Essential Hand Tools Without Electricity
Lets talk tools. Nearly everyone who is handy, or able to fix things, already has their own supply of various tools to get the job done. There are tools for every trade, many of them specialized for a particular task while others are general purpose. Many tools require power to operate – be it your typical AC wall outlet or today’s more common ‘cordless’ tools with built-in battery packs. Bear in mind that you might at one point need to get the job done without electricity…
When considering the adequacy of one’s tool kit with regards to general preparedness or even grid-down preparedness, having a good cross-section of capabilities would be preferable.
A cross-section of hand-powered tools and cordless tools (with the ability to charge them).
Cutting, drilling, nailing, screwing, gripping and twisting. These are few that come to mind.
Here are a few examples to get your wheels turning…
A selection of hand saws for various purposes. Some are designed to cut through tree limbs while others are designed for cutting traditional framing lumber, plywood, etc., while still others are designed for cutting through metal or plastics.
Bow Saw for cutting through tree limbs. Don’t forget to keep an extra blade or two.
Hand Saw like this one for cutting through nearly any wood.
Carpentry Saw for speedy slicing through any wood.
Hack Saw to cut through metals and plastics. Again, don’t forget extra blades.
Chain Saw for clearing downed trees, cutting logs, etc..
A traditional hammer as well as a sledge hammer will serve their purpose.
16 ounce Claw Hammer will get the job done for most situations.
3 pound sledge hammer is small enough, yet heavy enough for most jobs.
Screwdriver Set is an essential. Be sure to get ‘hardened’.
Precision screwdriver set is perfect for very small applications.
Gripping and Twisting
99 Piece Stanley Socket Set should get you through most circumstances.
Pipe Wrench One to grip the piece and the other to twist the mating connection.
Metal File set to keep your tools sharp
Box cutter, knife
Hex key wrench set
Combination wrench set
Needle nose pliers
Torx wrench set
Include metric choices in all sets…
I could go on and on and on… ;)
As you know, there are a zillion different tools out there. The point here is to just think about having an adequate tool kit. Many of us already do, but some might need to beef it up a bit… Do you have the tools that you need?
Part of my prep tools are:
1.One man cross-cut saw
2. Two man cross-cut saw
3. Draw knife
4. Brace and many long wood bits
5. Wood splitting maul
6. Block and tackle
7. Manual drill press
8. Metal forge
9. Water well bucket
These are all powered with elbow grease.
I would add pry bars of various sizes..
My most important tool that requires electricity is my sewing machine. I also have a treadle machine, just in case. But I can also sew very well w/ my hands since I’ve sewn since I was a child. By hand is more fulfilling, but it takes longer. For this reason, my sewing machine is a tool that helps do a job.
We have a great deal of manual tools, including tools that we acquired from deceased family members. My husband relies on his circular saw, chain saw, log-splitter, and cordless drill. I don’t use that equipment at all and if I need to saw a piece of wood, I do it manually. Same w/ splitting wood…I use the axe, splitting maul, & wedge.
So our household has plenty of hand tools and some electric tools, along with a few battery-powered gizmos. I’m a ‘by hand’ person and always use a screwdriver, hammer, paintbrush, etc. He looks at efficiency through power tools, though. If we were reduced to living in a grid-down scenario, we would revert back to doing everything the old-fashioned-way. We got through a 5-day grid-down Winter storm this way and did fine. And that’s how we have planned to adapt through the EMP scenario, should it occur.
If you are wanting to learn how to sew, what is the best machine to start on? Should I get a second hand machine?
My wife recently bought an Janome Magnolia. She loves it, will sew threw about five or six layers of denim. Not cheap at about $400.00, but she says its worlds better than most.
My favorite machine is my mom’s 1980’s Kenmore. That thing is a workhorse. Can satin stitch a duvet for 8 hours on it and it keeps chugging!
Look for a good heavy machine (frame made of steel). Singers in the 90’s-present haven’t been that swift. I made the mistake of getting a Shark (all plastic)…it started smoking after 1 hour of working on duvet mentioned above (I was appliqueing)
To start, just get a used machine from a sewing shop until you really get the hang of it and are using it often. No need to spend the money until needed! If you’re near Dallas, I can tell you of a good shop.
Sometimes you can find people giving away their mother’s old machine…know that a tune-up will run you $80ish.
Good luck! Happy sewing!
