Posts Tagged ‘Recommended Book’

A Review of Two Books by Warren H. “cap” Miller ~ Camp Craft and Camping out

Saturday, November 24th, 2012

Warren “Cap” Miller’s Camping Out and Camp Craft are some of the best “how-to” books on Camping.

Camp Craft: Modern Practice and Equipment (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1915) and Camping Out(Geo. H. Doran Company, NY, 1917-1918) are two of my favorite “how-to” camping books, written by Warren Hastings “Cap” Miller (1876-1960).  Miller is best known today for being the founding editor of Field and Stream magazine during the early years of the 20th Century.   Though neither Camp Craft or Camping Out are still in print, they can be found on eBay.  Note however, that prices for good copies have risen dramatically over the past couple of years.  (Here’s a heads-up for David Wescott and Steve Watts – please include some of Miller’s photos and illustrations in at least one of the seven volumes of your upcoming Wescott and Watts Classic Camping Field Guides book series.)  If you can’t find one or both of the books, they are also available in pdf format here:

Camp Craft:

Camping Out:

It is an interesting fact that the outdoor writers of the woodcraft period were a small, close knit bunch and these two books illustrate that. The introduction to Camp Craftwas written by Ernest Thompson Seton.  The book also prominently featured a photograph of Dan Beard awarding a first prize to the Miller designed Forester tent, a very popular lightweight two-person shelter of the day.  Outfitter David T. Abercrombie, of Abercrombie & Fitch fame, was a regular camping companion of Millers.  At the time, Abercrombie was the largest distributor and manufacturer of the finest camping equipment available, beginning in 1892 until his death in 1931.  Because of their association, many photos in Camp Craft feature Abercrombie (he is in the photo with Dan Beard, on the far right).  Camping Out casually describes an outing made with Edward “Eddie” Breck, an enthusiastic camper who authored his own woodcraft book (The Way of the Woods, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, The Knickerbocker Press, NY and London, 1908).

In Camp Craft, Miller stated that he’d camped on average, four times a year for the previous 27 years. However, Miller’s trips were often much longer than campers of today, averaging six weeks!.  Miller had a degree in mechanical engineering and was an inveterate tinkerer who was generally dissatisfied with much of the camping equipment of his day.  Being in the field in all seasons, temperatures and conditions, Miller had ample opportunity to design and test equipment of his own design.  With his background in engineering, Miller had the know-how to turn his progressive ideas of camping equipment into reality.  Though he was limited to the technology of the day, Miller did not adopt the gear he used simply out of tradition.  He designed, crafted, sewed, and experimented with tents, packs, sleeping bags and other gear that were quite advanced compared to what was then available.  One of his tent designs, inspired by an Inuit shelter he’d seen (his “Esquimaux” tent), was a winter tent created from joining a small “A” tent to one side of a 6’x6’ ft. square tepee.  It would sleep five adults and could be outfitted with a 2 1/4 lb., 28 gauge steel stove for cold weather use.  The Esquimaux tent weighed just six pounds!  In the summer, the small “A” tent could be detached and used separately.  Such a tent would be considered a remarkable shelter today.  Another example, while  most woodcraft writers of the day mentioned only Hudson Bay  point blankets as camp bedding, Miler included an entire chapter to “Eliminating the Blanket” in Camp Craft.  He hated the bulk of blankets and favored a sleeping bag/pack contraption he designed in order to dramatically reduce bulk.  Miller is a product of his time and of course his books reflect that (though his belief that women could and should go camping was more progressive than some), yet, his focus on improvising, creating or otherwise improving equipment makes both books seem more modern than many of those written by his peers.

Both books are written in a very personal style as if Cap was having a conversation with you at dinner or around the campfire.  He tells you stories of past trips with fast friends, of canoeing and camping in places you’d like to go, and all the while providing great detail about every item of equipment or technique he thinks important.   His books were also lavishly illustrated with many photographs and illustrations.  All in all, I think Cap Miller’s books are among the best ever written on woodcraft and traditional camping.  Do yourself a favor and read Camp Craft and Camping Out.

