Making Charcoal

Charcoal has a huge variety of uses, from purifying drinking water, building a fire, a dye, making your own ink and has even been used as medicine. You can also use it to dehydrate something in order to preserve it. In bushcraft of course, the most common use for charcoal is to build a campfire. But you don’t need to head to the shops to get it, making charcoal is quite easy.

What is charcoal?

Very simply, charcoal is wood that has had all the unstable compounds burned out of it, leaving carbon behind. Carbonizing wood requires fire and the ability to cut air off from that fire. This means the fire will go out after absorbing the volatile compounds, but will not entirely consume the wood. Once the fire goes out, you are left with charcoal.

You can make charcoal in different ways:

– By using a pit where the fire gradually builds up and then smothered.
– In a clamp or pile, which gradually smothers as it burns.
– Using a kiln with the charcoal wood in a container. Once surrounded by fire, the volatile gases go into the outer fire to improve the burn.

Charcoal making guide

Here is one simple method of making charcoal:

1. Choose a clear site with no stray roots nearby and build a fire.

2. Find a metal container with a loose-fitting lid. This will act as your cooker. Then cut a small hole in the lid. This is very important because as the wood burns inside the container, it will give off methane gas, which is highly flammable. If you allow the methane to build up too much, it could cause an explosion. Take a coat hanger and wrap it around the container with the hook on the top. This will create a cage, which you can use to easily move the container in and out of the fire.

3. Choose and prepare your wood. You might have to rely on what wood you can find nearby. However, you will need to think about what you plan to use the charcoal for. There are two basic kinds of wood, hardwood and softwood. Hardwood (oak, walnut, hickory, and beech) charcoals tend to burn hotter and hold together well. Softwood (pine, willow or poplar) charcoals are better at absorbing things.

4. You will need to chop the wood into small chips to put into the cooker. Use your axe to split each piece as many times as possible. When you’ve split the big pieces into thin pieces, chop them up into small twig-sized pieces.

5. Put the little pieces of wood into the cooker. Put the lid on and use a stick to move the cooker into the fire. You can also use the stick to make sure the cooker stays right in the flame. As it begins cooking, white smoke will come out of the top hole and under the lid. After a while, this smoke will become highly flammable. Once the smoke stops being flammable, your charcoal is ready. To test this, put a burning stick up to the hole on the top of the container.

6. Take it out of the fire immediately, but do not remove the lid just yet. If the charcoal gets exposed to the air too soon, it will become white ash. Wait for the container to become completely cool before removing the lid. Bend back the loose wire on the cage and pull the container free. Check the contents. There should not be any wood pieces left and very little or no ash. To test it, take a big piece and snap it. You want it to snap easily.
Find out more about making charcoal

To perfect your charcoal making technique, or you are a complete beginner, sign up to our axe skills and charcoal making course, where you will receive hands-on tuition from the experts at Wildway Bushchraft. Get in touch for more information or visit our courses page to find out what else we have in store this year.

 


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If you have caught the bushcraft bug and keen to get outside and set up camp, you should make sure you know how to bushcraft responsibly. Things like land ownership, laws and bylaws and regulations are all important to find out about, before you pitch your tent.

In the UK, there are no specific laws relating to bushcraft, but there are laws relevant to bushcraft activities like knives, fires, foraging, fishing, trapping plus access and camping. Here are our some things you should know to make sure you bushcraft responsibly.

Camping and fires

You must get the permission of landowner of the site that you are planning to use to camp or light fires. Most land in the UK is either privately owned or owned by local authorities. In many cases, landowner’s permission is needed to be able to even just go onto their land. The Forestry Commission may be able to help you find suitable campsites. If they don’t give you permission, then just keep trying to find somewhere until you locate a suitable area. It will be worth all the effort! You may find it helpful to familiarise yourself with The Countryside Code before you set out. There are many public foothpaths and bridleways criss-crossing England and these public rights of ways are marked on Ordnance Survey maps. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 also shows established areas of open access land where access by foot is allowed.

