(Belated) overnight trip report – March 21st/22nd

Toward the end of March, I spent a weekend exploring the old farm woods and the surrounding area, finally locating all the boundary markers of the property and discovering some other interesting features of the “neighborhood” as well. At that time, there was still a good bit of snow on the ground, most of which has since melted, and the temperatures were a lot lower, too, with about -5ºC/+23ºF during the day and -12ºC/+10ºF at night.

Before choosing a new campsite and setting up camp, I wandered around looking for the back property markers, taking some pictures as I went along.

I found a nice, reasonably flat spot at a far corner of the property and set up the MIL-TEC tarp in my beloved Holden tent configuration. So far, I’ve been very pleased with this tarp, which I bought a little over a year ago.

Once my camp was set up, I located some potential firewood nearby. Besides a few smaller dead pine saplings, I found a nice larger dead pine which had partially fallen over some time ago. Getting a hung-up tree like this unstuck can be very dangerous, so I’m not going to give instructions on that there. All I will say is that it’s a good idea to read up on the subject and have an experienced tree feller go out into the field with you to show you how to do it. In general, though, the idea is to first cut the tree at the base and then carefully move up the trunk, cutting section by section, until it can be freed from the other tree.

I cut the trunk into campfire-sized pieces and also collected the dry branches from the top of the tree.

To ignite the dry branches, I would need something finer and easily flammable, so I went back to an area where I had remembered seeing lots of birch bark on the ground. This bark had been stripped off some trees when the loggers came through to thin out the forest last year.

After splitting up some of the sections of the pine tree I had dislodged and sectioned, I laid down some lower-quality, partially rotten pieces of wood in the spot I had chosen for the campfire. On this I placed a piece of birch bark, which I scraped with my BushProwler knife from Ilkka Seikku to create a fine pile of paper-thin shavings to ignite with my ferrocerium rod. I then added progressively bigger pieces of wood until the fire was ready for me to start heating up some food.

Once I had eaten and relaxed a bit, I decided to spend the evening exploring the area some more.

Plenty of animal sign:

Curiosity led me to climb some of the higher hills in the area, which rewarded me with a really nice view. First, looking down at my campsite:

This was followed by a short hike down to the lake, where I plan to do some fishing this season.

After hiking around, I sat by the fire for a long while, ate some dinner and watched the stars appear one-by-one as the sky darkened to night. I slipped into my nested sleeping bags in my poncho bivy and continued watching the sky through the doorway of my tent until I drifted off. After a good night’s rest, I arose in the morning, shook off the sleep and started the morning fire. Once again, I dined on Finnish rice pies (riisipiirakka) and a meat pie (lihapiirakka). I also boiled up some water for instant coffee in my Swedish mess kit lid.

Wanting to take advantage of being in the neighborhood, I packed up camp and hiked back to the cabin site, where I spent the rest of the afternoon working on the future homestead.

Hope you enjoyed this quick overnight trip report. Stay tuned for more!

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The Woodsboy’s first knife

A little over a year ago, when the Woodsboy turned 5, I bought him his first knife. While this may seem too young an age to some people, I think this is largely a 1st-world viewpoint. From evidence I have seen, children in rural areas of developing countries and tribal societies around the world are accustomed to using knives at even younger ages. It’s true that this is largely out of necessity, as they don’t live in a world full of pre-packaged, store-bought items, but the simple fact is that they would not be allowed to handle knives like this if they were not capable of it. So under constant supervision, with safety always in mind and with a clear set of ground rules (e.g. always cutting away from himself, always returning his knife to its sheath when not in use, only cutting things Daddy lets him cut, letting Daddy keep the knife in a safe place when we’re not practicing with it etc.), I have begun teaching the Woodsboy how to use his first knife.

