Making a hobo stove

I mentioned this little DIY device earlier when we were discussing cooking without power. These are very easy to make and work surprisingly well.

Take an empty metal coffee can and, using a can opener, cut the bottom open. Using tin snips or the equivalent, carefully cut two slits from the bottom edge going up about 1.5 inches or so, and about 2 inches apart. Bend the flap you just made into the can. This is the opening where you will add fuel.

Drill holes around the can a few inches up from the bottom. I used a 3/8″ bit and made six holes total, each evenly spaced. These are air holes to feed the fire.

Place the can on level ground, preferably on gravel, sand, or dirt. You don’t want to catch your lawn on fire. Place some tinder and/or a firestarter in the can and get the fire going. The fire doesn’t need to be very large at all. If the flames are going higher than the top of the can, let it burn down for a bit. Add fuel as needed through the opening you made at the bottom of the can. Your fuel should be sticks about the size around as your finger.

Your pots or pans rest on the top of the can and will heat up quickly. Figure about seven to eight minutes to get water boiling on a summer day.

One adaptation I’ve seen is to drill additional holes near the top of the can and run coat hanger wire through them, providing support for pots or pans that are too small to fit on top of the stove.

Prepping for pets

Like most pet owners, I consider my furry friends part of the family. Pets rely on us to provide for their food, water, shelter, and safety. When going through your disaster readiness plans, don’t overlook them.

Stock up on food. In most cases, this is much simpler than stocking up on food for the humans in your family. A couple large bags of dog food, for example, are pretty easy to acquire and store. However, I’d recommend you store any “kibble” type of food in such a way to protect it from rodents and bugs. Large plastic totes can serve this purpose well.

Pets generally need far less water than people but don’t underestimate the need for clean H2O either. A gallon a day should be enough for most needs, unless you have a high number of pets. We have a mid-size dog and a couple cats so a gallon a day should be sufficient.

If any of your pets are on prescription meds, make sure you always have enough on hand to last at least a few weeks, preferably longer. Same goes for any over the counter meds you regularly use for them.

In an evacuation situation, most emergency shelters won’t take pets so you need to plan accordingly. Personally, I feel this is just one more reason to avoid shelters if at all possible. Find out now which hotels in your area will accept pets, in case the need arises. Make sure you have a travel carrier for each of your pets, as well as leashes and muzzles if you have dogs. Even the most mild-mannered canine can get agitated and upset during an evacuation. Just as much as you’re protecting folks from getting bit accidentally, you are protecting your dog from being accused of the same.

In your bug out supplies, include extra food and meds for your pets. Plan ahead and include a portable folding bowl for water. You can find those at pet stores and some camping outfitters as well. If your dog is good-sized, consider purchasing a “doggy backpack” and put them to work carrying some of the supplies.

Remember, our pets are like small children in that they can’t prep for themselves. Be sure to plan ahead for them.

Homemade fire starters #2

My friend Nick over on the Survival Creed Yahoo Group posted yesterday about a homemade fire starter he created, as well as the results of a bit of testing on it.

For these, you’ll only need cotton balls and petroleum jelly, as well as a small saucepan, water, and a heat source.

Fill the pan about a quarter full of water and start it heating. Take the lid off the top of the petroleum jelly container and place the jar into the water. You want the jelly to melt but not get overly hot.

Lay out your cotton balls on a piece of aluminum foil to protect your table or work surface.

Once the petroleum jelly has melted a bit, use a spoon to place about 1/2 teaspoon of it on each cotton ball. The cotton will soak it up like a sponge. Let them cool and you’re done. Store them in a zip lock plastic bag.

Nick reports that he tested a few of them and each cotton ball burns for an average of about five minutes. He also says they will light from just about any source except friction.

Very cheap and easy to make!

What if Wednesday – Caches

Let’s say a major regional disaster forces you to hunker down in your home, possibly long-term. Then, to add insult to injury, Murphy sticks his head up and a fire breaks out, resulting in you having to vacate your home (or home away from home). Now what?

