Friday, January 28, 2011

A New Dawn In Egypt?

Photo © Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters
It's surreal to be at the cusp of starting on a photo~expedition while my country of origin is experiencing an unprecedented massive popular uprising to get rid of the current regime of Mubarak, the Egyptian president....who announced that he would remain as its leader but sack its government.

There are a number of thoughts that come to mind. This is a real organic grassroots popular uprising in Egypt against an extremely unpopular and corrupt regime. The Egyptians participating in the uprising are secular, young, educated and less so, and are technological-savvy. There are no signs of religious ideology, of Islamist influence, in these demonstrations.

I sensed that many of the Western pundits are shocked (and possibly disappointed) that there is no whiff of Islamic extremism in the demonstrations...this pulls the rug from under the Western (and the current Egyptian leadership) interests who would like to characterize the uprising as another Iran.

While Mubarak signaled his decision to stay in power, it's not up to him any longer. It's the Egyptian youth who will decide the course of the it should be.

It's an unparalleled opportunity for the United States to support the Egyptian people in its quest for democracy, and eliminate all anti-Americanism feelings in the whole region by doing so. Imagine if the US administration unequivocally declares its support for the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt!

Incha' Allah there will be a new dawn for Egypt and its people.

(Posted from Delhi)

Barco Kelly Perfect Axe Review

For my next axe review, I want to take a look at a full size axe about which I have been getting quite a few requests. I generally don’t use full size axes, as most of my trips require extensive backpacking, but this one was worth a look if for no other reason, because of its name. I will be looking at the Barco Kelly Perfect Dayton pattern single bit axe.

Manufacturer: Barco Industries
Axe Head Weight: 3.5 lb
Axe Length: 36 inches
Axe Head Material: Unknown carbon steel
Handle Material: Hickory
Cost: $84.00

First, for a bit of history. Production of axes under the Kelly name started in 1874. Around the end of the 19th century, the brand Kelly Perfect had come on the market. The brand quickly became famous, and contributed to the company becoming the largest axe manufacturer in the world. As a result of the Great Depression however, in 1930 the American Fork & Hoe Co. bought out Kelly, and in 1949 was purchased by the True Temper Corporation, resulting in the True Temper Kelly axes with which we are most familia today. Throughout this whole time the Kelly Perfect axes remained in production. In 1987, Barco Industries of Pennsylvania purchased the Kelly name from True Temper along with the patents and dies. They continue to make the Kelly Perfect and Kelly Woodslasher axes, although I hear they may be discontinuing the lines in the near future. The only patterns of the Kelly Perfect axe that are still in production are the full size Dayton and Michigan single bit ones.

I don’t have any good full size axe to which I can compare the Barco Kelly Perfect, but I will make some minor comparisons to the Kelly axes of the past. For those of you who are curious, you can buy the axes directly from Barco here.

The axe arrived in excellent condition. The overall fit and finish was great. I have become accustomed at looking at axes with production defects, but there did not appear to be any here. Everything was measured and shaped exactly right.

The handle is 36 inches in length, and has nearly perfect grain. It has been a long time since I have seen a full size handle that is such high quality.

The head weighs 3.5 lb, and is attached to the handle only with a wooden wedge. The shape of the head is as close to my ideal as I have been able to get from a production axe. The lines are smooth and continuous, with the bevels providing for reduced binding for the rare occasion you go that deep into the wood. There were no imperfections with respect to the head that I could notice.

When compared to a True Temper 3.5 lb Kelly Perfect head, there are some minor differences. The shape is sightly different, although the Perfect pattern was used on many different style heads. The balance of the Barco head is a bit better, resulting from a larger poll. The most noticeable difference is that the True Temper head has cheeks that thin out towards the top and bottom of the head, making it appear much thinner than the Barco head. In reality, the center of the two heads is the same thickness.

The balance of the axe is very good. The poll is a few ounces short of perfect, but it is hard to complain about this balance.

So, is this the perfect axe? Well, no. There are two things which keep me from telling everyone to buy it right now.

The first problem is that the axe I bought had a slightly loose head. That makes me very unhappy, especially considering how well finished the rest of the axe was. I tried removing the handle, but I only managed to slide the head up about a quarter of an inch, before it got stuck. Clearly the eye is tapered to prevent the head from slipping off. I solved the problem by just putting in a metal cross wedge. After that the head held securely during the testing.

