Monday, 7 August 2017

Fence Post Fire by Friction

I got a text a while ago from a Cub leader from my pack asking if I wanted any Cedar wood off cuts from some fence posts that he was putting in. Not so long ago I'd made a viable set out of some Silver Birch firewood so I said yes to see how the wood handles and if it gave me some bow drill sets then all well and good.

 I'd never used Cedar for fire by friction so there was no excuse not to right that. I also had some seasoned Lime that I was going to utilise but as I'd used it before the Cedar jumped the queue.

Well I say jumped the queue, the journey of discovery had to be put on ice for about three weeks due to the fact that I cracked a rib on a water slide during our traditional water night at cubs to end the Summer term, and as I was about to go on a special holiday I had to shelve it.

When I eventually started prepping the wood it was surprisingly easy to split and was a bit Lime like in density, but did have a habit of running off to one side and perhaps it was just me but cutting it seemed to create more than the odd potential splinter.


I wouldn't say that I'm the world's greatest carver of wood but I was pleased with my efforts on rounding a rectangular second of Cedar to form the drill which again had a handsome grain.

Whilst I knew the scent would be nice in my garage I have to report that the grain exceeded expectations. It was a good job that it was nice to look at as I felt a slight twinge in my dodgy rib so again I shelved it for a second time.

I had a session of applying pounded Comfrey to my rib and I was then able to get to the business stage of the bow drill set. The set smoked fairly quickly which was encouraging but it didn't go that dark in colour during the bedding in session and I needed to get the drill tip engaged too.

With the light depression colour and the softness of the wood I decided to do a slow and low session of bowing to warm it up. To my surprise the set started chunking out copious amounts of light coloured dust to the point where the notch seemed clogged up and I wondered if it was going to inhibit the ember development. The set really smoked and I was pleased to have a sustaining ember. Note the excess dust around the depression circumference and the light and dark colour of the original and ember material. The smell of the charred drill end was a curious one as it reminded me of somewhere between Christmas and curry powder!

I left the ember to develop and it coalesced into a sturdy one that eventually welded itself to the ember pan. When I create a new ember to record on my labour of love bow drill blog I drop it to see if it is still viable to use after doing so and it was-twice. The first time was on purpose and the wind took it a second time and whilst reduced in size it was still good to go. You can see that the depression did eventually darken.

When I carve a notch in a set to receive the charred dust I flare the bottom edge to make more space, this also helps protect an ember in inclement weather. Well I decided to go for a second attempt and with the dust production I carved the angles a little larger than usual.

As per the first ember it smoked a lot and produced a lot of dust which again is evident around the depression, and goes from chestnut to almost black in and around the ember. The afore mentioned wind was blowing on this coal and you can just see a little smoke ring!.The set queaked during the second attempt which I put down to a slightly smooth drill from the first go so I had to stop to rough up the two surfaces.

I mentioned earlier that the wood felt a bit like Lime in it's consistency, well with the two part attempt on the second ember you can clearly see just how much wear there is  and it goes some way to explaining the amount of dust, so a slow and low start is prudent. Note the splinter sticking up to the left of the set as mentioned before.

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Sunday, 6 August 2017

Knitbone and Cracked Ribs

As an Assistant Cub leader I do look forward to our last evening of the Summer term as we have a water evening that involves super soakers, a fire engine (really really) and an impressive water slide.

The only downer this year is that propelling myself down a length of soapy builder's membrane resulted in my then having a rather painful cracked rib and for a few days any movement was painfully hard.

It was only after I finished work on the Friday that I had the light bulb moment of gathering some Comfrey (Symphytum uplandicum) leaves to aid my recuperation. It's old English name is Knitbone as it was widely used to help heal breaks.

Comfrey is a plant that is often mistaken for Foxglove when there are no flowers present and as you can see from the above picture it is a very hairy leaf and stem.


The stem is also quite thick and the leaf leathery so I decided to remove as much of the stem as possible and then roughly rip the leaf before using a mortar and pestle to pound it into a dark green poultice. I also added in a little Plantain (Plantago lanceolata and Plantago major) to the initial batches as it is noted for reducing swelling and I've used it on a wasp sting on my son to good effect.

I added a few drops of water and then just applied it to the area on my rib cage. The cool feel of this poultice alone was quite soothing but with the it being a rough leaf with lots of hairs it does need a good pounding or it feels a bit coarse on the skin.

