Monday, June 30, 2014

A glimpse into my world

Do you remember the article Lokidude wrote about the car maintenance and such?  Well, I'm here to admit... I was the one who inspired that article.  So here's what happened....

I had the pleasure of being able to travel alongside my partner on a work trip back in May.  Our car has a small oil leak somewhere (where, we've yet to determine, and even the mechanics are wondering "Where is that damn leak!?") but on this fateful trip, the timing chain decided that it was time to go... while we were over 100 miles from home and another 75 from our destination.  

Event #1

We had stopped for dinner, and after leaving the place made it a couple of miles before the car just suddenly died. We managed to have enough momentum for partner to guide the car into the parking lot of a Pep Boys that had a full service auto. (Thank the Gods for small pieces of silver.) The car would turn over (crank) but wouldn't start. We got things lined up to get it fixed after calling in a few favors with friends.

Applicable Lessons:
  • Always be in good standing with your friends. 
  • Never leave home without an emergency car repair fund.

Event #2

Later the next day, much to my horror and disgust, I found that my disposable pad did not react well with my body's sweat. It was starting to break down, I was developing a rash down my thighs, and I suspect I was developing a low grade fever. I suspect this because I normally do quite well in the heat; I've been known to carry a sweatshirt with me in the summer time because of how badly I freeze in some places that like cranking up the AC. The day's temperature hadn't even begun to rise and I wasn't feeling well - I was light headed and developing a rash, and even my partner could see I wasn't doing well. So while we waited for the car to get repaired, we found a well air-conditioned Starbucks and I hit the restroom.

I had started making re-usable cotton crochet pads just the day before all this hit, and it was a good thing that I did. I switched out the disposables for the crocheted ones and three hours later, I was already much improved: The rash was gone and my temperature tolerance was back where it should be. Consider me converted for most part. (And yikes! I know what's in disposable pads, but sheesh!)

  • Pay attention to warning signals from your body. 


As I mentioned earlier, the car needed its timing chain replaced. While they were at it, the mechanics replaced the water pump as well -  it was just as old and worn-out and might have gone out at some future date, and getting to it takes the same amount of work to get to as the timing chain. Replacing it while the mechanics were already in there was a logical move, and by replacing them at the same time we managed to save ourselves over $500 in labor.

As for the pads, test show they work well even with heavy periods, though I still use the disposables at night. We won't go into that part into detail... just trust me when I say the re-usable pads need to be perfected before I use them at night.

And that is a glimpse into my world. Yes, hectic and nerve-wrecking "adventures" like this are common in my life. Go figure eh? =)

Friday, June 27, 2014

Friends in Far Places

Not actually Erin.
Picture by KJ Photography
& is used with permission. 
This post is going to be different than most. In previous articles, I had a clear sense of where I was going with them... not so much in this case, as I am genuinely perplexed by what to do about a certain situation.  Therefore this post will be mostly me thinking out loud and asking for advice.

Being a prepper means maintaining a careful balancing act between maintaining operational security (OPSEC) and cultivating a circle of friends with similar skills and outlook.  On the one hand, you are unlikely to survive by yourself, and not only is there safety in numbers but there is also a greater collection of useful skills and life experiences within a group... but to find these people, you have to break OPSEC.  On the other hand, if you ask the wrong people, in the event of a disaster you are likely to have a group of unprepared folks showing up at your front door asking for a handout... but if you maintain tight OPSEC to prevent that, you will never meet the right kind of people either.

I have some small degree of experience in realizing that a shell meant to keep me safe also isolates me from those who care about me and want to help me. I won't go into it here, but if you follow my other blog, you know full well what I'm talking about.

So here is my dilemma:  Thanks to the internet, I have many friends whom I trust and who have similar outlooks to mine.  I even have several standing offers for sanctuary with them, should STHF and I have to seek shelter from the radioactive zombie cannibal hordes.  The problem is that none of them are in my state. 

It's all very well and good that I have allies in Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee and Oklahoma, but unless the apocalypse very kindly gives me a heads-up that disaster is about to happen and I have a few days to get my act together, none of those people are going to be able to help me.

The easy answer, of course, is "cultivate relationships with people close to you."  And I have tried to do that.  In the case of my neighbors, I know them to varying degrees of familiarity, and while they are decent people, most of them don't seem to take the concept of prepping as seriously as I do. If they aren't serious, then I am reluctant to let them know that I have emergency supplies, because my preps are for MY family, not theirs.

In other cases, I have gotten in touch with friends who are preppers, but either they are playing their cards close to their vests or they are rather flaky. The net result is the same, however:  they say it would be a good idea to form a prepping group, and then nothing ever comes of it.

Perhaps I just suck at making friends in person?

Regardless, the question is the same:  I have far-away friends but none nearby -- how can I make use of this? "Move away" seems to be a popular suggestion, and it's one I'd love to follow, but for financial and familial reasons I can't leave Florida.

So I put it to you, my readers: Does anyone have any experience in integrating long-distance friends into their circle of preps?  If so, how did you make it work?

Similarly, how best can I go about building a circle of preppers in my area? How can I trust them? (I don't want to end up like this guy just because someone think preparing for a disaster is the same as being a domestic terrorist.)  What activities can said group and I engage in, to build that teamwork and trust? How do I make sure that everyone is fully invested in our crew?  In short, how do I go from "group of individuals" to "tribe"?  

Please, leave comments below. I'm throwing discussion open as much as possible. It doesn't matter if you ramble -- if you have an idea you think is worth sharing, then speak your mind!

