Looking To Our Past – Part 2

Our forefathers have given us many tools and knowledge to survive and rebuild from a disaster.  Whether it is soap making, gardening, woodworking or manufacturing gun powder, these are skills you may need in the near future. 

This is the 2nd Post in a Series – Read Part 1 (Click Here)


Soap making will be a great commodity for hygiene and morale.  Producing lye soap is not hard but does require practice.  The thing Soap Making Skillsto remember about lye soap is that it is a harsh alkali and can cause “chemical burns”.  There are several articles and books written on this and I will have links at the bottom of this page to some.


Gardening has been covered but look into the natural fertilizers such as Survival Gardeningcompost and manure.  The Native Americans used to bury a fish with each of their seeds to fertilize the crop.  Miracle Grow probably won’t be in big supply if the situation is truly TEOTWAWKI. Also using non hybrid, open pollinated seeds will be the only way to continue your garden once your seed supply runs out.  Learn how to not only plant and care for the crops while growing, but how to save part of the harvest as seed for the following year(s).  I would recommend never using all your seeds for a season; as if a plague of locusts, drought, flood or any other disaster occurs, you will not have the seeds to begin again the following growing season.  You should research what plants to grow that may not have food value but provide natural insecticides, fibers for rope and clothing,  or help deter animals from eating your garden.  Also, flowers will draw in bees to pollinate the crops and if you have hives available, will provide honey.


Woodworking will be a really labor intensive skill.  Building your own home, table and furniture, cabinets, etc will be of particular Survival Woodworkingvalue once the recliner breaks or you must leave your possessions and create a new life to escape the threat.  Since power will probably not be in great supply, hand saws, water wheel powered saw mills, axes, adzes, hammers and wooden dowels will replace our circular saws, lumber yards, screw guns and screws.  If possible, start collecting the hand tools now, brace and bit sets for drilling, hammers, saws, etc, so you will have them when the time comes.  You can even use our modern tools for convenience while we have them available to learn the basics; like joining boards together to make a table.  I’d recommend using as many hand tools as possible, but the circular or table saw will definitely save a lot of time.  You can make a unique and custom table with minimal costs and have something to be proud of the next time you have company over for dinner.  If you have space, money and the ability to, maybe stock up on some boards and other materials before they are needed.  Cedar will resist insects, resists weather rot, and makes fine looking and useful items.


Making blackpowder can be the only means of firearms use left after the powder magazine supply is exhausted.  Muzzleloading Blackpowder Riflesfirearms may become our main tool for hunting and defense and knowing how to make the powder will mean the difference between a useful tool and a decoration.  Even with the ability to reload some modern firearms with black powder cartridges, the availability of primers will probably be remote to nonexistent before we are able to restart our manufacturing facilities.  I recommend flintlock weapons for long term survival tools.  Flintlocks have a lag between the trigger being pulled and the actual discharge of the bullet.  If you flinch with modern weapons due to the thought of recoil, then you will really be doing you and yours a disservice trying to acquire the food.  Modern blackpowder comes in 4 granulations, from Fg to FFFFg; the higher the number, the smaller the granules. Fg is primarily used for the cannons, FFg for rifles, FFFg for rifles and pistols, and FFFFg for priming the flashpan of a flintlock.  I normally use the FFFg as it works well in both my rifles and my pistols.  The smaller granules do seem to burn a bit faster, but that is my opinion.  The rule of thumb for blackpowder (rifles), is to start with the grains equal to the caliber; i.e., 50 grains of powder for a .50 caliber rifle.  I load 90 grains in my .50 caliber Hawken after experimenting at the range. You do not want to overcharge the weapon, it can cause serious injury or death but also, it’s a waste of a valuable resource.

