This is a blade I swapped with someone on a bushcraft forum, with the intention of rehandling.
I didn’t take a picture of how it looked to begin with, but you can get an idea from this first illustration which is a before and after type thing, with the blade after I had taken some metal off on a photocopy which I used to work out how much steel to remove.

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Having done so, I ordered a brass bolster from Moonraker Knives (great service) and found a suitable piece of wood for the handle. I chose a seasoned piece of Ash because it is a wood that is light, strong with a certain amount of spring, which is why it is tradionally used for tool handles.

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After drilling and filing a suitable slot in the Ash to ensure the knife tang was a tight fit I began to shape the handle. At this stage I did not fix the blade in place, in case I had a mishap with the wood.

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Eventually after a lot of work with knife and sandpaper I was somewhere near where I wanted to be and glued the blade in place with epoxy.

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Here I learned something, namely to consider whether blade or bolster needs any final work, before joining the parts together. The latter needs some filing and smoothing to get rid of some of the machining marks of manufacture and I should have done this before I glued the whole shebang together.
Anyway, with lesson learned, the thing was now a whole rather than several parts.

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It was however quite ugly, so the next thing was to make the handle thinner and a bit better looking. My instinct was to make it very slim, to visually “balance” the blade, but I was chary of taking off too much “meat” and with it the strength. Having spent so much time on the knife I did not want it failing on me.

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At last I’d got it to a point I was happy with, and so after a final going over with fine sandpaper it was time to oil the handle. This is my favourite part of working with wood, when the grain’s colour springs out with the first coat.
So then, after a good number of coatings over several days, it was done. The next thing to consider was making a sheath.
Now that is going to be a challenge.

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Last week Little Boots and I spent a couple of days on a wooded campsite. It was nice to get away, as life has felt rather too hectic of late, and great to spend some time outdoors.
We cooked over an open fire, whittled sticks (me an atlatl/LB somekind of ninja weapon), climbed trees and even rigged up a hammock using a tarp, paracord and walking poles.

I’m always astounded by LB’s climbing skills, but was also impressed that my child can now single-handedly pitch a tent, light a proper fire to cook on and self-administer first aid following a slip whilst whittling.

These are useful skills and things that no amount of time playing computer games can give you.

I am a very proud parent

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Even at my advancing age I am still learning new things. And what is great is that as I pass some of these things on to Little Boots, I am being taught things in return – this weekend the difference between tundra and taiga was explained to me – I had some idea, but it was I confess a bit muddled.

Of course children become their parents’ teachers from an early age, in for example such fundamental knowledge as the joy to be found in simple things and the delight that the world presents to eyes that are unjaded. But there’s another stage where information that you have passed on comes back to you with bells on.

Here’s an example. Whilst camping together LB took charge of lighting the fire. Using a ferro-rod and scraper with a piece of cotton wool as tinder it was fairly simple to get a light, but since we’d camped out in an epic thunderstorm getting the fire to “catch” was proving difficult. So I explained a little cheat. By taking a ball of cotton wool and smearing it with Vaseline, a firelighter is created that burns longer and hotter than the wool alone. This quickly did the trick and as we watched the flames take hold I explained that if Vaseline wasn’t available in an emergency you could mash lip salve, or even lipstick into cotton wool to to get the same result.

This came back to me when Little Boots conveyed this information to my OH with the added suggestion that in a survival situation where you didn’t have cotton wool you could collect sheep’s wool from barbed wire fences. This was a great idea and innovation. Whether it would work I don’t know and we will have to test it, which seeing’s that LB loves to pick scraps of wool off of wire fences when we are out wombling, shouldn’t be hard.

So what have I myself learned lately? Well lots of things, most of them not worth knowing, but there are two that will be of use when are out wombling and having adventures.

The first is that in order to make as quiet as sound as possible when whispering do so only after completely exhaling. This does work, though I think maybe only marginally. The difference is probably more marked if you are short of breath from running or something. This tip I picked up from Dead Centre by Ed Kugler, which is the autobiography of a Viet-era US marine sniper.

