Thursday, July 18, 2013

Native American Ethnobotany….

Texas Persimmon (Diospyros texana) will ripen and provide a tasty treat for humans, birds, and mammals.

For those of you interested in ethnobotany you might consider the following website.  Learning to be more self-sufficient begins, I believe, with a proper understanding of native plants.  You will remain a neophyte woodcrafter (bushcrafter) if you refrain from knowing, in detail, the plants around you.  This includes a thorough knowledge of the ethnobotanical history of the area where you live.  The following website is a good place to begin.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

How to Turn an Old Machete Blade into a Pig Knife

Around these parts you can find old machetes lying around if you know where to look.  These are blades that have seen hard use.  They’ve been sharpened thousands of times and the original blade contours have long since disappeared.  Many of them no longer have handle scales attached and in profile they look more like sabers than machetes.  You’ll find them in a barn or pickup bed or maybe even abandoned in the woods.  Most of them are rusted beyond repair and others snapped in two when people used them as crowbars.  Occasionally, you’ll find a couple or three you can breathe new life into if you’re willing to do a little work.  And perhaps I should tell you now that in a real and practical sense it’s probably not worth it.  Unless, of course, you’re a knife hack and can’t resist experimenting with steel no matter how much trouble involved.

I’ve got a stack of worn out and very much used machetes I’ve scrounged up over the years.  Most of them will probably remain relegated to the junk heap.  But now and then I’ll take one and toss it into the fire when I’m annealing some other piece of steel for a knife making project.  Most machetes are made from moderate level carbon steel like 1074-75 which is easy to sharpen and tends to hold a good edge.  It’s also good steel for whacking brush as is 1060 carbon steel and 5160 spring steel.  I’ve seen a few machetes made from 1040 steel but I’m not keen on those.  That’s an easy steel to use in economical mass production but I’ve never encountered one that holds an edge for very long.  Likewise, I’m no fan of the newer stainless steel machetes.  They don’t hold up like carbon steel models.

If you anneal an old machete blade you are likely to have some warpage since the blade is usually only about 1.5-2.0 millimeters thick.  Under the high heat of annealing the thin blade will bend somewhat.  But since the blades are thin you can easily straighten them in the annealed state.  The reason I anneal these old machetes is because I want to reheat-treat the blade afterward in order to bring up the hardness.  Most machetes are tempered in a low range 48-54 Rc to keep the blade from snapping when chopping.  But I cut the blades down to about 7 ½ inches long and therefore they will not be used for chopping but instead for things like skinning or slicing through clumps of nopal (prickly pear) cactus.  It just makes for a neat little knife that has a bit more robustness than your typical Mora-style blade.

The two knives pictured were hafted with a piece of alder wood.  I pinned the scales with nails and added strength with 5-minute epoxy.  Nothing expensive in this project since these are knockabout knives used in woods roaming and general chores.  They do, however, make excellent pig knives after you’ve taken a wild hog with your bow, rifle or pistol.  A wild hog is a lot more than gristle, muscle and bone.  The hair is quite bristly—almost like a wire brush—and requires a blade that can cut through that spike-like carpet.

I bring the temper up to about 57 Rc and that’s sufficient for dressing out hogs.  When you skin, gut and bone a wild hog you’ve got some work on your hands if the beast is anything over a couple hundred pounds.  I find these little rejuvenated machetes turned hunting knives a practical solution.  They’re lightweight and make for easy packing.  I usually carry at least three knives when I’m out after hogs.  I don’t want to spend time sharpening a knife when field dressing.  When a blade gets tired I switch to another and carry on.  I’ll show you some pictures of the other hog knives I use in a future post.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Have Fun Making Your Own Knives….

I’ve had a few people write me asking if I would sell them one of my knives.  I considered it but then decided it wasn’t worth the risk.  I’ve got bags full of crooked and hook knives and a small pile of what I call my Woods Roamer Knife but I’ll not sell them.  In another world at another time I might have considered it but not in today’s litigious atmosphere.  Besides it’s a hobby and I’m not going to spend money on an LLC or anything like that in order to protect myself from some lawyer who makes his living suing folks.


I considered writing a pamphlet with lots of photos and details on precisely how to make these knives.  This booklet would be thorough and I’d share with you everything I’ve learned from over 50 years of making cutting tools.  I’d package this booklet and sell it online for 99-cents or maybe have a printer in a nearby city assemble some copies and then sell them for a few bucks more.  I have no idea if that would be of any interest to people.  Let me know if you think it’s a worthwhile idea.  My philosophy is to make practical knives using mostly hand tools in order to be as self-sufficient as possible.  I make my own bows and spoons and bowls and grow my own food and if I could I’d even make my own pickup truck.  By the way, we’re building a new greenhouse and I’ll show you pictures of it when it’s finished.

Just yesterday I watched a young fellow walk up to the cabin and he was carrying one of my Woods Roamer knives that I gave him a while back.  It made me feel good knowing he relies on the knife I made and that he considers it one of the best all-around knives he owns.  Just as he ambled up to the porch he took out his knife and bent down and rubbed it into the dirt.  “What are you doing?” I asked him.  He wiped the knife’s blade on his pants and said, “Killing a scorpion.”  Ah yes, now I make knives for not only camp chores and bushcraft but also for killing scorpions!

