Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Early Mora Knife Advertisement

Here is a look into the past. This is an advertisement for Frost's Mora knives that ran in the 1920s and possibly into the 1930s. This is the classical model, and resembles the current line of classical Mora knives.

The advertisement shows the Mora No. 23 and the Mora No. 33 models. The No. 23 had a birch handle, while the No. 33 had a curly birch handle. Otherwise the models were identical. Both models had a blade length of 13.2 cm or 5.2 inches. The sheath was made of Unica, a vulcanized paper product.

Fred Canonge: Pehlwan of Benares

Photo © Fred Canonge-All Rights Reserved
Pehlwani (also known as Kushti) is a traditional style of wrestling popular in the sub-continent of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The wrestler is known as pahlawan which, interestingly for those who are etymologists, is the colloquial Arabic word meaning "clown". I wouldn't tell this to these wrestlers, as they would be offended and I'd be on the mat in less than a second.

Based in Paris, Fred Canonge is a French freelance photographer who has extensively travelled in India for the last ten years, and is constantly exploring all the nuances and the diversity of Indian society. His website is replete with galleries of India, including some of images made in Kathputli and Varanasi, but the gallery which I liked the most has his work on the pehlawan.

Varanasi has a number of traditional wrestling training gyms (known as akhara), and one can spot them working with rudimentary weights near Tulsi ghat. The wrestlers' diets consist of milk, almonds, ghee, eggs and chapattis, but have a difficult time making ends meet. Some of them find work as bodyguards to those who need protection or as "enforcers" during political elections.

Monday, November 29, 2010

How to Re-Profile an Axe

Over the last few months I have talked a lot about axes. I have often mentioned that some of them can be re-profiled and put to good use, while others are too thick. I realize that the concept can be a bit vague, so I want to try to provide some more details.

The part of the axe with which I am concerned here is what is labeled in the above picture as the Axe Blade/Cheek, and Cutting Edge Curvature/Sharpening Bevel.

A good multi purpose axe will have both a thin edge curvature, and thin cheeks/overall blade. Not all axes need to be ground that way. There are many tasks which can benefit from a more robust tool, but I think a thin blade with a narrow edge curvature makes for a good overall wood cutting blade.

Some axes, fall outside of that description. Some have thin cheeks, but the edge curvature is too wide/thick, while others are thick overall.

In the above picture you can see three different axe grinds. Open the picture for a larger image. The first is what I would consider good. The cheeks/overall blade is thin and the edge curvature is narrow.

The second, shows a grind that is overall too thick. As you can see from the picture, if you attempted to grind down the edge of the blade, because the whole head is so thick, you would have to grind down the whole head. I would not bother with such an axe. Such a re-profiling would take a huge amount of work.

The third grind is the type that I would not consider ideal, but is very workable. The cheeks/overall blade is thin, but the edge curvature itself is wide/thick. As you can see, it is possible to thin out the edge curvature without effecting the rest of the axe head.

The thinning out process involves filing down the thick part of the edge.

It is similar for the way you would sharpen a convex edge with a file, but instead working the whole convex curvature of the blade, you only work the parts you want the thin out. Eventually you will work it down to a level where you get the curvature you want and can transition to sharpening.

For this kind of job I would recommend using a file. I’ve been using a 200 grit 8 inch file with good results. Depending on how much metal you have to remove, you may want to get a more aggressive file. I would not recommend using a grinder because the heat form the grinding process can ruin the temper of the edge.

All modern axe heads are workable in this manner. Some older ones, from prior to the 1950s may be too hard for some files. You will need to find an extra hard file in order to work on them. Most however, should not be a problem.

VII: Franco Pagetti: Afghanistan's Agony

The exciting VII The Magazine features Afghanistan' Agony, the multimedia work of Franco Pagetti which combines movies, stills in both color and black & white.

Although I'm getting tired of war stories and its imagery, Pagetti manages to infuse this work with his own personality as when he says (I paraphrase) in his Italian accent"...the only thing a photographer really wants...more than life, more than sex...more than anything...is to be invisible." Brilliant!

This multimedia piece provides a very realistic of what Afghanistan must be...it merges color stills with black & white images (which, in my view, are the best of the lot), aerial shots and movie footage.

Overall a very well done production, but if I had to point out a niggling issue, I'd say the decision to include the audio introduction of a muezzin's call to prayers is a lazy one. The Taliban, the insurgents, and the rest of the "bad guys" are fighting us because of a bunch of reasons. Take your pick: because we're occupying their country, because we're defending an unrepresentative corrupt regime, because we're getting in the way of various longstanding tribal and/or ethnic power struggles, and because we're tying to eradicate poppy cultivation...subsistence to many Afghan farmers.