Thursday, June 26, 2014


Batteries come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and are designed for a wide variety of uses. I'll explain a bit about some different types of batteries as well as their pros and cons.

There is some terminology to be clarified first:

  1. A battery is a collection of cells. 
    • A car battery requires multiple cells to work. 
    • Most of the things you think of as batteries (AA, C, D, etc) are actually single cells. The larger ones have the same voltage as the smaller ones, they just supply power for a longer period of time. 
    • 9V batteries, however, are the exception to this. 
  2. Since the voltage output of each cell is dependent on the chemistry of that cell, we stack cells together in series to add the voltage up in order to get workable levels of voltage out of a battery. 
  3. There are two kinds of cells, primary (disposable) and secondary (rechargeable). 
    • Most of what we call batteries are secondary, or storage, cells that store a fixed amount of electricity in chemical energy. Once a secondary cell is depleted, it may be rechargeable depending on the chemistry and physical design. 
    • In a primary cell, the chemistry is not as easily reversible, so recharging them is not feasible (or possible in the case of fuel cells).

Common types of cells/batteries

  • Lead-Acid: Your average car battery is a good example of a lead-acid battery. Heavy, durable, rechargeable, fairly inexpensive, and easily recyclable, this type of battery has been around for over a hundred years.  Deep-cycle lead-acid batteries are constructed to allow deep discharge and frequent recharging that will kill a typical automotive battery. Forklift batteries are deep-cycle batteries that can last 10-15 years with proper maintenance. Lead-acid cells generate about 2.0 V each. Modern car batteries use 6 cells, and therefore produce 12 V. 
  • Alkaline: The AA, AAA, C and D cells that you stuff into your flashlight are examples of alkaline cells.  Most of these are disposable (not rechargeable) for normal use but can be recharged if you're careful and pay attention to them. They generate about 1.5 V per cell.
  • Lithium-ion (Li-ion): The batteries used in newer electronics (cell phones, laptops, etc.) are usually Li-ion technology. While smaller and lighter than most of the other technologies for the same amount of storage, they are more expensive. They have a long shelf-life and are rechargeable roughly 500 times before they start to fail. The voltage produced stays fairly level until they are exhausted at which  point it drops to nothing very fast. Li-ion batteries  often use a flammable electrolyte and are under pressure, so they can be dangerous if damaged. Never short-circuit a Li-ion battery as it will overheat rapidly and may explode or catch fire. Li-ion cells produce between 3.0 and 3.7 V per cell. 
  • Not to be confused with Lithium cells, which are commonly found in the larger "button" sells used in watches and other small electronics. The standard CR2032, used in a lot of cheap red-dot sights, is a good example. The CR designates that it uses Lithium-Manganese Dioxide chemistry and is round, the 20 is the diameter in mm, and the 32 is the thickness in ┬Ám (actually 3.2 mm). Most Lithium batteries are not normally rechargeable. Lithium cells produce between 1.5 and 3.7 Volts per cell, depending upon the specific chemistry used.
  • Silver Oxide: Some of the "button" cells used in hearing aids, watches, and other small electronics use Silver Oxide chemistry. Good for low wattage applications, they have a long shelf-life and are expensive for the minute amount of power they can store. They are non-rechargeable and put out about 1.5 V per cell.
  • Nickel-Cadmium (Ni-Cad): Older cordless drills and other tools used Ni-Cad chemistry.  They tend to be larger and heavier than a Lithium battery that can hold the same amount of charge, and have a bad habit of developing a "memory" if they were  recharged from a partially discharged state. The voltage drop as they are discharged tends to taper off slowly, giving you warning that your battery is dying. Ni-Cads produce 1.2 V per cell.
  • Nickle-Iron: Thomas Edison got a few things right; he sold a lot of Nickle-Iron batteries. Big, heavy, and prone to overheating, they were used for back-up power in the early 20th Century. They were very simple to use and tolerant of abuse. They were best used in applications where they were under a constant charge and would discharge if there was any interruption of the incoming current (Uninterruptible Power Supply, aka UPS). They had low power density and they self-discharged faster than other types of cells, but they could last 20-50 years if maintained properly. 1.2 V per cell.
  • Nickle-Metal Hydride (NMH) cells were common in recent times as rechargeable replacements for the common alkaline cells, but only produced 1.2V instead of the 1.5V of an alkaline cell. This led to many of the newer electronic gadgets not running properly (or at all) due to the lower voltage. While they were able to come close to the Li-ion batteries in capacity, they would self-discharge as much as 4% per day. NMH rechargeable batteries have mostly replaced Ni-Cad batteries in cordless tool applications, but Li-ion batteries are taking over rapidly.

Uncommon cells

  • Fuel cells use a fuel - usually a hydrocarbon like methane or an alcohol - and oxygen from the air to produce electricity. Complicated, requires heat to start reaction, and bulky, they've never quite caught on.
  • Metal-Oxygen cells use a reactive metal like pure aluminum and air to generate electricity. Higher energy density than Li-ion cells, but not rechargeable and disposing of the waste became a problem before they hit the commercial market. There are designs for laptop and cell phone metal-air batteries out there, but they're not for beginners.
  • Thermal batteries use a molten salt as an electrolyte and have a shelf-life measured in decades. Once activated, they produce a huge burst of power that lasts for a few seconds to a few minutes. Developed for the German V1 and V2 missiles in WW2, they are still used today in artillery and missile systems. 

In the following weeks, I'll try to show how you can find and use some of these to make life a little easier in times of crisis.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Fire Starter Review

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Now we concentrate on what to do in, and how to plan for, the long term via Prudent Prepping.

