Selecting Barter Goods, by Warhawke

In a post-TEOTWAWKI world just about everyone realizes that paper money will become useless (unless you can get enough to use as insulation for your house) and there has been much discussion of gold, silver and other items for barter in these pages. I have devoted a great deal of thought to this subject and I would like to share a few of my ideas on the subject with you. I’m going to try to be fairly short on details here in order to keep the length of the article manageable. Keep in mind that what I am discussing here are trade goods and not items for personal use. You should always get the best supplies and equipment you can afford for your own use, but trade items are an investment, and like all investments you need to minimize your outlay and maximize your profit. For barter, why buy a Craftsman socket-set when you can get three Chinese made socket-sets from Harbor Freight for the same money? Places to obtain trade goods are yard and garage sales, pawnshops, resale shops, flea markets, discount stores and dollar stores. Of course, don’t buy complete junk but a mediocre tool is much better than no tool at all.


First, I would tend to keep the trading in weapons and ammo to friends and neighbors, no sense arming the opposition. That said, a good bolt-action rifle would be a serious item for trade. A friend of mine is a Mosin-Nagant nut and he bought a half-dozen “Gunsmith Specials” with cracked stocks and messed up finishes for about $20 a piece. A few weeks and around a hundred bucks in parts later (he managed to repair all but two of the stocks) he had six fully functional rifles which he has socked away with a 700+ round sealed tin of ammo (each with a can-opener). Another guy that I know has four Romanian .22 Long Rifle bolt-actions stored away. At my suggestion they both coated these in DuraCoat which is a high-tech spray-on finish that can be applied with an airbrush, requires no heat curing and can even be applied to wood and plastics. Used .22 rifles would also be a good trade item, but I prefer to avoid the ones with tube magazines, if they break [e.g. the magazine tube is dented] they are pretty well impossible to repair, and good luck finding a replacement.

The best most of us can do is probably to collect parts and tools to repair our own firearms and perhaps some of the more common weapons (Model 1911s, AR-15s, AKs, etc.) as well as cleaning kits, bore solvent, broken case extractors, and repair items for wooden stocks (Acraglas is a good one). Magazines, speed loaders and stripper clips for the more common weapons might be a good choice as well.

I do not believe in stocking ammunition which I don’t use, I have enough trouble buying and storing the ammunition I do use. Instead I recommend getting into reloading on a very serious basis and get the equipment to both cast and swage bullets. Casting is the most common method for making bullets and will work well. Swaging involves producing bullets using pressure as opposed to heat and allows you to make jacketed bullets which allows normal velocities to be obtained, while simple unjacketed cast bullets must use low-velocities to reduce leading of the barrel. Search for “Bullet Swaging” and you can find a host of sites on the subject. It is an expensive method of production, but with the equipment and large amounts of powder and primers you can supply the neighbors and yourself with far more ammunition than you could ever stockpile. A few caveats on this though;

Select your powders to provide the widest possible selection of calibers and loadings using the least amount of powder for each, you have to stretch your supplies as far as possible.

Steel casings can be reloaded but they will eat-up your dies.

Berdan primers can be removed and replaced by boxer primers, however you must ream out the primer pocket as there will be a small post in the primer pocket which must be removed or the boxer primers will fail to seat and may fire if you try. Here is a good site on decapping Berdan primers.[JWR Adds: Rather than drilling out Berdan case primer anvils–which can be tricky–I recommend stocking up on Berdan primers from a supplier such as The Old Western Scrounger.]
Books are portable knowledge and can either be lent out or simply read, your private library can be a profit making enterprise.

I would start with the general knowledge books, Late 19th and early 20th century encyclopedias, “Connections” by James Burke and the Foxfire book series are a good place to start. Then go for the more specific information like veterinary medicine, animal husbandry, beekeeping, gardening, small engine repair, carpentry, medicine (The Physician’s desk Reference (PDR), Gray’s Anatomy, “Where there is no doctor/dentist, etc.), psychology, chemistry, glass blowing, metallurgy, and blacksmithing. Frankly just about anything you can think of can be valuable to someone, and don’t skip history, philosophy, mathematics, and spelling textbooks. As a survivalist, you should be planning to give your children and grandchildren the tools they need to rebuild, not merely consigning them to the short hard life of pre-industrial farming and drudgery. Don’t forget the fiction either (fun reading is often the gateway to a lifetime habit), from the classics by Defoe and Stevenson to the more contemporary works of Heinlein, Norton, Piper, Pournelle, and Ing (yes I mean the science fiction writers, it is the writing of hope for the future and Robert Heinlein, Jerry Pournelle, and Dean Ing have wonderful books about survival which any survivalist can appreciate, even when they are set in futures and planets that never existed).

