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Tag Archives | Survival

Tactical Handyman – PJ Cotton Ball Fire Starters

Starting a fire when conditions are less than favorable can be a real challenge. Successful fire starting starts with training but a having the right gear certainly helps. What ever gear you choose should give you a high likelihood of being able to start a fire across a broad spectrum of conditions. One such piece of gear is Petroleum Jelly Soaked Cotton Balls (PJCB).

PJ Cotton Balls work like a candle. When they are lit, the flame will consume all of the petroleum jelly before it consumes the cotton. The cotton is acting as a wick and, conveniently, it also happens to light very easily. The PJCB will continue to burn for several minutes which will hopefully give you enough time to build a sustainable fire. As a bonus, you will find that the petroleum jelly has other uses like moisturizing cracked hands or lubricating stuck sections of a fishing rod.

Materials:

  • Cotton balls (raid the wife’s make up drawer, there are probably tons of them in there)
  • Petroleum jelly (AKA Vaseline)
  • Storage container (film canisters work well)

How to Make PJCBs:

  1. Locate a small container that seals securely. The container should be small enough to fit in your survival/EDC kit. It must seal securely because PJCBs can be a bit messy.
  2. Rub the cotton balls in the container of petroleum jelly until the outside is coated thickly. Some people like to warm the petroleum jelly so it permeates the cotton ball but I prefer to leave the inside of the cotton ball somewhat dry. More on this later.
  3. Place as many cotton balls as you can in the container. It is that easy.

How to Use PJCBs:

  1. Do all fire prep before you light anything! Gather tinder, kindling, and fuel sized pieces of burnable material. Have them sorted and ready. You may even want to make some fuzz sticks (feather sticks) with your knife.
  2. Rip open a PJCB. This will expose the dry inner fibers of cotton. The dry fibers can easily be lit with a spark (such as from a ferro rod/fire steel) or a flame. They can sometimes even be light by focusing light on them with a magnifying glass. You may not need to use an entire PJCB.
  3. Light the PJCB using your preferred method. I like to use a ferro rod.
  4. Add your flammable material starting with tinder, then kindling, then fuel. Be careful not to add the material too quickly or you will smother the flame.

Be sure you practice these techniques before you actually need them. This is a VERY easy way to start a fire if everything is done correctly. You can light several fires from just one film canister full of PJCBs. The Tactical Handyman is always ready!

Condor 14" and 18" El Salvador Machete in Carbon Steel

Condor Knife and Tool is Imacasa’s premium line that is made for the US market. Most machetes come with no sheath, a rough handle that requires some fitting, and an unsharpened edge. Condor machetes come with a leather sheath or have one available for purchase, fitted handles, and an amazing polished convex edge. They are the Cadillac of machetes.

My favorite machete in the Condor line is the El Salvador. It is a great all around machete largely due to its shape and thickness. It has a nearly straight spine with a slight upsweep, plenty of belly on the cutting edge, a great handle, and it is thick enough to the harder woods that are found in the northern USA while still remaining somewhat light and flexible. This is an exceedingly tough machete. Last year, Condor introduced the El Salvador machete in carbon steel, which made a tough machete even tougher (previously it was available in their excellent 420HC steel, which is the perfect stainless steel for a machete). I purchased a carbon steel version immediately and have loved it ever since.

This year they introduced a 14″ version which I love even more. For most of what I do when I am hiking or camping, I do not need the 18″ version. A shorter, handier machete packs lighter and is more than sufficient for fire prep, shelter building, and other tasks. The 14″ version has a bit more upsweep at the spine which gives it a very “weight forward” feel in the hand. This also really helps its chopping performance. However, the extra upsweep does preclude the use of the excellent plastic GI sheaths that I prefer. I may ground just a little of the point off the machete off so that it will work with my sheaths.

MacheteSpecialists.com is my preferred machete source and they are the only source of the 14″ version. You may also want to watch for an upcoming version of the El Salvador machete with a carbon steel blade and a micarta handle. If you are looking for a machete that is versatile, reasonably priced, and ready to use right out of the box, then check out the Condor El Salvador Machete.

