Monday, May 31, 2021

Estate Planning

2020 was a horrible year for many people for a variety of reasons. In addition to what most people faced, I lost both my parents last year. My father, who lived in Florida, died in April and my mother, who lived in New York City, died in September.

Just to be clear, this post is not in any way an attempt to garner pity but to help others learn from my experiences.

When my father passed, it wasn't a complete shock as he’d been fighting cancer for a number of years. As an engineer by training, his estate was fairly well organized, which greatly simplified things for his wife after he passed as all the legal and other end of life arrangements and documents had been prepared. There were of course some snags and surprises here or there, but for the most part my father had done his best to ease the path for his wife and heirs after he was gone.

My mother’s passing was more of a shock, but the post-death situation was even more so. She had not left a will, or any other end of life legal documents, that we could find when we were able to get to her NYC apartment in mid-October. The only thing she’d done was pre-pay her funeral expenses. While this helped, trying to deal with her estate from eight hundred miles away without those documents was challenging.

As my older brother no longer lives in the country, it fell to me to take care of things which I had to do remotely and, during the time of COVID-19, with all the shutdowns and restrictions New York City could apply. I was able to get a copy of her death certificate from the county which enabled me to contact her creditors and get that part moving.

With the help of a cousin who used to practice family law, I was able to apply to become Administrator of the estate. This was simplified due to the value of my mother’s possessions falling below an arbitrary line and therefore considered a “small” estate. I mailed the paperwork, properly signed and notarized, to the country court at the end of October.

This is where things took a turn for the surreal. It took over two business weeks for my paperwork to get from Knoxville Tennessee to New York City, with half of that just getting from Knoxville to Memphis! But it did finally arrive. 

I’d been advised to let some time pass due to the offices being closed and people working from home, and for three and a-half months I heard nothing. Finally, in mid-February I called the court, only to get a recording telling me the offices were still closed and try an email. My first two emails went unanswered, the third received a terse and uninformative reply. Six weeks after the first email, I finally managed to reach someone who could help. 

At this point, things started to move faster. It turned out there was a piece of information missing which they’d known about since mid-November but hadn’t informed me. With that corrected, I was told the paperwork would be mailed out by the end of the week.

Two weeks later I still hadn’t received anything, so I emailed again. Someone had forgotten to put it in the mail and I was told it would go out on the following Monday. It arrived the next Friday.

At this point, it was over seven months since she’d died and because there was no will or a named beneficiary, we hadn’t been able to clear out her apartment, close her bank account, order her tombstone, or deal with half-a-dozen other issues.

A week after the paperwork arrived, we were back up in New York City working on all those things. While both physically and emotionally exhausting, the week was very productive, thanks in large part to some wonderful people who looked for solutions when others would have shrugged their shoulders.

The author's mother's apartment mid-cleanout

The week after we got back with a carload of books, photos, and other keepsakes, I was able to get a Federal Tax ID number and open an estate bank account so I could start dealing with estate expenses and, assuming there’s anything left, disbursement to my mother’s heirs. 

Most of this aggravation could have been avoided if my mother had legally named a beneficiary or estate executor, and detailed instructions regarding what she wanted done would have helped even more. However, as with many people, she didn’t want to consider her own mortality too closely.

The most important lesson to be learned here is get your legal house in order while you have time to consider options and make your own decisions. Everyone dies eventually, so make it easier on those left behind by managing your estate as much as you can. Additionally, don’t forget to inform responsible parties and update any instructions as circumstances change.

For a tie-in to Erin’s post on shredders, cull your old documents regularly. This was not a habit either of my parents had as we found paperwork, including tax returns, that went back to the 1940s. Unless you run a business, there’s rarely a need to keep more than seven years of tax returns or one year of credit card statements, utility bills, etc. Make it a regular part of your annual routine to purge older papers. Consider it a favor to your heirs that results in less clutter for you as a bonus feature. 

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Totes for Water Storage

I've seen a few people on various internet sites asking about water storage in plastic "totes". Since I work with these on a daily basis, I've had to get training on the proper marking and labeling of shipping containers. Here's a basic primer on what are known as Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBC), commonly referred to as totes or shuttles.

There are several government agencies and a few Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) that set standards for shipping containers. The Department of Transportation (DOT) at the federal level has regulations set up under US Code (USC) 49, Chapter I, Part 178, Subpart N, Paragraph 703 to standardize the markings required on IBCs. Reading USC regulations is a good way to flirt with insanity, so I'll highlight the important parts.

https://tinyurl.com/8bu24f2r


IBCs will be marked with a series of numbers and letters, not less than one-half inch high, that designate the construction and types of materials they're designed to store. A common plastic shell inside a steel cage will be marked something like this:

