Mar 04 2021

New Birch Skis

These skis are loosely based on a find from Reinheimen in Norway. They are of birch (Betula pubescens) and may or may not have had fur on the underside. I opted for not using fur as of yet, although I might add that at a later point as is does provide a lot of traction and reduces speed downhill.

The bindings area is where the skis deviate most from the original. The front portion is a rectangular on these skis, and pointed on the original. The hole on mine are also rectangular, due to being chiseled out, whereas the originals might have been carved out with a knife and are more eye shaped. The holes on the originals are probably also a bit more roomy as I could not wrap the withie part (also birch) around twice, which would have made the binding stronger. The buckskin bindings have been threaded through the hole and pegs rammed in in order for the fit to be tight.

Snow conditions are currently pretty horrible as the snow is crusty, wears a lot on the skis and is dangerously fast. The Saami had specialised skis for such conditions, which I might make at a later time. These skis are harder to use than modern skis as they are not completely fixed onto your foot, however with some practice I think it will not be an issue.

I will probably make another pair of these at some point and actually make a tutorial about how to do it.

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Feb 28 2021

Splitting Planks 5: Hewing the Boards

When you have split your log, whichever method you want to use, by high likelihood you have to hew the planks, maybe both to thin and straighten them. There might be the rare tree which will split true right away, but hewing still gives a nicer finish.

The log used in this tutorial was not particularly straight splitting and I ended up cutting some of the end off to avoid taking out the spiral all the way. Also, it had a few large knots, which can be pretty annoying.

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First stage is to start taking out the twist as much as you can on one side. Since it will not matter to my intended project if the planks taper a lot, I took most off at the top end first.

After I had a reasonably straight line chopped there, I estimated how much I had to take out on the other side to straighten the inside of the board. This can be done very accurately with string and a weight, but I did not go through that trouble and simply went by eye measurement. I ended up with a very slight twist in the plank, but that should not really be a dealbreaker in this case.

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When both sides were straightened enough I chopped away the centre, being careful to not new a hollow and preferably not make it convex either. The plank was smoothed a fair bit through pushing the axe instead of chopping as it gives more control. Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris) is very soft and will generally be very easy to shape through pushing. More so with fresh wood than dry wood.

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When I was satisfied with what will become the inside of the building, I started chopping out a line on either side of the board to mark out about 1.5 inch thickness over the whole plank.

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Next the remaining ridge was chopped into in short intervals and the pieces split off.

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Final hewing is then done to remove the roughness and create an acceptably smooth surface. For my project, this side will not be visible on the building and I did a rougher job than on the inside.

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The whole process takes about 3 hours, depending on length of the board and how straight it is.

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Feb 28 2021

Splitting Planks 4: End Splitting

There are several methods for splitting logs for planks and this is probably the simplest one. It requires very straight splitting material if you are going to get long pieces, since you will have to take out the twist with the axe afterwards. For shorter boards it can be very twisted and it still will not matter much. An advantage with this method is that it if the material is very straight splitting you can get several boards out of one length.

A bit about the wood. Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris) splits best from the top end. Norway spruce (Picea abies) splits best from the base end. Why it is like that I don’t know, but it is certainly the case.

The first part of the process after felling the tree and sectioning it into a desirable length is to use the axe and a mallet to drive in the axe in a straight through the pith. This is done to crack the wood enough to insert the birch wedges.

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The birch wedges are then driven in as far as you can, which should already cause a very significant split. On shorter pieces it might be enough to split the entire length.

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Further splitting is achieved through driving more wedges into the side cracks that develop from the end split. You can do it from only one side, but often it is better to do it from both sides.

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When it has split through you are ready to hew the pieces, which will be shown in the next tutorial. If the piece is particularly straight splitting you can split it again, which will give you an extra board and less work in hewing the original piece. Sometimes the outer piece will run off to the outside though and not follow the whole length. I always prioritise some additonal thickness on the inner piece, since it will be the wider and better board. This is to ensure that the split doesn’t run off towards the inside.

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This project was done in collaboration with Jon (http://jonsbushcraft.com/).

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Dec 11 2020

Whitefish Fishing 4: Salting the Fish

Published by under Foods

I sometimes dry whitefish, just like I do with trout. However, they are very oily and go rancid fast so I prefer to brine salt them. Stored this way they easily keep for half a year.

The process is pretty simple. I use a wooden barrel, since it is more hygienic than using plastic. Capping the barrel is not necessary unless transporting the barrel with the fish in. Make sure it is waterproof though. If it isn’t, soak it in water for a day or two and try again.

I always clean and scale the fish before doing this, although apparently one can do it without any preparations.

Start with sprinkling a layer of coarse salt at the bottom. I only ever use coarse sea salt because it is more easily handled and extremely cheap.

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Every fish gets some salt in the gut cavity and is laid opposite each other in the way shown, belly up.

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Between every layer of fish you add more salt and eventually also on the very top.

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After relatively short time, a lot of moisture will draw out of the fish and completely submerge them. Some people use weights, but I have never found that to be necessary.