MacheteSpecialists.com Review

Machetes just might be the perfect survival knife. They are inexpensive yet exceedingly tough. They can be used for everything from clearing a trail, to fire starting, to game cleaning, to shelter construction. You simply can not beat the utility of a good machete. Once you are used to using a machete in the woods, it will be hard to carry anything else (especially an expensive “survival” knife).

Until recently, finding a good machete in the USA could be a bit of a challenge. Many of the best brands and designs were available only in South America where the machete is a far more pervasive tool. There was a serious void in the US market for brands like Imacasa and Tramontina.

The good folks at Machete Specialists have filled that void! Now you can purchase some amazing machetes from all over the world. They offer a 30 Day Guarantee and even have videos on proper machete use that were made by machete designer and knife writer Joe Flowers. Machete Specialists are THE definitive source for machetes on the web.

Good Stuff From Other Blogs

Death Valley Magazine -Red Zone Bug Out Bag Part 1

Sometimes your Bug Out Bag takes a different direction and morphs into something between a go-bag, an active shooter bag, and a Bug Out Bag (BOB) due to your chosen occupation. Enter the Civilian Contractor Red Zone BOB; this is a heavy-weight’s version of a crisis management bag for places where encounters with ‘Bad Guys’ is a real possibility…

Soldier Systems – New Lightweight Multi-Hit Plate from Velocity Systems

Velocity Systems has just released the latest addition to their Phalanx line or armor plates. It is a new lightweight, multi-hit plate that is going to be a game changer. Take a look at the specs and you’ll see why…

North Branch Knives Soloist

North Branch Knives is a fledgling custom knife company that has been the longtime dream of Ben Wiernusz. Ben and I grew up in north east Pennsylvania, in a small town, right on the North Branch of the Susquehanna River. The river and its surrounding areas not only provide the name of the company, but also the inspiration for the designs of his knives. The river even provides the inspiration for the names of each individual model of knife Ben hopes to offer one day!

Ben and I spent most of our time during high school in the woods or on the river, whether it was small game hunting, camping, or canoeing – if it was outside, we were doing it. Ben’s love of the outdoors and hunting continues to this day and it drives his knife making philosophy. He makes knives that are made to be used as only someone who regularly uses knives can.

The Soloist is his first offering. It was designed from the start to be everything Ben would want in a small, capable, and versatile tool. It must be compact but ready for any task that the soloist canoe camper could throw at it – hence, the Soloist.

Ben is the kind of guy who knows a little about everything and does all things well. He has an eye for the aesthetic and can make just about anything. I have any early prototype of this knife that I still use. It wasn’t everything Ben hoped it would be so he continued to refine it until he arrived at the current design. I know Ben is already working out more ways to further refine this design!

On to the pics!

What does a guy with an eye for the aesthetic and a drive to do things well do when he needs a box for his knives? He makes them himself, by hand!

The boxes are handmade from some kind of attractive waxed cardboard so even the box is tough. You can see the end tag with model name that Ben designed in the previous picture and the logo tag in the next. Ben studied advertising in college so you better believe his knives will be well branded!

Here is what I was greeted with when I opened the box. I was very, very pleased.

Under the knife you can see further evidence of the care that goes into each knife – a certificate explaining more about the model and saying thanks for your purchase. Each knife is also numbered.

The sheath itself is very well made. It is quality full welt construction and hand stitched with the addition of rivets at the stress points. Ben added a simple “N” stamp to the leather for North Branch Knives. The proportions are very nice. It is molded to leave just about half of the handle exposed. The leather has a warm, used feeling that makes it seem like you have already owned this knife forever. The square design of the sheath is not only visually attractive but functional (helps the sheath ride well in a pants pocket). It allows the sheath to be used with either the left or right hand.

Have you ever broken a belt loop on a leather knife sheath? I have. That won’t happen with this sheath. The belt loop is stitched and riveted to the sheath. The loop is large enough for most any belt.

Like I said before, this knife had to be versatile so a spear point blade shape was chosen. The blade is about 3 inches long from tip to scales. It has a convex edge, a long straight area near the handle, a short section with plenty of belly, and still enough of a point to be useful. The point is also positioned in line with the handle to facilitate drilling tasks. This knife would be at home zipping open a white tail or whittling a tent stake.

