Sunday, September 21, 2014

WOODS ROAMER

The blog Woods Roamer began in 2011 and continued until 2014.  Below you will find a selection of popular posts including many on saving nature and environmental preservation as well as posts related to South Texas native plants and most of my posts on knives and bows.  The blog will stay online as reference material for those interested in subjects related to nature, South Texas ethnobotany, knife and bow making.  To all the people I met during the course of publishing Woods Roamer I say, Farewell and may your adventures in the woods be fruitful and above all forever respectful of nature.  My primary focus in Woods Roamer was to bring an environmental awareness to those who enjoy the outdoors and particular within the area of woodcraft or field craft.  To that end I hope the blog caused many to not only think about the loss of habitat and the ever present danger of pollution but to also become active in trying to preserve the land.  Special interests groups around the world continue to foster misinformation about the reality of global warming and the effects of continued pollution; I hope you join the fight to stop them.

This is no longer an active blog so the comments section has been closed.  I will continue to receive email regarding the blog at thewoodsroamer@gmail.com

Thanks to all those loyal readers who sent me emails every week and took the time to comment on my posts.

There will be other writings and formats in the future and perhaps another chance to begin a conversation.  Hope to see you then.


Arturo Longoria

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Couple of New Woodsman Knives and Some Thoughts on Knife Design: Full Tang vs Stick Tang

A proper woodsman’s knife has three characteristics.  First it must be capable of taking abuse.  By that I mean the knife might be called upon to perform tasks ranging from digging to butchering to building a small shelter.  Second, the blade’s bevel must be strong enough to take light chopping as used for acquiring kindling or other camp craft.  For that reason a Scandinavian grind is not the preferred bevel if the knife is used in regions where hardwoods have specific gravities above 0.75.  Third, the design should promote ergonomic compatibilities associated with prolonged use.  Finger grooves on the handle, for example, might look cool but are a hindrance over time.  A woodsman’s knife is not a lightweight but neither is it a ponderous contraption.  George Washington Sears (Nessmuk) decried the use of bulky knives preferring instead a thin bladed butcher knife.  But Nessmuk carried three blades instead of just one and as such his heavy blade was a small axe.  He also brought a pocketknife on his camping trips.  Mind you, a pocket knife should be part of your always carried items along with a butane lighter, bandana, some cordage and a sharpening device.  But a woodsman’s knife is a generalized tool used for building traps, batoning firewood, constructing wickiups, making a selfbow and marking trees along the trail.  As such the woodsman’s knife is perfect at nothing in particular and yet perfect for all things common.

A woodsman’s knife is made heavier with a full tang but that is the preferred design.  Allow me to make a point: First, not every knife that is claimed to have a full tang has a full tang.  This is perhaps one of the most important bits of information you will come across regarding knife design.  There are stick tangs out there that far surpass the strength of many so-called full tang knives.  This requires some elaboration so please bear with me.  In order to lighten the knife some knife-makers skeletonize or “Swiss Cheese” their full-tang models.  You will purchase a knife thinking it’s a bona fide full tang but if you look beneath the scales you’ll see that in fact your full tang is but a fa├žade.  Now this is the important part: The most stressed area of any knife is just beyond the handle at the end of the blade and immediately to the rear of that section within the handle.  Please refer to the photos below.  If a knife is going to break its most likely spot to crack or split is in the area described above and shown in the photos.  If a knife has been overly skeletonized in the area described then you have a tang that is inferior to the oftentimes belittled stick tang.  And here’s even more bad news: Many of the most popular full tang “survival knives” are overly skeletonized.  In fact, I’ve examined some of the bestselling survival knives and found them wanting.  I won’t mention any brands or makes but armed with this information and you’ll be able to spot the inferior designs yourself.  I am convinced that many knife-makers do not consider the physics involved when designing their knives and this goes for even some of the larger manufacturers.  One popular brand “survival knife” I examined has only two small steel connections beyond the end of the blade.  Between the two connections is a large hole aimed at lightening the overall weight.  Even if properly heat treated and tempered at those two points the knife is still fragile and given the right sort of bump and chop it will break!  A sturdy and sufficiently long stick-tang therefore is preferable to the poorly thought-out “full tang” that’s been given the Swiss cheese treatment.

Note the two small steel pieces posterior to the forward pin hole.  That’s your tang and everything beyond those two points is superfluous when considering stress factors.

