Groomsman Gifts: Helle Viking Knife Blanks


Last year with the help of a friend I had purchased Helle Viking Knife blanks from Ragweed Forge to make into groomsman gifts for a commission. We visited Dixon’s Muzzleloading Shop to pick-up gun stock scraps of tiger maple for the handles and scraps of leather to make into sheaths.

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We shaped the handles and hand sanded with 220 grit on the wood and 400 at grit on the bolster edge.

We then raised the grain on the wood 3x. The process was the apply water to the wood with fingers, use a propane torch to rapidly dry the wood to raise the grain and rub the wood smooth again with 0000 steel wool.

Next the Aquafortis acid stain was applied with a dauber to all handles. The torch was used to oxidize the stain and the heat turned the wood reddish brown. This was started at the bolster because the brass acts as a heat sink and a yellow ring will form at the wood below the bolster if not enough heat is applied.

The torch heat was then passed over the whole handle with just enough heat to make the stain oxidize. If the wood became scorched it could be rubbed out with steel wool. The heat was passed over gently trying to remove any sections with a yellow cast so all was oxidized.

This process was done again starting with a second coat of stain.

The acid was finally neutralized with a mix of 8oz water and couple teaspoons of baking soda, all applied with a dauber. A light bubbling action resulted.

With the wood still warm, it was rubbed with 0000 steel wool and boiled linseed oil. This allowed the oil to soak in and also remove any scorching while bringing up the grain and highlighting the beautiful striations within the wood.

More coats of boiled linseed oil were applied over the next few days allowing the wood to absorb as much as possible.

The knife handles were left to dry before finally packaging in brown grocery paper with a Ballistol wipe and care instructions and wrapped with jute string.


Making Charcoal Art Pencils on the Campfire & Drawing the Sky Tree

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Winter Nature Campers collected sticks within the forest to turn into charcoal pencils.  We added them to an empty container that once held Pepperidge Farm Pirouette Chocolate Hazelnut Rolled Wafers but you could use any empty cookie tin type container.  Be sure to poke a hole in the container for smoke to escape or the lid will pop-off when roasting. Fill the container with the sticks and place on the fire to cook. The sticks char without completely combusting due to the lack of oxygen and make an excellent artists charcoal.  Take the tin off the fire after it has been smoking for some time and let the container cool completely before removing the lid or the sticks could ignite into flames.   Campers had great fun exploring the textures of the charcoal and making their own free choice art. They observed that the sticks with bark removed made more consistent lines and held their shape better than those with bark still on them as the bark crumbled rather quickly when pressed on paper. Also, campers observed that the charcoal smeared easily when rubbed with a finger.

As an extension campers could use realism and create a winter tree like shown in the story “The Sky Tree, Seeing Science Through Art” by Thomas Locker.   They could listen to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons for inspiration and focus.

Crafting Plaster Pond Pals

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Using field guides, tinfoil and plaster wrap we constructed pond creatures as part of a one-day Frog Pond Science Camp with students in 1st – 3rd grades. We discussed the diversity of creatures that make up the frog pond ecosystem and after reviewing field guides and resource materials campers planned and began work on their own creature. Among their choices were a turtle, snake, salamander, siren, alligator and water boatman.

David Alexander is author of the Buzz Into Action & Hop Into Action Science Curricula.  He specializes in making nature accessible to people and wildlife.  You can follow him at

20 Ingredients in an Altoids Tin Survival Kit

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As part of one of the skill sessions in my nature explorers wilderness and survival week camps we cover what might be included in your pack. I start with a modern camping backpack but extend the lesson by getting campers started on their own Altoids Survival Tin Kit. The skills taught during the week could work to minimize required essentials, nevertheless we encourage participants to always be prepared with redundancy.  The Altoids tin makes for an excellent light weight, compact kit that can hold enough critical essentials to help you should an emergency arise.  From the Native Americans to the Pioneers those venturing out have always carried essentials to help better their individual situation should a challenge arise. The modern REI hiker should be no exception.

