Citizenship, Compleat Idler, Homeschooling, Preparedness, Technology, Tool user

Tool User Manifesto

 

© 2014 Earl L. Haehl: Permission is given to use this article in whole or in part as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

 

 

Using tools is not a “retreat to a semi-frontier past.” The past is important because it shows what could have happened and why our retreat from the way forward will eventually create a present worse than the past. By not using the tools of the past, how can we build the tools of the future. This is not the first time I have discussed this, but it is the beginning of a concerted effort to talk about something in non-ideological terms and build an argument for the future.

My friends and I had been discussing rocketry and space flight and drawing rockets for about three years before 04OCT1957. On that date, the Sovs launched Sputnik. Sphincters tightened in governmental and educational circles. In our juvenile world we were already discussing propellants and experimenting. At Christmas of 1956 I took out a rocket powered by the compression and release of water which was guaranteed to go 300 feet in the air. Without accurate means of measurement we figured they were right because it went a long way.

We continued to do experiments—it was the “nerd” culture. I often have remarked that we have a government agency devoted to our culture—the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Anyway, hobby stores still sell rocket kits and engines and you can still get CO2 canisters which were sold at the time by an outfit called Johnson Smith Co to power rockets, model boats and model cars.

The way rocket fuel, liquid, solid or compressed gas, propels the rocket is the same way steam or petrol gas moves a piston or gun powder propels a Minié ball. The same principle drives air brakes and nail guns with compressed air. Anyone working with basic tools understands this. We all worked with tools—we all had blown up a balloon and let it go. Many of us had detonated cherry bombs in rural mail boxes to observe the speed with which they opened—the fact that this was considered destruction of federal property made it even more daring. And we were all ready to get out to the desert on any given weekend with our small rockets.

In the meantime we had school and homework to attend to, German and Latin to learn, algebra, geometry, trig, calculus. This was in addition to the applied chemistry experiments that some unknown students attempted involving a combination of chemicals dropped into the trash cans in the lunch courts causing immediate and violent oxidation much to the consternation of the lunch court monitors.

This enthusiasm for space and science went beyond the nerd community. Television brought on a lot of new heroes—Robert Goddard, Werner von Braun, and Ludwig von Drake. There was competition for the advanced science and math courses. Even those outside the advanced courses preferred electronics, auto tech and metalworking to woodworking and graphic arts. For those who made it into the advanced track, competition turned to comraderie and we often passed off slide rules to those headed for tests in chemistry, physics and military science. We would meet for study and discussion in the Public Library after school.

The human population, according to Johnny Keufel, was divided into tool users and lotus eaters. I met few of the latter, one had a view that the world was divided into the workers and the elites and he resented shop because it might damage his manicure. I got plenty of grease, oil and printers’ ink under my nails in those days even though I considered myself elite. He took military science to avoid gym and then was upset that he was expected to take orders from his “inferiors” and to clean his issued weapon. He finally transferred to a private school that would value his status.

The other one I was aware of was an exchange student from Argentina who told his girlfriend she needed to shave her arms—he did not like gym class or the suggestion that he demean himself to take shop. Again the idea that getting dirty was for peasants.

I will say that the aversion to tools was not real common, even in the upscale neighborhood, probably because of the times. Parents were of the World War II generation. Men who served in the war became acquainted with what was necessary for the effort and a lot were on the farm before that. Many mothers had worked in the defense plants. There was in my case also a strong influence from the New England puritan culture and the necessity of the Depression era.

Another thing about the generation previous to mine. They grew up making, repairing and salvaging. It was not uncommon for a group of young men to rescue a vehicle from the landfill and do a rebuild, which is why they would cannibalize shot up jeeps along European roads to keep others running, while the Germans let theirs sit and oxidize. These were stories heard when we gathered in multi-generational settings such as family dinners or neighborhood picnics.

When a bicycle became necessary, the best way to get it was to buy a used bike for five to ten bucks and repair it—new bikes with all the bells and whistles went for $50 and up. $50 was a week’s pay for a lot of parents and odd jobs were hard to find in the urban setting—I had made about seventy five cents a day topping sugar beets (a tool using task) in the midwest, but other than throwing papers there were few tasks for a 13 or 14 year old in urban California. I did cut my dad’s lawn, sometimes for a quarter, but the only offer I got from a neighbor involved a payment that could get me severely beaten if I were caught. Nobody was buying squirrel pelts so trapping was out.

