Spoon carving from a Bushcraft perspective with Jon Mac...
I am a spoon carver who lives and works on Dartmoor in Devon.
I carve spoons and Kuksa from green wood, using the three principal bushcraft tools. The knife, Axe and hook knife. I find spoon carving gives me a greater understanding of these tools as I can demonstrate a precision of craft in the finished spoon. I have developed my own spoon carving knife 'The MaChris' which is made by 'Chris Grant' a fantastically talented bladesmith.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Hammock camping at Loch Morar.

Sometime last Autumn my good friend Keith asked if I'd like a trip up to the North West side of Scotland. He was on his way to run the hills at Knoydart, a remote area reached by ferry from Mallaig. Keith has taken up the pastime of the mountain marathon runner, the idea being that at events held in our mountainous regions folk run a long course carrying the equipment they'll need for a night out on the hill. The rucksacks they carry are packed with extremely lightweight equipment, to the extent that food is weighed and toothbrushes are cut down to size. I gave him one of my wooden spoons, I think it passed the weigh-in.
Keith's pack looked nothing like this....


I am a bit long in the tooth for running around the mountains, and of course carrying camera equipment pretty much disqualifies me from such excitable activities.
So I filled my Bergen with things to sleep on, things to sleep under and food to eat.
I took far too much food.
I used to have this one man camping thing well and truly sorted, with my lightweight waterproofs and modern clothing I could keep the carried weight down, time has taken a toll on my light gear, so now I'm toting heavier gear. Mostly surplus.
I'm back to when I first started this hillwalking pastime, although nothing I use nowadays is made of canvas and my boots don't fall to pieces after two trips.
I'm also used to travelling with Sarah, two of everything.
I bought the Bergens PowerFrame pack last summer. I tried replacing my Berghaus Vulcan, it had only lasted 20 years and numerous hitch-hiking and hiking adventures, along with a spell with Mountain Rescue.
Disappointing really..... 
I bought a new Vulcan from Berghaus and it was a shadow of its older and more venerable mark.
After sending three back to Berghaus, one of which wasn't even stitched together, I gave up.
I use the Bergens PowerFrame regularly now, even as a day sack.
It's comfortable, I'm 6'4" on a good day and small day packs don't really fit my back. Also trying to get huge waterproofs into a day sack doesn't leave much room for sandwiches and cameras.
I can simply open the lid of the PowerFrame and pour my equipment in, cinch it up, and go.
It has an external aluminium tubular frame, you can remove the bag and strap all manor of things to it.
It's heavy, but the comfort overrides that issue.
It's a squeaker, but a liberal squirt of wax polish on the offending parts seems to have quietened it down.
Keith dropped me off at the head of a track near Arisaig that would enable me to walk to Loch Morar.
The views were utterly breathtaking.
We made our plans for a rendezvous after our respective adventures.


The walk into Loch Morar was fairly simple, without any navigational problems.
The first big load with the new pack, we seemed to hit it off right away.
Over the final ridge and this...........


I made my camp by the white sandy beach in the bay on the right.
I spotted it from afar and fell in love. I couldn't believe what I'd walked into.
Beauty everywhere.
Once I'd cleared some brush and hung the hammock I lit a fire and ate supper, bed came early, it was a long drive from Dartmoor.
I spent the night in my hammock pea-podded in a Jervenbag.
I slept the sleep of the gods and awoke to this find view.


You can see from this photograph from an earlier trip to the highlands how the Jervenbag can be used to pea-pod the hammock. The Jervenbag or Fjellducken is a waterproof bag, rectangular in shape with zips running on three sides. The waterproof material has a foil backing for heat reflection and some models are lined with Prima loft, as is the one I own.
My Fjellducken is a king sized version, big enough to wear as a waterproof over me and my Bergen, and long enough on the diagonal to envelope my hammock.
It will accommodate Sarah and I at the same time if we need an emergency shelter whilst on the hill.


So the camp is set and I was so pleased being in such a beautiful place. The midge were about, but they weren't too bad. I use a repellant based on DEET which seems to work well, and a midge head net I bought from Endicotts. The Jervenbag helps to keep the midge at bay whilst sleeping.


I chose a fireplace a short distance from the hammock.
I realise the benefits of camp fire smoke in keeping insects at bay, and the smoke would have been useful drifting over the hammock, however, I'm also aware of the damage sparks can do to modern synthetic equipment. Pro's and con's weighed I went with a distant fire.


