Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Prudent Prepping: Fall Is Here

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

It's finally cooling down here and two things are going to happen sooner or later: it will be cold enough to fire up the heater instead of the air conditioner, and there will be rain. I know many folks are already drying out for the third time, but it hasn't rained much here for months and I expect both things to happen soon. Very soon.

Check Your Heater
I'm lucky in that my landlord is a friend and keeps the property up reasonably well. He maintains everything and usually replaces things before they break, but how do you know if something is wearing out?

Inspect it and check it. There are too many different types of heaters for me to be able to recommend anything but general tips, but this information can be used as the starting point for having your system checked.

How often should you have your heater looked over? My friend the HVAC guy says "once a year for all systems", regardless of  whether it's new or not.

Some work is best left to the pros, but we can do our part in having clean air!

Change Your Air Filter
If you have a filter, change it now. If you have a central heating and cooling system, more than likely it's full of dust and pollen from the summer. Filters are as little as $4 for disposables, to as much as $30 and up for washable and reusable ones. Look for your filter either in the return air ducting or right at your furnace. Can't find it? Ask a pro.

Clean Your Element
Speaking of "ask a pro," here's an example. Having a trained technician go through the insides of your heater is more that just running a vacuum over things: they will also check for any damaged parts, gas leaks, bad motors and proper venting.

Having the heating system looked at should be anywhere from $50 to $100 depending on your type of heater. I often see discounts offered in some Big Box stores in my area for that service.

About that venting: the CDC estimates that on average, 430 people per year die from Carbon Monoxide poisoning, and many thousands more are sickened from exposure to it. Making certain that the supply of clean air going in is equal to the bad air going out is very important. 

This is also a good time to look at your CO2 detector. There should be one on each floor of your house or other occupied space.

Rain Is Coming Soon
More than likely in the first part of November, so it's time to clean your gutters so water can flow off the roof and away from your house. I see many people near me having their trees trimmed and doing gutters at the same time, since leaves and small branches end up on the roof. For those of you that freeze, having gutters clean along with proper insulation will prevent roof damage from water freezing on and in your roof.

I don't have that problem, just occasional very heavy rain. Since this house is a slab foundation, water will sometimes not flow away fast enough and often get into the garage. Several neighbors with worse drainage than this house resort to sand bags in order to keep the water out.

Something I saw recently in my wandering through a Home Depot looks interesting as a replacement for sand bags, or maybe as a complement to them:

Quick Dam

Quick Dam

This looks really interesting as it is a continuous piece of protection, instead of several smaller items like sand bags.

From the Quick Dam Amazon listing:
  • Water Activated Flood Barriers, Rated #1 in Flood Control.
  • Grows to 3.5in high in minutes, just get them wet.
  • Long, flexible design creates all sorts of shapes.
  • Use to control, contain & divert flood water.
  • Ready to use, no sand or labor needed.
  • Compact & Lightweight, stores away until needed.
  • Use to protect doorways, garages, leaking hot water tanks, erosion control & more.
  • Dual chamber design prevents unit from rolling out of place.
  • Use indoors or out.
  • Do NOT use with salt water, chemical reaction causes deflation.
Sorry coastal people! If you get salt water intrusion, this product is not for you.

There are multiple lengths available, so finding something useful for your situation should be easy. Look at the parent company, Quick Dams, for even more interesting flood control products.

The Takeaway
  • A little prevention can keep everyone safe, healthy and alive.

The Recap

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, October 30, 2018

Worth Its Weight? The Pocket Ref

In an earlier post I discussed the utility of the Pocket Ref, and the question of whether that utility was worth the weight and space it takes in a BOB or similar. Now that I have mine in hand, let's settle that question.

Amazon's listing says that the paperback version of the book weighs roughly half a pound, and measures 3x5x1 inches. To put that into perspective, it's roughly the same footprint as a modern smartphone, but 2-3 times as thick. Ironically, it will actually fit in any of the main pockets of a pair of slacks or khakis, or the back pocket of a pair of jeans.
The Pocket Ref crams more raw information into an inch of paper than I would have ever believed. It covers a vast array of topics including Automotive information, Construction, Lifting and Rigging, Geology, Chemistry, and General Science, just to name a few. All of it is information that can be useful in your life. However, a massive portion of it -- the vast majority even -- won't be that useful on the road or in an emergency. What you need is a way to pare out the information you need so that you can take it with you while leaving the handheld library of data at home.

I was clued in to a solution for this problem by the dimensions of the book itself. What if I copied down the data I thought would be useful on the road onto 3x5 index cards? That way, I can carry just the information I find useful, taking up far less space and weight in my bag. If you're handy with your printer and word processor settings, you could also type up and print all the information on your computer, for neater and more compact text.

The problem with index cards is that they're fragile, just like all other paper products. This problem is also very simply solved. Laminating sleeves are roughly $0.10 each and Prime eligible. The 4x6 size is a bit large for index cards, but can be trimmed to fit. Normally these require a machine to set the lamination, but a simple clothes iron can also be used.

Personally, I'd start with parts of the First Aid, General Science, Lifting and Rigging, and Automotive sections, but you can grab whatever information applies to your life and situations. Stick your laminated cards into an envelope to keep them together in your bag, and have all sorts of useful information ready at hand.


