Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Making Charcoal

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.

Charcoal has many useful applications: as a fuel source, as a filtration medium, and as a toxin neutralizer. Therefore it behooves a prepper to know how to make it themselves. 

Select a dense hardwood
The more dense the wood, the more charcoal you’ll get for your effort. Don't use pressure-treated lumber! It contains chemicals that make the charcoal useless for cooking, filtration, or ingestion.

Cut the wood into small pieces
The smaller the pieces the more you can fit into your container, and if they are of uniform size they will all  “cook” at the same rate. Obviously, there is a point of diminishing returns where you it takes more effort than its worth to cut them into smaller pieces; just keep in mind that the larger the blocks, the longer it will take to make the charcoal.

Heat the wood 
Build a large bonfire that will burn for 3-5 hours, depending on the size of your container. A small pot will require less burn time than a 55 gallon drum, which needs the full five hours. 

Place the container on the fire and cover it loosely with a lid. If you have no container, you can wrap the wood in foil. If you lack foil you can ignite a pile of wood, get it burning, and then cover it with dry sand or dirt to turn the earth itself into a kiln. Be sure to leave a small vent at the top.

Watch the smoke
At first, the smoke will be white or light gray, and is mostly water vapor and volatile compounds. When the smoke turns dingy brown, place the lid tightly on the container and keep the fire going until the smoke output drops. 

Allow to cool
Wait several more hours or overnight. The charcoal you want will be black in color, very lightweight, and will crumble easily in your hand.

When you check the container, you may find some pieces that are still wood; this means that you didn’t cook them long enough. If they are covered in ash, the wood got too much air.  If either of these happen, start up the fire and try again. 

Next week I'll walk you through how to turn your homemade charcoal into activated charcoal. 

Monday, August 30, 2021


As the title implies, this article is going to be more serious than what I usually post.

I’ve struggled with depression most of my life. By the time I was 18 I’d gotten through almost a decade of therapy, which helped quite a bit and taught me some good coping mechanisms. Unfortunately, depression is never something that completely goes away, and the blue devils are always waiting at the edges for me to let my guard down. I’m not alone in this; a great many people suffer from similar issues of varying severity, and we all have our own ways of dealing with the internal darkness: some are healthy, some less so, and some  are tragically permanent.

This was where I was from childhood all the way through 2019 and leading up to the year that shall not be named or its sequel. Over the past couple of years I’ve taken some severe emotional blows; a number of people reading this know about some of them. So if this is what I’m dealing with now, when the lights go on with the flick of a switch and the internet is there to distract me, what am I going to do if things get really bad? Not just bad for me, but bad in general?

What I’m not going to do is give up. That’s not in my nature. Will I have the occasional pity party? Of course, I’m a human being, but I’ll find reasons to carry on. In a survival situation we can’t afford to wallow in self-pity; we have to get up and get to work to ensure we see the next day. This can be very hard with depression, even in “normal” times. To get me through the tough times, I have resources and abilities:

  • I spent more than the first half of my life without the internet or cell phones, and so I can get used to living without them again if need be. 
  • I was involved with a couple of living history groups over the years and they taught me valuable skills and also helped me add to my reference library. If we’re sheltering in place, I’ll still have access to my books and my tools.
  • Regardless of where we are, I’ll also have my wife and our cats. They are four reasons to get up every morning no matter how much I’d rather stay in bed with my head under the blankets.

The author's three interfering little angels

Ten years ago this August we survived Hurricane Irene, even though our house was the worst hit in our town and the DEC considered ruling it uninhabitable. My wife and I lost a great number of things, and the financial hit was significant, but we carried on and we were there for each other. Which leads to my next point: one of the best resources we have to keep us going is other people, aka our tribe. Friends, biological family, or family of choice doesn’t matter; be there for each other, be kind to each other, help each other through the rougher patches and we’ll all be stronger on the other side.

If you have, or know anyone who has worked the AA program, you’ll be familiar with the phrase “One day at a time.” Dwelling on the past or overthinking about the future will interfere with living in the present. The general meaning of the phrase is that you should  focus on shorter term and smaller goals to help eventually achieve longer term and larger goals. When we can’t control most of what’s happening around us, we can focus on what we can control.

Having a routine helps. These are some of the tricks I leaned from hard won experience:

  • Make lists. Keep the items on them achievable, but don’t get too granular.
  • Try to start each day with a small success; it can help set the mood of the day. 
    • One of the things I try to do every single morning (unless a cat interferes) is make the bed. Is it a little thing? Yes, but it gives me a minor dose of endorphins from completing a task and makes the next one that much easier. 
  • Try very hard to maintain a regular sleep schedule. I struggle with this one in particular, but for those who can manage it, the benefits in attitude and general mood will be obvious.

