Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Summary of my 5-Days with Mors Kochanski (Part 1)

Photo courtesy of School in the Woods

It's been almost a month now since I spent almost a week learning from the man who literally wrote the book on Northern Bushcraft.

The course was held by School in the Woods and took place on 40 Acres by the Credit river in Norval, ON.

This visit marks the second time they've hosted him here in Ontario.  In the 5 days I spent with Mors there was no want for more information.  The man always had something to say, and it was not uncommon to stop every 15-20 steps on a hike for him to explain some useful plant or tree that caught his eye.  This of doesn't mean the course was haphazard, we had plenty of structured lessons, both lecture and hands on work to gain experience with.

Photo courtesy of School In The Woods

In no particular order:

Emergency Whistle
  • Made from a single thin strip of aluminum- you don't carry the aluminum with you, it can easily be salvaged from an empty pop can, soup tin or any other garbage you might happen to find or have on you
  • A whistle can really save your voice if you're trying to signal for rescue, and these things can get wicked loud.  I was surprised at how functional they are.

Folded containers
Photo courtesy of School In The Woods

  • We used butcher paper as a stand in, but these folded containers are just as easily made from Birch Bark
  • The usefulness of a device to boil water or a container to hold items should not be overlooked, as without one you aren't able to stay hydrated safely


  • Craving a netting needle an gauge out of any suitable wood means you're able to travel light and produce a tools when the need arises, rather than carrying it with you
  • Traditional netting techniques are simple once shown and can readily produce a gillnet, throw net or even impromptu hammock depending on the tensile strength of the available cordage.
  • Nets are a passive technique, meaning they can catch food while you're away, focused on another task

Grass cord / rope

  • Mors produced this grass rope right before my eyes in less than 5 mins.
  • No one was able to break it, and it's made from simple grass.
  • One trick to making stronger, more reliable cordage is to keep tension on the two ends while twisting.
  • Mors told us a story of a school bus running into a ditch when he was on a field trip with kids. Before a tow truck even arrived, 21 students collecting grass and twisting it into rope were able to produce a cord strong enough to pull the bus out of the ditch using the Kochanski flip-flop winch.

The Kochanski Flip-flop Winch

  • 2 logs used as levers, 1 rope with one end tied to the object to be moved and the other to a stationary object.
  • One lever "flips" the cordage over the second lever, and the the second lever "flops" back over the first.
  • You have a winch with can move a tremendous amount of weight with very little effort from the operator.


  • The bow saw can be made in the field with a saw blade and natural materials, or the frame can be packed as well.
  • Extremely efficient at processing larger sized pieces of wood.  Staying warm in the Boreal forest requires wood of hug sized diameter, and lengths 1.5x the distance from nose to outstretched finger tip.
  • The 4ft bow saw shown above was gifted to Carl Chambers, instructor and owner of School in the Woods by Mors.
  • My own bow saw made after the demonstration.

Roycroft Pack

  • The Roycroft pack is a simple way of carrying a large amount of gear with minimal equipment.
  • The tarp can be used to set up shelter at camp once you arrive at your destination, and then used to bundle the gears again when you break camp again the next day.
  • Mors provided us anecdotal evidence of students he taught who stopped using their own packs and switched to the Roycroft pack because they found it much more comfortable and effective.

Skii Shoes

  • The skii shoe is a functional snowshoe than can be made in the bush.  
  • To most people, the traditional snowshoe is tennis racket shaped shoe with sinew or cord criss-crossed throughout to hold the weight.  Indigenous people did not use these as field expedient shoes, and to build a functional pair actually took many weeks by skilled craftsmen.
  • The skii shoe offers a soluation if you need quick method to walk a long distance through the bush in deep snow.
  • Estimate each support to hold 15-20 lbs of load (if I remember correctly), and then build the shoes accordingly.
  • One of the tests to become an instructor for Mors is to build a complete pair of skii shoes in less than 2 hours start to finish.
Principles of a bush knife
  • Mors cutting down a live sapling using nothing but a knife.  I've read about and tried this method before but was never really successful until I saw him down it right in front of me.
  • Mors favors traditional Scandinavian styled knives, 4-6" and fairly thin blades.
  • A longer upsweep on the belly of the blade gives more cutting surface 
  • The knife must be able to produce 4 distinct curls on a single stroke of feathered wood.  If it can't do this, find one that can.
  • A Kochanski feather stick.  This used to be a baseball bat sized piece of seasoned Aspen.
  • A razor edge takes wood carving from being a chore to an enjoyable task

Kochanski Scarf
  •  Made out of parachute material, the Kochanski scarf is a folded rectangle sewn on all edges except 12" in the middle of one side.  Length spans outstretched fingertip to fingertip
  • The scarf can be used as a neck protector, a bivy, a bed, a quilt, a head wrap, a wind screen, face mask, snow blindness filter and more.


Photo courtesy of School In The Woods
  • Mors took to time to inspect a lean-to shelter that we found on the property and point out a few key things to note (which visible in the picture above)
  • The horizontal brace supporting the roof should be on the other side of the trees.  If the cordage holding it up was cut or snapped, you would be sleeping in a deadfall trap.
  • The pitch on the roof needs to be steeper in order to shed rain efficiently
  • A wind break should be created on one side only.  If both sides are open, a breeze can pass through, but if both sides are closed then a vortex of air is trapped between.  Choose the side which blocks the prevailing wind 
  • Build the shelter in forested areas which exhibit patches where nothing grows.  Typically it means no moisture makes it down from the tree canopy and you'll benefit from this
  • The fire should be 1m away from the bed.  Further than  that, and it burns too much wood to maintain; closer and it isn't hot enough to sustain itself without you constantly adjusting it.

Super Shelter

  • The Kochanski super shelter is Mors' attempt to recreate the benefits of an igloo using modern materials which can be packed in a kit.
  • Igloos (1) insulate  (2) provide shelter  (3) block wind (4) reflect warmth within the structure
  • The super shelter pictured above was built by 4 people in 30 minutes.  It requires bedding, a reflective mylar sheet, clear poly tarp and parallel long fire to be considered complete.  The exercise was to demonstrate building the structure.
  • A coffin shape is more effective at retaining warmth than a rectangle.
  • The whole shelter can be moved without being disassembled if the Flip-Flop winch is employed.

Signal Fire

  • Mors claims that this method shown to him by Tom Roycroft is superior to the standard tripod method that is known to most people.
  • The thick bundle of kindling and the closer proximity to the ground created a heat column that pushes the signal smoke through the tree canopy better than the common tripod
  • The downside I found was that it took much longer to collect the necessary material.  It took 8 people close to 20 mins to create a bundle the size in the first picture.  
  • I think this is great method for a signal fire, but I would spend the time to work on it only after first creating a tripod, which typically can be erected in around 20 mins by one person.


  1. Very informative. Thanks for posting!

  2. Wow, looks like you covered a lot of topics in 5-days!