It would have been smarter to find another audio clip to give the project the required sense of the place...perhaps a Pashto song, perhaps some ambient audio of Kabul's market chatter. Some readers might see this as nit-picking, but it's not. Avoiding religious cliches is a much more intelligent production effort and in this case, keeps it honest and neutral as it should be.

Franco Pagetti has covered the conflict in Iraq since January 2003. He has been a news photographer since 1994, and most of his recent work has involved conflict situations. His non-conflict news photography has included assignments in India, the Vatican City, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and his native Italy. In his “former life,” he was a fashion photographer for Italian VOGUE and taught chemistry at Milano’s University .

Books By Participants In TTP's Photo~Expeditions™

A few weeks ago, I wished here that more of the participants who join my photo~expeditions would, not only feature their work on their websites as most do already, but also publish their images in book form. It's not an easy task to prep and publish a book, but the eventual satisfaction is just sublime. I know first hand because I self-published Bali: Island of Odalan, and now I'm waiting for the sample proof of my second book Darshan (an announcement will be made shortly).

So I was very pleased to see 4 members of The Travel Photographer's Photo~Expeditions™ have already published their books (and with some, already their second or even third book).

1. Torie Olson joined my Theyyam of Malabar Photo`Expedition™ in 2009, and has just published the wonderful Life In Color (Photographs of Gujarat), a 117 page large hard cover landscape book.

2. Sandy Chandler joined a number of my photo trips; the latest being Bali: Island of Odalan Photo~Expedition™ this past July, and has just published Calling The Soul, an 80 page standard landscape book that promises to be a gem.

3. Charlotte Rush-Bailey joined my Tribes of Rajasthan & Gujarat Photo Expedition™ earlier this year, and quickly published her Kutch Classic, a 98 page large format hard cover landscape with her "specially brewed" photographs.

4) Susan Storm joined my Sikkim & Darjeeling Photo Expedition™ in 2003. A photographer and journalist for over 20 years, she worked for many of the top magazines in most continents. She published Colours In The Dust (On The Sari Trail), a 232 pages standard landscape book of her lovely images of India.

My congratulations to these photographers who took the initiative and featured their work in print form. I'm looking forward to hearing from other participants as to their book publishing efforts. C'mon, guys!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mini Black Forest Gateau

The high quality Morello cherries used in this recipe are steeped in Kirsch, they are a speciality ingredient idea - Griottines. The Kirsch Griottines and their liqueur have a 15% alcohol content.

The first maceration of the cherries in liqueur takes place within six hours of picking. After rigorous sorting, grading and de-stoning the Morello cherries are steeped in different liqueurs for successive maceration's over a six month period based on a secret recipe and age-old traditions. The last maceration provides the final touch of Kirsch, which is the hallmark of Griottines.

They are produced in France using a special type of Morello cherry, the Oblachinska, and are only found in the Balkans.

You can use the cherries in cakes, chocolates or desserts. I decided to bring a twist to the traditional Black Forest Gateau and made individual cakes. I lived through the Black Forest Gateau years and have to say, I still love it. Although my memories are tainted now, as I remember just how synthetic the gateau were, but you was very posh if you ate Black Forest Gateau! For me it's still a wonderful combination of flavours - chocolate cake, Morello cherries, Kirsch, softly whipped cream and good quality grated chocolate - heaven!

The Morello cherries can also be purchased steeped in Cointreau.

The Griottines can be purchased in red gift boxes, making them an ideal Christmas present for foodies.

Griottines can be purchased from delicatessens, fine food shops, farm shops or online at http://www.griottines.co.uk/.

Thank you Lotte.

Next Week On The Travel Photographer

For the week starting Monday November 29,  the following posts are in the blog's pipeline:

1. The work of a photographer with a ton of images of India, including one of the wrestlers of Benares. I had planned to post it last week.
2. The work of another photographer with a lot of images of Buddhism. All black & white square format with a Hassleblad. Very impressive.
3. The work of an editorial photographer with a gallery of images from the Khumbu (Northern Nepal).
4. Interesting portraits of "witches" from West Africa.
5. The updated website of one of the best travel photographers will be featured.

Plus other whimsical posts as the week goes on.

