How To : Make a Bow Drill – Firestarting

So you need to start a fire and all you’ve got is some wood, some rocks, and your shoelaces.
Great, that’s all you need.

A bow drill consists of 4 components:
The Bow
The Spindle
The Fire Board
The Hold

You’ll need to gather some wood and a good sharp stone you can use as a knife, flint is ideal.

The Spindle and fireboard should both be made out of the same type of wood.  You should collect the wood from a standing dead tree that has clear sun exposure, so it’s bone dry. Starting with damp materials is bullshit.  Most guides recommend cedar, which has a distinct scent, so if you know what it smells like, it’s easy to identify; but most medium strength (not evergreens or hardwoods) will work just fine.

The spindle should be a dry, dead but sturdy branch about an inch thick, nice and straight, and about a foot long, maybe shorter.  You can cut it to size with your knife, but it’s easier to find a piece of wood that’s already the right size. Shape it with your knife-rock until its a dowel thats rounded on one end, and pointy on the other.

Then from that same source, ideally, you’ll find your fireboard, which should be about two to three times as wide as the spindle and about a foot long. You’ll want to flatten one of the surfaces either by splitting the wood and abrading or scraping it until it’s kind of flat, or just chipping away with the knife-rock until you have a flat surface area. Prepare it by drilling out a hole that the pointy end of your spindle fits into. It doesn’t need to be deep, it just needs to fit.  Then from the edge of the wood closest to the hole, you want to carve out a wedge shaped notch, this is where your ‘coal’ will form.  I’ll find pictures to make this easier at some point.

The hold is what you’re going to use to brace the spindle, it can be a piece of hardwood or a rock that fits neatly in the palm of your hand, ideally it should have a depression in it that fits the rounded end of the spindle.  You’re going to use this to hold the spindle in place as you work the bow.

Finally, the bow-  You want to find a two to three foot long sturdy stick (about an inch thick) with a slight curve. That’s it, nothing special, just a strong stick. You should cut a small notch in the ends of the stick where you’ll be affixing your shoelace (or your homemade rope, or whatever).  You might need to adjust the string a couple of times throughout the process, so make sure the knots are tight, but not so tight that you can’t quickly adjust them.    It should look like a bow, because it’s a bow.

Now putting the whole thing together.

You want to grease the round end of the spindle, you can use your own gross body oil by rubbing the rounded end against the sides of your nose, where body oil lives. Don’t get your nasty nose grease the pointy end, or you’ll have to start over.

You’ll find yourself a piece of bone dry earth, or a nice slab of stone to work on.  Place the fireboard on the ground, kneeling in front of it and holding the fireboard in place with one foot.  In one hand, you’ll have your Hold, which should be gently resting on the spindle, that’s inserted into the groove in the fire board. Your bow string is looped once around the spindle.

Now, with the hold-arm braced against the shin of the foot that is clamping down on the fireboard, make sure that your spindle is perfectly vertical. You should be holding the bow at the end, and moving it forward and back in slow, controlled strokes so that you’re spinning the spindle.  If we were both right up until this point, you have a working bow drill.

Categories: Campsite Crafting, How To | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Survival 101: Conservation

No shit, right?

We’re all somewhat familiar with stories of the Native Americans who treat the animals that they hunt with the utmost respect, using every part of the animal so that the sacrifice of the animal was not taken for granted. This was not a custom evolved from superstition into practice, but one evolved from necessity that was so vital it became revered.  They would use the hide for rope, clothing, and shelter, they would use the bones to make tools, the organs as food and medicine, the hooves as glue, even the brains found use as a treatment to tan the hide.  The proverb ‘willful waste makes woeful want’, ‘or waste not, want not’ isn’t an admonition insisting you finish your peas before watching television, or chiding you for not recycling; it’s probably the single most important piece of advice to keep in mind when survival is in question.

You’re on the run through the streets of your post-apocalyptic city, playing a lethal game of hide & seek with eight members of a scavenging pack of cannibals.  You have seven bullets in your gun, for every shot you waste, you’ll have to face another cannibal with your knife.   This part of conservation: always assume you only have almost enough to survive.  The goal isn’t to become a hoarder, with massive stockpiles of food, purified water, and ammunition; despite how useful it might be to have access to such a hoard, but to effectively manage your resources, and those available resources present in your environment.

Now, I don’t want to spend my time telling you a bunch of shit you already know, because that’s not useful for anyone; but lets get some groundwork laid that we can reference later.   The 3 rules of conservation:

1. Everything that you encounter exists as a result of the myriad factors and influences that led to this moment: everything is part of a system, whether or not it’s a system you can recognize, identify, or exploit is irrelevant.

2. Waste is a result of error. All processes produce products. Whether or not a product is waste is entirely dependent on the producer. Wasting resources is analogous to reducing the available resources in a system. The reduction of available resources can corrupt a system irredeemably.

3. Account for the presence of entropy; all practical systems will break down and change over time – mutating conditions, random occurrences, invisible (practically) influences. Entropy can be mitigated, but it cannot be eliminated; it is, in all practical respects, a fundamental law of the universe until we become gods enough to transgress it.

What does this actually mean?

1. Shit doesn’t happen out of nowhere, something always causes shit to happen.
2. If shit happens, it’s probably your fault, but it sucks for everyone.
3. Shit will happen.

Conservation is dependent on maximizing efficiency and minimizing shit.

By taking a larger view of our practices, we can increase efficiency and eliminate waste.  When making a wood fire to distill water, keep rocks in the firepit that will conserve heat and be used to cook with later, collect the wood ash to make lye and use as a flux for other processes, direct smoke through a chimney that can be used to smoke pottery, hide, food, keep the salt for curing meats and hides or as bait for animals… etc.

