Monday, November 02, 2015

Day Trip to the Conrad Weiser State Forest

Yesterday I went up to the Port Clinton tract of the Conrad Weiser State Forest and had the chance to try a few pieces of gear.

1. Sony DSC-W810 digital camera. I chose this as my 15 year gift from my employer. I used it to take the pictures in this post. It takes good quality still photos but for video it sucks -- grainy, focusing problems, etc. Disappointing.

2. Etowah Outfitters 10 x 10 tarp. It's polyurethane coated ripstop nylon, and is nice and light. Instead of grommets it has nylon webbing loops sewn on. If one tears out you can sew it back on in the field.

I bought the Etowah tarp so that I could have a larger shelter than my USMC field tarp, for when I go camping with my daughter. The 10 x 10 tarp will allow me to set it up with enclosed sides but still give us adequate room. I brought it yesterday to try setting it up. If I was planning to spend the night I'd rig it so that the sides touched the ground, to block as much wind as possible. This pitch would work to protect you from rain pretty well, however. There was plenty of room underneath it for me and my gear.

3. Etekcity canister stove. Ten bucks on Amazon Prime and it works great for boiling water. I used it with my Stanley cookset to boil water for my Mountain House chili mac & beef lunch, and a cup of coffee. I've lit it a few times and each time, the built in piezo igniter started it on the first click. I don't know how well it'll hold up in the long run but for an occasional use unit, it looks like it'll do the trick.

4. Stanley 24 oz. Adventure Camp Cook Set. Well made except for the plastic tab handle on the lid. I previously replaced that with a stainless steel key ring. I didn't use the plastic cups that came with it. I'd left them home so I could store the stove, a bandana, and a fuel canister inside the pot. An Olicamp or GSI cup will nest over the outside. It is too tall and narrow for eating from, but it's good for boiling water on a canister stove. It has graduations stamped into the side for measuring water.

The foam pad was from Dick's Sporting Goods. It was good for kneeling on, but next time I'll schlep my REI camp chair, which is a lot easier to sit down on or get up from.

I made myself a cup o' joe after lunch using a Folger's coffee single. It's basically a tea bag, but with coffee. I'd rate it as better than instant coffee but not as good as coffee made using a drip, French press, or percolator. However, it's very convenient.

Finally, I practiced a little bit of fire starting. Pic of the ashes before I doused them:

FT-817 Legs

The Yaesu FT-817 is a great all band, all mode QRP rig, but one feature it lacks is a set of legs to prop it up so the face is at a good viewing angle. My previous solution was a stand made from a CD jewel case. A nicer fix is to add folding legs.

Back on October 17th, I ordered a set of "Black Edition Carbon Fiber Sport Legs" from eBay seller radioshackus (not to be confused with Radio Shack). Anyway, they arrived today from Hong Kong and I installed them tonight.

They came sans instructions but after looking at the pic on the eBay listing I figured it out. I'll note that if you get these legs or something similar, you will need a good, properly fitting Phillips head screwdriver to remove the OEM Yaesu screws holding on the carry strap brackets. They are in tight.

A couple of pics of the legs as now installed on my radio:

If you prefer to order FT-817 legs from a US vendor, see here. Note that while the seller is American, these are made in Germany.

Compared with an external stand, the folding legs are a lot more convenient and add no noticeable weight to the radio.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Tramontina Bolo Machete from Baryonyx Knife Company

This week I picked up a Tramontina bolo machete from the Baryonyx Knife Company. For an extra $6.00, I paid for the "Special Grade" treatment, which involves:

  • Flush the scales with the tang
  • Finish the edge to a thin convex which is brought all the way to the point
  • Grind the spine square for tinder shaving and fire steel striking
  • Shape the tip to a fine point (as much as is possible for a bolo!)

Since machetes generally come dull from the factory, I felt that six bucks was a more than reasonable price to have it pre-sharpened, not to mention the handle and spine work.

Baryonyx performs a 7-point checkup on the knives they sell, and the owner also included a P-38 can opener as a gift.

As you can see, it came with the edge taped over, then packed in a USPS box. It did not come with a sheath, as is typical for most machetes.

When it arrived the bolo was able to shave the hair on my arm, the handle was flush with the tang and based on the smell, it appears that Baryonyx applied a light coat of boiled linseed oil to the wood.

Specs for the bolo are:
  • Overall Length: 19 & 1/2"
  • Blade Length: 14 & 1/2"
  • Steel: 1070 High Carbon
  • Thickness: 1.25mm
  • Weight: 11 oz.
After my initial inspection I took it outside to trim back some branches coming over my back fence. It cut through several thin branches with little effort and this thicker one that was overhead took only a few whacks.

