Useless and Useful TEOTWAWKI Skills, by Pete Thorsen

Survivalists prepare for many different things and prepare in many different ways. The two most popular subjects of prepping are food preps and security preps. Sometimes the subject of skills comes up. Often the skills discussed center around bugging out. Skills like bushcraft, shelter building, the ever-popular fire starting, and sometimes navigation but these are more for bugging out and temporary stays in some wilderness area. And those are valid skills that could certainly be useful.


This article is about both useless and useful skills for a long term SHTF situation, or maybe in a TEOTWAWKI situation. The useful skills could be broken down into survival skills or skills that could be used for bartering, with some overlap. Most of the survival skills, in this case, would be centered around food. Food gathering, food growing, food harvesting, and food storage.

Hunting would be one such skill. Only around ten percent of the population has hunting experience. The other ninety percent likely does not possess the skills needed for hunting. Hunting would be for your own survival for meat gathering or possibly used for bartering the butchered meat. I would count hunting as a useful skill. At the beginning of a SHTF situation hunting could be accomplished using mostly luck but after the dumb animals were dispatched then considerable hunting skill would be required.

Foraging for wild edibles would be a very good survival skill but would likely have limited value as a bartering skill. This skill could be expanded into home medicine and include the gathering and processing of wild medicinal plants. That could be an excellent survival and barterable skill.

Gardening Skills

Knowing how to grow a garden then knowing how to can or dry, or otherwise process the garden produce would just about be a required skill for everyone in a dire long-term situation. In that type of situation, food sourcing would take up a large portion of everyone’s time and labor. Food would tower above everything else for a long time before things settled down and food would start to be something that could be bought or bartered for to keep someone that did not have a green thumb alive.

Having the skill to build solar ovens and solar dehydrators would be very useful I would think and the finished products would likely be in demand and could be bartered away for other needed items.

If you had steady access to the raw materials then cheese making, bread making, jerking/smoking meats, making booze or beer/ale, making vinegar, and making maple syrup would all be skills that would produce valuable trade items.


Only after most people had the food situation well in hand would other skills become valuable. Often it is recommended to be skilled in blacksmithing but I wonder if this skill while handy would ever be barterable. Maybe eventually. But for a long time, all of the manufactured goods that we have now could be used or scavenged. Plus just like in the old days most farmers/ranchers did most of their own blacksmithing, mainly out of necessity. If you had an anvil and a hammer the forge could be made and wood could be used as the fuel. In a pinch, many things could be done just using a simple wood fire or a wood stove to heat the metal. Blacksmithing is not rocket science. Most people learn quickly after a few mistakes.

I could see soap making being a valuable skill but only if you knew how to make soap from available ingredients. Knowing how to make your lye and then use that lye to make usable soap. Many people now make their own soaps but usually they just start with basic soap and add ingredients to it.  Soap would be vital for everyone in a bad long-term situation to prevent diseases and infections. So, yes, this would be a valuable skill.

Sewing–along with leatherworking and tanning–would be useful and maybe at some point barterable skills. Our clothes would wear out eventually though for some time clothes could be found and/or bartered for. [JWR’s Comment: Just as with other manufactured goods, the larger the population die-off in TEOTWAWKI, then the larger the pool of available goods. In an economic depression with minimal loss of life, there will be fewer manufactured goods available than if there were a severe grid-down economic collapse, with a subsequent 30% to 80% population die-off.]

Candle making is often talked about as a good skill for end times. But unless you had many beehives and could source your own beeswax I’m not sure how viable a skill candle making really would be for end times. Paraffin wax would not be something you could make yourself. You could use natural things like animal fats or tallow for candles. But overall I would count candle making as a rather useless skill.

Flint-Knapping: Not

Many often talk about flint knapping as a very good end times skill to possess. I really disagree with this opinion. In the end times, we will never run out of metal which almost anyone could shape into a viable arrowhead. The reason we now use steel arrowheads is that they are less fragile than knapped obsidian heads. So in my opinion flint knapping would be mostly a useless skill in TEOTWAWKI situation. Arrow making might possibly be a good skill but honestly guns are better. And in America there are hundreds of millions of guns and billions of rounds of ammunition. That would last a long time.

