Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Daily doings - trying some new things

New things like doing dishes in the woods at -10C...
Actually it is not so much the dishes, but more how to clean your pots and pans and get rid of that horrible soot, that stains them when cooking over an open fire. It leaves a huge mess everywhere, but how to clean it? In summer it is not all that much of a problem. Some scrubbing with sand and maybe a handfull of grass can do the trick and take off most of that black problem. But how to tackle that in a frozen and snowcovered world?
The answer to me came in a post made by a German woman's (I guess) blog, called There the method of cleaning fireplace glaspanes with ash was shown. I immediately tried that myself and behold... I could clean the sooted glasdoor without the need of any agressive, chemical substance. Just an old rag, a bucket with a little water and the ashes from the fireplace. Get the rag wet, dip it into the ash and rub. There's no need for force either and the glas gets cleaned almost effortlessly! Brilliant!

*Edit januari 17th; I cleaned the fireplace again and this experimented a little more. I used a little more water and ashes and dabbed that onto the thicker sootcrusts on the doorframe and let that sit there for a minute or so. Even the crust came off afterwards, so it is not just the scouring of the ashes that cleans, but the wet ashes actually react with the soot, loosening and dissolving it!*

Here's the link to the blog; Cleaning with ashes
However there still remained the issue of the pots and pans. The combination Rag-water-fingers at -15C did not seem really apealling. Now what? I decided to test that "in the field", in this case the fireplace in the backyard.
Grabbed all the necessary stuff and went out. It would be a good opportunity to test several things all at once; making a fire in the snow without matches, see if and how much water I could get to a boil and how much snow I'd need for a cup of tea, see if I could keep my feet warm while remaining static more or less and to try my winterknife. So... Pay attention, class!!

I headed out this morning at around 09:00. Weather was calm, overcast, temperature -8C. Because I wanted to get my pan sooty I used part of the pinewoodstems that were put up against the large birch. Turned out that it was quite dificult to break them! Very springy.... After I had broken up a dozen of pieces I went out to gather smaller branches and such. The lower branches on birch often are dead and dry, same as with pine, so that was done soon. We also have some rowan around the house and I wanted to try the bark under these frozen conditions too. See my one match firemaking drill in soaking conditions
With my knife I scraped off some bark from the birches after whiping off the hoarfrost and snow. I tried to peel it off, but that wouldn't work, so I shaved off some. Works just as fine and you can keep your mittens on. I used a piece of rowanbark as a container to collect the flakes.

I tried to light these shavings with the firesteel, just to see if the knife would throw sparks... and boy it did! Lit up like fireworks and I only needed 3 scrapes to light the shavings. I added some rowan outerbarkpieces to the small flames and waited a little. The bark took longer to take a flame, but once it did it burned more fiercely and longer than comparable birchbark. If you can get a few pieces, add them to your firekit!
After that I just built up the fire as usual, deliberately using many pinepieces, because that created soot for sure. I filled the pan with snow and set it next to the fire in order to melt some snow, before I hung the pot over the fire. It is steel, so it should not matter that much, but still. I was amazed to see just how much water snow can absorb! I waited till the snow no longer absorbed water and then hung the pot over the fire. I added a cup of snow at a time and slowly increased the quantity of water.
While the snow melted I tried to figure out how to get the pot clean afterwards without my fingers freezing solid. Than it hit me; a brush for scrubbing! I took a fresh birchbranch about the thickness of a thumb and pounded the thickest end untill the fibres came loose, thus creating a brush.

For the scrubbing I needed ash, so I also added handsfulls of small birch twigs. A normal campfire would also produce ash, but over a longer timespan. I also added the leftovers from the fresh branch I took and much to my surprise the buds on the small twigs popped open like popcorn, revealing the fresh green promiss of spring within them!

This is how much water a cup full of snow yields... about 10%

Die to my clumsyness ( I kicked over the potstand with pot+water) I had to start over to melt water, which prompted me to think again and look for alternatives. By the time I figured one out I already had 1 cup of water again. I used the warm water to soak the brushend, making it a little more soft and pliable, so the fibres would not break off while scrubbing. I dipped the wet brush into the ashes and started scrubbing. The thick sooty layer easily came off! The following result came within a minute or 2, without using any force; just water and ash and some rubbing.

I continued dipping the brush in the water and ashes, untill I realised there was water all around me! The snow! I dipped the brush in the snow, dipped it into the ashes again and happily rubbed on. There was no need to melt water! That should make things a lot easier! There was just one problem; the accumulating grey/brownish watery goo which was the result of the rubbing and occassional scrubbing. Then I remembered the waterabsorbing capabilities of the snow and I rolled the pot through the snow and waited a short while. After that I could simply brush off the snow, which had absorbed the dirt. So I altered the dipping and brushing with the rolling and brushing and within 5 minutes my pot was clean.... Well, acceptably clean. Clean enough to not stain everything a sooty black and clean enough for the next use! All that was needed was to dry the pot and mug, so the water wouldn't freeze. Another minute next to the dyed out fire and everything was dry.
Mission accomplished!