Keeping Things Hot

As the Get Home Bag is being re-done and a camping trip approaches, the chance to test my alternate fire starting devices arrived. I have two magnesium blocks and two ferro rods to put through my (not-so) rigorous and (less than) scientific test methods.

 First things first:
  • Items will be tested in as real a manner as possible by me.
  • Items will be tested with the supplied accessories and if there is a difference between what is included, I will make do with the closest possible item.
  • All tinder, lint and shavings were evenly split as closely as possible. 

Ferro Rods

I have used these to start fires in the past and am comfortable with how they work: lay your fire bed, assemble your tinder, scratch the rod, and spark spark spark, you have fire!


A Light My Fire 2.0 Ferro Rod with emergency whistle on an orange lanyard and attached striker. I paid $15.95 for it at my favorite local 'toy' store, but you can buy it from Amazon for just slightly more.,

I like this product. The molded grip on the rod and striker makes gripping both parts very easy and directing the sparks simple. I was able to get my pile of lint and pine needles started in just two tries! Everyone should have one of these.

Light My Fire makes many different products, from fire starters to pots and pans to a three way spice dispenser. Check them out.


Next, a Knife and Ferro Rod Combination from Mad Mike's Weekly Specials. I purchased 2 sets for $25 in late 2013. The ferro rod is about half the diameter of the Light My Fire, 1/8" vs. 1/4", and 2/3 as long. No striker is included, so the back of the knife was used to get sparks. Four tries were needed to get a good fire started, as I didn't quite get the tinder centered under the sparks on the third try. Sparks were less than the Light My Fire, but not 50% less in my opinion. 

This is a very good rod and knife for the price. I'd buy more to use as gifts if/when they are available. The knife (shown in the topmost picture) will be be tested later.

Magnesium Bars


This was my first trial with Magnesium, even though I've had one in my camping gear for a long time.


First up, the Doan Magnesium Block (right side of both photos), found on Amazon for $8.75. I don't recall what I paid for mine, but anything between $9-$11 seems average.

This is a real fire starting surprise! Since this was my first attempt to use magnesium, I think (okay, I know) there was a bit too much magnesium the first time around. A little sparky sparky made a LOT of fire, very quickly! The ferro rod is molded into one edge and the block has a very smooth finish, which seems to make very fine particles as you scrape it with a knife. The directions I've seen recommend holding the blade of the knife almost 90 degrees to the block, so that dust is produced, not shavings like would be produced in whittling. As no sparking tool was supplied, I used the spine of the Mad Mike knife on the ferro rod attached to the non-scraping edge of the block. Very nice and easy to use. Everybody should have one or two of these!
[Editor's Note: For sake of clarity, I would like to point out that the blade of the knife is used only to scrape the (much softer) magnesium. Do NOT use the edge of your blade on the ferro rod!  You will dull your knife and possibly damage the rod.  Instead, use the blunt spine of the knife for striking sparks.]


Next, the Harbor Freight Magnesium Fire Starter. I admit it, I'm a sucker for stuff at Harbor Freight. As long as everyone is aware that the low prices are matched by the low quality, we are all good. I paid $2.50 for the block and attached hacksaw blade!

The block does not have a smooth surface or texture like the Doan, and does not produce scrapings as fine or as easily either. That being said, with a bit more work I made as nice a fire as with the Doan. The hacksaw blade worked well as both the shaver (just not very fast) and sparking tool. One small quibble with the block - the ferro rod is glued into the side of the block. If you look at the above right picture, the odd texture around the rod is the glue holding the rod down. This could be a failure point, long term.

These are items everyone should have several of, placed in all your gear. I'm buying more.

Other Purchases

  • 10 lbs Pinto beans, Sam's Club, $8.18

As always, 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 be 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, June 24, 2014

Mad Mike BOB: The Blades

This is the third in a series reviewing a Bail Out Bag being sold by Michael Z Williamson.  Part 1 and Part 2 are as linked.

This is the part of the bag where I expected the most quality and least surprises.  To put it mildly, Mike knows blades.  I had every confidence that any blade in a kit he sold would be a quality tool.  I was not disappointed.

First, the folders.

The Lansky folding knife has a traditional back-locking mechanism and a stainless blade measuring in at just under 4". The blade is also partially serrated.  The handle scales are made from a tough, grippy material.  The first thing I noticed about the knife, though, is it's extreme light weight.  It measures at roughly 4 oz, meaning that it doesn't contribute to breaking your back while it's in the bag, and you can carry it on your belt all day and never notice it.  By all appearances and to my current impression, it's a good all-round working knife.

The Lansky multitool, on the other hand, is a beast.  All the weight saved from the folder landed on the tool, as it weighs in at over half a pound. That weight, however, does include a bit set, making the tool far more versatile than my beloved little Gerber. It is a traditional folding-pattern tool, with the blades on the inside of the handles to allow a stronger and more comfortable grip.  It has both smooth and serrated blades, an awl, a file (something I miss on the Gerber and love on a multitool), a can opener, two slotted drivers, and a bit holder.

Now for the big blades.

The first is a Cold Steel Roach Belly. Similar to the famed Mora knives in style and function, it's a handy little working knife.  The blade is listed as 4.5", and is roughly 1/8" thick 4116 stainless steel.  It comes with a simple, deep nylon sheath, and a polypropylene handle that completely encases the tang.  It is quite sharp out of the box, and is about the perfect size for cleaning fish or game, or doing general camp chores.  It's a bit light for batoning or splitting wood, but that becomes a non-issue by the inclusion of the...