31 HA1 /  Y / 0318 / USA / SCHULTZ / 
3656 / 1959 / 1040L / 59kg / 100kPA

  • The 31 means that in this instance it's a composite construction, plastic liner inside a steel cage. 
    • 11 means rigid.
    • 13 means flexible.
  • HA1 tells us that it is both plastic (H) and steel (A).
    • “A” means steel (all types and surface treatments).
    • “B” means aluminum.
    • “C” means natural wood.
    • “D” means plywood.
    • “F” means reconstituted wood.
    • “G” means fiberboard.
    • “H” means plastic.
    • “L” means textile.
    • “M” means paper, multiwall.
    • “N” means metal (other than steel or aluminum).
  • The Y means that it meets class II and III testing requirements for containing hazardous materials. II is moderate and III is minor hazards allowed.
  • The next numbers are the month and year of manufacture, important to know if someone is trying to sell you a "new" tote.
  • USA is the country of origin, followed by the name of the maker or third-party testing company that certified it.
  • Next is the maximum stack weight the shell can hold. Handy to know if you are stacking several to save floor space. 3656 kg is  8040 pounds.
  • 1959 is the maximum kilogram weight in materials the container can hold, which equals 4310 pounds.
  • 1040L is the volume; about 265 gallons max.
    • Water is 8.34 lbs/gallon, so completely filled is 2210 pounds.
  • 59KG is the empty or Tare weight, which is 130 pounds. It takes two or three people to lift an empty tote into the back of a truck.
  • 100kPA is the pressure rating; about 15 psi. This is useful if you want to try to use air pressure to unload the container.
The standard IBC "tote" is designed to hold 265 gallons of liquid. The plastic used is polyethylene (PE) or high density polyethylene (HDPE) and is food safe. PE doesn't normally hold odors, so re-using a container that was used to ship food is safe after a thorough rinse. New is better, but carefully looking for used ones can work. DO NOT TRY TO CLEAN A CHEMICAL TOTE!  Because of the construction of the plastic shell, it is almost impossible to clean the top of the inside. 

Stacking one on top of another is handy, as it puts the drain valve of the top one about 4 feet above the ground. Drain valves are usually 2 inches and threaded and/or camlock fittings. Make sure you open a vent or have an automatic vent on the top or you will collapse the plastic liner.

If you are storing water in a tote where it is exposed to light, wrap it in opaque plastic or cover it with a tarp to inhibit algae growth. Adding bleach on a regular basis will also kill anything that wants to grow in your water. Use our articles on water purification to figure out how much bleach you'll need, as it varies with the source of your water.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Newbie Preps, pt. I Can't Recall

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

In the continuing saga of gearing up Purple Pack Lady, here are a couple of updates on what's been happening. 

Vehicle Safety
In a post several months ago I mentioned buying The Club 3000 for both of her cars after losing a set of keys and having one car go missing overnight only to be found several blocks away in good shape. I thought it was a brilliant choice as the twin hooks make it very difficult to remove in a very short time.

As with most "Good Ideas", there needs to be agreement on the idea used to fix the problem. Both parties need to see the problem in the same light and then agree on the solution, and the user of my Great Idea isn't happy: "I don't like this, it's too heavy." At 4 lbs it's not that heavy (to me at least), but PPL is decidedly petite, so I think it's more a case of "awkward to use" and not "too heavy to lift" in her case. I think the issue is the overall size and how it mounts, and after 8-12 hours running an Assisted Living facility a travel pack of tissues may be heavy and awkward to handle. 

Lesson learned: Ask questions. Talk more. Listen. Buy slowly.

A Successful Addition
In a post just one week before the above, I discussed adding flashlights to Purple Pack Lady's cars. The Nitecore P12GT was much more successful and appreciated than The Club 3000. 

I attached Velcro to the carrying case and then to the driver's door pocket (please read the information in the post for specifications).
While this flashlight isn't the smallest or the brightest or have the best  combination of features, it fits what I need and has been accepted as useful; so useful that the one in my sling bag has been 'acquired' and now sits on a nightstand. "It's bright and I can turn it down for walking around at night." At this point I call it A Win.

Summer Excursions
If things settle down for both our jobs (ha!), there is camping in the future! Or at least car tripping to a campground. Hey, it's a start for an urban dweller that is bothered by the sight of generic fence lizards. 

I may even be able to use a paid reservation from three years ago if the rest of Northern California doesn't burn this summer.

Recap And Takeaway
  • Gear for someone else needs to fit not only their size but mindset. A really well designed piece of equipment that I liked certainly didn't fit my friend.
  • Nothing was purchased this week.
* * *

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.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Bullet Casting 104: Sizing and Lubing

If you’ve been following along in my bullet casting series, you should have a nice pile of cast bullets. However, they’re not ready to load and shoot just yet; before we can get to loading them, we need to go through three steps.

Inspection
First, we need to make sure that our bullets pass a basic quality check. This means looking for fill-out issues. 
  • Can we see any voids on the bullet? 
  • Are the edges of the bullet bases and grease grooves nice and crisp? 
  • Are the bullet bases clean and square? 
  • Some of the first bullets from any casting session are likely to be wrinkled, and this is caused by a mold that isn’t up to casting temperature. 
  • If the surface of the bullet is grey and appears rough in texture (aka "frosted"), this means the mold temperature was too high.

Any bullets that don’t meet the quality requirements can be tossed back in the pot for your next casting session.

L-R: a frosted bullet, two with poor fill-out, and two good bullets

Some badly wrinkled bullets

Lubrication
Next, the freshly cast bullets need to be lubricated. This does two things: it eases the passage of the bullet down the barrel and, more importantly, acts as a gas seal between the bullet and the barrel. 

