How to build a survival tool box

This is an entry in our current non-fiction writing contest  by BCtruck

The winter was long,wet, muddy and miserable. My three indoor dogs have been coming in and out of the schmutz for months,and now that it seems to finally be drying out,the carpet in the sun-room (the only room with carpet) has taken on the odor of wet stinky dog.

I borrowed a hoover steam cleaner from a friend and when I got it home,I realized it was not working properly. While I was in my shop taking it apart,I started thinking about how much of what being prepared means ,is self sufficiency.

A week ago, I had a flat on the interstate. Now I’m not foolish enough to EVER leave the house without a jack,a lug wrench and a good spare,but I also had a tire repair kit that consists of tire plugs, rubber cement to bond the plugs and a 12 volt air compressor,all taking up the space of about 10 inch by 10 inch. I thought,what better time to try my preparedness/self sufficiency plan, than right now,under the worst circumstances you could be in, in a non SHTF environment?

I repaired the tire,used my little 12 volt compressor to air it up to 40 PSI (heavy truck tire) put the tire back on, and went about my day feeling pretty confident in my both my level of preparedness and my skill level.

This got me to thinking about folks that didn’t grow up with the advantages I grew up with. My dad was a machinist/welder/motorcycle builder/carpenter/electrician/metal fabricator/ and general,all around genius in the eyes of a teenager.

I grew up working in my dads shop from the time I was able to push a broom and clean up, till I joined the Army at the age of 17. This definitely is why there is very little I cant fix,build,or repair. There are folks who are extremely smart and capable in every way but mechanical. To those folks, I wish to speak .

The way to embark on the journey of being able to repair anything and everything, is to simply start. There is a lot of fear in taking something apart and not being able to put it back together. My suggestion is to find something that is broken and destined for the dump, and disassemble it. Find out what it is that prevented it from working. Find out if the part is available. Maybe its a microwave,or a washing machine. Parts are available for nearly everything made,even used on eBay. If it isn’t repairable,throw it out. All you’ve lost is time, but gained a little insight into how it worked and what it looked like inside.

I have a cheap $40.00 microwave whose turntable stopped turning. I’ve never worked on a microwave and was just about ready to throw it away when one of my subscribers suggested I take it apart and see why it wasn’t working. I thought,whatever is wrong, will cost more to fix than just buying a new $40.00 microwave. Turns out, I was wrong. I disassembled it,found the motor that is connected to the turntable was not spinning. I disassembled the motor and found that the little plastic gears in it had broken. The motor had a part number on it that one of my astute subscribers saw,and emailed me a link directly to the motor on eBay. It was 10 bucks shipped. I replaced the motor and I’m still using that microwave.

Food, water, guns and ammo are all important to survival and self sufficiency, but being able to understand how things work, how to repair them when they stop working,or how to build something to replace what stopped working,in my eyes, is equally as important as having a well stocked larder and a safe full of weapons.

To those that don’t have a shop full of tools,and don’t know where to start or what to buy, I’m going to list the basic elements of developing an ability to repair or build:

  • 1/4 inch drive socket set (SAE and metric)
  • 1/2 inch drive socket set (SAE and metric)
  • small,medium,large adjustable wrenches
  • full set of wrenches (both SAE and metric)
  • medium pipe wrench (14-18 inch)
  • small,medium,large slotted screwdrivers
  • small,medium,large philips head screw drivers
  • full set of “torx” drivers
  • full set of allen wrenches (SAE and metric)
  • small,medium,large vise grips
  • channel lock pliers
  • regular pliers
  • needle nose pliers
  • carpenters hammer
  • ball peen hammer
  • 3-4 pound sledge hammer
  • small,medium,large prybars
  • chisels
  • wood saw
  • hacksaw
  • tape measure
  • along with a wide assortment of nuts,bolts,screws,nails,hinges.

This is the beginning of a well prepared tool box. As you start gaining confidence in your abilities as you attempt to repair or build things,you will find that you will occasionally need a tool to complete a particular repair,that you don’t already have. This has always been my reward to attempt harder and harder repairs.

I would love to hear in the comments, about repairs you’ve made that you didn’t think you could do,or even repairs you might could use a little advice on. Also,if there is tool you think is imperative to have in a beginners toolbox,feel free to add it in the comments.

Get out there,find something broken,and GIT R DUN!!! BC

Prizes for this round (ends May 24 2014) in our non fiction writing contest include…

  1. First place winner will receive –  A $150 gift certificate for Hornady Ammo  courtesy of LuckyGunner, a Wonder Junior Deluxe grain millcourtesy of Kitchen Neads, a one year subscription to the Personal VPN service courtesy of unspyable and Three Survival Seed Vaults courtesy of LPC Survival.
  2. Second place winner will receive – Brand New, Sealed Case of Military MREs (Meal, Ready-To-Eat)  a $119 value courtesy and a Survival Puck  courtesy of Innovation Industries.
  3. Third place winner will receive – a copy of my book ”31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness“ and “Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat” courtesy of a copy of “The Survival Medicine Handbook” courtesy of and a copy Herbal Antivirals and Herbal Antibiotics .


  1. will e styles says:

    BC great entry,
    I feel we may have had a similar upbringing. I would add a roll of butcher paper and markers that’s what my dad had me use until my attention to detail improved. Just draw pictures with circles put the part in the circle. It really helped figure out where the extra screw, nut, or part was supposed to go. It is really helpful if it takes a few days to get the parts in as well.