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More layers can be added when available. I did not finish a complete layer on this particular batch, but added an arctic char and brown trout on top.

That is all there is to it. When you are going to use the fish for cooking they should be leached for 2 days in frequent changes of water or in a river like I do. I put them in a net-sack, anchored to a bush along the shore. This will allow for a lot of water exchange and quite thorough desalination. You don’t want to oversoak the fish, experience has shown 2 days to be just right. If oversoaked, the fish will get extremely bland, if undersoaked it will be too salty.

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Nov 27 2020

Splitting Planks 3: Selecting Wood

Published by under Wood Working

This article will mainly concern Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris) and Norway spruce (Picea abies). Related tree species are likely to behave similarly and there might be others where at least parts of the information will be usable.

There are several qualities/considerations in selecting wood for planks. A lot of the information is also relevant for log cabin building, where the requirements are less strict.

Density

The density of the wood is very important when splitting planks. Too loose grown wood will be problematic to split. They will tend to run off to one side fairly easily. Extremely dense wood, especially spruce, will also have this tendency. The best wood generally has growth rings of about 2-3 mm. Denser wood is more durable than soft wood and this is an additional consideration. Especially for wood that will be directly exposed to the elements.

Another function of density is interlocking grain and compression wood. If a tree grows on unstable ground it will tend to tip a tiny bit back and forth to correct itself. In doing so the leaning action will create pockets of compression wood, which makes the wood exceedingly hard. These trees are not nice to split, but will make very good logs for log cabins. The stump portion will generally have interlocking grain, especially on pine. Because of this you want to split the pine from the top portion to get more leverage at the root.

Compression wood is very dense and brittle wood that develops underneath conifers which lean over. Although you can hew shorter logs straight, it is best to avoid compression wood as far as possible, because it will never lay still, but keep contracting and expanding due to air moisture. Because of the brittleness it can also easily make a split run off where it encounters it.

Resin Content

Not a consideration with spruce at all, a high resin content will make boards and logs more durable in pine. Heartwood is always fairly resinous, sapwood usually much less so. For the most exposed parts of any building, use the highest resin content wood as possible. Almost glossy in appearance. Good sources are tops of lightning killed trees or highly damaged, old trunks. Most exposed places in a building will be edges of roofs and the logs closest to the ground. Highly resinous wood is usually more brittle and can be more difficult to split thin without breaking. Expect to hew such logs a fair bit to final thickness.

Age

With pine the general rule is that the older the better. At least in terms of durability. However, with age over 200 years they will tend to start twisting more and the entire trunk can become less straight. Although this old pine was exclusively used in the medieval period due to a very high availability, I never cut those trees. They are too biologically important these days when there are so few of them. Spruce I do not care if I cut at any age since it almost never lives longer than 120 years and is taking over more and more habitat from the pine. Very old spruce, and occasionally also old pine, will tend to become hollow inside. When it has become hollow the tree is useless both for log cabins and planks. Although the rot is often only at the base, I will tend to leave the trees for the woodpeckers if I discover rot or a hollow cavity inside while felling.

Picture below is of a mature tree, with a flattening top.

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Straight Grain

When splitting wood for planks straight grain is an enormous advantage, but not an absolutely necessary. It depends a bit on which method is used. I plan to show both methods in later posts. With the end splitting method, the grain must be very straight, unless the boards you need are exceedingly short.

So how to see if the trees are straight splitting before felling them? I have seen and heard of all kinds of methods for it, but none are perfectly reliable. If it looks spiraled even on the bark, then you know that it will not work well so you might just leave it. Those are however extreme cases and you can get pretty spiraled trees without really being able to see it on the bark. The first 1-2 meters might twist more as well and the rest of the trunk can be relatively straight grained. In the old days they often discarded those first metres if it showed itself to have too spirally grain.

The best methods I have found are either to split a branch and see how much it twists or after felling, to split a metre or so length in the top section and see how it behaves. When you are building a log cabin, straight grain is not a consideration and when you are building you can hand pick the straightest ones for splitting into boards.

The way it turns is however a consideration for log cabins. In the northern hemisphere you never want to use timber that spirals clockwise (looking from the base)  in your timber cabin. It will crack much more deeply when drying and will never lay still, but twist back and forth according to the air moisture. This can cause the joints of your log cabin to get out of alignment. How it works in the southern hemisphere I don’t know. But I would imagine it could be the opposite.

Below is an example of a split branch of the spruce directly behind it. As you can see this tree is unlikely to split perfectly straight, but probably will not be incredibly twisted either.

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When to Fell

In the very old days they often felled the timber in the early spring and let the needles die on the tree before limbing and removing the bark. In later eras they were more haphazard about it and generally felled during the winter because of easier transportation on the snow. The formerly mentioned method is however advantageous in that the wood in the future will develop very small cracks rather than large ones and that it will not warp. As a sidenote it is worth mentioning that this is also absolutely essential when using certain deciduous woods like elm or aspen. Both of those will warp unrecognisably when drying if  you work them completely fresh. This is very important to remember when making bows out of elm. Even if the leaves are dead, the bark will usually peel well if not left too long.

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