Like many men, I like tools. I spent 23 years in the military, and when you move a lot, weight becomes an issue. It makes you think about the tools you own, and the things that you want to carry around with you. Just like a traveling businessman, you tend to pack light and only take what you will use. Now that I have retired and settled down, my tool collection has grown, but still remains relatively small. Just so you know I live in the suburbs, not a country retreat.
I mention this background, to make a point about the tools you may own, and contrast them with the tools that you actually use. A person should acquire tools that are useful, not just own every tool known to man. I will borrow a tool if I need it, but if I need to borrow a tool more than once or twice, I should probably own it.
To me, this is a form of self-reliance. A person should own the things they need. I am all about community and working together, but self-reliance is important for a community. If a neighbor needs a ride to the store, I am happy to help them out. If a neighbor needs a ride to the store every day for a month, they are obviously not self-reliant, they are dependent. A community with a majority of self-reliant people is much stronger than a community with a majority of dependent people. We all have a responsibility to keep from being overly dependent.
It is my strong opinion that knowing how to use hand tools is vital. This is especially important in the event of a long term societal disruption. I leave it up to you to decide what this may be, based on your own situation and environment. From the standpoint of the information presented here, I will assume this to be a grid down, no outside assistance event where shelter, food stores, and water are available. With this situation in mind, I am discounting the use of power tools. I like power tools as much as the next guy, but they are not reasonable in a situation like this. Battery powered tools are also not viable in my opinion. Their long term use is limited and the power to recharge them (solar) could be better used elsewhere. I like power tools, but I also have, and know how to use hand tools. If I can work, hand tools will work.
The main focus for The End of the World as We Know It (TEOTWAWKI) tools is to have tools on hand that cannot be readily made. For the purpose of brevity, I will cover some basic essential tools mainly dealing with wood. I do this for the simple reason that wood will be readily available in almost any TEOTWAWKI situation. Wood can be gathered from fences, trees in your yard or park, or even demolished or abandoned buildings. (Don’t loot. Get permission to scrounge, or barter.) Wood is not only available, but also versatile, durable and reasonably easy to work with.
The first tool I recommend is a single man crosscut saw. I am not talking the kind you find in a hardware store for cutting a two by four. I am talking an early to mid-1900s saw from 30” to 48” inches in length with large teeth from ½” to 1” long. They have a traditional “C” handle on one end, with another upright handle that can be moved to the opposite end if desired. They can be used by either 1 or 2 people and can cut logs up to about 2 feet in diameter.
You may ask, “Why do I need that?” The reason is that your chainsaw will only work as long as you have gasoline. Chainsaws are loud and tell everyone you have gasoline (probably not very much for very long). What happens when your gas runs out? Gathering twigs and breaking wood to build a fire will only work for so long. Sooner or later you will need larger amounts of wood to cook, purify water, and keep warm.
Another invaluable tool is an axe. An axe is useful for splitting wood, kindling, and limbing trees. I use it with non-metallic felling wedges to split small diameter wood for creating long tool handles. It can also be used as a weapon in a desperate situation. I prefer a single bit axe with a hickory handle. The wood handle is easier to replace than fiberglass or other material.
The next tool I recommend is a good set of files. Be sure to have round, half round, and bastard files of various sizes. With files you can keep your saw and axe sharp. They are also extremely useful for creating other tools from metal. If you do not have any files, it will be extremely difficult (nearly impossible) to make them yourself.
Every household needs to have a shovel, rake and hoe. These are the basic essential tools for gardening. There is not much to explain here. A shovel is useful for sanitation purposes. There will be no garbage man and your toilet will eventually stop working even if you are able to collect water to flush it manually. You can also make a fire pit, for those without a fireplace.
An often overlooked item is a bucket. Actually you should have several EMPTY buckets. You don’t want to dump out your wheat so you can go collect some water. The 5 gallon plastic ones are durable and nest together for easy storage. Make sure they have the handles and get lids for several of them. If you have to haul water, put the lid on. There is no sense spilling water on the trip back from a pond. Buckets are good for transporting items you forage, hauling dirt, rocks, fertilizer or whatever. They make a good collector for scraps to add to your compost pile.
My next recommendation is a drawknife. A drawknife is very useful in shaping wood. I use mine a lot when making handles for tools. It is efficient, and with a little practice wood shaping goes very quickly. You can shape wood with a knife, but it takes a lot more time with poorer results. Drawknife shavings make excellent tinder.
Another uncommon tool these days is a brace drill with bits. This is also a tool that will be nearly impossible to make. It is important to have the square shank bits designed for the low speed application of a brace drill. The modern round bits will slip in the brace drill. Being able to drill holes in wood will be important for any wood based construction once the nails run out. Drill a hole. Carve a peg. Join some wood.