I assure you that all of the following lessons are ones I have learned the hard way. I am sure that for those of you who grew up with a self-sufficient lifestyle or have been doing this for a while or even just possess a tiny bit more common sense than I do, this will be a good laugh. These are embarrassing but all 100% true.
Feel free to chuckle, guffaw, head slap, ridicule, or otherwise enjoy my complete and utter loss of pride. I can take it, and I certainly deserve it. Sometimes even I wonder how I have lived this long.
For the rest of you, particularly women, who may be just starting out prepping in the country on your own and trying to shed your urban or suburban shell, read on. My story and lessons that follow, provided in no particular order, might save you money, time, injury, and humiliation as you make this journey towards self-sufficiency and preparedness.
Chainsaws – A Lesson-Rich Piece of Equipment!
A few years ago, before I even really started prepping seriously, my father suffered a decline in health; when I was helping him move some heavier things out of his garage, he offered me his old chainsaw. For free, I received a quality 24” chainsaw, and, knowing my dad, one that was meticulously maintained.
I knew just what I was going to use it for right away. I had a mid-sized tree that was close to my house and not in good shape. I had been somewhat concerned that it would fall on the house in heavy winds, and I knew it needed to come down. Now I could take care of it all by myself and without hiring someone or going out and buying a chainsaw!
Lesson #1 : A 24” Chainsaw is Really Heavy
It’s so heavy that, frankly, I am lucky I did not lose a leg trying to wield it. There is nothing wrong with stepping down to a 14” or 16” chainsaw if you are not a large, strong person (or even if you are). It is also very worth spending the money to buy a tool you can physically handle. It does not make you a wimp to admit it. You may have to be a bit more creative with a smaller chain saw, but you will be infinitely more productive and have a much better chance of keeping your extremities.
Lesson #2: YouTube is Not Sufficient Training on Chainsaw Use
Watching videos on YouTube is not sufficient training to use a chainsaw, especially not to take down a whole tree. This is especially the case when trying to take down a whole tree that is near your house. I cannot easily express how insufficient YouTube training is in trying to use a chainsaw to take down a whole tree that is near your house and leaning towards it. Humble yourself and admit it when you do not know how to do something. YouTube is great, but it is not a substitute for a patient, knowledgeable friend and a lot of supervised practice.
Lesson #3: A Tree Leaning Hard is Likely to Fall in that Direction No Matter How You Cut
If a tree is leaning fairly hard in one direction, that is likely the direction it will fall. Though this is not specifically chainsaw related, it’s definitely tree related. Tying a nylon rope around a tree and anchoring it to a minivan will not prevent said tree from falling on you or your house no matter how you try to angle your cuts and wedges (with your incredibly heavy chainsaw waving around like something out of a bad horror movie). Nylon rope really stretches a lot, and trees are very heavy! You are better off taking it down gradually than trying to trick it into bending to your will. Regarding the rope and mini-van thing, just don’t.
Lesson #4: There Are Costs Greater Than a New, Small Chainsaw and Some Humility, Help, and Patience
Major roof repairs cost more than a new, small chainsaw and some humility, help, and patience. Also, a bruised shoulder, abrasions, and contusions and a minor concussion hurt and take a while to heal.
Firewood and Woodstoves– Not As Easy As They Look!
When I first moved to “the country”, I was thrilled that the house I bought already had a woodstove installed. I had dreams of wallowing in warm and cozy self-sufficiency in front of a crackling fire. A friend who has a fair amount of experience in rural living came over in the first few days after I moved in (it was still too warm out to worry about heat yet) and opined that the extremely small Jotul stove was not in great shape and even if it was refurbished would not be sufficient to heat the house especially since the house’s windows were old and there was no real insulation. “Bahhh, it’ll be fine”, I thought. I just laid out a lot of money moving et cetera and didn’t want to go out and spend more on a new woodstove. I figured that I could make it work since the house is so small and I have a lot of sweaters. I just needed wood and determination!
Lesson #1: Cutting up and Dragging Deadfall Is Hard
Cutting up and dragging deadfall out of dense woods by yourself is very hard. (See chainsaw and heavy tree lessons above, as they apply here too.) Also, note that pine is not a good wood to burn in a woodstove. Seriously, if you see a tree with an old dead vine all over it and you live in poison ivy country, run away. Do not touch it, and do not burn it. Trust me on this. Bad things will happen.
Lesson #2: Log Cuts Need to Be Perpendicular to the Trunk
Before you start cutting up a log willy nilly, remember that if you ever want to be able to split the rounds into actual usable firewood, the cuts need to be perpendicular to the trunk and not on an angle, even if it is more convenient. If you forget this, you may end up trying to prop up big uneven chunks of wood on your chopping block using bits and pieces of branches (kind of like trying to level a restaurant table by putting sugar packets under one leg) to create a “choppable” surface. This does not work well, and you may almost chop off your own foot with a giant axe when the wood tips over and rolls off when you are in mid-swing. Just remember to make perpendicular cuts in the first place. It’s better that way.
Lesson #3: Buy a Sledgehammer, Splitting Wedge, and Axe to Fit Your Size
When you borrow or buy a sledgehammer, splitting wedges, and an axe, be aware that what works for a 6’4” 230 lb. large size man may not be quite as effective for a 5’4” 130 lb. woman. I think you can figure that one out. Big and heavy is good for big and heavy people. Smaller and lighter is good for smaller and lighter.
