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February 18, 2009

Guerrilla Camping 101 : Advanced Class – Simmer Down Now

Simmer Down Now – Simmering On a Liquid Fuel Stove.

I love my multi-fuel stove. The ability to switch fuels on the go, depending on their availability in the area I find myself is indispensable. However, in my first few years using it, I was dogged by the apparent inability to simmer on the stove. Any attempt to cut the fuel level down enough to get a slow flame resulted in sputtering death. This required me to carry a simmer plate if I planned on anything requiring a long slow cook, wasteful of both weight and fuel.

I eventually learned how to simmer on liquid fuel stoves. The method of doing this is dangerous, and after I heard the trick, I found an apartment parking lot surrounded by a lot of inflammable asphalt to try it in. Having inadvertently created mushroom clouds when first learning to relight a stove after trying to simmer, I knew this trick could be very dangerous.

I pulled my cook set out of my pack and walked far enough away to not catch my pack on fire if things went wrong. I set up the stove and windscreen as usual, checking the tank pressure with a shove or two on the pump before connecting it to the fuel line of the stove. I bled about a tablespoon of fuel into the priming cup and shut off the valve before lighting it. It took about 30 seconds for the fuel to burn down and I turned the valve back on. The assuring whoosh blared from the jets as the stove kicked into full blast.

I gave the stove a minute to warm up, figuring I’d bring something to a boil before simmering it, and I knew the stove needed to be hot for this to work right. As the old edges of the jet plates began to glow red, I turned off the stove and waited for the last licks of flame to finish spiraling around the inside of the stove.

I quickly snapped the fuel tank off the fuel line and walked a few feet away, before cracking the seal on the tank by slowly unscrewing the pump from the fuel bottle. The compressed fumes hissed out from the edges of the bottle’s mouth. Distance is important; doing this near enough to the stove would risk igniting the escaping gasses. As soon as the pressure was released, I reconnected the tank to the fuel line, and gave it one pump. I leaned my head way back, and held a lighter to the top of the stove with one hand as I turned the valve on with the other.

I was immediately greeted with the sputtering death I expected, and gave the pump one long, slow thrust. The sputtering slowed, but did not entirely subside. I pulled the pump handle out, and slowly pushed it in about half an inch. The sputtering stopped, and I was rewarded with a small steady flame. About a minute or so later, the sputtering began again, and I pushed the pump handle about half way, stopping as the flame steadied. I continued this for a few minutes to make sure it worked, before shutting the stove off and allowing it to cool.

As soon as the stove was cool enough, I put my cook set back together, stuffed it in my pack and got off the asphalt as quick as I could…

Since then, I’ve used this a lot. It is especially useful if you make your own dehydrated meals, as it uses less fuel and is not as likely to encrust your dinner on the bottom of the pot. If you use freeze-dried meals, or stick to stuff like couscous and ramen, which only require boiling water, it’s just an interesting trick. However, if you want the convenience of cooking at home, no matter where you might be, this is definitely worth trying.

If you just bought your stove, and have not yet had a flare up, DO NOT try this until you do. There is nothing like a good mushroom cloud to teach you the principles and the dangers behind cooking on compressed liquid fuel. If you screw up, you will start a fire, or worse, blow your hand off. Hell, now that I’ve gone and posted this on the internet, I’ve decided: NOBODY should do this, and I’m stopping right now.

Remember kids, today’s lesson; Always Follow The Manufacturer’s Instructions!

February 17, 2009

You Can Find Me In The Garden If You Want Me…

This was originally shaping up to be a huge blog; heavy with both polemic and practicality. I decided to split them up. This is the garden plan as it goes at the cabin.

The Mountaintop

The top of the mountain behind the cabin was cleared a decade or so ago, and is in the slow process of remediation. I’m planning on a feral garden up there eventually, with collected wild edibles from around the county. So far, all I have done is put in a few transplanted fir trees to serve as an eventual windbreak and thrown down about 25 lbs of a local wildlife forage seed blend both to improve the soil and to draw in more deer. My goal is to make this garden actually meet the dream above, working to establish self-sustaining guilds of wild natives, so I only need to go up there when I have a hankering for wild foods, or deer huntin’

The Failure Garden
A small portion of the main garden will be dedicated to torturing plants. Experiments on nutrient bombing, water deprivation, off-season growing, forced fruiting, and whatever dumb ideas I have. By expecting to fail in most of the experiments, I will hopefully not be disappointed when I discover that strawberries cannot grow on a diet of pure urine and that you can not cross breed marijuana and hops.

