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by Todd Walker

Photo credit: Didi Davis

Less than a century ago, woodsmen skilled with an ax could chop wood all day and return to do it again, day after day. They were held in high esteem and highly sought after. Power saws and combustion engines sent yesteryear’s axes to hang on old barn walls. Today the usefulness of axes seems to be limited to splitting firewood… or, for the lumber sexual, as boutique wall-hangers.

How you choose to acquire wood is up to you. However, the steps of cutting timber hasn’t changed. A tree must be felled, limbed, bucked, and hauled. Like other aficionados of working axes, I enjoy experimenting with the potential of our most under-appreciated tool in the woods.

It doesn’t take long for the ax handle to transmit to an inexperienced axman’s brain, and his muscular system, that brute force only dulls the functionality of this tool. Fatigue and frustration are the result. And injury is not far behind. There are no secrets to becoming a proficient axman. However, there are a few techniques and strategies I’ve learned over the years which may shorten the learning curve.

Giving unsolicited advice is not my thing. But if you’d like to continue, here’s my take on thick ax handles, brute force, and working axes.

Heavy, Stupid, and Unreasoning

Watching a beginner axman swing is painful. I cringe when I think back on some of my early ax work. But ax-manship can only be improved through swinging sharp steel on the end of a stick. Like any other skill, practice makes permanent; whether good or bad.

When asked to coach someone new to the art of ax work, I try to convey the two types of force used – finesse and brute force. The origin of the word brute comes from the Latin word brutus, meaning “heavy, stupid, unreasoning.” Set the macho aside in ax work and you get a beautiful, rhythmic relationship between the wood and axman.

Muscling through wood is a white-knuckle affair. I broke my favorite double bit handle last year, not by over-strike or mishit, but by stupidly applying my full force throughout initial contact. The handle was thin, flexible, and a joy to use. Brute force ended its usefulness. It is now taped together and serves as a pattern when thinning down fat factory double bit handles.

Bucking eastern red cedar with the tuned handle on my best double bit.

Simply reducing my forward force just before the moment of impact would have allowed the inertia of the axhead to do the work. Giving that extra “push” through the strike does more harm than good. You’ll not only save ax handles, you’ll reduce some shock sent up the handle. A thinner handle flexes to help absorb and reduce the beating on your body. At least that has been my experience. Wielding an ax with brute force is not how the old timers lasted all day, day after day. This type of finesse is seldom mentioned or passed down to inexperienced axmen.

The resurgence of interest in axes is encouraging to see in outdoorsy groups. Axes are chic, sexy, and scary – all reasons we like them. The novice buys a high dollar ax and proceeds to break the fat factory handle, even after adding a bulky leather over-strike collar. Handle manufactures compensate for low Ax I.Q. with fatter handles. And then again, the age of working axes was so long ago that even commercial handle makers have no reference point as to what a handle should look like and feel like in the hands.

Thicker, modern handles are not the cure. Wrapping your hands around these clubs makes the uninitiated think they’ll never break. Stephen Edholm makes a logical argument (from actual experience with working axes) for thinner handles in the video below. Anyone who chopped all day with an ax will echo the same.

Failure By Design, Axe Handle Design Mistakes and Improvements, *Spread the Stress* - YouTube

No replacement handle I’ve ever bought in recent memory was ready to hang and go to work. To be fair, there may be some turnkey handles out there. I’ve never found them. I either make my own or customize the club-like handles from hardware stores. Then there’s the rare occasion of finding that forgotten ax at an antique store or yard sale grandpa used before the chainsaw came along.

You can see the noticeable difference between the modern and old working ax handle below.

Power vs Finesse

On occasion, I have split toothpicks (Stim-U-Dent – matchstick size toothpicks) with my ax. I don’t say this to brag. It is, however, a lesson in muscle memory, striking where I look, and relaxing at the end of my swing. Knowing I’m not chopping heavy wood, I began to notice that I was unconsciously easing up about halfway into the downward arc of my natural swing. As a result, I’d hit my mark more times than not.

Striking where you look.

The human brain is a beautimus, complicated computer. Since few people actually use axes, baseball may help illustrate the point. A pitcher doesn’t aim the baseball as it leaves his outstretched arm. The ball is thrown, not aimed. There’s a significant difference in the two. The same goes for batting. I coached my players to throw their hands at the ball. This is oversimplified. But the brain tells a player when to grip the bat tightly and when to relax the grip. A death grip at the beginning of the swing tightens the muscles in the arms, shoulders, and upper torso causing the swing to be herky jerky. As a result, accuracy plummets since the “flow” is lost. Through years of drills, coordination, practice, and timing, batters learn that aiming won’t hit the target.

I don’t aim my ax. I look at the exact spot I want my blow to land. I then throw my hands through an imaginary plane from my nose to the small target. My only swing thought is “strike where I look.” My natural, controlled swing gets the job done more efficiently. Once you can strike where you look, power will follow accuracy.

Accuracy and Precision

Wasted ax strikes are frustrating and exhausting. Making every blow count takes a combination of accuracy and precision. At first glance, the two words seem the same. But in my world of teaching math and science, they have different meanings. Let’s apply them to working axes.

Accuracy is how close you come to the desired result. Precision is how consistently you get the same result using the same method. Translated to ax-manship, does my swing hit the target and is it consistent enough to repeatedly hit the target?

Bucking with Feet on the Ground - YouTube

When bucking, I try to overlap each cut in a three to four swing pattern (depending on log diameter) down the face of the log. This overlapping pattern opens wood fibers to help prevent the ax bit from get stuck in the wood. Repeat this cutting pattern one double bit length wide from the first line of cuts. If accuracy and precision is dialed in, chips the size of the notch will go flying.

Developing accuracy and precision with working axes is like hauling logs, you gotta really want to do it. There’s not a lot of finesse in log hauling.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


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Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

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by Todd Walker

Image used with permission from the builder, Wiley Log Homes.

We built crude log forts in the woods growing up. They weren’t water tight or warm. The wind would cut through the muddle of sticks and threaten to take your hat off. Those were fun times. A bona fide log cabin was what I dreamed of then… and that dream remains.

At nearly my age (55), Dick Proenneke set out to live in a remote area of Alaska. For 30 years, he lived in a log cabin he built with his own hands. You can learn more of his remarkable legacy of self-reliance and conservation by watching the documentary, Alone in the Wilderness.

For those following my cabin project on my YouTube channel, I’m in the early stage of cutting and debarking logs. I don’t have the luxury of waiting a year or more for peeled logs to season. I could wait but patience isn’t one of my strong suits. I’ll build my little “practice” cabin with green logs. I’ve already been asked in video comments how long I’ll let my logs season before building.

