Cherry Cox Apple Variety and a Few Others, Tasting and Review

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When I moved here 12 years ago, one of the first things I did was start to plan my fruit orchards.  I well knew then that the time to plant a fruit tree is ten years ago, now I might extend that to 15.  I began doing research on apple varieties, which I was very unfamiliar with.  I figured there must be hundreds of them, but the best resource I had available was a thick book called Cornucopia, a source book of edible plants which only listed a few of what I later found out were probably tens of thousands of named varieties.  I also talked to friend and fruit explorer Freddy Menge, who made his best recommendations at the time.  I had helped Mark Dupont of Sandy Bar nursery graft his first batch of fruit trees many years before, and had an outstanding favor owed for fruit trees whenever I finally got my own place.  I called in that favor.  Looking through their catalogue, they said they had a variety called cherry cox that had become a homestead favorite.  I was intrigued.   They had no trees to sell that year, but Mark sent me a scion, one of the first scions I grafted onto frankentree.  I've since sent out lots of scions to other people all over the country.

Cherry Cox has not disappointed.  It really does taste like cherries, among other flavors.  Few descriptions mention that it has a cherry flavor, suggesting even that the name is for the redder color it has.  There is no doubt though that the name is from the flavor, though I don't doubt that it does not always develop and some say they can't detect it at all.  It was also precocious, being one of the first apples to ever fruit on frankentree and one of the most consistent since.  If anything, it sets too much fruit, though it has taken years off as almost any apple will do when poorly managed.  It seems healthy enough so far, but I can't say too much about that as apple diseases are just getting a real foothold here.  It does get scab, and I think it could be called moderately susceptible.  Don't quote me on that, it's just a vague impression.

Cherry Cox is a sport of the very famous Cox's Orange Pippin.  A sport is a bud mutation.  One bud on a tree mutates into something new and thus begins a new variety, no tree sex required.  While many sports are very minor variations on the parent tree, Cherry Cox seems to be considerably different than it's parent.  It tastes different, performs different, allegedly keeps longer, and I'd just about bet that if you planted rows of each side by side there would be some obvious differences.  I was at my friend Tim Bray's orchard and his Cox's Orange Pippins were notably small and the trunks and branches completely covered in lichens, unlike the other trees.  They are known for their poor growability and have no doubt only survived by the virtue of exceptional flavor.  Cox's Orange Pippin is widely used in apple breeding because of it's eating quality, and is probably the apple most commonly said to be the best out of hand eating apple in the world.  Cox's Orange Pippin is indeed one of the few apples I've ever eaten worthy of the classification "best".  Even at it's best, Cherry cox is still not in that category.  It's a good lesson though that Cox's Orange Pippin seems to do poorly under my conditions and cherry cox is consistently good to very good.

Flavor wise, Cherry Cox has a lot going on, like it's parent Cox's Orange Pippin it is complex.  Obvious flavors are cherry, something almost like cherry cough drops, but in a good way, Anise is also present and I've detected some flavor of spice.  There is certainly more going on, other fruit flavors, but I'm not good at picking them out.  If I were to change things about Cherry Cox, I would.  It could use more sugar, which would bring the flavors out more.  Have you ever noticed how much better fruit tastes when you sprinkle sugar on it?  It's not just that it's sweeter, sugar is to fruit what salt is to meat and savory foods.  Cook a fantastic soup with no salt and you will barely taste the potential of it's flavor.  Add salt to it and boom, flavor city.  The cherry flavor develops early in cherry cox, but the sugar develops late.  It is a fairly acidic apple, and maybe even tart before it gets really ripe.  I would not reduce the acidity, I would just balance it with more sugar.  More sugar would also make it a richer flavored apple.  It can be a little thin tasting at times.  More scab resistance wouldn't hurt.  In the Beauty department it lacks nothing. It's is a beautiful apple.  it can grow plenty large under good cultural conditions, though it is not generally a very large apple.  Cherry Cox is a little known and little grown apple.  I doubt it has great potential as a broader market apple, but it has huge potential as a small scale specialty orchard and farmer's market apple.  And then there is the breeding potential.

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Looking toward improvement, I think cherry cox is very promising breeding material.  If nothing else for the cherry flavor, but it also must carry most of the exceptional flavor gene pool of Cox's Orange Pippin.  My own breeding efforts include Cherry Cox crossed with various other apples.  If my efforts don't breed anything exceptional, maybe they will produce something that is worth using in further breeding.  I've crossed it with several red fleshed apples in the hopes that I might be lucky enough to co-mingle the berry flavors of blood apples with C.C.'s complexity and cherry flavor.  I've also crossed it with Sweet Sixteen, which has sometimes a cherry candy component, while also being a good grower and carrying some disease resistance.  I've crossed it with Wickson for higher sugar content and unique flavor and probably others I'm forgetting about.  I think Golden Russet might be a good candidate since it is one of the best apples I've ever tasted, and it also has an extremely high sugar content.  I'd like to see more crosses made along these lines.  I would like to see Cherry Cox crossed with sweet 16 and Sweet 16 also crossed with the generally scab susceptible red fleshed apples, and the offspring of both back crossed in an attempt to keep Sweet Sixteen's scab resistance, while reinforcing the cherry component and hoping for a red fleshed offspring.... or something along those lines.  I don't know anything about breeding for scab resistance, but the information on dominance of traits is available out there somewhere if one cared to look for it.  I've got all of those genetic crosses made, and then some, so fingers crossed.

Cherry Cox crossed with Rubaiyat in 2013 and with Pink Parfait this past spring, both red fleshed apples.

Cherry Cox crossed with Rubaiyat in 2013 and with Pink Parfait this past spring, both red fleshed apples.

For various reasons, I'll have few Cherry Cox scions to offer for grafting, if any.  Being uncommon, it may be hard to find scions, but I think with a little effort they can be found.  The more that people grow it, the more scions will be available.  If you have a scion exchange in your area, that is a good place to look.  Online scion trading and fruit discussions can be found at GrowingFruit.org and The North American Scion Exchange.  Information on grafting can now by found on my Youtube channel and on this website.

Cherry Cox trees are listed for sale at Raintree Nursery and Maple Valley lists scions and benchgrafts.


Other apples in my cherry cox tasting video that are worth mentioning are:

Egremont Russet:  A nice russet.  Not up to the best russets as it is grown here, but a good performer and very good at it's best.  Stephen Hayes in the UK is a big fan.  Here is his video review.

 Sam Young is an Irish apple that is rare in the US.  My small branch is just starting to fruit, but seems promising. It's somewhat russeted and is also known as Irish Russet.  I'll be keeping an eye on this one.  It is hard and very sweet.  Below are some old descriptions.

Old Sam Young

Old Sam Young

Sam Young:  Fruit small, flattish, about an inch and half from the eye to the stalk, and two inches in its transverse diameter; eye remarkably large, having some of the calyx attached to it; colour yellowish clouded with russet, reddish to the sun; very apt to crack; flesh yellowish, firm, crisp, sweet and well flavoured. In use from the beginning of November to January. Tree flat headed, shoots declining, of a light brown colour ; leaves sub-rotund, acuminate, coarsely serrated, upper surface shining, under slightly pubescent. An abundant bearer, and healthy on all soils.

Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London, 1820
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Sam Young, aka Irish Russet:

Fruit of a smallish size, somewhat globular, flattened, about one inch and three quarters deep, and two inches and a half in diameter. Eye remarkably wide and open, in a broad depression. Stalk short. Skin bright yellow, with minute brown spots, and a considerable quantity of russet, especially round the stalk; in some specimens red on the sunny side, usually cracking. Flesh inclining to yellow, mixed with green; tender, and melting. Juice plentiful, sweet, with a delicious flavour, scarcely inferior to that of the Golden Pippin.
An Irish dessert apple, of high reputation, ripe in November, and will keep good for two months.
The merits of this very valuable apple were made known in 1818 by Mr. Robertson, of Kilkenny. It is certainly one of the best of our modern apples, and cannot have too general a cultivation.

A Guide to the Orchard and Fruit Garden: Or, An Account of the Most Valuable Fruits Cultivated in Great Britain, 1833


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Giant Leek Seeds Ripe After About a Year and a Half

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Over a year and a half ago, I planted Giant Bulgarian leek seeds from a line saved over a handful of plant generations.  Now the seeds from that latest generation of plants are ripe and we are in the final stretch to get them out to whomever wishes to plant them.  The project was to save seed, while also continuing to select for leeks with certain characteristics, as I always do.  A combination of length and girth, general uprightness and tidiness, and tightly clasping leaves are my basic criteria.  I selected about 12 leeks in the end. 