The Greywater Garden

I want to do a grey water garden at the bottom of the hill below the cabin with structural bamboo. But that shit is EXPENSIVE! So it will probably be flowers and such until I find a good cheap source for thick bamboo. Thinking about setting up a few drainage beds from the grey water to feed craft gourds and maybe pumpkins for the trebuchet.

The Cabin Planters
Nothing says “home” like planters in front of the house filled with beautiful flowers. Of course, we’ll have flowers. Bee Balm, Nasturtiums, burnet, Marigolds, chamomile, Bachelor’s Button, Lavender, Lilac, Roses, Violets and Borage. Should look pretty. They are also ALL edible. Behind the cabin (south face) is a 45 square foot area totally overgrown by native Yerba Buena. It had over grown chicken wire, old wood and assorted rubbish when I first got here, and after ripping it all our, I had a few dire strands of herb. A year later, I have a lush ground cover and an unrelenting supply of tea.

The Wild Ones
Blackberry, Huckleberry, Bay and a really hilarious Boletes patch coming up in a tanoak fairy circle next to our manure pile are our primary cultivation spots. We also have oyster alley, a strand of oaks that keep falling over in the wind and which have provided oyster mushrooms three years running. I don’t expect this to continue forever, but the more I know about “when that tree fell” the easier it is to find oysters. Meanwhile, we have a good blackberry strand starting up behind the Yerba Santa, which we have been training into a hedge row. The bay is all over the place, though we have four trees by our gate. Selective pruning has provided me with a great amount of wonderful smoker chips for the BBQ (Bay smoked asparagus is one of the best things I have ever cooked in a barbeque.)

The Roadside
Our driveway runs along the edges of three hills, and during heavy rains, huge rivers run off the side of the road. I have trenched the driveway repeatedly, and have inadvertently created silty little run-off beds on the sides of the road. I’m hoping to put in some sort of useful dry land plants that can take advantage of the winter rains and make it through the summer on fog drip. (any ideas? I want useful, before pretty.)

The Main Garden

The main garden is a half acre flat spot about 100 yards from the cabin. This will be intensive raised beds, potato towers, herb spirals, inverted tomatoes and any other thing we find that works, or at least entertains. . . We’ve been sacrificing firewood for edging as we clear firebreaks, using the felled trees as the walls of our raised beds. I put down a total green manure crop in fall, using rye grass, clover, mustard vetch and bell bean seed that had been spilled at work. We mulched it with a dozen bales of wheat straw, and now have a decent pasture coming up, which I will till down at the end of this month, or the beginning of next.

This tilling is merely an attempt to get some topsoil action going on, as the clearing is mostly sandstone and clay at the moment. I’m not planning on a lifetime of soil chopping, just trying to get a bit of organic matter in the ground around the beds before the first year. Also note, that without the tilling, it would take years to do what I am still trying to do totally organically, not even adding gypsum to break up the clay.

Our raised beds are a combination of our own compost, three year old horse manure (very well composted) and peat moss along with a generous helping of the local “dirt”. Underneath the soil of the beds is a thin layer of rice straw. I chose rice straw since it doesn’t seed out like wheat. In the areas that were heavily overgrown with chaparral or yerba santa, I’ve put down unbleached cardboard sheets beneath the soil to try and kill off the root spreaders. I had a redwood shoot out of the cardboard I put down for the cabin planters, so we’ll see how this works with some actual cover over it.

I hope that in fifteen years or so, the raised beds will have rotted away the logs, and the whole garden area will be fertile and capable of sustaining plant life. My ideal dream is that some sort of symbiosis will occur and I will just go out and pick food year round with no weeding, planting or work. Yeah, right… But dreams provide direction, even if they are perfectly unattainable. I’m sure we are all familiar with that feeling.

The main garden also includes the orchard, which right now consists of a lonely self-fertile peach tree. I’m planning on apples, plums, cherries and pears as well, but don’t have the money for trees this year, nor the time and experience to try and graft my own. I am bringing up some seed from neighbor’s trees, but this is a VERY long process, so I will be bringing in some more developed babies when I can afford them.

