Carving Wooden Spoons

Here are a couple of spoons I carved from a single chunk of white ash (fraxinus americana) I gathered from the park behind where I live in Toronto. The already-dead tree had collapsed in a windstorm last year. To finish them, I soaked them in olive oil for a day.

It wasn't until I had oiled them that I realized the the bowls are translucent. They're not so thin that they are too delicate to use, but the wood just seems to have that certain quality that transmits light so beautifully. I used 120 grit sandpaper, and you can see the abrasive marks on the bowl. Next time I'll go up to 220, and even consider using a curved scraper to remove any of those marks.

The tree was likely the victim of the Emerald Ash Borer. This is the beetle devastating the Ash population across North America, killing tens of millions of trees. A native of Asia, this beetle was first detected in Toronto in 2007. Ash makes up 8 percent of the tree canopy in Toronto. All of them will be attacked by next year, and all untreated trees will die. Toronto's municipal policy is to basically remove the ash trees, using the wood for fuel and lumber, and replanting with different species.

I used my Gransfors-Bruks Small Forest Axe to cut up the log, and my Mora 'Classic Original 1' knife with a wonderful laminated steel blade to shape it. I also used a Mora Erik Frost hook knife to carve out the bowls- not the double-edged knife shown in the picture, but the singled-edged carbon steel blade #164 which I have in my tool kit.

I can't understand why someone would want to use the double-edged one. I don't use mine at all. To use it effectively, I have to choke up on the blade, and that means grasping it to use small cutting motions, and pushing/pulling it with my thumb. If I use the double-edged blade, I'm having to place my thumb against a blade. Which is rather dangerous.

I bought the birch-handled knife from eBay 8 years ago, and it is my second favourite Mora. I got my favourite Mora from Tim Smith at Jack Mountain when I was taking a course down there a few years back. It is a Mora 510. It has a 3 1/2 inch blade, a perfect size, and practically no finger guard which allows me to choke up on the blade as needed. At the time, Tim very gravely reminded me that the 510 had been discontinued by Mora for incomprehensible reasons, and that I should get one from him ASAP. I handed him $10 in the shadows of his barn doors, and the transaction was complete.

Well, I've just discovered that Mora has restarted making and is selling the Mora 510. Instead of the orange-red slightly garish coloured handle which I have, they've replaced it with a black handle. Nice. I wonder if they figured the black handle would be more popular... that folks didn't want something looking so bright and - well - plastic. The benefit of a red handled bushcraft / outdoors knife is that if you drop it in the forest litter or in the snow it will be easier to spot. At the very least, in case you don't want to paint a beautiful knife handle bright red, you can tie a red string or ribbon through the lanyard hole.

Mors Kochanski was the instructor down at Jack Mountain, and here describes what he considers to be the perfect bushcraft knife (like his Skookum design). In the following 45 minute long video, Mors builds a knife from an old saw blade. I thoroughly enjoyed getting training from him.


Redux: A Tutorial on How To Build a Coke Can Stove for Hiking, Bushcraft and Camping

I was just looking over my Coke can camping stove tutorial and thought it might be a good time to post it again - it is such an easy stove to make, and lots of fun.

Okay, following up on a post about emergency preparedness, picture this: your power has just gone out. It is the middle of winter, and the battery-powered radio reports that a major substation has suffered an outage due to iced-over power cables. You are told to expect that power will return in no less than 7 days. So you get out all the blankets in the house, and warm up the bed. You find your 72 hour kit, first aid kit, candles, flashlights, your food supplies (some freeze-dried entrees and cans of food), water, radio and more. After all that fussing around, you decide you want a nice cup of coffee and a hot meal. You have a camping stove that runs on naptha but you'd rather use that outside so the fuel doesn't smell so strongly. You need a quick stove for in the house. A good option for this is an alcohol stove.

I was at a dollar store the other day wandering around the aisles. Other than the things we were actually going there to get, I started browsing the shelves with an eye on camping and bushcrafty things - products I could use directly or indirectly to fuel the fire of my hobby.

I saw a pile of Fondu Fuel bottles containing denatured alcohol and had a little ponder. After a minute of semi-deep thought, I decided that finally it was time I made a Coke Can Stove. Or a Pepsi Can Stove. Or a Pop Can Stove. Whatever you'd like to call it. But because I drink Coke, it would have to be a Coke Can Stove.