You can ensure all the powder is burning by firing through a white poster board set at 10 feet (ensure you have an adequate backstop and use safe shooting practices); if you see powder splattered all over your poster board, you are over charging.  Casting lead round balls will also give your flintlock longevity as a survival tool.  Pure lead is best and you can stock up on it, dig it out of dirt back stops at shooting ranges (where allowed) or smelt lead wheel weights and remove the tin and other metals if desired, but not required.  There are several lead pots out there for this, check with Dixie Gun Works for a lot of your blackpowder needs.


Firestarting was a major chore for the settlers and pioneers. We all have seen the tales of the woodsmen being able to spark a fire in seconds; although historically possible, most could not (3 Steps to Build a Fire).  The settlers would send a member of the family with a lidded pan to the neighbors to get some coals if the fire went out.  The most successful were the ones who adapted the Native American methods of a bow drill or spent their lives in the woods and used flint and steel every day.  Charred cloth was probably the best tinder to have.  It can be made by placing 100% cotton (any natural fiber like linen will also work) in a tin and “charring” it (see link below).  You need a tin with a lid (Altoids or mint can, soup can, tuna can, etc); if the lid does not fit snugly, you can help seal it with aluminum foil.  Put a very small hole in the top of the lid, I recommend using like a 4 penny finish nail for ease and availability, to allow the gases to escape from the charring.  Cut the cloth down to fit inside the tin but make it as large a piece as possible.  Place the Lid on and when you get done grilling those burgers or brats, place the tin down on the coals. You watch the hole in the lid and when the smoke stops coming out, remove from the coals. DO NOT open right away.  Allow the tin to cool and open the tin.  This material will catch sparks very easily and quickly and start to smolder, and all you will need to do is add small twigs and dry grass, paper, whatever and gently blow the smoldering cloth into a flame.  Practice this method A LOT, as it is not easy but will become very doable with practice.  Bird nests make excellent tinder; look for them in trees and during inclement weather, look to our modern conveniences like over passes, inside buildings, and under the eaves for dry nests.


Travel may become difficult and looking to move long distance will be a chore. You may find it necessary to look past your brand Bugging Outloyalty and get a Mustang… although the Mustang will not be produced in Detroit and will have only 1 horsepower.  Horses, mules, oxen, etc may be needed to move not only to cover more ground for hunting but also if the need arises to move the family and belongings. Animals that will meet multiple needs can also be implemented for the normal planning; goats, dogs, cows, etc can all carry equipment (See Dog Bug Out Bag) and household items to save you from having to do so or leave things you cannot carry and they have the dual purpose of providing food, security, and hides if necessary.  Learning how to use pack panniers and pack horses or mules could allow you to move your goods and not break your back while doing so.  It will also leave your hands free and more mobile in the event of hostile action or predator attack. There are people who practice this art today with the same equipment available to the Mountain Men.  The Native Americans utilized a travois, which can be made from the tarp you build your shelter from while in camp (multiple use item). A good travois can be made from large to small tarps and can be designed for pull by dogs, goats, cattle, mules, horses, etc.

If live near water, a canoe may be worth its weight in gold. They are very agile watercraft and can carry loads and people over long Survival by Boatdistance without the need for fuel.  They can be modified from their “off-the-shelf” style and have sails added, out-riggers for stability, and many other useful modifications.  I have towed a 12 foot Jon Boat behind a canoe for extra gear when taking several people into the backwoods.  You can also build a platform to fit in between 2 canoes and make it into a very crude catamaran for use on lakes; you could try rivers but they normally have obstructions and not as wide to allow for the platform. Rafts are another option for water travel and can be made with several materials, natural or manmade.  Canoes and rafts can also be used as hunting platforms.  You can drift along and catch the game when they come for a drink.  In some states, it is legal to hunt squirrel this way but in a survival situation, use every advantage you have.  Since you should always have a weapon available, just keep your eyes open and be prepared to move silently to hunting mode from fishing mode and when that deer or other critter goes for a drink, you have some fresh meat for the smokehouse.  You can also use them to easily and effectively run your trap line and cover more territory than on foot, especially in swamps or high banked rivers.  If you do buy a canoe and never need it for survival; you will still be able to use it for great family fun.  I still have memories of canoeing the Peace River with my family as a kid.  Many areas have rivers that you can canoe long distance and there are camp sites for overnight adventures (Boundary Waters in Minnesota and Buffalo River in Arkansas come to mind) and this will give you time to practice your skills, bond with members of your family/group and find out if that gear you have is going to work like you expected or needs modified or traded for something else.  There is no education or training more complete than Practical Application.