Foraging

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 covers all of the UK and states that it is against the law to remove any wild plant if you do not have the prior permission of the landowner. There is special protection for plants in areas known as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and National Nature Reserves. In areas that you have legal access to, you can pick fungi, flowers, berries, nuts and leaves, but you still need permission from the landowner to dig out roots, or to remove an entire plant. You should only take foliage and flowers from large areas of a plant, and you really must only pick what you actually need.

Trapping and snaring

There are legal restrictions with using snares. You must always get the landowner’s permission beforehand and follow the codes of practice set out by Defra. Even with permission from the landowners, you may still not be outside the relevant legislation for some activities like trapping animals and removing protected plants.

Knives

Before you head out anywhere with a knife, you should familiarise yourself with the current law. The laws can vary depending on the particular type of knife, your age and the circumstances you want to have it for.

Don’t let the regulations put you off enjoying your next bushcraft experience, there is no better place than the great outdoors. Before you head out, check out our Top 10 bushcraft kit essentials.

Natural Cord Bushcraft

Bramble Double Twist, Bramble, Yucca and Nettle

Natural cordage is both vital to survival skills and a satisfying and rewarding process in itself. For those wanting to develop their wilderness skills, the process of making natural cordage is an essential step to the further construction of fishing line and bowstrings for hunting, for lashing poles for shelters and bundles and thousand other uses that can make the difference between a pleasant bushcraft experience and a miserable one. Whilst foraging is often seen as simply the art of gleaning food from nature, bushcraft skills such as producing cordage from the natural environment allow for a far wider range of foraging experiences, as well as providing the opportunity to develop an amazing ability to make a cord or string from unlikely appearing materials.  

Plants

Brambles and grasses offer a good range of cordage possibilities, although the preferred plant-based cordage in the UK is probably nettle, partly because they are so readily available for so much of the year and partly because nettle offers a superior cordage owing to the length of fibre available and the ease of working with the nettle fibre. Nettle makes a cord or braid that can be used effectively for most purposes and can even be woven to make a durable if coarse fabric – as is proved by the fact that World War I knapsacks were woven from nettle fibre!

Nettle-based cordage

Remember that if you’re working with nettles you need to avoid the stinging hairs which are found on the underside of the leaves and the stem. You can rub these off the plant completely while wearing gloves, then tear off the leaves.
Crush the stem along its length using your fingers, but don’t use a stone as this can damage the fibres. Using your fingernail or a knife, slide into the end of the stem and open it up like a book so it can be laid flat.
Scrape out the inner fibres to leave the outer fibres of the nettle which will serve as your cordage. This can be used straight away, or you can thin the stem down by tearing or slicing it lengthways to create a narrower fibre.
Allow your cordage to dry either in the sun or by putting it near a camp fire – this is vital as nettle, in particular, shrinks when dried and you need that process to happen before you use it.
Nettle cordage may then need to be soaked to prevent it becoming brittle, and to strengthen it further you can twist your nettle fibre. Simply find the half-way point of your cordage and fold it in two. By twisting one half of the stem with your free hand and then allowing it to twine itself round the other half of the stem you’ll massively increase the tensile strength of your cordage.

IMG_0883

Tree-based cordage

Complete stems from a range of trees can be used as withies – the most successful trees for this purpose are hazel, willow, birch, elm, poplar, and ash – however any tree that produces thin pliable stems can be used; where such stems are short, withies can be woven together to make a relatively pliable withy which is good for lashing or adding structural stability to structures.

Inner bark, known as bast, is a more substantial product but requires a greater range of skills and more time. The plus side of tree based cordage is that it lasts longer and is much more durable. Begin by locating a suitable tree: goat willow (aka pussy willow), crack willow, oak, elm and lime are great trees for bast cordage. Lime was in fact the the chosen fibre for cordage and was used across Europe until hemp became more readily available in the 15th century. Even roots can be used to make bindings – Scots Pine is superb for this purpose, but of course you need to take care that you’re not going to damage the tree if you grub to extract some of the smaller, younger roots.

If you’re going for bast-based fibres you’ll have the best raw materials for cordage but to actually produce the finest cordage you need to use a softening method such as beating, boiling, heating, retting or smoking.