Putting a pointed end on a stick, e.g. for use as a spear or in a trap, or for making a tent stake was easy.

The edge handled more delicate work peeling bark, but I found the bolo awkward for this sort of task.

After chopping back several branches, putting points on a few sticks, and peeling some bark the bolo could still shave.

Since it required two hands I couldn't get a picture, but I did try using the spine to scrape sparks from a ferro rod, for which it worked well.

Finally, I used it with a baton with the bolo to split some pieces of kindling off a hunk of some well-seasoned and very hard oak. 

I will probably modify the handle further so that it better fits my hand. I'll also drill a hole and add a lanyard.

The Tramontina bolo will make a good chopper for yard work and bushcraft. Based on how it chopped through hardwood, it would make a fearsome weapon as well. The "Special Grade" treatment from Baryonyx Knife Company was absolutely worth $6.00 to get a razor sharp blade out of the box, along with the reworked spine and handle.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Emberlit Wood Burning Camp Stove

Earlier this month I posted about camping stoves, including the Emberlit wood burning stove which I bought last winter, but didn’t get a chance to use it until Labor Day weekend. This is a follow up.

The stainless Emberlit weighs 11.45 oz., has a footprint of about 4.5” inches square, and is 6 inches tall. The stove walls taper so that the top is a little smaller than the bottom. I think the earliest production models did not come with the cross bars for the top, which allow you to use smaller cups on it. They also add rigidity.

On the Labor Day camping trip I used it to make coffee in my percolator and fry up some Spam.


It worked to get the coffee boiling but really isn’t ideal for use with this percolator. It really needs a wider footprint for better stability. (That’s my friend’s modified Kelly Kettle in the background. Both are sitting on top of a park-type grill he has at his place in the mountains.)

On the other hand, it worked well to fry up some Spam to go with our breakfast.


Today I decided to give it another try, this time to make some Lipton chicken noodle soup.

Here’s what it looks like unpacked, ready for assembly. As you can see, it’s still has some soot on from the camping trip but the case kept it off the rest of my gear.


And put together, loaded, ready to be lit. I wasn’t sure how much fuel I’d need to get a cup of water boiling so I prepped a good amount, which turned out to be more than required. To get the sticks going I used some dried out flower stalks from my garden, lit with a match.


Until the flower stalks burned off and the sticks ignited the Emberlit gave off quite a smoke cloud. But once the flower stalks were gone it burned cleanly with little smoke.


(This picture was actually from the second burn of the day. For the second burn I moved the stove into the shade so I could get better pictures.)

I used a 750 ml Toaks titanium pot with lid and bail to make the soup. The dimensions of the pot are 3.75” in diameter at the base by 4.375” tall, not including the lid or bail.


I’ve used this Toaks pot a few times on my last couple of camping trips, and like it a lot. It weighs only 4.7 oz. and holds a decent amount of water. If you remove the lid it’ll fit over the bottom of a 32 oz. Nalgene bottle. The bail stays upright on its own and allows you to either hang it over a fire or pick it up. The handles are robust. The lid fits well and has a little loop handle on it that can be set to stand up, so you can easily grab it, yet still folds flat.

The one cup of water took only a few minutes to start boiling.


So, I added the soup mix and in a minute or so it boiled over, even though I only had one cup of water in the pot. I took the pot off for a few seconds then set it back on the stove but off to the side a little so the soup could simmer.


I used an 8.5” long Optimus titanium spoon to stir the soup and later eat it. The long spoon is also handy for eating from Mountain House pouches.


After a few more minutes the soup was done and I had lunch. Afterwards, there were a few coals leftover in the stove. It had burned the sticks very efficiently.


As I was eating lunch my daughter wandered out and asked me to make her a cup. After finishing I was able to rekindle the flame from the coals, using some more of the dried flower stalks, some sticks, and a lot of blowing on the coals.

Compared with my first time using the stove I now have a better impression of it, based on:

  1. Using a more suitably sized cooking vessel.
  2. Having an adequate supply of fuel prepped and ready to go.

However, compared with my Kovea Spider canister stove, it’s:

  1. Dirtier (not just the stove, but the soot left on your pot).
  2. Requires more attention while you’re cooking something.
  3. Generally less convenient.

That said, it’s a very viable option for backpacking and even for emergency use. For example, charcoal briquettes are a fuel commonly found in urban and suburban areas, and for which it’s cheap and easy to store a large amount. For use in an emergency, an Emberlit would be make more efficient use of briquettes than a typical grill. I need to give this a try.

