Like Hudson Bay residents, mountain climbers on the American frontier, polar explorers, and others who live in the outdoors, they all rely heavily on basic bush tools on their property for repairs, handling firewood, obtaining game and fish for food, and performing a variety of vital tasks.
Today, we often rely on specialized equipment for each task, rather than a general set of tools that can be used for a variety of tasks. We may think these tools are too heavy or that we don’t need them, but often these bush tools can reduce our load on specialized equipment and even greatly expand the scope of our troubleshooting if, instead of burdening ourselves with supplies, we rely on a basic bush tool kit for overland travel and our skills to assemble what we need during our trip.
To find out what this thicket must be, we may refer to George Washington’s 1884 book Nessmuk, in which he describes his system of three cutting tools that he took with him on his excursions into the Adirondack Mountains.
Nessmuk Craftsman Kit
He advocates a hatchet with a double axe, a belt knife and a pocket knife. Each of these bush tools played a specific role, his hatchet was mainly used for woodworking and sometimes for skinning big game, his knife was dedicated to skinning and cooking, and his pocket knife was his working tool for scraping and woodworking.
Figure 1; a modern version of the style of Nessmuk knives carried in the past; a galley and a breastplate.
Nothing wrong with that, except that it has changed the way we do expeditions these days, or prepare to make a mistake in a new place. Technological progress and certain legislative changes have had an impact in this regard, which may be useful for transport.
First, the special felt knife, the knife model presented in the Nessmux book, has become so associated with the name that knives with a similar model are now known as Nessmux knives. In fact, they are just skinning knives and you will see them in any game processing plant, large or small.
Nessmuk needed a special felt knife because it allowed him to get a lot of food while hunting and fishing during the expedition. Nowadays, however, carrying firearms, especially for hunting and sometimes fishing, is generally not an integral part of our expeditions. But that would be at the bottom of the net in the scenario.
Figure 2; a two-legged axe like the Nessmux and a 22-gauge rimfire weapon for hunting small game on your expeditions.
Possession of firearms is more regulated today than during the Nessmux era, and most places where you could hunt during an expedition require the permission of the owner or a hunting tag, making it very difficult to hunt for food during an expedition. Not to mention the enormous challenges of transferring weapons across international borders.
For these reasons, as much as I would like to go on a long distance expedition with a rifle or shotgun and gather my own food, I cannot advocate the inclusion of firearms in your bush expedition kit. Of course, each location and individual need can vary, so adapt to your situation.
Shrubbery tools – Axe
Nessmuk carried a double-edged axe, so that one side was sharpened at a steep angle, making it suitable for rough use such as pruning tree roots and splitting wood, and the other side was sharpened at a much shallower angle, making it good enough for use in large butchers. Since you’re unlikely to get a result, you can forgo the double axe and use something like a Scandinavian forest axe.
Figure 3; clockwise, cut axe Grunsfors Brooks, Swedish wood axe Rattlesnake, cut axe Hachas Yauregion.
The weight of these large axles is not important on a road trip, but even on a hiking expedition the weight is manageable and necessary in cold weather when you need to get a lot of firewood or build a large shelter. The axe can also be useful for removing debris and downed trees from paths or roads, perhaps especially when traveling by vehicle when roads are blocked by fallen trees.
Grunsfors Brux Scandinavian Forest Axe 25, 430
The Gränsfors Scandinavian Forest Axe is a more professional axe, ideal for felling large trees and pruning. The axe is forged with a curved edge, making it suitable for cutting fresh softwood such as spruce or pine. The long handle also gives you more cutting power.
Hand tools – saw
Nessmuk did not package the saw, but in the 1880s the saw did not exist in the compact packages we can get today. Your axe can do everything a saw can do, and much larger wood, but it doesn’t leave a good, clean, flat cut in larger wood, which is often very useful.
If only I could have one or the other, I would always choose the axe, but for a few extra grams in your pack, a saw is a good investment. The small folding saws are easy to pack and are ideal for trail clearing and collecting firewood.
Another option, if you want to include the saw in your bush tool kit, is to bring a bow saw blade and attach your own handle to it along the way. Bow saw blades are held in tension by a handle if you buy one in the store, usually made of steel tubing, but bent wooden branches are just as effective and easy to make.
Figure 4; a bow saw made from a leaf rolled up in a pot and a young hazel softened and bent over a fire.
The Nessmux belt knife was primarily used for butchering game and for cooking, and even if you don’t cook or butcher game during your expeditions, your belt knife is still the perfect tool for cooking. Why bring special kitchen utensils when you can do everything with a belted knife.
In emergency situations, carrying a knife on your body is a potential survival tool, at least if you get separated from your teammates or equipment, perhaps by crossing a river gone wrong, or boating in bad weather, you have a very important tool that can be used in a survival situation.
The ideal outdoor knife has a four-inch blade. Remember, if you have an axe or a saw, you don’t need a knife to split the wood or cut through the undergrowth, so it doesn’t have to be big. It should be solidly constructed, have a full length handle and a cast that promotes ease of use.
The blades are shredded in different ways at the factory, depending on the intended function of the blade. For better cooking, it’s best to use a flat whetstone like the one shown below, which is probably the type of whetstone Nessmuk had on the knife, while if you want something more woodworking, a Scandinavian whetstone like the acorn one below would be more desirable.
Figure 5; Eichhorn’s Scandinavian Bush Knife, a good choice for a basic knife on an expedition.
Just as cooking with a knife can be a lot of fun, we all wanted pocket knives as kids, didn’t we? Sitting around a campfire at night with a knife and a piece of wood is a lot more fun than watching television, and what better way to do this than to come back from an expedition and give the kids little trinkets you carved during your trip around the world.
Figure 6 A caged ball embedded in the handle of a spoon made from a piece of firewood as I sat by a fire on a frozen lake in Sweden earlier this year.
If, like your belt knife, you want to incorporate woodworking and crafts into your expeditions, simple cutting knives like the one pictured above will only add minimal weight to your bag and allow you to make fine cuts a little easier than with your larger belt knife.
He used the Nessmux pocket knife for the handiwork tasks described above. Without the need to skin and process game, I think the belt knife becomes a workhorse, a master’s jack-of-all-trades of no tools, and the pocket knife becomes almost obsolete. However, with the advancement in technology, we also have pocket knives with multiple blades and multi-tools such as screwdrivers, pliers, can openers and other functions.
Figure 7 Leatherman – Stainless Steel Multipurpose Bone Tool
If you have a pocket knife or multi-tool, you don’t need to carry can openers and bottle openers in your kit. While you should have a complete tool kit, your multi-tool becomes a simple tool kit when you take the car for a spin.
As for the knife, if you carry a belted knife, you’re more likely to use it when the task requires it because it needs to be properly positioned on your belt. However, when on foot, the straps of the backpack interfere with the belt knives, and you can put a knife in your pocket to make your pocket knife your main tool.
In any case, equip yourself with these few basic tools that have been used successfully in the outdoors for hundreds of years and will be useful in any tasks you encounter during your expeditions.
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