As Harra Csurik said to Miles when he visited Silvy Vale in the Lois McMaster Bujold book Memory: “You go on. You just go on. There’s nothing more to it, and there’s no trick to make it easier. You just go on.”

Friday, August 27, 2021


Electricity is such a major factor of our modern lives that we take it for granted until it's not there. With the nasty heat that most of us dealt with this summer, electrical supplies in a lot of areas were strained; some even broke when the demand exceeded the available supply and utility companies started rationing power through rolling blackouts. Things aren't going to get any better in the foreseeable future, because demand will keep rising with every new generation of electric cars and appliances while supply is struggling to keep up. 

Power generation used to be mostly coal-fired plants with a few areas using hydroelectric dams or nuclear plants added to the mix. Nuclear has a bad reputation and no new construction is underway; several of the older plants have reached their end-of-life date and been shut down. Dams of all sorts are starting to see the same problem, the environmentalists want to see them all torn down. Wind and solar are making up a bigger chunk of our generating capacity, but they are both intermittent sources that don't offer much reliability. "Peaking" generators, which are used to provide a boost to generating capacity for short periods, are mostly run on natural gas, although I know of a few older diesel plants.

Building a power plant takes time and hundreds of millions of dollars, so many utilities have started offering their customers incentives to save electricity. If they can shave off enough demand, they can delay building the generators they'd need to handle new customers. This makes shareholders happy because it increases the profit that they'll get a piece of, while giving the utility more time to pay lawyers fighting for permission to build new plants.

  • So-called "Smart meters" give the power company control over how much a customer can use in times of stress on the grid, usually by shutting down the customer's heating/air conditioning for brief periods during peak usage. I'm not a huge fan of giving up control of my environment, so I've steadily refused their offers of a "smart" meter. 
  • Incentives and rebates are another carrot they like to dangle in our faces: upgrade to a more efficient furnace or air conditioner and get a discount on your bill for a couple of years, or buy high efficiency laundry equipment and they'll send you a check/gift card for a few hundred dollars. Offers vary; check them out if you're planning to update things anyway.
  • My power company has gone one step beyond rebates and they're actually giving away energy-saving items. I saw a banner ad on their website offering a free box of energy efficient household items, so I filled out the form and forgot about it. The box showed up this week.

Inside the box were several fliers and pamphlets (not shown) along with a few useful items;
  • An "advanced" power strip. This one has seven outlets; 2 are normal, always on, outlets but the third one is marked "control" and the other 4 are marked "switched". The "switched" outlets are only powered when whatever is plugged into the "control" outlet is drawing power. This is handy for plugging all of the peripheral devices hooked up to a TV or computer, as shutting off the TV kills power to the DVD player, FireStick, game console, or whatever. This eliminates "parasite" draw, the minor amount of electricity used by the power supplies of the add-on devices.
  • Two 60 Watt equivalent LED light bulbs. I've switched most of my interior lighting over to LEDs over the last few years; my house has 10' ceilings, and I'm tired of climbing a ladder to change bulbs that don't last. The LEDs that replace a 60 Watt incandescent bulb only draw about 9 Watts and last for decades instead of months. The new bathroom fixtures I installed last week will outlive me, since they're rated for 45 years if used about 3 hours a day.  
  • A low-flow shower head. Saving water is a round-about way to save electricity since water treatment and wastewater treatments plants suck up a huge amount of electricity. This one is rated at 1.5 gallons per minute (gpm), and I'm using it in my shower (the wife has her own). It's functional, but it lacks a swivel to move the spray pattern where I need it. The pressure and quantity of water are good enough for a shower. 
  • A low-flow aerator for a sink faucet. That's the little silver thing sitting on the power strip package. No markings of flow rating, but most of that brand are either 1.0 or 1.5 gpm. I tend to do dishes in a sink full of hot soapy water with a rinse before they go on the drying rack, so this might save a bit of water on the rinses. With just the two of us in the house, a dishwasher would be a waste of space and money, so I've never really looked into one, and too many years spent in a lab washing glassware has taught me how to do dishes in a sink in an efficient manner.  

Just to see what the box of goodies was worth, I checked the items out on Amazon. 

For a total of roughly $45.86. Not bad for a free box of things I can use right now to save money, money I can use to stock up the pantry, buy a few more good knives, or maybe pick up another box of ammunition every year. Money is getting tighter with inflation starting to pick up the pace and retirement (fixed income) looming for some of us, so every little bit helps. 

