Nature, Exploration, Tools and Weaponry, Bushcraft, History and Related Musings.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


This is hands-down the best tutorial I have come across on this subject. Greenpete does an outstanding job of illustrating the entire knife-making process, and also throws in some handy tricks of his own. Making my own bushcraft knife is on my to-do list, and I hope to delve into the project when spring comes around. Thank you Greenpete for providing such a useful video to assist those of us with this interest. (And for free, no less!)


Friday, January 14, 2011


I managed to capture some improved photographs of the cardinals, as well as a blue jay. 
(Click to enlarge.)

Thursday, January 13, 2011


This very informative video teaches an effective wedging method for managing unwieldy logs. I've used similar techniques with a hatchet to split fire logs, though admittedly I've yet to attempt anything quite so big.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Winter is an excellent time to observe and photograph cardinals. Their coloring stands in beautiful contrast to the often drab background of skeletal trees and snow. The male cardinal glows in hues of scarlet and pink, while the female shows off her ruddy browns and blazing orange. They seem to frighten easily, so I had to photograph them through the window. Not the best image quality, but I still like the way they turned out.


Monday, January 10, 2011


Target shooting is a favorite pastime of mine, and I have the fortunate opportunity to shoot a wide variety of firearms, many of which I personally own. The last weapon I purchased was one I'd been eager to get for some time: the venerable AR-15 semiautomatic rifle chambered in 5.56 (.223). As a full-time college student, my funds are extremely limited, so I shopped around for a compromise between low cost and quality. After going through with my customary obsessive reading of product reviews, I decided to purchase the "Plinker Plus" standard model carbine from Olympic Arms.

FORM: This firearm is nearly identical in appearance to the classic M-16 military rifle. Since it is a carbine, the barrel length is a shorter 16 inches, though with the classic style buttstock the firearm still feels like a standard rifle in the hands. I've fired other ARs with various setups, like the M-4 style multi-position stock, but I purposely opted for the classic form. I am a rifle man, and I wanted the "bare bones" option with A1 iron sights and limited options for adjustment. In terms of aesthetics and ergonomics, this rifle was exactly as I expected: simple, comfortable, and proven.

CRAFTSMANSHIP: As far as the basic construction goes, nothing too surprising. The rifle arrived in a decent plastic case with interior padding. It came with a nylon sling and a basic aluminum 30-round magazine. The Plinker Plus is made from 7075 T6 forged aircraft aluminum (same as the military M-16), with anodized receivers and parkerized steel. The barrel is Olympic Arms' 4140 chromemoly steel with "long-life" bore and a permanently attached A2-style flash suppressor. The twist is a standard 1x9. The non-metal parts consist of a durable fiberglass material; the handguard performs well in allowing the barrel to vent and does not itself seem to retain much heat. I like that the A2-style stock has a trapdoor, allowing for a decent amount of storage inside (see photo 4 below).

There was one major manufacturing problem with my rifle upon arrival, that was not evident in the initial inspection and function check. When I first test-fired the rifle, it would successfully discharge one round, but fail to eject the casing. This caused a jam as the next round attempted to chamber and consequently collided with the lodged empty shell. After stripping the gun and closely examining the bolt, I noticed that the extractor pin seemed to jut out from the bolt slightly and seemed to have no compression leeway. After further disassembly, I discovered the problem. As you can see in photos 2 and 3 below, the pin was not milled/chamfered properly. This is an unacceptable failure which could have been easily prevented. Perhaps more worrisome, this proves that Olympic Arms never test-fired this weapon before they shipped it. Had they fired even one test round, the stuck shell would have indicated the operational failure. I attempted to discuss the problem with the company, but after being given the phone transfer runaround and leaving multiple polite voicemails, I never heard back from them. It's bad enough to ship a firearm prone to potential catastrophic failure, but then to not even address the valid concern? Well, that's just poor business.


Reliability - Since carefully performing my own gunsmith work on the extractor pin with a bench grinder, the function of my Plinker Plus has been outstanding. I've experienced no further failures of any kind. Cleanup is easy, due to the straightforwardness of stripping the weapon (a boon that I've found comes with most military-developed weapon styles). Everything on the rifle appears to perform as it should, though I caution the reader to remember that this firearm is still like new, and due to cost I am stingy with ammo. Thus, only about 200 rounds have gone through my rifle, so I'll likely follow up with subsequent reviews after a thorough break-in.