No cast bullet will be a perfect fit in the barrel. Any imperfections, especially at the base, will likely cause gas cutting which is where hot combustion gasses from the propellant get in between the bullet and the rifling. This results in increased lead build-up in the bore, reduced accuracy, and more laborious cleanup after shooting.
There are several techniques which can be used for lubricating cast bullets, such as tumble lubing (which works better with specific bullet designs), pan lubing, powder coating, and using a lubrisizer. This last method combines bullet lubing with the third step, bullet sizing.

Sizing

Tumble (L) vs. traditional lube groove (R) bullets

As they come out of the bullet mold, cast bullets are generally a few thousands of an inch over size and their noses may also not be perfectly round. Both these issues can be resolved by running the cast bullets through a bullet sizer. At heart, any bullet sizer is a very precisely sized and very carefully polished ring of hardened steel that the bullets are pushed through and swaged down to their final size.

Recommended Models
Lee Precision makes a push through sizer that can be used on any single stage press. This is an inexpensive, simple, and effective method of sizing bullets, with lubrication done as a separate step prior to running the bullets through the sizer. 

Among the benefits of this sizing system:
  1. The bullets are pushed through the sizer nose first, which means that you don’t have to buy a selection of punches for your different bullet nose styles.
  2. This system pushes the bullets completely through the sizer, which can increase production speed.

Some bullet casters have even mounted a dedicated single stage press with this sizer attached upside down to speed things up even more.

The Lyman Model 4500 Lube Sizer dedicated bench top lubrisizer is a direct descendent of Ideal’s original Number 1 sizer which dates back over a hundred years (it even takes the same sizing dies and top punches). This type of sizer pushes the bullets in base first, and because of this it requires a top punch of the proper shape so it doesn’t damage the bullet nose. Once the bullet is pressed all the way into the sizing die, bullet lube is applied and the bullet is raised up for removal, then the next bullet is placed on the platform and the process is repeated.

This system takes solid cylinders of lubricant that you can either buy or make yourself. If you live in a colder climate, you might want to add a lubricator heater to your setup.

Finally, there is the Star Lube-sizer by Magma Engineering. This is an almost production level system, combining many of the best features of the sizers I’ve already mentioned. As with the Lee, the Star also pushes the bullets nose first, all the way through the sizing die. When the bullets are pushed through the Star, they drop out the bottom with no additional setup needed, and like the Lyman, the Star takes cylinders of lube and applies it to the bullets as they’re sized. It also has a lube heater. Obviously all these features come with a price, but if you’re going for quantity, it may be a good investment.

In Conclusion
I hope these posts have given you food for thought regarding bullet casting and plenty or resources in case you decide to pursue this hobby.

Remember: take your time, pay attention, treat the process with all due respect, and you’ll have a more harmonious outcome.

Good luck and good casting.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Product Review: the Fellowes Powershred Cross-Cut Shredder

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.

On first glance you might be wondering why a paper shredder is being reviewed on a prepping blog. This is a valid question, but as someone who has spent the past two weeks going through my hoarder father's papers and destroying old bills, old bank statements and old medical records from the past two decades (no, I'm not exaggerating, I'm shredding things from as far back as 2008), I've found that a paper shredder is an incredibly effective way to dispose of documents which contain sensitive information and/or could be used by thieves to steal an identity. 

The shredder we've been using, and in fact have been using for so long that I don't recall when we bought it, is the Fellowes P-12C Powershred Cross-Cut Shredder. Before we bought the P-12C we needed to replace a shredder every 2-3 years; this one has lasted at least twice as long for it to have passed out of my memory. Given the amount of use it's had, and given how long we've owned it, I'm giving it a 5 star review just for durability and reliability alone. 

I think one of the reasons it's lasted as long as it has is because and the end of an extended shredding session I lubricate the cutters with machine oil, and I recommend that everyone who owns an expensive shredder to this. However, lubrication alone will not preserve an office shredder; it also has to be well-made, and Fellowes shredders definitely are. 

In addition to being durable, this shredder is strong. It can shred up to 12 pages of paper at once (although in our case it makes a straining sound when it does; I don't like to put through more than 6 at once) and it grinds up staples as well. It documentation says that it will also eat paperclips, although I haven't tested that given that it's easy to remove them. The shredder will also gobble up credit cards, and that's my preferred way to dispose of them. 

The worst thing I can say about the P-12C is that its 4-gallon bin fills up quickly and unevenly, and given that the bin pulls out from the side this often means that when you go to empty it you'll have a large pile of shredded paper fall onto the floor once the bin is removed. 

All of these problems would be solved with a larger bin that was accessed from the top, rather than from the side, and conveniently its sister model the Powershred 60Cs has both of those features along with a price tag that's $30 cheaper. 

https://amzn.to/3fc8hyJ

While I have no experience with the 60Cs, if it is built to the same standards as the P-12C then I have no doubt that it will quickly pay for itself and be an essential part of your identity protection preps for many years. 

My Rating: 5 Stars

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Getting Into Hot Water

 Ah, the joys of owning a home, one of which is maintaining said home so it can continue to provide shelter without endangering you and yours. The range of maintenance you can do yourself will vary with your skills, training, budget, and time, but preventative maintenance is always cheaper than repair or replacement.