Check with your local power company to see if they offer anything like this, and let others know about it.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

August Roundup

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 in a collection of posts where I have topics that by themselves don't make a stand-alone article.

Safety of Persons
Recently a resident of a board and care home accidentally went outside without anyone noticing (this was early in the morning, before the residents were normally awake). As best can be figured out, a staff member was carrying out some garbage, left a door open, and the resident went out that door. 

Later that day, someone called the police to report that an unfamiliar  elderly person was walking down. The police found the resident, and asked them for their name and where they lived. They gave their name and pointed in a direction regarding where they lived.  The local police were familiar with the location of a care home in the area (police are called every time someone dies there) and brought them back to the home.  Fortunately for everyone involved, there were no injuries and the weather was mild, creating a reasonably happy ending to what could have been a disaster. There is now discussion on how to have some sort of ID for this resident in case something like this happens again. 

Gear Storage
My parents' house has an official offer at a price that's acceptable to all parties, which means the last bit of my stuff there needs to be moved out by the end of the month. To further complicate things, my sister and brother in law are getting close to putting their place on the market by the end of next month. I had most of my duplicate "Need It Now" gear in their garage and now I have to find a new storage spot for it, as where I live lacks the room for it; we don't have a garage, and my roommate has dibs on our storage area .

I do have some emergency supplies at the care home the Purple Pack Lady runs, but there is no way to disguise several (okay, seven) plastic totes in a corner, which means finding another place to put my stuff and the potential necessity of weeding out the things that I would like to have from the things that are absolutely necessary if a place to keep them can't be found. I really don't want to do that, as everything I have cost not only money but time to decide on what to buy in the first place. 

I have also upgraded things from when I started to write here, but some things are still not in my budget to replace right now. I will post whatever solution I find, good or bad.

My "OH S**T!" Moment
When I wrote about my card problem in this post, I was aware that the ability to recover the money was very doubtful. Well, it turned into impossible, for the reasons listed. I seriously recommend going through my post and then doing the same with Chaplain Tim's follow-up post. There are bad people out there who will take from you everything you have.

Recap And Takeaway
  • Being able to identify people outside of a disaster is important, and even more so when things go bad.
  • Figuring out how to keep my gear safe, organized and accessible is vital. I'm still looking for those answers.
  • Look at how you pay for things, and be as safe and discerning as possible.  
* * *

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, August 24, 2021

Rice, Rice, Baby

Rice is one of, if not the most, popular cereal grains in the world. The majority of rice sold in the United States is long grain white rice, though brown rice has become more popular over the past decade or so.

The difference between the two types of rice has to do with processing. After being harvested, rice seeds are milled to remove the outer husk. If the process stops there, the product is brown rice. However, if milling is continued to remove the bran and germ, what remains is the kernel, which we call white rice.

While brown rice is more nutritious, white rice is better for long term storage; due to brown rice's higher oil content, it has a tendency to go rancid. When stored properly, rice can last for a very long time. 

Your biggest concern when storing rice is keeping out moisture. If this isn’t done sufficiently, it can lead to mold. One method for long term storage of rice is through canning, a subject I covered in an earlier post; another is storing the rice in an airtight container with food safe desiccant packets. For longer term storage, rice can also be stored in mylar bags with oxygen absorbers.

When rice of any color is combined with beans, the result is a complete protein, which means the dish contains enough of each of the nine essential amino acids necessary as part of a healthy diet. 

An inexpensive but valuable addition to my kitchen equipment is a simple rice cooker. Once I experimented with it to find the ideal water to rice ratio, it makes perfect rice every time. Even better, I don’t have to watch it to make sure it doesn’t boil over or burn.

Rice can be used as part of almost any dish. I’ve included it in soups and stews, accompanying chili, in Asian dishes such as  fried rice, or just served plain as a side. While I haven’t yet made it myself, rice can even be used in the traditional dessert of rice pudding.

A plain bowl of steamed rice

One of my favorite rice dishes is fried rice, specifically the style of fried rice I grew up eating from Chinese restaurants in Manhattan. As you might imagine, this is hard to find outside of New York City or possibly Los Angeles, and the farther away you get, the harder it is to find. I’ve tried and modified a variety of fried rice recipes over the years in hopes of coming close, and I've finally found one that meets my standards.

Fried rice with kung pao chicken

The base recipe is from a book called "The Instant Pot College Cookbook" by Julee Morrison, and at the time of this writing it’s free on Kindle Unlimited.