The stick tang knife shown in the above drawing is actually stronger than the “full tang” knife above it because the stick tang has more mass to absorb stress.

This is the type of stick tang that is useless for absorbing shock.  Many of the Scandi-blade knives from Northern Europe have this type of tang.  Remember, however, that most woodsmen in those regions are working with softer hardwoods and they invariably bring along an axe for the tougher chopping jobs.  The knife, for them, is a woodworking tool and nothing else.  People in other regions of the globe have erroneously believed these Scandinavian knives can be used for working on hardwoods like mesquite, ebony, brasil etc..

This is a small “Woods Roamer” design incorporating a true full tang.  The mass is increased at the tip to give the overall blade added structural integrity for batoning ultra-dense woods like mesquite and guayacan.  It incorporates a true full tang with only three 1/8 inch pin holes.  The knife features a lazy-S pattern that aids in reducing hand, wrist and elbow fatigue.

This is the knife drawn above brought to fruition.  Made from quarter inch thick leaf-spring 5160 steel the knife was designed around the parameters noted at the top of this post.

KNIFE NUMBER ONE
Blade length 7 inches
Handle Length 4 ½ inches
KNIFE NUMBER TWO
Blade Length 7 3/8 inches
Handle Length 4 ½ inches





Both knives were differentially tempered with the hardest along the bevel edge, softer along the spine and softest at the main stress area at the juncture of blade and handle.

A woodsman’s knife in desert and brushland regions is quite different from what many are used to seeing in northern forested areas.  To begin with the need to make feather sticks—which seems to be paramount in the northern climes—is of little consequence in the desert and brushlands.  Deserts and brushlands are dry climates where one seldom encounters wet wood.  Even when it does rain, the experienced woodsman knows what hardwood shrubs to gather that are filled with flammable oils that catch easily when struck with a spark or flame.  Furthermore, brushland and desert regions are known for exceedingly hard woods.  The often pictured “bushcraft knife” with its short four-inch blade and Scandi-grind is more often than not useless when encountering ultra-dense woods covered with two or three inch thorns.  Cute little knives might be just the ticket for Swedes and their neighbors (They sure do live in beautiful country!) but they are too anemic for places where wood grows hard and dries into rock and where everything you encounter is going to prick, stick and otherwise jab you.


One of the knives pictured has a hole; a vestigial leaf-spring connection that I find useful in making arrows as it’s perfect for sizing and straightening.  One more note: While other steels are quite useful I selected 5160 because of its robust qualities especially when used against South Texas hardwoods.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

When People Say Dumb Things about Environmentalists



Every genuine woods-craft, woodcraft, bushcraft expert I’ve ever met is a dyed-in-the-wool, hardcore, gung ho environmentalist.  They might take a deer or trap a wild hog for the kitchen table; they might whack a rattlesnake that’s settled down for the night in the dog’s house; they might pop a few rabbits with a slingshot for a deep woods supper.  But darn it if they aren’t environmentalists.  Talk down nature to them and they will get very upset.  Knock down their favorite trees and you’d best move far away.  Pollute their fishing stream (or any stream or lake for that matter) and they will make war with you.  And dare tell them that they don’t know anything about the woods and they’ll go find a brujo and put a curse on you.  The real, genuine articles; the true blue woodsmen are fanatic environmentalists.  They know that without nature they can’t survive.  By that I mean that they make no distinction between nature and themselves.  And when some dude comes along and starts lecturing them about things they grew up with and then has the audacity to suggest that they don’t know anything about the woods…well, that’s taking it too far.  When somebody submits that environmentalists “don’t spend time outdoors and would rather debate things they know nothing about” like I read in a recent article then I think something should be made perfectly clear: If you aren’t an environmentalist, nature freak, Tierra Primero! type then you aren’t a real woods-craft, bushcraft, woodcraft kind of person.  A genuine love for the woods, for nature, for the wilds is at the heart of every real woodsman or woman.  And saving it and fighting for it runs in their blood! They are environmentalists to the core.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Growing Gourds in Hot Climates


Most articles on growing gourds are written for folks who live in temperate regions.  The advice is usually to plant them in full sun, water them occasionally and otherwise leave them alone.  Sound advice, I assume, if you live in places where summer temps hover in the 80s with an occasional push into the 90s.  But you need a different strategy if you want to grow gourds in places where 100° Fahrenheit is common.  In South Texas westward to Southern Arizona temps can go even higher.


