Pitt-Rivers and History of Science Museums Oxford - A Bushcrafter's Take

21 June 2013
On a recent visit to Oxford I took in some of the collections of the excellent and free museums there. The Pitt-Rivers ethnographic museum has long been recommended as an interesting visit but the History of Science museum also has its attractions.

The City of Dreaming Spires is certainly not without its attractions for those interested in survival and primitive living skills.

The Pitt-Rivers

 This is certainly an old school museum with a mix of modern information cards and hand written ones that could be any number of years old. The cases are on the dark side and not everything is always easy to see. The information desk can supply torches and magnifying glasses but I didn't find it that bad.

The highlights for many bushcrafters would be in the case of different fire-making equipment categorised with great detail applied to the technique used. That's not the only case worth seeing though as they had some Sami and Inuit needle cases as well as a seal gut parka and many other items for food processing and hunting. In general, the artefacts showed a tremendous attention to detail and a master level of workmanship

It's always hard with museum collections to tell if this represents the true picture -  they display the best items, and the less attractive and more utilitarian are also perhaps more likely to be discarded or worn out. The cases do contain more than enough inspiration for any number of projects though.
An added boon is that the museum is housed alongside the museum of natural history. Although much of this was being refurbished, there were still some interesting cases on show and it reinforces the idea that a bushcrafter is in many ways a true natural scientist.

History of Science
A smaller museum and much less heralded the History of Science Museum's collection is focussed on scientific instruments. In the first room there were a huge number of fine navigational tools and sundials. For anyone who has an interest in solar or celestial navigation it is a real eye opener. I have a long standing interest in quadrants but I'd no idea that they were quite so small.

I thoroughly recommend both of these museums and I often find inspiration in ancient history, prehistory and ethnography displays in various places.
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"Bugging In" and "Bugging Out" by David Crossley, Review and Author Interview

15 May 2013
Bushcraft and survival are, to some, synonyms. But what about long term survival? Or how to protect your own life in the event of fire or flood? Where does self sufficiency come in?

They're all vital questions, and with 8 episodes of serious flooding in the UK since 2000, as well as various more localised problems, it's no longer possible to hope that someone else will take responsibility for you.
As far as answers go, it's worth getting some expert advice and doing some personal research. Two very good stepping stones to being more prepared for problems are the books "Bugging In" and "Bugging Out" recently released in paperback and digital format by David Crossley. They are available both as digital editions and through Amazon, and paperback copies are available through Lulu; Bugging Out and Bugging In

Bugging In covers what to do if you are cut off by snow, flood or any other calamity whilst Bugging Out looks at what to do in the event you need to evacuate your home.

We're very fortunate that David has agreed to answer a few questions about his books and about preparing in general for Woodcrafter's log.

David, there's a lot of literature out there about preparedness, why did you decide to write your books?
There were 2 main reasons. Firstly, almost all of the existing books are written by, and for, Americans and I couldn't find any modern texts written by a British author relevant to Europe in general and the UK in particular. The information in some of the American books is good but very much centred on the culture, laws and geography of North America and really doesn't apply to our situation.

Secondly, although some of the existing books are good many, especially those intended for e-publishing, contain very little detail. I believe that people shouldn't be told what to do; they should be given information on the facts and the various options they have, with the advantages and disadvantages, so that they can choose a path that is most suitable for them, their family and their individual circumstances. All the information in my print books is also there in the e-reader version.

Thinking about Bugging In, what sort of scenarios does the book cover? What other sections does it have?
In most scenarios the preparations that you make and the actions you have to take are very similar. Most of the information about power, shelter, warmth, food, water, cooking and preserving, health and medical care, security, communications, finances, education and maintaining morale is therefore applicable to a wide range of potential events. However, there are some situations, such as pandemics, industrial accidents or terrorist attacks involving biological, chemical, nuclear or radiological releases that require some extra equipment and knowledge, so I have provided additional guidance on dealing with those.

