Monday, August 25, 2014

Cutting Down a Badly Damaged Axe

Much as I like the idea of saving old axes from an ill fated existence, there isn't much that can be done with one that's been mistreated to the point of being damaged. I think it's fair to avoid those abused choppers out there as a prudent measure of caution - a notion at the front of my mind when large pieces of sharpened steel moving with great force are involved.

Each of us assigns value to items in different ways and perhaps some things, despite a rough exterior or unpleasant history, may be worth a little more consideration if they are of greater perceived value to us. This Keen Kutter fit this description for me. It would require surgery, but botching the procedure was worth the risk when the axe, in received condition, couldn't be used. It was a well made tool in its day, unappreciated by owner, abused, then left for dead. In good condition it would have been too valuable to cut into pieces, but in present condition, unusable without cutting. Ironically, from an edged tool's perspective, every edge but the cutting edge had been used to accomplish some task, leaving damage on virtually every surface it shouldn't have been. By luck, or fate, I had recently contemplated creating a smaller axe by relieving it from a larger one, but up until this point, I simply didn't have the heart to put steel to steel.

Keen Kutter stamp.
I'm not knowledgeable in the art of steel, the science of metallurgy, but I know two things to be fact. One, I don't have a lot of patience for certain things, and two, I know power tools designed to save patience generate a lot of heat. This goes back to that part where botching the surgery was worth the risk. I knew I had to keep it cool, and I knew I'd cut corners if it took too long to get it cut down. My understanding of axe steel is that the majority of the tool is in an unhardened state, while the bit, the cutting edge, is the area to be particular about. With this in mind I soaked a couple of shop towels in cool water, wrapped the axe in them and clamped them into place as I cut. I have a testing system for heat, it's very sophisticated. There is warm, where you can touch it with your fingers and not get burned. There is hot, like the water that comes out of the hot water heater - it'll scald you. After that is piss-your-pants hot. If you touch it, expect a blister or worse. I figure the steel needs cooling when it gets to scalding water temperatures and it's a good job when it's not too hot to touch. If you touch it and it's so hot you just about piss your pants, you screwed up.

First cut made to the bottom.
I used a thin cut-off wheel made for steel on my 4.5 inch grinder. It cuts through steel, hardened or not, like butter. These things laugh in the face of pretty much anything, are cheap, and actually very durable. The whole unit, clamps, rags and axe could all be dunked in a bucket of water from time to time when I felt I was getting to the appropriate range on my special heat test.

Regardless of experience or knowledge, the proof as they say, is in the pudding. When I finish an axe, I like to split some wood with it, especially Hedge (Osage Orange), just to see if my hang is tight, but in this case, to see if the edge would roll. Cutting hedge is a little bit like cutting concrete, and short of whacking my hard work against the sidewalk, is a good test of the cutting edge. My chopped down Keen Kutter passed the test. I've been known to tackle hunks of wood with my axes that are best left to a maul or wedge, or chainsaw (let's be honest), but I don't suggest splitting wood with your axe if it's really reluctant to give way. Some people believe that mauls are for splitting wood, axes are for chopping wood, and they are strictly segregated races within the world of cutting implements. Of course that's nonsense. But there is a line. An axe is light and handy and I have a personal preference toward three pounders on 28 inch sticks. A general purpose profile axe will split like a dream with considerably less effort than a maul, which tends to maul not only wood, but also the user. By the same token, there's no sense in busting your handle over a hunk of stubborn timber.

The finished product with the rest of the family.
This little Keen Kutter is now 2lbs 6oz and with the haft, 3lbs 5oz. Its splitting limits are different but with the smaller size comes new uses and conveniences in processing kindling or simple brush clearing or even carving. It originally had an octagonal handle and I felt this was a good time to give one a try as I haven't before. House Handle makes octagonal handles and so I placed my order for one 28 inches long. After some trimming and touch up, it measures just a little over 26 inches finished. Sadly the Keen Kutter stamp fell victim to the mushroomed poll, but the USA stamp is intact.