Boiling water is obviously important when camping or hiking or during a power outage. With one you can make hot drinks, heat meals (boil in a bag, or heat straight from the can), cook rice or eggs, wash for regular hygiene or for first-aid reasons, sterilize gauze or needles or sutures, and much more.

Now this is a very simple little stove. All that is needed to build one is a pair of Coke Cans (specifically the bottom half of each can), a tuna can or some kind of base, something to cut the drink cans (knife or scissors) and something to poke holes in the drink cans (pin, or drill, or awl, or a nail). Into the stove you pour the denatured alcohol, light it and heat up your food or boil water for tea.

Anyway, all I know is that it took me about 15 minutes to assemble a Coke Can Stove. Here is how you can do it too:

Acquire two cans of Coke and drink them quickly and grab a can of Tuna - consume tuna quickly. Rinse out the cans.

bushcraft, camping, hiking, stove, coke, algonquin, mungo, says, bah
First of all drill roughly 8 to 14 1/16th holes into the rim of one can - you can also use the awl on a pocket knife or a pin mounted in an Exacto-Blade sheath. These holes are the gas jets. Also drill 3 1/16th holes into the center of the concave section. These will serve as gas jets also, but primarily as the fuel-filling holes.

bushcraft, camping, hiking, stove, coke, algonquin, mungo, says, bah
Carefully score each Coke can an inch from the bottom using the tip of your knife resting on a solid item about 1 1/2 inches high (I'm using the tuna can above). Rotate the can against it a few times. This will keep the score consistent and level.

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Then remove the tops of each can by roughly cutting an inch above the score.

bushcraft, camping, hiking, stove, coke, algonquin, mungo, says, bah
Dispose of the cut off tops (recycle them).

bushcraft, camping, hiking, stove, coke, algonquin, mungo, says, bah
Slowly working your way around, cut tabs down to just above the score marks on each can using scissors.

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Bend them back and forth to get a neat break at the score line. This makes a very clean and straight edge.

bushcraft, camping, hiking, stove, coke, algonquin, mungo, says, bah
Dispose of the tabs (recycle them).

bushcraft, camping, hiking, stove, coke, algonquin, mungo, says, bah
The next step is to nest the two halves together, top into the bottom.

bushcraft, camping, hiking, stove, coke, algonquin, mungo, says, bah
You may find that bending little indentations in the top piece will help you slip it into the bottom piece.

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Be patient, it seems tricky, but you'll get it.

bushcraft, camping, hiking, stove, coke, algonquin, mungo, says, bah
Once it starts nesting, firmly and carefully tap the top section into place using a heavy object like a full can or a book.

bushcraft, camping, hiking, stove, coke, algonquin, mungo, says, bah
In the image above, you can see the fuel jets and the filling holes.

bushcraft, camping, hiking, stove, coke, algonquin, mungo, says, bah
This is a lightweight stove, which is also pretty tough. You can carry one around in your jacket pocket. The fuel is stored separately.

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I'm using a metal tray for safety above. The Bic lighter will get the stove going.

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Fill the concave cavity about 3 times with fuel and allow it to drain into the stove.

Then pour about a teaspoon of fluid onto the priming section (in this case the tuna can). The fuel within the stove needs to be primed before it can ignite - i.e. it is heated by the external flame on the priming surface until alcohol fumes are pressurized and are emitted from the fuel jets.

bushcraft, camping, hiking, stove, coke, algonquin, mungo, says, bah
Above you can see the priming flames begin to heat the stove and the fuel within.

bushcraft, camping, hiking, stove, coke, algonquin, mungo, says, bah
Here too - but I have used a regular empty tin can as the priming surface (better for the photograph). Soon the priming flames will exhaust themselves and burn out, hopefully not before doing their job.

bushcraft, camping, hiking, stove, coke, algonquin, mungo, says, bah
See the priming flames on the side of the stove in the image above, and the pressurized fuel jets beginning to ignite.

