Sunday, July 25, 2010

An Ember a Day...and a class invite...

"Why don't you just use a lighter or some matches?"...I am asked almost every time someone watches me attempt to make and ember using the hand drill or bow drill methods of fire starting.'s hard to explain. Perhaps the wonder that inside of a few dried sticks lies a glowing ember that can be coaxed out and transformed into a fire to cook my food and keep me warm...just never wears out. Perhaps it is just a weird way for me to live out my boyhood pyromaniac tendencies I never realized. Or maybe it is the intensely deep satisfaction that comes with knowing how to make a fire with no gadgets of any sort...the ultimate of self reliance. Maybe I just need to get this one more survival skill checked off my macho survival guy checklist. It could be the exhibitionist in me that enjoys people looking at me like I'm some sort of magician. Or perhaps it is born out of an inner desire to shed the trappings of "modern" society and grow a greater kinship not only with the people that lived where I do in generations past...but also with a multitude of world cultures that have started fires the same way for 1,000s of years.

Whatever it is...I am compelled to master it.

In my quest to become proficient with the hand drill method of friction fire I have been attempting to make an "ember a day". I have collected spindles and hearth boards of various local plants...and daily spend a little time learning what variations work best for me...and which end in failure. And I'll tell you...I do fail a lot. Not all woods will work. Sometimes I just don't have the stamina to get the heat generated. Sometimes my spindle is too bent and it walks all over making the process difficult. I learn from each failure and success.

I generally work at it until my hands feel as if they will blister...and then I stop. By the next day...they are toughened up and will be ready for another go. If I fail to make an ember with the hand drill...and my hands are just to hammered to continue...I often just bring out the bow drill set...which I can make fire almost 100% of the time with...and call it a night.

If you have no idea what I am talking about...go to and put in "hand drill fire" and "bow drill fire" and watch some videos.


If this sounds like something you would be interested in learning more about...

I will be doing a class on friction fire next month. It will be in two parts. We will go for a relatively short walk and I will help the class to identify some of the best plants for making fire. We will go over selection of woods and preparation of the materials for fire making. Then we will find a shady spot and try our hands at twirling up some embers...and making those into fires.

When - Saturday August 21st from 8am-10am.
Where - Hinkle Creek Nature Center at 7000 Baldwin Dam Rd. just below Lew Howard Park in Folsom CA.
Cost - $10 (That's the lot's of people have no job super special price!!)
Bring - Sun hat, water, pocket knife, a fire making attitude.

If you would like to come or have questions email me at

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My 3 Favorite Knives for Survival...

A knives importance in a survival situation cannot be underestimated.

It is the tool that can fabricate most anything that you might prepare food...defend yourself...and so on...

I agree with Ron Hood of that if I had to choose one knife to have with me in a survival situation...I would have a swiss army knife. As I said in another recent article...I like the Swiss Army Trekker. Here is why...

1. It is a longer length than what you might expect a "standard" swiss army knife to be...which makes it easier for me to grip...and the blades and other implements longer.

2. I despise having to pull out twenty tools to find the one that I want! The Trekker has the tools I use most. A knife...saw...and awl...without all the extras. Oh...and the very important tweezers! Can't tell you how often I get splinters.

3. My biggest heartburn with Swiss army has been that when the implements in the knife get gummed up at can take remarkable fingernail strength to open the knife. The trekker has a "one handed" open model that allows for the blade to open with a large thumb loop.

If I could choose two knives to take into a survival situation...
I would want the Ka-Bar Becker BK2. Here's why...

1. It has a heavier weight that allows for you to chop at branches. Like having a mini axe on your hip.

2. It is as thick as a pry bar which makes for effective batoning of wood. (Splitting of wood) This thickness makes it a virtually indestructible knife. No worries about abusing it.

3. It is not a cumbersome mini-sword like so many other knives made for similar purposes.

4. Though it may feel cumbersome...especially after carving with smaller is capable of doing various carving tasks.

If you wear it on your prepared to have people stop you and say "Holy Cow! What kind of knife is that!" most folks aren't used to such a heavy utility knife.

If I could choose a third knife I would have a simple Mora clipper knife. I have the carbon steel 840mg. (military green) Here is why...
1. I just love carving with it. It just feels good in my hand...and glides through wood.

2. It has a clearly laid bevel that beginners can easily sharpen. The carbon steel blade version has stayed sharp for me for a long time.

3. It weighs very little.

4. It is a tried and true effective bushcraft knife.

5. Not that this has any bearing on it's actual utility...but I also appreciate how inexpensive it is!

Knives are largely a thing of preference. What works best for one...may not be the best for another. Post any knife recommendations in the comments... Thanks!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Accumulating Jars for Canning...