Monday, October 29, 2018

Cheap Gear Review: Crack and Boil Hand Warmers

Last week I discussed hand warmers. I would argue that they are an essential piece of equipment for people who have to go into extreme cold environments on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, there is a fairly large gap, both price and convenience-wise, between most reusable hand warmers and disposables. Fortunately, there is a happy medium between those two types: "Crack and boil" type hand warmers that rely on a chemical reaction that is actually internal to the hand warmer itself.

These warmers have a small, convex metal disk held inside a gel pouch, and when use your thumb and fingers to invert the disk (making it concave), that inversion releases just enough heat to start a chemical reaction. The gel actually turns into a solid crystal that releases heat for some time.

Most crack and boil hand warmers claim that they only last for 30-45 minutes, which I find is an underestimation; in my experience about twice that length of time is reasonable to expect from them.

When these warmers have finished giving off heat, just boil them in water for a few minutes to reset them. I have accidentally left the hand warmers in for an hour with no ill effect, but it only takes a few minutes to desolidify the gel.

In addition to being reusable, these warmers come in a huge variety of sizes and shapes. I have several that are 6+ inches across and are designed for use on muscle cramps, as well as 3 inch around hand warmers that I use during sporting events.

I haven't had one fail on me, either, despite things like teenage boys whacking them against brick walls. Abuse in excess of usual wear and tear doesn't seem to compromise them, but I have yet to cut into one, so don't go overboard. 

Recommendation: 5/5
Overall, I would definitely recommend these for your preps. They rate five out of five stars for things like sporting events, and being able to give them to children without worries about them being overly expensive, or the children breaking them. You don’t need a source of open flame or special storage for them; just boil a pot of water to reset them and don’t deliberately puncture the packaging.

The biggest drawback to these is that they require boiling water, meaning you cannot easily reset them in the field. These may not be your best option in the middle of a disaster or while evacuating; or the same space and weight you can carry a fair amount of fuel for a zippo style hand warmer. Three out of five stars for use in that situation, so keep them out of your 72 hour kits.

In a long-term SHTF situation, however, that disadvantage becomes minor since you will need to boil water anyway for cooking and sanitation. (I frequently reset my warmers after heating water to make hot cocoa.)

Good luck, and don’t forget to practice.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Packing Up and Heading Home in the Dark

You're far from home, it's dark outside, and no electronics work. What do you bring along and what do you leave behind?

Part three in a series on the gear we carry and how we use it.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The UST Parahatchet FS

A while back I sampled and reviewed some common emergency rations. One of the first brands I found was the Ultimate Survival Technologies (UST) 2400 kCal bar. It was in the middle of the pack of all of the brands I tested, but it has one advantage: I can buy it at Wal-Mart. I like having the option of buying survival gear locally, with cash, to confuse the data-miners that are constantly scanning my digital traces to build a “better” profile on me. I'm a private person and don't like it when groups try to gather information on me.

While picking up a few more of the UST food bars to spot-check their quality control, I looked around the camping gear to see what else was interesting and found the UST Parahatchet FS.

The “Para” part of the name comes from the paracord wrapping of the handle, which is handy for providing a more comfortable grip to a piece of flat steel and gives you about 8 feet of cheap paracord if you need it. The “FS” is for the included fire-starter, which is a combination of magnesium rod and sparking rod. Here's a list of the features and my thoughts on each.

The Hatchet
Small, but sharp right out of the package. It's not terribly heavy, which is good for carrying but means it won't have the mass for a good bite into wood when swung. The cutting edge is about 4 inches wide and slightly curved to help it cut through wood. This is going to be limited to branches and sticks less than 2 inches thick due to its size. Touching it up with a sharpening stone, I can tell they used a fairly good grade of steel and it is hardened.

On the back of the hatchet is a sharpened notch for cutting rope and cordage. It seems to work on light cordage in a few quick tests. I like the fact that it is ground on both sides instead of just one; that makes it harder to sharpen, but also makes it cut better.

Three Wrench Holes
I'm not sure how often people need a wrench in a survival situation, but they do seem to pop up on a lot of gear. These are standard (not metric) wrenches in 3/8, 9/16, and 11/16 sizes. From personal experience, 7/16, ½, and 9/16 would have been a better choice since they're more common.

The Holster
It comes with a nylon holster that has metal rivets reinforcing the side where the cutting edge rests. You have to insert the top of the blade into the holster and roll the bottom into it in order to get the hatchet in the holster, which is good for retention, but takes a bit of practice to master. The Velcro closure seems to be large enough for the weight of the hatchet. There's a pouch on the front of the closure for the fire-starter (see below), but it's very snug, and inserting the fire-starter is best done with the closure open. The belt loop on the back of the holster is about 1.75 inches wide, so it will fit on most belts.

The Fire-Starter
A cute blending of a magnesium rod with a groove that holds the sparking rod. The magnesium alloy is softer than most, and the sparking rod works well. I tested them on the back of the hatchet blade and they both seemed to function as designed.

For something that you can pick up at Wal-Mart for about $12, this is a fair buy. Comparing it to any of the similar hatchets on the market (which all cost 2-5 times as much) might be a winter project for me, but I'm going to give this one a while to prove itself.

Among the various tools and toys I keep in my truck, I usually have a normal hatchet and bow saw for dealing with tree branches, but I've been looking for something to add to my GHB that would be a bit lighter and smaller. The Parahatchet looks like it might fill that spot; more testing will have to wait until I have some free time. Expect a field report in a few months!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Prudent Prepping: Size(ing) Matters

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

I call on Big Box stores for my job covering hardware items: nut, bolts, screws and related products. Luckily for me I don't have to wear the uniforms of a store employee,  but I do have a corporate logo on my shirt which attracts customers like, well, several NSFW analogies. Let's just say that being on the aisle, not running from customers, and looking reasonably competent makes me popular!

