Primitive Weaponry for Preppers, or How to Get Medieval on Someone Else’s Buttocks

This is a guest post and entry in our non-fiction writing contest  by Steve A

For thousands of years, our ancestors fought to find new and more efficient ways to fold, spindle, and mutilate others.  At the same time, they also looked for better ways to farm, hunt, and make their livelihoods.  For most of them, the tools they had at hand had to suffice for both tasks.

Until fairly modern times, people were relegated to muscle powered weaponry, with the bow, crossbow, and a few other missile weapons added.  Today, the firearm is the weapon of choice.

I know there are some people who by choice choose not to include firearms in their prepping.  I won’t argue for or against that, even though I’m definitely not one of them.  Nonetheless, there may be a time when a firearm is not available, broken, out of ammunition, or just not the tool for the job.  In that case, you need to have a back up.  I’m assuming of course, that you don’t have another firearm.  Our ancestors put a lot of thought and effort into developing non-firearm weaponry, and we would be silly not to learn from them.

There are a few caveats that I need to include before I start.  First, most preppers are armed with firearms, and are at least basically proficient in their use.  However, there are a many circumstances that may preclude having a firearm with you.  I my case, I am often on military property, and federal law prohibits carrying firearms on military property except under very specific circumstances.  Second, no one knows when or even if things are going to come apart at the seams, so it is possible that when SHTF actually occurs, you are not sitting on top of your gear and personal arsenal.  Third, it is entirely possible that you could lose your supplies and stockpiled gear, due to flooding, fire, or just having to leave quickly to prevent being overrun.  All that said, I think I can assume again that you are not just going to give up and be a victim just because you don’t have a firearm.

Just about anything can be a weapon if needed.  A chair, a broken bottle, a scrap of 2×4, all make dangerous improvised weapons.  But as preppers, while we love to improvise, when it comes to defending our lives and loved ones, improvisation takes a back seat to prepared gear and how to use it.  While most people prepare with a firearm in mind, few keep full medieval armor and weapons on hand just in case.  Instead, just like with much of our gear and skills, preppers need to think in terms of multi-use items, or how to maximize the usage of what we have with us.  I’m going to cover armament that can fill more than one role, generally a tool-like purpose as well as a weapon.

Primitive weapons fall into two main categories, melee and missile.  Melee weapons are hand-to-hand weapons, and missile weapons are designed to place a projectile onto a target at a distance beyond arm’s reach.  Missile weaponry includes bows and crossbows, but I am not going to cover that here, as at best I’m a mediocre archer, and not up to demonstrating just how little I know about it.  I’m also going to skip all the other missile weapons like slings, atlatls, and thrown items like knives and axes.  Another area I’m going to leave out is martial arts weapons, because unless you’re a martial artist, you probably won’t have them on hand, and if you are a martial artist, you know more about them than I do.

Instead, I want to concentrate on the generic hand-to-hand options available.  I also want to state up front that hand-to-hand combat should be a last resort.  Unless you are heavily armored in armor designed to stop hand-powered weapons, you will get hurt, possibly very badly.   That said, let’s get on to seeing what may work for you.

I will break down things into three general categories: bludgeoning, slashing and piercing.  Most primitive weaponry falls into one of these three groups, but a few cross into one or both of the others as well.  I will also be concentrating on weapons that have a practical purpose to the prepper as a tool or instrument besides just a weapon.

Bludgeoning:  Bludgeoning weapons damage by blunt force trauma.  They can easily damage someone through body armor and helmets, because they don’t have to penetrate the armor to injure.  Even a glancing blow can incapacitate a foe.  Of all primitive weapons, bludgeoning weapons are also the most flexible when it comes to other uses.

Clubs:  Man’s oldest weapon may have been a rock, but I’m going to give the simple club credit here.  A club is so basic and effective that it is still in use, even issued to police and military as a weapon today.  Riot sticks, night sticks, baseball bats and tonfa are just modern forms of the club.  The club needs to at least 18 inches in length, and thick enough to grip securely, in order to be effective.  Of course it can be longer, but beyond 48 inches (riot stick size), it may become too unwieldy.  It requires little skill to use, but muscle strength makes all the difference.  What other use can it be put to?  Besides smashing things, a club can be used to prop a door open or closed, drive in a peg (not a nail), and poke in to areas you might not want to put your hand into first.