The Seeds

We’re focusing on using only open-pollinated, non-hybrid seeds where ever possible. We hope to save, trade and share seed, with gradually decreasing orders each year as we increase our personal seed bank. I hope that in a decade or so, we’ll simply do our yearly seed planning by ordering a new varietal or two

Surprisingly, it’s only about a dollar more per packet than buying your standard Ferry Morse packets from the garden center. This year our seed order is a bit odd, as we are experimenting on growing interesting heirlooms for sale at the farmer’s market, and trying to find out what does well here. I will also admit the three colors of carrots simply feeds my current obsession with stew brewing.

This year’s Seed Order

Lima bean (Henderson Bush),
Green Beans (Contender and Mayflower),
Broccoli (Romanesco),
Brussels sprouts (Long island improved),
Cauliflower (Purple of Sicily)
Carrots (Atomic Red, Cosmic Purple, Lunar White)
Celery (Tender Crisp)
Corn (Yellow King Dent, Dakota Black Pop)
Cucumber (Crystal Apple)
Huckleberry (chichiquelite)
Strawberry (Red Wonderwild)
Quinoa (kasalala)
Bok Choi (Canton)
Peas (Sugarsnap)
Hot Pepper (Anaheim)
Sweet Pepper (Golden Cal Wonder, Sweet Chocolate)
Radish (Purple Plum)
Squash (Lebanese White Bush Marrow, and Vegetable Spaghetti)
Tomato (Green Zebra, Kentucky Beefsteak, Cherokee Purple, Red Grape, Tom Watson)
Artichoke (purple of romagia)
Asparagus (Precoce d’ argentevul)
Salad Mixes

Stuff we’re getting locally
Potatoes (Calgold, Yukon, Red LaSota, Trueblue) (We get these at cost, so aren’t pursuing anything fancy)
Garlic n Onions (We already have a bed of each coming up strong, even with the snows this winter)
Our Trees

And, finally, yet another appeal.

As I said in the companion blog; Grow! Fill boxes with dirt if you need to. Shoplift seed from walmart if that is the only way you can do it. But right now, we should all be focused on growing our own food, by any means necessary. If nothing goes wrong, you have the freshest, healthiest food possible. If the dollar tanks, or food shortages and famine erupt, you’ll at least eat a bit more than you would otherwise.

Those of you with backyard lawns, SHAME ON YOU! Tear that sod up, compost it, and plant a garden. If you already have a big backyard garden, tear out your front lawn.

February 17, 2009

Grow!

I am not a lifelong gardener by any means. I have done a bit of “dirt in a box” planting, and kept an underground herb garden in the SF basement using $8 full spectrum light bulbs and aluminum shaded work lights. I have a few tomatoes under my belt, and a few houseplants. I set my mom’s back yard up as a garden, but did it too well, and the work of harvesting and storing was too much for her, so she’s got flowers now in a few good strips of fertile soil. By nature, I am a walker and a builder, not a grower. So, again, my experience in this blog is limited compared to my camping stuff.

However, I want this blog to inspire you. I am not a master gardener; I don’t have a permaculture design certificate. My thumb is only green when the hammer pounded blood blisters get gangrenous. However, even for me, it is surprisingly easy to stuff a few seeds in some dirt and let the seeds do the rest of the work. Just water and occasionally feed. Some plants will flourish and feed you, others will die and feed the soil. But eventually, and probably sooner than you expect, you’ll get that breakout plant. You’ll be wading in food and you will instantly be hooked. Your successes will increase, and eventually, you’ll be sitting in a camper in the mountains trying to figure out what you can grow there. Well, it worked for me, anyways.

At this point in history, gardening may be the most socially aware and culturally subversive act we can involve ourselves in. If we are truly concerned with liberties, rights and justice; we must realize that dependence breeds consent. Not needing to rely upon the established distribution networks allows us to work directly for ourselves, without paying our tithing to the cesspool of corruption in corporate boardrooms, and government’s halls. Nothing is as liberating as being free to feed yourself. Should you grow enough to feed others, you can safely call yourself a revolutionary.

If we are to change the world, we must change our relationship to it. It is difficult to bite a hand that feeds, no matter how hard it strikes us, but it becomes downright impossible with it wrapped around our throat. We must begin to provide for ourselves in any way we can. And while in many places we are unable to dig a well, built a wikiup, or sleep naked under the stars, there is NO place we cannot grow.