Again, always assume you have almost enough to survive, and look for ways to make up the deficit in everything you do. Every resource that you expend might be the difference between life and death.  A survival hunter will know, never shoot the first deer you see – if there’s one deer in the area, there’s bound to be another; and if another deer doesn’t come, then there’s a risk that the population is too low to hunt, find a new hunting ground or switch prey.  But really, asshole, I’m hungry, that deer is toast.  Well, you’re not keeping in mind the 3 rules of conservation.  You can’t eat thistle, grass, fern, etc; but that deer or that sheep or that cow or whatever, it can, and when it does it will turn that inedible crap into meat which you can eat.  If you kill all the deer or all the cows or whatever, you’ll just have that grass to eat and you’ll be fucked and die.  If you do kill an animal, make sure that you consider the impact it will have on the ecosystem, not for any hippy bullshit mother earth and nature bullshit, but because you need those fuckers to be there, reproducing and making more food.

In an urban survival setting, conservation becomes a more esoteric concept.  You’ll need to maintain supplies of uncontaminated food, clean water, medical supplies, ammunition, electricity, and so on… Conservation becomes a series of practical choices, each one impacting the others. If you choose to use your last AA battery to power your flashlight, then later on you’ll have to open a wine bottle by hand instead of using an electric cork screw – important decisions.  For real though, it’s all about energy – whether its joules, watts, or calories.  There is no perfect void within which actions have no consequences.

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How To: Make Leather/Buckskin

Some sections that we’ll need to internalize in order to help with this section; as each section is complete, If I remember, I’ll link it.
Campsite Chemistry: Salt, Litmus, Soap | How To: Kill Shit  |   Toolmaking: Needles  |  How To : Skin a Deer  | How To: Build a Smoke Hut/Lodge

You’re going to need to harvest the brains of the animal, along with some gastric acid as well (just remove the stomach and hang it somewhere cool until we learn how to actually do this), and some nice big bones.  You’ll find those guides eventually in the How to : Skin a Deer section, when I get around to writing it.   I mean, seriously, we’re going to need to learn how to use every freaking part of the animal eventually anyway.

Okay, so you’re out there in the wild and you suddenly realize that you have nothing to wear on halloween, and there’s only one costume that comes to mind: Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli (The Fonz).  You have the blue jeans and the white-t in your survival kit, but you forgot to pack your leather jacket, so you’re going to have to make one.

In order to make leather, we’re going to need some animal hide and a few tools.  Tanning is a bitch, it’s a delicate process that is just as likely to completely ruin the hide that you’re working with if you aren’t some kind of tanning savant.  Since we’re doing this early on in our survival schedule, we don’t have sophisticated tools at our disposal; hell we’ve barely got a uniform system of measurements, we’re going to have to wing it and pray.

Okay, so tanning has nothing to do with UV rays and/or the Jersey Shore, the word comes from the chemical ‘tannin’ which comes from Fir trees. We’re probably not going to use that though, doesn’t matter, still counts. Tanning is technically the process of making leather out of hide; useful as leather is more durable and more resistant to decomposition than hide.

This is a long process conducted over several days with a lot of waiting involved.  Down time in the tanning process should be used to fabricate other useful shit out of the animal.  We need Foot Oil. We need some bone tools. We’ll need needles. Sinew is useful, so we’ll want to use the time to harvest that also, but we won’t need it for the tanning process.

The Process, for making leather out of hide, simply stated: 

0. Have your drying/stretching rack ready.  This will be a simple box frame about 2″ wider and taller than the hide made out of 4 wooden rods lashed together with strong cordage. Every 6-8 inches along the frame you want to hang about 4 feet of cordage, which you will use to secure the hide evenly to the frame.

1. Skin the animal, taking care not to puncture or score the hide; the best way to remove skin from the animal is by using a wedge to separate the hide from the flesh and peeling the skin off.

2. Rinse the hide.  There’s going to be a lot of rinsing. You want it really clean. You can use mild soap if you made some.  While it’s rinsing, start preparing your neatsfoot oil, and harvest the animal’s brains. Also, you could use your downtime to make some cordage out of the sinew.  You’re probably going to really want to start curing the meat though. Rinsing means moving the hide between buckets/barrels/urns of clean water every hour or two, or anchoring it in a stream for a few hours.

3. Scud the hide – This is the process of removing any adhering chunks of fat or flesh from the hide using a dull knife, bone, or wood with a scraping motion, careful not to puncture or tear the hide.

4. Lime/Burke the hide – This step loosens/removes the hair/fur, making it easy to scrape off/pull out.  After burking or liming, rinse the hide again; use a little acid if you have some to neutralize the base in the lime/burking solution.

5. Scrape the hide – Lay the hide over a smooth log or smooth round stone, and being exceedingly careful not to score or puncture the hide, you want to scrape off the membrane, remaining hair, and expose the raw fibers of the hide. You can use a sharp knife at a perfect 90 degree angle, or you can make a scraping stone out of flint or any rough stone.

6. Rinse the hide – Yeah dude, it doesn’t stop.  Keep rinsing/soaking the shit out of this hide; then you want to suspend it from a drying rack/stretching rack until it’s almost dry and make sure there are no more shiny/greasy spots.  Give it a last once over with your scraper as it dries. Before it dries completely, brain it.

7. Brain the Hide – Pretty much, you’re just going to want to rub mashed animal brains into the hide, then soak the hide for at least 8 hours in a solution of brains and water.  This will make the hide really soft and almost transluscent, if you scudded and scraped it well.  After the 8 hour minimum, pull it out of the brainmash and squeeze the excess liquid out, don’t wring it out, you don’t need it bone dry, just not dripping wet.