When do you think Bugging Out would be appropriate? Does it have a degree of overlap with more bushcraft oriented survival skills?
Bugging Out becomes appropriate whenever life cannot be maintained at your Bug In location, whether that is your usual home or somewhere you have moved to because of the emergency. That might be because of imminent structural collapse, flooding, fire, radiation or attack by an overwhelming force.

Although heading for the woods might be one option for people who have the kit and skills, there are usually many other choices. You might, for example, move to be with family or friends, to a hotel, or to a boat or caravan if you have one. For most people, hiking into the wilderness and depending on bushcraft skills would be the most difficult and therefore least desirable option. In Bugging Out I also cover the extra information people might need in a disaster because not all of the other people evacuating will be fellow bushcrafters just wanting to share your fire and a friendly chat. Think of bushcrafting in the American west or African bush before they were settled but after we had really pissed off the natives and you will be closer to what you might expect.

Do you see these preparations as a form of insurance?
That's exactly what they are! Except that with this insurance there is nobody trying their hardest to find an excuse not to pay out; if you do this properly your preps will always there and there will be no wait when you need them.

Have you ever been in any of the situations you've mentioned?
Unfortunately yes! As a soldier for 22 years, serving in some remote places, we were sometimes forced to Bug In by being under siege and at other times had to Bug Out with only what was instantly to hand. Elsewhere, it wasn't me that was in the firing line but others I was there to support or rescue, after natural disasters or conflicts in Central America, Indonesia and Africa. For many of them, the difference between being mentally and physically prepared or not decided whether they lived or died.

Back in the UK I once had to evacuate from a hotel fire in the middle of the night, while at home I've been snowed in with no power and local roads blocked, and had times of injury and unemployment. Our lives were not at risk, as mine and those of others were overseas, but our preps certainly made a huge difference to maintaining our quality of life.

What would you say to people who think it could never happen to them, (or those who think survival is stock piling ammunition and learning ways to kill a ninja with a pair of socks)?
Very little in life is guaranteed, that is why we have house insurance, car insurance, life insurance and, when possible, savings. Unfortunately things we never believed would happen do; ask the people of Cyprus or Iceland who lost their life savings, ask the people of York flooded out twice in two years from areas that had never known it in living memory, or the residents on Arran who were snowed in and without power for longer than they have ever before experienced.

Forget about meteors crashing to Earth or mega-eruptions in Yellowstone Park, the realities are: terrorism; financial incompetence and corruption in government; increasingly sophisticated but fragile technological complexes controlling interdependent ‘just in time’ financial, industrial, and supply systems; changing weather patterns; these and so many other things are increasing our exposure while most people who have never experienced disaster at first hand seem to believe that either they are invulnerable or if anything does happen Bruce Willis will appear to rescue them, because they are entitled to that. Well, with all due respect to Bruce, it isn't going to happen. Governments are cutting back, implementing austerity measures, which means the resources they will have to deploy in a major emergency are decreasing by the day. If you want to survive, you better start taking responsibility for you and your own because that is the only help on which you can rely. Preparations made now will be a major help. Reading Bugging In and Bugging Out is not a bad place to start

My Opinion
Personally, I strongly recommend thinking about making some preparations for your home and family. It's far from the fringe activity many presume and government agencies in many countries are now encouraging people to make some basic preparations. These books will show you how to go about that so in the event of any problem you can take better care of yourself.

Thanks to David for answering my questions and writing the books in question.
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SAK Electrician Plus - Long Term Review

12 May 2013
Having a little bushcraft in your daily life is certainly a good thing, and one of the ways I do that and add to my general every day carry kit for a just-in-case event. Poland has more relaxed rules on carrying pocket knives than the UK and you can regularly see scouts ready to go on camping trips using the metro with a Mora-type knife on their belt. I do travel about the UK too so having a non-locking folder with a sub 3 inch blade makes that a lot easier. Way back in 2006 I picked up a Victorinox Electrician Plus and seven years later it still rides in my pocket every day.

Nessmuk's Pocket Knife
The ever quotable Nessmuk saw his pocket knife as an indispensable part of his tool trio. The pocket knife was for carving and whittling, it's multiple blades being a boon there whilst the easier to clean and larger sheath knife was more for food and hunting purposes. I wanted a knife that ticked several boxes, that could be a stand alone tool as well as part of a trio for longer and more equipped trips.