There is much more at stake in seed saving that just our own practical needs.  Yes, it's cheaper and it assures you can get the variety you want since any variety can be dropped by any seed company at any time.  Sure, it's also a good way to adapt varieties to your growing conditions over time.  But all that practical stuff aside, seed saving embraces a different mindset than buying seeds, and has become by default a political act.  Seed laws have become increasingly favorable to those entities with power and influence who have a vested interest in controlling and owning genes.  Meanwhile, fewer and fewer efforts are made in the commercial realm to serve home growers by creating new varieties suited to the home garden.  Well, we can serve ourselves.  Seed saving is the next level of involvement in our own food supply.  Someday I'll type up a sermon on the subject, but many gardeners are now at that level when it's time to move into basic seed saving.  The step after that is creating new varieties, which it is actually a great time to do now.

Saving seed from some plants, like leeks, is quite easy.  Other than elephant garlic, leeks should not inter-breed with any other onion family plants.  So, all you have to do is pick the best leeks and let them run to seed.  It takes time, but you'll have a pile of big pile of seeds from 6 or 8 leeks.  You may get some genetic bottlenecking saving only a few plants like that, but you can always introduce another line, or even another variety and let them cross to reinvigorate and add new genes to the mix.  Then you might be on your way to selecting out a new variety...  If I were to continue this project, that is exactly what I would do.  I probably won't though, so maybe someone else will.

When this seed is dry and processed I will make it available in the Webstore on SkillCult.com. My patrons over on Patreon get first chance, but I think there are plenty to go around.  I will probably sell them in small quantities to make them go further.  To me the point is to get them to more people.  The more people I get them to, the more chance someone will continue saving and selecting this great variety.

Here is the full playlist for this project

Posted on October 15, 2017 .

Opinel No 8 Knife Modifications and Cheese Glue Experiment

The videos below are about modifying a popular knife.  This basic French Opinel No. 8 model is a lightweight, easy to sharpen pocket knife that whatever combination of reasons has stood the test of time.  I like a few things about it, and dislike a few, so I picked one up to play with and modify as necessary.  What I do like is the thin carbon steel blade, the light weight and the low cost.  It is similar to a sheath knife in size and function, but the folding design and the light weight make it an entirely different animal than most pocket knives.  It doesn't weigh down your pants or draw any attention in the pocket.  I dislike the small round handle and the shape of the tip of the knife.  I'm also not crazy about the sharp radius on the belly near the tip, but haven't yet modified that. As far as build goes, I'd say it's well put together for what it is, though there are obvious limitations and potential pitfalls, mostly in the joint "hinge" area.  The joint can only be so strong and the wood is obviously prone to swelling and shrinking.  That said, robustness is far from everything.

Many modern knives are overbuilt to my way of thinking.  I think the phenomenon is due to overthinking extreme scenarios where strength is paramount because survival of the knife is equated with survival of the person.  If functionality for everyday common tasks, or even important infrequent tasks is lost in favor of robustness, then the design has in turn lost me.  While this is far from a robust knife, and certainly may not be hurt by a dose of robustness, it does seem like it has potentially good functionality for a lot of everyday stuff and things that are important to me.  If it is damaged or worn out, it is inexpensive to replace and ditto if it is lost.  As a beginner knife, there are certain advantages to a cheap knife, but also to a not-too-robust knife.  With this knife a new user that puts it through the learning experience is not likely to be left with a false sense of security that might be imparted by an overbuilt knife.  The thin blade, weak attachment point and delicate tip are not going to withstand much abuse.  Honestly, bending and breaking tips, mangling edges, loosening joints or even outright breakage are almost an essential part of the learning curve that will serve well down the road.  Where else do we learn the limits of our knives, but by crossing them?

I've not used it enough to know if there are other things that I will really dislike about it, but will probably use it a lot and none too gently, although I'm not likely to flagrantly abuse it.  I've used enough knives and have enough opinions that I would already like to see a model that is optimized for more all around use, though modifying this one is not so difficult.  There is also a model with an unfinished handle that can be carved to suit the user and it's the same price roughly.  I haven't seen it in person, but it might solve the handle issue and even an inexperienced filer can probably take the tip down to make it more functional in 15 minutes or less with a sharp file.

The shape at the tip of the knife just has to go.  This is the most important, non-negotiable modification, requiring just a few minutes of filing.  This mod puts the tip more in line with the center-line of the knife and makes almost every task I would do with the tip easier from cleaning fingernails, to detail carving, to cutting leather and paper on a flat surface.  I can't really think of anyplace that the original tip design is going to be really advantageous for me, and it is nearly always disadvantageous rather than neutral.

The handle size and shape is not very functional.  It is round, so it turns in the hand too easily.  It is also small and doesn't fill the hand up, which can cause cramping and require excessive grip to keep it stable, especially since it is round and prone to turning.  And finally, it is hard to tell how the knife is oriented in the hand without looking at it.  The shape of the base gives some idea of the plane the blade is oriented in, but it's not like the simple automatic feel of an oval handle which drops the blade right into line where it should be.  I used some wood shavings with casein glue as an experiment toward a sort of natural glue laminate to build the back of the handle up.  Cheese glue is more or less waterproof or water resistant, otherwise I would have used hide glue.  I'm not sure I got the mix right or if this will really be water-proof/resistant.  I really need to do some formal testing and experimentation with casein glues and paints to better understand capabilities and limitations.  It's neat stuff though and was once a common glue and paint base when and where water resistance was required.

Deer Leg Skins, Sinews, Hooves, Hide Fleshing and Processing Videos

I shot some footage to possibly use as support videos for my book, Buckskin, The Ancient Art of Braintannning which is in process for reprinting.  These are some videos I put together from that footage recently.  More for the archives.

HillBilly Science, Decoding of Practical Wisdom, It is Momentum and Not Weight Alone Which Chops Wood.

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Some are readers, others are watchers and I'm sure a few are both.  I have two videos and a full blog post today on the same basic theme.  The short video is meant to be a more accessible, shareable, quick download of bullet points and the long version is my nerdy love child.  This is my new strategy if I can pull it off, long geeky video, short shareable quicky video, instagram trailer and blog post.  This project started out when I pulled out Ellsworth Jaeger's book WildWood Wisdom, set it on my kitchen table, turned on a camera and started talked for 15 minutes.  It was supposed to be a super short low effort filler video.  I'm so naive.  Many versions, scripts, shoots, a blog post and 3 or 4 full days of work later, you and I have arrived here on this virtual page.

The short version

The Long Version


The Blog Post

I just dug out Ellsworth Jaeger’s copiously illustrated Wildwood Wisdom from storage.  This book is so much fun to spend a little time with some evening.  It's been a long time since I read any of it and I don't recall it having the best information ever, but it is by far the most fun woodcraft book because it is packed with amusing illustrations.  They alone really are worth the price of admission.  I suggest that anyone who has leanings toward woodcraft/bushcraft type of interests and pursuits get a copy on loan through your local library (if you still have one).  Print copies are cheap used.  https://www.alibris.com/Wildwood-Wisdom-Ellsworth-Jaeger/book/7228375

Illustration from Ellsworth Jaeger's Wildwood's Wisdom.  I haven't tried it, but I'm very skeptical of the idea of burning out axe handles like this.

Illustration from Ellsworth Jaeger's Wildwood's Wisdom.  I haven't tried it, but I'm very skeptical of the idea of burning out axe handles like this.

Of course I flipped to the axe section straight away.  It is short and contains mostly the usual information.  In it, Mr. Jaeger repeats some common, simple ideas that are somewhat misleading.  To quote him:

“HOW TO CHOP:  In chopping, remember that it is the weight of the ax that really chops, and not the force of the swing.  Too much power behind a blow destroys your aim.  The best way to chop is to swing rhythmically.  Do not use force.”

The first statement is false and the last is pretty useless.  The author takes a stab at some truths, but in a very sloppy way that fails to foster understanding at best and in misleading at worst.   I intend here to try to extract the elements of truth from Mr. Jaeger's assertions and fill in at least what I think are the important missing parts.  I suspect that something approaching truth about how weight (mass) and speed (velocity) play out in actual chopping, and how they vary with varying head weights, could get some people chopping better, quicker.  If I didn't think it were so, I wouldn't bother.

There is no real need to talk about handle length here, so we’ll assume the same length of handle on any imaginary axes.  Head shape does matter though, so we’ll also assume very similar designs and grinds regardless of the axe head weight.  Also, I use repetition and restatements intentionally to drive points home and foster understanding, so get over it ;)

The statements again:

“In chopping, remember that it is the weight of the ax that really chops, and not the force of the swing.  This first statement is incorrect.  We will get back to it, as it is really the stimulus for this conversation. 

