Traditional Skills/Fieldcraft Category

Thursday, March 13, 2014

On the article about the 41 camping hacks, the Mt. Dew + baking soda + peroxide chemlight idea is a hoax!

I tried this and it doesn't work! It did sound vaguely familiar as what I remember from the ingredients of a chem light. Chem lights contain Luminol, potassium ferricyanide, sodium hydroxide, and hydrogen peroxide, if I remember correctly. In the Dew light, we have the hydrogen peroxide and sodium bicarbonate, which are acid and base like we see in the chem light. So it sounded plausible. The only question was does Mt. Dew have chemical substitutes for the Luminol and potassium ferricyanide? Answer: No. I checked with Snopes, and they have it as a hoax as well. So don't waste your time or Dew on this! And shoot down anyone spreading this fertilizer!

HJL Replies: I appreciate the verification of that hack. I was suspicious of some of those hacks and posted the YMMV warning as a result. Glow sticks are so cheap nowadays, I'm not sure why anyone would waste a perfectly drinkable Mt. Dew on such an endeavor anyway. Some of the other hacks are more trouble than they are worth, but there were a few good ones on that page, and some may make fun projects with the kids.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Recently, I became a prepper-- a term that is still considered taboo to the general public. It often times draws ridicule and judgment from most people, including friends and family. Television has exacerbated this by airing shows on prepping that make its participants look like backwards hillbilly idiots that are getting ready for a zombie apocalypse.

Now before anybody gets all up in arms about the use of the term "hillbilly," I am one. That means I am allowed to say it. (Chuckle) In all seriousness though, because of this awkwardness, a person can have some serious difficulty in helping people to understand why it's important to prep.

I ran across this with my own family when I made known my intentions to change our lifestyle.

My wife, Melody, and my three children were very confused at the dinner table when I told them our budget, diet, and hobbies were about to be quite different from now on. After many questions and complaints were blurted, seemingly all at once, I calmly asked one question. "What would we do if...?” There I stopped short. My 8 year old daughter quickly popped off, "If what, Daddy?" I said we should think about that for a second. Maybe there was a horrible storm, and we had no power or maybe our country was attacked. Immediately all three kids, ranging from 5 to 8 started naming things that could happen. My wife, who I had briefly discussed this with over lunch that day (and thought I was crazy by the way), started to get involved and chimed in with her own what if's. Over the course of the next hour, many possibilities were discussed, and it was clear to me that I had their attention. After we cleaned up from dinner, everyone sat in a circle in the living room.

I proceeded to dump a large cardboard box in the middle with dozens of items. I placed a few backpacks in the bunch-- one of which was pink with a bright sparkly “hello kitty” picture, and the other was a condor, OD green, 3-day load out bag. Other items included silver bars and coin, waterproof matches, water filtration items, blades of different shapes and sizes, a snare kit, Para cord, Mountain Foods #10 cans, pocket fisherman kits, ammunition, gps, compasses, iodine tablets, a seed bank, survival books, medical kits, and many other useful items for bugging out. I did throw some curve ball items in there that children might consider important-- popsicles, sugary snacks, noisy video games, toys, and a few other items.

At this point my kids got excited. I explained that they should pretend they had 10 minutes to pack a bag before we left our house, never to return and that we had no idea where we would go. My instruction was to pick five items you think you would absolutely take to survive. I let each person go independently, while the rest watched.

First was my five year old son, Joe. As I knew he would, he went straight for the tomahawk, then the machete, the SOG seal pup combat knife, the silver coins, and finally the Popsicles. We all got a giggle from his run on the "cool" knives. Once he was done and had grabbed the condor pack to load his stuff up, I had him explain to us why he chose each item and what purpose it would serve. He did not have much in the way of reasoning for so many edged tools, and that was ok. I was just glad he didn't go for the video games and pop tarts! It seemed like, if we ever had to take on a pack of ninjas, we would certainly be able to match them for steel with Joe around.

Anyway, once he was done talking about his choices, his mom asked him a few questions. What would he do for water and food? Also what were some uses for the tools he did pick? This Socratic Method got his critical thinking going. He realized that tripling up on blades was counterproductive and that he should be wiser in his choices. He did give some good uses for the tomahawk-- building a shelter to keep warm, cutting wood for the fire, and hunting, which is unlikely but possible. This was the result I was looking for. Critical thinking about survival.

Next was my daughter Mackenzie who is seven. She smartly picked the OD green bag first, grabbed a small knife, the seed vault kit, a life straw, waterproof matches, and silver. I was proud that she considered all the necessary things needed to live. Water, food, defense, and heat. The silver was a surprise to me so I asked her to explain this. Her reply was that money is just paper, but silver and gold are real money and people like sparkling things, so we could use it to buy a new house. Such a cute answer, and while it may have missed the mark regarding a new house, she did nail the fact that paper money would more than likely be useless. Great job Kenzie!

My oldest daughter Makayla is eight and went next. She was paying close attention and could not wait for her turn to go. Kayla grabbed the same bag as her siblings, grabbed the machete, a survival book, iodine tablets, an MRE, and matches. She went through her rationale, which was fairly sound. We discussed how she had covered her basic, immediate needs but that there were a few items that could cover those same needs and allow for a more long-term solution. This was the case with the MRE. I explained to her that it would provide nutrients for a day or two but what would she do after that? At this point she asked to change her pick to a pocket fisherman. Score!

My wife went next; her motherly habits already kicking in. She grabbed the stomp medical bag, machete, sawyer water filter, seed vault, a GPS, and Bear Grills flint fire starter kit. The kids asked her why she picked the medical bag. They were adamant that there was not enough room for the rest of the items she picked and this was not smart. Then they realized how many things in the medical bag were in the pile that would have counted as one of their five choices. They also became aware that Mommy was ultra-resourceful when she was able to attach all but one item she picked to the outside of the MOLLE gear bag.

Next was my turn. I chose the bigger 5-day assault bag and grabbed the tomahawk, snare kit, sawyer filter, compass, and ammunition. At this point I explained to them that in a real emergency situation, we would already have our bags packed, and it would have much more in it than just those five items. To finish off the game, I asked them to get one non-survival item that they would miss and would like to take. The kids ran upstairs and brought down their favorite toys. Makayla brought her American girl doll. Mackenzie selected her toy dog that walks and barks. Joe brought Legos.

At this juncture, I was stumped. I obviously didn't think this one through. How do you tell a little girl, who just got her most wanted item for the last three years this Christmas that she could not bring a noisy, yappy WHITE toy dog with her? Needless to say, she was heartbroken. Her American girl doll was the second choice, but she was disappointed. Joe was a little easier. I had him put his Legos in a plastic container and jump up and down. It made way too much noise, and he understood. So, he went and picked another item.

I took this opportunity to explain how it will be hard giving up a lot of things we love, but that we would all have to make tough choices and sacrifices. This little game can be expanded to include building an entire bug out bag (BOB) for individuals, bags and plans to accommodate the needs of an entire family like mine, or even going deeper and find a way to build redundancy into packing bags for the family. Other games to try for different segments in prepping are below:

* Evacuation drills. Make this a game for everyone. This kind of drill happens weekly on offshore vessels. Let your family know that at some point in the week, an alarm will sound and from that point everyone has 5-10 minutes to be out front with their BOBs. You can adjust the time and parameters to fit different scenarios.

* Short notice storm drills. This scenario would prepare the family for a stay-on-site emergency. The focus here will be to pre-educate everyone on the different safety items and areas within the home so everyone can react quickly. For example, knowing where all fire extinguishers are and how to properly use them. Have everyone bring their assigned items as quickly as possible to the safe gathering area. Proper clothing and shoes are important here also. In the case of tornados, which allow for minimal response time for your family and extreme wait times for first responders, it is essential that you have foot and body protection, along with food, water, and a small medical kit. Having the preplanned meeting area as well as assigning each person with grabbing particular items will allow for quicker response, accountability, and assurance that nothing and no one is left behind.

* Long survival hikes. In the event that you and your family are in or near a big city and homesteading isn't an option, it is important to have a bug out plan in place. You should have a backup just in case vehicles are not an option. For instance, in an EMP situation, you have waited so long that the escape routes are jammed. In this situation if staying isn't an option, you must be ready to walk it out. With small children like mine, setting a realistic range in getting to safety is a huge factor to consider. Within 100 miles is ideal. Children who are not extremely active would have a difficult time with this. Grabbing your go bag and hitting some trails on a sunny day will help to familiarize everyone with what bugging out on foot would be like.

There are a ton of variations and ways to prepare. Practice like you play. Take it seriously, but at the same time this isn't the military, so keep it fun and some humor involved. My family has taken this new passion of mine and embraced it because they see how important their lives and safety are to me. They understand that life isn't always iPods and pizza. Over the summer we have made plans to do more camping and hiking, start scouts, participate in more hunting and fishing, and generally be without modern electronics. Changing the mindset of our children and family early is important. Teach them how to survive without depending on outsiders. Playing simple games like this and others and doing dry runs and drills also helps build a sense of urgency.

One thing I feel I should mention, never wait until zero hour to pack. It's great to get motivated and go buy and stock all the gear for your bag, but if it's not organized and packed, you will more than likely forget an essential piece of gear when you're in a hurry. Have everything stowed and ready so that all you need to do is grab and go.

The Boy Scouts sure did get it right when they coined the phrase "Always be prepared". No matter what SHTF situation you believe will happen, it's important to prep for anything. That means all your basic needs should be considered. There are many different levels of prepping and countless strategies to consider. Starting down this road can be very confusing, expensive, and engrossing. Just take it one step, one day, one item at a time. This blog has more than enough study material and is just as much an asset for preppers as most items in your bag. Study, learn and, most certainly, keep prepping.

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.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

I once read a very interesting article from a survivor of the Bosnian Collapse of the late 1990s.  This was a true end of the world as they knew it event, and it was fascinating and eye opening to read. One of the things the author talked about in his extensive article was the most useful skills to possess. Medical knowledge was the highest on his list. Lacking real world medical training, people with the knowledge of the uses of herbs and plants were able to trade and use that skill to survive.
Most people in America can't identify even 1% of the plants that surround them. They don't know useful from poisonous or nutritious from useless plants. And yet there are dozens of plants that grow even in urban settings that are not only edible but down right lifesaving if you only can identify them. For 15 years I have been a gardener and outdoorswoman. Much of my knowledge has come from being a curious person interested in the world around me, and also from searching for natural ways to heal common ailments for myself and my children.
I have been amazed at the amount of plants growing near me that can be used for healing, and have compiled a small list of what I consider the important common plants that grow in the USA, things you can find right out your back door. I am sure there are thousands more! Knowledge is power, so I recommend that you should start now when it comes to identifying wild and not so wild food and medicinal sources. Once you can recognize a plant start noting where you see them, what time of year they flower in your area and when they bear fruit. I go out for drives along country roads and memorize where plants, bushes, berries, and helpful trees are growing. You can also look around your neighborhood. Rose Bushes will provide you with rose hips that are high in Vitamin C and can save you from scurvy in the winter.  Echinacea also known as Purple Coneflowers are popular in gardens can boost the immune system and also have a host of other uses. Look up color photos of plants on the internet to help you identify them, or join a wild crafting group if one is available. Having a print out of each plant with multiple  pictures and uses of them, along with how to use them and dosages, is very important in a SHTF event.  There are many books specifying every area of America for finding wild foods and they often have excellent color pictures and identification keys.  I keep a few of them in my purse when I go up to the wild and try to identify as many helpful plants as possible.  Often these books are inexpensive so picking them up is a good idea.
As a note I say where you can find the below plants.  We live in the dry west so most plants only grow near water sources.  However I know that in other areas of the country rain is more plentiful so the growing habitat is much different.  If you are gathering post or during SHTF remember your personal safety and weigh the possible benefits vs. danger of running into other hungry people.  Never go alone even now as accidents happen and wild animals enjoy wild foods as much as people do, running into a hungry bear is a highly unpleasant event.  When you head to any wilderness take precautions and let people know where you are going and when you are coming back. Always take a first aid kit, water, a good map, and some food with you.

Caution!  As with any wild foraging check and double check your identification before eating anything, do not take another person's word on the safety of a plant.  Some wild foods are debated on their safety as some people will have a reaction where others do not.  Also if you have food allergies be wary and careful when trying new things.  Also remember that when harvesting wild foods make sure they are not sprayed with poisons or chemicals.  I am not a doctor and am not giving medical advice.  If you want to try natural remedies do your research and also talk to your doctor.  Remember that even though these plants are natural they can still be very strong medicines and even interact with any medication you are taking!!

 Alfalfa -  Amazingly enough, this plant, a common feed for animals, is one of the most useful in a TEOTWAWKI collapse, or even just in a financial collapse where you suddenly become dirt poor. Alfalfa is highly nutritious and can be used to treat several conditions. The most important in my mind being bleeding, hemorrhaging, hemorrhaging after birth, and heavy menstrual bleeding. Blood loss is a common problem where medical care is limited and people are exposed to hard physical work or dangerous situations. Childbirth for women is the most fatal event during life in 3rd world countries, many of the deaths coming from hemorrhaging after birth. Drinking a tea made from alfalfa, or eating alfalfa in the last few weeks of pregnancy can help prevent hemorrhage or excessive bleeding due to several compounds it contains, this includes Vitamin K which is essential to blood clotting. Pregnant women should not take it until the last three weeks of pregnancy due to the fact that as it has hormone properties that could cause labor and miscarriage. Once a woman is considered full term at 37 weeks that is not such an issue. Taking too much alfalfa for longer than a month can have the opposite effect and cause bleeding to be worse!  Newborns need Vitamin K for proper development and usually receive an injection soon after birth, but during or after a SHTF event those shots may not be available and doctors recommend mothers consume foods with high Vitamin K so that it will be passed to the nursing child. Dried or fresh alfalfa can be used in the human diet and also as a compress on wounds to help them stop bleeding. In application to a wound it is essential to boil the water for 10 minutes to kill bacteria and then boil the alfalfa added for a few minutes thus killing any bacteria on the plant leaves. Alfalfa helps people who are nutritionally deficient. It helps a great deal with Vitamin C deficiency when used fresh, for it contains more Vitamin C than some citrus fruits. Scurvy is caused by a Vitamin C deficiency and is a common problem for people during famines, or when there is a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables. It also has very high B Vitamin levels and Vitamin D levels which help with problems such as rickets, a common disease especially effecting children who have poor diets or are not exposed to enough sunlight.  This is a common problem when living in a war zone or an area where people must stay inside much of the time due to violence as Vitamin D cannot be manufactured by the body and is mainly created by the skins exposure to the sun. Alfalfa is also easy to store when dried and is very cheap.  It is a good item to keep on hand. Alfalfa is grown everywhere in the USA and can be found along ditch banks and country roads growing wild, in fields as well as in farm yards. It does not need to be re-seeded every year so a field that had it last year will have it this year as well.

Raspberry Leaf - Raspberries (also known as redcaps, bramble berries, dewberry, and thimbleberry)  grow wild in the USA and are even considered an invasive species.  They come in red, black, purple, and golden fruit all of which is essentially the same plant, but these other fruit colors do not generally grow in the wild like the common red does. Obviously the fruit is edible but the leaves and even roots can be used for highly effective remedies. The most well known is for aid to painful menstruation, to regulate and normalize a woman's cycle, and also to help shorten and lessen the pain of childbirth.  I am all for shortening the length of childbirth; having had four children naturally! Caution must be used however as raspberry leaf can cause uterine contractions, so it should only be used once labor has begun or a week before birth is expected. It can be used by non-pregnant women during and right before menstruation. Another equally important use of raspberry leaf is it’s use as a cure for diarrhea. More on that in the Blackberry Section.  These plants are found near water, in boggy areas, besides stream banks, in gullies, on ditch banks, or growing anywhere that gets plentiful rainfall.

Blackberry Fruits, Leaves, and Roots - Diarrhea is one of the most common killers in third world countries due to contaminated water supplies and poor water treatment facilities.  As a country collapses the infrastructure of water treatment always breaks down, and waterborne illness explodes. Preparation for such disease is essential when we plan for a SHTF event. Diarrhea is especially fatal to children and the elderly, and is frightening at how fast it kills. Soldiers in battle frequently suffer from dysentery due to bad water as well.  For centuries blackberries (and to a lesser extent any of the bramble berry varieties such a red caps, black caps, Marion berries, and raspberries) have been used for treating diarrhea, dysentery, food borne illness,  and even the more deadly waterborne illnesses. This must be remembered to be a treatment, not a cure as diarrhea is a symptom of an infection in the body which must be treated as well.  Blackberry Root Bark is the most effective remedy for diarrhea, but if you can't get to the roots the leaves are highly effective as well, even dried ones. Last is the fruit which can be eaten or a syrup or juice made from the fruit.  A syrup or juice is especially useful when treating small children.  One teaspoon of root or leaves per boiling cup of water, steeped for 20 minutes, then sweetened with honey if possible due to its healing and soothing properties is a good dosage. It is the tannins in the blackberry plant that help with diarrhea . Blackberries are even more invasive than red raspberries and grow profusely throughout the USA. If in a dry region look for them along streams or down in gullies and canyons. The leaves and root bark are easy to dry, and the leaves can be eaten and are high in nutrition.

Elderberries - I grew up eating wild elderberries, these are a round purple-ish blue fruit that grows in clusters on a bushy tree. The bush flowers in late spring depending on your area and the fruits are ripe in early fall. They are very common growing wild and like water so they grow either near bodies of water or in areas that get plenty of water.  I often see them growing in old farm yards or homesteads because the pioneers and old farmers used them not only for health but as a much needed fruit. They also can be found in gullies and draws. The fruit has a dusty powder on it, but care should be taken as the red elderberry, the stems of all elderberries that connect to the fruit, and also the unripe fruit, are poisonous. The fruit and flowers have been proven in clinical trials to help with many ailments, but especially in respiratory infections such as bronchitis and also to help thin mucus.  The fruit are very high in Vitamin C and are used to treat the flu and to boost the immune system. Elderberries would be good for an insurance against scurvy. Harvesting is easy and making juice, syrups, or tinctures from them is the best way to use them for healing.  The flowers are used to make a tea or tincture for respiratory ailments and compresses for wounds. They also are good in pies, jams, jellies, and to make wine and liquors. There is some evidence that they should be cooked before consuming as uncooked raw fruit can cause stomach upset. Elderberry syrup is safe for children.

Other Berries- Obviously there are many berries growing throughout the United states, many of them not only edible but beneficial as well.  Getting a good book on berry identification for your area is an excellent idea.

Rosehips - Wild roses grow all over the USA along roads, up in the mountains, and in forests. They are usually found as just a single flower, meaning they are a single layer of petals in a ring around the central part of the flower, maybe five petals in a ring. Roses are also grown in many yards and gardens, and there are even rose varieties grown specifically for large rosehips.  Rosehips are the main and most helpful part of the plant for use. Wild roses have small hips compared to their cultivated cousins, but size doesn't matter when it comes to food and medicinal value. They can be eaten raw in a pinch, but the most common way is to chop the hips roughly and pour 1 cup boiling water over two teaspoons of the chopped hips. Allow  them to steep for 20 minutes and sweeten with honey, or, if for a child under two years of age, sugar or syrup.  Rose hips are higher in Vitamin C than citrus fruit and not only prevent, but also treat scurvy. They are easy to identify and easy to harvest. Rose hips make a tea that is tart and pleasant to drink. They can help treat urinary tract infections and the flu, and rose hips also boost the immune system.  When fresh veggies and fruit are unavailable, rosehips can be found even in winter and still be eaten as they do not rot easily and cling to the rosebush.  Rosehips are generally a reddish color, and it is wise to look for ones that are still firm, not black or with mold or rot on them.  They can be used to make syrup, jelly, jam, wine, and juice. The flowers of roses are also edible but make sure you don't eat them if they are been sprayed with pesticide.

Bachelor Buttons - Bachelor Buttons, also known as cornflowers, are a  flower that grows wild and cultivated across the USA. They are popular in wildflower or cottage gardens and are  also drought tolerant and reseed prolifically in the wild. The common color is a cobalt blue, but especially in gardens they come in white, light pink, and purple. The flower is the part used and is most commonly utilized as an eyewash for injured or infected eyes. This is usually done by steeping the flowers in fresh boiled water, cooled, and then applied over the eyes on a moistened rag. A similar rinse for cuts and sores in the mouth aids healing. In this instance it is best to spit out after swishing around the mouth. Furthermore, they can also be used in the same form to wash cuts, scrapes and bruises. Combine one teaspoon of dried cornflower petals, or five fresh blossoms with one cup of boiling water. Cover and steep for 15-20 minutes; after this you may strain and consume. If taking internally it is best for no longer than two weeks. Cornflower tea has been used to calm diarrhea, treat urinary tract infections, and for anxiety or nervousness. This flower can be found along road sides, in fields, and in clearings.  They love full sun and they are very easy to grow.  Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use this internally. If you have allergies to daisies or ragweed you should not use this at all.

Lambs Quarters/Wild Spinach - Lambs Quarters, also known as wild spinach, goosefoot, pigweed, good king henry, and fat hen, is considered by most gardeners as a weed, but is in fact is a highly nutritious and delicious plant that grows everywhere and is easy to identify.  It is nicer than common spinach because it is slow to bolt in the heat of summer, and because while tasting like spinach, it is even more nutritious. It can be cooked or eaten raw and the stems leaves and seeds are all edible. It can  also be frozen, canned or dried for later eating.  Lamb’s Quarters is a good survival food and can be found in yards, abandoned lots, fields, gardens, and along roads.  You can cut it off almost to the root, yet it comes up and starts leafing out again.

Dandelion-  Dandelion is another common yard weed that grows almost everywhere, including city lots and in the mountains.  I never dig up the dandelions in my yard but use them and also feed them to our rabbits.  We do not treat our yard with chemicals.  It is highly nutritious, and all parts are edible- including the roots which can be dried and used as a coffee substitute. It has been used as a diuretic and to cleanse the blood of toxins. The milk that comes when you cut the plant can be used on wounds and is highly effective to use on warts. I have used the milk on three of my children's warts and all three times it made them disappear naturally without pain or scarring.  It must be applied every day for a good month to the warts. A tea made from all parts of the dandelion is absurdly rich in nutrients and would be well utilized by those suffering from malnutrition.

Wild Onions - Wild onions are easy to identify because they smell like onions! They are considered a weed in many parts of the country, and they can be eaten like regular onions while being a healthy addition to the diet and are easy to dry for future use. They can be in yards or near places that have a constant water supply or good rain.

Pine Trees/Spruce Trees-  Pine trees are common all across the USA and several parts of the tree can be used both medicinally and nutritionally. The needles themselves are rich in Vitamin C and can be steeped in boiling water to create a tea to fight scurvy (Vitamin C deficiency), and they are also high in Vitamin A and beta carotene. Spruce tip tea or pine needle tea is useful to treat sore throat, cough, colds, and chest congestion. This is a very important survival food as it is so readily available and easy to find. The best tasting needles are young tender ones, but older needles work just the same nutritionally. Pine nuts that are found in pine cones are rich in calories, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals and are high in Vitamin K which helps stop bleeding.  The inner bark of pine trees is even edible but should only be used in an emergency because to get at it you kill the tree.

Pine Sap has many uses and is highly effective for use on wounds when mixed as a salve to prevent and treat infection. It is also used as a flu and cold treatment when mixed with honey or made into a tincture. It not only fights the infection inside but also soothes sore throats.

Chopped pine needles added to a hot bath can help with skin problems since they contain natural sulfur, they also sooth sore muscles and joints. Pine oil can be used by adding a few drops to boiling water and then breathing in the steam; there is evidence that it helps cure sinus infections, bronchitis, and breaks up mucus. Pine oil kills germs and can be used to clean surfaces during illnesses, although, it must always be diluted and never applied straight to skin. However, pine oil is a distilled product and must go through special processing and may not be easy to replicate after SHTF (although what a skill to have!) Use roughly chopped pine needles, with boiling water poured over, then cover your head with a towel over the bowl and breath deeply. Pine needles are also a natural flea and bug repellent and can be used to stuff beds and cushions to deter them.  The scent of pine is generally very calming.  Caution - Pregnant women should not use pine needle tea as there is fear it could cause miscarriage. There are three varieties of toxic pine, and it is highly recommended to learn how to identify and avoid them. They are Norfolk Island Pine, Yew, and Ponderosa Pine.

Crabapples - These are a variety of apple that are often overlooked as an edible fruit because they are unpleasant for fresh eating.  They are very good for cooking and if sweetened can be made into pies, jams, jellies, syrup, wine, pickled, and when mixed with other fruits dried in fruit leather.  They were mainly used by our forefathers as an addition to cider making as they added depth of flavor and a bit of tartness to the finished product.  There are many varieties of crabapple tree and the fruit can be quite large as they are grown for their pretty look.  They are grown in many yards and businesses as a decorative tree and the fruit is most often left to rot.  Most people I have asked are eager to let me pick off their trees since otherwise they eventually fall and have to be raked up.  They also can be found growing wild and in old orchards or farms. Crabapples are high in Vitamin C and make a pleasant tea when sweetened.  They have been used to treat urinary infections and can also be juiced to make cider vinegar which is one of the most healthy things you can make.  For the best flavor harvest after they have been frosted on.

Wild Plums - These are native to the USA and grow in all parts.  They are small and are usually a yellowish red color.  Wild Plums are a tasty fruit for fresh eating and are useful in making jam, jelly, syrup, pies, and pickles.  They are very high in Vitamin C and Iron.  Dried or fresh they are a good laxative and treat anemia.

Cattails - A well known wild food that grows in marshy or wet areas these are easy to identify.   All parts of the plant are edible in different seasons and have good food value.  The root can be pounded and applied to cuts and scrapes as a poultice.  As these always grown near or in water be careful of pollution.

Rhubarb - This is not necessarily a wild food but it is so common that noting where it grows is a good idea.  This plant comes back year after year for practically ever and you see it often in abandoned lots, old farmsteads, abandoned homes, or in peoples gardens.  Most people never use it and are happy to give away to those who will.  Harvesting in the spring is best when it is tender.  Rhubarb can be made into jam, sauce, syrup, put into pies, cakes, and breads and canned. Rhubarb is rich in B- complex vitamins such as foliates, riboflavin, niacin, Vitamin B-6, thiamin, and pantothenic acid and good levels of Vitamin K.  It has been used to treat stomach problems.  The leaves are poisonous, only the stalks should be eaten.

Daylilies - These grow all over the US and in many places they grow wild or have taken over lots of land and gardens as they are hardy and invasive.  They are edible.  The shoots when young in spring can be cooked like asparagus or eaten raw, the flowers should be harvested in summer and can be fried like squash flowers, chopped and added to salads, and immature buds cooked like green beans.  The tubers can be gathered year round and cooked like corn.  They have been used to treat arsenic poisoning.

Nuts - There are so many trees that produce edible nuts that all I can recommend is that you get a good identification book and start looking around you.  Nuts are high in nutrition, healthy fats, and calories so they make an excellent survival food.  A couple of varieties that are overlooked by people are acorns and pine nuts found in pine cones.  Acorns have good food value but are bitter so most people avoid them, meaning that you will have more opportunity to gather them.  Learn how to process them to get out the bitterness.

Wild Strawberries-  Also known as Alpine strawberry, Common Strawberry, Mountain Strawberry, Pineapple Strawberry, Wild Strawberries, Wood Strawberry, Woodland strawberry. These grow prolifically all over the USA and although the fruit is very nice to eat (but tiny)  the leaves have great food value and have been used to treat diarrhea when made into a tea.  The leaves contain beneficial minerals and vitamins.  The root is also used to treat diarrhea.  These like shady places but also can grow in sunny clearings and fields..

Wild Violets -  The leaves and the flowers are edible and can be found growing in many yards and gardens where they are considered a weed.  They are purple-ish blue or white and can be found in the shade of forests or moist clearings.  They can be added to salads or cooked.  The medicinal uses are many and they make a lovely salve for irritated skin and rashes and also a tea can be made from the leaves and flowers to ease the pain of headaches and arthritis as well as to treat diarrhea. They appear early in spring and grow all summer long in the shade.  They are loaded with Vitamin A and C which makes them a good remedy for colds and flu.  The flowers can be added to jellies during the cooking stage and turn the liquid a lovely violet color.

Ferns -  Several fern varieties are edible and are often called fiddleheads, however care must be taken as there are also several non edible varieties that can cause mild to severe illness.  Invest in a good identification book or print many pictures out of edible varieties off the internet for better identification. These must be harvested in early to late spring. They are fried, steamed, sautéed, boiled, and pickled and are rich in Vitamin A and C.

Wild Greens - There are so many kinds that it would take a good sized book to describe them all and I highly recommend buying a field guide and searching them out.  Some that are common and worth investigating are mustard, watercress, stinging nettle, miners lettuce, sorrel, red clover,  and sweet coltsfoot.  Most greens are best harvested in the spring and early summer when they are tender and young.

Willow Tree - The willow tree has been used for thousands of years to treat pain. It grows in yards and woods across the United States. The bark of the tree, especially that of the White Willow tree is what as used and has the same actions of aspirin for treating pain and fever  Use 1 to 2 teaspoons of willow bark to 8 oz of boiling water and boil for 5 to 10 minutes.  Then turn off heat and allow to steep for 20 to 30 minutes more.  Drinking 3 to 4 cups throughout the day is recommended to be effective.  Gathering and drying the bark in spring summer and fall would be a good idea to have a store through winter. This is a real medication similar in its side effects to aspirin, it interacts with several drugs and can cause the same stomach problems as aspirin so research it well before use.  Pregnant and nursing women, and children under two should never use willow bark.

 Mints- Mints are not a really wild species but are so highly invasive once planted in a garden that they quickly spread and can take over vast tracts of land.  There are many varieties and just as many uses both as a food as well as medicinally. Mints are high in Vitamin A and spearmint in particular is high in minerals.  It is often used internally to treat stomach upset, headaches, body aches, reduce fever, for sore throats and cough, anti flatulence, and diarrhea.  Externally mint is an excellent insect repellent and can be use to treat lice, muscle aches, soothe insect bites, hair care, and vaginitis.  A simple tea is used internally and is quite pleasant, externally a similar tea can be made and cooled before application.

 Mushrooms -  Wild mushrooms can be very helpful both medicinally and nutritionally but great care must be taken as so many varieties are deadly.  I won't go into them here but invest in a good full color photographic field guide, and even then be careful! The only mushroom I feel very safe harvesting is morels because they are so distinctive and only have one similar species to contend with.  As my father said they look like a brain!

 Tree Saps -  There are several trees that produce edible saps that can be boiled down into sweet syrups.  Most commonly we think of the maple tree, and all maples produce sap although the sugar maple is the most well known and produces the highest volume per tree.  There are however several other trees that produce good sap for human use.  Pine trees are one but the sap is more for medicinal use than for pleasurable eating.  Birch, Walnut, and Sycamore all produce an edible sap for syrup making.  Obviously these are high in sugar content which equals calories.  As a caution only stick to the above or other documented non poisonous trees for sap.  Tree sap syrup has many vitamins and minerals making them a good survival food.

Wild Leeks Or Ramps - These are a leek or onion like bulb that are common throughout the United States in forested areas and grow often near streams or on hills.  The leaves when torn or bruised smell of onion or garlic so they are easy to identify.  The plant resembles lily of the valley.  These are found and harvested in the spring.  When harvesting only take half of what you find so they can continue to propagate.

Supplies For Harvesting - A good pair of boots and weather specific clothing, good identification books or literature, a small hand shovel, a good sturdy bucket/basket with a handle/or canvas bags, a knife for cutting, gardening gloves, a sidearm for meetings with predators of both the four-legged to two-legged kind.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Fishing was born out of necessity for man to feed himself and his family. Over time it has evolved into a recreational pastime and moved away from a generational skill passed down from father to son. Food can so easily be acquired at your local convenience store that fishing has become a lost art form to most. If we ever find ourselves in a situation where we are lost, without food, or the world as we know it ends. It will be particularly important to know how to procure food for you and your family.

The following information is on Survival Fishing. This is not fishing with a rod and reel but rather minimal equipment to keep you alive. There are many ways to fish and information on this subject is everywhere, however the following is tried and true and has worked well for me over the past several years. Most information in this article is for beginners, but I guarantee even a seasoned fisherman will pick up something new.

Fishing Locations
Fish are almost everywhere but knowing where to look will greatly improve your chances of landing one. The first thing that you need to understand is that fish love structure. They will congregate in areas where they can be protected from predators, find food, and stay cool or warm depending on climate. Overhanging brush and downed trees in and around water are great places to begin your search for fish. In places where structure is not present try looking for changes in water depth like drop offs or slopes. Fish will congregate more on slopes than flat bottom because of its use as a highway. Fish can use this area to travel from deep to shallow water in search of food. When moving into an area where you suspect fish may be present make sure to stay quiet and out of sight as much as possible. Spooking a fish will ensure failure. Fish will also mass in areas that save energy. They will hide behind rocks or stay in river bends to protect themselves from current and fast water. Undercuts in river banks and entrances to feeder streams will also be a great places to fish. This may sound silly but put yourself in the fish’s situation. They are in their own survival state of mind. They will find the most convenient, food rich, energy saving area to live. If you take these things into consideration you will be on the right path to landing fish, this is however only half the battle, now you must actually catch the fish.

Fishing Kits
I would first like to address that I know this is what everyone wants: a new lightweight addition to add to their kit. My only disclaimer is that you should use the kit and adapt it to your needs and skill level before having to use it in a life or death situation. Having a kit without the knowledge to use it will certainly lead to your early departure from this earth. Kits are small and compact because carrying a fishing pole, even the travel kind will only take up space and add unneeded weight. It’s merely inconvenient and illogical to carry modern gear. As we all know, "Ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain." I like to categorize my kit in a level 1 and level 2 tier. Contents of level 1 will carry over to 2 with their addition.

Tier 1 Emergency Pocket Sized Fishing Kit-This kit should be in your bug out bag or get home bag. It is for an emergency and will get you through a pinch until you can improve your situation. Items that are compact, multipurpose, and light are essential. Contents have the ability to be used in a variety of fishing situations with or without bait.

-Item Container X1 (Alum or Steel Case, such as an Altoids Can)
-Treble Hooks Size 1 X2
-Straight Shank Hooks Size 1 X2
-Straight Shank Hooks Size 2 X2
-Straight Shank Hooks Size 3 X2
-Wire Leader 40 pound X2
-Snap Swivels Assorted X6
-20 Pound Mono-fil Line X50 Feet (Wrap on Sewing Bobbin or Cardboard Cutout with Wings)
-60 Pound Mono-fil Line X50 Feet
-Small Stainless Steel Spoon X1 (With Weed Guard)
-Medium Spoon with Color X1 (Red and White Works Well)
-Large Stainless Steel Spoon X1 (With Weed Guard)
-Large Safety Pins X6 (Connect Them to Red or Yellow Fabric)
-Single Edge Razor Blade X1
-Large Saltwater Hook X1 (Based on biggest fish in your area)
-Square Styrofoam Block X2 (One Inch Long) (Used as Float)
-Jig-head with White Grub X2
-Fishing Knots Paper X1 (Basic Knot Printout or Drawn Diagram)

-The container can be used to cook your catch or boil small amounts of water. You can also shine the inside of the can to use as a signaling device.
-The Fabric can be used on a bare hook as bait if you have nothing else, color attracts fish.
-The fishing knots paper can double as dry tinder.
-Place a long strip of duct tape around the top and bottom seals of your case to keep contents from spilling and also to use the tape for other applications.
-Place your hooks in the Styrofoam for storage but use it as a homemade float during operation.

Tier 2 Traveling Fishing Kit -Ultra-light backpackers, Hikers, or Wilderness bug out bags should have this kit. This item is not just for emergencies but can be used on the go for a subsistence lifestyle or adventurer. This kit can be used to fish whenever and wherever. Everything that was included in the Tier 1 kit is included in this kit plus the following contents.

-Double Your Tier 1 Gear X1 (Double)
-Nalgene Bottle For Container X1
-Nail Clippers X1
-Power Bait Dough in Bait Can X1
-Bloodworm Fish bites X1 Pack
-Super Glue X2 (Set Knots or Repair Gear)
-Small Pocket Knife X1
-550 Cord X50 Feet
-Baby Wipes X1 Pack (Hygiene Purposes)
-Duct Tape X20 Feet (Wrap around your Nalgene)
-Screw in Circle Hook X3 (Can be used as eyelets on sticks to make expedient Rods)
-Mesh Laundry Bag X1 (Use for Net or Chum Bag)
-Black trash bags X2 (Thick Black Trash Bags)
-Signaling Whistle X1
-Signal Mirror X1
-Magnesium fire starter X1
-BIC Lighter X1
-Chap-stik X1
-Multi-Tool Leatherman or Gerber X1 (Uses too many to List)
-Snare Wire X15 Feet


-Line can be wrapped around the Nalgene bottle and thrown with the other hand to gain distance.
-550 cord innards can be tied together to make tough line, nets, or build fishing systems to set overnight.
-A Laundry Bag is also a great tool for food gathering or can be fashioned into an expedient backpack with 550 cord straps. This is not comfortable for heavy loads but to carry miscellaneous gear or found items it can keep your hands free.


Using bait to catch fish is much easier that artificial lure fishing. Using that last scrap of food might get you a bigger meal in the long run. Grubs and worms work well if you know where to look. Tree stumps, dead animals, overturned rocks, or digging small holes can all be easy ways to procure bait.

Tip: After catching your first fish check it’s insides to see what it has been eating, this will help you catch more fish. Save all the left-overs for bait as well.

How to Fish
Time is critical in a survival situation and most fishing takes patience. This means that you should use fishing in conjunction with other food gathering methods such as snaring, hunting, or gathering. Your goal is to save energy, getting cold, wet, or exhausting yourself may simply not be worth the calories you expend. Know when and when not to fish. Using your hand to reel in line or rolling your line around your Nalgene or Altoids container can work, but making your own rod by using your screw in circle hooks as eyelets can allow you to give more action and lifelike presentation to your bait. Tying your line on the end of a stick can achieve the same thing if you’re not going use the eyelets and will be cutting your line. The purpose of the eyelets is to allow line to pass through therefore not snapping your line in case of a large fish. It also places pressure at the top of the homemade rod over the fish to keep the pressure upward. When you feel the fish take the line set the hook by pulling up and applying constant pressure. Trying to pull your fish directly out of water will sometimes result in a snapped line or lost fish. Instead walk backwards landing the fish on the bank. It is hard for a fish to escape on land.

Fishing with bait The Easiest way to fish is to drop your bait in and wait for the bites, patience is key but if you don’t get any strikes within 10 minutes change depth or location.

If you have no bait almost anything can be made to attract fish. Color, Smell, and Movement all attract fish. If you have nothing else then the red or yellow fabric in your kit can be used on a hook by just moving it up and down until you get a strike.

The jig head and grub combo or attached bait is used by throwing line out and giving life like action while reeling in. Pop the Jig a few inches off the bottom while moving forward a few inches to work an area. Fish tend to go for fast moving retrieves in warm climates and slow retrieves in cold climates. Just like you or me fish become lethargic in the cold. This is not always the case but it is a good place to start. If you don’t get anything change it up and keep trying.

Set lines- Used barbed hooks so you don’t lose your fish. Tie the end of your line to a stable feature like a tree or root. Secure the other end with a rock or weight to set the line. Use several lines or one long line with multiple hooks but ensure you check it often. Hourly is a good idea, if left overnight most fish will escape.


Don't try to overpower a fish or set the hook with extreme force. These are common mistakes with novice fisherman. They get excited and try to overpower fish. Let the fish fatigue and work them to the bank by keeping constant pressure on the line. Setting the hook is a slight jerk and not a full body action. Going to hard may rip the hook right out of the fish’s mouth.

-I can’t say it enough, try your kit and catch fish; this is the only way to ensure you are prepared when you need it most.

Other Fishing Methods

Spear-A simple stick with an angled point to an edge (Not Center) will work but cutting barbs in two or more points attached with the 550 cord making a fish gaff is more effective. Fish Trap-Nothing more than stacked rocks or sticks placed vertically in the soil to form a wall in shallow streams or rivers. A box with a narrow opening is made with a wall going several inches inside the opening on both sides. Wide wings on the outside are made channeling fish into the small gap. Fish can get in but not out. Place pieces of bait inside or chum the water with your laundry bag. Net-You can make a gill net with your 550 cord but this is very time consuming and requires a lot of prior knowledge and practice. Instead you can use your laundry bag across a stream or river channel secured with two sticks on the edges. You can then move several hundred feet away and scare fish into your trap by hitting the water with a stick corralling them in. This works best in narrow areas were the fish have no other path but into the trap. Cleaning Fish

Cleaning fish for survival is a little bit different than your everyday fishing. You don’t want to waste any part of your fish. Your left over parts such as the scales, head, tail, and guts can all be used as chum or bait. Allow no part of your catch to go unused. Fish spoil very easily so if you are catching multiple fish it is advised to keep them alive using your 550 cord as a stringer until you are ready to clean them. (A Stringer is nothing more than cord going through the mouth and out the gill cover to keep the fish secured in water. Make sure to tie the end of the cord to a rock or stick spike.) Boot laces work well if you have no other cord. Try your best to clean your fish within an hour depending on your climate. You can wait longer in colder climates.
-Don’t clean your fish at your camp, move at least 150 meters away to keep your camp clean and also predators away
-To scale your fish use your knife with light pressure going from tail to gill holding the fish firmly. They will simply peel off.
-Your first cut should be made from the anus to the head, this should be a short incision and not deep enough to puncture any guts or innards.
-Pull out all the insides and save for later.
-If your fish is large enough to get a fillet than you can cut the head off but if not leave it on and cook as is.
-For larger fish you can run your knife from the spine to the belly going along the bones to get the largest fillet. -Save everything else for later and rinse your edible parts in clean water.

Cooking Your Fish
-After gutting small fish can be stuck on a stick and cooked as is. Make sure you are not placing the fish in the flames. Use the heat from the fire not the fire itself. A roasting stick can be placed in the ground so you can tend to camp while cooking. You can tell you fish is cooked when the skin peels off easily and the backbone separates from the meat.

Altoids Can Cooking-
I suggest your emergency fishing kit being contained in the can because it can be used as a mini pan to cook your chow. Making a platform out of two rocks or large logs is easy and can last for quite some time.

If you have the ability to boil fish than do so. It is an excellent way to keep all the nutrients of the fish. Using a soda can, canteen cup or some other type of container can get the job done.

We have gone through everything from catching to cooking your fish. After reading this I believe that even a novice with the right tools will be far better informed and able to keep themselves alive. These things are all my opinion and there is always room for improvement or customization. You should use this as a baseline and create your own Kit. Remember that this is just one skill to survive uncertain times. Knowledge is power, always learn more and test yourself and your kit often.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Regarding feed sources for home-raised pigs: Many supermarket chains will gladly "donate" outdated or overripe fruits, vegetables, and cheeses, due to the cost of container disposal. This often includes apples,  melons, citrus, tomatoes, avocados, and even prepackaged salad greens, berries and herbs.  Even a relatively small store will have 2-3 trash cans full, daily. They may even provide containers if they are emptied on a regular basis and kept clean. 

Commercial bakeries and baked goods outlets often provide bear hunters with barrels of donuts, snack cakes, and breads during hunting season.  Ask them if you can take care of the unsweetened "scraps" outside of the hunting season.

Most areas also have some form of a microbrewery or brew-pub within close proximity. The leftover hops and barley can even be mixed with feed.
A nice roast, some chops, or some home smoked bacon in return could go a long way to keeping a "supplemental food source" producing for many seasons. 

Thank you for all you do and have a very merry 2014! - Todd L. in Maine


Mountain Top Patriot wrote an excellent introduction to raising a few piggies for the homestead. Pigs are indeed smart and friendly creatures if you treat them humanely. One tip I might suggest, we've raised from 2 to 12 weaners each year for the last 13 years on our little farm, and we found that electric mesh netting (ElectraNet or similar) is a great tool to keep the piggies where you want them (and out of where you don't). We use the netting and a portable pig hut to move our piggies around areas we want cleared e.g. where my pigs lived this year is where my garden will be next year.
For those not familiar, electric mesh netting is a plastic grid, with the horizontal wires interwoven with wire to carry the charge. Step-in type posts are attached to the mesh at proper intervals to allow easy set-up.
The fencing typically comes in approximately 50 meter (165 foot) lengths. So if you made a square enclosure with the netting, it would be about 40 feet on a side, about 1,600 square feet enclosed. This is enough area to keep 2 or 3 piggies in for a week or 10 days; you might have to move them more frequently as they get older, or you could add another length of mesh. Two lengths of fence combined could enclose an area of about 6,400 square feet, a seventh of an acre.
Pigs quickly learn not to touch the mesh. One trick is to position the step-in posts leaning in, so that the pigs are less like to bury the bottom wires of the fence with their rooting.
And of course with the portable mesh type fencing you are not limited to a square configuration. We have assembled many odd shapes when we wanted to put the pigs in a particular area to be cleaned out. And you can easily alter the shape to protect things you don't want chewed up, e.g. fruit trees.
The fencing is a good barrier to predators, including bears, as well. - CSAfarmer

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


I hope this missive provides you the reader with insights and useful knowledge to raise your own pigs. I'm not a farmer, just a regular guy with five acres and the desire to eat healthy food our family raises, save some hard earned bucks, and be as self sufficient as practically possible. My intention is to provide a complete 1st hand account in order to convey the pertinent details so you can make your own determination as to pig raising and it's feasibility in regards to your particular circumstances. It is hard work at moments, but as pigs are a most useful and efficient meat animal, so too can the methods employed in their keep. I pretend no specialized claim to swine husbandry, this just one families factual successful account.

 Truth being told, I have found pigs are easy going cost effective animals requiring minimal attention compared to beef and chickens. The old timey nickname for them is "Mortgage Lifters", as these are wondrously efficient consumers of food. No other meat animal is as cost effective to raise on the homestead as swine. They are good natured creatures, curious, and can be most friendly when treated with respect due them. Given only water you would drink at their choice, quality feed on timely regular basis, a mud wallow, basic shelter for shade and dry refuge from weather, a pig will thrive. They have few ailments outside parasites of the digestive and respiratory track. They have great respect for electric fences, and require companionship of another of their kind for well being. Pigs can be rather intelligent. They appreciate a scratch from a rake and treats like table scraps, leavings from home canning and all manner of garden refuse. Come apple season much weight gain and desirable meat flavor can be added by use of picking up road apples, and drops of chestnuts, and the likes. Nothing goes to waste with a pig around. Your rejected garden corn, stalks and all are greedily consumed. Pumpkins, squashes, etc never go to waste. If you have space, pigs are consummate rooters. Free ranging in forest duff or a fallow garden spot yields a quality of meat and fat of unparalleled flavor and tenderness. It comes as no wonder as to why in times past the Kings wild boars where such a coveted prize feast. Another useful trait is pigs make for a fine 4 legged garden tiller. They root out weed seeds, tubers, and roots, will seek out every insect vermin and pest in the form of grubs and eggs, they can root easily to depths of a couple of feet or more of every square foot, and leave behind natural manure for next seasons garden.

Keeping them in requires about 2-3 feet height of fencing or pig grating, and a couple of strands of electric wire to keep them from rooting under fencing and escaping. Once loose some pigs can be quite the adventure to catch.  We make our fences in portable and modular sections.

If you have bears, it is advisable to put two strands of electric wire on the outside of your posts at mid thigh and waist heights. Bears will back out of a wire like greased lightning, have a tendency to break a wire in it's thrashing, so a second strand is proper backup. Use steel for bear wire. Get a 100 mile fence controller if you can. Even if you have only a tiny pen. It's the wallop of the shock you need. Our neighbor lost their 750 lb prize boar to a monster of a black bear. One swipe of its claws and the boar's head was hanging from skin. They didn't employ an electric fence. We've had bears tear up the wires many occasions, but has kept them out as of this writing.

Simply stated, Pigs are simply an amazing source of food. A 350 lb pig will keep a family of four in pork for a year. "Market weight" of a pig is 235 to 275 lbs. Raising past 350 lb weight reduces cost savings, they are more difficult to process, and the ratio of fat to muscle increases. Though fat back can be be luxurious and of the highest quality at this weight. A plus when rendering for lard, and for manufacturing soap.

With a little hard work and timely attention to detail a pig provides an abundance of high quality sustenance. One of the great aspects of raising your own pork is how efficient a pig is in regards to conversion of it's feed to yield of meat and other products one can use daily.
Pigs well kept and treated with attention to it's well being, quality of life and kindness it deserves for the bounty it ultimately provides for your family, can not be exemplified enough.

Depending upon ones pallet and the lengths one is willing to go to butcher and process their pigs, there can be little waste from a pig. No other animal, on a pound for pound basis, yield of wholesome and toothsome 1st rate meat, is as economical to raise as the swine. Add in to your piggy husbandry, home butchering, curing and smoking, and you acquire meat and other useful products costing approx a high of $1.50 per lb using commercial feed stock, to as little 25 cents, or even less depending on costs of your own grown feed.

If you choose commercial custom butchering, added costs run about 50 cents a pound hanging weight, (killed, gutted, skinned, halved, on a hook), usually a "kill bill" and fee for waste is accompanied, around 50-75 bucks, sometimes a wrapping fee, and if you desire bacon/hams, a smokehouse fee is added. It figures out to at least 1 dollar a pound non added value to go this route. Add in fuel costs for getting your pig to and from the slaughter house, the ordeal of catching the squealing little guys, (and if one so inclined cares), your pigs end up in a strange place and their care and timely demise is at the hand of strangers.

For our family, it is a strictly personal matter of being responsible to our pigs. As our pigs provide our family with abundance, it seems proper and moral they are treated with every kindness till their end. An aside being, a happy pig is a great tasting pig, it seems counter productive to raise your own, and then cart the poor thing off where who knows what happens to your beloved food source. But that is my personal point of view, and no disrespect intended to hardworking butchers who provide such vital service and folks who can not home butcher. Many good meat shops exist. Good shops reputations proceed them and your neighbors usually can attest to reputable meat cutters. Each his own. Liberty right?

As home butchering/processing is a game changer cost wise, it is a worthy consideration. A pig is a simple animal to reduce to freezer and smokehouse. The muscle groups are well defined, thus the cuts of meat you choose become self evident. Your first pig is a learning curve. But not to worry as even a mistake in cutting is not any loss because the meat will still be tasty and healthy if proper cleanliness in the processing is followed.
The question of all who butcher is to skin or not to skin. Personally I skin. This eliminates the scalding and scraping process required for edibility of retaining the hide for consumption. It is a matter of your personal tastes and if retaining the hide is of importance to you. (Traditional real cured aged hams require skin be left on.) Requirements for tools and equipment are basic and minimal.
More on butchering further along.

Okay, here is the skinny of the whole nine yards, start to finish, raising a couple of piglets acquired from a farmer who sells you a couple of the little squealers.

2 freshly weaned piglets require about 1 square of pen area, 10ft x 10ft. A warm dry place, some clean hay and or wood shavings to bed down in and to keep their pen sanitary. If you live in cold climes, a heat lamp as hypothermia can kill a just weaned animal. A simple home made v trough with wide feet at each end, or nailed to your pen wall for feed and a low sided water container. The little heathens will run through, stand in, fight over and flip everything.
A pig nipple, (stainless steel watering nipple made for pigs, activated by the tongue, fastened to something sturdy, gravity tank or pressure fed types, 12 to 30 bucks, highly recommended), is a real time saver and beneficial sanitary practice. But it can take a few days for some piglets to discover.

Get two piglets. Costs generally run $50 to $75. Add shots and castration ("nutting"), usually $20 to $30 dollars per piglet, if the seller provides this.
As they are very gregarious creatures, they fare much better with pen mates. You can sell one if 2 pigs is more than needed. You can recoup a considerable portion of your grain bill on both animals this way. You can also require a prospective buyer to put the cost of piglet and grain bill up front and the balance of costs at time of butchering. Do the arraignments in advance as finding a last minute buyer can be difficult.
Using mostly store bought feed at single bag prices, the last 2 years have averaged around $300 for 2 pigs of approximately 350lbs live weight, including all but expense of piglet and meds. This is allowing for free ranging in our large pens.
Work hard to find piglets raised in healthy caring conditions. This can not be stressed enough.
A healthy piglet is a healthy freezer of meat.
The next step sounds far more complex than it is. Don't be discouraged. Millions of folks go through it. So can you. I did and learned it on my own.
If possible, find a farmer who gives his litters full spectrum antibiotic/wormer shots and castrates the boys. If not, a farm vet can visit to do this service. Another option is to acquire your own at a farm supply that sells syringes and meds.  ( A bit of advice on this. If you believe these medicines are not kosher, no pun intended, your time and expense will end up a fools errand. Best stop here and avoid raising pigs. These meds have no known substitute. Eliminating parasites with these substances is essential to your pigs survival and edibility of meat. As they are used months before killing and butchering no known harmful traces remain in the animal. Enough said.)

Nutting, (castrating) is easy, but it's not for everyone.
To begin I stick a piglet head first in a grain sack, two people makes this chore easy if you have the help, the little feller will squeal like a baby being murdered, but will calm down after a minute if your helper holds his hocks firmly to stop the kicking and supports him between their thighs. Douche his scrotum with Hydrogen Peroxide, a clean cloth to wipe away dirt, another generous application of Hydrogen Peroxide, a squirt of betadine solution. Don't forget to douche your hands too. Now gently but firmly squeeze the testicles between thumb and index, favoring one testes, take a new sterilized box cutter blade, scalpel, or razor blade and just cut the taught scrotum along the long axis of the testes, the barest of cut necessary to the skin and underlying connective tissue and it will pop out through the incision. A very shallow cut mind you, 1/4 inch long or a bit more to accommodate the size of the testes. Events will be self explanatory. You will detect the connected sperm duct and connective translucent sheath. Right where duct enters testes, a quick clean cut. Do number two, the same. Done carefully with the minimum of invasion barely a trickle of blood will appear. Keep the cuts tiny as possible. Small equals quick healing. It's what you want. More betadine, a good smear of Bag Balm or Prussian blue over incisions and your done. Easier than it sounds. The first time takes a little getting used to. I never get totally used to it, but after the first time it goes easy and quickly. The piggies seem to forget soon as they are free of the sack. A serving of something special gets them back to their piggy selves right off. Observe the creature for a couple days for signs of distress. Nutting is done for a couple of reasons. A boar gets aggressive, wants to mate with every female, fights other piggies, the meat is different, they don't get as plump as quickly as a castrated pig, (Kind of like a capon, a castrated rooster). 

Next is what is required to set up their living conditions.
Piglets begin to be adult like in a few weeks to a month after weaned. So you have a grace period to set up a roomy paddock for them. Build as large a pen as you can. You can do this in stages. Pigs are born to root, the more space the happier and healthier they seem. If you have a fallow field or garden, or a bit of a wooded patch, you save on your grain bill as pigs will consume every root, tuber, edible vegetation, grub and insect in a given piece of earth. I think it adds wonderful flavor and the exercise provides excellent texture to your pork. When to let your little heathens out of their piglets quarters depends on getting them to respect the electric wire, keeping them from getting out of the type of pen you build, and weather conditions. First time out into their paddock, I stick around till I can observe they have learned the electric fence. It may take a few hours, but this way you can have a poke stick ready and if they are determined to rush the fence and bomb through you can redirect them with a firm whack or two. 

Until they get some body mass, they need a dry, draft-free place to use at their will.
There are a gazillion ways here, I'll give you mine. You'll find how it works for you.
Build a timber frame lean-to, dirt or plank floor, with a 2ft wide by 3ft high entrance, shingled roof. Build it rugged, a 200lb pig has tremendous neck strength and will try to root under everything or use it as a scratching post. Mark those words well. Driven posts help anchor everything. They love to use corners and a rough place to scratch. Use heavy spikes to nail things together well. Rough cut lumber is best. Next, out in their pen, scrape out a wallow for them. About 12 inches deep to start, a few feet wide, 6 foot long. Keep it wet till they begin to make it deeper. They will. Mud is very important to a pig. Keeps them clean, cool, keeps insects from biting. It's a pig thing. They be happy.

How large a pen?
Large as you can. Last year we gave our pigs just shy of an acre. Given the space, they will prefer to poop in one or two spots. The larger the pen the better their habit. Less stink too. As you can supply a good sprinkle of lime or wood ashes to their bathroom easily if it's in a given spot. Far less manure odor, less flies, happy you, happy pigs.

We try to use part wooded section, part garden plot, past or planned, for our pens as we move the pen to alternating sites each year.
As pigs can't climb, fencing only needs to be 3 ft high rolls of heavy woven type, or planking with spacing of around 6 inches, 5ft steel or wooden posts, insulators, and use steel for your electric wire, heavy gauge. A 100 mile fence controller if you can spring for one. Build 20 ft sections, use insulated hand gate disconnects, the spring loaded ones, to bridge each section. This way you can move or reshape the pen as needed. We also use pig panels in conjunction with post fence. Pig panels are ridged heavy gauge welded wire sections, 2ft high, 12 ft long, using a stake at each end secures them. These are very nice items, last forever, robust, but pricey. We buy one at a time as funds warrant. Pigs won't climb over, they burrow under. Use a wire about about 6 to 12 inches off the ground. This keeps them from escaping. After getting buzzed a time or two, they won't go near the fence. They usually know when your fence is energized also. A cheap fence tester left on your water barrel or a nail is good so you can test if your fence is running.

Piglets do well on regular swine feed. It is advisable to provide Purina Calf Manna or it's equivalent. We find this is a superb feed supplement for pigs. The increase in health and growth far exceeds it's added cost to our feed bill. Pigs seem to like it's anise flavor immensely. We have taken to providing it right up to the week of slaughter. Mix it in their standard feed. 1/4 cup per adult pig daily. 1/2 cup for piglets. The bag will give proper portion directions. Great stuff. When they are 75 to 100 lbs we cut back to adult portion.
If you are buying feed stock, you can save by getting bulk. We have large Rubbermaid trash cans filled with bulk feed at Southern states. Easier to move than 1 large bin. It is usually a general purpose corn/soybean grind, cost savings run about $2-5 less per hundred than bagged feed.
Another feed we add is steamed flaked corn. It gives your pigs a wonderful flavor and quality to fat and meat. It is whole corn that has been cooked in steam to a particular temperature, held there till the raw carbohydrates have changed to easier to digest sugars, (gelatinized), and then flattened between steel rollers. It is easy to chew and digest.
About 1 cup a day works well. The last 2-3 weeks before slaughter we dress out our pigs by using a 50/50 split between feed and steam flaked corn. This tends to sweeten up the flavor of the meat/fat and increase purity of fatback without making the animal overall too fatty.
Of course any refuse from kitchen and garden, or fruit/vegetables you can scrounge is beneficial. It will be greedily consumed. Very little will be rejected by any self respecting pig.
You can hand feed your pigs their main diet, or use an automatic feed box. Both have their pro's and con's. Hand feeding if you have the time keeps your pigs familiar with you. Personally I have used both, but because I believe it is important to treat the critters you are going to eat with care and kindness, I find it a responsibility to attend to them in such a manner daily. You also become more intimate to your pigs overall well being. But that is my personal preference.

About  2 to 3 months of adult life, it is advisable to worm your pigs. I think there is no reason to avoid this important deed. Your pigs will most certainly have some sort of undesirable parasite within their digestive or respiratory tract. These parasites will kill your pigs at worst, at the least will keep your animals from reaching healthy growth, reduce quality of meat and fat. Who would want to consume diseased meat? Aside from being counter to the whole idea behind the effort and cost to raise your own healthy meat. There are many worming meds, your feed store or extension can assist in choosing the type good for you. We use the style that is added to feed.

Enough can not be said about providing your pigs with clean water. All they want to drink, and of a quality you would drink yourself. Though they will sometimes like a bit of muddy water, if they desire it they will drink out of their wallow.
We use a 100 gal plastic stock tank, garden hose filled every 3 or 4 days, set up a few feet high, with a hose to a 6 inch post set deep, using a gravity type pig nipple, connected to tank and nipple with barbed fittings, hose clamps, using clear vinyl braided water hose. A 55 gal food safe barrel works well too. You can drill a hole near the bottom and install a bulkhead fitting to screw a barb into. Set your nipple around 12 inches off ground level. If you use it for piglets, a bit lower, then raise it after they get larger. A good height is their chin with their head level. Be sure to use a very stout post securely set in a post hole. To get your pigs to come to it, a handful of feed held next to the nipple, tease them close to it, tickle the nipple so water will stream out. Pigs are pretty smart, they will put two and two together, they will smell the wet ground, and being intensely curious critters will play with it regardless. Putting a shallow water dish under it will get them to use it too. One pig figuring it out is all you need as the others will follow suit. If you don't make a wallow hole and keep it from drying out, some piggies will tease the tank dry to make a wallow right under the nipple.

Slaughter time...
So by know you have some pretty nice happy plump piggies ready to slaughter. Taking them to the slaughter house entails getting them in your mode of transport. Trailer or cage, what have you, the day before they are to go, back your transport up to the pen at an opening in your fence, preferably a spot where the floor of your transport is close to ground level, like a bank or using a long ramp of low angle, put their food and water in your transport, and when your pigs go in to eat, close things up and you got them easy with no fuss. If it is a cozy trailer or such they will snuggle up in it naturally. They will be very interested but wary at first, if you leave them be, a few hours and they will be overcome with curiosity and go right in. Go back after dark and you can close things up and in the mourning you are ready to go.

If you plan on home butchering here is what works best for me.
Your going to need a rifle in. 22 LR caliber. You need a rifle and not a pistol. Use quality high power 40 grain non-hollow points or .22 Stingers.
A 10 inch or longer butcher blade.
Box of jelly donuts.
A way to drag then hang your pigs, a tractor with bucket, a derrick from a building or stout tree, chain fall/come-along/block and tackle of about10ft height all suitable to hang your animal.
Gambrels to hang your pig.
A hose and stiff hand brush to wash down your killed pig before gutting and butchering.
A clean butchering surface such as a piece of Formica counter top set on saw horses, 6ft x 2ft min, or a beefy piece of plywood you can cover with heavy mil plastic sheet.
3 clean 5 gal buckets. 1 is used with HOT water and soap to keep your tools in when not using or to give a quick cleaning, the second pail is HOT water and a touch of soap to as a second stage from the first pail, the 3rd bucket is HOT water with a few drops of straight bleach to rinse everything. Your hands should go through each bucket also whenever needs be. Trick here is you can not be clean enough.
Hot water
Ajax liquid dish soap
3 very sharp knives, a large butcher, long boning, and a small blade.
Food safe tubs to temporarily sort out your cuts and major meat groups. At least 3. We use clear Rubbermaid dish washing pans. Good size, they hold up, clean easily, and are inexpensive.
A second table helps here as you begin to break the carcass down into muscle groups then into portion sizes for wrapping.
A meat saw. I use a Milwaukee Sawzall with a 2ft demolition blade, and a 34 inch hand meat saw. The Sawzall makes short work for cutting down the spine.
Plastic/vinyl/latex gloves.

The key to great tasting meat is never touching it with bare hands. This is the gospel. Cleanliness is next to Godliness.

As for putting your pigs down, a happy pig is a great tasting pig.
Die happy = Taste good.
The proper spot to shoot a pig is a quarter inch to the left of the center of an X drawn from the middle of each eye to each ear. The angle of your rifle barrel just a smidgen down from 90 degrees to the face of the forehead. In this fashion the bullet goes into the center of the brain along the divide between each brain lobe. Done properly the object is for the animal to drop instantly like a rag doll, with it's heart still beating, so you can do a proper bleed.

Do this deed when you will have steady temps below 36 degree's Fahrenheit for 24 hours. Pork needs to be cooled to a minimum of 38 degrees in under 24 hours. Also, properly cooled meat/fat is far easier to process as it firms up and cuts easier.

