Vintage tools for survival: after the apocalypse.

Vern Burke, SwiftWater Edge Tool Works

Skowhegan, Maine

From time to time, I like to just surf around on YouTube at random, following whatever piques my curiosity (amazing the things you can learn). Tonight’s wanderings took me into survivalist videos, what to do when civilization crumbles around you, that sort of thing. Not that I’m planning on holing up with AK-47s or anything, but it got me to thinking. If worst came to worst, what vintage tools would I grab out of my inventory of restored tools on my way out the door?.

The survivalists argue over which guns are the best, I think a good set of tools are a LOT more important to surviving in some sort of comfort. That said, here are my picks.

1. Axes

First up would be the double bit WWII vintage Plumb Victory axe. With a 4 1/2 lb head and 36″ handle, this is a serious felling axe and the ability to fell trees efficiently is an important part of creating any permanent shelter. Keep in mind, only carry an axe you can handle safely. If you weigh 98 lbs wringing wet, opt for something a bit lighter.

Second is the single bit Craftsman “boy’s axe” poll axe. This one is a general purpose axe with a 2 1/2lb head and a 28″ handle. This axe is light enough to pack and carry easily, but it’s also one of the best splitting axes I’ve ever seen, even compared to poll axes with much heavier heads.

I wouldn’t carry a crosscut saw unless I had a one man 36″ long. A 42″, 48″, or two man saw is going to be far too long to carry easily.

2. Saws

Definitely a good crosscut and a good rip saw. Most of the saws in my stock (Disston, Atkins, Simonds) are adequate for this purpose. I’d pick a pair of 20″ panel saws for this, since they’d be a lot easier to carry.

3. Misc tools

A good, light, nail hammer and a decent mallet (use the mallet for driving wooden pegs to substitute for nails). One or two sizes of wood auger bits and the lightest bit brace you can find. A dowel cutter (to make pegs). A 1″ wide general purpose, millwright’s, or framing chisel (to cut mortise and tenons). A plumb bob and a light torpedo or spirit level.

4. Sharpening

A 6-8″ mill file (axes, chisel). A handful of properly sized files for the carpenter’s saws and a saw set. A hard Arkansas oil stone in a fine grit.

No electricity, no gas, no oil, no problem. These vintage hand tools can mean the difference between living in misery and living in comfort.


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