8. Stretch and work the hide – This is the most important part.  You want to suspend the hide from a drying/stretching rack so that it’s pulled taut.  Using a smooth wooden tool, you want to start working the hide, kneading and stretching it, gently at first and more vigorously as you train it to stretch.  The more you stretch the hide the thinner and more supple it will be; as the hide begins to hang in the rack, tighten the cords to keep the hide taut.  This will take a few hours of constant work, and by the end the hide should be dry and incredibly soft. You can work in neatsfoot oil near the end of this process if you like.  *There’s an optional step here recommended by bush-tanners called Buffing, where you rub the dry hide over a length of taut cordage/rope vigorously, but I don’t know how to better explain it than that*

9. Oil and smoke the hide – Use your neatsfoot oil and rub it into the hide, allow it to sun/air for an hour or so, and then you want to smoke the shit out of the hide, smoking will ‘finish’ the hide.  You can either make a smoke hut for it, or just curl it into a wide cylinder and suspend it a few feet above a low smokey fire.  Careful not to cook it, you just want it saturated with smoke.

So now here are the details:

Before we tan hide, we first make ‘rawhide’. Rawhide is untanned but worked hide, it’s made by stripping the flesh, fat, and hair off the hide, usually by liming it. Then stretching it as it dries.  Rawhide is tougher and harder than leather, and can be dried into rigid shapes, but it’s not as resistant to decomposition, and will shrink and harden as it dries every time it gets wet.

If you don’t plan on tanning/working the hide right away, you need to cure it immediately to prevent decomposition.  Here’s How: 

1. Salt the hide.  This is the easiest way to cure hide, if you have access to an ample amount of salt.  If you do, you should use 1 pound of salt for every pound of hide. Just lay the hide fur side down, and rub that fucking salt into every inch of the exposed hide. Leave it for a full day, then brush it off and salt it again to make sure.
2. Brine the hide.  Still requires lots of salt. Same deal, 1 pound of salt for every pound of hide, only you’re mixing the salt with clean water and soaking the hide.  This will still preserve the hide, by pickling it, and is a little more reliable than salting, but more labor intensive.
3. Air-Drying: This is the one you’re probably going to have to do, because salt is precious at this stage, and despite the fact we’ll need to get salt soon, we may need leather first. Air drying will make for less supple hide, but we can mitigate that later in the process.  To air dry a hide, you can either hang it on a drying rack over a bed of hot coals/hot rocks, or on hot dry days, hang it in the shade for the day.   Smoking a hide will also cure it, but not some casual 2 hour smoke job; a full on 12 hour smoke session, hotboxing that shit like your high school friend’s honda civic.

Neatsfoot oil: 
The shin-bones and foot of the deer/cow/ox/whatever can be used to make an oil that we’ll use at the end of the process to work into the leather.  The process is relatively simple.  You want to strip the bones and then simmer the hoof-less feet in clean water for about an hour, maybe two.  Then allow the soup to cool.  The oil can be skimmed off the top and stored for later.  Unless you take additional steps to purify it, it won’t stay for too long, so store it someplace cool.

Rinsing the hide – The easiest way to do this is just to weigh down the hide with rocks in a stream, and letting the cool water work on it for a few hours.  Otherwise you’re going to have to soak it for a couple hours at a time in fresh barrels of water, each time moving it into another barrel.  If we already learned how to make baking soda or soap (Not yet, sorry, we’ll get to it), then add some baking soda and soap each time.  Don’t use a metal container, it’s bad for the skin and the container.

Scraping the hide – This part of the process is made easier by burking or liming the hide.   Since I’m all about easier, let’s do those first.  In the meantime, just scrape off all the visible chunks of flesh and fat.  Laying the hide, while it’s still wet from the animal, over a log and using a dull knife, flat rock, or split bone just go to fucking town on the thing.   Flint works great for this, so does an old, dull hacksaw blade, but work with what you’ve got. The most important part of this step is called scudding, which is going over the flesh side of the hide with a dull knife and scraping all the adhered flesh and fat off.  It takes a while, it smells bad, and it’s hard.

Burking / Liming of Hide : 

If you’ve salt-cured your hide, you want to soak it first to get all the salt off.

Because we want some sexy hairless rawhide, and we know how to make lime, let’s just go for the gold and mix up a batch of liming/burking solution.  For a big ass deer pelt, you can get away with the following arbitrary measurements.  Use about a gallon of hardwood ash, mix it with about two pounds of slaked lime, and submerge the whole mixture in about 5 gallons of water. If you don’t use the lime, you’re burking, and if you don’t use the wood ash, then you’re liming. We’re just using both because it speeds things up (but if you soak it too long it will deteriorate the hide).    This shit works like nair or that magic depilatory powder; it breaks down the keratin in the hair.

The whole point of burking/liming is to get all the hair/fur/grease/excess shit, off the hide.  You want to soak the hide in the burking/liming solution for about a day, then pull it out, and soak it in clean water for another 8-12 hours or so.  You can add a bit of acid or vinegar to the mixture to neutralize the base lime/lye.

At this point you should be able to scrape the hide perfectly bare with a dull knife, flat rock, or split bone.  Then once it’s bare on both sides, rinse it again.

BRAIN TANNING –  There are a lot of ways to tan a hide, using different processes and chemicals, but brain tanning is probably the best one to learn for survival purposes, also, it’s cool. This is fucking magical, seriously, one of those nature is so fucking cool things.  The whole “every animal has enough brains to tan its own hide” apparently is meant to be taken literally.    You’ll need a smooth wooden tool and a stretching frame (Lets use our drying rack a little more aggressively), some warm water (about 2 gallons), the animal brains, our barrel or clay pot, or stone cistern, or whatever we’ve been using as a container.

