Monday, June 10, 2013

Wild Tales from the Texas Brushlands and the Making of a Small Woods Roamer Knife

In the Southwest and particularly in the thorn and spine-ridden places called “brushlands” the need for proper cutting tools is oftentimes paramount.  These are unforgiving lands.  Unless immersed in the brush from an early age it is unlikely one ever becomes fully acclimated and “at home.”  There is no such thing as a casual jaunt into el monte.  And while many people journey to these regions to hunt or engage in various outdoor activities they are usually carefully monitored or looked after by seasoned guides.  This applies as well to folks who come to the brush from nearby cities.  Most of them drive or are driven from one place to another.  They frequently hunt from or are placed in “deer blinds” during the hunting season and they are usually kept a safe distance from the thickest brush.  Old woods rats (and there are not that many still around) can talk for hours about some tenderfoot or another who made trouble by getting himself snake bit or became a human pincushion or got lost or ran into a bunch of hogs and panicked.  One of the weirdest stories I ever heard was about a businessman who some years back went hunting on a ranch not too many miles from where I live.  The ranch owner, who himself was only minimally proficient in woodcraft, put the businessman in a deer blind and instructed him not to go wandering around because the brush was teaming with wild hogs.  Apparently, the would-be hunter had recently had a face-lift in Houston and his stitches had yet to be completely healed.  For whatever reason that the rancher never understood the man decided to get down from the blind and start poking around in the nearby brush.  Well, as predicted the fellow ran into a mess of hogs and panicked and loped wildly through the thorn brush.  In the process he ripped out most of the stitches on his face.  I remember the rancher saying, “That crazy son of a bitch looked like he’d been mauled by a cougar.  His face was a bloody mess and his clothes were covered with blood.  He had to go back to Houston and get his face put back together.  I guess some folks never learn.”

There are always stories floating around about people bending down to pick up mesquite firewood and being struck by a lightning bolt emanating from a scorpion’s stinger.  And then there are stories about people getting lost in the woods when they ventured away from the pickup truck to answer nature’s call.  One fellow not long ago told his guide he needed to use the bathroom and so the guide stopped the truck and told the man, “Just go beyond that nopal cactus yonder.”  The guide waited in the truck and after what seemed too long he got down and yelled out for el dude hunter and got no response.  So he uttered a few choice words and then set out to find the man.  Two hours later and two miles away the guide (now accompanied by several other sign cutters) found el dude hopelessly lost and ripped apart by thorns and spines.  He was suffering from heat exhaustion and thirst.  “Where’d you go?” asked the guide.  The man looked at him and with tears in his eyes said, “God sent you.”  The guide shook his head and answered, “Well it sure as hell looks like you found the devil out here.”

In the way-out-north-of-here people grab a backpack and head into the forest carrying their little “bushcraft” knife with its four-inch, Scandinavian grind blade and maybe a small ax and they make a neat camp and take a siesta on the ground and then sit enjoying nature.  And we are so jealous in the way-way-south of them where we dare never sleep on the ground lest a rattler or scorpion or pamorana ant or centipede or velvet ant cuddle up alongside and plant a big kiss on tu como se llama.

If you’ve kept track of this blog you’ve read about walking through the thorn brush and negotiating stands of nopal cactus and keeping eyes out for rattlesnakes and never venturing far without water and about the preference for longer blades than the four-inch classic bushcraft knife.  Without question, we prefer carrying machetes and pocket knives.  In fact, if you ask a local if he or she has ever heard of a “bushcraft knife with a Scandinavian grind” they will look at you and probably say something like, “Nope.”  But ask them their opinion about Latin American machetes compared to machetes made in other places and invariably they’ll start getting technical and say something like, “I prefer the Imacasa (or Tramontina, or Bellotto or Hansa) brand because of XW and Z.  And then they’ll lecture you about what blade length they prefer and why.  Ask them about pocket knives and you’ll get responses dependent on their level of woodcraft skills.  A real serious woods rat will probably be carrying a carbon steel slipjoint made by Case or Böker or maybe Queen.  You won’t see many of those hokey-pokey tactical numbers that urban folks carry.  After all, there’s really no need out in the deepest brush to whip out the knife with a one-hand opening while looking cool and mean.  Besides, woods rats tend towards the meticulous and contemplative.  And anyway it’s usually too hot to do otherwise.

I had a 12-inch Nicholson file that had been worked down to the pulp like an old man’s teeth after years of bruxism and so I decided to make it into a smaller Woods Roamer Knife.  My intention was to have something handy to whack off the thorns after cutting a branch to make whatever I might have in mind.  You must always whack off the thorns because everything has thorns—unless, of course, you want severe puncture wounds in your hands.

The handle is mesquite sap wood left large enough to provide a good grip.
Blade Length: 20.32 centimeters
Handle Length: 15.25 centimeters

The blade has a steep convex grind that couples blade edge integrity with whittling needs.

The smaller 12-inch mill file is also narrower in cross-section and thus a bit lighter weight than the larger Woods Roamer Knives made from 14-inch files.

The smaller Woods Roamer Knife placed alongside a larger Woods Roamer Knife.  Note: The black spot on the smaller knife is not a pin but a knot projection from the heartwood.

 Three Woods Roamer Knives: Two made from 14-inch mill files and the newbie made from the 12-inch Nicholson file.

P.S.: tu como se llama in South Texas usually refers to one’s backside.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful knives, I wonder how they would work up here in the North country? Hmmmmmm.., need someone to do some field testing? ;<)

    Wonderful blades Arturo, Doug.