Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tarp Versatility

A while back I led a program on the versatility of tarps and tarp variants.  I demonstrated how to use a parachute as a cooking fly (which did not go perfectly because it was insanely windy that day). 
Cross-brace and tether in place (Photo by R. Thurman)

Canadian jam knot tied to tether to raise and lower the parachute (Photo by R. Thurman)

Upright and guy-line (Photo by R. Thurman)

Completed (Photo by R. Thurman)

Demonstrating under the parachute (Photo by R. Thurman)
After we had the parachute up we moved a short distance away to talk about just how damned useful a poncho can be.
Tying in poncho liner to make a bivy sack (Photo by R. Thurman)

Snapping two ponchos together to make a pup-tent (Photo by R. Thurman)

More snapping... (Photo by R. Thurman)

Sharpening a tent stake (Photo by R. Thurman)

Almost done... (photo by R. Thurman)

A Canadian jam knot tied by one of the participants (Photo by R. Thurman)

All done except the center pole (Photo by R. Thurman)

And done! (Photo by R. Thurman)
 The last thing we did with the poncho was make it into a stretcher using two Sugar maple (Acer saccharum) saplings for poles.
Cutting a sapling (Photo by R. Thurman)

Poncho has been laid out then the saplings were laid out a foot or so apart then the poncho was folded over itself into the center... longest caption ever... (Photo by R. Thurman)

Stretcher in use (Photo by R. Thurman)
 The last thing we worked on was putting up a diamond fly with a camping hammock underneath.
Putting up the fly (Photo by R. Thurman)

Continued (Photo by R. Thurman)

Prepping to suspend the hammock (Photo by R. Thurman)

Finishing suspending the hammock (Photo by R. Thurman)

Camping in style! (Photo by R. Thurman)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A New Spoon

Buckthorn Spoon
Just a quick post of a spoon I carved on a hike today.  It is made from Common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica L.).  From tree to what you see here took about 20 minutes.  I will sand and finish it tomorrow. Special thanks to Brittney for letting me use the photo.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Modified Swedish Torch

I have been fascinated by the idea of the Swedish torch for some time, but the found it unpractical since the cuts in the logs were often done with a chainsaw.  I should have prefaced that comment by saying when I first came across information on the Swedish torch the ones I saw were made with a single block of wood using a chainsaw to make the air channels.  Then I saw a blog post (which of course I cannot find now) that showed making a Swedish torch out of small diameter limbs lashed together.  Brilliant I thought!

That was about 2 years ago...

I have been meaning to experiment with the idea, but I just did not make the time.  That happens to me.  A lot.  That is something I need to work on, but I will blog about that elsewhere.  I find the best way to force myself to learn a new skill, or hone an existing one is to teach a class on it.  Then I have others depending on me, and here are the results.

Batoning the cedar log.
Photo by R.T.

Lashing split-wood together with jute twine.
Photo by R.T.

Inserting River birch (Betula nigra) bark as tinder.
Photo by R.T.

Lighting with my ferro rod
Photo by R.T.
Fire started.
Photo by R.T.
Billy pot on the torch.
Photo by R.T.

The advantage of the Swedish torch in wet, or snowy conditions is that it gets your fire up out of the moisture and it creates a ready made pot stand so long as the wood you are using is roughly the same length.

The only thing I will change the next time is I will use a light gauge wire, like florists wire, to wrap the bundle in.  The jute burned through (which did not surprise me) but how rapidly the fire spread into the interior of the torch did surprise me.  I can definitely see some huge advantages to the Swedish torch in non-wet conditions to, such as greatly limiting fire scars.

Have you ever made one of these?  What are your thoughts?

Friday, February 3, 2012

A new blog... A new direction...

I am going to be starting a new blog.  Now worries, I am not abandoning this one.  There are just some topics I would like to explore that are not a perfect fit for Midwest Bushcraft.  I am going to call my other blog "Journey to Gentleman".  On it I will chronicle my attempts at self improvement.

I was inspired to start down this road by The Art of Manliness, and while bushcraft fits within what I see as this self-styled "journey", many of the other aspects do not mesh with the theme of this blog.  So if you are interested I hope you will consider following my Journey to Gentleman, and possibly give me encouragement, or perhaps direction when I stray along the way.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Winter Camping... The Paragwam!