The United States is in financial trouble and politicians feel we should accept that we are a service economy and that we need to “work smarter” because industry is dirty and by extension tools are dirty. There is a proposal for a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour. For a business to be able to pay $10.10 an hour, an employee has to provide greater value than $10.10 an hour. This is a gimmick to create the illusion of doing something to create prosperity.

Minimum wage is supposed to be for the unskilled at entry level. If a company has a pool of $100,000 a year for wages, can it absorb a 37 percent wage increase with the same number of employees in the absence of a greater than 37 percent increase in revenues. And if the minimum is increased by 37 percent, then skilled rates go up by a similar percentage—this is built into labor contracts. Also, the folks getting $10 an hour currently would expect, in the name of equity, to be compensated at $13.70 an hour. Then prices rise and income may or may not increase because the unemployed struggle with purchasing at current prices which means less purchasing and less hiring.

The beginning workers see a dead end because they are not skilled enough to adapt quickly to automation, in addition to the fact that 27 percent will no longer be employed. There is likely to be a greater percentage of the non-skilled out of work because the skilled employees are necessary to handle the automation.

In other words, the State cannot mandate individual prosperity. Nor can policy makers understand that labor and skilled labor are separate entities. Only by rebuilding a society that makes things can a highly populated nation like the United States prosper—we are too large to do subsistence agriculture, plantation crops require a different social structure and the rest of the world has its own service sector.

Whatever one says about the causality of slavery and the plantation crop system relating to the War or 1861-65, it most assuredly contributed greatly to the defeat of the Confederacy. Aside from fervor of Northern troops imagining themselves on a “holy crusade,” the institution of slavery made the southern states a mercantile colony dependent on plantation agriculture and not able to develop an industrial culture despite resources. The textile mills were in New England. Further the plantation system produced exports, not food. The North, with its agriculture geared to the food chain and its heavy industrial capacity as well as greater population, rolled over the South—it could have done so more quickly had the military officer corps (a product of Jefferson Davis’s reorganization and Robert E. Lee’s superintendency of the Academy) not split into the two sides.

The Yankee culture was built around tinkering. In the War for Independence, there had been small time German gunsmiths and surreptitious shops throughout the northern colonies. The prohibition on manufactures rankled New England more than the southern colonies which were geared to the production of cotton, tobacco and sugar for export. Farming on the rocky ground in New England was small scale, but in the northwest and the plains grain and fruit were important.

On every farm was a shop. And “tinkering” was a Puritan value. 30 to 40 percent of immigration to Michigan during the period 1830-1850 was from New England. NOTE: Our denigration of Puritan culture ignores the rise of Puritanism with the Enlightenment rather than the Reformation. And Puritanism arose among the new middle class that later formed the Industrial Revolution.

The problem we now face is that industry has left the building forced out by the idea that it is irrelevant to a modern, safe and environmental society. We could not, even if the capital was as available as the raw materials, immediately reconstitute an industrial economy given the regulatory structure and the convenience culture of the society.

This brings us back to Johnny’s reference in passing to the chasm between “tool users” and “lotus eaters.” He and I both came out of a youth culture where at least one weekend a month was devoted to tuning someone’s carburetor. For my younger readers a carburetor was a device which regulated the flow of petrol and oxygen into the cylinders where it was fired by spark in order to drive a piston. Piston driving was (is) essential to the function of an internal combustion engine. If I still had my 1984 Suburban I could, theoretically, continue to rebuild the engine and transmission and carburetor.

This would be contrary to the need for jobs because union dogma contends that only UAW workers should build cars. And repairs should only be done by factory authorized mechanics. A few independent mechanics still exist. Maintenance functions—such as oil and filter changes—are largely performed by minimum wage employees at WalMart. (Keufel’s definition of minimum wage work was anything less than twice minimum wage.) As a result of the infirmities of age, I have resorted to taking my truck to an independent shop but I remember getting an 84 Ford Escort in the early nineties and immediately changing out the plugs and tuning the carburetor.

