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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

WNTBTTA 3-article 1 of 2 today


2) another oft recommended tool that you simply must have for the apocalypse is a chainsaw.  I completely disagree.  Now, I’ll freely admit that after the one time in  my life I tried to use a chainsaw, and it scared me straight, I’ve been adamant against large machines that can double as amputation tools.  It wasn’t because I was afraid of a chainsaw after watching “Texas Chainsaw Murder” ( even if “Jaws” taught me the wisdom of staying out of any salt water ocean, I never cared for horror films and have never watched many ).  I don’t like flesh ripping power tools in any guise.  Proving once again that public schools are a minimum of one generation removed from reality, it not an entire century or even imperial cycle, my High School was insisting on a whole lot of shop classes, as if Unions and factories were still there awaiting my graduation with jobs offers.  Silly boys, assembly jobs are for Orientals.  I put up with all the other trades I wasn’t ever going to master such as auto mechanics and welding, but I adamantly refused to take woodworking ( a small localized burn is far preferable to amputation ).  Did you see “Maximum Overdrive”?  One of Stephen Kings best movies, in my opinion ( I think it had slight survivalist overtones to it, although I doubt many would agree with me ).  Yes, Virginia, the machines do want to kill you.  And chainsaws are the recon drones of the Machine Wars.


So, from pretty much Day One, I’ve hated power tools of all kinds.  Even lawn mowers.  There was an element of foot amputation fears but mostly it was the hatred of the endless cord yanking on muggy hot summer afternoons.  So I never missed power tools, always preferring to do things the Old School way.  I dug my B-POD pit with hand tools and built the thing with hand tools.  I weed my half an acre manually ( I own an acre but only about half is cleared of sagebrush ).  The last time I “owned” a lawn ( I rented a trailer space, owned the trailer ) I had a manual mower, and that was in the Florida jungle where you mowed twice a week at a minimum.  So, yes, of course I have a prejudice against power tools.  And then?  What is your point?  They are still dangerous as hell.  I don’t care how many metal chaps and Kevlar whatever you wear, or how careful you pinky promise to be, on less food and living in no air conditioner trying to sleep overnight and waking hungry and “dishcloth wrung out” from the humidity, you are going to tire very quickly out there cutting wood.  Attention will invariably lapse and deadly mistakes will of course be made.  You want to play macho tool man taylor and wave your giant phallic symbol around, someone is going to be hurt and most likely it will be you.  Good Christ on the cross, man, your wife already has your testicles.  No one is going to be impressed with your vulgar display.


And, yes, I can already hear your excuses.  Oh, I’ll get cords and cords of wood sawed up in likity split time, I’ll fell car barricades in the blink of an eye, erect bullet proof timber backed dirt walls around the Yuppie Scum Fortress.  Why, yes, yes you will.  Congratulations on drawing folks to your treasure trove from the high hearing killing decibels roar of your legions of chainsaw users.  Congratulations on once again cheating the Gods as they took away the Oil Age and all its labor saving tools.  Once your magic machines break, there will be no replacements.  The same is true with firearms, batteries and other items.  True.  You might think it is an arbitrary list, with me “allowing” certain technologies and “disallowing” others.  But what I’m doing is trying to minimize your exposure to disappearing technologies.  I’m not trying to “hurt” you by taking away your favorite toys.  I’m applying the 80/20 rule to prepping.  If a power tool or an expensive toy is less than a 20% increase in performance with a more than 80% increase in price, I judge it unworthy.  To put it another way, if a lower technology performs at 80% at only a 20% cost, it is following the 80/20 rule.  For what a chainsaw costs, you can outfit several team members with manual saws and you won’t take too much of a hit on performance.  Even if you do, the manual tool will compel you to do more with less wood, whereas the ease of a chainsaw will encourage you to use more.  With manuals, you spend less for more tools, can replicate them easier, make no noise to attract marauders, and severely reduce the danger in using them.  80% of the performance at 20% of the price.  More next time.


