Traditional Finnish log construction

Sometime last year, Scandic Woodsman alerted me to an interesting vintage video on YouTube. It shows a group of men building a log structure using only hand tools in the traditional Finnish way. Apparently, it was still very common for people to build their own houses in this manner well into the 1920s/1930s. The video below is in Finnish and doesn’t have subtitles, but it’s still very interesting to watch, in my opinion.

Hope you enjoy it!

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Eligibility for the knife giveaway…

Can you tell this is the first giveaway I’ve ever done…ever? 😉 Sorry for the extra post about the conditions of the giveaway, but there were some things I didn’t anticipate. Like for example, what constitutes a subscriber. Through WordPress, I can only see subscribers who have subscribed using a WordPress account or their email address. Any other methods of subscribing, e.g. via Google etc., don’t register with WordPress, so I have no idea who has subscribed that way. 😦

If you would like to take part in this giveaway, you’ll have to be a subscriber to the blog either via a WordPress account or by email. Maybe for the next giveaway I’ll make it open to anyone who wants to enter, but to be fair to my subscribers through WordPress and email, I have to limit eligibility to these groups this time around. Sorry!

If you have submitted a comment with a number, please make sure that you have also subscribed via WordPress or email. Otherwise, I won’t be able to count your entry in order to make it fair to direct subscribers! Don’t mean to be a jerk about this! 😀

Here are the updated giveaway conditions:

  1. To be eligible for the drawing, you must be a subscriber (existing or new) to The Weekend Woodsman blog. Update: Since WordPress does not recognize and show me subscribers who have subscribed through things like Google Reader etc., only subscribers by email or through WordPress will be eligible for this giveaway. Sorry!
  2. To enter, leave a comment below showing me that you’d like to take part by including a number from 1 – 100 which has not already been chosen (Yes, I am aware that there wouldn’t be enough numbers for all my subscribers, but I have a feeling it won’t be a problem ;)). I will use a random-number generator to pick a number. The commenter with the number closest to the generated number will be the winner. Note: You will have to use the same email address or WordPress account which you submitted to subscribe to the blog when writing your comment. Otherwise, I can’t verify that you are a subscriber! Update: If it turns out that there would be more than 100 entrants, I will simply draw the winning name from a hat.
  3. I will ship the knife anywhere in the world (it is your responsibility to make sure there are no restrictions to receiving this knife in your country/area).
  4. If you are under 18, a parent will have to consent to your receiving the knife if you win.
  5. The cut-off time/date for entries will be 12:00 a.m. (Finnish time, i.e. UTC+2) on March 7th, 2013.

Knife giveaway!

As a small way to say thank you to readers of the blog and to celebrate recently passing the 100-subscriber mark, I have decided to do a giveaway. The prize: a forged carbon steel Saami/Lapland leuku knife with a rowan wood handle made by Antti Mäkinen, 6th-generation Finnish blacksmith. The blade is 15 cm/6″ long and about 4.5 mm/0.18″ thick, making it a smaller-sized leuku (but not a small knife), which is my personal favorite size. I spent some time thinning out the part of the blade from the belly to the tip to improve it’s ability to do finer work and I also refinished the handle (replacing the varnish with teak oil), so there’s a little of me in there, too. 🙂 This knife has served me well, but I have accumulated a few too many, so I’d like to pass this fine, hand-crafted blade on to someone else who will also get good use out of it.

Cutting up seasoned pine sapling for firewood.

Cutting up seasoned and frozen birch.

Making shavings for tinder.

Re-shaped tip.

Here you can see the knife and its sheath (before I made the modifications). The smaller knives on either side are not part of the giveaway.

