It is right to prepare for rough times by developing the skills needed to survive the onset, laying in the goods and equipment necessary to sustain yourself in the aftermath and having a plan to endure the time of lack and austerity until things get to back to normal.
There is only one fundamental flaw in that broad logic: it assumes you’ll have plenty of stuff that actually works.
The facts are that, in any event worth classing as a SHTF event, things are going to get broken. A lot of things, and badly. Your vehicle could be disabled in any number of ways.
Your guns, tools and equipment will wear out from long-term use or break down under an operational schedule they were not designed to handle or unable to meet.
Your very home, your shelter, even your bunker, should you be fortunate enough to own one, can be compromised in any number of ways, reducing or even eliminating it entirely.
Plenty of preppers work and strive toward capability that will ensure they survive the collapse of society, even civilization, but few work toward the capability to repair it.
In this article, I’ll make a case for doing the latter, and offer what guidance I can to steer your training and practice in this matter.
Table of Contents
If it Ain’t Broke… Actually, it is Broken
Repair skills are essential for dodging a loss of capability when a vital tool or other resource fails, or adding capability when you find some broken thing someone else has discarded.
If you already have some formal repair skills in an area like automotives, small engines, electronic diagnostic and assembly, gunsmithing, cobbling, even seamstressing, you’ll be ahead of the game as all of those disciplines have very real and useful value in any austere environment or one that has seen those services essentially evaporate.
If you don’t possess any of those skills, instead of diving wholesale into one the other the best approach is actually the “buffet” style whereby you’ll sample from all of them according to the most important and most likely tasks in a serious, real-life event.
For instance, you don’t have to be a mechanic to fix your vehicle, you just need to be able to handle the most common breakages and mishaps that will stop you from rolling down the road listening to the sirens wail, things like bad alternators, dead batteries, flat tires (including patching and plugging the tire) and replacing frayed and broken belts.
You don’t need to be a gunsmith, but you should be able to maintain your guns and swap worn or damaged components beyond performing routine maintenance.
You don’t have to be able to stitch together custom garments, but by golly you should be able to sew on a frickin’ button, or a patch, or mend a buggy zipper.
You should be able to resole your boots if they can be resoled. There’s a good video that shows the process of sewing on a button “magnified” below:
If it is starting to sound like a “generalist” approach… Bing, bing, bing! Winner! Generalists usually carry the day when you are someone is faced with highly emergent circumstances.
Below is a list of just a few repairs you should be able to tackle and how they apply to prepping:
- Vehicle – Change tire/repair punctured tire, change/charge battery, change alternator, replace bulbs, swap belts, top off/change oil, coolant, other fluids, siphon/drain fuel.
- Firearms – Replace firing pin, replace mainspring, trigger return spring, etc., replace pins, drift sights, detail stripping for cleaning and prevention of corrosion.
- Electronics – Clean/replace battery terminals, solder connections, splice wires, diagnose electrical shorts and other problems, replace switches and controllers, test power supply.
- Clothing – Patch/mend rips, tears, gouges, etc., Sew on buttons, add reinforcement, repair replace zippers or replace zippers with buttons or Velcro.
- Home – Repair and replace roofing shingles, paper, panels, frame in exterior walls, replace/add siding or cladding, re-wire branch and switch wiring, panel/seal/replace windows/ add insulation, shore up damaged or replace broken beams and joists.
Again, the above skills can let you return to reliable service what other people would throw away or sell for a pittance! They are not just good for dodging a curveball that may otherwise derail your plans.
‘Repair’ is itself a skillset that is valuable in group settings and in bartering, and repairing something that you can obtain for free or cheaply and then flip for something valuable in return is a great way to increase your own worth.
In this video, you can see how simple it is to replace something as essential as a firing pin on a “complicated” gun like a Beretta M9.
Mr. Handy and Ms. Fixit
Improving your repair skills in a practical way is a piece of cake. Even everyday life will furnish you ample opportunity to fix things that break!
In your own home and workplace, things of your neighbors, your friends, your coworkers, everyone has things that break down and need replacement or repair. This is where you come in, ready or not!
From a leaky sink to a busted zipper, from a broken connection to a fussy vehicle, many common malfunctions are surprisingly easy to fix.
I recently undertook the job of repairing my home’s air conditioner, mostly as an act of defiance before I gave in and called the pros, and it was appalling how easy the job was.
A couple of hours of study, 20 minutes on a parts website and I was ready to go. As soon as I had the part in hand I had the whole thing done in 20 minutes and I felt positively heroic.
Take a break-down or malfunction as a training opportunity, like a “live fire” drill. Jump in it before you jump the gun and call someone to rescue you!
Use both the inconvenience of doing without it in the meantime, as well as the potential savings financially, as incentive to roll up your sleeves. This could take the form of a blown button on your clothing (sewing kit, anyone?) to a mystery breakdown on the road.
This is where the internet is obviously priceless, since the collective diagnostic power of mankind has mostly been distilled down into a few keystrokes, but you can also make a great case for compact “how-to” guides and manuals.