The skill of making black powder could be a useful and barterable skill. The black powder could be used for blasting and for use in many firearms. The ingredients for making black powder can be made at home. Usually, black powder has three ingredients but the sulfur can be left out of the mix and you still end up with useful powder.

Pottery: Not

Sometimes pottery making is listed as a great end times skill. I actually consider this to be a useless skill due to the fact that America is full of billions of factory-made containers of all sizes, shapes, and materials. Just think of all the food cans you are going to empty when you eat up all that food you have stored. Most houses are full of containers or you can just take a short walk down any highway or roadway and pick up many different containers from the roadside ditch. No, I think pottery will be the last thing people want during end times.

Gunsmithing is often touted as the perfect skill for end times. I am not so sure. Again I point to the fact there are hundreds of millions of guns in the United States now and after TEOTWAWKI there will be far fewer people to the point where there might be enough guns so every living man, woman, and child could own several. Without electricity, modern gunsmithing will suffer greatly. You can only do so much with a screwdriver and a couple of files. Though if someone had a lot of assorted gun parts [and bar stock, springs stock, screw blanks with heads, threaded stock] and some broken scavenged guns for additional parts, then you could repair some guns. I have made gun parts from scratch and I often used files for some final finishing. But first I used a metal lathe and/or sometimes a milling machine along with hand-held electric tools. I have often thought about making a small treadle-powered lathe like were used in times past. But so far that project is still on the back burner.

Medical and Dental Skills

Medical skills would valuable. Setting broken bones, stitching up cuts, delivering babies, and pulling teeth would always be needed by members of a community. Couple the medical skill with homegrown herbal medicines and you could have your own hospital or clinic.

Keep in mind if things ever did go really bad that every survivor would likely quickly learn many formerly unknown-to-them skills, or they would likely just die. Some skills would require special tools and equipment that would be way easier to acquire now during good times–rather than after things hit bottom. So learning skills now and buying (or making) the tools and equipment along with at least getting some of any needed raw materials now would be the wise approach.

A DIY World

For many things, everyone is going to have to do those things for themselves. There will be no more calling the plumber or hiring a builder. When something breaks then you will have to fix it. If you want to expand your chicken coop then you will have to build it. If your sewer drain quits draining then you will have to repair it. When the knees in your pants get holes in them then you will have to sew on the patches.

And so it will be with almost everything that happens at your place. And everyone will have to think-outside-the-box because available materials will be reduced to mostly what you have on hand. Or you will have to scavenge something from the surrounding area that you can make work to fix what needs fixing. In the Great Depression, people threw almost nothing away, because they re-used and re-purposed everything. Back then empty tin cans found many uses. Everything from sealing up mouse holes in the wall to patching a leak in the roof.

Even now one of those #10 cans that you have long term storage food in could be transformed into a rocket stove if you added a smaller can to the bottom on one side. Ta-da! An instant rocket stove. This is just one minor example of things that might have to be done during bad times.

With unlimited information at your fingertips, now is the time to investigate and learn countless valuable skills and acquire needed tools and at least some of the raw materials.

We are presently living in a time of plenty. But at some point in the future that will likely change. Prepare now!










  1. Blacksmith

    The goods to be scavenged Maybe there, but are these the goods you Need?


    does not´ve an indefinite shelf life and even if clothes are in abundance doesn´t necessarily means they fit

    1. you need a replacement part to do X over Y, and fit in a spot what is aXb witha bolt at c

      you scavengened and found a part from the next years model, it also does X over Y, but it fits in a axb’ frame, with no bolt

      Ive actually had this happen to me, at one point in CA I bought a 12+ year old used car that had a bad tensioner pulley for the single serpentine belt, I had to replace the single belt for $60-$80 a time and pull over when it started getting warm ’cause the water pump wasn’t running well at low pressure due to the belt slippage…

      a new pully would’ve run me over 600.
      I found out through junkyards, the year-make before mine was a completely different 3 belt system, the year-make after mine was all over, but they changed the way the pulley was attached…

      I couldn’t find that one year, but I made do with one 4 years later, by knowing someone through the local gathering place that was a machinist, and asking him to grind off this 1/2″ of metal…

      I had been previously trained as a blacksmith…when I moved to Wisconsin, I was the only non-Amish blacksmith, and while I still wouldnt take a job on Sunday except life or limb emergencies, I had a bunch of business…

      Now that I’m back in the country, I use my blacksmithing a little more…

  2. Some folks have a real knack for kludging odd things into useful repairs. Don’t underestimate the redneck blacksmith who knows how to build a wood gas powered welder.