Lansky Fire Fighter's Battle Axe,  A two-pound piece of steel with a cutout to shut off natural gas lines, a firehose hook, and a pry-bar edge.  The handle is rated to take 10000 volts, but I'm not near nuts enough to test that.  The cross-shaped cutout in the center of the head is a wrench to shut off natural gas feeds in an emergency, and the unique shape allows it to function from almost any position. The leather sheath has two closures, completely enclosing the head and holding the tool securely on a belt.  As a splitting tool, it does a wonderful job, being sharp from the factory, with a good blade shape and handle angle.  It's somewhat lacking as a felling and cutting tool, though.  Thankfully, the kit includes a...

Gerber Double-Joint folding saw.  The double-joint setup allows the entire blade to be shielded by the handle when not in use, without being unwieldy when it's getting work done.  And get work done it does.  The blade locks into either the open or closed position with a positive pushbutton lock. I took this tool out while I was camping, and used it to break down a pile of deadfall limbs for firewood.  While cutting hardwood, it performed wonderfully up to 2" limbs, and quite satisfactorily on 4" ones.

Two other minor updates on the kit.

First, Mike has said that he can sell the first aid kits as a stand-alone unit.  Contact him for details if you're interested. It's honestly one of the finest pre-built kits I've come across, and would be an excellent pickup for anyone who needs a kit.

Second, to give an idea of the form factor of the bag as a whole, it fits cleanly under the rear seat of a mid-2000s F150. There's not many places it can't be stowed in an average automobile.


(FTC Disclaimer:  As I said last week, my opinions are my own, and anything factual I say can be tested.  I wasn't paid to say anything I'm saying, and would say the same things if I had been.)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Simple comforts: Applying knitting and crocheting

Applying knitting and crocheting skills can be somewhat of a challenge to people if they haven't spent as much time doing those things as I have. Yes, I'm having to greatly restrain myself from throwing ideas and patterns at you. Fear not, this is not going to get complicated.... yet.

I'm going to go over two things that can either be crocheted or knit, and one thing that works best crocheted due to how "stretchy" knitting can be. I'll also give my recommendation on the best and most widely available cotton yarn.


From right to left: Knit washcloth, face
scrubbers and crocheted washcloth
Let you in on a little secret: washcloths are great for learning new stitches, be they knit or crocheted, and who's to say that you can't make even bath towels that way? That would require a lot more patience (read: stubbornness) for many folks, though.

So here are the most basic patterns (maybe the simplest ever) for knitting and crocheting a washcloth.


  1. Cast on 20 stitches.
  2. Do as many rows as needed to make the washcloth the size you want, in what's called a  Stockinette or Garter stitch.
  3. Cast off.


  1. Do 20 single crochet foundation stitches.
  2. Do however many rows you want in single crochet.
  3. Chain two after last row is finished, cut, pull through and pull on the thread end to tighten the two chain stitches down into a knot.  
Yes, I know I hear you "It can't be that simple."   Only it is that simple.  When it comes to any craft, due diligence and a willingness to put a project aside when you've become impatient is key.  No skill is too difficult to become at least competent in its basics.

Reusable Feminine Pads

Yes the one on the left is in camo.
Don't judge me.
These pads are honestly just as simple to make as the washcloths: knit or crochet them into whatever length and width you need, add two ties or wings with buttons to it, and you're done.  Heck, if you wanted to, you could use the washcloth that you just got done making.

"Isn't crochet or knitting too... holey... for this sort of thing?" I hear you asking.

No, actually it doesn't seem to be (and yes, I have used them!) For really heavy days, you can make three layers and single crochet around the three edges in order to hold them together. You will then have a thick enough pad and won't have to worry about leaks.  So far the best pattern I have found for making these is a simple crocheted oval:

See?  Not that hard to make an oval, and you can crochet or knit the pad in a rectangle if you'd prefer.


Just rinse them out (preferably in the bath tub) with COLD WATER and a very small amount of vinegar (half a teaspoon per cup of cold water),  let them air dry overnight, and toss in the laundry.  Seriously, that's it.

Re-usable bandages

These are the two bandages I made: one with ties and a plain one.
Here's hoping I never need to test them out, eh?
Now I know there are several of you who probably just cringed.  I'm not overly encouraging their use in the here and now, because we have the luxury of disposable bandages.  I am simply encouraging the knowledge that these are an option and that they are proving to be more sturdy than ones you might be able to make from fabric.

For anything bandage related, I recommend sticking with the single crochet or half double crochet.  Also, try to stay away from the colored cottons and stick to white or off-white so that you don't mix your re-usable bandages with any other stuff you might be making.

Green is knit, orange is crocheted.
Orange has been  used to wrap my  wrist on a few occasions.
It's also possible to crochet (for a lack of a better descriptor) ACE bandages. These don't work if knit; knitting, while excellent for making a lighter and more airy fabric, also stretches more.  Too much more actually, as you can see in my pic here on the left.  Crochet does give way as well - a small bit, but not enough to compromise it's use as a bandage however.

For the actual pattern, see "How to make a washcloth."  No, seriously, it's that easy.  Things do not have to complicated in their production in order to be useful.

Additional note: as I learned from a burn that happen on 6/11/14, these bandages soaked in cold water are awesome.  Just saying.


To keep things simple, I recommend all crocheted cloths like feminine pads, washcloths and bandages be made from COTTON ONLY.  Other yarns are made from polyesters, acrylics and wool.  Not only do these have noticeably more give in the finished product, but they are also much, much harder to clean again for re-use.   The most widely available brand of cotton is Lily Sugar'n Cream.  This yarn can be found at Wal*Mart, JoAnn Fabrics, Michael's (Not online), Hobby Lobby and of course Amazon.