There are two questions I hear multiple times a day. I wish I could get a quarter every time I hear them because I'd have lunch money forever:
  1. "Excuse me, do you work here?" 
  2. "Excuse me, do you know what size/length/thread bolt this is?"
Smartphones with decent cameras have helped shoppers find equipment and parts by being able to show a picture of what they need to someone who can help find it.

Most of the time. Pictures do not help with nuts, bolts and screws. This does.

Gage-It Hardware Gauge

From the Gage-It Home Depot page:
  • Provides more than 20 measurement capabilities in English and metric units for finding lumber sizes, making conversions, calculating angles and much more
  • Measures screw, bolt, nut and nail sizes with ease
  • Measures steel, brass and PVC pipe sizes by O.D.
  • Measures copper and CPVC tubing sizes by O.D.
  • Measures drill, rod, tube and wire sizes by O.D.
  • Measures copper and CPVC joint tube fittings and internally threaded pipe fittings by I.D.
  • PVC construction with 2-color printing on the front side for ease of use and a stylish appearance
  • All-purpose scales on the back side include 1/4 in. and 1/8 in. architectural scales and O.D. and I.D. in English and metric units for your convenience
  • Rules graduated in inches and centimeters, an electrical wire gauge and conversion formulas are provided for converting measurements to other scales with ease

Thread Gauge
Why might this be important in a prepping situation? Having a way to match sizes of screws and bolts easily will shortcut the hunt for a match, since without a lot of exposure to different sizes, a 3/8" nut is hard to tell from a 7/16" or a 1/4" from 5/16" nut. 

What is not so easy to measure with this handy little tool is thread pitch. There are metal gauges that have threaded holes in them, but for the average person the cost is not worth it. Your local hardware store has a tool similar to this (see photo, left) for matching threads.

This particular tool is almost 3' long and also has threaded studs for matching nuts as well as sockets you see for matching screws and bolts. If you look right at the bottom of the picture, you can see that metric sockets are also included on the display.

The Takeaway
  • Having a way to get 90% of a perfect match to that needed fastener before you get to the store is a good idea. 
  • Why wander around looking for an employee to help and then stand in line to check out when you can find it yourself?

The Recap
  • One Armour Technologies Gage-It tool: $1.98 from Home Depot.
  • There's a similar item on Amazon that isn't solid plastic like this. I'm not mentioning it by name; just trust me and save your money.

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, October 23, 2018

Electrical Repairs: Light Switch

One of the simplest electrical repairs is replacing a standard light switch. With basic safety precautions, it is something anyone can do with very basic tools. This video walks through the entire process.

I think my wife is starting to love this series, since she's getting upgrades to all her electrical devices from it.


Monday, October 22, 2018

Cheap Gear Review: Zippo Hand Warmers

Winter is Coming, or at least that's what I've been told, by people who read a lot of epic fantasy.

Be that as it may, I live in a chilly climate in the Rocky Mountains, especially this time of year. I have plenty of history to draw upon for stories of people who have literally frozen to death while crossing through the area I live in, brave tales of losing fingers to frostbite adorn the plaques at local parks, and there is quite literally a statue that memorializes a group of individuals who saved many others by taking them across a frozen river and later dying of related injuries.

On the other hand, I get irritated when my hands are cold while I'm at a soccer game. But I don't like spending money on disposable hand warmers, so of course I went ahead and spent $28 on reusable Zippo hand warmers. Note that this is $14 per warmer, not per set!

Now in my defense, at the time I bought these I was working outdoor construction during the winter. Having owned them for a couple of years, they've only saved me a few dollars overall, but I still think they were worth it.

I'm going to compare the Zippo to the more standard, disposable hand warmers everyone is familiar with.

Standard Hand Warmers vs. Zippo: Cons
  • They are not reusable. This means that the cost really does add up after a  time,  especially if you’re in a very cold climate and/or have to be outdoors a great deal. 
  • They have a relatively short lifespan. They are good for a number of years while still in the package, but once they are open they only last for about four hours. If you’re attending a soccer game, that’s great; if you're working overseeing a construction crew, that’s a pain in the butt.
  • Standard hand warmers are not refuelable. This is another variant on  “not reusable”, but instead of a cost in dollars, it’s a cost of space. The amount of fuel that my Zippo hand warmer requires takes up notably less space than a single packet of disposable hand warmers, and those are already fairly small.
  • Refillable hand warmers can get hotter than standard ones. Mine actually comes with a little pouch for it that allows you to restrict how much airflow it gets, allowing you to keep it burning for longer and a little bit cooler, but you don’t have to. I have actually handed mine to someone who stuffed it down the front of their shirt in order to keep their torso warm,  which does a much better job at than a traditional hand warmer.

