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Why Preppers Should Be Do-It-Yourselfers

6 Sep

I suspect the vast majority of serious preppers are big into Do It Yourself (DIY). Preppers want to be self reliant. Being able to maintain your own household systems is part of not being dependent upon others. It can save a ton of money.

Not everybody can repair their own systems. It’s not permitted by law. Here’s an example. In England residents aren’t permitted to do their own electrical wiring.

In America we’re allowed to do our own residential electrical wiring (there could be exceptions). If we own rental property where others live, we’re not allowed to work on those electrical systems unless we’re electricians.

The lawmakers will say this is to protect people from shoddy repairs and to enhance safety. Maybe. Trade groups push for these laws to drive up their profits. They don’t want people to be self sufficient. They want to feel loved and needed. And get us to cut them a big check.

Make no mistake, building code is partly based on safety and it’s partly based on special interest politics. In Minnesota we had a kerfuffle about AAVs for plumbing vents. Air Admittance Valves (AAV) are one-way check valves which allow air to enter a drain pipe. This keeps a vacuum from impeding the drain flow. The check valve prevents sewer gasses from backing up into the home.

The traditional way of venting is to run vent pipes through the roof. This lets gasses from the sewer vent above the home and it allows air to flow into the drain pipe to remove waste. No check valve is needed, just open pipe. Every home should have one vent which terminates above the roof.

What if you add a sink and drain somewhere and it needs venting? AAVs allow you to vent the fixture without running pipes through the roof or connecting into the existing vent system.

In Minnesota we have our own plumbing code. Many plumbing codes exist. There is a uniform plumbing code, an international plumbing code, and others. A maker of AAVs lobbied to allow these devices in Minnesota. The building code was changed. Not so fast. The pipefitters objected to the change. AAVs were disallowed. With AAVs there is less pipe to fit.

My point isn’t to argue the pros and cons of AAVs. Just to show industry politics plays a role in determining building code. The government deciders don’t always only care about your best interests. They care about pleasing the folks who butter their bread.

I could picture a future where no homeowner was ever allowed to do anything in their home. You’d need to call in the professionals.

What DIY things should a person learn?

1) Plumbing
2) Electrical Wiring
3) Appliance Repair
4) Basic Auto Repair
5) Understand the basics of your HVAC system

Look around your home and life. What systems do you rely on? The more you understand those systems and the more capable you are to fix and maintain them, the more self-sufficient you are.

Metal Work For Preppers (As A Hobby!)

25 Feb

In the last post, we talked about stocking spare parts and general purpose hardware. Metalwork is a topic I touched on in the book. For most preppers, it’s not essential, and maybe not even desirable. The costs are high and are out of proportion to the material benefit received.

There is a certain beauty to being able to fabricate your own parts. I’m going to steal a quote from Thoughtfully Prepping:

“Survivalists understand that spares and supplies only go so far thus train and equip for a time when they will have to resupply by their own means. Thus their whole ethos is built on flexibility not just a plan A or B.”

For survivalists this refers to procuring absolutely essential supplies like food through hunting or animal husbandry or gardening. A similar ethos built on flexibility applies to anybody who wants to be more self-sufficient today. You want flexibility that goes beyond plans.

In the last post, we wrote about stocking parts and hardware. It’s not possible to stock every part that could fail for every machine you own. The ultimate ideal is the ability to make any part we could possibly need. That’s no small thing, and most of us won’t fully achieve it.

One approach to this is to reduce your reliance on mechanical things.
This blogger suggests giving up your vehicle to simplify your life. The less reliant you are on complicated machines, the better. Many of us cling to our machines. A car is essential in many areas. Few of us want to give up our modern appliances.

For better or worse, machines and tools are seen as a proxy for modern civilization. Tools and machines are what separates us from the animals, who don’t use sophisticated tools. When society collapses, manufacturing stops. The machines stop. Industry and agriculture is what separates us from remaining hunters and gathers struggling to put food on the table.

When I started writing this post, I thought of a line from one of my favorite prepper films, The Omega Man.

As the “family” tries to take down Nevil, they lament they’re powerless to bring him out of his “funky paradise.” He wouldn’t forget the old ways, the ways of the smell of combustion and the aroma of oil. Nevil kept his generator going not just to provide light to keep the family at bay, but to connect to his civilized past. He checked his generator and dressed for dinner.