Here’s the thing, I’m not going to use traditional saddle notches to connect corners. I may try my hand at saddle notches on cured/seasoned logs at some point. Until then, my research turned up a little-known (to me at least) construction method which uses green, unseasoned logs in construction. If you’re not familiar with this style, let me introduce you…

Butt and Pass Style Log Cabin

The advantages of using the butt and pass construction technique is it requires little in the way of tools and construction experience for a DiY log cabin builder. I’ve got plenty of construction experience and tools. My dilemma is that I have green logs and want to finish the cabin before the end of the school year. This no-scribe, no-notch method will speed up the construction process.

The top photo of this article is a butt and pass log home built by Wiley Log Homes. Ronnie, the owner, gave me permission to share a few of his beautiful handcrafted log homes here. I hope to have a few shots of my own cabin corners soon. Until then, take a look at the corners of these Wiley Log Homes.

This cabin has a stone basement.

Five foot eves help keep water off the logs.

A good shot of the butt and pass corner style.

No matter what method is used green logs will shrink. However, with tight-pinned butt and pass construction, settling will only happen if the foundation/piers are not properly formed. With each course of logs, holes are drilled through the top log through the bottom log. A length of 1/2″ rebar is driven through the logs (tight-pinned) about every two feet. As the green logs cure and shrink, the logs shrink around their center line. The gaps between the logs increase but the wall height remains the same. Touching up the chinking over the first few years will have to happen as the logs cure, so I’ve read.

Self-Reliance on Trial

I plan to build my cabin with hand tools only. That’s a tall order especially when I have power tools at my disposal. The pioneer method doesn’t trump someone who chooses to use power tools. I have a comfortable home and don’t “need” this cabin. But somewhere, back in my deeper, primal self, I want this cabin, if for nothing more than to put my self-reliance on trial. Who knows, I may not make it through the project using just hand tools. Either way, this project has been brewing in my gut for years and feels good to take the first step.

My cousin said this to me after he saw the first logs de-barked. “Hardest step is the first one. I’ve been told this but usually by someone who ain’t doing the stepping.” ~ Tim Hester. This is a photo of Dick Proenneke peering out of his cabin door (Image credit: National Park Service)

I’ve only bucked and de-barked one pine tree so far. My first attempt at skinning logs was with a draw knife. The tool peeled bark really well but would not be a sustainable method for this old man. I needed a method where I’m not bent over scraping with pine sap flying in my face. Enter the tile scraper. I ground the edge on this old long-handled tool and it’s a far cry better than my draw knife on my back. I’ve been using it like a draw knife, scraping long strips of bark off the length of the logs, but will try peeling whole sections off logs by prying around the round part of the log. Not sure how well this will work since the sap is not rising like in spring time.

Another hand-tool concerns that comes to mind is boring holes to accept the rebar pins. Twisting a half-inch auger through logs can’t be easy. Yet another challenge will be transporting 12 and 14 foot logs to the build site in the woods. I won’t be able to split them in half or into rails the way I did in last year’s Axe Cordwood Challenge. I need draught horses, or oxen. Seriously!

Progress Report

To keep up with the log cabin journey, I’ve created a playlist on my channel titled, Log Cabin Build. Most are mine but a few are of Dick Proenneke’s cabin. I’ll also be updating here on the blog.

This is the last video in the log cabin series. I traded my draw knife for a DiY bark spud…

Log Cabin Project: The First Barking Party - YouTube

With only one day per week to work on the cabin, progress is slow. Winter break should offer a few extra work days. Below are some photos of my progress.

A storm blow-over bucked and ready for de-barking.

Two debarked logs.

After the first two logs, I mentioned in my video about the fun you can have debarking logs. In honor of Tom Sawyer’s fence white washing pitch, I had a buddy and his son show up to my first Barking Party. Evan Newsom, first picture below, was the first to party on!

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by Todd Walker

Five years ago, I built Dirt Road Girl an eight foot farmhouse table from dimensional lumber. It served our family well but was really too large for our dinning room. It had a tendency to bruise unsuspecting thighs. For Christmas, a smaller, less aggressive piece of furniture was in order.

From Tree to Table

My nephew, Blake, showed me a standing dead cedar on our family land last year. Easy access since it was just past a field’s edge. Just after Thanksgiving I made the trip south to cut and haul the tree home. I was disappointed after it was on the ground. The trunk was hollow a good portion of the widest table-top material. After a bit of hemming and hawing, I decided to buck it anyway and hope to get enough useable live-edge slabs. With the help of two other nephews, Kyle and Casey, the trailer was loaded and headed north.

Barbed wire strands ran through this old cedar on our family farm.

Visited with Mama and Daddy for a while and hauled hollow log back home.

Mill Work

You either pay with time or money when milling lumber. My Alaska chainsaw mill demands a lot of elbow grease and belt sanding to achieve a smooth surface on lumber. By the first of December I realized I’d better spend some money to save time. My buddy up the street gave me a lead on a man with a large bandsaw mill. Boy, was that mill fancy! It quickly sliced up two-inch thick slabs from three logs like cutting through hot butter. And the surfaces would need only minor sanding.

This is a $50,000 machine. Too rich for my blood but milled up my logs in no time!

Note: Sawn and sanded red cedar may smell delightful, but breathing it has been linked to ill effects on lungs. Wear appropriate respirators or dust masks when working with red cedar.

Finding four useable boards from a hollow tree was a challenge.

Sizing up my slabs, I knew I’d have to use the lumber or find and fell a tree with a solid trunk. No time for that. Dirt Road Girl and I chose what we thought would be best for her new table. I went to work figuring out how to fill the holes and save the character of this cedar on our family farm.

Ripping Live Edge Lumber

My tree wasn’t near wide enough to use only one slab as the table top. I would need four boards, two outside with a live edge, and two square edge boards joined in the middle.

How do you rip a straight line on boards without one side being square? My table saw died but wouldn’t be much good anyway squaring live edge sides. A square side is needed to run along the fence of a table saw. My solution? I laid a seven-foot straight edge (aluminum square stock) on the slab and eyeballed where the square edge should be cut. I marked the cut line and then clamped the aluminum straight edge 1 and 3/16th inches off the line which would put the blade of my circular saw on the cut line. Ripping commenced.

Straight edges ripped on the lumber.

With at least one square edge on each of the four boards, I marked the ends using a framing square and cut the boards six feet long. A two foot level was clapped on the ends with the same offset described in ripping to ensure a clean cut. You could freehand the cut if you’re that good with a saw. I prefer using a fence to keep it square.

I also ripped more slabs for the table legs. Each of the legs and cross supports was cut with one live edge intact. Again, I used the eyeball method and the straight edge. The leg lumber turned out about 3.5 inches wide by two inches.

Joining the Table Top

My trusty Kreg Jig is meant to be used on 1.5 inch lumber or smaller. My boards were 2 inches thick. I monkeyed around with the jig to modify it for 2 inch boards. I used the longest pocket screws, meant for 1.5 lumber, which worked fine on all the glued joints. I tested the pocket joinery on two scrap pieces beforehand.

A view of the bottom side glued, screwed, and clamped.