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  1. As a homesteader, the chainsaw is your #2 labor saving device (#1 is a beat up truck). Important enough that if I could only have 2 modern inventions, these two would be it. Even above running water and solar powered light's.

    However as a SHTF tool, it has it's drawbacks. Most notably -- the noise. Out here in the woods, I can hear a chainsaw running a mile away. Second drawback is similar to the generator issues we discussed -- parts and repairs.

    The problem with depending on manual alternatives like a cross cut saw, bow saw or even pruners (for small stuff up to 2 inches) is time. Manually cutting all your firewood would be so time consuming that you wouldn't have enough manpower to grow food, post guards, etc.

    Personally, I always keep at least one year of firewood ahead. When the balloon goes up, I plan to spend the first couple of days falling trees and dragging them to my cabin (the noise won't be so notable -- yet.) At least if the trees are already down and stacked, I could take my manual saws and cut them at my leisure later.

    If you do get a chainsaw, I strongly recommend the Stihl or Huskqvarna brand. And whatever you do, don't buy a used saw from logging country. They are rode hard and put away wet.

    Idaho Homesteader

    1. I'd wager that in high forested regions if you could build a dugout with good insulation, you could survive just fine on picking up dead wood.

    2. I agree on it being the best labor saver for the buck. Historically a man could only clear 1 1/2 acres with hand tools a year. animals quadruples it. A gas chainsaw is loud as I.H. states but an electric is quiet. A compromise of falling and sectioning logs with a hand saw and stove lengths cut with an electric. I have 2 electric both pawn shop finds both under 25 $. Dead fall makes poor fire wood as rot just smokes with little heat.

    3. Wet dead fall-yep, my bad. Too long living in the dry west, I keep forgetting some folks get real rain.

    4. “I'd wager that in high forested regions if you could build a dugout with good insulation, you could survive just fine on picking up dead wood.”

      I completely agree James. That's why every time this topic comes up I always post a comment suggesting having at least one earth sheltered abode to retreat to during temperature extremes. I'd hate to have to rely on a chainsaw in a long term post apocalyptic scenario. Regardless of a complete collapse, I'd still hate to be putting away cords of firewood for the winter when I'm in my 60's and older, as well as having to pay the coming huge fees for grid power, which I couldn't afford even if I wanted to.

      Expect the upcoming carbon “taxes” to shoot the cost of fossil energy through the roof in the upcoming years.

    5. Thank you, well put. I'm thinking, on this issue, I'm completely paranoid and surrounded by legions of happily optimistic readers. We can't relate to each other.

    6. “I'm thinking, on this issue, I'm completely paranoid and surrounded by legions of happily optimistic readers. We can't relate to each other.”

      Yes, with all due respect to the other minions, fine folks that they are, some seem to be stuck in a pre-apocalypse mindset. Unless I've been looking at your blog wrong all along, I've always taken your articles as a worst case scenario prepping blog for the long haul following a complete and total collapse. Or at the very least, prepare for the worst, but hope for the best? Also, some of us are poor, and can't afford the best, so we have to settle for a low cost compromise that comes close, and this makes your blog the go to for those of us that fall into this category.

      But I can tell from the comments section that some of these commentators actually take this stuff personally as if you're purposely trying to rain on their parades? It's being just a tad bit ungrateful towards a guy that puts a lot of work into providing a good daily article, and asks for almost nothing in return.