Even the hero in The Last Man On Earth had a lathe.

It was a wooden lathe and he used it to make stakes to kill vampires. There he stood at his lathe holding off society’s complete destruction.

I’m sharing those movies because I find them amusing. They’re great flicks. Practically speaking, as much as I love metal work, it has limited application to survival. Nevil as one of the few survivors didn’t need to spend his days at a lathe making parts. He foraged and scavenged for what he needed. That was a practical approach to the problem. It was easier to find a different car than to repair the old one.

In a long-term break down of society and massive death, I know all my metalworking tricks will fail. We won’t have electricity to run a drill press. Welding gasses will run out. Repair capability will grind to a halt.

I offer metalworking not as a practical prepper skill, but as a hobby preppers could derive satisfaction. Be warned. It’s an expensive hobby. Painfully expensive. A well-equipped shop has several horrendously expensive tools:

* Bandsaw
* Quality Drill Press
* Lathe
* Milling Machine
* TIG Welder
* Solid Bench Vise

The tooling for the milling machine and lathe is super expensive. It’s a weighty hobby. If you move, you don’t want to move a milling machine. It has a pretty steep learning curve. If you can take some classes at the local technical college, that helps. If you have the time, money, and plan to stay put, check out metalwork as a hobby!

Here are some good videos about basic machine shop skills from a robotics lab. Three videos talk about basic shop skills. Two series talk about the milling machine and lathe.

If you develop a bit of skill with the above tools, you’ll be able to fabricate many small metal parts, make many machines, and repair many things. You’ll still have limitations, because of a lack of heat treating and other things.

Sitting is lethal. Downright deadly.
So…Get off your duff and …get off your duff.

If you want to get some exercise when you stand up, how about Shadow Boxing?

We think hotels are well maintained for safety. In this sad story, two families suffered deaths because of Carbon Monoxide at a hotel.

Pack your own CO detector when you stay at hotels?

A major problem is that big fundraisers for politicians get appointed as foreign ambassadors. The job isn’t taken seriously. It’s a political payoff.

Nothing like a representative of America ragging on our allies behind their back. This conversation was captured by Russia’s surveillance. Just remember…everything you say or write online or on a cell phone is watched by all major countries…America knows, Russia knows, China knows…They all know… They don’t care about us peons, but they know. A good thing to remember if you ever get appointed ambassador.

Don’t worry about Russia: Russia is sowing the seeds of their own destruction. They’re banning sexy lingerie. To arms, men! To arms!

There is a good post about putting together a car survival kit over at Apartment Prepper.

Will America be done in by…squirrels?

Story: Ammo is back on the shelves.

Sad story about a basement fire. If you have family sleeping in a basement, do you have a smoke detector down there? Do you have an egress window to escape if your steps are ablaze or unreachable?

Have you closed off the underside of your steps with rated sheet rock to give more time before they burn up? Without an alarm, toxic gasses and CO can kill before a person has a chance to wake up, let alone escape. All sleeping areas should have two exits.

If you have a basement bedroom, have you checked your basement for radon? Many basements are unsuited to be bedrooms because of radon.

Spare Gun Parts and Hardware for Preppers

21 Feb

There is a good post over at tslrf about the importance of spare gun parts.

This post will add a few thoughts to that. I’m uniquely qualified to talk about spare parts, because I’m a borderline hoarder when it comes to parts and tools. If you stock gun parts, follow these simple rules:

1) Keep parts organized by little ziplock bags which are labeled by the weapon the parts go with. For things like springs, it’s good to have even smaller bags and label the part number on the bag. If the parts come in labeled bags, keep them in those bags. Some small parts can look like each other and still be different.

2) Print out a schematic of the firearm in question and fold it up and keep it with the parts.

If you fail to do either of these, years down the road, you won’t remember what parts go with what guns. Trust me. I’m right.

3) Whenever a part fails, purchase a spare in addition to the replacement part. Certain parts have a higher likelihood of failure. If something fails once, be suspicious it will fail again.