I provided stabilized Eucalyptus scales for Ben to work with for this project. The knife bares a “1” stamp that corresponds with the number on the certificate that came with the knife. The opposite side bares Ben’s “N” stamp like the sheath.

The biggest clue that you are using a knife that was designed by someone who uses knives comes from the handle. It is shaped well with no guard and a slight finger choil. The choil is not obtrusive enough to force any one grip but serves well to index your hand on the knife. The scales have a relief cut near the blade that allow a pinching kind of grip that is important in some grips like the “chest lever” grip. The handle is long enough for any grip and short enough to keep the knife very compact over all (about 6 3/4″ overall).

I tend to like knives that work and I am generally not willing to pay more for a knife that is beautiful. Ben proves you can have both beauty and function with this knife.

Everything from the handmade box, to the finish on the scales, to the way the white spacers set off the beautiful reddish hues in the Eucalyptus scales, to the warm tones of the leather sheath contribute to feeling that this knife gives you. It is like you have already owned it for years. This knife looks simple and primitive but when you have it in hand, you realize that was all by design. It is all part of the aesthetic as well as the function. You can really see the knife maker’s hand in this knife.

It’s like an old friend.

Specs:

  • Steel: 1095
  • Blade Length: 3″
  • Overall Length: 6 3/4″
  • Sheath: Leather, Belt or Pocket Carry
  • Scales: Stabilized Eucalyptus

Contact North Branch Knives on BladeForums (username Cheekser).

Kifaru G1 Sale

Kifaru has redesigned most of their packs and accessories. They are calling the updated designs Generation 2 (G2) packs. The redesign happened at least a year ago but the good news is that there are still G1 packs available. The better news is that they are available at a pretty deep discount.

If you have ever wanted to try out a Kifaru pack to see what the fuss is all about, now is the time.

Kifaru G1 Sale Page

HSGI Bleeder/Blowout Pouch – Build Your Compact Blowout Kit

If you are a shooter, it stands to reason that you should be able to treat a gun shot wound (on yourself or others). This is especially true if you attend training classes where drills can become a little more dynamic than your typical range activities. In order to treat a gun shot wound you need training on how to treat the wound and the gear to treat it. If you haven’t sought training yet, I suggest you do it. All of the gear in the world won’t save you if you don’t have at least some basic knowledge of how to use it. If you are hear to get an idea for a gear solution, I may be able to help.

I took a point of wounding care class recently and it did much to bolster my knowledge and confidence. I am certainly far from being an EMT or Combat Medic, but I now have some basic knowledge that could save a life someday. I also came out of the course with the resolve to build a kit that fit my needs as a Regular Guy.

For my needs this kit must be:

  1. Compact –  If it isn’t, it will be easier to justify leaving it in the truck.
  2. Affordable – This is very subjective. I do not mean cheap. I am willing to spend some money on such important gear.
  3. Modular – I need to be able to move it between pieces of gear relatively easily since I can’t afford to put a blowout kit on every pack, chest rig, and belt rig that I own.
  4. Effective – This is the most important requirement. This kit needs to be able to effectively treat the situations that I am most likely to encounter.

Let’s Deal with my requirements one by one:

Compact
HSGI makes a small pouch called the Bleeder/Blowout Pouch. The manufacturers description is as follows:

The HSGI Improved Bleeder/Blowout Pouch is designed to hold medical gear along with immediate access to medical shears. Medical shears are held securely by strap and snap. There is also a 2″ wide QUICK-PULL strap along the inside of the pocket to aid in one handed removal of contents of the pouch. Pouch measures 3″ x 3″ x 7″ , MOLLE/PALS webbing on sides for additional modular pouches or the attachment of a Tourniquet via rubber bands. Has both hook and loop w/silencer strip and side release closure . MALICE clips supplied . Constructed of 1000 Denier Cordura nylon , sewn with 135/138 bonded nylon threads . Constructed and made totally with products from in the USA . Has HSGI Lifetime Warranty *MEDICAL ITEMS NOT INCLUDED*

