Saturday, April 9, 2016

Gear Review: Bob Dustrude Quick Buck Saw

Due to my affinity for a nice fire and the ability to build some simple camp furniture, I had been looking for a lightweight camp saw that folds down or disassembles into a small package for backpacking and woodcraft. A saw is far more practical for processing smaller firewood and back cutting a tree when felling.

I found that the market was pretty small for such items. Many are of poor quality or too heavy for practical use. After quite a bit of youtube watching and some blade research, I found that the Bob Dustrude Quick Buck Saw carried at Duluth Pack ( seemed to be the best bet for my purposes. It's not cheap, but it's compact and well reviewed. It's only drawback that was apparent was the fact that it required some serious tools to repair if damaged.

I have used the saw many times now and its construction is very simple. 3 Channels of aluminum bracing are cut with the 2 outside "legs" being slightly larger channel to allow them to slide over the top of the center channel. 4 Zinc rivets are used to connect the 3 pieces together and allow them to fold. Each leg has a 1" slit cut in it to hold the blade. The blade is installed by sliding the blade into the channel slit and seating the installed stopper bolt inside the channel while camming the waxed wooden handle into place, tensioning the blade. It's pretty easy to figure out, and the directions are written on the wooden handle. It's also bi-directional so it's impossible to install it backwards. The handle can be installed on either side.

It's pretty easy to use for wood processing and such, but it's a but difficult to make precision cuts. For some reason it likes to drift, no matter who is using it or the grip they use. I believe this has to do with the channel slit not being perfectly tight and causing the blade to twist slightly.

The other drawback is that it's rather loud for a buck saw. Not painfully so, but much louder than any pruning saw or buck saw I've used. These are both minor concerns when you consider it's intended use, but for some, it's a deal breaker. The only other issue I have is the fact that it doesn't have a sheath for it. They are available, but not in any way can you consider them cheap.

The positives far outweigh the issues in this case. This 24" saw weighs 15.9 ounces, which is paltry compared to it's usefulness. It's cutting ability is very good with some practice. The lighter weight takes some getting used to, but with a few minutes of cutting, you forget about it. It uses a standard Bahco blade for wet wood, which is a pruning blade with cutters and rakers. You can buy standard 24" blades from various manufacturers and only need a screwdriver and pair of pliers to change the blade.

The good: Light weight, durable, easy to use.
The bad: loud, cuts drift, no sheath, cannot be fixed in the field
The ugly: none

Overall, this has been a decent purchase for the 70 dollar entry fee. It's perfect for use on extended campouts and for rough cutting when out in the woods. It's not meant for use in heavy or commercial style cutting. It's meant to be used as a backpacking saw for serious adventurers. With it, you can cut down trees with a 15" width without an issue. They also come in a 30" model, but it won't fit on my pack properly. In conjunction with a proper camp axe, you can pretty much build a log cabin or serious shelter without an issue.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Gear Review: Husqvarna General Purpose Axe

I've been using an old family axes for years now. They are all well worn and pretty beat up due to the use of 3 generations of users. I can remember chopping up kindling as a kid with my Grandfather's roofing hatchet. He was a thrifty man, so when it broke he paid a neighbor to weld it back up for a 6 pack of beer. Cheap beer.

The axes were all in pretty poor shape, and the smaller Shapleigh axe was tucked in my dad's tool box when I inherited it. I cracked the larger axe handle years ago and just taped it up years ago as well. With my new skills research, I've learned how to re-haft or re-handle an axe of any type, including mauls. These are a few axes from the scout troop I volunteer with. I bought quality handles and spent several hours per unit learning how to do it right. Cleaning them up takes time as well.

 These are 2 high quality, low cost scout axes that have been in use by the scouts for a few decades. You can see the years of abuse they endured. It took a lot of work to get them back in shape.
After installing new Seymour Hickory handles. The top Axe is my turn of the century Shapleigh axe. It's in great shape now. It's a good size for smaller tasks and light chopping, but too heavy to strap to your backpack and slog to the field. Thus begins my quest to acquire a more suitable axe for backpacking and bushcraft. After much research and some budget constraints, I knew I wanted a Swedish steel axe similar to a small forest axe. Many European military units use similar axes so I knew they are very reliable. It had to have a Hickory handle as well.

