Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, sailing, and survival
and how they work together to provide wholesome family fun and great learning opportunities.
Many posts are intended to familiarize novice campers and RVers with RV systems and basic camping and survival
skills. But even experienced RVers and campers will enjoy the anecdotes and may even benefit from a new
perspective. Comments, questions, and suggestions are encouraged. The organization is pretty much by date of publication. Please use the SEARCH option below to find what you are looking for.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Camping Axe/Hatchet

One of the most iconic and useful tools in camp is a good axe or hatchet.  It doesn't matter whether you're camping in a luxury RV or roughing it in a tent.  Both lifestyles enjoy campfires and a good axe or hatchet is a valuable tool for cutting and splitting firewood, preparing kindling, and driving tent or awning pegs.  Which you choose will depend on personal preferences and available space for transporting or carrying it.  Personal physical limitations might also impose size/weight limits on the tools you can use safely and comfortably.
                                                      Image result for axe photo
Axes come in many sizes.  They may have a single or double bitted blade.  The larger the axe, the heavier it will be making it both harder to swing and capable of making larger, deeper cuts.  I like a fairly small axe for camping, one with about a 30" handle and a single blade.  It is kind of like a long-handled hatchet.  It isn't too heavy and it fits well in RV outside compartments.  Yet it still  has enough weight to handle fairly large cuts.  Having a single blade I can use the flat back side for driving stakes or wedges.  For tent camping I prefer a hatchet or a roofers hammer (kind of like a carpenter's hammer with a hatchet blade instead of a claw), which fits easily in my camping bins.  A large, double-bitted, "Paul Bunyan" style axe is useful if you're doing any heavy felling or cutting, but they are big and heavy and in some ways the extra blade is likely to be more dangerous and more susceptible to dulling or damaging other contents knocking around inside a cabinet.  For normal campfire activities such an axe would be excessive,  take more energy to use than it might be worth, and be cumbersome to store in RV compartments and camping bins.  Since most of the firewood we buy is already cut to length, most of the axe work will be converting it to kindling by splitting it.  A 30" single blade axe or a splitting wedge is perfect for this task.  Splitting larger logs is easier with a wedge.  A single bladed axe also has the advantage of a flat head on the back that can be used for tasks like driving tent pegs.  For more on splitting logs, see my Log Splitting post.

                                           Image result for hatchet photo
A hatchet is small axe, most often used with one hand where the larger axe usually takes two hands.  One of the most versatile hatchet configurations for campers and RVers in my opinion is a roofers hammer, which has a hatchet blade on one side of the head and a hammer head on the other.  The back of a regular hatchet or axe can be used for driving splitting wedges or tent pegs, but the hammer head is more precise and is easy to use as a hammer.  A hatchet may be a better choice than an axe for someone with physical disabilities or limited strength.  It is also more convenient for splitting kindling than a larger axe.  As mentioned above, a versatile alternative for a hatchet is a roofers hammer or hammer head hatchet, with a hammer head on one side and a hatchet blade on the other.  They are about the same size and weight as a typical hatchet and make a good mallet for drive tent or awning pegs too.  The hammer head seems to be more effective on tent pegs than the back side of an axe or hatchet.  Her is a sample of a roofing hammer:

                                                                   Vaughan Hatchet, Rig Builders RB                                                                                                          
I have recently seen a hammer-head hatchet with a survival tool built into the handle.   I am waiting for mine to arrive so I can try it out.  Looks like it will be a good option for campers and survival.

No matter what size axe or hatchet you choose, you will need to keep it sharp.  Sharp tools are not only easier to use, they are safer.   To some people that is counter intuitive.  They think sharp tools would be more dangerous, but dull tools are more likely to result in injury.   Dull tools require extra effort and will often bounce instead of cutting, causing a loss of control and resulting in serious injuries.  It is a good idea to put an edge protector on the blade to keep it from being dulled by rubbing against things in transit and storage.  Axes and hatchets can usually be sharpened on an electric grinder.  Just be careful not to spend too much time in one spot because that can overheat the metal and ruin the temper.  Hold the tool so the blade is tangent with just a slight angle to the grinding wheel and move it back and forth smoothly and fairly quickly to shape a neat taper on each side.  If the edge is severely damaged (chipped or dented) you may need to use a coarse grinding wheel for initial reshaping.  Grinding using a medium or fine wheel is usually sufficient for sharpening most axes but you could finish it with a file or even a sharpening stone if  you want an especially fine edge.  However, the relatively heavy cutting axes are usually used for doesn't demand a super-fine edge and such an edge would probably be quickly made ineffective in the first cut or two.

