Going Old School, By 3AD Scout

As Preppers we like to use the adage of “one is none and two is one,” and there is a good lesson in those words but if we have two of everything are we really safe from the doom that will befall us when a particular piece of equipment and its spare no longer work or are gone? One of the trends I see in the survival and prepping community is trying to maintain our reliance on technology for our survival. Relying on technology for survival in my opinion is an oxymoron, at least if that technology requires electricity.

There is no doubt that technology has advantages is a grid down world but for how long? The reason we have technological advancements is to make our lives easier. “Easier” usually means it takes less time and/or fewer people. Like in our current society, our reliance on technology in a survival situation brings with it certain risks. In a non-survival situation, the loss of technology can equal nothing more than a big inconvenience but in a long-term grid-down scenario, loss of technology can have very dire consequences. If we embrace the “two is one — and one is none” saying then we need to realize that the quality and sustainability of our “two” needs to be considered. As we prepare for TEOTWAWKI, we should embrace technology but our backups should be old school.

After building two 8’x7’ buildings this summer, there was no doubt that the 20-volt DC cordless drill and saws made the job easier. But let us talk about and fully understand the logistics behind a cordless drill. We have to have a power source to recharge the batteries. Regardless of that source (solar, wind turbine, hydroelectric, or internal combustion engine-powered generator) it will involve a complex system. What happens in TEOTWAWKI when those wonderful but limited batteries no longer take a charge or our system to charge those batteries fails? Sure, we can have numerous backups but they will all have limited life even in storage. So, as we apply our “one is none, two is one” strategy we should modify our thinking. So drill number one is a handy light-weight cordless drill but our back up should be old school and I don’t mean a corded drill but instead a hand drill that is powered by you cranking or turning the handle.

Just like there are many drills today for different tasks (cordless drill, hammer drill, Dremel tool, et cetera)  there were different drills for different tasks back before electric tools. Augers, hand drills, braces, gimlets and Yankee drills are all different types of drilling tools for different applications. When we think about the logistics needed to keep these old school drilling tools working, they pale in comparison to those of their modern counterparts. Granted drilling a hole with a brace and bit will take longer and may put sweat on your brow but the only energy source a bit and a brace is dependent upon is the user. The other advantage is most of the bits and braces out there were made in a time when things were made to last, unlike today’s engineered to fail technology.

We used drills as an example but we should use this strategy of one modern, one old school on all the tools and equipment we have to survive TEOTWAWKI. As someone who has purchased old school tools and devices, I can attest to the fact that if cared for and used correctly, the old school tools and devices (really old school “technology”) will outlast today’s tools and technology.

I’m not advocating not having technology as part of our preps but what I am advocating is that we make sure we are adequately prepared to function without it. If you have engrained technology into your security plan and the cameras, monitor, sensors et cetera do not work can you and your group (if you have one) still secure your domain? If the generator doesn’t start do you have other means to provide light and alternate means to replace all the gadgets that the generator provides power to? Can you sustain those alternatives? For their lack of lumens, oil lamps and candles are pretty hardy and if you have well thought out plans with the skills and knowledge to carry them out you can produce the items/stuff to keep them going or in the case of candles to make new ones.

Tractor Redundancy

I recently purchased a new tractor. One of my projects is to outfit that tractor with a Power Take Off (PTO) belt drive. This will allow me to use my tractor’s power to run antique or converted farm equipment in a grid-down environment. Back in the day, tractors were also used as power plants for a number of farm implements from buzzsaws to thrashing machines. The good news is there is plenty of this old equipment around still today but to many it is “rusty gold” and can be highly sought after by collectors, but that isn’t always the case.

For years I have used auctions, yard sales, flea markets, estate sales and the like to find low tech, old school prepper tools and equipment. I plan and prepare for long term grid-down scenarios since our grid is old, vulnerable and there are a number of scenarios that can take it down. We recently moved to our bug out location (BOL) full time (I guess that now makes it our homestead) and have been busy with building capabilities to feed ourselves and hopefully others. The tractor we purchased is a very versatile tool but in a grid-down environment it could have a shorter lifespan as fuel, oil, and spare parts disappear and I’m far from a diesel mechanic.