    7. I don't take this personally. In fact, it is my fault, as I'm not communicating clearly. I'm the one putting out the idea and if I can't do that properly...I don't think my regular readers are ingrats. Those get pissy and then leave forever. I think we just clash on certain ideas and it is my job to keep arguing in different ways until they have the Eureka! moment. If not, they at least stop arguing as they can no longer logically continue :)

  2. Underground (at least "sunken") HobbitHut, insulated with the money you saved by not buying a genset/chainsaw/MG34 semi-auto, with at-least a RocketStove, or a high-mass Masonry Stove that needs one little fire (8 pounds of wood) per day to keep you comfortable for the next 12 hours, about 30 minutes after you burn it. The high-effieciency burners make almost no smoke, save you labor-fuel so you don't need engines (that need industrial money-fuel), and have time to grow food.
    If you must use a chainsaw, electric is way quieter, if powered by an inverter (leading to depending on more fragile high-tech infrastructure), but not like an arm-powered sharpened & set bow saw is quiet.

  3. James this post is just about all BS, you don't know what you are talking about as far as harvesting wood. I’m sure you think you are right, but people reading this that do harvest wood for heat and cooking know that you don’t know sh*t about it. The difference between them and I, is I will say (In print) what they probably won’t. But I never was one to go with the flow.

    Manual tools are very labor intensive and hard on the body, very hard and time consuming. And as far as having a team of people to harvest wood to give you the same wood output as a chainsaw. That is just about the biggest flaw in logic as can be. If you are going to have extra people, give them extra chainsaws and you get a LOT more output. And besides I don’t have access to extra people most times to help cut wood, Just me doing it and power tools help a LOT and an inelegant debate can’t be made otherwise.

    The chain saw (I have 3 electric ones that I can run from the 4K inverter in my truck or from any other 110-volt source.

    Yes a gas chainsaw is better for out in the wild as it needs no cord. But I don’t live in the wild, I live in a city and use it in my yard and other homes that have electricity and where I can drive my truck.

    Also an electric chain saw is quiet. I have a few old (1980”s era) Remington electric chainsaws that other then replacement chains and bars are going strong. They were less then $100.00 back then, well worth the cost.

    We all get it, you don’t like chainsaws, but that (hate or fear?) dislike is effecting your judgment on this. And I would bet a bit of inexperience thrown in adds to it.

    And as far as chainsaws being expensive, some are, some are not. I tend to like better quality things so yes I spend a bit more on things, but they last longer and do a better job. And a chainsaw doesn’t cost money, it saves you money as it makes the best use of your time.

    Ad just because you are afraid of them doesn’t mean all of us have to be afraid of them.

    As Clint Eastwood said in one of his movies “A good man knows his limitations.” You should not play with saws if you are afraid of them.

    I also have a log splitter as it is a LOT less harsh on the body then swinging an axe for hours. It is just about as important as a chainsaw.

    For someone (I mean you) that thinks easy, low-cost power and fuel is going away, one would think you would embrace harvesting wood for heat, hot water and cooking. I just don’t understand your view on this? You rant about things going back to a simpler, pre-petrol-world and yet you seem to not act on that by switching to wood heat and learning how to harvest wood efficiently.

    Most preppers see a problem and work to solve the problem, you just rant about it while seemingly not moving to action.

    Chuck Findlay

    1. Sigh.
      " For what a chainsaw costs, you can outfit several team members with manual saws and you won’t take too much of a hit on performance. Even if you do, the manual tool will compel you to do more with less wood, whereas the ease of a chainsaw will encourage you to use more."
      Even if they do NOT perform as well as the chainsaw, the chainsaw making it easy to cut would encourage wastefulness. I'm not saying don't use wood, I'm saying use it in designs that use less! How is that ranting without a solution?

    2. Your luxurious, flowing hair is looking exceptionally beautiful today, Jim. The light hitting your mane creates an almost holy halo around your head.

      Let's address the chainsaw issue from different areas:


      I'm not sure if you realize, Jim, how labor intensive it is to get firewood even with a chainsaw. Manually..... let's just say that every spare waking moment would be spent building your arm muscles cutting wood. And I mean EVERY spare moment.

      First you have to find the tree you want to cut up for firewood. Is it soft or hardwood? Would it give you enough BTU's to be worth your time? Can you fall and get it out of there safely? Even with a blow down, you need to assess if it's rotten and worth your time to process it.

