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DIY – Leatherman ALX Sheath

2016-09-30-06-59-58I’ve been wanting to do this project for a while.  After my last factory sheath died a horrible death on my belt.  I decided I wanted to build one myself.  I didn’t like the sheaths that were available in other materials besides leather.  But the leather sheaths I found were either custom, and far too expensive for me (Even though I would LOVE to have some of them) but also, the factory sheath didn’t have the features I wanted.  So I set about and designed one of my own.


This is what I came up with.  Unfortunately I didn’t document the process, I was just in a hurry to knock it out and get it back on my belt.  I had missed it for quite a few months.

The leather is not as heavy as I would like.  This is about 3oz leather.  A heavier 5 oz would be better.  But this is scrap I had laying around (Did I mention I’m a cheapskate LOL).


The most important thing I wanted was to be able to carry the bit kit with it.  In my first Leatherman sheath the bit kit rode in the sheath in a similar manner, but was always getting stuck and difficult to pull out.  After that sheath broke, the canvas sheath had a stretch fabric to hold the bit kit and the corners of the bit kit tore it up really fast.

This is hand punched and hand stitched.  The snap was from a kit.  This is just the prototype and it has a tiny bit more play than I intended.  So the next will be a tad bit tighter.  I did wet-form it around the weatherman wrapped in a Ziploc bag to get some definition to the sheath, but it could stand to be a tad bit tighter.


I didn’t have the bottom cut out as I intended to have it sealed, but once I started stitching I discovered that that would not work.  So I cut a half moon on the bottom and that corrected it.  Due to this modification, the Leatherman can be carried opened up in the pliers configuration.

The stitching is done with a waxed natural hemp cord.  This stuff is very strong for it’s size and has the more natural look than modern threading.  I died the leather with a Sedona Red stain.  Helps protect it and the deep redish color makes it fit in well with bot jeans and my dress clothes for work.


I also extended the belt loop up  a bit. Both of the old sheaths rode high on the belt and would occasionally poke into my side sitting in chairs or in the car.  This longer loop allows it to dangle down a tad bit more and has a little more flexibility.  Much more comfortable to wear.

I did stamp my initials on it, but did not do it very deep.

I’m going to duplicate this sheath with some heavier leather.  This was just the practice and concept version.

It’s obviously nothing fancy.  None of the refinement you’ll see in leather goods produced by true craftsman.  But it gets the job done and as in life, everything is a learning process. You don’t have to be an expert.  You just have to make the effort.

This is also proof that anyone can do this.  A leather punch, some thread, a sharp knife (I use the Tibo from the previous review for all my leather work) a big needle and some cheap scrap leather and anyone can do it.  I learned a few things building this, and when I do the next one, it will be better, and each time I do something after that, it will be better.  So keep working on your projects, they will improve.  I have no talent when it  comes to crafts like this.  If I can do it, anyone can do it.  Pick up some scrap leather and start playing with it.  Make a small bag, or a phone cover or something simply just to get started.  Before you know it, you’ll be making really useful stuff that will last a lifetime.

Hope this inspires you to get out there and build something.







Tops TIBO Full Review, The Little Knife that CAN!!!

Finally, a TIBO Review!!  This has been a long time coming. I’ve had this knife for many, many months now.  I’ve known the designer, Brian Griffin for several years though a couple forums and Facebook and many mutual friends.  Real stand-up guy who knows his trade and knife design and use incredibly well, one of the absolute best.    Which is one of the reasons this review has been so long in coming.  It’s difficult to be truly unbiased when you’re close to the person whose gear you’re reviewing.    I needed to fully put this knife through its paces to ensure I knew the design well enough to do that objectively.

It's a nice looking and very well handling knife.

It’s a nice looking and very well handling knife.

The Tibo “Which means Stinger” (Which this knife does have a great point) is produced by Tops knives.  There are various runs of the knife, both a carbon steel version and a special limited run of cryo dipped CM154 Stainless.  (Cryo Dipping is a type of tempering at sub -300 degree temperatures rather than room temperature Oil or Water).  This is an excellent technique for hardening stainless steel alloys.   If I remember correctly, there are only 124 of this model of Tibo and all were sold before production.  So you may find it difficult to find one of this model.  I do not own the 1095 steel version available on the website, but after owning other 1095 steel knives from Tops, I’m sure the 1095 Tibo is right on the money with the rest and is identical to this model.

Blade shape lends itself to many functions.  I like using it on fish.

Blade shape lends itself to many functions. I like using it on fish.

Tops does a great job with their knives.  My wife has a Lioness, and I have a HOG, both of which are 1095 carbon steel and came from them with excellent edges right out of the box.  So when I received my Tibo I was surprised to find the final grind was far steeper than on the other knives and it wasn’t nearly as sharp as other knives out of the box.  I played with it for a day or two and decided I’d need to re-profile it a bit.

Late night fuzz sticking

Late night fuzz sticking

So I sat down with my files and stones and spent about 40 minutes lengthening the edge bevel.   I did not measure the bevel, but based on the angles on my other knives and experience, I’d estimate the bevel was around 35 or 38 degrees.  VERY steep for a small knife.   (Sure, this would be a good on a much larger knife used for chopping, but on a small “Finesse” style knife, it was just too steep.   This may have been just a 1 off issue in the limited run, Since I haven’t seen any of the other recipients of this knife make any mention of the issue.

By a nice glow.

By a nice glow.

I took the edge down to around 25 degrees which is where I keep most of my knives.  Just a good balance between sharpness and durability.  From the minute I finished the edge, this thing has been a WORKHORSE cutter that holds an edge extremely well.  It’s one of my favorite fish cleaning knives.  Normally I’m not a fan of “Skeleton” knives and I truly dislike paracord wrapped knife handles.  If a knife was meant to have scales, put scales on it.  Wrapping paracord is a poor stopgap for good quality scales.  For me and the way I use knives, a knife should have good ergonomic scales, and as much as I understand and appreciate the ultralight neck knife concept, It’s just not something I prefer.   I’ll give up a few ounces and a little bulk for a more useful set of scales.

Wonderful belly, makes short work of cutting tasks.

Wonderful belly, makes short work of cutting tasks.

However, for small skinning/cleaning jobs where I won’t be spending an hour cutting so not enough time to develop hotspots and blisters, a skeletonized knife is excellent and easier to clean.  My preferred use for the Tibo is cleaning fish.  The Tibo EXCELS at this task.  It cuts through fish bones like a bigger knife, and the point is “Pointy” enough to start into the flesh without a lot of force and allows you to get between spinal bones easily and zips through skin and flesh.  I’ve always been a fan of the drop point and the shape of this tip is dead on perfect.

Well made kydex sheath.

Well made kydex sheath.

This knife is one of the few knives I own that has a long continuous belly.  Most knives have a long straight edge and then go into the belly near the tip.  The Tibo has a nearly continuous belly that gives it a tremendous cutting surface for a small knife.  The entire belly is useful.  Making this knife operate like a bigger knife.  I have not skinned or cleaned any mammals with it yet, but considering the way it works on fish, I don’t think I’ll have any trouble with rabbits and squirrels or even bigger game.   In cleaning fish, a fairly messy, bloody, “Gutty” job, the purchase with the Tibo is excellent.

tiny tight little curls.

tiny tight little curls.

