Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Purchasing kit from non-EU countries

A salient tale for anyone looking to purchase kit or other goods from non-EU countries.


Having got all excited about purchasing an American made Tomahawk the HMRC quickly rained on my parade. Rather naively perhaps I thought that with me sorting the sale and postage the only thing I'd need to add was patience.

$270.00 was the total cost and when I converted from dollars to sterling it became £208.00 which almost seemed like a saving.

Once I started tracking it online I found that it had been through around half-a-dozen different places during it's journey and once holed up in Coventry I noticed the phrase revised customs charges raised. After a brief and unfulfilling look at the customs information charges online  I rang to find out what the charge might be and was told that the figure would be £57.52! 

So let's have a look at my charge breakdown...

Customs duty £2.73
Import vat £41.92
Clearance fee £13.50 (zero rated for VAT, well phew, thank goodness for that!)

It feels like everyone has dipped their bread and whilst the information was out there to check I feel like this has really soured the whole buying experience. I know it was a slightly extravagant purchase (for me at least) and I initially wavered with the postage added but as I previously said, it all seemed OK when I converted dollars to sterling as it is a lower number, 'You only live once' then decided it for me.

For a fuller breakdown of any potential fleecing visit the HMRC website and read Notice 143: a guide for international post users.

Interesting too to note that the journey from the USA to England was three days, time in England to clear through this daylight robbery red tape was eight days.

Suffice to say if I'd known about the pre-delivery financial kicking I was going to get it would have made me wobble and we'll have to see what happens post Brexit too. All that said I'm really really pleased with my hawk.

Justin Burke Tomahawk/ Q & A

In late 2013 I did a blog page called Five Items I'd Love but can't Justify and as time and my skills set has moved on several kit suppliers have trousered some cash as I have now purchased some of the items.

I am however no kit tart but I reached the situation where I had some accumulated birthday and Christmas money and I eventually decided on the extravagance of an American made Tomahawk. Incidentally a tomahawk wasn't one of the five items in my 'justification' blog.

I won't be the only one who saw Ben Fogle stay in Tennessee with blacksmith Justin Burke. Despite the fact that he was living in virtual solitude I was taken by his work including, not surprisingly, a tomahawk that Ben got to take home.

The lead time was stated as 1-3 months so with my Summer birthday at the outer limit of that timeline I bit the bullet and followed up my Facebook price inquiry with a website contact   on the 11th May

Justin replied the same day to say that he just happened to have one and I asked for an invoice and went from inquirer to payee in one day. He also agreed to do a quick Q and A via email to add to this blog page.


He had promised me a shot of my hawk and then promptly sent not, one, not two, not three but four pictures of which I've reproduced three above.

I then had an early morning email the next day to say that it had been mailed on the 12th. That's some turnaround, and with a predicted delivery date of Tuesday  May 16th, even though it had been pinged around to several destinations in the US before shipment.

So far so good and to be honest even if there was a little slippage it wasn't a big deal, and sure enough it was in a Customs area in Coventry on the Tuesday...And then when I tracked it again I noticed that the message said 'Customs charges raised'. Naively I'd just expected the package to pinged over and if I'd known the extend of the charges I might have had a wobble, not due to the axe cost because bespoke stuff quite rightly costs more I might add. Read the Customs page I did for more information.

I paid the charges through gritted teeth (no pay, no toy) and the package eventually came via Parcelforce on Tuesday 23rd May. Three days from the US to England, eight days from arrival to delivery via the customs mugging and bureaucracy. 

The axe arrived well packaged and sure enough I had two spare handles. Interestingly the invoice suggested the axe was a little cheaper and one extra handle made up the advertised price. I think this is a good idea to include a spare handle in the transaction.

Before I even used it I thought a good test would be to see how it bothers paper, very successfully as you can see. I am used to a fawn's  or goat's foot axe handle so a straight one will be interesting to handle and use. I'm not a person who uses axes for prolonged heavy duty work and it will be unusual not having a knob at the end. When I can get someone to take some 'out and about' pictures of this puppy in action I'll upload them to this page.

And now to the Q and A...

How did Ben Fogle's team find out about you?

 They found me through a random google search. the article about me living in a tipi showed up and they found my Facebook page and sent me a message

How many hours of footage did you shoot to make an hour show?

 If I remember correctly they shot close to 24-30 hours of footage.

