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Phillosoph

Beyond the Pail: Buckets for Survival

Why a bucket?
Recently I blogged on the topic of dish-washing. Today, I want you to imagine that you are somewhere far from civilized plumbing. You may want to wash your cookware, clothing or you may want to wash yourself. What do you do?
Some of you, I suspect, may suggest that you head for the nearest body of water and wash there. We will assume you have been prudent and lucky enough to have placed your camp within an easy travel distance of water. Not too close, to limit hassles from insects.
Washing yourself or your dishes in a body of water is not ideal. Even in parts of the world where that water is not inhabited by crocodiles, alligators, mosquitoes, schistosomiasis or similar.
The problem is that your activity generates what is known as “greywater” or “sullage”. Dirty water, soap or detergent, and also suspended fats, grease and food particles.
Even if you use biodegradable products, biodegradation takes time! While this process is on-going, your greywater may have various effects on the body of water, including changes in pH, viscosity and changes in oxygen level.
A much better approach is to cast your greywater on to the soil, some distance from the nearest body of water. The creatures of the soil can deal with greywater much better than those of the water, and any effects are more localized. Choose ground that is absorbent, and do not use the same place on consecutive days.
OK, so you have seen the wisdom of washing some distance from the water source. Just how do you get the water to wash with to the desired location?
Your water bottle or bladder probably only holds a litre or three. You have probably treated the contents to make them safe for drinking, so using this for washing is a little wasteful. Your canteen cup probably only holds half a litre or so. You may have larger cooking pans, but for efficiency these will only be a couple or litres capacity or less. Many modern designs do not have handles suited to carrying a couple of kilos of liquid any distance.
You could fabricate a water carrier from local materials. Kephart has a whole chapter on making utensils from bark. Such crafts take time, and suitable materials will not be available in every environment or season.
Would it not have been useful if you had brought a plastic bucket with you?
Grey Plastic Bucket

Buckets for Preppers

I recall being in a bar decades ago. I had just rented a new place, actually my first real flat with multiple rooms I did not have to share with anyone. I was chatting to a young woman and told her: “I have brought a plastic bucket and bowl, so I am all set!” Many years and many locations later, that same bucket and bowl are still with me. Used the bowl just a few weeks back to soak the grill of my halogen oven.
Some will scoff! “I'm a backpacker! I go ultra-light! There is no room for a bucket!”.
Empty buckets weight very little. Being mass-produced, they cost very little too! Shop around!
If you pack the bucket full of foodstuffs and other stores, it will take up very little room in your pack. It actually provides them with some protection. Oddly, some larger capacity buckets pack better than their smaller cousins. More on capacity later.
Camouflage 5 litre bucket

What Use Is a Bucket?

What uses can we put a bucket to? We have already mentioned carrying water for washing, dish-washing and laundry.
• A friend of mine gave me a folding camping sink that holds about ten litres. Not a priority for the bug-out bag, but he thought it might be useful for more recreational camping trips. I now look at this item and wonder just how I was supposed to fill it. Ten litres of water is around 22 pounds! A filled, folding sink is not something you want to carry from a standpipe. I would have needed a bulk-water carrier, or a bucket.
If you have tried the techniques in my dish-washing article, you will know that you do not need a large capacity vessel to wash most items.
You can use a small bowl or bucket of water to wash a large diameter item such as a plate, frying pan or yourself!
Use a cup, or your hand, as a water ladle to wet and rinse. The dirty water does not go back into the vessel, so it is cleaner and more efficient.
I doubt that folding sink will ever see use. I will find a bucket that fits into my pack. A bucket will probably be more durable than a sink/bowl designed to fold.
• Read through a survival manual or book on woodcraft, and you will probably come across references to soaking things to make them more pliable or more edible. You cannot fit much in a mess-tin!
• Cannot reach the water source? Bucket on a rope may solve that problem.
• Let the water come to you! Place your bucket to collect rainwater.
• Successful day fishing or squirrel shooting? Carry your windfall back to camp in a bucket.
• Find a patch of berries? Your bucket will hold as much as you can carry.
As a quick aside: In one of Ray Mears shows one of his local hosts had an interesting berry-picking technique. She simply swiped the bush with her basket. Enough berries apparently detached and ended up in the basket for this to be a considerable labour-saving. Something to experiment with in berry season!
• An empty bucket can be used as a drum to guide companions back to camp, or just let them know dinner is nearly ready.
• A bucket can be used to dig through soft snow or sand.
• A up-turned bucket makes a useful stool and (if sturdy enough) can be used as a step.
• If you have trouble squatting when attending to “calls of nature” an up-turned bucket can be a useful support while you hang your nether-regions over a “cat-hole”.
• And if it is really nasty outside the shelter, as a vase de nuit.
Any party of more than a couple of individuals should include a bucket in their equipment.
Smaller parties and solo travellers should give them serious consideration.
Any vehicle, be it boat, SUV or APC, should find room for a bucket. The interior of the bucket can be used to store other useful items. In an emergency, grab the bucket and be instantly equipped with useful assets.
Some companies even offer 72-hour kits packed in buckets.