    By the way did anyone else ever get a hammer, bag of nails, and scrap wood for a birthday gift and think it was the best gift ever? Can’t imagine the current generation going for that!


    • RJArena says:

      Yes, I too got the nails hammer (and some duct tape) and thought that was the best present ever!

    • RB in GA says:

      Even at an age approaching a half-century, my dad still gives me tools as presents every Christmas! It just keeps me from having to buy quite as many! Keep ’em coming, Dad, keep ’em coming!!

    • Donna in MN says:

      Yep. I am a do it yourselfer with all the tools and gadgets because no man I called who knew how to fix stuff ever showed up to help me. I had to do it myself or it stays broken or damaged.

      • Kat's Tale says:

        Holy cow, I thought my Grandma was the only one that bought hammers and nails for kids. Not only does it teach them a new skill, it helps their hand eye coordination.
        Thanks for reminding me that I need to check to see how many of my tools got board this winter and took a hike to places unknown.
        A good reason to head to sears.

        • I am mechanically-challenged & have known a small # of females who were much more mechanically-advanced. In one case, she learned from her bf & his friends who were often working on cars. Others learned it from a dad or uncle.

    • Received a similar gift from dad at about age 8 and did likewise with the DD around age 8 or 9.

    • I have fantastic memories of going to my bampy (grampy) demateos and spending hours on the floor of his shop hammering nails into various pieces of scrapwood. He had “special hammers” just for the 9 of us grandkids to use. they were kept in a drawer on the bottom of his toolbox so we could all reach them.

  2. Petticoat Prepper says:


    Good post, I’ve printed off your list. STBX took off with every decent tool we had (many, many tool boxes were full). I discovered this when I needed a screwdriver to fix the electrical plug ins he tore out of the walls. I am in the process of re-building MY tool box as the need arises.

    One thing I’d mention as it’s really been helpful for me, is a digital camera/phone. I take pictures as I take things apart so I can see where things were. This has helped me a number of times.

    Ladies, do not buy those cute-z little tools. I’ve a friend who did that because she thought it was a cute set! When she needed to fix the first item she found the tools were too small to work and ended up borrowing mine. If you want pink tools there’s a company that provides ‘pink ladies’ tools. Personally, I prefer black ones as they don’t show the dirt/grease!

    Again, good post!

    • Hi Petticoat Prepper: I sometimes want tools to be bright colored so I can find them easily- especially those small ones I use outside. I spray paint them with blaze orange paint. Pink would be just about as effective, though.

      I think I started that when I was doing archaeological survey work: It was really easy to put down a small Marshalltown trowel in the brown leaves next to a test hole, move on to the next spot, and wonder where I’d left the durn trowel. Especially if instead of putting it down in the leaves, I’d left it in the hole when I refilled it…

      Anyway, bright colors are very handy for some tools, and they make identification of the owner easy. I’ve found that some tool users have very easy consciences when it comes to tools left around unguarded.

      The cutesie tools tho, I would just as soon have walk off. They don’t work well no matter what color they are.

      • Petticoat Prepper says:

        I suppose I’d want something more colorful were I doing something outside. Currently all my projects are inside the house or on the car in the garage. I used to paint my tools pink just to keep STBX and his crew from taking them, didn’t always work.

        I like the idea of the blaze orange that would really be easy to find!

    • patientmomma says:

      I love PINK tools, but good ones, because my sons won’t walk away with them!!!

      • nick flandrey says:

        That’s funny, all my personal, professional tools are painted pink. I did it to mark them as mine, aid in visibility, and discourage theft or borrowing. Since I did it, I have only lost 2 tools and I got one of them back when I spotted it across the shop.

        I’m secure in my self image and have no problem with the pink, but it seems a lot of construction guys would rather buy tampons at the grocery store than use a pink tool 🙂

        I know of one rental company that paints all their stuff pink for the same reasons too.


    • Kat's Tale says:

      I agree about the cute-z tools. They usually aren’t a very good quality and will break under stress.
      It took me years to build up my tool box the way I wanted it. It ticked my Ex off that I took it when I left. Even though he had a shop full of tools. The other thing to think about getting is a good tool belt. Go for comfort and usability, not style. My first one was a used one my Dad gave me. It worked until I found the one that I have now.

      • KT,
        I also own some marginal quality tools that I’ve picked up here & there. These are tools that if broken or lost would not be a huge loss. These are kept in several outbuildings, so I have basic tools available when I need them, without hauling out the heavy tool chest. Also, one can never have too many tools.

        • Michigan says:

          The cheapy ones also make good loaners they usually return on their own and if not you aren’t out a lot of money

    • Petticoat Prepper,
      Along with photos, there are a lot of good manuals and YouTube videos available on line for no cost. When I get any new item (even something used, but new to me) the first thing I do is look for manuals online. Quite often both the User’s Manual and the Service manuals are available, and tucked away on their own directory on the computer (which gets backed up) so I always know where to find them. That is not always the case with the paper manuals that same with the device.

      • I agree,cute-z tools,or tools that are cheap, arent worth the money you pay fpor them. buy quality tools and have them for life, as you can afford them. I have some tools in my tool box that ive had since i was a child. I have a punch that i still use that i made in machine shop in 9th grade.

  3. axlesteve says:

    These days metric tools are more used then not. My 96 jimmy probably has more metric bolts on it then non metric and bubba my 76 powerwagon only had 1 that I could find. And that 1 bolt may have just had a metric crossover size. If you have a 4×4 try to get the special sockets for the front drums so you can service or have someone service them for you. Yard sales are great places to find tools, sometimes the prices on them are a bit much though. Try to get sets on sale at sears. It is hard to beat the prices on a screwdriver set on sale then it is piecing things together.