I seldom use knives made by anyone else.  I’ve got a few Mora knives but I don’t use them much other than when fishing because they are too fragile for the hardwoods we have around here.  They may be just the ticket for the softer woods in northern climes but in the hard desert and brushland country those Scandi-blades are perhaps a bit too delicate.  I have however given some old machetes new life; and in fact, I just finished rejuvenating a couple of discarded machetes and I’ll post photos of that endeavor in an upcoming article.

I made my first knife when I was about nine or ten years old.  Forged on a coal-fed fire and pounded on an anvil that was probably made back at the turn of the last century.  My buddy Butch and I made our first knives from pieces of a disk blade we salvaged in the back of the blacksmith shop next to our houses.  We needed those knives to fight bandits that were roaming the woods near the cotton gin across the road.  We quenched them in motor oil but didn’t know about tempering.  We hafted the blades using wood we obtained from an orange tree behind Butch’s house.  We used a grinder to get the knives near razor sharp and then started whacking some wood (the bandits) in a fierce battle that lasted a few days.  But both blades cracked.  They were much too brittle.  But that’s how the learning process started.  You’ll make dozens of knives (or maybe you’ll get it right on the first try) but either way you’ll feel good about what you’ve done because you now have a new skill.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Say Goodbye to Your Clean Drinking Water!

"Gone For Good: Fracking and Water Loss in the West….”

One infamous “news” network has engaged in attacks against alternative energy sources for quite some time.  The reason, of course, is to demonize that industry and thus keep their friends in the oil, gas and coal cartel profiting while destroying our soils, water and air.  A recent article on this “news channel’s” website focused on a number of birds killed by wind generators off the coast of England.  Not one mention was made about the thousand-fold higher number of birds killed yearly by tall buildings, radio towers, utility lines, automobiles, cell-phone towers, game-proof fences, television towers, and oil and gas drilling derricks.  That, of course, is not where they want you looking.  It’s a classic con job and many people are suckered into it.

I’ve maintained for years that people who can only look to the right or left politically and ideologically are bound to run into a brick wall or stumble over a root in the road.  Give me someone instead who both politically and ideologically keeps their nose to the wind and their eyes along the skyline and who knows how to negotiate the trail.  That, my friends, is an intelligent person.

But regarding energy acquisition, the facts are we must either turn quickly to alternative and less polluting ways or we will lose our homelands.  Remember that plutocrats don’t care about clean air or clean water.  It’s a bizarre psychological type closely related to classic sociopathology.

So now we are in the midst of quickly disappearing fresh water at the hands of these villains.  A few weeks ago I sat at a roadside park north of the town of Three Rivers, Texas looking west at dozens of gas drilling rigs.  Do the people living there realize their underground water is being poisoned?

Natural gas drilling poisons millions of gallons of underground water and when you have an area with scores of wells you can kiss your well water goodbye.

More proof has arrived that our Western Lands are being raped by the Natural Gas syndicate.  Please read the following report.  If you care for America you will take action against these polluters and desecrators.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Chronic Birding Syndrome….

Office Visit Notes: “Patient presented with periodic bouts of euphoria over sightings of various bird species with intermittent episodes of depression marked by anxiety during lulls in bird activity.  Patient noted there have been frequent late night awakenings upon hearing night birds (pauraques, great-horned owls, screech owls, barn owls, golden-crowned night herons etc.) with the need to go outside and sit on the porch listening to the bird calls.  Patient also noted an obsession to look frequently out of windows at bird feeders and watering stations fearing that a bird might be missed and thus not observed.  Patient also admits to having binoculars and bird books strategically placed around the house and within easy reach….”

The new International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) has decided to omit the diagnosis of Chronic Birding Syndrome (CBS) after a number of prominent health care professionals suggested the diagnosis could possibly glut the system and cause significant embarrassments within the medical community who themselves have a sizeable number of CBS sufferers.  First diagnosed by Dr. Cedric Warbler in 1959 the condition previously known as Birding Psychosis was later renamed Chronic Birding Syndrome because not all those presenting with the disorder are apt to experience hallucinations (both auditory and visual) relating to phantom bird sightings.  In one nationally reported “mass birding psychotic event” a number of birders experienced what is known medically as “reincarnated ideational expungement” resulting in severe CBS development.  Professors Bertha Gull, Jay Swift and Mary Alice Plover at the Columbia University Ornithological Institute noted that ongoing research suggests the condition is worsening amongst certain populations and further research is warranted.

For more information please contact The National CBS Center at 800-GotToBird

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Texas Brushlands Parang....