Giveaway conditions:

  1. To be eligible for the drawing, you must be a subscriber (existing or new) to The Weekend Woodsman blog. Update: Since WordPress does not recognize and show me subscribers who have subscribed through things like Google Reader etc., only subscribers by email or through WordPress will be eligible for this giveaway. Sorry!
  2. To enter, leave a comment below showing me that you’d like to take part by including a number from 1 – 100 which has not already been chosen (Yes, I am aware that there wouldn’t be enough numbers for all my subscribers, but I have a feeling it won’t be a problem ;)). I will use a random-number generator to pick a number. The commenter with the number closest to the generated number will be the winner. Note: You will have to use the same email address or WordPress account which you submitted to subscribe to the blog when writing your comment. Otherwise, I can’t verify that you are a subscriber! Update: If it turns out that there would be more than 100 entrants, I will simply draw the winning name from a hat.
  3. I will ship the knife anywhere in the world (it is your responsibility to make sure there are no restrictions to receiving this knife in your country/area).
  4. If you are under 18, a parent will have to consent to your receiving the knife if you win.
  5. The cut-off time/date for entries will be 12:00 a.m. (Finnish time, i.e. UTC+2) on March 7th, 2013.

Good luck! 🙂

Recent sleep system testing

In a recent post, I shared some ideas on how to sleep soundly in the outdoors. Today’s post will cover some specific sleeping equipment testing I did recently.

Last fall, I reviewed the model 65 Swiss army sleeping bag which I have been using for the past 2 years. In that review, I mentioned how the older Swiss sleep system consisted of the sleeping bag, an inner fleece liner and a bivy bag. I wrote that I did not have the additional components, but planned to reconstruct the system using similar ones. Here’s the sleeping bag, with a picture of the bivy below it. I don’t have a picture of the cheap summer mummy bag I’m using as the liner.

Then, on New Year’s Day, I gave an account of new items I received or purchased for Christmas, where I showed you the two faux lamb fleeces I sewed together to form a “bushcrafty-looking” sleeping pad for cool and cold weather.

I decided to take advantage of some recent colder weather (for southern Finland, at least) to test both the reconstructed Swiss system (outfitted with an additional layer, in other words, there were two liners) and the fleece sleeping pad. It’s important to note that this testing was carried out using a mishmash of older/surplus/unique equipment I happen to have, rather than new, off-the-shelf sleeping equipment currently in production. As such, it shouldn’t be seen as a suggestion for a specific setup to be copied. Rather, see it as just one example of what can be used. Maybe it can give you a rough idea of how similar items would work together for you.

Conditions: According to the weather report , the temperature was to range from -20 to -28*C (-4 to -18.5*F) during the night of testing. Since I don’t plan on sleeping outdoors at temperatures much below -30*C (-22*F), I thought this would be a good opportunity to test the limits of all the components of my sleep system combined. Seeing as how I live in a city and didn’t have enough time or daylight to get out into the country, I decided to do my testing outside on the terrace, which was covered with compacted snow. There was a continual breeze in the air, and the temperature upon starting my test was -21*C (-6*F).

Equipment: Nested from the outside in:

  • A waterproof Italian mil. surp. bivy bag, unzipped
  • A Swiss mil. surp. sleeping bag (with a comfort rating of roughly 2*C (35*F) without the fleece liner)
  • A no-name el-cheapo mummy bag (with a comfort rating of 10*C (50*F))
  • A Freetime Micropak 1400 mummy bag (with a comfort rating of 3*C (37.5*F) and an extreme rating of -12*C (10.5*F))

Also:

  • Two thin foam sleeping pads, 5 mm (0.2″) each (they were under the sleeping bags, but inside the bivy bag
  • Faux lamb fleece on top of the foam pads
  • Clothing: thin and thick long underwear, fleece jacket, gloves, balaclava and two pair of thick knit wool socks over thin hiking socks

I didn’t bother weighing this equipment, but roughly knowing the individual item weights I estimate it to be about 5 – 6 kg (11 – 13 lbs.), not including the clothing. I know, I know. One good winter sleeping bag, bivy bag and sleeping pad would weigh a fraction of that. What can I say, I have an aversion to buying new stuff if I already have equipment that works, even if it weighs more.