    • Im always scanning the tables at flea markets and yard sales for high quality tools that may not even be made any more.

      • axlesteve says:

        Bctruck. I recently bought a proto made nut driver for 1.15 at a thrift store. Another way to make a survival toolbox is to jack your parents tools like my kids do.

  4. Add a set of punches too that list and a set of snaps ring pliers ,.

  5. Good post! I too use a digital camera as I take apart the project . am the worlds worst to leave a project dissembled and come back later and have no idea how to put it back together.

    • good advice. im fixin to start a project that i wont know what parts ill need until i get it disassembled,then order them. It may take a few weeks to get them and i know ill forget how it goes back together so ill be taking lots of pics.

  6. nick flandrey says:

    I’ve read and used the book “How to diagnose and fix Everything Electronic” by Michael Jay Geier. It is written for the complete novice and has great practical advice. (“Everything” is a bit of an exaggeration, but it will give you a great idea of what is doable and what is not.)

    Most electronics that fail today fail either from a component burning up in a power surge or from leaking capacitors. There are tons of resources online for “re-capping” almost everything you can think about. I’ve successfully recapped computer monitors, an oven control board, and some other stuff.

    I replaced the transistor that controls charging on my Roomba.

    I’ve ‘board swapped’ to fix a 6 month old 55″ LCD TV I got free. Total cost, $26.

    We’ve fixed several appliances with parts from the internet, based on tutorials online… Almost any problem you have has been fixed by someone who put their fix on youtube!

    Reduce, reuse, REPAIR, recycle!

    Don’t be afraid to try, after all, it’s ALREADY broken, what have you got to lose?


    • nick flandrey says:

      I’ll add to the basic tool list, specifically for repairs and troubleshooting.

      Inexpensive Digital Multi Meter or DMM. Analog meters are ok, but you usually get more bang for the buck with a DMM.

      Soldering iron, solder, and a hands free magnifying glass. I like a bulb style desoldering tool too.

      Wire strippers, and crimpers, with an assortment of crimp connectors.

      A name brand battery powered set of tools like dewalt or makita will work great and for a long time. Don’t waste money on any tool that doesn’t have a removable battery pack.

      You’ll eventually need a drill too. For non-powered, a push drill or yankee driver is great. A bit and brace set can usually be picked up at yard or estate sales very cheaply. As can an ‘eggbeater’ style drill for smaller work. And while I don’t recommend them for everyday use, they are great during a power outage or when you don’t want to make noise. (Like when introducing a child to woodworking. Hand saws, push drills, and the brace are quiet, “slow” tools and not intimidating. Pre-drilling nail holes helps them successfully drive them and avoids splitting the wood.)

      If you have time, estate and yard sales are a great way to add to your toolbox cheaply. (so are swapmeets) ONLY buy quality, name brand, made in USA (or Japan) if you are buying used. If you want to buy new, Sears Craftsman tools are still a great choice for quality and value for money. They also have tools on sale at Father’s Day. Joining the Craftsman club will get you points on purchases, and serious discount coupons too.

      I would avoid buying tools from Harbor Freight. I know some people will defend the quality (and if it is something to use one time, like a basin wrench for plumbing, then ok) but they are REALLY not worth saving a couple of bucks on. Pass on the Chicago electric, and Pittsburgh house brands too.


      • nick flandrey
        I agree with your recommendation for a volt ohm meter. This will definitely allow you to take the mystery out of “gadgets” that quit.
        Also the book you recommended is available as a free down load here:

        • nick flandrey says:

          Somewhere online I read a guy mention a tiny tool kit for his go bag. He was very fond of the tiny Radio Shack DMM that is about the size of a credit card or small calculator. It will let him test batteries, adapt devices to use other batteries (with some wire), check for power in found lines…

          Along with a minimal couple of tools and a leatherman style multitool, it sounded like a great idea to make room for it.



          If I were to put something like that together, I’d get the little RS DMM, a 4″ adjustable wrench, a 6 in 1 screwdriver, a wire stripper/cutter, a small channel lock pliers, and a small roll of 1 inch Gorilla tape. I’d put it in a bag about the size of a 16oz soda can, or a can that size if I could find one. If I still had room, I would add a small visegrip plier, disposable razor knife with the break off tips, tube of super glue, carpenters pencil, lumber crayon, and 4 feet of bailing wire.

          Come to think of it, that would make a bare minimum car kit too.


    • nick,
      “Don’t be afraid to try, after all, it’s ALREADY broken, what have you got to lose?”
      Amen brother, couldn’t have said it better myself.

    • we are of like minds!!! Thats the name of my youtube channel,”bctruck,repair,rebuild,repurpose”.

  7. RJArena says:

    I would add duct tape(I pull the cardboard out out of the center so it can be stored flat), electrical tape, a circuit tester, electrical contact grease(you can get it in one time use sizes)a small pad to take notes and measurements, and a carpenters pencil. And rope and ratchet straps. Of-course we all never leave home without more than one flashlight.

  8. tommy2rs says:

    I’d add at least one flat bastard file. Also a singlejack for when the sledge is over kill but the other hammers are too light.

  9. Good list, BC. One thing I like about it is that it really is the basics, without overwhelming one with 37 extra thingies which non-basic tools users will eventually find useful. I would be inclined to add WD-40 as well. Maybe that is a supply instead of a tool, though.