The Paragwam
After following several British bushcraft forums and blogs for years, and seeing how often they used parachutes for shelters at group meets I had really wanted to try one out myself.  Then, much to my adulation, I stumbled across a 24’ reserve parachute dating from the late 1960’s in an card board box in an obscure corner of the basement at my work.  Needless to say I was giddy.

The first time I set up the parachute was during a early fall camping trip I led, and we elevated the the chute by making a hoop out of willow, slightly larger than the hole at the top, reinforced it with cross-braces, then suspended it from a limb in cotton wood that was approximately twenty or so feet off the ground. I pulled the chute up so that the edges were about 5 ½’ off the ground creating a canopy you could easily walk under.  We had a communal fire for cooking in the center and that raised the air temperature beneath the canopy a good 5 degrees warmer than the air outside.  

We cut some driftwood we found on the flood plain we were camping on and cut the to 6’ lengths and placed them around the perimeter of the chute and used them to hold the chute edges the desired height, then attached guy-lines to the ground to tighten the whole thing up.

It rained that night, and off-and-on the next morning, but by and large we stayed dry beneath the canopy.  I think if we had made more uprights and guy-lines there would have been less leakage.  All in all, for not being waterproof it preformed really well.  I was sold on the parachute as a warm weather shelter.

The next test came in mid-December, 2011 when I scheduled a winter camping overnight course.  We have had a very mild winter thus far, and that weekend was almost too warm during the day to call it “winter camping”.  The high during the night was forecasted to be around 250 F, which I thought would be plenty cold since a some of the folks who signed up had never been camping in temps below freezing.

To set up the paragwam this time I needed to use two ropes.  The first rope was thrown over two seperate tree limbs in a Red oak (Quercus rubra) and an American hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) about 15 feet in the air and spaced about 30 feet apart.  over this was thrown another rope, roughly in the center of the first rope and it was allowed to hag to the ground.  

Discussion time
One end was used to lash together the cross-brace/spacer sticks the were inserted into the hole at the top of the canopy. They served two purposes: 1) to keep the smoke hole open, 2) to provide an attachment point to the rope that elevated the canopy. After the rope was used to square lash the cross-brace the other end was taken one time around a tree about 20 feet away and to be pulled upon, thereby raising the canopy once it was staked out. We made the stakes from some young Sugar maples (Acer saccharum) that I had thinned out doing some TSI (timber stand improvement) work. Because the ground was frozen, and because of the large size of the canopy I made the stake pretty stout. They were about a foot and half in length and 2-inches in diameter (give or take a 1/2 inch) at the blunt end. Once the stakes were sharpened with the axe we were ready to drive them in.

The center of the canopy was elevated by pulling on the rope that is attached to the cross brace holding open the smoke hole.  The top center of the canopy was elevated until it was about seven feet off the ground.  I thought this would give enough space for the smoke to fill without choking us out inside, and it made moving around a lot easier since one could stand to one's full height.

Staking out the canopy was very simple.  There are loop attachment around the outside of edge of the canopy for attaching the parachute lines and the worked perfectly as stake pockets.  Stakes were placed about three feet apart, or every other loop.  As the stake were driven in the canopy was spread out and tightened.  Three loops in a row were left un-staked on the south east side of the canopy to act as a door.  The door was held open with a three foot tall stake that was rounded on one end and sharpened on the other.  The sharpened end was placed on the ground and the rounded end rested against the canopy.  The downward tension of the canopy on the stake held it in place.

To increase the size of the livable space beneath the canopy springy branches, about four feet long and an inch in diameter at the thick end were placed around the inside of the canopy in the same manor as the stake holding the door.  The larger ends of the stakes were rounded, and the narrow eds were sharpened.  With this step the Paragwam was set up and ready for habitation.

We took a old tractor wheel that we use as a fire ring in the the paragwam and built a fire.  Even before the fire was built you could tell a huge difference in temperature between the outside and the inside.  With the sunlight shine on the material the air inside warmed up quickly.
Campfire and the smoke hole

With the fire built in the fire ring we were quickly enticed to begin removing layers of clothing.  Soon we were in shirt-sleeves an quite comfortable.As the air inside the paragwam began to warm up the canopy "puffed-out" and expanded a bit more from the rising warm air.  The rest of our time was spent inside the paragwam discussing skills, traditional lifestyles, history, knives, gear, philosophy and the like.  There was also a lot of time spent singing the praises of the parachute as a shelter and discussing other configurations that could be implemented for different situations.

