Sunday, September 17, 2017

First Use of the Emtech ZM-2 Antenna Tuner

HF propagation conditions currently suck, but I wanted to try out the Emtech ZM-2 anyway. My first use would be with a random length antenna.

Earlier today I stopped at Harbor Freight and picked up a one pound spool of aluminum welding wire for ten bucks before the 20% off coupon. We've used such welding wire on our camping trips upstate with good results. In fact, my friend who owns the property we camp on built an 80M dipole with it and strung it about 5 feet off the ground, supporting it with fence insulators. Reception on that antenna is excellent and he's made some contacts as well. It's been there over a year and is still usable.



To support my random wire antenna today I used my 31 foot Jackite kite pole with about 50 feet of the welding wire. I also ran a ground line about 25 to 30 feet and held it down with a big screwdriver as a stake.




The wire was so light that the tip of the mast didn't noticeably droop. The antenna was running approximately East-West, and the ground ran out towards the NE.


Aluminum welding wire is light and easy to work with. As seen with my friend's 80M dipole, it'll last long if its not under much strain. It's cheap enough that if you needed to abandon a random wire antenna made from it, that wouldn't cause concern.

My back patio station today was my 2013 MacBook Pro running FLDIGI and WSJT-X, the ZM-2, Yaesu FT-817ND, and Signalink USB digital interface. I also had a CAT cable for rig control.

I followed the instructions in this video to work the tuner. I found it difficult to see the red LED even though it was overcast, so I need to verify that it's in fact working. Maybe it was luck, but by tuning for maximum noise I really didn't have to tweak anything. When I hit transmit, the rig didn't complain about high SWR.

I briefly tried 40M but had issues getting the antenna to tune on that band. It might be the length of the wire, but again I had issues seeing the LED SWR indicator light up.

As I mentioned, HF propagation is really in the crapper. Before setting up out back, I'd done some work inside using my Icom 7200 and the Ultimax 100 end fed on my roof. The random wire seemed more sensitive, based on the number of PSK31 stations that I saw. However, 20M was mostly dead.

After spotting a number of other stations on 20M PSK31 I closed out FLDIGI and fired up WSJT-X to do some WSPR. On 5 watts, I was in fact getting out.




The screenshot is from WSPR Watch running on my iPhone

This table shows the WSPR stations I received in about 10 minutes of listening.


Timestamp Call MHz SNR Drift Grid Pwr Reporter RGrid km az
 2017-09-17 19:28   8P9HA   14.097165   -17   0   GK03fb   0.1   KB3MNK   FN20ic   3378   336 
 2017-09-17 19:28   K7POF   14.097124   -8   0   DM34sr   10   KB3MNK   FN20ic   3312   68 
 2017-09-17 19:28   W6WGF   14.097119   -7   1   EM12rw   5   KB3MNK   FN20ic   2053   61 
 2017-09-17 19:28   VE4WSC   14.097103   -12   3   EN19ku   5   KB3MNK   FN20ic   2019   114 
 2017-09-17 19:26   WA5IWB   14.097094   -14   0   EM10qh   1   KB3MNK   FN20ic   2215   55 
 2017-09-17 19:26   K7RE   14.097146   -10   0   DN84am   1   KB3MNK   FN20ic   2395   92 
 2017-09-17 19:26   K5FRT   14.097012   -21   0   EM10td   0.2   KB3MNK   FN20ic   2206   54 
 2017-09-17 19:24   8P9HA   14.097137   -19   0   GK03fb   0.1   KB3MNK   FN20ic   3378   336 
 2017-09-17 19:24   K6KWI   14.097060   -21   0   DM13cu   20   KB3MNK   FN20ic   3802   67 
 2017-09-17 19:24   N0IJK   14.097052   -19   0   EL19ao   5   KB3MNK   FN20ic   2365   54

I am cautiously optimistic about the Emtech ZM-2 tuner but I need to figure out why I'm not seeing the LED SWR indicator light. My next experiment with it will be with a dipole to be constructed using some 450 Ohm window line that I bought yesterday at Ham Radio Outlet.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Emtech ZM-2 Antenna Tuner

Last Saturday I ordered a pre-built Emtech ZM-2 antenna tuner with UHF connectors and it arrived today.  I wanted something a bit smaller and lighter than my LDG YT-100 for use with my Yaesu FT-817ND. Additionally, I wanted a tuner that would work with either coax cable fed antennas, balanced line antennas, or even just a random length wire with a ground.

