Letter Re: A Sense of Scale

Mr. Rawles:
Great site, I look at it every day that I am near a computer and learn something every time. One minor thing that I noticed the other day was your mention of some ranches in Eastern Oregon being several sections. You did say that a section is 640 acres but some readers might not understand the scale of things. Tell them that a section is one mile by one mile [square]. They may not have a feel for an acre but a box with a four mile perimeter is something all your readers will understand.

Note from JWR:

Today I’m covering yet another region in Oregon in my detailed retreat locale analysis series. I’ll be moving on to my recommendations in Washington later this week.

Recommended Region: The Illinois River Valley/Cave Junction Area (Josephine and Jackson Counties Southwest Oregon)(SAs: Retreat Selection, Relocation, Demographics, Oregon)

Note: Cave Junction is the home to both The Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine and WorldNetDaily , so it must have something going for it!
Statistics (for Grants Pass):
Average high temperature in August: 88.7.
Average low temperature in January: 31.1.
Growing season: 140 days.
Average snowfall in January: 3.2”.
Median residential home price (Grants Pass): $180,000.
Advantages: Because southwest Oregon is normally upwind of every nuclear target in the United States, it would receive more residual fallout from nuclear strikes in Russia and China than from any strikes in the U.S.! If you are mainly thinking in terms of nuclear risk then this is the place to be!
See: http://www.cavejunction.com/cavejunction/areainfo.shtml, and http://www.oism.org.
Disadvantages: Proximity to California’ s Golden Horde. All of Oregon suffers from the creeping Nanny State mentality that emanates from Salem.
This region might be a good one to consider for someone who has strong business or family ties to Northern California.

“Doug Carlton” on Survival Retreats in the East and Surviving on a Budget

I wanted to address a couple of things some of your readers have brought up recently. There’s been a lot of well thought out letters on retreat sites that aren’t in the west. That’s great, I live on the east coast myself. I want to hear more about other locales, as I’m sure Jim does as well. If your state isn’t on his list of retreat locations, don’t take offense. As long as you’re applying some of the same logic, ideas, and planning to your retreat location then you’re doing far better than most survivalists, let alone sheeple. Jim also makes the distinction that
there’s plenty of bad places to be in the West as well. Think about it, is living in Los Angeles better than living in the hills of West Virginia just because it’s out west? Heck no, and you won’t hear Jim saying that either. It’s all about personal responsibility. It’s your life, your plan, and you have to make choices. You are the only one that can decide your requirements. Likewise, you are the only one that can decide which path to take when requirements, reality, and resources conflict. I live in Virginia. I’ll be the first to admit that where I live isn’t exactly the 100% best location as a survivalist. I have a fairly nice urban set-up here, but I make no bones about the fact that it’s untenable in some scenarios. It’s where I choose to live for a variety of reasons. Those are my requirements and my choices.

Speaking of requirements competing for resources, David brings up a great point about money. During the timeframe that Jim actually started writing “Patriots” all of us that were in “The Group” were pretty darn poor. Most of us were college students, or recently graduated, so we weren’t exactly “rolling in the dough” at the time. I can remember searching the seats of my 1965 Barracuda for quarters to buy a burrito. My character in the book is a pretty close approximation of what most of us had in terms of guns, gear, food, etc at the time. Now I have a job and have a bigger budget for survival stuff. Anyway, even though I find it easier to buy this or that, it’s also easier to screw up and buy the wrong this or that. When I was dirt poor, I probably was a little more careful exactly how that money was spent. No, I wouldn’t want to trade back into those days financially, but the point is there is always a way to maximize the situation that you are in.

Money is an important resource, but it’s only one of several. Just work your preparations into your budget. It doesn’t have to be big dollars. Five or Ten dollars a week will buy a lot of medical supplies at the local drug store in a couple months. A few dollars extra buying a couple of cans/packages of food at the grocery store over what you need will add up
fast. “Overbuying” logistics can be done in very small amounts so you don’t really feel the increase. Just a couple bucks a week will do the job well. It also makes rotation easier, as it’s stuff you use daily anyway. Since you use it daily, you are also more accustomed to that food as part of your diet, so when a problem comes, you aren’t all of a sudden having a change
of diet adding to your stress. Thrift shops can be outstanding places to get gear, as can be various Internet boards. Networking with others will help things out. Even if it’s just over the net, we as survivalists can help each other out in trading to level out various things we need. Maximize your training. It doesn’t cost much to actually get into and stay in shape. That has huge benefits beyond anything you can buy. Taking a hike with your map and compass doesn’t have to be a big affair. Even the most urban areas have some sort of park system worthy of exploring and getting some good out of it. Go camping for a couple of days, and practice the things you’ve read about in books or on the net. You’ll get a big surprise how well (or not) all those things you’ve read about and think you know really work. There are an endless list of things you can do for training that are free, or low cost. You are better off with training than with gear anyway.

