The many uses of a schemagh scarf

The schemagh, also known as a keffiyeh, is a traditional head scarf worn throughout Arab countries. These scarves have many uses and I recommend preppers include them in their kits.

Among the varies uses:

–When wrapped around the head and neck, the provide great protection from the sun as well as from biting insects. There are many online sites and videos that show how to wrap these scarves in traditional ways.

–During hot days, get the scarf wet before wrapping it around your head and neck. Evaporation is a cooling process.

–They can be folded and tied into a bindle to carry gear.

–The scarf is great for keeping you warm on cold days and nights.

–Kept up around the face, it will protect you from windburn as well as keep sand and debris out.

–Folded and held in the hand, it can be used like an oven mitt to remove hot pans from a fire.

–It can be used as a sling, a tourniquet, or a compression bandage.

–The scarf could be an improvised water filter. While it certainly won’t keep out bacteria, it will do well to filter out debris from the water prior to purifying it.

–It can be a towel for drying hands, face, and neck.

–In a pinch, you could roll it up and use it to lash items to your pack.

I’m all about having multiple uses for things I add to my kits and the shemagh scarf certainly fits that bill rather well.

The importance of the draw knife

I was first introduced to the draw knife back in high school. Near where I grew up there exists an open air reenactment museum called Old World Wisconsin. It consists of several homesteads from various points in history, recreated brick by brick and log by log. In fact, many of the buildings are actually original, having been disassembled where they once stood and rebuilt on the museum grounds.

Given its proximity to the school district, it was a frequent destination for field trips. In my senior year, our Wisconsin History teacher made arrangements for all of his students to work out at the museum for two days. Most of us, myself included, were assigned to various homesteads to act as guides. We were instructed on the different tasks we were to perform to remain “in character.” I was assigned to a shop where cedar shingles were made and shown how to carve them with a draw knife.

The draw knife consists of a blade with handles on both ends. It is pulled toward the user to shave wood into the desirable shape. The draw knife is used to take bark off logs as well as to shape limbs into handles for various tools like axes and sledges.

Typically, one uses a draw knife whilst sitting astride a shaving horse, which is a combination workbench and vice. The material is clamped in the vice and the user sits so the material is in front of him or her, then pulls the draw knife down from the top of the material to the bottom, going toward the user. Side note: it is just about impossible for the blade to strike the user in the chest or abdomen if it comes loose suddenly. The mechanics of the arms just prevent it from happening.

Draw knives are one of those tools that just make certain tasks a whole lot easier. While you can certainly whittle a thick branch into an axe handle with a sheath knife, you’ll probably get a much better final product with a draw knife.

You can find them at most good woodworking tool shops but I’ve had great luck finding them at garage sales. Typically, these older tools are of much better quality than ones sold today. Clean them up, sharpen the blades, take care of them and they’ll last a lifetime.

Emergency planning for split families

I briefly touched upon this topic about 15 months ago but wanted to revisit and expand on it a bit. I recently learned that an old buddy of mine is getting a divorce. The ugly details aren’t really relevant here, but I will say he’s an awesome dad and has always been faithful to his soon-to-be ex.

His pending split got me thinking again about split families and disaster planning. The thing is, I think very few of these families have given thought as to who will handle what if there comes to pass a major disaster. Now, I fully realize she may very well be a raging sack of crazy and he probably is just as much of an asshat as you think. But the fact remains that if you have any sort of shared custody arrangement with the kids, you’ll both need to work together on this.

For example, if there’s a big emergency, who picks up the kids from school? Whose house do they go to? Are there supplies, such as bug out bags, in place at each residence? What if it is a bug out situation and the kids are at your ex’s? Can or should the ex come along?

Communication is the key here. I understand that there may be readers out there for whom the split was at least partially because of an “obsession” with what the ex calls “doom and gloom.” In those cases, this discussion probably will be harder than for others. But, it still needs to happen.

Sit down with your ex, as well as with the kids, and talk about a few different “what if” scenarios. Make the decisions now, rather than in the heat of the moment during an emergency. Keep calm and rational and actually listen to any concerns that are brought up.

Remember, just because you don’t like your ex in a romantic sense anymore, they are still part of your child’s life. Plan accordingly.

Solar Ovens

This weekend, in between a birthday party at my brother-in-law’s on Saturday and painting some fascia on Sunday, we’re planning to build our first solar oven.

I think we’re going to generally follow the instructions here but use black construction paper rather than spray paint.

The hope is that a solar oven will give us one more option for off-grid cooking during disasters. We already have a propane grill, a charcoal grill, a patio fire pit, and a homemade brick fire pit. During the extreme heat we’ve been experiencing much of the summer, cooking over any of those doesn’t really thrill me. The solar oven will give us a way to prepare food without needing to sit and watch it, hunkered over a flame.

If you’ve built solar ovens before, I welcome your comments and advice. What have you successfully cooked in them? How long did the food take to cook? Any tips on assembly?