"Too much power behind a blow destroys your aim.  Too much force can mess up your aim to be sure, though that is greatly dependent on skill level.  Timbersports competitors hit hard and accurately with heavy axes. Too much is just too much by definition, I'm just saying that what is too much is dependent on context.

"The best way to chop is to swing rhythmically.  Yeah, getting into a comfortable rhythm really does seem to help with performance.

"Do not use force.”   This last statement does not really make sense, but I think he’s just trying to say don’t use excessive force, or his definition of force inherently implies excess.  We'll touch on this in the rest of this discussion, so enough said for now.

The first statement is just not true.  “...It is the weight of the ax that really chops the wood, and not the force of the swing.” Lets look at that, because it can help us understand some basic truths about chopping with an axe.

A pretty simple concept is at play here- MASS combined with VELOCITY equals EMBODIED ENERGY.   In other words, every object has mass and if that object is traveling it embodies kinetic energy.  The faster it is traveling, the more energy it embodies.  (I'm what some might call under educated, so some of these terms may not be exactly standard, but I think the concepts are solid.  I actually consider myself over-"educated", but I managed to escape without becoming overly indoctrinated.)

If we look at this equation in terms of axes, they will do different amounts of work, depending on the speed they are traveling. 

  • If we make any given axe head travel faster, it embodies more energy to do work. 
  • The weight or MASS and the speed, or VELOCITY, can be Added or Subtracted to change the EMBODIED ENERGY, or potential to do work. 
  • A lighter axe has to travel faster to do the same work as a heavy axe travelling at a slower speed.

To understand this, we need to get past the common misconception that the chopper somehow pushes the axe through the wood, and I think that this is part of what Mr. Jaeger was trying to get at.  Depending on the weight of the axe head, it is best to think of chopping as guiding, flinging, throwing or whipping the head of the axe into the work.  By the time bit meets wood, the work is already done, so we are interested in how to embody kinetic energy in the head before it strikes.

Does the weight of the axe do all of the cutting?  No, clearly not.  Stand over a log and drop the axe onto it repeatedly.  An axe dropped won’t do as much work as it would if the axe were swung by a person, even if swung lightly.  The heavier the head though, the more the work appears to be like dropping the axe, and indeed it is.  The lighter the head, the less work it will do if it is just dropped.  But!, while a light axe must be swung faster if it is to carry the same authority as a heavy one, if I cut the weight of my axe in half, my ability to do work with a given amount of energy expended does not decrease by half.

Again, Mass and velocity together make for the embodied energy that does the cutting.  It’s just going to get more complicated from there if we keep digging into physics, but we don't need to, so lets not.  The important part here is that velocity is the significant factor we can change to cut deeper if we are given any particular axe head.  Watch any experienced user work with a light axe and they will be seen to be swinging it with some velocity and not just dropping it.  Conversely, watch any experienced user using a 4 lb axe and it will appear closer to true that they are letting the weight of the head do the work.

I think that Mister Jaeger is trying to say that the combination of weight and speed of the head (momentum) are what do the work and the axeman can chill and let that happen rather than taking a death grip on the handle with intent to bludgeon the work to pieces.  If that is Mr. Jaeger's intent, it is very poorly stated and I think it's likely that he understood the problem physically, but not intellectually. 

For example, I can drop the axe straight down onto wood and it will cut a certain amount, but how much work does an axe head's weight do if you drop it on a vertical surface like a standing tree trunk.  Answer, none, it won't fall onto a vertical surface, it will just fall to the ground.  A still axe has no embodied energy, so someone has to swing it at a vertical target to do any work.  If you chop straight down between your legs, the axe will be pulled by gravity sure enough, but it is not only difficult to add to avoid adding extra velocity to the axe at all as you guide it home, but it would also be silly.  Of course you will add a little more cutting power to the process by swinging the axe, why wouldn't you?  There is simply no happy place in this equation where the weight of the axe does all the work.  A still mass does nothing.  Since the faster it is swung the more work it will do, it is not accurate to say the head's weight does the work and the lighter the axe, the less true that becomes.  This point is not just academic, but technique must vary across a spectrum of head weights if the chopper is to be effective and not wear himself out.

If a small axe has to be swung faster, why would anyone use a light axe, such as the once common pulpwood axes with 2.5 lb heads?  Don’t we have to do more work to swing that light axe harder?  To answer that, let's ask another question, what does harder mean?  A light axe needs more velocity, but does that necessarily equate to more energy expended?  A heavier axe may do more work with less velocity, but it does still require some velocity and the force to create that velocity requires energy input.  An axe head represents an inertia that must be overcome.  Inertia, now there is a thing.

Inertia says that a mass wants to remain still if it's already still and remain moving if it's moving.  Matter it appears doesn't care much for change!  It's like getting a kid out of bed to go to school, then trying to get them to go to bed later when they are running around all hyped up.  A heavier head requires more effort to get it moving.   And of course a light head requires less energy to move, which is good, since it also requires more velocity to do the same amount of work.

 Page from Bernard S. Mason's Woodsmanship

 Page from Bernard S. Mason's Woodsmanship

 

Another issue is that the overall work required to use an axe consists of more than just accelerating the head into the work.  We also have to lift it between strokes.  The heavy axe, again, requires more effort to break it’s dead weight inertia in order lift and swing it.  If there was no cost to dead lifting that heavy axe, we might just all be using super heavy axes that we do indeed just lift and drop.  But of course an axe that requires little authority to lift also has little authority when it falls.  I may have to swing a small axe faster, but it is also easier to swing fast than a heavy axe is, and I don’t have to use as much energy to lift it for every blow.  I can lift a light axe all day long.  Likely there is a sweet spot or range in there for different people that balances these differing energy expenses.  I can do quite a bit of work with the small forest axes at only 1.5 to 1.75 lb on 25 to 26 inch handles, by whipping them into the work in a snappy fashion, but I’d rather not, in most circumstances, because they do require a lot of velocity and regardless of how I generate that, and how much of it, it becomes an issue at some point.  The good side is that I will never tire of lifting it and even if greatly fatigued, I can chop on lightly, whereas eventually a too heavy axe becomes a burden that can no longer be worked with effectively.

The issue of what head weight is best could, and no doubt has been, long argued.  There are strong proponents at both ends that could point to physics and various traditions for proof.  But, the judgement is very subjective, given different bodies and styles, let alone types of work and material cut.  I’m still working my way around handle length and head weights to figure out where I want to be with a multi-purpose axe, and that is a very personal thing.  Obviously, different configurations will be better suited to different tasks as well.  I just wanted to try to explain this though, because I think it will help people understand something important in chopping and can lead us toward better use of both light and heavy axes.

If viewed as a spectrum, as I increasingly do with many things, the extremes of light and heavy axe heads eventually decrease in functionality.  Too heavy is just too heavy for anyone except the mythical lumberjack Paul Bunyan, and too light it just too light.  Sure, you can theoretically swing a very light axe very fast to achieve a high value of Momentum, but it becomes difficult or impossible at some point and the faster the swing, the more likely aim and control will suffer.  In the middle ground are a fair range of weights that can be chosen and adapted to for varied circumstances.

Here is a suggestion.  Stop thinking vaguely in terms of force and power and weight and think more about velocity.  Assuming the same angle of attack, grind etc, velocity is the thing you can change that makes any given weight and configuration cut more or less deeply, and that goes for light or heavy axes.  I am all about velocity, because velocity is something we have some control over with axe in hand.  The pursuit of velocity is also one of the things that will wear you down if you try to generate too much of it, so don't.  It's not about generating as much velocity as possible, but generating enough when it's needed and generating it efficiently.

When you hear people talk about "snap" or "power", or hitting things "hard", they are talking about velocity.  I think most don't know that though.  But, knowing exactly what that factor is that makes an axe of a fixed weight hit the work with more authority can be very enlightening and inform our work and technique for the better.  How to generate that velocity is another topic.

 

PHYSICAL EFFICIENCY

A light axe can be whipped into wood at a high velocity without all that much effort.  This is what I call physical efficiency.  That just means the amount of work actually done for the amount of energy expended by the user.  It is possible for one person to use vastly more energy to do a task than the same task done by someone with a higher physical efficiency.  If someone says that a light axe requires more work to use, they will have a hard time proving it to anyone but themselves outside of obvious extremes, and the opposite is equally true.

In cultivating physical efficiency, one obvious error is that you should not be using muscular effort that is unnecessary.  That means relaxing muscles that you do not need to be using.  Another major factor is that there are many different ways to get the axe to the same spot at the same velocity.  If the axe gets there at the same angle etc, then it should do the same amount of work, regardless of how it got there.  But, how much work and overall movement was done to get it there?  On the way, many joints articulate at different times worked by many muscles.  These orchestrations of motion are remarkable and incalculable.  We don’t think them through as they happen.  It is not a cerebral process, or at least not a conscious one and doesn't need to be. 