    A basic gun maintenance and repair kit is a different thing; for that I would add any tools specific to the guns I have, most especially including a good set of gunsmith’s screw drivers.

    Also, I would make sure I had print outs of several different “Complete Guides” to assembly and disassembly for each gun. I have discovered that all such ‘complete’ guides leave out (or aren’t all that clear on) some aspect, but if I have a couple or three different ones, I can figure it all out.

    I hardly ever detail strip a gun, but if something breaks, it is mighty reassuring to know that I can usually replace the part myself. And that digital camera idea is a really good one.

    Another useful tool is one or more of the plastic divided boxes which people keep fishing lures in: As each part comes off whatever you are working on, it goes into it’s own compartment, left to right, top to bottom. When reassembling, just work in reverse. If you can’t do the whole project at one time, snapping the cover shut keeps things all together and in order.

    A flashlight is handy for finding that little spring which launched itself across the room and went to visit the dust bunnies under the table.

  10. regarding the 3 or 4 # sledge…..Estwing makes a wonderful 4# sledge, about 18″ in length, w/a hatchet face on obverse & it’s drop forged! No welds to come loose. About 30 smackers b4 OBcare.. makes 1 heck-of-a defensive weapon if need arises…….use only as needed, I did lotsa hammering w/it building flower boxes 2 yrs back…..drove 80penny spikes into 4X4 cedar-after a pilot w/1/4″ ‘spade bit impact has made my wrist a bit gimpy. Not Good Vibrations fer an old fart………

    • George says:

      The good ole ball peen hammer and a half inch combo wrench can make a good couple of weapons also.

      • yes they will George!- ty 4 reply… Estwing prolly not a good tool 4 BOB it may be 2 heavy & unwieldy for a BOB, but will be long lasting in that it’s drop forged

  11. Donna in MN says:

    BC, I had a problem with vaccums that need repairs within two years and I have always fixed them until I got a sharp for $400. Darn thing broke in two years in a heat-welded motor beater case, and the hoses split in a hundred places. They called it “normal wear” and the cost would be about $200 plus shipping because they make it not to be repaired, but shipped to the company.

    Heck with that! I got a hoover I can actually work on, and took an axe to the sharp. Not like me to do that, but wasting $400 made me a little emotional like Lizzie Borden. (actually parts could not be taken apart for recycling)

    • I’ve had an Oreck for 10 yrs…..I have to replace belts regularly & the bristle brush a couple of times. Overall, I think its needed more mtce than I like, but it still picking up lotsa junk… sons are assigned 2 vacuum as part of their chores & I regularly have to reinforce junk which should be physically removed from its path rule, but it has lasted thru their abuse….I’d hesitate 2 give it more than 6 or 7 on a 1-10 rating scale because of the mtce it requires, but it’s served me well. The minivac which came w/it I give less than a 1. It sucked, but not as advertised, went 2 trash heap. Mebbe I should have pulled apart 2 c if a mfg issue…….I hear Kirby’s are top notch, buit have not used 1 since 1970’s……happy chores 2 u all…….

    • I just repaired a bissel green machine carpet cleaner. Its very old and i was surprised to find i could still order parts right from bissel.

  12. Dave in Georgia says:

    Any time my DW wants a project done…all she has to do is agree to buy my a new tool or at least upgrade an existing tool.

    • ☺ I thought that was own little sneaky deal. I always seem to be missing one important tool when my wife has a project for me.

  13. Jersey Drifter says:

    I have all the tools listed, some not listed, and extras of most. Plus cans, jars, and boxes of nails, screws, staples, nuts, washers, an the like.

    BC , for the beginner I might add some extra Band-Aids or a small shop first aid kit for when a wrench or screw driver slips. At least until they get the hang of it. But s**t does happen even when you are good and comfortable with tools.

    • I’ve been saving pieces parts since 70’s, have scads of plastic containers & plastic pieces parts cabinets full (all labeled!). I’m pleased as punch when I have the parts & tools for a project……if I don’t, I have no qualms buying new (almost none). My younger son has been pretty helpful over the years & the older gaining more interest as he recently rcvd learners permit (imagine that!).

  14. BC

    You forgot one important reason to tackle fixing broke stuff. It’s Fun! The satisfaction you get from fixing things mere mortals would throw away is indescribable!
    Shortly after my wife and I married, we made plans to move across the country and decided to sell our belongings down to the bare bones. She suggested I “get rid of all those tools because we would never have a use for them. I lovingly told her, “you NEVER sell your tools, you just acquire more.” Many years later, I am still fixing things. I love to remind her that if I didn’t have those useless tools, a lot of things would still be broke or we would be broke. They just don’t make gadgets like they used to.

    • Harry,
      As you said, “They just don’t make gadgets like they used to” and I concur. When I was growing up in the 1950-1960’s there was a fixit shop about a block from our home. The guy repaired TV’s and radios, along with irons, fans, and sweepers, and a host of nearly anything else you could drag in to him. One of the best things about him from my perspective was that he let this 10 year old kid hang out with him and ask questions. I also got old TV and radio chassis’s from him that I disassembled, which gave me parts to build some of my first radio equipment. This was of course back in the day when you had tubes and the other components were big enough to see and reuse. Most of the component leads were long enough to clip them out and have a reusable part. As part of the GI bill, my dad took the NRI (National Radio Institute) course and the books were still around for me to do the same. I’ve always liked science, and I’ve been an engineer for more than 40 years, and I think a lot of the credit for my success, goes to my dad, the old fixit guy, and the local hams who took an interest in me. These are unfortunately experiences that today’s kids don’t have available, and they are poorer for it.