Some very pronounced mushrooming to the poll here - both sides.
Serious damage toward the bottom or "heel".
It just keeps getting better and better. Damage to the eye.
24 hours in vinegar means very little elbow grease needed. The black bit indicates the hard steel where it was folded over the softer steel in the forging process.
The first cut is pictured earlier in the post, but here it is just about finished.
This mark was found on the underside of the poll.
Still made in the USA!
Some of the finish work. Still a dent in the eye but now minor.
The underside. I ended up taking a bit more material from the top and bottom but this is the more or less finished state.
It has a slightly up-swept appearance but nothing serious.
Handles that came in that same day.
Here she is in all her glory with the octagonal handle. You may be able to notice that I trimmed the swell down some.
My best fit to date.

A nice little roll of wood all the way around. I know it's tight.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Black King Axe Project and Tool Handle Selection

What can I say, I enjoy working on old axes. I think someone referred to it as "rescuing" them and I really think that is the right word for the way I feel about doing this sort of work. Losing great things to nothing more than the passage of time just seems wrong. It's the same way I feel about old cars and no doubt the same way other people feel about whichever old things they enjoy rescuing. The mere fact that they can be rescued some decades later is a testament to their intrinsic value and quality. An old axe may have been seen as a tool in its time but that doesn't mean it wasn't much more. People lived by their tools in simpler years gone by and perhaps in different ways and by different tools, still do. Some derived income from an axe to feed, clothe and shelter themselves and their families, others may have directly used it to achieve those same results by harvesting and processing plants and animals themselves. It's fair to say the axe was the tool for its time, meaning that it existed because it was needed. When things are no longer needed, they aren't made. Computers and electronic appliances may be the tools of our time and many of them are very well made. Computers, I think, represent our era, and while some may be well made, they will cease to be useful in a relatively short period of time - some in just a few years, others even less. Computers reinvented the term obsolete. However, we found better ways to cut down trees, and we find better ways to process data today. A person can, and many do, go to work and derive the income needed to feed, clothe and shelter themselves and their families by using a computer.

So far as I know, no one has used a computer to directly process or harvest wood for shelter, or animals for food and clothing. A computer is part of an unsustainable system, and I expect that it always will be. There will be arguments, but the computer will always rely on another piece of unsustainable material or process to provide us with the essentials for life - no matter how sci-fi your imagination can get. In the Fifth Element, one of my all time favorite movies, Leeloo, the lovely red headed alien, was able to press a button on the microwave and produce a complete chicken dinner in a matter of seconds. That's impressive but it makes me think of another classic sci-fi quote from the Stallone Judge Dredd - "Eat recycled food. It's good for the environment, and OK for you". The axe and other hand tools are part of a sustainable system, directly connected to self-reliance, freedom and life. Each part of the system can be grown, or made by hand using human ingenuity. The iron needed for an axe is used so efficiently that its impact is infinitesimal compared to modern tools destined to live brief lives. Humans are tool users, and we'll always use the tools of our time, but certain tools are timeless. To live, to have the things we absolutely must have or perish, regardless of the time, the axe will remain constant while the computer will not.

In fifty years the computer I am writing this on most likely won't even turn on due to component or system failure, or incompatibility or all three, and whether it turns on or not it will be obsolete. Fifty year old axes, even those left to be reclaimed by nature, are fully capable of performing their intended function, and are often rescued for it. There is no component like plastic, or system like electricity or micro manufacturing required to sustain an axe and the only material with which it must be compatible is a living thing. The axe to me represents that connection between us and nature, a time of craftsmanship, pride and quality, and most importantly self reliance. Because the poll axe is an American creation and because most modern axe patterns are a variation of the American axe, it is a symbol of the founding of this country as well.