Even if you cannot learn every skill, select members of any group can “specialize” to form a balanced membership of skills and abilities.  I have friends who do metalworking and are good at it; where I prefer working with wood and leather.  I can sew on a button or mend a small rip but I leave the sewing chores to my wife and others who make quilts and such as a hobby.

I have brought up some skills I believe will be useful in the long term, if and when things go bad.  Although the sites and skills I Bug Out Bagmentioned are done using only historic materials; we have the option to use modern materials.  We can use fiberglass, aluminum or even inflatable canoes if we desire.  We should practice with flint and steel, but have lighters, magnesium fire starters, lifeboat matches and wet tinder for our fire making equipment.  We can use power tools when we can and even with complete infrastructure collapse, we have solar and wind turbine options that our ancestors did not.  Even though I brought these ideas to the fore front of minds for thought; I believe a truly long term event should not last more than 1-2 years.  We have the systems, technology and knowledge to return to our modern way of life, where our forefathers were in the modern times for their period.  We may need to make and produce our staples for survival but the factories and infrastructure will be there for implementing the return to modern life barring a full out military strike or natural disaster on the scale of a “planet killing asteroid”.

We must strive to become the “Modern Mountain Men” or the “Longhunters of New”.  I truly enjoyed my forays into the backwoods carrying just my muzzleloader, skinning knife, chore knife, tomahawk, blanket(s), and my other “possibles”  but if I must revert to this lifestyle on a “temporarily permanent”  basis, then I will have my modern kit as well and hopefully it makes it that much easier to survive.

As we become the woodsmen of old, we must also strive to become the new Founding Fathers.  When you plan and think about your EAP (Emergency Action Plans) and make decisions with the other members of your family/group, please include plans on how to bring society back in line with our morals, law & order and general well being.  If we lose our humanity, even if we survive the event, what have we accomplished?  I suggest those who have a well organized group, elect a council of elders to keep our bearings on this matter. If you have a security/military apparatus; ensure you have a Law Enforcement and justice apparatus in the plans, even if it takes 6 months or a year to implement.  This will keep the powers separated and keep our Constitutional ideas alive.  In my opinion, surviving is more than just staying alive, but ensuring the future for the generations that follow.

I cannot speak for all who serve or served in the military, but feel I probably have the same thoughts as they do; I knew I risked my life to go to war and defend our nation.  I survived, even the breathing part, but I knew even if I fell, we “survived” as a nation and I was just the lifeblood the Liberty Tree needs from time to time.  If after the event, we fail to bring our nation back; the troops who have sacrificed will have done so in vain.  We must reinforce our Constitution and possibly add guarantees of the Freedoms and Rights we were given, but the ones who strive for power seem bent on taking.  As the new Founding Fathers, we will have the ability to learn from our past and clarify the language to ensure a Constitutional Republic is kept and the People remain in charge.

Stay Alert, Stay Alive

Recommended Reading:

