CROCKETT’S COUNTRY WAYS: The joys of kit maintenance
Cleaning might not be your favourite job, but keeping the contents of your kit bag in tip top condition is easy when you know how. Follow Jonny’s helpful guide for stress-free kit care
It’s the end of the season and the weather has definitely taken on a wintry feel. At the time of writing this article, it is heading for -12°C and the fire is lit. The snow outside means that it is time to play, not work in the woods. At the start of the year, there are a few chores that need to be done: not arduous or unpleasant, but relaxing, enjoyable jobs. I’m talking about kit maintenance.
2017 was particularly hard on my kit so this is not something that I’ll rush through, but rather take one piece of kit at a time. I start with emptying my daysack and hanging it up to air.
There is little point in drying, cleaning and oiling kit just to put it away in a damp bag to fester over the winter months. If there are muddy patches then I’ll clean them with a damp cloth and perhaps use some soap on it if needs be.
Now I’m not saying I’ve got a fetish about this sort of thing or am in any way a knife geek, but I do have a few knives.
I’ve got a small necker knife for skinning and gutting, a knife for general work, a heavy duty knife that I take to Scotland for the longer, more arduous trips, a ‘Sunday best’ knife and a multi-tool. Add on to those the carving knives, crook knives, draw knives, a Swiss Army knife and a beautiful folding knife I was given last year and it adds up to a few hours’ work.
I tend to work on one knife at a time, but I bring them inside the day before to let them warm up and get rid of any condensation. They like the warm and the dry, I like the warm and the dry, so everyone’s happy. I find that spreading everything out on the kitchen table is enough to keep the family away and with a liberal spreading of newspaper I’m happy to sharpen for a few hours.
Just remember to sharpen, hone, test and then oil. Before you finish, remember that the sheath is part of the knife and should be cleaned and thoroughly dried.
Saws and axes
The saws need to be washed and their teeth cleaned. They are dried off and the hinges and handles tightened. The axe is sharpened on a wheel if needs be, but I like to hone it on a leather stropping wheel with plenty of honing paste.
As it is the last clean and sharpen of the season, I’ll give it a tickle with a buffing wheel too. Then it is time for a good oiling. Don’t forget to oil the handle of your axe (if it is wooden) and replace it back into the sheath. If you’ve a leather sheath, treat it with some leather oil.
First aid kit
Having wiped down the table, it’s time for a look at the use-by dates in your first aid kit. I know, it is something that you’ve spent money on and hopefully will never have to use, but many items in the kit will expire and need replacing.
The eyewash, antiseptic wipes and plasters tend to go first but they’re not expensive when you think about what you’ll need them for. I rarely use the first aid gloves, but seem to get through them at a rate of knots for some reason, so I’ll put a handful in a plastic bag to sit at the top.
I always keep the means to light a fire and make a drink in my pack, so I’ll redry my tinder if necessary and buy a new fire steel if it is running thin. The water bottle needs washing, rinsing and drying out and I’ll replace the hot chocolates, coffee sachets and tea bags.
The UHT milks may need to be chucked away and fresh ones bought. My titanium mug needs a visit to the dishwasher and by the end of the season can often require a scrub to get both the inside and outside clean.
My down jacket needs a visit to the washing machine and then a good tumble drying with a tennis ball in the dryer to stop the feathers from clumping together: a neat little trick, but it works. The waterproof trousers and jacket also need to be washed. First, I put a towel on a quick wash with no detergent to get any detergent residue out of the drum. Then I put the waterproofs in with a soap-based cleaner and then rewash with a waterproofer. It takes a while but it is worth it.
My whistle is given a quick wipe over with an antibacterial wipe and I change the batteries in my head torch. I’ll unravel my 10m of paracord, air it and hank it back into its manageable bundle.
The food I’ve had in my pack all year, in case anyone on a course with me feels tired due to low blood sugar levels, is eaten and replaced with more and my wood splitter is resharpened, bevelled and oiled (you should really do this before sharpening your knives).
That just leaves my sharpening kit. The stones need rinsing off with soapy water, left to dry and put away again.
Don’t forget your boots. They’ve looked after you all year and now it’s their turn for some care and attention. Give them a good clean and take the laces out while you do it, getting right into all the nooks and crannies with an old toothbrush. You can use a quality boot leather treatment or just a couple of layers of old-fashioned boot polish.
I put the laces through a wash to degrease them as this stops them from coming undone while you’re working. Now my kit is ready to go for next season and I can sit back with a large single malt and put another log on the fire.
The cold evenings provide a good opportunity to get your kit cleaned and sorted