Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Quest for Fire

   Learning how to produce fire is arguably the greatest advantage for not only surviving, but thriving. With the aid of fire you can sanitize food and water, cauterize wounds to stop bleeding and deter infection, stay warm, ward off predators, signal over long distances, hunt, make weapons, see in the dark, repel insects, clear brush to plant crops, cure animal hides and pottery and assist in the making of more products than I care to continue listing. It’s no wonder that fire is a common element in religious ceremonies in cultures all over the world. We hear things like “The fire in their eyes” and “The fire in your soul”. Fire symbolizes destructive and life-giving power alike. The very heart of our planet is one ginormous roiling ball of fire. Nature simple has to spew a few hot rocks out of the earth, or discharge lightening from the sky and fire is born, but we have to get a little more technically involved in the science of it all. I hate to throw a curve ball at you like science, but no worries -science is merely the understanding of nature and not the undermining rationale some mistake it to be. With a little understanding of the science of nature you can learn to produce fire with the most unlikely of resources.

*A “tinder nest” refers to just that, a small nest of dry fibrous material in which to start or place an ember.
*The acronym “CPR” is used to describe to the technique of nursing an ember with extended and controlled jets of breath until the tinder nest bursts to life and can breathe on its own. Try not to hyperventilate, it can happen.

Fire Starting Tools-
-Matches may be obvious, but you can waterproof wooden ones yourself by soaking them in turpentine for 5 minutes and allow them to thoroughly dry for 20. Don’t use a plastic container to soak the matches in or the turpentine might melt the plastic. You can also dip wooden matches in clear nail polish or wax and prop them up to dry. Store your new waterproof matches in a 35mm film canister, pill bottle, or any small waterproof container. Put a couple strips of striker patch in with them and you’ll be set.
-Flint and steel strikers are great reusable tools and come in many shapes and sizes. Strike on your tinder nest and apply CPR at the first sign of an ember.
-A magnesium bar is a silvery, rectangular bar with a striker rod embedded in one side. Scrap the silvery bar with your knife blade to form a small pile of magnesium dust in the midst of stubborn tinder. As you strike the striker rod with your knife blade aim the sparks onto the mag dust and watch it flare up like a micro sun. Magnesium can burn at temperatures of over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit so be extremely careful when applying CPR. Let the “sun” go down a bit before you put your face near it.

Using Pressure-
-A Fire Piston is a cylinder that is sealed on one end, a plunger that fits inside the cylinder and a gasket for the plunger so it fits tightly into the cylinder; and lubricated to reduce friction -like a bicycle pump without an exhaust hose. The end of the plunger that enters the cylinder is hollowed out to hold a small bit of tinder. When forcefully compressed, the air inside the cylinder can reach temperatures in excess of 800 degrees Fahrenheit, sufficient to ignite the tinder bit inside. Quickly pop the plunger in with as much force as you can and pull it out and check for an ember. Drop the ember in your tinder nest and apply CPR.
   With some ingenuity these devices can be fabricated; the natives of Indonesia were making fire pistons with bamboo, plant fiber gaskets and animal fat lubrication over a thousand years ago. Exactly how they came up with this ingenious method of producing fire is unknown, but it’s thought that perhaps they stumbled across this through the process they use to make bamboo blowguns.

Friction Methods-
-A Fire Drill consists of a spindle (tapered on one end) and a flat piece of wood called a fireboard that has a bowl indention in it near an edge -to seat the tapered end of the spindle. A V-notch is carved next to indentation in the side of the fireboard, giving the forthcoming dust and eventual ember a pathway to drop down into a waiting tinder nest. You can vigorously spin the spindle with the palms of your hands, keeping downward pressure by pushing down while you spin and quickly switching back up every time your hands reach the bottom, or you can cut a notch in the top of the spindle and hang a piece of cordage over it, with loops on each end to hook your thumbs in.
-A Fire Bow requires the same spindle and fireboard setup as well. A bow is made by attaching a piece of cordage to the ends of a strong, but bendable stick. Adjust the tension until you can wrap the bow string once around the spindle. With a piece of wood in the palm of one hand to hold the top of the spindle in place, make quick, sawing motions with the bow.
-A Fire Plough consists of a spindle and a fireboard with a groove in it. Place your tinder nest near the end of the groove and vigorously rub the tip of the stick back and forth along the groove towards your tinder nest.
   Friction is not the easiest way to start a fire, in fact it’s arguably the hardest, but it may be your only option. Use the same type of wood for the spindle and fireboard for best results and make sure the wood is bone dry. Don’t’ give up if an ember doesn’t pop to life after just a few grueling minutes of effort, this method takes a lot of time and energy, even for the pros.

