Saturday, 14 December 2013

Five Items I'd Love to Buy But Can't Justify

I've said in my blog bio that I'm no kit tart and my approach is to buy for my usage or upgrade something where appropriate. If I had a large wedge of cash handed to me would I change this attitude? No...Ok yes, a bit...Maybe. 

If I put my mind to it I can probably triple this list (and beyond) but I sat and thought to myself 'What items would I love to own but couldn't justify?', the main criteria being cost and or/ actual over perceived usage.

The first thing on the list is knives...not knife, but knives. Arguably a blog entry in it's own right! I'm not different to many other hobbyist bushcrafters in that I started with a bombproof 

Mora and still use this trusted workhorse brand, but when I qualified for my long service award at work I was given some money which I could spend out on a single item to remind me of my qualification...I got a knife made by Lance Ockenden (aka Driftwood walker) and
really that will do me...ish, the ish is that my long leave award also qualifies me for a six month sabbatical from work during which I've tentatively lined up a knife making day. 

Now the point I'm going round the houses to make is that I use a Mora a lot, use the Driftwood walker less, and would use the future 'knife making day' blade as a bushcraft bucket list event (make my own knife and attempt a sheath too) so I'm  not the sort of person to spend hundreds and hundreds of pounds on lots of blades that in all honesty I wouldn't get the use of.

Next up is a Swazi coat. I've linked to Ray Mears' site because I, along with lots of other hobbyist bushcrafters no doubt, associate Ray with this type of coat and the reviews are literally five star. Whilst they also like good as well as doing a the job they are made for, I've never understood why there isn't a full length zip...or is there and I can't see it? I could see me using this coat but it's a lot of sheets.

Next up is the Frontier stove. Whilst my experience of this type of stove is limited to seeing them in use, this to me seems to be a good design. There are also 'bolt ons' to buy like a water heater, and seemed really well priced (before you buy any extras) compared to some other designs out there...but would I use it to justify getting one? It would be great to take one out and about if you could find somewhere that doesn't fall foul of the no barbeques, cookers or open fires rule for country parks etc, even though it's contained. I'd still love one for use at Cubs though...l can dream.

And of course you'd want a Lavvu tent to use your Frontier stove in. JP and Pablo use this style of tent extensively on Woodlife Trails courses but a combination of cost, usage and indeed portability would prohibit a purchase...the irony is that the stove is portable.

When I started visiting the bushcraft forums it seemed that the Karrimor Sabre  was the pack of choice (arguably part of the bushcrafters 'uniform') and indeed it looks fit for purpose, but the basic pack is a few pennies, plus side pouches (which I'd want)...This the 100 litre pack I  got. For the usage and distance I'll ever need to hump it it's spot on.

As stated earlier I could add other kit to this list (a trail cam springs to mind as a near miss off this would be handy if I put Steve out) and indeed basic equipment and raw materials for other related bushcrafting subjects like willow weaving, flint knapping and leatherwork...if you are nodding in agreement with my thought process in this blog entry good stuff, if you are a kit tart vive la difference! 

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Moccasins (aka Bushcraft Booties)

Bushcraft and Survival magazine issue 38 May/ June 2012 is memorable for me because I have an article on paracord knitting in there, but there are also several 'how to' articles that I've had my eye on to do for a while, none more so than Joe O'Leary's hybrid moccasin boot.

Well I rushed to do it...ok I didn't, it's been 18 months so I'll put this down to advanced procrastination just thinking about it being a good idea. But then Joe put it on his blog In the summer Pablo and JP asked me if I'd like to join Woodlife Trails as a course assistant, I think this was a subconscious trigger to start because whilst I generally won't be heading out with the clients, the thought of using them in Hatfield forest is a mouth watering prospect. I also get up at 03:45 on a Thursday and Friday for work so often I'm awake early on Saturday so I sometimes head over to Hatfield forest for a mooch around or a sit spot under my own steam.