Staying on the camp fire subject. I've noticed recently on social media, questions from folk wanting to know of a recommended turbo flame lighter - one of those Gucci gas divers bottle looking lighters with a piezoelectric spark generator -  that once ignited delivers a concentrated high pressure, high temperature flame capable of melting solder.
I used one or two in the past when travelling and I've soldered with one (I owned a Ural750, of course I've soldered with a lighter).
They are great, when they are new and spotlessly clean they perform well, especially if one directs the flame across your cigarette end and not toward ones nose.
Lesson learned.
However, aside from the fact that smoking is indeed bad for the health (I stopped 10 years ago) these lighters will fail either from worn parts or the piezoelectric spark gap becoming fouled or the generator itself failing to produce an electric charge.
You'll end up with a hand full of springs the day you really need it.

A Zippo was my preferred lighter, robust and simple. Its usefulness diminishes if you have no source from which to refill. A motorbike fuel tank worked as did the Coleman fuel* I used to use in the Whisperlight cooker when travelling.

*(It's called Essance 'C' in France. You'll find it in most supermarkets in the kitchen cleaning dept)

I switched to a meths burner when the Whisperlight decided to pour fuel every which way one day.

(I used to keep it regularly serviced with replacement 'o'rings and cleaning. I've no idea how or why it failed as it had served me well in all manor of situations for years)

Anyway, I switched to a methylated spirit burner, the set comprises a meths burner, wind shield, pot and pan. This particular one was made for the Swedish military. Believe it or not Sarah and I cooked our food in this set for a summer in France back in the day. We added a Trangia cook set for ease of cooking when we had the sidecar to carry everything.


Methylated spirit won't work in a  Zippo and I no longer smoked so didn't really need a lighter every hour or so. The Zippo fuel used to evaporate quickly in hot weather, often resulting in a Zippo sized chemical burn on the leg where the fuel had seeped through the material of my trouser pocket.
Ouch !

So what do I use for firelighting?

A ferrocerium rod and a box of matches.
Simple tools for the job.


If I'm using matches I'll use a couple of sticks of fat-lighter to get everything going.
I harvested a big load of fat-lighter up on the west coast last summer. I use it at home to get the front room fire going.
Fat lighter is pine wood saturated in resin or pitch, the fat-wood I use came from pine root systems.
I carry a small bundle, it weighs next to nothing and can make a difference when one simply needs to get a fire lit without messing about. Some dead dry heather, birch twigs and fat lighter, plus your main fuel, will make the world nice again.
You can also scrape it down with the back of your blade to make a resin infused dust that will ignite with a spark from your ferrocerium rod.


Whilst camping on my secluded beach I couldn't help but think of the old Robinson Crusoe television program which was shown back in the late 60's and 70's here in England.
So whilst whistling the well known theme tune, as you do, I remembered Crusoe observing the world about him and how he seemed to make friends of the local fauna.
Poll the parrot, a dog and a goat or two, well I didn't quite match Crusoe's menagerie, however I did manage to be-friend a common frog.
He hadn't much conversation in him, but he was good company none the less.


The weather was pretty good during my stay. The temperature was warm and pleasant and the rain came in the form of regular squalls. Never lasting long the wind would whip up the loch. The water would become agitated with waves rolling in all accompanied with sharp rainfall. It was reminiscent of the days I lived by the coast in Cornwall, except there was no chiming coming from the boat masts and street lamps.


 The reason for my trip, other than for the sheer experience of camping in such a beautiful place, was to take some photographs of the coast with its bright white beaches. Well, the bright white beaches were in abundance, however, the sun was lacking and the photographers cry of "More light"! could be heard the length of the loch. I had to tone down my expectations and go for the more moody vibe.
From the some hundred photographs that I took at Loch Morar, I selected one that is worth printing.
I have started a new blog at....

Jon Mac Photography

I have included this photograph in my portfolio of purchasable prints.

Loch Morar in Blue.


In the evenings I would sit on the beach, with the fire crackling in the background and listen to the waterbirds settling down for the night.
The call of the Oyster catcher never ceases to catch the imagination.
I bought a small candle lamp last summer, my wife Sarah has Ménière's disease, her inner ear has been damaged by the disease leaving her with a great loss of hearing and problems with balance. Quite scary and debilitating for her at times. The candle lamp helps her focus on one point for when she moves about camp during the darker hours. I thought I'd take it along as a talisman.
From memory it is a UCO lamp.