To calmly and gently coerce my pigs into position to be killed I use jelly donuts. No pig on earth can resist one. (Makes great bear bait too). The idea is to take a jelly donut, tease your pig into a suitable location, preferably clean dry and easy to get to spot, with a donut in my left hand, the rifle in my right, the 10 inch butcher blade in my back pocket, stuck in a fence post, or a helper to hand it to you and take the rifle. With the donut get the pig to stay still and raise it's head up to a good height and angle to put a round into the brain. Don't dally here, a few seconds of being teased and most pigs get testy and start to move around out of frustration of being denied such a wonderful treat. Don't get flustered or loose your nerve if you can't get a proper clean shot, give it a bite or the whole donut, and quietly begin again. If your calm, the pig will be too, and a clean kill is what you want here, so take your time and it will work out well. You can practice over a few days with a stick or an unloaded rifle, both you and the pig get used to everything this way. Some pigs no matter what wiggle around more than others because they may be hand shy or suspicious in nature. This is another purpose for why I prefer to hand feed my pigs, as they are used to a human and are more docile.

When the moment happens, the instant I pull the trigger, the rifle is handed off or dropped and I have the knife ready. Watch out as the pig drops, have your feet and legs out of harms way, watch for hooves also, as some pigs will reflexively kick and buck a second or two. Soon as possible, like within seconds fast, standing at the pigs head, grab the right front leg with your left hand, rolling the pig a bit to your left, feel with your thumb or index finger for the V at the very front of the brisket, it will be evident as the top of the ribs where they end at the base of the neck, it is a soft spot, take your blade, stick it straight in blade edge towards the chin till the point bottoms out against the spine side of the chest cavity, pull it back a tiny bit, turn the edge 90 degrees either way, edge now towards a shoulder, and using the v as a pivot point, sweep the blade far as you can, turn the edge 180 degrees sweep all the way to the other shoulder. This severs the ventricles coming out of the pigs heart as they are arrayed in a fan pattern. You sweep the cut across them and the pigs beating heart pumps out all the blood in approx a minute. If you can, get the pigs head down a slope as gravity helps a bit to bleed out also.
I drag my pigs to a good clean spot out of their pen, and using a hose and brush proceed to scrub it clean as can be. This assists in keeping the meat clean during gutting and skinning. Gutting is just like it's done with a deer. Whatever works well with you do it. Set your gambrel above the hocks and under the tendon, this is the most secure spot. Winch the carcass up, take a clean stick and spread the cavity apart to allow air to circulate assisting in cooling down your meat. About a day hanging will firm things up, and cool everything down in preparation for butchering.

A very toothsome delicacy you can enjoy immediately is the two little back-strap tenderloins running parallel to the spine inside the abdominal cavity up below the hams. These are just fabulous tender pieces of pork. On a wood charcoal fire they come out superb.
It is a rather splendid way to celebrate all the good hard work and wholesome goodness you aimed for attaining.

I hope this missive has been of assistance to many. It is a basic culmination pig husbandry from of a lifetime experience of home raising, gathering and hunting for the wonderful bounty God, nature and agrarian liberty provides.

If warranted by request, I could submit a second part concerning the butchering, wrapping, sausage making, canning, curing, and smoking aspects of home butchering.
Thanks for taking the time to read these words.
God bless you and your loved ones, this great nation too.

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 24, 2013

The recent article The Benefits of a Homesteading Approach to Preparedness, by Chaya had much wisdom about moving before a crunch. There will not be time to prepare or get to know your surroundings if you wait.

I have dreamed about moving to the American Redoubt for the last 3-4 years, however there were several things that prohibited me. I had a house payment and small business in Rural Northern Pa, I had a great job and family ties. I did not want to leave my father and small hobby farm. In December of last year my mother received news that her job may be moving to a new location. I half heartily said we should move to the west. This planted a seed that would grow over the next few months. We talked about different states like Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. She had some contacts in Idaho and Montana that she used to work with and began looking for a job. I was still unsure until January when I was told by the company I worked for that they would be consolidating locations and moving some jobs, including mine, offshore. To top that off my father was up for reelection for his township supervisor position.  My sister had lost her full time Job and was working two part time jobs. We had to potential to lose our 3 biggest family incomes. In April my mother received an offer to come look at a job in Montana and interview in person.

Before she was scheduled to fly out we looked at several properties and contacted two separate realtors. One realtor, Mark Twite, who advertises on SurvivalBlog's spin-off and another who works for a large [multi-state] real estate company. When we arrived we knew what type of property we were looking for and Mark cogently knew our intentions. He showed us several interesting properties that all had potential. He walked the properties with us using a GPS unit to show us properties lines. He is an amazing realtor.

The second realtor, however, was a snake. On the first day we met with him he had a paper that he asked my parents to sign “to give him permission to show up properties”, they signed without fully reading every line (a mistake), After they signed I read it quick while they talked to the realtor, mixed in with some of the lingo was a clause that we had to exclusively deal with only him and no one else. If we bought property without him he could sue for some of his costs. At this point we should have left but we didn’t. He showed us several properties but none were exactly what we were looking for.

After we arrived back home we kept in contact with the realtor, He sent us several more places that were not even close to what we were looking for, Some were trailer/doublewides, other had less than 5 acres and some were next to the interstate, certainly not what a prepper would consider a home. A few weeks later we came across a listing on craigslist that looked like a place we could call home. We contacted our exclusive realtor and began the long negotiations.  In June my mother flew out and started her new job. As soon as her feet were on the ground she checked the property out. By this point we had already started packing and selling everything that wasn’t a must have. The realtor in the meanwhile had pressured the seller into a contract as well and we were in jeopardy of the property being lost due to the realtors’ greed in wanting over $30,000 from the seller to just play middleman. We were finally able to come to a deal with the seller after they threatened to contact Montana Realtors Association regarding our exclusive realtor. He shredded both of our contracts so we could work directly. After a few short weeks we made a deal to move into our current home.

In mid-May, I contacted James Rawles for ideas on jobs, and in one of his replies he directed me to his 2011 article on job finding. I was subsequently able to find a job with a major company and get a job offered over the phone to start in July. The rush was now on to sell, pack and move. We were fortunate in that the company my mother got a job at offered a move package that including moving two vehicles and our house.  We had 7 people moving all together plus 4 family dogs. We were instructed by the moving company to not pack anything in the houses as the movers would catalog the material and move it. We had content from three houses and several outbuildings. We decided that we would not be able to bring our small heard of beef cattle so we put them on the market first. This gave us several thousand moving cash. On top of that we had a small business making Maple Syrup so after the season we started advertising all our equipment since we would not be using it in Montana. This again provided us with some extra money for the move.

We went through all our material positions and started filling our garages with yard sale stuff. A lot of things I had were with a prepper mindset but were unrealistic to move (fuel tanks with 300 gallons of fuel, windmill, scrap metal etc) so they all got sold. We advertised a three-day moving sale on a few local sites and started selling. We sold some stuff at value but a lot was sold at bargain prices just to get rid of it. The final day we made piles and sold stuff by the pile. In the end we sold 90% of the things we needed too. We also cleaned during this time and ended up with 5 truckloads of garbage that was either not worth donating or had little value.  We also filled two 30 yard dumpsters with scrap metal[ to sell] (never get rid of anything mindset). We also soldthree3 of our cars leading up to the move. These were older, front wheel drive, minor rust "East Coast" cars, not valuable in Montana and not usable where our new house is.

In addition to the 53’ tractor trailer full of household stuff we rented the largest budget truck and used a 15% discount coupon included in a USPS Mover's pack. In total it was $2,700 for the truck and another $1,400 in fuel to drive from Pennsylvania to Montana. We built 40”x48”x4’ shipping crates out of oak and maple so we could fill them leading up to the move and just load them into the truck. We had 8 crates total and 3 pallets of shop equipment and tractor parts. We also hired a neighbor with a step deck trailer to move three tractors and several farm implements to Montana for us (friends loaded him up a week after we left, with a Bobcat). Our cost for the step deck was $5,300 about the price of one tractor (we used cattle money to pay for this).

The trip to Montana was an experience. In Erie, Pennsylvania we decided to see how close we were on weight limits as we had no way of telling how much was on the truck. At a commercial truck scale we found that our "26,000 pound max" truck weighed in at 34,440 pounds! Knowing the stuff on the truck was not stuff we wanted to leave at home, we pressed on. We only passed one open weigh station on the way and just drove by with heads low. Since my mother and sister had moved out in June there were five of us that made the trip, My wife and I plus our West Highland Terrier dog (Westie) in the Budget truck and my father, my son and my 82 year old uncle along with two more Westies and a Boxer mix in his GMC pulling a trailer with 1 tractor on it. We took I-90 straight across which was not the smartest move in the world, at one point we sat in Chicago in traffic for two hours. We made the trip in five days as planned simply because of the animals and people involved in the trip.

Since moving to Montana we have met a lot of great people. Our new neighbors (all 30 of them in our 6 mile long valley) had a fall get together so we could meet. We have become close friends with several neighbors and have found a great church in Missoula. We used our Maple equipment money to buy a Norwood Lumbermate Sawmill. Since the purchase we have started construction of a new barn that houses some of our equipment this winter, but will house chickens, goats and pigs come spring. Our property is at 4,800-5,000 elevation so we also have plans for a greenhouse using raised beds next spring. We have been able to trade some wood for things we need so the sawmill has been a great investment.  We have also all got 4 wheel drive vehicles to cope with the winter, I have a Older Ford Bronco and older Jeep Cherokee, and other family members have all wheel drive Subarus and SUVs. All have studded winter tires and we have had zero problems so far.

The house we ended up buying is totally offgrid on 40 acres backed up to Forest Land. It had eight 100 watt solar panels when we moved in and a 300 watt windmill. The windmill is a joke but since it’s here we let it spin. The panels are also nowhere big enough so we have added six more 250 watt panels giving us a total of 2,300 watts. Next summer we plan to bump it up over 5,000. We have 16 6 volt batters to make two 48 volt battery banks; we also have a generator when the sun cannot keep up with our loads (in the winter months).  The property has several springs and a small pasture; it is a dream location that we fully believe the Lord led us too. The way jobs have lined up, the church we found, even the move.  The only bad part about the move is leaving our friends behind. However the Lord has even taken care of this with several people from the church filling the void. The job opportunities in Montana are endless but the pay is less than other parts of the country. Anyone looking at moving to the Redoubt region should consider applying for work at DirecTV. They are always hiring here and start new classes every three weeks. The pay is base at $11/hour, health insurance, a free subscription to the service, and bonuses. It would be a great place start then step off into something better and get you into the Redoubt any time of year.

If I was having someone move my household items again there are a few things I would do different. Make sure that you have a safe area of the house that the movers will not pack. We were missing a laptop for several weeks while moving and unpacking. Also cell phone charges should be labeled and in the safe zone. The last two days we ended up eating at neighbors because all our dishes and glasses had been packed away. I am still missing a few small parts for my reloading press that I forgot to take off. I did move all my guns myself by placing them in silicon gun socks then wrapping them in heavy blankets and placing them in a 2’x2’ locker. I hope my move will inspire more to make the move and shed some light on your plans.

Friday, November 29, 2013

What follows is what I’ve done and why I did what I did. As they say, “At least have the sense of an old cow; eat the hay, and leave the sticks.” I hope there is some hay herein. I have links to vendors/manufacturers/forums/whatever, which I have found to be useful/interesting.

Precious Metals:
Sb - Sn - Pb aka 51, 52, and 82. These are the atomic “names” and numbers on the Periodic Table for Antimony, Tin, and Lead, respectively. Most people think of AG and AU, 47 and 79 on the Periodic Table, Gold and Silver respectively, as precious metals. If you are into “cast boolits,” as cast bullets are affectionately known, then “Red-Neck Gold” is lead, aka Galena. The silver stream which makes bullets. I’m not going to get into the details of lead and lead alloys other than to make a few observations.

For some reason when I think of lead bullets, I think of Mel Gibson’s character in the great movie, The Patriot, crouched over a fire, melting down lead toy soldiers and casting musket balls with a simple hand mold, in his furious effort to exterminate as many Red Coats as possible. Lead casting can be that simple.

Lead melts at 621 degrees F. Tin melts at 450 degrees F. Antimony melts at 1,167 degrees F. Fortunately, you can “dissolve” small bits of antimony into lead, so you don’t need some super-hot foundry, just a small electric melter. Regardless, antimony is toxic and a pain to deal with so most casters start with a lead alloy already containing antimony. Bottom line, you want about 2% tin to get your bullet mold to fill out nicely and to make the lead harder and more malleable. Also, varying amounts of antimony, depending on how hard you want your lead alloy to be. A tiny amount of arsenic can be a benefit, but again, a dangerous substance to alloy. These three elements combine to make a fantastic and useful alloy. The lead bullet can expand/mushroom in a target and give the maximum energy dump, or be hard enough to shoot through most any target.

There are free sources of lead alloys in the form of Clip-On Wheel Weights (“COWW”) and Stick-On Wheel Weights (“SOWW”). Scrap yards sell linotype, monotype, plumbers lead, roofing lead, etc. at decent/great prices. If you can find a tire shop which will give wheel weights away, you will have a free source of a lead antimony alloy which just needs a dash of tin to make great bullets. You can also “mine” for lead bullets at shooting ranges, both indoor and outdoor, smelt the lead cores, and sell the copper jackets for scrap and make a potential profit.

For the average person, you will probably have to purchase your lead/alloy unless you have access to a free source. As a commodity, lead is currently selling for about a dollar a pound (Presently, $.95 per pound.) Tin is far more expensive at around $17 per pound. The tin price would normally include shipping from a reputable source like RotoMetals. Lead alloys will cost anywhere from $1.50 to $3.00 per pound delivered. You can buy pewter from thrift stores which has a high percentage of tin and alloy with that, but for me it has too many other “ingredients” so that I would rather just get some pure tin. But you can save some money by using pewter. Also keep an eye out for tin solder which can save you some $$$. 

The following is the short version of how I accumulated 500 plus pounds of lead alloy for around $700 including about 20 pounds of tin: I just got 50 lbs of COWW for $57.00 – that is a great deal from a great vendor. I traded an old reloading press and other items that I was not using for about 60 lbs (50/50) of “soft” lead and COWW. The lead/alloy was worth around $75.00. I found a local scrap yard that had some lead and got 160 pounds of various types of lead/alloy: fishing sinkers, a large chunk of lead, wheel weights, etc., and best of all, 50 lbs of “Magnum Shot” with 5% antimony and some arsenic. The two 25 pound bags of shot were worth $100.00. I paid $80.00 for the whole 160 pound lot. A great source for “Hardball” (92% lead, 2% tin and 6% antimony) is Missouri Bullets, where you can get 66 pounds delivered for around $150.00. This is certified foundry alloy and a good deal. I got 66 pounds of the Missouri “Magic Alloy” as they call it.  I also purchased three 25 pound boxes of COWW for $1.50 per pound delivered from another vendor. I have three more coming. Smelting costs for the lead/alloy into ingots for future use in your melter can run anywhere from around $.03 per pound to around $.08 depending on the efficiency of your propane burner. Casting energy cost is approximately $.27 per thousand bullets using 700 watt melting pot. Cost can be zero using wood/coal to smelt/cast. It is much harder to control your pot temperature using wood/coal/propane for casting as opposed to smelting where the temperature is not as critical. Casting/smelting can be low tech as it gets, perfect for hard and crazy times.

Realistically, I will not make a lot of money on my stash of lead/alloy short of TEOTWAWKI, but I will not lose money in a stable societal environment. I could sell it all within a week and get my money back, and then some. But the real value is in the ability to cast my own bullets exactly as I want them. Using a 150 grain bullet as an example, each pound consisting of 7,000 grains of lead will produce 45 plus bullets. So 45 x 500 = 22,500 150 grain bullets. That is about $.03 per bullet. That is sweetness. The end result of my smelting will be 96% PB 2% SN 3% SB. I’ll get more into the costs below.

If you want to learn about bullet casting you can read the articles in this link from the Los Angeles Silhouette Club including the fantastic free e-book “From Ingot to Target: A cast Bullet Guide for Handgunners” by Glen E. Fryxell / Robert L. Applegate.  There are many great articles on the LASC site. Also, there is Lyman’s Cast Bullet Handbook, 4th Edition which I highly recommend. I also recommend Beartooth Bullets’ web site with much good information, resources, calculators, and articles. Finally, I would strongly recommend spending many, many hours on the Cast Boolits web site. There is much to study and learn in the “sticky” threads and the various forums. One serendipity, is the fact that both Beartooth and Cast Boolits sites/forums are owned and operated by Christians, and both have Christian sub-forums, “Cross-Wire” and “The Chapel,” so there is much prayer, in response to prayer requests, going on, along with cast bullet/firearms talk.

Here is a recipe for 100 plus pounds of 96/2/3 lead alloy that would serve you well: Lead Pig Ingot 52-55 Pounds-99.9% with Free Freight $112.00 from RotoMetals plus two 25 pound bags of Magnum shot from Zip Metals with 5% antimony for $98.98 delivered and two pounds of tin from RotoMetals at $17.49 per pound, $34.98 delivered for a total cost of $245.96. We will call it $2.50 a pound for top of the line alloy with no fuss or scrounging and you get 4,666 150 grain bullets for approximately $.054 per bullet, around a nickel a bullet. That is sweet. If you want a harder alloy, 93/5/2, use 100 pounds of magnum shot and two pounds of tin for about the same cost. But there is really no need as you can heat treat or water quench the “softer alloy” and get it as hard as any sane person could want.

Now I personally enjoy the entire process, sourcing the lead/alloy, smelting, casting, lubing, sizing, and reloading, as much as the shooting, and I am not alone. I also feel the independence is invaluable. But setting all that aside, I can save a bundle by reloading.

I recollect an article on SurvivalBlog regarding the economics of reloading and the conclusion was that the savings were minimal. Nothing could be further from the truth. Let’s compare apples to apples. From Midway USA Remington HTP "High Terminal Performance" 158 grain .38 Special +P Lead SWC HP $29.99 for a box of 50. That is a time proven round. Also under consideration is the same style of bullet from Buffalo Bore in standard pressure which has similar ballistics to the Remington HTP. According to Buffalo Bore their version “…utilizes a 158gr. very soft lead cast, SWC-HC gas checked bullet … designed to expand and then penetrate quite deep. (Approx. 14 inches) This bullet is gas checked and will NOT lead your barrel.” Again, that is a time proven effective round which costs $24.99 for a box of 20. Buffalo Bore has been reviewed repeatedly on SurvivalBlog and for good reason. BTW, If you have the money, don’t cast or reload, spend it on Buffalo Bore, or Underwood, or Cor-Bon ammunition. Underwood seems to have come out of no-where to make a splash, and manufactures incredible ammunition. But I digress, you can spend $.60 per round for the Remington or $1.25 per round for the premium Buffalo Bore, or roll your own for about a dime, or less if you get free lead/brass, that is every bit as good or even better than ammunition costing 8 to 10, or 25 times as much. I have not included shipping costs/taxes for the store/internet bought ammunition which can be crazy. About a dime a round for ammunition is sweetness.

There are a number of reloading cost calculators out there, including this one from the Beartooth Bullets’ site under the Ballistician’s Corner. I will start with “Hazmat” shipping fee, around $27.00, for 1,000 primers and 8 lbs of powder. That will be less than $.01 per round, but we will go with that. Clean once fired brass (nothing wrong with that, many vendor sources) figure $.01 ( $.10 per case with 10 plus reload life expectancy) powder $.015 and primer $.025 and gas check (deluxe add-on) $.02 and bullet/lube $.05, using for total cost of $.12 per bullet. Add $.01 in energy cost for smelting/casting cost per bullet and we are at $.13 per “deluxe” projectile. That is sweetness. Better yet, that bullet is sized exactly for my gun and has the exact lube I want, the exact bullet shape I want, the exact hollow point/meplat I want, the exact ballistics I want…It is exactly what I want for far, far less money.

So what are the downsides of Leadcentric Survival? First off lead is crazy heavy. A Small Flat Rate Box weighs 25 pounds when full of lead, and a Medium Small Flat Rate Box can weigh 60 + pounds. Such a good deal for shipping lead via priority mail at around $6.00 and $13.00 respectively. When a “box” arrives at my mail place, the staff is all-a-twitter about my “boxes.” There was even speculation that I was receiving gold, I wish. I opened up a couple boxes just to prove to them it was Redneck Gold. Now until you actually handle a 25 pound SFRB of lead, you have no conception of the density. Heavier by a bit than a box of gold, for my friends at my place information. It is surreal. One plus to the density; a few hundred pounds of lead takes up little space. Be careful, one fellow had so much lead in his garage that he cracked his slab. And for sure don’t drop a box on your foot.

Another, and more pernicious threat, is governmental regulation. The last lead ore smelter in the U.S. was recently forced out of business by EPA regulations. Lead COWWs are outlawed in California and New York so the supply of lead wheel weights is diminishing as the two big gorillas in the room have affected the market. If you a business making wheel weights, why manufacture different wheel weights for different states? California, a cauldron of many stupid laws and regulations, has just outlawed lead bullets for hunting. But lead is a long, long, way from dead. The only reasonable substitute is copper which is three times as much money per pound and is less dense.

Lead is toxic, so wash your hands whenever you touch it. Most harmful lead exposure for shooters is from primer fumes emitted by shooting in enclosed spaces/ranges. Smelting/melting lead emits fumes which are to be avoided. Lead fumes are to be avoided period as that is the most dangerous form when inhaled. Proper hygiene/ventilation will eliminate any threat of lead accumulation in your body. So don’t fear having lead around, just use common sense and it is absolutely no problem

At higher velocities, say north of 2,500 fps, jacketed bullets, aka “J-words” are a better choice. But for most every purpose nothing beats lead. It is far easier on you gun’s bore, and uses less gun powder, and due to lower friction, functions at lower pressures. The Brinell Hardness Number (BHN) of the lead/alloy needs to be adjusted to the velocity/pressure of your particular round. Lead is around 6 BHN and lead alloy can be heat treated way north of 20 BHN which will cover you up to 50k psi loads. This description from the Beartooth Bullets web site FAQs gives one an idea of what can be done:
“This brings us to the reason that we use a 3% Antimony alloy at Beartooth Bullets. Although we too heat-treat our bullets to a BHN 21-22 hardness, this low antimony alloy retains the ductile toughness of the un-heat-treated alloy. This alloy, is hard, and tough, not brittle and prone to breaking or shattering like the alloys containing twice to four times the antimony content of our alloy. Our bullets have proven themselves on moose, grizzly bear, Asiatic water buffalo, African cape buffalo, elk, nilgai, zebra, wild boar, moose, eland and multitudes of other heavy boned game animals the world over... usually with complete penetration, and what few bullets have been recovered, most are near perfectly intact, retaining 90-100% of their original weight when fired at handgun velocities and retaining 70-100% original weight when fired at rifle velocities.”

The joy of independence/insulation from bullet/ammunition shortages, and making the exact ammunition you want/need is priceless. Go to the “BuyMart” store right now and try and get ammunition in .22 LR or 9mm or .308 or whatever. Not a whole lot of choices, if any. The ability of being able to manufacture ammunition for barter in a time of chaos is invaluable and could save your life. Shoot it, sell it or trade it in TEOTWAWKI situations. Be aware of the fact that merely manufacturing bullets for sale/trade, as opposed to personal use, requires a 06 FFL and paying the yearly ITAR fee of $2,500.00. Not only shootable ammunition, just the projectile alone. Rest assured the Feds will be more than happy to prosecute.

I have settled on five calibers: 9mm and .38/.357 and .223/5.56 and .308/7.62 x 54 and 12 gauge. Why, because they are the most popular calibers and will have the most demand under any circumstance. Further, they cover all ranges and applications from zero to 1000 yards and any threat. I have everything I need for these five calibers; Four types of primers, SP, SR, LR, and 209. I have four powders that cover the whole range as well, Unique, Blue Dot, RL7 and RL 15. I have various bullet molds, smelting and casting equipment, reloading equipment and components (even some J-words aka jacketed/copper bullets) to reload tens-of thousands of rounds of ammunition.

I’ve settled on 94% lead and 3% tin and 3% antimony as my favorite alloy, but most/many would say anything more than 1 to 2% tin is a waste. I like tin, and it will hold a softer lead bullet together better upon impact and subsequent expansion. If you don’t want to cast your own bullets, then there are many cast bullet manufacturers out there including Beartooth Bullets. It took me about a year to accumulate all the accoutrements for lead/alloy smelting and bullet casting and reloading. You are never really done accumulating “stuff.” I would encourage anyone prepping to consider casting their own bullets and will recommend leadcentric survival to all interest persons as a means to self-defense, self-reliance, and as a means of barter/income when there is a societal breakdown.
May God Bless you all richly.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

In the course of most firearms related articles there is the usual debate over caliber, brand names, action types, magazines, super-duper sights, LED lasers/lights, savvy slings, hot holsters and of course the great rail debate. Very little is written on the after effects of all that lead launching other than the firearms needs cleaned. In reality most shooters should spend as much, if not more, time cleaning and maintaining their firearms then they did actually tripping the trigger. The vast majority of shooters I see at public ranges and gun clubs do not even bring rudimentary cleaning and firearm maintenance gear with them to the range.

Countless times I have been at the range where someone brings their new or “kit” AR and they under lube it and have an extraction failure of a spent case or it bogs down with a dry bolt carrier group. New ARs are usually under-lubed and have a lot of wear in burnishing off coatings and the carbon gas blast that builds up in the BCG. Many new AR owners at the range usually do not have any cleaning kit with them so I dutifully (yes, it’s our duty to help the uninitiated) open my well stocked range tackle box and extract a rod kit and pop out the stuck case show them how to properly lube and get the AR going again. New AR platforms are the standard offenders but I have see a good sampling of other rifles and handguns that are shot dry slow down or jam up.

I once overheard a couple of well-heeled and well-dressed shooters (who arrived at the range in a 500 series Mercedes) debating over how to lube their new custom combat carry pieces. The one guy was actually stating that he was not going to put any lube on it at all since the gun store salesman told him that his new Tactical Tupperware could be shot dry. He exclaimed he did not want his gun “sweating oil” onto his dress shirts and pants. I personally knew the other shooter as a local lawyer and recognized the newbie Tactical Tupperware owner as the new “hotshot” member of the law firm. I commented on the nice Mercedes he drove to the range and asked him how well he would expect his Mercedes to run if he did not put any oil in it. He stated that would be stupid and that it would tie up the engine. I stated that it’s better to lube than bleed.

The other shooter/lawyer I already knew personally started laughing loudly and then he introduced me to the new guy. I further explained to the new guy that I had made a living carrying a handgun everyday as a LEO and firearms instructor and had made it to the half century mark without a gun failure due to lubrication issues. I then asked if the he had a cleaning kit for his new gun. He said it came with a brush and that he had bought a small bottle of gun oil and some patches but they were at home.  I explained I have seen too many shooters with over a thousand dollars in firearms hardware, high dollar holsters and cases of ammo without even a $10 cleaning kit from Wal-Mart. I explained the necessity and benefit of bringing a cleaning kit to the range and it’s a mere inconvenience when a sluggish or jammed up firearm is a problem on the range, but if the firearm jams when your life depends on it, it is a really bad day, or maybe the last day it will happen to you.

We in America, for the most part, take for granted the Petroleum products, textiles, and metals that make up our modern everyday lives. We expend untold billions in dollars and untold lives and limbs of our servicemen and women to secure the foreign well fields in places like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and the Middle East and use tanker ships to bring us crude oil. It is then piped and refined by a vast industry to make and deliver our petroleum products to our waiting hands whether at a gas pump nozzle or your favorite bottle of Hoppes #9. The majority of worldwide textile production and mass clothing production has long been outsourced from the USA to the cheaper labor and cheaper source materials of foreign lands. Every try to grow cotton, spin thread or loom some cloth? How about dig out metal ore, smelt it, refine it and work it into usable metal objects? If you step back and look at the intricate web of delivery chain complexity you quickly realize it is daunting to grasp. In a long term grid down event these long supply chains will quickly disappear and the petroleum products, textiles, and specialty metals (steel, lead, copper and brass) will become highly valued commodities after a very short time.

My first firearms cleaning experience came from my father. My father and his twin brother volunteered for military service in 1940 so they could go through basic together. After basic they split into different units and my father started fighting World War II in the Pacific with the 37th Division the (same islands that their father fought over in the Spanish American War). My father was eventually promoted as a training Sergeant and then was transferred to train troops stateside and in England and he then lead them in beach landings at Normandy on D-Day.

Throughout his time in combat his men had to routinely tear down old clothing (mostly enemies) for rags and patches and also use boot laces or cordage as field expedient “bore snakes” to keep weapons running when weapon cleaning supplies did not arrive at the front. Supply chains were often hard pressed enough to get the crucial ammo and food forward. They often used diesel and gasoline fuels mixed with various motor pool fluids to make field expedient weapons lubes. Sometimes too light and volatile of a mix would catch fire or smoke heavily while running the various machine guns and anti aircraft guns and too thick a mix would bind up the weapons when the lighter compounds boiled off. They prized actually getting real firearms rated oils, greases and bore cleaners when they could get them. They routinely would destroy enemy weapons and ammo but they always re-tasked the enemy’s firearms cleaning oils and cleaning supplies.

I was raised in a small town rural community and I started shooting firearms at age of ten. My father first taught me to clean firearms with an old bootlace, old pillow case cloth hand cut patches and some kerosene as a solvent/lubricant. My father said he wanted me to first learn the hard way to clean a firearm so that I would more appreciate the easy methods now available.  After a time he introduced me to an old tooth brush and then eventually a proper cleaning kit with a real bore rod, precut patches, bore brush, gun solvent Hoppes #9, and real firearms oil that made cleaning to his training sergeant  standards a whole lot easier. By the age of eleven I had the responsibility for cleaning all the firearms whenever we went shooting or hunting.  That may seem young by today’s standards but my older brother and I had our father and our other uncles (all WWII combat veterans) raise us properly with respect for firearms and their proper care.

Old threadbare sheets, pillow cases, blankets, shirts, pants, socks and such should be saved and laundered one last time without scented detergents and then prepared for various firearms cleaning duty.  We shooters now enjoy a wide variety of pre cut, sized and specialty cleaning patches and pre oiled rags for our firearm care needs. It is so very easy to simply buy a bag full of patches with a can of gun scrubber, gun oil and maybe a new bore brush at the local gun shop every time we pick up ammo and other gear.

The best gun rags are old lint free sheets and pillow cases, but flannel shirts and socks work well also. The best way to salvage them is to snip and strip them into various sized squares. Resist the urge to pre cut different sizes of cleaning patches for the various gun bore sizes. Patches are usually caliber sized with one inch for .22 caliber and two inch for .30 caliber and so on. If you simply keep the salvaged rags to about sixteen inch squares they then can be stripped off the side of the square into appropriate widths strips and then further torn into caliber sized patches at the actual time of weapon cleaning. If you have ever opened a military cleaning kit that was field carried with bore and chamber brushes rubbing the patches apart into a pile of ratty thread stripped patches you will understand the less raw edges being carried the better.

When you tear down cloth you can make a small cuts perpendicular to the open edge with a scissor or sharp knife and then grasp each half and rip the cloth along the warp long axis or across the weft side weave of the cloth.   As you approach the last 1/8th inch of the tear you should re-grip the two parts with your thumb and forefingers at the last two corner points on each half and give a firm tug pulling the last bit apart. This is to prevent getting a long running string from separating out and running. I routinely use sixteen inch squares. That size folds and rolls up nicely into Military M16 Alice style cleaning pouches that are widespread in the range world.  You can of course custom size to your preferred carry pouch. Tearing apart cloth for gun rags is somewhat therapeutic like popping bubble foam and if timed right around someone bending over it can be downright funny.

If you have a OTIS style cleaning kit you can buy regular round patches of similar diameter and fabric type in bulk (about $10 per thousand).) You can make your own cut patches by taking about a half inch stack of regular round patches and place it on top of a double fold piece of brown cardboard box. Under the stack of patches and cardboard box pieces place a plastic cutting board. Take a real OTIS patch and lightly use a fine tip Sharpie marker to highlight the slits in black. Take an X-acto knife straight chisel blade of the appropriate width and vertically plunge down through the stack at the appropriate highlighted locations. Take care to keep the stack straight and flat to keep slot placement equal during the vertical plunge cuts. You know when you are through by the cut into the cardboard. You can make OTIS style patches for about $10 per thousand material cost this way verses factory OTIS of about $60 per thousand. I made a permanent template out of a thin aluminum disk with a Dremel tool. Remember to sharpen the blades as needed for a clean wiggle plunge cut. You can use a sharp hammer hole gasket cutting punch to make round patches in stacks of used cloth on a pine board also.

We are spoiled by the quick and easy access to gun oils and cleaning solvents. Commercial gun oils are various and proprietary mixes that each has their specific viscosity and lubricating characteristics. There are more viscous oils such as Break Free CLP or FP 10 and thinner Clenzoil and Rem Oil types. Firearms types and seasonal weather require various lubrication plans. In small bottles gun oils run about $1 or $2 an ounce. When you buy it by the gallon the price drops greatly and usually varies from about $40 to $80 dollars a gallon (128 oz) or about 1/3 the price depending on the gun show or gun shop you find it in. Gun Scrubber is priced at about $8 dollars a can and the cheaper “non chlorinated brake cleaner” scrubber by various auto store brands at about $2 dollars a can. These solvents to help quickly cut the nasty carbon build up of our firearms. Remember when using any petrochemical solvents to do it in a well ventilated, non smoking and flame free areas away from any live ammunition. If you are planning on supporting a group sized shooting operation or a training range you can also obtain non chlorinated brake cleaner cheaper by buying it in drums through auto dealers and car shops. You can get small hand held spray bottle from auto parts stores that are charged with an air compressor.

There are a variety of homemade firearm oil recipes on the web and I have tried many and found few to come close to the readily available commercial brands. It may be worth your time to web search and store hard copies of formulas [such as Ed's Red] for the long term emergency. You will probably be more hard pressed to find the varying ingredients called for in the home made recipes in a grid down situation than to just  stock up bulk  firearms grade oils and solvents in multiple locations now. The firearms industry has taken great time and effort in coming up with good compounds. Most times trying to reinvent the wheel is time wasted.

For good firearms cleaning you need to use a proper sized bore brush and chamber brush to really get the build up out of the rifling, chambers, and locking lugs and wear points. It is almost impossible to improvise a proper bore or chamber brush. I have seen various attempts at improvised brushes by twisting fine wires and then snipping them off. IMHO it never works to a reasonably degree and usually ends up breaking off fine wires in the bore which tend to align with the rifling in the oils and are a pain to remove. Short of possessing a bore brush twisting machine, a warehouse full of raw materials and backup power the most reasonable thing to do is to stock up as many as possible in various calibers.  Learn to use them properly by pushing them all the way through and never reverse them in the bore. Also never dip them into the cleaning solvents. Always apply the solvents to the brushes with a dropper or dipped clean patch. I use slightly worn brushes for my initial passes and then switch to better brushes as the bore gets progressively cleaner with solvents and patches. Old dental picks and free tooth brushes from your dentist are handy for the hard to reach nook and crannies. Plain Scotch bright green pads without soap coatings from the laundry isle are a real time saver in scrubbing off dirty bolts. Specialty carbon scraper tools for your rifle bolts are a bit pricey but a time saver also.  A variable speed battery operated drill on your firearm cleaning bench makes quick work of a dirty AR chamber with a chamber brush mounted on a short cleaning rod section. Take care not to bore too deep or too fast to prematurely ream out the chamber neck and bullet throat area.

Take the time to read the users manuals for all your firearms and clean and lubricate them properly. Also take time to learn other firearms types you do not currently possess as you may have to learn a new firearm you come across on the range or in life’s real world adventures.

And as always: Buy cheap and stock deep in multiple locations.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Mr. Rawles:

Here is a recipe for soap, not food,. This has saved us a lot of money and aggravation over the years. We decided to make our own laundry soap after my daughter (now four years old) was born. Her skin wouldn't tolerate any artificial perfumes or dyes and she would break out in horrible acne if exposed to artificiality of that sort.

The basis of this recipe we found online, then modified it to meet our needs. It includes only shelf-stable materials and is suitable for both washing machines and hand-washing.

The ingredients include:

--One bar of soap, grated. The soap you use is up to you. We've used Ivory, Octagon, soap made at home with lye and vegetable fats, homemade soap with animal fats and lye, a soap called Zote( that is usually marketed to Latinos), Fels Naphtha, and a wide variety of whatever is on hand, all with good results. The Zote is marketed as a laundry soap. It comes in a 14 oz. bar, significantly larger than a standard 4-5 oz bar of soap, so we usually make a double batch when using it. (If the math seems off, adjust it. I'm saying only what has worked for us.)

--1 cup of washing soda. This is not baking soda. I have read that you can make washing soda out of baking soda by baking it (which eliminates some of the carbon and some oxygen, as I understand it). But as the two are approximately the same cost to begin with, I see no sense in converting sodium bicarbonate into sodium carbonate. The only reason I can think of is if you should choose to store only baking soda and not washing soda, or if you should happen to run out of bicarb.

--1/2 (halfa) cup of borax. Some people use only a quarter cup of borax, claiming it doesn't cause clothing to break down as quickly. They might be right. They might not. YMMV. We use a half cup and have seen no inordinately negative effects in four years.

--3 gallons of water. Just water.

First, start by boiling about 2-3 quarts of water in a stainless steel pot. DO NOT use your good cast iron for this unless you want to ruin the seasoning/coating. Turn the water down to a simmer after it boils.

Begin adding the shredded soap slowly, allowing a small quantity to dissolve before adding another bit. Use a large stainless steel or plastic spoon to stir. Stir constantly until all soap has been added and is dissolved. You will end up with a thick mixture I call "soap soup" just because it's fun to say.

Into a five-gallon bucket or other large container, place the borax and washing soda. Pour the soap soup in with the other ingredients and stir with the stainless steel spoon until the dry ingredients are dissolved (or nearly so). We use a round kitchen-size trash can with marks on the outside to show three gallons and six gallons are. You'll have to measure those ahead of time.

Add enough warm water to bring to three gallons. Stir wholeheartedly, making sure everything but the bucket and spoon dissolves. Cover the mixture and allow it to sit for 24 hours before putting it in bottles. You don't even have to bottle it: You can use it straight out of the bucket. However, we found it best to save up empty laundry detergent bottles for a month or so before beginning this project. If you stir the bucket thoroughly before bottling, and shake each bottle thoroughly before using, you'll get the optimum distribution of materials for each load of laundry.

At one cup of laundry detergent per load, this makes 48 loads. I usually make a double batch, which is 96 loads -- meaning about two or three months worth of laundry for approximately $6 invested in the detergent. I'm an EMT and my uniform must be changed and washed after each 24-hour shift, at least, to get rid of the mixture of sweat, blood, and red Mississippi mud. I have a 4-year-old, my wife is a professional, and I work 48-96 hours a week and consequently I do a lot of laundry.

Before bottling the soap, I add 30-40 drops of tea tree essential oil to the mixture. That might sound like a lot, but 30 drops over 96 loads is actually a very small quantity. My wife has a history of MRSA and the tea tree oil seems to be effective in keeping that particular infection at bay. Put it this way: She hasn't had an outbreak since we started using the oil. You could also add other (and more) essential oils to the soap mixture, should you want your clothing to smell pretty. I prefer my clothes to smell like nothing at all (call it OPSEC), and a third of a drop of tea tree oil per load leaves nothing noticeable behind. Lavender and other flowery oils do leave a smell.

So, for five or six cents per load of laundry using shelf-stable ingredients, you get clothing that is very clean, smells of nothing at all (unless you want it to), and turns whites more white while leaving colored clothing still colored.

As always, thanks JWR for your time and energy in keeping this blog site up. - J.D.C. in Mississippi

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Dear Editor:
While alloy wheels can have an alloy-to-steel corrosion issue, hitting them with a sledge hammer will probably damage the rim.I f you have an issue with a stuck rim, then just lower the flat with the nuts finger tight. If you do so, then he weight of the car will break the wheel lose with no damage. - Black Hat

Saturday, November 23, 2013

James Wesley,
In reply to Z.T.'s article, Basic Mechanics Skills and Knowing Vehicular Limitations, Part 1:

In general, while Z.T.'s post concerns tire maintenance, you should think "maintenance" on all fronts. Are you personally familiar with how much oil your vehicle eats per thousand miles? Are you familiar with your current, average and customary fuel mileage? Any diversion from the customary indicates a potential problem. Provided you're aware of what "customary" is on all fronts. Are you also checking, and familiar with, all fluid levels? Of all kinds? Simple preventive stuff. Find the problem before it becomes an actual problem.

And, as Z.T. points out, how aware are you of your tires' health? Or what it is you need to change a tire quickly and efficiently, or understand tire physics?

My rules of thumb, at least for those with steel wheels:

Every 10 degrees of ambient temperature difference equates to about 1 pound of tire pressure. Ten degrees higher? 1 pound higher. Ten degrees lower? 1 pound lesser. Whether "in-service" or as a spare, each ongoing month also equals to about a 1 pound loss per month, generally. You should be checking your in-service tires regularly. Again - are you noting any diversion from the norm? As for spares? It can be difficult to monitor them. So look at the Maximum Pressure rating on the side of your spare and inflate them to that safe maximum. You can always bleed it down to the recommended in-service inflation rating later, should you need to use it. Of course, that means you also carry a tire pressure gauge in the glove box. Carrying with you a small tire compressor that plugs into your vehicle? Gold! For yourself, as well as for others you can help along the way. No "grid" needed! No quarters needed!

And I made mention of steel wheels specifically, because if you have any sort of "alloy" wheels? Any and all long terms bets are off. As compared to true steel wheels, these alloys can be wild cards. When cast, there are all too often too many "porous" castings - where you have air leaking regularly from at least one tire through the "leaky" wheel itself. Got alloys? Get a tire gauge and use it regularly! Know your one leaky tire and pay attention to it!

An "alloy" tale: As you can tell, I'm aware and "prepared". I've made sure my vehicle's jacking components are actually there, I've done at least a "dry run" with them, I know where my jacking points are, I've got ponchos, adequate lighting, and have supplemented with additional crowbars, padded kneeler devices, tarps, tools, etc. I routinely take 1,400+ mile trips. I was prepared. Or so I thought. Yet still found myself unprepared one day. On a long road trip, and in the middle of nowhere (of course), I had a flat. No biggie. Been there, done that.

Problem was the alloys. Your alloy wheel is in contact with different and lesser metals on the spindles and hub. Dissimilar metals in contact? Along with moisture and/or salt? Electrolytic corrosion. Even though I religiously rotate my tires frequently? When I had my flat, that wheel was virtually "welded" to the hub. And I'm a big guy - yet nothing I could do would loosen it. I even thumbed the nuts back on and ran the car back and forth jarring the brakes to try to break the wheel loose. God help me, I eventually crawled under the jacked-up and swaying front end, trying to kick the wheel outwards, to no avail.

Thanks to my trusty cell phone and the kindness of telephone strangers, finally found the nearest actual "service" station, 50 miles away. At that point, I knew what I needed, and what it was I didn't have. Merely, a good-sized length of 2x4 and a sledge hammer. And that's all it took once the kid showed up. Yet I paid dearly for my rescue. At least the kid that came out finished the job, for which my back was eternally grateful!

I now carry a 20# sledge hammer and a 3-foot length of 2x4. That length of 2x4 allows you to place an unyielding mass as close to the inside hub center as possible, and then evenly spreads the impact from your sledge hammer outwards. Your sledge hammer, which will provide a far sharper impact outward than your own desperate boot-kicks under a jacked-up vehicle in the middle of nowhere, while traffic passing traffic is blowing by at 70 miles per hour. - Dave L.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Basic mechanical knowledge and skills are something that any person who hopes to be successful in TEOTWAWKI must have. I am not speaking just about vehicles, but vehicles are an excellent avenue to learn them. I can only talk with authority on my own past, but I know that the wealth of much of my knowledge comes from my extensive background in working on cars.

I won't claim that any of this post is going to be something that you have never read before. I am even willing to bet that you heard much of this speech by a parent or grandfather the day you turned 16. I know I did. And, like almost everyone in this country, I rolled my eyes.

Before you roll your eyes, I propose that we conduct a quick experiment.

I want you to drive down your local heavily used state highway or interstate, say, the one you drive on every day to work. Within 5 miles, you will see a broken down car. Now, the reason for this breakdown can and will vary. It could be because of a catastrophic motor event or a wreck,  but 90% of the time, it is there because the driver doesn't understand the basics of vehicle maintenance, the limits of the vehicle, or how to fix the vehicle in either event. Over the course of my next few topics, we will look at several of these and then explain the significance of the knowledge and it's potential uses.

Tire Maintenance
What's the most common automotive issue I see on American's roadways? Flat tires. Flat tires claim more roadside breakdowns than anything else. And not because the tire went flat, but because the owner either didn't have a spare, the spare was flat, or most likely because can't change the tire. Of these cars you see on the side of the road, how many have a jack underneath them, or a wheel propping the car up, and were simply abandoned mid-task? How many of them are just left there because they didn't have AAA? I have seen many a fine car left unattended on the interstate for hours or days at a time.

Changing a tire is perhaps the simplest task a motorist can learn. And while it IS simple, it teaches several lessons while also being a useful and money saving skill. These skills can save you valuable time and money in the every day world, while perhaps saving your life down the line. Changing a tire teaches many things including, but not limited to, the order of steps needed to complete an involved task, it teaches using a long handled tool to develop a moment to break loose lugs, balancing an unevenly weighed object, and even safety.

Now, for those of you who can change a flat tire, you realize that while it's an inconvenient, it isn't a big deal. For those of you who have practiced many times in your life, it is now a habit and can be easily fixed in a matter of minutes. Now, for those of you that can't....what does a flat tire cost you? Mere minutes? Or hours? Do you have to call someone to come help you? What about their time? Does it cost you money? How is your stress level when you miss something important?

Yet, many times the problem is deeper than that.  I remember back when I was 17 years old, my grandmother regularly telling me that my tires looked flat and that I needed to put air in them. But I always ignored her until one day the rim cut the tire down and I had a blowout. I remember driving to Auburn one time and I had a nasty blowout because a randomly 100 degree day caused the tire pressure to increase beyond the capability of the tire. In either case, simply paying attention to the tires would have raised an alarm and I would have rectified the situation. Not to mention that it would have saved me several hundred dollars.  But, I wasn't in the habit of paying attention to my vehicle, neither by checking it out whenever I thought about it or paying attention to it's behavior on the road.

Here are many things that can tip you off to a tire issue, but all require the driver to be in tune to the vehicle:

  • Uneven wear on the treads. If it's worn on the outside, the tire pressure has been too low. If it's worn in the center, the tire pressure is to high.
  • Does the care pull to one side or the other while driving? This could be a misalignment or one under inflated tire, which will also cause uneven wear. 
  • Is there a "wobble"? If so, you could have tread separation and a blowout could be imminent. 

Furthermore, great care should be taken while driving to limit the hazards to tires. 

  • Always avoid potholes. It may not seem deep or wide, and maybe you have run over thousands of them in your life. But it only takes the right one at the right angle and speed to cut down a tire. That's a a real bad thing to have happen at 70. 
  • Never run over objects on the road. It may look like a piece of littered paper, but it could be a shard of metal or class ready to cut your tire. It may be a piece of plywood. Then again, it could be covered with nails. 

Now, how about understanding the limitations of your tires? For example, do you know what the capabilities of a type of tire might be? Do you know if the tires on your current vehicle can be used to go off-road, if the need arises? Conversely, do you know just how long to expect a set of off-road tires to last on the street? In the case of a damaged tire, for example, a cut you know how to accurately gauge the remaining usefulness of that tire? Or know how to extend it's life by lowering tire pressure and travel speed? In the event of a flat tire, do you know just how fast you can continue to drive on it if need be? Or how to know if you have traveled as far as the physical limits of the flat tire will allow? Do you know what the danger signs of a tire are and can you gauge the severity? For example, what it means when you see the steel belts sticking out of a tire? Do you know what the effective stopping distance in your car is in all weather conditions? Specifically, do you know the conditions of your tires and how they might perform i the rain? In all cases, it requires the drive to be in tune with their vehicle, which in this age of automation and luxury, makes it easy for people to ignore all these important signs. 

So, many of you are asking; "Just how this might save my life in TEOTWAWK?". Specifically, if you have to get out of Dodge. You will have so many other things on your mind that you don't need to be worried about if your vehicle will get you where you need to go. Getting into habits such as checking tire conditions and pressure will go a long way to ensuring that at least the tires of your vehicle will hold up.  And, while you are on the go, you have to take care that you limit putting it in circumstances that it might fail you. Paying attention to driving conditions, specifically on the road, may save you minutes, hours, or even a dangerous circumstance that may claim others. For example, if everyone is trying to escape a city, the roadways will undoubtedly be extremely busy. There will be wrecks. There will be objects on the road. Slowing down, paying attention, and limiting the potential for cutting down you tires may save you when it may doom others. What if it' raining? Getting out is the priority, but knowing the effective stopping distance of your tires due to their physical condition could save you from a costly wreck. 

But things happen. Sometimes there are forces you can't control. What will you do then? Could you change a tire if you had to? More importantly, can you do it quickly and safely? Will it be such a habit that you can pay attention to your surroundings? What if you didn't already have a vehicle and you needed one. You find one on the side of the road, abandoned. Keys still in it. But the owner couldn't figure out how to use a jack. With five minutes work, you have secured potentially life saving transportation. We talked about understanding the limitations of the tire. Let's say that you know there is a potential problem developing that you have identified. You also know that stopping is not a possibility. Understanding the limitations of the tires may allow you to continue your path. While it may not be the optimum speed or method, it may be enough to put those crucial miles behind you. 

What does it take to learn this skill? Just time. Luckily for you, your car manufacturer gave you all the tools you would need. I am willing to bet that there are instructions on the back of the cover panel to the secret compartment that houses the jack and the breaker bar in the trunk of your car. So, take some time on a Saturday afternoon to find out where that compartment is. Pull the cover off, grab the tools, and follow the directions. I promise that even the slowest of you will only need to change the tire three times before you will have the process mastered. Even if you don't believe in TEOTWAWKI, you have to believe in saving time and money. How about keeping you from walking down an interstate late one night to find a gas station? I can't think of anything more scary for a woman than the thought of having to start walking down the street to find help.

Indirectly, there is a lot of things a person can gain from learning the basics of tire maintenance. How about the money and time that you can save from simply being in tune with your vehicle by getting in the habit of paying attention to the little things. No one likes buying tires. That's a fact. Identifying potential problems like noticing the vehicle pulling to one side can save money by having it fixed early.  Maintaining the proper air pressure can maximize tire life, saving you money. Simply knowing how to change a tire can save you hours and stress. What about the things you can learn indirectly? Off the top of my head, I think about the cause and effect of air temperature and pressure. How about understanding mechanical properties and friction? If the tire is flat, the surface area increases, so the drag increases causing the car to pull to one side. How about using a breaker bar to overcome your own physical limitations of force? I know it all sounds simplistic to many of you. But I am not writing for those of you that understand. The average American knows virtually nothing about hands-on mechanical work of any kind. They have to learn it by living it. I can't think of a better way to learn than to do so while discovering a valuable skill that has definite uses in your daily life and potential use to save it. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

I just finished reading the article by Stephanie M. titled "Your Retreat's Privy" and I'd like to add a couple of ideas. First off, let me start out by saying that I, along with my wife and 3 boys, live remote and off-grid here in Alaska. Our only form of a toilet is an outhouse, or as we call it here in Alaska, the Long Drop :-)

The first suggestion I'd like to add to this article is if you live in colder climates, find yourself a piece of 1" thick styrofoam and cut it out the same size as the toilet seat so that it makes a ring to put on the seat - it's much more bearable in the winter to sit on styrofoam than the cold seat. In fact, if you have multiple people in your family, you can create a seat for each of them and keep them hung on the wall in the privy or in the cabin / house if it's too cold outside. [JWR Adds: I've heard that dense blue styrofoam works best, for this purpose.]

Second, since we often see temps hovering around -20 degrees in the winter, we keep a long, stout stick handy to knock down the poopcicle that will form in any cold weather environment. I dug our hole about 8 feet deep so I don't have to do this often but if your hole is only 3 to 5 feet - you need to watch this. I"m sure I don't have to mention what would happen if you're using the outhouse in the middle of the night and the poopcicle is hovering right about seat level.

Third, don't make your outhouse too small. Since you're going to the trouble of building a subfloor, walls and a roof, expand it out to a 8'x10' building, insulate it if you want but buy some Visqueen (sheet plastic) and put a vapor barrier in the walls and ceiling. Once you have it dried-in, you can build or buy some cabinets with doors and store extra toilet paper, feminine products, etc., thereby saving space in the cabin for more perishable items. Besides, who doesn't want as much toilet paper as possible in a grid-down scenario?

Finally, don't forget to put the toilet seat down when you're done. I heard that a guy down the trail from us went out to use the bathroom one night and got a cold nose on his backside. Apparently his dog had fallen through the seat and ended up down below - this guy pulled the toilet seat off the bench and jumped down to rescue the dog. I'm not sure I love my dogs that much but around here, he's lucky it wasn't a small bear cub with an angry mother lurking around the corner of the outhouse.

Thanks for the great article, Stephanie! Regards, - Trevor W.


Dear Mr. Rawles,
The article “Your Retreat’s Privy” was very informative. If you have pest problems, there are a couple extra items that can also assist you with flies and spiders. You can build a fly tight seat lid and you can use a 2 to 3% solution of Malathion sprayed on the roof corners and under the box lid to help control flies and in my part of the country spiders especially black widows. Borax can be also put in weekly to help prevent fly breeding. If you choose to have a ventilation gap under the roof overhang, it never hurts to have rat wire around to prevent birds nesting in this location. There will also be times when a pit privy will not work for your family as the author discusses in the article.  In my work, I generally have to replace pit privies not because they have failed but because as wise King Solomon knew “time and unforeseen occurrence” has befallen the resident. As part of your outhouse construction, remember to also provide the materials you will need to help your ill, very young or aged as the case may be. The verse cited in Deuteronomy provides for a basic approach to sanitation that can be an excellent backup. Good health to you, your readers and their families. - Elaine M. in Virginia


Concerning Stephanie M.'s article on building a privy for your retreat, there is an additional, and simpler, solution to having a privy.
For several decades now we have used porta-johns. This offers (IMHO) many advantages over home built johns. Every [modern] commercial porta-john I have ever seen is made of fiberglass, making them basically impervious to decay, and they have sky lights. They have rounded corners and edges, have no splinters or nails, are white on the inside and are fully sealed to wind and rain infiltration. During the day they are bright inside and at night easy to light with candle, lamp or flashlight. They are very easy to keep clean and are bug and spider free. --We simply spray them down with a hose or bucket of water every so often, making it "the cleanest room in our house".
In order to make them chemical free, we simply cut out the bottom and postion them over a hole, as Stephanie suggests. Then after each use we toss in a cup of sawdust, lime or wood ash, whichever happens to be currently available (which totally controls flies and 'fragrance'). 
The porta-johns I've seen all come on skids and are overall quite light, so they are easy for even one person to move to its next hole. Around here its possible to buy a new john from the companies that rent them, but an even better solution is to buy a much cheaper damaged john from the company, then make whatever minor repairs that are required (often just fixing a door hinge).
We 'camouflaged' our johns by painting all the exterior (excluding the sky light) the predominate color of the surrounding background landscape. Then we painted trees and bushes over the base coat, so that the out-houses blend in quite well with the landscape (and helps to keep them out of sight from any stray g-men who might happen along in the days before the coming nobamapocalypse). - Jim in Ohio

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The United States Military tests its capabilities and preparedness by exercising its systems, soldiers and supply chains in war games. [These include field training exercises (FTXes), Command Post Exercises (CPXes), and Mobilization Exercises (MOBEXes), Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercises (EDREs) and more.]  These war games are used to ensure that their personnel is trained and fit, that the hardware of every sort works as it was intended to work and that in times of duress their supply chain will provide the fighting men at the front what supplies they need in order to be victorious.  I have extended my preparations for what the future might hold by exercising my personal set of war games.

I have been preparing for surviving a variety of events for a little over a year. Living in a rural area in eastern Oklahoma we are in an area prone to tornados and wildfires.  Beyond natural disasters I am very concerned about the effects of geopolitical decisions our government has been making.  I have read numerous articles and books on what to accumulate, how to store what you collect, how to do it on a budget, what kinds of defensive arms and skills to accumulate etc. etc. etc.  I have used this information to formulate my own lists of needed supplies; food, shelter, hardware, knives, guns and so on.  I have broken it down into lists of those things absolutely essential, those things that would be great to have and those things that may not be essential to survival but that would make surviving more comfortable.  What I am about to share with you is as essential as anything on any of those lists!

If you are not mentally, physically and spiritually prepared to deal with survival situations all your supplies will only help you temporarily, if at all!  Sociologists have researched human behavior in disaster situations and have found that immediately after an event 75% are in a daze, 10% are even worse, crying and wailing, while only 15% start working on a solution to alleviate suffering and provide for human needs.  Not surprisingly they found that these 15% were also the ones that were trained and had practiced what to do and how to deal with survival issues (shelter-food-water).  In other words, they had participated in some form of war game prior to the event they were thrust into.  Preparation time is never wasted time.

My War Games consists of testing your personal readiness to deal with the physical and mental challenges we might face in the future.  I’m talking about testing your readiness to deal with off-grid living by regularly practicing those skills and preparing your body physically by wilderness backpacking.  Preparation time is never wasted time.  I’m talking about backpacking into wilderness areas as if you were “bugging out” and using the things you would use, both hardware things and skill things.  You will learn what things you can live without and therefore lightening your BOB and also you’ll learn what things you really need to have.  Just like when you started collecting your cache of prepping supplies you will learn slowly at first and grow in wisdom and ability, with time you will find out where your weaknesses are and also your strengths.  Backpacking as a recreation is not only a good war game to test your survival supplies and skills but you will be preparing physically for the challenges of post calamity survival, whether its days or weeks without power because FEMA is inept or even longer because of political, financial or petrol disaster on a nationwide or worldwide basis.  Surviving off grid will take skill, will take good preparation and will require a person to be healthy and fit.  I suggest that backpacking not only tests your ability and resources but also helps you continue to improve and prepare in all these areas.

Now this is an area of prepping that I have been working on for a lifetime, I just didn’t label it as such!  I teach backpacking and wilderness survival skills to Boy Scout Troops, Royal Rangers, VFW Halls, church groups and wherever people are interested in learning how to spend time safely in the outback.  A personal aside here, my goal is to reacquaint today’s youth with outdoors skills that sometimes have not been passed down from father to son as in the past.  My teaching is based on 40 years of outdoors experience, packing into remote areas on foot and horseback, sometimes to hunt and fish where others haven’t had the gumption to go; and other times just to get far enough away from civilization to test myself, hear from God and just think.

I divide wilderness skills into four categories; pre-trip planning, gear, skills and physical fitness.  I will cover each one specifically as to how it relates to survival preparedness.

Pre-trip planning:  Any trip to the wilderness requires planning, and planning means decisions and choices.  We have three basic needs, water, food and shelter.  Planning any trip, whether it’s recreational backpacking or planning to be ready to bug-out means evaluating where you will be going and making choices.  Is there water available?  In this day and age we can assume all water needs to be treated, learning to treat water on a backpacking trip will give you confidence in the case you might have to bug out and treat your water source.   Will you be able to carry 100% of the food you need or will you be able to supplement your supply by hunting and gathering.  Sure you can carry a weekends worth of food, but wouldn’t it be a good time to practice your hunting, snaring and gathering skills in case you have to be away from a grocery store for an extended period of time.  Is there firewood available where you’re going?  I own some pretty awesome lightweight stoves but in a long term situation you will probably run out of fuel so now is a good time to learn how to build a fire under any conditions, use it to cook and to heat a primitive shelter.

Gear-As I said earlier in the area of gear, backpacking will help you evaluate things that you can get along without, what gear provides more than one use (always a good thing) and what gear you absolutely have to bring, usually in duplicate.  Another value of backpacking is finding out if your choice of gear is dependable and durable.  If a necessary piece of gear breaks or fails to perform on a camp out it may mean discomfort or a problem until you get back home and can replace it.  Once you bug-out, if it fails, you can’t return it to the store for a replacement or refund!  You will also find out what gear needs to be duplicated.  I need reading glasses, so besides the ones in my pocket, needed for map reading and such,  I usually have two pair in my pack, one in the first aid kit.

Skills- This is the real crux of the matter!  You can read about how to build a shelter and where, you can read how to navigate with a compass, build a fire, cook with a fire, find your food et cetera. But the best education is practice.  By using your backpack and actually going into the wilderness you will be practicing survival skills and gaining confidence.  Training and confidence is what separated the 15% from the 85% in the scenarios that the sociologists studied.  Have you ever spent the night in your backyard with just a blanket and a canteen?  Most people never have.  Most people have no idea of what being alone at night anywhere is all about. Try it sometime,  it’s not as easy as it sounds!  Think about what the same night would be like if you were in the wilderness with only you and coyotes howling, or wild boar rooting around you, or someone looking for you that is not looking to “rescue” you.  How about building a fire?  Daylight, no wind, no rain, matches, -sure you can build a fire.  But what if you fell into a creek, its cold, you need a fire, it’s windy and raining? Now can you build a fire?  These are skills that need and can be practiced before you actually have to have them.  A soldier doesn’t learn how to acquire a target, identify it and squeeze the trigger the day he gets sent into battle, he learns the skills ahead of time and is tested in war games.  First Aid is another important skill-both to the weekend backpacker and also to the person trying to survive off grid.  It needs to be acquired ahead of time.  Learn how to bandage burns, how to control bleeding, take a CPR course, better yet take a complete First Aid course.  This skill will be a little harder to practice war game style but education and training will build confidence.  When the poop hits the ventilation system is not the best time to be learning essential skills.  It is not the best time to find out how far you can't walk with your bug-out bag, or how much weight you can't carry, and that brings me to my final category-physical fitness.

Physical Fitness-We live in a comfortable society, we have remote controls, we heat our houses by turning up the thermostat, we get a drink by turning the tap or reaching into the fridge for another bottle of purified, distilled water.  It hasn’t always been like this.  My grandfather heated a five bedroom house with wood, in northern Wisconsin, without a chain saw or log splitter!  He used a tractor driven 36” saw and a splitting maul.  He and my grandma had a large garden that they hoed by hand, no rototiller.  They were both physically fit because their lifestyle both demanded it and also contributed to it.  Any off grid lifestyle whether its short term because of natural disaster or long term TEOTWAWKI will demand that we be physically fit, and waiting until it happens to get fit is a recipe for disaster.  I’m 62 and still backpack on a regular basis with scouts and also a men’s ministry I’m a part of.  The boys (ages 12-16) often comment on my fitness.  Many times during a rest break on an outing I will forgo removing my pack or sitting down,  I’m fit, they’re not.  There are different types of fitness.  A weightlifter can seldom run a marathon,  a jogger usually won’t play the line in a football game.  In my opinion backpacking is a great way, probably the best way, to get the kind of fitness needed to survive off grid.  If you need to grab your BOB and go, all those miles jogging or lifting weights at the gym will help, but the best way to prepare the legs and back for your BOB is to carry your bag ahead of time, especially up and down hills not in the park or on a sidewalk.  Part of fitness is weight as proportioned to height. Too thin, no muscle is almost as bad as too fat.  Especially since many of today’s maladies are weight related.  Diabetes, High Blood pressure, even headaches can be weight related.  By getting physically fit now you may reduce or eliminate medications which will be at the very least, difficult to obtain off grid.  Essentially, the better shape you are in, the higher your level of fitness will translate into longer success in a survival situation and backpacking on a regular basis is a great way to get into survival shape. 

Wilderness backpacking will get you fit, get your skills refined, give you confidence in yourself and your equipment and the best part is that it can be done as a family, a couple, an individual or a group.  It doesn’t cost much (National Forests are open to free camping) and is healthy spiritually, mentally and physically.  So if you’re serious about survival-why wouldn’t you?  My intention in this article was not to get you trained, there are countless books and articles, whole shelves in most libraries, that can train you.  My intention was to show you why you want to get your skill level increased and your fitness improved.  Wilderness backpacking, with its accumulation of skills and physical challenges is an excellent test of your readiness for survival situations.

The military uses war games to test its readiness for battle.  Serious backpacking can be the war game equivalent that tests your readiness, hones your skills and improves your chances at survival.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Have you considered an outhouse/privy as part of your preparedness plan?
If you could no longer flush your toilet because you were having plumbing problems,   or your commercial water supply was cut off and you didn't want to use your water stores for flushing, do you have a good backup plan,practical even for long term?