If you have access to a high-volume printer you should visit Project Gutenberg it is one of the largest collections of public domain writings in the world with over 19,000 works on just about every subject imaginable available for free downloading (P.S. I understand that Xerox copies will last much longer than most computer printer copies).

Don’t forget pencils (better than pens over the years and cheaper in bulk), paper, erasers, protractors, rulers, notebooks and other supplies for education, record keeping, drafting and planning.

Always get the best tools you can afford for yourself, but always remember that a mediocre tool is better than no tool at all.

Socket sets, pocket multi-tools, wrench sets, drill bits, chisels (wood and metal working), bit-and-brace, hand drills (manual), files, Allen wrenches, screwdrivers, driver bits (with manual drivers), cutters (side-cutters, end-cutters, snips), bunches of clamps, hammers (of all sizes), pry-bars, shovels, rakes (the heavy gardening type), hoes, sickles, scythes, handsaws (hacksaws, crosscuts, etc.), axes, and just about anything else you can think of. Don’t forget specialty tools either, eye-glass repair kits are cheap, watch making and gunsmithing tools can often be obtained on eBay and others places and even if you can’t use them others might and you can trade them for training or just future work.

Don’t forget things like oil and grease for maintaining and storing your tools. A few gallons of WD-40, light machine oil or big tubs of quality grease (I prefer graphite grease) will be incredibly valuable in a post-petroleum society.

I used to disregard knives as barter items, as I come from a family where no man was dressed without his pocketknife and just about any other knife you could wish for was in a drawer somewhere, but alas, most people today have little more than some plastic-handled Chinese kitchen knives.

Anza Knives has some of the least expensive and best custom knives you will find anywhere, I’ve owned and used them for years and I highly recommend them, both for you and for trade. From 1” skinners to big kitchen knives these fixed blades will outlast your grandkids. The one issue I have is the high-carbon blades then to rust at the slightest excuse, coat them with DuraCoat (see, guns and ammo).

For folding knives (as well as fixed blades for those with good skills) go see, I’ve gotten several of their folder kits to give out as Christmas presents and everyone has liked them. All you really need is some Torx bit drivers to put them together but if you wish [with a buffing wheel] you can pimp these puppies into some real nice keepsakes. Knife kits also sells tools and supplies for working on projects like these.

Don’t forget about making your own blades from scratch either, big lawn mower blades make great machetes and would no doubt work for plow blades, and steel blanks of D2, 1095, A2 and other excellent blade steels can be gotten at reasonable cost today but will be unobtainable in the post-collapse era. Don’t forget sharpening supplies, I get Laskey-type sharpeners as well as diamond hones (rod and flat style) from an industrial supply company near my home for less than normal retail. I would also mention that I recommend using peanut oil (not vegetable oil which will go rancid) on knives as many mineral oils will contaminate the blade and make it unsuitable for cutting anything you plan to eat.

Don’t forget razor knives, utility knives, and razor blades.

This has been one of my personal bug-a-boos since I first read Pat Frank’s classic survivalist book “Alas Babylon”. I have noticed that most survivalists tend to buy huge amounts of waterproof and strike-anywhere matches as well as fire-starters like ‘Blast-Match’, which is fine, keep them for yourself (especially as new strike-anywhere types go dead after six months). For trading I buy cheap disposable lighters and book matches as well as wicks and flints for Zippo lighters. In fact I have several cheap plastic matchboxes (pseudo-military style) filled with 150 flints, 3 wicks and 3 huge cosmetic cotton-balls (for repacking the lighters) as Zippo support kits. I have a half-dozen or so Zippos I’ve picked up at yards sales over the years, which I plan to trade as I have three new-in-box for my use, along with the one in my pocket. P.S. If you switch from fluid to gasoline (or vice-versa) in a Zippo, you must repack the cotton filling.

