Sunday, March 25, 2012

Council Tool 19" Hudson Bay Axe and Mask

The Council Tool 19" Hudson Bay arrived over a week ago week but I didn't get a chance to do anything with it until today. My initial impression as I picked the axe up is that the head is much too heavy for a 19" handle. I'm going to use it as-is for a bit but I suspect I'll be getting a 28" handle for it eventually. The steel seems to be decent...I was able got an working edge on it easy enough. The handle is adequate but the grain orientation is about 45 degrees off of where it "should be." It was smooth enough to use comfortably but I still sanded it to 320 grit to remove the few minor imperfections and then wiped on a coat of boiled linseed oil. All things considered it is better than one should expect from a $40 made in the USA axe and I think it will prove to really be a great value.

I didn't order the mask option so to get it out in the woods I threw something together out of some scrap leather I had laying around. I used double-cap  rivets because I was too lazy to sew it and there was a lot on today's to-do list. The dye is still drying in these pics:


Thursday, March 15, 2012

First Aid Kit

It is that time of year when I break out my first aid kit (FAK) to check its expiration dates and to restock any miscellaneous items. So, while doing so I thought I'd snap a few shots and do a post on what I use and my thoughts on FAKs in general. As usual, take it for what it's worth, and the following is just my opinions and not medical advice.

We’ve all heard it before, and I will repeat it here: nothing takes the place of proper training. Like everything else in the field (from bushcraft to survival to you name it) knowledge is the most important and easiest to carry “tool” in your kit. Unfortunately it is also the hardest to “own.” Hands-on training is the best so I recommend that everybody takes an actual class… there are many resources available, including the American Red Cross, community colleges, local public services, and even CERT. I would also like to add that a solid understanding of the basics will get you a long way in an emergency, especially if you remain calm and are creative. 

General FAK Considerations
There are many first aid kits (FAKs) on the market… some are good, some are not so good. While any kit is better than nothing, ideally one’s first aid kit(s) should be tailored to his particular situation. On this topic I offer the following things to consider when building your kit:
  • Level of training and experience – only carry what you are trained to use and are proficient with.
  •   Remoteness/distance to hospital and trip duration – carry extra basic supplies (OTC medications, Band-Aids, etc.) on longer trips or in more isolated areas.
  • Number of people to be serviced by the kit – you may be the only person with a kit, so scale it appropriately.
  • Potential for serious injuries – certain activities, terrain and tools increase the potential for serious injuries. For example, lots of knife and axe use increases the chances of serious lacerations.
  • Pre-existing or chronic conditions – ask your doctor for extra prescription meds, inhalers, Epi-pens, etc. for any conditions or allergies you may have and stock your kit appropriately.
  • Environmental conditions – be prepared for environmental extremes (hot, cold, wet, dry, etc.).

Content Selection
First aid kits do not need to be so comprehensive that they treat almost any potential injury or illness. There is a name for such a kit: it’s called an ambulance. Instead, FAKs should be built to target just the likeliest injuries and the most life-threatening injuries.  Like survival kits, first aid kits are only useful if they are immediately available when needed, so they need to be lightweight and compact so they are easy to carry and therefore more likely to be included on every trip. Efficiency is key in selecting items for a FAK and compromises need to be made. Seek out and include multi-use items wherever possible. 

In an outdoors scenario there is a multitude of mundane injuries and illnesses to deal with, including but not limited to: small scratches, cuts and scrapes, insect bites, slivers, thorns, headaches and muscle pain, chapped lips and sunburn. A few basic items will treat a very wide range of these ailments. While they are minor and not life-threatening, being able to treat them easily sure makes for a better outing.

Unfortunately not all injuries and illnesses are minor. Being outdoors can be risky, especially on rough terrain or if one is using sharp tools. There are many life threatening injuries to consider, but again it is not realistic to try and equip yourself to deal with all of them. Fractures, dislocations, hemorrhage, environmental injuries (hot and cold injuries) and dehydration are likely cases to occur. A few basic items, used thoughtfully and creatively, will cover an acceptable array of serious injuries. 

My Kit
Firstly I need to mention that I have a fair amount of emergency medical training and experience. Secondly I need to mention that I personally only feel that covering the basics is realistic (and desirable), so there isn’t a lot of sexy high-speed gear here. This kit is designed to cover 2 people on a short (1 to 3 day) trip, and I do expect to use sharp tools. It will treat one trauma and a few small injuries with the included supplies. Anything else is beyond the practical scope of a small outdoors FAK in my opinion. This FAK weighs maybe a pound - likely less - and measures 7” x 7” x 2”. It started life as an AMK Ultralight .7 kit. The kit is modular and is broken down as follows:

The FAK unpacked to show the various modules (from L-R: gloves, meds, small, medium, major)

