Now You See It, Now You Don't -- The Value of Concealment, by Joe M.

Thursday, Mar 18, 2010

Unless you’re lucky enough to actually live at your retreat in case of a TEOTWAWKI event, you are probably a little concerned with theft at your home away from home. Even if your primary home is your retreat, in the event of a break-in is your cache of “goodies” safe? Sure you might keep your supply of rifles, handguns, and shotguns locked in a gun vault the size of Grandma Shirley’s casket, but if thieves are given enough time they will haul the vault and anything else they find off into the night, leaving you empty handed and even worse, unprepared.

Vandals or thieves can do considerable amount of monetary damage and preparedness damage to your haven in very little time. Food items would probably just be destroyed by vandals and guns would be gone and sold probably before the police finished their reports. The likelihood of ever getting all of your supplies back and in useful condition is extremely slim.

For these reasons, when I built my retreat cabin I built in a number of “insurance” features that lessened the chance of a total loss. My retreat, chosen for its remote location is a prime example of the need to introduce safety features into your preparedness plan. The location of my retreat while remote, does not mean an occasionally person might not wander by. If this person decides to fire up a chainsaw and cut my metal front door right out of the framing, it is doubtful anyone would hear or notice for months. Like I said it is remote, but not a desert island.

So to give myself a bit of insurance against vandals/thieves, when I built the cabin I made one entire wall a “fake” wall. If you measured the width of my retreat on the exterior you would note that it is 16’ wide. However, an interior measure would yield around 14’ wide. The missing two feet is my insurance. Actual useable space is less than two feet. You must subtract the width of the actual exterior wall (about 4 inches) and the width of the fake interior wall (about 3 inches). Then you are left with 17 inches of great storage space. Be careful not to go overboard when allocating storage space. If your retreat cabin is 20 feet wide on the outside but only 15 feet wide on the inside, somebody will start wondering why.

I installed shelves in my storage space, just the metal rack types that restaurants use. They are extremely adjustable, durable, and can hold a lot of weight. I found some that were 16 inches wide, which meant they fit perfectly into my hiding place. Since the shelves are adjustable in two inch height increments, it was extremely easy to adjust them to fit my particular gear needs.

But enough about shelving let’s look at the actual construction of the wall. If you use Google, Bing, or Yahoo with the search phrase “hidden wall safe” you will find a lot of links to various types of construction methods. So I would suggest you do some research before you remodel or construct your hidey hole. Since I was constructing my retreat adding the false wall was an easy task as I could plan for window and door placement to account for the hidden wall. If you remodel your retreat to install a hidden wall make sure it makes the room look natural. For example if you add a wall and now the wall is two inches away from a window, it might look odd and cause someone to examine it closer (which is bad!). But by using new construction I was able to “center” my windows on their wall between the front wall and the fake wall, thus creating a very natural and normal look.

For my construction I chose to make my fake wall look like a normal wall, and to further conceal it we would place various items of furniture against the wall. Doing some research I noted that a few people chose to cover their wall entirely by using book cases in front of the fake wall. This really helped hide the wall completely and at the same time gave you more storage area for your “bait” items (more on that in a minute). You might be thinking that if you completely cover your wall with bookcases and then fill the bookcases with books or other supplies that this would be a huge impediment in getting to the supplies behind the hidden wall. You would be correct. However, I am more concerned with the preserving my supplies during, for lack of a better word, “normal” times and during my trip to my retreat during TEOTWAWKI times. Once I establish myself at my retreat you can rearrange furniture to make the hidden wall more accessible. A word of warning though, be careful of making it too accessible. In case of an attack my raiders or whatever, you don’t want them to walk in and find the hidden wall wide open with all your goods shining in all their readiness glory.

So keep the wall closed and concealed at all times unless you are removing or adding items to your storage. Don’t treat the storage as a daily access area. Pull a few days worth of supplies out at a time and then conceal the wall with your furniture. The wall is not meant to be something you should open in the event of an emergency. If you hear an unknown person outside of your retreat and you feel you need a weapon handy, that is not the time to open the wall and obtain a self-defense weapon. Those items should be much handier (in TEOTWAWKI times I would suggest a holster.)

Construction for the wall is rather easy. I am not a carpenter, but I managed to build a nice looking concealed wall with basic carpentry skills. In a nut shell, I simply framed an interior wall using standard 2x4 framing (16 inches on center). I ensured the base plate was firmly attached to the floor joists using lag screws instead of typical nailing. I did the same on the cap plate (top of the wall), securing the top of the wall to the ceiling joists again with lag screws. This gave my wall some extra stability. You don’t really want a bad guy to lean on your wall and feel it “give.”