Or, how about this? You head out from home with your family, planning to sit out the disaster at your well-stocked retreat. Upon arriving in the area, you discover someone else has gotten their first.

What if you were cut off from your main supplies?

Consider hiding additional supplies in caches. While methods vary, the basic idea is burying or otherwise hiding survival supplies and gear in places you can easily access but wouldn’t be stumbled upon by others. The most common method is to use PVC pipe for the storage container. Sealed properly and packed well, the contents should last for many years.

The idea here is to provide for one more way to store supplies for the long term, as well as giving you options during a bug out or evacuation situation.

As for potential locations for your caches, you’re going to want places you can access easily (and legally) but aren’t someplace likely to be used for new construction in the immediate future. You’ll also want to make double-darn sure you can locate the cache when you need it. One idea I’ve seen is to make a uniquely shaped “stone” out of concrete. Place it on top of where you bury your cache, then utilize natural landmarks to remember where the stone is.

Finally, should you decide to create such a cache, please keep in mind you’ll need some way to OPEN the PVC pipe once you’ve unburied it. Not much could be more frustrating than being in desperate need of your survival supplies and having them locked up in PVC without a way to get at them.

Homemade fire starters #1

A campfire not only keeps you warm and heats food, it is a morale booster. Suddenly, the night won’t be quite as dark and foreboding. Being able to get a fire going quickly and easily is a vital survival skill. Having a lighter, matches, and/or other similar devices is only one part of the equation. The second component is having tinder that will light quickly and burn long enough to catch the other twigs and branches. If the weather is damp, it can be difficult to find natural elements to use as tinder, such as dry grass.

That’s where these homemade fire starters come into play. They are easy to make, simple to use, and store well if packed properly. Plus, they have the advantage of being very inexpensive.

The first one we’ll discuss incorporates the following supplies:

  • Cardboard egg carton
  • Dryer lint
  • Paraffin wax
  • You need a small pot for heating water, a clean soup can, and a stove top.

    Fill the pot about a third full of water and start it heating on the stove top. Cut chunks of the wax and drop them into the soup can. When the can is about a half to two-thirds full, set the can into the water. It should be heavy enough where the bottom of the can will rest on the bottom of the pot and not float away.

    While the wax is melting, take the cardboard egg carton and stuff each compartment with dryer lint. Really pack it in tight. Spread out newspaper on your table or counter top and put the egg carton on that in case you spill wax during the next step.

    Once the wax is fully melted, use an oven mitt to pick up the can. Slowly and carefully, pour melted wax into each of the egg carton compartments. The lint will compress down when you pour the wax in, that’s ok.

    Once the wax has completely cooled in each compartment, use scissors or a sharp knife to cut them into individual pieces. Store them in a zip lock plastic bag until you need them.

    To use, just light a corner of the cardboard. They will burn plenty long enough to dry out tinder and get your fire going.

    Choosing a bug out location

    If a disaster strikes, where will you go? Even if your primary plan is to shelter in place, you should have at least one, preferably multiple, places to go as backups.

    Here are my criteria for choosing a bug out location.

    1) It should be close enough to be feasible to get to if you end up on foot for part or all of the journey. As a rule of thumb, I tell people to figure how far they could likely travel on a half tank of gas in their vehicle. Granted, that’s probably further than most of us are able to reasonably go on foot but the hope is you’ll be able to get at least part of the way on wheels.

    2) It should be some place you are intimately familiar with and know how to get to using a variety of routes. The worst thing you can do is just pick a spot on a map and say, “That’s where we’re going.” Remember too though, favorite vacation spots sure sound good on paper, but how many other people have vacationed there and will think of it as well?

    3) It should be a location where you can store supplies in advance. If possible, you might consider setting up an agreement with a trusted friend or family member where you can store some stuff with them and they can store some stuff with you.

    4) It should have access to clean water, sturdy shelter from the elements, and be far enough off the beaten path to keep wanderers away. It will be difficult enough to provide for you and yours, let alone protecting your supplies from others in need.