Anyway, onto the moccasins ('bushcraft booties'). I am no expert with buckskin (I A N E W B) but I have been sitting on a piece of settee leather-not literally-for sometime and this seemed like a good use for it...I think this is part of the reason for taking so long to get going, it's the only piece I have. Buckskin is breathable but this grain on leather would be a bit more off I went. Instead of writing a long rambling piece I'll put bullet points with the pictures.

Joe recommended using calico to make a 'working' template from, I used a tough plastic sheet that was a supermarket cage flap in a previous life and duly set about cutting out the relevant pieces as per the instructions. I'd suggest using a ruler to get symmetry on the bottom piece sides and back because I did mine freehand and it was a bit high at the back on the finished design. Joe used several stitching styles, I just stuck with saddle stitch and got through the majority of an 18 metre length of artificial sinew.

Once I'd got the basic slipper puckered at the front, and stabled at the back I marked where I felt I could stitch up to and still squeeze my foot in fairly easily (this thought comes into play later).

Although it wasn't a deal breaker, I made the flap at the back too big and it overlapped where the back and sides had to be stitched onto the bottom section. I'd suggest about 2.5cm would do

I decided to use the full width of the naturally coloured artificial sinew (as opposed to pulling it apart to make slimmer lengths). I felt the chunky stitch suited the boot, and it meant I the thread was of a regular size and wasn't prey to me misjudging it when I pulled it apart. 

 I would also suggest trying the base on with paper clips holding the flaps secure. The don't mark and allow for accurate measurement. 

Marking out the area on the sides to make sure the moccasin covered my ankle.

The finished mock up. I A N E W B but I added a rectangular strip to the back of the final design to add a bit of strength to an area that I thought might wear a bit, you can see the stitching on one of the final pictures later on. I wondered with hindsight (and a big enough piece of leather) if it would be possible to extend the two flaps that fold across to form the heal, to make a reinforced heel that stretched up to the top of the boot, instead of adding one retrospectively.

Then to carefully un-stitch it and use as a template.

  Note the Wilderness Survival Skills logo! Also note the 'wings' on the above piece, these are the bellows that Joe sewed into his design separately which I decided to incorporate as a one piece design, to not only cut out some stitching but I thought it might make the area where the bellow meets the end of the puckered area over the toes a bit easier to seal satisfactorily.  

 The grain on templates cut with a copy of the magazine that the article appeared in.

Joe advised really making sure of your moves before committing...good job I tried with a small swatch on the toe because I would have crashed and burnt without! I'd marked out the puckered front with 0.5cm holes on the vamp (the long tongue), and 1 cm on the base...I'd overlooked the fact that there needs to be an equal amount of holes. I settled on 1cm vamp hole spacings, and 1.5cm holes on the toe end of the base as they seemed to marry up well and it made the measuring and maths easy. The above picture is one showing the small test piece for the puckering being cut out.

You can see from this picture that I've used a biro to mark the leather extensively (on the inside).

This practice section, as previously stated, was useful, neigh vital as it gave me the confidence and feel of the leather to get cracking on the real thing.

Once I undertook the puckering I found that using the awl to pull the sinew tight worked well and allowed for tweaking the pucker for an even finish.

I found that a pair of small pliers helped with pulling the needles through. Joe used a blunt pair of pliers.

This is the bottom section and the all-in-one bellow/ vamp section stitched together. The bellow/ vamp is bigger than it needs to be so that I have spare material to allow for stitching it to the area between the bottom and side (just after the puckered area), and to have some spare to experiment with the size of the bellow. Try using paper clips to roughly attach the bellows/ vamp to the side of your moccasin to see how big the aperture needs to be for you to slide your foot in!


I packed the base with newspaper and then looked for the best place to mark a line to stitch the back and sides to. I went for about 0.5 cm from the top and stitch spacing of 1cm. I would, with hindsight, do 0.5cm stitch spacing at the back. I A N E W B but I wondered if I could have left the sides attached to the base template of mine to save having to sew it on as a separate piece and then sewn up the extended heel flaps up the back (as suggested earlier). 


