Spark Test to Identify Metal

Often we find ourselves scrounging metal for projects.  If you are making anything you want to hold an edge you need something with some carbon in it.  For decades the quick test was to grind on it and look at the spark pattern to determine what kind of metal it is.  In the September 1959 issues of Popular Mechanics has one of the best write-ups I’ve seen and it even has some good color pictures.

Learning the properties of various types of iron will really help you in any projects you work on.  Low carbon steel will not harden like high carbon steel, but it is tougher and will not crack as easily.  This is why blacksmiths of times past would weld in a piece of high carbon steel for the edge of an axe.  The high carbon steel would harden and hold an edge while the lower carbon steel in the back would hold up to the stresses on the eye and pole of the axe.

The best way to learn this is to grind know types of metal and learn the spark pattern.  If you can’t do that then the article linked to above gives you a good starting point.

Thoughts on Knots

Other than learning to tie your shoes I suspect that most of us have not spent much time learning how to tie knots, or more importantly what knot should be used in what circumstances.  I think the only knot I know how to tie is the basic half hitch, which is really only useful for limited applications.

Further if what you are doing with the knot is important (maybe even your life relies on it) then knowing the proper knot is equal impotent.  There are different knots for tying a rope to an object, tying ropes to each other and also how easy you want it to come apart.

Bryan Black over at ITS Tactical has a lot of information and Youtube videos on knots, but you should start on 5 knots you need to know how to tie at all times

Putting Together A Blacksmith Shop

Back in the early 80’s I spent a lot of time in Metal Shop and one of the things I thoroughly enjoyed heating metal up to red-hot and bashing it with a hammer. Now it is 30 years later and I have assembled the pieces to do blacksmithing again.  The hardest item to find is the anvil which is described as “The only item the Blacksmith cannot make himself”.  All other pieces of a blacksmith shop, such as hammers and tongs and even the forge can be made by the Blacksmith.  I let people know I was looking for an anvil and after a couple of years my father-in-law called and let me know he saw an ad for an anvil, tongs, leg vise, hand crank fan and forge.  It even included 400 lbs of coal.  I hauled this collection of stuff from South Carolina to S.E. Michigan and now I have to figure out how to set it up someplace.

I’ve never had a hand crank blower before and am having trouble figuring this one out.  This one says “Canedy Otto Mfg Co – Chicago Heights Ill USA” on one side and “Royal Western Chief H” on the other.  I am uncertain the last time it was used but the handle turns freely.  It also says something like “Keep filled with Oil” so I have to find out how much and what kind of oil.  I’m going to try the forum at and see if I can get some help.



Building A Machete From With Some Hand Filing

Another older post from a blog I’m shutting down.


MachettWe ordered the 18″ machete from which ended up being less than $30 including shipping.  This is a complete kit including the handle and hidden bolt fasteners.  The blade is covered with some kind of goop to protect it so I used acetone to clean the area under the handle.  The wood handle had to be drilled out a little to accept the hidden bolt fasteners and then we did some filing on the back side of the blade.  So far this is looking to be a much better quality machete for only a few dollars more than what can be purchased locally from a hardware or sporting goods store.  My son also got a real kick out of “making” a knife.

Note that we did take a shortcut and drilled out the handle so the entire hidden bold fastener went below the surface of the handle.  Normally you would tighten them up and file them smooth to the surface of handle.

Simple Jig For Tying A Paracord Rapid Deployment Bundle

Paracord fobA post I made several years ago on a different blog.


Doing things with paracord has become very popular.  This lesson will show you how to build a simple jig that will make tying the paracord bundle or fob much easier and how to tie a length of paracord into a small package that can quickly be undone.  There is a YouTube video at the bottom that shows all of this as well.


Skills Learned:

  • measuring and layout
  • selecting a drill size, a simple depth indicator and drilling holes in wood
  • paracord wrapping and tying

Tools Required:

  • drill
  • bits – twist drill type
  • ruler
  • pencil for marking
  • clamp (desirable)

Materials Required

  • board – 2×4 or similar at least 18″ long
  • two round school pencils
  • tape – masking or blue painters
  • paracord
  1. Using your ruler and pencil or sharpie measure from one end of your board and make a mark at 4″, 6″, 8″, 10″ & 16″.  You want these marks to be in the center of the board.
  2. Select the drill bit the size of your pencils and hold it next to the board so that the point is a little higher than the bottom of the board and put a piece of tape on the bit even with the top of the board.  This is your depth indicator.
  3. Put the bit in your drill and drill the holes, stopping when the tape reaches the top of the board.  Try to keep the drill a vertical as possible, this is called plumb by carpenters.
  4. Put the pencils in the holes and you are done.

The advantage of a jig for anything is repeat-ability.  In this case you can learn how many wraps each length of paracord needs to come out correctly.  I’m not even going to try to explain how to use the jig, watch the video.  However I did list the settings I’ve found to work at the bottom.  You may need to adjust them for the way you tie, but this will give you a starting point that should at least work.

Tying JigThe first hole always gets a pencil and 2nd pencil is placed in the hole that corresponds to the length of paracord you are using and then wrap the number of times indicated.  Again see table below the video for the values that worked for me.

[table id=3 /]

Fencing Tool – You Don’t Need To Own A Ranch To Find This Useful

One of the jobs on a ranch is to mend fences.  Years ago this meant getting on a horse and riding the fence line and making any needed repairs.  You couldn’t carry a lot of tools with you so the fencing tool pictured above was developed.  Now I think fence repair is done from something like a ATV of some kind so more tools can be carried.  However don’t discount the usefulness of this tool in dealing with anything fence or wire related.  I find it is my go-to tool in dealing with my chicken coop.  It has a hammer to drive staples, a tooth to pull them out, you can cut wire with it and bend/tighten wire into the shape you want it.

I have always been cautions of “all in one” tools and generally I find they do not do any job well.  While I would not want to spend hours pounding in staples with this tool, I feel it works exceptionally for the job it was designed to do, repairing anything with wire.

So while most of us will not be working on a large ranch spending the day working on fencing, I recommend this tool for anyone trying to build a small homestead.  A word of caution, I first had a cheap one and the end of the tooth broke off.  I have since got a version by Channellock and it has held up well.


Everyone Should Own This Hammer

First of all everyone should own at least one hammer and if you are only going to own one hammer I recommend the Estwing 20 oz Ripping Hammer.  I’ve had this hammer for probably 30 years and while I didn’t use it daily like a carpenter would, I have used (and abused) it for a long time and it still is in good shape.  This weight balances something heavy enough when you need some force, but still light enough for the average user to control.  This hammer is available from many local store as well as Amazon Prime for less than $30.  If you don’t already have something like this then is an excellent place to start and as long as you don’t lose it you will find you can pass it on to a grand-kid.

Don’t get drawn into lots of fancy “features”, the basic hammer is what you really need.  If you do a lot rough framing some of those feature you might find useful, but if you know that you are way beyond this recommendation.  Really be careful of a hammer with a cross-hatch pattern on it, you miss what you are aiming for and catch your thumb it will really hurt and you likely lose your nail as well.