I have to agree with Jim, if there’s one priority where money should go, it’s food. The easiest way to tell someone that’s truly prepared from a poseur is to ask, “How much food do you have stored?” rather than any question about guns.- “Doug Carlton”

Letter Re: Armored Window Shutters, Ayn Rand, U.S. Military Organizational Structure

Dear Mr. Rawles,
My copy of your book [Patriots] has been read by so many people that the binding is falling apart. I’ve read it three times myself.
Are there photo examples of the retreat doors and shutters?

Sorry, I cannot post pictures, due to OPSEC. I did my best to describe the shutter and door ballistic upgrades in detail in the novel. (In narrative form.) If you want to construct something similar, just be sure to take the weight into account when sizing the hinges, and remember that the hinges need to be attached to some substantial framing or masonry. And, of course think safety first when handling objects that heavy. If dropped, even just a single 1/4″ plate could take off someone’s kneecap or toes.

You mention Ayn Rand in the book. I’ve held off reading her material since she was an atheist. Is there benefit to some of her works?

Even though she wasn’t a Christian, her observations on both human nature and the nature of government were quite accurate. I do recommend her writings. (I subscribe to the Conservative/Christian/Libertarian school of thought.)

I have two kids in the military, yet I don’t know the break-down of troop unit sizes. (i.e.: fire team, rifle team, squad, platoon, company, etc.–from smallest to biggest)

To understand the basic U.S. Army structure, see This Concise Overview that was put together by GlobalSecurity.Org. But keep in mind that the entire Army is presently reorganizing into semi-autonomous Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs).

Love the blog!
Thanks for any help. – “Grandpa R.”

Letter Re: Survival Retreats in the East

I’m in the process of locating/purchasing a retreat home. My family (wife and four kids) and I live in [deleted for OPSEC] Florida and are looking for a place in the mountains. I’ve followed a lot of the guidance online for research, but I find the information between sites differ. If you have time, could you review the assumptions I’m using and add/subtract if needed? To help give some background, I’m a 40 year old USAF retiree with a background in disaster prep, manpower, deployment planning, and beddown/field feeding (I was a Services planner). I’ve got a master’s in mental health and am working as a director of social services at a large nursing home/assisted living facility. So, I do have the basics of what to do when I get there but need to find the right place. I have kits and BoBs for every contingency, but know that in a TEOTWAWKI situation it’s critical to get out of this state and off of the I-95/I -75 corridors.
Currently, we are looking at places in Graham County, North Carolina based on the elevation (2599-5500 ft), area population (27 per sq mile), and proximity to my home (11 hrs by vehicle, best case scenario). It’s a further distance than I want, but the safety of the mountains is hard to ignore. Unfortunately, teh South Carolina mountains have too many nuclear plants nearby and Georgia’s mountain are only accessible to us through Atlanta (no way). I know you are opposed to east coast locations, but do you know anyone that has scoped out this side of the United States?
Here is some of my criteria:
Inland: 60 miles from coast
Elevation: above 2000 ft
Remote: no city of 3,000 or more within 50 miles
House 5-10 mi out of town
5-10 acres of land
Hill and flatland
CBS or rock home preferred
Streams, pond on property

JWR Replies: From your list of requirements, I think that Eastern Tennessee might appeal to you. Stay tuned. I’ve been promised an article about that region from a local resident. I hope to post that piece sometime in the next two weeks. I’d also appreciate seeing comments from readers on the retreat potential either of the Carolinas.

