Friday, December 31, 2010

Council Tool Hudson Bay Camp Axe Review

The next medium size axe I want to review is the Council Tool Hudson Bay Camp Axe (manufacturer’s code 175HB28). It has proven to be an excellent tool from a company that deserves a closer look. For some of the pictures the paint has been removed from the head to provide for a better look.

Council Tool Co. Inc.
Axe Head Weights: 1.75 lb
Axe Length: Advertised as 28 inches; measured as 26 inches
Axe Head Material: Carbon steel, HRC 48-55 on the Rockwell scale
Handle Material: Hickory
Cost: $47.00

This is a mid range axe, both in size and price. It is one of the few axes left that is manufactured in the United States from a company that is very responsive to the customer and offers a wide range of products.

In this review I will be comparing the Council Tool Hudson Bay Camp Axe to the Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe. Here you can see the two axes next to each other.

The handle of the Council Tool Hudson Bay Camp Axe is an inch longer than that of the Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe, making it exactly 26 inches long. Even though the axe is officially advertised as being 28 inches long, a closer look at the description on the Council Tool website reveals that during the hanging process, two inches is removed from the handle.

The grain of the handle on the axe I purchased (left) is very poor. It is not the worse I have seen, but if I was planning on using this axe as my main cutting tool, I would certainly put on a new handle. There did not appear to be any polish or finish of any sort on the handle. I had to oil it before use. Other than that, the handle is very comfortable, and quite slim even when compared to that of the Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe, making for a very streamlined axe.

The head of the Council Tool Hudson Bay Camp Axe weighs 1.75 lb, which is about the same as the Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe, which while advertised as having a 2 lb head, actually has a head weighing about 1.75 lb. It is attached to the handle using one metal wedge. At first the connection seemed flimsy to me, but through all the testing, the head remained securely in place. The head is well shaped. The cheeks are fairly thin, and the convex of the cutting edge is just a bit thicker than that of the Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe. The part I don’t like about the head is the abrupt transition of the cheeks when they reach the eye. Instead of providing for a continuous curve, they almost form an angle to the eye, which would impede efficient chopping.

The head is a Hudson Bay style, and has a very large bit, providing form more cutting surface than the Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe.

The balance of the axe is not great, but is also not too bad. Ideally the head would stay horizontal to the ground when balanced like it is in the picture. As you can see, the bit hands lower than the rest of the head, meaning the poll is too light. The balance of an axe is important when we are talking about mid or full size axes because it contributes to the accuracy of the axe.

The axe came with no sheath.

When the axe arrived, it was not as sharp as I needed it to be. About ten minutes with the file and a sharpening stone, put a paper cutting edge on it. As I mentioned, the convex of the cutting edge was a bit thicker than that of the Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe. I got the urge to thin it out. It took me another thirty minutes with the file, and fifteen minutes with the sharpening stone to create the edge I wanted. When I was done, I took it out for testing.

The performance of the Council Tool Hudson Bay Camp Axe was surprisingly good. When it came to chopping, the Council Tool Hudson Bay Camp Axe had no problem keeping up with the Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe, and in fact slightely out performed it (results in the picture are after 25 swings). This is probably a result of the larger bit and slightly longer handle. Keep in mind, that if I had not thinned out the bit, the axe would not have performed as well, although it would have been quite acceptable.

When it comes to splitting, the Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe should in theory outperform the Council Tool Hudson Bay Camp Axe because of the abrupt transition in the head of the Council Tool axe, but honestly, I was not able to see a difference. The truth is that with axes this size, you would need to split some very large logs to be able to see differences in performance. When it comes to bushcraft, logs that size would be very hard to find.

Overall, this is a very good axe, considering the price tag. It is not perfect by any means, but with some work, it can be turned into a very well performing tool. It is also light enough that the head can be used on a shorter, more portable handle. I would love to see it on a 24 inch. Council Tool also makes the same head with a 18 inch handle. I did not use it however because I have found such handles to be too short, especially because they are shortened even further in the hanging process.

