American Bushman

"If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing." —Benjamin Franklin

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What You Haven't Got, You'll Have to Improvise

I was watching Ray Mears this morning on his way to a jungle camp and he said the line above. It struck me as especially fitting as I continue to reduce what I actually need to carry with me into the woods.

This 10-item challenge is going to have to be geared toward that end. Bring items you'd have a hard time fashioning in the woods and place more value on those items which can be used to make what you don't have. A good example would be the axe.

The axe provides you with a cutting edge and a hammer. This allows you to build shelter, construct traps, and to make tools to build other items. You can even choke up on the head and use the axe for detail work and food prep.

The improvisation, I think, is one of the great challenges answered by bushcraft. By learning how primitive people solved life's mysteries we should be able to come up with solutions to our problems. Forgot your sharpening stone? Use a flat rock from a stream bed or load your belt with dirt and use it as a strop. No cordage? Make some from dogbane or split spruce roots or use thinly split pieces of basswood.

This will be my personal challenge this summer at Briar Patch. I'll be taking only my 10 items for one of George's week-long classes and I'll have to improvise those things I don't have.

Sounds like fun... :)

Thanks for reading,


Monday, April 27, 2009

What More Can I Say?!

Diving Sparrow Knife Works Parang:

Once I stop drooling I'll come up with something useful to write about it. :)


Plant Class Follow-Up

Man almighty! That class was outstanding!

I went up with my Mom on Saturday to George and Angie's class on medicinal plants and herbal preparations and I am just blown away by the amount of knowledge they possess and the skills they shared. I've been building up that portion of my library since we got home and am truly energized to learn as much as I am able about the subject.

We took a plant walk and learned a dozen or so plants and their uses just from what was growing wild outside the shop. We made teas, decoctions, tinctures, balms, and salves with various medicinal herbs and learned how to use them. We sat down and chatted once the class was over.

The process of making herbal preparations is not complicated but there's definitely an art to getting concentrations and consistencies right. It might take 20 minutes to learn how to make all of the things listed above but it could take 20 years to learn the right plants to use and which parts of those plants give the best results.

From the time I first learned of broadleaf plaintain (Plantago major) and it's healing properties against mosquito bites I was hooked. George makes learning so easily accessible and he discusses the science as much as the historical usage without referring too much to the moonchild mysticism one sometimes finds in this area.

All in all I had a great time and my mom did too. I wish I could've stuck around an extra day.

Bottom line: If you have an opportunity to take a class from George, DO IT! He's certainly at the top of the plant game, he has a great deal of knowledge of both survival and primitive skills, his teaching style is right up my alley, and he's got the no-nonsense personality that makes learning effective and fun.

Thanks for reading,


Friday, April 24, 2009

Herbal Awareness Class

The Herbal Awareness Class at the Mustard Seed is coming up tomorrow and I'll be making a long day trip of it.

After the strep throat this week I wasn't sure I was going to be up for the drive but I spoke with George tonight and he got me fired up enough to finalize all my plans. :)

I hope some of you are going to be there.

I look forward to giving you a full write-up when I get home.



Firesteel Contest Count

Okay readers, I still need (at least) TWO more entrants to make this contest a go. There's plenty of time left but you should encourage your friends and fellow pyromaniacs to give this a shot.

Those who've already made a custom firesteel know the joy of using something you came up with to get a fire started.

Keep coming up with those great ideas.



Thursday, April 23, 2009

New Idea: Top 10

Today I'm going to start a series of articles on my Top 10 pieces of gear. I'm not sure what those "bits of kit" are going to be just yet but I guess I'll stop after the tenth article. :)

These are items I find exceptional or essential for wilderness living/survival (or both) that have proven their value to me over time an through use.

I don't know if this is going to come together as 10 articles in 10 days of if it'll be one article a week for 10 weeks or 10 articles in as long as they take...

This idea has been rattling around in my head for a long time but the recent bit of downtime has really brought it back to the fore.

So, hang on tight...

See you soon,


Happy Birthday Sarah Jane!

Today is my Mother-In-Law's birthday.

Best wishes Sarah Jane. Have a good one.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sore Throat?

My cold has turned into a nasty outbreak of strep throat as of this morning and the doctor has confirmed this. Now I'm on antibiotics for 10 days.

