Northern Woodsmanship and Skills Forum

In the past, I have brought your attention to a number of forums, blogs and YouTube channels focusing on outdoorsmanship, primarily in Finland, but also elsewhere in the boreal region. Today, I’d like to introduce you to a fine forum started by Ron from The Trying Woodsman Blog. He wanted to create a place where folks could discuss woodsmanship, bushcraft, primitive and traditional skills and anything else having to do with outdoor life in the north.

This primarily English-language forum is small, but growing (it has been experiencing a surge in activity lately). So far, there are members from Finland, Sweden, Norway, the northern US, throughout the British Isles, Germany and a host of other countries. As far as I know, this is the only north-centric forum of its type out there!

If you would like to learn from and contribute to a growing knowledge base on woodsmanship in the north in a relaxed and open atmosphere by sharing stories, projects, ideas and experiences and make friends in the process, be sure to visit the Northern Woodsmanship and Skills Forum!

(Mis)adventures in primitive fishing

While working at my 9-to-5 job during the week, my mind has a tendency to wander (not infrequently in the direction of outdoor pursuits, as you may have guessed). Last week, I got the idea of making a functional primitive fishing rig from a single plant/tree using my camp knife as the only tool. I thought this would be a good way to put some basic primitive/bushcraft skills to use in a practical application. When the weekend rolled around, I hit the woods to see what I could do.

Before I get into it, let me say that this project was based on my limited knowledge and experience, as well as the resources available at the time and place. There are probably many different (i.e. better) ways to approach this!

The plan was to first find and harvest a willow sapling/branch.

Then cut off the branches.

Slit the bark from top to bottom and remove it (this is most easily done in spring/summer).

Then split the bark into thin strips.

At this point, I would normally scrape the green outer bark off the white inner bark and then boil the inner bark for a while with the outer bark scrapings and some wood ashes added to the water. I didn’t have time for all this, though, so I only scraped off most of the outer bark.

Next, carve a “gorge hook” from one of the branches.

Then spend the next few months making several meters/yards of fishing line from the inner bark (see this post for info on making cordage). I should mention that willow bark cordage like this tends to dry out by the next day, so it should be processed further to keep its flexibility and strength (so far, I have tried both waxing and oiling, which seem to work well). Anyway, after getting the line started, slightly untwist the loop end, slip the gorge hook in and twist the line back again. Then untwist the next twist up the line and insert the hook in there as well, finishing by twisting the line back again. Eh, I’m not sure if I’m explaining this very well!

Try to finish the line before it gets too dark or you lose consciousness due to a lack of blood, which the mosquitoes, black flies and gnats have been drawing from you for the past several hours.

The next morning, wake up to find yourself wet inside your bivy sack and sleeping bag liner because you didn’t put up a shelter overhead and got rained on for hours (at least the rain kept the mosquitoes at bay!). Er, I mean clean up the ends of the pole, carve a notch around the top end and tie the line to it. You’re done! (or so you think….)

When I was finished, I still had lots of bark left over to make more cordage with.

So far, so good. But the proof, as they say, is in the pudding, so it was time to see if it could catch a fish. I intentionally started with an overly large hook, figuring that I’d probably have to whittle it down until I got the size right. I took a small piece of bread and smushed it around the gorge hook and line, making sure the hook was nearly parallel with the line (yes, that is a mosquito in the shot; there were swarms of them around).

It appeared that the hook and bait were too large for the small fish to take into their mouths (I could see them in the shallow water), so I whittled down the hook.

Having remembered that perch prefer worms over bread (though roach readily take both), I found a worm and used a piece of it.

After making these changes, I was getting some serious bites! I was surprised by how sensitive and responsive the rig was. It was at this point that the project took a (hopefully temporary) nose-dive. Again and again, I could see a fish take the baited hook into its mouth and tug on it, but each time it would spit it out again. They just would not swallow it! With this type of setup, as opposed to a curved hook, the fish has to fully swallow the sharpened stick so it gets stuck inside the fish (which, by the way, is why you should not fish this way unless you plan on dispatching and utilizing the fish).

So why weren’t the fish swallowing the bait?! The reason, I suspected, was that the line was too thick and rigid. It gave the fish the sensation that they were trying to bite a piece off of something larger, but could not. As I said, I suspect this to be the reason. I’ve never tried anything like this, so only more trial and error will tell.

The next day, I used some of the extra willow bark to make a much finer and more flexible leader which the fish will hopefully not detect as easily. Then I spliced it into the existing line and attached the hook (which, as you can see, I had modified further by blunting the short end). The splice point is the “left corner” you can see in the second loop. I will try the rig like this and, if fish swallow it, but the hook doesn’t catch, I’ll start over with a larger hook and whittle it down until it’s just right.

To be continued!

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! 🙂

Hand-made crooked knife

Hope you all had a nice Doomsday. 🙂 Since the world didn’t end yesterday, I was able to make it to the local post office today to pick up a package which I had been eagerly awaiting. Upon opening the small box, I found this inside:

Removing the leather blade wrap exposed the super-sharp edge:

The attractive handle is made of rowan/European mountain ash.

This is a spoon-carving knife, or crooked knife, for carving curved objects like spoons, cups, bowls etc. It was sent to me by OZme of Bush n’ Blade, who made the entire piece from start to finish. Here’s the video he produced showing how he made it. I highly recommend subscribing to his YouTube channel, as he always has new interesting videos about a lot of different topics:

Thank you VERY much OZme! This is a fantastic gift. I can’t wait to use it!

Happy Holidays everyone!

Interested in Finnish bushcraft?