The second, and what I consider a larger problem is that the bit of the axe is not finished. I have said with respect to many axes, that the bit has been left too thick for my liking. With this one however, it is just unfinished, and clearly intentionally so. Most axes will have a shiny portion of about half to one inch from the bit. That results from the axe being put to a grind stone to create the edge. The Barco Kelly Perfect axe however, has not been ground at all, and as such there is no edge. This is probably done because industrial customers will be happy to put the type of edge they want to see on the axes they buy. For the average user however, putting a good edge on the axe will require a good amount of work with the file.

It took me about an hour and a half of filing to put the type of edge I like. The pictures that you see in the review, except for the one immediately above, are of the sharpened axe. The metal was not the hardest I have ever worked with, but it was not the softest either. I don’t know if the unfinished edge is a traditional characteristic of the Kelly axes. The True Temper Kelly Perfect head that I used for the above comparison had also bees seriously worked. The edge shows filing marks going back almost an inch from the bit.

So, do I recommend this axe? Well, I only recommend it if you are willing to put an edge on it yourself. If you know what you like, and have the ability to do it, then I would strongly recommend this axe. The fit and finish is better than any I have seen on a production axe in a long time. If however, you are not willing to rework the edge, this is not the axe for you. Out of the box, it will be of absolutely no use. The performance of the axe will depend entirely on the type of edge you put on it.

As far as I know, the manufacturer produces additional bushcraft appropriate axes: The Michigan Pattern Single Bit Axe (3.5lb head; 36 inches in length); The Kelly Woodslasher Dayton Sigle Bit Axe (3.5lb head; 36 inches in length); The Kelly Woodslasher Dayton Sigle Bit Axe (4lb head; 36 inches in length); The Kelly Woodslasher Michigan Single Bit Axe (3.5lb head; 36 inches in length); The Kelly Woodslasher Michigan Double Bit Axe (3.5lb head; 36 inches in length); The Kelly Woodslasher Michigan Double Bit Cruiser Axe (2.5lb head; 36 inches in length); Kelly Woodslasher Wester Double Bit Axe (3.5lb head; 36 inches in length); The Boy's Axe (2.25lb head; 28 inches in length); The Hunter's Axe/Hatchet (1.25lb head; 14 inches in length).

Nomadic Kyrgyz Family on the Golodnaya Steppe, 1911

This is an image of a nomadic Kyrgyz family on the Golodnaya steppe in present-day Uzbekistan. It was taken in 1911 by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii during his efforts to document the people of the Russian Empire.

The image is available from the Library of Congress.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Can I tempt you? Forget school rice pudding - this is a classic with a twist.

Half fat creme fraiche is stirred into the cooked rice pudding for extra richness. The original recipe uses full fat milk to cook the rice, it's January and we are supposed to be trying to count calories this month, perhaps it's a good idea to use semi-skimmed milk.

The stewed fruit cuts through the richness of the rice pudding and if you decide the rice pudding is not for you, the plums and blackberries are a wonderful combination of flavours and you can enjoy these instead. Frozen blackberries work perfectly.

Serves: 6

250g caster sugar, 6 ripe halved and stoned plums, 250g blackberries, 1.5 litres full fat milk, 1 vanilla pod (split lengthwise), 200g washed pudding rice, 100ml half fat creme fraiche, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Pour 100g of the sugar into a pan with 300ml water and bring to the boil. When the syrup is boiling, add the plums. Place a piece of greaseproof paper and a small plate on top of the plums to keep them submerged and simmer for about 5 minutes,until they are cooked. Remove the pan from the heat.

2. Remove the plums from the hot syrup and add the blackberries. Remove after 1 minute and allow the syrup to cool, then return all the fruit to the syrup.

3. Boil the milk and vanilla pod in a heavy based pan. Add the rice to the milk in a steady stream. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently. When the rice is tender,remove the vanilla pod and scrape the seeds into the rice. Stir in the remaining sugar, add the creme fraiche and vanilla extract. Serve with the fruit and some of the poaching syrup.

Cookware by CSN Review

Towards the end of last year I was asked if I would like to review a product from Cookware by CSN.

