Cabin restoration project – Making headway on the sauna building

Although I don’t post as often as I’d like to these days (still dealing with some major life changes), I do want to keep all y’all updated on what I’ve been doing in the outdoor/country arena. Though I haven’t been doing anything bushcraft- or woods-related lately, I have been visiting the old farm from time to time to work on fixing up the old buildings. As I mentioned in my last post, we decided to fix up the small sauna building (about 6.7 m²/72 ft²) first because it’s in the best shape. I also mentioned that we had removed the old floor boards because they had been damaged by moisture over time. Today’s post will pick up from there.

The two main reasons for the moisture damage to the floor boards were the building’s close proximity to the ground (essentially, it’s a wooden building sitting directly on the soil…) and the fact that there was insulation and plastic sheeting under the floor which prevented air from circulating properly. Our first job on a recent trip was getting the beams on which the building was built up off the ground. After lifting up a corner with a hydraulic car jack, we dug down a bit into the soil and put concrete tiles (on top of a piece of foam insulation for cushioning) in its place. The last step will be to remove more dirt from under the structure and between the tiles and put gravel there instead, allowing for better drainage and air circulation.

Inside the building, I removed the fiberglass insulation and plastic sheeting from between and on the floor joists in the changing room. On the sauna side, we removed the sauna stove, crappy heat-shield paneling from behind the stove and some of the rotten plywood boards from the floor. Some of the wall panels will have to be replaced as well due to water damage from a leaky chimney. The sauna side is still quite a mess!

Fortunately, things are a lot further along on the changing room side. After sanding the floor joists and covering them with some thin foam strips (to prevent squeaking), we started cutting and laying down the new floor boards. This was the first time I had done any kind of work like this, but I got the hang of it quickly and didn’t encounter any major problems.

Once the new boards were in, I put the floor molding back in place, as well as a few pieces around the doors which had to be trimmed on account of the new floor boards being thicker than the old ones. I also brushed off the ceiling and walls a bit (had to get rid of those cobwebs), shored up a few items here and there (door handles, small pieces of molding etc.) and cleaned and replaced the door between the rooms. Apart from fitting the very last floor board, replacing a small piece of molding on one wall and treating the new floor, the changing room is pretty much done for now.

With the (near) completion of the changing room, a small milestone has been reached: There is now a habitable, albeit tiny, room at the old homestead. It might only be big enough to hold a small bed and a chair or little dresser, but it’s a solid start!

I’ll leave you with a few pictures from around the property and some of the tools and other items I salvaged from the old barn. :)

Cabin restoration project – Update for May 2014 and general plans moving forward

It’s been quite some time since I’ve mentioned the cabin restoration project (“Introduction“, “Out with the old“) because frankly, nothing had been happening with it. Well, that all changed this past Saturday, when renovation work commenced once again. Instead of continuing with the old farm house, though, we decided to change tactics and renovate the building which is in the best shape first, the sauna building.

This small building has two rooms, the actual sauna room on the left and a changing room on the right. It’s by far the newest building on the property and will require the least amount of work. So far, we have removed the floor boards in both rooms, as some of them were moldy and beginning to rot. In a few weeks, some of the Woodsbabe’s relatives and I will return to raise the building up higher to remedy the ground moisture problem. Then we’ll install new floor insulation, floor boards and a new “kiuas” (sauna stove). This, plus giving the place a general scrub-down and exterior paint job, will pretty much complete the work on the building. Although not large enough to be used as a cabin in its own right, the finished sauna building can serve as tiny sleeping quarters for one or two people while other renovation work is being done, so overnight stays at the property will be more convenient.

So that’ll be one job down with only 10,000,000 to go! ;) A few other upcoming tasks for this spring/summer include:

  • Buying and assembling a small milled-plank cabin kit and outhouse kit
  • Finish stripping the old farmhouse walls and ceilings down to the bare log frame (so a professional can then come in and help with the restoration)
  • Having the well cleaned
  • Getting a new hand pump for the well (or fixing the existing one, if possible)
  • Clearing some of the saplings, bushes and tall reedy weeds which have sprung up in the farm fields over the years

You’ll notice that I mentioned buying and assembling a small cabin kit. “But isn’t there already a house there, Weekend Woodsman? You know, the one that’s going to be restored?” Yes, indeed there is. That project, however, will take time and money. It was decided that a little 20 m² (220 sqft) one-room cabin kit should be set up in the meantime so folks can already go there and enjoy the old farmstead while the big restoration job is underway. Once the main house is restored to usable condition, the small one-room cabin will serve as a guest house.

Some other future jobs at the old homestead will include:

  • Reestablishing the garden plot
  • Clearing a trail to the lake
  • Getting rid of the dilapidated old wash house
  • “Un-tilting” the barn and woodshed
  • Going through the collapsed log building in the woods to search for treasure (so far, I have seen a few horse-drawn plows)
  • Landscaping and general purdying-up of the place
  • etc. etc. etc…..