    Salvaging items can be a real dangerous hobby. Sanitation will be a very useful skill post SHTF as a poorly handled outhouse can destroy good wells as well as surface water. People who starved to death might have died from a disease that you might not want to wear their shoes.

    I respectfully disagree that knowing how to do pottery from river bank clay to finished pot as not useful. Sanitation post SHTF includes not getting disease, chemical or food poisoning from reusing containers found among the dead. Fermented foods like kimchee or pickles in general is a critical skill in preserving the hard work of gardening and actually improves the nutrition of the foods.

  3. Pete, I appreciate your writing here, but it is almost too general to say anything meaningful. Have you considered rather than generalizing all of these concepts, to pick one and go in to more detail on that?

    What I mean is, when you say “Arrow making might possibly be a good skill but honestly guns are better.” This is certainly true is certain contexts, but do you know how to make an arrow? Do you know how to take a piece of wood that is curved and straighten it out over a fire? Doing so isn’t just useful for making arrows.

    Your focus on skills really focuses on a particular time period and the technologies available for that time, while betting on potentially finding what you need in the future.

    The most difficult thing to find in nature is a way to hold water. As such, pottery is not my thing, nor have I done it, but there are other ways to make items that hold water, and doing so, IMO, is one of the foundations to any discussion on survival skills. Can you find other containers? Sure. But, you can also make them and knowing how to do so provides a sense of security so that you are not in a survival situation, but rather a situation in which you are thriving.

  4. The skills I have found most useful are (ranked in order of importance)
    Medical & dental first aid & secondary treatment
    Food growing/ harvesting/ preserving & cooking
    Scavenging and repurposing materials/ items & equipment
    (i.e. a water or bicycle driven generator)
    Mechanical / electrical repair of equipment
    ( mechanical/ cutting/ welding/ fabrication & repair, electrical & hydraulics of the home & machinery)

    To me all of the above in some way encompass and support each other, and using salvaged supply that others are incapable of seeing the value in, or not knowing what to look for in the first place, the possibilities are nearly unlimited ( with the exception of pharmaceutical produced medication)

  5. Obviously your not a gunsmith, old school ones can even use a foot operating lathe if needed. Its how to use the files is what’s important. A person who can mount a scope correctly would be a asset even. I agree with most the other opinions.

    1. “Obviously your not a gunsmith, old school ones can even use a foot operating lathe if needed. Its how to use the files is what’s important. A person who can mount a scope correctly would be a asset even. I agree with most the other opinions.”

      Actually I was a gunsmith for many years. The last five years or so I specialized in early cartridge guns. I have also made a few guns from scratch (except for re-purposed barrels). In end times I feel my gunsmithing skills to be of little real value.
      I actually bought a small lathe with the plan of transforming it into a treadle lathe but that plan got put on the back shelf. I do still have my regular lathe and milling machine and a generator that will run them.
      If there ever is an end-of-civilization event, food will certainly be the main thing. Our lives will revolve on getting food and storing food. I cannot stress that enough. Honestly I am not sure myself and my family are up to that challenge (the six elk in my back yard this morning would help though).

    1. Very good point. But like JWR says above after a large part of the population is dead there are lots of items to salvage. Though if the end was caused by a full nuclear exchange then many large cities full of stores and warehouses could be either destroyed or too “hot” to enter.
      Like I said above leather workers-tanners would have a barter-able skill. I would expect a resurgence of saddle makers too along with people who could break horses, horse breeders, etc.

  6. Amen on the shoes, boots, socks, extreme cold weather clothing and other things never studied or talked about. I have been buying all of these for 25 years and if properly packed and sealed in bags away from sunlight the boots and rugged wear will last several lifetimes. I have my parents hunting clothes and some are 60 years old and still in great shape and that includes deer skin jackets and gloves if properly packed and cared for. I am often laughed at for spending so much time acquiring and storing things. I expect to barter a days work for a pair of winter socks along with other items.