There has been some talk from Council Tool that they will be releasing a “bushcraft” version of the Hudson Bay Camp Axe, which will have a non painted head, and be more highly finished. It would certainly be worth a look if the trice tag can be kept low enough.

As far as I know, the manufacturer produces additional bushcraft appropriate axes, which are too numerous to list here, but include Hudson Bay, Jersey, and Dayton patterns.

End Of Year Photograph

Photo © Muhammed Muheisen/AP
This is my 2116th post since I started The Travel Photographer blog, and with it I'd like to close 2010 with this lovely photograph by the very talented Muhammed Muheisen.

It appeared on the LENS blog of the New York Times a few days ago, and it shows three young refugee girls; two from Afghanistan and the third from Pakistan, attending a Qur'an class in a mosque in Islamabad. You may want to click on it to enlarge it.

The expression of the cute middle one is just sublime...especially that her cloth prayer book is upside down. Not very attentive are we now? And the "I Love NY" hoodie worn by the third girl kept a smile on my face for a while.

I hope it does the same to my readers.

Till next year!

The 1000th Google Follower

Photo © Haleh Bryan-All Rights Reserved
I was glad to see my Google followers have reached the 1000th mark yesterday, auguring well for The Travel Photographer's blog in 2011.

The 1000th Google Follower is Haleh Bryan who publishes her own blog Haleh Bryan Photography which showcases her talented personal work. Apart from her art photography, she has a gallery of Egypt which the above image is from.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

An Ax to Grind: the Video

Earlier I talked about the e-book, An Ax to Grind: A Practical Ax Manual, by Bernie Weisgerber. This is the accompanying video to the book. It is also made by the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service, and is a great source of information.

In the past week or so the video has been put up on YouTube, and has hit a number of the forums. Overall the video is about an hour long, and is well worth a look for anyone who is interested in axes.

Part 1

Part 2

Four Photographers Document Cockfights

Here's a feature which groups individual photo essays of cockfighting by four photographers. I thought of grouping these essays, and also mention my own. Two of the cockfights occur in the Philippines, one in Haiti and the fourth occurs in Bali.

Photo © Julie Batula-All Rights Reserved
The first photo essay is Julie Batula's One Way Out; a photo essay of black & white photographs of cockfighting or sabong as it's called in the Philippines, where it's one of the oldest and most popular sports.

As Julie says: "Roosters continue fighting because they cannot escape, regardless of how exhausted or injured they become. It is a routine where they are forced to fight or die, and where death is the only way out."

Julie Batula is a Manila-based artist and documentary photographer, who is influenced by the works of Sally Mann and Nan Goldin.

Photo © Mitchell Kanashkevich-All Rights Reserved
The second photo essay (it's more of a multi-photo blog post) is by one of my favorite travel photographers: Mitchell Kanashkevich. He tells us he was riding a motorcycle to the city of Dumaguette in the Philippines and came by an area where cockfights were from morning till midnight everyday for a few days.

Mitchell Kanashkevich is a travel/documentary photographer, and is represented by Getty Images. He's been featured on this blog a number of times.

Photo © Swoan Parker-All Rights Reserved
The third photo essay is by Swoan Parker who features a 16 color photographs in a photo essay titled "Place Your Bets" of cockfights in Haiti.

Swoan Parker is a freelance photojournalist based in New York City available for global assignment. Her work has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA TODAY, The Los Angeles Times, Newsday, TIME, and National Geographic Traveler among others.

The final photo essay is mine, and is titled Tajen. It was photographed on the island of Bali last August.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Quick Tip on Melting Snow

Most of you already know this, but I though it was worth mentioning considering the recent snow fall on the eastern coast.