House Handles seem to commonly be lop sided like this and I am picky about the shape of the shoulder. Not just visually but also in feel since my hand spends a fair amount of time on this area. As it was, it was much too large for my hands.
After a vinegar bath you can clearly see the hardened bit. I'd like to see every axe be like my Snow & Nealley with more than 2 inches of bit, but this is acceptable.
The Black King markings.
More goofy shape, but I asked for a large swell in order to shape it to my liking.
The Black King is on the right with a Hedge wedge and a fitting I am proud of. I think it has an odd design myself. You will notice in the next picture that the bit is quite thick, yet you will also notice how much more wedge shaped the Snow & Nealley (on the left) is. One would expect a wider bit on an axe designed for splitting duties, but not the taper toward the poll. Maybe that taper has some benefit in splitting that I don't know about, but I honestly don't see much difference and the thick edge doesn't bite like a thinner edge does. It tends to want to bounce out of the cut on stubborn wood.
There is a good shot of the thick edge.
A shot of the shoulder after it was thinned down.
A heart sinking hairline crack that I didn't notice until it was done. I don't believe it will be a real issue, it's just not what you want to see after you spent 3 hours reworking the shape of a handle this much and fitting it to a new axe.
While I was at it, these two hammers got new life.
I am led to believe that the little guy on the right might be old and original because of the simple (non-step) metal wedges.
That is a U mark, I think. This was an impressive job fitting the handle whoever did it originally. The eye is tapered on the inside - larger at the top and bottom which means the handle is flared significantly in order to fill the eye. This was a challenge for me to say the least.
Bits and pieces and the new handles.
 You may have noticed that my new axe handle is dark, made entirely from heart wood. A good helping of boiled linseed oil took it from the light color pictured toward the top, to the final dark color. I did some research and it would appear that there is some mythology involved in handle selection. Your standard handle selection advice sounds something like this; heart wood is a no-no, and the grain must be perfectly straight, parallel to the tool. I happened across some documents from the National Forrest Service and other writings dating back to the 20s or 30s if I remember correctly, which seem to suggest that these requirements aren't really necessary. Trees are round and we're not cutting naturally grown, old trees like we might have in the 1800s, so perfect grain orientation is somewhat unrealistic by itself. I think that parallel grain orientation is requested not necessarily to provide theoretical strength, but as an easy way to avoid grain run out. If you can picture wood as thin layers stacked up, you want to avoid having those layers run at an angle across the handle, ending in the middle somewhere. That is where the handle is going to break. Grain which runs perpendicular to the tool, you may be able to imagine, needs to only be at a slight angle in order to result in bad run out. Of course this problem could happen in either orientation. There is a reason Hickory is the choice wood though. It's strong and straight grain is easy to come by.

So based on my research it looks to me like run out is a top priority and grain quality is another. Some stripes in the grain look speckled, or porous, others look smooth. I suppose the logic here is obvious. The porous wood is weaker and brittle, the smooth, tight wood is strong and flexible. In the image the lightest band is just a thin line which sort of dissolves into speckles until there are none leaving the darkest band. The area which is burned slightly shows it best. Where the speckles are tightly bunched they create a thin line. The area with less dense speckling or none at all, is much thicker. Much like grain run out, I think the chances are pretty good you'll land good grain quality more often than not when buying AA grade Hickory, and it's not worth stressing over the thickness of the smooth bands of wood in your handle. It is more important to avoid those which are obviously bad. I'm not going to ransack the handle isle for an extra millimeter of good grain, I'm just going to look at the end of the handle and check that the speckled bands are thinner and the smooth bands are the thicker bands. Hickory is good stuff, and wood will eventually break. I figure these are the realities of the handle situation. I split wood to heat my house, I don't harvest lumber for a living, and because I enjoy saving axes, I have a growing collection where I can rotate them often enough to put very little stress on any given one.

The same Forrest Service research detailed significant strength/break testing on Hickory heart wood and they concluded that it's perfectly suited for axe handle use.

I guess the moral of the story is, don't over think your handle. By the same token, if you want it I say go for that parallel grain if it's available - it looks great and shows some attention to detail. There is no argument against a nice handle, there is just evidence that losing sleep over less than perfect grain isn't warranted. If you find heartwood attractive, get it, and enjoy your axe.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Enzo Trapper Kydex Leather Hybrid Sheath Build

horizontal carry, kydex leather hybrid enzo trapper
Many fixed blade enthusiasts will be familiar with the work of Martin Swinkels and I fully admit that I sought to emulate his sheath designs when I set off on this project. Further credit is due to Ian Atkinson of Leodis Leather from youtube. He has two specific videos; Making a Bushcraft Sheath and Making a Leather/Kydex Sheath which give you step-by-step, complete, no questions left unanswered instructions for building a sheath and ending up with a high quality product. If you want to learn to make sheaths (or anything leather) Ian's youtube channel is a one stop shop. I've made a number of leather products in the past and made enough mistakes that I felt pretty confident about this project, but good guidance never hurts. The biggest issue with my sheath is that I was buying bellies for leather and they really aren't very good. Belly leather is inexpensive and useful for a few things, but if you want something nice, it would pay to just get some good leather. With that said, leather just isn't really my thing. There are a number of products you really should have on hand to make a quality product that will last, and the leather itself is expensive. Often you have to buy more than you want or need, so it's not exactly a project one might take on with the goal of saving some money on a single item. If you wanted to build yourself a holster/mag carrier/belt package then it is probably worth looking into, but like all projects or hobbies, it's the enjoyment of creating your own item that really matters.