I chose the Meyer Select Stainless Steel 26cm Stirfry pan to match my set of Meyer Select saucepans I purchased from Cookware by CSN. Meyer are pans I have always used, not only do they look good but they stay that way too.

The stirfry pan is non-stick and made from 18/10 stainless steel, it can also be put in the oven, and Meyer give a generous 10 year guarantee with the pan.

CSN always keep you informed every step of the way, from ordering your item through to delivery and my purchases have always been packaged perfectly too.

Woodsmanship, by Bernard S. Mason

This is a book published in the mid 1900s. It is heavily illustrated, and covers numerous subjects with respect to axes, saw, and their proper use. It is well worth the read.

To the best of my knowledge, this book is in the public domain, and a copy can be obtained here (PDF), here, and several other places online.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Marttiini M571 Review

Here is another puukko style knife from a widely respected manufacturer. It can often be seen in the hands of woodsmen, but is not reviewed nearly as often as the Mora knives. I decided to do a short comparison.

Knife Length:
7 3/4 inches (197 mm)
Blade Length: 3 1/4 inches (83 mm)
Blade Thickness: 3/32 inches (2.4 mm)
Blade Width: 3/4 inches (19 mm)
Blade Material: Unknown carbon steel
Blade Hardness: Unknown
Type of Tang: Partial concealed
Blade Grind: Scandinavian/single bevel
Handle Material: Plastic
Sheath Material: Plastic
Cost: $15.00

The knife is a low cost one, and is generally intended to be used as a utility knife. The blade is shorter than that of the Mora 1, being closer to three inches rather than the imaginary “ideal” of four inches. The blade is the same thickness as that of the Mora 1, but it is a bit wider. It is a single bevel grind, and has a grind profile nearly identical to that of the Mora 1. The non sharpened portion of the blade has a patina on it, but it came off on one of the sides after some mild use. The handle is longer than that of the Mora 1, but it is a bit narrower. The blade is securely attached to the handle, much more so that it was with the Mora Clipper. At no point did I feel that the blade might come loose, or hear any cracking, like I did with the Clipper.

The knife was very comfortable, although I wish the handle was thicker. The blade was too short for my liking, but performs very well. It throws sparks very well from a ferrocerium rod. It holds a great edge, and came shaving sharp.

I took it out for some testing. It is important to note that the temperature was in the single digits, and I was working with hickory, which I only realized from the smell once I started cutting it.

Since the blade is so short, its batoning ability is quite limited. Here I used a 2-inch piece of wood (half of a log). The Marttiini M571 went through it without the problem. I did not feel any significant pressure on the connection between the blade and handle.

However, the batoning damaged the blade. This is not that uncommon when it comes to Scandinavian grind knives. The edge is so thin, that it can be easily damaged. The fact that it was so cold, certainly also added to the blade being brittle. I tried to warm it in my hand, but by that point my hand was close to frozen as well. You can see the small chip in the picture. I was not able to repair the damage with a sharpening stone. That is another problem with Scandinavian grind blades; to remove metal from the tip of the blade, you have to remove metal along the whole grind. Here, removing enough metal to repair the damage would have significantly changed the blade. I might end up convexing it at some point.

I also pound the blade into a piece of wood as one would when truncating. The knife did fine.

Other than the damage to the blade, the edge retention was good, and I was able to make some fuzzies even with a frozen piece of hickory.

The knife comes with a plastic sheath, but the knife fits into it much better than the Mora 1. It is held inside quite securely. I have no complaints with respect to the sheath.

The Marttiini M571 has a partial concealed tang. You can see it in the cutaway below. The picture was not taken by me. Even though it is a small tang, I was very impressed by how secure the connection to the handle felt.

Overall, this is a very good little knife. If at any point you feel like a 4-inch Mora is too much blade for you, this would be my low cost go-to choice. The blade performs very well, even though it is so short. It is very secure, and the sheath is better than that of the Mora 1. Obviously this is not a knife I would recommend as your only tool in the woods, but combined with a good axe, it may be all that you need.

An Essay On Photojournalists' Scarves....Or Not

This essay on scarves was written and sent to me by a photographer-photojournalist who wants to remain anonymous. Complaints, thoughts and remarks can be sent to him/her. I've edited, reworded and excised parts to keep it shorter.