I haven't eaten anything but a half cup of tomato soup last night and about 10 cups of tea with honey. My throat's just too sore and I've got no appetite.

Today I found this site with a no-nonsense approach to stopping those sore throats before they turn into something worse. They've even got some videos posted on YouTube describing the technique.

I'm trying some salt on my tonsils as I type this hoping to let the infection know that I'll stop at nothing to beat it.

What's nice about this technique, if it works as well as advertised, is its simplicity. You can get packets of salt from nearly any fast food joint that'll be more than enough to give yourself a dose.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, April 20, 2009

Firesteel Contest Changes and Updates

I shot this video yesterday and got it uploaded to YouTube just in time to get REALLY sick...

So, I'm now going to run the contest until the end of MAY and I might even have some extra prizes available to our winner.

Those of you looking for inspiration might find it here in the contest gallery.

Now I'm going to go crawl back into bed until the creeping yucks go away...

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, April 19, 2009

No Matter What!

It's been so long since I took a "No Matter What" hike that I have forgotten just what kind of problems can be encountered that require resolution.

We're getting some cold rain today after yesterday's 70° temperatures and it occurred to me that I would need to come up with a way to protect my digital camera from the weather. This is a problem I've had in the past and I can't honestly remember just how I solved it.

Sometimes a forced hike can help shake down gear, resolve potential problems, and prevent certain "surprises" from popping up at inopportune times in the field.

A few years ago I went out every weekend No Matter What and it was great. We went out in all kinds of nasty weather from bitter cold to driving rain to oppressive heat and there were no excuses.

I need to do that again...

Thanks for reading,


Friday, April 17, 2009

Lazy Day

It's a beautiful day outside. The temperature has warmed up, the sun is out, and there's a slight breeze. Soon we'll have the bugs to worry about but, for now, things are really looking up.

Unfortunately Sarah's got a bit of a cold. I think we're going to go for a walk and get a little Medicine In the Sky and then we'll sit down and watch one of Pete Gawleta's Bushcraft and Survival DVDs until the kids get home from school.

We might even throw in one of Tom Elpel's Art of Nothing DVDs while we're at it.

While I've written about Pete's DVDs in the past (all fantastic videos by the way) I don't believe I've ever discussed them in depth but the kids and I really enjoy how Tom and his guest take nearly nothing and spend a few days in the woods and/or on the water.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, April 16, 2009

What's Old is New Again

Why do I keep trying to improve on what already works? I have more mess kits than any small armies should have and yet I keep looking for the newest solution to a problem that doesn't exist.

Yesterday I pulled the burner and windscreen from my Trangia Mini Cooker and dropped it into my GSI Soloist cookset in place of my canister stove and it fit in the bowl perfectly. Plus now there's room for additional snacks/condiments inside the cooker.

I've been playing around with my Swedish Army Trangia quite a bit lately but the stainless kit is just so darned heavy compared to some of the alternatives. It used to be that you couldn't beat the price of them for the value but now they're getting hard to find and the prices have gone up accordingly. I saw one on eBay yesterday for $25 plus about $10 shipping which isn't a terrible price but I remember just a few months ago when they were going for something like 2 for $15 or 4 for $20 at some surplus stores online.

The JetBoil I picked up last year just didn't work for me and the MSR Reactor is another seemingly one-trick pony in the same vein so I'll avoid it as well.

The Soloist's lexan lid won't work so well next to an open fire but running over a burner should do just fine.

This is where the Trangia is still king in my mind. You can run it over the burner, you can run it over a small stick fire, you can even hang it over a larger fire with the attached bail. The two pans can be nested to create a double-boiler or put together normally to create a type of dutch oven. The stainless kit is so tough you could even use it as a step to increase your reach.

There are no moving parts to break. It can run on a wide variety of fuels. It's been proven to handle rough use and downright abuse and keep on ticking. When they're available they're cheap as chips and even now they're cheaper than every other complete cookset on the market (I think.)

Every time I switch to a new cooker, pot set, or burner I seem to use it for a while and then ultimately come back to my Trangia. Why fight it?

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ray Mears Billy Can Vid

I found this video today while surfing YouTube and thought it was so clever that I'd share it with you.