Using Sunlight-
-A lens from a pair of eyeglasses, a magnifying glass or binoculars can ignite your tinder nest within seconds in full sunlight. Adjust the angle and distance from your tinder nest to obtain the finest focal point possible.
-Any clear liquid, even urine, can be used to focus sunlight. By using a clear plastic bag, rubber glove, balloon, or even a sheet of plastic wrap, you can form a spherical shape to focus the sunlight on your tinder nest. Experiment with different sizes to obtain the finest focal point possible -too large a sphere will distort the sunlight too much.
-Any concaved reflective surface can also focus sunlight, such as the bottom of an aluminum beverage can, but it needs to be polished as mirror-like as possible. Fine steel wool or a piece of cloth and mild abrasive will do the job –household powder cleansers, toothpaste, even chocolate because it’s creamy and grainy.
-Ice can also focus sunlight if clear and properly shaped into a lens. You can carve a lens shape with a knife, or by grinding a chunk of ice on a rock or other abrasive surface. You can fill a small bowl with water and let it freeze, hopefully before you do. Polish with water and you have a focusing lens.

-You can easily produce a chemical fire by combining two separately safe items. You need potassium permanganate “Washing Soda” (Commonly used as a water softener and swimming pool additive) and glycerin (the kind found on the drugstore shelf to soften rough skin). Make a small pile of potassium permanganate crystals on your tinder nest and add a few drops of glycerin. A couple drops of water will accelerate the reaction so lightly damp tinder isn’t a problem making the reaction, but it obviously might be problematic with keeping it going -the reaction doesn’t last long. You don’t want to breathe in the reaction vapors so be careful when applying CPR.

 Additional tips and tricks-
   Fine Steel Wool makes an amazing tinder assist. A few good sparks will set it off and running, smoldering more than burning. You can add a tuft of steel wool to your tinder nest and spark as usual, or stretch steel wool out on a flat surface and rub it with a 9 volt or cell phone battery to get it going in its own.
   Hand sanitizers containing alcohol, like a first-aid alcohol prep pad, can be used as fuel assists for stubborn tinder.
   You can work a little petroleum jelly into cotton balls to make them waterproof fuel assists.
   Dry tinder may not always be obviously available if it has recently been raining. Look under piles of leaves, brush or rocks -the top layers could be sheltering dry debris underneath. These places may also be sheltering critters as well, possibly poisonous ones, so be careful rooting your naked hand around. A small hollow at the root base of a tree is another place to look for sheltered debris and critters. Check the low boughs of trees for dead branches that haven’t yet fallen to the wet ground. A fallen limb or log may be rotten and soaked on the outside, but still have dry areas inside. Likewise, an old hornet’s nest can be wet on the outside and still have dry parts inside. You can keep moist tinder close to your skin to help dry it out. Speaking of being close to you, check your pockets –dryer lint makes for a very effective tinder nest additive.
   As useful as fire can be in our lives, it can be equally destructive. Please exercise extreme caution when managing a campfire. Extinguish fires with water if possible. If you don’t have water to spare use dirt, but don’t just bury it and leave, that will not extinguish it -roots can smolder for hours and wick up to the surface. Continue adding water or dirt and stirring until everything is cold to the touch. No matter how small and insignificant a fire may seem, every devastating forest fire began somewhere as an ember.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Doomsday Trading and Precious Metals

   Should paper money become just pretty paper, the lack of refined oil brings the trucking industry to a screeching halt, a devastating terrorist attack cripples our infrastructure, the Yellowstone Super volcano erupts, or any one of a Doomsday Prepper’s concerns unfolds, all manner of supplies will fly off the shelves and soon be unavailable to the average consumer. Unless you have an underground warehouse and the means in which to fill it, you will not be able to stockpile every supply, in sufficient quantities, that you may eventually need. Bartering may very well become the only means of obtaining new resources if left to our own devices. You may be planning to lock yourself away from the rest of the world and wait out whatever storm befalls you, but again, unless you’re held up in an underground, fully stocked fortress, the odds are you’ll eventually need to interact with what’s left of your community. Here are some things to consider that might give you some extra bartering power, but just use your imagination.