I noticed that the initial Comfrey/ Plantain poultices issued a dark brown liquid which I was worried would stain anything it came into contact with. I was wondering which leaf did this or if it was a result of their union. Eventually I came to the conclusion that it was mud from the low growing plantain.

During the application of the poultices my rib improved significantly but the following apply to this statement:-

I was keen for it to work and I am well aware that there could be a bit of a placebo effect going on.

I was also taking regular pain killers to help with the discomfort and any inflammation.

I had four consecutive days off work.

I will therefore never know what effect it had in getting my rib settled but with a free resource that has been used for centuries on breaks available it would have been silly not to use it. Will this episode stop me using the water slide next July? I know where there's a decent patch of Comfrey near me...

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Dutch Arrows with the Cubs

Having made an atlatl and dart with Will Lord during my sabbatical I thought it was high time to sort out a evening for our Cub pack that not only features a bit of atlatl action but some Dutch (or Swiss) arrow production too, but more on the evening later.

I've detailed how to make an atlatl set and Dutch arrows on this blog page but as a quick resume I'll run through what I did. Although the making of them is fairly straightforward the prep actually lasted over several months...collecting feathers!


I used shop bought lengths of dowel, it's worth having a recce as the price and quality can vary. you can get four lengths for the Dutch arrows out of the average (12 mm dia x 2400 mm piece). Each shaft is therefore 60 cms long funnily enough.

It doesn't take long to process them once you've marked them up, as you can see above I leant on the lengths on a work bench and just cut them through.

I needed to have about 25 pieces so that meant cutting up seven dowel lengths to make sure and to deal with any breakages. I used a small fixed blade knife to tidy up any messy cuts but was careful not to make the ends too pointed.

After prepping and tidying I lined them all up as shown and put a pencil across them all at about 20 cms from one end.

The reason for the pencil mark is that each length needs a notch carving in it, which is used when made into a dart, to launch it.

The fletchings are going to be on the left hand side of this shaft and the shape shown is important. The dowel is fairly soft wood so carving them all won't take too long.

That's the most labour intensive part done, or is it? I wanted the cubs to make a Dutch arrow with feathers as their fletchings and it takes a long time to collect pigeon feathers, especially as the symmetrical ones are best. I'd hoped to score some at the Bushcraft Show this Summer but typically I didn't chance across a single pigeon prep demonstration. You can equally make some viable ones out of card or foam too if you don't want to collect avian cast-offs.


Order some paracord then cut and seal as many 100 cm lengths as you have young people. This is longer than the dart and perhaps a little on the generous side but you need it to be longer as some of it wraps around the thrower's hand. 


Purchase some Plasticine for the tip and some electrical tape for the fletchings and you've got all the kit you need to proceed. 


So we divided the cubs into four groups and explained what we were about to do both verbally and visually including the safety aspect of the evening i.e. not throwing projectiles unless told to.

I showed them a completed arrow and then talked a little about an atlatl launcher.

Then without further ado, it's out to the field to give them a demo.

A quick talk about the sets and a demonstration with a promise of them having a go if we have time. I didn't show them how to launch a Dutch arrow at this stage as it prevents them doing so without my say so.

So with them enthused it was to the production tables and all hands on deck to help secure the fletchings first, which aren't at ninety degrees to the shaft but are taped flat to the wood, by taping the topes and then quills in opposite positions.



It is better if either leaders help or the Cubs buddy up to get the feathers on as straight as possible. The darts will still fly if they aren't straight but the aesthetics are better. Symmetrical feathers are straighter than asymmetrical ones which helps too.

Depending on time they look really good with a little felt tip embellishment but even if time is short get them to scribe their name on their Dutch arrow at the very least. 

Add a small blob of pre-sized Plasticine to the tip and the dart is complete. Just for effect the one I demonstrated with was stained with fence protector and the Plasticine silvered up with Airfix model paint (I told them that I'd forged it that morning!). Hand out the paracord and get them to tie a stopper knot in one end.

We briefly stopped to spread them out for a picture on the HQ floor which looked rather good. 

The method of launching the darts is described in pictorial and video detail on this page (and the notch shape becomes clear) but suffice to say it is quite spectacular if you can get the cubs to launch in a fairly synchronised way. You will need several leaders as the Cubs mentally and indeed physically have trouble getting to grips with keeping the paracord taught.