I wondered how he was going to use that tin can once he poked a hole through the bottom.



Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tinny's Hasty Hooch

Tinny from has been making and using the Hasty Hooch for as long as I've been following his exploits but the plans have always been for sale on his site only. Now he's got a series of eight videos covering the materials and construction of the Hasty Hooch available on YouTube:

There's even a playlist here with all eight videos in order.

I've never had much luck finding the poly tarps in 10' X 10' but I'm going to use these plans in the next couple of days (time permitting) to make my own Hasty Hooch.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, April 13, 2009

Lost Another One

I don't know how I could be so hard on my equipment but I lost another hard drive yesterday.

I've done everything there is to be done to restore it but the hardware itself has died.

The techs can replace the drive and I've backed up most of the data but I'll be without my machine for 4-6 weeks...



Friday, April 10, 2009

Controlled Burn

The village sent a burn team through the woods yesterday to burn off leaf litter and non-native plants and now the woods are charred and smell of smoke--the look and smell of renewal.

The team worked quickly and efficiently from one end of the woods to the other creating a fire break and managing the fires. By keeping the heat to a minimum they can burn off dead leaves and weeds and leave only scorch marks on the trunks of the trees.

It's only a matter of time now before the black is replaced with green sprouts.

I bet they'll be back today to finish the job as I see some areas still needing to be cleared.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, April 09, 2009

Cook 'em if You've Got 'em

If you're storing preps like dried food, rice, and beans you should make darned sure you know several ways to prepare them.

This may seem like common sense but a 30 day supply of dried (or canned) green beans could slowly drive you insane over the prospect of hydrate, heat, and eat with seasonings.

In other words, don't just put the effort into storing plenty of food and water. Spend some time coming up with lots and lots of menus that utilize those ingredients. That way you have plenty of flexibility when it comes time to dig into your supplies. Plus, you may find that there are certain foods you're not presently storing that you'll want to add.

One of the things I buy is 50 pound bags of rice. I cook it so often that I can now tell when it's ready just by sight and sound. I can also use it in a variety of ways from rice pudding to jambalaya to stir fry. It's a fine mix-in with any protein/veg combination and provides you with some carbohydrates.

You can, of course, also eat it all by itself. I like to have 1/3 cup of rice with a little Sriracha (hot sauce,) soy sauce, and sweet chili sauce mixed in. If I've got some green onion (scallion) I can add it for color and flavor and adding some cashews provides fat and protein.

Just like so many other skills, practicing now will make execution under stress that much easier.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

New Swanndri Gear

I recently got in on Swanndri's Summer Sale where they paid for shipping and I picked up a few items on Clearance including this Rapiki Technical Fleece which is a windproof, water resistant fleece version of the Ranger bush shirt.

While I was generally pleased with the sale prices and the communications with the folks at Swanndri were up to the usual excellence, I was less than happy to see that every article I ordered was made in China. Sure it's made of New Zealand wool and to Swanndri's specifications but a Kiwi bush shirt isn't really a Kiwi bush shirt any more if it's not made by Kiwis.

It's like getting Chicago style deep dish pizza in Sao Paulo. Sure, it kind of tastes like the real thing but it's still NOT the real thing.

I can tell NO difference between my old Kiwi-made Swanndri gear and the new stuff but time will tell if it's put together as well as the old stuff. I had a seam bust on a Ranger Extreme (also made in China) which was a $2 repair but that's the biggest problem I've had to date with my Swannie stuff and I've used it pretty hard over the last couple of years.

I'm happy to have some new clothing to keep me warm but the fact that they're seemingly now making everything in China takes a bit of the luster off the new gear...

Thanks for reading,


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Happy Birthday Mary!

Hope you have a great one!

Happy Birthday!


Monday, April 06, 2009

Firesteel Contest Update

Five people have entered so far with a few others emailing me that their firesteels are in-process. That means we're half way there.

I've seen some really clever ideas so far.



Sunday, April 05, 2009

Standardizing Knife Testing Protocol

I have needed to do this for a very long time. I've always tested new knives when I received them but there has always been a high degree of variability in those tests. That makes it very hard to really compare one knife to another in ability and could help to explain why my knife collection keeps growing and growing despite my constant attempts to simplify.