Over time, we hopefully get our axes to the target with the required velocity, but do that with less and less energy expended and less and less movement, or at least with the movements that require the least energy for amount of work done.  Some bullet points:

  •  Using muscles unnecessarily is a waste of energy.  Relax.
  • There is more than one way to get the axe where it’s going at a given velocity, but not all will be equally as comfortable or efficient.
  • Chill out.  Unless highly skilled, an aggressive fast pace of work will get you where you are going slower and more fatigued than if you take a more sober approach.

 

IN CLOSING

Many will go into axe work thinking that much force and effort is required.  Experienced axeists are always trying to curb that attitude by saying to relax into an easy rhythm.  One way they try to say this is to "let the weight of the axe do the work" or "Let the axe do the work".  As pointed out above, this is rarely ever actually true and it is easy when thinking in these simplistic terms to be mislead into thinking that a small axe is necessarily more work to use, because it has to be swung "harder".  As I've tried to make obvious though, there are trade offs in either direction and there is no free lunch.  In particular, I think that it is probably more difficult to learn to whip a small axe into the work at a high velocity with very good economy of motion and effort, all while maintaining accuracy.  It is a skill that is hard earned by repetition.  If I were to analyze it more, I might be able to explain and teach the motions involved, but people who are good at it don't think about what they are doing, because they don't need to.  What you can note if you see someone doing it well is that they are fairly relaxed, and the axe accelerates rapidly at the end of the stroke.  Motions are not exaggerated, but pared down to the essentials.  The axe head will be seen to rotate around one or more pivot points, like the elbows, shoulders and especially the wrists in order to create that snap of velocity at the end of the stroke.

Here are what I think are some truisms:

  • Don’t use excessive force, especially when learning. It is likely to throw your aim off, wear you out and it is decidedly unsafe!  However, that said, "excessive" depends on skill and context.
  • Lighter axes require more velocity than heavy axes
  • Heavier axes require more energy to lift than light axes and also require more energy to increase velocity when swinging, but require less velocity.
  • Hitting the target with a given velocity can be achieved with almost endless variation in subtle and not so subtle movements.  How much physical energy you expend to get there is the relevant question, and minimization of that effort is a worthy goal.
  • Whether the axe head is light or heavy, velocity is a useful way to view the generation of cutting power in axes, since it is the factor in the equation that you can actually change with any given axe of a fixed weight.

DANGER, DANGER

The generation of velocity while maintaining accuracy and preventing loss of control can be tricky.  There is hardly a better way for a novice to get into trouble with an axe than by trying to force the use of velocity ahead of skill level.  Don’t push it.  Know that it is a factor, but let ability develop naturally with experience gained.  Don’t expect to do the same work in the same time, or make the axe cut to the same depth with each stroke as someone who is more experienced may be seen to do.  Both excessive force and force poorly applied are a danger to the axe, the user, bystanders and your energy level.  Concentrate on accuracy and becoming comfortable with the movements.  The rest will follow naturally.

     

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      Stay safe!

      Posted on September 15, 2017 .

      Some Slightly Ranty Advice on Expensive Boutique Axes

      My main points in this video.  Expensive axes do not carry super powers and will not be greatly more effective than an inexpensive axe of reasonable quality.  Quality can matter up to a point, but an axe which does not have the best edge retention or strength is often suitable enough.  Beginners should not be seduced into buying expensive axes.  It is better to start with an inexpensive axe and beat it up, break some handles and generally learn one's way around them.  That kind of use and experience can build experience for making a larger purchase as some point.  One might find that after using some inexpensive axes and vintage axes, that they don't really want to buy any, and may be perfectly happy with vintage heads.  A lot of axe purchases are for collecting's sake alone, or maybe retail therapy or over accessorizing.  The problem is that beginners often won't know what is and isn't important and can be easily up-sold to higher cost axes on selling points that are probably not going to matter that much to them if they are even true in the first place.  Expensive axes are worth a lot and will be devalued by the clumsy use they will often see in amateur hands.  Don't learn to drive in an expensive sports car.

      Bottom line, get a cheap axe and use it a lot.  Mess it up, play with modifying it, break handles, learn to sharpen, then see if you want to spend money on fancy axes.  Best case scenario, get a cheap or free axe with a handle.  Next best, get a cheap or free used head and make or buy a handle.  Third best, buy a budget line axe, like the council boys axe and hope that you get a good handle and head.

      Final Minimalist Strop Video

      This video is me re-glueing and finishing the strop I made in another video.  It's a lot of carving and trimming, with talking points as usual.  It was supposed to come out before the auction, but I didn't have a computer to edit it at the time.

      Posted on August 21, 2017 .

      Turning Green Wood and Minimalist Wood Working

      I have been negligent in posting projects here on my blog.  I post stuff here, but I rarely get any feedback, so my brain thinks I'm just dumping content into a void.  I know that isn't true, but because there's no real feedback, I forget to do it at all sometimes.  It's also partly because I haven't done that manyvideos in the last month.  My old computer finally died too, but I'm back online now and ready to do some cool stuff.  Here are the last few videos I've done.

      The first video is project updates.  Mostly projects I've done content on, that need updating or were never finished.

       

      This one is on doing some minimalist woodworking using just a knife and a hatchet.  This was an offshoot of another two part video project on scraping wood with knives.  That whole project was lost in my computer crash, so I'll have to reshoot and re-edit it, but it will be really cool and useful.  It's more exciting than it sounds lol.

       

      This video is a lot of wood turning on my lathe with talking points and some killer heavy old school dub.  I'm just putting away a bunch of wood to use later for making handles and such.  Soon I'll be turning a large batch of awl handles.

      Posted on August 17, 2017 .

      What is Sharpness, Basic Sharpening Theory, the Starting Point for Learning to Sharpen Tools

      Today's video is about basic sharpening theory, looked at through the question, what is sharpness?  This information is where learning to sharpen should ideally start.  Information like which type of sharpening stones to use, techniques for using them, which tools are sharpened at what angle and so on, are not much use without understanding what sharpness is and the factors that create it.  This information illuminates the goal and by extension possible ways to go wrong in pursuing it.


      A Farewell to Spring

      This Spring I would go out now and again in the morning or evening and shoot a little bit of footage of whatever interesting things I'd run across.  This is a 4 minute video of that stuff.  No talking, not much text, just a bunch of flowers, noisy birds in the background and the occasional ubiquitous chicken.  Summer is entirely different there than spring.  Most of the birds have left for greener pastures leaving the obnoxious Stellar's Jays behind.  A few tough native grasses will stay partly green through the summer, and the rest is seared brown by the several heat waves we've already been through.  When I go walking my shoelaces and pants pick up burrs and grass seeds and my heart jumps whenever I smell smoke.  I think I appreciate spring more and more everyday, but contrast is good and the other seasons have their perks, like no ticks, or juicy tomatoes, tor ime to rest and reflect.  Anyway, farewell to spring and hopefully we'll all see many more.

      Posted on July 2, 2017 .

      Finishing the Oak Bark Tanned Deer Leather

      Cute and practical, just how I like 'em!

      Cute and practical, just how I like 'em!

      Last winter I started a project oak bark tanning a deer skin to make leather for the axe strop project.  The project follows the collecting and processing of materials to build pocket sized sharpening strops as prizes for people who completed the Axe Cordwood Challenge.  I'm making everything I need for the strops and decided to show the whole tanning process and everything else in a series of videos.  Almost 6 months ago, I laid the prepared skin away to tan in oak bark.  It sat in there about 4 months longer than it needed to, but I took it out and finished it this week, and it looks like it turned out pretty decent.

      The leather is perhaps a little light and spongy, "Empty", as they say in the tanning trade.  Emptiness results from the loss of structural proteins in the skin by chemical or bacterial action.  It isn't much of a surprise considering that I over-limed it to start with, and that it sat in a weak vegetable tanning (plant based) solution for 4 months longer than it needed to.  Those are actually the type of things that a tanner might do on purpose to a hide in order to make the finished leather soft and pliable.  That's not what I was planning though.  I would prefer a rather firm and weighty leather for this project, but that is not even the nature of deer to start with.  Deer skin, at least our deer skin here in the Western U.S. has an open, coarse-fibered, low density character that lends itself well to softened leathers.  It would have been better to move it through the process faster with shorter liming time.  But, a process that uses somewhat preservative solutions like lime and tannin, begs for procrastination.  Add that I have to make videos of it all and it's a perfect storm for not getting things done in a timely manner.  It will probably work fine for the project, but I haven't assessed it closely yet.  If it doesn't work out, I have plenty of other skins I've tanned over the years that are suitable and I got to show the process start to finish, with some of the warts and mistakes that any home tanner is likely to experience.

