Acquiring Hand Tools, by Calvinist Cadet in Washington

Primitive tasks require primitive tools.  When endeavoring to prepare for an extended grid-down or without rule of law scenario one would do well to have on hand a ready mix of equipment and supplies which can meet the challenges requisite to providing for basic needs.  Would-be survivalists often point to hypothetical situations when which they would gather water from some nearby source and make fire within there hastily crafted shelter beside their tilled, loamy garden bed, while butchering game, harvested casually in some illusionary, post-apocalyptic, Shangri-la. Without primitive or pioneer type tools, basic human functions can become impossible.  A simple and comfortable pail may some day be a family’s life line.  An axe could be the only tool available with which to harness heat energy or make shelter.  An old and worn kitchen knife the only butchering tool. 

A preparedness mindset requires that we take advantage of the readily available resources of today and the pioneering knowledge and techniques of yesterday to ready ourselves for a return to the austere conditions our luxurious technologies have over come.  Today, we can walk the “Lawn and Garden” aisle of a local hardware store and for a couple hundred fleeting U.S. Dollars acquire enough tools to provide for many of our needs.  Some day soon we may wish we had laid up some of these basic tools.  You have an axe, but do you have a maul and wedge?  Do you have a froe and mallet (used for making shakes and squaring timbers)?  Have you a stone on which to grind your axe or froe or maul.  You have a saw, but what kind?  Is it a large cross-cut for felling trees, can it cut through metal, remove the head of an elk?  A man needs several types of saws for doing these relevant survival tasks. 

People of today have Honda powered garden cultivators to make short work of the backyard garden patch.  Now imagine clearing and amending a vegetable patch larger than your entire yard in order to feed your family some staples.  And if you manage to clear this area of turf and weeds and rocks enough to support seed plants you must now weed and aerate and irrigate and fertilize and harvest this vast stretch of ground with the tools you had in your garage.  So you have a spade, do you have a MacLeod (a cross between rake and pick used for ground clearing, trail building and fire line), a Pulaski, a mattock, a turf spade, a stirrup hoe, a sling blade, a pitch fork, a grain scoop?  These are just a few of the necessary hand tools which were common on every homestead, even seventy years ago.  Go back a few hundred more years and the very same tools were also the only weapons on the farm.  Take inventory now, acquire what you will need , start using these tools and techniques, harden your hands and backs.  Ready yourself mentally, physically and materially for what may lay ahead. 

Do you have a sturdy watering can? You’ll need one that will not clog or crack if left in the cold.  How about your series of rain barrels from which to draw and water your crops.  Now, we just move the hose and sprinkler around, twist the faucet, and believe our electric well pumps or worse, municipal water will flow and flow and flow.  How many barrels do you have in your garage, are you equipped to catch the rain or snowmelt from your roof.  Could you build an elevated (tower) type catchment system which could irrigate a broad expanse, without electricity and with the tools and lumber you have on hand?   Planning on moving timbers for firewood or building structures, make sure you have a peavey (log handling) and a block and tackle to gain mechanical advantage.  With regard to harvesting timber, we currently lean heavily on our two stroke chainsaws.  I know I do, we run a side business selling firewood from our retreat, ensuring that we always have at least ten cords on hand and continue to perfect local, low tech harvesting and processing methods.  Properly viewed a good chainsaw is a pioneer type tool.  The simple two-stroke motor has no circuit boards which will fail in an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) emergency.  I would assert that if you have limited fuel storage capabilities, you store premium, non-ethanol gasoline, mixed with a high grade two-stroke oil.  We have been able to start and run old Stihl two-stroke equipment which sat for years with a 50:1 mixture of Stihl oil and premium non-ethanol, 93 octane gasoline.  This oil has a stabilizing ingredient in it, and non-ethanol gasoline is much better for long term storage than the Al Gore alternative of  “corn gas” which can gum up or go stale in under six months.  If this approach were embraced, a whole other essay could be composed on which two-stroke tools to acquire. 

