Quick winter-weather gear tip: Lip balm

Here in the north country, winter is the driest time of the year. As the temperature drops, so too does the amount of moisture in the air. Cold, dry and windy air tends to draw moisture from the body, which is why it’s especially important to drink lots of water in these kinds of conditions, but there are also other things you can do to counteract this effect. One of them is to use lip balm…on your skin!

Obviously, lip balm was intended to be used on chapped lips, but I’ve found that it also works very well to moisturize dry, rough skin, especially in certain spots on my hands. I simply apply it to small affected areas and rub it in a little. The moisturizing effect lasts for a long time, and it helps to prevent skin from becoming so dry that it cracks, especially on my knuckles and between my fingers. Why not just use moisturizing cream, you ask? Well, lip balm is already part of my kit, and it serves the purpose just fine!

But that’s not all! Besides being good for keeping your skin in good shape, lip balm also has other uses in the field. How about making dry, cracked leather items supple again? They are made of skin, after all. Wax- and petroleum-based lip balms are flammable, making them a potential fire-lighting aid in tough conditions. These ingredients could also make them good for things like small waterproofing tasks, metal joint lubrication etc.

Anybody have any other uses for lip balm? 🙂

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Field testing the Skrama bush knife

A few posts ago, I gave you my initial impressions of the Skrama knife from Varusteleka. Cutting tomatoes and paper is all well and good, but it’s not a useful indicator of what an outdoorsman’s blade can do, so I drove out to the country the first weekend of December to do some real winter woods testing of the Skrama.

The temperature was about -3°C/26.5°F that Sunday. Not exactly a frigid North Pole winter day, but below freezing nonetheless. The scenery around the property invited me to photograph it, so I’ll show you some of my surroundings first.

Once I had found a good spot to do the testing, I put down my pack and took out…unleashed, if you will…the Skrama. 😉 I decided to test its chopping abilities first and located a live hardwood sapling and dead pine sapling for the tests. The live hardwood sapling fell after six easy blows. The dead pine sapling took a few more swings, on account of its being seasoned and hard. I liked how the blade cut deep without using excessive force. I found that I naturally choked all the way down on the handle for this heavier chopping and preferred to chop with the middle of the blade. At no point while chopping was there any uncomfortable vibrating of the handle which can occur with some large knives.

After chopping down the saplings, I dragged them to an open spot on a small hill to continue my testing there. I wanted to turn the pine into firewood, so I sectioned it into manageable pieces with the bush knife. Three or four chops around the circumference and a swift kick were all that was needed to break off each piece. The thinner pieces broke off without a kick.

The next step in my firewood prep was splitting, but instead of using just another section of the pine to split with, I thought I’d use the Skrama to make a baton out of part of the hardwood sapling. After chopping off a section, I choked up on the handle to just below the blade and used light, controlled blows to carve out a handle. The great balance of the knife made it easy to be very accurate while doing this light chopping.

Then I whittled the handle down a bit further to smooth it out. The Skrama is obviously not a carving knife, but it’ll do the trick for “camp implement” carving.

Now that my baton was ready, I could commence splitting. I was very pleased with how readily the blade went through the wood, and the knotty section at the bottom barely slowed it down. I liked that I didn’t have to be afraid to beat on the knife while batoning, something you have to be careful about with less-robust knives.

The final step in one-stick fire prep (for me), is to make shavings/feather sticks, so that’s what I did. As you can see, the Skrama got the job done well enough. Again, fine work is not something I’d want to do all day with this knife, but to be honest it’s not really built for that anyway. It’s good to know that it can do it, though!

Out of curiosity, I experimented with this blade as a drawknife of sorts for removing bark from the hardwood sapling. It excelled at the task.

Being a large-bladed knife with a long handle, the Skrama is just begging to be used for slash cutting/machete work, at least in my mind. I dispatched a few hardwood seedlings in the area with one easy swipe each. I know which tool I’ll be using next year to clear the willow seedlings and saplings from the fields on the other part of the property!

My final test of the day was going to be some finer carving using the tip of the blade. I came up with an idea for a cooking rig and started working on it when a photo blogger’s nightmare came true: My camera died. Not just the battery, but the camera itself. When I turned it on, the telescopic lens would not come out. Well, that was that for picture taking. I made an “arrow nock” in the end of a large forked stick, and the tip of the Skrama pretty easily handled the finer work for this end notch.

Before putting the knife away for the day, I quickly checked to see how the edge had held up. It was still surprisingly sharp, though I might touch it up a bit if I want to cut any more tomatoes with it. 😀 I think this shows that Varusteleka/Laurin Metalli did a very good job with the heat treat and sharpening of the knife.

