Friday, September 18, 2020

Waterproofing Cotton

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.
"Cotton kills" is an aphorism that all campers, hikers and preppers ought to know. Cotton is often called "death cloth" because wearing it in a cold, wet environment can lead to hypothermia. But do you know why?

It's because spun cotton fibers are hollow. When water meets cotton, that water becomes trapped inside the hollows of the fibers. In fact, cotton is so good at trapping water that it can hold 27 times its weight in H2O! That much water takes a long time to dry out, and when you add that to the fact that water is an amazingly efficient conductor of heat, you can see why wet cotton clothing can be a killer.

But this flaw in cotton's design can also be its salvation. If we fill those hollow fibers with something else, then water cannot clog them in first place. Ideally, that "something else" is a substance which repels water anyway, thereby making the cotton garment doubly impregnable. Most spray waterproofing substances just coat the outer fibrous layers, with the predictable result that a gap in coverage means water is still dispersed throughout the fabric. However, if we wax our cotton garment, then water will bead off it due to a combination of surface protection and an inability of it to soak in.
There are many forms of cotton wax out there. I prefer Martexin Original Wax, which comes in a 1.5 ounce metal tin ($12 with Prime from Amazon) and which provides enough wax to treat a boonie hat. Coincidentally, I know this because that is the garment I treated my tin of Martexin; for larger items, such as coats or jeans, you will need more than one.

Application of the wax is easy, albeit messy. Martexin wax is soft and slightly sticky, like an ointment, and so I scooped some up with my finger and worked it into the fabric. I find that a circular motion works best, although you can alternate between up-down and left-right; what matters is that you coat the fibers as thoroughly as possible. Pay special attention to seams and other places where fabric overlaps to ensure that you have covered it from every angle. When you are finished the material should have a waxy sheen to its surface. In the picture below, the right side is waxed and the left side is not.

When you have finished waxing your section of garment (I suggest doing it by sections to avoid fatigue and to ensure that seams have overlapping coverage), melt the wax into the fibers using a heat source. I prefer using a heat gun as that is both fast and hot, but you can make do with a hair dryer or even a camp fire.
Be careful! All waxes are flammable to some degree, but waxes made with paraffin -- a petroleum derivative -- are especially so. Do not set fire to your waxed garment!
The heat will melt the wax, which will sink into the fabric and the surface will no longer be glossy. Your garment may look slightly darker but otherwise normal. In the picture below, you can see that the beige to the right is slightly darker than the beige to the left. 

Now turn your garment over, or inside-out, and coat the other side exactly the same way. This gives you a double-layer of protection.

If you have any wax left, pour water over your garment. The water should bead off it as if the cotton was nonporous; if you notice any wetness, you missed a spot, so dry your garment and cover it with more wax.

When you are done, you will notice that your waxed cotton garment is darker and stiffer. This is normal, although in the case of coats and jeans the stiffness will work itself out after a few days of wearing it, much like new leather.

Unfortunately, just like other forms of waterproofing this, too, will eventually fail. Hot days and direct sunshine will cause the wax to seep out of the cotton fibers, and constant flexing will crack the wax surrounding fibers at points of motion. However, touching up your waxed cotton is as simple as adding more wax and applying heat -- far easier and far less expensive than chemical waterproofing, and likely to last longer as well.

No go out there and wax your cotton!

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Maintenance as a Way of Thinking

If you use the search box in the upper left corner, you'll find a batch of articles over the years that cover specific maintenance of cars, bicycles, and a few other things. Today, I want to look into the various philosophies of maintenance.

Having worked for companies large and small in several capacities, I've done a lot of maintenance in my lifetime. Differing managers/owners have different ideas of the most efficient way to conduct maintenance, and I've dealt with the four most common types. These four types carry over across fields of work and even into taking care of yourself, and each is more of a philosophy than a method.

Preventative Maintenance 
Preventative maintenance is the art of replacing or repairing something before it goes bad. Checking the oil in your car on a schedule is a good example: you're making sure the level hasn't dropped to an unsafe point before causing damage to the engine. Regular inspection is also a big part of preventative maintenance, looking for signs of impending failure.

From a prepper perspective, rotating your food supplies and keeping your tools sharp fall under preventative maintenance.

Predictive Maintenance 
Predictive maintenance is using historical data to show when something is about to fail and repairing or replacing it shortly before that point. Going back to the oil in your car example, changing the oil every 5000 miles even though it may still be good is a form of predictive maintenance. Predictive maintenance can be expensive and hard to justify to the bean-counters, but it does reduce the amount of time that systems are off-line.

Changing out the contents of your first aid kit based on the expiration date is another good example: they're probably still usable, but you change them just to make sure they're good when you need them.