4) Just because you fixed something once, doesn’t mean you’ll remember how to fix it again in the future. Time leads to forgetfulness. It helps if you keep a small diary of more complex repairs. Did you need to fit the part or was it a drop in replacement? Were there any hang ups with the new part? A little note can jog your memory in the future. I’m not talking about basic field stripping, which is second nature to you, but about those parts that you rarely remove and can cause confusion.

One way to have a better chance of having parts is to stick with common weapons and even purchase a second weapon of the same model and caliber.

Even if the outer surface of a gun is rough, the internal parts might not have been subject to much wear. For the popular 870 Remington and other weapons issued by police, police auctions and sales are one place to look for a less expensive backup.

If funds are tight and you’re a recreational shooter who wants different guns, I wouldn’t buy multiple guns for parts. It’s more fun to have different models! If your 870 breaks, you’ll have an 1100 as a backup. If your 45 1911 fails, you have a 357 revolver.

Some shooters question if today’s parts are as good as the parts of yesteryear. Many small parts today are made by MIM or Metal Injection Molding. The process is briefly described here.

Some shooters defend MIM parts and others dislike them. Just because parts are made differently today doesn’t mean they’re made better.

When a part is modified or made differently it’s frequently done to reduce manufacturing costs and ring more profit out of the sales. This has a long history. A popular example is the beloved pre-64 Winchester Model 70s. The guns functioned well, but were expensive to produce. The bolt was modified to streamline production. The goal wasn’t to make the best gun. The goal was to make an acceptably good gun with less cost.

The same is true of hardware. All bolts aren’t created equal! I’ve had especially bad luck with longer wood screws from the big box retailers. I’ve had some rip the heads off. Others, more commonly, strip out. This is in softwood with predrilled holes. If you can afford it, purchase quality. If not, big box budget fasteners are better than nothing.

One way to acquire assortments of bolts, nuts, nails, and other hardware is to purchase mixed assortments which are swept up and tossed together. Like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you’re never quite sure of what you’ll get.

If you’re looking for assorted stainless steel nails, for example, Mcfeely’s has a five pound box for $26. Be sure to get their $1 shipping special. Mine were American made, but I don’t see them advertised that way, so YMMV. Stainless steel nails are great because they won’t rust like regular nails. They can be used outdoors, on treated lumber, pretty much anywhere.

Grab a few more plastic bags and divide your nails into three general sizes: Small, Medium, and Large. That way you don’t fumble through as many nails looking for what you want in the future.

Bolt grade and quality is especially important for bolts critical to safety, like the bolts attaching your engine to its motor mount. For mission critical bolts, unless you’ve educated yourself about bolt grade, try to purchase the replacement bolt directly from the vehicle maker. You’ll pay more, but you’ll be safe.

It helps to have a bolt gauge, English and Metric, to help you identify thread pitch and bolt diameter when you’re looking for a replacement. As a final check, hold the two bolts up against one another. The threads should match perfectly. This will keep you from mixing up close bolts, like 3/8-16 and Metric 10mm x 1.5.

If you toss out an old appliance or other machine, if you have the time, you can strip it of its old bolts, nuts, sheet metal screws, clamps, and other hardware. This will build your hardware collection at no cost.

Some people score good deals purchasing bolts and nuts from estate sales.

Charlie Palmer
The Prepper Next Door: A Practical Guide For Disaster And Emergency Planning

Keep Your Car Going Forever

14 Sep

Most readers of this blog know that purchasing a used car and driving it into the ground will save you considerable money compared to buying a new car and only keeping it a few years. Preppers should be pragmatic with their vehicles. You don’t need a status symbol, only reliable and safe transportation.

If you purchase a used car, three important things to consider are: 1) The engine; 2) the transmission; and 3) the body.

There are four main ways cars die: 1) The engine fails or wears out; 2) the transmission needs to be rebuilt and it would cost more to rebuild it than to replace the car; 3) the body rusts out, especially structural metal in unibody frames; and 4) Some idiot crashes into your vehicle totaling it.

Purchasing a used vehicle with problems in any of the key areas is likely to lead to substantial repair costs or a shortened vehicle life. If you want your vehicle to last twenty years and/or over 200,000 miles:

1) Treat your engine properly. Regular oil and oil filter changes minimize engine wear. A clean air filter prevents air borne dust from getting into your cylinder bores. Construction dust is particularly harmful because it contains pulverized concrete. Protect your car from junk in your gas by changing your fuel filter regularly. In the winter, ISO-Heat helps remove moisture condensation as does keeping your gas tank full.