With dimensions of only 3″ x 3″ x 7″, this pouch is not designed to carry a full IFAK, but it will allow you to carry the basic wound treatment items that you will need to tend to yourself (or others) until more suitable care can be given. When determining the items to carry with your limited space, look to the lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The HSGI Bleeder/Blowout Pouch has some unique features that help is stay some compact. The most noticeable is the sleeve behind that pouch that retains your EMT shears. Shears can be a great tool for quickly removing clothing from the wound site. This sleeve has a retention strap that snaps into the handles of the shears so that they can not be lost. It also has webbing on both sides that allow you to attach a tourniquet (See this earlier post for ideas on how to attach your tourniquet to the pouch). When dealing with extremity hemorrhaging a tourniquet is your first and best line of defense. Since these two bulky items are attached to the outside of the pouch, you are free to use the space inside the pouch for other life saving items.

Affordable
The HSGI bleeder pouch costs roughly $25 shipped from many great retailers. My favorites are OpTactical and SKD Tactical. The cost of the contents will vary greatly depending on what you choose to put in but they typically won’t be prohibitively expensive. I like to shop for my blowout kit supplies at Chinook Medical.

Modular
Most items that use MOLLE webbing to attach to your gear are somewhat modular already. You simple weave the webbing to attach and undo the weaving to remove the pouch. The HSGI Bleeder/Blowout Pouch is no different. However, I wanted a compact solution that took less time since dealing with webbing can be frustrating and time consuming. I decided to try Blade-Tech Molle-Loks. Molle-Loks are more rigid than typical MOLLE straps or even MALICE clips. They are hinged at the top and lock together tightly when closed. Because of this, they do not need to be threaded. Simple slide them into the webbing on the back of the pouch, then slide the other side of the MOLLE-Lok into the webbing of the item that you are attaching the pouch to, and lock them. The MOLLE-Loks come with instructions on their use. They are much quicker and easier to deal with than regular MOLLE straps for this application.

Effective
The leading cause of preventable death from gunshot wounds on the battle field today is extremity hemorrhaging. Even in the civilian world, most gun shot wounds are to the extremities. Perhaps, we as shooters should learn something from those stats and begin to carry items to deal with extremity hemorrhaging. When building a compact blowout kit, I suggest that you would be well served to concentrate on hemorrhage control items.

I have chosen the following items for my kit.

  1. 4″ Emergency Bandage – These are also know as the Israeli Bandage. The OLAES Bandage from Tactical Medical Solutions would also be an excellent choice. Both of these bandages allow you to treat yourself with some practice. The OLAES has some extra features explained in the video that I linked to that make it very versatile. I may consider changing to one of those soon.
  2. Small package of Kerlix – Kerlix is just a guaze bandage roll.
  3. Celox – Celox or Quikclot are used to promote clotting quickly and stop bleeding. They will even clot arterial bleeding quickly, though your tourniquet may be a better choice. I suggest that you get training or at least research the downsides to products like this.
  4. Tourniquet – This is a must. I use the SOF-T and Cavarms tourniquets. I am hoping to be able to try the SWAT soon. I have generally avoided the CAT due to reports of breakage but it still well liked for it’s compact size and light weight.
  5. Small roll of tape
  6. Latex-free gloves – Infection is bad. Wear gloves!
  7. A glow stick – You may not be shot during the daytime. Have a light source.
  8. EMT Shears

All of the above items fit relatively tightly but there would be more room for other small items. You can really pack the pouch tightly thanks to the ripcord design. You simple lay the webbing strap down inside the pouch so that the D-ring is at the top forward part of the pouch. Now you can pack everything in on top of the strap. When you need to access the items in your pouch you simply pull the D-ring. This forces everything up and out of the pouch for easy access.

No Excuses
This kit only takes up 2 columns of MOLLE space and can also fit in a cargo pocket or utility pouch in a pinch. There is no excuse to be without a life saving blowout kit when it is this compact, affordable, modular, effective. Start building your kit yesterday!

