A big burl and big news!

Last weekend I was walking around a residential area and saw a burl growing on a birch tree.

As you can see, this burl wraps a good deal of the way around the trunk.

Just so you can get an idea of how big this sucker is:

I bet this monster burl could be made into something great!

And just for the heck of it, a shot I snapped at a lake a little while later.

Now for the big news. As long-time readers will know, the Woodsfamily moved from eastern Finland to the Helsinki metropolitan area last summer due to a great job opportunity presented to the Woodsbabe. Since we moved here, I have been able to explore new natural areas, including Nuuksio National Park and the southern Finnish coast, as well as spend time with friends who live in or near this area, like Scandic Woodsman and OZme. I have also enjoyed meeting and spending time with new friends. While these experiences have been great, I have really missed spending time in the peaceful setting of the country as I often did before. Plus, not having access to private land the way I did in eastern Finland severely restricted the type of activities I have been able to do and then show you here at the blog. As a result, the content of most of my “in the field” posts has reflected the change in circumstances.

Well, times they are a changin’! Now that the Woodsbabe has completed the training phase for her line of work, she is somewhat of a hot commodity in her field, and I am happy to report that she has just accepted a job back in eastern Finland! So in about a month, we will be moving to a smaller city not too far away from where we used to live and also not far from my favorite campsite and many, many acres/hectares of private land which I have access to through family. Although I will miss the more frequent visits with my friends here in the south, after we move I will be able to pick up where I left off last spring with a much greater breadth and depth of things I will be able to do and show you. I’ll be able to put the blog back on it’s original course!

But that’s not all! I am also working on arrangements for the Woodsfamily to have regular access to a relative’s small house/cabin in the country which is not lived in year round. If it all works out, we should be able to go there in our spare time and do things like country cooking on a wood-fired cooking range, canning/smoking/preserving food, making projects in the workshop, low-maintenance gardening (potatoes, carrots etc.) and lots more.

Things might continue to be a bit slow here at the blog for a short spell, but that’ll change once our new move is complete. Of course from time to time I’ll still visit my friends in the south for meetups and such after we move, and as always, they are welcome to visit us!

Thanks for reading!

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Firecraft in ancient Finland?

A few years ago, I was listening in on a conversation between OZme and some Finnish guys about firelighting in ancient Finland. I remember OZme mentioning that little or no evidence has survived from ancient times to indicate which methods might have been used. This really got me wondering. In a place where winter can last half the year or more and where fire is crucial to survival, how did people get them going before matches, flint and steel etc.? Things like wooden bow drills, hand drills etc. would rot relatively quickly due to Finland’s harsh climate/seasonal extremes, so there’s no way to know if they were used. Is there any way, then, to find out what they may have used? I think I might have accidentally stumbled upon one possible answer.

One summer while breaking up rocks to build a fire ring, I noticed that after one rock-on-rock smash, I smelled something burning. At first, I looked around me because I thought the smell must have been coming from some fire nearby. Then I realized that the rocks I had been smashing must have created a spark! It’s absolutely conceivable, as the rocks contained both quartz and what I guess would be iron ore (I’m not a geologist, so forgive me). Having read many years ago that arctic peoples, specifically the Inuit in North America, used rocks of various types to create a spark for firelighting, I realized that this could certainly have been a method employed in Finland as well. Horse hoof fungus, aka tinder fungus, aka fomes fomentarius can be found throughout the country, and when processed properly, will take a spark and burn hot as a glowing ember, so the tinder element is there as well.

Perhaps we will never know exactly how people in ancient Finland started fires. Maybe they used several different methods. In any case, to my mind, I feel like I have possibly confirmed one of them.

If any readers have more info on this topic, I’d love to hear it!

Ikea hobo stove – Initial modification

I really have to hand it to Ikea. Despite being a large multinational corporation with stores in almost 40 countries, countless products and almost USD $30 billion in sales in 2012, they still manage to find a way to cater to the hobo sector. I’m referring, of course, to their well-known hobo stove:

OK, OK. This product is not sold as a hobo stove, per se (it’s actually a cutlery drainer), but supposedly it works very well as a wood-burning stove thanks to its many holes, sturdy construction and size. I’m planning on using mine in place of a hobo stove I made out of a food can which proved to be a tad too small and potentially weaker than I’d like.

A few years ago, I contacted the Metsähallitus, a Finnish government agency which maintains national parks and does other similar tasks. I asked them about using a wood-burning stove for cooking in national parks, and they replied that it’s fine to take sticks and branches off the ground to use as fuel (but not dead trees or parts still attached to trees) and burn them in a wood-burning stove, as long as the stove being used is contained and does not allow embers, ashes etc. to fall out onto the ground. Problem number one:

Obviously, I was going to have to find a way to close up all those holes. After doing some thinking, I figured one way to do it would be to secure a piece of metal over the holes with some nuts and bolts. So I flattened out a lid from a food can and made some holes in it to accept the bolts. Interestingly, when I flattened out the disk it was not flat, but more like a large contact lens (concave on one side and convex on the other), but with a much less extreme curve.

Then I used one bolt and two nuts per hole to hold down the metal disk and to act as little legs which serve to keep the bottom of the stove off the ground, reducing the risk of dry material under the stove catching fire. I put the concave side of the disk facing downward so that it hugs the bottom of the stove snugly and will not allow embers, ashes etc. to escape. I put an extra bolt and nut in the center to put even more downward pressure on the disk.