When I moved to Finland, I was happy to find that bushcraft, woodcraft, knife making and other traditional skills have a long history here and are still alive and well today. Since sharing a few blogs and other websites with you almost a year ago, I have learned of several more and some significant changes to others. This post is intended to be an updated list of bushcraft/outdoor-related blogs and websites in Finland (most of which are in English). If you know of any others, please let me know! By the way, please also give the “in Finnish” blogs a chance, even if you don’t speak Finnish. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words. 🙂

Blogs

Blacksmiths/Knife makers

Forum

  • Bushcraft Finland: This is the main (and only, as far as I know) forum for bushcraft in Finland. It was recently moved to a new server/provider and is now advertisement-free. It also has a great new appearance and layout. Both English and Finnish speakers are welcome.

Other

Last, and definitely not least, I want to point you in the direction of some videos from yesteryear showing a variety of Finnish crafts and old-timey ways (click one of the “Isien Työt”s on the left-hand side and then scroll down and click “Katso nyt” to watch a video).

Enjoy!

A visit to the farm on Independence Day

We have just returned from four days in our old neck of the woods visiting my wife’s relatives and celebrating Finnish Independence Day. On Dec. 6th, 1917, Finland adopted the Finnish Declaration of Independence and withdrew from Soviet Russia (very shortly after the USSR’s creation). This holiday holds special meaning for Finns, as I’m sure you can believe. Had they not declared their independence during this hectic period in Russia’s history, they could have been part of the Soviet Union until the 1990s like so many countries bordering Russia.

Each morning of our visit to Eastern Finland, we were greeted by a fresh blanket of snow (on top of the other blankets of snow) and temperatures ranging from -8 to -15*C (17.5 to 5*F). The sun didn’t shine much, but other than that it was pleasant to be outside. Part of our visit was spent at my wife’s grandparents’ farm, where we took the pictures below. They provide a glimpse of the early stage of winter we are in, as well as a look at some elements of a typical old Finnish farm.

Proudly flying the Finnish colors for Independence Day:

The old farm mill, which is no longer in use:

The smoke sauna can be seen here at the bottom left. Just beyond that is the creek which separates the farm from the neighboring property, which fills the rest of the picture:

The big old barn:

Hay field and woods:

Bunny tracks in the yard:

Berry bushes, asleep for the winter:

Here are the Woodswife and Woodsboy opening part of the barn so we can peek inside:

Inside that part of the barn is just some of the firewood they have stockpiled:

Before we headed inside, the Woodsboy took a tractor ride with great-grandpa:

Here’s an old photo showing great-grandpa when he himself was just a Woodsboy:

Four generations of proud Finns, going back well beyond the first Finnish independence day (my wife is generation 5, and the Woodsboy is generation 6):

The icing on the cake of a nice visit to the country was leaving with these:

Hand-knit wool over-socks, made by my wife’s grandmother. I can’t have enough pairs of these. Socks like these accompany me on every winter outing, and now I have a new favorite pair. 🙂

Thanks go out to the Woodswife for taking most of the pictures for this post. Fortunately, she has recently expressed interest in writing full articles about things like berry and mushroom picking, making preserves and juices, family/farm history etc., so you can expect to see them (eventually) here. 🙂

4-in-1 camp kitchen multitool

It’s been a while since I’ve shown a carving project here at the blog. Ok, ok, the only thing I’ve ever shown that could be called a carving project was the snowshoeing pole I made last winter. Anyway, I’ve been planning on doing more carving projects for a while, and as anybody who lives in the far north can tell you, a lazy weekend during the long, dark winter is the perfect time to bang something out, so that’s what I did. Allow me to introduce you to the 4-in-1 camp kitchen multitool (and the tools I used to make it):

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It slices, it dices, it blends…eh…well, it doesn’t do any of that, but what it does do is to meet several needs I have while preparing food in the wilds. The most obvious function is that of a spatula. I wanted something softer than my metal spoon which I could use to stir food in my frying pan. (By the way, the brown spots you see are part of the natural coloring of the wood.)

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I don’t usually eat things like pasta, rice and other such meals with a fork while camping, simply preferring my spoon instead (I don’t carry a metal fork at all), but when it comes to holding a piece of meat or sausage while I take bites from it, a fork like the one shown here really comes in handy. It can also be used as a grill fork to manipulate the meat while it’s cooking on a grill/grate.

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Surely you also noticed the notch on the side of the spatula head. I call this the pot-lifter, because, well, that’s what I’m going to use it for! Instead of burning my fingers or using a stick of questionable strength, I’ll just hook the bail of my pot or kettle with the notch and lift away.

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The last function might be a bit of a stretch, but I plan on using this tool as a kind of fire poker or “coal shuffler”. Being made of wood, it’ll obviously be best suited for quick reshuffling of coals and firewood with the spatula end, and not for prolonged use.

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The piece of birch I used to make this tool was originally headed for the inferno of a wood stove full of glowing coals at a relative’s house, but I managed to “rescue” it just in the nick of time. My plan was to use only my Finnish puukko knife for the entire project, but the work of thinning out the spatula head became tedious after a while, so I used a rasp to speed up the process. After I was finished with the knife and rasp work, I gave the tool a quick, light sanding. The whole project took longer than it would have if I had used a hatchet or carving axe to rough out the general shape of it prior to taking the knife to it, but for some reason I felt compelled to do (almost) the whole job using only my knife, so that’s how I did it. All that’s left to do now is to raise the grain of the wood by wetting it and then sanding it after it’s dried. I’ll probably give it a light coating of oil after that as well.

As an aside, the knife I used for this project is a traditional forged puukko style knife made by Antti Mäkinen. I bought this knife from Antti at a knife show in 2009, and it has served me well since then. The carbon steel blade is 7 cm/2.8″ long and has a Scandi grind with a microbevel. The handle material is rowan/European mountain ash.

I thoroughly enjoyed this simple carving project and look forward to the next one. Let me know what you think!