Lesson #4: Never Search Craigslist For Cheapest Firewood
When you have made all of the above mistakes and are cold and frustrated and decide to buy a load of firewood to get you started while you sort out the rest, never search craigslist for the cheapest wood that you can get delivered quickly. You may well end up with a small pile of what could kindly be considered “splintering swamp wood” in the middle of your driveway and decide to pay the very scary wood man for it anyway to make him go away after your objections are met with foul language, a menacing posture, and yelling. Humble yourself and ask local friends or neighbors for their advice, and realize also that you usually “get what you pay for”. This may lead directly to a nice, polite, wood man dropping off more expensive but still reasonably priced, full cords of seasoned and split hardwood on time and right behind the shed where you wanted it and offering to stack it and to provide referrals to other trades should you need them. He might even call you “Ma’am”.
Lesson #5: Don’t Shiver in Cold Before You Get Over Yourself and Ask For Help
When you figure out that, after all of that, your little Jotul is too small for standard length logs, and that even when you find pieces that fit and manage to get them to catch on fire, it really is not enough to heat your house, don’t shiver through a couple of weeks. Don’t refuse to admit that you were wrong about the stove, before you get over yourself and ask for help.
Incidentally, contrary to what you may think, having been a Girl Scout 40+ years ago does not automatically imbue you with awesome fire-building skills. This requires practice, practice, practice. (This is one place where YouTube can actually be of assistance.) It also does not hurt to keep some fatwood and a butane culinary torch on hand as you learn, for when you are cold and fed up and just want to light the stupid fire now already!
Lesson #6: Kindling is Necessary
You cannot just light split logs on a fire; you have to start with much smaller “kindling” pieces than you would think. If the idea of chopping off your thumb (or at least putting a big slice in the thumb of your work gloves) with a hatchet while trying to balance the wood with one hand and hit it with the hatchet with the other gives you pause, I heartily recommend a nifty device called a “Kindling Cracker”. This ingenious device is available on Amazon. It’s one of those things that is very simple and does exactly what it is supposed to do– make it easy to split wood into kindling size without getting hurt or frustrated. It is like a beautiful piece of cast iron magic. I have no connection to this company aside from being their number one fan after having received this (in the XL size) as a Christmas gift along with a 4 lb. mini sledge. It’s not inexpensive, but it’s cheaper than a finger reattachment!
Lesson #7: When You Need a New Wood Stove, Ask for Friend’s Help
When you finally admit to yourself that you do need to buy a new wood stove, after you do your online research and visit a bunch of stores and listen to quite a few sales pitches which all seem to directly contradict whatever you heard from the last salesperson and are having trouble with the huge price tags for what seem to you to be basically big metal boxes, stop. Find the friend who told you that yours was too small in the first place. Tell him he was right and you were wrong. Apologize for being a tiny bit pig-headed and humbly request his help to find and install a good quality used wood stove, which, it turns out, is actually essentially a big metal box that lasts virtually forever. Bribe or reward him with lots of homemade cookies.
I’ll now share a couple of useful facts about wood stoves. Some of this seems to go right along with my experiences above.
Wood Stove Fact #1: They are very heavy.
There are so heavy that you will not be able to move one by yourself, no matter how strong you may think you are. It’s not going to happen, ever. Also, they probably will not fit in your compact car. If you do not have a truck, borrow one with ramps and a sturdy furniture dolly.
Good, Quality Older Wood Stove Can Be Found At Reasonable Prices
You can find used good quality older wood stoves at a reasonable price with a bit of work. (I found a 25-year-old Vermont Castings stove for under $500.) However, be aware that they will likely need some parts replaced to be fully functional.
You actually can replace almost any part of an old wood stove yourself as long as you do not have to move the stove even an inch to do so. Stove specific parts are available online even for very old stoves. Some of the most common parts you may need to replace are:
- Gaskets. (These look like rope and require a special adhesive. Regular glue will not work.)
- Glass (You must use glass that is made especially for wood stoves. This is very important.)
- The grate on the bottom. This can warp upwards and crack if there has been a lot of over firing (burning the stove too hot). Do not try to fix it; just get a new one, please.
- The andiron things that hold the wood away from the doors. Before replacing these, check the bolt parts on the bottom back of them to see if they just need to be tightened.
- Handles (usually not the metal parts, as those tend to be okay, just the wood or ceramic parts which are necessary and not just decorative, as the metal parts get very hot, even when using a potholder or dish towel).
Tomorrow, we will continue with with lessons, primarily dealing with animals including bear.
- A Few Hard-Learned Lessons- Part 2, by Grey Woman (Active on 3/25/18)
SurvivalBlog Writing Contest
Today features another entry for Round 75 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:
- A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
- A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
- A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
- DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
- Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
- A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
- Two cases of Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of CampingSurvival.com (a $180 value), and
- American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.
- A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
- A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4 Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
- A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
- A transferable certificate for a two-day Ultimate Bug Out Course from Florida Firearms Training (a $400 value),
- A Trekker IV™ Four-Person Emergency Kit from Emergency Essentials (a $250 value),
- A $200 gift certificate good towards any books published by PrepperPress.com,
- RepackBox is providing a $300 gift certificate to their site.
- A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
- A large handmade clothes drying rack, a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
- Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners, donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
- Two Super Survival Pack seed collections, a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security, LLC,
- Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances, and
- Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord (in-stock colors only) from www.TOUGHGRID.com (a $240 value).
Round 75 ends on March 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.