Going in a bucket with a toilet seat attached to it in your bathroom is one option, but then you have to keep dumping it somewhere. This doesn't seem like a good long term plan to me.

Now, if you happen to have a good independent water source and a way to get it pumped where you need it when you want it then you may not need to worry about this. But then again, if you happen to have an overcrowded house for a while, or maybe after a long term disaster or economic collapse your septic system has filled up and you do not have time at the moment to empty, it then an outhouse could really come in handy.

An outhouse is a simple, low cost, practical, long term, back up plan. Not the modern plastic port-a-johns that have to be hauled away and emptied when they are full, but the old-fashioned kind that have been used for hundreds of years (and still are used by lots of people all over this country) before we had modern septic systems and city sewage.

If you have some basic carpentry skills and can dig a good sized hole then you can build an outhouse.

We lived for five years with an outhouse and no indoor toilet. The outhouse was approximately 35 feet from our door and was not at all a nuisance. In the hot summer time you would get a whiff of it from time to time but it certainly didn't permeate the yard or anything.  During those five years a baby in our family was born at home  and we potty- trained two toddlers  so sometimes we kept a potty chair in the house  so it would be more convenient and we dumped the bucket in the outhouse.  I know some families who have outhouses attached to their houses by roofed walkways.

First off you need to choose a good location  in relation to your shallow well, spring, pond or creek  if you happen to have one or more close by, you sure don't want sewage seeping underground and contaminating them and you don't want your outhouse to get flooded and contaminate a good water source in that way either. Where? 100 ft. from surface water, 4 ft. above the water table, and 150 ft. from a drinking water source is enough enough distance away, according to this web site. But there may be specific regulations in your area concerning this, so be sure to do some checking! 

In sandy soil the sewage will drain away faster and heavy clay soil  won't drain as well, you don't want it to be like a pond and hold water a long time. Do not put it in a place  where rain water will drain into the hole.

The next step is digging the hole.
For big double outhouses a back-hoe or track-hoe will help get the hole dug quickly but for one outhouse you only need a hole a few feet across so a back-hoe bucket would be too big. If you end up digging the hole with hand tools a shovel and post-hole-digger will do the job and a pick and grubbing hoe will help loosen up the soil  if the ground is hard but when the hole gets a couple feet deep it gets hard to swing them. You can use a bucket to help haul dirt up out of the hole and you can pile some of the dirt up around the hole and pack it down if you want to and it will help direct rain water away, but then you might need to build a step up into the outhouse  over that dirt so you don't track mud in on a rainy day.

You can pile the extra dirt behind the outhouse, then it will be ready when it's time to cover the hole.
I recommend the hole be at least 3 ft. deep and I would rather have one deeper than that . If the hole is too shallow then the outhouse will have to be moved too often, but a hole 5 or 6 ft. deep will last many years, even if it is used regularly. You might need to reinforce the sides of your hole to keep it from collapsing, we never had to do this but different soil types might be more prone to collapsing. If you dig your hole square you can put plywood  against the walls and use 2'' x 4''s  cut to length braced tightly from side to side and front to back and nailed in place.
Now it is time to build the outhouse structure.

You can build it any size you want but 4' wide and 6' deep and 7' tall will be sufficient in size. Use treated lumber.
It is best to build the outhouse on skids of some kind so that when the hole is full you can pull the outhouse to a new location. 4'' x 4'' posts will work fine for this.
 The dirt from the hole should not be sealed up around the bottom of the outhouse, if there are a few inches between the bottom of the outhouse and the dirt then the decomposing sewage will be able to ventilate easily and won't just be ventilating up through your toilet opening.  The 4''x 4'' skids will help accomplish this 

We used 2''x 4''s for floor joists and the walls  and bench were also framed with 2''x 4''s. Build the bench against the back wall approx. 1 1/2  ft. high and 2 ft. deep and as wide as the outhouse.  Use plywood or OSB for the floor and the front and top of the bench. After you have put plywood or OSB on the floor and front of the bench, before you have covered the top of the bench, you need to put a shield of some kind  on the inside front of the bench to shield that piece of wood from urine. A piece of tin or metal roofing will work good for this. It doesn't have to be as wide as the whole bench, 2 ft. will be wide enough,  put it right in front of where the toilet seat is going to be. Make sure the shield is long enough that it hangs down below the floor at least 1 inch. Now you can cover the top of the bench. 

Get a toilet seat and lay it on the  bench where  you want the hole to be, mark around the inside of the ring, drawing it onto the plywood. Remove the seat and cut out this circle. You could do this before nailing the plywood down onto the bench frame if you think it would be easier that way. Now you can use a toilet seat and lid and bolt their hinges down onto the outhouse bench just like they were screwed to a toilet and you'll have an easier to clean, more comfortable to use seat than just a hole in the plywood would be.  

Another toilet option that will eliminate the need to  build a bench is buying an outhouse toilet pedestal/toilet cone from they cost around $150. There may be other places that sell these too.

We used  plywood to cover the outside of our outhouse  but metal or siding or any exterior  paneling would work fine also. One thing you might want to consider is the insulating qualities of wood versus metal, a metal outhouse sitting in the sun on a 100* day would be very hot inside. Use any standard exterior door or you can build a custom one for your outhouse.

The roof needs to be slanted with the front higher than the back by a few inches, so water won't stand on the roof and it won't run off onto your head if you are standing at the door.    If you make the roof big enough that it overhangs 6 to 8 inches on either side and at the back and about 1 foot or more in front  it will help keep the water from trying to drain into the hole and also when you run to the outhouse on a rainy day and someone is already in there you can stand up against the front of the outhouse and be out of the rain. 

You don't need the tops of the side walls to be slanted along  with the roof, just make them as tall as the rear wall and then you will have ventilation holes up there that will also let in a little bit of light during the daytime.

Now your outhouse is ready to be put into use, but you don't have to leave it in this state, you can finish the inside if you want to.    Linoleum is especially nice to have on the floor, it makes it a lot easier to clean. 

If you give all the wood on the inside two coats of white paint it will be much brighter and nicer in there.
If the outside is covered in wood you could paint it too, to help protect it from the weather. 
An ice-cream bucket or coffee can with a tight fitting lid to store the toilet paper in will help keep it from getting damp from humidity in the air or condensation  that might drip from the ceiling.
 A laminated sign on the door reminding everyone to wash their hands might be needed too.
You can also put a bottle of hand sanitizer in there.
You can even run an electric line to it and put in a light if you want to,  to use as long as you have electricity.
You will need to regularly clean the outhouse to check for wasps nests and spiders.
Put a trash can in there too because anything that is not decomposable should not be put in the hole.
Powdered lime or sawdust or ashes sprinkled liberally into the hole every couple of days will help keep flies away and help  keep down odors.  If the outhouse is being used infrequently  then this won't be as necessary but if it is your main toilet then this helps a lot and a 5 gal. bucket full of one of these products sitting in the corner with a scoop in it is handy.

You might think that an outhouse draws swarms of flies but although there were always a few flies in our outhouse during warm weather we really never had a big problem with them. Whenever your outhouse gets filled to within 2 ft. from the ground level, you can pull your outhouse to a new location with a truck, tractor or horse. Or if it's not too heavy a group of people could pull it.
You need to immediately fill the old hole with soil. (Otherwise someone or some animal might fall in it.)   Mound the dirt up a little bit and pack it firmly, because after the sewage has decomposed the dirt will probably settle.

Don't let little children use the outhouse by themselves even if they can use the indoor toilet on their own, as you don't want them to fall in.  You can put a protective grid in the outhouse under the toilet seat fixed to the inside of the bench. Something like a cattle panel, with holes small enough that a child couldn't fall through but big enough that they won't get clogged up. We put a latch on the outside of our door  high enough that a little child had to have help opening it. A child-size potty seat that you can set on top of a regular toilet seat will help children feel safer if they don't like the outhouse. 

If you need more details on how to build, here are some web sites that should help:

If you are wondering if it is legal to have an outhouse, you will need to check your local regulations where you are because they vary from place to place. But even if it is presently illegal to use an outhouse in your locale you could build one and use it for a tool shed until it is needed.    

In Deut. 23; 12&13  God told the Israelites to have a place without the camp to bury their sewage.  If God thought this was a suitable method then I don't know why it wouldn't work today. 
After a long term grid-down collapse or catastrophe an outhouse may be the most sanitary solution for some people. -   D.P.C. in Arkansas

Friday, November 8, 2013

Have you been thinking about leaving the crowded city and moving to a retreat? Perhaps you are weighing many factors, finances, age, leaving friends and family, and work.  But the most important factor you should weigh, is the answer to the question, “If the SHTF, can we survive here?”  If the answer is no, then take the leap and move!  We did! 

We sold our San Diego house and finally landed in Washington state, on the west side of the Cascades.  We aimed for the Redoubt, but due to work constraints we could not make that work for us.  So, last November, we closed escrow on our new 20 acre retreat in the country with rich soil, good rainfall, and a good well. It is in a farming community. 

After jumping in with both feet, I will tell you up front that if your plan is to escape to a retreat at the last minute, I strongly urge you to reconsider.  There is a big learning curve to retreat living, mistakes to make and plans to rethink.  If there is anything you take away from this article, I want it to be that message:  you need to get established first and practice your new skills. For example, this past first year I had to learn the growing season of the area, the problems with tomato blight, how to drive a tractor without killing myself, what works for purifying our water and more.  Because TEOTWAWKI has not happened yet, I have had time to sort out and buy seeds that will actually grow in my microclimate.  And when I drove my tractor under a big limb with the roll bar up, and the limb came crashing down on my neck, I was still able go to the doctor to make sure I didn’t crack my vertebrae.  Yes, I learn some things the hard way, and I am trying to learn what I can now before there is no medical care.  Mistakes made now are salvageable for the most part.  They are not so salvageable after TEOTWAWKI.  Move to your retreat soon if you decide this is for you.  Learn your sustainability skills and practice, practice, practice!

This first year, my life activities were dictated by the seasonal changes.  Almost everything I did depended on what season it was, planting, harvesting, canning, etc.  Even my indoor activities, sewing my quilts, organizing my pantry, etc, were driven by rainy days when I didn’t need to be outside.  Please keep in mind, I lived in a city all of my life.  And where I came from, it was, “Rain?  What’s that?”  I have never had to cut my own firewood, grow my own food sustainably, raise chickens or drive the aforementioned tractor ever before.  My association with seasons had to do with what kind of holiday decorations to put up. This is a big change for my husband and me.

November and December were very rainy months when we were moving in.  My husband travels quite a bit, so I spent several of those first days alone in the new house watching the rain outside and asking myself, “What have we done?”  It takes a sense of adventure and a lot of faith to take a leap like this, and you may ask yourself the same question, but take heart, it gets better.  I met one set of neighbors fairly quickly when they dropped by to say hi, and with their help I organized a housewarming for the other neighbors.  They also introduced me to a good Bible church nearby.  I got to know pretty quickly who were going to be the reliable friends, who was knowledgeable about growing a garden and canning and who knew the most about what was going on in our valley.  We also spent the winter learning what needed to be improved for our situation.  We lacked a wood burning stove, and once we installed it we learned how much firewood we used month to month in the cold months.  This first year we had to buy firewood.  The wood burning stove does a great job keeping the house warm and I think it is more comfortable than central heat.  I spent a lot of time unpacking and organizing these two months and finding out what needed to be replaced.  I had already created a modest stockpile of food, largely in part from the LDS Cannery in Reno when we were living there temporarily. (See my previous SurvivalBlog article: Visits to a LDS Cannery.)  I inventoried our supplies and went into town to stock up on many other items.  Some of those purchases included new cooking utensils, and cast iron items like a dutch oven and griddle that would fit on top of the wood burning stove.  I cooked on it a couple of times with the dutch oven just to know I could do it if needed. Referring to my own lists, I stocked up on OTC meds, toiletries, batteries, toilet paper, extra heirloom seeds and many other items. I also used this time to start buying canning jars and lids, including some of the reusable Tattler lids.  My philosophy in buying these so early was that I didn’t know when the supply line could end, and by harvest season I would still need them.  I bought more canning jars on sale later when canning season came around in July and August. Shopping was something I could do in the winter and it helped me learn my way around.

We also looked at our water situation. Our well produces drinkable water IF you close your eyes and imagine it isn’t really orange and turbid.  So we considered a plan to purify it and again after a couple of mistakes, we went with a peroxide treatment, coupled with water softening and reverse osmosis for drinking. We decided to store extra peroxide and salt for the future.  If we run out, the water is still safe to drink and can also be filtered with our Katadyn filter if it becomes too objectionable. I will discuss our well and electricity later in this article.

In January, I contacted a local nursery and had a long conversation with their expert on orchards.  I knew the bare root planting season was approaching.  Many nurseries place their orders for the next year’s trees around November so I wanted to find out what varieties they were going to carry and what was recommended.  I ordered 55 fruit trees of several varieties, paying particular attention to what trees best pollinate each other. I ordered semi-dwarfs in five varieties of apples, two varieties each of pear, Asian pear, cherries and plums. One other reason for ordering different varieties has to do with crop lost due to freeze.  If some trees bloom slightly later or earlier and a freeze hits, you may have some blossoms spared and still get fruit.  I neatly laid out the orchard to have roughly 15 feet between trees running southeast and southwest, with about 22 feet (hypotenuse) north and south.  One of my neighbors owned a tractor with a post hole digger and volunteered to start the tree holes for us.   Simultaneously, he dug post holes for the new fence. The nursery also had organic compost which they dumped into the back of my truck.  Twice I brought home a load of compost for planting and shoveled it out of the back of the truck into the orchard.  Because these weren’t muscles I was practiced in using, I developed a repetitive motion injury on one arm.  That was the last of my shovel use for a couple of months and was glad I had medical care still.  Come February and March, my husband planted the trees and we threw in a few extra varieties from the home improvement store.  The trees from the nursery did grow in very well!  Some of the trees actually produced this year to our surprise. But the home improvement store varieties had some mortality. If I was doing it again, I would buy only nursery trees. The nursery trees appeared to be older, sturdier and more suited to our area and were worth the few extra dollars.   We also took the opportunity to plant a few walnut trees strategically to lessen the view of the house when they grow up and to provide a good source of Omega 3. 

In March, we installed a six foot tall, 7-wire electric fence around the orchard.  We chose this fence configuration due to it’s success in controlling deer and elk in numerous studies.  We installed wood posts in the corners of the orchard, and between corner posts we used non conductive fence posts.  Of the seven electrified strands on the fence, five are 12.5 gauge high tensile wire, and two are white Gallagher Turbo Poly Wire strands.  The white Poly Wire placed higher on the fence improves fence visibility, which we hope will reduce the chance of an animal trying to run through it.  All strands are charged by a Parmak Magnum 12 solar fence energizer.  The battery keeps the fence charged day and night, even after weeks of clouds and rain. We were told by a local to mix molasses and peanut butter and put it on the fence to train the deer about the electricity.   Thus far, it has been 100 percent effective, and we have been able to keep out the two legged creatures as well, though I suspect in TEOTWAWKI this would not be much of a deterrent. 

April was the month for chickens, garden and a tractor.  Let’s start with the newly purchased tractor.  When it was delivered, we were taught how to operate it and I insisted on being the first to drive it!  With the instructor there, I took off with it around the yard with the brush hog going and had a little fun with it.  It was helpful to have him there to ask questions.  My husband got his turn and the rep left.  I pretty much took it as my job to use the tractor when something needed to be done as my husband isn’t always home.  For the most part, I did pretty well with it mowing around the house and in the orchard between the trees. Then there were two incidences that put a dent in my confidence.  The first incident was with the tree limb I already mentioned.  The latest incident involved me destroying the engine of the tractor.  I was removing fence posts with the bucket and mowing along side the road where the new electric fence is going for next years cattle.  I missed pulling one of the posts and not seeing it, I ran the tractor up on that post.  It went through the radiator and the oil filter.  Although I stopped the tractor after getting it off the fence post, the sudden loss of oil and coolant quickly overheated the engine and resulted in it needing a complete engine replacement.  I am lucky we bought tractor insurance, and TEOTWAWKI has not happened and I can recover from my mistake.  But I will say again, if you are planning to go to a retreat after SHTF, then you will not have the luxury of insurance or doctors being there for you while you learn from mistakes.  If you were already at your retreat, you could be learning these lessons now, not later.  My lessons learned about tractors:  (1) put the roll bar down to drive under trees, or cut the lower branches on trees, or do not mow under trees at all. (2) Back into tall weed areas with the brush hog, don’t drive over those tall weed areas engine first in case there’s something you can’t see (3) tractor tires have better traction going forward than backwards because of the [tread] design of the tires (4) wear a hard hat and hearing protection (5) don’t drive into a steep area sideways if you don’t want to roll your tractor (6) insurance can be a wonderful thing for your tractor! Yes, I will get on the tractor again, but with some added knowledge on tractor safety.  But, if you see me driving the tractor, you still might want to stand clear!

Late April, I also picked up my first chickens.  I had placed an order with a fellow who was a specialized breeder and was starting to think he wasn’t going to come through with the order.  So, I grabbed some different varieties at a co-op we had joined.  The co-ops here typically carry chicks until the end of April and I was afraid I would lose my opportunity to get chicks this year. Ok, you can laugh, I had the chicks inside in a box in a spare bedroom.  I didn’t have my coop set up yet and had to keep them warm, too.  The home improvement store sold me a shed which was constructed on our land, but I laid vinyl and my husband insulated it and finished it off inside.  He cut a small chicken sized door to the outside, where I had built the cage part of their coop with a screen door.  As my chickens got bigger, I was happy to get them out of the house.  I moved them into the coop and placed wood chips on the floor which I change out regularly.  Then I got a call from the breeder and now he had chickens for me.  It was too many chickens, but since I like to hold up my end of the bargain, I took them. Many of them were roosters, so I learned how to butcher a chicken as they got older.   If you are not too keen on butchering a lot of roosters, you may want to buy only the chickens you need from the co-op. Usually the co-op sells pullets (the females) but most likely you will get a rooster or two in the mix.  I will not go into methods of killing chickens, I’m still a little sensitive about that experience. But, for removing feathers without messing up the skin (after they are dead, of course), dunking them about four times in hot water at about 160 degrees F seemed to work best for me.  I butchered a total of eleven roosters and now have that skill in my repertoire.  What is left is what I consider a healthy number of chickens for my setup.  I have heard that you need about 4 square feet per chicken, which proved about right for me.  I do not free range my chickens because I want to protect them from predators and know where they are laying their eggs.  I’ve set aside extra food for them now that they are on a laying feed.  I have two roosters that get along well with each other in addition to my 13 hens.  One problem I nipped in the bud pretty quickly was some periodic aggression by both roosters towards me.  Each time, I grabbed the offending rooster and held him upside down by his legs for awhile to show him who’s boss.  Neither rooster attacks me anymore.

Let’s talk about the garden:  I count it a huge success to have just started a garden this year. Early April, I had started some seeds inside for transplanting into the garden.  Another neighbor came by with a tiller and cut an area 40 by 100 feet, where I had laid out tarps in advance to presumably kill the vegetation.  This was going to be the size of my garden.  We did a second tilling at the end of April. Early May, I started putting in my garden.  I planted a few rows a day and had most of the garden planted.

Then everything came to a screeching stop.

With all the recent talk about appendicitis on SurvivalBlog, my poor 56 year-old husband came down with it!  All the while, I kept thanking God for letting it happen when it wasn’t TEOTWAWKI and he wasn’t traveling. It was a very scary experience as his appendix had become gangrenous, and after surgery he was on IV antibiotics for several days.  I was terribly scared I would lose him. He is normally a very healthy, fit man.  He recovered more slowly than we anticipated, in part to his inability to sit still and rest. It was the first time I had faced the prospect of losing my husband and it still rattles me.  It also brought me to thinking about how absolutely difficult it would be to continue the work we were doing without him especially in TEOTWAWKI.

The days sitting in the hospital and then caring for him at home, the garden weeds got further ahead of me and some of my planted vegetables disappeared underneath them. The weeds looked just like the beets and spinach that was mixed in there. I didn’t fight the weeds too hard; victory was theirs.  But, I still decided to call my garden a success.  It was a big accomplishment to start a garden and have an area dug up for future gardens. I used heirloom seeds and was able to collect some seeds from the plants at the end of the season.  I did get food out of it, including green beans, cabbage, squash, corn and potatoes.  I had enough green beans for several canning sessions, and dug enough potatoes for my back to hurt.  The potatoes have gone into root storage as I have a chilly basement. I froze plenty of corn. It wasn’t the prettiest of gardens, but yes, I am calling it a success.

So in July, August and September, I did lots of canning.  Remember the big orchard we planted?  Well, we discovered we already had several mature fruit trees on the property! Surprise!  Apples, pears and plums came in and along with the garden vegetables, I was canning a lot.  I have a friend here who has canned for years, who was also gracious enough to give me lessons and recipes.  I found two canning books helpful, the Ball Blue Book of Preserving, and Canning for a New Generation. The latter has some wonderful recipes (spiced pears!) Yes, this is my first year canning, too. I made sauerkraut from my cabbage, adding caraway seed to it when I transferred it to canning jars.   Learning to can has probably been the most valuable part of the year for me.  Why?  Not only have I learned how to preserve my harvest for the winter months, but in practicing it I have learned what my husband and I actually like to eat and store more of the extra ingredients needed for those recipes.  For instance, the spiced pear recipe we like uses whole cloves and whole cinnamon sticks, so I have stored more of those.  If you are planning to can food in TEOTWAWKI, wouldn’t you like to know what really tastes good and works for you?  Some people have a very common genetic trait called “geographic tongue” that makes them extra sensitive to acidic foods like pickles canned in vinegar.  Is someone in your family sensitive to hot, spicy or acidic foods? Practicing your canning now will help you to sort out preferences and store the right ingredients.

In June, I purchased a Dakota Alert system that would monitor four areas and placed the monitors around the property at access points.  I know when someone is approaching the house, and sometimes know when the deer are going through an access point.  I do not get too concerned at every alert right now and familiarization with the alert may have desensitized me somewhat for when it goes off.  I know the time may come when I will need to seriously heed every alert I receive.

It’s now the first of November.  Hunting season is in swing in our locale and I am looking for that extra meat to put away.  As I am still learning the area and not up to speed on how to hunt this location, it is yet another thing I have to learn.  The deer that used to wander into our yard previously seem to know I am ready for them.  A successful hunt will mark the end of our self-reliance cycle for this year.  I was fortunate to have experience in hunting and butchering before the move.

So to continue about our water and power, this is not a complete project yet.  On a vacation to a jungle lodge a few years back, we noticed they ran their generator two hours a day to do their essential tasks.  Then the remainder of the time, the batteries supplied power to lights and a water pump.  We decided we would like to run a generator on one hour a day or less. During that time, we could run a washer, charge batteries and refill our home water tank.  We are on liquid propane for some appliances (stove top and oven, dryer), but a small electric current is needed as part of the operation as well.  So, we calculated the loads for our essential items, and bought a generator that will accommodate those loads while providing a charge to a battery bank.  Obviously, we think our water supply is the most critical.  We get our water from a well, which pumps it to a 300 gallon water storage tank in our basement.  From there it is pumped to our house fixtures by a 240 volt Gould pump.  Without AC power, we have no water.  We watched the National Geographic movie “Blackout” earlier this week, and it was ironic that we lost our power only minutes after the movie ended, but only for about an hour.  During that time, there was some remaining water pressure in the lines, but not enough to take a shower or flush a toilet.  So in addition to the generator, inverter and deep cycle batteries, we ordered an RV water pump (powered by a deep cycle battery) and are installing it in parallel with our main house water pump.  It is a fairly simple installation, but it required adding a one way valve on the output of the house water pump to prevent back flow.  This should give us water 24 hours a day. Based on a fuel flow chart for our generator, at roughly a gallon an hour for a full load, in 365 days we can go almost a year on our 364 gallon diesel tank, if it is full.  We try to run through the fuel to keep it fresh and keep some Pri-D in it to help preserve it. Once we have our set up complete, it will be tested with others in our group to see how this works and how we can trim back use of the generator.  If during that one hour a day, tasks are assigned to start the washer, cook a meal, take showers, operate a power tool, etc. then that’s not too bad.  Perhaps we can trim the electric chores to 45 minutes a day, or even 30 minutes a day with some good choreography.  I have timed the washer cycles and can wash a speed load in 28 minutes.  A wood drying rack in the same room as my wood stove does an excellent job of drying garments.  Who knows?  With some adjustments, and the addition of solar panels to help charge our inverter batteries, we may be able to go 2 or more days between operating the generator and stretch a tank of diesel for two years. Practice will tell us what works and what needs fixing. Once fuel runs out, we can still hand wash clothes, filter water, etc.  Some fuel will be retained for the tractor use and we are considering a second diesel tank. We will be working on a rainwater collection system later on and buying a hand pump for the well.

A note for the women:  I spent many years in a nontraditional job hearing how “a woman can’t do this”and “a woman can’t do that”.  If you hear it enough times it becomes easier to believe and as a result, we may not try to do certain tasks.  Yes, we may not be as strong as a man overall, but we know how to work smarter, not harder.  Think about this:  if your husband dies before or during TEOTWAWKI and it is up to you and only you, do you think it would have been beneficial to try some of those “man” things while he was still alive just to learn how to do it? I took this as my challenge this year to step up and try those things my husband would typically do.  I decided this year to use the chainsaws, use the log splitter, work with the tractor, run wire for the electric fence, and build the chicken cage and other things.  Trust me, I am married to a talented man who makes those chores look easy and he could do it all. But after his appendectomy, I kept thinking, ‘What if?”  I know I did the best I could this year and I challenge you to do the same especially if you have youngsters who depend on you should their Dad pass away.  In addition, this year I made a point of also practicing my shooting.  I focused more on my pistol, and practiced drawing, double taps and quick clip changes.  I had taken a few lessons from an NRA instructor the previous year but I was rusty. Gals, it is worth the money to pay for a good shooting instructor.  Some instructors will let you try their different guns out to for you to see what you like.  If you haven’t already, find that favorite gun you want to carry and get some lessons in using it. Go talk to the guys behind the gun counter and take some notes.  I went with a H&K .40 S&W, one of the more recent ones that had a grip that could be downsized for my hands, and a Black Hawk CQC holster made of carbon composite.  The holster doesn’t have the friction that a leather one does on draw, and this worked better for me.  Find a gun and holster that works for you, then practice.  Try a few “hips and head” shots while practicing, in case you encounter a target wearing a bulletproof vest.  While there are many good men out there who can protect a woman, they can’t always be there.  Take some of that responsibility on yourself.  A gun is a great equalizer!

You already know that it’s important to stay up on medical and dental care.   Get caught up on health issues before moving to a new retreat.  In some places it takes up to two months to get set up with new dentists and doctors, and if one doesn’t seem like a good fit, it takes more time to switch doctors.  I had to play catch up after I moved to get a delayed root canal done.  Right, no one wants to get one but it sure was a relief to have it out of the way.  I should have done it back in San Diego.  As just a side thought, if you still have your appendix and you are scheduled for another abdominal surgery, you might ask your doctor if they could go ahead and pull that appendix for you.  I was able to get my doctor to do this for me a few years back.  I think they wanted the practice for their residents and you might have a better chance getting this done at a training hospital!  Another decision I made a few years back was to have a cardiac ablation versus going on pills for an otherwise unmanageable arrhythmia.  What if I couldn’t get pills anymore?  Not fun, but glad I did it.  You have to decide for yourself.

Final advice:  If you have decided to move to a retreat, do it now.  It took a year of retreat living to get the seasonal flow of country life.  These are only the first lessons of self reliance.  My new neighbors have been a wonderful resource for me.  Should you find yourself equally blessed with good neighbors that are willing to teach you useful self reliance skills, open your ears and close your mouth. There is much to learn and practice, and you will be making edits along the way.  We are still editing and still have more to do.  Once TEOTWAWKI happens, there will be no “do over’s” in planning.

We took the leap and we like it!  We certainly pay less in taxes and in some states you can get a reduction in property taxes by operating your retreat as a farm.  Though our bodies hurt here and there, our hearts are happy in this beautiful valley.  Goodbye city life!  Green Acres we are there!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

To clarify: Snow & Nealley in Maine was formerly a complete wood cutting tool manufacturer but now is only an assembler of metal heads from China and handles from Canada.
A true US made wood cutting tool manufacturing company that uses US made steel and Grade A American hickory is Council Tool of North Carolina. Regards, - Tim in Connecticut

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Here’s a wood splitter that I’ve been using for years.  The Woodwiz Splitter is easy to using and safe way of splitting wood and it’s made in the United States.
Respectfully, - Tim McC.


In my experience, over several decades of processing hardwoods for fuel in the lake country of mid-Ontario Canada, I found no maul which can out split the venerable "chopper 1".   With or without operational springs on the wedge face, these axes, usually marketed with a tough composite handle in Canada would be my candidate to recommend as the "American made splitting tool of choice"!  I notice on eBay there are several listings.

Another thought regarding a company whose products I use and respect is Norwood sawmills. ("Quality-built in the USA and Canada"). I own and use their steel handled cant hook, their ATV log skidding arch and their tree-felling jack. I work my own wood bush on my own.  The items I mention are intended to be appropriate to your readership, meet your criterion and provide value of service.

Additionally, I would be remiss not to mention the Crosscut Saw Company.  This is for the chainsaw adverse,  the purist, the "quiet minded", or the fuel deprived. They are located in Seneca Falls, N.Y.
Regards, - Lee of the North

Another great source for American made wood cutting tools is Snow & Nealley Company in Bangor, Maine. I’ve used one of their splitting mauls for many years. The quality is unparalleled. They know a few things about logging tools in Maine. Regards, - Granite Guy from Vermont

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

I concur with your desire to purchase items made in America, but I have had some trouble finding wood splitting items made here that are of the same quality as made in Europe.  I also split my wood by hand and I have found these items very helpful:
This great maul, and
this Gränsfors splitting maul, and
The spiral twist in this wedge makes it very effective with increased mechanical advantage.
If you know of any American made wood splitting devices that are of the same quality as these, please let me know, because I would like to purchase them.  I have not yet found them.
Thanks for your help and great site, - Jim S.

JWR Replies: I am indeed a big believer in buying American-made products. I am principled about this but not dogmatically absolutist, so I do make some exceptions, namely:

  • When an imported product is more safe to use.
  • When an imported product is the only one available.
  • When an imported product is of better quality.

If I can't find a good American-made product, I first consider products from our traditional trading partners, like Canada and European nations. Failing that, then Mexico and Taiwan (free China.) I only buy products from mainland China as a last resort.

The spiral Gränsfors wedge (made in Sweden) is indeed quite efficient.

Not all of the best wedges are made in Sweden. There are indeed some other innovative wood splitting wedges--but not many are American-made. These include:

The Estwing E-5 Sure Split Wedge is made in USA. This wedge has side fins that make them more efficient. I have used these, and recommend them.

But the traditional Barco wood splitting wedge is made in USA, and you can buy four of them for the price of just one Gränsfors. And if you ever need to split a long straight log transversely (to make split rail fences, for instance), then you will need a set of six of seven of the traditional straight wedges.

Be advised that many of the other brands of wedges, axes, sledges and mauls are imported. For example, the Truper brand is made in Mexico. And most of the red-painted and green-painted wedges that you see in hardware stores are made by Shandong Jinfu, Laiwu Zhongtie, and other companies in China. And even Jorgensen brand--a company that has the temerity to still publicly proclaim "four generations of quality"--now sources many of their tools in China, including their wedges and their bench vises.

The Roughneck Wood Grenade (marketed by Northern Tool, and other companies) is made in Taiwan, and has had good reports.

There is a "no name" equivalent to the Wood Grenade that is made in Mexico.

But beware that the widely-sold "Timber Blaster" segmented wedges are all made in China.

Perhaps there are SurvivalBlog readers who know of some other American-made equivalents to the tools that you listed.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

What is a prepper’s number one tool? What is the asset that all preppers need regardless of where they are or why they are preparing? Some will say water purification, others will say food, and either others will give a list of shelter, weapons, or a medical kit. I disagree with all of these. Yes, all of these are necessary to survival and great preps to have; however, they are not the number one prep needed. After searching hundreds of lists and web sites, and watching show after show about survival, and piecing together preps on a budget, I have found the number one tool for a prepper: Knowledge.

Regardless of how well prepared you are, eventually, through time, all preps will fail. You will eventually run out of canned goods. Bullets (regardless of what television would have you believe) are not unlimited. Metal tools rust and break. Water stores will run empty. And shelters will fall. Given time, all of our preps will turn to dust and then we’ll be left with nothing but ourselves and whatever skills and knowledge we’ve acquired.

I have preps that include canned food, seeds for agriculture, extra clothing, shelter, water purification, rope, a bow and arrows, tools, extra bullets, and extra gas, but my number one prep is my book. I have made a book of roughly 2,000 laminated pages full of survival techniques, skills, and knowledge that I may potentially need. I have a section on shelter than diagrams and describes over twenty different types of survival shelter for each climate area. I have a section on water gathering and purification. I have a section dedicated solely to wild edibles and food preparation (canning, skinning, smoking meat, etc). Finally, I have a section that is full of a variety of skills I might possibly need such as how to make your own sapling bow or star charts for directions. Ultimately, the difference between survival and struggle is you.

I would suggest that every prepper make their own survival book, not for publishing, but just for you. Yes, you can go out and buy a survival book and, yes, it will save you on time and paper. However, making your own book offers benefits that buying one. The first benefit is that you will have to personally read and select each of the survival techniques you put into your book to fit your needs and situation. This will give you a general knowledge about techniques you may possibly need to use as well as what is in your book and where it is located. Making your own book also removes a lot of the “fluff” and flowery language that is contained within all books and gets to the nitty-gritty of what you, as a prepper, need.  Another benefit of making your own survival book is that you put in your book only what you need. If a prepper is living in the Southeastern United States, then why would they need a book with a section on how to survive in Alaska? Or the rain forest? Why do you need a book with a section that lists and details edible plants in Mexico if you live in North Dakota? If the situation arises where your prepper supplies will be needed, who is going to travel cross-country? With your own, personal book, you can input only what you need to know, saving space in your bug-out bag or prepper stash as well as saving you time if you need to look for something quickly. Another benefit of making your own survival book is continuity. If you have children and they are a part of your prepper plan you will be able to pass the knowledge you have gathered in your book on to your children who can then teach their children and so on. With this book you will not only be assisting in your own survival but that of your children and future generations. Making your own book that is based off of your own needs and geared towards your supplies is the absolute most important thing you can have in your preps.

As I said, some will disagree and give a large list of supplies and preps which, according to them, will be much more valuable than a survival book. Those people will not survive past a year or two unless they have a large group with a wide range of skills and knowledge. Don’t get me wrong, I am not belittling the need for water storage, food stores, shelter, and defensive preps, all of these things are absolutely necessary for a prepper, however, a person with a wide range of skills and a vast wealth of survival knowledge will last longer than the prepper who has a year’s worth of food and water but no knowledge of wild edibles or agriculture. Take the most needed resource of life; water. The average person needs about 2,250 mL of water per day that is about ¾ a gallon of water. The average prepper will have somewhere between 100- 500 gallons of water storage. If we take the middle and say most people have about 300 gallons of water stored, then those stores will last roughly a year, maybe longer. If you factor in more than one person then those 300 gallons could be gone in 3-6 months. What will you do then? Typical prepper will say build a rain catch or gather water from a river or lake. Rain water, river water, and lake water could be contaminated and your purification tablets or your water purifier won’t last forever. You might need to know how to build a solar still in order to purify your water. You may need to know how to set animal trap such as a deadfall, twitch-up snare, a bottle trap or a gill net in order to procure your family’s next meal. This knowledge will prove invaluable as more and more of your preps fail due to age or use or as situations arise that you were not prepared to handle.

Many of the skills that I feel that I may need based off of my preps and plans in the case of an emergency.  You must go though and find what’s best for you and your family for the area you are in. The information is readily available through the internet for any who are willing to look for it.

Hiding behind your preps and relying solely on them can be as dangerous as not prepping at all. As a prepper we must realize that most of our preps are short-term. Canned food and water stores will run empty. Bullets will run out. Houses will be sacked by groups of bandits and your tools and supplies will eventually break. But having this knowledge should to cause us to despair but rather to encourage us to gather and soak up as much knowledge about survival as we can. Preps are for the immediate survival situation or three months to a year of survival; a survival book is for long-term, rebuilding survival. Your knowledge is what will keep you alive whenever you have nothing and the world is collapsing around you.
In construction your survival book, I would suggest a three inch, three ring binder. I would also suggest that you laminate your pages to protect against water damage. Make sure you include both detailed pictures and descriptive instructions. I would also suggest making a copy of the book so that you can have one in your bug-out bag and one in your home preps. Make sure include food (gathering and prep), water (gathering and decontaminating), shelter, first-aid, as well as your survival plans such as various bug-out locations and directions to get there, plans for defending your home or your bug-out location, and contingency plans for everything. Make sure your survival book will have you prepared for any conceivable situation you may come up against.
To give you an idea of what you may need in your personal survival book, I will share a list of things I have in mine:

  • Food procurement
    • Deadfall trap
    • Bottle trap
    • Drag noose
    • Trot-line
    • Wild edibles in my area of the country
    • Possibly poisonous plants in my area
  •   Water
    • Solar-still
    • Rain catches
    • Natural filtering systems
  • Shelter
    • Lean-to
    • Tepee
    • Swamp bed
    • Debris hut
    • Snow shelter
    • Beach shelter
    • Desert shelter
  • First-Aid
    • Broken bones
    • Stings and bites
    • Cuts and gouges
    • Rashes
    • Medicinal plants
  • Fire
    • Fire walls
    • Fire holes
    • Different fire starting  methods
      • Battery
      • Gunpowder
      • Fire-plow
      • Bow and Drill
  • Food Preparation
    • Canning
    • Skinning
    • Smoking
  • Weapons, Tools, and Equipment
    • Making an effective club
    • Making a stone knife
    • Making bows
    • Making arrows
    • Making natural packs
  • Misc.
    • Making a raft
    • Star charts for directions
    • Making clothing from animal skins

In the end, the only thing that will keep you alive is you. If you are able to adapt to different situations and are able to defeat the obstacles that will plague your post-prepper lifestyle then you will not just survive, you will overcome.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

This is something I hear from people often: “If things go down I’ll just salt my meat!”
My answer, “Really!!!  Do you know how??”

So here’s the question I have for you folks, assume we are now at that TEOTWAWKI. How many of you really “KNOW” how to salt the meat you have on? Or how to preserve the meat you may harvest in the future?

Everyone knows in the winter, if you’re in a cold climate just hang it, it’ll freeze. They’re right it will! Good Luck carving some for dinner. Don’t believe me? Pull out a pound of frozen burger and try to carve through it! Oh Yahhh….. Take it off the counter and suspend it in the air….now try! Not much fun! You’ll burn off those calories before you know it!
There are those out there that plan to can what is in the freezer when the power goes out.  My advice here is if you plan to can it for preservation do it NOW! When things go down we’ll all have plenty to do.  As we read daily about how crazy things are going to get during those first few days; but don’t worry you’re ready you won’t have anything better to do! Truth is if you are waiting to the last minute “you won’t have anything better to get done”. You’ll really need to have those supplies processed. So avoid the rush if you’re going to can them do it now! Why wait until it’s freezer burned.

For those that do wait or those that harvest game after the fact here’s the scoop on how to cure (preserve) with salt.
1 pound of meat = 1 ounce of salt (or 6%)(1oz to 1lb is slightly high on the 6% scale but better slightly to much then not enough)
Sounds like magic doesn’t it……LOL
For every pound of meat you need 1 ounce of salt absorbed in it to cure it.
The best method I know of is done in 3 applications.
Upon harvesting the game, DO NOT let it hang to cure or crust or even to cool!
You do not need to de-bone the game!
1. Weigh your harvest. If estimating go high. Better to much salt than not enough!
2. 1lb = 1oz (we estimate 100 lbs of meat  At 6% that’s 6 lbs. of salt)
3. Break the 6 lbs. of salt into 3 equal portions. ( 3 containers of 2 lbs. I actually put it in 3 contains so I don’t forget where I am in the process…..have I treated it 2 or 3 times?)
4. Apply the first container of 2 lbs. of salt. Rub it in and cover everything! Inside, outside, top, bottom, and the end of bones! All of it! It will seem like a lot but trust me it will soak in.
5. Now cover.  Feel free to hang anywhere out of the sun.  If you don’t have a way to cover your game there is a way to keep the flies and such off of your game. Use pepper!  I do believe that is why historically the two go together.  Salt cures it and pepper keeps the insects off.
6. Wait one week.  Repeat step 4 with the second container or salt.
7. Repeat 6 with third container of salt.

At this point your game is perfectly preserved.  It can be kept almost anywhere out of sunlight.  It will with stand temperatures as high as 100degrees without spoiling.  It will keep almost indefinitely.  At this point if you want to smoke it for flavor do so. 
I am sure there are some out there that will find that to be A LOT of salt!  Far too salty for their taste buds.  If that is the case soak the amount for your meal in water before cooking.  Salt is water salable and will dissolve from the meat.  Although my granny used to say “ If the soup is to salt, you used to much meat.”
Now for the fun part……..
Now that you know how much salt it REALLY takes to preserve meat, do you have enough of it in your stores!

JWR Adds: As SurvivalBlog reader S.T. from Virginia has pointed out, the salt that you use for curing should be the PLAIN (non-iodized) variety, which is typically marked "Pickling Salt."

In a recent contest entry post, Clarence A. wrote: 'Warm up some round river rocks that are as big as you can fit into a wool sock.  When they are too hot to touch with your fingers put them in the wool sock and use them like you would a hot water bottle.'

No offense at your experience Clarence, but hot river rocks can hold moisture and can and do explode. I've had it happen camping as a kid, using a river rock for part of the fire ring, lucky no one was close when it exploded! it sent rock shards up to about 20 ft away. Please don't ever use river rocks for [intense] heating-  hot rocks do work great- but get them from some place dry like a stone wall! never use river rocks unless they have been high and dry for a while.

hot fist sized rocks wrapped in towels near your kidneys, and feet will provide about 4-5 hours warmth! I'd use the spit test, if it's sizzles it's ready. wrap them or put them in a sock, just don't put it on your bare skin!

Good advice on socks, many thanks and much respect! - MFitzy in Pennsylvania

Monday, October 21, 2013

As I observe the current concerns about our food supply and our “health” care choices, I think back to the days in the 1970s when my husband, child and I took off to the wilderness of the Adirondacks.  Even though there's so much turbulence going on now, I know that being in the middle of essentially nowhere with just your three-member family can be scary no matter how, when, or why you do it.  I was fortunate in that I was trained as a nurse in my younger days, and that experience did come in handy in being able to stay calm in the face of emergency.  But we didn't have much in the way of dependable food sources or actual medicines and so, with some trial and error, I learned to use the plants around me for nutritious food and for relief and aid for the body.

 As regards the medicinal aspect, I knew that prior to modern medicine and its drugs, there were individuals who passed down, from generation to generation, the secrets of natural healing, often using herbs and various compounds to assist the body to heal itself.  Throughout the history of man, such people have provided whatever medicinal healing that was to be had, and most of the populace was grateful for them.  We are lucky to have the wisdom of herbal know-how passed down through the generations.

In this article I will tell you about some edible and medicinal uses for wild plants that I personally learned about to help my family survive on our wilderness homestead.  This will give you an idea of how possible it is to be off the grid and to still be able to deal with feeding yourselves well, and learning effective and free ways to handle health issues that could arise.  These wild plants grow pretty much everywhere and you are very likely to find them not only in your urban backyard, but also in  wilderness areas that you might inhabit.  The fascinating thing is that while I was getting a handle on feeding us for free in the wild, I was also discovering that many of those same plants also have medicinal properties, so it's a “two-for-one” kind of deal, and the best part is that it's all free!  Nature herself has provided us with the most amazing deal in health and nutrition, and yet there's all that noise about the expense of food and of health care.  What a waste of time and energy, in my opinion.

I must remind you that the key to successful use of any wild plant, whether edible or medicinal, depends, as always, on proper identification.  I have said this many times in my books, in my 3-hour DVD, in my Wild Card playing deck, on my radio shows, in my newsletter, and in my classes years ago, etc.  It is the very first action that everyone needs to take in helping themselves to Nature's free food store and pharmacy.  I always say that you should have at least 3 good field guides to help with identification, and color photos, and then go out and practice until you know you know your plants!  However, and this is a caution that I also state continually, there are some harmful plants that resemble really wonderful wild plants.  I'm going to go into a bit of detail here to give you an idea of what I mean, and so you will understand why I emphasize certainty with your identification. 

One of my favorite wild plants is Queen Anne's Lace.  When you see the blooming flower head, you will know why it is called that.  Queen Anne's Lace is a great wild edible because you see it in many places (once you know how to identify it), and it has a long harvesting season.  I would pick the flowers and saute them for a tasty treat.  I discovered that the stems can be cut and used for flavoring in soups and stews, the leaves can be included in salads, the dried seeds from the brown fall flowers can be used as a salt substitute (but not to excess).  Once I found out how delicious the lace flowers taste fried in hot oil and then cooled on rocks at my homestead outdoor “kitchen”, I didn't miss potato chips anymore!  The roots can be gathered for a carrot substitute in the spring and fall, and you can even dig during the winter months to collect the roots.  You can see how useful this plant is for free food and to use as a very healthy salt substitute.

The thing is, unless you are careful, it is possible to mistake this wonderful plant with poison hemlock, just like it is possible to mistake mushrooms that aren't good for you with ones that are.  The answer is not to stop looking for mushrooms, it is to learn the good ones from the bad ones.  In the case of Queen Anne's Lace, the most obvious difference between it and hemlock is that the stems of Queen Anne's Lace are fuzzy, and the stems of hemlock are smooth.  So just by feeling along the stem you will be able to tell which is the good, edible plant.  Another detectable difference is that Queen Anne's Lace has a very distinctive “carrot” smell to the stem, leaves, seeds, and roots.  This information, along with other specifics on a few more poisonous look-alikes, are in my book The Essential Wild Food Survival Guide.  An additional safety guideline that I have provided in all of my wild food publications are my “Rules of Foraging”, which I developed and refined over my many years in working with and teaching wild food.  That list of rules is included at the end of this article.

My procedure after any wild food foraging adventure (and they always were an adventure, like the time I ran, almost literally, into a bear—but that's another story!) was to set aside a certain amount to eat while the food was still fresh from the fields.  With the rest I would use my dependable drying and storing methods to keep quantities available to me throughout the winter, and often for years at a time.  I would also properly prepare those plants that I had learned would be valuable for helping with body issues.  I can tell you that I was never as grateful for my knowledge of medicinal plants and my dependable identification of them as I was when there was an emergency and I saw the blood gushing out from the tip of my husband's finger from a chainsaw accident. 

One of my most reliable plants for such injuries is shepherd's purse, and I can't recommend highly enough what a good idea it is to have it in powder form readily available for emergencies.  The powder of that plant is what I put on my husband's fingertip to stem the bleeding, and I kept using it on that finger until the bleeding stopped and it was healing.  Shepherd's purse is what I used during another injury episode, when I cut off the very tip of my finger with a hatchet one time.  It grew back with no problem.  My use of that plant in both of those instances taught me the incredible medicinal value of a single plant.  The native Americans kept a little bag of shepherd’s purse seeds around their necks in case of emergency.

Shepherd's purse is not only very valuable for blood clotting, even for serious cuts like those I mentioned, but it also is a nutritious food source.  The leaves can be eaten in salads, sandwiches, soups, and as a side vegetable.  The stems and seeds can be stir fried, and the buds and flowers can be eaten raw.  Seeds can also be used as a pepper substitute, and roots can be used fresh, or dried and used as a substitute for ginger.  And this very important plant is growing freely all around! 

Another wild plant that may be even more valuable medicinally as well as nutritionally is mullein.  This plant is probably more well-known than shepherd's purse because of its amazing antihistamine properties.  I have friends who buy mullein tea, tinctures and capsules to help with bronchial relief and sinus problems.  I was very, very grateful to know about mullein when my son developed a serious cough during a 20 degree below zero wilderness winter day.  The usual pine tea and honey was not having any effect.  I could see the tips of the brown mullein spikes nearby so I went outside in the freezing cold and frozen ground and was able to dig out a foot-long mullein root.  I used it to brew a concentrated tea for my son.  He drank 2 tablespoons every hour and his cough was calmed and he proceeded to get well from that point.  You should know that mullein root tea is an effective expectorant and thus can help a person discharge the mucus from the throat and bronchial tubes.  I was so grateful that those mullein plants were “standing sentinel” outside my door and that they were available even in several feet of snow and in below zero temperature, to help me help my son. 

One summer when I was teaching a Girl Scout troop and we were on horseback, a horse kicked out and clipped the ankle of one of my scouts.  It was a bad injury.  I removed her shoe and then shouted for the other scouts to get some mullein leaves quickly, which they did.  We crushed the leaves with rocks and then made poultices and applied them onto the swollen ankle.  We used the mullein stalks as splints and the leaves became bandages until we could get the scout to the hospital.  The doctor who treated her was amazed that the girl had a chip fracture but no swelling or pain, and he wanted to know what plant was on her ankle!  Think of the savings to everyone, in terms of time, money and pain, if this valuable information where more widely known.

Here's what I learned to do when anyone in my wilderness family felt a cold coming on: I would scrub a mullein root, simmer it in water for 10 to 15 minutes, and then whoever needed it would drink the medicinal tea.  That one root could be used several times to make tea. 

When there is a burn or wound that needs healing and you have mullein leaves and a heat source, gently break up a bunch of leaves (or one large leaf), put that in a pot of water and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat, steep for 10 to 15 minutes and cool.  Take the leaves out, drain them a bit, and then place them directly over the bruised or hurt area.  Make a poultice with the cooled juice and add that to the area too.  A constant poultice will greatly aid in the healing process.  I knew that the Native Americans used mullein leaves to heal elbows and shoulders, so I figured out that placing mullein leaves in my sneakers when I knew I would be walking long distances would probably soothe my tired feet and prevent blisters, and I was right!  I put those leaves in my sneakers ever after when I went on my foraging trips.  I also liked to use mullein to help relieve the irritation from bug bites.  A different but very helpful use of mullein was for lamp wicks when we were snowed in.  A small piece of the leaf cut to size, dried, and soaked in oil will burn for quite a while. 

Another wild plant that is both edible and medicinal is plantain.  Plantain is so common that you are likely to find it growing in your lawn, in fields, and around construction sites.  It's very plentiful and useful.  There are two types of plantain:  long leaf plantain, and common plantain.  The entire plant is edible.  Young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, the stalks can be dried for vegetable chewies, the seeds used as sprouts in salads and other dishes.  But I can tell you from my own personal experience, and for anyone I know who tried it, the first thing I did for bee stings was to make a “band aid” out of the leaves of the common plantain and apply it to the sting.  Here's how I taught children to do this:  First I would show them exactly how to identify that plant.  I would then have them pick three leaves, inserting one of the leaves in between the other two, and then roll that into a cigar-shaped, cylindrical form.  I would find a rock they could hold and then I would have them pound on their leaves to make them a little bit juicy.  That inner leaf, when unwrapped and moist, becomes a poultice for the sting, to help draw out the poison.  Water could be added if needed so that the poultice is moist when applied to the sting area. 

Of course this would all need to be done quickly, but before I took children out into an area where they could be stung, I always made sure that we would scope out where there were common plantain plants.  Then we would practice making the poultices so the children knew what to do.  They just loved the idea of doing something themselves that was effective against bee stings.  My work with teaching children about wild plants, both as food sources and as freely available aids for their bodies, is one of the most rewarding aspects of everything I did in wild food.  My recently released Wild Food Homeschool Package was compiled from my wild food materials specifically so that the activities I did with children would be available to parents to teach to their children. May these children pass it on through the generations and help us get back to our roots, literally.

While the current political outlook may seem very bleak, never forget that in every wilderness area where you go to seek survival, there will be wild plants growing freely all around you.  Be sure that you have with you materials that teach you how to become certain with identification, and which also include specifics on harvesting, drying, storing and preparing wild food and wild medicine.  I have done exactly that during my life, and now I have compiled all the information I could, to help you all do the same.  I hope it will be enough to see you, and everybody you know and love, through the tough times ahead.

The Rules of Foraging
These rules are for your own protection when investigating plants that are new to you. If followed closely, they will protect you in the field.

1.) DO NOT collect plants closer than 200 feet from a car path or contaminated area.
2.) NEVER collect from areas sprayed with herbicides, pesticides, or other chemicals.
3.) DO NOT collect plants with RED STEMS, or red striations or stripes.
4.) ALWAYS BE FAMILIAR with all dangerous plants in YOUR area of collection.
5.) POSITIVELY IDENTIFY all plants you intend to use for food.
6.) Take a piece off the plant and roll between your fingers.  SNIFF CAREFULLY.  Does it smell like something you would eat?  If it doesn’t, DISCARD IMMEDIATELY.  If it does, go to rule 7.
7.) Take another piece off the plant and roll until juicy.  RUB the tiny piece on your gum above your teeth.
8.) WAIT 20 minutes.
9.) DOES YOUR GUM ITCH, BURN, TINGLE, SWELL OR STING?  If no reaction occurs, go on to rule 10.
10.) Take another piece of the plant and put in a teacup.  Add boiling water and steep for 5 minutes.  SIP SLOWLY for 20 more minutes.  WATCH FOR NAUSEA, BURNING, DISCOMFORT.  If no reaction occurs, you may ingest a small amount.
11.) WAIT ANOTHER 20 MINUTES and watch for any reaction.
12.)  Keep all samples AWAY from children or pets.
13.)  Store all seeds and bulbs AWAY from children and pets.
14.)  Teach children to keep all plants AWAY from their mouths and DO NOT ALLOW children chew or suck nectar from any unknown plants.
15.)  AVOID smoke from burning plants. Smoke may irritate the eyes or cause allergic reactions QUICKLY.
16.)  BE AWARE of your neighbor’s habits with chemicals, pesticides and herbicides.
17.)  BEWARE: heating or boiling doesn’t always destroy toxicity.

This is information about wild food.  The editors of SurvivalBlog nor the author make no claims as to the correctness, safety or usability of the data.

The information contained herein is intended to be an educational tool for gathering and using wild plants.  The information presented is for use as a supplement to a healthy, well-rounded lifestyle.  The nutritional requirements of individuals may vary greatly, therefore the author and publisher take no responsibility for an individual using and ingesting wild plants.

All data is to be used at your own risk.  Using the Rules of Foraging greatly helps to reduce that risk, but even they are not foolproof.

About The Author: Linda Runyon is a widely recognized expert on wild food foraging. Her web site is:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Mr. Rawles,

Here is a way to efficiently burn stumps:

1.  Get a 55 gallon steel drum

2.  Remove both the top and bottom

3.  Cut some holes in the lower sides from ground level to about 1/3 the way up.

4.  Place the barrel sleeve over a stump.  Put a few crumpled-up paper sacks soaked in diesel fuel in the bottom and close to some of the holes. Pile all your wood debris in the barrel. 

5.  Light the sacks. [The barrel .sleeve contains the heat, creates a draft, and keeps the wood fuel from rolling off.]

6.  Every couple of hours, poke into the holes with a metal rod to break up ash build-up.

Depending on the type of wood that you piled in and the size and type of stump, it may take between a couple hours to a couple days to burn the stump to below ground level. - P.S.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Dear Editor,
I have some comments to follow up on the letter from Kent from Illinois. I specifically left out mentioning match primers, salvaging brass with swaged primer pockets, etc., as this article was on the basics, barely touching upon a few advanced techniques.

As to touching the primers: My handloads suffered from maddening duds occasionally, until I tracked down the cause. An old timer told me about skin oils and primers. I, being a young know-it-all, could not find this old timer's story mentioned anywhere (this was way before broad public use of the Internet), so I set off to test his hypothesis for myself. I took a brand new tray of primers and opened the drawer one row. I poured the primers onto my work surface and used a clean tool to put five in my hand. I then seated these five, and then seated the other five without touching them. I later fired all ten, sans powder and projectile. The five I had kept in my palm clicked on duds twice. That is a forty percent failure rate. That was unacceptable. The other five popped off one hundred percent. The only thing differing was not touching the control batch. I recommend you try this experiment for yourself, as perhaps primers have gotten better. That was some time ago, but it proved the concept to me. Once I got a specific priming tool the problem vanished. [JWR Adds: I use an RCBS brand primer-flipping tray with a concentrically-grooved surface, and then pick up the primers with a primer feeder tube. That way my fingers never touch the primers. But I have doubts that the high failure rate that you reported was solely due to skin oils. There must have been another factor.]

As to the length of the loaded round, If you will check some SAAMI specs on specific calibers you will note that most will have at least an eighth of an inch of leeway (the distance from minimum to maximum length) in overall length, in many calibers (.357 Magnum, for instance, MIN: one point four zero five, MAX: one point five nine. This is well over an eighth, point one two five. I think most can measure to a sixteenth with a [machinist's] ruler). This can hardly be considered a critical measurement, in an article where sometimes, as in the die interior, one thousandth of an inch is critical. [JWR Adds: I disagree. Lining up a cartridge alongside ruler allows for variances from 90 degree alignment with your eye. (Bullets are tapered, so their tips will not be right along side the ruler markings. Physically calipering removes that error, and is far more accurate. Bullet seating depth can also affect accuracy, and it is crucial for getting a good crimp that properly engages a bullet's s cannelure.]

And as to the tapping on the case and bullet, I did forget one important detail: A small wooden block (and care to tap and not pound) should be used to prevent damage to the case or bullet, as in the Lee loader instructions. I also should have listed this block in the basic equipment. Thanks for noticing and allowing me to improve the article. - Ken from Montana

Thursday, October 10, 2013

I am an active prepper. I do not have a retreat or bug-out vehicle (yet), but I do what I can for bugging-in and preparing for emergencies. I have extensive food and water preps, tactical supplies, and all of the other trappings of modern-day prepping. Although my family is aware of my prepping, and support my efforts, they are not “in the loop” with how to do what, when to do it, and what to do it with. I have come to realize that many of my preps will be useless if anything happens to me. A good example of this is my emergency comm gear. It’s good gear, easily accessed, and will work well, but there are no user-friendly instructions on how to use the gear. Another example would simply to list where everything is located, as my preps are spread throughout the home, vehicles, and remote locations. There are many, many things that I can do with the gear, but might be a stretch for my wife and children, simply due to the lack of instructions.

To this end I have begun documenting all of the needed information regarding our preps. This is being done in plain text, and then a printed copy will be hidden, and a copy given to my wife. Digital versions on the thumb drive are encrypted with a password that we all know well. The docs begin with a detailed inventory that gives location, quantity, and a short description. After the inventory I have started writing how-to docs for each area of need, and the level of detail is just deep enough to get the job done. As is the case with most such articles on preps, bug-out-bags, etc., I begin with water, food, shelter, protection, safety, communications, and lastly, comfort. I have kept the technical jargon to a minimum, and intend to solicit feedback from my family to clear up any points that need it.

With regard to each are of prepping, in some short discussions with my family that safety and security are two areas where considerable discussion was required before writing my docs. The reason is very predictable, my family consists of my wife and two teenage daughters. While they are all very sharp, and quite capable, some aspects of safety and security are difficult for them to accept. An example is the need to hide the bulk of our preps, while leaving a substantial quantity of food and water out in the relative open. I think this is needed because looters WILL come, and they can more easily dealt with if they are not coming up empty-handed. The other reason may be obvious, they might give up looking once they think they have taken all they can find, so the bulk of our preps will be secure. My family thinks that there will no looters, and that if I think there will be, then we should hide all our preps. Another example is dealing with strangers. My family of females is not as callus as I am, and will want to lend aid much too readily. After having lengthy discussions with my family, I was careful to re-state my concerns for security in the related docs. Mainly, be cautious and suspicious at all times. We should always be ready to lend aid and be charitable, but individual safety comes first. My rules are simple, in an emergency situation, no one outside the family is allowed in the house, and if we are providing any sort of aid the recipient will remain at least twenty-five  feet from the door until it is closed and locked, no exceptions.

In creating my docs, I have tried to write instructions as I perform a task, at least mentally. I have found that when I describe how to do things, I leave out small details that I take for granted. Don’t do this! Be exacting when it counts. We don’t want to bog-down anyone with too much detail, but overlooking a small but critical detail could be disastrous. A prime example is the fact that my gun safe key must be turned before dialing-in the combination or it wont open. It’s a key feature of the safe, and a detail I have long since just taken for granted. Although a tiny detail, this could easily hinder my family in my absence. I’m sure you can all think of dozens of small things similar in this respect.

Another aspect of preparing these docs is the printed version. Digital copies are valuable, I store mine on a pair of thumb drives, but printed copies are mandatory. If there is no computer to read the docs, they are useless. I have started printing my docs on waterproof paper, using larger than normal (14 pt) bold type font. They are then placed in zip-loc bags with moisture absorbers  and stored in a predetermined location, high above the water line of any potential flood. My wife thinks putting a copy in a fire safe is a good idea, I may agree with her. (it’s so hard admitting she’s right!). I have read articles about encoding printed docs, but it seems to be a dangerous practice, except maybe for very sensitive information, and the need for that kind of secrecy is far outweighed in my mind by the need to get the information quickly in an emergency situation. We’re talking about how to start the generator here, not nuclear launch codes!
I believe that the digital copies of these docs should be written and saved in a simple .txt format whenever possible, even if encrypted. You never know what sort of device or program you might have to open them on. The more universal the format, the better. If you have diagrams or pictures, consider using a PDF format for those. The PDF format is widely supported on computers, phones, tablets, just about any digital device available. If you will be printing docs that must contain actual photos, try and use high-contrast black and white in all of your images. In the long run, these images will last longer and will maintain readability better under adverse conditions, and the high contrast will make them easier to read under low-light conditions. Regarding storage of the printed docs, I found some surplus Army signal flare tubes that seem to fit the bill perfectly for this task.  I also put a chemical light stick in the tubes with the docs. This way we have a ready light source if needed to read them in the dark. I found the tubes at a local gun show, but I bet there are millions of these things out there on Ebay and military-surplus outlets. Another idea would be just to make your own tubes with PVC pipe and screw-on caps. If the tube does not fit your docs, there are countless waterproof containers out there. You might even consider fireproof containers in addition to waterproof containers.

So far my family has been supportive in giving me feedback on my docs and it’s going well. I expect that will change some as we get into more sophisticated activities like setting the channels up on a 2 meter hand held radio, or setting the bait hook on a small game trap. In the end, I believe that my preps will be complimented well by a good set of documents and procedures. My original thought was to provide the needed information to my family in the event that I was not here, for whatever reason. After several weeks of typing, I am keenly aware that there were some things I needed to brush up on as well. Now more than ever, I think it’s true: you don’t know how to do anything well until you can tell someone else how to do it. I strongly suggest that you use this opportunity to use and test gear and practice using tools and techniques, having found many times that some things were much easier to do in my memory than they currently seem to be. It can also be a great opportunity to get your family more involved in the practical side of preparation. We live in the deep south east where hurricanes are quite common, and I love the thought of my family knowing how to take care of themselves in the event of any emergency. It also gives me a chance to spend more time with my kids, and that’s always good.

So to recap my thoughts here:

  1. Make a good inventory of all of your preps.
  2. Write a detailed how-to document for each prepping item.
  3. Make no assumptions, where needed be very thorough.
  4. Store digital copies in an encrypted file.
  5. Use a safe but easy-to-remember password on your files.
  6. Make printed copies on waterproof paper.
  7. Store multiple copies of digital and printed versions in safe locations.
  8. Review the docs with the people that will be using them.
  9. Use the docs to practice using tools and techniques.
  10. Setup a periodic review and update schedule for updating your docs.

I hope others find this informative, good luck with all of your preps, I hope you never need them!

For more in depth information on encryption, see the Wikipedia page on encryption software.

And this link will take you to the free encryption software that I use:

Some really good sources for waterproof paper can be found using these links:

Or, you can waterproof your own paper.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Keep up the good work! Now that everyone knows the woes of removing a tire, does anyone check the spare tire to see if it holds air etc? Most people don't check the tires on a road trip, let alone daily driving or the condition of the spare tire. I would ask everyone to make sure the spare tire is not only inflated, but holds air for more than a day or two!