We all like hot water. It's not essential, but it makes cleaning clothes and dishes much easier and bathing our bodies more comfortable. Hygiene is important in everyday life, and it becomes more important if TSHTF and medical facilities are scarce or overloaded. Cold showers suck, and back when I had to shave every day having hot water meant I could do so without bleeding all over the place. Think about it: what's the first thing you want to do after coming home from a camping trip or a long day of hard work? A hot shower will be on the top of the list for most people.

Type of Hot Water Heaters
Most homes and apartment buildings will have a water heater hidden somewhere in a utility closet or corner of the basement. Water heaters are a common household appliance, but they have the potential to become bombs if not maintained. I won't link to them, but there are plenty of videos on the Internet of the devastation caused by exploding water heaters. One of the insurance companies runs an ad on TV that mentions covering damage from a water heater that landed on a neighbor's car. Mythbusters covered them pretty well; the one video I saw had a 50 gallon tank launch itself 500 feet into the air. That's enough force to send a hundred pounds of tank through several floors and walls.

Electricity, liquid propane (LP), or natural gas (NG) are the main power sources for heating water, although I have seen wood-fired water heaters and add-on heat exchangers for wood stoves. Remote or limited-use facilities may have a tiny point-of-use heater tucked under the sink to provide hot water for personal hygiene. There are “tankless” water heaters available, but they're expensive and require more maintenance. There are also municipal hot water systems in large cities that provide very hot water or steam to buildings near a generating plant (sometimes as a byproduct of generating electricity), but that's beyond our control, so the maintenance for it is outside the scope of prepping. The same goes for living in an apartment building, since the owner has control over the central utilities. Let's stick to the common tank style water heaters that you'll find in home improvement stores for today.

Tank-style water heaters come in a variety of sizes and use the three heat sources I mentioned (electric, LP, or NG) depending on what's available. A lot of new houses are “all-electric”, while rural areas lack the NG pipelines found in town and have to rely on LP stored on-site. Electric units don't need to be vented (no combustion, no exhaust) while the gas units are more efficient and “recover” faster in my experience. They all have the same basic design: a vertical tank with cold water inlet and hot water outlet on the top, anode rod inserted through the top, heat source at or near the bottom, drain valve on the bottom, and a relief valve (T&P valve) on the side or top. They also all share a few ways to ruin your day.

Temperature & Pressure
The T&P valve is a safety device that will open and vent the tank if the temperature (T) or pressure (P) gets too high. Water expands when heated, and some expansion is expected and the tanks are engineered for it. Since water heaters are a closed system except for when the water is in use, this expansion leads to an increase in pressure. If the pressure gets above 150 psi, the T&P valve should open and relieve the pressure by venting water to a drain. The valve will also open if the temperature gets to about 210°F, which is just short of boiling. Boiling water produces steam, which takes up 1700 time as much space as liquid water (at standard pressure). Water heater tanks are not designed as boilers and will explode if the water inside starts to boil. 

By most building codes, the T&P valve has to be piped to a drain with an air gap between the end of the pipe and the drain, so that you can see water flowing if the valve opens or is leaking. Testing the T&P valve a couple of times a year will let you know that it isn't leaking, stuck, or plugged. Having a stuck or plugged relief valve is the same as not having a relief valve, so read the instructions on the tag or look up how to test your particular valve.

Hard Water and Sediment
If you have hard water or a lot of sediment in your water, sand and scale will settle out on the bottom of the tank. This layer of sediment will act as an insulator, causing the heat source to run longer to heat up the water and potentially overheat the water. A water heater that has a lot of sediment will start to take longer to recover after use, so watch for longer intervals between having hot water. If the thermostat sensor that controls the heating element or burner gets covered, you can have a runaway heater that will stay on until something pops. 

The drain valve on the bottom of the tank is there so you can shut the heater down once a year and drain the sediment out. Most drain valves are threaded for garden hose fittings, which makes it easy to connect to,  but you don't want to run hot water through a garden hose because they'll melt. Instead, turn off the heat and either let the heater cool down or open a faucet to let cold water in to cool it.

Popping
If you ever hear a “popping” noise coming from your water heater while it's in operation, that's a sign that you have scale building up. Water trapped between layers of scale will boil and “pop” as the steam escapes into the water. Old, limed-up teapots make the same noise and will often bounce or move on the stove when they do. This is from the energy released by the steam as it hits the water around it; now imagine your 40-50 gallon water heater “dancing” in the basement rather than a half-gallon teapot on the stove. 

Any movement of an appliance attached to gas lines needs to be accounted for, so make sure your gas line have a flexible section where it connects to the heater. They're usually yellow in color to designate that they carry a flammable gas. Gas leaks in a basement are a good way to destroy a house! I've seen it happen a few times; one was fairly minor and it blew out every window and lifted the house off of the foundation. A few others I've driven by looked like a tornado had hit the house, with nothing but a hole in the ground surrounded by debris.

Rusting
Most tanks are made of steel and will rust on the inside. This is minimized by the use of a sacrificial anode rod of zinc or some other metal that is more reactive than iron. The sacrificial rod will slowly erode over a few years and should be replaced when it is almost gone. The rod is usually threaded into the top of the tank and replacements can be found in home improvement stores. If your hot water starts to look reddish or develops a sulfur smell, it's time to replace the sacrificial rod; not replacing it means allowing the tank walls to get thinner as they rust away, which reduces the pressure that it can withstand. That rust will also add to the sediment building up on the bottom of the tank that I mentioned above.