Most backpacking pots are made of very thin metal in order to reduce weight. If you just pack one full with snow, and place it on the stove or fire, there is a chance that it will get scorched because the heat will be transmitted so quickly that the snow will sublimate rather than melt. In order to prevent that, put enough water in the pot to cover the bottom, before adding the snow. If you don’t have any water with you, melt some snow in your hands or over the fire.

Katharina Hesse: Human Negotiations (& Interview)

Katharina Hesse is a photographer who currently works in China and Asia, and has been based in Beijing for the past 17 years. She graduated in Chinese and Japanese studies from the Institut National des Langues et Civilizations Orientales (INALCO) in Paris.

She has recently uploaded some of her gripping photographs of Bangkok's sex industry unto a 6 minutes-movie which she titled Human Negotiations (above), and during which she also talks about her project in a Skype-interview with Elisabetta Tripodi, and which appeared on the blog e-photoreview.

Human Negotiations is an experimental two-year collaboration between Katharina and writer Lara Day, using images and text to explore the lives of a community of Bangkok sex workers. I cannot begin to fathom how Katharina managed to gain the trust and confidence of her subjects to such a degree...and she says as such in her interview, and that the most important task in her project was to gain the trust of the sex workers and their clients. All serious photographers agree with her advice, since only full and complete mutual trust gained over months and months can make such intimate projects possible.

Katharina's has an impressive background. Not only is she a self-taught photographer (always a huge plus for me), but she initially worked as an assistant for German TV (ZDF) and then freelanced for Newsweek from 1996 to 2002. In 2003 and 2004 she covered China for Getty’s news service. Her images were featured in numerous publications such as Courrier International, Der Spiegel, D della Repubblica, EYEmazing, Zeit Magazin, Glamour (Germany), IO Donna, Die Zeit, Marie-Claire, Le Monde, Le Monde Diplomatique, Neon, Newsweek, , Reporters without borders(yearbook 2010, Germany), Stern, Time Asia, Vanity Fair (Italy/Germany), and Wired (Italy) among others.

Katharina's photographs of Xinjiang, Kashgar and Urumqi are probably the best I've seen of that go to her website after you watch the above movie.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Guest Post: DIY Wood Gasification Stove, by Valcas1

This guest post is by Valcas1. He has done an amazing job creating a functioning wood gasification stove for almost no cost. The moment I saw it, I knew that I wanted to put it up as a guest post, and Valcas1 thankfully agreed. 

For those who are not familiar with this type of stove, a wood gasification stove is different from a fire or a wood burning stove in that this type of stove heats up the wood in such a way that instead of producing smoke, the wood turns into charcoal while emitting flammable fumes. Those fumes are channeled away, and then burned at the top of the stove providing for a clean burn.

I bought a 1qt paint can from my local Ace hardware. $1.99 this one happened to be unlined which is what you want. If you can only get the epoxy lined ones just make sure you burn it real good before cooking.

This is not my idea but I was told that a Progresso soup can will by friction into the inner lip of the paint can. So a can of Chickarina soup was in order for lunch and I now have this.

I cut the bottom of the paint can out with a regular hand held can opener. Some online research says use a safety cutter but I didn't. I think the only benefit from using a safety cutter is you get a bottom that can be put down as to not scorch the ground. Now we have to put holes around the top to allow for the draft between the two cans.I used a Irwin step drill bit as seen is this picture.

You can see how I laid out by vent holes on a piece of paper aand simply taped it to the can as a guide. I went with holes around the top of 3/8" about 1" apart on center.

I am sorry I dont have pictures of this step but you need to put a second series of holes around the base of the inner can. I again used 3/8" and drilled them low on the can. Now take your paint can that you have cut the bottom out and drill 1/2" holes around the base so that you can draw air in and up the side walls between the cans. I started with 4. I figured you can always drill more if needed. I am still trying to fine tune this part.Now press you inner can into the inner lip of your paint can from below. It is a perfect fit and will take some pressure to get the inner soup can to seat well.Looking into the the cans it will look like this.

