Saturday, June 03, 2017

New Knives

I've been on a knife-buying binge lately.

A few weeks ago I picked up is a carbon steel Terävä Skrama bush knife from Varusteleka. Previously, I have noted that a big chopping knife isn't really required in my neck of the woods, but damn, sometime they are fun to play with. The Skrama is a well-made, modern take on the seax. The specs for the Skrama, courtesy of Varusteleka:

  • Total length: 430 mm. (16.0")
  • Weight: 525 g (knife only). (1.15 lbs.)
  • Blade: length 240 mm, width 46 mm, thickness 4,2 mm. (9.45", 1.8", 0.165" respectively)
  • Edge: 34° for chopping, 25° at the base for finer work.
  • Steel: Carbon steel 80CrV2, 59 HRC
  • Grip: Moulded rubber, rough texture for a good grip.

IMO, it's as advertised. I used it to trim some branches in my yard after touching up the edge and it cut through them well. Afterwards, the edge didn't need attention. Check out the demo video on Varusteleka's site.

More recently, I picked up a few folders, one from Amazon and a couple from MidwayUSA since I had a gift certificate.

The knife from Amazon is a classic Buck 110 Folding Hunter, to which I added a brass Kwik Thumb stud to facilitate one-handed opening. I'd wanted to get an add-on stud like this a few years ago for my old Schrade LB-7 Bearpaw but couldn't find any. Now that they're available again I grabbed a couple.

It's a basic Buck 110 with a blade made from their 420HC stainless steel hardened to Rc 58. It's a bit strange that guy closing in on 50 with a lifelong interest in knives has never owned a Buck 110, but the Bearpaw filled that niche for me for years.

IMO, a good quality folding lockback knife like the Buck 110 can serve the same purposes in the woods as a fixed blade knife like a Mora, but is easier to carry on your belt. I carried the Bearpaw for several years on my LBE when I was in a Civil Air Patrol ground SAR squadron and it handled all my cutting tasks just fine. Mated with a folding saw and a smaller knife like a SAK, and you'll be well equipped for the woods in most of North America.

The Kwik Thumb stud works as advertised to let you open it one-handed but due to the Buck's stiffness, it's not nearly as easy or fast to open as my Benchmade Griptilian, for example. Still, it's a worthwhile addition. Note: the set screw that holds it in place on the blade is tiny. If you drop it odds are it'll disappear into the Zone of Lost Things (don't ask how I know). I used a drop of blue Loc Tite to make sure it stays in place.

Next up was another Victorinox Classic, this time with yellow scales and emblazoned with a Gadsden logo. The blades/implements are made from the same stainless steel that Victorinox uses in their entire Swiss Army Knife line. I've found it to be rust-proof in EDC in the city and 'burbs and have never seen corrosion in the woods. Compared with a lot of modern "super steels" it's soft, but I haven't had a problem with edge retention, and it's easy to resharpen without anything fancier than a bench stone.

The Classic is a tiny knife but still quite useful, plus it's not just a knife. In my experience the scissors, tweezer and nail file with a screwdriver tip all come in handy. I clipped an eGear Pico light to it. They carry very easily in a pocket with minimal bulk.

The final knife in the binge is a Boker Tree Brand Beer Barrel Stockman. I've never owned a stockman knife before and this is a really nice one. The knife was made in Germany with scales cut from beer barrels. The blades are C-75 carbon steel hardened to Rc 57-59, which is pretty hard for a carbon steel.

This is my second pocketknife from Boker, the first being a barlow. Fit and finish is perfect. The three blades offer a lot of utility for an outdoorsman:

  • The clip point blade works well for gutting small game.
  • The spey blade works well as  a skinner.
  • The sheepsfoot gives you a strong point that you can bear down on.
The clip and sheepsfoot blades open easily. The spey is stiff but loosening up as I play with it. The blades do not half half-stops, so a little more care needs to be exercised when closing them.

This is a really nice pocketknife that will find a home my EDC rotation.

All the knives' edges needed some attention out of the box. The Skrama came pretty sharp but I did some touch up on my Spyderco SharpMaker.