The whole culture has changed. By the time my brothers were in high school most of the car culture was gone. By the time my children were in high school it was a nostalgia series on television. Some changes are good—I like my electronic fuel injection better than my weekends being shot tuning somebody’s carb wearing an oil soaked t-shirt and smelling like grease. I like being able to afford the electric motors from Shanghai which make my work easier. I like the duty free Noconas from Mexico.

On the other hand I dislike the throw away attitude of our society—I dislike the fact that the DSLR camera I bought in 2008 was introduced six months earlier and made obsolete a month or so later. I still use it and will until it fails because I cannot really afford to replace it for convenience and cannot, as a practical matter repair it—I use film cameras going back to 1959 that are still functional and can be repaired and yet they are considered as wasteful and harmful to the environment.

So I remember the shade tree mechanic culture of the fifties and sixties. A lot of people do—mostly they are retired. There was also a custom car culture at the same time that pushed Detroit’s designers beyond their comfort zone. It was an age when people were comfortable with tools and with building. It was a time when a full year of shop was available to any high school student in my district—I took electronics and we wound coils and joined wires and tubes to build a super heterodyne radio. Some in the class ran the school’s 20-year-old AV equipment that baffled the faculty and often required adjustment or repair on the spot. (When I was teaching on my own, this ability meant I could leave a projectionist in class.) And we used tools, read schematics and tested equipment. Other options included woodworking, metalworking, graphic arts and automotive.

Flash forward to the mid eighties. My son took a course in “world of construction” where the project was a model of a “dream house” made from styrofoam board. My daughter’s review of the course was that it bordered on insipid—she took two years of mechanical drawing. At that time metalworking, automotive technology and other trades classes were available to those not in the college prep program. So the “dummies” learned measurement and tolerances in a real world environment while the college bound did not.

I did not observe the after school study groups while my children were in high school. They were often preempted by fantasy and role playing games. The closest thing to a rocket they had was a golf ball cannon that one of the gang built in metal shop—they stored it in my garage because I was the parent who tolerated it.

Flash forward to 1999. In addition to telling customers we did not have generators and selling splitting axes and kerosene, I recall talking to architecture and engineering students complaining about having to get tools to make models to match drawings—they even offered me money to build the models for them. They talked about computer simulation that creates the model and the necessary calculations—no math, the computer has it programmed. I also arrived at the conclusion that anyone studying architecture needs work experience in the building or mechanical trades.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the Industrial Revolution began in small shops by men who were thinking of ways to improve their production and make money doing so. They did not write grant proposals. They were craftsmen and engineers, not policy experts or elected officials and they were not afraid of making money. They worked with tools and built things—they were not “project managers” or “brainstormers.”

So the answer begins in every home workshop. There is nothing in our culture that requires people to have only one skill. For most of our history have been fixing, building and inventing in addition to “regular” work. The joke about technology from people’s garages is not something from the computer age—it is a logical carryover of the way innovation has occurred in history. Thomas Edison did not begin in some company’s R&D section. Graham Bell worked in his house, not an unattached shop. Henry Ford did not have a TARP grant.

In Germany, licensing mandates require that roofing be done by those licensed to roof: the same with painting, glazing, replacing circuit breakers, etc ad infinitum. This concept comes from “scientific management” writings of Frederick Winslow Taylor and the sociological/political writings of Max Weber. Taylor believed in the factory as an organism where the individual would perform a specific task only and the result would be the product of the factory as a whole under the direction of a manager. This led to the assembly line which made the machines of World War II. To an extent, however, modifications were made in the field by soldiers with mechanical backgrounds. The top down environment led to stagnation of American industry and the ultimate collapse of GM.

As I homeowner, I replaced an entire box of breakers. As a photographer, I designed the plumbing and lighting for nine photographic laboratories, occasionally doing a significant portion of the execution. As a photographer, I built lighting controls some of my own design. Okay, I could have passed the electricians license at some point in my life, but my formal education is in liberal arts and prison administration paid the bills. I also would have had to pay a fee to take the test. I have done roofing, I have done glazing, built shelves and even a drawing table. Until I hit fifty I did ninety percent of my auto maintenance. And I am still a damn good bench electrician—slower but still good.

