Guest blogger – Rich59

Hi, I’m Richard (AKA Rich59).

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Fenlander asked me if I would be interested in helping with some guest contributions to his blog.  More than glad to help mate if I can pass on anything of use!  I come to bushcraft as a townie looking to escape when I can and for as long as possible.

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Leading a local scout group for a while got me back into contact with nature and the rewards of learning and passing on basic skills.  Whilst I am completely sold on all things bushcraft I seem especially to have been exploring (so far) making

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and using fire,

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the atlatl (forerunner of the bow and arrow),

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wild fungi,

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and plants

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Recently watching the TV series and reading the book “Survivors” has got me thinking about managing land to provide for my needs.

Oh, and Fenlander wanted you to know that he rates me very highly, that I have taught at BushcraftUK meetings and Fenlander’s stamping ground near Newmarket and with my local scout troup, have written a number of tutorials, and that I was part of a primitive skills camping trip the winter Norwegian mountains last year.

Dung beetle

I have always wanted to see a dung beetle but had been unsuccessful until a couple of weeks ago, when like buses two appeared together.

They were both Minotaur Dung beetles (Typhaeus typhoeus).

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This species can be found on heaths, moorland and mountains and are usually associated with rabbit and sheep droppings.

This particular individual is a male because he has long, more pronounced prongs protruding on the thorax.

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These he will use to fight with other males to compete for females.

Dung beetles have been worshipped in some cultures and used in herbal medicines in others.

Gorilla Pod-2

You may recall that in October last year I purchased a Gorilla Pod made by Joby to help with taking photographs for my tutorials.

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I have been so impressed with it that I recently purchased the SLR model to use with my telescope while birdwatching in Lapland.

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What’s even better about the Gorilla Pod is the fantastic customer service provided by Joby!!

Recently I noticed my original pod had a loose joint in one leg and as a result would keep collapsing when I used it as a tripod.  On closer inspection I discovered that the socket of the joint was cracked.

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I contacted Joby customer service in Santa Cruz explaining the problem and included the above photograph.  With 30 minutes I received a response apologising for the problem and asking for my address to enable them to dispatch a new Gorilla Pod immediately!!  My replacement arrived on Friday.

Many thanks to Joby another company I highly recommend.

A Guide to Common British Earthworms

Earthworms are great for soil. They speed up decomposition by consuming lots of dead plant material, and their burrows help aerate the soil and let water through easily.  Worm casts (faeces) are rich in recycled plant nutrients that help to maintain soil fertility.

I have been involved in the production and testing of a new Field Studies Council publication – A Guide to Common British Earthworms (this link includes slides of several different species).

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There are different ways of obtaining worms to identify.  You can hand search by moving leaves, logs and other ground cover, dig out a section of soil

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and search for worms

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or you can mix a solution of water and mustard and pour onto a metre square of ground

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and as the mustard solution is a mild irritant, the worms will come to the surface.

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Once you have your specimens you use a magnifying glass and the identification key to identify each species.

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Friends, food and fire

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had a weekend in the woods last weekend with Stuart, Dave, Mike and Ollie.

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After we had set up camp, collected firewood and made a fire,  Stuart cooked some soap and bannock bread for our lunch.

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We soon learned that  Hornbean (Carpinus betulus) is certainly not a good wood to burn as it burns slowly and gives out very little heat.  Instead we collected some Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) and Birch which had been felled as part of the coppice management of the site.

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After lunch I “tapped” a Birch tree to obtain some sap.  After about 5 hours we had enough sap for a cup full each.

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Ollie and Mike were cooking our evening meal and had brought along a joint of pork to cook in a dutch oven.  We experimented with making a “dakota firehole” to create embers, heat the dutch oven and cook the pork and I must say that it worked very well.  In the picture below the angled airhole is facing forward.

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Once our meal was cooking I spent some time teaching friction firelighting with the bow-drill

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At about 7pm the pork was cooked as were the foil parcels of vegetables and the cider gravy.

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here is the sliced pork joint which had been basted with honey.

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After a good nights sleep, it was Dave’s turn to cook breakfast.

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Bacon, tomatos, baked beans, omlet and something I really enjoyed….eggy bread style crumpets.

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Once breakfast was completed we had another session with the bow-drill and everyone achieved a good ember and produced flame.  I also demonstrated other firelighting methods including fire -by-condom!  I cooked pasties for our lunch

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and by mid afternoon it was time to break camp and head for home.

Weekend away

I have been away with friends this weekend and this provided the ideal opportunity to test out my new knife.  For such tasks as cutting and splitting wood it worked just fine but as a more challenging test I used it to carve a cup.

I used a spoon gouge to carve the inside bowl of the cup

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I secure my work against something with my foot and with the aid of a baton I can quickly remove large amounts of chippings to form the bowl.

I used my knife to do all the other carving work, shaping the cup and handle.  Here is the end result;

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The wood I have used is Birch and the beautiful patterning in the wood is caused by Birch Polypore.