Whittling Blades
Reading How to Whittle Twigs and Branches you quickly learn the value of having a short fine blade and a larger one on a knife to make carving fiddly items easier. Having a backup blade is always a good idea so i was on the lookout for a knife with at least two blades. The knife I chose came with a chisel ground sheepsfoot pattern blade. After re profiling this to be convex on both sides it's been an excellent carving and detail blade and the point of the blade being in a straight line allows some tight turns and detail cuts. The bigger blade isn't sharpened quite so often and is used for more of the general work - stop cuts, opening packets and even making sandwiches on holiday. It's rare a day goes by without getting it out to fix a little problem somewhere.

Other Tools
There is also the regular urban use element of a knife. Choosing a Swiss Army Knife (SAK) means it's relatively friendly and doesn't look out of place or threatening in any situation. It also allows you to add a few tools. The screwdriver and cap lifter get used fairly regularly and I must admit to using the screwdriver as a pry on occasion. The wood saw makes some bigger bits of wood within reach of a small knife, allows easy carving of notches and generally makes the knife more capable than it's size would have you think.

The final tool and one of the main selling points of this particular knife is the excellent awl. It not only works for boring holes but it's position on the end of the knife, rather than in the centre as on many of plastic handled models, allows it to b used for scribing lines. The L-shaped profile means it makes a tolerable tool for knot work and the slightly sharpened edge is very good at getting sparks from a firesteel.
In over 6 years of use it's never missed a beat and I expect the knife to keep going for many years to come. It's been one of the most heavily used items of bushcraft kit I've ever bought and the best value.
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The Big Knife

28 April 2013

The Debate
Reading many US websites you'll get the impression that you'd need a far bigger knife than those typically favoured by bushcrafters. 6 inch plus blade lengths are regularly mentioned perhaps a hangover from the
bowie knife? There's quite a debate about knife vs axe, and sometimes you get the third tool of machete come into the mix. I've even seen a billhook suggested as being the sine qua non item for work in the woods.

Big Game means Big Knives?
The utility of big knives was shown a lot in areas where big game was part of life - an example being the American Buffalo Knife (comparable knives)
(Quotes on the usage from Tactical Knives November 2005, pp19-22, Dan Shechtman)

"Here is a knife made to order for the hunter or cook responsible for breaking out chunks of carcasses of the game animals to be served up to the trappers"

"The Edmonton hunters always use large heavy knives for the purpose of cutting through branches when traversing dense fir woods that cover a great part of that country; some of them use extremely heavy ones, half knife, half axe - like a narrow sort of butchers cleaver with a point instead of a squared end"

(on butchering buffalo) "The half breed goes through this whole process with a large and very heavy knife lika a narrow pointed cleaver which is also used
for cutting wood and performing the offices of a hatchet"

An example can be seen here
The big knife of Scandinavian tradition is also from the Sami reindeer herders and is the product not just of butchery but also of the need to take down the small trees that are common there.

The European Way 

Looking for a big knife in Nordic Europe leads you to just that - the "big knife" of the Sami. This knife seems to go by more than one name and I've found it hard picking out which is used by whom. I think that Leuku is the Finnish name, Samekniv the Norwegian and stuorra niibi in Sami. (thanks to wikipedia and the Finnish Puukko blog)
The particular knife I've bought is made by Iisakki Jarvenpaa and I bought it along with my other items from Ben's Backwoods. The knife itself is great - a solid carbon steel blade about 4mm thick with a wide bevel and a curly birch handle with a solid brass butt cap for pounding and cracking nuts. The sheath looks nice but the belt loop seems a little slim and the whole sheath is already a bit dirty and has a few cut lines near the top in only an afernoon's use. It is a prime candidate for hot waxing should I find some beeswax.
One of the reasons I bought the knife is that the majority of the woodland here consists of similar woods, albeit slightly faster growing, to those in Lappland - lots of pine and birch with willow in wet areas. The grind of the knife combined with its seven inch length lets it be used as a draw knife or scraper and when braced against your knee it makes lovely fine shavings - I'm still a little new to this technique for photos but they'll come soon.