For my particular project, the Enzo Trapper fixed Scandinavian blade, I felt that a more traditional material was needed to make the package complete. I used Hedge (Osage Orange) for the handle scales and I felt that leather would be the only way to go for the sheath. With that said, the benefits of Kydex are undeniable. It doesn't retain moisture and it provides retention that doesn't require any straps or snaps. By emulating Martin's designs, I could have modularity in case I wanted to add accessories or change from horizontal carry to vertical carry, and possibly bring those straps and snaps into play later if they became necessary for me. 

With my goals nailed down I went to work. I pressed the Kydex loosely on the theory that it would allow particles in the sheath to filter out around the blade. The deal with Kydex is that stuff gets into the sheath (or holster) so when you put the knife in, you get scratches. You will need to weigh the pros and cons for yourself when you design a sheath. For me, the benefits of Kydex outweigh this particular negative. I put three layers of tape on the blade and left about 1/8 inch of tape hanging over the cutting edge, trimming the tape in the same shape as the blade (effectively making the blade bigger so to speak). My theory was to create a gap at the edge so that it's not able to touch the Kydex at all. In the end, I can further theorize that creating a space inside the sheath may actually allow particles to fit and scratch the blade anyway. I can't say one way or the other with authority, but I can tell you that I have some very light scratches already. I honestly don't see how leather wouldn't have the same results and in fact leather is used for stropping presumably because of it's mildly abrasive nature. Debris is going to get trapped in a cavity like a sheath regardless of what material it is constructed of, and so in my mind, Kydex is the way to go for an insert. 

enzo trapper bushcraft sheath
Leather work is also time consuming. It needs to be wet to form and then it really needs to be dry to finish and dry time, even if you heat it, can be long. There were some areas like around the throat of the sheath where I didn't really have a solid plan. I just went into free form mode and I would probably do it differently next time. My eyelets weren't really the correct size which took some fiddling, but overall I am happy with the result. It is meant to be worn horizontally on the front, but can easily be worn "scout" style on the back. I'm not absolutely sure of the benefits to scout carry. When worn on the front I can sit and bend naturally, I can see the knife at all times, and I can access it easily with both hands in any orientation. Having the big strap also provides a platform for other accessories and mounting variations.

Lastly, I ended up using the Super Glue trick to finish the handle. Honestly, I prefer the appearance of the handle in the picture above where it is lying on a pile of wood chips. At that point it had a coat of boiled linseed oil and nothing else. However, I discovered a small crack after I had the handle nearly complete. I also knew that hunting season would mean blood for my knife so I decided that sealing up all the possible entry points for moisture was more important than looks. I painted on the Super Glue and used a buffing wheel to polish it. I can't foresee any moisture penetrating my handle now.

All of my sheath parts ready for assembly.

martin sheath style
When polished the Super Glue is very glassy. I could have spent more time sanding it and adding more layers for a really heavy protective finish, but even at this point, you can see how shiny it is. All the pores like around the Corby Bolts, the hairline cracks, and the end grain, are sealed up for life. Remarkably the glossy finish also increased the grip. I am expecting the opposite when it's wet however.