"The first reason for photojournalists wearing scarves is that these instantly and with certainty identifies you as a PHOTOJOURNALIST, and removes you from the pool of suckers known simply as "photographers", especially "art" photographers.

The second reason photojournalists love scarves (especially those of ethnic origin) is that it tells non-photojournalists know that we are exotic, and that we do exotic, non 9 to 5, non traditional type things.

The third reason is that wearing the ethnic scarf will make other people instantly assume the photojournalist has a deep connection with, has spent time living with, has created a powerful but yet unseen photographic essay about, the ethnic group that wears that particular scarf.

The most popular, but lacking in credibility is the Keffiyeh. It has become stylish, fashionable, and carries with it a strong hint of activism. It's out of favor except for newbies. It's one thing to wear it around the neck...which is barely passable, and quite another having your picture wearing it as a turban (think Yasir Arafat) on your website bio or Facebook page...this signals the world you're a miserable ass...and that you're prematurely bald.

The second type of scarf is the Cambodian Krama. This particular scarf shows you have worked in the conflict ridden regions of Cambodia (also known as Angkor Wat), and most probably Thailand's southern beach wars as well, and that you suffered from malaria and bouts of sunburn, and dangerous girls on the battlefields of Koh Samui.

The third is the African scarf- the Tagelmust. Worn by Tuareg nomads in the Sahara, these scarves are worn by the old school of photojournalists- those who have covered the north African conflicts, tragedies like Darfur, the Western Sahara, the Polisario, Algeria, even Southern Sudan! This is the Ferrari of scarves."

By the way, if you haven't seen and bookmarked Shit Photojournalists Like, you ought to. I don't think it has mentioned scarves, yet...but it will have to sooner or later. You'll see.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Jackie Alpers: Food Photographer

Photo © Jackie Alpers-All Rights Reserved
What is a food photographer doing on the blog of The Travel Photographer, you ask?

Well, it's a case of mistaken identity from Jackie's side. You see, I saw a message yesterday in my tweet feed from Jackie Alpers saying that she was thrilled to have been featured on The Travel Photographer's blog. Since I was flying over the Atlantic at the time, and unaware that I had posted any new posts since leaving New York City earlier that day, I was puzzled.

Not for long though. I clicked on the link on her tweet and saw that it led to a "travel photographer"...a generic kind of blog giving no photographer name, no personal identity and seemingly just a sort of website to sell stuff....or something.

I was initially excited to see that someone may have had the silly idea to ape my blog and risk legal headaches...but it soon waned when I realized what it was.

Jackie sounded so thrilled in her tweet that I decided to feature her work on the REAL The Travel Photographer blog. May it bring her luck and exposure.

Jackie Alpers is a food, culture & cuisine photographer based in Tucson, Arizona who specializes in photography for cookbooks and magazines, among others. Her biography is quite interestingly illustrated, and I recommend you drop her website.

A Snowy Weekend and Some Winter Camping Tips

Most of you already know all of this, but I thought I would mention a few things for those who are new to winter camping, and also share some pictures with you from this past weekend. After all, don't forget to actually enjoy nature while practicing your skills.

1. Not all winter camping conditions are the same. Just because there is snow on the ground, does not mean that you have the same type of winter camping conditions. Temperatures that are much below freezing, will create different challenges from temperatures that are just below freezing.

2. The colder it gets, the more brittle metal becomes. Knives, saws and axes loose a lot of flexibility, making the braking and chipping of blades much more likely. Warm the blade in your hand before use. Avoid using the fire to warm the blade because if your hands are also cold, it would be hard to judge the amount of heat and you may damage the blade by overheating it. I also got a tip from a friend who camps at much lower temperatures than I do (-20F), and he suggests that you warm your tools by putting them inside your jacket. That way your hands don't freeze along with the tool. It sounds like a very good idea.

3. When you have temperatures that are much below freezing (in the teens, single digits, or below) water freezes immediately. Remove any moisture from your tools. If you leave it there for a few seconds, it will turn into ice and will be hard to take off.

4. Protect your water bottle. If exposed to the elements, it will freeze. Make sure it is not full all the way to the top. That way if ice forms (and expands), it will not crack the bottle. Keep it in your sleeping bag at night.

