Construction Without Electricity, by Curtis M.

I watched the second episode of the [reality television show] The Colony, [that is currently airing on The Discovery Channel]. I found one part of it especially idiotic. They had a bank of automobile batteries for electrical power [to power an AC inverter.]s They did not have a way to charge the batteries yet, and they were still using a circular saw and a Sawzall to construct different things, among them was using a Sawzall to cut tread out of tires for shoes. They were building some thing out of plywood and they were cutting the plywood with the circular saw. All jobs that could be done with a handsaw, the tires are best cut with a hack saw. I remember back when I entered the work force, I worked for my father in construction. The circular saw had just taken hold but mainly they used hand tools in construction. I can remember using a hand saw till I thought my arm was going to fall off. It was not that circular saws were not around, they were, but cost so much that labor was cheaper. I can remember visiting jobs that my father was on and seeing several men using a ripping hand saw to rip 2x6s and 2x10s. Could you recognize a ripping hand saw if you saw one? They have fewer teeth per inch than a cross cut. A cross cut saw can be used to make a rip cut, but it will be slower. Ripping is where you cut with the grain of the wood. I remember my father’s carpenter’s tool box. It contained three hand saws; one cross cut, one rip saw and a cross cut that came to a point instead of being blunt, two planes, one door plane (large) and a pocket plane, a set of wood chisels, a plumb bob, a framing square and a nail set. There was also a tape measure and a folding carpenter ruler–it was an 8-footer. He also had a 16 oz carpenter’s hammer and a roofing hatchet and a brace and bit. How many people know what a brace and bit are? It is a hand drill used mainly for wood. (But with the right bit metal is not out of the question, it also depends how much labor you are willing to do.)

Seeing this episode of The Colony got me to thinking about hand tools and the fact that when TSHTF there will probably not be any electricity. Having experience using hand tools and a system of cordless power tools to use in an emergency would be a good thing.  My favorite cordless power tools are Dewalt brand, specifically the [later variety with the] 18 volt battery. I checked the Dewalt web site and found 47 18-volt tools with a few duplicates. Dewalt makes a battery charger that runs on 12 volt DC current. I have a portable battery pack that can jump a car’s battery or run 12 volt devices i.e. Dewalt 12 volt DC charger. I can charge two 18 volt batteries before charging the battery pack. The battery pack can be charged by a variety of ways. Bicycle power or photovoltaics or a generator, or plug it into my truck. Currently I have a Dewalt drill, circular saw, Sawzall, and two lamps. Hand tools are two hand saws (cross cut), a set of chisels, framing square, speed square (smaller), a set of mechanics tools, assorted files, draw knife, three hand axes, key hole saw, a set of duct tools (to make air conditioning ducts) assorted clamps, saw horses, and several utility knives. Tools that I want to acquire are a good brace and bit with bits, a one man cross cut saw for cutting trees, and wood planes.   
Another power source is air-powered equipment. The bicycle [frame] that runs an alternator could also be used to propel an air compressor. I know that there are drills and sanders, nail guns, and water pumps that are air powered by air. I think that a person could have both air powered and cordless equipment and use the best equipment for the job at hand. As shown in The Colony, having an old lawnmower around could be a power source by removing the lawnmowers blade and putting in a pulley and belt to run an alternator and an air compressor and tank. The lawnmower could provide two power sources, electricity to power cordless and air for air powered equipment. Most lawnmowers will run on Coleman fuel. Coleman fuel has a longer shelf life than standard gasoline. By having a lawnmower that runs on Coleman fuel, and supply of Coleman fuel, and using it to keep your cordless batteries charged up you could extend your supply of other fuels. Also the lawnmower is a simple engine that could be run on wood gasification. Now you have a power source of almost endless power; as long as you have wood you have a power source. [JWR Adds: Coleman fuel is quite expensive per gallon. In my opinion, if your goal is battery charging, the same funds that you’d use to buy a generator and Coleman fuel would be much better spent on photovoltaic panels. Well-sealed ones can remain serviceable for decades, and of course there is no expense for fuel, or worry about running out of it.  Gasification  is not very reliable, and of course you are still dependent on an engine with a limited service life.]                              
Most old hand tools can be salvaged. Old hand saws that have some rust on them can be oiled and scrubbed with steel wool and sharpened and returned to service. The same with old chisels for either wood or metal. Hammer heads can have there handles replaced. Old shovels can have there handles replaced. Same with axes, sledge hammers, picks. This can build a group of tools to use, at the same time saving money. Places to find old tools are Goodwill [thrift stores], pawn shops, and recycling centers.
As long as we are talking about salvage, here is a story from 30 years ago: One Friday while working for my father put me to cleaning up lumber, 2x4s and 2x6s. He gave me an old paint can and told me to save all the nails I pulled from the lumber. This was a large pile of lumber. I remember almost filling the can with 16 and 8 penny nails. Then on Saturday morning he woke me up early for a Saturday and we went to our hog farm. When I got in the truck I saw a couple of saw horses and the can of nails. First thing he put me to doing was straightening out the nails and we worked on the feed room using salvaged lumber and nails. Almost anything can be reused!
I can not tell you what you need for tools. I would think this list is a good starting point; a couple of handsaws, a couple of hammers, set of chisels, brace and bit and drill bits, mechanic’s tool set, sledge hammer, framing square, straight edge, a couple of wood planes, cordless tools, a DC charger for the aforementioned cordless tools, and a couple of heavy duty jacks. Of course you’d also need a couple of shovels, pick, post hole digger and gardening tools. I think this would be a good start. I know that not every one will have the needed construction experience to use said tools but each group needs some one that has construction experience, that way you have a lead person on construction or repair/remodel project. Side bar: a great place to pick up hand tools is eBay.
If you do not have construction experience you feel you need then build a library of books on construction. This will give you the basics, but a better solution is to volunteer at Habitat for Humanity. A couple hundred hours spent helping build some one a home will go a long way. If you belong to a church or other place of worship volunteer when a building or remodeling project comes up, as I have. The other way to get experience is to check out your local community college and take a couple of courses in construction.
I remember going to a family reunion and seeing a table that my grandfather built. I was told that he built it with hand tools and that he did not use nails. The table was 80 years old when I looked at it. He did an excellent job. The joints were tight, and the table was in good condition. You could tell it was put together by someone who knew what he was doing. I wonder how much I have built will still be around in 80 years. Having a tool box filled with hand tools and experience with said tools could be vitally important when the electrical power go’s off line. Having other ways to generate electricity will also be important.