      • OhioPrepper

        We could have been running side by side in a parallel universe. My dad was also my inspiration. He was in the Air force, an early riser and would get me up to keep him company while he worked on his Heathkit Ham radio project. ( I wasn’t sleeping anyway; I had severe Asthma back then and this let him keep an eye on me.) I was fascinated of course and can still remember the smell of solder, plastic and fresh brewed coffee before dawn. I never went the engineer route but instead went to work for Ma Bell. They had an endless array of technical schools you could attend and I enjoyed all of it. I still have a lot of my old tech manuals and course workbooks on all things telephone. Down through the years I have saved parts from old analog radios to play with and build my own. If the EMP burns up all the digital stuff, I will have something that will work even if all it can do is play amplified static!

        • I agree Harry. i cant tell you how many times ive rescued something from the landfill and repaired it. chainsaws,weedwackers, fans, once i even brought home a tiller that needed a tire and a carb cleaning. i still have it and use it regularly for my wifes gardens and flower beds.

        • Harry,
          I worked in telephony right out of college and then again later in my career, for a total of about 15 years. Things have really changed with the cell phones and all of the digital equipment; however, the basic landline still pretty much works like you and I learned it, and could be up and running (perhaps with patch cords and an operator) again with nothing much more than a battery.

          • I agree. I remember an old, old telephone guy. We all called him “2 wire”. I think the old technology speaks for itself!

      • OP,

        O started.taking an NRI course in locksmithing when I was active duty. The Air Force paid 75 %. I finished it when I got out. That one course helped me pay the rent and put food on the table.

        Some one above mentioned a digital multi-meter. I whole heartedly agree. I picked up an old Heathkit osicilliscope at a swap meet for 5 bucks. I knew it wasn’t working but I gotthe plans for it online and tracked the problem down to a faulty resistor. It was a 3 MOhm. Rat Shack only when as large as 1 MOhm, so 3 1MOhm in series and I had a working scope. I think the total cost was like 18 bucks for the scope, plans, and resistors.

  15. I believe in preparedness, I have worked with my hands all my life and Tim the Tool Man comes over when he needs to borrow a tool. However, I’d like to point out why tire shops won’t repair your tire with plugs; because plugs fail. Mount up your spare and get you to the tire shop and let them dismount the tire and put a patch on the inside. Get their opinion on a new tire. You have to stay alive to survive and cheaping out on tires is a bad bet. A couple of new Michelins is still less expensive than long-term disability.
    That is all.

    Russ III

    • OMG! all will buy are Michelins! That’s the 1 exception I make to buying an extended warranty! Disc Tire rotates, checks air, rebalances for free & gives a discount on a new one if they go poopoo (never happened 2 me, but the ex? hah!). I always buy 5…..cheaper in the long run….1 vehicle had mini spare, I went online, found match wheel, bought it & bought my 5th (tire, lol).

    • George says:

      I was going about 75 north of little rock on the interstate and it sounded like I ran over something, big clunk in the right rear wheel well. Lo and behold I had a tire that was patched with a plug and it blew out and by the time I pulled over the tire was flat. Glad I was in a rural spot and it was easy to get over. Sure glad I was not in the mixmaster in Dallas stuck in the middle of a bunch of Semi’s!!!! Will never knowingly own a tire that is patched with a plug!!!!

    • Bctruck says:

      Beg to differ,Russ. I’ve put hundreds of thousands of mikes on tires that I plugged. When your an owner operator, tires are up there in the top 5 regular expenses you have to figure into a budget with fuel and maintenance. I’ve put literally many hundreds of thousands of miles on tires I’ve plugged with no failures. Besides, any hole small enough to be repaired by a plug, would never result in an instantaneous failure if it did fail. No need to worry about plugs, they are quite safe if installed correctly and with liberal amounts of adhesive. I’ve also removed bolts and chunks of metal from my tires and had those jokes patched. They will also hold air for the useful life of the tire if done correctly.

  16. BC,
    It sounds like we had similar fathers; although, I think that WW II generation had more of a can do attitude than many today.
    I absolutely love lists; but, yours was pretty useless, since I already have everything on it. OTOH, it makes me feel pretty good that for once there isn’t something I don’t have, or perhaps never even heard of.
    As for additions a good vise can be useful. The one I have is pretty large and heavy, and if you flip to the other side (bottom vs., top) it is built to handle pipes. I would also add a propane or MAP gas torch, a soldering iron (25W) and a soldering gun. With these three things you can handle most soldering and sweating tasks. A good quality wire stripper / crimper with an assortment of connectors, and finally, a good battery drill and a good assortment of deck / utility screws.
    I’m building the pieces for my bee yard (and photographing which I will make available to MD if he wants them), and the battery drill has been very useful for the 120 screws to install the joist hangers, and the additional 80 I’ll be shooting this week.
    As for repairs I’ve made over the years, a simple crimped style push on wire connector fixed both the hot water valve on a washer and the defrost unit on my refrigerator. Additionally, the clock timer on that same old fridge died, and for less than $20, got everything back in order. The dryer element on our electric clothes dryer died about 6 months ago, which I verified with an ohm meter (yep, a DVM is another thing to keep in the box, even a $7.00 one from Harbor Freight will do most jobs) and after getting a replacement online, I talked the DW (who is not mechanically inclined) through removing the old one and installing the new one. Baby steps, baby steps.
    I’ll now be looking through the comments to find those tools I don’t have, or have never heard of. Good information BC.