    1. Loved your comments. Refreshing to see someone thinks like I do. Also, imo, new underwear is both a hygiene necessity and a psychological booster for anyone arriving to BOL w/nothing.
      Please expland further on proper storage methods. Thanks so much. Krissy

    2. My wife thinks I have some weird wool blanket fetish. I literally have a blanket chest full of wool army blankets and one very nice Hudson Bay blanket and a aviator’s kit bag full of more wool army blankets. I tell her when the heat doesn’t work (we have at least 4 ways to heat our home) she’ll be glad we have those blankets. But if she caught me buying another I might need it to sleep outside.

      We live in Northwester PA and we get lots of snow (Lake Effect). A good supply of quality cold weather gear is a normal requirement. I have 2 duffle bags full of just military cold weather gear such as the fish tail cold weather parkas and liners. Besides the clothes snow shoes and ski’s are a must too at times. The heat and humidity won’t kill us here but the cold in a post-TEOTWAWKI will be a major contender if we don’t get enough wood in.

      1. If you do have to sleep outside, you will be warm with your wool blankets!

        Seriously though, IMO, there is nothing better than wool when it gets real cold. Especially if you get wet. I used to wear wool shirts when I milked cows in Southern Idaho in the winter. I had a tendency to get wet while cleaning 350 udders and when you chase cows out of the corrals in freezing weather with wet shirt sleeves that wool is pretty nice.

        And I love military wool blankets too.

  7. Based on my experience, the ‘most valuable’ skill is getting along with folks.

    Nobody needs another administrator or manager.
    Everybody needs human company.
    Building and maintaining tribe is clearly Point Number One.

    I have maybe a dozen trustable folks. This’s good.
    Most of them are geezers. Long-term, this’s not so good.

    * * * * *

    *** The job of FEMA is managing and administering federal emergencies.
    *** The point of Continuity Of Government Agents (COGA) is managing and administering More Of The Same (MOTS)… based on a vaporous belief Everything Will Stay Like It Is (EWSLII) aka Normalcy Bias.

    The much-touted ‘die-off’ starts with crowds, and continues with crowds.
    I think the ‘key’ to prevailing is that balance between crowds and tribe.

  8. The 3-part article “Post-TEOTWAWKI: Groups and Retreats, by E.M.” lays out very well some of the problems with joining or starting a group of any kind. To me family are the only ones I would put all my trust in. I am blessed with very good neighbors here and I have no doubts about us helping each other during any bad times. But they will not be living in my house.
    No one can know what is in the heart of another. You can “know” someone for years and then find out some evil about them that you can hardly believe. Stuff like that happens all too often. It is often said that bad times bring out the best in people and unfortunately the opposite is also true where it brings out the worst.

  9. I agree with MuddyKid and WingfootJr. While of the key things to know are included, the article should be expanded to a HOW TO DO format. I”ve noticed a lot more “generalized” postings here. I like well thought out step by step articles for several reasons:
    1) it instills the confidence the author knows what they are talking about, and probably have done it.
    2) it lists the necessary parts, skills, and procedures to accomplish the goal.

    I strongly agree with the ending paragraph. We are Preppers and we need to prepare first, ahead of the possible events we anticipate. SURVIVAL is the number one goal, and being skilled makes it easier. Bartering is easier when you have skills also.

  10. Your article was a pretty good overview, but I do disagree on a few of your points. Mainly on the usefulness of hunting. Relying on hunting after any major calamity would be like using gambling as your retirement plan. I cant speak for your area but at least in my neck of the woods everybody and their momma hunts; even the desk jockies. The animals simply don’t have a chance.
    It would be much more beneficial to learn how to raise your own animals for food
    and/or barter. Although I will concede that tracking and game stalking skills can come in handy as well.

    1. Jim K. – for me, the hunting aspect is one place where I always agree with Pete’s articles. I have attempted to help people see a different point of view about hunting before on Sblog. Doing so at length here again is not useful.

      However, I do think hunting is a complex topic that most people reduce to deer or larger animals. This is done because it is easy to do and it reduces deer hunting to a game. Hence, a game animal.

      There is an ideology aspect to hunting that is as old as the printing press in which those in a position of authority have been repeating the same narrative for so long that it just seems right and familiar. This is most commonly associated with Malthus, but aspects of it are much older. In my opinion, hunting is absolutely a viable option for a number of reasons, one in which is…hunting became regulated early in government histories to tax people.