In the last picture you can see the 1/2" hardware mesh fire grate I made to lift the bottom of my wood off the bottom of the can and over the top of the lower holes. Final picture is of the stove after several burns. I am experimenting with different pot stands now and will update my findings as I progress.

These stoves are designed to burn from the top down so I figured I would show you how I set mine up to light and make some boiled water. First here is my fuel. As you can see it isn't much more than twigs and pencil sized sticks. There were four small pieces of wood that were thumb sized I put in first.

Fully loaded and a few slivers of fatwood for starting.

Starting to burn.

...good burn going now.

No smoke, but lots of heat for that little bit of wood.

Not sure if you can see how it is burning the wood gas in this picture I tried to show it but not sure if I pulled it off.

Cool enough after burning for 15 mintues to do this.

Ended up with this.

Marji Lang: Gujarat

Photo © Marji Lang-All Rights Reserved
Marji Lang is a French travel and documentary photographer, whose color-full photographs in her India galleries just jump at you.

She's fallen in love with India and has already traveled there four times. Over the past 10 years, Marji traveled in South East Asia, and was influenced by Henri Cartier Bresson and more recently by the work of her compatriot and Indiaphile Claude Renault.

She rarely plans ahead her trips, and just takes it a day at a time. No specific hotel reservations nor fixed itineraries. She prefers making her photographs with a human presence...but is not against making a few that are devoid of people (such as the one above). Marji only uses a 24-70mm lens.

I was interested in her Gujarat gallery as some of her photographs are of Jain female pilgrims (sadhvi) in Palitana, one of our stops during my forthcoming photo expedition In Search of Gujarat's Sufis next month.

Romain Alary: The Street

Photo © Romain Alary-All Rights Reserv
Romain Alary is French photographer-filmographer who traveled extensively, and has recently completed a voyage of many months from Paris to Tokyo. He now lives in France where he's involved in both photography and cinematic projects.

From an entry in his blog, Alain was involved in the movie "Women Are Heroes" by JR whilst parts of it was being filmed in India. The reason I mention this is that he posted a movie clip of Bundi, which is very well made...a time-lapse of the small Rajasthani town, which I initially took to be Pushkar because of its central lake. Most of Bundi's houses/bulidings are painted blue, which gives the movie an interesting look. It's not posted on Vimeo, so you'll have to click on Romain's blog to view it.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Ray Mears Designs and Releases the Wilderness Axe

As may of you know, Ray Mears has recently released an axe that he has designed himself. It is to be called the Wilderness Axe.

It is manufactured by Gransfors Bruks. The manufacturing process is not clear. The website states that it is hand forged, but according to the Gransfors Bruks website, so are all of their axes. I am not sure if what is meant by hand forged here is a guy with a hammer and forge making it in the really old school way, but it is possible seeing how the axe retails for $147 (discounted), with the forging process being given as a reason.

The axe has a 2 lb head and is 23.6 inches long. In weight and size it is almost identical to the Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest axe, with the handle being 1.5 inches shorter. The head appears to have a thicker eye than the Scandinavian Forest axe. Perhaps this feature is designed to facilitate splitting, but in my experience, combined with the thin blade, will not provide any improved performance in that respect. Perhaps there were other reasons behind the wider eye.

It appears to be a good tool, although I see absolutely no need for it. It strikes me as just another attempt by a famous person to make some money by putting their name on a product. If you read the interview that goes along with the axe, you would think that there are no axes out there which would cover the role of this one, when in fact, the Scandinavian Forest axe, and its equivalent by Wetterlings and Hult Bruks are practically identical. It is described as a heavier alternative to the Small Forest axe, without any mention of the more similar Scandinavian Forest axe. This strikes me as a bit disingenuous.

