Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Qualcomm Stadium Evacuation Center AAR

The following email is reposted with the author's permission. It was originally sent to the Yahoogroups misc_survivalism_moderated group by mjgarcia -at- It is unedited with the exception of slight formatting revisions.

From: mjgarcia -at-
Subject: [MSM] Qualcomm Stadium Evacuation Center AAR
Date: October 30, 2007 5:04:06 AM EDT

I don't know how valuable this will be to those out there. I mostly lurk here, and occasionally chuckle at the endless debates over calibers and the ideal handgun (which to settle that dispute...the ideal handgun is whatever gun you have in your hand that you can use with proficiency).

I spent a couple of days working at the main material distribution center at Qualcomm Stadium during the recent fires there. I live in Phoenix, but lived in San Diego for close to a decade and have family there.

My primary bug out vehicle as well as my daily driver is a modified 1991 VW Vanagon with the full camper interior. I've rebuilt and improved just about everything on it and added a fair amount to increase its reliability. I also use it to do a lot of camping
which further allows me to refine my gear and tactics. I'm very capable of being self sustaining without primary infrastructure support for extended periods.

I usually keep a notepad and pen with me and take notes constantly. I did so during this crisis. I just finished an After Action Review of my experience. Please bear in mind that these are my own limited observations. I'm sure other's experiences could be vastly

I recommend volunteering during a similar crisis, if you can, without becoming a burden. Beyond lending a helping hand, the lessons learned are considerable.

Qualcomm Stadium After Action Review


1. Help out the evacuation efforts in whatever capacity possible
2. Exercise my own bug out practices
3. Learn more about large scale disasters and evacuations


1. Be self-sustaining for whatever period needed to help out disaster relief. Initial plan was for 2 weeks minimum, limited by water. Food supplies were 4 weeks. If I find I'm getting in the way more than I'm helping, I'm leaving.
2. Support evacuation center during disaster
3. Be able to bug out of my own home within 30 minutes

What Happened?

Tuesday, October 23:
Went on-line to identify location of evacuation shelters, and print out the most current map of fires in San Diego County. Decided easiest place to start would be Qualcomm stadium. Updated my list of scanner frequencies.

Packed up van in 20 minutes. Longest item was filling up water (2-7 gallon containers). Gear was pre-packed in 4 Rubbermaid ActionPacker Storage Boxes and 1 24 gallon ActionPacker Storage Box for the food. Included a bag of work clothes prepacked for bugout. Left behind firearms, mountain bike and important documents. Was on
the fence about taking a pistol for personal protection, but decided not to run afowl of the law in California. Left the mountain bike behind because I didn't think I would be using it. Left behind the important documents because it wasn't my bug out, and I didn't want to have to leave them unsecured in my van. Going forward, I'll add a strong box to the van to secure such documents.

Left Phoenix at 11:30 pm, after filling gas tank and checking oil. Drove through the night, heading to San Diego via I-8. Monitored XM radio, channel 247, which was rebroadcasting feed from KOGO in San Diego.

Saw first glow from the fires from just west of El Centro, approximately 100 miles away. Saw first fires around Alpine, CA, just before sunrise.

Wednesday, October 24:

Arrived in El Cajon around 0630. Refueled gas tank and filled spare tanks. Called brother who lives in El Cajon to let him know how close the fires were. He's packed and ready to leave. His plan was to head East, and go to Phoenix to stay with me. Arrived at Qualcomm Stadium around 0730. Parked the van near a fenced area at the far end of the parking lot. I walked into the fenced area, and spoke to a person who appeared in
charge (carrying a clip board). After about 5 minutes of instruction, I began helping.

This was the main distribution hub for donations. The volunteers were working in one of 3 separate groups. The first was unloading donations from cars that were queued in 2 lines. Another similar group was unloading large volume donations from churches, stores,and other organizations. The second group, where I started working was taking the unloaded donations and separating them into various categories: pet food, hygiene products, snacks, staples, etc. The third group was helping the various shelters that would arrive with a U-Haul or truck to fill their orders for supplies.

It was very well organized for something so hastily put together. The man in charge was responsible for San Diego's warehousing operations.