When we grow food, we are doing more than growing calories, we are growing ourselves. Gaining a deeper understanding of our agrarian past and the fragility of our agricultural present. But one of the most important things we learn is a potential for independence. Once I realized that I really could grow my own food, all bets were off. I had always known it was possible, but until I took that first bite of a tomato that had grown in a old, duct-taped television box on my apartment’s balcony, I did not understand what it meant, how easy it was, and how deprived we really were to not have that simple understanding forced into our brains while in kindergarten. The fact that I spent months on a fairy tale history of America, and “oh yeah, here’s a lima bean in a milk box…” is probably 90% of the reason this country went to shit in the first place. Food comes from money and money grows on trees, obviously.

This year, plant a garden. If that seems too much, buy a packet of seed, spend fifteen minutes on google and bring up your favorite plant. Do it in an old shoe, coffee can or a million dollar antique vase. When you eat something you have grown from seed, you might find yourself growing roots, becoming more safely tied to the earth in these topsy-turvy times. And you will grow more next year.

If you have the spare time, or can make it, I urge you all to grow much more than one seed. Plant guerrilla gardens, pull out your pretty willow trees and drop peaches, stick alfalfa seeds in your ears. But GROW! Because the ability to feed yourself could become very important in the coming months. If it does not, and we can still rely on grapes from Chile, then at least your food won’t reek of diesel, and you can spend your grocery budget elsewhere.

You should grow for others. If you wind up with too many zucchini starts, give them to friends. Tell them you just want a hundred dried seeds back. Involve them. Give the meme of seed this year. If you’ve spent the last eight years protesting, then you should be ready to convince people of the importance of growing. Every bite we take that is not fed to us by a system which we claim to abhor is an act of personal liberation, and every convert we gain is an act of insurrection against the agro-chemical-corporate-complex that would patent our world into monoculture.

I always liked Sartre the best of the existentialists. He wasn’t such a freaking emo-kid about the absurdity of life, like Nietzsche and Camus. But one of the most important things he ever said, in my opinion, was when he was talking about the validation of ethical systems in a world without a god. He suggested that we should live our lives with the hopes that everyone will live exactly like us.

While this is not the source of my personal ethical philosophy, it does guide a great many of my actions, and enlighten many of my concerns. But when I stand at the garden gates and look out at my green manure and the slowly emerging grand garden, I frequently wonder what our world would be like if everyone grew food as a hobby, as a passion, or as life support.

We may overthrow a government with guns, but we will make it obsolete with gardens; under-throwing it with seed.

February 10, 2009

Lessons of the Land

Lessons of the Land – 2 Years In.

DJ Farnabyover at GNN asked me if I could write a series like Guerrilla Camping explaining the lessons I have learned so far in my homesteading adventure. The reason I have put this off is that I had been hiking and packing for 23 years when I started the guerrilla camping series. I now have two years experience in clearing land and repairing an old saggy cabin. While I see our current work as the culmination of many years of related projects in various places, I cannot help but feel like a babe in the woods. Nevertheless, I will try to share some of the things I have learned over the last two years.

Shelter

It is okay to learn as you go, but have a trained eye come in FIRST and make sure what you want to do is possible, affordable, or even desirable. In our case, I took a look at a 20 year old redwood cabin, originally used only in the summer, and figured that while it would be a long and hard process, I could rebuild parts and finish it. I was not wrong exactly, but as I get further into the process, I have realized a few things about the cabin and it’s foundation that, had I realized the problems to begin with, would have encouraged me to take down the cabin and use the wood to build a new structure. A trained eye in the original evaluation, not just enthusiastic and half-experienced friends, would have shown me these problems at the onset.

Now it is far too late. Too much work and love have gone into the cabin, and it is going to be home.

Water

Fog harvesters are a pipe dream for the small homesteader, but it was fun to try. But at the same time, wells are expensive. We sit at 2900 feet, with a clear view to the ocean. It’s amazing. But our high altitude and location on such a high ridge required quite a deep well. Our 300 foot deep well with 160 feet of head will likely never go dry but it was $13,700 to drill the well, and another $5000 for the pump, casings, wire, etc.

If at all possible, ALWAYS store your water uphill. Our tanks are half way up the mountain behind us, and the 100 foot drop over 470 feet of 1-1/2 inch pipe gives us better water pressure than we have ever had in the city. With a full tank, a high pressure nozzle gives me a 35 foot range with a garden hose.