Once the top is glued and screwed, you’ll need clamps to hold it all together. I used two pipe clamps and a vintage bar clamp to squeeze the top together overnight. The next morning I hit the top with my belt sander – 80 grit and then 120. To remove bark from the live edges, I use a side grinder with a wire wheel. I do this on my cedar benches as well. Then I use an orbital sander to smooth up scratches left by the wire brush.

Table Frame

This step is a simple “H” frame. You could go fancy but simple suits DRG. I secured a cedar 2×4 (all sides squared) about a foot in from both ends under the table. These pieces served as cleats to attach the legs and frame.

Flip the table over with the bottom up. Saw horses are helpful. We wanted a 30 inch high table. I cut four legs 28 inches each. Use a framing square to plumb each leg. I glued and screwed the legs to the ends of the 2×4 cleats with the live edge facing the ends of the table. No Kreg Jig pocket holes needed on these joints since they’re hidden under the table.

A simple H frame attached for legs.

Add two cross pieces (live edge up) between each pair of legs. Pocket holes and screws were facing toward the middle of the table and filled with glue and wood pegs. They were secured about 12 inches from the bottom of the legs. Just make both match on each set of legs.

Next, I centered the long crossbar on both of the previously installed cross pieces, checking for plumb legs again. Drill pocket holes, glue, and screw. Leave live edge facing up when table is set on the floor.

By the way, it’s easier to sand the “H” frame before installation. You can go back and sand pocket wood plugs flush after the glue dries.

Hole Filler Fiasco 

What a horror story. I didn’t do my homework on hole fillers. I read somewhere that epoxy will do the trick. My idea was to fill the holes with clear epoxy. Gorilla Brand epoxy, the kind with two push syringes, don’t dry clear – no matter what it says on the package. Actually looked like puss in a wound. I discovered this disturbing fact after stripping the shelves clean in our little town of the stuff and filling holes and crevasses. Stupid of me not to test it on scrap wood. I was sick and told DRG that I might have to go find another cedar tree to mill. Time was running out in Santa’s workshop.

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by Todd Walker

Prepping a cook fire depends on what type of cookin’ you’ll be doing and the fuel available. In my area of Georgia, we have an abundance of hardwood to choose from. I’ll describe my experience with wood we burn. Not every area is as fortunate. That doesn’t mean you can’t cook up goodness over a campfire. Use the resources available in your woods.

The problem with campfires is they don’t have a knob to dial the heat up or down like a kitchen stove. Learning to managing your cook fire for what you’re cooking is key. If all you’re having is ramen noodles and hot cocoa, a hot burning twig fire will get the job done. Cast iron cooking needs a whole new arrangement of hot coals. Baking biscuits in a reflector oven requires radiant heat from flames.

This is not a comprehensive guide to open-fire cookery. I’ll give you basic guidelines that have worked for me when baking and cooking at fixed camp. If you cook in your kitchen, you can cook over a campfire.

Cooking at a permanent or semi-permanent fixed camp is different than when sauntering from one camp location to the next. This article won’t apply to the ultralight hiker cooking freeze-dried meals with a cup of boiling water. Weight is not as big of an issue if you’re canoe or car camping. So load the equipment you need to whip up stick-to-your-ribs food and take to the woods and streams.

Wood Processing Tools

Charcoal briquette don’t grow on trees. You’ll have to collect wood and make your own coals. An ax and saw are tools you’ll find useful. We have two pages on our blog if you need to hone your ax skills: Ax Cordwood Challenge and The Ax-Manship Series. Our YouTube channel also has instructional videos in a few playlists you may find helpful: The Axe Cordwood Challenge and Ax-Manship.

You need dry/seasoned wood for your cook fire. Look for standing dead trees since you don’t want to wait six to nine months to season your wood. Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) is a good choice for dry kindling in my area. Red cedar works as well. Both burn fast and hot but won’t produce the hot bed of coals you’ll need for grilling. Add hardwoods like oak, hickory, and beech for long burning coals. Can’t always be choosy so use what you have available.

Campfire Cookware

Improvising in the woods is often what happens to get food cooked. No need to if you bring the cookware needed for meals. Keep in mind that we’ve got a way to tote this stuff; car, canoe, mule, etc., etc.

My load of cooking stuff is in a constant state of evolution. But I think I’ve settled on a system. Tim Smith of Jack Mountain Bushcraft introduced me to stainless steel milk pails a few years ago in his book, The Woods Cook. As a Master Maine Guide, Tim has been feeding folks professionally over an open fire since 1999.

Below are a few items I use to cook at fixed camp and our outdoor classroom at RISE Academy…

  • Cast Iron skillet
  • Steel Fry Pan: Lighter than cast but doesn’t cook as evenly
  • Stainless Steel Pails: 2 quart with six-inch rim (6 inch pie tin for lids), and a 9 quart with a nine-inch rim (9 inch pie tin for lid)
  • Pot/Lid Lifter makes it easy to handle pails and lids when hot
  • Cast Iron Dutch Oven: 10.5 inch with a flanged lid and three legs
  • Improvised Reflector Oven: Stainless steel drywall mud pan is large enough to bake a few muffins/biscuits/cookies at a time
  • Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil: Great for hobo meals

Top row left to right: 9 quart SS pail with pie pan lid, 2-two quart pails with pie pan lids, coffee tin. 2nd Row: cold handle steel skillet, square cast iron skillet, dry wall mud pan. Bottom: 10.5 inch dutch oven in a box with lid lifter.

Most folks I know take only one pot to save pack space when camping on foot. Having two or more pots is a game changer around the campfire. The beauty of these milk pails is that they nest together decreasing the footprint when compared to the several cylindrical cook pots. This is a space-saving advantage if you’re traveling on foot or any other means of transportation. The pie pan lids also double as plates when you’re ready to eat.

Both 2 quart pails nest inside each other and fit in the 9 quart pail with room for other items if necessary.

The end result of nesting.

Managing Cooking Fires

You’d best process or collect enough kindling-size wood to keep your heat steady. Once lit, keep adding kindling sticks to maintain a robust fire that eats through the top of your fire lay. Take advantage of these hot flames by hanging a pot of water from a cooking tripod for coffee, tea, or cocoa. A second pot can be added to disinfect drinking water.

Cowboy coffee on.

Once your fuel has burned long enough to produce a nice bed of coals, drag or scoop a pile of hot coals from main fire. When grilling meat at fixed camp, I’ll use two green wrist-size sticks (if I can’t find my metal pipe) to support a grill grate over the coals. Adjust the height of your grate up or down for temperature control. No grate available? Lay the steak directly on the hot coals. Sounds unsanitary but I end up eating a little ash in most of my camp meals anyway.

I keep a grill grate at fixed camp for times such as these. Bacon wrapped filets!

For a camp dutch oven with three legs on the bottom, sprinkle coals on top of the flanged lid and around the perimeter at the bottom of the oven. With experience, you’ll learn to adjust the amount of coals to control the temperature of whatever you’re cooking. You can’t count wild coals like store-bought briquettes.