5. If the temperature is just below freezing, you will have to deal with a lot more moisture. Try to avoid the slush and snow. Treat is as you would a very wet, rainy day. If the temperature is much below zero, the environment will be surprisingly dry. Since water will immediately freeze, you will be rather dry, even if waist deep in snow. In such conditions however, be careful when transitioning between temperatures, such as getting close to your fire. Make sure you remove all snow from you before warming up.

6. In very low temperatures, even if you are warm, you can still loose sensitivity in your hands, if the skin is exposed. Keep that in mind when handling tools and objects. You may be causing damage that you cant feel at the moments.

7. As I’ve mentioned before, when melting snow in a pot over a fire, place some water on the bottom of the pot before putting in the snow. When using thin backpacking pots, the heat from the fire may be enough to sublimate the ice instead of melting it, causing you to scorch your pot.

8. When the sun sets, temperatures drop much faster in the woods than they do in the city. That is because there are no supplemental sources of heat (cars, lights, etc), and cities are paved in one form or another of stone, which absorbs a lot of heat during the day, making the nights warmer.

Clearly none of this is brain surgery. I was just reminded of some of these things this past weekend, because the temperatures dropped to the single digits, and created conditions that were a bit of a contrast to the last few weekends.

Geoffrey Hiller: India

Photo © Geoffrey Hiller-All Rights Reserved
I've recently received an email from Geoffrey Hiller with the link to his dedicated India website with photo galleries of its various cities and areas. The one that caught my particular attention, since I've announced a photo expedition to Kolkata during the Durga Puja, was his work in Kolkata . The rest of his galleries are of Mumbai, Bangalore, Mysore and Chennai.

You'll see that Geoff's photographs of this quintessential Indian city is a mix of environmental portraits and classic street photography, including a few shots made during the Durga Puja too.

To my knowledge, Geoffrey Hiller is one of the first photographers who embraced multimedia, and I recall his work on Burma which introduced me (and certainly others) to this medium. His photography has been published in the United States, Europe, and Japan in such publications as Geo, Newsweek, Mother Jones, and The New York Times Magazine. His photo-essays have covered Asia, Latin America, Europe, and West Africa, and his multimedia projects about Vietnam, eastern Europe, Ghana, Burma, and Brazil have earned recognition from Adobe, the Soros Foundation, Apple, The Christian Science Monitor, and USA Today.

(Posted From London)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

On My Way: Some Thoughts And My Gear

I'm poised for next week's In Search of the Sufis of Gujarat Photo Expedition™, and have now readied/cleaned my cameras and lenses, reformatted all the CF cards, and recharged all batteries. I find this task to be one of the most tedious (but pleasurable at the same time) things I have to do before traveling on a photo expedition or assignment. It's a comfort kind of thing, a kind of reassuring thing to do, a ritual of sorts if you will, but it's still tedious...I don't know how else to describe it....and I don't know how all my stuff finally fit in my bags (not those in the above picture!).

On the other hand, one of the pre-departure tasks I don't mind doing at all is to review the itinerary I've developed, while trying to anticipate what may go wrong during the 10 years of leading photo-expeditions have prepared me for snafus, but each photo-expedition and itinerary can bring its own set of challenges.

I always look forward to a new photo-expedition, but this is also accompanied by a smidgen of anxiety. After all, I'll be meeting new photographers who've joined it, and while we've developed an online relationship with emails and links of mutual interest for the past months, a "face to face" is different. Neither of us knows what to really expect from each other.

As for those of you who are interested in gear-talk, here's the list:

Photo Equipment:

Canon 5D Mark II
Canon 7D (which replaces my trusty old friend the Canon 1D Mark II)
Canon 70-200mm f2.8
Canon 24-70mm f2.8
Canon 17-40mm f4.0
Canon 24mm f1.4
Canon 580EX II Strobe
Lumix GF1 with 20mm

Audio Equipment:

Marantz PMD620
ATR6250 Stereo Microphone
SONY Headphones

A F-3X Domke shoulder bag

13" MacBook Pro

2 Iomega hard drives (500mb and 1TB).

And my krama scarf. The most important item!

As I wrote a few times, I can't wait for the time when cameras such as the Lumix GF1 (the so-called EVIL cameras) perform as well as the current crop of digital SLRs...and reduce the enormous load factor that I'm obliged to carry on these trips.

