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The Search for the Perfect Hatchet

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I was reading Woodcraft by Nesmuk the other night, and I was amused to read that he had spent 12 years in search of the right hatchet to carry while hiking in the wilds. He is a fast learner. I’ve been looking for the right hand axe for 50 years, and I’m not sure that I’ve found it yet. I’ve always been looking for an axe that’s light and convenient to carry; but it needs to be rugged, well balanced, and heavy enough to do camp chores. The following is a brief, illustrated history of my quest.

I all started when this was sitting on the mantle for my 8th Christmas.

02It was a Boy Scout hand axe, and man was I excited. It was a good axe and I carried it on many hikes and camps. I still have it, obviously; and I keep it for sentimental reasons; but I no longer carry it. It’s a little on the heavy side, and I don’t really care for the balance, but it’s a pretty good axe.

I tried a light-weight, back-packers hatchet; but it was just too light.03It was not much better than a sheath knife for cutting or splitting wood, and the poll (the hammer end) was so narrow that it was useless for things like driving tent stakes, mashing up coffee beans, or cracking hickory nuts.03aHandy for dressing a deer, but as an all around camp axe, it just wasn’t the one.

I carried a tomahawk for a while, but I it was pretty heavy and I didn’t like the balance.05The fact that it didn’t have a flat poll to hammer with was pretty inconvenient also. You could use the front to hammer, but it was about as likely as not to glance off what you were hitting. I kept the tomahawk, but now I only use it for a throwing axe at mountain man events.

I bought a Fort Meggs axe, but I was splitting some light wood and broke the handle the first time I put any side-ways torque on the axe. It was just too light. I don’t have it anymore so I can’t include a picture, but it is really small. The handle is thin all over, and inside the head it is really thin, only about 3/8 inch. So, not really up to the job.

I thought maybe I could kill two birds with one stone by carrying a knife that was big enough to serve as both knife and hatchet. I picked up a Pakistan Bowie knife and carried it a few times.06I’ve heard that these things are made out of what ever is laying around, and some are good steel, and some are bad. I got lucky on this one, as it seems well tempered and will take and hold a good edge. But it missed the mark on several fronts. It was too big to be a good camp knife, and not heavy enough to be a good axe. Also, it didn’t fill-the-bill as a hammer.

I tried a machete for a while. I figured that East Texas is kind of a jungle so maybe a machete would be appropriate.07It was nice that it had a saw on the back, but you can’t really hammer with it, and I hated the way it was always banging on my leg when I walked. So, I only pull this one out when I’m specifically going to be hacking brush and vines.

Currently I am carrying a hatchet that may be a winner.08I have been using it for about five years and it has held up well. It is light, but it feels good in the hand. It will cut down small trees (3 or 4 inches in diameter) and it will split light wood. It has a nice big head on the front and serves well to hammer in tent stakes, mash up berries, crack nuts, and etc. It may be the one….. or then again, it may not.

I round out my woods tools with a Russel knife that a friend gave me, and a pocket-size Leatherman multi-tool. I find that with these three implements I can do just about anything that needs doing in the woods.09

The Home First-Aid Kit

Whether you’re a prepper or not, every home needs a first aid kit. I’m not talking about the stuff that you keep in your medicine cabinet. When there’s an accident or injury it is not a good time to be digging through cologne bottles, out of date prescriptions, vitamins, and make-up to try and locate bandages and anti-biotic ointment. And be honest; how many times have you ended up driving to the store because you were either out-of or couldn’t locate what you were looking for in the medicine cabinet.

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If you are a prepper you probably have some medical supplies stored up. You don’t want to be breaking open a bottle of 1000 acetaminophen tablets because one of the kids came down with a cold and you hadn’t noticed that the 50 tablet bottle in the medicine cabinet was empty. Or maybe you’ve injured yourself when you’re working in the garden or out in the woods. You need sit and hold direct pressure on the wound while your spouse or one of the kids goes to the house to get some tweezers, a bottle of water, an irrigating syringe, a roll of gauze, some bandage tape and some anti-biotic ointment. Wouldn’t it be a lot easier, and save a lot of time if all you had to say was “Run to the house and get me the first-aid kit and a bottle of water.”

So, just like every home should have smoke alarms and fire extinguishers; every home should have a first-aid kit. The kit should be of a reasonable size so that it is portable. If you are going on a long drive or a vacation you should be able to grab it and throw it in the car or truck. It should stay in a readily accessible location, and everyone in the family should know where it is.