Other fluids shouldn’t be neglected either. Coolant contains rust inhibitors which degrade with age. Flush your old coolant out every 2 or 3 years. Brake fluid absorbs water. Every 3 or 4 years, replacing brake fluid is a good idea.

Follow your vehicle’s maintenance schedule. Don’t overlook things like the PCV valve.

Catch and correct problems as early as possible. Failure to replace a squishy radiator hose leads to losing your coolant. You’re on the road. Rather than stopping, you make the major error of driving just a bit further. Your car overheads and blows a head gasket. An inexpensive problem to correct becomes an expensive headache.

Engines made in the 1990s should be reliable for at least 100,000 miles and probably 200,000 miles. 300,000 miles isn’t impossible.

2) When purchasing a vehicle, many give the engine special consideration. Is it a reliable and proven design? The same should go for the transmission. What model of transmission does the vehicle have? Google it. You won’t find as much information, but if it has significant issues, a Google search could give you a heads up.

Many automotive do-it-yourselfers hesitate to do their own transmission work. It’s a big job to rebuild a transmission. You can find rebuild manuals to help you. With transmission work, the motto should be “cleanliness is next to Godliness.” You don’t want to introduce impurities into the system.

With transmission maintenance, the big question is: To flush or not to flush? Car guys debate this. Too many vehicles go in for “routine” transmission maintenance and come out with a buggy transmission. The consensus seems to be that if you have an older vehicle which hasn’t had regular transmission flushes, you shouldn’t flush the transmission. The newer fluid might lead to gears slipping or the flush process can remove build up which can lead to fluid leaks.

Another option is not to flush, but to drop the transmission pan, change the filter, and top off with new transmission fluid. The older fluid in the torque converter isn’t changed, but this partial fluid change posses less risk than a flush. Most crucially, the filter gets changed. Don’t forget to clean metal shavings from the magnet and replace it, if your transmission has one. Don’t sweat small amounts of metal shavings there though. I’m told that’s quite common.

3) If you don’t drive a lot and you live in a Northern state where roads are salted in winter, underbody rust can threaten the life of your vehicle long before the engine or transmission fails. After a couple decades, structural metal vanishes. In a crash, your car could collapse uncontrollably.

One solution to the build up of road salt is to wash your car in the winter every two weeks. That removes the salt. Give the most attention to the underbody.

The most dangerous time is when the weather warms up and built up snow under the vehicle melts. The salty mixture wrecks havoc with metal.

Modern vehicles have a “unibody” frame design. There isn’t a separate frame, which can be replaced in parts. The metal wraps back and forth, and it’s challenging to know how to make a proper repair. Inspect the underside of your potential car purchase. Are the jack points solid and intact? Is metal missing? If so, it’s probably best to pass on the vehicle. Vehicles in Southern states should last much longer because of body rust.

Cosmetic rust on the top of the body shouldn’t be neglected either. Once it starts, it grows. At a minimum, hit a dinged area with a drop of automotive paint.

If you’ve maintained your engine, prayed for your transmission, and fought underbody rust, the one thing that can still knock your vehicle out of commission is an accident. The only way to keep your car going forever, is to leave it sit in the garage.

As preppers, we should all be careful and responsible drivers. Accidents still happen. In a way, we can take advantage of this. If you drive a popular model, after it’s six or seven years old, there should be quite a few on the road. A bunch of those cars will have been wrecked and will be sitting in junkyards or insurance company salvage yards. Those unfortunate vehicles can be a source of hard-to-find parts for your vehicle as it ages.

I’m not talking about parts like shock absorbers, spark plugs, brake rotors, filters, and hoses. Those parts you’ll find produced by after-market parts companies for decades. Or the parts are so universal, they’re common to many newer vehicles. Nor do I mean parts that are easily fabricated. You can bend and make your own brake lines from coils of brake line. The parts I mean are those which are likely to be ignored by the after-market but which look likely to fail. They’re the parts you can’t easily build yourself.

