Hand Tools vs. Power Tools Which are Best for Preppers?
by John Herzig
I have read so many excellent and relevant articles on this site about prepping and survival that I am a little sheepish about submitting my own for your consideration. I just would like to contribute some knowledge that might enhance someone’s life or help them develop a skill that they can barter or make life easier in the event of a collapse. Here goes.
Having spent time (8 years) teaching woodworking (click here to get over 16,000 woodworking plans), drafting, metalwork, and leather work; I thought that I might have some advice on what tools one might gather in the event of the SHTF. Perhaps the first question might be “electric vs. hand powered” tools.
The obvious answer is both as there is likely to be a few services available and what are will be able to charge “whatever’ the market will bear. Being able to fix and construct projects makes you more valuable as a barterer or to a community of preppers.
In the event of a collapse, electricity will very likely be a luxury that many might not have so one may think that it would be much better to go heavy on the hand-powered tool side. Granted, there are some obstacles to overcome with power tools.
Even if you have a solar/ battery system you will need some sort of conversion to AC current to allow the use of the corded tools. A better solution might be the battery-powered tools that are very common these days. These can be recharged at your home and taken out to the field or outbuilding for use. Buy commercial grade if at all possible. Some of the warehouse tools may be cheaper but the life of the batteries will fade over time and with repeated charges.
I recommend Milwaukee brand (click here to see what is available on Amazon.com) but that is just my preference. I have a corded Milwaukee drill that I’ve used for over 25 years and it has performed flawlessly. I’ve used it for everything from mixing paint to drilling concrete. The cordless variety come in “kits” that contain multiple tools (more later) and batteries so one is always charged up.
Another advantage is weight. If you have ever wrestled with 50 feet of extension cord while on a 12’ ladder with the drill over your head you’ll know what I mean. Be sure to think about accessories for the tools. These can collect over time.
At any rate, regardless whether you have corded or cordless be sure you know how to properly use them. Dealing with a nasty circular saw cut with no medical services could be life-threatening. Any power tool can make short work of fingers or hands. Steel Vs. Flesh – guess who wins? Here is a list of the power tools I would recommend and I’m sure others will complete the list.
- Commercial Grade 18V Lithium-Ion Battery Multi-pack –
These come in several configurations but should at least have:
- Drill- Impact or Standard – Don’t forget drill bits and screw driving bits (check garage sales).
- A “Saws-all” This is a tool that has a reciprocating blade from 4”-8”. It’s excellent for cutting pipe, pruning trees, drywall, demolition, and metal (if it’s not too thick) Blades for this tool are disposable and depending on what you’re cutting will determine their life. Remember a dull blade is a dangerous blade.
- Circular Saw- Standard size is 7 1/4” but some come with smaller blades. These are used primarily for construction, framing, and cutting plywood. Remember, blades, blades, blades.
- Other tools that may come in these kits are
- angle grinders
- Small Contractors Table Saw – You can spend as much as you want on these. Sears makes them and there are some extremely expensive Swiss made saws that will exceed the capabilities of much larger saws. This tool is used for making straight cuts from dimension lumber (2×4’s etc) and plywood. They are almost mandatory for cabinet work (although some of the finest furniture ever made was done with hand tools)
- Angle Grinder – An angle grinder is used to smooth metal of any thickness or cutting large pipe. With a wire brush bit is can prepare rusted metal for painting or smooth metal cut with a cutting torch. I even recently used one to cut off the barrel of a .22 rifle to make a more “convenient” size weapon. Remember, blades, blades, blades.
- Palm Sander or belt-sander – Used to smooth wood and metal. Remember, paper, paper, paper. Sandpaper comes in 8”x12” sheets. Cut to fit on the palm sander. In belts for the belt sander (think small treadmill). They come in varying GRITS. The larger the number, the finer the grit. 40 grit paper looks like it has sharp pebbles glued to the paper. 600 grit is almost smooth to the touch. To get wood smooth you start with the low grit papers and work up successively to the larger numbered grits. Belt sanders can also be clamped down and used to sharpen a variety of hand tools (good use for the angle grinder as well).