Fix on Failure
This is the most common form of maintenance: “If it ain't broke, don't fix it”. Unless you have redundancy built into your systems, this can cause huge problems. This way of thinking can also get quite expensive because very little thought is put into having spare parts and the proper tools on hand to effect repairs when needed.

The heart of prepping is having what you need when things go wrong.

Ignore It and It'll Go Away
I've seen this (lack of) thinking more often than I wanted to. There is no plan, time, or money to fix something because it may be cheaper to replace that thing than to work on it. In the business world you'll see this when someone is planning to “flip” or dump a business before it falls apart; ignoring maintenance saves them money, but will cost the next owner a lot more. The other reason I've seen is pure denial: owners who don't want to think about spending money on maintenance and ignore it until it bites them in the butt.

For a prepper, this philosophy is summed up as “Failure to plan is planning to fail”.

You'll likely end up using a mixture of the four philosophies, just try to avoid the last one.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Prudent Prepping: Gear Cleanup

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Follow along as I build a long term plan via Prudent Prepping.

I've missed the calendar alert I set for myself to go through my gear. Work has been very strenuous the last two months, and when I'm home I haven't felt like going through all my equipment both places it's stored.

The sorting and checking dates on my food is always first, then the longer term stores and water, then equipment. Everything looked good, water was swapped out at my secret lair, and when looking at part of my gear, I found some stuff needing maintenance. Yes, I put something away dirty.

Real Avid Gun Boss Universal Cable Pull-Thru Cleaning Kit 
One of my guns is a .22LR pistol that is notorious for its difficulty in removing and reinstalling the slide, so normal cleaning is done with it still on. Due to the confined space left, a longer holder for patches is too long, so a smaller/shorter version is needed. I found The Gun Boss through recommendations of other owners.
From the Amazon page:
  • COMPACT AND PORTABLE UNIVERSAL CLEANING KIT: the weather proof, zippered, ballistic nylon case is extremely portable and is great for use in the field or at the range
  • SPEND LESS TIME CLEANING WITH UNIVERSAL CLEANING CABLES: don’t thread rods, use the t-handle with the 33 " or 8 " plastic coated cable to clean your shotguns, rifles, and handguns
  • RIFLE AND HANDGUN CLEANING SUPPLIES: . 45, . 357/. 38/9MM, . 30, . 270, . 22, and short-action . 22 phosphor bronze brushes, . 17 cal brush/slotted tip combo, 3 short-action nylon slotted tips, 25 cleaning patches
  • SHOTGUN CLEANING SUPPLIES: 12 and 20 gauge phosphor bronze brushes and mops, 25 shotgun cleaning patches

This is a kit designed for everything from 12ga shotguns down to my .22LR, so the handle and flexible cleaning 'rod' (really a coated cable) is way to long for this job. I like the fact that the tips are nylon instead of the old school brass/bronze, even if the metal is soft enough not to do any damage.

I will admit to shooting relatively cheap ammo that has left some crud in the barrel, so I pulled the proper brush gently through the barrel, followed by several patches until clean. This was followed by a wipe-down with a clean rag with just a drop or two of CLP.

Break-Free CLP-4
There are hardcore fans of all the various lubes and oils, ready to plant their fandom flag on that hill called Brand Loyalty. Use what works best for you -- there's no judgement here -- this product is just highly recommended by folks that shoot way more than I do. 

From the Amazon ad:
  • Penetrates and spreads along metal surfaces into every pit and crevice to undercut contamination and lift residue away where it can be removed.
    Long-lasting lubricating film dramatically reduces adhesion of sand, grit or other abrasives which cause wear and failure.
  • Corrosion inhibitors prevent the formation of rust while Break-Free's unique boundary film protects metal surfaces from moisture and other contaminants.
  • Specially formulated synthetic oils won't lose viscosity, dry out or stiffen up in extreme environments - such as cold, heat, dust, dirt, humidity and even salt air - keeping equipment in ready condition for months at a time.
  • It has been proven to preform in temperatures ranging from -65F to +475F and after saltwater immersion

All said and done, my gear is now cleaned and stored properly.

Recap And Takeaway
  • Dirty gear can come back to haunt you. If something gets rusted or parts stick together and when the tool is really needed, you're stuck with junk.
  • I've had the Real Avid kit for a while, but the CLP4 was a recent purchase talked about in this post. $7.49 from Amazon with Prime -- a slightly lower price than before!
  • If you need a decent cleaning kit, the Real Avid Gun Boss kit is an Amazon item. $29.99 with Prime.
* * *

Just a reminder: if you plan on buying anything through Amazon, please consider using our referral link. When you do, a portion of the sale comes back here to help keep this site running!

