A while back I saw this thread about recreating the Chouinard Expedition Sewing Kit, a pretty cool piece of kit long out of production, and was interested to try it. Ken’s link takes you to a webpage where a number of different attempts to recreate the kit are described, and the “winner” is Russell Ijams, whose webpage gives pretty detailed instructions including which pin vise he selected from several he tested (you can find it on Amazon here (*see below), and reading the reviews you will see mention of the Chouinard Kit and the same photos that are on Russell’s website. Although it says stock is limited, click on the “3 new from $7.50” hyperlink. I purchased from Hobby Tool Supply, the second option, and got the vise exactly as described). I noticed that not long after Ken posted the link, that particular pin vise jumped from $2 to $7.50! Maybe a coincidence but maybe a bunch of people suddenly started ordering it for this project.
So obviously this is not my idea, but I just wanted to (1) draw attention to how well this works and how easy it is to make so as to (2) hopefully inspire more folks to try it and (3) share a little bit of some extra details I found through searching to make the process a little quicker. Used Chouinard kits, on the rare occasions they show up, are selling for over $100 on eBay. I’m perfectly happy with my under-$10, all-metal (original was plastic) but still lightweight MYOG version.
All I did upon receiving the pin vise was saw off the 3/32” post on the back of it. Unlike Russell’s experience, for me the post did not fall out in the process of cutting, so I used a file from an old Leatherman to smooth the rough edges from the cut flush with the rest of the end piece.
I did a bit of searching to find more details on the specifics of the kit. Chouinard used a size 16 sewing needle, which I found among the spares in my sewing machine box. The original kit used a 3-inch-long cotter pin, and I’ve not been able to locate the same size anywhere. However, 2.5-inch (3/32” diameter) cotter pins were easily found at the Home Depot for $0.60 for 5, and they seem fine for my size hands. As with the original kit, since the cotter pin shape is similar, it serves double purpose as the T-bar of the stitcher and a tool to quickly rethread pulled drawstrings, a not-uncommon field repair need.
The instructions from the original kit can be found on Google Images, but I found an instructional video on YouTube on how to use the Speedy Stitcher (the Chouinard kit’s heavier grandpa) more helpful. Since the Chouinard kit doesn’t have the thread anchor the Speedy Stitcher does, you just have to hold the thread end with your thumb while stitching.
I decided to leave out some elements of the original kit: the buttons (few if any buttons on my hiking clothes) and multicolored thread from what looks like a hotel “freebie” sewing kit (I am fine to use either the dental floss or black poly thread for all repairs), and the needle threader (I’ve found them to break very easily—though they are very helpful when you have cold hands). Instead of wrapping the thread around a card, I used a thin piece of plastic. But there is a really nice aesthetic to the original kit’s leather pouch that I wanted to recreate.
Ultimately, this is what I found to work the best. It’s a coin purse from Guatemala, stamped with the name of the city where I used to live. I feel like I’ve seen similar keyring coin purses in airport gift shops all over the US, so you don’t need to go to Guatemala to pick one of these up. Now, the whole kit in the picture weighs 0.9 oz, and 0.4 of that is the pouch alone. I’m sure there are lighter options, but the aesthetic of it, the toughness of the leather for protecting the needles (and protecting me from the needles!) and the memories it calls forth are worth those 0.4 oz to me.
At the time of writing, the only sewing I’ve done with it has been replacing Velcro on a pair of thrift-store Keens I found for my daughter's summer adventures. It pushed easily through the webbing and the sandal body. The whole kit fits into the coin pocket on my jeans and I find that more often than not, I leave the house with it on me.
EDIT: Can't embed the Amazon link for some reason...it is http://www.amazon.com/Quick-Chuck-Keyless-Drill-Electric/dp/B000RB7BN6/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1365907521&sr=8-7&keywords=3+quick+chuck+keyless+drill+bit