Self-Employment & Home-Based Businesses Category

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Over the years there have been occasional posts on SurvivalBlog about making various "homemade" soaps using easily found commercial ingredients. These often include store-bought washing soda, Fells Naptha, Zote soap, baking soda and such. Simply grate them up in the right proportions, mix and there you go. There have also been posts going a step further that explain how to make soap from easily purchased oils, meat counter fat or suet, commercial lye and fragrances. It's just not that hard if you make use of the ingredients and instructions easily found these days.

But what do you do in TEOTWAWKI if the stores close, either from lack of product to sell or from looting? What if the commercially made ingredients for so called "homemade" soaps become unavailable? You need to keep clean or you'll likely get sick. And you could certainly use some trade goods for barter...  and everybody needs soap.
So, what do you do? You (and your neighbors) have run out of Irish Spring, there's no longer any of the sodas or commercial lye to be had and somebody's gonna get infected from the dirty cut they got while gardening.  Well naturally, you’ll make your own soap from scratch, right? Only problem is that it may take a few hundred years (or even a few thousand, as it took our distant ancestors) to rediscover how it’s done. --Although maybe a bit less since you probably heard something about fire and fat, or some such. …Or, you can learn now the easy steps that all those years of trial, error and happy accident have handed down to us. 

In this article we’ll cover how to make soap when SHTF with self-procured ingredients. Plus, we’ll write a bit about how to make soaps until then, the ‘easier’ way with those store-bought ingredients. 
We run a mostly self-sufficient farm, a museum in the time period of 1820 to 1920 and teach homesteading skills classes. Among the things we teach is that having a self-sufficient mind set/lifestyle now will greatly enhance your mental/physical ability to make the right decisions when the time comes. Sustainability is a luxury now, so you can learn and experiment at your leisure. Wouldn’t you rather screw up a few soap batches now when it’s of little consequence, instead of later when it’s a necessity? Plus, as immediate benefit, homemade soap makes excellent, low cost gifts for friends and family and saves money, so you can spend more on your 3Bs.

-- There are only 3 essential ingredients in soap.

       1). oil/fat

       2). lye (sodium hydroxide, or NaOh)

       3). water

Any type of oil/fat can be used, from store-bought vegetable oil to rendered animal fats (lard or tallow).  A combination of different oils will give you a better quality product and usually is varied depending on how the soap will be used.  Each oil or fat has different qualities that is based, in part, on the density/properties of the oil.

 For example:

  • Lard, tallow and coconut oil (which are saturated fats that stay naturally solid at room temperature) are high in lauric acid and therefore very cleansing. 
  • Olive oil, castor oil and sweet almond oil are all very moisturizing and conditioning.
  • Coconut and palm kernel oils both add lots of lather, which is always nice.
  • Different additives such as beeswax and cocoa or shea butter help your skin to retain its natural moisture and will make a harder, longer lasting soap bar. This makes for nicer hand/body soaps.

You’d probably want a laundry soap to be cleansing but not moisturizing, while a shampoo soap is often better if it added a bit of conditioning as well.

Note: is a great resource for soap recipes (or do any standard google search for many other sources). The great thing about is that they have a free lye calculator that allows you to put in the oils you want to use and the size of batch you want and it will calculate how much lye, water, and oil you need for the recipe. It's my go-to site whenever I want to experiment with a new recipe.

 So, let’s begin with the essentials: .

1)    To render an animal's fat you'll need to cut off and set aside most of the fat scraps at butchering time (you'll probably want to keep some fat for sausage making). Generally speaking, lard is the rendered fat of pigs and most other rendered fats are considered tallow. If you can't render the fat immediately, store it somewhere cool for up to 48 hours (after that the connective tissue and meat could begin to go rancid and may produce a less desirable tallow or lard should you want to use some for cooking). Slaughtering animals in the colder months helps keep the fats fresh longer, and is generally when you’ll want to slaughter larger animals anyway.  Cut the fat into smallish chunks and remove as much of the meat as possible. The fat then needs to put into a large heavy-bottomed pot and put over a low to medium fire/heat. Adding a small amount of water (less than a quarter of a cup) at the beginning will help prevent the fat from sticking to the pot. Adding a splash of vinegar of any sort will make your end product whiter, harder, and reduce any smells left in the tallow/lard.  This is better to do outside over a fire because of the smell of the fat. It isn’t exactly bad, but isn’t aromatic either.  Once your fat is starting to heat, all the lipids will liquefy.  You want steam to be coming off the pot, which shows that the moisture is rendering out.  You don't want smoke, which means the fat is burning.  Stir occasionally. Note that many a fire has been started by heating huge, overfilled pots of oil on a woodstove, spilling some over the edge and igniting the entire top of the pot. Take caution as you would with frying chicken, deep-frying french-fries or any other oil-heavy thing.  Leave ample headroom in the pot and make sure little ones are not underfoot.  Never leave unattended. 

At some point (anywhere from 20 minutes to a few hours, depending on the amount of fat you have) all the solid chunks (bits of connective tissues and any meat left in the fat) will brown and migrate to the center of the pot. When these have browned sufficiently and seem somewhat crispy, you can scoop them out. These are tasty cracklins that can be drained, cooled, salted and eaten as a snack or in cracklin bread.  What you have left in the pot is all liquid fat.  Pour this through a metal strainer or cloth into leak proof containers such as a ceramic crock, mason jars, or a plastic or metal bucket, wait for it to cool and solidify and cover and store in a cool, dark, dry place. If you’re pouring in glass, make sure the glass is warm enough that it won’t crack when filled with hot oil, and if using plastic make sure that it is thick enough and that the tallow/lard is cool enough that it won’t melt the plastic.  Also, it doesn’t hurt to do this outside or over a sink, since cleaning rendered fat off of your counter, stove, floor, and every dishrag you own is no walk in the park. 

The fat will keep without further processing and can be stored like this for quite a long time. The tallow can then be used at any convenient time to make candles, medicinal salves/balms, used to preserve meats, cooking, pie crusts, biscuits, frying, used to waterproof shoes/clothes/outdoor fabrics and of course in soap.  If for any reason you didn’t render out enough moisture, no worries.  The entire batch won’t go bad, you’ll just maybe have a big of mold in the bottom of the container, as it will be heavier and sink, so just discard the very bottom, ruined portion.

Note: This is another reason why moving to your farm/survival community before TEOTWAWKI will put you uncounted steps ahead in the game. It’s much easier to render tallow from fat if you have animals and have the knowledge, tools and skills to properly raise those animals, plant, raise and harvest the crops to feed them, have the knowledge to process the animals and have the skills to make use of what the processing provides.  Simply bugging out and hunting rabbits is a very quick way to suffer from malnutrition due to a lack of lipids (fat). And without the abundance of fat that properly raised domestic animals have, you can't make soap and stay healthy and produce many other necessaries such as shoe waterproofing, candles, skin salve, lip balm and more.  While you can use raccoon, deer or possum fat, they just won’t have enough fat for all your needs. If your only available source of dietary fat is from wild game, you’ll do much better to keep it as food than using it in soap. Rendering animal fats into a useful, storable tallow or lard is simple, but only if the animal has some fat on it to begin with.

2). Lye, or sodium hydroxide, is present in wood ash. Some historians believe that soap may have gotten its name from the Romans, who would make their animal sacrifices atop Mount Sopa, above the Tiber River.  During the sacrifices, the fat from the animals as well as the ashes from the burnt bonfires would run downstream to the river, and the women found that washing their clothes the next morning in the residual bubbles made the clothes come out cleaner. 

Ashes can actually be used in a pinch to wash cast iron pots/other cooking utensils. But if you want lye water to make a batch of soap, you'll need to extract the lye from the ash. 

To make lye in your kitchen in small quantities, boil hardwood ashes (soft woods are too resinous to mix with fat) in a little soft water or rain water for about half an hour. Hickory, sugar maple, ash, beech and buckeye are generally the woods that will produce the highest concentration of lye, but any hard wood can be used. Allow the ashes to settle to the bottom of the pan and then skim the liquid lye off the top. You can do this daily and when you've got enough of the weak solution, condense it for soap making by boiling the liquid down until an egg or a small potato will float due to the high concentration of sodium. It should float enough for a portion the size of a quarter to rise above the level of the water. Since lye is a form of sodium it makes the water much denser, like sea water.  Generally speaking, one to two gallons of leached lye water boiled down will yield just under half a cup of sufficiently concentrated lye water

If you want to make a large quantity of lye water, you'll need a good quantity of wood ashes from any combination of hard woods.  Once you have a large quantity saved up, you'll need a large container; a barrel, a big bucket, an old grain bin, a big wooden box, an old bee box, etc.  Smaller containers work also, but just have a smaller yield.  You'll need a quarter-sized hole at the bottom corner or multiple tiny holes. First line the bottom with a thin cloth or two, followed by a layer of sand (or grass in a pinch) and small rocks to act as a filter. Charcoal is also a good filter. Then pour in the ash and pack down tightly, leaving at least a few inches room at the top to add water. Slowly pour rain water through the ash-filled box until it starts to run from the bottom. Generally it’s a good practice to add a half to a gallon of water at a time, waiting a good half hour in between adding to give the ash time to settle, and the lye water time to trickle though the ash and filters. Have a container under the hole to collect the water that's settled thought the ash, sand and fabric. Don’t use tin or aluminum, or the lye water could eat into to.

~~Note: If you really like processing big amounts of ashes and lye, and you think you might want to start an important after TEOTWAWKI business, we strongly suggest that you make a visit to the Mormon Museum in Kirkland, Ohio.  They have a fantastic restored ashery where they produced mass quantities of lye, potash (a very useful fertilizer) and pearl ash (which they used in fine ceramic making) from the collected ashes of the cooking and heating fires of the surrounding community. (For other uses of potash/pearl ash, see the Wikipedia page on Potassium Carbonate.)

3). Water needs to be non-chlorinated, chemical free water. If you have city water you'll need to buy distilled water or collect rain water, starting several minutes after it has begun to rain (so the water is free of air pollution and/or gutter or roof dirt). We have well water and we've used it for years with good results.

Okay, so now you're probably wondering how to, …actually make the soap. So let's get started.

There are two basic types of lye soap: cold process and hot process.

Cold process is where you combine your oils, water and lye and stir until the mixture comes to a 'trace' which means thickens up the consistency of pancake batter. You'll be able to lift up a spoonful and drop it back into the soap and see it form a line on the top without readily mixing back in. This is then poured into a mold without cooking or adding any heat, hence the term ‘cold processes. This is a process generally done with commercial lye crystals, as lye crystals give you a very exact concentration and it’s quite easy to be accurate.  Also, because this soap is poured into a mold without the additional step of cooking, if you end up with too much lye, the remaining lye can leach out into the soap, leaving you with lye pockets inside the end product. You can now mix in any additives you're using (such as colorants like beet root powder, exfoliates like fine sand and wheat germ, or fragrances such as dried herbs) and then pour/scoop it into your mold.   Once in the mold it should be put somewhere where it won't get touched by tiny fingers (it still has caustic, active lye in there) and left until it hardens, usually between 24 and 48 hours, occasionally longer. Once it's hard enough to cut it into bars, remove the soap from the mold and cut to your favorite size. Then you'll want to leave the bars on a wooden, marble, silicone, glass or ceramic surface. Leave uncovered and an inch or so apart and turn them every day so each part of the bars get full access to air. Note: A wooden surface (and some others) may be discolored from the lye, so don't use your favorite decorative cutting board. I learned this the hard way.  This cold process soap will take between 2 and 6 weeks to fully saponify, but my general rule is 4 weeks.  A good way to test to see if it's ready is to touch the tip of your tongue to a bar and if it's very acidy then it's not ready.  Using it early, won't kill you, but if you have sensitive skin it could be a bad idea.

Hot process starts out the same, but after the ingredients are combined the mixture is then put on a heat source, either your stove or a low fire, and heated up to the point of trace.  This needs to be done very slowly and watched very carefully.  It goes from ‘nope’ to ‘soap’ very quickly, and if you let it stay on the heat too long you’ll end up with a flaky, lumpy end product.  Throughout the heating, you’ll see bubbles on top of the liquid. When the soap is ready to pour into the mold, the soap all the way to the bottom of the pot will be the same consistency; thick, like brownie batter.   The additives are then put in and it is then put into a mold. This mixture will obviously be very hot, which is why you need a heatproof container. Once in the mold, this will continue to bubble for several minutes. You should tap the container against the table or whatever it’s on carefully to force the air bubbles out to avoid ‘holey’ soap.  This soap will harden a bit quicker, in as little as 6 hours or as much as 36 hours, and will only need 2 or 3 days curing time before it's ready to go.

There are pros and cons to both methods. Depending on if you want to use additives, the still-very-active lye in the cold process batch can destroy some of the colors/properties of your additives. Alternatively, the high heat in a hot process batch can destroy some of the scents/qualities of other additives. Generally, you have to figure this out with trial and error. If you intend to use essential oils in your soap, cold process is generally preferred as most essential oils have a flash point (evaporation point) of around or under 120 degrees, and hot process soap is always hotter than that, so the oils are mostly lost.  

One of the obvious pros for the hot process soap is that it can be used much quicker. But another of the cons of the hot process is that the bars are rarely as uniform and nice looking as cold process. Generally when you cut into a hot process bar, it has a few air pockets here and there due to the rapidly changing consistency, and until you become quite good at this process, it’s easy to overcook it, leaving the soap clumpy and just not quite as smooth and creamy looking as cold process bars. It's still just as functional and long lasting as cold process, but won't give you the same appearance.

So, now that you have chosen your process for making soap, here are some important rules to remember:

1) When using crystallized lye always add lye to water, and NEVER water to lye. The results can be potentially dangerous, similar to adding cold water to hot oil.

2)  Always add lye to cold water, NEVER warm or hot. As soon as the lye is added, a chemical reaction takes place that heats the mixture immediately to over 150 degrees. Make sure you're mixing this in a non-aluminum heatproof container in a very WELL-VENTILATED area in a container with plenty of headroom, either outside or in a very large kitchen with windows opened.  If you have a sensitive respiratory system, a mask and outdoor preparations are recommended.  Gloves, an apron and full coverage pants/shoes are also recommended.  Make sure no young children are nearby or running underfoot. . You want to make sure it stays in the bowl or pot where it's supposed to be. After the water and lye are combined and you're letting it cool, keep it at the very back of the counter where spills/splashes are unlikely.

 This is highly caustic, very dangerous stuff.  When pouring in, make sure your face isn’t right over the pot, or the fumes can quite literally take your breath away 

3) All ingredients need to be measured by weight, not volume. No measuring cups allowed. Get a small scale, either manual or a digital. A good digital scale that goes up to 10 pounds can be purchased for around 15 dollars. Used manual scales (along with larger used pots, kettles and other equipment) are commonly available on or at antique stores. The reason for using weight is that volume can vary depending on many environmental factors, so using weight helps you get the best possible results.

Note: In TEOTWAWKI, you can measure your oils and lye water by volume as long as you’re using the same measurement for both (i.e., you can’t measure one by weight and the other by volume). This is a somewhat less desirable form of measurement, but if it’s all you have, it’s all you have.

 Whether you're doing hot or cold process soap, all of your oils need to be liquid and right around 100 degrees before adding your lye water.  Therefore if you're using coconut oil or lard you need to heat them up until they're liquid (usually around 80 degrees). The lye also has to be around 100 degrees before it can be combined, which requires a certain amount of cooling, as it heats up to around 150 degrees when combined with water. 

These are the steps I generally take for cold process soap using lye crystals.

1) Combine lye with water, adding lye to water, whisking or mixing well (with non-aluminum utensil) while slowly pouring in to keep granules from sticking. Set aside to cool.

2) Melt any solid oils on low heat and combine all other oils together.

3) Once both the oil and the lye water are around 100 degrees, pour lye water into oil and mix well from the bottom. Continue to mix pretty consistently until it reaches a trace, or the consistency of pancake batter, where when a scoop is lifted up and drizzled back into the mix it doesn't readily re-combine.

4) Add essential oils, dried herbs (fresh herbs have too much moisture and can cause soap to mold, or exfoliate.

5) Pour into mold(s).

For Hot process soap, the steps are the same except that once the lye water and oils, you put this mixture over the heat and slowly cook until this mixture thickens up (see above paragraph about hot process soap).

Here are the basic steps for lye soap after TEOTWAWKI:

1)    Render your animal fats as described above.  A combination of fats is fine.  Lard generally creates a bubblier, more moisturizing soap, and tallow creates a harder, dryer soap. Both are very cleansing.

2)    Create your lye water by one of the methods previously described, then cook down lye water to get the desired concentration (see above article on lye making)

3)     Measure your ingredients. In a survival situation, using measurements in volume is acceptable, though somewhat less reliable.  As long as your lye water is of adequate concentration, the general recipe for a good quality soap using all animal fats (which have different SAP values, but are similar enough that the difference in densities is somewhat negligible) is  ¾ c of lye water to 2 c of rendered fat

4)     Either heat or cool both of these ingredients to right around 100 degrees and combine, adding lye water to fats.  Follow instructions for hot process soap from this point.

Since we aren't at TEOTWAWKI just yet, we'll just add a few more notes about soap making with the additives and oils that are still currently available. That is, we’ll add a few more suggestions on how to make 'fancy' soaps.

-Generally our favorite oils to use for everyday body/hand/face soap is a somewhat equal ratio of olive oil, coconut oil and tallow or lard. I also generally add beeswax since I like hard soap bars and it gives it a naturally nice scent/color.  Herbs can be added to give it the properties of those herbs (calendula is great for facial soaps, rosemary is great for skin also, jewelweed or plantain can be added for a good anti-itch/poison ivy soap, etc.). The herbs need to be dried or the added moisture can cause your soap to grow mold.

-Other great additives are any sort of exfoliating 'thing' to help with dirt removal/rough skin. Examples are oats (also soothing for skin), wheat bran, pumice, ground apricot seeds, very fine sand or poppy seeds. Dried herbs also add some exfoliation. There’s no magic number for the amount of additives you include, it depends largely on how much exfoliation, color etc. you want. But I rarely add more than half a cup of additives per pound of soap, and generally less than that.  Essential oils are something you have to be careful about, as too much can keep your soap from hardening. I usually use about 1.5 tablespoons per pound of finished soap. Most essential oils add antibacterial/antimicrobial properties which is a nice added touch. Oils highest in these properties include sage, tee tree, thyme, oregano, and any citrus especial oil.

Note: Using homemade lye will result in a soft soap. It's just as cleansing and has as long a shelf life. It's just a bit different.  If you want hard soap bars you can add salt to the soap before you pour it into the mold. The good proportion is two and a half pints salt to five gallons of tallow. Also, a little powdered rosin added to the 'grease' just before the lye is mixed in helps the soap to set more firmly. However, presumably, in TEOTWAWKI, salt will be quite a hard to acquire necessary, and using it to make soap may not be the best use, as salt is essential in preserving meats, fermenting vegetables (a fantastic and nutritious food preservation method) and 93,885,754 other things. (There are always wild edible plants that have naturally high sodium levels that can be substituted in the diet such as sassafras leaves, colt's foot, lamb's quarters and Queen Anne’s lace seeds, so maybe you'll have some to spare for soap if you know your plants. It's interesting, though that just like with wood, the plants need to be burned to ash before the sodium is fully released.)

-Worth mentioning is that there are natural saponins available to you in nature. Yucca root has natural cleansing/lathering properties if boiled in water, as does soapwort. Egg whites simply have to be beaten to a lather and used on your hair with fantastic results. The yolk can then act as a conditioner.

-One of the daunting things about making (fancier) lye soaps with lye crystals is that you have to be pretty accurate with your measurements to get a good product. Also you can't exchange oils in recipes, as each oil requires a different amount of lye. This is because each oil has a different density, therefore it takes a different amount of oil to make it 'saponify', or turn into soap. What that means on a chemical level is that the fatty acid chains making up the oil no longer repel water, but attract it. Each oil has its own saponification code, often abbreviated as SAP value. If you're going to make up your own soap recipe you need to have a list of these codes, which is easily found through another google search, or at this link.

-The saponification number of an oil needs to be multiplied by the ounces of oil you plan to use, and the quotient will be the amount of commercial lye required for that much of that oil. For example, if you have a pound of lard and want to figure out how much lye you need, you need to find the saponification number for lard, which is 0.138. So, in this example, the lard's SAP value is multiplied by the ounces of oil you have.  That will tell you how many ounces of lye needed.  So your math will be 0.138 (lard SAP value) X 16 (ounces in 1 pound) = 2.21 oz. of lye. (I always round the amount lye, water and oils to the nearest tenth, so it would be 2.2 oz. of lye crystals needed.)

Okay, now you have the amount of lye you need. So how much water do you need? The easiest most accepted ratio is to double the amount of lye and use that much water. That will give you a 33% lye solution, a very good, general lye solution amount. So in the above recipe, the amount of lye required is 2.2 oz., so therefore you'll need 4.4 oz. of water. So this is our newly calculated recipe: 16 oz. lard, 2.1 oz. lye, 4.4 oz. water

Note: This is the only mathematically complex part of soap making, and even this part can be avoided by simply finding a recipe and not creating your own. 

-Any oil you use needs to be pure oils with no added ingredients or preservatives. These will affect your end product. Also you need to be sure you aren't using oil blends. Some olive oils are combined with vegetable oils to make a cheaper product or one with a higher heating point. So check ingredients. Also note that since this is something that is going to be washed right off of your skin, we’re not advocates of spending $65 for a gallon of organic cold pressed extra virgin gold label coconut oil for a soap batch. We buy that for eating. We buy a cosmetic grade oil for soap making.  –We’re also not an advocates of added chemicals perfumes or any sort of artificial ingredients. They're just not healthy, in my opinion.

-A fantastic resource for affordable, good quality soap making products is   They  have a local pickup location near where we live, but they also have free shipping if you don't live in Ohio.  They sell oils, additives, molds and much more. 

-Pomace olive oil, also, is a much cheaper choice and much better for soap making than traditional olive oil, as it's the last press and still carries some of the olive sediment which is very good for your skin. Keep in mind that pomace olive oil has a different SAP value than regular olive oil.

-Lye is a bit trickier to find. Depending on the laws in your state, you may find it at a hardware store being sold as drain cleaner. You just need to make sure it’s granulated and that it's 100% sodium hydroxide with no other ingredients. If you can't find it there, you may need to do a bit of searching. We live near several Amish communities and so finding it in large, bulk quantities is not an issue. 

-You should never use aluminum pots, molds, bowls or utensils when making soap, as the aluminum can leach into the soap and discolor it, or even transfer aluminum to your end product. The lye, in some cases, can even pit or eat right through your aluminum pot/spoon/whatever and ruin them. (Actually, while we're on the subject, I highly recommend ridding your home of all aluminum, especially where cooking is concerned. It's nothing but bad news.  Cast iron, stainless steel or copper are all much better choices.) 

-In terms of molds, anything but metal can be used. Ceramic, glass, thick plastic like Tupperware, an old wooden drawer, cardboard boxes, silicone molds, etc. all work.  You can buy nicely shaped molds of all sizes or you can make your own. You just need to make sure what whatever you're using is heatproof and is thick- no thin plastics or very thin cardboard. And of course no aluminum. If you're using plasticware or cardboard, then popping the finished soap out or ripping the paper away is usually easy, but if you're using something hard like a wooden or glass mold I always line it with freezer paper, shiny side up, so when the soap is ready to come out you can just lift the whole block out. It's quite a job otherwise and you may end up deforming or breaking the edges of the soap bars.

So there you have it. The short course on soap making. We teach soap making here, as well as many other homesteading classes and it has been our experience that learning any self-sufficiency and homesteading skill is easiest and best learned with teacher guided, hands on experience. But, if you work at it on your own and learn by trial and error, you should be in good shape before SHTF.

Laura and Jim Fry

One final P.S.:

While we teach a wide variety of homesteading skills classes, we also recommend you check out our friend Tom Laskowski at A couple years ago, Tom was named by his peers (of primitive skills experts from across the continent) as having contributed the most to the general knowledge in the field. Tom teaches everything you need to know to survive in the ‘woods’, along with additional homestead skills such as soap making. We also most heartedly recommend our friend Doctor Cindy Koelker at She teaches everything you need to know about medical concerns. And of course she is SurvivalBlog’s Medical Editor. 

The three of us work together to teach how to “Survive, Stay Alive and Thrive”, both now and in the coming ‘interesting times’. Should you come to any of any of our classes, we also recommend a visit to the nearby Lehman’s Hardware in Kidron, Ohio. Jay and his daughter and son run the largest non-electric store in the world. They are really great people and the business is unequalled for filling your equipment and goods needs for “after EMP”. You could also plan a stop at the even closer Mormon food warehouse to fill your bulk food needs.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

I think we all, at one time or another, need to do a serious self-assessment to determine exactly where we stand in regards to the future and what it will mean to us on a life sustaining basis.  Most people reading this have already done this, to a degree.  After all, you are prepping bacon, beans and bullets, and it is an admirable and necessary pursuit that you are engaged in.  But, what about when (not if) the SHTF?  Sure, you have food, shelter, and the means to protect it, but what about when things settle down and life begins in the new normal?  Have you thought about what you can do to make a living, besides farming, hunting, fishing and bartering excess prep goods?  You might not have enough land to self sustain with farming, hunting will play out after a while with so many pursuing a limited amount of game, you might not be close to a body of water to fish in, and barter goods will eventually run out.  You will need something that is not self-depleting to be able to continue to eat and live.  You will need a skill, or skills, that you can barter for what you need to live.  Not everyone will need this, as some will be able to live well on a farm or ranch.  But for those without livestock or the land to live off of, you need to be able to barter with those who have so you will not be one of the have-nots.  Now, before the SHTF, is the time to self-assess and come to this conclusion.  Do a frank inventory of your skills to determine if what you would have to offer in a grid-down situation would be enough to sustain you and your family on a long term basis.  If you come to realize that you simply don’t have one of these skill, of which there are many, now is the time to acquire one.

As I ponder the coming collapse, TEOTWAWKI, I wonder “How on earth am I going to make a living?”  After all, everything that I depend on as a carpenter/cabinet maker now to make a living will be gone:  electricity grid, lumber yards, hardware stores, paint stores, glass shops, brick yards, metal roofing suppliers and a myriad of other suppliers of raw materials that I use on a daily basis.  How will I survive without all these supporting material suppliers?

I took a step back to get a better perspective of just what I might have to offer in a grid-down situation.  I have spent the last 35 years of my life building and remodeling residential buildings, commercial buildings, and industrial buildings, and building cabinets and furniture.  Before I became a building contractor, I had always had a shop where I gave my imagination free rein to build and create many things.  I developed many different skills during this phase, which began as a young boy and continues today, and used many of these skills when I became a building contractor.  I still like to try new things, things that many people call hobbies, but to me they are a part of my life itself.

What could I do that would provide a living for me and my family?  I am now semi-retired at 68 years old, and it is just me and my wife, so we wouldn’t need much.  The first thought that comes to mind is that I am a Master Carpenter.  While power tools are a great help in my work, my brain works without an electric grid.  I would still be able to do a great deal of carpentry work, cabinet work, and furniture building.  To continue to use power tools I would need a generator, which I have acquired.  After determining the minimum size that I would need based on the requirements of my largest power tools, I bought a 3000 watt generator.  This will allow me to use my table saw, compressor (for nail and staple guns), circular saw, drill, planer, jointer, miter or cut-off saw, and any other power tool I need.  Of course this will last only as long as the gasoline lasts, and then it will be back to the old way of working with hand tools only.  I am searching for a small diesel generator, which could extend its use by several years, as diesel can be stored much longer than gasoline, with the proper additives.  I haven’t had much luck finding one yet of an appropriate size.

In preparation for the day when the fuel runs out, I am expanding my supply of hand-powered tools:  hammers and mallets of all sizes, hand saws, with appropriate maintenance tools, hand drills and hand braces, assorted drill bits for use in these, hatchets, axes, chisels of all sizes, and even an adze.  At an estate sale I found an edge sharpening stone that is foot powered and water lubricated.  It is amazing what one of these old grind stones will do for an edged tool.  I’m also laying in a supply of all sizes of metal files and wood rasps, as well as a cedar shingle splitting tool.

After thinking about it a while, I realized that I had several other options that could provide work.  In the course of my contracting, I learned to lay brick, stone, concrete and hadite blocks and tile of all sorts and sizes.  Roofing installation and repair was always part of the job, as well.  There may not be much call for my skills as an electrician after a year or so, but plumbing will always be needed.  And, as long as materials are available, I can form, pour and finish concrete.  It will be much harder without modern finishing and digging tools, but that is what God gave us a strong back for.

“What else?” I’m thinking.  Well, I taught myself to cut and weld with an oxy-acetylene torch, and to make many things out of scrap metal.  Both of these gases store well, so I’ve put back several tanks of both, along with spare hoses, cutting heads, welding heads, welding rods, and gauges.  I have a 200 amp arc welder that would be useful as long as the fuel holds out.

Along the way, I learned a little blacksmithing, mainly using the cutting torch for heat.  I’ll have to acquire a good forge to continue this, but I can make all sorts of tools for use on the ranch, farm, or grid-down homestead.  I also learned how to make knives of all types, making the handles out of various woods, bone, antler, and metal, and how to work leather to make the sheaths and scabbards, as well as belts, rifle slings, pouches, moccasins and other useful things.  I have a couple of saddle stitching tools with spare needles and quite a bit of nylon cord used to stitch leather goods.  I even have a set of tools for decorating leather, and a tool that cuts leather strings out of a large piece of leather.  I really need to learn how to tan leather, as I think raw hides might be in greater supply than other types of material to make durable goods.

Upon further reflection, I realized that I can carve kitchen tools, such as spoons and forks, make candles out of paraffin or wax (for casting), make candle lamps out of old bottles with cotton string for a wick (for kerosene or lamp oil, or even vegetable oil), make bows, arrows and metal arrowheads suitable for hunting or self defense, make spears for fishing, hunting, or defense, with or without metal heads.  A lifetime of working with my hands, partly as hobby work, can lead to a great deal of serious work when the power is gone.  I thank God daily for those skills that he has seen fit to loan to me, and I use them whenever possible to his glory.

I realize that being 68 years old, I might not have many years to utilize all these skills, but I can teach some or all of them to other people.  I would like to be able to pass them along to younger generations.  So, with that in mind, I plan on setting up an apprentice program of sorts.  Some young people would learn some valuable skills and I would get some physical help.  I figure that after a year or so of a grid-down situation, young people will have forgotten their video games and be looking for something that will help them make a living.  I have two grandsons that I have been working with to teach them some of these useful skills, but I think that there would be room and time for several more willing students.

After this self-assessment, I feel better about my long term prospects for making a living when the SHTF.  It has also led me to see some shortcomings in my preps, allowing me to acquire those materials and supplies that will be necessary but will be in short supply once the supply lines shut down.  All I have to do now is live through this time leading up to TEOTWAWKI.  Continue prepping everyone, keep your powder dry, and God bless these United States.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The National Self Reliance Organization (NSRO) sponsors the Self-Reliance Expos. The expo returned this year to Denver, Colorado on October 4-5, 2013. I also toured the prior Denver Self-Reliance Expo on Sep. 16-17, 2011 here and one last year (May 18-19, 2012) in Colorado Springs. Prior expos have been held in Salt Lake City, Utah (October 7-8, 2011), and during 2012 at Dallas, TX (July 27-28), Hickory, North Carolina (September 14-15) and Mesa, Arizona (October 26-27). Upcoming expos in 2014 will be held in Mesquite, Texas and back in Denver, Colorado. The next upcoming expo is featured here.

As usual, several of the vendors at the expo were SurvivalBlog advertisers. d

Multiple Expo Vendors

These expos showcase a diverse assortment of avid and amiable survival, self-reliance and preparedness presenters and vendors. Many of the companies showing their wares and services there are devoted SurvivalBlog advertisers and readers. I enjoyed meeting several new vendors for the first time as well as those who had been at the September 2011 Denver expo or May 2012 Colorado Springs expo or both. The vendors listed in this paragraph have had a presence at this expo as well as the prior two we've reported on. (Note that some of the vendors listed were listed on the web site, but might not have made it to the show.) Chelsea Green Publishing is always adding new titles to their books on sustainable living, such as From the Wood-Fired Oven New and Traditional Techniques for Cooking and Baking with Fire. Backwoods Home Magazine continues to add new issues which build on their  and popular back issue inventory; we appreciate Dave Duffy's welcoming hospitality and enthusiasm at these shows. Other returning vendors included: American Preppers Network (self-reliance education), Daily Bread (food storage, including freeze dried), DoTerra (doTERRA essential oils), EnerHealth Botanicals (cocoa, coconut milk, meal powder, etc.), Life Sprouts (sprouters with a diverse assortment of sprouting seeds), Directive 21/LPC Survival (water filtration, storage and many other survival products), New Millennium Concepts (Berkey water purifiers), Project Appleseed (Revolutionary War Veterans Association, marksmanship clinics), School of Natural Healing (herbalist education, courseware), Shelf Reliance - THRIVE (food storage, racks, emergency kits), Solar Gadgets (solar phone chargers, flashlights), Sun Oven (solar cooking appliances; they introduced a new model of their popular solar oven, which features sun tracking indicators, larger size to handle larger baking pans, thicker glass, a leveling rack that hangs to minimize spills, and a wind-resistant alignment leg with ground stakes), and 4 Everlight- UV Paqlite (reusable glow sticks--these have been mentioned by several SurvivalBlog readers, and reviewed by Pt Cascio.).

Double Expo Vendors

The vendors listed in this section were attendees of the Colorado Springs 2012 expo as well as this most recent Denver 2013 event. In the arena of Alternate Energy, Lighting and Fuel, returning vendors included ARC Solar Systems (compact portable power systems with a flexible PV component that rolls up into a storage cylinder slightly larger than a sleeping bag) and GO Solar (portable solar power systems). Currency and Exchange exhibitors included Ann Haney Ministries (Living In Abundance Couponing and Swiss America (gold, coins). In the Education, books and media category, we saw returning exhibitors American Preppers Network (self-reliance education), Doom And Bloom (medical preparedness; Survival Medicine Handbook), and Sea Cadets (US Navy cadet programs). Food, Food storage, stores, and distributors were represented by Grandma's Country Foods (foods, spices, milk, preparedness, storage containers, kitchen appliances, contract packaging), My Patriot Supply (heirloom seeds/seed vaults, water, fire, food, survival gear, canning, books), Texas Ready (Liberty seed banks), and Tower Garden (aeroponic vertical gardening system). Shelter and Real Estate entries featured Cedar Log Systems (custom designed cedar log homes). In the Weapons and Defense department, there was Snake Blocker (knives, clothing, DVDs).

A few vendors were at both the Denver expos (2011 and 2013) we've reviewed but not the 2012 Colorado Springs expo reviewed here. These include: Tattler Reusable Canning Lids and Ullrich Insurance.

New Vendors

Numerous new vendors to the expo (at least new relative to those we've reported on within prior expo reviews in SurvivalBlog.) They included: A&E Building Systems (energy efficient building products), Angry American, Aircraft (ArtCraft?) Sports, Atlas Survival Shelter, Attack Pak (balanced load distribution packs/kits), Bar-Ricade (door security bars), Bear Claw Sharpening (tool, saw, knife, scissor sharpening), Big Smoke (Primitive Fire Making), Bill of Rights Press, Bridgford (meat and breads), Ceres Greenhouse (greenhouse renovations, controls, monitoring, consultation), Coast 2 Coast Communications, Colorado Aquaponics (sustainable fish/plant permaculture food production systems), Colorado Custom Sheds (serving Denver metro area), Colorado Cylinder Stoves (collapsable pack/tent stoves, accessories), Colorado Log Furniture Company, Colorado Mountain Man (budget survival/emergency preparedness items), Colorado Safe Outlet (gun safes), Colorado Solar Energy (alternative energy solutions), Coyote RV Inc./Phoenix Pop Up (Custom Campers), Doomsday Preppers Casting, Dragon Heaters (low emissions, high efficiency Wood Burning Rocket Stoves and Heaters), Family Shooting Center, Farris Survival (food, medical kits, water filters), Free Water Systems (rain capture equipment), Genesis Communications Network, Grape Solar (portable power, appliances, small off-grid, residential solar), Greg Brophy For GovernorHandy Sharp (pocket sharpener, magnesium fire starter), Hayes Military Outdoor (1911 pistol grips, camping and survival products, canteen and hydration systems), Health Force Nutritionals (superfoods, rejuvenation, longevity, immunity, cleaning, detoxification, education), Hesperian Health Guides (nonprofit health information and health education source), John Pierre (nutrition & fitness consultant), Just Water (Emergency, Disaster, and Survival Water Filters), Legacy Tractor, Life Straw, Lights Out Saga (motion picture), Liteye Systems (high resolution head mounted displays, micro imaging viewfinders, thermal surveillance systems), LS Tractor (compact and utility tractors, attachments, service), Lustre Craft (waterless, lifetime warranty cookware), Manifold Design and Development (certified passive house consultant), Midsouth Gold (gold, silver, platinum), MinuteMan Rx (life saving medical products used in battlefield or first-responder situations), Modern Harvest (canning labels and jar accessories), Peak 10 Publishing LLC (informational guides/videos on Survivalist, DIY Energy, Health and Financial topics), Penguin Publishing, Protec Sales, Provident Metals, Ready Made Water (home water storage), Republic Monetary Exchange (Gold, Silver, Gold IRAs), Rescue Tape, So Delicious Dairy Free (coconut milk), Top Pack Gear (emergency preparedness kits), Right to Thrive (Front Range backyard farms), Rockin Feet (liquid orthotics), Rocky Mountain Miners, Shelter Works (organic wall/building materials: insulated wood chip-cement forms), Silverfire (very efficient, clean-burning stoves), SunReady Power (portable solar power systems in rugged transportable trunks), Thrive Life (food, food rotation, food storage, emergency preparedness), Tony Dardano, US Navy - Sea Cadets, Vitamix (blender/food appliance), Water Pure Technologies (water storage/treatment kits, accessories), Wilderness Medicine Outfitters (classes: first responder, first aid, specialty), Youngevity (nutritional products), and Young Living (essential oils).

Upcoming Expos

The next scheduled Self-Reliance Expos will be at the Mesquite Convention Center, Texas, April 4-5, 2014 and also back again in Denver at the same venue as this year's event at the National Western Complex, Denver Colorado, Nov 7-8, 2014. These are worthy pilgrimages for anyone within driving distance to these events.

Exhibitors for the next expo (April 4-5, 2014 Mesquite Convention Center, TX) include - lots of familiar vendors and a few new ones: American Preppers NetworkDoom and BloomdoTerraEnerHealth BotanicalsHarvestRight (geodesic domes and portable shelters), LPC Survival (Berkey Water Systems, accessories, food storage, heirloom seed banks, books, mills, tools, etc.), MinuteMan RxNew Millennium Concepts (Berkey water purifiers), Project AppleseedSchool of Natural HealingStorm DormsSwiss America (precious metals, numismatics), Vitamix (high end blender/food appliance), and Young Living.

- L.K.O. (SurvivalBlog's Central Rockies Regional Editor)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

I'd like to discuss my perspective on family preparedness, from the perspective of a architectural design and building contractor. There are four categories to this aspect of preparedness:  Materials, Tools, Knowledge and Usefulness

I read a lot of articles about things to stock up on when TEOTWAWKI situations occur.  One thing I do not hear discussed as much is keeping a well stock material shed at your bug out location.  Now keep in mind this is not a Bug out bag list.  The is a Bug Out Destination or Home list.

Coming from the world of Architectural Design and Contracting I have seen buildings become deplorable shacks in no time.  You would be amazed at how quickly a simple water leak can destroy your compound/home.  Maintenance is always key but sometimes Mother Nature will take over on even the best of us.  A downed tree branch, strong wind gusts or even a deer running into you window (I have seen this happen). 

A well stocked material shed will provide you with not only items for repair and maintenance of your Compound but will provide you with barter items that could be just as valuable as ammo or food. 

Below is a list of items I would recommend to keep in stock at all times.  The best part is a lot of items can be found for little or no costs at all:

2x12’s (these, with a little effort can be made into 2x4’s, 2x6’s or 2x8’s if need be)
Other sizes of 2x framing lumber if your budget allows.
Plywood or OSB
Tyvek or similar Building Wrap (10 mil plastic works as well)
Plexiglas (4x8 sheets to be cut down)
PVC pipe
Roofing Cement
Bailing Wire
Steel pipe and sheets (in any sizes)
Aluminum Flashing
Fiberglass Insulation
Chain Link Fencing
Chicken Wire
Concrete Block
Exterior Grade Paint (color will not matter but neutral brown or green is always best)
Cans of PVC cement (keep in a cool dry place and Sealed tightly)

This is just a small list of items.  You can expand this list to any thoughts you may have and concerns about what you may need.  My personal favorite are Pallets.  I have built many things with these in the past.  Recently I just built my entire material storage shed with them.  12 x 14 foot shed with 8 foot side walls and a 4/12 pitch roof.  A little thinking and planning can go a long way.

Now I mentioned most can be found at little or no cost.  Just tracking down the materials in the right places.  Any hardware store, furniture store, even ATV stores are great for pallets.  [JWR Adds: In lightly-populated regions, machinery companies, fish hatcheries, and trucking firms are a great source for free pallets, usually available just for the asking. But please be sure to not take any pallets that are returnable--typically marked with spray-painted company logos.] Most of the material is scrape to them and costs them money to remove.  They are usually more than happy to just have you take it off there hands.  Even the ones that are not structurally stable will make great firewood.  So grab everything you can get. 

Another place to go are new house construction sites.  You would not believe the material that go into the dumpsters because it’s just too much work for them to salvage.  The best sites are ones when they tear down and old house.  The framing lumber is the best from them.  If you keep an eye out or know anyone doing a building project, ask them ahead of time if you can get into buildings to salvage any items before they are destroyed.  It is also a great idea to contact local construction companies and ask them if they have any projects you can take a look at to salvage from.  Just don’t push it with them either.  They have to be concerned with Liability insurance so if they turn you down its most likely nothing to do with you but insurance reasons.  If they do turn you down ask them for locations where they dump debris and if they can give you a heads up when they dump to see what you can find.

On a recent trip to a construction site I was able to pick up about 6 bundles of shingles they just had taken off a roof, multiple pieces of OSB, some framing lumber and a stack of siding.  Those are the items I kept for myself.  I gathered windows, doors and molding that I took home and posted on craigslist for resale.  Ammo and food storage money! 

Craigslist is the next best place to pick up materials with a little work and searching.  I have come across many postings in the past of people looking to have decks from old pools taken down or concrete blocks from old burn pits.  It is a plethora of free materials that could be a home saver in the future.  Sometimes and if your budget allows you will find contractors liquidating non-used materials from job sites.  You can get these for pennies on the dollar compared to home depot. 

Material Auctions from local auctioneers are good to keep an eye out for as well.  Even the local county gov’t has their auctions that you can find items for dirt cheap. 

Now Materials are great to have but without the next list item they are useless.


Now after you get into a rhythm of finding and storing your material the next step will be to make sure you have all the tools required to work the materials. 

List of items to keep on hand (excluding garden and out door tools like shovels, Etc…):

Min. (2) Construction Style Hand Saws
Camping saw
Screwdriver set
Pipe Wrenches
Utility Knifes and several bulk packs of blades
Multiple Hammers
Multiple size crowbars
Multiple staple guns and boxes of staples
Pry Bar
Sharpening Tool for saws
Tape measure (25’, 100’ and a wooden 3’ collapsible one)
Contractor grade pencils (a box of them)

I would see this list as the bear minimum of items to keep stock.  It would also be a great idea to stock up on extra blades and items to barter.  I have read on here recently the phrase “two is one, and one is none.”  I could not think of a better term to describe my tool build up. 

Now this brings us to our next category.


Now while you have been stocking and storing all these items you should have been building up one item at the top of everyone’s list for any prepping area.  Knowledge.  You must understand how to use your materials and tools and to use them safely at all times.  The last thing you want to do is throw safety to the wind and end up with a missing or broken finger.  Safety is extremely important!

Knowledge is the most important part of this prep.  I have known many people that I walk into there garage and get jealous of the tools and things they have.  The thing is usually though, I am looking at these things after they have called me to come over to help them build something because they do not know how.  Ironic huh?

Research is a great tool but the best tool is sometimes to just go build something for fun.  Build a pallet playhouse for your kids.  Build a barn door to replace one you have.  Simple things that get your brain looking at projects in a different light.  Let me tell you another thing about using recycled materials.  Your brain will work in ways you would never believe to figure out how to make and repair something for free with only what you have available.  Besides, at TEOTWAWKI all you will have is what is available in front of you most of the time. 

Now for those of you who like to read up on things let me tell you about a book I first started with when designing back in school.  It’s called Building Construction Illustrated by Francis D.K. Ching.  It is a very basic but also a very through book about most types of building construction.  This one book alone I still reference even after being in the architectural field for 15 years. 

Everyone has done the research most likely on how to build a chicken coop, or greenhouse.  You can find plenty of plans out there on the internet to figure these things out.  Problem is, how do you do them without paying for any items to build with.  I recently constructed my chicken coop using one of my favorite items again: pallets.  I built and entire frame from the pallets and secured it to my garage.  I used reclaimed pressure treated wood from a fence as clap board siding.  I used reclaimed insulated ceiling tiles for the insulation. Reclaimed metal roofing for the roof.  I spent most likely the same amount of time thinking about how to build it as I did actually building.  But in TEOTWAWKI situation the one thing you will most likely have a little more of is time with that pesky thing called a job out of the way.  It’s all about knowledge in the end.  Thinking outside of the box.

Knowledge again is your best defense and offense.  Your own ingenuity could be a defining point in having shelter or none at all.  You must be able to understand the basic concepts of design and construction to be able to allow you to have the last of my four categories.


Imagine back in the pioneer days.  All people had was their own two hands and trying to figure out how to use an ax to build a home.  We are spoiled today, with our ability to have all these basic, yet great items and so many of us don’t know how to use them.  If you figure this out though you will be useful not only to your family but to the community around you that will eventually rebuild.  This usefulness in your community around you will pay off very big dividends in the end. 

Trading your skills and labor could also be one of the best Barter items you could have to offer.  They are the cheapest things to be able to stock up on but some of the most valuable.  Being useful to those around you will provide you with their trust and in turn you will be able to trust them when you need it.

So in the end having all the basic preps are important.  But always keep in mind the hidden long terms preps mentioned above. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Hi Jim,
I love SurvivalBlog! I have a question: I would like to store whiskey for bartering in SHTF. I thought of taking empty 187 ML (about 6 oz) wine bottles with screw caps, washing them, refilling with whiskey, placing a short wine cork in top, then screw cap, then wrap in Saran wrap to limit evaporation loss. I would then label bottles with content and date, and store for SHTF. How does this sound to you? Thanks, - Tom R.

JWR Replies: While I don't approve of bartering whiskey, I must concede that many folks do see some utility in it. So, if you feel you must:

In my estimation, saving on the per-unit cost by buying booze in large containers and re-packaging it is false economy. Two of the keys to successful bartering are trustworthiness and readily recognizable products.  You are far better off buying middle-grade American name brand whiskey (such as Jim Beam or Jack Daniels) in the distillery's small, sealed single-serving 50 ML commercial airline vending bottles. These will likely be well-known and hence trusted by your customers.  These filled bottles are available in bulk from distributors, or you can watch for sales at local liquor stores. To extend their shelf life, you can dip the bottle tops in paraffin.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

I was unexpectedly laid off two years ago.  Although I eventually landed another position after months of searching, losing my job was perhaps the most humbling and painful experience I’ve been through in recent years.   Truth be told, I was also bitter.  The frustrations of hunting for a new job in a tough market, starting up a sideline family business and wondering where in the world my family of six will end up really began to take their toll.  I sorely needed a distraction and an excuse get out of the house! On a whim, I started going to auctions.   

Auctions have become an avid interest –they’ve taught me new negotiating skills, how to identify bargains and they’re an avenue for extra income to shore up our finances.  Surprisingly, I found auctions to be an exceptionally good source of prepping and barter supplies.  You can buy many items for pennies on the dollar, and others for bargain price that won’t break your budget!

What types of supplies can be found at auction?  Here’s the abbreviated list of items I’ve bought or seen up for bid at even small country auction houses:

  • Military surplus including ammo boxes, clothing, backpacks, boots, helmets, Gortex parkas, rain gear, manuals, and gear components like magazine pouches, radio carriers, etc.
  • Shortwave and CB radios
  • Antique, fully functional fruit and vegetable presses
  • 90% silver coins
  • Firearms (antique and modern), parts, tools and accessories like magazines, scopes,  and cleaning kits
  • Archery and fishing equipment
  • Tools, including plenty of quality hand tools
  • Welding Equipment
  • Camping equipment including high quality sleeping bags, lanterns, stoves and cooking accessories
  • Reloading equipment including dies, presses, books, parts and bullets/casings.
  • Navigation:  maps, compasses and GPS equipment
  • Communications equipment including old shortwave radios with tubes to modern CB radios, marine radios, and handhelds.
  • Canning equipment and supplies, modern and hundred year old food dehydrators.
  • Freezers
  • General household supplies for stocking a retreat
  • Lockers for storing stuff in your basement
  • Vehicles, campers, tractors and ATVs
  • Cases or personal hygiene items such as soap, shampoo, razors – convenience store stuff
  • Tractors, ATVs, farm equipment and gardening supplies
  • Extra large trailers in new condition selling for more than 50% off bottom line dealership prices.
  • Large heavy duty plastic containers with weather stripping and lockable tops for shipping military stuff overseas – great for storing your preparedness items in quantity!

The list is nearly endless!
Before touching on key topics, remember these important points:  There is no risk in attending an auction – absolutely none!  If you don’t bid, or if you don’t win, you walk out without having spent a dime.  In fact, for your first 1-2 auctions, you should just sit and observe.  You can learn a lot by watching people who have been attending auctions for years!  However, if you choose to bid before you understand the way auctions work, you can easily overpay and/or blow your budget.  Start out slowly! 
If you have no experience with auctions, you’ll need a few tips and ground rules to get you started before you give this fun adventure a try.

Locating Good Auctions

My favorite sources of auctions are and I’ve also found estate auctions advertised in local newspapers and on Craigslist. If you’re already visiting yard sales during the day to find prepping supplies at bargain prices, you can work auctions into your routine since many are held in the evenings. Write down the times and dates of auctions you are interested in, so you can map out an efficient route and conserve time and gas money.  If you attend a significant number of auctions, you will start to find there are certain auctioneers that know how to run a fast paced and well organized auction.  Get on their email list!

Know What’s Being Sold Before You Go
First, you need to locate auctions that are offering the kind of merchandise you want to buy (this is a great time to refer to your list of prepper related needs and wants).  If you aren’t careful, you can waste a lot of time and gas money traveling to an auction that won’t be selling items you’re interested in.

Carefully review online auction descriptions and image galleries to understand what is being sold.  If details aren’t available, ask the auction house for an inventory list.  I specifically look for keywords in the following categories:  camping, guns, reloading, surplus military equipment, silver (coins or bars), knives, canning equipment, farming equipment and tools.  If these items are present at an auction, chances are there are others that aren’t on the web site.

Auction location is also important.  City auctions tend to offer higher priced items such as art work and collectibles.  You can also find city auctions that offer tools and building supplies.  Rural auctions almost always offer items that are of interest to preppers, including farm and garden tools, workshop supplies, even tractors and trucks.  As with any auction, you have to be very careful to verify the items offered meet the general theme of what you are looking for.

If you see one or more of these items listed at an estate auction, chances are the estate will be selling off many items you’ll be interested in.  If you see the same items at a combined auction run by a traditional auction house, you may need to be a little more discriminating.  Some auction houses combine many unrelated lots of merchandise together and you’ll need to wade through baby items, vinyl records and 1970s clothing to get what you want.  I haven’t found anyone that still likes polyester leisure suits.

Here’s the list of items I consider as I choose which auctions to attend:

  • Location – how far are you willing to drive?  Gas money adds up, especially at today’s prices.
  • What’s the auction house premium?  This is commonly 10% but can be more or less.
  • Does the auction accept debit cards, credit cards, checks and/or cash?  Ask in advance!
  • Is there a discount for paying in cash?
  • Is there an extra fee for using a credit card?  Some auction houses add a 3% fee for the use of credit cards.
  • Who is calling the auction?  Do they have a good reputation for delivering an organized event?
  • Will the auction help you load larger items into your vehicle?
  • How well advertised was the auction?  The less advertised, the better.
  • Will food or snacks be served free of charge for a reasonable price?  This is an important detail that should not be overlooked, especially if you are bringing children.  Some auctions can easily run for 5-6 hours.

Research Merchandise Values.
Okay, let’s assume a few items at a particular auction have caught your eye.  How do you know what fair value is, and more importantly, what a good bargain price is?  Look at closing prices on online auction sites like eBay (you can use your smart phone for this).  You may also let your experience buying at both yard sales and retail locations help guide you to the right price.  Ultimately, your goal is to purchase items you can use in your preparedness plan at a bargain price (i.e., a survival knife or a pre-1965 90% silver coins with common dates.)

You can also flip auction items to make a profit.  The same valuation research you use to identify items for your supply stash can also be used to recognize bargains that can be sold for a profit now or during TEOTWAWKI event.

My research includes adding specific items to a spreadsheet, adding notes about fair market value, and notes about low and high selling prices.  I also set a limit on how much I am willing to spend on a particular item.  I bring these notes with me as part of my auction kit.

What should you bring?

  •  Your notebook with notes on items that you would like to bid on, and for recording details about your winning bids
  • A predefined budget that you will not exceed
  • A small calculator to keep track of your purchase totals
  • A sturdy bag or two, or a box to carry your items away in
  • A small quantity of 3x5 cards with your name and cell phone number on them.  If you win a larger item that cannot be handed to you at your seat, quickly write your bidder’s registration number on the 3x5 card for the auction assistant to tape to the item.
  • Payment in the form of cash, credit card, check or debit card
  • An iPhone, iPad or other smart device to research prices on the fly
  • A good partner (i.e., spouse) to stop you from bidding too much on an item (shin kicking works)
  • A small supply of snacks, bottled water
  • A good sense of humor – you’ll need to laugh it off when the auction-savvy 12 year old kid seated to your right and the white haired great grandmother on your left take turns owning you in the bidding process.
  • Cash – remember to stow it in a safe place on your person.

Where should you sit?
Get a seat close to the front, but at least a few rows back and be in clear view of the auctioneer or their assistants.  Why not sit in the front row?  I like to watch people who are more savvy than I am.  If they stop bidding or shake their head “No”, then they have reached their limit on what they are willing to bid and for very good reason.  I use their reactions as a queue to stop or slow down my own bidding if I am not knowledgeable about the item being sold.  Once you’ve selected a seat, place a piece of paper on the seat with your name on it.  This prevents the seat from being claimed by someone else while you are inspecting merchandise before the auction begins.  Experienced auction attendees seem to honor this seat code – many place masking tape on the seat with their name on it so it cannot be blown off.

Inspect Merchandise Before the Auction Begins!
If the auction house is close to your home and allows previews prior to auction day, take advantage of this opportunity.  You may find that the auction is not the right one for you and wisely choose to spend your time at another venue.

Plan to arrive at least an hour early on auction day.  Review all the merchandise on the floor and go through boxes.  It’s time well spent – you’ll see many items that were not included in the online auction gallery.

Carefully review the items you plan to bid on, even if you previewed them the day before or online.  Why?  Online image galleries don’t always show the true condition of each item. Sometimes items can be damaged when handled in preparation for the auction, more may be added at the last minute, and you want to make sure high value items like coins weren’t switched.  Mildew and cigarette smoke odors may also be present on the item.  Mechanical items must be checked for functionality and long term serviceability.

When Should You Bid?

Once the auction starts, don’t be the first bidder.  Let’s use a common camping lantern in well used but serviceable condition as an example.  The auctioneer may start the bidding at $50.  Nobody in their right mind would bid that high.  He’ll continue to reduce the bid until somebody bites (usually $5 on an item like this).  Once the first bid goes in at $5, hold off on bidding yet again until others have bid up the price a little.  The strategy is to suppress the price.  If you bid too early, the price may run much too high and someone (probably you) will be overpaying.   Wait for the bidding to slow down.  If the price is still below your target, bid with a pained look on your face.  It adds to the drama.

Note:  When you’re the winning bidder, remember to write down specifics such as a short description of the item, the winning bid price, and where the item was placed if it wasn’t given to you at your seat.  Auction houses occasionally make mistakes and enter a wrong winning bid amount, and items placed outside of your possession have been known to disappear.  Most auctions have rules that say once you are the winning bidder, you own that item, even if you haven’t paid for it yet!

Don’t get caught up in the rush of bidding on a particular item.
It’s not worth overpaying for any one item unless you absolutely must have it.  If you start attending auctions on a regular basis, you’ll see the same or similar items on the auction block a few weeks later.  You can bid again.  For instance, let’s say you wanted that camping lantern but your maximum bid of $15 wasn’t enough.  Somebody else got it for $17.50.  Don’t kick yourself.  You may see a top end Dietz lantern a couple of weeks later and get it for your bid limit.  I’d rather have the Dietz in my prepping supplies, wouldn’t you?

Occasionally, it’s okay to take a risk on an item when your gut instinct is telling you the winning bid is still a bargain.  I recently bought a very ornate and heavy cast aluminum mailbox that was resold for 10 time what I spent on it... and I know nothing about mailboxes!  In another round of bidding, a knife nobody wanted turned out to be worth quadruple what I bought it for.  A box of coins with a few 90% silver dimes mixed in with other odd coins turned out to have 75 pieces of 90% silver dimes and quarters at the bottom; nobody bothered to dig through the box before bidding started.

Once the auction closes (or you’ve hit your spending limit), proceed to the cashier.  You’ll be paying the winning bid price, plus the auction house premium (often 10%), plus a credit card transaction fee if you are not paying in cash, and sales tax.  On the topic of sales tax, it’s a good idea to know your state sales tax regulations.  In my state, we are not charged sales tax on currency or bullion purchases.  I’ve had to educate a cashier on this topic on more than one occasion.  I now bring printed copies of the relevant sales tax regulations.

Remember to tip workers who help you load heavy items into your vehicle.  Chances are you’ll be seeing these people again if you continue to attend regional auctions.

Using Auctions To Source Items For Profit

A word of warning:  BE CAREFUL!   It’s very easy to lose money in the resale game.   If you are going to do this for profit, it’s wise to pick a few classes of merchandise and build your expertise.  You need to possess a solid understanding of how each item is valued and its resale potential.  For instance, I’m a fan of antique pocket and survival knives.  Early on, I overpaid for knives I thought were worth more than my winning bid.  Those mistakes were sometimes painful!  I made it a point to understand exactly what I was bidding on, the resale potential, and all costs involved in buying that particular knife and reselling it via other channels.  I am far better off not bidding on an item if I don’t know enough about it.  75% of the time, post mortem research proves I would have overpaid.  To summarize – don’t buy something to resell for profit unless you are confident in your knowledge of the resale market.

[JWR Adds: I recommend that you assemble a reference library that can serve you both for establishing the authenticity of goods, and for establishing their relative values. Be sure to print out some useful data and weight conversion formulas, and keep those pages in a reference binder. In my estimation, you will need your own copies of the following books:

Buying definitive references is a wise move that will keep you from making some costly mistakes. This preparation fits in with the old saying: "It takes money to make money."]

Dealing With The Competition
You are going to meet a long list of interesting people.  Almost everyone I’ve met has been warm, friendly and polite… until the bidding starts.  That nice little old lady that chatted with you politely before the start of the auction?  She’s now a stone cold blood sucking vampire zombie glaring at anyone trying to bid on “her” depression glass.  I’ve also seen Mr. Friendly lean over and talk to their coin buying neighbor while Mrs. Friendly took advantage of the distraction by offering the winning bid on a few silver half dollars. Stay focused, but remember to have a little fun laughing at the cast of characters!

What About Storage Unit Auctions?
You’ve seen or heard about the popular television show Storage Wars.  Bidding on storage units can be fun and frustrating at the same time.  If you are looking for TEOTWAWKI supplies, you may find a few units that meet your criteria.  Less than 5% of the units contain what I would consider useful to a prepper.  For example, one unit was filled with high quality gardening and landscaping supplies and sold for $175, and another unit had a significant quantity of camping and outdoors gear but the winning bidder clearly overpaid.

You don’t really know what you’re getting at these auctions since you are not allowed to actually touch the contents of the unit prior to the end of the auction.  Storage units are always a gamble.  That said, we have bought a few units and they’ve yielded very interesting items including brand new freezers,  complex first aid kits, an expensive portable heart defibrillator, and office equipment.  I bid on storage units for profit, not necessarily to source prepper supplies.

Attending storage auctions is not for the faint of heart.  I’ve heard more than one high bidder grumble, “I’m paying them for the privilege of clearing out all this worthless garbage!”  That’s right – you get to cart everything you don’t want down to Goodwill or the dump.  Keep that in mind while bidding!

Don’t rule out GoodWill and Second Hand Stores
With careful shopping, you can pick up extreme bargains at your local second hand stores.  Finding bargains is an exciting prospect.  I’ve seen plenty of old, sturdy ball jars, canning equipment, flashlights, hand tools (including high quality American made brands), power tools, survival/preparedness books, and even oddball items like gas regulator valves.  The items can be quite unexpected – from mosquito netting to binoculars or a (previously) expensive backpack.  Favorite finds have been a serviceable Benchmade Knife for $2.85 ($125 new), cold weather famous brand pants for $15 ($150 new), cast iron cookware, and some very expensive clothing for my children at absurdly low prices.  I also buy my work clothing at GoodWill stores - $70 unused current style dress shirts for $12 or a pair of expensive khakis for $3 on half price day is nothing to laugh at.  One trip to the dry cleaners and they are added to my wardrobe.

My favorite items to shop for at Goodwill include clothing, especially items that can be stored away for future use or charity.  In most cases, I am buying these items for 70-90% off the original cost.  It’s not difficult to source lightly used boots (including military surplus), name brand quality cold weather gear, top quality gloves and brand new garments with tags.

Shopping at second hand stores can be hit or miss.  As with auctions, if you have a plan, you can make the most of your time and money.  Here’s a quick list of my “rules”:

  • Know the locations of all the stores you’d like to visit.  Stores located in prosperous neighborhoods in larger cities or suburbs are great targets.
  • Call stores in advance to ask about discounts.  Some charity based stores will give you a hefty discount if you make even a single item donation when you arrive.  One of our local chains offers a 20% discount on that day’s purchases when you donate unwanted items.  Hmmm… 20% off items that I’m already getting a 75% discount on?  Score!  Other stores discount color coded price tags tags by up to 50% but only do so on certain day of the week.
  • Travel to each store in the most efficient manner possible to save fuel and time.
  • Move through quickly.  Look at each shelf and rack carefully, but do so with a keen eye for top quality supplies.
  • Bring your list of needs and wants.  If the item isn’t on your list, or is not a good addition to your prepping inventory, pass the item by.  These items can still add to a large tab when you check out.  By the way, this is where it pays to have an extensive list of supplies you want to add to your prepping inventory.
  • Don’t break your budget!  If you can’t afford it now, it will show up again later in another store.
  • Finally, before making a purchase, do the look-sniff-try it test.  Look all over the items for defects.  Sniff clothing for odors.  Try all items for functionality – zip zippers, button snaps, even use a local outlet to plug in tools to see if they work as designed.

Ready to have some fun?  Get Going!
It’s easy to get caught up in the negativity of preparing for whatever challenging TEOTWAWKI scenarios lay ahead.  Go have some fun - attend an auction or two and walk away with a smile on your face!

Final Note: God’s blessings and answers to prayer arrive in some of the least expected ways.  Although I lost my job, I learned how to source items to add to our preparedness inventory at very low prices.  We were also offered a relocation package as part of my new job that put us within a stone’s throw of the Redoubt, and we’re now hunting for a property to settle our family.  To God goes all the thanks, praise and glory!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Mr Rawles,
Thank you for taking the time to read my articles and to comment on them. I appreciate the points you raised regarding charity via the church and other local organizations. I was possibly a little unclear and maybe should have stressed more that I was referring to the time during a collapse when getting supplies to organizations in order that they can disperse them could be difficult if not downright dangerous.

I disagree that I am your diametric opposite Mr Rawles. I am neither a thief nor a looter and I agree with your assessment that a collapse would have to be massive before I would consider such measures. Myself or anyone else who undertook to use materials from people's homes should be prepared to compensate any proven heirs who did arrive at a later time.

The purpose of these articles is to make people think. To remove them from their comfort zone and make them consider how truly vile a total collapse would be. To hopefully make them think about some of the situations they may face that they have never faced before and to force them to consider what they would do in these situations.

If anything I hope my articles make people stop and think about their future, about preparedness, and about making sure that their relative isn't the 'old Mrs Jones' I refer to, and that something good comes out of my writing.

I think we have a responsibility to look at all aspects of a given picture and I believe there are many different ways of doing that. Raising awareness is I believe, why we write for public consumption.

I stand by the articles I have written. They have raised a great deal of debate and questioning on several sites and that was the intention.

Once again thank you for taking the time to read and comment on the articles.

Wishing you all good things for the future. - Chris Carrington

Regarding Chris Carrington's essay, "Why I won’t be charitable when the SHTF":

Admittedly, this is an issue I have struggled with and despite trying to adhere to WWJD ("what would Jesus do?") in all things, whether to give, when to give, who to and how much is something I would have great difficulty deciding on and given my terrible location in terms of population density, the temptation is to take a blanket approach of don’t give as to not put me and my loved ones in detriment (unless we’re bartering, which isn’t charity anyway). While using a third party through the local church is a possibility, the risk of that third party revealing their source whether mistakenly or under duress is too great a risk to OPSEC. What if there are no Third Party volunteers for this position? And would I be comfortable putting this potential hazardous vocation on their shoulders? It is a real quandary.

While family and some very close friends are aware of my interest in preparedness (yet no idea to what extent) I still picture myself begrudging their lack of foresight despite certain warnings I and the general political/economic/cultural landscape has given, and a subsequent argument on the doorstep  with my partner (who’s generosity know no bounds) about “what do we do if supplies run out before society gets back off its knees?”. While they spend on cinema memberships, drinks out, uneconomical vehicles, perpetuation/ of indebtedness  and other whimsy, my personal expenditure is on food and travel to work alone (with the odd date, some fishing bait and a brew with a buddy) everything else goes towards options, shielding us from indebtedness and hurt down the road. So “give until it hurts” sometimes feels like a preparedness oxymoron (not to take away from you sage counsel Captain Rawles, your view to do this is inspirational).
“I know where I’m coming when disaster strikes” – How many times have you possibly heard that when discussing preps? (with trusted folk of course) and how frustrating it can be that they miss the point entirely, that they should prep too and their lack of understanding on the logistical nightmare prepping for one can be, never mind immediate and extended family. A lesson they are going to learn the hardest way imaginable (Praise be that the Lord has given dreams to the least prepared members of collapse, prompting some action). Again, charity is one of the toughest areas of survival I have come across.

I dread to think where my conscience would side in the event of charity cases in TEOTWAWKI, would it be my rational, harsh reality thinking brain which agrees  with Chris Carrington, or my staunch faith in Christ  and belief in Psalm 23?

I think the only solution to this comes down to our best assets when the SHTF, community and knowledge. Surrounding yourself with people who come to understand and more importantly appreciate the survival database you hold in your head (without revealing what you have) and quickly make yourself invaluable to those around you, in turn creating opsec as opposed to compromising it. Those that have read Lucifer's Hammer may recall the intellectual (septic tank man, I forget the name) who in ill health steered the chemical weapon project that secured the defeat of the antagonist horde, and how valued he was by his cohort due to his knowledge base. This being a prime example of the “give a man a fish/teach a man to fish” principle. The Mongols under Genghis knew to look out for skilled individuals to bring into the fold, the “bad guys” in schumer time may apply the same theorem, if they know what’s good for them. Not a desirable situation but the alternative could be far less palatable.

I’m prepping for me and mine and putting together anonymously authored pamphlets of essential precepts to urban survival and becoming part of the solution (eating perishables first, rules to avoid a public health nightmare, encouraging trade and barter with some etiquette pointers, security tips, steering folks to church for community building purposes, encouraging people to come forth with their skill set, which I will monitor covertly through the church etc) with water purification tablets and instructions attached. This will hopefully begin the networking process necessary to pulling through.

Be the welder, be the medically adept individual, be the mechanic, be the CB radio operator, be the large scale gardener with seed bank, be the tree surgeon/wood cutter,  the security consultant and so on, in other words, make yourself an asset to those around you so your preservation is to their benefit.

Any other “crunch” vocation suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

May the Lord preserve us and judge us fittingly and my prayers go out to my American Brethren. - R.D.  in England

JWR Replies: Mostly for "grid up" circumstances, I made some suggestions on Depression-proof jobs in these SurvivalBlog posts:

What Recovery? Find Yourself a Recoveryless Job

Depression Proof Jobs for a 20 Year Depression - Part 1: The Counter-Cyclical Jobs

Depression Proof Jobs for a 20 Year Depression - Part 2: Developing a Home-Based Business

More About Depression Proof Jobs--Consider the Three Ks


A Second Income--A Key Goal for Family Preparedness

Monday, October 7, 2013

By the year 2020 we may be in the midst of (or in the early stages of recovery from) a major depression or perhaps even a full-blown socioeconomic collapse. An old saying is: "Hindsight is 20/20." So here is a gedanken: What will people observe in the year 2020, with the benefit of hindsight?
The following is my conjecture on what folks will cite when asked: "What went wrong?"

  • Profligate government spending at all levels
  • Multigenerational welfare
  • Rampant food stamp dependence (1/6th of the populace, as of 2013!)
  • Loss of American competitiveness
  • Declining academic standards and performance
  • Decline in manufacturing and a shift to a service economy
  • A systematically debased currency
  • Deteriorating roads, bridges, power distribution, and civic water systems
  • Increasing dependence on technology and long chains of supply
  • General apathy, moral decline, and degeneracy
  • Artificially manipulated interest rates
  • A declining work ethic and detachment from traditional self-sufficiency skills
  • Socialist policies, over-regulation, and over-taxation
  • Malinvestment in everything from wind farms to Tesla Motors
  • A narcissistic, self-absorbed, and overweight society
  • A populace obsessed with popular culture, fads, gossip, fashion, celebrities, and media sensations
  • A populace that ignores genuinely important issues
  • Statism
  • Corporate welfare
  • A corrupt crony relationship between Wall Street, the Federal Reserve banking cartel, and the Treasury Department
  • Enormous, uncontrolled debt--both public and private
  • Never-ending bailouts of public and private organizations, paid for with tax dollars.

They will also ask themselves: "What could I gave done differently, to be prepared?" They will realize that they could have, and should have decided to:

  • Move to a lightly-populated farming region that is well-removed from major population centers.
  • Learn traditional skills such as gardening, canning, hunting, welding, and home mechanics.
  • Network with like-minded individuals.
  • Get out of debt. and stay out of debt.
  • Stock up on storage food and other key logistics.
  • Arm yourself and get tactically-oriented firearms training.
  • Develop a second income stream with a home-based business that will be depression proof and resilient to mass inflation
  • Assemble a reference library.
  • Train in advanced first aid.
  • Get a ham radio license.
  • Become involved with your local farmer's market.
  • Join a local Volunteer Fire Department.

I don't claim to have any special insight on the future. But I can certainly see social, political, and economic trends and project their likely outcomes. The current trends do not bode well. Just by themselves, the public and private debt burdens will be enough to cause major problems in coming years. Get ready, folks.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Prepping is never far from my mind. A few months ago I was talking with a friend and the subject of TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We know It) came up.
Tom (not his real name) said that he would like to prepare for upcoming emergencies but didn’t know where to start. The answer was simple; start where you are.
Obviously most people cannot start with a full larder and weapons/ammunition cache. That is of course, unless you really do have all of that, in that case…well, that’s where you are.

I asked Tom what scenarios he wanted to prepare for. “Like what?” he asked. You know… EMPs, natural disasters like the Yellowstone Super Volcano, earthquakes, social breakdowns, pandemics…what?

He said, “Yeah. Those things.”

I guess he’s a lot like me. I really don’t know when or why I’ll need my preps…I just know that sooner or later I will!

The only difference in the end will be the timeline of the disaster. It could be years with a war or catastrophic natural event, or just a few days in duration like a blizzard. I wanna’ live through it all and I want all of mine to live, too!

To help Tom get started we did an inventory of what he had: food, medical supplies, stored water, tools, gardening supplies, clothing and shoes, finances, cash on hand, firearms and ammunition, and skill sets. We also took a long and hard look at his home and property.

We then drew up a plan to go from where he was to where he wanted to be. Since he was on a limited budget we needed to get creative.

As we looked at his discretionary income we discovered that he could squeeze about $75 USD per month from his budget.

“Is there anywhere else we can find some money?” I asked.

“I don’t think so”, he replied. Wow, this could take a really long time. Time we don’t necessarily have.

Since Tom and I are really old friends he allowed me to look at his budget. Right away I saw a few places he could cut down to “find some money”.
The following is a running tally of where we were able to gather some resources:
            He, his wife, and daughter all had cell phones. Eliminate land line, savings about $40 USD per month. Total $40 USD.
            Downgrade his satellite TV to basic package. Found money- $60 USD per month. Total $100 USD.
            Shopped for auto /home insurance (I know this guy…) savings $900 USD per year, equals $75 USD per month, total $175 USD per month.
            Take coffee with him eliminating Starbucks, saving $4 USD per day times 20 days per month equals $80 USD per month, total $255 USD per month.
            Tom eats lunch at a restaurant nearly every day. He spends $8-12 USD per, average $10 USD. If he packs his lunch and works through his lunch hour he can leave early and save $200 USD per month, totaling $455 USD.
            He also usually bought a candy bar and a Coke most afternoons. If he eliminated that he would save the money plus cut several hundred calories a week from his diet. I suggested he take a piece of fruit with him.  This cost him about $2.50 USD x 20 = $50 USD / month, totaling $505 USD per month.
            Tom’s wife works about 5 miles from home and her vehicle gets about 32 mpg. Tom on the other hand commutes 80 miles per day and only gets 17 mpg with his SUV. Let’s do some math:
Tom – 80 miles per day x 5 days per week = 400 miles per week divided by 17 mpg = 23.5 gallons of gasoline.
Mrs. Tom - 10 miles round trip x 5 days per week = 50 miles per week divided by 32 mpg = 1.5 gallons of gasoline.
If they trade vehicles Tom would have 400 miles per week divided by 32 mpg = 12.5 gallons and Mrs. Tom 50 miles per week divided by 17 mpg equaling 3 gallons of gas. The savings would be 12.5 gallons (Tom) minus 3 gallons (Mrs. T) or 9.5 gallons per week multiplied by the price per gallon, which was about $3.50 USD at the time we figured this. The savings was $33.25 USD per week x 4 weeks or $133 USD per month.
This added to the $505 USD savings we already had came to$638 USD plus the $75 USD he started with, brought him to over $700 USD per month to start his preps. This totals $8,400 USD per year. Your mileage may vary.

With figures in hand we decided to start a “Prepping Budget”.  We didn’t want to spend all $700 USD on food or guns or on just any one item. We wanted to spread it around so that if TEOTWAKI hits next month he will at least have a little of everything.

Water storage is probably the least expensive item to complete, and next to air and shelter is the most vital for survival. And so it was easy to get his basic water storage completed.
While normally there are only three members in his household, he also has two grown children; a single son in college and a married daughter who has one child and expecting her second. When TSHTF they also expect to take in Mrs. Tom’s handicapped (wheelchair bound) brother. This brought their total to eight. Realistically they should build in a fudge factor of 50%, or prepare for 12 people.

With this in mind we calculated the minimum amount of water to be stored. At two gallons of water per day per person (authorities recommend one gallon per day per person<remember the Preppers Code: two is one and one is none!>) and fourteen days worth stored equals 24 gallons per day times 14 or 336 gallons.
So off to Pepsi went Tom who bought seven used plastic 55 gallon drums that had been used for soft drink syrup for $10 USD each. (total expense was $70 USD) He brought them home and rinsed them out, drained them, made a solution of 5 gallons hot water with 3 tablespoons of dish detergent and placed it in a drum. We replaced the bung (plug) and rolled the drum between us. After a few minutes we drained the drum through a funnel into the next drum. (We let it drain for several minutes to get it as empty as possible) We continued this system until all drums were washed. We did have to change the water after the fourth drum, as it was pretty skanky! The drums were left upside down overnight so that they might drain well.  The next day we repeated the process, again allowing them to drain overnight. Next about 10 gallons of warm rinse water was placed in each drum, they were rolled again and drained.
The next step was to put about 5 more gallons into each drum with a quarter cup of chlorine bleach. We rolled each drum several times over the next day, after which we emptied the drums.
We removed the drums to his basement storage area, wiped the outsides of the drums and placed them on pressure treated 1x4’s covered with ¼ inch plywood. This was to keep the drums off the concrete floor which could affect the plastic drums.
We then placed about a tablespoon of unscented chlorine bleach into each drum and then filled them through a food grade water hose with tap water.
We date labeled the drums so that they could be used and refilled in a consistent manner.
Total expense for his water storage was about $102 USD plus the actual water from his tap.

Keeping in line with an across the board spending he next purchased a solar battery charger online for around $70 USD. Also in the order he spend around $20 USD on each, “C”, “D”, “9v”, “AA”, and “AAA” rechargeable batteries. Total was ~$170 USD.
The next trip was to the LDS Family Food Storage Center where Tom spent $200 USD on commodities. He placed an online order for plastic pails, Mylar bags, and oxygen absorbers. Cost – around $100 USD, subtotal $300 USD, total $572 USD.
Off to Wal-Mart where he bought a Coleman propane camping stove and a 20 pound propane tank. Total there was $120 USD. Total of all $696 USD.

And so Tom was able to get a good handle on his beginning preps with his water storage well started, as well as batteries and charger, a small stock of essential food storage items, and something to cook it on.

Month 2
After another planning session Tom made his purchases for the second month:
            Another $100 USD in rechargeable batteries.
            An AM/FM/SW/ NOAA radio - $120 USD
            A Big Berkey water filter - $320 USD
            3 Dietz kerosene lanterns, a 5 gallon safety fuel can, and 5 gallons of kerosene - $115 USD.
All of these purchases totaled $655 USD. I suggested that he put his $45 USD away for seed money.
He took me literally and bought a number 10 can of heirloom seeds from Emergency Essentials.

Month 3
This time when I met with Tom his list was already made. After a review I agreed to his plan:
            150 12 gauge 00 (double ought) Buckshot shotgun shells for $99.99 USD (Tom already has a 12 gauge shotgun)
            2 cases of MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) at $60 USD each, $120 USD total - $220 USD.
            2 large and 1 medium “Alice Packs” for total of $95 USD – total $315 USD.
            3 “experienced” USGI sleep systems @ $80 USD each, for $240 USD, total - $555 USD.
            The $145 USD balance was spent on USGI canteens, web gear, and pouches. Total spent $725 USD (Tom went a little over budget).

Month 4
As I write this Tom is purchasing this month’s preps.
As this is canning (bottling) season there are many canning supplies on sale. His goal is several dozen quart jars, extra lids and rings and a pressure canner. I also recommended that he purchase a good reference manual on preserving food.
(Sidebar: Tom did not have a garden this year but plans to purchase some produce at the local farmers’ market and can some vegetables for the experience.)
We estimate this cost at ~$200 USD, although the produce itself will come from his household budget.
Other purchases this month will include:
            4 Family channel radios (2 sets) with headsets and external mic - ~ $120 USD.
            A handheld GPS and USGS maps for each section to the family farm (BOL) ~ $250 USD.
Hiking boots for Mrs. Tom $125 USD.

Tom’s shopping list for the near future include handguns for he and his wife, along with appropriate ammunition, holsters, accessories, CCW class, and CCW. He also plans to purchase three new shotguns, a 12 gauge pump (tactical style) for him, and two 20 gauge pumps for his wife and daughter.
Of course his food storage, gardening tools, medical supplies, solar/generator, tactical clothing, BOV, MBR and ammo, and a myriad of items remain to be prioritized and purchased.

THE MAIN THING IS THAT Tom, et al, has found a way to afford the things they need. If only TIME will allow them to complete the basics they should be all right. If not… well, they’re already better off than they were!
In summary I would like to add a few observations:

  1. No matter your budget there are almost always some extras you can cut and use that “found” money for your preps. (I wish the US Government would follow this advice!)
  2. It is always better to have 30 days of a wide variety of preps, rather than a year’s supply of any one or two things. Plan accordingly.
  3. Have a plan and for the most part stick to it. An exception might be a really good sale or bargain on something you were going to purchase soon anyway.
  4. Never borrow money to buy preps. If you do use your credit card then pay that purchase off before using it for another prep purchase.
  5. Understand that you will never, never, never be ready for TEOTWAWKI. There will always be one more thing you need, one more skill to hone…

Start where you are, examine your lifestyle and yourself, enlist those who mean the most to you and trust in the Lord. All will be well.

JWR Adds: In addition to budget trimming, to generate cash I would recommend developing a small second income stream, such as home-based mailorder business. And if the inventory that you develop for that business is of items that would be good for post-disaster barter, charity, and your own family's use, then it is a "win-win." Excess frippery (such as collectibles) can also be gradually sold off via eBay. Don't make the excuse of just saying "I don't have the money to prepare." The money is there if you just get creative, as Louie suggested.

Friday, September 13, 2013

There is a lot of talk in the media these days about three dimensional (3D) printers. For our community there is the Liberator, a 3D printed gun. It is an amazing development but certainly not ready for widespread use. 3D printers also make it possible to print your own magazines, holsters, and just about anything else you can think of that is made from plastic. But how good are these printers? Should they be part of your survival arsenal? If so, which one should you get? You can get used 3D Printers for around $550 without trying very hard but is it a waste of money? I'll answer these questions and much more in this article.