Your best bets for good deals on this cotton are at JoAnn's, Amazon and Wal-Mart.  They come in a variety of colors and when making personal washcloths for individual members of the tribe, you can always choose a unique color set for each person.

There we go! Three very basic but very useful patterns that I hereby present as Exhibit A for why knowing the basics of these two skills is a very good idea. I will have updates on the use of those feminine pads, and will be providing you more patterns soon! They will show up either here or I'll throw them up on my personal blog.

Happy crafting!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Guest Post: Making Center and Prick Punches

The best prick & center punches you'll ever use

by Firehand

(Editor's note: Firehand is a blogger and a part-time blacksmith. His previous article, An Introduction to Blacksmithing, may be found here.)

Or at least equal to the best.

I've made punches and chisels out of a lot of stuff; some worked pretty well, some not so much. The best have been made out of Star drills.

If you've never had to use one, be glad. These are how masons cut holes in stone before power tools and suitable bits were available. You can still find them new, or at flea markets, and they're excellent steel for the purpose, and can be found in a number of diameters.

Materials Needed

First, you'll need:
  • Star drills
  • Cutting torch (propane or acetylene will do)
  • Hacksaw
  • Some way to grind to shape.

Crafting Your Punches

Decide how long you want your punch to be and mark where you'll need to cut.

1) You're probably going to have to heat that area enough to anneal it (get it hot enough to 'soften' it by removing the hardness set up by the original heat-treating). Check it with the hacksaw; if it's too hard to cut or will only barely cut, get out the torch.

In a place where the light is a bit dim, start heating that area. You don't have to get it to a bright red heat, just a barely-visible red (which is why the dim light). Turn the piece as you heat, when you've got that color just set it aside to cool. Or if you have another area to anneal, do it now.

2) Once cool, clamp it in a vise and cut off.

You'll have to grind two bevels: a long one leading up to the actual point, then the point itself. I've got a belt/disc sander and use it. And here's how to keep the taper nice and even:

3) Chuck it in the drill.

If the end you'll be hitting with the hammer is sharp-cornered, you'll want to round it off a bit first, then turn the piece around to cut the bevels.

4) Hold it at a shallow angle and start cutting.

The nice thing about making this is you don't have to worry about keeping it from getting too hot, as you'll be hardening and tempering it later.

5) When you have the main bevel cut, you can shape the point.

The difference between a prick punch and a center punch is the angle: a prick punch has a longer, sharper taper; you use it to carefully mark the exact spot to drill with just a light tap with the hammer. A center punch has a shorter, wider taper; you use it with a suitable whack to make that starting point deep and wide enough that the bit won't walk when you start drilling.

6) Adjust your angle to suit, and cut the point.


Once that's done, you can heat-treat it. You'll need the torch and a can with some light oil in it; motor oil will work fine. I've heard of people using corn or olive oil when they didn't have something better. (No pictures for this part of the process; I couldn't take them because my hands were full.)

7) Start heating just behind the point; you want that end hardened for a good 1/4" or so behind the point, that way when it does get dull you can just sharpen it (unless you overheat it, in which case go back to the start). Turn it and watch carefully for the colors to change; in this case you want a medium red/cherry red evenly in that last quarter- to three-eighths inch, just as the 'shadow' disappears (as described in the blacksmithing post). As soon as you get that color, stick it point-first into the oil and swirl it around to cool.

8) Once completely cool you can check it with a file; with most of the drills I've used, when fully hardened the file will just skate off without biting. If you've got more than one to do, harden the other one while the first cools completely.

9) Clean off the oil and lightly sand the bevels - by machine or hand, either works - so you can see the tempering colors. And yes, you must clean the oil off first; if you have some on the shined surface it'll start burning when it gets hot and make the colors hard to see.

Do this in a place with good light, but not in direct sun, so you can see the colors change. Start heating - low flame, a good inch or so back from the point - turning the piece to keep it evenly heating. You'll first see the yellow appear around the heated area and start marching down (slowly, if you use a low flame; use a high flame and it'll move fast, sometimes too fast). Since this is a tool for a direct strike that has to be hard enough to cleanly cut into steel as well as any other metal you might be using, watch it closely: the sequence is faint yellow/darker yellow/bronze, and I'd suggest stopping it at darker yellow or light bronze by dipping the point - just that last half-inch or so - into the oil and holding it there about ten seconds, then lowering the punch most of the way in. The reason for doing it this way is that if you only cool the point and then take it out, there might be enough residual heat in the area you used the torch on to transfer down the piece and reheat the point, possibly enough to mess up your just-finished temper.

Here's the punch right after tempering. Note that between the oil from the quench and then washing it off, the colors are a bit darker than they were at the time it went into the oil to stop the temper.

10) That's it. Clean the oil off and give it a try; your punches should now be hard enough to stay sharp after marking.

I made two from that drill bit:  prick punch on the left, center punch on the right.

You can make chisels with this exact process, except instead of  grinding a point, you grind a flat bevel on each side, and then the edge bevel. Hardening is the same, but tempering depends on what you're using it on; for harder steel you might want to take it to a darker bronze.

Also, for a wider chisel, on the star end you can grind off two opposing arms, then use the other two as the main bevels; grind the end back to square, then grind the cutting bevels.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Interrogation Techniques

The following is presented as a guide to interrogation techniques. Using them takes training and practice, but knowing about them may help you avoid falling for the "tricks".