Staves:  The Staff is little more than an over-grown club.  It is also still made, although modern versions are rarely made to be used as a weapon.  In ancient times, a staff may have been the only weapon a person had, and properly used, could provide a very effective defense.  Unlike the club, using a staff almost always requires both hands, as it should be about 6 feet long and an inch or more in diameter.  Its use beyond the most basic striking and blocking requires training and practice.  It’s plain and common appearance, however, makes it an excellent choice as a simple weapon to keep on hand.  It can also be used for walking/hiking, herding animals, testing the ground/water/etc for safety before crossing, balance, and even hanging a bag for travel ala hobo style.

Hammers:  The hammer is one of the most basic hand tools available.  You can almost fix anything with it, or at least beat the heck out of it.  With hammers, bigger is better when you start talking about needing it as a weapon.  Of course there are many types of hammers, and some are very specialized.  For the purpose of this article, there are a few that could meet your requirements.  A large framing hammer, 22 oz or more, makes a handy weapon, and drives nails and stakes.  A blacksmith’s hammer also does a good job, both for beating metal into shape and taking out a threat.  Sledge hammers are devastating against a human, but are very slow to use and if you miss, you almost always leave yourself off balance and open to attack, so avoid them as a choice unless you’re built like Hercules.  I believe the best choice is the wrecking/utility bar, a combination hammer-style tool the combines a strike face with various spike-like points.  Two options I would consider are Stanley’s Fat Max Utility Bar and Dead On tool’s Annihilator Wrecking/Utility Bar.  Both are made of a solid piece of steel, and are virtually indestructible.  Besides their use as a weapon, there’s not much you can’t get in to with one and they still can be used as a regular hammer.

Slashing:  Slashing weapons are probably the most commonly pictured primitive weapons.  From knives, to axes, to swords, this class of weapons more than any other has come to incorporate the whole idea of “medieval” weapons.  Unfortunately, since most preppers aren’t planning to become Wasteland Warriors from all the 1980’s movies, many slashing weapons are not as useful to us as our imaginations might like.

Knives:   Every prepper worth the title has at least one knife, and probably more than one.  Knives are Man’s oldest purpose made tool, and we still need them for things from kitchen chores to combat every day.  As this is a whole topic all to itself, I’ll just say that when you pick a knife, get the best one you can afford that is not a specialized design.  While Rambo’s knife may be very intimidating, try preparing a meal with one.  Likewise, try field dressing a deer with only a Swiss Army knife.  You can do both tasks, but they’re not easy without the appropriate knife.  A good general purpose hunting knife or medium sized K-Bar design might be your best bet for both utility and defense.

Axes and Hatchets:  Many preppers argue about whether or not an ax should even be carried.  If you’re bugging out, on foot, that is a valid point from a weight and usefulness standpoint.  If you’re bugging in, an ax seems only prudent when it comes to chopping wood or breaking game.  However, as a weapon, the modern wood ax isn’t a good choice.  It can be devastating, but as with a sledge hammer, if you miss, you’re in trouble.  Combat axes, like a medieval battle ax, are better on people, but do a very poor job on chopping wood or other tasks.  Instead of an ax, a more flexible choice would be a hatchet or tomahawk.  Both are lighter and more than capable of cutting small trees and branches for wood, and for fighting.  A well made hatchet or tomahawk can also double as a light hammer, and could eliminate the need and weight of carrying two tools should you have to bug out.  Also, while I don’t advocate it’s use this way unless you practice a lot, a tomahawk can be thrown, and at short range is very deadly.

Pole Type Weapons:  If you can imagine a way to slice, dice, and julienne a person, someone has taken that idea and mounted it on a pole to use as a weapon.  Everything from a big knife (glaive) to the axe/spear/hook combination of the halberd has been tried and discarded until only the halberd has remained to modern times (the Vatican’s Swiss Guard, and yes, they know how to use them).  For preppers, none of these really work except for the old English Bill, now made as a brush ax.  It comes in several varieties, with both long and short handles.  Originally used for pruning limbs on trees, it also easily pruned limbs on foes.  Oh, and it chops up brush as well.  It is slow to use, but again, very effective if its hits.  It isn’t easy to carry around, so this would be best used it you were bugging in or had one stored at your bug out location.

Spears:  The lowly spear is often regarded as the weapon of the expendable.  Hence, the expression “spear carrier” for the rank and file peons present only to soak up enemy fire.  Actually, the spear is a very versatile weapon, and it crosses the line between a slashing and a thrusting weapon.  Technically, it can also be used as a bludgeoning weapon, if handled as a staff.  A spear can be as simple as a pointed stick, with a fire hardened point.  It can be a staff with a knife blade lashed to it.  It can also be a purpose-made weapon.  A spear should be between six to eight feet in length, including the head or blade.  A crossbar at the end of the blade is very useful for keeping aggressive game from coming up the shaft to get in a final strike against the wielder (like wild boar).