My Background
I am a mechanical engineer and I design products every day. I use my own 3D Printer regularly, which is a Thing-O-Matic from Makerbot. I bought it for $1,200 a few years ago and I had to build it myself. I have since made my own customizations to it to make it work a little better than it did originally. I use it to make parts, for projects to help me demonstrate a concept to a client, for prototyping an idea, or for fixing my kids' toys. It costs me pennies to make something on this machine and I can go from idea to finished part in as little as 5 minutes.

I also have access to an Objet 30, a $30,000 machine. I use this machine regularly when my 3D printer isn't be sufficient. It has a bigger build volume (12"x8"x6"), a better surface quality, higher accuracy, and is a dual material printer (I'll explain more below). I only have to pay for the material costs and it typically runs overnight.

When I really need a large item printed or a nearly perfect quality part I use a local 3D print house. They can even make molds of my "Master" part and produce replicas using nearly any plastic material. It usually takes a few days for a master part and a lot more money. They have an array of printers but their printers can easily cost $500,000.

How do 3D Printers work?
3D printers all use the concept of building a part in layers. Most machines build from the bottom up. Typically the "entry level" printers build each layer of plastic by squirting a noodle of hot plastic out a nozzle. The nozzle is connected to 3 servos(motors) that control the left-to-right, front-to-back, and vertical motion. There is also a servo to control whether the hot plastic is being squirted out the nozzle or not. These four motors are controlled by a computer that coordinates their actions.

The build process works as follows: if your part is going to be a tube standing on end the 3d printer would squirt material as it moved around a circle on the outside. Then it would stop squirting plastic and move to the middle and draw the inside circle of the cylinder. Next it would fill in the material between the two circles. Then the nozzle would lift a small amount, usually .005 to .020 inches and repeat the circles and fill. It would repeat this process hundreds of times until your part looks like a tube. On a more complex part the inside and outside profiles could be any shape. During the setup process you decide whether you want the printer to create the part as completely solid or internally use a honeycomb structure (which makes the part lighter and saves material).

3D printers are unique in that they can build parts that you can't build with any other machine. They can create internal features on a part because the nozzle has access to the inside of the part during the build process. 3D printers have created a new market of manufacturing referred to as "Additive Manufacturing".

If a machine has only one nozzle you can't build parts that have any sudden overhangs.  If it does the noodle will droop and give you a poor quality part. Another issue with single nozzle machines is that you need parts that have a wide flat base. These are big limitations. You really want a printer with a dual nozzle. On these dual-head machines one nozzle lays down a support structure with a water soluble material and the other dispenses the part material. If your machine is a dual-head printer then when your part is done you need to clean the part in a sink to remove the support material. A high pressure sprayer is helpful.

The best dual head machine on the market is the Replicator 2x from MakerBot (owned by Stratasys). This is the machine that the Liberator pistol was made with. In fact Microsoft says that the next service pack of Windows 8 will natively support the Replicator 2 as another printer. I don't know what this means exactly because there is more to the process that just connecting to it.

The Replicator 2x can dispense different colors and PLA or ABS plastic. ABS is a relatively strong material that isn't brittle and has a relatively high melting point. PLA is also strong and can produce more accurate features but it has a low melting point. Parts can droop in a hot car. The Replicator 2x is $2800 (not including support service).

There are other kinds of 3d printers that use a process called SLA in which a movable platform sits in a pool of liquid. A laser shoots at the top surface of the pool and hardens the liquid where it builds the parts. These machines are extremely accurate but the resulting part is brittle. A new "entry level" printer called the Form 1 is due in November 2013 that has the professional rapid prototyping service companies nervous. It is expected to cost $3300 which is extremely cheap for this kind of machine.

Let's assume that you decide to buy a printer. You also need a computer to run the printer. If you want to create your own parts then you need software to design your parts. Right now you can download Creo Elements for free. Creo Elements is a basic 3D modeling software but it is very functional for many parts. For the price you can't go wrong. Personally I use Solidworks but it starts at $4000. SolidWorks is the most common 3D software among small to mid-size companies. I can design anything with SolidWorks.

If you don't want to design anything you can download 3D parts such as magazines and grips that others have designed. has a lot "defense" related models. You can also get some at and In my experience they usually aren't designed very accurately or for 3d printing. DefCAD is your best bet. There are also other sites that have zipped up the DefCAD models and made them available to ensure the models never become inaccessible.

So are these 3D printers useful in a TEOTWAWKI scenario?
I think that there may be some very useful applications for a 3D printer. I could see someone developing good quality models of magazines, belt clips, grips, and other "accessories" for your systems. When you need more you print them.

I personally wouldn't make any parts for a weapon that see any kind of high pressure, temperature or need high precision. The Liberator gun suggests replacing the barrel between every shot of a .22. It would take nearly 2 hours to print one barrel. It costs maybe $1 in material. Between time and money it isn't worth it. Even more importantly, the danger is that the barrel is made in layers and under high pressures it could crack and or disintegrate in unpredictable ways. I suppose if things got really bad I might consider it but it would be have to be extreme circumstances.

Is there anything else a 3D printer could be used for?
There is an entire other possibility for 3D printers that I haven't mentioned yet. This is the idea of making molds for parts. There is a resurgence in the DIY market of making your own molds and therefore producing low volume production of parts. The essential company to know is They have everything you need to make your own molds and parts. In fact, in some cases you don't even need a 3D printer. You might be able to take some of the existing parts you have, create molds, and duplicate your parts. Smooth-On has an unbelievable array of materials that you can make parts from. You can even make metal parts from some of their mold materials. Now if you combine a 3D printer into the mix you have yourself a versatile, small production manufacturing capability. It does take practice learning how to make a mold well but it isn't rocket science.

Should everyone get a 3D printer?
Personally I think if you operate in a relatively large group and are well prepared a 3D printer and molding supplies might be worth considering. More likely is that I would suggest the tools and knowledge for someone that wants to have a backup profession for when the SHTF. I could see someone being the local manufacturing guy in their area. I have made hundreds of parts in my basement from my 3D printer, mold materials, and some simple tools (drill, knife, screwdrivers, etc).

Right now the 3D printer market is still in its infancy. There are a lot people out there trying to figure out to get the average household to want them in their house. No one has figured it out yet. If you do think that you want get a printer then I recommend the Replicator 2x. It has good customer support, a strong community, and lots of connections to software. I will seriously consider the Form 1 printer once I see that the bugs are worked out. There are less expensive printers out there that you might consider to experiment with but I don't see them as a useful tool. Best wishes in your preps and be safe.

Monday, September 9, 2013

As the economy in the United States becomes increasingly complex, job opportunities continue to shift toward specialized skills. Employees working at large companies are required to have little or no understanding of how their company operates as a whole.

Like any specialized tool, many employees have become useful for only one thing. This presents a real problem for workers who get laid off or fired, because finding another job with a specialized skill set can be a difficult task.

A side effect of this problem is an increasing dependence on our interconnected system. Necessities like food and water are expected to always be provided and available at the local Wal-Mart in exchange for the dollars earned performing a totally unrelated task. While this type of monetary system is inevitable in an advanced society to some degree, the dominance of large companies over local businesses creates an extremely dangerous situation.

When a strong local economy exists, local businesses and community members can pull together to provide necessary items in a collapse. This type of resiliency in a community is somewhat of a rarity in the U.S. today. Our supply system has become so delicate that any disruption could prevent the delivery of even our most basic necessities.

A real collapse could leave entire communities in the dark. Communities made up of people who have skills that no longer apply.

Why Self-Employment is a Great Way to Prepare

I enjoy reading articles about prepping. So much that I created a web site, Survival Pulse, where I read hundreds of blogs each day and link to my favorite articles. Many of the articles that I have both read and linked to recommend learning skills that can be applied in a SHTF scenario. I think this is a great idea and a good way to guarantee that you can provide value to your community.

Today though, I would like to explain how being self-employed in any type of business can improve your chances of survival if SHTF.

Reduce Your Risk of Job Loss - There are many who believe a complete economic collapse is headed in our direction. Even if a collapse doesn't happen overnight, there is no doubt that economic changes are affecting the stability of the job market. For one example, changes in health care law are causing employers in my area to cut hours and benefits, even for full time employees.

Despite economic changes, businesses will always find ways to make a profit. It is the employee whose head is on the chopping block if things get tight. You can avoid the risk of being laid off or fired by creating your own income stream. While some people associate self-employment with risk, there is nothing more secure than not having to rely on someone else for your paycheck.

Understanding the Big Picture - Most individuals that spend their careers as employees have no idea what is required to make a business succeed. Business owners fully understand what it takes to make an idea come to life. While it might not seem like it matters, this ability allows an individual to have a more realistic perspective and become a better decision maker.

Decision making and perspective are two keys to survival if/when TEOTWAWKI arrives. Being able to gauge the likelihood of a project or mission succeeding could save time, energy, and even your life. A decision like whether you should bug in or bug out could determine your fate. You will be forced to make this type of decision with whatever limited information is available. For business owners, making important decisions based on limited information is just another day at the office.

Providing Leadership in a Collapse - In a post-collapse world there will be an endless number of missions that need to be completed ranging anywhere from building latrines to guard duty. The unprepared masses will be lost and in need of direction. Being a prepared individual with leadership skills will make it easy for you to direct small groups toward accomplishing goals. Without leadership, even a small number of people can become chaotic very quickly.

Strengthened Resolve - On the way to building a successful business, entrepreneurs are met with constant setbacks and challenges. This forces the development of a "never give up" attitude and an underlying belief and confidence in oneself.

Most of us will agree that life after a collapse would be full of challenges that test your resolve, day in and day out. Having the will and the confidence to push forward despite harsh conditions will not only increase your chances of survival, but also boost the morale of those around you.

Post-Collapse Community Building - There is strength in numbers. Surviving any long term disaster will likely require small communities to form so that your entire group's needs can be met. Having multiple people that are able to perform critical tasks within a community will also make the group more resilient in the event that something should happen to one or more of the group's leading members.

By using business skills to build relationships and lead projects in a small community, you strengthen the bond between community members and help make friends out of people that might have been enemies if you hadn't been there. Of course, this also means that you will be considered a valuable member of the community and have a whole group of people that are watching your back.

Working Under Pressure - As an employee of a business, the quality of your decisions and your work can get you a raise at best or get you fired at worst. While this definitely creates some pressure for you to perform, you can always go out and get another job. Additionally, this environment often leads to workers doing the minimum required amount of work and simply going through the motions.

Business owners on the other hand are under constant pressure to perform. When building a business from the ground up, every decision pushes you toward success or failure. If you don't give it your best effort you will likely fail and lose all of the time and money you invested.

After a person works under pressure for some time, it starts to feel natural. For this reason I feel a self-employed individual is better suited to handle the pressure of post-collapse life.

Networking - No business succeeds all by itself. Networking is virtually a requirement to make it happen. Effective networking creates opportunities and benefits for all parties involved.

Regardless of how prepared you are, you are going to need some help to survive in a post-collapse world. Networking and negotiating with other groups of survivors could open up opportunities for the trade of goods and services.

Personal Responsibility - Somewhere on the way to success, I believe all entrepreneurs take personal responsibility for their situation. This means not blaming outside factors for their success or failure.

After any major disaster, it could be very easy to have a "woe is me" kind of attitude. By taking personal responsibility for your situation you will realize that your actions, not luck, are going to determine whether or not you survive.

The Ability to Adapt - The ability to quickly adapt to a new set of rules (or the lack of rules) in society is one of the most important keys to surviving a SHTF situation. For example, realizing there are no police coming to help you could change the situations you are willing to enter as well as your level of caution when interacting with other people.

Business owners are forced to constantly adapt to changing technology and market places. If not, their business could lose money and eventually fail.

I'm sure you can see the parallel between keeping your business alive and keeping yourself alive when SHTF. If a true collapse occurs, you are going to need to accept that the world has changed. You can change with it and learn to thrive, or you can stick to your old ways and likely die.

Not Being Afraid to Act - The fear of failing can prevent a person from taking action. Without taking action there is clearly no chance that you can succeed.

In a world WROL every action is going to have to some inherent risk. To be successful, a business owner must become good at taking calculated risks. Having this type of real world experience will allow them to act quickly without being paralyzed by fear.

Business owners also realize that mistakes will be made, opportunities will be missed, and not every decision will be the right one. Knowing this won't stop them from taking action though, because they realize you can't succeed if you are too afraid to act.

In Closing

Starting your own business takes a lot of work but it can be extremely rewarding. Throughout the process you will gain a ton of useful skills and qualities that can be applied in other aspects of life.

I believe these same skills and qualities can be applied directly in a SHTF scenario. If you have ever thought about starting your own business, I hope this article has given you some more motivation to take the leap.

Good luck!

Editor's Note: This article was written by the editor of Survival Pulse, a great daily aggregator of preparedness-related info from around the web.

Monday, August 19, 2013

I love dropping hints. Wouldn't it be great if someone made any of the following products? (Some of these might already exist.)

  • A set of stencils designed for camouflage spray-painting rifles and other field gear to replicate popular camouflage patterns, such as Woodland pattern.
  • Custom checkered wooden grips or molded checkered plastic grips at a comfortable Glock/1911 grip angle, to solve a problem that has existed since 1896.
  • A Kydex holster that would fit a HK 26.5mm flare pistol.
  • Kydex belt pouches shaped to fit all of the most popular Leatherman tool models.
  • Kydex belt pouches for FN FiveSeven pistol magazines.
  • Earth tone nylon magazine pouches specifically for those loooong magazines, such as HK93 40 rounders and Galil 50 rounders. (The Vest Guy already makes pouches for Saiga 12 magazines.)
  • Earth tone nylon magazine pouches specifically for FN FiveSeven pistol magazines with +10 extensions installed.
  • Earth tone nylon magazine pouches specifically for Glock 21 pistol magazines with KRISS magazine extensions installed.
  • Earth tone nylon magazine pouches specifically for Glock 33 round pistol magazines.
  • Stereo headphones with extra sturdy (larger gauge) cords and stress-relieved mini-plug that would last more than a couple of years.
  • Replica olive drab canvas skeeter gloves. (Open palm and no finger tips)
  • A soft start power box for radios that use vacuum tubes.
  • AAA, / AA/ C / D / 9 Volt and CR-123 smart battery charger trays with Anderson Power Pole connectors
  • Dewalt and Makita battery chargers with Anderson Power Pole connectors, to operate from 12 VDC power sources.
  • Speedloaders for large frame S&W top-break revolvers.
  • Speedloaders for .41 Colt DA revolvers.
  • 80% complete receiver modules for SIG P250 pistols
  • Waterproof hard shell plastic portage packs in earth tone colors with backpack straps, similar to the discontinued York Packs.
  • True expedition quality four season tents in earth tone colors similar to the discontinued Moss brand tents.
  • Replacement Valmet .223 and .308 magazines that really work reliably.
  • Replacement SIG AMT/SIG-510 .308 magazines that really work reliably.
  • Replacement Galil .308 magazines that really work reliably.
  • Replacement Yugo .308 magazines that really work reliably.
  • Replacement AR-180 magazines (with the thin mag catch slot) that really work reliably.
  • 20 Round magazines for Romanian PSL rifles that really work reliably.
  • 20 Round magazines for HK 770 / SL-7 rifles that really work reliably.
  • 15 and 20 Round magazines for HK USP .45 Compact pistols that really work reliably.
  • 10, 15 and 20 Round magazines for Ruger Scout rifles that really work reliably.

The aforementioned magazines should be taken as hints to the management at MagPul and at Uinta Industries.)

Note to America's Entrepreneurs: Take all of the preceding as new business venture suggestions. Some of these might be suitable for home-based businesses. - J.W.R.

Friday, August 16, 2013

What if you could have a protein source that is inexpensive to maintain, that would not draw attention the attention of prying eyes and ears and it actually produces valuable bi-products that can be used/traded/sold to help offset remaining costs?   Consider the common domestic rabbit.

Rabbits have been kept as a meat animal since before the times of the Roman Empire.  They have fed people during good times (as a farm or ranch animal) and in bad times such as: wars, famines, even in America during the Great Depression and both world wars.    Today you can find rabbit meat in some grocery stores, available online and shipped to you frozen and on the menus in some fancy big city restaurants.
Six ounces of rabbit meat contains up to 60g of protein. This is more protein than in similar sized portions of beef or chicken. They are an excellent a source of iron, phosphorus, and potassium.  Additionally, 6 ounces of rabbit meat has about 300 hundred calories – though not a problem for most Americans these days, this could be a possible issue in a TEOTWAWKI situation where calories are likely being burnt at much higher rate than most people do in a typical day at the office in these fatter times.  A larger herd of rabbits could be the answer to that issue.

Raising rabbits takes very little space and 6lbs or 7lbs of rabbit meat can be raised on the same amount of feed that it takes to produce about 1lb of beef. Rabbits are also much quicker to be ready for consumption.   A “fryer” rabbit is harvested three months after being born and when served-up with some easily stored pantry food likes beans, greens and rice you have a well-rounded, filling meal - the bones can then be boiled for a soup base for another meal. Another advantage with rabbits is unlike purchasing a calf or hog, your investment is spread-out over many animals and you can eat fresh meat, much sooner (daily if you keep enough animals) without the need to burn valuable resources processing hundreds of pounds of large animal in a relatively small window of time. 

My least favorite aspect of raising rabbits is killing and processing them.  On a positive note, it really makes you stop and think about where your food comes from.  The good news is you get about the same amount of meat from one rabbit as a same sized chicken, but without nearly the same amount of work.  The other good news is you can process a rabbit (from start to finish) in less than fifteen minutes, after your first couple of experiences completing the job.  A quick “rabbit punch” to the back of the neck quickly and humanely kills the animal.  I process mine well away from where I keep the other rabbits in a small processing station where I have a laundry sink, cutting board, knives, paper towels and a couple of buckets close by.  Hang them up by the rear feet, cut off the head and letting it bleed out for a couple of minutes is best, then carefully and shallowly cutting them from anus to chest - which allows you to removed organs (many people like the heart, kidneys and liver – but these go to our dog).  Skinning them is easy – start up and around the hind legs, make a circle with your knife around each leg and then slice down to your original incision and peel it down toward the shoulder and front legs (easiest to do while the rabbit is hanging upside down with a hook in each hind leg).  This method allows you to quickly skin them.  After this you place the carcass in some cold water to clean it and keep it fresh.  You can then quarter it up to cook immediately or place it in the refrigerator or freezer to store for later use – that is, as long as the grid is up and power is working.  It might be a good idea to try canning a few meals into jars and processing them in your pressure canner.
There are additional benefits to raising rabbits too.  Rabbit pelts can be processed and turned into an asset (more on that below), their manure is not a “hot” manure and can be placed directly into the garden without composting, but the real fringe benefits of the manure being produced is the worms that can live in it.  Worms can be free feed for chickens, used (or sold) as fish bait and they make the rabbit manure into something even better – worm casings (worm poop) which is an even better supplement for your garden (and also a possible income/bartering source). 

Some people tan or cure the skins or sell them to an outside processor – I think they would be good for crafts, etc. but it would take a lot of work to get enough of them to make clothing or a blanket for an adult.  Thus far I have not been successful finding a vender interested in purchasing the raw skins so these are currently being discarded.  This is unfortunate, as I hate to waste anything, but at this point I have found more pressing issues requiring my time.

These easy to handle animals are a handy commodity to have at your disposal, they can be sold as pets, food, 4H projects, and in rural areas even high school students in the Future Farmers of America (FFA) needing a project for their Vocational Agriculture classes are potential customers or they can be traded for something else you need.  You are only limited by your space and time commitments and your imagination.
Caring for two dozen rabbits takes about the same time as caring for two rabbits.  A mineral block, fresh water, some commercial pellets, hay and occasional treats are about all they need food-wise, though it is a good idea to handle them regularly to keep them familiar with you and thus easier to manage when it time to sell/trade/process them.  Well cared for rabbits take up little space, are quiet and will not draw attention if you are careful about your placement of their hutches.  Rabbit hutches are simple to build using some purchased “rabbit wire” and scrap lumber (though it is important to avoid using treated wood where they might be able to chew on it) and the hutches need to be placed where the occupants will have plenty of shade and ventilation. Rabbits can generally handle cold weather, but they really don’t like to get too hot.  Keeping them safe from predators is important too – not just woodland creatures, but your neighbor’s dog, your dog, your neighbor (think SHTF type of situations).  An existing building such as a garage or tool shed, with proper ventilation, can easily be modified to house your rabbits and their hutches.  People even have kept them in their basements when the situation called for it.  Stacking the hatches from floor to ceiling with trays or tin flumes between the levels to capture or channel dropping and urine will go a long way to keeping everything sanitary and discreet.

It is a good idea to keep good records of the production of your does – how large their litters are, the number of surviving kits, which buck you bred them with and how long they have been producing.  If the doe consistently produces large litters of healthy kits and this is documented, the records can then sometimes be used to place a higher value on any of the rabbits being traded or sold from that doe’s litter.  Good record keeping will also show you which does haven’t produced healthy litters of kits or which were does were not very good moms – this can help you cull the less productive animals and keep track of the pedigrees of the best producing members of your herd.  Some rabbit breeders tattoo numbers in one ear of each of their doe’s and buck’s to keep track of who is doing what and that is especially important if the rabbits are being kept all together, but based on the compact size of my rabbitry and the fact that each animal has its own hutch, I have never felt the need to go this trouble.

Some people use a colony approach for their rabbitry with the rabbits all living together in a big pen (picture a hippie commune), but I prefer to keep them in individual hutches (think bunny apartments).  I have found they are easier to care for this way, it is easier to keep records and if one of them becomes sick, you can quarantine it from the others until it can be treated.  It is also easier to monitor how much food each one is eating and their individual water intake.

Expanding you herd is simple enough to do. Take the female (the doe) to the male (the buck) for breeding and then return her to her cage.  Never take the buck to the doe’s cage as she will likely injure or kill him – I believe Marlin Perkins from the old “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” series called this behavior “territorial ferocity” - call it what you wish, but avoid this simple mistake.  I have found that if you take her over to the buck’s cage in the early morning, they will usually breed within a half hour or so.  After they settle back down, I usually remove the doe back to her cage and bring her back again that evening.  Sometimes they don’t breed when they first are introduced (especially if one of them is young), but the afternoon meeting usually goes well.  Sometimes they breed morning and afternoon – hence the term breeding like rabbits.  A healthy buck can take care of a dozen does (though not a good idea to have him that busy all at once).  If you have more than 6 does, I have found that it is a good idea to have 2 bucks to keep some diversity in your rabbit herd. 

The cycle goes kind of like this:  start out breeding the rabbits when they are about 6 months old.  The pregnant doe will usually have her nesting instinct kick in about 25 days after breeding.  Place a nesting box into her cage and give her some soft straw to complete her nest, don’t be alarmed when she pulls her own fur out of her underside and places it in the nest too.  She will give birth about 30 days from the date of breeding.  A couple of days after she has her litter of baby rabbits (kits), check the nest for dead or deformed kits that may need removed, but don’t handle any of the healthy ones, as the doe may reject them.  She will nurse them for 7-8 weeks and they will transition to pellets and hay during this time.  I let the doe rest for a few weeks in her own cage, the rabbits of the new litter (soon-to-be- fryers) are fine to be kept together. They will be ready for your skillet or for sell or trade a few weeks later and the doe can then be bred again to restart the cycle.  

If you follow this schedule, one doe can produce 1,000 times her body weight in a year’s time from four separate litters.  If you have 6 does on slightly staggered breeding schedules with each producing 4 litters each per year (with about 5-6 kits in a litter) you are looking at some serious protein being produced.  That is easily enough rabbits for a small family to have a couple of meals a week and still have some stock for trading/breeding/etc.  A larger family or group to feed could also keep a larger number of rabbits on hand.  

There is a lot more detailed information available online and in books and magazines that goes into much greater detail than a quick internet article can, but nothing beats hands on experience.  With all of the benefits that having a rabbitry can provide, it may be good idea to incorporate one into your long term planning.  Consider the possibilities.

Monday, May 13, 2013

James Wesley;
I'm worried about keeping farm machinery operating, in a long-term TEOTWAWKI whammy. Some of my equipment is horse-drawn and a full century old. God forbid we go through a multi-generational scenario like you've talked about. How will we repair broken metal, or cast metal, or join metal ('cept drilling and nuts and bolts)? Obviously arc welding is out, unless someone has a huge solar battery bank, and I'm not at that Pay Grade. (I live almost paycheck to paycheck, other than a seasonal bump when I sell hay each year.) And gas welding will be non-functional once the available welding gas supplies run out. I also saw the SurvivalBlog piece on the giant fresnel lens solar oven (for aluminum casting) but beyond that I'm stumped. What am I missing? Thanks for your time, - Rod C.

JWR Replies: Missing? In a word: Thermite. (The formerly patented trade name was "Thermit.") Thermite welding is a simple process that just employs a mixture of iron oxide powder and aluminum powder to create what my high school teacher called "a vigorous exothermic reaction." It is most commonly used to join railroad tracks, using specialized molds and tooling. (Thermited tracks don't have that traditional "clickety-clack" sound.) The only fairly exotic material needed is magnesium ribbon, to ignite the mixture. An Aside: My #1 Son found that a Blast Match or Sparkie fire starter (both sold by several of our advertisers) works just fine as an igniter, just by itself.

The iron oxide and aluminum powders needed for thermite welding can even be produced locally, albeit very laboriously, with materials from your local automobile wrecking yard. (Hint: Look for aluminum "Mag" wheels.) Welding with thermite can be tricky: If you use too little or if you don't contain the "puddle" properly, then you don't get a good weld. If you use too much, then you destroy the parent metal. Practice a lot now with scrap metal so that you don't make costly mistakes, later.

Warning! All the usual safety provisos for welding apply, and then some! Thermite burns at thousands of degrees and looking directly at the reaction can cause permanently-blinding retinal burns. You'll need welding goggles. Since a thermite reaction creates its own oxygen, unless you have a Class D fire extinguisher there is basically no effective way to fight a thermite fire. (Without a Class D extinguisher you have to just wait until it burns out--although cooling it with a CO2 extinguisher helps a bit.) Also, keep in mind that if a glob of burning thermite contacts water or even just mud, it can cause an instantaneous steam explosion that will throw burning thermite in all directions. Also, using finely-ground thermite powder, or any sort of expanding gas containment can also cause thermite explosions, so use extreme caution. And if you aren't wearing welding clothes and dark welding goggles when igniting thermite, then you are foolish. After mixing or otherwise handling loose thermite powder be sure to thoroughly wash your hands before using it. (Setting your thermite-powdered hands on fire would be a Very Bad Thing.)

Thermite has many other clever uses, as described, in my novel Patriots. (The Mythbusters guys demonstrate overkill.)

Reprints of two old thermite welding references now that are now in the public domain are available from They are:

Thermit Welding Process 1914 by Richard N. Hart


Thermit Welding (A series of articles revealing the art and science of welding) by Ethan Vial

Thermite welding is also briefly described in the free Kindle e-book: Oxy-Acetylene Welding and Cutting Electric, Forge and Thermit Welding together with related methods and materials used in metal working and the oxygen process, by Harold P. Manly.

An inexpensive source for iron oxide powder, aluminum powder, and magnesium ribbon with excellent customer service is They have been a SurvivalBlog advertiser since early 2011, and I must mention that I have had ZERO complaints about the company, since then. They have satisfied thousands of SurvivalBlog-reader customers. AlphaChem now packages most of their iron oxide powder and aluminum powder in resealable heavy duty mylar pouches. This keeps everything neat and dry. They double package and discreetly ship via UPS in boxes that just have one small blue "ORM-D" safety label. (The binary components are not classified as pyrotechnics until after you mix the component powders yourself.)

Because of its weight, any casting equipment (molds, crucibles, refiner's sand, etc.) is best found locally, from an industrial supply company, or better yet used, via Craigslist. And of course terra cotta clay pots are available at garage sales or your local garden supply store.

Lastly, keep in mind that if you are planning to cast metal with Thermite, then wet sand or damp clay processes cannot be used. (See my previous warning about instantaneous steam explosions.) Your molds must be quite dry!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Prepper communities and compounds rely on each members worth to their group, cooking, sewing, carpentry, leatherwork, gardening. There is one skill that cannot be over looked as one of the most valuable skills/trade for a prepper to possess.  Blacksmithing.  All other crafts and trades will require once again the skills of a blacksmith to replace stolen, broken tools.  In addition to making these tools a blacksmith can also make weapons, swords, axes, daggers, spears, arrow heads. 

But how would one go about obtaining these skills?  Look in your local areas for classes offered, some community colleges are now offering blacksmithing courses. Look for a local blacksmith group, a living museum that has a working blacksmith shop can help locate a blacksmith that’s willing to teach the basics. After taking the lessons or classes, it’s just a matter of practice before you’re looking for more complicated projects. A blacksmith with even the minimal skill set will be of great value, even if all they can do is make a simple knife, tomahawk or even a hinge. 

Once you’ve gotten the basic knowledge of blacksmithing practice is very important, for you to learn how to not burn your metal. (Yes metal will burn if heated too hot.) So you need to practice, how you’re asking, what next?  Build or purchase a forge, while a gas forge is great because it’s harder to heat the metal too hot in a gas forge, if TEOTWAWKI occurs, it won’t be long before propane or natural gas will become more valuable than gold.  So by all means use a gas forge to increase your skills, but also look at the many plans online to build your own coal/coke forge.  Even if you don’t have a supply of coal or coke you can use charcoal that you can produce yourself.  I believe the winner of round 42 of this contest is about making your own charcoal.  Tools, you can find blacksmithing tools at most flea markets, trade days and even on craigslist, or you can make your own tools.  Something most blacksmith will usually do when they want a specific tool for a job. That’s why when you see a picture of a blacksmith shop it’s cluttered looking due to all the tools and metal laying around. There are companies that also sell the coal forges as well, I took advantage of a sale and purchased a coke fire pot for the forge I built. Coke is coal with the impurities burnt out, coke burns cleaner and hotter making it quicker to heat your metal and finish your project in less time. Again practice is the most important thing in getting better at blacksmithing.

Hammer control is, (IMHO) the best and hardest skill to learn in blacksmithing.  Take a piece of wood and place it on your anvil, mark and X in the middle of the wood, now strike it with your hammer. Now hit it again. Did you hit the mark twice? Were you off the mark on the first and on the second? Or were you able to hit the mark twice in a row? Continue practicing this till you can hit the X every time, or until the wood splinters for your kindling.  Hammer control will allow you to finish a project in fewer hammer blows.

A source of metal is something else you’ll need, at one time I had several thousands of pounds of metal stored. When I was forced to sell out and move back into town, I sold most of it to a scrap yard. The one thing to be careful of is galvanized metals, the gas put off from heating galvanized metal is very toxic and can kill you if you breath it in. Zinc, the metal that galvanizes is the metal that creates this deadly gas. So again, classes, reading everything you can find on blacksmithing may save your life.

Speaking of heating metal to white hot, this is the perfect temperature to work metal, you want to push the metal around with your hammer. Make hard confident strikes, practice, practice, practice. Make nails, when you can make a nail in less than three heats then you’re doing fantastically well. The trouble I see most newcomers to blacksmithing is having a timid hammer strike. Once the metal cools to almost a dull red, put it back in the fire. If you see sparks, you’ve gotten it too hot. Once the metal has burnt, it’s not worth anything and after you heat it back up, cut the burnt piece off.  Remember, strike it while it’s hot is more than an old saying our grandparents used to say.

A lot of the old equipment was ran off a steam powered system or a system powered by water, they used belts and pulleys to power the equipment. If you’re homestead has the means for something like this, it will make life easier as a blacksmith to have the better equipment.

Being a blacksmith has been a great experience, you can learn a lot about life from blacksmithing. Blacksmithing as in life, you will get burned. Some will be minor irritating burns that are forgotten the next day. Some will be second or third degree and will leave a scar, a gentle reminder of a lesson learned at a price. The burns will heal, most of the scars will fade, but taking a cold hard piece of metal and heating it white hot, then molding and shaping it into something useful, there’s no greater thrill than seeing something you’ve created work like it’s supposed to.  The pride you’ll feel when someone oohs and aahs over a sword you’ve made.

Blacksmithing at one time was a common trade, many farms and ranches had a blacksmith shop for creating tools, repairing equipment, and many other tasks. In old Sears and Roebuck catalogs a complete blacksmith kit would cost less than $20. Now you’re lucky if you can find a single tool for that price. Blacksmithing as a prepper, you will gather your tools and supplies and build a nice stockpile of them. You never know when someone will come up and request a certain tool and you don’t have a piece of metal big enough to do the job.

Imagine making a hunting knife with which you can trade a hunter for two deer.  A chisel to a carpenter for a tool chest. A candle holder to someone for twelve jars of canned vegetables. The list goes on and on the things you can make and barter for.  An additional thing a blacksmith can do is create bolts for doors, hinge straps to re-enforce a door, metal for the corners of a wooden box. Just remember when you barter, you are the one that has what they want, and if they want it, they’ll make a fair trade. If not it’s up to your judgment on how to proceed, will not giving in create a hardship for you your family, will it put you in possible harms way. Unfortunately when TEOTWAWKI is gone, there are going to be people out there who won’t think twice about hurting you or your family to get what they want. A blacksmith is going to have many things that people want. Trust your instincts.

While the government may track down and take the guns away from the registered owners, they’ll overlook the knives, arrow heads, spear heads, thinking they’re just pretty flea market items. If someone breaks into your house and all they’re armed with is a small knife or club, pulling a sword or spear on them will make them change their minds quickly.  As will a crossbow with a sharp arrow head you’ve put the finishing touches on. England defended many invaders with nothing more than swords, axes and spears. If I can make a nice stockpile of weapons that don’t have to be registered with the government to keep my family safe, then light the forge and heat the steel, it’s time to increase my value.

A great place to start is with the Artist-Blacksmith’s Association of North America (ABANA), you can locate local smith’s, classes and even find a few projects to try. Another good place is, with loads of useful tips and projects. Last but not least is The Blacksmith’s Journal, they publish a small booklet that contains new projects and tips each month that will be mailed to your house each month, you can also purchase past issues as well.

Remember, while you have the chance to enjoy this wonderful craft, do just that, enjoy it. Because when it’s no longer a hobby, but a matter of putting food on your table for your family, or protecting them. There won’t be many days you’ll be able to remember to enjoy it. Don’t be afraid to contact a blacksmith, most are eager to share and pass on their trade especially if they’re doing it mostly as a hobby. It’s a little harder to get someone to share their knowledge when it’s what pays the bills.

Blacksmithing can be enjoyable, profitable and useful. It’s never too late to learn, and you can start out with simple equipment like a piece of railroad rail, hammer and a long handle pair of pliers for tools. I hope this helps put a spark in your life and will help create a few more blacksmith’s in the world.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

My husband, children and I live in a largely off-grid community in the desert southwest.  We live on forty acres with solar power, a water well and water catchment.  We garden and live with chickens and are adding skills to our new life style all of the time.  My husband does not like for me to be too specific, but I outlined some of our lifestyle changes in an article on trash in July 2012.
This article is about clothing.  It is about sewing and mending and altering.  I know you’d rather read about AR-15’s, but IMHO, clothing is going to be a big deal in a TEOTWAWKI situation.  Before radically changing our lifestyle two years ago, I was the typical American mother.  I bought new clothing when the old became too small or too worn.  I bought when the seasons changed, and worse, I bought when the fashions changed.  Another thing I steadfastly did was to donate clothing by the tub and box full.  I worked very hard at keeping our closets clean and clutter free.  This is something that every home management book, blog, and article tell American moms to do. 

Whether you shop in charitable thrift stores or big box discount stores or big name fashion stores, the quality available to most Americans is pathetic.  But, while we still have shopping opportunities, look for quality clothing, for yourself and every member of your family.  Buy it whether you need it or not.  And once you own it, where ever you got it, you need to hang on to the quality stuff and learn to repair it.  I advocate charitable giving, but I also advocate the discontinuation of consumerist disposal of the old to make way for the new because of fashion dictates and other materialistic mindsets.
Have you taken an inventory of your closet lately?  Is it 90% professional clothing?  Do you have suits and ties for weekdays?  Is it chinos and button down Oxfords for the weekends?  Or do you have heavy duty work-type seasonal clothing that is suitable for your climate?  Do you have enough to layer in a cold climate with no household heating?  Can you protect yourself from the sun in the heat of the summer?  What about work boots?  Do you have a pair or two mixed in with your dress loafers?  Women, how many of you have heavy denim jeans?  I say this because women’s jeans are usually thin stretch denim and it is flimsy.  I know because I repair it!  Ladies, those high heels and flirty flip-flops that we all love are not going to serve you well in most TEOTWAWKI situations.  Neither are the flimsy tank tops that are so popular in summer.  Most of us do not wear them in the desert.  What is in your closet?  If you can’t imagine what you’d need, there are books, like Mr. Rawles’, that have fictionalized accounts of what a TEOTWAWKI scenario would be like.  Look around for people who work outdoors or farm; go into GEBO’s or whatever your farm supply store is.

I’d like to add one last thing before I begin my main topic.  I have no idea what I’m preparing for.  We, those of us who have a certain mindset about future possibilities, don’t know what the future holds.  We all have an opinion.  We think it may go this way or that way, but really, we don’t know.  Our job is to prepare, as best we can, for many different scenarios.  There are plenty of scenarios where we will all be blessed to just get out alive, never mind our extended wardrobe. There are others, like a long slow economic decline, where we simply have to roll up our shirtsleeves and do more with less.  There are plenty of TEOTWAWKI scenarios in the middle of those two.  If you are preparing, though, you need to prepare to have no new and maybe no new-to-you clothing options in the foreseeable future.

New clothing construction.  This usually begins with a pattern.  There are a few points to think about with patterns.  First, what kind do you want?  Well, IMHO, you want basic patterns for clothing that suits your area.  Pants, shirts, coats, jackets, hats, gloves, vests, the list could go on and on.  You can find a sewing pattern for just about everything, so if you’ve got an interest, look through the books and pick out patterns for additional items like luggage, organizers, tea cozies, etc., whatever suits your interests.  Just make sure you cover the basics first.  Also, if you are young, starting a family, think you may continue to add to your family, you need to consider the different stages of that child’s growth when looking at patterns.  Second, if I were you, after searching out the patterns that I like and want, then I would wait for a pattern sale.  Patterns can cost $10 to $15 these days, but most stores put patterns on sale regularly.  These sales used to be across the board, come in and get it sales.  These days, they have restrictions here and there.  Just educate yourself.  They all eventually go on sale.  Also, you can find many free patterns on the internet.  Granted, most of these are craft patterns, but you can find basic patterns too.

| Quick side note.  While tissue paper patterns have been around for a long time, they haven’t always been available. So what was the process before tissue patterns?  You can use newspaper, butcher paper, freezer paper (smaller items), muslin, or light colored sheets to make a pattern.  It is always easier to have a deconstructed item of clothing for this, but simpler garments can be traced without deconstructing.  You lay the garment pieces out on the fabric you are using and you trace around it.  You need to make sure that you leave enough for a seam allowance, usually 5/8 inch.  A basic understanding of clothing construction is helpful here.  Let me admit right here that the only time I’ve done this was in college.  Several of us in the dorm made matching sleep pants.  Two hours and lots of giggling later, we were done.  We used shoe strings for the waist, so I’m pretty sure that experience doesn’t qualify as “making my own pattern”.  So, I haven’t done this before.  If it interests you, research it.  However, one of my roommates could draw a basic dress on the fabric, cut it out and sew it up.  Many people can do this and they don’t all live in large cities.  Maybe you can find someone with this skill who is like minded enough to join your group.  Wouldn’t that be a great asset? 

Back to store bought patterns.  Patterns come in a range of sizes.  For example, women’s pants can include sizes 8, 10, 12, and 14.  You simply cut the pattern along the line that corresponds to your measurements.  And you need to have accurate measurements.  Sewing patterns do not always correspond to store sizes.  This is mostly a problem with women’s clothing, not men’s.  And, IMHO, you should buy a range of sizes from the smallest through at least extra-large in a range of patterns.  Example: my youngest son was tiny until the age of 14.  He is now the size of The Hulk.  Many women are different sizes from top to bottom.  A range of sizes is good. If you don’t want to have that many patterns, then just get the most basic clothing patterns in the widest variety of sizes.  For the more specialized patterns, you can be more size specific.  You might be able to barter with extra patterns, though, you never know.  Patterns are meant to be cut.  I don’t cut mine.  I trace them onto paper.  Besides having an aversion to cutting that pristine pattern, I don’t cut mine because I can be different sizes at different times.  I gain, I lose, I add pockets.  If you cut the pattern, it is cut.  I don’t cut mine. 
If you are going to sew new clothing, then fabric is the next step.  Useful fabric is probably another article all together.  I came from a small city of just over 200,000 and if you want to make a prom dress, no problem.  Most fabric stores sell craft fabric, home decoration fabric, and fabric for special occasion clothing.  Professional suiting (for women), fabric for Sunday dresses can be had, but the everyday hard wearing fabric is harder to find.  You can find home dec denim or denim for dressy skirts, but not hard wearing, “play outside” denim.  Since I haven’t lived in a really large city, I can’t speak to what is available there, but I don’t think it could be too different.  If I’m wrong and you live in a large city and can find good thick denim, canvas, thick flannels, strong thick cottons, then stock up and learn to sew.  Let’s not forget all of the other necessary sewing notions, either.  Thread, buttons, zippers, slacks closures, hooks and eyes, the list could be long, but it doesn’t have to be.  Stock the basics.  Now, here is the kicker, after four paragraphs, I say to you that, right now, new clothing construction is not cost effective.  I think in some scenarios, it could be…again, but right now, it isn’t.  There are just too many lower cost and more efficient ways to find clothing, such as thrift shopping.  I still stand behind what I just wrote, though.

So what were the previous paragraphs for?  You’ve got store bought patterns and sewing notions, now what?  Well, I haven’t sent you down the rabbit hole; I simply do not know what role clothing manufacturers or cloth manufactures will have in certain end times scenarios.  So you take those patterns and you read them.  This is how you learn about basic clothing construction and then, in turn, you learn about alterations and repair.  I find these two topics to be more useful for my continued efforts in prepping.  If what is ahead is a severe, deep depression similar to the 30’s, then it could be that fabric is affordable and store bought is not.  Sewing in any form will be a fundamental and much needed skill.

As I’ve stated before, I live in a small community.  I often work in a small quilting shop.  The owner will take in repairs and small, easy alterations.  We repair a lot of clothing here.  We sew up pockets, we hem new jeans, and we repair rips, tears, and wears.  For many in our community, they have no concern whatsoever about how a repaired item “looks”.  We can repair holes with a patch and the heavy and liberal use of the zigzag stitch.  If a pocket is ripped, most don’t mind if we put on a different colored pocket.  In my family of men, there are so many tiny holes in underwear and socks that can be easily repaired with a darning stitch or a zigzag stitch on the machine.  My daughter’s things have to be handled more carefully, but all in all, she’s not that picky.  My point is, when you find a rip, or a tear, fix it right then.  Don’t wait for it to get worse.  Sew it together with a strong stitch and be as neat as you can with it.  Don’t throw it away if the main part of the garment is still useful.  If you cannot wear it in public, then wear it at home or store it.  If the repair is major, get out a pattern and cut a new sleeve, or a new collar.  Use the patterns to fashion new pockets or cuffs.  I don’t know about you, but I cannot just wing something like that on the fly.  I need a pattern. 

Patterns will be very useful when altering clothing.  In any end-time scenario where people actually survive, you can pretty much count on losing weight.  Regardless of how much food you’ve stored, your supply is limited. You’ll ration your food.  Pair that with the absence of processed foods and you’ve probably got a significant loss of excess pounds.  What you also have is a closet full of clothing sized for your pre-TEOTWAWKI self.  Now, you can prep for weight loss and buy clothing in smaller sizes and store it.  You could go ahead and lose the weight now and that way you’d only have minor changes to make.  Still, your clothing is going to need alteration at some point.

I’ve thought about this portion of this article for a while now.  There is no way that I can write, describe, or illustrate all of the ways to alter clothing in this article.  So, what follows is a simple start to a much larger learned skill. 

The very best way to alter clothing because of weight loss is to deconstruct the item, cut them down and reconstruct them.  This is where those sewing patterns come in handy. Not many people will to want to do that. I wouldn’t do it unless the item of clothing needed to be severely cut down. 
So, if we are not going to deconstruct the item, then what?  Starting at the top, most shirts can be altered by simply taking in the side seams.  If the shirt has sleeves, then you probably will need to take in the seam of the sleeve as well. The seam is usually on the underside of the sleeve.  You can use pattern pieces to keep the shape of your garment.  Pattern pieces also will have the seam allowance already marked.  If you are a complete novice, break out the patterns.  Or, if you have some basic knowledge of sewing, then put the shirt on inside out and have a friend or family member pin (straight pins) the seams to the contour of your body.  You don’t want to do this too tightly.  Most clothing seams have a 5/8” seam allowance, meaning you sew your seam 5/8” from the edge.  You’ll need to consider that allowance as you pin.  If you need to take in the sleeves, pin the sleeve as well.  Take the time to mark it.  Any writing instrument will do, it doesn’t have to be a sewing marker.  These two seams will meet at the sleeve hole and will have taken up the necessary excess fabric in the sleeve hole.  Sew it up with a straight stitch.  I would suggest you try the garment on before you cut away the excess fabric.  If it isn’t right, that is okay. A straight stitch is easy to rip out.  Rip the seam and make any corrections needed.  Once you are satisfied, then I suggest you use a narrow zigzag stitch just inside the straight stitch to make the whole seam stronger.  Then you cut away the excess fabric.  It probably took me longer to type and edit this paragraph than the process actually takes, so don’t be intimidated. 

To make a small shirt larger, say for children who are growing, you could cut the side seams and add fabric to each side to the seam. Sew it up with a narrow zigzag stitch or a straight stitch.  Add fabric to the bottom of the shirt; add more fabric to the underside of the sleeve and you have a larger shirt that can see some more wear.  You can probably get at least another season of wear out of a shirt by using this technique.  Actually, since adding fabric at the seams is a style statement at the moment, you can find examples of this on the internet if you look.

Sleeves deserve a little extra attention.  Shortening sleeves? Not a problem. Most people can easily cut sleeves off and hem either what is left of the sleeve or hem the sleeve hole.  Pretty obvious and pretty easy.  Can you lengthen sleeves?  Well, if you don’t mind fabric that doesn’t match, then sure, you can lengthen sleeves.  You can add extra material at the shoulder seam or at the wrist.  Here is another time you can use the patterns that you’ve stored.  You can make a whole new sleeve by using the sleeve from a shirt pattern similar to what you are altering. If it needs to be lengthened, most patterns have a line where you can cut the pattern to lengthen it or fold it to shorten it.  Cut it out and sew it up.  Or, at the shoulder, use the upper part of the sleeve to make a pattern for the sleeve hole.  I’d use an inch or so in addition to your seam allowance of complimentary fabric and not even try to match the fabric of the sleeve.  Use a straight seam to sew the sleeve on to the new fabric. Pin your whole sleeve into the sleeve hole. If you have a pattern, follow those instructions. If you don’t have pattern instructions, then find the side seam of the shirt and pin to the seam on the underside of the sleeve. Do the same with the top of the sleeve. Once those two pins are in place, ease the rest of the fabric in on the curve.

You could also take the cuff off, if there is a cuff, and add fabric there.  Same procedure, you simply make a pattern from the end of the sleeve with the cuff off.  Sew the new fabric on and then reattach the cuff.   If there is no cuff, add one for extra length.  This is probably something that you would only do in a TEOTWAWKI situation.

The next obvious item of clothing that might need altering is pants or slacks.  If the waist needs to come in just a bit, then add darts.  Basically, to make a dart, you put your index finger in the back waist band and then using your thumb and third finger, press excess material to the front of your index finger.  You’ve done this a million times, so you know how to do it.  Pin it.  Once you have the clothing off again, pull the material together and smooth it into a long triangle on the wrong side of the fabric.  This is a dart.  Pin it and sew it up.  Make another dart on the opposite side in a similar place.  If you have a lot of material to take in, you may have to take the waistband off, take in the extra from the center seam in the butt. You’d also have to take in the waistband and that will involve removing a belt loop or two and the pockets as well.  This may be worth it if you have nothing else to wear, but it is a pain otherwise.  For general resizing in the hips and thighs use the inseam. If you are sizing jeans and the inseam is a double hem, then I’d just cut that off and make a flat seam.

After all of that, hemming the length of the pant leg is a breeze. Get a friend or a family member to pin them and sew with a straight stitch. If you need to hem more than an inch, consider cutting the material off leaving enough for a 5/8” seam.  You’ll want to turn the raw edge and then turn it again for the best results.

That is a very basic description of alteration for basic clothing. I didn’t cover altering a suit or a prom dress or any other kind of dress for that matter.  I don’t really consider those items important after the ball drops. I don’t think any of the readers on this site would either. If the world is truly gone, then I’d cut up those wool suits and make quilts out of them (you can’t wash them, but they are WARM). I’d use the softer prom dress type material for sleepwear or underwear for women or children.  You also may need to cut adult clothing down to child size.  Another good reason to have patterns on hand.
I have a final observation about Americans and clothing.  I said above that I do believe in charity and I do not advocate discontinuing that practice.  I don’t know about you, though, but the images of the mountains of clothing dumped on Sri Lanka and other areas affected by the Christmas tsunami in 2004 was eye-opening for me.  As Americans we have SO MUCH that we sent it to those people by the container full.  I think it was a wonderful testament to the giving hearts of most American people.  But!  Most of it was not usable in their tropical climate.  I read that much of it was destroyed.  The people there could not use it and they could not deal with the onslaught of all of that clothing.  So, I urge you to look at clothing that you might give away with a more discerning eye.  Absolutely donate your professional clothing!  If an item is in pristine condition, someone will be thankful to receive it.  But I know that in our little church clothing room, I receive far more articles of clothing that are stained and ripped than those that are pristine.  Many organizations will not put these clothes out at all.  They destroy them.  But, if you do not donate them; if you mine those clothes for zippers, buttons, collars, cuffs and any number of embellishments that clothing companies use, then that clothing won’t be wasted.  You can either deconstruct the garment completely and keep the pieces organized, or just store the shirt.  You can also use the deconstructed garment to make a pattern if you missed those pattern sales that I told you about.  You’ll be tempted to say that you cannot possibly store one more thing.  I agree.  Storage is a problem for all of us, but buttons and zippers don’t take that much room.  Find a way to store at least some items because you will need them.  And before you throw away the body of the garment, could you use it for a blanket or quilt?  Could you use it for cleaning rags or even bandages if it comes to that?
So, my suggestions are:

  • Learn about sewing or better yet, learn to sew.
  • Stock up on patterns, material, and sewing notions that will be useful in a survival situation.
  • Learn to keep your basic wardrobe in good repair.  Learn to alter clothing.
  • When going through your closet, keep in mind emergency/survival scenarios.  Do you have the clothing necessary to keep you covered, cool and/or warm enough in any type of situation?
  • If the clothing that you seek to remove from your closet would be useful in a survival situation, do not throw it out or donate it.  If it is too small, it won’t be after the ball drops.  It may be something that you could barter with.   Good, heavy duty clothing will be a gold mine.  If it is not in good repair, repair it yourself or have it repaired while you still have professionals who can and will repair and alter.
  • Lose the bulk of the extra weight now.  It is just easier that way.
  • By all means, donate your professional clothing to charitable organizations, but the items that are too ripped, or worn, or stained to donate should be mined for usable parts.
  • On February 8th, 2013 Mr. Rawles posted an article to Survivalblog called “Industrial Sewing Machines for Prepared Families”, by Lockstich.  This is really an excellent article.  Obviously, if you don’t have a sewing machine, then that article is the place to start.  Get a good machine.  And then learn to use it!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Many (if not most) people seek wealth, yet few can define it.  There are many practical definitions.  One author defines wealth as having sufficient assets to provide the cash flow necessary to meet your monthly living expenses.  That’s a great definition for normal times, but having a bunch of rental houses when the dollar is worthless and the hungering hoards are loose upon society won’t do you much good.

If you are at all familiar with the concepts promoted in this blog you know what you need to have for basic survival.  I will not spend space and electrons reviewing what we already know.  But what do you do after you have the basics?  Do you continue to accumulate more of the basics until you need a multilevel secret subterranean warehouse to house your supplies?

When you have your basics squared away you need to look to the concept of vertical integration.  Vertical integration was used by the so-called robber barons of the late 19th and early 20th century.  The man that owned the steel mill also owned an iron mine, a coal mine, a limestone quarry, and the transportation capability to move the raw materials in and the finished product out.  Now before you start giving me that funny look I do know that most prepper budgets would not support the purchase of mines and mills.  But the ability to go from raw material to finished product is the definition of wealth for a prepper in a post-TEOTWAWKI situation.

This concept applies to every element of your preparations.  Food, defense, medicine, etc.  And it not just about tools but knowledge also.  Let’s look at food as an example.  The first step is to store food.  You start small, maybe a month’s worth at first.  You build up to a year then two years.  You purchase a grain mill to turn your stored wheat into flour.  This is as it should be, but what is next. 

Now, you look to food production.  After all, you can’t practically store a lifetime’s worth of food.  Gardening is a great place to start.  You read and research different techniques.  You develop a place for the garden, starting small so you don’t overwhelm yourself.  You acquire the tools necessary for a small garden and learn how to use them.  You put this knowledge into practice and learn from your failures and build on your successes. 

As your successes increase and your failures become rare your confidence increases, and so does the size of your garden.  You acquire the tools necessary for a bigger garden.  You start using open pollinated seeds and learn how to save seeds for future years.  You learn how to start bedding plants.  After a few years your small garden that produced a few salads and tomatoes is now producing a tremendous excess of a large variety of vegetables.

Now you turn your attention to food preservation.  You learn pressure canning, pickling, and dehydrating to preserve your excess harvest for the winter months and the lean years.  You have vertically integrated your food production.  You can take seeds and produce finished storable food and produce seeds for future years.  You can expand your garden to produce far in excess of your needs.  The ability to sustainably produce food in a world of hungry people is wealth.  You can now take your basic skill set and expand laterally to small-scale grain production, herb production, and/or animal feed production.

Along the way you have learned associated skills such as how to repair and maintain your gardening tools, how to produce the power necessary to run your food processing tools, how to keep the pests out of your garden, and how to produce natural fertilizers for your garden.  You cannot focus on a specific area and learn in a vacuum.  There are always associated skills to learn.

This same principle can now be applied to animal production.  Start with chickens and build from there.  Add goats then cows or pigs or both.  Continue to grow and expand your capabilities adding skills and tools, as you are ready for them.  Many people, especially those new to the preparedness mindset, will see the enormity of the task and panic.  They will try to do it all at once and set themselves up for failure.  Proper preparation is like eating an elephant, you have to do it one bite at a time.

This process happens in measured steps and assumes that you have taken care of the basics first.  You have your “beans, bullets, and bandages” stored away and you have a place to work that you can call your own.

Start at the end.  Identify how the end result will look.  List the capabilities that you want to have when you reach your final goal.  Be specific and detailed.  You cannot start a successful project if you do not know what the finished result will be.  You need to know when you have reached the end.

Next, go back to the beginning.  Determine when, how, and at what level you are going to start your project.  The chances are good that you have some basic knowledge to start with, knowledge that will allow you to begin the project at a level within your comfort zone.  This point will vary from person to person.  Some will start with no knowledge at all on the subject, some will start with knowledge that they haven’t used for years, and yet others will start with a firm grasp of the basics.

Now that you have identified the starting point and the finishing point, you can determine the actual size of the project.  You can now accurately identify what tools you need to acquire and what skills you need to learn.  You can divide the project into manageable bites or phases and set goals to be accomplished at each phase.  The beauty is that you can make each phase as big or as small as you like.  You can customize each phase to your time and resource availability.

You can use this method to focus on a single project or to steadily advance on multiple projects simultaneously.  This method will work no matter where you start or where you want to end up, whether you have many resources or few to devote to your projects.  You can make this system fit your needs.  This is how you develop your assets to produce the kind of wealth that will benefit you in difficult times.

Allow yourself the time that you need.  It is easy to look around us at the negative indicators and panic, thinking that you need to do everything now.  That type of thinking will only lead to failure.  You must lay a solid foundation of knowledge to build on, a process that takes time.  You should develop at least a degree of confidence at each phase before moving to the next.  Otherwise, it is easy to overwhelm yourself.  Should the world go to Schumer sooner than expected you can be confident in what you know and take comfort in the fact that you are far better prepared than well over ninety percent of the rest of the people.

"A man has got to know his limitations." (Harry Callahan).  The technology exists to do many things on a small scale.  You can produce energy from wind, water, and sun.  You can produce fuel from grains and oil seeds.  You can produce your own food, grow your own medicines, produce your own transportation, and many other things too numerous to mention.  However, even with all of these possibilities there are still some things that you will need to store.  While you can cast or swage your own bullets you will be hard pressed to make primers or powder to match what is commercially available today.  The same applies to lubricants, matches, canning lids, and a large variety of other vital supplies.  Be realistic in your expectations and don’t plan to do more than you are capable of.

"Specialization is for insects." (Robert Heinlein).  If you have a group it is tempting to divide workload and then stay with your assigned tasks only.  This type of thinking is a key ingredient in the recipe for disaster.  The loss of one specialized individual can greatly harm the overall effectiveness of a group.  Cross training avoids this.  You should learn as much as you can about as much as you can.  Additionally, should you find yourself on your own, a broad base of generalized knowledge could make you a valuable asset to a group. 

When the day comes that the paper dollar is little more than mediocre tinder, wealth will be the ability to sustainably produce a finished product in excess of your immediate need.  The knowledge and tools that you need produce that product are the assets that will generate that wealth.  Develop a plan that will take you from where you are to where you want to be and then act on that plan.  The most important step that you can take is to start.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The end of the world as we know it (TEOTWAWKI) has probably crossed your mind lately. It might have been just a brief news flash about a silly Mayan prophecy, or maybe you have an uncle who still thinks the Russians are gonna nuke us. More likely in our generation, our societal bonds could disintegrate thanks to erosion of our financial system. If you have not given this situation much thought, it is high time to start. The first step is to take the possibility seriously. If you cannot handle this basic prerequisite, well, Devil take the hindmost.

Once you acknowledge that the world as you know it could change overnight (as it did one day in September a decade ago, forever making 911 more than an emergency phone number), you can begin to get your mind into the right shape to handle things that might come. First off, look around you. Are you happy with the quality of "people" you see on television? Do you sense a budding sickness in society, perhaps born of ignorance and apathy? Whether by endorsing unfundable entitlement programs or refusing to speak out against unconstitutional infringements on our guaranteed rights, these are the lazy masses deciding the direction of our economy and country. Do not wait around for an irresponsible government to provide a backup plan for a problem it won't admit exists. Decide now that your fate will not be determined by fools and demagogues. If there's one thing we're supposed to know how to do in this country, it is to take care of business when the going gets rough. Now exhale and use your brain.

Everyone has their own ideas about what they would need to survive. We know there are basic needs of food, water, and shelter which we earn by trading our labor, resources, and knowledge. Unfortunately we actually trade for money which is then converted into satisfying our needs and wants. But how is worth estimated when your neighbors no longer value green toilet paper with pictures of dead presidents? When the intermediary is gone from the equation, you must trade directly. With assets lying around for anyone to take, what is special and valuable from an individual? The quick answer is skill set - what you bring to the table besides a consuming belly. All the survivalist staples (like bug-out bags, bomb shelters, and sustainable living, to name a few) are secondary to the primary survival tool you have: your mindset. Whether you are prepared for a new way of living or not, your skill set brings value and your mindset determines your survival.

Currency is the grease which keeps our mighty economic engine cranking at high RPMs. If we lose it, then everyday single-swipe type transactions vanish as does all the industry that depends on things moving at break-neck speed, inevitably to collapse under the weight of its own complexity, only for the want of a little engine oil. Fortunately we grew up with tales of how the country can work (and used to work) at a slower pace. According to your grandpa, those were the Good Ol' Days. There was more bartering and human interaction, less telemarketing and ADHD. This is not to say your current diploma-requisite job is useless; however, smart money says invest in yourself by learning something your grandma would be proud to see perpetuated.

Cities do not function below a certain RPM. Without hundreds of trucks bringing in supplies daily, everyone starves. Riots and looting are only two days deep into hunger and authoritative neglect, as evidenced by recent superstorm Sandy in the Northeast. Maybe you think about escaping to the countryside where the food grows - well, everyone else is thinking that, too. Imagine: desperate hordes fleeing into the wilderness in search of a replacement for their supermarket. They will find mostly unfamiliar countryside, as not everyone is a hunter or farmer. In fact, relatively few of us have the skills to survive on our own. The vast majority of people need a bunch of other providers to live. The main reason we built societies in the first place was to make it easier on everyone. You might even manage to survive as a loner, but you won't thrive. For success after TEOTWAWKI, you need to be accepted into a community that somehow works without our current authority and currency. Yet outside of immediate family members, who would take you in?

A survival-minded group is not going to accept everyone who stumbles into it. For their own protection of limited resources, they will turn away anyone who cannot pull his own weight. Furthermore, they will be practiced in turning away people with necessary force. You will need to offer skills and knowledge that make you worth a share of the food. If you have no obviously valuable skills (carpentry, plumbing, cooking - all those things learned by the vo-tech kids you looked down on in high school), you had better learn to have a valuable attitude. If you think you could be manual labor, well, that's true of anyone. Why should you be the one a community says Yes to? In modern terms, you should think of your survival chances like a job interview. The best answers win and you had better sell yourself well. If you are qualified, you need to prove it. If not, you need to be convincing without fudging your resume.

Think of what kind of homeless person you would allow into your own home. What qualities could such a person have? Should they be honest? Tolerant? Talkative? Picky? These days we get away with character traits that can hardly exist in less evolved societies. White lies, prejudice, insecurity, finicky, fastidious, vegetarian, promiscuity, addictions, and high-maintenance personalities. After TEOTWAWKI, those days are over. Eat whatever is on your plate, like your grandma always said, because there might not be any more. Bothered by things like snoring or bad breath? Learn to live with it. The less trouble you are, the easier you are to keep. You will need to not give any excuse to exclude you from the community. Getting kicked out is as bad as never being accepted in the first place. To wit, you will have to get along with everyone.

Be willing to do anything. Remember your grandparents' work ethic and make them proud. Work doesn't stop when the sweat starts, and after work there will not necessarily be a shower. Work so hard no one can question your devotion. Never get caught lying, stealing, or holding back. You won't get a second chance to rebuild trust. Don't talk about things you wish you had, like chocolate or a bubble bath. Everything you do and say has to make things easier on everyone else, not harder. Think twice about anything before opening your mouth - it might be better to just internalize the comment. You don't have to get two cents into every conversation. You could be better off being considered a good listener who only speaks when he has something of quality to say.

Imagine this kind of person you could invite into your home, because that's who you need to be to get accepted into someone else's group. Make that decision now, and you can learn some skills while you have a peaceful chance to do so. Home gardening is cheap and will grow on you (pun intended). You'll learn how to nurture and no one will know if you fail early on. Cook something that doesn't come with directions on a box. Chop a log or two and see the real cost of that store-bought bundle of fireplace fodder. Go fishing for the first time since you were a kid, and this time clean your own catch. Sew a patch onto your oldest pair of jeans and ask yourself: could I stitch an injury?

It is possible that you won't have skills an established community needs or respects. They might not let you in . But it doesn't necessarily end there, if you are of a persistent mind to be useful. What can you do if you're not accepted inside? Offer to do reconnaissance and mapping. Offer to be a postman/courier between communities. Perimeter security. Ambassador. Negotiator/tradesman. Musician/entertainer. Translator, even! By the way, you are not asking for charity or handouts - you are offering information and services in exchange for food. You might even eventually earn your way inside. Trust is a thing built on experience and performance, not credit.

The decision to survive is really the same as to be a useful member of a society. If you have not prepared for TEOTWAWKI already, then you should learn some post-apocalypse marketable skills. If your only skills are modern and complex, it's time to appreciate some of the old-school, traditional ones. The immediate result (even if society does not collapse) is that you will be a more valuable person, both to society and your self-esteem. You will be stronger of mind and willpower. If you do not want this for yourself, then be honest: are you really worth saving?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Building up a skill set can easily be argued the most critical survival ability available. One skill set often overlooked is bartering. Trading a good or service for another. Looking at tangible items, one recent item everyone has noticed is the new price for ammo and certain rifles. The adage “buy low sell high” still applies if you can do so and still maintain your own needed stock.

About four and a half years ago AR-15s were roughly the same inflated cost as today (after BHO was elected), there was a massive panic and parts were scarce. It took four months to get a muzzle brake that I ordered two month prior to the election! At the time I had what I wanted, but no extras. I stayed out of the buying panic and saved. Fast forward six months later, and AR lowers and uppers had dropped to $60 per piece. I bought two of each at that price. Barrels with gas tubes and blocks were around $125, stocks and Lower parts kits around $60. Two complete bolt carrier groups were bought at a local gun show for $110 each. Gradually I built two complete AR-15s as I could afford to. Over the next three year, 5.56mm ammo could be found for $4-$5 per 20 round box at Cabela's and other stores. Again I bought when I had a few extra dollars, not going into debt but taking a bargain when I find it. I filled up my ammo locker plus ammo cans over those plentiful years. Not hoarding, no one else was buying at that time I was just stocking up when it was inexpensive.

Spent on building each AR:

$60 lower
$50 upper
$125 barrel, gas block, handguard and accessories.
$60 Lower Parts Kit
$50 stock
$110 bolt carrier
$10 charging handle

Today history repeats and those two AR-15s I built for $500-$600 dollars sold for $1,100-$1,300. People were glad to find them at that price and I had many potential buyers. Ammo sold for $20 a box and again I had to turn people away. This allowed me to buy a .50 BMG rifle and 100 rounds of ammo plus solar panels and equipment. I do not view this as taking advantage of anyone, they may find that the rifles are worth double in a year or less. Personally I use a gun forum for selling firearms. If you plan to as well please post that you will follow all applicable  laws on your classified ad and if you want to reduce questionable or shady buyers mention transfer at an FFL. I had many cash offers who backed out when I mentioned meeting at a FFL. For the sale met there but we used a local electronic form with checked Licenses/background checks.

The "no background check" media slant is a total fallacy in my state. We pay the $100 license, classes and background checks prior to even getting a license much less a purchase. At the time of purchase the Electronic form is also checked immediately (when it works). Yet the media still proclaims we have no background checks for private sales.

Another interesting point building and selling these AR-15s. I had three for sale, two low-end  ARs built from generic parts and one higher end with better manufactures, better parts, more bells and whistles. The lower end ARs sold, the better built AR has still not sold. It cost $1,000 to build but for not sell for $400 more. The $500-600 ar sold for over twice what I paid. Lesson learned, buy decent quantity cheap and have multiples rather than one or two higher end rifles. One buyer of the cheaper AR-15s stated he was going to replace all the hardware with Magpul items. They would not pay more for parts they were going to replace anyway. They wanted a basic AR now.

Scopes can cost as much or more then the rifles in many cases. It is hard to justify $400-$1,500 on a quality trusted brand scope without personally testing each option. Should I buy a holographic unmagnified or magnified? Backup sights? Carry handle? Fixed sights? What magnification? Too many options not enough money. Just to test out options I pick up various clones on eBay for 1/10th the price. Some are well made, some are junk. But I can then find out what I like and the pros and cons of each prior to investing in a good scope. Plus when I sell a rifle I will throw a cheap scope in clearly advertised as a clone.

If the gun market crashes again in the near future I will again take part in a group buy on my gun forum for AR parts and restock. For ammo I will also refill my cabinet, again these are tangibles which reduce the effects on everyone of panic buying. Both have done much better then my 401(k) and my property value. If it was a true emergency or SHTF event I can only imagine what they would be worth. Another buy low option in my toolbox has been group buys. I ran one for my gun forum, I saved 10% on my upper and helped out many like minded individuals. Karma was returned as another member helped me buy bulk ammo. To repeat, I have never hoarded during a panic I had my larder of ammo and sold off some to reduce to panic not increase it.

Also on a buy low, sell high note: Craigslist has many free listings in the fall for summer items. Pools, lawn tractors, gardening equipment, summer items. Same for winter items such as a snowblower, snow shovel in the spring. Take these items if you get a chance and have space. you have 3-6 months to repair these and then resell in when they are in season. Buy low (better yet obtain free) and sell high. Plus you gain repair skills, worst case you scrap it for money to buy.... tangibles!

I have used Craigslist three ways each with its benefits and drawbacks.

  1. Search Free stuff listings. Free stuff has a list for multiple items and it displays everything even if it is misspelled (e.g. snow blower versus nsow blower) Disadvantage: You have to catch it quick and be nearby. Many people list at and put it out or give it to the first person to respond. If it is a distance away there is a decent chance it is not worth the time or gas to respond.
  2. Search for what you want. Advantage: You find only what you are looking for and narrow the list down easily. Disadvantage: Many items are long gone and if anything in someone’s listing does not match your search it will not hit. This can be a misspelling or different description. Think fuel can vs gas can vs fuel storage container vs... an infinite number. If you do see what you want ask about it, sometimes people are looking to make space and not have to pay for disposal.
  3. Post an add (preferably multiple ads) for what you are looking for. Advantage: Better chance of finding exactly what you want. Disadvantage: Dealing with many emails from every person with computer access. People will flag your listing for no reason other then they want the same thing.  You can work around this with multiple ads using different wording, get creative. The person flagging your ad will likely not find all your other ads. You will receive many,many emails from people who do not read all the details in your add or are tire kickers.


On a related "buy low" note: BUY SOLAR PANELS NOW! China flooded the market and undercut the prices driving everyone else out of the business. Then China bought all the US and European equipment in the past three years. China did this with the rare earths and then raised the prices from $4-5 per pound to $150-200 per pound. If history repeats (which is always does) with PV solar as it has with many other areas we are due for a massive price increase soon. The former solar manufacturers are protesting but we have already been “informed” by the MSM that the proposed import taxes only hurt the solar installation companies in those countries. Which is a two faced truth, it does now that China has shut down local production.

“Local production” in Germany and the US were factories in massive aircraft hangers with high volume setups, state of the art setups and robotics very efficient and well planned out. These were not a local machine shop or Mom and Pop shop getting squeezed out.

I visited one such factory in Germany during training for a  machine transfer to the US for use outside of solar. I went out to lunch with one of the scientists and and engineers who were about to be laid off. Sad to say they saw no reason for anyone to own a gun even with their own country’s history. I almost mentioned my 85 year old German Aunt, who is Jewish, her family fled the Nazis when they came for her dad. Her dad was a German Judge at the time, fortunately her mom told the young officer to come back at a respectable hour and he left. They fled that night, if her mother had not talked the officer out of the arrest they would have had no way to stop them. What kept me from going that route was their talk of the greatness of BHO and how we was fixing all our problems. This while talking to educated individuals who were being laid off en masse because of the same politics and spending. I knew a lost cause when I saw one. Sad it is a beautiful country with excellent beer, wine and very nice people. Too much Kool aid drinking though.

The USA can only survive for so long as a retailer, not manufacturing much of anything even food is imported from China. Many lathes, tools and mills can be found cheaply now with factories still shutting down. Get the tools and develop the skills, they will be needed. Most AR/AK/FAL gun replacement parts can be made and heat-treated with basic machine shop knowledge. Do your homework for what is legal to make and what is not prior to any projects. Getting these machines is rarely free, if you have extra from selling an AR and or ammo it helps.If you can barter now for a used machine and learn on it. You gain multiple skills and tangible goods for trade. The clock is ticking... Make it count.

Monday, April 8, 2013

[Editor's Note: I'm re-posting this as a favor for one of my old consulting clients. I have visited this ranch, and I can attest that it is an amazing fully-equipped off-grid ranch with large acreage. This would be a great opportunity for an energetic couple that wants to live in the boonies but that cannot afford a retreat of their own.]

Seeking two-person team for hard labor job running a remote ranch, dealing with cattle, grain farming, large garden, and ranch maintenance.

Personal requirements: Stable relationship, no children at home, no smoking, drug use, drinking, or criminal history. We will check.
Must have lived and worked in the country and understand that ranch life is a 24/7 job.

This is not a retirement position. Nearest drug store or doctor is 100 miles away, neighbors are few so you must have no major medical problems.

At least one farm member must have experience growing crops and handling cattle, including operating and repairing machinery.

The other member should plan to plant and harvest a large garden and can some and separately have basic computer skills to prepare/submit weekly report of daily activities.

Submit detailed resumes, including education, work history, skills, goals and three non-family references with phone numbers. No single person applications please or request for telephone call first.

Total compensation for both: $44,000 per year including basic health insurance, bonus plus detached caretaker house, utilities, garden food, good hunting, some fishing.

Interested and available candidates are urged to send their resumes with cover letters to "Archie" at this address: Be prepared to subsequently provide references.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The art and craft of sewing has begun to dwindle in popularity. However, this was not always the case. In the ancient world, and even in our own not so distant pioneer times, sewing has been an invaluable and necessary skill. In much of the last century, many young women (and some young men) were taught to sew by parents, in home economics classes, in some Boy Scout or Girl Scout clubs or even by employers. In this article, my hope is not to discuss hand sewing, but rather to impress the value of non-electric machine sewing.

I myself first became interested in sewing while watching my mother make aprons. I asked her if she could make some doll clothes for my doll. Much to my delight I received a child-sized sewing machine for Christmas that year. It did not sew very well or last very long, but it served its purpose well by planting the seed. It wasn't too long before I was operating my mom's machine and sewing all sorts of doll clothes from my mom's fabric scrap basket.  I learned early the value of scraps, all the wonderful varieties of colors and textures. 

In addition to sewing projects for myself and my family, I worked professionally sewing automotive seats and later for a high-end patio furniture Co in the upholstery department.  One thing these companies had in common was a preference for older (1940’s-1950’s) industrial (electric) Singers that were operated 16 hours a day, 6 days a week. They are truly workhorses. 

Another wonderful Singer treadle (model 29-4) was produced for industrial use, shoes & general leather working.  Harder to find and a bit more pricey, however, it can be a  great addition to your line-up for home use, especially in a grid down situation. It is not nearly as attractive as a model 66 although highly valuable for heavy leather applications. This particular machine is designed for sewing in very small areas.  If you want to get serious about sewing, this machine goes where others cannot!

Today I am both a self-admitted “prepper” who lives, along with my husband, on the same family farm I was raised on.  I am an avid collector of vintage and antique sewing machines. I have in my own collection, 40+ electric sewing machines and 13 non-electric treadle sewing machines. I am an enthusiastic sewing machine collector.

My sincere hope for new and seasoned preppers, is to be able to own an old Singer model 66 treadle (aka foot-powered) sewing machine (1902 - 1960). Now I realize there are fans of other brands, and I have operated many of them, dealt with finding parts, and have even sold my fair share of sewing machines. So why am I so adamant that self-sufficiency folks specifically get the Singer model 66 treadle machine?
In a low or no-power situation, the ability to sew and even better, to have a sewing machine will prove to be invaluable. While hand sewing skill is important, in order to get the job done fast and to be able to work efficiently with a wide variety of available materials, it will be very helpful to use a manual, non-electric (treadle) sewing machine. Being able to make new clothing or repair older clothing both for your own family or group will likely be the most common use for a non-electric sewing machine. However, what about sewing as a means of barter or income? The sheer durability of the Singer 66 means it can also sew leather and vinyl which could prove useful for gloves, backpacks, holsters, bags & even hats. The skill of sewing (including being a seamstress or tailor) might just be the ticket to providing your family with a valuable work-at-home income or barter commodity! After all, how many others will have more than just hand sewing supplies? Even without electricity, you can literally reap what you sew…
 Other benefits of the Singer Model 66 Treadle Sewing Machine:

  1. They are very simple to operate - even a beginner can be sewing in a matter of minutes
  2. A quieter operation, unlike modern electric machines.
  3. They use a simple leather belt which can be easily replaced with common materials and a little ingenuity.
  4. They rarely break down as they have a simple gear operation.
  5. These machines can be repaired using simple tools such as a hammer, straight screwdriver & pliers. No specialty tools required.
  6. Spools (or bobbins) of various threads used by these machines are readily available and can be stored for years or decades.
  7. Aside from a few adjustments and perhaps a small amount of oil, they are very easy to maintain in working order
  8. They are of course, not only functional but very attractive as well and provide a living space with a flat surface (table) when not in use.
  9. They were commonly produced with 2 or 3 side drawers and a center drawer for storage.
  10. A host of attachments are still available including a ruffler, hemmer & buttonholer and many times you will find these items in the drawers upon purchase.
  11. The 66 models are not finicky and will allow you to use monofilament thread as well as the cotton and polyester standards
  12.  The class 66 bobbins are very common and still produced today. And of course, standard machine needles are used, the size depends on your choice of fabric.

I do recommend, however that you purchase the head if you stumble across one (machine only-not the base) as a second purchase for spare parts. It is likely you will pay a very small amount for the machine (head)  and having the parts on hand will give you peace of mind.  This isn't a necessity, just a suggestion, the machines are quite durable.
How to Find a Singer Model 66 Treadle Sewing Machine
In many areas the very best place these can be found is by doing a local Craigslist search. This is the safest as you will be able to visit the buyer and visually inspect the machine for wear/tear and functionality. Other common places where these show up include local auctions, estate sales, antique shops and of course on eBay.

The less rub (markings/finish worn off), the better. Avoid machines that show excessive rust. Often times you will find the wood veneer has split or warped but it does not affect the function.  Turn the side wheel to ensure the needle bar moves freely. Lift the lever on the back of the needle bar to make sure the presser foot locks in place. If a machine is "frozen" and not missing parts, in most situations it can be repaired with a little mechanical ability and lots of lubricant. The price you offer should reflect the time you will have invested into it.

The average going price of this workhorse sewing machine generally range between  $150 - $250 but the value of having a functioning one in a TEOTWAWKI or SHTF scenario could be invaluable.

I cannot stress enough - limit your purchase only to a Singer model 66. Avoid all other brands. This specific model can be hard to identify because
many were void of an identifying metal tag or stamp. The pedal and side irons will have either the name "Singer" spelled out or an "S" incorporated into the design, or both.

A quick inspection of the bobbin area is a must. The bobbin is located beside the presser foot (where the needle is located) under the chrome/stainless slide plate.  If it accepts a modern ROUND drop-in bobbin, it is a 66. There were other later models produced (99, 201-3 & 201K) that should be mentioned, but these are much more scarce.  Approximately 95% of Singer treadles produced were model 66, proof of its popularity!
Sewing with the Ultimate Prepper Sewing Machine
You can download the manual for free.  Rest assured it is VERY easy to learn to use these machines.
Once you begin sewing you realize that the quiet rocking motion creates a nice straight locking stitch.  With a bit of practice and you get a sense of the speed and stopping distance. Have fun!! Experiment!!

The 66 will accommodate many attachments, still available today including a buttonholer. From pants, shirts and blouses, to blankets, quilts and other home and homesteading fabric based items, the Singer model 66 treadle and a few basic patterns will give you a unique ability to provide items essential to any long term Bug-In or off grid situation.

Something homesteaders and hunters alike will appreciate… these machines will sew soft leather, even hides! A wonderful benefit since even most modern
machines will struggle with leather and many will not even sew it at all. Imagine the items you might make with the hides from this year’s hunting! Blankets, gloves, moccasins, holsters, belts, and more.

Make good use of your scraps and sew them into colorful quilts. A true form of art that is also functional.
Even in a home with electricity readily available, sewing on a treadle can become a choice.  There is a certain sense of satisfaction in finishing a project in the same fashion that your Great Grandmother may have. 

With a heavy needle in your 66 (19/120), you can sew materials like canvas for tents, tarps, bug-out-bags (BOB), chaps, backpacks, & flour sacks to name a few.  You are not limited, this machine will also sew fine fabrics like silk and chiffon.

Because sewing is not really a manual labor skill, it can be done even by elderly or partially disabled persons. These persons in a post-collapse world are sometimes forgotten about by today’s younger preppers, or relegated to baby sitting and kitchen work.  As long as a person is able to sit and operate the pedal and maneuver the fabric, they become sewers. It is important to have value and feel a sense of accomplishment.
Honestly, the only downside is the size & weight. For traveling and transporting, it is definitely not practical for a BOB. However it is extremely practical for a Bug-In or Bug out location. What it lacks in portability it more than makes up for in function.

So what’s stopping you? Investing in a Singer model 66 treadle sewing machine, a few spare parts, thread and various fabrics, and you will be ready - even if American society gets pushed back 100 years. After all, a “Little House on the Prairie” scenario is just as likely as a “Mad Max” one. Regardless, having and knowing how to use low-tech machines like the Singer 66 will make life easier.

Much like family values, and morality, sewing -and the items that sewing can repair and produce, are a common but often forgotten thread which stretches from our American pioneer past to all of our possible futures.

Monday, April 1, 2013

[Editor's Note: I'm posting this as a favor for one of my old consulting clients. I have visited this ranch, and I can attest that it is an amazing fully-equipped off-grid ranch with large acreage. This would be a great opportunity for an energetic couple that wants to live in the boonies but that cannot afford a retreat of their own.]

Seeking two-person team for hard labor job running a remote ranch, dealing with cattle, grain farming, large garden, and ranch maintenance.

Personal requirements: Stable relationship, no children at home, no smoking, drug use, drinking, or criminal history. We will check.
Must have lived and worked in the country and understand that ranch life is a 24/7 job.

This is not a retirement position. Nearest drug store or doctor is 100 miles away, neighbors are few so you must have no major medical problems.

At least one farm member must have experience growing crops and handling cattle, including operating and repairing machinery.

The other member should plan to plant and harvest a large garden and can some and separately have basic computer skills to prepare/submit weekly report of daily activities.