Standard Hand Warmers vs. Zippo: Pros
  • They are smaller than the Zippo, and thus easier to stick inside a glove or similar. 
  • They're cheaper if you don’t use hand warmers a lot.
  • They don’t require you to fuel them. You open them, shake them, and use them. 
  • They store well. They take up only a fairly small amount of space and are very light. 
  • They aren't expensive.
  • They are flexible. This is the biggest advantage that I've found to this type. The Zippo style of reusable hand warmer cannot be slid into place in a boot as easily or comfortably as a traditional disposable. .
  • The Zippo catalyst eventually wears out, and you have to replace it. I haven't had this happen yet, but it does eventually happen. 
All that said…

My Zippo hand warmers have lasted me for six years, and I tend to break them out at least once a winter. I’m not outdoors as much, or at least not for work, but I am out and about just often enough to regret it not bringing the hand warmers out of storage. They're nice for when I'm outdoors all day; if I'm outdoors for less than two hours, they really aren’t worth the effort.

Rating: 4/5
If you live in a very cold climate, I seriously recommend looking into getting a Zippo hand warmer due to the savings from it being reusable. If you already use a Zippo lighter, the hand warmers even use the same fuel, which simplifies your logistics.

If you live in a less-cold environment where you only need hand warmers a few times every winter, then use disposable ones instead.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

In the Dark

You're out with friends when disaster strikes. What do you do when you're in the dark?

Part two in a series on the gear we carry and how we use it.

Thursday, October 18, 2018


The word “panic” comes from the name of the Greek god Pan, the god of the woods and fields, and the entity responsible for making mysterious noises that would spook herds of animals and scare people in lonely places. The dictionary definition of “panic” is a sudden overwhelming fear, with or without cause, that produces hysterical or irrational behavior, and that often spreads quickly through a group of persons or animals.

Let's break that down and look at the individual parts and how to counteract them where possible.

People don't plan to panic; it's a flight response to something that their minds either can't comprehend or is perceived as a threat. I've seen people panic when they can't find their child in a store, misplace or lose something of great value, or just plain get scared out of their wits. Panic hits quickly, and there is very little warning.

Situational awareness will prevent a lot of the causes of panic: if you know what's going on around you, it's less likely that something will appear suddenly. Organize your things and control your offspring.

Panic takes over a person's thought processes, hindering or preventing logical thought. The instinct to flee danger is hardwired into us, and isn't something that's easy to turn off once triggered.

Unfortunately, the only two ways I know to break a panic spell are to wait until it passes or have an external source of control impose order into the situation. Talking a friend down from a panic attack is never fun, but it's something we should be prepared to do. You can be the source of control that they need. Laughing about it later is a choice you'll have to make based on your level of friendship.

With or Without Cause
Panic with cause is natural; panic without cause is an anxiety disorder. The natural forms of panic are easy to identify after the fact, and may even be predictable in some cases. I'm not a psychologist or doctor, so I won't try to diagnose a mental disorder.

Anxiety disorders are treated with anti-anxiety medications. Most of them have side effects that should be carefully considered and discussed with the doctor who prescribes them. They are also one of the classes of medications that you don't want to stop taking suddenly.

The “with cause” forms of panic are best countered by avoiding, or at least being aware of, what may trigger them. Situational awareness is a good defense, as is a healthy self-knowledge.

Irrational Behavior
This is where panic can become dangerous. The word “hysterical” is out of fashion, since it originally referred to women and the emotional roller-coaster they endure during menstruation, so I'll stick with “irrational”. Irrational means without a rational basis; in other words, mindless. Irrational behavior can mean running towards a greater danger or freezing in the path of oncoming danger.

Strength of will is the only way I know of to fight irrational behavior. You have to be in control of yourself and know how to think things through under stress. Recognizing the first tinge of panic and telling yourself, “No, I will not let this take control of me” is difficult, but necessary.

Spreads Quickly
Panic is highly contagious. The more homogeneous the group, the faster panic can spread because of shared cultural and personal biases. Financial panics are a good example: a large group of people who all deal with the same products and processes, and who communicate in many ways, is very susceptible to the spread of panic. If one person panics, another one will see their actions and likely panic as well, causing a chain reaction of irrational behavior. Natural and man-made disasters that affect large groups are perfect triggers for mass panic, especially when routes of escape are limited or blocked: fire in a crowded building, rumors in a refugee camp, and unlocking the doors of a store on Black Friday are all examples of things that can trigger a crowd into a panic.

The easiest way to avoid the spread of panic is to avoid crowds. If you can't avoid a crowd, always know where the exits are and position yourself near one. If you see a panic starting, get away as quickly as you can. By definition, irrational people will hurt you without thinking about it, so get clear by any means available.

Absent an underlying anxiety disorder, most people only panic when they are abruptly presented with something that is foreign to their lives, or if they get caught up in a “herd” mentality and someone else panics.

To prevent panic:
  1. Know yourself and your surroundings.
  2. Think about what could go wrong and plan accordingly.
  3. Have a backup plan. 
These are all part and parcel of being a prepper, and will keep you a bit safer during a panic.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Prudent Prepping: The "Key" to Security, pt. 2

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

In this post from last year, I talked about buying extra keys for my new (to me) car. Since then I've tried several different ways to hide a spare key and keep it waterproofed, with little success. That is, until now.

Monster Magnetics MiniMag Plus

This is what I originally tried to do with other boxes, but without any success. I couldn't get a good watertight seal or attach a magnet securely to the box. The usual hide-a-key boxes available from any hardware store aren't waterproof, and even with a liberal coating of silicone did not keep moisture out. I tried. This actually works.