I have been looking and planning for back-ups. Specifically, hand tools like shovels, hoes, cultivators either hand tool style or the older ones with wheels and two wheelbarrow type handles and other tools. I also plan to use oxen to replace the power of the tractor. Recently at an auction I saw a buzz saw arbor set up to run off a belt and power take off (PTO). When it came up for bid the auctioneer even put 4 very nice condition saw blades with it. Then, at another auction I purchased two belts and the PTO adapter that provides power to move the belts. When the diesel and gasoline run out, we can hook it up to an engine that runs off wood gasification. But we have to have a plan and be prepared for this in advance. Do we have the knowledge build and use a gasifier, do we have the tools, supplies and equipment to build the gasifier?

Lessons From The TOC

I joined the Army in 1987 and much of the gear we used was for all intents and purposes, old school. I was issued wool cold weather gear and our large tents were heavy duck canvas. I was assigned at one point to a headquarters platoon so I spent much of my time in the unit’s tactical operations center (TOC). That was old school too, not a computer to be seen. We had a 3-kilowatt generator for use in the TOC. It was heavy, noisy and hard to start and sometimes even harder to keep running. But guess what? We did not use it. Sometimes we didn’t even take the thing with us to the field. The point in bringing this up is that at that point in time our military’s dependence on technology was a lot less than it is today and that lower level of technology also equated to a less complex logistics system. Unlike a military, preppers will have a lot less logistics capability.

One of my pet peeves in the realm of survival and preparedness is not taking logistics into account adequately when we prep. Being a soldier, I learned quickly that what I had in my pockets and rucksack were what I could count on for survival. Being in the most powerful military in the world did have its advantages as we could count on a steady supply of food, water, ammunition, maintenance support, and other reoccurring needs. That was until we got deployed to the sandbox for Desert Shield. We were advised to thoroughly inspect our individual field gear known as TA-50 (or “Deuce gear” for you Devil Dogs) and replace anything that might not stand up to the rigors of a long deployment. We were told that if a piece of our individual equipment became lost or unusable, then we would not be able to get a replacement for some time, if at all.

Keeping Logistics Simple

The other consideration is sometimes you cannot wait for the “system”, sometimes you need it now. For all the power and capabilities of the US military, they make every effort to ensure you have what you need but those capabilities may not be the best available nor do they necessarily provide capabilities to make your job (mission) easier. Those “nice” to have items are on the individual soldier. In other words, the military likes to keep it simple, at least when it comes to logistics. What I see many times in the Prepper community is the opposite. We don’t like to keep it simple but instead develop our own complex system(s) that have many built-in points of failure and require an even more complex logistics system to keep them operational.

Many preppers have elaborate systems in place for TEOTWAWKI but don’t have the logistical depth to keep those system functioning for an extended period of time. Again, having those systems is fine but we need to ensure that we have “Plan B” and a less sophisticated, less logistically needy back-ups in place and ready when “Plan A” no longer works.

So, are you keeping it simple or are you building in points of failure in your post-TEOTWAWKI preps and plans? Are you planning for and prepared to use less technologically advanced, old school tools and devices?


  1. Yes indeed. I’m with you on this. I am slowly rebuilding my collection of hand tools that I had to part with when I embarked on several years of traveling and living overseas. My son gave me back my beloved small hand drill that I left with him(although a bit worse for wear). He scored some free hand planes and chisels in need of overhaul(good winter project). While power tools can get the job done faster, hand tools, properly maintained and sharpened, are awesome. Sadly, we don’t make good hand tools in this country anymore, with the exception of a few companies such as Lie-Nielson in Maine, which makes amazing(but pricey) hand tools. My son also found a decent scythe which needs a snath. I’ve been finding that buying old tools online at eBay and such is hard now as they are all considered “collectibles” and priced accordingly. I keep an eye out at the rare yard sales which have stuff like this here(was at one the other day and was channeling you 3AD Scout! 😉 )

    I’ve been experimenting with solar drying in my car. Yes, I have an electric dehydrator now but what if the power went down for an extended period of time? I’m hoping to build a solar dryer but cars, even if inoperable, are everywhere. I figure it’s a good idea to know how to use them to dry food if need be and the freezers don’t work nor do electric dehydrators or freeze driers.