If you have comments, suggestions or corrections, please post them so we all can learn. And remember, Some Is Always Better Than None!

NOTE: All items tested were purchased by me. No products have been loaned in exchange for a favorable review. Any items sent to me for T&E will be listed as such. Suck it Feds.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Portable Power

Recent events have gotten me thinking again about emergency and portable power solutions. Storms here and elsewhere have left friends without power for extended periods of time; in addition, medical developments in my life in the past few months have made it almost a necessity that I have daily access to 120v power. No, I'm not dying, at least not any faster than the rest of you; I'm on a CPAP machine to help me breathe while I sleep. My wife says it makes me far more pleasant to be around.

The obvious answer to long term power is a generator. We've discussed them in the past, and the topic may be worth revisiting in the future, but they have some weaknesses. Two of the biggest, and definitely most applicable to me, are portability and the inability to run them at night. Running a genset during the day is all well and good, but I need power at night, and that means batteries. If I'm in my camper or have a vehicle handy, I can use the battery power in those so long as I don't overdo it, but I'd rather have an independent option. Today, we'll look at the theory behind constructing a portable power box, and later we'll actually assemble the device.

Generating 120v power is easy, if you have a 12v source. You simply hook up a device called an inverter, which converts the power through the magic of electrical theory. (Seriously, the theory involved takes up an entire year of electrical school, and it probably still best described as wizardry.) Small inverters can be had very inexpensively, and will provide enough wattage to power small medical apparatus, charge cell phones, and keep other small devices running. Larger inverters can power heavier equipment, but that will murder your battery life.

Our 12v power supply will be batteries. A 12v car battery would be simple, and have plenty of energy to run our inverter for ages, but car batteries are large and heavy. By the time our whole box is done, a car battery could push it to 80 or more pounds, and nobody wants to lug that around. Motorcycle or "powersport" batteries are an option, weighing in at 5-7 pounds, but they aren't sealed, meaning they can leak acid if the power box tips over. They're also designed to start an engine, meaning they discharge best in short, heavy bursts, and not in long, slow loads. Instead, we will use a set of 6v lantern batteries. They're light, fairly inexpensive, and are designed for the kind of draw we're going to put on them. By wiring them in series, we can bump the voltage to 12v, getting us the power we need for our inverter.

Rechargeable 6v batteries have about a 4.5 amp-hour rating. What that means is that they'll give you 4.5 amps for one hour, or one amp for 4.5 hours, or anything in between, based upon your current draw. My CPAP, since it is the device currently in question, draws 0.75 amps, meaning that in a perfect world two lantern batteries would run it for 6 hours. The world isn't perfect, though, so for that device, a more reasonable expectation would be 5-ish hours. We can extend that with a second set of batteries, doubling our available time.

To figure how many amp-hours you need, look at the devices you intend to power. Either the power supply for the device, or the device itself, will list the wattage or amperage draw.
  • If it's amps, divide by 4.5 to find out how many hours you have available;
  • if it's watts, divide by 120 (the nominal voltage draw) to get the amperage draw. 
Then figure out your available time. If one set of batteries is enough, wonderful. If not, we'll get around to adding a second. I'll cover the specific wiring method during construction, since those are kind of "show-me" items.

Using four of these batteries and this inverter, plus a few bits and bobs, I'll be into the project for about $100 but it will give me all the power I can use in a day. It will also weigh in at a svelte 10 pounds, making it very convenient to grab and go. I could save some money on both the batteries and inverter, but I like the attachment points on these batteries, and the inverter has some nice protection features built in that make it worth a few extra dollars to me.

Do some figuring on small devices you need to keep running when no utility power exists. Once we come back to this, you can figure for yourself how many batteries to stack in to keep your critical items powered.


Monday, September 14, 2020

Fall 2020-Reflection and Resupply

Join me over the next few weeks as I explore upgrades and new directions for my daily commuters and commutes. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Product Review: the Magpul MOLLE Speedthreader

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.
This product is one of those items you didn't know you needed until now, and once you've seen it in action you'll wonder how you ever lived without it.

Anyone who has tried to thread stiff MOLLE straps (technically called PALS, for Pouch Attachment Ladder System, but everyone refers to it as MOLLE anyway) through tight webbing knows how uncomfortable, time-consuming, and awkward it can be. Fortunately for all of us, our friends at Magpul have created a device which threads between the webbing and then pulls the strap after it, reducing the overall time to under a minute. 

It sounds confusing, but it's not. I'll let this video demonstrate it for you.
That video was posted in 2007. I cannot believe I have gone thirteen years without knowing about this, but it's true. 