Unlike the LDG, the Emtech unit is a manual tuner using a Z-match circuit. However, based on several videos I've watched and reviews I've read, it's quick to tune and gives you a wide choice with antennas and feedlines. (See here for a good discussion of Z-match circuits.)

Weather permitting, I am hoping to try it out this coming weekend. In the interim, here's a good video from W2AEW on how to operate the ZM-2.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

NOAA Radio Propagation Dashboard

Currently, HF propagation is terrible, largely due to solar activity. This NOAA Radio Propagation Dashboard helps explain why.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Kel-Tec RDB Field Stripped

This afternoon I took a few minutes, field stripped the Kel-Tec RDB, and took some pictures. The rifle's design is different enough so that I think you'll find them of interest. Clickenzee to embiggenate.



Slightly closer view of the barrel and bolt groups:



Bolt, bolt face, and extractor. Note the dual ejector plungers on the bolt face.





Piston head. It's a little hard to see but there is a weld blob on the top of the piston. Some earlier rifles left the factory without the weld, which leads to malfunctions.



The gas system.



Bottom of the handguard, showing the molded-in M-1913 rail. I have a Rogers Rail Light mounted.


Disassembly to this stage requires you to push out three takedown pins, plus one pin in the bolt carrier group. If you take down the BCG be careful. The firing pin is spring loaded and if you fail to contain it, it will launch itself several feet. (Yeah, it happened to me the first time I stripped the BCG.)

Scoped the RDB

Yesterday I decided to move a scope I already owned over to the Kel-Tec RDB I bought Friday night. My Colt AR15 6721 has been relegated to backup status and was wearing an IOR Valdada 3x25mm CQB scope.

The IOR scope is built with Schott glass from Germany, has very clear optics, and a nice reticle. The 3x magnification works well from close-up to my club's longest range, 200 yards. It's also built like a brick shithouse, so I am not going to worry about BUIS.



Range report to follow as soon as possible.


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Picked Up a Kel-Tec RDB Rifle

I did some trading last night at Surplus City and came home with a Kel-Tec RDB 5.56mm bullpup rifle. (I actually went there with the intention of ordering an FN PS90. Maybe next time.)  SC was asking $950. I traded in my CZ-52, Bulgarian Makarov, Ruger SP101, Pietta SAA, and Springfield XD-9, none of which I'd fired in years. He gave me $1000 trade in value, so I also got 500 rounds of CCI .22 Short HV to run through my Remington 550-1.





Kel-Tec gives the OAL as 27.3" with its 17.3" barrel. The weight unloaded is 6.7 lbs. The barrel is 1:7" twist. There's a long, T-marked M-1913 Picatinny rail on top but it comes without any sights. I am debating what kind of optic to mount, but it will probably be something along the lines of a 1-4x variable, not just a red dot.


The RDB is a new design, although the bolt itself is very Stoner-ish and it takes AR15 magazines. It came with one 20-round MagPul P-Mag, an owner's manual, and a sling.

There are numerous sling mounting points for the hook-style attachments. In the pic above I had it mounted as a 2-point sling but I later switched it to a single-point using the swivel located in front of the middle takedown pin.

It's a long-stroke, gas piston design. The gas is adjustable to account for variations in ammo or the amount of crud in the gun. However, reviews I've seen state that very little fouling gets into the action. Empties eject out the bottom, through a port behind the magazine well.

The action is very simple and breaks down with only something to drive out the takedown pins. (They may loosen up over time.)