    1. Ani-

      There is something about using hand tools take really does make a project more fulfilling than when using power tools. Something else I have noticed is I make a lot less mistakes when using non-powered hand tools verses powered tools. I think with the slower speed I can see and process what is going on quicker thus – I can see a mistake coming.

      I haven’t bought anything off e-bay since 1999!! Flea Markets, Auctions, Yard Sales etc is where you find the best deals.

      I have some heavy plate glass that I am planning on building cold frames for the raised beds. They won’t be fastened permanently to the beds, so I was wondering if they could do double duty as a dehydrator? I sure for at the very least they would work for drying my herbs. I have been accused of procrastination once or twice but I prefer to think things out and take my time (when I can). It is amazing what you come up with by reading and asking others. If I used the vehicle to dehydrated mint it would double as an air freshener!! Or even better Lemon Balm!!

      1. Let us think of the coolest, lesser known means of acquiring tools: The estate sale.

        I’m not talking about uptown china and vases estate sales. The ones just a little farther out of town are the ones I’ve hit up. Car guys, farmers, rural living-city workers kind of places. I visited one a while back, and the guy had three stalls in a 3-car barn full of roller chests, buckets, bins, and barrels full of ‘hand tools’. From rakes to ratchets, this guy must have had five of everything. Conditions varied, but for ‘garage tools’, they were all functional. The partially restored ’65 Mustang was interesting, as was the skid steer with less than 1000 hours on it.

        I didn’t have a shopping list (or a kitchen pass for that matter), so I kept it lean. An inch-pounds torque wrench, a 8 or 10″ pipe wrench, and a new hoe made it home ($5 total). The house was less than interesting, but in a cabinet, I found an utterly immaculate 84-piece china set. Zero dings or chips. No scratches. It was subtle and pretty enough that I started snapping pics and sent the photos home. I wound up taking this pretty well perfect china set home for $100. If nothing else, a set almost as complete as mine was available on ebay for $400.

        Getting out just past the suburbs, there can be a good mine worth of prepper materials to be found at estate sales. A lot of people are starting to use the estate sale mechanism to get rid of a lifetime of acquired items after the kids are grown, and its time to seek a new adventure.

      1. Yes. Nice site. Will check it out further.

        Also here: https://scythesupply.com/snaths.html Planning on getting one from them. They’re made in Maine. It’s on my “list”; not gonna come across a snath in good condition that will fit my scythe blade at a yard sale alas. I sold my scythe which was an excellent one before I took off to travel.

  2. I’m big on old school. You and I joined bout the same time.
    During one of our preparedness group training sessions, last year, we covered alternate lighting. I had candles regular and animal fat, oil lamps and lanterns. Then we all had mid range stuff but my younger crew had all the new whiz bangs.
    It was kinda funny and they teased me but later bought them dollar tree glass jar candles too.
    I just inherited a few things and have picked some up along the way to include hand drills, large tree saw, sickles large and small, garden implements and axes. I’ve been refurbishing hammers and stuff too.
    They all have the same thing in common which is they work great but the motor is lacking lol.

  3. Ani…
    Re: the car / vehicle solar dryer… I have done that several times.
    I took two old (nylon) window screens from some discarded windows (that I later used for a chicken coop and tool shed), washed them good and then laid them across the bucket seats and dash board of my ‘south facing’ truck. Works like a charm…and it’s free!

    1. @ Rucksack Bob

      Yes, I always used to do sun dried tomatoes this way(but with cookie sheets). Now I’m expanding my experiments(summer squash, zukes, green beans, blueberries have worked so far). Broccoli was a failure. An extra vehicle that wasn’t in use would be ideal; when I use it I have to open the windows to drive and that reduces the drying potential for that day. Good motivation to just stay home but sometimes I do have to go out and work a job!