Traditional Bowyer’s Bible series by Jim Hamm

Books of Buckskinning by Scurlock Publishing

Muzzleloader Magazine

Muzzle Blasts Magazine

A Pilgrim’s Journey Volume 1 & Volume 2 by Mark A. Baker

Recreating The American Longhunter by Joseph Ruckman

Practicing Primitive by Steven Watts

Primitive Wilderness Skills and Survival Skills by John McPherson

Mountain Man Crafts and Skills by David Montgomery

Deerskins into Buckskins by Matt Richards

Art of Hand Sewing Leather by Art Stohlman

Primitive Technology by David Wescott

Finding Your Way Without Map and Compass by Harold Gatty

Additional Resources

Making Black Powder

Historical Trekkers

Soap Making

Mississippi River by Canoe

Homemade Bow

American Mountain Men

Photos By:
Images of Life

John J. Woods
Written by John J. Woods

John J. Woods, PhD, has been outdoor writing for over 35 years with over 3000 articles, and columns published on firearms, gun history, collecting, appraising, product reviews and hunting. Dr. Woods is currently the Vice President of Economic Development at a College in the Southern United States. Read his full interview here. Read more of John J.'s articles.

35 thoughts on “Looking To Our Past – Part 2”

  1. This is the kind of self reliance I like. I've been hunting alot lately and learning wilderness survival with less modern equipment each time I go out. Last time I tried wood working… It didn't go well. But I like the direction you're going in, very Lewis and Clark.

    • Lewis and Clark, we only need to be wiser, smarter and more adept. They were exploring and we will need to be able to build. They did have the skills we will need and helped in the growth of the nation, so we need to mix them with equal parts Daniel Boone, who established towns, explored and helped open the "West".

  2. Thanks for the great article. Not sure I can afford a Hawken (although I have not priced them out), any Black Powder guns to stay away from?

    • I have a CVA, Thompson Center, Traditions and one I do not even know the brand, only know it was made in Italy. I have never had any problems with them. I personally avoid the inlines, but this is my preference for "tradition" and no bad remarks on them. I only use blackpowder, never Pyrodex or an artificial powder as I've had sub-par performance with them. Friends who shoot inlines swear by pyrodex pellets, maybe they fixed their formula. Check Dixie Gun Works for decent prices and I believe another place (based in Florida) is Buffalo Bill's . Happy Hunting.
      P.S. If get a percussion cap rifle, make sure to stock up on caps. I'm getting a couple more flint locks myself…. they are a blast and I do not have to worry about primers.

  3. Great topics!

    The thing about them is that they sound much easier than they actually are. Making fire sounds easy but in practice, it's much more difficult than you'd think. Same for soap making. We've been experimenting with that recently and have posted our progress over on our blog.



    • If the soap is too caustic, try adding pigskin to the batch. It seems to absorb the alkali or neutralize it somehow. This is especially great when producing your own lye.

  4. Great article and ideas! One additional skill that is is becoming a lost art is trapping. In a survival situation trapping is much more efficient than hunting IMHO.

      • Regulator5 I look forward to perusing that article! Many many years ago I trapped for the BLM to earn extra $ to supplement my meager E-3 salary at the time. What I learned from trapping also made me a better hunter and outdoorsman.

        • I agree Dave. Trapping (IMHO) causes one to study nature and habits of animals even more than hunting does. By learning the habits of the animals, i.e. their homes (dens, nests, burrows, etc) and studying their food, we can even learn vital skills for our own survival. Think of a squirrel nest when building a debris hut and burrows or caves normally maintain a stable temperature year round. Tracking the animals will lead you to water the most often, by following "direct line" trails as animals head directly for water, where as a trail that "meanders" is where they are browsing for food. We can also eat many, NOT ALL, of the berries and other vegetation an animal eats or at least use it for teas or other sources of nourishment.
          To me as a trapper, I not only have to know what an animal will respond to, but also WHY it does. This knowledge is what allows me to use my ability to reason to overcome their superior senses of smell, sight, hearing, etc. By knowing the why along with the "what", I can reason what else may work or what can be mixed for more optimum results. It's like knowing the acorns from white oaks taste "sweeter" than those from a black oak. If there are white oaks around, I know I will have better success there than a black oak if the mast crop was even or until the white oak is cleaned off. I seen a post in one of the threads on the forum that the "devil is in the details", but also, so is our Saving Grace.