If you want to rely on digital info, a “survival library” consisting of gigabytes of how-to guides, professional manuals, and troubleshooter notes on all kinds of topics can fit on a smart phone or tablet, giving you a fighting chance anywhere so long as you have power.
Once you have a few “live” fixes under your belt in a given sector, you’ll begin to notice patterns. You’ll see how major concepts fit together, what applies where and when and then you’ll start making connections, broadening your capability.
For all their complexity, almost all of our modern technologies and niceties run and are made with some fairly simple principles, principles you can and should learn! With that done, it is a simple thing to assess a problem and intuit the best way to fix it.
One obviously important and rapid repair a prepper might need to undertake is fixing a leaky roof.
Build or Die
Well, maybe die. Aside from the obvious home repair skills above the ability to make use of impromptu building skills is essential for preppers, especially in long-term survival situations or paradigm-shifting events, i.e. the “good old days” aren’t coming back, at least not anytime soon.
Consider the example earlier in the article about building an outdoor toilet, or at least a slit trench for human waste disposal. Way back, for a lot of people, including your great-grandparents in many places, there was no plumbing to begin with.
If you didn’t want to crap or wizz in a bucket, you had to use an outhouse. This wasn’t called “prepping” or “survival” back then; it was just called “life”!
The quality of your outhouse was important for comfort, privacy, and also sanitation. Could you take a stack of lumber and some nails and make one that would be both safe and reliable, but also wouldn’t make someone who wanted to use it scream? Something to consider.
Even for something like a slit trench, literally one evolution beyond a hole to piss in, craftsmanship can make the difference for long term use. Do you know where to construct your trench for safety and longevity?
Do you know what to put in the trench for odor control? How about safety? Can you make a safe and comfortable seat over it for the elderly and children to use? Can you construct an efficient screen or enclosure around it for privacy?
We Will Rebuild
Other solutions to post-collapse or austere environment living abound. For long term living when driven from your home for whatever reason, it would definitely pay to know how to construct a true primitive home, either from rough hewn timber or scavenged lumber.
When I say home, I mean something you’d recognize from a period-correct film or documentary about the pioneering days when the U.S. was young, not necessarily a modern, stick-built home.
Something as simple as a one-room shack, properly insulated and sealed against wind and moisture however you can manage is a far sight better than sleeping in a tent for the rest of your days on a ruined earth.
Consider the effects also in context of communal living. Assuming things don’t necessarily heal after a major SHTF event, they may still stabilize. Survivor groups will become the next villages.
Villages need, necessarily, structures, houses. You have to start somewhere. And before some of you mention it, no, you may not be able to reoccupy structures that are still standing in towns and cities, or even want to.
These new communities will have other needs aside from lodging. They will need storage buildings for goods, perhaps communal spaces for meeting and relaxation.
They will need walls or fences, perhaps towers for security. Here’s a video that will give you the basics of building a block wall, for instance.
Can you build them? Can you build something useful, safe durable? If not, it isn’t too late to start.
Get Your Bob Vila On
You might not know a thing about building structures. Well, you might not know a thing except you aren’t good at it, if the disaster that was the deck you tried to build was any indication. That’s okay: there is time to get better right now.
It’s a funny thing. I know an awful lot of preppers who are bonafide renaissance men and women who will set off into the woods for extended forays into deep country with nothing but a backpack full of stuff, will take intensive, multi-day firearms training classes without batting an eye, and will physically work their butts off in the gym to stay in peak condition, but somehow the idea of actually building something scares the bejeezus out of them.
“Build a house?! Oh, no, Lord I could never do that.” “What do you mean fix my roof? I’d need a professional.” “I can’t build a raised platform, much less a deck. You’d break your neck if I made it!”
All common refrains from those with chronic build-o-phobia. For whatever reason, they have developed the idea in their own mind that this skill, out of all the other skills they have learned, is “special” and not for mere mortals.
I am not mocking these poor folks, even if it is a little funny, but come on! Learning to build and repair is just another in the long line of skills that you can master. The key, as with all things, is to start. Pull the cord on the excuse train and get off at the next station.
Begin. Start with popping on YouTube and looking up beginner videos, grab books and magazines on the subject, and tackle actual construction projects, however small. Sounds an awful lot like a prescription for learning any other prepper skill, no?
Start perhaps building saw horses. Then build a raised planter bed (great time to bone up on your gardening and composting). Then build a deck. Then build a shed. Then build yourself (or someone else) a little cabin on some private land somewhere.
Each of these endeavors will require slightly more from you than the last, from merely cutting and assembling wood accurately and using the correct fasteners to ensuring that a structure is square, plumb and true, as well as installed and finished in a way to prevent the intrusion of moisture.
Each of them will in turn build upon the last, broadening your skills in a logical way. Before you know it, you’ll be a regular pro when it comes to erecting structures of all kinds.
Like so many other skills, the fundamentals you learn on these little forays will apply to other challenges.
What you learn about carpentry, specifically how wood behaves, can inform much of your solution when it comes to making repairs, say for instance on that storm busted roof I mentioned earlier.