I believe the more home workshops the better. And I believe everyone should learn to use tools and make things. My friend Johnny built a workshop into a walk-in closet in his apartment—he did not let me take pictures because he was going to do the article himself. He had a drill press, bench grinder and industrial grade vise and he used a propane soldering tool—I would have used a electric soldering gun in that space. But the thing is that he did it and built things.

Expense was a real barrier to building a shop in earlier times. But there is competition. Read the real men’s magazines—Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Field and Stream, Outdoor Life, numerous hobby magazines, car magazines—and even gardening and home magazines. There are ads for cut rate tools and tool companies. Back in the seventies and eighties, I used to haunt the “truckload tool sales” at hardware, discount and grocery stores. Harbor Freight, Cummins and Grizzly have stores in many major cities as well as catalog sales. There are tool shows in various venues and at one, I calculated that a decent machine shop could be outfitted for less than a thou. The trick is having a thou to spend and sneaking the tools past your spouse. In another article I will cover a systematic way of putting it together.

Back in 1970, my wife and I came back from our studio apartment in Washington with an ammo box half-full of tools. By borrowing from friends and relatives we were able to build furniture we needed. In 72 we started doing house repairs and grinding—adding a 3/8 inch drill and grinding wheel which took up a second ammo box. And sometime in 74, I snagged a real tool box out of a dumpster—the lock was screwed up, but that’s what a hasp and padlock are for. And after moving into our house in 76, the projects and tools seemed to multiply. [To be fair, in Washington our three books multiplied to where they filled a three shelf bookcase and took up the shelf in the closet.]

The moral here is that either tools or more expensive help are necessary for maintenance of home and vehicles. And knowing how to use tools is going to be necessary as the craftsmen retire and die off. Further, we need to be able to build generation equipment as the power lines become more flaky. Electric current that travels through the grid becomes less efficient the farther it travels. Also there are places in the west where miles of transmission line gets stolen for underground cash. Sun spots also impact the long lines.

Home power, whether solar or wind, is insurance. Problem is that a commercial install may cost as much as a house did thirty years ago. It helps to build with friends—especially if they have tools.

The point is to start somewhere and build something. And then build something else. It will either turn you off completely or you will become addicted. And when you need the skills you will have them.

I have written much in the past about politics and I illustrated the policy approach. Building something is much more positive. Feeling the power of the angle grinder in my hands as the voltage shot through it gave me a more positive feeling than arguing with a populist trying to get my vote with buzz words. And in a skilled society, minimum wage becomes irrelevant.

I am seventy years old. I do not know how much longer I can use the skills I have developed over my lifetime or whether I will be able to use the MIG welder when I can afford it. But I am pursuing the dream because the way of the future is in skilled work.

 

 

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Compleat Idler, Preparedness, Technology, Tool user

Tool review – Buck 110 Folding Hunter

 

© 2014 Earl L. Haehl: Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

 

 

Due to a really annoying operation and slow recovery, I was barred from doing stairs for about six months beginning in October and my daughter decided to rearrange the basement. My wife continued in this and there are items I cannot find. So in the laundry basket that came up one Saturday was a tan knife pouch I picked up on a clearance table some years ago. I needed it to replace a pouch I had ordered from Buck and had fallen apart from rough use—that left me to carry my Buck 110 Folding Hunter in a pocket, increasing wear to the trews and getting lint in the blade. Fortunately, the knife was in it which was good (or bad—I had been eyeing a Mora on line). At any rate, I asked where my wife had found the knife and she said it was in her with summer clothes—everything’s gotta be someplace.

My first concern was whether the knife was all right—I opened the blade and it snapped solidly into the locked open position and I felt the heft of the tool. It is not a light knife when compared to the new “backpacking” knives with skeleton frames or plastic scales. The rosewood and brass scales are the real thing, showing signs of age and the wood almost black from the oils in my hands over a quarter century of hard use—on its third pouch that I have kept oiled but done little else to protect. Holding the blade up to the light, I noted that there was a little speck on the blade so I took it into the kitchen and gave it a touch up on the buffer of my electric sharpener. When checking a knife for sharpness, hold the blade out in line with light in the background—flecks of light along the edge show anomalies that need to be buffed or stropped away.

