Alternative and Improvised Weapons – Part 2, by J.M.

(Continued from Part 1.)

Some Theory

While most people instinctively understand the concept of ‘pick up something heavy and hit them with it’, it’s useful to understand some of the theory behind weapons in order to make more informed decisions about what to carry and how effective it can be. The goal of most weapons is to apply energy to the target, whether through simple impact force, penetration, explosion, chemical reaction or other methods. For impact weapons, Newton’s Law of motion say ‘Force = Mass x Acceleration’, which roughly translates to the heavier something is and the faster it’s moving, the more force (energy) will be applied to the target. However, physics also tells us that the heavier something is the more energy will be required to transport it and get it moving. Hitting someone in the head with an anvil will stop most threats, but carrying an anvil around and throwing it at someone is probably beyond the ability of most people, so we need to optimize the amount of weight we can effectively carry around and use. Force is typically measured in units such as foot-pounds (ft-lb), which is what I’ll be using for this article. (Note: I realize that the science of measuring force and energy is a lot more complicated than I discuss here, but I’m just creating a basic framework for later discussions).

Another useful concept is that of the surface area over which the force is applied. For example, if you take a 4’ x 4’ sheet of ¼” plywood and whack someone over the head with it, you’ll probably only annoy or mildly disorient them. If you take that same mass (weight) and concentrate it down into a metal ball and hit them in the head with it at the same speed, you may crack their skull or knock them unconscious. Penetration weapons like spears, darts, knives, etc. take this concept to it’s ultimate end, applying a large amount of force into a very small area (the tip), allowing it to penetrate skin, tissue and organs. The force applied over a given area is usually measured in pounds per square inch (psi) or Pascals (Pa), and I’ll be mentioning psi in this article.

Based on these laws, deciding on what force-related weapons you should carry or improvise comes down to quickly and accurately applying the maximum amount of force to the smallest possible area of the target in a form you can easily carry and use. Note that weapons such as chemicals and fire don’t necessarily follow the same rules regarding force, but they are still a method of applying energy to a target, just in a different form.

The other consideration is the target itself – where do you hit them to cause the most damage and neutralize the threat. The human body is a remarkably wonderful machine, but it has a lot of significant weak points that can be targeted to cause maximum pain, discomfort or damage. Some of the best targets are (in no particular order):

  • Head
  • Face
  • Eyes
  • Nose
  • Mouth
  • Neck/throat
  • Groin
  • Knees
  • Foot/instep
  • Shin
  • Ankles
  • Elbows
  • Hands
  • Torso
  • Underarms

Impacting or penetrating any of these areas with even a moderate amount of energy can temporarily or even permanently disable most attackers. Learning about the body’s weak points and practicing attacking them can help you develop a more effective instinctual fighting method; for example, while you may inclined to swing a club at someone’s head, hitting them in the knee can be a more effective and faster way to disable them, and it’s a lot harder for them to defend against.

Weapon Categories

There are a lot of different ways to categorize weapons, but for the purpose of this article I’m going to group them based on two criteria – the type of impact they are designed to have on an attacker, and their effective operating range. The possible types of impacts are:

  • Disorientation – The weapon is designed to disorient, distract or disrupt the attacker
  • Blunt force trauma – The weapon is designed to deliver a large amount of blunt force to the attacker to cause pain, break bones and generate concussions
  • Cutting/Penetration – The weapon is designed to penetrate skin, muscle, tissue, organs, etc., causing pain, bleeding and disruption of the body’s functions
  • Chemical – The weapon is designed to deliver chemicals or other materials that disorient or injure the attackers, causing pain, burns, nausea and possibly blindness
  • Fire – The weapon is designed to create fire to injure or dissuade the attackers, causing fear and pain

Effective operating range is how far from your body the weapon is designed to be effective. There are basically three ranges that I considered:

  • Direct contact – The maximum natural reach for your arms and legs, generally less than 2’-3’
  • Extended contact – The range of your natural reach, supplemented with some type of extension or handle, generally around 3’-5’
  • Long range – The range of any projectile or other thrown weapon, generally greater than 5’

I’ll be referencing effective ranges later on.

