30.4.09

Cutting Tools .......a review

Over the last 20 years I have had many many cutting tools. Financially I've spent thousands of pounds on them ..........money which could have been better spent elsewhere (I'm not a collector)

Having read a brilliant piece on the blog of one of my oldest friends (Andy Grahams see links) I thought I'd rewrite or amalgumate several posts I've written over the years on the cutting tool thread.

Firstly, lets ponder who needs a knife - or more correctly, are the 90% of outdoors folks ( hikers. climbers, campers, fishermen, riders and ramblers ect) who live quite happily with just a swiss army knife or a multitool better skilled or wrong when compared to the 10% (bushcraft and survivalists) who need to carry a pocket knife, a sheath knife and saw and a axe??

Secondly, let ponder a few ideas on combo's that I have found to work and why!

So what makes the 10 percent so different? Primarily the only difference is wood - or the utilisation of it - hence for this single item we need a special knife, saw and Axe - dont we?







Well yes and no - for awhile now I've gotten by quite happily with a leatherman wave and a small forest axe. Indeed Les Stroud, the Survivorman, makes a point of using just a multitool. I can use these to do almost everything - certainly everything I would need a tool for to preserve life. But I have to admit carving wood for spoons and such isnt such a pleasure and while I have completely butchered a deer and carved a new axe handle with a leatherman I wouldnt recommend it - a fixed blade scandi style knife would be better (but how often do you skin a deer or carve a axe handle?) A axe even strapped to a rucksack raises less eye brows than a sheath knife and a multitool can be worn almost daily even here in blighty!



All that said I would still rather have a multitool, a sheath knife and a axe .............the key is the sheath knife as this makes carving easier - Puukko, is a Finnish names and a corruption of the word Carving - so a Puukko is a carving knife.




Which brings us onto Combo's - George Washingdon Sears AKA Nessmuk, the great grandaddy upon which many pin their wilderness asperations used a trinity of cutting tools - a double bited hatchet, a sheath knife (the nessmuk knife - which I believe to be a broken down butcher knife) and a folding pocket knife. If we read the greatmans writings we soon learn that the axe was used for fire wood prep and a little butchering - the Nessmuk knife was for skinning and game prep (although he does mention eating his beans with it too?) and the pocket knife was used for food prep and whittling ect .............. obviously a tried and tested combo which worked for him - but how many of you will ever skin a elk? Nessmuk while a great outdoorsman was primarily a hunter - not a bushcrafter or survivor - and I bet you pound to a pinch of pooh if Nessmuk were alive today he'd have a multitool too!


"Ah but the great Ray Mears ALSO uses a combo of sheath knife, SFA (Small Forest Axe) and a folding saw" - I hear you say and rightly so. Without a doubt this combo is copied by almost every bushcraft instructor in the country and every aspiring woodlore wannabee - and why? Because it works?? Or because its percieved to work by those with less experience?


A good four inch sheath knife will carve beauiful and useful objects (so will a multitool but less comfortably), the axe will help in the firewood and shelter construction and the saw means we can process wood for utility, use safely without needing to worry or understand any elaberate knife skills ............a good trio?


But say we needed to strip out the cables of a downed plane to make snares - or free up a frozen spark plug on our snowgo?? Would a woodlore knife or SFA be much use?


I know lets carry 4 cutting tools .......... but errrrrrrr isnt that over kill?


Another thought, in the frozen north (and Lincs a short while ago) where reindeer meat is the staple a longer Leuku (butcher) knife is most common - as with the mountain men - this knife was a combo in itself part hatchet, part butcher knife and part fighting knife - a wilderness knife! Favoured by such well travelled folks as Lars Morsen, the saami and most native peoples around the world a bigger camp knife is possibily more useful than a small one. The saami and many scandinavian outdoors men often carry both a Puukko and a Leuku on the same belt or sheath this combo ticks many boxes!!




Lastly ponder old Les Hiddens, the bushtuckerman, his cutting tools were a small pocket knife something like a stockman and a bombproof old army Golok ........ no fancy saw or knife in site!! This is a fact I've also found with all genuine outdoors folk who live and work in the wilderness their choice of tools are usually more practical and less aesthetical.


But you and I dear reader, well we arent famous 19th Century hunters or 21st century TV presenters so what should we carry??


Well personally I say carry what you like as long as you can use it - dont model yourself on Nessmuk or Ray Mears or Les Stroud - let your experience and your skill dictate! But equally dont end up walking around better armed than the average viking raider ......... you'll look stupid and bring ridicule upon yourself and your peers!


For me my perminent travel companion is my Leatherman wave, this goes everywhere with me now - if I am out over night I will add a scandi forest axe for fire wood prep. If I am travelling or running courses where I need to do fine carving then a scandi style knife is carried (I have a cracker made for me by a friend) - in my base camp bag as a back up or for when I dont have the axe I carry my Saami double hunter - although if it wasnt so stupidly expensive I'd recommend the Fallkniven A2!