From the Monster Magnetics Amazon page:
  • HIDE A KEY, FOB, FULL SET OF KEYS - AND MORE! Covertly stash your valuables and magnetically mount in, on, under, or behind any magnetic surface - in a secret hidden spot that only you know! The watertight magnetic container will stay securely attached to any magnetic surface - in any environment. This all-weather dry box makes the perfect under-car hide a key, GPS tracker mounting case, geocache swag container, and stash box for securing keys, money, jewelry, meds or just stashing your goods.
  • 16 CUBIC INCHES OF STORAGE SPACE! More storage capacity than the original MINIMAG ensures a great fit for the new larger GPS trackers, such as Spot Trace Anti Theft, Vectu, and Trackimo, and also fits smaller devices along with up to a 3-cell extended battery. Great for spare keys, fobs, garage door openers, cash, cigarettes, meds - most any reasonably sized item you might not want found in your vehicle. Great accessory for your geocaching accessories and swag arsenal!

My Honda key
From what I've read, this is designed to hold GPS/Tracking devices that mount to cars, so it has to be watertight and securely mounted to any steel parts of a car or truck. There is plenty of room in this box to hold 2-3 fobbed keys and have space left over to hold other things of value.

The box is actually larger than I need, with the interior measuring 4.25 x 2.81 x 1.38" and the exterior 5 x 3.75 x 2",  but the smaller version is just a little too short to hold my key. It will however hold a non-fob key just fine or one of the switchblade folding keys equally fine.

Since the box has a little more volume than I need, there is a little bubble wrap under my key to keep it from rattling around and possibly getting damaged.

In the top photo you can see the two magnets used to secure the box to your car. These are neodymium magnets and measure right at 1" (or 25mm) and are recessed into the case. They are also strong. How strong, you ask? I locked the box to the garage door track and, holding it square to the bracket, I almost lifted myself off the floor before the magnets let go. Where and how it is mounted on my car means I'll have to really do some damage to knock this thing off!

I always look at the Q&A portion of the Amazon ads, both for the reviews and to see what some of the questions others have asked the seller. This item has several 'interesting' questions, and the best one was a question if the box was smell or air tight! The answer was "No", so if someone finds it necessary to carry goods that might be detected through scent, find another container!

The Takeaway
  • If you have an electronic key fob, there needs to be extra care in protecting you spare key from the weather. If I had planned things better, I would have made TWO valet keys and placed one copy in the hide-a-key box and hidden the regular key inside the car.
  • This is a LOT more than I really wanted to spend, but I can't take the chance of ruining this key!

The Recap

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, October 16, 2018

Pocket Ref Preview

We're taking a break from electrical work this week, mostly because another project has superseded working on the house. In lieu of that, let's take a look at something cool that I was reminded of by a couple other members of the staff: a book called The Pocket Ref. With a name like that, it sounds like something the NFL could have used a few years back, but in reality it's far less humorous and far more useful.

The Pocket Ref is a handy reference for all things math, conversion, and general knowledge. I've handled them in the past, but never owned one. I had honestly forgotten about it until it came up in a discussion among the BCP staff.

I can attest that they're worth having in any prepper's library, especially when the paperback is under $13. The question posed, however, is whether it is worth packing into a BOB or other prepper bag. Is the knowledge within useful on the road or in the woods, and is it worth the weight and space it contains, in contrast to other books?

I've ordered my copy, and highly recommend it for any library, whether or not it's worth toting with you. As soon as mine gets here, I'll break down the kind of material it covers and we can start determining it's value as a mobile resource.

If you're the kind who hits the reference materials frequently, or are just a bibliophile with a bit of extra green, there's also a hardcover available for $35, which is pretty reasonable given the contents. A bit of Google-fu also shows some .pdf copies of the book, but I have no clue about accuracy, completeness, or legitimacy, as I've not found them on my usual digital copy sources.

Order your copy and we'll start a Pocket Ref Book Club!


Monday, October 15, 2018

Hand Tools for Woodworking

Many preppers have aspirations of building something at some point in their lives.
  • Some of them have the money to have someone else do it for them;
  • Some of them have the power tools and skills (or how-to manuals) to do it themselves fairly easily;
  • Some preppers don’t have the money for power tools, but they have the skillset to use inexpensive hand tools to do the job well;
  • And some preppers don’t have any of those.
This post is directed at those of you who fall into the latter group.

Several preppers I know have made "First In, First Out" shelving, or have made a raised bed frame for the express purpose of keeping food storage underneath it. Both of these projects are good for beginners, since both of them are fairly simple, relatively forgiving, and fairly easy. I recommend that you look into a project that you want to do before you invest in tools, so that you know what you will want.

Whatever your project, you will need a few basic hand tools. At minimum, you will need:
  • Handsaw. The linked handsaw is actually fairly nice, and you can purchase a much cheaper one if you want, but the extra ten or so dollars for this one means that you will be able to cut things more easily and with less effort. Because you will not have to put in as much effort, it will stay sharp longer and will cut straighter lines. 
  • Tape Measure. This one does an adequate job, and will generally be fine for a beginner.
  • Carpenter's Pencil. I like to use a carpenters pencil, but a normal #2 pencil, just like you use in school, will do just fine. Cheap works just fine for this.
  • Hammer. “When all that you have is a hammer, the entire world looks like nails”. There are cheaper hammers on the market, but for a general use, inexpensive hammer that is useful and durable, I recommend something like this. I especially like one that is a little heavier (over 12 oz) for when I have to construct larger things, like animal cages or shelving.