As you might expect, I made some changes to suit my tastes. The recipe is designed for an InstantPot, if you don’t have one there are conversions available (here’s one example and another) for use with conventional cooking and crock pots.

Pork Fried Rice

  • 3 Tbs Sesame Oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 12 oz pork, cut into ½ pieces
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 2 Cups water
  • 2 Cups rice
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 3 Tbs soy sauce
  • 1-2 Tbs ginger paste
  • ½ - 1 cup frozen peas and carrots


  1. Select saute and set heat to medium on the InstantPot. 
  2. Add 1 Tbs sesame oil, add onion and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  3. Season the pork with salt and pepper and add to pot. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. When done, transfer the pork and onion to a bowl.
  4. Add the water to the pot and scrape the bottom to combine browned residue from onion and pork. 
  5. Add the rice. Lock the lid in place and seal the valve. Select rice. When done, let slow release for 10 minutes, then open the valve.
  6. Unlock and remove the lid, stir the rice, and create a well in the middle. Add the remaining two Tbs of oil and the beaten egg. Still quickly to combine with the rice.
  7. Stir in the soy sauce, ginger paste, pork, and onions. Set to warm, add the peas and carrots and replace the lid with the vent open. 
  8. Let sit for 5 minutes to heat the vegetables through.

This can be eaten as a main dish or as a side. 

Remember, no matter what anyone says about using cauliflower as a substitute, It’s Not Rice (rice is actually a grass seed).

Monday, August 23, 2021

Activated Charcoal

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.

Before I tell you about activated charcoal, I need to explain the difference between absorption and adsorption. 
  • Absorption is when a fluid is taken into the volume of something, like water into a sponge. 
  • Adsorption is when a substance, be it gas, liquid or dissolved solid, adheres to the surface area of something. Think of it like a brush picking up lint, but on a molecular level.
Activated charcoal is a fine, black powder that is odorless, tasteless, and nontoxic that is also a highly adsorptive substance, and it works by attracting toxins to its large surface area -- just one gram of it has a surface area in excess of 3,000 square meters -- which then bind to it through absorption. Since carbon isn't digestible, ingesting tablets of activated charcoal will act as a filter that travels through your stomach and intestines and is then safely eliminated along with the poisons it collects. 

How safely? In 1813 the French chemist M. Bertrand swallowed a lethal dose of arsenic mixed with charcoal and survived without any ill effects. In 1831, French pharmacist named P. F. Touery swallowed ten times the lethal dose of strychnine, followed by just 15 grams of charcoal in a demonstration before the French Academy of Medicine. He, too, survived with no ill effects. 

The key word, however, is activated. Not all charcoal is activated carbon, and the charcoal briquettes you buy for grilling are probably full of unhealthy chemicals to increase burn time. If you want activated charcoal, you have two choices: buy it or make it. Buying it is pretty easy; you can get a bottle of one hundred capsules from Amazon for about $10. I have two of these, one of my bug out bag and one in my get home bag. If you are prepping for the home, you are better off buying by the pound

Making it yourself is a lot more complicated, and will be the subject of a later article. 

Administering Activated Charcoal
DISCLAIMER: This information is intended only for education and it meant to be used only in extreme situations. If you can call 911 or get to an Emergency Room, do so before following these directions. 
I am not a physician and this should not be construed as medical advice. I accept no responsibility should you or someone under your care suffer harm from following these directions. 
1) Drink it as Powder in Water
Store-bought activated charcoal often comes in gelatin capsules, primarily to prevent a mess. (If you've ever had a copy machine spill toner, you know the kind of mess I'm talking about.) However, if you swallow the pill whole, the gelatin must first be digested before the charcoal can begin working, and if the recipient has ingested something toxic they may not have that time. It is far more effective to break a capsule, pour it into a cup of water, and have the recipient drink it. Warning: Do not breathe activated charcoal! It will cause Pneumonitis!

2) Drink a LOT of it
The amount of activated charcoal to administer is based on either the amount of toxin ingested, if known, and the patient's body weight if not. Regardless, it's going to be lot as most activated charcoal capsules are measured in milligrams and the recommended doses to counteract poisoning are measured in grams per kilogram of patient weight. From The Use of Activated Charcoal to Treat Intoxications (2019) comes this table: 

from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6620762/

Let's look at that Amazon listing I linked. It has 100 capsules of 560 milligrams activated charcoal each. A 50 gram dose for an adult would be (100 x 560 = 56,000 mg = 56 grams), or the entire bottle. It's going to be awful, but it's better than dying. 