Green ten litre bucket

Choosing a Bucket

For backpackers, cyclists and lightweight travellers, the bucket chosen needs some consideration.
Obviously, we want a bucket that will fit easily into our pack, with little wasted space.
There is little point in my recommending a bucket of a certain capacity. In my kitchen I have two buckets, not counting one for floor-washing. The five litre bucket is too narrow at the bottom. It will fit in a daysack, but it is space-inefficient. The three (Imperial) gallon bucket is about twice the capacity (13.6 litres) but is too wide at the top for even my largest rucksacks.
The interior dimensions of your pack will be more significant than bucket capacity. Taking your pack down to the hardware store and trying some buckets for size is not that bad an idea. Remember the bucket will be riding above your softer pack items, so perhaps put a sleeping bag and a realistic load of clothing in the pack before you hit the hardware store.
Depending on intended role, you may want bright colours or natural and neutral. The outside of a bucket can easily be spray-painted.
Cylindrical buckets, with the bottom of similar diameter to the top, may be a better choice than more conventional tapered designs. Between five and ten litre size may be a good option for these.
If you decide to buy a bucket on-line, bear in mind that perfectly suitable items may be available under various other names, such as “paint kettle” or “storage tub”. There will be bowls and various other containers that can be made into buckets with just the simple addition of a handle.
Categories
Phillosoph

Pull-Sharpening for Knives and Tools

My recent project with the machete has spurred me to sharpen a few of the tools I have around.
In my book, “Survival Weapons”, I devote an entire chapter to the topic of sharpening. That chapter remains a useful guide to a topic that can sometimes seem cryptic.
At this point I should explain that one of my “virtues” is that I am lazy. According to admiring colleagues, I can be usually be expected to find the simplest, most stress-free method of getting a job done. Over the last week or so have I noticed that how I sharpen some tools now varies somewhat from the techniques described in the book.
Regular readers will know I own a number of kukris, as well as other large blades. There was this period of ill-health where I spent my holiday budget on swords instead! Probably safe to say I have more large blades than the average prepper. Some of these have concave or convex edges, or in the case of kukris, both. Some of the techniques for sharpening you will see on some websites are not ideal for such tools.
A useful stone for pull-sharpening and an angle-er
I have, over the decades, acquired a large number of sharpening systems. The one I have found myself using the most recently is shown above.
I inherited this stone from a deceased colleague. It is most likely an Arkansas stone. The stone itself is about three inches long and a little under an inch wide. It is firmly mounted (glued?) to a wood tray about four and a half inches long by an inch and a half wide. This provides a very nice handle when using the stone. Beneath the base is the matching wooden lid. The stone has just been cleaned. I used a little washing-up liquid and some water to remove most of the grime. A little bathroom cream cleaner took of the remaining residue.

The Angle-er

The device below I call an “angle-er”. Having this nearby helps you visualize the correct angle while sharpening. This particular example has angles of 22.5, 15 and 30 degrees, which are pretty good choices for general usage. Some may prefer 17 or 20 degree and 35 degree angles. Once you have your tool close to the correct angle it is easy to vary it a couple of degrees if desired.
The beauty of this Arkansas stone is that I can move it instead of the blade. Unlike a larger flat stone this one is narrow enough that it can follow a curved edge, rather than attempting to grind it straight.
The method I use is essentially the same as was described for sharpening a machete, only instead of using a file I use a suitably sized stone.