There are also several tools that will make it much easier, but are not actually totally necessary:
  • Carpenter's Square. The most used feature on this tool is allowing you to mark right angles on things. There are a lot of advanced features, and some neat tricks if you want to look them up, but having a carpenter's square makes life a lot easier when you are doing woodworking, with hand or power tools. 
    • This one is inexpensive, but works great. The advantage to metal ones is that they tend to be a little tougher, and over years of use, the numbers are more clear on them. If you only use it intermittently, you are probably fine with a cheap plastic one.
  • Hacksaw. Hacksaws are great for cutting into boards that have who-knows-what in them, like old nails or screws. If you are very space limited, a hacksaw can actually substitute for several other kinds of saw, such as a wood cutting saw, so long as you have replacement blades. (If you want to get replacement blades, remember that low tooth count blades -- 9 to 16 or so -- are best for wood and plastic, while high tooth count is better for harder materials like metal).
    • I like this model because of how compact it is, and I keep one in my general use tool box. It extends the blade in such a way that it is a little harder to make precise cuts at the tip, but you can put it into places that another saw could not reach. I have used it to make some fairly nice cuts on lumber when something else was not available; I just had to go slowly and carefully.
  • Center Punch. When you have to make a precise mark and put a nail in it or measure with it, it's sometimes easier to use a center punch than to just use a pencil since the punch leaves a divot in the wood.
    • In a pinch you can just use a nail, which works just fine for woodwork. The advantage of a center punch is that it is easier to use. I also have a tendency to accidentally hammer in a nail that I am using as a center punch for wood.
  • Tool bag or box. I prefer a tool bag for a small tool kit like this which doesn't have a bunch of fragile or expensive items in it. Tool boxes tend to be more expensive for the same carrying capacity, but have a hard shell to protect things like expensive tools or chemicals. Tool boxes have the added advantage that they are harder to break into, since they are usually easier to lock and much harder to cut. 
    • That said, the point of this article is that you can have a good tool kit for an inexpensive price. I like this model because it has the features that I need, is fairly durable, and not unreasonably expensive. 

Now when you go on to whatever project you choose, know that you have the needed tools to make just about anything that a carpenter could before 1900, and you bought them all for around $100.

Good luck, and don’t forget to practice.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Training for the Future

If you've been a prepper for any length of time, you'll have at least thought about getting training in one field or the other. Basic first aid, field-craft, marksmanship, and food storage are all valuable skills that we commonly seek training in.

The question for today is “What are you doing to train other people?” We all have skills of various kinds and at various levels, so there is always room to teach as well as learn. This was brought to mind recently at work when my boss fell down some stairs and broke his ankle. Not a major crisis, but since he and I are the only ones who know how to do most of the less-mundane tasks around here, guess who got saddled with doing all of them? I have a couple of co-workers, but they are new and haven't seen some of the problems that I have. They're younger than my son, so I have a lot more experience troubleshooting and fixing problems as they arise, and they're learning things at a decent rate. They also have young families that take up a lot more time than my empty nest, so they're not available to work the hours that I am. The next few months are going to be interesting.

Training others is essential for a few reasons.

Like my boss, sometimes people get injured. What are you going to do if your cook/mechanic/guard/gardener gets injured or sick? If they haven't passed on some of their skills, life will be a lot more difficult.

Future Generations
I have grandkids that I want to see grow up and become useful, happy people. Teaching children that they can do things and change things is a great way to prevent the victim mentality that has infected so many of our youth. If you've been reading our blog for a while, you'll know that I tend to take a long-term approach to prepping. I want to see my family get through bad times as best they can, and that means prepping them as much as prepping for them.

This is also the only way to prevent the loss of knowledge if things go Dark Ages-style wrong.

Sometimes our tribes get scattered. People move around and may not be close enough to take advantage of the skills and tools you've accumulated; teaching them how to be more self-sufficient will make their lives easier and may provide you a resource to call upon if you're traveling or caught in a disaster away from your normal area.

Having two or more people trained to do a task usually means that the job can get done faster. Use your specialists for the tough jobs, and have them train people to be able to take care of the lesser jobs. Having run into college graduates who can't identify a Phillips-head screwdriver, this is a no-brainer for me; having a knowledgeable “gopher” handy will save a lot of trips to the tool box and thus a lot of time.

Think back to when you were in school: did you have good teachers who went out of their way to teach you something? If you did, you will remember them for the rest of your life. Teaching and training people is an excellent way to generate goodwill among groups, and can open doors to opportunities that you may not have seen before. Mutual aid in time of crisis is based on goodwill and common skills, so you can increase your options by spreading the wealth of knowledge that you hold.

Before you start thinking that you're lacking any useful skills, please go read one of my earliest posts. No one who isn't evil is worthless. You have skills, but you might have to stretch your imagination a bit to figure out how they can be used in a crisis. You can also get training in other skills, which you can bring back to your tribe and pass on to others.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Prudent Prepping: Calling an Entrenching Tool a Spade

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

My friend the Master Chief is a Geardo 1st Class with Oak Leaf Clusters (or whatever the Navy version is). He disposes his income in ways I can't on items that I really like. Here is one of them.