Begin by stripping the bark from your chosen tree stems by slitting the bark down the centre and peeling it off carefully. Then prepare the bark using one of the methods describe above – retting and smoking in particular require more expertise and hands-on demonstration than we can cover effectively online, so why not book one of our Dorset bushcraft courses and discover the best techniques for yourself?

IMG_0886Once made, bast cordage is great to work with and we can show you how to use it in a hundred ways to add to your survival skills experience.

 

On our Bushcraft courses we teach game preparation and get students to prep their own food so they know how to, should the need ever arise in the wilderness.

This is a walk through guide on how to skin and butcher a rabbit for food. You can learn more techniques like this by signing up to a Wildway Bushcraft courseUsing this method will also allow you to keep the pelt in the most useful condition so you can use it for making items such as slippers and bags.

We will start at the point where you have got your hands on a rabbit. Assuming the rabbit looks fit and healthy, you will need to kill it.

You will want to do this as quickly and as painlessly as possible, showing the utmost respect to the animal. You are aiming for a humane dispatch, this can be achieved by giving the rabbit two sharp strong blows to the back of its head. This can be done with either your hand in a chopping motion or by using a good solid round of timber. Take your time and be firm to ensure you get it right the first time. To check the rabbit is dead, check the corneal reflex. You do this by poking the animal in the eye. If you get any reaction from the eye, the rabbit is not dead. If this is the case, hit it again, hard.

So we now have a dead, healthy looking rabbit. Now what?Bushcraft rabbit

Empty the bladder of the animal by pushing down on the rabbits belly and moving downwards as you do so. You may see urine being expelled; if the rabbit went to the loo before you caught it you may not!

Take a knife, place the rabbit on its back and using the tip of your knife, carefully cut upwards from the rabbits belly button area to its ribcage. Be careful not to nick the rabbits guts, this is a sure fire way to taint the meat.

Once you have made the cut, use your hand to remove the offal and guts of the rabbit. Good. Job done!

Now snap the rabbits back legs at what would be the knee on a human. Once you have broken the bone cut it off with your knife.rabbit skinning

Do the same with the front paws. You now have 4 lucky rabbits feet!

Turning the rabbit on its back, use your fingers to separate the skin from the meat. Keep pulling and working the skin away until you have got to its back. Now do the same from the other side. You will now have a rabbit hand bag!DSCF0476

Continue removing the skin towards the back legs and pull the skin off the back legs. This can be quite tough so be firm.

Once you have done this, do the same with the front. Again be firm and and it will come off.DSCF0479

You should at this point have a naked rabbit with its own fur as a cloak. Remove any last bits of skin until you are up to the neck area. When you are, firmly twist off the head and pull it away. You will now be left with a rabbit hand puppet.DSCF0481DSCF0480

 

 

 Using your knife, cut the shoulders off of the rabbit. They are not attached by a bone or joint so they will come off easily.

Next, spread the hind legs and break the ball and socket joint. Cut the animals “bottom” out using a V shape cut where the tail was. This will remove the anal passage and any droppings yet to be passed plus the scent glands which if left in can smell foul when the meat is cooking. When you have done this, you will be able to cut off the legs at the joint just as you did with the front legs. 

Remove the skirts from the animal –  these can be turned in to rabbit jerky by adding salt and drying them out over the smoke of your fire. You will now be able to break the spine just after the rib cage and cut though the rabbit to remove the loins – these are the best bits in my opinion!

Use the ribs to create a stock and slowly boil up the joints to create a rabbit stew.DSCF0486

I hope you found this useful. If you wish to learn more about game prep and other bushcraft skills then check out our bushcraft courses held in Dorset and Hampshire.

 

Learn more bushcraft skills on our weekend
bushcraft course. 

Click here to learn more and book your space.

An essential survival skill and a great learning experience

Four thousand years ago the ancient Egyptians were using hearth sticks to light their domestic fires. This long history of friction fire lighting continues to the present day, through Tamil Nadu fire drills and the foot-powered drills used by the Lhota Naga people in India. The average Masai warrior won’t just hunt his dinner, he’ll use friction fire lighting to cook it – a skill that most modern people have never developed.