The Buck 110 was introduced in 1964 (I have also heard 1962 and 1963 from reliable sources, as reliability goes in the business). It is still in manufacture although I have been told the new steel (420) is not as good as the “old steel (440).” This new steel/old steel story may or may not be true but even 420 is a high carbon stainless with which I would have no problem. At any rate the fiftieth anniversary is offically 2014.

I have never seen any reason to replace a Buck with a new knife—a pouch or sheath occasionally but never a knife. I have lost a couple over the years including my first—a small stock man format knife that was confiscated by the vice principal in a random search when I was in junior high in California. Hint: in an urban area vice principals had zero tolerance even in the fifties.

A sharp knife is safer than a dull or even semi-sharp knife—the cut is cleaner and tends to have enough blood to wash out the infection. My mother’s youngest brother counseled me when I was sharpening up a Sabre “hunting knife” that semi-sharp was adequate for purposes of a Scout outing. If it were sharper I might get cut. My grandfather corrected the error and I got my own sharpening stone and basically did not consult Uncle Bill on such matters again. He would probably be shocked to see what I carry these days.

There are things I would not do with the Buck 110. The 9.5 cm blade is not suitable for butchering—a little too short and stiff. No place for a lanyard makes it less than ideal for climbing unless you like throwing knives away—at 70 I feel my climbing days were over some time ago. I have opened steel cans with it—my son reconfigured the blade architecture and told me to stop doing that—but I would not stick it through the hood of a truck (I have a any number of military knives for that). And it is not a bread knife. NOTE that slicing five pounds of potatoes does sharpen the blade, but cleaning it off is a pain.

Maintenance is simple. Keep the blade clean and wipe or even wash blood off immediately. Blood contains a high concentration of salt which breaks down metals and subjects them to oxidation—the term “stainless steel” indicates that oxidation is slower, not non-existent. Keep it sharp, not semi-sharp, and give it an occasional drop of light machine oil.

Like the knives I got when my grandfather passed—one went to each of my uncles and the rest to me—the Buck, like all of my Bucks, will outlive me. But is it the be all and end all of knives. No. I carry it because I have it and it is reliable and sharp not because it is somehow magic.

 

 

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Compleat Idler, Economy, Preparedness, Tool user

Tool review – Leatherman Rebar

 

© 2014 Earl L. Haehl: Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

I first wrote this a couple months back, like within a couple weeks of purchase—I am a skilled tool user and I did a quick overview. This was probably a bad idea. It is a mistake that a lot of the internet folks make when they are dazzled by a new toy. The other mistake they make is devising a test without thinking about what they are likely to do. Daily use for a couple months is the best field test I have seen.

Realize that I do not have a “testing regimen” for my tools. I use them the way I tend to use them and evaluate the results—I am a writer, not Consumer Reports®. If paid, I would develop a regimen and test gear, but I am not.

It is almost 30 years since I got the first Leatherman. It was 14 months since my Super Tool 300 had gone missing, the result of carrying it in an unsecured vest pocket rather than a pouch fastened to my belt. I do not know which is the longer term because being without the tool that has been an extension of one’s being amplifies the need for it. I was carrying, for the last six months my old Victorinox Hunter—it is not the same. The Swiss knife says you are the kind of person who drives a BMW and listens to NPR. People view you as civilized and your opinions are expected to be erudite and progressive.

I generally listen to AM radio and drive a pickup that was built in the last century—I am civilized and can speak with some erudition but I have more use in my daily comings and goings for needle-nosed pliers and Phillips head screwdrivers than a corkscrew and my Leatherman CS tool has better scissors and lifts beer caps. Even with the complete tool box on the truck bed the multi-tool is so much more convenient. I was at odd ends and awake about midnight when I ordered a black stainless Leatherman Rebar. It arrived by either UPS or Fedex early in the afternoon a couple days later. (Note: Staples has good delivery.) NOTE: While midnight to 0230 may be good for writing, it may not be good for the Visa bill.