KP Solution Chico Group Folding Camping Survival Shovel

From the KP Solutions Amazon page:
  • VERSATILE, PORTABLE UTILITY: Take this folding shovel tool camping, hiking, in your car. Keep it handy at a backyard party and amuse guests using the bottle opener in the spade blade.
  • LIGHT AND COMPACT: No need to haul a belt or bucket of tools. You’ve got what you need for the beach or a few hours gardening, hanging at your waist.
  • GARDENING OR EMERGENCIES: This tactical grade multitool is a spade, pick saw, car glass hammer, fire starter and folds into a hoe. All in a small carrying pouch.
  • PRUNE SMALL BRANCHES: Swap out the spade for a saw - the multi-piece handle lets you use either one. At just over a pound there’s no excuse not to take it camping.
  • USE IN SNOW OR SUN: This multitool will be useful any time of year, whether to shovel snow off your steps, hoe your garden, or sawing kindling.
I like the weight (it's not listed, but I'm guessing < 3lbs), the fact that it stores in the included pouch, and how solid the handle feels when assembled. The segments thread together very easily, and there is a gasket (similar to the ones on better flashlights) to keep moisture out.

How the shovel blade articulates is pretty much how every folding shovel works: turn the locking ring to free the tabs and unfold to the angle you want. You have a choice to use this as a hoe, or to unfold the blade completely and use it as a shovel. The hinge and bracing plates that allow the dual use seem very stout and unlikely to wear out or break any time soon.

I'm not so sure of the durability of the included accessories, especially the saw blade. It certainly seems to be mounted firmly into its segment, but I don't know how well it will last if used as an actual saw. The Phillips screwdriver seems to be a #2 and I have the same questions on life span with it as I do with the saw.

Don't even ask what the Master Chief said about the compass on the end of the handle. Just don't.

Since this is not my personal tool, I'll have to wait for some action pictures, possibly this weekend, when spring bulbs get planted. All of our camping trips were canceled by being either directly affected by the N. California fires or were close enough to be covered in smoke and ash.

The Recap

The Takeaway
  • For bugging out or camping, a shovel is a good tool to consider. 
  • While this product needs further testing before I can recommend it. 
  • If it works, though, then it's something I'd like to keep in my trunk.

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, October 9, 2018

Electrical Diagnostic Tools

I promised a video demonstrating electrical diagnostic tools, and here it is. I also promise a whole lot more with the multimeter as I fix other things in my house.


Monday, October 8, 2018

DIY Air Filters

Erin suggested I write a follow-up post to Prepping for Asthma, explaining how to make a box fan air filter. This is useful when you deal with asthma, but also dealing with air quality issues, such as forest fires.

For most of you, an air filter is something you really don’t think of very much. Maybe you stick it in the furnace and change it once a year (if that often; even if people should, they usually don't), and most of you don’t think of it beyond that except to think “Oh, the air smells a little funny” once in a while. One of those great things about living in modern society is that often we live in an environment where we don't have to think about these things.

Unfortunately, if the SHTF scenario you will occasionally find that certain things don’t happen --  things like shipments of allergy drugs, or furnace filters, or similar, and you will find that sometimes you have to improvise something. The goal of this article is to show you how to make a do-it-yourself, HEPA type filter unit, with near HEPA grade air filtration. This should be usable in case of emergencies, and while not muscle driven, it draws a very low amount of power and should work for extended periods of time off of a simple battery bank or solar panel system.


Box Fan
A square fan that is commonly found in the summers across the US. Usually 20 inches by 20 inches, they tend to be very common in places that cannot afford air conditioning. During the summer they tend to run between $20-30, but you can find them in a great many discount/thrift stores in working order for as little as $2-3.

Hog Hair Filter
A coarse prefilter (usually made from a synthetic fiber, usually used as a simple particulate filter on swamp coolers) can be useful to extend the life of your other filters by catching things like large chunks of things and pet hair. Washable and reusable, it comes in very useful. Hog hair filters can be obtained at most hardware stores and Walmarts. They're meant to be cut down to the size needed, and usually cost between $5-10.

Mid-Grade Filter
Most furnace filters come with a rating system. Major retailers tend to have their own, but what it boils down to is that some of them are more efficient than others. More effective ones cost more money, and so having a cheaper one in front of it on the air intake saves your more expensive filter from having to be replaced as often. If you are willing to spend noticeably (8-10 times) more than the disposable filters cost, you can buy a cut-to-size washable mid-grade filter for $20-30. These are useful for filtering out as much as possible before you get to the pricey ones, to save you money on replacements.

(The listed Amazon link is an example. Amazon doesn't sell these in small quantities; I think it has to do with shipping.)

HEPA Filter
HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Arrestance. Originally developed for use by the Manhattan Project to trap radioacative particles in the air before the scientists' lungs did, since then they have found many uses in hospitals, homes, manufacturing, and even agriculture. HEPA will filter down to a very small level, even taking out viruses and odors. For this project you want a HEPA furnace filter from someplace like Home Depot. They typically are rated to last around 3 months of continuous use, but if you use other filters in front of them they will last much longer. They cost upwards of $10.

(Again, multi pack.)


  • A box fan is typically 20 inches by 20 inches. 
  • Filters, which we will be adding to them, are measured by height, length, and depth. 
  • You will want a 20 inch by 20 inch by 1 inch filter, for both the mid grade and HEPA filters.
  • In the cases of washable and/or sizeable filters, simply find something that is around 1 inch deep, and that can be cut to size that is at least 20 inches by 20 inches. Excess material can be used for other projects, such as air filters for lawn mowers.