Fire lighting has become easy: matches and lighters make it straightforward to start a blaze wherever we are, but suppose you didn’t have the necessary supplies to hand? Learning how to light a fire with only naturally available materials is not just a life skill, it’s a superb way of exploring how your body functions, because it requires using tiny motor skills that many of us lost sight of when our playground days were over.

This combination of skills, expertise and selection of materials is called bushcraft and it’s what we specialise in teaching. Our fun and relaxed environment in the beautiful countryside of Dorset and Hampshire makes a great natural classroom. Joining us for a bushcraft course will give you an amazing insight into how our environment can provide us with everything we need to survive, even if our modern lives have not given us the chance to develop key bushcraft skills.

Learning to make fire is what separated the human from the animal, and may have led to all the great innovations our race has made since, from developing language to landing on the moon! Wildway Bushcraft can teach you how to prepare and use a fire starting bow drill in a single day – so that you can experience the thrill of creating fire from nothing.

A bow drill is the most efficient tool for friction fire generation, and we’ll teach you how to select the right materials such as Hazel and Ivy which occur naturally in the wild and are easy to work with. There’s no point developing a skill that you couldn’t actually use if necessary, so we focus on teaching with commonly available native trees and plants.

We teach you how to identify the right wood, what the difference is between standing and lying dead wood and why it matters to your fire-starting abilities and how to make a spindle and a hearth from dry dead wood to maximise your ability to create fire. After that we help you determine how to measure your bow and which woods to use to make it strong but light, so you can operate it for the necessary length of time.

Making a bearing block and gathering tinder are also key skills and help you build your aptitude for basic natural engineering and foraging.

Is it starting to sound complicated? It’s not. Our expert survival skills tuition will help you find your feet in the wild and our bushcraft students find they easily come to grips with their surroundings and find ways to use what nature provides, including their own bodies, you’ll find the same as you develop your own bushcraft skills.

Why not call us today to sign up for one of our friction fire lighting days?

photo 1

In the bushcraft world, fire is one of the main things people want to master. This is easier when its nice and dry and sunny but much more difficult when it is chucking it down with rain. There is a paradox with making fire. The greater the need, the harder it is to achieve.

This is where feather sticks come in. They require quite a lot of practice to perfect but a good quality feather stick will light from a simple spark and can be a life line if you are short on dry tinder and kindling.

So how do we go about producing a feather stick? First of all you will need a sharp knife. Here at Wildway Bushcraft we use the Bear Blade 4’’ Classic. These are a great all round bushcraft knife, made by a local guy in Dorset. We try where ever possible to support bushcraft in Dorset, working closely with local partners, Wildway Bushcraft believe our bushcraft courses are extra special because of this. But I digress!

Once you have a sharp knife, you need to find some dead wood. Wood from a dead standing tree is ideal. You will need to find a knot free piece approximately 30 to 40cm long and 5 cm in diameter. Once you have a suitable bit of wood you need to access the dry wood inside.

You do this by splitting the wood into quarters. Use your knife to batten though the wood. You should now have a triangular shaped piece of wood to create your feather stick.

Now comes the hard bit! I find it easier to sit down at this point and place the wood to my right side as I am right handed. Put one end on the ground or chopping block and place the other end close to the top of the outside of your thigh. I found this to be the best position for me but you will want to tweak it a bit to make yourself comfortable. Lock off your arm at the elbow and use your knife to shave down the wood by bending at the waist. This will give you steady smooth pressure and prevent the knife getting stuck in the wood.

You are aiming to create large curls of dry wood but be sure to leave them attached to the stick as you are going to be building the curls up over and over again until you have a large amount of large curls. When you are happy you have enough large curls, make some smaller ones further up the stick getting smaller and smaller as you move up the stick. At the end, you should have something that looks like this IMG_0081

You will want 2 or 3 of these to give yourself the best chance of getting your fire going. Remember maximise you chances when ever you can!