Recommended Region: Klamath Falls Region (Klamath County, South Central Oregon)

This region is blessed with plentiful water (the largest lake in the region) fertile soil (lake beds left behind by receding ancient lakes), and geothermal energy in some areas. Like the Rogue River region, the Klamath Falls region might be a good area to consider for someone who has strong business or family ties to Northern California. In a grid-up scenario it would be a great place for a retreat. However, in a grid down scenario where a mass out-migration from California could be expected, it might be marginal. because of the high elevation, you should build some large greenhouses! Buying land in a geothermal active locale be ideal. That way both your home and greenhouse could be geothermally heated. But keep in mind that it takes electricity to operate geothermal hot water circulating pumps. So in the event of a grid down situation, you will need a fully-capable photovoltaic power system.
Klamath Falls region crops: Hay, wheat, barley, oats, onions, potatoes, and sugar beets. Very nutritious blue-green algae is also skim-harvested from Klamath Lake.
Statistics (for Klamath Falls):
Average high temperature in August: 83.
Average low temperature in January: 19.9.
Growing season (Lakeview): 100 days.
Average snowfall in January: 3.6”.
Advantages: Plentiful water. Removed from the Interstate-5 corridor–which would be the likely Golden Horde route. Less snow than other parts of Oregon at similar elevation. Many homes in and near Klamath Falls have geothermal heating! Downwind from Portland only on rare occasions.
Disadvantages: Shorter growing season an less crop diversity than lower elevations in the region (such as the Umpqua Valley.) Proximity to 35+ million Californians.

Grid Up Retreat Potential: 2 (On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the best)

Grid Down Retreat Potential: 5 (On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the best)

Nuclear Scenario Retreat Potential: 2 (On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the best)


Still No Body Armor Reimbursement for Deployed Troops (SAs: Supporting Our Troops, Field Gear, Body Armor)

The Associated Press just reported that nearly a year after Congress required the Defense Department to reimburse soldiers who purchased their own Kevlar body armor to protect themselves during Iraq deployments, the Pentagon still hasn’t figured out how to do so. This is not surprising since last year DoD officials criticized the plan as “an unmanageable precedent that will saddle the DoD with an open-ended financial burden.” Methinks it is a sad state of affairs when we send our troops in harm’s way with insufficient equipment. Regardless of your opinion about the Iraq war, I think that we can all agree that we need to provide the best gear possible to insure the safe return of our service members. It is also important to send them letters and gifts for encouragement.

Two Letters Re: Missouri’s Retreat Potential

Dear James,
Missouri has more to offer for retreat potential than almost any other state in your top 19! It has a much longer growing season than Montana or Idaho. Most rural areas have an abundance of excellent soil, good rains, abundant woods, pastures and gun friendly small towns. Missouri is one of the few states with a concealed carry law. [JWR adds: Actually, 34 states now have “shall issue” CCW permit laws on the books.] Hunting potential is good, since wild game is plentiful.

If you avoid the metropolitan areas of St. Louis on the far east of the state and Kansas City on the far west of the state, you have the entire state in the middle for retreat potential. Some might consider the booming area of Columbia, smack dab between St. Louis and Kansas City, to be an area to be avoided also. That however leaves an incredibly large area with few interstate highways, but abundant county highways that crisscross the state in a maze. (OBTW, Texas has the same “Farm to Market” roads. So why was everyone parked on the interstates when Hurricane Rita was approaching?)

There are few transplanted yuppies in the rural areas (we would be considered transplanted yuppies I suppose), which means most of your neighbors have lived in the area most of their lives, but the southwestern area of Missouri near Springfield is more populated with transplants who are heading for the good life to retire. Small holders who grow a good deal of their own food, raise chickens, sheep, goats, horses, rabbits are quite abundant south of I-70. Missouri is small-agriculture friendly. Once you get away from the counties surrounding the two major cities, most of the counties have NO ZONING. That means we can put up a windmill, build two more houses on our property (sewage has to comply with houses but it is VERY minimal), raise a diverse range of animals, slap up a fence …all without the permission of some zoning and planning commission.

Drawbacks: If you ask for almost anything organic, folks will stare at you like you have two heads. You are more likely to find Wonder White bread at the store than whole wheat anything. You had better like American cheese if you live in a truly small town or be prepared to drive quite a ways. Having a Super Wal-Mart within a half hour drive for us makes living here much more tolerable as otherwise we would have to drive to one of the three metro areas to get almost anything beyond the absolute basics.