Great list. I would add an axe, hatchet, different sharpening stones, splitting wedges, come-along, hydraulic and/or scissors jack, various cleaning brushes (metal, brass, nylon bristles), 36 inch flexible pick up tool (for the nut, bolt or fastener that always drops into the impossible spot to get to…usually the last one to install), loppers, zig-zag rule, carpenter’s pencils, caulking gun, chisel set, wire and bolt cutters, brick trowel and finally tin snips. A life time of collecting hand tools, most inherited, bought at flea markets, or last resort new.
spool of 16ga wire
trailer jack, scissor jack and bumper jack, hydraulic floor jack
old guitar strings for cutting – for instance slicing beneath a bee hive body to remove it as to not disturb the bees, instead of prying and breaking the propolis seal – slicing is smoother.
a bike and belts long enough so you can manually run some motors with pulleys.
Its going to be a real bummer if we actually have to deal with not having electricity, in my AO not having electricity will mean life goes from working for others to pay the bills etc to working around the farm to keep the food stocks up and animals fed, knowing this, my focus is mostly on homesteading related hardware, and small stuff for keeping everything together.
IF we get to this point, I have serious doubts that things will be civil for a long, long time, just a nagging feeling I get. Folks are barely civil as it is and there are so many around us who are far left and looking at everything as a collective, might not be real Christian of me but scorched earth will be my reply to anyone trying to force me to work for a collective good or force me to give up or share what I have worked so hard for, and that includes my hand tools and my ability to use them. Rather burn it all with me in the middle of it with brass falling from the sky around me than be a part of their collective, selfish? Maybe.
But since when do I need to make sure everyone around me is taken care of in a time of need when they ridicule me when they are sittin fat and happy with their illusion of prosperity? Not gonna happen.
Who is John Galt!
Ditto… My family has gone without many nice things in order to be prepared. I have warned many friends, family and coworkers. Most of them agree that things are going to get bad, but they still won’t prepare. They get no sympathy from me.
The DW and I live around half below our means. Both DDs do the same thing, they are mentally tough and resilient, work toward independence and depend on themselves in life, but are generous and kind to good people, tolerating plastic-fantastic knuckleheads not so much.
The old “you made the mess you fix it” applies to the mentally comatose for me.
Great list Ken. Is this the list I gave you that I used as an off grid park ranger? (years ago)
I have used all of the above tools when living off grid including the pry bars mentioned by Pepper Spray. I also used a portable winch called a come along. I made friends in hunting camps with my selection of gun smithing screwdriver set and selection of star bits for scope mounting screws.
(physics problem: try to avoid a lightweight, hard kicking rifle in combo with a large heavy scope. The force of recoil will loosen things up and has lead to the shearing of scope mounting screws.) Most scope makers make a smaller lighter weight line of optics. My big game rifles are in caliber 30-06 and weigh at least 8 lbs. I live in elk hunting country now and many feel that anything less than a 300 magnum will bounce off their hide. I am happy with what I have and used for decades.
A note on hand tools,,,,
For those who may not be real handy,,,
Steel shank hammers from Estwing or similar are best, tools that the blade go all the way through the handle to the butt are also the best, like chisels, screw drivers, knives, if they are not the handle will come off, especially if your not a seasond craftsman,
All my sharpening stones these days are diamond stone. I still have a number of files on hand to sharpen my axes and I would not take the chainsaw into the woods without at least one rat tail file to sharpen the teeth. (along with saw gas and oil)
My parents thought it was a neat trick when I came home from fighting fires and sharpened their shovels. it makes the shovel a much more useful tool than moving dirt. (you can cut small roots too.)
We all need a couple of good shovels for the BS that comes our way :) Also pitch forks and garden tools. A few strong pails are a necessity. I guess I suggest that we all acquire as many tools as we can – they usually store efficiently and last almost forever.
It may seem off-topic, but your most important tool is your brain.
If the only tool in your tool box is a hammer, then all your problems look like nails.
I have them all for autobody work when everything to put a car together and repair dents was done by hand as part of my job. It was required, including tin snips, torches, block sander, body hammers, etc., and all hand tools when I got into woodworking without electricity. That includes wood sculpturing chisels.