An exception to the size is the Assegai, a Zulu fighting spear with a 3 foot shaft, and as the colonial British could attest, a very effective weapon in deed.  So how does a spear fit into our multi-use requirement?  First, the spear is a hunting weapon.  You have to get close, but our ancestors could do it, so we can learn (and not starve in the mean time).  Second, the spear adds reach for knock fruit out of trees, moving downed power lines, or even keeping wild dogs at bay.  And third, spears can be made out of and handy pole and sharp object.  As a final note, spears have a psychological effect on an opponent.  A bayonet on a rifle is just a spear, and most people and animals will not willingly risk impaling themselves rushing a spear-wielding opponent.  At least to me, not having to use a weapon to achieve my goals is preferable to having to use one, and a simple spear could give me that edge.

Swords:  Everyone’s favorite post apocalypse/Zombie weapon!  I will admit I own a few swords, some decorative, some actual weapons.  A sword is a specialized weapon, and I’m mentioning it here only because if I didn’t someone would ask about it.  From a prepping standpoint, a sword is pretty much useless.  Without training, a sword is just as dangerous to you as it is to a foe.  You can’t really hunt with one, chop wood with one, or use it for much else except combat.  If you insist on carrying a sword, I strongly suggest you learn how to use it.  Check out your local Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) chapter, and get in with their fighters, while your other half gets in with their craft folks and learns something really useful.  While your bruises heal, they can tell you all about it…

Entrenching Tools:  Using an entrenching tool as a weapon goes back to at least Roman times.  In the Twentieth Century, World War One caused troops to start to deliberately modify their E-tools for use in trench raids and as last ditch weapons (no pun intended here).  World War Two, Korea, and Vietnam all had cases where E-tools were used to defend their users against attackers in close combat.  I do not know of any instances from recent wars, but I believe that has had more to do with the nature of the fighting than anything else.  Modern E-tools (the folding kind) usually come with one edge partially sharpened to act as an ax, although they are hard to swing due to their grip configuration.  With a little work they can hold a great edge, until you use them to dig a hole.  Even so, they are very compact and versatile.  I would recommend a surplus E-tool with a fixed wooden handle, like the East German model, either genuine surplus or the Cold Steel version.  The fixed handle makes them longer, but also easier to wield as a weapon.  An E-tool of some sort should be part of everyone’s gear, so having it as a defensive tool as well just makes sense.

Machetes:  Unlike a sword, the machete started out as a tool for cutting crops and brush.  It just so happens that it also makes a very effective close combat weapon.  A machete comes in many lengths and forms, from a basic brush tool to a kuhkri  design optimized for weight-forward cutting.  It makes a very effective weapon that requires little training to use other than it’s intended use as a tool.  A well made machete can also replace an ax or hatchet for light wood cutting, and a heavier (thicker bladed) version could handle small trees.  If you have to have a slashing weapon in your stockpile, this would be an excellent choice.

Piercing:  Piercing weapons do their damage by piercing the target, hopefully striking vital organs or causing blood loss.  Many of the options already listed, such as knives, spears, and machetes can also be used to pierce a target, and so I’ll not cover them again.  Modifications to clubs, staves, and axes can also give the ability to pierce, but at the cost of being able to do their primary functions, becoming pure weapons instead of multi-purpose tools.

Ice Picks:  Ice?  Who’d going to have ice when there’s no power and no working freezers?  While where you live may or may not get ice in the winter, an ice pick is a great kitchen tool to have in your field or camping kit.  Piercing meat for spices or marinade, venting a can to drain juice, or even pre-SHTF breaking up ice for cold ones, an ice pick has many uses.  As a weapon, it is deceptively dangerous.  It can pierce leather, clothing, and skin with ease, doing critical damage to internal organs.  It can even pierce the bones of the human skull.  At one time, it was a favored assassination tool of the Mafia.  It is also easy to conceal, as long as precautions are taken not to stick yourself with it.

The above list is hardly all-inclusive.  Nearly anything can be made into a weapon, but I have tried to focus on tools that a prepper could or should have on hand that can do double duty without being modified.

I highly recommend getting training in some form of primitive weaponry, whether through your favorite dojo, the SCA, or a qualified instructor.  Personally, I recommend the SCA over the others, as you can also learn lots of skills not associated with fighting, but are low tech and will be vital in a post SHTF environment.