Now, my one and only con for the Tibo, (And it’s really just a personal thing, it’s not detrimental to the knife as everyone has their own preferences much like serrations) is jimping.  I’m not a fan of jimping, I’ve used knives gutting fish, cleaning animals, (I’ve worked on 2 deer with several knives) and doing wet work on meat and even when covered in blood and guts and fish slime etc., have never had a knife so slick (With blood or guts) that it needed jimping on the spine for grip.  I don’t mind a little light checkered jimping as an “Index point” to let me know where my thumb or forefinger  is on the knife, but big aggressive jimping just isn’t my thing on a knife.  The spine jimping on the Tibo is very aggressive.  (In fact I used it as a saw to cut perfect square cuts in some sticks).  But for just regular use, I would prefer it to not have the spine jimping. (The butt and finger jimping is perfect, not too aggressive, and doesn’t rub under normal or heavy use).  But if you spend a lot of time with your thumb on the back of the spine for fine work, you may find it a bit too aggressive as well.

Excellent for fine work on some good hard dry wood.

Excellent for fine work on some good hard dry wood.

One of the greatest parts of the tibo is the longer, fuller handle for a knife this small.  Most “Mini Knives” or “Neck Knives” have short handles (length and depth) to keep them small and lightweight.  With the Tibo, the handle is respectably long enough for a full purchase and shaped well for a hand filling feel.  One of the best design decisions I’ve seen is to keep a more useful handle.  The larger handle coupled with the nice long full belly of the blade make it work like a bigger knife.  So you still gain the best of both worlds, smaller, lighter knife that works very well for most every task you throw at it.

It is now my backup knife to my HOG, and it’s always in my go bag in the car, and gets put into my day pack when I hit the trails.  (I am thinking of building a custom angled IWB sheath for the Tibo so that it can always be on me.  I’m just not a neck knife guy so I just can’t get used to having it around my neck.

The heat shrink and leather.

The heat shrink and leather.

It comes with a Kydex sheath that is small and perfectly fit to the knife.  Tight enough that there is no wobble and no worry about retention.  Takes a hefty yank to pull it out.  It has a free hole to add a ferro rod clip or to attach it to another sheath.  I was planning on purchasing some aftermarket scales for it, however, I had an idea.  I grabbed some heat shrink tubing from work, cut a piece and shrunk it around the handle. It worked well, but shrunk further than anticipated.  So I cut it off and made a longer piece.  I also cut some leather fillers to put under it.  placed the leather on the handle, slid the tube over it and shrunk it.  This turned out spectacularly.  It gives the handle a little give which makes it incredibly comfortable, and very “Grippy” from a density standpoint.  Not as soft as rubber, which can give too much and cause problems, but not as hard as other materials.  Really good sweet-spot.  It is a non textured heat shrink but good semi-rubbery grip.  However, I’m considering heating up some pliers with crosshatch checkering, and roll them over the handle to add a tad bit of texture.

leather fillers on handle

leather fillers on handle

With the Tube and leather.

With the Tube and leather.







It is so sharp and stays incredibly sharp for long periods.  I use it in place of an exacto tool for all of my leather work because it’s ergo’s are better and the curved belly makes it a joy to cut leather with.  I used it to do all the leather work for my Leatherman ALX sheath and it was superior to the exacto tool in every way.

Trimmed to match the sheath.  Perfect fit.

Trimmed to match the sheath. Perfect fit.

Good thickness, barely any thicker than the kydex.

Good thickness, barely any thicker than the kydex.

Finished and trimmed

Finished prior to trimming

If I had to pick a great companion, or small knife, The stainless Tibo would be high on that list.    Hands down this is one of my favorite small cutters.  The ergonomics, all the little details that went into it, all come together to make this an outstanding knife.  I’m waiting for the next run of stainless Tibo’s so I can get them for my boys as well.  (I swear my 16-year-old keeps trying to steal this one LOL).

Jimping on the spine makes great notches.

Jimping on the spine makes great notches.

Here are the specs on the Tibo.  (This is the same for both the 1095 and the CM154 versions).

  • Overall Length: 6.50″
  • Blade Length:        2.75″
  • Blade Thickness:  0.130″
  • Weight:      3.2 oz

The Tibo comes with a Kydex sheath, and there are some great aftermarket sheath and scale options available for it.

If you are looking for that small knife, backup or neck knife or piggyback with your big cutter, then this is a knife you owe it to yourself to check out.


Lighting Your Way Today

Considering that roughly one third to one half of every day is in the dark (Depending on where you are and the time of year, and not accounting for storms, eclipses, giant spaceships blocking out the sun, etc.) one of the more critical things we as human beings rely on is light.  That could be candle light, kerosene lantern light, firelight, electric lights or battery powered lights.

I always carry a flashlight on me, in fact, I generally have two or even three depending on time of year and clothing.  If I’m running around in shorts and a T-shirt, I’ll have 1, I have a spare in my spring jacket and when wearing heaver clothing I keep 2 spares (1 spare hand light and a headlamp for hands free use).

3 lights

Lots of light in a small amount of space

Any ole flashlight will do in most situations.  I was lucky enough to see a motorist one night (-28 degrees, middle of winter) trying to change a tire in the dark.  I pulled in and walked up to see if I could help.  He didn’t have a flashlight and could barley see what he was doing and had already spent 20 minutes in the freezing cold feeling around and figuring out how the spare tire release and jack worked in the dark by feel.     Simply pointing a light allowed him to finish in 3 or 4 minutes what would have taken another 10, (And would have turned a 30 minute job into a 7 minute job had he had it to begin with), which in that kind of cold might save a few digits.   Keep a flashlight in your vehicle at all times.  (I recommend you put it in a Ziploc bag with 2 sets of battery’s,  don’t load the batteries in the light or they may corrode and make it useless when you actually need it).  This can be a cheap flashlight.  Most alkaline batteries will last 8 to 10 years so you have plenty of time.

I do recommend going with an LED light over a bulb light.  If you use bulb lights, throw an extra bulb in with them.  However in this day and age LED’s are just as inexpensive now and offer both equal lighting AND longer battery life.  Can’t really go wrong with them.  They also work in temperature ranges higher and lower than bulb lights.  (I’ve burned a couple of mag-light bulbs in sub zero temps back in the old days (yeah, I’m 45 LOL) so the spare is always a must).

I also recommend keeping a headlamp in place of a standard hand light for most “Storage” lights, like home, car, pack etc.  (EDC “Every Day Carry” light exceptions we’ll discuss in a minute.   Head lamps have the benefit of keeping both hands free and if it has an adjustable angle bracket, can really keep light exactly where you need it.  i also discovered that as I got older I developed a gag reflex if I hold items in my mouth like a flashlight.  When I was younger I could do it all day.  Now, if I hold something in my mouth like the butt of a light for more than about 10 seconds, I start getting the urge to vomit.  Not sure why this came up on me as I got older, but it is what it is.

EDC lights:  I carry three lights with me most of the time unless it summer and I don’t have a coat or lite jacket (no pun intended. LOL).   Four if you count my FAK/Pack light.

I’ll go over the 4 I carry and why I carry them and their particular features.  Everyone has different needs, so by all means, do the research, find the lights that work best for you and your purposes.   This is just to help you see my own thoughts and if they help you figure out what works, great!

2016-03-16 14.06.48

Olympa RG245

First of all, my pocket light, the one that is on me everywhere all the time.  The one I use the most.  I got lucky on this one, I picked up an Olympia RG245 for about $30.  This light is typically $42 to $55.  Now, everyone knows I like value. I don’t generally go spending $40 or $50 bucks on a piece of gear unless it’s critical.  And when you can buy inexpensive led lights for $8 r $10 that can take some abuse and work well.  It’s hard to justify spending more.   But it’s worth it.