You should now have the makings of a good fire collect all the small sticks you can and prepare your fire as you would normally. The small curls will now take a spark and catch a flame. This will then light the larger curls and so on and so on, giving you a nice warm fire.

It is really rewarding to light a fire this way. The guys at Wildway Bushcraft are always carving feather sticks when they are not teaching lessons on our bushcraft courses as this is a skill that is often over looked. Once you have mastered this skill you will have a great tool in your bushcraft armoury and the confidence to create fire in the wettest of conditions.

All our bushcraft courses are held in Dorset so why not join us in the woods to learn much much more. After all, Wildway Bushcraft is about more than just survival!

Coming from the Gaelic bannach, bonnach or bhannag meaning ‘morsel’, Bannock Bread is a simple flatbread that originated in Scotland.

There are other opinions on where the word bannock came from, such as from the Latin word panicium which is thought by some to mean “baked dough”, however the actual translation means ‘to panic’. Now this could have some foundation in the fact that bannock is and was commonly used as a survival food. The other, and slightly better translation is from the Latin word panicus, which means ‘millet’ (a small seeded grass commonly used as a crop). However, the word

However, the word panicus was not thought to have been invented until the 1500’s, so you make up your own mind.

Bannock is not to be confused with Australian Damper. Bannock refers to any large round article baked or cooked from grain, whereas damper, is traditionally baked or cooked from wheat flour and water.

Bannock was taken to North America and Canada by the Scottish explorers and fur traders. Flour was a highly used commodity by the Hudson’s Bay Company and also the Northwest Company. This inevitably meant that the indigenous peoples of Canada and the Northern Great Plains eventually adopted bannock into their own cuisine.

Today there are an almost infinite amount of variations on this simple recipe of what is essentially flour and water. Bannock is a great source of carbohydrates, and often complimented high protein meals such as pemmican. More recently baking powder has been added to make the bread lighter and more suited to the changing palate of the modern world.

Bannock can be made entirely from foraged natural resources in the wilderness, if you are lucky enough to be in the right area and have the knowledge of which seeds or roots are safe to use in the correct way. Then seasonal fruits, nuts and maple, birch and also sycamore sap, can be used instead of, or with water for binding the ingredients.

The traditional way of cooking bannock is on a clach bhannag (Gaelic) which is a D-shaped flat-topped piece of sandstone that is put next to, and angled toward the fire. The stone was also sometimes heated directly on top of the hot coals.

Nowadays, bannock is more commonly associated with us bushcrafters, hikers and campers (sometimes used as a great survival food) also it’s a great food to get the kids onto campfire cooking, the next step on from marshmallows. The ease of preparation and the ability to use all manner of ingredients means that bannock is not only a simple, fun and communal food to make, but is a great source of nourishment. Bannock is as popular as ever in Canada too, even to the point where they have bannock restaurants over there, which is fantastic.

Here is the recipe that I have used as a base for many years. It is slightly elaborate, but I like it. I like to add seasonal fruit or nuts etc where possible, or just lavish it with luxurious ingredients such as chocolate chips, raisins and the like. As birch tapping season is practically upon us, I am going to try making bannock with the birch sap using different reductions I think.

Bannock:

  • 3 mugs of flour (any type)
  • 2 mugs of milk powder
  • 1 tsp of baking powder
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Enough water to make a nice thick dough
  • A little bit of fun.

The great thing is, you can add whatever else you like to the mix. I tend to add syrup, honey, raisins, nuts, or just about anything seasonal I can find around me.

Once you have a thick dough, make your patties up to roughly about the size of a scone, or you can fill the bottom of your pot if you prefer. Put them in your mess tin, fry pan, pot or whatever you have available (you can even make a board from some green wood if you wanted to and put it next to the fire, tilted up using a small log etc) put the ‘pot’ on some good embers and make sure you keep turning the bannock whilst cooking. Times will vary enormously, so just keep checking for a golden brown colour and that hollow sound when you tap them.

Let them cool for a while and then break them open being careful they’re not too hot still never cut them open with a knife, as this is said to bring bad luck.