-Alcohols like rum and whiskey are relatively cheap and have many uses other than recreational consumption. It wasn’t all that long ago that whiskey was the standard anesthesia for major surgery, as well as being the preferred tonic for whatever ails you.
-Sugar and spices may become highly sought after luxury items.
-Medications and medical supplies of all nature are guaranteed to be extremely valuable trade items.
-Toilet Paper may seem like a mundane purchase now, but I bet no matter how much you’ve already stocked up, many of you haven’t even considered toilet paper until now…
-Precious Metals. Both for trade and for rebuilding a financial life after a collapse, raw gold and silver will ensure you have something of worth to work with. If you’re looking to purchase precious metals research the up-to-date value of the metal you’re interested in so you’ll know exactly how much extra you’re paying for the aesthetics of each product, which can vary greatly. If you enjoy a good science project you can recycle your old jewelry at home.


Materials needed-
-A large, untreated charcoal briquette
-A small stainless steel knife
-A small propane torch for soldering, jewelry making etc.
-Borax (In the household chemical isle)
-Bucket of water, or piece of wood with a shallow carve to mold your metal
-Safety glasses and heavy leather gloves
-Metal tongs
-Wire cutters or hacksaw to chop up large pieces
-A digital scale to verify finished weight

   Do this outside in a well-ventilated area. Work on a board or fill a baking sheet with dirt to protect surfaces from mishaps.
   Only mix like valued metals. 24 karat gold and fine silver are the purest. If you mix 24k gold with 10k gold, which has other metals in it and thus less gold, you’ll end up with a product of unknown purity. The same goes for fine silver (.999) if mixed with sterling silver (.925) will lessen its value. Gold and silver plated objects have miniscule amounts of the precious metal you’re looking for and this method is insufficient to separate them. If you’re unsure about what you have there are testing kits available to determine exact values.


1. Use the knife to scoop out the charcoal until you have a bowl indentation large enough for the material to be melted.

2. Make sure the charcoal briquette will stand securely upright. You may need to scrape the bottom flat if you’re working on a hard surface.

3. Use wire cutters or a hacksaw to cut rings and larger items into smaller pieces. Remove all non-precious metal parts and stones. Place the gold or silver material in the charcoal briquette bowl.

4. Don your safety gear.
5. Sprinkle a pinch of borax onto the material to be melted (it might help to have this ready on a spoon)  
6. Light the propane torch, low to medium flame, and slowly bring the flame fully onto the metal. You don’t want to blow away the borax or any small, valuable particles. Gradually increase the heat.
7. Heat until the material is fully melted, which may take 10 minutes or longer. Use the stainless steel knife blade to break up any stubborn particles if some seem to be clinging to form.
8. Once the metal is a fully molten blob, turn off the torch and quickly lift the briquette with the tongs and pour the contents into the bucket of water for rough nuggets, or into the hollowed space in a piece of wood for a custom molded shape. You can also just let the new gold or silver “button” cool in the charcoal.

   If you want to work with larger quantities of metal, you can use a high temperature clay pot (Gold melts at just under 2000 Degrees Fahrenheit, silver a bit colder), or purchase a crucible specifically designed for this purpose. If you want to get really creative there are instructions available everywhere on-line on how to cast your own rings using the “Lost Wax” method of casting.

   I probably don’t have to advise that you keep your stashes secret, but I will anyway. Always keep the extent of your resources a closely guarded secret, no matter how proud you are, especially when bartering with someone who needs what you have. It’s a good idea to keep the impression that you don’t necessarily have these things hidden in your closet, but you know how to get ahold of them instead, possibly through other sources. Never bring your goodies to the trading circle if you can keep from it, other than minimal samples to prove you can produce what you promise. It’s always safer to barter empty handed and make arrangements for trade at a later time, at least until you know who you’re bartering with; and bring as many people as you can along with you to discourage being robbed.

   There’s no doubt that if left to our own devices there will be those seeking to capitalize on everyone else, even more so than during these “good times”. Tragedy tends to bring out the best in some of us and the worst in others. I can only hope that helping out your neighbor simple because it’s the right thing to do never truly becomes a lost mentality, no matter how lost the structure of our society may become. Trade when you need to, help out when you can, and we may yet retain some sense of fellowship throughout our darkest hours.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Home Security

   Home security is something everyone should take seriously no matter what their level of seriousness toward prepping. A world where we leave our doors unlocked and our ground level windows open at night is a world I think we would all love to live in, but at the risk of sounding like an whimsical hippy, such a world exists only in my dreams. Besides, locked doors rarely stop criminals. Since we do live in the real world where it’s not safe to rely on strangers to have our best interests in mind, here are some tips to help better secure your home.