Around 3 pm, National Guard troops showed up to provide security around our perimeter. The night before someone had cut the fence and made off with an undetermined amount of supplies. I worked throughout Wednesday into Wednesday night. I spoke with several of my family members who live in the San Diego area via cell
phone to get updates on how everyone was doing. No one had heard from my uncle who lives up in Rancho Bernardo and had to leave in a hurry. My Aunt who had to leave her home in the Vista area was OK and safe. Cellular service was spotty during the day with calls dropped and generally poor reception.

Thursday, October 25

I went back to work for a while helping to finish up organizing material. They announced that they had started clearing the stadium from the top down and that evacuees were going to be relocated to the Del Mar Fairgrounds. I was released around noon, since there were more than enough volunteers to finish up. At the Stadium they
also didn't need any more volunteers, so I left. I went to my brothers and check on other evacuation centers to see in they needed volunteers. None that I contacted needed any more help.

What worked:

1. Packing gear went smooth and fast. New collapsible handcart speeded loading of van considerably. $49 at Cabela's. Having pre-staged gear was useful
2. Bug out list. The only change to the list would be to add an American flag
3. Van ran well. No issues. Refueling before entering the effected area was a good idea. I had a range of 500 miles fully loaded. The small fan inside the van made sleeping easier.
4. The organization and teamwork at the stadium. The city and state didn't wait for federal officials to come in to `rescue' them as appeared to be the case after Katrina. By the time a federal disaster declaration was announced Wednesday, the evacuation and
distribution centers had been up and functioning for almost 72 hours.
5. Didn't need to bring firearms. There was sufficient security this time.
6. Personal hygiene planning. I used baby wipes to substitute for showers for close to 3 days. Made sure I had foot powder as well. Sunscreen helped as well as sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat.
7. Good work gloves and good work boots.
8. XM radio. I was able to determine the situation by listening to satellite radio
9. SSB radio. I spoke to a couple of truckers coming from San Diego to get first hand situation reports.
10. Scanner. I was able to program in the frequencies I needed to keep a good idea of the changing situation once I arrived in San Diego.
11. Security. In general good, especially after the National Guard showed up. But there were individuals and groups who tried to steal supplies, and some succeeded. The lighting in the parking lot helped with the sense of security. Power in the area was threatened by the fires, and had that gone down, the situation could have turned less secure pretty quickly. The distribution center was running off a stand alone generator, so I would have been able to gauge the situation and decide what to do in a lit and somewhat secure environment.
12. The wind changed direction on Wednesday. If it hadn't, things would have gotten worse. Potentially much worse.

What didn't work:

1. Mattress. After working long and hard, sleeping was difficult. I added a 1.5" memory foam mattress cover after I left, and spent a blissful night sleeping on that. Great improvement.
2. Air quality. The small paper face masks provided may have helped a little, but not much, especially with physical activity. Better face mask to filter out junk would be a major improvement in this scenario.
3. Noise and light. Trying to sleep was difficult in a lit parking lot full of activity. Ear plugs and eye covers would have helped.

What to do differently next time:

1. Calling tree. Within my own family it was difficult ascertaining everyone's status.
2. Backup calling tree.
3. Add a lockbox to the van to store important documents
4. Consider a satellite phone. Cellular phones weren't doing so well and were overloaded. Expensive but adds a layer of communication.
5. Add more solar panels. If this had gone beyond 72 hours, I would have had to run the engine to recharge the batteries, wasting fuel. The single solar panel wouldn't be adequate to maintain the batteries, and doesn't provide redundancy.

Several other thoughts:

While I was able to get out of my apartment in around 20 minutes, my uncle had less than a minute to get out. He had already loaded his car, so was able to take the most important items with him. His house wasn't severely damaged, except for smoke damage and ash everywhere. My aunt who also evacuated was able to return to her home Thursday, which wasn't seriously threatened. My brother's house in El Cajon wasn't affected and he wasn't forced to evacuate. I returned to Phoenix on Saturday. The 92 year old grandmother of the wife of one of my technicians here was evacuated to Qualcomm Stadium. They weren't able to contact her for several days. Again, a good calling tree would have helped me find that information out. I could have found her and relayed information.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Remington Woodsman 1985 Bullet Knife

This afternoon after getting errands done, I spent some time out back with my Remington Woodsman Bullet Knife. This is one of the limited edition Bullet Knives that Remington has been putting out since 1982. I bought it new in 1985 (the year of issue) and still have the original box and papers. I paid about $30 and after some googling, it looks like they're going for around $100 in 2007. The rest of my investments should do so well (not that I plan on ever selling it.)