Talking To Children About Prepping

For those of us with families, the safety and security of our children is often what drives us to prep in the first place. We want to be able to provide for their needs, come what may. Part of that entails having discussion with our kids about what to do in emergencies, teaching them the necessary skills, and instilling in them certain mindsets.

We have to be careful though, particularly with younger children, so we don’t just scare the beejeezus out of them. We need to watch not only what we say but how we say it. Telling an eight year old child that there may come a day when we cannot be friends with our neighbors because we prep, they don’t, and they might want to steal our stuff is not going to sit well with the child. He or she will just be very confused, likely causing stress and anxiety anytime a neighbor does come over.

Pay close attention to how your child reacts after any conversations about the future as it relates to prepping. If they seem stressed, depressed, or just plain “off,” address it immediately. Sit down and talk to them about their concerns. You may find they just misunderstood what you had told them.

We also need to be careful about the secrecy aspects of prepping. On the one hand, we don’t want our kids telling the entire neighborhood that Mom and Dad have 85 cases of canned food in the basement. On the other hand, we don’t want them going to school and alluding to some never-to-be-spoken-of activities that happen in the home. That’s a sure-fire way to get a visit from your local child services agency. As with most other things, a balanced approach may be best.

Remember, everything you tell kids goes through this weird “filter” in their heads as they try to fit the new information into their current perspective. In my experience, more often than not this filter causes at least a bit of misunderstanding. It might take at least a few different conversations to get the points across properly.

Take Care of Your Feet

An often overlooked part of prepping is foot care. Until and unless we have a problem, we typically don’t give any thought to how much walking we do on a regular basis, let alone if we were in a bug out situation.

Wash your feet regularly, including both during normal bathing as well as after engaging in some activity that has really gotten them dirty and/or sweaty. Use warm water and soap to scrub them down, making sure you get between the toes.

After washing, make sure to dry them completely. Don’t forget to run the towel between your toes. Moisture there is a great way to develop fungal infections like athlete’s foot.

Moisturizing lotion can help prevent cracking but don’t use it between your toes.

Keeping your toe nails trimmed will help prevent ingrown toe nails. Cut them straight across, rather than rounded, and smooth out jagged edges with an emery board.

Plantar warts are extremely painful. They look sort of like calluses and usually develop on the bottom of the foot. There are a variety of OTC medications that can help eliminate them. Corns should be abraded with an pumice stone after bathing but don’t go overboard with it and try to remove it all in one fell swoop. Doing so will likely damage the healthy skin around and underneath.

Wear shoes/boots that fit properly to avoid blisters. If you do develop a blister, don’t break it open. Keep it covered and clean.

If you injure your foot, take care of it immediately to prevent further complications. Cuts and scrapes should be cleaned and dressed properly.

Diabetics should pay very close attention to their feet and toes. Any signs of discoloration should be reason for medical treatment.

If you take good care of your feet, they’ll take good care of you.

Don’t Put Off Major Projects

After almost fifteen years, we finally got around to having new gutters installed. Being that we wanted seamless, it wasn’t something I was really capable of doing on my own so after getting a few estimates, we went with the contractor we felt would do the best work at the fairest price. One of the reason why we wanted to get this done this summer is, well, we don’t know what the future holds. Whether things fall apart in the next six months or we as a country manage to limp along a while yet, it is difficult to harvest rainwater when your gutters have more holes than metal in the bottoms.

We had the workers set up the downspouts in such a way that I can easily add more rain barrels as we acquire them. At my request, they also left us additional downspouts for later use.

I would encourage you to take a good, hard look at your home and make a list of major projects that really need to get done. I’m not talking about painting the kitchen because you’re sick of all the blue and want to go with aqua. I’m talking about those things that NEED to be done — walls patched, drywall repaired, ceilings replaced, gutters, roof leaks, insulation, that sort of stuff. The kinds of things that, if left unchecked for too long, will lead to even bigger problems.

Once you have that list made, go through and put the items in order of urgency. Get estimates for the things you can’t do yourself. Ask around and see if one of your neighbors or perhaps a trusted friend know anyone who does that sort of work and might be interested in working out a trade or at least lower their rates if they’re doing it on the side for cash. It never hurts to ask.

I realize money is very tight for most of us. That’s one of the reasons it took us this long to get the gutters replaced. If you’re in a position to do so, consider opening a charge account with one of the big box home improvement stores like The Home Depot or Lowes. They often run “no interest” specials for projects like roofing and gutters. While you’ll still have to make a payment every month, if you get the balance paid within 24 months, there’s no interest to deal with. Not a bad deal, overall, if you can swing the payments.

If you just simply cannot afford to pay someone to do all the work, perhaps you can do much of it yourself. Do research online and at the library to learn how your house works. There are many very good resources available.

The point is this — there may very well come a time when hiring a contractor to fix your leaky roof just won’t be an option because there won’t be any contractors out there anymore. Get the jobs done while you still have that option.