As I mentioned before, the really great furniture was made with hand tools. Hand tools are IMHO absolutely mandatory in a SHTF scenario. Personally, I almost always choose power tools over hand tools if power is available, but in skilled hands, man-powered tools are every bit as effective as power tools. Two things need to be remembered about hand tools.
One, they need to be sharp (a dull tool is a dangerous tool), and two they are tiring! The first makes the second even truer. If you have ever tried to cut through a 12 “diameter tree trunk with a bow saw you’ll know what I mean. Even cutting a 1×12 with a hand saw is a workout. A properly sharpened plane saw, or chisel will be much easier and produce a better product with less effort when used properly.
Using hand tools takes skill and as with any survival, technique skill requires practice. The more you use them the easier they become. Start with small projects and work up to bigger ones. Make a wall shelf (basically 3 boards) and concentrate on getting the edges square (90 degrees) and the board smooth. Don’t be discouraged by your first efforts. No one makes Queen Anne furniture on their first try. These are some hand tools that I recommend but is by no means complete:
- Screwdriver set – both flat and Phillips’ head. You can add the star, square and other types of drivers as you go. Try to collect as many different sizes as possible.
- Socket set- get a set that has metric as well as standard size sockets. I use S&K but I also have many Sears Craftsmen sockets as well. The good thing about them is they will replace any broken items no questions asked (as long as there is still a store).
- Hand saws- Get a cross cut (for cutting across the grain) and a rip saw (for cutting with the grain or length of the board). Remember, you are powering the saw. Using the wrong saw for the job just makes it that much harder.
- Bow saw- Think of a very coarse blade where the string on a bow is. These are excellent for cutting firewood or demolition.
- Hand drill with an adjustable chuck- Yep, for making holes.
- Several crescent wrenches- get as many different sizes as possible. They fit every size nut and bolt. The older the better. The steel and fit of the moving parts are so much better than today’s tools.
- Hand planes- Get a small jack plane (4-6” long) for rounding off sharp edges and smoothing edges of lumber. If you can find one, get a jointer plane. These are up to 2 feet long and are for planning the faces of lumber for say a table top.
- Axe & hatchet- for felling trees and making kindling. Again, keep them sharp.
- Clamps and vises- there are many different kinds. Bar, C-clamp, pressure, and tabletop. Collect as many as possible as they have a multitude of uses.
- Squares- Get a framing square that has an etched table for cutting common and hip rafters. Small squares to carry in your tool belt. They allow you to mark a line square (90 degrees) to an edge.
- Levels- Try to get a 4’, 2’, and pocket level. They have small glass vials embedded in them with a trapped air bubble. When you lay the level on the project and the bubble is between the two lines on the vial you know its level.
- Plumb bob- This is a brass or steel cone-shaped tool (think of a top) with a string attached that when you need to mark a spot directly beneath a roof (for a column).
- Crowbar- The come in many sizes and lengths. Two of the handiest are a “Wonder bar” it is made of flat iron (2” wide) and has v-notches cut on both ends to help remove nails. Handy for reclaiming dimensional lumber. The other is made of an octagonal solid steel bar with a hook on the end. They can also be used to remove stubborn nails and their shape makes them great for leveraging and lifting a great weight.
- Hammers – Again many sizes. Usually sold by weight of the head. I recommend a 20 oz. framing hammer, a smaller cabinet hammer, and a tack hammer for small nails.
Obviously, these are just a few of the many different tools that you can collect (pack members will no doubt add some suggestions) and use. Collecting double gives you barter material and replaces broken ones. The great thing about tools is that you can pick up many of the hand tools for next to nothing at flea markets and garage sales.
Learn to sharpen and maintain your tools and they will provide many years of service. I have tools my great-grandfather used. Having skill in producing and maintaining your bugout location or just your current home is a skill that will make you a valuable team member in troubled times.
You can “sell” your skill for other necessities as well. As with any craft, making or maintaining items is a rewarding and satisfying pastime that might just save your bacon (or buy you some) in the future.