Now to the tool in question. It is slightly lighter than the old Super Tool 300 which was new thing when I bought it a couple years back. I do not see this as a disadvantage because I can still use it to tap in tacks. It reminds me of the original Leatherman Tool that Tom built after a trip to Europe and marketed through Cabelas. In 84 or 85 I got one as a present and have had one on my hip since.

There are two features that are improvements on the Rebar over the original. The blades lock. And the wire cutters can be replaced. I feel my reputation for breaking wire cutters may have gotten back to the manufacturers as this feature is found on the newer Leatherman and Gerber multi-tools—my son said he could tell which were his by looking at the unbroken wire cutter.

It might be helpful if it would carry the trash, but that is not part of its job description. It does its job and has a good price point and is built rugged—like my old truck. After a couple months I feel I have worked out the stiffness and bugs—the tool is what it is, not some ideal of perfection that everyone is looking for. When I was daily using the knife blades to cut boxes and wood I appreciated the Wave which let me access the blades without opening the pliers. Now, I have more time so that option is not as important.

It did take awhile for the tool to loosen up to the point where I could easily work the functions. I do not recall the break in time as being that long on previous tools, but I am older and slower now and still only six months or so out from a fusion. It seems to be working better. If you are looking for bells and whistles, get the Wave or the Surge.

 

 

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Compleat Idler, Education, Homeschooling, Technology, Tool user

Complete idler — reading suggestion

(c) 2012 Earl L. Haehl Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

10.12! That is the October 2012 Popular Mechanics. The question as I wander by the magazine rack is “Should I buy this or hope someone else does?” And I looked at the cover, and it featured stealth aircraft which will turn off most of my friends. The technology of stealth fascinates me because it represents a game of camouflage—sort of like the scout patrol that wore woodland camo pants and called themselves the Camo Gators: “We’re the Gators! You can’t see us.”

But I look at the contents. Jay Leno’s Garage. Okay, it is coming home. I will never afford the car collection he has—the Powerball never gets that big. But I have been fascinated by cars ever since we did the work on my grandparents’ LaSalle. That an engine works that way was a mystery to a five year old that bordered on magic. And since I realized I could read about third grade, what was in the magazines around the house was fair game.

And when I had mumps or other long illness, I would get a stack which included Field and Stream, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, and sometimes Popular Photography. I was corrupted from a young age. I also snuck a look at my uncle’s True.

So check out the October issue. Especially with homeschoolers check out the squishy circuits and LED projects. On Lew Rockwell, Karen de Coster is fighting for incandescent bulbs as opposed to CFLs. The bad news is that incandescents are going by government decree (and the Administration also killed the Crown Vic). The good news is that in five to ten years CFLs, which have mercury as well as a tendency to break in my hand, will be history. LEDs are cleaner and require much less power.

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Compleat Idler, Preparedness, Tool user

Idler’s tools – parachute cord

(c) 2012 Earl L. Haehl Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

My Swiss Army Knife Zermatt pouch arrived Saturday, September 8—it was scheduled fotr Monday, September 10. So far, so good. I had been thinking of getting a Huntsman with pouch after seeing one in the store for less than forty bucks. My Leatherman tool is too heavy for waist carry and I could use something more than a blade. Plus, the corkscrew says I am sophisticated.

When I went back the one with the pouch was gone so I went home and searched through a drawer because I remembered seeing a basketweave Zermatt pouch for the old Explorer that I cracked the spine on. My memory still tricks me and, as I said in a post on cutlery, when I go through my old stuff, surprises await. I did not find the pouch—it probably went in a lapse in the Scout Leader accumulation instinct. No, there was my Victorinox Huntsman, waiting to be picked up and used. The scales were darker than the new ones, probably due to handling and the oils from my hands—lanolin, neetsfoot, gun oil, machine oil etc.

So I went on line to find a pouch. The general run of stuff appears to be either cordura or a black clip-on case. An outfit called Swiss Knives Express had real Zermatt pouches. I ordered one with a sharpening steel for twenty bucks. And it arrived. The knife slid in tightly. It pulls out with effort. A thong on the lanyard ring would help.

