Note from JWR:

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My thanks to all of the recent Ten Cent Challenge subscribers. I’m glad to see that so many of you find SurvivalBlog informative, useful, and worthy of support. Subscriptions are entirely voluntary, but an increasing number of readers are being noble and signing up for the Ten Cent Challenge. Some of you that are “secret squirrels” just mail cash or anonymous money orders, with no return address. That is appreciated just as much. My sincere thanks!

Letter Re: Any Utility in Caltrops or Tire Spikes for Retreat Defense?

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How do you rate caltrops for retreat defense? Would they flatten tires quickly enough to be useful? Perhaps on a long driveway? Thanks, – LKP

JWR Replies: Caltrops have been used as a defensive measure for centuries. I have my doubts about their utility in daylight, but they might prove useful at night. To be useful in daylight for defense against vehicle-borne looters approaching a retreat slowly, caltrops or tire spikes would have to be concealed, which is a huge legal liability. Because we live in very litigious times, I DO NOT recommend using caltrops or tire spikes in in anything but an absolute worst-case TEOTWAWKI situation, where you are completely on your own to defend your retreat, and there is no longer a functioning law enforcement or court system. Using them in any lesser situation is an invitation to a hugely expensive civil lawsuit and possible criminal sanctions. An ambulance-chasing attorney would have a field day, and the likely result would be that you would lose everything that you own in settling a lawsuit. Ironically, this is an example of where using deadly force against an intruder (namely, a firearm) is less likely to result in a lawsuit than a non-lethal weapon. Civil court juries tend to be very sympathetic to “maimed” plaintiffs, and are prone to award disproportionately huge “pain and suffering” damages.

Caltrops and tire spikes are banned in some states in the US, and Australia.

With all that said, commercially made caltrops are available, as are tire spike strips, although most manufacturers will only sell them to law enforcement agencies ordering on department letterhead. The best of these use hollow spikes, so they can defeat even self-sealing tires. And example of this type is the HOllow-Spike TYre Deflation System (HOSTYDS), manufactured in the UK.

Letter Re: Lead From Car Batteries–Can it Be Recycled Into Cast Bullets?

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In relation to the question about casting bullets from battery lead: There are a few things you need to keep in mind when dealing with things like old batteries and such. The first is, when lead-acid cells are drained, the metallic lead is converted into lead sulfate. So the ideal battery to use for this is one which is fully charged. I suppose it is technically possible for you to take an uncharged battery, and cook the plates down with a dry base such as sodium hydroxide (mineral wood ash–pour water through wood ashes, remove solids will give you some hydroxide salts KOH/NaOH) and then you are likely to get anything not reduced off as dross.
The other issue is, most batteries have some pretty strange alloy compositions. In many cases antimony, calcium, and strontium are added to the lead to improve it’s structural qualities. While antimony is a good thing, the calcium and strontium do not lend the alloy very desirable casting qualities. Which means your only choice is to try to burn these out. Thankfully both bond rather strongly with chlorine, so if you have a way of producing chlorine gas (electrolysis of salt brine, chlorine gas etc) it is possible to remove these impurities.
Then you have to add something back to the lead (usually tin) that will allow it to whet properly. If you look around, you can find hard lead shot, which often has up to 15% antimony, and occasionally 5-10% tin. If you are careful about weighing your starting materials you could come up with alloys which have the right characteristics for use in this.
As you mentioned, the wheel weights are a good source. At present I cast bullets commercially using wheel weight lead as my starting alloy (to which I add a proprietary number of components to make everything come out the way I want it). The problem is, I don’t think I have enough time in the day to run around and collect the wheel weights from every vehicle I can see. The batteries are a much better source, but are likely out of reach for the amateur.
However, there is much more lead in a car than just the wheel weights. The radiators of most vehicles are full of lead. This is usually a 60/40 lead/tin alloy which is great for creating alloys with any wheel weights you are trying to get to turn out better. In most cases radiators can contain up to a pound, if not more, of lead.
Lead is a very common material. It is resistant to most corrosion, and is used in a wide variety of applications from radiation shielding to pipes in chemical plants, and lets not forget stained glass windows. (But then, I suppose if you’re really hurting for raw materials, perhaps looting the church of the cames might be forgivable.)
If you are truly interested in a source of “after the crash” raw material supplies, look to see what is around you, there may be a harbor, or ship refitter nearby who uses lead for ballast in ships or sailboats, who may trade with you for a more usable product (ammo). Or it may just be abandoned. Lead, copper, and iron are sure to be the most important materials after a serious crash, either because they last in a metallic state, or because we made so much of it, that there is almost no way for it to return to it’s natural state (an ore, oxide, sulfate etc). While aluminum is a commonly
recyclable material, it is difficult to produce without a lot of electrical energy, and the conveniences of gas powered mining equipment.
By far the best solution is to stock up now. I currently have a number of tire shops I have existing agreements with as far as lead [scrap wheel weight] collection. I regularly collect more scrapwheel weights than I need to meet my operating requirements. For the most part, I melt it down with the rest, ingot it out, and stuff it somewhere until ready for use.One true advantage of lead
is that it won’t rot if I bury it. And if you cast big enough ingots no one is going to want to steal them ;) . The largest single ingot I cast was about 500lbs, it was 21″x21″x~20″ Might have been a touch bigger. I still haven’t figured out what I’m going to do with it, but I do know that I could leave it in any bad neighborhood and no one is going to be successful stealing it. Best of luck to you all. Sincerely, – AVL