Then it will only be a matter of sussing out the best approach to repair it (even on an ad hoc basis) and determining if it is indeed worth repairing under the circumstances.
Your knowledge of framing will be useful for placing all kinds of temporary and semi-permanent structures, from tents to simple shades and even walls or raised lookout platforms and towers.
Learning roofing theory will allow you create better, more water resistant roofs out of all kinds of materials, natural or improvised.
Tools of the Trades
You know it wouldn’t be a prepper article without a shopping list of some kind right? It would behoove you to keep an assortment of tools handy at your home or even your bug-out location assuming you have room to store them so that you can ready to build or repair whatever you need.
Now, this does not mean you need a contractor’s truck full of every kind of tool imaginable or a deluxe mechanic’s chest with $20,000 of the finest wrenches and sockets, but rather you’ll need the most commonly used (and most versatile tools) so that you can enact the repairs you are most likely to face.
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A few of the tools you should consider having on hand are:
- Hammer, framing, straight claw
- Screwdrivers, manual, flat and Phillips
- Framing square
- Speed square
- Miter box
- Handsaw, toolbox (an aggressive saw that cuts on the pull and push strokes)
- Axe, felling
- Files, double cut mill bastard files
- Metal “aircraft” snips
- Post hole diggers
- Vise and bench
- Vise grips
- Adjustable pliers
- Sockets and ratchets, variety
- Duct Tape
- Pulley system, block and tackle
- Pliers, needle nose
- Electricians tool (stripper-cutter-crimper)
- Electrical wire, various gauge
- Electrical tape
- Wire nuts
- Tarps, multiple
- Plastic sheeting, heavy mil, multiple rolls
- Nails, Assortment
- Screws, wood, Assortment
- Screws, machine, Assortment
- Nuts and washers, assortment mated to machine screws
- Tool bag
- (see more home and homesteading tools here)
Many of the tools on this list are available in multiples or as complete sets which will contain a variety to help you cover more specialized work.
Note that the difference between many tools for rough, fast work (which is mostly what you’ll be doing) is not so great that a particular rasp won’t work where another would. It is a matter of degrees.
In some cases, though, having “enough” tool is important, as is not having “too much.” Using a giant 16 oz framing hammer for the delicate work of tacking down plastic to thin wood will likely result in a botched job and frustration.
Likewise trying to secure 4”, chunky nails with the piddly little tack hammer you get in most “First Time Homeowner” tool kits is going to be grueling and time consuming. Remember to always pick the best tool for the job- you may not have the right one…
The Essential Craftsman’s recommendations for five must-have tools:
Construction on the Go
Obviously, you will not be able to tote all of that stuff with you if you have to bug out, or are caught out when things kick off.
Luckily, you can still work some pretty awesome things using a little bit of Mother Nature supplied material alongside the best in man-made technology.
In your BOB, Get-Home Bag, or just as part of your vehicle kit, ensure you have a few multi-purpose tools, listed below:
- Boy’s Axe or Hatchet
- Folding Saw
- Bush knife
- Folding shovel/E-tool
- Nails, various sizes
- Duct tape, roll
- Cordage, paracord or accessory cord
- Tarp, with heavy duty grommets
Using these few tools, it is a simple affair to nail, tape, hang or otherwise attach together whatever you come across to form simple shelter’s and structures.
The axe or hatchet can easily fell smaller trees and pound nails with its flat poll, while the saw can limb and notch any wood you find.
The bush knife will allow more intricate cuts, creating pilot holes for nailing, and controlled splitting. The duct tape has a 1,001 uses while the cordage can be used to lash, hang or bind.
Lastly, you can use the tarp as a ground covering, shade, or as part of a roof or wall to keep the rain and wind, quite literally, off of your back. This simple and comparatively minimalist kit affords you an awful lot of capability for not much weight.
Now, you can of course create intricate and highly effective primitive shelters using just a knife, or even a sharpened rock, and while those skills are priceless, they are also slow to employ.
The difference between life and death, or a good night’s sleep to speed you on your journey, and a fitful, exhausted one, can be made in the amount of time you spend dinking with making a suitable shelter in a pinch.
Even in suburban and urban settings, those tools can help you in all kinds of situations, not the least of which is self-defense in case of the axe or hatchet.
More importantly these tools can be used to enter or exit any structure made predominately of wood, or help seal up a breach to afford yourself a more comfortable interior.
As a go-to part of your BOB’s essential kit, make this one a sure thing. If you are very concerned about weight, or your pack is already quite heavy, you can omit the axe if you carry a strong and beefy knife. Definitely don’t give up the saw, though!
Repairing equipment or damage to a structure is an essential skill for preppers, especially in long term survival situations where replacements and professional help with be in highly limited supply.
Just as important is the ability to construct reliable and safe structures, from small privacy screens to entire buildings like cabins.
Sadly, this skillset is neglected by those who have not cultivated it by way of a paid trade. You can buff up your build and repair skills just like you would any other prepping skill. Start tomorrow and with diligence you can become surprisingly competent in a short period of time.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.