At a recent Georgia Bushcraft work weekend, Jeff and Melonie cooked two delicious dutch oven cobblers and shared with the cold, hungry crew!

To bake small servings of baked goods, I found that a stainless steel drywall mud pan does the trick. Place the reflector oven on the ground level with your fire. The drywall pan isn’t really large enough for a baking rack. You need radiant heat from flames for baking. Stoke the fire with your driest kindling sticks so that the flames cover the opening of your reflector oven throughout the baking process.

DRG and I baking cookies on our date night in the woods.

To gauge the heat entering your reflector oven, place you palm just in front of the oven and count to 5 quickly. If you reach 5 before nerves in the back of your hand tell your brain to jerk out of the heat, you’re at a good baking temperature (around 350 F). Any lower in the 5-count and the temperature in your oven is above baking temperature.

I fill cupcake liners with cornbread mix and place them directly on the bottom of the pan. Rotate..

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Survival Sherpa by Survival Sherpa - 3M ago

by Leslie Hill

A person might possess the most popular Swedish axe on the planet and tallied up countless hours on the YouTube watching bushcrafting axe videos, but if that person hasn’t gotten out and actually used it, they’d be no better than an armchair quarterback (and that’s putting it nicely). Okay, I know that sounds like a no-brainer of a statement, but I’m not just talking about taking the axe out, splitting some kindling, and calling it good. What I’m talking about building adaptability, muscle memory, and keeping yourself ‘left of bang’. The only way to achieve any of it is through practice.

Equipment and knowledge are rendered useless without practice.

This commentary is not about gear, skills, or credentials. It is about the most important and complex survival tool you have in your inventory. It’s about your brain. It’s about tuning your brain to function in any number of situations, tuning it to function in an emergency, which ultimately will keep you out of trouble.

For those who may not be familiar with the phrase, left of bang, it’s a reference to situational awareness and being proactive versus reactive. The ‘bang’ is a bad event, be it an IED or an ambush. Finding yourself right of bang means you’re reacting to a bad event that has occurred. The right of bang environment is typically wickedly chaotic, which serves an invitation for just more bad stuff to come in and jack up your day.

Full Exposure

As a single dad, one of the primary tools I used to prepare my daughter and son for adulthood was the expansion of their comfort zones. Plans were never cancelled due to weather. If a planned a hike and a picnic were paired with a 90% chance of rain, we executed our plans anyway. Yes, the first couple of times (for them) were complete disasters, but they learned from the experience. It didn’t take long before my two elementary school-aged children were packing their trash better than some of the Marines I knew. They learned the value of zip-lock and heavy duty trash bags. They learned to organize the gear in their packs similarly, so that everyone in the group knew exactly where something was in someone else’s pack. They also learned how footing on various terrain changes when it’s wet… stuff you can only learn by getting out there and doing it. We have camped and hunted in the rain, snow, and in temperatures below freezing. I did this not only to teach them how to operate in harsh conditions, but to also develop the ability to think ahead. The experiences taught them what to expect, which gave them the insight to prepare for the unexpected.

Experience is a prerequisite for adaptability.

One of my most used expressions is, “There’s more than one way to skin a rabbit”. For those who suddenly had a visual of Thumper dangling by his feet, what I mean is that there is always more than one solution to a problem. There are a number of techniques one may use to start a camp fire, all of which share a common concept in the actual ‘building’ of the fire. Knowing the concept is not enough. Based on what I’ve stated up to this point, you’ll probably think that I’m going to suggest that you practice the various techniques in various weather conditions. If you did, then you’re tracking with me. If you didn’t, you may want to go back to the beginning of my commentary and start over. Go ahead. Do it now. We’ll wait.


In the movie, Heartbreak Ridge, Boyd Gaines plays the role of First Lieutenant Ring, an incredibly book-smart officer with no real experience. He understood the concepts of combat and tactics, but had little to no field training or real combat experiences. He was a tactical book worm. On the other end of the spectrum was Gunnery Sergeant Highway (Clint Eastwood) who had more combat experience than he cared to remember. As the platoon sergeant of the Recon platoon, he tries to teach the less than exemplary members of the platoon how to adapt, improvise and overcome an obstacle. He does this in many ways, but one approach was specifically used to engage their brains. He did this by declaring that the platoon will wear the same t-shirt during PT (physical training) as he does, or they will wear no t-shirt at all. They make several attempts to outsmart GySgt Highway, but they missed the mark every time. (Please note that I did NOT use the word ‘fail’. I’ll get to why I did that in a second.) Later in the first half of the movie, Corporal “Stitch” Jones (Mario Van Peebles) discovers the source of GySgt Highway’s PT uniform of the day. That’s about the time 1st Lt. Ring decides to conduct PT with the platoon. He shows up in a white skivvy t-shirt while the rest of the platoon is wearing their black Recon unit t-shirts.

Yah, I know that’s Hollywood, but it illustrates a couple of things. Every attempt the platoon made to figure out what t-shirt to wear was a trial and effort that didn’t pan out. That doesn’t make it a failure. It makes it an experience… a notional token that they could keep in their hip pockets, or in the case of Marines… their cargo pockets. Even that final solution (Cpl Jones’ discovery) should be considered a token. It happened to be the final solution in that scenario, but when added to the other tokens, it becomes part of any number of viable options for future circumstances. These tokens represent experiences. As you build your collection of them, you begin to build options. Options are what made MacGyver look so flippin’ ingenious.

Autopilot Switch

Since I’m on a Hollywood roll, allow me to introduce another 80s classic, The Karate Kid. For those who have had the pleasure of seeing the movie will remember the scene where Daniel (Ralph Macchio) finally realizes that Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) has, in fact, been teaching him an old Okinawan form of self-defense as opposed to coercing him to do all of his chores for him.

As part of the deal to teach Daniel karate, Mr. Miyagi requires Daniel to sand his deck, paint his fence, and wax his car. In doing so, he must also perform each task with very specific and deliberate arm movements. Unbeknownst to Daniel, doing these tasks in this manner is actually building muscle memory for blocking techniques. Unlike the movie, building muscle memory takes a bit longer to achieve. When achieved, it is essentially pre-programmed in your brain housing group (your brain), and will function automatically in emergency situations. For what it’s worth, the same scene in the 2010 remake with Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan has a noteworthy closing.

Practice until it becomes a no-brainer.