I will try to post as much as I problem from London of course, and perhaps none from Delhi except for availability of time. Once I'm in Gujarat though, it'll be silence from The Travel Photographer.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Further Details of the Temagami Knife

On Tuesday I did a post about the new Temagami knife, designed by Les Stroud. Yesterday, I was contacted by a representative of Canadian Outdoor Equipment to inform me that they have released some additional details about the knife.

The dimensions are as follows:
Blade length: 4 inches (100 mm)
Handle length: 4.25 inches (110 mm)
Overall length: 8.25 inches (210 mm)

The handle is made out of curly birch, soaked in linseed oil and coated in bee’s wax. The sheath is made of full grain leather.

Leslie Mazoch: Escaramuzas

"We're not just pretty things anymore".
Charreria is Mexico's most traditional equestrian sport, and was dominated by males for many years. However, the presence of skilled female equestrians performing dangerous and synchronized exercises while riding sidesaddle led to the creation of escaramuzas (the Spanish word for scuffle) charras. These women train tirelessly for the chance to show off their equestrian choreography.

Escaramuzas is a "photo-movie" produced by Leslie Mazoch of her black & white stills and ambient audio, which includes a beautiful poem in Spanish (with English sub-titles). It could have been titled Mexican Amazons, since it documents Mexican women who take up this noble sport, and who ride their horses sidesaddle. From what I gathered from the slideshow, the escaramuzas was an accidental tradition that started in 1953, and was influenced by the gypsies of Spain.

Leslie Mazoch is a photographer and photo editor for the Associated Press in Mexico for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Truper 1.25lb Camp Axe (Wood Handle) Review

This is yet another low cost axe that I have been waiting to review for a while. It seems to be available at every Home Depot that I’ve seen, so I thought people might want to see something about it. This hatchet exemplifies what people mean when they say “hardware store axe”.

Truper Herramientas
Axe Head Weight: 1.25 lb
Axe Length: About 13.5 inches
Axe Head Material: Unknown carbon steel
Handle Material: Hickory
Cost: $12.00

As you might remember, Truper Herramientas is a Mexican company that purchased Collins Axe, and as such is the manufacturer of the Collins Hunter’s Axe which I reviewed earlier. Considering how bad the Collins axe was, this one seems like a great improvement.

Like with my other hatchet reviews, I will be comparing the Truper Camp Axe/Hatchet to the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet. Here you can see the two of them next to each other.

The handle is the same length as the Wildlife Hatchet, bringing it to about 13.5 inches. It is comfortable and well shaped, although it has a bit too much polish on it. The grain of the Truper hatchet was perfect. It is as good as the gain on the Collins axe was bad.

The head of the Truper Camp Axe is heavier than that of the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet by a quarter of a pound. The overall shape is not bad, but the convex of the cutting edge is way too thick. With a lot of time and effort it can be reworked since the cheeks are not too thick, but I am not sure it is worth it.

The head is attached to the handle using a wooden wedge and a circular metal wedge. It held securely during the testing. For the tests I sharpened the hatchet, as it was completely dull when I bough it, but I did not re-profile it in any way.

When it came to performance, the Truper Camp Axe fell far behind the Wildlife Hatchet. The thick cutting edge limited its ability to penetrate the wood, and chopping ability suffered even though the Truper hatchet has a heavier head than the Gransfors Bruks one.

With respect to splitting, the Truper did quite sell. The same characteristics that limited its chopping ability, made for a good splitter. The thick edge and added weight, put it in the lead as a splitter.

Overall, this is what I would consider a “hardware store axe”. It is not good, but it’s also not particularly bad. If you are looking for a hatchet that you can abuse around the backyard, and can double as a hammer in the tool shed, then this is a perfectly good choice. With respect to bushcraft however, it leaves a lot to be desired. Even for this money, there are better options out there. The thick cutting edge, makes this tool hard to use as an all around hatchet. It is not an easy fix either. You would have to remove a good amount of metal before you can get any kind of performance from this axe.

It was interesting to see that the quality of the Truper hatchet was higher than that of the Collins axe I tested earlier. This could be a result of the manufacturer putting more effort into the tools which carry their name, or it could be an issue of low quality control.