Tools and Supplies

While I tend to recommend alternative weapons you can always have with you, in some situations you may need to expand your arsenal to handle a longer-term or more severe scenario where you don’t have access to firearms, such as a national grid-down situation with massive social unrest and long trip home. Note that if I have to fly someplace where I’m not allowed to have a firearm I still carry some tools in my checked suitcase like my Gerber Downrange Tomahawk, which provides a combination powerful weapon and useful tool. If I’m driving to a customer site I usually take any weapons or tools with me and leave them in my trunk, but I always take a simple innocuous toolkit in with me. If you are always allowed to have a multitool or Swiss Army Knife (SAK) with you wherever you go then you can probably skip this section. Note that SOG used to sell a multitool called the ‘Powerlock Traveler’, which had no knife blade, that you could actually carry on a plane here in the US but it’s been discontinued, although you can sometimes find them for sale on eBay.

Why tools? Wherever you are you’re almost always going to have access to vehicles, bicycles, trees, furniture, equipment, fixtures, building materials, hardware, chemicals and other supplies that you can use to improvise effective weapons; however, taking things apart and assembling weapons can be impossible if you only have your bare hands to work with. A simple tool kit that will get through pretty much any security or law enforcement check can give you the ability to collect parts and materials to produce a wide variety of weapons. This can include things like pieces of metal you can sharpen into blades or spear tips, nuts and washers you can use to make a weighted weapon, pieces of pipe or wood you can use for a club or spear, and many many more. Note that I’m not talking about rebuilding an engine or building a house – just performing some basic disassembly, assembly, and cutting tasks.

Here are some useful tool options that you can include in your kit:

