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...

Suggested further reading:-

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Purchasing kit from non-EU countries

A salient tale for anyone looking to purchase kit or other goods from non-EU countries.


Having got all excited about purchasing an American made Tomahawk the HMRC quickly rained on my parade. Rather naively perhaps I thought that with me sorting the sale and postage the only thing I'd need to add was patience.

$270.00 was the total cost and when I converted from dollars to sterling it became £208.00 which almost seemed like a saving.

Once I started tracking it online I found that it had been through around half-a-dozen different places during it's journey and once holed up in Coventry I noticed the phrase revised customs charges raised. After a brief and unfulfilling look at the customs information charges online  I rang to find out what the charge might be and was told that the figure would be £57.52! 

So let's have a look at my charge breakdown...

Customs duty £2.73
Import vat £41.92
Clearance fee £13.50 (zero rated for VAT, well phew, thank goodness for that!)

It feels like everyone has dipped their bread and whilst the information was out there to check I feel like this has really soured the whole buying experience. I know it was a slightly extravagant purchase (for me at least) and I initially wavered with the postage added but as I previously said, it all seemed OK when I converted dollars to sterling as it is a lower number, 'You only live once' then decided it for me.

For a fuller breakdown of any potential fleecing visit the HMRC website and read Notice 143: a guide for international post users.

Interesting too to note that the journey from the USA to England was three days, time in England to clear through this daylight robbery red tape was eight days.

Suffice to say if I'd known about the pre-delivery financial kicking I was going to get it would have made me wobble and we'll have to see what happens post Brexit too. All that said I'm really really pleased with my hawk.

Justin Burke Tomahawk/ Q & A

In late 2013 I did a blog page called Five Items I'd Love but can't Justify and as time and my skills set has moved on several kit suppliers have trousered some cash as I have now purchased some of the items.

I am however no kit tart but I reached the situation where I had some accumulated birthday and Christmas money and I eventually decided on the extravagance of an American made Tomahawk. Incidentally a tomahawk wasn't one of the five items in my 'justification' blog.

I won't be the only one who saw Ben Fogle stay in Tennessee with blacksmith Justin Burke. Despite the fact that he was living in virtual solitude I was taken by his work including, not surprisingly, a tomahawk that Ben got to take home.

The lead time was stated as 1-3 months so with my Summer birthday at the outer limit of that timeline I bit the bullet and followed up my Facebook price inquiry with a website contact   on the 11th May

Justin replied the same day to say that he just happened to have one and I asked for an invoice and went from inquirer to payee in one day. He also agreed to do a quick Q and A via email to add to this blog page.


He had promised me a shot of my hawk and then promptly sent not, one, not two, not three but four pictures of which I've reproduced three above.

I then had an early morning email the next day to say that it had been mailed on the 12th. That's some turnaround, and with a predicted delivery date of Tuesday  May 16th, even though it had been pinged around to several destinations in the US before shipment.

So far so good and to be honest even if there was a little slippage it wasn't a big deal, and sure enough it was in a Customs area in Coventry on the Tuesday...And then when I tracked it again I noticed that the message said 'Customs charges raised'. Naively I'd just expected the package to pinged over and if I'd known the extend of the charges I might have had a wobble, not due to the axe cost because bespoke stuff quite rightly costs more I might add. Read the Customs page I did for more information.

I paid the charges through gritted teeth (no pay, no toy) and the package eventually came via Parcelforce on Tuesday 23rd May. Three days from the US to England, eight days from arrival to delivery via the customs mugging and bureaucracy. 

The axe arrived well packaged and sure enough I had two spare handles. Interestingly the invoice suggested the axe was a little cheaper and one extra handle made up the advertised price. I think this is a good idea to include a spare handle in the transaction.

Before I even used it I thought a good test would be to see how it bothers paper, very successfully as you can see. I am used to a fawn's  or goat's foot axe handle so a straight one will be interesting to handle and use. I'm not a person who uses axes for prolonged heavy duty work and it will be unusual not having a knob at the end. When I can get someone to take some 'out and about' pictures of this puppy in action I'll upload them to this page.

And now to the Q and A...

How did Ben Fogle's team find out about you?

 They found me through a random google search. the article about me living in a tipi showed up and they found my Facebook page and sent me a message

How many hours of footage did you shoot to make an hour show?

 If I remember correctly they shot close to 24-30 hours of footage.

When we saw you in Escape To The Wild you were very much living a solitary life but you now seem to be developing a sturdy business, is that about right?

 That is correct. In the show I said that it takes money to live and I was going to make money the way I wanted to. I have grown my skills and business since the show was filmed. I am very happy to be able to blacksmith for a living but it takes lots of equipment and is very expensive.  

Your tomahawks seem to be very popular, is it what people know you for best?

 Tomahawks are my main product. I worked very hard to develop a usable hawk like no other on the market.

Aside from the hawks, what knife would you say is your favorite to make?

 I like making knives once in  awhile but I don't have a favorite style to make. I just like to make interesting blades when the mental spark comes around.

Can you call a tomahawk an axe or is it always referred to as a tomahawk?

A tomahawk is an axe but an axe is not a tomahawk if that makes sense. Like a truck and a car are both vehicles but a car is not a truck.

On your website it states that you don't do commissions but on your Facebook page you recently featured a bespoke hawk, do you do occasional ones?

 I don't take orders on anything that I don't do often. Sometimes I make a special project and offer it for sale. Taking orders on projects that I am not versed in is bad business for both parties.

The said bespoke hawk featured some pewter work, do you do much whitesmithing?

 I pour pewter on my fancy hawks if desired. It is a lot of extra work and I don't do it often.

Your website features a metal Impala, what was the story behind this piece of work? Great work by the way.

 Thank you! I have to step away from tomahawks once in a while and practice other areas of the trade. I really enjoy faces so it was fun to forge a realistic animal face and to see how close to life I could get it. It is what keeps my spirits up from time to time.

Have you ever been on, or considered going on the History channel blacksmithing program called  'Forged in Fire'?

 I have considered it for sure.

Are there any forged or non-forged items you’d like to make for sale at some stage or are you about where you want to be?

 My goal is to create  a line of tools that are the best around. Its the direction I am headed and I don't stray far from that path very far. I used to do leather work full time but felt the passion drift away so I stick to what I am interested in and that's tool making.

What's the furthest you've  sent an order?

 I have mailed tomahawks all over the world! Australia, Canada, New Zealand and all across Europe.

Does it ever cause you issues that there's a recording artist by the same name?

 Hahaha you are the first person to mention that! I was not aware.

I've already mentioned that you are on Facebook in the blog, what other social media channels etc do you have in case folk want to follow your work?

I just got on Instagram and am trying to figure it out. @traditional_craftsmanother than that Facebook is my main social media.

Suggested further viewing.

Justin Burke tomahawk Youtube video here 

Radio Times Ben Fogle programme review here