Test: I slipped into my nest-o-bags at about 10:30 p.m. and promptly fell asleep. The plan was to sleep the whole night outside. I decided to end the test when I woke up at 1 a.m., though not because I was cold, or even cool, in any way. I felt so warm, in fact, that I suspected that the temperature had risen dramatically over the time I had slept. I checked the temperature: still -21*C (-6*F). The reason I woke up was because I was snoring so loudly! I tend to snore when sleeping on my back on the ground. 🙂

Results: Over the past few years, I have suffered through enough uncomfortable nights at a wide range of conditions in different sleep systems to know when something works or not. So although I only slept for 2.5 hours, which is a far cry from a full night’s sleep, the fact that I woke up very comfortably warm indicated to me that I should have been fine all night, at least at that temperature (based on past experience, I would have woken up sooner if I were too cold; since body heat output drops while sleeping, there’s a significant difference between being awake and asleep in a sleeping bag). The fact that I was still so warm leads me to assume that this particular setup would be reasonably comfortable down to -25*C (-13*F), at least. Further testing will say whether this is the case, because that is always the only way to know for sure. So I’m planning on testing it at -25*C (-13*F) and -30*C (-22*F) for a full night. By the way, the temperature ended up hovering around -21*C (-6*F) all night, so no insight into heat retention at lower temperatures would have been gained by staying out the rest of the night. As for the faux lamb fleece sleeping pad, I was very surprised at how well it worked! It provided plenty of cushioning and was very warm as well. Not bad for 30 Euro ($40 US) and a few minutes of sewing!

Now that I have established what works well for me toward the colder end of the spectrum (in my particular case), I can experiment with different setups for warmer temperatures, i.e. leaving out this bag or that bag to fine-tune the comfort level. This weekend I will test the bivy, Swiss bag, liner bag, i.e. as close to the original Swiss sleep system as I can get (which, by the way, cost me about 33 Euro ($43 US) altogether), plus the pads underneath (I’ll leave out the innermost sleeping bag mentioned above). The temperature is expected to be about -7*C (19.5*F), so it’ll be a decent test for that setup.

When testing sleeping equipment like this at lower temperatures, it’s a good idea to either carry out your testing near a place where you can “escape” to if you get too cold or otherwise bring an extra sleeping bag or two just in case. One time a few years back, I actually had to leave my camp in the middle of the night and hike to the cabin nearby because I was too cold. Not fun. Just be smart about where you do your testing, considering the potential danger/discomfort involved!!!

Vintage ice chisel

Two years ago, I found a vintage ice chisel (or tuura in Finnish) at a consignment shop and bought it for 12 Euro ($15.50 US). It’s used to hack down through ice to make holes for ice fishing etc. The handle on this one is old and badly cracked, so I will make a replacement handle for it soon in preparation for an upcoming ice-fishing trip. Nowadays, it’s much more common to use ice augers for this purpose, but I’m looking forward to using my (soon to be finally) restored old-timey ice chisel. 🙂

A primer on sleeping well in the out of doors

This article is aimed primarily at those who are getting started with camping, bushcraft etc. and will probably be old hat to all the pros out there. 😉 I won’t be covering hammock camping, because I don’t have any experience with it. If you have useful info to add regarding hammock camping, please leave a comment below!

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“The matter of a good portable bed is the most serious problem in outfitting. A man can stand almost any hardship by day, and be none the worse for it, provided he gets a comfortable night’s rest; but without sound sleep he will soon go to pieces, no matter how gritty he may be.” – Horace Kephart

If you have read Horace Kephart’s “Camping and Woodcraft”, you know that he was a very practical and experience-based outdoorsman. No frills, no BS. Though some of his equipment and methods may be antiquated (he published his most famous book around a century ago, after all), a great amount of useful information can still be gleaned from his writings today, in my opinion, especially if you are fond of older-style gear and ways as I am. Kephart’s statement about sleeping outdoors is as true today as it has ever been, and my own experiences have mirrored this. Happy sleeper = Happy camper!