      The next steps will be making the wooden paddles, making glue and putting it all together into the finished product.  I only need a small amount of leather for the project.  Seven brave and industrious individuals chopped one cord or more of firewood for the cordwood challenge using axes only and will receive a finished strop and a leather patch when they are made.  The balance of the leather will be stowed away with the rest of my leather cache, to wait for a suitable project.

      My Hand Watering Tool of Choice, the Fan Sprayer, and Cheap Hoses Just Got Cheaper

      My watering nozzle of choice is the fan sprayer.  Unfortunately it's hard to find a good one these days.  Read more below, or watch the video. 

      Also, the hoses I just recommended in another video and blog post, Craftsman 50 foot, 5/8 inch rubber hose, just went down in price further for the next day.  They go off sale TODAY.  Someone commented that Sears is in financial crisis and may go under, so it might be a good time to buy some.  They're like "WE'RE GOING DOWN, QUICK, SELL ALL THE HOSES!"  They are 17.99 with free shipping on orders above 50.00,  or free in store pick up even if they aren't actually on sale in the store.  The 100 foot are about twice that much, so same per foot price.  http://www.sears.com/lawn-garden-watering-hoses-sprinklers-garden-hoses/b-1024024

      The package says the hose contains lead and chemicals known to cause cancer as everything must in California.  I did a brief search and found this hose to actually score very well against most tested for toxic compounds including lead, of which none was found.  http://www.ecocenter.org/healthy-stuff/samples/50-ft-craftsman-premium-heavy-duty-rubber-garden-hose

      Quite a few people commented on the video with positive reviews of this hose, including people that have used them for over 10 years.

      I like fan sprayer nozzles because they deliver a lot of water and deliver it gently if designed well.  The other major reason I like them is that the spray pattern and water delivery can be adjusted by tilting the head side to side.  I can cover a 3 to 4 foot wide swath 8 feet away by holding it horizontally, or concentrate most of that water in a one foot circle at the same distance by simply tilting the head vertically.  In between those extremes, you can adjust the width by adjusting the tilt.  This versatility and the wide horizontal coverage make them especially good for watering wide beds as well as for variable conditions.  nothing else I know of delivers this amount of water in that sort of versatile pattern.  Unfortunately good ones are hard to find and I can't recommend a new one, though I can recommend some old ones.

      Hole size is a major design issue with these.  If sprayers with small holes are available new at all, they will be the exception.  Small holes mean finer streams of water, which equals less trauma to seedlings and seedbeds as well as the fragile soil surface.  High volume and gentle delivery are hard to find in one package.  The older fan sprayers seem to have small holes for the most part.  THE ROSS is the brand I've used most and they are not that uncommon to run into.  THE ROSS #10 shown in this video was patented in 1924.  There are at least two models I can recommend, the #10 and #11. Both have similar holes, but different construction.  Examine old ones for leaks at any soldered or folded seams.  The cast metal body of the #11 can corrode through in some cases, so examine them closely as well.

      Three good fan sprayers.  THE ROSSes #'s 10 and 11 and a no name short brass one that is every bit as functional, if a little less durable.

      Three good fan sprayers.  THE ROSSes #'s 10 and 11 and a no name short brass one that is every bit as functional, if a little less durable.

       

      A common design feature in new models is a valve in the handle of the sprayer.  I think that is a mistake.  The valve will fail eventually and can't be replaced.  From my experience with hose shut off valves, it will probably fail rather sooner than later.  Most people will want a hose shut off valve on the end of a hose anyway for switching appliances and such without going back to shut off the valve at the spigot.  I have one on the end of every hose, which makes a valve in the sprayer body not only an unnecessary failure waiting to happen, but it's also an unneeded restriction in the line.

      Most hoses should have a shut off valve already.  Putting a valve on the sprayer is usually going to be a disadvantage, let a lone redundant.

      Most hoses should have a shut off valve already.  Putting a valve on the sprayer is usually going to be a disadvantage, let a lone redundant.

      The vintage ones can be found on ebay or etsy.  Etsy seems to have quite a few, but I had to search "garden sprinkler" and sort through a bunch of results to find them.  They are not super cheap, but given what is usually available on the market now, it might be worth spending 10.00 to 15.00 on a vintage one.  I've found quite a few of them over the years at flea markets and such, but most of mine came from one single estate sale where I found a pile of them.  Lucky me :)  I have excellent thrift store/yardsale/flea market juju though.  Just ask my mom, or my pile of all clad cookware.

      My second hand juju is strong.  Pray to the flea market gods all you want, some of us are just born with it.

      My second hand juju is strong.  Pray to the flea market gods all you want, some of us are just born with it.


      A Tale of Three Watering Cans and a Hose Recommendation

      I got two videos on watering for ya today.  One is about three quality built watering cans and watering can design.  The other one is recommending the Sears Craftsman rubber hoses on sale now and seemingly every spring at 20.00 for 50 feet.  My friend Mark Albert recommended them saying they are good for 30 years (also confirmed by a youtube viewer).  I've been using them for a few years and plan to keep buying them.   I haven't met a plastic hose that will last yet and If there is one I'll bet it's not this cheap.  If they aren't on sale in the actual store, you can ask for the online price with free delivery and they'll let you walk out with them for 19.99 each.  That's all you really need to know, so you don't even have to watch the video!

      Splitting Axe Cut Wood With a Sharp Felling Axe, Safety and Effectiveness

      The first video is a short trailer or propaganda piece to promote the second video.  Below are a few non-technical points I wanted to elaborate on.

      I just have a few points I want to emphasize or elaborate on.  I made this video in response to a lot of questions from people about how to deal with wood that is bucked with an axe, since it can't be set on end, or on a block.  Also, because of how I'm operating with one axe, I assumed that it would be a small short axe and that it was intended to retain the edge in chopping condition.  That wasn't so much a plan as it was just how it turned out since that's my world right now.  It is not the only way to approach it.  You could, and most probably do, have a dedicated splitting axe, or maybe a splitting edge on one side of a double bitted axe that can taste a little dirt here and there without much worry, especially if it's ground with a fat bevel that is less likely to suffer severe damage than a thinly ground edge.  A longer heavier axe with a fatter grind is great, as is not having to baby it.  However, using a small, short axe and keeping it sharp requires one to refine technique and strategy, and I think that is a good thing.  I'm also very interested in making whatever tool I have work, and in processing wood with one axe.  You'll hardly find anyone out there recommending an axe ground for felling, limbing and bucking as a splitting axe.  Probably the opposite in fact.

      One of the important points in this video is that it requires some investment to figure out what is possible.  Many will discount the possibility of using axes, but not always out of experience, but rather assumption.  I've been guilty of this to an extent myself and it's a mistake.  I personally think that it's worth some investment to figure out what is possible and where an axe is more advantageous than a maul.  I really like splitting with a maul and with some of the stuff I have to split, like dry hardwoods with knots and forks, I'm not likely to ditch my maul altogether.  But, I will keep pushing my limits with axes of various kinds to find out what those limits really are. 

      It is not enough to just just smack a few rounds with an axe to see if anything falls off.  It takes some investment in yourself to develop good technique and at least a basic understanding of strategy as presented in these videos.  The flick technique, as Buckin' Billy Ray Smith calls it, or the twist as the Vido's call it, is essential to develop for splitting anything difficult with an axe.  It is just a way to use the power generated in the swing to good mechanical advantage by prying the wood apart on impact instead of just wedging it apart with the shape of the axe.  It can make up for the lower mass of an axe head v.s. a maul in some cases.  I believe that Tom Clark, inventor of the buster axe, an axe optimized for this technique, actually hit the wood with the head tilted at a slight angle.  I think I twist it on impact, but it's hard to know for sure without a slow mo study.  Either way, you'll develop a feel for what works.  It is a skill that has to be learned by some time spent as it's rather clumsy at first to get the timing right. If you have a very sharp short handled axe that you are trying to stay out of the way of, which often requires somewhat awkward positioning, and on top of all that are trying to hit the center of a knotty piece of wood within a quarter inch, you can imagine that some time will have to be put in to gain a reasonable level of skill.  The catch 22 is that it's only by gaining a certain level of proficiency that we can find out what is really possible and not.