Note from JWR:

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Please consider writing an article for Round10 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The writer of the best non-fiction article will win a valuable four day “gray” transferable Front Sight course certificate. (Worth up to $1,600.) Second prize is a copy of my “Rawles Gets You Ready” preparedness course, generously donated by Jake Stafford of Arbogast Publishing. I will again be sending out a few complimentary copies of my novel “Patriots” as “honorable mention” awards. If you want a chance to win the contest, start writing and e-mail us your article for Round 10, which began on April 1st and ends May 30th. Remember that articles that relate practical “how to” skills for survival will have an advantage in the judging.

Storing Oil and Lubricants for TEOTWAWKI

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The recent discussion of firearms lubrication reminded me about a subject that I’ve meant to address again in SurvivalBlog: oil and lubricant storage for your retreat.  It is important to think through all of your oil and lubricant needs–everything from motor oil and transmission fluid to firearms lubes. Calculate what you use in a three to five year period, and stock up.  Then anticipate what you might need for barter and charity, and stock up even more. Because most families do not store any substantial quantity of oils and lubricants, they will make an ideal barter item in a long term Crunch.

One lubricant that is often overlooked in retreat logistics planning is two cycle engine fuel mixing oil. I predict that this will be like gold, post-TEOTWAWKI, since there aren’t any decent substitutes. When TSHTF, suddenly everyone will be using their chainsaws a lot, but two cycle mixing oil will be in very short supply. You can be “the man of the hour”, but only if you stock up. I recommend buying a couple of cases of small bottles of two cycle mixing oil. It will be a fantastic item for barter and charity.

For your long term TEOTWAWKI oil storage, I recommend that you store at least a few cases of non-detergent motor oil.  This is because detergent motor oils only store well for a couple of years.  In contrast, non-detergent motor oil store almost indefinitely. Look carefully at the label before you buy. (These days, even most inexpensive brands of motor oil contain detergents.)

For firearms lubrication, I generally prefer the Break Free CLP brand.  In a post-TEOTWAWKI environment, your guns will be your constant companions in all sorts of weather. So it is important to store gun cleaning and lubrication supplies in quantity

Safe storage for your oil and lubricants is essential. I recommend that you build a separate, dedicated, locking steel storage shed to store all of your flammables. Think in terms of a 20 foot long CONEX or perhaps a pre-fabricated metal shed that is well-removed from your other retreat buildings. Aside for a very small supply for day-to-day use, nearly all of your flammables should be stored in the outside shed:  kerosene, fuel canisters (propane, stove fuel, et cetera), lighter fluid, gas cans, paint cans, bore cleaner, various automotive/tractor fluids, paint thinner, chemical degreasers, decontamination fluids, and oils of all descriptions. If you store any powder, primers, or blasting caps, or fuse in this same shed, it is important that you store them inside separate ammo cans with tight-fitting rubber seals. Otherwise, the lubricant vapors will deaden them.