I’m very excited now that more real work has been done. Look forward to sporadic updates as the spring and summer progress!

(German army) poncho as a bivy bag, and some news

I like rugged gear. I really like rugged and multi-purpose gear. And I really, really like rugged, multi-purpose and cheap gear. Anyone familiar with the German military surplus poncho will know that this item fits all these criteria and more. One use that I have found for this versatile piece of kit is as a bivy bag around my sleeping bag and sleeping pad. I image this trick would work with any poncho that has double-sided snaps. Here’s the poncho in its normal configuration.

To use the poncho as a bivy bag, first lay it out with the “inside” facing up.

Then lay your sleeping pad and sleeping bag on one side of the poncho.

Fold the poncho over the sleeping bag and fasten the snaps, making sure to overlap the top over the bottom, and not the other way around.

Finally, bunch up the poncho at the foot end and tie it off with some cord, making sure it’s nice and (water-)tight. I always keep a short length of paracord attached to the poncho for this purpose.

And here’s how it looks when finished. The sleeping bag I used for this demonstration (EDIT: Swiss army surplus) is extra long because of the hood attached to it. I normally pull this hood into the sleeping bag, so no parts of the bag extend outside the bivy.

I admit that this setup does not provide quite as much protection as a made-for-purpose bivy bag, but it does work quite well. I’ve used it in a variety of conditions and have not gotten wet. Well, that’s not entirely true. Sometimes, this setup works so well to keep moisture out that it also keeps moisture in (evaporation from the body). This is easy to remedy. Instead of snapping all the snaps, snap every second one or even fewer. This will allow the moisture to escape, but will still keep the poncho wrapped around you.

 And now for the news. I don’t usually talk about personal issues here at TWW, but over the past few months, I’ve been dealing with a difficult one. In a significant way, my life has been turned upside down. This is one of the reasons why long stretches have gone by without any posts. Until things settle down a bit more, I can’t promise that I’ll be able to put out new blog posts regularly, but I will do what I can. I will be continuing with the permanent bushcraft camp series and also have some other exciting things in the works. Thanks for reading and being patient. ;) In the mean time, check out my friend Alex’s continuing adventures at 62nd parallel north.

Bushcraft pyrography plank and a new blog

I’m not very knowledgeable when it comes to art, but I do appreciate the creativity, thought and skill that goes into creating it. When my friend Alex showed me some of the pyrography, or woodburning, projects he’d been working on, I asked him if he would make me one with an outdoor or bushcraft theme in exchange for some outdoor items he might be interested in. We haven’t made the exchange yet, as Alex is out of town, and I won’t ruin his surprise by showing what I’ll be giving him, but I will show you a picture of the plank he made me:

The phrase at the bottom is Finnish for “less is more”. The axe is a traditional Finnish design, as is the puukko knife. Between them you can see a firesteel/ferro rod. I really like this plank and am looking forward to getting it and displaying it in my office. Thanks Alex!

To see more of Alex’s artwork, as well as posts about bushcraft and crafting in general, check out his brand-new blog 62nd parallel north.

Cook kit revamp and Swedish mess kit testing

Like many outdoors enthusiasts, I experience the “accumulate, shed, accumulate, shed” cycle when it comes to gear. You buy, make, fix up or receive as a gift a nifty item and then add it to your regular gear loadout. Then it happens again…and again. Before you know it, your pack has grown heavy and bulky and it’s once again time to scrutinize your gear choices and get back to basics. After realizing that I was deep into an accumulation phase last autumn, I started working to reduce, lighten and de-bulk-ify my pack. I’ve now gotten to a point where I’m very happy with my reduced (thought not minimalist) kit, and I will be covering it in its entirety in an upcoming post. In today’s post, though, I’ll focus on the category of my kit which has experienced the most dramatic, and almost complete, change: my cook kit.

As of last autumn, my cook kit contained:

  • Basic cook pot
  • Kettle
  • Non-stick frying pan
  • Spatula
  • Spoon
  • Buddy burner and accessories
  • Folding fire grill
  • Kuksa cup
  • Scrub brush
  • Dish soap
  • Sausage roaster
  • Ikea hobo stove
  • Alcohol stove
  • Consumables (olive oil, honey, salt/pepper)

It’s a pretty versatile kit. It’s also a heavy and bulky one. On occasion I used all the different items, but not frequently enough to justify taking it all with me on every trip. After finally coming to my senses, I decided to pare down my every-trip cook kit to a reasonable minimum based on the foods I cook and how I cook them (crazy idea, I know…). The remaining items were either put into the “infrequent or special use” category or cut out entirely.

