11 tips for se­ri­ous self-suf­fi­ciency

What do you need to be se­ri­ously self-suf­fi­cient?

NZ Lifestyle Block - - The Good Life - MUR­RAY GRIM­WOOD Grab those sec­ond- hand old tools.

Some­times in our dive to­wards the fu­ture we can for­get the en­tirely good things from the past, like low-tech, long-lived, re­pairablein-the-field tools and tech­nolo­gies.

If the prob­lem is that we are ap­proach­ing a fis­cal melt-down (or a se­ri­ous de-wealth­ing) as I dis­cussed last month, then sup­ply chains could be some­where be­tween com­pro­mised and non-ex­is­tent.

Another pos­si­bil­ity might be in­creas­ingly er­ratic in­fra­struc­ture. If those kinds of things hap­pen, a whole ech­e­lon of smart­phone-de­pen­dent, in­stant-buy­de­pen­dent folk are go­ing to be some­what be­wil­dered. I'm not even sure the in­ter­net, the most re­silient hy­dra-headed mon­ster we've ever cre­ated, would sur­vive in­tact.

The ba­sics are ob­vi­ous: food re­silience, energy re­silience, net­work­ing with oth­ers (prefer­ably with skills com­ple­men­tary to yours), and or­gan­is­ing in­fra­struc­ture that can be kept go­ing. It doesn't mat­ter if it is sim­ple or easily main­tained or both. What we want is some­thing that will still be do­ing its job in 30, 40 or 50 years' time.

Where should we look for such tech­nolo­gies? It would be rea­son­able to look back to a time when energy sup­ply was at a lower level and when planned ob­so­les­cence had yet to ap­pear. Peo­ple had pride in what they of­fered, items had to keep on func­tion­ing, and own­ers main­tained things with care.

Some re­cent tech­nolo­gies will be rel­e­vant. I'll hang onto my chain­saws un­til they fall apart. My re­cum­bent trikes will suit truck-less highways per­fectly.

But by and large, if we're go­ing down the back of the Bell curve, the stuff which will be rel­e­vant on the way down is of­ten likely to be the stuff which was rel­e­vant at the same stage on the way up.


We can start from an even bet­ter place than that though be­cause some de­signs are sim­ply time­less. The axe hasn’t changed in cen­turies, nor has the scythe or the sickle. Grub­bers, slash­ers, wedges, forks, spades, rakes - bar­ring the shonky and the plas­tic - are all time­less too. Even bi­cy­cles haven’t changed much since the Wright broth­ers built them.

But ev­ery axe even­tu­ally gets a new head, then a new han­dle so even ‘time­less’ stuff still needs to be main­tained and even­tu­ally re­placed. In olden times the re­place­ment was al­ways do-able lo­cally: the vil­lage black­smith made the ax­e­head, and could make it out of old ax­e­heads, at that; any­one handy with a draw knife could shape a han­dle. There was no need to go to a store to buy a re­place­ment from the other side of the planet.

I’m down to the point where my favourite tools are the old hand ones: the post-hole dig­ger, the Stan­ley plane, the draw knife, the brace-and-bit, the split­ting axe. If the chain­saws bite the dust, I’ll al­ways have one and twohanded M-tooth hand saws, although you’d have to be des­per­ate. It’s go­ing to be in­ter­est­ing to watch the changes over the next few years and see which tech­nolo­gies come back into vogue and which tools get snaf­fled out of the sec­ond-hand stores.


If we’re go­ing to live this way, we will need to have black­smithing and tool­re­pair skills our­selves, or close at hand. There are few folk around now who have those skills as orig­i­nally-trained, but a lot of folk could adapt, like engi­neers and me­chan­ics. If I was a young­ster start­ing out now, those are the kind of skills I’d gather.

It’s hard to con­vince folk liv­ing in the ‘now’ that this will be so, that a com­merce or mar­ket­ing de­gree (and at­ten­dant stu­dent debt) may not quite be as rel­e­vant as the phys­i­cal abil­ity to put food on the ta­ble.


I know a fel­low who ad­vo­cates a com­plete re-vis­it­ing of Vic­to­rian tech­nolo­gies but I don’t buy that; some of them were aw­ful. Why would you re­visit print­ing with type made of lead? Why would you catch rain­wa­ter from a roof cov­ered in lead-based paint? Why Above & be­low: bending up a weed-scratcher out of No8 wire, and us­ing it (at right).

Mur­ray and Zeb demon­strate the broom-puller in ac­tion: kick the

v-slot hard against the stem, lever back, and it works... mostly.


Let’s as­sume that fis­cal col­lapse hap­pens and ev­ery­thing goes ‘lo­cal’ sud­denly. Our first pri­or­i­ties would be food, wa­ter, shel­ter and energy. Food may well be the big­gie be­cause with food we have moved away from lo­cal and gone global. The just-in-time su­per­mar­ket sup­ply sys­tem doesn’t ap­pear very stress­re­silient, cer­tainly not in the face of what we nar­rowly avoided in 2008.

We can re-use the pad­docks which were con­verted for the ex­port­ing of dairy pro­duce and turn them back into grain and veg­etable pro­duc­tion, and use some of the rest for lo­cal meat and milk.

We’d have to de­cide whether to use part of the ex­ist­ing trac­tor fleet, but for how long and run­ning on which fuel? Biodiesel? That would need more land, more in­fra­struc­ture and more time.


books, so amass a li­brary cov­er­ing the skills and tech­nolo­gies you think you will need.

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