Emberlit also sells a titanium version of this model which weighs only 5.8 oz., making it even more attractive to backpackers.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Polish Lavvu Tent

After seeing previous posts about the Polish surplus rain cape/shelter half tents (AKA "lavvus") I decided to get one. It's currently hard to find them in the US, so I ordered a complete set from a Polish eBay seller on 9/8/15. It arrived yesterday here in Pennsylvania. Priced including shipping was about $70. (As of this writing Sportsmans Guide lists the Polish rain capes with an expected in-stock date of January 2016. I'm hoping to use mine before then, so I splurged.)

This is the Polish equivalent of the old US military shelter half tent pup tent, used from the Civil War up at least until the 1990s. I like the Polish setup better. It has more floor space and headroom, and each half is also intended to be used as a rain cape.

The two halves were unissued. One was dated 1974 while I couldn't find a date on the other. They had that four-decade-milsurp smell, so I washed them in warm water using Fel's Naptha Soap, and ran them through the dryer on medium heat. I was hoping that this would also tighten the weave of the canvas to make them more weatherproof.

I set up the lavvu in my backyard this afternoon with the help of my 11 year old daughter Amanda.

Rolled up next to a common rubber mallet for scale:

Unrolled, showing the collapsable aluminum poles and stakes. One pole in each set has the smaller end plugged, while one has a removable plug in the base. The former is used for the top while the latter is the base. One of the top poles has a small split but it shouldn't affect the function.

The stakes are curved so that when stored inside one of the pole sections they don't rattle. Unfortunately, the stakes are flimsy and don't hold well. Also, one half came short one stake so to set up the tent we borrowed a peg from my daughter's Walmart dome tent. After setting up the tent and deciding that the supplied pegs suck, we ran out to REI and bought some replacement pegs made from steel, and a bag to hold them.

The new stakes are a lot more robust, hold better, and still fit through the grommets on the lavvu. They were a buck each, plus $4.95 for the carrying bag.

To setup the tent, we first buttoned one side together and laid it out on the ground. It looks like a milsurp Pac Man.

Then stake out a couple opposite sides and then put the assembled pole up, and put in the remaining stakes. One person could do it alone but having a helper makes it easier.

Hold off on driving the stakes all the way home until you have all of them where you want them. You want the tent as taut as possible, to maximize interior space and help rain run off. It could be a little tauter in this pic.

Note that I pitched the tent with the extra cape found on each half inside, opposite of how you'd wear one half as rain cape. This way, the arm holes will be more water tight.

I also tried it with leaving the flap open.

With an 11 year old for scale.

It was nice and dark inside which is great if you want to sleep in. A lantern could be hung from the center pole. With the door flap closed there isn't much ventilation and it quickly began to get uncomfortably warm inside. (It was about 77*F and sunny.) On the other hand, this should be a great tent for cool/cold weather. A candle lantern suspended from the pole would help to take the chill off if in wasn't too cold.

I've seen several places on the 'net where guys have made small wood stoves from .50 caliber ammo cans and run the chimney through a stove jack out one of the arm holes. That would be nice in subfreezing temps but would make it a one-person tent.

The lavvu has plenty of space for me and one kid, plus some gear. I'm 5'4" and can stretch out fully even when I'm not near the center of the tent. I think the intended use of sheltering two soldiers would be pretty cramped.

One potentially useful mod that I've seen is to sew a loop at the peak to suspend the tent from an overhead support, allowing you leave out the pole in the middle, for more room inside.

I am hoping to get it to the woods after we have a couple of frosts to kill off the creepy crawlies.

Pine Tar Soap as Insect Repellent

Before the advent of DEET, woodsmen used a variety of concoctions as insect repellents. Even today, many people don't like to use DEET since among other things, it'll damage plastic.

In Woodcraft and Camping, "Nessmuk" (George Washington Sears) described his bug dope" as follows:

