- By John Fenna
- 0 Comments
- Last updated: 01/02/2017
When you are going out to practise bushcraft skills, you are going to need some basic tools and equipment. For many, the essence of Bushcraft is interacting with your environment, necessitating tools to work with, while suitable clothing will be needed to keep you warm, dry and comfortable. Tools come in various shapes, sizes and weights, designed for various primary tasks. Your choice of tool needs to reflect your primary use of a tool – there is no point in buying a huge double bitted axe if your main use for it will be preparing firewood and roughing out spoon carving projects.
One type of axe that is very popular amongst the Bushcraft fraternity is the Small Forest Axe made by Gransfors Bruks. This kind of axe is mid-size, mid-weight and a real jack-of-all-trades, and significantly, master-ofnone. When needful, I have used the GB SFA to fell trees, split kindling, rough out carving projects and even make feather sticks to light my fire, but it is not as good as a dedicated felling axe, splitting axe, carpenters axe or whittling knife would have been for those jobs. Some would say that the short helve makes it a hazard in its own right, as it is just the right length to impact on your body, not the ground, if you have a mis-strike.
I love my SFA and find it a better option than carrying in loads of specialised axes. If you are not going to be doing heavier axe tasks, you may prefer to carry a hatchet, or tomahawk instead. The basic difference between the two is a hatchet has a fixed head, whereas a tomahawk has a slide-on head, which allows easier transportation and, when needed, replacement of the handle. Both are excellent choices for lighter axe work.
A folding saw is more than worth its weight and one of the most popular styles available is the Bahco ‘Laplander’, though others sing the praises of ‘Silky’ saws. I have had good results from Aldi and pound shop folding saws as well. It is more than possible to do away with carrying most of a saw in with you, by carrying in a bow saw blade and building a buck saw on site.
It is possible that the choice of knife for bushcrafting is one of the contentious subjects in bushcrafting circles with differing weights, sizes, styles, all having their champions. Again, I see the tasks that a bushcraft knife is expected to carry out, forcing it to be a bit of a compromise – it has to be robust but capable of fine work, not too light for heavy work but not too heavy to use for long periods, with a steep enough grind to avoid edge weakness, but not prone to chipping or rolling, easy to sharpen, but with great edge retention. The choices of material then come into play – stainless steel or carbon steel; synthetic or natural material handles; leather or synthetic sheaths – and how to carry it, high ride on your belt, ‘dangler’ from your belt, vertical, horizontal or neck carry, not to mention the debate about full tang, half tang or rat tail tang. There are more choices than you can think of and just as many reputable makers of both mass production and custom knives in a vastly wide range of prices.
I have a large collection of knives I use for bushcrafting, with examples of most of the choices in there, but most fall into the category of 3.5-4.5-inch long blade, 2.5mm- 3.5mm thick steel drop point, carbon steel, leather sheath, natural handle material. In this range I have mass production knives, knives I have made and professionally hand-made knives and all will do the job in the woods. Some look nicer, some feel nicer, some will do certain tasks more easily, some will do A folding saw is compact and easy to carry a lot less damage to the bank balance, and some will break my heart if I lose them! The advice I would give to anyone starting out in bushcraft is to buy inexpensive tools to start with, and learn how to use, maintain and sharpen them. Once you know how you are going to be using the tool, you can then look around for the tool that suits your tasks, your wallet and your taste in looks.
You can pick up some reasonably priced tools in shops such as Lidl, pound shops and similar and companies such as Mora, Hultafors and Condor turn out some very low-priced, but good knives – the saws I lend to students on my courses are Aldi pruning saws and the knives are stainless steel Mora Companions, and they have proved excellent tools. Rambo-ish ‘survival knives’ tend not to make great bushcraft knives and I find the same with ‘do everything’ gadget knives. A couple of tools I would think of as an option instead of a hatchet or small axe would be a solidly built machete (I like my old MOD ‘Golok’ but I have had to reprofile the edge to get it cutting as I want) and a bill hook. Both these tools are great for a wider range of tasks than you would imagine. Other tools I would not like to be without are a Swiss Army knife and a Multitool – they are just too useful to ignore, but the blade selection choices are endless and you have to know what you want before you buy!
All sharps should have masks, sheaths or guards, and be kept in them when not in use to protect the tool as much as to stop anyone getting hurt, and you will need sharpening equipment for your tools to keep them in good order. It is a truism to say that a cut from a sharp tool heals faster and cleaner than from a blunt one. I know this from personal experience! And a sharp tool is less likely to slip and cause harm than a blunt one. Accidents will happen, so it is always advisable to carry a Fist Aid Kit if you are carrying sharps – and know how to use it. ‘All the gear and no idea’ is not great if you are bleeding to death out in the woods!
These tools should put you in a position to make a lot of your own kit in the woods and if you add to it some cordage, you will have pretty much all you really need for most tasks. To carry your kit up to and around the woods, you will need some sort of bag or pack and, again, the choice is wide. In the woods I like to carry my tools in their sheaths and masks, on a wide leather belt, which also has a ‘possibles’ pouch holding a small 1st Aid Kit, honing stone, folding knife and my fire-lighting kit. For day outings, I carry a brew kit (usually a hobo stove or a lidded metal mug, tea/coffee, sugar, milk powder and water), spare warm wear, a sit mat, small tarp, a good 1st Aid Kit, notebook, pen, binos, map, etc., and for shorter trips a shoulder bag or haversack. I keep small items in leather pouches and tea/coffee etc. in poly bags inside leather pouches to protect them.
I prefer the ‘canvas and leather’ look over a more modern and synthetic materials style, but this is down to personal choice and there are lots of good quality kit of both sorts out there – or you can make your own! This preference for natural materials extends to even my big pack for overnight and longer trips, but I have to admit that I have yet to find a canvas ‘traditional’ pack that truly rivals modern packs when it comes to carrying heavy loads over long distances. Luckily, I tend not to have to carry my loads too far to my main campsites, so I can indulge my tastes on most occasions!
The old saying “any fool can be uncomfortable” is true, but I would prefer to be comfortable in camp for a long time, if slightly uncomfortable during the short walk in than super comfortable on the short walk in and less comfortable in camp! Equally, “travel light – travel far” is countered by “travel light, freeze at night”, so you see that you need to balance the gear you take with you with your aims and needs for your intended activities.
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