  1. Stack the filters in front of the air intake to the box fan from least fine on the outside to most fine on the inside.
    • In this example, put the hog hair on the outside and the HEPA filter next to the fan, with the midgrade between them. 
  2. Make sure that if there are any airflow direction arrows on the outside edges of the filters, that they are pointed the correct direction.
  3. The easiest way to secure your filters to your fan is simply with suction. If you turn a fan onto high, usually it will keep a three stage filter (HEPA, mid grade, and hogs hair) in place while the fan is running. 
    • You may want to put zip ties at the corners of the filter, punching through the filters and connecting to the plastic grid protecting the fan blades.
    • Alternately, use duct tape or similar.
  4. Sit in front of the filter, and enjoy.
  • When the hogshair is visibly filled with debris (such as pet hair) or is noticeably darker than it was, wash it using dish soap and water, and put it back into use. 
  • When the midgrade or HEPA filters become visibly darker (they start out as white or a very light grey), replace them. 
  • I usually visually inspect my filters about twice a season, and depending on how much they have pulled out of the air, they may last the entire season (or longer).

This air filter is simple, effective, cheap. It clears a room of burned food smoke remarkably quickly; pollen, pet hair and dander, and even viruses get caught in the filter and can save you a lot of grief. And if the power goes out, just use the power module you built; the power draw for this is quite low.

Friday, October 5, 2018


Some thoughts on, and examples of, I’m Never Coming Home (INCH) “bags”.

And the Survival Water Bottle:

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Local Sources

In times of chaos like hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, and civil unrest, many people rely on “the government” to provide for them. As preppers, I feel we should look at “the government” as one of many sources for aid and not to rely on their assistance for much of anything; after all, our own federal government tells us to have a minimum of three days' food and water on hand because it will take them at least that long to respond to a disaster. When disasters happen too close to each other, even the bloated bureaucracy get stretched beyond its limits and they start to ration aid. This is one good reason of many to prepare ahead of time.

I know we cover a lot of online information and sources for gear, but how many of you are building your local connections? If it's going to take days or weeks for outside help to arrive and start putting things back together, it may be time to take a look around and see who and what you have locally that can alleviate some of the chaos. I've learned that most people have a fair memory and will repay kindness as they can. Making friends with your local sources might come in handy someday. Here are a few worth noting:

Local Medical Staff
My sister-in-law is a nurse and her neighbor is also an RN. The doctors that run the local clinics all live in the local communities and we have several more that commute to the city every day for work. Knowing where the closest medical assistance is can be vital, even if they aren't at work. They have skills and training that could literally save your life. Don't forget the local veterinarians! They're more likely to be familiar with improvising than a medical doctor.

Local Power Company
After major storms, local power companies will get assistance from other companies -- they have a form of “mutual aid” agreement for situations that require more manpower than they can supply. I've also seen them help each other find parts that aren't in the normal supply chains. The linemen and underground crews will have electricians that can answer a lot of your household sized questions, so they're a good source to know.

Water/Wastewater Technicians
This aren't very glorious jobs, but everyone will notice if they aren't done right. These are the people with access to the lab tests that can tell you if a water source is safe to drink from, and the ones who will be working overtime to make sure the contents of your toilet ends up in the right place after you flush it. Laugh at them all you want as you Google dysentery and typhus.

Road Crews
When flooding knocks out a bridge and you don't know a way around, the men and women who maintain the roads will be able to tell you what's still passable and will be the ones repairing the damage afterwards most likely. If nothing else, they'll have access to some heavy equipment that could make cleanup a lot quicker.

Law Enforcement
Small towns are easier than large cities when it comes to getting to know your local LEOs, because we don't have the turnover rate (sheriffs around here tend to stay in office for decades) or constant reassignments that a large city will. This allows us to get to know the good ones from the bad ones, and take steps towards each accordingly. I have very little official interaction with law enforcement, but I know several of them on a personal level. They're people like the rest of us, so there are some I would gladly help and others I wouldn't piss on if they were on fire.

We don't have paid fire/rescue crews in my home county; they're all volunteer. That means that some of the folks who will show up to a house fire or auto accident will know the victims quite well, and in many cases will be related to them. These are good people to know and make friends with, because they will know more about the local area than anyone outside of law enforcement. They also have access to some nifty tools for extraction and entry into buildings and vehicles, which could be useful.

Construction Workers
Smaller sub-contractors tend to be mom-and-pop operations. Once you find someone who does good work at a fair price, keep in contact with them. They might be more willing to help you repair or rebuild if they have a favorable opinion of you.

In times past we called them blacksmiths, but most towns and cities have small businesses that take on small repair or fabrication jobs. Farming communities will always have someone who can weld together a broken part that is no longer made, and the cities will have machine shops that serve the same purpose. Getting to know these people might give you options for repairing or repurposing things that you wouldn't have thought of. If you have local artists that deal in metal or wood, they may be a suitable replacement if you can keep them on task.

Local Gun Shop Owners
I saved the best for last. Get to know the local gun shops around you. You'll soon figure out which are there for the customers and which are just there to make a buck, but either will be a source for supplies and ammunition. Finding a good shop run by good people is a prize to be treasured. Mine closed when the family running it retired and I'm still looking for a suitable replacement. The new local shop isn't as friendly and the staff isn't as helpful, so I'm looking further away.

It's always good to know someone who knows more about a subject than you do or who can do things that you can't. They're a source to learn from and a resource to call upon in times of need, but you have to make the connections before the disaster for best results. Follow your instincts when dealing with people; if something strikes you as odd or wrong, it is best to walk away and look for a different source.

The Fine Print

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

Creative Commons License

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