Submit detailed resumes, including education, work history, skills, goals and three non-family references with phone numbers. No single person applications please or request for telephone call first.

Total compensation for both: $44,000 per year including basic health insurance, bonus plus detached caretaker house, utilities, garden food, good hunting, some fishing.

Interested and available candidates are urged to send their resumes with cover letters to "Archie" at this address: Be prepared to subsequently provide references.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

When compiling a list of our survival necessities, we end up with a few basic categories: food, fuel, shelter, water, and protection. Stranded in the wilds, or a deserted island, water is the most important. Shelter comes in a close second, followed by fuel for water purification, food preparation, and sanitation, and ending with food for sustenance. If you add a sharpened stick, perhaps topped with a sharp rock, bone, or metal point, you can protect yourself from wild animals, kill or spear game and fish, and most importantly, fend off adversaries intent on taking your necessities for themselves, or harming or killing you.

In the modern context, our firearms provide the ability to protect our homes and persons from those criminals, or as recent national events have revealed, a movement by government officials, to strip that right of self protection from us to further an agenda of repression and abuse disguised as the philosophy of distribution of equal necessity and eventual misery to all of us. The push to limit, or remove from us, the most efficient firearms available, has been promoted alongside the limiting of magazine capacity, and even the quantity of rounds of ammunition at time of purchase, or acquired through the mail in bulk. We may retain the right to possess a semi-automatic self-loading rifle, and even make do with limited capacity magazines, but if the ability to fill those magazines with ammunition is curtailed, or out-right denied, then we are in serious trouble. You may have a gun safe loaded up with several rifles, and a few magazines, but if you run out of ammunition, you’ll end up with an expensive, un-wieldy club.
My wife and I have enjoyed ten years of participation in the shooting sports, namely Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS). This discipline has allowed us to travel across the United States and make many friends and hone our rifle, shotgun, and pistol shooting abilities. One of the first things we became aware of, was the fact that if we competed more than once a month, we would incur a significant cost of purchasing commercially manufactured ammunition. When I started shooting CAS back in 2003, I could buy a box of 50 rounds of Winchester .45 colt “cowboy” loads for $17.99, and a box of shotgun shells for $ 2.99. That added up to about $40 per match.

Now, a box of both rifle/pistol, and a box of shotgun cowboy rounds is about double that, approaching $80. Most CAS shooters shoot more than one match a month, and the average is 3 matches or so locally. That adds up to quite a bit of money. We were fortunate to have close friends gift us a Dillon 550B and dies as a wedding gift, (we met through mutual friends while CAS shooting) and I found I could drop the $17.99 cost of  box of .45’s down to $3!. My monthly ammunition coast plummeted from 80 per match, down to $6, and then I found a used Lee Load-all 12 gauge shotgun loader, and further dropped my shotgun shell per box cost down to 1/3 of the coast of a commercially loaded box, while adjusting the shot and powder load down to a comfortable “feather-light” type shell. I helped a friend sell bullets he started casting after he bought a lead bullet casting machine, and was making and selling cowboy-type lead bullets at quite a savings. Now all I had to do was buy powder and primers, and re-use my brass, to further drop my cost down to about $2 a box for both rifle/pistol AND shotgun shells.

Back a few years ago, post-election, and fear-driven, ammo sales and availability cleaned out most shelves of stock. Not for us, we had always have components on hand, as we shoot 3-4 matches per month, and travel to larger state and regional shoots requiring double the normal amount of ammunition. Fortunately as well, we are constantly running into folks who have bulk amounts of primers and other components, which we buy at a savings over sporting goods, or box stores. The shortage never impacted us, as we always used the “off” time between competition seasons to load enough rounds to compete in the next season, mostly several thousand in each caliber. My wife shoots .38 Special cartridges in her rifle and pistol, and I shoot .45 Colts in mine. I spent any time after getting our handgun cartridges loaded, to loading as many 12 gauge shotgun shells as I could, just for that “rainy day.”

For the prepper, or even average gun owner, who see’s the hand-writing on the wall, and is concerned about the availability of rifle, pistol, or shotgun ammunition, or for those who just want to invest a small amount to save on future is ammo costs, or even to add a universally needed survival commodity to their barter stock, or home mini-store, ammunition reloading equipment is a great choice.

Getting started in reloading ammunition is very easy. You can start out with a single-stage or multiple-die turret-style press, and move up as you wish to a the next stage, which is a manually indexed press, all the way up to a fully-automatic self-indexing commercial ammunition reloading press. Most all major manufacturers of reloading presses, have a life-time warranty on the units, covering replacement of parts and even some add-on accessories damaged or broken during normal usage.

Single-stage presses, such as those from RCBS and Lee Precision are extremely well-made, and can last several generations. RCBS makes  several single-stage presses you can find used for under $100 such as the RCBS Rock Chucker from Midway which when new comes as a kit with everything you need to start loading. If you buy just the press, you simply purchases a set of 3-4 stage dies in the favorite caliber, and a 50 or 100 round loading plate, in order to process the cartridges 50-100 at a time. First you would  de-cap and size the cleaned cases, re-prime either with the priming die, or by sizing, and then hand-priming with a hand-held primer tool. Then the powder charges are measured out with either a pre-measured powder dipper, (Lee Precision makes the universal set of graduated dippers in a set) and dropped into the primed cases, then the seating and crimp die is screwed into the press and the primed and charged cases and topped with a bullet, and rammed up into the die to produce a finished cartridge.

The Dillon 550B is a very popular press, used by 80% of the cowboy action shooters, and it’s set-up with a set of separately purchased dies, which consist of the case forming/de-priming die, the case belling / powder charging die, which has a automatic pre-set powder measure atop it, actuated by the up-thrust of the sized and primed case into the die, the operator then manually indexes the entire case plate to the next die where he places a bullet atop the charged, and primed case which seats the bullet to the proper depth, and then indexes it around to the final crimp die which crimps the bullet firmly into the case, producing a finished bullet. The Dillon press has an automatic primer feed device, which one pre-loads with 100 or so primers in a tube which places, and seats, a primer automatically into the case after the de-priming action has completed its action. The Dillon is sturdy, easy to adjust, and it’s easy to remove a case midway through the loading sequence to check powder charge, etc., by removing station holding pins at any point. The operator is required to only perform two manual moves, to place an empty case in the first station, the de-prime/sizing die station, and then place a bullet atop the charged/primed case at the third station, all the while rotating, or indexing the base-plate with finger movement, which positions the cases under each appropriate progressive die in the sequence.
Dillon makes a basic single-stage-type hybrid press, the 550 both a bit less expensive, but upgrade called the Square Deal B without some of the 550B’s features, and also an XL 650 with an auto-indexing feature, an auto-case feeding feature etc.  Dillon makes a commercial grade automatic-type press as well if you want to get into mass production and cartridge sales, the SL 900.

A Lee Turret-style press is a take-off on the moving base-plate type press, and the 3-4 dies are positioned atop a rotating top plate mount, while the cases remain stationary below them. Priming and charging the cases with powder are done manually be the operator, although a auto-prime attachment can also be purchased and affixed to take care of this function. This type of press is most often used in reloading at a slower rate, in reloading rifle cartridges, especially shouldered rifle caliber cases.

Lee Precision makes an automatic pistol caliber press called the Lee Pro 1000.  Lee also makes an upgrade as well, the Lee Load Master. It functions very similarly to the Dillon 550B, with the exception of the unit costing much less, and it is auto-indexing, however the down-side is that the priming mechanism is gravity fed, and if the mechanisms are not kept stringently clean, and full of primers, the occasional un-primed case will make its way through to the end. It’s harder to remove a case mid-way through the process to double-check for powder or other component, unlike the Dillon, which is fairly easy to do so. The operator is only required to perform one hand function, aside from operating the press operating handle, which is to place a bullet onto the charged /primed case. This is because the Lee is equipped with a case-feeder, which collates, and sorts, rim-down, cases, after a handful is dropped into the top of the case feeder device funnel.

Having been a prepper for many years, harkening back to the late-1970s “survivalist” movement when the Oregon Rogue River was the destination of many like-minded individualists, I easily saw how accumulating the proper reloading equipment would come in handy. 

The first reloading press I bought, was on the internet at one of the CAS sites where shooting-related merchandise was sold. It was an RCBS single-stage press, for $50 shipping included. I picked up the loading block, and components at my local gun shop, and stared reading up on my new hobby. The first few years shooting under the rules of the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) in cowboy action shooting, I reloaded black powder, and black powder substitutes for rifle/pistol, and 12 gauge. The substitute black powder was easier to clean up, and more forgiving with loading data. I sold the press for $75, after loading many thousands of rounds on it. The Dillon 550B is a great machine, and setting one up is fairly easy. I acquired a video-tape of the set-up, which answered many questions for a beginner such as me, and any time I had a broken part, I could call toll-free, and would get replacements at no cost. Many of the larger shoots we attended have prize drawings included with the shoot registration, and many time Dillon 550B, and even auto-indexing XL 650’s would be given away as prizes to a lucky few. One that note, you can buy a 550B and add on case feeding devices and other upgrades.

I found a used Lee Pro 1000 for $75 at a cowboy shoot swap table, and apparently the owner had a few “mechanical” issues with it, as he had broken a few parts, and rather than call and get free replacements, he had rigged the thing up with fishing snap-swivels and discarded the case feeder tubes when they got bent. I called Lee and bought a collator for it, and they sent me replacement plastic case feeder tubes and the proper linkage for free along with it. It is not as forgiving a the Dillon, but is quite a bit faster once you get it all dialed in. It’s a love-hate thing.

Once the last two elections solidified in my mind the almost inevitability of the political atmosphere's left-leaning swing towards firearms, magazines and gun ownership, I decided to accumulate as many common caliber die sets and components as possible, 9mm, .30-30, .380, .38, .45 ACP, 7.62x39, .308, and 30-06. That way I could re-load for anyone that happened to need ammunition post-TEOTWAWKI. I can use this set-up as barter fodder, and have stock-piled primers, brass, bullets, and shot. For this enterprise. Speaking of the later, one can find lots of re-claimed shot at most gun ranges now days, since the anti-lead environmental extremists have made enough noise to force gun ranges to either contract to have the lead removed, or they do it themselves, and re-bag it for resale.

I can buy a bag of pre-sorted and cleaned recycled shot for $24 per 25 pound bag, as opposed to paying $46 currently at a local sporting goods chain.

A company called Corbin makes bullet-bases disks to swage onto the base of lead bullets, so his one can load them into rifle cartridges without the lead bullets leading the barrels. This is essential when loading battle-rifle cartridges in 7.62, and .223/5.56 calibers. Since I have several rifles in pistol caliber, both .38 and .45 Colt, plus several sets of single-action pistols in the same calibers, I plan on using them post-TEOTWAWKI around the homestead, and saving my 7.62 ,.223, and like caliber loaded commercially for heavy engagements. As long as I have powder, lead, primers, re-usable brass cases in .38,. .45 Colt, and ..45 ACP, I’m calling it good for the long haul.

I would encourage anyone who has firearms to look into reloading as a way to provide an almost un-ending supply of ammunition if TSHTF. Ammunition to use to protect your own household, and to use to barter for goods and services.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

More than fifteen years ago my wife and I began collecting a year’s supply of food.  Once we’d collected almost 20 cases of food in #10 cans, we pretty much let the matter slip from our thoughts.  It wasn’t until about six years ago that we began to realize that we didn’t really know what we had, or how long it might last.  That led us to thinking about what else we needed, and eventually we stepped with full intent into the prepping mindset.  We recently moved out of the urban shadow of a major US metropolis and into a small ‘Mayberry’-type town.  We found new friends, one of whom has a flock of about half a dozen laying hens.  After hearing his occasional story and anecdote over the months, my wife got it into her head that we needed to also do something like that.

Now whatever the reader might think of me or my masculinity for bowing to my wife’s wishes in such a crazy idea, let me only say that you haven’t known her for as long as I have, and one of the most important things I’ve learned is that she can be truly inspired by God.

At first I moved slowly.  We don’t have the land for raising flocks of chickens, and I don’t know yet if it’s even permitted in our town.  However, I did some reading and some internet searches and learned a few things.  While I was doing that she was actually working on the project.  She spoke frequently with friends about our/her plans until she found a nearby family that had the land and might just be persuaded to join in her reckless scheme.

We met to discuss the matter, sharing what little we all knew, and honestly, some of it was laughable.  But not letting ignorance stand in the way of progress, the two wives decided to go ahead and order a small flock.  Then they told us husbands that we’d better get moving on putting together a coop and a protected yard.  Not much can motivate a man more than the concern of disappointing his beloved, so we men-folk got started.  So here are the details of our joint effort, and some lessons learned.  (Full disclosure; I have no financial interest in any products or businesses that I may name, and will receive no compensation for any positive reviews.)
Our Girls, The Hens

Our wives ordered a flock of a dozen Sussex hens.  They are a reliable laying breed with good cold weather resistance, and this was useful, as we can have snow on the ground for about half of the winter days each year.  They were shipped together and were a month or two short of their standard laying age when they arrived, but I understand that gives them a little time to finish maturing and to become acclimated to their new home.  They are docile birds, (ours are brown in color,) and tend to greet us when we enter their yard, sometimes following us and pecking gently at shoelaces or socks.  They are still nervous at being picked up, but rarely struggle when I do it.  I’ve been told that our friends’ children can pick them up and sometimes even cradle them on their backs without the girls getting frantic.

They lay brown eggs.  The first ones laid were small, slightly larger than golf balls, but now they are all normal in size.  A few are double yolks, but this is rare.  They do have a slightly stronger flavor than store-bought eggs, but not as strong as the wild goose eggs that I’ve sometimes found in this area.

When they arrived we saw that they had all undergone de-beaking, or beak trimming.  This has become a common practice with laying hens, as it removes about 20 or 30% off the tip of the beak.  This reduces the severity of any injury if pecking occurs within the flock.  This hopefully prevents the hens from eventually descending into cannibalism.  The job done on our girls’ beaks appeared to have been a little rough, but I’ve seen no evidence that it causes them any current discomfort.  When they’ve taken food from my hand it’s felt like tapping my palm firmly with an index finger.  A sharp beak would probably have felt more like getting poked with a pencil point.  That is only supposition, however.  I cannot offer more of an opinion either for or against the process of de-beaking in domestic fowl.

Our friends’ oldest son takes care of most of the daily feeding and watering.  My wife and I come by when our schedules permit, which averages 30 to 60 minutes twice a week.  We try to let the girls out to scratch in the field.  The daily care is done mostly by them, but we help out where we can.  Let’s be honest; a 12 year old boy probably has a lot of other things he’d rather do than farming chores, so it’s only fair that we help out without complaining.
Their Shelter

Our partner was able to collect scrap lumber from his job and used that to build the coop.  It measures about 6 feet square with a 7 foot ceiling.  A single light bulb is always on, as we understand it helps the girls in the laying process if their day isn’t too short.  I expect we’ll turn it off in the summer time.   There are enough laying boxes for each of the girls to have their own, but we’ve seen that they tend to share.  We’ll frequently find three eggs in one box and four in another, indicating that they aren’t territorial.  They like to clump them together.  There are three horizontal perching rods inside, each about 3 feet long, for them to sleep on at night.  Access is via one  door for us and two for the girls.  Two are recommended in case one of the girls tries to block one in a dominance display.  The coop itself was built on stilts.  This provides protection from rodents that would otherwise nest under the floor, and it also tends to keep smaller children from climbing up inside without  adult supervision, as the first step is about 24 inches.  This entire structure was built in one side what may have been an old horse stable; it measures about 13x20 feet and is open on two adjacent sides.  This provides some wind protection, but even better rain and snow protection, as the coop was built under the existing roof.  This gives the girls some room for scratching and exercise.  Due to the slope of the land, some rainwater tends to flow in under the walls.  I’m working to improve the drainage so the girls don’t have to walk in muddy areas.

I was in charge of the fencing, and my wife and I dug about 30 feet of a 2-foot deep trench before finding out the high cost of the fencing I’d had in mind.  (I’d read that extending the heavy fencing deep underground would deter almost all digging predators.)  After apologizing and filling in the trench, I rigged electric fencing around their little yard.  I used single-strand wiring and an 8-foot grounding rod, and ran two lines in an alternating horizontal pattern starting at about one inch above the ground level and ending about 6 feet up.  The strands are 2 inches apart lower down, and the spacing increases after every few strands, so the upper lines have an 8-inch separation.  Above the final strand is a 2-foot gap to the roof, but I figure no predators will be able to jump that.  Electrical power is available to the stable, so that is used to power the system.  I chose a Dare Products Enforcer, model DE 60.  It’s rated to cover 4 acres of fencing, and provides .15 joules of kick.  I usually test it each visit by touching one hand across two wires and getting snapped.  I once tried touching the soil and a wire with opposite hands, and the jolt across my chest was more like a fist-punch.  I’ve not tested it that way since.

The wires are strung on the outside of the 6x6 beams that support the roof.  I rigged a 24-inch width of standard chicken wire around the inside of the beams to prevent the girls from reaching through and getting shocked.  However one day I was inside scattering dry grass and they were outside when one of the girls took off like a shot, quite angry and loud.  Seems she’d gotten a little too close and learned for herself what the yellow wiring can do.

The other two walls of their enclosure are old 4x8 plywood panels, and in most places they don’t quite extend to the ground.  This would have offered an easy entrance to any predator willing to dig for a few minutes.  Rather than slap wire fencing vertically on the wall, I laid it horizontally on the ground under the wall.  The fencing is 2”x4” welded wire, 18 gauge I believe, 3 feet wide.  About 4 inches extends into the chickens’ yard and the rest is outside, staked down in several places to prevent it from being dragged or tripped over.  Any predator digging at the base of the wall would have its efforts immediately frustrated.  I expect that some ground cover will grow up through it in the spring, helping to both hide and anchor it.
We purchase 50-lb sacks of layers crumbles, and they currently cost about $16.50 each.  ‘Crumbles’ is a mixture of rough-ground grains and has the consistency of cornmeal.  The girls have no problems with the feed, meaning they’re showing no evidence food fatigue.  I’m contemplating getting an extra bag of scratch grains feed.  Crumbles feed only gets lost on the ground when I’ve scattered it for them.  ‘Scratch’ consists of whole grain kernels, which will be easier to see and will provide them some variety.  Over the new year’s holiday I was delayed several days in getting a fresh bag.  That meant our friends had to find makeshift food, and it wasn’t fair to them or the girls.  The extra bag of scratch grains will provide a backup food source, and it has a longer shelf life than the crumbles.

The food is currently stored inside a galvanized steel trash can to remove the risk of attracting rodents. We suspend their feeding and watering trays about 8 inches off the ground for the same reason.

The water supply is susceptible to freezing, and one of the mornings I visited I had to chip the ice off the surface.  Since then I rigged a 60 watt bulb inside a half-cinder block, and set the water tray on top instead of suspending it.  It’ll keep the water warm enough, but the red glow from the plastic tray is kind of spooky.  It is intended to only be used when cold weather threatens, as it did for about a week recently.

The girls like a variety of foods, and kitchen leftovers are sometimes much appreciated.  “Sometimes” refers to both the food and the delivery method.  For example, they don’t like carrots.  Same with an over-ripe zucchini.  The ignored a half-apple someone tossed in, until it was stepped on; then the girls loved the resulting mush.  They love breads, but tossing in a three-inch heel from a stale loaf of french bread was useless.  They can’t eat it until it’s broken up, and they need us to do that for them.  I heard that chickens like raisins, but so far ours don’t.  We’re still learning.

Obviously, we’re trying to make this a working partnership, so finding faults or making recommendations for changes has to be done… diplomatically.  Only the condition of the water and feed get promptly mentioned to the parents if we find them empty.

Our Sussex hens are quiet birds.  They’ll ramp up their chatter when they hear someone approaching, because they’re curious to see who it is.  They seem to get along well; I’ve seen a few brief instances of pecking between some of them, but so far there’s not a bird who stands out as either the alpha or the omega.  They sometimes scare my 5-year old grandson when they get close, but he’s getting used to them and asked to see them when he was last at our place for a sleep-over.

As mentioned, we let them out occasionally to scratch in the surrounding field.  Their enclosed yard isn’t overly large, so they’ve scratched up what little vegetation there was.  I make an effort at each visit to pull up several handfuls of long grass from the surrounding field and scatter it in their yard.  It was originally intended to help soak up the puddles that sometimes formed after the rain.  Instead I found that the girls also enjoy eating it!  It also now provides a place to hide other food/treat items that they can discover as they satisfy their instinct to scratch.

Our area has its share of predators.  Raccoons and foxes are probably the most prevalent.  Before I had the electric fencing finished and charged up a neighbor’s dog got into their yard on two separate days.  Fortunately he wasn’t large, and he seemed more interested in the birds as entertainment, rather than food.  After the fence was activated there have been no problems.  However I have seen footprints of a large canine around the fencing.  This may be why we had our greatest loss.

I previously mentioned the gap I’d left above the electric fencing.  I stopped at that height because it became unwieldy for me to stand on a chair on the damp ground, and besides, no predator would jump that high, right?  The web site says that Sussex chickens are not prone to flying when mature.  Perhaps the girls weren’t yet fully grown (although they were already laying regularly,) or perhaps some of them didn’t read the web page, but several of them showed a tendency for escapes.  They stayed close to their yard, fortunately.  At first I thought the fencing had been shut off or the wires had been loosened.  After it happened again  my daughter and I trimmed several of the primary flight feathers on one wing of each bird, so that they would be unbalanced if they tried flying again.  It wasn’t  enough; we had yet another escape.  Eventually I resolved to block the gap above the wires with a few more rows of horizontal twine, and see if that kept them in.  I didn’t act soon enough.

Just before Christmas I got a text from our partner saying that 3 of the birds had gone to heaven.  Several patches of feathers outside showed where they’d been killed and partially plucked.  It was a needless loss, due to my procrastination.  After that I promptly ran the twine above the wire, and we’ve had no more escapes.  The feathery patches are still there, and they provide a sobering reminder of my need to be a more faithful steward.
What the future holds

We’ve discussed ordering a few replacements, but from what I’ve read the addition of new birds to a flock frequently results in pecking and a period of anxiety.  Another option would be to rent a rooster and see if any of our girls want to brood.  That’s a process I’ve only read about so far, so I can’t offer anything on the subject.  I do understand that a broody hen will need to be isolated from the rest of the flock for about 2 months, until the hatched chicks are at least a month old, and that she’ll not produce again for a few months after that.  Right now that step is only in the discussion phase.

Either way, the size of the coop is sufficient that we might keep up to 20 birds.  All we would need to add would be a couple more roosting perches.

Sussex hens aren’t bred for eating, but I realize that that will be the intended finish for our girls some day.  I’m not looking forward to that because, frankly, I’ve grown rather fond of them.  Perhaps we’ll sell them to a neighbor, or maybe I’ll have to man up and do the deed.  Either way, I’ll need to prepare for it, so that I can harvest the girls as humanely as possible.

Friday, February 8, 2013

I began as an apprentice in the Upholstery trade when I was 15 years old. I worked the trade all through high school and it helped to put me through college. Eventually I opened my own shop and worked the trade until 2004. In 2004 I partnered with a good friend and we began designing and manufacturing tactical gear for him and the guys he worked with overseas. This business has continued until today. All in all, I have been using industrial sewing machines of various types for over 20 years now. In that time, I have learned much about what machines to look for, and what machines to avoid. Much of this experience has come at significant financial cost, so I hope to help your readers avoid the mistakes I have made over the years.
I have read various articles posted in the past that have extolled the virtues of learning to sew and having a good sewing machine on hand in a TEOTWAWKI situation. The reasons are many, including being able to repair your clothing and gear when those services are not available. Also, the ability to make and repair gear will be a valuable and marketable skill in a post event situation. I have not, however, been able to locate an article specific to machine choice, especially regarding industrial machines. I know you’re a proponent of the old treadle-pedal style machines, but for reasons to follow, I would caution your readers about these types of sewing machines.  I would submit that everyone should have a good INDUSTRIAL grade sewing machine as part of their preparations. Like most good tools, once you’ve had one, it’s hard to see how you ever got by without it.

Over the years I’ve owned, used, sold, purchased, borrowed, repaired, and modified approximately 20 machines of various makes and models. I’ve used button-hole machines, computerized bar-tackers, double-needle machines, sergers, chain-stitchers, straight stitchers--the list is long. Of all the machines I’ve owned, one is by far the most useful. I’ve used it more than all others combined. This machine is what I suggest your readers find, purchase, and learn to use. I’m talking about a compound feed, walking foot industrial sewing machine. For those unfamiliar with sewing machines, let me clarify as best I can and give you some suggestions on where and how to purchase one.



I should probably apologize in advance to all the good women out there who have sewn for years on small home machines. My wife, mother, aunts, etc. all have them so I mean no disrespect, but here goes… Avoid the temptation to buy an off-the-shelf home sewing machine from the local craft-mart or that computerized wonder with a million preprogrammed stitches and fancy zipper-feet they’re selling on the TV shopping network. These machines are great for the hobby quilter, craft enthusiast, and for boat anchors in a grid-down situation. Also avoid the old fashioned treadle-pedal machines of the pioneer days. They’re okay if you only intend to sew VERY thin fabric, but they’re nearly useless for sewing heavier materials, and finding replacement parts can be dicey. They take a considerable amount of technique to use effectively. I own a great old (pre WWII) industrial long-arm Adler with a treadle. It’s superbly made and amazingly durable… and unfortunately, it’s nearly useless for 99% of the sewing I do.

One of the main reasons to go with an industrial machine is the clutch motor. A good industrial machine will be set in a 4 foot by 2 foot free standing table with a large electric motor mounted underneath that transfers power to the sewing machine head via a v-belt (like the fan belt in older cars). It does this through a clutch, usually made of very dense cork. Once turned on, the motor is always spinning at full speed and by depressing the sewing machine’s pedal, you bring the two cork plates together engaging the clutch. This transfers the power through the v-belt to the head and you’re in business. The clutches last for YEARS. (I have never had to replace a clutch on any of my machines and I sew on them almost daily.) If you’re worried, you can perform a quick test. Sit at the machine with it turned off and try to cycle it by hand. It should difficult. If it isn’t, the clutch may be worn. Don’t give up on the machine just because of this, however, because the motors and clutches are not terribly expensive to replace. If you’ve got a great sewing machine, but a bad motor or clutch, buy it! You can find new motors all day for around $100. (Make sure you buy a single phase motor though, there are tons of 3-phase sewing machine motors out there and few people have 3-phase power.) My point in all this is that if you are in a long-term grid down situation, it will be relatively easy to replace the constantly spinning motor with another form of spinning motion. I have found that with some simple modifications, I can rig up a stationary bicycle to spin the electric motor. It takes little effort for someone in your group to pedal the bike while you sew. It’s best to not remove the motor because once you get it spinning, its internal weight acts like a flywheel and helps maintain the torque necessary to keep sewing trough thick materials. If you have one of those old-school exercise bikes with the very heavy front wheel, this may not be necessary, but also consider the advantages of leaving the motor intact if power ever does become available again. Get the necessary parts/modifications tested and working BEFORE the balloon goes up and then squirrel them away. It will probably be very difficult to source the v-belts and associated pulleys/etc. you need after an event. This takes some genuine backwoods ingenuity, but I found all the parts I needed easily, online from McMaster Carr. If you have some junk 10-speed bicycles lying around, and some imagination, you could probably source everything you need from them. My point is, if you can spin that clutch disc, you can sew. If all else fails, you can cycle the stitches by hand with the machine’s hand wheel and it will still be much faster and stronger than sewing anything by hand. The whiz-bang computerized machines you buy at the craft store are servo operated these days and will be completely useless without electricity. Some of them can’t even be cycled by hand without electricity. They also lack the hardy construction necessary to sew heavy materials such as canvas, webbing, and thick leather without blowing the timing and breaking components. Few things will make you say bad words like repeatedly blowing the timing of your sewing machine or breaking needles, when you’re trying to finish an important project. Think of those little craft machines like those cute little painted hammers they sell in craft stores. They may be great for putting a tack in the wall to hang a picture, but can you imagine trying to frame a house with one?

A couple last things to consider…the good, older, industrial machines are completely mechanical except for the drive motor, so they are impervious to EMP attacks. They will last several lifetimes if properly lubricated and can be configured with various attachments to do a surprisingly wide range of specialized sewing tasks. If you look hard enough, you will find them for incredibly cheap. (More on this later.)


A “walking foot” sewing machine simply means that when the material you are sewing is being pulled to the rear of the machine by the feet, the needle is IN the fabric. This prevents bunching and gathering of the fabric and also greatly aids in keeping the top and bottom pieces of fabric indexed correctly. Having been forced to sew on a non-walking foot machine while employed in college, I will never own a strait stitch machine that doesn’t have a walking foot. If you’re unsure if the machine has a walking foot, simply cycle the machine slowly by hand, and you will see if the needle is down in the feed plate when it moves to the rear. If the needle is up out of the fabric and only the presser foot pulls the fabric to the rear, don’t buy the machine.


This is sometimes used interchangeably with walking foot, but it actually denotes how many feet the machine has. Look for a machine that has two presser feet, not just one. There will be a rear foot and a front foot. This greatly improves the way the machine feeds thick materials as well as how it handles difficult sewing applications. It’ll be a Godsend if you use a binding attachment or sew heavy zippers into tents, etc.


This is less critical, but a nice feature to have. It just means that you can access the bobbin (the small spool of thread that feeds the bottom stitch), from the top of the machine, rather than from the side, or underneath. It makes bobbin changes easier and it makes clearing the dreaded “bird nests” much easier when they occur.


This may sound silly, but there are a bunch of industrial machines out there that do not have reverse. This is a deal breaker for me. It’s like buying a jeep with two-wheel drive. Yes, it’s a jeep, but you’ve just lost so much utility and versatility by not holding out for four wheel drive. You need reverse to back stitch at the beginning and end of seams so they don’t unravel. You can’t effectively bar-tack without reverse either, and if you’re making any sort of tactical gear, you’ll be doing a lot of bar-tacking.


File this under really nice to have, but not a deal breaker. The timing clutch is a bearing-actuated clutch that theoretically breaks loose before you can blow the machine’s timing if you ever jam the machine while sewing. You then simply cycle the machine slowly forward until the bearings reset and you’re good to go. I’ve only seen these on the old Adler 067 models (of which I have two), but they may be on other good quality machines as well. They are WONDERFUL if you can find a machine that has them. I can’t explain how to look for this feature without photos and a long confusing explanation, so just ask about it when buying a machine.  Don’t be surprised if you get a blank stare from the person selling the machine, but ask anyway.


When looking for a machine, make sure it has a good thread stand that holds at least two 1lb. spools of thread. Most will hold three, but two is a must. One feeds the machine while the other one winds the bobbin.  Also, it should have a bobbin winder. Many are attached to the table under the hand wheel, but some are built right into the machine head. These are neat little contraptions that wind your bobbin for you while you sew. They run off the drive belt and disengage automatically when the bobbin is full. Unless you plan on storing away an endless supply of pre-wound bobbins, you’ll need the bobbin winder. I use pre-wound bobbins in production for a number of reasons, but I also have an ample supply of metal, reusable bobbins that I can wind myself when needed. Pre-wounds may not always be available so it’s better to go with a long term solution.


Once you’ve procured your machine, find out what length of v-belt it uses and write it on the machine somewhere. Now go out and get one or two extra belts. You can buy sewing machine-specific belts for a ridiculous amount of money, or do like I do. I buy automotive v-belts for a fraction of the cost at my local parts store. They last a lot longer too. In fact, I’ve had to replace two sewing machine belts in my lifetime. Once replaced with automotive belts, I’ve never had to replace them again.
If you can locate them, buy a couple extra sets of feet for the machine. Get a set of zipper feet in right and left hand configurations if you can. I also have two sets of welting feet for my machines, but that’s a throw back to my upholstery days. If you intend to use a binding tape attachment for your machine, you’ll need a set of special feet for that too. They can be sourced online on the various auction sites, or from industrial sewing machine suppliers. While you’re at it, get a bunch of extra needles for the machine in various sizes. I keep a large supply of 140, 150, and 160 sized needles on hand. These machines are very strong and will shatter a needle quite easily if you happen to tweak the fabric enough to deflect the needle into the feed dogs. They also become dull over time if you sew a lot of dirty canvas, etc.

If you can get the operations manual with the machine, grab it! Most of them are available online, but not always. Many are out of print and cost a mint to get reproductions. The internet has alleviated some of this, but not in all cases. You NEED the operational manual to make sure you can readjust the machine should you blow the timing. It is not an easy task if you’re inexperienced at it. If you can’t manage to retime the machine, it will be completely useless.

Industrial sewing machines are VERY heavy. I put all mine on casters so they can be easily moved around my shop. I highly recommend you do this if the machine you buy doesn’t have them. These machines are big and take a lot of space in a small garage. It’s very nice to be able to just push them out of the way when not being used.


I stated before that I’ve used a number of different machines over the last 20 years. Some were and are great, some were real dogs. I give the following as my personal opinion. It’s based off 20 years of work in the trade, but it is certainly not the last word on the subject so please don’t take it as gospel.

If TEOTWAWKI happened tomorrow and I could save only one machine from my factory, and that machine had to last me the rest of my life, I would grab my old Adler 067. It was the first machine I ever bought and I’ve sewn well over a million stitches on it. It was a used machine when I bought it, so who knows how many stitches it’s sewn over the years, but it will outlive my grandchildren if they keep it oiled. I wish I knew how many pounds of thread I’ve put through it over the years. In my opinion it’s the finest straight stitch machine ever made. It has all of the things I’ve listed above and the old 067’s can be found at outrageous discounts if you look around. The Adler 167s are outstanding machines as well. My second choice would be one of the older Pfaff industrials like the 145. They are equal in quality and toughness to the Adler, but lack the timing clutch. I also own a couple JUKI machines and they are great. I have a double needle and a computerized bar-tacker made by JUKI and I have no complaints. They are a great value and if you’re going to buy new, that’s the way I would go. I highly recommend you buy used, old, and German, but if you do buy new, I’d go with JUKI. I’ve used a few CONSEW machines over the years and they’ve been hit or miss. I’ve used a couple that were good, and I’ve used a couple that were just dogs. Same goes for CHANDLER (except the ones that were actually made by Adler). I’ve never used SINGER machines, but if you read the forums they were really hit or miss too. The consensus seems to be buy the older machines. The rest I’ve used were very specialized machines and really don’t apply here.


I’ve purchased machines from dealers, out of the back of a van, from internet auction sites, yard sales, estate sales, and from defunct businesses. The internet auction sites are great, but shipping is often as much or more than the machine itself. If you do go auction site, consider just buying the head unit and then sourcing a stand (table) and motor locally. Search the local classifieds for anything that says “industrial” or “commercial” sewing machine. You can find great deals that are close enough to go pick up. Also, research the sewing machine dealers in your area. Most dealers buy and sell used machines. You’ll usually pay more, but they may give you a guarantee on a “refurbished” machine. They are usually good sources for parts too. Keep a sharp eye out for yard sales and estate sales. There were a lot of us upholsterers back in the day but we’re an endangered species. The throw-away economy we live in has made upholstery a very difficult business to be in. Many of the old craftsmen have hung up their scissors and are selling off their machines. Many of the auto-restoration crowd bought a machine thinking they would do the interior on that old muscle car and then find out it’s not as easy as it looks. They get sick of it taking up space in the garage and the machines end up at swap meets and yard sales. Be patient and be creative in your search and you’ll find some real gems for a few hundred bucks. I once bought five machines from a defunct business for $25 each.

I really hope you will consider adding an industrial sewing machine to your list of tools.  I believe it will serve you so much better than relying on a small home machine to keep your clothing, tents, backpacks, and other gear in good repair for the long haul. If you will take the time to really learn how to use it, it can provide a supplemental income for you now and possibly a life-saving means of barter/income after the SHTF. May God bless all of us with wisdom and persistence as we prepare, and may we be successful in all our efforts.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

InyoKern's comments [about living in trailers] are right on. My brother is [living] in a 21.5 foot long toy hauler and it is built stronger than a conventional trailer and you can haul a lot in it. It is very comfortable and has extra large storage capacity for fuel, water etc. He has 200 watts of photovoltaic panels on the roof and four 6 -volt golf cart batteries cabled together to provide most of his electrical needs.

I have a 9 foot truck camper and though its good the trailer is much more versatile for moving about from city to city if you have a place to drop it, like a RV park. They are a good choice for a small business, as well. - Jason M.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Hello, James.
I was wondering about something. If it is possible to build an entire lower assembly for an AR-15 (though a bit more fragile than what most people are aware of) using a 3D printer, wouldn't it also be possible to program that same printer to make composite construction 30 magazines (or larger) for AR series rifles. All that you would need to do then is buy the springs. Everything else can be produced using the printer. Sincerely, - Gerald H.
JWR Replies:
Unfortunately, with current technology I don't think that the plastics used have the requisite tensile strength, especially in the feed lips.  A  fully-loaded magazine exerts a lot of force on both the feed lips and the floorplate retainer. But in a few years, I expect 3D printing technology to mature substantially. So it could then become a viable option for fabricating magazines.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

It is well-reported that America is a land of 312 million people and somewhere between 310 million and 320 million guns. (There is no firm figure, because thankfully only a small fraction of Americans live in locales with gun registration.) Of those, there are about 80 million handguns in circulation. And of that 80 million, I would venture an educated guess that there are less than 50 million holsters, to match. This is because most handgun owners are not regular handgun carriers. The most lopsided "gun-to-holster" ratios are with .22 rimfire handguns, and large-frame, long-barreled revolvers. I suspect that perhaps only 25% of those handguns have an accompanying holster. There are also more rifles and far more shotguns out there than there are carrying slings for them. (I'd roughly estimate that less than 10% of shotguns have slings.)

These disparities represent a huge opportunity for a post-collapse cottage industry.
In a post-collapse world, suddenly almost everyone will want to be armed at all times, and they will be eager to barter to fill those needs.

Get some practice at holster and sling making. Then stock up heavily on leatherworking tools and supplies, tanned cow hides, sheets of brown or olive green Kydex, rolls of brown or olive green nylon webbing (for slings and straps) sewing awls, waxed nylon thread, rivets, snaps, sling swivels, and buckles of various sizes.

Also keep in mind that because of its length and padding, the venerable U.S. military M60 sling is one of the most versatile slings for re-purposing. They can be used with a huge variety of rifles and shotguns. So if you don't have craft skills, then you can at least buy a pile of those slings to keep on hand for barter. (They are quickly and easily shortened, with a snip of scissors.)

I should also mention that nearly any handgun with a positive external safety lever can be safely carried in a Nalgene water bottle pouch. (Warning: Glocks and other "safety in the trigger"-type pistols can only be carried safely in specifically-made holsters that fully enclose the triggerguard!) Yes, these pouches are bulky and slow to access as a makeshift holster, but they will fit about 80% of handguns. But their bulk also camouflages a pistol--since they don't look like a holster. That can have advantages in some situations. If it the pouch is too deep, then just add some balled-up pairs of spare socks, or some Israeli battle dressings, or a couple of folded bandanas. And by the way, the same pouches also work reasonably well for carrying shotgun shells and many types of magazines.

Someday, you may be very glad that you stocked up. - J.W.R.

Monday, November 5, 2012

I'd like to tell the readers about an amazingly affordable electronics workbench tool that turns you laptop into an oscilloscope, and a lot more: Analog Discovery. This one card can
replace $10,000 worth of other gear. The student version is just $99. See a quick summary of the specifications.

I think that this is the Pico scope taken to the next level. This puts AM radio, FM radio, radar, sonar, ultrasound, spread-spectrum radio for secure communications, encryption tools for running secure comms over otherwise insecure channels, high-bandwidth servocontrol of machinery and countless other modern technologies in hands of the garage inventors, small businesses and university research groups. At my company we've been using much more expensive versions of this technology for a while.

The Digilent Analog Discovery design kit, developed in conjunction with Analog Devices Inc., is the first in a new line of all-in-one analog design kits that will enable engineering students to quickly and easily experiment with advanced technologies and build and test real-world, functional analog design circuits anytime, anywhere - right on their PCs. For the price of a textbook, students can purchase a low-cost analog hardware development platform and components, with access to downloadable teaching materials, reference designs and lab projects to design and implement analog circuits as a supplement to their core engineering curriculum.

The specs:

Dual 14-bit 105 MSPS ADC
Dual 14-bit 125 MSPS DAC
16 digital I/Os at 100 MSPS
Programmable power supply

It is designed to be an oscilloscope/AWG/logic analyser/digital pattern generator, so the usual caveats (5 MHz analogue input bandwidth) apply for such a device, but the screenshots
of the software look quite nice and Mac OS X and Linux versions are promised.

Like many here, I'm not too interested in this class of oscilloscope, but assuming it's hackable it could be the basis for a cheap software defined radio transceiver. It doesn't look like a schematic diagram is available, but Digilent often provides them. We'll have to wait and see after it's released.

Here is a write-up in EE Times: Disruption in the engineering classroom

And, one in EDN: The joys of tinkering, by Robert J. Bowman, Professor of Electrical Engineering, Rochester Institute of Technology.

Regards, - Chris M.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The recent article on Do it Yourself Timber Harvesting prompted me to share my experience starting a homestead on our 200+ acre tree farm in East Texas. Almost two years ago I settled on a site back in the woods next to a dry run-off creek bed for my home. Our farm has been in the family for well over a century, and the forest area I picked sat untouched for 60 years.

One of my first investments was a 20” Stihl chain saw. Starting with little experience, about 10 chains, one sprocket and 2 replacement bars later I'm finally getting pretty good at felling trees. A 20” inch bar is a good size for using with a sawmill, as it can fell trees up to 2-3 ft in diameter. Having a smaller 12-16” backup saw will be a lifesaver the first few times your bar gets stuck in a tree. It's also much lighter and easier on your back for small jobs.

One thing to consider is the cost of chains. I get my 20” pro chains locally for about $15 each, but most places charge over $22. At this point, accessories and replacement parts have cost as much as the chainsaw, so plan accordingly.

I started clearing the building site for my Earthbag dwelling by cutting out the smaller trees first. It let me get used to the saw, practice proper cutting technique, and make small mistakes. I quickly realized that once you get over about 6” in diameter it's a different ball game. The trees go where they want to go. You likely won't be able to guide them down or push them off if you get your bar stuck. Looking back I can't stress enough the importance of proper safety gear, taking your time, and evaluating the situation. I of course, learned the hard way.

Mistakes Happen in a Split Second

Towards the end of the clearing phase the last couple dozen big trees lined the creek walls. I started working on a 2' diameter sweet gum with a hollow trunk. The plan was to drop it back away from the creek so it could be cut up and dragged out of the way for later milling. My uncle was on his small tractor helping with clean up.

My face cut wasn't level, so the wedge angled up slightly. When I connected the back cut the tree didn't fall. I pulled my saw out, the light wind shifted, and the tree fell the opposite way over the creek. Even worse, it fell over a new fence row on the back of the property. I quickly went back to the fence and looked at the two main 10” branches suspended a few feet in the air over the barbed wire fence. I stood next to the fence, reached over and cut the first branch. Then I stepped in about 2 feet and started cutting the second branch. This is where things went horribly wrong.

About ½ way through the second limb, I heard a loud crack and the next second to me, seemed like it lasted 10. I heard and felt a loud thud; I realized that feeling was something hitting me in the head; I heard every vertebrae from the top of my neck to the bottom of my shoulder blades crack one after another. I remember thinking, “Oh sh**, this is going to hurt,” and then I blacked out.

I woke up laying on my back, the chain saw gurgling on the other side of the fence, my safety glasses and ear protection were several feet behind me, my jeans ripped, my leg cut open on the barbed wire, and eventually I hear my uncle shouting, “. . . Sam are you okay?” I replied, “Yeah, give me a minute,” as I laid back attempting to breathe in severe pain. It's a good thing I woke up, because my uncle, who broke his neck and has trouble walking, had planned to use a cable to drag me out across the creek with his tractor!

What went wrong? Well, several things.

  1. My face cut wasn't level which may have contributed to the tree falling the wrong way, and I didn't use a wedge to prevent this.
  2. Having little experience with larger trees I underestimated the dangers involved in felling a large 120 ft tall, 4,000-6,000 pound tree. (Anything over 5” is potentially dangerous)
  3. I was in a hurry to avoid repairing the fence.
  4. I didn't evaluate the situation. The tree trunk was suspended 4 feet off the ground.
  5. I created a very dangerous work area after cutting the first branch over the fence. When I stepped in to cut the second branch, the first was directly over my head. I should have cut the first branch again, getting it out of the way.
  6. Again, I didn't evaluate the situation. Not only was the trunk off the ground, but the second branch was bound on the side against another tree. Once I cut half way through it, it snapped under the tremendous pressure and the trunk slammed to the ground, glancing the back of my head.

I was very lucky, mostly because the fence wasn't damaged, but also because I wasn't killed, paralyzed, or left with a broken neck. It took several months to recover, and I couldn't turn my head for a month. A few thumb torture sessions later with a neurosomatic massage therapist finally completed my recovery and today I'm back at 100%.

Take the Time to Learn Safety Procedures

After my injury we found a local part time logger to come in and remove the last 16 big trees on the site. He cut the trees and hauled them off for free, making money on the timber. I worked with him and learned a lot by just watching. If you have the chance to learn from an experienced logger, then do so.

Now I do things very differently. First, I wear a hard hat that includes ear protection and a face shield. I wear steel toed work boots most of the time after tearing into a pair of hiking boots while de-limbing a tree. I'll probably add the protective chaps one day, but my shift in mindset can't be stressed enough.

I take the time to clear all vines, brush, and limbs from my work area before cutting. I look at my escape routes. I walk around the base of each tree looking up the trunk to see which way it wants to fall. I watch my back cut closely to see if it's getting wider as I cut. I use plastic/wood wedges on bigger trees, attach a cable with a come-along, or use my backhoe when possible to push them over. When a tree trunk doesn't go right to the ground I take the time to walk around it again, see what's holding it up, and figure out a strategy to clear the other branches and take it down from there.. Since my accident, I've safely cut down over a dozen giant oaks that died in last years drought with no problems.

Chainsaw Care and Maintenance

I struggled with sharpening chains early on. There are great Youtube videos out there teaching the basics. The overview from Wranglerstar is very through.  I use a large C-clamp in the woods to hold the bar steady and tighten the chain first to prevent wobbling. A sharp chain will cut straighter/faster, it will run cooler, stretch out less and last longer. Watch the wood chips coming off the saw. When they go from little squares (chips) to more of a sawdust consistency, stop and sharpen. It may seem like a pain, but a sharp chain will save you a lot of headache in the long run.

If your chainsaw is cutting sideways it's because the chain is dull, the teeth were not sharpened evenly all the way around, or the rakers need to be filed down. Keeping your blade out of the dirt is also extremely important. Sand will stretch out your chain faster than anything. 

Does a Sawmill Make $ense?

While considering the resources available living on a tree farm, and the lumber required for my earthbag dwelling,  I decided to purchase a sawmill. The two manufacturers that have the best reputation are Wood-Mizer and TimberKing. A basic manual sawmill will run about $3,000 to $5,000 used. Adding hydraulics for log loading, turning, and cutter head movement bumps that up to about $10,000-$15,000. A computer controlled mill starts around $30,000, and the mechanically inclined can build one for about $2,000.

I decided on a used TimberKing 1220, their basic fully manual 15 horsepower band saw mill with a 28” capacity. I paid about $5,000 and it came with 2 cant hooks (a must), a $900 blade setter/sharpener kit (Strongly Recommended), a trailer kit, and a track extension that cuts lumber up to 24' in length.

Anyone living on a large plot of land with trees should seriously consider buying or building a sawmill. Every year we get dead trees from the summer drought, lightning strikes, and blow downs from the storms. For those of you on small plots in the country with lots of trees around a sawmill may still make sense. I've cut down large cedar trees for neighbors who wanted more grass growing for their cattle. I've even picked up logs cut by the power companies to prevent downed power lines. I've had requests to mill lumber from a small timber company and supply wood to a man who makes furniture.

I run the mill by myself 90% of the time using either the cant hooks or my backhoe with a set of skidding and lifting tongs to move logs around. Skidding tongs are for dragging logs, lifting tongs are heavier duty and rated for overhead lifting. Forks can be added to the backhoe as well, but it will make an already 20 ft machine even longer. A skid steer is the ideal companion for a sawmill, but I get by with my backhoe using the tongs. The downside is tongs only work on one log at a time, and moving logs or leftover slabs in bulk requires forks.

Most logging operations won't touch anything under 10 acres because of equipment moving/setup costs, and this leaves a lot of good timber available for small mill operators. Another option is to offer a portable sawmill service or have people bring logs they pay you to cut or give you a portion of the cut timber (usually up to half).

We used to pay someone to cut, stack, and burn our dead trees that fell into our hay pastures. Now they produce a very basic building material that in a TEOTWAWKI/natural disaster scenario, would prove invaluable. This is especially true for the lower end sawmill designed for manual operation.

Sawmill considerations in a Post Collapse Environment

With the higher end models, what happens if something in the hydraulic system breaks down and you can't fix it? Can it be run manually? How will you get a 1,200lb log 4' off the ground without the hydraulic loader? There's also the extra fuel consumption to consider, as some models have a separate engine to run the hydraulics.

I've spent several hundred dollars stocking extra parts, new blades, and doing repairs on my mill. The setup is fairly simple, and the engine is a Kohler Command Pro, commonly found on riding lawn mowers so that's easily sourced.

I've cut large 24 foot, 6”x6” and 9”x9” pine beams to support a living roof on my earthbag home. I've used the slabs (a waste product) to build a rustic heavy duty chicken coop. A sawmill really opens up a lot of creative possibilities for woodworking projects.  I also have a huge pile of slabs that I can sell for $50 on Craigslist or bury to create a hugelkulture bed. Hardwood slabs can be burned for Charcoal which is added to soil or used in filters. I scoop up the sawdust and use it in natural building and spread it in the gardens.

The Hardest Part of Running a Sawmill

Working big logs logs stands out as the toughest job on a manual mill. Two people using cant hooks makes this easier. A long heavy crow bar is also useful for moving/straightening logs. The longer and bigger the lumber your cutting, the heaver it gets, the more difficult it will be to move. The toughest job is lining up a big log to cut the maximum length your mill can handle. You only have an inch or two of clearance on the ends, and manually sliding a big log from the end is hard. Using a backhoe can/will snag on the frame and drag the whole setup off level footings, and you will be spending the next hour re-leveling. .

Cutting is simply setting the blade height with a crank and then turning a second crank to move it forward. A rough cut 2x12x20' pine is around 80lbs. if fairly green, and this must be moved and stickered (stacking with small stakes in between each board to let them evenly dry). So the bigger the log, the more likely help or tractors are needed.  Anything under 10 inches is hardly worth cutting up, and anything over 18 inches is much easier with help. 

What Tends to Go Wrong

Just like the chainsaw, having a sharp properly tensioned blade is important to avoid wavy cuts and other problems. New blades tend to stretch after their first use. Not observing the tension loss and running into dense knots has led to wavy boards several times. I've run a blade so dull it stopped in the middle of the log. It won't back out because the band will slip off the wheels, and getting it out is a real pain. The trick is to pay attention and change the band as soon as it starts to dull.

It's also tricky sometimes to square up the cut side against the log stops while locking it down for the next cut. It sometimes twists a bit and I end up with trapezoids instead of square boards. A bit of close observation and practice can minimize this. Putting the lumber through a planer or Turning the cant (squared up log) back and making a second pass can fix this.

I spend about 30 minutes setting and sharpening each blade, which can be done anywhere from 4-8 times depending on the steel's hardness. Two people running a mill all day will go though 3-5 blades which cost about $28 each with shipping.

Getting to a Finished Product

Fresh cut lumber will need to be stickered and dried out either naturally or in a Kiln. I dry lumber on cinder blocks to raise it off the ground, and cover it with large tarps from billboards. Used billboard tarps can be found at flea markets, trade days, or on craigslist for less than $50. They are heavy duty compared to hardware store tarps with string between PVC layers.

If you want to produce and sell dimensional lumber you will want to consider building a kiln. It's basically a shed with a heater. In an off grid situation, it should be possible to use a rocket mass heater to dry out lumber by burning the leftover slabs every few days to heat the shed.. It would certainly require a commitment over several weeks.

Beyond that you will want to consider a  robust thickness planer and shaper if you plan to make wood flooring or other finely finished wood products. All that's left is to figure out what to do with all the cheap lumber you'll have sitting around. I've built beautiful counter tops with 2”x17” planks from a 60 year old pine. I built a water tower, a working wishing well, a heavy natural oak bench and I'm learning how to do mortise and tenon joints, which works well with large rough cut lumber.

A Few Closing Thoughts

Putting a roof over a stationary mill is a good idea. A large span is ideal to move logs in, which for me means 30+ feet. Used chicken house trusses are ideal. They typically have a 40 foot span, room at the sides to stack lumber, and they can be purchased for about $100 per truss.

One final note, having worked with axes and hand saws, I can't overstate the importance of storing fuel to run your equipment. In my case this is a plastic 55 gal HDPE drum, treated with PRI-G fuel stabilizer annually (for up to 12 years storage), a hand operated transfer pump, and a bung wrench. It's important to seal the bungs tight so the lighter fractions in gas won't evaporate, fouling the fuel.

None of us know what the future holds, but the ability to produce usable lumber for your local community is an invaluable asset for you and your neighbors.  In a post collapse situation, it could prove to be an invaluable bartering resource.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I make charcoal to sell at the local farmers market. I'm a farmer and prepper. I use two steel drums, retort method, which produces high quality charcoal.

Charcoal has many uses. It used for cooking and heat without flames, water filtration, making pyrotechnics and has some medicinal uses. This is hot, hard work but simple to do. With a little imagination all components can be changed or modified as long as age-old principles are followed. I prefer using red oak. It comes out naturally pitted so there is no need for enhancements for water filtration.

Concept: Small pieces of quality hardwood are placed in a small steel drum. The small drum is placed into a larger steel drum. Scrap wood is then stacked in the gap between the two and burned. This “cooks” the quality wood into charcoal without allowing it to be consumed by oxygen.

Primary Components:

Furnace – 55 gallon steel drum with removable lid. Called an “Open Head”.
The lid is held on with a quick lever closure ring (preferable) or the nut and bolt closure ring.

Retort – 15 gallon steel drum with removable lid. The crimp type lid is most common.

Both can be purchased new from and oil distributor or obtained used from trucking companies or large farms etc. First burn out any residual contents of used drums with an open fire.

Secondary Components:

3 fire bricks or spacers, used to raise small drum off the bottom of the large drum.

Wood: 2 types

Any quality hardwood makes great charcoal. I prefer red oak. It comes out very pitted with large cracks. It is easy to light and produces a very even burn when used for cooking. Great for water filtration without enhancements. For pyrotechnics use muscadine or grape vine.

Perfect scenario – Cut red oak logs and allow it to dry for nine months or so. For making a batch cut pieces, 5 inches long, off the end of logs. Quarter it, and split it into 1.5 inch thick bricks. Use a hand axe and cut the bricks into pieces 1.5 inches x 1.5 inches x 5 inches or smaller. If the pieces are larger then it just adds unnecessary cooking time.

Tip on tree selection – Pick a red oak inside a stand of timber that grew at least 100 yards from any open area among older trees. It would have grown straight, tall and fast, with very few knots, and hence great for splitting! You don’t want a tree that grew near the edge of a field. It would have had lots of limbs in its first 25 years, lots of knots, very hard to split.

Scrap wood, hardwoods produce a steady even heat. Small amounts of scrap pine lumber produces quick heat, helps regulate cooking process. All are split small enough to go in between the sides of the barrels and about 2 feet long.

Note: Pictures of my furnace and retort drum set-up can be found as attachments to my posts at the Eat The Weeds Forum.


A. Furnace Drum

1. Removable Lid: it is used to help regulate air flow during the cook. Raise with wood or rebar just a little while cooking. Most have 2" x ¾" Head Fitting Plug, also helpful with air control. You can also mount a piece of flue pipe with damper in the center of the lid if you want to be creative.

2. Cut vent openings along bottom edge of 55 gallon drum. Cut 3 vents, 3 inches (v) X 8 inches horizontally, evenly spaced around circumference. Leave one end [of each vent tab] attached so they can be partially closed to control air flow. After the burn, cover them with dirt to seal off air.

B. Retort Drum

1. The small drum bottom must be vented. The purpose is to allow gas to escape from the oak while it is being cooked. These gases also burn outside the small drum during the process. This reduces the amount of scrap wood used. These are the same gases used to run a gasifier or woodgas engine. A full small drum will weigh about 55lbs and produces about 18 lbs of charcoal.

2. In the bottom of the small drum drill 1/4 inch diameter holes. Drill about 30 holes
Note: I'm sure at some point early in the process, there is a quick flash burn in the small drum. Oxygen is gone soon, no ash. Gases don't burn until they leave the small drum.
At night you can see 30 blue jets of flame from bottom of small drum. Waste of scrap wood cooking at night. did it once just to see.
Ash from scrap wood starts to clog big barrel vents. pushing it back keeps air flow going straight up (chimney effect) away from bottom of small drum. I rarely see any ash in small drum, then just a little on few pieces in bottom.


1. Put the fire bricks in the bottom of the big drum to support the small drum. This allows space for out gassing. It also prevents the ground from wicking heat from the small drum.

2. When the small drum is loaded and the lid is clamped set it on the fire bricks.

3. Drop kindling down the sides of the small drum and then scrap wood up and over the top.

4. Stuff paper and tinder into the large drum vents and fire it up.

Cooking a Batch

Moisture is always your enemy!

The goal is to hold 700 plus degrees in the small drum for at least 1.5 hours assuming that the small drum is full and the moisture content is low. If the moisture content is high then it will add hours to the cooking time.

Only cook in hot weather, 90 plus degrees and sunny. If the temp is around 70 you will use a lot more scrap to cook the same batch, more work and time for the same return.

When the batch is done put the lid on the large drum and tighten the band. Close the bottom vents on the large drum and cover them with dirt to stop all air flow.

Tip: Don’t allow the scrap to burn out naturally. When you decide the charcoal is done then seal the Furnace. The burning scrap will use up remaining oxygen and prevent charcoal loss.

Before ignition, be sure to fill the small drum to the top and then shake it thoroughly. You'll then be able to add several more pounds of oak. Important - you still have to get the lid clamped on tight--freely without forcing.
There will be very little space for air. When the flash burn occurs it will be rapid. When gas starts escaping from the oak there is no oxygen for it to burn until it exits the vents in the bottom.
Also folks worry about cooking long enough. I tell them, "you will only under-cook one time." When you go out the next morning and find your mistake, you'll have to clean out the barrels, prep all the scrap, and re-cook the same batch. You wont make that mistake again!
Leave the air tight Furnace to cool over night. If you expose the charcoal to oxygen while it is still hot it will ignite and burn up all your work. The next day when the Furnace is completely cool remove the small drum. It should weigh about 20 lbs, if it feels a lot heavier then you did not get a complete conversion.

Pour the contents onto a framed 1/4-inch mesh screen to filter the tiny pieces and dust. Next bag up your charcoal. You should have 18 lbs of high quality natural charcoal.

Tips on Getting it Right:

You have to learn to "read the smoke." There is an art to this!

The first smoke will be heavy and white. This is moisture from the scrap wood and will continue for a while. Next the smoke will almost disappear. A short time later the white smoke will reappear but not so heavy as before. This is the moisture from the oak in the small drum.

This is the most important part of reading the smoke. The amount of white smoke from the small drum tells you how long to burn scrap. Only experience can teach you!

There is a small amount of loss as ash, maybe 1 to 2% at the bottom of the small barrel. Although crude this is a very efficient process for producing high quality organic charcoal.

Note that this charcoal-making process can be scaled down. The aforementioned procedure also works with a 5 gallon metal bucket and a 1 gallon metal paint can. Use you imagination, I’ve seen a pottery kiln used with several 1 gallon metal paint cans.

Activated charcoal is nothing but natural charcoal treated with liquid Calcium Chloride or Zinc Chloride for 12 plus hours. It becomes very pitted. Red oak comes out naturally pitted. (Not as good as activated but close.)

Warning: Use only natural unprocessed/untreated wood for charcoal. Things like pallets have been treated or had a host of chemicals and heavy metals spilled on them that are not consumed by fire.

You’ll get only about 15 to 20 batches out of a set of barrels, as they will deteriorate with high heat over time.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Schumer has hit the fan. Hyperinflation has crushed the economy, an EMP has disabled the United States, or some other disaster has brought TEOTWAWKI.
And you’re not ready. Your retreat isn’t stocked up, or you haven’t found one that fits right. Or you have, but you’re far away from it. You’re stuck in the city when the SHTF, or you’re out traveling and you’re far away from your new home. The credit-card infrastructure has sizzled. Your credit card is only good for opening insecure doors. All you have is the cash in your wallet.
Travel to your retreat, if you have one, is now out of the question. The highways are jammed and plane service is gone. You’re stuck where you are, or face a hike that may last weeks. Panic is beginning to spread; at the Wal-Marts, it’s a new Black Friday or worse. People are beginning to run for food, gas, generators and other obvious survival goods. Pollyannas are still legion, but their ranks are thinning as the SHTF news sinks in. Where you’re at is becoming dangerous.
Time is short; you need to survive. You need to prepare to job-hunt.

Where The Jobs Are

Should a TEOTWAWKI disaster strike, the only jobs worth having will be in the countryside. You may have to hoof it. If you’re in a strange locale, then find a Pollyanna and ask him where the farms and populated woodlands are. These locations will be the booming areas for TEOTWAWKI jobs. Farmers have food; so do woodsmen. The overlap between the two is the place where fellow survivalists are going to be. Where there’s food, where there’s land that can tide over survivalists, there’s work.

What Job To Go For

The most obvious job, if you’re an old hand with a gun, is freelance security. It seems like an easy line to get into, especially if you’ve worked security pre-disaster. The growing mobs will have the farm folks sweating. There’ll be a demand for security personnel once the criminals and gangs figure out they’ll have free rein. It’s the obvious job to aim for, right?
Wrong. Betting your future on a security job is a trap.
There are two reasons. First of all, thieves will pretend to offer security services to case the properties they intend to loot. They’ll also pretend to be law enforcement to gain entryway to sack and pillage. Even now, there are criminals that pretend to be police officers to gain entry into unsuspecting homes. If you’re a farmer or prepared survivalist, once the SHTF, you’re going to remember those stories. You’ll remember them like you remember the flash mobs now.
Secondly, organized criminals will take advantage of the anarchy to prey upon innocent farmers with the oldest gouge known to organized crime: protection rackets. They’ll offer “security” services as their shake-down.

Everyone with sense in the countryside will be cognizant of those two dangers. Since you’re a stranger, they won’t know you. So, beating the bushes for a security slot is much riskier than it appears. Not only are you likely to be turned down hard, but you’ll also acquire a bad reputation. You’ll be lumped in with the predators, even though you’re not one. The strangers you’ll be canvassing can’t give you the benefit of the doubt.
Even a world-class disaster can’t eliminate the grapevine. Once you’ve been pegged as a potential predator, word will spread: count on it. You run the risk of being treated like a real one.

With security out, unless you’re lucky to be canvassing regions where people know you already, what is the best job to go for?
The easiest and most-in-demand skill you can offer TEOTWAWKI job market is one you might not have thought of: firewood cutter.

Firewood cutting is ideal in a disaster scenario because it’s still labour-intensive. The need for firewood is obvious. Depending on the time of the season, the need might be urgent. There are Pollyannas in the farm belt too; it’ll take some time before they realize that the diesel they depend upon won’t be available. In the interim, they’ll turn you away because they think their heavy equipment is labour enough. If they have regular slots, they’ll be reserving those regular jobs for their regular hires. The only exception to this rule will be farmers who use migrant labour in harvesting season. If you’re lucky enough to be near those openings, you’ll have little to worry about – provided those farmers aren’t flooded by your fellow refugees.

Farm jobs will come into play once the farmers realize that their machines are inoperable – once the disaster sinks in. In a sense, an EMP attack is advantageous because reality will intrude on Pollyanaish fantasies quickly. Within days, farmers will realize that their agribusiness had better be shifted towards subsistence farming. They’ll be needing a lot of farm hands then. Finding a job won’t be that hard, especially if you’re unarmed and don’t show a fighter’s reflexes. You can bet a case of MREs that you will be sized up for threat potential by your prospective employer.

If disaster doesn’t strike suddenly, all but a few farmers will stay stuck in the furrow of denial. Hiring farm hands to work on land that’s cultivated by machine is counterintuitive to a farmer stuck in Pollyanna Land. He’ll see it as an unnecessary step backwards, and anything you say won’t convince him. He’ll have to wake up on his own. Under these circumstances, manual farm labour like seed planting is a new kind of job that most farmers will see as obsolete. They have to see the new reality for themselves. 

On the other hand, there’s already a labour market for wood cutters. It’s already an established line of work. Someone who has a need for your services won’t need to make the mental leap that farmers will. Unlike farming, timber felling isn’t fully mechanized. It still requires lumberjacks to work the chainsaw and use the axe for the limbing work that the chainsaw can’t do.

How To Prepare

Preparing for a wood cutter’s job isn’t that hard once the SHTF. If you have a couple of hundred dollars in your wallet, then you can equip yourself adequately. Crowds and Black-Friday-style riots won’t be a problem unless you go to Wal-Mart instead of a locally-owned hardware store. When everyone has food on their mind, who in their right mind would buy an axe, a bow saw, a sharpening stone for them? Only someone who thinks ahead – someone like you. That kind of thinking will be in short supply once the SHTF.

Don’t buy a hatchet or camp axe unless you have the money to spare for a secondary. The most versatile tool will be a three-foot single-bit axe. You need the extra leverage that comes with a long handle and wide swinging arc. [JWR Adds: You will soon find that you'll need one or more felling axes, plastic felling wedges, single bit utility axes, a buck saw, splitting mauls, steel splitting wedges, several files, and at least one sledgehammer. See the previous discussions in SurvivalBlog for details on timber felling saws, crosscut saws, and buck saws. Without a chainsaw, the most labor intensive work will be crosscutting the rounds for splitting. Buy the very best crosscut saw that you can afford. It is not realistic to think that someone can carry all of their gear on their back. See the many previous discussions in SurvivalBlog about garden carts, deer, carts and bicycle trailers. ]

If you have a choice, go with wood handles. Fiberglass is promoted as better than wood, but wood handles have been around for much longer than fiberglass[, and can be fashioned by hand from some hardwoods like hickory]. I’ve never broken a wood handle on a snow shovel; not ever. But, I have broken the handle of a fiberglass shovel near the blade. A disaster scenario is the worst time to learn that the manufacturer’s claims are hyped-up, or that your axe has been designed to fall apart a month after the warranty expires. Wood is tried and true. If you can carry it along and can afford to, an extra handle would be prudent. You will need a hammer and something solid to get the old handle out. A red Robertson screwdriver will do the trick, but if you want to be safe, also pick up a punch and chisel. Those will work if something happens to your Robertson. [JWR Adds: Be sure to also buy rubber bumpers to protect the handles of your mauls and sledges. This prevents most of the typical handle breaks.]

You might not have your BOB on hand. If not, grab a tool bag and add it to your shopping basket. You’ll also need any waterproof fire-start kit that the store has on hand. Unfortunately, beggars can’t be choosers once the SHTF, so you’ll have to go with what in stock and hope for the best.

A 36-inch axe weighs three and a half pounds, which won’t be that big a load. If you’re strong and can afford it, consider adding a 5-pound splitting wedge and a sledge hammer to your woodcutting kit. Ten pounds and up is best for the sledge, but that might be too heavy if you are traveling afoot. Eight pounds will suffice. Again, the wood handle is tried-and true, so get wood if you can.
As for the bow saw, a twelve incher can suffice for cutting off branches and limbs. You can use the axe for anything bigger. Make sure you get at least three spare blades for the bow saw and the right kind of screwdriver for the blade. If not absolutely sure, buy a multi-screwdriver.  

You should consider the hammer and wedge, despite the weight, because showing up fully equipped makes you look more professional. Remember, your potential employers will be on the look-out for beggars and camouflaged criminals. The more ready-to-work you are, the better your chance of landing the SHTF job.  It might be tempting to buy a chainsaw, but [if your concern is societal collapse,] don’t bother. How are you going to lug around the gas? If you’re not going to lug the fuel, then why carry around a chainsaw at all? Your employer should have one: if not, then [it will be in a circumstance where] he’ll be glad for your axe.

Once you’re through at the hardware store, find a convenience or dollar store that isn’t too crowded and get that cooking glove. Also, get quart and gallon Ziploc bags. Put the sharpening stone in the smaller and the entire package in the bigger. Do the same with your fire starter. Then, get any food items you’ll need for your journey.

How To Land The Job

In TEOTWAWKI, the "Human Resources" infrastructure will vanish. That will make finding a job more straightforward. There won’t be any more résumé-and-interview songs and dances.
On the other hand, you’ll have to canvass rural folk who are on their guard. When approaching them, be non-threatening. Hide your hunger and tiredness, else you’ll come across as a beggar. Once you see someone, leave your axe strapped to your belt or in your pack.

If you’re hustled off, go quietly, peaceably and cheerfully. Thank him for his time. The more you establish yourself as a nice guy, the better. That way, the grapevine network will work to your advantage.  
If not, don’t make the mistake of asking “for work.” The more general you are, the more you’ll sound like a beggar. Don’t ask for “work:” ask for a wood-cutting job. Be specific, and show that you’ve got the equipment; that will anchor you as a serious journeyman.
Be polite and respectful, and try to be as “normal” as you can. Being courteous taps into the unconscious hope that things will get back to normal soon. That hope is the secret behind “leadership.” You might as well tap into it while job hunting.

Ask these three questions:

  1. “Do you have any wood-cutting work you’d like done?”
  2. If you get a no, then: “Do you know of anyone else who needs wood laid in for the winter?”
  3. If you get another no, then ask if your prospect has any other work he’d like you to do. 

If the final answer is no, see if you can stay awhile and chat. Needless to say, there’ll be a lot to talk about. Although the goal is to make the grapevine work in your favor, you’ll appreciate the company. After five minutes or less, head down to the next prospect; if one’s not in sight, ask where the nearest neighbor is. If you’re hiking to your own retreat, ask where the nearest neighbour is in the direction you’re going. Rinse and repeat until you’ve landed something. Stay as upbeat as you can.

In TEOTWAWKI, consider yourself fortunate if you get paid in room-and-board. A berth then will be just as prized as a permanent job with full benefits is now. Unless your employer’s food runs out, you’ll get through until normalcy is restored. Once you’re hired, and do a good job, you’re a good worker. A good person to have around. If you’re lucky enough to be hired by a farmer with a wood lot, then you’ll be first in line once he realizes that the Schumer has truly hit the fan. Once he knows he’ll need labour to replace the tractors and combines that don’t work or have run out of diesel, you’ll be first on his list.

If you’re not lucky enough to land a farm berth, ask your employer how you can be useful in other ways; look out for other tasks he needs. The wood job might not last, so it’s best if you can leverage it into dogsbody work unless you’re on a journey. If you plan to be itinerant, if you’re trying to get to friends, family or your own retreat, ask for a bonus once you’ve proven yourself. Food, of course, is best; MREs would be a real boon. Of course…you might end up liking your berth enough to stay. Either way, you’ll be truly blessed.

Preparing Beforehand

The above advice is contingent upon you being caught unprepared. If you are, you’ll find out quickly which muscles you need to swing an axe and handle a bow saw.
But, if you want to prepare for TEOTWAWKI labour beforehand, there’s no better time to start than now. Get the axe, extra handles, sharpener, bow saw, spare blades, 5-pound splitting wedge(s) and sledgehammer. The basics will cost you less than $300. Once you’ve got your kit, get out and practice a lot– preferably in your retreat, where you can also gain experience in using and maintaining a chainsaw. If you don’t have one, do the best you can at your locale. If you have a house, either find a legal place to cut wood or purchase a cord of wood in rounds and split it further.
If you’re stuck in an apartment, your situation will be a little more challenging. Contact the volunteer services who look after seniors in your area. Ask the field staff if any of the clients have a fireplace. Once you’ve got a name, go over and volunteer to split wood for them. If you don’t get any names, try putting a “help available” ad on Craigslist. Ask for a name from every seller of firewood in your locale. With the practice, you’ll find out what muscles you need to build up. With respect to workouts, keep these two points in mind:

  1. Fatten up. When the SHTF, having “six-pack abs” only means you’re closer than most to starving. There’s no need to become obese, but a small beer belly or fat thighs will mean stored energy that’ll keep you alive longer.
  2. Work Out To The Task. There’s a bit of a vanity component to even a sound workout plan. Consider Sylvester Stallone in the movie Rocky Balboa. He had pythons for arms, so he could swing an axe all day long – but his chest was flat. He didn’t develop the pectoral muscles that you will need for the sawing. Buttonhole someone who knows anatomy to ask what your hurting muscles are called, and find workouts that strengthen them. A Google search will pull up all the routines you need.
  3. Take Up Hiking. Not only is it great exercise, but it also prepares you if you’re caught flat-footed. You don’t want to wait until it’s too late to find out that you’re a stiff stumbler after five miles.

Unless you’re fully prepared and already at your retreat, you need a backup SHTF plan to keep yourself alive and housed. The best way to do so is employment. Since it’s highly unlikely that your current expertise will be in demand in TEOTWAWKI, wood chopping is an ideal field to get into because people will need wood to survive. You can prepare for it on the spot if the SHTF and you’re caught unprepared. You’ll be zigging while others are zagging to Wal-Mart.

Acting professionally, showing up prepared for a specific line of work and asking for that kind of work, will set you apart from the beggars. Even if you’re turned down, you’ll still be respected. You might even get a different kind of job out of it.   
And, in your own small way, you’ll be helping to build a post-TEOTWAWKI free market. As a free worker, and as a free human being.       

Thursday, July 19, 2012

When it comes to food storage, people that I have talked with have almost always made the comment that they can barely afford to feed their family now much less afford to have food storage.  I am currently working with a few people and teaching them how to feed their family and still put food up for TEOTWAWKI.  There are three things that I tell people to always do, (1) gardening, (2) couponing, and (3) food co-ops.

(1) Gardening.  When TSHTF, you don’t want to be changing the way that your family eats because then you could be facing worse problems.  So the number 1 thing to do is to start a garden.  You are going to want to already know how to grow your own food to be able to replenish your food storage and maintain a constant supply of food.  I always tell people to both feed your family from your garden as well as preserve what you grow.  Start with heirloom seeds so that you can also learn how to save the seeds from what you grow.  Your startup will be more with getting the proper seeds and tools to do the work.  When you grow and preserve your own food storage, you have the ability to learn the art of gardening, seed saving, and know that your family will eat and already be adjusted to the foods that you grow as well as save money.  Fresh fruits and vegetables from your home garden are healthier for you because you are able to control the pesticides and environment that they are grown in.  Once you have all that fresh fruits and vegetables, you need to preserve them before they go bad.  You can dehydrate and can them.  Look at thrift stores and yard/garage sales for canning equipment including canning jars as well as dehydrators.  You would be surprised at what people get rid of, especially in the times that we are in.  Get creative with this, there are so many things that you can do with all those fruits and vegetables.  Tomato’s for examples, you can dehydrate them and then eat them as a snack or put through a blender for tomato powder.  When you can them, you can make spaghetti sauce, chili sauce, tomato sauce, ketchup, barbeque sauce, et cetera.

(2) Couponing.  There are so many coupons out there that no one uses.  Ask around and I’m sure you can find people that will give you theirs that they aren’t going to use.  Check the local library, they usually have a box for people to drop off coupons, and join a couponing group where you can swap ones you will not use for ones that you will.  I was just at the store and had been able to get a total of 28 Heinz Vinegar coupons for $1 off any one.  They were priced at Wal-Mart for $1.12, so after the coupon I only paid out of pocket 12 cents each.  You can get a lot of stuff for storage fast using your local stores sales and combining a coupon.  Not only can you get the coupons from the Sunday papers, but there are lots of sites online that you can print coupons as well such as, as well as being able to download coupons on your store saving card.  Watch at the stores, there are always displays that have coupons attached to.  You can either use them then or save them for a sale.  I got some coupons in the Sunday paper for Ball or Kerr canning jars, when I went to the store and bought them, there was coupons on the side of the packages and inside were coupons for the lids, pectin, produce protector, and more.  There are also times when there are coupons put out for items that will give you an overage.  There was a $3 off any Bayer aspirin coupon and at Wal-Mart the regular price for the low dose is $2.22 resulting in a 78 cent per bottle overage.  I had 10 coupons so I bought 10 of them and all of them were free and I got a total of $7.80 off of my shopping trip.  There are times when you don’t have to wait for a sale, but for the most part you are going to want to hold on to your coupons to combine with a sale and if possible a store coupon.  Always remember to check your expiration dates, you don’t want to stock up on a bunch of items that will be expiring in a month. Coupons are everywhere you just have to keep your eyes open for them.

(3) Food co-ops.  My favorite is Bountiful Baskets.  Check their web site as see if they have a page for your state.  I go on and get my basket as well as being able to get fresh fruits and vegetables in bulk at discounted prices as an add on to bring home and preserve.  I have gotten wheat, fruits, and vegetables from there.  Co-ops also give you more of a variety of new things to try and see if your family likes or not.  You can also find food co-ops through any local farmers in your area.  When it comes to co-ops, the sky’s the limit.  My father-in-law has apple trees and my kids and I will go over there during harvest time and pick as many as we can hold.  My father-in-law provides his own canning jars and in exchange, when I am making apple butter, apple sauce, jelly, apple pie in a jar, etc., I can up extra jars for him and get my apples for free all it takes is my time.  Ask around to people that you know that fruit trees and see if you can come over when they are ripe and pick some, most of the time they will let you because they don’t want what they won’t use to go to waste.  I always offer to can some extra for them if they supply their own jars and lids.  It doesn’t take any longer to do up a couple more jars for them and then they will be happy that you are offering to do something for what you are wanting from them.  When people see that you are offering to do all of the work they are willing to let you take as much as you want.  Another place to look is your local farmer’s market.  You can find lots of good prices there as well as being able to get an idea on what items grow good in your area.  You don’t want to stock up on a bunch of seeds that will not grow in the region that you live in.

Go out and talk to people and see what they have and what they do.  Talked to the people that work at your local nurseries, they know what will grow and what not to waste your time on for the area that you live in.  A good rule of thumb is try it yourself.  Everyone told me that you couldn’t grow peanuts where I live and I decided to try it myself.  They are growing good in my garden, I just have to wait and see if they produce.  If they do, then I will be glad that I tried it out for myself.  Listen to what people have to say but also try it for yourself.  It is best to find out now then when it’s too late and you are counting on your garden to be able to feed yourself and family when there is no grocery store to go to.  You don’t have to tell them what you are doing, from my experience when I ask questions people seem to like to show off how much they know they don’t seem to ask to many questions.

If you have a group together that you will be with WTSHTF, working together as a group now will enable you to work together as a group better when it is really needed.  I concentrate more on food storage then I do anything, don’t get me wrong, anything can happen and it is always best to make sure that everyone in the group has everything that they will need to sustain life should you all not be able to make it to your suggested location, however, working as a team to find the best deals will enable you all to get a better variety of food storage then working alone and not as a team.  There are people that I know that know people that I don’t and have access to different fruit trees then I do and just by putting the work out there sometimes you can get more then if you worked by yourself.  A word of caution though, is be careful with whom you talk to.  I don’t go around announcing to people that I am a prepper, because there are too many people that do see a need for it, and those are the people that WTSHTF are going to be either knocking on your door for help or worse yet, trying to by force take what you have worked so hard to get. 

Pay attention to all of the resources out there on how to get yourself your food storage and save money at the same time.  With using the techniques I have described, I have been able to not only feed my family, have a good variety of food storage, but also cut our grocery bill down by half each month.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Hi Jim,
Just a quick note about the magnets from microwave ovens letter: Inside the Microwave there is a large capacitor (looks like a metal can with two tabs on the top of the can) - before you poke around inside, make sure that you discharge this by touching a screwdriver (held by the insulating plastic handle) between the 2 tabs - this is like poking in the back of an old television, and the discharge from that cap will knock you for a lulu if it's holding a residual charge (and it can... for a long time.) If it didn't spark - no
harm, no foul. If it did - that could have been your hand in there!

Also... there are articles on the Internet about converting a microwave into a (surprisingly good) stick welder for next to nothing - I have one and am building a second, and for what I use it for, it far surpasses the overseas versions of the wire feed cheapos. Sure, it's a stick welder, but for a few bucks (much less than Harbor Freight's 110 VAC wire feeds that will likely emit square smoke rings and die) you get a good unit and help reuse something that most sheeple would throw out!

Best always, and good prepping. - Susanne, at the Village Smithy

Magnetron and computer hard drive magnets have a great deal of strength.  I put them on my oil filters.  I pull the magnet on the old filter just prior to discarding it. I place it back on the new oil filter that is going into service.  Placing them there may trap fine particles of ferrous metals and keep them from acting as an abrasive.  I also place one near the drain spout or drain hole on my oil pan area.  I remove that one just prior to draining the oil for an oil change. The idea is the force of the draining oil will carry any metal particles trapped there out into the bucket beneath.  It may not help but I don't think it hurts either.   Another good use for these magnets is to hold my tarps and blankets on vehicle windows during the winter months.  They sstay solidly in place even in very strong winds.  

Most hardware stores sell "super magnets"  A local TruValue hardware store sells a brand called Master Magnetic Inc out of Colorado or They are not cheap but you get what you pay for.  I have purchased them in the past to use on screen doors that don't close correctly or to drag lost tools out of ditches or bodies of water etc. 