This should go before the first post: Do you have a proper (working) and weight-rated jack to lift the vehicle, and do you know where to place the jack, (i.e.: does the vehicle have a frame or or is it a unibody design)?

Do You know which wheels are locked by the parking brake? And more importantly, once the wheel is removed (if it was a parking brake wheel) how did you immobilize the vehicle so it doesn't roll and fall on you while the wheel is off? (i.e. wheel chocks)  

OBTW, I keep small (but professional) tire plug kits around all the time. (These include a reamer, plug tool, cement, etc.) . Regards, - Solar Guy

Monday, October 7, 2013

This letter is in response to your link to a post by Ross Gilmore: Living Off The Land: Delusions and Misconceptions About Hunting and Gathering.  It's a well-written article and I'd like to expand upon it.

I've been teaching Stone Age skills for 29 years and I've spent most of my adult life in the backcountry of Idaho and British Columbia.  I never purchased meat or fish from a store for about 20 years, though I consumed a lot.  I've lived Stone Age for short periods of time, living completely off the land using only the skills and tools of long ago... handmade longbow with obsidian-tipped arrows, stone knife, cordage snares and deadfall traps, etc.

I've now moved to the other wilderness, Los Angeles, where I'm sharing my skills and learning new lessons every day... but that's another story.

Meeting one's caloric needs directly from the land is an idea filled with Dances with Wolves romanticism.  Most people have no idea what it's really like.  I have been reduced to such a weakened state from lack of calories that walking 100 yards required stopping to rest, and that was after only a week of living off the land.  That experience occurred in the mountains of Oregon in the Hell's Canyon Wilderness in May, "springtime."  Spring in the mountains there meant that I was snowed on, hailed on, and rained on, and water froze solid every night.  I was likely burning through at least 7000 calories per day, and my main source of calories, bisquitroot (Lomatium spp.), provided 2-3 calories per gram.  Now, 2-3 calories per gram is very high for most wild food, but I still required about 15 pounds of it per day to break even!  I couldn't eat that much.

However, something that Ross Gilmore doesn't point out is that there is a transition period during which our bodies acclimate to new foods.  Much of that acclimation takes about a week, after which a person more efficiently processes wild foods and more efficiently utilizes the energy.  We adjust.  Part of the adjustment comes from our flexible metabolism: our metabolism shifts to match food intake.  When there is inadequate food, we have a desire to move slower and sleep more.  That's why "Naked and Afraid" people lay around so much.  However, a person getting close to adequate calories after the transition from conventional to natural food sources will feel more energized after that weeklong adjustment.

Trapping is the way to go for efficient harvesting of calorie-dense food.  My success rate for traps is 1 kill for every 3-4 traps set, per night.  However, most of the survival instructors that I've met lack the experience to set traps in the best locations, quickly and efficiently.  Paiute children were reported to set up to 75 deadfall traps in a day, using trap sticks previously made.  Now, at my success rate, that means about 20 critters per day.  The ground squirrels in Paiute country are huge, but let's figure a mix of ground squirrels, pack rats and mice and estimate half a pound of meat, organs and fat per animal.  That's 10 pounds per day.  An average adult needs about 2 pounds.

But let's be realistic.  Most instructors cannot set more than a dozen Paiute deadfalls in a day and their success rate is dismal.  And I'm talking about the people who teach this stuff for a living.

Understanding local resources intimately is key, as Ross pointed out.  So is timing.  Harvesting and storing acorns at the appropriate time means food is always available, and some of the California tribes consumed up to half of their year's calories via acorns.  However, most tribes did not store huge amounts of food during pre-agricultural times.  They didn't have to.  The keys are intimate knowledge of the environment, timing, extensive knowledge and skills, and action.  Rise early in the morning to stand hunt, then set traps in the mid-late morning while opportunistically hunting, forage easy items as you go, middle of the day process food/work around camp/make traps and tools, then during the evening hunt or set more traps while opportunistically hunting.  Each day cover 2-5 miles, depending on your environment.

When I lived in areas with chipmunks, setting a deadfall trap resulted in almost 100% success within a few hours.  In the Midwest during summer, a day in the woods covering 5 miles while carrying a bow would yield way more calories than required in the form of snakes, frogs, chipmunks, perhaps a grouse or larger animal, and a wide variety of plant foods that are consumed on the go.

In the mountains of Idaho and British Columbia, one elk provides 350 pounds of meat.  When you include the fat, organs and bones (lots of fat is stored within the bones, which must be smashed and boiled to extract) and take the time to properly preserve the animal, you can leisurely enjoy the rest of your year!  Most of the meat I preserved in Idaho was simply cut thin and laid over bushes where it dried just fine in one day.

In Ross' example of living off the land, legally, in New York, conditions would be tougher.  Killing 12 bucks is illegal and keeping to the hunting season would be difficult, but there are many other easier sources of calorie-rich foods.  Raccoons, beaver, cats and dogs (during the Zombie Apocalypse), and rodents... these animals are easy to trap in abundance in the right areas.  Remember, 1 success out of every 3-4 traps set by a skilled individual.  Imagine a marsh with muskrats and beaver, plus raccoons working the banks, and an abundance of cattail roots, shoots and seeds (yes, you can fluff up the dry seed heads and flash burn the fluff from the seeds.  Very tasty and high in calories.)  Marshes also have waterfowl, possibly fish and crayfish, frogs, snakes and turtles.  FYI, every animal in North America can be eaten, including skunk.  I've done it.  

My point is that living off the land is easy under certain conditions and with a lot of skill, and that it requires specific actions.  My point is also that most survival instructors do not have the skills or experience to teach it well.

What really doesn't work is the idealized notion that "I'll just go out and find food."  I have many years of experience in identifying plants and learning how to efficiently harvest and process them.  I've learned by doing.  I've set traps that fell down before an animal found it, or the animal stole the bait.  I've spent countless days watching deer trails and walking back to camp empty-handed.  You have to put in your time.

I have yet to see a television show in which the participant/s follow an intelligent course of action for long-term living.  Most of the shows are about toughing out the conditions until they get back to the safety and abundance of civilization.  What a shame.  The outdoors are portrayed as a dangerous place to get out of.  That mentality does not provide good information for someone who is serious about meeting his needs directly from the land in ways that are easy and efficient.  Eating a few willow buds, as "Survivorman" Les Stroud did on one of his episodes, and proclaiming, "Mmmmm... this will give me some energy" is inexcusable.  It's lying.

One last comment about Ross' article: dried mashed potatoes are nice if you want a tasty conventional addition to your wild foraging, but it's not the most efficient food to bring.  Fats and oils contain 9 calories per gram.  That's the food to carry if you are wanting maximum calories.

Get outdoors, get dirty, practice real skills in real situations, and bring a lighter and "back up" supplies... just in case.

Chris Morasky, Ancient Pathways of SoCal

JWR Replies: I agree with you and Mr. Gilmore! In many of my writings over the years, I've warned that the "Batman in the Boondocks" approach is foolhardy. Anyone who thinks that they can a carry all that they need in one backpack to survive in the wilds for extended periods is fooling themselves. That would be perilous even in the present day. But to expect to be able to do so in the midst of a societal collapse is just plain laughable. Just think how many other people will simultaneously be attempting to "live off the land." Except in very remote regions, the streams and rivers will be fished out and the wild game will be largely shot out and trapped out, in less than a year. And what little game remains will be quite spooked. A self-sufficient farm with a variety of crops and livestock, hay cutting ground, and an adjoining woodlot is a much more realistic solution

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The king of the hill when it comes to breaking loose lug nuts is the four-way lug wrench.

It is also called a "cross wrench" by some folks. I have used them since I was a child learning everyday fixes from my father in the 1960s. But beware of cheaply-made imports.

I have bent and actually broken a few of the cheap ones while helping friends break lugs loose on their vehicles using their cheap four way lug wrenches that I had told them not to buy, but they ignored my advise and went cheap. Sitting on a desolate dirt road, in the dark while in pouring rain 20+ miles from nowhere with a flat or blowout and a broken lug wrench is not my idea of fun.

While I cannot remember the manufacturer of the lug wrenches that I have (they are in my vehicles) but here is a link to a USA manufacturer of four way lug wrenches. I suggest anyone that is shopping for one (or more) to look at the web page and decide which one fits their needs (they make both standard and metric) and look for that exact model. As the saying goes; "Buy once, Cry once."

The Professional model wrenches have a drop forged center for extra strength, and can be found on Amazon with free shipping.

(I have no affiliation with either Ken Tool or - Tim P.


I have a comment on the prevention side of things concerning lug nuts.
A friend of mine who lives in southern Arizona had his tires rotated. This was performed by a major tire chain and the incident occurred a few years ago. The rotation occurred in his home town and he traveled north in cold weather.
On his return he encountered rather cold weather, below freezing actually. He had a tire failure of the sort not expected. As he was driving his right front tire was observed ahead of his vehicle which caused him to decide to stop...once the realization that it was his tire sunk in. Upon investigation he observed that all of the studs had sheared from the hub. He spent quite awhile on the side of the road pulling each of the other tires, removing a stud from each of the remaining hubs, then installing them into the failed hub just to get home.
Root cause was determined to be over torqued nuts on the failed hub. Turns out the major tire chain did not actually torque lug nuts to the recommended value at that time. Add an air rachet into the equation and and this was the result. Seems that as he was traveling in near arctic temperatures the hub cooled to the point where the studs shrunk to the point where the torque applied exceeded the shear value of the studs. Needless to say I observe my tire installations closely...and that same company now torques everything. - Kevin D.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Mr Rawles,

I'm writing to make a few points about the article Ken in Montana wrote about reloading, as there are some issues I have with it. I've only been reloading since 1999, but . . . .

First, Winchester primers are also brass in color, so anything other than silver doesn't automatically mean they're Remington. Additionally, people who are just getting into reloading should ask around about the reliability of the primers they're going to use, as some primers have harder cups and don't detonate reliably. I generally only use Winchester and CCI.

I'd be interested to know where Ken is getting his "dies." I've never seen a die sold for $2--even at an estate/garage sale. Ken's description sounds more like the Lee loading tools sold for people who do not have reloading presses. Those don't even sell for that price, and are extremely slow tools to use for loading--even slower than using a single stage press.

If you want to clean your range brass and don't have a tumbler, the best way I've found is to soak it in a sink or pail full of water, then run it under a tap or hose in a mesh bag to flush away the debris.

If you use a lubricant for your cases, take care not to get it into the mouth of the case, as it will contaminate the powder and could make it fail or only partially ignite. A best practice for those not using something like Hornady One Shot would be to clean the cases a second time after depriming.

Ken left out one category of primers--match primers. Match primers are generally a bit more sensitive than regular primers, to decrease issues when firing precision rifle and pistol matches. More on this in a bit, but most people will not need match primers for general purpose applications.

For magnum primers, readers should be aware that the reason there is more priming compound is to consistently ignite the generally larger powder charges found in magnum loads. Additionally, some companies, like Winchester, make the same primers for normal and magnum pistol loads.

My main issue with the article is in the primer handling and seating section. Unless you have a great deal of dirt or oil on your fingers, simply touching a primer will not cause it to fail. I've been using my fingers to flip primers for well over a decade with no bad results. Novices should not discard primers simply because they've touched them.

When seating a primer, a primer pocket loose enough to simply press primers into with hand pressure is probably one loose enough to have the primer shake loose under recoil. I would probably discard a case like that.

Additionally, because of the prevalence of surplus brass on ranges and in purchased ammunition, a reloader should NEVER strike a case mouth the seat a primer--this is an inherently dangerous practice, since primers are detonated in firing by impact. Military brass primers are crimped into place, and the crimp makes the primer pocket mouth smaller. Trying to seat a primer into a crimped primer pocket by striking the case could detonate the primer. There are multiple tools designed to remove the crimp from primer pockets. Many surplus cartridges can be identified by a circled cross on the head stamp (the base of the case where the manufacturer, year of manufacture, and caliber are stamped). Additionally, striking the mouth of the case could deform it, requiring resizing the case mouth or discarding the case if it is damaged badly enough.

When selecting a loading manual, novices should really buy one published by a powder or reloading equipment manufacturer, rather than by a bullet manufacturer. Contrary to the writer's claim, all bullet manufacturers do NOT publish load data--this is especially true for regional manufacturers and those who make bullets that are not jacketed. The reason I say this is because powder and reloading equipment manufacturers will publish data for a type of bullet (like a 230 grain full metal jacket), as opposed to a specific model of bullet (like a Hornady 230 grain XTP). While it's generally acceptable to use load data for bullets of the same weight and type by different manufacturers, novices may not know that.

The author's method of seating bullets is a little suspect as well. Tapping it into place with a mallet could lead to placing the bullet off-center, potentially damaging the case mouth. Additionally, if the case mouth is not belled during the loading process, you may shave the jacket or some lead off of the bullet. This could change the bullet's profile and potentially lead to issues with headspacing (especially for pistol bullets) if not the shavings are not cleaned off. Finally, I've noticed the author doesn't cover crimping the case mouth, which is very important. Bullets not crimped into the case can pull under recoil, and not crimping the case mouth can cause failures to feed--especially in cartridges that headspace from the case mouth (like the .45 ACP).

The author's rather cavalier attitude about overall length is slightly less alarming than his attitude about priming. Bullets seated too deeply into the case can also cause excess pressure and damage the gun and injure the shooter. A ruler is not accurate enough, and different bullet styles will not look similar enough to judge proper seating by eye. Get a set of calipers which show the measurement to the thousandth. Sincerely, - Kent from Illinois

Friday, October 4, 2013

With the current shortage of ammunition and the consequent high prices, it makes more sense now than ever before to learn how to reload your own fired brass casings.  I even suspect that in the future, this may well be the only way for the ordinary citizen to obtain ammunition. It's not at all difficult, it only requires a little understanding of the process, and the ability to follow directions. This will become very important later, as each caliber requires its own set of powders, charges, primers, and bullets. No one can learn them all, there are millions of potential combinations. But the data has already been compiled for you in hundreds of tables in loading manuals(more on these later...) and on the Internet.

As a reloader of my own ammunition since 1977, I have come to think that it is not nearly so mysterious as people make it seem. There are many miscommunications, even down to so basic a concept as the “bullet”. Despite what you hear on television and see in the movies, the bullet is the [projectile] part that flies downrange, the actual projectile itself. The complete loaded round consisting of the case, the primer, the powder, and the projectile (or bullet) is actually known as a “cartridge”, or simply a round. This terminology might seem unimportant at first glance, but it is as necessary for the reloader as the words “engine”, and “transmission”, are for a mechanic. The brass case, usually made of brass, is the part ejected out of the gun after the round is fired from a semi auto action, or manually extracted from other firearms. The “primer” is the little silver-colored (or gold-colored if Remington brand) round thing pressed into the center of the rear portion of the brass case, known as the case's “head”. The firing pin strikes the primer in order to fire the round. This is for centerfire cartridges. Rimfires, such as the .22 Long Rifle, are not reloadable and so will not be discussed here.

The open end of the case is called the “mouth”. The gunpowder is measured (or weighed) and poured into the mouth of the case, and then the bullet is seated into the case, on top of the powder. There are a few basic tools required such as a rubber or wooden mallet, a small funnel or piece of paper, and perhaps a punch and a pair of pliers.

There are also a few specialized tools needed, but they are quite cheap at the starter level. A good gunpowder scale that will measure in grains will usually be needed. A lab scale that measures in milligrams will work, but the result will have to be converted to grains, and a math mistake here could have serious consequences later. The powder charge needs to be quite precise. Real powder scales that measures in grains directly can often be found at swap meets and flea markets for $20. They are about $40 to $100 brand new. The one other indispensable tool is the die, specific to each caliber you wish to reload. They are around $2. I recommend buying dies new, at least until you become experienced enough to recognize a damaged or worn out die just by looking inside it.

This die is a round piece of hardened steel, with a hole in the center machined the exact size that the cartridge should be, according to the specs published by the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute, or SAAMI (pronounced “sammy” in true acronym fashion). Pushing the case into this die will swage(squash in diameter) the case back down to the proper size, after firing has expanded it. The case is fed into the die, mouth end first, and then tapped into the die with a mallet, or pressed in, if one owns a reloading press. This process is known as “resizing” the case. This die will usually also contain a pin, known as a “decapper” which will push the spent primer out of its recess (known as the “primer pocket”) in the case head.

CAUTION: before this is done, the dirty case should be cleaned in some way, as gritty cases will cause excess wear in your die, and a big enough piece of debris  might even scratch your die, rendering it useless. Well, maybe not quite useless, but it will scratch your brass cases from then on, and sometimes cause them to stick in the die, meaning more time lost as you clear the die with a punch or some similar tool. There is no buffing the scratch out, as that would make the inside of the die oversize, and then it will not do the job of resizing. Even a thousandth of an inch matters here. A rag and some solvent will clean the grit off the cases nicely. There are also special tumbling or vibrating washtubs, similar to rock polishers, that clean many cases at a time, making the job quicker and easier. After the case is cleaned, it should be lubricated so that it won't stick in the die. The reloading component manufacturers make special lubes for this, and they only cost a few dollars for enough to do many thousands of rounds, but any type lubricant will do.

Now, with a sized and decapped case, the next step is to replace the spent primer, as this will ignite the new powder charge. Primers are bought in trays of 100, or cases of 1000, in most any sporting goods store. They come in four basic types: small pistol, large pistol, small rifle, and large rifle. All four types also have a “magnum” primer as a subtype. The small and large refer to the actual size of the primer. Some cases have a small primer pocket, and some a large. Usually, smaller cartridges will use small primers, and so on as one would expect, but not always, so be sure to look up the primer size of the cartridge you are loading before you buy. Or just tell the clerk what caliber you intend to load and if he doesn't know offhand he will certainly have the ability to look it up.

The rifle and pistol refers to the steel cup the priming compound is housed in. Rifles operate at much higher pressures than pistols, so require a more robust primer cup in order to withstand these high pressures without rupturing. But pistols do not hit the primer hard enough to set off the thick, tough rifle primers. They require thinner and softer primer cups, which is fine at the pistols lower pressure levels. This is another of the detail areas. Make sure never to mistake a pistol primer for a rifle primer. A rifle primer in a pistol will only lead to dud rounds, but a pistol primer in a rifle case might well lead to a pierced primer when fired, which would then allow muzzle blast to come out the rear of the chamber. Not a good situation. Many loading mistakes can generate excessive chamber pressures, but modern firearms have a large built-in safety margin, and also mechanisms to divert the hot gases away from the shooter, even if the primer or case head should rupture.

The magnum moniker just means that the primer contains more priming compound, thus giving a bigger flame, to set off the large charges of the very slow burning powders needed by the large capacity magnum rifle rounds. In my experience pistols don't need magnum primers, not even in the large magnums like the .44 Magnum or .454 Casull. It doesn't hurt to use magnum primers in a non magnum case, but they do cost more, which seems a waste, unless it is needed for proper ignition.

When handling primers individually, it is important to use small pliers, tweezers, forceps, or something similar to keep from touching them with your skin. Even chopsticks or toothpicks will work, if you are good enough with them. The slightest amount of any oil, including your skin oils, will deactivate the pressure sensitive material within, leading to dud rounds that won't fire. The primer is placed on the primer pocket, and simply pressed in. If one does not have a reloading press, I found the best way was to place the new primer, open side up, on a semi firm surface, such as a thick piece of solid(not corrugated) cardboard, or a hardcover book. Then place the case, mouth up, on top of it. Then simply tap the mouth of the case down unto the primer until it is flush with the case head. Care must be taken not to strike so hard that the primer will be set off. If you do, it will sound like a large cap from a cap pistol, but unless you happen to be looking down into case at the time, it is unlikely to cause injury. But it will waste the primer and then you must start over again. Besides, loud noises are scary when you are reloading. Dump the whole tray of primers out on a sheet of light weight cardboard, after folding up the edges to make a shallow box (there are plastic "primer flipping trays" for this, $5 or less) so they won't all roll around. Then turn each one open end up--either by swirling a primer flipping tray, or manually with a small tool. Then I use a needlenose pliers to transfer them one at a time to the surface of the book and seat that one, and then so on until I'm finished priming.

Now, it is time for the scale. A measured charge, of a specific amount, of a specific powder,  must now be added to the case, on top of the primer you just pressed in, under the bullet which you will seat in the next step. This article will only deal with smokeless powder, or guncotton. Black powder is that “other gunpowder” (more misconceptions) that is used in flintlocks and such, that throw out the huge cloud of white(the powder is black, the smoke is white) smoke when fired. Make sure never to confuse black and smokeless powders. There are many different grades of smokeless powder, by many different manufacturers. The primary difference between them is the rate at which they burn. A fast burn rate is for small cases and short barrels, such as pistol rounds. The larger the caliber's powder capacity, the slower the powder will need to burn, and also the firearm will need a longer barrel to take advantage of the extra powder to generate the higher velocities. This trade off is why pistol calibers are commonly short and fat, whereas rifle rounds are generally much longer and with much heavier bullets, even though the bore diameter might be the same. For example, the .35 Remington rifle cartridge will take up to a 220 grain bullet, whereas the .357 magnum pistol round, with the exact same .357 inch bore, has a 158 grain bullet as the heaviest available.

One can look up charge weights for different calibers and bullets on the Internet (search for: “loading data .45 ACP”, to get loads for the 45Aauto, for example), but the most convenient way is to have a book known as a “reloading manual”. These run about $25 (new) and each bullet manufacturer produces their own manual for the bullets that they make. They are all full of great general information and loading tips, but the bulk of the manuals are dedicated to tables showing which powders are for which caliber, and exactly how much of which powder for the particular bullet you wish to load. As a rule, the heavier the bullet in a given caliber, the less powder one must use. Heavier bullets will have more momentum because of their extra mass, but they will also push back harder on the expanding gases driving them up the bore. This will generate higher pressures, so the powder charge must be reduced, giving less velocity than a lighter bullet. Thus we note that the bullet and powder charge are co-dependent upon each other, and must be selected together. The easiest way to do this is to select the bullet that you want to use, and then go “shopping” in the manuals(or on the web) for powders that will work for that bullet in your caliber. Then pick the one that generates the most velocity with the powders that you have available. Once a powder, charge weight, and bullet has been decided upon, it is simply a matter of weighing it out and using a small funnel, or a small cone made of paper, to pour it into the case mouth without spilling any(remember, the powder charge should be precise).

Now, all that is left is to seat a new bullet on top of the powder, and you will have a round ready to fire! To do this you place the new bullet, flat side down, into the case mouth that you just filled with powder, and then simply tap it home with the mallet. You need to make sure that the newly loaded round is not too long, but the very scientific process of TLAR (that looks about right) works pretty well. When it looks about right, check the overall length against the SAAMI specs (on the web or from the loading manual), to make sure it is not too long. A ruler works fine for this, as the previous precision is not needed here. Too short is seldom a problem, as around the point of minimum length the cartridge usually begins to look strange. Even if the bullet is seated too deeply, usually the only adverse effect, other than a reduction in accuracy, is potential feeding malfunctions. If a round is too long, it will either fail to go in the magazine, fail to chamber, or worse it could seat the bullet into the rifling, thus creating excess chamber pressures which could even damage your firearm. In any case the overall length specification has a fair bit of leeway in most cartridges. It is fairly easy to get the length between the minimum and the maximum specs, often just by eye. Many bullets will have a “cannelure”, or crimping groove, around their circumference. These bullets should be seated until this ring is lined up with the case mouth.

Once all these steps are complete, the round is ready to fire. However, if it is to be fired in a semi-auto action, it should undergo one final step, the bullet should be taper crimped into the case. This requires yet another die, but this step is optional. The worst that will happen to uncrimped bullets is that the rounds in the bottom of the magazine might become seated deeper into the case by recoil, and get below the minimum overall case length. In manual actions crimping is not usually necessary.

Of course, this has been vastly simplified, as there is a great deal more than these simple basics. An experienced reloader can make his own bullets, and even make his own black powder, but smokeless powder is too dangerous to manufacture outside of laboratory conditions. They can even make cases, and thus load ammunition, for calibers that no longer exist. There are professional reloaders who do just that for a living. Mostly due to the sport of cowboy action shooting, which often uses calibers that have not been manufactured for decades. Also, it is sometimes far cheaper to use another cheap case, as the basis for a more expensive caliber, such as making 300 Blackout brass from the 5.56mm military surplus case.

This, of course, is only the beginning as one can purchase many accessories to make the job easier and quicker including presses, priming tools that hold a whole tray at a time and never require you to touch the primers at all, digital and automatic scales, and "powder measures" that, once set for a particular weight of a particular powder, will continue to measure out that amount at the pull of a handle. So much quicker than weighing each charge! One can even purchase multiple station presses that will do each of these operations, to many separate cases, all at once. These, once set up, will drop a loaded round for you, each time you work the press handle. One can even buy automated presses with no lever, that only need to be monitored and fed reloading components. These will do all processes by themselves, feeding cases, decapping, repriming, adding powder, bullet and crimp, and dropping loaded rounds, one at a time, with no input from the operator, and continue for as long as they have components. These are very expensive though, and still require a highly experienced operator, as all complex machinery does.

One big shortcut that I can heartily recommend is a product called the Lee reloading kit. Lee is a brand and no, I am not, nor have I ever been, affiliated with them. It is just the way I started loading way back in the 1970s, and it always worked well for me. They are for only one caliber, but they are cheap, they last virtually forever (unless you feed enough dirt into the die to scratch its walls, but that is true for any die, from any manufacturer), and they are easy and simple to use. They include the size die for whatever caliber it is, the decapping pin, small plastic powder measure(like tiny measuring cups with long handles) to cover a range of powder charge weights, and instructions with tables telling you what measure to use for which powders and charges, and tables with some loading data to get started with. With this kit you won't even need the powder scale that I listed as an essential. All you really need is in that kit, but you will find many more items that you will want, quickly enough. For example, with only the plastic powder measures you will be extremely limited in the types and weights of powder you must use, but it works fine. In fact, it is the most foolproof way to load, as there is no scale that could be misread, no measuring chamber to set or calibrate, etc. All one needs to do is look up in the tables provided which measure you want for the powder charge desired, select that measure, dip it in powder to fill the measure, and then use a flat object, such as the back side of a knife, to level the measure off, as one would do while measuring flour. Then drop it into the case, seat a bullet, and a loaded cartridge is completed.

From here, the sky is the limit as your experience increases. Soon you will find yourself wanting a scale so you can use any powder and charge, not just the few listed in Lee's tables. With a scale you can still use the Lee measures, you will just need to fill one with the unlisted powder you want to use, and then drop it on your scale and weigh it to know what size charge that size of measure throws with that particular powder. A single station press will probably be wanted next, as the tapping with the mallet method is slow. Don't get me wrong, this method is not difficult, just time consuming. A couple of hours will only produce 20-40 cartridges. Not really practical for shooting 500 rounds from a semi-auto, for example. At the other end of the spectrum are the multi stage progressive presses that can load up to a thousand rounds an hour. There is even a press that is built for working in your lap using both hands, so you can have a portable reloading setup!

All the loading data, ballistic charts, burning rates of various powders, bullet types, and more can all be found in the loading manuals. There is such a wealth of firearms related information in them that I would recommend every shooter have one, even if he never has any intention of reloading. All of the equipment, supplies, and components are sold in most any sporting goods store. You might need to ask the man behind the gun counter, though, because the reloading stuff is often kept in the back, or at least behind the counter. A good gun shop will also be glad to answer any other questions that might arise. They are generally happy to help a beginning reloader, as reloaders usually shoot much more than non-reloaders, meaning more sales. While it is true that reloading your ammo is much cheaper than buying factory, I have found that whatever money is saved, is generally spent on more components. Thus the reloader really gets to shoot lots more for same money, rather than actually saving any. Of course, if you only want the savings they are there, as reloaded ammo generally runs 25-50% of the price of factory ammo with the same bullet. This is 50 to 75% off! Quite a sale! That didn't work for me. I found that whatever I saved, and usually more besides, got spent on ammo anyway. I just ended up shooting a lot more!

Well, that's it, that's all the basics. The rest is up to you. Either way, cash savings or more shooting, it's really your choice. The main point is; there is no real need for all the expensive equipment that most will want to sell you. That equipment is nice to have, but not necessary. Also, the more complex the equipment, the more knowledge is required to use it. Thus I recommend starting with the simple and cheap equipment, and then progressing to more elaborate gear as budget and your level of reloading knowledge dictate.

Reloading is not dangerous when done properly, but it is unforgiving in certain areas. For example, if you misread a scale, or get interrupted while dropping the powder in the case, forget when you return, and then put another charge in the same case, that could easily damage a firearm. Accidentally reading a table incorrectly and using the load for a .30-06 110 grain bullet, when you are actually loading a 220 grain bullet can easily do the same, as the stiffer powder charge for the light bullet will probably be too much with the heavier bullet. Reloading is not difficult, but certain aspects of it, particularly reading the information from the tables, is not forgiving. The writers of the manuals know this and arrange the data to avoid errors. Still, one needs to be methodical and double and triple check the crucial steps of reading the data, and measuring and dispensing the proper type of powder and matching it to the bullet. Nothing will blow up a gun quicker than accidentally using Bullseye or Unique (both fast burning pistol powders) with loading data for something like IMR3031(a slow rifle powder).

Except perhaps for mixing different powders together. Some old timers(older even than me) say that they made good loads that way, but I suspect that was with black powder which only has one real burning rate. Never confuse black and smokeless powders as they are two very different animals. Every time I have seen mixed smokeless powder used it blew the gun up. They were always quite worthless firearms and triggered remotely so no one was hurt, but the way some of them blew, I was certainly glad I was not holding it at the time! But if one can follow the proper data, and do so carefully, then there is nothing to fear. I am not a detail type of person, but I haven't had any loading “accidents”. It is just a matter of knowing that at certain stages, reloading is a detail task, and there is a very large difference between 32 grains of IMR4831 powder and 32 grains of IMR2400 powder!
Good luck, and happy reloading!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Dear JWR,
Instead of a breaker bar, which while good to have is large and hard to store, I've found extendable lug nut wrenches to be the ideal compromise.  Easily twice as strong as the much thinner wrenches that come with the vehicle. The only caveat is that I'd recommend a long/deep wall socket that's the precise size of your lugs to ensure you don't damage and/or jam or lug nuts inside your socket...

I've tried both the Torin (sold at Wal-Mart stores) and the Grizzly (sold by with satisfactory success.  Both are over 20" extended, and even slightly longer than my OEM Toyota wrench when compacted.  At $20 per, they're much more economical than a breaker bar and socket extension (even if you're going the cheaper Harbor Freight route.)

JWR Replies: Thanks for that tip. But for durability, I prefer American-made tools. Sometimes you have to pay for quality...

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Most of us use a cutting edge every single day, be it a chef’s knife, pocket knife, or scissors.  We typically suffer with overly dull cutting surfaces, and that is OK for cutting a zucchini after the daily nine-to-five routine.  However, when faced with a long-term survival situation, the importance of cutting edges will skyrocket, quickly shifting this humdrum facet of daily life to center stage.  Knowing how to restore and maintain blades and edges will take on new importance, as sharp tools will be necessary for survival, and sharpening will be a marketable and barterable skill.

Besides knives and scissors, we will regularly rely on axes, machetes, fingernail clippers, chisels, gouges, wood planes, drill bits, saw blades, animal hide preparatory tools, and shaving razors, just to name a few.  Different edges require different sharpeners and techniques to achieve sharpness, but with a little bit of investment in some simple tools and also time for honing your skills (pun intended), the dividends will pay off for years to come.  Unlike some niche survival skills and tactics, sharpening is extremely useful in every-day non-emergency situations, as you will finally be able to maintain blades that actually slice through tomatoes without clumsily squishing out an eight-inch radius of juice blast!

Some blades and tasks are more sensitive to dullness than others.  For example, a dull chef’s knife will get the job done, however it will take longer, leave jagged edges, and require more force.  These last points are issues of safety, for the greater the force leveraged on a knife, the less control the user typically has.  Also, dull knives have a greater propensity for slipping or bouncing off of surfaces before cutting in, which increases the likelihood of lacerating oneself.  Wounds inflicted by dull knives also tend to be more ragged, potentially necessitating medical attention—the last thing you need in a survival situation.  Other cutting tools, such as straight razors and plane irons are rendered virtually unusable when dull.   Dull machetes and axes are also inefficient and dangerous.

All sharpening methods rely on the same basic principle—abrasive particles that are harder than the blade are used to create a series of scratches on the cutting edge.  Coarse abrasive particles cut quickly and remove relatively large amounts of metal from the edge.  Fine abrasive particles cut more slowly, yet leave a finer scratch pattern.  The finer and more uniform the scratch pattern, the sharper the edge will be.  Eventually, the progression to finer and finer abrasives yields a mirror finish and an exquisitely sharp edge. 

Sharpening typically occurs over a number of abrasive, or “grit” stages.  A coarse or low grit stone first removes deep gouges and scratches.  Fine, or high grit, media are used after coarser abrasives have created a uniform edge.  This can be compared to a wood working analogy, in that a progression of finer tools is used to craft a piece of work.  An axe is used to cut lumber to a coarse shape, saws work coarse lumber to the close-to-finished shape of the desired piece, and then sand paper and scrapers are used during the last finishing stage.  Sandpaper is not used to cut down the tree!  In theory it could be, but you would waste a lot of paper, and it would take more time and effort than you probably wish to spend.  Conversely, you would not use an axe for the final smoothing.   For the same reasons, you would not use a fine abrasive for the initial sharpening of an edge.  The idea is to take rough (coarse) cuts of metal off the edge to get the shape of the blade right and to eliminate deep gouges.  Once all the scratches made by the coarse abrasive are uniform, it is time to progress to a medium abrasive.  Once the medium abrasive has created a uniform series of scratches, it is time to move to a finer abrasive.  One of the biggest hurdles to creating a good edge is impatience.  By switching to the next finer abrasive too soon, coarse scratches persist and a sharp edge will remain elusive.  Each progression of finer scratch pattern must completely remove the coarser scratch pattern from the abrasive that came before.  Going back to the lumber example, even if you used the axe to chop through 95% of the log, switching to sandpaper at this point would still be foolish.  Likewise, even if you remove 95% of the coarse scratches with a medium grit abrasive, moving a fine abrasive will not readily remove the remaining 5% of coarse scratches.

The tools needed to begin sharpening are relatively simple, but the vast array of choices can be dizzying for those new to sharpening.  On one end of the spectrum resides sandpaper that is simply adhered to a flat surface, while the other end of the spectrum hosts multi-thousand-dollar sharpening machines.   This article focuses on the middle ground, which is the domain belonging to sharpening stones.  Sophisticated sharpening machines will be largely ignored, for when the power goes down, so do these machines.  Additionally, replacement parts may be impossible to source.  A brief description of the utility of sandpaper is worth mentioning, however. 

Sand paper is inexpensive and only requires a flat surface such as a mirror, glass pane, or a block of granite as the underlying substrate.  Even MDF (medium density fiberboard) or cast iron tool tops (such as table saw tops) can be used with some success.  Utilizing a series of differing sandpaper grits can be an extremely effective means of sharpening edges.  Vast amounts of information regarding sandpaper-based methods are available on the internet, and they can typically be found by typing the phrase “scary sharp” in a search engine.   In a nutshell, sandpaper is generally adhered to a flat surface with a spray adhesive.  The edge to be sharpened is placed on the sandpaper, and worked to create a uniform scratch pattern.    A low grit (50, 80, 100) paper is used to shape the edge, followed by a progression of finer grits (150, 180, 220, 320, 400, 600, 1000, 1200, 2000, 5000 or even finer).    Stopping at between 600 and 1200 is suitable for everyday use, but finer edges (that are more delicate and more easily dulled and damaged) require higher grits.   To set this system up, it takes very little initial monetary output, as sandpaper and float glass is inexpensive.  The problem is that sandpaper may not be readily available in a long-term survival situation, and high quality wet-dry silicon carbide paper in fine grits is rather expensive and may not be readily available at box stores.  Overall, this methodology is useful to have in one’s bag of tricks, but may not be as practical or cost effective (in the long run) as having some quality sharpening stones.


It should be noted that I have no financial interest in any brands of the sharpening stones mentioned below, and have included reference to brands I have either personally used or that have a reputation for quality.  Like all tools, I would recommend buying the best you can afford, staying far away from cheap imports.

Sharpening stones come in a few basic varieties: Oil stones, water stones, and diamond stones.  Oil stones are the stones that our grandfathers used, and require a coat of oil to work effectively, hence the name.  They were traditionally natural stones (e.g. “Arkansas stones”), but man-made oil stones are readily available today from manufacturers such as Norton.  Natural Arkansas stones vary in coarseness, and are typically available in finer forms than their man-made counterparts.  The types of Arkansas stones are, from coarse to fine; “Washita,” “Soft Arkansas,” “Hard Arkansas,” “Hard Black Arkansas,” and “Hard Translucent Arkansas.”   Oil stones typically cut more slowly than water stones, and are more difficult to clean due to the use of oil.  They are, however, the most economical of the stones available.  Quality oil stones can be had, at the time of this writing, for under $20 each.

Water stones need no oil, but require water as a lubricant, as their names suggest.  They are also available in natural varieties, but are rare and cost prohibitive, so only man-made water stones will be considered.  They cut faster than oil stones since the binders that hold these stones together are relatively soft, which allows worn abrasive particles to slough off the stone during sharpening to reveal fresh and sharp underlying particles.  Of course there is a tradeoff, which is that water stones “dish out” more quickly due to their softer construction, so they must be flattened regularly (with a dedicated flattening plate).   Water stones are also available in much finer grits than oil stones (up to 30,000 grit).  Water stones vary in price, with finer grits costing substantially more.   Norton makes combination stones with differing grits on each side of the stone, and for around $150 dollars, two stones (4 grits: 220/100, 4000/8000) and a flattening stone can be had.  I personally feel this is an excellent approach for a basic “do it all” sharpening setup.  Water stones are easy to use and clean, while not being terribly expensive.  Extremely fine grits, however, can be upward of $300 per stone.  The Naniwa Chosera line of Japanese water stones, though I have not personally used them, are extremely well-regarded, and warrant consideration. I regularly use Shapton glass stones (1000, 4000, 8000) and a DMT Coarse Diasharp stone to keep my glass stones flat, and highly recommend this setup.  The Shapton stones cut fast, don’t dish out quickly, and are super easy to use.  They are, however, fragile as they are manufactured on a glass backing, and relatively expensive (around $300 for such a set).  In a critical situation where “two is one, and one is none,” glass stones may not be my first choice without a backup in place. 

Diamond stones are not stones at all, but rather metal plates impregnated with diamond particles.  They cut extremely fast and their surfaces remain very flat over time.  They use water instead of oil, so are also easy to clean.  Diamond stones are typically more expensive than water stones in average grits, but less expensive than ultra-fine water stones.   Diamond plates are also not readily available in the extremely fine grits found in water stones.  For a long-term survival scenario, these stones are arguably the best choice if you could only have one set of stones, as they are robust and remain flat.  A set of four diamond stones by DMT (x-coarse, coarse, medium, fine) sells for around $200, and represents good value for overall utility.  When choosing diamond stones, look for brands offering monocrystalline construction, as these stones tend to cut faster and last longer than polycrystalline varieties.

Strops should not be left out of the discussion.  A strop is simply a piece of leather (or canvas) used to polish an edge.  Unlike stones, strops do not remove material from a blade, but rather straighten or align the edge.  A strop is essential for achieving a keen edge on a straight razor, and is also used for creating a superior edge on woodworking tools such as chisels or plane irons.   Strops may be impregnated with fine abrasive particles, such as “Jeweler’s Rouge,” or chromium (III) oxide to aid in achieving an even better finish.  For kitchen and utility knives, a honing steel, or simply “steel” is often used for a similar purpose (A “steel” may be made of steel or ceramic).  Learning to use a steel is a requisite for maintaining sharp kitchen knives, as it allows prolonged use of knives between sharpening sessions, since one can periodically “touch up” the edge with just a steel.

What about electric kitchen knife sharpeners?  They are super-fast, easy to use, and require virtually no skill.  As long as you have electricity they will work relatively well.  However, one can’t always count on having electricity.  Also, if a part breaks or wears out, the apparatus will be rendered useless.  Lastly, they can only sharpen thin-bladed knives, but a set of stones can be used to sharpen axes, combat knives, scissors, lawnmower blades, pruners, and dozens of woodworking tools, just to name a few.   High end sharpening stations are more versatile than the kitchen knife sharpeners, but again have dozens of moving parts and rely on electricity.

A number of specialty stones are also offered in the market, and are intended for specific tasks.  For example, round and triangular stones can be used for sharpening serrated blades and gut-hook skinning knives, and even some nail clippers.  Gouge sharpening stones are shaped to accommodate a wide variety of wood working gouges and carving tools.  Smaller stones can be used for sharpening fish hooks, saw blades, small scissors, tweezers, and even carbide router bits and carbide tipped saw blades.  It should be noted that a diamond stone is needed to sharpen carbide.

The last tool worth mentioning is the file.  Files are useful, especially in conjunction with stones, for sharpening axes, hatchets, lawnmower blades, gardening equipment, shovels, and saw blades.  Files could be the subject of their own article, but for the sake of brevity only a brief introduction follows.  Files are also indispensable for general metalworking.  Mill files come in a variety of “cuts” (the pattern of ridges on the tool) and roughness.  Files generally follow the nomenclature of, from roughest to smoothest: “rough”, “middle”, “bastard”, “second cut”, “smooth”, and “dead smooth.”  To make matters more confusing, a 10” long second cut file is typically coarser than a 6” long second cut file, and levels of roughness vary from one manufacturer to another.   Files can be flat, half-round, round, and tapered.  For basic sharpening of garden tools, lawnmower blades, shovels, and axes, an initial shaping with a file is the most practical way to form an edge when exceedingly dull or damaged.  They cut more aggressively than the coarsest of stones, and do so far faster.  No sharpening set would be complete without at least one flat mill file, but a selection of flat, round, and tapered files, in both coarse and fine cuts is ideal.  Small tapered files are used to sharpen hand saw blades, while a small round file is required to properly sharpen a chainsaw blade.

There are also numerous jigs and fixtures on the market to aid the would-be sharpener in his or her quest for that perfect edge.  I would avoid these items in general, and instead focus on the skill of sharpening.  Jigs can break, but once you have acquired the knowledge and sharpened your skills (another pun!) that can never be taken away from you.  Knowledge is power.


Since there are so many options for sharpening implements, it is admittedly confusing at first.  However, in choosing the right tools, some first questions to ask are:1) What are you sharpening?, and 2) Where are you sharpening?  The “what” is simple—buy what you need to sharpen the tools you will need.  The “where” simply refers to whether you are in a stable location or preparing for a bug-out.  Therefore I have put together four hypothetical kit examples: two bug out kits-ultralight and standard, a basic sharpening set for home use, and a comprehensive sharpening set for home use.  Below each set is a description of what task can reasonably be accomplished with the tools at hand.  These are not written in stone, so feel free to adjust based upon your needs.

Bug Out Kit-ultralight
Diamond credit card sharpeners – Coarse, Fine, Extra Fine

This kit is lightweight (under 7 oz.), inexpensive, and suffices for most common tasks.  Each stone is a metallic credit card-sized diamond plate.  They are a bit heavy for my EDC (every day carry) preferences, but not totally impractical.  For a bugout bag, these are a no-brainer.   This set gives you the ability to sharpen chef’s knives, smooth pocket knives, smooth combat knives, machetes, axes, hatchets, adzes, swords, scissors & shears, arrow heads, fish hooks, as well as craft and woodworking tools.  Tools, such as axes or lawnmower blades with major nicks would still likely need the use of a mill file.  Blades will not achieve a keen edge like what is possible from fine grit water stones, but can be made very sharp and very functional. 

Bug Out Kit-standard
Extra Coarse/Coarse diamond folding sharpener
Fine/Extra Fine diamond folding sharpener
Fine diamond folding Serrated Knife Sharpener

This example contains three collapsible sharpeners that unfold like balisongs (butterfly knifes) to reveal a sharpening stone.  Two double-sided sharpeners yield four stone grits, and a fine pointed stone sharpener is used for serrated surfaces.  Again, blades will not achieve as keen an edge like from higher grit water stones, but will be sharp and totally functional.  Another, more compact, option would be to use the credit card sharpeners from the ultralight bug-out kit, coupled with the fine diamond serrated knife sharpener.

Basic Sharpening Set-home use
Diamond Stone Set: X-Coarse, Coarse, Medium, Fine, X-Fine
Chef’s Steel
Flat Mill Files: Coarse and Smooth

This very basic set allows one to sharpen: chef’s knives, pocket knives, combat knives, machetes, axes, hatchets, adzes, swords, scissors & shears, fish hooks, chisels, plane irons, garden equipment, and lawnmower blades, at a minimum.  Since the set is diamond, carbide inserts on router bits and the like are also sharpenable.  The stones are far larger than their folding counterparts, so will last longer (since the surface is greater and wear is more widely distributed) and are easier to use, as they are placed on a table top so both hands can be used for sharpening.  Pocket sharpeners require one hand to hold the sharpener and one hand to hold the tool to be sharpened, which is not optimal for maintaining a consistent angle while sharpening, so stellar results are more difficult to achieve.  Again, augmenting this kit with a folding serrated knife sharpener adds the ability to sharpen serrated edges.

Comprehensive Sharpening Set-home use
Water Stone Set:  220, 500, 1000, 4000, 8000
Flattening Stone for water stones
Backup Diamond Stone Set: Coarse, Medium, Fine, X-Fine
Chef’s Steel
Sharpening Rod – round (ceramic or diamond)
Sharpening Rod- Triangle (ceramic or diamond)
Leather Strops- plain and compound impregnated
Files: Mill file selection, round file selection, tapered file selection.  Large and small, coarse and fine for each.

Having water stones will allow a keener edge than what is possible in the sets above due to the 4000 and 8000 grits, as well as the strops.  It is these additional tools that allow for the sharpening of straight razors, and also to achieve razor sharp edges on most tools.  The sharpening rods open up the possibility of maintaining serrated knives, gut hooks and seat belt cutter hooks.  The diamond stones provide a robust backup for the more fragile water stones, and also allow one to sharpen carbide tipped router bits and saw blades, while the expanded selection of files is used for hand saws and chain saws blades.   Additionally, some general metalworking and gunsmithing tasks are possible with the above stones and files.

But wait!  How exactly do I sharpen X,Y, or Z?  You never told me!!  Smooth knives are sharpened differently than serrated knives, and axes are sharpened differently than chisels.  The focus of this article is not to teach you the techniques needed to sharpen particular types of edges, but rather to convey the importance of possessing sharpening skills in emergency situations and to explain what tools are needed to accomplish the tasks at hand.  It is also vital to understand that learning to sharpen effectively and with efficiency takes practice, and is a perishable skill.  I therefore recommend, at the very least, that one regularly sharpen kitchen knives and pocket knives to achieve and maintain a reasonable skill level.   Your first attempt at sharpening a kitchen knife may yield a blade that is duller than when you started!  This changes with practice.  Another article, far longer than this one, could be written that breaks down the procedures necessary to sharpen all the tools mentioned above, but in this case a picture is really worth a 1,000 words.  I would therefore recommend a book such as The Complete Guide to Sharpening by Leonard Lee, as this text covers the vast majority of sharpening situations one can expect to encounter, is full of photographs, and is a worthy reference for any preparedness library.  Additionally, there are hundreds of YouTube videos that show the procedures and motions used to achieve edge nirvana, but I would caution that some are worth far more than others. 

When faced with TEOTWAWKI, chopping wood, preparing game, cooking, bushwhacking, hunting, self-defense, personal hygiene, and tool maintenance for woodworking, leatherworking, and virtually every other craft will heavily rely on edged tools.  With a little bit of investment and regular practice, you can ensure that your survival tools remain safe and functional while also creating a skill set that has bartering value—both of which may help you through hard times and promote your survival.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Thank you for your contributions on SurvivalBlog. I read with interest the article on basic mechanical skills.  Changing a tire can be a difficult process,  last summer I had a blow out on a 100 degree day, found that changing a tire in the severe heat was a difficult task  and for an older man, and possibly dangerous.
I decided to decide to find a workable solution for this problem. At first I tried the 12 volt DC impact wrenches but found them unsatisfactory. My solution was to take a 1,700 watt inverter that I placed in a tool box along with a set of jumper cables to hook it to the vehicle battery, I run an electric impact wrench off the inverter, this will allow me to activate the jack, remove and replace the lug nuts, and winch down the spare. 
I also carry a 12 volt air compressor, some of the flat tire fixer in a can for punctures.   in one of the boxes I  also carry a tire repair kit.
with these tools at my disposal I can handle tire emergencies.
Thanks, - Albert from Pennsylvania

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Basic mechanical knowledge and skills are something that any person who hopes to be successful in TEOTWAWKI must have. I am not speaking just about vehicles, but vehicles are an excellent avenue to learn them. I can only talk with authority on my own past, but I know that the wealth of much of my knowledge comes from my extensive background in working on cars.

I won't claim that any of this post is going to be something that you have never read before. Heck, I am willing to bet that you heard much of this speech by a parent or grandfather the day you turned 16. I know I did. And, like almost everyone in this country, I rolled my eyes.

Before you roll your eyes, I propose that we conduct a quick experiment.

I want you to drive down your local heavily used state highway or interstate, say, the one you drive on every day to work. Within 5 miles, you will see a broken down car. Now, the reason for this breakdown can and will vary. It could be because of a catastrophic motor event or a wreck,  but 90% of the time, it is there because the driver doesn't understand the basics of vehicle maintenance, the limits of the vehicle, or how to fix the vehicle in either event.

Tire Maintenance
What's the most common automotive issue I see on American's roadways? Flat tires. Flat tires claim more roadside breakdowns than anything else. And not because the tire went flat, but because the owner either didn't have a spare, the spare was flat, or most likely can't change the tire. Of these cars you see on the side of the road, how many have a jack underneath them, or a wheel propping the car up, and were simply abandoned mid-task? How many of them are just left there because they didn't have AAA? I have seen many a fine car left alone on the interstate for hours or days at a time.

Changing a tire is perhaps the simplest task a motorist can learn. And while it is simple, it teaches several lessons while also being a useful and money saving skill. These skills can save you valuable time and money in the every day world, while perhaps saving your life down the line. Changing a tire teaches many things including, but not limited to, the order of steps needed to complete an involved task, it teaches using a long handled tool to develop a moment to break loose lugs, balancing an unevenly weighed object, and even safety.

Now, for those of you who can change a flat tire, you realize that while it's an inconvenient, it isn't a big deal. For those of you who have practiced many times in your life, it is now a habit and can be easily fixed in a matter of minutes. Now, for those of you that can't....what does a flat tire cost you? Mere minutes? Or hours? Do you have to call someone to come help you? What about their time? Does it cost you money? How is your stress level when you miss something important?

Yet, many times the problem is deeper than that.  I remember as a teenager my grandmother regularly telling me that my tires looked flat and that I needed to put air in them. But I always ignored her until one day the rim cut the tire down and I had a blowout. I remember driving to Auburn one time and I had a nasty blowout because a randomly 100 degree day caused the tire pressure to increase beyond the capability of the tire. In either case, simply paying attention to the tires would have raised an alarm and I would have rectified the situation. Not to mention that it would have saved me several hundred dollars.  But, I wasn't in the habit of paying attention to my vehicle, neither by checking it out whenever I thought about it or paying attention to it's behavior on the road.

Here are many things that can tip you off to a tire issue, but all require the driver to be in tune to the vehicle:

  • Uneven wear on the treads. If it's worn on the outside, the tire pressure has been too low. If it's worn in the center, the tire pressure is to high.
  •  Does the care pull to one side or the other while driving? This could be a misalignment or one under inflated tire, which will also cause uneven wear. 
  • Is there a "wobble"? If so, you could have tread separation and a blowout could be imminent. 

Furthermore, great care should be taken while driving to limit the hazards to tires. 

  • Always avoid potholes. It may not seems deep or wide, and maybe you have run over thousands of them in your life. But it only takes the right one at the right angle and speed to cut down a tire. That's a a real bad thing to have happen at 70. 
  • Never run over objects on the road. IT may look like a piece of paper, but it could be a shard of metal or class ready to cut your tire. It may be a piece of plywood. Then again, it could be covered with nails. 

Now, how about understanding the limitations of your tires? For example, do you know what the capabilities of a type of tire might be? Do you know if the tires on your current vehicle can be used to go off-road, if the need arises? Conversely, do you know just how long to expect a set of off-road tires to last on the street? In the case of a damaged tire, for example, a cut you know how to accurately gauge the remaining usefulness of that tire? Or know how to extend it's life by lowering tire pressure and travel speed? In the event of a flat tire, do you know just how fast you can continue to drive on it if need be? Or how to know if you have traveled as far as the physical limits of the flat tire will allow? Do you know what the danger signs of a tire are and can you gauge the severity? For example, what it means when you see the steel belts sticking out of a tire? Do you know what the effective stopping distance in your car is in all weather conditions? Specifically, do you know the conditions of your tires and how they might perform i the rain? In all cases, it requires the drive to be in tune with their vehicle, which in this age of automation and luxury, makes it easy for people to ignore all these important signs. 

So, many of you are asking just how this might save your life in TEOTWAWKI. Let's talk about one of my posts from the 5 Stages of Preparedness. Specifically, Stage 1: The Immediate. Let's say you have identified a major threat to all cities, specifically the one you live in. While it is important to always take care of your vehicle for your everyday life, it could become vital to your survival. Specifically, if you have to get out of Dodge. You will have so many other things on your mind that you don't need to be worried about if your vehicle will get you where you need to go. Getting into habits such as checking tire conditions and pressure will go a long way to ensuring that at least the tires of your vehicle will hold up.  And, while you are on the go, you have to take care that you limit putting it in circumstances that it might fail you. Paying attention to driving conditions, specifically on the road, may save you minutes, hours, or even a dangerous circumstance that may claim others. For example, if almost everyone is trying to escape a city, the roadways will undoubtedly be extremely busy. There will be wrecks. There will be objects on the road. Slowing down, paying attention, and limiting the potential for cutting down you tires may save you when it may doom others. What if it' raining? Getting out is the priority, but knowing the effective stopping distance of your tires due to their physical condition could save you from a costly wreck. 

But things happen. Sometimes there are forces you can't control. What will you do then? Could you change a tire if you had to? More importantly, can you do it quickly and safely? Will it be such a habit that you can pay attention to your surroundings? What if you didn't already have a vehicle and you needed one. You find one on the side of the road, abandoned. Keys still in it. But the owner couldn't figure out how to use a jack. With 5 minutes work, you have secured potentially life saving transportation. We talked about understanding the limitations of the tire. Let's say that you know there is a potential problem developing that you have identified. You also know that stopping is not a possibility. Understanding the limitations of the tires may allow you to continue your path. While it may not be the optimum speed or method, it may be enough to put those crucial miles behind you. 

What does it take to learn this skill? Just time. Luckily for you, your car manufacturer gave you all the tools you would need. I am willing to bet that there are instructions on the back of the cover panel to the secret compartment that houses the jack and the breaker bar in the trunk of your car. So, take some time on a Saturday afternoon to find out where that compartment is. Pull the cover off, grab the tools, and follow the directions. I promise that even the slowest of you will only need to change the tire 3 times before you will have it down. Even if you don't believe in TEOTWAWKI, you have to believe in saving time and money. How about keeping you from walking down an interstate late one night to find a gas station? I can't think of anything more scary for a woman than the thought of having to start walking down the street to find help.

Indirectly, there is a lot of things a person can gain from learning the basics of tire maintenance. How about the money and time that you can save from simply being in tune with your vehicle by getting in the habit of paying attention to the little things. No one likes buying tires. That's a fact. Identifying potential problems like noticing the vehicle pulling to one side can save money by having it fixed early.  Maintaining the proper air pressure can maximize tire life, saving you money. Simply knowing how to change a tire can save you hours and stress. What about the things you can learn indirectly? Off the top of my head, I think about the cause and effect of air temperature and pressure. How about understanding mechanical properties and friction? If the tire is flat, the surface area increases, so the drag increases causing the car to pull to one side. How about using a breaker bar to overcome your own physical limitations of force? I know it all sounds simplistic to many of you. But I am not writing for those of you that understand. The average American knows virtually nothing about hands-on mechanical work of any kind. They have to learn it by living it. I can't think of a better way to learn than to do so while discovering a valuable skill that has definite uses in your daily life and potential use to save it. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Avalanche Lily & Mr. Rawles –
Just wanted to say that Survival Blog  never ceases to amaze me!  As you may know I’m not a fan of the entire survivalist or “prepper”  craze, but I have to admit the drum carder and angora bunny advice posted today was spot on.  I would not have guessed that SurvivalBlog [readers] would have been as knowledgeable about home textile production. (However I did  take exception to the sheep recommendations.)

You may be interested in my “dish towel” project.  Sometime within the next couple of weeks the flax straw from this summer will be rippled and retted; with scutching, breaking and hackling to follow. Spinning the line should commence by the middle of October with weaving by Thanksgiving.
Again – I’m impressed by SurvivalBlog. All the very best to you and yours, - Granny Miller

Friday, September 13, 2013

This is in response to the recent question re wool cards for angora fiber. Please let me add a few important facts on this subject.

Angora fiber needs to be processed on cards with a fine tine. The fibers are comparatively short and incredibly soft and fine. Buy cards referred to as cotton cards or recommended for carding exotic fibers or cotton.

Yes, one can pluck and spin the fiber off a rabbit in one's lap, but that's generally a trick for fiber shows. Really, please, just pluck the rabbit and let it down to run around while you spin.

Unless one has a large herd of fiber rabbits, the fiber yield will not be prodigious. The OP mentioned only one rabbit, so they will only get about 6-10 ounces per year if they only harvest twice in a year.

For others, though, please know that maintaining a large herd of angora rabbits is extremely difficult. At one point in time, I had 40, and I do not recommend that unless one has no other responsibilities or has a helper. There are considerations above and beyond raising meat rabbits. Proper, regular grooming must be done to prevent wool block; saving a rabbit from wool block is time consuming and difficult without an IV or a vet. One can use a blow dryer for this on a weekly basis. Keeping the vent area clipped prevents nasty abscesses. Since one keeps fiber rabbits for many years, rather than 12 weeks, providing a place in the cage so the rabbit can be off the wire prevents sores on the feet. The poop detail is horrendous. The cages must be cleaned of poop and hair regularly for cleanliness and good health. I recommend a propane torch. Maintenance in hot summers is more important than worrying about cold winters. There are many other considerations.

Back to fiber. Angora fiber has no elasticity; thus an item of 100 percent angora will droop and have no spring or ability to naturally stay the same as when made. With small yields and elasticity concerns, the better method for maximizing angora is to mix it with sheep's wool or other elastic fibers, or to simply use it for trim or accents.

Consider also keeping a couple of sheep. When buying said sheep make sure to get ones with a softer hand (smaller diameter fiber/micron count) if wanting items to be worn near the face - scarves, wimples, etc. Consider Merino or Corriedale.

If one is serious about using wool for clothing, a drum carder is the way to go. Although expensive, a family could spend as much on enough hand cards to be productive as it might on one good drum carder. A person could spend an evening hand carding rolags to equal 20 minutes' worth of wool off of a drum carder. My personal favorite for solid construction is made by Strauch.

As with all survival gear, have some saved for the future. Carding cloth is incredibly expensive. In a SHTF situation, there won't be any manufacturers of carding cloth for a long time, I dare say. I've known beginners to use dog grooming tools as hand cards before investing in expensive fiber tools. Consider stashing away a shoe box of dog grooming tools in case someone drops a wrench on your carding cloth. (Don't ask me how I know. )

Sincerely, - J.G.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

I love your blog. Thank you so much for running it in these challenging times. God bless you and your family. It read top to bottom daily.

My family and I are now raising meat rabbits since early April: one California buck and 5 does, New Zealand, Rex and SilverFox. We now have 39 kits and the first litter is weaned and growing at an amazing pace. My wife only bought into this idea after I committed to be the butcher and the final product looked like chicken. Deal. Only the parents have names. The kits are all very cute and we enjoy them for the season they're with us, but their destiny is a 100 day life span.

I'm studying how to best tan the skins and prepare the pelts for sewing. Brain tanning keeps rising to the surface. My wife enjoys working with textiles so we eventually want to procure a long haired French Angora rabbit(s) that we believe we can "harvest" the hair twice a year, actually spin it right out of the rabbit while it sits comfortably in one's lap.

I'd like to know more about the tools people use to card the hair "carding"  and spinning and a good loom manufacture and plans to make all three.  I can google to my heart's content, but I'd rather lean on the huge and more trustworthy survivalblog audience.

Again, thanks for all you do. - J in Colorado

JWR Replies: Carding combs are a must to transition wool from a fleece into “bats”, that can be then hand spun. I recommend that you buy a couple of pairs. As long as you keep the steel tines dry (to prevent rusting), they will last a lifetime. For larger-scale production, a drum carder is a good investment. This is a 2-foot long wooden machine that clamps onto a tabletop. We have one that was made by Ashford of New Zealand.  These are built to last, but be sure to teach your children early on to never reverse the direction that you turn the handle!