    • I watched a couple documentarys on WW2 yesterday. I realized that they dont make men like that anymore. I watched one where 200 engineers held off 4500 natzis outgunned and outmanned,but they ran them off from the town they were protecting and rebuilding ,with good old American perseverence and inventiveness with explosives.

      • bc,
        I think I saw the same documentary. The engineers were destroying bridges, just ahead of the German Panzers, and the several skirmishes were a little known part of the battle of the buldge. Can do & never give up were just part of that generation (my dad’s generation) attitude.

  17. Daddy bought all five of us kids a ball peen hammer. We could use his old claw hammers if we needed to remove nails. I think five kids with claw hammers was more than my parents could safely consider. We were really small, four of us from three- to ten-years-old.

    When I need a tool, I go buy it. When I see a good or interesting tool at a yard sale, I buy it. A friend came over to do some work for me. He brought two tool boxes and two saws. Three times he did not have the right tool. I did. As he left, he said, “You don’t have many tools, but you had all the right ones.”

    He needed a nut driver. I looked over the stove where he was cursing and told him I would get my nut driver. He asked how I knew what that tool he needed was called and why I owned one. I use a nut driver to change the needle in my commercial serger.

    Add nut drivers to the list.

  18. Christy says:

    The one thing I would add to the toolbox is duct tape. It can help with repairs and even be used to hold a splint in place if needed.

  19. j.r. guerra in s. tx. says:

    Ignition pliers are well worth adding to a kit.

    Their thin jaws (about 1/8″ wide) can get in many tiny spaces larger units can’t. About 5″ long, they are slip jointed to close on a 1/2″ bolt – pretty versatile. One of their handles can be slid into the outside sleeve of a Leatherman belt sheath for every day carry.

  20. Yardbird says:

    Eyeglasses or magnifying glass. Buy electrically insulated tools.

  21. Repair story: when we married almost 25 yrs ago, my husband had a VHS player/recorder that he had bought at a yard sale for $25 as it wasn’t relieable. He took it home, took it apart, and repaired it with a rubber band, a paperclip, and a small dab of rubber cement. Every so often, he would need to replace the rubber band or paperclip, but we used that VHS player for years. It even survived legos and barbies being inserted where the tapes went. When it finally died, after many, many hours of Barney and Disney movies, we got a Dvd player.

    Now, I need some advice. When we lost our home to fire, we lost all my husband’s tools. We have replaced the basics: hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches, etc. What would you suggest I get him next? He won’t ask for anything unless he absolutely needs it. Also, for power tools, specifically a circular saw, what brand do you recommend? It needs to be corded for heavier duty work.

    • Donna in Mn says:

      I use Skil. They have heavy duty cords for professional work. It helped build my log home back in Pa., put siding on a home I sold 12 years ago, and I still use it for odd jobs today.

    • Bctruck says:

      Right now, I’m very happy with dewalt and Bosch tools. Dealt are my favorite battery powered tools and Bosch are my favorite corded tools. If you’ve replaced wrenches screwdrivers and sockets, you can’t go wrong with a nice set of vise grips ( locking pliers)
      Since the brand “vise grip” is now made in chinastan, the brand called kobalt is well made but far less expensive.

      • Susy, does he have a power drill-(screw)-driver? If I was starting over, that would be my first power tool. Does he have a plumbing snake? Does he have a set of wrenches? sockets? the other tools on BC’s list above?
        Have u considered giving him a gift card to a home improvement store or his favorite hardware store? Father’s Day is coming in about 5-6 weeks. (Even if he’s not a dad, lots of tools go on sale in the week or 2 b/4 Fr’s Day) His birthday?

        • Chuck Findlay says:

          Suzy a cordless impact screw gun (Milwaukee M-12 series is a good handyman choice) is a must have for any kind of wood construction. Impact screw gun rive in screws like crazy, much better then a normal drill can.

          Milwaukee is in many people’s opinion the best power tools made. I have a Milwaukee cordless drill that I bought in 1988 and only recently retired it because it needed a battery that is no longer made and I did not want to rebuild it.

          Look on U-Tube and Milwaukee comes out ahead in ALL comparison test. Yea Milwaukee cost more, but to me (I make a living with my tools) they are worth it because of the quality and work they do.


    • nick flandrey says:

      Skil invented what we call a circular saw, and they are still a great brand. Milwaukee is also good. Bosch are excellent. There are 2 types of circular saw, the classic Skilsaw or wormdrive, and a cabinet saw. For framing a house and heavy work, get the wormdrive. It’s heavier, but will last longer, and the extra length helps. (Handle and motor are in line behind the blade. cabinet saw, the handle is on top, and the motor sticks out the side. They are lighter and more simply made than a wormdrive.) If he’s more of a cabinet maker or wood worker, Festool makes a ‘track saw’ that is top of the line.


  22. Thanks for the article BC. I was not as fortunate to learn so many skills from my Dad or family member, but did get some good skills from high school shop/ industrial arts classes & Boy Scouts.
    Over the years, I’ve collected a good collection of wookworking/carpentry tools, along w/ some basic plumbing, electrical tools. Since I started prepping a few yrs ago, I’ve added extra hand tools like pliers, screwdrivers, hammer, saw blades, & found a good working old-fashioned hand drill at a pawn shop. I’ve found pawn shops a good place to get decent tools cheep, although I’m not as knowledgeable about brand names as some of u here.

    I’m puzzled as to what other tools/supplies to add, as it’s so hard to know what a post-economic collapse will look like & not knowing if I/we’ll need to move in a few yrs due to job change.