When we saw you in Escape To The Wild you were very much living a solitary life but you now seem to be developing a sturdy business, is that about right?

 That is correct. In the show I said that it takes money to live and I was going to make money the way I wanted to. I have grown my skills and business since the show was filmed. I am very happy to be able to blacksmith for a living but it takes lots of equipment and is very expensive.  

Your tomahawks seem to be very popular, is it what people know you for best?

 Tomahawks are my main product. I worked very hard to develop a usable hawk like no other on the market.

Aside from the hawks, what knife would you say is your favorite to make?

 I like making knives once in  awhile but I don't have a favorite style to make. I just like to make interesting blades when the mental spark comes around.

Can you call a tomahawk an axe or is it always referred to as a tomahawk?

A tomahawk is an axe but an axe is not a tomahawk if that makes sense. Like a truck and a car are both vehicles but a car is not a truck.

On your website it states that you don't do commissions but on your Facebook page you recently featured a bespoke hawk, do you do occasional ones?

 I don't take orders on anything that I don't do often. Sometimes I make a special project and offer it for sale. Taking orders on projects that I am not versed in is bad business for both parties.

The said bespoke hawk featured some pewter work, do you do much whitesmithing?

 I pour pewter on my fancy hawks if desired. It is a lot of extra work and I don't do it often.

Your website features a metal Impala, what was the story behind this piece of work? Great work by the way.

 Thank you! I have to step away from tomahawks once in a while and practice other areas of the trade. I really enjoy faces so it was fun to forge a realistic animal face and to see how close to life I could get it. It is what keeps my spirits up from time to time.

Have you ever been on, or considered going on the History channel blacksmithing program called  'Forged in Fire'?

 I have considered it for sure.

Are there any forged or non-forged items you’d like to make for sale at some stage or are you about where you want to be?

 My goal is to create  a line of tools that are the best around. Its the direction I am headed and I don't stray far from that path very far. I used to do leather work full time but felt the passion drift away so I stick to what I am interested in and that's tool making.

What's the furthest you've  sent an order?

 I have mailed tomahawks all over the world! Australia, Canada, New Zealand and all across Europe.

Does it ever cause you issues that there's a recording artist by the same name?

 Hahaha you are the first person to mention that! I was not aware.

I've already mentioned that you are on Facebook in the blog, what other social media channels etc do you have in case folk want to follow your work?

I just got on Instagram and am trying to figure it out. @traditional_craftsmanother than that Facebook is my main social media.

Suggested further viewing.

Justin Burke tomahawk Youtube video here 

Radio Times Ben Fogle programme review here

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Scout Association Top Trumps

I was intending to buy the new(ish) Scout Association Top Trump cards as I knew there was a debris shelter image on there that was taken during  a photo shoot I did with Terry and Sam Longhurst from the Ilford East Activity Team (and latterly Bushscout) for the Scout Association's Outdoor Adventure Manual produced with Haynes publishers. 

Debris shelters are a favourite with my Cub pack and the same wooden lengths used on the photo shoot shelter are the ones I use with them too. Well I found out recently that yours truly was on the bowdrill card so my purchase staus of these cards was fast tracked from whenever to ASAP.

They arrived on a sunny day so I sat down outside with a beverage and decided to see if my card was worth having in your hand, or if it would turn your hand into a foot.

Actually it's not half bad! There are 29 other cards and therefore out of 145 possible figures 16 have one that equals one of mine, and 18 beat one of mine with only three cards (above) that have more winning figures than mine (all 3-2). Happy with that.

Having mentioned the Outdoor Adventure Manual it was noticeable that eight of the cards had pictures either from it, or shot for the articles. Of course a lot of the card subject matter featured in the book too.

It would have been nine but for some inexplicable reason an article on safe knife usage by Paul Kirtley (from which the above picture was from) didn't appear in the book, yet his knife sharpening one did. I even wrote to Scouting magazine and asked if they would feature it but to no avail. I can't say that I was overly happy that a professional Bushcraft Instructor took time out to contribute to the book and it not be used..Especially as I had asked him! Luckily Paul has put them to good use in a blog article that is well worth looking at here.

But what trumps that (see what I did there?) is the postage asked by the Scout shop for a 112g card pack...£3.99! A large letter's postage rate is only £1.22, indeed a 2 kilo signed for parcel second class is only £3.90 postage. That said I've found this £5.00 item for sale at £12.95 elsewhere... 