It is funny when people see what I have in my garage, they always ask, your ex husband left you his tools? I say nope, they are mine, my ex didn’t know which way to turn a screwdriver to put in a screw. And that is the truth. :-)
@Stardust, your auto body tools comment brought back some memories. I did body work on my cars (60s Mustang). I have done lead body work which requires a rosebud torch tip, a wood block with beeswax. After exposing bare metal, acid wash, heat with the torch, heat the lead rod and smoosh into the hot metal body, smooth with the beeswax coated wood block while torching the lead to keeping it workable. After cooling file smooth, prime and paint. If done correctly this would last longer then the car. Of course with all the lead, chemical fumes and torch gas it’s a wonder I’m still around. Back then, no gloves, masks or goggles. I have also worked with fiberglass, the resin was nasty and forget to wear long sleeves while grinding/sanding (glass particles in the arms, looked like the measles). Wish I would have stored that 64 Mustang, 6 cylinder, 3 speed on the floor, burgundy with a black interior, paid $250 used, sold for $350, I had two of them at the same time, hindsight is 20/20. Thanks for the memory lane walk.
I did body work and painting mid 70’s to early 80’s, but yeah, lead was a danger, especially in the lead paint and I quit after my lead levels rose. Health officials said 7 years and out, and it was 7 years when I left the business. Two of the shops I worked for I found out they were connected to the mob – buying stolen car parts and one was also a front for the mob bosses family… When I learned this I left quicker than my A– could take me! They were busted.
I’m surprised ‘Wire Cutters’ didn’t make your list.
Several sizes for different size wires.
Don’t forget ‘Bolt Cutters’.
Scotch eye auger (1″ dia. holes and larger), froe (shingle manufacture) crosscut saw and brace are the heavy hitters for building construction in my book.
Keep the safety glasses handy and perhaps the bandaids lol
Safety glasses are super important, that and ear protection, nothing worse than a chunk if hot welding slag going into your ear!
In addition to the above, for heavy lifting, a chain come-A-long for horizontal pulling and a chain fall for vertical lifting. The rating size would depend on your requirements. To include with these would be properly rated shackles, lifting slings and chains.
Word of caution: make sure the rating is properly done to prevent serious injury and/or property damage. Also make sure your anchor point can handle the load.
@Being Watched, re: chain fall, also check the tree limb can carry the weight of what you’re lifting. We used to pull and replace car engines using a big apple tree limb for the chain fall (hey, we were country boys and used what was available, could not afford an A-frame).
Several people mentioned pry bars. I much prefer the flat bar to the crowbar. Also, several extra 1/2″ sockets. Those darn things always seem to disappear.
You might need a couple of uncommon items if you’re going to put your handsaws to heavy use, a saw vise, a tooth set and a triangle file. I’ve still got grandpa’s. The rest of you folks will probably have to prowl eBay.
A steelyard might come in handy too. Google it.
Tapes of all kinds. Duluth Trading sells rolls of a silicon type that hardens in air and VERY durable. Comes in colors too. Supposedly formulated for military use. Pricey but worth it.
Pictures of my toolbox!!! :D
I don’t know that I would call them essential but I have left over from a previous occupation several micrometers, dial indicators, calipers etc. They don’t seem to have any resale value and the younguns’ have no idea how to read them.
Have worked construction all my life; from my first Soap-Box Derby, built many of my own homes, to building multi $million commercial projects and am still an avid Shop Crazy Fool.
Needless to say, I LOVE working with my hands. Doing anything/everything and having the tools electrical and non-electrical to do just about any job that comes along. Even have an official “whatchamacallit”.
One word (ok three words), “Organize Your Tools”, period. The photo above is a perfect example of how NOT to do it. Sure hope that’s not Ken’s tool box….. Seriously look at that mess……
As my Father would say; “A place for everything and everything in its place”, if ya can’t find it or it’s broken than it’s absolutely worthless.
Tools are very expensive, take care of them and they will last you a lifetime.
From one wood guy to another, Happy New Year!
I hate to say this, but here goes.
When I was young as a Carpenter I was always amazed on how many trees I killed building.
Now a-days I kill just as many doing the “office” work, paper by the reams and reams. So much for the paper reduction Act of 1978. HAHAHA
PS; Happy New Years, time for a Gin I think.
Kill em if ya got em,,,,
I have a bad habbit of visualizing slabs and tables or chairs when i look at a tree,,, great for creativity, not so much for the trees
Earth first! We’ll log the other planets later. Trees, the renewable resource. I do have to say though that I hate the home remodel shows that my wife is addicted to. OMG oak cabinets! They’ve got to go! they’re are so dated! Oak has been a superb wood for furniture for thousands of years. If I had to come back as a tree I’d hope it was an oak.