So, pretty much just take the brain and mix it with the water, crushing and kneading it until it just becomes one aqueous solution. Stir it up, shake it up, whatever you  need to do.  Maybe we should teach ourselves to make some kind of blender? Down the road maybe.  Anyway, this is your tanning solution.  Soak the hide in this tanning solution for at least 8 hours.  Squeeze out excess liquid (don’t wring it) and hang the thing 0n our stretching rack, stretching it until you start seeing dry spots appearing.  Then work that shit.

Smoke the motherfucker –  Now, the best way to do that is in a smoke-hut, which we will eventually learn how to make, but in a pinch, an improvised shelter will work.  The trick to smoking the hide is to use dry, semi-rotted wood and leaves to produce lots of smoke without getting too hot.  You don’t want to cook the hide, just smoke it.  2-4 hours should be sufficient depending on how smokey you can make the thing.

If we were right about all this, then we should have a big slab of supple, durable, leather.

Categories: Campsite Crafting, How To | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

How To: Make Cement

Sorry about the slight delay between posts, I can’t promise it won’t happen again, but I’m back for the moment so let’s dive directly into a pool of concrete.

Mortar has been around since the dawn of civilization, and the art of masonry is one of the first skilled trades.  Now, I’m no mason, and until I get a lot more research done, I’m not going to presume to instruct anyone else on the art; but knowing how to mix your own mortar lays the foundation for not just surviving, but thriving.

I don’t think I need to get into the benefits of stone structures, so lets just get down to business here, which is how to mix our own cement out of commonly available stuff.  Thankfully, we’ve got a lot of options in this field.

The Babylonians primarily used clay bricks, mortared with pitch.  We already know how to do that, essentially gluing clay bricks together. The Egyptian pyramids were mortared by mixtures of mud/clay/sand, gypsum, or lime.  The Greeks essentially ‘invented’ the first hydraulic cement (hardens under water) by mixing lime and volcanic ash.  Romans used a similar lime based mortar, rigorously and carefully measured and skillfully worked.  Modern concrete is cement mixed with sand and gravel at a 1:3/1:4 ratio, activated with water.

The basic tenets of cement:

1. Cement is a powder that works like a glue, activated by water. Different cement recipes will yield different properties in the cement.

2. The more water you use, the easier the cement will flow, but  the weaker the final structure will be and the longer it will take to set.  For quality purposes, aim for a low water to cement ratio.
How to make lime-based cement:

Used for milennia by nearly every civilization in the world, lime-cement is good enough for you, old man. In order to make it, we need lime.

Limestone, Chalk, and Seashells are essentially calcium.  Lime is derived by heating calcium at high temperatures (in that earth kiln we built) which through the magic of chemistry, turns it into quicklime.  Once you add water to quicklime, it creates an exothermic reaction called “Slaking”.  Once you have slaked lime you will either have a powder or a putty depending on how much water you added.  That’s the good stuff.   Superior concrete/cement starts with superior lime,the whiter the better,  impurities will appear as dark spots or mottling.

Most recipes involve 2 or 3 parts sand to 1 part slaked lime, but some go as high as 5:1.  The addition of other elements like  heat treated clay powder, or other crushed particulates, will give a variety of different results.  The addition of gravel will create the familiar concrete; and if you happen to have some volcanic ash lying around, then use that instead of sand and you’ll have a concrete worthy of the parthenon.

The best sand, according to Charles James’s Military Dictionary is round and sharp, evenly grained sand that is washed in clean water prior to use.

The chinese used terra cotta instead of sand, we can use fired clay; which requires lime of the utmost purity – such a combination will produce ‘hydrolic lime’ that can set under water.

Cement dries and hardens upon exposure to air.  The burning of the lime forces the CO2 out of the lime, and as the reactive slaked lime interacts with the air, the process of ‘carbonation’ causes it to ‘cement’.

We’ll get deeper into the chemistry of cement in later entries, but for now; suffice to say that you’ll need to learn how to find and identify limestone or other sources of calcium in order to add this tool to your survival toolbox.

So here’s a quick and dirty lime-cement recipe we can rely on:

What you’ll need –

Limestone – although you can substitute oyster shells if no limestone can be found.  Then again, limestone should be pretty easy to find considering it makes up about 10% of the sedimentary rock on the planet.  Here’s a technical definition:

Limestone is a chemical sedimentary rock that is at least 50 percent calcium carbonate in the form of the mineral calcite. Limestone may also contain small particles of other materials, such as quartz, feldspar, clay minerals, pyrite and siderite, and it may contain larger nodules of chert, pyrite or siderite. Different types of limestone are classified based on the texture, mineral content, origin and geological age, but all limestone is part or wholly organic and may contain fossilized shells and plants. – some other website

How to identify limestone:

It’s white or beige in color, impurities will cause further variations in the color.  Fossils may or may not be present in the rock.  It has a hardness of 3 on the Moh’s hardness scale, which means that it’s easily scratched and broken.  Calcium carbonate is a base, so it will react with acid, say the stomach acid of that deer you just killed, or some vinegar you’ve been brewing in your hut. Limestone won’t crumble easily, but it can be crushed.  The grain size of limestone will vary, the finest grain is the best for our purposes.  Limestone has a low cleavage, it will fracture rather than cleave.  If it appears to be composed of layers, it’s probably sandstone not limestone.  Once its crushed into powder, it should be predominantly white.

Okay. So you’ve found some limestone, now it’s time to burn it.

We’ll need a kiln.  You can either construct an above ground kiln out of firebricks (clay) or use an earth or pit kiln.  You need to get the fire up to a temperature of around 900 degrees. Hardwoods will do the job easily. Oak works.

One method called a lime clamp consists of multiple heaps of alternating layers of limestone and coal above a fire hole, covered with clay and/or sod to keep the heat in.  The process, while easy enough to do in the wild, is notoriously wasteful. You’re better off taking the time to construct a kiln or a furnace.