Don’t buy candles, most candles are made for pretty, not for light and “Survival” candles are more expensive though generally not much better. Instead, get some pure cotton string a little thicker than a tea-bag string (which I actually use for my survival kit candles), bulk paraffin wax and get some plastic cigar tubes (I’ve also used narrow plastic bottles, but be sure that all the previous contents are cleaned out). Drill a hole in the tip a little bigger than your wick and run the wick through and tie it to a pencil or stick and then tie the other end in a knot (which will mostly seal off your hole). You should spritz the inside with non-stick cooking spray (or vegetable oil and a spray bottle) to keep the wax from sticking and then pour in your melted wax. I use a coffee-can 1/3 full of water and about 1?2 full of wax to keep from messing up a cooking pot and to keep the wax from burning. I use a plastic measuring cup to dip out my wax. This will work with beeswax as well.

I also have bought a bunch of cheap LED flashlights (the batteries last longer than standard bulb flashlights), lamp wicks and flashlight bulbs. I looking for the price to come down on the new magnet powered flashlights too, these would be useful when the batteries go bye-bye.

Inexpensive UV protective sunglasses (especially for those blue-eyed, blonde types who tend to get cataracts), dime-store reading glasses (make sure to write the Rx number on the case), safety glasses and welding glasses will all be good items for trade. I myself have gotten several pairs of Gargoyles and Oakleys at yard sales which I paid to have factory refinished for far less than the retail price.

I buy used work uniforms from an industrial surplus house in my area, these are excellent work clothes and the material is much like military BDUs. I’ve bought pants and shirt sets for under $5, and they sell painter’s smocks (I dyed one brown and made my ghillie suit with it and a pair of the pants), jump suits, hats, gloves and winter coats and boots.

I also buy socks and underwear (irregulars can be gotten very cheap), handkerchiefs, patch material, sewing needles (get a variety of sizes, so-called ‘Doll’ needles work for leather work), boot and shoe laces, snaps and snap tools, buttons, thread, straight pins, tailors chalk, and sewing machine needles (older model electric machines with the manual knobs could be converted to foot treadles). While you are at it you might find irregular pantyhose and knee-highs, they make excellent strainers, the reduce chafing when riding on horseback (an equestrian I know told me that one) and if you are prone to leg swelling they help with that too.


Stick to the non-perishables for trade. Bandages, hot water bottles (with attachments) sterile pads, slings, splints, support bandages, tweezers, hemostats, sutures and suture needles, clamps, stethoscopes, blood-pressure cuffs, thermometers, scalpels and blades, and non-disposable syringes and needles. Iodine, aloe, mercurochrome, betadine, “Bag Balm” (an antiseptic lotion), dental floss (use baking soda instead of toothpaste) and such could be stored in quantity as well. And don’t forget the feminine hygiene products, nothing says I love you to the womenfolk like a couple cases of these puppies, plus tampons can be used to pack wounds and pads make good dressings (and nifty padding for pack straps). Once again, just because you can’t use an item doesn’t mean others won’t be able too.

Batteries (buy brand names in the big ‘Industrial’ packs and/or rechargeable ones, keep the charger yourself and trade live for dead), belt buckles, pots and pans, buckets, mops and mop heads, Pyrex measuring cups, measuring spoons, metal mixing bowls, baking sheets, roasting pans, pressure cookers (good for sterilizing as well as cooking), bread and cake pans, candy thermometers, cleaning brushes (various, with both natural and artificial bristles not to mention metal brushes), canning jars with seals and lids (lots and lots of seals and lids) as well as canning baskets and pots, mechanical watches (I wear an Invicta Model 8926 myself), baby food jars (excellent for storage), thermos bottles, can openers (a bucket load of military key ring “P-38” can openers will only cost a few bucks), potato peelers, tooth brushes, spray bottles, et cetera.

I could go on, but I think you have a good start here. The main thing is to think about what people use everyday that they won’t have in a post-collapse world and either get some of them now, or figure out a replacement. Check the Internet, check the phonebook and the newspapers, find the outlet and surplus stores in your area, get on mailing lists, and most of all shop! Don’t just dash in and out, go in and look around and think about what can be useful. Remember your first and best resource is that thing behind your ears, use it often and well.