Several parts come to mind. The gas filler neck on older vehicles can rust out after a few decades. Refurbished ones can be found, but there isn’t much of a market for newly made ones for older vehicles. Custom molded plastic parts, like coolant surge tanks, integral to the cooling system, are another part you’ll struggle to find once your vehicle is a few decades old.

You’ll want to be selective in what parts you stockpile. Obviously, you can’t and don’t want to stockpile everything! Don’t worry about purely cosmetic parts. Don’t worry about parts that look like they’ll never fail, like heavy-duty engine brackets.

If you plan to keep your vehicle for decades, you might want to drop by a local pick-your-parts salvage yard and snag some spares. Because rare parts aren’t any more expensive than common parts, some people make money reselling rare parts they scavenge.

Some serious do-it-yourselfers pull entire engines and transmissions from wrecked vehicles. For most of us, that’s overkill. You’d need to be a hardcore driver before you’d need a spare engine and spare transmission!

The Internet makes this market more efficient today. If you need a part and can’t find one locally look at sites like These used car part websites compile lists of what junkyard dealers say they have.

If you follow this basic advice, you can keep your vehicle going a very long time. You’ll save a ton of money.

Charlie Palmer -author The Prepper Next Door: A Practical Guide For Disaster And Emergency Planning

Do It Yourself Skills, Hoarding Versus Prepping, & Upholstery

16 Apr

I saw a video where a prepper talked about paying off his mortgage and how this was a “prepping” decision. It’s good to be debt free and have financial reserves. That’s just good personal finance. But is it really “prepping”?

In the same vein, when I save money by doing things myself, I can divert the savings to buying things I want or prepping items. I don’t purchase expensive items that won’t contribute to my life. Is that related to “prepping” too? I don’t know. It’s a lifestyle choice.

What I do know is that like many people I have an old rocking chair that’s losing its stuffing and looks pretty worn. Being cheap, I don’t want to buy new. I’m not a fan of used furniture. You could be inviting bed bugs into your home. When younger I would have had at the chair with an axe and disposed of it. I like it though. I want to keep it.

I’m led to reupholster the chair. Knowing the costs of professional reupholstery and being an avid to-it-yourselfer, I started learning about do-it-yourself upholstery.

Is saving a ratty-a** chair essential to surviving cataclysmic world events? Probably not. But for the cost of a professional reupholstery job you might be able to build a small bomb shelter.

As I learned more and more and inspected the chair, it became clear I’d need a sewing machine to replicate the way the chair is constructed. That was frustrating.

Several years ago, I went on a cleaning rampage and got rid of four sewing machines I inherited. I wasn’t interested in ever becoming a seamstress. I can use a needle and thread to make a basic repair, but I didn’t foresee a need for a sewing machine. I totally overlooked its usefulness for upholstery. You don’t need one for the simple things I’ve upholstered. I didn’t know at the time I’d be more interested in learning more advanced upholstery.

Hoarders, they say, don’t want to get rid of things because they think they might need them in the future. But if you’re a do-it-yourselfer, you never know whether or not you’ll have a future use for something. You can upgrade your skills. Your interests can take new directions. I should have given away three of the machines and kept one! Oh, well.

I have a curious interest in hoarders. What turns people into pack rats? I watched a video on Youtube about hoarding. A lady picked up some discarded umbrellas and said they worked fine: Why should they be thrown out? I silently found myself agreeing with her.

The show said she had an irrational fear that people would take away her stuff. That made her more clingy of it. The City entered her apartment, dumped all her stuff into a dumpster, and hauled it away. Kind of ironic.

I’m not a hoarder. I do have almost a compulsive obsession with learning how to do things. I don’t like not knowing. I like knowing how to do my own plumbing, electrical wiring, HVAC, and auto repair. If I use a mechanical system in my daily life, I want to know how to fix it myself.

This link has good advice about paying attention to your surroundings to minimize the danger of a personal assault.

Here’s a good discussion about the difference between a hoarder and a prepper. I think the two pictures about sums it up.

Another great essay about preppers versus hoarders.

Hoarding gold? Don’t we all wish we could be $7 million gold hoarders?!

Hoarder or Disorganized Prepper (Youtube):

If you have a ratty-a** old chair (& a sewing machine!), the best chair upholstery tutorial I found online is here (four parts).

This site has some great info about upholstery too.

One final upholstery link for those who like reading about other people’s projects.