When I bought it, the Remington's 440 stainless blades were butterknife dull. I suspect that not much attention was paid to putting a good edge on at the factory, since Remington figured that most of them would be safe queens for collectors. With a lot of elbow grease I put sharp edges on both blades. I touched them up a bit today before going out back.

The knife is 4.25" long closed, with one clip and one spey blade. The scales are made from Delrin. This is a good sized knife, pretty large for a folder but not too big to keep in a pocket. The spey blade is designed for castrating bulls (!) but is also very useful for skinning game. The clip is a good general purpose blade. This pattern with a clip and a spey hinged on opposite ends is sometimes called a "Moose" pattern.

One advantage of a two-bladed design like this is that you can keep one edge razor sharp in case you need a super sharp blade, and rely on the other edge for normal use. Case currently makes a similar knife with chrome vanadium steel, for those who prefer to not use a collector's item and/or who don't like stainless steel knives. I think I see one of them in my future. ;)

Combine a Woodsman or a Case Moose with a 4" or 5" fixed blade knife and a double-bitted hatchet, and you've got a "Nessmuk" combination. I'm nowhere near the woodsman that George Washington Sears was, but I'd feel very well equipped heading into the woods with the Woodsman or a Case Moose, my Victorinox SwissTool RS, Becker BK7, and my Valiant Golok. (OK, I cheated and added one more knife than Nessmuk took, and my fixed blade is longer than his. Sue me.)

The Woodsman has a good heft and feels nice in the hand. It sliced up some hardwood to make fuzz sticks, and shaved some fatwood (the small yellow curls in the center of the first picture) for tinder easily. The thin blades would handle slicing food very well.

After I had a fire going I relaxed with a bowl of Old Ironsides Latakia.

I bought the tobacco mainly because I thought the tin would make a good container for a personal survival kit. The Latakia was nice though, and I plan on going back to see if the shop has any more. The tin was vacumed sealed and to open it I had to pry open the side a little with the reamer on my Victorinox Farmer to let in some air. Neither I, my dad, nor my brother could unscrew it. I figure sealed like that, it should last damn near forever.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

More Fire Starting in the Dark and Wet

Last month, I wrote about trying to start fires when it's dark and wet. I did a bit more experimentation along those lines last night, although with less success. Actually, no success. The last time I tried it, my wood was wet but it wasn't raining much. Last night, the rain was coming down harder.

My choice of tinder last night was some fatwood. I bought a box of this the other night at Lowe's, where it's stocked near the barbecue and fireplace stuff. I've read about fatwood in several postings on the BladeForums Wilderness & Survival Skills forum, and wanted to try it out.

Fatwood is pine with a higher than normal resin or pitch content. Pine pitch is very flammable. The reason fatwood has a higher pitch content is that it's from a tree that died violently, whether from a lightning strike or being cut down. Until the roots die, they'll continue to pump pitch up into the stump, saturating it with the flammable resin.

Fatwood is water resistant, cheap, and burns extremely well. When shaved into a fuzz with a knife, it ignites easily with sparks from a ferrocerium rod. At least long as it isn't soaking wet.

Before trying to get a fire going in the rain, I made a small pile of fatwood fuzz immediately outside my front door, where it was sheltered from the rain. After a few strokes on the ferro rod it ignited and burned for about 30 seconds. If I had dry secondary tinder and fuel to work with, I would easily have been able to start a fire.

A little while later I went out back with a couple pieces of fatwood, my golok, and my Victorinox Farmer to which is attached a Countycomm Peanut lighter and a Photon Microlight II. I also put in my pockets a ferro rod, a box of REI Stormproof matches, and a tealight.

I started by splitting slivers of wood from a piece of dry firewood taken out of my shed. I gathered these on a garbage bag to keep them off the wet ground and tried to shield them from the rain with my body. Next I made up a pile of fatwood fuzz.

As quickly as possible I made a fire lay with the fuzz sitting on top of a dry piece of bark, surrounded by the dry wood slivers.

Unfortunately, the whole fire lay quickly got wet. Also, the ferro rod would no longer throw sparks once wet. I tired the Peanut lighter but as soon as a raindrop hit the top it went out and was too wet to start until I later took it in and dried it out. The one reliable spark source I had were the REI matches. But by this time all my once dry tinder and kindling was sopping wet. Not to mention I was soaked.

