Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Ontario Pilot Survuval Knife Project

Back in August I had this idea that I should be able to do the things I wanted to do in the woods with a limited investment in gear.  I really liked the idea but had no where to go with it once it was fleshed out and in practice.  It has a problem for someone like me...  I enjoy shuffling some parts of my kit around if I am not 100% into them.  To that end, I can say without question that while the Mora Craftline Robust is an extremely functional knife, it bores me to tears.  It's a great backup blade but, for whatever reason, things about which I feel meh I usually don't keep.

Enter the Ontario Pilot Survival Knife made by Ontario. sells these new for about $44.   Based on the reading I have done, these knives can be made to be very serviceable.  I decided it would invest in one and see if I could make it useable.  What made it more interesting is that currently, they are also selling factory seconds of these knives for under $30.  That's my thing, right there.  I ordered one.

It arrived today at about 2 PM and I got it inside to do a quick onceover while finishing up some daily tasks in prep for the holiday.  It showed up in a pretty plain Jane bag and is marked as a second.

Initial Packaging

Unpacked and Unsheathed
For the money involved, the fit and finish are just fine.  I am likely going to remove every bit of the coating anyway so no worries there.  The handle and guard seem to have a little bit of play but, for now anyway, I am not concerned.  If it becomes an issue, I'll address it.

The next test is on that really gives me a sense of what our starting point is with this.  I have a chunk of cedar I keep on the bench to test cutting and carving for knives I am working.  I spent a fair amount of time with this one and was only able to produce these curls.

The Curl-Me-Not in action...  :)
Sharpness just isn't a part of this one out of the box.  It seems there's a good deal of work to do to get this one going.  For the price though, I think we can spend a few hours to make it happen.  One the flip side, the saw seems to be pretty solid.  I need to get out of the house and test it for real but it appears pretty solid.  More to come on that...

It appears the blade was assembled in March of 2011. I do love the way they stamp these things...  There's a good bit of work to do here.  I'm somewhat conflicted but am thinking I'll sharpen it first and see how it does.  I also need to find a place I can use to run a firesteel.  The sharpened swidge would work but I want something closer to the grip.  Probably not going to get to mess with this until after Christmas but maybe, just maybe...  I can get a few minutes here and there to try some stuff...

Merry Christmas if that's your thing and Happy Holidays if not.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Thursday in Shawnee Forest

Things being what they are in life right now, I have been itching to try something new.  The whole forum / learn things / buy more gear scene has run its course for me, for now...  As has hunting I think. It's time to do something new.

I am a big fan of maps.  They hint at all of the things waiting in places I've never seen and all of the paths I haven't walked and it fills me with a sense of romance and anticipation.  This feeling finally ran me over this past week.  I wanted an unknown place to venture into and I set about finding one.  For a guy who medicates his anxiety this is really saying something...  Being older now though, it was easier to know how to be brave for the 2 minutes it really took to get away from the car and not just turn around and go home.  Adventure at last...

Shawnee is Ohio's largest state run forest and has a bunch a bunch a bunch of places to walk.  Some are specifically laid out as trails like the backpacking loop and some, like the route I took, are not.  The walk was worth it, even with the surprises and the falling down busted knee.  It's not as pretty as a forest that doesn't get worked and is allowed to get old but for an adventure on a scale at which neither my fight nor flight reflexes would be activated, this was perfect. 

It's important to note that the planning for the trip worked on the assumption that what's shown as a blue line here was going to be drivable. It is, in fact, closed off and now a bridal trail.  It was some extra hiking time I hadn't counted on.  The green line is what I actually covered and the red is the additional distance I had planned on but had no time to do.  Another day...

I think when we see things for the first time in life we should have options about how we get to view them.  I can thinking of no better way for me to have headed off on a hike in unknown country than with a heavy layer of mist on the whole thing.  The clarity of the whole world was reduced to the few hundred feet around me and the part of me that enjoys romance the most was at work, adding elements of Viking Lore and Edgar Allen Poe to the trip. 

The breeze was constant and cool and the walk was very comfortable.  I continue to be pleased with that surplus ILBE Assault pack I carry for hikes like this.  Just a superb bit of gear.  A light weight fleece and my cargo pants were all I needed.  I know weather this warm in the winter would normally be applauded but I am starting to be concerned about the implications if it continues.

