Outdoor Skills

Staff on April 1st, 2011




Continue reading about Adventure Report-Rope Making

Staff on March 8th, 2011

Imagine you are on an airplane flying over the Pacific Ocean, when all of a sudden your plane starts to do a nose dive right into the ocean, and you black out. When you wake up you are laying on a beach. You need to build a shelter but you don’t have any rope to tie the sticks together. While this scenario may be one you’ll never encounter, knowing how to make rope may be a nice skill to have.

The knowledge of making rope has been around for thousands of years. Once people got past vines and other natural materials for binding objects, they discovered that fibers could be combined and twisted into great lengths by taking advantage of the tendency of materials to remember their natural condition.

As inquiry.net states:

The materials from which rope is made are found in distant lands around the world.  However, cotton, of which the United States produces 60% of the world supply, is used extensively in the manufacture of cords and lines. Cotton is perhaps the most flexible of the commercial materials and is sufficiently strong for the smaller cordage. Common hemp is superior, possessing the combination of strength, flexibility, and durability.

The principal rope materials are: common hemp, Manila hemp, sisal hemp, Phormium hemp, Sunn hemp, Jubbulpore hemp, jute, coir, flax, agave fiber, and cotton, all of which are vegetable.

Custom among sailors has decreed that the term "rope" indicates that the diameter is one inch or more. Other authorities agree that the diameter may be one-half inch or more. However, we hear cords of one-quarter inch diameter called "rope."

A rope is composed of a certain number of strands, the strand itself being made up of a number of single threads of yarn or fiber. A laid rope of three strands is a right hand lay which is the most often encountered form of laid rope. Laid ropes with the opposite twist pattern are said to be left hand laid. The lay of a rope is determined by examining the twist. If you look down the length of a rope and the primary strands spiral in a clockwise direction, it is right hand laid. Thus the twist in each operation is in a different direction from that of the preceding one. The yield of rope from a given length of yarn is about three-fourths of the length of the yarn composing it.

The material from which you make your rope is, for the purpose of learning, of less importance than the method employed. Almost any available fibrous material will serve your purpose. The young, inner bark of most shrubs and trees is very adaptable.

Making professional grade rope without any special tools requires hand dexterity that a few people possess. While the rope you make yourself may not be factory quality stuff, it is good to practice to better understand the principles involved.

By doing a search on the internet on “How To Make Rope” you can find some great sites and information along with videos. You can easily practice making rope at home but if you would like to do some hands on learning, Clint Goodwin will be offering a class on making rope using a variety of materials and tools on March 19, 2011. The location for this will be announced at a later date.

Continue reading about Learn how to make rope during a SMOS Adventure

berkleyw on December 11th, 2010


During the day I study photosynthesis. I spend long hours poking and prodding plants to understand how it is that they are able to take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and make it into something more chemically useful. The basic equation for photosynthesis is simple. Energy from the sun is used to split water and the resulting energy is used to convert carbon dioxide into sugars and biomass. Water is split in half releasing oxygen, and we have air to breath, wood to build with, and even gas for our cars. When I walk outside in even a bitter winter, my face is warmed when the sun shines. When the sun drops, the story changes and in winter months in the inland northwest, survival depends on finding alternative heat.

We spent Thanksgiving break at a cabin with no running water.  We limited the generator to a few hours in the evening to play games and clean up from dinner. The cabin was heated entirely by a single wood-burning stove. Although I was grateful for my zero-degree sleeping-bag, this single stove spared me the seven degree weather outside the cabin. As I looked at the glowing logs in the darkness I thought about how I was watching photosynthesis in reverse. The oxygen in the air, once released from water by plants, was now being used to fuel the combustion of wood producing carbon dioxide. This combustion released heat that in essence came originally from the sun. So even in a dark winter, my face was being warmed as if I walked through a field in noon-day.


Releasing the sun from a hunk of wood can be hard or it can be easy. Gasoline and a lighter do the trick, but some of us prefer a more ancient approach. When making a friction fire you must remember that you are doing photosynthesis in reverse. You have to have biomass (the carbon in the piece of wood you are using), oxygen, and a lot of heat to get things started. Instead of fixing carbon dioxide, you are releasing it. Instead of releasing oxygen, you are consuming it. Keep these things in mind and you are sure not to freeze too bad this winter.

Continue reading about Returning to the Sun

Bryan Carlson on November 22nd, 2010

Here are some photos from our recent SMOS Adventures activity, Making Coal Burned Spoons.

Update: Bruce, a SMOS student, submitted a written account of the Adventure.

“On Saturday I went up to Mr. C’s place to pick out a board, then we went to the cabin which is about 1 mile away. When we were there I found lots of dry twigs and others found bark. Then we made a fire using a lean-too method. We then used the coals to burn a hole in the board. After that I used my knife to carve out the shape of a spoon. Then we hiked back and went home.”

Building the fire to get some coals.

Keeping the coal hot to burn out the trough of the spoon

Using a stick to press the coal to the board

The spoons – good job everyone!  Now where’s the stew?

Check back December 4th to sign up for our next Adventure on Dec. 11th.

Continue reading about Recent Adventures – Making Coal Burned Spoons

Ken Kelley on February 21st, 2010

This was one of my favorite experiences in Outdoor Ed. It was in the middle of winter 2009. Mr. Carlson brought some blind folds up to the cabin on our weekly Outdoor Ed class. Once we reached the cabin he took us over to an open area near the cabin and gave us blind folds to put on. He told us, “Here’s the story. You are all up in a mountain and it is very bright and you all got snow blind. You have to build a fire  or you will die. Today’s task is to get a fire going while blind folded, I wont help you at all. Go!”. We all looked at him like he was crazy. Its hard enough to get a fire going in the winter, but he wants us to get a fire going while blind folded. So we began our attempt to complete the seemingly impossible.

Gabriel Short instantly took the role of a leader and started asking certain people to go get wood, to stay at the camp, to go get birch bark, and to make sure everyone that was getting wood knew where the campsite was by calling to them whenever they started to come back. It was very difficult to wander through the woods looking for trees and trying to grab branches off of the base of them for the fire. It was very helpful to have some of the others there at the fire calling out to us when we began to come back to the fire to drop off some branches. As we all kept bringing branches and eventually moving to bringing big sticks, Gabe asked Mr. Carlson for a match. We all surrounded the campsite to eagerly wait to hear the crackling of a fire. Gabe struck a match and placed it under the sticks. He then asked some of us to grab some of the other sticks that were around the campsite that we got earlier, and then he said to break them up into smaller pieces (about a foot long) so they would be the next thing to place on the fire. We did as he said and soon we heard the crackling of a fire. Mr. Carlson was very impressed and told us to take off our blind folds. We saw our fire and we survived!

We completed the fire in 45 minutes, which is very good! Without the help and participation of everyone, we wouldn’t have been able to do it in the time we did and we probably wouldn’t have been able to complete it in one match either.

By Kenneth Kelley

Continue reading about Ever build a fire while blindfolded?