      The flick technique can be used as an alternative to generating velocity in splitting at times, but should not be thought of as a permanent stand in for it.  The ability to generate a high velocity is a critical tool to have and will only complement that sideways torque when both are needed.  I didn't go much into it, but will in the future.  From my observation and experience so far, high velocity is primarily created by the axe head scribing an arc around a relatively fixed, or at least more fixed, point, like the wrists, elbows, shoulders, waist, or a complex combination of all of those.  it is a complex topic.  With the target at a certain height, it becomes less possible to generate velocity, and the higher you go from there, the harder it gets.  That is one reason I don't use splitting blocks much.  Working close to the ground has the advantage that it is easier to generate velocity, because you have more distance in the swing and can use body mechanics to better advantage.

      For me, doing the axe cordwood challenge, in the way I approach it, has been perfect for developing these skills.  I stick pretty much with the axe I'm chopping with, which for now is always small and sharp, and I split in the field with no blocks or contrivances of any kind.  I can only remember abandoning two, maybe three, pieces of wood that were just really knotty or more likely forked.  Even those could likely be split with enough energy, but I know when not to beat my head against a wall for a peanut.  I'm glad that I've invested in this skill, because it will ultimately increase my splitting efficiency in all arenas.  I now have a pretty good idea of what I can get away with and am further refining and defining when an axe will be more advantageous than a maul in splitting sawn rounds as well.  For what it's worth, these videos at least show some possibility that can be put to use or invested in later.  It's not for everyone, and not for every situation, and possibly not for every species, but in the right circumstances it is remarkably efficient and satisfying.  I can say, that just splitting what I incidentally have to cut here, which is Madrone, Bay, Fir, Tan oak and Black oak, that none of those species are consistently difficult to split when young trees are cut and split green.  Older Madrone and Bay can develop some wicked cross grain, but a person is not likely to be cutting those for firewood with an axe, and if they were, large trunks would have to be split, probably with wedges, before bucking, not after. 

      The axe and the technique of using it with good strategy are just another set of tools in the bag to be applied where they are best suited, or when necessary.  But, again, it is a tool that has to be developed and refined to be appreciated and applied to anything but the most easily split woods.  I'm glad I've put in some time and forced my progress by using axes that are not ideal for the job and I get to reap the rewards of that from here out.

      Did I mention that it's fun?  It's really fun :D

      What to Do With Those Axe Cut Woodchips? The Burning Question

      One of the most common questions, if not the most common question on my axe related content is some combination of what do you do with the chips, aren't they wasteful compared to a saw and wouldn't it be better to just use a saw.  The video below is about that and what we can do with the chips which are quite useful for anyone with a garden or who burns wood.  Below that are some further thoughts not really covered in this video.

      What I covered in that video was, in short, yes there are a lot of wood chips produced when processing wood with an axe.  This tree was probably 9 inches in diameter and I estimated about two good firewood logs worth of chips were produced.  It takes under 5 minutes to pick up 80% or more, in this case 3.5 minutes.  I talked about what you can use them for, like biochar, mushroom growing and fuel, and how whether it is viewed as wasteful or not is a matter of context.  What I didn't really talk about is why some of us use axes and not saws for hand processing firewood. 

      I didn't talk about that, because I more or less just forgot to!  I think that in my head it would be self evident that not I, nor anyone else, is using an axe because it is the quickest and most efficient method of firewood production.  I like saws.  I like my chainsaw.  I'll be using my chainsaw a lot for processing wood this year, not because I need the wood, but because I need to deal with a lot of sick trees that will soon be a fire hazard and which represent a short term opportunity to gather some resources that will soon be unavailable.

      But, when I set out to do the cordwood challenge myself the previous season, challenging myself to cut a cord of wood in 3 months, I was slightly wary.  Before committing I think I went and cut up a small tree or two just to be sure I should be announcing to the entire internet that I was going to go for it.  Aside from potential personal limitations though, I knew I could do it, because people used to do it.  Dudley cook said in The Axe Book, that a good axeman could put up 2 cords a day!  I knew the cord he was talking about had to be in at least 24 inch lengths, and not the 16 inch stove lengths I was cutting.  More probably it was cut into between 32 and 48 inch lengths for industrial use, transportation in bulk and most probably very wide fireplaces.  Charcoal makers would cut wood even longer to make large stacks of wood.  Still, do the math.  I'm cutting about 3 times as much to get my 16 inch logs as a guy cutting 32 inchers, but even the slowish guy could probably put that up in just 3 days of average work!

      Well, that is interesting to think about, but it doesn't prove anything to me for real or gain me a lot of real insight.  To gain knowledge it is required of us to take information and do more than absorb it, more than mull over it and make assumptions and inferences.  For me that process looks more like taking in information, contemplating it, putting it into practice, maybe getting more information, more experience, more contemplation etc.  At some point, something resembling truths begin to gel out of that process.  In short, I knew that to gain real insight into the problem of axe work and what it's potentials and limitations really were, I had to put it into practice for reals.  Not only that, but I actually had to improve my own skills to a certain level before I could really understand what that potential was and where an axe may be more or less useful than a saw.  Give an unskilled person an axe and a hand saw and tell them to limb this same tree and they are likely to conclude that the saw is easier and faster.  But no matter how good they get with that saw, I'll have the same tree limbed up more quickly, with much less physical effort and many of by knots will be trimmed more closely than theirs.

      I'll also have way more fun doing it!  Axe work is engaging, exciting, focusing, cultivates coordination and provides a diverse form of exercise.  Sawing by comparison is dull and tedious work and the best you can do is trade off one side for the other.  I like sawing up to a point.  It is good honest contemplative work.  It is also skilled work and a good hand with a saw will out saw a newb every time.  But it is only so skilled and lacks the special combination of things that makes axe work really engaging and fun.  Saws have their place as do axes.  But the place an axe has in any one particular persons hands is informed by that persons skill level and understanding of it's efficient use, and that requisite skill is only gained by extended use, and not by dabbling at the thing.

      All of which is to point out that, while my use of an axe on that fir tree in these last couple of videos did result in two fewer logs worth of large firewood, rather than smaller chips, such is simply part of the cost of admission into that understanding of what is and is not possible with an axe and what place it does or doesn't have in our tree work.  It's a rather small price it is to pay when they are easy to pick up and decidedly very useful as fuel or for other purposes.

      And repeat thousands of times :)

      And repeat thousands of times :)

      Axe Only Firewood Processing, Felling, Limbing, Lopping, Bucking for a Splitting Video

      I released a video a couple days ago on processing my last tree for the cordwood challenge.  This was a tree I chose as not particular easy to split for a splitting video I'm still waiting to record.  The question of how you split wood with an axe if it's cut with an axe instead of a saw vies with "what do you do with the chips" as the most common question regarding processing wood with an axe.  The footage I shot for the front of that video seemed like a good stand alone video, so I edited it and posted it with some commentary.

      Be aware that there is a lot going on when I'm processing this tree that is invisible to the uninitiated.  If I were watching someone else do it, I could spot some of that "invisible" technique and safety stuff, but not all of it as it is very subtle and personal.  The lopping operation is especially dangerous, but I'm using several things to stay as safe as possible.  The most important might be the direction of cut, which means in what direction the force is pointed, the obvious reference point being the cutting edge.  A close second is probably body positioning to decrease the likelihood of a stray edge contacting my body.  Moderation of the force used is also extremely important.  Axe work requires constant adaptation and a certain level of humility where you have to say to yourself "I can hit this really hard, but I'm not going to!"  Finally, you really have to be able to hit what you're aiming at.  Anyway, it's mostly a lot of chopping, but some people really seem to like that.  There are some really good pointers though too.  You can count on some very detailed tutorials in the future.

      How to Graft onto Existing Fruit Trees, Frameworking and Topworking Explained

      I've reached #10 in the grafting video series.  I'm looking forward to finishing the last 2 or 3 segments and moving on to something else.  It's quite an investment to watch it all, and I know it is not needed just now by a lot of people, but it will be there when it is needed.  It will be really great to finally have a grafting resource to refer people to in my writings and videos and it is long overdue.  So here is #10.  I've talked about a lot of the material covered in this video in a blog post about frankentreeing some time back, which can be read here  And here is the video playlist for this series.  The summary below is an outline of what's in this video, mostly for search engines.  The information is covered better in this video and in the blog post linked above.

      A distillation of this video:

      Grafting onto exsisting trees is approached in one of two basic ways, either by topworking or by frameworking.  Topworking cuts most of the tree off and regrows it, while frameworking retains the main tree structural wood and replaces the fruiting wood with the new variety.  Framework grafting has the advantage of producing fruit more quickly and is less damaging to the tree.  A well frameworked tree may suffer no permanent injury, while a top worked tree is much more likely to have ensuing problems with decay due to the large open wounds created in cutting off large branches or trunks.  Also, it is possible in one year to add many varieties to a frameworked tree.  On a good sized tree you might add 50 to 90 varieties in one season, whereas you would have to wait for the top of a top worked tree to regrow in order to graft on more than a few varieties in the first year.  I favor frameworking in almost all cases except where damage done has to be remedied by growing a new top, or by some other special circumstance.  It does require more scions and more time, but unless the scale of operation is large it is a no brainer to choose frameworking in most cases.