My new basic cook kit:

Spoon, mess kit pot, mess kit lid/pan, kuksa cup, honey, olive oil, salt/pepper, scrub pad

Conveniently, it all fits inside the pot and lid:

Lots of changes! You’ll notice that I haven’t listed any stoves at all. This is because I use fire for cooking nearly 100% of the time. I have used my various stoves over the years, but in most cases, it wasn’t necessary. I used them just to use them! You’ll also notice that I included the Swedish mess kit I purchased a few weeks back (more on that later).

Infrequent- or special-use items:

Grill, frying pan, spatula, IKEA hobo stove, alcohol stove, alcohol

Items from this kit will come along if the situation requires it, e.g. if I won’t be able to make a fire for some reason (hot and dry conditions in the summer, for example), if I’ll be cooking for a group etc.

I mentioned above that I shed some items entirely. This included a dedicated water kettle (the mess kit lid now handles this), dish soap (I always end up using ashes or sand instead) and the buddy burner and its accessories (just didn’t need it).

Regular readers will know that I bought a Swedish mess kit pot and lid a few weeks ago to try out. I picked this up because I thought it would have a few advantages over the set I was using. First off, the lid can be used as, well, a lid for the pot, allowing for faster boil times and cooking (my other pot doesn’t have a lid). The lid itself can also be used as a second smaller pot or frying pan. The lid and pot lock together pretty solidly, protecting the contents I can stow inside. The overall package is also a more convenient shape and size for stowage in my pack. Now, these are great reasons to make the change, but I wasn’t about to replace my tried-and-tested pot, kettle and frying pan with this mess kit without testing it in the field beforehand. My recent trip to the old farm woods provided the opportunity to do just that.

One of the most basic functions of any cook kit is boiling water, so that’s what I did first. In preparation for making instant oatmeal for breakfast, I threw some water in the pot and hung it over the fire. The water boiled in no time. No surprises there.

When lunchtime rolled around, I used the lid/pan to fry up a nice big chicken breast which I had prepared at home.

I stuck a piece of wood through the D-rings, which made for a nice long handle. After heating up some olive oil, I placed the chicken breast in the pan, flipped it over to make sure both sides were coated with oil and then held it over the fire, flipping it over after a few minutes to do the other side as well.

Test number two was a resounding success! The chicken fried up nicely and did not stick to the pan at all.

In case you’re interested, here’s the recipe for Weekend Woodsman fried chicken:

  • Mix some breadcrumbs with some salt, pepper, garlic powder, basil and a little chili powder on a large plate.
  • Whisk an egg and some milk in a bowl.
  • Dip tenderized chicken (or other meat) in the milk and egg mixture, lift out and let drip off.
  • Thoroughly coat the chicken with the breadcrumb/seasoning mixture.
  • Heat enough oil to coat the bottom of your pan (to medium-high if cooking on a stove) and fry the chicken, flipping it over after the bottom has turned golden brown.

My final test for the day would be baking. I brought my regular bannock mix with me and made the dough as usual. Beforehand, I sprinkled some of the dry mixture on the bottom of the mess kit pot to keep the bread from sticking to it. The raw dough was then placed in the pot and hung over the fire. It was flipped occasionally to ensure even baking. This shape of container isn’t ideal for baking, but it gets the job done.

All this testing isn’t exhaustive, of course, but it was convincing enough to me. I’ll continue using the Swedish mess kit as part of my regular kit and see how things go!

In case you’re interested to know, here’s how I cleaned the mess kit after cooking. To clean the pot after making the oatmeal, I simply used snow to scrub the inside.

To clean the lid/pan, I wiped out as much oil as I could using snow and then added some ashes from the fire and a little snow. Then I used some spruce sprigs to scrub it clean. Worked nicely!

As always, let me know what you think!

Building a permanent bushcraft camp – Part 1

Something that I’ve wanted to do for the past few years is to build a permanent bushcraft camp. For one reason or another, be it due to other plans or a lack of time, I never got around to it. The general idea was to create a long-lasting permanent camp, including a shelter, fire pit area, cooking facilities, storage/firewood area, crafting area and more using a minimum of tools and modern materials and getting most of what I need from the forest around me. Last weekend, I headed out to the country property I’ve been visiting so I could finally get started with the project. As it progresses, I hope not only to create a “woods home away from home”, but also to improve my skills and knowledge in the process!

First off, a picture of the site I picked for the camp. Nothing special, just a little opening surrounded mostly by spruces.

The most labor- and material-intensive structure at my new camp would be the shelter. I did a lot of thinking about just what kind of structure I wanted to build and ultimately decided on something that combines elements of several shelter types I’ve seen. Over the course of this series of posts, you’ll see what I came up with, but I won’t be divulging all my plans now. ;) For my shelter, I was going to need a good number of strong straight poles, so I was in luck that the forest nearby was in desperate need of thinning. It was so clogged with young spruce trees (some of which had already died due to a lack of sunlight) that it was difficult to walk through.