As an axe enthusiast, I possess a large amount of vintage and modern axes, but I’m not a collector of display pieces. I actually use mine, even the ones over 100 years old. My favorites are the axes that perform exceptionally well at the tasks I typically use in the outdoors. I know how each and every one of my axes performs, because I field test them with a battery of seven tasks. Your tasks may be different. My field testing serves two purposes; 1) it allows me to gauge and compare the performance of each axe, and 2) it allows me to practice these tasks with different types of axes. This second purpose is a hidden gem. You might want to write this one down. Practicing the same seven tasks with different axes helps maintain my adaptability, and it builds muscle memory, which has a synergistic effect of enabling me to perform the seven tasks with any axe in any environmental condition… automatically. No, no, no. I don’t mean like a robot with my eyes closed. I mean the process becomes automatic. Here are the seven tasks of my field test:

  1. Limb
  2. Buck
  3. Hew
  4. Split block ~ billets
  5. Split billets ~ kindling
  6. Split kindling ~ tinder
  7. Carve stake

These seven tasks are organized in the order that I would process firewood. The seventh task is carving a ground stake (piece of kindling sharpened and notched) to test the maneuverability of the axe and to build personal dexterity. The shavings are added to my tinder pile. Repetition builds muscle memory. Having performed my field test over 400 times, I no longer have to think about the seven different steps. These seven steps are now reduced to a single thought… a single token called, Process Firewood.


The more tokens you collect doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to need larger cargo pockets. It means that you will have more options to draw from when presented with a problem that you haven’t faced before. It also means that you will have more information to draw upon to keep you left of bang.

Military tacticians ‘wargame’ by building scenarios (real or notional) with a list of assumptions, which set the stage for coming battle. Based on the conditions and the forces pitted against one another, the tactician will play the role of ‘commander’ for each side by employing their respective doctrine and tactics to determine a potential outcome of the battle.

A tactician is a combination of 1st Lt. Ring and GySgt Highway… so is a well-prepared outdoorsman. The more knowledge and experiences you gain, the more able you are to predict and prepare for a potential outcome. Understand too that the experiences don’t necessarily have to be directly related.

Anyone who has ever experienced a flash flood knows not to pitch camp next to a stream. Anyone who has ever experienced a forest fire knows to pitch camp in close proximity to a stream. If you haven’t experienced either one of these events, I would wager that you have enough personal experiences (tokens) to figure out that these solutions make perfect sense. I would also wager that most of you have probably never considered what you would do in the event of a flash flood or forest fire.

This is the wargaming part of living outdoors, and it is a variable rabbit hole for ‘what ifs’. Venturing into the outdoors without thinking things through is an almost iron-clad guarantee that things will go south in a big hurry. That right there would be considered right of bang, but you already had that one figured out, huh? The beauty of wargaming is that you can do it just about any time of day. Remember that I said ‘just about’ any time of day. If you get slapped for wargaming while you’re supposed to be engaged in something else… let’s say a bit more intimate with your significant other, I take no responsibility for that. Actually, the perfect place is the porcelain library. It’s relatively quiet and you’re not likely to be disturbed.

Practice builds experience. Experience builds options. Options increase survival.

Fill the Gap

Acquiring tokens of experience isn’t limited to a specific outdoor adventures. You don’t have to plan a trip to the woods to practice. You may acquire these precious tokens by simply pressing the boundaries of your personal comfort zone in your own back yard. Sleep overnight in a tent and prepare a meal… when it’s raining or snowing. Pack, un-pack, and then re-pack your gear in complete darkness. If you’re right-handed, practice tasks with your left hand (and versa visa). As your zone expands (meaning the more comfortable you are operating in that expanded area), your thirst for knowledge and experience will increase. You know yourself better than anyone else. Think about what sends you running for shelter (physically or mentally). Think about what your strengths and weaknesses are (perceived or real). Now think about what you can do to fill the gaps. You may decide to take a wilderness first aid class, learn to read a map, or enroll in a Jiu Jitsu academy. Expanding your comfort zone also builds confidence and empowers you with the courage to face your greatest fears. Fear is not knowing, and not knowing is what will put you in the hurt locker out in the woods. Happy tuning.

About the Author

Mr. Leslie Hill is an experienced outdoorsman who did most of his growing up at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. He has lived in various climes and places from tropical islands to the high desert plains of southern Asia. He is a tactician by trade and a community subject matter expert, a capacity for which he has served since 1999. Mr. Hill’s life experiences include service as a United States Marine, a ranch hand, and an emergency medical technician. His hobbies have include motorcycle racing, woodworking, marksmanship competition, and mixed martial arts. Mr. Hill’s current focus includes reconditioning vintage axes and simply spending more time in the woods.

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +YouTubeInstagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

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by Todd Walker

Arguably, the most underrated and overlooked primitive technology is rope and string. That is until you run out of modern cordage. A whole new appreciation for stuff that binds will quickly become apparent.

Ropes and knots predate the ax, the wheel, and possibly the controlled use of fire by our ancestors. Think of stone tools. These had to be tied to the end of sticks. Shelters stood with joints bound by fibrous lashing material. Animal sinew, catgut, and hide were used as well. But, as my friend, Mark Warren, says, it’s easier to get your hands on plants since they don’t run away from you.

Fibers that Bind

In my area of Georgia, tree bark, roots, leaves, stems, and stalks can be used for bindings. For our cordage class at school, we used Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) and cattail (Typha) for fiber materialCattail from our second-hand beaver pond, and tulip poplar from my stash I collected over the years.

You’re not limited to a few choices in nature. Below are 18 cordage fibers made and displayed by Scott Jones at one of his workshops I attended. If you’re into primitive skills and technology, I highly recommend you pick up his books, Postcards to the Past, and A View to the Past. Both are essential for any primitive practitioner on your Christmas list!

18 indigenous cordage fibers Scott Jones has on display for demonstrations

Besides the 18 listed below on the display, we also used okra stalk, that’s right, the garden variety, to make cordage in his class.

From L to R:

  1. Red Cedar
  2. Bald Cypress
  3. Atlantic White Cedar
  4. Red Mulberry
  5. Black Locust
  6. Yellow (Tulip) Poplar
  7. Winged Elm
  8. Paw Paw
  9. Basswood
  10. False Nettle
  11. Blue Star
  12. Milkweed
  13. Dogbane
  14. Evening Primrose
  15. Spanish Moss
  16. Button Snakeroot
  17. Yucca
  18. Cattail

Different materials require different methods of extracting fibers. For our purposes, and to keep this article manageable, we’ll stick with the two materials we used in class – tulip poplar and cattail.

Preparing Fibers

As mentioned earlier, I collect tulip polar bark every chance I get. This tree has many uses – (see here and here). It’s best to harvest in late spring and summer as the bark will “slip” off the trunk with ease. The inner bark is what you’re after. I like to use inner bark from fallen limbs or dead standing saplings. Simply soak the dried bark, a process called, retting, in water for a few days to a few week. At my fixed camp, I toss large sections of bark into the creek and weigh them down with rocks. The soaking helps break down the stuff that holds the outer and inner bark together. After the bark is retted, the inner bark should peel in long, useful strips.

Hang the strips to dry. Pre-dried fibers are less prone to shrinkage even after wetting them during the cordage making process. Separate the strips into finer fiber bundles (hair-like fibers) for stronger cordage. Or you can start twisting wider strips for expedient cordage.

