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). πŸ™‚

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.

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A meal in the late-autumn forest with my woodsman-in-training

In the Finnish language, November is “Marraskuu”, which literally means “death month”. I think it’s an appropriate name for this dreary time of year. I usually like to wait the month out because of the wet, cool and dark days and then resume outdooring when the bright winter snow has come for good, but I decided this year to stop that silliness! Looking at the month from a different perspective, I realized that it has advantages all its own. The cool weather means there are no mosquitoes, black flies, midges, horse flies or deer keds like in the summer, and since it’s not full-on winter yet, I don’t need the extra clothing, snowshoes/skis, etc. Besides, if you are lucky enough to be able to spend time out with people who are important to you, the weather doesn’t really matter that much in the end.

This winter, the Woodsboy (WB) will turn 5, the age at which sons “move from the sphere of women to the sphere of men” in some traditional cultures. I can understand why they picked this age. Eager to learn and having a sharp mind like a sponge, not to mention a greater level of maturity, I feel that the Woodsboy is ready to spend more time with me doing “real” outdoor activities. Fortunately, he has shown great interest in coming along and learning all he can. Besides being a chance to spend quality time together, our trips will allow him to pick up wilderness skills and knowledge, as well as an understanding of outdoor safety and good practice, from a young age so that they will be second nature to him later in life.

The first Sunday this November, the boy and I drove out to the old farmhouse woods for a meal and to explore the property some more. The first order of business was to set up the Holden tent for him, complete with wool blanket-insulated floor, his gear-filled backpack and plenty of outside toys. πŸ™‚

As you can see, he elected to wear the blaze orange baseball cap (his “safety hat” as he called it), which left me with the orange vest. Instead of looking for standing dead wood for our fire, we decided to speed up the process and get some wood from the chaotic wood shed behind the barn and carry it back to the campsite.

Before splitting the wood with my axe, I had WB stand clear of the area and explained to him the potential dangers of sharp tools, flying wood chips etc. He stayed put at a safe distance and practiced some “splitting” of his own.

Once the wood was ready, I laid down two larger fuel wood pieces and put some shavings between them. WB helped me to put small fuel wood on top in a grid fashion, and we lit up the fire.

All throughout the process, I made it very clear that the fire was potentially very dangerous and that he was never to get too close to it, put anything on it or run around nearby it. Just like with sharp tools, I want the Woodsboy to have a solid understanding of the potential dangers of fire years before he is even allowed to work with it himself.

It was high time for some grub, so I gave WB a sandwich and some water and then set up a little rig for roasting mini-sausages over the fire. I prepped a stick to hold the sausages and laid it on the forked stick from my last trip. To keep the stick level, I put the other end through a knot-hole in one of the pieces of firewood.

While we were eating, WB said his sandwich was getting cold, so I stuck it on the same rig. πŸ™‚

When the temperature started to drop and he felt cold, I set him up near the fire on his little folding-chair backpack with food on one side and water on the other. He had worked up quite an appetite and ate a banana and peanuts in addition to two sausages and a sandwich. πŸ™‚

I also let him “roast” his sandwich by himself a little. πŸ™‚

We packed up our stuff, let the fire burn down to coals and I then poured plenty of water on the remnants of the fire and told WB about why it’s so important to make sure it’s out completely before leaving.

By the way, I used the Swedish LK-70 pack for this outing because of its large capacity. It really comes in handy for day trips when you have to lug around extra stuff!

WB’s focus, eagerness to learn and good behavior during this trip were encouraging to me, so I’m really looking forward to our next trip out!

Cabin restoration project – Out with the old

Alternate title: Don’t judge a cabin by its (wall) cover πŸ˜‰

I didn’t think I’d be able to show you any progress at the cabin for a little while, but the opportunity came up last weekend, so the Woodsfamily loaded up the car with tools, gloves, dust masks and grub and headed out to the country.

The first step of the project involved going through the things in the house to separate the good stuff that could be reused from the junk that would be thrown away. We salvaged lots of kitchen items, cots, bed frames, cabinets, end tables, chairs, counter tops and suchlike. We put the salvageable items in the large room and the junk outside in a large pile to be disposed of. As I’ve mentioned before, the house is equally divided into a large living room/kitchen on one side and four smaller rooms on the other side. The part with the smaller rooms will become the restored cabin, and the large room will be converted into a terrace later on. So the items which have been salvaged will sit in the large room until they are ready to be cleaned and put in the restored cabin.