    • I agree,it is puzzling to try and imagine life without electricity or the ability to run down to the local harware store. It makes me feel a little better about the unknown by keeping insane quantities of fasteners and scrap lumber/metal on hand. I also srcounge yard sales and flea markets for non electric handtools , saw sharpeners,files,sharpening stones,the list never ends.

    • nick flandrey says:

      Hi Red, I have my “normal” tools that I used as a carpenter and electrician. I’ve added plumbing, woodworking, and mechanics tools as I was able. They are modern and older tools, battery and corded, and air powered. I expect to be able to use most of them in anything short of a full collapse. Air tools are especially adaptable, as you can turn a compressor with many things besides electric motors.

      I’ve also started to “collect” older tools, particularly woodworking hand tools, and tools of the building trades, circa late 1800’s, early 1900’s. These are my “just in case there is no electricity” tool set. If things settle down, I could do woodworking and general construction with them. I watch “The Woodwright’s Shop” in re-runs on PBS for training on how they are used. I even use them occasionally (not exclusively.) It’s not a serious prep, more of an extension of my general interest in woodworking, hand work, and antique tools.

      Having the tools and equipment of a 1910-1930’s machine shop or woodworking shop would be the absolute best, but that is a seriously involved prep, that is a little TOO specific. Unless you enjoyed collecting, restoring, and using them, I think it would stay in the realm of a fantasy prep.

      Thinking of homesteading in the 1800s, the things they imported from the east were quality tools, kegs of nails, window glass, hardware (like locks, knobs, latches, what the Brits call ironmongery), metal screens, barbed wire, agricultural implements. On the home economics side, it was buttons, needles, thread, hooks (or notions as those things are called generally) cloth, dishes, pots and pans, irons, washboards, glassware, technology (like lamps and stoves) kitchen utensils, dyes, seeds, seasonings, candy, etc. What they had locally was raw material and bulk, what they didn’t have was what came from factories or was made primarily from metal. I know you can craft alternatives for many of those things, but it takes time you don’t have because you are busy with the planting/harvesting/animals.

      Depending on the nature of SHTF, there might be a lot of raw material to salvage, or none. If I had a barn and the money, I’d get a unit of plywood (about 60 sheets of 3/4 ply) and a couple of units of 2×4 studs, and just put them up in the loft. I’d put up some rolls of wire fencing to be used as fence or improvised Hesco Barriers (big metal cage filled with rock) for fortifications. I’d put up some rolls of barbed wire. Some cases of sand bags wouldn’t go amiss either.

      There is soooooo much. I have limited my serious preps in this regard to society operating at a 1910 level of tech. Doctors, but no real surgery or antibiotics. Electricity, but no electronics. Animal and manpower in widespread use. Machines, but simple and primitive (steam or 1 cylinder engines for example.) An abundance of simple goods from salvage (like t-shirts.) After all, this would describe the current countryside in most third world countries. Add in roving bands of marauders and you have present day Central America.


      BTW, I don’t think anyone mentioned a plumb bob, string, stakes, measuring tapes, and a level. All necessities for surveying and laying out construction.

      • Oh wow! Haven’t heard of or seen a plumb bob in decades! I do have measuring tapes & levels. Nick, u’re on target about going back in time in our thinking, to 1800s or early 1900s, & what homesteaders used & ordered from factories out east. Reminds me somewhat of the main character in “One Second After,” & his ideas of getting back to how people did things 100 yrs ago. That seems like a good model to follow. I’m going to get some of those things they imported, even tho my current shop is only 2-thirds of a 10 x 10 shed. My available storage space is limited, but most of those things are small.

      • Nick,
        I love The Woodwright’s Shop and watched it years ago. He had one part of the series where he actually builds some of the tools he needed, before using them for other projects. I guess that’s how it was done back then, literally bootstrapping your business.
        You mentioned fantasy preps, and there is one I’ve always thought was the ultimate, described by the many books written by Dave Gingery. He’s been gone about a decade; but, his son has carried on with his books, which allow you to start with a metal casting operation for aluminum, using a charcoal foundry, and eventually leading up to building a complete machine shop, from scrap and scratch. The books, which would be a great addition to any preppers’ library, as well as some vides, are available at:
        Also, to your plumb bob, etc, I would add a good carpenters square. Been using one on my bee yard project, and almost forgot how indispensable they are.

  23. John Strabismus says:

    I did a quick look at the comments, and didn’t see a multimeter or a soldering iron. Both ore useful for repairing electronic items. You’d be amazed at how many people will toss an otherwise good printer or other electronic machine that only has a blown fuse.

    Also, if you’re getting older like I am a magnifying glass to read the rating on the fuse might come in handy.

  24. Leatherwing says:

    In my early 30’s I had a couple of friends help me get started in doing my own work on cars. If something broke, I got an estimate for having it repaired. That became my budget for buying the tools to replace it myself. As I did more repairs, I ended up with enough tools that I usually didn’t need anything new. He helped me (he did most of the work) replace the clutch on my Nissan pickup. I’d never have been able to do it on my own, but learned a lot on that repair.

  25. I leaned a lot from my father. While he wasn’t a great mechanic, he was good at just about anything he set his mind to. We lived up in the mountains, and there were times when if it wasn’t for his ingenuity, we would have been in some pretty bad shape during the storms. My father was a prepper, before it even had a name. Dad always thought way ahead, and as a result, we always had food, and water on tap. Something many of our friends didn’t understand…. until about day three of the storms……

  26. nick flandrey says:

    I love the way the Gingery books bootstrap up to a full shop. There is a project on-line to build a universal machine shop using existing, very precise scrap, mostly from auto parts. I’m away from home or I’d try to find the link. (Pardon the errors, “typing” on a smartphone.)