Monday, September 9, 2013

I'll reach social security age later this year - time has flown by in my life. However, my mind is still sharp, and I can remember so much of my childhood, it amazes me at times. If you were a guy, and grew-up in the 1950s and 1960s, you'll appreciate this memory. I don't know of any kid on my block, back in Chicago, who didn't make a "spear" of some sort - usually, we got in big trouble, because we took the kitchen broom and broke the handle off and sharpened (using that term loosely) into a point, and we all had spears to toss at targets. Even back then, as kids, we knew better than to throw the spears at each other - but usually found cardboard boxes to use as targets. And, when it was discovered that we "requisitioned" the kitchen broom - and we all did it - for our spears....well, let's just say we paid for our evil deeds.
Cold Steel's owner, Lynn Thompson, has a fascination, with all manner of sharp objects, not just knives. He also has developed many useful self-defense products, that are used daily. When I was running three martial arts schools, at one time - in different locations - I made a large purchase of Irish Blackthorn Walking Sticks, from Cold Steel - and my students snapped them in up short order. These were the genuine Irish Blackthorn Walking Sticks, not the synthetic ones, which Cold Steel is now offering. I can't think of any place in the world, were a walking stick is illegal to own. You can even carry one onto a plane - just "limp" a little bit while walking with your "cane."  So, it came as no surprise to me, that Lynn Thompson developed the Assegai Long shaft  and Assegai Short Shaft spears. Thompson never ceases to amaze me, the way he searches history, to come out with improved and modern renditions of ancient weapons.
The Assegai Spears were first on the scene in the early 1800s and were the result of Zulu King Shaka, and if you've ever watched some old movies, in which some tribes in Africa were depicted, you usually saw the warriors carrying some type of spear, with the most common one being some sort of long shaft Assegai Spear. Thompson is a real student of ancient and modern weaponry, and don't kind yourself, he isn't just into things that cut or can smash a skull, he's also into firearms and big game hunting as well. And, he can shoot, and shoot very well, too.
The Assegai Long Shaft spear is 6-foot 9 1/2 inches long - it is definitely on the long side. The short shaft model is 38 inches in length - quite a bit shorter than the longer version. The SK-5 mild carbon steel heads are 13 1/3 inches long on both models. And the shafts are made out of American Ash wood - with the shorter shaft being dyed a darker color - for some reason. I waited a year for my samples to arrive, these spears are always in great demand, and more often than not, you'll find them on back-order on the Cold Steel web site. However, if you search around on the Internet, you can usually find them for sale some place...and they are well worth the wait or the search, trust me.
Now, the Long Shaft Assegai Spear is meant to be thrown in target practice, the mild carbon steel heads will bend if you hit something hard, though - like a large tree - been there, done that - on my own homestead. However, you can set-up a bale of straw, or hay. or an archery target, or very thickly-stacked cardboard and practice your throwing skills that way - just be close enough to the target, so the spear doesn't smash into the ground. And, without a doubt, the long shaft Assegai is much better suited for throwing purposes, while the short shaft model is better suited for close-in combat against an attacker. [JWR Adds: Shaka, King of the Zulus was right: Except for a few circumstances, stabbing with a spear is the best way to use them in combat. That is why he ordered that all spear shafts be shortened.)] And the spears aren't designed for slicing and dicing, they are designed to penetrate an attacker, and with the 13-1/3 inch head, it can do the job. However, in a pinch, if you can get close enough to a game animal, and have practiced your throwing skills, I can see you taking game in a survival situation, I really can!
Now, I'm not advocating that anyone head out to the wilderness, with only an Assegai Spear, and live off the land and hunt with it - that is not what this spear is designed for, and you'll die in short order if you believe you can live off the land with a spear and a loin clothe as your only clothing.  Nor am I'm saying that the Assegai spears are the perfect weapon for self-defense, either. What I'm saying is that, these spears are a lot of fun to own, and they would look great hanging on the office wall at home or at work, and they are a great conversation piece as well, not to mention the history behind them.
We are simply looking at, a couple of very well made spears, that can, in a pinch, save your butt, let's say, if someone was breaking into your home - "yes" you can defend yourself with a spear - but let's not be foolish here - I'm sure you've all heard to never bring a knife to a gun fight - well, the same holds true here, don't bring a spear to a gun fight, either. Believe me, if someone had one of these spears flailing it around in front of me and I had nothing but empty hands, I believe I would remember an appointment I had on the other side of town and get to it.
Survival comes in many guises, and unfortunately, many armchair survivalist, believe that survival means heading out to the wilderness and playing Rambo with a knife, or in this case, just a spear. Yes, you can, in a pinch, take game with a spear, if you've practiced and have a quality product to start with. However, a spear wouldn't be my first choice in a hunting weapon, but it also wouldn't be my last choice, either - I believe I'd take a spear over a David and Goliath sling shot. And, I'd sure take a spear over throwing stones, or being empty-handed, too. So, there is a place for a spear, especially if you are into more than just guns and knives, as a collector, Survivalist or Prepper.
Both the Long and Short Assegai Spears come with a polymer sheath to cover the spear's head when not in use, too. And, the spears come in two parts, the head and the shaft, that you have to put together - just a couple screws, takes a few minutes. The Long Assegai retails for $76.99 and the Short Assegai retails for $65.99 - and in my humble opinion, you'll want both models - if for no other reason than to hang them on the wall in your office or den. When I worked for the late Col. Rex Applegate, he had several spears and other weapons from Africa in his Annex building - that was next to his house - where he kept all his guns, knives, books, and other weapons, and we had many conversations about the spears, that once belonged to a relative of his, who was a professional big game hunter in Africa.
So, if you want to add a little something a little bit different to your weapons battery, or just have one of these Assegai Spears as a conversation piece, or have some fun, throwing them into a hay bale, or as a last ditch weapon, place your order for one or both - and I'm betting you'll want both of them - they are a lot of fun, and they do start conversations when someone comes to your home or office. Lynn Thompson never ceases to amaze me, with the variety and different types of weapons he comes out with at Cold Steel. And, one comment I have heard over and over again, by folks when they saw my Assegai Spears was "awesome!"  - SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor Pat Cascio

Friday, September 6, 2013

We all accept basic firearms safety rules and know that if we were able to carry them out flawlessly, there would be no such thing as an unintended injury or what we pitifully refer to as an “accidental” discharge. [JWR Adds: Properly, this is termed a Negligent Discharge.] There is another much more broad concept that, if we can also just hone it to a fine edge, we can employ it across a broad array of activities to greatly reduce the chance of damage, injuries and even death. Activities as diverse as cutting a project out of construction paper, opening that latest package from your favorite prep supplier, chiseling a door for new lockwork, raising a grain silo, stretching a fence or winching a truck out of the mud.

Like the safety rules for firearms, you can stay safe to an amazing degree, if only you can maintain the awareness and follow-through. Avoiding injury is always important of course, but in a TEOTWAWKI situation the need to avoid even minor injury will be of supreme importance, and more serious injuries might be more likely to result directly or indirectly in loss of life for lack of definitive medical care, or the inability to perform in vital roles and activities.

Stated briefly it entails always being aware of the Direction or Line of Force. Anytime work is being done, force is there to make it happen. From the tiny force necessary for something as trivial as cutting the string off a bundle to the amazing strength of a tractor pulling a disc harrow across a field, to a crane lifting a tower for a new windmill. From big to small, anytime any amount of force is applied energy is amassed that can be released unexpectedly, sometimes with catastrophic consequences. And “force” is everywhere around us, doing jobs large and small, making things happen or keeping things in check, all the time. Most times is obvious because work is getting done, something is moving! Other times it’s more passive, such as the stored energy created by  tension of guy wires supporting a radio tower against gravity.

Force in any direction: pulling, pushing, lowering, lifting, bracing, supporting, levering, prying, twisting. Whether you are using your body, a rope, wire, cable or wire rope, chain, a lever or tool of any kind, a brace or prop or other structure. When you are applying force to accomplish some task, applying pressure or attempting to resist or overcome other forces, like gravity or tension, there are points of failure in the “system,” or in the “machine” that you cannot entirely control or predict. What you CAN do, is make sure you are not in the path if the stored energy is suddenly released, or have a plan to accommodate the movement. And you can stay safe.

In the paragraph above I started to write “the unexpected movement” but that’s rule number one for what we’re going to try to accomplish, making sure it’s ALWAYS expected! When it comes to staying safe when force is in the picture, you must try to banish “unexpected” from your vocabulary.

You are lifting an engine with a block and tackle, the direction of force is a vertical lift against gravity. If the hoist fails, if the chain fails, if the attachment point fails, the release of stored energy, the mass of the engine, will be straight down. Make sure no body parts are ever in this path and no failure will harm you.

If you are raising a radio mast, or a windmill or a light pole, you know that failure will cause the object to fall out across the ground, and until it is almost vertical the path is easy to predict. But don’t forget about the other pieces of the system. What about the cable or rope that is applying the force? Which direction will it recoil if the pressure is suddenly released? Are there other pieces? A block and tackle, a winch, a come-along, supports, a tractor or other vehicle? What paths might these pieces describe if suddenly set free?

And in preparing to sidestep – literally - one of the greatest killers, is there anything in the vicinity that might change the path of a falling or suddenly released object? A great many serious injuries occur when a suddenly released moving object encounters an obstacle and deflects in an “unexpected” direction. (There’s that “u” word again.) You may think you are prepared for something to fall down. Provided it does in fact just fall “down.” But have you considered whether anything in the area could re-direct the object sideways? That takes being or getting out of the path from straightforward to perhaps impossible.

You are using a winch to get a truck out of a mud hole. The direction of force is along the winch cable in the direction of the pull. If any part of the system fails, things are going to move along this line. Either vehicle may shift, but the most violent reaction will be in the cable itself, being much lighter than the vehicles. It will recoil along the direction of the pull and can sever limbs as it whips around. If you’ve ever seen a winching and seen a tarp draped over the cable and wondered what the purpose was, it’s to hopefully capture and dampen some of that energy if the cable or an attachment point fails. You’ll also see hoods raised to protect windshields. But the best answer is don’t put yourself along that path of force. That’s one reason the winch controls are typically on a long lead.

A drawback to the ever-handy come-along discussed here recently, is requiring that you be up close to operate it. Another reason to never approach the rated limits of the device or other parts of the system, and to replace any components that show signs of wear or corrosion. You might employ the canvas drape device also if spacing permits.

Expand your awareness of direction of force to also encompass anything that is under tension. It’s easy to overlook things that are not currently being employed to apply force to move something. There are plenty of things that seem “passive” but are constantly under tension, that have the stored energy of a force being applied against a restraint, that can create a severe consequence if a part of the system fails. The guy wire on a tower or pole or antenna mast. A new fence line that hasn’t relaxed. A temporary or permanent prop or brace against an object or structure. These are all resisting tension or applying pressure against the force of gravity. It isn’t usually difficult to understand which direction things are going to move in a failure, but you have to expect the possibility of a failure and have a plan to be out of the way, and you have to account for all of the various pieces of the structure or machine that may be involved.

I first read a paper on this subject around the time I learned to sail. If you’ve ever been on a sailboat you know that it’s a jumbled (incomprehensible to the uninitiated) mass of cables and ropes comprising standing and running rigging. Cables that keep the mast and other things where they belong, and ropes keeping sails in place and moving them about as required. The forces involved are unimaginable. The pieces are carefully engineered, but not overly so on most pleasure craft. You look at the diameter of the cables and ropes, you look at the stainless fittings, you look at the fasteners, you think about the wood and Fiberglas bits they are connected to, and you wonder how on earth any of it stays together against the enormous pressures involved. But what really occupied my time was deciding where I did not want to be if any part of the machine failed. And though it’s not easy to escape the myriad paths of potential failure on a sailboat, I was always aware and tried to minimize the risk by not putting body parts close to and along the axis of lines under strain, or anything they controlled the position of for any longer than necessary.

When you are using a chainsaw, of course you have taken precautions against the dreaded evil kickback, but do you keep in mind the amount of pressure you are applying and where that pressure will direct the saw if the limb you’re cutting suddenly snaps or the cut breaks through? How and where you might fall if it throws you off balance, and more importantly what happens to the running saw?

You are using a digging bar to pry out a buried rock, do you maintain your awareness of what’s going to happen when the tip slips? Of what’s behind you if you fall? Or how you will control the dangerous top end of the bar if you do? I have shifted my position to one that didn’t give me quite as much leverage, but gave me a much better chance to control myself and the bar. That’s the trade-off you have to see as invaluable. The job will get done, eventually and with sufficient effort. But you may only get one chance to avoid a serious injury.

Stretching a fence is always dangerous because being up close and personal is unavoidable. Working deliberately, with another pair of hands, wearing appropriate heavy duty clothing and safety gear, minding the condition of tools, using a back-up tensioner, deploying canvas drapes a la winching, staying as close to the tensioner as possible while starting to attach the wire, working with your back to the tensioner, and working on the opposite side of the posts from the wire all help if something lets loose. Not to mention being aware of the energy stored in a new coil of wire when releasing the strapping.

When you are applying a great deal of force to a drill, do you keep in mind where that force is going to go if the bit breaks, or breaks through the material? Have you ever supported a panel from behind while pushing a drill through from the front and had the bit break through more easily than expected, only then to consider the juxtaposition of your supporting hand and the bit’s path? Your secret’s safe with me, comrade.

When you lift something with a jack, do you consider what will happen if the jack slips or fails? Yes, but what if jack stands won’t work in this instance? What if it’s a hi-lift jack situation? And have you considered a sideways shift of the object lifted as opposed to a simple straight fall? Lifting something, whether by pulling from above or pushing from underneath, always creates potential energy against the pull of gravity. And there is always potential for the support to fail. Don’t let a body part you value be there when it does.

All of this is not just about the “heavy-lifting” labor around the homestead. When you are cutting something with a knife or scissors, do you consider where the force, and the momentum that will suddenly occur, will carry the blade if the material gives way or the blade slips out of the cut? Another of your body parts, someone else’s, or just an object or material you don’t want to damage. How about when using a wood chisel? What about a hammer and cold chisel? A crowbar or pry-bar?

My son is eleven and can open any box or package or other wise wield a utility or pocket knife or scissors or shears more safely than many adults I know. Why? Because every single time he’s ever made such an effort I have been right there with the same question: If the blade slips out of the cut, or the material gives way, where is the blade going to go? Where is it going to end up? Where is it going to stop? And those things have occurred often enough – as they always will – to nicely demonstrate the concept and drive the point home.

When you have a stubborn fastener and you are applying ever-increasing amounts of force to a wrench, do you keep in mind the direction and force of movement if the wrench slips off or the tool or the fastener breaks?

Some of these scenarios we’re all familiar with and know the outcome is likely to be nothing more than some painfully skinned knuckles. But if you train yourself to always recognize and be aware of force applied, you can stay safe when the machine and the project and the forces ramp up to levels where a failure can cause serious injury or death. Or even just serious damage to the object in question and other things around it. Every single time you apply pressure – force – to anything large or small, realize that force is necessary because something is resisting movement. Take a moment to consider what will happen and how things will move if that resistance is suddenly lessened or removed, for any reason.

If you are making a cut with a circular saw you must be aware of the direction of force in the event of a kickback. But you must also be aware of the direction of force you are applying to move the saw through the material. Where the saw is going to go if the blade rides forward, up and out of the cut. What is beyond the material you intend to cut? And the big common target in these instances – where is your other hand? And if that happens, is it going to throw you off balance with a running saw in your hand? What happens when you can’t release the trigger because of your grip and because you’re trying to manage a fall? Where is your other hand going to end up as you try to break the fall? Under a running saw perhaps? Always consider the direction force is being applied and what the consequences will be in a failure of the system. I have stopped mid-cut and adjusted my stance and my grip to improve my balance and position, and to increase my control of the saw – including being better able to consciously release the trigger – in the event of a sudden change. All because this awareness is something I’ve cultivated and nurtured until it is ever-present.

You’ve heard that a sharp knife is safer than a dull one. This may seem counterintuitive, but managing force is exactly what this axiom is talking about. Sharp knives, sharp chisels, sharp saw blades all require much less pressure, much less force to cut through the material at hand. Much less pressure being applied means much less potential movement to avoid or control when material gives way or a blade slips out.

Stored, potential or “passive” energy can be difficult to see sometimes. A friend put up a ladder against a thick limb that needed to come down. (The standard rule is don’t use chainsaws on ladders, but we know that only works in the mystical world where the manufacturer writes the safety manual.) He had experience with a chainsaw and took all of the standard safety precautions. The cut was just outboard of the ladder, he wouldn’t have to reach, and the limb would fall cleanly in an open area away from the ladder on a slight away slope so it wouldn’t roll back. Even though he was actually not far off the ground, he even tied a short hank of rope over the top rung and the limb, just so he could concentrate on the cut. Sounds pretty thorough, so what was he missing?  The force buried in the tree. The effect of gravity on the tree from the large limb he was about to remove. It was as though an invisible rope was bending that tree toward the ground, and that rope was about to be cut. Disconnected from all of that extra weight the entire tree stood up straight in relief and flung him and the ladder backwards. He was very lucky. He did not suffer any injury from the fall, and was able to consciously toss the saw away. Great lesson. If only there was video.

Any time you lift something, beware of the direction of force of gravity. Anytime you push or pull on something beware of the direction force is being applied and what is going to happen to you or the objects involved if something fails. Anytime you see anything under tension or pressure, keep in mind the direction of force involved and avoid being in the path, or have a plan to remove yourself from the path. In many cases the movement will lie in two directions, the direction of the force and the “rebound” direction opposite, but always along the same straight line. That’s the axis you need be keep in mind.

At the very least perhaps you can avoid being the latest viral internet video with “fail” in the title. But you might also save a body part or life itself.

A simply mantra can reduce your chances of injury by many orders of magnitude:

  1. Always consider the direction of any force(s) being applied or potential energy existing in everything you come in contact with.
  1. Always expect some part of the system or machine to fail.
  1. Don’t be in the path of the direction of force, or any objects that may move in the event of a failure.
  1. If you are physically a part of the “machine” be prepared to protect yourself by maintaining our balance and position. Or in the case of some large complex operation, have a plan to immediately distance yourself in the event of a failure.

Stay safe!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

(This is the conclusion to the article series that began on Friday.)

Appendix A

The following is essentially a "wish" list; however the items that are in bold are relatively important.  The tools and medical areas would be for a complement for 1-10 people.  The sundries area covers a family of six.  The food area is for one person for one year, multiply (or divide) as you see fit.  There is extra food included for charitable impulses.  Coordinate purchases among the group if you plan to congregate.  I live in Georgia, so the clothing and supplies are tailored for that area; make modifications to the list to accommodate your particular AO or preferences.  The weapons list really is a bare minimum.  The anvil included in the lists is a clue that I plan on bugging in, rather than bugging out. (Bugging out, while it may become necessary, is just a fancy way of saying "refugee.")


Shovel, round point (2)                                     Shovel, square point                                   
spade                                                                                      Hoe (2)
Entrenching tool                                                            Machete                                                
Pick                                                                                    Mattock           
Post hole digger                                                           

Axe, double bit                                                            Axe, single bit
Hatchet, framing                                                            Chainsaw,
16" bar                                                                   Chainsaw blades
Hard hat/face shield/ear muffs                        Peavey           
Log dogs (4)                                                            Froe
Steel wedges (6)                                                            Splitting maul                                               
Block and Tackle (2)                                                 Crowbar, large
Crowbar, small                                                            Pry bar, small                                   
pinch bar                                                                        Pulleys, large (6)                                   
Pulleys, medium (6)                                                Pulleys, small (6)                                   
Chain hoist                                                                        Chain, 30'                                   
12 lb sledge hammer                                                8 lb sledge hammer                                   
4 lb engineers hammer                                    4 lb cross peen hammer                       
40 oz ball peen hammer                                                40 oz straight peen hammer                       
40 oz ball peen hammer                                                32 oz cross peen hammer
24 oz framing hammer (2)                                    20 oz bricklayers hammer                       
16 oz nail hammer (4)                                                14 oz Mallet                                   
16 oz ball peen hammer                                    12 oz Warrington hammer                       
Tack hammer                                               

24" Jointing plane                                                            12" Jack plane                                               
9" Smoothing plane                                                4" block plane                                               
Compass plane                                                            Rabbet Plane                               
Radius plane                                                            Chamfer plane
Adze, large                                                                        Adze, small                                               
Broad axe                                                                        Draw knife                                               
#80 Scraper holder                                                Spoke shave (2)                                               
Scrapers (3)                                                            Wood chisels, 2"-1/4"                                   
Corner chisel, 1/2"                                                Corner chisel, 1/4"                                   
Framing Chisel, 1"                                                Framing Chisel, 2"                                   
Socket Slick, 2"                                   

10 tooth crosscut saw (2)                                    8 tooth crosscut saw                                   
5 tooth rip saw                                                            Hack saw (2)
Mini-hacksaw                                                            Dovetail saw                                               
Compass saw                                                            Keyhole saw                                               
Coping saw                                                                        Coping saw blades (50)                                   
Back saw                                                                        1-man timber saw                                   
12" Bow/hack saw                                                12" blades (20)                                                
30" bow saw (3)                                                            30" blades (20)                                               
Bow saw                                                                        Bow saw blades, Asst.
Frame saw            

Brace, large                                                             Brace, med                                               
Brace, corner                                                            Bits, 2"-1/4"                                               
Twist drill (2)                                                            Twist drills,  (2 sets)                                   
Brad point drills                                                            Screw starter bits                                   
Pencils, carpenter (40)                                    Pencils, regular (40)                                   
Chalk line            (2)                                                            Chalk, 1 gal                                               
Marking chisel                                               

Combination square                                                Compass                                               
Dividers                                                                        Framing square                                   
Speed square                                                            Plumb bob, brass (2)                       
25' tape (3)                                                            100' tape                                               
Folding rule                                                             4' level                                               
2' level                                                                        Torpedo level                                               
Line level (2)                                                            Water level                                               
Pipe clamps, 6' (8)                                                C-clamps, Asst. sizes (20)                       
Wood vise, 12" (3)                                                Hold downs (7)
Work bench                                                            Shaving Horse                                   

cat's claw                                                                        nail belt, leather
nail belt, cloth (4)                                                            Wood glue (3 gal)                                   
Wood glue, small bottle                                                glue brushes, 18
Nail sets, 4                                                                        Mason's trowel                                               
Putty knife (3)                                                            Sandpaper                                               
Sanding block                                                            Peg sizer                                               
Box knife (3)                                                            Straight blades (100)                                   
Hook blades (20)                                                            Saw set                                                           
Bicycle tire pump                                                Traps (Asst.)
Plumbing fittings, valves, pipes, etc           
20d nails (100 lbs)                                                16d nails (100 lbs)                                   
8d nails, box (100 lbs)                                                Wood screws (50 lbs)
Fence staples (50 lbs)                                                1-3/4" Roofing nails (50 lbs)                       
8d finish nails (40 lbs)                                                1 3/4" lead head roofing nails (30 lbs)           
4d finish nails (20 lbs)                                                Concrete cut nails (20 lbs)           
16d double headed nails (10 lbs)                        Wire brads (3 lb)                                   
Tool box, mechanical                                                1/2" drive socket set                                   
3/8" drive socket                                                1/4" drive socket set                                   
Screwdriver set                                                            Asst. bits for 1/4" drive handle                       
Extra #2 Phillips                                                            Extra 5/16" flat screwdriver                       
3/16"-2" box end wrench set (2)                        4mm-23mm box end wrench set                                   
Pliers, side cutting (3)                                                Pliers, slip joint                                    
Pliers, linesman                                                            Pliers, needle nose (2)
Pliers, electrical                                                            Vise grips, Asst. (6)                                   
Crescent wrench set (3)                                    Water pump pliers (3)                                   
Fence pliers (2)                                                            Scissors (2)                                               
Staple gun                                                                        T-50 staples (3000)                                   
Glass cutter (2)                                                            Sharpening stones, Asst. (6)                       
India ink (1 pt)                                   
Anvil                                                                                    Forge
Stump vise                                                                        Manual powered blower           
12V DC blower                                                            Hardies/mandrels
Mechanics vise, 8"                                                Wire brush (3)                                   
Leather work gloves                                                Leather apron
Coal, 700 lbs                                                            Files, Asst. (20)           
Solder irons (2)                                                            solder, 5 lb
Tongs (7)                                                                        Pipe wrench (2), 14"
Tin snips (3)                                                            Sheet metal flattener
Swage block                                                            Oil, 2 gal                                               
Shears                                                                        Tap and die set
Punches, chisels                                                            Grinding wheel
Hacksaw blades (50)                                                Oxy-acetylene rig
Propane torch                                                            Propane bottles (50)    


Clorox                                                                        Disposable lighters
Soap                                                                                    Salt
Pepper                                                                        Candles
Nails, 16d,                                                                        Needles/thread
Fish hooks                                                                        Coffee

WEAPONS, Long guns (minimum)


Centerfire bolt-action rifle (w/ scope)            12 or 20 Ga. pump shotgun, full stock            
.22 rifle                                                                         .177 Pellet rifle

WEAPONS, Handguns (minimum)

.357/.38 - 4" bbl                                                           



.Centerfire ammo (200)                                                12 or 20 Ga rifled slugs (50)           
12 or 20 Ga #0 buck (100)                                    12 or 20 Ga #4 (100)                                   
12 or 20 Ga #7-1/2 (100)                                    .22 LR HP high-vel (1,500)
.177 pellets (1,000)                                                .357/.38 HP (200)                                   

Other Weapons
8" knife                                                                         Survival knife (1)                                   
Swiss Army Knives (2)                                                Power pliers (1)                                               
Single recurve bow w/ arrows                        Cleaning kit, base                                   
Cleaning kit, field (2)                                                Solvent, 2 pints                                   
Oil, 4 pint                                                                        Grease, 4 med tubes
Eye goggles (2)                                                            Ear protection (5)
Bow strings (2)                                                            Holster                       
Extra magazines (where required)                        Spare parts, springs, sears, pins, etc.
Spare scope           


5' spinning outfit, med action (2)                        Tackle box, med spinning gear           
Net                                                                                    Trot line hooks, 200                                   


Cast iron Dutch Oven (2)                                    Cast iron frying pan (3)                       
Pots (4)                                                                        Cast iron griddle                                   
Bread pans (7)                                                            Coffee pot                                               
Meat grinder                                                            Grain grinder (2)                                   
Metal grate for outside oven                        Copper pads                                               
Kitchen knives (7)                                                Asst. utensils                                               
P-38 can openers (7)                                                Asst. dishes                                               
Hand water pump                                                Tripod
Bell                                                                                    20 yds Cotton cloth
Canning Supplies (300 jars w/ lids)            Wool blankets (12)                                   
4" foam pad, 84" x 60" (6)                                    Pillow ticking                                   
Pillow (6)                                                                        Sleeping bag (6)                                   
Pup tent (2)                                                            Cabin tent                                               
ALICE pack w/ frame (2)                                    Day pack (4)                                   
Large pack w/ frame                                                Compass (4)                                               
Area map (6)                                                            Binoculars (2)                                   
BIC lighters (24)                                                            Ball bearings, 50                                   
Stick matches, 30 boxes                                               
Survival Kits (6)                                   
            Swiss Army pocketknife                                   
            razor blade
            bic lighter
            magnesium starter
            button compass
            space blanket
            Water purification tabs (100)

LC-2 belt (2)                                                            LC-H suspenders (2)                       
Canteen w/ cup w/ holder (4)                                    Shotgun pouch (4)                       
LC-2 first aid kit (6)                                                LC-2 butt pack (2)                       
Compass pouch (2)                                                G-3 mag pouch (2)                       
BAJA waterproof bags (6)                                    LBE rubber bands (20)                                   
Trioxane bars (100)                                                Survival cards (2)                                   
Light sticks (48)                                                            Signal mirror (6)                                               
Sewing kit
            needles, Asst., 100
            thread, Asst., 50 spools
            buttons, Asst., 100
            pins, 500

Watch                                                                        Zip-lock bags
Kerosene Lamps (7)                                                Kerosene lantern, (3)
Funnels (3)                                                            Gas lantern
Propane lanterns (2)                                                Propane stove, 2 burner
Propane stove, 1 burner                                    Propane tanks, 5 gal, 3
Adapter kit for lantern/stove                        LP 2 Propane adapter
Candles (70)                                                            Extra wicks/globes/mantles                                                            
LED flashlight (3)                                                Red lenses (3)                                   
D cells, Ni-Cd (12)                                                AA cells, Ni-Cd (21)
12 volt battery, Storage (2)                                    Solar charger(s)                                   
Extra bulbs (6)                                                            Radio, shortwave w/ antenna
Radio, AM/FM                                                            Scanner
CB base station SSB                                                CB handhelds, 3, SSB           
Sound powered phones, 6                                    IR Detectors, 3
Phone cable, 700 ft.                                                Phone jacks
Asst. coaxial adapters                                                Hand powered DC generator
Gas powered DC generator, 12V                         12/3 Copper Romex wire  (500 ft)
Twist connectors (700)                                                16 Ga stranded wire (700 ft)
Jumper cables (3)                                                            Butane operated soldering iron
Butane canisters (7)
General purpose electronic repair items
            Switches, GP
            CB crystals
            solder wick

Soap bars (300)                                                            Soap, liquid, 3 gals                                   
Toothpaste, tubes (12)                                    Tooth brushes (12)                                   
Floss, dental (20)                                                Towels, hand (7)                                   
Towels, bath (12)                                                TP (300 rolls)           
Boots, hiking (2 pr ea)                                                Boots, Shoe-pacs w/ felt liner (1 pr ea)           
Shoes (2 pr ea)                                                            Socks (20 pr ea)                                               
Poncho w/ liner (1 ea)                                    leather gloves (3 pr ea)                       
Work gloves, (12 pr ea)                                    Mittens (1 pr ea)                                   
Underwear (12 pr ea)                                                Pants,  (4 pr ea)                                   
Shirts, (4 ea)                                                            T-shirt, (6 ea)                                   
T-shirt, (6 ea)                                                            Shorts, (4 ea)                                   
Parka            (1 ea)                                                Jacket            (1 ea)                                               
Travel vest                                                                        Hat, floppy                                               
Belts (2 ea)                                               
Paper, 8.5 x 11 (3,000 sheets)                                    Area Maps                       
Manila folders (50)                                                pencils/pens (4 ea) w/ refills                       
Gum erasers                                                            3X5 cards, 200                                               
Books (many)                                                            Bibles (10)                                   
Coffee cups (6)                                                            Guitar                                                           
Strings (3 sets)                                                            case                                                           

Wood burning Stove                                                 Leather sewing needles                                   
Tarp, 12'x16' (1)                                                            Tarps, 12'x10' (2)                                   
40 gal tub (2)                                                            Washboard                                               
Broom (2)                                                                        Mop (2)                                                                       
Bucket, metal (7)                                                Bucket, plastic (7)           
Gold pan                                                                        Figure-8 breaker bar

K1 Kerosene, 25  gal                                                Unleaded gas, 55 gal
White gas, 5 gal                                                             Gasoline can, 5 gal (10)
Water cans, 5 gal (3)                                                Sta-Bil gas stabilizer (for 55 gals)
55 gal drums, 4                                                            Gasoline pump, manual
Wire mesh                                                                         Baling wire, 1000'
Fencing, 100'x 5', 6 rolls                                    Chicken wire, 100'x 3', 6 rolls           
Hardware cloth, 1/4" (20')                                    Hardware cloth, 1/2" (100')                       
Rope, 3/4" braided nylon (200')                        Rope, 1/2" braided nylon (400')
Rope, sisal, 1/4" (1000')                                    Rope, Parachute cord (700')                       
Mason's twine (700')                                                Heavy-duty Mason's twine (700')           
Twine (2000')                                                            Waxed lacing (1000')
2" Nylon strap, 20'                                                Cement, fire clay, (100 lbs)           
Portland Cement, (2100 lbs)                                    Tin roofing, 1000 sq ft
3/4" Plywood, 3 sheets                                                1" plastic pipe, 100 ft
Solid drain pipe                                                            Diverter valve for pipe  ???
Burlap bags (100)                                                hose clamps, 25           
Stove pipe, 25'                                                            Stove pipe elbows, caps, terminations,
Sheet metal, 4'x4' (7 pcs)                                    Asst. nuts, bolts and hardware
Spray bottles, 3                                                            Hydraulic bottle jack, 12T (2)
PVC, 3/4 X 16', 24 pcs                                                PVC crossovers, 12           
PVC T's, 12                                                                        3/4" copper pipe, 100'
1" copper pipe, 20'                                                Misc copper fittings, 30
30 wt tar paper (10 rolls)                                    Plastic sheet, 10 mil, 3 rolls                       
Screen wire (100 ft roll)                                                Glass panes, 1' x 1', 20 pcs                       
Glazing putty, 2 1 pt cans                                    Cheese cloth, 1 roll

Clorox, 30 gal                                                            Ammonia, 1 gal
Lye, 3 gal                                                                        Iodine, 21 oz
Silicon sealant                                                            RIT dye, earth colors (4 pkgs)
Axle grease (3 lb)                                                            Bar oil for chain saw, 5 gal           
10W-40 Motor oil, 24 qt                                                30W Non-detergent Motor oil, 24 qt
Dextron II Automatic Tran fluid, 4 qt            Mineral spirits, 4 qt
Acetone, 4 qt                                                            Oil to mix w/ gas for saw, 2 qt           
WD-40, 2 gal                                                            Locktite
PVC glue, 3 bottles                                                Boric acid, 2 qt           
Sevin dust (100 lbs)                                                Linseed oil (3 gal)           
Turpentine (3 gal)                                                Electrical tape (12 rolls)           
Duct tape (30 rolls)                                                Dichotomous earth, 50 lbs



Hard Red Wheat, 100 lbs                                    Dent Corn, 100 lbs
Rice, 100 lbs                                                            Spelt, 30 lbs
Barley, 30 lbs                                                            Pinto beans, 60 lbs
Kidney beans, 10 lbs                                                Millet, 10, lbs
Lentils, 10 lbs                                                            Great Northern beans, 10 lbs
Pasta, 70 lbs                                                            Cheese powder, 10 lbs
Cheese, 10 lbs                                                            Flour, 10 lbs
Dried Potatoes, 5 lbs                                                Dried Onions, 10 qts
Dried fruit, 20 qts                                                Dried vegetables, 30 qts

Coffee, 20 lbs                                                            Oil/Crisco, 7 gal
Powdered milk, 30 lbs                                                Beef stock, 7 lbs
Salt, 20 lbs                                                                        Pepper, 2 lbs
Soup, 70 pkgs                                                            Canned tomatoes, 70 cans
Peanut butter, 10 lbs                                                Sugar, 20 lbs
Kool-Aid, 30 pkgs                                                Honey, 3 gal
Corn syrup, 1 gal                                                            Powdered butter, 3 lbs
Cocoa, 3 lbs                                                            Yeast, 3 lb
Baking powder, 3 cans                                    Baking soda, 7 boxes
Vinegar, 1 gal                                                            Chili powder, 3 cans
Garlic powder, 3 cans                                                Soy sauce, 1 bottles
Italian seasoning, 1 cans                                    Vanilla extract, 3 bottles
Maple Syrup, 3 bottles                                                Lemon juice, 1 gal
Ascorbic acid, 2 lbs                                                Molasses, 1 bottle

Additional canned gods can be substituted for grains above

5 gal plastic food buckets, 25                        5 gal lids, 25
1 gal metal food cans, 30           

Seed, non-hybrid
            et al

Vitamins (300)                                                            Coffee filters, 100
Rennet                                                                        Whiskey, 3 gal
MREs, 30    



Bag, main                                                            Bag, surplus
Ace bandages (7)                                                Large bandages (21)
Burn dressings, (4)                                                Butterfly sutures (40)                                   
Triangular bandage                                                Band-aids, Asst. sizes, 300                       
Wooden cotton swabs, 100                                    Adhesive tape, 1" and 2" (10 rolls)           
Alcohol wipes, 100                                                2x2 gauze pads, 200                                   
4x4 gauze pads, 100                                                Cotton balls                                               
BP cuff                                                                        Stethoscope
Otiscope                                                                        Teaspoon
Thermometers, 3                                                Flashlight, AA x 2                                    
Chemical ice pack                                                Measuring cup                                               
Snake bite kit                                                            Rubber gloves (24 pr)                                   
Soap, 3 bars                                                            prescription glasses, 2 pr           
Hypodermics (3)                                                100 proof Grain alcohol (3 qts)                       
Needles                                                                        Lidocaine                                               
Hemostats (7)                                                            Needle holders (2)                                   
Scissors (3)                                                            Scalpels (3)
Lancets                                                                        Wire cutters
Pliers                                                                        Tooth extraction pliers
Dental mirror                                                            Dental pick
Hacksaw blade                                                            Suture materials, Asst. (20 sets)           
Surgical tubing, 20 feet                                    IV sets
Catheters                                                                        Plaster of Paris
Space Blankets (3)                                                Suction device
Urine Test Kits (2)                                                Pregnancy test kits (3)
Magnifier/30X microscope                                    AA Batteries (4)
Magnet                                                                        eye patches (3)
Cotton bats, 7 boxes                                                Safety pins, pkg 100                                   
Tweezers (5)                                                            Toenail clippers                                   
Zinc oxide                                                                        Alcohol, 2 qt                                               
Iodine, 7 oz                                                            Betadine, 4 qt
Liniment, 1 qt                                                            1% hydrocortisone, 3 tubes                       
Hydrogen peroxide, 2 qt                                    Tylenol, 250                                               
Aspirin, 700                                                            Nyquil, 1 bottle                                   
Baking soda, 7 box                                                Salt, 1 box                                               
Calamine lotion, 1 bottle                                    Activated charcoal, 24 oz                       
Decongestant, 3 bottles                                    Imodium AD, 12 pkg           
Oil of cloves, 7 bottles                                                Benadryl, 3 bottles           
Benadryl cream, 1 tube                                    Alka-seltzer, 300 pkgs                                   
Pepcid AC, 100                                                            Vaseline, 1 sm jar           
Oral-jel, 3 tubes                                                            Dental filling material, 2 tubes
Lice Rx (Permethrin)                                                Rehydrating solution
Ammonia inhalant, 7                                                Epidrine pens, 3
Codeine or Demerol, 100 tabs                        Anti-biotic ointment, 21 tubes           
Anti-biotic, oral, 300 tabs                                    Anti-fungal cream, 3 tubes                       
Moisturizing cream, 3 tube                                               

Bag, personal size (2)
            Ace Bandage                       
            Band-Aids, 12
            Anti-biotic ointment, 1
            Large Bandage, 1
            Butterfly Bandage, 3
            2X2 gauze, 7
            Aspirin, 12
            Whiskey, 1/2 pt           

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Hello Mr. Rawles,
I am a great fan of your work and I eagerly anticipate the release of your new novel.   I live in rural Northeastern Colorado, where both sides of my family settled in the 1870s.  The mid-sized ranch, 1,900 acres, that I live on has been owned by my family for 104 years.  I raise cattle, goats, horses and hay along with my dad, my wife and kids.  I also have a “government job” in local emergency services to help make ends meet. 
I read the recent article by Denise Chow of Live Science, titled Water Woes: Vast US Aquifer Is Being Tapped Out about the Ogallala Aquifer and thought you might be interested in it.  I can vouch that the water table is indeed dropping, from personal experience.  We are on the edge of the Ogallala Aquifer and we have always had an ample supply of water until about five years ago when the wells in our area started going dry.  We have a stock well with a windmill on our place, that was originally hand dug by my great-grandfather in the early 1890s, which went dry two years ago.  I believe that this problem will help contribute to and be a factor in the coming collapse.  There are some center pivot irrigation wells in our area that are no longer being used because they either went dry, or were told to shut down by the state to conserve water.  This has reduced the amount of high yield crops being raised because they now have to be dry land farmed and produce lower yields.
Keep up the good work and God Bless, - Michael M.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Hi Jim,
I'd like to mention another heavy duty come-along/manual winch you and your readers may be interested in.   It is built by a long time American manufacturer, Wyeth-Scott.  Please note the pull ratings are based on dead lift capacities and, as they state, pull ratings are approximately double those.  Please see their notes regarding rating differences between lifting and pulling.  A vehicle on a flat road or a tree, through mud, up a hill. Thanks, - Guy S. 

Dear Mr. Rawles, and Readers,
Always be careful where you place your fingers around come-alongs. I always warn people who are using them that ""these things are responsible for more amputations than any doctor in the world." This is an exaggeration, of course, but care is warranted. I still have all of my fingers, but when I was first using these tools, there were some near misses. - Sam in Nebraska

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. For the preparedness minded individual, this old cliche couldn't be more important.

In my primary profession in the insurance industry, I observe on a regular basis all sorts of damage that happens to people's homes. Today, there are ample available supplies to repair damage, contractors to complete repairs, and insurance coverage to help cover the costs. Tomorrow, we may not be so lucky.

This is where our "ounce of prevention" comes into play. Whether you are preparing to live through a short-term event, a natural disaster, a grid-down event, or a long term TEOTWAWKI event, you've likely put a significant amount of thought and resources towards the location at which you plan to weather the storm.

Obviously, a catastrophic loss to your primary retreat or bug-in location after the event for which you've prepared would be devastating. Perhaps even life threatening.

But inevitably, someone's home will burn down or be struck by a tornado the day before, or the day of, a TEOTWAWKI event. You can be as prepared as you want for tomorrow, but if this happens to you, all your planning is for naught. You could be faced with the loss of your food supplies, water purification abilities, home heating systems, cooking equipment, or any other number of things that you have stored away for your long-term preparedness.

Fortunately, a vast majority of damage that can happen to a dwelling can be easily prevented.  Below, I'll cover a few of the more common property losses that I see and how they can be prevented through a combination of material selection and diligent preventative maintenance, leaving you with a more secure and functional long term retreat.

1. Fire Prevention - Fires are catastrophic no matter when they happen, but if you find yourself in a situation with no fire department to respond, they will be even more so. Even a small fire inside your retreat or bug-in location can cause extensive smoke damage and can render your dwelling uninhabitable. Here are some steps you can take and habits you can incorporate into your daily life to prevent fires.    

A. Perform a visual inspection of your home's exterior (2x per year)- Keep trees and other combustible items away from your home. A wildfire needs fuel leading up to your home in order to burn your home, so move firewood, tree limbs, propane tanks, and anything else you see at least 50 feet from your home. If you're in a fire prone area, aim for 100 feet at a bare minimum.

B. Inspect for gas leaks (4x per year)- In many areas, for those of you with natural gas, your gas company will come out and check your home for gas leaks for free. Their meters can detect even minor leaks that might go unnoticed by your nose. If this service is available, use it once per year. You can also use a simple soap and water solution to check fittings to your gas-burning appliances on your own.

C. Install fire extinguishers and inspect (1x per year) - Have a fire extinguisher easily accessible near any potential fire hazard in your dwelling. The kitchen, garage, and utility room are obvious locations, as well as near any solid fuel burning stoves. Check their pressure gauges annually and replace or recharge them when they get low or pass their expiration date. If you purchase new fire extinguishers to replace expired ones, keep the expired ones in a safe location in your house as backups. They may still work with reduced effectiveness, and if they are your only means of fire protection, you'll be glad to have the extra ammo.

D. Inspect and clean chimney (2x per year) - If you burn wood, it is important to clean your chimney regularly. Twice per year if you heat exclusively with wood, once per year if wood is supplemental heat only. I like to clean mine at the end of the wood burning season, sometime around mid to late April, then give a visual inspection in the fall before it's time to fire up the stove to make sure that my chimney hasn't become home for any wildlife.

E. Install lightning rods and inspect (2x per year) - A direct lightning strike can start a fire, destroy electronics, and scare the Schumer out of you when it happens in the middle of the night. Ask me how I know. Lightning rods are installed along the roof of your dwelling to take the brunt of the strike rather than your home. The electricity is directed along a series of wires and down into the ground. Twice annually, inspect the rods, wires, and grounding mechanism for any damage.

2.Wind Damage Prevention - A heavy gust of wind can damage the most heavily fortified properties. A tornado, hurricane, or cyclone can destroy everything in its path, and little can be done to stop it. There have been great advances in hurricane resistant building methods, but I am not well versed in them. For the sake of this writing, I'm going to focus on prevention of damage from the less than building-leveling winds.
A. Install high quality roofing materials - Simply said, the cheaper the shingle, the quicker the damage. Basic "three tab" style shingles are made to protect your home from rain, but do not stand up well to wind. When selecting roofing material, go with the sturdiest that your budget allows. Clay tiles, metal roofing, and 50+ year shingles will not only last longer, but will resist damage from strong winds, keeping your home protected and dry.
A. Brace gables - At the ends of your home, the gable of your roof (think the triangles leading up to the peak) are one of the most vulnerable parts of your home in a wind storm. I once saw a home that had the entire gable sucked right out and left lying on the ground next to the house by a tornado that passed almost a mile from said home. Upon closer inspection, the gable had only been attached to the home with a few nails around the edges. If your roof has gables (as opposed to a hip, gambrel, flat, or mansard style roof), get up in your attic and look how well they're attached. A few simple 2x4's nailed to the gable and back to the roof trusses or the home's framing can hold them in place instead of having your home exposed to the elements.
B. Visually inspect trees and limbs and remove any near your home (1x per year) - Does your home have large trees near it? In a wind storm, any limbs hanging near your dwelling may be broken off and fall on your roof causing damage. Large trees near the structure can also break, uproot, or split and fall on your home. Walk around, find potential culprits and trim them up or turn them into firewood.

3 . Water Damage Prevention - More damage is done to homes by water than almost any other peril. Penetration from outside water is commonly thought of, but the majority of damage comes from the water already inside your home. The damage from water can range from an inconvenient puddle to warped floor boards, to mold or an all out interior flood, so it pays to maintain the water systems inside your home.
A. Inspect the exterior envelope of your home (1x per year) - Take a detailed look at the exterior of your home to identify potential problem areas. Pay special attention to corners, windows, and seams. Apply caulking wherever necessary and touch up any chipped or peeling paint, no matter how insignificant. Inspect your roof for damage, missing shingles, missing flashing, or deterioration of any rubber boots protecting the places where vent pipes extrude from the  roof surface and repair or replace as necessary.
B. Inspect any exposed water lines (2x per year) - Do you have exposed water supply or drain lines in your basement or crawlspace or under any sinks or toilets? Perform a visual inspection to identify any drips or leaks and repair as necessary. Pay special attention to couplings, elbows, and fittings, as these are where almost all leaks originate. Also pay special attention to any lines supplying water to a filter in your refrigerator or an ice maker in your freezer. These lines are often installed by the individual who delivers the appliance and shoddy installations cause a significant number of water losses each year.
C. Replace water supply lines (Every other year) - Every plumbing fixture or appliance in your home has a supply line hooked to it. In many homes, these lines are a rubber or vinyl hose with plastic fittings that connect to a shut off valve on one end and the fixture on the other end. These hoses are under water pressure 24 hours per day, and if one of them bursts, there will be an unrestricted flow of water into your home until you stop it. Replace these lines every other year to minimize the risk of a blowout. Don't forget the clothes washing machine, toilets, and the dishwasher. If you have metal supply lines that connect your fixtures to your main water line, shut off the water and remove them every other year to inspect for deterioration or corrosion. Replace these lines when they show any sign of weakness, or every 5 years.
D. Maintain hot water heater (1x per year) - Your water heater's holding tank is a valuable source of clean water for your family should you lose your water supply. If you have a 50 gallon tank, this would supply one gallon of water per family member per day for almost 2 weeks for a family of four. It also has the capability of spilling 50 gallons of scalding hot water all over anything near it if it fails. It pays to keep this valuable appliance well maintained. Determine how to drain and flush your particular model and do so annually. When performing this flush, also inspect the anode rod in your heater and replace it if necessary. These rods divert corrosive action away from the tank walls and extends the life of your water heater. If you have softened water, this will greatly reduce the lifespan of your anode rod, and of your water heater if the rod is not regularly inspected and replaced when corroded. These rods are inexpensive and valuable to an important appliance in your home.
E. Install and maintain a sump pump - A sump pump is installed in a plastic basket below your home's lowest level. It provides a "path of least resistance" for subterranean water. The water enters the basket rather than coming up through your foundation. When the water reaches a certain level, it trips a float switch and pumps the water outside your home (maybe into a rain barrel?). If you're in a water-prone area, you may already have one of these. My main home is near water and has a high water table, so a sump pump is essential to a dry basement. Therefore, in my sump basket, I have a second pump that is powered by a deep cycle 12 volt battery. The battery will run the pump for about 8 hours and is kept charged by an attached charger. I have a second battery stored for it as well, with a portable solar charger, so one can be charging while the other is powering the backup pump. Twice per year, I open up the lid to the basket and fill it with water to visually inspect both pumps as they empty the water outside.
F. Prevent water damage from ice dams (Whenever necessary) - Ice dams happen in cold climates when hot air from inside your home or retained heat from the environment heats up the roofing surface, melting fresh snow that falls on your roof. The melted snow runs down to the roof's edge where it re-freezes. Ice dams can be prevented by installing electrical heat tape along the bottom edge of the roof.  In a grid down situation, a roof rake can be used to keep the bottom 2-3 feet of roofing area clear of snow to prevent ice build up. The roof rake is a flat piece of metal attached to a long pole, which allows you to stand on the ground and scrape down massive piles of snow right on top of your head and down the back of your coat. Again...ask me how I know.

4. Water/Sewer Backup Prevention - Human excrement runs downhill. Unless something stops it from running downhill. Then human excrement runs uphill, often right into the lowest level of the homes of some unfortunate souls. This stinks, both literally and figuratively, and would quickly render a dwelling uninhabitable in the absence of insurance coverage and professional cleanup crews. Here are some ways to prevent this excrement-y situation.
A. Install a backwater valve and gate valve - These relatively simple mechanical devices can stop any back flow by making your sewer line a "one-way street".  The backwater valve will allow your wastewater and excrement to flow out of your home freely, but will instantly plug if any pressure comes from the other direction. The gate valve is a failsafe mechanism, allowing you to manually close off your sewer line, preventing any inflow or outflow. Hopefully it goes without saying that once your system is stopped, you will not be able to use any interior drains. Time to dig a latrine.
B. Maintain your septic system (12x per year) - If you are in the country and on a septic system, in addition to regular pumping, keep a supply of Rid-X or a similar product on hand and use it monthly. These products with enzymes and bacteria help to break down human waste, keeping your septic tank drained and in good working order so it's there for you when you need it.
C. Maintain your main sewer line (1x per year or less) - It is always wise to know where your sewer line runs. If you are connected to a municipal system, you can find where your line leaves your house by locating the cleanout, a large threaded cap made of brass or PVC, in your basement or lowest level. The cleanout will likely be near the street side of your home (possibly underneath carpeting or other flooring). This line will run straight out from your home to the street from this point. Remove any trees that are near this line and grind out or kill off the stumps to avoid tree roots penetrating the line. There are commercial products available to kill tree roots in a main line, but it's preferable to remove the problem completely. If it's been a while since you had this main line cleaned, hire a plumber to clean it out, and ask how clogged it was. If it was in good shape, you'll probably be okay every few years, but if there were problems, you'll want to have this done annually. As much as possible, avoid putting any type of grease, oil, coffee grounds, egg shells or animal fat down your drain. Also avoid flushing items like diapers, tampons, cleaning wipes or paper towels down your toilets to prevent clogs.

5. Hail Damage Prevention - Hail smaller than the size of golf balls rarely does damage to property. Hail larger than golf balls can quickly destroy large amounts of property. While most of this damage would be cosmetic in nature, there are some steps you can take to prevent problems that will require your time that could be spent on more important things.
A . Install high quality roofing materials - Metal roofing, or impact resistant shingles are more cost-effective now than they've ever been. A standard asphalt shingle has a life expectancy of 20-30 years in perfect conditions, but most struggle to last even this long. Metal roofing can last a lifetime and resist damage from an ice attack by the cloud monsters.
B . Avoid vinyl siding - Hail can destroy vinyl siding in a matter of minutes, leaving your home exposed to the elements. Any other variety of siding may be damaged by hail, but the damage would be cosmetic in nature.

6. Theft Prevention - Entire volumes have been written about retreat security, and I don't intend to recapitulate all of that information here. However, there are some simple things that you can do to your home to make stealing your stuff more of a challenge than stealing someone else's stuff. I strongly believe in the concept of layered security. Any one of these suggestions alone don't deter a good thief, but all of them together make your home a real pain in the neck compared to easier targets.
A. Trim hedges and bushes near doors and windows (1x per year) - Thieves lurk and hide. Don't give them anywhere near a potential entry point to spend time unnoticed.     

B. Visually inspect your home from a thief's eyes (2x per year minimum) - This can be a daily thought process, but at least twice per year, take the time to look at your house like a burglar would. Can you see valuable items, food storage, water filtering equipment, a safe, or any other enticing items through outside windows? You can install blinds or shades in windows, but they only work if they're closed all the time. Make your home look as boring as possible for anyone who might look in.    

C. Install motion lights and test (12x per year) - Are there dark areas around your home or retreat? Motion lights can make your home less of a target by shedding light on the shadows in which creeps lurk. Be careful though, that these have a switch or other mechanism allowing you to shut them off if you need the privacy or anonymity that darkness can provide. My motion lights are all installed on a single electrical circuit. One breaker shuts them all down instantly. Test these motion lights monthly to make sure they pick up motion in the areas you desire and that bulbs are in working order. Re-aim motion sensors and bulbs as necessary.
D . Install alarm sirens and test system (12x per year) - A home security system by itself is no deterrent to most thieves. A good one will be gone with what they want before the cops arrive. A desperate thief doesn't care. I prefer wireless systems to the traditional wired system connected to a phone line, because the thief can't just cut a phone line before they break in. Wireless systems can be self installed, run on grid power or solar rechargeable batteries, and can communicate with a monitoring service via cell signal. In a grid down situation, this system can still provide value by alerting you to intrusion with door and window sensors and motion sensors.    

E. Avoid common hiding places for valuables - Everyone puts cash in the freezer, a gun in the nightstand drawer, tapes stuff under drawers, puts things under mattresses, and right inside the entrance to an attic. How many people put an extra fake drain pipe under the sink or a fake light switch on a wall covering an electrical box with hidden valuables? Get creative.     

F. Get a good safe and bolt it to the floor - Sturdy Safe makes my favorite safe with the best fire protection that I've found for the money. Get the biggest one you can afford or fit into your dwelling and bolt it to the floor, then build walls around it, shelves in front of it, and bolt it to the floor. Obscure it however possible and install a motion sensor from your security system near it to alert you if an intruder finds it.

6. Infestation Prevention - Bugs, mice, and other vermin are another destructive force that can turn your bug-in location into a location you want to bug out of. I keep a hefty supply of pesticides and insecticides in my storage (both the chemical variety and the organic variety)for this reason. Every area of the country will have different risks here, so know yours. I spoke above about the importance of doing a thorough inspection of your home's exterior. This practice will also aid in pest prevention by finding and sealing passageways that allow pests in your home.
A. Treat your exterior (4x per year) - Applying a pesticide to the areas around the perimeter of your dwelling can keep pests from invading your space. It's better to keep them out than to deal with them when they're in. Find a product that works on your local bugs and keep enough on hand to continue treating your location if it becomes unavailable.
B . Set mouse traps - I've yet to see a mouse at my retreat. I still have a dozen traps set inside and outside and check them regularly. I have a beautiful wife who is very helpful and supportive of our preparedness, but if mice are living in our retreat, that support is gone.
C . Inspect and remove habitat near your dwelling (4x per year) - Do you have a wood pile against your house? Long grass near the foundation? Keeping the barrier around your home clean and de-cluttered keeps your home from being easy habitat, or providing easy passage inside.

This might all seem like an enormous undertaking, but when living in the situation for which you are preparing, a well maintained retreat is vital to your survival. Some of these recommendations are easy and inexpensive now. They may become impossible repairs someday, because the supplies are unavailable. The better condition your retreat or bug-in location are in when the event happens, the longer you can count on it to provide you shelter and security.

I recommend implementing a preventative maintenance calendar, on which you schedule different inspections and loss prevention items. On it, you can also include other regular necessary tasks around your retreat or plan for the upcoming year's activities or purchases.

I thank God for all of the knowledge and experience so freely shared on this blog. Remember brothers and sisters, that all things work for the good of those who love God. Trust Him and follow in the footsteps of Christ and you will survive, on Earth for as long as He wills, and in forever in eternity with him.

Psalm 23
1 The LORD is my shepherd,
  I shall not want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
  He leads me beside quiet waters.

3 He restores my soul;
  He guides me in the paths of righteousness
  For His name's sake.

4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
  I fear no evil, for You are with me;
  Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
  You have anointed my head with oil;
  My cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and loving kindness will follow me all the days of my life,
  And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

I enjoy your blog very much, have been following it for years. Keep up the good work.
On the many lists of items preppers are encouraged to obtain, I have never seen hair clippers suggested.  An essential item.
(By hair clippers I mean manual, not electric.) - Pastor D.

JWR Replies: Although they are probably still made in India and China, the best place to find traditional clippers is used, via eBay or Craigslist. If they are well-made and aren't rust-pitted, even a century-old pair of clippers will probably last another century. Just be sure to keep them well-oiled.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Reader L. in Tucson recent wrote to ask for some guidance on buying come-alongs for his new retreat ranch in northern Arizona. Here is my advice:

Ratchet cable hoists (commonly called "Come-Alongs") are crucial tools for life on a retreat and for off-road driving. They have umpteen uses for everything from wire fence stretching to lifting elk carcasses for butchering. These should be purchased in pairs, for the greatest versatility.  We keep four come-alongs here at the Rawles Ranch: Two that are 2-ton capacity and two that are 4-ton capacity.  All four are American-made, by Maasdam under the trade name Pow'R Pull. I highly recommend them.

I recommend that you carry at least one come-along--together with a tow chain and a choker chain--whenever driving off of paved roads in any season. And in winter months this gear should be carried even when traveling on pavement.

Keep your come-alongs well-oiled and out of the elements and they will give you many years of service. Inspect the cable after each use for any signs of fraying. Also, be sure to never attempt to crank on a cable when the spool is nearly empty. (Always have at least one and a half wraps on the spool, before you crank it under any load. (Otherwise, the cable's terminating "button" might shear off, and send your load plummeting!) - JWR

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Mr. Rawles,

Regarding your big listing of American-made tools: For 30+ years I was a devotee of CeeTee pliers because they were the best.  Alas, like many, they are no longer American made.  Even 25 years ago, I noticed that the then-new CeeTee pliers were not as heavily made as the pair I had purchased in 1971.
A few months ago, I was bemoaning the state of CeeTee pliers to a friend that works in a hardware store.  He set me onto his favorite pliers (like me, he had been a CeeTee devotee):  The pliers are from Wilde Tools.
These hand tools are all 100% American made, produced in Hiawatha, Kansas.  They are heavy-duty and have a Lifetime Guarantee. Explore their web site.  Get at least a pair of their “regular” pliers.  I’ve only had mine a few months, but I love them! I cannot recommend these highly enough.
Keep up the great work with the blog! - Doug P.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Several readers wrote to suggest some more American makers to add to my recently-posted lists:

Alvord-Polk Tool - Aircraft quality reamers. 

Brubaker Tool, Division of Dauphin Precision Tool, LLC  - Mills, taps and drills.

Ames Corporation is the parent company for several brand names that make all American-made tools. These include:

Miller Electric (a sister company to Hobart Brothers.) - Engine Drive welder/generators. Made in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Quincy Compressors - Air compressors. Made in Quincy, Illinois.

Hypertherm - Plasma cutters.

Torchmate - CNC plasma cutting machines. (Part of Lincoln Electric Cutting Systems.)
Ventamatic - MAXX brand fans. Made in Mineral Wells, Texas.

Liberty water pumps - Electric transfer pumps (for use with garden hoses), sump pumps, macerator pumps, etc.

Bark River Knife and Tool - Mostly hunting, utility and filleting knives. Made in Michigan's U.P.

William Henry - Top quality pocket knives. Made in McMinnville, Oregon. (While they are a bit "spendy", they source all of their parts from suppliers in the States. For instance, their high end Damascus steel is forged in Alabama.)

Queen Cutlery/Shatt & Morgan - Quality and made pocket, hunting and other knives. Made in Titusville, Pennsylvania.

Rada Cutlery - Utilitarian knives at very reasonable prices. (Making it easy to stock up).  They make kitchen knives and utensils, as well as stone bakeware.  Made in Iowa.

Reader E.M. wrote to lament that a lot of fishing tackle is now made in China, but that one American company he does recommend is X Factor Tackle.

And Reader J.K. wrote this pitiful news: "As a former employee of Stanley Black and Decker in Towson, Maryland, I'm sorry to say that a vast majority of DeWalt (and other SB&D brands) tools currently produced by the company are actually made in China. While the current generation on the market are wonderful and durable tools, they are not made here any more. The only American assembled tools I handled there as a test technician were engineering prototypes. About the only thing SB&D does in America now for its various branded power tools is production lot sample testing for life limits and safety regulation compliance. Unfortunately, as I understand it all manufacturing will probably end up in China as a part of their 'Design to Value' campaign."

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The prepper has many preparedness areas to consider. Obtaining and managing food, water cleaning and storage, security, communications, and efficient transportation, are only some of the areas that a good prepper will be concerned with. Finding, cooking, and storing food rightly seem to be the focus of many preppers preparedness strategies.   With food and water survival becomes much more likely.   While you may be cold or wet, uncomfortable, cut off from the rest of the world or in an unsecured location , you will at least have the essentials that will allow survival. Everything else can be worked out later.  Preppers as a whole are wonderful at buying food cheaply and drying, canning or otherwise preserving it for a later time.  Many also have MREs or some kind of freeze dried food that is easy to carry and lasts for a decade or more [if stored at a reasonable temperature.] However, not so many preppers factor in the huge boost that animals can give to almost any prepper’s survival plan.  I know that many people do not have much time, money or space for animals and thereby think that food on legs is not for them.  Many animals require copious amounts of all three, but not all.  We are going to quickly consider two animals that require little space, have little need for special equipment or pens and use very little space, specifically chickens and pigs. 

First, the humble chicken.  Chickens are the perfect prepping animal, as they will eat practically anything, need only a few square feet per bird, are very quiet (as long as you do not have any roosters) and are very inexpensive  to maintain.  Lets go through how to buy and care for chickens with a prepping mindset.  Chicks can be raised any time of the year, although depending on your climate it may be easier to have them arrive in the spring so you can take advantage of the warm weather and leave them to their own devices sooner.   We have always ordered chicks through Murray McMurray hatchery and have found them to be of consistently high quality.  Make sure to order your chicks a couple of months before you want them to arrive as they sell out quickly.  When the chicks arrive your Post Office will call you at about 6 am to tell you that your chicks have arrived and to come pick them up.  You do not have to pick them up.  You can let the Post Office deliver them as usual, but why subject the chicks to being bounced and jounced around in a mail truck for hours? 

Once the chicks are home the first thing to do is to gently unpack them and check for any dead or injured chicks (which is rare). Next you need some sort of enclosure to keep them in, either indoors or outdoors in a barn or shelter of some sort.  We have had great luck keeping our chicks in plastic kiddy pools. They are the right size and with some shavings on the bottom make a nice clean enclosure.  You can also use cardboard and make an enclosure as well.  Either way, put newspapers, shavings or sawdust down before you put the chicks in their new home to soak up any liquid from the chicks. Chicks need to be kept at about 98 degrees for the first several weeks of their life. One or two 250 watt heat lamps serve this purpose well and can be purchased for about  $15 at a local hardware store.  You can buy special chick feeders and waters for $7 or less but a low dish works quite well as a feeder and a low bowl or a mason jar turned upside down in a disposable aluminum pan works as a waterer.  

At this point you just need to refill their food and water (and they will eat a lot) and adjust the heat lamp.  If all the chicks are huddled tightly together then they are cold, so lower the heat lamp until they start running around a bit. The chicks may ship with a packet of Quik Chick,  a blend of vitamins that you add to their water for the first few days. If so just follow the directions until the packet runs out. Within about two weeks you can start easing up on the heat lamp( as long as its not really cold) and move them to larger more roomy accommodations.  There are many plans online for all sorts of chicken coops, chicken tractors and chicken enclosures.   If you have the inclination to build something big and fancy that is fine, but all you really need is a small movable pen, or a simple stationary coop.  If you have a small grassy area, or even better, a pasture, then a chicken tractor is totally the way to go.  A chicken tractor is basically a wooden, metal or PVC pipe frame wrapped with chicken wire and a roof over some or all of it.  The floor is either chicken wire or just open so that the chickens are able to eat the grass and bugs on the ground. After a couple of days in one area you just lift or drag the tractor to a new area and the process starts all over again.  If you have the land (and you don't need much) this is the ideal situation. You save on chicken feed as you only have to supplement what they are already eating from the land, and your chickens will be happier for being able to eat their natural diet.  Chickens will also live quite happily in a stationary coop, a small garden shed works perfectly for this.  You will have to regularly put some sort of absorbent  material down such as pine shavings, sawdust, newspapers or something like that to help with smell. Unless you have a lot a chickens in a small space though, it's really not that big of a problem. For feed, table scraps are ideal, they don't cost anything and the diversity of the food means that unless you eat nothing but chicken nuggets, your animals will be getting all the nutrients they need.  You can also buy chicken feed for about $13 per 50 pounds which, depending on how many birds you have, can last over a month.  If you go with egg chickens it will be about 6 months before they begin laying, but once they start you should be getting about 1 egg per day per hen.  Not bad when you consider that for a a couple dollars of startup cost per bird you can get an egg a day for several years.  Meat chickens grow much faster, if you buy a modern meat hybrid the grow time is under nine weeks. If you go the meat chicken route make sure you call the slaughter house where you want to the have them butchered at least a month before your ready to bring them in, since they get backed up very fast.  You can also buy chickens that can be used for both meat and eggs.  In a survival situation these could be ideal since one breed of bird could supply you with both eggs and meat.  Ask your chick supplier, they should be able to tell you some breeds that do both.

Now moving on to pigs. While the chicken can be kept by practically anyone with even a small  back yard or grassy area, pigs will require slightly more in the way of room and containment.  You will most likely require about 150 square feet per pig, so a 10 ft. by 15 ft. pen is adequate for one pig, although the more room the better.  If you have more room to work with your pigs will benefit by having more natural food to eat and more room to run around. If possible, it is always better to get more then one pig, as just one can get lonely.  If you can only get one pig you can make it work if you have other animals, such as a dog or cat, that might socialize with the pig. A old bowling ball can be put in with one or more pigs as a toy.  They will roll it around with their snouts and it distracts them for hours. Every second they are rolling the ball around they aren't thinking about how to dig out! Since pigs are the third smartest animals in the world after gorillas and dolphins, you need to put some planning into their housing and fencing.  In the old days the test of a good fence was if it was horse high, bull tough and pig tight.  Pigs are good diggers so it is important that there either be something around the walls to discourage them from digging out, or you need to bury the fence 16 inches so that they can not dig under it.   For pens, dog kennels work very well, or you can just fence in a small pen with high quality woven or braided wire.  We used Red Brand fencing which is very high quality, made in America steel fencing company.  Such fencing can be bought at your local farm supply or hardware store, and if your only fencing a small area is usually quite reasonable.  The two main things to remember about pigs are: they can dig and it is very important to provide them with a place to get out of the sun and cool off a bit. Pigs can actually get sun burned if there is no shade to protect them.