You don’t need to powder the stone, or even crumble it, but the larger the rocks the higher the heat and longer the time required; so breaking it down will speed up the process. After the lime is burned, it will crumble easily; it will actually crumble as it burns and the carbon dioxide is released. It will be pretty evident when it’s done.  In the case of over-burning, it will create hard portions of dense lime that need to be screened out of the quicklime and crushed.  They’ll be more difficult to slake than evenly burnt lime, but will still work for our purposes, just not for high quality durable construction.  Under-burnt lime will have portions that just will not slake, so those chunks need to be removed. Again, i’ll stress, don’t handle the product bare handed because it could take your flesh off, and you need your flesh. Also, if you haven’t already got a dust mask, you should make one before working with quicklime because you don’t want to breathe the shit in either.

Now, the result – quicklime, is insanely useful; and we’ll go into it’s various applications at some later point.  It’s extremely caustic, and can burn flesh. Quicklime is used in a variety of campsite chemistry crafts, and assuming we’re doing this all in a linear fashion; you should always make more quicklime than you need and store it in a sealed container. On exposure to air, it will begin to carbonate.  For our purposes we want slaked lime, so add water, it will hiss and crumble.

So here’s a bit about slaking lime.

When slaking quicklime, there’s an immediate exothermic reaction, which means that when combined with lime, the water will hiss and boil, which can be dangerous.  If you want to speed up your production time, you can mix your sand, water, and quicklime all at the same time; once the chemical reaction is complete, then you can use it immediately as a mortar. Adding gravel or crushed brick will speed up the setting time.  The proportions of these ingredients are debatable, I’d suggest trial and error.

The amount of water that you use will change the properties of your cement; more water will result in a putty, less water will boil off and leave you with a powder.  For best results use relatively pure water at room temperature.  A low water:lime ratio is 2:1, which will almost always yield a powder, and a high ratio is 6:1 which will almost always result in a slurry that will dry to a putty.   During the slaking process, if it’s feasable, you want to stir the solution as it cools to make sure that you’re fully slaking the quicklime.

Once your slaked lime is exposed to air for extended periods of time, it will re-carbonate, in other words, it will cure back into limestone. It can take a long time to cure, but once it does, it’s exactly what you need it to be; tough, resistant, sturdy, and binding.  So use your newly made lime cement as a mortar for stonework or apply it directly to the surface like plaster (because it’s plaster).  Pure lime cement is almost useless as a building material as it will shrink and crack if used exclusively, which is why we add sand and other particulates.

Modern hydraulic cement, or ‘portland’ cement is made by mixing lime and clay-stone instead of sand, or in addition to sand.  Like any other endeavor, the more sophisticated our tools become, the greater the ability to manufacture this material becomes.  In order to reliably create portland cement we’ll need to fire our limestone and clay together to temperatures far in excess of what we’re capable of doing at our current tech level, so this is something we’ll have to revisit later.  In the meantime, simply mixing fired clay (or volcanic ash if you have some) will help to make a water resistant cement that depending on the qualities of the materials used, may or may not be able to set under water.

Really, we have to think of cement as a glue, as that’s really all it is; but once you add your particulates like sand and gravel, then you have concrete, which is a reliable mortar, building material, and generally useful stuff to know how to make.  Concrete made from sand/gravel/lime is not particularly water resistant and will not set in wet conditions.

Now, actually using the cement to build structures is going to require a basic lesson in masonry and some tools which we’re going to need to learn how to make.  Both of these things will have to be addressed later.

The tools we’ll need:
As these tutorials go up, I’ll try to remember to come back here and add links.

Trowel – Best made of metal, but wood will work – we’ll consider this a simple tool and get to it in one of the next tool making sections.
Level – Precision is important here, making a level is almost as difficult as trying to do stonework without one; we’ll try to come up with some low-tech solutions.
Chisel – A hunk of shaped, tempered, strong metal – one of the most important tools we’re going to try to figure out how to make
Hammer – A rock won’t cut it, we’ll need to make ourselves a metal and wood hammer.

The skills we’ll need: Hopefully, we’ll get around to these tutorials as well.


Wow I did not think there was going to be this much information to parse, and we haven’t even gotten into the basics of masonry yet.  We’ll also be revisiting this section too as we’re going to need quicklime and lime cement for a lot of other projects down the road.


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How to: Make Glue

Throughout SurviveWhatever we’ll be doing things that require glue.  If glue can’t be scavenged in your scenario, you’re going to need to figure out how to make your own.

Pitch Glue:  Requires Charcoal and Pine Trees.

In the wild, Pine trees are a valuable resource.  You can make cordage out of the roots, you can make a tea from the needles that, while it may not taste fantastic, will have some nutritional value, and the sap (pitch, tar) has no shit, like seven trillion uses.   Pine is a sappy tree, it will ooze sap from wounds that will harden into a resin and is easily collected.  Pine resin, pitch, is moderately flammable, and can be used as an accelerant in low intensity fires for short bright bursts of heat.

Pitch glue is made by mixing one part crushed (powdered) charcoal, and 2-3 parts pine sap.   First crush your charcoal into a fine powder, and heat your pine sap in a fireproof container (Clay pot, metal pan, etc) until it is fairly viscous.  Add your charcoal and stir.  As it cools it will harden, and bind whatever you need glued.  Reheating it will loosen the bond, meaning you can make a large batch of it all at once and heat it as you need it.   Pitch glue is sufficient for simple tasks like arrow-making.  Large clumps of pitch glue are also effective as a kind of bush-craft napalm.  Pine sap is also has limited applications for waterproofing.

The downside to pitch is how ridiculously sticky it is, and it’s a bitch to get off skin.