What you get for the extra money are a few features that are very useful.    Good circuitry that allows for even battery usage and extend life of the battery.  A temporary flash mode to let you know when the battery is getting low. (Otherwise it would just suddenly shut off).  Instead of a light that is just turned on or off, you get multiple settings.  There is a high beam good for defense to temporarily blind an adversary or at least interrupt their vision.  Or when you need a lot of light to light up a large area or see a good distance of 245 lumens.  This runs for about 1 hour on a single CR123 battery.  The second mode is a medium mode (just 1 more click of the tail cap button) A little less than half the brightness (about 110 lumens) which is good for most tasks, I spend most of my time in this mode.  The battery will last about 3.5 hours at this light level.  The low power mode is 20 lumens and the battery will last for an amazing 45 hours.  I’ve used this mode a lot when I’m camping and I need to get something out of a bag or light a stove or something.  Doesn’t completely destroy your night vision but offer plenty of light even to read by.

There are also a couple other modes like Strobe and SOS.  Strobe flashes rapidly which can be used for signaling and can improve performance in foggy or smokey conditions.  The SOS mode is useful in case you are hurt or need help.  You can set it down and let it flash for you.  It flashes the light in the universal Morse Code SOS pattern (dot dot dot dash dash dash dot dot dot).

The light is small, easily fits in the palm.  I wouldn’t call it a defensive light like some of the slightly larger lights with raised ridges that can be used as a kubaton.   CR123 batteries are a bit more expensive, but the lifespan and power they produce are well worth it.  It would take a flashlight large enough to hold 2 AA batteries to get the same performance so it helps keep the light small.

I prefer the hooded tail caps like the Olympia because they don’t get turned on in your pocket the way side switch often do.  And they are much faster and easier to deploy than the twist off/on style.   Although even with the hood, I have on occasion turned it on in my pocket and the temperature after a few minutes goes up enough to let me know I did it.  As you can tell by the picture it’s well worn and function quite well.  It’s been dropped many times and that solid state circuitry and LED still work great.

2016-03-16 14.06.55

The second light I keep in an inside pocket of my jacket is a hands free light.  I’ve had a lot of the cheap little 30 and 50 lumen single LED headlamps that cost about $12 bucks and they work, but don’t seem to last very long.  My father in law had given me a pelican headlamp many years ago that lasted me 12 years of horrible abuse and is still going strong so I decided to see what the latest and greatest Pelican because I knew it was tough and would last me.  Not only was I happy with their latest models and features, I was quite surprised by the price.  I only paid $31.99 for the Pelican 2720 headlamp.    This thing has every feature I could hope for and a bunch I wasn’t even aware of.  Since this would be my primary “Work” light.  I was looking for features.  Simplicity is great, particularly in an EDC light, but for the main workhorse, I wanted a bit more and this thing nailed it.

  • Just a quick rundown of features.
  • Low level Red LED night vision that helps preserve night vision
  • Variable light mode from 100 % (200 lumens) for 3.5 hours all the way down to 12 lumens with over 100 hours run time.
  • Output magnification and beam control, can make it wider or narrower as needed.
  • 3 standard AAA batteries, easy availability
  • touch-less on off controls for when your cleaning game or or processing food and don’t want to touch it.
  • SOS beacon (Just like the Olympia).

Yep, this thing does it all.  And at $32.00 it’s tough as nails, waterproof and really just does it all.  The head-strap is outstanding, (I personally prefer the single strap on this model without the center cranial strap but to each his own).

2016-03-16 14.07.15

The backup light as I call it is a slightly larger light that I picked up through an online offer.   I believe it was around $30 or so just for the light but I got the full kit with it for that price.  It’s a Gun Shack G3 (Branded form the Helotex G3) but for the life of me I can’t remember what I paid for it.

This is a unique light because it came with all the connectivity for a weapon light with external switched and end cap, as well as conversion pieces to switch it between a dual CR123 and 3 x AAA so if you can’t find CR123’s where you are, you can sure find AAA’s.  Its a big handful of tough weapons grade aluminum with some serrations or “Skull Crusher” ridges on the front bezel.  It’s 160 lumens is not as “Tactically” strong for defense as the smaller Olympia I carry, but still plenty strong enough to interfere with vision.  (Anything over 120 lumens is considered defensively bright).   The flexibility of this light makes it a good backup light.


The last light I carry is my pack light.  This is actually a custom light prototype created by the owner of Z.A.S.C.  (Zombie Apocalypse Survival Camp) Guy Cain.  Which I have been involved with since ZASC’s inception.   You can build this or a similar light pretty easily buying the parts online fairly cheap.   We never produced these lights, but may at some time.  It’s starts with a sealed 6 panel led that does 18 lumens (3 lumens per LED) Then that is wired to a 9V battery socket.  I added a flexible wire “bungee” strap that allows me to hang or stand or strap the light wherever I need it.  The best thing about this light is the time it runs.  On a typical 9V batter this light ran for just shy of 500 hours.  Yes, I ran this light continuously on a single 9V for 21 days straight.  If you were to just use it during 8 hours of darkness continuously, it would run for about 2 months, and if you only used it for an hour a night (more typical usage), it could go for nearly a year and a half on a single 9V battery.  This is a great little light.

I hope this info helps you find the ideal lights for your daily treks and shows that you don’t have to break the bank to be the hero when the lights go out.  🙂







Revisiting Handguns: Self Defense, great articles.

A buddy of mine posted this excellent article from the Lucky Gunner Blog.   I wanted to share it and interject a few of my own thoughts.

Lucky Gunner Article

All of the points in this article are great.  And getting views from a panel of professional experienced shooters helps to keep us off the single train of thought wagon.   One thing they didn’t address was the caliber myths.   It seams like every self defense discussion always seems to devolve to a caliber war.  Comes down to the fanboys of 1 particular caliber or other vs each other.   Don’t get hung up on Caliber!  What it really should be is Train, Train, Train.  Accurate hits on target with small caliber rounds are still far superior to not having anything in the first place and good hits with small calibers are better than poor hits or misses with the big boys. (yes, that tiny bit of difference between a 38, 9mm, .40 or .45 is a tiny percentage of the overall picture.

Think of pistol caliber like race cars. You have 3 race cars. one goes 181 MPH, one goes 185 MPH and one goes 189 MPH. But your not a NASCAR professional race-car driver with years of real racing experience. You can get behind the wheel of any of these 3 cars and get decent track times.  However, It’s unlikely you can push the faster cars enough to beat a real race driver driving the slower car. The minor differences between rounds can’t compensate for the user.   The terminal performance of pistol rounds is so similar (And so far inferior to shotgun or rifle round performance) as to be negligible.  You have to hit your target, hit it fast and accurately in the correct place to have the best chance at stopping an attacker.

First 5 Rounds, 10 yards

First 5 Rounds, 10 yards

I spent my formative years (17 to 23) on the 1911 platform putting more than 10,000 rounds of .45 downrange (And I was also guilty of the idea that the bigger bullet was better attitude), I was in the Army when we transitioned to the M9 from the 1911 and hated it for years strictly out of a fanboy .45 attitude.   Thankfully I’ve matured a bit over the years.   But now that I’ve put thousands of 9mm rounds down range also on varous platforms.  I have changed my mind.  Even my Springfield SubCompact -XD 9mm outperforms the 1911’s I’ve shot in my life and my full size 9mm duty pistol (An old Ruger P85 Mark II) is spectacularly accurate and fast as lightning.