Avoiding trouble is one of the tenets of prepping, so do your maintenance. If you have any doubts about your ability to work on anything, call a professional or get the training. Plumbers and electricians are expensive, but not as expensive as a house fire or cleaning up after burst pipes.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

A Bright Way To Sanitize?

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

This is another quick post on an unusual item seen in the stores I call on. I found this on display in most of the Home Depot stores I see in my rounds.

Ion UV Sanitizing Tool Bag
From the webpage:

UV-C LED technology that gets the job done and done exceptionally well. The Tzumi ion UV Tool Bag is a specially designed UV sterilizing bag that disinfects all your tools and/or job site items in as little as 10-minutes. All it takes is 1-click for the ion UV Tool Bag to achieve a 99.9% sterilization efficiency rate.
  • Portable, compact and lightweight
  • Built-in safety shutdown feature
  • No radiation, ozone or chemicals used - just pure UV-C light
  • 1 touch operation
  • 1200 mAh rechargeable battery
  • Includes: micro USB cable

The inside of the bag
with the UV light turned on.

You may be wondering how much UV is actually produced in the bag. I have to say that I don't know, but in a very short hands-on test with a co-worker's light sensitive glasses, there was enough UV to start changing the lenses in less than a minute.

I don't need a sanitizing bag for the work I do, but possibly someone else might want to give it a try.

Oh, the best part? These are all on Clearance here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Check your local stores for the following sku numbers:
  • Internet #315256258
  • Model #7858HD
  • Store SKU #1005991067



Recap And Takeaway
  • I did not buy this bag, but you might want to hurry. The Ionizing Tool Bag started out at $39.99, but is now (at least in Northern California) $7.99!
  • Nothing was purchased this week, but I still have a backlog of reviews.
* * *

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.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Bullet Casting 103: Casting Bullets

Now that we have a batch of clean alloy formed into ingots, we can move on to actually casting it into bullets.

The same camp stove we used to melt the alloys can be used for rendering ingots. While this keeps costs down, one issue with this method is that it is difficult to maintain a steady temperature in this way. If your melt is too hot, the tin and antimony can separate; if it isn’t hot enough, the alloy will start to harden before it can fill the mold, leading to poor fill-out and useless bullets.

If you go this route, I recommend that you not use the same pot for rendering as you do for casting, as the contaminants we spent so much time and effort filtering out in the rendering process end up caked to the sides of that pot and will end up contaminating the alloy when you go to cast. Instead, either use a dedicated cast iron pot for bullet casting, or use a modern casting furnace. These are electric and have thermostat dials for precise temperature control as well as integral melting pot. There are a number of manufacturers, such as Lee and Lyman, who offer quality products with different features and at a range of price points.

There are two main options when you’re ready to start making bullets: ladle pour and bottom pour casting furnaces. They come in different capacities, but 10 and 20 pound are the most common. 

Two of the author's casting furnaces

Once you have a means to melt your ingots, you need a way to get the molten metal into the bullet mold. With traditional furnaces, or the aforementioned iron pot over a camp stove, a ladle is used. There are a few different styles, and if you’re left handed like me, take note on which side of the ladle the pour spout is located. Obviously, with a bottom pour pot, a ladle isn’t necessary.

Bullet molds are next. One of the nice things about this hobby is that it’s been around for a long time, so used molds are available in plenty.* A new or new-to-you mold will need some prep before you start casting, but usually all that’s necessary is to give the mold a good cleaning with solvent and a nylon or bronze brush. Once it’s clean, put a small amount of heat resistant lubricant on the hinge of the sprue plate and it’s ready to go.

A selection of the author's bullet molds

At the start of a casting session, the mold is at room temperature. Using it now will cause the pour to harden too quickly, resulting in badly formed bullets. To heat the mold, you have several choices:
  • Some casters have a dedicated hot plate they rest the mold blocks on to bring it up to casting temperature;
  • Others will prop the mold on the side of the casting pot; 
  • Some casting setups have a dedicated mold pre-heat shelf.
  • Whatever you do, do not dip the mold in the melt! This can warp the blocks.
Even with preheating, the first few casts are not going to be acceptable. Don’t worry about it, and instead get a good rhythm going so the mold doesn’t cool down.

When filling the mold, make sure to fill the cut out in the sprue plate. This puddle of alloy helps make sure that there’s enough metal to completely fill out the bullet.

Depending on alloy and the size of the bullet being cast, the time for it to set will vary. The appearance of the puddle on the sprue plate can help: when it goes from shiny to dull, wait a few more seconds, then open the sprue plate by hand with heat resistant gloves or knock it open with a wooden stick; separate the handles; and, if all goes well, the bullet should drop out. If it doesn’t, tap the hinge of the mold with the stick. Never hit the mold blocks themselves. If it takes significant effort to get the bullet out of the mold, it likely needs maintenance.

I use a cigar box lined with an old towel to catch my bullets. Don’t drop them on a hard surface as they’re still hot enough to deform!