  • Wazoo tube wire saw (.1 oz, $7) – The smallest and lightest wood saw I could find. It does a good job of cutting chain legs, branches, PVC pipe, etc. Good for making clubs, walking staffs, spears, handles, etc. I also carry a couple of split rings to use for handles. You can also bend a branch, cut some short notches in the end and insert the wire saw to make a bow saw.
  • Shomer-Tec diamond bow saw (.4oz, $14) – The smallest and lightest metal saw I could find. This thing can even cut through hardened shackles on padlocks, although it’ll take you a while. Good for making blade and spear tip blanks, cutting chain, ax spikes, etc. Tip: The saw relies on friction to hold the blade in the bent tube, but I’ve had it fall out on numerous occasions so I added some 5/16” plastic caps to each end to hold it in place.
  • Pliers – A small pair of pliers has a multitude of uses, especially if they include a wire cutter. You can undo nuts and bolts, pull stubborn parts loose, cut wire, etc. Useful for all kinds of tasks, but the ones you’re more likely to carry may not do as good of a job when trying to loosen tight nuts/bolts as a wrench, especially larger ones. The one I usually carry is the KNIPEX Cobra® XS Water Pump 4″ Pliers (2.2oz, $30), but there are compact options available from Wisepro (2.7, $7), ChannelLock (1.3oz, $17), SWISS+TEC Micro-Plus EX 9-in-1 (2.7oz, $11), and others.
  • Wrench – A wrench is pretty much good for one job – loosening and tightening nuts and bolts, but it does that job very well. While you may be able to use pliers, there are a lot of situations where a wrench does a faster and better job, and you can hold one side of a bolt that’s spinning with the pliers and use the wrench to get it off. I usually carry the Countycomm 4” titanium wrench (.9oz, $75) in my larger kit, which can handle up to a ½” nut/bolt, but they also have a 3” version (.5oz, $55). You can also carry a flat wrench card like the ESEE Titanium Wrat Wrench (.9oz, $40), the SWISS+TEC Micro-Slim Flat Wrench (.6oz, $10), or any of the hundreds of different wallet tool cards with wrench openings. A bunch of loose nuts and bolts in a small pouch or bag make a great weight for a blunt force weapon.
  • Screw/Bit Driver – Pretty much everything you come across will be held together by some kind of screws. While Phillips and flathead screws have traditionally been the most common, Torx and hex-drive screws are being used a lot more frequently these days. Note that a full-sized fixed screwdriver will almost always be considered a weapon by law enforcement, so you need something more compact and innocuous. There are a multitude of compact screw/bit driver options available, ranging from small bits on a ring to various driver/bit combinations, but my favorite is the Leatherman 2D flat bits along with the Leatherman bit driver extension. I use the extension as a standalone bit driver, and I drilled a 1/8” hole in the flat part and added a split ring for additional torque. I also selected 10 of the most common Phillps, flat, hex, and Torx bits and put them in a single carrying card so I’m only carrying one. You could eliminate the bit driver entirely by drilling holes in the middle of the flat bits and putting them on split rings, similar to the Big Design one I mentioned earlier, but you’ll reduce torque and reach with that approach. Lever Gear also offer some interesting pocket bit drivers with their BitVault and BitKits products.
  • Pry bar – Sometimes things just don’t want to come apart, so you need a little help to force them. I include a small 4” titanium pry bar in my kit, which weighs just .4oz. but it gives me a ton of leverage. There are a wide range of compact pry bar options available, ranging from small sub-2” keychain options to 4”-5” bars, but the bigger ones are more likely to get you stopped by security or law enforcement. You can also potentially use a flat head screwdriver as a small pry bar, and some of the tool cards I mentioned earlier have a small pry bar built in.
  • Cutter – Even if you can’t carry any kind of knife you still need some way to cut cord, rope, small wires, material, etc. I’ve carried a small cutter with an enclosed blade such as the Outdoor Elements Firebiner (1oz, $15), Resqme Car Escape Tool ($10) and CRKT Micro Tool & Keychain Sharpener(.6oz, $22) pretty much everywhere with me for years (including on airplanes) with no problem. Another cutting tool I usually have with me is a set of 4” trauma shears in my medical kit – these things can cut through a penny, so they’re useful for a wide variety of cutting tasks and I’ve never had any problem getting them through security. If you want to be able to carry a small flat cutting blade pretty much anywhere take a look at a pencil sharpener – many of them consist of small blade you can remove and repurpose.
  • File – Being able to fine shape metal will allow you to sharpen edges to make knives, spear points, hatchet blades, etc. I’ve found the best source of compact metal files to be the file blades from multitools. I have a rather large collection of old inexpensive multitools (like the Ozark Trails ones you can pick up for $5 at Walmart around the holidays) that I took apart to remove the files (and other small tools).

Note that I’m not proposing that you carry a full-blown tool kit with you – even having just a keyring screwdriver and wallet card wrench will significantly improve your access to weapon-making components and supplies. There are also various compact combination tools available that combine a lot of different tools into one, and those without a knife blade will usually pass most security checks.

The ‘full-sized’ kit I usually carry in a checked bag or suitcase consists of the following:

  • Wazoo tube wire saw w/2 x titanium split rings (for handles)
  • Shomer-Tec diamond bow saw
  • KNIPEX Cobra® XS Water Pump 4″ Pliers
  • 4” titanium wrench
  • 1 card of 10 Leatherman 2D flat bits w/Leatherman bit driver extension
  • 3.5” titanium pry bar
  • CRKT Micro Tool & Keychain Sharpener
  • 3” file from old multitool

Here’s a picture of the kit with the pouch I carry it in (minus the trauma shears, which are in my IFAK):

The whole thing weighs about 7 oz., and I’ve used it to disassemble everything from bicycles to ovens, as well as to practice fashioning weapons from materials I’ve found in the hotel rooms and trash. I once used the kit to take apart and fix a HVAC unit in a hotel room that was rattling so loudly I couldn’t sleep. If I’m traveling somewhere where I can take a multitool then I usually bring my Leatherman Wave, the one card of Leatherman bits, the Shomer-Tec saw, and the titanium adjustable wrench.


(To be continued tomorrow, in Part 3.)