As far as I know, the manufacturer produces additional bushcraft appropriate axes: The Michigan Pattern Single Bit Axe (3.5lb head; 36 inches in length), The Boy's Axe (2.25lb head; 28 inches in length), The Michigan Pattern Double Bit Axe (3.5lb head; 34 inches in length), The Jersey Pattern Single Bit Axe (3.5lb head; 36 inches in length), and The Hudson Bay Axe (1.75lb head; 28 inches in length).

Mitchell Kanashkevich: Ati Atihan Festival

Photo © Mitchell Kanashkevich-All Rights Reserved
Mitchell Kanashkevich has just posted to his blog a reportage on the Ati Atihan festival in Kalibo, which is the capital of the province of Aklan, in the northwest of Panay Island, Philippines; about 45 minutes flight from Manila.

This festival is, as Mitchell describes it, a convergence of Catholic and tribal traditions, and dates back more than 700 years. It was originally a pagan festival observed by local tribes who were practicing animism, and Spanish Catholic missionaries gradually added to it Christian elements, culminating into what it now a frenzied religious festivity observed in January honoring the Santo Niño (Infant Jesus), and concludes concluding on the third Sunday of the month.

Ati Atihan was caught in my radar a few weeks ago, and I am putting it (or perhaps another one like it in the Philippines) on the list of possible photo~expeditions for 2012. I'll do some homework to explore the logistics involved, and if all works out, will announce it in due course to my newsletter subscribers, and eventually here on this blog.

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

MSNBC's Does Thaipusam

Photo © Stephen Morrison/EPA-All Rights Reserved
MSNBC's Photo blog featured Thaipusam, which was observed a few days ago by thousands of Hindus in both Malaysia and Singapore, and who subjected themselves to painful rituals. These included rituals involving self-piercing with hooks, skewers and small blades. Some devotees pull chariots and heavy objects using hooks attached to their bodies. Others pierce their tongues and cheek to impede speech, while others enter into a trance during the self-mortification as a result of the incessant drumming and chanting.

The Asia Society in New York is also featuring Thaipusam on its Photo of the Day page on its website. I wonder what's keeping The Asia Society from bringing us the very best photojournalism of the's taking baby steps, and yet seems to have the resources to really make a splash in visually fulfilling its mission. Maybe I expect too much?

Thaipusam is an important festival observed by the Hindus of southern India during the Tamil month of Thai (January - February). Outside of India, it is celebrated mainly by the Tamil speaking community settled in Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

I seldom follow MSNBC's Photo blog....perhaps I should make it a habit to check it every now and then.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Wood Hardness-the Janka Test

We often speak of hard wood and soft wood forests. In reality, each type of wood has its own specific hardness. One way to measure that hardness is the Janka test. The test consists of pushing a ball 11.28 millimeters (0.444inches) in diameter half it’s diameter into the wood. The force required to do that is then measured.

The force can be recorded in a number of ways, including pound-force , kilogram-force, or newtons. The results can also either show side hardness, where the ball is pushed perpendicular to the grain (from the side of the tree), or end hardness, where the ball is pushed parallel to the grain (into the stump of the tree).

A good table of different side hardness Janka ratings can be found here.

Marty Aim: The Zabaleen of Cairo

Photo © Marty Aim-All Rights Reserved
I found Marty Aim's The Zabaleen photo essay to be timely in view of the New Year’s attack on a Coptic church in Alexandria, Egypt, that killed more than 20 people.  I saw it mentioned on Facebook, and decided it would jump the weekly queue in being featured.

Marty Aim is a New Zealand-born documentary photographer, currently based in South East Asia. He holds degrees in Visual and Social Anthropology. His clients include the British Museum, Time and the Discovery Channel. He's also an alum of The Foundry Photojournalism Workshop.

The Zabaleen are an occupational community of Christian Copts who have functioned as Cairo's informal garbage collectors for at least 80 years.  In colloquial Egyptian, Zabaleen means "garbage people" or pig-pen operators. The community is spread over half a dozen settlements in greater Cairo, and are estimated to be close to 80,000 people. The largest settlement is Mokattam Village, better known as "Garbage City," which is situated at the foot of the Mokattam Mountains, east of Cairo.