There is a reason most professionals have swung over to the 9mm side from the larger calibers for self defense and training.  Generally less recoil, (Although this is more dependent on the weight/design of the pistol).  Less recoil means faster follow up shots, more accurate follow up shots (Less post shot deflection means less site realignment) and probably most importantly is training.  Training is the single most important factor in preparing yourself to use a sidearm in self defense.  More training equates to better real world performance.  So if you can buy 1/3 to 1/4 more rounds of 9mm than .40, you can shoot 30% more and train 30% more.  You have many gains over the tiny ballistic difference between calibers.

Tactical life also did a great article with a panel of 14 professional, experienced shooters/trainers giving their opinions. It was quite eye opening to see what direction the majority of them rolled

Tactical Life Article

So really, it comes down to training and finding the gun/caliber combination that allows you to be as quick and accurate as possible.  Don’t jump on the big boys based on that small ballistic difference.  You can’t miss fast enough with a .357, or 44 mag, or .45 to make up for the small ballistic difference.   Therefore the more you train, the more experience you get and the more proficient you become. Don’t focus on caliber, Stopping power itself is generally a myth with handguns. (Major cavitation effects just don’t occur through clothing at the velocities/bullet weights of handgun rounds).

I have a matrix that at least in my own opinion holds pretty true.  The two most important factors in defensive shooting are Accuracy (Bullets on target) and Speed (both deploying the sidearm as efficiently and effectively as possible and the speed of follow up shots until the aggressor is stopped).  To throw caliber in looks like this.  50% is Accuracy, 48% is speed (Can’ miss fast enough to stop someone so it falls below accuracy), and 2% is ballistics of the caliber round (With tiny differentials on the barrel length etc that can cause small changes in performance of the caliber rounds being used).

Get out there and practice, practice a lot, practice realistically, get training from many different sources to broaden your understanding which will help you train the best for you. (Everyone is different) and be mentally prepared as well as physically prepared.   Wish everyone good luck and a safe life, but if something happens, I wish you quick hands and spot on accuracy.

Stay safe everyone.  Situational awareness is key, avoiding a situation is a lot safer than dealing with the situation.


CRKT Woods Kangee Tomahawk

Image Courtesy of CRKT

Image Courtesy of CRKT

Finally managed to get around to picking up some new gear to test.  I almost bought a couple of the SOG hawks which I’ve done a little hands on with and liked, but I’ve been eyeballing the CRKT Woods Kangee for some time now.  For the price (About $41) it’s an impressive piece of gear.  It is heavier than the SOG hawks and feels excellent in the hand.  Let’s run down the first impressions.

Field expedient replaceable handle. The primary reason I like hawk designs over most hatchet designs is the ease of replacing the handle in the field.  Yes, you can carve a fancy handle to match A Gransfors Bruks but it will take quite a bit of time.   Also, there is a small amount of extra time involved fitting the head and pinning it with a wedge.  (I have done this in the field and it’s not difficult, but does take some extra work and if you don’t do it well, the head lands in a patch of poison ivy 30 feet away).    Comparatively, you can strip a limb and narrow it down with a knife (Or the head of the hawk, which is VERY comfortable to use on its own) and slide it onto the new handle with a few tweaks.  That being said, yes, the better designed hatchet/axe handles are more comfortable and the angles and bends can give them a little more power and control.  So that is the trade off.  Everyone

Top Edge Notice how different the bevel is than the bottom edge.

Top Edge Notice how different the bevel is than the bottom edge.

Bottom edge is nearly perfect.

Bottom edge is nearly perfect.

has to decide which is more important to them.  If I’m planning on building a small log cabin, I’d prefer a larger dedicated axe.  But just something to keep strapped to my pack for small shelter building or to tear a stump apart to get to some fat wood or even to dig a root out of the ground, the hawk form just has a bit more flexibility.

Hawk vs Axe.  We touched on the hawk vs axe above, but to expand, I like dedicated tools that perform best for some functions.  So in my van when “Car” camping, or setting up a base-camp I always have a full sized axe available for big chopping tasks.  But when I head out on the trail, I don’t want to lug too much weight with me, so I like smaller more multipurpose tools.  This is the primary reason I decided to try out the Kangee.  It’s a bit heavier than most of the hawks out there but still lighter than a full sized ax.   The heavier head gives it an advantage over most hawks when chopping.  The longer handle also gives it a comfortable 2 handed chopping grip.  It also fits well on a pack hung through a carabineer.  The Kangee has a spike on the rear rather than the typical hammer.  I was split 50/50 on whether to get the Chogan model with the hammer or the Kangee with the spike.  So I sat down and decided what exactly am going to do with it in the woods?  The hammer is nice for pounding tent stakes, or pressing some dirt in to level a cook stove, but those are tasks that can be accomplished easily with just a piece of wood.   The spike however is useful for tearing apart wood (To reach fat wood, or if you REALLY need the sustenance, grabbing some grubs) or ripping apart a troublesome knot.  It also works great for digging, (Using it in the frozen ground was excellent.  Could breach ice and frozen dirt far better than a stake).  It works kind of like a mini mattock.  So having used many hatchets with hammer backs over the years, I decided to go with the spike.  Glad I did.  The spike is a great shape for tearing stuff apart.  Fat enough, with a good bevel on the edges.  It REALLY digs in.  (One cautionary note, the Kangee does NOT come with a sheath or holster.  There are some aftermarket kits for it though.  I am in process of building a leather “Bungee” cover for it.  I’ll post that project when it is completed.

The heavier weight and design of the spike makes it dig in deep.

The heavier weight and design of the spike makes it dig in deep.

Spike really tears stuff up

Spike really tears stuff up.  (My oldest boy really enjoyed tearing the stump up with it).

One thing that did disappoint me was the edge.  I’ve been a big fan of CRKT for many years, every knife I’ve ever received from them was shaving sharp right out of the box.  When the Kangee arrived, the first thing I noticed was the bevel was off, (about a 30% difference on one end of the blade, and about 10% on the other.  There was a huge overgrind on one side that left a very large bur along the top 1.5 inches of the blade.   It literally would not cut paper out of the box.  I had to do some work on the blade.  Took about 10 minutes to clear the bur and re-profile the edge so that it was somewhat even on the cutting surface.  This is not a problem for me, I’ve done it on many blades, but if you’ve never worked an edge like this, it could be difficult to get an edge and if you aren’t a big knife guy/gal, you could use this out of the box and not be able to cut anything with it.  I spent a little more time tonight fixing the edge.  It’ll shave but it’s still slightly off.  Most of the fit and finish of the head was outstanding, the hickory handle is fully functional and long enough to get a really full swing out of it even with both hands.  But the quality control on the blade edge bugged me.  I have seen online that this has been an issue on many of the Kangee and Chogan hawks.  Again, it’s not difficult to fix, but it is a little disappointing on a tool coming from CRKT.  I will contact them about this and let you know what I hear.  They have been a good company to deal with in the past, so I’m sure they will handle this well.

My oldest boy using the hawk to fuzz some wood

My oldest boy using the hawk to fuzz some wood

Price, this is what blows me away.  The cost for this hawk ranges from $39 to $50, I paid $42 for mine through  There are a lot of high quality hatchets out there like the Gransfors Bruks, which are outstanding tools.  But for the price, this is really a tremendous bargain.  Will this last as long as a Gransfors?  Maybe, maybe not, but at 1/3rd the cost, you could purchase 3 of these, and if by any chance one finally wears out some

Spike splits a frozen stump really well.