We have a nice stand of cattails next to our outdoor classroom. At this point in the season, the leaves are dead and brown. For green leaves, cut and dry until they turn brown. You’ll notice these leaves twist better when damp. Even a morning dew enhances their flexibility.

Cattail leaves can be striped into smaller widths for stronger cordage but wasn’t worth the effort for our class. For expediency, we used whole leaves. Here’s how…

Reverse Twist Two-Ply Method

For our beginner cordage-makers, we used whole cattail leaves and wide strips (1/2 inch) of tulip poplar inner bark. Larger material allows the student to see how the twisting works and is easier to handle than fine fiber bundles.

Also, keep the fiber material damp during the whole process.

Start in the middle of a strip of fiber material about arm’s length long. Pinch the ply with the index finger and thumb of both hands with 2-3 inches between your pinch points. Begin to twist the ply away from your body with your right hand in a clockwise rotation and left hand counterclockwise. This will cause the ply to twist until it naturally bends into a kink/loop.

Forming the loop.

Pinch the loop with your left hand (index finger and thumb). You now have two plies extending in a “Y” formation. Pinch the strand furthest from your body with your right hand close to your left hand (about 1/4 to 1/2 inches). Twist your right hand away from your body in a quarter turn or 90 degree rotation.

Starting the outside ply twist.

A full 90 degree rotation of the outside ply.

While holding the twisted ply between your thumb and index finger, reach your middle finger on your right hand around to grab the strand closest to your body. Grip this ply with your middle finger against your index finger. Now twist back a quarter turn to the original starting position. This motion brings the outside ply over the inside ply. The two plies have now switched places. Release the ply you were pinching and repeat the process on the “new” outside ply.

Rotating back 90 degrees with the opposite ply pinched with the middle finger.

Once you get the mechanics down you’ll be able to hand-twist tightly woven cordage like a champ. One student picked this motion up quickly and made a few feet of cattail cordage in less than 30 minutes.

RISE student twisting cattail cordage. He began teaching other students the technique.

Splicing Technique

If both plies are even when you begin twisting, you’ll end up backtracking (unwinding twists) to make a splice. With experience you’ll find that starting the kink/loop with one ply longer than the other will take care of this problem.

When you get to the end of your rope (about an inch left on the outside ply with a longer inside ply), and need to make longer cordage, a splice is needed. Take another length of fiber material of similar diameter and lay it in the “Y” with an inch of material overlapping. Pinch the overlapping new fiber on the existing two-ply cord you’ve already made. With the new ply running parallel with the short outside ply, pinch these together with your right hand and continue the two-ply twisting technique described above. This splicing technique will continue until you twist a length of cord long enough for your needs.

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by Todd Walker

The blood of our ancestors flows in our own veins. Our aboriginal legacy is written in the very make-up of our bodies. The ancient caves and campfires of our pasts call to us from within. Primitive Technology is our inheritance as well. It is a world heritage which knows no race, creed, or color. It is foreign to no one. It is the shared thread which links us to our prehistory and binds us together as human beings.

Steve Watts ~ “Primitive Technology, A Book of Earth Skills”

It seems with every generation, the disconnect between the earth and her resources widens. But deep inside us all, our primal roots desire to reconnect with the raw resources that have sustained our species for millennia. Touching our Stone Age past offers this tangible connection.

A simple way to introduce primitive technology to students is by making a Hoko knife. This stone cutting tool was discovered on the Hoko River archeological site in Washington State. A landslide destroyed the native fishing village about 2,700 years ago preserving artifacts of their material culture.

Steps to Making a Hoko Knife

Materials needed:

  • Sharp stone flake
  • Wooden handle
  • Cordage
A.) Stone Flakes

You don’t have to possess mad flintknapping skills to construct this simple cutting tool. The original Hoko knife was made of a thumbnail size flake hafted with spruce root to a cedar handle. Archeologist believe this delicate tool was used to butcher fish for eating and longterm preserving.

Discarded flakes from Justin Cook.

Our stone flakes were gifted to our class by a good friend and master flintknapper, Justin Cook of Wayback Wilderness. He had a pile of flakes left over from his flintknapping class at our Georgia Bushcraft Fall Campout and offered them to me. I gladly accepted.

You can also make your own flakes. Find a stone which breaks like glass. As you know, broken glass creates sharp edges. My friend and primitive skills mentor, Scott Jones, introduced me to bipolar flaking. Use a hammerstone and stone anvil to strike smaller stones which fracture into sharp, straight, useable flakes. Flat, long flakes work best for this application.

B.) Wood Selection

Next to our outdoor classroom, a willow (Salix) tree grows in our secondhand beaver pond. I cut a finger-size branch for handle material. I also had a section of box elder (Acer negundo) left over from friction fire kits. We used both for our project since they’re split easily and evenly. Experiment with woods in your locale to find what works for you.

Willow on top, Box Elder on bottom.

C.) Cordage

Since we haven’t taught natural cordage yet, students used manmade cordage to haft the flakes in place. A partial spool of tarred bank line is what we had left over from our bamboo shelter construction project. Natural cordage options in our woods include inner bark of several trees, dogbane, yucca, cattail, and many more. Artificial sinew, real sinew, or leather would also serve as good bindings.

D.) Assembly

Split one end of your handle with either a stone flake or metal knife. If the split starts to run off to one side, bend the thicker half more than the thinner half to even up the sides. The split should be long enough to accept the flake with room for binding the split end.

With the flake inserted in the split stick, lash the split ends together. With modern line, we used a jam knot to start the lashing (clove hitch also works). After 4 or 5 tight wraps, we tied two half hitches (down-n-dirty clove hitch) to secure the line. This provides enough friction to hold the flake securely. The problem point with this method is the chance that the handle will continue to split on the un-lashed side. To help prevent this, give the backside of the flake one wrap to reach the other side of the handle. Terminate the lashing just above the flake with two half hitches.

Wrapping both sides of the stone flake.

A finished Hoko knife bound with jute twine.

Without fish to butcher, we used our new stone tools to scrape bark off handles. I need to bring a mess of fish to class soon for some experimental archeology. One student asked, “Would this thing cut the head off a fish?” We shall find out.

Two students tag teaming the lashing job.

Using his Hoko knife to scrape bark.

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by Todd Walker

Being raised in the South, these are a few things I’m thankful for today. I’ll bet some of y’all can add to the list.