For your cars, trucks,a nd tractors, oil filters are more important to store than motor oil.  The myth of the obligatory 3,000 mile oil change has been perpetrated by the “30 minute oil change” industry, because they like to see their customers frequently, to enhance their cash flow. In fact, in the modern era of multi-weight detergent oils, oil changes are grossly over-done!  Unless a car engine is older and starting to grind metal, then your motor oil will usually have a much longer life than 3,000 miles. And just because motor oil is dark does not necessarily indicate that it needs to be changed. Many commercial fleet vehicles get no oils changes at all–just new filters installed. Then the same oil is put back in. Back in the 1980s the U.S.Army instituted the Army Oil Analysis Program (AOAP.)  Under AOAP, oil samples are periodically mailed to a centralized lab. Unless the lab detects a drop in viscosity, suspended metals particles, or contamination for any particular vehicle’s oil, they direct units to re-use the oil and merely change filters.  (By the way, this program has saved the U.S. taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in the past 20 years.)

Another tangential note: I’ve mentioned this in SurvivalBlog before, but it is worth repeating: Part of keeping your hand tools in proper condition is oiling them to prevent rust.  It is a good idea to keep a steel bucket with a tight-fitting metal lid, half-filled with sand that is soaked in fresh motor oil   (Don’t use wood shavings or anything else that is flammable! And, BTW, don’t soak the sand with used motor oil, because it has been documented as a carcinogen.)  After tasks like splitting wood or spading the garden, be sure brush off any clinging soil, re-sharpen your tools, and then plunge them into the oily sand and swish them around to give them light coat of oil will. This will greatly extend the serviceable life of your hand tools!

Letter Re: Keeping Firearms Functioning in Extreme Cold Temperatures

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Hi Jim,
Greetings from Ohio. As a former NCO in Her Majesty’s Canadian Forces, and a Winter Warfare instructor to boot, I’d like to suggest some additions to your excellent post regarding extreme cold weather firearms.
While having the proper lube is of high importance do allow me to suggest that some basic handling techniques are of equal importance.
Most importantly never bring your weapon near a heat source while operating in the deep cold. This is the most common mistake we would repeatedly see on operations. If you seeking shelter in any heated building/tent or so forth – leave the weapon outside. Properly covered up to protect from the elements.
This may seem contrary to all good tactical sense but any weapon brought in from the cold to the heat starts to sweat immediately, and unless you can guarantee you will have hours with no possibility of needing that weapon it will stop functioning the moment you return it outside.
The second suggestion I would offer is while you are outside in the deep cold unload your weapon and work the action at least once every hour if at all possible, given of course the tactical situation. There’s many I time I saw soldiers being forced to unload their weapons and beat them against trees to free up the action. Not through any negligence regarding lube but simply from the fact that most parts are metal and we were in -70C conditions.
Following these two simple suggestion, along with proper lube as you’ve pointed out, in my experience working from 700 miles north of the arctic circle south to the border keep your weapons in working order the vast majority of the time.
One last tip is regarding your magazines. While metal mags can freeze if left attached for prolonged periods you should be very careful changing to plastic as extreme cold often causes feed lips to break very easily; always of course at the most inopportune moment.
Thanks so much for your work on the site and God speed. Cheers, – David

Letter Re: Dry Hypochlorite (Pool Shock) Bleach for Disinfecting Water

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Mr R.:
Your blogs’ post on Ca++ hypochlorite as a stable disinfectant stock for water treatment was golden advice.
I had some liquid chlorine bleach stored. It actually eroded out through the bottom of the plastic container. It dripped down and ate through steel mess trays underneath. Eroded completely. I remembered that chlorine is an oxidizer, and will do damage – duh ! – to organic material … hence it’s value as an antibacterial/anti-parasitic treatment. Cleaning up the dried bleach was irritating to eyes and airways. Again – duh ! – as terrorists in Baghdad have made evident.
Fortunately other gear was inside contractor bags/plastic crates, and damage was minimal. But, the lesson learned was great. And contractor bags are worth every penny. They are in all our fannies, bags, and packs
CERT protocols call for isolating / separating potentially caustic/toxic/flammable chemicals. Good advice.
Pool shock beats the h**l outta liquid chlorine bleach. Better advice.
Check your stocks / gear / supplies regularly – best advice.
Thanks, – MurrDoc

Letter Re: Judging Soil Quality When Selecting a Retreat Property

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Mr. Editor:

My wife and I are nearing retirement and we are considering buying a piece of land for both our retirement home and for our retreat if the times get “interesting.” This land is in Oklahoma, which currently has reliable rains but was “Dust Bowl” country, back in the [19]30s. How can I know for sure whether or not the soil is still good, or if it is “played out”? Thanks, – B.K.