I use gourds mainly for birdhouses; in fact, I think the prettiest purple martin houses are made with gourds.  But they also make excellent water containers, bowls, decorative pieces, musical instruments, rattles and even flower pots.  I saw a fellow once who made flutes with gourds.


Gourds are not hard to grow in desert climes.  First, don’t plant them in full sun.  They will wilt and use so much energy trying to survive the heat they’ll simply remain dwarfed.  In other words, the plant will stay but a few inches high and no more.  You must plant them in the shade.  I planted gourds beside mesquite trees in front of my house and placed dried carrizo (Phragmites australis) alongside the plants to aid in climbing.  IMPORTANT: You must water the plants daily.  You need not soak the plants but instead give them a healthy sprinkling.  Otherwise, the intense heat will burden the plants and they won’t produce many flowers.  I start my gourds in cardboard oatmeal containers.  Everyone has a “comfort food” and mine is oatmeal.  Sprinkle blueberries or dried cranberries on top and you’ve got a great meal.  Empty cardboard oatmeal boxes make perfect planters because once the seedling is a few inches high I transplant the box into the ground where it quickly rots to rejoin the soil it came from.

This year I performed an experiment to see which plants would thrive given a variable.  One group was planted in direct sun as advocated by many articles.  The other group was planted in shade alongside my mesquite trees.  Within about four weeks the results were dramatic.  The gourd seeds planted in full sun had struggled to survive despite daily dousing.  By the end of the day the plants looked horrible.  They were always wilted and seemed about ready to die.  The water of course revived them but they didn’t grow beyond a few inches in height.  The seeds planted alongside the mesquites on-the-other-hand thrived.  They took off like rockets heading skyward.  In just four weeks the shaded gourds were already several feet high.  I felt guilty about the gourds planted in full sun so I transplanted them next to other mesquite trees and fortunately all of them seem to be getting along nicely.  They aren’t as big as the plants originally placed alongside the trees but I think they’ll catch up.

Notice how these plants are smaller than those in the photos above.  These gourds are playing catchup as they were originally planted in full sun and did poorly under those conditions.

I’m going to keep posting articles on the gourds showing you how they are doing.  Afterward we’ll make some bird houses and a few other things.  I also planted some estropajo (est-tro-pah-ho) Luffa cylindrical alongside some of my mesquite trees.  They are doing nicely as the photo below attests.



This is a busy time of year and I’ve not had much time to post.  In South Texas the dog days of summer are called, la canicula.  Days drag out and the heat is oppressive.  But there’s a white noise in the woods that’s quite soothing.  Cicadas drone from the mesquites, brasils and granjeno.  Ghost doves and mourning doves coo softly from the deeper woods.  I haven’t seen any rattlesnakes, knock on wood.  Neither have I seen any long distance travelers.  South Texas has endured serious grief in the last few months.  Meanwhile politicians and various advocacy groups and whatnot squabble amongst each other.  Meanwhile the people of the region are held hostage in the middle.  But of course no one seems to care.  I work in my little shop in the evenings a pistol strapped to my waist.  Calls from distant neighbors saying their dogs have alerted to things that might have evil intent.  At ten o’clock in the night the temps are still in the high 80s.  Close by a great-horned owl begins hooting.  A haunting echo.  I look up into the sky and see the full moon sliding behind clouds moving west by northwest.  I can hear a dog barking.  I know that dog.  It lives at a little ranch three miles to the south.  A wind scorpion scurries about the floor at my shop looking for ants.  I completed a few new knives.  Just for fun, a nice hobby.  Full tanged survival type knives.  It keeps the old man occupied and distracted.  Some Border Patrol dropped by to visit.  They like my large choppers.  I tell them they’d be better off with the new smaller full tang designs.  One of them says, “Mr. Longoria I think you're right.  These are definitely more practical.”  But they are fascinated by the big choppers.  Ah, youth.  By the time you become wise it’s time to go away.  No wonder things never change.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

An Easy to Make and Easy to Use Tortilla Maker


The tortilla maker pictured above is nearly 70 years old.  You can make your own in less than an hour if you’ve got electrical tools and a little bit longer with hand tools.  All you need is a 1x10 inch board, a one-pound tin coffee can and a few nails or wood screws.  With a bandsaw the circular piece can be formed in about sixty seconds.  With a Dremel® tool the cutting strip is removed from the coffee can in less than a minute.  But you can use a coping saw to fashion the circular piece of wood and some heavy duty metal shears or even a hacksaw blade to cut the tin.