If money is no concern they are readily available from an assortment of on-line suppliers based upon the "pull weight" desired.  And yes, these are not toys.  They can easily crush fingers or body parts and should not be given to children.  It should also be remembered that the strong magnetic fields generated by these super-magnets can cause nearby magnetic media like audio and video tapes and the like to be erased.  Treat them with respect.

And if you are looking for a novel use for a super-magnet well, my neighbor used one of these very powerful but small magnet he purchased on-line on the bottom of his walking stick in hopes of discovering the ever elusive iron meteorite on his walks in the rocks.  He hopes to make some extra money even on his "downtime". - R.B.S.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

For many of you blacksmithing reminds you of your father or grandfather, it takes you back to the smell of the coal forge and the hum of the blower pumping oxygen into the nest of the forge. I've met many of people who are interested in blacksmithing, mainly for fun and to make Christmas gifts for their loved ones. Not many of these people actually obtain a forge and anvil and use it. Many of people have their grandfather's anvil sitting unused in their shed or barn. My father has been blacksmithing for the majority of his life and has passed the trade down to me. The trades that can be expanded into after the basics of blacksmithing are many, from knife making, to fabrication, and tradition tool making are just a few of the trades that can be expanded into.

In the first years of my father' blacksmithing, he used a old, rusty elevator weight as an anvil. Anvils today are sometimes few and far between, I recoil in horror every time I see Wylie Coyote try to drop a anvil on Road Runner. The anvil is one of the most important pieces of the blacksmith's tool set. There are many brand of anvils that were once produced. Two of renowned anvils made were Peter Wright and Hay-Budden. A person can purchase a brand new anvil from a farrier supply company, of course those can cost in upwards of $300. Then again a Hay-Budden can cost $7 per pound! At a 150 pounds that would be $1,050. If your lucky you can find someone who does not know what they have and pick it up for $200. I am sure that many people through out the years have used something other than a anvil, such as my father and the elevator weight. A piece of railroad track would work great in a TEOTWAWKI situation. If you insist on having an antique anvil then there are certain things for which you should look. The recoil test, a good anvil should have some recoil to it, meaning that when you drop a ball bearing on it the bearing should bounce up and leave the anvil with a ring. An anvil without this quality has either been modified or lack true quality. Look at the markings on the anvil, the markings are so many that a person could write a book on it, I highly recommend that you do research on this aspect of anvils. A book concerning the types and manufacturers of anvils is Anvils in America by Richard Postman. Another thing to look for is gouging or other intended harm done to the anvil.

The second most important tool to the blacksmith is the hammer. In a TEOTWAWKI situation a basic claw hammer could be used to push metal around, but a more blacksmith designated hammer would be more beneficial. A person can pick up a blacksmithing hammer at a farrier supply center. Ball peen hammers also have their place in a blacksmith's arsenal, I mainly use them for shaping ladles and spoons but they can be used as a general hammer. Most people overlook the importance of how to use the hammer. I use a push and pull method, which means I push the metal forward and pull the metal backwards, using firm but not overly brutal strikes to the metal. Many beginners make the mistake of striking the metal so hard that they punish themselves. Another item that is just as important as the hammer is a pair of gloves. A good pair of leather roping gloves made of goatskin, are for me, the most comfortable. The third piece of equipment for the blacksmith is the forge. There are many antique forges on the market, but there are also many do it yourself alternatives such as brake drum forges. Brake drum forges are a excellent entry level forge for beginners. It uses a basic forge design, using a (You guessed it!) a brake drum and some sort of fan, to provide oxygen to the nest. I use a simple rivet forge for my small needs such as S-hooks, spoons, nails, and knives. One thing to keep in mind when choosing a forge is how hot it gets. My rivet forge will sometimes reach temperatures in excess of 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit. Now that is hot enough to smelt metal. Another thing to consider is what are you going to burn in your forge? I have been struggling to find coal for some time now. Our wonderful Government has decided to put even more restrictions on some of the coal mines. Even the mines with permits are selling their coal to China. You can still find coal today at some farrier supply centers, though it is low in quality it is still coal. I burn a 5 gallon bucket in two days of heavy blacksmithing, So it really does not take a lot of coal to work on a project.

To go with your forge you will need a blower. A blower is a simple piece of equipment which pumps oxygen into the nest of the forge, it is a vital piece of equipment as it raises the temperatures in the forge by several hundred degrees. Again your blower can be a rare antique or a home brew, do it yourself project. Some of your major blower makers were Royal, Tiger, Champion, and Buffalo were just a few of the many blower manufacturers. On the antique blowers I have seen them run anywhere from $40 to $300 at flea markets. Now as far as home brews go people have converted squirrel cage fans into blowers as well as car heater fans. You are only limited by your imagination when it comes to building your forge and blower.

A vise is a invaluable piece, it works as a second set of hands and a rock solid anchor point for grinding and welding. If there is a piece of vintage equipment that I recommend you buying it is a blacksmith's vise. The blacksmith's vise is designed to be open and closed quickly, so that you spend more time working the metal and less time letting the metal cool. the vises vary in size and price, they usually start right at $50 and go up into the hundreds.

If you manage to collect all the pieces of recommended equipment I highly suggest that you learn how to use them.

Fire, as most preppers are familiar with, is a simple task. A coal fire is slightly different, one must first start with tinder (I generally prefer newspaper, as it holds a flame longer) and kindling in the nest of the forge. Get a small fire going, but not blazing. Before it is blazing you must pile coal or coke, the byproduct of burnt coal, on the kindling, make sure there is enough on to absorb the heat, but not too much as to smother it. Keep supplying a large amount of oxygen to the fire via the blower and voila you successfully crafted a coal fire.

The one thing people ask me a lot is, “Where do I get the steel?” There are quite a few commercial steel yards across the U.S. One of the major ones is King Architectural Metals. Of course if the balloon goes up you won't be able to run out to the store and get whatever you need. Scrap yards are a fantastic place to go and find steel, most of them will sell you useable steel at a little above scrap iron prices. I have seen many fine knife blades out of spring leaf steel. [JWR Adds: SurvivalBlog reader C. Mike recently sent me this: Turning a Railroad Spike Into An Awesome Knife. It shows how even a home barbeque ca be turned into a forge with a brief service life.]

As I stated earlier you must learn to push and pull the iron, much like working clay between your thumb and index finger, your index finger being the anvil and your thumb being the hammer.

There many blacksmithing techniques, so many as I cannot cover them all in this one article, but I will go over a couple of them.

Drawing a point out seems simple, but to do it fast and efficiently is another story. Start out by bringing your round stock to a red hot temperature, which is about 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit. Rest the steel on the far side of the anvil and lock your arm into place. Strike once pushing the metal away from you, rotate the steel 90 degrees and strike again, pushing forward. Rotate back to your first strike and repeat the process. Keep in mind that you should only be striking on to sides of the steel. Repeat the whole process until you come out with a needle sharp point.

Forge welding is a slightly more advanced process, but would be well worth the difficulty in a TEOTWAWKI situation. First start out by bringing the rod to a again red hot temperature and rest it on the face of the anvil. Slightly flatten the steel and and sprinkle a good amount of flux onto the metal. Many farrier supply shops carry commercial flux, but for many years we have been using plain old borax, that is used for laundry. Reheat the metal to a not just red hot, but a glowing orange temperature. When the steel hits the sparkling orange range that opens the window to forge welding. Start the fold over on itself and proceed to strike the steel with force, but not with brutalizing strength. Through this process Damascus steel can be made, fire pokers can be crafted, and metal mended. With these simple tools and equipment you can start blacksmithing on your very own.

Several years ago I was looking for some hi power magnets for a project, and found them, inside microwave ovens. Not wanting to get the wife mad, I placed free want ads for junk microwave ovens and got more than I expected.  As a side benefit each oven netted a small bit of aluminum and some copper wire. 

Getting to the magnets was almost too easy.

DISCLAIMER:  Don't hurt yourself.  Sharp metal may be encountered, and a bit of electrical knowledge would be helpful.  Do not attempt repair to broken ovens without proper training and equipment to check for leakage. You are 'on your own' with this project.  For information only.

First thing, make sure the oven has sat unplugged for several days, so as to allow any stray voltage/current to dissipate [more for piece of mind-just do it], then remove the power cord-I usually just cut it off.
Remove the glass tray if it is still on the inside, then the metal cover.  Looking behind where the controls are located you will find a [usually] square looking electrical 'thing'-the magnetron, with some aluminum fins.  Disassemble this and you will usually find three or four magnets inside. (No, there are no residual microwaves to harm you!) [JWR Adds: According to SurvivalBlog reader "NoName": Magnetrons contain Beryllium Oxide ceramics. If this ceramic is crushed or begins to break the resulting powder is a hazardous carcinogen.]

CAUTION:  The magnets are powerful and will pinch fingers and other body parts if caught between a magnet and metal or another magnet.  You have been warned!

My originally-planned project bombed, and I still have numerous magnets around, holding papers, retrieving dropped items, etc. I always keep a few magnets inside a heavy plastic bag near my drill press to catch the dross.  The plastic bag makes it easy to separate the magnetic field from the dross, allowing the dross to fall into a collection can. [dross=drill shavings]

Happy hunting.  Oh, and the case, and rest of the microwave? Recycle it if possible. Otherwise just give it to the trash service. That is where it was headed in the first place. Regards, - Greg L.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Nearly two-thirds of all the furnishings and prep items in my home were used when I got them.  As the economy has continued to crumble, any stigma attached to shopping on the cheap has given way to pride at getting a good deal.  Forget designer shoes or imported coffee - I get absolutely giddy when I come home with a great “find”!

But can you rely on bargain shopping to get all the things you need to help your family be prepared for whatever comes your way?  Is there a way to really make “treasure hunting” both fun and successful?
Yes!  All it takes is some planning together with a positive attitude and a pre-determined budget.  Even if you aren’t pinching pennies, why waste your money when you can find great items at bargain prices and redirect those extra dollars to food or debt reduction?  And if you are on a budget (and most of us are), this organized approach lets you decide what’s important and where you should look for the best buys.
Do your homework

  • Get a small notebook that fits in your pocket, purse or glove compartment.  Never leave home without it!
  • Sit down with your family.  Identify your needs and prioritize them. For each item, determine:
    • Exactly what the item is.  If your husband needs a Left Handed Monkey Whatzitgrubber and you don’t have a clue what that is, have him show you a picture of one and explain what it’s for.  Guys, the same goes for you if you don’t know the difference between a tea strainer and a colander.
    • The condition you’ll accept.  Is there someone you know who could refurbish or repair--a broken or not-working item?
    • $$ you’re willing to spend.  Be sure to set aside funds that can be readily accessed if you find a great deal on one of your high priority items.
    • Specifics such as make, model, caliber, size, etc.  Remember, you can’t take it back if it doesn’t fit!
  • Put these items in your notebook on a Priority List.  These are items you’ll actively search for on a regular basis.
  • Make  lists of less critical items that you’ll keep your eyes open for whenever you find them.  Divide the lists into heading such as Equipment, Survival items, Clothing, Consumables, etc.  I keep a summary of categories at the front –my “list of lists”.
  • Next, if you have a group of like-minded friends that are planning and training together, have a serious discussion and identify the needs of the group.   You may want to start with a checklist such as the ones found online or in your favorite SHTF book, customized for your group, location and budget.  Determine what items and supplies you don’t have that are critical to your group, then prioritize and budget for them.  Agree who will house the item, the condition you’ll accept, and who will contribute how much. 
  • Share your own priority list with your group and keep a list of their priorities in your notebook.  The more people looking, the better!
  • Be sure to ask and note such requirements as size, caliber, dimensions, colors, etc next to each item on everyone’s lists.

What can I expect to find?
Anything and everything!  You’ll shake your head at some of the objects being sold for pennies on the dollar or thrown away as trash.  Here’s a sample of some of my recent finds:

  • 6’ black wire bakers rack - $10
  • All-American pressure cooker, new (still in the box) - $15
  • 2 Coleman camping cots - $2 each
  • 15 PermaGard chem suits new in packages - $1 each
  • Excalibur dehydrator - $10
  • Craftsman toolbox with more than 120 Craftsman, Stanley and other tools - $20
  • 5 gal bucket chemical toilet (new) - $2
  • 3 oil lamps with extra globes - $3 each
  • Metal ammo cans - $4
  • Grocery sack full of new first aid supplies (at the end of an estate sale) - FREE
  • Garden tools (2 rakes, 2 shovels, a hoe) - $3 each
  • 10 person, 3 room Coleman tent in very good condition, along with two sleeping bags and a Coleman lantern - $75

Where to look
Now that you know what you’re looking for, the question is where to find it.  Your options will vary depending on where you’re at and how much time you can devote to “the hunt”. Be sure to check:

  • CraigsList
    • Check under Yard Sales, Farm & Garden, etc, and use key words to search the general “For Sale” category for your priority items at least once a week.  Remember, it’s a first come/first serve situation.
    • Beware of scammers.  Try to take someone with you when you go to purchase an item.
  • Other web sites such as,,  or
    • Some of these require that you buy a case full of something.  This is where coordinating with a group of friends is useful.  You may not need 20 gas masks, but your group may need that many for all their family members.
    • All states and many municipalities also have surplus sales or auctions.  The same is true for hospitals, colleges, school districts and other large organizations.  Be sure to check their web sites for upcoming sales.
  • Yard Sales (especially estate sales)
    • Yard sales are mainly held between April and September, although they can be year round in warm weather areas.  Watch online and along the streets for signs that the “season” has begun.
    • Look for sales in locations best suited to your items.  Identify sales in rural vs urban areas, look for nice homes in neighborhoods that have yards or gardens.  Make a map/list of sales in geographic and priority order.
    • Be there first, with plenty of cash in hand.  Always be friendly – greet the seller with a smile!  They’re much more likely to give you a good deal if you’re not gruff and rude.
    • Be considerate.  If the ad says “No early birds”, respect the hours posted.  Don’t block the street or driveway.  Keep your children under control or leave them at home.
    • Negotiate!  This can be the best part of the whole hunt.  Prices are rarely firm, but don’t insult them, either.  If they’re asking $20 for the dehydrator, it’s fine to offer $10, but don’t offer $2.  Don’t look too eager – point out the worn spot, the torn cover, or the missing end piece.  But most importantly, know when to walk away if it’s not a good deal of if it’s not a need.  Keep the larger purpose in mind.
    • Estates sales are the best source for many items such as older tools and gear.  Things that a family wouldn’t get rid of just because of a move are up for grabs when grandpa moves into the nursing home.
    • Keep your eyes open when you’re going from sale to sale – there’s usually more Yard Sale signs posted along the way.
  • Thrift Stores
    • Get to know your local thrift stores – what their strengths are, any special sales days, and any membership cards (yes, just like the groceries!).  Get on their mailing list if they have one and find out about any early bird specials.
    • Once you’re a “regular”, chat with the manager or the clerks and let them know about any specific items you’re watching for.  They’re often very willing to give you a call if something comes into the store that’s on your list.
  • Auctions
    • I recommend taking someone with you that has experience with auctions or you’ll find yourself buying something when you just tried to scratch your nose!  All auctions are different, but most are fast paced, fast talking and lots of fun.
    • Most auctions have a time prior to the start of the sale for inspection of the items.  Take advantage of this time to look closely at an item’s condition.  Ask questions.  Listen to those around you and learn, learn, learn!
  • Local or community newspapers
    • Most local papers have a yard sale or items for sale/barter section.
    • Watch for local auction notices. 
    • Don’t be afraid to approach the sellers prior to the official sale date to see if they’d like to sell specific items.  In small communities, people are often more flexible with neighbors than with strangers.
  • For Sale sections on town, church or company web sites, bulletin boards or newsletters
    • Watch for church rummage sales, fund raising sales and items being sold off by your town or community center.
  • Word of mouth (Tell your friends what you’re looking for!)
    • Some of my best leads on items and services have come from friends and neighbors when I’ve mentioned what I’m looking for. 
    • Shop local merchants whenever possible.  Buying from farmers or local tradesmen both supports the local economy and cuts out the middle-man profit.  Plus, they’re more likely to take pride in selling a quality product or service.    And when you purchase from them, you can ask for referrals on other items.

And don’t forget that there are some places that even advertise free things or items for barter!  Be sure to check FreeCycle, the “Free” section on CraigsList, and other local sources.  Also, if you show up near the end of a yard sale, people will often be willing to give items away to keep from having to haul them away or put them back in their garages.
Be sure you inspect all items carefully.  Be sure they work (or that their condition is acceptable).  Remember – all sales at yard sales, thrift stores, auctions and the like are final.  No returns accepted!
If you find an item that’s on a friend’s or your group’s priority list, take a photo and quickly send it to whoever else is part of the decision making process.  Call them immediately while standing next to the item (even better, lean on it!)
Tools of the trade
So now you have the what and the where.  But before you jump in the car and head out on your adventures, be sure you have everything you need.

  • Don’t forget to bring your notebook along with a pen or pencil to take notes.
  • Carry your purse or wallet in a way that your hands are free without laying anything down.  Keep most of your cash in the car, carrying only part of it on you at any one time.
  • The bigger the better – a pickup truck is a great way to carry just about anything home.  However, my small SUV works just fine for all but the big stuff.  In that case, have a pick-up driving friend on speed-dial!
  • In your car, have the following:
    • A measuring tape
    • Bungee cords
    • A bucket, bag, newspapers or other items to restrain and protect small or breakable objects

Ready, Set, Save!
So now you have a plan.  You know what you’re looking for, where to find it and how to get it home.  All that’s left is to put on your comfortable shoes, strap on your fanny pack, grab your notebook and your list of destinations, and head out!  Make it a family affair or take a friend and have lunch afterwards.  Whether with a group or by yourself, if you’re like me (I consider shopping both a sport and entertainment) you’ll look forward to the adventure.  Just tell your family that you’re “working hard” to help the family prep.  Enjoy!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Obtaining everything on your prep lists can be a very daunting and expensive task no matter what your background is. What I have found is that you can gradually squirrel away a large amount of equipment and food for free. Furthermore, the money saved can be used to secure more quality gear with your savings. Disclaimer: Everything listed below was indeed voluntarily given and verified as available free for the taking.

At Work:
1. Food service:
First off free food is readily available in meals provided by your employer. Most employers will also have a large surplus of some type of food every week. Large services can easily buy $50,000 worth of food every week based on expected demand with limited storage capacity. If the demand shifts they will have excess of certain foods which they have no need for and must to either pay to dispose of or give to their employees.

I have received cases of ice cream bars, cases of breads, pastries, egg product and many take home meals at the end of a day of work. Damaged food, either frozen or dry will often be given away. The food is still perfectly safe just the exterior packaging is damaged so it will not sell. This can be used by yourself or as feed for livestock. Some of the undamaged bulk food I passed onto the Boy Scouts (eggs for breakfast) for a fundraising meal or onto neighbors (cases of Dove ice cream bars).

2. Maintenance Work:
Part of this work was trash pickup, people throw out pretty much everything. Results are hit or miss.

Every week we would get: $5-to-10 in redeemable cans and bottles, towels, clothing, electrical cords (heavy gauge which had twist lock connectors and were “useless to the previous owner) baseball cards, tools, clamps, hammers, pliers, screwdrivers, saws And if the above were damaged then scrap metal. Old equipment we were throwing out, strip it of wiring prior to putting it in the dumpster if your employer is okay with this.

3. Factory Work:
Factories are always getting rid of old equipment, wiring, tools, cabinets, shelving, fencing and many other equipment. (Tip if you see something you want ask, maintenance would often rather load your truck then fill the dumpster. Pretty much always ask rather than risk someone think you are stealing) If there is equipment in the scrap metal dumpster ask if you can strip out the copper wiring (at $2-3 per pound).
What I have obtained:

  • Flammables cabinet for gas and other storage.
  • 200 feet of 6 foot tall chain link fence and posts.
  • Shelving for food and equipment storage.
  • Lockable heavy gauge cabinets for gun lockers.
  • Fire resistant cabinet for ammo and powder storage.
  • Pressure tank from a coating chamber, still certified use to make a gas-powered air compressor.

4. Town dump/transfer station:
Fortunately our transfer station allows people to drop off useable toys, pots and pans, books, board games and miscellaneous items for others to use.

  • Board games, connect four, battleship, chess checkers ? Kids toys, basketball hoop
  • Mason jars
  • Books, encyclopedias and other “outdated” media. Our town also supplies sand in the winter for anyone to pick up and use on their driveway. Not truly free as our taxes paid for it but still something to take advantage of.

5. Craigslist, Free Stuff:
Almost everything imaginable may be found in these listings. Things that I have learned through trial and error:

  • If it is not nearby then it is probably not worth traveling. Too many times I have not been the first to get to the item or it was in worse condition than I had anticipated. It is not worth driving an hour to hear “ Someone just took that rototiller two minutes ago.”
  • The faster you reply (e-mail, call or driving) the better your odds of getting the item.
  • Be polite and tell the poster where you are located. Using your manners may bump you to the top of the list and telling where you are located seems to make you relate more to the poster.
  • People do not want to be bothered selling these items, they just don’t want to pay to get rid of them. Although I have seen people post that they would pay $10-20 for removal!
  • I have obtained 100 cinder blocks, a truckload of bricks, garden fencing, T-posts for fencing, a variety of building supplies, (roofing, plywood, nails, etc), firewood, and pet food.
  • Sheet meal sheds sheds are worth considering if you have the time and ability to disassemble, transport, and re-assemble them.
  • Sometimes you may get very lucky, such as when I was picking up some plywood and PVC drainage pipe the owner asked if I would please take 100’ of heavy gage wiring left over from wiring the well. I did not need the wiring but the owner wanted it gone. That sold for $40 on eBay. As a general rule I do not go looking for anything that I plan on just selling. However, if the homeowner is going to have to pay to have their basement cleaned out and they ask that I take something then I will.

Things which I have missed out on:

  • Old and disused tractors, out in a field where you would need to first "clear out and then pull out."
  • Photovoltaic panels.

6. Side of the road:
This is very dependant on the season. In the summer kids outdoor toys, Cozy Coupes, pools, sandboxes, and bikes. In the fall/spring garden supplies, tomato cages, garden fencing, edging and even vegetables. Windows for cold frames and greenhouses. Building materials, doors, wood, roofing, everything to make a shed or even a barn. Landscaping supplies such as stone, mulch and compost. Two working "Power Wheels" ATVs with batteries and charger for my kids. (Their kids outgrew them and they were doing some spring cleaning.) One wise guy had a sign “Free Snow!” on a huge pile after a blizzard last year.

7. FreeCycle/other.
My brother uses this often, I signed up for it but the constant messages got to be too much of a hassle with replies and then have to sort through all of them. Personally I prefer to look at everything in a list with location rather then getting 50 e-mails a day. But if you have the time and patience then this is another method.

8. Friends/Family/Co-workers
Most of my kid’s clothing is hand me downs from family and coworkers. ? I have never bought a lawn mower, I get my dad’s and father in law’s old mowers
which used to be self propelled. Now they are heavy duty push mowers! When they finally stop working I sell them for parts on Craigslist. People move and look at unloading tools, old food, furniture, lawn mowers,
almost everything. By taking the bookshelf you get storage and they don’t have to move it! ? I bring in Rhubarb every spring and Pumpkins every fall, my co-workers bring in pies and tomatoes.

9. Charity work.
(Note that this is not making money at the expense of charities but rather as a result of helping someone.) This happens maybe 1 out of 10 times and only when people insist they give you something in return. Think of it as Karma if you will. Jump starting someone Pulling someone out of a snowbank/ditch Transporting something, furniture, lawn mower, helping someone move. Helping a neighbor with tree removal/yard work. Helping out most organizations with meals will result in a free meal for yourself. Donating blood, typically there is something a large company will give donors, such as ice cream, grinders, candles, case of bottled water. Again this is different from being paid to do something, this is essentially to alleviate any guilt the receiver has. That they do not want to accept charity, they have their self respect and offering you $5-10 for help on something they can not do themselves allows them to keep their self worth. Take the money and let them keep their self respect. I have felt awkward about accepting money on occasion, so I then donate it.

10. Volunteer:
You help out, make connections in the community and generally can learn another skill. You will not make money on this but learning a new skill is invaluable. And, when you show off your skills and help someone out odds are they will return the favor. Need a root cellar dug? Well, if your neighbor/Boy Scout associate/Farmer has a backhoe, then you just got it! Seriously, when I have all my trees cleared I am calling my buddy I helped all day when the ice storm hit clearing trees. Free root cellar dug, stones we dig up also free for the foundation.

11. Internet Forums
Some forums have free sections for items people are giving away depending on their interests and just general items. Gun forums have gun components loading presses, magazines, boxes of ammo. Sometimes people are also looking to trade one item they bought too many of or the wrong size for something you have.

12. Other
There is always yet another way to save money, including using less, recycling, farmer’s markets and making the most use of what you can get for free! On Scout camp outs we have found fishing lures stuck in trees, Gas cans floating in the ponds, life vests and other items which fell off of someone’s boat at some time. Always keep your eye out and if you have a mobile Internet connection take advantage of it, one person’s junk is another’s treasure! To have a truck as your daily driver is a major advantage to getting free items. Almost all items are time sensitive, if you have to go back home and get a trailer it will likely be gone. Some straps, bungee cords and a tool set will be required for most items. Keeping a tow strap and shovel on the truck will help with the charity work when it is safe!

Monday, June 11, 2012

I would like to solicit an opinion from you, and maybe get some feedback from other SurvivalBlog readers should you elect to respond.  I was recently laid off from my job, and I will be pulling out my retirement savings from their troubled retirement fund.  I had already planned to move it into silver to protect it from the inevitable future crash.  I am well aware of all the conventional wisdom regarding retirement planning, but I am considering putting this money towards purchasing land that will move my family and me much closer to my goal of off-grid self-sufficiency.  This would be a big change and accomplishment since we are big city apartment dwellers right now in the Fort Worth, Texas area.  I'm a native Oklahoman, so country living isn't new to me.  It might be a bit of a change for my Florida-born and raised wife, and our two boys who have known nothing but the just-in-time convenience of supermarkets,  and all-night Wal-Marts.  Any thoughts, concerns, warnings? 

Thanks for your awesome blog. Discovering SurvivalBlog in 2008 was my "unplugging from the Matrix" moment.

Regards,- Jeff R. (an Okie behind the lines in Texas)

Granted, silver is in an advantageous dip right now (an excellent time to buy) but I'd recommend that rather than putting it all into silver, that you put half of the funds into starting a home-based business.  After all, you will still need a retirement income.

See the SurvivalBlog archives for lots of self-employment and home-based business recommendations. (Note that some of the more lengthy articles on that topic were posted between 2005 and 2008.  So start reading that archive at the bottom and work your way up.)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

This article isn’t your normal food and ammo stockpiling type of article.  I believe those things are extremely important or I wouldn’t be reading this blog on a regular basis.  I do, however, believe that this subject matter is as important as stockpiling food, ammo, medical supplies.  Stockpiling our knowledge base may be even more important than stockpiling these other items, because no matter how prepared you are you never know where you will be when the SHTF.  One aspect of your knowledge base that I would like to suggest you increase your stockpile is in the areas of therapeutic massage. 

Most people will read this article and scoff at the suggestion that I just made, but I assure you that the idea of adding a solid working knowledge of therapeutic massage techniques to your TEOTWAWKI knowledge base could be the difference between surviving and thriving.  Massage has been a healing therapy for as long as man has walked this earth.  Think about it, when we were children, before we knew about Band-Aids to heal boo-boos, we would instinctively rub the part of our body that hurt.  Even now as adults, if you have a head ache you will most likely take off your glasses and rub the areas around your eyes (temples, jaw, even your neck).   Massage therapy is a part of our make-up.  We use it to heal ourselves and comfort those around us.   It is my belief that understanding massage techniques and how to properly apply them will make my survival much easier for many reasons. 
These are the main reasons I am thankful that I have training as a massage therapist and why I believe you should include a working knowledge of massage therapy techniques into your SHTF knowledge bank.

  1. Muscle recovery is a process that our bodies go through anytime we work it beyond its normal level of activity.  The metabolic processes that take place to allow your muscles to move create waste products that can settle in the muscle tissues and cause stiffness and soreness. When you push your body’s limits it doesn’t have time to remove these waste products on its own.  This is part of the reason we are a little sore after we increase our work out in the gym or try that next level hiking trail.  Basic massage techniques can be used with a basic stretching routine to increase muscle recovering.   These techniques will help manually break down these metabolic waste products that settle in the tissue as well as increase blood flow to the area helping to remove the waste products to be cleaned out of your system. Most TEOTWAWKI scenarios include situations where our daily activity levels will be increased exponentially.  How much work will it be to carry your BOB to your next site,  set camp, prepare the area to ensure safety, gather water and food, try to get a few hours of sleep only to break camp at sunrise and do it all over again the next day?  This will be your day to day existence until you reach your retreat area or find a suitable location to make an extended stay.  Relying on your knowledge of basic massage techniques will give your body an extra boost on its way to recovery that will increase your chances of reaching your retreat.
  2. It is this humble massage therapist’s opinion that human touch is essential for maintaining a healthy physical and mental state of being.  During a time of great stress we may be less likely or unable to seek out the simple touches that give us a sense of being connected to those around us. In a SHTF scenario there will be little semblance to our everyday life, we will be under physical stress, mental stress and most likely emotional stress. We will most likely feel more disconnected from the world around us than at any other time in our life [except for maybe puberty ;)].  The twenty to thirty minutes that you and your retreat group set aside each night to go through a basic massage routine with each other will not only help with the muscle recovery but it will serve as a daily reminder that there are other people working towards the same goal as you: surviving.  This reminder will serve as a method to increase trust and connectedness to those around you.  This sense of connectedness and trust will literally make it easier for you to sleep at night.  It is important to understand that massage therapy is in no way, shape or form sexual in nature.  As a professional massage therapist, this is a misconception that I need to educate people about on a daily basis. 
  3. At some point in time you will need something that you don’t have and a system of bartering may be in place in many communities that you come across.  Massage therapy is an important healing skill that will cost you nothing other than your time and knowledge.  You may not have to trade precious life necessary equipment, food, or ammunition.  Instead, offer your healing hands for trade of the item.  Keep in mind that most people may not understand how important massage is to increasing their well-being, so an important part of your barter will be educating those you will be trading with.  Also, keep in mind that your trade of massage may not hold as much value in a TEOTWAWKI situation, as evidenced by the fact that most people are not willing to pay for a massage when money is tight.  But, if your knowledge of massage techniques is strong enough, you may be able to start a working relationship with another small community. This could be the start of bartering relationship between you and other people you come across, the same way a doctor might barter his or her services for fresh meat or produce.  Please keep in mind that during a massage the person giving the massage is just as vulnerable as the person receiving the massage, so in a TEOTWAWKI situation never work on someone alone, unless you absolutely trust them with your life.  Also, there are plenty of techniques that can be completed without removing clothing.
  4. The techniques that you learn are not just applicable to humans.  The animals that you may be using to help carry your gear will also benefit from your knowledge of these techniques.  For the same reasons that your body will benefit from them.  An over worked animal will not perform to a suitable standard if their musculature has not had enough time to recover. 
  5. Self Defense.  What?  That’s right; I am suggesting that my knowledge base of massage techniques can help me defend myself and my retreat group.  How?  Well, to have a solid foundation for performing massage you must have a solid understanding of the structure and function of the human body.  That means that I know where all the major arteries are located and approximately how deep they sit in the person approaching me.  Also, because of my training in functional assessment of the human body I can point out the site of muscle or joint weakness in the possible threat coming my way.  Because I know how the body works, I can tell you by watching the way a person moves if the limp they are displaying is affected, or caused by a weakness to the left or right side of the body.  This knowledge will help me determine my defense long before I am even within an arm’s reach of the person.

With a working knowledge and understanding of massage therapy you will also have a working knowledge of the human anatomy and physiology.  You will know about the muscles and how they work, the tendons and ligaments that keep the muscles attached to the bones, as well as the blood vessels that keep the muscles supplied with oxygen and energy necessary to work.  Once you understand how the body is meant to work then you can understand how to heal it.  A major plus to  having this knowledge is that even without any traditional medical training you will be able to assess some injuries and know how treat them as well as understand if the cut you or a person in your retreat group just received is an immediate threat to life or not.

Before I go any further, please, let me point out that I am not suggesting that a massage therapist has the knowledge base to diagnose and treat medical conditions.  However, as a massage therapist, I am better able to understand an injury to the body and how to correct the negative effects said injury will have on the function of the body as a whole.   This is why I suggest that understanding massage techniques is an extremely important skill set to add to your knowledge base.  Also, it is important to note that there are some medical conditions for which massage is contraindicated.  So, please, keep in mind that this article is only meant to convince you that these techniques are worth your time in learning.  Most of us do not have the time or money to go to medical school, but in order to become a certified massage therapist you only need to invest minimal amounts of money and your time.  But, unless you have an interest in being a massage therapist when you grow up I wouldn’t worry about becoming certified or licensed (though in most states you cannot practice or advertise your services as a massage therapist without being certified or licensed). 

When choosing the level of massage training you wish to add to your knowledge base please keep these things in mind: financial investment, time investment, and desired outcome.
If you have all the time and money in the world then I would suggest attending a massage program that will teach you the following areas of massage: basic anatomy and physiology, basic massage techniques and functional assessment.  This last part, functional assessment is the most important aspect of the training I received as far as I am concerned.  In this segment of training, you should be taught how to assess the human body for injuries by watching someone move as well as through various muscle testing techniques.  The muscle testing techniques help you to determine if therapeutic massage is indicated for the injury as well as which massage techniques to employ to treat the injury.  The aspect of assessment that teaches you to read the movements of the body will help you not only in treatment of injuries but also in a self-defense aspect as well.  In understanding the way everything is connected in human anatomy, you will be able to determine which side of the body is actually injured as well as where the weak point is located. 

If you have time but not a great deal of money, I would suggest that you seek out a therapist who is like minded and knowledgeable in their field and willing to trade their knowledge for skills you may possess.  This way you get the skill set without investing anything more than your time and own personal knowledge in return.  These knowledge base/skills set trades will not only give you what you want but it will give you important experience in bartering based on the value of knowledge. Check your state laws because this could be considered and internship, in which case you may be able to sit for the licensure exam should you choose to become a licensed therapist.   If you choose to go this route and the person making the knowledge trade with you does not seem to have a strong set of functional assessment skills I would strongly suggest obtaining a copy of Functional Assessment in Massage Therapy by Whitney W. Lowe.  This is the book rom which I was taught functional assessment and I still find it to be extremely helpful when dealing with issues I do not see on a regular basis.  If this book does not seem to help you understand functional assessment then find another, the important part of functional assessment is that you understand what you are looking for if you can’t get it from a book find a practitioner or DVD that will help you understand what you are trying to learn.

If time and money are issues then I would suggest that you find a few good books on therapeutic massage and functional assessment.  I have already mentioned the book by Lowe for functional assessment, so my favorite book to teach you the basics of therapeutic massage is Theory and Practice of Therapeutic Massage.  This book gives you a basic foundation for anatomy and physiology as well as massage history and techniques.  If you are going to get all of your massage knowledge base form books I ask you to also consider the following books to add to your library: Trail Guide to the Body Student Handbook (4th Edition) by Andrew Biel, Mosby's Pathology for Massage Therapists, 2nd Edition by Susan G. Salvo BEd LMT NTS CI NCTMB.

Once you have a foundation for therapeutic massage I would encourage you to seek out additional training and information concerning three specific areas of massage. Sports Massage, Lymphatic drainage massage, and essential oils and herbs for massage.  Sports massage techniques prepare the body for strenuous activity as well as promote muscle recovery after strenuous activity.  Lymphatic drainage helps the body to remove lymphatic fluid from areas of the body where lymph vessels may have been damaged.  Improper lymphatic drainage can lead to painful and debilitating swelling of extremities.  A strong knowledge base in essential oils and herbs used to enhance the benefits of therapeutic massage can increase the benefits while possibly reducing the number of treatments necessary to reach the same goal.  Also, once the SHTF, there may be limited access to the medical care we are used to receiving and a working knowledge of essential oils and herbs could benefit more people than just those who choose to receive massage.

Please remember that practicing massage therapy with proper training can be dangerous if you are not paying attention to what you are doing.  This means that practicing without proper training can be even more dangerous.  For your safety and for the safety of those around you I encourage you to seek proper training of some sort before you begin using massage as a treatment for any ailment.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Our priorities have changed as a family and we have morphed very quickly into a completely different mindset like our very lives depend it and they may. A year ago, if you would have told me that I would be preparing for what we all know is on its way, I would have gotten a great laugh out of it. Not that we didn’t have an inkling, it was just easier to ignore the threat .  The more my husband and I began to sit up and pay attention to our nation, the reality of what is happening in this country hit home. We have been making up for lost time as quickly as possible to prepare ourselves for what lies ahead for our immediate and extended family.
I contribute to our preps by couponing like crazy. I have been able to score free hygiene items, food and other necessary items by paying attention to sale ads and spending a couple of hours a week to coupon.
The steps below will simply a sometimes confounding process when it comes to couponing. I used to coupon by simply clipping and buying the usual at the local Wal-Mart. If it wasn’t a brand we used, I simply would buy the item at full price. Coupons should almost always be coupled with a sale.  I feel almost ashamed of the way we used to treat our hard-earned money!! Now, we have no brand loyalty whatsoever and it has been a blessing to see our stockpile grow!

  1. People already do most of the work for you when it comes to couponing. The Frugal Family, Thrifty Wifey and Motherhood on a Dime (Also a wonderful resource for homeschooling articles and free material) are all excellent sources.  As well as that will detail deals by several well-known chain stores. There are free coupons available on the net at legitimate sites such as, along with a listing by store that even tells you which coupons to use. is also an excellent site to utilize. Subscribe to newsletters, “like” these sites on Facebook (deals will appear on your news feed) and use their knowledge to your advantage.
  2. Ask around to see if family and friends trash their coupons. If they do, ask if you can have them in exchange for products that you may have a surplus in eventually. I supply my grandmother and grandfather with products I am able to get at a reduced rate by using the coupons they save for me. They are on a fixed income and every little bit helps. They also reward my couponing with fresh produce from their garden. By having duplicate coupons, you are better able to utilize buy one get one half off or buy one get one free sales. For example, recently Walgreens had buy one get one free for Nexcare Band-Aids. One box was $3.29, but I had 55 cent coupons. I was able to get two boxes off brand name Band-Aids for $2.19.
  3. Sales run in cycles. For instance, January is “National Oatmeal Month”. I stocked up heavily by pairing store deals with coupons and was able to stockpile and store a significant amount.  Also, January is the “get healthy month” after the gluttony of the holidays, which means that vitamins a cinch to snap up at rock bottom prices.  February is national “Canned Goods Month”; we were able to stock up significantly. It is also “Hot Breakfast Month” and another fantastic chance to stock up on breakfast cereals.  April, November and December is when you want to stock up baking supplies and spices. May is for sunscreens, charcoal, outdoor living items and first aid supplies. A quick note on first aid supplies. Recently Walgreens ran a deal where you received a small first aid kit by purchasing two Johnson and Johnson items. The items themselves had peel off coupons on them and I was able to get the kit and two items for fewer than $3.00 every time! Each vehicle and bug out bag is stocked with everything we would need to deal with smaller injuries. (They usually run this first aid kit deal about every 3 months or so.) Hit August for all the clearance summer items and you will be shocked at what you can sweep up for rock bottom prices. November is not only a month to stockpile baking needs but also canned goods.  You can easily Google “Monthly Sales Cycles” for a more detailed list. The longer you coupon, you will almost begin to predict what coupons will be available when.
  4. Apart from the cycles, pick up your weekly ad and compare your coupons to what is available on sale that week. The sites listed in item one will assist you with this. Get to know your local stores policy and the people that work there. I am on a first name basis with manager at several stores in my hometown. They help me out so much by pointing me to deals I may have missed and making sure I get a rain check for any items they may not have in stock.  I know that CVS will have its brand of 24 bottles of water for $2.22 about every 12 weeks. I buy the limit. We are working on procuring a long term source of fresh water but if something were to happen before then, we would have something on hand.
  5. Many stores offer Register Rewards or Extrabucks that act like instant rebates and can dramatically reduce your overall expenses. I will often spend $9.99 on a product and receive the entire amount back in a rebate that I turn into five cans of salmon added to our stockpile. I may not immediately need to use the product that I got for free but I can add it our stockpiles. Also, sign up for mailing lists and use those loyalty cards. You may receive coupons in the mail and always be sure to scan your card at the coupon machines at the entrance of CVS. You will even get a coupon for a free product every once in a while.
  6. Snatch up those free items, even you are not quite sure if it’s something you can use. Feminine Hygiene products are items that can be easily couponed and will be necessary for cleanliness in a survival situation. They are also sterile and can be applied to a wound as a makeshift absorbent bandage.  Most Kroger stores will double coupons up to 50 cents. Snatch up those power bars when they are on sale 10/$10 and use a .50 cent off coupon that will double to make 2 protein bars $1.00. Protein bars are not a long term solution but can supplement the diet and are highly portable items for bugout bags. Also, many stores will also reward customers who spend a certain amount by offering discounted gasoline, take advantage and watch the savings add up! Also, most stores may not require you to buy 10 items to get that price so check the store’s coupon policy to be sure.
  7. The web sites listed above are also a huge help when scoring deals on pretty much everything imaginable. They will post available deals and this can also help you collect free samples (they are the perfect size for bugout bag, camping or hiking), point you in the direction of sales on the web and coupons that are available for printing. Recently I obtained a subscription to Urban Farm for a year for only $4.50. I have also been able to receive many free “Kindle” books (if you don’t have a Kindle, the download is available free for your PC or iPhone) on gardening, canning, making soap and survival techniques. While I realize this valuable information would most likely not be available during most possible scenarios, I am able to jot down notes from my reading in our “Prepper Bible”.  One of the sites I mentioned above even posted about a contest a survival web site was hosting. I entered to win a year’s worth of food. That sure would be a blessing for any of us and I never would have known about the contest if it wasn’t for the site.
  8. Yard sales, Thrift stores and Goodwill are tremendous assets to us in these times. We have a young daughter who continues to outgrow clothes as fast as we get them. When I find something at a yard sale that is two sizes too big but in great shape for the right price. I snatch it up and put it a labeled bin with the size on the side. I constantly worry that if something would happen, she wouldn’t have shoes. I have snow boots for her for probably the next seven years.  We have picked up a brand new camping cookware set at a yard sale for only $5.00! Our major scores have also been hand crank grinders, old-fashioned wash boards, iron skillets and camping gear. We have been able to accelerate the rate of our prepping by utilizing these sales to gather things that we could never afford to pay full price for.  
  9. I have learned to make our own yogurt and add seasonal fruit to save money. We have learned to make soap, laundry detergent and our own cleaning agents and are stockpiling the things that we will need to continue the use of these skills. As well as learning these skills so that we may have products to barter with.

We are fairly new at preparing for whatever it is that is heading our way. I feel like couponing and watching sales are a huge part of why we have been able to gather what we have at an accelerated rate.
We have a list of “priority” items that I always cross check when I make my shopping lists for the week. I feel that we have gotten started late in the game and every day I worry that we will not have enough time to gather and learn all we need to become self-sufficient.
Every dime that I am able to save by couponing or using yard sale shopping is turned into a weapon, ammunition, gardening supplies, alternate energy sources, survival seed banks as we struggle to pay off the debt that we have left. We have also begun to arm ourselves with knowledge that will pay off in spades. While we are building our stockpile, we are using every spare second to acquire knowledge on the use of weapons, water purification, the caring of livestock and anything that could possibly assist us when TEOTWAWKI hits. Our minds and bodies are getting stronger daily in preparation for the days to come.

Letter Re: Sound Judgment and Reasoning Skills for Preparedness

Anthony C.’s excellent article on logic and fallacies, Sound Judgment and Reasoning Skills for Preparedness, encouraged me to dust off an article I compiled some time ago to summarize some powerful thinking tools.

What follows are a variety of strategies which provide structure for analyzing decisions. Not all of these tools will apply to each situation.

1. Plus, Minus, Interesting (PMI)

2. Considering All Factors (CAF)

3. Consequences And Sequel (CAS)

4. Aims, Goals, Objectives (AGO)

5. First Important Priorities (FIP)

6. Alternatives, Possibilities, Choices (APC)

7. Other Point Of View (OPOV)

  • Try to see things from the other person’s viewpoint. Write out their views: How will they feel? What are their priorities? How will this affect them? How will this affect your relationship with them?
  • Doing this will keep you out of a lot of trouble in disagreements and difficult decisions.

8. What Is God Saying? (WIGS)

  • Whatever you may believe about God at least one thing is certain: psychology has shown that our judgment and decision-making ability are frequently compromised by personality clashes, pride, political considerations, and mood.
  • Humans are prone to “use” logic to justify our decisions, rather than to determine our decisions.
  • Looking outside ourselves humbles us and opens us to other possibilities we may be overlooking, reminds us that no situation is truly and totally under our control, and gives us input from the only One who can see beyond the now to what is going to happen in the next 5 minutes, 5 hours, or 5 days - and the only unlimited One who knows everything about the particular decision or situation or issue.
  • (1) We must be obedient to God’s moral will (the Bible); (2) We are responsible to choose within moral parameters; (3) We must make wise decisions according to our spiritual maturity; and (4) We must be ready always to submit to God’s overriding sovereignty.
  • (1) Be obedient to what God has already shown you. (2) Pray and continually seek God’s wisdom and guidance in everything you do. (3) Rearrange your priorities so your primary motivation is to glorify God. (4) Saturate yourself with the Word of God. (5) Learn from the examples of others. (6) Get involved in a variety of ministries.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

In my previous SurvivalBlog article, Melting Lead for the Meltdown, I gave a basic explanation of molding bullets. In particular, I described the molding of 200 grain lead semi wad cutters and the 185 grain SWC.   In addition, it was pointed out to stock these up for use as barter if there is a social/economic/political meltdown.  If you cast your own bullets or are thinking about reloading your own ammo, I would urge you to jump in.  It is enjoyable, therapeutic, and practical in the times we live.  Additionally, it is also economical.   I just checked at Wal-Mart for their prices for .45 ACP ammo and the least expensive I saw was $19.95 for a box of 50.  Reloading your own ammo will pay for itself in the long run because a reloader can beat that price quite easily.  If you pay .05 per bullet, .03 per primer (recently paid 28.50 for a 1,000 Remington primers on sale), and .02 per powder charge, you have a bullet for .10 per round or $5.00 per box less your time involved.  Even if your bullets cost .10  a piece, you’re still looking at $7.50 for a box of 50.  You would also include the cost of your brass, however, as I’m a ‘range scavenger’ and retrieve my brass after a stage in competition, I left that out.  But, the time spent reloading is “fun time.”  It’s time spent on a hobby not work time.   And, if you compete you know you’ve saved hundreds if not thousands by reloading your own ammo.  I try to break down the reloading process so that I’m not depriving my family of time by spending massive amounts of time away from them (i.e. one evening tumble and polish the brass, another evening deprime/ resize 300 pieces, another night for an hour neck expansion/powder charge and bullet seating).

Now, for someone just kicking around the idea of reloading, I want to talk about “getting the lead out.”   That is, you want to get some ammo loaded up and use that lead or pick some up online before component prices jump.   Depending upon what style learner you are, a brief overview that I will provide may be sufficient for you to start.  I started literally the most primitive way with the use of a Lee handloader.  Your rubber mallet,  hand dies, and a powder dipper was how I started…yikes…There was no YouTube, CDs, or instructional tapes in 1975.  I did have a Lyman reloading manual that provided my initial instruction as well as my oldest brother who had also started reloading.   Money was tight for me so I started with a single stage press from Lyman.  You can start here and progress to the Hornady or Dillon progressive reloading press which will turn out from 350-400 rounds per hour. 

Getting the lead out” and getting it loaded into your brass is the subject of this entry.   The main functional areas that will be addressed are: 1) equipment needs, 2) brass preparation, 3) the components for your ammo (i.e. powder, primer, projectiles), and 4) the process or steps of reloading.
Basic equipment that will get you started in basic reloading are the following (I was fortunate to find much of my equipment gently used at Biff’s Gun Room & Knob Creek Gun Range in Shepherdsville, Kentucky):              

  • Tumbler for cleaning your brass, media, and polishing agent (check Midway, Natchez, Brownells etc)
  • Carbide dies (RCBS, Lyman, Lee etc), shell holder, single stage press (various manufacturers)
  • Scale to weigh powder charge
  • Powder measure
  • Caliper to check your measurements
  • Loading block to hold your brass casings
  • Headspace/bullet gauge                 
  • Bench to mount your press on
  • Priming unit (RCBS hand primer)

Now with your equipment lined up and ready, you need your .45 brass prepped for reloading.  If you’re using ‘once fired’ brass from the range you need to fire up your tumbler.  Put your media (corncob or walnut) into the tumbler, start it up, and then put in the amount of polishing agent specified on your unit.  Let it run a couple minutes to get the polish worked in and then add your brass. I like Flitz as a cleaning and polishing agent.  Does a great job and takes less time.  Check your brass after tumbling 20-30 minutes and if sufficiently cleaned and polished, separate the brass from the media.  The brass is ready for your next step.
Let’s talk components before we get to the actual process of reloading.  I have used many different powders (231, WST, Clays, Unique, Bullseye, 4756, VV 320, Titegroup, Autocomp etc).  You will discover there are many pet loads and you will find there are varying opinions on the ‘best’ powder to use.  Experiment and make your choice.  Many stay with the tried and true Winchester 231.  I have had my best groups with Vhita Vhouri 320 and Titegroup.  VV320 is more expensive and can generally be found at larger gun shows.   Titegroup should be available at most gun shops, gun ranges, and can be also found at gun shows.    I am a life member at Knob Creek Gun Range in Kentucky and have tried to keep Kenny Sumner in business over the years.  My pet load for 200 grain lead SWC (semi-wadcutter) is 4.6 grains of Titegroup.   The next component is the choice of primers.  Again, there are a number of brands such as Winchester, Remington, Federal, and CCI and so on.  For your .45 you need “large pistol” primers.   Next we come to the choice of projectiles.  I’ve used just about everything.  For competition you definitely want a bullet that leaves big holes on paper so you can tell where you’re hitting.  Since I decided to cast my own bullets I primarily use the 200 grain lead SWC.  Feel free to experiment with 185 Hornady SWC copper jacketed, 230 grain FMJ(full metal jacket), Remington Golden Sabers, 230 Lead Round Nose, 225 grain Lead Truncated Cone and so on.  I’ve had splendid groups using VV 320 with jacketed bullets with groups less than one inch (pretty much hole in hole) at 45 feet with a free standing stance.
   So now you have everything ready to go.  Your brass is cleaned and polished, your components are assembled, your equipment is set up and ready to crank it!  And, remember, no smoking while you’re reloading!!!  I am assuming you have followed your instructions and mounted your press and adjusted your dies.  You have your loading blocks (50 rounds per block) ready with your brass.  The process of reloading will entail the following steps:
                  1. Depriming and resizing
                  2. Priming
                  3. Neck expansion and powder charge
                  4. Bullet seating and taper crimp

In the depriming and resizing stage, you will be using a carbide tip resizing/depriming die.  Follow the directions in your die kit regarding the installment of the die.  Then you will take each .45 casing and place it in the shell holder on your press and run the ram up.  The brass is fed into the resizing die/deprimer and backed down out of the die.  You have just resized the brass to the appropriate dimensions so that it will now chamber in your .45 and knocked out the expended primer.  Do this with whatever number of pieces brass you want to reload.  I do one hundred per session so that I’m not letting the reloading consume too much of my time from other important things like my wife.  Once you have resized your brass, use your calipers to measure the length of each piece and inspect each piece.  You must maintain the right measurement with your brass to avoid excessive pressures that could be detrimental to your firearm and health.   Anything with cracks you pitch or put aside for recycling.  The shortest or minimum case length I’ve seen in any manual is .888 thousandths of an inch.  Anything shorter and you can put that in your recycling pile as well.  Maximum case length is .898.  You will likely never have to worry about trimming any of your pistol brass because that normally doesn’t lengthen like rifle brass when fired.  Also, I don’t worry about the primer pocket or primer hole.  This isn’t critical in pistol bullets like it is in competitive rifle cartridges.  All pieces of brass are now resized, deprimed, inspected, and checked for proper length.

The next stage is priming.  You have your large pistol primers (you won’t need ‘large pistol magnum’ primers) and have loaded them into your hand priming tool.  I have an RCBS hand priming tool.  Place each piece of brass in the tool and squeeze the handle.  This presses the primer into the primer pocket of the brass.  Place primed pieces back onto the loading block until all pieces are primed.  This step with 100 rounds will take about 10-15 minutes.  Again, follow the instructions given in your hand priming tool guide. 

In the neck expanding stage you will be removing the resizing die from the press and placing the neck expanding die in the press.  My neck expanding die will also hold my Lyman powder measure so that while the brass is in the expanding die, I can cycle the powder measure and charge the cartridge with powder.  What I have done prior to this in preparation is adjusted the powder measure and weighed the powder charge in the scale to ensure it is dropping the 4.6 grains of Titegroup.  So, with your brass in the neck expanding die, operate the powder measure and drop the powder charge into the brass and remove the brass by running the ram back down.  Pull your charged brass from the shell holder and place in an empty loading block.  Do this with each piece of brass and visually inspect each cartridge to ensure you have a powder charge.  Also check to ensure that you did not inadvertently drop a double charge.  If you have any question about something that doesn’t look right just take the brass and empty the powder back into the powder measure and drop a new charge.  Again, this stage with 100 pieces of brass will take some 10-15 minutes with a single stage press.  Okay, we’re having fun and things are coming together nicely.

We have now come to the bullet seating stage.  Change out the neck expanding die with the bullet seating die and follow the instructions in your manual.  Take a charged cartridge and put it into the press.  Follow this by placing your bullet into the case mouth.  Run the press up and back down.  Check it out!!! You just completed loading that first bullet.  But, before you jump for joy, get your calipers out and check the overall case length of the bullet.  I seat my 200 grain SWCs for 1.235 overall case length.  You will need to check your overall case length and be sure you follow the specs in you loading manual.  In addition, your pistol may be picky and you may have to find thru experimentation the best OAL (overall length) for your pistol.  I have a Para Ordinance P-14 .45 which is equipped with a feed ramp.  I get flawless feeding of my loads at this case length.  With your bullet seating die set to the adjusted correct length, run each charged cartridge up with bullet placed in the case mouth and seat the bullets.  Don’t they look lovely!  Now, last but not least, put a light taper crimp on your bullets.   Replace the bullet seating die with the taper crimp die.  I set my taper crimp die so that it will give me a round that measures .469 thousandths where the bullet goes into the brass.  Run this thru your headspace gauge.  Your completed round should drop into the gauge with no problem and drop back out.  You can also pull your barrel from your .45 and drop the bullet into the barrel chamber and check the fit.  Lyman recommends keeping simple records for your loads. I think that is a good idea and I record the bullet size/weight/type, powder type and powder charge, overall case length, and results of the fired bullets (i.e. feeding issues, accuracy, smoke, kick, and velocity if a chronograph is used[for power factor requirements for competition]).

Remember, this is just one load for the .45.  There are many pet loads that reloaders have.  Go online and check everything out that you can and enjoy your reloading.  It feels good when you look down and see that by following the steps, you turned out a good accurate load.   Like Hannibal Smith used to say on the “A-Team”, “I love it when a plan comes together.”  

This leads me to a spiritual parallel in reloading.  A reloaded cartridge comes from very specific measurements, intelligence, and design.  If you were wandering out in some field somewhere and came across a .45 cartridge you would have to think that it didn’t get there on its own nor was it assembled at random.  Someone was in that field and someone put that bullet together.  So to, we have bodies, a world, and universe that to me indicates “Someone” was in the universe and “Someone” assembled all that we see.  “The heavens declare the glory of God.” I encourage you to seek that Someone and look to Him to assemble your life and trust Him to guide your steps. 

Now go “get the lead out”.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Having just read the letters regarding reloading economics, I noticed the following caveats and had two important points about them:
1.  “do not shoot lead bullets in a Glock” because of the polygonal rifling.  Polygonal rifling essentially creates rifling engagement angles that are less than 90 degrees, therefore whatever bullet material you use seals the bore better (because it’s easier to deform lead/copper into a rifling groove that has a more obtuse (open) angle) than a sharp 90 degree angle.    A standard cartridge fired out of a conventionally rifled barrel will travel faster out of a polygonal rifled barrel because of the superior seal that the polygonal rifling creates and that is why Glock uses those kinds of barrels, bullets perform better out of their barrels. Better seal = higher pressures,  higher pressures = higher velocities.   It needs to be noted that the HK USP series of pistols also has polygonal rifling as well as the Baby Eagle line and problem some others that I haven’t listed here.  Lead is perfectly safe to shoot out of Glocks or HKs, as long as you decrease your powder charge.  Polygonally rifled barrels do lead up any more readily than conventionally rifled barrels, in fact, because polygonal rifling seals the bore better the number one cause of leading  is reduced, “gas cutting” the increased pressure does not melt lead bases to any appreciable extent – gas cutting does.  This was all figured out decades ago by better men than me, like Elmer Keith.  Since higher pressures also yield higher temperatures (simple physics) even a conventionally rifled barrel can build up lead quickly if you use hot loads, or try to reproduce +p type ratings using lead or copper plated bullets.  It isn’t lead build up that leads to a “kaboom”, it’s nearly always a compressed load which is far more dangerous in any barrel.  Gas checks (copper jackets that go on the bottom of a lead bullet) are effective not because the leading lip of the gas check hits the rifling and splits to seal the angle of the rifling in addition to shielding the base of the lead bullet.  Don’t believe me?  Check the effective velocities of a gas checked bullet, it’s higher than just lead – less pressure leakage.
2.  Copper plated bullets should be treated as if they were lead when calculating your powder charge.  Because the plating is not a “jacket” but a very very thin microscopic coating of copper the hardness of the bullet is still essentially whatever the hardness of the lead that was used in casting it before plating.  The plating process does not harden the lead bullet, it seals the bore better than a copper jacketed bullet – and should be loaded accordingly otherwise you can create higher pressures and you may damage your pistol or yourself.  Always load copper plated bullets as if you were loading lead.  You get less lead fouling with copper plated bullets, but I’ve pulled lead deposits out of a pistol bore that was only shooting copper plated bullets, although it had a couple thousand rounds through it prior to the cleaning.
3.  Remember that the higher pressure rounds will have more problems with overpressure than low pressure rounds, typically autopistols shoot 9mm, .45 ACP, .40 S&W – I’ll ignore the other more uncommon rounds, so look them them if you’re going to reload for them., as an example only (look up your specific combination of powder, bullet, primer and casing) the following number can give you an idea of the pressures involved:
9mm Luger (9x19) is around 34,000 psi
45acp (45 auto) is around 20,000
40sw (40 short and wimpy) is around 32,000 psi
ammo manufactures spend a seriously paranoid amount of time calculating not only pressure, but the pressure curve (burn characteristics inside barrel) and they minutely examine the components after firing before determining a load is safe, they do this for each and every “lot” of ammunition they produce, if they change one component then there is a different “lot number” assigned to it and the workup is repeated for it.  Since their powders and components are custom blended and manufactured, they tend to repeat this process a lot.  A typical handloader will not have access to the testing equipment that a manufacturer has and has to be at least as meticulous.  Pressure is king and over-pressure will injure you and destroy your weapon.  In a grid-down survival situation the nominal savings that reloading will yield are offset by the very serious chance a non-expert reloader will inadvertently take.  If and when THSTF I do not plan on shooting any reloaded ammunition out of my autopistols or autoloading rifles.
As a side note, a few more thoughts on reloading practices:
The typical reloader who uses “junk brass” that is harvested from a shooting range is taking some serious chances.  Without realizing it, a handloader can work up a load that is perfectly safe in a Lake City 5.56 case, and start producing with a large range of brass cases from various manufacturers – without realizing that the internal dimensions of each manufacturers casing are different, in fact the typical Lake City nato 5.56 casing has a thicker web and thicker walls than a commercial Winchester .223 Remington case – so a perfectly safe load in a different case will yield MUCH different results and since we’re worried about pressure (as we should be) we inadvertently are producing loaded cartridges that are quite different while believing we are making a consistent product because we’re using only one type of bullet/powder/primer.  Whenever possible, use ONE head stamp AND be sure they’re of the same year of manufacture.
I have reloaded now for 20 years, from .50 BMG to .380 and the one thing I keep as my watch-word is that I’m loading for target ammo only and I am not trying to reproduce factory maximum pressures.  I’ve had to toss out a serious amount of ammo from time to time because I wasn’t as careful as I should have been, and in case you’re wondering – no I never considered breaking apart the casings to reclaim components – why?  Because it’s just not worth the time and potential hazards to re-use bullets that have already been crimped, and powder that may be contaminated by whatever was in the case when I reloaded it or handled it during disassembly.  Sure a lot of old codgers will say that you can avoid problems, but I have a healthy enough paranoia to toss a couple of bucks in the trash (actually I take them to a public range to put in their “red bucket”  I’ve see these same guys pull ammo out of a red range bucket – such disregard for Murphy will surely clean the shallow end of the gene pool at some point
It comes down to pressure and amassing as much possible knowledge about interior ballistics as is humanly possible.   Most of the “kaboom” problems that Glocks and other autopistols have had occur when a reloader tries to reproduce a hot cartridge – or as the old competitors used to call it “make major” because before a typical competition each competitors load would be chronographed to insure they weren’t using a “wimpy” load to reduce recoil and thus increase accuracy.
I’ve had two kabooms, both were from compressed loads in reloaded ammo (one mine and one a factory reload) I’ve met other people that have had compressed loads from factory ammo, which is a major cause of “kaboom” in police departments across the country as they use duty ammo on a rotational basis during qualifications (use up the duty ammo to issue fresh duty ammo).   I’ve shot a lot of lead out of Glocks, never had a problem – the one I reload for most often is my Glock 20 and 29 – the ultra-hot 10mm.  And in case you’re wondering, reloading for revolvers has a slightly different set of problems that can be just as dangerous as those faced by autopistol reloaders.
Remember that no firearms manufacturer will warranty your firearm if you shoot reloads of any kind avoiding lead in Glocks while shooting jacketed reloads is just as much a warrantee problem as the other.    Seek knowledge and understanding, understand why polygonal rifling creates higher pressures and you can anticipate and compensate for it, understand why shorter barrels are less efficient at launching light and fast loads, and a host of other knowledge that is useful.
For me the greatest value that I get from reloading is that I’m much better educated than a typical shooter about the products I shoot and it’s a relaxing hobby that helps keep my mind sharp.  When I first started reloading I did save a significant amount of money on ammo, but component prices have skyrocketed since then and the savings are now pretty much non-existent. - Jim H. in Colorado


Dear Mr. Rawles,
This was an excellent article. I have a few comments for consideration. There are several aftermarket barrels available for Glocks to allow shooting lead bullets. Search for "Glock replacement barrels".  Many of the competition shooters I know use them quite successfully.

Reloading ammo or buying factory ammo are definitely not mutually exclusive activities. I do both. My goal it to increase opportunities to keep shooting. Where I seem to save the most is in reloading my own match ammo. Not only do I save money but my groups are significantly tighter with my reloads. The downside I see with reloading is for those of us who can be distracted into endless pursuit of the "perfect" load.

For folks who have a short memory, reloading is a good thing when ammo is either not available or is so expensive it is unaffordable.

Get out and vote. - Jim Z.

Just a few observations about R.S.O.'s article.

I had a few issues with R.S.O.'s article on reloading and wanted to share them.

First, if you order powder or primers by mail, there will be a $25 hazardous materials fee for each package (not item, but boxes in which they're shipped) you receive. Also, I have yet to find a business which mixes primers and powder in the same package. If you're going to mail order either, get some friends who also reload to place orders for their needs to defray the costs (Besides, if you don't already reload, you're going to want some help with set up and some instruction, right?).

If you use range brass (and there's nothing wrong with that), beware that some (mainly polymer) pistols, like the Glock, generally have issues with bulged brass at the base. Over time, this brass will not feed reliably. There are a number of methods to deal with this, like roll-sizers ($$$$$) or some specialty dies. Proceed at your peril. You can generally feel this bulge, and many dies do not size the base low enough to completely get rid of the bulge.

If you decide to buy brass (and there's nothing wrong with that), you can lower the cost of purchase by reusing that brass. So, while $.18/round is somewhat expensive for brass, you'll reuse most of it multiple times, spreading out the cost. If you want another way to get bulk brass, just buy loaded ammo, run it thru your favorite unloader (mine's a M1911), keep track of the brass you shoot and pick it up after you're done. Lots of people like once-fired brass better than pristine. (Note--If you shoot bolt-action rifles, you'll get better results from fire-formed brass than from pristine or fully-sized brass. Use a neck sizer only after you fire form your brass, and it'll be custom to your rifle's chamber.)

Your mileage may vary here, but I've had no issues shooting unjacketed lead (moly coated and uncoated) thru my Glock. Granted, I'm more diligent about cleaning the barrel when I shoot lead thru my Glock (which isn't often, I'm not a Glock fan), but have had no ill effects. If you want, Lone Wolf Distributors makes a great aftermarket barrel, and one of the marketing points for it is you can use unjacketed lead in it. The biggest issue with Glock is the fact that shooting reloaded ammo (yours or anyone else's) voids your warranty, tread at your peril.

I recommend specifically against buying any Lee Precision progressive press, which is unfortunate, because most of their other equipment is outstanding an affordable. The reason I recommend against their progressives is the large number of important parts made of plastic--especially the primer feed system. I owned a Lee Loadmaster for several years, and spent a lot of money on spare parts to replace broken ones.

The Dillon 550B is NOT a true progressive press, as it requires a manual index of the shell plate. True progressive presses index the shell plate by using the lever--every time you pull the lever, the ram goes up and down, does all the operations, and the shell plate rotates. The 550B requires you to turn the shell plate by hand after each stroke.

R.S.O.'s point about buying dies made by he same manufacturer as the press is a good one, but not entirely accurate. Almost all dies are threaded the same, so they're theoretically interchangeable. However, the depth of the place where you screw them into the press can vary. If your die bodies are too short, they won't adjust or work properly. I currently use Lee dies on an RCBS single stage press with no issues. Lee dies have the advantage of coming with a shell holder, no other die sets do (at least as far as I can tell).

I wholeheartedly agree with R.S.O.'s point on the manuals. If you use a recipe someone else gives you, you're risking losing vital body parts. Don't be that guy/gal.

R.S.O.'s point about Boxer and Berdan priming is a good one, but many foreign manufacturers of handgun ammo use Berdan primers. Look into the case, and if you see two small holes instead of one relatively large one, it's not reloadable.

When cleaning your brass, a tumbler is not strictly necessary, it's just the most efficient and easiest method. You can clean brass with water and let it dry. When you go thru the sorting operation, make sure you check the cases for dings, dents, Berdan priming, and cracks. Dings and dents may not be a problem, discard Berdan and cracked cases. Also discard any steel and aluminum cases, as they're generally poor candidates for reloading.

R.S.O. is mostly correct that you don't need to lubricate most handgun brass if you use carbide dies. However, having reloaded a bunch of .500 S&W Magnum, I recommend lubing long cases, even if you're using carbide dies--I snapped a Lee Loader trying to resize .500 brass without lube. Additionally, most bottleneck cartridges (like many popular rifle calibers) require some lube to make the operation effective, even when you use carbide dies. I can't say this is strictly true for calibers like .400 Corbon or .357 SIG, but I refuse to own pistols chambered for these cartridges--they are answers to unasked questions, and if you're going to go to the bother of chambering a pistol to mostly .40 S&W or .45 ACP, why not just go with the straight wall version and use heavier bullets?

R.S.O. omitted a step--you have to prime the cases. Make sure you use the appropriate primers. One thing to note, some popular calibers (like .45 ACP) have manufacturers who have switched from large to small primers, so pay attention--especially if you're using range brass. It is generally not smart to interchange rifle primers for pistol primers--there's a reason why they make primers specifically for rifles and pistols. Also, be aware that using a magnum primer in a non-magnum cartridge will give you inconsistent velocity.

Three additional sources for reloading supplies: (based in Columbia, Missouri) (based in Montezuma, Iowa; they recently acquired Sinclair International) (based in Mexico, Missouri)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Dear Mr Rawles,
I've been reading your archives. I loved the December, 2011 SurvivalBlog article titled Barter, Post-TEOTWAWKI: The Micro Store. This one is a natural for me.  One way that I have been collecting barterable items is at yard/garage/estate sales.  Estate sales in particular are excellent for the micro store collection.  You hit the kitchen area and get current food items for your own stores and then the bathroom for bandages and sample size items such as soap, shampoo, shaving gel, toothpaste and so forth.  I’m not talking about items used but items never opened; I have even found various supplements also never opened.  I told my sister the nurse that if TSHTF I have a small hospital for her.  Leg brace boots are also really very cheap and can come in very handy.  

One item I have seen a ton of is sewing supply; I am partial to those heavy duty needle packs that are bound to come in handy for patching up heavier gear, am looking for upholstery thread that would go well with those kits, or dental floss can used if needed.  As far as cigarettes, I can get those at half the cost from Indian tribe stores, I have placed individual packs in Seal-a-Meal bags and vacuum packed them and placed them in the freezer, also did that with cigars I picked up at a yard sale.  I don’t smoke but know that if a smoker is desperate enough, anything will do 

Another item that I think is very handy are those small pouches of seasonings, they have become quite expensive at a grocery store, up to $1.89 each. At estate and garage sales I pay a quarter or less for them. If you have potatoes, pasta or rice, one packet of flavoring will go a long way.  I do plan to get some of those little bottles of liquor that are sold on air flights, those are an excellent idea.  Going on to the garage area is great for fishing gear and tools.  I have come home with prepper items along with a few collectibles to sell on eBay.  The profit from what I sell on eBay covers the cost of my prepper item purchases. 

I was curious however, about my plan to move from Washington to Idaho. When I do find a small town to live in, wouldn’t those people already be prepper-minded thus making a micro store a moot point?  Just wondering.  My husband said we could just set up shop to an area that was not prepper-minded and sell/barter there.

Keep up this wonderful work and call me, - Prepper on the cheap.
JWR Replies: Don't worry about the lack of a barter market in a region with more predominant preparedness and self-sufficiency. Even there, you will find plenty of people that are not well prepared, or those who have overlooked some items that they will need. The sure bets will be expendable items like soap, tape, detergent, lubricants (especially two-stroke fuel-mixing oil), common caliber ammunition, salt, seeds, various liquid fuels, adhesives, batteries, flat earth tone camouflaging paints, and so forth.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mr. Rawles,
Kent C.’s article about handloading is a very informative piece.  However, I’d like to provide a little supplemental information.  First off is the matter of cost.  Kent makes the point, with good mathematical support, that reloading doesn’t really save much money when reloading common calibers (your primary guns are in common caliber, aren’t they?), but there are a couple elements he did not mention.  I have a friend who, in conjunction with a couple other guys, put in a large freight order of reloading components for several different common calibers.  We’re talking five-digit bullet counts here, with equal numbers of primers and pounds upon pounds of powder.  After all the math was done, the cost per round was dropped substantially.  While this is a prohibitively expensive approach for all but the independently wealthy, organizing such a group buy could be a good move for members of a group to consider.

Another aspect of the cost factor is the effect on odd calibers.  Common caliber ammo may be cheap enough to offset financial gains of handloading, but the more obscure the caliber, the fewer sources there are for ammo.  Against my advice, another friend (read: spotter) got himself a .308 Norma Magnum.  Its long range potential is excellent, but most of his casings are resized .300 Win Mag casings due to the rarity of proper .308 Norma brass.  When we do find factory ammo or brass for it, he grabs it, but it’s pricey.

The time factor he mentions is also valid, but a lot of us younger folks have more time than money, making it a worthwhile tradeoff, not even counting the skills and knowledge developed by experimenting with handloads.
Another factor to consider is the ability to make customized ammo.  For the group sniper, reloading is almost a must.  A rifle does not develop its best possible accuracy unless the ammo is tuned to the barrel.  Without getting too technical, gun barrels vibrate when the gun is shot.  The frequency depends on many factors, including type and amount of powder.  When a cartridge is loaded in such a way as to make the barrel vibrate at its characteristic frequency, the muzzle remains effectively stationary and a tighter group results.  This can be accomplished either by a barrel tuner, which is an extra attachment that most barrels cannot accommodate, or by tuning the ammo to the rifle.  I have a Savage Model 10 in .308 Winchester that a gunsmith friend built up for me.  With various factory loads, it was at or slightly below 1 MOA.  After fiddling with some handloads, I consistently put up sub-1/2 MOA groups.  This kind of accuracy is hard to buy factory.  You might get lucky, and find a particular factory round that optimizes your rifle’s accuracy.  However, factory match ammo tends to be a lot more expensive than basic range ammo.  If you really want the most accurate ammo you can get, you’ll want to handload it. - John in Spokane

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Most people spend time perfecting their bug-out bag, or their bug-in kit, ensuring they can adequately survive on their own in the event of a catastrophe here. Many envision themselves in the role of “Eli” from the recent movie The Book of Eli, a lone wanderer who fends for himself as he travels in a post-apocalyptic world. I am of the opinion, as are many true preppers, that it will take a community to not only survive, but to prosper in a TEOTWAWKI scenario.

Let’s assume for a moment that your current neighborhood is not conducive to building that community, or that, for whatever reason, the group around you fails to thrive. You may have to move on to another area. When you reach that area, you will likely be greeted as an outsider and any town you reach will likely be reluctant to let you into their community. You will likely be viewed as just another begging traveler who is looking for the safety of a group, but could end up being a free-loader who is nothing more than another mouth to feed, another potential trouble maker, or another carrier of disease.

What will you say to persuade a community to believe that it is worth their time to take you into their group? What do you have to offer that others can’t provide?

You don’t have to be a former Navy SEAL who can single-handedly defend the town. You don’t have to be a former military commanding officer-turned-mayor with the leadership skills to organize the community into an army.  In some cases, you don’t have to be strong or even that smart. All you need is a unique skill. Lacking that, you need to have a skill that can aid others with a similar set of skills in accomplishing a goal more efficiently or productively.

If you don’t have anything to offer, you could be turned away and left to fend for yourself.
Now is the time to build skills that will be useful enough to gain acceptance in that scenario. These skills may have nothing to do with your current reality, but if you take the time to learn as much as you can, you will be an asset to a community that will make your presence not only worthwhile, but necessary.

This isn’t a how-to. It’s likely that you won’t learn anything from reading this. The point of this is to help you consider, if you haven’t already, ways to make yourself valuable in a post-TEOTWAWKI situation. I’m simply going to mention a few skills that you can build now to reach that end. The skills I talk about are not listed in any particular order, and some may be much more important than others. This is just to stir some thought on what you will be able to provide in the event that you need to. Also, this list is far from all-inclusive. You may think of many other skill sets that are equally (or even more) important. If so, work on them. Build them. Your life, and the life of your community, may very well depend on it.

1) Communications
– No matter what form of catastrophe has caused the collapse of society, communication with the world outside of your immediate area can be crucial. People will want to know what is happening beyond the horizon, the condition the government, the condition of other communities, or just, in general, what is going on. It is likely, however, that you won’t be able to just pick up the phone and call anyone. Telephone lines may be interrupted or completely disabled. A viable alternative is ham radio. The skills required to operate ham radio are not as common as they once were, are relatively easy to learn, and the equipment can be cheap (although it can get expensive if you want the “latest and greatest” gear).  Keep reference materials available. You may not be able to memorize everything. This skill alone may not be enough to grant you a position of esteem within a community, but it certainly couldn’t hurt your chances of being taken in as a member of the group.

2) Farming/Gardening – In many areas across the nation, this is a fading skill. The skills you can learn from maintaining a small garden in your yard could be critical when the SHTF. Even if you don’t have enough room for a small garden, read all you can on the subject and make a notebook or a manual. Make your own comprehensive version of “Farming for dummies”. The internet is bursting at the seams with information, but it’s likely that you won’t have access to it post-TEOTWAWKI, so make a survivable record of the information you think will be important. Gather information from multiple sources and record it all. Test out different methods if you can, focusing on techniques that don’t require heavy tools or chemicals. Find out how people did it a hundred years ago or more, and prepare yourself to mimic those methods. Set aside tools and seeds if you can afford it and if you have the storage space, but at a bare minimum, make yourself a written reference so that even if you’re not a farmer now, you have some hope of becoming one if the need arises.

3)  Food gathering – Do you know what plants in your local area are edible? Better yet, do you know which plants taste good? Information on the subject is available in book stores, camping/hiking stores, or online. Find the information and read through it. Don’t just read it from the comfort of your recliner – get out and take a walk with your reference material. See if you can locate the plants in the woods or even along roadways. Learning what they look like in the real world now, when you don’t need them, can save you from the time and effort of trial and error when you do. Once again, make yourself a survivable reference book on the subject. Try to include your entire state, maybe even the surrounding states. You never know where fate may take you in the event of TEOTWAWKI. Learn to not only identify these plants, but how to prepare them properly. Learn which local plants have medicinal properties and how to use them. The ability to keep others well-fed and healthy can make you a very valuable member of a community.

4) Food storage – My grandmother and her friends canned all kinds of things, but if you asked my wife how to do it, I’m pretty sure you would just get a shrug for an answer. Canning/preserving foods as a hobby is not only a good way to stockpile your own emergency supplies, but it’s also a great way to build the skill necessary to preserve food later, when you really need it. I’m not just talking about canning here. Preserving meat will be necessary too. Do you know how to make jerky? Nope, I don’t mean with your 9-tray Excalibur Food Dehydrator, I mean with a purpose-made, wood burning smoker, or even over a campfire. Hunting in the summertime or growing crops may provide more food than your group can readily consume, and knowing how to preserve that food for later may make the difference when winter comes and food is more scarce. My grandmother may not be there to show others how it’s done, so if you know how, then people will want you around.

5)  Mechanics – Even in the event of an EMP attack, (which would probably be the worst case scenario, technologically) older, simpler vehicles may still function. But if they break down, who will repair them? Or what if you want to use that engine to power a mill? Or to pump water? If you’re mechanically inclined, the skills necessary to maintain or build machinery will be highly sought after by any community.

6) Soap or candle making – In our modern world, we have grown accustomed to buying soap or candles, but before the age of Wal-Mart, making these items was the only way to get them. You may not get rich, or whatever version of “rich” exists after TEOTWAWKI, but both items will be in high demand if Wal-Mart ceases to provide them. Making soap or candles can be a fun hobby, a source of income even now, and can be a very useful skill to offer if it is needed in the future. Even if starting a new hobby like that is not your cup of tea now, making a reference guide from information found online or in books, and practicing enough to work out the details could be enough to give you something to offer later.

These are just a few ideas. Notice that I didn’t mention medical skills or security skills. Obviously medical skills (beyond the basics, which you should already know or be learning) are not something that you can learn in “on the side”. I believe that when it comes to security services, every able bodied individual in any community will most likely be recruited and trained for that task. Advanced knowledge or experience can definitely be an advantage, but that topic is covered a lot in other forums/articles/blogs, so any information I put in here would be rudimentary at best. I also didn’t mention blacksmithing, animal husbandry, gunsmithing, dentistry, carpentry and no doubt countless others. If you have specialized skills such as these, you don’t need to read this. You already have your ticket.

If you’re like most people, however, you might want to consider learning a set of skills, such as the ones I described or any other valuable skill that you come up with on your own, in order to make yourself a person who will not be a burden to your post-TEOTWAWKI community, but a valuable member who is worth feeding, supporting and defending.  