    5) Ideally, it should be some place where you have some ownership stake. While bugging out to a vast expanse of public land is doable for some, it takes a high degree of skill to “live off the land” for an extended period of time. Granted, most of us can’t afford to go out and buy a few dozen acres or more of land, “just in case.” But, perhaps consider going in on such a purchase with a group of family members, selling it to them as the idea of having a family recreational area. Once purchased or leased, add outbuildings or structures of some kind for storage and living quarters.

    In any event, please take the time now to plan out where you are going to go and how you are going to get there. While there is something to be said for the ability to improvise at the drop of a hat, a bug out situation really isn’t the best time to test your ability to think on your feet.

    Look out for each other

    Came across this news story the other day.

    Neighbors rescue man buried in snow

    This is just one of many stories to come out of the 2011 Blizzard reports. It is truly miraculous that he survived. And it brings up once again the importance of looking out for your neighbors. I encourage you to get to know the folks around you. Check in with them from time to time, especially if they live alone or are elderly/infirm. And don’t limit your visits to just during emergencies either.

    While of epic proportions, this blizzard is just a temporary disaster. The snow and ice will eventually melt. Power lost has been or soon will be restored. Emergency services did a truly outstanding job, as they usually do.

    But, what if the disaster were prolonged? What if the power wasn’t going to come back on anytime soon? What if emergency services were nonexistent?

    Look out for one another. You never know when you might be called upon to lend a helping hand or have a helping hand extended to you.

    Favorite post-apocalyptic reads

    With much of the country experiencing some sort of severe weather right now, many of us will turn to reading to wile away the hours until the snow and ice stop falling.

    As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of post-apocalyptic (PA) fiction. I have been since I was a little kid. Over the years, I’ve amassed a very large library of both PA fiction as well as survival texts. Today though, let’s focus on the fiction side of the fence.

    Here are just a few of my favorite PA reads. By no means is this list complete. Rather, it is just a few titles I’d recommend to folks who are into these sorts of stories.

    Empty World by John Christopher. This was the first PA book I ever read, way back in fifth grade. The premise is a plague kills off all adults in the UK, possibly the world. Neil Miller is a young lad who, at the time the plague hits, is living with his grandparents. They succumb to the illness and when food begins to run low in the house, Neil begins traveling throughout the countryside, looking for other survivors. No blazing gun battles, no outlandish survival retreats. Just one young man, scared and mostly alone, making his way across the country. Very, very well done. Side note: one of my most treasured possessions is a bookplate signed by John Christopher (real name Sam Youd) he mailed to me after exchanging some correspondence. Most of his books, this one included, are geared for the “young adult” crowd but all of them are well worth the time to track down and read.

    The Survivalist series by Jerry and Sharon Ahern. Yes, the series is long (29 books or so). Yes, parts of them read like the Aherns were getting kickbacks from some manufacturers. Yes, the retreat described in these books is like something out of a prepper’s wet dream. But, y’know what? They are entertaining and that’s the whole point. They are fun, quick reads and well worth picking up when you can find them secondhand. For the uninitiated, the series follows the adventures of John Thomas Rourke. Survivalist, doctor, genius, expert in both armed and unarmed combat. Following a nuclear exchange with the USSR, he travels the remains of the United States, desperately trying to find his wife Sarah, and his children Michael and Annie. Along the way, he becomes involved in all sorts of adventures with Russian troops, brigands, and spooky small towns with suicide pacts.

    Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. A meteor strikes the moon, driving it closer to Earth. This causes all sorts of disasters, with massive tsunamis taking out much of the coastlines around the world. Miranda is a high school sophomore and this book is her diary, beginning just before the moon is struck. We follow as Miranda describes how life changes for those around her. Volcanic eruptions shoot so much debris into the air that winter arrives early and with extremely bitter cold. A deadly flu virus sweeps the area, adding bodies to those who have already starved to death. I’m not a big fan of books written as diaries but in this case, it worked very well. There are two sequels to this book as well.

    Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines. Ok, admittedly this one isn’t for everyone but I really enjoyed it. Imagine your favorite super heroes dealing with a zombie apocalypse and its aftermath. ‘Nuff said.

    What are YOUR favorite PA reads?