Another problem I had was that as I tried to get sparks from the ferro rod after it got wet, a couple times I disturbed my fire lay, getting it wetter.

Since the fatwood worked when it wasn't too wet I do plan to add a couple pieces to my possibles bag to complement the 35mm film canister of Vaseline cotton balls and hexamine Esbit fuel.

So far, the one method I've tried which will get a fire started when it's raining is a magnesium road flare. When I was in a Civil Air Patrol ground search and rescue squadron from 1985 - 90, I carried one in my butt pack. Flares burn very hot and for 15 or 30 minutes, so they are able to dry out and ignite wet wood. Today, I carry a few in the back of my truck, for both their intended use and in case I get stuck somewhere and need to start a fire. Note that flares have a shelf life so they should be replaced every few years.

Upcoming tests will use hexamine, trioxane, and fire starters made from dyer lint and/or wood shavings in cardboard egg cartons, soaked in wax.

For now, I'm thinking that unless one has a flare when all potential fuel is wet and it's raining, concentrating one's efforts on constructing some shelter first to get out of the rain makes more sense than trying to get a fire going. After that, then think about starting a fire, because you'll be able to setup you fire lay where it won't get rained on and swamped before you really get it going.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Looters in CA

As I mentioned the other day, looters are a concern any time there's any kind of civil disturbance. I've seen a few news reports mentioning that looters have indeed crawled out from under their rocks in the wake of the southern California fires. (Example.)

Looters are scavengers, creatures of opportunities. While an AR-15, AK-47, or Mossberg 590 is a fine choice for dissuading them, you don't need a "tactical" gun. An old .30-30 or a cheap Remington 870 Express will provide plenty of firepower. The key is the knowledge of how and when to use it, and the will to do so.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Thoughts on the Southern California Fires

As of the latest news report this morning about 650 square miles of Southern California have burned. Along with this over 880,000 people have been forced to evacuate, the largest evac in California history. One person suspected of arson is in police custody.

Hopefully we can learn a few things from this tragedy:

  1. Building homes in an area prone to wildfires fanned by 100 MPH winds probably isn't a good idea.
  2. If you're going to ignore point 1, keep foliage well back from your home so there's something of a firebreak.
  3. Again, if you're going to ignore point 1, construct your home so it's fire-resistant, e.g, metal or terra cotta roof, concrete exterior, fire resistant eaves, and having a swimming pool or pond for the fire department to tap into, or at least a pump and hose so you can wet down the area.
  4. Have supplies handy so that you can bug out on short notice: water, food, extra clothes, N95 masks, etc. An encrypted USB flash drive with copies of important documents and contact lists would be very good to have. Keep your evacuation kit in boxes you can quickly put in your vehicle. The government recommends enough for 72 hours but at least a week is more realistic.
  5. You might need to camp somewhere. Have a tent big enough for your family, blankets or sleeping bags, and some means of cooking meals, like a Coleman stove.
  6. Don't let your vehicle's fuel tank get less than half full, and keep some extra gas or diesel on hand. It would suck and possibly be fatal to run out of gas.
  7. Have some form of alternate communications. The cellular phone system is taking hits from high usage and some towers burning. Have a CB radio in your vehicle, it's the most common two-way radio commo system for use on the road. Consider getting your ham radio license, too. In some areas of SoCal I'm informed that ham is the only reliable form of long distance commo right now.
  8. I haven't heard about any looting yet, but I won't be surprised to hear if they crawl out from under their rocks. The only realistic defense against these scum is an armed citizenry. Have a gun and the knowledge of when and how to use it.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Doan Magnesium Fire Starter Review

Today I practiced making fire, this time using a Doan magnesium fire starter. This is a piece of USGI gear consisting of rectangular bar of magnesium, to which a ferrocerrium rod is glued on one of the long sides. It also has a hole towards one end through which a beaded chain is threaded, and which can be used to secure it to your kit or to keep a striker handy.

The magnesium fire starters are waterproof and don't burn when solid. To use, you scrape the exposed long side of the bar to make a pile of magnesium shavings, which do burn. Once you've got a good pile, which takes some work, you flip the bar over and use a striker to scrape sparks off the ferrocerium rod into the pile. This will then flare up and light your secondary tinder and kindling.