Handles should always fit tightly in the head.  Loose handles are dangerous.  The head could fly off at any time and inflict serious injuries on anyone it hits.  A loose head also messes up the precision of your cutting strokes, reduces the efficiency of each blow, delivers vibration than can be tiring and even cause injuries, and may cause bounces and loss of control.  Wooden handles can usually be tightened by driving wedges into the end of the handle at the head so it expands the wood to fit tightly in the hole in the head.  In a pinch you might be able to drive a few heavy nails into the end of the handle where it fits in the head.  Sometimes a slightly loose head can be tightened by soaking it in water to swell the wood.  Be sure to coat the iron head with oil or grease so it doesn't rust.  Metal or fiberglass handles usually don't come loose and may need replacement or servicing by a qualified expert if they do begin to fail.  Metal handles are usually forged along with the head so the tool is all one piece.  Molded metal handles may have a rubber grip or leather wrapped grip.  If the grip is loose, it should be securely re-glued or the tool replaced. 

Handles should be clean and smooth.  Some hatchets have rubber or leather wrapped  handles for a better grip and to cushion the impact somewhat.  Any damage to the rubber or leather should be repaired if possible.  If it can't be repaired, the tool should be replaced.  Wooden handles should be checked for cracks, rough spots, and splinters.  Cracked handles should be replaced although you can sometimes tape them up as  temporary repair.  Rough spots should be sanded down, splinters trimmed and sanded, and the entire handle treated with linseed oil or a good quality furniture oil.  Don't over oil the handle!  You don't want it to be slick.  The oil should penetrate the wood, not create a slick, glossy coating.  When oiling the handle, use a soft cloth to rub the oil well into the wood.  You might also rub a light coating of oil on the iron head as well to prevent rust, especially if you're putting the tool into storage for a while, like at the end of an outing.  A little lube on the blade will also make it easier to pull it out if you swing hard enough to get it stuck.

Swinging your axe.   Using a hatchet you will most likely use just one hand, usually your dominant hand, in a hacking motion, but swinging an axe usually requires both hands, giving you more leverage and allowing you to strike harder.  If you are right handed you will probably swing your axe right handed, but not necessarily.  My dad was right  handed but always swung his axe left  handed.  Sometimes it is useful to be able to cut either right or left handed, depending on which way gives you best access to where you want to make your cut.  Whether you swing right or left  handed is determine by the position of your hands on the axe handle.   A right handed swing will start with the left hand near the butt of the handle and  the right hand a couple of inches from the head.  The right hand slides back until it is nearly against the left hand as you swing the axe.  The left hand remains stationery.  DO NOT keep both hands stationery!  A left handed swing is just the opposite.  Regardless of whether you are normally right or left handed you might want to try swinging your axe both ways and find out which way is most comfortable for you.  You may find it useful to be able to swing either way since you can achieve different angles each way.   The handle of an axe or hatchet functions like a lever to give you mechanical advantage that increase the speed and force of the blade.  If you grip too close to the head, you loose that leverage and are essentially just trying to push the blade into the wood by the strength of  your arms.  The same thing applies to using a hammer.  You want to hold the tool near the end of the handle, away from the head, to get maximum leverage.  Let the tool do as much of the work as possible.

Wranglerstar has several good videos on Youtube where he tests and reviews axes and hatchets.   He also offers good videos on how to sharpen and care for them as well has instructions on how to use them safely and effectively.

Here's a handy tip for splitting kindling:  hold the target piece of wood with a little stick instead of your fingers.  If your aim is off and you chop off the stick, no big deal but if you hold it with your finger and strike your finger it is going to spoil your whole evening and possibly the appetite of your fellow campers!  If you, or someone in your group does sever a finger or fingers, collect the severed parts and keep them clean and cool, but DO NOT pack them directly on ice.  Doing so can further damage the tissue.  The recommended procedure is to wrap the severed parts in a clean cloth and put it in sealable plastic bag, then put the bad in ice water.  Do not put the severed parts directly in ice water without the plastic bag.

Chop, chop!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Camping and Survival Knives

"A knifeless man is a lifeless man".   This old saying may be especially true in a survival situation but it highlights the value of a knife in any camping environment.  A knife may be the single most useful tool you could have -- other than your brain and your hands.  That being said, the question may arise "what is the best knife?".   There are many different sizes and styles of knives and each one has its own special niche.  In recent years there have been a proliferation of "Rambo" style survival knives promoted on the Internet and marketed through outdoor stores -- huge knives with mini survival kits stored in the hollow handles.  No doubt these have a certain appeal but how well would they work in a real world survival situation?  The tiny plastic compass is probably better than nothing, but  how well does it work and how long will it last?  And what will you really do with a couple feet of fishing line and a few safety pins?  If you really want a survival kit, put together one that will actually do the job, including a proper knife.

The best consensus I've found for a good survival knife is that is should be a bit more modest than those monster combat blades -- a 3-4" fixed blade is usually recommended as best for survival.  The reasoning is that in a camping or survival situation you will do a whole lot more carving than you will hacking.  Sure, having a big, heavy knife may be useful for hacking when building a shelter from tree limbs, and it makes an intimidating weapon but how often is that going to happen?  And, even when you do need to build such a shelter, you probably will only do it once per event.  On the other hand, there will be an ongoing need for carving.  Even notching limbs to secure cordage in building a shelter will require more finesse than hacking power.  Any kind of medical applications will need a fairly delicate blade.  Skinning and butchering animals for food or other uses will be well served by a modest blade.  You will also need a modest blade to carve wooden tools and implements and for use in preparing and eating food.  A good hunting knife should be adequate.  If you choose a folding knife, make sure it has a locking blade.  A fixed blade knife is sturdier and more durable, but a locking blade proves some degree of safety over non-locking folding knives and a folding knife fits in your pocket.