The Magpul MOLLE Speedthreader costs $8.59 from Amazon with Prime shipping, and is worth every penny. It is 18" long, made from a single piece of flexible plastic, and weighs .06 ounces. One end is a blunt point for threading through webbing, with holes in it so that you can attach a length of paracord to it. Doing this makes a loop for your hand and gives you much greater grip, and greater leverage, when pulling a strap through tight webbing.

The other end is a split gripper for grasping the fastener snap to ensure it is completely pulled through the webbing. The threader has a clearly marked "This side towards pouch" molded into the material so that you can ensure the snap is oriented correctly after you pull it through.

To use the threader:
  1. Align your MOLLE accessory with the webbing to which you want it mounted. 
  2. Starting from the top, thread the needle end through the webbing. 
  3. When the needle has come out the other end, insert the snap fastener of the strap between the sides of the split gripper. 
  4. Get a firm grasp on the needle end (this is where the length of cord comes in handy), and pull it through. 
  5. Remove the snap from the gripper and fasten it to your accessory. 

My Rating: Five Stars
If you work with stiff MOLLE on a regular basis, or you do a lot of threading/unthreading where efficiency matters, or if you have weak or arthritic fingers, I cannot recommend this tool highly enough. Get it from Amazon today.

Dear FTC: I bought this with my own money. Go away. 

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Canned Heat

While helping a friend with some camping gear, I was asked to explain the difference between the various “canned” gasses used in camp lanterns and stoves. This friend didn't want to deal with a liquid fuel like diesel fuel, kerosene, or gasoline (which is my first choice) and was looking at the butane and propane options on the market. 

Pressurized cans of fuel gas are fairly easy to find and store well in a cool, dry location for decades, so they make a good choice for emergency supplies. I've used several types of propane canisters for heating over the years and have seen the butane models, so I did some digging and here are the results.

Often called LP gas, sometimes defined as Liquid Propane and other times Low Pressure or Liquefied Petroleum gas, propane has been in use for a little over a hundred years and is commonly found just about anywhere in the world. A popular cooking fuel, it is cheap and easy to transport in steel cylinders that vary in size from less than a pound to several hundred gallons. You'll find a Propane cylinder attached to every gas grill in almost every garage in the US, so it is very common.

Propane has a chemical structure of C3H8, with a boiling point of -42° F. It produces around 2.22 MJ/mol (don't sweat the units, just make sure to use the same ones when comparing) of heat when it burns. Explosive limits are between 2.3 and 9.5% in air. Above or below that range, the mixture is either too lean or too rich to ignite.

Commonly used as a cooking fuel in Asia and in disposable lighters around the world, Butane is another liquefied gas that is easy to store. There are several brands of camping stoves and lighters that use Butane cylinders for fuel and the cylinders are fairly easy to find.

Butane has a chemical structure of C4H10 and a boiling point of 30° F. It has the capacity to produce about 2.88 MJ/mol of heat. Explosive limits are 1.8 to 8.4% in air.

Compare and Contrast
Both Propane and Butane are naturally odorless, colorless gasses that will have a chemical added to make it easy to detect leaks. Methyl Mercaptan is the most common odorant, and it's the same chemical that they add to natural gas to identify leaks. I'd bet that everyone has smelled either a propane or natural gas stove before the flame is lit, as it's a very distinct odor. Both are also a gas at normal room temperature and pressure, and are easily compressed into a liquid and stored under pressure.

Comparing the two, they produce about the same amount of heat and have similar (narrow) explosive limits, so either one will work well as a fuel source for back-up heat or light. The major deciding factor is the temperature that you will be expecting to use it at. 
  • Propane will continue to “boil” inside the cylinder and, in my experience, produce usable amounts of gas down to about -5° F. Below that, you have to warm the cylinder to get it to work. 
  • Butane shuts down at about 40° F, as anyone who has tried to use a disposable lighter in the winter will attest. 
If you live where the temperature drops below freezing, Propane is the better option for large containers. Butane in small containers like a lighter can be kept close to your body to keep it warm, but as soon as you remove it and start to use it in cold weather it will shut down.
Butane cylinders for a camp stove are selling for about $2.00/8 oz ($4.00/pound) can right now, and Propane in small canisters is selling for around $8.00/16 oz. By buying an adapter and a larger, refillable Propane tank you can cut the price drastically, but your local supplier prices are not something I can check; around here a 17 pound refillable canister costs about $35.00 empty and takes another $2.00/ pound to fill.

My Recommendation
My choice is Propane, due to the climate I live in and the ease of storing large quantities of it. I have a grill-sized cylinder that I had filled over 20 years ago which is still full (it came out of a camper when it got scrapped).

However, if you're looking for something to put into a pack or GHB and you live in a more temperate climate, then either one will work.

The Fine Print

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Creative Commons License

Erin Palette is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to