Hooks, Handles And Hangers: Using Nature’s Shapes

by Paul Kirtley

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A small wooden hut agains the backrop of snow covered hills in Norway

A mountain hut in Norway. Photo: Paul Kirtley

There is something welcoming about a cabin high in the mountains or deep in the forest.

As much as I like being self-sufficient, taking everything I need with me, I do like a good night in a hut.

There’s no question I prefer my tent or bivvy in summer. There’s nothing better than setting up on a deep matt of grass or moss and bedding down comfortably for the night. It feels so natural.

While I love living out of heated tents and really don’t mind a snow hole or quinzee, there is a special allure to a cabin in winter. For me this allure is something which doesn’t exist in the warmer months of the year.

Even if I have to dig down through two metres of snow to open the front door or if the interior is as cold as a domestic freezer, once the stove is lit and the room warms up, I feel as though I could stay in a winter cabin forever. Or, at least until the spring.

Every cabin is different, yet I’ve loved everything about every single one I’ve stayed in.

In particular, I love the quirks of each, the details and the personal touches.

These details reflect the personality of the people who put them there, their decisions and their handywork.

They also reflect the materials to hand.

By necessity, much of the materials of remote mountain cabins have to be transported to the location. These days, forest cabins are to a large extent pre-fabricated also, rather than built form the materials in the forest immediately around the site.

In terms of bringing in materials, it’s often easier to transport materials into place during winter than it is in warmer months. Rivers, lakes and swamps freeze, creating thoroughfares which simply don’t exist in summer.

Some of the smaller, finishing details, however, rely on more immediately available resources. In particular birch and pine appear to often provide what is required.

I’m always delighted by the hooks, handles, hangers and other details I spot in and around cabins, which make ingenious use of the natural shapes of the resources found not far from these buildings…

Snowed in cabin in Norway

Sometimes you are just glad to dig your way into shelter. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Cabin and sunset in winter mountains Norway

Other times, the setting is more serene. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Sparse birch woods cover these hillsides in Norway. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Sparse birch woods cover these hillsides in Norway. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

View across Norwegian valley through birch and pine trees in winter with skier

A little lower down, there are also many beautiful Scots Pines. Birch and pine form the bulk of the trees here. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Moutnain hytte in Norway

The geometric shape of a cabin like this is very much pre-determined but the details inside are often much more organic. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Hook made of natural shaped of branch fork

Natural coat hook in the porch of a mountain cabin. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Hook

View from the other side. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Coat hanger made of natural wood

Slightly more sophisticated. Hand-carved dowels inserted into a split log and mounted on the wall. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Outhouse in Sweden in winter

The door handle of this outhouse in Sweden is made of a naturally curved branch, then fixed to the door. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

packing toboggans

After our first night in the cabins of this wilderness camp in the north of Sweden, we make final adjustments before heading into the forest for a week of travelling by snowshoe and toboggan, living out of a heated tent. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Stick screwed to wall

Here in the outhouse of a cabin in Bitdalen, Norway, a natural shape is fixed to the machined planks of the wall… Photo: Paul Kirtley

Toilet roll dispenser made from natural stick shape.

…Forming a simple yet highly practical toilet roll dispenser. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Latrine cover handle made of birch wood

The lid of the latrine itself here sports a very naturally shaped birch wood handle. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Bitdalen Norway

An almost monochrome view from outside the cabin in Bitdalen, Norway as we begin the day. The next night would be in a lavvu. No handles there… Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Stunted silver birch in harsh snowy conditions in Norway

There are some good shapes in these stunted silver birch trees on the fells above Hovden, Norway. Photo: Paul Kirtley

There is a more general point here too.

One of the skills to get the knack of in bushcraft, woodcraft and carving is to see the object you want to produce in the material before you start fashioning it. Whether you are making a spoon, an axe handle or a canoe paddle, the idea is the same.

And so it is here with these hooks, handles and hangers. Taking a moment to look at the natural shape of something and imagine what it could be utilised for is the first step and part of your creative imagination you should cultivate.

I’ve seen many uses of natural shapes to form hooks, handles and hangers. I’ve not always been mindful enough to photograph them. I’d love to hear about examples you’ve seen or made – let me an other readers know in the comments below.

Related Material On Paul Kirtley’s Blog:

The Stagger Inn: Portrait Of A Wilderness Cabin

Fjelltur: A Norwegian Adventure

A Winter Camping Trip In The Northern Forest

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Paul Kirtley is an award-winning professional bushcraft instructor. He is passionate about nature and wilderness travel. In addition to writing this blog Paul owns and runs Frontier Bushcraft, a wilderness bushcraft school, offering bushcraft courses and wilderness expeditions.

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Bob

Also Paul, just wanted to mention the great strength of those natural curves in wood. Much better than a carved arch. Thanks for the article!

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hey Bob,

That’s a great point. Thanks for bringing it up.

The fibres following the shape of the curve is a big, big strength advantage.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Dave welsby

Great article Paul, I have always dreamed of building my own cabin knowing every inch of the place with your own to hands. Everything hand crafted and made just for you, it’s something a man can step away from and be proud!