The knife effortlessly chopped through everything a fingers width or less and would be great for quickly making and felling poles. It was rapid at chopping through a downed birch and fairly effortless as the swell at the end of the handle means you can hold it lightly and let the knife just do the work. Indeed holding this knife gives you a nice secure feeling that it could handle carving, splitting and chopping as well as felling trees up to arm thickness with a very low expenditure of effort. Much less effort would be expended than using a smaller knife even if a baton is still used. It is also lighter than even my bag axe giving me a good idea why such knives would make excellent survival tools.
The edge bevel of the knife is ground differently along the length. The straight section has a good general grind whilst the curve towards the tip is finer to allow wood shavings to be easily made. The tip itself has quite a steep grind to give the point strength when being used to chip ice, be hammered into trees or pierce anything. As it has only one bevel along its length (after a few minutes with an Arkansas stone) it will be easy to maintain the different gradients on the bevel.
The knives were developed by reindeer herders so it should be good at skinning and breaking open bones should the need arise.

I used the knife to cut up a few birch branches and some bark to make a quick brew fire - I was trying to make a pine needle tea but I underestimated the number of birch twigs I'd need as they were wet. As a result I didn't manage to boil the water as the twigs burned away too quickly without producing enough heat. I wasn't too worried though as I learned to use a match to light a piece of birch bark in my hand and not to try to move the match to birch bark in the fire lay. It sounds simple but I wasted a couple of matches till it occured to me!
I did pick up a piece of birch to try to carve a netting needle out of but as it had come from a downed tree it had begun to rot and broke rather than split - I'll give it a try carving as soon as I can.

An axe may be the tool that lets you "live like a king" but how many of us regularly fell, limb and buck trees? Surely the big knife is better for taking down saplings and bushes, makes a good kitchen too. Mine has seen as much use cutting the necks off roast chickens as it has chopping down trees and has excelled at both. I have made a couple of tune-ups to it. I have oiled the handle with olive oil as well as squaring the spine to make that part a bit more useful - the spine is good for debarking pine roots too. The original grind on the tip was also somewhat obtuse as it could be used for chopping ice and opening cans. I wanted a little more carving ability so I made the tip a little finer.

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Hatchet by Gary Paulsen - Review

22 April 2013
I first picked up this book as it was recommended on an outdoors website as the reason the writer was interested in small axes. What I hadn't realised at the time was that it was a children's book. Admittedly, this did colour my enjoyment of the book somewhat as it doesn't go into great detail about many things and the main character has a very limited range of emotions. Unlike many children's books he doesn't succeed first time in everything he attempts.

The basic premise is that a young boy is stranded alone after a plane accident and the pilot's death. It's a story of the discoveries and associations the boy makes in order to survive and the skills he develops there.
If I had read this book when I was ten I would have loved it though, as it's a nice story of a young boy who is stranded alone in the Canadian forest with only the coat on his back and a hatchet on his belt. I think that kids would love it for the lack of adult interference (although there is a back story about the hero's parent's divorce) and the fairly graphic and gory descriptions of hunting. The situation he is in isn't a normal one but he comes from a normal background and it's an easy situation to imagine when you're out walking in the woods and can't see any hints of the modern world.

From an adult perspective I have to say the character is a little simplistic and there is a maddening lack of information about some of the things he does. One thing in particular which I did find frustrating is that most of the animals in the story are given nicknames by the boy and none of them are properly named at any point in the book. I have no idea what animal he is talking about at some points. I think a little appendix of the real animals and facts about them would help bring the story and normal natural history together; as a child I loved natural history books and there are many children I know who would love this aspect.

In my opinion, this is a book which is worth a read as an adult but far more valuable to younger readers who already have an interest in bushcraft and survival or who could do with a proper boys' adventure story.

