Tuesday, June 10, 2014

camping, Kuksa fire, bacon grease lamp disaster, birch carving supplies

Another beautiful weekend family camping. When opportunity granted itself, I whittled away with my knife on the maple kuksa which I resigned to keep in a zip lok with a wet sponge when not working. I'm doing this based on recommendation I received after my post inquiring about the cause of cracks I was observing.
 I learned that they were related to the excessively quick drying of the wood and differential shrink between the pith wood at the core of the branch I used and the outer rings. I also learned this is common with woods worked green such as my maple. The bag/sponge technique slows the seasoning and yes I saw an immediate effect on the cracks; including the closing of the largest crack that started forming. I learned from several wise commenters that there were ways to deal with the cracks, so not to be discouraged into stopping the project. No matter what happened I would learn from it so I decided to carry on with the maple project! One piece of advice that stuck out was this recommended way of harvesting wood to minimize likelihood of cracking:

1. Take a log of roughly twice the diameter that you wish to be the height of your future kuksa.
2. Split the log down the middle.
3. Lay the split face down.
4. Draw the Kuksa front view as shown in the sketch below to begin roughing!

Note: I did ask why not turn the cup to make better use of the natural curve of the wood? I got a convincing, detailed answer basically saying that the left and right sides are going to want to pull in downwards and outwards from the middle, resulting in cracking or at least warping.
I asked my dad if he had any split wood in the pile from this years efforts (for next winter's firewood) that would have come from an 8"+ diameter birch. He said he'd have a look and bring some by on Monday if he found something.
My only "rules" for the Kuksa project was no power tools. Otherwise I'd use whatever I could get my hands on. As I hung out at camp, I decided to see what I could accomplish with fire towards my goal of hollowing out the rough shape. My attention was drawn to the Weber firestarter cubes (poor mans version of  UST's "Wetfire" tinder), as I was not ready to make the camp fire for the evening. I scraped off a pile and light it afire inside a small hole I carved out with the pocket knife. It burned steady for quite some time, but alas merely browned the edges.

Later that evening, with a true campfire going and a glowing bed of coals underneath, I pursued the effort in a more traditional manner. I scooped a nice coal out and dropped it into the small starting cavity I'd made. Blowing on the coal I quickly picked up the gist of the technique.

Not too much oxygen so as to cause the burst of flame.

I could rotate the cup and direct the force of the oxygen towards the area I wished to "carve". I was very excited to see the green wood slowly turning to glowing coal itself in the focus areas.

When necessary, I stopped blowing on an area and it quickly "cooled" down. In this manner, I was able to make great progress during a relaxing evening under the Maine stars, with my family by the campfire. Here is the cup, ready for a charcoal scraping session.

This being the last campfire until we return in a couple weeks, I'll likely turn back to the pocket knife and for the first time on this project, a wood chisel when I return home.
The next morning's bacon grease was collected and hardened in one of my wife's glassware bowls. She asked me to go outside and scrape out the grease into a container for disposal. I decided to grab a few napkins to twist into makeshife wicks. My bright idea was to try to make a little "upcycle" project lamp. I was delighted to see the effectiveness and snapped this photo as my wife peered out to chastize me "your going to ruin my bowl". "It will be fine", I returned (thinking that I after all am the mighty bushcrafter, not her).

Literally a second later "pop" and the glass dish's side popped off. Within 30 seconds, all the rest except the bottom cracked off. "Honey, sorry, you were right".

To round out the weekend and kickoff the next week, I woke to a planned visit from my parents and a truck full of split birch from my dad. Varying heights of the half moon pieces from 3.5-5", all around a foot long. Should last me a while!

As an added bonus, they gave me a Plumb axe head picked up at a yard sale for 50 cents! Add this axe refurb to my list of projects!

Written by Kevin Gagne


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