I came across this in the middle of one of the turns down the bridal path.  I was pleased that it didn't seem to be very active and was glad to just be able to look at it for a minute.  The pure organic shape of these hives is really enjoyable.

A little further out and heading back uphill the view improved a good deal.  Even with the fog I was just stunned by the size of the place.  If I was in better shape I would have tried to get on one of those less steep slopes and hang out for a while.  I'll get there soon enough.

As I was walking near the peak of one of the ridges as the road crossed over to a downhill grade, I was buzzed by a hawk.  I could only see him for a second but he was magnificent and quiet as death.  I really enjoyed my time out here.

The fog gave way at almost exactly noon.  The world sort of opened up after that.  I try to pack binoculars when I can because I like to look at birds and game.  These Leupold field glasses are just fantastic for that purpose and for scanning the landscape.  The views were stunningly clear.

It really gave me the sense of being in some much more rugged than I am used to country.  The valleys just stretch on and on to the Ohio River.

With the sun so far south this time of year, the days don't last as long as I would like.  By 2:30 or so I figured I should head back.  I didn't want to get caught hiking back after dark.  I forgot my headlamp and it would have been rough going.

One very nice thing walking out was getting to see all of the detail that was wrapped in fog on my way out.  I took about a hundred pics.  They all seemed so different when I took them but when I see them now, to anyone not there, they would all look the same.  These two were among my favorites.

That farthest set of hills on the horizon is in Kentucky.

It was a truly great day for me and what a great first step into this new venture.  I was also very glad to see my little car with it's padded seats and motor to climb the hills for me...  The view down the river from my parking spot merited a few minutes of just looking and a pic.

Take care and thanks for having a read.


Sunday, August 9, 2015

So I had this idea...

One of the things that has become paramount in my longer-term planning is the concept of managing money.  I started to notice that a lot of it gets wasted along the way.  The world nurtures the impulse buy and fosters the idea that good things will come of buying more stuff.  Once recognized, it can be dealt with effectively.  One of the side effect of that is that everything else, the not immediately obvious drain on time or finance, becomes worthy of scrutiny.  As that would relate to the contents of this space, let's talk about the idea of gear / kit / essential whatnots and how those get selected.

An idea that has frustrated me for some time is something I am going to refer to here as the cult of kit.  It's the same basic paradigm employed in other hobbies that have an element that's tied to the tools used along the way.  Golf, for example, is fantastic at this.  An advert that goes something like...  Golfer Champion Man / Woman uses these gimmick-riddled products from company X which are now available to you as well, you poor sad 31 handicapper.  Using them will certainly not hurt your game and will only enhance your chances of success...  (What a load of shit.  Spend the money on lessons / range time/ rounds of golf with your old irons...)  Music is the same way, especially guitars...  Texas Blues Legend only plays beat up StratoJiggers and now, just for you, you can have a pre-beatup StratoJigger just like Texas Blues Legend.  I mean how can you sound like him without this...  and these ploys are masterful.  For a while you feel really good about new gear.  Then one day, you don't feel it anymore and you're just you again.  Now, you can practice and get better and feel better about things but that takes work, time, and commitment OR...  you can just buy the next thing, looking for the perfect whatever to help that process go smoother... I mean, it's got to be the gear holding you back, right?  (profound sarcasm in that last question...)

I'd love to say the bushcraft / survival / camping / whatever hobby is a different animal but it isn't.  For literally years I have been avoiding the real issue with my lack of satisfaction with my tools in the field and buying more to just keep the dream alive.  It was stupid.  Following that idea cost a lot of money and clouded the actual goal; let's get good at doing things out in the bush that we really enjoy.

With that in mind, I've had a few months to sort out some kit.  I sold off some ridiculously expensive gear and didn't miss it.  I also started doing some research.  After a good bit of reading and some soul searching I figured out that what I really wanted was to get back to a fundamental set of tools and components to take with me and they needed to meet some very basic criteria:

  1. Whatever we're using needs to work.  Example: If we need a poncho, get a poncho.  Trash Bags are still just trash bags and unless you absolutely need to use them to make it work, don't.  Just also make sure it also covers 2 & 3 here...
  2. Whatever we're using also needs to be replaceable or carry no deep sentimental or financial value.  Examples:  No one of a kind, family heirloom, super duper carried from Midway to Iwo Jima rucksacks from Grandpa.  No $1000 custom knives... It's even better if Amazon sells it, whatever it is.
  3. We need to accomplish those two things the cheapest way possible.  Example: GB axes are great.  Ray Mears loves them.  the Trupper I bought at TSC chops wood the same way and stays sharp... who wins?