The Buck 110 had a burr on the edge that needed a good amount of work on the SharpMaker to get rid of.

The DTOM Classic needed the least attention. Every other Victorinox I've bought (which is many) came shaving sharp out of the box. This one needed a minute or two of polishing on the SharpMaker using the fine sticks to get shaving sharp.

The Boker's blades needed the most attention and I will be doing a bit more work on them. They'll cut paper but just barely shave. I had to take a break because my SharpMaker's sticks were getting gunked up (not just from these knives, but I haven't cleaned them in awhile).

Monday, May 29, 2017

Kalakalle Fish Cock

Today for lunch I tried out some Kalakelle Fish Cock, from Finland's Varusteleka military surplus store. There's no way I could come up with a a product description as vibrant as Varusteleka's, so I'll do a bit of copy-paste:

A traditional Finnish delicacy in canned version, 5 years of shelf life and does not contain cock! If "Fish Cock" doesn't automatically mean food to you, it's a Finnish speciality - fish baked inside rye bread. This is a perfect snack or trekking food, always ready to eat and contains enough energy to keep you going and enough high quality protein to keep you in shape.

The food is much like a mix of hamburger and pie, made out of rye bread and filled with smoked salmon. The funny part is that because of the hermetically sealed tin can, no preservatives are needed, and the ingredients are the superfoods they always tell you you should eat. Because it's healthy AND it tastes good, this food resembles much like a situation where you are enjoying your beer in a bar and a pretty young girl comes up to you and asks if you would like to go to her place and assfuck her. A deal too good to be true. Except with this food delicacy there is no hidden cock included.

Read the whole description here. (Parts NSFW.)

What you see upon opening the can:

And after digging in. You can clearly see the layer of salmon between two layers of rye bread.

As you can see, there is apparently no cock in the can.

I'd eaten a banana and a snack bar before opening the can. I found it rather dense and filling, so I only finished about half, then stuck the rest in the refrigerator for later.

The fish cock was pretty good for a canned good sold as survival rations. It tasted like a good dark rye bread with salmon (which is of course, what it is). It was on the dry side, however, so you'll definitely want some water to go along with it.

IMO, it would make a good choice for a field lunch or dinner that doesn't require any preparation.

Varusteleka also sells a ham cock version, which I haven't tried. I have tried a few other food items from them:

The chocolates are really good. The whole milk has a definite coffee taste, while the coffee taste is more subdued in dark chocolate, which is more bitter. The salmon groats are good spread on dark bread. It would also be good on pasta.

As of this writing the red tins are out of stock, but they regularly get restocked.

I've placed a few orders from Varusteleka and they've always shipped my stuff quickly. However, getting it cleared through US Customs at JFK Airport always seems to take at least a week. So, if you need something from them allow at least a couple weeks for transit.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Esbit CS985HA Cookset - Heaxmine vs. Alcohol Fuel

Last year I got an Esbit CS985HA cookset which includes two anodized aluminum pots, a pot stand, a Trangia-style spirit burner with snuffer lid, and a stand for burning solid fuel tablets. It also comes with a mesh storage sack. Overall, it's a lightweight and well-made little cooker which can be used with hexamine fuel tablets or alcohol.

In the picture below I've taken out the stove stand which nests inside the cookpot. In the stand I have the spirit burner and lid, the solid fuel stand, a bandana, matches in a Ziploc bag, and a bandana. I generally keep this all inside a plastic bag nested in the pot.

I've used it several times with the spirit burner, burning denatured alchohol and I've been happy with fuel consumption and boil times. However, I had not yet tried it with Esbit 14 gram hexamine fuel tablets, until yesterday.

I was especially curious to see how the hexamine compared with denatured alcohol, since hexamine can generate 13,300 BTUs per pound of fuel, compared with denatured alky's 11,570 BTUs/pound. (See: If the stove is equally efficient with both fuels, you'd expect the boil times to be reduced with hexamine.