  4. Yes, except for some high tech, I’m essentially old school. The photo of the tractor is perfect. Just fixed up an old cultivator from the early 1950’s. This is basically a small hand controlled tractor that plows and disc’s. The motor is a small 3 horse power gas engine, but it has gear reduction transmission and 2 pulley’s that multiply the power at the wheels. It is slow, yet has enough power to do the job. It is bonehead simple machine to service and operate. The motor was easily removed to be set up to use it to turn a Country Living Mill. The gear reduction greatly reduces the rpm to a speed that is slow enough that will not do damage to the mill bearings. I also have a 50 year old rototiller that is in very good condition. It was not made in China. Both machines run beautifully. I also have old chainsaws that will hold up in a low tech environment where newer saws will not do well with out high tech oils and high octane gasoline. Old is slow, but it is sure.

    1. Tunnel Rabbit,

      I saw my step-father last weekend- first time in about a year and a half. We always enjoyed going to the gas and steam engine shows. He was telling me about a club/museum that has restored a 600 horsepower Snow engine. http://coolspringpowermuseum.org/Exhibits.htm Look for the Snow engine. He was telling me about talking to some of the “old timers” who worked on this project- after one of the guys died, they all realized that they needed to speed the project up since there just isn’t the knowledge or skill set out there in the younger generations. So true! We need to keep these tools working and show the younger generation their survival might/will depend upon them.

      1. 3ADscout,

        Quite right. As old coots, we may assume that what we know is irrelevant in this day and age, yet the opposite is true. As the country implodes, what we know and can do is actually essential for the next generation’s survival. Without the current high tech industries and infrastructure that will be lost, they will desperately need the tech that is most available and essential for their survival, if they only knew about it, and had the basic skills. We could leave behind a low tech machine or tool, but without the knowledge of what it can do, or how to maintain it, however simple it is to ourselves, they would still be clueless and unable to use it properly, or for long. They will also need the skills to invent and fabricate such as my grandfather did on his farm. We have become a nation of high tech specialists, where most of our mechanics, or ‘automotive technicians’ can’t work on a carburetor, or trouble shoot without the aid of a computer.

        Without labor saving machines, food production suffers. How would they know how to invent, to make a new machine to pump water, or turn a buzz saw? A friend of mine in his late forties who went to AG school had trouble conceptualizing how to make a device to operate his mechanical well pump, yet it is so simple to devise something if one is well versed in old tech. How well will high tech farmers do in a low tech world? None of us know what we do not know, and they will not know where to begin, or the right questions to ask. And even if they did, it requires multiple skill sets acquired over a life time. Low tech is simple in design, but it is not necessarily simple.

  5. Totally with you. Because of lack of $$$ most technology is out of my reach. So I already live in an almost Amish lifestyle. Old school is so much more reliable and cheaper. More peaceful and fulfilling as well.

  6. Dehydrating: I use a nylon tent that has a floor and screen peak with a rain fly. It is lightweight, and packable. A ground cloth under it keeps moisture from evaporating from the ground. I made 2 tripods from 2X2 lumber and place them with one leg toward the each other so that they won’t tip in. Then I run paracord back and forth on the outer legs to make racks. If you have heavy loads you can tie bags or pillowcases with clean stones to the legs for better stability. Then you can place drying trays across the paracord lines, or use S-hooks to hang them from the lines. At night I put the rain fly on to keep dew out. You can open the door to adjust air flow and keeping the screen door closed keeps out bugs and flies. If you need more heat you can put the rain fly on to hold the heat in longer, just make sure that the tent can breath so moisture doesn’t build up.

  7. I have a fairly good collection of hand tools and equipment, but I haven’t been able to come up with a reasonable replacement for my chainsaws. I really really REALLY don’t want to be forced to cut firewood with the old “misery whip”. I’ve used the crosscut saws in the backcounty were we can’t use chainsaws and it’s no fun. For now, I just keep plenty of spare parts and fuel on hand.