With that in mind, I started working out the idea of a good day kit.  Something I could take with me for bumming around in the woods for a day and probably more suited for a comfortable trip but modifiable for a little more involved thing like a long hike over some remote spaces, etc.  I figured a good first test of such a setup would be a good hot day, out at the folks, with a fire and some coffee, just to see how it went.  The key components I was able to outline upfront were:

  • A GI issue canteen with a cup & lid set
  • A factory knife of some sort
  • A folding saw
  • A fire kit
  • A Tarp
  • A Flashlight
  • Cordage
It has some limitations but should cover all the bases and provide a good starting point for things.  

Here's how it shook out on today's first run...

I was able to find a new Rothco 8320 shoulder bag on ebay for $15.  It's very functional and held up well through day trip #1 today.  The strap is one I made from components available at  The shoulder pad is a Maxpedition thing I had from another bad.  I had it, I figured I use it.

The kit all laid out looked like this

I had some really good luck with the items I included.  Everything worked well.  The Coffee was very good...

I was also surprised by my luck with the knife choice for the day.  I made it based on cost and some reviews I had read and was completely prepped for the idea that it would suck.... but it didn't.  :)

The Mora Craftline HighQ Robust Carbon turned in a fine performance today.  Check it out...

I kicked the crap out of it batoning old cedar and it kept on going and...

following that beating, it made these with almost no effort at all...

Not bad for a blade you can get on Amazon for $14.81 at the time of this writing...  That's not to say it came ready to roll.  I did have to sharpen it up and square the spine and so on.  Still though.  I am pleased.  I plan to keep using it for a while and we'll see how she holds up.  More on that to come...

Anyhow, I would just say it was good to get out and enjoy things and be less concerned about the gear and more into the results.  I'll keep posting as I refine things.  There's an outstanding question now about how the overnight kit will look....

Friday, May 8, 2015

Open Top Camping in the Early Summer

I really enjoy getting out in a hammock before the heat and bugs set it.  With the wife and kids headed out for a weekend without me, I took a shot and headed to the folks for a quick visit with some of my favorite trees.

One thing about visiting my Mom... you will never go hungry even if we have to hit a local eatery to prevent the horror of me losing a few pounds...  As a result, my planned afternoon of foraging and plant id and making string from green stuff all wound up as family time for me and my folks. 

The good news is, this time of year there's lots of light for a long time.  I got all set up for the night by 7:30 or so.  I took the cold weather bag out of the MSS and things were just perfect for me.  I think I only knew of one cold spot all night.  I have had a lot worse for sure.

I split up some good dry cedar and settled in for the night.  I just love working with this stuff.

The new blade worked as well as I had hoped.  The 5/32" steel  with an approx. 10 degree bevel was superb.  I need more time with it but so far, I am happy with my work on this one...  ;)

The leaf litter was thick and dry.  It scared the hell out of me so I went for a full six foot clear circle for the fire.  I kept it small and no harm or mad stomping fits, chasing rouge embers came my way. 

Overnight I felt really blessed.  The moon was bright as can be and a whippoorwill took up residence close by.  He was really close...  Check this out.  Just my iphone's microphone...

Overnight was really nice and pretty warm.  I really like that MSS set up for this sort of camping.  It's too heavy to carry very far but, when I am just four wheeling up the hill at the parents, it's fantastic.  I rolled out reluctantly early on Sunday...

Somehow sleeping out always makes me hungry so... I prepped up some fire stuff...

and made some eats...

After breakfast, I was all conflicted about how to spend my day;  The family would be all day and into the night getting home so I had all the time I wanted if I chose to stay in the woods and play.  On the other side of that though, it was opening weekend for the new Avengers movie.  I decided on the Avengers.  Packing was quick and easy.

I love my old ALICE pack.  I really need to find a way to go lighter though... some day.  :)