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Here the initial burst of pressure has subsided, replaced with the regular fuel jets burning. They will increase in size in a minute or so, once the stove has warmed up.

bushcraft, camping, hiking, stove, coke, algonquin, mungo, says, bah
In the image above, I have placed the stove within an Ikea cutlery drainer which I have used as a wood stove. Above it I have placed a camping pot full of water. It took about 10 minutes for 1 1/2 liters of water to come to a boil, shortly before the stove ran out of alcohol fuel.

You can keep one of these stoves at home, one in the car and one in your jacket pocket for the moment that you need hot cocoa.

Let me know if you have any questions please about the construction of this stove.



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Mungo Is Still Mad About Wool Blankets

So this is a rewrite of an older post. I'm going to start writing more again soon - but with the cold winter upon us here in Ontario, I wanted to share my Wool Blankets post again. Stay warm out there!

I picked up some wool blankets recently at a second hand thrift shop. They cost $4 each. I am utterly amazed at the prices there. To buy a new King sized blanket at the Hudson's Bay store in Canada, it would cost me $475. For a Double sized blanket, $275. Even to buy one on, with shipping factored in, I'd be paying at least $75.

So instead, I occasionally stop in at the neighbourhood thrift shop and browse the rack at the back of the floor where you can pick up used comforters, sheets and towels. Nearly every time I go there, there are one or two blankets waiting for me.

Why is this such a big deal for me? I'm not sure. I'm obsessed for some reason. For the outdoors, there is something magical about a wool blanket. It is a terrific insulator. Your body emits about the same amount of heat energy as a 150 watt light bulb. The trick to staying warm in the outdoors is to keep that heat from leaking away from your body faster than your body can replenish it. You can achieve that equilibrium - or overcome the environmental temperature differential - by keeping colder objects away from your body (the ground, water, even cold air) or by adding warmth to your immediate area (warm air from a fire, hot water bottle, infrared radiation from a fire-heated rock wall, etc...), which effectively does the same thing - keeping the cold away.

Mors Kochanski talks about treating your clothing and covering as a micro-environment. He says that you should be sufficiently clothed to survive whatever nature can throw at your for 4 full days, without having a shelter. So you need to have layers of covering and clothes that will trap air in it, and not hold water. Water is not a great insulator. In fact, it allows heat to migrate from your body to the environment 27 times more efficiently than does air. Worse still would be to wrap yourself in aluminum foil... I would be prepared for the worst if I had a couple of wool blankets with my normal winter camping clothing. Even wet, wool retains a degree of insulation - and it won't wick and absorb moisture like cotton does.

A wool blanket is safe around a fire - when sparks land on a wool blanket, it chars but won't catch on fire. It won't melt like polyester fleece, or like plastic. You can use a wool blanket to sit on, or as a quick tarp-like shelter which will protect you from light rains, and from the sun.

A wool blanket can be quickly and easily made into a coat, or with extra effort, into a nicely-cut shirt, and can be used as a sleeping bag.

A backpack can be quickly made with a wool blanket and some twine, to carry your gear, or even a baby. Tightly rolled up and tied off with a bit of twine or paracord, I can easily attach a couple of blankets to a knapsack.

You can collect nuts, seeds, berries, fruit and other edibles on an outspread blanket, and of course use it to transport them in.

But for me, a wool blanket is mostly for wrapping myself in when I am sitting down in the outdoors.



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'Twas the Night before Bahmas (The Story of St. Mungo and Team of Beagles)

Twas the night before Bahmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Mungo soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny beagles.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Mungo.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now bah away! Bah away! Bah away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Mungo too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little beagle paw.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Mungo came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Bahmas to all, and to all a good-night!"
Happy Bahmas everyone and hope you have a great New Year.

Repost: My Lunar Eclipse Photos from February, 2008

Thought I'd repost this on the eve of the Winter Solstice Lunar Eclipse (which hasn't happened since something like 1650)... We get 2 lunar eclipses each year, but having it happen on the Winter Solstice is apparently rare. Anyhoooo.... have a look and a read below!


I heard about the lunar eclipse that was happening this evening, so I grabbed my digital camera, my big Nikon 12x50 5.5º binoculars and went out into the backyard.

The weather is perfect for taking pictures, with not a cloud in sight. It is cold, and clear.