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Robin Nest

I'd noticed that my shed door wouldn't shut, something had sagged or warped somewhere and that I was going to have to do something about it at some stage, well from late February that thought had to stop as we had a pair of robins taking leaves in there to  build a nest. 

I'd noticed just how mossy my lawn had become so as I raked it up I left copious amounts out for the robins and indeed any other nesting birds, with this Great Tit helping itself within ten minutes of me putting it out.

They'd picked a good spot as it was safe, sheltered and right by our bird/ squirrel feeding station and they took full advantage. The above shot shows one parent getting five sunflower hearts in it's beak.


They also took advantage of me relaying part of my lawn, no worm or grub was safe!

About the same time a Blackbird pair took up residence in a bush near our kitchen window but sadly didn't stick around, shame really as we would have been able to see and hear the young from the house.


And finally in May I saw some fruits of their labours. This brood seemed to take forever. Once they dispersed I think I heard three of them calling from various hidden spots in the garden. Sadly we had a downpour and a recently used bucket collected some and a fledgling successfully perished in it.

At last, I could access my shed and get at stuff/ clear up. The birds had not left much tidying up but I noticed that a mouse had bitten a hole in the floor and taken up residence, chewing up a leather glove in the process. No inspiration from this visit but a previous mouse incursion into my shed spawned this contraption.


Predictably they'd nested on a shelf and once the rough and ready outer was discarded it revealed a cosy inner which had a large proportion of lawn moss in, plus a few uneaten sunflower hearts.

Last year I did a blog about a Great Spotted Woodpecker family raising a brood near me, well after all this nest action I went back to investigate their nest site to find that this year's inhabitants are Starlings. Isn't nature great?

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Fire Wood Bowdrills

My in-laws had a chimney fire last year and the whole episode has put them off a wood burner to the point where they've had a gas fire fitted as a replacement, but who would take all their logs off them, well me of course! I thought I'd lucked out on the first consignment that I had because I found some really impregnated fatwood in it. 

The latest batch arrived and as it was seasoned and dry I decided to prep it and stash it for later use. Most of it was either Lime or Silver Birch with the familiar birch bark in the background, and lime bark under my thumb. This gave me an idea to try and dig out any bits that I could utilise in a bowdrill set.

I've used Lime before and it's a really good wood but Silver Birch was one that I'd not got round to trying so why not make it doubly difficult and use firewood as my set?

The wood was of course going to be of a certain size and the drill was the biggest challenge, in fact I knew that it wouldn't be perfect even once I started working on it. The above picture is after it's had a rough shaping with an axe.

There was also a large knot at one end so I started shaping this to be the top hence the large tapered point, again roughly formed at this stage with a little axe work.

The baseboard was a little easier to sort but still needed a little work to get it to a stage where it didn't rock when placed on the ground. I only shaped one end to receive the drill as I wasn't going to be using the whole length.


And so my set was ready. The drill was ever-so-slightly oval with a very slight curve to it but I felt it was still usable...It was going to have to do! I grabbed a bow and it was the one that I used on my first bow drill from scratch in the woods trip. I used a laurel bearing block that I made when I saw Dave Watson for a friction fire 1-2-1 last year. As this was all happening in my back garden I grabbed the first leaf I could reach to lubricate the depression, and I had a faint whiff of Lavender for a while as I started.

The drill wasn't the best as predicted but was still serviceable and the set smoked quickly. I had a quick look at the powder and it was quite needle-like in shape.

I usually cut the fatter part of the notch out with a Swiss Army Knife saw, snap it out, and then finish with a blade. This removes a lot of meat fast bit then allows for a refined and controlled notch apex, if I'd progressed the saw cuts I would have been some way off the centre. 

I was bowing on a sunny/ cloudy day and typically the sun went behind a cloud and the wind picked up at this stage. I thought I'd made an ember but I was mistaken, despite the copious and very dark dust.

I made some adjustments and tightened the bow string a little and the second time saw me hit the jackpot. I wasn't convinced that the ember would sustain as it looked quite small but it persevered.

After a few minutes I tried tipping it onto the baseboard to see just how strong it was, I'd had it on the ember pan a while and it had adhered to/ started burning through it. As the baseboard was Lime it probably helped as the inner bark is good tinder.

