If you find yourself without a chopping tool but still need to split wood, take your saw and cut halfway through a branch about 2 inches from the end. Hold the branch so that the saw cut is facing down and tap it on a rock, making contact on the cut section. Keep tapping and the wood will split down the middle along the grain. You can repeat this process all the way down to small, kindling-sized pieces if needed. If the branch is being stubborn and will not split, make saw cuts on both ends and alternate your tapping until the split meets in the middle. If at all possible, try to find wood that is already well seasoned and split along the grain. By stopping your saw cut at this depth, you will be working with the wood instead of against it. <em>Tip courtesy Mike Lummio, <a href="http://bushcraftnorthwest.com" target="_blank">bushcraftnorthwest.com</a>.</em>
In almost all environments across North America, you can find five plants that I consider to be the most important to learn to identify. Knowing these five will mean you always have food: lamb’s quarter, purslane, amaranth, nettle (shown right) and dandelion. These are all plants that we consider weeds, but they offer more nutrition, vitamins and minerals than the produce we eat from the grocery store. All of them can be eaten raw, and amaranth, nettle and lamb’s quarter produce autumn seed that is very high in protein. Dandelion roots make a gentle but powerful hepatic system (liver and digestion) cleanser. These important hepatic organs help remove the funky stuff that we put into our body through our food, water and air. <em>Tip courtesy Robin Blankenship, Earth Knack Primitive Skills School (<a href="http://earthknack.com" target="_blank">earthknack.com</a>) <br> [<b>Editor’s Note:</b> Excerpted from Robin’s new book How To Play In The Woods, available April 2016 at <a href="http://gibbs-smith.com" target="_blank">gibbs-smith.com</a>.]</em>
After a long winter, the cleansing effects of dandelion tea on the hepatic system are refreshing and prepare the digestive system to handle all the new greens of spring. To prepare, dig up the roots before the flower head forms so the good medicinal propertiesare still in the root and not going into making a flower. Chop the roots into small chunks. Put 1/8 cup of root chunks into a 1-quart metal or clay pot. Set the pot of root chunks over the coals to roast. Although roasting is not necessary, it gives the roots a lovely, rich flavor that most folks like better than just the raw chunks. Boil enough water in another container to fill the pot full of root pieces. (Do not boil the root in the water.) Have a lid ready. Pour the boiled water over the root and immediately cover the pot, keeping all the beneficial medicinal qualities inside. Let steep six to eight hours. Drink 1 to 2 cups daily for several weeks. Although dandelion tea is a diuretic, unlike most drinks in this category, it does not leach minerals and vitamins from the system, but rather adds to them. <em>Tip courtesy Robin Blankenship, <a href="http://earthknack.com" target="_blank">earthknack.com</a>.</em>
Many newcomers to bushcraft assume that the only way to make charcloth is to carry materials such as linen, cotton or jute, but that’s not true. There are many natural materials that can be used to make effective char-tinder. Dry-rotted wood (known as “punkwood”), the dead inner bark of juniper, willow, aspen, cottonwood, cedar, oak, pine and basswood trees, down from thistles or cattails, pith from mullein stalks, old bees or wasp’s nests and pieces of amadou from the horsehoof fungus all make good char-tinder. Punkwood is one of the best materials, and it can be harvested nearly anywhere in the world from nearly any type of tree. You will know punkwood by the way it feels—super light and spongy, similar to Styrofoam. <br> <br>To turn these natural materials into char-tinder, place the materials inside a closed metal container or an old bottle and burn them over a fire until they stop smoking. You can also turn them into char-tinder by igniting them and snuffing them out in between a couple of pieces of dead tree bark, burying them under hot coals/ashes until they char or snuffing them out inside an Altoids-style container. Due to the delicate nature of most of these charred materials, it is best to use the drop-spark method with your flint and steel to ignite them.
When prepping a new axe for use out in the bush, one area that’s often overlooked is the top of the haft that sticks out of the eye of the axe head. The sharp edge of the wood, as it comes from the factory, is prone to splintering, and can lead to a damaged axe handle if not addressed before taking the axe out in the field. To fix this issue, simply sand the sharp edges with a fine piece of sandpaper or a Dremel tool with a sanding drum to make it smooth. The result will be a more durable, splinter-resistant axe handle. After you’re done, make sure to apply two coats of linseed oil.
Pitchwood, also known as fatwood, is nature’s finest tinder. It is a resin-impregnated, orange- or reddish-colored wood found predominantly in species known as “yellow pine” trees. When lit, pitchwood burns ferociously as if it were soaked in gasoline. It will burn under the worst weather conditions, even while rain or snow is falling. Pitchwood is easily ignited with a fire steel, magnesium or conventional fire-starting tools (lighters, matches, etc.), so if you can find it, it’s your best bet to get a good, hot fire going under damp conditions. <br> <br>The easiest way to find pitchwood is to look for dead branches at the base of yellow pine trees and saw them off at the knot. Once you’ve found a good piece, carve a “pitch stick” with your knife to harvest the pitchwood. You can then scrape off as much as you need. The best trees for finding pitchwood are Ponderosa and Lodgepole Pines in the Western U.S., and Longleaf Pines and Pitch Pines in the Eastern U.S. Pitchwood can also be found in many other species of pines as well as in Douglas Firs and Western Larch trees, so it’s worth giving them a shot, regardless of your location in the country.
When collecting water from a moving source such as a creek or stream, submerge your water bottle with the opening facing downstream. This will reduce the amount of organic matter you collect. If using a chemical treatment, after the recommended wait time, you will still have to address the tainted water in the threads of the bottle and cap. To do so, turn the bottle upside and slowly loosen the cap until enough treated water purges all the threads. The smart woodsman takes advantage of that little bit of treated water to clean his hands, too, as it is generally not the water that makes people sick in camp or on the trail, it is poor hygiene. Using this tip addresses both. <em>Tip courtesy Christian Noble, <a href="http://masterwoodsman.com" target="_blank">masterwoodsman.com</a>.</em>
Many backpacks have side netting as well as compression straps, and you should use them! They will easily and securely hold a sheathed axe up to 28 inches long. I’ve used this technique while using everything from day packs to full-on expedition packs for years and it’s worked like a charm. The netting on most quality packs is extremely tough and I’ve never had a problem with tearing, etc. This carry method is definitely easier than trying to fit the axe inside your crowded pack or having to carry it in your hand.
Due to increased interest from the survival/preparedness movement and the growing popularity of shows such as Survivorman and Man vs. Wild, bushcraft is no longer such a strange term.
Bushcraft is an incredibly diverse melding of ancient and modern wilderness survival skills, and it incorporates many different genres, including Native American skills, classic woodsmanship, backpacking, Stone Age skills and military survival techniques. Think Ötzi the Iceman meets Les Stroud and you have a pretty good idea what it is about.
Bushcraft emphasizes skills with simple tools, such as knives, axes and saws, or primitive tools made of stone, bone, wood and staghorn. The point is to be able to create everything you need from materials readily available in Mother Nature.
To follow is a collection of some of my favorite tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way and have covered at rockymountainbushcraft.blogspot.com as well as some great advice from notable individuals in the bushcraft community.
This article was originally published in The NEW PIONEER™ Spring 2016 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.
Avoid and escape these savage pack predators in the wild!
by Richard P. Smith / Apr 5, 2016