Pigs will literally eat anything.   So the only problem with feeding them is finding enough food.  If you call around to local restaurants and/or super markets and tell them your raising pigs they are usually happy to give you leftover or slightly out of date food for free.  Frequently bread companies have distribution hubs where most of the bread that is out of code, or will be out of code before the next time that company shows up goes.  Most of them will sell you a pickup truck load for $10.  With a little ingenuity it's very reasonable to be feeding at least two hogs for next to no out of pocket cost.  Pigs usually grow for eight months before being sent to slaughter, so if you purchase them in the early spring they will be ready for slaughter in the late fall.  Call a local slaughter house( do a web search for you area) in the early summer to make a slaughter appointment, as they will fill up fast! 

With these two animals it is very possible to keep you and your family in meat, both in everyday life and in a survival situation.  If you choose to get a couple of roosters with your chickens( which I recommend if you can put up with the crowing in the morning) then you can hatch chicks if you wish, thereby extending your flock.  Then you will be getting both eggs and if needed you could eat some of the birds every now and again, since you will be constantly replenishing your stock with your newly hatched chicks. For the pigs, if you get a boar and a sow then every spring and sometimes in the fall you can will get a litter of between 8 to 12 piglets, enough to eat some and sell some to neighbors or friends. In sum, with these two animals, which are easy to keep, inexpensive to maintain and provide good food for their owners, a prepper can extend his food supply dramatically.  Raising animals thoughtfully can be rewarding for the family, responsible  for the environment, and provide nutritious and sustainable food for months and years to come.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Following up on my recently-posted list of field gear makers that have all American-made products, I've compiled a comparable list of American tool makers.

The Sell-Outs

Some companies that have long been thought of as "American" companies now produce most or all of their tools overseas. For example, Craftsman (the Sears house brand) now produces many of their tools in Asia. Others include: Cooper, Disston, Eastwood, Greenlee, Lufkin, Milwaukee, Peerless, Porter Cable, Shurlite, Snap-On, Thorsen, Vise-Grip, Vermont American, Weller, Williams, and Winchester. The many, many others are almost too numerous to list.

Some of the "good guy" companies that I will list here sell a few imported tools, but to qualify for inclusion, they must sell mostly American-made tools (and component parts.) Also, beware even "All American" tool companies source their plastic storage boxes, their belt pouches, and their tool bags overseas.

What to Buy?

When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, I would simply look at my father's collection of tools to get an idea of the good brands to buy. My kids can't safely do that today. Quite sadly, the majority of those tool companies have now moved their production offshore.

Do your homework before you buy! With the exception of high speed cutting tools, the vast majority of American tool manufacturing has moved offshore to mainland China. (The home of laogai "Reform Through Labor" prison factories.) Rather than just be depressed about this situation, I have resolved to do something to counter this trend. I urge all of my readers to do the following:

1.) Don't just blithely purchase merchandise without first checking on its country of origin. Take the time to LOOK at labels! When buying from mailorder catalogs or online, take a minute to call and ask, before you order if the country of origin is uncertain.

2.) If a product listing says "imported", then the odds are now better than 80% that it is made in mainland China. So skip it.

3.) Be sure to thank the management of these companies for keeping their production in the States, and tell them that they earned your business because of it.

Companies that proudly still offer "Made in USA" tools:

Measurement, Squaring, and Leveling Tools

  • Chappell Universal Square and Rule - Framing squares and other carpentry measuring/layout tools. Made in Maine.
  • Crick Tool - Traditional wood frame spirit levels. (Made in Ben Wheeler, Texas.)
  • Fischer Machine - Edge Finders, Vee Blocks and Clamps, and PeeDee thread measuring wires.
  • Port Austin Level and Tool - Wood and aluminum spirit levels. (Made in Michigan.)
  • Kraft Tool Company - Spirit levels as well as concrete and masonry tools.
  • L.S. Starrett Co. - Calipers, levels, tape measures, micrometers, dial indicators, and gage blocks. Most are still made in USA at their plants in Ohio, Massachusetts, Minnesota and North Carolina. (Some imported products, so see their catalog or web site, to be sure.)
  • U.S. Tape Company - The only domestic tape measure manufacturing company that makes a full line of tapes.

Wrenches, Socket Bits, and Socket Sets

  • Armstrong Tools - A wide variety of tools, all made in USA. (Now owned by Danaher Corporation.)
  • Bondhus - Various hex tools, including ball head. (Made in Minnesota.)
  • Bristol Wrench - The originators of the Bristol Spline Drive System.
  • Channellock - A wide variety of of pliers and other hand tools, including, of course, their patented slip-joint pliers. (Made in Pennsylvania.)
  • Eklind Tool Co. - Hex (Allen head) and Torx head tools, including folding, L-keys, and T-keys.
  • Klein Tools - This company was mention by nearly a dozen SurvivalBlog readers. They make a wide variety of hand tools at nine factories in Illinois. (A few of their products are imported, but those are noted in their catalog and on their web page.) Klein tools are widely available at hardware and Big Box stores.
  • Lisle Tools - Torx head and specialty automotive tools.
  • Loggerhead Tools - Adjustable wrenches, including the "Bionic" wrench.
  • Montana Brand Tools - Drive sets, drills, and more. (Made in Ronan, Montana.)
  • OTC - Wheel bearing wrenches and gear pullers. (Note that many other OTC products are imported.)
  • Precision Instruments - Click torque wrenches. Unlike other torque wrenches, these don't need to be "turned down" after use.
  • S-K Handtool - Socket wrenches, sockets, impact sockets, adjustable wrenches, screwdrivers, punches, chisels, hammers, and more.
  • Snap-on Tools - A huge variety of tools. They have four factories, all in the U.S. (In Elkmont, Alabama; Algona, Iowa; Elizabethton, Tennessee; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.) Most Snap-on products are US-made, but they also catalog some others tools that are imported. (So be sure to check.)
  • Superb Wrench - Filter wrenches.

Cutting Tools & Saws

  • American Carbide - Carbide end mills, burrs, and router bits.
  • Atlas Cutting Tools - Carbide, high speed steel and cobalt cutting tools made with domestic (USA) carbide.
  • Blu-Mol - (An American division of Disston.) Drill bits and power saw blades. Note: Disston's domestic operation is in South Deerfield, Massachusetts. But some of their tools are made in China.
  • Cenco Grinding - Drill blanks, Core Pins, Go/No-Go Gages, Plug Gages, Punches, Guide Pins, and Stainless Pins
  • Diamond Saw Works - Makers of Sterling brand saw blades. Blades for band saws, reciprocating saws, jig saws, hack saws, and more.
  • Eagle America - Router bits and jigs. More than 900 patterns of router bits. (Made in Ohio.)
  • Forrest's Blades - Excellent circular saw blades.
  • Hanson Tools - (a division of Irwin Tools) Taps and dies
  • Hart Steel - Hand-made straight razors. (Useful for more than just shaving.)
  • Imperial Blades - Oscillating blades.
  • Katie Jig - Dovetail cutting jigs.
  • King Tool - Hobby and craft tools. (Their knife sets are a lot like the old standby X-Acto brand--which sadly went offshore.)
  • Kodiak Cutting Tools - End mills, taps, twist drills, thread mills, burs, carbide drills and reamers
  • Lakeshore Carbide - Carbide end mills, center drills, and countersinks, made with American carbide.
  • Lie-Nielsen Toolworks - Woodworking block planes, bench planes, and chisels. (Made in Maine.)
  • Mastercut Tool Corp. - High Speed Steel Drills and Taps.
  • Mayhew - Punches, chisels, pry bars, etc.
  • Midwest Tool & Cutlery (aka Midwest Snips) - Forged blade hand tools, including metal cutting snips and other edged hand tools. Made in Minnesota.
  • MK Diamond - Masonry and Lapidary Cutting Saws.
  • Montana Brand Tools - Drills and drive sets, including titanium drill bits, magnetic screw guides, and more. Their "4-in1" self-countersinking bit/drivers are brilliant. (Made in Ronan, Montana.)
  • Niagara Cutter - Carbide and diamond-coated carbide cutting tools. (Headquartered in Amherst, but their tools are made in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.)
  • Norseman Drill and Tool - JWR's favorite brand of drill bits.
  • RedLine Tools - Machine tools (carbide end mills, drills, thread mills, tool holders, and cutting lubricants)
  • Scientific Cutting Tools (SCT) - Carbide and carbide-coated tools.
  • Severance Tool Industries - High-speed steel and carbide cutting tools
  • SGS Tool Company - Solid carbide rotary cutting tools: Burrs, drills, end mills, and router bits. (Made in Ohio.)
  • Silvey - Electric chainsaw sharpeners. (Unlike the cheap imported chain grinders, these cut a precision square notch.)
  • Southeast Tool - Router Bits and Drill Bits
  • Titan USA - Carbide, high speed steel,and cobalt cutting tools.
  • Toolco Industrial Corp. - Various cutting tools including Solid Carbide End Mills, Taps & Dies, Drills, HSS & Cobalt End Mills, Micro Tools, Threadmills, Carbide Burrs, Countersinks, Slotters, Door Bits, and Reamers
  • Triumph Twist Drill - Twist drills, tile drills, and taps & die,
  • Viking Drill - Various rotary cutting tools including drill bits, tap & dies, and annular cutters
  • Vortex Tool Company - Router and insert cutting tools.
  • Wenzloff & Sons - Awesome hand saws. Presently very limited production. (So it is best to buy them on the secondary market.)
  • Whiteside Machine Co. - Solid carbide and carbide-tipped router bits, form tools, spirals, and slotting cutters/arbors. Also a good assortment of chucks.
  • World's Best Saw Blades - Circular saw blades, dubbed: "Flattest, Truest, Smoothest, Best Made Blades... Anywhere"
  • Xuron Corporation - Shears, pliers and forming tools. (Made in Saco, Maine.)

Knives and Multi-Tools:

Hand Tools (Various)

  • ABC Hammers - Brass and bronze hammers.
  • Armstrong Tools - A wide variety of tools, all made in USA. (Now owned by Danaher Corporation.)
  • Arrow Fastener - Staple guns of all sorts. Note that some Arrow tools are imported, so be sure to check before you order.
  • Barco Tools - A wide variety of had tools including hammers, axes, pry bars, digging bars, trowels, etc.
  • Barr Specialty Tools - Excellent hand-forged woodworking tools such as adzes, chisels, draw knives, gouges, knives, mallets, and slicks. (Made in McCall, Idaho.)
  • Bicycle Tool - Specialty bike tools. They also make a fantastic 1/4-inch offset driver.
  • Blue Spruce Toolworks - Nice woodworking chisels, marking knives, scratch awls and mallets. (Made in Oregon.)
  • Bridge City Tool Works - Gorgeous (brass and rosewood!) woodworking tools including chisels, squares, Japanese saws, and planes. Pre-sold, in limited run batches. (Made in Oregon.)
  • Bully Tools - Shovels, hoes, planters, and trowels.
  • Chapman Mfg. Tools - Ratchets, drivers, and adaptors for Allen, Bristol, Phillips, and Torx head fasteners.
  • Council Tool - Reportedly, the only axe maker in the country that still forges its own axes. (Made in Lake Waccamaw, North Carolina)
  • Crosscut Saw Company - Logging hand saws and accessories. (Made in Seneca Falls, New York.)
  • Estwing Tools - Hammers, bars, small axes, and mineralogist picks
  • Hardcore Hammers - Framing hammers. (Made in Kansas.)
  • INCRA Precision Tools - Dovetail and precision miter fences for table saws and router tables. (Made in Texas. )
  • Kahn Tools - Retailers of exclusively American-made products from more than 50 companies.
  • Klein Tools - This great company was mentioned by nearly a dozen SurvivalBlog readers. They make a wide variety of hand tools at nine factories in Illinois. (A few of their products are imported, but those are noted in their catalog and on their web page.) Klein tools are widely available at hardware and Big Box stores.
  • Logrite - Logging hand tools.
  • Lumberjack Tools - Tenon Cutters.
  • Moody Tools - Excellent miniature tools, such as jeweler's screwdrivers.
  • Park Tool - Bicycle maintenance and repair tools, made in Minnesota. (But their multi-tools are imported.)
  • Peavey Manufacturing - Axes, post hole diggers and off course Peaveys. (Made in Eddington Maine.)
  • Pratt-Read (now owned by Ideal) - Screwdrivers and nut drivers.
  • Pro-Tools - Tubing benders.
  • Proto (aka Stanley-Proto--a division of Stanley.) Most Proto tools are made in USA.
  • Ridgid Tools - Pipe wrenches, pipe threaders, and tubing cutters. Note that some Ridgid tools are imported, so be sure to check before you order.
  • Snyder Manufacturing - Ratcheting and non-ratchet screwdrivers. (Made in Salamanca, New York.)
  • St. Croix Forge Family - Horse shoeing tools, nails and other farrier equipment
  • Stiletto Tool Co. - Titanium and stainless steel hammers. (Made in Winton, California.)
  • Vaughan Mfg. (aka Vaughan-Grayvik) - Hammers, pry bars, hatchets, axes, drywall hatchets, etc. Note that some Vaughan tools are imported, so be sure to check before you order.
  • Wilde Tool - A great range of hand tools, including pliers, screwdrivers, scrapers, wrenches and more. (Spoken "Wild-ee.")
  • Woodman's Pal - A trail machete/hatchet/pruner.
  • Wright Tool - Wrenches, sockets, screwdrivers, pliers, and hammers,
  • Xuron Corporation - Shears, pliers and forming tools. (Made in Saco, Maine.)

Sewing and Leatherworking Tools:

Gunsmithing, Reloading, and Bullet Casting Tools:

  • Brownell's - America's largest gunsmithing tools supplier. They sell a mix of US-made and imported tools, so be sure to check the country of origin for each item before ordering.
  • Chapman Mfg. Tools - Ratchets, drivers, and adaptors for standard slotted (gunsmithing style), Allen, Bristol, Phillips, and Torx head.
  • Dillon Precision - Reloading tools. Oh, and a great Minigun. ;-)
  • Grace USA - Excellent hollow-ground gunsmithing screwdrivers, as well as hammers and pin pinches.
  • Infinite Products - Stainless Steel Solvent Trap 1/2x28 to Oil Filter (3/4x16) Thread Adapters
  • Lee Precision - Reloading and bullet casting tools.
  • Lone Wolf Distributors - Glock armorer tools.
  • Lyman Products - Reloading and bullet casting tools.
  • RCBS - Reloading tools.
  • Squirrel Daddy - AR15 / M16 Lower Receiver Magazine Vise Block. (These are handy to just hold your AR for cleaning, too.)
  • Tapco - The best AR-15 armorer's wrench. Many of their other products are imported, so check before your order.
  • UTG - AR-15 Sight adjusting tools, and many products. (Check for country of origin.)

Welding Tools:

Clamps and Vises:

  • Anvil - (aka Wolff Industries) Their fly-tying (miniature) vise is American-made. (Made in Indiana.)
  • Armstrong Tools - Some clamps made in USA.
  • Badger Clamp - A variety of clamps. (Made in Michigan.)
  • Bench Crafted - "Build It Yourself" woodworking table vise kits and plans, including a great split-top Roubo bench. They also make great magnetic knife and tool holders.
  • Bench Dog Tools - Clamping assembly squares and hole clamps.
  • Dyna King - Their fly-tying (miniature) vises are American-made. (Made in Cloverdale, California.)
  • Griffin Enterprises - Fly-tying (miniature) vises, all American-made. (Made in Kalispell, Montana.)
  • Pony Clamps - Most of their clamps are made in the USA.
  • Wilton - Only some of their vises are still American-made, so check carefully before ordering.
  • Yost Vises - U.S. and imported vises. (Only the vises shown on their "Made in USA" web page are American-made.)

Handheld Electric Power Tools:

Except for Dremel, there are now precious few US-made hand-held AC (power cord) or DC (battery) power tools. We now must look for used tools that are marked "Made in USA." Even Milwaukee and Porter Cable have shifted their manufacturing to China! I personally use Dewalt tools, which are now mostly made in Mexico. (I refuse to buy tools made in China, unless I have no other choice.) Ironically, I've read that Makita (a Japanese conglomerate) now makes more tools in the U.S. than does Dewalt! BTW, I also own some Dremel brand tools, but they now only claim "Made in North America" (rather than "Made in USA") for their product line. Many of their tools are also now made in Mexico.

Floor and Bench Mount Power Tools:

Note: Pitifully, there are no more mid-size (home shop weight) milling machines made in the USA. The only one that comes close is is the Industrial Hobbies (Charter Oak Automation) brand mill, but the big castings that they start with fro those are imported from Taiwan. It is generally best to look for used American-made machines from quality makers, locally, via Craigslist. (Such as Apex, Jet, Atlas, or Bridgeport.) Ditto for bench grinders, disc sanders, scroll saws, and many other tools. Here are a few American floor and bench mount power tool makers that are still hanging in there:

  • Buffalo Machines, Inc. - Perhaps the last American maker of home workshop drill presses. Both their machines and their documentation still look "Old School", too! (Made in Lockport, New York.)
  • Clausing - Only their few "Insourced" machines are American-made.
  • Dremel - Makes a Rotary Tool Work Station that turns your Dremel tool into a miniature drill press.
  • Ellis Mfg. - Band saws, band saw blades, floor mount belt grinders, and a CNC drill press.
  • Powermatic - Table saws. (In October of 1999 Powermatic was purchased by WMH, who already owned Jet Tools, and Performax Products.)
  • Ridgid Tools - Best known for their pipe tools, they also make bench-mount (or cart-mount) miter saws, table saws, and abrasive cut-offs
  • Sherline - Miniature lathes and milling machines.
  • Shopsmith - Multipurpose woodworking machines (functions include lathe, table saw, disc sander, boring and routing) for home woodworking. (Some argue that in attempting to all of these tasks, that they do none of them particularly well. I only recommend Shopsmiths if you have very limited floor space in your wood shop.)
  • TAIG Tools - Bench top mini milling machines and lathes. Now with CNC control!

3D Printers

Here is a new technology where America presently has the lead! American companies control more than 90% of the market:

Pneumatic Power Tools:

  • Bondhus - Various hex (Allen and Torx head) tools, including ball head. (Made in Minnesota.)
  • Campbell Hausfeld - Cast Iron Air Compressors.
  • Proto (aka Stanley-Proto--a division of Stanley.) Most Proto tools are made in USA.
  • Snap-on Tools - A huge variety of tools. They have four factories, all in the U.S. (In Elkmont, Alabama; Algona, Iowa; Elizabethton, Tennessee; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.) Most Snap-on products are US-made, but they also catalog some others tools that are imported. (So be sure to check.)
  • Texas Pneumatic Tools - Compressors, impact wrenches, grinders, et cetera.
  • St. Louis Pneumatic - Impact wrenches, grinders, drills, and power chisels.

Masonry Tools:

Log Splitters:

  • DR - Gas engine and electric splitters. Unlike a typical gas engine splitter, their electric splitters cannot be heard from more than a short distance away.
  • Ramsplitter - As electric splitters go, these are fast and powerful.

Pouches and Tool Bags:

Work Benches, Tool Chests, Cabinets, Tool Carts, Router Tables, and Saw Horses:

  • Akro-Mils - Very handy plastic hardware storage bins and metal racks, to hold them.
  • American Workbench - Excellent wooden workbenches, shipped unassembled. (Made in Charlestown South Carolina.)
  • Bench Crafted - "Build It Yourself" woodworking table vise kits and plans, including a nice split-top Roubo bench.
  • Bench Dog Tools - Cast iron router tables.
  • Black & Decker - Workmate Portable Workbenches. (Note that most Black & Decker tools are imported.)
  • Edsal - Steel work benches, shelves, pallet racks, and tool carts. Their is a real bargain, and quite versatile.
  • Gerstner - Some of the nicest wooden tool chests made. (Steel tool chests are more practical for most of us.)
  • Hideahorse - Strong, stable folding sawhorses
  • Kennedy Manufacturing - Rolling tool chests, bench top chests, hand-carry chests, modular cabinets, and benches with drawers.
  • Moduline - Aluminum tool cabinets
  • Noden Furniture Design - Makers of the Adjust-A-Bench
  • Task Horse Brackets - Sturdy sawhorses, using standard 2x4 dimensional lumber.
  • U.J. Ramelson Co. - Scribes, carving tools, and checkering tools.
  • Woodpeckers - Router tables, router mounting plates, router fences, measuring tools, layout tools and clamping accessories. Note that they also sell some imported products (under other brand names), so be sure to check the country of origin before ordering. (Their products under their brand name are made in Ohio.)

A Few Odd Ducks

Here are a few others American tool companies with products that are not in the aforementioned categories:

  • MacCoupler - A clever adapter that allows you to re-fill one-pound propane cylinders from 20 to 40 pound tanks.
  • MagEyes - Magnifying lenses with a headband for hands-free detail work. (Made in Texas.)

Closing Notes: Special thanks to Harry J. Epstein Company, a tool retailer that still cares about the country of origin off the tools that they sell.

When you do buy an American-made product, again, please send an e-mail to the maker, with a note of encouragement to let them know that you appreciate their integrity in keeping their production on-shore.

Please let me know via e-mail which companies I've missed in the preceding lists, and I will add them before I move this piece to a permanent reference page.

Dear James,
Thank you to S.M. for the great article about gardening in the desert southwest (If Life Gives You Tomatoes, Make Salsa!). I've spent most of my years in the desert southwest near the metros of Tucson, Las Cruces, and Albuquerque and have grown gardens in these regions for the past decade. In 2010 a similar article was published in SurvivalBlog titled Starting Your Desert Backyard Garden. I was one of several readers that submitted some helpful comments and tips on that article.

This is my fourth season growing in the high desert of Northern New Mexico. I'm at around 5,000 feet elevation and the growing season is rather short, as compared to my experience in the Southern Arizona area. Last frost is usually mid-May and first frost early-October. I now start a number of plants indoors in trays beginning in late February for later transplanting. As S.M. mentioned, I too was growing year-round in the Tucson area, without cold frames or any frost protection even though there are some cold winter nights it's usually not enough to kill hardy plants like broccoli, cabbage, kale, etc. I never grew indoor starts because it wasn't necessary.

The growing season of 2013 is a first for me because it's the first time ever I have attempted row crops rather than raised beds. The results have been disappointing so far. Last fall I relocated to a more agricultural area that is about 1 mile from the Rio Grande River and has historically been farmed for hundreds of years. I live on a property with horses (lots of manure!) and I can hear cows and pheasants not far away. All around me are fields of crops, mostly alfalfa for livestock, but also smaller family farms. Driving or walking by neighboring properties and you will see many have at least a small garden of some kind. This area is very Hispanic, if that has any bearing on anything. My new home has enough yard space that raised beds seemed impractical for our goals and would make watering more difficult, so we prepared the space for row crops and flood irrigation from the river ditch bank.

[JWR Adds: I recommend using cow manure rather than horse manure, for garden fertilizing, eve if that means hauling it. Because cows completely digest grass and hay, any contained seeds are not viable by the time that the Schumer hits the ground. Not so for horses, which have more rudimentary digestion, and that means lots of weeds!]

Over the winter we removed what we could of the weed growth (bindweed), hauled in a bunch of dry manure, and tilled it all in with a tractor plow. Covered some areas with black plastic (this had no effect on the bindweed whatsoever). A few weeks before last frost we mapped out the growing areas and formed rows & furrows by hand. Our main space is about 1,200 sq. ft. and we have some satellite garden beds elsewhere on the property.

As spring approached, so did the weeds. The surrounding cottonwood trees dumped their fluff everywhere, it looked like snow and little seedlings popped up along with the awful Chinese elm which has infested this region. We tried out a test garden in early March by plotting out a small section of the yard and sowed some cool weather plants: snow peas, spring onion, chard, spinach. Things sprouted and grew, to a degree, but overall was disappointing...I think we got maybe 10 snow peas and a few spinach leaves out of the whole deal.

Moving on to late May, most of our indoor starts were transplanted along with random plants from local nurseries (who have the capability to start early under controlled greenhouse conditions). We also started sowing seeds into the ground at this time. About a week after we did this there was a frost warning so we frantically covered the "best" plants with our limited collection of 5 gallon buckets, but everything seemed to survive despite the frost. I even covered my one raised bed of potatoes with a sheet and everything survived. We've sowed or transplanted a variety of edibles: chile, tomato, potato, swiss chard, several types of onion, peanuts, carrots, herbs, cucumber, squash, beans, corn.

Fast forward to today, end of July. We are pretty disappointed with current yields. Despite weekly floodings and massive rainfall we got about two weeks ago (the one and only heavy rain we've gotten all season), growth is slow. Water is always a huge issue in the desert southwest and growers in this area depend on the Rio or well water. That will not always be the case as the Rio has nearly run dry over the past few weeks. All the upstream reservoirs were depleted and irrigation ditches were empty. The rain saved us along with thousands of other growers along the river...for now. A few tomatoes here and there, a few handfuls of chiles, corn is growing but is small, squash has no growth at all, onions are wispy and stunted, etc. Half of my potato plants have died - too hot. At this time last year we were already overloaded with tomatoes & cucumbers (in raised beds). Now, this is just my experience because I frequent the local growers' markets and I see impressive yields of onions, chiles, squash, and garlic...from growers who are all in my immediate area. I'm just sharing our personal experience on a patch of land that hasn't been farmed for several years. We are considering having the soil tested as we suspect it's an issue. It seems to be semi-sandy and semi-clayey and packs pretty hard in the furrows where we walk. I have dealt with clay and caliche in the past which is why I've always used raised beds. Plants just won't grow if there's too much clay and hard material.

We have been plagued by pests, something I haven't dealt with much in the past in warmer climates. The first blast were aphids, which destroyed our peach tree, followed by hornworms on the tomato & chile plants (easy to get rid of but so disgusting, we toss them over the fence to the chickens). About two weeks ago we discovered a new invasion: bagworm. They enclose themselves into a bag made of foliage, hence the name, so they blend in but they hang from and eat nearly every plant we have growing. You have to pluck them off and toss them over the fence for the chickens. It's a daily battle to look overhead and see hundreds of them hanging from the trees around our garden, then look down and see a carpet of worm poop on the ground falling from above. Not much we can do other than a daily culling once they reach our plants. Grasshoppers are also doing some damage.

We do not want to introduce chemical pesticides into the garden and have tried natural killers like neem and diatomaceous earth, with mixed results. Last year I had an infestation of squash bugs and nothing resolved it until I finally slashed & burned the entire squash patch. This year I'm trying a squash patch far from the main garden, so far no squash bugs but also no squash.

Some things we want to try for next year's growing season and some random tips:
• Introduce more soil amendments into the garden: compost, leaves, coconut coir. Till well with a gas-powered hand tiller, not tractor.
• Build some raised beds for comparison purposes. I build raised beds out of pallets. Hard to work with, but free for the taking. Raised beds don't have to cost money.
• Try drip irrigation rather than flooding. Water is so precious here. We want to look into filling some 55 gallon barrels with water, then running drip lines along the rows. If we elevate the barrel a couple feet will there be enough pressure for drip flow?
• Try plastic row covers: one, to extend the growing season and two, to help block weed growth around plants. We spend too many hours every week just pulling weeds.
• We want to get or make a small greenhouse to start seedlings in and to grow some plants all winter (spinach, kale, etc). Two winters ago I built a mini-greenhouse on a raised bed surrounded by hay bales and was growing lettuce and bok choy in February, with snow on the ground.
• There's a landscaping company here that collects food waste from a local market and composts it. Every spring they have a free compost giveaway, up to half a truckload allowed. I show up with a shovel and some buckets and load up, it's good stuff! Last year I offered a donation and they refused. Some cities also give away free compost (I know Albuquerque and Las Cruces do) but I've never tried it. I've had some people tell me it's full of cactus thorns and chunks of wood so I haven't bothered with it. Las Cruces also composts human waste and gives it away: I spoke with a nursery owner who tried it and said they didn't like it. That's not something I really want to try, either.
• Make friends with and support your local growers' markets. We signed up for one this year but now it's nearly August and we still don't have enough produce for ourselves, let alone to sell. Nevertheless, the market is a great place to see what other growers are doing, problems they encounter, and what works/what doesn't. Most of the growers I've met love to talk about their gardens. Support your local growers by buying their stuff. You may pay a bit more than you would at a store, but you get what you pay for...
• Used plastic 5 gallon buckets make fine growing containers. We found a local restaurant chain that dumps dozens and dozens of these into the dumpster every day. This system is so wasteful. Punch some holes in the bottom, fill with good soil, and start growing. Chiles and small tomatoes do well in the buckets. We've also though about using them to help keep a greenhouse warm: spray paint black, fill with water, and stack them in the greenhouse.
• I read about growing plants in burlap sacks. I bought some (they are cheap) and haven't had good luck so far. I have potatoes in two of the sacks but they just aren't growing much. I think the sacks dry out too quickly here.
• S.M. is lucky to have gotten a free compost bin from her city. When I lived in the Tucson area I didn't even have a bin, just a pile on the ground that I mixed up once a week. It's so hot there that I was getting good compost within 2-3 weeks. Last year I made a compost bin out of pallets and chicken wire, it worked fine. I keep a couple of those big Folger's coffee cans near my kitchen sink to dump food scraps in. You could also put a 3-5 gallon plastic bucket with lid under your sink, just dump it every few days because it can get kind of gross.
• Try to buy "good" organic seed. In Tucson there's a place called Native Seed Search that specializes in heirloom, indigenous seed for plant species that do better in the desert. In Albuquerque I buy seed at Plants of the Southwest; they have a huge selection and are very generous with the seed packets. I just looked at their web site yesterday to see if they sell amaranth and they carry 3 varieties of it, 1000 seeds per packet for $2.75. I also save my own seeds every year. I have enough saved seeds that I really don't need to buy any at all, but I have a bit of a 'seed fetish' and end up buying a bunch every spring just to try different things. It's so dry here I don't fuss much with seed storage: I store them in small envelopes in a plastic container. Most seeds don't stay viable for more than a few years, but I had butternut squash seed saved from 2008 that sprouted this year so you never know unless you try.
• We want to get our own chickens. I read about a setup on Mother Earth News of enclosing the entire garden with a chicken run as it really helps with controlling pests. That would be an investment and would require several big rolls of chicken wire. Maybe next year.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Dear Editor:
Lean Jimmy's bug out boat idea is good, but on most rivers of North America you'll have "pirates" set up at strategic points along the watercourses -- as in yesteryear -- and have a tough time getting by them. It'll only be a matter of time before they take control of those defined travel lanes and lighten the load of fleeing refugees. Slave trading might also come back into vogue.
How could you outfox them? Travel at night? Maybe. But if your craft was small, almost silent and light enough to carry or collapse into portable pieces, you'd obviously hold some advantages up your watery sleeve:

A Folboat (See a video of some being assembled and paddled.)

The native people of the continent were using stealthy deerskin folding craft in the late 1700s and often broke them down to hide their presence while scouting or traveling waterways. Commandos in WWII used the very same tactics and still do to this day. Why not follow in their wake?
A Greenland II tandem kayak from Folbot -- Made in the USA -- will take a large payload and two paddlers. Dr. Hannes Lindemann made an amazing voyage across the Atlantic in a tandem folding kayak in the 1950s so they can handle the big stuff, too. Long Haul is another USA based manufacturer while Feathercraft is based in Canada. For the money, though, Folbot tops my list and I've had their 2-man version (at the time it was called a Super Folbot) since the early 1980s. And it's still going strong!
Since I live on an inland river - as many North Americans do -- and that watercourse connects to others that run all the way across the country to the Great Lakes and the Atlantic, I have several folding boats stashed away. Did I mention that they also make fine craft for weekend forays and extended holidays?
Get one now! Cheers, - Wayne W.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

I live on a small ranch in Northern Alberta, Canada. I'm approximately a half hour drive to the nearest small town, and the winters here can be tremendous. I've always taken a slightly different approach to preps than most of my American counter parts, because most energy, food, shelter, water and defense advice floating around the Internet is not cold weather viable. In this short paper I will attempt to relay to you, the reader, the importance of being ready for winter in all aspects of survival. This is a short collection of some thoughts and experiences I've had living through Northern Canada winters.

1) Heat is what you need in the winter. 'Of course!' you say. It's hard to emphasis the priority having heat takes when it is -40 (Celsius or Fahrenheit it doesn't matter). Food, shelter, water, medicine, and defense all rely on having enough heat. You can't clean with, or drink, water that is frozen. Even eating snow is not recommended because of the energy your body must use to heat the frozen water. You can't eat meat that is frozen solid. You can't live in uninsulated flimsy structures not designed to handle the weight of snow, or the extreme life-sucking cold. You can't stay in a LP/OP for very long without heat. It is harder to fight with a rifle when you cannot feel your hands or they ache intensely from being frozen. Everything takes a back seat to keeping you and your families body temperature at the correct level. You will find that all aspects of surviving a winter are ultimately steps towards providing enough heat to live. I think most preppers agree a good wood stove and a way to efficiently obtain dry fire wood in the winter is a must. A Ski Doo (snowmobile), a sled for hauling, a good chainsaw, extra chains, oils, parts, fuels, tools etc are all requisites as well as the ability to differentiate dead standing wood (the dry stuff) with live trees that are simply dormant for the winter (not dry stuff) and transport it back home. Have multiple methods of heating the indoors.

2) Food is akin to warmth. Your body will automatically try to keep warm if it detects colder temperatures, burning extra calories. You will find that in order to maintain a healthy mind and body, you will need to start a supplement regime through the coldest winter months, when there is little to no fresh vegetables or fruits, and mainly a diet of preserves and game. Canned goods that become frozen may go bad, or the container may rupture. Unless you have an extensive organic garden that provides a winter's worth of preserves each summer, you will most likely end up eating some GMO canned products. Hunting changes with the coming of snow. Deep snow can become a serious problem for most hunters as mobility in four to five feet of snow without snow shoes or a skidoo is minimal and exhausting. For game you will mostly find mammals such as coyotes, deer, elk, etc. All can be taxing to move or prepare in deep snow. Ice fishing requires an ice auger, and multiple lines in multiple holes to really be successful.

3) Water is relatively easy to find. See that white stuff? Yup. Water. It needs heat. For every shovel full of snow you melt, you will get approximately 1/3 that volume in water. Start shoveling! If you have a good well, the water will remain liquid until it is exposed at ground level. If you heat water then put it outside it will freeze even faster, so don't do your animals a favour. All lakes, ponds, and rivers will freeze over and become hidden under snow, so you need a water source.

4) Shelter is a means of efficient heat. It contains the heat from your stove for a longer time. It keeps the wind off you, which can make the cold multitudes worse. It is a place to prepare food, practice good hygiene, and spend time with friends and family, safe from the hostile environment outside. Temporary shelters such as igloos can work if one is skilled enough and snow conditions allow snow to be packed together. This is not always possible in extreme cold. An alternative is using layered pine tree branches in a sturdy lean-to design, with a fire in front projecting heat. Note that you must dig down through the frozen snow before starting a fire for obvious reasons. Be creative. Keep the wind off your skin. Contain the heat safely. Find a way to dry your clothes and skin off while in shelter. Your shelter needs to handle huge amounts of snow weight, and will still need to be cleared. If you own a house you must shovel your roofs off if too much snow builds up on it, or it may collapse or deform, and leak.

5) While I have never been in a gun fight in the middle of winter, there are some common sense things that everyone needs to take into consideration. Cold hands are the least of your worries! We are all taught to 'get off the X', but this becomes problematic in a situation where you may have to run through a foot or more of snow. Its slippery, heavy, and you don't know what you're stepping on under that snow. If it gets a little deeper you simply cannot run, much less retain a sight picture of your firearm. Sinking into a snow bank up to your waist while someone is trying to kill you is probably not a good thing. Going prone may save you, but its a gamble if you'll land softly on the snow and ready to fight, or end up swimming in the snow looking for your buried firearms (which may or may not function after being packed with snow). You will be wet and cold when you stand up again.  The first nations had a proper solution to this. Snow shoes are life savers. I recommend rifle drills where you practice positional shooting with snow shoes as well as getting off the X. Go on winter hikes through a forest area with the shoes on. Skis become problematic due to the length especially if you are in a thick tangle of branches. Cold weather will affect the ballistics of your rifles tremendously. Canadian Rangers still use the Lee-Enfield which is a .30 caliber bolt action rifle, because the AR-15 platform simply does not perform in the super cold climate. It tends to have problems with its gas impingement system and the arctic climate and dense air causes the small .223 round to lose stability much much quicker. Also a bolt action with iron sights is much more likely to function even after being jammed full of ice and snow and moisture. M1As, AKs and VZ58s will all work very well in the extreme cold, provided that you keep your actions clear [and de-lubricated].  Winter is a completely different beast. Everyone can see your footprints in the snow, and tell how long ago you were there. You need a whole new set of winter camo's and gear such as no-fog goggles and proper gloves, boots, and balaclavas.  What will you do if someone blocks the road off in front of you? Your vehicle cant go through the snow in the ditches. If your vehicle is disabled you are put into an immediate heat-shelter survival situation on the side of the road, and you could be wounded as well.  If someone comes into your house in the middle of the night, and you decide to run... will you make it till morning at -40 degrees? A huge truck full of cut firewood would be a target in a winter TEOTWAWKI situation. Snow banks need at least a few feet of width to stop most rifle rounds. The snow will reflect moon light making night time bright as day (almost!) and if you put snow in your mouth it will stop people from seeing your breath. Batteries for night vision devices and red dot sights will die quicker. If you bury a weapon cache in the ground during summer months, that same ground will be hard as a rock and full of ice during the winter. That is... after you find it and shovel all the snow off it first! When the spring comes and all that snow melts guess where that water will go? Yup. Right down into the hole you dug for your end-of-the-world rifle.

Study the Eastern Front of the Second World War and the hardships many soldiers went through during those winters.

Think outside the box. Last winter I stayed in a trappers tent with a wood stove. To handle the weight of the snow on the tent, I drove fence posts in beside the tent and tied all of the supports to the fencing post, and after that I threw a double layer tarp over the entire tent. The result was an outer layer of tarp with a approximately a foot of space between it and the inner tent. This space acted as an insulator for inside. The outer tarp, which was always frozen, would dehumidify the air by building up frost on the inside. I stayed comfortable and warm in a 12' x 20' tent during a deep Canadian North winter. It was dry, so I was able to safely use my laptop and some lights inside. I would not recommend storing electronics in a winter tent such as this because it will collect frost, and when that frost melts and electricity is applied... you may has well have thrown it in a lake. I had to run my stove constantly. Cutting firewood and hauling it on a shoveled drive way with my quad was a huge calorie burn. That's on a day when my quad would start easy. I will be purchasing a good working skidoo this fall, as well as storing several containers of stabilized gasoline.

I wanted offer some praise to J.J.S. and is thorough submission titled Heating with Wood 101. I'm following his lead and wanted to offer your readers some additional ideas on wood processing with some stealth after TSHTF. Running a 50cc chainsaw and a 34-ton log splitter is all fine and dandy when there's no one around meaning to do you any harm but its completely inappropriate in a TEOTWAWKI situation. If you are lucky enough to have a renewable energy source its advisable to switch to electrical tools because they are so quiet. Either of the big box stores carry electric chainsaws and electric, 5-ton log splitters at reasonable prices. I've also found that they have a semi-professional grade chain sharpener that'll make the teeth on your chain look like a mirror when sharpened. While the 5 ton splitter isn't going to split 3 foot diameter pine trees like a gas one will, it will go through the same wood once you quarter it with a maul. Just add a bit of oil to the maul on the splitter and it'll do just fine. Here are quick links to the three products I recommend:

Regards, - Gilpin Guy

JWR Replies: I appreciate your advice, but the brands that you mentioned are mostly made in mainland China. (See my many admonitions about China's laogui prison factories.)

The WORX brand tools and their batteries are all made in China. One alternative: I have a Makita 14-inch electric chain saw, and I've been quite happy with it. To the best of my knowledge, those are still made in Japan.

The Task Force brand tools (a house brand of Lowe's) are also imported. Many of those come from China. An American-made alternative that is more powerful (16-tons of force) is produced by Ramsplitter. As electric splitters go, these are fast and powerful. Another American-made electric splitter is the 10-ton dual-action splitter made by DR. Unlike a typical gas engine splitter, most electric splitters cannot be heard from more than a short distance away.

The Buffalo Tools brand products are made in China. An excellent American-made alternative is made by Silvey. Unlike the cheap imported chain grinders, these cut a precision square notch.

Friday, July 19, 2013

 "If I have seen for miles, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants." - Isaac Newton

This line sums up SurvivalBlog and the contributing writers: it is a community of concerned preppers trying to share knowledge to help each other out.  My focus today is residential heating with wood as your fuel based on my experience heating with my airtight cast iron stove.  Pretty boring topic for the seasoned prepper, but I think there are plenty of new preppers who have recently seen the light and can feel the stuff hitting the fan and hopefully this article will have a little for everyone.  Personally. I am a new prepper and was astounded to learn that this country and world is in one big mess, financially. I bet that a lot of us reading SurvivalBlog are just like me: Newly Aware and Astounded.

If you live where it can get cold and many of us do you need to think about a heat source.  I would rather save my fuel oil, propane, and gasoline for other uses rather than heating my abode. I like wood myself because it is and should be readily available before and after any kind of world changing event.  If you live in an area that does not have access to much fuel wood than you probably already know that you live in area that will not be very pleasant when the balloon goes up i.e. any kind of larger city so G.O.O.D. and God bless. 

Here is my motive for writing this article related to heating with wood.  What I love about my woodstove is that I use it now and it is very practical for comfort and saving money on my heating bill. But after the SHTF it will become a necessity that could make the difference between living or freezing to death. (I have seen my thermometer hit 39 below)   I have acquired many things trying to get “prepared” that I will rarely use unless the crunch occurs but my wood stove is something I use every day 5 to 6 months out of the year.

But to raise a serious question to all preppers, have you thought very hard about heating your home?  Do you know how much fuel you would need, no matter what type that you would need to heat your house for one, two or three or more years.  Truly I enjoy survival blog but there is an enormous amount of discussion of what is the best gun, knife, caliber, bullet etc… But freezing to death is just as dead a catching a bad case of lead poisoning, probably worse if it involves family and friends.  If you do not have a reliable off grid heat source then I suggest you consider a wood stove before you get your next backup MBR.  Warmth could be a wonderful barter item in a SHTF world.
Let me give you my opinion of what could be the most desirable heating sources to have in order of most important to what you would use if you have no other options.
                1. Wood cook stove
                2. Masonry heater
                3. Airtight EPA approved wood stove or fireplace insert
                4.” Earthstove” or old style wood stove
                5. Makeshift wood stove e.g. Fish house stove, barrel stove, homemade stoves
                6. Electrically dependent wood stove, furnace, or boiler
                7. Open fireplace (but there is good news!)

First, a wood cook stove is a no brainer, if the grid goes down what better way to cook and heat at the same time.  Though I do not have a wood cook stove yet, I am keeping an eye out for one on Craigslist that is reasonably priced.  Next on my list is a masonry heater.  I am only going off of what I have read here and other places but this seems like the cat’s meow for high efficient fuel wood heating.  The one major problem I see is that a masonry heater is very large, heavy, and expensive.  I would love to have one but it would never work in my own house and I am sure that I am not alone.  But if you have a generous budget and the right layout of you home then why not since all of our money won’t be worth much in a few years anyway. 

What I use is number 3 on my list, an airtight stove.  These types of stoves are covered in previous SurvivalBlog articles so I will not get into it to deeply except to explain that the EPA airtight stoves and fireplace inserts use advanced stove design to increase the efficiency of the wood that is burned.  This also gives the benefit of burning cleaner which decreases the amount of build up in your chimney therefore it is safer, also the more efficient burn creates less visible smoke/emissions which should appeal to everyone related to opsec .  When my wood stove is burning effectively there is no visible smoke and surprisingly no smell.  But smoke will be present when you first start your stove or when you add more wood and this is from the moisture in the wood cooking out and is typically blue and rises (even well seasoned wood has some moisture.)  Also your chimney will emit a lot of smoke if your stove is not burning hot enough to ignite the wood gases, this is often grey sinking smoke.  The point being is that the smoke or lack of visible smoke coming from your chimney tells a lot about how well your stove is burning.  My stove is a Jotul Oslo 500.  It is a cast iron stove with a 3 cubic foot firebox with a side door and has the ability to have a cook plate installed.  A large fire box is nice when you want to have a long burn and the side door is where I load all of my additional wood when I have a fire burning or I am putting fresh wood on a bed of coals.  And I am sorry to say I have not tried a lot of cooking on my stove yet but it is in the plans. 

Modern stove are usually made out of plate steel, cast iron or soap stone.  Cast iron and soapstone are most expensive but they are known for their durability and heat retention which is very desirable when wanting a good heat source.  Plate steel is cheaper but gets hot fast and then cools fast but might be better to cook on, I do not know for sure.  Plate steel can also warp if it gets too hot.  Soap stone has a great reputation of having “soft heat” that does not get too hot and stays warm longer than cast iron and a lot longer than plate steel, but you are going to pay for it!  

Number four on my list are the older cast iron or plate steel non-EPA approved wood stoves.  To be fair I have never used one of these stove before in my home, I have only been around other people who have had them and I will say that they work just fine. But from what I have read about the advanced burning systems is that the newer stoves make for a much better burning system which is from the higher efficiency and cleaner emissions i.e. less smoke. 

From what I understand the old style stove are around 50 percent efficient while the newer stoves are 70 to 80 percent efficient.  That may not sound like much but if you need to get wood and you don’t want to draw attention to yourself by using a chainsaw and a gas wood splitter, then 20 percent less wood to cut, split, and haul by hand will be a very big deal. 

I have one comment on makeshift wood stoves and cheap wood space heaters for heating residential homes and that is they make me nervous.  If you have nothing else when the balloon goes up then that is what you have to do, but if we are truly prepping than I would plan for something else.  Added note I have never used a barrel stove but the design with the 30 gal barrel inside of the 55 gallon barrel with crushed rock as a heat sink does look reasonable but my reminder to you is that if you run into problems after the SHTF then the fire department might not be as accessible as before. 

Electrically dependent wood burning systems are not high on my list. Number one is that they are dependent on a source of electricity to run blower fans and circulate air or hot water and second they are also around the 50 percent efficiency rate for firewood.  Two good reasons to look elsewhere for reliable wood heat sources.  And don’t be duped into buying a pellet or corn stove because I would not suggest to someone to stockpile tons of wood pellets for TEOTWAWKI and corn will be more valuable as a food source.  Finally the topic of open fireplaces, these are very inefficient, around 10 percent.  The best news about these is there are many manufactures that produce EPA approved airtight fireplace inserts.  Now wouldn’t you want to improve the efficiency of your heating system by 70 percent?  (Just for the record, I do not endorse the EPA, it is just a good way to distinguish the newer style of wood stoves.)

Now that I have covered stove options the most important topic in any wood burning system is the chimney.  You need a good working chimney to burn wood safely and effectively.  A good working chimney does much more that carry away smoke, a properly built and located chimney provides a good draft and is well insulated.  A good draft, which is negative air pressure created by a chimney, is what pulls air into the wood stove.  Unlike wood furnaces that will blow air into the firebox to generate or increase the fires intensity a wood stove is dependent on good chimney draft to operate optimally.  Air tight wood stoves are passive machines unlike their electrically dependent furnaces.  Airflow into EPA stoves is fairly low which leads to a higher efficiency level.  One thing to keep in mind related to air flow is that air is usually drawn from out of the room/house and then leaves up the chimney, or basically your house needs to “leak” some outside air into the house for the stove to work properly.  So if your house is built very tight you could run in to difficulty with obtaining a good draft.  A lot of the airtight stoves have outside air kits to increase efficiency so I hooked mine up to an outside source when I did some remodeling.  I was not happy with how it worked because if my stove was not burning then cold air would still be drawn into the stove from outside by normal chimney effect and then I would have a 400lbs piece of cold cast iron in my living room.  The problem with the outside air kit is it is an unrestricted air source much like an open window, I guess I would rather have some "leak" from windows, doors, outlets etc. created by my woodstoves draft rather than the open window effect from the outside air kit.  Other factors for a good chimney is that Ideally it should run through the middle of a house to stay warmer since a warm chimney creates a better draft and the cooler surfaces of the chimney is where unburned wood particle can stick to and create creosote.  Additionally to note is that a stove in a basement sometime will not work very well since the chimney does not develop enough draft located that low in the house.  Check out, this is the best web site I could find related to residential wood heating.  The stove in my house is located on a ground level with a class A stainless steel chimney running through the middle of the house.  My suggestion is talk with local dealers that sells wood stoves and have them give you advice on what would work best for you.  Additional note class A chimneys are stainless steel and insulated and are designed to withstand a chimney fire of up to 2100 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes.  My final comment on chimney draft was reminded to me the other evening when I went to light my stove.  When I opened the stove door I felt cold air coming down the chimney.  At first I did not think much about it and proceeded to light my fire.  My fire did not take off and then I started to get some smoke into the room.  I then realized that my wife was using the clothes dryer downstairs and that was blowing air out of our house which then affected the draft of my chimney.  So I turned off the dryer, lit my fire without difficulty and after I had a good fire going I was able to turn the dryer on without problem.  I have also noted this same problem lighting new fires when the bathroom fan is running.  The point is that chimney draft is very important and can be influenced fairly easily so be aware of it and place your chimney appropriately.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

The next topic is about wood cutting, splitting and storing.  First is cutting, and pre SHTF you will need a chainsaw or even better two. The second saw is to cut out the first one after you have pinched it in a tree (right now there are a lot of wood cutters nodding their heads and sadly I did just this last week when I was out cutting wood).  What type of chainsaw to buy as your main saw is probably as discussed as which brand/caliber gun to carry as your main sidearm.  Let me give the best advice that I got from a book titled The Wood Cutters Guide to Woodland Management and that is there are only three brands of saw to buy and they are Stihl, Husqvarna, or Jonsered.  Everything else falls short of what these saws have to offer as professional wood cutting tools, but other brands would make good cheaper second saws for the occasional wood cutting snafu.  Next is what size, 9mm or 45 ACP? The same argument as before because there are many different opinions but let me recommend a saw somewhere between 50 to 60cc.  Why this range?  It is because the majority of your cutting is limbing the tree and you don’t need a big saw for that and working with a big heavy saw for a long time is tiring which then increases your chance of having an accident.  I got a good nick in my protective chaps one day when I was getting tired and not paying attention, which made those chaps the best 39 dollars I ever spent.  When it comes to cutting through the big part of the tree it is hard not to love a lot of power but what I have learned is that taking the time to make sure you have a sharp chain (so sharpen frequently) makes up for having less power.  The woodland management book recommended running the correct sized hand file through all of your chainsaw teeth every time that you filled up a fresh tank of gas.  So practice sharpening by hand and buy a gauge to check when you need to file down the racker teeth before the cutters. A note on safety is I highly recommend some chainsaw chaps, they have small fibers that bind up the chain of the saw when they come in contact with a spinning chain and they have already saved me from an accident.  I also use a woodman’s helmet with a mesh face shield and integral ear muffs.  I really like to wear this when I am cutting.  Since I first wrote this my safety gear saved me again, I had a big red oak hung up in another tree.  I was able to give it a push and it started to fall but was hooked on a branch from an adjoining tree.  That 5 inch diameter branch pulled off of the tree and came down straight onto my helmet.  It hit hard enough that parts of my left arm went numb for a split second but otherwise I was fine with no lasting damage.  Without my helmet I could have been hurt very badly.

After the SHTF sawing becomes a much bigger challenge because of the sound signature of a chain saw and how far this sound will travel in the new more silent world.  Heck, if I hear a chain saw running close by I hop in the truck to go see if I can “help” and maybe get some free fire wood in the process, just a tip to add to your firewood pile.   But the “help” you would get in the post crunch world might not be so friendly so a good hand saw or felling ax might be a better idea.  I have just started to experiment with some different types of hand saws.  My first has been a Japanese type pull saw.  It is very efficient and easy to use.  My next acquisition has been a one-man timber saw, not my dream way to cut up a tree but if millions of board feet of pine were cut using these in the early 1900’s then I am sure they will still work today.  I also bought a timber saw sharpening set from the Crosscut Saw Company.  Kind-of spendy but if I ever truly need it, it will be worth its weight in gold.  Like much SurvivalBlog advice education is everything and experiment with different types of saws and how well they work before the balloon goes up is important.  I think the sharpening kit could be the most important tools to have since there are often old saws that have been turned into “art” but might need to be sharpened and polished and put to work.  A painted or powder coated saw might not slide through the wood very easily so plan on having some sandpaper or paint stripper handy for refurbishing these old saws.  (Maybe a good post TEOTWAWKI job?)     

Splitting is easy advice to give, buy a maul and swing hard!  Okay, I have some opinions here also; first a 6 lbs or smaller maul is all you need.  Splitting wood effectively is mostly dependent on velocity over mass.  So the faster you can swing the maul the better chance you have to split the wood.  I have an eight pound mall I barely use; I have never noticed a difference in my ability to split wood between the 6 and the 8 lbs mauls.  I also own a 4 ½ lbs maul and a Fiskars 4 lbs splitting maul.  I don’t like these for splitting big rounds, they just don’t do the job as well as my 6 lbs maul but they are great for splitting kindling or making medium sized pieces smaller by my wood shed before I bring them in the house.  Additional note the Fiskars maul comes in two handle lengths.  Do not buy the short handle maul because the blade is scary sharp and my fear is that it would be easy to miss the wood and put that sucker right through my leg, so I rarely use that maul.  The long handle Fiskars works ok but I would advise you to save your money and buy a generic well built 6 lb maul for general splitting and a 4 ½ maul for kindling.  Also you don’t need a sharp maul to split wood, some sources even recommended dulling the edge to lessen your chance of the maul sticking in some hardwoods.   A final note on mauls is from my friend who has something called the “wedge,” it weighs around 13 lbs.  He tells me it works great for holding open the door to his shop in the summer. 

If you have made it this far thanks!  Let me give you my best tip I can offer related to splitting wood, I got it off the internet.  Take an old tire, one with a wide tread is preferable, and mount it to a nice splitting stump.  When you split your rounds place them in the tire, as long as it is not a tight fit, and swing away!  If you have the right thickness tire the wood does not go anywhere after you hit it and you can hit it three or four time without having to bend over every time and pick the wood up of the ground to hit it again.  This is a back saver if you split your wood in a designated area and after you are done splitting it into nice size pieces you just grab it out and stack it on the wood pile.  Now if the wood fits in the tire to tightly then you will wedge the round into the tire with every swing and then it is really hard to get it out and yes I know this from experience.  I do not always bring my rounds back to my wood pile and spit them in my tire.  I often will spit my firewood out in the woods were I dropped the tree or found my deadfall.  There are two reasons why I do this, first is ease of splitting.  The round sometimes are already lying in a position that they can be split (I have split a lot of smaller piece lying on their side; just slide them up to another piece).  Also in the woods you can use your foot or your maul to right the round the way you want them for the best splitting.  This is another great tip from the woodcutter’s manual and the focus is to save as much wear and tear on your back as possible.  With this approach I routinely drive the maul into the ground, which dulls the edge over time but you do not need a sharp maul to split wood and additionally swinging into the ground is much safer than swinging at something 12 to 18 inches of the ground.  Try splitting your firewood out in the woods sometime; you will be surprised how well it works (another great tip from the woodcutter’s manual.)  After you split that wood, throw it in a quick pile and leave it there for a few weeks or months, this will allow it to lose more of its weight from moisture content.  When you come back the wood will be lighter and easier to handle and haul.  Finally don’t worry about the dull maul that you have been sinking into the ground, the metal if soft enough that a little work with a metal file will get you all the edge you could ever want. 

The real purpose for splitting wood is to dry and season your firewood for successful and safe heating.  Live or wet wood will have moisture content over 50%.  For the best burning firewood your moisture content should be 15 to 20%. Firewood with high moisture content does not light easily, does not put out much heat, and produces a lot of creosote that can collect in your chimney which creates a fire hazard.   To get this low moisture content your best strategy is to split and stack your wood in single file rows where it gets exposure to the sun and the wind.  I personally stack my wood in double rows so there is less chance of the piles tipping over.  How long to season your wood gives a variety of answers.  First, is it a live cut or a dead fall?  Dead falls are always my first choice to cut because some of the drying is already done.  But the most important factor for effective drying is the species of wood that you are trying to dry.  (My apologies to readers outside of the areas that do not have hardwood forest like I have access to, I know a lot of trees like larch and Doug fir are burned for heat in the redoubt.  I mostly burn deciduous hardwood, but I will try to explain that I think of my local hardwoods as different levels of “hardness” and use and dry them accordingly.)  First for drying my hard hardwoods I like to have these stacked and drying for at least two seasons/years.  This is my oak trees both red and white.  Every time that I have burned oak that has not had two years to season I am reminded by a sizzling smoking lousy burning piece of wood.  All other species for me have done well with only one drying season, therefore this wood cut and stacked in spring or early summer have all burned very well that fall and winter.  But I am several years ahead in my wood supply so all my wood gets 2+ years of seasoning (I like it very dry). 

Now I will try to explain how I burn my wood stove.  First we all need dry wood, but next I get specific about what type of wood that I like to burn and at what time that I burn it.  First I like to have a good supply of “soft” hardwoods.  I consider this to be firewood like poplar, basswood, cotton wood, or any wood with wide growth rings.  These are all low BTUs woods but what I like about them is they dry fast and light very easily.  When I first started cutting wood I was after oak and iron wood because it had high BTUs, but my Grandma said “you need some other wood like poplar to get the oak started.”  And boy was she right.  I use these softer hardwoods to light my morning fires and restart fires that have burned down to only glowing embers.  Also for ease of staring my fires I cut over half of my soft hardwoods into 10 to 12 inch lengths.  This works well for stating my fires since I build a small square “tower” of wood inside my stove with usually only one piece of crumpled newspaper at the bottom.  I also cheat a little and add a couple pieces of fatwood to help my fire get going.  Fatwood is a natural fire starter that you can buy at local hardware stores, I get mine at Menard's and it is about a buck a pound.   I build my fire typically with 6 pieces of soft hardwood and 2 pieces of medium or hard hardwoods.  The starter pieces I split by my wood shed in my “kindler” which is the back tire of a lawnmower mounted 28 inches off the ground on top of a bur oak round.  It is a smaller version of my wood splitting tire where I can split the wood and hit it multiple times without having to pick the split pieces up off of the ground.   This set up has save me a lot of time and wear and tear on my back since it is at a good working height for making small pieces of wood and the tire holds it in place while I swing my  4 ½ lbs pound mall at the wood.  I like to get the pieces down to one to two inch square pieces.  The reason I started burning my stove this way is that it gave me the quickest lighting fire without having to use a tremendous amount of really small kindling to get the fire burning hot so that the secondary burn began inside of the firebox.  Secondary burn is the burning of the wood gases usually seen as smoke (though some smoke is always moisture).  The sooner you have secondary burn the more safely and efficient your stove works.  Or in prepper terms the sooner you have secondary burn the less smoke you produce thus lowering you signature related to OPSEC.  To find old tires go to your local land fill or watch for them at garage sales.

My favorite type of wood to burn is dry or seasoned wood.  As stated before I like some soft hardwoods for fire starting purposes, but it is also excellent wood for general burning especially if I am at work and my wife is tending to the fire.  Poplar and basswood tend to light up really fast and get burning nicely without much futzing.  This is nice for my wife since throwing in 3 or 4 pieces of oak or iron wood can leave her with a smoldering smoky fire without much heat and no flames if she does not have a lot of embers to work with.  These smoky fires are also the type of fires that deposit significant amount of creosote in chimneys.  “Hard” hardwoods are great to use when thrown on a robust bed of red coals or mixed with several pieces of softer wood.  So my advise is don’t be a firewood snob and turn your nose up to “inferior” species of trees when accumulating your winter pile because I have found that my wood stove does not care what I burn in it, it all makes heat. 

My final thought about firewood is on how easy is it to split.  Firewood will not season correctly if it is not split and will not burn well in an airtight stove if it is not dry.  Species like American elm and box elder are awful to split and I avoid them, sadly around here these are the two species that your buddy always needs help getting rid of and wonders if you “want the firewood”.  But looking at the glass half full these rounds are not impossible to split just not easy or as fun as some red oak or black ash.  What I do is cut the rounds shorter, around 12 inches and then splitting is easier, maybe still not easy, but easier.   It is good to learn how to recognize different species of trees so that before you cut up or buy a bunch of rounds you know what you will be getting into when it comes to splitting.  (If you think some fresh cut rounds are elm smell it, if it stinks it is probably elm hence the nickname piss elm.  Red elm also sinks but it has a deep red color and this species of elm splits very easily and makes great firewood.)  Box elder has a grayish bark and often has streaks of pink in the rings of the wood when looking at the end of a round. )

Final thoughts
1. Get a wood stove and a good chimney and put it is the right place in your house or retreat.  I have had mine for 5 years and the money I have saved on fuel oil has paid for the stove the chimney and the chainsaw.  It is about 150 gallons of fuel oil for every cord of wood I burn.    
2. Stock up on lots of leather work gloves.  Handling wood can eat up a pair of leather gloves quicker than you like.  I think work gloves could be some of the most valuable barter items in a post SHTF scenario and often not cited as items to stock up on for barter purposes.  Leather repair could make a great post SHTF occupation so keep that in mind. 
3. Cutting wood is hard work.  You could cut out the gym almost altogether if you frequently cut, haul, and hand split your own firewood.  Several articles on SurvivalBlog have addressed physical fitness and wood burning would then be both beneficial for the purposes of one’s health and practical for heating.
4. Shooting practice!  I always carry a pistol with me when I cut.  An inside the waist holder works best tucked in the small of my back because carrying in a holster on my hip got my gun full of wood chips and gave it a scratch on the barrel (now it looks tuff ;)) For my safety I do not have a round chambered while cutting wood because sometimes I get hung up or fall down etc. but I then practice drawing, pulling the slide, and shooting in one smooth motion.  I do that because I know of a guy that shot himself in the heel getting into his vehicle and I have practiced where I can chamber a round pretty quickly if a threat presents itself in the woods (rabid skunk?).  For the target practice a knotted up round makes a great target.  If you are on someone else’s land check with the owner first before you start shooting a lot. 
5. Stock up on ibuprofen and other OTC pain meds.  Cutting wood is hard work and you will get sore.  Once again great barter items because post SHTF will be a lot of hard work.
6. Always be on the lookout for wood sources, it could be neighbors cutting down trees or checking with local farmers if you can cut up some deadfallen trees on their properties.  Compost sites are also great places.      
7. Stress reduction and improved mental health.  I truly enjoy cutting wood.  Time in the woods is relaxing and peaceful while being and feeling productive.  I think God wanted us to heat with wood, to give us a task where we can see and feel the product of our hard word and labor.  There is nothing like the smell of fresh split oak, you gotta try it, or the feel of the radiant warmth from a wood stove.
8. Cost can be expensive, but check Craigslist for airtight stoves.  Many people have become disenchanted with wood burning and “just want to get rid of it.”  I often think it is because too many people try to put the stove in the basement and then the chimney does not work correctly.
9. Cost estimates:
Jotul wood stove $2,500 (can find much cheaper versions used, check online but truly good stove are hard to find used.)
Chimney with instillation $1100 spend the money here and get a good chimney installed correctly that will burn correctly which will keep you safe!
Chain saw Stihl 270 $425 back up Poulan chainsaw $50
Kevlar chainsaw protection chaps $39 woodsman helmet $50 (both have paid for themselves!)
Pistol(s) for target practice $400-600 tell your wife you NEED these.  Ammo? I presently can’t find it
Splitting mauls $160 remember two is one and one is none and possible barter items
Hand saws and sharpening kits $280 the sharpening kit was $160 pull saw $90 but can buy timber saws at flea markets for under $40
Gas, oil, transportation, etc… $???