I hope this information is useful to you.  I do want to stress again that hand-to-hand combat is nasty, brutish, bloody, and you are very likely to get hurt.  Keep your firearm handy, well fed, and working.  But if the worst happens, you don’t have to find yourself defenseless.  You do have options other than a firearm to protect yourself and your loved ones.

This is an entry in our non-fiction writing contest where you could win:

First Prize) Winner will receive a Wise Essentials Kit courtesy of LPC Survival and an EcoZoom’s Versa Stove courtesy of EcoZoom stoves.. A value of over $300.

Second Prize) Winner will receive a Stealth Body Armor Level II vest courtesy of SafeGuard ARMOR™ LLC and a $150 gift certificate for Wolf Ammo courtesy of A total prize value of over $600.

Third Prize) Winner will receive copies of both of my books “31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness” and “Dirt-Cheap Survival Retreat: One Man’s Solution” and a Katadyn Siphon Water Filter courtesy of Mayflower Trading Company. A total prize value of $107.

Contest ends on June 5 2012.

About M.D. Creekmore

M.D. Creekmore is the owner and editor of He is the author of four prepper related books and is regarded as one of the nations top survival and emergency preparedness experts. Read more about him here.


  1. I would add that many kinds of sports equipment might be useful defensive weapons in a SHTF situation. One that comes to mind is the fencing foil or epee. Of course, sharpening the dull tip would render it deadly in trained hands, but it could serve equally well in a non-lethal manner for the less well-trained.

    There’s nothing like being whipped with a highly flexible steel blade to make someone back off. I’ve know two different fencers who have had to fend off muggers in this manner. One fellow was leaving fencing practice and realised he was being followed. The mugger threatened him with a knife and demanded money. My friend looked at the guy, looked at the fencing foil he had in his hand, and proceded to pistol-whip the guy into fetal position. He took the thief’s wallet for good measure.

    • Fencers, like tennis players etc are excellent athletes, skilled in the use of their chosen sporting equipment. But let me ask, what if said theif had a gun, not a knife. And most of us are ageing over weight, out of shape types who could only defend themselves with a sword on “WOW” or “D&D”.

      Ever notice that the people in all those zombie/survival flics are healthy type. Not at all like average Americans.

    • I love this guy!!! Way to go. You made me laugh out loud, something that I very much needed. I just love that he added insult to injury. That sucker had it comming! Thanks for the story.

    • Protective equipment knowledge wouldnt hurt either . I dont in all reality in the modern world of guns , think that things would get so bad that this would be an issue , BUT knowing how to make things may if nothing else be an interesting hobby . Knowing how to weave chain mail may come in handy as you can wear it under your cloths ( the japanese 6 on 2 pattern is near blade proof if you do it right ) Hard leather or cutting up one of those big blue plastic water barrels makes grate and effective plate when you cut up a sleeping bag mat to pad it with . One thing I would seriously recommend is a pair of bracers , Hard leather is easy to come by , and a long sleeve shirt will cover them , your forearms tend to be the first thing to get cut in a knife fight .

      • A fellow I knew in college was a hockedy player and, as drunk stories tend, this went from bad to worse when an idiot thought he could overpower and rob the hockey player- who happened to be walking by with a new stick in his hand.
        Needless to say, you don’t want to come between a hockey player and his stick if you have mischief in mind.

        • Wut the hell is ‘hockedy’? Darned thumbs are at it agen… I meant hockety…. errr… dangit… hockey. 🙂

      • What do hockey players and arab women have in common ?
        ….they both take a shower after the third period ……

    • SurvivorDan says:

      Always take the would be robber’s shoes as well.
      Obvious reason in case he recovers quickly.
      Just sayin’…..

  2. randyvw says:

    i always thought my pitchfork would be good for home defence

  3. JP in MT says:

    One good thing about these weapons is they don’t need reloading or a permit.

  4. Nice posting. A lot of weapons evolved from common tools. A lot of what we have in our tool sheds can be used as a weapon.

    A scratch awl makes a powerful piercing weapon. It can easily puncture soft tissue in a thrust and, when held in a hammer grip, punch through a skull.

    Check out Cold Steel’s line of two handed machete’s.

  5. If you’re expecting to need medieval weapons, ts probably good to have some kind of shield on hand. You could make a roman style shield, big enough to hide behind, from a sheet of plywood wih some kind of metal boss affixed to the front. Or there’s the “knght’s” shield – smaller, but again easy to make out of plywood. My personal favourite is the buckler – a small (8-18″ diameter),all metal shield used to block, or punch with.

