Archive for November, 2020

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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Nov 26 2020

Whitefish Fishing 3: Grilling

Published by under Foods

Grilling is my favourite way of preparing whitefish, and this method also works well for other fatty trout species.

First part of the process is to cut slits in the skin (and a bit into the flesh) all the way along on both sides. This will make the fish grill much more thoroughly than if the skin was left intact. Cut the tail off as well, as this is where the stick will enter.

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Enter the stick along the spine up to the head, making sure the stick does not come out into the body cavity or out through the skin. This method will make it far easier to turn the fish while you grill it, than if you had threaded through the cavity. You can do the aforementioned cutting in the skin after threading the fish if you find that easier.

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The fire should preferably have burned down to mostly coals. I don’t like grilling over flames because it burns more easily and turns black with soot. Cook the fish on both sides until golden. The fins might burn off and that is fine. Also grill a bit inside the cavity to make sure it cooks through.

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There you go, very easy and fast way of grilling fish. And far superior taste to all other methods I have tried. I use this method both with fresh and salted whitefish.

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Nov 25 2020

Whitefish Fishing 2: Preparing the Fish

Published by under Foods

The European whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus) is a salmonid and largely has the same bone structure as the other in the genus. Unlike brown trout and arctic char it has large scales, so it needs more preparation before cooking than the aforementioned. Removing the scales is mainly a matter of cleanliness as they tend to make an unappetising mess out of any dish.

It is helpful, but not necessary to have a board when scaling whitefish. The scaling can be done with a sharp bone like here or a dull knife. Too sharp knives can easily dig into the skin and will be annoying to work with. Scrape the fish as fresh as possible. Any dryness of the skin will make it significantly harder/impossible to scrape them. Also, scrape them before gutting, otherwise it will be next to impossible to scrape the belly portion of the skin in the belly section.

The fish is held by the head and scraped against the scales. Do this until the fish is virtually scale free.

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If you want a cleaner job, you can rinse the fish free of scales before you continue, but I often only rinse after having both scaled and gutted. Start by inserting the tip of the knife into the anus and cut up the belly up to the throat.

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The last part towards the throat is ripped apart and the gills are separated from the flesh portion of the fish.

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If I am working as speedily as possible and not saving any of the guts, then I will omit these next steps and just rip out the guts including the gills from the front, but since I am here taking care of a few things, I disconnect the anus to make for easier access.

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Next I remove the liver, taking care to pinch off the gall bladder.

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If there is sufficient quantity of roe or milt (as in this male fish) I pull those out as well.

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Sometimes there is a lot of white fat stuck to the guts. If there is I pinch that off as well. If the fish is large I might cut open the stomach and clean it (tastes like squid) and also save the heart.

Next I pull the guts out. In this particular case I removed the swim bladder first and then pulled the guts out the front. However, I often do both at the same time, pulling towards the back.

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The black portion along the spine (the kidneys) is scraped out with my thumbnail.

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Last the fish is rinsed in water. This is most easily done many fish together in a willow basket. It can now be cooked, dried or salted. If they are to be frozen, they keep better only scraped, not gutted. Short term storage in a plastic bag or threading the head onto a thin tree branch is unproblematic. Especially in cold conditions.

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This might seem like a long process and as you are learning it it might take a while. However, since I have prepared thousands of fish this way it takes me probably less than a minute in total per fish. If I don’t save any of the innards, then probably around 30 seconds.

From lakes with little parasites I often eat the innards raw. This particular lake has quite a bit of parasites so I fry them first. I discard all livers with discolouration.

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Nov 24 2020

Whitefish Fishing 1: Fishing

Published by under Catching Animals,Foods

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Late autumn is the primary time for fishing European whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus) in these parts. They used to river spawn in a big river connected to this lake, but some stupid and unnecessary decisions in regards to some hydroelectric stuff destroyed that fishing. Currently they can thus only spawn in the lake itself.

This lake could sustain a fishing of 30 tonnes whitefish a year, but I doubt more than a ton is fished every year. Despite this, the fish is of fair size and quality, however probably gradually decreasing.

The local saying is that when the snow is on the ground the fishing is the best. This year the snow is quite late, but the fish are still spawning. However, not in the sheer numbers we might get later and which we also saw last year when snow was on the ground. Water temperature is the trigger and although I don’t know the exact temperature, we generally have the best catches between 2 and 5 metres depth at this time of the year.

At other times you might need to go a lot deeper, except in a few special locations, where they appear to go shallow pretty much all year.

We set the nets from land and out. Catches are often poor closest too land and in deep water, but we always diversify a bit in case there has been a change in water temperature.

There is not much else to be said for this fishing other than that the nets are set overnight and taken up in the morning. When the fishing is prime we can get 50kg a day or more, depending on how many gill nets we use.

Side catch in this particular lake is brown trout (Salmo trutta) and arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus). They have their own special seasons, but occasionally appear in whitefish catches, very much dependent upon locality.

The catch is given away, eaten right away or salted for future use.

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Nov 23 2020

Splitting Planks 2: Making Wedges

Published by under Wood Working

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Wedges sound like the easiest thing to make and yes, they are simple. However, there are as usual some consideration. The wood exerts a lot of pressure on them and the mallet will give them a heavy beating. So they should not be too small or made out of weak wood. The best woods are hardwoods, in this case I am using downy birch (Betula pubescens).

A normal firewood piece that has a bit of length and width to it will suffice. It is also an advantage if it splits reasonably straight. This one spiraled a bit, and that is taken out first. Take out the spiral in the direction of what will become the tip of the wedge.

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Next you hew the other side. Hew it pretty much to the top to get the most working part possible. You don’t want to go too thin as it will make the edge flimsy and it will blunt easily.

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Then make a secondary bevel, so it will penetrate the crack more readily.

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Finally you round off the edges to decrease chances of pieces splitting off when taking heavy blows with the mallet.

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They can be used fresh, but strength and durability increases a lot when they are dried properly.

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