However, everything is not equal. When using the spirit burner to boil water, it's more or less set-and-forget, until it's boiled. In the interest of science, I got out my Harbor Freight multimeter which can be used to measure temperatures with a thermocouple. (It also displays ambient temperature and relative humidity.) Hence the picture below, with a wire sticking out of the cookset:

I should note that I tried a couple methods to light the first hexamine tablet. I wanted to see how viable it would be to light it with sparks from a ferro rod, so I used my knife to scrape some of the fuel to create a little pile of powder on top of the tablet. No dice. I then added some dryer lint on top, which easily took a spark but failed to ignite the hexamine. Next I tried sitting the tablet on top of a wad of dryer lint, which again failed to ignite it.

At that point I abandoned the ferro rod and lit the tablet with a match.

The ambient temp was about 70*F and the 16 oz. of water started at 68*. When the first Esbit tablet burned out after about 11 minutes, the water temperature was 172*. That's hot enough for coffee or tea, but I wanted to make ramen for lunch, and in any event, you need to cook the noodles for three minutes after the water boils. So, I lit another tablet and put the pot back on.

It only took a couple more minutes to bring the water to a boil. I dumped in the seasoning packet and noodles, and replaced the lid. A couple minutes later I had to remove the lid as the soup began to boil over.

One reason I hadn't tried this cookset with the Esbit tablets is that based on past experience with hexamine, it leaves a sticky soot on your cookware. However, it appears that this stove burns the hexamine more efficiently than the older style folding Esbit cooker. Here's a pic of the stove on the left with the residue of two tablets and some dryer lint. On the right is the bottom of the pot. The residue on the pot wasn't sticky and later washed off with hot tap water.

A complaint many have about hexamine is the smell. The unburnt fuel smells like fish, and in an inefficient stove the stink is magnified. When I tried out this stove there wasn't much smell, indicates to me that it's burning efficiently. In contrast, the folding Esbit stoves stink.

To quantify any difference in performance between hexamine and alcohol fuel, today I repeated the experiment but used the spirit burner. Today both the ambient temp and water from the tap were a couple degrees warmer. Both ambient and water temp started at about 73*

The spirit burner lights easily with a ferro rod; today it lit with one spark. The stove then takes a couple minutes to heat the fuel to the point where it vaporizes and comes out the holes around the rim.

One big disadvantage in my opinion is that even after the stove reaches full bloom, the alcohol flame is nearly invisible in daylight, unlike the flame from burning hexamine. In this picture the stove is lit and giving off noticeable heat:

The alky burner took about 9 minutes to bring 16 oz. of water to a rolling boil. Even though the ambient and water temps started off a few degrees warmer today, that wouldn't account for the several minute shorter boil time. Even though hexamine packs more BTUs per pound than denatured alcohol, given this particular design, the spirit burner is more efficient.

I should note that boil times for both fuels would have been reduced had I used a windscreen to reduce convection loss and help reflect some heat back to the pot.

Based on this comparison I'm going to stick with denatured alcohol for most of my use. Esbit tablets are handy and will warm water enough for a cup of tea or coffee, and should work OK for heating a can of Vienna sausages in the small pan. However, the spirit burner is easier to light and snuff out, and appears to heat water more quickly.

Friday, February 24, 2017

New Order From Varusteleka

Varusteleka is a military surplus store in Helsinki, Finland. I've ordered a few items from them, most notably a Jerven bag. Service from them has always been fast but over the holiday season getting my package through Customs at JFK has taken a week or more. It looks like the Customs backlog is finally speeding up. This shipment cleared customs in only a couple days.

This order came in a cool bag.

Finns channeling Rhodesians, huh?

Inside, two of the hard to get in the US Bundewehr sleeping mats, and one 10-pack each of SCHO-KA-KOLA milk (blue) and dark (red) chocolates.

The chocolates are very good. They are fortified with caffeine and have been used by the German military as iron rations. The dark is somewhat bitter but I like it.