Woodcraft by Bernard Sterling Mason ~ a GREAT Traditional Camping Book!

Saturday, September 3rd, 2011

Every person interested in traditional camping and woodcraft should read “Woodcraft” by Bernard S. Mason.  It ranks as one of my favorite camping books published during the golden age of camping.

Bernard S. Mason, PhD. was a Professor in the Department of Sociology at Ohio State University when he first came to prominence in 1928 by being awarded the Redbook Prize for his book “Camping and Education: Camp Problems from the Campers’ Viewpoint“(1930).  In addition to being a recognized leader in the organized camping and recreation movement, Mason was an authority on woodcraft, woodlore, camping, camp crafts and interestingly, trick roping, boomerang throwing and Indian dancing.  He developed the camping program for Camp Fairwood at Torch Lake, MI (closed 1971) before becoming the co-owner/Director of Camp Kooch-i-Ching at International Falls, MN in 1948 (still going strong).  Mason also taught outdoor skills and leadership and camp crafts at Ernest Thompson Seton’s “College of Indian Wisdom” in Santa Fe, NM in addition to serving as Editor of “Camping” magazine.

Woodcraft (A. S. Barnes & Company, New York, NY, 1939) was Mason’s greatest contribution to camping literature.  At a whopping 569 pages, Woodcraft categorizes the subject matter into three areas: Campcraft, Woodcraft and Crafts of the Woods.

Part 1 – Campcraft deals with the ethics, skills and techniques of camping ie: shelter, beds and duffel, which covers bedding, mattresses, packs and packing and one’s personal kit, firecraft, which discusses all manner of campfires from cooking and baking fires to ceremony council fires, Campfire Gadgets, which details the various cook fire “kitchens” (or designs), utensils and tools and lighting, and Axemanship – something that Mason covers in exhaustive and better detal than any other camping “how-to” book I’ve read.  Just his chapter on axemanship is worth buying the book for.

Part 2 – Woodcraft details the how-to of making useful items for the camp and cabin – caches, cupboards and coolers and meat smokers, bark utensils and miscellany, rope and cordage, shaving horses and carving, knife making and knife use (including the important crooked knife) and knickknacks such as salt and pepper shakers, noggins, forks and spoons, ladles, bowls, dishes and plates, brooms, washboards, candle holders sun goggles, camp furniture and council rings.

Part 3 – Crafts of the Woods is a mixed bag for me.  Some of the topics are wonderful and useful – buckskin making and buckskin crafting (of moccasins and apparel) and tin can craft, and some are more appropriate for camp ceremonies and recreation programs.

Woodcraft is chock full of photographs and illustrations by Mason’s longtime collaborator, Fredrick H. Kock, making the fine details of woodcraft “how-to” easy to understand.  You truly can replicate what you read in this book with complete success.


Currently out of print, later editions were published in 1974 and 1985 under the title of “Woodcraft and Camping” by Dover Publications.  A condensed, paperback edition published in 2001 by Derrydale Press is still in print.  Titled the “Boy’s Book of Camping and Wood Crafts“, it contains about half of the content of the original.

Mason also wrote “The Junior Book of Woodcraft and Camping“, published by The Ronald Press Company in 1943.  This was a large format book with lots of photos and illustrations. At only 120 pages, Mason pared down the content of the original to the absolute minimum of what one would need to know to go camping for the first time.  Though quite different than Woodcraft it’s still a great book.



Check out Woodcraft.  I know you’ll like it!