More plusses: Most families here are religious even though only about half attend church. Schools are touch and go but the home schooling laws are very favorable. The abundance of ground water , aquifers, springs, creeks, streams, ponds, lakes make this an excellent state for becoming free of government water. Most areas are windy enough to warrant windmill power and of course we have plenty of sunny days for solar electric cells. The terrain is varied and runs the gamut from perfectly flat farm fields that mimic Nebraska, to windy curvy woodsy counties that mimic the lower Appalachian region. Our area is a lovely mix of flat farm fields interspersed between woods packed with deer and wild turkey.
We have lived in several states around the country and in each we searched for homestead property without success. Many small holder farms can be purchased here—but you may need to purchase through an auction rather than a real estate listing. Most small holders in the north half of the state are sold after an elderly person passes away and the family wants their money fast. Keep your financing prearranged with a local bank and get your bidding ticket! You just found Shangri-la. – Missouri Goat Lady


Mr. Rawles,
Great Blog site, I look at it daily. Katrina should be a wake-up for all the sheeple, but unfortunately many will still think that it is “something that will never happen here.”
A little background on myself, I am a physician in mid Missouri, have spend over eight years on active duty military, and have been preparing for the “crunch” little by little. Moving every 2-3 years with the military made it hard to accumulate to much gear, but we have settled down in mid-Missouri now. Although not ideal, we settled close to family.
Missouri has several advantages including mild weather, good crop variety, and population is mainly clustered around St Louis on the East, Kansas City on the west, and Springfield in the southwest. Columbia is in mid-Missouri and it just topped 100,000 pop mark. The Minuteman missile sites were decommissioned with the last SALT/START talks. Disadvantages include rising land prices, Whiteman AFB (home of the B2 [strategic nuclear bomber]), and Callaway Nuclear Power Plant here in mid-Missouri. Other than the population centers, MO is fairly conservative, Concealed Carry passed recently (to the dismay of the socialists in STL). Interstate 70 bisects MO in half and connects STL and KC, and is a vital route of the country. The advantage is that with 1 out of 4 semis carrying some type of food stuffs, is outweighed by the fact that the “hordes” will most likely travel these main arteries. Tactically, there are many bridges in Missouri that can be brought down or blocked. The Missouri and Mississippi Rivers are just two of the largest waterways. There are several prisons in Missouri and it is definitely something to look at when/if TSHTF, since these will probably add to the refugee crisis, except they will be the worse element. I would hope in a grid down situation that prison doors default to lock down but who knows. I saw in New Orleans that prisoners were evacuated from the city before most of the population.

Those close to STL and south of it need to be aware of the New Madrid Fault zone that extends down through Illinois, Arkansas, and Tennessee. Some predict a major quake in the next 5 to 10 years, and most experts say the most structures would not withstand much, especially in the city of St. Louis. Hope this helps your view on Missouri. If I can be of any help on specifics to Missouri please let me know, also please feel free to run any medical type questions my way. I am watching your blog closely for the “ultimate” area to set up. I have been considering moving closer to the Rockies.

Here are some good links you may want to add Virtual Naval Hospital Emergency War Surgery www.vnh.org/EWSurg/EWSTOC.html and The Borden Institute http://www.bordeninstitute.army.mil

Also do you know if ‘surplus’ mil vehicles are any more EMP proof that regular ones? I have been looking at a surplus CUCV 4×4 diesel truck. Mike W., MD

JWR Replies: Thanks for sharing your insight. The CUCV is a good choice, and they are still available at bargain prices. One good source for milsurp vehicles in your general region is Dave Uhrig’s Military Vehicle Sales and Appraisal. For versatility, I prefer the pickup style models. I have read that CUCVs are essentially EMP proof because they have traditional glow plug (not chip controlled) and traditional fuel pumps.

JWR Adds: Boston T. Party’s ranking (in Boston’s Gun Bible) for Missouri on firearms freedom is only 51%.

Another Letter from Iraq

Hi Sir,
Just wanted to drop you a brief line about a couple of things you might find interesting.

Iraq has been a surprise to me. Accommodations are nicer than expected, with running water indoors for showers and urinals (gravity fed from tanks 😉 electricity (albeit 220 VAC rather than 110 VAC ) etc.
However, I’m terribly disappointed in the way we fight. It’s been, for lack of a better term, garrisonized. “Higher” cares more about whether you have holes in your cammies than if you can fight, they expend more manpower building walkways with sandbags than reinforcing the buildings, and worst of all they’re stingy with the ammo. I’ve got empty mags, empty grenade pouches, and we carry 1/3 of what we should for the M240 [MMG] on top of the truck. I truly don’t understand. Do we not rate ammo? It’s a war, isn’t it?