The Bundeswehr mats measure 74" long by 21" wide, and aren't very thick, maybe 3/8". That's pretty thin so they don't doesn't provide a lot of padding or insulation. I could have used one of these by itself back when I was in my early 20s, but I need a lot more padding nowadays. However, they appear to be well made of closed cell foam that would provide a good layer underneath an air mattress to protect it from things that might cause a puncture.

I do think that the BW mats could make decent shooting mats. With a 16" AR-15 for scale:

The two mats I received were made in 1990.

They appear to be new old stock. One had a bit of dirt on it and a small partial puncture, but nothing that would affect its function.

When folded up, they are 15" long  x 10.5" wide by 1-3/8" thick. They'd make a good sitting pad. Likewise, partially unfolded it would be good for kneeling on when doing fire prep, e.g to catch wood shavings for tinder to keep them off moist ground.

Finally, the other use for the BW mats is as an internal frame for the German surplus mountain rucksacks. The rucks are easily available in the US (e.g., at Keepshooting) but unfortunately the matching mats are not, hence my order from overseas. The slot pocket inside the ruck is designed to accept this mat, to give the pack some rigidity and keep contents from poking you in the back.

I have no connection with Varusteleka other than as a satisfied customer. They are a good source of some items of interest to preppers and bushcrafters. Shipping from Finland to the US is only $9.99, on par with most domestic suppliers.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Basic Buyer's Guide for Kalashnikov Rifles

Rob Ski of the AK Operator's Union did this video at the end of 2015 with guidance on what to look for when buying an AK rifle. If you're looking to pick up an AK it's worth watching.

The rest of his videos are worth checking out, as well.

Monday, January 30, 2017

USMC Grid Fleece Pullover

I got one of these USMC surplus grid fleece pullovers last month from the Sportsman's Guide and have worn it a lot since then.  SPG has the best price I've seen on them in unissued condition.

I use it as an insulating layer under a windproof shell, either my First Spear Windcheater or German surplus flecktarn parka. I've also worn it as extra insulation under my Arc'Teryx Atom LT and SV hoodies on really cold days.

It's a light weight, half zip pullover that can be used as a base layer or on top of other layers. It is remarkably warm for its thickness and weight. The outside is pretty smooth but the inside is a polar fleece with a grid pattern in it that traps a warm air layer near your body. I just took a walk wearing it over a t-shirt and button down shirt, under the flecktarn parka on a walk around my neighborhood. It's 27 degrees and I was plenty warm.

The one I ordered is an XL. It runs a little big based on my sample of one. That's OK because as a pullover, it's more difficult to put on or take off compared with a full zip sweater, and the extra room helps.

Two big thumbs up.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Silky Bigboy 360 Folding Saw

Some kind of wood processing tool is handy to have when camping and may be a necessity in a survival situation. Many woodsmen likes axes, hatchets, or large choppers, but a folding saw is a great alternative. Saws often weigh less, are more energy efficient, and safer to use.

For several years I've had a Gerber folding saw which was improved by using a saw set to increase the kerf and reduce drag when cutting. It's pocket sized and very easy to pack.

However, I wanted a longer saw that could still fit in a pack. Everything else being equal, the longer the cutting stroke the more efficient the saw. So, last month I got a Silky Bigboy 360 folding saw with large teeth. With a 360mm (14.1" blade) it's significantly longer than the Gerber. The rubber handle is easily grasped with both hands.

I finally got to try it out today on a branch I had in my firewood pile, and to trim a couple branches from a dogwood in my yard.

The branch from my firewood pile was of an unknown type of wood, possibly elm. It was well seasoned and hard. The Silky chewed through it like a hungry beaver. This took only a few strokes:

Dogwood is very hard and a good test of any blade. Although it required more effort to cut than the elm (?) branch, the Silky went through it very well. I'd like to test it on some softwood but don't have any. Based on Survival Russia's videos, I'd expect it to work damn near like a power tool.

The Gerber cuts on both the push and pull strokes. Silky saws, in contrast, cut only on the pull stroke. This allows the blade to be thinner and more flexible and doesn't really make it less efficient.

The Silky feels more robust than the Gerber. If I was in the market for a smaller folding saw I'd go with a Silky Pocketboy.