The specific techniques or approaches used in an interrogation are the "role" that the interrogator will "play" while trying to "break" or get information from a source. We used to teach roughly 13 approaches (depending on how you count them), here they are in no particular order.

Good cop-Bad cop. Everyone has heard of the "good cop-bad cop" approach used in Hollywood movies. The last I heard, the US Army is no longer teaching this method because it implies a threat of violence. The military has gone PC, which is not a good thing. This method requires two interrogators, one plays the "good cop", who tries to convince the source that he is there to protect the source from the "bad cop" who is there to terrorize the source. The source will talk in order to avoid the implied or actual threat of violence.

Silence. Used on very nervous sources, or one that is agitated, the interrogator just sits and stares at the source until he starts to talk just to break the silence. This works well with children, too.

We know everything, AKA Dossier. Walk in with a thick file folder padded with anything you can put into it, and act like it is the file on the source's unit or recent activity. You'll see this one used in some of the CSI-type shows. The idea is to make the source believe that you are just looking for verification of data that you already had, and that he is not really giving up anything useful. Salting the file with actual information helps this approach work.

Fear up/Fear down. These two are related in that the interrogator will work on the fear already present in the source. Fear up is trying to instill fear of what is going to happen if the source refuses to talk. Fear down is calming the fears of a source that has (usually) just gone though a traumatic experience. The goal ios to either scare them into talking or calm them enough that they can talk.

Ego up/Ego down. Ego up is the building up of a source's ego to get him to talk about things. Braggarts tend to tell more than they intend to, so this works well on boastful people. Ego down is putting down a source in order to get him to justify his actions.

Direct approach. Simply talking and asking questions works on a large percentage of people. I talked to interrogators after they came back from the mess in Grenada in the '80s, and they said this was the most useful method and that it worked about 90% of the time.

Incentive. Another one that is commonly used in the "justice" system, usually trading information for a lighter sentence. The cardinal rule was to never promise anything you can't deliver. Once trust is broken, it is broken forever. You'll have to pass the source off to another interrogator, who will have a hard time getting more out of him. Little things like a cigarette or cup of coffee can be an "ice-breaker" and get a person to start talking. Promises of better living conditions or early release are harder to fulfill, but may get a better response.

Futility. "Your part in this is over, we got you and we're going to win, so why not talk to me? I'm going to find out what I want to know anyway, why not from you?" This one works on despair as well as the possibility that you may treat them better than their former supervisors did.

Rapid fire. Peppering a person with questions, without a chance to answer, may cause them to blurt out something they were trying to withhold. Another one that works best with more than one questioner.

Repetition. Asking the same small set of questions over and over. A good way to catch a liar, but it can cause extreme frustration.

Emotion up/emotion down AKA love/hate. Exploiting a source's love of country, friends, or cultural differences or hate of discrimination, working conditions, or commanders. This one require quite a bit of knowledge of the opposing side's culture and habits.

Here's the US Army manual on POW interrogation.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Redoing, Reintroducing and Rebuilding

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Now we concentrate on what to do in, and how to plan for, the long term via Prudent Prepping.

Redoing, Reintroducing and Rebuilding

I have finished unpacking in my new place, started re-building the Get Home Bag and brought up to the Landlord a couple ideas on how to better protect the house: new deadbolts, motion sensors on the exterior lights and added locks for the windows. The existing window locks work fine, but there is no way to keep them partially open for ventilation in nice weather. Deadbolts and lights are self-explanatory. I'll have to see if he wants to go for it or not.

Get Home Bag

The inventory is really thin at the moment, with everything besides matches, lighter, Life Straw, beef jerky and a cheap emergency blanket being tossed and replaced. Warm weather gear is going in: shorts, long sleeve T-shirt, socks and a Boonie hat. A new first aid kit is going in, following this plan, since it is small bag for personal use, for a short time. One new item is being added:

A new CRKT knife. This is a C/K Dragon, model #2010KNS - sadly a discontinued model, but found on sale in a local discount sporting goods chain for $19.95! The Kydex sheath comes with 2 add-on belt adapters (1 pictured), which allow the knife to be attached any way you like: rightside up, upside down, left or right on a belt OR on a pack by inserting webbing through the slots on the sheath itself. It is very sharp out of the box, just like the 3 other CRKT knives I've seen lately. How sharp? It shaved the hair off the back of my wrist with no pull or tugging. 

I am happy with this knife and it is going in the bag.

The Last REI-cap

Sadly, my attempts to score any more discounted gear from my local REI store failed. I arrived at 6:45 on the Saturday before Father's Day and still wound up 20 people back from the door! I did go back at 10am to see what might be there, only to find things very picked-over. What I thought might be a good buy of 6 gallon water jugs turned out to be a bust, since the item tags all said "leaks from around cap/seam by cap". No tents or sleeping bags were seen at the checkout counter, either. The employees said there is still more merchandise to sell, I'm just not going back to see what it might be.

Happy with what I did find, disappointed in not seeing more of what is on the prep list.

Book Review: Survival Wisdom & Know-How

This book was found at my local Half Price Books and is filled with really great information, just like the cover says: "7,845 useful skills and step-by-step instructions". All this was compiled by the editors of Stackpole Books, a specialty publishing house founded in the 1930s, which is when most of the articles seem to have been written. This fits into my outdoor skills learning and refresher agenda. One drawback to this book is its size, 11" x 17" and 480 pages long. Luckily there is a Kindle edition available for $9.99, exactly what I paid for the print version.

Here is a picture of a small portion of the title page:

I can't even begin to talk about all the really great info packed into this book! After my 1960's era Boy Scout Handbook (which I can no longer find), this book seems to be what could be considered the expanded version. I really like this book and am considering purchasing the eBook version too.