You can buy pre-packaged first-aid kits, but I have not been real impressed by the ones that I have seen. To get a well equipped one is a costly endeavor, and most kits seem to be long on cut and abrasion care and short on a lot of other things.

You can build your own first-kit, as I did, but I will say right up front that it was not cheap. I probably spent about $50 on our kit, but I feel comfortable with the contents, and I feel like it will handle most common home or travel emergencies. Of course first-aid is meant to be just that. If you have a serious injury that requires debriding and sutures, the first-aid kit is not going to handle it. The first-aid kit will allow you to control the bleeding and help avoid infection until you can get professional medical help.

I was very lucky in obtaining a case for my first-aid kit. My wife brought an old first-aid box that was being replaced home from her work. The box was in good shape, of course the few items left inside of it were either dried out, torn open, or out of date; so they went to the trash. I cleaned the box up, and my wife used her vinyl cutter to make a new label for the front of it.

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Now came the stocking with first-aid supplies. Here is what I ended up filling the box with:

For Wound Care
2 pair non-latex exam gloves
large syringe for wound irrigation
6 q-tips
tube of triple anti-biotic ointment
30 sterile adhesive bandages
10 butterfly bandages
10 2” x 3” non-stick gauze pads
1 roll 2” guaze
1 roll ½” adhesive tape
1 small tube surgical adhesive (Super Glue)
1 pair small scissors

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For Disinfecting
1 2oz. bottle of jelled alcohol hand sanitizer
100 alcohol prep pads

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For Removing Splinters
tweezers
plastic tube containing 3 needles
disposable lighter to sterilize needle tips

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For Removing Objects from Eye and Eye Irritation
small mirror
magnifying glass
eye drops

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For Pain Management
40 500 mg acetaminophen caplets

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For Digestive Problems
3 rolls Tums anti-acid tablets
12 generic Imodium gels for diarrhea

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For Colds and Allergies
6 eucalyptus lozenges
24 generic Benedryl capsules

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For Burns, Stings, Poison Ivy, and Skin Irritations
1 tube 1% hydrocortisone cream

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For Muscle and Joint Pain
1 tube menthol and methyl salicylate cream (Ben-Gay)

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To Help Treat Shock
1 reflective mylar survival blanket

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For Dental Emergencies
4 tongue depressors
1 oz. bottle of oil of clove (for toothaches)
dental repair kit to temporarily replace lost fillings and secure loose crows and caps

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For Dehydration
1 pack of electrolyte replacement (Gatorade) to be dissolved in one quart of water

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For Snake Bite
snake bite kit (to be used only as a last resort when no professional medical care is possible)

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So, here’s my finished kit.

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Of course you may need to add other things to your kit. You may need to include an emergency asthma inhaler or some epi-pens if you are allergic to bee stings. If you have small children you may want to include some syrup of ipecac. I personally would like to include an Ace Bandage for wrapping sprains, but they are just too bulky to fit in my box.

When you get your kit put together, be sure and put it in an easily accessible place. I hung my kit on the inside of the coat closet door, right next to my front door. It’s easy to get to, and it’s easy to grab on the way out the door and throw in the car.

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By the way, I never claim to be the end all and know all. If you can think of something that you think I need to add (keep in mind that this is a first-aid kit, not an EMT bag) then let me know in the comments.

Preventing Scurvy, Rickets, and other Vitamin Deficiency Diseases

I have never personally known anyone who suffered from scurvy, rickets, beriberi, or pellagra; but at one time these diseases were very common, some were epidemic. All of these diseases have one thing in common. They are all caused by vitamin deficiencies. Scurvy is caused from lack of vitamin C. You probably heard in history class how sailors of old suffered and died from scurvy until someone figured out that eating citrus fruit prevented the disease. British ships started carrying barrels of limes for the sailors to eat, and hence the name “limey.”

Rickets is caused by vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is found in dairy products and eggs. If you look at a milk carton you will probably see the phrase, “Vitamin D Fortified.” The wide availability of dairy products and the addition of more vitamin D has virtually eliminated rickets from the modern industrialized world. Incidentally, unlike most vitamins your body can produce its own vitamin D but this requires exposure to sunlight. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin.” That’s what it means.

Beriberi is caused by vitamin B1 deficiency. Vitamin B1 is found in nuts, seeds, and legumes among other things. Beriberi became epidemic is Southeast Asia when the population switched from eating natural brown rice to polished white rice.

Pellagra, which is caused by vitamin B3 deficiency, was long associated with poverty areas of the Southern U.S. where cornmeal was the staple. Vitamin B3 is found in fresh meat, peanuts, green peas, and sunflower seeds.

