Knowing how to use the environment in which you find yourself to the best of your abilities is the main point of outdoor life. Adapting to the conditions as they come and overcoming them to ensure you have a comfortable outing in nature is exciting, fun and probably why there are more and more outdoor enthusiasts all over the world.
One of the fundamental skills you’ll need to learn whether camping, hiking, or backpacking are the basic bushcraft projects. Learning how to make a shelter, craft utensils, even how to use natural resources to reinforce your camp or make it more comfortable are the fundamentals you’ll need to know before embarking on any serious outdoor adventure.
Disclaimer: The techniques mentioned in the article are dangerous when performed improperly. Make sure you practice these basic bushcraft practice projects in a controlled environment to get comfortable with them, before giving them a go in the wilderness.
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Bring the Right Gear for Bushcraft Projects
Whether we’re talking about sales, marketing, car repair, or any other activity, you’ll need the right set of tools if you want to excel at it. The same goes for bushcraft. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll be able to make most of the mentioned projects using a multitool if you’re camping without any other tools. However, to be able to properly conduct all of the bushcraft projects we’ll talk about, you’ll want to have the proper gear. You’ll need:
- Knife – preferably one with a pointed tip.
- Ax – not a hatched and not a long ax. It should be about the same length as the distance from your elbow to the top of your fingers, give or take a few inches.
- Saw – while not crucial, it makes sourcing the right length and width of wood much easier and less tiring.
In addition to these tools, you might want to have some supplementary items to make some of the bushcraft projects easier.
- Spoon knife – this particular item makes carving cups and spoons incomparably easier. Also, precision whittling those round edges gets super easy if you have a spoon knife.
- Hand drill – nothing better for making uniform holes in wood.
Know Which Type of Wood to Use For Bushcraft Projects
Having good tools will help you complete the basic bushcraft projects with little effort. However, ensuring your crafted items are durable and usable for a long time to come, you’ll need to source the right type of wood. Apart from durability, the hardness of the wood you choose will determine how long you’ll take to craft the items you’ll want. Here are some of the best types of wood for bushcraft:
- Black Spruce
- Scots pine
- Red cedar
- White cedar
- American Elder
Making feather sticks is by far the simplest and the most useful bushcraft skill you’ll come across. It basically consists of shaving thin strips of wood from the inside of the branch. To get the best sticks, you’ll need to use consistent, measured movements. You’ll know you’re doing a good job if the strips of wood start to curl.
This will be especially useful if you’re camping in particularly humid conditions and all the firewood you can find is soaked. With feather sticks, you’ll be able to reach the center which is the driest part of each branch. Now you only need a source of heat and you’ll be able to light a fire. If you are into DIY projects, check out our blog to learn how to make a camping candle.
PROTIP: If you find it difficult to shave the right thickness off the branch, you can use a pencil sharpener to make feather sticks and get reliable tinder. Just find a branch small enough to fit the sharpener and twist the branch, like you would when sharpening the pencil. Use the shavings you’ll get as fire tinder.
Hooks are made from V-shaped branches and have a ton of applications. You just need to find a branch with a little V on the bottom end, add some cordage and you’ll have a way to hang your things and keep them off the forest floor. If you tie these V-shaped branches to trees, you can even put up your sleeping arrangement to vent and get the smell out of your sleeping bag effortlessly, while you’re making your morning coffee.
Additionally, you can use hooks to hang your pot above the fire, but it would be best if you got familiar with these hooks before adding fire to the mix.
Stakes and Wedges
Making stakes and wedges is not unlike stripping the bark of your walking stick, but you wouldn’t want to do it while just holding the wood in your hand. To ensure your wedges are flat on both sides, you’ll want to place the “sharp” end of the wedge (so it’s standing vertically) on a stump or another cutting surface you might have and hit it on both sides with an ax, trying to get the same angle.
As far as stakes are concerned, you’ll want to lay the wood horizontally on the cutting surface and use a knife or ax to sharpen one side to a point. Another thing you can do is to put a notch on the other end, so the cordage you tie to the stake won’t slip away or fall off it.