    1. The old log saws, like the Ottawas or Wades, that ran on small hit and miss or throttle governed engines work wonderfully, much easier than a cross cut, if you can find one in good condition. I’ve been trying to find a good one for a while, but it seems hard to find one that is in working condition and that the owner is willing to part with.

    2. In days gone by, they used a steam engine with an elliptical gear to turn rotational energy into lateral motion. In this way, it is possible to build a reciprocating saw. Take a miseey whip, attach one end to a sliding bearing and the other to the recip … add a log, and saw away.

  8. two things-1–if dehydrating certain greens in the back seat of a vehicle, make sure to not spread it out on a METAL cookie sheet, they will oxidize and turn brown, you have to spread them on a muslin or paper towel. 2–you can also quick dry homemade egg noodles if you have a wooden rack made of dowels to hang the “wet noodles” on.

  9. So enjoyed your article, 3AD Scout, and how timely it is! We’re all in for low tech, sustainable and renewable strategies. We still rely way too much on advanced systems, but have increasingly (and with great vigor) moved in the direction of comparatively primitive tools and problem solving solutions.

  10. As far as driving flat belt driven implements from a tractor, they do their job just fine if they are in working condition. I run a lot of flat belt driven implements, from tractors, hit and miss engines, and throttle governed engines. You can also take modern small engines or power units and belt them up to flat belt pulleys by making a jack shaft to get the RPM’s right.
    If you’re going to put flat belt implements into your working rotation, it would be wise to go ahead and spend some time running them now, instead of waiting until you need them- they are much different to operate than modern implements in some cases, and there are less and less folks out there who can answer questions on how to make them work.Threshers reunions and engine shows are great places to figure out how to make them work, and to meet new friends.
    Also, if you plan to ru flat belts, make sure to have some extra belts in case one gets damaged, worn out, or destroyed (they don’t last forever) and spend some time learning how to lace one properly with leather lacing. If the SHTF you most likely won’t be able to get new clipper or alligator lacing, but you should be able to get leather. The following link shows how to lace belts the old fashioned way:


    That page is worth saving and printing. I lace belts this way, and if you do it right, the belt will tear before the leather lacing. These won’t catch your clothing, or rip your hand open, if you accidentally touch them while running like the metal lacing will do.

    1. WWES- I love gas and steam engine shows- have been going since I was a teen. They are a wealth of knowledge and people are eager to talk about and share knowledge about their engines, tools, devices, etc. thanks for the link- always wondered how they put this belts together.

      1. 3ADscout- I love going to them too, I went as a kid, and then stopped going until I remembered how much fun they were about 6 or 7 years ago. It is amazing how friendly most everyone is, and how much you can learn. I always enjoy telling people about my machines too.

        I hope the link can help someone out! Lacing belts that way has worked great for me. The only problem I have ever had is that if I don’t have my pulleys lined up right, or if the belt is loose and slipping, it will burn through the leather lacing. I found that out the hard way, but don’t have much issue with it anymore. Even if the lacing does burn through it usually gives you a good bit of warning before the belt separates, and it only takes a few minutes to re-lace it if you have leather lacing handy. The leather doesn’t click when it hits the pulleys like the metal lacing either.

        If you are ever in NC in early July, the Southeast Old Thresher’s Reunion if worth visiting for a few days!

  11. A good article. Folks who have come into my workshop have asked why I keep all that old junk. I like to point out that it still works and will still work long after their battery powered tools have lost all the smoke. Other tools to consider are air tools. With a little maintenance they will last a long time and do lots of work.

    On wood gasification here is a link to a FEMA funded build: https://www.build-a-gasifier.com/PDF/FEMA_emergency_gasifier.pdf

    Definitely a project to complete before the balloon goes up. Has anyone reading built one?