My first choice would be leather, but what I had was parachute cord which is the subject of this post. At this house we buy 550 cord occasionally, but when we do we buy spools. A 1000′ spool will provide 10 100′ hanks which is the smallest amount I carry. And if there is 25′ still intact at the end of the weekend I roll it and stick it in a drawer or the bottom of a pack. So there is always some around when I need it. About six inches was all it took to give me a small loop that leverages the knife out of the pouch.

Shelter: Using the 550 is much more convenient than carrying 3/8 inch Manila—and about as strong. Combined with a tarp or sheet of Visqueen, this provides sturdy support between poles or trees. While all nylon has more of a tendency to stretch than hemp, the parachute cord is not as loose as the polypropylene rope used for marine purposes. And it has the advantage of tying almost like natural fiber. In erecting shelter use of the taut-line hitch is critical as this allows you to loosen or tighten the lines. (The aluminum or plastic line adjusters that come with commercial grade tents get lost.

Lashings: I began scouting in January of 1955. I spent that month learning knots, hitches and lashings because that is what the troop leadership was into and I had already learned woods tools from my grandfather, having taken out a three-inch sapling with a ¾ axe at age 10. This is not the way we do things now because there are fewer necessary knots: sheet-bend, bowline, taut-line hitch, clove hitch, timber hitch, square lashing, diagonal lashing, shear lashing and tripod lashing. There are other lashings, knots and hitches but these are the essentials and are learned over a year period. In the Pioneering merit badge program the standard is ¼ or 3/8 inch hemp or sisal rope because that is the way it was done back when. (Note: were the Mountain Men still around they would use the 90 mph tape.) In training we used sisal twine that comes in 100′ bales. But I like the 1/8 inch diameter parachute cord because it lays down nicely and I generally have some.

Securing gear: Because you can tie secure knots and use the taut-line hitch, 550 is preferable to bungee cord which gives and uses hooks that break at the least opportune time. (Is there any gear failure that does not occur at the least opportune time?) My grandmother had me use cotton clothes line for this project which wears quickly and she could cut into the right length with kitchen shears. It is nearly impossible to untie when wet and starts to smell.

Bootlaces: Cut to the right length, these are the laces that say, “I can improvise.” They started as a quick fix on a weeklong outing and ended up on the boots in the closet—when you have them in, it does not pay to buy commercial laces.

Limitations: This is not rescue rope. And, unless you get the military stuff with threads inside you are just getting an outer shell—it might fasten gear but it has little utility in the field. As with all polymers it will melt quickly.

However: I consider parachute cord to be an essential part of any preparedness supply.

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Compleat Idler, Surplus Stores, Tool user

Surplus stores — suspicious behavior

(c) 2012 Earl L. Haehl Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

So one of the signs of suspicious behavior in a surplus store is discussion of means to convert items to uses for which they were not intended. Now this may go back to when I spotted the jet-fighter canopy and had the brilliant idea that, combined with a cot, it could provide the perfect bed for sleeping under the stars. It certainly was not Pete’s idea to use a three dollar pilot’s helmet for a football helmet.

But a few years later (and about 11 inches taller) I no longer had that fantasy and Pete was elsewhere. Who knows? He may have figured out how to build a communications system into a football helmet so the coach and the QB can talk to each other. But you have to realize that the tools of war may have other uses.

“ And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” [Isaiah 2:4] I read that when I was eight years old and still grappling with the insipid stuff in school—I now understand that early modern English is a different language and that the 1611 Authorized Version is EME. But this has always intrigued me.

The things I remember from surplus stores is looking at the bayonets and comparing the length of the blade to the cattail roots by the pond. I have been told that cattail roots are edible—the problem was how long they needed to cook. But we obtained machetes which can be used to top sugar beets and old first aid supplies. The WW2 canteens were better than Official BSA and you could hang two of them on a pistol belt for balance. The guys who built the slat pack frames used ammo packs for their main bag—a fishing trip was not the intended use for the bag, but it worked.

I would tend to worry more about people talking about using the bayonets to stick people—you say things like that in bars. I stay out of bars—it is intentional as I do not like fights.

Meanwhile, that bicycle generator intrigues me.

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