Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Gourds have been used as containers of various sorts for centuries.  But the idea of a coffee maker made from a gourd came to me after looking at the hourglass apparatus my oldest son brought home last summer.  It’s called a Chemex® and it’s a simple device into which one places a heavy duty filter filled with coffee grounds and then pours boiling water into the container.  The water passes through the coffee grounds and through the filter then collects in the bottom section of the flask.  The family loves the device claiming it removes the bitter oils and makes a more delicious cup of coffee.  Nonetheless, the idea of a gourd coffee maker that I could place in my haversack came to mind.  I plant gourds every year and several were drying.  After the first few dried I selected a medium size gourd to try the experiment.  Cheap to grow, completely organic and ultralight; I figured this gourd coffee maker would be perfect for my stealthy camps in the woods.

After cutting the gourd into two parts, my first thought was simply to poke a hole in the bowl section and then set it over a tin coffee cup.  There are several commercial versions of this type of set up but I was unaware of them when I started the project.  Regardless, I prefer making as many of my camping tools as possible.  Examining the bowl, however, I decided to instead save it for my oatmeal and use the funnel-shaped top portion of the gourd for my coffee maker.  In this way I’d be able to use one gourd for both a bowl and for making my coffee.

The only prerequisite is to clean out the gourds thoroughly.  I intended to use one of my hook knives for the process but my hooks are far too sharp for that.  Instead I used a metal spoon as a scraper.  I carefully removed the inner membrane until the gourd was clean.  But before poking a small hole in the funnel (that would be at the very top of the gourd) I filled the funnel with hot coffee and let it sit for about an hour or perhaps a bit less.  After dumping out the coffee I again cleaned out the inner gourd with a cloth and then poked a 3/32 (2.4 mm) hole in the top of the funnel.  Remember that when in use the top of the gourd becomes the bottom of the coffee maker.  BUT it didn’t work.  The funnel was just too small to put over my tin cup which I had already figured out but was too stubborn to admit.  I then went around looking for a suitable tin can but decided I was just being hard headed.  I’ve got other gourds and I could use one of the others for my oatmeal bowl.

So I repeated the process on the bowl section.  The gourd coffee maker is so simple to make and so neat to use that I’ve already had someone else ask me to make one.  If you use a tin cup then this bowl gourd coffee maker is perfect.  I’ve experimented with several types of filters and to me they all seem to work about the same.  A two-cup filter fits perfectly but you can reuse a white cotton cloth when you go camping.  Just place the filter into the bowl and add your coffee grounds.  Place the bowl over your tin cup then pour boiling water into the bowl.  I boil water in a tin can.  The gourd coffee maker works just like any electric coffee maker except you’re out in the woods.  It seems the more I use it the better the coffee tastes.  It weighs less than half an ounce and is surprisingly strong but I imagine that the round (arched) shape gives the bowl its structural reliability.  Enjoy!

Friday, October 2, 2015


My son, Matthew, asked me to make him a new knife and after drawing several designs on a piece of paper he said, “I like the way the bevel curves on this one but could you make the blade a bit wider?”  So I widened the blade and then cut out the template and Matthew approved and the results are pictured below.

Now I’m a bit backwards when it comes to this sort of design because I know diddly about specialized knives.  These days it’s all about market forces; and if I may drop my two cents in all this derives from a society high on abundance and consumption and low on skills.  There’re guys out there who own hundreds of knives and are looking for excuses to buy new ones.  There’s the bushcraft crowd, the “tacticool” groupies, the hunters and “sportsmen,” and the survivalists.  Then there’re the Ninja types and the guys and (ladies) who think those reality naked & starving shows and the dueling ego episodes are actually worth discussing, gossiping over and writing about.  The loyal fans rush out to buy copies of the knife used by their latest hero… “Isn’t that the same knife that Max Steel uses in Alone Against Nature?”