The second tip comes from another book, but one that is several worlds away from the aforementioned biography. Wanderings With The Woodman by Hugh Brandon-Cox. It’s a romanticised ramble through an English countryside that’s long gone, if it ever existed at all. The tip here is how to estimate the height of a tree – it goes thus – Stand with your back o the tree. Walk away from the tree, stopping from time to time to bend over and look through your open legs back at the tree. When you get to the point at which you can just see the top twigs from between your legs, mark that point by pushing a stick into the ground. The distance from tree to stick is the height of the tree. Of course you need to know the length of your foot or your stride in order to measure this distance. This seems like a simple method and I was prepared to accept in on trust until I read a couple more things later in the book. Firstly that pike go to sea to spawn and at that time estuaries are full of them. Whilst I admit the pike is not a fish I know much about I am very sceptical of that idea. The second thing is something I do know quite a lot about – wood and fire. The author quite rightly says that Ash is one of the best fuels and also, quite rightly that it will burn when green (that is freshly cut). But he says this is because it is so dry. This is not correct. Whilst it is not as wet when cut, as say sycamore, it is not especially dry. No, the reason Ash will burn when freshly cut is because is that it contains oil, it is after all a relative of the olive. So I am therefore a bit doubtful of the veracity of the tree height method.

That said, having found out a little about the author I won’t discount it entirely.

I think a field test is called for.

Just treated the handle with walnut oil – brought it up very nicely. 

It’s sat in front of me now and I think it’s worth a smile of self-congratulation.

000 at last

 

The photos in the previous post are of a little project I’ve been working on. A couple of weeks ago I came across an ugly little bladed thing that I think was a paperknife. Whilst it was not as a whole attractive, the Sheffield-made blade looked nice enough and so the thought came to me that I might re-handle it.

As I discovered with my previous whittling project  carving wood takes a lot longer than you’d think, to this I was to additionally learn that accurate carving takes even more time and care.

So I found some wood for a handle – a piece of Ash which I knew would be good and dry since it had helped fill the fireplace over the summer – and set to work.

First I taped up the blade to make it safe before cutting it out of the plastic it was embedded in, using a hacksaw and Stanley knife. Once clear it was pretty dull and dirty so I cleaned it up by steeping it in HP sauce for 24 hours. The smell lingered and consequently I was rendered hungry every time I went into the garage for the following week.

The next stage was to trace around the blade and from that draw a blueprint of what I wanted the thing to finally look like. Based on the drawing I produced a cardboard jig/ template for the planned handle.

Next I flattened the sides of the small log that was going to use. Using the blade and the cardboard pattern I gauged where the tang* of the knife would be. I then drilled a small hole accordingly and then widened it by pushing the tapered tang of the knife itself in and out as a primitive file.

(* the tang is the bit that sticks in the handle)

Once the hole for the blade was finished it was time to shape the handle. After drawing out the shape of the handle using the cardboard template I set to work using a knife and sandpaper. This took some time, but was quite absorbing work and became more satisfying as I progressed. What was particularly enjoyable was the feel of the wood itself. I know that Ash is in the same family as the olive (which is why it burns when green), and that may be why it had a soapy, waxy feel when sanded; even with fairly coarse sandpaper.

However once I got to the point where I’d finished, I didn’t like the result. It just didn’t look right – the handle was way too large and it looked out of balance. I also wanted it narrower, but I was concerned that if it was too thin it would not be strong enough to support the tang, making it useless. I was in something of a dilemma. Whilst shortening was definitely called for, surely that would make it look too stubby?

Then I hit on an idea – I could cut it off at an angle, which would make it both shorter in length, and at the same time more elongated in form. At least that’s what I hoped. It seemed like a good idea, but I was slightly dubious as I took the saw to what represented a good few hours’ work.

Luckily I needn’t have worried -the results were better than I had imagined.

Now I need to treat the handle with something to seal it and make some kind of sheath. The latter is unknown territory, but then I’d never made a knife handle before.

 

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fire

With the open fire eventually decommissioned for the summer it was time to do something about the empty grate. Somehow it makes the room seem cold. Not in a cooling way that might be desirable in this heat wave, but rather in a slightly desolate, abandoned way.

Usually I just fill it with some logs, but this year not only was the log pile depleted because we had fires much later in the year, but also those left were large and rather irregularly shaped which meant that they were hopeless for stacking.

So, the Sunday before last, I thought I’d use some cut branches that I had in the garden. This should only take half an hour I said to myself. Using a mix of Ash, Sycamore, Beech and Apple it ended up taking me nearly two hours (in the hot sun). No wonder really as there are at least 150 pieces. What has surprised me is that, even though most of the branches were cut some time ago, there has been quite a bit of shrinkage. Initially it was a snug fit, but you’ll notice quite a gap in this photo taken a week later. I’m going to have to cut some more – this could be a theme for the summer

Next year I think I’ll stockpile some bigger round pieces towards the end of the log burning season.