Sharpening Styles

There are a number of ways that a stone or file can engage a blade. In the movies you often see a stone being dragged down a sword edge. Looks good but I have my doubts as to how useful this would be in the real world. Usually we want the sharpener to pass down the edge with some movement across the edge too.
The sharpening technique most often seen in “how to” guides is what may be called “push-sharpening”. If you were using a large, flat stone, you would move the blade as though you were attempting to shave the surface of the blade.
You will also see “push and pull” sharpening where the blade moves back and forth across the stone. I personally don’t use this method much and would not recommend it for the novice. Keeping the angle constant over the different strokes requires skill and it is easy to over-do things. If you can maintain an angle it is useful for quickly establishing a secondary edge.

Pull Sharpening

These days I tend to use pull-sharpening techniques. As you might expect, the blade moves in the opposite direction to push-sharpening. One of the advantages of pull-sharpening is that it is easier to move the sharpener across the blade edge, rather than moving the blade. This is useful when working on large or awkward blades but can be applied to small blades too. One does not need a workbench or similar for pull-sharpening. I usually sit on the sofa, watching the telly and using the advert breaks constructively.
Pull-sharpening is a good technique to use with small triangular-section sharpening stones. It is also suited to the oval stones sold for sharpening tools such as scythes.
lanskey sharpener
When you use a leather strop you are using an action like pull-sharpening. If you did not you would cut the leather!
If you are sharpening a tool using a high-speed device you should be using a pull-sharpening technique. This is so that if the high-speed wheel or belt snags the blade it will throw it away from you rather than at you!
One reason I like pull-sharpening is it is easier to view the angle of contact that sharpener and blade make. It is also easier to give both sides of the blade similar treatment without trying to use your non-dominant hand or run around the table.

Lubrication

Generally, I do not use lubricants such as oil, water or spit, for sharpening. An article I read, written by a professional sharpener, claimed that his experiments had concluded dry sharpening produced superior results. Much to my surprise, this article can still be found on-line! Generally I only apply water if a stone or sharpening system is particularly crumbly or high friction.

Pull Sharpening Technique

For example, hold your blade with the edge to the left. Place your sharpener at the desired angle, and push your sharpener right to left, moving it away from the blade spine or centre. A “pass” starts at the heel of the blade and moves towards the tip. A pass may take several strokes, depending on blade length and sharpener size. Make three to five passes on a side, then change. For the other side, you have two choices. You can flip your blade over so the edge is to the right and stroke the edge left to right; or you can turn the blade upside down and stroke the other edge right to left. Use whichever technique you prefer and better suits the tool being sharpened. Keep changing every three to five passes, reducing the number of passes as your tool approaches the desired sharpness.
Pull sharpening is a good technique if you are not that confident about your sharpening skills. It is easy to check and maintain the desired angle. It is also not a particularly aggressive technique, so you are unlikely to damage your edge. In fact, I recommend you try a very light touch as you make you strokes and passes. Let your stone trace the curves of the blade rather than trying to remove them. You will find that as the edge geometry takes shape, you will be able to feel when the stone or file is at the correct angle. Light pressure also lets your feel where sections of the edge have irregularities and need more work.
So far, the only problem I have had with pull-sharpening was with a particular multi-tool where the blade was unlocked and rather loose in the open position. Pull-sharpening tended to pull the blade closed. This would only have been a danger if I had wrapped my fingers around the grip while sharpening, rather than holding the back of the blade.
Pull-sharpening is a useful technique to add to your repertoire. The knives in my kitchen are kept sharp mainly by a butcher’s steel and a set of crock-sticks I have in a cupboard there. I maintain my assertion that crock-sticks (ceramic rods) are a very good way to teach yourself the fundamentals of sharpening. Crock-sticks are a form of push-sharpening, but pull-sharpening has improved my technique in using these too. Rather than just slicing down, I now use a lighter touch and let the stick surface trace alone the curve of the edge, keeping contact to the very tip and engaging the edge at a better angle throughout its length.
I think one of the most important things I have learnt in decades of sharpening is that it is another of those skills where less is more. You will get much better results maintaining a light contact with the sharpener rather than pressing down.