One additional comment I think should be made about Hedge for handle material. It is difficult or impossible to capture in pictures, though if you examine each image you might catch it, but it has an almost pearlescent effect in the light. The grain may not be the most exciting, but it really has some subtle interesting features. I am really pleased with the results. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

FDE Rifle Mag Carriers

FDE kydex, pmag carrier, mag pouch
My latest batch of mag carriers is complete and they have a few design updates from the last generation. This time I cut the final carrier so that the magazine sits lower overall within the unit itself, while at the same time utilizing two rows of PALS rather than three for mounting. This sets the magazine lower on the body which makes grasping and drawing them a more natural motion, improving the economy of effort factor. My flat-back design still keeps them close to the body, but more importantly, relieves stress on the carrier itself from over-tightening or torquing during use. There are no corners standing away from your body or gear to snag or bend under weight. Angled corners provide comfort while belt mounted and after hours of wearing, they go virtually unnoticed, sitting, standing, and moving. As before, my rifle mag carriers are specifically designed for the Battle Belt or War Belt user. I have worked on a tight molding technique that makes my carriers fit exactly inside three columns of PALS webbing. With the lower mounting design and the flat back, these are ideally situated at the waist for their intended purpose - emergency reloads. They space your magazines to facilitate gross motor, reflexive retrieval and expose only the lower portion of the magazine that is needed for a successful reload. Chest rigs are an excellent way to carry ammunition, but the magazines at your waist are there for moments when seconds count. Enough magazine is exposed that you get a full hand "beer can grip", while enough is protected within the carrier that you do not over grip the mag. This prevents your hand from impeding a fully seated magazine as you bring it up to the rifle. Visit the Kydex page to learn more and see what is available.

ar-15 mag holder, kydex, p-mag kydex
The previous and new generation side-by-side. You can see how much lower the magazine sits as well as the carrier itself, which moves them further from other gear and puts them in a natural position for retrieval. The Battle Belt itself puts some standoff from the body, but the flat design makes these ideal for a low profile rig.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Enzo Trapper Handle Scales Project

Thompson Scandinavian Knife Supply
For some time now I've wanted ... wait, let me rephrase this. If you read my blog much you probably have the idea that I would rather make something myself, or at least have something that I could modify to my liking than buy things. I am always looking at folding knives and asking myself, well how could I modify it? And, have they done something stupid to it that would prevent me from working on it? Well I guess ultimately there is nothing that can't be taken apart and changed but somethings are made in such a way that it would require the same tools and skills to modify as simply making from scratch, and I don't have them. At any rate, fixed blades are an obvious place to start for people who want to make knives and like to modify things. I have to admit that fixed blades just don't do it for me the way folders do and it's not because I love folding knives more. I use and carry a folder every day. I could do the same with a fixed blade although I think certain people I work with would cringe in terror if it was the sort of knife that could be seen. But seriously, I'm getting off topic here. I have been eye balling the Enzo knives for a long time and man I tell you, the Birk folder is making it hard for me to stick to sub $50 knives. And it's unusual for me I think. Because honestly I don't get too fired up about Scandi grinds and bush-crafting and such. It's not so much that I think it would be cool to have a Scandinavian knife in a folding package, but I am a notorious genre-mixer so to speak. Without getting even more off topic, I like the idea of combining two concepts, or several, into a new concept. I think this is the basis for every good idea that ever happened. So for one thing they are different in the sea of tactical nonsense, and they are two concepts mixed in a successful way. They are a traditional look in a somewhat modern folder with every day utility design. Point is, I like them and I want one.
hedge handles
But I wanted a fixed blade that would be a sort of an all around outdoor tool. The term "Trapper" certainly conjures a picture of outdoor multipurpose tool in my mind. Trappers of old probably used a knife for a variety of tasks and were likely people who spent a lot of their lives outside, living, cooking, skinning ... trapping. Anyway, outdoor knife for me is mostly going to mean hunting. But when I say bush-crafting doesn't get me excited I don't mean that I don't think survival skills aren't something we could all use to have. Even though this is a Project Post, it's also going to be a philosophical discussion as well. So the bottom line here is, get a sort of multipurpose knife and a fun project all in one shot.

Scandi grind, O1 tool steel, full tang survival knife
Back on topic, let's talk about the Enzo Trapper. I got a blank in O1 tool steel and a couple Corby bolts with the big idea of making my own handles. I think in the end I came to the Enzo because they are a pretty good value where the steel is concerned and the designs are simple and straight forward. I just don't care much for a lot of the other blanks available in the States when I look at these two particular aspects. It was a toss up on handle materials. I am feeling more traditional of late so wood made it to the list. I should probably polish it because blood is going to be an issue at some point. Anyway, we always have some Hedge (Osage Orange) around and I liked the idea of a bright yellow handle well enough to decide to go for it. My father and I split some Hedge into rough boards with an axe first. Next, I shaved them down to slightly less rough and straighter boards using my trusty Aranyik E-Nep, then put a flat-ish side on them with a belt sander. The final step was to surface them flat by sticking a sheet of sand paper to a good flat surface and using up some of my elbow grease supply. The rest consists of what you might expect - carving, sanding, more carving, more sanding.
One of my small boards quickly flattened with the belt sander.

survival blades
My E-Nep made fairly easy work of thinning and straightening the rough boards.