The knife in question is the Condor Junior from Marttiini:

Image linked from http://www.marttiini.fi

I bought this knife from a local sporting goods store for around 25 Euros ($27.50). A few specs:

  • 8 cm (3.2″) Scandi-ground blade
  • Rounded tip for safety
  • Finger guard
  • Grippy rubber handle
  • Rugged leather sheath

So far over the past year or so we have used the knife together about half a dozen times, and our use has been centered around safe handling, as well as getting to know how the blade works and how to cut effectively. Most of what we do is cutting sticks, whittling and cutting string. As he gets older and progresses, we’ll work on wood carving and other things like that. I’m happy to say that the Woodsboy has never come close to hurting himself with the knife and am proud to see that he handles it in a safe way (praise for good behavior goes a long way!). If you are looking for a starter knife for a child, I highly recommend the Marttiini Condor Junior or a similar knife with the same level of quality and safety features. The Condor Junior is a solid, well-made knife which should serve my son well for years (BTW, the tip can be ground pointy later on when he is mature enough and can begin carving with the tip).

I will leave you with a picture from last weekend showing the Woodsboy practicing his feather-stick/shaving making skills. Needless to say, we were both very proud of his pile of shavings (which by the end was more than enough to get a campfire going). 🙂

DISCLAIMER: Utmost care is necessary when allowing children to use bladed tools. They should NOT be left unattended. You alone as a parent/guardian are responsible for deciding whether or not your own child is old/mature enough to handle bladed tools and for teaching and supervising them.

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.

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!

Cleaning up the Marttiini Kaamosjätkä puukko knife

Back in 2009, a local outdoor store was having a sale on the Kaamosjätkä puukko knife from the Marttiini company of Finland. They were selling a whole mess of them for 15 Euros each (about $20 USD). The normal price was about 25 Euros, so I picked up two of them just for the heck of it. This particular model is the cheapest and least-refined of the wood-handled knives made by Marttiini, but the blades are good quality. If nothing else, I thought it’d make for an interesting “lipstick on a pig”/”turd polishing” project. 🙂

Here’s the knife as it comes:

From the factory, the knife has a roughly finished, lightly stained wood handle. The wood isn’t flush with the bolster (which itself needed work). Not being a fan of the fish-tail thing on Scandi sheathes, I knew it would have to go. Also, I didn’t like the silver-colored labeling on the sheath. These critiques aren’t intended as criticism of the knife as it comes, because it is a very low-budget, mass-produced knife, after all. These are just some of the things I wanted to modify to make it more attractive and to my liking.

After reshaping the handle with another knife, including making the wood flush with the bolster, I sanded it down and then applied some walnut stain. This was followed by a coat or two of teak oil. While I was working on the wood part of the handle, I also sanded down the bolster with a fine-grit sandpaper to refine it a bit. As for the sheath, I cut off the flap at the bottom and then carefully rubbed off the somewhat sloppy silver lettering. The last step was to apply wax to the edges of the leather belt loop and the back of the sheath (and then heat it so the wax soaked in) to darken and smooth out the leather there. As I mentioned, this was a project I did some years ago. I think I would do it slightly differently now, but I’m still happy with the results.

My version of the knife:

Over the past few years, I’ve restored or modified several knives, but to be honest they don’t see much use. I think I’ll rectify this situation on my next trip and bring out my prettied-up Marttiini Kaamosjätkä to see what it can do!

Kampin’ in a kota

Hey dudes and dudettes! It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here at The Weekend Woodsman, but it’s not because of a lack of interest. First we had the holidays, then I got swamped with work and then soon after that the Woodsboy got the chicken pox and our whole family came down with a nasty drawn-out flu (possibly swine flu) right after that. The unseasonably warm winter we’ve been experiencing is another reason why I haven’t been getting out much. While some of you were (and are again) experiencing a polar vortex, we’ve had more of a “tropical vortex” up here in Finland. So far this winter, we’ve only had about 3 weeks of real winter temperatures (and of course it had to be during the time when I was busy/sick). As I write this in mid-February, the temperature is about 1°C/34°F. During a normal winter, it would not be unusual at all to be seeing temperatures around -40°C/-40°F right now. Anyhoo, the warm temperatures, coupled with being busy, sick and occupied with a few other things had not been very conducive to doing anything outdoors-related.