My stay was brief at the Loch, I explored the nearby coast and spent the night before departure in some woodland by the sea. I had planned to run some line out for a fish or two at the coast, but ran out of time. I'm hoping that Keith and I could make another trip of a longer duration this year, we'll have to see. It looks as if I have some carving courses to organise in Scotland during the summer, perhaps I can find time out for a trip with Sarah.
I think she'd quite enjoy it, don't you?


See you on the shoreline one day.... J

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Spoon carving adventure.

Sarah and I have been on a small adventure on our recent vacation.
We loaded the car for a trip to Scotland.
Chris Grant has been asking if I could run a few spoon carving courses up in his neck of the woods. Well, finally we managed to get something sorted.
Chris has a friend, Peter, who runs Skillshare Dundee.
You'll find an over view by following the link highlighted above.
Peter organised a course at their HQ in Dundee and another at Chris's home.


We organised the spoon carving course at the end of our visit to give Chris time to make up a batch of MiniMacs especially for the occasion. 


The MiniMac's are all  handled in Walnut with workshop sheaths.
The Westermann hook knives also sport a walnut handle of my design.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Nic Westermann of nicwestermann.co.uk for making and delivering five of his finest hook knives in time for our course. Nic is an absolute star who makes what I consider the best hook knives for spoon carving.
A fine set of top quality tools for our students.
Chris's mother Kit has promised a tool roll for the set, I'm looking forward to trying it out.
The visit wasn't all work though.


We spent an afternoon at the coast, taking photographs and picnicking.
Lunan bay is a beautiful place, we'll definitely visit again in the summer when the sun fully returns.

Lunan bay

Chris and I spent time chatting, on the second day, in the wee hours after a fine dinner and a sip or two. It wouldn't be a MaChris design vacation unless we designed a new knife... so we did. 
I'll let you have a peek sometime this summer. We're a bit busy with MiniMac and MaChris production at the moment, so on the back burner it goes.
The Macs and Grants love a bit of history so we took in the castle at Dunnottar.
Such a fine castle, ruined in battle....

Dunnottar castle

However, the highlight of our visit, save for the designing, making, eating, teaching, walking .......
was a visit to the
It's a must !
Especially if you're interested in bronze age history.
We were given a talk and a guided tour of the Crannog, which is a thatched roundhouse built on stilts out in the loch. 
As you can see, it's a large affair, timber built from the round with wattle walls, doubled up, with insulating material stuffed between the walls.


I had a chat with the management about carvings found at various Crannog sites throughout Scotland and thought it would be a good gesture to leave one of my ale hens with them for safe keeping, plus a spoon or two.


I'm hoping to organise a course at the site in the summer school holidays.
I can't wait !


We visited a Pictish fort with vitrified walls.
No one knows as yet how this came about.
A mystery wrapped within an enigma....


We had a sit down and a chat to try and work out the why's and how's.....
To be honest.... It's still a mystery.

Pictish fort

However... What we did know was that at the end of the week we had two groups of folk hungry for information on how to carve a spoon and perhaps more importantly, how to safely use an axe, knife and hook knife. These tool handling skills are interchangeable. What you learn carving a spoon can be moved across to the kitchen or to the world of hunting and camp craft. It's all about familiarity with the edge tool one might take out on a wild camp adventure.

Skillshare+skillshare dundee+spoon carving+jonmac

My first course took place at Skillshare Dundee.
We decided to run the course on the lawn as the weather was being kind.
We have the capability of doing the same indoors so a winter course becomes possible.
We started with the axe.


I had a fine mix of folk of all ages with different interests.
I was able to take them through the whole process of spoon carving mainly focusing on edge tool techniques.


I kept the class size down to a manageable amount so I could keep a weather eye on my students.



The MiniMac knives went down well with the students.
Good and sharp with superior edge holding they went for two days with nothing more than a light strop. Chris has certainly mastered the heat treatment on the 52100 bearing steel. It takes seven separate stages until he is truly satisfied the crystal structure is correct.


We had an indoor course as well, my word, it took some hoovering after I can tell you.


All of my lovely students managed to finish up with a spoon after just one day of tuition.


I'm now in talks with the management at an estate with plenty of woodland, so perhaps I will be able to offer a camping/bushcrafty type course up in Scotland in the near future.

I'd very much like to thank all the folk I met this visit. My students were Wonderfull and full of questions, the stewards I met at the historic sites were full of answers and so accommodating.