One more thing I’d like to mention is that no matter what skills you have to offer, your worth in a community will also be based on who you are and how you deal with others. If you are to be a worthwhile member of a community, it is equally important that you maintain a community mindset when it comes to using your skills. I’m not saying that you should give your services away, but always keep in mind that while your particular skills may be necessary for the survival of the community, the community as a whole is necessary for your own survival. Be the kind of honest and fair person that you would want to deal with and it’s likely that others will want to deal with you.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dear SurvivalBloggers:
Please re-read my December 2011 article on "micro stores" following TEOTWAWKI. Pay particular attention to the proposed stocking list. Enough water has gone under the bridge since then--I've had plenty of time to think some more about it, plus I received some quality feedback from SurvivalBlog readers--that I thought some updating might be useful and in order. Here goes.
There were several premises I used as a basis for recommending your considering a "micro store": Yes, the situation might get bad (less than comfortable)--but (IMO) will be something less than grim--following some sort of catastrophic "meltdown" event, especially if you live in a smaller, conservative metropolitan area, rather than a large one. Look for extended supply disruptions and some criminal activity, but no "golden horde" and associated rampant violence--those will prevail in the major cities. Also, expect well-armed local citizens will get organized quickly enough, people will do a reasonable of taking care of each other, and that commerce will help mitigate any violence and serve as a civilizing force for the community's benefit.
Important factors advancing my scenario are that enough of us have sufficiently prepped ahead of the event so that there will be goods in excess of our personal needs to trade/barter, that the basic civil fabric of the community will remain and stand the strain, and that we have sufficient useful "currency" (small/compact but necessary items and silver coins) to lubricate the wheels of commerce. So, consider that we will face extremely uncomfortable--but not deadly (unless we make or allow that to happen)--circumstances.
Since commerce is based in large part in curing uncomfortable circumstances--we'll pay for things that make us feel better or more comfortable (it's been that way since one of our distant ancestors traded a custom-made spear for a couple of fish, or something)--and, you can plan on trade/barter your goods with others.
Essentially everything can be traded, even skyscrapers for gold mines--I recall a particularly onerous trade in one of the apocalyptic novels I downloaded--the USA was forced to trade an aircraft carrier in exchange for some of our outstanding debt. Nasty thought we hope we do not come to. Back to our SHTF scenario.
You're not going to be Wal-Mart, Kroger, or Home Depot, but you don't need to be. A footlocker or two of compact, high-value, in-demand merchandise should suffice to help you and your neighbors. Please look over my original list. Here are some additional ideas I have come up with and several suggested by other readers. (BTW: Your local dollar store will be helpful for much of this). I'll continue my numbering sequence where I left off--
7. (Addition). Toothpaste. Rather than purchasing tubes of toothpaste for sale (too large), here's an alternate idea. Colgate sells toothpaste in single service packages--think fast food ketchup. What a great idea/ Why hasn't anyone come up with this one before? I was formally president of a large condominium project (beach resort) and we bought many of our supplies from American Hotel Register ( Good outfit; competitive. They have cases of 1,000 Colgate toothpaste packets for $130.89 (I have no financial interest here and there are surely other sources). Sell five packets for a silver dime? At a cost of $.65/5, that would give you about a 400% markup, at current silver prices. You could also buy some toothbrushes for resale, but people will use their old ones until the bristles fall out, so new ones would not make good trading material. Get a handful of new ones for yourself and family so that (bristle failure) doesn't happen to you.
26. Soap. I recall another reader suggesting you should stock up with a full pallet of soap; that's more than a bit of overkill, unless you have lots of room to spare. How about a case instead? Another hotel supplier we have used is Suite Supply ( They have cases of 500 one and a half ounce bars of Dial soap for $76.87. The calculation is about the same as the toothpaste--sell five bars for a silver dime for a reasonable markup.
27. Playing cards. I can't believe I left this one out before. The dollar store has plenty of these for ...a dollar. Not the highest quality, but there are 52 cards plus jokers in every deck. Get a dozen or more decks. Playing cards are a much better choice than board games, which are too expensive as barter material unless you pick them up used from Goodwill or some other thrift store (caveat: thrift store board games and puzzles are generally missing pieces and are usually pretty beat up). And, playing cards are useful to all ages for many different games. You could make a little sign--"Playing Cards a Dime a Deck." Continuing with this thought, you could include puzzles with your book sales business model--trade one-for-two and sell one-at-a-time--The dollar store has plenty.
28. Plastic bottles. If/when the SHTF, we just might be looking at the last plastic bottles that will exist for a very long time. We (my family) have gotten accustomed to drinking bottled water from Sam's (to the perpetual irritation of local greenies), but the expense is only about $.15/half liter bottle. The bottles are always thrown away, but at some point, I'll start filling a plastic bag with the empties, caps attached. I'm not sure if there will be a market for empty bottles, but your neighbors (and you) will appreciate having plenty available, when there is no source of new ones. Save plenty of empties for yourself and give away a half dozen when you sell something else. They will be great for storing and carrying water (not too useful for much else). Here's an important tip on re-using the plastic bottles: Most water and soft drink bottles (almost all) are made of "PET"--polyethylene terephthalate, a remarkably inert (safe) plastic, manufactured through the "stretch-blow" process. The resin is first injection-molded (melted/squirted) into a mold that makes a test tube-looking "preform," which is then re-heated, stretched, and blown in a mold into its final shape. There is a lot of molecular memory retained in the final bottle--If you heat it (boiling or very hot water, for example), the bottle will shrink toward its preform shape (and become not useful at all to you), so sanitizing through heating it will not work. You can easily sanitize the bottle for reuse by rinsing it with a dilute bleach solution--put about three drops of Clorox in the bottom of the bottle and fill with room temp water. Let it rest for a few minutes, then pour it out (over the threads and the cap, to sanitize them, too). Don't drink this water--You won't like the chlorine taste. Refill the bottle with your purified or sanitized water (room temp; not hot). (In another, earlier life, I helped create the PET bottle as a marketing manager for a packaging company whose name you know, so you can blame me for these bottles if you want).
29. Duct tape/electrical tape/para cord/zip ties. Figure it out.
30. Feminine supplies. The need is in our rearview mirror, so it didn't occur to me. Think this one through if it applies to you/your family/your neighborhood. If you've got a lot of storage space, it fits the bulky category, like toilet paper--more likely to stock for personal use than to trade--unless you have plenty of room.
31. Multivitamins. I checked with a couple of my doc friends on this one. What supplements do they recommend to stock way ahead and (potentially) trade with? The answers were remarkably consistent--A year's worth of whatever you take (for personal use). For trade/barter--several bottles of antioxidant multivitamins, Vitamin C, and low-dose aspirin. Inexpensive generics are fine. Keep them all in a cool place. Recommended dose is half the dose on the bottle, except for the low-dose aspirin; keep that at one/day. Half dose will keep an adult healthy and stretch the supply nicely.
32. ED medications. Okay, youngsters, laugh away; your day will come. There's an important reason everyone in the commercials is smiling. These are expensive, but will be worth a lot when the SHTF. You'll need to calculate a reasonable mark-up for your stock, but one pill might go for as much as a dollar in face value silver. (At least they can be cut into smaller pieces/doses). 
33. FRS radios. It wouldn't hurt to purchase a couple of extra sets of these for neighborhood use. Again, this might be a giveaway item to enhance local security.
34. Coffee filters. Many uses for these besides filtering the coffee, especially for pre-filtering dirty water before boiling. They are very inexpensive in big bundles at the warehouse stores. Price accordingly.
There's my "micro store" update--We've come a long way and are getting pretty complete with this. Thanks, James for the opportunity to add to the original post. - A.A.A.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

If you live in apple country, you have a wonderful resource readily available for pre- and post-TEOTWAWKI. All it takes is some up front costs for equipment, and your labor and desire. The process is simple. I'm speaking of producing fresh apple cider for immediate enjoyment or trade, and hard cider for delayed enjoyment, stockpiling, or trade. Thus, you can easily acquire a valuable skill for post-WTSHTF. A nice thing is you can gradually ramp up your expense and involvement.

You can:

  • Buy the fermenting equipment and use purchased fresh unpasteurized sweet cider, skipping the expensive apple crusher and press and all the hard work
  • Buy all the equipment and use purchased apples
  • Go all-in like we did, buying all the junk and picking our own apples

[Be aware that if you buy apples or sweet cider, even from a local farm, you will probably be getting traces of fungicides and pesticides. But no doubt the fruit will be big and beautiful.]

As we start, it is late summer at the recently-acquired Gentleman's Farm (to say it like a local it is ‘fam’ as in ‘wham’), and we are finally in a position to get prepared “for real.” The vegetable garden is producing nicely. The grapevines, though they grew like crazy, yielded only a handful of ripe grapes, dashing our immediate hopes of wine making. Next year remember to prune! We have two robust but neglected apple trees in the orchard, and an ancient and very neglected one at the stone wall by the road. Plus, my next door neighbor has two ancient giants, and is thrilled to have the apples picked so there are fewer for him to pick up off his manicured lawn. None have been sprayed, at least not in recent history. The apples come forth all on their own. Now, I'm not saying they are beauties. In fact they are the sorriest-looking apples you could imagine—malformed and spotted—the stuff of a supermarket produce manager’s nightmares. But they contain juice, and that is all we care about.

So our cider-making adventures can be illustrated in stages. The first stage is “gather hardware.” The major hardware is:

  • Fermenting equipment and supplies
  • Apple picker
  • Apple crusher
  • Apple press

I am not a big fan of single-purpose equipment. Fortunately, most of this is multi-purpose.

First we bought the fermenting supplies. A local brewing supply store was our source. This equipment can also be used for beer and wine making, so the costs can be spread out over those purposes, and we intend to do so. All are good skills post-TEOTWAWKI. We bought the True Brew K6 Beer Equipment Kit, which contains a 5 gallon plastic primary-fermentation tank, glass secondary-fermentation carboy, airlock, siphon, cleaning brush, thermometer, hydrometer, 8-pack of C-Brite sanitizer, and a bottle capper. The cost was about $128. Another $50 bought us a carboy spray wand, a carboy carrier, a gross of bottle caps, and yeast.

Next up was a fruit picker. This is nothing more than a small, fingered wire basket on the end of a telescoping pole. We needed it because the trees have gotten tall from lack of pruning. It can be used on our other fruit trees, so it is not really single-purpose. We bought the Flexrake LRB190 on Amazon for $32 with free shipping, and were impressed with its quality.

Then the big outlays began. We needed a crusher and a press. The crusher is necessary for fully pressing apples. Whole or even quartered apples won’t disgorge all their juice. This tool unfortunately is only single-purpose. The press by itself will be fine for grapes and other soft fruits (and thus is multi-purpose), but for apple-pressing there has to be some pre-processing.

So, how to choose? Best of all would have been real vintage but working farm examples. I could not find any. A gentleman named Herrick Kimball that operate WhizBang Cider sells plans and parts for an innovative crusher utilizing a garbage disposal. The result comes out like applesauce and should be super-easy to press. But there was no time to build anything, you have to buy a new disposal (who’d want to use an old one?) and anyway, in a grid-down situation I think you’d be out of luck there. He also sells plans and parts for a press that uses an automobile jack. You have to see it.

In the end, I went with a crusher and press purchased from Cabela’s, figuring they would stand behind their offerings if need be. I read the mostly favorable reviews and made the decision. Here’s where it gets crazy. When I first looked them up in the Fall 2010 catalog, the crusher was $169.99 and the press $199.99. Imagine my shock when ordering online in Summer 2011 and finding the crusher at $229.99 ($60 increase) and the press on sale for $234.99 ($35 increase), regular price $329.99 (would have been $130 increase.) A huge increase in just one year! Oh right, there’s no inflation. Shipping added another $40 or so. Also be aware that the actual product delivered is somewhat different from the picture—the press in the picture stands taller (it shows a pitcher under the spout to catch the cider, but the delivered model can only accommodate a saucepan), and the ratchet assembly is enameled in the picture but the actual is plated steel.

Both arrived promptly and just in time for harvest. I was disappointed but not surprised to find they are Chinese-made. Makes you wonder what Chinese workers think they are making, given the strange products they ship us. But this stuff looked fairly well made and solid. They are marketed by Weston Supply.

The crusher comes almost completely pre-assembled unless you want to switch it to a wall-mounted unit. For the default bench-mounting, all you have to do is attach the flywheel to the shaft and install the stainless-steel chute. The latter is a bit of a design flaw, in my opinion. Unless you have really small hands it is difficult to reach in to insert the mounting screws. The Lady Fahma to the rescue! For bench-mounting, it even comes with two robust C-clamps. We attached it to a granite counter in the wood shop room of the barn, and it never moved or slipped during the entire crushing operation.

The press needs no assembly beyond threading the ratchet assembly onto the jack screw and clamping together the two halves of the pressing tub. It uses a Jenga-like stack of hardwood blocks that you gradually add above the pressing plates (also hardwood) to keep the ratchet handle from contacting the top of the tub as you crank it down. Seemed pretty simple. One cheap-out is it comes bolted to a cardboard-like floor plate. We will probably change that to something more robust next year.

You could do a lot more homework than we did, and maybe find something perfect. Actually, revisiting the WhizBang Cider site, I see there are links to other sites that offer interesting press configurations. One of them shows the press that I bought, but apparently under a different name—who knows?

The second stage is “gather apples.” Here you could trot off to the local orchard or farm stand if you lack your own trees. I’ve already described our sad trees and fruit. Saturday morning, September 10, we began to pick. We were not shy about utilizing salvageable ‘drops’ either—there is some controversy about this, because of the threat of bacteria. We knew we were going to heat the cider to kill off or discourage the wild yeasts, so we figured that would take care of bacteria too, and what was left, alcohol would stifle. Campden tablets, which add sulphur dioxide to the mix, could also have been used, and we might try that next year. Only one of our younger trees has its variety labeled, and it is good old red McIntosh—my favorite. The other younger tree has tart hard green apples, and the ancient tree looks like the old variety called Pippin—they are green. The neighbor’s apples also look to be McIntosh. We worked around the trees, using the picker for higher fruit. Even then, there were a number we couldn’t reach. By the time a few hours passed I had developed a good case of Aircraft Spotter’s Neck. We picked 4 bushels by noon, then spent a good amount of time washing them (just plain water). We had read that a bushel of applies can yield 2 or more gallons of cider. With our 4 bushels, we thought we might have as much as 10 gallons, so we quickly bought another fermentation tank, carboy, and airlock.

The third stage is “press apples.” This is the hardest part of the process. On Sunday morning, the next day, we began to cut up the apples for the crusher. We learned right away that the pieces have to be small, very small. Otherwise the crusher barely touched them as they passed through, and the press couldn’t do much with them. So we began a routine. The Lady Fahma did the cutting, I ran them through the crusher, and we tossed the crush into the press as soon as we thought we had enough for a full pressing basket. No doubt about it, the press, or this particular one anyway, is a two-person job. Keeping the blocks straight while turning the ratchet assembly is the main trick. And once you crank down to where the ratchets engage you really have to apply force, which means the press has to be steadied. But there’s a wonderful feeling when the juice starts to run out. As the day went on, we learned how to get more and more juice from each press. We learned to keep some of the last pressing’s pomace in the basket when adding fresh crush—I don’t know why, but it seemed to work better. So we kept cutting, crushing, pressing, pouring through a sieve into the heating vat, and dumping the pomace into the compost pile, for the better part of a day. Miraculously no injuries were reported. Speaking of pomace, next year I’d like to save it and distill it into apple grappa (grapple?), for industrial purposes only of course.

I found something I did not like about the press: the ratchets are removable plated wedges that fit into holes in the wheel of the ratchet assembly. I think we applied so much force that they began to wear—sending a tiny amount of metal dust onto the blocks. Probably very little to none got through to the pressings, but to be sure I had to wipe off the plates after each press.

What were our results? We yielded just 5 gallons of dark, rich, tangy sweet cider. Not very impressive, and half what we expected. It had to be the quality of the apples. But we were still proud. Since we had anticipated 10 gallons and had the extra equipment, The Lady Fahma ran to the farm stand and procured 5 gallons of their unpasteurized cider. The cost was about $30. Now if you think the 2 days labor for 2 people it took to make our own 5 gallons should be worth more than $30, you are not in the preparedness mindset! We prefer to think we are skill-building, like spending money on firearms training or a wilderness survival course.

Cleanup of the crusher and press was fairly easy; just rinsing with water from a garden nozzle. Obviously let the parts dry before putting away. After drying, I applied mineral oil to the parts I thought might rust in storage. The barn floor was a disaster from spills, but in the end was not that difficult to clean.

If you are just making sweet cider, stop here. The result is wonderful, but will not keep very long without preservatives, and even then not for much longer. Enjoy it while you can.

Conversely, if you have bought sweet cider and want to make hard, start here!

Stage four extends over weeks but is not difficult—turn the sweet cider into hard. Starting as we did in mid-September, our goal is to begin drinking it by Thanksgiving, meaning we want it to age a fair amount. There are many sources of information on hard cider-making, and many conflicting opinions, particularly when chemists weigh in. I found what I think are the easiest beginner’s instructions online at Mother Earth News ( ). Really, the process is simple and basically comes down to “add yeast and let it sit.” Just remember all equipment has to be sanitized.

On pressing day we heated the cider to about 170 degrees F— do not let it boil! While doing this we added 2 pounds of brown sugar to our own cider. This became “Batch A.” The bought cider seemed sweeter so we let it be. This became “Batch B.”  Then we let them cool to about room temperature. This can take longer than you expect, but can be greatly speeded up by putting the kettles in baths of ice and water.

We had two varieties of yeast to try. Batch A received a granulated champagne yeast that is supposed to make a drier-tasting cider. Batch B received a liquid cider yeast that also produces a dry product but supposedly lets the fruit show through. The liquid yeast is about 3 times more expensive, by the way.

We knew we were introducing too many variables—different cider sources, sugar amounts, and different yeasts--but that’s part of the fun.

Once cool, we poured the two batches into their own fermentation tanks and stirred in the yeasts. We secured the lids and placed the airlocks. That was the end of a long but satisfying day.

Our huge amateur mistake: neglecting to get a base measurement of specific gravity with the hydrometer. We thus cannot determine what the alcohol content is in the finished product. We’ll have to do it the old fashioned way, by drinking it and seeing the results!

End of Week 1. The airlocks are happily bubbling, meaning the yeasts are active, converting sugars to alcohol as they have done for millennia, noble companions to mankind as they are. It smells heavenly. Batch B was so active it actually bubbled up into the airlock. Being in the uninsulated barn it is hard to maintain constant temperature, though it never was especially hot or cold. But temperature is obviously another variable that would be good to control if you can.

End of Week 2. Bubbling has slowed down considerably. Using a sanitized “thief” (another handy gadget), we taste-test both tanks. Batch A is already quite dry and pleasant, and has paled somewhat. Batch B is extremely tart—lemony, almost. I find it pleasant, but The Lady Fahma is afraid we are on our way to apple cider vinegar—not a bad thing to have, though 5 gallons is probably a lot. I am hoping her fears are unfounded. Time will tell! They both seem to taste of alcohol. We replace the lids and wait.

End of Week 3. It’s now October 1. Still some bubbling. It is “racking” time. Racking is nothing more than siphoning the cider from the primary plastic fermentation tanks to the secondary glass carboys. This really is just for aging and allowing the yeast gunk to further settle out. Washing and sanitizing the carboys was pretty easy thanks to the sprayer wand that attaches to the clothes washing machine faucet. The siphon’s start is greatly assisted with the adding of a little water to the tube.

The difference in appearance between the two batches is striking—Batch A is a rich orange brown. Batch B is like homemade chicken broth. As the weather is cooling we should be fine leaving the carboys in the barn. After placing the airlocks, we poked holes in the bottoms of two black plastic trash bags and draped them over the carboys, leaving the airlocks free to vent. This is our solution to keeping them in the dark.

Of course, we left a little out of each to taste. Batch B, which was so lemony last week, has really toned down. I think it will be fine. Batch A is a little more complex. We’re really curious how 7 or 8 weeks of aging (in both carboy and bottle) will change them.

During the intervening weeks, and before, we have been busy “accumulating” empty beer bottles, if you know what I mean. Having made 10 gallons of cider, we figured we needed around 106 twelve-ounce bottles and probably less. You need the long neck kind with pry-off caps—no screw tops. The brewmaking shop guy told me that Samuel Adams brand beer bottles were the best to use: they are heavier and the labels come off more easily. Not a problem—Sam Adams is my favorite commercial brew. Note you can also buy empty bottles from the brewmaking shop—though they cost only slightly less per case than bottled beer! Another tip from the shop—soaking the empty bottles in a solution of OxiClean will get the labels off even easier.

The bottles were rinsed and stored as we (well, I) consumed the beer. When we had accumulated enough we soaked them as recommended, and I peeled off the labels while The Lady Fahma, with her patient hands, scrubbed off any remaining stickum. Wear gloves. Here’s another tip—an empty, sanitized dishwasher makes an excellent draining/drying rack for bottles.

End of Week 8. It’s now November 6—bottling day! The previous day we moved the carboys into the kitchen, so they could settle back down overnight from any sloshing. Today we sanitized everything in C-Brite: the (original) plastic fermentation bucket with spout, bottles, siphon, caps. Then everything was rinsed and drained. We wore “examination” gloves during the whole process. We wanted sparkling cider, so continuing the above recipe, we planned to add a little sugar. This is supposed to revive the yeasts while in the bottle. Starting with Batch A, we put ¾ cup brown sugar into solution, poured it into the bucket, then siphoned the carboy. You unfortunately must leave an inch or so in the carboy because of sedimentation. Next we filled the bottles from the bucket’s spout. It was made easier as a two-person job—one working the spout, one handling the bottles. There was very little spillage; in fact, the whole process went amazingly smoothly. After the bottles were filled, we capped them using the capping tool supplied in the True Brew kit, which worked very well. After wiping down the bottles, we put them into cases. Batch A yielded 45 bottles—slightly less than two cases. Taking a break, we started Batch B using the same process. It yielded 46 bottles. With clean-up, the whole bottling procedure took less than 4 hours. The “residue” in the carboys was strained through cheesecloth and chilled so we could sample our creations today. Batch A was sweeter and seemed more “apple-y.” Batch B was tart. Both were extremely pleasant. The next step is to wait a few weeks for carbonation (hopefully) to occur; but if it does not, we should at least have pleasant still cider.

End of Week 10. It’s now November 20. We sample a bottle from each batch. Batch A has little carbonation. Batch B is fully sparkling. The Lady Fahma, with her discriminating palette, made tasting notes. “Batch A is still dark like fresh cider, with a slightly yeasty, fresh apple nose. There is a clean apple-lemon, slightly floral finish, with crisp acidity. Despite its color, it is dry. Batch B is light and clear in color with a tangy apple nose, in a champagne style. There are light apple and pear flavors that are complex and slightly bitter. It too has a clean finish and is dry.” My tasting notes, demonstrating the sophistication of my palette, are “they both taste pretty durn good.” I would say that Batch B tastes more like the commercially-produced hard cider I’ve had.

Again, not measuring the alcohol content was a major mistake. I get the feeling, though, that both batches have some potency.

Just for fun, we created bottle labels on the computer and printed them on an inkjet printer. A package of 150 Avery 8164 shipping labels (6 on a sheet) cost about $8 and fit the bottles perfectly. This is a totally optional step but gives you a chance to personalize and show off your creation.

Thanksgiving Day. We proudly served both batches to our guests. When asked to choose, they were about equally divided. Even The Lady Fahma and I disagree, she preferring ‘B’ while I prefer ‘A.’ While demonstrating that overall our project is a success, it does make it difficult to decide which yeast to use next year.

Perhaps as we continue to drink our cider one will emerge a clear winner.

True SHTF Considerations

Some supplies may not be readily available if things get bad. You may have to stock up now, or workarounds will be necessary.

  • Bottle caps: if caps are not available, the handy 12 ounce bottle will be useless, but jugs or barrels can be employed. One beer-making book states that plastic 2-liter soda bottles can be filled with beer and capped with the original plastic cap; if so, you could certainly use them for even sparkling cider. Undoubtedly there will always be zillions of them around
  • Sanitizer: packages of C-Brite and/or bleach can be stocked up. When that runs out I am not sure what to use, other than boiling water
  • Yeast: yeast is such an essential part of our food supply it is difficult to imagine life without it. Since it is perishable, stocking up in large quantities is not really practical For apple cider, it is possible to let wild yeasts naturally present do the job, but the results will be unpredictable at best
  • Sugar: honey could be used for extra yeast activation, or just ensure that the apples you use are as sweet as can be. It may be difficult to make sparkling hard cider without extra sugars

As I finish this piece it is a snowy evening in late winter, six months from the start of the project. I permit myself a sample of each batch from our still-plentiful supply. Batch “A” has gained more sparkle, proving that it is a living thing—amazing! Batch “B’ hasn’t changed much. The “glow” I feel may be more than the warm feelings of the positive aspects of preparing.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

I just read the comment  by one of the readers on the Crosscut Saw Company (in Letters - Traditional Tools for TEOTWAWKI, by Bill H.).
I am on my second crosscut saw I purchased form the Crosscut Saw Company. (The first one that I owned was stolen). I also purchased their saw maintenance manual, and some sharpening tools. I purchased the saws manufactured by them (They also have some of the commercial made saws). Their saws are of excellent quality and workmanship, and definitely worth the money.
If you do decide to purchase one of these saws, purchasing a manual on how to sharpen the saw, and a good file are a must. The difference between a sharp saw, and a improperly sharpened saw is, that one zips through the wood, whereas the "mutilated" saw will quickly wear out the user without cutting much wood.
Crosscut saws come with two type of tooth configurations, depending on their primary use. I have always used the Perforated Lance Tooth design, and it has worked for me. They are available as either one man saws, designed to be used by one person, or two man saws to be used by two persons. With two man saws, the saw is always pulled through the cut, never pushed. Depending on the saw, the handles may have to be purchased separately.
I spent many years on a farm, cutting wood, and felling trees with crosscut saws. (We had a chainsaw, but my uncle always insisted on us using the crosscut saw for the first trees, so that "I would learn something useful" I also got to cut the firewood with the smaller one man saw. Well he was right. I had indeed learned something useful).
A well-maintained Crosscut saw is a must have as a backup to a chainsaw, and is also a lot quieter. - The Consultant.


James Wesley,
I appreciate you posting my article, and those who responded.
First off, the suggestion of the shaving horse immediately drew my attention. Constructing one will be my next project. I will most likely follow the plans from this link. There also appears to be some other excellent information on this site.
As for the purchase of a crosscut saw, the vendor appears to have quality products. I personally would have a hard time convincing "she who tracks the bank account" feeling good about spending that much for a hand saw. If a person is patient there is a fair chance a reasonably priced saw will be available on craigslist, at an estate sale or at a swap meet. I was recently able to acquire a broad axe head (small) for $3, a steel splitting wedge for $1, a cast iron 3 qt dutch oven for $10, and a hand crank meat grinder for $6 at estate sales. All of these items are high quality, made in the U.S. items. I spent $20 for items that would cost well over $100 new if I could even find them. I am still looking for a froe, but am not sure I would use it much. That possibility drives the price down for me.
With all of that being said, an important part of the article is not just owning these items. The important concept is to use the items you do own. I use my drawknife at least once a week, and usually more. That is why I will be making the shaving horse. It would be much easier to use a shaving horse than to use my bar clamps, as I currently am, to fashion a handle for the broad axe. Necessity drives invention (or motivation). I just want to have some practice doing these things before my life depends on it.
Best regards and thanks again, - Bill H.

Friday, February 24, 2012

For best use with most woodworking other than large beams, a draw knife requires a shaving horse. A draw knife very useful for barking logs as they last much longer with the bark removed.

You will also need a broad axe and adze to shape beams.

A froe to rive boards and shingles is good too.

Good books to get are the Foxfire series, as are the primitive series by John McPherson. Also see McPherson's web page at     

Keep up the good work, - Ted. J


Having just read the most recent article Traditional Tools for TEOTWAWKI, by Bill H., I came across this company while trying to do background research:
I was wondering if you or Bill H. (the author of Traditional Tools for TEOTWAWKI) could comment on/ recommend them?
Regards, and Semper Fidelis, - J. McC.

JWR Replies: Although I haven't personally done business with them, the folks at Crosscut Saw have a good reputation. It is noteworthy that most of their products are American made.

And speaking of using traditional hand tools, I'd like to re-post a link suggested by reader Ron S. back in 2009, a YouTube video: From Cherry Log to Country Chair, showing a gent making furniture with hand tools. Every self-sufficient carpenter should own a shingle froe, a hardwood mallet ("maul"), a shaving horse, an adze, and a draw knife.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I am trying to facilitate my move to the American Redoubt area and am planning some income sources. I make knives, holsters, and pouches for other accessories but I am looking to expand what I can offer to help support my family when we move. My question is for you as well as anyone else you know in that area. I am an avid reloader and was wondering what the ammo options are like in the American Redoubt region. I'm curious about local places that offer a decent selection at a good price. From a few years of experience in construction in Montana (when I wasn't paying attention to ammo suppliers), goods and services tend to be more expensive than what I am used to where I currently am. I suspect due to higher cost of transport and lower availability. This has led me to guess that local ammo suppliers may be more expensive and have less supply than more populated areas. I am also curious about suppliers that also accept barter for other goods and services.

Any information you could pass along on the availability of local ammo dealers and where they may be lacking would greatly be appreciated. Thanks and God bless! - G.A.

JWR Replies: The best way to buy or barter for ammunition is directly from manufacturers. There are a surprising number of small ammo and reloading component makers in the American Redoubt, and more moving in each year. Western Montana seems to be the current hot spot for ammo makers.

The prices from these makers are very competitive. The higher cost of shipping components is more than offset by the business friendly, gun friendly, and hunting friendly environment. Overall, there is a very low cost of doing business in the Redoubt states. (These advantages include inexpensive manufacturing and warehouse space, very inexpensive electricity from hydroelectric power (as low as 4 cents per kilowatt hour, commercially), low labor costs, and low taxes. The only downsides are slightly higher heating costs, and typically a one day delay to get anything to or from anywhere via UPS.

In Idaho:

Let's of course start with the big one: CCI, in Lewiston, Idaho

And consider that Idaho's state government is actively courting ammunition and gun manufacturers.

And here is just a sampling of makers:

PNW Arms (Potlach)

Steele Components (Lewiston)

Xtreme Ammo And Brass (Caldwell)

Garnet Ammunition (Coeur d'Alene)

In Montana:

The ammo business is hopping!


The Hunting Shack

Mark X Presses

Montana Gold Bullet

Buffalo Bore. (Oft-mentioned in SurvivalBlog.)

Montana Bullet Works

And there is a detailed listing at the Montana Shooting Sports Association web site.

In Eastern Oregon:

Nosler Bullets

Rimrock Ammunition

Laser Cast

In Eastern Washington:

Cowboy Bullets

In Wyoming:

Fine Ammo (The makers of Extremmuntion)


Mount Baldy Bullets

There are also MANY Redoubt-based small companies listed at the Corbin web site. (Just search on the Redoubt telephone area codes: 208,509, 406, 307, 541, and 458.)

In my experience, the gun and ammo makers in the Inland Northwest have a very loyal fraternal spirit. They do their best to give each other business. There is a very active gun show circuit in the Redoubt and the dealers do a great job of helping each other out. Even out-of-state vendors like Miwall get into the act, and attend a large number of shows in the Redoubt.

Since ammo vendors typically "go out heavy and come back light" when selling at gun shows, it is a natural for local manufacturers to drop off wholesale ammunition orders to the vendors directly at gun shows. This of course saves money on transportation costs.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I thought Barter, Post-TEOTWAWKI: The Micro Store by A.A.A.[posted on December 22, 2011 that was recently awarded First Place in the blog's writing contest] was a great article. I loved it and I was very appreciative.

I've spent a little time thinking of the same thing and have a couple of notes to add:
Regarding coffee, it might be a good idea to buy a supply of black tea which is cheaper, still has caffeine-like effect, and can be sold by the packet.
On tobacco, instead of cigarette cases, I think it could be more economical to buy cans of pipe tobacco and bags of "roll 'em yourself" cigarette tobacco, which is much cheaper, and buy lots of packets of rolling papers.  While you're at it, chewing tobacco will also store nicely and surely will sell by the can or the pinch.
The ammunition recommendation is good, but add .22 Magnum to that list, and don't forget some shotgun shells: 12 gauge, 20 gauge, and . 410.  These will all be good for hunting. And I know a lot of folks who have those but don't have much of an ammo supply.
However, don't forget: snares will be great to have, so a roll or two of strong, flexible wire and string will allow folks to trap squirrels, rats and other small animals.  Rat traps, when combined with peanut butter, make great squirrel traps.   So keep some extra peanut butter stored for the traps. 

Fishing line, hooks and lures will also be great barter items.  Don't forget that if you can trap food, that food itself becomes an item for barter.  Aluminum foil can be re-used and is helpful for cooking fish, squirrels, rabbits, etc over a fire.
Speaking of fire: A stove like the Zoom Versa would allow you to boil water and cook food for people using any kind of fuel. Kelly Kettles also allow water to be boiled quickly with minimal fuel.
Tampons/sanitary napkins will be highly valued by any ladies who didn't store them.
Include nails of various sizes, some tarps

I'd also recommend in addition to the Lantern Mantles, having two or three extra lanterns and a supply of kerosene.  I don't know many folks who actually have lanterns around the house, most use battery powered lanterns, so the inexpensive Wal-Mart kerosene lanterns would be great barter items.  And while you are thinking of lighting: Candles!
When the toothpaste and shampoo run out, Boxes baking soda make a great toothpaste, and is a fantastic shampoo when diluted in water.  Rinse hair with vinegar, and it does a washing job that is better than shampoo and conditioner!  Try it.
The disposable lighters is a good idea.  But I think a few lighters that can be refilled with lighter fluid could be awesome--especially if you stock up on some lighter fluid bottles to refill them.  Think: return customers!
Now, regarding the rechargeable batteries, and the DVDs: A portable Solar Recharger would allow you to recharge batteries and appliances, and I know no one in my neighborhood who has one.  So you could barter for customers to be able to recharge the batteries for their portable radios, DVD players, and other items.
While bike tire repair kits is a great idea, I also think acquiring a few pair of used mountain bike tires would be useful.   

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The idea of homesteading is not a new one.  As a species, we humans have mastered the art of living off the land better than any other species, learning along the way to capture fire, clothe ourselves and even preserve food that we grew to later nourish us. We weren't content to stop there though.  Mankind “evolved” to reassemble natural materials into unnatural materials such as plastic and combine countless ingredients produced or grown by man into processed foods such as Twinkies, which we figured we might as well wrap in plastic.  Although the modern age has brought many possibilities, many fear that we have gone too far.
We now find ourselves, as a species, barley able to live on our own in the natural world, as we’ve accumulated too many allergies, too many dependencies on modern conveniences, too much dependence on government assistance and, let’s not forget, too many pounds to make it on our own.  Now, Mother Nature is calling many of her children home.
Modern homesteading is alluring to many but let’s face it, even (especially!) in a TEOTWAWKI world taxes still have to be paid, fuel needs to be bought and most of us want health care.  And so we find that the living off the land begins with considering how we will generate personal income.  As a new and modern homesteader, you will get to (have to) create your own job description and set your own priorities with the goal of earning sufficient income to afford you the lifestyle you want off the land. In other words, your first step as a homesteader is, ironically, to think like an entrepreneur.
This essay is designed to help you to develop your own plan to do just that so that you can make the transition from traffic to tractor. While it was tempting to write a quick, one-page article about "how to make money as a homesteader", it requires much more effort to do the concept justice.  Therefore, this essay will be organized as follows:

  • Part One includes this introduction and the steps you'll need to take before you being homesteading to give yourself the best chance for success.
  • Part Two will provide ideas for Generating Income With Your Land
  • Part Three will focus on Using Your Skills to Make Money
  • Part Four will discuss ways to Generate Income With your Farmstead Products

Of course, while this essay is detailed and specific in many ways, it must be viewed as a starting point for each individual reader.  With so many specifics unique to each reader such as level of debt, skills, cash, health, knowledge and countless other factors, no article can inform a reader of exactly how to go about homesteading. Rather, the intent of this essay is to get each reader thinking about what they want, what they’re capable of and showing just some of what is possible so that they can develop their own plan.
The good news is this. There are tons of ways to generate dependable, steady income from homesteading! This essay will list dozens of them but that represents just the tip of the iceberg. Viewed all at once, it may seem overwhelming, dangerous and best to just stay put in the safety of your cubicle.  However, as Winston Churchill said, “The optimist sees opportunity in every danger; the pessimist sees danger in every opportunity." And you, my prepared friend, are an optimist!
So, are you ready? Let’s get back to the land!

Part One - You’re Not Ready to Farmstead...Yet!
The ideal situation is that you're thinking of becoming a homesteader but haven't transitioned yet.  You may make the leap down the road...say, in a year or two, unless TEOTWAWKI forces your hand sooner! 
Here are the priorities and actions as I see them to help you to get ready to homestead.

  • Get Some Land.  I realize that sounds obvious. I mean, after all, it's hard to really homestead without at least a little land.  You don't need too much but you do need some.  If you're one of the lucky ones who has inherited land, fantastic and congratulations!  But most of us have to find and buy our own land.  For a couple of reasons I believe the time to do that is now.  First, I believe that rural/farm land prices will only escalate over time as more and more food will need to be produced to feed a rapidly expanding global population.  Second, if you need to finance the land as many people do, interest rates are at absurdly (and artificially) low levels.  Getting land is an undertaking in and of itself though.  Consideration must be given to the region and climate since so much of homesteading depends on what Mother Nature decides to do. There is also that tiny problem of how to pay for land.  Consider making a trade. You may be able to find cheaper land in a more remote area that is equal to what you could sell your suburban home for.  If you are not already a homeowner, then your main focus will have to be how to save for land.  No matter what your situation, the next priority on the list is probably the most important.
  • Get Out of Debt. If you're an American, you're almost certainly in debt. Almost all of us are...the entire country is.  We use credit for mortgages, furniture, automobiles, appliances, school, health care, home improvement and, of course, for consolidating other debts we owe!  Our society seems to collectively embrace using debt to enjoy today what virtually none of us saved for yesterday. Whereas we once left college with degrees in hand and went straight to a waiting job, today we leave laden with tons of debt and, with no jobs waiting, leave to occupy city parks instead.  Debt becomes part of our life and few of us are ever able to jump off the treadmill that propels us to chase always more income to pay it off.  Of course if you've amassed a lot of debt it is easier said than done to get out of debt. It begins with a change in mindset.  Rather than dreaming of what we want in the moment and seeking immediate gratification, we must keep our focus on the ultimate goal of homesteading.  The best way to get there is to pay down the debt.  Make your homesteading dream so real that you can almost taste it and it will become easier to forgo the taste of that morning cafe latte because it means you are one dollar closer to your dream.  The purpose of this article is not to give debt management advice, but rather to underscore the importance of doing everything you can to eliminate the debt you have.  Society has conditioned us to believe we're entitled to conveniences and luxuries, whereas the mentality of homesteading is about living on what we can produce and do ourselves and not borrowing. Get into the homestead mentality, now.  For every dollar that goes out ask yourself, do I need to spend this now or should this be saved? The less debt you have as a homesteader then the less income you'll need to realize.  
  • What Do You Really Need? In the homesteader mentality you will likely find that you don't have a lot of time or interest in those things that occupy so much of your mind-share (and wallet) as an urbanite.  This makes the transition easier once you've made it.  Urban life seems to require many non-essential expenses and distractions such as cable/satellite television, lattes, newspaper and magazine subscriptions, dining out, gym memberships, furniture, clothes, tobacco, alcohol, movies/sports/concerts, HOA fees, lodging/vacations, pet care, shiny appliances, repairs to shiny appliances, pest control, lawn services, water bills, and so on. You'll find as a homesteader that you'll incur very few of these expenses.  Take whatever steps you can to start practicing this now. Instead of missing television, homesteaders will become distracted by nature and the pleasures of growing their own food. You can too! While the Internet may be seen as a very real necessity for homesteaders, particularly given their isolation and need to connect with customers, that one expense can consolidate to give you access to most news, information and even free video programs on Hulu, YouTube, iTunes and elsewhere.  All of these expenses seem "necessary" to us as urbanites, but viewed through the lens of a homesteader they are quite unnecessary indeed. If you can't cut the cord and do without them where you are now, TEOTWAWKI homesteading may be very trying for you.
  • Learn to Garden. Now! Regardless of which income producing paths you choose one thing is constant among all homesteaders; they ALL garden and grow at least some of their own food.  No matter where you are currently living you should be able to practice some gardening skills.  Learn to plan your garden, plant and germinate your own seeds indoors, transplant into small raised beds or container gardens, learn how to improve soil, how to identify and manage pests, study companion planting and square foot gardening if you are keen on a small parcel or raised beds if room allows and so on.  And you don't just have to focus on your veggies.  Practice with small fruits such as strawberries, raspberries and even blueberries.  By the time you get to your ideal homestead you'll be comforted by the hands-on gardening skills you have practiced and the knowledge you have gained through reading. 
  • Get in Shape. I don't mean do more push ups, squats and more crunches. Sure, those are great if you're trying to look good on club night but the cows and sows on the homestead won't give you a second glance.  Farmsteading takes a toll on the body.  Your tasks could include bending and kneeling to weed and plant, hoisting 50 pound or more bags of feed and balancing them over a feeder, carrying crates of chickens, shoveling compost or wet snow, bending over cheese vats, lifting heavy wet trays of veggies out of the sink to prepare for the market and so on.  To make matters worse, if you get injured while on the job you'll have no one to call to inform you can't make it in that day, so you better get your body ready. How?  Focus on flexibility and tone.  To my way of thinking, this means yoga and pilates more than dumbbells and pull up bars.  It also means getting your weight down to the right target level for your age and height, so walking, hiking, swimming or climbing may help. Whatever it takes, get your body in farmstead shape!
  • Read - For millennia knowledge was passed from elders to juniors in social circles so that succeeding generations understood important food production, preservation and survival skills. Unfortunately, most of us missed out on that transfer of knowledge as our parents and grandparents instead were part of the convenience generation that food marketers cultivated.  So how do we regain those lost skills?  Start by reading as much as you can.  The problem is sifting through all the sources of information available such as books, blogs, articles and magazines.  Your study assignments go even beyond reading to watching movies, videos and listening to podcasts.  The choices are many and it can be hard to find exactly what you want, so I suggest finding topics that intrigue you and then learning everything you can.  Once you find something, get involved with a forum or group and start talking with your virtual buddies.
  • Find Like Minded Souls - Get off of Facebook and get onto sites such as or that can give you practical knowledge and encouragement.  Seriously.  Find people who share your ideals and who are searching for the same answers.  Networking will get you there much faster and you eyes will be opened to new possibilities.  Talk to people who have taken a similar journey and ask them to share their story.  Find people who have learned the skills you are seeking and reach out to them.  Ask them for resources or see if they would be willing to let you watch a homestead activity the next time they do one, like making soap or collecting honey for instance!  And seek out and attend all of the free farm tours and events you can find.
  • Focus on Lasting Investments - There are many things you may want to acquire before becoming a homesteader that will help you once you're on the land. There may also be items you want to trade in for something more practical.  For example, how about trading your shiny compact car for a good, solid used diesel truck that you can ultimately drive into the ground.  In addition to saving money when buying and insuring this truck, it will be useful for hauling animals, seed, feed, fertilizer, name it, and being an older model it will be easy for your rural friends to repair and keep running.  If there are any new items you are considering buying between the time you read this sentence and the time you move to the land, ask yourself this question: is this item essential to my homesteading dream?  If not, then you don't need it.  If you can afford it then the choice is yours, but make sure it will be a lasting investment well worth the expense.  After all, homesteading is not about deprivation. But if you're not sure how to afford living off the land then perhaps you should consider postponing any discretionary expenses until you figure it out.
  • How Much Do You Need? - Finally, you should calculate how much money you really need to make. And, while your first thought as you contemplate becoming a homesteader may be "how will I make money" remember this: Saving Money = Making Money!  By lowering your expenses and producing much of what you'll consume when you homestead, you'll find that you don't need to make nearly as much as you think you do.  After all, how much of your current paycheck goes to food that you'll produce on your own?  How much goes to nice clothes, dining out, fuel and simple luxuries that you'll want to do without?

So there you have it, a few things to get you thinking before you put the shovel in the ground and start digging the homestead garden.  Let’s move on to Part Two.

Part Two – Making Money With Your Land
Let’s not think of living off the land, but rather “thriving” off the land.  You’ll probably be able to figure out how to produce your own food so that your health and nutrition thrives, but what about income?

Homesteading is all about multiple streams of income...the old “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” concept. There are almost countless opportunities for income generation but of course there is no one “right” answer given the differences in personal situations, markets, climates, inherent skills and so on.  What I will attempt to do for you is to categorize the three main income areas, and then break those categories down into specific ways you can sell something to earn money.

The three categories of earning money off the land are, 1) using your land to make money, 2) using your skills to make money and 3) selling products that come from your land and/or skills.  This section will focus on using your land to generate income.
Thinking Like a Homesteader
Before we get to the actual ways to make money it’s appropriate to spend a moment discussing mindset. As you contemplate each of the income generators in this and later sections, attempt to evaluate them from multiple perspectives.  For instance:

  • Is the income opportunity one-time, seasonal or continuous? Raising heritage turkeys can be fun but you'll likely only get paid at Thanksgiving, whereas consumers buy pork year round.
  • Can the income opportunity be scaled (if there is a lot of demand can you expand to meet it) if you want to?
  • Can you overlap operational/income producing areas to increase efficiency? For example, If you raise a hog then you need either a large garden (scraps) or local cheese operation (whey) or brewery (spent grain) to make raising the hogs essentially free.
  • Does the income opportunity allow you to differentiate yourself or are there lots of people who can offer the same thing?
  • What are you good at now and can that be transferred to income opportunities on the homestead (accounting, writing, woodworking, etc.)?

Play the Big Stock Market
No, not the NYSE big board but the big time live(stock) market.  For most homesteaders this means cows, but could mean bison, water buffalo, large flocks of sheep and I'll put pigs in there as well.  It goes without saying that you'll need an adequate amount of pasture land to accommodate these voracious grazers and there are many benefits to raising them.  For example, if you were to purchase a young bull for $1,000 or so and five ready to breed heifers for the same price, you'd likely end up with 5 calves produced and fed for free (by their mothers and your pastures) each year for 12-15 years. 
What will you do with those calves?  Maybe sell them as stockers when they're weaned, maybe raise grass fed beef, which we'll discuss in part four.  However, to give you a sneak preview, if you did raise them as grass fed beef it's quite likely that each calf would become worth about $1,500 each for you (net) in about 2 years if you can get them to urban markets. Clearly there's a ramp-up period of a couple of years before this produces income for you, but starting in year 3 those 5 heifers will be throwing off about $7,500 per year in profit ($1,500 per calf x 5 per year).  If they do this for 10 years then your initial investment of $6,000 for the bull and heifers will return $75,000.
Of course you'll have to consider any expenses you may have, such as hay when grass isn't growing, vet bills if you plan to use vets and of course taxes on the land they graze, but the income will drastically exceed the can market the product successfully.
I would caution you to avoid exotic animals unless economic times are very good or are likely to be. In poor economic times people want basic foodstuffs and materials, and your attempt to market grass fed zebra may turn out harder than you anticipated. 
You can do similar calculations with other species such as pigs, bison and so on, but the point is this; putting the animals to work allows you to generate a stream of future income, improve your soil and create wealth.  The wealth is held not necessarily in fiat currency but in the value of your fertile soil and livestock.

Play the Penny Stock Market

I'm not talking about you becoming the Gordon Gekko of the pink sheets but rather raising rabbits, goats, chickens, turkeys, eggs, bees, and the like on a limited scale.  These species are much more common on the homestead than water buffalo and herds of grass fed cattle, and for good reason.  They're smaller, easier to handle in small areas, diversified and in many cases you can even process (slaughter) them right on your farm or homestead and sell to consumers, which you cannot legally do with red meat (lamb, pork, beef).

No doubt that many if not most of these small livestock belong on every homestead, but keep in mind there's a difference between you raising rabbits for your own table and you raising meat rabbits to generate income. Unlike the example with the cows, you'll likely need to continually purchase feed for your rabbits (and especially chickens) and feed costs seem to perpetually escalate.  The amount of income you can generate may be rather limited for a farmer, but may easily help to sustain a homesteader.  For instance, if a doe produces 4 litters per year of 8 kits each, we'll assume you may have 30 fryers to sell (losing two to mortality) each year at a weight of 3 pounds each.  If you could charge $6 per pound then each doe would generate $540 in sales of rabbit meat before backing out feed costs.  Alas, you'd better be prepared to butcher them yourself as your beef processor might be a bit perplexed if you hauled in a load of rabbits for slaughter.

Small stock could also include honeybees, which may be particularly attractive with all the concern about colony collapse disorder.  With bees you can sell nucs, full hives, 2 or 3 pound bags of bees or just queens.  For many commercial beekeepers, this is quite a lucrative endeavor!
Bottom line?  Small is beautiful, but smaller the livestock, the smaller the absolute income potential.

Farm Stays & Events
Agritourism is a growth area and I expect this to continue even if economic conditions remain soft.  It's not just you who is being called to the land.  We are all becoming more aware of how disconnected we are from our natural world.  Can you not imagine a soon to be married couple wanting to have their wedding overlooking your beautiful pastures, ponds and happy animals?  I can, and they'll pay well for it because competitive alternatives also charge good money for the service.  But ask yourself if this is a one-time, seasonal or continuous opportunity?  Likely seasonal at best depending on how well you market it, but getting back to re-purposing all your investments and efforts, you could use the same facilities for corporate retreats and other events.
What about a farmstay bed and breakfast in your home or in a refurbished barn?  Sounds quaint, romantic and what a lot of people would be in the mood for.  And it doesn't have to be a normal house. It could be a yurt, tipi or the wall tents that they do at MaryJane's Farm bed and breakfast, for $240 per night.
If you don't want guests staying over night then you could consider farm dinners. These outings normally feature local chefs and offer the advantage of introducing paying customers to other products or services you have available.
Variations  - A hunting preserve, guided hunting/fishing excursions, RV/tent farm camping, summer youth farm camps, pond fishing, corn mazes, haunted woods...

Skills Classes
This is a variation of the above but the emphasis is on teaching skills to consumers.  What kind of skills?  How about cheese making, butchering classes, hide tanning and earth skills, foraging, soap name it. Butchering classes can run the gamut from this $50 hog butchering class on a Wisconsin farm all the way to Fleisher's $10,000 Level 3 butchering class that takes 6-8 weeks!
This seems to be an area that many homesteaders and farms ignore. Perhaps they don't feel they have the patience or demeanor to meet the consumer expectations.  If you're comfortable with students or people in general then I encourage you to consider offering skills classes. It will do far more than generate seasonal or continual income for you; it will forge a bond with many of your visitors that will motivate them to become loyal supporters of your farmstead.

Become a Grower
This is one reason why you want to become a homesteader, right?  To put your hands in fluffy soil, tug gorgeous carrots right out of the ground, cut fresh flowers that you planted, snip asparagus in early April...  If these iconic images of homesteading inspire you then it's reasonable to expect consumers will want the same.  Retreating to our earlier discussion of one-time, seasonal or continual income opportunities, "growing" is one income area that can absolutely be as year-round as you want it to be.   And, unlike farm stays or classes, eating is not normally viewed as a discretionary expense. After all, people gotta eat.  In a TEOTWAWKI world, focus on the essential organic foodstuffs!
There are lots of great books on growing including several by Elliot Coleman that I'd recommend.  Just remember that if you're new to gardening and if you're garden plot is new, you should expect it to take at least 3-5 years before your soil tilth and fertility catches up with your expectations of light and fluffy soil.
Variations - Mushroom cultivation, live plants, greenhouse transplants, heirloom seeds...

Hays Sales and Grazing
If you find yourself with some decent pasture acreage you can use it in many ways to create a "cash crop": grazing or selling organic hay.

Custom grazing is a contractual arrangement where you provide the pastures, fencing, water and grazing management for others who place their animals on your land.  You can charge either by the day, by the pounds gained or both.  If you're short on cash but long on time and enthusiasm this may be a good option for you.

Let's say you had 40 acres and you wanted to improve the fertility anyway.  You may strike a deal to graze 40 cows, stockers or cow/calf pairs and someone else would provide the animals that you wouldn't have to pay for. Be careful if you take in bulls as they'll eat 50% more, on average, than cows so you're stocking rates (and prices you charge) need to reflect this. 

In a stocking scenario you may have 40 weaned calves that are dropped off in April that you graze until October. Let's assume they arrive weighing 550 pounds each and your pastures could allow them to gain 2 pounds per day on average for 180 days.  By the end of October each stocker would weigh 910 pounds, having gained 360 pounds (180 days x 2/lb/day). In total you would have added 14,400 pounds of beef (180 days X 2/lb/day X 40 head).  If you charged a rate of $.60 per pound of gain then your income for the six month grazing contract would be $8,640.  Rates vary of course and you could charge much more in drought/dry areas than you could in lush areas, but then again you'd achieve more weight gain in lush areas than you would in dry.  Then again, you don't even need to own land to custom graze for others. You can lease it as Greg Judy explains here if you have a smaller homestead and don't have the room yourself.

Another alternative for some income is to simply produce organic hay, either for the grass-fed beef or horse quality market.  Organic doesn't just mean letting your pastures means having quality forages that are non-GMO and are managed organically with no chemicals at all.  You'll get more per ton for square bales than round, but those in the cattle market will very likely not want to fool with square bales, so you should choose your market first.  If you don't own hay equipment then you can hire out the job, but this is often challenging since all hay tends to come in around the same time and those with hay equipment are in pretty good demand during those times.

Variations: Blending tree plantings into grazing areas for a silvopasture, thereby generating both current and long-term income from timber

Breed and Board
Do you love animals and want to become a breeder?  There are many ways you can do this on your homestead.  Of course you can use the large or small livestock mentioned above and become a breeder of rabbits, sheep, goats, pigs, cows or any combination.  There's always ads in Craigslist and in local ag publications for these and many people looking to buy weaned piglets, 4H rabbits and calves, and so on.
Another idea is to breed and train livestock handling or guardian dogs, such as shepherds or collies to herd sheep and cows or great Pyrenees to protect livestock. I expect both of these to be in constant demand as more and more preppers and homesteaders emerge and need proven genetics to help with their animals.
If you love horses and your new homestead has a barn of sorts, offering boarding and grazing for horses may be just the thing for you.  You may be able to charge $150-250 per month or trade in value for full 24/7 pasture turn out...the more you can offer the more you can charge but of course rates vary from region to region. It's yet another way you can generate income from a homestead parcel that you couldn't from a city apartment. 

Basic Materials

Finally, you're sitting on a gold mine of sorts with your new piece of land.  You'll likely have some woods that could offer rough timber, firewood and pine straw among other things.  If you're handy with a chain saw or if you want to invest a few thousand dollars in a portable saw mill, you could be producing lots of custom cut lumber in no time.
Understandably, many people look upon all the rocks on their land disapprovingly, but perhaps those rocks and boulders could become landscape rocks for someone else?  Although this falls more into the category of one-time income streams than continual income, it could be a good way to clean up your land while beautifying another person's property at the same time!

While some of these ideas touch on product offerings, the above represents just some of the ways you can use your land to generate income.  Some techniques are quite passive and very long term (silvopasture) while others are very labor intensive and offer immediate income gratification (transplants).  Of course there are more ideas and perhaps you'll share some below, but this is enough to get you thinking. 
If you know how much money you need to make, how much capital you're comfortable risking and, most importantly, what you are passionate about, then I'm sure you'll find some ideas that sound right to you.  But I'll repeat something I said in the first post to be sure it sinks in: Saving Money = Making Money!
To a homesteader's way of thinking you not only save money and therefore need to earn less (and therefore pay less in taxes) by producing so much yourself, you also lock in prices and create a personal buffer from inflation.  Milk prices may go through the roof for everyone else, but yours will always be the same.

Part Three – Making Money With Your Skills

Regardless of who you are, I'm confident in assuming one thing about you; you have at least one or more skills.  Everyone does.  And your roster of skills and capabilities will only expand when you move to the homestead as you learn all sorts of new gardening, farming, mechanical, crafting and other talents that others need, and are willing to pay for.  The trick for you will be to market those skills into income generating assignments that will allow you to comfortably live your dream life off the land.
Hopefully part two of this four-part series gave you ideas to think about how your land could work to generate income for you, and tomorrow's part four will give you numerous ideas for products you can sell. This third portion of the series will be a rapid fire listing of money making ideas that bridge the gap between your current/future skills and market opportunities.
In this section we’ll focus on skills and services that you can sell from your homestead and I'll divide the list into two macro categories. The first will be physical skills that you can perform for your local community.  You need to be in close proximity to make money with the ideas on this list.  The second will be virtual/online skills you can easily sell to anyone around the world and collect money via PayPal, check or wire-transfer.  As always, these ideas just scratch the surface so please share your ideas and comments. If you're interested in some of these ideas but don't have the skills yet, just remember that it's not too late. You'll be learning lots of new skills as a homesteader.   Get the knowledge and training you need and start earning income with it.
Ready?  Let's begin!

Physical/Local Services to Make Money as a Homesteader

General Services
- There are lots of "general" needs that many folks in rural areas need.  By the way, just because you're moving "out there" to become more self-sufficient doesn't mean that the people already there think that way. You may be surprised to learn that they value the convenience of grocery stores and having hired help to do things for them.  What kind of things?  Fence installation and repair, automatic gate installation and repair, painting, household repair and so on.  If you're interested in or handy with any of these then put the word out by printing a business card and pinning it at the local feed store and elsewhere where people congregate.

Tractor Work
- One way to really justify (or rationalize) the purchase of a tractor and implements is to use it not only for your property, but to hire it out for local projects.  The jobs you can hire it for depend on the features of the tractor (does it have a front-end loader, for example) and the attachments you have. Depending on what you have you could earn good money by cutting/baling hay, mowing large fields, disking, tilling, seeding/planting, maintaining long gravel driveways, bush hogging, moving piles of dirt/gravel/debris, snow plowing, and more. Advertise yourself.

Gardening Work
- You'll become expert at organic gardening and growing food in no time, and you'll likely become the best in your area as others are happy to let the grocery chains feed them or, if they have their own garden, rely on chemical controls.   I expect that more and more people will become interested in organic methods of growing food and you can avail from this trend by "marketing" your expertise to others.  What can you do?  Teach them how to install raised beds or drip irrigation lines, how to build soil with manure/leaves/grass clippings, how to garden without tilling, how to schedule successive plantings and winter gardens, protecting plants from frost, how to set up compost bins, how to capture rain water for the garden, how to companion plant or how to trap plant for pests, etc.  Get the idea?  There's lots you'll be learning that others won't know but will want to know.  Yes my dear reader, you can become THE Plant Whisperer!

RV Repair
- Repairing recreational vehicles isn't necessarily difficult, but it is specialized. Given the concerns about the economy, jobs and so on, it's reasonable that there will be more and more people taking economical RV getaways or simply living in their RV's.  This means more and more will need repairs and, let's face it, how many RV repair people do you see on the side of the road?  It's an opportunity to specialize and become "the" RV repair person for your area.

- If you are good at mechanical repair then you'll be in need.  It's always hard to find a good mechanic.  If you are also good at small engine repair and farm equipment repair (tractors, RVs) then you'll be even more in demand.

- Many people in rural areas know how to weld but most do it for themselves or their farm.  The opportunity is there to offer welding and small fabrication for hire, if you have the skill.

Sheep Shearing
- If you have sheep on your homestead you could shear them yourself and then hire this service out to others.  Most sheep owners don't shear themselves and it's always hard to find someone local who does.

- Artificial insemination (AI).  With more and more homesteaders and small farmers starting up with smaller herds of animals, many don't want the danger or cost of having bulls, boars and rams on their property.  Or perhaps they simply want to add genetic diversity to their herd by using AI.  Either way, if you learn this skill and make the modest investments in equipment, then you will be in demand for sure.

- I mentioned how boarding could be an offering that your land could enable, but you could expand this if you're skilled with horses by offering riding lessons and horse training.  There are horse people in every neck of the woods, so you'd likely find a waiting clientele.

Get Sharp!
- Perhaps you could become expert as sharpening knives, chainsaws and tools.  You'll likely need this for yourself anyway so why not make some extra bucks by offering it to others?

Equipment Operator
- Perhaps you don't have the equipment to hire out but you know how to operate a tractor, bobcat, bulldozer, track loader, excavator, ditch witch, backhoe or the like. There's always a need for this in the country.

- If you like to build then you're in luck as this is a skill that most people either don't have, or don't have time for.  From repairing buildings to constructing sheds, additions, barns and so on, you'll probably find more work than you can handle as fewer new homes are built and more repairs/add-ons are in demand.  And, to broaden your offering even more money, learn and then teach cob building techniques!

Electrician, Plumber
- Not much I can add to this. If you can do these, people will need them, especially if you develop skills with alternative energy and plumbing techniques!

Hauling Animals- You may have a truck and purchased a livestock trailer when you moved to the country. Guess what, not everyone has one.  Let locals know that you can haul livestock for them or post your skill on Craigslist.

- With fancy new phones anyone can take a picture.  However, only skilled photographers can compose and create an emotive work of art worthy of celebration...and compensation. If this is a talent of yours then you'll have a unique income stream.

- I'll probably include workshops and classes both as a skill and a product, but with your new skills why not offer mobile city/suburban workshops on creating raised bed gardens, chicken and rabbit tractors, etc.  If the money is back in suburbia, go get it and bring it home!

Computer Repair
- Are you good with computers and Internet issues?  Many people, if not most, are not.  If people know you're around and that you're good with eradicating viruses, freeing up memory, recovering files, providing Internet access alternatives and the like, then you're in luck...and in demand!

House Cleaning
- Yea, you know what this means. Just clean your own house first! :-)

Meat Processing
- Now, you can't do this as an inspected processor unless you want to go through the red tape process, but since you'll likely learn how to skin rabbits, eviscerate chickens and maybe even slaughter sheep and goats, you could offer this as a service for others who want to butcher their own animals. Just be very careful how you position this; you are selling only your knowledge and service and in no way are you selling meat, since the animals already belong to the customer.

Bridge the Gap
- Some farmers struggle with marketing and distribution but perhaps that's an area you're good at.  Consider becoming a distributor for local farmers and getting their products to retailers, restaurants, resorts and other stores.  It will be good for the producer, good for the buyer, good for the local community and you won't have to produce anything yourself!

Online/Virtual Services to Make Money as a Homesteader

Broker Deals - Basically buy something for $.25 and sell for $5.  How?  Farm auctions have lots of valuable and often new items that can go for very little money.  If you can create a market for it via Craigslist, eBay, Facebook or your own community contacts, here's your chance.  My advice is to consider useful items that are harder to find and are easy to ship.   A wood stove may be cheap but you'll need to sell it locally which will limit your market reach. [JWR Adds: I recommend gathering references on collectibles. See our Bookshelf page for some coin, gun and antique book links. Study and then bring those reference books with you when you go on farm auction trips. If you become a subject matter expert, then you can turn that into a money-making venture. Many people make a good living as "pickers". (See the television shows "American Pickers" and "Antiques Roadshow", for some examples of collectible items that are sought after.] I concur about only buying only small and lightweight collectibles that can be mailed.]

Consulting - What do you do today?  Is it something in business, academia, law, medicine, technology, etc. that you could offer as a distant consulting service?  Can you package it into an online or remote training offering?  Perhaps you're an accountant and setting up and managing Quickbooks is easy for you, but challenging for folks around you. Or maybe you're a business hot shot with expertise in logistics, marketing, human resources or strategic planning.  With all those skills I bet you can figure out how to offer business coaching, life coaching or consulting online.

Making Money Online
- As I said, I don't know you or what specific skills you have. That said, there are lots of ways to make money online using skills you probably already have. I don't want to define each of these here, so let me just list a few ideas for you to think about or research:

  • Copy editing
  • Free-lance and content writing of e-books, articles, blog post, press releases, product reviews, proof reading, forum posts...
  • Illustrating for authors, web designers, etc.
  • Become a Virtual Assistant (VA)
  • Offer research assistance to authors, editors and writers
  • Web or graphic design
  • Web security consulting
  • Voice-overs or record your own ad-supported podcast
  • Language translation

Note: Not sure how to find these opportunities or how to market yourself?  Try eLance, Guru, SideskillsFreelance Jobs or iFreelance.  You'll probably be surprised how many opportunities there are. Just be sure to specialize and differentiate yourself, otherwise you'll likely get lost among the other freelancers.

- Authors such as James Rawles, Wendell Berry, Gene Logsdon and Joel Salatin have been able to make a living off the land with publishing being a primary source of income. Could you be the next one?  Why not!  If you have good writing skills and can identify the right topic for right audience, it's easier than ever to get published and, more importantly, distributed with print on demand (POD) offerings from Createspace by Amazon, Lightning SourceDog Ear and others.  Just take a page out of Salatin's and Rawles’ book and remember the importance of "branding" yourself and your expertise.  If you create a following as they have, followers will eagerly await your next book and you'll be on your way to a passive income stream.
There you have it, just a sampling of ways that you can use your skills to get money from the farm fairy, often very good money, while living your dream life off the land.  For modern homesteaders the Internet creates a global market and, unlike with physical products, it doesn't matter where you are geographically located if you're offering virtual/online/writing services.

Part Four – Making Money Selling Farm and Homestead Products

Farmstead Meats
- Organic, grass fed, sustainably raised, pastured, heritage...what have you, there is a growing market of consumers looking to connect with and support farmers who are tending the earth ethically.  These consumers are just as anxious to support the local community as they are to tell Monsanto and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to take a flying leap. 

When selling meats directly from the farm you'll have lots of choices to navigate. The first choice may be if you want to sell bulk (whole/half/quarter) animal or small retail packages.  If you sell bulk then you can avoid the hassles of becoming licensed to store packaged meats in your farm freezers by technically selling a "live" animal to the consumer. You then deliver the animal to the processor and the consumer determines how they want the animal butchered, pays the processor directly and picks up their cuts.  The consumer saves money or a per pound basis and you save headaches.
Alternatively, you can sell individual packaged cuts such as roasts, ground beef, pork chops, rack of lamb and so on to consumers.  This requires you to have meats processed by a state or USDA inspected facility and you'll have to follow regulations for storing and transporting your labeled products.  The regulations aren't that burdensome in most places, but the costs for freezers, utilities and transportation must be considered. Of course, when you sell this way you offer products to a much larger market. After all, there's more people able to buy a pack of ground beef than there are those interested in half a cow!
Other options for selling meats are wholesale, retail and restaurants.  The above options that sell directly to customers constitute direct marketing. You'll get the highest price selling that way for sure, but you'll also expend the most effort and need the most marketing savvy...for sure.  Selling to wholesalers or distributors could put your products on retail shelves and it takes time and effort to set up these relationships (you can also sell your other farm products ((below)) this way).  Many farmsteaders want to sell to restaurants and for good reason. If you're near the right markets there are many fine chefs who value delicious and local ingredients, and you want to sell to people who value what you produce.  Some chefs want smaller portions and packaged cuts that you are selling directly to customers.  If that's the case you probably won't have much room to discount prices unless the chefs commit to larger bulk quantities or weekly deliveries since your costs won't be any lower.
Of course a lot more could be said on this topic but the point of this essay is to give you ideas and to get you thinking of what works for you.  For many farmsteaders, selling farm raised meats will be the heart of their income generating engine.
Variations - In many states you may be able to process poultry (which includes rabbit) on your farm and not use an inspected processor by using a P.L. 90-492 exemption. Read carefully and check with your state regulators before proceeding.

Farm Fresh Milk
- Admit it...the phrase kind of conjures the image of the old milk truck, glass bottles being dropped on your doorstep and old fashioned wholesomeness. Consumers today have become so disconnected with their food that many don't even realize that they're drinking ultra-pasteurized "formerly" milk until they read an article about it or hear mentioned on the news. When many do they go looking for real milk, usually raw, from a local farmer.  And they're willing to pay anywhere from $6 - $12 per gallon for it depending on where they are in the country and if the cow was fed grain (least expensive) or if it was purely grass fed (most expensive).  Be sure to operate within the implicit and explicit laws of your state.  Also check out the Weston A. Price campaign for real milk and if you decide to sell milk, list yourself there.
Variation - butter, buttermilk, yogurt, etc. if you want to pasteurize. [JWR Adds: Be sure to check all the legalities first, particularly at the State level.]

Farmstead or Artisanal Cheese
- If you're milking cows, sheep or goats anyway, why not turn the milk into delicious farmstead cheese?  Farmstead cheese is cheese that you produce from the milk of YOUR animals, where as artisanal cheese is cheese that you produce from milk that you buy from another dairy.  Either way, you'll need a state approved and inspected cheese operation and anywhere from a modest investment (several thousand dollars) to a major investment (over $100,000) to set up your make room, ripening room, cheese cave, equipment and so on.  There's no denying that it takes an investment to become a cheese maker, particularly a farmstead cheese maker where you have to invest in animals and milking facilities, but for many the lifestyle and payoff is undeniably alluring.

Farm Fresh Eggs
- If you raise your hens on pasture then you'll be producing the most beautiful and nutritious eggs available anywhere.  Just check out the chart to the right.  And keep in mind that not all egg varieties are the same.  Many consumers will pay much more for duck eggs than chicken eggs, and you can also sell hatching eggs (turkey, geese, ducks, chicken, guinea, etc.) instead of eating eggs.

Vegetables and Herbs
- There's not much limit to what you can grow for consumers and restaurants.  Warm and cool season vegetables, fresh flowers, herbs, you name it. You'll have the same choices to make regarding selling (direct, restaurants, retail, wholesale) as you do with meats but there's one big difference. Whereas meats can be stored frozen for months the value in vegetables is to be sold fresh, often the day they're harvested.  So you'll want to line up your customers first either by having a solid relationship with restaurants or by operating a CSA for individual customers.

- Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, peaches, apples, figs, melons...get the idea?  Almost everyone has a sweet tooth and these can be harvested, sold and delivered directly to farmers markets, restaurants or consumers, or you can offer pick-your-own options.

- Maple syrup, honey and sorghum syrup all come to mind. With concerns about allergies I would expect a continued rise in the demand for local honey.  All you need is to make or buy some bee boxes, get a bag of bees and a queen or a nuc and let them pollinate your garden. Then you're on your way to the sweet life!

Craft Supplies
- You'll likely find countless supplies on your farmstead that can be marketed and sold to crafters, such as rabbit pelts, turkey and peacock feathers, wood cuttings, wool and more.  Take a look on eBay to see what's selling and then see what you have.

- Rather than selling craft supplies from the farm why not make your own jewelry!  Think of using feathers from peacocks, turkeys, guineas or geese. Or, perhaps you have a large deer population and you'll find lots of shed antlers in late winter. These and more can be used to make unique (one-of-a-kind) pieces of jewelry. [JWR Adds: The Etsy web site is a good place to retail your wares online.]
Variation - Instead of jewelry, make rustic woodworking gifts from your downed trees.  Think of tables, willow furniture, log furniture, kitchen utensils...whatever you can dream up..

Wine and Beer
- Due to stringent regulations you may not want to produce wine and beer, but what about becoming an accomplice?  Could you grow local hops for the beer market or grapes for local wineries using your land? I bet you could and that few people are!

Value-Added Products
- I won't attempt to count all the ways you could add value to products that you could produce on the farm, and most would require some regulatory approval.  But imagine farm fresh baby food, dog treats, lard, jams, salsa, grains, cured meats, pickles, sauerkraut...the list goes on.  Don't be afraid of seeking regulatory approval as it's not as hard as you think. Just call the health department or your state department of agriculture and find out what you need to do to comply.  Others do it and so can you.

- Cultivate mushrooms for consumers or restaurants and if you live among chanterelles, morels, etc., learn to hunt and sell these delicacies at farmers markets and to restaurants!

- I mentioned photography yesterday as a skill and it certainly is that, but your rare breed animals and quaint rural landscape offer you unique resources to create poetic imagery.  You could add value by printing and creating frames from your woodlot and selling through various resorts and stores in your state, or license use of your high-resolution images through various providers.

Make Custom Knives, Tools
- Necessity is the mother of all invention, they say, and farmers are an inventive group.  Perhaps you'll come up with tools you need to tend your garden such as the wheel hoe to the right. Or you could offer plans on how to build them yourself like the the folks at WhizBang
Perhaps you know how or want to learn to make knives from rustic materials such as spent saw blades, antlers, wood, etc.  It's not too late and it would be unique and functional.

Building Chicken/Rabbit Tractors
- When folks, particularly urban folks, see your fancy chicken coops and tractors they'll likely want one of their own. They won't have the time or skill to make it, but they'll have the money to buy it. Market directly to them through local organics associations, conferences, publications and online groups.

- Put your marketing hat on now. You're not selling a load of smelly waste, you're selling organic fertility! Better yet, nutrients!  From worm castings to rabbit pellets and, yes, horse manure, you're selling what everyone needs for healthy plants and topsoil. Variation: Compost

Artisan Meat Products
- You don't see many people doing this because, as with cheese making, there is skill, investment and regulatory compliance required. And therein lies the opportunity!  Imagine making pancetta, pepperoni, saucisson sec, salami or Iberico style long-aged cured ham from your rare-breed pigs that consumed acorns and whey.  Know anyone else in your state doing this?  In your entire region? Is that sausage I smell or is it opportunity?

Tractor Dealer, Feed Dealer
- Perhaps you'd like to sell a small amount of farm equipment or feed in your area.  If it's under-serviced then you'll find opportunities to do so. This will be especially true with feed as you'll likely find organic feeds, fertilizers and nutritional stuffs hard to come by unless you have them shipped in. Is it possible that others can't find these as well and you could become the supplier?

Homemade Lotions, Soaps, Candles
- You'll no doubt learn to make all of these things anyway for your homestead. If you have the raw materials, such as lard, goat milk, etc., then you may want to make artisan soaps for customers.  You can sell to local markets or sell online. There may even be more of an opportunity with making lotions, shampoos and creams that are all natural and free of chemicals.

- You could sell supplies such as wool or yarn, or you could add value by sewing bags, aprons, cloth diapers and more.

Hopefully some of these ideas got you thinking about how you can sell products and make a good living off your farm or homestead, but I bet you know of even more ways!  Many of the products and skills I've discussed are small scale and tug more at the homesteader's heart. Some, such as retail meats, cured meats and commercial cheese making speak more to those interested in farming as a business.  What's right for you?  It depends greatly on how you answer the questions in part one of this essay, namely how much money do you need to make.  But also how ambitious you are and how much energy you have.  Those are issues for you to ponder. 

One thing is certain; there are lots of ways to earn income from your farm or homestead. I don't know about you, but I take a lot of comfort in that.

People who are new to farmsteading or entrepreneurial life in general are often nervous, if not downright scared, about the prospects of not having a comfortable and secure paycheck coming in each week.  What I will say is that when you do make that transition and learn how to generate income for yourself that you will never again worry about whether you may get laid off, how your employer is doing or if you'll have money in retirement.  You'll make the life that you want for yourself and no one will be there to deny you the pay raise, if you want it, or more time off, if you want that, although getting both would be the ultimate triumph!
TEOTWAWKI will be present a scary new reality for most people. But you can begin to position yourself now to not only thrive financially in a TEOTWAWKI world but to help others to adapt and enjoy their new world.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

In a SHTF scenario, already having a small flock of laying chickens will be of great benefit for everyone from an urban backyard to a rural, backwoods bunker setting. They are easy to care for, provide eggs and eventually, can grace your stewpot once they have stopped laying. Given the opportunity, they are also resourceful, and will scavenge for insects, grubs, and their favorite greenery. Be warned, they absolutely adore strawberries and kale, and will eat it right out of your garden!

A laying hen reaches maturity and begins laying eggs at around 4-6 months of age. She will lay an average of two eggs every three days for the next 3-5 years. After that, you may wish to consider adding the girl to the stewpot. Laying hens are not as tender as young meat birds (which are typically slaughtered at eight weeks of age) but their meat is still salvageable if boiled or tenderized with some vinegar prior to cooking.

Laying Hens or Meat Birds?

The first decision you need to make is whether to have laying hens or meat birds. Chickens have been cultivated for a long time, and while some breeds make excellent laying hens, and lay large eggs for a long period of time, other breeds are definitely cultivated to grow quickly and be consumed in short order.
We have twelve Araucanas and one Rhode Island Red – all laying hens. The Araucanas lay a pale blue-green egg, that is considered a medium sized egg. The Rhode Island Red lays an extra-large brown egg. Rhode Island Reds are known for their large, high production egg capacity.
At this point, we have no meat birds. However, from my past interactions with them I have to say that they are very different from their egg-laying counterparts. Meat birds have one goal – to consume as much food as possible. That is why in eight weeks, a meat bird will average about 6-8 pounds, whereas my delicate Araucanas weigh in at a total of five pounds each full grown. Meat birds can also be rather aggressive, pecking and drawing blood on each other and more importantly, you. Take care if you have small children and meat birds, it could be traumatizing.

Benefits That Chickens Give

Will Eat Leftovers - Besides the obvious benefit of providing eggs and meat, chickens are one of nature’s garbage disposals. An omnivore, a chicken will consume nearly anything – meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, grains, rice. Not a single thing goes to waste in our house between the chickens, dogs and cats. Chickens will eat anything smaller than themselves – this means mice, if they can catch them. A few months ago, we caught two marauding mice in the house. We fed them both to the chickens who fought over the little carcasses – waste not, want not.
We also feed them their own eggshells, which are high in calcium, negating the need to buy crushed oyster shells as a calcium supplement.
If you have carnivores (dogs and cats) than you will probably feed them most of your meat scraps, but save a little for the birds. I’ve given them leftover soup, rice, quinoa, carrot peelings, the bases of broccoli, cauliflower leaves, tomatoes, and so much more. For a special treat, feed them some grapes, they go crazy for them and it is also a good source of water for them as well.

Will Process Paper
– There’s no need to burn paper, and please don’t throw it away. Instead, shred it (I actually use a high-capacity shredder and shred everything (phone books, newspapers, magazines, envelopes, you name it) and then place it in the chicken house. On the floor and in the roosts it absorbs the chicken waste, which is high in nitrogen. From there, simply sweep it out the door onto the ground of the enclosed chicken coop. This makes the ground less muddy. During the summer we also add grass clippings and encourage our neighbor to bring over his grass clippings to us as well. During the warm months, every 1-2 months we will rake up all of the gunk from the ground and throw it into the compost. A month or two later and it is compost, full of nutrients and ready to be spread onto our raised beds and worked into the dirt.
Pest Control
– In the warm months we open the door to the coop during the day and allow the hens to roam free, scratching and digging in the grass and raised beds. They search for and find plenty of insects, grubs, and even will go after mice and small birds. This provides them with some extra protein which they need for egg production. Later in summer, feed them any tomato hornworms you may find. They adore them, and it saves your tomato plants from being denuded of the sheltering green leaves tomatoes need for protection from the sun.

The Chicken Rules

Chickens are easy to keep as long as you follow the basic rules of good chicken ownership. So here are some quick tips to keep in mind.
Easy to Doctor – They are quite easy to doctor. You will need: Q-tip cotton swabs, triple antibiotic cream, pine tar, and if you like a general poultry antibiotic. Basically the first three ingredients are to treat your bird if they get in a tussle with another bird. This happens more when they are younger and the pecking order (yes, it’s real) has not been established. A chicken will rise within the flock by pecking a foe until she bleeds, and since chickens are naturally attracted to the color red (blood, red-painted toenails, red grapes, etc) that bird will then be pecked and pecked repeatedly, and chickens can and will kill one of the flock if not stopped. We bring in the hurt bird, wash off the blood, sometimes apply baby powder to help with the clotting, spread some antibiotic cream on the wound and then paint it with pine tar.
It smells bad and tastes worse. An attacking bird gets a mouthful of that and decides to pick on someone else!
As for the general poultry antibiotic…chickens sometimes get colds. If you see one that is lethargic and has not moved, has drainage around the beak or eyes, she may benefit from a regimen of antibiotics. They are available in most feed stores and you simply add them to the water. In one hen’s case, we had to force feed the antibiotics to her with a dropper. After three days she got better and she is now doing great.

Excessive Heat Will Kill Them – I suggest letting them loose during excessive heat waves and allowing your hens to search out the shaded, cool areas of your yard. Provide plenty of water, throw in some chunks of ice if you can to cool it down. We installed a fan in the chicken house last summer and placed it in front of a hunk of ice. The girls clustered around that or dug into the dark, shaded areas of our yard and into the cool dirt. I would not advise trying to eat a bird who dies of heat stroke unless  you see it die and know there wasn’t any other reason for it to be deceased (sickness, etc).

Cold Doesn’t Affect Laying, Light Does – I hear it over and over, “My chickens stopped laying because it has been so cold.” No, they could care less about that. Instead, it has to do with light exposure. Chickens need approximately 12-14 hours of exposure to direct light, in order to release an egg. Cloudy, overcast days have the same effect. Beginning in October, or earlier if you live in the more extreme climes, install a 40 watt bulb in your chicken house on a 12-14 hour timer. We have ours set to turn on at 6am in the morning and turn off at 8pm at night.
We had watched our production rates fall to around 3-5 eggs per day from our thirteen hens. After installing the light, production spiked and has stayed steady at 8-10 eggs per day. Our record is 11 eggs in one day – keep making those eggs, girls! (Or it is the stewpot for you)

Keep a Rooster (if you can get away with it) – Roosters can be noisy and are often aggressive. And most of us live in urban and suburban settings that prohibit us from having one. However, if you can get away with it, I do suggest having a rooster. For one, roosters provide an enzyme that turns the ‘bad’ cholesterol in eggs to ‘good’ cholesterol. Most importantly though is the ability to renew your flock. If push comes to shove, you want the ability to make more birds and in a SHTF scenario, you won’t much care if they are meat birds or laying birds – they are FOOD, plain and simple. Portable, easy to maintain, FOOD. Having a rooster there to propagate more of the food opportunities just makes good common sense.

Protect Them From Predators – I would think this would go without saying, but there are plenty of creatures out there besides us who think chickens, and their eggs, are tasty treats. If you let your birds free range during the day, be aware that hawks and eagles find them to be a yummy main dish. Raccoons and possum will also happily hunt and kill your birds in the dark of night. I recommend a chicken house that you can lock them in at night in, and an enclosed chicken yard (covered which chicken wire on all sides) as a sort of double protection. Occasionally dogs or even cats have been known to hunt chickens. Our dogs know not to hunt them, but one of the cats found the practice to be fun and entertaining – until the entire flock of chickens chased after him and ‘pinned’ him under a forsythia bush for a good twenty minutes. After that he wasn’t too interested! Snakes, rats and mice are also a concern. Snakes love eggs, and the rats and mice tend to go after the chicken feed.
We have found keeping chickens to be easy, entertaining, and…delicious. For more tips on chicken care, recipes for pickled eggs, and more, click on the link below.
Chickens, Recipes and More

Thursday, January 12, 2012

I have been prepping for over two decades now, although some would say I have been prepping my whole life. Both sets of grandparents instilled into my parents the need to be prepared, and in turn they did the same for my siblings and me. I am the only one of my siblings who has taken it to this high a point, even though they are probably more prepared for a major event then 99% of the rest of America. My definition of prepping is, I think, a little different than most. I define my families prepping as being prepared for anything, not just TEOTWAWKI. What I mean is if we had a hurricane, tornado, a major illness causing loss of income, or whatever the world has to throw at us, we are ready for it. Now I know you can be ready for everything, but you can be prepared to handle the aftermath!