When it comes time to put in your plumbing and irrigation, put valves at low points in the lines. The ability to cut water to an area, then drain all the water from the lines is essential in an area prone to freezes. Likewise, the weekend rental of a Ditch Witch allowing you to get your lines 2 feet deep is much easier than doing it by hand.

It can cost about 50-60 dollars to have your water tested. And you will likely need to do a few tests. But the joy of hearing that your water is impure with non-ecoli coliforms is priceless. In the words of the lab tech, “That’s the good stuff, the organic matter, that we should have in water but are filtered and chlorinated out of tap water. Most people call this sweet water.”

Food

It is immensely worthwhile to get some regional books on wild edibles, as well as a good guide to trees and shrubs (birds too, if you are into them). But don’t bother getting a mushroom book. Be sure to check your public library too. I found seven books on JUST our county at the library, published by small local presses over the years and many of which are long out of print. By working with newer books with better pictures, I have been able to identify a number of wild foods on our property, and when I need to get away from it all, I’ll grab the book and go walking until I find something new. Its fun, but I will admit that my favorite is the mushrooms.

Do not bother with a book on mushrooms. If you live in an area with lots of them, find a group or a knowledgeable neighbor to take you out hunting. Here we have hundreds of different mushrooms. I can spot and identify Chanterelles, Black Trumpets, Matsutake, Oysters, Boletes and Jack o Lanterns. I have yet to determine the best method of differentiating a certain species of edible amanita, so I am waiting on it until I get a more educated guide up here. I’m not saying it is impossible to learn to identify mushrooms with only a book, merely that the possibility of a fatal mistake is too high to risk recommending it.

If you are planning on hunting for your food and have not hunted before, start small. I culled a bit of two of our quail flocks earlier this year. It took me two trips, as my scope was slightly off, and I was doing this from 40 yards with a pellet rifle. The process of field dressing the quail is simple compared to a deer or even a turkey, and can be easily learned by reading, unlike deer which are best to learn to clean from an experienced hunter.

I was forced to wonder how many people I know would not have been able to finish the task of gutting something that had been chirping along on the ground only a few minutes before, even though it is cleaner than gutting fish in my opinion. Now that the rabbits are starting to come out in force, I’ve loaded my .22 with cc caps, special low noise bullets, and am planning on a rabbit roast and my first go at preserving pelts by the end of March.

Our garden is immature, as we try to build soil and raised beds. However, my employers have a huge organic garden on top of the hill that I am tasked to care for. Although the harsh wind and wild temperature fluctuations of being on a mountain top severely limit what can grow there, the garden is awash in medicinal herbs, cultivated wild berries, grapes and currants. All is planted biointensively, with a preference towards perennials, both for the ease they lend to yearly spring tasks and their ability to cast deep roots. We also have a 25×15 foot green house up there which produced a few hundred tomatoes last year, but will be adapted to a pesto garden this year.

We are currently waiting for our seed to arrive for the planting down here at the homestead, and we have four raised beds in place, two of which are already planted with garlic and onions which are currently confused as hell by a recent Indian summer that threw most of our plants into a frenzy. We are focusing on open pollinated heirloom varieties, with a goal of seed saving and eventually having enough resources to trade seed and select from our own seed library.

Power.

Our power system is a nightmare. We got a good deal on 6v surrette batteries, and they had sulfated while sitting. This collection of sulfer on the lead plates of the battery reduces efficiency, and requires a long process of equalization and discharge to alleviate. While we use much less than the 1kwh a day our solar panels generate, we had to run the generator from 1-3 hours a day to keep the batteries conditioned. This has finally been fixed, and things are much better, and I now use about 5 gallons a week to “touch up” the batteries.

I have also been working on decentralized power systems. Our outhouse, my shop and our campers are all equipped with modified solar lighting. I bought a bunch of the cheap solar lights, and unwired the LEDs. I then attached some 18ga wire to the leads and ran the LED to wherever I needed light. I used aluminum flashing and a rivet gun to make simple lamp shades, and used small madrone branches as mounts. These cost me about $1.50 each to make and they are all still going strong. They can be placed anywhere I need light and require no maintenance.

I am also working on a small inverter-less solar system for our guest house, a 23 foot Komfort travel trailer. It will consist of a 12v automotive solar charger, and two deep cycle marine batteries. This should provide enough power to run the furnace at night, and provide a few hours of light.