If you want to read more on the specifics, I suggest the Mayo Clinic's page on activated charcoal and this PDF

3) Drink it quickly
Activated charcoal can only bind with toxins which haven't been absorbed into the body through the intestines, so you need to administer it as soon as possible (preferably within an hour of poison ingestion). 

4) Know what it can and cannot adsorb
Unfortunately, activated charcoal is not proof against all forms of poison. It has low to no effectiveness against:
  • Alcohols (e.g., ethanol, methanol, and glycols [for instance ethyleneglycol])
  • Anorganic salts (e.g., sodium chloride)
  • Metals and their anorganic compounds (e.g., lithium, iron, or other heavy metals [for instance lead or mercury])
  • Organic solvents (e.g., acetone, dimethylsulfoxide)
  • Acids and bases
  • Cyanides

It is, however, quite effective against: 
  • ACE inhibitors
  • Acetaminophen (brand name Tylenol) 
  • Amphetamines
  • Antidepressants (except lithium)
  • Antiepileptics
  • Antihistamines
  • Aspirin, salicylates
  • Atropine
  • Barbiturates
  • Benzodiazepines (NB: somnolence)
  • Beta blockers
  • Calcium-channel blockers
  • Quinine, quinidine
  • Chloroquine and primaquine
  • Dapsone
  • Digoxin, Digitoxin
  • Diuretics (especially furosemide, torasemide)
  • Nonsteroidal antirheumatics (NSAR)
  • Neuroleptics
  • Oral antidiabetics (especially glibenclamide, glipizide)
  • Opiates, dextromethorphan 
  • Paracetamol
  • Piroxicam
  • Tetracyclines
  • Theophylline
  • Phytotoxins that are adsorbed
  • Amatoxin (death cap)
  • Aconitine (aconite)
  • Colchicine (autumn crocus)
  • Cucurbitacin (courgette, Cucurbitaceae)
  • Ergotamine, ergot alkaloids
  • Ibotenic acid, muscarine (fly agaric, panther cap)
  • Nicotine (tobacco)
  • Ricin (castor oil plant)
  • Strychnine (nux vomica)
  • Taxanes (yew)
  • Digitalis glycosides (foxglove)
Please note that many of those are painkillers and antibiotics, which may result in extreme discomfort for the patient. 

5) Know the side effects
Drinking that much activated charcoal will likely result in nausea and vomiting, mainly from the taste and texture. This could be seen as a good thing, if it causes the patient to vomit up the poisonous substance. 

Diarrhea is a common side effect, and constipation is less common. Black stool is also common, but that's just the charcoal coloring it. 

If the patient is on painkillers or antibiotics, those will need to be re-administered once the toxin has been expelled. 

Making a Poultice
 You can also make a poultice out of it to draw out irritants like from insect bites. You just take two tablespoons of activated charcoal, mix it with sterile water to form a paste, and then put it over the wound. I've included a video of this process as well.

Activated charcoal belongs in every prepper's supplies. Next week, I'll tell you how you can make your own. 

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Heat and the Buddy System

It's always a good idea to have a helper. They often go by different names (teammate, co-worker, significant other, partner, crew member, or friend), but they're there to watch out for you and share the work. The first part, watching out for you, is the most important one.

I work alone most of the time. Having a shortage of employees is not unique to my job, but for a year now we've had a couple of open positions. Corporate has restructured and consolidated operations to try to keep things moving, but the reality is that we have fewer people to get the same amount of work done, and this can lead to problems, especially in extreme weather.

Last week was a good example of why it's important to have someone keeping an eye on you:
  • Air temperatures were in the high 90s, with humidity that started the day at 100% and never dropped below 60%. 
  • Heat index, the opposite of wind chill, was well over 100° for most of the afternoon, most days. 
  • No wind or clouds made it even more miserable outside, which is where I was working. 
  • To make things just perfectly wrong, the location I was working at didn't have a working air conditioner. The building doesn't have central air conditioning, just a window unit that decided to stop cooling this year. Management doesn't want to put any money into that building because we no longer have staff there full-time.
  • The work I was doing involved hazardous chemicals, so on top of my standard boots and jeans I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and heavy neoprene gloves that go almost to my elbow. 
  • The chemicals I was dealing with have an affinity for water, so the common tricks to cool off that involve wetted cloth around the neck aren't an option.
  • Add in the unvented, splash-proof goggles that cover a third of my face and trap the sweat and it was not a fun week.

I've been doing this for several years so staying hydrated is not a worry; I have plenty of sport drinks and cool water on hand and I force myself to drink enough that I have to urinate. Electrolytes in the sport drinks keep my salt levels safe, but I supplement them with extra table salt on my food and Potassium tablets if I start to have cramping. This is not new to me; I know how to minimize the effects of the heat. 