I haven’t tried this stove out yet, but I will do so soon. I’ll see if any modifications need to be made to ensure a good burn. One thing I’ve learned about using hobo stoves like this in the winter is that they melt the snow they’re resting on (obviously), but I also have an idea on how to remedy that, which I’ll show once it’s complete.

Quick edit: I decided to remove the picture of the full setup with a kettle on top because it didn’t give the right impression of how stable the stove is (it looked like the legs were closer together than they are). The setup is actually quite stable (I did some stability testing with a full kettle of water). I have also used a similar setup with much longer legs before and it was also stable. If, if, it somehow proves unstable, I can always shorten the legs. I am always very careful with fire! 🙂

We have a winner!

First off, let me say thank you to everyone who submitted an entry to the knife giveaway. Secondly, I’d like to mention that if/when I do another giveaway, I won’t do the “pick a number” thing again. 😉 Next time, I’ll make it easier on you and me by just picking a name out of a hat, using the comment number as your number or something like that.

Anyhoo, let’s get on to the good stuff, the giveaway winner! I used http://www.random.org to generate a number between 1 and 100 this evening, and the number it generated was 48. So the winner is Merize, who chose 47! Congrats, Merize! I’ll be contacting you by email shortly.

Thanks again to everyone for reading and commenting! 🙂

Stomping around the old stomping grounds

Those of you who started reading the blog last summer won’t have seen my old haunt unless you’ve read some of my older blog posts. The location in question is in a forest which has been in the Woodsbabe’s family for generations. I used to visit the place pretty frequently, but the distance from our new home means that my trips there are now few and far between. In fact, my visit last weekend was the first one since we moved last summer. I always considered myself really lucky to be able to spend time there, and last weekend’s trip only confirmed this.

The Woodsbabe and Woodsboy dropped me off as close to the place as we could drive without getting stuck in the snow (which we managed to do anyway :)).

Tracks within tracks:

Looks like a slow-moving bunny:

Moose track:

He/she stopped to nibble on some fresh shoots:

Looks like a fox was here:

Red squirrel:

I was able to hike part of the way without snowshoes, but they were necessary for most of the trek, as the snow in most places was too deep to hike in effectively. So I strapped them on and carried on.

Nearby summer cabin:

Usnea/old man’s beard lichen:

Jackrabbit or kangaroo? You be the judge…

High-traffic area:

I believe a moose bent and broke this sapling to nibble on the tips of the branches:

After about an hour of snowshoeing and picture taking, “my precious” came into view. 😉 The cooking rig OZme and I put together in 2011 is still going strong, but is currently in hibernation.

Besides being handy for hanging pots over a fire, it also serves as a place to throw your pack. 🙂

The temperature that afternoon was hovering around -8*C/17.5*F or so, which I find to be pretty pleasant for winter activities.

Between the dry winter air and snowshoe hike, I was beginning to get mighty thirsty. I checked my “canteen”, aka thermos, and saw that my water was still room temperature despite being left in the car overnight at -15*C/5*F.

For a change, I thought I’d make some pine-needle tea. Although spruce-needle tea has been something I’ve enjoyed for years, somehow I’ve managed to go all this time without trying pine-needle tea (I think?), so it was high time! Both are full of vitamin C and have a very fresh “foresty” taste. 😉 I located my firewood stash under the snow and knocked a few pieces loose with my axe.

They were then split up in preparation for building a fire. The wood prep heated me up too much, so I had to swap the fur hat for a beanie.

While I was splitting the wood, I found three of these little guys. They would be great as ice-fishing bait.

Instead of building a fire right away to boil the water for my tea, I decided to do it a little differently this time. I plopped down one of the pieces of spruce I had split to act as a “mini bar” for making the pine-needle tea with the alcohol stove made for me by OZme.

I chopped up the pine needles:

Added some fuel to the stove:

And lit it up with a match (if you’re not familiar with alcohol stoves, they don’t show much of a visible flame when lit):

Somehow I managed to use just the right amount of fuel, as it burned long and hot enough to bring my cupful of water to the boiling point in about 5 minutes and then dropped off and petered out. I added the hot water to my kuksa and let the needles steep.

Since I was feeling hungry by this time as well, I whipped out a “riisipiirakka” (rice pastry) with butter. The rice pastry is basically rice porridge (special rice cooked with milk and salt) placed in a thin rye half-shell and baked.

This was a nice snack, but it wasn’t quite enough to fill ma’ belly, so I split and shaved the spruce a bit more so I could build a fire to roast a sausage.

I found a nice forked branch on a sapling nearby, so I prepped it to hold my big, fat “HK sininen” sausage. 😉

The wood I used for the fire turned out to be pretty wet (probably because I didn’t cover it last summer…oops), so I had to coax the fire for a while, but finally it ended up burning well. I roasted and ate most of the sausage and then left the rest for nature’s creatures (they really are quite big).

After checking the time and seeing that the Woodsbabe would soon be back at our designated spot to pick me up, I extinguished the fire, packed up my things and then closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths. The silence of the place was something I had forgotten. Only the occasional chirping bird could be heard. Quite a contrast to the noise of the city! I snapped a final picture of the hazy sun before throwing on my pack and heading out.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to do an overnight trip as I had planned a few weeks back, but in the end the 5 hours of “therapy” I got out there turned out being exactly what I needed!