  5. I really like the point you're making about learning these things now befor you "need" them. Prepping is not just about stockpiling, it's about being prepared to do all kinds of things and aquiring skills and knowledge that will make the difference. I'm big on the gardening aspect and always make sure to have a store of seeds for the comming season.

    • Also never plant all the seeds in case of a crop failure or other issue. I too agree with gardening and then canning my own produce.

      • I just started canning this season. I like knowing exactly what went into my food. It's easier then I thought it would be as well. Already planning out new canning recipies for next summers haul.

        • My mother in law is an accomplished canner. She's doing soups, chili, and the harvest from the garden. I like knowing I'm not "embalming" myself with preservatives as well.

  6. Another good series of books to look out for are the Fox Fire books… my grandfather has a number of them that I intend on bringing to my house here soon.

  7. This is a Great Article, but missing one thing How to Make alcohol. It is not cover in the first article as well. Alcohol is one of the most important tool to survival it has many uses from sterilization, fuel, a form of trade and to take the edge off. There are many other as well.

    • trinity, I agree. Alcohol will be a useful commodity. I just didn't think the "revenuers" would take kindly to a hillbilly writing about a still and making "white lightning"… lol. Thanks for the valid point.

      • write it less like a moonshiner and more like the hobbyist that makes beer or wine. After all people can legally make a certain amount of beer, wine, and spirits each year for personal consumpsion.

  8. great article especially the black powder part. i been making my own bp for a few years and i love that satisfying sound when a deer hits the ground when i hit him with a 185 grain poured bullet

  9. Another long term survival rifle could be a big bore airrifle. Lewis & Clark took one along on their expedition across north america and EVERY time they met a new tribe of indians they sat down with them and and a pow-wow and demonstrated how effective their weaponry was. The Giardoni REPEATING airrifle had a 22 shot magazine in .46 cal. ball, and had the indians so scared s#!tle$$ of this (relativly) silent weapon without muzzle blast or smoke could shoot through a small pinetree at 100 paces! No one dared to attack this party all across North America during the ekspedition in the early 1800's.

    • Samurai, I agree and the air rifles have been discussed in other articles on SC. They aren't the "child's toy" most people think they are, but a very efficient hunting tool. Air rifles are quiet and pack enough energy for small game. Also, with their lack of recoil, they are very good teaching tools for youngsters and great tools to begin their career in the hunting tradition.

  10. I looked through all these comments and appropriate positives, but Failed to see any about your organizing and governance thoughts at the end. Based on your ideas, I hope you can continue to provide many survivalists with your input and guidance. You're on the right track that I believe our founders had in mind – namely, a wise but SMALL government (not no government) supporting freedom of choice.


    • Dave, I posted some ideas on the goverance issue in the Rebuilding Survivors article on this site. I too think the small government will be what will keep us from repeating the same mistakes we have made and we need to keep our Constitution, but add the language to guarantee the Rights are protected even for the individual and States.

  11. So, I'm a small town kid, but sadly and ungodly unlucky, the small towns full of nose-up turned pricks. I was wondering if theres any way to practice this in my area? (Westren PA)

  12. Leitio, I do not know what your locale looks like, but you can garden, possibly raise chickens or rabbits, make soap in the backyard, set up a wood shop in the garage, etc. PA has lots of woodlands, so even taking weekend trips out to practice other skills. Several skills can be practiced even in the backyard.
    Also check the forum for even more ideas.

  13. Interesting bit of history , During the french and indian war , the standing armies on both sides were not trained in hand to hand combat , therefor when the indians got in their face , they were at a disadvantage . The colonists caught on to this and kept it in mind for future events ….. the Brits kept to their european views instead of adapting . Train yourself for in your face weapons . If you are reduced to black powder muzzleloaders , you may not have time to load the damn thing fast enough .
    When the Spanish started conquering South america , the technology was in transition , they had muskets but they were also wearing armor and medieval swords , as a result , they ripped the natives a new …….well you get the idea . Those that came before us had the same problems we will have , and they found solutions for them . Getting water from point A to point B , construction methods , etc. ….. they did the hard part for us , all we have to do is look and read .