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Parangs and Survival Tins

18 April 2013
The Beginning
It's a cliche but I've been interested in survival skills and bushcraft for a long time. When I was a kid of about 8 I already had some interest in the outdoors and survival, as much through Indiana Jones as anything else. I'd already been given a small black SAK by my Dad as an early birthday present when I was 7 but it was finding a hardback copy of the (old version) of the SAS Survival Handbook in the library which probably set me off on this road. It's probably the book that launched more people to be interested in survival skills than any other until Ray Mears came along.

The Man and the Approach
The SAS survival manual is of course written by John 'Lofty' Wiseman, a sound biography of Lofty is available through his site for Trueways survival school. The courses here, and the approach of his books, are not really bushcraft or woodcraft but concentrate more on long-term survival. The best bet to find out more is to track down the Collins Gem version of the SAS Survival Guide.
There are 2 key features to his approach, the Lofty Wiseman Survival knife and the survival tin.

Survival Tin
The survival tin typically involves a tobacco tin with various items in it to aid in immediate survival. Often included are a button compass, water carrier, snare wire and a wire saw (check out Doug Ritter's take on the BCB version). They are a common idea in all survival books and when I was younger I dutifully made one up. The theory is sound and Lofty Wiseman has no doubt forgotten more about survival than I know but I don't go for the survival tin any more. It is ok to have it in an outdoor coat or day pack but it is simply too big for day to day carry. That's why I tend to carry things such as a firesteel, tinder, magnifying glass and torch on my person at all times. When I'm out I tend to prefer full size items to use rather than miniature one just-in-case. To be fair though this is the difference between survival training and woodcraft. For a thinner approach check out the AOL tin kit. I have built more than a few survival tins but they tend to get left at home when I go out - if you are already taking a first aid kit, knife and fire steel then you're covering a lot of bases for a day out.

The Parang
The next item is one that I am lucky enough to have bought form a fellow forum member of second Hand. He'd even done all the hard work sharpening it too. As seen on his website LoftyWiseman.co.uk it is a modern version of an Eastern Parang or machete. The knife is actually a bit smaller and lighter than I expected and chops chunks out of seasoned beech fairly well whilst being able to make feather sticks further up the blade.

The Evaluation
As you can see the front is weighted for a natural swing and is thicker than the edge nearer the handle. The final part of the back edge is sharpened too but I'm not as keen on this - it seems to make it a less safe to use as a draw knife. It is lovely idea for a  bit of kit and were I allowed only 1 tool this concept would certainly be a contender. Unfortunately, the execution is rather poor. The steel is not of good quality - hard to get an edge on and it doesn't hold it for long. It's also heavy and the rubberised handle is not as good on the hands as a harder one would be. The biggest redeeming feature was the collectability - it was easy to sell the parang on. I have seen other blade smiths have a go (such as diving sparrow knife works) and perhaps produce something more along the right lines, but to be honest you'd be hard pushed to beat a Leuku or a real machete
It's a reminder that traditional tools have been through the crucible of daily intensive use for decades, and that trying to reinvent the wheel often creates a lot of work for little gain.
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Fibonacci Sequence of Survival Tools

15 April 2013
There's a universe of zeros. Then, a mutation, a quirk, a digit. One.
From one, the complexity expands rapidly and almost incredibly.

First Tools
Imagine the first tools, a found stick or stone. These are our "1". With them we can make another tool; stone hits stone leaving a sharp edge. This gives us a level 2 tool. 

To use our level 2 tool, our sharp edge, lets us interact with another object - a branch for example - to make a digging stick or throwing stick. In turn, this is logically our third level.

When you think of assembling a bow drill, think of all the levels. Processing cordage, whittling the drill and notch. You're making tools to make tools to make tools. The level or complexity is growing infinitely and exponentially. 

Complexity Comes Quickly
To bring us to the industrial age requires so many levels of complexity and layers withing layers it becomes truly mind boggling. Ores need to be found, mined, charcoals produced and refined, metals forged, each process coming at the end of a huge interdependent chain.    