Both of my grandfathers were true craftsman. My maternal grandfather lied about his age to get into the U.S. Navy at age 16 during World War II; he was a mechanic on the USS Texas, after the war he stayed in the same field working on large diesels for the railroad then for Ryder Trucks. My patriarchal grandfather worked for the railroad from the age of 17 until he retired as a carpenter. He had a back injury from a car accident as a child that caused him to be hump backed, disqualifying him from the war; however he was an avid hunter, fishermen, and a phenomenal carpenter. My father is a structural engineer, self-employed, and a Vietnam Vet. I grew up around all of these strong Christian men to grow up around, spending alternating summers in the hills of North Carolina and the woods of East Texas staying on the gulf-coast of Texas during school.
The women in my life were also very influential I remember my grandmothers praying over me when I was sick before ever calling a doctor or getting me a Tylenol for a fever. They also taught me to “put up” food, when I was younger I loved being in the kitchen with them after taking in a bushel of something from the gardens. They would put a side what would last without spoiling and start whatever process was need to store the rest. They always taught me, “Whether for us or others God has a plan for this food.” I learned to make homemade biscuits and other breads, how to grow spices and dry them, and most of all how to make what you had last. It still amazes me to think back at the huge family meals we had, all from their cupboards.

It has been my family’s goal to never have the worry of need. If the worst where to happen we would not need to go to a store or barter for close to three years at this point. And then includes my family of 5, our parents 4, and our siblings their spouses and children 10. We do have some long term freeze dried food, but at least half of what we have is canned or prepared by my family.

Now in our version of prepping we are not talking about just food, we all know the “Bs” I would say three but there have been so many added to the original trinity of prepping “Bs” that I cannot even remember them all. We have enough medical supplies to stock a nice hospital emergency room, enough arms and ammo to keep all of our family from being liberated of our items, and we are currently building our retreat including a completely off grid setup.
In everything we store, stock, or purchases for our lives we try to find things that can be truly multi-purpose and last for a long time; for example we stock large quantities of grain alcohol as it can help clean for medical reasons, help start fires, and help warm the soul if need be.
Now to the point of this whole thing, I have read Survival Blog for years now, and have seen small articles or quick mentions of tools here and there, and I wanted to go into a little more detail and thought into prepping your tool shed.

First and foremost, buy quality! Yes you can go pick up four screwdriver sets a Wally World for what one quality set cost you at Sears, but truth be told most of us would not pick up four sets, and when you are on a roof, under the car, or even under fire and your tool breaks, it doesn’t matter you could have picked up four sets. All that matters then is you have a broken cheap tool.
Don’t judge quality by a life time warranty. There are a lot of tools out there that come with a “life time” warranty, but most of those do cover our stupidity of using a screwdriver as a chisel, and most of those require you mail the broken product off and wait 90 plus days for them ship you a replacement. We all know the Craftsman hand tool warranty, bring in the broken tool and they will give you a replacement. I do have to warn you though there are some poorly made Craftsman tools out there, so be sure you handle the tool and check it out. I have even been known to do some research online to check out the reviews before purchasing.

If it is important, get more than one. Like I said earlier if you are on the roof and your hammer breaks, it would really bite to have to go to the store, if you can, to get another one. Even though modern tools are more durable than they use to be, they can still break. Put enough force on those modern fiberglass handles and they will break. I broke a shovel handle, by having a cinder block fall two stories on to it. The falling cinder block is a whole other story, but the point is the shovel handle broke. I have multiple shovels, hammer, screw driver sets, chisels, wrenches, pliers, etc. I even have extra handles for my tools, and some quality lumber stored that I could turn into a handle if need be.

Figure out what you are going to do when the power is out. When buying power tools be sure you don’t have to fully rely on plugging them in. First with hand power tools, if you are without power you are pretty much out of luck. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have them, it just means you should be ready to be without them. Be sure you have a couple of different handsaws, hand drills, hand planes, pretty much any powered hand tool you get be sure you have a backup. I was lucky to inherit both of my grandfather’s tools; it was amazing to find tools from my great-great grandfathers tools mixed into these that still worked and sometimes did a better job than any new tool. As for battery powered tools, these can be a good alternative, but not the only backup. You could setup a fueled or solar generator to power the tools or charge the batteries when need be, but the system could break down, so don’t have these as your only backup. Be sure you have plenty of extra batteries and extra cells. By cells I mean inside of each battery pack there is a group of smaller cells, which most look like C-Cell batteries, but note they are not. Do a little work on Google and you will find the replacement cells for your battery pack. When one of the batteries fail it usually only a single cell or two inside the pack that have actually failed; it is a simple thing to replace one of the cells if you know how to check them and solider in the new one.  When it comes to power tools, both plug in and battery powered try to stay in the same brand. Sometimes there are parts that could be interchangeable if one breaks down, and if you stay with the same battery types it will save you a lot of headaches of dealing with multiple chargers and batteries. It is so nice to only worry about one battery. Finally stand tools. There is nothing nicer than having a good table saw, band saw, chop saw, and drill press, but what are you going to do when the power is out? During my summers in North Carolina, there was an old water powered mill. It was the most fascinating thing to see all these pulleys and belts humming all over the place. This has always been in my head when buying stand tools. Be sure the system is a pulley and belt and not a direct drive type; if need you can convert the power source from the electric motor to some alternative input. I have done a little experiment with a windmill and my table saw. After figuring out the gearing and going a little slower that I am use to, I was cutting ¾ inch plywood smooth and clean. Buy extra brushes, cords, and any other serviceable parts for all of your power tools. As with in other prepping put some thought into, so you can get the life you need out of.

Figure out what else you can do with it. Multi-purpose should always be thought about. One of the best examples I could ever give is back to my shovel. We were about to dry our clothes, when we found a wind storm had broken one of our clothes line poles the night before. For a quick fix, since we had wet clothes. I stuck the shovel in the ground and tied the clothes line off to it. Don’t ever look at anything as a single purpose item; of course this doesn’t mean miss use a tool, like a gun butt does not make a good hammer, but always be aware of your tools how they work, and what else you can do with them. Clamps have a 101+ uses, maybe this will be my next letter, screw drivers in a pinch can be used a wedge, pliers can go from the garden to the car to your mouth if need be. A drill can power things from a coffee grinder to an ice cream maker, or a meat grinder to a water pump, I have even powered a chicken plucker with a hammer drill before. There are even now power tools that have interchangeable heads. The one I purchased has a drill, jig saw, electric hammer, socket driver, sanding pads, and cut-off blade; there was also a battery powered version that used the same batteries as my other tools. So with two tools I have 6 tools both plug-in and battery powered so really 12 different tools.
If you can’t find your tools you might as well not have. You shouldn’t be without is a good toolbox. Now I am not talking about a little portable hand tool box, which you should have a few of as well, I am talking about a large multi-drawer/cabinet toolbox. Have a nice place to put your tools. Be sure to keep some desiccant in the drawer to try and keep moister down. I know the cost of these can be high, but a good quality nice looking toolbox, make you proud of your tools, and in turn helps you want to keep them organized, clean and put away.

Take care of them and keep them clean. I remember my grandfather taking is air-tools apart cleaning, greasing, and oiling them. I also remember him wiping down and oiling his hammer, screw drivers, wrenches. I know some of our tools today are made of products that will not rust, but most just have some coating or covering on them and when scratched can start to rust. A simple wipe down with oil will help the metal will last for a lot longer. Furthermore if you are storing some tools stock, just like your guns, keep them oiled, when you go to use them it could be the difference in a quality tool and a wrench so rusted to slips around the nut. In the tools I inherited from my grandfather there where some of the first Craftsman power tools, the old chrome ones, which still worked! There were hand tools with their original boxes that if the cardboard wasn’t yellowed you would have had no idea they were well used. A good tool taken care of will last several life times.

Don’t forget the big guys. Now let’s talk about a few big items I don’t think we should be without. One of the most important big tools, in my humble opinion, is a diesel welder/generator. This item covers so many bases I think there are too many list, but luckily I also think it is self-explanatory. Now the welder/generator should not be your primary generator, but a backup one that can also weld. Next would be a compressor. A single compressor can power a huge amount of air tools, as well as just having the high pressure air to clean, feel tires, and more. With the compressor be sure to have extra hoses and fittings. I also love the Shop-Smith multi-tool; however I do not own one. I have recently used a newer one and was very pleased with its performance, my only two complaints were one it was a little cumbersome to switch between tools and two if it breaks down all your tools are out of commission. For the amount of room it took up compared to the tools it replaced I think it might soon be an addition to my shop. As for the compressor and Shop-Smith they both can be powered by alternative power from wind and water, to solar or fueled generator, so be sure you have a backup to power them.

Know your tool, know your environment. Make sure you have the proper place to use your tools. A lot of tools create a lot of dust or fumes, be sure you have a well ventilate place to use your tools. Be sure you have a secure safe place to use your tools. And most important be sure you know how to properly use your tools. I have watched so many "reality" shows that by the end I am amazed the people are still alive. Read the manuals, know when and what to oil, how to sharpen, how to change accessories, what and how to wax, and most important simply how to use it.

In my opinion all of what I have said is just common since, but sometimes you just have to hear it or see it, for to sink in. Being prepared for anything includes being able to fix a squeaky door, level a floor, or performing a head job on your truck. Whatever it is you will need the right tools and in working order. Put some thought into and the end game will be just that much easier. 

Friday, December 30, 2011

An aspect of survival preparedness that is easily overlooked and sometimes ignored is the utilization of a home-based small business as a means of financial preparation as well as a method of acquiring and stockpiling survival necessities.  It appears likely that some level of collapse and restructuring of our financial and monetary system will take place in the near future.  Establishing your own business is a good way to protect against a financial system catastrophe and prepare for other disastrous events. 

Starting and growing a small business may seem a daunting task for many, however, it can be done with very little start-up capital by utilizing resources you may already have.  Some intangible principles needed for any business start-up should be familiar to most readers of this blog.  They include:  goal oriented planning, hard work, resourcefulness, ethics, sacrifice, and a good team to work with.  As a business owner, I can confirm that if you plan to start a business, be prepared to work many long, hard hours if you expect any measure of success.

Before considering starting a business, look in the mirror.  Define your core competencies.  In this country, business opportunities are endless so you must carve yourself a niche based on your strengths.  Everyone is unique and holds particular skills and talents.  It is essential that you identify and take advantage of these strengths not only in business, but in all aspects of life.  Know yourself.

The clichéd idea of goal setting is actually a very useful and essential tool in both prepping and business.  For many people, making a simple list is the most effective way of setting and executing goals.  I have found that it is important to keep two sets of goals at all times:  long term and short term.  A list of goals should be periodically updated as part of an ongoing assessment of your current and projected situation.  Without clearly defined goals it is easy to fall into a state of complacency and lose your direction.  To avoid becoming overwhelmed, start with smaller, more attainable goals.  Achieving these short term goals will facilitate the execution of your larger long term goals.  The satisfaction of achieving goals can become a genuinely strong motivating force.

Once you have defined your goals and core competencies, the actual process of starting a business is quite easy.  Most states have a web site that can assist you in forming your business.  Online legal services like can make it easy to do all of the proper filings.  Your lawyer can also guide you in the right direction.  Legal and state filing fees vary from state to state, but expect to spend at least $500 on this process.  Depending on your business and the state you are in, there may be insurance requirements as well.  It is important to consult a lawyer and accountant when considering starting a business.

I am a carpenter by trade, so start-up of our remodeling company for my partner (brother) and I was relatively inexpensive.  We already had trucks, tools, computers, etc., so it was really a matter of organization.  I have an associate’s degree in business and my brother has a bachelor’s degree in advertising, so we did start the venture with some business background.  We both also had extensive backgrounds in construction.  However, continuing education through books, trade publications, and classes has been and continues to be an invaluable resource for us.  Continually developing your skills and knowledge goes hand in hand with the growth of a business.  Whatever field of business you choose, it is important to not only have business skills, but to become an expert in your field.  There is no substitute for experience, so identifying and developing your core competencies is crucial.

We started our remodeling company in August of 2008, which was the start of the worst period ever for remodelers and home builders.  We worked out of my garage and the back of my Ford Ranger for the first year or so, and it was not easy.  However, because we started with what we had, and avoided the trap of heavily leveraging ourselves, we have seen consistent growth each year.  Our sales have doubled every year since start-up, we have one company vehicle (soon to be two), a 3,000 square foot shop in which we are building a 400 square foot design/sales center, one full-time employee and one part-time employee (in addition to my brother and I), a network of clients, suppliers, and reliable sub-contractors, and virtually zero debt.

You might be wondering what growing a remodeling company has to do with survival preparedness  Any business provides its owner(s) with an opportunity to acquire things they want without having to pay for them directly while providing a tax shelter.  I certainly don’t suggest doing anything illegal, so always consult a lawyer and accountant with any tax or liability questions. 

Our shop has a modest, but growing stock of lumber, hardware, fasteners, electrical and plumbing supplies, tools, kerosene heaters, cleaning supplies, and various other supplies and equipment that are handy for home repair and improvement (or future barter/trade).  The best part is that, through reinvestment of profits, we acquired all of this stuff without coming out of pocket.  Also, because these items are business expenses, our tax burden is decreased each time we acquire them. 

Another less obvious advantage to business as it relates to survival prep is the networking opportunity.  Our growing group of clients, suppliers, and sub contractors is a resource rich network of people that otherwise would’ve never been presented to me.  For instance, one of our sub contractors has a rural property that could potentially make an ideal bug out location.  We have actually performed some barter work with this individual, so future trade/barter lines have already been established.  He also has some heavy equipment (backhoe, bulldozer) which is always a valuable resource.  One of our clients is a local jeweler who also deals in coins.  I’ve been able to purchase silver coin and bullion from him at below market premiums.  He is also open to paying us in silver or gold for our work.  He maintains a reasonable stock of gold and silver and has the ability to test and meltdown metals as well.  Needless to say, this is a good contact.  Our main plumbing supplier regularly alerts us to future fluctuations in price for things like copper and plastic pipe and fittings allowing us to stock up on these items before price increases.  Having a large stockpile of copper pipe and fittings prior to a major currency devaluation would certainly not be a liability if SHTF.  Developing relationships with clients, suppliers, and sub contractors is an excellent exercise in survival prep as it is important to take advantage of all available resources before and after a SHTF event.

The survival prep principles and ideas that I’ve outlined as they apply to my business could apply to any business you could imagine.  I was at my local (locally owned) gun shop/range yesterday with some friends honing our shooting skills and realized that the patriots who own and operate this shop certainly have an excellent resource base for a post SHTF scenario.  I had actually done some remodeling work at this gun shop roughly seven years ago when the current owners took over, and they have really made strides in growing their business since then.  Their stock includes hundreds of guns and tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition as well as tactical gear, knives, and other accessories.  They also offer training courses in shooting and self defense, and have a very nice indoor range.  The point is that this group of entrepreneurs identified their core competencies (guns) then set and accomplished some goals.  Now they have a large retail stock of arguably one of the most valuable post-SHTF commodities that you could imagine.  Not to mention, it must be pretty cool walking into work every day and seeing an Armalite AR50-A1 .50 BMG caliber rifle sitting on the shelf with a case full of shells the size of bananas.

There are countless way to go into business for yourself that could give you a major advantage as you prepare for whatever is coming.  If you love fashion and clothing, start a dress shop.  Seamstress skills and equipment will be extremely valuable post SHTF.  Do you love to cook?  Open a diner or restaurant.  It certainly wouldn’t hurt to have a bunch of food and cooking supplies on hand.  Do you love the outdoors?  Start an online outfitter’s retail site.  Selling camping and survival gear is a great way to supplement your own survival needs.  Are you a talented writer?  Start a survival blog web site and publish books that contain invaluable information needed when considering preparation for any type of disaster.  On second thought, maybe you shouldn’t do that last one.  The bottom line is that almost any business endeavor you can imagine can provide some practical advantage to the prepper lifestyle.  You just need to apply some basic principles that you already have.  The gratification and independence achieved by building your own business can help you prepare for whatever happens in life in more ways than you might think.  Independent entrepreneurship is what made this country great, and I believe that that spirit is what will drive us through the hard times ahead.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Hello James:
I thought that the post on barter micro stores was superb.

I think additional consideration should be given to "dispense-from-bulk" strategies.  1 pound of petroleum jelly in single use (0.5g) pouches costs $48 from Sam's Club.  35 pounds (5 gallon bucket) of petroleum jelly costs $90 from an on-line candle supply company.  Similar cost spreads run between single serving bottles of vodka and one gallon bottles and salt in bulk and single serving packets.

It is pretty obvious that you will need a secondary container to carry the bulk materials if you are going to put the micro-store on wheels.  There are some very large syringe bodies available from farm supply stores that make dandy grease and petroleum jelly dispensers.  They are also graduated with markings on the side to add some credibility to the amount dispensed.  Virtually any kind of bottle can be used to dispense other liquids.

And while I love Tabasco sauce as much as the other man;  there are some significant logistical advantages to dried pepper flakes.  They are easier to measure out of bulk and I think they are easier to store.  Any Ziploc type bag will do.  Another advantage is that the seeds are usually viable.

Best regards and may the blessings of the season shower upon you. - Joe H.


I enjoyed the article last week on stocking a barter store. Back in 2006, I read where you suggested that ammunition in the most commonplace calibers would be a good thing to sock way as a barter item. That was truly sage advice. Ammo is great because it is durable, divisible and desirable. Like you say, you can't shoot a burglar with a Krugerrand. I took your advice in big way, and now have a handsome stack of ammo cans that covers one whole wall of my basement.

My modus operandi for my ammo investing is to never pay retail! I buy ammo only when I can find it is deeply discounted in retail stores. I also constantly watch for ammo at garage sales, guns shows, CraigsList ads, and even stores that are going out of business.

I followed your advice on calibers [like 5.56mm NATO, 7.62mm NATO, 12 Gauge, 7.62x39, 9mm, .45 ACP, and 22 LR], but I went more heavily toward the Russian calibers like 7.62 [x39mm] for the AK, the long 7.62[x54r] Russian for the Mosins, and 5.45 [x39mm] for the AK-74s.

While about 90% of what I've put away is in commonplace calibers, there were some bargains that I abso-tively couldn't pass up. This included: Seven boxes of .250-3000 Savage that I got for $4.50 per box at a garage sale, five boxes (250 rounds) of .455 Webley [revolver ammunition] that I got from a guy advertising on Craigslist, some .243 [Winchester], some .40 S&W, and 200 rounds of uncorrosive FN-made 7mm Mauser that I picked up in trade for some old webbing and canteens at a gun show. That deal worked out the same as if I'd paid just $3 for each box of 20.

About one-third of the ammo that I've put away is .22 rimfire--most of it's .22 Long Rifle, but also some .22 Magnum, and a bit of the scarce .22 W.R.F. and .22 Auto stuff. I can predict that .22 shells will be be traded like cigarettes were, in the [World War II] POW camps, and behind the Iron Curtain.

I should also make mention of the fact that I store all of my ammo in GI ammo cans. Every investment should be well cared for. Ammo will last a hundred years (or more) if you store it in cans with good seals, and you throw a silica gel packet in each can. I also have quite a few ammo cans that I've filled with magazines and stripper clips. Most of the magazines I've accumulated are M14, M16, M1911, M9 (Beretta 92), HK 91/G3, FN [FAL], Glock (the most common ones), [M1] Garand clips, Mini-14, M1 Carbine (30 round bananas) and various kinds of AK mags. Those too, will be like gold, someday.

My wall of ammo is the perfect barter item. I am certain that it will trump just about anything [in barter], when times are hard. I'll just parcel it our real slowly -- never letting on to anyone just how much I have. I'll be a secret millionaire, in a Mad Max world.

Thanks again for all the great info that you put out in SurvivalBlog. All of the other prepping blogs are just a pale imitation. I gave SurvivalBlog 5 Stars in the Reader's Choice Awards. - Clement in North Dakota


This was a great article, I'd already acquired some extra of most everything listed, here's a couple of thoughts...

Hopefully, things will calm down eventually to have a secure mini-store selling to strangers, but I had stocked up extra initially and primarily just to help my closest neighbors. Some I'll gift preps to, some I'll trade, but with all it will be done with an eye towards also maximizing and enhancing our own security here.

I want to convert those close by, best I can, from future potential roaming threats into, as much as possible, useful cooperative allies. I want to be surrounded by a buffer of ever more self-reliant and self-supporting helpful neighbors for mutual aid & protection.

I'd also much rather get a heads-up of any threats detected well before they get to our immediate Area of Operations (AO) and hopefully then already thinned out some, too, if need be.

With that in mind, regarding the list...

Ammunition; extra would go first to trusted capable neighbors who could then enhance our own local security, especially those who are open to working together in a coordinated way. I also have some extra  weapons, beyond our groups needs, for this purpose. Also, extra ammo in some calibers that I don't even have weapons for that are locally popular.

I've also put back an additional half dozen cheap FRS radios with rechargeable batteries, to be deployed only to those neighbors who are capable and willing to participate in establishing a com net for mutual aid and defense.

Taking excess paper wealth, after one's personal family preps are largely squared away, to get some extra preps for barter, sale or charity is good, but then always looking first to deploy them where they'll best serve to enhance your own family security, too, is  even better. - C.S.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Thank you so much for your blog site. I’ve been a reader for nearly five years and have learned so much.
Regarding the post of items to have to implement a micro store when and if there is a TEOTWAWKI event, he was well thought out and quite thorough.
It will be wise for us all to not only be as prepared as we can be for ourselves, but to think about being prepared for those around us.
If we all prepare this way, there will be a lot of duplication. However, as you have said many times, there can’t be too much preparedness.
So, I searched my mind and my supplies and came up with a few other items that I think could easily be added without too much space.
1)       Small sewing kits
2)       Full size spools of thread    
more needles
big needles and stronger threads, cordage for the big jobs
3)       Paracord
4)       Patches of all sizes and strengths
5)       Knives: kitchen, folders, fixed blade
6)       Sharpeners and/or equipment for a sharpening service
7)       Soap
8)       Bag Balm, great stuff
9)       Zip ties
10)   Duct tape
11)   Viagra, I’m not kidding
These are just a few things that could be added that are space efficient that I have in my supplies.
I’m sure all of your readers could probably come up with hundreds of more items.
May God bless you all during this Christmas season, - K.R.Y.

James Wesley:
I really enjoyed this article. I think this scenario could be possible in a small well prepared community where food storage/gardening has already been taken care, letting people focus on some of the "niceties".

I have a few ideas I'd like to add:

I would suggest having maybe a dozen diaper covers (old school plastic pants style, like by Gerber). People will run out of diapers fast, and while the absorbent part can be made out of just about any cloth (old baby blankets, towels, dish rags), the part that holds the mess in is rather specific. You may be able to find them at your local Wal-Mart, online, or see if there's a local cloth diaper store nearby. They will run about $4 for 2 (on, although you can often find them used online. And by used, that generally means someone tried them once and didn't like them.
And if you stock these, you could also print out a few copies of instructions on how to fold a flat panel diaper for people to reference, as well as instructions for infant potty training (again, just look on the internet for both of those instructions. I hope to post more about IPT and cloth diapers later)

Handkerchiefs and flannel wipes may be useful to have a few of, but probably not too many, since most people could probably find something that would work around their house.

Crayons and Coloring books would be another great thing, for family/child boredom, or as a post-disaster gift. Crayons can be had anywhere during back-to-school season for 3/$1, and coloring books are $1 new. Get a dozen or so of these too.

It may be handy to have a package of hair rubber bands. These things are so easily lost or broken, and will only cost a dollar or so

If you stored a few rolls of Duck Tape, you could trade it by the foot or yard (wrap it around a pencil for easy transport)

A box of Q-tips might be nice for a while, although eventually we may have to learn to do without these.

Feminine items would be nice to stock, but realistically the reusable ones are fairly expensive (diva cup $25, cloth pads $9-to-$14 each) or take special material to make, so those who don't prepare may just have to go back to the old way of dealing with it,

Hope this is helpful. - Sarah M.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I've been a faithful reader of SurvivalBlog and several others for several years. I have downloaded the archives onto my Kindle and am about halfway through those, too. I am simultaneously fascinated, entertained, and horrified by what I have read. I have learned a lot, been totally confused/overwhelmed by everything electronic, amused and entertained by the fascination with firearms and ammunition, and all over the scale on 1,001 other issues. Can anyone ever be "fully prepped?" Probably not, but we are all working on it or toward it. This article is about how you can simultaneously help other "survivors" while helping yourself. Let's take a different direction and make you an entrepreneur for TEOTWAWKI. (This is going to be a point-counterpoint style article--I'll take some heat, for sure, but debate is always good. And, we're going simple with this article--It seems to me that simple is generally better than complicated).
A little bio first. I am not a kid. In fact, I am certainly older (65) than most of you reading this. Same wife (prettier than ever, confuses me even more today than the day we married) for 43+ years. Two grown and awesome sons, one a military academy grad/serving O-5, the other a major corporation marketing executive. (Even though I love to brag about them, OPSEC says stop now).
My military (23 years active/reserve commissioned officer, US Army) and civilian background (independent consultant) is leadership, operations, tactics, strategy, and senior executive staffing (and flying helicopters. I earned an MBA from a big-deal business school--you need one of those in my business for the credibility--but I believe I learned more about life as a tactical flight instructor at Fort Rucker than I have in business or graduate school). I know ("used to know" is more accurate, I guess; most of my weapons knowledge is dated, for sure) a lot about things that shoot (Infantry OCS--"Benning School For Boys"--grad in the 1960s, Vietnam combat vet, qualified on everything from the .38 revolvers to 81mm mortars and the 106mm recoilless rifle. I don't think anyone has written about that last weapon in this space--It would be very useful against the "Golden Horde" WTSHTF, wouldn't it? The last of those are somewhere out west on avalanche-suppression duty). I am not a "gun guy," but respect those of you who are. And, I hope (and predict) you won't get a chance to exercise those skills WTSHTF. More on that in a minute.
I am a long term prepper. Guess what got me started? I have been a coin collector since I was a kid. Believe it or not, when I was a teenager (if you were very lucky and looked through enough rolls of pennies), you could find 1909 S-VDBs and 1914Ds in circulation. If anything will raise your awareness of the value of money/decline in the value of the dollar, coin collecting will do it. Watching the metals markets and buying/selling coins and metals have consistently made me money and continue to do so today. (Even with the recent "haircut" we have taken in the metals market, as my bullion dealer, who lost a lot more money than I have said: "A loss isn't a loss until you sell." Hold on to your gold and silver; the prices will certainly come back. Watch for the dips and add more as you are able. Jim--My pile of nickels is getting big).
Here's a little "detour" on the subject of "junk" silver coins (I really dislike the term--They are a long way from junk, but we're stuck forever with the inaccurate handle), but it relates to post-TEOTWAWKI commerce, so this is a good place to mention it. I'll try to stay out of the weeds here. The U.S. Mint switched over to copper clad coins in 1965 (only a few collector [proof] coins have been made of silver since; these generally carry a numismatic premium over the "melt" value--too complicated to worry about here. Also, please do not ding me on the [latter] 40% silver halves. You and I know what they are, but why confuse the rest of the audience?), so you want pre-1965 dimes/quarters/halves in your survival stock. The metal changed, but the design of the coins did not--Roosevelt dimes, Washington quarters, and Kennedy halves are still being minted today, but in the debased (copper clad) metal. This gives you several choices. You can stock up on the old (pre-'65) silver coins in these designs or easily go one design back on the dimes and halves. Given the choice (and for a small premium over the Roosevelts/Kennedys), select "Mercury" (technically, "Winged Liberty") dimes and "Walking Liberty" halves for your survival stock. When the time comes to "spend" (or accept) them, the older designs will be more quickly accepted (they exist in silver only, not clad); the others will need to be more closely examined (to make sure they are silver, not clad). If you are putting away silver quarters, you are more or less stuck with Washingtons, which replaced "Standing Liberties" in 1932--those are pretty scarce, have more numismatic residual value, and probably not as useful for trade (again, a little too complicated). I have purchased gold and silver for many years from Gold & Bullion Reserves of Panama City, Florida. Larry Lee (PNG member) is a class guy and they sell for less of a premium than many other firms. If you go for halves, you can generally purchase "Franklins" for the same price as Kennedys. I think the Franklins are the better choice, again because of the confusion associated with the Kennedys (silver, 40% silver--Why would anyone want those? Worth less than a silver quarter, takes up twice the space, and confuses everyone--or clad, worth roughly nothing). Enough on that. This little detour on silver will probably generate more arguing and quibbling than the rest of the article.
I got serious about preparing for disaster with Y2K, as I worried about the possible meltdown of every way money moves electronically. Like everyone who prepared seriously, I felt a little foolish after the non-event, but I also learned lessons that have served me and my family well, as we have faced several "glancing blows" and one direct hit of hurricanes since. We have wasted almost nothing we stocked--There are still a few odds and ends in the garage, but I have used almost everything over the years. I actually used a Y2K replacement toilet flapper in the last week (nothing to expire there). The emergency food we had stocked--a full year's worth--made a nice contribution to the Rescue Mission (and tax deduction for us) after the fact. This provided a yearly model we continue to follow today--Win/win/win for the mission and freshness rotation/tax deduction for us. (Important record-keeping side issue: If you tithe to your church and you exceed this with additional contributions to other charitable organizations, be prepared to defend every dollar you have donated. The IRS is amazed and skeptical when someone gives away ten percent or more of their income. I have been audited every year for my charitable contributions since 2000. Save every receipt from every purchase and be sure to back this up with the charity's receipt and your itemized list. This has managed to satisfy the Feds every year). 
Let's set the stage for an opposing view of what I believe a "Post-TEOTWAWKI" U.S.A. will look like, at least around here. I see more order and goodness than many others who have written in this space. I believe the basic American instincts, beliefs, and attitudes of freedom, patriotism, fair play, charity, entrepreneurial spirit, and love of God and country (not necessarily in that order; rearrange as you see fit and continue with your own list) will ultimately trump the darker forces of chaos, violence, and evil--at least outside the major metropolitan areas and especially outside the Eastern "Megalopolis." By my mind, those cities and suburbs are already lost beyond retrieval; God help you and your family if you live there and you have decided to "bug-in." Nothing good is going to happen between Richmond and Boston.   
I live in a small metro area extremely conservative in nature, adjacent to a small military installation. I estimate there are several times more guns in my county than there are people--We have lots of "polite" people. If any community will organize itself to survive a societal meltdown, this will be the one. Even our power plant could be disconnected from the eastern grid and last for quite a while (even though their coal pile is limited by state law to 90 days' supply). So, my perspective in this article is primarily for folks living in and around smaller and conservative cities, not the big ones. (Side message for those of you reluctant to move because you are clinging to "wonderful" schools around a major metro area--We bailed out of one of those "top" school districts in Dupage County, Illinois (a Chicago suburb) with young children 25 years ago. Both sons did well in the local school system. Our older son went to West Point. Our younger son recently finished his Executive MBA and was an academic scholarship and college soccer player as an undergraduate. It's clear to me that the standards parents set at home are a lot more important than those prevailing in the local school system. Your kids will thrive, too, if you stay involved with them--set higher personal academic and behavioral standards than the local school system does, keep them busy and involved with the church, find and encourage them to participate in team sports, monitor their friends, and so forth. My mother used to tell me you can predict how well someone will do with their lives by measuring the quality of their friends. Members of our church used to tell us they wanted kids like ours--I told them we didn't do anything that they couldn't do. Helping your kids stand up to peer pressure is probably the toughest task parents can face--but the payoff is high).
Here we go. "It"--some sort of meltdown--has hit us: Here we are several weeks into some world-changing catastrophe. It seems to me the cause of the disaster matters very little; there are plenty of causes to bring about the crunch. Major cities on the East Coast have rioted/burned, thousands/millions are dead, survivors are hungry and streaming to the countryside. They are a long way from us. If a few stragglers make it here, they will almost certainly be absorbed (resort community with lots of absentee-owner condos--we are a "bug-out" location for preppers located in several major southeastern US cities), run off, or killed (there are plenty--plenty--of combat veterans here. This is a military and veteran community, remember? If you are still in the process of selecting a bugout, retreat, or relocation site, add that possibility (owning a summer resort condo as bugout location) to your calculations. (I recall from the SurvivalBlog archives someone predicting bad things potentially happening around military installations because of all the "under-employed" troops hanging around. I see no way "bad" things could happen--Anyone believing that has absolutely no experience in the character of young enlisted people currently serving (it's high)--Our former and retired NCOs and officers will feed 'em, lead 'em, and put them to work protecting us).
Here are my predictions: The county Sheriff's Department--augmented with plenty of volunteers, reservists, and community watch groups--has the violence tamped down and under control. It didn't take long at all for a county-wide ad hoc system of emergency radio to replace the 911 system (FRS, CB, ham, and so forth). Cell phones are working for local calls. (Another side issue: In hurricane territory, you keep at least one "hard-wired" phone in the house--Phone service is sometimes uninterrupted when the power is down. Cordless phones stop working when the power is off. I also have a satellite phone for backup communications with the kids). Looters and violent offenders--there were a few--were shot. Somehow, that served as a useful deterrent. Several school buses parked across the roads into town/bridges into the county have controlled and limited access from the outside. Our very polite/well-armed deputies manning the roadblocks are letting all residents and property owners through (those absentee condo owners with proof of it). Others have to have a sponsor to vouch for them and come and get them--friends, relatives, and so forth. Those not making the cut are given modest rations of food, water, and fuel along with good directions down the road.
Stores are mostly closed/shuttered. Law enforcement is still functioning and robust. There are armed guards securing "Big Box" stores. We have a large marine gasoline terminal (delivered here by barge on the Intercoastal Waterway); also armed guards there. Some service stations are still operating on generator power (cash only--silver is best; prices are inflated), but no one seems to be driving much; the roads are almost deserted. There was some sporadic looting downtown ('bad" neighborhood) and at a few isolated C-stores in the rural areas. Neighborhood watch groups organized pretty quickly, with neighborhood entrances manned and blocked. The churches were also quick to act, opening their food pantries (evidently, there was a lot more prep than anticipated and we learned important lessons on refugee feeding from Hurricane Katrina) and their kitchens. Our people are taking care of each other.
So. The situation is more-or-less stable least temporarily. We are living off stored supplies. Help is obviously not on the way; the feds and the state have their hands full elsewhere, big time. Imagine one of Malcolm Gladwell's tipping points--Which way will this one go? Chaos or civilized adaptation?
If you believe (as I do) that commerce is one of mankind's great civilizing forces--and, that it's pretty hard to stamp it out--it seems to me that all preppers have an important additional duty of using their entrepreneurial skills to help tamp down possible violence, help the less-prepared survive the crisis, and all the while improve their and everyone else's chances of surviving (even prospering) from the turmoil. I think a great way to do this would be through organizing your thoughts and actions now to operate a modest retail operation for barter, trading, and sales of useful and essential items for the general population. Let's call it your "Micro Store." Any prepper should be able to do this at some level.
My initial thought was to create a modest "template"--sort of a basic stocking list--of essential stuff in reach to just about every prepper, probably a footlocker or two of inventory that would be easy enough to move around by cart or hand truck and that would provide a rate-of-return of about five times the investment required to put it together, all the while helping out those who need what you have put away (and would be willing to pay for what they need).
I've looked at lists, lists of lists, made my own list and lists of lists. Thought about/thrown out lots of ideas. I decided to approach this as I would a project for one of my consulting clients.
I also consult for other consultants and have learned that elegant, complicated recommendations to clients often wind up in the bottom desk drawer and unexecuted, so I decided to (try to) keep this modest analysis as simple and as easy to execute as possible. The answer to the first question is actually the toughest. At the high end extreme, you would be the WTSHTF version of a Wal-Mart--not very practical--space, transport, security, costs, and so forth push us to smaller, more conservative strategies . At the low end extreme, you would have a few extra items--things you overbought/excess to personal needs--from your prep stock to trade for things you forgot or used up. With some analysis, we can obviously do a lot better than that--You are an entrepreneur as well as a prepper, remember?
Even though you might ultimately develop into a post-TEOTWAWKI retailer (as an ongoing business), I am not going to try to chart a path to that; that would be far beyond the interests of most of us and this article. Instead, I see several other things we might accomplish with a barter strategy (in no particular order--assign you own weights to these)--
--Through individual leadership, add to community/neighborhood stability. Trading is one of the key human behaviors separating us from the animals. Along with farming, trading helped civilize the world.
--Help other people. However well/poorly your neighbors have prepared, there will be things others need that you can stock up on now to exchange (sell/trade/barter) later. In a voluntary exchange of any goods, both sides receive utility. More on this later.
--Leverage your position and help yourself. For the entrepreneur, you have the opportunity to sell/trade goods for more than you paid for them. We call this entrepreneurial gain. Typical retail markup is 100-150%. In a SHTF situation, your potential markup will be somewhat higher than that, but beware of price-gouging; it could undue all the goodwill you have created.
The leadership issue is an interesting one. Who will be first to set up a trading table out at the wide spot on the highway? You will, if you are prepared. Customers will come and other traders will follow. Competition is good, not bad. Remember the story of the two lawyers in town? One lawyer starves, two prosper. (Before anyone challenges me on the security issue: Yes, I believe in securing both yourself and your stock. I will do that, too--I have the firepower--but that's a subject for someone else. This article is about trading, not security). Once we have a little trading area established, it should gather momentum to everyone's benefit.
Let's start breaking down how to leverage your "wealth"--shooting for your entrepreneurial gain--without trying to replace Wal-Mart, remember? What do we want to sell, trade, or buy? Again, several thoughts--
If you really want to attract customers, I suggest you should think about selling and trading and buying--all three. Here's why--
--Selling generally means accepting some sort of currency for your goods/services. Let's assume paper currency has lost its value. You have silver coins (if you are a regular SurvivalBlog reader and don't have some pre-'65 silver at this point, you can stop reading), but your neighbors--customers--probably do not have much of it. So, be prepared to buy something from them and pay them with your silver. This will start the money circulating process that will lubricate the wheels of commerce we are hoping to achieve.
--Trading/Barter is also useful, but there are two ways to do this--one as a trader, where two people exchange things of equal value for personal consumption or use, the other for ultimate resale (keep thinking as an entrepreneur). The best example I can think of here is the used book store--The customer brings in two books to the store and the store trades back one. The extra book is your entrepreneurial gain. You can trade it again or sell it.
So, what should you stock in your little store? My selections might differ from yours, but it seems to me these are the important factors to consider what to "stock"--
--Small, compact items with high value/utility make sense: Useful, in demand, painful if you don't have it.
--Relatively inexpensive. I think small ticket items make more sense than big ones--You'll be less of a target of opportunity and will create less resentments among your customers. This strategy is about the little things, not about dealing in used tractors or horses.
--Limited amounts. You're not Wal-Mart and will need to haul this stuff to your sales location and haul it home at the end of the day. I will assume a "normal" inventory might be a footlocker's worth you can put on a hand truck or a garden cart (or maybe the bed of a pickup truck). You'll keep most of your inventory locked up somewhere else for economy, ease of transport, and security.
"The List." I have scratched my head for years to come up with this. No one has a monopoly on good ideas, though--Feel free to add to the list and disregard whatever you do not agree with--
1. Alcohol. Let's get the sin out of the way first. As a regular "Gentleman Jack" aficionado, I have a case (plus) in stock for personal use. Yeah, I know. They say a man's taste in whiskey, cigars, and women gets more expensive as a function of age. Big bottles take up too much space and they will be too expensive for regular commerce, so I think a case or two of miniatures (like you see on the airlines) makes more sense. If we can get these into circulation, I think some will use them as money. Pick your poison. My local liquor store was willing to sell me a case of regular Jack Daniels minis for $138 and a case of Absolut brand vodka (I think the ladies would probably prefer that over the Jack) for a few dollars less.

2. Coffee. Yeah, I know. The sooner I stop drinking coffee, the better (even if there are multiple, medically peer-reviewed studies illustrating clearly that drinking coffee in moderation is actually good for you. Whatever). I'll stop drinking coffee when I can't get any more, so my basic stock is a case of beans. Coffee has to be one of mankind's ultimate comfort foods and will be in high demand WTSHTF, whether it is addictive or not. You might want to put away a case or two of instant in small jars for sale/barter/trade, but I think some single service packages (the little pouches that will make one cup) make more sense. I've seen these in the warehouse stores--200 Maxwell House instant one-cup pouches per case for about $30. Get a couple of cases, at least. Sales price--three pouches/cups for a silver dime.

3. Tobacco products. I thought about leaving this off the list (because of the stigma and the general nastiness) but reconsidered after I recalled something from graduate school. This came from an MBA econ course: Do you know what the hottest, most in demand trading item in WWII prisoner of war camps was? It was cigarettes. Not chocolate, not canned food, not coffee. True, times have changed, but there are still plenty of smokers who will want their nicotine fix as long as they can get it. And, they will pay for their smokes. In the big cities, cigarettes are already being sold one or two at a time--This is the model I see post-TEOTWAWKI. A carton or two will be enough for you to stock. Sell two or three cigarettes for a silver dime. (You can store them in plastic bags in the freezer to keep them fresh if you want, but my sense of this is that stale or fresh won't make much difference to dedicated smokers.)

4. Ammunition. There is so much content concerning ammunition already on SurvivalBlog, anything I might add would be redundant or under-whelming, with one exception. We are loaded up with squirrels in my neighborhood--We jokingly refer to it as "Southeastern U.S. Squirrel Headquarters." (Hickory, oak, pecan, pine, and an invasive species the locals call "popcorn" trees--you should see those little suckers shuck the pinecones and the mess that makes when they go for the seed kernels--support a huge population). I have killed several hundred with my trusty single-shot air rifle--Good for making me feel better after I see them stripping the baby grapefruit off the tree--but not dependable enough for the stew pot. They replenish themselves faster than I can pop them. When I was a kid, I had a bolt action Mossberg .22 I could load up nearly a full box of .22 [CB] "caps" or about half a box of "shorts." I wish I still had that little rifle. Caps and shorts would be great for squirrel hunting in the neighborhood--safer than "longs" or LRs, a lot less noise, and less expensive, too. Why not put away a couple of bricks of those for trade/squirrel hunting (and the rats that will be eating everyone's garbage)?

5. Lantern mantles. I learned about this one the hard way from backpacking and canoeing trips--You cannot ever have enough of these (if you have propane lanterns) because they are so fragile after you "burn them in" they are always disintegrating when you move the lantern around. And, there's nothing so frustrating as a lantern, plenty of gas, and no mantle to make it work. I've probably used a hundred or more over the years and can detect absolutely no difference between the no-name cheapies and expensivo Colemans--They all work the same and they all break the same. Wal-Mart has cheapies for $.44/each. Get 50 or so, sell for a silver dime each in your store. (At the current rate of about 24:1, that's a good one for you). You might also want to stock a couple of dozen lamp wicks.

6. Miniature bottles  (1/8 oz.) of Tabasco sauce. We are very likely going to be eating a little differently when TSHTF; Tabasco will make about anything that isn't sweet taste better (or at least cover up/camouflage the taste of raccoon or possum or whatever was in the trap). You could buy a case or two of the little bottles sold at the grocery store, but miniatures are a better choice. Here's a great example of how a little research can make a huge difference in the price of your inventory. Google "Tabasco miniatures" and you'll get over 100,000 hits, ranging from $1/bottle to case prices. I found my best price for the 200 piece case at (no personal financial interest in this; I've bought from them several times--Good service; extremely competitive prices). You might also want to stock a case each of mustard, ketchup, and soy sauce individual packets--All available at the warehouse stores; cheap. Sell two/three for a silver dime.

7. Toothpaste and dental floss. The little "travel" tubes are perfect for sale/barter, but they're too expensive to buy that way. I asked my dentist buddy to get me a case of each.

8. Beano. I love beans--every way you can think of, but especially homemade soup (navy beans cooked with ham left on the ham bone)--but starting with the second day, I am deep into intestinal distress and paying the price. Big time. So, I generally stay away from beans--I even get double rice instead of the refried beans when we eat Mexican. When TSHTF, we (you, me, and everyone collectively) will be eating a lot more beans than usual; my guess is that there are plenty of folks who will suffer with the beans for a while, until their "systems" reset. Get at least a dozen bottles (and you might even split them up into smaller quantities).

9. Antacid tablets. My aging stomach needs a couple of antacid tabs before bed, or I risk a bout of acid reflux. On the bean/rice/squirrel/raccoon (etc.) diet, I'll be going through a lot of antacids and I'll bet your neighbors will, too. Load up on these--I suggest at least a dozen jumbo bottles of 200 or so per bottle. These are cheap; no need to go for the expensive Tums--the store brand is fine and costs much less. Repackage your tablets into 25 per baggie for a silver dime (three for a quarter). Yeah, you could go with a stock of Prilosec (now OTC), but these are a lot more expensive than store brand antacids.

10. Salt and pepper. Pepper we can live without (okay-we'll suffer, but we'll make it. Without salt--We die). Interesting observation here--Even those folks who think they live just fine without salting their food are getting plenty of it from processed foods. The cravings will get intense when we're all eating unsalted beans and rice. Recommendation here is to buy a case of the s&p picnic sets at the warehouse club store and a case of bulk packed (food service) salt. Tell your "customers" to bring their empties back for refill or just bring the household salt shakers.

11. Chapsticks. It's cold outside in the winter and everyone will be outside more. There is nothing more miserable than needing a chapstick and not having one. These sell for $10/dozen at Sam's Club. I think they would be worth a silver dime each post-TEOTWAWKI. Stick to the brand name on this one--I've tried substitutes, which have all managed to disappoint.

12. Rechargeable batteries. This is a good one. I remember this suggestion from Dr. Gary North's web site as we were prepping for Y2K (seems like yesterday): Buy enough rechargeable batteries for as many neighbors as you can afford (say four AAs and four AAAs each) AND a solar-powered charger for you. Here's the deal: Give away a basic set--charged up--to whoever wants one. You'll trade a freshly-charged set for a depleted set. That will keep your customers coming back and thinking about your "store."

13. "Free lunch." This is another good one. Consider this your "loss leader" and a promotional strategy to attract customers. As you get your "store" started (the first week, maybe), offer customers a "free lunch"--a tasty bowl of chili beans or spicy noodles and a drink of "bug juice" (that's the red Kool-Aid)--for the first 25 customers or so as a promo strategy. After a few days, you can transition to a paid lunch--a dime or quarter in silver (recycling some of that silver change you put into circulation by buying from other merchants and from your customers).

14. The "bug juice" is another good idea. The water we filter/boil/purify may not taste so good and a sweet drink will be big, especially with the kids. I just priced these at the grocery store--packages (unsweetened) of cherry Kool-Aid are $.27/ea. and make two quarts. I bought 100 packages (compact; takes up very little space for the value). Your post-TEOTWAWKI sales price might be a silver dime for three or ten for a quarter.

15. Butane lighters. These are so cheap at the wholesale clubs and so profitable to sell (probably in high demand, too)--$7.95/100--get a couple bricks of a hundred/brick. Sell individual lighters for a dime each or three for a quarter. These are in the cigarette "cage" at Sam's Club. The clerk told me they are one of the favorite purchases of "C-store" owners, because they sell for $1 each at retail (we wish we could get that markup on everything, no?).

16. Books. After all these years, I remember a great line from a book--I think it was from Pat Frank's novel Alas, Babylon--"Any book same as cash." This will be a guaranteed money-maker and/or barter item; people will be desperate for
reading material and will come to your store again and again if you keep plenty of books in stock. Trade two-for-one. Sell paperbacks for a silver dime, hardbacks for a quarter. The absolute best way to build your stock now (other than saving your already read books) is by hitting garage sales. Get your best deal by offering to buy all the books at a site--You'll get the best price that way. This strategy will probably work for DVDs, too (if your "customers" were smart enough to figure out how to keep their laptops charged up).

17. Pool shock. This might very well be your major contribution to saving the human race. As you might be aware, more people have been killed by waterborne disease than all the wars of history. In a grid-down situation, we do not lose just water purification, we also lose sewage treatment (and your neighbors will be polluting everything). This combination will be deadly. You have many options for purifying water, but a "belt and suspenders" approach will be the best bet to stay healthy--Use multiple strategies to protect yourself. "Pool shock" is calcium hypochlorite, a dry powder, sold in one pound packages for swimming pool sanitation. This chemical is remarkably effective at sanitizing water. "Recipes" I have seen online state that a grain or two will sanitize a gallon and that a pound package will treat 65,000 gallons (I'm not sure about that part--My pool is about 12,000 gallons and I use one package of shock/week. Use a fifth of a bag, then drink from the pool? Maybe not). In any event, you can buy this stuff at about any Big Box or pool store or online. I think I would give it away rather than sell it--A one pound bag is about $5. My last case (24 bags) was about $50 at Sam's Club. A case would be a great investment to help out the neighborhood. If you wanted to, you could easily repackage smaller quantities for sale in baggies for a dime a bag. (If you want to do something cool now, type out some simple instructions now on how to use the shock to sanitize water--you could easily fit a dozen of these on one piece of paper--then, print out 25 copies. Store your instructions with your shock "stock." When the time comes and you are ready to repackage shock into baggies, cut up the pages and put one set of instructions in each baggie).

18. Hand sanitizer. Another potential life-saver. With certain clean water shortages, hand sanitation will be a big issue and an important way to prevent the spread of disease and infections. This is a two-step sale: Purchase a bulk package of small hand sanitizer bottles at one of the warehouse clubs. Sam's has these--25 2 oz. bottles for $19.95. Your cost is $.40/oz this way. Sell those for a silver dime each (or maybe three for a quarter). Also buy several large bottles--two liter dispensing bottles of their private-label version (same stuff--thickened ethyl alcohol--as the branded product)--for $7.95. Your cost works out to $.118/oz. Use the big squirt bottles to refill your customers' little ones at two or three for a silver dime. This will be a great deal for everyone. (As I learned on the SurvivalBlog web site, this stuff burns like sterno. Even though I have plenty of other fuels to heat/cook/boil water, you couldn't go wrong by putting away a dozen of the two-liter bottles).

19. Mice/rat traps and poison. This one should be obvious--When the garbage piles up, the rodents will respond to the "stimulus," too. We fight a constant standoff with the critters in my neighborhood (can't seem to get to those that live in the woods--unlimited and undisturbed population)--and that's without the bags of garbage stacking up. We use a lot of the glue trays, but traps will last; the trays are single-use. Sales price--a dime for a mousetrap, a quarter for a rattrap. Poison is problematic--It will kill the rodents, for sure, but pets/kids, too, if they should get into it. I would leave poison to the professionals, to be safe.  

20. Sunscreen. Again, everyone will be spending a lot more time outside. Around here, even leathery beach people need sunscreen. This is a great dollar store purchase. Several of our local dollar stores have SPF 15 and 30 in six and eight oz. bottles for a buck. Get a couple dozen bottles; sell for a silver dime each. 

21. Bike tire repair kits. As soon as the gasoline supply chain fails, all sorts of old bikes will be dragged out of garages and basements. Many (most?) of these will have flat tires and few folks will have tube repair kits--but you will. Again, check the Big Box stores for kits--a couple of bucks each. You might want to get a dozen; sell for a silver half. Bring your tire pump to your micro-store and offer "complimentary" air.

22. Insect repellant. Living in near-jungle as I do, this one has special significance. I go through a number of Off spray cans every year working in the yard. With all the extra time we will be spending outside hauling water, gathering firewood, manning our Micro Store, and so forth, the bugs will be eating better than anyone. Check your local dollar store for deals on repellant. Price accordingly.

23. LED headlights (for your head, not your car). If you are any sort of camper and haven't yet discovered these, let me state for the record they are as cool as sliced bread. What an amazing supplement to the flashlight! Not only will they light the way around a dark, grid-down house, they also make great book lights. No flame, making them safe for everyone to use, anywhere. Here's the most interesting part-- most non-campers and non-preppers don't have any, for the most part. This makes them a great sale/barter item. I've seen discussions of different brands in this space, which mostly miss the point. They are now so cheap (check the dollar stores and buy a couple of dozen), you can throw them away when they break. I've got an expensive one and a bunch of Chicom cheapies; all work fine. The LEDs last forever (nothing is forever, but I've yet to lose even one to failure); the on-off switch looks like the first thing to break. I would stay away from the ones with "button" batteries and go for the ones that take AAs or AAAs. Depending on your cost, they would sell for about a silver quarter each or a quarter and a dime.

24. Sta-Bil or Pri-G. Consider this liquid plutonium. Get at least a dozen of the small bottles (treats five gallons of gasoline); sell for a [silver] quarter a bottle.

25. Hard candy. Another great promotion item--Get a couple of bulk jars at one of the warehouse clubs and give away candy to the kids (or to the parents to give to the kids) when they come to your store. These will bring everyone back sooner. A plastic jar of 200 "Atomic Fire Balls" was $6.95 at Sam's (the boys love these) and a similar size jar of Gummi Bears was $7.95.
Those are the most important items I can think of (remember our selection criteria and those things I think will move the best), but here are a few others. Seeds; you didn't need me to suggest that. 2 cycle oil (for the chainsaws). While you're at it, how about a fist full of files for chainsaw sharpening? Fishing gear. I didn't put that on my list, because just about everyone around here is already stocked for salt and fresh water, but it might be useful where you are--A little assortment of small hooks and such might be a good seller if you have some bodies of water around. Make up some little fishing kits in sandwich bags for a silver dime. Batteries. Candles. Condoms. Pain relievers (a big bottle each of store-brand aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen to dispense a few pills at a time as needed). Diarrhea tablets. Disposable razors.  I thought about adding P38 can actually has a case (100) of these for twenty bucks (and there are plenty of other sources, too). Notice I have gone light on the med stuff (outside my expertise; there are plenty of good suggestions elsewhere on this site), ammo, and food (I'll let my fellow traders take care of those).
Wrapping up. For several hundred dollars, any prepper can assemble and stock a "micro-store" that will help everyone survive until (or if) civilization recovers. Do it now. May God Bless you and keep you. Good luck with your entrepreneurial endeavors.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

WARNING: Lye is highly caustic and will degrade organic tissue. Do not allow lye to touch your skin, breathe in the fumes or be taken internally in any way. It will cause chemical burns, permanent scarring or blindness. Do not ever combine lye with aluminum, magnesium, zinc, tin, chromium, brass or bronze. When using or making lye, always wear protective equipment including safety glasses and chemical resistant gloves, and have adequate ventilation.
Basic homemade lye soap is useful for so much more than cleaning up the language of wayward children. Grandma used to rub it on dirty stains before washing. It is very soothing to sensitive skin, since the glycerin contained in homemade soap helps to clear acne, eczema and psoriasis. It eliminates the “human scent” on hunters. When rubbed on a poison oak, ivy or sumac reaction it will cool the itching when allowed to dry. Grandma used to tie a bar in an old sock and hang it on the porch as a bug repellent, and spread the scrapings around the base of the house to repel ants, termites, snakes, spiders and roaches. It was often used as a lubricant on machinery, drawers, and hinges.
Soap was discovered in Ancient Babylon as early as 2800 BC. It is thought to have been made for the first time when grease from the cooking pot boiled over and combined with the ashes from the camp fire. Our forefathers picked up the resulting soap and found that it was a good tool to keep themselves clean. Modern soap was made in regular practice as early as 300 AD in Germany .
The Saponification process
In its simplest form, soap is made from oil or fat, water and lye. Now, we buy concentrated lye and dissolve it in water before combining it with oil, but before modern lye could be bought at the store, people would take the hardwood ashes from their cookstove, store it in an old carved out tree or wooden barrel, and then pour rainwater through it to make the lye. They would test the strength of the lye by floating an egg in it. Then they would pour the lye into the warmed fat and stir it. When the fat and lye are combined, a chemical reaction takes place. There is no lye or fat left—they are combined to make something called soap.
Store bought lye is known as Sodium Hydroxide since it has more salt than does homemade lye, which is called Potassium Hydroxide. Sodium Hydroxide makes a much harder soap than Potassium Hydroxide. To make a harder soap out of homemade lye, add ½ tsp. of table salt for each pound of fat.
Tallow (beef fat), lard (pork fat) or vegetable oils can be used as the base for soap. These fats are called triglycerides. When the triglyceride is treated with lye, it rapidly forms the ester bond and releases glycerol (glycerin), the natural byproduct of saponification. Most homemade soap contains glycerin, which is why it’s so good for the skin; many commercial operations remove it for other applications.
Making the Lye
Lye making requires hardwood ash. Hardwoods include any fruit or nut trees and any of the following:  Alder, Apple, Ash, Aspen , Beech, Birch, Cherry, Cottonwood, Dogwood, Elm, Gum, Hickory , Locust, Maple, Oak, Olive, Pear, Poplar, Rosewood, Walnut, or Willow . Softwoods are to be avoided for this function: Cedar, Spruce, Pine, Fir, Hemlock, or Cypress .
In a wooden barrel or hollow tree, drill some holes in the very bottom, then set it up on a stand to allow room below for a pot to catch the lye water. Some people make a barrel with a removable plug which they remove after letting the water sit in the ash.  Under the stand, set a wooden or glass pot to catch the drip.
In the barrel, put first a layer of gravel, then a layer of straw or dried grass. Fill up the barrel with hardwood ash. When you are ready to make the lye, pour rainwater or other soft water through the ash. The minerals in hard water will interfere with the chemical reaction between the lye and the fat. The water may take up to a few days to drain through. The spent ashes can be composted or added to the garden.
In a specified purpose soap-making pot such as cast iron, boil the lye until a fresh, in-shell egg will float on top, with about half of the egg still above the surface of the lye. If it’s too high, add more water, if it won’t float, it needs to cook down a lot more or else be poured through a new batch of ashes. The egg will need to be destroyed after use. Another test of the lye strength is to dip a bird feather in it, and if it dissolves, the lye is strong enough. Don’t test it with your finger; if it’s strong enough, it will eat off the skin.
Rendering The Fat
After the animal (beef or pork) is butchered, take the fat and skin that you set aside and fill a heavy bottomed pot. Pork is the preferred fat for soapmaking. It’s best to render it outside so as to not stink up the house. We have used a homemade propane burner on legs, with a funnel to channel the air to make the flame hotter. Something similar could be made to use with wood heat. Simmer the fat in the pot, then ladle the liquid fat out of the cooking pot. We killed a 400 lb. hog and got about 10 gallons of rendered fat.
Making Soap—The Cold Process
If using commercially produced lye, it’s possible to use a cold process, where you warm the fat and dissolve the lye in water, then add the lye water to the fat and put in a blender and mix it, then pour into a mold. The emulsification starts when it “traces” with a spoon dragged over the rippled mixture.  It has to set for 6 weeks in the mold to be properly mixed.
1 lb. Commercial Lye soap recipe
¼ c. commercially produced lye
¾ c. soft water
2 c. (1 lb.) fat
6 lb. Commercial Lye soap recipe
13 oz commercially produced lye
1 ½ pt. soft water
12 c. (6 lb.) fat
Instructions: Suit up in safety goggles, gloves and long sleeves. Start with room temperature or cooler water. [Correction by JWR.] Add the lye to the water. This will warm the water substantially. Stir well, making sure you don’t breathe in the fumes. Set the mixture aside to cool, preferably outside or in a well ventilated area.
Melt all the oils together in a lye-tolerant pan. Allow them to cool to approximately 110°F or within 5° of the lye water.
Add the lye water to the melted oils, never the oil to the lye water. Stir vigorously until “trace” occurs. This can be done in a blender if you so desire. If you are stirring by hand, it may take an hour or more for it to trace.
Pour the traced soap mixture into your molds. Cover. Cut after 3-7 days. Allow to sit for a full 6 weeks to cure and finish the saponification process.
Making Soap—The Cooked Process
It isn’t recommended to use homemade lye with the cold process. The cooked-down lye water is added to the fat and then mixed as it cooks. The reactive time is shorter, since the mixing is done in the pot instead of setting in the mold. It still needs to set for four weeks or so to harden.
1 lb. Homemade Lye soap recipe
¾ c. lye water
½ tsp. salt
2 c. fat
6 lb. Homemade Lye soap recipe
4 ½ c. lye water
1 Tbsp. salt
12 c. (6 lb.) fat
The amount of lye will vary, depending on its strength. This is a starting measurement. The old timers would mix it up and see how well it set. If it was still watery, they’d add more lye and cook it some more. If it set up too hard, they’d add more water, because they didn’t want the soap to crack.
Mix the lye water, salt and fat in the pot. They need to be about the same temperature. The mixture is then heated and stirred until the emulsification (trace) happens. The heating and stirring enables adjustment of the amount of fat or lye, but nothing should be added until it is well heated. Pour into the mold. Cover. Cut after 3-7 days. Allow to harden 4-6 weeks.
Essential oils can be added to the fats before the lye is added. You can choose your own combination. The amount of essential oils needs to be part of the total amount of fat, so the soap isn’t made soft from too much oil. Botanicals, herbs, oatmeal, citrus peels, or any other desired additives can be added after the soap traces, and then it can be poured into the mold.
No metal should be used as a soap mold. It’s best to use a flexible material such as plastic, for ease of removal. I mostly search thrift stores for old plastic storage boxes. The old-timers made wooden molds with removable bottoms. Or you can line a glass mold with plastic wrap before pouring in the soap.  
Once you’ve used homemade lye soap, you’ll never go back to the store bought stuff. It sounds like a lot of work, but it’s so much better than anything found on a store shelf.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

In today's world, you might wonder why working rawhide and brain tanning buckskin skill would be a benefit to anybody, when you can run to the hardware store and buy an unlimited supply of plastic, nylon, fiberglass, and what not to do your jobs. And why would anybody in their right mind want to wear anything made out of buckskin? When you have designer jeans, and all kinds of clothing to buy, in most stores like Wal-mart, K-mart, or even the used clothing stores? One question you might ask is how much of these things will be available when the fiat dollar bites the dust, or if a number of natural disasters happen? And what about a total SHTF situation, where there are no open stores selling anything? Might be worth consideration?
Working rawhide will give you a good substitute in most cases for a lot of plastics, and if you learn to brain tan buckskin, you can make clothing as soft and comfortable as velvet, but let me tell you, it isn't easy work! And right off, I'd hate to arm wrestle an Indian squaw from the 1800's that did hide scraping on a daily basis, those had to be very strong women!   And let me tell you, after scraping both sides of a bull hide, you realize that your arms aren't nearly as strong as you thought they were. Lets start with buckskin first.
The tools you'll need is a very sharp knife, a scraper, (I'll get into that a little down the line) a 2x4 stud hide rack, which is made up of  4- stud 8' long nailed or bolted into a square, bolting is better with holes so you can adjust the size of the rack to fit the hide your working on,  and it's best to mount the hide as high as possible on the rack, to save your back. 4- 25' lengths of heavy cordage, bailing twine, or parachute chord, which I find works the best, to lace the hide on the rack. a 1/8" to 1/4" leather punch, or a knife will work in a pinch to poke holes about 2" apart around the edge of the hide, A large needle made from a coat hanger, to feed the cordage through the holes, and lace on the rack.
Now for the scraper, I took a large file, heated it up on the forge, pounded out one end, and ground it out like a chisel edge, put a 90 degree bend back about 3" from the edge, when you get it done, it should look like an old well used hoe with rounded edges, no sharp edges like a new hoe would have, as this will damage your hide when scraping. When you get that done, re-temper it. This can be done by heating it up to an orange heat, then quench it in a bucket of salt water. The harder you can get the edge, the less you have to sharpen it. Now mount this in a 2' handle, an old shovel handle, or any smooth round piece of wood. You can use pine pitch to mount it in a cut out and wrap it with rawhide. Or if you have a welder, it can be welded on a piece of 1-1/2" black iron pipe, are you starting to get the picture?
Now getting back to the hide, a fresh hide is best to work with while it's still wet, and the cleaner you can skin, leaving all meat and fat on the animal, the less work you have later. Now don't get the idea that deer hide are the only thing that make good buckskin, Elk, young beef calves, dogs, coyotes, wolves, antelope, sheep, goats, most any medium sized animal hides can make good buckskin. I use to have a local dairyman save me the calves that died, and instead of taking them to the local dump, they would dump them in my front yard, and I'd skin them out, then I'd haul the calf to the dump minus the hide and brain, and sinews, leg bones and hoofs. (good knife handles and making glue)
Most of the books I've read on tanning suggest salting down the hides, but I have found it's a lot stronger buckskin if you work with a fresh hide unsalted, salted hides I've found tear easy and don't have the strength you need in long term buckskin clothing. I've got a pair of pants I made about 40 years ago that are still as good and strong as the day they were made. but I also don't wear them daily like jeans.
Okay, you now have your hide laced to the rack and ready to start scraping. Start on the flesh side (the other side from the hair) and scrape in down strokes, it's just like shaving, you slip side ways and you get cut, same with a hide. And you'll find the more careful you can skin, with no knife strokes on the hide the easier it will scrape. you have to remove all fat and membrane from the skin, get as close as possible to your lacing without cutting them. And by now you will have pains in the back of your arms. A little side note here, when you get into rawhide and Buckskinning, you take great care to get a head or neck shot on the animal your hunting, I've found that a shot right behind the ear is an instant kill with most rifles, including a .22 Long Rifle.
 Once you get that side as clean as possible, turn the rack over and start on the hair. You'll find if you can mount your rack against a tree or against anything to work in an upright position, it works better than flat on the ground. You'll notice that the hair comes off with a layer of skin (the scarf skin) under the hair, this has to be removed, to get the brain penetration. And if you let the hide dry out for an hour after you do the flesh side, your scraper will make a tearing sound as you scrape. There again scrape as close as possible to your cordage and holes, without cutting them! I suggest working in a shaded area if possible, so the hide doesn't dry out before you get it scraped.
When all hair and scarf skin is removed, cut the hide out of the rack with a knife about an inch out from the holes and lacing, take the skin and wash it in a clean bucket of water, then let it soak. Meanwhile take the brains and boil them in a kettle of water, then mash them into the water, to where it looks like a white liquid, some people take a piece of cotton cloth and put in the pan of boiling water, then put the brains in the water over the cloth, and as it cools, mash the brains by pulling the cloth up and squeezing it with your hands and keep dipping it in the kettle until all the brain is mashed into a liquid, I never tried this, as I mash them pretty good with a potatoes masher. Then take the liquid brain and water mixture, pore it into a half full, (2 to 2 1/2 gallons) 5 gallon bucket of cool water, dip the hide in the bucket, and squeeze it until it's saturated with the brain water.
I have found that a 6' rope tied loose around a tree on both ends, works good to work the hide, put the bucket under the rope, take the hide and work it back and forth over the rope to where the water drains back into the bucket. When the hide is wrung out good dip it back in the bucket, and soak it up again. by dipping and wringing it out you are forcing the solution through the hide, and removing the hide glue between the fibers, keep this process up for about a half an hour then the last wringing out and working of the hide, let it hang over the rope for a couple hours, but just before it's dried, still damp, work it over the rope stretching it from one direction then the other, until it's completely dry. Now you should have a soft stark white buckskin hide. But this isn't really tanned like chrome tanning, if you get the hide wet in this state, it will get hard when it dries out again.
To prevent this from happening, it has to be smoked. By doing this you saturate the hide fibers with wood smoke pitch. I dig a hole about 30" deep 12" diameter, and take the coals from a fire drop into the hole, and drop in damp chainsaw sawdust in over the coals, then make a small teepee framework and clamp the hide with clothes pins or clamps, but make sure there is only smoke coming up out of the hole and not much heat! Keep turning the hide so all parts on both sides are exposed to the smoke coming up out of the hole. I like the hide to come out about the color of a buckskin horse, but the longer you smoke it the darker it gets and more water resistant. Just roll it up and store in a cool dry place until you have enough hides to make something out of them!
It takes me five hides to make a shirt, with fringe, four hides to make pants, and I did make my pants out of two large elk hides. Now getting back to the circle of hide you left on the rack, unlace it, so you have a big circle of hide, and now you can cut several feet of lacing from the left over piece. Good for lacing, or buckstitching your clothes, and dozens of uses for this lacing.
Now for the rawhide-
Use the basic same process as you did for buckskin, but after both sides are scraped clean, cut it out of the rack then and not go through the braining process. Some of the old timers use to not use a rack and just stretch the hide out and put ashes on the hair side, and keeping the hide damp for several days and changing the ashes, the hair will brush off with little effort leaving the scarfskin on the hide for more strength. But really has to be rinsed good before using! Using lime does the same thing and works faster than the ashes. Depending on what you have available.
My wife's grandmother had some chairs made back about 1900 by a Navajo carpenter made with 1" and 2" willow saplings, the bark was cleaned off the wood, and his joints were made with slots cut through the wood and laces into place with rawhide, and the seat was made with woven rawhide, and the chair was just as solid as the day it was made. So much for screws, glue, and nails in the white man's furniture!

I've also seen some adobe homes built by the Spanish back in the early 1700s in southern California, where log rafters were laced into place with rawhide, then willow saplings laced on to the log rafters, and I'm not sure what was over the willow saplings, this couldn't be seen from inside the house, but it supported the half round clay tile for hundreds of years.
One trick I learned using rawhide was making foot forms. Take a 2x8 about 18 inches long, draw around your foot on two of these, left and right, then drill a hole on the line, cut around the foot pattern, take a rasp and widen the cut so the foot form drops back into the form with about 1/4" clearance around the form, shave the foot form to where its rounded. Take the rawhide from around the neck of the animal, where it's the thickest, cut two pieces out about 2" wider than your foot. soak the rawhide for a day, then put it over the hole in the form, and using a mallet, tap the foot form into the hole, over the rawhide to where it's level with the form, then trim the excess sticking up out of the form  with a knife, let it set in the form for a day or two until it dried out good, then tap it out of the form, and you should have a rawhide soul that your foot fits into. I took an old warn out pair of boots, cut around the soul, threw away the old warn out soul, punched holes about a half inch apart around the boot and the rawhide soul and sewed them together with wet rawhide lacing. The lacing when it dried swells and seals off the punched holes, and made a good pair of moccasin boots. and in the winter if you spread out a fresh rabbit or cat hide inside the boot, it's nice and warm.
I know the animal lovers will be appalled by suggesting using dog and cat hides, but just keep in mind that WTSHTF, there is going to be a big problem with feral dogs and cats, as people not having the heart to kill them when they can no longer feed them, will just turn them loose to forage for themselves, causing problems for other people trying to survive in a changed world.
A trick about rawhide lacing, when you use it, soak it, and when it's wet and flexible, run it through a rag with tallow in it, but without stretching it as you pull it through, this gives it a protective coating, and makes it water resistant. Oh yeah, the tallow is the fat you saved from the animal you skinned and rendered it out in a frying pan, and pored it into a can for later use! About every five years or so, I wipe down my buckskin pants and shirt with tallow, and let it hang in the sun for a couple hours until the tallow souls into the skins, then smoke them again, this preserves the buckskin for a very long time. I've read that some of the old Mountain men wore the same buckskins for several years in the mountains hunting and trapping. The re-smoking reduces smells, and if you hunt in buckskins, wrap them up at night with pine needles, or cedar bark, to give you that sent the next day.
Once you get into rawhiding, you'll find hundreds of used for this long forgotten material! Many of the big ranches in the west during the 1800's had a hired Mexican or Indian rawhider, that worked full time on rawhide, ropes, bridles, reigns, chaps, and saddle repairs. This might be something worthwhile to learn for an uncertain future, especially if it can make you life more comfortable in the hard times ahead.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Having spent my teenage years in my dad's commercial reloading shop, circa 1955 to1958, I learned quite a bit about reloading ammunition. Back then we loaded mostly .30-06, .30-30 Winchester, .270 Winchester, .300 Savage, 250 Savage and other old calibers that were excellent deer and elk rifles. Long before the magnum mania came about, these rifles were killing big game, and doing it quite well.

Many today find this unbelievable, but back when the silver certificates were money, and fiat currency was only a dream of the globalist bankers, you could buy a pound of DuPont 4895, a box of 100- .30 caliber JSP bullets, and a box of 100 Large rifle primers for less than $5! And the best Winchester and Remington .22 Long Rifle cartridges were 50 to 60 cents per box of 50!

But those days are long gone now, and JSP bullets of all kinds now run well over $20 a hundred, and $30 for the specialty bullets. And today the gun manufactures are under the illusion that you have to come out with a new caliber every year, just like the auto industry, to sell guns to the public. This one has a little more destructive bullet and is 30 FPS faster than the last caliber that came out, But I'll guarantee you the deer or elk has no idea how fast the bullet was that took him down, whether is came at 1,600 FPS, or 3,500 FPS, he's just as dead. And remember, before 1900, all bullets traveled at less than 2,000 FPS, and many were in the 1,200 to 1,500 FPS category, and  they killed everything that walked the American continent.

Most people on fixed incomes are always looking for alternatives to the high prices of ammo when making other preparations for the coming collapse. Well, a bullet mold for each rifle and pistol caliber you own is a good investment. And some old advise from Elmer Keith, always get the biggest bullet that will function in the calibers you shoot! And I feel most of the time, this is very true, especially with cast bullets. But there are exceptions with mold and bullet designs. I like the Lee mold 121 grain plain base truncated cone in the 9mm, which I find also works well in the .380 ACP. But I shoot the 195-200 grain dome bullet in the .38 Special.  I still have the first mold that I bought for  $6.00 complete with handles, a Lyman 357446 Semi Wadcutter (SWC) 160 grain. And I wouldn't shoot anything less than a 230 grain in the 45 ACP, I've seen too many failures of the lighter weight JHPs. But that's a personal choice. In the old S&W .45 ACP revolvers (Model 1917 and 1934 Brazilian) I like the 255 grain Keith SWC with 5 grains of Unique powder, which seems to drop badly if shooting over 150 yards out of the Commander size M1911 autos.

By the way, don't get caught up in the gun writers in the gun magazines. They are writing for the money, and get most of the things they write about from the factory for just writing an article about it. I use to get a kick out of Charles Askins, one article the revolver is much superior to the auto loader, the next month or so, the auto loader was better than the revolver! It was just a matter of who sent him what at the time, which was the better gun.

If you are just starting out with your preps, Watch the yard sales and pawn shops for bargains on reloading equipment. I suggest an old Lyman lead pot that can be used over a fire, along with their dipper. The electric pots work great, as long as you have electric power. I have an old Saeco 20 LB. electric pot that I had repaired several times over the years when the wiring got too hot and shorted out, last time I just tore it apart and now use just the pot in a wood monkey stove, as it fits good in the top front wood feed hole. And seems to heat faster than it did with electric power.

Now after years of loading ammo, I say there is no round that can't be reloaded if you have the proper tools. I have reloaded the steel Russian 7.62x39 rounds, that they say are not reloadable, But with inflation today, you pay more per primer for the 550 mm Berdan primer package of 250 primers, than you do per loaded round for the surplus 7.62x39 ammunition! But I do keep a couple packages around just for drill! Also note that the Berdan primers come in several sizes, so you have to figure out what you've got before you buy a package of the wrong size. But RCBS does make a good decapping tool, that works better than filling the case with water and [hydraulically] popping them out with a stick the right size!

Getting back to the cast bullets, a friend who lives in California just told me you can't shoot lead bullets anymore in California, because the California Condor is swallowing them when eating dead game and dying of lead poisoning. And if you believe that one, I have some beach front property near Las Vegas, Nevada I'll sell you, real cheap! I think the liberals and bunny huggers slipped one over on the hunters and shooters of California.

I cast a Lyman .311041 179 grain gas check bullet, for use in the .30-30, also shoots well in the .308 Winchester, .30-06, 7.7 Jap, 7.65 Argentine, and .303 British. It has a flat nose and feeds without danger in Winchester and Marlin tube feed magazines. I prefer the old Lyman .311314 -180 grain gas check bullet In the military rifles as it's a spitzer shape and doesn't drop as fast as the flat nose for longer shots. But my favorite bullet for .30-06 is the Lyman .311224- 220 grain gas check bullet which comes out of my mold at about 225 grains. For the newcomers, a gas check is a small copper jacket that goes on the base of a cast bullet, if there is a recess for a gas check. It seals the gases that might blow by on a plain base bullet. I use beeswax for fluxing the lead pot, keeps the metal melted so the tin or hard metals don't float to the top and get skimmed off as slag. or candles work well too if you can find them cheap, but will catch fire if pot gets too hot. in fact I make all my own bullet lube, melt bee's wax in a coffee can, add graphite, and a wax toilet seal ring found in most plumbing shops, Wal-Mart, or Home Depot. And pore it into the bullet sizer hot. The only bullet lube I buy today is SPG Black powder bullet lube and TC Bore Butter from Dixie Gun Works in Union City, Tennessee. They also have many other black powder shooting supplies.

Now for the survivalist, the one powder that can be used in any rifle,  pistol, or shotgun is Unique. You can come up with a shootable loading for any rifle, pistol or shotgun using Unique. Incidentally, I use Bullseye in the small pistol calibers .25 ACP (a totally worthless caliber) the .32 ACP, and the .380 ACP. And in case this nation gets into civil war, after the fiat dollar collapse, Bullseye pistol powder has a very high burning rate. You really have to be careful when using this powder, I've seen lots of good S&W and Colt revolvers over the years, missing the top half of the cylinder and the top strap folded up, from people starting out reloading, and thinking 3.0 grains of Bullseye couldn't possibly be enough powder, like the book says, and triple charge it. I believe you can get something like 15 grains of Bullseye in a .357 mag case and still set the bullet on it, but if you do, you have just turned your favorite handgun into a hand grenade! (Very dangerous!) So don't exceed what the reloading manuals says as a maximum charge with any powder. That brings up another good point, get a good reloading manual, I've got dozens I've bought over the years, but always seem to go back to the Lyman Reloading Handbook as it seems to cover a lot more than most.

I have made many of my own powder dippers, as in survival reloading you can't take along a powder scale and measure if you have to bug out. I use to keep a Lee hand press and set of dies with dipper and powder, bullets, and primers in a .50 caliber ammo can, with a hundred cases and bullets, (my grab and run box) when I worked nights at the sheriff's office as dispatcher. On a quiet night I could load a hundred rounds of .38s or 9mms and sometimes .45 ACP. It sure beat watching television!

To make my dippers, I take a fired cartridge case close to the size powder charge I need, pound a 5 inch piece of brazing rod flat on one end and solder it on the base of the case, then take an old piece of antler, preferably a contoured tip, cut it off, and drill a hole in the cut off end, and epoxy the rod into the antler. Then start dipping powder, and using your scale weigh it, and file off the opening until it gets down to the powder charge you want, then run the burr remover around the inside and out side of the case mouth to remove the burrs. I find this is just as accurate as using a mechanical powder measure, once you get the hang of dipping powder. Lee also make a kit full of plastic dippers, but I prefer to use my own, in case I don't have a pair of glasses handy to read what's on the plastic dippers, to make sure I have the right dipper.

Paper patching - This never took hold in our military, but was quite common in all of Europe back in the 1800s. Our Buffalo hunters did get into the paper patch bullets from the Sharps rifle company. To paper patch, you use an under sized bullet and cutting a parallelogram out of cotton bond paper, dampen it then starting half way down the bullet wrap the paper, the cuts should come out together, meaning the first wrap should have a wrap of paper over it, but have it come out to where the last wrap butts against the first with no overlap, Then twist the paper hanging over the bottom to where its flat against the base of the bullet,then trim off the excess.  It will tear when you stick it into the case if the cuts overlap on the sides and cause a bump. I have several molds I've had made for paper patching, but never used them yet, other than the 460 grain 45/70 bullet, over a charge of 58 grains of FFFG [black powder] with a felt wad soaked with Bore Butter. Loading black powder is a whole different science, and if you get into it, you'll find some very accurate ammo can be made up with black powder loadings.

The art of paper patching can be a benefit in survival conditions as you can patch up a .243 bullet to shoot in the 6.5 mm, the 6.5 mm up to 7mm, the .270 bullet to shoot in a 30 caliber, or the .30 caliber to shoot in the 8mm Mauser, and it's all in cutting the right [thickness] wrap out of cotton bond paper.  That is if you don't have the right bullets for the right caliber!

Something I might mention for survivalists is chamber adapters. I have adapters for most of my .30 caliber rifles that will shoot .32 ACP ammo from a .30 caliber rifle. This is legal, but very quiet, as you fire a .32 ACP out of a .30-06, as the bullet travels down the barrel some of the gas bleeds around the chamber adaptor, lessening the report, plus the fact that the 32 doesn't break the sound barrier, you don't have the loud supersonic crack that is normal for the .30-06. Good for shooting rabbits while deer hunting. I'm loading a Lee Mold 100 grain cast round nose in the .32 ACP over 2.0 grains of Bullseye, and I think I might be a little hesitant about shooting the 71 grain FMJ down the .30 caliber barrel, as most are .312 to .314 Diameter. I have a confession to make here, a while back a guy gave me a hand full of very old .32 ACP ammo, with steel jackets. I wanted the brass but was to lazy to use the puller, and took an old Mark 4 British .303 out with the chamber adaptor and started shooting up the .32 ammo, about the 5th or 6th shot, shooting at a 6" rock about 75 yards out, I didn't see any impact, so I shot 2 more rounds and then the lights came on after seeing no impact, maybe I should pull the bolt and check the bore. Well I had about three of these stuck in the barrel about 4" from the muzzle. I tried in vain to knock them out with a rod and mallet, no dice. so I took the rifle over to our local gunsmith to see if he could get them out. No way, so I now have [shortened it to become] a British .303 carbine with no flash hider! A lesson learned the hard way, no Jacketed bullet use in the adaptors, from then on!

Accuracy - No question in my mind after years of shooting cast rifle bullets, if you use the right bullet material combination, lead, tin, antimony, and good bullet lube, the right powder charge, you'll find cast bullets can be just as accurate as any of the expensive jacketed bullets on the market. Most shooters know every rifle barrel has it's own vibration, and finding the vibration of your barrel can be tricky. I had an old 1903 Springfield sporter with an old 4X Weaver scope on it, and the Government ammo would shoot a 3" group at 100 yards, I started loading a 165 grain JSP-BT (Jacketed soft point boat tail) and pulled that down to 2" I started backing down the powder charge 1/2 grain at a time, and got down to 45 Grains of IMR 4895 and it was breaking one hole! This is an impossibility for most old military Springfield's. But at 45 grains I found the rifle barrels vibration point.