General Items
  •  Nitrile Gloves (3 pairs)
  •  Small Shears

  •  Diamode – (Loreramide, an antidiarrheal)
  •  Motrin – (Ibuprofen, a pain reliever, antiinflammatory, and fever reducer)
  • Benadryl – (Diphenhydramine, an antihistamine)
  •  Ivy-X – (wipe that mitigates poison ivy exposure… supposedly)
  •  Micro Pur tablets (for purifying drinking or irrigation water)

Little “boo-boos” module
  •  Bandages (cloth type, various)
  •  Cleansing wipes
  •  Alcohol swabs
  •  Antibiotic ointment
  • 23 gauge needle
  • Sliver tweezers
  •   AfterBite wipes
Medium “owies” module
  • Gauze (2x2, 3x3 and 4x4)
  • Gauze rolls (2” and 3”)
  •  Duct tape
  • Cloth Medical Tape
  • Wound closure strips (Steri-Strips)
  •   Moleskin

Major “uh-ohs” module
  • Israeli Dressing, 4”
  • Cravat
  • Mylar Blanket

Medium "owie" module

Following are some specific items that I feel individually deserve a brief discussion.

Israeli Dressing -This pressure bandage is a military design that is intended to stop major hemorrhage. The bandage pad  is held in place by elastic that similar to an Ace bandage. It is possible to apply this bandage to an extremity one-handed if self aid is required. Beyond bleeding control it can be used to stabilize fractures, as a sling, to support strains and sprains, to cover an eye, etc. The plastic packaging can be used to improvise an occlusive dressing for an open (sucking) chest wound. I removed the outer packaging to reduce bulk but I didn’t consider that the instructions are on that outer package in case a person unfamiliar with the design needs to use it, so I will swap it out soon.

Cravat - A standard cravat can be used for almost anything. It can augment a pressure dressing, be used sling a fractured arm, stabilize leg fractures, to protect against sunburn… the uses are only limited by your imagination. It can also be used to pre-filter water or to make charred cloth for fires. It comes with 2 safety pins, but I added 2 more because their use is as limitless as the cravat’s.

Duct Tape - Duct tape has stronger adhesive, is less affected by moister (blood, sweat and tears), and is stronger than most all medical tape. Of course duct tape has a ton of uses outside of medical emergencies.

Gloves - Many people do not include gloves, but I think they are very important. Firstly, they protect you, the rescuer, from blood-born nastiest the victim may have. Secondly, gloves help keep the wound from getting contaminated from the dirt, bacteria, food, feces, etc. that may be on your hands. I prefer nitrile gloves because of the increasing prevalence of latex allergies today.

Shears - Again an item often omitted. Why carry a scissors when you already have plenty of sharp cutting tools on hand? Well, there are several reasons. Your tools are likely contaminated from using them, setting them on the ground, putting them into the sheath wet or dirty, etc. Also, they are dangerous… it is way too easy, when things get dicey, to exacerbate a situation by trying to cut clothes, tape, or anything else with a knife. Trauma shears can be gotten for a couple of bucks, they will cut through virtually anything, are very safe for the rescuer and the victim, and weigh very little. Of course they have a ton of other uses besides first aid, but remember to clean them as close to sterile before returning them to your kit any time you use them for anything. 

Items Not in My Kit
There are a few things not included in my kit that some may feel are necessary. As stated earlier, each individual’s kit should be tailored to his needs, and there is nothing wrong with including additional items so long as they do not make it less likely that you do not pack it. I will briefly touch on a couple of items that I do not include in my wilderness kit (although they are, mostly, included in home, car and range FAKs).

Tourniquets - tourniquets are life savers, no doubt, and I have several. But I do not include one in this kit as a calculated risk; I am betting on handling a trauma with items in the kit or making a field expedient tourniquet if the need arises. As stated earlier, there are compromises to make.

CPR Mask - compression only CPR is the layman’s standard now, but likely I’ll just take my chances with old fashioned mouth-to-mouth and chest compressions. In a pinch I can rig a barrier out of some plastic wrapping or similar item.

Hemostatics – these are another modern battlefield life-saver. There are a bunch of different types on the market now, from granulars to pads to rolled gauze, but the cost is high and the shelf life is relatively short. These are also single use items and relatively bulky.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Natural Shelter Build Along Pt 2

It was a beautiful day here in Michigan (sunny and temps in the 60s!!) and I got back out to work some more on the shelter. Firstly I replaced the ridge pole with a sturdier piece of wood and then spaced the angled sticks for the roof out more. I am keeping about 2/3 of it shingled with bark and am using debris for the other 1/3 as an experiment to compare the effectiveness of two methods. I spent about an hour rebuilding the shelter and getting a thin layer of debris lad in before my wander lust got the better of me and I headed off to explore and enjoy the weather.

Lessons Learned:
  • Place the ridgepole on the back side of the trees versus the front... the trees will not block as much of the wind but the shelter will be inherently sturdier.
  • Bark shingles are very fragile
  • An armload of debris does not go far in shelter construction

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Natural Shelter Build Along Pt. 1

It has been many, many years since I built a natural shelter so recently I decided it was time for a bit of practice. 

