The simplest methods of suspending a billy can over your campfire are typically fixed in height. Simple pot hangers are little more than a straight stick with a few modifications. They are quick to set up and well suited to boiling water or cooking very simple meals.
An example of simple, expedient bushcraft, the pot hanger in this photo is well suited to short stays, boiling water or straightforward one-pot meals. If we are staying for longer or want more variability in the heat applied to a pot or kettle, then we need to construct a pot hanger with inherent adjustability. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
Moving Beyond Simple Pot Hangers
The downside of simple pot hangers is that they typically only afford one fixed position over the fire.
If you want to have some degree of variability in the heat you can apply to your cooking and your kettle, then you’ll need some form of adjustability in any cooking rig or crane that you are using.
Also, if you are creating a more elaborate cooking set-up, then you may want to suspend multiple pots over the fire, each at a different height.
It’s useful to be able to adjust the height of a pot or kettle over a campfire. The beaked notch (tutorial below) allows you a simple an robust way of achieving this. Photo: Paul Kirtley
The Beaked Notch – The Key To Many Adjustable Cranes and Rigs
A useful bit of woodcraft to learn in order to construct an adjustable pot hanger that suits various camping situations is creating a beaked notch.
Creating multiple beaked notches allows the hanger to be suspended at various heights.
Thus learning the beaked notch technique enables you to create a pot hanger which is easily raised or lowered, even with the pot attached.
If a beaked notch is created and set up correctly, it can hold relatively heavy loads, remaining remarkably stable.
Material Selection For An Adjustable Pot Hanger
For suspending pots you’ll need to create a tick-shaped hanger, typically from a straight growth of woody shrub or tree that has a side branch.
ND8_0722 You’ll need a straight shoot with a side branch such as this.
The main shoot will be kept long and the side branch truncated near to the junction with the main shoot.
Truncate the side branch to only a couple of centimetres (one inch).
The side branch cleanly cut to length, to form the hook of an adjustable pot hanger.
Also trim off any excess material from the main stem below the join, otherwise it may catch on lids of pots and kettles.
Tidying up the hook end of the pot hanger, using the chest-lever grip for powerful yet controlled cuts through knotty wood.
Tidy off the top but keep the hanger quite long as counterbalance always helps the finished hanger. If it does end up being too long, you can always shorten it. Much harder to stick bits back on again…
You now have your tick-shape. This forms the basis of the pot hanger. Now it needs some notches.
Carving The Beaked Notches
The beaked notches are carved into the main, straight stem of the “tick”.
Now this is where I often see a common mistake, usually by relatively inexperienced people posting photos on Facebook, Instagram and the like.
The mistake is to carve the notches on the opposite side of the stick to the hook at the base of the tick. They should, in fact, be carved on the same side. This provides much better balance and stability to the pot hanger, whatever the method of suspension.
So, now that we know which side of the stick to carve our beaked notches this is how we do it…
You start the notch by creating an X centred on an imaginary vertical line running up the side of the stick which will have the notches. This is the first cut. Photo: Amanda Quaine
The second cut completes the X. These are effectively stop cuts. Photo: Amanda Quaine
Here is the X. This allows you to position the notch precisely. Photo: Amanda Quaine
Now to start removing some material. This needs to be done carefully as your stop cut is not very deep and you’ll risk slicing too far if you are not deliberate at this stage. Note the position of the hook at the bottom end of the pot hanger and that I’m cutting away from it. Photo: Amanda Quaine
I’m using the thumb of my left hand to push on the back of the knife to make a very controlled cut. Photo: Amanda Quaine
Now I’m taking material off the other side of the X. Again I’m being careful not to overshoot the stop cut. Photo: Amanda Quaine
The basic shape begins to form. Photo: Amanda Quaine
After a slice or two, it’s important to deepen the stop cut as soon as possible. Then you can slice out more material with greater confidence. Photo: Amanda Quaine
Now I swap to slice material from the other side of the X. You should keep the triangle of material at the top of the X intact (N.B. the top of the hanger is at the bottom left of this photo). Photo: Amanda Quaine
Here I’m deepening the second stop cut. Photo: Amanda Quaine
Removing more material, cutting into the stop cut but not beyond. Photo: Amanda Quaine
After slicing, keep going back to tidying up the edges of the cuts. Photo: Amanda Quaine
By alternating this way, you’ll be able to slice material out from the area, with an increasingly solid stop cut that also forms the edge of your beaked notch. Photo: Amanda Quaine
Now go back to the first side of the X and remove more material. Photo: Amanda Quaine
Remember to deepen the stop cut as well as keep everything tidy. Photo: Amanda Quaine
Once the cuts become established, you can start to undercut them slightly. Photo: Amanda Quaine
Keep slicing out material until the notch is deep enough. Photo: Amanda Quaine
This is starting to look good. Photo: Amanda Quaine
Make some finishing touches to deepen the notch if necessary. Remember to keep everything symmetrical. Photo: Amanda Quaine
Note the ridge under the beak. I haven’t directly shaved any material out from under the beak. This would only weaken it. Photo: Amanda Quaine
The final tidying touch. Photo: Amanda Quaine
Side view of the beaked notch. You can clearly see the effect of undercutting the stop cuts here. Photo: Amanda Quaine
How the beaked notch mates with a single-stick pot hanger set up, often referred to as a waugun stick, although there are many types of waugun. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Suspending a billy can over a fire. Photo: Paul Kirtley
This illustrates the importance of creating the notch on the same side as the hook at the bottom of the hanger. This allows the centre of the pot to sit directly under the point where the two sticks fit together. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Using the notched stick in a multi-hanger rig. There are many ways of creating a loop of material. Here we used a piece of discarded fencing wire. Photo: Paul Kirtley
A completed adjustable pot hanger, suspended from a cross-beam on a multi-hanger set up. Photo: Paul Kirtley
The Beaked Notch – Super Useful
The usefulness of this simple notching technique is not to be underestimated. It’s definitely something which should be in your woodcraft arsenal. Please do me the favour of respecting the woodcraft tradition and carve these with a sharp knife and an eye to tidiness. Your campcraft should be neat.
A version of this article originally appeared in The Bushcraft Journal.
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How To Make An Improvised Candle Holder
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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.