Spike splits a frozen stump really well.

time in the next millennia, you can pull out the new one and keep on truckin and STILL have a spare waiting in wings.   I do like high quality stuff, but I will absolutely jump on something that come close.  Only time will tell if the quality is good enough for a lifetime.  But from

Makes short work of a 3 inch limb quickly.

Makes short work of a 3 inch limb quickly.

initial testing, and what I’ve seen from others.  The quality is outstanding.  Don’t get me wrong, I like high quality stuff.  I REALLY want a Gransfors axe someday, but in the meantime, it’s hard to justify spending that much money on a single tool, when I could get something like this and have enough left over to get another high quality knife or tool.

After spending some heavy cutting time with it, I do have to say it chops like a dream, but being heavier it does wear on you a bit more.  That heavier head does its job very well.


Tops HOG 4.5 Review (UPDATED)

I like knives, I have several knives (Understatement warning) and each one has its plus and minus points depending on what I am using it for.  My favorite has been an original Cold Steel SRK that my brother gave me many years ago.  I loved it so much that I never used it.  Kept it like a special keepsake.  A good friend (Thanks Rich, You know who you are!)  Told me a year ago, “A good knife is meant to be used, get out there and use it”. So I started using it and it has been my go to knife ever since.  If you go through the blog history you will see many of the knives I own and use.  I have never done a review on the SRK because, quite frankly it’s not the current model most people could get their hands on.

First of all, a little history.  Well, a couple years ago, I was introduced to the Norseman (Gunnery Sgt. David Williams), long before he retired from the Marine Corps, on the back end of the TSP Forum.  I liked this guy from the outset.  Well spoken, tough as nails with a sense of honor that is far and few between these days.   He was developing a knife he called the “Surviveology” and hand building versions of it.  (There is some great info about the knife in the bio on tops, or on the website, check it out)!  I had wanted one for a long time, but my finances never allowed me to get something at that level of quality custom made.   Along the way, my middle boy got into knives and started designing his own knives on paper.  I wanted to encourage him, so I had him and my oldest boy both draw up knives for me.   They had no idea what was in store.  I copied their designs and sent them to David and he built them to spec and got them back to me in time for Christmas.  (I have to tell you, that was the absolute best Christmas EVER).   Those were the first hands on I’ve had with any of his knives and I was duly impressed.  I’d have to say I don’t know exactly what he does for heat treats, but its freakin magic.  TOUGHEST knives I’ve ever seen.

Time goes by, David retires and moves onto a homestead and starts up and starts doing these knives and renames it to the H.O.G.  (Hunter of Gunmen) and gets the knife into Tops.  The Tops version is what I have.  Top’s does some amazing work on knives.  (Read the write up on Tops for more details about this knives creation ).   And as for the price, you can’t get them any better, however, after my experience with the two he made for my boys, I’d HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommend getting one directly from the maker. Just check out his website and he throws up new knives as he completes them.  I don’t know what Norse magic he puts into them, but they are the hardest, toughest tools I’ve ever used.

But back to the tops version.  I’ve had this knife for a couple months now and have put it through its normal set of paces just by using it for everyday tasks both in and out of the woods.  I don’t “Torture” test a knife to the extreme.  Mostly because,  A:  I can’t afford to buy 2 of each knife and beat one to death and B:  others do that and this is “Average Guys Reviews” so the typical average guy isn’t going to hammer a half dozen of them into a stone wall to make a ladder out of so we really don’t need to go there.  I have no doubt in my mind that this knife can take that kind of abuse, but for those of us in the real world, it just needs to do what we want it to do and this knife not only excels at that, but I’d trust my life to this knife in any way shape or form even under those “Extreme” conditions and uses.

Image Courtesy of Tops Knives

Image Courtesy of Tops Knives

Let’s start with the knife, Tops always sends some decent kit with a knife, Got a good whistle, and an interesting (Though bulky) sheath.  I like the leather sheaths that Norseman makes on his site for the hogs, maybe I’m a bit more old school, but they are just more comfortable, hang better and look amazing.  I kind of wish I’d dropped the extra coin to pick up the leather sheath instead of the tops sheath.   But it works well and has plenty of options for mode of carry.  The sheath can be strapped on any way you want to carry it.   The sheath has an extra pouch to add a tinder box or a sharpening stone or whatever suits your needs in the field.

SRK on Left, BG middle (With personalized Veff serrations from the man himself) and the Hog with sheath on the right.

SRK on Left, BG middle (With personalized Veff serrations from the man himself) and the Hog with sheath on the right.

Out of the box this knife was shaving sharp, in fact the first thing I did with it was shave the right side of my face.  I won’t be trading in my straight razor for shaving anytime soon though, but the knife cuts well enough.   I have not touched up the edge yet.  I want to see how long it will hold an edge before I put stone to it.  So far, 2 months of moderate to heavy use hasn’t even phased it.  It will still shave the hair off my arm with a little bit more drag though.  (Update, I finally touched it to my stone and steel last night (2 months to the day after purchasing it).  I took 8 swipes on the stone (Very fine synthetic) and 4 swipes on a steel and it’ s back to shaving sharp.  no edge damage from my usage (And I’m a little “Primitive Pete” with tools sometimes so that’s saying a lot).

Fuzz stick trial

Fuzz stick trial

I’m not an expert at fuzz sticks, they don’t look pretty when I make them, but they catch a spark just fine.  You can’t see it very well in the picture with my thumb in the way, but this shaving is so thin it was opaque.  The other picture with the tiny fuzz stick shows the fine work capable with this knife.

Paper thin shavings

Paper thin shavings

Note the detail work, that fuzz stick is barely bigger than the 2nd bevel of the blade.  For a decent sized field knife, this can do some amazing fine work.

Note the detail work, that fuzz stick is barely bigger than the 2nd bevel of the blade. For a decent sized field knife, this can do some amazing fine work.

The stick is barely bigger than the secondary bevel on the blade!.   The handle is remarkable, fills the hand exactly where you would expect it to.  It is a tad short for my over sized meat hooks, but not enough to bother me.   The ring in the handle was originally designed to be a retention device, but serves many other uses.  Pin a carbineer through it and you can clip it to your gear pretty easy.  I like to run an 8 inch paracord lanyard through it as you can see in this pic, this allows me to grip the knife further back with just my two fingers for chopping which makes this knife chop like a much bigger knife.  The grind is not quite full, which give the best compromise between grind and spine strength.  You can baton with this knife and not worry about being too rough with it.  It can take it just fine.

8 inch (16 inches folded) with 2 knots for adding clips or carbiners

8 inch (16 inches folded) with 2 knots for adding clips or carabiners

Talk about a well-balanced knife.  You’ve probably heard that term before, and many people will lay a knife across their finger at the hilt and if the knife balances, they call it well balanced.   That is not a well-balanced knife, that is just a knife balanced between the handle and the blade which is good for some application, but not for others.  This knife feels like an extension of your hand.  You can close your eyes and draw with the tip of this thing in the sand.  Typically called “tip awareness”, this knife truly feels “Balanced”.  Normally this kind of balance makes for a great working knife, but not a great chopper,  but with a lanyard in the tail, it chops pretty damn well.  My SRK is bigger and heavier and chops well, but the dead straight handle does not help it for chopping and this knife chops better.  I would not recommend using it to build a log cabin, but it will make short work of 2 inch branches for building a shelter.