A hacksaw blade snapped in half works fairly well for making the magnesium shavings and for making sparks. However, I used the reamer on my Victorinox Farmer Swiss Army Knife. It's easier to hold and works well.

While the magnesium shavings burn very hot, they don't burn for very long. Thus, it's critical that you make a big enough pile and have enough dry tinder, twigs, and kindling to keep the fire burning once the magnesium shavings burn out in short order.

My secondary tinder was wood shavings sliced off one of the firewood logs I picked up last weekend at Lowe's. The logs were my fuel, as well. They were supposed to be seasoned but still had a fair moisture content, as I discovered once I got the fire going.

I first created a pile of wood shavings then made a small pile of magnesium shavings next to and surrounded by the wood. The magnesium shavings lit after a few strikes from the ferrocerium but I was unable to get a sustained fire going.

Since my daughters were outside with my and wanted to get one with roasting some hot dogs, I switched over to a Bic lighter. However, I wasn't able to get a sustained fire going until I broke out a Coughlin's tinder wad (a wax impregnated cotton ball) and placed it among the coals left over from the burning wood shavings. That and blowing on the fire finally got it going.

Once the fire was going I saw and heard moisture bubbling out the end of the firewood, so it wasn't seasoned enough. It burned with a lot of smoke, too.

I'm not real impressed with the magnesium fire starter. It takes too long and requires too much effort to create a pile of shavings for your stage one tinder. Also, the shavings are so lightweight that the slightest bit of wind blows them around. Finally, the striker rod on the one side of the bar is thin compared to a Swedish Fire Steel, so it throws fewer sparks.

If I was stuck in the wilderness, would I take a Doan magnesium fire starter over a primitive fire starting method, such as a fire drill? You bet. It's easily pocketable, light, and does contain both a spark source and tinder in one waterproof package. However, I think there are better alternatives. For example, a ferrocerium rod (e.g., Swedish Fire Steel) and a 35mm film canister filled with cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly take up little additional room but work much better. The PJ cotton balls burn hot AND long enough to get your secondary tinder going. Of course, one could carry the Doan fire starter and the PJ cotton balls, using the Doan's ferrocerium rod to ignite them.

I was also reminded of the utility of a large knife, machete, or axe when making woods shavings or splitting kindling from large pieces of wood. Today I relied on my Mora Swedish Army Knife, (#760MG) which is a great small fixed blade. They are inexpensive, take and retain a sharp edge, and have comfortable handles. However, they are short and light which means it takes significantly more effort to make a pile of wood shavings or split logs. If I'd been able to split more kindling the fire would have gotten going a lot more easily. This could be critical in a survival situation where you need a fire RFN, such as if you need to dry off in cold weather.

Once again, I'm glad I tried this out in my back yard, instead of out in the woods in a serious situation.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Some Vehicle Preps

Last weekend I picked up a Contico SUV Utility Box at Lowe's to organize the stuff I keep in the back of my Expedition. It' sturdy and just the right size for my truck.

Today I added a few items which may come in handy during an emergency:

  1. My Ontario 12" Camper Machete. It's a nice chopper yet not too large.
  2. One of the Swiss surplus ponchos I picked up a couple months ago from Cheaper Than Dirt. I already had a poncho but this is heavier and can do double duty as a tarp or groundcloth.
  3. Two 3600 calorie packs of Mainstay ration bars.
  4. A coffee can containing a box of REI stormproof matches, a Swedish Fire Steel, 35mm film canister with petrolatum soaked cotton balls for tinder, a space blanket, some paracord, some flat packed duct tape, and a whistle with a compass and thermometer. I sealed the can with duct tape and wrote the contents on the outside with a Sharpie.

The coffee can itself serves a couple different uses. First, it protects the contents. Second, it can be used as a pot.

All of the above augments the stuff in the get home bag kept in the truck.

As we get closer to winter, it's a good idea to reevalute the emergency supplies we keep in our vehicles, and restock or augment them as needed.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Mainstay Ration Bars

I've been carrying some Mainstay Ration Bars ("lifeboat rations") in the get home bag I keep in my truck. I chose them instead of MREs because they are designed for long term storage in harsh environments. I've had them for a couple years and although still good, I wanted to replace them with fresher ones. So, earlier this month I got some more. Today I decided to try one.

