Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bushcraft Manifesto-Bladecraft

This is a continuation of my mini-bushcraft manual to hand out during classes. As you can tell the information is really basic. I am not trying to reinvent the wheel. At the end of the manual I am going to include a bibliography with suggested books, websites and blogs. I would like to thank the retailers I mention in the article for there support and advice. Please take a moment to visit there sites and support their businesses.

The Knowledge: Bladecraft

The Knife

The “perfect” knife for general outdoor use is a fixed blade belt knife with a 4” blade made of high carbon steel that has a Scandinavian grind (flat bevel). Large, stainless steel, hollow ground blades should be avoided; the reasons will be discussed shortly.

When choosing a knife it is important to understand the advantages of a “small” knife and the draw backs of a “large” knife. By “small” I mean a knife with a blade that is 5” or less in length, “large” knives in my opinion have blades 8” and over. With a small knife it is possible to do fine detail carving on projects like a netting needle as well as fell a 6” diameter tree (with a little knowledge). Many people like large knives so they don’t have to carry a knife and an axe, but the relatively lightweight of a large knife makes it a poor substitute for an axe, and the large blade makes fine carving difficult.

A high carbon steel blade has a few distinct advantages over stainless steel. The pros & cons of both steels are:

  1. Stainless: It is difficult to sharpen because of its hardness.

Carbon: It is easy to sharpen while holding an edge.

  1. Stainless: It is brittle and prone to breaking (especially in cold temperatures).

Carbon: Is relatively soft and is more likely to bend than it is to break. (this is important when batoning).

  1. Stainless: Does not work well for throwing sparks to start fires.

Carbon: Works well with ferrocerium rods as well as a traditional flint/chert stone.

The grind, or bevel, of your knives is as important as the type of steel chosen. The two most common blade grinds are the Scandinavian grind, or flat bevel and hollow grind (pictured below).

1) Hollow Grind 2) Scandinavian Grind

(Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grind)

The advantages of a Scandinavian grind over hollow are ease in sharpening, lifespan of the blades edge, and overall blade strength.

When sharpening a blade with a Scandinavian grind the entire surface of the knife’s face is kept on the stone (you can sharpen one with your eyes closed). A hollow ground blade has to be held at a specific observed angle while sharpening (it is difficult to do by feel). Also because the face of the blade runs from the cutting edge to the spine a Scandinavian ground blade can be sharpened until the blade is gone. Because of the constant gradient of the face of a Scandinavian the overall blade strength is greater when compared to the “scooped out” face of the hollow ground.

Their are a wide array of knives that meet the qualifications that I have laid out here and happily many of them are C-H-E-A-P! The quintisential bushcraft knives are Frosts Moras. Frosts Moras come in several makes and models which run from as high as $20.00 a knife, to as low as $10.00 and are available from a variety of sellers online. Four of the best in the States are:

Ben's Backwoods

Bushcraft Northwest

Northwest Woodsmen

Wilderness Outfitters Archery

The Saw

By carrying a fixed blade knife and a small folding saw, or a bow saw blade the versatility of the knife is greatly increased. With a saw you can cut larger diameter wood into desired lengths and then using your knife and a baton (stick) you can split the cut piece for firewood, kindling or carving. The type of saw you choose is based on both personal preference and the task you wish to use the saw for.

Different tooth designs on blades are made for cutting different type of wood (green wood versus dead wood). For dead wood a peg tooth design is preferred and for green weed wood it is best to have a raker tooth design.

Peg-tooth Raker-tooth

(Retrieved from www.midwestbushcraft.blogspot.com)

A buck saw blade can safely carried by coiling it up in the bottom of a billy can. When a saw is needed it can be removed and a simple buck saw frame can be fashioned from materials found in the woods. The saw pictured above is made with a raker-tooth blade, jute twine, and a grey dogwood frame.

The options I look for in a folding saw are:
  1. Teeth cut on push AND pull.
  2. Easy one handed open and close.
  3. Blade locks open.

The advantage of teeth that cut on the push and pull more efficiently utilize your energy. I like my folding saw to have the option of one hand opening and closing for instances where I need to steady what I'm cutting. One instance where it has come in handy for me was cutting a tree top that was across a branch of a river I was paddling. I was able to hold the branch while steadying the canoe with one hand while opening the saw and cutting the branch with the other. The final option that a saw has to have (I guess it really isn't an "option" per say then is it?) is a locking blade. For safety sake it is important that the blade can be locked in place to keep it from folding on your hands while you are using. The saw I use doesn't actually fold, rather the blade slides in and out of the handle. This is a little stronger design than a folding blade in my opinion and it is easy to open and lock using only one hand.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bushcraft Manifesto

Hello all. Hope you are enjoying this unseasonally cool summer as much as I am. My summer was extremely busy and it just now starting to wind down. I am looking forward to fall, hunting season, and most importantly our new baby! In the meantime I have been asked to give a presentation on bushcraft to naturalists from across the state and I decided to put together a little outline.

Well the outline has turned into more of a mini-manual for beginners and I thought I'd share it on here, section-by-section, as I complete them. I am hoping for some constructive critisim from fellow practitoners so feel free to share your opinions (be gentle though, I'm sensitive...)

The Foundations

The foundations upon which bushcraft stands are knowledge and the knife. The skills that are used in bushcraft are nothing new; many predate recorded history. Of the two foundations, knowledge is the most important. With knowledge a person can fashion a cutting tool from stone (chert, flint, basalt, etc…) or a blade can be fashioned from discarded steel or iron in the woods, all it takes is a little knowledge of lithics and metallurgy. By combining together a base knowledge with the skillful use of a knife it is very possible for you to not only survive in the wilds, but to thrive. That is the major difference between survival and bushcraft for me. I think of survival as fighting nature to live and bushcraft as working cooperativley with nature for mutual benefit.

The knowledge needed to get a start in bushcraft I have broken down into 4 basic skill sets of:

  • Bladecraft- the use and care of blades (knives, saws, axes, etc…).
  • Bindcraft- the use and care of bindings (cordage, ropes, wythes, etc…).
  • Firecraft- the use and care of fire and fire lighting techniques (fire-by-friction, flint and steel, ferrocerium rods, etc…).
  • Fieldcraft- the combined use of the above skills and ecology to utilize the landscape to thrive while leaving it better than you found it (shelter building, green woodworking, observation/journaling, etc...).

Because bushcraft goes against some of the seven principles of leave-no-trace (LNT) camping it is crucial to have a strong working knowledge of ecology to ethically practice bushcraft. For example, if you want to build a shelter and need to cut down shrubs or saplings what can you ethically cut? By knowing what trees and shrubs sucker strongly (shoot up new growth from downed trees) you can harvest them while doing no long term harm. Better yet learn what trees or shrubs are non-native and invasive to the area. Removing them will help the native vegetation and help to restore ever shrinking habitats.

Also it is important to be aware of rules and regulations while using public land, and to respect private property. In most cases on public land it is against regulations to cut or remove living plants, so you have to work with dead and down materials. However, as a land manger myself I would be more than happy to let someone collect invasive plants like buckthorn for wood carving or honeysuckle for shelter building so long as they could prove to me their ability to ID the plants. Not every land manager will be so accommodating, but it wouldn't hurt to ask. More on this will be discussed in the Fieldcraft section.