So you can get an idea of what we all had to work with, here are a few before shots:

As soon as we got the contents of the rooms cleared out, the fun could begin. Here’s what we found in the ceiling in the kitchen-to-be. It was like unwrapping Christmas presents. πŸ™‚

In another room, the walls were covered by newer wallpaper, some kind of fiberboard, old floral wallpaper and thick brown paper. Yes, that is sphagnum moss between the logs!

Yours truly, tearing the place apart. πŸ™‚

Making progress.

Some of the Woodsbabe’s relatives helped out a lot as well. Check out this old wallpaper.

After several hours of work, this is what the place looked like.

More sphagnum moss.

As I mentioned before, the floors will have to be replaced. Here’s one reason why.

The big room will hold a lot of stuff until the cabin is ready.

While some of the grown-ups were busy tearing rooms apart, the Woodsboy helped great-grandpa remove a large anthill from the vestibule.

He also helped move some non-dangerous junk outside.

After stripping the walls, we threw the junk out the window, which we then moved to a pile away from the house.

The Woodsboy’s great-grandpa has started to clear away the decades of overgrowth from around the house. The place is really starting to look more like a yard and less like an abandoned lot!

I know some of you are waiting to see pictures of some of the goodies we’ve found at the house, so let’s get to it. In one corner of the property, we found an old log building with antique plows sticking up from the rubble.

Eventually, this heap will be turned into firewood and decorations. πŸ™‚

Last, but not least, here are some of the knives we’ve found so far. The top two are traditional Finnish puukko knives, the third one is an old Mora from Sweden and the bottom one is some unidentified older knife.

In addition to these things, I also found a wild plant identification book from 1968 in great condition. It’s specific to Finland, which is awesome, because I’ve been looking for a book like this for years.

By the way, if you’d like to see how buildings like the one above were made in the old days, check out this post.

Have a great weekend!

A little fishing and a lot of berries!

At the beginning of August, the Woodsbabe, Woodsboy and I joined my in-laws at the cabin to enjoy some summer sun, boating, fishing and berry picking. We suited the Woodsboy up, who was chomping at the bit to head out.

We hopped in the boat, and Woodsbabe rowed…

…while I fished. πŸ˜€ Thanks Woodsbabe! πŸ˜‰

On the other side of the lake, there were boulders in one direction:

And berries galore in the other:

We picked bilberries (vaccinium myrtillus):

And northern bilberries (vaccinium uliginosum):

We saw some cow berries (vaccinium vitis-idaea), but they’re not ripe yet:

I snapped this picture nearby. The lichen and plants kind of look like a miniature forest to me.

Upon returning to the cabin, the Woodsboy and I set up the hand-line fishing rig with a piece of a fake worm and tried our luck.

We managed to get two roach fish (rutilus rutilus) like this:

After fishing, we looked around the yard for more berries. We found rowan berries (sorbus genus) (note: these are not poisonous, but are very bitter and could bother your stomach!):

Black currants (ribes nigrum):

And white currants (ribes rubrum):

Then the Woodsboy and I headed down the dirt road to find more berries. We found a lot of raspberries (rubus idaeus):

And stone bramble (rubus saxatilis):

We also saw unripe lilly of the valley (convallaria majalis). They turn orange when ripe. DO NOT EAT THESE BERRIES, as they are poisonous!

As we walked back, I shot this field of fireweed (chamerion angustifolium). Many of the seed pods have opened and released their fluff.

This is probably the most prolific time of year for berries in Finland. The wild strawberries (fragaria vesca) are mostly long gone now, hence no pictures of them in this post. The last berries to ripen should be the cow berries and black crowberries (empetrum nigrum), which will last into the autumn.

Hope you enjoyed this little tour of some of Finland’s wild and cultivated berries. πŸ™‚

Disclaimer: Consuming wild edible plants and/or using them for medical purposes is done at your own risk. Always be 100% certain of what you are eating/doing. If unsure, contact an expert.