After some reflection I’d have to say it’s really not. It’s not even a “police action” in the Vietnam/Korea sense. It’s an armed humanitarian effort. We’re like Triple Canopy or Blackwater on an international scale. It’s frustrating, but jarheads are nothing if not adaptable.

IEDs have been getting fewer but bigger. All our trucks are armored to some degree, and the old “a couple 155s” style IED doesn’t cut it. My company hasn’t been hit much yet, but the Army and one of the line co’s have been nailed pretty good. The Army even had a Bradley get mobility killed the other day. Not easy, those things are tough.

I’m looking forward to Ramadan and the elections. We’re hoping it’ll spur the bad guys to come out in force instead of sniping, IEDs, and hit and run attacks they prefer now. I’m getting tired of raiding houses and ending up holding a bunch of women and kids at gunpoint.

Have to cut this short, my section about to go on QRF and I’ve gotta get back to the hootch. Stay low and watch six. – John in Iraq

Letter Re: Preparedness on a Budget and Surviving in the Suburbs

I love the site. I also just picked up Patriots for $19 at a local gun show. I love it and am learning just how much I haven’t thought about. That leads into my big question; how do you prepare thoroughly on a budget? I make less in one year than some of the characters in your book SPENT on supplies in a year. What can I do to be ready making $20,000 or less a year? Also, I can’t leave Ohio because both my parents are getting older, any ideas on a retreat or on securing a house in the outer burbs? Thanks for any help you can give. – David

JWR Replies: I recommend that you cut out unnecessary expenses and set your budget priorities. Food first! By only setting aside about $2,000 per year, you can store a LOT of food, fuel; and other necessities, in short order. To get the most for your money, buy in bulk from suppliers like Ready Made Resources and Walton Seed. Team up with like-minded friends for major purchases that can be shared. (Commo gear, rototiller, chain saws, and so forth.) Take heart in the fact that even if you are only able to make modest preparations with a deep larder you will be the equivalent of a wealthy man, post-TEOTWAWKI.

The suburbs will be probably quite survivable in a grid up situation. But in the event of a grid down TEOTWAWKI, you need to be ready to beat feet. You will need a rural retreat destination to share with relatives or friends that you can trust. I keep harping on this but it is crucial: You need to pre-position the vast majority of your “beans bullets and band-aids” at your retreat, because you may have only one trip out of town before the roads are blocked or become unsafe to drive.

Notes from JWR:

1.4 million page hits, and counting! Today I’m covering another region in Oregon in my detailed analysis series.

It would be greatly appreciated if you mention SurvivalBlog when doing business with our advertisers, or other companies that would be good potential advertisers for the Blog. (In the blog threads we mention dozens of companies that would benefit from advertising on SurvivalBlog.)

Recommended Region: Steens Mountain Region (South Eastern Oregon)

This remote region was settled by cattlemen like Pete French and my great-great aunt’s husband, David Lawson Shirk. (Two of my Crow family relations each married Shirks.) The area is still dominated by large cattle ranches and some hay farms. This may sound foreign to some of the blog readers that live back east but many of these eastern Oregon ranches span multiple sections. (A section of land is 640 acres.) 2,000 to 5,000 acre or larger ranches are not unusual. Some owners use a light plane to keep track of their livestock.
Advantages: Low population density. Excellent hunting and fishing. Well removed from Portland and other metropolitan regions. In the event of a fast-onset TEOTWAWKI, this region will probably be overlooked by California’s Golden Horde. (The portions of the Horde that swarm into Oregon will primarily follow Interstate 5 to the Willamette Valley.) Like the Rogue River region, the Steens Mountain region might be a good area to consider for someone who has strong business or family ties to Northern California.
Disadvantages: Isolation from commerce. (It is a long drive to Klamath Falls, Bend, or Redding for shopping!) Lack of diverse agriculture.(Not enough truck farming.) Colder winters and hotter summers than in western Oregon.
Downwind from Portland for most of the year. (Depending on the vagaries of the jet stream.)
Statistics (for Burns):
Average high temperature in August: 84.4.
Average low temperature in January: 14.5.
Growing season: (Fields, Oregon): 122 days.
Average snowfall in December: 12.5”.