Waste

We have to drive to the dump about once every six weeks. This is five trash cans. One each for aluminum, glass, plastic and tin, paper and then trash. We generally make about $10 from the recycling after paying the dump fee for our one box of un-recyclable rubbish.

We use a small grey water system for wash water, and use a composting bucket toilet for now. The details of this really easy toilet system are laid out in the humanure handbook, available free online.

Neighbors

When you first arrive on your new land, it is imperative that you become overtly friendly and humble. Good relations with your neighbors can make or break your stay. Although many neighbors were skeptical two years ago when two “city kids” moved onto the hill, we have come to become great friends with many of them. We have worked together on the road, and the use of their tools, such as backhoes and mill saws has been a tremendous boon for us. While we all have various political and social ideals, we stay friendly when discussing them, or avoid the topics if disagreements are too much. I recognize that they moved here to get their own space, and the recognize the same thing. A little Saturday gunfire, or the roar of a distant dirtbike or chainsaw is nothing to worry or complain about. There are families on the road who have ostracized themselves through a long series of confrontations with neighbors, and seeing how they must go it alone is almost painful. I wouldn’t call neighborly friendship work, per se, but I do work to maintain great relations with all my neighbors.

The Original Inhabitants

I made no mistake when I moved up here that my property was occupied. Packrats, grey foxes, bobcats, quail, rattlesnakes, deer, ticks, two black bears and a mountain lion frequent our property. Thus far, I have seen all of them, but the only truly hazardous moment was when I thought a fox was trying to get into our food locker. I threw on my slippers and ran naked out the front door. As soon as I jumped down the steps I realized that I was not hearing something small outside our window, but something large across the driveway. I shouted, and what I got in return sounded like a 300lb man rolling down the hill behind our trashcans.

After that we got a lot smarter about cleaning everything that goes into the trash, and while the bears return NIGHTLY all summer long, they have not returned to the trashcans. They do occasionally raid our compost bin, and I have changed from trying to make the bin bear proof to making it easy for the bear to pop open the side. They don’t make much of a mess, and tend to turn the compost for us. This will probably be problematic when the garden area is fenced and the bear has to rip down our fencing to get at the compost.

The mountain lion is another matter. Probably 12-14 feet long including the tail, it’s 200 lbs of pure sleek muscle. I managed to catch a glimpse of it at the end of our property line about a year ago while driving off the hill. Since then, it has only made it presence known by scat and occasional prints and screams. My best friend was alone on our hilltop about six months ago and just as he began to sit down, he heard the unmistakable scream of the mountain lion behind him. I have been stalked down our driveway in the early evening, and found a killed deer in one of the remote clearings here. From dusk til dawn, I do not leave the main clearing without a spot light and a sharp stick.

Guns

I’m not a gun nut, but I am comfortable with them. In fact, I sleep with a loaded 30.06 under the bed. A few years back a particularly clever bear figured out how to break in doors with propane cans and raided a neighbor’s kitchen at midnight. If this were to happen in our camper, we would have a full sized black bear between us and the door, in a space too small for it to turn around. Yes, we have bear mace, and it is close to the bed as well, but if the bear is IN the camper, I’m changing his name to rug.

Aside from defense, I own guns to hunt. My collection is sometimes referred to as the rancher’s trinity. A .22, a 30.06 and a 20ga shotgun. Ironically enough, the .06 and the 20ga were my grandfather’s ranch guns which my mother still remembers shooting when she was a little girl. It is an ideal collection for everything from small game to bears, and I have a selection of ammo for different tasks from quiet rabbit hunting to trying to knock a bear out a window.

We also have an air rifle, which I originally got to familiarize my wife with rifles, but which quickly became the only thing she would shoot, and a fairly nice way to pass an afternoon, plinking little metal ducks I have set out in a makeshift range below our garden.

Tools

I am a tool nut. If I need a tool that will see repeated use, I can spend months looking into which one I am going to buy, then a month or so trying to find the best deal. I look for tools that I will be able to pass on to my children. When I opted for a Bosch router, I chose it because it has a metal motor casing, while the more popular Porter Cable had switched to plastic motor casings a few years before. I rely on my tools at all times, and have finally gotten to the point that it has been months since I had to stop work and run to town for a saw blade or new box of #2 driver bits. The failure of a tool when it is more than an hour round-trip to the hardware store is too much to deal with. A great quote I heard once was that only a rich man can afford cheap tools.