The Woodsman and His Hatchet

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Woodcrafters build kitchen and night fires and as a result, must learn to select, use and care for the axes and saws required to buck and split wood into the lengths and thickness to burn properly.  Of all of the traditional camping tools, the ax is the most valuable and sadly, the tool with which modern man is least familiar (I’ll cover saw use in the future).  Countless turn-of-the-Century experts said if they were limited to just one tool it would be the ax over all others.  Luckily there are a number of new(ish) and vintage books to get you up to speed on this subject.  Best of all, a number of superb ax pamphlets, manuals, and books are available free online!  Here are the best of the best:

A great selection of ax books

American Axes(1972), Henry J. Kauffman, Masthof Press & Bookstore, Morgantown, PA.  A history of American axe patterns and manufacturers.  It was the ax that built American settlements in the Colonies and the frontier.  In fact, the “American” pattern ax, designed and perfected in the Colonies, was recognized overseas as being the finest ax ever produced.   Kaufman traces the evolution of the ax in North America, from the relatively inefficient early European types to the supberb American pattern felling axes that reached their peak of perfection in the last half of the nineteeth century.

An Ax to Grind: A Practical Ax Manual, United States Dept. of Agriculture, U.S.F.S. Technology & Development Program, 2300 Recreation, Manual 9923-2823P-MTDC (1999), Bernie Weisgerber.  Weisgerber is America’s recognized ax expert.   This is one of the best works on ax use and luckily, a free online copy can be downloaded at this URL:

Axe Manual of Peter McLaren, America’s Champion Chopper, (1929), Peter McLaren, An 85 page, 7″ x 4.5″ pamphlet, published by Fayette R. Plumb Inc., Philadelphia, PA.  Australian competitive chopper Peter McLaren was recruited by Fayette Plumb ax company in the 1920’s to promote their products.  This wonderful little pamphlet was published by Plumb ax to do just that.  In his day, McLaren was a popular attraction for exhibiting his chopping prowess.  In this manual, he shares in knowledge and secrets of chopping success.  Very informative but very rare.  My copy is in like-new condiiton.  Lucky for you, a free online version is available here: (the PDF opens on its side so you’ll have to right click on the first page and select “rotate clockwise” to read it like a book).

The Ax Book: The Lore and Science of the Woodcutter(2005), Dudley Cook.  Originally published in 1981 as “Keeping Warm with an Ax”, Alan C. Hood, & Company, Inc., Chambersburg, PA.  Little is known about Dudley Cook other than he was a lifelong woodcutter.  The Ax Book is a very detailed, profusely illustrated, nearly encyclopedic book on axemanship.

Bushcraft: Outdoor Skills & Wilderness Survival (1998), Mors Kochanski, Lone Pine Publishing, Auburn, WA and Edmonton, AB, Canada and the DVD – Blades: Sharpening and Safe Use, Producer: Mors Kochanski & Karamat Wilderness Ways,Box 483, Wildwood, Alberta, Canada, T0E 2M0

Mors Kochanski: Bushcraft book and DVD – Blades: Sharpening and Safe Use

Kochanski is a respected wilderness survival educator and Physical Education faculty member at the University of Alberta, Canada.  Rather than offer a broad view of the survival subject, Kochanski’s excellent book deals with the six major survival “crafts” ~ firecraft; axecraft; knifecraft; sawcraft; bindcraft (cordage); and sheltercraft, in astonishing detail.  The author doesn’t spend time on subjects other these topics, which admittedly, are crucial skills to learn in order to be a competent outdoors person.  Bush Craft is an essential survival book because it covers subjects that are generally only briefly discussed, and are rarely explained well enough to entirely master.  His video Blades: Sharpening and Safe Usewas personally produced in association with Karamat Wilderness Ways survival school.  Though not a particularly polished effort, the video provides superb edged tool information.

The Woodsman And His Hatchet, (1996), Bud Cheff Sr., Stoneydale Press Publishing Co., Stevensville, MT.  Eighty-one year old Bud Cheff Sr., a hunting guide in Montana, wrote this common sense guide to wilderness survival.  Short and to-the-point, The Woodsman And His Hatchet is a refreshing take on this subject.  Cheff discusses first the importance of the ax (hatchet) and knife to survival in addition to subjects such as fire making, shelter building, navigation, outdoor dangers, survival food procurement, shooting game and packing meat.