For most of the winter, though, mi amigo Alejandro from Spain and I had been looking forward to a winter campout, but because of the reasons mentioned above, it just wasn’t happening. When the second weekend of February rolled around, everything fell into place and we were able to get out for a “winter” (and I use that term loosely) overnighter.  After a little planning the week prior, I picked Alex up on Saturday morning and then drove out to my mother-in-law’s country property. We took the car as far as we could without getting stuck in the snow and then hiked to our destination. Here’s a back road along the way:

Because of the melt/thaw/melt/thaw cycles we’ve experienced this winter, there was a lot more standing water/ice than years past.

Moose tracks along the way:

Once we reached the site, we started getting our shelter materials together. I had slept in a kota (tipi-like shelter) a few years ago and figured it would be a good experience for Alex. This kind of shelter is a lot different from a typical camping tent, as it allows you to have a full campfire inside. The poles and tarp for the shelter were located nearby where I had left them. We first set up a tripod upon which we’d lean the remaining shelter poles.

Remaining poles in place:

Then the real battle started. In order to put the 6 m x 8 m tarp on the frame, we had to get it unstuck from the ground, and itself. After smashing lots of ice and carefully peeling the tarp from the forest floor, we managed to get it set up on the frame. It may not qualify as a dictionary-definition kota, but precise historical accuracy is not what we were aiming for. 😉

Now that our house was up, we could make it a home. Alex cut a bunch of spruce branches to use as bedding material and laid them out on the left side of the kota (and yes, that is a small spruce tree inside our shelter).

I set up my stuff on the right-hand side. For this trip, I used the Swedish SK-70 rucksack because its large capacity makes carrying extra winter gear easier.

Next on the agenda was making a fire for heating and cooking, as we were both getting hungry. We spent time gathering up and preparing materials for our fire and tried to get it started, but to no avail. Try as we might, we just couldn’t get a self-sustaining fire going, and ended up burning up all our fire prep. The reason? I had forgotten an important lesson from several years earlier. In order to have a fire burn properly in a shelter like this, there has to be sufficient intake of air from around the bottom and outlet of air and smoke at the top. There simply wasn’t enough open space at the bottom, and the hole at the top was too small as well. I kicked myself for letting this happen, because it was something that I had already experienced (and solved) before. Anyway, here’s hoping I remember for the next time around. 😉 We took the tarp off the poles and then hiked away from the campsite to get some dry birch wood and bark which had been laid up in a different location. After returning to the campsite and refitting the shelter cover for better air flow, we got a nice hot fire started. It was pretty much smooth sailing for the rest of the evening.

The temperature overnight probably didn’t even drop below freezing, and I distinctly remember rain or freezing rain pitter-pattering on the shelter during the night. In the morning, we got to work preparing a fire for our breakfast. Alex used my Skrama knife to split some birch wood into kindling, and I used my BushProwler. Then we both made a mess of shavings.

We shuffled around the remnants from the previous night’s fire in the fire pit and then set up our fire lay.

Breakfast for both of us would be oatmeal/porridge. I brought instant stuff, while Alex went traditional. He started by melting some snow in his pot.

By the time his snow was melted, I was almost ready to eat. 🙂

Having used up all my water during breakfast, I went to collect some more. The method I used was to squeeze snow into long pellets and then slip them into my metal water bottle. After I fit in as many as I could, I’d put it near the fire until the snow melted.

A few shots of our temporary abode:

A while later we made ourselves some lunch, let our fire die down and then started to pack up. We took the tarp off the shelter and placed it nearby after folding it up. We left the poles standing for next time. Come spring, I’ll cut that tarp to size so it fits perfectly on the frame, which will also prevent the ventilation issues we experienced. Speaking of spring, the way things are going, it’ll be here before we know it. I’m really hoping that we somehow get a nice cold spell for a while before the usual start of spring so I can get out there and do some more winter bushcrafting! We’ll see what happens. I’ll leave you with a picture of the dim winter sun as Alex and I hiked back to the car.

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.