Thanks again Paul

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Yes, Dave having a quiet refuge is something many would love.

Did you see this article on the Stagger Inn?

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Rody Klop

Nice article on something different Paul. Sometimes small things are the gems of the moment.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Indeed Rody 🙂 Glad you liked it.

Reply

Stephen Walker

Hi Paul,
Another well-observed article, thanks.
It made me think of a bothy we stayed in where visitors had, over time, left useful items behind made of natural materials, like a wooden bowl. Not just wood, but we found a hanger made from tree root cordage. I carved and added a spoon to the collection. It’s good to know that folk are supporting others, especially during freezing nights when fingers may not be working well. It also adds greatly to the needed ambience of a refuge.
Kind regards,
Stephen

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Stephen,

Nice to hear from you. I agree there is community in those shared objects which extends to everyone who uses them.

It’s nice to have this connection with other weary travellers, even if you never meet.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Tim Collins

Lovely article Paul, fantastic place, never been, who know’s, one day. Loving the scenery pictures as much as the article.
Creative imagination, get you out of all sorts of scrapes.
Fab post, thank you.
Kind regards
Tim.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Tim, glad you enjoyed this so much. Thanks for your feedback on the photos. I had to hold back from including more scenery photos… 🙂

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Steve Bayley

I’m glad it’s not just me! I love a cabin, but I really love those little quirky touches so often in the form of a hook of some sort. I seldom have the time to leave anything as individual as any of those examples but always carry a few spare cup-hooks in the bag with my candle-lantern so that I can leave one behind. Bothys seldom seem to have quite as many hooks as you’d like them to have. I recall reading a magazine article about someone who had visited every MBA Bothy and fixed up at least one additional hook!

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Yes, bothys tend to be a bit more basic, more primal, more earthy 🙂 They definitely benefit from an extra hook or two.

Cheers,

Paul

Reply

Jolyon

Hi, Paul, good post and lovely pictures. The one of the latrine seat brought to mind that horribly comic scene in the Danish film, Headhunters, where the anti-hero has to hide from his pursuer in a very similar latrine. As in, *right inside*.

The post also reminded me of a Taoist story from Chuang Tzu. A wood carver sculpts a beautiful bell stand for a king, who wants to know how the man created such a marvellous object. The sculptor says that he meditated for some days and

Then I went to the forest
To see the trees in their own natural state.
When the right tree appeared before my eyes,
The bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt.
All I had to do was to put forth my hand
And begin.

(version by Thomas Merton: http://www.ayearofbeinghere.com/2013/04/chuang-tzu-poem-of-woodcarver.html)

In fact, Chuang Tzu has quite a lot to say about trees in particular and nature generally.

Cheers,
Jolyon /;->

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Jolyon,

Thanks for your generous comment – you’ve introduced me to two cultural elements I wasn’t previously aware of. I will investigate both Headhunters as well as Chuang Tzu.

The concept of the carver releasing the shape from the wood is similar to the sculptor releasing the form from marble and one I’m sure has been repeated in many different variations over generations, including Michelangelo’s “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

I like the poetical version you’ve introduced here too, so thank you.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Jens

Hi Paul,
Thanks for the nice article and very nice pictures! We spend every year about a week with the kids in a mountain cabin in the Alps and it is always something very special! Plus, the children like it so much being far away from any city in a wooden place.
Kind regards, Jens

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Jens,

This sounds like a very special week for your family – having wonderful times and creating vivid memories.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

mark

Thanks for the nice article, i never knew you were right in my backyard, this is for me my daily routine, next time let me know when you back here. greetings Mark

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Mark,

Whereabouts are you based?

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

mark

Close to Jotunheimen, in Valdres

Reply

Paul Kirtley

I need to do a trip in Jotunheimen…

Reply

mark

when you are going

Reply

Paul Kirtley

No firm plans but it’s on the “bucket list” as it were… 🙂

Reply

mark

let me know would love to meet you in person,moreover it would be great to learn from you pick your brain about things and of course you have a place to stay. you plan a winter trip or an summer trip?

Well you got my email 🙂

Reply

mark

By the way if you ever going to give classes here in Norway, Then i am your man, and will sign up for that, coming to England is a dream, but i work mostly as a volunteer, so you understand my budget is not big enough as yet. I spend my money to buy extra gear for the people i help so they can use that when they join me on a trip. well anyway this is not the place to talk about that. But if you ever gonna teach here then i will come. i know you hear that a lot, and don’t see it enough, but i stand for what i say or promise!

Reply

Pierluigi Tucci

Hi Paul,
beautiful article and very nice place!
I love log cabin very much just after a well done survival spruce shelter 🙂 :)…. anyway just so special what a man can do with their hands.

Thanks for sharing your knowledge and places.

Have a great week end

Warm regards

Pierluigi Tucci

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Pierluigi,

Yes, the contrasts make us appreciate what each has to offer. I love both an improvised shelter and a cabin but for different reasons 🙂

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Vanessa

Hi Paul
Re Survival programmes.
I would only chose to take your experienced advice
On expeditions with me no need to watch other survival programmes
Thank you Vanessa

Reply

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