The details of the knife specs are as follows.  Overall Length is 9-3/4” with a blade length of 4 3/8” (In Iowa where I live this means the knife is not qualified as a weapon and can be carried without a license).  Your local and state laws may be different so do your homework.  The knife is 1095 High Carbon steel.  (Which in my opinion is a great steel for knives).  It does require the user take care to keep it clean, but well worth it for the price.  You can pay far more for more exotic steels, but the small improvements over 1095 just don’t add up mathematically for me.    The handle is a palm filling Black Linen Micarta which gives great feel and texture.   With so much emphasis on skeleton knives and paracord wrapped survival knives these days, this handle is far and away one of the best and most comfortable I’ve ever used.

A good notch working a try stick.

A good notch working a try stick.

Unfortunately, my hands are far larger than “Average” (Pun intended).  I could use an extra ½ inch on the handle, but even though it’s a bit short for me, it still feels amazing.  The swells fill the palm in just the right places no matter what grip I use.  I can be doing a fine work, choked up on it, I can have it in a two or three finger chopping grip, a standard full grip or even a revers defensive grip and the handle just blends to the hand.  I can’t emphasize enough how well done these scales are.  If you read the description on tops, you’ll understand what went into the design and you’ll understand how it can fit so well.   I don’t think I’ll ever use another skeleton knife again.  (Except a Tibo, I still wanna to get one of those little guys).

This blade is 3/16ths thick and uses a high flat grind so it gives a good blade thickness without becoming a sharpened pry-bar yet still has a solid spine for heavy duty work and batoning etc.

The blade coating is the standard epoxy based black friction coating.  It is VERY tough, but does add a little friction to the blade (Hence the name LOL).  This is another tradeoff.  Normally I don’t like coatings, but since this is a non stainless knife, I’ll keep it on to help protect it.

The handle is just amazing, can't say enough about the comfort and feel of this knife.

The handle is just amazing, can’t say enough about the comfort and feel of this knife.

I love everything about this knife.  I do have to be fair though and everyone is different, and uses a knife for different purposes so a knife that is perfect for one person or for one use may not be perfect for another person or use.  This knife covers all the bases so well it is as close to a perfect knife as I’ve found.  It’s features work well across different uses.

A little better on the fuzz stick with practice.

A little better on the fuzz stick with practice.

Where some knives compromise between 2 features or styles and never quite work for either, this knife blends them and gives the full range of use.   If I could change anything about it (Simply to suit me, not that it needs any changes), I’d extend the handle about a ½ inch for my big hands and I’d reduce the distance between the rear blade edge and the handle for fine close up work.  This is more a cosmetic thing as it works fine as is, just one of those little things that I personally like.

The tops price on this knife is $179.00 and it’s well worth it.  However, if you want something a bit more unique with the makers own personal heat treat (Which I consider one of the best I’ve ever seen), then hit up and watch as one off pieces show up on the site.  Each has all the features that make the Tops version outstanding, but with some mods or tweaks that make them uniquely beautiful as well as imminently functional.

As always be safe out there and enjoy what you’re doing.  Take the right tool along for the job and you’ll be happy you did.




Almost forgot my favorite pic of the HOG in action on my boys 9lb blue cat.

The HOG in action on my boys 9lb cat he dragged in with light tackle.  Worked as well for the thin slicing as it did for cutting through the heavy bone.  Very Functional Knife.

The HOG in action on my boys 9lb cat he dragged in with light tackle. Worked as well for the thin slicing as it did for cutting through the heavy bone. Very Functional Knife.




After playing with the ring a bit.  I made another modification to the kit I use with the knife.  I took about 38 inches of paracord, and dropped a figure 8 on each end.  This gets run through a mini carabiner and through the ring.  This is a very flexible setup.    I noticed after doing a lot of chopping (I went through two 4 inch chunks of maple as fast as I could) with the carabiner through the ring that it could pinch every once in a while and the carabiner could give some hot spots on the fingers.  (Gloves would alleviate this).  I had a chunk of paracord to extend it for both a lanyard and for extending to chop with, but the lanyard isn’t very flexible and too short to do much of anything with.

So see the pictures to see how I set this rig up.

Pic 1 shows the full cord separated with the carabiner and the Hog

2014-08-26 18.31.43

Finished cord is 32 inches long loop to loop.

Next pic is the normal carry position.  This gives about 16 inches of lanyard, enough to go round the elbow and lock the knife into the hand (Gives counter pressure to the knife while its being used).  I found this turns the knife into an extension of your arm.  For chopping I reverse the loop and run the middle of the lanyard through the ring and keep the carabiner through both end loops on the loose end.  That lets me hold just cordage for chopping which for me was a bit more comfortable.   This can then be clipped to gear or a vest if your working close.

Carabiner in loops in knife.

Carabiner in loops in knife.

Last is the long leash,  This is for working over water or in terrain where dropping your knife could be disastrous.    The figure 8 loop is wrapped through itself at the ring of the knife, and the carabiner clips through the other loop and connects to your belt or chest strap of a pack etc.  32 inches is ideal for me (It gives me near full extension from the backpack ring on my chest or belt).

Full Length Rig

Full Length Rig

The ring is very useful.  Since it’s larger than a standard lanyard hole, it adds much more functionality.

Technology in the Field

Let’s face it.  There are 2 kinds of outdoors people.  Those who use tools as tools as intended (to gain the benefits of those tools), and those who poo poo on others for not using the “Right” tools, or for using tools they don’t know how to use themselves.    I’m not a fan of tent camping for example, I love to camp, and I throw up a simple tarp to keep the rain off if needed, but that’s not for everyone.  I might rib a friend for using a tent, but it’s all in fun.  Tents are fine and they do keep the bugs off.  So to each his own and if you prefer a tent or an RV or whatever, more power to you. I’m happy you’re out there enjoying yourself.  Whatever gets you out there in the woods is a good thing!

Technology is one of those things that bring out the butthurt in some people.  Personally, I see technology as simply another tool.  If you have it, great, if not, no big deal.  Just like any piece of gear or kit, if it fails, can you get by without it?  (Snap the blade off your knife batoning wood with it and you’ll get the picture).  If the answer is yes, then you’re fine.  If the answer is no, then you may need to work on the skill sets a bit more.

In this day and age, there are tools (GPS for example) that can replace or supplement an older piece of kit.  Sometimes this is good, GPS is a great tool for tracking your hikes, marking locations, finding out exactly how far your hike has taken you, planning the next leg of your hike, etc, etc.   Yes, this can be accomplished with a map and a compass (albeit quite a bit more slowly), and if you can use both you are better off yet.  But just as a compass can be lost or damaged, so can a GPS or the batteries can go dead.   Same with a phones or radio. It’s much harder to call for help using a hatchet than with a phone.  Particularly if you are injured.

Technology can be incredibly useful in the field.  No matter how much I learn, I don’t know and can’t know everything, or even a fraction of whats available  (if someone believes they do then don’t follow them into the woods, they may just get you killed)!  Having resources available at my disposal to supplement my skills and knowledge can be invaluable.   A simple cell phone can contain, encyclopedias of data, pictures, videos etc that you could not possibly memorize in a lifetime.    I love having the ability to look something up I don’t know (A new plant for example) while I’m out in the woods, rather than have to take pictures and wait till I’m back at home to research it.  Also, I hate dragging several books with me to research plants or birds etc in the field, so much weight, and there is no difference between the info on the phone vs the info in a book.  One is just far more convenient to transport than the paper variety.

So just as any tool in your kit, learn to use it and learn to use it effectively!   Don’t turn a tool into a crutch.  Just because you have that much information at your fingertips does not mean you should not be learning it.  I like to try new things, but the best way to learn is to do, so I may download something to the phone, take it in the woods and learn by doing.  Best way to keep the skill in my head.   Then if I ever need to refresh or go back and review the info, it’s still there.  And if I don’t ever need to go back to look at it, its only bits, don’t weight a thing.