Ultimately people my point is think for yourself - dont just copy Nessmuk or Ray Mears because you lack knowledge or skill. More importantly regardless of which cutting tool you choose learn to use it properly - 100% effeciency is your goal for in the right hands any cutting tool will produce the goods!!


And if you think about this - if you practice using your tools and you understand what you need or want them for you will realise two things.


Firstly, no one tool is good for everything but secondly and more importantly the knife and axe you have are as good as the £200 ones your looking at online or at the gathering/fair/market - understand that and how to use your tools and you'll save yourself time and a lot of money!!

29.4.09

Paint it black - or cotton kills

" I see a red door and I want it painted black, I see a line of cars I want them all turned black!" LAL ALAL .........GREAT SONG EH!!


But what on earth am I going on about ??


Black is the new green! Well at least for me - as I discovered today when I was sorting out my washing and hanging things back in the wardrobe!


But thats not the reason for this post - the reason for this post is that apart from buying all black items recently I wanted to share with you dear reader a few thoughts on clothing.

With the economy gone to hell in a hand cart and the bushcraft market bubble bursting it strikes me the wise outdoors person isnt wasting money on over priced wool shirts or cosmetically pleasing but very expensive cutting tools, after all who in their right mind pays £70 to £80 for a wool shirt which is no better or worse than a £9.99 army jumper?? OK ok fashion victims and those with more money than me - point taken!

Ventile is an example of this too - ventile clothing has been the MUST HAVE clothing of the outdoors community since way back in the 90's when Ray Mears first told the world how he liked it in his Survival Handbook. Flocks of bushcraft sheeple, myself included, stampede to the shops to buy this wonder garment ...........20 years later, older and wiser I have to say Ventile is still ok but experience has taught us its not all its cracked up to be! Heavy, hard to wash and not waterproof as its supposed to be ventile is also comparable to wearing a soggy cardboard box when wet - but it is windproof and tough - it is also very very very expensive these days .......... indeed prices have slowly climbed with ventiles popularity until now I personally think its priced out the market - why buy a extremely expensive cotton jacket (which is what ventile its) thats not even waterproof when a good Goretex or Event jacket is available and possibily cheaper!! ?

Anyway - waterproofs arent what I'm here to talk about - I wanna talk about smocks!!

A smock in its simplest term to a outdoors person is a protective layer woren over insulation ect ect and should be hard wearing and expected to take a beating. I good criteria for buying something equal in price to a weeks wages?

Recently I bought myself as couple of BDU's jackets for use as lightweight summer "shrafting shirts - the plan being to wear em over a t-shirt.

£4.95 each I wasnt expecting much - but boy was I surprised and impressed - these are excellent jackets/shirts, versatile enough for summer to all year round wear when wearing in conjunction with layering systems.

The pockets are big enough for all my standard items and the arm pockets are a excellent addition which really work.........quick math test "how many of these BDU's could I buy at £4.95 instead of one expensive ventile windshirt at £120?" ........point taken?

Of course a BDU shirt isnt ideal for winter - this is the time we want something more windproof and more protective well dear reader is a £200 plus ventile smock value for money here? Certainly if you have one already but would I OR you wanna invest in another??

No? Years ago I bought one of these .......................



For around £40 - wanting as I did at the time a SAS smock like I had as a soldier but not in DPM. I recently dug this back out form the loft and have to say bringing it back into use I have been surprised how good it really is - so good in fact I wondered how I could have been so naive and stupid as to have wasted so much money on other stuff since ....................

Oh and before yee, the great sales blah swallowing reader says it, "cotton kills!" Thats true - but ventiles also cotton lets remember and that little catch phrase was probably coined by either the wool or synthetic clothing industries to boost their share of the market .........to you I say this "cotton doesnt kill - stupidity kills cotton wearers as it kills the wool and Goretex clad brigade too!"

"You calling me stupid?" No, well maybe - more correctly I'm hoping your clever enough to see my point! Every army on this planet is clothed in cotton uniforms - troops from Alaska to the tropics, from the snowy wastes of Siberia to the jungles of Borneo are dressed in cotton and we dont see them dropping like flies ..........why is that if cotton kills? After all these guys live in the wilderness for weekend even months on end!!

Because they use common sense - "whats that? Where can you buy some??" - common sense dictates that cotton's weakness is water so if its raining we put on a waterproof - "simples" - soldiers will wear a synthetic waterproof under their smocks and its a good trick for those in thickl bush or around the fire to do the same - thus protecting the more expensive and weaker fibres of the waterproof from the rigours of the bush.