It wasn't enough. As the week progressed, my normal schedule of come home, shower to cool off and get clean, eat dinner, and take care of normal chores before going to bed slowly morphed into come home and go to bed. The chores were the first to be dropped, then dinner, and finally the cooling shower. I just didn't have the energy to do it all. I try to write these articles on Tuesday and Wednesday and have them ready for editing before Thursday, but that was one of the normal “chores” that got dropped. By the time I cooled off after getting home Thursday, I finally got a chance to put the clues together:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Mild confusion
  • Periods of short, shallow breathing
  • Hot, sweaty skin
  • Lack of energy

Yes, I was dealing with heat exhaustion every day. 

We've covered heat injury before, and heat exhaustion is the middle ground between heat stress and heat stroke. The combination of high temps, high humidity (which prevents sweat from evaporating to cool you), no wind, and full sun were just too much for my aging body. When your body can no longer cool itself, is starts to take damage which can be lethal. 

I took a few days off work to recover, with lots of water and rest, and only went outside during daylight once in four days. As much as I hate to admit it, there are things I can no longer do as well as I could when I was in my 30s and 40s, and handling the heat just got added to that list. 

Working alone is not the best option, but it's not much worse than working with someone who doesn't know what to watch out for. Part of the week I had a helper, a 21 year-old kid who hasn't been trained very well (or he wasn't paying attention during training) and he just doesn't know what to watch for. He's scared of working around the chemicals, but I'm trying to train him on how to do it safely. 

I've since modified my work schedule: things are moving a lot slower, and I'm taking more breaks. The air conditioner at that location is still dead, but I've switched trucks to one that has a good AC and I will be taking my breaks in it. The boss isn't happy about the slower pace, but I really don't care about his happiness as much as I do about my health. I'm also keeping an eye on the other two guys who are close to my age for signs of heat injury when I see them, but most of their work is out of the sun and doesn't require the heat-trapping protective gear. They work together and keep an eye on each other pretty well.

Take care of yourselves, and watch out for those around you.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

More Fire Planning

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

The weather patterns changed last week, but they still aren't good for lowering the risk of nearby fires.

Getting Ready
Because her job involves running a care home, the Purple Pack Lady (PPL) is stocked up with supplies for the residents. I've almost convinced her to keep some supplies for us there too, along with copies of important papers and impossible to replace mementos. 

I mentioned in last week's post that PPL is petite and carrying a bucket is easier than a storage box, so buckets are it. The use of my food-safe pails instead of regular 5 gallon buckets is bothering me, since there are no regular buckets to be had anywhere in North California. Short term, I'll be switching out food storage to totes. 

What caused the change from cautious to concerned? The broadcast news from a local stationThe portion affecting me: 

On Tuesday, the National Weather Service upgraded a Fire Weather Watch for the North and East Bay to a Red Flag Warning for the region.

The Red Flag Warning has been issued for the interior North Bay Mountains and East Bay Hills and Diablo Range starting at 11 p.m. Tuesday through Wednesday afternoon. Gusty winds up to 55 mph are forecast out of the north and northeast, particularly in the northeast Napa Mountains.

The winds coupled with extremely low humidity are combining for critical fire weather conditions across those regions.

This bit, and the fact that the next town over opened an emergency drop-in center, has me concerned that the power outages, planned or not, may affect us. 

What's Being Done
I'm putting half my Mountain House pails and a case of water with PPL in the care home. The others here are doing what they think is necessary and sorting out where they might be going and where backups could be stored. The way to get out of this neighborhood has been discussed, both on foot with the really important stuff, and what to do and where to meet if there is time to carry more items to a car. Half of my camping gear is also going to the care home in a tote, so that if something happens at either location, some of the equipment will be safe. Our goal this year is to have a complete set of everything stored both places, so the "One Is None" monster won't bite us in the butt.

Recap and Takeaway
  • Pay attention to conditions in your region! The fire 50 miles away could affect power lines supplying you.
  • If at all possible, get everyone in your group on the same page for evacuation planning. It's not necessary for everyone to go the same place, but having everyone know where all the most important items for the others are stored is essential. 
  • Nothing was purchased this week, but there is a list of things both of us want to buy soon. 
* * *

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, August 17, 2021

Chamber Casting

The purpose of making a chamber casting is to get the internal dimensions and learn information about a firearm chamber. This information includes: 
  1. Does the chamber have any damage or excessive wear that might cause function and reliability issues?
  2. What are its chamber measurements for optimizing reloading?
  3. Which details are needed to make a custom bullet mold?
  4. Does the marking on the barrel match the actual chamber on a used, and possibly modified, firearm?
Since it's nearly impossible to measure the inside of a chamber with conventional tools, standard procedure is to make a chamber casting that results in a negative impression of the chamber and is much easier to measure. These measurements should be the same as the inside dimensions of the chamber.