NPR: Cairo And The "Disconnected"

This touches on photography/multimedia only tangentially, so unless you're into Middle Eastern-international politics, you may want to skip all the stuff below and just click on the movie.

A number of media outlets are gingerly covering Egypt's political scene due to the imminent parliamentary elections. I say gingerly because Egypt is a so-called major ally in the "war against terror" or whatever it's called these days, so it wouldn't be politic or in our national "interests" to criticize its ossified and corrupt regime. Why the United States aligns itself with despots in the Middle East and elsewhere will always be an anachronism.

NPR has featured a number of short articles and some multimedia for the occasion, and I found this one titled In Cairo Slum, Little Hope For Change to be an exemplar of what the current situation is in Egypt. I say "current" but that's not really correct. It's always been that way, and it'll continue to be that way, perhaps get even wider...a profound disconnect and an immense gap between the poor and the elite. Trust me...I know that for a fact.

An Egyptian investment banker (I'm not sure how he can be one with such an atrocious spoken English) complains that his children are disconnected from the rest of Egypt because they go to American schools, wear Western clothes and barely speak Egyptian Arabic. Well, I've got news for him....the "disconnect" has been prevalent since the Pharaohs.

Every dog has his day as the saying goes...so going back in modern history, it was the Ottomanophiles, then Anglophiles and the Francophiles who were the elite class, and disconnected from the people. Identical to the Tsarist elite in Russian who would only speak in French, the Egyptian elite would live in bubbles of their own making, separated from the "non-elite" and the rest of their compatriots. To a lesser extent, the time for the socialist Nasserites and Sadatites came and went. Now, it's the turn of the Mubarakphiles...the business cronies, the oligarchs, and the corrupt corporate/political alliances who form the recent elite....but these will also vanish when their time comes, only to be replaced by a hungrier demographic. We've been there before, and it's only a matter of time before the cycle repeats itself. A class will just replace another class. And by the way, claiming to have Turkish ancestry (some extremely tenuous and others grossly made up) is currently a de rigueur affectation for many of the newly minted Egyptian wealthy class. Go figure. Having Turkish heritage was once viewed as being regressive, not authentic and even unpatriotic. I know that for a fact as well.

But back to the "disconnected"...which many of the privileged (some would describe them as spoiled) Egyptian youth are. Confused by a brainless embrace of a culture that is not theirs; an embrace made possible because their parents are the current moneyed elite and can buy into an ersatz Americanism; confused by their own dichotomy...seeing no conflict between binge drinking, heavy partying and then fasting Ramadan and claiming religiosity...but unable and unwilling to adopt American meritocratic values, its democratic values and work ethics.

Watch the multimedia piece...then shed a tear for the real people of Egypt who deserve infinitely better than the dismal life they're leading.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Short Trip in the Woods

After all the Thanksgiving food, I wanted to take the dogs out in the woods. I also wanted to use the occasion to start on some knife testing I’m planning on doing.

When we got to the forest, it became clear that the rain we had had in the city was a serious storm up in the mountain.

There had been so much rain that a small river that is usually mostly dried up and easy to cross had turned into a serious obstacle. While it was still fordable, it’s not something I wanted to do with two dogs and the girlfriend.

We had to pick another direction. As you can see, a lot of trees had been knocked down.

The dogs had a good time as always. I’ve been very happy with how well the little one is getting to be with recall. She is turning into a great outdoor dog and has no problem keeping up with the big boy.

The girlfriend was unfortunately a bit underdressed. Because of the rain everything was wet and the temperature had dropped.

We had to cut our trip short, but I did manage to do some of the testing I had set out to do. In another week or two I should be able to have those reviews out.

Kares Le Roy: Tibet & More

Here's the photographic work of Kares Le Roy, a French photographer and graphic designer. Unfortunately, his bio is very limited on his web site, but he traveled and photographed in Tibet, Nepal, India, Bali, Cuba, Cambodia and Morocco...returning with quite an inventory of photographs which he categorizes as Portraits, Life, Street and Landscape.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Craftsman 1.25lb Camp Axe (Wooden Handle) Review

Here is yet another affordable hatchet review. For this one I will be looking at the Craftsman 1.25lb Camp Axe. The axe head has a clear coating, which I removed before the testing.

Vaughan and Bushnell for Sears
Axe Head Weight: 1.25 lb
Axe Length: 14 inches
Axe Head Material: Unknown carbon steel
Handle Material: Hickory
Cost: $17.00

This is not the cheapest hatchet on the market, but it is still what I would consider a cheap hatchet. The reason why I wanted to test it is because it has a very good and solid look to it, and I wanted to see if the performance would keep up with the expectations.

