Making Your Own Tools For Outdoor Living

A simple toolkit should be easy to maintain once you know a few basic pieces of information about the components of the kit. Habits that protect the edges of your tools, how to put a good edge on the tool when it starts to dull etc.

Sometimes though a piece of gear fails, and needs to be replaced or repaired. This is part of the reason we like simple tools, because those repairs can be done relatively easily with very little infrastructure if you have a working knowledge of the tool itself. I spent a few days last week making myself a new Mocotaugan and wanted to walk you through how simple the process is once you understand it.

a Mocotaugan or “crooked knife” is a tool that functions like a one-handed draw knife. It allows you to work on a project like a canoe paddle or axe handle without the need to clamp the project down. One hand holds the project while the other carves. This is a great tool to have on trail for exactly that reason. There are no tables or c-clamps in the bush.

Raw materials; Old file and antler tine.

First of all, you’ll need two files, one of which is annealed in a fire or wood stove. This process softens the metal and allows you to remove material using the unannealed file. This is the longest part of the process, and while not physically difficult, does require a certain amount of patience. If teeth still remain on the file, it’ll be very difficult to sharpen, as the teeth will create jagged bits of metal and make it difficult to create a uniform plane on the knife’s edge.

Once the teeth have been removed, and a single beveled edge has been created on the knife, it needs to be rehardened by quenching, then tempered by slowly reheating the steel in a controlled manner. Tempering is an art, that takes a lot of trial and error to master, and is the reason well-made steel can be expensive. However, a quick and dirty approach by laying the steel on the top of a wood stove, or a large piece of heated iron can achieve the temper we need for this project.

Once this process is finished the blade can be handled. With a crooked knife handle we’re looking for a shape that engages the large muscles of the thumb, which is where the name comes from. Not the crook in the blade itself, but the curved handle.

This project is a great example of our educational philosophy. With a little it of knowledge, and effort, most of what we teach can be recreated in just about any setting. There’s also an immense feeling of satisfaction that comes with making and using your own tools, and some tools like this one allow us to make even more of that kit such as canoe paddles and axe handle replacements. As winter rolls in and we’re all spending more time indoors around a stove or fire, I encourage you to think about little projects like this to pass the time. You’ll find that they allow a greater appreciation of the quieter winter months.  I’d be willing to bet that once spring rolls around and you’ve got a few pieces of kit you made yourself and are ready to take with you into the woods, you’ll start making mental lists of what to make next winter.

2 comments… add one
  • Another project to add to my list! Thanks for sharing this info. I’m very eager to give this one a try, perhaps as a camp project over the winter months. We’ll see how it goes!

    • Christopher Russell

      Best of luck with it Wade. Let me know how it goes.

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