      You need a tree with some size. It's pretty unrealistic to think that you can burn twigs and stay warm. Having to stock the fire every two minutes would take too much time. That would be a full time job for someone. The bigger around the wood, the longer it burns.

      Once you find the tree, you need to get it down. With a chainsaw, it takes a couple of cuts. One a "v" on the side you want it to fall and the a straight one from the other side. It takes just a minute. To do it manually, you would need an ax and a saw. And the ax noise is distinct and loud. Plus, it would take 10x the time or more.

      Once the tree is down, you need to limb it and cut it into lengths. A few minutes work with a chain saw. Manually, you would use the ax for limbing -- distinct, loud sound -- and a cross cut saw for cutting into lengths. This is VERY time consuming. Most stoves around here take lengths of wood around 24 inches.

      Now you need to get the wood home. Stack it so it can cure. And then finally bring it inside to use.

      Even with a chainsaw, heating with wood takes a lot of time and effort. If you did it manually, it's about all you'd be doing.

      I had a friend who heated with a masonry stove. She burned less wood, but it was quite labor intensive because her wood had to be small so lots of splitting and moving of many small pieces.


      Idaho Homesteader

    3. Part 2


      You're not going to be cutting any decent amount of wood with a cheap bow saw from Home Depot. The blades aren't up for it.

      A decent manual saw with a quality blade is around $200 which is the cost of a cheap gas chainsaw. Or around 1/2 the price of a really good gas chainsaw. So at the most you would be able to outfit 2 men. Yet one person with a chainsaw will be able to do 20 to 30 times the work of someone cutting wood manually. http://crosscutsaw.com/product-category/all-products/crosscut-saws/

      Cheap manual tools don't hold up. They're all made in China. Firewood is pretty hard on tools. I would almost be willing to bet money that by the end of the season it would cost me the same to cut 4-6 cords with a chainsaw as it would with a crappy bowsaw and the dozens and dozens of blades would need. Let alone the time I would need.


      Cutting wood with a chainsaw IS hard work. Believe me, I've been doing it for twenty years. We have already figured out how to make do with less. Even with a gas chainsaw -- your back will hurt, your arms will be sore, your feet will ache, you'll get tired. I specifically only heat with wood with no backup in order to keep my motivations high. Otherwise, I would probably find some excuse not to get firewood if I had an electric or gas heater back-up.

      Yes, if you live underground you could probably get by on less firewood. However, everything has trade offs. I live where there is a lot of clay soil and no drainage. My root cellar is always damp. Some friends of ours have flooding issues every few years when there is a bad Spring. Some places just aren't good for underground living. Mold and rot would also be an issue.

      Good insulation and a reasonably sized home really cuts down on how much wood you need.

      Even starting the fire and keeping the stove stocked takes works so we have figured out how to keep that work at a minimum by conserving.

      To sum up, a chainsaw is a great labor saving device. As a survival tool for the apocalypse it does have some drawbacks such as noise and parts. However, manual tools also have those same issues to some extent.

      Best scenario -- have a stockpile of heating fuel ready to go whether that's wood, coal, propane, whatever. Have backup parts and fuel for your chainsaw, as well as axes and handsaws. Size your living space and top off insulation so you don't need as much fuel to keep warm.

      Idaho Homesteader

    4. Thought of one more thing.....

      If you go with manual tools it will take a lot more work -- ergo calories. So you would have to add in the cost of more food.

      More calories = more food (which means more $$), and much more time..... The chainsaw is looking better and better.