  • A dust trail behind a truck coming down the long dirt driveway meant you had visitors or someone was lost and in need of directions.
  • The memory of your first green persimmon when you wiser cousin assured you it was an apple.
  • Daddy’s brains and eggs with a side of country ham for breakfast.
  • The day Daddy walked me down the church aisle and stood with me as I was “washed in the blood” and later baptized.
  • Watching Mama skid the black Pontiac to a stop on the dirt road, wait for the dust to pass, and fetching her snake-killing rock from the boot to dispatch a rattler her tires missed.
  • Eating Thanksgiving dinner at Mother Vaughan’s tiny house, where she and Papa Vaughan raised 10 children, followed by pick up football games in her front yard with cousins.
  • Feeling the painful pinch of a crawdad on your finger under a rock in the creek.
  • Camping beneath the Southern stars on Henry and Randy’s trampoline.
  • Watching your line straighten with a speckled trout hooked on the flats of Apalachicola.
  • Riding your pony dressed like John Wayne and shooting your cap gun.
  • Cane pole fishing in a watering hole in the front pasture.
  • Feeling the mud squish between your toes while walking over the freshly plowed bottom field searching for arrowheads after a spring rain.
  • Shooting Daddy’s single-shot 20 gauge at a squirrel directly overhead and getting kicked to the floor of the jon boat in the middle of Little Echeconnee Creek.
  • The smell of Daddy’s Southern cornbread dressing cooking on Thanksgiving Day.
  • Paddling a seasoned fly fisherman all day on the lake just learn his tricks.

  • Watching the lukewarm summer rain dance on the lake and listening to the rhythm on the tin roof of the plywood shack we called The Cabin.
  • Listening to the grown folk tell family stories which we thought were unbelievable.
  • Finding Mama and Aunt Cindy in the hog pen after school, elbow deep in mud, helping a sow in labor.
  • Pulling over on the dirt road a mile from the house to eat a watermelon on the tailgate of Daddy’s pickup.
  • Building a treehouse with scrap lumber and previously bent nails.
  • Eating the first peach of the season straight off the limb.
  • Skipping rocks across the Flint River to determine how many children you’ll have one day ~ thankfully, that didn’t come true.
  • Riding calves in the pasture in the dark.
  • Cow patty fights.
  • Swinging over creeks on wild grape vines.
  • Scalding hogs and scraping hair in late Autumn.
  • Boat (broken sticks) races in ditches during a Summer gully washer.
  • Freaking out when a Cottonmouth wants to join you in the jon boat while frog gigging.
  • Walking the bottom creek to reach the wooden bridge several miles away.
  • Carving our initials on the Beech tree next to the creek feeding the lake.
  • Dirt clod battles.
  • Listening to Merle Haggard on 8-track on a sleepy Saturday morning.
  • Camping on horseback.
  • Shooting a real gun for the first time.
  • Listening to old timers spin yarns and solve the world’s problems at the Grill.
  • Trying to stay vigilant on a 24 hour detail “protecting” our bumper harvest of corn at the big city farmer’s market but falling asleep on burlap sacks anyway.
  • Loading hay bails on the trailer in the heat of a Georgia summer.
  • Old weathered barns.
  • The smell of saddle leather and horses.
  • The prick of a catfish fin in your hand.
  • The tickle of horse’s lips as she eats sweet feed from your hand.
  • Singing “Amazing Grace”, all the verses, in a small town church.
  • Riding our bikes seven miles one way to the Hays General Store across the street from the Dickey’s Peach packing shed.
  • Sitting in the swivel barber’s chair at Mr. Lindsey’s filling station and sipping on my RC Cola with salted peanuts fizzing and floating inside the bottle.
  • Filling your chest waders after stumbling in a beaver pond while duck hunting in February.
  • Living in a small town with no red lights, a general store, post office, one church, a cotton gin, and a peach packing shed.
  • Riding on the back of a pickup truck on dusty dirt roads.
  • Burning household trash in a 55 gallon drum.
  • Pronouncing pecan correctly… Pee-can.
  • When the judge looks out the courthouse window and asks, “Melvin, those your cows coming down the road?” and dismisses Daddy from jury duty to round ’em up.
  • We still called sushi bait.
  • Grits. We have grits and redeye gravy!
  • When someone says, Fixin‘ to or Piddlin‘, we know what they mean. I reckon so.
  • Hauling a load of trash to the dump and shooting bottles Daddy tossed in the air to help my dove shooting skills.
  • Chasing fireflies on summer evenings.

If the good Lord made anything better than being raised in the South, He kept it to Himself.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +YouTubeInstagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

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by Todd Walker

More and more people are getting back to nature to enjoy its beauty and benefits. The list of outdoor activities seems endless. With these pursuits comes risk of injury. Common injuries like scrapes, sprains, burns, bites, and blisters can turn serious in remote locations. I’ve had my share of bumps, bruises, stings, and close calls. Thankfully, none were life threatening… but could have turned sideways quickly.

Note: All injuries depicted look real but are not. If you’re queasy about blood and guts, you may want to reconsider reading the rest of this article.

A skill set I’ve neglected for years is wilderness first aid. Teaching students outdoor self-reliance skills at RISE spurred me on to train with one of the best Wilderness Emergency Care instructors available, Mark DeJong, owner of Off Grid Medic. We were also fortunate to have Michelle Pugh, an accomplished long distance hiker, author of two books of her adventures, and Off Grid Medic staff instructor teaching our class. Their style of teaching fits perfectly in my “Doing the Stuff” wheelhouse. You won’t sit and watch boring power points in a sterile environment. Courses are held where outdoor enthusiasts roam – the woods. Our class was hosted by Georgia Bushcraft, LLC.

Besides imparting real-world knowledge, Mark works his magical moulage abilities by transforming last night’s rib eye bone into a patient’s open fracture. These realistic injuries aren’t for shock value but to help students “train like you fight.” Discovering a bone protruding from the skin or an impalement in a training exercise will give you a clue as to how you’d respond in a real wilderness emergency.

See what I mean? Some of Mark’s handiwork on “Dutch Oven” Bill.

Wilderness First Aid

Urban first responders are equipped with tools and reinforcements to get patients to definitive care within minutes typically. For wilderness rescuers, hospitals and doctors might be hours or days away. Environmental stressors, evacuation over rugged terrain, limited medical resources, and other unknown variables present unique challenges for patient care and treatment.

If you interested in professional training in wilderness emergencies, contact Off Grid Medic. Below are a few things to consider if you’re ever in the role of wilderness rescuer.

You’re Number One

You can’t rescue a victim if you step into a dangerous situation and become one yourself. Before rushing in, assess the situation, location of patient, and possible hazards; dead tree limbs overhead, steep/loose ground, freezing water, etc., etc. Take care of yourself and team before providing care.

As an example, use the Reach, Throw, Row, Go steps to protect yourself in an open water rescue.

  • Reach: Use when victim is close to shore line and can be reached with by hand, pole, paddle, etc. without having to enter the water.
  • Throw: Victim is too far away to be reached, throw a line, rope, PFD attached to rope, if the victim is conscious and able to grab the rope.
  • Row: Rescuers will use a boat/canoe/kayak if Reach and Throw isn’t an option. Get close enough to use Reach, Throw, or lift the victim into the craft.
  • Go: This is the last and least safe option for rescuers. It may be necessary due to the victim being unconscious or unable to grab a rope.
McGyver Mentality

Even if you are a medical professional, the wilderness changes the game. After your initial patient assessment, a typical first aid kit may not contain every item you’ll need in remote emergencies. Be prepared to improvise… a lot.

