In an effort to bring the wisdom of many outdoors survival book writers, and to remove the stigma of writing about my own experience, I have decided to write a series of articles based on my own synopsis of three books and numerous recognised outdoors persons.
The books I will be selecting from - again my own selective prejudice will show - are:
*Campings forgotten skills by Cliff Jacobson - a boundary waters guide.
*Outdoor survival skills by Larry Dean Olsen - who was trained in southwest desert survival by Tom Brown - an Injun.
*How to stay alive in The woods - formerly called Living off the Country, by Bradford Angier - a military trained survival writer
with quotes from many other outdoor trainers and paraphrased quotes from other sources.
In these posts "SURVIVAL" will refer to staying alive on extended NON-voluntary periods of time in reasonable and common North American situations that a hunter hiker or snowmobiler might encounter. My own experience is largely in the mountains of the western states and I realise that most people will not encounter those same situations.
This is actually out of order but since this group is so "tool and gear oriented", I'll start here.
Not one of these books suggests that a "survival knife" is any real use except to military personnel in hostile country. None of them suggest a hunting knife for cutting timber or any other fire making procedure besides making fusssticks by shaving small branches with a sharp knife:
Cliff Jacobson offers this advice. "Camilus still makes these tough old knives (Boy Scout knife), which are excellent if you like a folder"..." A fixed blade of 4-5 inches provides enough length to slice cheese and meats, and to reach the bottom of the peanut butter bottle without gumming up the hilt".
Hatchets: Again Jacobson (a wood chopping guide) says, "To most outdoors people, a hand axe is a dangerous toy - inferior to a full sized axe for bringing down full sized timber or splitting wood, and too sort to deflect a glancing blow while chopping. Cut fingers, toes and shins..." "To Summarize, the primary function of a modern hatchet is to produce kindling for small fires."
From "the Joy of Camping" by Richard Langer "Hatchets andminiatures are poor substitutes (for a big axe), indeed worse than no substitute at all."
CAMP SAWS: again from Jacobson,"Except for splitting wood,and certain log cabin building chores, there is nothing that an axe can do that sharp camp saw can't do better. But get a saw hung up in a log and you'll wish you had an axe to chop it free."
(paraphrases by Jim) Saws are for cutting timber, axes for splitting it. The dry wood inside a piece of log may be split out to start fires even in extreme wet weather. Anyone who thinks they can split timber with a knife of any size should obtain a piece of saw cut wood and try it in the safety of their backyard. Also this is a good place to try the same thing with a hatchet, while the wife stands by with a cell phone pre programmed to call 911. Axes are considered more dangerous than grizzly bears in Alaska, far more people are injured by them. My brother in law wanted to show the children how to split wood while visiting us. He said "it looks easy, anyone could do it." I refused to let him have an axe but handed him a splitting maul, which BTW have pretty dull edges, and he hit himself in the foot with it. Don't just try an axe without training, being centered - feet shoulder width apart, and measuring the arc of the blade, so if you do miss or bounce, the axe will go between your legs not into them.
PRIMATIVE TOOLS: a stone knife edge need not be beautifully shaped to off a sharp cutting edge and in fact trying to make an arrowhead without practice and the right tools can be exceedingly dangerous. You are far more apt to spill your own blood that that of game. Sharpened spears fire hardened and sharpened arrows (assuming you can make a bow or atlatl) are nearly as good as one with a stone arrowhead. to quote Olsen - Tom Brown school, "if no stone point is used, the thicker part should be the point." This is because the heaviest part needs to forward to keep the missile going in a proper trajectory.
Bradford Angier, (paraphrased) A hand axe or chopper is not for chopping wood, but is great for splitting bones and smashing the bodies of small game which should be eaten whole like sardines as every part of almost every animal, but polar and seal liver, in north America is edible.
Olsen (again paraphrased) the skins of the animals are kept and used to produce bags, clothes etc. An inverted mouse skin makes a finger glove - get ten and add a bit of rabbit and you have fur gloves.
OTHER TOOLS: Snares made of primitive thread, or sinew can be used to catch game (but not without a lot of practice) and a couple dozen Paiute dead fall triggers will help you collect those mice. A sewing awl made of stone or bone ground on a rocks or flaked can make the chore of sewing hide with primitive needles (or none) much easier.
HANDS: hands are the most versatile tool we have and in general they are hard to lose track of. Sandals woven from plant materials, mukluks made of fur, etc, etc, all require hands. Even holding a knife or axe requires these beautifully designed tools, without them you are a deadman (or woman) so keep them warm and dry and do not damage them flaking stone without protective leather pads, knives or axes.
Coming soon - the sacred order - shelter, water, fire, food in that order - according to Tom Brown.
Jim is part Injun, maybe 15 to 20%, 60 years old and has been practising primitive and modern camping for 53 years since camping in his first homemade Logan tent. He has been chopping wood since he was a boy scout with no injuries and prefers to carry what many people call a dull knife - that is - one just sharp enough to do the core but not sharp enough to remove body parts.
Personal quote - given the choice of one item besides my clothes - in a serious extended period of non-voluntary survival situation, I would prefer an axe with a handle 28 to 32 inches long over any other tool. An axe can do anything a knife can do except reach the bottom of the peanut butter bottle.