Shiny, freshly-cast bullets.

Once you’re done with the casting session, it’s common to leave an inch or so of alloy in the bottom of the pot to speed up the melt for next time. Take care if you’re using a bottom pour pot, however, as they can leak. After the mold has cooled, oil the blocks or wrap them in Vapor Corrosion Inhibitor (VCI) paper to help prevent rust.

Please review the safety brief from my previous post and follow proper post-casting hygiene. When everything is done for the day, keep your casting clothes separate from regular laundry and wash your hands and face thoroughly, or (even better) take a shower.

My next installment on this topic will deal with sizing and lubricating cast bullets so they’re ready for loading.

Be safe, have fun, and good casting.


* Editor's Note: David assures me that "available in plenty" is a perfectly cromulent phrase despite the fact that the bad grammar makes my teeth ache.  It may be a regional idiom I've not heard. Either way, please consider this my use of the term [sic]. 

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Prepping for Blog Deletion

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.

 Some of you may have noticed that this past Friday, certain posts on select blogs were deleted. Those of us who run the affected blogs definitely did, as we received an email from Blogger stating the following:

Hello,

As you may know, our Community Guidelines (https://blogger.com/go/contentpolicy) describe the boundaries for what we allow-- and don't allow-- on Blogger. Your post titled "What a Crock" was flagged to us for review. We have determined that it violates our guidelines and deleted the post, previously at

Why was your blog post deleted?
     Your content has violated our Malware and Viruses policy. Please visit our Community Guidelines page linked in this email to learn more.

     We encourage you to review the full content of your blog posts to make sure they are in line with our standards as additional violations could result in termination of your blog.

     For more information, please review the following resources:

Blogger Community Guidelines:
https://blogger.com/go/contentpolicy
Sincerely,

The Blogger Team
This is of course pure garbage, as the three offending posts were:
  • Not All Files Are Created Equal, a treatise on the different types of hand tool files and their purposes;
  • What a Crock, a post on the history and use of crock pots;
  • and Basic Electrical Math, which is self-explanatory. This last post is notable because of the two links it contains, both of them refer to previous posts in Blue Collar Prepping. 

What I found most egregious about this whole situation is that not only was there no way to appeal this decision (the emails originated from no-reply@google.com, which indicates that replies will not be seen), but because the posts had been deleted there was also no way for me to look at the posts and see for myself if there was anything in them which violated Blogger's terms of service. 

Well, not entirely true; there are ways, but none of them are obvious, which is why I'll share them with you now. 

Recovering Deleted Posts
The first is to go to the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive and enter the URL of the deleted pages. This is the easiest solution, but it requires the page to have been archived previously and unfortunately that is not something done automatically; rather, someone must submit the URL to be archived before the Wayback Machine saves a copy of it. Further, and more annoying, is that fact that you cannot save an entire site like our blog with one key press; we have to save each and every page individually. With over seven years of material, this is a daunting prospect. If you would like to help us, please go here to read how to save a page and then submit the URLs of your favorite posts for archiving. Thank you!

Your second option is to find a cached version of your posts. There's no guarantee of this, but you might get lucky. In fact, I was surprised to discover that Google kept a cache of these pages after deleting them for suspicion of harboring malware and viruses, but nevertheless they were there. 

To find a cached article, do the following:
  1. Search for the article in question. In my case, "blue collar prepping basic electrical math". 
  2. If you're lucky, your search engine of choice will find it. Some might have the word "cached" near the result; Google has three dots in a column. Click on those, then click on the button marked Cached in the pop-up. 


  3. You will be taken to a cached version of the article, which you should right-click on and save. I did exactly this in preparation for reconstructing the missing articles. 
Backing Up Your Blog
After I'd done this I decided to save the blog in its entirety in case Blogger decided to delete more. While I cannot detail the steps for doing this with every platform, for Blogger the process is:
  1. Log into Blogger.
  2. Select "Settings" from the left sidebar.
  3. Scroll down until you see "Back up content". Click on that. 


  4. You will see a pop-up asking for confirmation. Click on "Download" to download your blog, including posts, pages, and comments, in an XML file. 
  5. If you have non-YouTube videos embedded in your blog, you may need to download them separately. If so, click on the blue "Videos from your blog" link immediately under "Back up content". 
Congratulations, you have now made it easier to restore your blog if posts or the whole thing are deleted. 

Reinstated
Fortunately for us, Blogger emailed us yesterday with the following messages:
Hello,

We have re-evaluated the post titled "Basic Electrical Math" against Community Guidelines https://blogger.com/go/contentpolicy. Upon review, the post has been reinstated. You may access the post at http://bluecollarprepping.blogspot.com/2021/03/basic-electrical-math.html.

Sincerely,

The Blogger Team
However, this isn't quite true. Clicking on the link did not take me to the post; instead, all I saw was a message telling me that no such page existed. 

Instead, what I had to do was go back to Blogger, click on "Posts" in the left column, and search for them by name. When I did this I saw that the posts had been reverted to draft and needed to be re-published, which I have since done. If your posts were deleted then reinstated, you'll likely have to re-publish them yourself. 

Clarification
To be clear, we are not planning on deleting this blog. We are preparing against unwanted deletion, not making preparations to delete it ourselves. 