Space blankets come in many styles. Buy good quality, sturdy blankets.

For a few more ideas on outside-the-box first aid items, this article of ours may help.

Besides a first aid kit, I’ll wager that you probably have the following items in your supplies. If not, consider adding them.

  • Emergency Shelter: Start with proper clothing for the rescuer, space blanket (not the cheap mylar sheets), control body temperature, body wrap for victim, shield from elements, signaling device (orange), etc.
  • Duct Tape: Wound closure (butterfly stitches), splints/wraps, slings, neck/head immobilization, fire starter, and uses too long to list here.
  • Ziplock Baggies: Exam gloves, wound irrigation, occlusive dressing for large burns, sucking chest wound taped on three sides, and more.
  • Rope/String: Splinting, litter bed, lashing a litter together, emergency shelter, etc.
  • Bandana/Cotton Material: Bandages, sling, splint padding, dressing, wet dressing, etc.
  • Metal Container: Disinfect water for hydration via boiling, cooking, warm liquids, hot/cold pack, etc.
  • Fire Kit: Emergency tinder, lighter, road flare (not joking), signaling, warm patient and rescuers, comfort, cooking (unexpected stay), water disinfection, etc.
  • Knife/Saw/Ax:  Tools to make other items for rescue (litter, fire, etc.), remove insect stinger, collecting firewood, etc.
  • Head Lamp: You’ll need your hands free to attend to a patient in dark conditions.
  • Compass: Preferable one with a mirror and magnifying lens – all kinds of uses beside navigation.
To Splint or Not to Splint

Sprains, strains, and closed fractures are not always distinguishable. Open fractures are easier to diagnose since the bone protrudes from the skin. A closed fracture may not show deformity in a limb. The rule of thumb is to splint if a limb is painful, swollen, or deformed – this applies to sprains and strains. Immobilize the limb(s) before the patient is evacuated.

Makeshift splint by Mike and Jessica. Interesting note: I taught Mike middle school P.E. in 1985. Man, I’m old!

We learned to splint limbs with resources on hand and materials from the wilderness. Without a modern SAM Splint, you’ll have to get creative. Two sticks, cordage, and a shirt stuffed with leaves will pad and immobilize an arm or leg.

SAM Splints are great to have in your pack.

Mark demonstrating the B.U.F.F. splint – Big, Ugly, Fat, Fluffy – on Michelle.

Slings for an arm/shoulder/collar-bone injure have to offer support and keep the limb secured to the body. Through hands-on experimentation, my partner and I found that zipping her arm inside her light jacket created a snug fitting sling which was comfortable and warm. There’s more than one way to sling a limb.

Another diy sling.

Transporting the Victim

Depending on location and terrain, rescue reinforcements may be far way or unable to respond in remote areas. You’re injured friend will have to be carried out. A makeshift litter can be made from poles and string.

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by Todd Walker

The Bushcraft Journal, a free online magazine, has a wealth of articles dealing with outdoor self-reliance. This post is based on a recent article by Gary Johnston of Jack Raven Bushcraft.

Editor’s Note: If you see any ads linked (double underlined) in this article, please let me know. They shouldn’t be there. I’m wondering if it’s only happening on my computer. Thanks! ~ Todd

As Gary mentions in his article, many people would like to learn to make fire by friction with a bow and drill but many not have the physical stamina to twirl up an ember. Others may have bad knees or other injures which prevent them from ever attempting fire by friction. This method alleviates knee pain and weak wrists.

Here are the steps our students at RISE Academy used to make fire using this method…

Long Lever Bow Drill Set Step 1: Gather the Stuff
  • Bearing block: About a yard long log and 3-4 inches in diameter
  • A platform like a firewood round knee-high
  • Long bow about chest high for multiple bowers
  • String for bow and normal stuff you’d use for regular bow drill fire – tinder, welcome mat, etc.

Cut a 36 inch long, 3-4 inch diameter, tree to be used as the bearing block. Flatten the underside on one end of the log. Carve a pivot hole about 3 to 5 inches in from one end of the long bearing block. We found a wide pivot hole about 1/4 inch deep to be about right. We used a hearth and spindle (cedar on cedar) which the students found produced embers in the traditional bow drill set.

In the video below, we show two separate groups of students successfully using this long lever bow drill set. It makes for a great team building or family project.

Team Building: 36 Inch Bow Drill Bearing Block - YouTube

Step 2: Attach Bearing Block to Tree/Pole

The bearing block attached to a bamboo riser on the student-built outdoor classroom.

Lash the other end of the long lever to a tree or pole. Use a square lashing or tie knots until it holds to the anchor point level with the top of the spindle. The long lever bearing block takes advantage of mass and mechanical advantage to easily apply downward pressure on the spindle during bowing. In fact, I applied too much pressure in the beginning which caused problems.

Step 3: The Longer Bow

Sixth graders using the longer bow.

For two or more people doing the bowing, use a longer bow to achieve more spindle rotations per stroke. By yourself, stick to a normal arm-length bow. And yes, this method works well if you’re spinning solo. The anchored bearing block steadies the point of contact against my shin – which is one of the struggles I see a lot with first-time friction fire makers.

Load the spindle into the long bow, place the spindle into the hearth board divot, and mate the top of the spindle to the long lever bearing block. The person “driving” the bearing block will place his/her foot on the hearth board resting on the stump. Steady the bearing block against the shin with two hands.

Extra length at the end of the lever bearing block give ample room to connect with the shin.

You can also set this entire rig up without elevating the hearth board. It’s certainly kinder on the knees when elevated.

Step 4: Twirl an Ember

For a group effort, have two bowers hold opposite ends of the loaded long bow. Oh, have them stand offset to the plane of the bow so nobody gets a stick in the gut. Start the pull/push slowly to gain a rhythm like a lumberjack crosscut saw competition. As the charred dust builds into the hearth board notch, pick up the speed in bowing.

Getting into a rhythm

If the first two bowers tire, and you have alternates waiting, the bearing block “driver” gives the command to switch. Including all the hands builds teamwork and ownership to the effort. While the switch takes place, check the condition of the char dust in the notch. Even if it is smoking on its own, allow the other bowers a turn in spinning.

Step 5: Blow the Ember into Flame 

Celebrate your creation of a fire egg (ember) and allow it to grow by fanning it with your hand. High-fives all around! No need to hurry as you will likely produce a larger-than-normal amount of char dust in the hearth board notch.

A nice pile of smoldering char dust!

Once the fire egg is resting in its nest of tinder material, have each team member take a turn blowing the ember into flame. At that moment when heavy, white smoke billows from the nest, get your camera ready to capture the magic of fire from scratch!

Road-kill pine straw and cattail fluff for the win!

Almost there.

Place the burning nest in the fire pit and add prepared kindling for the fire to eat. Let the high-fives and fist-bumps begin! Your team has just created fire by friction and welded bonds of friendship never to be forgotten!

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


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Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

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