How does this affect us? When it comes to survival, an essential skill is being able to start at level one. It is in fact, the essential skill. Remember, that all human technology evolved from the same basic level, that same found tool. The study of how to use found items, and combine them into more useful and complex items is at the heart of understanding human cultural development and true survival. Freedom is one reason we study these skills, another reason is connection to our mutual ancestors. Starting with that one tool, that single item in a forest of nothing puts us back in control.

First published on simplyXY
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Tar, Resin and Glue Resources

29 January 2013
I was answering a question about pine oil on one of the forums I frequent and thought I would collate the various resources mentioned here.

Pine Oil
It has something of the character of an essential oil and has disinfectant and antiseptic properties. It isn't for internal use however as it can be poisonous. It is made through steam distillation -  the oil is too fragile to be distilled like tars. If you've ever made pine needle tea I'm sure you've observed the slight oil that comes out of the needles - what you need is some method of condensing the steam to collect this oil.

Pine Tar
Pine tar is made through destructive distillation - think along the lines of making charcoal and collecting what is a kind of liquid smoke from the container. The most resinous bits of pine seem to be most favoured in its manufacture - you can see Ray Mears watching it made here from 8:15 in.

It was used extensively for preserving timbers and ropes in the days of sailing ships and is at the root of referring to navy sailors as Jack Tars and North Carolinans as Tar Heels. Pine tar is also used in some all natural soaps.

Is made from the distillation of pine sap. It also has cleaning and antiseptic properties but is not safe for consumption. It has actually got some similar properties to pertoleum products and was used in Honda motorbikes in post war Japan. It's not as efficient but it worked. It was also burned in lamps, though the smell can be rather strong. There are a series of videos looking at pine tar soap and turpentine here.

Birch Bark Tar
This was one of the great inventions of the mesolithic age and there is still a lively debate as to how it w\as extracted in that era as pottery was not yet in use. There are some modern day primitives making it with containers as seen here
It was also used as a chewing gum and there are modern ethnographic techniques for distillation (PDF)
If you want to try making it the best tutorial I've found is at Jon's bushcraft.
I shall include a couple more similar resources as they're also good, Primitive Ways and Practical Primitive are two sites I visit often anyway.
Birch tar is also used in the production of "Russian Leather" which I've not found a wealth of information about apart from this PDF.

Pine Pitch
Aside from it's use as a spluttering and spitting fuel for fires and torches pine pitch, the hardened resin from old wounds of the tree, can be used as a glue or varnish. There's a good primitive tutorial here for the glue - it's usually mixed with charcoal as otherwise it's too fragile to use. The varnish is apparently made through dissolving the pitch in alcohol or turpentine, although it seems to be used more by violin makers than bushcrafters.

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Book Sale

26 January 2013
I'm interested in selling the following books as I continue my attempt to cut down on the amount of stuff I have. My goal is to be freer and I've read and digested the majority of these books. Rather than having them gather dust or need to be moved back and forth I'm offering them for sale.
All the prices are including postage in Europe, add £2 for other continents. Payment is also only via paypal. If there's something you'd like then just drop me an email at sam_acw@yahoo.co.uk

Braiding and Knotting: Techniques and Projects; Belash £3

Wilderness Survival; Pewtherer and Elbroch £5

After the Ice; Mithen £10

Camping for Boys, H. W. Gibson, £5

The Ax Book, Hood. £13

The Weather Wizard's Cloud Book  £5

Wayne Goddard's $50 Knife shop  £9

Green Woodworking Pattern Book, Tabor  £15

Practical Pole Building  £8

How To Build and Furnish a Log Cabin £6

Latitude Hooks and Azimuth Rings, Fisher £7

Native American Crafts and Skills £2

Mountainman Crafts and Skills £2

Flintknapping, Whittaker £10

Native Art of North America, Feest £3

Craftsmen of Necessity, Williams £14 (not great condition)

Secrets of Eskimo Skin Sewing, Wilder £8 (not great condition)

Basic Wilderness Survival Skills, B. Angier £6

Prehistoric Cooking, J. Wood £9

Celebrating Birch, Wright, £10

Bush Arts, Kochanski £40 (I bought this 2nd hand)

Stone Age Hunters, Clark £2

Building Outdoor Gear, Gilpatrick £40

Bushcraft, National Mountain Safety Council New Zealand £5 (very old, 1960s?)