Sorry dude, but I have to disagree with ya.
When I look at a tree anymore I see firewood by the cord… hehehe
My favorite tools for clearing land is my 77 Ford f 250 with its 12000 lbs. Wench to pull stuff and my polaski for grubbing out the roots that break off.
That is one big wench!?
Thats me, im partial to renting a 305.5 cat mini x, you would be amazed at what that little machine can do, have taken down huge trees with it and cleared all sorts of stuff.
Good list! Has someone been in my barn??
I’m always buying up this stuff, the good stuff I keep handy and use.
The rest gets stored in the barn. Good barter material.
Don’t forget replacement handles for mauls,hammers,hatchets ,etc. Lots of extra screws, nails, nuts and bolts will come in handy too . I have something I call all-thread. They come in 1/4″ , 3/8″ 1/2″ diameters , and are a completely threaded steel rod about 36″ long that can be cut to a desired length. They may be found at your local hardware store and you will need nuts and washers for them .
Your reminder of replacement handles jogged my mind to include a quality draw knife and wood rasps to manual tools. With these one can make their own replacement handles + those for others (barter).
The owner of this place im working on just cut down a nice big tropical ash, the idiot tree guys butchered it but i think i can get a few hundred odd tool handles
Besides having a large tool collection of all kinds of hand tools, I also have many tools that were my grandfathers that date from the 30s and 40s including hammers, players, hand planes and saws. He was a blacksmith so in addition I have a nice anvil, tongs as well as some old dies for making hooks and pry bars.
My father was a telephone repair man and installer so I have lots of telephone equipment tools from the 60s and 70s.
These old tools work great and I use them all the time. All made in the USA
Does anyone have any tips to keep wooden handles lasting longer?
In the fall I inspect my garden tools that have wooden handles .Those that look little rough I sand , put on 2 coats of boiled linseed oil and a little rub with steel wool and hang them back on the rack for next season . That does extend their life somewhat. Driving over them does seem to shorten their life bit .
Good heavens,I must be getting old.I have almost every hand tool mentioned here.Got a good share of them when my dad passed.Bought the rest myself.I derive great pleasure making things with hand tools.However,now and then I cheat and have to use a power tool.I have even made some of my own tools.A good power grinder is almost a must have.Hard to grind with a manual one.I use to be a millwright and still work part time as a machinest.But I still like “hand made” stuff.
I am enjoying this article. I can almost see the smiles on everyone’s faces when talking about their old,antique,worn out,irreplaceable,out dated, but to many of us priceless tools/memories. What some folks may not realize is that these tools were the original ” cordless” tools! No lithium ion, no battery chargers, no extension cords and generators….just an idea in someones head, and a tool in their hand. That’s what built America.
The most well preserved tools I have, weren’t lubed up with WD-40 or some synthetic oil, but with the blood,sweat, and tears of the people that used them.
@ Livin’ in the Woods
Your right, tools of the trade, or so I call em, have been around my family for 4-5 generations for some. Most are “wall hangers” now but are still in fantastic shape.
FYI, that “Lube” you talked of, mostly Elbow Grease in my family, we were never afraid of hard work by any means. I still can go to sleep right next to it with no problems… HAHAHA
When I use most of these tools or repair them I use a vice. It is probibly my most used tool. I can press things together, bend things, hold things, heat things, hammer things, I do all things at my vice. While I on the subject vice grips are also handy.
Good strong vise with a 5″ jaw and anvil is a very valuable tool, so many uses as mentioned .
Tools…..jeeze louise, I got tools. BUT, having tools is one thing. Usable tools is the other. Doesn’t matter what tools you have, if they aren’t “up-to-snuff”, they ain’t worth nothin’. You have to have the stuff to keep them working. As in files. Dull hoes ain’t worth having. Dull knives ain’t worth having. Chipped screwdrivers ain’t worth having. Get yourself a DECENT set of files. If you have the $$$, get two, or three. Stones to sharpen knives…..get as many as you can afford. Having good tools is a must. Having useless tools…..well, that says a lot.
As I do…..have TWO sets of tools. One is for you. One is for “loaners”. Do not expect “loaners” to ever come back.