Rough total: $4,600 (could be a lot less expensive if you buy used equipment)

Savings: I burn about 2-3 cords of wood a year to supplement my fuel oil furnace which I think saves me about 350 gallons of oil a year, maybe more.  At $3 dollars a gallon that saves me over $1000 dollars a year.  I have had my stove for five heating seasons and have probably broken even at this point.  Best news is my stove is still in great shape and should last many more years.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Dear Mr Rawles,

This letter is in response to the piece on using photovoltaics to charge batteries by C.K.. I feel I should spend some time discussing some potential problems with charging Lithium Ion ("Li-ion") batteries the way C.K. proposes. However first a few general notes.

- I am all for scavenging if you know what you are doing like some of us. But 'newbies' are better off not trying to disassemble anything more complicated than a desktop power supply for safety reasons as JWR pointed
out. I should add that the process that causes the 'bounce' after discharge also keeps some capacitors charged much longer than you would imagine possible.

Secondly if you only need some diodes or resistors, you can buy a batch of 100 for a few dollars on-line which will give you a lifetime supply. Just look for vendors with a 99%+ positive rating and 10,000+ feedback. If you don't like eBay et al., try Aussie firm Futurlec. Your spare parts will come in handy someday when we realize we cannot afford to throw everything away.

- I have no problems with C.K.'s instructions and wouldn't have bothered to write in if he had used NiCd or NiMH batteries because they can handle
some degree of overcharging, which is bound to happen in his setup if you are shooting for full capacity. For NiCd and NiMH the rule of thumb is that if they start to feel warmer than ambient temperature, they are either full or you are charging them at too high a rate. So even if you have no voltmeter handy, you can have a pretty good idea what is going on. And if you charge them in a solar charger, make sure the batteries themselves (and their housing) are shaded because heat from any source degrades battery life expectancy rather quickly.

- Li-ion cells, on the other hand, cannot cope with overcharging without some form of problems popping up. A 3.7V cell should not be charged to a voltage higher than 4.2V. Prolonged charging above 4.3V destabilizes the cell and causes CO2 to be formed inside it. The charging current will be automatically cut off if the cell's internal pressure rises to 200 psi. However this doesn't immediately stop the chemical reactions and if pressure rises to 500 psi the cell starts venting the CO2. Depending on the exact circumstances, thermal runaway may occur and the cell can burst into flames.

- Charging current isn't a big issue with Li-ion as it can absorb large initial currents and when the cell reaches capacity it will throttle that current anyway. Of course for charging with solar panels this is a problem because it will cause their output voltage to rise which is exactly what we don't need.

- Li-ion cells cannot be trickle charged; they must be disconnected once full because constant charging causes metallic lithium plating which can compromise the safety of the cell.

- 3.7V Li-ion cells need to be charged for 3 hours at 4.2V to reach maximum capacity. Shorter charge times and/or lower voltages lead to reduced charges (= shorter runtime). Consumer products chargers usually are programmed for maximum runtime, but if you can live with shorter runtime between charges, its better to charge at a lower voltage which will give you a longer useful battery life.

- The 3 hour time frame is predicated on the fact that your charger can deliver 0.8C to 1C of current for the first stage of the charging process (i.e. until the cell reaches 4.1V). If your cell is rated at 2000mAh (=2Ah), then 1C = 2 Amps. For large battery packs that means a lot of amps. Lower maximum current is actually beneficial for the cell but requires a longer charge time.

- Taking all of the above together, I would say that charging Li-ion without a good deal of checking voltages can be rather tricky. This is exacerbated by the large variance in the output of a solar cell related to its angle to the sun, cloud cover, etc. Please keep in mind that just because charging a cell works fine once or twice doesn't mean its safe. A lot of the damage done by overcharging Li-ion batteries is cumulative because the chemical processes involved are irreversible. That is, your battery may kill itself (or worse) after ten trips to your solar charger.

- If you are a new or wannabe tinkerer, I would say make small panels that can deliver around 10V-12V (open circuit) and 1 Amp. If you connect that to a 7.4V battery pack (= multiple cells), its unlikely you will seriously overcharge the pack unless you leave it out in the full sun for several days. If you want to use large panels: do yourself a favor and buy a commercial 12V Li-ion charger.

- For dyed-in-the-wool tinkerers there is yet another solution: you can build yourself a small charge controller that drives the charge current to near zero as it approaches a preset voltage. Its parts list contains 6 items and its fits on a square inch if you are really pressed for real estate. What you need is: - 3 metal film resistors (1% tolerance - 2x 10K and 1x 3.9K) - 1 zener diode (6.2V - any wattage is fine - other voltages work too but require different resistor values) - 1 op-amp (rail to rail switching - I use a CA3140) - 1 solid state switch (power MOSFET or transistor with high amp rating - I prefer IRL7833)

The circuit works very simple: the zener diode creates a reference voltage for the op-amp. The op-amp compares the battery voltage to this reference voltage. If the battery voltage is lower it closes the switch and if the battery voltage is higher it opens the switch. One of the 10K resistors limits the current through the zener diode and the other 2 resistors form a voltage divider that maps the battery voltage to the reference voltage range. To calculate the proper resistor sizes for the voltage divider use the following formula (this formula only works if your base resistor is tied to ground): resistor size = target voltage / reference voltage * base resistor size - base resistor size

A 6.2V zener diode gives a 6.1V reference voltage when fed through a 10K resistor.
Targeting 8.4V (2x4.2V) while using a 10K base resistor gives us: resistor size = 8.4/6.1*10K-10K = 3.77K.
I would use a 3.9K resistor here because wires and solder joints have small resistances too so the voltage measured at the battery tends to be .1V - .2V below the charge controller's calculated target voltage and you quickly lose a lot of capacity if you charge Li-ion at voltages below 4.1V. The narrow band of target voltages (4.1V-4.2V) is also the reason to use metal film resistors. Carbon type resistors can have tolerances between 5% and 20%. Putting those numbers in the above formula quickly points out its a waste of time building the charge controller with those.

- The circuit uses a common ground for batteries, solar panel and other components; so all ground references must be tied together with the negative leads of the solar cells and batteries.
- IRL7833 pin 1 (left most pin if front facing) connects to op-amp pin 6
- IRL7833 pin 2 connects to solar panel positive lead
- IRL7833 pin 3 connects to battery positive lead
- op-amp pin 1 not connected
- op-amp pin 2 connects to voltage divider center position (between
- op-amp pin 3 connects to positive side zener diode (where the band is)
- op-amp pin 4 connects to ground
- op-amp pin 5 not connected
- op-amp pin 6 connects to IRL7833 pin 1
- op-amp pin 7 connects to IRL7833 pin 2 / solar panel positive lead
- op-amp pin 8 not connected
- zener diode positive side (band) and op-amp pin 2 connect to battery
positive lead through a 10K resistor
- zener diode negative side connects to ground
- voltage divider = battery positive lead -> 3.9K resistor -> 10K resistor -> ground

Heat sinks:
For very low currents (< .5A) your solid state switch doesn't need a heat sink. For currents up to 2 amps a small heat sink will do (think soup can lid). Beyond that you should look into using an aluminum heat sink. If you really want to go overboard (the IRL7833 handles 250A): seal your circuit in a peanut butter jar full of vegetable oil and submerge it in a brook - you now have a near infinite heat sink.

This controller's output is not an ideal match for Li-ion batteries but comes close enough to the requirements that you can leave it out in the sun all day without endangering your batteries. Though in sunny weather I would think 4-5 hours charging time is plenty if your solar panel is adequately sized. Most likely you will notice the batteries charging somewhat slower during stage one and converging close to the ideal curve during the saturation stage of the process.

With a volt meter it may look like this controller acts as a variable resistor but it doesn't. Connecting it to an oscilloscope shows it to be a real pulse charger (your batteries will thank you for this!) with variable duty cycle and operating frequency. A 12V version of the controller connected to an old motorcycle battery ran at around 300 kHz while topping up the battery. Its duty cycle was mostly determined by the amount of power absorbed by the battery at any given time.

- For advanced tinkerers: you can replace the op-amp with a micro-controller, omit the zener diode and add a circuit to deliver the proper voltage for the micro-controller. Read the battery voltage through the voltage divider. Again the use of metal film resistors is crucial here. The charging algorithm for Li-ion is very simple and straightforward to program but you may have already realized that from reading the points above.

And finally if you want lots of info on all kinds of batteries: spend some time at Regards, - D.P.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Living in rural Texas has taught me how to live a fuller, deeper life, but with a western twist.  Although the American Redoubt has captured many preppers’ imaginations, I live in Texas by choice.  I’ve traveled the world, visited most states and lived in multiple cities on both coasts, but I choose to call the Texas Hill Country home.  The cowboy way of life is intoxicating.

The first time I drove into the small town of Bandera (population 859) and saw cowboys riding horses down Main Street I immediately fell in love.  Many towns in the Texas Hill Country region are predominately German in heritage and the people have strong work ethics, coupled with old fashioned common sense.

Manners count
. Cowboy Jerry Lee taught my sons to ride a horse and instilled them with the cowboy code: never cross over private fences, always speak the truth, respect your elders and respond with a yes Sir or no Ma’am.  Women are addressed by their first name, but always preceded with “Miss” even when married. 

Many children learn to shoot a gun at a very young age, some shooting their first deer as young as 5 years old.  Children are taught early to respect firearms.  My sons are boy scouts that are live the scout motto, “Be prepared”.  FFA and 4-H teach kids agricultural literacy in a world that has lost touch with how our food gets on the table.     

Momma knows best
.  Homeschooling has huge support from our local communities and state government.  You would be hard pressed to find a state with stronger support for parents who want to control their children’s education.  Although our public schools do require immunizations, parents can opt out by simply notarizing a one page affidavit.  

Most families attend church regularly and it’s common for couples to still be married to their high school sweethearts after decades of marriage.  I enjoy seeing three generations at a country rodeo dancing to western swing music under the stars and smile when the grandparents show the crowd that fifty years of marriage makes for a perfect two-step partnership.   

Ranching is a way of life here
.  Many family ranches have been passed down from generation to generation, but even that has become increasingly difficult.  Tough, loyal and devoted to family, most native Texans wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else and they truly believe this is God’s country. 

The majority of Texans are deeply conservative and Christian.  They want their guns, little government interference and hands off their property.  The state capital of Austin is where you’ll find most liberals and where the city’s motto “Keep Austin Weird” is practiced daily.

On our local hometown radio station they play the Pledge of Allegiance every morning and the Star Spangled Banner at noon.  Pretty cool huh?  The small town of Boerne’s siren goes off at noon as a not so gentle reminder from times past, letting everyone know its lunch time.  I lived five miles out of town and I could faintly hear it go off if I happened to be outside. 

Texas has taught me valuable life lessons that have helped me become better prepared.  First is location.  Although Texas is a large state, only Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio have large metropolitan populations.  The remainder of the state is predominately rural, with most residents living in small rural towns.  After taking a leap of faith and moving my family to the country, I’m blessed to live a quiet, peaceful lifestyle.  I will never go back to the city. 

Ranches large and small are the backbone of rural communities.
  Make friends with your neighbors.  I’ve borrowed my neighbors’ tools, asked their advice on planting vegetables and one even fixed my broken gate without my asking.  That’s important stuff especially if the SHTF.  Always be kind too, get to know and help your neighbors just like the Bible says.

Learn to have different energy sources.
  Electricity, solar, wind and propane give us greater energy independence.  Not relying on the local electric provider for all our energy needs gives me greater peace of mind.  Also having a propane/gas cook stove lets me finish making dinner when the power goes off like it did three times last week.

To access ranches, most owners use solar panels for automatic gate openers and gate envy is pretty common here.  The problem with a fancy entrance is that it screams money, but old money taught me to be understated.  Ditto for the cool ranch name over the entrance gate to make property identification easier.  Low key folks use flags, fencing or reflectors to help friends discretely locate their property.

I know a wealthy Texas woman who owns an 8,000 acre ranch, with no ranch entrance identification and even a broken down gate.  The caliche (crushed limestone) driveway is better suited to a four wheel drive and it stays that way until the road is out of sight from the highway, which then flattens out and pulls up in front of a 15,000 square foot mansion.  Now that’s OPSEC.

Old timer’s love their pickups
.  Here the ultimate badge of honor is an old, beat up Ford truck that’s seen better days, but still runs.  What’s really cool is the old man driving that truck has more money than most people you will ever meet in your life!  Double OPSEC!

Fencing is important
.  It’s usually one of the first things done building a ranch.  Although barbed wire and T post are the norm across the country, high game fencing is predominate here.  If you have the money, galvanized metal piping and a 10 foot high perimeter fence makes it difficult for animals and trespassers alike to jump a game fence as well as provide perimeter security.  Cross fencing with helps rotational grazing. 
Those with limited funds can use a fence pole digger by hand, which is extremely tough in our famously rocky soil.  Texans also use plain old sticks when building fences, with a metal post and then three wood sticks.  We use what is abundant and they get the job done.     

Water is life
.  Water is the biggest asset any property can have and here it’s very valuable.  The price of land cost between $5,000 to $10,000 an acre, but it doubles with live water.  I’ve learned the hard way that when the electricity goes off, there is no water for drinking, washing and toilets that require electricity to run the water pump.  Get every know resource of water storage you can get your hands on: dirt tanks, cisterns, water tanks, 55 gallon drums, rainwater catchment systems, grey water and clean those used bottles to store household water.    

Ranchers use dirt tanks to water livestock, which is just a hole dug in the ground to capture rainwater runoff in a low part of the property.  Don’t dig past the hard pan or it will leak, so it’s best to use someone who has lots of experience.  This works well when you don’t have a well and power pump or can’t afford one.  A stock tank is a large metal container for watering livestock, which still needs some type of water source, typically a well and windmill.

Although springs are highly desirable, most properties are without water, which makes drilling a well crucial.  A cistern (open top) or water tank (closed top) acts as a reservoir to hold water.  Made of metal, plastic or concrete they hold the precious liquid from your well.  No Texan worth their salt drills a well without adding a water tank.  Texans also have lots of swimming pools, which can act as emergency water storage. 

Many homesteads still have their original working windmills that pump water to the house and livestock.  It’s not uncommon to find old, disassembled windmills on Craigslist and some could be had for a reasonable price or possibly your effort in taking it down. 

Oil is king in Texas
.  Few ranches don’t have an above ground gas tank and most have a diesel tank as well for trucks and equipment.  Having 500 or so gallons of fuel on hand is really out of everyday ranching necessity, but oh so smart in case of TEOTWAWKI.

Texas ranches are multi-generational
.  Typically ranches have more than one house on a property: a main house, guest house, ranch foreman’s house, bunk house, cabin and maybe an apartment in the barn is very common.  Most aren’t big or expensive.  This provides additional space for family members, ranch workers and guests.  It’s also valuable should the need arise to for banding together for protection.

Barns are useful for large gathering places.
  Party barns are great entertainment and I’ve seen pool tables, dart boards, washers and checkers in these outdoor rooms, none of which needs power.  Stables are typically metal frames and roofs made from kits.  Texans love their horses: cutting horses, trail riding, team roping, breeding horse, training horses, you name they ride it.

Ranches have many useful outbuildings.
  Our German immigrants knew that survival was more important than a fancy house so they built smoke houses to cure meat, well houses for water, chicken houses, tractor sheds, garages, storage sheds, horse barns, hay barns, black smith sheds and tool sheds to name a few.  This is still true today and a good ranch set up with ample barns will help secure your hard earned assets should the balloon ever go up.

Ride for the brand
.  In the old west, ranchers hired men to work their cattle and the cattle brand of the owner was who they gave their loyalty too.  The ranch owner also depended on those extra hands when trouble came knocking.  Today, many ranch hands have lived their whole lives on one property, with some like the King Ranch passing those ranch hand jobs down to the next generation.  Talk about loyalty.  This kind of security can’t be bought, but the next best thing is your family.  Living close to family makes a tighter bond than living far away. 

We don’t dial 911”.  Guns are a way of life here.  I’ve been to lots of ranches that have some sort of hidden gun room or secret cache where guns are stored.  Guns are everywhere.  Over a fireplace, in trucks, boots, bedrooms, barns, purses and even the outhouse (snakes of course).

Guns, guns and more guns
.  Every type of gun known to man is here to protect their family and property.  They also stockpile ammo.   A good rule is to honk first when driving up unexpectedly to a ranch so as not to spook anyone.  Watching those old cowboy movies gave me a good idea: use both hands when shooting guns.    

Without question Texas is a strong, vocal supporter of the Second Amendment and the NRA
.  Just check out their bumper stickers.  I saw a bumper sticker on a father of a teenage girl my son was checking out and it said “Guns don’t kill men, Daddy’s with pretty daughters do”

Growing gardens is tough here
.  Start with a mandatory 6 foot deer fence and build your raised beds because of the rocks.  Rain harvesting and gray water systems are slowly becoming more popular due to the drought.  Drip irrigation is the way to go.  Our long growing season is an added bonus. 

Architectural design is important
.  Ranch houses are typically one story, with wide eaves and deep porches to offset the harsh Texas sun.  Most are built with metal roofs, rock siding and tile floors that last for generations.  This greatly helps to cool down a home, while fans are in almost every room.  Tall ceilings, shutters and siting a home to take advantage of south eastern gulf winds help’s to offset demand for air-conditioning.  So does a tall glass of sweet tea.

Many small towns in the Texas Hill Country have a secret
.  Beneath our town’s main street are old tunnels that were built to protect settlers in case of Indian raids.  That makes me feel a little safer next time I shop for pickles knowing that if a nuclear bomb goes off my family can go underground.   

Texans love all kinds of horse powered transportation
.  Should an EMP attack render cars useless, they’ll get around riding their horses or driving their horse drawn carriages, buggy’s, hay wagons, chuck wagons and buck board wagons.  During the summer on country roads you can run into wagon trains filled with hundreds of people driving their wagons, which is an awesome sight to behold!  And yes they still ride their horses into town for a coke, hamburger and even a beer.

Alternative vehicles are a must
. Almost every ranch has at least one All-Terrain Vehicle or a truck with a big bumper grill, which is used to help stop damage to the engine if you hit a deer.  Heck, I’ve seen a new Cadillac with a huge bumper grill.  They could come in pretty handy during a Without Rule of Law situation.. 

Horse trailers, cattle trailers and utility trailers are all great survival tools
.  We use them all the time and I’ve learned how to haul them and back them up too.   (It’s pretty hard so it’s a really good thing to learn now rather than later)  Most horse trailers are nicer than some people’s homes, plus the added bonus is the ability to travel with your livestock and family under one roof.

Every cowboy knows that a rope is an important tool
.  Sure they can lasso a cow, but it serves so many other uses that it would be impossible to list.  Suffice to say that that’s one thing that you never can have enough of and I’ve been known to use my son’s lariat in a pinch to tie down furniture on the utility trailer. 

Hunting is different here versus other states
.  Deer blinds and corn feeder’s act as bait to lure deer close enough to the house to make an easy kill and butchering process.  I used to think that was cheating, but the older you get, the smarter this becomes.  A poor man’s lure is an old fashioned salt block.  Deer also love my chicken feed.

Ranchers are born entrepreneurs
.  It’s very tough today to make a living from ranching alone and that has forced most ranchers to have home based businesses.  Things I’ve seen them do to make a little side money are selling hay (if you don’t have the equipment, then split the hay fifty-fifty with someone who does). 

Selling firewood, cedar logs, tamales, tractor work and tilling gardens is common.  Everywhere you look is a small, roadside barbeque stand.  Game ranches make serious money allowing the paying public to shoot exotic animals that pay a rancher from $500 to over $10,000 per animal.

The women earn extra cash too
.  Many sell handcrafts, herbs and vegetables at the various farmers markets during the summer.  Quilts, antiques, farm fresh eggs and canned goods will always provide pocket change, but some are starting to build and install custom raised beds and set up vegetable gardens for those who lack the time and skills. 

Horseback rides at $75/hour per horse is one way for their keep, providing parking in your field for events and tube rentals on the areas many rivers are a fun way to boost a family’s income during the tourist season.  The bed and breakfast industry is a thriving business in the picturesque Hill Country.  Even a small cabin that rents nightly provides a nice extra income.  Some play guitar on an open mike night to help make ends meet.       

Ranchers use their bartering skills every day
.  My brother in-law trades broken industrial equipment given to him from an owner who wants to get rid of the “junk”.  He repairs it and then turns around and trades it for boats, cars and especially guns.  I’ve seen ranchers lease their grassland property to landless horse/cattle/goat owners for extra cash.  Some sell watermelons and other cash crops at roadside stands and many out of the back of a pickup truck.  The ideas are endless and all it takes is your imagination.

Foraging for wild food is fun
.  I’ve learned Texans are serious wild food foragers and last fall had to fight numerous other pickers for the pecan nuts that fell on country roads.  My acorn harvest was a bust and I learned not to store them in plastic because they ruin.  Prickly pear cactus grows wild here and is highly prized for making jam that has become a Texas tradition.

I want to touch upon food preps just a little
.  Although I’ve re-learned to can after forgetting this important survival skill my mother taught me as a young girl, one of the best new things I’ve learned is to manage my food storage.  The closest grocery store is 32 miles so I now buy my groceries monthly. 
Yes, I still run to town for bread and milk after a few weeks, distance has forced me to store at least a months’ worth of food, which is good in case of an emergency.  It also cuts down on buying unhealthy processed food, which is a way too easy an option when you are always in a grocery store. 

Many older women have taught me a surprise weapon
.  I’ve been taken aside to enlighten me on their secret recipe: cooking in cast iron pans.  Needless to say, I now cook almost exclusively with my own collection of cast iron that you can find in antique stores, garage sales, ranch supply stores and online.  My latest acquisition is a cute little cast iron cup with handle that holds 1 ½ cups, which is just right for melting butter for corn on the cob. 

Learn to cut out the poison
.  Less toxic, processed food means more scratch cooking, which is a must learn skill.  Even if you think you can’t, just try a few things and you’ll be surprised how easy it is to make food staples like homemade pancakes, biscuits and jam.  Now if only I can improve my aim and shoot a deer!  But like any country gal, I did the next best thing which is to learn how to process a deer. 

You just gotta love chickens
.  Although my family are cattle ranchers, without a doubt, chickens are the easiest livestock to begin with and just about every small town in Texas allows homeowners chickens.  Remember you don’t need a rooster for eggs, only if you want baby chicks.  Don’t forget to buy non-GMO feed and free range chickens are always best.  Now if only I can train them to lay eggs exactly where I can find them…

Texas women are natural born preppers
.  They love their bling.  Gold, diamonds, silver, you name it they wear it and all the time.   If SHTF, their bling-bling can be an immediate bartering tool.  Camouflage, boots and jeans are the norm here for women and it gives us an edge over business suits, high heels and designer clothes that aren’t made to last.      

Living in the country does have responsibilities.
  Most people I know are first responders and are volunteer fireman.  If you can’t afford the expensive communications devices, in exchange for your time each town outfits their guys with the latest and greatest gear.  Learning CPR and other medical know-how is the icing on the cake and it’s typically free.  Walkie-talkies are useful around home and gives you peach of mind having constant contact with the kids.  (Remember that cell phone service doesn’t always work in the country.) 

Smart ranchers use what nature gives them
.  Many an old timer has converted their cow manure into liquid fertilizer to boost their hay field production.  That’s a big deal when large round bales sell upwards of $100 dollars a bale.  I always ask my kids when we pass a freshly baled hay field “Now how much money is sitting in that field?”  Their answers are jaw dropping.
I know that without living in Texas I would never have been exposed to so many ways to ranch and homestead.  I read this article to my children who have been raised in Texas and they both said “Mom that’s not a story about prepping, that’s just the way Texans live.”  Out of the mouths of babes.

The education I’ve been given by the cowboys, ranchers and farmers who live here has shaped the person I am and my children as well.  And we’re better for it.  God bless America, God bless Texas and God bless all Patriots keeping the faith.

Several years ago my family purchased an Amish farm in a settlement in southeast Ohio. I wanted to share a little about what we have learned because there are currently several Amish farms going on the market in our area which are not advertised anywhere. We are over two hours from any major city and nearly and hour from smaller ones. Our closest village is Woodsfield. We are in an area where Utica Shale is beginning to boom so the Amish are heading out, not wanting to be driving their buggies in the vicinity of big trucks, which I can understand.

In general the farm properties are a mix of woods and pasture. They have a large barn, outbuildings and outhouses, some have large workshops where they had sawmills. The houses are large. Ours is about 3000 SQ FT and is one of the smaller ones. This is definitely the place for someone who has a large family or many people to live together. Many have smaller guest houses. Ours has two. These were built for newly married children to spend their first years, or for grandparents to live. The homes have open floor plans because they needed to be able to have over a hundred people over when it was their turn to host "church." 

I have found that the open floor plans make heating with woodstoves very comfortable. The chimney are generally set up to have one wood stove in the big kitchen and another in the living room. Some have a opening in the ceiling over or near one of these stoves to allow the heat to travel straight up to the second floor.

These houses have big full basements, a ground floor with generally a master bedroom, kitchen, living room, dining area, and pantry. We converted our pantry into a bathroom after we had a septic tank installed. The outhouse is always there for backup and emergencies now.

The houses also have big porches. The clotheslines range from average T shapes posts to colossal 100' monsters connecting at pulleys in the trees. They uses older wringer washers that are run from a gas lawnmower type motor for laundry. The hot water for the wash is heated in a massive stainless steel, wood fired water heaters. They are generally available in Amish supply catalogs.

The Amish in our area are not allowed to use natural gas, so when we bought our place we ran gas lines in for gas stoves and heaters. One of the bonuses is that ours, and several of the available farms have functioning shallow natural gas wells on the property and you are allowed all of your residential gas for free. Even when the power is out we still have gas and water.

Water is generally from one of two possible sources. The first, like ours is from natural springs from the hillsides. We have a tank up at the spring which holds 1,500 gallons. and is piped down to the house and barns. Ours have never gone dry, even during the drought times. The other water sources for the farms is from drilled wells. The drilled wells in the Amish homes are powered by a small gas motor and pressure tank. There are also a lot of creeks, streams, ponds, etc everywhere out here so watering livestock is generally not an issue.

One of the big blessings is that everything grows. Gardening is amazing. You literally put the seed into the ground and God waters it and makes it grow. In the past five years I think that I have watered my vegetable garden twice. It is land truly blessed.

In the early spring just about everyone taps the maple trees on the farms and make syrup. Some of the farms make it as a business and produced hundreds of gallons every year at about $40/gal.

I have learned a lot from my Amish neighbors over the years. One thing I have learned is that they will also be impacted in the SHTF scenarios because of their dependence on gas motors and things of that nature, but they will get by. They have a strong sense of community and will work together, which I jealously admire as an English outsider.

I just wanted to let you and your readers know that this because with so many nice farms going up for sale at once it is a great time to be able to have the choice between them. Unfortunately you would really need to make the trip down to see them all in person because they are, after all, Amish. - H.M.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Ten years ago, my wife and I, as young newlyweds, were living the American dream. Our future was bright. While my wife earned a lucrative salary and I built a successful online business, we were on the road to success.  Our urban lifestyle provided us with everything our hearts desired.  In 2006 everything changed.  With the collapse of the housing bubble and the economy in a tailspin, we woke up to the fact that our easy urban lifestyle was fragile and dependent on factors far outside of our control.  We began to be alarmed at the precariousness of our current situation. We asked ourselves what we would do if the economy continued to deteriorate and we could no longer depend on the comfortable income we had so long enjoyed.  We considered our options and tried to determine what we could do to lessen our dependency on others and build in security for our family’s future.  After much prayer, we decided to radically change our way of life. We put our house up for sale and resolved to move to a remote location and become modern homesteaders. 

Our first step was to find a suitable location. Every weekend we loaded up the van and started looking for off-grid properties.  With an eye towards self-reliance we determined our future property must include four things: 1) a reliable water supply independent from municipal sources; 2) a climate that would support growing our own food; 3) an adequate forest that could provide firewood for heat and lumber for building material; 4) a defendable property far enough from major cities to be safe from the influx of an urban exodus in the case of natural or man-made disaster.  We decided on an area east of the Cascade Mountains in the heart of the Pacific Northwest.

After years of searching we found what we considered to be the perfect location for our future off-grid homestead.  We purchased the land and set to work.  Our new property was bare, forested land. Having a background in construction and site development, I was undaunted by the scope of work needing to be performed.  Clearing land, logging, construction, building roads, installing septic systems and water wells were within my scope of abilities.

Before we started we had resolved to build out of pocket and complete the job debt free.  We had made the necessary preparation and everything was accounted for and a go. What we didn’t consider were the road blocks about to be put up before us by the county building department and the dramatic increase in the cost of building materials. I have been in construction for a long time and am familiar with building department requirements, engineering, and the inspection process.  Very early on I began to sense a perceptible resistance by the building department to sign off on our building plans. It seemed to me we were trying to hit a moving target with continuous requests for changes in engineering and permitting requirements.  I cannot say with certainty that the building department was actively trying to make our life difficult. I think perhaps our project was so far out of their general scope of knowledge that they were reluctant to give approval over fear they may become liable for unforeseen problems in the future.

With the cost of development skyrocketing and the demands of the building department becoming ever more difficult we were quickly reaching the point of no return.  We were faced with a very difficult decision: Do we continue to bang our heads against this proverbial wall or cut our losses; take the remaining money we still had; and purchase a homestead with an intact infrastructure? The thought of pulling up stakes and starting over was heartrending. We had already invested thousands of dollars clearing timber, building roads, and installing a septic system and fresh-water well. We had fallen in love with our future home site and developed relationships with neighbors that continue to this day.

With time and money running low a decision had to be made. We pulled the plug, loaded up the van and hit the road searching for a place we could call home.  I believe my wife and I looked at every  property for sale in the county. Toward the end of a long day of searching we came over a rise in the road and were treated to a spectacular view of the Cascade Mountains.  My wife motioned to me to stop!  To our left stood an old "for sale" sign and a promising homestead property with a modest house and several barns and out- buildings.  We immediately got out of the van and investigated the property. We quickly realized it had everything we had been looking for: strategic location, favorable climate, ample water, timber and nearly move-in ready.  I’m not going to go into the long and arduous process we went through to purchase our homestead, but to make a long story short, we now call it home.

Preparing for the Future.
In late November we took position of the property and moved in. The homestead had been abandoned and was in pretty rough shape. Winter was bearing down upon us and a lot of work needed to be done. Time was running short and the harsh winter snows were looming on the horizon. With my family living onsite in my parents’ fifth-wheel trailer we started to work.  It was as if we had been thrust back into the 19th century.  We had no heat or water in the house. Pipes had frozen and burst. The woodstove was so old and worn that it was no longer safe to use; which would not have helped much anyway since we had no firewood.  This experience was very eye-opening for our family. I was amazed how dependent we had become on modern conveniences like warm water, a furnace with a thermostat, and grocery stores so close that a person need not worry about food storage or maintaining a pantry.  The hardships of our first winter were a disguised blessing. We began to realize many short comings and vulnerabilities in our preparations. It has been said that every boxer has a plan until he gets hit in the nose. Our noses had been bloodied and we resolved our second winter would not be a repeat of the first. 

We needed a plan. My wife and I counseled together to determine our most pressing needs.  As an avid outdoors man I learned and at early age the four things one does if lost in the wilderness: 1) build a shelter; 2) provide a source of heat; 3) secure water; 4) find food.  With a sturdy house and a dry roof we moved to step 2 - provide heat and warmth. We purchased a used woodstove and chimney pipe and installed them in the front room.  With perseverance, determination, and a lot of very wet firewood we had a reasonably warm house.  Just when our conditions started to improve a severe ice storm knocked out our power for nine days.  With the well pump out-of-service we were forced to devise a water source that could operate independent from the power grid.  How difficult it is for the modern mind to shift from the conventional way of doing things.  If you need to pump water you have two options, correct? Either you use an electric or a gasoline powered pump. With the electricity to our home shut off this left only one alternative.  With the nearest gas station many miles away down a treacherous ice-covered road, running a generator 24 hours a day is a less than ideal solution.  One of the most important lessons homesteading has taught me is to stop trying to reinvent the wheel and to look to the old ways of getting a job done.  I searched the internet for an alternative approach to our water problem. Lo and behold I found a 16th Century solution to a 21st Century problem, the ram pump.

YouTube is a modern homesteader’s best friend.  By watching several videos I learned how to build a simple pump constructed of common plumbing supplies that operates on the kinetic energy of falling water. We now had a solution to our water emergency.  By combining this simple pump with a small water tower, we were able to provide water for drinking as well as an adequate supply for irrigating our garden.  I’m not suggesting our grandfathers had all the solutions but much can be gleaned from their past experience and the solutions they devised for similar problems we face today. It seems to me that the modern homesteader who combines the old-tried and true techniques with modern technology can devise simple and robust solutions for nearly any problem. 

With shelter, heat, and water issues sorted we began to look at our food supply. Our first spring was fast approaching as we planned our garden.  We homestead in an alpine forested area where we need to protect our garden from deer and elk. We settled on an area close to the house and began the construction of an 8 foot high perimeter fence and headed down the road to food independence

Fast forward a year and a half.  Life on the homestead is much different.  We have learned a great deal.  My father used to say that it’s amazing how much a man can get done when he has to. This has certainly been true for our homestead experience.

JWR Adds: Be sure to follow their homesteading adventures, videoblogged at

Thursday, July 4, 2013

We have begun our corn harvest. We just finished canning the corn from 2 rows of hybrid sweet corn. We planted two rows 100 feet long. We made approximately 400 ears of corn. From this we ate all we wanted and canned 39 quarts and 12 pints whole kernel. We don’t can any cream style, because it doesn’t do well. Many times the corn has a musty taste. We put it in jars rather than the freezer to protect it from a grid down scenario. We gave 20 ears to a local widow, and 48 ears to a local gentleman in his mid 80’s.

I plant my corn seed in pairs about 6 to 12 inches apart and ½” deep.   They can be a little deeper, but not much closer to the surface of the soil.  I drop my seed by hand. It doesn’t take long once you develop a method. I can drop a 200 foot row in about 10 minutes. I usually plant a couple weeks before the last frost date, because it takes awhile for the seed to sprout. The frost may “bite” the young corn plant, but not kill it. A hard freeze is another matter. The soil temperature should be 55 deg. F. and rising. Corn requires a lot of fertilizer. I place 13-13-13 in the row and mix with soil and then drop my seed and cover them with soil. When the corn approaches 2 feet in height, I apply another band of 13-13-13 by the plants and cover with dirt along with any grass or weeds that escaped any previous plowing.        

We are growing 3 more types of corn, most of which is drying on the stalk in the field. We purchased some Golden Bantam heirloom variety corn from an Internet seed business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I purchased this seed because there was no local source for non-hybrid heirloom sweet corn seed. After planting and eating a little, I highly recommend it. It has a very large starchy kernel. It is unique because the kernels are extremely easy to bite off the cob when cooked due to the shape of the kernel and the spacing of the attachment points to the cob. This corn would be easy to bite with dentures. It also has two other things that I like. The stalks are very short when mature (5 feet), which makes it wind resistant and it requires a lot less moisture to grow a 5 foot stalk compared to an eight foot stalk. I’m saving all this seed for future planting. The only negative is the ears are rather small.

I’ve planted 20 rows 200 feet long of heirloom Yellow Dent corn. I purchased this at a local feed store. I was also given some by a neighbor. These corn stalks have reached a height of 8 feet and have huge ears, usually two per stalk, due to all the rain we’ve had this year. I plan to use this as feed for my geese and ducks, for grinding into corn meal, and extra feed for my herd of donkeys. I will also save at least five 5-gallon buckets for seed for the future and for barter.

I’ve planted 10 rows 200 feet long of pencil cob corn. This is an heirloom variety that is grown locally. I purchased the seed from a local feed store. I’m growing this corn as the primary feed for my donkeys in a “worst case” scenario. The cobs of this variety are only ½” in diameter. You can easily break the ears into 3 pieces by hand. My donkeys will eat the whole piece and they love it. When commercial feed is no longer available, this will be their primary feed along with grass or winter fodder. This corn also makes excellent corn meal.

Since I’m nearly 60 years old and can remember things well, I can remember the first hay baler in this area. The hay was cut with a horse-drawn mower. After it cured or dried it was pulled with a horse drawn rake to the stationary baler where it was pitch forked into the baler and hand tied. Why am I including this in a corn essay? The reason is that I want to share some information that few people remember or know. What did poor farmers do before these hay making methods came along? What did farmers do that didn’t have the land to raise hay? The answer is in the corn field. Once you have picked the ripe corn for canning, you go back and cut down the stalk, place them in small bunches until they air dry. They are then placed in a dry storage area until fed in the winter. If the corn is to be dry harvested, you cut the stalk off above the highest ear after the silk has turned completely brown. Then do the same as the above. If you want more feed, then you go back and pull the leaves from the standing stalk, twist them together in a small sheave and hang them between the ear and stalk. Once these have air dried, place them in dry storage. You then return and pull the dried ears of corn a few weeks later. The ear will be turned down and the shuck will be completely dry. All that will be left in the corn field is a short corn stalk to be removed before the next planting. The corn field will now be filled with grass and weeds by this time. This is when I turn in the cows and let them clean the field. This method requires many hours of hard labor. Right now, I’m continuing to use my diesel tractor and round baler, but I know what to do if these items are no longer available. Doing this will provide you with many tons of feed for your donkeys and milk cow thru the winter. My father used this dried corn fodder to feed his family’s plow horse and milk cows. This is how my father as a young boy and his family survived the Great Depression. My father said they never had any money during this time, but they were never hungry. He always smiled when he spoke of these times. - M.E.R.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

My story begins as another closet prepper.  As many of you, I did not have the support of my spouse for my new found drive to prepare for the unknown. Often I would attempt to sneak items that I planned to lay up long-term into the grocery bill without her noticing. I would even have online purchases delivered to a neighbor claiming to him that it was for her birthday or our anniversary. Needless to say, I usually (always) got caught, which would lead to long discussions about me "wasting money."  As fate and the good lord would have it, I finally got my window of opportunity to prove what I was doing had merit. 

As I recall, it was late February. Pennsylvania had another one of its wonderful snow storms topped with ice. We awoke without power to a somewhat chilly house and a few feet of snow.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  The morning, afternoon, and early evening went as they usually would without power.  However we were starting to become concerned because power is usually restored in no more than 16 hours. My son was only about a year old at this time so his needs were a little more than our own. The house was becoming colder and as a new mother, my wife was starting to become unglued.  Although I upgraded our home with multiple heating sources (not without protest and a little help from the bank), all of them required electricity to operate the circulating pumps. A major new prepper mistake. Our refrigerator was slowly starting to warm, making us concerned about his supply of milk. Lucky for me, I made one of my "secret" purchases a few weeks back.  I had attended an estate auction in town and purchased a small gasoline operated generator.  At the time, I had no idea if it was large enough to run anything other than the drill I used to test its function ability.  I was also afraid of somehow burning my house down with a electrical fire.  It was around hour 36 of the outage when her meltdown occurred and she looked to me to fix the situation as she always has.  In her eyes I am the man of the house, the provider.  It is my job to fix and solve the things that end up over her head.  I bundled up and headed out the back door to the shed, hoping my plan would work.  Lucky for me it did.  About 45 minutes later I had the coal stoker and the refrigerator up and running.  We had heat.  As I returned to the house, I could easily read the look in my wife's eyes.  It was her classic "I don't know how you did it, but you did and I love you for it" look.  I was their hero. I saved the day. That is when the dimly lit light bulb went off in my head.  After a long discussion and a few confessions on where the generator came from, I had her convinced.  Without my purchase, we would have had no choice but to brave the roads to a unknown family members house, with our son in the car, in the middle of another wave of storms.  This is when she saw the light and realized that not all of the "wasted money" was really wasted.  I drove this entire concept home throughout the entire 4 days without power.  Without my inexpensive siphon, I wouldn't have been able to use some of the gas from the vehicles to keep the generator running.  Without the powdered milk, what would the little man have had?  Without the bottled water?  Without the small propane burner?  The list kept going.  Needless to say, I was in a bit of trouble with all of these "secret" items I had hid from her view, but I was forgiven quickly.  After all those months of trying to get her on the bus, it only took 36 hours without electricity.

Now that I had her partially on board, I was looking for opportunities to teach her skills that would benefit us in the future. The following summer provided several occasions for just that. My wonderful wife was raised by her grandparents who grew up in the classic "oldest of 12 kids during the depression" scenario. (In my humble opinion, this generation is one of the best untapped resources for learning new and useful skills and knowledge for a post-TEOTWAWKI situation.) Needless to say, they waste nothing and are avid gardeners. During one of our normal visits, her grandfather had mentioned to me that canning season was upon us and the next few weekends would be consumed by the task.  I volunteered us to give them a few extra sets of hands.  My wife was more than happy to give something back by helping out, and she had no idea she was learning a valuable skill.  After 3 consecutive Saturdays, she was canning like she had been doing it for years. During our weekly work parties, I got a chance to get some serious feedback from her Grandmother on the importance  of stocking up for the uncertain.  The advice from someone who has been there multiple times, some times worse than others, was truly priceless.  Coming from her grandparents, my wife took every word to heart.  She is now an avid canner, storing every small bit from our tiny undersized garden, and "clearance" farmers market deals.  Once she seen the savings of doing our own canning, this lead to more.  She now typically buys items in bulk from the warehouse stores.  Once you break the price of the item down per ounce and compare, the savings are obvious.  We now go looking for sales on food goods instead of the new Abercrombie store at the local shopping mall.  I can't complain a bit. We now have enough food in our pantry to sustain us for about three months.  All the savings have also started her into extreme couponing. She has created a sizable larder of things like tooth brushes, tooth pastes, soap, shampoo, deodorant, and razors.  She has even mentioned these would be great for charity or even barter for other comfort items. (I was so proud.) 

During a trip to an local amusement park, I inadvertently discovered my wife was incapable of reading a simple map accurately.  Before our trek into the park, I picked up two maps to help us get around.  I marked three separate and simple rally points (RPs) on the map. When something as simple a pre-determined RP has saved you in the past, it kind of sticks with you.  I often worry about an active shooter scenario when in a large group of people. My wife volunteered to go to the vehicle to retrieve some items for our son.  As the two of us continued around the park, my wife called me to find us.  After a quick scan of my surroundings, I noticed we were practically on top of rally point three.  After a few gripes, we hung up the phone and with the aid of her map, she headed off to rally point three.  Fifteen minutes later my phone rang again.  With her nowhere in sight, claiming to be at the RP, I asked her to describe her surroundings.  I was easily able to determine her location and meet her. She quickly became aggravated and defensive when I accused her of being lost. That is when I realized our bug out plan had a fatal flaw.  After a quick landmark recognition land navigation class, she led us around the rest of the day.  She still needed a little more advanced help.  Motivating her to learn something she has no interest in is extremely tough.  Lucky for me, I found Geocaching.  For those who are unfamiliar with it, Geocaching is where someone hides a cache (Usually an ammo can) with clues and coordinates on where to find it posted online. Inside the can you typically find a visitors log, and items to trade. A lot of newer GPS units have a feature built in for this from the factory. Some caches are entry level easy, increasing in difficulty to the multi-caches where only one point is published and once you find it, it gives a second location to find another.  During a family camping outing, I introduced it to her. After her first find, she was hooked.  Armed with my GPS, she was off to the next cache and I was playing catch up.  Once she had that mastered, I threw her a curve ball.  After obtaining a topographic map from the park office and making sure my compass was in my pack, her GPS batteries mysteriously went dead.  She had to find the last of her two day trek multi-cache.  After teaching her to plot to paper and correct for magnetic north, she found it easily.  (She actually did much better than most of the guys with whom I went to the Platoon Leader's Development Course (PLDC.) She also learned how difficult it was with a pack on your back and a baby strapped to your front.

Now that she is on the same page, knitting needles as mother's day gifts excite her.  She has started knitting and sewing some items for our boy.  Her ability to re-purpose items amazes me.  She even suggests going to the rifle range for our monthly date instead of dinner and a movie. She is even becoming a little obsessive about accuracy, taking over my reloading press for hours at a time.  Even showing her uncle how to "properly" shoot with a sling.  She is now constantly coming up with new ideas on how to store more stuff and other items we may need in our bug out bags. Her job as a bank teller even has her starting to stack pre-1965 silver.  Face value is the best way to buy! I highly recommend if you have a stubborn wife like I do, take any opportunity that arises to be used as a teaching opportunity. Be creative, and be persistent. Identify areas where they may not have the appropriate skills to carry out your plan, and find a way to get them involved.  I know this sounds cheesy, but you must be able to seize the opportunity.  If you can make it fun, they will learn without them even knowing it.  Some of these would also work great for kids.  With your spouse on board, two minds are better than one.  Wait for your opportunity to show them how awful it could be without prepping and the real reason behind it.  Be ready.  Molon Labe.

Friday, June 21, 2013

I am a wild food author who lived it for years while homesteading in the Adirondacks of upstate New York, and I lived on wild food for many years after that during my teaching days. I still eat wild food today in retirement.

YES.  Wild food is abundant, nutritious, healthy, easy-to-use and, best of all, free! This is important to know, and it’s an important cognition to have early on the way to becoming proficient with it. Having your eyes opened to the fact that it is everywhere must, of course, come before starting the journey that ends with being starvation-proofed.

BUT . . .
I understand that many peppers and survivalists tend to think of my materials as something they can keep on the shelf right up until they need them, then take them down and use them like a road map to instantly trot off to the wilds and subsist because the world went to hell and the supermarkets are fresh out of everything. That is feasible, but that’s not what I would call practical.  Even though you could do this, it is, by far, not the best way to learn the use of wild food.  I feel the need to warn against this grab-the-book approach. True skills are only acquired over time, and your progress can be greatly accelerated by guidance, building on the experience of others as laid out in their materials.

Surely the goal of a complete educational suite about wild food would be to starvation-proof an individual, a family or a group.  Information is important, but I'm sorry to say that your success or failure in that regard is based on how much practical effort you have put into learning and practicing these skills before they are needed. Of course not everyone will be ahead of the curve, and there would be many folks that have no idea of the fact of wild food, so never tried to learn or apply them.  These could be people you would want to help keep alive.

While simple foraging could indeed be useful as you trek off-road to your retreat, you may get away with not having practiced these skills before. But if that’s the only role you’ve set aside for wild food, your are missing the bigger picture. Wild edible food, used well, will play a crucial role at your retreat, camp or homestead. All of my early years of living on wild food occurred in a homestead setting.
Yes, I know you have food stores, but they cannot last forever. Yes, if it's spring (and it probably isn’t) and you get your tomatoes, corn and zucchini started from your heirloom seeds, you might have some wonderful crops come July or August, and I hope you do. I'd love to join you if there's enough to go around!

But you are a prepper, right?  Farming can be difficult; there could be drought, early and/or late frost, hail, wind or unpredictable weather or scant sunlight, problems with deer, rabbits, or other critters, insect trouble or possibly even theft from daring people in the night who didn't take the trouble to plan ahead or think things through. When gardening graduates from a hobby to a vital necessity, the cost of failure graduates, too.  You do have a backup plan, right?

Even if you get a bumper crop, there's still the problem of storage. Unless you thought to include a freeze-drying apparatus or commercial-level canning in your preparations, your storage will be limited by the number of Ball jars you have, whether your freezer can work or not, or whether you thought ahead to build a solar food dehydrator or have the materials and time on hand to build one. Those tomatoes will be good and plentiful in their short season, but you will need to do better than give or barter the surplus- you’ll want to store them.  A question will enter your mind during your high-volume canning efforts during the heat of summer: Is there an easier, high-nutrition food solution that we can use in parallel to traditional cultivation?

Yes there is.  That’s the main reason why we use wild food. Wild edibles aren’t just something you can live off of when there is nothing better; they really start to shine when you use them as a supplement to everyday nutrition. By simply harvesting, drying, pulverizing and storing in Zip-locs or dry jars, you can add a pinch or two of dried clover, violets, lambs quarters, chicory, chickweed or amaranth to your soup or casserole, your burger or omelets—anything you want. You can sneak it into any dish, and you'll be increasing nutrition and quantity while also squeezing the most out of your food stores.  Later, when you are used to it, you’ll increase your usage, and why not?  It’s solid nutrition.

Wild food is man’s original food, so it is quite naturally your ‘backup food store’ while you’re striving to grow fancier food.  We do agree on the prudence of having food reserves, right?  Anyone who values preparation will immediately see that, as a backup plan, wild food  is undeniably the best and only viable plan for your new homesteading efforts (unless you count waiting for the supermarket to restock, that is).
Harvesting and putting up wild food gets most efficient when you do it in quantity and get used to the idea of storing it as opposed to consuming it fresh. This is a long-term, staple food we're talking about here, not having snacks with the forest creatures. It's sort of an industry so you have to approach it as such, but it’s less effort than the traditional cultivation you’ve been planning.

How can you harvest sizable quantities of wild food if you have to walk a few country miles just to find it? Well, if you're doing regular gardening, you're going to find that this food pops up all by itself. The whole concept of weeding is keeping your cultivated food from being overrun by the incredible, edible weed. “Oh no! There's food in with my food!”  Are you starting to get the idea yet?  If you're not careful you could grow five or six different waves of wild food before your tomatoes are ready, all of which could be eaten, dried or frozen long before those tomatoes have to be put up.

Another point: A vegetable garden could be almost completely camouflaged if you were to allow it to become purposely overrun by tall weeds around its border! For that matter, your separate “wild garden” would never be looked at twice while your vegetables provide a fantastic decoy to the real nutrition, making your wild patches sort of a stealth garden, if you will.
You will be making frequent trips to your wild garden, harvesting and allowing it to replenish and harvesting again, over and over until you have a winter's supply and then some. This takes the ‘wandering’ out of ‘foraging’ and bumps wild food up to a production level, where it needs to be for you to depend on it.

The transplanting and cultivation of wild edible food is actually quite easy. You can Rototill a strip to see what comes up from freshly tilled earth. This is a great exercise to see what grows naturally in your chosen patch and to see what the seedling forms of the wild edibles look like. Like most young plants, they do not look much like their later form until two or three sets of leaves form. These can then grow to full harvest maturity right where they started.

If you want to be sure your wild garden has the wild food you have identified elsewhere, just transplant it! There is nothing very exotic about transplanting wild food, but it's easiest when the plants are small. This means doing it at the right time of year, because a weed will wait for nobody. Many plants like burdock, dandelion and chicory quickly establish a deep root which would make transplanting more difficult, so transplanting in the spring is best.

I cover the transplanting and cultivation of wild edible food in my latest book, Promote Wild Food Certainty Through Plant Identification Walks, but I cover it indirectly as a means of populating the type of walk that can be used to help people learn wild food identification by taking a self-guided tour. With labels and dividers, your wild garden can be used to this end, too, and you might find yourself teaching your spouse, your children, or your community wild food identification using this simple but effective method. The idea is simple but it can be rather involved in practice, so I'll leave the details to the book.  The idea is yours now.  It is a living wild food exhibit that you must harvest from to keep under control. 

A walk works as a teaching aid very effectively, and is also one of the many activities in my new Wild Food Homeschool Teaching Guide.  This subject must be taught to many, and part of that job is yours however you choose to go about it.  I feel that God put wild food on the earth for a reason.

Wild food represents a lifestyle change — a change of mindset — and it takes some getting used to.  It is, first of all, more nutrition than your body is used to dealing with, so over-doing it is easy.  It is often a different consistency and a different taste. You will find that you have to adjust the quantity of your intake. There have been lots of instances where the men that I fed wild food to would overdo it and find themselves buzzing with energy from foods like a cattail pollen pancake or too much yarrow tea. This is why the idea of “a pinch to nutrition” is a good one. You will want to start slow and follow my Rules of Foraging as you go, reprinted below for your convenience.

You can dive in and go gung-ho, surely, but this is a journey and can’t be traveled all at once, especially on a deadline of personal starvation.  You need to start now, before you need it. The essential unit of learning this skill is learning one plant thoroughly and completely.  THIS represents one step, and that step is repeated for each and every plant until you finally have a full collection of them.  You quite probably do not have even one plant learned completely all the way from ID to storage. If so, you have not really started your journey into wild food proficiency!  Let me break down how to take that first step of one plant all the way:

  • Start by finding one edible plant.  You probably know of one already. 
  • Learn its identification with certainty.
  • Learn which parts to eat and each one’s various uses.
  • Clear the plant for your use by running it through the Rules of Foraging.
  • Learn that plant’s particular harvest and preparation.
  • Start eating it! Easy does it. Make it a part of you by eating it green when in season.
  • Start collecting it in bulk.
  • Start drying it and put it up in Zip-loc bags or glass jars.
  • Start adding it to meals, a pinch at a time and increasing over time.
  • Figure out, through use, what a winter’s supply really is.
  • Start growing it in your local surrounds.
  • Start teaching this one plant to kids, family and friends so they can start.

But I think you get the most important part of what you must do: on a real, sane, manageable gradient: Start!

The Rules of Foraging
These rules are for your own protection when investigating plants that are new to you. If followed closely, they will protect you in the field.

  • DO NOT collect plants closer than 200 feet from a car path or contaminated area.
  • NEVER collect from areas sprayed with herbicides, pesticides, or other chemicals.
  • DO NOT collect plants with RED STEMS, or red striations or stripes.
  • ALWAYS BE FAMILIAR with all dangerous plants in YOUR area of collection.
  • POSITIVELY IDENTIFY all plants you intend to use for food.
  • Take a piece off the plant and roll between your fingers.  SNIFF CAREFULLY.  Does it smell like something you would eat?  If it doesn’t, DISCARD IMMEDIATELY.  If it does, go to rule 7.
  • Take another piece off the plant and roll until juicy.  RUB the tiny piece on your gum above your teeth.
  • WAIT 20 minutes.
  • DOES YOUR GUM ITCH, BURN, TINGLE, SWELL OR STING?  If no reaction occurs, go on to rule 10.
  • Take another piece of the plant and put in a teacup.  Add boiling water and steep for 5 minutes.  SIP SLOWLY for 20 more minutes.  WATCH FOR NAUSEA, BURNING, DISCOMFORT.  If no reaction occurs, you may ingest a small amount.
  • WAIT ANOTHER 20 MINUTES and watch for any reaction.
  •  Keep all samples AWAY from children or pets.
  •  Store all seeds and bulbs AWAY from children and pets.
  •  Teach children to keep all plants AWAY from their mouths and DO NOT ALLOW children chew or suck nectar from any unknown plants.
  •  AVOID smoke from burning plants. Smoke may irritate the eyes or cause allergic reactions QUICKLY.
  •  BE AWARE of your neighbor’s habits with chemicals, pesticides and herbicides.
  •  BEWARE: heating or boiling doesn’t always destroy toxicity.

This is information about wild food.  The editors of SurvivalBlog nor the author make no claims as to the correctness, safety or usability of the data.

The information contained herein is intended to be an educational tool for gathering and cooking wild plants.  The information presented is for use as a supplement to a healthy, well-rounded lifestyle.  The nutritional requirements of individuals may vary greatly, therefore the author and publisher take no responsibility for an individual using and ingesting wild plants.

All data is to be used at your own risk.  Using the Rules of Foraging greatly helps to reduce that risk, but even they are not foolproof.


About The Author:

Linda Runyon is the editor of the Of The Field web site and the author of many wild plant books and instructional materials, including:

A Survival Acre
Linda Runyon's Master Class on Wild Food Survival
Eat the Trees!
The Essential Wild Food Survival Guide (also available as an e-book.)
A Basic Middle Eastern Desert Survival Guide
Wild Food Identification Guide
Promote Wild Food Certainty through Plant Identification Walks
Wild Cards: Edible Wild Foods (A playing card deck with photos and descriptions of 52 different edible plants.)

She has set up a 10% coupon code "backupplan" for SurvivalBlog readers that is good until July 4, 2013.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Dear JWR:
There is an estimated 250,000 animal-powered farmers in the U.S. doing all or part of their farming with animals. I’d recommend for some good reading and information and a visit to Horse Progress Days to view the latest in modern equipment. Almost anything can be done with animals that can be done with tractors, even combining with a motorized forecart. Horse Progress Days has some interesting support equipment, including well made coal stoves and manual transplanters. If it’s in reach of you, I suggest attending for an eye-opening experience. The food is good, too. - James L.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Over at the One Scythe Revolution web site, Peak Oil expert Richard Heinberg states that in order to continue to grow the same amount of food in the future, without the use of cheap oil, we will need 40-to-50 million farmers, farming 3-to-50 acres each, cultivated with hand tools. No, not like in the Middle Ages. We are talking about "appropriate technology" here.

But let's face it, "appropriate technology" is wielded by slaves. Masters wield guns. Slaves wield scythes.

Here is quote: "One good scythe per farm, could revolutionize small-scale farming." I kinda feel like this has already been done.

I think the author of this tripe has never actually farmed on a large scale and has no sense of the man hours required. Also, mild steel work-hardened with a hammer and honed with slate was state of the art, around the year 900.  Carbon steel that can be heat treated has been the cool setup since around 1100 AD.  More recent alloys allow even better toughness along with light weight.  While the Austrian design may be better, it would still benefit from modern materials.

Then, of course, even 19th Century horse-drawn harvesters were tremendously more efficient:  

"Draft horses are used at Grant-Kohrs Ranch NHS to harvest and stack the annual hay crop. The stacks keep the hay preserved until winter when it is fed to the site’s livestock.
The hay harvesting process involves five steps: cutting, drying, raking, gathering, and stacking.

Upon reaching maturity in mid-summer, the hay is cut with a horse drawn mower. The team of horses, mower, and operator go round and round the field cutting a 5 foot swath with each round. Once the cut hay has dried, the draft horses are hooked up to either a side delivery or dump rake. The rakes are used to put the hay into long windrows. The horses are then hooked to a buckrake. The buckrake has fork like teeth that sweep under the windrows and gather them up into large hay piles. The piles are then taken by the buckrake to either an overshot or beaverslide hay stacker. The hay stackers utilize a pulley and cable system powered by horses to gain leverage to lift the hay piles off the ground and drop them into the haystack.
Demonstrations of the equipment used to harvest and stack hay will be given by Grant-Kohrs Ranch staff and horses."

And other animals can serve for various processes that are presently done with internal combustion engines--such as goats for clearing brush.

As far as forging scythes, without modern powered forges and induction furnace, either one mines coal, or uses every man in the village for a week to do a large scale charcoal burn to manufacture fuel.

- Michael Z. Williamson (SurvivalBlog Editor At Large)

JWR's Comment: If the Hubbert's Peak predictions are right, then the best places to be will be those with rich soil and plentiful hydroelectric power. Scythe? Check. Battle rifle? Check. Electric ATV that can pull a Plotmaster? Check. Electric power (with batteries) is not quite as versatile and lightweight as fossil fuel-powered machinery, but it sure beats doing it all by hand.

Perhaps the new rule book will be written by those who can afford horses, harness, horse-drawn hay mowers and enough land to provide sufficient hay for the requisite winter feed (which can be harvested with those same horses).

Only freeholders with both productive farm land and guns will remain free.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Most people have been fishing at some point in their life and in the event of TEOTWAWKI many people will include this basic survival skill in their portfolio of hunting and gathering activities.  Since the majority of the world lives along coastlines, fishing for survival might become fairly competitive and with so many lines in the water you'll be better off jumping in and hunting your fish the way God intended.  After all, why else would humans be given the mammalian diving reflex, the set adaptations which occur as soon as your face touches the water that maximize your oxygen efficiency and protect your organs from damage due to water pressure?  So you could spearfish of course.  

Spearfishing (often referred to as free diving) provides a wonderful alternative to fishing with a pole but requires a different skill set.  Spearfishing is often a better approach than using a pole for a number of reasons:   Spearfishing requires little to no fishing line that may be hard to come by and easily lost in the water or damaged.  It does not require bait. Spears are not lost as easily as hooks.  And from an ecological point of view spearfishing damages the environment less because it is more selective and leaves behind no old line to tangle up animals and trash the environment.     

Despite the many positives of spearfishing there are some cons as well.  Spearfishing still requires its own set of supplies that can be hard to come by in a collapse scenario.  Long sharpened steel shafts with the necessary shapes and structures to lock it into the trigger mechanism will be difficult to fabricate much less find.  The heavy rubber tubing required for the spear gun's power bands will also be a difficult item to find and because rubber degrades over time, the chance of finding well maintained rubber that can withstand the tension required for your purpose will be in short supply.  Also, spearfishing is best done in clear water where you can visually identify your prey from a distance in order to have time to aim and fire your spear gun accurately.  Since clear water typically means ocean water and much of the ocean water in North America is quite cold it requires a wetsuit and good swimming ability to accomplish comfortably and safely.   If you are going after large, active fish, you will need a spear gun.  For more approachable fish that tend to be more sedentary a Hawaiian sling may suffice.  A sling is less likely to bring in the big fish but it requires much less equipment.   The standard spear gun is basically a long crossbow.  A steel shaft, sharpened at one end,  sits atop a metal pipe or length of wood and nestles into a groove.  At the back end of the gun is a handle and trigger mechanism.  The trigger mechanism accepts the appropriately shaped spear shaft and holds it in place until the trigger is pulled.  At the front of the gun one or more heavy rubber bands are passed through the body of the gun and connected into a loop by nylon cord.  When the bands are pulled back the nylon strings are set into a small tab on the top of the spear shaft.  The trigger mechanism holds the shaft in place under the tension.  When you're read to fire, you pull the trigger, the spear is loosed and the bands send the shaft down the groove and into your target.  The effective range of a spear gun with a typical two band configuration is roughly 20 feet under water.    

Alternatively, the Hawaiian sling is simply a spear shaft with a rubber loop at the back end and typically three sharp metal wires at the front.  You operate it by placing your index finger and thumb inside of the rubber loop and pulling back on the spear to create tension in the rubber band then release, much the same way that you launch a paperclip with a rubber band.  This version has an effective range of about the length of the spear itself but would be a much easier version to fabricate if you have to go MacGyver.   There are also pneumatic spear guns but I have no experience with these types nor do many people use them from my experience.  

The spear gun. method of spearfishing usually requires a set of additional gear which includes a float (basically the orange flotation devices that lifeguards carry) that is towed behind the diver by a length of rope, typically a length longer than the deepest the diver would expect to dive (anywhere from 30 to 100 feet.  The float often holds a dive flag which is required by law in many areas where boat traffic could present a hazard.  The float also serves as a place to tie up dispatched fish while the diver hunts for more.  It also keeps the dead, bloody fish away from the diver in the event a fish shows up for a free meal, especially the kind that can make a meal of the diver himself.  The gun is clipped on to the end of the float line to secure it in case the diver has to drop the gun.  Some very large fish can be taken with a spear gun and the diver wants the option of dropping the gun and letting the fish wear itself out against the float.  Divers have lost their lives struggling to bring large fish to the surface.   

A diver also wants to bring gloves to handle the spiny fish and a knife to finish off any that weren't dispatched from the initial shot.  Wetsuits are a must in cold water but even in warm water become necessary as many spearfishing expeditions can last several hours, long enough to dangerously chill a diver even in the tropics.  Fins are essential as they make swimming much easier, make for much deeper dives, and allow the diver to expend less energy, leading to a lower heart rate, less air consumption, and more time underwater where the fish are.     A high quality mask is a must and in my opinion the most important thing to pay a high price for.  There's nothing worse than dealing with a leaky, poor fitting mask while your in the water.  You don't want to even think about the mask.  Get one that has a wide field of view but a low volume of space between your face and the lens as this space will require air from you lungs to equalize as you descend.  The bigger the mask, the less air you'll get to keep in your lungs.  Freediving-specific masks are always "low-volume" masks for the reason mentioned above but they aren't always the most comfortable and don't always offer large field of views by way of their low volume.  I find the single frame masks with a single lens as opposed to two or more separate lenses offer the highest field of view and most comfort.  The Oceanic Shadow is my mask of choice.    

A snorkel is highly recommended because it allows you to be on the surface keep your vision focused underwater on the prey or any lurking predators.  Face down is also the lowest energy position for rest on the surface for recovering between dives.  If the waves begin to pick up it really helps to have a tube to breathe through so you are not fighting the waves for air. A weight belt will absolutely be needed if you are using a wetsuit and also help to lower the energy required to get down on the bottom and also allow you to rest on the bottom and be still while you wait to ambush fish.  Ankle weights can help to flatten out any extra buoyancy you might have on the legs.  Make sure that your weight belt has a quick-release and that you know how to disconnect it in case you need to make an emergency dash for the surface.   In a collapse scenario this gear can be reduced down to a mask and Hawaiian sling or even just the sling.    