As a southpaw, the best part to me is that it's totally ambidextrous except for the HK MP5-ish charging handle. It can be reversed without tools. All I had to do was field strip the rifle and then put it in the other way when I reassembled. My initial impression of the rifle is that the ergonomics are outstanding.

Because of the long linkage between the trigger and the rest of the firing mechanism, most bullpups have lackluster trigger pulls. Not so in the case of the RDP. It's actually pretty good with some takeup but it's only around 5 pounds.

Between the adjustable gas system, the lack of fouling in the action, and having the ejection port on the bottom of the rifle so gas gets vented downward, it's supposed to be an awesome suppressor host.

In typical Kel-Tec fashion, they are scarce as hen's teeth, though. Kel-Tec announced it a few years ago but they just started shipping in 2016. They are still really hard to find in shops although there are a bunch on Gunbroker.

MAC posted a nice, in-depth review of a pre-production sample on YouTube in 2015:




I should be able to take it out in the next week or two and will post a follow up after I am able to shoot it.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

BBC: Why One Man Left Silicon Valley and Setup a Survival Camp

BBC News published this video, which I think is worth watching. It's only a few minutes long. (I couldn't figure out a way to embed it.) H/T to Tamara on Facebook.

The BBC reporter's reaction to the AR15 was a bit stereotypical, but amusing.

As someone who works in information technology and who is seeing the push to automate more and more, I don't think he's completely off-base.

Heck if I know the solution, though.

Mossberg 500 Super Bantam Shotgun

My 13 year old daughter wants to come hunting with me this year and needed a suitable shotgun. Today, we went to the local Dick's Sporting Goods and picked up this 20 gauge Mossberg 500 Super Bantam for ~$325 + PA's 6% sales tax.


I actually had her try out the Mossberg 510 youth model in .410 bore but she's already outgrown it. That's good because the 20 gauge will throw significantly more shot and 20 gauge slugs are adequate for deer.

Both the stock and forearm are synthetic. The stock is currently setup with a 12" length of pull but it included a spacer to increase it to 13". If she needs a longer LOP it will accept adult-sized stocks. The stock has a good, thick recoil pad on it.

The 22" barrel is threaded for choke tubes. It came with the modified tube in place. Using the included wrench, I swapped that out for improved cylinder. It also comes with a full choke tube. The barrel is topped with a white bead up front and a brass middle bead.

At 5.25 lbs. unloaded it won't be hard for her to carry afield. Heck, that weighs less than her school bag on most days. The stock has a place to attach a sling swivel but the gun didn't come with a stud for the front. So, I found one on eBay and it should hopefully be here by the end of the week. It will thread into an existing hole on the barrel mounting screw. I also ordered an inexpensive sling with swivels and an Outers cleaning kit.

The magazine came plugged so that the only way to load it was singly through the ejection port. The manual states that once your new shooter learns gun safety you can shorten the plug (a dowel) to 9", to allow up to two shells in the magazine. I did so, since my kid is not new to shooting. (Frankly, if they aren't safe to handle a manually operated gun with 3 shells in it, they aren't safe to handle a single shot.)

The unplugged magazine capacity is six 2-3/4" shells. I have some Federal 20 gauge #3 buckshot with which I'll pattern it. It would make a nice home defense shotgun.

Aside from hunting, this will be a good shotgun to introduce my daughter to trap and sporting clays.

Of note, Mossberg has a similar gun in their economy-oriented Maverick line. However, spending more money on the 500 was worth it to us because the Maverick uses a right-handed cross-bolt safety instead of the Mossberg's ambidextrous tang safety. I'm a lefty and my kid is left-eye dominant, and hence shoots portside.

I'll post a follow up after we get the chance to shoot it.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

More Range Time with the Ruger SR22

My daughter and I hit the range yesterday and brought along "her" Ruger SR22. I put 20 CCI SV rounds through it.  She shot it unsuppressed, so I had her use Remington Golden Bullet high speed brass-plated hollow points.

Golden Bullets don't have a very good reputation for quality but as of a couple years ago Remington seems to have improved them. They run well and give good accuracy in my Remington Nylon 77 and 550-1, so I wanted to see how the Ruger would handle them.