There were many contenders out there but the best value seemed to the the Husqvarna. You needed to do a little rework to the edge, and the cover isn't the best, but it's made by one of the oldest axe makers in Sweden, Hults Bruks.

Upon arrival, I spent some time putting a shaving sharp edge on the axe. I re linseed oiled it up a few times and set it aside for an upcoming scout camp out. I was able to use it to split some smaller logs and make some feather sticks for practice. It was just what I wanted. Lightweight, perfect length for my arms and well built.

Fast forward a month and my son and I are in the woods during the winter and we are relying on our kit to keep us warm and fed. I'm really glad I had the right tools to split the gnarly muscle wood and cedar for the cold, rainy weather. You do have to be careful though, the small head allows the wood to split unevenly and you can hang the handle in the split regularly. It's caused some damage on my handle. Not enough to worry about, but enough that it's showing some splinters at the neck.

The profile is very sharp, which keeps the weight down, but makes the head stick pretty often in stringy or soft wood. It's aces at splitting dry hard woods.

Pictured after felling and splitting a couple dead white pine trees.

It's now my favorite axe. I use it on every non scouting camp out and for clearing brush or working wood when I need to take off more than a knife will allow. It keeps a shaving sharp edge onger than my knife does. Even after chopping down 2 15" x 40' white pines and limbing them. All it required for bringing the edge back to shaving was 10-15 strokes on the leather strop with yellow compound. 

With 6 months of good use behind me, I can say that this has been one of my better investments. The head is still 100% solid on the haft, the edge is still perfect, and the finish is still rough. Can't ask for anything more in a medium cost backpacking/general purpose axe.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Do It Yourself Cooking Grate

I've watched a few Youtube videos by Alfie Aesthetics and found his ingenious use of a fire grate to cook on. The only thing I didn't like was the fact that the grate wasn't attached to the legs, allowing it to fall over and spill your food into the fire. I also usually have company with me, so I need a larger grate. I chose this on due to it's four raised attachment points and large surface area.

I bought some cheapo pot metal tent stakes and bent them permanently into circles inside the 4 loops for lifting the cooling rack off a surface. The thing works flawlessly. You can adjust the temperature by how high over the coals your rack is. I generally use it for putting my tea near the fire and heating up water for cleaning up. If I need to boil or cook something, it goes in the hanging pot. It works great as a warming tray as well.

The grate I purchased was chrome plated to keep it from oxidizing or tainting food, so you can cook yourself a hank of deer steak or a nice thick fillet of game fish directly on the grate. To store it, I just apply a rubber band around the grate with the legs folded up and wrap a plastic bag around the outside of the grate and shove in in the outside pocket of my pack. With a little work, it can be used on a tripod or dakota fire hole fairly easily.

The only drawback is that it's all steel. It's a little heavier than I would have liked. I wanted to get an aluminum grate and pegs, but it was rather hard to find. Ti would have been choice if funds weren't an issue, but that's an entirely different matter.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Back From The Back Country.

The boys and myself went for a very difficult hike this week. The elevation changes were brutal, some requiring you to scramble up hill sides too steep to skirt or walk a diagonal approach. I didn't get too many pictures of the hard areas, I was too busy sucking wind and keeping 50# of gear from making me fall over. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous without the leaves obscuring the view.

 My 78 pound 11yo son packed 38 lbs of gear 4.12 miles with 1400f of elevation changes both up and down the same 836 to 433 feet above sea level. The 14yo is in track for distance running, he flat trounced the youngest and I with his 43 pound back.

 Once we made it to the camp site, we sat back and relaxed prior to setting up camp. There was a beach not too far away, but the easy access to boaters had it trashed beyond belief.

There was debris, beer bottles, a broken tent, cooler styrofoam, dirty diapers, etc. there for the enjoyment of all. I was pretty upset at how people treat public lands. If I had my way, the perpetrators would be on a chain gang cleaning up the entire park for a month.