For this review, just like with all other hatchet reviews I do, I will be comparing it to the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet, a well reviewed and well respected hatchet in the bushcraft community.

Here you can see the Craftsman 1.25 Camp Axe next to the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet.

The handles of both hatchets are rated at 14 inches, but while the handle of the Craftsman Camp Axe is exactly 14 inches, that of the Wildlife Hatchet is closer to 13.5 inches, accounting for the difference in the picture. The handle of the Craftsman Camp Axe is comfortable and well finished. It has clearly been stained.

The grain of the handle (left) is very good. Even though it is hard to see from the picture because of the stain that has been used on the handle, the grain is almost perfect.

The head of the Craftsman 1.25lb Camp Axe is a quarter of a pound heavier than that of the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet. It is attached to the handle using a wooden wedge and two metal wedges. The hardness of the metal is unknown, but did not seem to be particularly soft in any noticeable way.

The head has a good overall grind. The cheeks are narrow and the eye is not too wide. The convex of the edge however is fairly wide and thick; much thicker than that of the Wildlife Hatchet. In fact, the cutting edge itself is formed by a small secondary bevel at the tip of the convex grind. The hatchet came completely dull and required work to bring it to a good sharpness. Just like with all cheap axes, I would recommend using a 200 or so grit metal file to start the sharpening process. It will save you a lot of time.

When it came to performance, there was no comparison between the Craftsman 1.25lb Camp Axe and the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet. The Wildlife Hatchet significantly outperformed the Craftsman Axe. This was no surprise considering the thick convex grind of the Craftsman Axe.

I did however really like the shape of the craftsman head as well as the handle, so I didn’t want to give up on it. I decided to see if I can thin out the edge of the hatchet to make it more closely resemble that of the Wildlife Hatchet. After all, I managed to do it fairly easily with the Northern Tool 24oz Camp Axe. So, I started thinning out the edge using a file. The edge turned out to be thicker than I expected. After two hours of filing, I was nowhere near to approximating the convex of the Wildlife Hatchet. At that point I got up and decided to do some more testing. The thinner edge performed much better, but still fell behind the Wildlife Hatchet.

That is when I noticed an even more significant problem with the Craftsman 1.25lb Camp Axe. As you can see from the picture, the head started to come loose from the handle.

That is an unacceptable failure of the product, as it makes for a very dangerous tool. It also means that the axe has to be re-handled, a task not every one wants to undertake.

The hatchet does not have a full sheath, but does come with a rubber edge cover. It works well to protect the edge, but will most likely fall off in your pack; it did in mine.

I had very high hopes for this hatchet. It looked like a very solid tool. Unfortunately, the testing did not support the original observations. While the head has a good overall grind, the edge is too thick. In fact it was so thick that even with a considerable amount of work I was not able to get it as thin as I wanted. That being said, it is possible to do with additional work. The cheeks are thin enough to allow for a re-profiling of the convex of the edge.

The handle is good, but is not securely attached.

All things considered, even though the Craftsman 1.25lb Camp Axe comes in at just $17.00, I can not recommend it as a purchase. It will just require too much work to bring into working shape.

As far as I know, this is the only bushcraft appropriate axe produced by the manufacturer under this product name.

Black Friday: Get My Book!!!

On this Black Friday, my new photo book Bali: Island of Gods is still available from Blurb.

You can choose between two main versions of the book (82 pages of black & white photographs): one is a large (13x11 inches) landscape hardcover version and the other is a standard (10x8 inches) landscape version.

More details are available on a page of my website Island of Gods. The link will also take you to my bookstore on Blurb, which has previews of the book.

Forget the long lines at the check-outs...just do it online. :o)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

On the Quality of Cutting Tools

Just like any self respecting woodsman, I spend a lot of time thinking about my tools, in particular my cutting tools. :) Perhaps because we all think about our knives and axes so much, we all have strong opinions on the matter, and love nothing more than to fill the internet forums with them. Here I want to touch on a few things, just so you know my thoughts on the subject, and consequently can better judge the statements I make.

Even though metal working has been part of our society for a very long time, it still carries a certain sense of mystery and magic about it. Perhaps that’s why we see so many unsupported statements about the products that metal working produces. We all fall into the trap of believing that someone has a magical way of making tools, and that is why they are so much better than anyone else’s. This is nothing new. It reminds me of a story of a blacksmith in the middle ages who would only quench the swords he produced in the urine of red headed boys in the belief that it made the blades stronger.