However, it may be time to look elsewhere for a home. 

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Random Knotty-ness

Before there was paracord, the prepper's cordage of choice, there was something even more versatile and a lot easier to find in rural areas: baling twine and wire. These have been staples of farm ingenuity for a long time, and so their uses are impossible to fully list.

Way back in the olden days (pre-1980), farmers had been storing hay for their livestock in “small”  rectangular bales for decades. After the hay is cut and allowed to dry, it is picked up by a baling machine that compacts it into a rectangle (about 14” high, 18” wide, and of various lengths  between 30-60”, determined by the farmer running the baler) and ties it together with either wire or twine. 

Since farmers need to feed their animals every day during the winter months, they were constantly opening up bales that had been put up in storage during the summer. Opening bales leaves two lengths of twine or wire per bale, and it starts to pile up by mid-January. Perfect for quick repairs and fastening loose things, frugal farmers never discarded it. Luckily, you don't have to live on a farm to find it.

Types of Baling

Baling wire is soft steel wire, normally around 14 gauge (Ga) diameter, ungalvanized and sold in rolls of roughly a mile in length. Here's one that's 14.5 Ga and 6,500 ft long. $80 for 100 pounds of steel wire isn't a bad price, and they do deliver. 

Personally, I hate wire-tied bales. The wire is small enough in diameter that it cuts into your hands when you pick up the bales, requiring the use of gloves, and the ungalvanized wire also rusts if left in contact with the ground. Picking up the bottom layer of a stack was always a challenge, as I never knew many would burst as I lifted them.

Baling twine comes in a few forms and several sizes. The natural fibers, jute and sisal mainly, are biodegradable and easiest on the hands. They also have a high tensile strength and tend to hold knots better than synthetic fibers. Tractor Supply Co. is a national chain of farm supply stores, and they sell a sisal fiber twine with a 350 pound tensile strength in a “bale” of two rolls having a total length of 9000 feet for about $50.

The plastic fibers are better for long-term storage and are more pest-resistant. Going back to Tractor Supply Co., you can see there are several “weights” to choose from. The lighter twine, the ones with tensile strength around 100 pounds, are for straw and grass bales that don't weight more than 40 pounds. The heavy twines with tensile strengths over 200 pounds are for holding the larger round bales together.

Rolls vs. Reels

You may have noticed I used the term “roll” of twine or wire and not “reel”. A reel of anything comes wound around a core of some sort, while a roll doesn't have a core. Reels feed from the outside and the loose end is always on the outer edge, away from the center, while rolls feed from the inside. Reels have to turn as you draw the cordage off of it, rolls don't move. 

The reasons for using rolls instead of reels have to do with how the baling machines operate, but it makes using and storing them anywhere other than a baler a bit of a challenge. As you use up the roll you are pulling the twine from the center and making the whole thing weaker. By the time you get about half way through the roll, it's not strong enough to move without the roll collapsing. Wire is almost as bad, with the added issue of rusting from the outside and being two or three times as heavy. That's messy and wasteful, so here's the trick to avoiding that problem.

  1. Find a clean 5-gallon bucket with a lid. Tractors and large equipment use oil and fluids by the gallon, so 5-gallon buckets are common. If you're working with wire, a little leftover oil or hydraulic fluid won't hurt and may help prevent rust. Check any local restaurant for empty buckets if you're on a budget; otherwise most of the big-box home supply stores sell them.
  2. Remove the lid and place the roll in the bucket. Don't remove the wrapper if there is one, just drop it into the bucket.
  3. Cut or punch a small hole in the center of the lid using a sharp knife or screwdriver. The hole should be no bigger than the twine or only slightly bigger than the wire you're using.
  4. Find the loose end of the twine or wire in the center of the roll and feed it through the hole on the bottom of the lid. Tie a knot or twist the wire to keep it from falling out of the hole.
  5. Replace the lid on the bucket and secure it. Most lids have tabs that will lock onto the bucket.
  6. If your bucket has a handle, tie or twist the cordage around the handle so it doesn't fall back into the bucket. I also like to tie a utility knife or wire cutter to the handle so there's always one available.

You can use smaller variants of the bucket trick to keep thread and other small lines neater and clean. Any container that the roll, reel, or spool will fit into with a small hole to feed it through makes a world of difference.


Baling wire and duct tape have kept more farm machinery operating than you can imagine. It's always handy to have twine around for quick binding jobs, and buying a roll that's over a mile long will last you years.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Prudent Prepping: Quick Hits

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

This is going to be a bit short, due to Life and Obligations taking up my extra time. 

Tourniquet Information, part The Latest
In last week's tourniquet post I neglected to mention or link to a video showing one way to set up a CAT tourniquet for quick deployment. Our Esteemed Editrix very thoughtfully took the opportunity to post a link to one of those YouTube videos. When I said I completely forgot to add that link, she mentioned "Something something snoozing something." What a pal! 

(Editrix's Note: What I said was "You snozt, therefore you lost.")

Another item I didn't mention is the nifty TQ carrier I ordered along with the two CATs from North American Rescue.