      A frameworked tree can be grafted in one year with very little or none of the old fruiting wood left on.  Some sources will recommend leaving some of the old wood and that is okay if you are concerned, or if you are not sure your grafts will take well.  I would not hesitate to work over an apple tree completely in one year if it is healthy.

      A common mistake in frameworking is to graft onto smaller wood near the outside of the tree's canopy.  It is better to go back in to wood nearer a limb or large branch, thereby replacing and regrowing all of the fruiting wood.   Don't worry about grafting into stubs the same size as your scion, just set the scion to one side, and if the stub is large, set to scions, one on each side.

      Another common mistake is to add a scion, but leave old fruiting and leafing out wood crowded around it.  There is a good chance that the new graft will not grow well if it is not given some room by removing proximal fruit/leaf wood. 

      A spacing of about 18 to 24 inches is pretty good between main offshoots on one side of a tree.  If they are 24 inches apart, each only has to grow 12 inches to the side until they are touching.  Branches on the other side of the tree can be the same spacing, but staggered between the branches on the opposite side when possible.

      There are many grafts that can be used, but cleft and whip and tongue are good mainstays to use on smaller stubs and on stubs over an inch you can start to think about using rind (bark) grafts, covered in an earlier video.  It is possible also to add a graft into the side of a bare limb or large branch by either cutting into the side of it and setting in a wedge shaped scion, or by using a rind graft of some kind.  Those operations are less likely to succeed than the familiar grafts already mentioned, but if it doesn't take, it can just be grafted again the following year.

      Aftercare is similar to other grafting.  Wrap grafts very tightly and very well to prevent movement of the grafts during a couple months of critical healing time.  Seal the scions to prevent drying out, and check them in mid summer to make sure that rapid growth is not strangling the grafts where they are wrapped.  If the grafts are strangling, either remove the tape, or unwrap it and re-wrap around July sometime.

      Scions for framework grafting can be much longer than those used for most other grafting.  I like to use scions with 8 or more buds personally.  Very long scions can be used if they are splinted firmly to immobilize the grafted section, but I'm not sure there is any real advantage to doing so.

      Tools required are just a sharp knife, pruning saw, pruning shears, some kind of grafting wax or paint or seal and something to wrap with.   See the Tools Video for more on that stuff.  Don't forget to tag them too!

      Axe Cordwood Challenge Almost Over and a 1 Week Extension

      The axe cordwood challenge is nearly over.  I'm closing in on my own cord and 3 people have already cut a cord or more.  I'm adding a 1 week extension, just because this is the first year and we got started kind of late.  Actually it's mostly because I want people to have time and not rush too much since that is inherently more dangerous.  I still hope to finish mine by June 1st, because it just takes time to dry wood even in our hot summers and June 1st is a good last date to have green firewood cut.  I'm thinking about how to make it more accessible to people in the Southern Hemisphere in the future.  If you finish the challenge, send me info and pics or links to videos by June 7th through the contact on this website.  Also, leaving comments on the official Axe Cordwood Challenge page is a good idea as well.  I think a lot of people would like to know what axes participants used and what you learned whether you finished or not, and the comments section on that page is a good place to leave those.  I'll probably create a page for the 2017 challenge and post all the various links and experiences there.  I've heard from a lot of people who were maybe going to do it and more that have just been using their axes more and practicing and having fun with that.  No one said this completely sucks and I hate it and didn't learn anything, lol.  It's been pretty much good feedback all around and it's been fun having this thing in common with a group of people.

      10,000 YouTube Subscribers!

      I just hit 10,000 YouTube subscribers.  Lets hope the next 10,000 come a lot faster than the first 10,000.  I needed to thank and say hi to a few people, so I took the opportunity to do that.  First my supporters on Patreon who've helped me get by these last months when YouTube ad revenue took a nose dive.  I'm starting to get more from people using my amazon links but it, like ad revenue off my videos, is highly variable, while Patreon is steady.  I also said hi to a few YouTubers.  Some links to them down below.  Thank you to all the people that watch, read and share my content.  Onward to 100,000!

      The Essential Craftsman on YouTube sold my channel pretty hard to his audience in this video, and I picked up a lot of subs in just a few days.  He's a great guy with a lot of very useful skills.

      David the Good has plugged me so many times I can't even remember.  He lives over at SurvivalGardener.com and on youtube as David the GoodThis video he made with his sister totally cracks me up.

      And Buckin' Billy Ray Smith who mentioned me recently and I just wanted to say hi and give him some props for being authentic.

      Considering Biochar Burning Methods Conversion v.s. Context

      A common mistake in design and assessment is to focus on one or two narrow parameters at the expense of everything else.  For instance, elevating one factor so high in priority that outlandish expense is gone to in order to achieve it without considering cost/benefit ratio.  No doubt in some cases prioritizing something that highly is the correct thing to do, but a common trap is to fail to consider design or assessment of a system in context.  As I was finishing up writing this blog post, I received this comment on my video about burning brush in open piles to make biochar.

      “Looks more like a video on how not to do it. Cone pits or trenches are much more efficient and produce far less ash. Even a proper 55 gallon oil drum burn does better in my experience, although thats more for scrap pallet wood. ”

      This comment seems to highlight the mistake of putting a single parameter, in this case conversion efficiency, above all other considerations, and in their context presumably and not mine, which they clearly don't understand.  You can read my reply to that comment on youtube, or watch this follow up video about considering context in comparing charring methods, which that commenter obviously missed (I hope lol) but everything important I have to say about it is also in this rather lengthy article; the purpose of which is to elaborate on why I use open burn methods and possibly more importantly, to simply discuss the importance of context, resources and cost/benefit when defining priorities and making decisions.

       

      CONTEXT IS KING

      Using simple methods of production, I have been able to accumulate hundreds of gallons of char and should have hundreds more by the end of the burn season.  The intimidation or time and materials required in the building of a retort or TLUD burner, or even a stand alone cone kiln, hold many people back from getting started with biochar.  Building those can be intimidating or otherwise hard to pull off.  There are also claims about charcoal quality from the various systems, which may have people holding out to produce "real" biochar and not just charcoal.  But, there doesn't seem to be any consensus on that, and there is plenty of evidence that just about any charcoal is effective to a degree, whether it is hard or soft, burned hot, or burned cool.  That is not to say that some types are not more effective, or that such has not already been proven.  I'm not really up on the latest, or up on that discussion at all really.  While some systems are undoubtedly more conversion efficient than others, there are other considerations and many of the possible draw backs of open burns are basically eclipsed by the great ease, minimal processing and speed of open burn systems.

      A TLUD system, for instance, requires chips or other small, somewhat homogenous fuel sizes, which is only great if you have easy access to that kind of fuelstock.  If you have easy access to an industrial strength chipper, maybe that makes it a viable option as well, but to purchase and own such a thing is a great expense and would not make sense for most people.  I'm pretty sure it would have a higher conversion efficiency than the trench or pile approaches I use, that is higher charcoal produced for the amount of wood put in, but that has to be weighed against having to chip the stuff.  This is what I'm talking about with the focus on one aspect.  Conversion efficiency, i.e. WOOD/CHARCOAL ratio, has to be weighed against many other factors in order to make a rational decision.

      One of those factors is labor and the input of other resources.  Even with the large amount of wood my land produces (and the neighbors' land if I were to expand operations), I couldn't justify buying, or even renting a chipper until I hit an economy-of-scale tipping point.  So, lets say I hit that point and rent a chipper for 700.00 for a week or whatever it costs.  Then I have to have metal TLUD kilns to burn it in.  On that scale I'd be burning through 55 gallon drums pretty fast and probably burning 4 to 6 of them at a time to produce 100 gallons of charcoal in a run.  Contrast that against open piles which require a shovel and a hose, no fuel, no cost and less handling and transportation in many cases, and the TLUD starts to lose points, even if there is a significant conversion loss to ash in the open burns.  Lets say that loss is as high as 20%, which i really have no idea.  But say it is.  I still have to think hard about adopting that expensive system, especially if I start thinking about building larger, more robust burners that will produce 100 gallons in a single run and not burn out quickly.  I could go on, but it's energy, financial expense and time v.s. conversion efficiency.  And the truth is that I still don't know how efficient or inefficient the open burns are.  My impression from the beginning is that they are actually surprisingly efficient, but there is an obvious loss to ash, and probably considerably more in the open piles than the open trenches.