Here are my scales cut out.
osage orange hedge handles
Here they are rough shaped and partially fit. After this I was pretty well on the home stretch.
scandi grind, bushcraft knives enzo trapper
Here the Enzo is compared to a BuckLite MAX Large mainly for the sake of comparison. The BuckLite MAX is a perfect knife in my estimation. It's one of those products I like to talk about, the ones made to do their task without extra fluff. Sometimes it's hard to admit but plain boring modern materials like the rubber on the Buck's handle is just plain better than traditional materials when it comes to performance. Traditional materials are attractive, carry workmanship and can be made to last. But when it comes to just doing their job, the rubber is simple, impervious, can't come off, provides grip and can be molded however it needs to be. The Buck has the right blade shape, only the essential features, it's light weight, inexpensive and the sheath doesn't suck! It is an excellent product.

So what I think we have here is modern and traditional kind of going head to head. But they live in the same tool box so to speak. While both are utilitarian, the Buck is as pure and no frills as it can be.

Enzo Trapper review, build
You may have noticed dark rings around my Corby bolts - that's called being impatient. I over heated them and I am hoping that I didn't screw something up.

Chunky handle but I like how it feels. It's not perfect but I don't have enough experience to know what needs to be done to make it better. I wanted to add a little more material up top since there isn't really a guard. I mean really, slipping up on a knife has got to be the result of misuse, but that was one of the thoughts behind this shape. I also wanted a place to pinch the knife, and all this without making it so huge that I couldn't get my thumb up on the blade for power cutting.
The Buck is a touch longer but it looks to me like it has ever so slightly less cutting edge. Is the finger choil really useful? I dunno, maybe.

The curve to the Buck is just attractive to me, plus lets your rock the knife into places your hand may interfere with.
These little details let me get different grips on the knife while still having the chubby handle.

I often consider the term survival, particularly in the context of the internet, TV and the commercialized portion of the word that can't really be overlooked when having a discussion on the topic. For me it always comes down to, what is survival? Here is a pile of all the crap called survival gear, here are the professionals who teach the survival skills, now make it all fit into a situation that can be labeled survival. I have narrowed it down for myself but that's not to say it won't change. I can only picture two situations, maybe three. They are the emergency, and long term survival situations.

In the emergency situation, something unexpected has happened to you. In all likelihood, these situations are going to involve injury the way I see it. Obviously this could be split into two which is where my possible third scenario comes in. Some people, somewhere just live in remote areas where the unexpected could actually turn into a use tools to live for a somewhat extended period of time kind of situation. Some people put themselves in these situations for adventure. In the United States, this first situation isn't going to be more than a matter of hours. You aren't going to build a shelter with a wire saw, or go fishing. People like to prepare each day for the unexpected, whether that means carrying an extra twenty bucks, or putting a bug out bag in your trunk, or filling your basement with MREs. But using a wire saw or needing fishing hooks are the unlikeliest of the unlikely tasks to be ready to perform. Even if this first situation can be broken into two, there are always more important things to carry - first aid, warmth, water. In virtually all situations you're going to look at your little tin full of fishing hooks or your big ass survival knife and wish it was a tall glass of cool refreshing water, or a nice pile of wool blankets long before you are going to hit the river banks for a tasty flat head. For the people who are in situations where trouble could spell disaster, being properly prepared should be a priority. You might as well have useful things that will get you through a few rough days - it's not really so unexpected. I struggle to picture a situation where you are going about your day and BAM, you're building a shelter from leaves and making traps from sticks. Putting a couple warm blankets in the car with a good first aid kit and some water is probably worth its weight in gold compared to the typical bag full of survival implements. I'm not making fun. My point is not that these things aren't good for a number of reasons. My point is it probably makes more sense to be ready for higher probability scenarios when going about your daily life.