Consider customizing ingredients in your Altoids Survival Tin Kit to fit your needs, style and preferences.  Some items may include:

Cutting tool, water tablets for purification, zip lock bags, 24 gauge snare wire, signal mirror, whistle, button compass, razor blades, medical tape, bandages, anti-diarrhea tablets, ibuprofen tablets, antibiotic, alcohol prep pad, picture (of family, friends or faith), List of notes (survival acronyms), sewing needle (magnetized),  safety pins, buttons, duct tape wrapped around pencil, waxed matches, braided fish line, hooks & weights, wire saw, cash, copy of photo identification and copy of important keys. Many of these items have multiple uses and should be practiced with for best potential outcomes should the need arise.

Take another step towards self-reliance and setup a Bug Out Bag or Box.  Some items may include:

Tarp, genuine 550 paracord, whistle, sodium iodide tablets (avoid radiation), containers for water boiling, food (snickers!), silver blanket, compass, cutting tool, bottle 2% tincture of iodine (water purification), wool blanket (still warm when wet), photo identification, house key, car key, ear plugs, head lamp, crank radio, Leatherman type multi-tool, flashlight, road flares, 24 gauge snare wire, razor blades, anti diarrhea tablets, sailing needle, 6 hour candles, pepper spray, weapon.


Ten Wild Nature Art Crafts

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Wild Art has become one of the most popular sessions in my Nature Explorers Summer Camp.  Below are examples of some of the inside and outside nature art crafts we enjoy.  If you try any or have your own favorites please comment below. 

Nature Mosaic Sun Catcher – Take a nature walk to collect bits and pieces of color in your local habitat. Bring them inside to create your own sun catcher using the outside of a paper plate and contact paper. Although it is not necessary, if you have the time you may wish to press the collected pieces to flatten and dry them so they hold their form and color.

Mud Faces – Find a muddy ditch, the side of a stream or river or make your own mud. Take a blob of mud and smack it onto a tree. Next add sticks and stones and other items found in nature to create your own creative mud face.

Colors of our Earth Nature Necklace – Using the inside of the paper plate that was cut from the sun-catcher craft you can color with nature.  Children will love experimenting with different plants to uncover the colors they create.

Colors of Nature Earth Necklace, Nature Into Action

Nature Mosaics & Chipmunk Palaces – Create with the materials available a la Andy Goldsworthy. Focus on the process and allow for the project to stay and decay where it was created. Use colorful autumn leaves or balance sticks and stones to create your own masterpiece.

Seasonal Nature Ornament – Collect materials found in nature and press them into a piece of clay to create a seasonal nature ornament. Add a string and hang it where you like or leave it as is for a decorative piece of art.

Seasonal Nature Ornament, Nature Into Action

Pressed Flower Bookmark – Gather plant material or other natural items like a found feather and press them in a large book so they may be flattened and used within a contact paper bookmark. Use a funky scissor to add character to the the edges and add some nice ribbon or string to complete.

Pressed Flower Bookmarks

Nature Explorers Duck Tape Bracelet – Place a ring of duck tape around your wrist inside out so the sticky side is facing out.  Find small pieces of nature to collect and add to make a pretty craft that highlights the beauty of your adventure.  As always be careful to harvest appropriate plants as to not negatively impact the habitat you are exploring.

Y Branch & Group Forest Loom – Find a branch with a Y in it and tie string across so that other found items can be held within the gaps of string. This works well as an individual project or as a large classroom/group project. As always be careful to be respectful and careful when collecting so you only harvest abundant plants.


Cardboard Animal Nature Masks: Cut up cardboard boxes into the shapes of animal faces. Go out on a search for natural materials that can be used to decorate the mask. Big leaves make great ears, grass for whiskers, soil shades for camouflage and much more.

Cardboard Animal Masks with Natural Elements (4)


Garden Stepping Stone: Empty your cement mix into a mold.  Jiggle the cement to fit the mold and smooth the surface. Decorate your stone by embedding objects in the mix, adding a hand print or lettering before it dries solid.

David Alexander is author of the Buzz Into Action & Hop Into Action Science Curricula.  He specializes in making nature accessible to people and wildlife.  You can follow him at

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