The parang is a short chopping tool from Southeast Asia with a blade thickness between four and seven millimeters near the handle tapering to as little as two-millimeters at the tip.  Most parang blades range from 25 to 36 centimeters long.  The traditional Malaysian parang has a tiny stick tang inserted into a wooden (or plastic) handle that is sometimes pinned to insure the blade does not fly outward when chopping.  Southeast Asian parangs are more robust than South or Central American machetes.  “Latin American” machetes have blades no more than about 1.5-2.0 millimeters thick and range from 30 to 64 millimeters long.  There is no set design for either Malaysian parangs or Latin American machetes other than parangs tend towards shorter and thicker blades and machetes longer and thinner blades.  I’ve examined parangs with straight handles and curved handles.  I’ve seen straight bladed parangs as well as parangs with sweeping blades.  Likewise, I’ve worked with Latin American machetes with wide blades, narrow blades, and blunted blades.  Some of the blades are hooked and others are pointed.  They are sometimes given names like cane-style or bill-hook-style or bolo-style.  I was at a feed-n-seed store this past week that had just received a couple of crates of machetes made in Colombia.  They were crudely made and overpriced but came in a multitude of styles and blade lengths some of which I’ve not seen at any store or online dealer.  I think I’ll go back to that store and take some pictures to show you for a future post.

The thing to remember is that both parangs and machetes are designed for clearing away herbaceous shrubs or grass or small woody plants.  In places where bamboo grows parangs and machetes are used to either whack bamboo aside or fashion implements ranging from cooking tubes to shelters, traps, chairs and assorted camp or village essentials.  But neither the parang nor the machete is designed for chopping heavy wood.  Here’s a mantra you might consider remembering:
Use a machete in the jungles, brushlands and desert regions.  Use an axe in the forests.

Of course, there are any number of YouTube videos and assorted websites where someone takes a parang or machete and tries to chop a five-inch (or bigger!) log in a post entitled something along the lines of: “Comparing the machete/parang to the axe in chopping a tree.”  Those posts are both amusing and nonsensical since no one it seems would ever think to reverse the equation with an equally ludicrous post like, “Comparing the machete/parang and axe in clearing vines.”

I hope you see the point.  These are specialized cutting tools that evolved in particular regions around the world and trying to use one or the other in places where they are not suitable is both time consuming and potentially dangerous.  It would be like telling a trapper in the Taiga region of Siberia to use a machete instead of an axe.  He’d probably think you were crazy.  Equally nutty would be asking someone living in the Sonoran desert or in the Central American jungles to use an axe instead of a machete when clearing weeds, shrubs or cactus along a trail.

In South Texas the equation becomes slightly more problematic.  Most workers opt for a 61 cm (24-inch) blade length machete.  If you’ve seen my videos on South Texas machetes you’ll see a couple of classic machetes from the region.  A few days ago I happened upon a fellow clearing weeds and small woody shrubs along a fenceline.  He was using a long-bladed machete.  I’ve seen men cut brechas through thick brush in northeastern Tamaulipas, Mexico using the same types of machetes.  Those 24-inch models allow users to stay clear of thorn brush as well as develop momentum even with lightweight blades.  My interests, however, are in cutting tools I can use for woodcraft (bushcraft) applications.

South Texas is a land of diverse plant species.  A nopal cactus is soft and succulent and easily whacked with a blade measuring no more than one-millimeter thick.  A mesquite branch on the other hand will make that same thin blade bounce sending shock waves into your wrist and elbow.  In this case a small axe would be good but a heavier weight parang-style cutting tool employing a substantial tang is perhaps a better option.  Thus enters my latest experiment in design.

You might recall “The Beast Parang” I made awhile back.  That is a ponderous and heavy cutting tool.  The parang-styled blade pictured above is quite a bit lighter but yet designed to be equally effective.  Made from a 5160 leaf-spring the blade measurements are as follows:
Blade Length: 9.5 inches (24.13 cm)
Blade Width at widest section: 2 inches (5.08 cm)
Blade Thickness: 7 millimeters near handle tapering to 4.5 millimeters at tip

The handle is made from chaparro prieto (Acacia rigidula) and is 6.25 inches long or 15.875 cm.

This blade has a substantial tang extending just beyond the last of the three 3/16 inch brass pins.

The blade was differentially tempered to be hardest along the cutting edge and a bit softer along the spine.  The section adjacent to the handle was tempered lower to give the blade added structural reliability.

So what is this brushland parang good for?  It’s not a tool for whacking vines or herbaceous shrubs.  But if you’ll check out my post on negotiating the brush without making noise then you’ll see I don’t use a machete for those purposes.  Instead, this brushland parang will make an excellent camp tool for fashioning things like chairs and cooking platforms.  It will also work as the one tool for making a selfbow.  It’s the time of year when I make a couple or three new bows and I’ll use this brushland parang.  It will also make a good survival tool especially for brushland or desert terrain.  A man with skills can make a life with this tool.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with this latest project.  I make knives as a hobby and enjoy experimenting with design.  I’ve got more leaf-springs and maybe I’ll attempt a few variations on the theme.  Some people go out and buy dozens or even hundreds of knives for their collections.  I make my own instead.  I like spreading them out on the table (or floor) and admiring them and then thinking about making more.  Some of my knives will never be used.  This one, however, will see action.  Someday the boys will get all my knives and maybe think back about their old man.

PS: Sorry, none of these are for sale.