Thursday, March 13, 2014

The SHTF Stockpile – Part III

In Part II, we talked about guns and gold, and about assuming a producer mindset rather than a consumer one. We want to be people who produce what we consume, not those who consume all we’ve saved. Today we’re going to talk about how to expand that idea beyond ammunition and branch out into a broader area: hand tools, our how-to library, and barter items for SHTF.

7. Hand tools – These are wire cutters, pliers, wrenches, hammers, alan wrenches, axes, saws, and other woodworking tools, even coffee cans full of (straight) nails. Try to get your hands on as many different types in as good a condition as possible, especially tools for maintaining tools, like whetstones, files, and maybe an old jar of grease. Hand tools are available for next to nothing from the usual haunts (auctions, estate sales, ebay) and when organized properly take up relatively little space. Here are a few strategies for making the most of your hand tools:

a. Inventory all of your tools that need electricity (including batteries) to run, like band saws, electric screwdrivers, and the like. You will need to plan to replace each of these with hand tools. This need not be a 1-for-1 replacement, as losing the power drill may mean going to a hand drill, but it might also mean using nails rather than screws in large building projects. Think through the options for each tool. There is no one solution.

b. You can never have too many screwdrivers. This is not because you’ll have more and different screws in the future, but because they can be made into other tools, like leather punches, gunsmithing tools, locksmithing tools, digging or prying tools, even weapons. A plastic handle attached to a steel bar is an amazingly useful thing.

c. Squirrel away extras of parts that will wear out, like razor blades for xacto knives, hammer handles, saw blades. Even the best tools do not last forever, and the loss of the weakest part can make the whole tool all but useless. Spare parts will be worth their weight in gold.

d. Go build something. Build a bird house or a garden gate or plumb a sink using only your hand tools. Which ones work? Which ones suck? The time to make choices about tools is today while you can still get replacements or upgrades. If markets are interrupted for a significant period, what you have to work with now might be all you have to work with for years to come.

8. Books – Now is the time to develop a how-to library, including (and perhaps especially) how to do things you never thought of doing. However, don’t bother with ‘survival’ books. The idea of bugging out to live in some Idaho state forest with a K-Bar knife in one hand and a how-to book in the other is for fools. If you get shot by a French-Canadian fur trapper before you starve to death you’ll be lucky.

Instead, pick up books on gardening, bicycle repair, building a smoke house, gunsmithing, composting, or home canning – actual skills that people who live in one place might* need. Books need not be new: a 50-year-old field guide on how to identify wild plants is just as good as a new one - evolution or not, poison sumac and trumpet king mushrooms still look the same as they did in the 60s. Crop rotation works the same way today as was described in the Victory Garden Handbook of WWII.

In the near future we will not be mining the soil year after year, while covering the sin of non-rotation with petroleum-based fertilizer. The way we are going to produce is not just going to change; it’s going to change back a century. So now is the time to put the accumulated knowledge of last century’s gardeners and craftsmen where you can get your hands on it before it passes beyond our reach. Your local thrift store is likely bursting with such titles. If not, many can be had on Amazon for $4 – a penny for the book and $3.99 to ship it. Plenty can be downloaded for free and simply printed.

The truth is, no matter how much you know, you cannot remember everything, and in the future you may not be able to Google anything.  If it turns out you don't need a book, chances are someone else will, so you can always trade it away. Speaking of which...

9. Real barter items – Forget extra toilet paper. If you have done the prior steps, you will already have a veritable smorgasbord of barter items that will serve you well in any scenario. You’ll have tools, you’ll have information, you’ll be manufacturing consumables like food or ammunition or feather pillows. You might even be making other tools to trade.

One rule to ensure that you do not eat your seed corn, so to speak: never trade a tool for anything other than another tool. Manufactures and consumables can be traded or sold, but your tools, like your seed corn, are tomorrow’s harvest. They must be preserved for tomorrow, even at the cost of significant suffering today.

If you still don’t feel right going into SHTF without some good old-fashioned consumer goods to trade, I would suggest you limit them to pocket knives, small mirrors, sandpaper, led flashlights, razor blades, items that take up very little space and are hard to produce by hand. You can get used pocket knives for $1 each in bulk,** so get a box and put them away.

I promised we would find a way to make Al Gore happy, but that will just have to wait until the next (and perhaps final) segment.

Part I
Part II
Part IV

* "might" is the crucial word here.  Just because you can't imagine preserving beaver pelts using smashed brains as a preservative doesn't mean no one will want to learn to do it.  Expand your mind a little.
** TSA seems to have an unlimited supply of them for some reason, and they end up on ebay.


  1. I think a book collection is very important! If you only have books on Kindle, you'll be out of luck if the battery dies or there's no electricity in a TEOTWAKI situation.

  2. You've forgotten a critical category of tools: garden tools. Extra handles are valuable, and you should have the means to secure them in the business ends as well. When you buy tools, buy the best you can afford, and don't go for huge sets of stuff; they tend to be cheaper and you'll never use all of what is in the set, much like cooking pots and pans, wherein you use the frying pan and one pot for soup.

    As for nails and other fasteners, so some research first. Learn how nails are sized (by pennyweight) and learn the types; a coffee can full of straight nails might well be finishing nails, and they're useless for structural construction.

    When you are adding hand tools to your toolbox, make sure that you know how to use them; there is a skill to using a handsaw, for example, that your circular saw didn't require.

    The comment regarding batteries on a Kindle is not exactly spot-on, btw; there are hand-crank battery chargers, and while it might take you some time to recharge your Kindle or phone, it can be done. There are also solar chargers available that would be as useful; I don't think the sun's going to stop shining, even here in the PNW, any time soon.