So next time your in the market for a next smock or shirt ponder this - WHY spend that extra £150 on a ventile or some such ..........£150 could be a two week caneo trip in Sweden after all!! Invest your money wisely a good, well made army surplus smock or BDU will give you years of service and allow you to spend your hard earned cash on actually getting out there and doing some dirt time instead of overtime to raise the funds to buy the expensive smock in the first place ......... I know where I'd rather be - office or woods?? Thats a no brainer me thinks!!

Of course if brand names and ego/image are what matter to you and you have more money than sense then god bless ya!

26.4.09

Bushcraft Navigation and Bushcraft camp weekend


Survivall and Bearclaw hosted the first ever bushcraft camp this weekend and invited down to run a couple of workshops was Will from Bushcraft Navigation.





















Will, a map reading expert second to none, covered in some depth all the basics of map reading in stunningly impressive detail - detail which took the group from novices to being able to accurately complete a NavEx in the woods with suprising success!! I highly recommend a visit to Will as Navigation is without a doubt a important survival and bushcraft skill - indeed many survival or emergency situation can be avoided if you know how to navigate yourself to safety or avoid obvious dangers!!

The group of 10 "campers" had a great weekend chilling out between lectures with plenty of fine food and the odd tipple!! The campfire banter was great with every one letting down their hair and enjoying the company of like minded people.

Bushcraft Navigation and Bearclaw bushcraft Weekend camps - a great and educational weekend highly recommend to anyone who ventures or loves being outdoors!!

22.4.09

Summers Here

Summer well the warmth of spring has arrived and like a lizard basking on a rock in the firey orbs life giving rays I find my brain coming back to life after a almost forced hibernation.

So where we been and what we up to ??

Courses

Winter WEISS as you probably know dear reader was a great success the best one we've ever run with perfect weather, excellent students and a training team second to none!!

Navigation exercise with the Air cadets was a great event too - really enjoyed that and again many thanks for the invite there.

Also a meet of note was the BES (http://www.bushcraft-educational-society.co.uk/ ) one in Lincs - small unofficial affair but a great chilled out weekend - so thanks Casey for that!

This weekend we start the summer programme proper and I cant wait the woods are calling and my blood is steering at their siren song!!

Kit

Kit wise the winter has come up trumps in a few areas - firstly with the ever rising price of Swedish gear like Fjallraven I've searched elsewhere for functional items and found a few gems.

Firstly the swedish army smock - from Genuine Surplus - a weather weight almost ventile like cotton smock (comes in every colour as long as you want white) which can be simply personalised with the addition of a box of dylon - I've dyed and tried five colours and all work well - excellent item and a firm winter favourite now.




Looking at BDU jackets for the summer lightweight option so watch this space for those.

Secondly Cutting tools - the Fallkniven F1 and A2 both proved to be fantastic tools either coupled witht he british army pocket knife would do you proud but sadly again the strength of the pound has seen the price of these go through the roof and while the A2 is THE knife I would want in a survival situation the £220 price tag means its probably less likely to be available to most. I've re-discovered the good old frosts clipper, the bright orange ones are a great idea especially for emergency use and training being both hi-viz and stainless steel. For the more aesthetically pleasing cutting tool Im presently back using my old Bearclaw bushcraft Double hunter - a simple practical finnish combo again in stainless steel.




*Many people will tell you carbon steel is superior to stainless .............back in the 70's/80's that was the case but today most reputable makers produce excellent stainless steels makering stainless tools better - more user friendly - and cost effective than anything on the custom or hand made market - but a fool and his money are easily parted so many will argue against this I guess - its just my opinion founded on experience not dreams!

The future

To me the recession is both a devil and a angel - its a devil in that many folks are suffering both in bushcraft, survival nd otherwise but its an angel as its allowing many people to rediscovery the outdoors free from the shackles of the commercial cage that wilderness skills had become!!

People are once again realising that skills are more important than kit and skills honestly earnt are worth their weight in gold and never replacable by a expensive knife or smock!!

People are becoming wiser to the way of the woods - the BES forum is now full of experienced outdoors folk who willingly offer good practicle experience based advise. (beware other forums do exist and some may contain nuts!)

For us dear reader - well the future will hopefully hold a expedition or two as trips of a life time are being planned. It will also hold new kit ideas not based on expensive high tech petrochemical by products or the latest must has as seen on the flavour od the month TV personality but based on older tried and tested and perhaps forgotten or other looked ideas and designs .........

The future might hold less courses as both Bearclaw and Survivall adjusts to the new world it finds itself in after a decade of successful courses but the future also holds more exciting courses for the advanced and more intrepide outdoorman - quality not quantity!!

For me the future looks exciting - I, dear reader, will be up hill and down dale as I once more return to hiking (with a wilderness living slant) - Sweden calls with more exciting and adventerious ventures as we, with Nordic bushcraft, design new events for the true outdoor spirited soul.

The future my friends is bright - the future is Hi viz Orange ...........be seen be safe!