Nothing else was purchased for my supplies this past week.

As always, 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 be 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, June 17, 2014

Mad Mike BOB Pt 2: First Aid Kit

This is a the second part in our serial review of the Bail Out Bag being offered by Michael Z Williamson.  Part 1 is here.

By now, we're no stranger to first aid kits around here.  We have an entire series dedicated to them.  That said, let's see how the kit in our review BOB stacks up.

The kit is roughly 6x8", weighs right about a pound, and fits perfectly in the outside pocket of the BOB.  One of the nice things about the entire BOB that I forgot to mention in part 1 is that, at least in my bag, all of the product documentation was included, and things still had manufacturer seals on them.  The first aid kit is no different.

From Mike's site, the kit contents are as follows:
  • Antiseptic Wound Wipe 12 ea.
  • Bandage, Butterfly Closure 4 ea.
  • Bandage, Adhesive Fabric 1" x 3" 16 ea.
  • Bandage, Adhesive Plastic 3/8" x 1 1/2" 12 ea.
  • Bandage, Adhesive Fabric Knuckle 4 ea.
  • Bandage Adhesive Fabric 2" x 4.5" 1 ea.
  • Dressing, Gauze Sterile 4 ea.
  • Dressing, Non Adherent, Sterile 2" x 3" 2 ea.
  • Tape, 1/2" x 10 Yards 1 ea.
  • Cotton Tip Applicator 4 ea.
  • Gloves, Nitrile (Pair)
  • One Hand Wipe
  • Moleskin, Pre Cut & Shaped 14 ea.
  • Bandage, Elastic 2" 1 ea.
  • Instant Cold Pack 1 ea.
  • Thermometer, Disposable (96°F to 104.8°F) 2 ea.
  • Scissors with Blunt Tip
  • Splinter Picker/ Tick Remover Forceps 1 ea.
  • Safety Pins 2 ea.
  • Triple Antibiotic Ointment 4 ea.
  • Ibuprofen (200 mg) 6 ea.
  • Acetaminophen (500mg) 6 ea.
  • Antihistamine (Diphenhydramine 25mg) 3 ea.
  • Insect Repellant and Bite Treatment; Natrapel 8 hour Tick & Insect Repellent Wipe 2 ea.
  • After Bite Kids Tube 1 ea.

Now that that's out of the way, let's actually look at it!

The kit opens up into three sections.  As it sits open, the left side, labeled "Sprains/Strains/Instruments" contains a nice pair of scissors, a chemical cold compress, and safety pins (how did I ever miss something so useful when building my own kits?).  The upper right section contains wound care, burn, and blister supplies, tape and an elastic bandage, and a very well-written first aid guide, with a focus on treatment of children.

The lower right pouch is particularly interesting to me.  It contains a pocket-sized grab-and-go mini first aid kit with some additional bandaging supplies and the majority of the medications.

To be entirely honest, I've not seen a shelf-built kit this comprehensive and well-thought-out, ever.  The contents cover the entire range of basic and common first aid needs, and it is organized in a manner that I've not seen before, short of professional bags.  Mike picked very, very well, and I continue to be impressed with this kit.


(Obligatory FTC disclaimer, since I missed it last week.  There was some dealing done for me to get this bag, but the deals didn't include any infringing on my honor or implications about my honesty.  My reviews are square and honest, and implying otherwise is just rude.)

Monday, June 16, 2014

Simple Comforts: Hot Soup (Coconut)

Hot Soup!

And no I don't mean the Ender's Game character, I mean that big bowl of delicious-smelling hot liquid, and we all have our favorite flavors. Personally, I have always loved a good bowl of chicken noodle, coconut, or egg drop soup.  All of these soups can be made from your preps among countless others.

Cold days are neutral in who they affect, and when the sun starts to vanish earlier and earlier, comfort foods will be needed to help keep spirits up.  Soup is a very good way to do just that.  A large number soups can be used as meat and vegetable sinks - in other words, if it needs to be eaten in the next day, chop it up, throw it into the pot, and turn it into soup!

So I'll be sharing what I have been able to craft from foods either in, or identical to, my preps for things like soups.   Once it gets closer to colder weather, I'll be making chili too!

Coconut Soup

This is a favorite in our home and yes, we have based it as much as possible on the Thai original.
  • 1 can of coconut milk (per two people)
  • 1 cup of water
  • Basil (dried works just as well as fresh, though you need a bit more of it)
  • Ginger (powdered ginger works as a good substitute for the lemongrass)
  • Salt
  • Lemon or lime juice (did you know they make dried and ground up whole lemon and lime powders?)
  • Meat:  canned chicken, canned crab or shrimp.  This soup is good for covering up that canned taste that comes with some seafood, just not sardines or other canned fish.  You can even use bacon bits (which will  cut down on the amount of salt you need to add).
  • Veggies.  I have used celery, cucumbers, asparagus to date so far and they work.  
  • Sriracha (Asian hot sauce) 
Set your veggies and meat to cooking in the cup of water.

After they've come to a boil, take them off the main heat and pour in the coconut milk.  You want to keep it simmering at this point, as any more than that will thicken to the coconut a lot.

Add a small amount of basil, salt, ginger and lemon juice.  Stir it in and let simmer for about a minute.

Carefully taste.  From there you'll be adding small amounts of the various flavorings until you get it the way you like it.  Now be very careful as you can easily add too much lemon/lime quickly.

Add your spices slowly.  Once you have the salt, ginger, etc the way you want, add a bit of the sriracha at a time until there's just a hint of its bite.