The widely varied and vitamin fortified diets of today have virtually eliminated these killers of olden times, but they could easily reemerge. All of these diseases are associated with narrow, repetitive diets. People who eat the same few things over and over. Kind of like you might end up doing in an apocalyptic survival scenario. A broad knowledge of edible wild plants and their vitamin content could help you get the nutrients that you need, but it just makes common sense to also store multi-vitamins along with the food that you store.

A years supply of high potency multi-vitamins and minerals for one person costs less than $25 and takes up about as much room as a canned soft drink. I would highly recommend that you include multi-vitamins and minerals in your storage program; two or three years worth for each person. Hopefully this would be enough time to re-establish agriculture, animal husbandry, barter, and trade; so that you could obtain your vitamins from a healthy and varied diet.

As with any chemical product, heat and light are the enemy; cold and dark will slow decomposition. Store your vitamins in the refrigerator or freezer and date and rotate just like you do your food.

Good-Bye Little Buddy

02My daughter rescued Sammy as a puppy. She assured us that he was a Chihuahua, but it was obvious to everyone that he was not. He grew to be a medium small dog. He was a funny looking little guy with a long body, short legs, and a lab looking head and coat. He was no show dog but we loved him dearly. He spent the last four or five years of his life here with us on the farm, which he greatly enjoyed. He had the gentlest disposition and the most soulful brown eyes that you have ever seen. He alternately terrified or was terrified by our cat, depending on his mood that day. He was a fierce protector of his home, but he didn’t like guns and he was terrified of thunder. When a storm came it was into the house and under the bed. He would be waiting for me outside the kitchen door every morning so he could have a special treat, and he, in company with our Catahoula, followed me around the farm all day so we could keep each other company. Sammy passed away last Saturday from congestive heart failure at the age of eleven. I cried like a baby when he didn’t come for his morning treat and I found him laying in the front yard. He was a good little dog with a gentle soul. Run and play in heaven little buddy. I love you, and I will miss you.

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Some Thoughts on Personal Hygiene in a Post Apocalyptic World

Most of us today have rigidly entrenched habits of personal hygiene that simply won’t be tenable in a post-apocalyptic world. Many of the personal hygiene products that we use will no longer be available, and to continue our current lavish use of hot water would be labor intensive in the extreme. That’s the bad news. The good news is that a lot of what passes for personal hygiene these days really has nothing to do with hygiene but is really just unnecessary beauty treatment. I’ve done some thinking about this and tried to imagine what would really constitute necessary hygiene under potentially adverse conditions. Some of the circumstances I envision are as follow. (1) You won’t be able to run to the drug store and buy personal hygiene products; (2) medical help will be anywhere from scarce to non-existent so disease and injury preventing hygiene will be very important; and (3) obtaining and heating water will be a lot of work. So let’s think about what we need to start doing, what we need to continue doing, what we need to do but not do as often, and what we can do without.

Dental Hygiene

This will be an absolute necessity. An abscessed tooth that would be a 45 minute visit with the dentist today, could be a death sentence if no dental care is available. I don’t even want to think about having a tooth extracted without some sort of dental anesthesia. So brushing after every meal and flossing will be more important than ever. By the way, you can buy dental floss in bulk for way cheap. 200 yard rolls cost around $2.50.

Hand and Foot Care

First of all, hands and feet should be protected from injury. Closed toe shoes should be worn at all times, and steel toe work boots should be worn for nearly all outdoor tasks. No bare feet!! It may work okay for Cody Lundeen or Amazon tribesmen, but it is foolish for the rest of us to risk a cut that could become infected when all we have to do is put our shoes on. Feet should be washed daily and clean socks should be worn every day. Toenails should be kept trimmed straight across to avoid ingrown toenails.

Hands should be washed before every meal and immediately after handling any material that may cause bacterial infection. Work gloves should be worn when performing any task that could cause cuts or abrasions. Nitril gloves should be worn when processing game or handling any kind of decayed material or human or animal waste. The thing that we’re trying to avoid here is infection. The tiniest cut can become infected, and without antibiotics that could mean death. U.S. President Calvin Coolidge’s son died in 1924 from a blister that he got while playing tennis. The blister became infected, and since antibiotics had not yet been developed, he died. Enough said?