The reality is that considering the level of technological development today, just about any manufacturer can produce quality cutting tools with respect to materials. Production of good steel is nothing new, nor is the process mysterious. Similarly, with the existence of computers, the tempering process is just as well documented and transparent.

But, you say, there certainly are differences between tools. Of course there are. The differences however are more often than not the result design characteristics rather than steel quality.

There are three separate things to consider when judging the quality of a tool, and they often get mixed up:

The first is the actual quality of the metal-is it too soft, is it too hard, etc.

The second is the sharpness of the tool. This is of prime importance when it comes to knives and axes, but very often a person’s inability to properly sharpen the tool is attributed to the quality of the metal.

The third is the design of the tool. A thick blade will always have a harder time cutting through a material than a thinner one, even if equally sharp. This says nothing about the metal or the sharpness of the tool, but is rather a design characteristic.

We very often ascribe characteristics to the quality of the material, which in fact should be attributed to the design of the tool, or the fact that the tool has not been properly prepared/sharpened. So, we will take a dull knife, try to cut with it, and conclude that the steel is not good. We will similarly take an axe, try to use it and conclude that it is not made of good steel, when in fact the inability to penetrate the wood is a direct result of the thickness of the blade.

Another source of confusion is the fact that people love to make unsupported statements. We often hear about how one type of steel is better than another, how carbon steel is better than stainless, how one knife is “garbage” when compared to another. 99% of the time, those statements lack any support. The people making them have done no testing, but are rather regurgitating what they have heard from someone who heard it from someone else. Any level of investigation will show that the statements lack any support. Most of the times, all of the comments can be traced to one person who says that he saw something happen at some point, or did some type of test, but all the pictures were lost.

That is why when I test any tool, the first thing I do is sharpen it. The fact that it came dull is a noteworthy issue, and may demonstrate the degree of care that has gone into the product, but does not make the tool bad, and it certainly does not make the material from which it is made bad. I believe that all tools should be tested only after sharpened to a comparable level. Don’t compare a dull axe to a sharp one and then talk about how the sharp one is better than the dull one. That goes without saying, but says nothing about the tools. I personally do not put much weight into which tool comes sharp, because if you are using a tool, you will have to know how to sharpen it any way.

I also try to specify when the lack of performance of the tool is a result of a specific design characteristic. Don’t try to chop down a tree with a splitting maul and then complain about the steel quality.

That is not to say that there aren’t bad tools. There have always been, and there will always be manufacturing defects. On top of that, you have certain manufacturers who for financial reasons limit the quality controls of their products, so you get a wide variation in quality. Even others, simply have poorly designed products, which will not perform well no matter how much care is taken with them.

That said however, don’t buy the hype. Look for sources of information which are actually based on some empirical research, not just the word of a bunch of guys fighting to make their way on to the bandwagon.

Well, it’s been a while since I did one of my rants, so this should hold me over for a bit.

Thanksgiving Wishes

All the best from The Travel Photographer on this Thanksgiving Day!

There may not be a post tomorrow...I'll be flying back to New York, probably feeling very full.

Apratim Saha: Varanasi

Apratim Saha is both a pharmaceutical executive and a photographer, whose work has been featured in the National Geographic and other publications. He's also a contributor to NationalGeographicStock.com

While I've liked Apratim's Varanasi gallery in which the above photograph of the sadhu is fetured, there's a photograph of a holy man, possibly after a dip in the Ganges, carefully arranging what can only be described as a comb-over. A priceless image of the temporal perhaps trumping the sacred. You'll find it in the Culture portfolio.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Michelle Frankfurter: Destino

Photo © Michelle Frankfurter- All Rights Reserved
Having read Cormac McCarthy’s, The Crossing, Michelle Frankfurter started to photograph along the US-Mexico border, and focuses her photo essay Destino featured on Burn magazine on undocumented Central American migrants who travel across Mexico in an attempt to reach the United States to work.

It's a sad tale that highlights not only the harsh risks inherent in such an endeavor, be it from criminal gangs, from corrupt police, from accidents to a myriad of other life-endangering events on the way.

A number of photographers attending the Mexico Foundry Photojournalism Workshop chose a similar subject for their documentary projects, and the area known as La Lecheria, where migrants seemed to converge to hitchhike north-bound trains, was a magnet for those photographers.