-A pet can be more than a loving addition to your family. A dog is probably the first option people think of when they consider getting a pet for security purposes, but there are many other animals that can provide an effective early warning system for intruders. Free-range chickens are a good option for many reasons, food being one. If you’ve never tried to get close to a free-range chicken, I can assure you it isn’t easy. They’re extremely alert creatures and can be very vocal when something out of the ordinary is afoot anywhere near them. Turkeys react much the same way. If your property is appropriately fenced, any “farm” animal is a great option to let roam free; goats, sheep, lamas, etc. As with all pets, keep in mind that in a survival situation your pets will need emergency supplies too, so stock up on food and any special medical supplies they may need as well. Speaking of pet care costs, a German Shepard may be a great sentry to have around, but a Chiwawa can alert you to danger just the same and cost much less to keep fed and healthy.
-Motion Detectors. There are a wide range of products on the market and some can be placed away from your home, such as driveway detectors. I’ll leave it up to you to research which product is best suited for your situation, but solar powered with battery power back-up is recommended.

-Homemade Bells and Whistles. With a little ingenuity, some fishing line, eye-hooks and jingles, you can create a very effective alert system to cover pathways around your home, as well as entry points into your home. Make sure to set trip wires higher than the animals running loose or false alarms may drive you crazy. A wind chime placed strategically by a door or window, or a stack of aluminum cans behind a door are just a couple of creative ways to implement an effective early warning system.

-Booby traps that are meant to harm are not recommended unless you’re trained to work with such devices. These things are inherently touchy and an amateur could easily find themselves on the wrong side of their intent. Any device “rigged to harm” is illegal, so consider such things only in dire circumstances worth the risk. You can’t very well protect your family from jail.
-Every room in your home should contain a weapon. Firearms are great, but expensive and potentially dangerous around young children. A knife, pepper spray or a stun gun are all effective options to stash around the house. Many household items can be easily fashioned into makeshift weapons, just use your imagination. Wasp spray and oven cleaner alone can effectively deter an attacker. Any weapon you choose to have available has the potential of being taken away from you and used against you, so practice using the weapons you have at hand, even if it’s just learning how to effectively swing a baseball bat without losing control of it.

-Learning some form of covert communication is highly recommended, Morse code, sign language, bird calls, anything. You don’t want to find yourself in a dangerous situation wishing you had telepathy.

   Regularly test every security system you implement and conduct security drills with your family so everyone knows exactly what to do if an alarm should go off. Have established hiding spots, escape routes and rendezvous points. The family that prepares together is better equipped to stay together.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Weekend Adventurer