Bathing

The fact is that most people bath too often. Bathing too much washes away natural oils and friendly bacteria that help protect the skin. Most dermatologists agree that bathing once every two or three days is more healthy and better for the skin than bathing every day. Let’s face it, most of the time when we take a shower, it’s not because we’re dirty; it’s because we think we might smell bad, or because we feel a little sticky. The daily bath is one of those cultural phenomenon, kind of like Mother’s Day, that was created by an industry that reaps huge profits on the event. It’s like, “You smell bad and people won’t like you so you better take a bath, and your skin’s all dry now from bathing so you need to rub on some of our moisturizer, and your hair is oily so you need to wash it every day, and now your hair is all dried out so you need to use our conditioner.” Ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching $$$$.

So how often do you really need to bath? I’ve done some research on that, and I can’t come up with a definitive answer. Most of what I have read has a pretty strong bias toward the modern fear of the human smell, so it’s hard to tell what the bathing requirements are for actual good health. I’m going to have to fall back on my Dad’s childhood on an East Texas cotton farm in the early 1900’s. Besides his parents there were six kids in the family. They had to draw all of their water from a well and heat it on a wood stove. Grandma’s rule was you wash your feet every night before you go to bed, if something specific gets dirty you take a sponge bath, and once a week they would draw water and heat it for a tub bath. My Dad lived to be 90 and his brothers and sisters lived ranging from 88 to 100 years, so I guess that was healthy enough.

There is, of course, the smell factor. The human body has an odor. We have been taught that this odor is offensive, and so we try to either wash it away or cover it up. I imagine that washing it away, other than a cold water sponge bath, will probably be out due to the amount of work involved. I don’t think that covering up the human smell with deodorant or cologne will be very practical either. For one thing these products will not be available unless you stockpile them or manufacture them from natural sources. I suppose you could rub yourself with mint leaves or something of that nature, but there is a second and more important reason to avoid sweet smelling colognes. Mosquitoes. Sweet smells, especially fruit or flower smells, attract mosquitoes; and that is something that we certainly want to avoid. Over one million people per year die throughout the world from mosquito bourn illnesses, mainly malaria. We wouldn’t want to do anything to attract these little killers.

So I imagine that we all probably just have to smell a little bad. The good news is that everyone will smell bad, so it will quickly lose its social stigma. It has been my experience on long backpacking trips that everyone smells horrible for about the first three days; and then, all of a sudden, the smell seems to be gone. I think the current term, according to one T.V. commercial that I have seen, is nose-blind. You just get used to it and don’t notice it any more.

Hair

Over the years I have had hair of every possible length. At one time I wore my hair in a ponytail that fell to the bottom of my shoulder blades. A pain to wash, dry, brush, etc. Currently I have a shaved head. Once again a pain. You have to shave your entire head every couple of days to keep it slick. I imagine that in a post-apocalyptic scenario both of these would be out. I think that the most practical length would be as short as you could cut your hair with scissors. Here’s my thinking. The shorter your hair, the less likely that you will be troubled with critters like head lice. Short hair is easier to take care of. It looks neater, doesn’t get tangled up in stuff, and requires less soap or shampoo to clean it. Short hair makes it easier to treat head wounds. Now days if you go to the hospital with a head wound, the first thing that they are going to do is shave the immediate area so that it can be bandaged, stitched, or whatever. This is why the military wants combat troops to have short hair. Shaving your head would put you in needless danger of a cut becoming infected. So hair cut short, but without shaving, seems to be the most practical solution.

Shaving the face should probably be avoided for the same reason as shaving the head. A minor nick can become septic, and without antibiotics this could be deadly. Sorry girls, but I think the same logic will apply to armpits, legs, etc. So it will be short beards for men (currently very stylish) and hairy legs for women (not so stylish).

I don’t know if this is correct thinking or not, but it makes sense to me.

Make Flu-Flu Arrow Fletchings from Craft Store Feathers

Flu-flu arrows are arrows that are designed to travel at regular speed for about thirty to forty yards and then to abruptly slow down and drop to the ground. Flu-flus are used in specific situations where you don’t want an arrow to go too far. A good example would be shooting at a squirrel in a tree. If you shot a regular arrow in this situation and missed the arrow might fly off a hundred-and-fifty yards into the woods, and would probably be lost. With a flu-flu arrow, the arrow would probably drop to the ground within thirty yards of you, making recovery much more likely. Flu-flu arrows have very different fletchings from regular arrows and require a different approach to fletching. This is how I use whole feathers bought at a big-chain craft store to make my flu-flu fletchings.

002The first step is to reduce the size of the quill. I start this process by scraping the quill with a sharp knife held perpendicular to the quill.

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004Once the quill has been scraped down pretty close to the feather vanes, I use the butt of the knife handle and tap solidly along the length of the quill. This will start separating the feather into two sections.

