11 tips for serious self-sufficiency
What do you need to be seriously self-sufficient?
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.
1 COLLECT THE TIMELESS TOOLS
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.
2 LEARN THE SKILLS OF SELF-SUFFICIENCY
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.
3 CHOOSE THE BEST OF THE OLD
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.
5 GIVE OURSELVES TIME TO MANAGE A CHANGEOVER
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.