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Evolution of a Knife Design

A few years ago Ray Laconico introduced a knife design called the “Explorer” and it was immediately successful. I believe it was one off the first “patterns” that Ray offered consistently. Ray introduced the knife in this BladeForums thread.

This will not be a true review but rather a window in the processes that a knife maker goes through to improve a product. I find it pretty fascinating. The mark of a good knife maker is a continual drive to improve designs based on feedback from users and their own experiences.

Stats
Ray is a true custom maker so the dimensions can vary by customer request. However, his pattern knives like the Explorer tend to be similar from knife to knife. The Explorer features a blade that is 5 1/2″ from tip the scale. Overall length is about 10 1/2″. It is made from 1/4″ thick 5160 steel and wears black micarta slab handles.

The Same but Different

The Explorer’s striking looks come from it’s angular handle and tall, slightly drop point blade (or recurve on the original) with some extreme belly near the tip. This nearly straight spine blade profile and distal taper give the knife a very fine point. None of the recognizable features of the original have changed. All of the usefulness and quality of the original is built right into the newest iteration.

The butt of the knife has been made more perpendicular to the spine. This makes the knife more useful as an improvised hammer.

The slightly thicker handle slabs are now more contoured. This gives the very angular looking grip a more organic feel in the hand. The grip on the original Explorer was excellent but this new one will blow you away. You will also find that the new grip is slightly taller and more hand filling.

Ray also changed the design off the guard to be smaller and less obtrusive. The original guard on my Explorer used to rub my knuckle a bit until I broke its edges with some wet-dry sand paper. The new guard is hardly noticeable while still being very effective. If you like a guard on your knives, you will like this one.

My favorite modification of the design is that Ray moved the edge MUCH closer to the handle. This allows for much more powerful cuts while doing tasks like notching and whittling.

The Laconico Explorer is a fine knife for those who favor a larger and thicker knife. There is not much penalty in cutting performance from the thicker stock thanks to Ray’s tall flat grinds and polished convex edge. This knife will shave hair easily and push cut newsprint. Thanks to its thick spine and differentially tempered 5160 steel and can take a serious beating. I tend to favor thinner knives but I do appreciate having thicker ones at times – especially they cut as well as this one.

Overall, the new Explorer is a worthy successor to the original.

The Laconico HWK+ – the HWK but Bigger!

Below is a review that I wrote a while ago regarding the HWK+. Like the HWK, it was made by Ray Laconico and designed with my input. It is no longer being made but can occasionally be found on the secondary market.

The Laconico HWK+
The HWK+ (bottom) with the original HWK (top).

I could not have been more pleased with how the original Laconico HWK (Hazard Woods Knife) turned out. It is proving to be a great all-round tool that I am more than proud to have my name on. In fact, it went so well that I immediately thought it would make a great larger knife as well.

HWK+ Stats:
3/16″ thick O1 steel
Ray’s typical tall flat grinds with polished convex edge
5″ blade
10″ overall
Green G-10 handle slabs


The HWK+ with Victorinox Farmer and Original HWK for scale.

Getting it Dirty
I removed the HWK+ from the package and, as is my custom, began to cut up the wrapping materials that it came in to test the edge. This knife came from Ray shaving sharp, as usual. There is something satisfying about a knife that can easily push cut the newsprint in which it was packed!


The HWK+ has a thick spine and nicely contoured handle.

The HWK+ has a phenomenal handle. It is very hand filling and has excellent contours. It promotes a very secure grip without forcing the hand into any one grip. The green G-10 handle material has a very cool translucent quality to it that makes this knife very attractive.

The blade shape is designed for versatility, just like its smaller sibling. There is plenty of belly, a large section of straight edge close to the grip for cuts that need leverage, and a point that is dropped to be inline with the handle for drilling. Ray does a great job of creating a tip that is fine enough to cut very well without being prone to breakage.


Fine curls are no problem for HWK+ in spite of its thickness.

The next test for the knife was some fire prep. Shaving “feather sticks” can be a test of a knife’s sharpness and edge geometry. Even though the HWK+ is 3/16″ thick at the spine, Ray’s use of tall flat grinds yield excellent edge geometry. The HWK+ is capable of very fine curls.