And there you have it.  Now, I advise canned coconut milk or coconut creme for your stores, as coconut has a lot minerals and nutrients, and is great for covering the flavor of instant coffee.  It's also a blessing for folks like me, who can't have cow dairy of any kind, regardless of what has been taken out of it. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Guest Post: The Week Ike Came to Town, part 3

Part 3:  Water, Water Everywhere...

by John "TXGunGeek" Kochan

John has been a volunteer firefighter/EMT since 1980. This is his story of being off-grid for an entire week in the wake of a hurricane, as well as being Acting Chief of his Volunteer Fire Department (VFD) during that time.

We've already discussed electricity and being part of a community. Next up is water.

Imagine, if you will, you come home from a hard day at work and step in to the shower and turn the knob and nothing happens. What do you do?

As far as Ike was concerned, part of the goofiness of the electrical outage was that some people had no electricity but still had water service, while some people had neither water nor electricity. One VERY important consideration when dealing with water is "What are you doing with it and where does it go?" 

Where does it go?

If you live in town, chances are you are on a municipal waste-water treatment service. All of these rely on electrical lift pumps and various electrical systems at the waste treatment facility in order to operate. If you are in a low-lying area, this could pose a health and general flooding risk as the sewer system backs up and can no longer lift and pump the sewage - definitely something you need to think about ahead of time! Plan to deal with this loss of service. 

If you are in a rural area, you may well still be on a municipal service, or you may have an “On Site Treatment Facility”. That is what the Texas Department of Health calls them... we call 'em Septic Systems. There are two main variations of these septic systems, Drain Field and Aerobic. 
Drain field systems are the oldest type of waste treatment around. There is a septic tank that then flows liquid effluent out to a series of pipes with holes in them that drain into a sandy and rocky strata under the ground and evaporate the liquid away. Aerobic systems have a pump with a chopper in the septic tank that then pumps the liquid effluent up through sprinklers onto a lawn surface to soak in and evaporate.
If you have a classic drain field system, you are golden, as gravity does the work for you. If you have one of the newer aerobic systems and lose power, you have a problem: the system will no longer drain and fills up with sewage.

This is an issue many residents ran into during the power outage. Many of them still had water service but  no electricity, and they kept right on using the bathroom like nothing was wrong... right up until raw sewage started pouring out across their yards. One resident even came by the fire station and asked if we could bring a fire truck over and pump their septic tank! We got in touch with a local septic service company and got them to send a couple pump trucks out our way to help out. 

Something you should check into when either buying or building in a rural area is to investigate what type of septic system is in place or what the local health department / zoning department requires. 

What are you doing with it?

During Ike, those who did not have water service at all had to deal with that problem first before they could deal with septic system issues. In a few cases, people had prepared short term water storage to deal with temporary issues. 

In the scenario listed above - which happened to us - you need to have water on hand to use if nothing happens when the tap doesn't work. In our case, I have more than once come home to a flood in the pasture between my home and the county road from a cracked water pipe. Well, that means shutting down the water at the meter and digging out where the leak is so I can repair the PVC line to the house. After digging the pipe out, in the dark, through all the mud, and getting the pipe repaired (you do have all the fixings to repair your water main, right?) you are nasty, dirty, and sweating, but the water needs to remain turned off while the PVC glue/solvent dries/hardens. What to do? 

Fortunately for us,  we also have a well and windmill, but it supplies water mainly for irrigation and stock water. We can get that water to the house, but the volume and pressure is so low that we couldn't run the house directly off of it. Instead, we use a series of 2.5 gallon bottles from the city Reverse Osmosis water place that have handles on them for easy carry. We purposely stay away from a barrel system, and even the 5 gallon bottles are too heavy for ease of carry and use. (Water weighs 8 pounds per gallon and gets heavy in quantity.) With these containers, we can wash up, flush the toilet, and even bathe if we have to. 

These bottles are also treated so that we can use them for drinking water if needed. In addition, we have crates of bottled drinking water just because they are convenient for use. It is real easy for us to refill both the small drink bottles, as well as the larger bottles from the well, when needed to keep the water somewhat flowing in the house. Not near as convenient as running water, but far ahead of the alternative.

In the case of Ike, emergency rations of water didn't flow into the area for a few days. Once they did, the water then had to make it out the people who needed it. It was stocked at the Volunteer Fire Departments and people from the community could come in and get what they needed. These were only cases of drinking water, not water in larger quantities like for flushing or bathing. 

The county jail ran into an issue when their water died. What to do with all the inmates there? The solution was really quite funny. The VFD that serves the center of the county sent one of their tanker trucks to the jail, where they managed to rig up a T and valve into the incoming water main. They connected the output of the tanker pump to the water supply system and pumped that water to the sheriff's office and county jail. Then they put a drop tank alongside the truck, and various departments in the area would send a tanker truck over to dump into the tank so the truck could pump out of it. It worked quite well, but took lots of fuel and manpower to keep it going. 

Now, not everyone has their own tanker truck, so that is not often an option. But the ingenuity of coming up with a solution is what gets people through emergencies with style.

What you can do

We were lucky - since the surrounding areas still had power, there were services available. In a total or widespread grid-down situation that would not have been possible. 

Should you be looking to buy property to set up your home or bug out location, you will want to check out county and state regulations on septic systems and wells. In many cases now, even in rural areas, the county health department must approve your request to install an On Site Treatment Facility and the county, a water conservation district, or even the state must approve your plans to drill a new well on your property. This is something you need to consider in your SHTF plans!

The Fine Print

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