   I understand that not everyone is looking to fortify their home against zombie hoards, ravaging looters, or some other threat marking the end of the world as we know it. With that in mind, I thought it might be beneficial to address the concerns of the weekend adventurer before the grass gets too deep with drawn-out details on booby traps and bug eating.
   There is no national data base to keep track of how many people get lost in the woods every year, but estimates are anywhere from a few hundred to well over a thousand. Thankfully, most people rejoin society without coming to grave harm within 48 hours, but sadly, some do not. A little preparation can save you from becoming one of the unfortunate statistics.
Ways you can better your odds of surviving a weekend disaster-
-Tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to be back. If you’re worried about sounding paranoid by asking someone to check up on you, you might want to rethink your perspective and instead, consider relying on a friend to be the responsible thing to do. When pride comes before a fall off a cliff it’s usually too late to rethink anything.
-Every time you step into the wilderness, have some basic supplies on you as if you’re going to be lost in the wilderness.     
-Bring water, as much as you can comfortably carry, and water treatment tablets to treat wild water in case you need more. Chlorine Dioxide tablets are cheap and can be found in the camping section of most local retailers. Refer to my post "Survival Water Workshop" for more details on wild sources and purification methods.
-Buy a small First-Aid Kit, but know what’s in it. Particularly useful item include a roll of gauze, anti-bacterial ointment, pain reliever and alcohol prep pads. Alcohol prep pads can not only be used to clean wounds, but they can also help you start a fire, and if you become over heated, you can rub them on your skin to draw heat out of your body.
-Invest in an emergency blanket -foil-like, fits in your pocket, cost less than two dollars and just may save your life.
-Emergency Food. There are many good products out there to choose from, but keep in mind, in water shortage situations you want to avoid foods high in protein, sugar and sodium. My preferred option is “Mayday” emergency food bars. Not readily found at your local retailer, but fairly inexpensive and available at many on-line, survival food suppliers. They’re high in calories, 100% essential vitamins, 5 year shelf life, U.S. Coast Guard approved, non-thirst provoking and actually tasty.
-Fire isn’t essential for short term survival, unless it’s bitterly cold, but it can sure lift your spirit through a dark night alone in the woods. Keep water-proof matches in your pack and the alcohol prep pads will help you get tinder started. If everything looks wet, look under fallen leaves and brush, everything’s usually not. Refer to my post "The Quest for Fire" for more info.
   If you realize you’re lost, don’t panic, and don’t waste calories tromping further into the bush in denial. Before it gets dark, find some shelter and make preparations to spend the night. If you let someone know what you’re up to, help will soon be on the way. If you forgot to leave word on when someone should call in the troops, still don’t panic, find shelter and make preparations to spend the night. Set out again at first light. If you can’t find recognizable landmarks on your way, just follow your feet; you may not remember the way out, but your feet just might. Move slowly to not over-burn calories and hydrate as often as you can. If you’re forced to drink wild water, don’t panic, go ahead and drink the questionable water. There’s no guarantee you’ll get sick, but you’re guaranteed to be in serious trouble if you get dehydrated. Even if drinking from a questionable water source is going to make you sick, it will still give you a better chance of making it to safety where you can be treated for the nasty water you drank.
   A little preparation goes a long way, and with a level head and a strong heart you can overcome any weekend disaster.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Greetings Preppers

   Before I start spouting advice I want to emphasize that even though I possess certain skills and knowledge that will greatly increase my chances of survival in any given situation, I probably don’t know you, so I don’t pretend to think I know what’s ultimately best for you. Every situation has different needs and concerns for each of us. I’m happy to share my knowledge, but I encourage each of you to research everything I recommend on your own to better suit your specific needs. Only you can know what’s truly best for you.
   In case you’re new to all this, here are some of the basics. Refer to my other posts where I outline these subjects in more detail.

Water -The experts recommend 3 liters a day for optimal hydration, but this is just a general rule. How much you’re eating, what you’re eating, how much you’re sweating and how humid or dry it is around you are just some of the things that need be considered. Another thing we hear is that you can only last three days without water, thankfully that isn’t a rule. People have been known to survival a week or more without water. Granted these are not common cases, but survival beyond three days in not impossible. Some survivalists recommend rationing your water supply, while others say do not. I tend to fall somewhere in between. Being too worried about tomorrow can seriously hurt your chances of making it to tomorrow, but some measure of frugality needs to be implemented to not be wasteful. Refer to my post "Survival Water Workshop" for more info.

Food -beyond stockpiling more than you think you’ll need, in a survival situation where water supply is a concern there a certain things you want to avoid, like caffeine and alcohol for instance, which will only dehydrate you faster. The body needs a lot of water to break down protein and metabolize sugar, and you want to avoid foods high in sodium as well. Refer to my post "The Frugal Prepper" for more info.

First-Aid -Purchase a first aid-kit that best meets your personal needs. Refer to my posts "The Frugal Prepper", "Pharmaceuticals After Doomsday" and "Baking Soda: An Underestimated Amazement" for more info.

Protection -If you’re not prepared to fight for your life, you’ll be more apt to lose it. Take a self-defense course and/or learn to safely operate a firearm. Refer to my post "Home Security" for more info.

Communication –You should invest in an AM/FM radio, preferable hand crank, battery operated shortwave radio or HAM radio of some sort so you won’t be completely cut off from the rest of the world.

Hope -You can make all the material preparations in the world, but if you’re not mental prepared to face whatever tragedy may come your way, your chances of surviving it are slim. Every survival story I’ve come across from animal attacks to being lost in the wilderness was punctuated with their will and determination to survive. Do not panic, no matter how bleak your situation seems to be. I don’t care who you are, you are stronger than you realize. Learn to find comfort in the little things and renew your hope with minor victories.

   A positive state of mind is the best defense in a negative situation.