Michelle Frankfurter
is a documentary photographer who worked for three years as a staff photographer for daily newspapers: The Herald – Journal and Post Standard in Syracuse, New York. She spent three years living in Nicaragua where she worked as a stringer for the British news agency, Reuters and with the human rights organization Witness For Peace. In 1995, a long-term project on Haiti earned her two World Press Photo awards. She has worked for a number of editorial publications, including The Guardian of London, The Washington Post Magazine, Ms., Time, and Life Magazine.

A Big Thank You!

I just want to take a moment to thank Chris of Midwest Bushcraft and Mike of The Sharpened Axe for letting me guest post on their blogs. I greatly appreciate it. If you haven’t seen their blogs yet, they are well worth a look. Both of them contain some great information.

I also want to thank all of those who keep reading my blog. Without you guys, there wouldn’t be much of a reason for me to write. :)

San Bushmen, Namibia

Here is an old image of a group of San Bushmen in the area of Namibia.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Camping and Woodcraft by Horace Kephart

In 1906, Horace Kephart published The Book of Camping and Woodcraft. In 1916, he published the second edition under the name Camping and Woodcraft; a Handbook for Vacation Campers and for Travelers in the Wilderness. Both editions contain huge amounts of information of camping and general outdoor activities, with the second edition expanding more on issues concerning the casual camper.

The book is very comprehensive, and as a result, large sections have become largely irrelevant. For example, he goes into great detail about tents and sleeping bags, technology which has been outdated by about 100 years. There is however a lot of very good and relevant information on the subjects of woodsmanship.

As far as I am aware, the publication is in the public domain. A copy of The Book of Camping and Woodcraft can be obtained here, and a copy of Camping and Woodcraft; a Handbook for Vacation Campers and for Travelers in the Wilderness can be obtained here, and a number of other places online.

Akhtar Soomro: Pakistan

Photo © Akhtar Soomro/Reuters-All Rights Reserved
Full Focus, Reuters photo blog, seems to be regaining its footing amongst the remaining other large image photo blogs, and has recently featured the work of Pakistani photojournalist Akhtar Soomro.

Born in the Lyari neighborhood of Karachi, Pakistan, Akhtar graduated from the Government College of Science and Technology with a degree in engineering but photography beckoned, and he started working for a studio covering fashion, industrial and interior design, and subsequently for an advertising agency.

He has since shot assignments for local and international newspapers, magazines and stock agencies around the world. In 2009, he was part of a New York Times' team that won a Pulitzer for its reporting from Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Most of Akhtar's impressive photographs in the Reuters feature are of refugees of the floods, and of displaced people from the Swat Valley...but it's the one above that caught my eye. Its caption informs us that a flood victim baby sleeps in a hammock as a man reads the Koran during Eid-al-Fitr celebrations while taking refuge in a relief camp for flood victims in Sukkur in Pakistan's Sindh province on September 11, 2010.

POV: Weeding The Subscribers: It's Time Again

It's the time of year when I have to start weeding (a more delicate term than 'purge') inactive subscribers from my newsletter mailing list. I have to do this about twice a year now.

Campaign Monitor tracks the number of newsletters opens for each subscriber, so it's easy to determine the rate of open of each. If that rate is less than a certain percentage, the subscriber is dumped. As I use a pay-as-you-go option to send out my newsletters, each subscriber costs me...and if there's no reasonable open activity during a 12 months period, then it's to the dumping grounds we go.

It's more efficient for all concerned, saves me money and un-clutters the disinterested subscribers' mailboxes. Last year, I weeded out about 300 subscribers. The total amount of weeded subscribers over the past 3 years is now about 900. Nothing to sneeze at!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Cooking Kit of Horace Kephart

Horace Kephart is one of the most respected authors in the bushcraft community, having authored Camping and Woodcraft, published as a two volume book in 1916.

This is a look at some of his personal gear, specifically his cooking kit.

It is clearly a very compact design, made to nest into a felt lined canvas bag.

The kit is comprised of a canteen. Its dimensions are 9.5 inches x 6.5 inches x 3 inches, giving a total volume of about 3 liters. There is also a nesting cup, which judging by the dimensions of the canteen, must be about 1.5 liters in volume. The kit also contains a plate and a pan with a folding handle.

All of the items are made of tin. While steel was available at the time, it was much heavier, and pots tended to be made out of thin sheaths of tin or copper.

This set was manufactured by Abercrombie & Fitch Co., a company known for its clothing line, but which also made limed selections of camping equipment and even axes, mostly for promotional purposes.

He also carried the necessary eating utensils, comprised of a fork and a small and large spoon.