It was published in Forest and Stream in the summer of 1880, and again in '83. It has been pretty widely quoted and adopted, and I have never known it to fail: Three ounces pine tar, two ounces castor oil, one ounce pennyroyal oil. Simmer all together over a slow fire, and bottle for use. You will hardly need more than a two-ounce vial full in a season. One ounce has lasted me six weeks in the woods. Rub it in thoroughly and liberally at first, and after you have established a good glaze, a little replenishing from day to day will be sufficient. And don't fool with soap and towels where insects are plenty. A good safe coat of this varnish grows better the longer it is kept on—and it is cleanly and wholesome. If you get your face and hands crocky or smutty about the camp-fire, wet the corner of your handkerchief and rub it off, not forgetting to apply the varnish at once, wherever you have cleaned it off. Last summer I carried a cake of soap and a towel in my knapsack through the North Woods for a seven weeks' tour, and never used either a single time. When I had established a good glaze on the skin, it was too valuable to be sacrificed for any weak whim connected with soap and water. When I struck a woodland hotel, I found soap and towels plenty enough. I found the mixture gave one's face the ruddy tanned look supposed to be indicative of health and hard muscle. A thorough ablution in the public wash basin reduced the color, but left the skin very soft and smooth; in fact, as a lotion for the skin it is excellent. It is a soothing and healing application for poisonous bites already received.

Nowadays, I'd avoid adding the pennyroyal oil, as it is known to be a liver toxin.

However, it may not be necessary to make up a solution, since pine tar by itself can do a pretty good job of repellent biting insects. Yesterday I gave Granpa's Pine Tar Soap as test as insect repellent, during the opening day of archery deer season here in Pennsylvania.

When I took my morning shower I used the pine tar soap as both shampoo and to wash my skin.

The temps ranged from the mid-60s up to the 80s in the afternoon. There were plenty of mosquitoes and gnats flying around but none of them would land on me, except for a single skeeter that landed on my pant leg, where I squashed her (only female mosquitoes bite).

It remains to be seen if the pine tar soap repels biting flies, but for mosquitoes and gnats it works. I may even wash the sniper veil I use to break up my outline in it, and maybe some clothes. You smell like a campfire after washing with pine tar soap, but that beats getting bitten.

Monday, September 14, 2015

A DIY Programming Cable for Baofeng Radios

One problem which has plagued many owners of Baofeng radios has been getting the programming cable, or more specifically the drivers, working properly under Windows. This may be a viable solution:

I mostly use a Mac to program my radio so it hasn't been much of a problem for me, but I have had to deal with troubleshooting this on a friend's PC, and it was a major PITA. Miklor's page on troubleshooting the drivers has been the best that I've found.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Camp Stove

Another piece of kit that I got to try on this past weekend's camping trip was the Emberlit stove that I bought last Winter, but has since languished in my camping gear box.

(Picture borrowed from Amazon.)

The Emberlit stove is well made from stainless steel sheet metal that takes down into a flat package, and comes with a nice little carrying case. Emberlit also sells a titanium model, and a smaller version as well.

It can burn pretty much any solid fuel and is also usable as a windscreen/pot holder for alcohol burners like a Trangia stove.

I used it Sunday morning to heat my percolator for coffee. It burns twigs very efficiently down to almost no ash, but it requires constant attention. I.e., you need to keep feeding it fuel, so you should have a good stack prepped beforehand. It also gives your pot a good, thick coat of soot.

I want to try the Emberlit out with charcoal briquets. I think it would burn them very efficiently and would probably require less constant attention.

In my opinion, it would be good as a backpacking stove if you're going into an area where there will be a lot of fuel that you can scrounge, or as a backup. For truck camping, a butane/propane canister stove like my Kovea Spider is a lot more convenient. For example, on Monday, I set my percolator on the Kovea and was free to do other breakfast prep while it was bringing the coffee to a boil. Likewise, when we needed hot water for washing dishes I was able to get it ready with the Kovea while I worked on other task. I really like the Kovea Spider.

Another stove we got to use was a butane powered, single burner unit like this one. He bought it from a local restaurant supply store for use during power outages, because it's so simple to use and the butane cartridges are inexpensive. (Many local Asian restaurants use them for on-table fondue-type meals.) The low, flat, wide design is very stable, important with a bunch of kids around.

It worked well for sautéing vegetables and frying bacon, but requires you to provide a windscreen, since it's really designed for inside use. The downside with these butane cartridges is that they'd be useless in cold weather.

There is a huge variety of camp stoves available. Evaluate your needs as to fuel and convenience, and choose accordingly.

ParaCord Spool Tool

This past weekend I was out in the woods and had the chance to use a recent addition to my camping gear, a ParaCord Spool Tool.

(Picture borrowed from Amazon.)

It's a flat piece of plastic designed to allow you to neatly keep up to 100 feet of parachute cord and has a built-in cutter. The fingers in the bottom center of the picture holds a mini-Bic lighter for melting the ends of pieces that you cut, and the slots on the left allow you to draw the molten ends through to make them neat, instead of blobs.

It is a clever and very convenient piece of gear. I needed to cut some paracord this weekend and this made it easy to do without having to fish out a knife and lighter.