Accuracy - Olympic Arms is renowned for having very accurate barrels. I'm extremely happy with the accuracy of my Plinker Plus, and I have no problem holding tight groups at 100 yards with the iron sights (I'd say typically around 3 inches). As I lack any authoritative claim on expert marksmanship, I'll reserve further judgment.

Ammo - So far I've fired this gun with several different types of ammunition, including Wolf, Brown Bear, PMC brass, PMC X-Tac, Remington UMC and Federal. All have performed flawlessly. I've shot a few brief "rapid shots" (emptying a magazine in quick succession) without any difficulty, but generally I fire this rifle like I would any other, with carefully considered, slow single shots.  

- Low Cost 
- Similar materials to more expensive AR-15 models
- Overall solid construction
- Accurate

- Quality control issues
- Poor customer service from manufacturer

Apart from the unacceptable initial extractor pin problem, this is a fine rifle. It is fairly light, has low recoil, cycles cleanly, has not yet had any ammunition issues, and is easy to break down and clean. Though I am personally very fond of my AR-15, I will not currently recommend it to others without caveat. Olympic Arms has an obvious need for improvement with regard to their quality control on manufactured parts and customer service. If they can improve those two areas, I think they'd have the best entry-level AR-15 rifle on the market.

86/100 - B

I want to make special mention of J & S Gun Parts, which is where I purchased my Plinker Plus for the incredibly reasonable price of $580.00. I've since bought two Magpul magazines from this company (to be reviewed in the future). Their prices and service have been consistently outstanding, and I highly recommend them! 


Sunday, January 9, 2011


My girlfriend and I woke up early today to hand-feed some chickadees. Those ravenous little fellas were definitely interested, as were a few tufted titmice. We couldn't have asked for a nicer day; the temperature was near 20 and the skies blue as far as the eye could see--gorgeous! I was also fortunate enough to get some nice pictures of a gray fox. Winter is certainly a wonderful time for wildlife enthusiasts.
(Click to enlarge.)


Thursday, January 6, 2011


This fellow has been a steady visitor for the last year. I believe it is a Cooper's or Red-Shouldered Hawk. Probably the former. (Click to enlarge.)


Tuesday, January 4, 2011


"Back in my day, we told Home Depot to pound salt."


Monday, January 3, 2011


Today was an exceptionally pleasant winter day for Northeast Ohio, with clear sunny skies and a temperature in the twenties. We had a brief warm-up last week which melted most of the snow, and although I enjoy the frigid winter, I also took advantage of the eased travel and work which this milder weather provides. So, I decided to take the dog, my Schrade X-timer camp knife, and Swedish Firesteel on a journey to test out some natural tinders.

For the first trial, I gathered some dead leaves that remained clinging to standing saplings, a few feet off of the ground. I mixed these with similar leaves from woody plants (weeds, essentially) and the fluffy "seeds" which abundantly fill out the top of the plant (like wheat). I took this assemblage, and ground it finely between my palms, forming a tinder pile over a pre-assembled base of wood, which elevated it above the damp ground. This pile was difficult to light, and it took a couple dozen sparkings with the ferrocium rod to achieve any lasting embers. Eventually it produced a flame, which took to kindling with ease.

The second trial began with a base layer of dried grass blades, again ground through the palms. Once a decent "nest" effect was established, I sprinkled shavings of dried pine resin from a nearby tree on top. This mixture was much more difficult to light (I've never had much luck with grasses as tinder) and the most I was able to achieve were very small, fleeting embers.

For the last trial, I used cattail fluff. I had first tried this method last winter in a snowstorm, and was really impressed with the results. About half of a cattail will provide a rather large tinder nest when fluffed. You want the bundle lofty, but just tight enough that it stills binds together. One spark with the Firesteel is all it takes to get a crackling ripple of flame traversing the entire pile. It burns very quickly, so it's a good idea to have other tinder or fine kindling mixed into the pile. Another thing I discovered today is that you can stir the cattail tinder with a stick as it blazes, and it will stay lit. The trick seems to be to maintain a certain amount of loft. The beauty is that the cattail only singes on the outermost portion, so you can fluff it out and relight it over and over again. This is by far my favorite of the natural tinder methods I've tried so far. The video below illustrates the use of cattail as a tinder.

I find that this sort of practice really comes in handy when you are camping or backpacking, and must genuinely start a fire for necessity's sake. It's certainly not a bad idea to get a solid foundation for these essential skills so you don't need to rely upon unnecessary experimentation when time and energy are at stake.


Sunday, January 2, 2011


Some photography from autumn 2010, taken at various local metroparks.
(click images for full-size.)