A variation on this recipe, although some people would argue that it is actually damper, is to twist the dough around a nice thick green stick (about the thickness of a permanent marker) and cook above the embers or near the fire until golden brown with a nice hollow sound when tapped. When cooked and cooled, remove the stick and fill the void with some nice hedgerow jam, yummy!

One other way of using the ‘twists’ is as an amazing hotdog bap. Go on ….. you know you wanna try it!

Our favourite way at Wildway bushcraft is to bake it then pour loads of Maple Syrup on and leave it to soak in!

Anyways, hope you take away something from this article and practice your fire lighting so that you can have fun coming up with some impressive recipes of your own. 

 

Learn more bushcraft techniques on our
weekend bushcraft course. 

Click here to learn more and book your spot. 

To poke a wood fire is more solid enjoyment than almost anything else in the world (Dudley Warner)

Making & maintaining a campfire

Fire is essential in the Bushcraft and Survival world, it keeps you warm, allows you to cook, provides you with a source of light and as the quote above alludes, keeps your morale up! Lighting a fire is one of my favourite parts of the day when out on my Bushcraft trips. Sitting down next to a warming bushcraft fire with a hot drink and relaxing after a day out in the forest can not be beaten. But it has not always been this way for me. It took me a while to realise that to get a good fire going it takes preparation, not a massive amount, but it must be good preparation. If you try to cheat, and I have in the past, it won’t work.

So first up we need a tinder.

Tinder is material that lights easily and gives off a small flame that is then used to light smaller bits of wood. There are loads of tinder’s out there some natural and some man-made. Some of the better known natural tinder’s are birch bark, dry dead grass, Clematis down or you can make yourself a feather stick and if done correctly that will take a spark. Likewise there is nothing stopping you from taking out man-made tinder’s like cotton wool balls, tumble dryer lint and even a shredded up egg box works well. I regularly take out tinder with me as its all part of the preparation. Ask yourself do you really want to be hunting for natural tinder when you are cold and hungry or do you want to pull out some you had prepared in advance? I know what I would rather have!

Next up is kindling.

So now we have the tinder sorted, it’s time to get kindling. Kindling is small twigs and branches that will catch quickly and easily from the flame your tinder gives off.

The best place to find this sort of wood is from dead standing trees or dead branches that have fallen off the tree and become hung up. I have found that pencil thickness twigs are ideal, but is important that they are dry, a good test of this is if the branch snaps and makes a cracking sound then you are good to go.

When you have collected a good amount of these, you can then collect some thumb thickness sticks to put on the fire when your smaller ones have caught a light. If you are unable to find any suitable kindling you can make some of your own by splitting larger bits of wood until you have the thickness you require, you can then feather these to make sure that they catch.

Now we need larger fire wood.

Just like the thicker kindling you collected its now time to get some larger firewood. I collect several different sizes of this type of wood so I have different thickness of fuel to build up the fire. You will need to build up the fire using the smaller bits of wood first and work up to the larger wood you have collected. Split wood will burn quicker the wood that has not been split so it is worth splitting some wood to make it easier to catch and when you have a good strong fire going you can add whole logs.

So how do we get a good fire going?

First, prepare the ground where you are going to have the fire. Clear all the leaf litter, dried grasses and small twigs well away from where you plan to have the fire, I do this because it’s good practice and greatly reduces the risk of things catching alight that you don’t want catching! If the ground is wet then it’s a good idea to place a wooden base on the ground so it keeps the fire off the wet ground. Once you have your base, place your tinder on it. I like to add a few small bits of kindling in a Tepee shape so when the tinder does light it is not a mad rush trying to get it onto the fire before the tinder goes out. Make sure all of your firewood is ready to go and organised and when you are happy, light your tinder!

When your tinder is lit start by adding your Kindling, slowly, allow it to catch alight and add more and more fuel as the fire gets stronger. Now you have a good strong flame going now is the time to add your larger fuel, do this until you have the size of fire you require and then sit back and enjoy!!

 The trick to lighting and maintaining a bushcraft fire is attention and patience, do not rush and do not try to cut corners, if you look after your bushcraft fire and fuel it correctly when it is small it will look after you when it is large.