My kid put at least 150 Golden Bullets through the Ruger. We had one failure to go into battery that was resolved by bumping the back of the slide, and one misfire. After trying a second hit, then ejecting the misfire and rotating it 180 degrees, it went off. This isn't unusual with cheap bulk .22 ammo.

I'm happy to see the Ruger function well with the Golden Bullets. They were one of the few types of .22 ammo I was able to lay in a good supply of during the 0bama years.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Ruger SR22 Pistol

I've recently been considering acquiring a second compact .22 autoloading pistol. A few years ago I picked up an Israeli surplus Beretta Model 71 Jaguar, which is a really nice shooter. However, factory magazines are unobtanium and if something breaks, I'm probably SOL.

This Father's Day I was given $100 in Cabela's gift cards, which I used last week towards the purchase of a Ruger SR22. The specific model I got is the 3604, which sports 3.5" threaded barrel.

About 5 or 6 years ago, Ruger introduced the SR22 which is a small DA/SA .22 semiauto pistol styled much like the Walther P22 (which in turn looks like a scaled-down P99). The Ruger has a much better reputation for reliability and durability, according to what I've seen online.

First some stats, then shooting impressions.


  • Action: Semiautomatic, blowback, with double action/single action trigger.
  • Safety: Combination safety/decocker
  • Hammer: External
  • Barrel: Stainless steel, 3.5" long with muzzle threaded to accept a 1/2x28 coupler*.
  • Sights: Three-dot dovetailed into the slide. Rear is adjustable for windage and elevation.
  • Weight: 17.5 oz.
  • OAL: 6.4"
  • Height" 4.9"
  • Width: 0.97"
  • Frame: Polymer with interchangeable grip sleeves.
  • Slide material: Aircraft aluminum, anodized black.


From Ruger's North Carolina factory, the pistol shipped with a chamber flag in place, two 10-round magazines, two extra magazine baseplates to replace the pinky rests installed on the mags, a lock, the thread coupler, and a wrench for the coupler. A thread protector was screwed onto the barrel. It came off with moderate force using the wrench.

It also shipped with two interchangeable grip sleeves. Mine was fitted with the one that has a palm swell. I have fairly small hands and it fits me well. My 13 year old daughter also liked how the gun felt.

And of course, it came with an owner's manual, literature about the NRA, and a couple Ruger stickers.

Before shooting the Ruger I field stripped and lubricated it with some FP-10, since it was bone dry.

Field stripping and reassembly is straightforward. Certainly a lot easier than my Mark III 22/45 Lite. To field strip, unload the pistol, drop the hammer using the decocker, and then open the takedown latch in front of the trigger. The slide can then be pulled up and to the rear, off the frame rails, and then slipped forward over the muzzle. Note that the thread coupler has a flange around it that will prevent the slide from slipping forward over the barrel. If the coupler is installed it must be removed prior to field stripping.

The magazines are easy to load. Each has a thumb button to aid depressing the follower.

I haven't shot it for groups yet but did get a couple hundred rounds through it while plinking at a few old hard drives and a self-healing rubber target. The first 95 were CCI Standard Velocity rounds shot through my Form 1 suppressor. I also put a lone CCI CB Long through the can, which as you'd imagine was very quiet. The remainder were Federal Automatch high speeds shot unsuppressed. The gun had no malfunctions.

A primary reason for buying the Ruger was to get a pistol that my 13 year old daughter could comfortably hold and shoot. It excels at that and she's trying to claim it as her own after shooting it this weekend. Even with my silencer she's able to hold it steady and frequently hit our plinking targets. My next step will be to get her shooting at paper.



Incidentally, being able to shoot it suppressed is a major advantage when training a new shooter. My can is hearing safe when fired outdoors with standard velocity ammo. Being able to give instruction in a normal conversational voice instead of having to shout to be heard is damn nice. Contact your reps and let's get the Hearing Protection Act passed!