Not long ago I was visiting a relative who owns a ranch not far from here and on that day a couple of slickers showed up from the city to hunt hogs.  Somehow my relative had agreed to let the guys hunt (he must’ve been drunk at the time) but anyway they showed up ready for action and in nearly identical uniforms: Camouflage from head to foot, snake-proof boots, baseball type gimme caps, wrap-around sunglasses, and toting monster military assault-type rifles with tactical scopes.  Oh, did I mention they drove up in a 4-wheel drive diesel pickup truck?  A page right out of Outdoor Life or Field & Stream or maybe Guns & Ammo.  “I’m out of here,” I told my relative.  He said, “Let me go put these boys in a couple of blinds and I’ll be right back.  Don’t go anywhere.”  So the two slickers climbed into the back of my primo’s pickup truck and then deposited them in their respective blinds.  Then he drove back and we sat under the porch talking about old times; you know, when hunting was actually hunting and guys walked around with 30/30s and .250 Savage 99s and wore blue-jeans and crumpled felt hats and wedged-soled leather boots.  Flannel or wool shirts and carrying carbon steel knives they’d bought at the Feed & Seed store.  Antler handles, three or four-inch blades, modified convex grinds.  If you paid more than twenty-bucks you were either too dumb to know any better or you were from the big city and so not knowing any better wasn’t held against you.  But these two “hog hunters” were carrying contraptions that looked like knives but only in the most remote sense.  I mean they had blades and bevels and handles but beyond that they looked more like something you’d encounter on the set of Star Wars.

Sometime around five or so we heard a shot and then about ten minutes later another couple of blasts rumbled across the flats.  My relative got a call (old timers would’ve been amazed at cell phones) and so mi primo stood and said, “They want me to go pick them up.”  Both fellows had nailed a couple of boar hogs that stunk to high heaven and when my primo got out of his truck he gave me a look and the two bloodied hunters climbed down off the back.  The hogs were lying in the pickup bed and I asked one of the guys, “How’d you get so bloody?”  He said, “Picking them up.”  I didn’t say anything but noticed my relative didn’t have a speck of blood on him.  “Made them do all the work, I mumbled.”  He snickered and said, “Damn right.”

In the interim Julian had showed up.  Julian is an old ranch hand who looks pure Yuma and I’d guess that’s accurate seeing as how every other Yuma I’ve ever met looks just like him.  He’s maybe in his seventies but he’s still as strong as a bull.  He was drinking a cup of coffee under the porch when my primo showed up with the dudes and so he walked over and watched as the slickers dragged the hogs out and plopped them on the ground.  “Should’ve shot a sow,” Julian said.  “They’re much tastier.”  But that remark went right past our two hunters who were at that moment trying to judge who’d shot the bigger pig.

My relative drove his tractor over to the expired boars and inserted a bar into their front legs and then using the tractor’s shovel lifted one of the hogs into the air.  “Okay,” he said.  “You can gut them out here and then back your truck underneath and I’ll let it drop into the bed.”  Confused looks, hesitation, a desire to speak; but the two guys kept silent.  My primo, Julian and I walked back to the porch to gawk as the two dudes pulled out their fancy “hunting” knives and went to work as if they were picking up fresh cow pies.  We watched and watched and after about twenty minutes it became obvious that if we let these boys do the job it was going to take until midnight for them to finish.  “Give Julian twenty bucks and he’ll gut out those hogs for you,” said my primo.  “Okay!”  Big smiles, looks of great relief, sighs.  So one of the hunters handed Julian his hunting knife and Julian, ever polite, smiled and said, “Esta pesado.”  He went to work on the hanging hog but after about thirty seconds handed the “stainless super steel, top of the line, very expensive” knife back to its owner and slipped the knife he always carries out of its sheath and in about eight minutes had the first hog gutted and ready to be dropped into the diesel’s pickup bed.  This is the knife Julian takes with him everywhere.  It’s a fixed blade, carbon steel boning knife that has a dark patina but is kept clean and ultra-sharp.  The blade was originally six-inches long but somewhere along the line it broke off at about 3.5 inches and so Julian reshaped the blade and with precision formed a new bevel.  The handle either broke or the scales became loose because they are now wrapped in electrical tape.

So after I’d made Matthew this knife someone told me, “That’s a neat looking skinner.”  I didn’t know what to say.  I thought a skinner was something that looked like the Old Hickory skinners or the modification Nessmuk gave his blade.  Afterward I looked up skinner on the Internet and what-do-you-know there were a bunch of knives that looked very much like Matthew’s knife.  Scandinavian blade, 1/8 inch 1080 steel, paper-micarta scales.  I figured it would make a nice EDC blade for around the ranch.  But no, it’s a skinner.  Just like if you Google “bushcraft” knife you’ll see a bunch of knives that look exactly alike and for whatever crazy, bizarre, nonsensical reason those are official bushcraft knives.  Travel to South America and the natives make everything with one machete.  Mosey on down to the agrarian villages in Mexico and all the natives carry kitchen knives to gut, cape, bone-out and otherwise prepare their cabrito or maranitos or guajolotes.  No super stainless steels, no high price tags, no fancy collections, no camo uniforms, no assault-type looking rifles with fiber-optic scopes.  How do those people possibly survive?