If this was supposed to be a radical improvement in axes, resulting from many years of experimentation, I am sure something more innovative could have been created. The golden age of axe manufacturing produced many high performance designs, many of which would leave this one in the dust. I am not sure why this custom made axe is just a sightly retouched Scandinavian Forest axe. I would be interested to see if it offers any performance advantages what so ever. Personally I doubt it, considering how it is almost indistinguishable from its competitors on the market today.

Please keep in mind that this is just a personal opinion. I have not tested and reviewed the product.

NYT's Week In Review Section

The snow storm may have something to do with it, but I read The New York Times' Sunday edition from cover to cover yesterday, and saw its Week In Review section carried the above photograph.

Hurray! I chose this photograph as my favorite in my post on the 55 photographs featured by Reuters on its Best of The Year Photojournalism, and is by Adrees Latif who made it during relief supplies being delivered to flooded villages in the Muzaffargarh district of Punjab in Pakistan.

I described it as "one of these photographs that tells it all...the struggle for survival, the physicality of despair..."

Two questions pop to my mind....Do the photo editors of The New York Times read my blog??? And do I take that as a sign to hang my cameras and become a photo editor?

I think the answer to the first is 'maybe', and the answer to the second is a categorical 'no'.

Neil Wade: Kham & Amdo

Neil Wade is an editorial and corporate photographer based in Taipei, Taiwan. His photography was featured in varied magazines as National Geographic, Forbes, The Financial Times of London and Skateboarder.

Kham is a region currently split between the Tibetan Autonomous Region and the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan and Qinghai. The people of Kham are reputed warriors. Many Khampas are members of the Bon religion; an esoteric branch of Tibetan Buddhism, and are considered with suspicion by more mainstream Tibetan sects.

The traditional Tibetan region of Amdo is located on the northeast corner of the Tibetan Plateau. Most of Amdo lies in modern day Qinghai province. It is famous for producing some of Tibet's most famous spiritual leaders.

Eric Kruszewski: Tibet

Eric Kruszewski is a Baltimore-native, who started traveling internationally in 2005. He is drawn to new cultures, faces, practices and daily life. His website features galleries from Tibet, Mongolia, India, Georgia, and closer to home, Alaska and the American West. Spend some time at Eric's Mongolia gallery, which has some nice photographs of the Naadam festival.

The above photograph is of Tibetans prostrating themselves in Lhasa. Prostration is an important expression of Tibetan Buddhism. It's said that Tibetans are expected to prostrate themselves 100,000 times a year. Although they prostrate themselves at temples, some pilgrims cover the entire 33-mile route around Mount Kailas by repeatedly prostrating themselves.

The first time I saw a Buddhist pilgrim prostrating himself in such a way was at the Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu, about 10 years ago. He wore a full-body leather apron, and wooden "clogs" for his hands, and he circumambulated the stupa for as long as I was there.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Condor Bushcraft Basic Knife Review

For this knife review I want to look at a more robust bushcraft knife. Specifically, I will be testing the Medium Bushcraft Knife by Condor Tool & Knife. The way the knife is described by distributors varies from “small” to “medium”. This is the 4 inch blade, and is listed as Model # CTK236-4HC by the manufacturer.

Knife Length:
8 1/2 inches (216 mm)
Blade Length: 4 inches (102 mm); cutting edge 3 1/2 inches (89 mm)
Blade Thickness: 1/8 inches (3 mm)
Blade Width: 1 1/16 inches (27 mm)
Blade Material: 1075 Carbon steel
Blade Hardness: HRC 57-59 on the Rockwell Scale (the information is unconfirmed)
Type of Tang: Full
Blade Grind: Single bevel with a convex edge
Handle Material: Wood inlays
Sheath Material: Leather
Cost: $30.00

In terms of price, I would describe this as a mid range knife. There are cheaper knives out there, but there are certainly ones with much heftier price tags.