We didn't have time to let them chuck the atlatl darts but they still had a great evening.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Knots in the Woods With the Cubs

This evening was to try and make a 'boring' Cub evening of knotting a little bit more interesting. The last major evening was several years ago when we did two consecutive knotting nights which included emails from two prominent outdoor folk plus some knotting features from Bushcraft and Survival Skills magazine. I decided to put in a session to freshen our pack's forthcoming knot evening up instead of sitting them on a chair with a piece of rope.

We are fortunate to have a wood right behind our HQ and whilst I could have fashioned the evening in and around the HQ getting out and about wood set the tone. The tone was to be a faux campsite with my  3 m x 3 m tarp forming the centre with various props fashioned around it. I actually incorporated several knots into my tarp set up when we ran a knot base at a district skills camp in 2016. 


I drew up a rough plan of how I envisaged it and what knots where. I intend to use the props again so I had to invest an evening and half a day getting them made and latterly pulled together to take. I have the tarp on my washing line to check the guy line knots, and underneath there is most of the other stuff including the afore mentioned two bound wooden structures, a laminated A4 sheet featuring knots in everyday us, a pot hanger which will be suspended by a thief knot, a bow drill set which will feature an archery knot, Bongo our group mascot suspended above a tub of sweets, fit for purpose paracord knotting lengths and a wooden tripod.

There is also a corrugated plastic sheet on which there are 10 knots which all stem from the humble overhand knot and the Cubs will be asked if they can spot the link. I can't believe nobody has ever spotted the knot double meaning before as featured above! Only kidding...

So the Cubs made their way up, there was an unexpected badge presentation which rather ate into the available time so I did a quick intro and read from a Paul Kirtley email that he sent to me for a Cub supplement article from a few years back, mentioned in the first paragraph.

I then set them off hunting down the knots which were on the props, structures, tarp and me. The idea was for them to find as many different knots as possible, and to name as many as they could too. I also brought some knotting books for them to use with some success.

I also put in some similar knots to catch them out such as correctly and incorrectly tied shoelaces, a reef knot and a thief knot, a round-turn-and-two-half-hitches, clove hitch and boa knot and an anchor knot.

The faux campsite was the centre of the evening with the props spaced around the neighbouring trees to get them looking and avoid bunching.

I made a laminated A4 to show knots being used in 'real life'.

All the sticks I used have names, meet Bertrum and his timber hitch. The bowdrill has an archer's knot on which is essentially a cross between a clove hitch and a round-turn-and-two-half-hitches.

Due to time constraints I didn't get to do any knotting practice with the cubs but I'd sealed two lengths of  contrasting paracord together for them to use.

This was the first run out with this knotting model so there were things that I can change, simplify and improve but even thought it was a little rushed it got them out in the woods thinking knots. I then got the scores from the teams and then announced that I got 100% and the sweets were mine! I got our Akela to hand them out whilst I struck my camp and I was sorted in good time. Funny how confectionery focuses their minds...

The knots for them to find were:-

Double Overhand
Overhand Loop
Double Overhand Loop
Threaded Overhand Loop
Threaded Double Overhand Loop
Bowline on the Bight
Water Knot
Fisherman's Bend
Double Fisherman's Bend

Reef Knot
Thief Knot
Turks Head
Double Bowline
Triple Bowline
Running Bowline
Portuguese Bowline
Bowline in a Hank

Evenk Hitch
Taut Tarp Hitch
Waggoner's Hitch
Larks Head
Sheet Bend
Double sheet Bend
Highwayman's Hitch
Clove Hitch
Boa Knot
Constrictor Knot

Windsor knot (in a tie)
Double Slipped Granny Knot
Double Slipped Reef Knot
Cobra Weave
Chinese Button Knot
Alpine Butterfly
Sheer Lashing
Square Lashing
Heaving Line Knot
Jack Ketch Knot

Figure-of_Eight Loop
Stevedore Knot
Prusic Knot
Hank of Rope
Round Turn and Two Half Hitches
Hybrid Archer's Knot
Killick Hitch
Slip Knot
Timber Hitch

50 knots in all.

Two of knots listed that I tied in the woods were the double slipped reef and double slipped granny knot of which the former is what you should be tying your shoes with.

Tie one bow as you would, and then do the next one but cross them over differently at the start, so if you go left over right first do the second one right over left. Once the bows are tied pull the bunny ears until they come through as a single length on both shoes.

One will give you a reef knot...

And one will give you an unstable granny knot. You're welcome...

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