Deep, precise notching? No problem!

Another test of geometry is how well a knife performs at notching. This is a difficult task for thick knives but the HWK+ holds its own. It simply can’t bite as deep as thinner knives. However, by using a stop cut and then working the notch deeper one slice at a time, you can achieve very precise notches.

The HWK+ has all of the makings of a versatile and dependable woods companion. It would be at home on the belt of anyone who loves time spent in the outdoors whether they are a hunter or a hiker. The HWK+ would even make a fine knife for a soldier.

Matt Hazard

The Laconico Hazard Woods Knife (HWK)

Below is a previously written review of a knife that I designed with Ray Laconico. It was successful enough that Ray got tired of making it. They can still be found occasionally on the secondary market on places like BladeForums.

The Laconico HWK

This afternoon I received a package from Ray Laconico. Inside was the newly christened “HWK” or (Hawk or Hazard Woods Knife). This is a design modification that I requested from Ray after seeing his Hiker’s Utility Knife. I requested that the point be dropped a bit (closer to a spear point) for drilling. I also requested new handle materials and pins. The intent was to make a “bushcrafter” that still looked, felt, and cut like a Laconico.

Stats
This knife is crafted from 1/8″ thick O1 steel. The blade is 3 3/4″ long from tip to scales and the knife is 8 1/4″ in overall length. The handle slabs are black linen micarta with a slight palm swell at the middle.

The Reveal
As soon as I got home from the office I cut open the box from Ray with my trusty Endura. I found a well packed bundle of newspaper inside. Once I unraveled miles of newspaper I was left with the HWK in its sheath.

The sheath is exactly was I hoped. I asked Ray to make it so that it sat a little lower on the belt so Ray included a drop loop that holds the knife lower and slightly away from the belt. It is very comfortable and out of the way of my pack’s waist belt. Ray molded this sheath from two pieces of kydex. It has generous thumb ramps to aid the user is drawing the knife.

Getting it Dirty
I took the HWK out to the creek on our wooded lot and set about putting it through its paces. The first thing I did was test the spine on a fire steel. I was rewarded with a huge shower of sparks. Ray does a great job of squaring the spines on his knives and the O1 steel can really throw sparks.

Next I set about prepping some tinder. The fine polished convex edge made short work of the jute twine. The belly of the knife made rocking cuts in the balled up twine a cinch. I also tested the spine and edge on fatwood. The HWK’s squared spine made achieving very fine curls of fatwood easy and the acute edge sliced larger curls with ease.

Next I tried my hand at some notching. For notching wood, it is hard to beat a scandi grind. However, with the excellent geometry that Ray graces his knives with notching is no problem at all. Ray typically uses a full height flat grind and a polished convex edge. This gives even his thickest knives keen edges.

After the notching and tinder prep, I wanted to see how the edge was holding up so it was time for a few fuzz sticks. I am happy to report that the HWK is very capable of marginal fuzz sticks (probably had something to do with the user)!

Finally, I went to the wood pile and selected a lovely section of sycamore that has been seasoning for just short of two years. The HWK was able to baton through it, though somewhat slowly. I sectioned the log into 4 smaller sections and then split off some kindling. When I was done, the edge would still scrape hair off my arm.

Clean Up
The sheath was full of dirt, shavings, and other assorted grime after the short workout. I simply rinsed it out with water and set it up to dry. The HWK it self came back to shaving sharp with a few licks on the strop.

Conclusion
The HWK, so far, has shown itself to be up to a variety off tasks. One short afternoon of testing is hardly enough to show this knife’s true colors but so far it has been up to whatever I have asked. I will continue testing and report back. I want to see how this does in the kitchen and I imagine that this design should be pretty handy dressing deer (if I can manage to get one this season). Ray makes a fine knife at a fair price – what more could you ask? Overall, I am very proud to have my name on this one.

Matt Hazard

Update: I have owned this knife now for about 2 years. I am happy to report that it is still going strong though it looks much more used. The best way to contact Ray Laconico is to send him a message on BladeForums.

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