So now that you've got your gear, the next question is; can you swim?  If the answer is no, then it's time to start learning.  Are you comfortable enough in the water to not need solid support for hours at a time?  Are you comfortable holding your breath?  Are you comfortable not breathing through you nose or getting water inside of your mask?  Obviously swimming ability is vitally important to this survival skill as is your comfort level in the water because the idea with spearfishing is not to get a workout but to maintain the lowest heart rate you can, you want to be comfortable enough to fall asleep in the water… but don't fall asleep.  If you lack the comfort or swimming ability, then get in a pool and swim.  Hold your breath and sit on the bottom, work your way up to a minute underwater, first in the shallow end where you can stand up if you have to breathe and then move to the deep end.   In order to hold you breath for as long as possible and thereby give yourself a higher chance of success there are a few techniques that you should utilize.   First, you want to lower your heart rate and oxygenate your blood as much as possible.  To do this, completely relax your body and breathe through your snorkel with slow, deep breaths - completely filling and emptying your lungs each time.  Just having your face in the water will induce bradycardia (part of the mammalian diving reflex) and help lower your heart rate.  Use this time to enter a zen state, focus on lowering the heart rate, relaxing, whatever meditation method helps you. 

One technique I've found useful is to spend ten seconds exhaling slowly, push all the air out of your lungs and then hold yourself emptied of air for two seconds.  Then breathe in and completely fill your lungs over five seconds.  Hold at the top for two seconds and repeat the process three or so times. Do not rapidly hyperventilate.  Now take in one final deep breath and bend at the waist 90 degrees so the top of your head is pointing straight down towards the bottom and then kick your legs up straight above your body and you should sink down into the water enough for your feet to submerge and begin kicking.  You may feel somewhat lightheaded at first from the high oxygen level in your brain and even have the urge to breathe again right away, but if you give it a moment you will normalize and see that you have a lot of time before you'll need a breath.  Kick in long slow motions from the hip, keeping your knees more or less straight.  You will need to equalize your air spaces every few feet… do not wait until you feel discomfort.  Exhale a little air into your mask from your nose so that the mask does not begin to squeeze against your face and plug your nose with your fingers and exhale gently to equalize your ears.  Continue to do this throughout your descent.    

Depending on your body fat level, added weight on your belt, and wetsuit thickness, you will become neutrally buoyant at a depth corresponding to these factors and even negatively buoyant at deeper depths.  This is a good thing because you will not have to use extra energy keeping yourself underwater and you will also be able to remain on the bottom and blend in with the substrate to stealthily ambush your prey.  Focus on remaining as absolutely relaxed as possible and keeping loose any muscle that you don't need to use.  Even when you begin to feel that you need a breath, you still have a long time before you actually need to breathe or loose consciousness.  One concern however is that of shallow water blackout, where on your return to the surface your body does not recognize the need for oxygen because of pre-dive hyperventilation.  This can be deadly and is a major reason to always dive with a partner.  Your buddy should remain on the surface and continue to watch you throughout your dive, ready to pull you to the surface and hold your head above the water until you return to consciousness.    

Now it's time to get your fish.  Some divers use bait or flashy objects to attract fish in close enough for a kill.  Without some sort of bait you will need to wait for an unwary fish to come in close enough for a shot or slowly approach your quarry without frightening it and sending it off into the blue.  Fish are much smarter than you might expect, especially fish that are commonly prey to spear fishers.  I have seen many parrot fish that will remain relatively uninterested and relaxed in my presence when I am snorkeling but will then quickly turn tail and dash off when they see me with a spear in hand.  Some divers use masks that have reflective lenses that hide their gaze from the fish.  If you are not using this type of mask, try to not focus your gaze too hard on your intended target.  Fish know when they are being watched and will get uncomfortable if you show too much interest.  Just relax and wait for your shot.  When the fish approaches move your gun slowly and smoothly out in front of your face with both arms extended, aim down the shaft, and pull the trigger.  A fish can have amazing reflexes and dodge even a well aimed shot.  If you live in the tropics, the coral substrate will provide innumerable hiding places for fish, so take the time to peak into all the nooks and crannies.  In Hawaii, enormous ulua are often found hiding in small caverns that one would not expect to hold such a large, powerful fish.  Some fish, like the goatfish and squirrelfish in Hawaii, are very easy to approach and you can practically reach out and poke them with your spear before you pull the trigger.   If free diving sounds like too much then take a stab at it (pun) with a simple Hawaiian sling.  With a good eye you can catch plenty of octopus, lobsters, and sedentary fish in fairly shallow water.    With some practice you should be returning to shore with a float full of fish ready for the frying pan.  If you dive in the ocean, soak all of your gear in fresh water to prevent salt damage.  Take the time to learn how to replace and repair parts of your gun, stock up on extra power bands, and maintain your equipment well for the day when the lights go out and don't come back on. 

JWR Adds: The best way to store natural rubber items is in a cool dark place, with a coating of talcum powder.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

In her recent article on repurposing material by sewing, Penny Pincher said: "The Army poncho liner is nothing more than a thin quilt with a head hole in the middle.  It’s camo lightweight nylon with thin polyfil for batting, a few strings at the corners, and bound on the edges.  You could make something similar.  If you didn’t mind the extra weight, you could use some thin wool, maybe in two layers, and sandwich that between nylon to make it ride smoother."

I made something similar last spring, but with nylon on only one side. I like carrying a wool blanket rather than a sleeping bag when motorcycle camping. Heavy wool blankets get very hot -- in part due to the nap of the wool directly against the skin. So I took an old olive drab blanket (washing it first to shrink as much as possible) and sewed a similarly sized piece of dark brown thin nylon to one side of it. After "quilting" the two pieces together by simply running it through the sewing machine a few times in both directions, I bound the four edges with canvas left over from an old couch, tan khaki in color. Now I have an extremely durable blanket/quilt (in woodland camo colors) that doesn't get unbearably hot in the summer, but which can be reversed to make the most of wool's insulative properties when required.

Because I started out with the largest surplus blanket I could find and pre-shrunk it, and because nylon and wool are both water repellent, I was able to sleep soundly with only my blanket in a solid drizzle while camping this winter in Mississippi. And the whole thing rolls up to about the diameter of a surplus closed-cell foam pad, and it's only about half the length of those pads. So far it's been used for motorcycle camping, as a ground pad for rifle practice, as my bedding while at the station where I'm an EMT, and as an occasional play tent for my toddler. Very durable, only been washed once, and looks brand new. - J.D.C. in Mississippi

Dear Jim,
I have been a welder, machinist, engineer, and someone interested in self-reliance for many years. I read the recent discussion on SurvivalBlog of post-SHTF welding with interest.

I do not disagree that thermite could be made from scrap yard materials (done it, with aluminum filings and black sand (magnetite) from the river), but it would require a custom-made refractory mold for each joint.  IMHO two other forms of welding would be much more practical.

Forge welding was the only available process up into the 1800s, and requires only anvil, hammer, fire of coke or charcoal and forced air.  Borax or other flux is very helpful on steel, as opposed to wrought iron. Common salt would probably work, too, but avoid the chlorine fumes.

Electric arc welding is infinitely faster and more flexible, and not out of reach post-SHTF.

Engine-driven welding machines are common, and can of course be used as designed as long as their fuels, usually gasoline or Diesel oil,  are available.

Gasoline engines can also be run on wood-gas, natural gas, propane, manure gas, with suitable carburetion;  Diesels of course on vegetable or waste petroleum oils.

A steam engine burning wood, or a water-wheel, could run a generator welder just as effectively as a modern internal combustion engine, with suitable belting or gearing to provide the right rotational speed.

A medium-size off-grid solar electric power system will also run some small welding machines for limited duty cycles.

Many types of finely compounded  welding rods are used today for specific purposes. However, a DC welding machine can be used to weld with coat-hanger or most other types of plain bare steel wire.  It is much more difficult to control the arc, and the properties of the weld joint will not be as good, but will be usable for many purposes by a skilled welder.  Nor is it out of the realm of possibility to make coated electrodes with better properties, as for instance the coating on one of the most common and most useful modern (E6010) electrodes could be closely approximated with wrapping of newspaper soaked in waterglass, or probably salt or soda mixed with powdered sand.

However I will leave you with a major caveat: If you are not a skilled welder now, then do not expect to do yourself any good by taking up the craft with improvised materials after SHTF.

One of the biggest income-enhancers for the general repair welder like myself, is the guy who buys himself his own welding machine.  Fixing it after it was fixed wrong the first time, costs a lot more than doing it right the first time. 

As with all skills you may wish you had in an emergency, do not wait for the emergency to acquire them.

Thanks for your service, Mr. Rawles! - Ben F.

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!

Dear Editor:
I used to be much more of a seamstress than I am now, but I’m getting back into it as I can’t find clothes I like (modern women’s pants all want to fall off my butt) and I am sewing my own gear to save money.  This article will focus on repurposing fabric items that are worn out or that you don’t want anymore, into other fabric items that are more useful for a SHTF situation.

Don’t throw out old clothes, even if they’re stained or otherwise unwearable.  Even clean old underwear can be repurposed into rags or stuffing for pillows.  You can take the hook and eye parts of old bras, and use them in other underwear projects or for mending.  You can remove the zippers, elastic, buttons, etc. of old clothes, and keep them for future projects.  You can even save good strong thread if you are careful deconstructing something.

If you want to dye something that is a natural fiber a different color, you can learn about plant dyes, or there is a kind of dye called procion dye.  The mordant (fixer) for that kind of dye is washing soda, which you can buy at the grocery store in the laundry soap aisle.  This dye is the kind that people who make tie-dyes use, it comes in all different colors including earth tones – you can make your own camo if need be that way, out of your existing clothes.  I used to get mine at Dharma Trading Co. which is online, but there may be other sellers.  To conserve dye, it is much more economical to squirt or spray the dye onto your garment than to vat-dye it, unless you are doing a really big batch all the same color.

If you find elastic eventually wears out and becomes unavailable, you can make drawstrings instead out of strips of fabric and modify your clothes to accept drawstrings.

You can make socks out of old sweaters or sweatshirts.  You don’t even need to know how to knit, if you can cut and sew it so it doesn’t unravel.  (I recommend zigzag stitch). Or in a pinch you can wrap a rag around your foot and stuff it in a shoe like that, but why not have something that is shaped like a sock?

Old pants legs with minimal sewing can make good bags, pouches, aprons, pillows, book covers, gaiters, or panels for bodices.  They could even be made into hammocks or cots if you have enough of them, which if bedbugs take over the world or if you end up being nomadic, you’ll be getting rid of your mattresses eventually anyway.  One thing I haven’t seen yet is a denim plate carrier.  One might fasten a 550 steel target to the inside of the bib of a pair of overalls, as an improvised rifle plate. (but pad the inside of the steel too).

You can make tactical gear or smaller bags out of old luggage you cut apart.  Many suitcases are made from Cordura.  You can save the straps from knapsacks to use for webbing or slings.  Even outdoor upholstery fabric remnants would work, but to get Cordura, the “real thing”, without ordering it, look to the luggage at the thrift store.

You can also hide clothes or gear by making them into cushions.  How about a “bolster-holster” for your rifle?  How about a piece of web gear that is reversible?  One minute it’s a purse or satchel or pillow, the next it’s your vest.   How many sets of clothes can you stuff into a seat cushion?

Back to quilts for a second, the Army poncho liner is nothing more than a thin quilt with a head hole in the middle.  It’s camo lightweight nylon with thin polyfil for batting, a few strings at the corners, and bound on the edges.  You could make something similar.  If you didn’t mind the extra weight, you could use some thin wool, maybe in two layers, and sandwich that between nylon to make it ride smoother.  It would probably be a lot warmer than polyfil, although if you were running around it might get too hot.

If you don’t have a pattern, you can make your own shirt and dress patterns by draping cheap fabric on a dress dummy or a person and pinning it, drawing on it, adding to it, cutting it, etc. You can sew a mock-up and then take it apart and there’s your pattern, only made of fabric instead of tissue paper.  And of course, once you are done with the pattern you can reuse the fabric.

You can make yourself a custom dress dummy by wearing an old T-shirt and wrapping your torso with duct tape, cutting your way out of it and taping the cut back together, then stuffing it.  I suppose if you stuff it with heavy enough stuff, you could also chain it to a door frame and use it as a punching bag when you get frustrated trying to drape cheap fabric on it (just make sure the pins are all out).

Last but not least, it might be slow, but you can always hand sew clothes if you don’t have a machine.  Sometimes I find my machine can’t handle real thick things, and all at the same time I had 3 or 4 projects that would have required a walking foot machine, which is an industrial sewing machine designed for thick fabric, where the presser foot goes up and down with every stitch.  Instead of looking for a walking foot machine, which is expensive, I hand sewed what I needed to, and made due.  You can also hand baste things like quilts, to hold them together before you quilt them for real.  It keeps the layers from migrating too much. - Penny Pincher

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Dear James,
As a former professional seamstress, I have a comment on using woolen materials for quilts.  They can successfully be washed, provided that the woolen material was previously washed before making a quilt of it, whether the wool is used as the top layer, or as the batting.

The wool should be washed in hot water, and then dried on high heat in the dryer.  It will shrink, which has the double advantage of:  1. making it much warmer; and 2. washed wool becomes somewhat felted, which makes it much sturdier and less prone to wear and pulling of threads which might catch on splinters or rough surfaces.

I have run wool fabrics through the washer and drier prior to sewing them for many years for exactly these reasons, and have nearly always been pleased with the results...except for a couple of extremely loosely knitted fabrics which over-shrank.  Still, even these would have been good for quilt stuffing.

Speaking of which, you can find woolen clothing at thrift shops which can be used for stuffing, as well as for tops.

The author also mentions using acrylic yarn for knitting.  Yes, it is cheap and warm.  However, under TEOTWAWKI conditions, it would be a disaster, since it frays and starts wearing out within a year of heavy use.  Woolen yarn is almost impossible to get any more at ordinary stores, but is readily available online - try eBay - at prices comparable to acrylic. 

Woolen yarn lasts for years, and can be re-knitted when the original item develops wear spots, as the author describes.  Doing that with acrylic is a waste of time. 

I am not a herder, but do know that tribesmen in the Arabian desert mostly live on the sheep they herd, and wear woolen clothing.  Also, the Navajo of the southwest are famous for their woolen blankets, made from the sheep they raise.  Clearly there are sheep that would do fine in the author's desert area.  Perhaps some of your readers would know what breeds would be appropriate.

The tied quilt sounds like a really fast and simple way to make quilts under emergency conditions.

Wiggy's is planning to offer quilting, so your readers may want to contact him. Warmly, - Janet W.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Thanks to George H. and George W. for their input on chainsaw safety. Yes, buy Kevlar chaps and use them.  Once getting your hands on a pair, don’t expect them to function like body armor because they have Kevlar in them.  From personal experience, they work by the chain’s cutters tearing through the outer fabric of the chaps, then pulling out Kevlar fibers, that then bind up the saw and almost instantly stop the chain from moving. Chain stops and you don’t get cut. Then the penance you pay for your lapse in judgment is taking the cover off your saw and pulling Kevlar fibers out of the works. Again, from personal experience, blue-jeans do not serve this function; although if God is watching over you, you can get your keys pulled straight out of your shredded pant pocket and they will stop the chain when they enter the saw housing. I’ve had a running chainsaw cut into fabric on my leg four times, two with chaps and two without.  I am truly blessed that none of the incidents have drawn a drop of blood.  All four times happened towards the end of the day, when I was tired, and was cutting something in an awkward position.  Think safety all the time. Also, don’t forget ear protection.  A chainsaw isn’t as loud as a gun, but consistent exposure to the engine noise can lead to slow, but permanent hearing loss.  Whatever you keep your chainsaw in, put some hearing protection in there too.
Keep your oil reservoir full and the cutters sharp. - Sean B.

I read the article on felling trees and the follow up on chainsaw chaps. Several years ago my son and I bought two pair of chainsaw chaps from Labonville Inc. up in New Hampshire. These chaps are made in the USA and sell for less then the name brand chaps sold at Lowe's or Home Depot. They are of the highest quality and I highly recommend them. Also you are supporting the USA and the local New Hampshire economy. See: or 800-764-9969. I have no financial interest in them or the company. - E.G. form North East Tennessee


The other great thing about Kevlar chain saw chaps is that they save your jeans.  I use my chain saw two or three times a month on average, often in brushy areas.  I am confident that over the course of two years that the chaps have paid for themselves just in reduced wear and tear on my jeans.  - Jim B.

Monday, May 6, 2013

That was an excellent article by George H. on Felling Trees. He mentioned Kevlar Chaps as only being recommended. Were I writing the article I would have advised people to use them as mandatory equipment.
I have never been a "safety nazi", but my dealer would not sell me my new Husky unless I bought these, which cost very little. I now agree with his demand.
He has an old time logger who almost died after cutting his femoral artery without these chaps. New saws of any manufacturer have higher RPM on the bar, and the chain will keep spinning around the bar longer than older saws I have used, making them more likely to be near the body before the chain is fully stopped.
The chaps have saved my artery area at least twice, and saved each of my sons. None of us cut without Kevlar Chaps. The cost is very little given the very possible alternative of death due to bleed out from a femoral artery nick, which has happened to many experienced loggers. Think about it, many of us live in rural areas, who are serviced by volunteer fire departments made up of great people, who may or may not be home when you get in trouble, who may not be able to respond quickly, who may not be in the best physical fitness level, who may not find you quickly, who may not know how to stop such bleeding, etc., and one can see that a femoral cut can kill you quickly. Go get some chaps! - George W.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Last summer I wrote an article on dealing with trash at your retreat and recently I wrote Part 1 of this article about sewing.  So I’m going to forego the usual introduction and description of my living style and just jump right into the topic.

I began to think about writing this article while watching the television show Jericho.  First of all, let’s just get this out of the way. I know that “Jericho” is a television show. I know that it is fiction.  I know that the conditions depicted are in no way realistic, etc.  It is a television show.  Okay, now that’s out of the way, I found myself considering events in the television show and how I would expect things in my community to go.  Would we share our food? Would we all get together at the pub for information? Who would come forward as a leader in our community since we have no local government?  I also thought about how my specific talents could be used community wide.  In the television show, the first winter was depicted as brutal. They give the idea that people were not prepared for the harsh winter without central heat in their homes.  Some people were shown as frozen to death in their homes, under single comforters and basic blankets.  Being a beginning quilter, I thought to myself, “Where were the quilting bees?  Where were the circles of women knitting and crocheting?”  Too provincial?   Too old-fashioned?   I imagine some people would say yes, but actually, these crafts remain very popular.  You have only to look online for patterns for quilting, knitting and crochet to see how popular these crafts are today.  The internet is overflowing with ideas, blogs and videos for today’s crafter.

So, in a TEOTWAWKI situation, what can you produce to keep yourself and maybe some neighbors warm if necessary?  Let’s start with quilting.  In our small community, I help a friend keep a small quilt shop open.   I quilt for her and sometimes watch the shop when she is gone.  The shop is full of quilts, not really fabric to quilt, but quilts made and sold on consignment.  I am by no means an expert quilter.  I still have much to learn, but I do know this.  You can make a quilt out of just about anything. 

A basic quilt is very easy to construct. You need a top, middle, and a bottom often called a lining.  Today, pieced quilt tops are works of art. New patterns are often copyrighted and the old patterns are still popular as well.  These pieced tops are an important part of our heritage, but they are not necessarily the only way to make a quilt. The top can be as easy as a sheet. Actually, this would be considered a whole cloth quilt and that type of quilt is older than the pieced quilt.  You can make quilt tops out of jeans, cotton, polyester, or double knit. I’d suggest something washable and sturdy if you are thinking of saving fabrics for this future project.  Just a quick note about double knit; it is absolute gold in some quilting circles (not the artsy ones) because it is indestructible, washable and warm, warm, warm.  It is really difficult to wear out double knit, so those awful leisure suits from the 70’s are still good for something. 

Next, consider the size that you will need.  King size quilts are hard to make just because of their size, but they are doable on a home machine. However, I’d aim for smaller quilts.  I will quote a standard range of sizes for bedding, but if you know what bed you are quilting for, measure it.  Some things to consider are overhang on the sides and at the foot of the mattress and if you tuck your pillows into the quilt or leave them on top.  If you tuck pillows as you would with a regular bedspread, then you’ll want to add length.  Is tucking pillows really that important in the TEOTWAWKI situation?  Absolutely not, but you might as well get some proper instruction while we have the chance.  Twin bed quilt sizes range from 76 to 82 inches wide by 105 to 110 inches in length.  Double bed quilts can range in size from 90 to 96 inches wide by 105 to 110 inches in length.  Queen sizes range from 100 to 110 inches wide by 100 to 110 inches in length.  King size quilts come in two different sizes, the standard and the Super King (or "California King") size.  Standard size quilts are for those mattresses that are thinner and the Super Kings are for the thicker pillow top mattresses.  Standard Kings range from 105 to 110 inches in width and 110 inches in length while super kings ought to be about 120 by 120.

Size can also be determined by your immediate need or by the materials that you have on hand.  First, you need to decide what you are going to use for a top.  If you use a sheet or another piece of whole cloth, then measure it and you are ready for the next step.  If you decide to piece it, you have several decisions to make.  Whether you are trying for a pattern or not, you’ll need some sort of idea about how you want to sew your pieces together.   You can sew them randomly and then get to a certain size, for example a 12” square, and trim it.  You can cut squares, rectangles, triangles or any variation of those pieces and sew them together in a pattern.  You can find thousands of patterns online, in books and in magazines.  I would suggest that you start with squares or rectangles.  You can cut squares any size between 3” and 12”.  It would be best to have all of your squares the same size.  Then you sew them into rows and the rows onto the other rows and you keep adding until you’ve reached the desired size.    You can cut up the legs of blue jeans and use these rectangles for strips.  Sew them randomly until you reach the desired quilt size.   When piecing like this, you want to keep your seams a consistent 1/4 inch.

Now, if you were making this quilt today, I would spend the next paragraph talking about ironing seams a certain way, matching seams so that they line up, and so on. Matching seams makes a nice quilt.  It is not absolutely necessary if you are making quilts in some kind of emergency situation.  It is always important to do the best job that you can do, but I also want to impress upon you that the purpose is to stay warm and covered.  In the end, and in an emergency, it doesn’t matter if the seams match.  This description of piecing a quilt top also does not cover the enormous range of things that you can do with a few hundred squares of fabric.  I’m not going to go into inner borders or outer borders or patterned borders or pieced borders.  Quilting is a huge topic.  If this article inspires some interest, then you really need to do some research on basic quilting.  One of the reasons why quilting remains so popular today is because it is an incredibly challenging form of art.  That’s not our focus.  Our focus is quilting in an “end times” scenario where you cannot run to the fabric store and design a piece of art for display. 

Your next step in quilting is to find fabric for the lining.  This is the back of the quilt and today is often sewn from one fabric.  The linings usually come from the same fabric.  Most fabric is 42” or 44” wide.  Some can be as wide as 108”.  On larger quilts, the fabric is often matched for pattern and then sewn to make the lining large enough.  They can be pieced just like the top of the quilt, but the seams are not very comfortable to sleep under.  But, if your bed is layered, then it isn’t a big deal.  Again, the beauty of the quilt is a current times concern, not one we’ll worry about once the ball (whatever ball) drops.  Your lining needs to be at least 2 inches larger all the way around than the pieced top.  This is important because as you quilt, the top tends to creep toward the edge.  That is why you start quilting in the middle.  We’ll get to that when we talk about the actual quilting. 

Next, you need to find the middle batting.  Some of us may have quilt batting stored, but even my friend, who owns the shop and quilts everyday all day, has only 10 bags of batting in the shop at a time.  So, most of us are not going to have a thick roll of batting lying around.  What else can you use?  A lot, actually.  You can use an old ragged blanket, you can use strips of fabric, you can use wool suits from your professional wardrobe (that quilt won’t be washable), you can use cut up t-shirts, old cotton socks (cut those in half so that they are one layer), you can use bath towels or a fleece, you can use old table cloths or curtains.  Sometimes pillows are actually layered batting, so they could be deconstructed.   Some of the things that might not work well are batting used for stuffing animals, nylon, leather, and paper.  Your batting needs to be 2” larger than your pieced top all of the way around. 

Just a quick word about wool.  I have an antique quilt made from wool suiting.  It is a tied quilt with cotton batting and a cotton lining.  You can’t wash these quilts. They either need to be shaken out and aired in the sun, or dry cleaned.  That doesn’t mean that they are not wonderful quilts.  The one that I have is very warm and the kids fight over it in the winter because we only have localized heat sources, not central heat.  As long as no one spills hot chocolate on it, I can keep that quilt nice with a few good shakes and hanging it on the line.

So, we’ve got a pieced top, batting and lining.  Now what?  You need to lay these three layers out on the flattest surface that you can find.  It is very important that all three layers are pulled and clamped as tautly as possible.  You will need to either pin the quilt with safety pins or baste the quilt with thread.  It is important to keep the layers taut so that the lining and batting don’t bunch up.  Your quilt will creep in the sewing process.  Pin the quilt in every square, do not pin over the seams because that is where you’ll be sewing.  Do the same with basting.  I’ve never basted a quilt; that is often a process used for hand quilting.

There are two processes in quilting and the first one that I’ve just described is called piecing.  The second process is the actual quilting.  In the article on sewing, I closed with the suggestion that everyone consult the article on sewing machines written by Lockstich and published in February 2013.  I hope he doesn’t mind if I renew that suggestion here.  Get a machine that meets your needs post-TEOTWAWKI.  If you don’t have a machine or your machine breaks, there are other options and I’ll get to those.  Assuming you have a sewing machine, there are a few options that you need to know when picking a stitch for your quilt.  Many people will choose a straight stitch because it will look like hand quilting.  I urge you to consider other, stronger stitches.  Most quilting machines have what is called a basic quilting stitch.  It is a modified zig-zag stitch and it is a very strong stitch.  I use this stitch and sew directly over a pieced seam.  That stitch is going to hold more than 100 years unless the quilt is left to the weather.  Look for something similar on your machine.  You might look for a serpentine stitch.  It is a straight stitch, but it locks both sides of the seam.  If you don’t have anything else, use a lengthened zig-zag stitch.  Only use a straight stitch as a last resort.   

To quilt, set your machine up to quilt.  If you have an extension table that goes around the arm of the quilt, then so much the better.   Roll your quilt like a scroll from two sides to the middle.  Depending on what you used as batting, the side you start with may matter, but usually you just choose.  Set your stitch and then start stitching at the top of the middle row and work your way downward.  You will see right off that it is not always easy to stuff the rolled part of the quilt through the throat of your machine.  Sew slowly, it will fit, but this is not the place to rush.  You can go up and down the rows until you reach the edge.  I’ve been taught to sew the edge at this point, but that doesn’t work well for me.  You’ll turn the quilt 4 times if you’ve just made a simple square pieced quilt.  You’ll want to quilt the rows from top to bottom and from side to side.  At this point, I sew my edges.  I sew the two sides first, and then the top and bottom.  You’ll see what I mean about creeping.  If you have a large fold of fabric, then cut right by the sewed seam and lay the fabric over it.  All of this will be hidden by the binding.

The next step is binding.  To bind, cut strips 2.5” wide.  Turn your quilt so that the back side is facing up.  Fold the binding strips in half and place the raw cut side on the edge of the quilt.  Sew ¼” in from the edge of the quilt.  Start this process in the middle of a side, do not start your binding at a corner.   This is one of the few places where you use a straight stitch.  Turning the binding at the corners is not hard or complicated; it is just hard to explain. Sew up to the corner and stop about two stitches from the end.  Turn your quilt and fold the binding in a tight triangle, setting the raw edge against the new side.  Start stitching again about 2 stitches from the top.  This process is much easier learned by seeing than reading.  There are many, many articles and videos on YouTube detailing this process.  Go look at them.  Once you’ve sewn the binding to the back of the quilt, turn your quilt to the front.   Starting in the middle of a side, turn the binding, so that it just covers the stitch at the edge and sew the binding on the front using the same stitch that you used to quilt the quilt.  A quilt bound in this manner will last a very, very long time.  If that just seems like too much work, then once you’ve pinned your quilt, you can trim the batting and fold the lining up, turn under the raw edge and sew it onto the front as a binding. 

Hand quilting is a treasure and legacy from our history and the skill should not be lost.  Pioneers used every scrap of material and quilted for warmth and comfort.  They quilted not for art, but for necessity.  It could be that, once again, Americans find themselves in a place where hand piecing and hand quilting are a necessity.  That being said, machine quilts are stronger and they last longer.  You can prepare for both or either; you choose.  If you choose to hand quilt, then you are going to need sharp needles and a good strong, thick cotton thread.  Hand piecing is similar to machine piecing.  You’ll want to keep a ¼” seam.  You will want to make small stitches and the more stitches per inch, the better.   With hand piecing, neatness counts.  It is important that your stitches be straight.  As for hand quilting, if this is just for warmth and not for show, then it doesn’t really matter what kind of pattern you use to hand quilt.   In hand quilting, you use a straight sewing stitch, with as many small stitches as you can neatly make.  You need to concentrate on the seams so that they can be secure and you need to quilt in areas that do not have seams.  You do not want large spaces or areas of your quilt un-quilted.  Hand quilting is a skill, more so than machine quilting.  If this is where your interests lie, practice.

Another way to put a quilt together is to tie it.  This is another situation where, if you are interested, you be best served to look this up on YouTube.  But, just in case, you can’t get there, tying is very easy, just difficult to describe.  If you have a quilt made out of squares then you’ll want to tie every four square intersection.  You’ll need a heavy thread or a yarn for this procedure.  You’ll also need a sharp needle.  With your needle you sew down from the top of the quilt about 1/8” from the intersection.  When you tie an intersection, you will only sew in two of the squares.  Leave an inch tail.  Come up on the diagonal and then take your needle back down on the diagonal close to that tail.  Come up again near your other stitch, leave a tail of about an inch and cut.  You are tying the seam where the squares meet and you sew across the seam of two squares.  You have something that looks like a stitch with tails of both ends of the stitch.  Then, using the tails, you tie a knot.  Again, a video on YouTube might be more helpful than that description.  Check it out if you want to know more.

That is basic quilting.  A top, a lining and something for batting could mean the difference between you and some really brutal winters.  Maybe you’ll need several, but this is a very easy skill to acquire and one that may serve you well. 

As I said, while I was watching “Jericho”, I wondered what my skills could add to the needs I saw portrayed on screen.  In addition to quilting and other fiber hobbies, I have taught myself to crochet and plan to teach myself to knit.  I wondered if any of the people who froze to death in that fictional winter could have used another wool hat or some gloves to stay warm.

The materials needed for both skills are easy and fairly inexpensive.  Crochet uses hooks and knitting uses needles.  Basic crochet hooks come in five sizes starting with size G and on through K.  There are smaller hooks and they have their uses, and I would get them while they are available.  But, for the most part, the smaller hooks are for crocheting smaller projects like doilies.  While I’m a fan of the intricate string crochet that you find in doilies, I’m not sure that the time learning to crochet doilies is time well spent.  Once you’ve made trunks full of afghans and other wearable crochet items, then maybe you can move on to doilies.  These crochet hooks can be found everywhere and they are inexpensive.   A basic set can be found at Amazon for less than $7.  I’m not near a Wal-Mart, but they can’t be much more than Amazon.  The same can be said for knitting needles.  They are only slightly more expensive than crochet hooks.  I’ve heard that some knitters can be very particular about their needles.  I personally don’t care for the shiny aluminum sets; I like the wooden needles better.  Knitting needles come in pairs and are usually 10” to 16” in length.  Some are tethered together and are called circular knitting needles.  The metric sizes range from 2.0 mm to 25.0 mm.  Within that range, the US has size designations, the UK has size designations, and on the list that I referenced, the Japanese have size designations.  The same could probably be said for other nations as well, but these three are the most consistent that I’ve seen.  I cannot recommend anything here.  I haven’t learned yet.  I have a basic 5 pair US set that I’ve learned some basic stitches on.  A basic set of aluminum knitting needles at Amazon will cost around $10.  The wooden ones may cost twice that.  There are also cable needles and place markers in knitting.  A book, a class, some videos online can get you started with this process.  If you look into this now, you’ve got choices.  You also need some sort of pattern.  Patterns are also everywhere.  Patterns can be found at craft stores, fabric stores, discount stores, and online.  It is very easy to find patterns at all skill levels.

The final tool needed is yarn.  Currently you can buy many different types of yarn that run from plain cotton to wool to exotic yarns like llama and alpaca yarn.  It can be expensive or it can be inexpensive.  The acrylic wool blend that I like at the moment is just over $5 a skein. I find that expensive, so I really watch for sales. It is bulky, though, so storing it will be an issue.  If you have those old afghans of your grandmas, with a snip at some knots, you can pull a crocheted afghan apart and use the yarn for other projects that suit your needs.  You can unravel a knit sweater to reuse yarn also.  This was a common practice in the Depression, but we don’t do it often now.  Machine finished and serged knit garments are less desirable because they are often not one continuous stitched piece.  You might look for hand knit and hand crochet items at thrift stores and garage sales. 

Since yarn is a key issue, my husband and I plan to add some sort of fiber producing animal to our homestead shortly.  We haven’t decided what animal, but probably goats.  Living in the desert, we cannot have a wooly animal.  Once we’ve achieved that goal, I will buy a spinning wheel and learn to spin.  I may have to go out of state for classes, or I may be able to teach myself.  The ability to keep some sort of animal that provides fiber and the ability to spin that fiber into yarn and to turn that yarn into something wearable puts a level of comfort into your homestead preparations that will set you apart from other preppers.

There are two consistent issues that I’ve heard about crochet and knitting.  One is keeping the yarn tension loose and consistent.  Most people attribute this to stress.  I’m not a stressed person.  I’ve never had to rip anything out due to thread tension, but I do know that there are many articles and helpful hints out there to help you if you have this particular problem.  The second issue is reading the patterns.  This is a valid point.  US and British have slightly different definitions for crochet terms.  Double crochet in the US is different than a double crochet in British terms.  German and Japanese companies release beautiful patterns, but they are not in English.  There is a new system using diagrams that I’ve seen here and there.  I think it will transcend language issues once a standard gets established.  It is important to read the pattern before you begin.  Usually, if you read it, you’ll find that a significant portion of the project is repeated.  Once you get the repeat down, you can make your project.  I’ve run in to this several times as I’ve taught myself to crochet.  Usually, I just crochet and rip, crochet and rip until I am satisfied with what I’m doing.  Since I enjoy this as a hobby, I don’t consider this time wasted.  When I finally get around to teaching myself to knit, I imagine that the process will be similar.  At the end of the day, you treat this skill like any other skill.  You start small and easy and work your way to more advanced projects.  If you get stuck, ask for help or find a video tutorial or a class at the local community center.  Figure it out now while you have choices.

Sewing, quilting and other fiber pursuits can really make the difference in the comfort level of a homestead.  Any time you read a book, fiction or non-fiction, about pioneers and Americans of the 18th and 19th centuries, you find skills.  Their skills are many and varied.  The way that our forefathers and the pioneers of old lived was remarkable, but for them it was simply how they lived.  They had those skills because they needed them; they used them, sometimes every day.  The more skills they possessed, the more comfortable their lives were.  In America today, most of us live a very comfortable life.  I can buy all of the hats, scarves, and quilts that I want to buy.   I don’t feel the need to apologize for our basic comforts.  I do believe, though, that the loss of our skills to mass produced merchandise is ill advised.  The point is, as a prepper, you can go out and buy stores of quilts, comforters, blankets, hats, scarves, clothing, etc. and store them.  But as a prepper, you know that doing for yourself, making for yourself, honing the skills to make a comfortable life for yourself is more important that what money can buy.
In review:

  • Quilting is an easy skill to attain.  Classes now can help you acquire those skills, but basic construction is only a top, pieced or not, a lining, and batting for the middle.
  • You can use a variety of material for each of these components.  Cotton is the best, but you can also use double knit, silks, velvets, wools, and any other fabric used in clothing.  Some of these fabrics require special laundering.
  • Make sure that you pin or baste your quilt very well. It isn’t the end of the world to have a crease on the lining, but as long as you’re learning, you might as well learn correctly.
  • Go back to the article written by Lockstitch in February 2013 about choosing a sewing machine that will stand up to the demands post TEOTWAWKI.  Find a good machine if you don’t already have one.
  • Try to use a good quilting stitch when using your machine.  If nothing else use a lengthened zig-zag stitch.
  • Hand piecing, hand quilting and tying quilts are also options for putting a quilt together.  They are slower and it is more difficult to make a quilt that will stay together.  Hand quilting is by far a larger skill than machine quilting, but machine quilts are inherently stronger.
  • Other fiber arts or hobbies, such as crochet and knitting could be very important in a TEOTWAWKI situation.  Having the clothing to layer both body and bed could keep you alive.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Disclaimer: Tree cutting is inherently dangerous with many injuries and fatalities every year, please do you own research and obtain training before trying this on your own.

In New England there is extensive woodland and always a need to cut down trees to keep your garden growing and your house from being overrun. This keeps your house warm with the resulting firewood. Cutting down a tree is always risky but there are many ways to reduce this risk using various tools and skills.

Never start cutting unless you are well rested, fully alert and all your tools are sharpened and fully fueled.

First clear the area around the tree to be cut. Make sure you have several escape paths it case the tree decides to come down when and where you least expect it. Check for wind, do not cut if it is a windy day as the tree may suddenly get pushed over by a sudden gust.  Look for dead branches on the trees which may fall onto you during cutting, take these down if at all possible. If you can not remove the dead branches wear a hard hard and do not work under the dead branch Next look at the tree and branches, if it is on the edge of a forest odds are it will weigh more on the side away from the forest. Branches grow toward the sun more so then into a shaded forest. This helps with your estimate of where the tree will LIKELY fall. Another trick is to hug a tree and look up, which way is it leaning? That is a likely falling direction.

Once you know where you want the tree to fall or where it is likely to fall make sure there is nothing in the way. If there is might be a good time to throw a line over a high branch and begin directing the tree either with a helper and/or tying the heavy rope taught to a tree in the direction you are aiming for. Make sure the rope will not catch you when the tree falls! Placing the rope: the higher the better as this gives you more leverage. Also make sure the falling tree will not get hung up on another tree. This will result in a dangerous situation where the tree you are cutting may swing back at you or create a widow maker.
Use two tow straps and come-a-long if a shed or other structure is in possible danger. Or if the tree is too large for a heavy rope. Get the ropes and straps in place before cutting, after cutting has started the tree is more likely to come down at any time with a sudden gust of wind or if the tree has damage from ants, internal rotting or disease.

Get all of your tools ready for use, not just the tool you think you need. If the tree shifts and pinches your chainsaw you need a backup right away not after the batteries charge and saw is sharpened and you have found the wedges. Keep the tools nearby but safe. I keep the tools behind a tree I am not cutting so if the tree comes down towards the tools they should still be safe.


Next notch the tree on the side towards to desired felling. Chainsaw or axe works great for this, chainsaw requires two cuts about one third through each at about 30 degrees from horizontal.This takes some practice as the first few cuts may not line up on both sides requiring a 3rd or 4th cut. An axe can also create this by shifting the swing angle to match. Next make a single cut on the side away from the fell direction with a chainsaw or timber saw, this gives the tree one way to fall without resistance (desired direction and the other side can only shift slightly before coming to rest on the saw and tree. Do not cut completely through the tree. You want to create a pivot point NOT have a moving tree coming at you. Hopefully the tree comes down right where you want it to.
If I am using an axe I make a point of switching my swing direction. Swinging to the right is the most comfortable and accurate for me but it limits how much I can do. Plus if i am ever injured on that side no more tree cutting. Switching the swing allows me to cut faster longer after getting used to it. If there is not room to swing an axe then stop and clear the brush and branches. How are you going to get out of the way when the tree starts coming down at you if you don’t have room to swing an axe?

After the tree is down the next step is limbing the tree which is fastest for me with an axe. Always stand on the side of the tree opposite of the branch you are swinging at. If you miss or the axe goes through the branch the tree will take the blow not you. Also swing at the branch to hit the branch towards the bottom of the tree. This results in a cleaner break the swinging from the top down.
After limbing pull all the branches out of the way and create a brush pile well out of sight. This gives you a safe work area for cutting up the trunk. This brush pile can be used as a barrier for someone approaching your house and could also be used as concealment for both you and someone approaching you.

I typically cut the trunk and large branches into 4-6 foot lengths and leave to season for firewood. 4-6 feet is what I can comfortably handle for heavy green wood depending on the tree size. Next year I will cut it into size and know it is ready for burning.

After an ice storm two years ago my tree cutting took greater importance. We had many heavy branches on our power lines and lost power for a week due to trees in the area taking out power lines. At the time I had all my hand tools, no power tools. Hand tools are fine if you have time and energy, during the ice storm I had neither! Power tools I consider a force multiplier, Same amount of time and effort I get twice the work done.

Hand tools were fine for clearing our 400 foot driveway after the storm but not the garden, yard and woodlot that year. Gas powered chainsaws were great when I was cutting many trees but for occasional use electric has much less maintenance and is faster to setup. Initially I went with a battery powered chain saw and pole saw both using the same battery packs. This worked very well as by the time the batteries were drained I had as much cut up as I could handle before needing a rest. I also shifted to vegetable oil for chain lube since my fruit and nut trees need pruning often. I obtained a corded electric chain saw soon after for firewood cutting. I can run this off the photoelectric battery bank and keep my work quiet good for OPSEC.

Safety equipment- always steel toed boots, leather gloves and safety glasses. If I am using a pole saw or a branch might fall from above then a hard hat or lumberjack helmet as well. Kevlar chainsaw safety chaps are recommended for frequent use of gas chain saws but can be pricey and not rated for electric chain saws. Leather gloves with a gel insert to protect your hands from the vibration are a definite plus. If your hands hurt from splitting wood then try a pair, I bought one pair only because they were on sale and never went back. Personally I prefer working in the winter and fall wearing at least a long sleeve shirt and heavy duty pants. This keeps the bugs, thorns and branches from scratching up my skin. Last summer there was one small job where I was not wearing my work pants and boots found a hornets nest that day. If I had my usual work clothes I would not have been stung several times on my legs. Summer work is the most challenging because of the heat and PPE only adds to the heat. Spring brings Bugs, rain and mud.

Here are the tools I have used:

  1. Axe: Best all around woodcutting tool. Can fell trees, cut and split firewood.  Not perfect for every use but can fill most in a pinch. Great for notching a tree to help it come down where you would like it to and limbing a tree when it is down. Plastic/fiberglass type handles last much longer than the wooden handles. I have a double edged axe for use when I know I will not need to drive the wedges in.
  2. Maul: Ideal for splitting wood and driving wedges. Definitely use a plastic/fiberglass handle, and vibration resistant gloves plus a rubber collar for the occasional missed swing.
  3. Large timber saw: Good for cutting firewood and felling trees, very fast if you are in practice.
  4. Loppers: good for removing small branches, Axe or Hatchet is faster but loppers have reach.
  5. Bow saw: useful for small branch removal and cutting small firewood
  6. Chainsaws: The fastest way to take down trees but require skill and maintenance to use regularly. Every time someone uses a gas powered chainsaw in my neighborhood everyone knows it. Electric chainsaws are very quiet with much less maintenance but you need electricity and are limited by extension cord distance to the outlet or battery life. Gas powered saws need frequent fuel changes and carb cleaning if left to sit between seasons.
  7. Cordless electric pole saw: for removing overhanging branches, clearing low hanging branches which are in the way and cutting down small trees.
  8. Cordless electric chainsaw: good for small jobs away from an outlet or to do a small job without running an electric cord or priming the gas chainsaw.
  9. Throw bag, cord and heavy duty rope: to rope and pull or convince a tree to fall where you want it.
  10. Tow straps and come-along: to further convince a tree which way to fall. I run the throw bag and cord first, then rope then tow strap.


  1. Flat files for removing dents on the maul and sharpening the axe and timber saw. Round files for the chain saw, with light oil to preserve the steel and lube the cutting tools. Sharpening stones could be used as well in place of the flat file for the axe.
  2. Spare chains for the chainsaw, spare vegetable oil for cutting lubrication and other use. Spare axe and handles are another plus.

Not to overstress safety but many people I have been trained by have later been injured cutting trees. Eventually chains break, trees kick back or bounce back, logs shift, branches fall, things happen. PPE is required not optional. Make sure you can finish cutting down a tree before making the first cut. Don’t limb a tree or start another tree when you need a rest. And never put your back to a falling tree. I only know of one local tree felling fatality, someone who had 40 years experience. He walked away from a tree cut to move his truck out of the way and the tree fell on him.

In a short article I am trying to describe what can be a month long process of clearing brush and cutting down trees. There is a lot to be learned, for experience there are always Arborists and loggers needing help pulling brush and cutting up branches and summer camps needing volunteers. You do not want to learn the hard way, learn from experienced people.

I would like to add a couple of things with regard to the recent article and letters on sewing.
1.  Get a button jar.  People used to save the buttons from discarded, worn out clothing and use them for repair or when making new items.  When a button hole begins to wear out even a novice with needle and thread can sew on a larger button and make the garment wearable until the button hole can be repaired. A riveted metal button cannot be sewn back on and neither can a broken button.  I have buttons that have outlasted several garments and are still doing their duty.
2.   Wal-Mart sells an assortment of needles suitable for most sewing tasks including some that are sturdy enough to sew leather.  They also sell a large spool of thread that is meant for sewing on buttons but is ideal for repairing work clothing as well.  Both of them together are less than $3.00.
3.  Next time you go to Goodwill or your favorite thrift look at the far end of the rack of denim pants/jeans.  Often you can find a pair of new or nearly new jeans in a very large size.  I bought a size 48 heavy denim jean that was  new or nearly new for $.99.  I hope to never be able to wear that size but by buying them I got several yards of heavy denim and a new zipper.  The back pockets are already cut and hemmed and can be used as patches on coat elbows or the knees of kids jeans.  When I buy a pair of bib overalls I put double knee patches on them right away.  It is easier to do this when they are new as the knees are not stretched out.  Put the patch on the outside of the overalls and leave the bottom of the patch un-sewn.  They dry faster when washed, you can put padding in there if you have to spend a long time on your knees and any lint or debris that finds its way behind the patch will fall out.  Jeans patched this way from the bottom of the pockets to below the knees are warmer and more comfortable to kneel in than before they were patched.  This large pair of jeans will provide patches for two pairs of bibs and that will double the wear that you can expect from them. - Larry K.

Another reader commented: "Buttons. Lay in a store of metal buttons. I can't tell you how many plastic, conventional buttons I've smashed working on something. Metal shirt and pant buttons don't break and wear for years. Plan on making clothes using buttons, including suspender buttons. Zippers break, jam and are far harder to replace than good metal buttons."

That's another of the things that our zinc sandwich phony pennies are good for: Turning them into buttons is really simple and easy with a drill press and 1/32" drill bit, but can be done with hand tools if necessary. - George S.  

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.

I received the following from an embedded mil-blogger friend.  His personal information has been redacted:

If I may, I would like to share some information with you.  Some is based on personal experience, and some comes from experts I know and trust.  What you do with this is up to you, but I wanted you to have it to think about just in case.  

First, I can commend an I-phone app (should be available for other platforms as well) that the Army had suggested to me called IED Aware.  It is actually pretty much the basic Army awareness course (pre-deployment) done as an app.  Maker is, that does other education and training apps as well.  Not sure if it is free or not, but quite a few of the study apps are.  

Something I can share with you based on experience is that situational awareness is the key.  But, not just in trying to spot something -- you need it to be prepared for realistic options.  

Visually and otherwise scout your AO immediately.  You are not just looking for potential IED sites, you need to get an idea of cover options.  Concealment is NOT cover.  Things that can hide you from view are concealment, not cover.  Cover is something that can protect you from bullets, blast, and fragments.  Cover is concrete, it is thick metal as in armor or even the engine block of a car, it is a ditch, a culvert, or other thing that can stop/deflect incoming.  And, yes, cover can help deflect a blast wave, as they are strange creatures that can and do bounce, deflect, and reflect.  Buy me a beer and I will tell you of one (non-IED generated) I know first-hand caused a relocation of a wall without breaking a pane of glass in that glass wall.  

You need to know cover not just for yourself, but if something happens you need to be able to direct people away using as much of that cover as realistically possible.  So, scout, plan, and plan options so that you do not have to think about things if something happens, but can assess and be proactive in an emergency.  Having to stop and think can and does get people killed.  Plan ahead. 

Then, scan the area thinking of where an IED can be easily concealed (trash can, paper bin, etc.) and check those for anything suspicious.  It looks suspicious, call out and call in.  Clear the area, and hunker down in a place that gives you as much cover as possible yet still allows you to control the cleared area to keep idiots and others from wandering in.  

If the area is clear, scan for distance markers.  One of the most common currently is a plastic grocery bag tied to a branch or otherwise secured; but, the key is to look for something out of place and or a series of things that also happen to be a uniform distance apart.  Just as we use distance and aiming stakes, so to does the enemy.  While it is often that such a bag or other signal marks the spot of the IED, it can also be a trigger point so that a vehicle or group moving at a steady speed will be in the blast zone if the remote detonator is triggered as they pass that point.  Using this method, someone can be at home or a nearby bar watching an event on television and know when to dial the phone or press the button.  If you see something that could be a distance/location marker, call out and call it in.  If that marker is near a culvert or sewer line under the street, it needs to be checked out immediately.  Admittedly, IEDs in such are mostly for vehicles, but… 

It is doubtful that most terrorists would try to bury anything, but do keep an eye out for a freshly plowed or dug flower bed or such, just in case.  

Watch for suspicious behavior.  Someone moving a bit too nonchalantly, exceedingly nervous, obviously drunk or on drugs with a coat or such over themselves (amazing how many suicide bombers have to have chemical enhancement to do the job), or someone who may or may not be praying but has a look on their face and/or in their eyes that really can't be described other than to say that when you see it, you know it.  They will usually move confidently and force their way towards their destination no matter what, and one hand is usually at their side or in a pocket.  It's not just someone moving in quickly, dropping a backpack or other container and then moving away, it is a host and range of behaviors that don't fit the norm.  If you spot someone like this, don't approach if at all possible, but here stay calm, talk normally and call in and have LE come and intercept the person.  

If an IED goes off, take cover.  If possible, choose cover that provides overhead cover as well.  Roll under a vehicle, concrete bench, etc.  If there is no cover, go flat:  shrapnel tends to go out in a cone, and if you can get under the cone, all you have to deal with immediately is blast effect.  Quite a few wounds in Iraq and Afghanistan from incoming happen because people kept trying to run to a duck and cover or other shelter, instead of going flat.  You hear blast, or get an incoming warning, you go flat if you can't make shelter in about five seconds.  

Keep in mind that immediate shrapnel is only part of the issue:  blasts like that tend to toss things in the air, sometimes substantial things.  That's why if you can get to cover that provides overhead cover, you should.  Keep in mind that in Boston, parts of the bomb were found on a rooftop some ten stories up.  Debris can be coming down for up to a minute after a blast.  If there is no cover, after the initial blast front and shrapnel wave has passed, you go turtle (legs and arm under you, head back so your helmet goes over back armor as much as possible) or squat with your feet flat, knees to chest, back to blast, and hands over head so that you make the smallest possible area from a vertical perspective.  

Next, know that there are likely to be more explosions, as various online manuals (and generally smart terrorists) will do secondaries or even tertiaries to get first responders.  You will have seconds to a couple of minutes to regroup, try to get people moving in a safe direction, and get set for the next blast.  Use it well.  

For any form of IED, tourniquets are essential.  In Boston, we saw a lot of improvised and it is likely that we will have to do so at need as most IGR do not have combat tourniquets.  People are going to be screaming, there's going to be blood and debris, and triage needs to be with traumatic amputations first and foremost.  If a limb is gone, or just about gone, get the tourniquet on as low as possible on the limb and as quickly as possible.  Then worry about shrapnel wounds.  Know that if they follow standard doctrine, bleeding is going to worse because the shrapnel was coated with rat poison, warfarin, which is known medically as Coumadin.  It is an anti-coagulant, and the idea is to get as much as possible into the wound to make the victim bleed out.  

Now, to something I put last because it is against most current doctrine.

One thing that is not to the liking of academics and other rear-echelon types is that you want to see if there is a dump point in your immediate AO.  A dump point is something that will reduce blast effects and shrapnel.  Good foxholes have a grenade sump for this, when you are on foot or at an event, you don't have that but you do have other options.  Keep in mind that blast waves, no matter how powerful, like to follow the path of least resistance as much as possible.  You want to spot a dump point in advance because sometimes you roll snake eyes don't have a lot of options.  A dump point can be a concrete road barrier, a dumpster, a sewer opening, or anything that gives thicker sides and no top or a weak top.  You dump an IED into such, it will be destroyed, but most of the blast and shrapnel is likely to go up, not out; and, what does go out will not go out as far.  

Two quick scenarios under this heading.  First, someone drops a bag of some type nearby and takes off running.  If they do that, things are out of control on both sides and your options are very limited.  If they have dropped it, and there is no boom, the odds of it having any form of movement trigger are slim to none.  If they are running, they are panicked and no longer thinking and can trigger immediately or even forget to do so.  If it is a timed bomb, then they may be running because time is running out -- but you have time to think and act.  Right then, you have to make a choice.  

First thing you do, is get people to get down and/or move away as quickly as possible, because even if it is someone playing a "joke" on security, you have to treat it as real.  If you are that close, there are few realistic options for survival unless you have a dump point planned.  Get the bag to the dump point, then try to get people and yourself away if no immediate boom, and do so as low as possible.  If you hear any noise from the direction of the bag, go flat.  You can't help anyone if you are dead.  The second scenario is a suicide bomber near/next to you.  Your only viable option is to try to control them, get them into the dump point, and try to get away.  Odds are you won't, but you are pretty much out of options at that point anyway.  If you are within about 15 feet of either, odds are that you are going to die, the only difference being how many die with you. - X.

- Michael Z. Williamson (SurvivalBlog Editor at Large)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

James Wesley,
I have a few comments on the recent clothing article:
Good heavy work clothing is around, if you know where to look. Carhartt, Prison Blues, Roundhouse, Wild Ass jeans and Dickies to name just a few of the better known names. Treat this clothing as an investment and buy it even if its expensive as it's worth every penny.
Buttons.  Lay in a store of metal buttons.  I can't tell you how many plastic, conventional buttons I've smashed working on something.  Metal shirt and pant buttons don't break and wear for years. Plan on making clothes using buttons, including suspender buttons.  Zippers break, jam and are far harder to replace than good metal buttons. 
Lay in a pattern for overalls.  Sure, they look dorky but there isn't a better piece of clothing for hard work.  You can get them with double knees, all of them have the metal buttons, and the well made ones are made with 12 ounce denim, so they wear well for years.  Lots of pockets for tools, easy to layer up under them in cold weather, it's no wonder they've been in use for decades. - Bill S.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

]Editor's Note: See my warning about this technique, below!]

With the current ammo shortages that have been plaguing the country and seem to have no end in sight, having a way to stock up on a key caliber for your preps is vital. Hindsight being 20/20 many of us now wish we would have put more of our valuable prepping budget towards stocking up on ballistic wampum. I believe I've found a way to still stock up on some very useful ammo while still making your valuable prepping dollars stretch just a bit farther.

The shotgun is universality accepted as being a part of almost every prepared person’s arms locker due to its flexibility and firepower. Of course the ammo shortage has also reached into the shotgun gauges, trying to find a box of 00 buck or slugs is almost impossible, and if you do their price has significantly increased in the last year. On the other hand a box of bird shot can be found relatively easily and for less than ten dollars ($8.99 at our local Wal-Mart.) While I wouldn’t want to be hit with bird shot its use as a self defense round is very limited. I’d like to discuss how to turn readily accessible bird shot into a formidable self defense frangible slug.                 

The “Waxer Slug” is a simple but great idea in my humble opinion. By removing the shot from a bird shot shell and mixing it with melted wax and putting it back you have made a frangible slug. The benefits of a waxer slug are pretty impressive. First and foremost is cost, they are dirt cheap to make, giving us the ability to stock up. Another benefit is that the effective range of the birdshot is actually increased, but it still has the low recoil of a bird shot load. Another benefit the waxer slug has is its slug like penetrating power, along with its unbelievable stopping power. This is due to the high transfer of energy into the target that frangible rounds are famous for. Basically when a wax slug hits something it penetrates a bit then shatters (fragments) back into its original shot form which can create massive wounds and unreal destruction to tissue and bone. You have to see these in use to really appreciate their destructive power. Of course there is always a downside to consider. High temperature can affect these so desert climate users beware.  Taking into consideration the melt temperature of wax, I would never uses these shells in Temperatures over 95 degrees. Also range is less than a real factory slug. A wax slug just isn’t very aerodynamic and has been known to tumble, so the optimal range is 50 yards, with 65 yards being the limit that I’ve been able to hit a torso target with six out of seven shots. Please balance the pros and cons to decide if this is for you.

Okay if you’re still interested... the first step you need to do is gather a few low cost materials. Of course Bird shot shells are the first item to procure. I’ve found the best success using shot ranging from 7.5 to 9. The larger size pellets tends to tear apart the slug while these smaller sizes cost less and work better (Win-Win). There are some other very basic materials that are needed and as you become familiar with the process you can add or substitute a few of them. One item that you will need will be a small pot (that your wife will not want back) this will be used to melt the wax. A larger pot that the small pot can fit into is optional but this you can borrow from your wife as you won’t mess it up. You’ll also need a cheap soup spoon (that your wife won’t miss). I suggest using a vice or a pair of pliers to bend the spoons end into more of a scoop to approximately fit the diameter of a shot shell. This will significantly cut down on the mess. The next item you will need will be a pair of scissors or a box cutting knife. Gloves also might come in handy as you will be dealing with hot items and lead.

Of course you will need some wax. The wax can be found in any number of places. Focusing on keeping this process as cheap as possible I have used broken crayons which of course are free if you have children. Another supply source of course is candle wax. My candle wax is also free because I recycle the last ½ inch that seems to never be used from my wife’s scented candles. Yes I have to put up with scented shells but I keep them in a separate ammo can so I don’t take them into the field by mistake. I don’t want to chase away game or give away a position because I saved a few pennies on wax. Another source of wax is of course is gulf wax. For only a few bucks a block of Gulf wax will make a couple hundred shells easily with none of the afore mentioned scent problem to mess with.
A side note, if are a organizational freak like me, you can color code your wax for different shot sizes to be different colors or you can color code all the scented shells are red while the unscented shells are blue. Pick which ever colors work for you. My good friend has mixed up a "Zombie Green" color just to look cool. No one said you can't have fun while getting prepared.  

After you have gathered all of your materials, the first step is to trim off the top 16th of an inch off of the shot gun shell. If possible just remove the crimped edge of the shell so that you can remove the top. You can use scissors, a sharp knife, or a box cutter whichever you are more comfortable with. Please be careful as it is easy to slip and trim your thumb instead of the plastic shell using a box cutter.  Something to keep in mind before you trim your first shell is that your goal is to remove (and retain) the shot pellets and leave as much of the shell intact as possible, so the wad doesn’t become loose. It only takes 1-2 shells to get the amount to trim right. After the top is open pour the shot (small ball bearings) into a small container as we will need it again in a few minutes.
If you wife will let you play in her kitchen, it will save some additional money, if not a single eye hot plate for your work bench is the answer. At around twenty dollars it might be worth it if you plan on making a lot of wax slugs. Either way take your large pot and fill it 1/3 full of hot water. Place your chosen wax supply in the smaller pot and then put the smaller pot inside the larger pot.  Then turn up the heat to bring the water to a boil.  This will melt the wax while reducing the risk of overheating it. The melt temperature of wax differs but 125 to 175 degrees is a good target.  Be careful as wax can combust. The flash point is different for different waxes but the rule to follow is “If the wax begins to smoke lower the temperature!”  Practice vigilance when you melt wax, don’t leave it unattended while heating.  If it does combust DO NOT pour water over it, remain calm turn off the heat and put a lid over the pot to smother the flame.  I have never had this problem but we are supposed to be prepared aren’t we?

After the wax has liquefied pour in the shot from the prior step. Mix them with the wax and let them warm up a bit so the wax infuses the shot.  Take your shells from the first step and place them on a paper plate or a pie pan. This is to contain the mess, no matter how steady your hand is you will spill some shot.  Slowly spoon the shot into the shell directly onto the wad. You can use the bent spoon as I do, a small funnel, or I’ve even used a folded piece of paper for this step. Whatever works best for you. As you fill the shell with the shot mix, wax will leak through the cuts in the plastic wad but this is fine as it will keep your slug from falling out on accident. The goal is to fill the shell with mostly shot--not all wax. Some wax is fine, but you want as much shot as possible up to the top of the wad. Do not have shot past the top of the wad.

After the shell is full of shot (within a 16th of an inch of the top) top it off with a bit of liquid wax to make a sort of smooth top seal. This is an important step as you do not want any shot sticking out on top. There is a very slim chance of a pellet that does protrude striking another shell’s primer in a loading tube thus ruining your weapon and possibly ruining you. Plan for the worst and make sure that never happens by having strict quality control.                 

Set the shells to the side for a few minutes to cool. After about two or three minutes the wax will have cooled and hardened enough to clean off the outside of the shell. I use the knife from the first step to lightly scrape off the excess wax that tends to drip down the side of the shell.  This is a tedious final step but vital to ensure proper feeding in pump shotguns.

Now to answer two questions before they are asked:

1. I’ve shot a few hundred wax slug rounds and have found no noticeable wax build up in the barrel. Of course I still clean my weapon after each use, but I’ve found no additional cleaning was needed above what I do when I shoot normal factory rounds.

2. How is adjusting the weight of shot sent downrange safe? The truth is that you’ll actually end up loading slightly less shot following this procedure and the weight of the wax is insufficient to change the weight of the shot in any significant way. So the power load is still well within the safe range.          
One other thing to consider, adding some extra flexibility to this process is another option.  Instead of using wax try using hot glue. Hot glue will increase your cost but it will make a much harder slug which will not fragment as easily thus ensuring greater penetration, also using hot glue instead of wax will significantly reduce the temperature limitation of wax. Depending on your needs this option might be useful to you, but as always YMMV.

I realize this isn't for everyone but with the proper safety checks in place, I do believe that the ability to turn an inexpensive, readily available round into a formidable defense round is worth sharing.

JWR Adds This Important Safety Warning: Reader Ken S. wrote:

"Making slugs using wax is VERY DANGEROUS!!!!  It is an old idea from the past that got some traction in the old timers myth telling.  On the second or third shot you can have enough wax build-up in the barrel to cause the next shot to stick [part way down the barrel] resulting in a blown up shotgun [when a subsequent shell is fired.]  I know.  It happened to me about 50 years ago.   I totally destroyed a Remington pump gun and am very lucky I escaped with some minor cuts and bruises.  [The usefulness of wax-filled shells] is a rural myth.  Do not try it.  I have heard this story re-surfacing every few years and everyone I ever heard of that tried it ended up blowing up their gun.  Sometimes with serious injury.  Please alert your readers."

Based on Ken's experience, clearly the wax shell technique would only be suitable for a single-shot shotgun, and only then if the gun's bore were inspected and thoroughly cleaned between shots. Therefore, I cannot recommend using "waxers" for self defense, or anything beyond single shot use, in absolutely desperate situations. (And I mean truly desperate, such as: You have ONLY a handful of birdshot shells, yet you must kill a deer or face starvation for the coming winter.)

As previously mentioned in SurvivalBlog, a much more safe technique that yields similar results is making cut shells, but this is not advised for repeating (pump or auto) shotguns. As with any other ammunition modification, use great caution. If a cut shell were to come apart inside your gun's magazine tube, it would create a horrible mess and probably result in a jam that might take a long time to clear. Therefore, I cannot recommend using cut shells for self defense either. (That is, where someone is returning fire--unless you are desperate and have no other alternative.) But cut shells might suffice for hunting or for culling large garden raiders like deer or feral pigs.

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