The Woodsboy’s first visit to my campsite

I’ve been visiting the same campsite on my mother-in-law’s property since 2009, back when the Woodsboy was a mere “Woodsinfant”. Having decided that the boy is now old enough to safely visit that area with me, I brought him along on my latest visit last Sunday. But before I tell you about that, I’ll share some pictures from the area around the cabin, since we hung around there first.

As you can see, spring has solidly sprung (actually, it’s pretty much full-on summer here):

Rowan/European mountain ash:

Alder (not sure if it’s black or gray):

Downy birch:

The Woodsbabe asked me to get the muurikka (Finnish wok) ready and start a fire in the fireplace so we could fry some pork chops, so I split some wood with my diminutive Wetterlings Mini Axe (not to be confused with their Small Axe). It’s a fantastic tool for chopping and splitting smaller-diameter wood and rough carving.

I also made some wood shavings with it to get the fire started:

The muurikka was put in place, and then the fire was started. The muurikka spends all of its time exposed to the elements, so it has to be prepped first by throwing some water on it when it’s hot, scraping it with a metal spatula, getting rid of the water and then wiping it down with olive oil. Here’s the boiling water cleaning the surface:

After it was fully cleaned, the Woodsbabe threw on the marinated chops:

We also grilled some sausages. This cooking area has been around for a long time and its days are numbered. You can see the beginnings of the new and improved cooking area in the background.

We ate a nice lunch with my in-laws and then, after letting our food settle, the Woodsboy and I got ourselves ready for our hike. His little backpack has a stool integrated into it. We picked it up at a consignment shop for 2 Euros.

Can you tell he’s excited to go?

I threw on my pack, and we headed out. The terrain proved a bit too rough for the little tyke, so I ended up carrying him most of the way. When we arrived, we had a little tree and plant identification quiz. He identified spruce:

Pine:

And birch:

Next, I introduced him to fireweed:

Then he spent some time checking out the campsite:

It had been promised to the Woodsboy that we’d roast sausages, so I started that process going. I set him up with a forked stick and two small sausages.

On that day, I was carrying my refurbished leuku/puukko knife duo and used it for the cutting and splitting tasks of the day.

Leuku (larger knife)

Puukko (smaller knife)

Then I got the fire materials set up. It had to be a small fire due to the relative dryness and heat of the forest. Speaking of heat, I brought along my thermometer as usual, and although I don’t quite trust the reading of 111*F/44*C (in direct sun), it was without a doubt hot that afternoon.

We ate our sausages and then some small pastries and drank juice and water, which the boy doled out.

By this time, both the Woodsboy and I were getting sick of the heat, so I made him a shelter out of dead spruce branches and my poncho after very thoroughly soaking the fire pit and surrounding area with water. I realized then that I should have made the shelter right after we arrived so he could have a place to get out of the sun, although I did keep him in the shade of trees most of the time. Lesson learned.

Chillin’ with a juice box.

Our trip lasted about 2 1/2 hours, and I was very proud of how the boy held up, especially considering the heat and the swarms of blackflies which pestered us the entire time (fortunately, they didn’t bother the Woodsboy as much as they did me.). By the way, we did bring a net hat along to keep the bugs at bay, but he didn’t want to wear it. After a while, he asked if we could go back to the cabin, so I packed up our stuff and we headed out. He enjoyed telling mommy, grandma and grandpa about what we did and is looking forward to going again soon. So am I. πŸ™‚

On another note, a little while back I mentioned that we were hoping to be able to make use of an old house, farm and forest (belonging to the Woodsbabe’s extended family) in the country after our move. It turns out that the house, which is 120 years old, has been abandoned for 40 years and is in poor condition, isn’t quite up to snuff for use (earlier, we didn’t know what kind of condition it would be in). So unfortunately, we won’t be able to use the house, but we are still planning on reviving the garden plot and using the forest for camping, bushcraft, berry/mushroom picking etc. There’s also an easy access point to one of the large lakes of the Lakeland District about 150 yards/135 meters from one edge of the property, so we’ll be able to make use of that as well. My first trip exploring that property will probably take place over the next few weeks, and I’m really looking forward to it!