Many sources agree that the Zabaleen have created one of the most efficient recycling systems in the world, which is estimated at recycling up to 80% of all the collected waste. These are good people...the salt of the earth kind of people...hard working and largely self sufficient, but discriminated against in many ways because of their religion and their occupation.

It's funny...I still recall the daily sound of the Zabal's donkey-cart stopping outside my childhood home in a Cairo suburb, collecting the garbage and the trash. Efforts by the Egyptian government to replace the garbage collectors with modern local and foreign companies have essentially failed.

By all means, explore Marty's galleries. I did and was rewarded with the terrific photograph of girls in a Muslim school in Thailand's Narathiwat province. You'll know which one I mean the second you lay your eyes on it....really terrific.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Condor Bushlore Knife Review

Earlier I reviewed the Condor Bushcraft Basic Knife, and while the quality control turned out to be very low, I was happy with the overall design. I decided to give the company another shot, to maybe see if the quality issues with the Bushcraft knife were an isolated incident. As such, I picked up a Condor Bushlore Knife.

Knife Length: 9 3/8 inches (238 mm)
Blade Length: 4 5/16 inches (110 mm); cutting edge 3 5/16 inches (85 mm)
Blade Thickness: 5/32 inches (4 mm)
Blade Width: 1 3/16 inch (30 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, this is also a mid range knife. It comes in at $30 just like the Bushcraft knife, which makes it reasonably priced, but not cheap.

The knife is even more robust than the Condor Bushcraft Basic Knife. It is made from a very thick piece of metal, and feels like it would be indestructible. The knife appears to have a Scandinavian grind, but in reality, the edge itself has been convexed. The blade is a bit longer than that of the Mora 1, but the actual cutting surface is smaller. The handle is very long. For my hand, it was too much, but I know that many people like a longer handle.

In my opinion, this is a very inefficient knife design. For a knife that is over nine (9) inches long, it has a cutting surface of just over three (3) inches. I just can not explain why there is nearly an inch of unsharpened blade in front of the handle. I understand the concept of choking up on a blade, but why not just make the unsharpened part of the blade part of the handle? It’s not like I can use that part of the blade any way. If I choke up on the blade as it is now, I just get an extra inch of very uncomfortable handle. Also, how much choking up do you need to do on a three inch blade?

On top of that, we have a blade that is almost a quarter of an inch thick. In my opinion, unless the knife is designed to split concrete, there is no reason why a three inch blade needs to be 5/32 of an inch thick.

When it came to quality control, this was another miss for Condor. This knife had the exact same problem as the Bushcraft Basic Knife. The edge was not evenly ground. More metal was removed in some places than others. This is an unacceptable defect, as it requires massive amounts of work to fix. The knife will still cut, but it will always be a damaged blade. I don’t know how Condor does their grinding, but it is a big fail.

To be fair, after my last review, I was contacted by a representative of Condor, telling me that they can get me a replacement. Certain parts of the organization clearly care about their products. It is my hope that eventually the quality control picks up.

The knife has a fairly good sheath. It is made out of leather and fits the knife very well. It does ride high on the belt though, so it would be hard to use with a backpack that has a hip belt.

I did not bother to document any of the testing of this knife. It just seemed pointless. It goes without saying that any blade that is three inches long and a quarter of an inch thick, will have no problem batoning through any log that is less that three inches in diameter. The knife is nearly impossible to damage. You can judge the carving ability of the knife for yourselves. I’m sure some people will be able to do it. For me, having a cutting edge that is separated from the handle by an inch of unsharpened blade, makes the knife very hard to use.

One thing that I thought I would do with the knife is see if I can do something about the unsharpened part of the blade. I have seen a number of people ask about whether you can sharpen that part of the blade with a file. I figured I would give it a try.

This took me about half an hour to do with just a file. If you take your time and are careful, you should be able to do a decent job.

Overall, I can not recommend this knife. The quality control issues continue to exist, and they can not be ignored when it comes to a $30 knife. With the Bushlore, you also have what I consider to be one of the worse knife designs I have ever owned. The three inch cutting edge on a nine inch knife just kills me. It feels more like a small hatchet than a knife, especially combined with the unnecessary thickness of the blade. If you are a fan of Condor, and want to get one of their knifes, I would suggest going with the Bushcraft Basic Knife.