Conclusion

The Skrama is a great chopper of both seasoned and green wood, splits and slash-cuts impressively and can do finer work as well, though I’d probably want to pair it with a much smaller knife if I have a lot of smaller work to be done. The handle does allow for a variety of different grips and holds, which aids in the knife’s versatility. One thing I was surprised about while using the knife was that there was little need to “get to know” the knife, in other words, to work with it for a while to figure out how to use it best. This shows the thought and effort that went into its design. Because of the Skrama’s solid construction and materials, I was not afraid to use it roughly, toss it in the snow etc., and there was no danger of it slipping out of my hand thanks to the handle’s material and texture. By the way, this knife is full tang (the metal ring on the bottom of the handle is an extension of the tang).

In my opinion, the Skrama lives up to its claims as being a rugged, multipurpose wilderness blade, and then some. I would not hesitate to recommend this knife to someone looking for a solid tool for a variety of uses and situations.

While collecting info on the Skrama, I went back to Varusteleka’s website and saw that the leather sheath they designed and make for the knife is now available and that the knife itself is currently on sale for €55.25 ($75 USD) until this coming Sunday, December 15th.

¿Qué te gusta el bushcraft?

With temperatures dipping down to -10*C (14*F), but occasionally still rising a little above freezing, and with several centimeters/inches of snow already on the ground here in eastern Finland, we are on the cusp of real winter beginning. Soon the temperature will no longer peek above the freezing point until sometime in March, and the snow will have accumulated to well over a meter (over 3 feet) by that time. Before I switch to full-on winter mode, though, I wanted to write one more blog post about some doings of this past fall.

Almost a month ago, I headed out to the country property I’ve been visiting for the last pre-winter overnighter of the year. This time, I had the pleasure of being accompanied by a new friend who I met this past summer. Alex is originally from Spain, but lives not too far away from us and moved here about the same time we did. He’s very interested in learning about bushcraft and woodsmanship, and I am happy to share the little I know with him. He dropped by the weekend before Halloween to show me some bushcraft and camping gear he had been accumulating over the past few months, and we started planning an autumn overnight trip which would take place 2 weeks later.

The weather that weekend ended up being very wet and cool. It rained on and off, and our camp looked like a mud pit by the end of the trip. I was seriously wondering if the crappy conditions would turn Alex off to the idea of camping and bushcraft outside of summertime, but this wasn’t the case at all. Anyway, we drove out to the property and went straight to the campsite I’d been visiting somewhat regularly lately. Alex got to work right away collecting poles for his lean-to using an old Finnish hatchet he rehafted and restored last summer.

Then he made a few pegs with his puukko knife.

We secured the back of the lean-to to the ground with some pegs and then set up the front of the shelter by guying out the poles to pegs using a bowline knot and trucker’s hitch. A good basic shelter for a man and his gear.

Next up was fire prep. I felled a dead pine sapling, and Alex chopped it up into firewood.

I showed him a good place nearby for collecting birch bark. It was really wet, but I knew the oils it contains would still burn.

We also collected some dead lower spruce branches and brought them back to the camp site, where we used my Fiskars saw to break down some more of the pine and got to work splitting some of it up as well. I was using my BushProwler to baton some of the wood (you can see how soft and muddy the ground was by how the bolt stayed upright after just a few hits).

Here’s a shot I took of our camp before it got dark. Once again, I’m using the Holden tent.

It was a challenge getting the birch bark to light, but we managed to get it going and slowly built up our fire. We burned some of the pine and always kept our supply near the fire to help it dry out. Rather than getting all our wood from the forest, we cheated a little and took some from the barn. I guess this really makes it “backyard bushcraft”. 😉

Anyway, as you can see it was getting dark, and we were both hankering for some grub, so Alex made some hearty soup in a pot next to the fire and I made bannock in my pot suspended over the fire on a stick. A good way to prevent the bannock from sticking is to put a little dry flour on the bottom of the pot before putting in the dough.

A nice bonus of having a camping partner in the autumn and winter is the conversation. It gets dark pretty early in the north, and unless you have some kind of work you can do in low light, you’re going to have a lot of time on your hands after the sun goes down!

Before we hit the hay, I threw the rest of the wood on the fire, which burned for quite a while. Some of our firewood came from logs which used to be part of an old building, and you can see the notching on one piece in the picture below. We both noticed that it looked like a number 1.

The following morning, we arose and once again got to work splitting firewood. We were lucky for most of the morning, in that it rained only a little here and there (wouldn’t you know that the real rain would come 20 minutes before we had to break camp, soaking everything we had with us).

To make fire starting a little easier that morning, we used a piece of waxed-impregnated twine Alex had brought with him. It burned long and hot and helped to get the birch bark going.

Alex decided to try his hand at bannock for breakfast, so he mixed his dough in a plastic bag and put it into his pot. I cut up a package of bacon and started frying it in my pot over the fire.

Having gone through his water supply, Alex fetched some from the creek not far away.

When my bacon was ready, I threw in four eggs and put the pot back over the fire for a little while. Alex’s bannock wasn’t baking the way he had hoped, so he took it out of the pot and put the dough on a stick near the fire to rectify the situation.

After we ate, it started drizzling and then raining, so we quickly packed up our wet, muddy gear and hit the road. I was very happy to have Alex along on this trip and am looking forward to his first winter trip, which will probably be in a few weeks!