Woodsmanship (1954), Bernard S. Mason, The Barnes Sports Library, A.S. Barnes and Co., New York, NY.  Though not as detailed regarding axes as The Ax Book, Woodsmanship is an excellent book that covers all of the tools and techniques of the woodcutter.  It describes tools and skills that have virtually disappeared from public consciousness over the past fifty years.  In a single page more or less, Mason describes the art of bucking, splitting, hewing, moving logs, and felling trees with the axe and saw.  He describes in detail, the tools of the woodsman ~ the peavey, the cant-hook, the pulphook, pike poles, beetles, wedges, gluts, adzes, and come-alongs.  Sadly, copies of Woodsmanship in any condition are now exceedingly rare (I got my very fine copy from New Zealand) but happily, a free online copy can be downloaded at this URL:

These books and the DVD are great resources for learning about the ax.  I know you’ll find them as interesting and valuable as I have.

Good reading!

Books by Horace Kephart and David Wescott

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

I’ve recently mentioned Horace Kephart so of course I should recommend his book “Camping and Woodcraft“.

Horace Kephart was a Yale graduate, scholar and university librarian who also wrote Our Southern Highlanders, a popular geography and history of the southern Appalachian and Great Smoky Mountain region.  He was also an authority on camping, mostly learned through many years of solitary mountain living.  He was one of the best known outdoor writers of the Woodcraft period and was known as the “Dean of American Campers”.  A popular knife of his design was sold under the name of the “Kephart Knife” and his recommendations of methods or equipment were highly valued.  He is also recognized as a leader in the movement to establish Great Smoky Mountains National Park.   Camping & Woodcraft was first published as a single volume in 1909.  By the ‘teens it had been divided into two separate volumes and then as a “two-in-one” volume by the 1940’s, which is still in print today.  This a a great book and more than an introduction to old time woods skills.  It is a virtual woodcraft encyclopedia.  I’ve been greatly influenced by Kephart.  I own a new version of the Kephart knife, a modern rendition of his tiny “pocket axe”, and am in the process of sewing up a “Royce” tent, a model that he highly recommended.

The other book I want to mention is “Camping in the Old Style” by David Wescott.

Author: David Wescott, Publisher: Gibbs-Smith Publishing, (2000)

After reading virtually every book on camping and woodcraft published from 1877 up through the early 1940s, I’ve discovered that some speak to me more than others.  You no doubt will find the same.  Instead of searching for all of these old books, you can simply buy Dave Wescott’s Camping in the Old Style, a compendium of the writings of all the famous old woodcrafters.  Camping In The Old Style draws from many of the best woodcraft experts of a century ago, to cohesively incorporate their thoughts on the subjects of camp equipage, camp tools, camp cookery, camp life and all other aspects of the subject.  Wescott has distilled the writings of Nessmuk, Horace Kephart, Ernest Thompson Seton, Daniel Carter Beard, James Austin Wilder, E. H. Kreps, Frank Cheley, Philip Fagans, and Warren Miller into vignettes that address each category of woodcraft ~ Furnishing the Camp and Camper, The Traditional Canvas Shelter, Over the Open Fire, Life in Camp, and Life on the Trail.  In addition to well-known authors such as Nessmuk and Kephart, Wescott has wisely chosen to include the writings of less familiar woodsmen who now have been largely forgotten.  You can easily and quickly find what any of the old experts had to say about tentage, or pitching camp, or ax use, or dressing for the outdoors, etc.  The book includes many of the original illustrations from the original books enhanced by the use of appropriate vintage photographs.  What I like best about this book is that Wescott includes a woodcraft “training regimen” that he developed to provide the criteria for learning woodcraft skills.  As more and more skills are mastered, the novice works up through the “ranks” of “Apprentice Camper”, “Journeyman Camper”, “Journeyman Woodsman”, and “Master Woodsman”.  I am currently using this guide for my own woodcraft education.  Unfortunately, Camping in the Old Style is currently out of print but is still widely available.