Also keep a good supply of oil. And grease. And make sure all of the tools are coated with something that will keep the rust away. WD-40 is for fools. It evaporates. Use Lithium. Or axle grease. The nastier, the better. What do you really want to bet your life on?
“stones to sharpen knives”
This is the closest anyone has come to mentioning — knives. Pocket knives, sheath knives, fillet knives, butcher knives, kitchen knives…
Not all wrenches are created equal,,,,
“have TWO sets of tools. One is for you. One is for “loaners”. Do not expect “loaners” to ever come back”
I never loan tools without collateral of equal value or more. Such as a Driver’s License, Passport, Wife, Keys to the Liquor Cabinet, So-On…… Than make dang sure you inspect the tools when returned…. If it comes back broken or un-kept, tell em they get into the list of “never again”
I once bought a pair of cheep wire strippers. They were no good so I bought a set of good wire strippers. When someone asked to borrow wire strippers i gave him the poor set and said keep them. He came back a few minutes later with blood running down his forehead and gave them back. Funny he never asked to borrow tools again.
Good rule of thumb or forehead in this case – always try to cut, strip, hit, … away from yourself. Or, as some around here need all day long, a good hockey helmet.
When using a tool over your head and looking up, keep you mouth closed (in this case a brake line cutter). I know this because the brake line got cut through just fine and the cutter tool slipped out of my hand and hit one of my top front tooth shattering about 1/2 of it. I spit out 1/2 the tooth pieces, did not expose the nerve but was lovely looking until I could get some dental body and fender work. From then on I keep my mouth closed (while working, everyday life is a different story, which my wife can vouch for) and keep my head off to the side when working overhead.
Some day I may share how I got a hay hook partially embedded between my shin and kneecap.
There may be an x-ray of that on the net under the heading – don’t do this at home or believe it or not :) I can see how that could happen and do not use hooks for the few bails I feed/store.
How about some lock picks and a lock or two or three. Not going to keep out the marauders of course, but the in the group scenario might help.
If you lose your way or your temper with tools, you usually break something or hurt yourself. That teacher, Buddha, suggested that one refrain from using intoxicants – this is especially smart when using tools. This site is a valuable tool and unfortunately, one of our friends from the four corners area has lost his center – let us all offer our support to Ken to keep up the high standard of civility on this site and to our respected NRP.
A 7/16 auger plus brace is best for maple saping – acquired your sap spiles ahead of time.
You are oh so right about different people and how they use tools and how they go through life:
I was raised by an engineer who had an extensive collection of fine power tools within his garage much like Clint Eastwood’s character in Gran Torino. You treat the cars and tools with respect and one day you may be trusted to use some of these tools as long as they are returned in good shape.
I have relatives that did not think along those lines. They are what I refer to as users and losers. They use tools and leave them at the job site, loan them to others and do not respect the tools and the people that loaned them out or made the job easier. The one commonality I observed was an essential lack of respect for people around them and the fine tools they borrow from other people.
I have also noticed a higher rate of accidents around users and losers and it stems from a lack of respect for the tools and their limitations. In this catagory, I can think of no finer example than a chainsaw. But the same can apply to a fine rifle or shotgun. You can tell a lot about a person when you inspect their tools they use.
Our 1 must have non electric tool is a pair of fencing pliers. They can cut wire, used as a hammer, has a small pry bar type thing on it, wrap wire, pull tough nails with little effort. I use them all the time on the farm. On all projects!
On the battery powered tools. Try and stick with the older 9 volt and 12 volt systems. These are being replaced by the 18 volt and 24 volt tools. Bigger is better thing? Anyway, 9 and 12 volt tools can be adapted to run on a 12 volt automotive battery. 9 volt will just run faster. 18 or 24 volt will run to slow to be useful. Lots of the older ones on eBay. Check garage sales also.
Best Place to find used heavy duty tools Made in the USA are at estate sales and auctions. I buy used hand tools in bulk lots. 20 screw drivers at a time, hammers, hand saws, files, drill bits, pliers, sockets and other assorted specialties for pennies on the dollar. In just a few auctions you can amass quite a stockpile. You can find 1950’s old timer machine shop tool & die and carpenter equipment too.
During SHTF the first place I will loot will be the Antique Mall Down the Road for old timer tools and equipment. ;)
I’ll leave the food, liquor store and gun shops for the proletariat.
A good tape measure or three. Measure twice and cut once. As well as some good work gloves since most of the tools mentioned above can be unforgiving.