I decided to take this old tortilla maker out of storage and let it do what it was made to do decades ago.


The process is quite simple.  After you make the tortilla dough you plop a lump of it into the center of the circle as pictured above.  I experimented and placed wax paper under and over the tortilla maker and then I tried using a plastic baggie cut into two parts.  Of the two methods the plastic baggie worked best.





Place a pad of tortilla dough on the plastic in the center of the circular piece of wood as shown in the photo.  Now cover the dough with the other piece of plastic and carefully roll out the dough until it spreads past the tin lip.  The tin lip will cut off the excess dough leaving you with a perfectly round tortilla.


Carefully lift the dough off the circle then place the tortilla on the griddle and cook it.  It’s so simple you’re probably asking, “Why didn’t I think of that?”  My grandfather, Trinidad M. Valverde Sr. made the tortilla maker in the photos.  He’s been gone over forty years.  I think he would’ve liked knowing the old tortilla maker was used one more time.  But it’s too precious for me to mess up so I’ll go ahead and make a new one.  And then I’ll place the old tortilla maker in a spot where I can look at it and think about my granddad.  I learned a lot about the woods from him when I was a kid.  He knew every edible and medicinal plant in the Texas Brushlands.  He was a master carpenter.  And he loved to hunt and fish.  I miss him.

Corn Tortillas date back several thousand years in the Americas 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sharing With the World from a Cabin in the Woods…

 Looking Down a Sendero

Blogs come in all varieties.  There are blogs about celebrities and blogs about buying things.  Product reviews and healthcare advice; there are blogs about love and even about hate.  What makes someone want to start a blog is difficult to say but I think those reasons stem from many places.  Perhaps most of all it’s about wanting to share things with others.

I believe things like blogs have nudged aside the novel and the non-fiction book.  That’s not to suggest those forms of communication are not popular but blogs give readers immediate access to so many things freely and—given our increasingly limited attention spans as well as the demands on our time—blogs provide education or emotional comfort in just a few words.  That’s important in this hectic age.  A friend told me the other day that Woods Roamer is not your average outdoor, hiking, backpacking, product-reviews blog.  He said people come to this blog looking for one of two things.  “They want to learn the ways of the woods from someone who’s lived it…and they want to know about the experience of the woods from a man who feels it in his heart.”  He told me to keep that in mind and so I will.

Back in the mid-1980s I lived in a 26-foot Avion trailer at the edge of a large lake.  In the evenings I’d look out across the water at mountains to the southwest.  I’d see storms building with lightning pulsating downward over the distant peaks.  Now and then I’d hear thunder bellowing across the flats.  From that small trailer I wrote news articles that made national headlines and were discussed on everything from the major television networks to talk radio.  When I’d roam the cow trails in the nearby woods I’d often think about the irony of talking to the world from a tiny trailer bordered by water on one side and thick brush on the other.  All these years later I guess things haven’t changed much for me.  As I write these notes I see several coveys of bobwhite quail pecking and scratching in the dirt out back.  Three ghost doves are trying to push each other aside at one of the feeding stations.  And pyrrhuloxias and green jays are perched on the branches of a granjeno.  Several painted buntings came to visit a while ago.  In the night I’ll hear great-horned owls and screech owls in the woods behind the house.  I’ll listen to coyotes singing melancholy songs as well as pauraques whistling.  I sometimes take long midnight walks down the narrow road leading away from this place just to enjoy the quiet and stillness.