We set up a nice little camp a hundred yards away from the beach and had a nice rocke overhang to fish off. We made a log seat and the youngest decided to not bring a tent and instead make a super shelter of his own design.

We decided to end the trip 12 hours early due to a large storm moving in and high winds that were deconstructing the shelter. We no more made it to the access road than the heavens unleashed a torrent of heavy rain and endless lightning and thunder. The trip back to the truck was arduous to say the least. The near vertical climb in some places at the beginning of the hike really takes it out of you. The topographical map looks solid red with contour lines in some places we traveled.

I did catch a nice little flathead catfish the first night, but the water was way up and muddy from the spring rains, so I expected very little luck catching fish. The boys didn't even get a bite.

A new skill I tried out was the long fire to keep the youngest son's shelter warm. 

A traditional long fire is built a little differently, but due to the fact that I had 3 different types of wood, I could choose how the fire burnt by using different wood to speed or slow the burn. I'd stagger hard wood, then white pine for fast heat, then a wet beech to slow it again. My first time was a success. I got up at 1:30am and 4:30am to add wood and keep him warm, but that was just my light sleeping getting the better of me. The carp jumping and geese fighting in the night kept me awake most of the night. I had to sneak in a noon siesta to stay viable while the boys processed firewood and completed their assigned duties.

Another great trip in the books, and I plan to get those reviews done this time. One is long over due and I put it up immediately this morning. I'm going to let this one auto post in a few days and work on some more reviews.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Gear Review: MSR Flex Skillet

For a while now I've looked for a decent skillet for fishing and camping trips that would be light enough for extended camping and backpacking trips. It needed to be robust, lightweight and non stick. That pretty much removed any stainless or cast iron cook wear. I already have some MSR items that work well, so I decided to try the Flex Skillet. At 7oz and $30, it wasn't a large investment in weight or cost. I bought it last summer and have been bringing it with me on the many trips I've taken.

In the real world, it has worked flawlessly as a serving dish, frying pan, stove base, warming dish, water pot and sauce pan. I've cooked more than 50 different items in it from Bacon to mashed potatoes. I've fried fish, squirrel, eggs, venison and pork chops in it. Most of this cooking was over an open flame, which requires careful vigilance when your supplies are finite in the field. The aluminum pan disperses hot spots faster than a steel pan could, so it's easy to pull it off the flame and not burn your dish.

This last trip we took saw a lot of cooking with this pan. We pan fried some Asian noodles, fried bacon twice, fixed pancakes, eggs, made taco meat and made chicken and noodles in it. All of this was done over the coals of an open fire without any signs of wear or abuse.

So far, the skillet had held up famously. When it first arrived, I was dubious of the plastic pieces on the handle as well as the attachment system. I've burnt this thing to a crisp and blackened the areas that the plastic resides without any deformity or loosening of those plastic bits. Must be some type of Teflon or space age polymer to take that kind of heat without showing signs of melting. The non stick coating is wearing thin at the top edge where it rest in my pack, and except for a few nicks it's 100% there inside the pan cooking surface.

The handle is a polymer so it doesn't get too hot unless you leave the handle in the fire. I've lost all the hair on my hand and never felt the handle was too hot to touch. The removable handle fits inside the 9 inch skillet with ease. It's made of polymer and aluminum with a detachment slide to allow it to fold or be removed. A 9 inch skillet is perfectly sized for the needs of a backpacker. It won't serve more than a few people, but it will be easily packed and cleaned, the two things a backpacker like myself looks for.

Over all, it's been a great investment. I don't have a single complaint due to knowing that a lightweight pan wouldn't heat as evenly as a thick pan. You improvise and control the heat with the fire lay instead. Even pancakes turned out flawless on an open fire.

The good: Light weight, Moderately priced, non stick, removable handle, polymer handle stays cool, anodized outer coating.
The bad: Still a thin gauge Aluminum sheet, gets hot spots.
The ugly: I didn't buy this years ago.