Hide Glue: Requires Raw Hide and Boiling

Hide glue is a stronger than pitch glue, and won’t break down when you heat it, instead, it will break down if soaked in water.
It’s really simple.  Take clean rawhide, soak it in water, and boil it. Keep boiling it until it breaks down into a goo.  Strain off the water to separate the goo, and pour the goo out onto a slab. As it dries, it will harden into a resin that can be chipped and flaked.  So do that, crushing it into granules for storage.  When you need to glue shit, you can soften the flakes in warm water until they liquify, and as they dry they will adhere.   There are lots of recipes for hide glue, but this is the easiest, most rudimentary method, that will yield a reasonable amount of a somewhat useful glue.

The most effective process for making hide glue involves a bit more.   You’ll need Lime, (the product of burning limestone, not the fruit) and some of the stomach acid of the animal who’s hide you’re breaking down.  So first, you carefully treat the hide by soaking it in a solution of water and lime, which over time will break the hide down, after a few hours, rinse the hide to remove excess lime and, in clean water add a splash of acid to neutralize the remaining lime, gradually raise the temperature.  The hide will begin to gel as the water heats up, and the gel can be drawn off and allowed to harden.

Hoof Glue: Requires acid

The strongest of the nature glues, bone and hoof glue is great for hot wood-on-wood action, making sturdy tools, sealing glass into frames, stiffening rope for bow strings, and lots of other stuff.  Hoof glue is made by crushing your hooves into small chunks, mixing them with a small amount of acid (the stomach acids of your hoofed animal will work) and boiling the whole thing.   Like other glues, Hoof glue hardens as it dries and can be stored in granules until needed, reactivated by hot water. It is not water proof, and will not become brittle as it dries, like hide or pitch glue.

Animal glue can be stored in granules or in powder form, but pitch glue is typically stored in large hunks.  Pitch glue is good for water proofing, roofing, and simple tool making. Hide Glue is good for rough bushcraft, trap making, and simple furniture.  Hoof glue is typically used for high quality wood working and strengthening fibers, but has the widest applications and the greatest durability.

Other glues can be made from bone (similar methodology to hoof glue), derived from petroleum, or made from more complex chemical reactions which I haven’t learned or figured out how to explain yet, so we’ll leave those off the list for now.





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Campsite Crafting 05: The Bloomery

Alright, this was super ambitious; there are a number of simpler furnaces, ovens, and kilns we could be making before we reach this point; but I say fuck it, go for the gold.  Let’s skip ahead.

We are going to attempt to build our own blast furnace for smelting ore.  This is important. Smelting metal means making real tools.  Real tools. No more chopping down trees with rocks. We’ll be able to build proper shelter, silverware, a police badge, an ice cream cone made of metal.

Obviously, you’re going to need some ore. Look for shiny veins running through rocks, if you’re specifically looking for iron, rust is a dead giveaway.  As you find iron ore, you should pile it close to your fire.  You want it to heat and cool a few times.  Get an urn ready, and as the days progress, you’re going to use your hammerstone to crush the ore-stones into pebbles and store them in that urn.

There are a couple different kinds of furnaces we can make with the limited crap at our disposal.

The ideal design for our purposes is that of the Japanese Tatara furnace, still employed by swordsmiths in Japan.  However, for our first try, we’ll aim lower.

Preparing to build and operate our bloomery is going to be a murderbitch. First, we’re going to need a shitload of clay.  We’re also going to need a fuckton of charcoal. Also, we’re going to need bellows.  So while your shitload of clay is settling, you’re going to have to either kill an animal, or become amazing at weaving.  Also, you should be producing as much charcoal as possible

I don’t think we can get away with doing this without an illustration, but we’ll try anyway.

First we need to make a bed to build the furnace on.  By this point you should have some broken pottery lying around; unless you’re a savant.  You should also have some charcoal dust, if not, I’ll wait while you get some.  Now crush your busted old pottery and mix it with the charcoal dust and ash.  You’re going to pick a dry spot, make a patch of gravel about 5’x5′ and then make a 2’x’2 bed in the center out of your clay/charcoal mixture.

When that’s done, you’re going to get back to the pit and start firing bricks.  You’re going to need enough bricks to make a two foot tall furnace thats got a footprint of about 1.5′ feet. Circular is better than square, but it’s also trickier, and you’re going to have to do some geometry to get the bricks the correct shape. An octagon might be a good compromise, but so far I haven’t found anything to support that guess.  Now that we know how to make cement, we can reinforce the bloomery with concrete or make it out of stone rather than clay; either way the end result should be a 2 foot high chimney like structure with a window at ground level and a small 3″ diameter opening just less than a foot off the ground that we’re going to use as our air-hole. There’s probably a technical term for air-hole, but who cares.

Now the tricky part of making a blast furnace is the blast part.  These things are all about keeping the fuel oxygenated, which means you have to make what’s called a tuyere, a pipe extending from your furnace that you’ll pump air into.  Unfortunately, we cant make pipe just yet.

Since many of the future campsite crafting series will rely on this step; I’m afraid we’ll hit a paradox if we don’t assume the following will work.

In order to make a pipe to feed air into the furnace from the bellows, not to mention the bellows, we’re actually going to have to learn a few other survival tricks.

1. How to make glue
2. How to make cement
3. How to Tan Leather / Buckskin
4. How to make a needle
5. How to track an animal
6. How to set a wilderness trap
7. How to skin and treat an animal
Which will also require a slight mastery of
8. Improvised weapons of the wild

Now once you’ve learned all that (or found a pipe and bellows), we can finish building the furnace.

The Tuyere needs to be long enough to get you a safe distance from the furnace, but the longer it is the less efficient it will be.  It can be made out of clay, but at this point I still have no idea how to hand-make a clay tuyere other than just my own guesswork.  Stone tuyeres were found in ancient west african ruins. Copper and iron would be great, but unfortunately we need this bloomery up and running in order to get them.