There are some tools that are indispensable in my eyes.

Pulaski – Recognized as a firemans axe, it is a combination of an axe and a mattock. Used for clearing fire breaks, once you learn how to use it, you can remove a bush as big as you are in less than ten swings. Nothing comes close for getting roots out of the ground, and by splitting the root ball into sections, I have used it to pull out full sized trees. This was our main tool as we cleared the overgrown area around the cabin.

Impact Driver – A cordless impact driver is GREAT, and has saved me hours of pre-drilling holes for screws. The hammering action used to put the screw into the wood cuts the wood fibers rather than simply pushing them apart, avoiding splits in all but the oldest and thinnest wood.

Chainsaws – Yes, plural. Possibly the least elegant tool I have ever used, they do one job, do it well, and break down constantly. I use a husquivarna for real work, and carry a little MAC in the toolbox in my truck. Nothing is worse than coming home to find a tree across the driveway, and having to walk a mile to get the chainsaw, then walk a mile back to clear the road. This only happens in the rain.

Machete – Although I knew that there had to be good machetes in the world, based upon how many cultures rely on them, I had never used one, and thought most machetes you could purchase in America were useful only as props; made of soft metal, prone to bend and dent. For my birthday a couple years ago, a neighbor of mine gave me a machete his brother in Mexico had hand-smithed out of an old truck leaf-spring. A wicked looking curved piece of thin black steel, it holds an edge forever, and while sharp can hack down a two inch thick fir sapling in one swipe. I have been known to sharpen it, and walk down the drive way idly swinging and clearing the drive way in the 30 minutes it takes to walk from one end to the next, something that would take twice as long with a gas powered hedge trimmer.

Post Hole Digger – A compound shovel with two blades and two handles, it is meant to be used for digging the deep, narrow holes needed for placing fence posts. It is also the best tool for digging out sites for transplanting trees, and for digging catholes. I use mine as much as I use a standard shovel.

5lb pick mattock – Most of our top soil is an inch thick, layered on top of sandstone or compressed clay. Any serious digging often requires the use of a pick. This is one of the heaviest picks you can get, and makes quick work of trenching for water lines, driveway sluices and breaking up the ground for raised beds.

Dremel – The leatherman of power tools. While it’s most frequent use is tool sharpening, I also use it to remove broken screws and bolts, etch glass, and even drill locks. I personally use a 10.5v cordless, as I have so many places I need to work with it.

Six foot hardened pry bar – I carry this in my truck all winter long. The hardest lever I own, I have stuck it under tires to unstuck trucks, pried trees off roads, and even stood thousand pound rocks upright with the use of it and a come along.

Gloves, Goggles and Respirator
– Working with composite woods, cutting hardened steel, running a hand planer, or placing fiberglass insulation all place your hands, eyes and lungs in immediate danger. Although I am not the most safety minded person, I have learned my lessons, and now wear safety gear almost half the time I should. 😉

Family and Tribe

I almost forgot to mention this when I first wrote this a few days ago. You will never be self-reliant while alone. It is impossible. Yesterday morning, I wrecked my back jumping down off a stack of hay bales. It was cold, I had been at work about twenty minutes, and landed in such a way that all the force shot right into my lower back, hopefully just pulling a bunch of muscle. I was able to pace around, sweep and run a forklift all day at work, just grinding through the pain but once I got home and laid down for a bit, I lost all my core strength, and was unable to sit up without intense pain and strenuous effort.

At home in the suburbs, this is not a big deal. But suddenly, I couldn’t fuel and start the generator, change out the propane tank I expected to run out in the middle of the night, re cover the corner of the woodpile where the tarp had blown back, or any of the various chores I have when I get home in the evening. So, there went my wife out into the cold, and outside I could hear her cursing having to change the tanks, how hard the generator is to start, how soggy the path back is. And I thought, “good, she’s obviously been watching me do it, she’s doing it perfectly…”

Without her here last night, every support system we had would have been useless, because I was unable to operate them. Flipping a light switch is easy, but not if you have to monitor batteries and then yank start a generator to make sure you have power on rainy days. Imagine trying to carry wood to a woodstove with a broken leg. The lifestyle is great, but it perpetually requires the ability to move yourself and other things around. Once that goes out, even for an evening, difficulties pile up.