After trying an array of different tents, tarps, wool blankets, sleeping bags, browse beds, foam pads, animal fleeces, bivy bags and combinations thereof in a variety of temperatures and conditions and, with the aid of Old Kep, I have identified the six conditions which I find must be met in order to sleep well:

1. Make sure you don’t get wet, whether it be from rain, snow, ground moisture or perspiration. Make sure your tarp or natural shelter is large enough (and thick enough, in the case of a natural shelter) to provide effective protection against the rain, which can drive sideways in windy conditions. This isn’t much of an issue if you are in a good fully enclosed tent. A plastic sheet or sufficient natural bedding material will separate you from the dampness of the ground if not in a tent. If your bivy is not breathable, leave it unzipped part or most of the way to allow moisture from perspiration to escape so that it does not soak your sleeping bag.

2. You should be protected from the wind to prevent cold air from displacing the cocoon of warm air around you. Fully enclosed tents do this automatically, but tarps and natural shelters must be positioned so that their open side does not face the prevailing wind. Having a wind-proof bivy bag makes positioning of the outer shelter less of an issue.

3. The material around you should be thick and insulative enough to provide insulation from the cold air. The colder the air, the thicker and more insulative the material, whether it be man-made or natural materials. It’s a good idea to use sleeping bags rated to lower temperatures than you think you’ll experience, just to be on the safe side. If using natural materials, wool blankets etc., only field testing will tell you if your insulation is warm enough. A proper heating fire can negate the need for material physically surrounding the body if you go that route.

4. The material underneath you should be thick enough to provide insulation from the cold ground. In many cases, a lot more heat can be lost through the ground than through the air, so ground insulation is one of the most crucial elements to keeping warm and sleeping well. If using spruce boughs in cold weather, for example, make your bed thick (30 cm/12 in thick at least). Some materials compress a lot when you lie on them, so be doubly sure you have enough. I have heard that inflatable sleeping pads are not as effective as good foam pads in cold weather, so that’s something else to be aware of.

5. The material underneath you should be thick enough to compensate for the hardness of the ground and any objects in/on it which would otherwise be uncomfortable to sleep on. Sleeping on the ground is a lot different from sleeping in your bed at night. The ground does not adjust to the contours of your body, so it’s your body that has to do the adjusting, including on rocks, sticks and other such annoyances (which, by the way, should be moved away beforehand anyway, if possible). Sufficiently thick bedding increases comfort immeasurably.

6. There should be a layer of protection against creepy-crawlies, mosquitoes etc. at some level if they are out and about. Whether it’s a tent or tarp’s mosquito netting, a smudge fire or mosquito netting stretched over the face area of the bivy bag (my favorite method), there must be some physical or chemical barrier which prevents annoying critters from preying on you. Forgetting this crucial element in an area swarming with biting bugs can make any sleep, much less good sleep, very difficult.

These things may seem obvious to many of you, but if you are starting from scratch without much guidance, some of them may not be immediately evident. If it seems that I’m being overly thorough, it’s for the sake of completeness. If it seems I’m not being thorough enough, please share what you know! 🙂

After (lots of) trial and error, I’ve arrived at the following setup which works well for me (not saying it’s perfect or ideal, just that it works for me now):

Shelter: Simple tarp or multi-configuration floorless tent with plastic ground sheet (Open shelter allows heat from fire to enter.).

Outermost sleep system layer: waterproof bivy bag, unzipped to allow moisture to escape.

Inside the bivy bag: one or more sleeping bags on top of climate-appropriate sleeping pads/animal fleeces (Having the sleeping pads inside the bivy prevents me from rolling off them, which I often tend to do.).