Not bad at all. It has the consistency of a cookie and a lemony taste. I had some water along with the bar and didn't notice that it made me thirsty or if it had an aftertaste.

Assuming your not allergic to any of the ingredients, or don't have any special dietary restrictions, these are worth looking at for emergency rations.

Valiant Large Survival Golok

After reading several online reviews (e.g., on I got a Valiant Trading Co. Large Survival Golok earlier this week:

This golok is the closest thing I've held to a +10 vorpal sword.

Workmanship is very nice. It's nicely balanced and the buffalo horn handle is comfortable. The blade is ~15.5", hand forged, with a full convex grind and distal taper (thins towards the point). Weight is about 1.2 lbs. It came sharp enough to cut limply hanging newspaper. I almost sliced off my finger tip when wiping off the preservative oil it came in!

They're made in Java, then imported into Australia, then shipped to the US. I bought it from their US dealer, but just read on THR that he's closing up shop. Sad Cost was $89 after shipping.

I took it out back today and used it for pruning some arborvitae. It works really well on woody plants, much better than a machete. The blade cross section prevents it from getting stuck the way a machete can. The handle was comfortable in use. The edge stayed sharp and didn't show any damage even after using the golok in lieu of a hatchet to chop down a couple trunks. I can see this golok being very useful in the woods.

A view in its wood and horn sheath:

Handle and sheath closeup:

Chopping into a branch. You can see how deeply the golok bites:

My reward after a morning of yardwork:

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Chopper Comparison

This morning I was able to do a little comparison between three chopping tools I have in my arsenal: a Cold Steel Trail Hawk, an Ontario 12" machete, and a Harbor Freight 18 machete. The victims of my cutting tests were a few arbovitae trees in my yard which were in dire need of pruning. First, some background on each of the tools.

I've had the HF machete for a couple of years. Like most machetes it's on the soft side and came as dull as a butter knife. I put a semi-usable edge on it with a belt sander last year but was never really happy with it. A few weeks ago I bought some new files, reshaped the edge, then convexed it using sandpaper on top of a mousepad, taped to my workbench. I also drilled the handle for the lanyard and added a paracord wrap to the grip, which greatly improves the feel. The HF machete came with a cheap flimsy canvas sheath. I improved this by covering it with duct tape, first a couple layers of regular duct tape then a final layer of camo tape as shown below. This actually came out pretty good and I will look at giving it a polyurethane clear coat to make it more weather resistant.

I picked up the CS Trail Hawk a couple weeks ago mainly on a lark. I wanted a hawk that was smaller than my Dixon's hawk, which is about the same size as a CS Rifleman's Hawk. The Trail Hawk's head is rather small with a 2" edge, and a hammer poll. It came reasonably sharp, though I touchd it up with some sandpaper and began to convex the edge. The Trail Hawk did not come with a sheath.

The Ontario 12" machete was ordered around the same time as the Trail Hawk. It's made of 1095 carbon steel about 1/8" thick, which is thicker than the HF machete. The plastic handle is molded in place with a D-shaped hand guard. I find it pretty comfortable and like the hand guard. Like the HF machete, it came as dull as a spatula with a very uneven edge. Unlike the unfinished HF machete, it is parkerized. The Ontario has a secondary bevel next to the edge, while the HF does not. As you can see in the picture, I removed most of the parkerizing from the secondary bevel, to reduce drag when cutting. I sharpened the Ontario using files and sandpaper. It's sharp, but not as sharp as the HF machete. The sheath shown with it had to be ordered separately; all it came with was a cardboard blade cover.

With that out of the way, onto the results.

I started out with the Trail Hawk. It penetrated well into an arborvitae but because of the short edge, took a fair amount of effort to cut through the ~5" diameter trunk.

I switched to the Ontario machete next. It penetrated well in the wood and cut a wider swath than the Trail Hawk. It didn't take long to chop down another arborvitae. The longer blade also made it better than the Trail Hawk for limbing the downed trunks. I was quite impressed with how well it chopped.

My use of the HF machete today was minimal. It's better at cutting thin vegetation than the Ontario because (a) it's sharper, (b) it's thinner, and (c) the longer blade achieves higher tip velocity. I used it last weekend on some weeds and forsythia, which it went through like a razor. It also handled some arborvitae well. It has a reach advantage over the Ontario 12" machete, of course.