I experimented with cast bullets in a Ruger Mini-14 .223, all I had was a 44 grain gas check round nose mold so I started experimenting with powders and loads. When I got it up to where it would cycle the action, I was shooting about a two foot group at 100 yards, and the barrel was leading something fierce. So I started backing it down to where I was shooting a 6" group and working it like a bolt action! I gave up. So I found an old Rockchucker .224 bullet forming die and press, at a very good price, so I bought it, including about 1400 .224 copper jackets. Well, having a metal lathe, I took a 7/8x14 hardened bolt annealed it and bored it .225, and made a .217by 4"  post with a shell holder base, re-hardened the bolt and base, and now I make .224 jackets from .22 Long rifle brass. It's a long, slow process to make bullets this way, but it will function the autos, and it's very accurate. You have to find clean 22 brass, anneal it in the oven for 3 hours on "Broil", CCI stinger nickel plated brass makes pretty bullets. About another hour in the oven, but you have to check them close for cracked and overlapped tips. those shoot okay in a .22 Hornet or .223 at lower velocities, but not in full house loads. Then you have to cast the cores, I cut the core mold into the back side of an old .50 caliber ball mold that was rusted I found at a yard sale. I take the cores slip them into the .22 LR jacket, tap them with a rubber mallet to set them into the bottom of the jacket, then run them into the die to form the .224 bullet. Then after you make up 500 or so, put them in the brass tumbler for a couple hours to clean them up. they come out 62 grain, the Stinger brass come out a little heaver, almost a hollow point. The home made bullets from .22 LR brass seem just as accurate out of the AR, Mini-14 and .223 bolt rifles and shot out of the .22-250 at around 3,400 FPS--very accurate.

Now I'm working on developing a similar die set for .30 caliber. One more thing worth mentioning is the small rifle and small pistol primers are the same size cups, same as the large rifle and large pistol primers are the same size. The cups on the pistol primers are a little thinner than the rifle, for obvious reasons, most rifle firing pins hit a lot harder than pistols do. I have used rifle primers in pistol rounds, and they seem to work fine. You might run into problems on S&W revolvers, using rifle primers, if you have the spring tension screw backed off to get a lighter trigger pull, but this could also happen with pistol primers, if backed off too far. Men sometime do this for wives who have trouble shooting double action, don't! Your taking a chance on a misfire when you do this. And never use a pistol primer in a rifle round, the cup is too thin and if the firing pin penetrates the primer, you will get gas back in your face.

Well reloading in my case is a necessity, being on Social Security I can't afford to buy anything but .22 Long Rifle ammo. But I think over the years I have loaded enough ammo to keep my grandkids shooting for life. Keep a good supply of powder and primers, and bullets if you can afford to buy them in bulk. My main powders are IMR 4895, 3031, Unique, 2400, and Bullseye, yeah, I'm old school. Bullseye is good for .38 Specials, using the 200 grain cast dome bullet with 3.5 grains of Bullseye I get 2,000 loads from a pound of powder. I have tried most of the new powders, but always go back to my old mainstays. (I hope I didn't insult anybody by saying the .25 ACP was worthless!) I load 0.7 grain of Bullseye with the 50 grain FMJ for my daughter in law, she has an old Colt Junior that her dad gave her, and she loves it. But in most cases the .22 Long Rifle is a much better choice than the .25, and lots cheaper! Incidentally, loading that .25 ACP with 0.7 grains that comes out to 10,000 rounds from a pound of Bullseye. And about 3500 rounds of .32 ACP from a pound of Bullseye. And if you buy these powders in the 4 or 8 pound containers that's a lot of reloading! I just wish the 4895 would stretch that far, but I get something like 145 rounds of .308 from a pound, depending on which bullet I use. I really like the Sierra 168 grain JHP-BT, that's about as close as I've come to the 173 grain FMJ military match bullet.

One main thing about reloading, keep in mind that alcohol and gunpowder is a bad mixture, and pay attention to all the operations, if somebody comes in and wants to talk, quit loading and talk. And over load is bad, but a round loaded with no powder is much worse, the primer, most of the time has enough power to put the bullet into the rifling just far enough to chamber another round! And if you don't catch the mistake and fire the following round you blow the barrel, and possibly ruin the action! Not to mention part of your face! So pay attention, and follow the manual closely, and don't use a load from memory, always look it up and make sure it's right! And never shoot somebody's reloads that you don't know, better to pull them down and reload them yourself than take a chance on blowing up a gun!

Survival reloading may come sooner than we'd like. I have Lyman 310 [hand reloading press] tools for several calibers but I don't care for the neck sizing only, and the load aren't interchangeable from one rifle to another of the same caliber. I much prefer the Lee Hand Press that will take your regular die sets. the only problem I've had with the Lee was there is no hole for the primers to fall out of the ram, and If you don't dump it regular it gets so many primers, that you can't pull the shell holder out of the ram. I drilled a hole in the front of the ram, and that solved the problem. Then I pulled one apart removing a sized .30-06 case from the die, the hand press is engineered for push action, and not pulling. When I got the replacement part I poured fiberglass resin with patches of aluminum screen in the hollow, and so far haven't pulled it apart again!

I've seen some reloaders mount a reloading press on the back bumper of their pickup, this is okay out in the country, but It wouldn't fly in the big cities where the anti-gun crowd lives, and driving on dirt roads doesn't do the press parts any good, plus they have to unscrew the handle every time it's not in use! Just watch the yard sales, pawn shops and junk stores and mainly estate sales, relatives that aren't into shooting usually have no idea what the dead uncle had invested and what everything is that he had in his shop! Many times you can buy a fortune in ammo brass and loading equipment for pennies on the dollar at these sales! And I have picked up loads of reloading stuff at sales from people who have no idea what the stuff was used for, and when you tell them it's for making bullets, they don't really want it around for fear the kids might get into it and get hurt.

One final note on cast bullets and killing game. I brain tan deer and elk hides. And if the animal is shot with a cast bullet, there is no blood saturation or fragment holes on the hide. Just a small size hole through both sides. When people offer me a hide, I ask what the animal was shot with, and if they say a .300 Magnum or 7mm magnum, I tell them no thanks, too much bullet damage, I've tried to save some that had about a 12" circle of small fragment holes and blood saturation around the exit hole, and I end up losing most of the bullet exit side of the hide! So when the dollar fails and you were too late to buy more ammo, I hope you were wise enough to buy the dies and molds for the guns you have. Plus the pot and dipper. And the dozens of other tools that expand you capabilities in reloading.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Dear James-
I just recently found your blog through a story on The Daily Crux by Stansberry and Associates. I am very impressed by the amount and quality of the info. I now feel less alone! The people that I have tried to talk to here don't have a clue-they either say that if something bad happens they know we will take care of(feed) them or they say that they have guns and will take what they need. I only know of two other preppers and they are many miles away. We run a greenhouse business and vegetable farm in northern Wisconsin. We also raise chickens ,turkeys and pigs.We freeze,can and dehydrate and keep stocking up  but doubt we can defend it. The economy is slowly going to put us under. Our balloon is due and no one makes commercial loans here anymore. Sales are declining and people keep expecting more for less. While this is a rural area, the majority of residents work for state or local government.
We desperately want to move to the mountains but funds will be tight. If by some miracle we can sell out we might have $150,000 but if we lose this place we might only have $30,000. Far too little to buy a place with live water and a few acres for veggies, fruit and animals. Are there like minded people who want to live off grid, be self sufficient and are conservative that would like to buy a larger piece of property to share. Maybe a mini community of people that could rely on each other. We like northwest Montana, the panhandle of Idaho, and northeastern Washington. I am looking for someplace quiet but need to be within driving distance of farmers markets to sell produce, eggs and meat. If you have any thoughts or ideas please let me know.
Thank You, - M.J.

JWR Replies: There are lots of towns in the American Redoubt that have active farmer's markets from Spring through Fall each year. I have found directories of Farmer's Markets posted on the web for Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming. Needless to say, the presence of farmer's markets is a good indicator for towns with arable soil and some self-sufficient folks and hence a locale with some retreat potential. (Although be advised that there are lots of larger cities that host farmer's markets wherein the "local" farmers often drive 75+ miles, to attend!) Furthermore, in a post-collapse America, it will likely be the local farmer's markets that will be the genesis of a revived economy--whether it is via barter or with some new currency.

Monday, September 19, 2011

I've had numerous requests from SurvivalBlog readers for some articles on reloading, and in particular, on how to reload. It is beyond the scope of any single article to teach anyone how to reload in several easy steps. There are many videos and reloading manuals available that can teach you, step-by-step, how to reload. There are also some on-line courses you can take to teach you how to reload. There isn't anything magical about reloading, it's really pretty simple and enjoyable - I've been reloading for more than 40 years now, and I personally find it a relaxing way to spend my time.

It doesn't take a lot of money to get started in reloading, either. You can get a simple, single-stage reloading press, powder scale, reloading dies, etc. for about $100 - add a couple good reloading manuals, primers, powder, brass and bullets and you're ready to get going. One of the best things about reloading is the savings you'll get by rolling your own ammo - you can reload most ammo less expensively than you can purchase it off your sporting goods dealer shelves. Plus, you can tailor loads to your own particular guns if you want the absolute best accuracy from a particular gun.

If you're serious about survival, or serious about firearms, then you owe it to yourself to get involved in reloading. I make no claims as to being any sort of expert when it comes to reloading. My good friend, John Taffin, who is also a gun writer, is one of the best when it comes to reloading, and I often consult him when I have a question about reloading a particular round. I had a magazine editor offer me a regular column on reloading not long ago, however, I turned him down. As I said, I'm no expert when it comes to reloading. I do it because I enjoy it and find it very relaxing.

Most of my reloading is limited to only a few calibers these days. I reload the .45 ACP, .30-06 and .300 Winchester Magnum - that's about it! I probably shoot the .45 ACP round more than any other caliber, so I'm only going to cover this round in this article - besides, it's one of my favorite rounds. That's not to say I don't reload other calibers, but the above three are the calibers I've reloaded the most.

I don't own a reloading library, instead, I have a couple good reloading manuals I consult, and my favorite is the Speer reloading manual #13, and one of these days, I'll get #14. I also use the Nosler Reloading Guide, (5th edition). There is also a wealth of reloading information you can find on-line from a number of bullet, brass and powder companies - and it's free information, too.

The .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) has been around since 1905 - that's a good long time, and it has developed a solid following as a fight-stopping round. John Browning chose a 230 grain bullet at 850-feet per second for his 1911 handgun, and this is pretty much the "standard" for this round. Oh, to be sure, there are many ammo companies, like Black Hills Ammunition and Buffalo Bore Ammunition that produce some outstanding +P loads for the .45 ACP. However, I've never loaded my own .45 ACP ammo to anything except standard velocities.

Tim Sundles, who owns and operates Buffalo Bore Ammunition, turned me on to Rim Rock Bullets which is owned and operated by Frank Brown. Frank also manufactures the hard cast lead bullets that Buffalo Bore Ammunition uses in their rounds that use hard cast lead bullets. So right off the bat, I had a lot of respect for Rim Rock Bullets - if Buffalo Bore is using 'em in their ammo - then I knew they would be good.

Much of my own reloading for the .45 ACP has been either 230 grain FMJ, 200 grain SWC, 185 grain SWC and 185 grain JHP bullets. For shooting pleasure and target practice, it's hard to beat the 185 grain SWC and 200 grain SWC lead bullets. My only complaint about using lead bullets in the past have been they were soft lead, and they really get a gun dirty and the barrel needs extra time to clean it - and I don't enjoy spending a lot of time cleaning my guns - I'd rather be out shooting.

The Rim Rock 200 grain SWC bullet is lead, hard cast, so there is no excessive leading in your barrel - what's not to like here? I wish I had discovered Rim Rock's hard cast bullets long ago. And, truth be told, the hard cast bullets aren't very much more money than soft lead bullets are. You can get 500 hard cast lead bullets from Rim Rock for $76.50 and that's cheap enough if you ask me.

Okay, when reloading any semiauto handgun round, you need to put a taper crimp on the bullet - not a roll crimp. I'm not gonna go into great detail here, but most semi-auto rounds, like the .45 ACP headspace on the rim of the case. So the case mouth can't be rolled over the bullet's groove, like you can do on [straight-case] rimmed rounds. (Such as the .38 Special that headspace on the rim of the brass.) And it takes special care to get just the right amount of taper on the brass/bullet so the rounds will headspace properly. It's a trial and error sort of thing, that you'll learn as you get into reloading for semi-auto handguns.

Most of my life, I've only used single-stage reloading presses. This means you can only perform one reloading step at a time. You need to de-prime your old brass, then re-prime it, add your powder and then your bullet and seat it. It takes time to do each step. Usually what I'll do is take about 500 pieces of brass and punch out all the old primers, then I'll use a hand primer to seat new primers - at some point, down the road, when I'm ready to start loading the brass - and this could be months down the road - I'll get my reloading dies all set and adjusted and start measuring and pouring powder in my empty brass, then seat the bullets. Like I said, I'm not gonna try to teach you to reload in this article. There's more to it than this - and one step is to get a case tumbler to clean your old brass and make it nice and shiny before reloading it.

I like a single-stage press as I feel they give me more control and I can precisely load each round exactly the way I want it. I have several single-stage reloading presses, but the one I use most was given to me by a friend from Alaska (now deceased) and it's an ancient single-stage press made by Pacific. I use this press because it works best for me, and there is the nostalgia there - it was given to me by a good friend. I also have several Lee brand single-stage reloading presses as well. The only time I used a progressive reloading press was when I worked for the late Col. Rex Applegate - he loved shooting .38 Special rounds and it was my chore to keep the good Colonel well-supplied in this caliber. Still, I prefer single-stage reloading presses for my own use. Sure, you can pump out hundreds or thousands of rounds faster on a progressive press. However, as I mentioned, I find reloading very relaxing and I'm never in a hurry to reload.

There are any number of good reloading powders you can find for rolling your own .45 ACP rounds, however, I've found that the ol' standby of "Unique" to take care of a lot of my reloading chores - it's been around forever and it's, well..."unique" in that it is very versatile. The .45 ACP doesn't have to be loaded to high velocities to get the job done all the time. For sheer shooting pleasure, I like to keep the 200 grain SWC load under 800 f.p.s.. I've found that with the hard cast 200 grain SWC bullets from Rim Rock, and 5.4 grains of Unique, I can keep these bullets moving along at slightly under 800 f.p.s.. Remember, when working up any new load, to reduce your starting load by about 10% and work your way up to the desired velocity you want - and keep an eye out for excessive pressure - one way is to look at your empty brass for flattened primers. Of course, this isn't the only sign of over-pressured rounds. You'll learn as you go along.

The Rim Rock 200 grain SWC is not only a good bullet for target practice, it's also a good round for self defense and small to medium game out in the field. You don't always need super-hot rounds in a .45 ACP to get the job done. Remember, you are already starting out with a bullet that is almost half an inch in diameter to start with - so it's gonna make a big hole going in. The Rim Rock hard cast lead bullet is gonna give you some good penetration and it's gonna hold together for you and not easily deform when hitting bone, either. I did some non-scientific testing on the Rim Rock bullets, shooting them into water-filled milk jugs, and it easily penetrated through three milk jugs - I ran out of milk jugs for more testing after several tests of penetration.  However, all the Rim Rock bullets looked as if they could have been cleaned-up and reloaded once again. (Tough bullets, to be sure!)

For target shooting, you can load the 200 grain SWC Rim Rock bullet down a bit, by using 4.9 grains of Unique powder, which will have that bullet traveling at slightly more than 700 f.p.s. and it's a very accurate round for punching holes in paper and "killing" rocks and other targets of opportunity out in the field.

I tested the Rim Rock 200 grain SWC hard cast bullets in several different M1911s and there were no feeding problems - the rounds slid out of the magazines and into the chambers without any problems - not something I can say of soft lead SWC bullets at times.

I knew from the start, that these bullets would be good ones, if Buffalo Bore is using 'em in their ammo, then I knew they'd be good stuff. Frank Brown, at Rim Rock Bullets, is one of the good guys. Check out his web site, and I'm sure you'll find some bullets you'll want for your own reloading projects. Frank Brown deserves your business. As I said at the start of this article, I'm not "expert" when it comes to reloading, but I've been at it for more than 40 years, and I know quality bullets when I see 'em - the Rim Rock 200 grain SWC samples I had are high-quality in every respect. And, if you buy in large quantities, shipping is only $15 for up to 70 pounds of bullets - that's a deal!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hi James.

I only have a few comments on Greg's treasure hunting article.

First! All people new to metal detecting need to know the first rule is: what ever you dig- fill in your holes, please fill in any holes you make, learn to dig a 'plug'. You Tube has a 'how to' do it the right way video. (Note: He's using a Mine Lab detector in the video)

Damaging the grass in your own yard isn't a big deal, but if a million people (since Greg posted on a very popular blog, and people might rush to buy a new detector!) started hunting the parks they will become closed to metal detecting forever in no time. Just think OPSEC. New people just don't know how to camouflage their digs, this is a major concern to everyone in the hobby. What should happen is the ground should look like it never happened when your done recovering your treasure!

I personally don't want to be banned from my local parks and when I leave they look better then when I find them. I pick up trash while walking around looking for targets. If everyone did this, no one would be thinking that we just trash places where we recover coins. I tend not to use the word 'dig' when asking for permission to recover coins also. People get the idea that you have a really big shovel and are going to leave a hole you can hide a body in.

People everywhere are watching us like hawks, so I totally agree with using head phones - it annoys people to hear beeps and squeals, it's really distracting as they think your finding treasure while in reality your digging pull tabs and bottle caps! :) They are really watching you because your walking around with "that Geiger Counter-thingy", detecting is weird and unusual to most people- understand that everyone is watching, wondering what your doing. Some people will stop and ask you if your finding anything. Think smart security before you answer. My stock answer is "I'm finding mostly trash, some change." and I show off the pull tabs, rusty nails, and other junk I recover. One sure time going detecting with little or no hassle is when people are scarce like early in the morning, or for me later at night. Got headlamp? 

As a beginner metal detectorist, I starting this year I've found some good stuff (keepers!) and a lot of trash. it amazes me to see that people have hit areas leaving uncovered holes and trash they decided they didn't want, even missing targets and giving up all together after digging a hole!  The quickest way to get metal detecting banned in your local park it to dig holes and leave messes for some poor grounds keeper to deal with- city workers and grounds keepers hate dealing with messes they didn't make. They already have to deal with picking up after other people's kids. So they won't be very tolerant of any problems. 

Next to the purchase of a quality metal detector getting a pinpointer should be next of your list of needs.

The Pro-Pointer from Garret is the best pinpointer on the market- it isn't cheap at $130 but it helps you zero in on your target making you able to dig smaller holes. Meaning less chance your work will attract negative attention from making big two foot wide bomb craters. Some people will even use a screwdriver to pop out targets. This tool is a must! with it you can figure out depth with out digging, and zero in on your target without digging a crater.  It's one of my "must haves." In fact if I didn't have this tool I'd consider taking a pass from detecting until I had one again- it's that important. I know, people that detect can zero in on coins with practice, but with this probe you can zero in with ease!

My experience is I started out with a cheap detector in the spring time of this year (so I'm no twenty year vet or anything) -I first purchased a bounty hunter for $200 and I was totally disappointed with it - I backpacked up to remote coal mining camping area and ghost towns here in PA and after five outings it broke. The cheaply made connecter failed on it. Sadly a cheap Chinese machine is just that cheap. My calls to the company were never returned and since it was still in it's warranty period I returned it to the store where I purchased it. I'm sure some people have good luck with them, but I did not.

And it was a good thing, since I traded up to something better. Don't go cheap when you first start out, you'll only regret it later.

I purchased a Garrett Ace 350 Metal Detector from a company in Florida called Kellyco. (It is a good company, and they have been in business since 1955 according to their web site.) My finds of goodies continued and I decided that I enjoyed the hobby enough to purchase a Mine Lab E-trac from Mike Post at Woodland Detectors. He gave me a great deal, I called him when I received my detector and he walked me through the setup of the new ETrac. His customer service is tops!  (I am a happy customer, and have no financial incentive with this company) No other company does what Mike does, and he's been Mine Lab salesman of the year a few times for a reason. He's about one of the best in his field, and he isn't just selling the products, he's using them -as this is his hobby too - he's got over five thousand hours on the ETrac. If you ever have a question just call or e-mail him.

I can say from my experience that metal detecting is hard, dirty, work! People will be discouraged over not finding goodies enough to make it worth while if they don't have the right attitude. Persistence is key.

A friend of mine joked that I paid $1,500 to find change, and to a point they are right! it's not always easy, as the local parks have been hit to death, but it's fun when you hit a nickel signal and it turns out to be a gold ring, or you find your first barber dime.

There is a down side and at worst not knowing your local laws will get you in to trouble with the local law enforcement. At very worst they will confiscate your detector and your car (depending on state, instruments of crime)- detecting in state parks, or government property is a no-no and they will use your detector as evidence against you until your court date, you might get your detector back, or you might not. Never detect around rail road tracks that are 'in use' as the people who run those places have the local police on speed dial. Civil war sites in some areas are historical, and in some areas 'state park sites' that are protected, if the ranger finds you out detecting at night expect heavy fines and some kind of monetary loss.  Learn your local laws, and GET PERMISSION for posted private property in writing to protect yourself. Don't wait until the police roll up to ask them to show you the law on the books (I'm not a lawyer, and Don't play one on television so it's best to find out what your legally allowed to and not allowed to do before your out actually doing it!)

I personally detect at night, since I work nights - it matters to have it in writing. if you can't get permission to detect go some place else. I know that in the area I live there are about ten baseball parks close to my place- how did I find them? By searching using Google Earth. So if someone asks you to leave, I personally haven't been asked to leave yet- but I'd just pack up and move on to less annoying pastures.

For the most part parks that aren't posted specifically in their rules having signs that say 'No Metal Detecting' you are usually safe to detect. Just keep in mind if you cut in to their lawn and don't clean up after yourself and they see you doing it they will likely fine you on the spot for damaging their property. I've noticed two extremes in my being out, either no one cares or everyone does- depending on times of day while who ever is around ... it's best to go when the people aren't there if you can help it.

Remember most municipalities are broke and looking for excuses to steal more money from the sheeple. Don't be that sheeple. Finding places to go can sometimes be challenging, but research is the key. Older homesteads that are now empty fields are about the best, if you have permission to hunt them from private owners. Going to the older gathering places, fairgrounds, even swimming holes no longer used might be productive.

My trash to treasure ratio improved greatly going from a $290 Ace to the $1,500 E-Trac. But if your budget doesn't allow for this, getting an "in-water" capable detector from Garret in the $550 to $650 range is a great comprise. The Garret AT Pro is one detector you can use in fresh water, recoveries are more technical- but no holes to fill. You know the theory is cold causes fingers to shrink while people are swimming and rings fall off in the water never to be seen again. I've seen some websites that people will find a few rings while out diving and detecting. (I'd also say the products they are using is way more then just what a dirt hunter is using for land use, SCUBA gear and underwater probes and detectors are pricey. so things will get expensive if you want to really get serious about detecting.) your finding gold might support your hobby, but I wouldn't count on that- my last few outings I netting about $3 both times out, no silver no gold- just clad change. it happens! I plan on going out again because it's addictive when you do find cool stuff.   Check out this amazing video link- his finds are not typical, but wow -outstanding water finds is all I can say!

I will also say as a warning watch out for sunburn, ticks, mosquitoes, wear gloves (due to glass in the ground) and tennis elbow from digging -I have it in both arms and it's like a toothache that doesn't go away--ouch!, and I still go out when I can because I purchased a chest rig that basically allows you to move the detector with two fingers while keeping weight off your arms. You still have to dig! the rewards some times out weigh the trash, some weekends you just can't win.  Other times you do find good stuff, just not every day.

Good luck and happy hunting! - Fitzy in Pennsylvania  


I thought the article on metal detecting was a good read. I have owned an inexpensive model detector for a few years, which I got shortly after borrowing one to find a gold wedding ring that was lost while hunting. We knew the general area that we lost it but after sitting through a snowy winter, the Mark 1 eyeball wasn't enough to find it! Money saved and a happy wife were well worth making an investment.

Just a quick additional way to "make" money using a metal detector. I reload my ammunition and my shooting range is my back yard. My detector has the ability to discriminate between metals to a point so set it to ignore steel and make a tone for brass. Now I can find all my brass in the tall grass and forest underbrush without dealing with any iron trash, if it beeps it's a case. I don't have to use a brass catcher, I can move around while running shooting drills and never have to pay to replace lost brass. Plus detecting is a good way to get off your rump and exercise a bit..

Thanks for your work! - Prepared Teacher


Dear James Wesley,
I have been wrestling with the idea of "caching" emergency supplies along my main and alternate routes to my retreat location. With OPSEC foremost in my mind, what recommendations would you or other readers make under the following conditions?

My current retreat is 170 miles from home.  With no friends or relatives on the primary or alternative routes, my options for caching are limited to public land.  This would generally be state or county parks and forests. Many of these have access restrictions based on time of day, and some on the calendar as well.  With the heightened "environmental awareness" that pervades our society, any disturbance in the terrain would draw both ire and a curiosity that would put the cache at risk.

Related to the article " A Treasure-Hunting Prepper", what recommendations would there be to minimize the cache being found by a metal detector?  Are there any containers that could be used to hide the "signature" of the item used?  Hiding survival tools, weapons, coins, food, etc. for an emergency doesn't do much good if it cannot be hidden until it is required by the owner.

The "Redoubt" is out of reach right now.  I live in the central part of the country on the "wrong" side of the Mississippi River.  Though not in the metroplex of the East Coast, certainly more folks live here than in the west.  This just adds pressure to the method and location of placement. 

Thanks for all the hard work put in by you and your staff. - "Old Dog" in Wisconsin

JWR Replies: The best ways to protect cached gear from metal detectors are: 1.) Pick cache locations on side-hills where no one is likely to be wandering with a detector, and 2.) Find rusty scrap metal to use as false targets. Bury a couple of layers of those above your caching container. That way, upon finding the "trash" target, most people with detectors will simply move on. (Even the most dedicated hunter with the very best equipment wil give up digging if they think that they are in an old dump. )

Coin shooting rarely brings in more than enough to recoup the cost of a detector within two or three months of work. But there are lots of people--mainly retirees but even some younger unemployed and "downsized"--that are making a decent living in the western U.S. and in Australia hunting for gold nuggets in placer mining districts. Many of these folks use high end detectors from companies like Minelab.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

If you have been following the precious metals market lately, and you either have been or are considering the idea of investing in silver or gold, you fully appreciate the degree of value both metals have increased to. Market volatility is sparking renewed interest in precious metals as a means of protecting investments. Historically, civilizations understand the value and rare properties gold and silver offer. Regardless of what Ben Bernanke thinks, gold is money, and has been a form of currency, more so than the fiat currency that he continues to run off the printing press. The problem is that the increasing value of precious metals is making investing much more difficult. What most people don’t realize is that they are walking on or near small treasures everywhere!

In a TEOTWAWKI situation, where our fiat currency is used for toilet paper, finding these small treasures would be a godsend. After the Schumer splatters off the fan blades, it will still be possible to have a continuous supply of gold and silver to barter with. “How”, you may be thinking? The opportunity to prepare for the ability to do this would be now, not later, by purchasing a metal detector today. Buying a metal detector and adding it to your supply of tools will give you the advantage of finding money with very little effort. This money could be used to barter for food, ammunition, and many other items during a survival period lasting much longer than anticipated. Using a metal detector today will also help you store up more silver and gold in your cache without disturbing your current income to invest in tangible goods. That is a huge benefit considering the current cost of metals.

I have been metal detecting for about 20 years now, and find the hobby to be more rewarding than ever. This is mostly because the value of the pre-1965 halves, quarters, and dimes are worth so much more today than 20 years ago! When I began detecting as a hobby, the coins found were only worth a few times face value. Today, they are approaching 30 times face value, and will be sure to continue, possibly exponentially if TSHTF. In terms of investment, the cost of a well-made metal detector is easier to justify when evaluating the climbing value of silver and gold.

Metal detectors can be purchased at your local Big Box Store and Radio Shack, but understand that these Chinese-manufactured detectors are cheap and worthwhile only for finding lost keys. They can only detect a few inches below the surface because the sensitivity is so poor. Companies such as Fisher Laboratories and Whites, are two American companies that have been developing the technology for decades, and build solid, sensitive instruments that dominate the field. Another company that I have heard good reports about is Bounty Hunter. Two other companies that are popular are Garrett and Tesoro, although I haven’t talked to anyone about their personal experience with these detector companies. What I can tell you is that in this business, you definitely get what you pay for. Purchasing a metal detector can be costly, but the extra expense of buying a quality unit is something you will not be remorseful about. When deciding what brand and style of detector to buy, you will need to do some market research. Besides the internet, there are specialty stores that sell detectors. Check your Yellow Pages for companies in your area that sell them. There, you will most likely be able to handle the units, and ask about company experience such as customer complaints and return issues for particular models. Most small dealers will also usually have a patch of ground to hand test the different models before buying them. This test drive experience allows you to see how different models feel and sound. It also allows you to test features such as ground rejection and discrimination of trash. Another source of knowledge are testimonials. You can research the internet and ask dealers for information on metal detector clubs. These club members are often the nicest people you’ll ever meet, and are almost always eager to share their experience and opinions. Also, don’t hesitate to approach someone you see out detecting. Don’t start out by asking them what they are finding, but jump straight to the point and ask them about their detector.

Understand that metal detecting can be a time consuming adventure that requires research and patience. Don’t think that you will turn it on and find a pocket full of coins and rings in ten minutes. It seems that I dig three holes with trash for every hole with a goody. Depending on the situation, a metal detector’s discrimination can be increased to avoid the pull tabs and tin foil, but then gold and nickels can be lost. If you are searching at a public park, higher discrimination levels should be used, but just understand that fewer trash targets are dug at the expense of possibly leaving that gold high school ring for someone else to find. At almost $1,900 an ounce, it’s a risk you’ll have to negotiate at the cost of sore hands and a bucket full of pull tabs! Some identification detectors utilize an LCD with the ability to display the likely contents of a hole (and other information), but it doesn’t completely eliminate trash. Non-ID detectors can be purchased that don’t utilize an LCD feature, and last several more hours per set of batteries, but more than likely you’ll find more trash and treasure. I own both types, and see the advantages of each. Just understand that patience can pay off big time.

Research is another way that you can increase your odds at finding hot areas for treasure. Awhile back, some local construction was happening in an area that used to be home to a county fair in the late 1800s to early 1900s. Since the dozers were pushing around a lot of dirt, some detector buddies and myself took advantage of the worker’s weekend absence and spent a few hours of searching to discover some really nice finds. It takes opportunity and research to reveal some hidden areas that decades of detecting have overlooked. It seems that most of the obvious and easy targets (like city parks) have all been searched over time and time again. It is a wise investment to purchase historical references on the area surrounding your future retreat as well as your current area. These books and maps sometimes reveal things long gone such as old churches and one room school houses in the country. Your local historical society and library should be able to provide these. I once spent some time searching around an old school house that had been abandoned in the 1950s. The elderly lady that gave me permission to hunt there also told me about the location of another country school that she went to as a little girl. It also was the property where the early pioneers came to draw drinking water. The land was simply a farm field in the middle of nowhere. That ground revealed coins from the 1800s along with other items like marbles and buttons that the rain had washed off the plowed dirt. Do yourself a favor and get your experience detecting around your home town now, but also put some materials like old maps away for your rainy day of detecting around new targets of opportunity near your retreat after TSHTF. Don’t let the dust settle on your new detector. Get out there and use it!

You will also need to prepare yourself for OPSEC both now, and in the future. When you have permission to detect and keep what you find on a property, don’t show the valuables you find to strangers or to the land owners. I once read a story about a gentleman that detected around an old farmhouse. After he was finished, he decided to thank the owner for permission and show what he had found. The lady of the house was very impressed with the money he found, and sorted out and kept the pre-`65 silver in the pile. That left the man standing there dumbfounded that he just let his day’s efforts be taken away. When detecting, use one of those aprons for nails found at hardware stores. This can hold your knife for hole cutting/digging, and also your trash. A double pouch allows a few pennies to be left on one side and the trash for disposal in the other. If approached, the pennies could be presented as your finds while your silver or other treasures are nestled in your front pocket. I’m not suggesting that you lie, but rather only present part of the finds. If you are asked if that was all you found, just present the other pouch of trash!

Another item to invest in is a good pair of headphones. I’m not necessarily talking about those foam covered cheapies, but rather the old fashioned kind that surround your ear. This enables two things. First, it allows the deeper and fainter signals to be heard well. It also prevents the loud beeping of the detector from being heard and drawing unwanted attention. In a TEOTWAWKI situation, there will be people who recognize that a detector is for finding money. Should silver be worth hundreds of dollars, they could just wait for you to finish the task, and then violently take your detector and precious finds. Wearing headphones partly prevents you from being aware of your surroundings. In this situation, a second person should be available to accompany you on your day of treasure hunting while looking out for any zombie opportunists. Of course, both of you should be armed!

The detector is a sensitive instrument, and should also be protected from EMP threats. The large round disc on the detector that is swung is called the coil for a good reason. It is a coil of copper wire containing possibly hundreds of feet that becomes an effective antenna and will amplify an unwanted large current caused by EMP to sensitive electronics. Some detectors like the Whites may be housed in metal, but the coil and electronic body should be disconnected and stored in a faraday box if possible. It should also be mentioned that it would be a good idea to store a dc powered battery charger for the detector batteries and a small solar panel for the charger.

I will conclude by saying that the ground around us contains millions of lost coins and jewelry. Most people blindly walk over it on a daily basis without the knowledge of how to find it. Being able to find it can be a way to sustain a constant supply of silver when it may be the bartering currency of choice in our dim future. It also has the possibility of elevating yourself to a position of wealth if the precious metals market continues. Of course, nothing beats the value of faith in our lives, and I hope you trust more in the God that has provided everlasting life than your entire storehouse of beans, bullets, and Band-Aids. Grace cannot be destroyed, burned, rusted, stolen, or be eaten by moths. It is absolutely free, yet the most valuable thing I have ever been given.
Happy digging!

JWR Adds: It might sound odd, but old outhouse sites are ideal for metal detecting, if you are willing to sweat some, to dig. These sites are safe and non-odiferous to dig if they've been disused for at least 20 years. (The feces have long since decomposed into soil.) Some of my friends have found an amazing number of coins in their outhouse digs, all the way up to a $20 gold piece!  The very best of these sites was an outhouse in Nevada that they later determined had been behind a saloon.      

Here in the Western United States, you may find that the synergy of GPS navigation (with WAAS), Google Earth imaging, and modern metal detectors can help you find virtually forgotten and "lost" ghost town sites.

Most of my metal detecting experience was with a Minelab brand detector looking for gold nuggets. But I can relate from my friends' experience that one quite good "coin shooting" metal detector that is reasonably priced is the Bounty Hunter Discovery 3300.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A key goal for many preppers is moving to a lightly-populated region that they deem safe. Except for retirees, the ability to relocate to another state often comes down to the practicalities of finding a job. I hear this all the time from SurvivalBlog readers and my consulting clients.

In the American Redoubt region, jobs tend to be lower paying than those on the east or west coasts. Many jobs are related to forestry, mining, and agriculture. Some jobs--especially in the timber industry--are seasonal. Some of the most stable jobs tend to be in healthcare, in city and county government, and at rock-solid businesses. These include well-established welding shops, supermarkets and hardware stores. There are of course also lots of service sector jobs and government jobs, with varying degrees of stability.

I'd recommend that you not take a job that is dependent on discretionary spending by customers. (For example, businesses related to pools and hot tubs, recreational vehicles, boats and Jet-Skis, home decor, beauty parlors, collectibles, furniture, and so forth.) In hard times, those will be the first businesses to shut down or lay off employees.

The following are some online resources that I've found in the five Redoubt States, from reader recommendations and some web searches. (Similar sites can quickly be found, for other states.)



Eastern Oregon

Eastern Washington



Regional: Rocky Mountain / Inland Northwest Region Job Pages


Nationwide Job Search Resources:

The aforementioned sites are great resources, but don't rely on just the Internet for your job search. Often, networking through family and church contacts is even more productive.

Remember: It is important to work diligently at finding a job. Do plenty of research and send out lots of resumes. You'll likely get dozens of "no" responses before you get that all-important "yes". If there are just a few companies in your target region that might hire in your field, then check their web sites frequently, for their job listing updates.

What if there are no jobs available in your career field, where you plan to live? Though still a rarity, there are some telecommuting positions available. And of course, don't overlook self employment. If you go that route, then my advice is to launch several small businesses, because odds are that at least one of them will fail.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

As a maple producer I want to comment and expand on a few things regarding The Forest's Sweetener. The original poster instructs you how to find sugar maples which are the best for sugar content but any native maple tree will work (Japanese maple is not native), I even tap silver maples. When making a spile take special care to have clean hands. Trees heal ia a way similar to humans do (bacteria helps close the wound) and will end your season quickly. A better alternative to people in the Northeast ever considering making syrup is to buy some spiles from a dealer or eBay. This time of year a lot of producers are looking to upgrade to plastic spiles and tubing after their season. You can clean the bacteria infested metal spiles by boiling them before your next season. Stainless steal spouts are also available. I use mostly 5/16 diameter drill bits and check valves to reduce the possibility of bacterial infection. Maple trees have internal pressure which will still force the sap out of the smaller hole. If you notice your tree did not heal from the previous season, then skip that tree this year as the tree is not healthy. The holes should be 80% closed. The smaller the holes the more complete the healing process.  

The author also suggested a 50 gallon pot with a slow steady fire. Most producers have evaporators that are thin Stainless Steel food grade material. The more surface area the better. Also don't run your sap more than 2" deep as it boils allot faster when the depth is not too deep. We try to maintain about ¾” – 1” of sap in our pans. The hotter the fire the better during your initial boiling the better (our evaporator pans run around 1,800-2,100 degrees F.). As you get closer to finishing you will want to regulate the fire more. If you make the syrup too thick simply add boiled sap or distilled water to the syrup to thin it to the correct density.  

A thermometer works good for telling when your close to making syrup and is fine for most do-it-yourselfers. However you really should use a hydrometer-- an instrument that measures the density of a substance. 

After you finish your syrup you should re-filter it. If you don't you will have deposits of Niter (sugar sands) that will settle to the bottom of your container. Instead of cheese cloth you can purchase commercially available cone filters and pre-filters for under $20 to filter your syrup. In the past we have used these filters for 3 years with no problems. Care should be taken when storing them as they will draw moisture and can leave a moldy taste to syrup. Simply wash them by hand with hot water (no soap).  

You should really hot pack your syrup to skip the step of a water bath. Simply place in mason jars at a temp above 185 degrees and flip the containers over (you can tell if it sealed by looking at the lid and observing if it is concave). There are also commercially available containers  that have a XL oxygen barrier and block out light giving your syrup a longer shelf life. You can re-use the containers by simply having a supply of extra lids available.   If for whatever reason your syrup appears to have mold or "mother" in it from not properly sealing you can simply reheat to 200 degrees and filter then use. Maple syrup should have a shelf life of five years and we have used syrup that’s up to 8 years old.  

I use tubing for my maple tress so I have central gather spots. I also use a vacuum pump but my tubing is set up to run by gravity if I have no fuel or electric. My evaporator is a Forced Air over Fire system that inject high pressure air above the fire and low pressure under the fire. This burns wood completely and is a gasification type system that produces no smoke once going (albeit a lot of steam). We process around 70 gallons of sap per hour.  

JWR often writes about how having your own home business can be beneficial WTSHTF. Our great country used to be a huge producer and exporter of maple sugar. I feel in the coming times that I have a business that will thrive WTSHTF as commercially produced sweets will not be readily available.   Thanks. - Jason in Nowhere, Pennsylvania

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I have always been fascinated with history and might have become a history teacher if there had been any possibility of making substantial money at it.  Growing up in the 1950s and ‘1960s in rural Texas the lessons of the U.S. “Great Depression” were still fresh in the memories of my family, so our frequent family get gatherings produced many stories from those days, some of which were “not so good old days”. 

I want to relate some of this story for the benefit of those preparing for possible future, harder times:

There was no money.  For a few years before 1920 Grandpa Robert had been a successful cotton farmer and had put away his profits in the local First National Bank.  But after boll weevils hit Texas, the soil was depleted and cotton prices plunged, he had to move on to other pursuits.  My uncles often said the only time they ever saw Grandpa cry was when the bank went bust during the run of 1929.  He had been standing in a long line of farmers and townspeople for several hours before the announcement was made that the bank was finished.  On the other hand, I believe the bank still held a partially unpaid loan on his 87-acre farm which he and Grandma had bought in 1914 for $500.  LESSON: Be flexible, and don’t count on the bank.

It was actually Grandma who made the deal for the farm, as when they looked at it only a quarter of a mile from their rented farm, Grandpa said it was too expensive, and he would not borrow the additional money to buy it.  But Grandma knew the potential the land possessed.  So after Grandpa left for a long day in the fields, Grandma walked back to the owner’s house and cut the deal.   When Grandpa came home that night, he was surprised, but pleased at the same time.  LESSON: A woman’s intuition and business savvy is a valuable asset.

I am not sure how, but the bank did not foreclose on that farm during the lean years and Grandpa at least paid the taxes religiously.  Grandpa always said, “If you pick up all the pecans each year, you can at least pay your taxes.”  And if the money was not plentiful, what the family had went to pay their obligations. The bank president reportedly told him, “Robert, just do the best you can.”  And he did.  LESSON: Be careful to preserve and conserve every resource.

The family of 9, with 5 boys and 2 girls was flexible if anything.  When the railroad started buying coal from a small mining operation in the town 4 miles away, they found that the miners needed props and caps to keep the shafts open.  The woods in their bottomland became the source of materials for a small new industry: sturdy young willow trees, cut to order, became prop timbers, and flat sections of cottonwood trees, cut like cedar shakes were the caps.  These were delivered by wagon and mules and later with their used Model T dump truck. Unfortunate in the early 1930s the railroad converted from coal to oil fired locomotives and the prop and cap business ended.  LESSON: Find out what others need and provide it.  But don’t count on it lasting forever.

Grandpa always had two teams of mules as well a few working horses.  These were critical to plowing, cultivating, and harvesting as well as other pulling chores.  When the dirt road into town got wet, and the nearby clay hill was impossible for the automobiles to climb, the boys were always ready to give a pull with a team of mules, day or night.  LESSON: Animal power multiplies human power and sometimes is better than mechanical power.

Their bottomland held another treasure: sand and gravel.  Grandpa and his brother had a conveniently located sand pit, near a road and could dig sand and gravel by shovel.   They could deliver it to most any construction site in the county.  When one of my uncles wanted to go to college, Grandpa traded sand and gravel to the local college for tuition, instead of cash.  The college used the sand and gravel to build a rock wall around the football field so they could enforce admission fees at the games.  You see, Texas football has always been a popular sport and the college knew it was losing a lot of revenue by letting the fans stand outside and watch thru the wire fence.   LESSON: Think outside the box; when possible find ways to barter for what you really need.

Corn was always a staple crop for the family, the first among several important plantings.  Down in the fertile bottomland a harvest of the dried ears of corn were said to be able to fill a whole wagon with the produce from only one row of corn.  The corn was carefully stored away in the corn crib and used as needed all year long.  One of my uncles was often designated to periodically pull out some corn, shell it in the hand-cranked sheller, and then sack it up in two equal bags.  The bags were lashed together by rope and thrown over the rear of the mule.  Then he rode the mule into town to have the corn ground into meal at the store.  The miller kept a portion for his trouble, and my uncle rode the mule back home with the corn meal.  This corn became the basis for a week or more of meals of cornbread and beans, the main fare for the whole family.  Sweet corn could also be cooked, then cut off the cob and dehydrated in the sun in a day or two.  Stored completely dry in canning jars, when reconstituted and cooked it was a delicious treat.  LESSON:  Corn can keep you alive; it must be the first among survival grains.
Grandma must have been an efficiency genius.  She always had a pot of beans on the back of the stove.   Unlike many of their city cousins, the family seemed to always have enough food to get by.  The relatives from the bigger towns would come out to the farm on weekends to visit, eat and to stock up on the abundance.  LESSON: You can survive indefinitely on cornbread and beans, and if you have food, your relatives will want to visit often!

Christian charity was always a part of our family values, and it was particularly applicable to any extended family in need.  No passing stranger was refused a meal. And in a couple of instances young men in their teens with no family stayed on for a year or two, working, eating and sleeping like one of the brothers.  LESSON:  Alliances and charity are okay, but everybody must work.

| My uncles were good hunters always seeming to know which woods contained a few squirrels, an opossum or raccoon; additionally they always seemed to know when certain landowners were away from their property.  The family joke was that a boy would be given one cartridge for the single shot .22 caliber rifle, and the family would be disappointed if he came home with anything less than two squirrels.  My dad knew how to get a squirrel out of a hollow in a tree by climbing the tree and using a length of barbed wire stuck in the hole and rotated around and around.  The hunters from town always gave him a nickel or a dime for climbing the tree to help them get their squirrel.  LESSON:  Hunting is a skill that must be developed, but there are other ways to get game besides shooting it.

Canning was an important skill practiced anytime there was excess.  The garden produced large quantities of beans, peaches, and other fruits and vegetables.  The dug storm cellar just outside the back door was always packed with jars of fruit preserves, jellies, jams, and vegetables.  When the wild plums on a nearby place became ripe, the neighbors sent word that the joint harvest could begin.  Half gallon canning jars were helpful when feeding a family of 9 or 10.  Canning a batch of 50 or more jars (quart and half gallon) of each commodity was not uncommon. Used sparingly it could last until spring. LESSON: Use all food sources available and think big if you have a lot of mouths to feed.     

Things were different back then.  When times were hard they just “made do with what you had” and or did without.  Shoes were for school and church only.  When possible barefoot was the order of the day.  After shoes were well used, they were re-heeled and re-soled.  Family members handed down clothes and shoes to younger members as a matter of course.  Without electricity kerosene lanterns had to suffice.  Fire wood had to be kept split and dry.  Kindling was critical.  A smoke house was essential for preserving pork.  Butchering hogs was almost always in November and December.   Apple butter made in the fall can last all winter in 1 gallon crock jars.   And it tastes great on bread, toast, hot cakes, buckwheat cakes, etc.  Unlike regular flour pancakes, making buckwheat cakes requires a bit of yeast. But once it is started, more buckwheat flour can be added daily and the yeast will keep multiplying.   LESSON:  Make do and work hard.

Baths were for Saturday so you would be clean for church.  Outside showers were standard as long as the weather permitted.  Well water was for drinking so a swim in the nearby stock pond or down in the creek often substituted for a real bath.  Fishing was an important skill essential for providing supplements for much needed protein and vitamins.  An outhouse was standard for the family with both white and red corn cobs being carefully conserved to use in place of toilet paper.   LESSON:  Living well does not have to mean living in convenience and luxury. 

Nobody wants to return to the challenging times of a hundred years ago, but living the survival life is a challenge that can be mastered.  To be prepared we must study, practice and preserve the knowledge used by our predecessors and be willing to innovate, working and praying constantly. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I enjoy reading SurvivalBlog each morning as I prepare for my day. I have only been a reader of the blog for six months, and enjoy all the varied insights. So I feel compelled to share some of my experiences. Let me start off by saying I was raised in a Christian preparedness household.  Both my parents suffered through the Great Depression as children and my mother was deeply impacted by the possibility of being hungry and cold again. As a teenager in the mid-1970s I remember we had a basement full of Neo-Life brand long term storage food, thousands of pennies in ten pound cans, water, silver, gold, but no guns or ammo that I knew of.  I have been involved with long term provisioning all my life.  When the fuel crisis hit in 1973 my mother was sure it was the beginning of the end of America (she was an avid reader of the “The Ruff Times”). As it looks like we are nearing the end of life as free Americans I’m ashamed to say that I gave my parents a hard time over their “crazy” desire to provide for us “come hell or high water”.  

I have been blessed to have had two great careers, first as a financial planner, and then as a commercial Pilot. In both situations my employers invested large sums in training me. In every instance there are rules to follow. Every six months we fly the simulator and practice every possible type of emergency and hazard with the aircraft. When a problem comes up in real-time, there is never a hesitation. We have trained to respond without pause so we are ready. How can we approach protecting our families any other way than to plan, and practice?
  Growing up I was paying attention to what my folks were doing, and these are the lessons I’m sharing now. Even though things never really broke down the way my parents expected, their planning didn’t go to waste.  The food, barter items, and silver all got used or saved. If nothing else they are great investments that have had excellent returns. Their planning did no harm, financially or strategically to our family in fact we are still benefiting from decisions they made 40 years ago.

[JWR Adds: People who bought gold in 1975--soon after it was first re-legalized in the U.S.--and who have held on to it since, have done very well. Gold was selling for $145 per ounce in October of 1975. When I last checked (February 19, 2011), it was $1,389 per ounce. That is a 1,043% gain. For comparison, if someone had just left their earnings in cash (so-called "mattress money") in 1975, it would have lost about 75% of its purchasing power by 2011. ($145 worth of groceries in 1975 would cost $593 in 2011.) Granted, stocks on average listed in the DJIA have seen a gain of 850% since 1975. (But of course you could have picked a bad stock like Pan Am Airways--now worth zero, or a more consistent blue chip stock like GE.) But the beauty of gold is that it provides both a long term hedge on inflation and insurance against a full-scale currency collapse, which we may soon experience. When that happens, nearly all U.S. dollar-denominated investments will suffer tremendously.]

 So you want be prepared? My mother would say get your financial house in order.
 Myrtle’s Rules:

  1. If you do have to borrow, get the shortest term possible. The Highest payment you can afford, will force you to buy fewer things that you don’t need. Get you out of debt quicker with less interest = lowest total cost. This forces you to live by a budget and to waste less on impulse purchases.

Example: When we bought our present home in 1991 we took out a five-year mortgage. The payments were almost out of reach and we barely qualified for the loan. We did little for the next 60 months but make sure the bank was paid on time. It was tough. My young children did not think it was cool that we drove 5 and 7 year old cars (that were paid for) and had no television.  We paid off the house in 1996 right on time and then transferred the title to a “Family Trust” to remove it from our personal estates and ownership. It’s hard to imagine a situation where the house could be taken from us, other than non payment of property taxes.   By the way we paid less than $12,000 in interest to the bank!

  1. Don’t worry about saving until you are out debt.  This is a big issue. Get your home (retreat) and cars paid off; otherwise you are just renting them from the lender. Once your house is really yours the freedom it creates is unbelievable! I know about all the tax advantages from mortgage interest, and savings in your 401k with employer matching. In eight years most people can be debt free. Then you will have ability to save and invest most of your earnings. It’s amazing how fast you can create wealth when your partner isn’t the bank.
  2. Stay married: this is a big factor that defeats many of the people I counsel. I observe countless examples of unhappy dissatisfied people blaming their spouse for all the problems.  I’m not a marriage counselor but I sure get tired of hearing it’s the other guys fault. Grow up. If you are looking for someone else to make things right in your world you will end up broke and alone. Be a team; involve your partner in your plans and prayers. You want to prosper during the coming times? Plan together…you can’t do it alone.
  3. Buy Silver: Metals are the future and paper is paper. A gold coin that may be worth $5,000 USD in the future is not a good medium of exchange.  Silver dollars and silver rounds are about $30 each right now and will be very practical for commerce down the road.
  4. Plan for the worst, Hope for the best. Yes, I have a few guns, and plenty of ammo and the best offense is a killer defense (no pun intended) but I pray that we will never have to take a human life. I know this sounds naive but as a family we want to minister to the needy, it will be much tougher after we’ve put a few holes in them.
  5. Be generous with your time: giving of yourself is not the same as writing a check. Our tithes and offerings are a command, but true giving as a form of worship that means giving of your physical self. If you need further explanation: read a chapter of Proverbs every day, it is a wealth of practical knowledge and wisdom.               (31 chapters/ 31 days: coincidence…. I think not)
  6. Learn a new skill: One new hands on, sore back, stiff knees dirty nails skill every year, when you know enough to teach it to another you’ve got it. NOTE: we will need many more diesel and small engine mechanics down the road. We have raised a whole generation that can’t find the dipstick.
  7. Partnerships don’t work: A week seldom goes by that someone doesn’t ask me to underwrite, finance, partner with, or otherwise join in some grand scheme. My wife and I made a deal when we got married …. No partners. I am married to my partner, Period. No others allowed. Think about the difficulties of communication in your marriage. My wife and I have a great marriage and we still after all these years still have miss communication. We have the same goals, ideals, morals and yet there are still days we fail to connect. Throw another family in the mix… their needs, problems, differing belief system and you can see why 98% of all business partnerships fail within two years.

Not enough for two. Partnerships evolve because someone has some cash and the other party has the skill, idea, or product. So from day one there is a disparity in expectations for the parties involved. The investor wants a Return on Investment (ROI) and the inventor/worker/labor wants a paycheck.  A new business that is run very well with a skilled bookkeeping normally won’t turn a profit for two years, so you just multiply the problem with two families trying to eat out of the same trough. In the great book by Michael Gerber “The E Myth” he describes that the desire of owning your own business as follows:
10% dream (idea) everyone has an idea it’s the entrepreneur in us.
10% technician (i.e. the product, service or goods) we all want to work for ourselves.
 80% management. No one wants to do this Job!
We have learned the hard way it’s difficult to wear all the hats that make a small business prosper. Early on I was forced to become a manager, I still don’t like it but I have come to embrace it as the most important part of every business venture.

Good enough to do alone. Most partnerships start because you are unwilling to take the plunge alone; you want to dilute the downside risk. I say if it’s a great project and you’re confident of its chances then raise the money and do it with the partner your married too. Following this rule has saved us many broken relationships, including our own.
What is your exit strategy? People are always amazed when I ask this question. Most reply, “I’m just getting started, how would I know?” If you are going to start something you need to have a plan how to end it. When we start a business we always have a plan to get out, a huge success or a big bust, we still have time limits as well as financial benchmarks to tell us where we are and when to move on, sell, or liquidated.

TIP: Service businesses that don’t have a physical location (brick & mortar) are very difficult to sell. Think in terms of resale value.
Over the last 30 years we have started (or bought) and sold more than 15 businesses. Most were great success (11). A few were bombs (3). One was just more trouble than it was worth. While doing all this we had other income and I had an employer that provided our healthcare coverage. No small thing, not needing to pull income to meet living expenses from a new enterprise. This gave us the time to correct our mistakes and get the right employees trained and in place. I would encourage each family to start and operate a small home business making something. It will teach your children basic business skills, the value of their time to make (Money) while you sleep.

Note: Parents as the Boss and children as "paid help" works best.

I realize this article is merely Business 101 for most readers, and you may question whether it has a place on SurvivalBlog. The feedback I get from many people is that they know they should get better prepared but they just can’t afford to. I have seen a few partnerships prosper and survive long term, but they are few and far between.  Partner with your family, create some prosperity together, you will be richer for it.

The first step in preparedness is your heart and relationship to the Savior, the next is your finances.

To lead in times of trouble, be gracious in times of peace. I say you can’t afford not to.

For many people funding your survival cache/ preparedness stockpile has to come out of your budget. Whether you work for someone every day, draw a pension check or work for yourself you have to find a way to fit your projects into the limits of your paycheck. And with Uncle Sam taking a larger share at every turn it seems to be getting harder to find those extra nickels to put to use. Once most of us pay a house and car payment and then monthly utilities and food there is hardly enough left to worry about buying ammo, additional firearms, food stores or gear unless we put it on credit or save up for our purchases.   Over the last few years though I have found there is another way to supplement not only your income but to build your survival stores easier and less expensively: The Underground Economy, whether you have heard of the idea, see it every day and don’t try to use it, or take full advantage of it, it is available. There are many ways to make a few extra dollars to put to use to help out your dwindling bottom line.  

Let’s look at a few of the ways to make extra money in a pinch:          

Mowing your neighbor’s lawns. Yeah this one could be suited to your teenage son looking to make a few summer dollars or it could put a couple of new rifles in your cabinet over the course of the summer. In almost every neighborhood you look at you see more than a few homes with the grass standing a little taller than those around them, or one with pretty bad "weedeating" done around the edges and those are all possible side jobs where you could earn from $25-50 for a few minutes of work depending on the area and the size of the yard. And all you use is your mower (some people will even let you use theirs!!) some gas and a little sweat. Almost everyone that pays you will pay you in cash.        

Craigslist. There are multiple ways to make money on It is virtually like eBay just with no bidding and no fees to pay for selling your item. And if you don’t have an item to sell you can cruise through the free stuff and you might get lucky and find people giving away: old cars, scrap metal, aluminum, firewood, furniture,and more. These are all free for the taking and you can turn around and cash in at the recycler or the junkyard. Or you could sell or stock up the firewood, or sometimes take the other stuff out to the local swap-meet and make a few bucks with it.         

Flea Market: Most locales have a flea market or a swap meet in which you can get an outside spot on the weekends for fairly cheap and set up a table full of stuff that you can sell or in some cases trade for something else that you need. My local flea market charges $8 a day for a spot outside and there are not too many restrictions on what I can sell, being in Kentucky even person to person firearms sales are okay so long as you are not trying to be a full time dealer and selling multiples at a time. (Disclaimer: I deal only in Kentucky and I do not know about elsewhere. Check with your state and local laws for restrictions as to what you can and can’t sell.) Some people set up at the flea market as a business getting a Tax ID so they can purchase bulk items to take there.     

Fairs, Festivals, Bazaars: Now some of these can be tricky to set up at because some of them require you to have a sales tax ID and some do not. If you have a sellable item that you wish to set up with you can make a ton of money, I have witnessed a friend sell out of 500 cases of sunglasses over a 3 day festival which is far better than he does on a weekend basis at the flea market, but he has to keep track of all sales since he buys the glasses in bulk with a tax ID. One of my mother’s friends has set up at craft faires over the years and makes very good money with homemade cards, handcrafted wares and other little items that she or her husband makes.         

Classified Ads: Many areas have some sort of classified ads, some may cost money to sell your things in but many have free sections and with the advent of the internet there are many classified sites popping up online that will let you sell your old stuff off for free. One of them I use is Just like with the flea markets since this is Kentucky, firearms are bought and sold off of this web site on a person to person in-state basis and it can be a good way to find firearms and ammunition less expensively than going to a gun shop or a big box store. Last year I picked up three SKS rifles for less than $200 each from there.     

Forums: With a little digging around on Google or one of the search engines you can find forums of like minded people who will sell, trade and barter with you for items you need or they need allowing you to build up your cache or trade off extras to garner something you need more.         

Yard sales: take a Friday and Saturday in good weather and make a few extra bucks sitting in your own yard. Or you could get a spot in the Corridor 127 Yard Sale which is over 600 miles long. They are also a good way of finding things to take to the Flea Market to turn a profit with. I picked up five boxes of rifle cartridges last year for $2 a box. They were in a caliber that I don’t use but I figured I could make a little profit. After checking online to see what they were I managed to sell them for $12 a box at the flea market. Check with your local authorities first though, my town requires a permit to set up a yard sale and we are only allowed four per year.         

Gun and Knife shows: Every couple of months gun and knife shows pop up around the area and much like a flea market you can get a booth for a price and you can set up and sell off your “collection”, buy new pieces, or trade for things you want. For some of these you must have a dealer license, some you do not. Again, consult your state and local laws. One option is to just walk around many of these shows as a trader. I notice many people who do not want to pay to set up will walk around with a rifle over their shoulder, or a knife booklet in their hand and they will “wheel and deal” without spending any set up money for a table. This works very well in some markets.  

These are just a few of the ways I have found to bring in a little additional income to help out with the stretched budget. You can also consider these as skills to practice now for use in a post SHTF or TEOTWAWKI world in which bartering or trading will be the way to garner the things that you need when a currency has not yet been re-established. You can also make some very valuable connections with like minded individuals when you learn the ins and outs of some of these methods, I have made some very good friends setting up with people over a summer at the flea market each weekend, and while you might think that people out there selling would hold information or not be friendly to their competition I have found quite the opposite to be true as I have found many people willing to help me learn how to sell more or sell better.  

All in all, the Underground Economy is a very viable way to supplement your income and to earn the extra money to spend on your projects. In the three years that I have really started trying to prepare I would not have been at all able to put five guns in my cabinet or 3,000 rounds of ammunition on my shelf without finding an alternate source of funds to assist me outside of the household budget.

The best part of learning these methods, is that they are all cash based and in many cases you can find gold, silver, coins, ammo, guns and survival gear far less expensively than you could purchase them in a store, a market exchange, online or from one of the mass market retailers.

JWR Adds: Of course keep all of your sales and purchases legal, and keep track of the requisite taxes.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Assumption: "If it snows or storms, I can work from home and telecommute."  Assumptions are not always correct. The major ice storms at the end of January and start of February 2011 prompted creating this plan for my husband and myself. (Or first backup plan was alternate transportation routes.)

Lessons learned day by day:

Day 1

When power goes out at the house, such as during the first day of the storm for about 6 hours, the only way you can work from home is by using precious generator  fuel or laptop batteries. Due to my husband's higher pay rate, he dialed in with the laptop computer while I managed the kids and lessons.

Lessons learned:
* if we want to be able to both telecommute, we either need to have two working laptops to connect with or be willing to give up generator fuel to use one desktop computer. Cost of fuel needs to balanced against the cost of extra lap top batteries and an additional laptop and the effort to keep their batteries charged.

Day 2

When the power goes out at your place of work, as happened on day 2 of the storm, you cannot remotely connect to the work site to telecommute. Husband's backup plan was a stack of printed calculations to review and then manually type up comments and e-mail back. Time to type and e-mail is a fraction of the time spent reviewing paper. I worked on technical documents but could not submit them for review. My work was done in the hope of billable results (paid upon acceptance) later due to the customer’s site being down (whole site dead, data centers on backup power, no one had e-mail or network connections).
For another site, data that I worked on through the web site was lost when the site went down for a while during a rolling power outage. There went half an hour of work.
Potential backup laptop we have borrowed from a friend is virus infected. Running virus-scans found at least three infections. Fortunately, we double-checked everything before I touched it with consideration of actually working on it. (Imagine the perceived reputation of working remotely if all work sent in is infected!)


Lessons learned:

  • Have a backup plan of means to generate billable time or payable work if everyone else’s network connections or computers are dead. The ability to do work from home is of limited value if you cannot send it for management review or customer acceptance. If their standard process is review through a tool like PleaseReview or Documentum, propose a backup plan of e-mailing documents so that days are not lost. If e-mail through work accounts are not available and e-mailing work files from personal e-mail accounts are not acceptable, have a backup location agreed upon in advance of where files can be securely uploaded and shared.
  • Have backups of all customer billable files saved somewhere other than methods through which you submit them. Save early and save often. If their system goes down and all data is lost, your only hope of recouping that time is having a backup to resend them. Copy and paste results into web sites or attach these files to e-mails or upload to their web site. Avoid working only in their web site or forms; if your computer or theirs goes down, all the work is lost.
  • Virus-scan everything thoroughly prior to use. Scan computers you receive at least three times to ensure that it is safe before using. Scan files you receive at least twice with two separate virus-scanners to prevent infection of your own machine.

Day 3

Husband has finished much of his take home work. I am looking for billable work through e-mail to customers. Crowd-sourcing web sites provide a fallback for burning some time and generating some (though less than usual) income.
My main customers’ systems are still shut down from massive electrical failure at site. This could create a problem because some of the work I do is customer surveys and satisfaction analysis. If I had had more information for software manual updates, there would have been more billable time for them even when working from home.
Secondary customer is up and running and accepting articles. I sent several articles written in the interim to a third customer.
Kids have finished all homework and are making progress through workbooks I had saved. This keeps them busy but not entirely occupied.  Interruptions cost quality of work.


  • Have more than one customer! The ability to be paid from more than one source meant that income flow wasn’t entirely constrained by one customer’s literally shut down.
  • Where possible, have a backlog of tasks or projects for which you can be paid if working from home. Conversely, have tasks that are not time constrained. Having a paid task that must be done on a certain date is worthless if you cannot complete it on time.
  • If you have children, then have a plan of how to keep them and you working at the same time. Then practice it on the weekends in imitation of how it may play out in real life. We’d practiced “power down weekends”, but that was closer to family camping inside the house. Mommy and Daddy trying to work on computers with them trying to do school work is a whole other scenario that needs to be practiced as well.

Day 4

Mailman makes it in and out. We’re well stocked, so getting to the store is a necessity. However, getting to the bank to deposit a check received in the mail is a major hassle. We found a solution: direct deposit through our credit union. Scan the check (our printer doubles as a scanner and fax machine), upload to web site, and deposit. Funds available next day for electronic funds transfer (EFT) bill paying.
I received other payments through PayPal and Amazon gift certificates. Paypal funds can be transferred to the bank account electronically. They could also be used for online purchases if we chose. Amazon gift certificates are great to order groceries or necessities from their web site; sort by items eligible for free super saver shipping and order sufficient volume to hit the $25-30 minimum for free shipping. The items arrive in a few days because the mail man still comes every day. And it is safer than trying to get to the store as well as convenient.
A few low priority documents and articles are submitted via the mail. A good supply of stamps and envelopes made this a practical backup plan when power is interrupted.


  • Have alternate means of payment available. Be able to bypass the bank.
  • Have ways to immediately convert these alternate payments into things you need and use.
  • Plan your business like your life for emergency situations; don’t have to go anywhere to get it all done.

Day 5

Power interruptions are short 5-15 minutes during Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) planned rolling blackouts to save electricity. This is in some ways worse than power out for 2-5 hours because it is easy to resume work after power comes back on, only to lose it again shortly thereafter.
The Uninteruptible Power Supply (UPS) is connected to wireless router and DSL router. We’re still connected to the internet while the UPS is running, and unlike a computer, routers don’t draw as much power. If that didn’t work, we could connect via the phone line.
Husband had to go into work to catch up on tasks that could not be handled remotely. Fortunately, he had safe routes in and out regardless of weather. Taking his laptop with wi-fi connection allowed him to work even while the train was delayed.

Lessons learned:

  • Laptops have built in battery backups. If the power goes out while someone is working on a laptop plugged in, the battery backup kicks in. The ability to continue working and at least finish the work and notify everyone that you will be offline shortly minimizes the disruption. 
  • Have an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) connected to your desktop computers. This provides a short period to save work, preventing its loss. [JWR Adds: For the greatest practicality, a UPS should be too heavy to comfortably lift and carry more than a few yards. A heavy UPS means that that it has lots of batteries, which equates to a longer useful run time.]
  • UPS connected to home routers keeps home network up and running even when the local wi-fi shuts down from local power outage. Consider adding a UPS to your router if it is heavily used or connecting it to your computer’s UPS.
  • We retained our old modems in case faster network connections like wi-fi failed. Have a backup connection method.

Other observations:

  1. If you plan to telecommute, have multiple means to make connections with your customers. However, this must be balanced with data security and their corporate policies if any.
  2. Have these backup plans in place and agreed upon before they are needed. Trying to discuss these alternate data sharing methods on cell phones with limited batteries is not a good backup plan.
  3. As with any other power using appliance, have backup power sources that can fuel it.
  4. Have multiple methods to connect to the Internet.
  5. As demand on infrastructure goes up from a growing population but quality declines from lack of maintenance, expect interruptions of basic services like utilities. Then plan on how to function with both shut downs and interruptions.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I wanted to share with my fellow preppers a way to rapidly increase your food storage. Yes, it's legal and for real!  I have no sales pitch and nothing to gain out of this, I've been doing this for almost a year now and the results have been just amazing.
My wife and I started a Farmer's Market in our community almost three years ago.  The following "system" I have developed since then has come from our experiences there as well as my almost 20 years in restaurant management.  It can easily work for you with minimal effort.  Please stick with me because I'll run the numbers for you off of actual prices in my area and you'll be shocked and amazed at how much all of us are getting charged by our local supermarkets!  Even if you don't have the time or inclination to do this, read on, as there is some very valuable information that could save you big money on your preps! 
If your family is like ours we don't have a lot of money left over after paying the bills. Times are tough.  So if you could find a way to put a little cash in your pocket, eat fresh fruits and veggies for free, and be able to can or dehydrate them for free, then wouldn't you?  Even if you and a few friends pitch in and buy produce in bulk and split it evenly amongst yourselves you can dramatically reduce your current food costs as well as your future food prep costs.  You can then use that saved money for other prep areas like medical supplies, ammo, and guns etc.
I call what we do a Local Food Co-op because it's not really a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).  Basically I buy an assortment of produce (fruits and veggies mainly) by the case or bushel and sell boxes (or bags) of assorted produce for either $10 (small family) or $20 (large family) with plenty left over for our family to eat for free and we have our dehydrator going 24/7 kicking out dehydrated food free for future use.  Now let me clarify a few things before I get into the "nuts and bolts" of this operation.
First, the people that buy produce from me get it for far less money than they can get it from Wal-Mart (or any other supermarket in our area ) and it's almost always better quality or at least the same quality.
Second, it doesn't take too much time at all to run.  You'll need to spend a little more time up front getting all the needed information but after that less than five hours a week should be all you'll need to devote to your food independence.  I spend an hour and a half once a week going to buy the produce. ( An hour of that is the round trip to buy it and about a half hour to purchase everything needed.)  I might spend another hour and a half dividing out the produce into orders for the customers and then getting them to the customers.  (Most of my customers are either friends, family, neighbors, or coworkers.)  Is it worth it to you to spend three hours a week so you and your family can eat all the fresh fruits and veggies they want for free all week long and all the produce you can dehydrate and can for future use for free? 
Third, you don't need to be an expert to set this up and run it for yourself and lastly, you don't need dozens and dozens of customers to do this. I started with just 10.  People will come looking for you when word gets around about how good a deal they can get.  Most people are in utter disbelief about how much produce they get for the money when they get their first order!  A few have even tried to give me more money than what I  charge.  Now on to the meat and potatoes...

First we'll run some numbers.  I'm using the actual prices I'm paying right now (12/2/10) for this example:

This is roughly based on a weeks worth of produce for a family.  Let's say you get 10 larger size families wanting "in" at a $20 share a week. So week 1 goes like this:

10 families at $20 =                              $200

That $200 you take and go buy:

100 lbs of potatoes for                             $40
25 lbs (case) of tomatoes for                   $12
bushel (30 lbs+) of green beans for         $19
bushel (40 lbs+) of oranges for               $20
bushel of cucumbers (40 lbs+)for           $10
a bushel (25 lbs) of bell peppers for        $14
bushel (40 lbs+) of red delicious apples  $20
case (25 lbs) of yellow squash for           $12
case (12 lbs) of zucchini for                    $12
50 lbs of onions for                                  $20
Total money spent:                                  $179                                                                

You go and divide up the produce and each family gets:

5 lbs of potatoes
2 lbs of tomatoes (that's around 6)
2 lbs of green beans ( that's almost a half a plastic grocery bag full!)
3 lbs of oranges (about 5-6 oranges)
3 lbs of cukes ( about 4 or 5)
2 lbs of bell peppers (5 to 6)
3 lbs of apples (5 to 6)
2 lbs of squash (6 to 8)
1 lb of zucchini (3 to 5)
3 lbs of onions (5 to 7)
That's 26 pounds of food for $20! Can you walk into any one store and come out with all that for $20?

Now here's what you and your family get out of the deal:

$21 cash (offsets the gas and wear and tear on your vehicle to get produce)
50 lbs of potatoes
5 lbs of tomatoes
10 lbs oranges
10 lbs cukes
5 lbs bell peppers
10 lbs apples
5 lbs squash
2 lbs zucchini
20 lbs of onions

That's $21 cash and 117 lbs of produce for three hours worth of work!
You could sell off two more shares for another $40 in your pocket and still have a bunch of produce to eat all week and plenty more to can and dehydrate for future use.  You could also give more of the produce to your customers that is entirely up to you. That's free food now and free food later!
About the only up front investment is you're going to need a scale to weight the produce.  I got mine from the kitchen department at Target for around $20.00 and it's weights up to 11 or 12 pounds before the scale tops out.  I also bought a bigger cheap plastic bowl to put on the scale to weight out bulkier items like green beans or potatoes for another couple of dollars.  Just remember to "zero" out the scale when you put it to use or your weights will be off.  It wouldn't hurt to have a heavier duty scale to weigh your bulk cases just to make sure you got what you paid for.  I just use our bathroom scale and set the cases on that. It works great and I didn't have to go out and buy one. [JWR Adds: In many jurisdictions, scales must be state-certified as "legal for trade."]
So, obviously, you have to figure out where to get your bulk produce from and there are several ways to do that.  I would start by opening up the phone book or do a web search for produce companies for your local area or biggest city by you.  Ask them to fax or email you a copy of their latest produce price list.  Some update them daily, some weekly.  Get on their e-mail/fax list so you get updated pricing.  Get pricing from several produce companies if possible.  The price lists also include the case count (how many of something come per case or case weight.
Also be sure and sign up for their newsletter if they offer one.  It will tell you about shortages (huge price increases) due to weather etc. as well as price swings due to being in between growing seasons.  For instance, as summer winds up, tomatoes wind down in most areas of the country leaving about a four week span until Florida's winter crop comes online.  Prices can spike from $12 a case to well over $20 and I've seen over $40 last year when Florida had a freeze that wiped out a bunch of tomatoes.  This is useful information as you can stock up on some produce that has a longer shelf life or brace your customers for temporary outages or reductions in their usual amounts of that specific item.
You should also check with your local farmers.  Most are willing (and want) to sell directly to you during their growing season.  It can never hurt to build a relationship with your local farmers.  In a SHTF scenario they may be your only option to source food if you can't grow it yourself.
  Another place to get bulk produce is from Restaurant Depot if there is one in your area.  It's free to join you just have to show proof you have a business. (Any business!)  They generally want to see your business license as proof but are pretty lenient usually.  Even if you don't have a business bring a friend or coworker who does as they gave me four cards with my business name on them.  Meaning anyone with a card can shop. (Hint, hint!)  They have unbelievable prices on a wide variety of produce as well as bulk foodstuffs such as spices, bouillon base, instant potatoes and hash browns, #10 cans of everything, bulk dried fruit, etc.  And if that's not enough they also carry 20-to-100 lb bags of wheat, assorted flours, assorted rice, assorted beans, split green peas, lentils, corn meal, sugar, et cetera.  They also beat Sam's Club on most prices also including lunch meats, chicken, and beef etc.  This place is a Preppers dream!
Once you get the price lists you now know the bulk pricing your typical restaurant would pay.  Next get a few weeks worth of newspaper ads from your local supermarkets.  That, combined with going to the grocery stores will tell you what the average consumer pays for produce.        

Do the math from the bulk price list from the produce companies to get a bulk to retail comparison.  For example... bulk price on a 50 lb box of potatoes might be $20.00 and a 5 lb bag from the supermarket might cost you $4.00.  So $20 / 50 lb = 40 cents per pound x 5 lbs is $2.00. Or pay the $4.00 at the supermarket.  Just bring a pocket calculator with you when you go and you'll know before you buy it if you can make money on it (or at least break even) before you purchase.  When you get to know your pricing it ensures you won't be paying retail prices on bulk purchases.
Now you might run the numbers and find just buying from you local produce companies will work.  You may even be able to get them to deliver!  But, there is usually an even better way.
Every decent size city usually has a "downtown" area where all the produce comes in by train or ship. ( Which is also usually where your produce companies are located)  Usually there is a downtown open air market or Farmer's Market (or combination of both like in my city)  What happens there is the public can buy wholesale from the Farmers themselves or from the market.  These are where the real deals are, folks.  The same 50 lb bag 'o potatoes you bought for $20 from a produce company can probably be had for $12-15 there.  Most places like this are open 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  They are open real early in the morning too, so you can beat the rush hour traffic by going either before or after.  They also seem to have a lot of the seasonal produce a week or so ahead of them appearing in your supermarkets.
The people there are usually pretty helpful and will answer questions about how many per case or pounds per case etc.  Just ask!   You can also open up and inspect the cases or boxes too.  You might need to buy the $14 case one week because the older $8 case looks a little too close to the end of it's "shelf life", while the next week the $8 case might be perfect.
The produce quality is usually better there also if you take the time to look around and comparison shop.  You'll also have a choice of different sizes.  A 25 lb case of tomatoes can have 25 tomatoes in or it could have over 50.  (Far more than 50 if you get Roma or cherry tomatoes)
A few other items of note:  Pay attention to how many of an item come in a case or bushel.  Items like tomatoes, squash, zucchini are sold in different sizes or grades.  If you buy the largest size of tomatoes for instance there might only be enough to give every customer one where if you bought medium size case they might be able to get 3 or 4 even though the weight and cost could be the same.  When possible try to notice where your each of your produce items come from.  People would much rather buy local or regional than from some scary sounding city in a third world country.  People will ask and the more you know about your produce the happier you can make your customers. 

It is important to note that rules, regulations, and requirements imposed by various government agencies vary from location to location so I can't even begin to cover that here.  But suffice it to say that a group of friends or co-workers buying wholesale and dividing it up amongst yourselves is viewed differently than if you have so many customers you have a warehouse with a retail shop up front and full-on marketing and advertising.  If you feel you need to know more on this by all means please consult your local government, lawyers, accountants, and experts in general.
I've been in the restaurant management business for almost 20 years and I can get produce far cheaper than the major international restaurant chain I currently work for with over 1,500 locations in 31 different countries, and now you can too.
Produce in this country and around the world is not nearly as abundant as you might think or are led to believe!  I have seen several severe shortages over my almost two decades in the restaurant business and they are happening more and more frequently.  I'm aware of on more than one occasion several national restaurant chains temporarily (meaning weeks or months at a time) not selling certain items because of shortages--caused by a multitude of reasons--here in the United States.  The restaurant chains stop selling it for reasons such as:

1.  They flat out can't procure enough to supply their restaurants. 
2.  The quality of product they get is just too substandard to sell to their customers.
3.  Because of the shortage it becomes too cost prohibitive and would kill profitability.  
4.  They stop selling it so you can still buy it at the supermarket.  They fear the public's reaction to food shortages will be to quit eating out and stock up and stay home.
So be warned: Get it while it's still abundant and you still can afford it and can or dehydrate it for your future security.  I'm going to start including rice and various dried beans and put it in with my customers orders.  I plan on telling them to store it in 2 liter soda or juice bottles for their emergency food supply and buy a dehydrator with the money they are saving and get busy.   The U.S. government is now suggesting a minimum of a "few weeks" supply of food now.  They used to say three days was sufficient.  I wonder what's changed all that?  Wouldn't you feel a bit safer if you knew your neighbors and local community had emergency food you provided for below market cost?  If they have enough food to get though an emergency you won't have to worry about sharing.  Tricking them into recycling/reusing the soda and juice bottles for storage would be an added bonus too!
I have found it helps retain customers if you switch up or rotate the types of produce from time to time.  Also throw in some different recipes or ways to cook or prepare some of the produce.  You'd be surprised how many people have no idea what to do with a sweet potato or that kids who hate green beans generally love them with Asian salad dressing on them.  (That is if you can get them to try the green beans in the first place!)
That's pretty much it.  You find people who want to pay less for better produce.  Find out where to get the best bulk prices then you buy it, divide it up, and hand it out to your customers.  A couple hours a week tops for free produce and a little food security. You gotta love it!  I hope you have found this article helpful and informative. It has made a huge difference to my family of seven as it has helped greatly cut our food bill, sped up our emergency food preparations, and we now eat healthier than we ever have in the past.

Even if it's not for you, then help a brother or sister out and pass it along because if you'd just take a minute to think about it, you probably know someone who could use this system.

Dear James,  

Thank you for the excellent work you do for those that listen and hear your guidance.  I've been an avid reader for many years and moved my family from urban Michigan to a full-time retreat property in the woods of North Idaho largely on recommendations here on SurvivalBlog.   Reed's article on pastimes really should include the card game of cribbage. Any game, like chess, which has survived pretty much intact for many hundreds of years must have something good doing for it!  

Adding cribbage is as simple as investing in a quality board and taking a few minutes to learn the rules.  In a pinch, you can make one from a flat piece of wood, a drill and some spent matches as pegs. Many also use paper to score with, although a physical board makes it much easier to keep track.   The benefits of cribbage are many-fold. A few of them are: 

• The balance of luck and strategy allows absolute beginners to win some games, even against experienced players, unlike chess. 
• The scoring system also involves a significant amount of mental arithmetic, helping youngsters and older players alike. 
• The game itself can be played with 2, 3, 4 or rarely more players.
• A game only takes fifteen minutes or so, allowing a quick game.
• The game is open to, and suitable for, deeper analysis making it fun for the more calculating players.
• The game can be won by either player pretty much until the end, making it a good mood-lightener.
• It takes up little space, and no critical parts that can be lost.
• Cribbage is especially popular in Canada, the Northwest and mid-West regions of the US, and its overall popularity makes it a good ice-breaker, especially in hard times.

I would like to offer 20% off my cribbage boards for your readers.  (Use the discount code "TEOTWAWKI"). -  David, The Cribbage Guy

Thursday, December 30, 2010

I’m writing to share stories and lessons from my first year raising chickens for meat for my family and for sale. Knowing the tricks to successfully raising your own meat could really be a game-changer post TEOTWAWKI, so I want to spread this wealth of information I’ve gleaned in hopes that others may benefit.   I followed the model popularized by Joel Salatin where the chickens are put into mobile pens that move along the ground to a new, fresh piece of pasture each day.  Receiving day old chicks in the mail from the hatchery and watching them grow is a real treat.  This will not be a comprehensive guide, however, because there are plenty of other resources out there that accomplish that better than I can.  Several topics of interest have been selected to the share stories and details on how it worked.    


