Dec 27 2011

Winter preparations

Published by at 5:37 pm under Expeditions and Experiences

The snow has been carpeting the ground since well over a month. Craftwise, I’ve been mostly doing some minor repairs on my existing gear and tools.

The fur on the sleeves of my coyote parka got worn off in some spots, so I decided to cut out the thin parts and replace them with new fur. Lacking tanned coyote fur, I used racoon instead, which is actually of pretty similar quality.

coyote fur scrap

parka sleeves finished

The picture on the lower left shows a piece of tanned racoon fur and a piece of tanned (and worn-off) coyote fur – both are winter pelts. The hairs are of similar length and insulating properties, and in the end the patching is hardly visible (lower right). Ready for some cold weather!

I’ve posted about the skin boat I made earlier this summer…I appreciated all the feedback and questions about it. I’d sure do a few things differently with the next one, though this one has been quite satisfying so far. This is how it’s currently stored…

skin boat storage

…tied to the ceiling of a crafts shelter to keep it away from ground moisture.

I’m always curious about how the things I craft perform when they’re used on a everyday basis. Here are some pictures from one of my more recent trips in the woods:

The toboggan, finished last spring, seems to work just fine. I actually salvaged my gear lashing cord when I was running short of rawhide for my skin boat so I need to make some more…

The other pictures show some of the landscapes you might encounter here in the northwoods. Whenever possible and practical, I like to camp in hardwood forests such as the maple forest shown above, since they provide excellent firewood. Bogs and swamps can be hard to travel through in the summer time, but in the white season, once the ground is frozen and covered with snow they are easy to cross on snowshoes (and toboggans, if any gear needs to be hauled).

A little while ago I made this crooked knife with my friend and fellow craftsman Jarrod StoneDahl.

After using mass-produced crooked knives for a number of years, I came to appreciate the qualities of a hand-made tool more and more. On some of the more specialized projects that involved a crooked knife, I noticed how my hand and wrist started hurting after a while. Traditional craftsmen used tools that were matched to their needs, including the shape and size of their hand. The handle of this crooked knife has a thumb rest for additional support which greatly reduces the stress put on the wrist (see picture on the right) – and how that thumb rest needs to be shaped depends on who is using the knife – there is no “standard”.

We used his forge to craft the blade and fit the extension of the blade into a notch in the wooden handle, glued a wooden plug on top and wrapped it with linen string. More recently I put a sheath together to protect the blade. Jarrod has been making quite a number of such individually crafted crooked knives and if you have an interest in this subject, I recommend checking out his blog.


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7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Winter preparations”

  1. gregon 29 Dec 2011 at 4:53 am

    Awesome blog! I give you a lot of kudos for living off the land. I am trying to incorporate living off the land in to my daily routine as well but I am nowhere as hard core as you guys.

    Nice blog. I will make sure to check back to see what other things you guys are up to.

    The Metro Pioneer

  2. Anonymouson 31 Dec 2011 at 5:11 am

    Hey Greg,

    thanks for the kudus, I’m glad if it can be an inspiration.
    Have a great winter!


  3. Maton 31 Dec 2011 at 5:29 pm

    Hi Thomas,

    The winter here has been a little unusual this year – warm, and until yesterday, very little snow.

    It’s nice to see you using the toboggan. I wanted to try making one since I read your post about it. Today is finally the day I am going to cut the tree, it is a paper birch that I found a month ago or so. The trunk is leaning 10 degrees or so, I hope that won’t cause any issues with tension wood(if there is any) causing the plank to warp when drying. Also hoping for no propeller twist, unfortunately it is not uncommon in birches here.

    I’ll use an axe and a bow saw for felling, sectioning and rough shaping. For smoothing the planks I thought of using a larger crooked knife, as a traditional tool, but will probably use a jackplane to make it faster and easier, since I am not experienced in using a crooked knife.

    One book describes a sort of a “coffin shape” 10inches at the head, twelve a third way down, and slow taper to 9 inches at the tail. This same book talks about adding temporary cross pieces, to both sides of the plank, when bending the wood, to prevent splitting. I was wondering what your thoughts are on this.


  4. Thomason 01 Jan 2012 at 1:25 am

    hey Mat,

    it’s exciting to hear you’re working on a toboggan too!

    Warping can definitely be an issue with certain woods…if you wanna be on the safe side I suggest slowly drying rough-hewn planks (log halves with maybe some excess material trimmed off but still quite thick) instead of finishing the planks while they’re green. On the other hand it’s much easier to work with wood while it’s still green (and if you work with stone tools that holds even more true).

    I’ve heard about the coffin shape before too, not sure about its’ specific advantages/disadvantages – I don’t see a reason why such a toboggan wouldn’t work. If you go for that style, I’d sure be interested in hearing about your experiences with it.

    Not sure if I understand the purpose of the temporary cross pieces…I could see them being helpful for preventing lengthwise splits (which may be an issue if you work with woods that split very easily, such as white cedar, or if there are already splits or natural weaknesses in the area that is to be bent). I don’t see how it would prevent wood from breaking across the grain (as was the case with my toboggan – since the planks weren’t steamed enough they started breaking in two spots, though they turned out to be only superficial breaks). I’d say the key to successful bending is definitely to have the planks well steamed…
    Maybe there’s something else to the temporary cross pieces that I don’t see?
    Does anyone else have input on this?

    Let us know how your toboggan is coming along, there aren’t many people doing this any more and it’ll add to our common pool of knowledge.
    best wishes


  5. Maton 05 Jan 2012 at 10:20 pm

    Hello Thomas,

    I am still working on the toboggan. One(!) board is nearing completion now, but due to a mistake it is going to be narrower then I wanted. Rather then being 18-20cm its now going to be 15cm, or a little less. Now I still have the other half of the log, and if everything goes well(which it should now that I learned my lesson) I could get two boards 12cm wide, that way I can make a 3 board toboggan 35-36cm wide.

    35cm wide is what I have in mind because of the gear I am going to haul.

    Instead of making 3 board toboggan, I would much rather make a 2 board one, but it would be around 30cm wide then.
    So, I was wondering, in your experience, is packing a load that is wider(2-3 inches) then the toboggan itself works OK?


    P.S. I hope it is OK to post long tobbogan question in the comments here.

  6. Ronon 08 Jan 2012 at 3:52 am

    Great site! I really like your projects especially the tobogon and skin boat.

  7. Thomason 23 Jan 2012 at 6:50 pm

    Thanks for the feedback, Ron.

    Mat, I’d recommend going for the three plank toboggan if you can’t get your desired width with two planks. I think one of the main reasons that toboggans were traditionally made with two planks is because of sheer practicality: You just need to find and cut one straight log, split it and thin down the two halves.
    Most commercially available toboggans consist of quite a number of planks – with lumber all that work is already done for you and in fact using more than two planks places less stress on each one of them, enabling you to use inferior wood (or wood that’s been cut across the grain).

    On a couple occasions I’ve had my toboggan loaded in such a way that some part of the load was sticking out a little to the side – once I got into deep snow I realized why this wasn’t such a good idea…
    On that note, many traditional toboggans tend to be long and narrow so they can stay in your snowshoe tracks (if you need to use snowshoes, that is).

    Hope this is helpful,

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