I think about the people who read this blog around the world.  Name a country and there is somebody there who has read Woods Roamer.  I have readers in the Ukraine and Russia and in Malaysia as well.  There are readers in Australia, Argentina, Spain, Germany, Sweden and many other countries.  And yet here I am in this little cabin in Deep South Texas where my nearest neighbor is almost four miles away.  This region is in the news a lot lately.  I’m not sure what to make of what’s going on sixty miles south of us and about thirty-five miles to the west.  It all seems a bit odd.  All of a sudden people decide to flee en mass to South Texas?  It’s not as if there is a sudden revolution or a monumental collapse in those Central American countries.  In fact, things were the same five years ago and ten years ago and twenty years ago.  So why the influx now unless somebody somewhere is manipulating things.  Regardless, I’ve witnessed firsthand what happens along the Rio Grande when people swim to the US side.  There are trash heaps like hillocks made of plastic bags and inner tubes and discarded clothes and tossed soda cans and nylon rope and glass bottles and a hundred other items that poison the ground killing the trees and nearly all the wild creatures that live there.  I’ve seen the bleached shells of tortoises and the remains of raccoons and bobcats that either choked to death when they were snared by the trash or died of poisoning when they attempted to eat the refuse.  That’s a story you won’t hear on the nightly news.  No immigration reform advocate wants you to know that truth.  Even this far north there are areas where the trash is disgusting.  Known smuggling trails are littered with everything from tossed shoes and tin cans to Santa Muerte emblems.  We’ve been warned by the US Border Patrol to be on guard for criminals and Central American gang members and even terrorists who might use the current chaos on the Rio Grande as a means to sneak into the country.  So we keep an eye out and sometimes at night we hear or see BP helicopters flying along gas pipeline right-of-ways a few miles to the east and west.  By the way, those natural gas pipelines have proven to be a significant problem for many people.  The corporations that own those pipelines have no qualms about destroying ranchland for their own profit.  Politicians have stolen the land via eminent domain so that their contributors in the oil and gas industry can have the land for themselves.  If the land means anything to you then you’ll understand how tragic it is when these multi-national conglomerates arrive and rape the earth and pollute the groundwater as well.  Some ranchers to the west of us are at their wits end.  I wonder how long their patience will last before things start to happen.  Those things sometimes make the news but the National Media is a fickle bunch that runs around chasing event after event yet never really comprehending what’s actually going on.

It seems that people who arrive at this blog want to know more about doing things for themselves than about what to buy at the store.  A lot of them also share my love of nature and my passion for wanting to save it.  Yes, I include politics in my posts and I get mail from both the Right and Left regarding some of my statements.  So be it.  For me it’s all about the land and by that I mean nature.  I advocate for wilderness, plain and simple.  If you’ve bothered to read any of my books you know what I’ve seen happen in these parts.


I appreciate the emails I get from those of you who love the backwoods.  I thank you for sharing your thoughts about nature and your ideas about preserving it.  There are more things to impart to you about living in the brushlands and about making things for yourself.  About being self-sufficient; and focusing on the quality of your life and not the quantities in your life.  About the importance of family and truth and about protecting what has been given to you for free—that which has no voice of its own unless you speak for it.  Whether it is the bobcat or the mesquite tree, the hawk or the tortoise; unless you stand up for them no one else will.  One more thing: I’m always eager to hear from you so don’t forget to drop me a line at thewoodsroamer@gmail.com  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Potato Chips Cure for Hikers, Backpackers and Outdoor Sorts…

Here’s a quick tip for those of you who might indulge in outdoor activities during hot weather periods.  Keep a bag of salted potato chips in your shoulder bag, backpack or vehicle.  Along with dehydration comes a reduction in electrolytes.  You may begin feeling weak and disoriented.  If your potassium levels fall below what are considered normal you will become ill.  You might even throw up which will deplete your electrolyte levels further.  During summer months hospital emergency rooms are filled with people suffering from precipitous drops in their electrolytes.  I spoke to a fellow the other day who was hospitalized for two days when his potassium levels plummeted.  He’d been working in his garden in the hottest part of the day.  He’d sweated profusely and even though he spent most of his time in the shade he still came down with heat exhaustion and severe electrolyte depletion.  “I thought I was dying,” he said.

I’ve employed this quick-aid method on numerous occasions and believe me it works.  Salted potato chips are both high in potassium and sodium chloride.  One ounce of potato chips will give you about 465 mg of potassium.  By the way, a medium sized baked potato eaten with the skin delivers nearly 1,000 mgs of potassium.  But to bake a potato takes time and I’m talking here about a quick first aid jumpstart to a  potassium deficiency crisis.  A bag of salted potato chips is ultralight so don’t obsess about weight because this is something that might save your life in an emergency.  Besides potassium you’ll also get a carb hit and that can give you enough energy to go find help.  By the way, dogs love potato chips—or at least my dogs love potato chips.  And you know how I love my dogs.