The knife performed very well, although the top section of buffalo horn became a little lose, but when I got home I used a centre punch to rivet over more of the tang and now the handle is solid.

New knife

In 2006 I bought a knife blade from Leifs knifes while in Jokkokk, Lapland and used it to make this knife.

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As it is such a good blade I bought more while in Jokkmokk at the beginning of February.  Some of the blades I am selling but one particular blade I decided to use to make a knife.

Having aquired a piece of water buffalo horn, I wanted to incorporate this into the handle.  I also had some Birch bur to use and I purchased some bone spacers.  Between each of the handle components I placed a piece of Birch bark.  When making previous knife handles I have glued the components together  but with this knife I decided not to use any glue.  Instead I made each component fit exactly and then riveted  over the end of the tang to keep them in place.

Here I am shaping the knife handle

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I had also been given I really nice Red Deer antler tine (thanks John & Val) which I wanted to use as a sheath for the knife.  I began by cutting the antler in half to enable me to hollow it out for the knife blade to fit inside.  In this picture I am cutting the antler in half

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Here is the completed knife handle with the blade fitted into the antler

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I sanded to outside of the antler and filed two grooves around the outside, into which half tanned Reindeer sheath leather would be moulded to secure it in place.

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Here is the completed knife and sheath

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I only used non electrical hand tools and so it took me a day to hollow out the antler to the shape of the blade (I have viewed many examples of old Saami knives in museum collections and although these days electrical tools are used to make them, in the past only very basic tools were available to make items such as this one

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and it is only through making your own, that you learn to really appreciate the work that went into these knives).

A fenman and a fish trap 2

Using a circular chopping board with 28 holes drilled in it as a gauge, we started making a trap.  Inserting a willow wand into each of the 28 holes (the warps).

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We used thin flexible wands to weave around the top of the trap (end nearest the board) until we had weaved around the diameter of the trap twice, adding in new wands as the previous became too thin or short.

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A single weave was added about 15cm above this

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and another 15cm above that.  This time the weave had to be a little tighter which caused the trap to start curving into a cone shape.

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Three more wefts were added, each tighter than the previous (as you can see above) and then the ends were all lashed together.

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This part of the trap was then removed from the gauge and using the same 28 holes we made the funnel or “chair”.

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Once completed, the funnel was inserted into the trap so that the 28 warps  of the funnel laid between the 28 warps of the trap.

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Both were then woven together.

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Here is the completed trap.

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The trap has to dry for two weeks now and then I will soak it and test it out.

A fenman and a fish trap

This week I was fortunate enough to be able to spend a day with Peter Carter.  Were it not for the fact that Peter is around the same age as me, I would have described him as “a traditional old fenman” making his living from the land and making all his own traps and nets.

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I had originally contacted Peter to ask his advice on making simple willow fish traps that I could make and use while staying at my cabin, and he invited me over to spend a day.

Peter grew up in the fens and as a child spent his time with, and learning from the older  generation who were in the business.  We began by looking at some useful tools when making willow traps.  Any idea what this is used for?

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Well it is called a “cleaver” and as you push the centre into the end of a willow wand and push it along and as it moves through the willow it splits it into three equal pieces, as you can see in the picture below.

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The cleaver was traditionally made out hard woods such as Hawthorn or Blackthorn.  Then using another of Peters homemade devices which acts rather like a plane,

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you pull each wand through the device and the cutting blade removes excess material, giving you nice even thickness strips of willow.

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After a coffee and a chat about different types of traps and our net making methods, we were ready to begin making a fish trap……but more about that next time.

For fans of the TV program Time Team, Peter features in next weeks program.

Crusader mug possibles pouch

As I mentioned here https://naturallore.wordpress.com/2009/02/23/winter-in-lapland-2009-7/

I had the idea to carry my Crusader mug in  my possibles pouch (the one you can see on my belt in the picture below) but unfortunately the pouch was a little too small.

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So on my return from Sweden I decided to make a new pouch using one of many leather off-cuts given to my by a friend.   You can also see my original pouch in the picture below.

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I began by drawing around the shape of the mug to get the dimensions right for the piece of leather.  Then I marked out the leather and cut out the basic shape with my knife.

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With an awl I marked stitching holes around the leather, about 5mm in from the edge and used 1mm leather thong/thread to stitch it together.

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Once the stitching was completed I turned the pouch inside out so that the stitching was inside and then tested to see the mug would fit ok.

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I attached a Roe Deer antler button to the front of the pouch and cut a slit in the top so that the pouch can be securely closed.

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I cut two 20mm strips of leather and threaded through slits in the back of the pouch and stitched them to form two belt loops.

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And the pouch was completed.  It holds all the items from my previous pouch plus some tea bags, a small pot of coffee and a packet of hot chocolate, so I can brew up at any time.

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What items would you carry in your Crusader mug?