JWR Replies: You’ve raised an important issue. The importance of soil quality in the event of a true “worst case” should not be overlooked. As S.M. Stirling so aptly described it in his science fiction novel “Dies The Fire“, soil quality is not crucial in modern mechanized agriculture. If an acre of ground produces 5 bushels of wheat versus 12 bushels of wheat, it is not of great consequence when you are cultivating hundreds or even thousands of acres from inside the cab of an air conditioned $40,000 tractor, or a $70,000 combine. However, if someday you are reduced to traditional pre-industrial manpower or horsepower, where cultivating just a few acres will require monumental exertion, then the soil quality will make a tremendous difference–between feeding a family (or a community), and starvation. Therefore, have the soil analyzed before you buy a retreat property! Determining the soil types within a region should be your first step–in fact even before you talk to the first real estate agent. Simply buying lunch for the soils specialist at the local Agricultural Extension office might be a valuable investment. That lunchtime conversation will probably tell you much more about your intended new locale than several days spent talking with a real estate agent. (They don’t earn commissions by mentions the pros and the cons of a community.) On your first scouting trip to your proposed retreat region, call the USDA Agricultural Extension Office, and ask to talk to a soils specialist at the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) desk. Note that the NRCS was formerly called the Soil Conservation Service.

Basic soil test kits are available by mail order. More sophisticated soil analysis services are also available by mail (where you mail soil samples to a laboratory.) Some universities offer free soil testing for state residents, but this often must be handled through the local NRCS office. Other universities will test soil samples for a fee, regardless of state residency.

Survivalist “Vacation” and Gaining Medical Knowledge

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I just returned from my ‘vacation’. A day spent with top gunmaster Len Baxley and 3 days at the Medical Corps training.
Both are highly recommended. Baxley easily doubled my speed and got me to the point where I could make 95 yard shots at a torso sized plate with a Glock 19. This may not seem like much to some of you, but for me it was unthinkable before I saw him. At $50 an hour you’re getting the deal of a lifetime. Then I went for the medical training. At $325 for 3 days it’s another great buy. I learned about how to stitch a wound, set and take off a cast, pain management, pull a tooth, maintain a sterile surgical environment among other things.

As I think back to the times I’ve needed medial attention for me or my family, they fall into these 6 categories.

(1) Childbirth, (2) Antibiotics, (3) Dislocations, (4) Suturing, (5) Dentistry, (6) Optometry and roughly in that order chronologically. [My experiences related to these have been:]

1- Have kids
2- Kids get sick, sometimes requiring antibiotics
3- Someone falls out of a tree
4- Someone slips on a skateboard
5- Not flossing (I’ve now taken to the habit of brushing my teeth after every meal…)
6- Getting older
Even if no MZBs present themselves and I’ve got my now self sustaining farm going, I will still likely need to know these things. They will also allow me to barter for goods or for entry into other SHTF communities should I find myself in that most unpleasant situation of being a refugee. I will be furthering my medical skill set along these lines. Missionaries and charities also offer training in third world (TEOTWAWKI) medicine.
Knowledge is power. – SF in Hawaii

Letter Re: Best Sources for Extra FN-FAL Magazines?

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Hi James,
I am looking at purchasing some FN-FAL (metric) magazines and would like to know which are the best ones to buy? – John Y.

JWR Replies: As I mentioned in my FN-FAL/L1A1 FAQ, nearly all of the government issue 20 round metric FN-FAL magazines on the market were made on Belgian (FN) tooling, and work fine. (Such as Israeli, Brazilian, Argentine, et cetera.) Even used FAL magazines work fine if they have no dents. Since they are the most fragile part of the rifle and a large number of magazines might be needed WTSHTF, I now recommend buying at least 25 magazines per rifle. That might sound excessive, but I tend to look at retreat logistics from the imagined perspective of my yet-to-be-born grandchildren. I am confident that someday they will stand by my gravestone and thank me for my foresight. With nasty Federal gun legislation looming in the U.S., it is now a particularly important time to stock up on your “lifetime supply” of full capacity magazines. If you can afford to, buy some extras for barter. They may very well double or triple in value in the next year.

Some of the best prices on used FAL magazines can be found at: Inter-Ordnance, (and BTW they also have great prices on inch pattern L1A1 magazines) and the some of the best prices on new magazines can be found at: (They have brand new Israeli mags and Belgian magazines.) When contacting either company, please mention that you heard about them through SurvivalBlog, since hey are both likely candidates for SurvivalBlog advertisers. Thanks!