Mass Shooting in Colorado

For those who may not have heard just yet, there was a tragic mass shooting at a movie theater in Colorado last night. Twelve people dead, 38 injured, among the injured a three month old baby. 24 year old James Holmes was taken into custody in the parking lot of the theater. While information is still coming in, from what I understand he entered the theater wearing body armor and carrying an AK type rifle, a shotgun, and two handguns. He tossed a tear gas canister into the theater, then opened fire.

I had this whole blog entry planned out in my head on my way to the office this morning. Then I saw a post by my buddy Jon Merz on Facebook and felt he was even more on point with his comments than I had hoped to be so rather than duplicate the effort, I’d like to share his thoughts here.

The events in Colorado are tragic reminders that bad things can happen anywhere, at anytime, to anyone. There will no doubt be a LOT of Monday morning quarterbacking going on today between those opposed to gun ownership and those who support the right to bear arms. At the end of the day, the events speak to two things (as far as I’m concerned):

1. Your single best defense in an emergency situation is a clear and level mind attuned to your environment. (When you walk into a public place do you note exit locations? Do you have multiple escape routes in mind in case of a situation? Who is entering the area? Do you get a bid vibe from them? etc. etc.)

2. Owning a gun or having a license to carry is fine, but it doesn’t mean shit if you haven’t been trained to use it – and by trained, I don’t mean that you can draw it and fire at the range. Any damned fool can do that.

So while I see a lot of “I wish someone had had a gun last night and they could have stopped this guy” posts – yeah, that might have been good IF the person with the gun had been trained to fire in low-light conditions, been wearing night vision equipment, had been trained to shoot in high pressure conditions on a moving target, etc.

But then you have to consider whether you shooting into a huge crowd of people trying to take out a single threat is a good idea or not. Then there was tear gas as well. So can you stand there while your throat is tightening up and your tear ducts are screaming and draw a bead on the bad guy? 99% of people could not, so instead of helping, they then turn the situation even worse and we get friendly fire casualties.

Food for thought.

If you are the praying sort, please send up one for those injured in last night’s tragic event.


From a prepper standpoint, sandbags can serve two distinct purposes. The first is to build retaining walls against floods. It takes quite a few of them to do the trick sometimes but they work very well for this situation.

The second is to provide cover from incoming bullets. Sandbags work much better than things like brick and wood because of the mass aspect of sandbags.

I was curious about how well sandbags truly work against various calibers. As I was doing research, I came across a website where a couple guys went out and tested this theory.

The improvised sandbags they built withstood everything they threw at ’em, from .22 to 12 gauge slug. Most of them didn’t penetrate beyond six inches of sand. I don’t know if I’d want to bet my life on just a half-foot of sand but there you have it.

Sandbags need not necessarily be the traditional burlap sacks either. As you can see from their testing, they used boxes made from drywall. You could also use pillowcases, even plastic bags I’d guess.

It doesn’t need to be sand either. You can use just about any earthen product except clay or silt.

You can purchase bulk burlap or other material from craft stores and make your own bags. Otherwise you can usually find empty sandbags for sale at garden centers or various places online.

When filling the sandbags, keep them to around 30-40lbs each. For many of the sandbags I’ve seen, this would mean filling them about halfway. You can then either tie the top closed or just fold it under the bag when you set it in place.

Keep in mind though that if for some reason you find it necessary to put sandbags inside a residence, that weight adds up quickly. Let’s say you put together a small wall of 40 sandbags, that’s around 1,200-1,600 lbs of sand in a pretty compact size. Make sure your floor will support that much weight.

Securing an exterior door

The first step in securing an exterior door is to begin with a good quality, solid door. Avoid exterior doors with built in windows as those are easily broken, making the entire exercise meaningless.

The more points of attachment a door has to the frame, the stronger it will be. Points of attachment include the hinges as well as the locks. Ditch the screws that come with the hinges and opt for longer ones. You want the screws to go through the door frame and into the stud.

Consider adding more than one deadbolt to the door. Having one toward the top, one near the doorknob, and one toward the bottom will provide additional points of attachment, making the door much more secure. Of course, multiple deadbolts can be a pain to deal with when coming and going from the home but that’s a small price to pay for the additional security.

Also give thought to saw-proofing your door. One method of unauthorized entry involves using a drill and a “sawzall” to cut the door around the locks. You can prevent this by installing 1/4″ metal rods into the door above and below each lock. Using a 12″ bit, drill holes into the lock side edge of the door, above and below each deadbolt and the doorknob. Drive steel rods, about 7″ long, into the holes and seat them with a nail set so they rest just a bit submerged into the door. Cover the holes with wood putty.

The stop molding is the strip of wood that runs along the door frame and stops the door from swinging too far. When you slam the door closed, this is the wood the door strikes, giving you that satisfying WHAM! Most of the time, this stop molding is attached using thin tacks or finish nails. A burglar could easily pry this up, exposing the lock bolts. To stop this from happening to you, pry up the stop molding, then reattach it with strong wood glue and thicker nails. You may want to drill pilot holes to compensate for the nails so you don’t splinter the molding.