I was chatting with a man who has taught canning techniques for longer than I've been alive. He works at a big canning supply factory in Oakland CA. Without any provocation on my part he went into a lengthy speech about all of the trouble our nation is quickly a disaster could change our lives...and the importance of storing food and supplies. He sounded a lot like me!

His belief was that next to having food should have supplies to store more food. Of course the hope with home production is that one can produce more fruits and veggies at home than what the family consumes...enabling excess food to be put away for the future!

He talked about steel suppliers and issues he was having getting in the raw materials to make the lids for the jars. He talked about how the price for the jars and lids had gone up...and he expected them to go drastically up again. He felt like the public should be running to the stores and cleaning the shelves of all canning supplies...while they still can.

After our conversation I have stocked up on some canning supplies here and there. Here is what we have done.

Although we do have a pressure cooker...most of our canning is done in a good ole' ball home canner. I recommend it as a great way to get into canning. It even comes with a canning book that many consider to be like a canning bible.

Both Walmart and Lowes carry canning supplies. From time to time...and when the price is right...I pick up a flat of jars with lids and a few of the little boxes of extra canning lids.

A great way to accumulate some jars is to purchase products that come in canning jars. While most jars aren't standard canning sizes that will fit canning lids...there are some companies out there that do use standard canning sized jars. Classico spaghetti sauces come in Mason jars. You can tell because it actually reads "Atlas Mason" in big print on the side of the jar. I have also seen Walmarts "Good Value" brand come in Mason jars. Specifically...I know that their peach chipotle salsa comes in a Mason jar. To reuse the jar...simply remove the label...and run it through your dishwasher. Then set it aside until you go to can...and use it as you would any other canning jar.

Please read the comments.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Keychain Survival!...

A friend of mine went on a rafting trip a while back. He was with a group of 25 people heading into some pretty intense rapids. A raft flipped...gear was lost...and they struggled to the shore to lick their wounds. The plan was to go home that night...but now they were way behind schedule and night was upon them. They were going to have to camp on the side of the river. My friend said "You know...out of those 25 people...I was the ONLY ONE that had any way to start a fire!" He went on to tell me that he always carries a lighter in his pocket. He is chastised by others for carrying he doesn't smoke...but it is just such occasions when having a habit of carrying useful items could save lives...or at least make a miserable night more comfortable.

A foundational principle of preparedness is to keep available what you need...when you will need it.

The challenge arises...that if you were to carry around with you all of the stuff you might need...your pockets and purses might end up filled to overflowing! A compromise is to have things a car be close when you might need it...or to have small preparedness items that are manageably carried from day to day.

An examination of many of our keychains would reveal that we currently are carrying keys that unlock who knows what...trinkets picked up from vacations...and other stuff we've accumulated over time. Our wallets and purses likewise also are collectors of junk...and could use a good purging from time to time to get rid of unwanted cargo. For people that drive...a keychain and wallet/purse...are some of the most important places to have preparedness items. Why?...because we almost always have them with us!

Here are some ideas about some things to consider putting on your keychain...or in your purse/wallet...

1. A knife - There are all kinds of options. For my everyday carry knife I have a Swiss Army Trekker. It has a few of the most important tools...without being what I consider too bulky or heavy. I have mixed feelings about the serrated edge on the knife...but I like the fact that it has a saw and an awl. This one even comes with a mini swiss army knife that would go well on a keychain.

2. Sharpener - A way to sharpen your knife! Here is a credit card sized option that fits in a wallet.

3. Firestarter - You could have a lighter like my friend. Another great option is to have a firesteel. They will produce thousands of fires...and you don't have to worry about getting them wet...or breaking them.

4. Pepper Spray - For subduing the bad guys...or animals.

5. Oil vial - For giving blessings to the sick. Personally...I see no reason why a woman can't also carry an oil vial. Prepared for her unprepared brothers. more thing I think is really important. Something that can allow for someone to return your keys to you if they are lost. I like dog tags engraved with my last name and phone number. Now...a person could get themselves all worked up wondering "What if they fell into the wrong hands!...A person would know where to go to rob me". While there is truth to this...I tend to believe that 99% of the time...the people that find your keys (granted you don't live in the ghetto) are prone to want to return them to you. I can't tell you how many functions I have been to where someone lost their keys...they were found...but no one had any clue how to get them back to the owner.

You might also consider having a carabiner like these to hold your keys. They allow for items to come on and off easily and have other potential preparedness uses.