Naturally, which one of these three choppers is "best" depends on the use. The CS Trail Hawk is handicapped by the short cutting edge. It would probably make a pretty decent thrower, though.

The Harbor Freight machete is great on light brush and even does well on softwoods. With the 18" blade it has a good reach.

The Ontario 12" machete impressed me today with it's chopping ability on softwoods. It's a bit harder than the HF machete so would probably handle batoning a bit better if you hit a bad knot. The length is handy and the handle is comfortable. IMO it would make a very handy tool out in the Pennsylvania woods.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A Pair of Victorinox Pioneers

My Victorinox Pioneer that I bought in the early 80s has been my favorite EDC pocketknife of late. It's a good size for pocket carry, has a very useful assortment of tools, is nearly indestructible with its alox scales, and is sheeple friendly. I've been on a bit of a knife kick lately, so when I found out that Amazon was carrying the Vic Pioneer Farmer model in red, I had to get one. (Most of the Victorinox SAKs with alox scales are now silver colored. IMHO, SAKs should be red.) The Farmer adds one implement to the Pioneer, a wood saw. I think this could come in very useful.

Here's a side view of the Farmer next to my old Pioneer, showing the saw:

Note the Swiss shield on the Farmer, compared with the plain cross on the older knife. On the other side of the Farmer there's a rectangular area suitable for engraving. The older knife doesn't have this.

Below is a top view, showing how the Farmer is just a little thicker than the Pioneer. It's still very pocketable, the difference isn't noticeable.

The Farmer's knife blade came with a good sharp edge. The polish on the blades is up to Victorinox's usual high standard, and better than on the older knife, even taking into account the wear and tear it has.

You're probably wondering what the silver cylinders attached to each of the knives are. They're "Peanut Lighters" I bought from They are refillable, using standard fluid and flints. With the O-rings, they don't leak or let the fluid evaporate. They aren't windproof like Zippos but aside from that work great. For $5 a pop you can't go wrong with them.

I think I'm going to give my old Pioneer a break as my EDC, and start putting the Farmer in my pocket when I get dressed.

Monday, October 01, 2007

A Couple New Choppers

Last week I received the two new choppers I'd ordered: a Cold Steel Trail Hawk and an Ontario 12" machete.

The Trail Hawk is much smaller than my Dixon's tomahawk. The blade edge is only 2" long. The handle is a full 19". The blade came reasonably sharp but I did touch it up some.

Yesterday I took the Trail Hawk out back and hacked at a couple of things. Due to the light weight it doesn't chop nearly as well as the Dixon's Hawk. I think it would make a decent defensive weapon but it's not as useful a tool as the larger 'hawk.

In contrast to the Trail Hawk, the Ontario machete came as dull as a butter knife. In a few places the edge grind didn't even meet -- the edge was actually flat. The parkerized finish on the blade was even and looks good, however.

Sharpening the machete took a good bit of effort and I'm still not satisfied with it. I started with a couple of files then progressed to 150 grit sandpaper. The sandpaper I had wasn't intended for use on metal so I didn't make much progress before it was shot. Yesterday I ran out and bought some emery cloth and 150, 400, and 600 grit wet/dry sandpaper suitable for use on metal.

I also bought a lawn implement sharpening attachment for my Dremel. I need to improve my technique because I wound up with a really ugly edge after using it on the machete. (I think I'll practice on a shovel before using it on a knife again.) So, I went back to the file and abrasives. After awhile I got a usable edge but it's still not as sharp as I want it to be.

Anyway, once the machete was moderately sharp I took it out back to try. The handle seems comfortable and I like that it has a handguard on it. The balance is different from my Harbor Freight machete (which is thinner but longer) and so it feels quite a bit different when swung. I tried it on a few branches and weeds and it worked OK, but not as well as the HF, which is sharper. The longer HF machete also has the advantage when it comes to reach. For the kind of use I've been putting it to in my yard, this is significant.

I did use the Ontario to split a couple of logs using a baton. It worked pretty well. The machete is robust enough that you can feel comfortable wailing on it with a baton without fear of damaging it.

I got the Ontario from They were out of sheathes so I've ordered one from Smokey Mountain Knife Works along with a couple of other items.