Imagine being able to barter your ability to fall and buck your neighbors timber or run a two stroke cultivator through his lawn to save hours of shovel work turning a lawn into a garden.  The two-stroke concept aside and returning to the basic premise of primitive, non-electric hand tools for pioneering chores.  The notion of bartering your services with these tools and techniques is strong.  In the past, neighbors and churches got together to clear a field or build a barn.  The Amish still cooperate around shared pieces of equipment and tools. [JWR Adds: As I’ve mentioned in my book and blog, I consider small bottles of 2-cycle fuel mixing oil ideal to keep on hand for barter. This has several advantages: compact, lightweight, pre-measured, long storage life, readily recognizable, wide appeal, likely scarcity, et cetera.]

Imagine the mission field of  folks who can’t do for themselves, but you show up with a unique tool or ability and exhibit beautiful Christian charity by lending a hand or tool.  If the idea of now starting to accumulate all of the tools you may need is daunting, incorporate conversations with your group or family or church friends.  Find out how your equipment compliments that of others you will depend on in emergencies or after a collapse.  These are the tangibles that Mr. Rawles has been advocating we as preppers shift our investment portfolios into.  Financial resources put into these pieces of equipment will benefit you tremendously even during peaceful and prosperous times.  The ability to improve your home, retreat or garden.  The spiritual and physical benefits of working with your hands and getting a bit dirty.  Learning processes that can provide for your own needs and passing them on to children and friends, preserving the knowledge of the old way of doing things.  Every task that was previously performed with the assistance of electricity or electronic modules can and should be re-thought.  Mr. Rawles has strongly advocated that every prepper have at least one vehicle manufactured decades ago, which has no crucial circuitry that is microprocessor-based. I currently use my 2005 four wheel drive pick up truck every day.  Were an EMP event to occur or my fuel supplies run out, I would have to revert to man and beast for my hauling and skidding.  How hard is it now to acquire a more primitive vehicle and get it into reliable condition.  The late 1960s vehicles from the novel “Patriots” comes to mind, how I wish I hadn’t sold my old Toyota long bed four wheel drive years ago. 

Those individuals with stock animals capable of load work and the accompanying tack and gear will be so much better off.  A mule, donkey, draft horse or ox will be prized so much higher than the show horses and warm bloods which are the status symbols of today’s equine societies.  If you are a suburban or home based prepper be sure you have one or more sturdy wheel barrows, carts or sleds.  Put away a bicycle pump for airing up the tires when you can’t just run over to the filling station to air up a flat garden cart tire in the spring.  Anything you do not have for survival after TEOTWAWKI will have to be made, grown, harvested, scavenged, bought or bartered.  Hammers, pliers, pullers, bits and augers, it is almost unfathomable what we take for granted or do not use anymore do to the readily available, chinese made, disposable items we use to sustain our every day comforts and needs.  We can go online to “Harbor Freight” for the disposable equivalent of power tools.  Dig a little deeper, we currently have many resources for finding the older, US made tools which continue to ably do the job they were made for.  Pawn shops, Craigslist, garage sales, and even scrap yards can hold tools and equipment that today’s consumers don’t know the value of.  A wash tub and washboard for clothes cleaning.  Hand pumping well head and an inventory of piping or trough.  Simple mechanical farm equipment like plows and threshers.  A drilling brace will enable you to drill holes if your electric drill is useless.  How many pounds of nails, screws, spikes or pegs have you put up?  Centuries ago, whole structures would sometimes be burned to the ground that the nails which held them together could be gathered up and reused. 

Remember all of those old wood working tools that grandfather had and used, in an austere environment? And those primitive files and chisels and planers will be invaluable.  In the fields, rakes and shovels and picks of all manner and styles will be used and broken, then mended or augmented to get the many tasks accomplished.  Leather working and sewing, hide skinning and tanning, water gathering, shelter building and repair, gunsmithing and reloading, farming, silage harvesting, hauling, candle and soap making, all of these necessary tasks require specialty tools to complete and in the absence of readily available grid power become especially daunting.  As we ready our retreats, homes and farms for come-what-may, we must put on an attitude of confident can-do. 

Consider, realistically what it will take to provide true necessities and keep the homestead going.  When focusing on beans, bullets, band-aids and boomsticks, do yourself, your family and community a favor and also prepare for the basic and historical tasks of a more primitive existence.  God Bless the SurvivalBlog community as we hope for the Savior’s return but prepare for the worst.  The tools and concepts I have referenced only scratch the surface of what one day might be required, I look forward to letters and lists from this community to thread together a strong resource for those just beginning or learning about self sufficiency.