We use steel axes and knives on a daily basis in our programs, and I’ve been asked several times how this meshes with the primitive skills movement. My answer has two parts. First, I believe that in order to progress to the skill level where a tool such as an axe or knife is no longer needed, that tool should be mastered. The man who is skilled with an axe is much more likely to figure out how to work without an axe than the man who has no skill in working with wood.
Second, in our programs we spend our days living in the forest. We cut our own firewood and use it to keep us warm. We’re not playing, in that at the field school we don’t have a climate controlled building to retreat to. In much of what passes for outdoor education and wilderness living skills instruction these days, there is no wilderness involved. It’s more like a smattering of selected wilderness skills taking place in the suburbs. There is no such posturing in our programs. We use axes, knives and saws because they are the most expeditious, muscle-powered tools available.