The most common material available used for making a chamber cast is sold under the trade name Cerrosafe. It’s an alloy of bismuth, lead, tin, and cadmium and is available from Brownells as well as other vendors.

The most important attributes of chamber casting metal are:
  • A low melting point, generally between 160 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • It  must also shrink slightly as it cools for ease of removal, yet an hour or so after casting it returns to its cast size for accurate measurement. 
  • When employed properly, it’s nearly infinitely reusable.

An ingot of Cerrosafe, as sold by Brownells

Making a chamber casting is fairly straightforward, but it does require some preparation and care:
  1. Make sure the barrel and chamber are clean and dry.
  2. Remove any parts, such as the bolt, that would prevent easy access to the barrel. If possible, remove the barrel from the gun.
  3. From the muzzle end of the barrel, insert a patch jag with a snug fitting patch to form a plug for the casting material. The plug should not be too snug, or it could complicate removal, nor too loose as that could allow casting metal to leak past. Ideally, the plug should be positioned no less than an inch or so past the start of the rifling.
  4. Place the barrel in a secure fixture, muzzle pointed down.
  5. Once this is set up, heat the casting metal in a small ladle. The cast iron style ladle that’s used for bullet casting is ideal. An electric hotplate or small gas torch are good heat sources.
  6. Note the time, then carefully pour the molten casting metal into the chamber, using a metal tube or funnel if necessary. Fill the chamber to just above the edge, but not so much that it spills over since this can make it difficult to remove the casting.

    Pouring the chamber casting

  7. If too much casting metal is added, just invert the barrel and heat it with a heat gun until it comes out. This won’t harm the metal of the firearm, but may damage a wood or plastic stock, so be careful.
  8. It usually only takes a few minutes for the chamber casting to cool sufficiently for removal. Look for the metal to dull as a sign. 
  9. Once the casting metal has firmed up, carefully push the chamber casting out from the muzzle using a cleaning rod or a brass or wooden dowel. If the casting seems to stick, strike the base of the rod or dowel with the palm of your hand. It should only take a few gentle blows to loosen.
  10. Take care that the chamber casting doesn’t get damaged during removal. Have a soft pad, such as a folded towel, in place to catch it. 
  11. Remember when I suggested noting the time? Wait at least one full hour after casting to take any measurements. This allows the chamber casting to return to as cast size.
  12. If it’s necessary to keep chamber castings for later reference, make sure they’re clearly labeled regarding the source firearm and stored in a container that will protect them from damage. Brownells offers a selection of plastic tubes and caps that will work well for this purpose. If there’s no need to save the casting, it can be re-melted for the next chamber cast.
A completed chamber cast, showing the case neck and rifling

While making chamber castings isn’t an everyday skill, being able to determine specific details about a firearm chamber can be extremely useful. It's another tool skill to keep in your toolbox skillbox.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Erin's New GHB, part 3: Food & Water Pouches

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.

 No, not pouches of food and water, but quick access pouches for food and water. You'll see the difference in a moment.

Water Pouch
The water pouch is on the right side of my pack. (Why the right side? I dunno. It seemed the place to put it. But if I change my mind, the beauty of MOLLE is that I can swap them easily.) You can also see my Cold Steel Kukri Machete which I've used and abused for over a decade now and which I highly recommend.

Since my GHB has a hydration bladder, I don't need to carry external water. Instead, this pouch has the gear I need to filter and refill my hydration bladder via the drinking tube. See the post Hydration Tube Inline Hijinks for more details on how that works. 

I have them in separate bags to prevent cross-contamination. That it helps keep water droplets from getting everywhere is an added bonus. 

The item in the top left is a Sillcock Key, used to turn on external water spigots without handles. 

Food Pouch

To be fair, this is more of a "snack pouch" than a location for actual meals; if I'm sitting down to eat a proper meal, I'll be there for a while and won't mind going through my bag. This is mainly a source of snack items to keep me going that I can munch while taking a 5 minute break. 

The small dark sticks to the left are straws of honey. 

You can see the the theme here: "I need energy." With the exception of the 6 Hour Sleep and the activated charcoal, these are designed to keep me going when I'm sleepy, fatigued, or fighting the mid-afternoon nap monster. The Sleep is there partly for logic (they're from the same company, in the same size bottles) and partly because I just don't have room for them elsewhere. 