The knife is very robust, and features a full tang. At first glance the knife appears to have a single bevel grind, but in fact, the last 1/8 inch of the cutting edge turns into a convex grind. The blade is the same length as the Mora 1, but the cutting surface is actually less because it does not extend all the way to the handle. The blade is a bit thicker and combined with the fact that it is much wider, makes for a very secure feeling and strong blade when compared to the Mora 1. The handle is a bit longer, and is very comfortable.

The design of this knife is very close to what I like to see. The only thing that I would like to see changed is to have the cutting edge extend all the way back to the handle. I never understood the need to have parts of a blade that are not sharp. I understand that this way you can choke up on a blade, but you could do the exact same thing if that part of the blade was covered by handle material. As it is, the unsharpened part of the blade is just an uncomfortable piece of handle. That design issue aside, the construction of the knife is rather lacking. It was hard to show in a picture, but the blade is not evenly ground. Much more material has been removed from one side than the other, making it a partial chisel grind. This shows a rather sloppy production process. While the knife is still usable, this is a defect that should have never made it off the production line.

The knife was fairly sharp out of the box, but needed a few minutes with the sharpening stone. Then I put it through the usual tests.

When it came to splitting, the knife performed very well. I first tried to use a 2 inch log like I did with the other knives, but the knife split it so easily, that I could not get it stuck so I could take a picture. That is why I did it again with a 3 inch log. The knife had no problem going through it.

I felt very comfortable doing a truncating cut with the knife. The added edge thickness and thicker blade made me feel more comfortable letting loose on it with a baton. The added thickness of the edge however made penetration into the wood harder than with the Mora 1.

The knife had no problem with the feather sticks. It is a common misconception that a thicker blade has a harder time making feather sticks. I find that if a blade is sharp, even a thick edge will cut wood just fine. The difference comes when you are trying to make deep cuts into the wood. Then the difference is visible because with the thicker cutting edge, you are pushing more metal through the wood than with the thinner one, requiring more energy and force. I found it just as easy to make feather sticks with the Condor Bushcraft knife as with the Mora 1. The fact that I have been using a convex blade for the past few years probably helped a lot.

Since this is a full tang knife, I batoned the edge into a tree trunk. The knife had no problem doing it.

The sheath of the knife is of rather low quality. It is made out of leather, but the stitching and design leave a lot to be desired. The thread used for the stitching is just white nylon thread, which creates a rather ugly contrast with the black leather. The design looks like it was made for a different knife, and while it holds the blade securely, it is very bulky. It also rides high on the belt, so it would be very hard to carry with a backpack that has a hip belt.

Overall, this knife features a good design, which has been executed very poorly. Had the blade been sharp all the way back to the handle, this would be one of my favorite knife designs. The fact that the blade has been so unevenly ground however makes this a waste of $30. For that price I certainly expect a knife to at the very least not be blatantly defective. Clearly Condor Tool & Knife is not overly concerned with quality control. For that reason I can not recommend this knife.

POV: Is This The Xmas Spirit?

AP Photo/Hussein Malla/ Courtesy Denver Post PBlog
The human genius in reducing religious and/or social events down to nauseating manifestations of mindless consumerism, bad taste and repulsive glitz is seemingly alive and well in all major cities, minor cities and wherever there's the need for marketing, selling and buying.

However the 2010 award for the most loathsome display of this talent belongs to the Emirates Palace Hotel (Abu Dhabi), whose general manager Hans Olbertz, was quoted as saying the 43-foot (13-meter) fake fir has 131 ornaments that include gold and precious stones including diamonds and sapphires valued at $11,000,000.

Notwithstanding the fellow's subsequent apologies, and his admission that it was "over the top", the tree stands as a symbol of what Christmas (and every other religious observance) should not be.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

Lumberjacks and a Giant Cedar Tree

Lumberjacks posing next to a giant cedar tree. Photo was taken in 1906.

You can see that the work has been started by making notches in the tree where boards will be placed so the workers can move higher up.