Traditional Bushcraft Tools

Tool Selection and Identification

Tools of the trade, for centuries only four tools were heavily relied on while in the bush.

Axe, belt knife, mokotagen, and awl, were and are still the woodsman’s best friend.

Learning how to properly use these tools efficiently is a huge step toward becoming a proficient bushcrafter. I’ve built everything from cups and spoons to baskets and canoes, and everything in between with these tools while in the bush.

Pictured below is an assortment of my awls, and the three most used mokotagen blade styles.

Traditional Bushcraft Tools
Traditional Bushcraft Tools

The awls range from small and large rounds, to three and four sided awls.
Awl selection depends on its intended use, round awls are excellent for bark work, especially birch bark. They separate the fibers in the bark allowing them to close back up naturally around root or fiber cordage stitching. For all other uses I recommend a good three sided awl, opposed to the four sided. Triangle awls allow you more hole size options depending on the tools length, from 1/16″ up to 1/4″ if they have a proper taper.

The three most used mokotagen styles are the thin narrow blade specifically used on soft woods like cedar, these are common place among any canoe or basket builder, as these blades are meant for carving with the grain.
The wider blades more specifically designed for use on a mix of hard and soft woods work best when carving cross grain and hollowing.

The last blade is the short stubby detail blade mostly used in finishing work on both soft and hard woods.

Knife selection is almost as important as knowing how to use it. You want a blade that’s narrow enough to do fine carving and notch work without its width and thickness getting in the way. The combination of blade width and bevel determine the amount of drag caused when carving and ultimately control whether your work is fine or hacked up. You shouldn’t need anything over 4 inches, anything over 4 inches reduces the amount of control you have over the knife, it also provides more surface area for something to go wrong or break. Having a good short blade is great idea, whether a pocket knife or short fixed blade such as the chopped up mora classic in the picture. This knife is just over 2 1/2 ” and I’ve relied solely on it during extended stays in the bush. Having a short blade allows you to save your larger blade, it handles the majority of work if you know how to use it.

Axe selection is just as important, you want something with a good sized bit, some weight to it, and a comfortable handle. You should be able to use an axe one handed, gripped behind the beard just as efficiently as you use it two handed for chopping. My personal favorite is the norlund hbc, just under 2 pounds on a 22″ straight handle is perfect, adding in a semi flat grind to it just ups your workable options. Besides felling trees for shelter and fire, it can be used for finer carving and flat planning,

These are the characteristics of a proper pack axe. Having used wettetlings, gransfors and everything in between, I always find myself reaching for the hbc pattern.

After tool selection and use are learned, the next step is learning how to identify, read, selectively harvest , and utilize the right materials based on their attributes and how they will lend themselves to a specific task, but that’s a lesson for another time, as we could discuss that for hours on end.

I grew up using and relying on these tools, and I still rely on them to this day, they take care of me and support my family. One thing to remember is good quality doesn’t always have to have a high price tag, nor fad connected to it.
It’s best if you learn to craft as many of your tools as possible, this gives you a better understanding of how they function and how to repair them.
Always keep in mind, humans became the dominant species on this planet with nothing more than flint shards, hand drill, and ingenuity.

2 thoughts on “Tool Selection and Identification

  1. Hi, Nick. This is Lynn Lally-the person who hurt herself- from your workshop in St. Paul. You showed us a tool that we could run a strip of ash through and it would cut different sizes or all one size. Do you know what I am talking about? I would like to purchase that tool if you have an extra. I tried a little basket with curliques this past month. That was fun. Hopefully, next time it will be a little tighter. Hope you are keeping well. Thank you.

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