In summer: mosquito netting stretched over the area of the bivy bag near my face

Here are a few other ideas which can help improve the quality of your night out:

  • Placing a bottle full of warm to hot water in your sleeping bag can help keep up the temperature inside.
  • Keeping a clean bottle with a tight-fitting cap (“pee bottle”) inside your sleeping bag can allow dudes to answer nature’s call without having to heave their sleeping setup (sorry ladies).
  • Drinking a bit of hot tea before bed can help keep you warm for a while after going to sleep.
  • If you wake up a bit cold, “exercise” inside your sleeping bag (sit-ups etc.) to heat yourself and the bag again.
  • If your clothes are not especially dry, change them before going to bed to avoid bringing extra moisture with you into your sleeping bag.
  • Keep extra socks handy (footy? ;)) in case your feet get chilly overnight. In colder conditions, long underwear, gloves and a balaclava may also be useful.
  • Don’t set up camp in a recessed area, if you can avoid it, because it will likely be colder than surrounding areas.

Great suggestions from readers:

  • From wgiles: “In cold weather, I almost always use a microfleece bag liner to stay comfortable even if I’m sleeping in long underwear.”
  • From Ross Gilmore: “Even one piece of damp clothing in the sleeping bag will make for a cold night. That’s why i am very much opposed to drying things out in the sleeping bag. If I want to keep something from freezing, I will put it in a plastic bag and then in the sleeping bag.” And: “If you use [a pee bottle] you will have a much better night. You lose huge amounts of heat then you get out of the sleeping bag.” Also: “In the last few years inflatable pads have come a very long way in terms of providing insulation and preventing bottoming out. Even fully deflated, the pad offers about 1.5R insulation, which is similar to what one would get from a closed cell foam pad.”
  • From Duncan: “Even in my arctic mummy bag, I always find that my head gets cold through the night (I can’t sleep with my head inside of the bag.) To remedy this, I’ve found that a good wool or synthetic toboggan [i.e. beanie] and a long thick beard do the trick.”
  • From OZme: “About the ground insulation, it is also important when sleeping on hammock. Of cause it is then not a “ground” insulation but it is as much or even more noticeably important to have good insulation under. Compressed sleeping bag really looses its insulation property. Oh, and about the pee bottle. Make sure to have large enough bottle. If you pee more than the bottle capacity, that will be a disaster..:)”
  • From dagraper: “I would also like to add: location, location, location. Think about where you set up camp, it can make the difference between a good night’s sleep or a hellish nightmare of a night.
    – Make sure you’re not in a natural depression, which might collect rains.
    – Make sure you’re not camping on or nearby a game trail, if you’re not keen of nightly visitors.
    – Stay away from stagnant water…or be prepared to host insect visitors alot!
    – Look up ! Any dead branches ? Remove them first or camp somewhere else. A good wind could send them crashing down.
    – Look around for natural wind protection and make sure your shelter is positioned to keep the wind from blowing right through.
    I do use inflatable sleepings pads, in combination with a ‘bag’, in which I slide both pad and sleeping bag. It does not just keep them dry and clean, but also adds another layer to keep out the cold.”
  • From Richie: “For cold weather, put on clean dry socks before climbing into your bag each night and try lip salve to prevent dry lips.”

Hopefully this information will help someone getting started with this type of thing and save them a headache or two. Please feel free to submit any other tips and suggestions you may have, and I’ll incorporate them into this article!

Fresh red squirrel tracks

While on a short hike with the Woodsboy this afternoon we came across these crisp Eurasian red squirrel (sciurus vulgaris) tracks in the snow.

The larger prints on top are from the hind feet, and the smaller ones on the bottom are from the fore feet, similar to rabbit tracks. Red squirrels are native to almost all of Europe and northern Asia. The American red squirrel (tamiasciurus hudsonicus) is a different species.

Eurasian red squirrel (image linked from Wikipedia)