Wedges are incredibly useful when you’re splitting larger pieces of wood, while additional stakes come in handy when you need to add extra guy lines to your tent to increase security in those windy areas.
Making a Stool
For this bushcraft project, you’ll need a piece of a log about as thick as your hand. It would be best if you could cut this O-shaped panel with a saw to keep it flat on the bottom and top sides. Then, choose the flatter side – this one you’ll use for sitting. On the other side, make 3 or 4 holes at an angle. They should be evenly spaced around the circular panel and should be between the center and the edge of the circle.
Get 3 or 4 equally long and thick branches (or cut 1 longer branch into pieces of equal length) and sharpen one of the sides to a point. Insert the pointy ends into the holes you made and you’ll get a primitive woodsman’s stool.
Making a stool might look like a fool’s errand or just a novelty task to get into while camping, but it will be a literal life-saver in extremely cold conditions. When it’s below 30 degrees the ground will be frozen and sitting on it can drain the precious life-sustaining warmth from you in a manner of minutes. Making a stool will help you get your behind off the frigid ground and give you a way to rest your legs after a long day’s bushcrafting.
Carving a Cup
This bushcraft project is also pretty easy if you have the right tools. Having a spoon knife with you is the best way to make this job easy. If you haven’t got one of these, then you’ll need to work hard and be patient. It will take a long time to carve a cup with a regular knife.
You can also try to burn in the cup by continuously placing small embers in the same spot on a log. This process will take even more time than carving a cup with a regular knife, but it will be much less demanding. All you need to do is keep a fire going and kindle the embers burning in the log.
Splitting Wood Properly
When you’re looking to split wood with an ax, make sure you examine your surroundings very carefully. You’ll want to have enough room to swing your ax without having to worry about hitting trees, foliage, or other campers.
Always ensure that all of your body parts are out of the way so that in case your tool bounces or slips it won’t hit you. When using an ax, make swift and strong movements to ensure the maximum energy gets through. If you’re using a knife to cut bigger logs, you can place the knife on the long and baton it with a different piece of wood until you split the log.
Without Any Blade
I’m not even going to try and claim that splitting wood without any blade will be easy, cause it’s nearly impossible. However, nearly impossible is still plausible, and while this should never be your primary method of splitting wood.
First, let’s make it clear that not having a blade doesn’t mean you can’t use any tools. You should have a wooden wedge or a sharp, flat rock to make this task manageable. You should look for branches or smaller logs that have prominent cracks starting out either side. If you cannot find any wood that has those, you can make them yourself by running the flat rock on the narrow side of a log. Just make sure you’re making the groove parallel to the grain of the wood.
Once you have a decent groove, place the wooden wedge or the flat rock in it and drop the log so it hits the wedge. You will need to use substantial force to split a log this way, especially if the wood is not dry enough, and it will take some time. However, if there are no other options, this is a lifesaver.
Apart from this, you can use the environment to help you split wood. Here are some ways you can do it:
- Wedge the branch you’re trying to split between two trees and apply pressure until the branch snaps
- Wedge the branch between two boulders or rocks and twist it until it snaps
- Hitting a dry branch against a hard surface will break the branch, you should be careful the broken part doesn’t end up in your face, though
Other Bushcraft Tips That Will Help You Stay Safe in the Wild
- Proper leverage – Your arms are strongest and most precise when they are close to your body. If you need to process some hard or thick wood, it will be easier, and safer to bring it closer to your body than to extend the arms and work away from it.
- Away not towards – when using big movements that require lots of force but have little control (like chopping or hammering) make sure to do them away from your body, or, at least, keep the blade of your tool as far away from your body as possible.
- Saw it right – when sawing a piece of wood, always apply pressure in one direction. It is usually suggested to apply pressure when pulling the saw towards you, instead of when pushing. This will preserve your tool and ensure they last longer.
- Protect the blades – never leave a bare blade in the wilderness. As soon as you’re done using a tool, put it back into its sheath or cover it up. bare blades can lead to serious injury when stepped on, not to mention the moisture or grit that could damage a blade.
- Never use a rock as a cutting surface – unless you’re incredibly precise, you’re bound to hit the rock and damage your cutting tool.