Grid Up Retreat Potential: 3 (On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the best)

Grid Down Retreat Potential: 5 (On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the best)

Nuclear Scenario Retreat Potential: 6 (On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the best)

“Rick Smith” on Blacksmithing as a Valuable Trade

In a truly long-term TEOTWAWKI scenario, the ability to fashion and shape metal will become critical. If you can work with metal, you will be able to make tools; repair, fashion and heat treat gun parts; fabricate household, farm and mechanical implements of all shapes and sizes; and have a valuable trade to generate income or barter for goods and services. On the frontier west, no town was complete until it had a working Smithy. To start into blacksmithing, you need two things: tools and information. The good news is that you can make many of your own tools and the information is readily available in various print mediums, as well as being obtainable in the fiery crucible of trial and error.

The initial basic tool load out will consist of an anvil, forge, blower, tongs and fuel. Look for an anvil in flea markets, farm sales and auctions. If money is not an issue, buy a new anvil. Expect to pay at least $1.00 to $1.50 per pound for a used anvil and $400 to $800 for a new one. Heavier is better than lighter, but remember, you may have to carry it somewhere, but get one that weighs at least 100 pounds. Make sure your anvil has the square hardie and round Pritchel holes through the top and that the edges aren’t too beat up. Look for an anvil that rings when lightly struck with a hammer (get permission from the owner before you go whanging away on his anvil). Avoid the cheap Chinese imports if at all possible.
The best vise for blacksmithing is a post, or leg, vise. It has a healthy post that goes from the jaws of the vise down to the ground, thereby transferring the force of hammer blows away from the vise threads directly to the ground. A regular mechanics vise will work but get a heavy-duty one, and have a spare.
The forge doesn’t have to be anything fancy; you need a place to build a fire, and a way to deliver air into the heart of the fire. Make sure the forge is capable of holding a fire of the correct size to do what you want to do. For example, if you want to make swords, you want to be able to build a long fire; that implies a larger forge.
Rick’s Maxim # 1. It is easier to build a small fire in a large forge than it is to build a large fire in a small forge.
Many people build their fireboxes out of metal, brick, old truck wheels, charcoal grills, wood, and even wheelbarrows. Once you have decided on a firebox, line it with fire bricks and/or fire clay. Even sand or red Georgia clay will work in a pinch. The object of lining the firebox is to insulate the box to keep it from burning through (your leg) and to conserve the heat of the fire. When you plan out your forge, make sure there is a way to get pieces longer than the forge down to where the fire actually is.
Introduce air into the fire through an opening in the bottom of the firebox through an opening called a tuyret. Traditionally made of clay, the tuyret can be as simple as a pipe bolted to a pipe flange on the bottom of the forge with a grate of some sort. Mine is just that, made of 1” diameter pipe. The grate is a piece of 1/8” steel with holes punched through it to allow airflow. Be cautious when using galvanized as the zinc coating releases toxic fumes when heated. If the air handling apparatus is exposed to direct fire, use black gas line rather than galvanized pipe.

The blower can be manually or electrically operated. The manual blowers are generally of a bellows construction or a rotary cranked blower. The manual rotary blowers are, if not common, at least they can be found at flea markets. If the grid is up, or you have a solar/battery/inverter setup operational, it is convenient to use an electric blower, AC or DC. Squirrel cage blowers can be salvaged off of cars, old oil heaters, and the like. The exhaust port of a shop-vac makes a fine, though noisy, blower. It is efficient to have a foot operated on-off switch to save wear and tear on your coal supply. Also, have some way to adjust the air supply, either by constricting the airflow, or by diverting some of the airflow away from the fire. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or expensive.
Tongs can be made with specialized jaws to accommodate particular pieces of metal: flat for general-purpose tongs, round for pipe and rods, the possibilities are nearly unlimited. Your first set of tongs might be a pair of large channel-locks with long handles to keep your hands away from the heat of the fire. Speaking of heat, it is a good idea to get some heat resistant gloves similar to what the firemen use. Regular heavy-duty leather gloves are better than nothing, but they heat up in a hurry.
This brings me to Rick’s Maxim # 2: “Just because a piece of metal is not glowing red, doesn’t mean that it’s not hot.” Get some gloves!
The forge can be gas fueled, use coal, charcoal or even wood; but my preference is coal. To start a coal fire, use some wood kindling to get a blaze going then pile the coal around and over the fire and hit it with some air from the blower. Fat lighter makes really good kindling.
One of the first tools you should make is a poker to poke at and arrange the fire. Something a couple feet long with an ‘L’ shaped end like a craps dealer might use in Vegas to rake in the chips, and a ring to hang it up with on the other end. Another useful tool used to control the fire is a small soup can with a wire bail on a handle similar to the poker. Punch a few holes in the bottom of the can with a nail and use it to dip water out of your quench tank to control the fire. You only need to burn the coal in the immediate vicinity of the metal you are working, so use the water sprinkler to suppress the fire on the periphery.
Buckets – get two or three buckets, one for water quenching and one for oil (used motor oil works okay). Five gallon buckets work, but a 20 gallon metal can is much better. On the oil bucket, have some sort of a lid to smother out flash fires. Sometimes when you put hot steel into the oil it will flash up, burn, and splatter flaming oil droplets in all directions.
This leads us to Rick’s Maxim #3: “Never blacksmith without a shirt on.”

