Category Archives: campcraft

willow bark cordage

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Natural cordage comes in a number of guises – from plants (bark, stems, roots, leaves, and in some rare cases even the seed fluff from whorled milkweed and cottonwood) and from animals (guts, sinew, hide, and even hair). Bark cordage is very versatile mainly due to the continuous lengths you can create, reducing the need for labourious and weaker joining of strands.

Although many barks can be used and experimented with the most frequently cited come from young limbs (where the bark is smooth and thin) such as willow and the bark (often the trunk or a main limb) of the lime (linden) tree. Two different processes are involved in this process – the former is making thin strips from the bark to weave or twist together and the latter a process of harvesting sheets of bark and then wretting (rotting) the bark in water over a period of time to release the fibres from the bark – only then combining the fibres into cordage.

There are also certain times of year when harvesting bark is easier – usually in the spring and summer when the bark is looser due to the moisture and sap. In winter bark can be hard to separate from the the limb or trunk. If you have to source bark in the autumn and winter months then it can still be loosened by pounding the limbs in a gentle manner using another piece of wood. But be careful, you can weaken, split or damage the bark unless you tap/hammer the bark softly!

Here is a step-by-step guide to making willow cordage from a small diameter limb.

At the end is a video clip of how to make the cordage using two-ply pygmy roll.

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Small limb, slit lengthwise the bark, either tap softly to loosen the bark from the underlying wood and/or run your fingers under the bark to separate

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Remove the very outermost later of skin from the bark by scraping with a back of a knife. Removing this will lead to a more flexible and less brittle cordage than leaving it on when it dries.

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Stick your knife firmly into some wood and then draw the unfurled sheet of bark through the stuck knife thereby creating long strips

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The resultant long strips

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Boil the bark strips for several hours in a pan filled with water and a generous handful of campfire ash. This not only stains the bark but increases its flexibility and durability for when it dries. Then partly dry it.

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Video of how to twist fibres into string: the 2 ply pygmy roll method


making nettle cordage

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Video of how to twist fibres into string: the 2 ply pygmy roll method

Making natural cordage from plant fibres is quite easy. For example nettle fibres are very strong. By harvesting them, stripping the leaves, crushing the tough nodes, splitting the stem and separating the pith from the fibres you can then be ready to twist them into cordage.

The various uses of cordage are pretty much endless. Use for lashing or tying things together, crude fishing line or snares, or use as an ornamental necklace or bracelet. The humble piece of string is one of the few things that is worthy of the survival hall of fame. Even better if you know how to make it!

Here is a step-by-step guide, plus a short video showing how to twist it into string.

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Fresh nettle

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Stripped of its leaves

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Crush the tough nodes by squeezing or bashing gently

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Using thumbnail split stem

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Slide finger and thumbnail up stem to spilt it lengthways

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Bend stem to crack pith and separate from outer fibres

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Pith and fibres separating

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Nettle fibres

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Gently pull apart into smaller lengths

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Leave to dry

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Dry fibres don’t shrink and loosen when twisted into string like fresh fibres do. However it helps to moisten the dry fibres a little to make them more flexible

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Two ply twist

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Two ply repeated into four ply

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Nettle bracelet

 

 


husqvarna hatchet review

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This is a long term review of the Husqvarna Hatchet. I have used this hatchet for five years and in amongst my other axes is the small utility axe that I reach for more than others. At 35cm long is compares in length to Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet but the head of the ‘Husky’ is about a 1/3 heavier and much closer in weight to the GB Small Forest Axe. The profile is a little wider making it a marginally better splitter than these other two axes. Of course you would get more power and speed (due to to the longer handle) with the Small Forest Axe. Since owning this little axe I have hardly touched my Small Forest Axe. Its unfair to say it replaces it but this hatchet, paired with the larger Husky All-round axe (also reviewed on this blog), meets many of my wilderness needs. When it comes to packing one in my backpack for short trips then I reach for the hatchet every time. It allows me to do all the camp chores, splitting kindling and small diameter firewood, allows me to use for whittling projects and making cooking rigs and shelters, it even helps with skinning animals. At a push I could take down a small tree with it. A perfect little powerhouse.

Husky Hatchet is the one on the far left. Second in is the GB Small Forest Axe

Pros

  • Very back packable – short handle but punches above its weight.
  • Swedish ‘hand-forged’ steel
  • Heavier head (than many other hatchets)
  • Hickory handle
  • Slightly wider profile to help splitting kindling
  • Can be used as a little carving axe for spoons etc. However there are better carving axes out there.
  • Cheap – 25 GBP – compare this to GB axes at twice the price.

Cons

  • Slightly rough finish on head, cutting edge and handle needs a little TLC to bring it up to standard
  • Poor sheath – replace this, make your own or ‘mod’ this one.

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hand made sheath to replace the one it came with

 


brush tipi

Had to rebuild my brush tipi today. Decided to cheat a little and put a tarp liner underneath due to the time I had (just me and one day), rain and high wind forecast. Oh, and the tarps were already close at hand and surplus. Over time I will add to the thatch reducing the need for this waterproof liner.

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poles in place

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bracing struts to support weight of thatch

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tarps in place

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starting to thatch with leaves, branches and mulch

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view of inside bracing and tarps in place

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inside tipi with firepit

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finished brush tipi: ready to move in!


review: husqvarna all-round/multi-purpose axe

This is a mini, long-term review for the Husqvarna all-round, multi-purpose axe.