      Idaho Homesteader

    5. It depends a lot on your wood needs. If you are in a cold, northern climate, the wood needs can be very high and it would be hard to meet the needs with hand saws. In a warmer climate with the right housing, you need much less wood to get through the winter. With the right cooking set-up you don't need much for cooking either (I can cook a lot of meals just with pine cones and twigs as fuel with a rocket stove). I can use a bow saw and harvest 3-5" thick wood that does not need to be split further. Hand saw works just fine to meet my wood needs, but I'm not going through several cords of wood each year with a long, harsh winter (need about 3/4 of a cord each year). I use a chainsaw for clearing areas with big trees, otherwise maintaining a gas chainsaw is more of a pain than a reliable hand saw. But... it sounds like that without a chain saw you'll freeze to death. Does not seem like a resilient way of life to me.

    6. I've already lived through winters underground with no heat other than coffee perking and cooking meals. And that was an underground without any solar gain. I have to, as I only have sagebrush for the future. As for damp underground, I don't discount the issue. We touched on that somewhat when talking about permafrost. I'm thinking, if it must be aboveground, going with the second wall creating the dead air space, plus extra insulation. Granted, that still means thermals and sweaters and wool booties-no lounging about in high heat as with a fireplace. Historically winter heat has always been problematic for the poor in high population areas. You MUST learn to minimize, as that is our future. I'm not suggesting anything more than what northern Chinese peasants endured.

    7. If you are above the 48th parallel East of Libbey MT, and wish to heat with wood, ALL of the good suggestions need to incorporated as well as solar hot air heating http://www.greenterrafirma.com/solar-air-heating.html to avoid needing to use emergency-backup Non-Replaceable Propane or your hard-won wood fuels. Electric fans make everything better all year, so you need to have a solar panel to run it, and a kit to fix major bits.


  4. (You want to play macho Tool Man Taylor and wave your giant phallic symbol around, someone is going to be hurt and most likely it will be you. Good Christ on the cross, man, your wife already has your testicles. No one is going to be impressed with your vulgar display.)

    Shaming and insulting people for owning and using a chainsaw or other power tools doesn't win you any respect, in fact it does just the opposite.

    But it does lower peoples opinion of you for insulting them.

    Chuck Findlay

    1. Lighten up, Francis! I was rather impressed with my comic wit.

    2. If people are using chainsaws without a full kit of safety gear (Kevlar chaps, gloves, eyes/ears) you may with that your significant other was keeping the important parts safe (like the arteries in your leg). pdxr13

    3. Those arteries in my leg are pretty important, but the whole leg does have its uses, like fleeing.

  5. I agree with leaving out chainsaws if cut wood is less than a 12" in diameter. Anything larger and its going to be A LOT of work with a manual saw. Think if vehicle or home is covered with fallen tree when speed is of the essence.

    Otherwise - yes. Thanks for the post.

  6. I think you were pretty much right on with this one, as being not something to bring to the Apocalypse. Where I think you fell a little short was making the distinction that if you're homesteading pre-Apocalyse, a chainsaw can be a useful tool, especially if you're cutting logs for construction purposes, or clearing land or fallen trees. Even to a certain extent, if you're making a stockpile of wood that you can draw on post-Apocalypse. But you're absolutely right, you get much more warmth for you effort by concentrating on efficiency, both in retaining heat and in burning the wood, than by brute force use of power tools. Even more than that, the best ways to grow firewood is by coppicing and pollarding, and quite frankly, the small, light, uniform stems that are produced by those methods ARE almost as quick and easy to cut by hand as by chain saw. Okay maybe not numerically, like 5 seconds for a chains saw versus 50 seconds for a hand saw, but either way you are still going to spend more time handling the wood than cutting it.

    1. I think if I turn this into a book, I'd better re-write the whole chainsaw section, perhaps doubling it.

  7. My late husband used an axe. Frankly, for most wood, it's a more effective way to bust up wood than a saw.

    We lived at a place owned by an old logger. He started out in the early logging camps and he had some amazing old chain saws. I don't think he really enjoyed cutting down big trees using springboards and a saw. If you truly don't want to use a chainsaw, learn how to use an axe.

    1. And, I would imagine the cost and maintanence is better.


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