    • Nick,
      When you get around to it that would be good information for all of us to have on hand. The Gingery books are almost a pipe dream for most of us, unless the SHTF and we have a lot more incentive and time on our hands.
      Something built from salvaged parts without a lot of sand casting, etc. would be of potential real value. We only have to look at surnames to see how much. Before surnames, people were called by their location. Bob of Cleveland, but after skilled trades became important occupations; people were called by their trade. Coopers, made barrels, and anything from plain Smith, it Silversmith, Blacksmith, etc. were from the skilled trades. In a late 1800 to early 1900 environment, these would once again be critical and lucrative skills.

  27. FLAPrepper1 says:

    Great article BC.
    I would add to the list Manual Hand Drills (egg beater-type & brace type) and the and assortment of drill bits.

    As a small business owner, I rely on myself to repair just about everything in my office. I’ve taught myself everything from plumbing, to electrical work, to construction. I’m in the process of moving a non load-bearing wall and adding a door. (I did have a pro help with installing the door + city regulations).
    My Dad taught me auto mechanics, we stripped a Triumph TR-7 engine down to the freeze plugs and then rebuilt it when I was younger.
    Last year my wife and I built a chicken coop (her plans). I believe in self-sufficiency. You always have a sense of pride when you fix/build anything yourself.
    Keep Prepping, Keep Learning, Teach Your Kids these skills.

  28. William McAlexander says:

    An often overlooked tool that I have found immeasurably usefull from assembling furniture, digging ditches, and spot checking when building thongs or checking runs is a line level. Small, light weight, fits in a shirt pocket, and weighs next to nothing. Just my opinion.

  29. Chuck Findlay says:

    I have a few digital multimeters, But I really prefer analog meters. People seem to think that if it’s digital it’s more accurate. Not really, I would put my Simpson 260 (I have 3 of them) against any Harbor Tools digital meter, or against any digital meter.

    I have an old B&K bench mound digital meter that I like and it is accurate (checked against several other meters) and I use it at the workbench. I also have 2 old Radio Shack digital meters that still work good, but I seem to gravitate to the 260s for any measuring I nee to do.

    I know digital meters have a much lower insertion loss, but I seldom work in circuits that this is a problem.


    • Chuck,
      I actually concur with you on the analog meter; however, my Simpson benchtop meter and my Triplett handheld (sort of) meters are long gone and new ones are in the $200-$300 range, which for the moment has them towards the bottom of the to be acquired list. Additionally, most of the work I do does require the high impedance measurement capability. In any case, my point was that every kit should have some kind of meter to measure voltage, resistance, and perhaps current. For the later, I also have a clip on analog current meter, and I have equipment that still uses the old analog type needle meters. In a SHTF situation the old style meters are something that we could at least attempt to build from scratch.

  30. I worked many years at a home improvement store, and it always shocked me when first time home owners came in to get their first set of tools. They always went for a small and cheap set… bothered me to NOOOO END!!! Was always upselling them on a basic all purpose set that most hardware stores will sell you for 100.00 and half the time it comes with a tool box or tool bag! Don’t cheat yourselves people, start it out right!

    • Chuck Findlay says:

      Jay I see the same thing in my handyman business. People buy the lowest priced items and expect great results. In fact I stopped painting homes if the customer buys low quality paint. Home Depot sells a paint called “America’s Best” it is junk, it should be called white wash. I have a customer that loves this junk paint because it’s low cost. But it takes several coats to do what one coat of Dutch Boy paint does. I had to quit painting apartments for him as he got mad that I was somehow not painting the walls right as I had to put three coats on the wall and it cost him more labor then he liked.

      I understand not having a lot of money to throw around as this is the story of my whole life. I was never what you would call well off. But my dad taught me the value of buying good tools and supplies. It’s actually less expensive to buy good stuff in the long run.

  31. Chuck Findlay says:

    I find my truck turning into any driveway that has a “Barn Sale” sign as there always seems to be old, well made tools there looking for a new home. I really dislike buying low quality tools (China Made) that almost never seem to be as good as older stuff. Last fall I bought a pipe vice that is made to slip into the trailer hitch mount on the back of my truck, it was $10.00. It’s very heavy and well made. If I dropped it on my foot, I would need a cast for sure. You just can’t hardly find new tools like this any more. I sandblasted it, painted it and it looks good. I’m sure it will be around long after I’m gone.

    I just bought a bunch of Milwaukee battery-powered tools that are made in China. I don’t like it, but what do you do? I hope the Milwaukee tools hold up. They seem very well made and come with a 5-year guarantee on the tool and 2 year on the batteries, and so far they seem to be working very well and the impact driver has a lot of power for a 12-volt battery. I plan on a few more of them and some spare batteries. I want a battery powered hammer drill for concrete and a battery powered spike gun for framing work .

    I also bought a 350-watt inverter so I can charge them from my truck as I drive from one job to the next. I’m going to run a separate power line to the back of the van to power the inverter / battery chargers.

    I’m working hard to set my van up to operate as a complete work station that doesn’t need grid power as I work on jobs that are nowhere close to 110-volt power. Thinking about adding a 100-watt solar panel and a jell-cell to run a small 100-watt inverter for charging batteries.

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