I also spoke of my winterknife and I want to show you what I mean.
It is a Holmberg's from Eskilstuna, a large lookalike version of the famous Mora scout. A sort of teenage/grown up version.....
I prefer this knife over the obviouslt too small Scout and the other knives I have, because of the quillon. This prevents the gloved up hand from slipping over the blade while using it. With several layers of cloth or leather between hand and hilt the feel for it is much reduced and I really do not like the thought of the hand slipping and the blade biting into the leather, wool and underlaying skin. Not only would a damaged glove or mitten seriously compromise the coldweatherprotection, but a cut up hand in winter is no laughingmatter either and would cause serious problems!

This is what was inside the mitten covering the hand .
The extended pulloversleeve keeps the hands nice and warm.
The knife + firesteel resulted in fireworks.

Over the past week I put together a belt of things that I consider necessary or very handy in winterconditions. Things that I want to keep close, without cluttering up or overfilling my pockets. It is to be used as an EDC (EveryDayCarry) and in combination with the sled, which I will show later. If I wanted to use it with a backpack, I would need to remove the large pouch on the back.
The belt is homemade, the 2 dark double pouches are leather Swiss army ammopouches from the 40's and the large lighter pouch is also swiss army, but it's function is not known. It was a gift from a member of BCUK a few years ago and has a few images carved into the leather, such as a oakleaf, a pair of feathers and a sort of woodspirit. I like these carvings and I brought them out more by using a very dark brown shoepolish. Gave the pouch a nice, deep tone too.

I know there are plenty out there who'd like to know what I carry in my EDC, so I'll give you a rundown of the contents.
Starting with the left frontpocket; my WW2 german compas in the matching pouch my oldest daughter gave me, my old police wistle, both items wrapped in a military issue handkerchief. The pouch next to it; a large plastic bag, 15 meters of paracord in a ziplock and a spare set of knitted gloves.
In the pouch on the back; a cheap, transparent poncho, an emergency blanket, a set of foldable snowgoggles (German army) and a tin with weatherproof firelighting equipment, such as matches in a ziplock, a tealight, 2 tampons and an esbitcube. Then there's the knife...
The second pouch on the right; a 10 meter roll of 0.5mm messingwire, a tin with small things like sewingset, tweezers and some leftover space, a tin of natural lipbalm (called Stupidly Simple Wick Balm) and it indeed used to contain a wick. There's a bit of room left in the pouch. The right front pouch contains a first aid kit with a faceshield a.k.a. kiss of life for mouth to mouth resucitation, 2x2 larger bandaids, an antisceptic wipe and a tin with tape, several smaller bandaids and 2 painkillers (of the not-for-kids-type)

Like I said the belt is to be used with my sled.... and I tried that for the first time last week too. It was the first time I ever pulled a sled, so uncharted terrain for me, there. To make it a bit more interesting I loaded the sled, or pulk, up with a duffelbag containing roughly 25kg of surplus (even to me) gear.

I made a small tour through the garden, which contains all sorts of terrain; flat & smooth, with tall grass, stones, rocks, boulders, shrubs and bushes, trees and up- and downhill paths. I was surprised at the ease with which I could pull the thing! It floated like a boat on water. It does have a similar shape. Even when hitting a bump or something like that, the pulk would not turn over, despite the cargo sitting loose.
Turning however was not that easy and will take a bit more practice.
When using the poles I was even able to go up and down slopes with the sled, without too much trouble. I would have trouble doing the same without poles and sled!!

Unfortunately the sled does need some work. I have to fix a few tear and loose seams of the cover. I also need to make a new seam along the topedge. It needs a rope to tie it off as well. Another thing I need to check and fix are the poles, allthough it actually is one pole with 2 curves. There is something wrong there, but what, I will see when I remove the tape.


  1. Nice stuff Ron.
    I like your belt set-up, and I'm not at all envious on you compass...

  2. Tack Odd!

    I added a little more information on the fireplacecleaningpart.

  3. ...have to get on with these pouches *grml*;-), and you have inspired me to do so. So many mountains, so little time!

    The cleaning part was certainly most helpful! Thanks, as usual!

  4. Great trick with the ashes. I'll have to remember it!

    I like your belt kit, too. Plenty of well-chosen items. Looks nicer than my boxy milsurp thing. :) I thought the knife was a kid's knife at first. ;) I have to say, there is something nice about Scandi knives with a handguard.