I’m going to suggest for now that we can make a Tuyere by cementing around a bamboo stave and then coating it in clay; I have no idea if this will work, and it seems like it will crack as we use it; but if we can get it to work a couple of times, we’ll be able to get some pig iron to make some more sophisticated tools.

Let’s put a pin in that until someone with more expertise chimes in and get to work on those bellows.

Making Bellows:



Right now I’m opening this section up to suggestions, as I work on other sections, but I’ll continue to research this until it’s complete.



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Scrapyard Scavenging 02: Improvised Incendiaries and Smoke Screens

I may or may not move this further down the line and replace with something less practical…

Subjects to cover:

Fuse – We’re probably going to need a lot.

Molotov Cocktail – The ultimate party beverage, we’ll learn how to make one the right way

Thermite – Goes through wood faster than termite, the perfect accelerant when you absolutely need to weld in a hurry.

Smoke bombs (traditional) – My second favorite use for baking soda!

Smoke bomb (Colorful) – Because nothing says ‘I’m over here’ like a giant cloud of purple smoke.

Black Powder – A simple recipe for a reliable explosive

Don’t worry, I’ll be back to fill this stuff in just as soon as I catch up on the other 4 half finished posts.

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Training Regimen: The Freerunner

Designed to assist in urban survival scenarios; the freerunner is based on overcoming common obstacles to evade pursuers and claim high ground vantage or access points.  In an urban survival scenario, both visibility and invisibility are the difference between life and death.

The freerunner is based on exercises performed by traceurs and track athletes. These exercises provide a safe alternative to trial and error, but are not substitutes for practical training, merely meant as methods to prepare oneself for practical training.  We’re not trying to accumulate style points; the purpose of these training methods is to facilitate unimpeded, efficient, and hurried movement over and around obstacles.

Speed/Endurance – You’re not going to get very far if you get winded after a few yards.  Here’s a basic speed/endurance package, to be performed twice a week for 20-30 minutes.  In between exercises, you should never stop moving, either jog or return to a brisk walk as your ‘rest period’.  First, 6 sets of interval sprints. Each set should look like this:  Jog for 5 meters, sprint for 5 meters, jog for 10 meters, sprint for 10 meters, jog for 15 meters, sprint for 15 meters, and so on until you reach 30 meters, then a slow paced jog to recover before starting on the next set.  After six sets, you want to change the demand on your body by trying some 50 meter sprints alternating with 50 meter walks, six sets should do.  Then Return to the interval sprints for another six sets.  Time your routine; with the goal of beating your previous time each week.

Flexibility – At least four times a week you should engage in 20 – 30 minute stretching sessions, yoga works great for this purpose; otherwise any martial arts stretching routine should serve you well here.  I’ll spare you the explanation; but remind you to warm up before stretching.

Plyometrics – 2 to 3 times a week for 20-30 minutes should be sufficient. Each exercise should be done for about 5 sets of 8 reps; and thankfully there’s a wide variety of exercises to choose from; lunges and burpees and box jumps and all that shit.  But to make things really simple, we’ll turn it into a game.   Pick up a rubber medicine ball, the kind that  has a decent amount of bounce.  10-15 pounds, whatever you’re comfortable with.   Find a solid wall, stone or brick, with no windows, adjacent to a hard floor, asphalt or concrete.   Ideally, a handball court.   You can play by yourself or with an opponent. The objective is to hurl the medicine ball so that it rebounds off the wall, and then you (or your opponent must catch it). Failure to catch it means an athletic penalty of some sort, 25 crunches or pushups, 10 box jumps or lunges, etc…  The medicine ball off the wall is a brutal workout on its own; the penalties are the real fuckers.

Climbing and Grip: Were not going to delve into climbing in this regiment, that’s going to have to be it’s own guide, but something you can do in the meantime to great benefit is to work on your grip.  Keep a tennis ball or something similar with you all the time, and make a habit out of different squeezing exercises periodically.  Grip strength is the difference between scrambling over the ledge and falling to your death.

Finally, technique:  We’re going to steal the four most useful techniques from Parkour:  I’ll write up text based tutorials in the near future.

The PK roll,
The Speed Vault,
The Cat Leap,
and The Precision Jump

More to come… stay tuned.


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Urban SWK: The Basics

This Survive Whatever kit is comprised of 5 items you may find useful in a post-apocalyptic urban survival scenario.  Like other SWK’s it’s not intended to be the definitive survival kit; just an exercise.

The container we’ve chosen is: The BulletBlocker Explorer Backpack, a bit pricey, at around $300, but relatively inexpensive compared to body armor.  The Bulletblocker boasts the ability to literally stop small arms fire, so in a firefight it can be carried as a shield to protect your face and torso.  Pretty fucking handy.  As per usual, we’re stocking the backpack with a mylar emergency blanket, our magnesium firestarter, first aid/trauma kit, and sewing kit.

The Flavor:

Slot 1. The traditional fixed blade knife slot in our SWKs; we have to consider how much use we’re going to get out of a knife this time.   Unlike wilderness scenarios, hunting and foraging are both unlikely; so besides defense, the knife is less often going to be out of the sheath. If we decide to stick with a knife, it’s going to be a purely tactical knife; and in most situations the big tactical advantage of having a knife is not letting your opponent know you have a knife.  For now, lets stick with cold steel recon tanto.  It’s a durable, streamlined knife that can punch through kevlar and has a matte black finish for extra super secret stealthiness; also a bargain at $65.  I’m going to add here, in response to comments and emails, that a knife is a highly personal tool, one that will inevitably become fetishized as the vessel and icon of your personal survival, and a knife choice is  thusly a highly personal one.  Your preference will vary.