Now, as most of you know, I purchased a Swedish military surplus axe recently for work just like this, among other things. It was in such great condition that I didn’t have to do much more than scrub off the surface rust and marks from the handle. I spent about 1 minute with a sharpening stone getting it into shape and also impregnated the leather sheath with wax. Some before and after pics:

I was very eager to try this axe out in the woods. Of course, I brought my regular axe with me as well, because you never know how well a tool is going to perform (or fail) until you use it. As you can see, it was wet that day.

I decided to look for three solid poles on the thicker side to serve as a base tripod for my shelter, so I searched the area and felled them with my axe. I made sure to pick out trees which were being crowded out by or competing with other trees for sunlight. After just a few chops, I could detect a tiny bit of movement in the head. I decided to continue using the axe cautiously to see how things went. After being sunken in wet snow repeatedly, the handle absorbed some water and the head tightened right up. It didn’t budge in the slightest after that. I’ll be sure to soak it in linseed oil to rectify this situation properly. Here are the tripod poles I cut:

I don’t know what this particular type of lashing is called, but I have used it several times. First, you wrap the cord tightly around your poles four or five times and tie it off. Then, you tightly wrap the cord around itself between the poles several times and tie it off each time here as well. This gives you a solid tripod.

Following this, I spent several hours using the axe to fell and limb more spruce saplings and cut them to size. I was happy to find that the axe was not fatiguing to use one-handed for long periods of time, despite its overall weight of 1.6 kg (3.5 lbs). It bit deeply into the wood, was accurate and retained a sharp edge. It took very little for me to become accustomed to using the axe, as I’ve been using a 3/4 axe regularly for several years now. The main difference is the greater weight of the new axe, which I didn’t notice most of the time.

After the first round of trees had been processed, the shelter started to take shape:

I realized that the entire shelter project was going to take longer than I thought, and knowing it would get dark soon, I called it quits in order to look for firewood for cooking and heating that evening. I found a dead standing pine on a rocky hill nearby and felled it with the axe in no time. It had a base diameter of about 11 cm (4.25 inches), so nothing huge. I bucked it into three logs and carried them all back to my camp, where I cut them to length and split a few of them to get a fire going.

For kindling, I split some some of the smaller pieces of wood and made some feather sticks with the Marttiini Kaamosjätkä knife I modified years ago and showed here recently. I found that I enjoyed using a smaller knife like this for a change. :)

By the end of the first day, I had made good headway on the shelter, procured myself some firewood and made myself a spruce-bough bed from all the limbs I had cut off the poles. The camp was starting to take shape.

Before I called it a day, I threw my new tarp on the pole frame, tied it down in a few places, and then put my sleeping bag and bivy on top of the bough bed. I didn’t even bother to get out my self-inflating sleeping pad, which I ended up not needing, as the spruce boughs provided plenty of insulation.

As the sun began to set and bathe the trees around me in a beautiful golden glow, I felt I had received some kind of reward for the day’s work, but it was only the first one. After nightfall, the clear sky provided a beautiful view of a bright moon and countless twinkling stars. The moon lit up the snowy forest so brightly that I didn’t need a headlamp or flashlight to see. I arose bright and early in the morning, looking forward to breakfast. First, though, I’d have to put together a rig to hang my pot from. I cut three suitable spruce poles to length and tied them together in a similar fashion to the shelter tripod, except that I only wrapped the cord around all three one time.

From the hinge, I hung a length of cord to hold a notched stick, which would in turn hold my cooking pot. Doing it this way keeps the cord from getting too close to the fire.

Although I had not done as much as I had hoped that weekend, I was pleased with what I had accomplished. The shelter was coming along nicely, and the cooking area was shaping up, too. Here’s the current status of my permanent bushcraft camp:

Before I went home, I stopped by the old farm house to take another look at the old knives I had found there, as I wanted to see if any of them were worth restoring. I was in luck! The vintage KJ Eriksson Mora knife, although a bit worn and rusty, was still very solid.

The following day, I spent my lunch break getting the knife into usable shape. Rather than completely refurbishing the knife and making it look like new, I decided to go a different route and let the vintage-ness of the knife come through. I scrubbed the blade and bolster with a plastic scouring pad and lemon juice to get the rust off and create a nice patina. Next, I scrubbed and then scraped the handle to remove as much of the red paint as possible. Finally, I slowly ran the handle over a candle flame several times to darken the wood and then soaked some wax into it to waterproof it. I’m pretty happy with the results and am planning on making a simple belt sheath for it after I procure some leather. By the way,  I think this is the only Mora knife I’ve personally seen that has a leather washer between the handle and bolster. It’s a nice touch!

Hope you enjoyed this first look at my permanent camp!