It is beyond the scope of this article to go into much detail about projects. Information abounds on the WWW and there are many fine books on blacksmithing. Many areas have blacksmith guilds and associations. Practice, practice, practice.
The first things you might want to build are simple objects to get the hang of it: hooks, pokers, tripods to cook over, blacksmithing tools such as tongs and hardie mounted hot chisels. Fireplace pokers are a good learning project as well as simple farm tools like hay hooks, log dogs, and pinch bars.
It is difficult to move large amounts of metal using hand tools so, when you have a bigger project, get at least a sledgehammer and a willing accomplice to swing it. This is why they invented power hammers; I suspect it was the “willing accomplice” that first got the idea. Practice making square things round and round things square. Practice putting decorative twists into square stock. When welding, don’t use heavy blows, easy does it and use Borax for flux.
One important thing to note is that when you are heating your metal in the fire, always have a plan of exactly what you are going to do to that piece of metal when you take it out of the fire. Picture in your mind how you will hold it, what tools you will need, and where and when you are going to strike or bend.
Rick’s Maxim #4 clearly states, “Indecision is not always the key to flexibility.”
Pay close attention to the irons you have in the fire, when you get distracted then turn around and see yellow sparks flying away from the metal, it’s too late, you’ve burnt up the steel. This is where the expression “Having too many irons in the fire” originated.

Much raw material can be salvaged from cars and trucks. For example, coil and leaf springs, struts, steering parts, etc. If you need a long square stock, you will be able to straighten out a coil spring and pound it square- learn to look at the potential of a piece of steel and don’t be constrained by it’s current shape. There are many other sources of raw material; the world is our scrap pile.

We live in a “disposable” society. Presently, if it breaks or wears out, folks get a new one. In a TEOTWAWKI society, that will come to a screeching halt. Re-supply will be limited and we will have to “improvise, adapt, and overcome”. Blacksmithing is a traditional trade that has evolved into an art form and primitive curiosity. It is fairly inexpensive to break into and great fun to practice. Someday it may again become a valuable trade.

JWR Adds: I greatly appreciate Rick sharing his knowledge and insights. Some important provisos: Always wear the appropriate safety items when working metal. Goggles or at least safety glasses with side guards are a MUST. Sturdy boots and a shop apron are highly recommended. Never work around fire alone, and always keep a big fire extinguisher handy.

You can never have too many references. Look for blacksmithing books in used book stores and on Amazon.com or eBay. OBTW, the books that look the grungiest are often the best–the grunge shows that they were used as actual workshop references. The Boy Scout merit badge on blacksmithing is a surprisingly complete starter book. The tome titled The Complete Modern Blacksmith by Alexander G. Weygers is a great resource. It is the book to buy if you want to get serious about blacksmithing. Weygers really knows his stuff! (Used copies are often available on Amazon.com.) Some other good references on blacksmithing are cited at http://journeytoforever.org/at_blacksmith.html

Look for use anvils, hammers, tongs, files, chisels blowers, and such at farm auctions. Leaf springs are one of my favorite items to salvage for re-forging. You can make everything from a knife to a scythe to a crossbow out of a leaf spring. If you scrounge around, you can find a lot of scrap steel free if you ask. Given enough time, with a forge, fuel, an anvil, a hammer, a good cold chisel, a few files, (and of course plenty of scrap steel) you can make just about any other tool that you need!