This brings us to the #1 enemy of technology in the field.  Power.   Without power, technology becomes extra weight.  I tend to take storage batteries with me in the field.  These are high density, low weight/size to power ratio devices that can recharge my phone or GPS several times over.  In fact my two current power supplies can power my phone, my GPS, my Tablet and my camera for about 5 days of typical use or 3 days of heavy use.  I don’t want to carry much more weight, so rather than carry additional heavy battery packs, I have added solar charging to my kit.  I use the solar charger to recharge the 2 battery packs as I alternate them.  One is with me to keep my gear hot, while the other charges.  Then I swap them the next day.    I have enough power to hold out for a couple of days with no sun between the two units which is never a problem.

The solar charger I ended up with is the Goal Zero Nomad 13.  I choose this panel because it fit several criteria.  It produced a high enough voltage to charge my high voltage  IPAD or other tablets, as well as my Duracell Jump starter for my vehicle.    It also has multiple connection points to include a 12v socket so I can use a multi-car charger to charge several low voltage devices like phones and my AA/AAA rechargeable batteries for flashlights and GPS.    I am immensely impressed with the Nomad 13.  It folds down to roughly the size of an inch thick piece of 8 ½ x 11 paper.  It weighs very little and can strap on the outside of a backpack as you hike to charge devices as you go and you won’t notice it at all.      The performance is out of this world.  Even if it’s overcast and barely any light is making it through (Even with total thin cloud cover), it produces enough voltage to charge my low voltage devices like my phone.  I’ve managed to get power at times I figured there was not enough sunlight at all.   In full sunlight, it will fully charge my phone in 2 hours.  The folding design makes it easy to place where it can get an optimal amount of sunlight without you having to move it every 30 minutes.    I highly recommend the Goal Zero Nomad 13.   I’ve used the little 6 inch folding chargers and for a device this size and weight, it hands down blows them away.

Charger in action on a scouts phone.

Charger in action on a scouts phone.

So get out there, enjoy your outdoor experience, and if you need a little boost to keep your gear going, look into solar.  You really can’t go wrong with this.

Value, what is it?



Rather than a gear review this week, I’d like to put up something a little thought provoking instead.  Something we hear every day is, “it’s a good value” but what does that really mean?  I’d like to put my perspective on it.

Value (as taken from Webster’s dictionary), is:

  1. Relative worth, merit, or importance: the value of a college education; the value of a queen in chess.
  2. Monetary or material worth, as in commerce or trade: This piece of land has greatly increased in value.
  3. the worth of something in terms of the amount of other things for which it can be exchanged or in terms of some medium of exchange.
  4. Equivalent worth or return in money, material, services, etc.: to give value for value received.
  5. Estimated or assigned worth; valuation: a painting with a current value of $500,000.

How does that translate into gear?  Is the most expensive piece of gear more valuable than all others?  Is value simply the amount of currency paid for an item?  This oversimplified idea just doesn’t fly in the real world.

Value is what you get for what you pay for to accomplish the task you set for it!  For example:  Is an $80,000 Italian sports car more valuable than a $40,000 minivan + $40,000 in cash, or $50,000 pickup truck + $30,000 in cash?  Some would say yes, some would say no and some would say they are equal.  (From a monetary point yes they are equal, but from a value point on the individuals perspective they are not equal).    Perspective plays a big role in this.  To someone who only cares about speed, the sports car is more valuable for the price, however to someone who has to drive a family of 5 around the Minivan + Cash would be more valuable, and to someone who has to haul a trailer or loads of wood, the pickup +Cash is more valuable.

Now how does this play into gear?  The same principal applies.  If you have several similar pieces of gear available, say one is $10, one is $20 and one is $40, which one is the best value?   Some would jump on the $40 because it’s the most expensive so it has to be the best which is rarely the case.  There are many parameters that affect “Value”.  Quality or “How long will it last”? is probably the most important.    If Item 1 will last about 1 year before it’s falling apart and needs to be replaced, it would take 8 of them to last 8 years.  And if the $40 item will last 8 years without replacement, then the more expensive item is easily the better value.   But as in every aspect of equipment, we hit a point of diminishing returns.   In this example we see that point.  The $20 item will last 7 years.  Is the doubling in price worth it for the extra year on the more expensive piece of gear?  In this example I would say no it isn’t.

When it comes to gear, we see a point of quality that I like to call the 90% line (or the value line).  Once we find gear that is better than 90% of the other similar gear, we start to get so close in quality, that the tiny percentage gains in quality no longer match the rapidly rising price.  (What’s called diminishing returns).    Cheap gear won’t last and you’ll be replacing it constantly.  Middle of the line gear is ok, but you’ll still replace it more often than necessary and probably at a faster rate than the numbers justify.  But once you start working with gear in the 90th percentile, you start to gain very little as the price increases much faster than the quality can improve to match it.   The two lines (Quality and price) are not parallel.  They trend closer to each other as you move along the scale.

If you are planning on putting a piece of mission critical gear through hell and back in an area where you need to trust your life to it, you can easily justify the extra cost to gain the small return of quality difference (Think soldiers in combat for example), but for the average guy or gal, value is much easier to find in that 90th percent arena.  That doesn’t mean you buy cheap gear, far from it, cheap gear below the curve will be replaced too often to be of value.  NEVER buy cheap gear.  It will frustrate you, it will fail you and it will cost you more in the long run with replacements.

The best bet is to find your own “Sweet spot” for value that you are comfortable with for the task the gear will be used for.  I don’t mind getting 2 for 1 if the quality is at the 90% mark or higher.  In a back pack for example, I can buy 1 pack that will last me 20 years or I can buy 1 pack that will last me 15 years for ½ the price.  Even if I replace the pack at 12 years with something newer and more efficient with more modern engineering, I’ve gotten a far better value.    Value isn’t “Cheaper” far from it, value is more efficient for the cost.

As with everything else, value is what you get out of it, don’t short change yourself when you need it, but don’t throw money away either.  I hope this explanation helps you to find your own best value in gear.

Gear Bags Part II, The FAK (First Aid Kit)

First of all, do you have a FAK in your car?  Do you have one at home?  Do you have one with you when you’re out and about?  FAK’s are one of those critical pieces of gear that should be around us whenever we need it.  From the simple Band-Aid to ease a young child’s mind (More so than to protect the minor scratch usually) to the pressure dressing for a major laceration, or eyewash to clean the eyes of chemicals, a FAK really is a piece of GO TO gear.   As with any gear or bag system, there are dozens, hundreds or even thousands of options available.  No one “Bag” or “Case” works for everyone in all situations.   And the contents of your FAK’s will be just as personally different as your situations and locations.

I’m not going to discuss much on the contents outside of a few items that I like to keep in our kits.  Everyone should decide for themselves what items they need.   There are plenty of resources available online to give you good ideas for what contents you may want in your own kits.  One of my personal favorites is a forum I’m lucky enough to be a moderator on.  There are some wonderful threads with list of kit for different situations.  Give them a look, you won’t be disappointed with the amazing level of information on the forum.    But back to FAK’s,  you could have a giant kit with everything under the sun, but it’s going to be heavy and “Left at home” or “Left in the car” when you need it the most.  Personally, I work from a system of kits and I’ll display them below.  I am really just hoping to give some ideas that might make it easier or more functional to keep “Right Sized” kits available when you need them.