I have paneled the interior of my retreat with a rough looking wood panel, often called a v-groove plank panel. This comes in 4x8 foot sheets (just like plywood). In fact if the material you wish to use is thin you can mount it to a panel of plywood using construction grade adhesive.

I framed the back side of my wood panel to give it stability and a place for the hardware. Basically this means I screwed 2x2 strips along the perimeter of the panel and horizontally every 16 inches. Then using a piano hinge I screwed the hinge to the 2x4 wall stud and to the 2x2 strip on the wood panel. This gives me a door. I built 3 of these doors and installed them side by side so I have a 12 foot-wide wall made up of three hidden doors.

There are various types of closure devices out there that you “push” to close and then “push” to open. I first used these and then realized that if someone were to lean on the wall the wall would “click and open a fraction. That was not good! So I settled on an extremely simple solution, screws. I screw my wall shut, every time. I use the same screw holes every time I close the door and I am careful not to over tighten the screws. Furthermore I replace the screws I use to secure the door when the head of the screw starts getting noticeably worn.

To conceal the seams I “finished” the cabin with vertical pieces of 1x2 strips of wood. These go at two foot intervals all around the cabin. Conveniently this covers the seams on my hidden wall. You screw this strip onto one side of the door, centering the strip over the edge of the door then when the door is closed it covers the seam and a portion of the wall next to it. Probably a design flaw on my part but when construction was finished and since I had put three of these doors side by side, I discovered the strip of wood covering the seam prevented me from opening the doors in any order I chose. Since the wood strip was attached to the left edge of the first door it covered the seam of the right edge of the next door. Therefore I could not open the second door without damaging the wood strip. So I must open the far right door first, then the middle and finally the far right door. Not a big problem, just a mild inconvenience. I arranged the gear inside the hidden wall so that the items I am most likely to need are behind the first door. If I had it to do over again I would leave some empty wall between the doors so that I could open the doors independently.

If your door is a bit heavier then you expected and sags some, you could put a support wheel on the opening side. Just be careful that the wheel doesn’t leave a track on your floor. As far as closing and locking your hidden door, look into magnetic locks, or other forms of closure such as screwing etc. Just be sure that the locking and closing mechanisms are hidden and won’t pop open at the wrong time. If some kids rough housing cause your door to come open, change the locking mechanism.

Now some personal notes on use of your hidden stash. Just like any other important secret, don’t talk about your hidden stash with anyone you don’t entrust your life and your loved ones lives too. Your drinking buddy at the lodge might seem like a good friend now but when TSHTF he might run up to the first place he knows that is fully stocked and ready to go. My wife and kids know about my hidden area and they are  all, period.

I had mentioned having some “bait” items out. I built a second concealed area, not nearly as big and not nearly as well concealed. My thought process being is that if I pull a few days’ supply out of the main area, I transfer it to this secondary area. Then if someone catches us off guard and demands supplies we can open this secondary area and give it to them, all the while begging and pleading that this is all we have left and please don’t take are last few days of supplies. It might work, or it might not. I just want to have the option. So I have the “bait” goods ready to go. If the bad guys take the bait and leave, then we have only lost a few days’ supply and not the mother lode.

Next I would build some other hidden areas to house your quick access items. This can be the picture frame on a hinge that hides a hole in a wall (not your fake wall). In the hole can be a firearm or other quick access item you deem necessary. I am not suggesting you have your entire arsenal in quick access hidey holes. But a portion of your weapons need to be quick access. Your other weapons that are only used at certain times, like hunting should be hidden behind your fake wall. Again if someone “bad” comes to visit they will most likely take your guns and ammo. Don’t leave it all just lying around, but then again don’t leave it all put away where you can’t get it when you need it.

You can get very creative with your hidden areas. If your retreat does not have a concrete floor it is very easy to cut a hole between the floor joists, attach a hinge and you have another hiding spot. You can do the same thing in the ceiling, just cut between the ceiling joists. Seam concealment, hinge, and closing mechanisms are the big challenges. Before you breakout your saws and start cutting holes, plan on how you will hide your hinge, seam, and closing device. Usually this is done with some form of furring strip. But if your seams are a “natural” part of the wall, floor, or ceiling you may not need to conceal them. Clearly you can’t leave a big hinge out in the open. Piano hinges can be mounted on the inside, they come in various lengths and you can always use more than one to run the full length of your hinge.

Remember that you don’t have to make all of your hiding areas completely invisible. If your hiding area is for daily use items hidden in the floor, then perhaps you can get by with just a throw rug covering the seams. However, if it is for the mother lode, then invisibility is required. Get creative and go hide. - Joe M.


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