      I know many here do want to rely on hunting, and I want to thank them for that. Let us see if we can get the comments up to 50 with this hunting stuff. 😉

    2. I believe hunting will always be viable, at least to some extent. Protein will be needed by everyone. Right now many people shoot doves but many other birds are of a similar size though they are all currently protected. Many birds are migratory so you could get birds in your area that grew up hundreds of miles away.
      JWR does have an article I wrote that deals completely with game populations in an end-of-the-world situation. Though in many cases local spots might be picked clean while other spots still have many wild critters.
      Raising livestock has always been a viable endeavor for many centuries. In more populated areas keeping your livestock safe could likely be a real issue. Larger livestock like cows and horses require large grazing areas and you would likely also need separate hay growing areas.
      Smaller livestock would obviously need smaller areas in which to grow. Plans would have to made ahead of time for livestock. Even for chickens you would need to grow feed for them. It all takes prior planning and in many cases buying and storing seeds and equipment.
      Life after any event like we are discussing would be a real test for everyone.

      1. An article titled “TEOTWAWKI: Thoughts on Wild Game Populations” by Pete Thorsen will be posted in SurvivalBlog on July 10th, Deo Volente. I believe this follow-up article will make his position much more clear. And it will probably inspire a huge round of useful debates. Thanks for keeping things civil in the comments section, folks!

      2. Pete: i am not so sure you will need to grow “food” for chickens. Mine do well on two or three compost piles I have around. But they do need clean water.

        1. In northern areas where everything is covered with snow for at least some of the year, chickens will have to be fed. In the southern states it is certainly possible that chickens could free-range all year long.
          In northern areas during winter all livestock will likely need at some supplemental food.

          1. Pete you might want to look up Icelandic Chickens. They have eaten from compost piles in Iceland for eons all winter.

            You don’t have to use Icelandic Chickens all cold weather chickens eat the same. I know of a Vermont Chicken farmer that currently uses huge compost piles to feed his chickens year round. Funny to see steaming compost piles being scratched by chickens surrounded by several feet of snow in the mountains of Vermont.

            Corn silage is also worth looking up. Corn stalks chopped and fermented. Sort of kimchee for the cows and pigs.

      3. I can see where you and muddy are coming from. Me and mine’ll still stick to growing our own though lol. I will be looking forward to your upcoming article.

    3. I don’t own a fishing pole but I do own a net. I have several live traps to catch protein. When your family’s lives and health are at stake the “sporting” aspect goes away.

  11. Pretty much agree with Jim K., with the following addition. If you are hunting/fishing for subsistence, you either need to be blessed with an abundance of large, rich targets or you need to learn to harvest “passively” via trapsets, trotlines, nets, etc. They don’t get tired or lose focus, they operate 24/7, and you can get a lot more food more efficiently.

  12. Pretty useful observations but perhaps the author should have broken down the skills to short term and long term SHTF. If a nuclear war happens and long term there is no sustainable power grid then soap making skill would be very useful, as clearly hygiene is a very important aspect of survival.

    What I can say almost no one commented on is the skill to stay warm. Don’t know about many of you but here in WI from mid November to until at least late March the ability to heat your house is right up there with having food and water. Even in the Redoubt you get nasty cold winters and staying warm is of the utmost importance. My mid fifty-ish wife is freezing when it’s in the low 60’s. Most Americans have never had to endure ongoing cold for days, to say nothing of months. That’s where the thinning out of the population would occur if the grid was out. Think about it now.

  13. I don’t know about the Northern states or the redoubt but here in Arkansas we have an abundance of wild hogs and many hunt these. I think Texas and Louisiana have the same abundance. This would supply much needed protein and since they reproduce fairly quickly they would be more sustainable than deer or elk. One downside I know of is they can be carriers of TB, but if you know what to look for you can avoid hogs that are infected.

    1. James, great point. How come hogs are considered vermin, deer are game, and other animals are described as wild? Human’s define these types of animals in relation to how they interact with human built environments. Hogs are vermin because they destroy property, and because they destroy enough of it, government says drop them at will.

      Deer are thought of as game, and it costs a pretty penny to hunt them these days. However, deer do destroy fencing and crops, but yet…they are still a game and not vermin.