The weather today is supposed to be atrocious so this would be a good time to sit down and define just what I want to do with my knives and how to classify their success or failure at those tasks.

The first thing I always do is check fit and finish. This is easily accomplished by simply holding the knife and turning it over and giving it a critical look.

Next is ergonomics. I like to hold the knife in various grips (including Mears' five basic knife grips) to make sure the knife will be comfortable and controllable in those positions.

Third is checking factory sharpness. I really like to sharpen knives right out of the box to put my own edges on them but a knife that comes from the factory dull says an awful lot about the manufacturer.

Then I like to put my edge on the knife and shoot some pictures. Those pictures get cleaned up in Photoshop, uploaded to my online gallery, and put here on the blog for you. I take weights and measurements and include those in my initial write up.

What comes next is what needs to be standardized. Sometimes I carve fuzz sticks. Others I make a firebow hearth board and spindle. Once in a while I'll try to carve a spoon. Frequently I'll baton with the knife and I'll even make figure-4 traps. Making dinner and opening the mail are two more opportunities to use the blades and food prep gives me some of the best patina on Carbon Steel blades--salsa being one of my favorites because of the different colors from the onion, lime, and tomato.

In the coming weeks and months I will be providing you with a standardized list of tasks and a rating for each of those tasks and knives will be given a final score. This will not be an extremely scientific experiment but it should give you even more information about the various knives I post up here so darned often. :)

If you're looking for specific tests to be included please let me know and I'd be more than happy to include them.

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, April 04, 2009

Bright Knives

You know how I like bright knives. Here are two of my current favorite folders. On top is the Stayglow One Handed Trekker and the bottom is the orange Spyderco Military.

I was out in the woods today with the JRE crew shooting a video and managed to throw down my knives for a quick shot which I then over-exposed.

You can see though how bright knives against a dull background can really pop.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, April 02, 2009

Orange Spyderco Military

Spyderco President Sal Glesser announced a sprint run of orange G10 handled Militaries a short while ago and I just had to pick one up. (You all know how much I love orange handles...) This one arrived yesterday and is my first Military and first orange Spyderco.

This knife is BIG. It's bigger than my Fallkniven F1 when opened but the thinner blade stock and G10 scales make it easy to drop into a pocket. It's a liner lock so not ambidextrous and it's only drilled for tip down carry. I know several other models from Spyderco can be adjusted for tip-up/down and even some left/right carry.

5/32" thick S30V blade
4" blade
9 1/2" OAL
Orange G10 handles
4.2 oz
Made in USA (Golden, CO)

Sprint runs involve limited production numbers and these knives are going quickly so far. There are more coming out from the factory but it looks like everyone is sold out for the time being. I'm glad I got one when I did.

Now I've just got to find some time to get out and use it...

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Soda Can Whistle

Let's make a whistle from an empty soda can.

You'll need:
  • An empty soda can
  • A knife
  • A straight edge (Optional)
Once I've rinsed out the can I smash it as flat as I am able. Here I've used the straight edge to help me.
You can see I've managed to press the sides of the can all the way together. This just makes the later steps a bit easier.
Using the tip of my knife I score the can and then work the aluminum back and forth until the bottom of the can comes off.
Repeat with the top until you're left with a wide flat piece.
I trim down the width of the flat piece and then cut off the ends to make two flat sheets of material. Cut one of the strips a bit shorter than the other.
Now, place the shorter piece perpendicular to the longer piece and fold it over and around. This is the first step of creating the mouthpiece.
Now slide the folded section down a bit and bend the end of the longer piece over the folded shorter piece. You're nearly finished...
Bend the longer piece at the inside edge of the wrapped shorter piece and then use your fingers to make the rounded body shape for your whistle. You're done other than some final tweaking.
Hold the whistle so that your fingers seal up the sides and make sure there's a small (1/4" maybe) gap between the moutpiece and the edge of the body.
Like this.
You may need to use a piece of scrap or your knife to open up the top fold of the mouthpiece to allow enough airflow. This is just one more step in the tweaking process to get the most out of your whistle.

This whistle really does work and it's a good alternative to shouting should you become lost in the woods. Sure you need to find an empty soda or beer can but, sadly, that's not a terribly difficult thing to do these days.

Thanks for reading,