Keep your eyes open for some bushcraft kit on here in the near future.

Read On

Survival Manual Reviews

22 January 2013
Lets face it, there are times when the world and its wife seem to feel that they can produce a good survival manual yet they end up producing the same, tired, old rubbish. Mostly they are thinly disguised copies of old military manuals, often Lofty Wiseman's, and to be frank they offer nothing new or helpful. I must have owned or read at least 50 of them and there's so little difference between the great majority you'd be hard pushed to tell which is which.

A Different Style
On alternative approach is that of Cody Lundin's 98.6 Degrees - The Art of Keeping your Ass Alive! - he's now better known  as the  barefoot bush-hippy on the Dual Survival TV show.This is a manual which not only strips away all the unnecessary but also concentrates on what you need. Gone is a reliance on food; instead we concentrate on water, temperature and psychology.
Indeed, the mental aspect is dealt with very well in this book. In general the author looks at what is likely to kill you in a stereotypical 72 hour survival situation and then on how to combat it.
The style is informal and a probably a little crude for some tastes but it gets the point across well. It is probably a book of interest for any bushcraft bibliophiles such as my self but I think would be of most use to the adventure sports crowd. The tone and down to earth approach would likely strike a cord with them.
Some of his tips, how not to die, can be seen on this clip. I also have the companion volume When All Hell Breaks Loose which focuses more on preparation and survival in urban disasters. After watching the havoc wreaked in New York and New Orleans it's pretty clear that you need to plan to look after yourself as much as you can.

Agency Advice
For the more traditional approach we can look across the pond to the Maine department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. I know it is a shock but a government agency actually managed to do something of use for the bushcrafter! They produced a downloadable manual entitled
"You, Alone in the Maine Woods"Primarily aimed at hunters it contains lots of sensible but traditional advice and I first saw it recommended, partly due to the bright orange colour, by an article in Tactical Knives. It's definitely worth a download but remember the advice is both seasonally and geographically specific to Maine in the Autumn and Winter.

Other Manuals
The next manual is more of a mixed bag. It is called the "Complete Illustrated Book of Survival" and is wide ranging in the extreme. It goes from long term survival techniques to using stone tools to how to fight off an attacker.The bushcraft bits with stone tools are great and really fresh and original. A chunk of the material has appeared in other books though - the book admits to 2 others with similar content in the cover but I'm sure I've seen some of the pictures in knot books and other places over the years. I'm really against putting self defence advice in books - you need to practice and learn in the flesh. If you want to do this find an instructor who knows what you want and has similar size to you - there's no merit learning from a 6'4" 17 stone instructor if you are 5'5" and 10 stone - what works for him isn't going to work for you.
Overall it is a book which will mostly stay on the shelf - not sure quite where to pick up a copy as it was a present. My parents said they got it in a garden centre! This type of glossy compendium is fairly common and this is a good example of it. That said, there's not enough which is innovative or unique in it for it to make it through my minimalising process.

The Logic of Survival
The last manual I'll mention is Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. It isn't a simple manual, nor a how to book. Instead it's a an investigation into survival situations. The writer has looked at many situations and how people reacted within them and the outcome - as the tag line says "Who lives, Who dies and Why".
It's a vitally important read for anyone involved in planning outdoor activities or anyone who wants to avoid a survival situation. It isn't simply an inspection of the statistics or psychology it's a really holistic look at the whole phenomenon of survival. It's one of the few genuinely unique books in the genre and I can't believe it's not mentioned more often.

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Leaf Wrapped Food

20 January 2013
Leaf wrapping food is a technique which has no doubt been used since not long after the dawn of cooking. The leaf generally serves several purposes. Firstly, it keeps the food in one bundle if it is grainy or fragile. Secondly, the right leaf can add its flavour to the food being cooked. The moisture in the leaf also allows a steaming effect whilst it can also serve to keep ash off the food.
It's even a technique favoured by Ray Mears in his wild food series, as you can see from 3:47 onwards in the video below.