I tried two different breeds in this system: the Cornish Cross and the Freedom Ranger.  The Cornish Cross is the bird that is raised by the billions in confinement by the very biggest producers in the United States.  It has been bred for its fast gains, reaching harvest weight at only eight weeks of age.  Those birds are quite content to just hang out by the feed trough and eat non-stop.  Dressed out at 5.5 pounds, the bird looks much like a whole bagged fryer you might find at the supermarket.  The only difference was that the fat was a darker color and therefore the taste was much better.  The Freedom Ranger is an older style breed (think heritage or heirloom).  The Freedom Ranger was much more active, scratching and foraging for bugs and eating grass.  The benefits of the Freedom Ranger were evident very early as they began jumping and trying to fly at three weeks of age.  The Freedom Rangers take a little longer to reach maturity, at ten weeks.  These birds were smaller in the end and it showed after processing.  Mortality is explained in detail below, but in reference to breeds, we lost 6 Cornish Crosses to every Freedom Ranger lost which is a testament to the Freedom Ranger’s heartiness and survivability.  The 4.5 pound average bird’s fat was darker yellow and more abundant than the Cornish.  It was hard to taste the difference, but decided that we only want to raise Freedom Rangers in the future. 

Sickness and Mortality

You are going to have losses.  It has been said that 5-8% is an acceptable mortality rate.  Mine was much higher, more like (embarrassingly) 14%.  There are two primary reasons and all have to do with feed and water: cleanliness and availability.  You have to be a stickler about keeping the waterers clean as feed and dirt can build up.  When this happens, especially in the brooder phase, the chicks will begin to get diarrhea.  I read that diarrhea in chicks can be treated with raw milk from your local dairy.  I was amazed at how well that worked.  In fact, when I needed to treat a batch with raw milk, I just treated all batches whether or not they had diarrhea.  The health benefits of having raw milk fed to the chickens (and all animals and humans as well) are well documented.  I won’t go any further, because the Weston Price Foundation has done so well at explaining at their web site, Real Milk.  Thanks to this treatment, I never lost a chick in the brooder. 

There was an occasion where we had a really hot spell while I was traveling.  My substitute caretaker let the water run out accidentally and several birds died in one day.  Chickens have very small bodies and therefore small reserves.  They cannot go for any length of time without food or water.  I should add that most of the death loss I experienced were Cornish Cross.  I only lost two or three Freedom Rangers. 

And then there was the hawk.  I lost one chicken to a hawk and it scared me half to death because I walked right up on him in the act.  He was on the other side of the pen as I approached, so we didn’t see or hear each other and both of us were startled.  He got one chicken and pulled it part way under the pen.  The ten foot long bottom piece had bridged right over a small gulley which must have been right where the chicken was sitting.  It was along the roofed and sided section as well, so the chicken couldn’t see as the hawk stood next to the cage.  Lesson learned: use small pieces of wood and wedge them under the sides of the pen so that there are no ways in or out of that pen.  A few days later the hawk returned.  I was in the house but was alerted because the smaller birds (swallows, bluebirds, red wing black birds, etc.) were making quite a ruckus.  I pair of shotgun blasts into the air sent the message to the hawk clearly (I was intentionally not aiming at him, just wanted to scare him off).  I didn’t see him back for another month.  Another shot over the bow served as his reminder to scram. 


Total Variable Costs were as follows:
$323.25  Chicks Delivered
$928.17  Feed
$32.98 Bedding (wood shavings)
$195.00  Processing

Starting with 150 (75 Cornish and 75 Freedom Rangers) birds, but only ending up with around 130 to eat and sell, this makes the cost per (5 pound average) bird $2.28 per pound.  Consider that you can find fryers on sale in the grocery store (of poor quality, suspect cleanliness and marginal nourishment) for $0.95 then it seems like it might not make financial sense.  However, we were able to sell most of the birds for $4.00 per pound and nobody balked at the price because they were educated about the quality of food they were getting.  The ones we didn’t sell were eaten, or course.  I should clarify, though:  We intentionally didn’t sell all of the birds, because we wanted to eat a bunch of them.  The birds we sold paid for the rest, as well as covering the structural costs too.  Cost of chicks can vary a lot too.  I wanted to work in small batches because it was all so new to me, receiving 25 birds a week for 6 weeks.  If you were to do one large batch, you get better rates from the hatchery as well as some shipping savings. 

Total Fixed Costs were as follows:
$200 per field pen (this is an approximation, and is conservatively set a little high – you could do better than this)
$120 for waterers and parts (Plasson Bell waterers purchased on eBay)
$40 plywood to make brooder

It should be noted that you could lower feed costs if you opt for lesser quality feed.  I only used the best Fertrell Poultry Nutri Balancer minerals, etc. but there are ways to do this less expensively.  In fact, Harvey Ussery explains it very well on his web site The Modern Homestead.  He stopped using mineral supplements and is growing most or all of the food his chickens eat now.  I plan to research this further.  He does this with his laying hens, but I wonder what you could do to increase the protein level to the point where you could finish broilers on a home grown ration.  There are lots of ideas, like feeding earthworms from your vermi-composting operation to the maggots-from-a-bucket-of-roadkill idea. 

Another concept I like a lot from Harvey’s web site is breeding your own poultry.  There’s no better brooder than mama.  As long as you have hearty old world breeds which are dual purpose excelling in both egg and meat production you can raise your own chickens indefinitely.  Again, this is referring to laying hens, but mother nature ensures that the male/female is close to 50/50.  The females will become layer replacements and the males will be broilers for the dinner table.  You don’t need a large flock at all to do this on your own. 


Now the real fun can begin.  Yes, processing is bloody and it is gross.  I was secretly a little worried that I was going to pass out, but it’s really not all that bad.  We paid a neighbor who had all of the equipment and we all helped out to learn the process.  Several hours elapsed before 6 of us had 50 birds done and cooling in an ice water bath.  It was because we were beginners and learning.  With the proper equipment and a well trained crew, its nothing to churn through 100 birds per hour.  I’ve only read that and not seen it. 

This winter I’m busy building a Whizbang Plucker in the garage.  I got the book on Amazon and then discovered that the author, Herrick Kimball, has a web site called The Deliberate Agrarian with tons of helpful material.  There are several other great books on how to build your own homestead equipment that Herrick has written and I have purchased.  The chicken plucker will end up costing me less than half of what a commercially built model would be, and it’s a great project for the winter. 


This summer was a ton of fun and my wife and I plan on doing it again.  We have also decided recently that we should put together a blog to share our experiences with the world.  I will go into further detail on all of these topics and hope it encourages more discussion and sharing of ideas.  Our blog is called His And Hers Homesteading.  Bear with us, as we’re new and figuring it all out. 


Pastured Poultry Profits by Joel Salatin – this is where you start.  It’s a classic and a must read for anyone wanting to raise their own chickens.  Also read this book to better understand my above comment about being wary of chicken from the grocery store. 
Raising Poultry on Pasture: Ten Years of Success by Jody Padgham – this is a compilation of stories from their newsletters and is incredibly helpful in answering questions and explaining how to do things. The ideas discussed here are very practical and helped me a lot with troubleshooting. 
Freedom Ranger Hatchery – this is where you can buy the Freedom Rangers I used and loved so much.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Dear James,  
Thank you for all that you have done for millions of us who were once asleep and unprepared!   I had a question for you regarding obtaining a Federal Firearms License (FFL).  I am in the process of starting some home businesses as a backstop to my "office job."  I have considered getting a FFL and Class 3 license to generate income from gun and ammo sales out of my home.  Is this advisable or does this make me too "high profile?"  I remember the movie Red Dawn!   Thanks and I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year! - Mark in Florida

JWR Replies: I have some strong reservations about getting an FFL. The biggest advantage is of course that it gives you access to modern firearms at wholesale prices. But unfortunately there are several drawbacks. First and foremost, it raises your profile, both locally and with the BATFE. Secondarily, it also makes your business premises subject to government search under some circumstances. (The last time I checked, the ATF agents were more constrained in making searches if you operate a gun business out of your home.) You will also need to keep meticulous records and the records will become government property when you eventually go out of business.

My advice is to not get an FFL but instead to specialize in selling pre-1899 guns. Buying and selling these doesn't require a license. Nor does selling ammunition (in most jurisdictions).

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A couple of years ago I was watching a commercial on television that showed two young men as they stood in a check-out line at a grocery store with a 6 pack of beer, a bag of chips and a package of Toilet Paper…when the young men found that they had only enough money for two of the three items, they chose the 6 pack and the chips. When asked by checker “Paper or plastic?” the decision was unanimous, “Paper!” 

This stark reality of such a simple decision led me on a journey that would involve many years and begin my search for the answer to the question of how much is enough toilet paper (TP) and where do I store it.  I never really understood just how important TP was and the impact that it could have on our daily lives until that commercial was played out. Oh sure, like many deer hunters and fishermen or any outdoor type we all have had our moment where our lack of preparedness has caused us great concern and given us an opportunity to experience the humility of mother nature without TP and all that it encompasses.   

The necessity of Toilet paper and the amount of storage room necessary for a one to two years supply and the quest to keep it dry even in our homes is sometimes a task that has caused me great concern and some sleepless nights to say the least.  With a family of seven (some may be coming home if the SHTF) and no way to transport two years of their own TP supply plus their family and their gear, I had to find a way to simplify this dilemma.   The one thing that I have learned in the past 28 years is that the simplest ideas most always end up being the best…with that being said, I find myself writing about one of the simplest ideas that my wife has produced for our family, and has ended my search for the perfect ending to the mystery.   

Just a short piece of history first.  About five years ago when we were on a two-week camp out, when a sudden and unforeseen four days of rain descended upon our group of 18 families, who were camped in a narrow canyon with restroom facilities about ½ mile from our camp…even though we have our own toilet facilities (I have, along with a few other families who could afford such… purchased used but in good condition portable restrooms and placed them on 2 wheel trailers…one of which is a handicapped restroom with room enough for a solar heated, black bag water shower and a bathroom cabinet), we decided to use the restroom facilities provided even though we knew we would have to plan our walks for the sake of nature very carefully.  We found that in this situation of being away from these very useful luxuries (our portable outhouses) that the trek of ½ mile in wet and cold conditions early in the morning or late at night, with a roll of TP tucked under our jackets, was sometimes a daring adventure.  I lost count of the times a roll of TP was dropped onto the wet ground or in a puddle of water making it completely useless and of the nature walks that ended half way to the desired destination.  Or of the rolls of TP that were found early in the morning, standing silently alone atop the picnic table, dripping wet, after someone forgot that TP and rain don't mix      

The use of toilet paper in very damp conditions led many of our group to wonder out loud about ways to solve this problem.  The storage of large amounts of TP seemed to be a major concern for all of our group, but keeping it dry usually came up…the room needed to store such was vast to say the least when you consider a year or two supply of this basic luxury.   I know that many folks on other blogs or survival sites are stacking phone books to use, or they are storing boxes and boxes of TP and well… to be quite honest, the phone book or a color catalog is not quite the best choice of clean wipe tissue if you have ever tried it…and as my wife discovered, the cost of baby wipes was out of the question and our tries of making our own baby wipes (with environmentally safe soap) discouraged us simply because we knew that eventually we would run out of paper towels.     We needed a solution to a problem that everyone will face someday…paper, plastic, a leaf, or well lets just say any port in the storm…whatever it came to we still had a choice, find a solution or suffer someday.  

They say that every problem is nothing more than a solution in waiting… Being born in the 1950s I remembered what many of you may not…It was called the diaper pal and was as common as toothpaste for families with babies…a closed plastic container would hold about 10-15 dirty diapers and if kept clean (which my mother and other moms demanded) would wait patiently until Saturday morning when the pal was drained into the toilet and the cotton diapers were placed in the washing machine, there to be cleaned with bleach and Tide and hung on the clothes line to be sun dried, and returned to diaper basket where once again the cycle would continue…the solution to my problem was as simple as looking to the past for an answer to the future…why not use cotton diaper material, cut into 4 x 9 in. sections, and then sown around the edges of the material with a zig-zag stitch to prevent the edges from unraveling.  My wife and some of her friends chose a Saturday afternoon, had the men load their sowing machines into the truck and cart them over to a local church where an assembly line soon formed…men setting up sewing machines, women cutting material and other women started sewing the edges, where upon we men would then package in bundles of 50 each a finished product that every man and women took special care not to lose.  The cost of this Saturday was, well lets just say that we all enjoyed the day, we have a product now that we are comfortable with and have no fear of it being destroyed by rain or muddy puddles, left outside in the morning dew or blown of a table top.  We can store 5,000 reusable sheets in a medium cardboard box. 

My cost in time and in material was around 20 cents per sheet if we figured $10 per man-hour to complete the task.  Then again this was 5 years ago, but the benefits have out weighted our investment 10 to 1.  The material was purchased at a local box store but as many of our women found out their mothers had a lot of diaper material stored in boxes in their basements and were grateful to have it put to good use.  We have found that it took a few times to get use to not depositing the wipes into the toilet facility but with practice and a few reminders the system works and in a WTSHTF scenario this idea just may save many of us the distress of using a dollar bill (which does not work at all as toilet paper) as a final solution to an everyday problem.   The results of our efforts became a very useful item that we now carry in all our backpacks,  (stored in freezer bags (but we don’t care if they get wet, they are still usable), in our bug out packs also in freezer bags, and stacked neatly in our portable toilet's cabinets in plastic containers right next to our regular TP that we still use while we can.    I have been able to find diaper pails at yard sales and in some stores, and I have found some that would have really made my mom sit up and take notice; they have two-way entries and are very insect proof.  We have found that this cotton TP also serves as a wound dressing when two are sown together with a famine napkin in between, as a washcloth, a sweat rag, as a famine pad (also when sown together with a sponge material in between) in an emergency situation, and other ways that we are finding each and every trip into the wilderness and around our home.   As a student of outdoor survival and family preparedness for 28 years, I have found that each and every bit of information received, is another thread of the tapestry that will assist us in the days of uncertainty that lie ahead, and that will greatly add to our chances of survival in the world in which we will soon find ourselves. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mr. Rawles,  
As a concealed carry permit holder I have a thing for gun holsters, being a big guy, I spend a lot of time making sure that my holsters are comfortable and work well with the clothing I wear.  Something I have noticed with holsters and “gun guys” is that we all end up with a box of old holsters we never use.  Looking through my collection I see that the majority of holsters I use on a daily basis are either Kydex or combinations of both leather and Kydex.  That is no surprise when you look at the benefits of Kydex.  Its cheap, rugged, non-marring of your gun’s finish, moldable for good retention, smooth for a consistent draw, and does not react to normal temperatures or gun solvents or oils.  

Being a do it yourself (DIY) enthusiast, it did not take me long to want to try my hand at molding Kydex.  For those of you that do not know, Kydex is the trade name for a propriety thermoplastic sheet.  It’s rigid and strong, but when heated to about 330-380° it becomes pliable. (The sheet will burn at a temperature greater than 400°F).  Kydex does not have a memory, so that once it has cooled; it retains the shape it was molded to fit.  Kydex is not the only plastic compound that has this property, but what makes Kydex so valuable to do-it-yourselfers is that unlike other heat formable plastics like PVC, Kydex will not off gas toxic fumes at normal forming temperatures.  

Most people use either an oven (full size or toaster depending on the size of Kydex your working with), or a heat gun.  It really depends on the thickness of the Kydex your working with, and how big of a piece your molding as to which is a better heat source.  Normally I find the oven works best to begin the project, and I use a heat gun to spot heat for adjustments.   Besides a heat source, gloves, and trimming tools, one of the most basic tools to mold Kydex is a press.  A Kydex press normally costs from $80 to $180 depending on size, but it is a simple tool that I decided to make one myself.  

At its simplest a Kydex press is a rigid board with a thick piece of foam glued to it as a base, with top made the same way.  The heated Kydex is wrapped around whatever it will sheathe, and then sandwiched between the two pieces and then clamped or weighted heavily until the plastic cools.  

I went a little more complicated, as I put a set of hinges to connect the top and bottom pieces.  I connected them this way because I plan on making knife sheaths for the time being until I get enough skill to try more complicated gun holster designs and by being connected, it gives me more leverage for clamping.  If I was making a press for larger items like gun holsters, I would not add a hinge, or I would make the hinge adjustable.  

Being cheap, I did not want to waste Kydex practicing, so I searched for alternatives to Kydex that I could up cycle.  I needed to find thermoplastic that could be heated without off gassing cyanide or other toxic compounds.  It also needed to become pliable upon heating without turning liquid (this left out soda bottles).  I also wanted something that I could get from trash.  I doubt I would be able to get Kydex sheet in a grid down situation, and its not very high on my stockpile list.  

ABS sheet plastic is usable, but I found that the plastic from milk jugs and detergent bottles also work.  Milk jugs are thin, so heating them in the oven isn’t always practical, and they are not UV stabilized so they become brittle in the sun so they are not practical for holsters.  I did find that milk jugs do make great practice pieces, and I made sheaths for all my kitchen knives using milk jugs to practice. 

Thicker laundry soap bottles work great for knives.  They form easier than milk jugs, and you can “weld” the edges together with heat so you do not have to use rivets as you do with actual Kydex sheet.  

Whatever plastic you use, once it has cooled, its simple to open the press and trim the extra plastic away.  I use aviator snips for most of my work, but a dremel tool, band saw, bench grinder all would work as well.  

Some very good concealment holsters are made using both leather and kydex to utilize the advantages of both.  If take a piece of plywood and cut out the center in the shape of your handgun so that only half or a little more is molded into the kydex sheet, you can rivet the kydex to a large piece of leather and attach whatever mounting brackets you desire to the leather making a very comfortable and secure inside the belt concealment holster that molds to your body, while still giving you a slick kydex draw.   I must practice more to enhance my skill, but considering all the pros and cons of the process it is relative easy to do, and may provide for cottage industry after a grid collapse since many more people have guns and knives than have proper sheaths for them. - David N.

JWR Adds: Every family should own a basic leather-working kit, a riveting mandrel, a large assortment of rivets, and a large spool of sturdy waxed saddle stitching thread. That way, even after Kydex becomes unavailable, you can continue to make holsters and sheaths, the old-fashioned way.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ever since I was a young'n, it has been hard for me to pass a dumpster or trash heap without investigating it.  I quickly learned that folks throw out a lot of good stuff, thinking it is worthless (someone said "one man's trash is another man's treasure"); e.g. I've found appliances which only need a new electrical plug!  Nowadays, the same habit has greatly enhanced my prepping inventory, and best of all, it's free, leaving more of my tight budget to buy store-bought items.  If you collect more things than you can use, the extras can be bartered, sold, or given/lent.  

I'll start with some common-sense cautions: 

1) Avoid climbing on or in dumpsters.  No sense getting injured, even before the SHTF.  Or, you can get trapped inside a high-walled one.  If you have to, carry two ladders with you.  Also, it's common to meet up with nasty critters inside. 

2)  Unless you're starving, stay away from food garbage dumpsters.  Although, I must admit, I've gotten perfectly good food items from behind grocery stores which were discarded on the sell-by date. 

3)  Watch for nails and other "sharps".  Wear gloves. 

4) To be safe (legal), seek permission beforehand.  In my experience, checking with the site guys always resulted in a friendly "sure, go ahead!" 

5)  Do not touch the charity bins, such as those owned by Goodwill.  

I've personally gotten my best finds from construction sites.  Obviously, there's mostly wood, but hey, I'm a woodchuck anyway, and have made many projects out of scrap lumber.  Also a good source for kindling.  I've found plenty of other goodies, though:  tools which only needed a new handle (often you can find a tool with the handle bad and another one with the steel part bad, and swap the parts).  The best thing I've been getting lately by far is scrap copper, as #2 (not shiny) is fetching $2.80/lb. 

You'd be surprised at the number of short lengths crews throw out.  Plastic buckets are very common, as are pallets (both have multiple uses)   Some of the best troves can be found when a company is going out of business (nowadays, imagine that!).  It just isn't worth their time to try and sell a lot of their office and shop stuff.  Good furniture, filing cabinets, pads of paper,  buckets of nuts and bolts, cleaning supplies, etc.  

Obviously, you're going  to have to do a bit of investigating in order to find the best dumpsters.  Once you do, you can visit the same ones every few days or so and get more of the same stuff you previously found.   The biggest drawback a lot of you will have is the attitude of "wouldn't stoop so low", or "that is just too embarrassing".  Well, over the years I've come to realize just how right my late mother was when she always told me "pride goeth before the fall".  Maybe not a direct quote, but now I understand it. - Bullet Bob

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Would you like to learn a skill during these relatively quiet times that will assist you to obtain, or at least keep,  gasoline, diesel, food and every other commodity the a day after this society falls?   The SurvivalBlog posts regarding TEOTWAWKI may provide you with information regarding  what is the bare minimum you need to strive for in you preparation of the day after disaster strikes.  What if you want to be more prepared?  Do you want to possess a skill that everyone will have a need for the day after the disasters strike? Some people believe that a person’s skills will be more important than the commodities that they bring to an after disaster living situation so if you are not going back to medical school soon, you may want develop a bag full of desired skills. Every day that is like yesterday, the more likely tomorrow will be like today.  Every day that slides by, however, pushes us towards the edge of a cliff, and when we fall off that cliff as a society, our days will be forever changed, and you will then have to deal with a new normal.  There is no need to go through all the different possibilities of how and why this will happen, but many have suggested that we will be in a new Dark Age. How will this Dark Age be different than the last one?  More people will die during the upcoming series of disasters.  Many people died at the point of a sword in the last Dark Ages, but during the upcoming Dark Ages, many people will die from a bullet wound. 

All of these articles and blogs at times focus on different reasons how and why people die during these times of disaster and the authors attempt to jump start you along these roads of how and why to prepare yourself and your family.  Your needs will include fuel, fire, food, shelter, and water, but what happens when someone comes to take these precious commodities away from you, or worse yet, what happens when someone attempts to harm you or your family? Okay, so you have a gun, when was the last time you fired it?  If you and your family whole existence will ultimately going to depend on your ability to use your firearm, why aren’t you going through at least a box of practice ammo every month?  Is your family worthy that amount of time and money? What was your answer to the question … what good is your car if there is no fuel in the tank?  Similarly, what good is your firearm with no ammunition?  Hopefully, you are not in the group of people that mistakenly believe that the sight of a firearm or the sound of slide of a shotgun is enough to scare the bad guys away.

You have an ability to make something if you prepare now that could be more important than food, gasoline, and all the other commodities that you are stockpiling.  You can make your own ammunition because with a loaded firearm, many other things are possible.  Without a loaded firearm, you could lose everything including your life.  Back during the Clinton Administration, key players in the Executive branch realized that going directly against gun owners, the NRA, and the 2nd Amendment was probably not the smartest political move so they attempted to eliminate the precursor reloading supplies, and Clinton attempted to tax already loaded ammunition into oblivion.  The far left thinking is based upon the sound facts that guns are useless without ammunition, and  2nd Amendment does not mention anything about ammunition so the far left is able to reach their goal of a USA without workable firearms without going directly against the 2nd Amendment eliminating ammunition.  The current Democrat President could institute such a policy with a mere signature on an Executive Order.

So do you have enough ammunition for all possibilities that the future might hold, or would you like to have the ability to make your own ammunition regardless  of the situation?  Since the days of President Clinton when he attempted to place limits on ammunition, many people who handload or reload have been stockpiling the supplies necessary to essentially make their own ammunition.  This skill would be invaluable the day after the fall, but it also has benefits now of costing less per round to produce a useable round. The ability to reload or handload your own ammunition is extremely simple to learn.  Before deciding to purchase the equipment and supplies required to reload, you can purchase a DVD entitled RCBS Precisioneered Handloading.  There are many makers of the items listed below.  These items are listed as options that you may want to consider before purchasing these types of items. Many of these items may be purchased at your local sporting goods stores, but as an additional option, these items are listed by cost and item number at Midway. The DVD shows you the basic process of how to make your own ammunition and the necessary equipment and supplies you will need to purchase.  Making your own ammunition is a simple process. At Midway, the DVD item number is  #99910, and the cost of the DVD is $10.  After watching the DVD, you can decide you want to add this necessary skill to your repertoire of TEOTWAWKI skills.

Different manufacturers have most of the items you will need to make your own ammunition in Press Kits.  For example, RCBS has a Supreme Single Stage Press Master Kit which has over 90% of the equipment you will need to reload your own ammunition.  This RCBS Master Kit is approximately $300, but for the next couple of months, RCBS has a $50.00 rebate on RCBS items that total at least $300 so with this rebate the cost of the RCBS Kit would be approximately $250.  The Midway item number for this RCBS Master Kit is #646599.  Another reloading company Lee has a similar reloading kit.  This kit contains most of what is contained in RCBS’s Master kit and the Lee kit is on sale at Midway for $82.  Midway’s item number for this Lee Single Stage Press Kit is #423-081. So what will you do with these reloading kits?  After you fire a round in your modern firearm, what typically comes out of the weapon is a brass cartridge or casing.  When you look at that brass casing, you will notice that it has a flat bottom.  Usually on that flat bottom, there will be some words like the caliber of the weapon that casing is for, and name of the manufacturer of that casing.  In the center of the brass casing, you will see a primer.  If the round has been fired, the primer will have a  dent in it, and this primer is typically termed a spent primer once it has been fired.

What happens when you pull the trigger on a weapon is that the pulling of the trigger causes the firing pin to strike the primer in brass casing … that primer shoots a small, but powerful flash through a hole in the casing into that part of the casing where the powder is being housed … that flash ignites the powder in a semi-controlled explosion (the blast), and the mass of that powder is transformed into a gas… the energy … the gas then pushes the bullet out the barrel of the gun. What you are doing when you reload these brass casings is you first resize the brass casing to its original size… you pop out the spent primer … you place a new primer in the bottom of the casing … refill the brass casing with powder… and finally seat a new bullet in the mouth of the brass casing.  Once you watch the DVD, you will realize how easy this process is.  These tasks are primarily performed by merely moving the handle of the reloading press up and down, and it usually requires very little physical force to complete these tasks.  You will need a small area of counter space to set up the press or small reloading benches can be purchased from Cabela's and other suppliers to house your reloading supplies and equipment all in one place. The items that will not be contained in your press kits are the supplies of primers, powder, brass, bullets, and dies.

Each caliber of weapon will require different primers, powder, brass, bullets, and dies so you will have to make the determinations regarding these items once you have determined what weapon you will be using. For example, you decide that you also want to have .30-06 Springfield in your arsenal of weapons, and you want to be able to reload your own rounds for that .30-06 weapon.  You have chosen to possess a .30-06 because it is a well balanced cartridge, and there should at least be empty brass somewhere that you can obtain.  Initially, you will look in the reloading book that comes in your kit.  If you purchased the RCBS Master Kit, the reloading book contained in that kit will be the Speer Bullet Reloading book.  Turn to the pages in the Reloading book that discusses handloading for the .30-06.  In the current 14th Edition, that discussion takes place on pages  473 through 488 .  The book or manual will also discuss what you will need to purchase for primers, powder, and bullets for a given caliber of firearm.  All of these items will be discussed in greater detail in the reloading manuals, but it is important to follow the instructions in the manual very closely. 

If you still do not know if you want to add this to your bag of skills after watching the DVD, these reloading manuals discuss what to do and how to do it in much more detail so by purchasing one of these manuals, it will provide you will more information before purchasing a kit, or watch the process on YouTube.  These manuals typically cost around $20, but many times these manuals are contained in the kits if you purchase a kit.  The Midway cost on Hornady’s Handbook of Cartridge Reloading 6th Edition is $24 and the item number is #438424.  The Hornady’s Handbook is mentioned because it promotes different bullets than Speer’s bullets, but more importantly on page 38 it has a listing of all the manufactured powder currently for sale.  Hornady’s Reloading manual also lists in a separate book the drop for each bullet at a specific velocity so you can determine how your bullet will perform in the air before it reaches its target. You will have to match, with the assistance and direction of the manual,  the burning rate of your powder to your weapon or cartridge.  The list of powder on these pages is listed from fastest burning powder to slowest burning powder.  Generally, the fastest burning powders are used in shotguns or pistols, and the slowest burning powders are to be used in rifles.  This list is important if you cannot find a specific powder, but you can purchase or trade for another powder, how will this new unknown powder’s burning rate compares to what you need. The current cost for a pound of powder averages between $25-30 per can.  The day after disaster strikes the cost of powder will go off the charts and will you will probably not be able to purchase the items listed in this article anywhere at any price.  Powder has more than doubled in cost over the last several years, and there were times that you could not purchase the more popular powders. 

The more popular powders are those that can be used in several different weapons.  Some of these powders include 4895, 7828, 4831 (rifle powders) and 2400 pistol powder.  A person can usually obtain about 100 rifle rounds out of one can of rifle powder, and many hundreds of rounds from one can of pistol powder for a pistol.  You can purchase powder from your local sporting goods store or from Midway. There was a period of time when President Clinton was in power and he was attempting to shut off the flow of ammunition, or the items necessary to make your own loaded ammunition/ It was then that primers first became scarce and in some instances could not be purchased and any price.  Without proper primers, your weapon and its ammunition will not work.  Eventually, you could purchase primers, but at first, primers cost 3-5 times their normal cost when you could find someone to sell you some.  Currently, the best rifle primers made are Federal’s 215 Match large rifle primers, but there have not been any of these specific primers for sale for several years.  It is extremely important to use the proper primer listed in the reloading manuals so before you purchase any of these items, review your reloading manuals and following their instructions.  Primers can be purchased from your local sporting goods store or from Midway.

With these reloading systems, it makes your one weapon more versatile.  For example, with your  30-06 outlined above, you can have a specific bullet loaded for shooting primarily coyotes or other varmints with the Speer 125 grain "TNT" style bullet. Midway item number for this bullet is 712369 and costs $26 for a box of 100.   This bullet is light, fast, and will expand greatly on impact on small game.  Alternatively, you could handload Speer’s new Deep Curl 180 grain bonded core bullet.  A bonded core bullet is a bullet where the heavy lead core is bonded to the stiff copper jacket so it maintains approximately 90% of its original weight when striking an animal.   This retained weight will ensure deep penetration and a lethal wound channel, and those are the primary reasons most people fire a firearm. This Deep Curl bullet fired from a 30-06 is capable of bringing down any animal in North America. Midway's item number for this 180 grain Deep Curl Bullet is #973637 and the cost is $31  box of 100.  Finally, you can load this 30-06 cartridge so it is a semi-armour piercing round that could stop a vehicle by loading it with a 165 grain solid brass bullet made by Barnes Bullets.  The Midway item number for this Barnes brass bullet is #384406 and the cost is $30 for a box of 50.  So you can use the same weapon, same brass casing, same primer, same powder and with different bullets have total different impact on your varied targets.  You can purchase inexpensive bulk bullets or more custom bullets that have a specific function for specific targets.

Everyone that dabbles in this sort of ballistic analysis is asked… “What is the best bullet?”  In order to answer that question, you need to know what you are going to shoot, but the question has been mostly answered by   Gary Shciuchetti in an article in volume #193 of Handloader magazine.  Mr. Shciuchetti purchased all the 180 grain bullets made by all the manufacturers and custom bullet makers.  He shot them in speeds from 3,200 feet per second down to 1,700 feet per second.  He then measured the diameter and length of the wound cavity.   Mr. Shciuchetti weighed each bullet after it was fired to determine an average retained weight of the bullets. All the other variables being equal, and after hundreds of test shots, one bullet out performed all other bullets… almost by a factor of two, meaning that this bullet typically cut a wound channel twice as far as the next closest bullet… and that bullet was the Winchester Fail Safe.   The only problem is that they do not make that bullet any more, but Barnes MRX Bullet is made in the same manner and is as good, the problem is that this MRX bullet is comparatively expensive.  Winchester’s XP3 loaded ammunition is close, as is Barnes X bullet, in performance to the Fail Safe bullet.

The final item you will have to purchase separate from your kit is a set of dies in order to reload you own bullets.  There are many manufacturers of die sets.  Usually, there are 2 or 3 dies in each set of dies that screw into your press.  The dies are what actually make the changes in the brass casing when you work the handle of the press up or down.  With different dies you will be able to load different rifle or pistol calibers or shotgun shells by using the same press and often times the same primers and powders. For example, for your .30-06 rifle a good choice would be  a RCBS  .30-06 full length sizing die set.  Midway item number for this die set is #264330 and the cost is $29. So what would happen after to pick up your fired brass is you screw in your sizing die into your press.  Your brass is held in place by a shell holder in the top of the ram of your press.  You follow the instructions in your DVD reloading manual but the first die, sizes your brass, and pops out the spent primer.  You re-set a new primer in the casing.  Fill the case with new powder, and re-set a new bullet, using a different die.  The round is ready to be re-fired.

You can make your own ammunition, and with this skill so you can make rounds for others as long as you have the proper dies, brass, primers, and powders.   It is certainly worth the $10 DVD to better understand this reloading process, or go on YouTube and watch someone reload a centerfire brass cartridge.  Once you see all those folks reloading, you will see how easy it is to learn this vital new skill.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

So much has been written on preparing solely for survival of TEOTWAWKI. What about after? What about five years after? Granted, if something minor happens and we could overcome it within a month or so, I truly see precious metals quite viable. However, should the whole world fall to its knees and we would be looking at years before any sort of progress could be made, I think material goods would be much more important.

This list is not meant to be a final checklist, but rather a starting point that you could adjust, add, or take away from. These are some items that you could stock, to start your own General Merchandise store:

Glasses: With so many people running around with contact lenses, lots of eyesight would be lost after the first few months of TEOTWAWKI. Try talking to friends and family that have old pairs of glasses lying around and ask if you may have them. If possible, keep the frames as similar as possible. This would allow you to change out one lens for another if need be. Go to your local pharmacy and purchase a few types of reading glasses as well.

Hearing Aids with Batteries: These are a bit more pricey, but if you can come across some save them for someone that may be willing to pay for them with a side of beef in post-SHTF situation.

Boots and Shoes: It seems all we hear about is the best type of clothes for when the SHTF, but what about footwear? People will be walking all day, everyday thus making shoes wear out faster. I’d recommend going to garage sales and second hand stores to stock up on various sizes and types of footwear for adults and children. Twelve months after TEOTWAWKI and people are going to want to ditch their sandals and oversized sneakers for a more durable and appropriate shoe.

Can Openers: You would be astonished as to the number of people I know that have stocked up on canned goods but only have an electric can opener. Buy a few dozen good quality hand can openers. These will likely sell fast.

Female Products: Per my wife’s instructions. Women will need time until they can make their own pads. Nuff said!

Herbs: Whether or not you know how to make herbal remedies, someone will. Possibly through a collection of people, enough remedies may become apparent as medicines. You could trade these herbs for some of the medicines that people would make.

Medical Supplies: Medical personnel close to you will probably have a small stock of supplies in their own home. This extra supply is so if they are unable to get to their work site to retrieve more. You could trade these supplies for some medical treatments.

Writing Supplies: Pencils, pens, markers, and paper. Most likely electricity will go out fairly quickly. Being able to write notes, signs, or for pleasure will become more commonplace.

Reloading Equipment: This isn’t necessarily for you to sell, but rather to make sellable products. Bullets will in a sense become a type of currency. It will be used daily for hunting and for protection. Carry sufficient equipment to reload common sizes such as .357, .40, .45, .223, .30-06, .308, 12 gauge, and others . Check out local tire shops. Some will give you the old lead weights for free.

Archery Supplies: This one is not really talked about in the prepper circuit, but is becoming slightly more popular. At some point and time, there will be no more cartridges [because there will be no more primers]. Period. That is until someone starts producing gun powder and cartridges. This doesn’t apply to everyone, but if you live in an area where guns and shooting are frowned upon, this will happen. A large number of hunters are becoming more involved with bow hunting. Carrying some extra arrows, heads, and strings will make you quite popular among these hunters.

Antiques: So when you inherited grandpa’s farm you got to looking around. You found old lanterns, a horse drawn plow, old hand tools, an antique sheller, etc. You understand the importance of these types of tools in a SHTF situation, so you bought new replicas that you know will last. Don’t chuck these antique originals in the junk pile. These can be sold to farmers who have not prepared, for a hefty price.

Fire Starters: Lots of people have matches and lighters in their house. Do you think they have sufficient to last five years? Stock up on strike anywhere matches, butane lighters, and magnesium fire starters. Once people realize there gas stove doesn’t light up without their electric starter, they’ll be calling you to trade.

Lubricants: Whether we experience an EMP or not, the lights will go out at some time. People will have generators and vehicles that are still going to run for awhile. I constantly read feuds between preppers over how many “trillions” of gallons of fuel they should have along with a stabilizer. What about oil for your motor? If you have enough fuel to last for three generations, how long will that motor last with nasty oil? Buy some common types of oils for two-strokes, gas vehicles, diesel vehicles, and tractors. Don’t forget to buy grease and penetrating lubricants as well.

Dental Care: There have been a few articles on the care of your teeth and gums, which means that people understand the importance of good dental hygiene. Stock up on toothbrushes and dental floss. People that understand the importance of these products will trade with high values.

Soap: Many people will start making their own soap, but many people will not know how. At fifty cents a bar, stock up on a pallet of this stuff. Even for certain people that are in love with their hair will use good old bar soap for shampoo. It sure beats using soap made from animal lard, or worse yet, no soap at all.

Kids Stuff: Children will be living in a far different place a year after TEOTWAWKI. No more Xbox, DVDs, iPods, and the list goes on. Most kids will be working to help the family survive by helping in the fields, homes, or learning a trade. However, we don’t want to completely throw away our children’s’ future. Stock up on some old fashion board games. These will not be solely for children, but for the whole family. When things calm down some, we will need to take some time to decompress everything that has happened. Stock up on story books along with textbooks. These children will someday be rebuilding the world we destroyed. Don’t let them lose their intelligence.

Adult Stuff: Kids aren’t going to be the only ones that will need to decompress. Our days will be long and difficult and at some point in we will have some down time to relax. As stated above, board and card games will help. Pick up some novels to sell that people could cozy up with next to a fire. Keep some bottles of perfume for women and some old car magazines for guys.

Tools: Most people have a socket wrench set and a hammer. If you live in the country, you probably have a mini hardware store in your shop. On the other hand, some people have a screwdriver and not much else. Keep a few extra tools around not only for yourself, but to trade as well. Sockets break, screwdriver tips wear down, and handles break.

Seeds: The starter prepper knows that they need "X amount" of food stored away. What about after it’s all gone? Seeds will become very important once people realize that TEOTWAWKI is here to stay and their supply of canned goods will not suffice until the lights come back on.

Canning Supplies: When harvest time comes around, people (hopefully) will have a bountiful crop of food. They will need a way to store this to get them through winter and into the next year.

Coffee and filters: The filters can be used for people that do not have percolators. They set their coffee pot up as normal and slowly pour hot water over the grounds. The filters can also be used to filter water for big chunks of stuff that we shouldn’t be drinking. As far as the coffee…we’re Americans. Coffee will be like gold!

Bibles: I stress that for this one, you use it not for trade, but as a gift. Help spread the word of God in a crucial time.

Baby Formula: Some children may not drink breast milk due to either a lack of lactation or an allergy to something in the milk. I do not think I would be able to use this as a trade or sellable item. Best leave this for a charity item.

Hand Pumps for Wells: I know of people that live in the country that are preparing to have the SHTF. They are storing food, fuel, water, and bullets. A number of these same people have yet to realize that when the lights go out, so does their well. Having a few of these around could be worth a huge amount in the barter world.

Solar Panels: For this, I would recommend putting them away in a faraday cage. Should an EMP blast occur, these could be trade to someone that is in great need of electricity such as a doctor, dentist, fire department, or the local Ham Radio operator to keep us up on the news. Don’t forget to also keep on hand batteries, charge controllers, cabling, connectors, and all the other goodies needed [to make small PV systems.]

Last, and certainly not least…. Books and Manuals:
Not everyone’s situation will be the same. You may live in an area without any medical personnel around. I may live in a climate that never gets below eighty degrees. Pick up books that people could use and the entire community could benefit from over time. Pick up a copy of Where There Is No Doctor or Seed Sowing and Saving. Find technical manuals and do-it-yourself (DIY) books. Purchase five copies of each one. Should you live in an area that is so desolate that your community is less than one hundred families; skills may not be readily present and must be learned. Knowledge is power.

The preceding list is just a guide. What I really hope to get out of this is for people’s minds to shift from preparing and trying to survive to looking past the final hour and realize that if you do survive, we will have to restart everything. If you are thirty years old, have all of you food, water, crops, and fuel squared away, start thinking about the next thirty to forty years you may live after the SHTF. We’ve focused long enough on getting ready for the big day, but what about the years and years after? As in the novel "Patriots" we will have bartering going on. We may even have some kind of barter stand that turns into a store. No matter how much you prepare and store, there will always be at least one thing that you forgot. That is why it will be important to have extra stuff, so that you may trade for that item that you forgot. Be Blessed in the difficult road ahead!

Monday, July 26, 2010

It may not be TEOTWAWKI, but the end of “your world” may be closer than you think. Mine came eight years ago with the end of my wife's battle with cancer. With the down turn of the economy and a mountain of medical bills, we had already leveraged every penny that we could. We took out a second mortgage, maxed our credit cards, sold the boat, the four wheeler, and travel trailer. Since then I've sold my pickup, her car, the tools of my trade (I'd been a carpenter), and anything else that could bring in a dollar. I've been told that I could have gone through a “financial reorganization” a.k.a. bankruptcy, to save the house... but at the time, I was devastated by the loss of my wife, and nothing really mattered. She had always been the one to keep me going. Her battle cry “There's work to be done” usually meant she, or we would soon be headed to help somebody, or a cause that “won't make it without a little hand.” When my world crashed down, I lost my ambition, my faith, my hope. My depression led to heavy drinking, and that put me into a spiral, which didn't end until I hit bottom. One night I had a dream, a very realistic dream. I was standing with a group of people, in the front yard of our old house. Everyone was milling around talking in low voices... It was a Wake following a funeral. Then I saw her... she broke away from the group and rounded the corner of the house. I followed her to the back yard, as I caught up, she turned and gave me a hug. She held me at arms length, looked me up and down, and said I looked like hell. I asked if she had come to take me, if it was my time? She told me “no, not yet, I just wanted to see you”. She told me that I had to start taking care of myself... for her. “There's work to be done!” That's when I woke up, both figuratively, and literally.

Now I survive day to day, with an eye to the future.

I'm homeless... I don't steal, I don't beg, or take “hand outs”, I don't trespass onto private property.

I do my best not to look homeless. I do day labor for a temp agency, but am limited due to telephone and transportation constraints. I take occasional odd jobs on the side, but prefer small household repairs. I'm told that most local contractors won't even stop by to give estimates on these small jobs, because it's just not worth their time. I get this work by word of mouth, and have quite a few repeat customers. I have a growing list (of mostly seniors), that can't do the winter weatherizing, or spring cleanup of their homes. I don't charge an arm and a leg, and am open to bartering. I'll never get rich doing this, but I've made new friends, helped others, have been able to replace many of my old "tools of the trade", and have even bought a few “necessities” that I now see as luxuries.

A friend lets me store a few tools, and things in an old truck tool box that I have stuck under his deck. (A wooden deck that I helped build). He also lets me use his address to receive mail. This has allowed me to obtain a library card, which includes Internet access. I can only sign up to reserve an hour block of time, but if there's nobody else waiting to use it, they let people stay on indefinitely. With access to such a goldmine of reference/research material (including SurvivalBlog), the possibilities seem endless. It is also a warm place to spend a cold winter day.

Winter is, of course, the most difficult time to live outdoors. I dress in layers, and carry at least one complete change of clothes. It rains a lot here, and you will get wet. Wool makes the best insulating layer (even when wet), and “Gore-Tex” type materials are a great shell. I've gotten most of my layers cheap at local thrift stores. Shelters have come in many forms, from lean-tos, to public restrooms, or empty shipping containers. I won't stay in a “homeless shelter”, there is just too much potential trouble there. There is less chance of confrontations when I stay out of town, but there are also fewer resources, and opportunities for employment. There is one huge benefit when I do stay out of town. I'm able to cook, and heat with one of my “Penny Wood Gas” stoves, and not alarm anyone. I've made several variations of these and usually keep two or three around for different uses. Using the original size can, with fewer/smaller holes, gives a longer burn, with lower temps. Which is better for warming/drying cold hands, feet, and clothes. I always keep one loaded, ready to light, and it still weighs less than a pound.

There are wild foods to be had year round here in the Pacific Northwest. My diet is primarily vegetarian these days. Though I picked up a wrist rocket for a dollar at a garage sale, that occasionally adds protein to my meals. Cattails grow everywhere around here, and in it's many stages, is a constant source of nutrients. I highly recommend searching for a site like this one to familiarize yourself with local edibles. If/when the Golden Horde marches through this area, I expect most city dwellers to pass by these “weeds”, without giving them a second glance. Of the 55 plants on this particular page, I had previously only tried a hand full that I knew. Now there are only a few that I don't use regularly, either because they don't grow in my area of operation, they have digestive “side affects” or I prefer the flavor of others. A short note on “flavor”... While wild greens, grubs, and ground squirrels, can get you through a survival situation, they aren't always the most palatable for consuming day after day. Spice it up... a few basic spices can make the worst tasting gruel edible. I get my spices from the bulk food section of a local store. For the price of one pre-packaged little bottle of spice, I can get a variety of flavor enhancers. A few spices don't take up much space, and weigh only a few ounces. I carry a little with me, and have the rest in a few half pint jars stashed away in a secure location. The Ball company makes plastic (aka. non rusting) screw on lids. While not suitable for heat processing, they are air/water tight, and work great for storing dry goods.

In 2006 I was lucky enough to locate a south facing ledge approximately 12' x 30', which sits about 80' above a major highway, but is still 30'- 40' below the crest. I call it my “Garden Retreat”. With a sheer rock face above and below, my garden is still readily accessible by any surefooted mountain goat that knows the right route (a.k.a. me). There is a small spring not far away that gives me fresh drinking water and I can carry enough for the plants I am growing during the (very short) dry season here. Anything close to the edge that grows over waist high could be visible from below, but only if you know where to look. It has between 6” and 18' of top soil. I've been adding compostable materials and other amendments for three years now, and can easily produce 3-4 times the quantity of veggies I can eat. I use successive plantings, combined with intensive companion planting/intercropping, to get the highest yield out of the least work, and water. I go heavy on the root crops, because they keep longer, and often can be left in the ground until the rains set in. I've managed to assemble a couple of “cold frames” out of scrounged materials and old windows, to help extend my growing season. I can now have fresh lettuce in all but the coldest part of the year. Until I come up with better preservation methods, I'm using excesses as gifts, or barter.

Early this spring, I picked up (and rebuilt), an old bicycle. It has greatly increased my mobility, and extended my range. Now I'm gathering parts to build a trailer, to carry my tools.

Things have turned around for me. They may get bad again, or even worse, but I know that I will survive.

I've been sober for five years so far. I still don't know what God, or my wife have in store for me, but I will be ready. I haven't completely forgiven God yet, but it seems that he's forgiven me. I'm doing well right now, and have enough “extra” saved to purchase a prepaid cell phone. Another “luxury”, that will allow me to be more easily reachable/available for employment. If all goes well, I may spend this winter (or the next) indoors.

My advice to you?

  • Never give up.
  • No matter how bad things get... they could be worse.
  • Don't waste time pitying yourself.
  • Try to think clearly, and constructively. “There's work to be done!”

Regards, - Trashcollector

JWR Adds: Trashcollector's article was remarkable. It has earned him a special editor's prize, that will be dug up from the depths of JASBORR. His narrative reminded me of the same enterprising spirit that was shown by Sylvan Hart (a.k.a. "Buckskin Bill"), who lived a solitary life for many years in the wilds of central Idaho. I highly recommend the book Last of the Mountain Men, that documents Sylvan Hart's amazing life.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Good Afternoon, Jim,
What can Christian people do if they have lost their income when the economy crashed in October 2008 and they still have limited funds? I am a professional and the market I serve is in decline. Suggestions? I have applied to hundreds of jobs with no reply. Thanks, - Paul S.

At this point, the prospects for economic "recovery" seem remote, especially with the planned tax increases (January 1, 2011) and the inevitability of higher interest rates.

I recommend that you start your own business, in something recession/depression proof.

Look through the 75+ SurvivalBlog articles in the "Self-Employment & Home-Based Businesses" category, starting with the oldest ones first.

And for some hourly and salaried job possibilities, see my discussion of "Three K" jobs.

Pray hard, and start digging a market niche!

Economics and Investing:

Frequent content contributor KAF flagged this: IRS starts mopping up Congress's tax-reporting mess. KAF's comments: "It's becoming more and more apparent and important for preppers to make all purchase transactions of multiples of items in cash only. Read on...these new laws and IRS regulations are aimed at squelching any competitive incentives for trading with the small businesses of America. As a result, they'll be thousands of small businesses closing in the next two years. And, this is what the Feds call building employment opportunities?"

Larry T. sent us this: Bank Fix for Unpaid Commercial Property Loans: 'Extend and Pretend'

N.I.M. spotted another piece in The New York Times claiming that there has been a recovery. N.I.M. facetiously suggested: "I think that it's safe for you to shut down the blog."

Tom in Georgia pointed me to a great piece over at Zero Hedge on bank financing of the Federal Reserve. Tom's comment: "This article has a good explanation of how the Fed may be continuing Quantitative Easing 2.0 while publicly proclaiming that it isn't. The banks are using their cash reserves received from the Fed to now buy 10 and 30-year T-bills rather than the Fed purchasing them outright. This plausibly explains how the US bond market and equities can rally, while funds experience massive outflows all at the same time. The government Ponzi scheme continues."

Thanks to S.M. annd J.D.D. for this one: Debt Commission Chiefs Give Gloomy Fiscal Outlook

The latest over at Dr. Housing Bubble: The rich do it too – Los Angeles County and million dollar distressed properties. 1,947 homes in L.A. County valued at $1 million or more are three payments behind or in foreclosure.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Two years ago, I was a busy guy. I worked 50-to-60 hour weeks as an equipment and auto mechanic in south central Alaska. I was a Dad, delivery driver and taxi for the family, and maintenance man for our aging trailer. We lived a couple miles from a town of 15,000 on a .75 acre lot with a mobile home. My decent pay barely paid all the bills and fuel costs of going to work. To top things off, I had just “woke up” to what was going on and had no idea how I was going to prepare for anything. SurvivalBlog became my daily stop in my web browser. I bought and read both "Patriots" and the "Rawles Gets You Ready" course.

I had discovered SurvivalBlog and knew I could put away some food and supplies with the “Two is One, and One is None” idea. I approached my partner carefully to see if she would be onboard with a little prepping. To my surprise, she had been thinking the same things, and was even ahead of me on starting to stock food.

After about six months, we found ourselves with about six months of food put away. I used my Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) check from Alaska state oil royalties to buy a couple rifles, a 12 gauge shotgun, and an XD .45 for hunting and bear/bad people protection. Things were going good, and then I lost my job right at new years. My employer executed an “at will employment” clause and terminated me. They then filled my position again at about 60% of the pay rate. I quickly found myself searching for work and found no-one hiring. I had never, as a mechanic, been unable to find work until now. It seemed everyone was in a pinch. I did find one low paying job and worked it for three months. I quit that job when the paychecks stopped coming reliably.

I was at a loss of what to do. I had a family to feed and a house payment to make. We made the decision to get out of the rat-race. I let my ex-wife take over the house, and walked away from it, bought three acres in a small town about 100 miles south. It was a town of about 400, separated from the road system by a bay five miles wide. Access to the town was by ferry, skiff, and plane. Access to our property was by Moose buggy, ATV, or in winter by snow machine.

A 15'x15' cabin had already been started; so finishing it and adding on a little more for a kitchen was quickly done. A charger/Inverter that had been in storage for a while was hooked up to some old deep-cycle golf-cart batteries. The old woodstove in the cabin was fitted with a stainless grid that now heats water in an old propane water heater.

This is where a small town is so nice to get into as opposed to a remote cabin. On our own, the first winter would have been really tough. We were living off our stores for most of the winter. While our setup, with batteries, used much less generator fuel than most cabins around, we still needed a little income to survive. I salvaged metal, building supplies, an old Toyota truck, and all of our house batteries from the town dump. They encourage people to do so, and even have a small area set aside to drop off “good stuff”.

Another reason the small town was better than going it alone was that I could barter my repair skills for food, fuel, or firewood. I did not cut nearly enough wood for ourselves that first winter. However, we did have a lot of red salmon from set-netting summer before. Mostly I traded fish and handyman services for dry firewood. I made friends with a couple people who cut firewood or have sawmills. Sawmills generate an amazing amount of [scrap that is usable for] firewood.

We moved to town in July and were treated friendly enough, but you could tell that we were new, or not “Local” yet. But after being here all winter, when all the summer residents left town, we were suddenly one of them, and almost everybody really opened up. Where I had barely been getting any work, I had people flagging me down in town wanting me to look at something for them. I also got hired to work on the ferry that serves the town. Things are looking up, and we are now much less dependant on all the things most take for granted.

So you ask what the point of this is? We could not have dropped everything and done this after something big happened. We have been here a year now, and are just getting settled in. I have even had friends here say things like “you know, this town is really defensible, if something happened, no-one is coming to town without us knowing, and without a reason.” And he is not a “prepper”, just a small town Alaskan.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I recently "took a bad turn" and re-experienced some back pain. My original injury was in 1979, when I was in the military. After three days I decided to see a chiropractor ... like many men, I will see a Doctor only when I have one foot in the grave ... (insert visual of wives nodding their heads here). This painful episode got me thinking about survival pain management.

In a previous career, I was the Safety Manager at a poultry processing plant. One of my duties was to manage the in-house Clinic staffed with RNs and LPNs and Paramedics. The jobs at the plant were highly repetitive and strenuous. We saw lots of ergonomic problems that had to be treated, managed and creatively eliminated.

It occurred to me tonight that in a survival situation, even a mild one, we will find ourselves involved in very physical and repetitive tasks that can result in long term pain, swelling and nerve damage if not treated quickly and effectively without having the luxury of using the local physician or pharmacy.

The problem with ergonomic injuries is the swelling, which left untreated, can cause nerve compression damage and long term debilitating pain. Not being able to effectively use your hands after developing carpel tunnel or having severe pain when walking can seriously reduce your ability to engage in needed activities.

Long story short is that, as part of survival preps we should seriously look at pain and injury management and prevention. Powerful pain killers that adversely affect our mental capacity is not a long term or even short term solution. Powerful pain killers should only be used for traumatic injuries and then only for a few days. Extended use can be debilitating, as well as make you live with the side effects.

One of the real problems with pain is that the body muscles overreact causing continual stress and that makes things worse. Managing the pain and swelling is the key.

For my recent pain, the Chiropractor used a Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) Unit in the office. It worked great. I asked if there were any home versions of the TENS Unit. The answer was yes. I found the one I bought on Amazon.Com. I received the shipment it today and it works great.

I thought I would share some other practical therapy and ergonomic prevention measures that we used for employees:

1. Compression gloves - these are thin elastic gloves that really work to prevent hand pain and cramps. We not only used these at the plant, but my wife used them to elevate her hand pain she experienced while sewing. For some, these gloves can prevent carpel tunnel syndrome from developing. You can find them on line and in sewing supply catalogs.

2. Compression wraps - used post-injury, they can help with swelling and pain management. Be sure they are not too tight.

3. Hot wax soaks - We melted paraffin in a crock pot (not too hot) and used it for those experiencing hand pain. Just dip in the hands and remove. The wax stays on your hands and stays warm. A very effective relaxant and therapeutic treatment. Use 4 to 8 times a day to manage pain. This also gives your hands a rest period.

4. Ibuprofen and vitamin B complex - Double the recommended Ibuprofen dose and four times the daily Vitamin B. This was actually prescribed by our company physician and it works for not only controlling pain and swelling, but speeds recovery and healing for muscular-skeletal disorders. [JWR Adds: Doctors advise that there is no harm in increasing the dosage of water soluble vitamins (which include vitamin B), but beware of over-dosing the fat soluble vitamins, namely vitamins K, A, D, and E. (Use "KADE" as your pneumonic.) These can cause poisoning!]

5. Warm-up - before engaging in repetitive or strenuous activities, warm-up the muscles and joints.

6. Work hardening - All new employees were provided supervises work hardening exercises and the amount of activity from first day to two weeks was strictly managed.

7. Vibration reduction gloves - these are generally for use with powered hand tools that create vibration. Excessive exposure to tool induced vibration can and will cause long term tissue damage. These gloves can also be used to absorb shock from non-powered hand tools.

8. Ergonomic matting - these are used for jobs that require prolonged standing such as meal prep and workbench tasks. These mats will prevent back and leg fatigue, especially when accompanied by the use of a small step to alternately rest one foot/leg at a time. Being able to shift position while working is a basic ergonomic strategy.

20 More Ergonomics Tips

I can drive a nail with a hammer (skill knowledge) but it would be unreasonable for me to expect that I could do it for hours, day after day like a professional framer who has experience in proper tool & body mechanics and has a body conditioned to do this physical work (conditioned experience). In a survival situation, especially those that are long term, we can quickly take ourselves out of the game when we develop, what is called in the industrial and job ergonomics world, Muscular-Skeletal Disorders (MSDs).

Ergonomics is the study of motion, force and stress on a body at work. and in a survival situation, our bodies will be engaged on a lot of that, including use of tools with which we are not proficient . you can't be everything all at once. But we can use the knowledge gained from industrial ergonomics to lessen the occurrences and effects of MSDs while we ramp up our skills and proficient use of tools in a real world situation.

There are two types of causes of MSDs - Overuse and single event trauma. We have all heard the term "tennis elbow" which is inflammation of the elbow tendon from overuse. A muscle tear would be from a single forceful event. Both are classified as MSDs.

Having had a career in industrial safety, I could go on for hours about ergonomic problems and solutions, but time and space being the limiting factors, I will provide some bullets that may get you thinking about survival ergonomics and do some research on your own. The following list is in no particular order:

1. Job Hardening - Getting the body ready to work includes a ramp-up over time so you can do the hard physical work without injury. Work to strengthen your body core muscles - abdomen, back and sides - to help prevent back injury from repetitive or stressful exertion.

2. Pre-work warm-up - Most gym rats and all professional athletes with do a lot of warm-ups and stretches before starting any strenuous activity. While muscles warm up fast, tendons and ligaments take longer due to the very minute blood flow to and in them. For survival preps, extended, full range of motion exercises with low weight is better than pushing a lot of heavy iron in the gym.

3. Environmental effects - Negative effects, such as high and low light conditions, high and low temperatures, uneven footing, and noise contribute to increase in injuries.

4. Pain & swelling - Tissue swelling causes nerve compression (pain) which can lead to irreversible nerve damage. Muscle and joint pain causes your body to compensate with other muscles, causing strain and more pain and unbalanced effort. Use ice & heat for pain and swelling and medication for reducing inflammation and pain. Once the swelling and pain reduce, get the joint moving again. Don't stabilize the joint for extended periods. This can lead to loss of range of motion and muscle atrophy. Understand how and when to use hot and cold packs to more quickly recover.

5. Lifting - Proper lifting must include evaluation of the weight, bulk, body position, grip engagement, starting and ending position of the object. The safe lifting zone is between the knees and shoulder. Consider asking for help or using mechanical assist devices

6. Carrying - Flip through some old National Geographic magazines and see how people have carried large, bulky and heavy material on their backs and on their heads. These are not recommended. Breakdown large loads into several smaller ones when rearranging, stocking shelves, etc. Use wheeled helpers such as carts, wagons, bicycles, wheelbarrows, and hand trucks to move heavy material over a distance. Put some bicycle wheels on a child's wagon and you have a great cart.

7. Backpacking - Experienced backpackers know to keep things light and compact. Heavy items go low in the pack and close to the body to reduce stress from an unbalanced pack. How far can you carry your bug-out-bag?

8. Hands - Rule number one is to keep wrists in a straight and neutral position. The force required to grasp, pinch, or squeeze is multiplied when the wrist is out of neutral position. Working with cold hands is an extreme hazard. Use gloves that are suited for the job. Consider a range of gloves such as sure grip, anti-vibration, compression, warmth, and cut resistance. Make sure the gloves fit well and work with the tool you are using. Improper and extended use of vibrating or impact tools can cause irreversible nerve damage to the hands and wrist

9. Feet - Good non-slip, supportive footwear can prevent injuries. Consider using arch supports and sole inserts for extended comfort and cushioning when moving over flat surfaces, uneven terrain, and climbing ladders. Good work shoes/boots are generally not designed for extended walking or hiking and the reverse also applies. Eye strain - General body fatigue can result from eye strain caused by too much light, too little light or doing fine, close detail work for an extended period. Have good sun glasses and be sure any area in which you work has good lighting. Take eye rests every 15 to 20 minutes when doing close detail work such as sewing.

10. Back - We all know to lift with our legs, not our backs. Lifting and twisting especially in a repetitive motion will cause injury at some point. Our backs are just not designed to do this with even a moderate weight.

11. Repetitive motion - Be sure to stretch and warm-up and take rest breaks. Use fingerless compression gloves for hand work that requires using fingers to repetitively manipulate objects. Use anti-fatigue matting when standing for long periods at a task. Vary your tasks so you don't fatigue specific muscles. Avoid using your body to create impact force.

12. Tools - Properly designed handles to fit your hands are essential. Handles that are too big or too small with quickly cause hand fatigue. Hand geometry should allow a straight and neural wrist position. Consider the weight and bulk of a tool when selecting your tools. Usage position is important. Off-balanced or twisting or overhead use of tools can cause MSDs.

13. Pushing and Pulling - From a body mechanics standpoint, it's better to push an object rather than pull it. Make sure you have a good grip and do not flex your wrists if you are doing repetitive work that involves pushing or pulling.

14. Sitting - Extended sitting while working should be done so that there is no stress on the lower back. Knees should be above the hip joint.

15. Standing - While doing work for an extended period at a work bench or counter top, use foot rests, soft anti-fatigue matting and shift your weight periodically. An adjustable work height will be a bonus to keep you from hunching over.

16. Squatting - Watch your body mechanics of moving up or down when squatting. You should generally avoid this position while working.

17. Mechanical advantage - Use levers, block & tackle, hand trucks, pull/push carts, wheel barrows and anything that will minimize the force and exertion you must provide with your body.

18. Temperature - Working in either high and low temperatures can cause rapid overall fatigue that can cause MSDs.

19. Sleep deprivation - Not getting enough sleep creates body fatigue and affects judgment which leads to an injury prone condition.

20. Be prepared to avoid recognize and treat MSDs in a survival situation. Being flat on your back in pain or having lost the effective use of your hands can make it a very bad day for surviving.

I could go on and on about ergonomic solutions that employers (and OSHA) have found effective that could be directly transferred to crisis survival activities, including properly designed tool handles, job rotation, frequent breaks for rest and stretching, etc. Check out the ergonomic sections at the OSHA web site for solutions to problems that you have not yet encountered.

I'm sure there are other non-pain pill pain management and expedited healing techniques, including hot and cold compresses, that are "outside the box" and could be very useful in a SHTF situation.

In keeping with the "if you have two, you have one" dogma, I am ordering another TENS Unit to put in my Faraday cage.

Regards, - Marc N. in Alabama

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I have ten of the DeWalt 18 VDC power tools and four of the batteries. This is an excellent product line that has proven much better than some of the older 12 volt and corded tools that they replaced. The impact driver, circular saw, and reciprocating saw have already proven to be very useful. These are excellent survival tools because you can get a lot of work done with them and a good set of 3 or 4 batteries without needing [120 VAC utility] power. DeWalt sells almost all of their 18 VDC power tools as "tool only" kits that have just the tool without the batteries and charger. These offers are usually about 1/2 the cost of the standard package that includes a plastic case, one or two batteries, and a charger. Once you have your first tool or two, you really do not need to pay for more batteries or chargers. For example, my first DeWalt 18 VDC tool was the hammer drill with a charger and two of the Li-Ion batteries. This cost about $325 at Home Depot. The bare tool version of the same tool costs $139.99 at Northern Tool & Equipment. [Use their Search box with the phrase "DeWalt tool only".] They have some of the best prices and offer free shipping on DeWalt power tools. You can also get good prices on refurbished or reconditioned 18 VDC Dewalt "tool only" buys, for even less, including some like the 18 volt nailer that are not otherwise available as bare tools. - Dr. R.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mr. Rawles and SurvivalBlog Readers,
I am a newly dedicated reader and have had an interest in your contests since day one. I have a few skills I’ve learned in life (hunting, fishing, marksmanship, tracking and writing) but the newest one is macramé. This is the art of weaving knots to make beautiful and often decorative pieces and is just a craft some folks use to entertain themselves. I’ve combined both of these and applied one more purpose for the art: rope-making, belt-making and strap-making.

All three of these have occupied my time overseas for almost a year now. I’ve made straps that can tow a truck out of nylon material purchased from military surplus sites. (Specifications on military grade parachute cord, or “550 cord” can be found online through various suppliers). Clevises and simple weaves can be learned online and in books. The number of useful items I’ve made the past few months has only spiked my interest in this craft. Your site suggests olive drab parachute cord and ropes as two items that can be used to barter or for charity. What a better way to deal in these two items than to make them one.

Parachute cord can be found in many different colors, but for the purpose of this article, I use military grade 550 cord. It has a minimum bursting strength of 550 pounds. It’s weight makes it a no-brainer for survivalists, campers and many other outdoor uses. For every 260 feet, the cord weighs a mere one pound. That is a benefit all to itself.

The first items I made were simple bracelets. We call them Ranger bracelets, but I’ve seen them go by different names. They are sold online but can be made less expensively and much better, if you do it yourself. What I found in the end is you can have up to 12’ of usable cordage wrapped around your wrist all the time.

Next stop were watch bands. Decorative, interesting and yet simple to make. Again, more than 12 feet of cord to be used at a moment’s notice with this item. It’s simple enough that once you’ve learned you can pass the information on to members of your group or teach your children how to occupy their time in a post-TEOTWAWKI situation.

Other devices that I learned to make were belts and straps. These are time consuming, resource heavy and take patience to make. But, with time comes patience, so the resources are the only thing to worry about. What I thought would be an expensive hobby turned out to be an easy way to make money. Teach a few folks a new trade, or keep it a secret, it’s up to the individual. I’ve opted to only charge someone if they aren’t willing to learn.

Finally, tying ropes was the final idea for use in the long term. Will we have resources available during an TEOTWAWKI situation or will we have to scavenge or create them? My idea is to make them while things are available. Ropes will be extremely necessary for everyday uses in survivor camps, at home or when living alone. If you can make a rope, let’s say 12’ long with 12-strands of parachute cord as the “guts”, there is 144’ in those guts, and another 250’ of usable cordage mixed into the weaves. Take the cordage apart and you have more than 2,800’ of usable light twine because the insides of parachute cord contain 7-individual strands of nylon. Strong and lightweight, this item can be used for anything your imagination can dream up.

I’ve read on this site that survivor camps may only take someone if they will be an asset to everyone. If you’ve got a skill such as this, you might prove to be worth your weight in gold.

For example, you learn to make just one item on here: ropes. In your camp you will have men and women that are hunters, fishermen and gardeners. Hunters take their prey many different ways; they trap, shoot or live catch their prey. For hunters the cordage can be used as a deer drag; trappers can hand furs on the rope and live catch can be taken by making a noose or snare.

I hunt from a tree stand and have made a safety harness that can stop me if I were to fall from my stand. The force it takes to blow parachute cord apart is amazing. (Remember, nothing replaces a tested safety device and I used mine under my own understanding of these dangers). But, when the SHTF, there will be nobody around to test anything for you, so it’s up to your new-found skill to keep you safe.

Fishermen need rope to catch, carry and dry out their fish. As I mentioned earlier, the inside of the cord is filled with fishing line, line that can be used to hang the fish, one section can be used as a strand to float the fish until they are ready to be killed. I’ve heard of men using 100’ sections as bank lines along rivers and creeks. Endless possibilities.

Gardeners who plant beans need something for the plants to crawl up toward the sun on. They may need something to keep critters out so they erect a cordage fence. Certain trees must be tied up while they are young to keep them from being swept away by wind and rain. Again, there are endless uses in the gardening category as well.
The plant hangers mentioned earlier are an idea I thought of to put some of your straps to use while they aren’t “being used.” The color combinations can be made to blend into your homes paint scheme, then taken down when needed to string up something other than your begonias.

Just one rope, containing more than 400’ of cordage can help all three of these assets increase their productivity by leaps and bounds when synthetic materials run out. And another benefit, it can be worn around the waist like a belt, rolled into sections or just stretched out along a garage wall for future uses.

The one thing I’ve considered is running out of nylon parachute cord. What would happen if this occurs? Nothing. These ropes can be made using many natural materials available (grasses are the most common, but that’s outside my scope of knowledge). But one thing the nylon cord has is its strength and durability. That’s why I would recommend anyone willing to learn this, learn it now. Make as many ropes, bracelets, watch bands, dog collars, rifle slings, plant hangers, lanyards, leashes, belts, whatever you can think of. If you have a nice stockpile of these items, you can trade them, sell them, barter them for the things you will need later.
One last point I would like to make is the benefit it could have to teach your child/children this skill. I’ve had rocky times with my boys, but teaching them this trade has proven to be a great method to build a strong bond between a dad and his sons. The first time I showed my oldest he was thrilled. He would hover over more for hours at a time and watch as I wove the strands in and out. Then, he would try. His frustration would begin immediately, but as he learned it waned. I was amazed at how fast he learned. This little skill I have taught them has given them the patience to take on most anything new. I’ve tried to pass my other skills to them, but for one reason or another, they haven’t yet learned. They will, with time, learn to tag a deer, trap a raccoon or snare a rabbit, but this was something they picked up on immediately and we are using this as a stepping stone into these other skills.

I’ve used tens of thousands of feet of parachute cord over the last 12 months and an untold amount over the past 12 years of service. How foolish of me to not have seen the usefulness of this fine product long ago and taught more people to make their own ropes, belts and various straps with it.

There are resources available to learn this trade. The Internet, the library and there are still folks out there who’ve been doing macramé their entire lives. But find someone or somewhere to learn, it will pay off in time.

All these items are something that will have value to others in emergencies, catastrophes or disasters and usefulness is a benefit worth its own weight in gold. They will be used by me, my family and the many people I’ve taught or made these items for in the past and in the future. - J.L. from Kansas, currently in Egypt

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mr. Rawles,

First thanks for a great blog. I've been a regular reader for a year or so now.

I've read with interest the entries by Dan in Oklahoma on the home foundry. I learned the foundry trade from my father by helping him in a small bronze foundry. I've learned the pattern making trade from my father and by jumping in with both feet and making patterns. I've since moved on to my own business casting aluminum parts for the WW2 aircraft restoration industry and hope to add magnesium castings to my capabilities.

I have one bone to pick with Dan in Oklahoma about terminology: A forge is what a blacksmith uses to HEAT metal. A furnace is what a foundry uses to MELT metal.

I am in west central Ohio and use the Keener Sand Company in Columbus, Ohio for any sand supplies I need. They can supply the western and southern bentonite (the clays) and the olivine (the sand). One should be aware that there are different grades of fineness of olivine. Some foundries use a mix of grades depending on what type of metal is being cast and the specifics of the part to be cast. Silica sand can also be used, again in a mix of grades, but it has health disadvantages and the proper protective equipment must be used. Olivine has very little free silica and does not cause silicosis, so it is the better choice.

The sand is prepared by "mulling" in a muller. This is a machine in which measured amounts of sand and clay are poured along with measured amounts of water. The mulling action bonds the clay to the grains of sand. This is what gives the sand its "green strength", its ability to take and hold a shape. Molten aluminum is hygroscopic, meaning it will absorb moisture from the sand and from the atmosphere. In my experience, the less damp your sand is the less surface porosity your casting will have. This is where the "art" comes into play (and lots of experimentation).

In casting metals with higher melting temps, the bentonites will eventually burn out and the sand will have to be mulled again. We poured bronze at around 2,350 degrees F and the sand turns black. I pour aluminum anywhere from 1,150 to 1,350 degrees F and have yet to re-mull the sand.

As for melting aluminum, melt quickly and pour quickly. I've read that the crucible will lose one degree of temperature for every second of time once it is removed from the furnace. Once the furnace is shut down, and the crucible removed, don't dawdle. Pour the molds as fast as the mold will take the metal. Remember the metal is cooling and cools even faster when it comes into contact with the cold sand. Once the pour is started don't stop until the mold is full. Stopping the pour and then starting again will produce a defective casting every time. Get the pouring lip of the crucible as close to the mouth of the sprue as possible. This reduces the amount of aspirated air into the mold, and in aluminum, helps reduce porosity. For aircraft parts, I use only virgin metal of known analysis. Scrap aluminum can be used in general run work but make sure it is clean. Oil impregnated aluminum is really of no use to a foundryman.

As to safety, I can't stress safety enough. Think through the steps for what you want to do and have the tools needed to do the job at hand. Do not put your foundry on a concrete floor. The molding floor (where the molds are made) may be concrete but the "pour floor" (where the molds are filled with molten metal) should be sand or pea gravel. The reason for this is when molten metal comes into contact with the moisture in concrete you get an instantaneous steam explosion. Concrete shrapnel is no fun. Gloves, face shields, and steel toed boots are a must. Lastly give molten metal the respect it is due. It will burn through leather and skin.

Read and study everything you can get your hands on relating to the foundry and pattern making. One of the best places to get books on foundry work and pattern making is Lindsay Books. The series by Steve Chastain and Lindsay's reprint of the 1944 US Navy foundry manual are "must have" books.

Foundry work can be very rewarding. I get immense satisfaction knowing that I make my living in what is essentially a dying art and in my small way am helping to keep the trade alive. If anyone would like to contact me with respect to the foundry, they can do so via e-mail on my web site. - Barry A.


Mr. Editor:
Some feedback on the recent article series:

Don't use concrete for the forge body. It can spall unexpectedly, fall in the melted aluminum, and decorate the personnel in various shades of pain.

Re-bar is made from an alloy that can red-short; in other words, if it gets up to dull red, it can suddenly fail catastrophically. There is a heavily spalled concrete floor up at a nearby university where somebody decided to cast 100 lbs. of copper using crucible handling gear made from re-bar. It failed catastrophically. Only one of the participants got a foot caught as the giant slosh of copper froze, and he lost the foot.

You can get enough heat out of a simple campfire to do this if you first bury several sections of pipe or conduit in a radial pattern , with the outer end sticking up to about knee high or so, and the inner ends converging in a simple divot under the middle of the fire. Then you have a bunch of friends sit down around the fire, and blow into their tube sequentially, around the circle. This will work for smelting Aluminum, or even for smelting Copper from ore, like Malachite. You don't really need a foundry really until you start working with larger quantities, and [the higher temperatures required for] bronze or iron. This is how they did it in Africa right up until the Europeans came, and severed the oral histories and tribal craft knowledge. Constant air draft, no bulky equipment, no electricity or concrete (or re-bar!) needed. - D.J.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A salvage economy is a post-production economy. The economy is based on salvage and then reuse or remanufacture of salvaged materials. The current modern equivalent of this are those individuals who sort through trash heaps and dumps for recyclable materials. The historical equivalent of this are the stone masons in Egypt who tore down ancient monuments for building material. For example, the lost Pyramid of Djedefre was thought to have not been built until its foundations were found, including a mortuary temple and queens’ pyramids. Where did it go? Must of it was used to build buildings in Cairo from 1300 through the 1700s. It was easier and cheaper to take apart an existing pyramid near the city than find, mine and transport new limestone blocks from now-distant quarries.

Salvage occurs when the manufactured product is unavailable in a new state, has become too expensive for anyone to purchase, or has a supply chain that has fallen apart to the degree that the product is often unavailable most of the time.

For all of the discussion on survival, why focus on long term survival on a salvage economy? First of all, many people will not set up a refuge in the wilderness. Their best survival opportunity seems to be within the city. While difficult, it is not impossible, especially for those who prepare. Secondly, if we do slide to a post-technical or “eco-technic” society, we should not expect to return to “Little House on the Prairie”. More than half of the world’s population lives in the cities. Those cities will still be there even if some catastrophe, be it nuclear, chemical, biological or EMP, manages to kill most of its inhabitants. And we should not expect all cities to be lost, even if several major ones are destroyed in terrorist strikes or war. If those untouched but partially depopulated or damaged but re-buildable cities can be utilized to rebuild civilization, which should be part of a larger goal. This rebuilding will then requires a salvage economy. And last but not least, if we have a multi-generational decline, we will fall into a salvage economy as manufacturing capacity fades. Even if we retain the capacity for a high-tech manufacturing capacity and find it crippled by environmental regulation and economic depression, we will find a salvage economy as has exploded in California.

If faced with a salvage economy, the question then rises: how do you survive long term in such an economy? More importantly, how can you prosper in a salvage economy?

1. Use creative recycling within your own household. If opportunities present themselves that can be ethically utilized, do so, but avoid scavenging for a living. (Hunting and gathering of food are excluded from this discussion. Here we are only discussing physical materials.)

2. Do not be a scavenger or salvager of materials yourself. This is to literally be at the bottom of the economic food chain. Be the collector or buyer that buys goods from the salvagers and then sells it at a profit to the recycler or craftspeople. This level of the supply chain is safer than doing the manual labor of salvaging, and your supply is both more diverse and continuous than those who do the actual salvaging. There is also less personal risk of injury or illness than salvaging. By becoming a collection point or “depot”, your own time is still mostly spent on survival related activities instead of searching for materials one only hopes to trade for items and resources needed for survival.

3. Have close and direct ties to multiple smelters or material re-processors. This provides more stability in sale price than if there is only one customer. A single purchaser can set their purchase price based on their ability to refuse to buy until you are hungry enough to sell at their desired price.

4. Invest in the replacement materials and goods that will replace salvaged product. After all, salvaged goods will eventually run out. This may be smelting equipment that can melt down the newly recycled metal into yet another material, compared to smelting equipment that melts down old steel beams into new steel goods. It may be plastic grinders and pellet makers that can turn new plastic materials into another form. It may be the act of investing in green energy projects as Peak Oil runs out and salvaging wood and plastic to burn winds down.

5.  Supply the material working tools needed by re-processors. This may be forges to be sold to metal workers or fuel to smelters. It could be molds or presses that can be sold to those recycling plastic. Create or produce what is needed for the salvage economy to turn salvaged goods into useable goods. The additional benefit of this is that there may be more than one re-manufacturer to sell these industrial essentials to, and one can always have the fall back of setting up the re-processing facility on their own property or help a neighbor do the same if the main re-processor shuts down.

6. Help develop the distribution market for existing salvaged goods, whether finding new uses for old salvaged goods or new demand for recycled products. By creating new markets or new customers, the profit margin is higher than competing with the existing salvage economy.

7. If shortages of obviously long-term useful materials are clear, consider stocking up on them. However, it is best to do so only if you can use them in your own business or own property. For example, copper tubing can always be used in plumbing projects or manufacturing of stills – or be sold to those manufacturing their own equipment. However, it is unwise to have hundreds of pounds of copper tubing sitting in storage if the money and space could be used to items with greater value to your household. Having a large stockpile of [cables or] solder wire may be critical if you are an avid ham radio operator and can generate extra income fixing and selling older rigs. But if you have no significant personal or business use and cannot barter it in sufficient quantity to acquire goods needed for life, use the space for food, water, or more valuable tools. However, if you have a small business that could use the materials or goods and it is a critical supply for those who may need it to rebuild technology as we rebuild, consider stockpiling it as a way to profit from the salvage economy.

8. Have the skills to fix salvaged items yourself. This may range from fixing broken toasters and radios to making small car parts to restore a heap of junk to a functioning car. Those who salvage are a dime a dozen. They could have been the migrant poor before the collapse, or they may have been hedge fund managers and bureaucrats who have no others skills than looking for and collecting salvage and scrap items. However, those who can take those broken things and make them functional will be a precious minority. If you do not have these fixer-upper skills, consider learning them.

Consider encouraging younger family members to learn these skills – be it wiring, tool and die cast, equipment repair or even complex mechanical assembly. Learning to read blueprints and manufacturing instructions would be an engaging project for any elementary school child. Fortunately, many of use have already stocked up these kinds of books in our homes, if only in the form of repair manuals for equipment and appliances we already own. Make it a reading assignment for yourself or your family members. Having these skills makes your labor valuable and your teaching ability even more so – and a non-tangible trade good that cannot be taken away.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Greetings Jim,
I hope this letter finds you well. I wanted to touch on a few topics that may interest some of your readers.

I have been in many phases of the construction trade for 18 years, I live on the edge a medium sized city, and like so many others, because of my work, and the need for a population to support my livelihood, my options are limited as to where I live, so I will have to make do with where I am. Being in the construction industry, I learned early on that it's Feast or Feathers, so the mentality of not over extending myself is a practiced form of life. The first thing I did to prepare for the inevitable, and sustained "feathers" portion of the economy was to make my home purchase one that would not over extend me debt wise. Second, was the ability to pay the taxes without too much pain. I believe that property tax, is going to be the focus of local governments in the near future, especially as they look for ways to close in on mounting deficits . Give them a reason to confiscate, and they surely will move in that direction in favor of revenue enhancing programs. Given that property tax is almost always adjusted up to reflect the improvements on your home, I have seen mine literally double in 4 years, and I still have two major projects left before my property is ( considered by me) a suitable, safe place to ride "it" out.

I have focused on building a bartering network to offset the cost of projects.Most of my improvements have been done in the form of bartering with other trades people. Bartering has also allowed me to acquire expensive services that would otherwise set me back financially, I trade with my dentist, my lawyer, my accountant. and even with a couple of suppliers. I have found that many of these professions are eager to avoid the hassles and punitive measures that often accompany the regular coarse of business. Which brings me to my next point. Permits and Inspections.

Home improvements always come with an array of rules and regulation, many of these are understandable for safety sake, However, many are simply [revenue] fodder. (A permit for the replacement of a hot water heater, for example.) But one thing they all have in common is that it allows your Local Government to know things that should otherwise be none of their business. Pulling permits to see who has what, and who has done what, where, is something that can be used against citizens in times of crisis.

The Government surely doesn't inform it's citizens when it undertakes a project to protect it's leaders for times of emergency. (The massive bunker built for the US Congress beneath the Greenbriar Hotel in West Virginia comes to mind ) The citizen preparin