They are all made of hand carved wood. The fork measures 7.9 inches in length, the small spoon 7.5 inches in length and the large spoon 11.5 inches in length.

This appears to have been a personal kit. Many of his writing refer to additional gear which was clearly carried by mule train or divided amongst the group.

The items are stored at the Hunter Library Special Collections, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC, and is the source of the above images.

Raphael Nguyen: Vietnam

Photo © Raphael Nguyen-All Rights Reserved

Photo © Raphael Nguyen-All Rights Reserved

Raphael Nguyen is a French-Vietnamese photographer, who moved to Vietnam in 1999. He lived Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and finally in Hoi An in the very center of the country. He travels within the country, uses either film or digital cameras; Nikon FM2, Nikon F3 and Nikon D70, Canon EOS 5 D and Canon EOS 5 D Mark II.

I was drawn to his gallery of Daily Life in Vietnam with over 100 intensely saturated color photographs of various areas of Vietnam. These range from simple portraits, lifestyle shots, culinary images, environmental portraits etc. The ones I liked most and feature here are of Hoi An, and these two underscore Raphael's photographic style...which gives his images an overly golden saturated look.

Hoi An's old town was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO as a well-preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port of the 15th to 19th centuries, with a unique building with local and foreign influences. I was in Hoi An for a couple of days while photographing for a NGO in 2003, and had little time to photograph for myself. I sense it's time to return and redress this shortcoming.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Leon Book 2 - Naturally Fast Food

Leon are healthy eating fast food restaurants based in London. They have an array of awards, and a loyal following of clientele who appreciate food which is naturally full of flavour, goodness, tastes good and does you good too.

My son lives in London and always enthuses how, just by stepping over the Leon threshold he feels healthier, and describes Leon food as happy food.

With such encouraging words from my son, I purchased the first Leon Cookbook written by Allegra McEvedy, and my copy is now definitely well thumbed.

The second cookbook, Leon Book 2 Naturally Fast Food, is written by Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent. This is a quirky cookery book resembling a personal scrapbook.

The book is written in two parts. The first section is Fast Food, recipes that can easily be made in 20 minutes, including Saturday Pancakes, Jossy's Mystery Soup and Hattie's Sweet Onion Frittata.

I thought there was a printing error when I came to Page 192 for Upside-Down Apple & Cardamom Tart, but to my delight they had printed the recipe and photographs upside down! As a dessert lover I just couldn't resist making this recipe.

Another recipe from Fast Food is Coconut Chicken and Petit Pois Curry - a delicious curry made with coconut milk, tikka paste and nigella seeds. Great for a midweek meal and ready in no time at all.

The second section is Slow Fast Food, dishes to be made in advance and then reheated. I love the thoughts of Henry's 18-Hour Beef, Benny's Slow-Cooked Lamb or Bruno's Osso Bucco.

Also, there are sections devoted to preserving, ice creams, cocktails, 70's party food, just to name a few.

Don't forget to check out the back of the book too, there is a page called Drawers of Wishes - 'There is a chest in the Leon at Ludgate Circus with many drawers. No one knows quite how it started, but over the years it has filled up with the wishes of people who eat with us'.

Thank you to Fiona at Octopus Books for the review copy of Leon Book 2 Naturally Fast Food.

A Cheap Alternative to the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe

We are all familiar with the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe. It is arguably one of the most popular bushcraft tools, and is the axe of choice for many. One of the reasons why it has become so popular is that it is very compact and easy to carry. It has a head weight of 1.5lb and a handle length of about 20 inches. The big down side of the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe is the price tag. It costs well over $100.00. For many it is worth the price, but not everyone can afford it.

That is why I decided to try to find a lower cost alternative, which would provide a reasonable level of performance. After a lot of searching, I’ve reached the conclusion that there is no production axe other than the Wetterling ones, now also owned by Gransfurs Bruks which come close to the same specifications.

Recently I looked at the Collins Hunter’s Axe, but the quality was too low, and I found the 18 inch handle to be too short. For me, a small axe must have a handle of at least 20 inches. Snow and Nealley makes an axe with an 18 inch handle as well, but since I’ve found that length handle to be too short, I will not be testing it. Besides, the Snow and Nealley is not cheap at all.

Since I was not able to find a low cost production alternative to the Small Forest Axe, I decided to look at old axe heads and see if a particular type can be refurbished. Unfortunately, most old axes are of the full axe type variety, with a head of over 3.5lb. There certainly aren’t enough 1.5lb heads out there for people to start refurbishing them.