The activated charcoal is there also because I don't have a better place for it. My thinking is "If I need to take it, it's because I ate or drank something I shouldn't have," and I'll need to get to it quickly. Where else to put it, then, than in the quick access eat and drink area?

I'll post more about the benefits of activated charcoal next post. 

Friday, August 13, 2021

Erin's New GHB, part 2: Quick Access

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.

Last week, I mentioned that the main reason I went with this pack as my new Get Home Bag was because of its modularity. This is very important to me because if there's something I need in a hurry, I don't want to have to dig through my pack looking for it. This post is all about that quick access. 

The bag that I bought has a separate and detachable "waist pack". I made this my Quick Access pack for things which I would want to access while at a rest. (For things which I would want to access while on the march, see my Chest Rig).

Bag also available for separate purchase at 

There are 4 pockets to the bag: Left, right, front, and center. 

The Front Pocket is where I keep my first aid kit (trauma supplies are in my chest rig). I want to get to them quickly with a minimal amount of fuss, so they are in the most easily accessed pocket. 

The kit is a 250-piece from "Be Smart Get Prepared", and no I'm not making that up. It fits snugly inside a dry bag and that perfectly fills the front pocket. 

Check out the Amazon listing for details on what it contains; the short version is that it's a nicely stocked booboo kit with an emphasis on outdoor injuries, so it also contains things like insect repellent, sting relief ointment, and so forth.   

As you can see I've also added some Steri-Strips to the kit. 

The Right Pocket is a combination of comfort items that I want to be able to access quickly (like pain medication) and spillover first aid items that didn't fit in the front pouch. 
  • Top Row: Ace bandage, triangular bandage, medical tape, container of safety pins, 8 Breathe-Right Strips.
  • Middle Row: QlearQuil; pillbox containing Aleve, Advil, Tylenol, Meperidine, Benadryl & DayQuil; Jet-Alert caffeine pills; Pepto-Bismol.  
  • Bottom Row: Medi-Lyte electrolyte pills (I plan to get more), Loperamide Hydrochloride (anti-diarrheal), and Zantac.

The Left Pocket is for footcare. I have a pair of wool socks in a ziploc bag, an Adventure Medical blister relief kit, a travel size container of Gold Bond Powder, and a tube of Terbinafine Hydrochloride 1% to treat athlete's foot.

The Center Pocket is mainly for things I will use at night.

The entire bag is secured snugly to the back of the pack, as I expect it will bounce a lot and I don't want to lose it. In addition to two MOLLE straps in the back, there are two other MOLLE straps hooked through the attachment loops for the belt/shoulder strap (the belt is also visible in the picture, acting as a compression strap for the backpack), and the pack's "ice axe loops" are used to secure it on the bottom with two sets of Nite-Ize Figure 9 Carabiners

In my next post I'll discuss the two side pouches, which are for food and water. 

Thursday, August 12, 2021

California Burnin'

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

Yes, California is on fire again, but the fires aren't as close to me as in previous years. While that brings me a small amount of comfort, it still means major portions of this state is being destroyed. So here's a reminder to check your Go Bag and evacuation plans.

Gotta Go and (Maybe) Never Coming Back
That was what happened to a relative who was planning to retire soon to Northern California. He had a bit more warning than people in the town of Paradise had, but the results are the same.

Greenville, California before:

   Greenville, California after:

(If you'd like to see more photos, go here.)
While this wasn't their primary residence, it was where the family spent lots of time enjoying the beautiful scenery and the historic town. As you'd imagine he's not really interested in talking about what happened, but I'll try to get info later on how his evacuation went down.

I'm taking this as a reminder to my household to review all of our plans for getting safely out of our house.

What's First
There are two dogs here that will be tossed into the first car headed out. I have all my important items in a tote in my closet with a tag that says IMPORTANT.  That's the first thing I'll grab, and if there's time the rest of the totes will be grabbed as they are stacked in order of importance. 

A bit of good fortune is that Purple Pack Lady has her important papers at her place, and I'm going to ask to put duplicates of my papers there as my folks' place used to be my off-site storehouse. I'll also suggest she puts duplicates here, if she wants. 

What's Next?

  • Update my paperwork and where I need to keep everything.
  • Consolidate everything into as small a package as possible. Having to Get Out Of Town or a burning building could mean a lot of people wanting to save things important to them.
  • Have everyone realize the importance of doing something to prepare for a disaster, and sharing where their important things are.

Recap And Takeaway

  • Follow through on your plans. I certainly am.

* * *

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.

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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