Below are a list of pros & cons of "The Paragwam" put together by my friend and paragwam enthusiast, Trace. 

  • About $50 from a surplus dealer
  • Light-weight, stuffable
  • Most economical way to sleep 8+ people
  • Easy to set up in forested terrain
  • Fire inside
  • Did I mention it packs to the size of a volleyball?
  • Fire inside, can get smokey
  • Tree dependent
  • Dirt floor (reaching here!)
  • May require some waterproofing
  • Smokey fire when sleeping can be a carbon monoxide risk.  Keep the flames high and the wood dry!

The Paragwam at night

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

An Improvised Day-pack

While on a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters this summer my wife and I took a day trip to see the Picture Rocks on Crooked Lake.  We took a lunch of crackers, summer sausage, cheese, and trail mix along.  My satchel that I use as a day pack did not have quite enough room for all that and my EDC gear so we improvised a day-pack for my wife to carry.  Know what it is?  It is a large compression sack!

I shortened two of the straps (facing camera), and lengthened the other two (not seen) to act as shoulder straps. Once the food and a couple of water bottles were stored inside and the drawstring was tightened it is placed on your back and then you tuck the drawstring end beneath the "lid" of the compression sack and you are ready to go.

It worked great with the light load and we did not have to take along an extra pack that would have been taking up space during the rest of the trip.  Let me know if you try it out!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

An Uncommon Visitor

Recently my family and I went hiking at a local state park while I was off from work for Christmas. We had heard buzz from a number of bird watcher friends that they had been seeing Saw-whet owls near the bird blind and feeding station. My wife has a special fondness for these tiny owls because she did her ground breaking senior theises on their nest success rates on an aspen plantation in Oregon.

So on a gray, late-December day we bundled up the squeakers (aged 2 years, and 4 years) and made the trek down the road to the state park. We parked the van near the trailhead that leads to the bird blind and made our way as quietly as one can with a 2 and 4 year old along.

We sat for a couple of minutes in the bird blind and enjoyed the sights of the common winter feeder birds, White-breasted nuthatches, Black-capped chikadees, Dark-eyed juncos, Red-bellied woodpeckers, American goldfinches, Downy woodpeckers, Mourning doves, Hairy woodpeckers, and Northern cardinals.

We then began to thread our way through a miriad of trails that criss-cross the flood plain forest that is the state park. We were searching for clumps of Eastern red cedars (Juniperus virginiana) where the Saw-whets like to roost during the day. We had checked all the prime spots closest to the main trail but my wife, ever the birding adventurer, wanted to follow a deer trail deeper into a stand o cedars that we both agreed looked promising.

While she tore off in search of the eluzive owl the girls and I stuck with the main trail and more-or-less walked along and the girls shouted to each other and practiced their Barred owl calls (which need A LOT of work). In spite of the girl's best efforts I did see some game. Namely a very nice looking white-tail buck. We continued on our merry way until I felt my wife would have had ample time to check the cedar grove I tried to talk the girls into heading back. No luck. We had been that way already. Then wanted, neigh NEEDED adventure! So we opted to bushwack it through the timbers and find our way back to mommy and eternal glory! Which we did, and I am very glad. Because if we had not, we never would have stumbled upon our owl.

We made our way into the backside of the cedar stand when I heard my wife give the family "locator whistle" so we veared in the direction of the Bobwhite call and there we found Mommy who stated she had not found an owl. The girls were getting a tad bit cold so we decided to head back to the van, but with heads held high. For even though our goal had been thwarted by the elusive boreal visitor we had spent time in the woods as a family, and there is no loftier goal than that.

The oldest and I took off down a deer trail as Mommy helped the youngest with a mitten emergancy. Just before we were about to emerge from the cedars onto the main trail my oldest stopped randomly (she dominates at doing things randomly, ask anyone that knows her) and started to shake a small tree back and forth vigourously. That was when I caught a flas of yellow out of the corner of my eye. I looked to the yellow flash, and there, 4 feet from me was a very surprised little owl. Had it kept it's eyes closed, we never would have seen it.

I called the oldest back to me and had her sit just off the trail to prevent her from doing anything excessivley random that migh scare off the owl and called my wife up. She was elated, and took the picture you see at the top of the blog from about 6 feet away.

Needless to say we were some happy hikers on the van ride home, and we were all very excited to see what other adventures awaited us during Christmas vacation...
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