Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The SHTF Stockpile - Part II

In Part I we discussed why storing certain items in preparation for an SHTF scenario is not only useless, but can actually retard* your true readiness, either by taking up too much space or by buttressing the incorrect assumption that normal life can go on indefinitely via stored consumer goods.

That’s an interesting word, consumer. We see it in the latest survey of consumer confidence. We read Consumer Reports magazine. We are told that consumers are what make the economy run. “Consumer” is a word that’s applied to each of us, every day, in our modern consumer culture, and we assume that it’s a good thing. After all, it’s us.

But have you ever really thought about what the word means? To consume is to eat or drink, to use up, to destroy. Therefore a consumer is an eater, a user, a destroyer. When we consume, we use up what we have, and when that is gone, we are broke and hungry. Hoarding consumer goods simply delays the inevitable, but the inevitable comes nonetheless – if you store consumer goods you will eventually consume them all. That's what they are designed for. It's what they do.

We all need to consume – after all we must eat to live. But to successfully prepare, it is necessary to look at our stored goods in a whole new way. Rather than seeing things to be consumed, we need to see them as tools whereby we can produce the things we need to consume. That is the difference in mindset between a consumer and a producer.

A producer still consumes, but when he has consumed, he is neither broke nor hungry. In fact, if he produces enough, he can feed others and grow rich at the same time. So for the remainder of this series, rather than looking to store things we’ll consume, we are going to look at methods of capital accumulation, which is the basis of production.

With that in mind, let’s move on to the next group of items to add to our SHTF stockpile: gold and guns.

4. Shooting-related tools. It’s a fine idea to store ammunition for your guns. It’s a better mindset to gather the tools that will allow you to produce ammunition for them. Those tools might be as simple as an aluminum bullet mold or as complex as a progressive reloading press. Spent brass, a swage press, top punches, reloading and swage dies, cast iron pots, and high-temperature utensils are all capital that can be accumulated with the goal of producing ammunition rather than consuming it. It cannot be done completely, perhaps: unless you have a way to produce primers you’ll still need to buy them with an eye toward consumption. But every item you have the tools and knowledge to produce is one less item you'll need to store.  Again, learning to use your tools is critical – unless you are buying them simply for trade (not a bad idea, either) you should be growing more comfortable and competent with them by using them regularly.

5. Trapping-related tools. Unless you expect to use your guns to hold off zombies, you’ll probably be using them to supplement your garden’s bounty. But there are other ways to harvest small game than using up your valuable ammunition, like by trapping and fishing. Fishing tools are almost too simple to enumerate, but for the sake of completeness, we’ll add fishing rods, line, hooks in various sizes, jig heads. Plastic lures are fine in the short term, but do not expect to be able to replace your Hula Popper in a grid-down scenario. Stock up on hooks and learn to dig worms. Small game like squirrels, rabbits, and possums can be captured using live traps and steel leg/foot traps ($4 each on ebay), or snared using good old picture wire. Grab a few rolls (plain wire, not vinyl covered) at Wal Mart while you can. Just be careful with traps where pets are present.

 6. Gold. At last, the prepper’s dream metal. “God, guns, and gold” – these are what we are told the prepper needs. I agree, and place them in that order, but while gold will excel as financial capital under certain scenarios (e.g. hyperinflation in a producing economy) there are others where it is all but useless. The problem is not that gold will have no value – it will in fact have so much value that you are trapped with it: there may simply be nothing available to trade it for. So in addition to gold, accumulate some capital metals in the following forms as well:

a. Silver – Old coins, mostly, though “rounds” and bars are fine. The idea is to have a small-value currency that you can trade for small items.

b. Lead – an incredibly useful metal for making bullets, sinkers, and weights of all sorts. Old wheel weights are probably the easiest way to accumulate some. A 5 gallon bucket will cost $40 and will last your whole life most likely, unless you produce bullets and sinkers for others.

c. Copper (including brass and bronze) – probably too demanding for the home foundry, but these metals are useful enough that they will always have a trade value. The best source is pre-1982 pennies, followed by copper pipes and plumbing-related fixtures, electrical wiring, and the like. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, while bronze is an alloy of copper and tin. Learn to distinguish them.

d. Nickel – a useful metal that you will definitely not be working at home. But like copper, it will always be valuable because someone will figure out a way to work it. Best source – nickel coins, which are actually a 25/75 nickel/copper alloy. The best part is that you can always spend the coin if you don’t need it.

e. Tin – one metal you’ll need if you decide to produce rifle bullets. Mixed with lead it produces a harder, lighter alloy. Best source – soldering wire or bars. Though oddly enough, old organ pipes can be 50-100% tin. It can be easily melted into bars for convenient storage.

f. Zinc - Generally used for industrial applications like galvanizing, it is also used for making brass. Best source – post-1982 pennies, which have a pure a zinc core. A number of states have banned lead in wheel weights, so a few of the wheel weights in your bucket will probably be zinc as well. With a melt temperature of ~800f, zinc can be melted into bars, but be sure to keep them separate from your lead - a mixture of the two will ruin both.

In Part III we will cover hand tools and barter items, and how you can make Al Gore happy. Here’s to hoping it all holds together until tomorrow…

Part I
Part III
Part IV

* h/t Huck


  1. The usefulness of gold is limited by one's ability to ascertain its content and determine its value. If I can't tell it's gold, how can we transact? This is the one fly in the ointment; a gold coin might as well be chocolate with foil for all I can tell, as I have neither the knowledge nor the means to determine whether it is what you say it is. I'm not saying it has no use whatsoever, but that in a transaction involving its use, I'm at a serious disadvantage due to my lack of knowledge, and therefore couldn't, and wouldn't, accept it. What I do know about metal extends to silver; I know, for example, that .925 represents the amount of silver in sterling, and know that pieces of sterling silverware or silver charms stamped .925 or even Mercury dimes (which aren't stamped but are recognizable) are standardized amounts of silver and they are something I could accept as I do recognize them.

    As to the rest of the metals - well, if you're going to collect/stockpile, you might want some fuel for your forge and/or furnace. That would be valuable to have on hand if you wanted to turn tin and lead into something more useful together than either are individually....

  2. Upon reflection one addition I would definitely make to the tin category is wiping solder. Wiping solder is a tin/lead mixture, usually 60/40 lead or thereabouts, that is/was used for 'wiping' plumbing joints. You can get it in 4.8 pound bars for about $3 a pound if you're patient. It melts at a very low temp (< 400f), which is why it makes great solder. And it costs far less than the value of the tin, which makes it a very good prep, especially for those who want to make lots of bullets or sinkers.

    Yes, a gold coin might be chocolate, but as people were able to distinguish gold from chocolate for the majority of human history, I work from the assumption that such a distinction will not be lost going forward. Elsewhere I harp on sticking with common (foreign) gold coins for that very reason.