      Other animals are wild, but livestock are thought of as a commodity. If one thinks about how these animals are defined long enough, people may begin to see that while yes, these animals are different, how they are defined has a relationship to whether they are domesticated, valuable in trade, not just if they are destructive to property, but how destructive they are to that property (deer vs. hogs), and, how are each of these animals taxed, raised, processed, accountable, and sold.

      I wonder if its these types of thoughts that define what is wild, vermin, a game or a commodity. If we understand these definitions, who are these definitions useful for?

  14. I have all the above important skills. Have had most of them and been practicing them since I was 9 years old. I’ll probably be ruling the entire country…..

  15. Great article and excellent comments.
    Here in the Northern Great Lakes, the deer are also carriers of (Bovine)TB and chronic wasting disease, which spreads to the cattle population or vice-versa (according to Fish & Game) and that plays rough on the cattle and dairy farmers around here who’ve had to destroy whole herds after being forced to install 10′ high fences, costing thousands to enclose their outdoor hay storage.

    Up here we call deer “Hoofed Vermin”. Agreeing with MuddyKid, they destroy fences, gardens, fruit trees, etc. (it’s beyond me that when I have a dozen wild apple trees on my property but yet, they munch on my Honeycrisp apples and trees that cost around $30 ea. uggh!)
    Deer are just vermin that taste real good.

    Small livestock are probably a much better option for most people Sheep, Goats, Chickens and Rabbits to name a few. Owning and feeding horses and/or cows takes a lot of food. If you have no way to grow and harvest it, you’re out of luck. We own a 140 year old farm. Up until the early 60’s, the son (who was in his 80’s) of the original builder/farmer grew apples and hay. He hired around 20 people a season, full time to thresh hay and then pick apples and they did this ALL with horse drawn wagons (similar to the Amish, of which they were not). Thats a lot of workers to feed 2 meals a day to while supplying feed to your livestock, especially in cold weather climes.

    Also, like 3ADscout says, the stocking up of cold weather clothes, boots and equipment, incl. wool and heavy fleece blankets is a priority for us. Thrift stores are a treasure trove of such items not only in the north but just about everywhere (when a vet, or his wife… sends his dust collecting duffle bag to the local goodwill, the deals are excellent. I once found 2 wool ‘commando’ sweaters, in my size no less and an old style fishtail parka w/ liner in a Goodwill store while visiting Florida. Needless to say, they went back to the Great Lakes with me.)

  16. For 30 years my friends , well some of them have thought I was crazy. I had an international radio show for 14 years trying to educate and only a few listened. Since moving from New Orleans to rural south Alabama 20 years ago I have continually bought supplies and gone to garage and estate sales. Yes, I have lots of military clothing which includes extreme weather gear and most was very cheap. Ft. Rucker, a large base is 45 miles away. Have lots of blankets including wool and many quilts. All are packed away in Walmart black tote boxes with the yellow tops. NO sunlight along with a few moth balls and cedar pieces to keep the moths out. Stored inside rooms with no windows inside a large warehouse. I have found out long ago that sunlight here in the south destroys plastic and clothing rapidly. I have some of the expensive Wiggy’s clothing and boots stored in vacuum sealed plastic bags then put in the black totes. Wore some this past winter and then resealed and packed away this spring. Will be putting every blanket and much of the clothing in vacuum sealed bags this summer. The same size totes are stackable and really save space unless like me you need multiple buildings to store tools, clothing and other things needed on a farm.

    1. Dr. Bill,

      I do not use moth balls for stored Survival clothing due to smell/toxicity and the inability to was it thoroughly post TEOTWAWKI. I learned from my mom who was an “MD” as in Mountain Doctor to use lavender to keep the critter away from the wool. When needed just grad it an use it with out smell or toxicity. Smells great too!

  17. Pottery, blacksmithing, & gun repair may not be important at first.
    They should be learned & passed down for future use along with medical, herbal, hunting & gardening. These skills are not hard to learn & should be taught to your children.
    DIY will be a little harder, because it is different then before the fall, even with solar power. How to purify water, repair wooden products, sharpen tools, repair wells, animal husbandry, seed saving & build a fire.
    Hunter, Gathers & farmers will full the gap for years, then towns & cities.

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