Once I'd decided on the height I found the central position at the back of the heel (on the top section) and marked it in pen. I then stitched from the central spot along one side then the other. The reason for this was to help with keeping the top section straight and I think it worked.

A close up of the lace eyelets. They are a little chunky but I made them with a stitched inner length of leather to give them some oomph so that I could pull on the laces and know that they'll hold! I also backstitched them when sewing them in to give added strength. The laces are 550 paracord (as Joe used). 


And that's one moccasin finished. I kept it stuffed with paper and sat it in front of me to spur me on with the second. I hit a bit of a wall when the second was about 75% done (like marathon runners) but staring at the first one helped. I decided to add a small  loop at the back of the boot to receive the lace but it will only work if you stop the front lace holes a shade lower than the top of the moccasin, and I felt that they were tight enough with a standard lace anyway.

The finished product pre Shoo Goo sole. I wore them around the house before adding it to see how they performed. They are of course bespoke products and there are subtle differences in them...The puckering on the second one is a smidge tighter, and coupled with a slightly different starting spot for the eyelets, makes the moccasin a bit smaller and shorter looking than the first. I A N E W B but it's not a problem with the grain on leather as it's quite forgiving so I'd suggest buckskin is the same. I'm now on the look out for mythical creatures of possible north African origin (you need to Joe's article to appreciate this).

To further add to the leather's water resistance Joe recommended a Lundhag preparation but I decided for the cheap and traditional Dubbin...No Goretex to bung up here!

This is the Shoo Goo to make the sole with. It stinks! Follow the instructions on the reverse. I thought I'd be flash and tape up the bottom of the moccasin to get army bedding straight lines-forget it...It's hard to achieve a consistently accurate tape line, and applying Shoo Goo within a taped area is like thinking you can paint a Turner seascape with a pre school chunky paintbrush. You can also get clear Shoo Goo which may work if you wish for a more all over naturally coloured moccasin (I guess).

The Shoo Goo goes off quick quickly so I'd recommend applying any rubber flakes (or coarse sand) as you go, but do the sole in one hit.I cut up a thin piece of rubber to make the flakes and they are a nuisance because they get a static charge as you handle them so they appear everywhere if you aren't mindful.

The finished moccasins together...

...having had a row... not speaking....

...and playing dead.

I've had the current Bushcraft and Survival Skills magazine for about a month and decided not to open it until I'd finished the moccasins so that it didn't distract me. Joe's blog is well worth having a look at and the article specific to this project is here.

In summary, I'd suggest that this is a project for those competent at pouches etc who wish to stretch themselves. You will invest a lot of time and indeed the cost of the sundries needs factoring in too. Joe does a moccasin making course (linked to the buckskin making one I believe) but d'ya know what matey, consider selling a moccasin making kit...buckskin, sinew, instructions and then just add the other sundries and a little time!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Christmas Fruit Leather

I *always* make my own cranberry sauce as I cannot abide the pre made 'jam' that passes as sauce that you get in a jar. When I found that I had more cranberries than I needed I had the thought of making a fruit leather (effectively a sheet of cooked fruit used as a long life foodstuff). I usually make plum leather in the autumn so I decided on adding four or five to the mix and thought a shot of cinnamon would be the perfect trinity (along with brown sugar).

I got a bit carried away...I added some orange zest and a little juice, some sultanas and some dried apricot...

And from thereon in it proceeded as normal with a slow simmer to cook and break down the fruit, and to reduce it. Once cooked I put it in a jam muslin and left it to gravity's capable hands... 

After the gloop was drained I poured it onto a sheet of parchment paper and spread it thinly and left it to its own (drying) devices. Incidentally, the remaining stodge in the muslin was good enough to eat! Once it was pliant and just a little sticky I cut it into strips and covered both sides with parchment paper. Merry Christmas!


Saturday, 19 October 2013

Hornet Nest (Words, Pics and Movies)

Wasps, who’d ‘ave ‘em? Er me actually…For me there’s too much hysteria connected with them (worse than the ‘Yuk, snakes are slimy I don’t want to hold it’ misconception) because they are organised, striking, brave, loyal and hard working and there are more than just the ones that take a likely to your sugary pop on a summer day…solitary wasps for instance.
I guess most people who have swung by this blog (thank you by the way) will have seen a wasp or indeed a bee nest, but I wonder how many have seen a hornet nest? Not as many I suspect.