My personal preference as you’ll see by the pictures are soft side tackle boxes.  They have a few advantages to the standard soft pouch kits.   They do tend to be slightly larger than a pouch to contain the same equipment so if weight/size is a major issue (Normally just on the personal FAK’s) then pouches tend to work better.    (See my personal kit below).

I call my FAK kit’s an FAK System.  Because they are not necessarily individual items and sometimes they are interchangeable and overlap.    It’s broken down into 4 major components.

  1. Personal Kits (Carried by each individual when out and about).
  2. Vehicle kits (Carried in each vehicle)
  3. Basecamp or “Home” kit.  (Readily accessible mobile kit at home).
  4. Stock yard.  (In my case a filing cabinet with the extra items)

I’ll start at the Stock Yard and work back.   The stock yard is where I keep the bulk of replacement items, stuff to refill the other kits with.  This can also be considered a Non-Mobile home kit.   This can suffice as a home kit, but as you see the format of my system, I think you’ll appreciate the need for both base and mobile home kits.


Base Camp Kit ready to go

The second kit is the Base-camp or Mobile Home kit.  This is a medium to large sized soft side tackle box.  The reason I have this as a mobile kit is for stuff that happens close to home or even inside the home.  Rather than keep running back and forth to the cabinet to get first aid stuff during an emergency, I can grab the kit and bring it to the area of my home, or outside in the yard or nearby.  We live in a small community and know all of our neighbors and our vantage point on the upper edge of a hill gives us a great view of our surrounding neighborhood and all the kids that run around (And wreck their bikes on the street) or the neighbor down the way who is always working on his cars out front etc.  So having the kit be mobile just makes sense.   Now I use the soft side tackle boxes for this type of kit for a couple of reasons.  (You can get this guy on Amazon).

Base Camp Kit Contents

Base Camp Kit Contents

  1. Portability:  They are lighter than hard cases and easier to carry with a shoulder strap or handle.  You aren’t going to need first aid yourself from running down the street carrying one like you would with a hard case (I know this from experience, put a nice cut in my hand carrying an old hard case tackle box first aid kit running to my neighbor’s yard when he cut his leg). Just easier to carry.
  2. Both soft storage and hard storage:  The plastic inserts meant to hold lures are perfect for separating and organizing smaller first aid supplies and also protecting them.  One of the problems we run into with soft pouch style FAK’s is the crushing that happens to some of the kit inside, (Break open a tube of first aid cream and watch it soak into all your gauze and band aids for example).  The tubes and single use antiseptic wipes and other items are protected inside the plastic cases.   Other items like tape, bindings, rubber gloves etc can be stored in the soft pouches on the bag.
  3. Lots of size options.  You can find a bag that is JUST the right size for the kit you want in whatever location you need the kit.

The 3rd kit is the Car kit or transfer kit.  This is a kit that primarily stays in the vehicle, but also comes out and goes to the campsite or the soccer game or anyplace else you want the supplies available, but don’t want to drag the bigger kit around.  We also keep 1 weeks’ worth of any maintenance medications and some extras like several pain killer/fever reducers in this kit.  When we go on vacation or have a surprise overnight at a relative’s house or in case we get stranded somewhere.  We always have what we need without having to go back home and

Car Kit

Car Kit

pack medications.   I’m also a big fan of keeping a separate trauma kit in the vehicle (I do not have one currently) for helping out in case of accidents that are normally above and beyond the items in most FAk’s.   I also keep a towel and some heavy duty maxi pads (Great for pressure dressings) and some scarfs (For bindings) in a separate emergency kit in the vehicle along with a radio, some tools and other useful items.  Just good stuff to have in case it’s needed.  Here is a similar model to this Walmart special that I use.

Personal field Kit

Personal field Kit

Car Kit with Contents

Car Kit with Contents

The last kit I will discuss is the personal kit.  This one is going to be one of the most varied items between individuals.  In fact I have 2 different personal kits that I use depending on where I am and what I’m doing.  The first is my “Field” kit.  This is the kit that I have attached to my shoulder strap knife harness and it goes over my shoulder whenever I’m in the field.  This guy looks promising as well.

Day to day FAK

Day to day FAK

This kit is small and I hardly even notice it, (About double the size of the old Pressure dressing kits we used to use in the army).    I don’t normally throw this over my shoulder when I’m going to work or traveling or any other time I’m not headed out into the field.    My other personal kit is a little different.  I am an IT Manager for an electric cooperative.  I carry a small tablet computer everywhere I go for remote access.  (Yes, you can call it a murse, don’t bother me at all LOL).   This bag has some pockets that I include many first aid items in.  That way I always have some basic first aid kit with me pretty much anywhere I go.   We also have first aid kits at work, but again they are not portable (Wall mount units) so running back and forth to them to grab gear could be a pain.

I hope this post was interesting and maybe you could pick up some ideas that might help you keep the gear you need accessible.

Stay safe my friends.


New uses for old things…

I am a big believer in reusing old stuff for other purposes.  Not only does it save the expense of purchasing or buying something new to handle a particular task, but it reduces the resources needed by a tiny percentage.  I owe my grandfather (the man I’m named after) for this one.   Grandpa Don was a great guy, knew some really amazing stuff, was one of the greatest mechanics you’d hope to know.  He was a very smart man, had a mind for logic and seeing things nobody else could see.   Unfortunately he was taken by alcoholism, before we boys were old enough to really know what we would be missing without him.   When he wasn’t drinking he could teach you so much, and he never got emotional, he could be kind or hard as the time needed, but he never yelled to get his point across, he just seemed to know how to pass the wisdom on when the learner was ready to accept it.  I miss him greatly and wish that I would have been smart enough to learn more from him as a young man before he passed.    Below is my modern update of a little trick he taught us boys.  I hope you like it and get some usefulness out of it.

Everyone has shelves, and I bet most of those shelves even when full, have some gaps.  My grandfather would screw the lid to an old mason jar to the bottom of the shelf, and then put screws, or washers or whatever bit’s and pieces into a jar and screw it onto the lid.  Then he had a long line, out of the way, of well organized bits and pieces.  I always loved this idea, and I did use glass jars on a shelf in my backroom for a while until I broke one.  I realized as great as the idea was, glass just wasn’t the ideal material to use for this application.   Well, at work I get blank CD’s and DVD’s by the 25 and 50 pack.  They come on these spindals.  Well, I decided about 8 years ago to re-purpose them for this kind of storage.  I have a workbench that has ovhanging cabinets.  There are some gaps where nothing sits.    So since I had a couple of these spindals, I put them to use.  I now have a dozen spindals waiting for the time I have a large enough work room/garage at home to put up shelving.  Until then, these two work great.

Group of Spindles

Group of various sized Spindles

First off, you need to cut the pillar out of the middle of the spindle.

There are two types of spindals,  The screw on type, and the lipped type.  The lipped type have 3 or 4 lips that turn into the base,  the screw on type are just like the old mason jars.   I prefer the lips as they tend to be more sturdy, however, I have yet to break one so I might be a little biased.

Tabbed Spindle

Tabbed Spindle

Then using large head screws or screws through washer, you screw the base to the bottom of the cabinet or shelf.

Remove Center Post

Remove the Center Post

Then you fill the basin with whatever bits and pieces you wish.  (I have rack screws and parts in one, and PC screws and parts in the other)

Hanging sorters

Sorters hung under the cabinet.

This is a VERY simple project, and you can get these spindals all over the place, (I found 4 or 5 at the local goodwill).  Garage sales, or just ask someone who works in IT, or a friend who burns lots of CD’s.    You can also use just about any other type of container with a screw on lid.