Slot 2. We’re going to take defense a little more seriously here than in a wilderness kit, because we’ve seen Beyond Thunderdome and Prayer of the Rollerboys.  In a lawless future, might makes right; which means our #2 slot is going to be the first Firearm in an SWK. We’re going to want reliability, stopping power, and accuracy; but also we’re going to want a gun that doesn’t require specialized, hard to find, ammunition or something that can’t be brought to bear in a hurry.  A handgun that can take .357 and .38 rounds would be a good choice, 9mm is fairly common, 22LR while abundant, doesn’t have the stopping power we’ll need in a firefight.  A Magnum Caliber 357 Revolver becomes an early favorite as a self defense handgun.  It has excellent stopping power, can handle both .357 and .38 rounds, and as a revolver is not likely to jam or misfire.  A .44, .454, or .45 (or even the massive .50) all boast greater stopping power and better one shot kill percentages, but as the ammo is less common, your chances of scavenging rounds are reduced.    We’ll assume, for the sake of the SWK that a firearm will come supplied with two standard boxes of ammunition.   Our choice for this slot is going to be the Ruger Security Six; which is only likely to be found from secondhand dealers, but is a sturdy heirloom quality pistol reminiscent of the legendary colt peacemaker.  It has a reputation for reliability, and may be found in 3″, 4″ and 6″ barrel lengths.   Revolver vs. Semi-Auto comes down to a personal preference most of the time, while proponents of each will tout the benefits vs. the other.  Autoloaders have higher capacities and faster rates of fire, but revolvers are less prone to jamming and require less maintenance; also reloading becomes a point of contention; in practical use, reloading a semi-auto is as easy as swapping out a fully loaded clip; however loading a clip takes significantly longer than reloading a revolver, and requires two hands; while a revolver can be held and reloaded at once. I’m open to feedback here.

Slot 3: We’re going to eschew rope in this kit, in an urban setting rope and similar shit is going to be easy to come by.  I’m going to insist however that we keep the multi-tool. In fact, we want an even more versatile multi-tool, something with a wire-stripper and range of screw-driving solutions. The completely out of control Victorinox Swiss Champ multitool might be a good choice, but having never used it, I can’t speak to its durability; however the range of tools falls perfectly into this slot. If your priorities and mine are at all aligned, the corkscrew is a welcome addition. An alternative would be the Leatherman Surge, which is a similarly equipped beast with the added bonus of being reknowned for durability, but it leaves you on your own to figure out how to get that wine bottle open.

Slot 4: This is a tricky slot, because I want a flashlight with a nice long battery life, but I also want a water purification device, and more bad ass defensive gear.  A tactical strobe flashlight I could mount on my gun would be nice, surefire makes a few; and a few uv-water filtration devices could serve as an emergency light source in a pinch; but they’re none too durable. So, I’m going to go ahead and use this slot for an gun-mounted combo strobe/flashlight/laser sight, because fuck it. I want to live.  If we opt for the Ruger Security Six, we’ll need to pick up a weaver 305 mount or a conversion kit, which means a shit ton of work. If you went with a more common or modern handgun, you shouldn’t have an issue.

Slot 5: The true urban multitool, the wrecking bar.  We’re not going to fuck around with standard crowbars, or prybars, or iron spikes, I’ve got my sight fixed on the Dead-On Tools Annihilator 18″ Wrecking bar.   This bad ass utility bar is a demolition hammer, drywall axe, prybar, nail puller, tile ripper, conduit stripper, scoring spike, and in a pinch, it’s a bottle opener; also, it’s awesome looking.

So, just to recap: The Basic Urban SWK consists of a bullet proof backpack containing a Fixed Blade Knife, A Revolver with mounted light, two boxes of .357 FMJ, A multitool, and a wrecking bar.  Based on this configuration, we’ll be able to move through a hostile urban environment with stealth and confidence, gain access to locked structures, and handle some repairs and construction.  Our first goal is going to be to secure a source of clean water, which we will most likely have to defend, as we lack the means to purify found water.  Once we’re hydrated, we’re going to immediately want to start pursuing water purification and storage solutions.

In this kit, I feel like the knife is the weak link – Between the handgun and the wrecking bar, the knife is awfully specialized and the slot is almost definitely better filled with a water purification device of some sort.   Comments?


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Campsite Crafting 04: Charcoal

Requires: Fire, Pottery

Charcoal is going to be the primary fuel source for a lot of our future projects, as it has a much higher energy yield than normal, unconverted wood.  Also, it’s got some other uses besides just producing heat. Thankfully, charcoal making is a very easy process.  The idea is you want to heat wood to high temperatures without burning it, and the only way to do that is by depriving it of oxygen.   This is where the pottery comes in.

Making your charcoal container is pretty simple, essentially it’s just a clay pot with a snug-fitting, thick lid.  Your clay pot or lid should have one or two small holes to let gasses escape, but not so large that you risk creating airflow for the wood inside to ingite, there’s a risk of pressure building up inside the pot causing it to break and ruin your charcoal.  Metal cans work much better, the best being a large oil drum with a locking lid, but this is what we’ve got to work with.

Fill your pot with relatively similar size pieces of fuel wood. You’ll want uniformity from your charcoal later.

Build a nice hot fire around your covered pot, young, tar rich pine and heavy hardwoods should do.  It doesn’t take very long, but let it burn for a while anyway.  Do something fun while your fire is burning, like learn a new song, or fill a rabbit with wildflower petals.

When the fire burns out, and your pot has cooled, you can transfer your charcoal to another container; it should be jet black and significantly lighter than it was as wood, but still substantial.

Down the road we’ll use charcoal to burn things, to filter water, and to make explosives.

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