I live near Amwell lakes which is sandwiched between  the river lea and river ash and is fairly well known for its smew and bittern visitors and there’s a prominent hide  to the rear of the main lake which is reached by a long boarded path that ultimately runs between the lake and the afore mentioned River Ash (where I’ve seen Fergal Sharkey fishing but that’s another story) and there’s an old tree stump the other side of the wooden railings that hornets have made their nest in.

We went for a family bimble the other day and after a quick visit to a hide over the far side of the lake headed back and I noticed not one but two hornets flying towards the stump, I've only seen single hornets so two grabbed my attention. It was a moment or two before I noticed a couple more hornets at rest...and then realised that it was actually a nest...and then saw the prominent sign advising that it was there...that we'd managed to walk past first time!

I'd managed to forget my camera and of course fate had meant that I needed it on this occasion but I decided that this was worth another visit with it so I returned minus the family the next day. It was a rather cool and misty day and there were only a few hornets to be seen, both flying a resting so I stood a reasonable distance away to see if they accepted me standing there...they did and I watched for some time whilst taking pictures. The noise of them flying past your head sounds like a whooshing light sabre.

I decided to try taking a little movie footage on my camera and luckily they started to come out of the nest in some numbers when I did. Once I'd got the shots I wanted I decided to make my way home. It was well worth the return trip as they are magnificent. 

Video footage of the hornets



Saturday, 28 September 2013

The Wild Man Of The Woods

I attended a Country Fair in Leyton today and, as always, one of the draws (for me at least) is The Wild Man of the Woods (TWMOTW). A multi skilled musician, singer and raconteur I first met him at the Woodland Ways' World Of Bushcraft shop opening. It was April 2012 and the invited guests were TWMOTW, Perry McGee, The Foragers, The Jerky Shack and a selected handful of ticket (and 'Willy Wonka' golden ticket) holders.

We made our way up the stairs to the centre we were met by a very vocal ballad from TWMOTW which stopped the crowd in it's track (and made me mentally cock my head to one side puppy style). I had several chats with him about..oh allsorts of naturey type things and enjoyed hearing what he had to say.

 (Picture from the World of Bushcraft opening)
Fast forward to last year, I found out about the Country fair in Leyton (which is at the end of the Lee valley park) and instantly I said to my family 'that's TWMOTWs!'...well you can't help but notice him I'd say. I introduced myself and had to wait until the end of our time there until my youngest would have his picture taken, TWMOTWs understood, it goes with the territory.

(Picture from 2012) 

I saw the show advertised on Facebook and we decided to make a day of it again. Again I introduced myself and after a quick look around the nearby nature reserve I bought him some small tree branches to add to his collection which he was doing ID stuff with (and yes I learnt something). 

Half way through the day I asked if he would like a tea and cake, even TWMOTWs stops for cake! He produced his own earthenware cup that a hobbit had given him (and I quote). it was nice to sit down and have a chat with him about allsorts (again).

Please, please do visit his Facebook page and like it! And if he is at an event near you I can't recommend you seeing him in action. (and his fledgling Youtube channel is here). Have a read about the country fair here.

Leyton/ Lee Valley Country Show

There is an annual country fair in Leyton in London which I like to go to with the family and whilst the stands don't change much there is still plenty for the outdoor individual to like both in and around the actual show. There is a large green area and river close by (even a nature reserve) and we had a stroll around it seeing a host of wild flora and fauna in deepest London.

(Geulder Rose and Cat tail) 

There are several outdoorsy stands that catch the eye...

  ...bee (and bat) stands, raptors

...wood turning, willow (and corn dolly stands)

...otters, a smithy and various conservation groups.
But it's this chap that steals the show for me, The Wild Man of the Woods. As well as musical interludes and raconteuring and does the PA. More about him here