That was pleasing to not only crack a new wood combination but to do so from a random load of fire wood. Whilst I was on a roll I decided to put the Lime through it's paces.

I couldn't find any Lime long enough for a drill so I resorted to an old and slightly thin Hazel drill that I'd consigned to my wood pile, as opposed to the slightly substandard Silver Birch one that I'd just used.

I purposely chose a piece of Lime that was slightly warped  just as an additional challenge but had integrity at one end, again I wasn't going to use all of it.

The Lime board did what Lime boards do and bed in really quickly, darkly and smoothly.

And a good ember soon followed. When I tidied the chopped wood away I found some superior Birch sections that I'll make a drill from and try with the Lime another time.

I also found what I think might be a pretty section of fruit wood and a nicely curved piece of Birch for a bit of future spoon carving. A quality afternoon, especially as I could now add another combination to my labour of love bow drill page.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Bushcraft Magazine May Meet 2017

My attendance at this year's Bushcraft Magazine May Day meet was only my second time with last year being my first, but I was surprised to find that this is actually only in it's tenth year, it seems to have the feel of being around longer. I always like to take a picture of the magazine stand but it's a little narcissistic of late as that's me staring down from the top left hand corner.

I'd set out with a little extra journey time built in (best to if the M25 and Dartford Crossing are involved in a journey) but both behaved and I arrived early. I saw Will Lord who I did a one-to-one with last year during my sabbatical and I purchased a copper flaking tool off him for knapping arrowheads and the like. As generous as ever Will gave me a quick refresher on how to form long flakes.

As is the tradition the days start off with one of the organisers Steve Kirk kicking off a quick roundup of parish notices and the days proceedings around ten o'clock. The weekend has a feel of it coming together very organically and the varied demonstrations and activities sometimes slip a little time wise but that laid back vibe is very much the heartbeat of the event. 

Steve really knows his flora and fauna and as I'd completed the Paul Kirtley year long online masterclass last year I wanted to head out with him. I didn't last the course as I had to get back for another workshop that had caught my fancy but it's no big deal and Steve said he is used to folk catching the walk up and leaving early, all part of the laid back feel.

This is Allan Course the "old hippy" who was running a pewter workshop which I had left Steve's walk for. When I got back he was still guiding folk through making Sycamore whistles but no problem I just went elsewhere, all part of the laid back feel.


It was also nice to catch up with Gary Johnson of Jack Raven Bushcraft who I also did a sabbatical one-to-one with, as well as seeing Jason Ingamells and his family who were there for a family day out. Amongst others I bumped into Hannah Nicholls, Beaver bushcraft, Steve's lovely wife Carol and various noogoodniks from Woodlife Trails who were just taking in the weekend as opposed to doing a stand. There were a few absentees due to various reasons and one notable  arriving on Sunday (forager Carol Hunt) and for all I know there may have been someone there for Saturday only. As I said the event isn't set in stone. Incidentally the soap is one that Gary's wife had made.

So anyway, after a nosebag it was back to the pewter workshop that had caught my eye during the morning briefing. Allan had his homemade 'forge' with his crucible for pouring and an old cat food tin to melt the pewter which can be seen.

He set us off carving an image into a Cuttlefish which was to be the mould. 'Unluckily' for Allan this proved to be a popular base and a lot of people eventually rocked up.

My mould was the second to be filled with pewter but is sadly ran out the bottom. Allan pressed on with other moulds and said that he would come back to any that didn't work and have another go later. I then removed myself and went to Matthew Selfe who was running a Rabbit prep base with the view to curing the pelt afterwards. I can do a decent prep job and there's no one way of doing it but I'd wanted to see if it's possible to get most or even all the skin off (including ears). The reason is that I want to replace Steve with something more real. I had to bow out when I realised the time as I had to head back for a family meal and it was later afternoon. 

I popped over to see Cathy and Steve to say goodbye and he kindly asked Allan if he would have another crack at my bat as I was leaving, he did and I'm pleased with the result. The lower wing was hollowed out a little more at the last minute but I'm sure I can get this looking good with a little filing.Incidentally the odd looking extension on the bat's wing is the excess pewter that filled the sprue (the funnel shaped entrance onto the mould).

Due to finding out that I'm a bit of an iron magnet I decided to investigate if I could leave my jerky tower to a good home at the show. Luckily it has panned out that way and I left it set up by the magazine back issues. The short version of how I made the tower can be seen here.