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There have been a number of model changes in the Husqvarna line-up and this, the all-round or multi-purpose axe has recently been replaced by the Forest Axe. The head weights and the shaft lengths are broadly the same (c.2lb, 26 inches). the bit profile is quite a bit thinner on the replacement forest axe (and is probably made by Hultafors). The original axe, reviewed here was probably made by Wetterlings. The head is hammer-forged not cast. This axe is broadly equivalent to the GB Scandinavian Forest Axe or more like the RM Wilderness Axe in head profile/cross section. Various specs are available if you do a web-search, as are other reviews. It has a good quality hickory shaft, a very average but serviceable axe mask (you could make your own).

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the middle axe is the husky all-round axe reviewed

Followers of this blog will probably know that I live in a wooded/forested area of predominantly conifer plantation and mixed (prodimantly oak) deciduous woodland. We rely on axes to fell trees, limb trees, split wood and even carve with it. Wood is used to heat the cabin all year round. So, whilst I do not claim to be a lumberjack we use axes on a daily basis, most days of the year. This axe I have been using for several years and is my favourite mid-sized axe. This, in combination with the smaller Husqvarna Hatchet are the two most used axes in my arsenal.

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This axe is one of the most versatile – having a 3/4 length handle (compared to a full size felling axe), a medium-heavy head for good punch and speed, and a slightly broader cross-section to the bit/head that makes it a better splitter than than either its replacement model or the GB Scandinavian Forest Axe. I use this axe to fell medium-sized trees, especially when space is tight for swinging a full-sized axe, limbing trees, splitting wood in the field for the campsite when I have only brought one axe. I guess you could try and carve with it but it would be less than ideal. Kindling prep is okay with this axe if you choke up the handle. A hatchet would of course be better. All in all this axe is much more useful in more northerly forests where processing larger diameter wood is a priority – leaving the GB Small Forest Axe in the shade. For around 50 GBP or $60 is very good value. If you can get an older-stocked model then I would recommend it.

Here is a short guide to felling and limbing a tree using this axe.


modding a roycroft frame pack

In a previous post I blogged a step-by-step on how to make a primitive, ultralight, ultra-simple framepack (click on link below)

primitive ultralight – the roycroft packframe

But because of its load flexibility (I can just lash equipment to it for a day, use it to lug firewood or water carriers or I can load it up with 100 litres of kit for multi-day journeys) I decided to improve its load carrying comfort and durability.

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I took it and bolted the frame together with anodised bolts. The frame was sealed with resins and equipped with salvaged, detachable straps, a fleece blanket lumbar support (used as a warm blanket when upacked) and a lashing made from a leather thong and tensioned with a short bungee. My overnight equipment was swaddled in a 58 Pattern Poncho  – so not only was it used to hold the contents of the pack but when unpacked was used for my shelter.

So….who needs to buy a rucksack…when you can make one 🙂

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frame from front

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frame from back

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brass tips to pack, showing anodosed bolt and leather lashing

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fleece blanket lumbar support – also repurposed for insultation when the shelter is up

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overnight kit swaddled in a 58 pattern poncho and lashed to the frame with a leather thong and bungee

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full pack showing straps and lumbar support

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close-up of the all important lumbar support – required for comfort for any distance

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straps are infinitely adjustable on the frame, making it all very comfortable under heavy loads such as packing firewood

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survival hall of fame: the birch polypore fungus

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Piptoporus betulinus, is also known as the birch polypore or razor strop fungus. It is one of the most common polyporous bracket fungi and grows almost exclusively on birch trees. It is therefore an inhabitant of northern forests around the world. And as such an ideal resource for those travelling in the wilderness.

Its bracket-like fruiting bodies can last for more than year and although it is classed as inedible (due to its toughness and bitterness) it is medicinal and has been used both externally as a ‘band-aid’ and topical application for inflamation and internally, as a tea, for a range of conditions including whipworm.

The surface and the layer beneath the surface has been widely used to put the fine finishing edge on a razor, a knife or an axe. In fact cutting these will dull your blade quite quickly.

This was the fungus that was carried by “Ötzi the Iceman” – the 5,000 year old mummy found in the Tyrol – and points to its long-standing use in fire-lighting. It can also be used as a ‘smudge’ (as in smudge stick or smudge pot) as it smoulders, giving off a pungent smoke that effectively repels insects.

Due to the host of uses this fungus surely deserves to a place in the Wilderness Guide’s Survival Hall of Fame.

As a plaster

The fungus has anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-septic, anti-inflammatory and absorbant properties that when used externally can make it a useful plaster for small cuts and abrasions.

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As a blade strop

Slice the fungus, dry it and either use as is or fix it to a board or backing. Here a piece is glued to the back of my bow-drill hearth-board.

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As a tinder

Either finely flaked, powdered or sliced it takes a spark from a modern firesteel.

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Or as an insect-repelling smudge

Either sliced finely of even used as a thick block BPF smoulders and gives off quite a bit of thick smoke which has proven very effective to repel insects from an area. It needs a still, windless environment to work well. I have also noticed that there is a tar-like residue left on the pot/dish after burning which points to it containing tar, which might have possibly been sequestered from the birch itself and its oil-rich bark.

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