      Retort systems use some quantity of wood to heat an inner chamber of charcoal.  A simple retort would be a drum full of wood that is sealed off except for a pipe coming out the top, which terminates under the barrel.  If you build a fire under that barrel, it heats the wood inside, releasing gasses in the sealed drum that travel through the pipe and back into the fire underneath.  The gasses are flammable (wood-gas), so the wood in the drum helps burn itself as the gasses are flared off underneath.  That's one of the first ways I learned to make charcoal for smithing many years ago.  One obvious consideration for a retort is that the system requires fuel to be consumed to make the charcoal, which is an inherent inefficiency.  That inefficiency can be reduced to an extent by design and should probably always be more refined than a simple drum with a fire underneath it, but the consumption of fuel is inherent to the method and has to be considered in a fair assessment.

      In comparing retorts to open burns, there are a couple of possible advantages to retorts.  One would be that it produces a harder charcoal, which some people claim is better.  I just don't know if that is true or not and I've seen the opposite claim as well.  Certainly, if you are producing charcoal for industrial use, heating or cooking, you want a hard, dense, long burning charcoal produced in a low oxygen environment.  Another possible advantage to retorts would be that since the wood that is being charred is mostly sealed up, with just small holes in the container for the gasses to escape as it's heated, it can't really over burn.  So, if you had the system dialed, hopefully you could load it, fire it off, walk away and come back to finished extinguished charcoal.
      If the charcoal from a retort really is more effective as a soil amendment, then a careful comparison would have to take that into account as a possible counterbalance to the fuel consumed in it’s own production, especially when comparing to an open burn which also has some inherent loss to ash, no matter how well it is run.

      A clear disadvantage to a retort is that dry fuel is going to be much better performing.  It rained yesterday, but I could still go out and mix my dead and green material together and fire it off, or burn a trench and not only get away with burning my now damp wood, but burning some green stuff with it as well.  I do not have storage or drying facilities for the large quantities of wood I’m dealing with to burn dry wood in a retort or TLUD.  To burn dry wood I would either have to build a large dedicated shed area also requiring that I handle the wood more, or a large vegetation free area, probably even a screened room, to be able to burn in the summer when it’s very dry.

      There is a lot of information I don’t have and a lot of information out there that I have not availed myself of.  But in a big picture context, I’m not focused on any single factor and my personal context drives my choices.  What I know is that I can produce very large quantities of charcoal with NO MONEY INPUT AT ALL, or building or rebuilding anything, just a shovel and a hose, and in the case of open piles I don’t even need the shovel.  I can do that with minimal processing of the fuel and no careful storage.  It is fast and requires almost no size reduction of the stock, though I prefer to burn trimmed poles and limbs for ease of handling, storage and they function much better in the pit that twiggy stuff does.  I trim out the larger, easier limbs for the pit and burn the really brushy stuff in piles, though there is overlap in this spectrum for sure, I find the two methods VERY complementary to each other.  They are simple and low input, and with the quantities of wood I have to deal with, I would probably get less wood actually burned in a small retort or TLUD system, while scaling up to a large TLUD or retort would probably get expensive.
      Again, there is information I don’t have here and I’m not suggesting my way is better, just that it seems better in my context, especially since I can get it done.  Even if someone was able to prove to me that retort produced char is twice as effective, I would still have to consider whether I could pull off charring the quantities of wood I have available, or consider just letting half of it rot and charring less, while also weighing in the added financial outlay and work of setting the system up, as well as the drying and storage of wood.  And lets examine that effectiveness of different char types thing next, because that gets interesting. 

      My positive results using biochar have not been uniformly phenomenal, but they have been almost uniformly obvious.  The most phenomenal was my leek bed this year with what I estimated to be 400% to 600% higher productivity at 10% char, all of it open burned or scrounged up from firepits and woodstoves.  That is 4 to 6 times the production all other things being equal, so the char is effective.  The question at this point is just about quantities and level of effectiveness of different chars, rather than if they are effective at all.  If retort char were more effective, it would have to be quite a bit more effective to start tilting me in it’s direction when looking at the other considerations I’ve already brought up.  BUT, check this out. 

      I used 33% in one test bed, and 25% in another., both two feet deep.  Both of those sections also have 50% char in the top 4 to 6 inches of the bed!  Is that crazy?  Well, I can tell you it takes a crazy amount of charcoal!  But damn are those beds nice.  Only long term observation will convince me if they work better or worse than beds with less, or even more char, but there is an obvious advantage in weeding, soil crusting and therefore maintenance. 

      I’ve been gardening here and elsewhere for a long time, and one of the great problems of gardening is soil crusting.  Why it isn’t discussed more I have no worldly clue.  No soil I've ever worked with is completely immune to it and most are very susceptible.  If you disturb soil and water it, the problem of soil crusting manifests it’s flat and ugly visage.  It impedes water penetration, but causes more rapid evaporation.  Water a crusty bed and a lot of the water can run off instead of soaking in, and then you’ll lose the water that does make it into the soil more quickly unless you cultivate to create a “dust mulch” as soon as you can, or cover the whole soil surface with something.  In those two test beds with 50% char in the top 6 inches, soil crusting is no longer an issue, period.  The soil is very loose, which makes weeding easy.  Water penetrates, period.  No matter what the history of the bed, weather, vegetation cover etc and so on, water penetrates every time.  EVERY TIME I WATER! Chunks of charcoal migrate to the top of the bed and cover at least 50% of the surface as a mulch.   Don’t forget, that is a MULCH THAT DOESN’T EVER ROT!  I can add surface amendments for nutrition, like compost or coffee grounds, but gone is the need to either cultivate or cover the soil surface with mulch after watering.  GOOOONE!!!  Wow, I freaking love those beds.  Though they are just two small sections of two small beds, I have a sinking, unhappy, I’m-wasting-my-time feeling when I have to plant in any other beds.  Just today I was out planting tomatoes in my 10% and 5% char beds and it was fairly lumpy, crusted over and generally unpleasant to work with.   I’m going on a tangent, but I have a point in the context of this article, which is that at application levels of 25% to 50%, the quality of the char may become somewhat irrelevant if the goal is as much about high charcoal content for physical effects as it is about the reasons that biochar is probably more usually applied for, like nutrient holding.

      To tie this up, my guess is that a majority of people reading this will be best off at least just starting with open burn methods, unless you have access to chips, in which case you might consider building a TLUD.  At the very least it gets you off the ground and running immediately.  There will be more wood to char later.  It is fast and you can do it all over your property or even on other people’s properties, rather than always transporting all of your wood to a single location or transporting burners.  I’ve already heard from a number of people that they busted a move with the trenches or open burn piles and are now producing char instead of ashes, or instead of accumulating wood waiting for the day when they get some device together that they thought they needed.   David the Good's recent comment was "Open burns really are the way to go. I thought about biochar for a long time and looked at all kinds of systems that I really didn't feel like building... then started making big fires and spraying them with the hose. Now I have lots of char." 

      I’ve said it over and over again, the primary problem of biochar that needs solving for the masses is accessibility.  The idea that you have to make the proper kind of char, the proper way, or that there is a material difference between “biochar” and charcoal in every context is unsupportable.  The best biochar is the biochar you get made and buried in the ground, just like the best camera is the one you have with you.  We can always view things in ideals like super high production, beauty, convenience and so on, but that view approach minimizes the importance of context.  If anyone interprets this article as being negative against, or disregarding other methods of biochar production, you aren’t reading carefully enough.  I could definitely see adopting other methods than open burns in the future, but only when and where they make sense.  I am just as much not trying to sell you in particular on open burns v.s. other methods.  I’m just imploring everyone to think in context and consider, costs, benefits and resources in making these decisions.

      We can apply this type of thinking to life, problem solving and decisions in general, and we should.  We may not always have all of the information, or the best information, or be able to foresee everything that we need to foresee to make the perfect decision, but that is not what problem solving is about.  Good problem solving, design and understanding are a journey not a destination.  For all I know someone will read this article, drop some new knowledge or information on me that affects my thinking and ultimately changes the way that I produce biochar.  That would be great.  Better is better and that’s where I’m always trying to head.  But that also doesn’t mean that I’m going to put large amounts of resources into research and experimentation to refine the process and my approach to it to within a gnats ass of perfect efficiency, because the time and energy and thought space to do so is also part of my context and my personal cost v.s. benefit equation.  So, at this point, I’m fairly content to just hang here with what I’m doing and refine it in small ways as I can until I have some reason to stretch out in other directions, or someone wanders along and drops some game changing knowledge on me.


      AVAILABLE RESOURCES


      COST BENEFIT ANALYSIS


      CONTEXT