There are several factors to choosing a good shelter location. Since every bushcraft, camping and survival guide in the world discusses location selection to one degree or another I'll skip the book stuff and just discuss the specifics of the site I selected today. It is in a secluded hemlock stand with plenty of resources nearby. My resource priority was as follows:
  1. Shelter construction materials- There are many deadfalls in the area so poles are plentiful. These dead stumps and trees also were an important resource for roof "shingles". There are lots of hemlocks and white pine in the area for bedding.
  2. Water- there are three small, quick flowing streams within 100-200 meters of the site. There are two large ponds and a medium river within a quarter to half mile away.
  3. Firewood- there is a ridiculous amount of fallen soft and hardwood in the area; there is also fatwood and birch nearby.
  4. Food- There are many wild edibles in the fields nearby and there is plenty of small game (squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, and turkeys to name a few) as well as whitetail deer in the area. At least one of the nearby streams has fish, and the ponds and river have fish also. Of course there will be plenty of frogs in the spring.
I  found a good spot between two hemlock trees that was level and on highish ground. On the downwind side thee is a small depression that works well for a cooking fire.

I chose the traditional lean-to design because I want to have a fire just outside the shelter and I do not want any critters to make the shelter their home too, which would be likely with a debris hut. A lean-to also provides room to sit up and work inside the shelter.

I chose to lash two thick forked sticks to the hemlocks to support the ridge pole. I lashed the ridge pole to the uprights on the downwind side so that the trees help block any cross winds.

Then I built up a sturdy frame work of stick/logs. It took me about 1 1/2 (maybe two) hours of steady but not rushed work to get this far. By the time I had a 6-7 foot wide section done I was getting hungry. Shelter construction is a lot of work!

After lunch I began gathering bark for the roof. Luckily this area has lots of downed hemlocks and I was easily able to get large sheets of bark to "shingle" the roof. I began at the bottom and worked from left to right, overlapping each piece 4-6 inches or so. Then I worked my way up, again working from left to right, overlapping the first row by 6-12 inches. In about  30-45 minutes I had this:

 Here is a shot from the inside. There isn't much light showing... that's a good sign!

At this point I'm confident that the shelter will provide me and my fire protection from wind and snow. I also think that it will provide decent protection from rain. It is slightly longer than I am taller, but only by a bit. By this point it was also getting to be time to head home for family stuff, so I had to be satisfied with what was accomplished so far. Here is what it looked like when I left:

I plan to return in the near future and do the following:
  • Widen the shelter another 2 feet
  • Add a vertical support in the center for the bowing ridge pole
  • Add logs as weights to keep the bark in place
  • Maybe add a couple of feet of debris on top of the bark roof 
  • Build sides for the shelter to increase protection against crosswinds
Like I mentioned earlier, it has been a long time since I built a natural shelter, and I learned a lot with this project. As you can see in the final picture the ridge pole really started to bow under the weight of the bark. Some of the pieces were surprisingly thick, damp and heavy. Next time I'll use a stronger ridge pole. Here are some other lessons:
  • Making a shelter is a lot of work and uses a lot of energy
  • Plan on at least 3 hours to make a shelter
  • Site selection is important.... access to materials is paramount
  • Hemlock stumps and deadfall are easy to bark if you are patient
  • There are a number of great reasons to keep that small tarp or USGI poncho in my daybag!
  • I need a different axe for chopping
  • My body is older than it used to be... especially my back 
Assuming nobody burns, disassembles or otherwise destroys my shelter, there will be additional installments with the improvements to the shelter as well as my experiences sleeping in it in the near and not so near future!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Redneck Knife Kit

Life in general has precluded me from getting into the woods for a few weeks and I'm going a bit stir crazy so I decided I'd do a quickie photoshoot of the Redneck Knives woodlore kit I did last year. Redneck Knives is a custom maker from Florida. Steve (AKA "Red") does blades, kits, finished knives and sheaths... all very well.

This kit came as a finished blade, a pair of  scales, some Loveless bolts, some liner material and a bit of lanyard tubing. The blade is 1/8" 1095 steel with stabilized dyed box elder scales, black liners, and stainless hardware.

This was the first high-quality knife blade that I handled.  The process was pretty simple and straight forward: outline the handle and cut the scales to shape, drill the holes (countersink for the Loveless bolts), glue the scales on and tighten the bolts, cut the bolts flush, and shape with a sander. The final sanding was done by hand and with the scales buffed with a wheel on my drill press it was job done.

Try to ignore the schmutz on the blade... I was just hacking some cedar with it in the backyard and there is some sap on the blade.

 I made a dangler sheath from 8-9 oz veg tanned leather and concocted an olive green oil dye from various colors that I had on hand. The sheath was finished with Super Sheen and the black edges and whatnot are Edge Kote. Not my best sheath, but serviceable, and certainly one of a kind.

 The only problem with the knife and sheath is that if I set them down when I'm out in the field they virtually disappear in the foliage/grass/leaves!