005I complete the separation by cutting very carefully with a utility knife.

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007Now I can continue shaving down the sides of the quill until it is as thin as I can get it without cutting into the feather vanes.008

009To work down the bottom of the quill I use some 80 grit sandpaper wrapped around a large dowel and clamped into my small vise.

010I then drag both the sides and the bottom of the quill across this sanding block until the quill is extremely thin.

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I test the thickness of the quill by wrapping it around a 5/16” dowel to see if it bends smoothly. If the quill is too thick it will snap, rendering it useless.

013When the quill is thinned down correctly, I assemble all of the materials to attach the fletchings to the arrow. Here I am using two fletchings; one yellow and one red. The fletchings will be attached with contact cement.

014I mark the area of the arrow that I want to cover with my fletchings.

015And then I use a throw-away foam brush to paint a coat of contact cement onto the arrow. I cover about a quarter inch above and below the area I will be working with.

016Next I paint the bottom of each quill.017

Now I set everything aside to dry. The contact cement must be completely dry to the touch before you press the fletchings onto the shaft. And you have to be sure to put the fletchings exactly where you want them. Once the two painted surfaces touch, they’re stuck. No changing your mind.

When it’s time to attach the fletchings I use a push pin to hold the end in place.018

And then spiral the first fletching on. I leave about an inch between the spirals so I will have room to go in between with my second fletching.019

020The second fletching goes on the same way.021

With both fletchings in place I separate the vans a little and fluff them out.023

022I use a utility knife to trim off the excess quill at the front and back.024

And put a drop of fletching glue on the front and back of each quill to help secure it more firmly.025

Now I apply a coat of polyurethane to the shaft. I use a small artists brush to seal the area between the fletchings.

And here’s the finished product, ready to go out and irritate some squirrels.

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Make a Saxton Pope Style Broadhead

For those of you who aren’t familiar with him, Saxton Pope is the fellow who re-introduced traditional archery to North America in the early 1900’s. He and Art Young (Pope and Young, get it) are basically the fathers of all that we do in the way of traditional archery today. Any how, I was reading his book, “Hunting with Bows and Arrows last week and came across an illustration of how he made his broadhead hunting points. I couldn’t believe it. He was making points nearly the same way that I started making them when I was twelve years old. Of course Pope was making broadheads this way because there was no archery tackle in those days. I was making them this way because I was twelve years old and there was no money in those days. So my archery buddies and I would buy wooden target arrows for thirty-nine cents and then use a little scrap metal and my dad’s shop to turn them into hunting arrows. I still make broadheads the same way today. I just think they look better than the three blade glue-on broadheads and, of course, the fact that they cost about a twenty-five cents apiece doesn’t hurt either.

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Here’s how I make them:

First I make an arrow just like one of my target arrows except that I use five inch fletchings instead of four inch. I fit the head of the arrow with a target point attached with hot glue. I use Easton Scout target points that you can get on eBay pretty cheap.001

Next, I take a triangular file and file a small starter groove in the top of the point. You want to make sure that this groove is exactly parallel to the string nock on the back of the arrow.002

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Using a hacksaw I cut down into the point to just below where the taper on the front of the point ends. I run a folded piece of 80 grit sandpaper through the cut to remove burrs.004

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Now I use a heat gun to heat up the point and a pair of pliers to pull the point off.007

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Then I take my hacksaw and continue cutting the slot in the shaft until it is almost down to where the bottom of the target point will come when I glue it back on.010

The broadhead blade is cut out of a piece of steel sheet that is a little less than one-sixteenth inch thick. It is about the thickest that I can cut using heave tin snips. Make sure that when you lay your pattern out that the blade will be wide enough to comply with local hunting regulations. In Texas the finished blade will need to be a minimum of 7/8 inch. Yours may be different.011

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A file and sandpaper are used to finish up the blade.013

When the blade is finished I push it down into the slot that I have cut in the target point.014

Now the broadhead is pushed back onto the shaft. The tang inside of the target point will fit on down into the shaft where I have slotted it.015

I drill a small hole that goes through the target point, the shaft, and the blade.016

Then I push a small brad through the hole and cut the end of it off with wire cutters. I leave about a sixteenth-of-an-inch of brad sticking out.017

With a ball peen hammer, I peen down the raw end of the brad to make it a small rivet.017a

Voila, a target point and some scrap sheet steel have now become a hunting broadhead.018

019Note that Saxton Pope made his broadheads with barbs on the back; something that is now illegal in some areas. Also, his broadheads were enormous; as much as three inches long. Of course he was often hunting very large game including elk and bears

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