I did however luck out during one of my hatchet tests. I tested the Northern Tool 24oz Camp Axe as a hatchet, but noticed that the head was 1.5lb. That was too heavy for a hatchet, but the quality of the head seemed good. That is why I decided to try to do some work to one of them and see if I can easily make a Small Forest Axe substitute from it. I know that not everyone has access to a workshop, expensive tools or specialized skills, so I wanted to get it done with just basic tools.

After some work, the finished product was this:

Head by Northern Tool + Equipment, Handle by Gransfors Bruks
Axe Head Weights: 1.5 lb
Axe Length: 20 inches
Axe Head Material: Unknown carbon steel
Handle Material: American hickory
Cost: $23.00

Here is how I made it:

I took a Northern Tool 24oz Camp Axe. It cost me $10.00. I used a drill and a chisel to remove the head from the handle. It was very well glued so it took me some time to remove. I then used some sandpaper to remove all of the paint from the head.

One of the things that I noted during my review of the Northern Tool 24oz Camp Axe is that I thought the convex of the cutting edge itself was a bit too thick for my liking. The cheeks of the axe were the right thickness and the head overall had the right proportions, but the last 3/16 of an inch before the cutting edge was a bit thick. I’m sure that for many that thickness would be fine because it makes the edge more durable, but for the high performance axe that I wanted, it was too thick.

I remedied the situation by filing it down a bit. I used a 200 grit 8 inch file to do the job. It took me about 15 minutes of work. I would strongly recommend getting a file if you will be doing any work with cheap axes. It makes the sharpening process much faster, and you can pick one up for about $3.00. I then used a set of sharpening stones to get it sharp enough to cut paper. The thickness with which I ended up was very similar to that of the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet, and was noticeably thinner than the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe (right).

Now that the head was ready, it was time to find a handle. I looked high and low for a good 20 inch handle, but could not find one. I eventually decided to just buy a Gransfors Brucks Small Forest Axe handle. They are very hard to find in the US. I found only one store (Country Knives) that carried them, and they were selling them for about $45.00, way too much for the intended goal. In the end, I ended up buying it from a UK site for $13.00. Update: a new store just started selling Gransfors Bruks handles in the us (Omaha Knife). They sell for $30.00 which is what you will have to pay if you contacted Gransfors Bruks directly in the US in order to get one.

I bought my handle here. They seem to however be quickly running out of stock. Some other sites where you can find a Gransfors Bruks handle are here, here, and here. Keep in mind that the price will fluctuate depending on the exchange rate. When you are shipping it from over seas make sure to use airmail rather than UPS. If you use UPS, it will cost you over $30.00. It is a waste of money. You may be able to find 20 inch handles by other manufacturers which I am sure will work fine. One good source can be found here.

Now came the time consuming part. I spend about two hours sanding and filing the handle so it would fit well in the axe head. I didn’t use any epoxy on the head itself, but I did use some to secure the wedge into the handle.

When the epoxy was dry, I took the axe into the woods for some testing. My hope was that I had made an axe that would not fall too far behind the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe.

The result was shocking. The axe I made noticeably outperformed the Small Forest Axe. So much so, that I decided to go back to a location where I had done some testing with the Small Forest Axe on a piece of 3.5 inch hickory. The last time I tested it, it took me 60 seconds to chop through it with the Small Forest axe. It took me 45 seconds to go through it with the new axe.

I believe the added performance comes from the thinner grind of the new axe. It is still convexed, but comes very close to the grind of a competition axe. Of course, my worry was that because the edge was thinner, after being used in hard wood, it would dull very quickly. When I came home, I tested it on a piece of paper, and it had no problem cutting through it. That was after going through an 8 inch piece of oak.

The new axe is a bit more likely to stick to the wood than the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe because it has more of a wedge shape, but I did a lot of chopping with it, and it was not a noticeable problem.

The balance of the axe is as good or better than the Gransors Bruks Small Forest Axe.

Other than the drill and chisel I used to remove the head from the old handle, these are all the tools I used to put together this axe: Gorilla glue epoxy, sandpaper, a 200 grit unidirectional grind 8 inch file, a hammer, and a set of sharpening stones.

I made a cheap sheath for it from some canvas material I had around.

The total cost was $23.00 and took me probably about five hours of work time to put together. This is not something that I do all the time, so my skill level is not high, nor did I use any special tools and equipment. The result is a $23.00 axe that can outperform the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe. Try it for yourself and see.