My initial impression, along with my daughter's and that of my friend who shot the SR22 are all extremely favorable. I hope to run a few more different kinds of ammo through it soon, and shoot it on paper to check group size and fine tune the zero (which is pretty much on already).


















*Most modern shooters insist that they be referred to as "suppressors." Their inventor, Hiram Maxim, named them "silencers." Under the National Firearms Act, they are "silencers," even if "suppressor" is a more technically accurate term.

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: http://zenstoves.net/Fuels.htm) 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.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Russian Surplus Veshmeshok Pack

For some reason I recently got the hankering to try out a Russian veshmeshok ("kit bag") as a daypack. The veshmeshok is a very basic 30L (~1800 cubic inch) pack made from canvas, first adopted by the Imperial Russian army during the 19th Century. During the Inter-War period the Soviet Army adopted a more modern design, but placed the veshmeshok back into production during WW2, since it is so simple to produce. Production continued into the 90s, but I found one Russian web store which sells a "modern" version made of a Cordura-like nylon in camoflauge.

The veshmeshok is not much more than a canvas sack with a single outside pocket and four web straps that allow you to carry a rolled up greatcoat or bedroll. The top has a drawstring closure, probably made from hemp. But the single most distinguishing feature of the veshmeshok is the suspension, such as it is. There is one continuous shoulder strap which is also used as the closure for the top of the bag. The strap is 1.5" wide and lightly padded. It is attached at the bottom corners of the pack.

Lars of the Survival Russia YouTube channel uses a veshmeshok as his scouting pack and has a good video about it, here, in which he demonstrates how to rig the bag for carrying.  (Check out the rest of his videos, too. They're awesome.)

If you're in the US, veshmeshoks are easily available on eBay from sellers in the former USSR, but they're also available on Amazon Prime, which is the route I went.

My veshmeshok came neatly folded inside a surprisingly small box, complete with Soviet Surplus Smell. The date stamp inside the bag is faded but I think it says 1977. It's in unissued condition. The canvas is thinner than I thought it would be but it should be more than durable enough for my needs.

Because the veshmeshok is basically a 45cm x 67cm sack, you need to be careful loading it so that it doesn't turn into a ball, or you have things poking you in the back. So, the first thing I put in mine when I transferred the contents of my Hill People Gear Tarahumara over to the vesh was my Z-Lite seat pad. I unfolded the Z-Lite and used it as a back pad inside the pack.

Heavier items went in next, including an Esbit cookset and two Nalgene Oasis 1 quart canteens, one in a USGI cup. Then I put in my first aid kit, cordage kit, brew kit, TP with hand sanitizer and a trowel, a pair of gloves, and my BCUSA MEST poncho. Some disposable hand and toe warmers went into the outside pocket, along with a fleece beanie. My puukko got attached to one of the bedroll straps. Weight of the pack thus loaded was about 16 pounds.

I tried out the veshmeshok on a short hike yesterday. It was surprisingly comfortable with this load, since it's not much more than a string bag.



Adding a day's rations, another quart of water, and some kind of blanket or shelter would bump this up to around 25 pounds. It wouldn't be so comfortable at that weight, but the Russian Army has never been overly concerned with the comfort of its soldiers.

The short length of the shoulder straps was surprising. I am not a big guy although I have broad shoulders for my 5'4" height. With the shoulder straps set to their longest length they're just long enough for me to wear with a winter coat on. To make it a little more comfortable to carry, I added a loop of paracord at the midpoint of the strap and used that to close the sack, and put the pack into carry mode. I got that idea from this thread on BCUSA.

Additionally, the sternum strap is too short for me to make any use of it. It would need to be at least another 8" longer to be really useful. I may sew on some webbing to lengthen it.

You can fit a surprising amount of gear into a veshmeshok. For example, see this page at Operation Eastwind which shows the loadout for a Soviet reenactor.

The veshmeshok won't replace any of my modern packs but it may see use when I feel like going retro. One project I may try is pairing the veshmeshok with a Roycroft pack frame.