In case you've forgotten (or never really knew, as in my case), a lunar eclipse takes place when the earth gets right in the way of the sun, (i.e. right exactly between the sun and the moon) such that the earth's shadow (lighter shadow is the penumbra, and the much darker umbral shadow appears later) appears across the face of the moon. The blood-red or orange colour is the result of the final bits of sunlight that are able to refract around the earth's atmosphere - the earth's atmosphere blocks the blue light and allows through predominantly the red portion of the spectrum which we see. Here in Toronto, the eclipse starts at 8:43 PM and will end just around midnight. The dark umbral Earth shadow will start to change the moon's colour around 9:00 PM and total eclipse will occur at 10:01 PM. Again, the moon will slip out of the dark umbral shadow and sit in the penumbral shadow until about 10:50 PM.

I used a lawn chair as a camera rest on this very cold night (about 15 degrees below Centigrade) and huddled in my pajamas, wrapped in a scarf, hat, 2 sweaters and a coat and shot off a few pictures. At first, most were pretty blurred as it was hard to control holding the binoculars in one hand, resting as firmly as possible on a lawn chair that was unstable on ice coating the bricks out back - and then with my other hand carefully holding the digital lens into one of the binocular lenses... Anyway, it seems to have worked pretty well and I got the hang of it after a while - necessity is the mother of invention so they say.

Here is the clearest shot I could take at 7:20 PM - the moon looks rather yellow - it was still about 30 degrees from the horizon and so I think the atmosphere was lending a deeper colour to it. The colour is not related to the eclipse.

This next one is really clear - I took this and the next three shots at 8:20 PM - the colour had whitened up as the moon had climbed the sky more to about 40º.

8:20 PM again. A branch from the neighbour's tree got in the way of this picture - but the combination of the camera lens and binocular really picks up great details of the moon's surface.

8:20 PM again. There is a blueish glow at the top of the moon - caused by the distortions of the lenses, not due to the moon's inhabitants hosting a late night baseball game and using high-powered sodium lamps to light up the stadium. The cold air has made me quite hilarious, you see. I am all a-twitter. I run inside for a moment to tell Spring. Spring is bundled up in bed, and promises to look at the photographs. That means she's not going outside. For a second I see myself as a deranged fool dressed in pajamas with an overcoat looking like Dr. Who. And then the insight goes away as I fumble my way out the back door again.

9:10 PM. The eclipse has begun! For some reason, perhaps because I had to move the lawn chair to a less stable area on the snow, the images are not as clear. Here though you clearly see the umbral shadow cloaking the brightness of the moon. Watching it through binoculars is magical really - quite amazing to observe. It's as though someone is drawing a dark, heavy cloth across the luminous surface of the moon.

9:15 PM. This one is taken without benefit of the binoculars - straight through the digital camera lense. Not great. But shiny.

9:26 PM. The umbral shadow has occluded about 50% of the moon's surface. I can hear the clattering of doors around the neighbourhood as people duck out into the cold night to see it. Planes occasionally track through the sky - I wonder if the pilots and passengers are looking, or if they are too caught up in the in-flight showing of Die Hard, and gin and tonics.

9:45 PM. Sixteen minutes until full eclipse - it's getting close. My fingers are beginning to freeze off. The pain has receded, only to be replaced with a slightly frightening numbness. My fingers don't work very well, hard to click the shutter button. It was Captain Lawrence Oates on the ill fated Scott Expedition to the South Pole who said "I am just going outside and may be some time" and deliberately left his tent and went out into a blizzard in an effort to save the rest of his compatriots by leaving them with more food. I am not at that stage yet, but it is sure is chilly.

9:47 PM. This one taken without binoculars. Kneeling on mitts in the snow. Knees cold. Monty is now outside running around in the snowy paths that I made for him the other day. He has located his stick and is galloping full bore around the backyard, proud as a peacock. Now he is peeing. Sorry, back to the moon.

9:55 PM. Shadow almost taking up all of the moon - it is looking a lot more dim in the sky, and the stars around it are beginning to show brightly. A dirty orange glow - soothing and a bit scary in a way.

10:00 PM. If you look at these photos, you can really see the 'man in the moon'. Just a slice of brightness remains. Amazing.

Well, that was fun. I'm inside now, my fingers have warmed up, and I'm getting tired. Time to go to sleep and hope that the moon returns from its eclipsed state and that the sun rises in the morning and that everything goes back to the way it is supposed to be.

We shall see.



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