For a fun hypothetical let's say you are a combination of these things. You are going adventuring in a remote area, but you came prepared. You have to carry all this stuff on your back, so you insist that saving space and weight is paramount. Suddenly you are in that situation, that one, the one they talked about on the packaging for your wire saw and ferro rod. It must be time for fishing. Now the question is, why don't you pack that crap up, and walk out the way you came in? Well, you suffered an injury. So, unless you're wire sawing your trapped leg off like that one guy did with his pocket knife, isn't it time to treat some injuries? You've put yourself in this situation. The question is, why are you incapable of living through it? You've suffered an injury that permits you to go fishing and build a shelter, but not walk back out the way you came in? No injury? You are lost then. Wouldn't a map, compass, GPS, or all 3 have been pretty light weight if you had just left all that other crap at home? And without question won't you need water and warmth above all else? If you can't move and you need shelter, how well is that $0.59 Wal-Mart space blanket going to work out do you think? I can hear you saying it out loud as you read this - well, it's better than nothing. You're right. 

The fabled ferrocerium rod is often the item that puts my mind to this topic. I'm not sure they're good for anything. They sort of represent my two sided survival situation coin. Long term survival is that great unknown. It is the situation where for whatever reason you like best, you are actually using more primitive tools to live out the rest of your days, or possibly what I would consider a long term situation, several months or more. Essentially all it needs to be is a no electricity event. Electricity was the game changer. Without it, the skills known to early Americans or early native people all over the world, suddenly return to necessity. It's not really survival at all, it's living. This is fantasy land. I say that, not sarcastically, but genuinely. I think humans connect to nature and while many reject the notion that we are in fact animals, we are hard wired to work with our hands and provide for ourselves. It's the free and independent nature of the beast. Humans are apex predators, contrary to the misguided notions certain individuals choose to adhere to. Whether you plant a garden, or enjoy crafting things with your hands, or just love to watch birds, it's some small part of your connection to nature. Glass buildings and fast food are the exact opposite. My point is that even if it's small, some of us yearn for a simpler time that puts us back to self-preservation, self-reliance and true freedom. Some believe that the desire is societal and economic collapse, chaos, violence and mayhem. That's wrong. Many people, if given the option, would walk away from the chaos and violence of today's world, and return to simpler living all the while leaving the status quo open and available to anyone who prefers it.

Coming back to the ferro rod, having one makes a lot of sense. It's simple and makes fire and takes up virtually no space. In no situation does that not sound good. But looking at it from the dual possibility concept what's it really good for? In an emergency a dirt cheap, always reliable Bic lighter is faster and easier to make fire with. It fits in your pocket and will make a hundred fires in case your emergency somehow goes on for days. You gather up stuff that burns and you set it on fire. Often ferro rods are combined with tinder and some kind of striker, which strikes me as a more complex way of doing what the Bic does all by itself. On the other hand, neither stack up in the long term. They decay and eventually you will use them up. I think the notion is that you probably won't use up a ferro rod. If you are living, then you may always have a fire going or have hot coals anyway. You will be cooking with it multiple times a day and keeping warm by it, so you may not actually make many fires each year from scratch. But in the end it is a consumable, tangible, irreplaceable item which is the definition of something that isn't long term. I always try to ask myself, what would early native people do? They used skills - things that cannot be lost or taken or used up - to build fires and if they used some sort of tool, it could easily be replaced using knowledge they all owned. The ultimate point here is practicality and skill are the true essentials. In an emergency, practicality makes more sense to me, and for primitive living, skills are vital.

As always, my blabbering isn't mean as a communication of facts, but a collection of ideas. I would love to take a wilderness survival course and I hate the idea of these skills being lost in time. I even like the idea of bush crafting as a hobby and enjoyable past time. In fact, pick any reason, no matter what it is, for practicing survival skills and I will accept it as legitimate. As far as I'm concerned there is no reason too good or too bad for developing self reliance skills. It's disheartening to think of all the things that humans simply don't know how to do anymore. Many of us don't actually make anything at all, and over our life times may create very few useful things for ourselves or anyone else. The idea of community in my mind is a collection of skills and creativity where each member makes the lives of all the other members easier by the things he or she creates.