C-A-T Holder

www.narescue.com/c-a-t-holder.html
From the NAR webpage:

The C-A-T® Holder was specifically designed to allow personnel to place their C-A-T® Tourniquet on their vest or gear for rapid and easy access. It is made of 1000D IR Signature Reduced Nylon with MOLLE/PALS-style connectors. The C-A-T® Holder protects your tourniquet from the elements and has an easy-open elastic pull tab.

NOTE: Accommodates both Gen 6 and Gen 7 C-A-T® Tourniquets (not included)


Specifications:
  • Tailored specifically for your C-A-T®, to protect it from exposure to the elements
  • PALS/MOLLE-style connectors for versatile attachment to the duty vest, gear or belt (mounted horizontally or vertically) for rapid & easy access
  • 1000D IR Signature Reduced Nylon
  • Easy-open pull elastic tab with tourniquet ID patch – “TQ”
  • NATO stock numbers available for COY and ODG. Contact Customer Service for details.
  • NOTE: Accommodates both Gen 6 and Gen 7 C-A-T® Tourniquets (not included)

Dimensions:

With the very sturdy straps on the back, you will not have a problem mounting this anywhere! I've not decided at the moment where this holder is going to stay, but I do believe there will be several more coming to me very soon.

As others have mentioned, I'm getting away from all-black items, especially those things that may be stored inside my various bags, and a red TQ holder fits that requirement perfectly. There are several other colors besides red and black but, mostly camouflage and military rucksack colors, but no purple, so I may have a hard time 'selling' the carrying of a TQ to the Purple Pack Lady.
 
Wish me luck!
 
Recap And Takeaway
  • One North American Rescue CAT TQ Holder ordered directly from NAR: $19.99
  • Nothing was ordered last week, but reviews for several items are pending... pending me finding time to actually write something.
* * *

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.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Bullet Casting 102: Rendering

Now that we have our raw materials, we can’t just melt it and start casting bullets; our lead supply contains many impurities we need to clean out first. While some people refer to this step as smelting, it’s more properly termed rendering.

Safety
Before we go any further, I need to talk about safety. We’re dealing with molten metal at over 700 degrees Fahrenheit, which can cause terrible burns and permanent injury if we’re not careful. In addition, some of the gasses this process emits are not healthy either. I shouldn’t have to say this, but this process should be done outside in dry weather.

My recommendations for protective gear are as follows:
  • Heavy shoes, preferably leather
  • Heavy cotton clothing (don’t wear synthetics, they melt)
  • Heavy leather heat-resistant gloves (welding gloves work well)
  • Full face shield
  • Hat which will fit under the face shield
  • Leather or heavy cotton canvas apron
  • Respirator
One other safety item: Do not, under any circumstances, allow any liquid to get into the melt! When water converts from liquid to steam, it increases in volume 1,600 times, and this reaction can empty a twenty pound pot of lead in an instant. In the hobby, we call this "Getting a visit from the Tinsel Fairy."

While we make light of it with this name, it’s no laughing matter.  Simple precautions, such as putting the metal in the pot before heating to evaporate any water, making sure scrap metal doesn’t have any closed chambers, and keeping a heavy cover on the pot during the melt can reduce this risk and protect our delicate skin, eyes, and lungs from molten metal and unpleasant gasses.

Equipment
Depending on the amount of casting we’re planning to do, the equipment needed can be fairly minimal. To get started, all you need are:
  • Propane or white gas camp stove
  • Small cast iron pot
  • Slotted spoon
  • Ladle
  • Ingot molds
For those who go on to casting in larger quantities, a table with a propane weed burner for heat and a cut-down propane tank for a pot can work quite well.

The author's original and upgraded rendering setups

Much of this equipment can be sourced from thrift shops and yard sales. For ingot molds we can use muffin tins, so long as they’re steel or cast iron. Avoid aluminum, as the lead can melt its way through with disastrous results. There are of course purpose-made ingot molds, but they’re generally more expensive.

A yard sale ingot mold.
The author uses this one for pewter.


Process

The first step involves melting the lead to a liquid state. This usually occurs between 700 and 750 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the alloy. A high temperature thermometer is useful here.

At this point, we need to get our alloy casting clean. Remove any dirt or debris such as wheel weight clips, range dirt, and bullet jackets. This one’s easy, as all these things are lighter than molten lead and float to the top to be skimmed off with our slotted spoon. 

Then we need to make sure any oxidized lead on the surface is reduced back into the alloy. Some people use a small amount of candle wax for this, but let’s wait on that.

Next is fluxing which removes any dissolved metals we don’t want (aluminum, cadmium, etc) while retaining the tin, antimony, copper, silver, etc. that’s in there. According to some researchers, one of the best materials which can perform all these actions is good old sawdust. Avoid sawdust made from pressure treated lumber or plywood, as it has some nasty chemicals we don’t want.A layer of sawdust sprinkled on top of the molten alloy, allowed to char, stirred through and then skimmed off, can result in nice, clean, well balanced, alloy.  

Once we’ve done this once or twice, we can ladle the molten lead into our ingot molds. Eventually, we should have a nice collection of lead alloy appropriate for bullet casting and formed into ingots.

A batch of pewter ingots, fresh from the mold. 

I’ll go over bullet casting equipment and the casting process in a future article. In the meantime, browse the
Cast Boolits online forum
for more information.

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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