Modern Parallels
The technique is used in a variety of modern day food, perhaps the best known being the Greek dolma dishes wrapped in vine leaves. There are a variety of east Asian dishes using pandan leaves, banana leaves and reed leaves. There are whole page of natural versions from around the world, together with a few that are man made, at the Cook's Thesaurus.
What's made me all think of this is watching my wife making golabki, a Polish dish that would translate as little pigeons. She's posting it on her blog at http://home-made-happiness.blogspot.com/ . In essence they are little parcels of minced pork and boiled rice, wrapped in a cabbage leaf, which are steamed in a pan - a temporary lid of other cabbage leaves can be added to keep in the moisture.

What To Do
The easiest introduction to this variety of cooking is one I often used as an American Civil war reenactor - namely corn on the cob. The corn is simply put in the hot ashes or coals whilst still wrapped in its husk. The corn then steams inside the leaves and most of the corn silk should just burn off. It's very juicy when finished - we did used to use a bayonet to turn them with but you could do just as well with a metal fork or even a sharpened stick.
In this part of Europe burdock leaves are a good idea - you may need to wilt them quickly over a fire but otherwise they're easy to use as seen in this video below.

Of course, it's not just burdock that can be used. One variety of dock, Rumex obtusifolius, was known as butter dock as it was used to wrap pats of butter in to help keep them. Any non-poisonous broad leaf could be used, though some might affect the final flavour. Remember that lots of leaves will contain less tannin early in the year and

A Fantastic Idea
For those of us of a more Tokleinesque persuasion there's always the question of Lembas bread. Whilst I've not many many people who love hard tack or hard biscuits I have known someone give it to a teething baby - not exactly light and delicious stuff though. The Geeky chef has tried a kitchen recipe which is interesting but far from bushcrafty. At the other end of the spectrum in practicality in the woods is Kindling forest school's take on the idea - a honey macaroon wrapped in a hazel leaf!
The book Abundant Living in the Coming Age of the Tree lists several tree leaves for direct consumption, beech, hawthorn, lime and chestnut. The book is available free from this Permaculture shop.
Read On


17 January 2013
I've decided to reduce the amount of unused kit I have - I've decided that the maxim below is right for me in life, not just in bushcraft.

To this end I have a few sales running.
Over at my favourite bushcraft forum Natural Bushcraft I have a sale of a few knives which includes my custom Nessmuk and a lovely Canadian belt knife.
I'm also selling off the first six issues of the out of print and hard to find BCUK bushcraft magazine from 2006/7 on ebay.
I've also got a copy of Earth Knack, a good primitive skills book up there.
There's going to be a fair bit more over the coming weeks and months that I'll post here and tag Sale.
If you're interested in something you've seen on the blog or any bushcraft book then drop me a line!
I'm also working on ideas for a couple of small bushcraft ebooks over the coming months.
Read On

New Year's Day Walk

2 January 2013
As is my personal tradition I went out for a walk on New Year's day - sadly it was rather short as despite a week of +4 degree temperatures there was hard packed ice on all the paths and frozen snow amongst the trees. Rather than falling over I cut things short and was only out for about an hour.Photobucket
I did manage to see what I think was a mouse hole - I've no idea what else is tiny and lives in the leaf litter or just underground. They also leave very fine tracks if you see them in soft snow.Photobucket
There were some very velvety horsehoof type fungus on a dead tree. Photobucket

I also saw a plant in the sunshine that I'm not quite sure of the identity of. Here's a patch of them in sandy soil, and it's an unshaded area which was probably once agricultural, so it's most likely a coloniser plant. The seed heads would back that up. It's probably part of the umbilliferae family, but I don't know which.Photobucket
Next time I'm out I'll try the seed heads as a spark tinder - a bunch of them might work but in my experience seed heads burn through very very fast.Photobucket
The stems were also long, straight and pithy - maybe worth a play as a hand drill shaft? Next time out I'll investigate more thoroughly. If any of you can identify the plant I'd be very grateful.Photobucket
(sorry the last one's blurry - I ran out of hands!)

Read On