Multi-tools, like the famous Leatherman, are often touted for camping and survival use.  One cannot deny the versatility of these items or the convenience offered by the multiple functions they are capable of performing.  About the only downside to a multi-tool is that it has folding blades, and folding blades are not as safe or as durable as fixed blades.  Locking blades will mitigate this problem to some extent, but the ideal blade for camping and survival will remain a fixed, 3-4" knife like a hunting knife.  Having both a proper knife and a multi-tool would be a particularly good combination.  Having both for camping should not be a problem for most people.  They need not be especially expensive and they take up a little room in your pocket or pack or on your belt.  More expensive tools will usually be more durable and offer more precision and more features, but you will have to decide how much you are willing or able to spend versus what you will actually use.  Unless you lose your knife you will probably never regret investing in a good one.  Carrying both a knife and a multi-tool on your person at all times so you have them in a survival situation may not be as convenient as tucking them in your pack so you may have to make a choice.  If you're comfortable with a multi-tool with a locking blade it will offer you more versatility but a sturdy hunting knife may be more durable and safer.  I have recently seen a specialized knife that includes a built in flint and steel fire starter, a seat belt cutter, an LED flashlight, and a window breaker, which strikes me as a really good starting point for any survival situation, especially if you are in an auto accident!

Sailors need special knives to meet the unique requirements found on sailboats.  Called sailor's knives or rigger's knives, these knives typically have a very sharp blade (for cutting lines if the sailor gets entangled), a marlin spike (used for loosening tight knots) and a shackle wrench, used to tighten or open shackle pins.

Having a knife -- the right knife -- is only the first step.   For it to be really useful (and safe to use) it must be sharp.  And yes, oddly enough, a sharp knife is actually safer to use than a dull one.  It is worth learning how to hone a knife edge to keep it sharp.  The most common and traditional way is using a sharpening stone but there are other types of knife sharpeners, like the drag-through manual kitchen knife sharpeners and electric models that use internal grinding wheels.  You may be able to improve sharpness using one of these but to get a truly fine edge requires a practiced touch on a sharpening stone.  There are several tricks used by those who know how to do this well.  Using a combination of wet and dry sharpening is one.  Another is to push the knife toward the stone as if you were shaving it instead of dragging the edge backwards on the stone.  To get a good edge you need to hold the knife at the proper angle to the stone.  The angle will depend on the thickness of the blade and the basic shape of the taper so you will need practice and/or someone to show  you to find the right angle for each blade.  It is rather tedious endeavor but well worth the effort.  Here is a link to a really good article from Buck Knives on How To Sharpen Your Knife.

Even a sharp knife will be of little help if you don't know how to use it.   The best way to learn how to use a knife is to have some with experience show you then practice.  Every camping trip should an opportunity to practice your knife skills.  Whittling can be a fun thing to do sitting around the campfire and it can be a very handy skill in a survival situation where there is no end to the opportunities for carving and slicing.  Knowing how to clean a fish or prepare a rabbit for cooking could mean the difference between dinner and going hungry in a survival situation.  Knives can be used for self defense, but using a knife as a weapon is not intuitive.  It takes training and practice before you will be competent.  Until then, attempting to use a knife is likely to make a bad situation worse as you aggravate your attacker or, worse yet, you injure yourself or he takes your knife away from you an uses it on you!  Unless you are especially competent, chances are an aggressor is likely to have more experience and his knife skills (to say nothing of  his willingness or craziness to hurt you!) will probably exceed yours.

The market is rife with specialty "survival" knives.   But just because they call it a survival knife doesn't mean it really is.  I've seen a couple of knives I think are worth investigating.  One includes a built in flint and steel fire starter, the other includes features to cut seat belts and break windows, which could be badly needed if an accident traps you or someone you know in a car.  Both are folding knives, to make them compact and cover the sharp blade for safety, so, from that perspective, they are not the best choice for wilderness survival but would be a good addition to your urban or suburban survival kit where being able to escape a damaged or submerged vehicle may be the key to surviving an accident.

The bottom line:  my personal recommendation when camping or hiking is to carry a 3-4" fixed blade knife such as a  hunting knife as the basic tool in your camping and survival kit.  And then supplement it with a multi-tool and a flint and steel fire starter -- and a sharpening stone.  These items take up little space and will repay your efforts again and again when you need them.  A specialty knife that can help your escape from being trapped in a damaged car might be a good thing to  have under the seat or in the door pocket of your vehicle.

Look sharp!