    • T.R., this is so true. This "idealogy" isn't completely gone. People seem to be more put off by someone using a knife instead of a firearm. Most people do not want to even think about needing to use violence with an edged weapon as it requires a close up and does not allow one to distance themselves (figuratively and literally) like they can with a rifle.
      This was even alluded to on "The Patriot" with Mel Gibson's character when he went to free his son from the British.
      Thanks for posting and adding to the historical context.

      • TY , the thing is also , Medieval weapons are devastating to the human body especially the more blunt varieties such as a mace , quiet frankly I would rather be shot . I think its important for anybody that is convenced that they are going to have to use their preps and going to have to bug out , or come in conflict with " zombies & trogs " to start learning how to deal with personal combat without a firearm . The plain fact is , and this is even more critical to understand and plan for if you truly want to live is this : ANY idiot can shoot a gun , but it takes great skill and practice to use a blade weapon , even more for a sword , mace , etc . , impoverished weapons such as a quarterstaff can be absolutely devastating in the hands of somebody that knows what they are doing . I would also recommend learning two weapon fighting if a person is convenced things are going to get that bad . I personally dont think they will , other than short term chaos in the cities . Hopefully we never find out .

        • I would also like to point out that in order to use these weapons to defend yourself with……you MUST be physically fit . Fat and slow = dead

          • Yeah, I agree. I definitely wouldn't want to have to use a blade in combat anymore; too many injuries. I hope that noone has to live thru the ordeal, altho like you, I think the initial phase in the cities will see alot but I'm hoping it settles soon. I will say I plan for the worst and hope for the best.

    • I agree as well. Though out of practice I've trained to fight with a sword. I've trained with the blade alone, using my off hand armed and unarmed to parry, and with sword and shield (sword and board). You can even with minimal training and practice be a danger to a street thug turned renegade that thinks a switchblade is an offensive weapon. A pipe or two can make passible quarter staves or even maces or clubs.

  14. my only argument is the Canoe I would not have one if it were given to me, I'd sell it and get something better.

    I have littered the bottom of a few lakes in my childhood with fishing and camping gear especially if you have a
    co pilot or worse a novice.
    There are foldable boats I would still add a outrigger and at least a foam worm / tube like kids use at the pool.
    the outriggers themselves spear gig poles why have something that does not have a secondary use.

    I seem to remember a Coleman wide body canoe had a small motor outrigger and would not tip.

    in an emergency you do not want to loose all your gear or get wet on a large body of water it is nothing to get white caps up to 20 foot as bodies of water are shallow or smaller you can still get significant waves and waves are not bad it is chop that will give you fits.

    have a sail option I like the Chinese junk version as it uses a square sail although a square could be folded and made into a Nile river boat sail.

    if you have a canoe now that is unsure figure how to place an outrigger system on it there are numerous designs that will not be heavy because you never know how fast a storm can descend on you and ruin your trip.

  15. As to making black powder I used the precipitation method except when still wet I would push through wire screen to get F, FF, FFF, FFFF powder size as size equates to burning rate and frizzen pan powder need to be fine.
    improper size can lead to shot to shot deviation in speed and that makes inaccurate shooting.

    whatever you use now you can find a couple of geological scientific sieves to make your powder while damp and will stick together pressing it through in small bits to get the size & length you want / need. allow to dry and keep sizes in different containers if it does not size well you can rerun it in another batch.

    looking on the Net I found a few sites you can print one is powder size and another is for geologic screens
    Not the only sites just a quick search I have no knowledge of their reviews on the sieves.

  16. wood working here is a free download on making wood connections without nails

    I don't know if it covers it but blind hole connections incorporated with a splice or rabbet joint makes an almost indestructible connection it is used in old barn building this is also the way to join legs to seating and tables.


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