limb in a safe position and used the live limbs as a vice to do the final sawing.
I took two pieces to make a couple of spoons and then trimmed off a couple of the smaller shoots from the top.
These smaller pieces I re-planted around the base of the tree by pushing them into the ground, as willow has the ability to re-grow from these shoots.
The next job was to strip off the outer and inner barks. I tried to strip the bark off in one piece but as the sap had not yet risen it was very difficult to do. If the bark had peeled off easily I could have made some nice cordage from it.
I used the back of my knife to scrape off the remnants of the inner bark to get right down to the wood.
This inner bark does clog up on the back of the blade so you have to continually scrape it off. The whole process of stripping the bark took about 5 minutes.
I flattened out the area of wood that would make the bowl of the spoon to give myself a little bit more area to work with.
I like to draw out my spoon leaving areas of waste wood at each end as these act as handles when carving. Also, I prefer to carve the spoon from the top down as this cuts through many different rings thereby making the spoon stronger. I also mark out at this stage all the stop cuts I will need. (The technique of leaving handles to work with was taught to me by my good friend Mark Beer a few years ago and I find they are particularly useful when you are teaching novices.)
I like to carve the bowl of the spoon first. To do this job I usually use a palm gouge (on the left) and a crook knife (on the right).
I use the palm gouge first, tracking around the edge of the bowl to cut out the waste. Having the two handles in the wood means I can use the same hand to do this (I am left-handed). They also allow me to keep my other hand well away from the sharp edge of the gouge.
The gouge makes short work of the waste wood but it does not leave a smooth surface.
To smooth the bowl out a bit more I usually switch to the crook knife. I find that the crook knife helps to accentuate the curve of the bowl more than the gouge does. With both tools I always try and cut across the grain of the wood but this is not always possible near the ends so I need to be extra careful there not to lose wood on the edges.
After the bowl is roughed out I saw all the stop cuts. These stop cuts help to stop splits occurring in the wood as I carve the rest of the waste wood away.
Stop cuts are particularly important when carving around the bowl; they act like small breaking points for the knife edge, stopping splits occurring.
I take my time at this stage and make small cuts to remove each piece of waste wood between the stop cuts. In these two pictures I am using my thumbs on the back of the blade to apply pressure. You can push either with both thumbs on the back of the blade or with one thumb on top of the other.
When I am on a straight section like the handle I tend to use the chest lever grip. This is a very controlled and powerful cut. I have my hands tight against me and use my chest muscles to push my hands apart. This pushes the knife edge into the wood in small, controlled but powerful cuts.
Another cut that can be used here is the shoulder cut. With the work piece off to your side and the bottom of it on a log or on the ground (if the handle at the bottom is long enough), keep your arm locked straight and push down with your shoulder muscles to cut into the excess wood. You can cut big or very fine pieces with this technique.
I learnt this technique from Mors Kochanski when he was over in the UK at the BCUK Bushmoot a few years ago. I pushed one end of the work piece (perfect when you have these handles on each end) and then, using the knife like a draw knife, cut slivers of wood towards me. This is one of the few cuts where the blade comes towards you. The key to this technique is to keep the arm that is holding the work piece bent and well away from the knife tip. Also the arm that is holding the knife is clamped against my side which stops any big movements. If my knife were to slip with this technique the blade would actually only move a few centimeters.
Using these techniques I quickly removed the waste wood around the spoon.
I then marked out the side of the spoon and started to remove the waste wood using the shoulder cut. I could have put stop cuts in at this stage but decided not to as there was not much curve to the spoon on this plane.
Finishing the tail and the bowl requires a lot of fine work. You have to find how the grain of the wood is flowing and just chip away at it with small cuts to form your final shape.
After some final work on the handle of the spoon I slowly carved around the tip of the bowl to remove one of the working handles. Take your time with this so that you get down to the last few fibres of wood before twisting the handle off. Any big cuts here can damage the bowl.
I then repeated the whole process at the other end to remove the other working handle.
The wood was green so full of moisture. Normally I would dry the wood slowly for a few weeks before sanding it down. Sanding green wood can be hard work and no matter how smooth you get it you will need to repeat the process in a few days as small fibres of wood will start to rise up again, giving the spoon a furry texture.
I accept that when making these spoons as I normally want to use it straight away. Ideally I should have used a piece of seasoned wood so that this would not happen but you sometimes have to use what is available. I left the spoon to dry out for a couple of days before sanding it down.
I used sandpaper of different grades and luckily have some cloth sandpaper that works well when sanding the bowl out.
I used the rough sandpaper first and you can see in these pictures how the fibres of the wood are being ripped out here rather than being sanded smooth. All the sandpaper is doing at this stage is flattening out the tool marks.
Eventually the spoon started to take on a more smooth appearance. The bottom picture shows the bowl untouched but the handle is now smoother.
The cloth sandpaper is ideal for getting into the bowl and smoothing it out. I like this sandpaper as it does not break apart in the bowl as traditional paper-backed sandpaper tends to.
After sanding the spoon down using a mixture of grades from rough to very fine (about a half hour’s work) I added some oil to the spoon. I generally use vegetable oil as that is what I usually have in my cooking kit when out in the woods.
After the first coating had soaked in I applied a second coating and left the spoon to dry out.
I like to add a finishing touch by boning the spoon. You can do this with the back of a spoon, a rounded pebble or with a rounded piece of bone. I rub the spoon with the rounded surface in a circular motion covering the whole of the surface area of the spoon. I normally do this for an hour or so as this seals the fibres of the wood down and adds a beautiful shine to the spoon.
This spoon will need to be re-sanded, oiled and boned again in a few weeks as the fibres rise up as it dries out. You can see that the bowl is not perfectly smooth and there are slight imperfections in it. Hopefully these will disappear with that second sanding but for now it is a spoon I can use.
The different profiles of the spoon.
Ready to go.
Have a go and try out some of these different cutting techniques.