  12. I have been buying whole tool sets of sockets and wrenches, screwdrivers and hammers as possible barter items. I already have a semi-complete set of tools, including hand-powered drills and breast drills. I would hesitate to barter food, guns, or ammo, but tools I might barter.

  13. This article is great food for thought, all the way down to the ‘primitive’ level. I’m reminded of a couple of scenes in the old classic book “Earth Abides.” The now-old guy who survived the pandemic, after failing to keep a school and library available after three generations for his tribe was wondering what he could do to keep helping their survival. He noticed that the guns and ammunition that they were still scrounging were becoming less and less reliable over the decades. He began teaching the young kids about some ‘toys’ – bows and arrows, carefully making suggestions about how to make straighter arrows, and hinting about different materials for bow wood, points, bowstrings, etc. A later tidbit from a few years later was about the idle campfire discussions regarding what was the best ‘caliber’ – whether the copper or the silver coins they would still find made better arrow points and were more effective for deer or other animals.

  14. Been thinking about this a lot lately. I own and drive a diesel pick up truck that’s two decades old and I can’t do anything beyond the basic maintenance stuff like oil, brakes, fluids, etc. Makes me really long for my 1969 C20 PU that was dead simple to work on. I love my diesel and the power to pull things but my inability to keep it running isn’t sustainable. So now I’m looking for a project vehicle.

    1. I don’t, but maybe check out “Small Farm Journal” and see what they have? I used to subscribe to that and had many back issues(had hoped to farm veggies with horses) but that’s one of the things that just never happened so I gave away a HUGE box of saved up issues to neighbors. Amazing magazine. Once got to watch Lynn Miller work a team he’d never even met before and that was lovely.

  15. I love and appreciate the value of hand tools of all sorts. These old tried and true tools are certainly your last line if defense under certain conditions. But, what if you break a handle, or need to find a replacement for a tool missing theirs? Where I am in northern Kalifornia, replacement handles are nearly impossible to find anymore, no one seems to carry them, except for a few patterns of shovels, rakes, picks, mauls, etc. No hammer handles to be found, someone said it was because the state’s nanny government decided that there was too much liability having someone replace their own hammer handle, after all if the person didn’t do it properly, the hammer head could fly off and injure an innocent Antifa protestor or something… I’m not sure if it’s true but it wouldn’t shock me. While it may seem a bit mundane, I thought I would pass along this link (see below) to an American company in Missouri that provides hickory, ash and oak handles for just about anything you might want to put a handle to from “Adze” to “Wheelbarrow” and everything in between. Or replace. Or have spares of. They are the only place I have found that had a handle for an old 100+ year old forged digging fork I got from my dad decades ago. I haven’t ordered anything for a while, but in the past they provided me with great service, and excellent quality handles. You can also order them several ways if you have preferences- no lacquer, hexagonal section, ‘hand picked’, etc. One of the tasks on my “to do” list this fall/early winter is to go through every single thing I have with a wood handle, and get spares. Sure you could make ’em in a pinch, but these guys provide quality handles at what I think is a very fair price. Their site is easy to use and they provide detailed descriptions and measurements so you can be sure to get the proper handle. I have no relationship with this company other than being a satisfied customer.

    House Handle Company
    PO Box 87 | CASSVILLE, MO 65625 | HWY. 86 WEST, CASSVILLE

  16. Scout,

    Your comments on the military brought back some memories. I was privileged to serve as a commissioned officer in a Reserve Component of the US Army for over 20 years. As a young Fire Direction Officer, it seemed every time we pulled into a firing point, my Section Chief would come up and say, “LT, the BCS (Battery Computer System) is down again”. Which meant we were computing firing data to sling 200-lb shells several klicks down range using maps, pins, and slide rules, with a small Texas Instruments handheld computer as a back-up.

    That experience taught me a lesson that I emphasized with my officers and NCOs throughout that career…”Trust technology…trust it to fail”. I often required them to go analogue during exercises, to prepare them for a loss of power or a cyber attack. I’ve carried that same mindset over to prepping, and your article places an important emphasis on over-reliance on technology. Thank you for sharing.

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