  6. gil*ab*ca says:

    Nice article. I have made up a few “bedroom weapons”. I use an ash sledge handle with a removable (pinned and lashed) Cold Steel Shanghai Shadow. It makes a formidable weapon, and being removable, the weapon can be transported in a vehicle here in Canada. This combination fits perfectly in a Rod Case.

  7. alikaat says:

    I’m glad to say that in this department, my family’s favorite passtimes more than supply enough under-the-radar primitive weaponry to satisfy much of this need. In a houseful of sports-crazy little boys, we have baseball bats and hockey and lacrosse sticks in every corner, and these raise absolutely no suspicion. We’ve each found a good hiking stick that has proven sound over many uses over the years that live in an easily accessed spot on the back porch, and yes… we do participate in the SCA! So funny to see it mentioned here, but my boys have each taken to the youth fighting league with a vengeance and have proven that different personalities definitely show up as different hand-to-hand fighting styles. And SCA is the place where I honed my sewing skills and open campfire/cast iron cooking skills. It has been more than two decades of learning curve… but in these tasks, I am pretty well-known in my ‘shire’. Nothing like active kids to test the quality of your stitches or whetted appetites after an afternoon of sparring to push you to optimize your skills.
    Good to think about ways common items make good weapons. Thinking about it now will make it that much easier to think quickly in a situation where traditional defense methods are not an option.
    Good post. Thank you for submitting it!

    • If it can’t be made into a weapon, then it’s edible and needs to be cooked.

      • alikaat says:

        JSW… I’ve got to remember that one for my next event! I know of a certain camp of Vikings who might make it their motto… Any closet Scadians here will understand.

        • LOL, Cat- even some cooking can be used as a weapon if you cook it… uhmmm… cook it… right? no, cook it wrong… wait… I’ll figure this out in a second… anyway, I’m thinkin’ of some banties we tried cooking one time- could’a used them as projectiles in shotguns… “-\

    • axelsteve says:

      From what I have been told by other people in my area. If you have a baseball bat you better have a ball and glove also.That will keep you from getting arrested by having it in your vehicle. I did once chase a lowlife drug dealer out of my neighborhood with a bat though.Note to myself take an adult bat not a kids bat to those situations next time.

      • alikaat says:

        We’ve always got balls and gloves around and in both of our vehicles. What use is a bat without a ball? Seriously… my kids just about eat, sleep, and breathe baseball during season, and when it’s too cold to play, they watch old ‘Classic’ games that are broadcasted on one of the internet cable channels and pretend to play along with the game. Can’t keep anything breakable in there for the swinging bats. DH found a way to wire this stuff directly into our main TV in the family room, and heavens forbid anything other than baseball play in there. It’s pretty funny to see the kids watch games that were played dozens of years ago and get excited about games that happened so long ago.
        Nah… no one could ever accuse someone in my house of premeditated staging of sporting equipment for the purpose to do anyone bodily harm. Our stuff really gets used… in all seasons.

  8. Prudent says:

    Steve A. : Outstanding Post Sir! This has been creeping around in my head for some years. I have a BA in Theatre, sets, lighting and tech. direction. I got hooked on Blunt and edged things while at the UNLV tech direction and stage combat training. Short sword and buckler are my favorite, 6′ staff followes up. As to the uses in a SHTF moment, your right… limited. But I would ask the reader to hit YouTube and go to “Pig Hunting with spear” and Oh My! I have made two heavy spears. One out of an old Viking pattern head mounted on an Ash hay fork handle. The other is a classic early Euro head on a 6′ red oak pole.

    I can’t get my head around things being as bad as to put these to use. Nice reading for sure .. but not something I take for a walk around the block. Thing is Sir .. You are spot on with the social potential and deterent affect-effect of these ‘weapons’. For the Vet crowd…. Bayonet and spear manuvers are oddly the…. same… only one has about 9 feet of reach with an edged & pointy thing on the end of a stick.

    I leave a 14″ Machete, full knuckle grd. with each ‘truck bag’, jumper cables, tow straps and tie downs.

    Again…. Good work Steve A.

    • I met a girl one time who was one of the first women to hunt pigs with a knife- in a cave. Oh, I’m sure it was done milennia ago, but for the 20th Century, she was an original. Sweet little thing, too.
      Just stay away from her when she had a knife.
      Bayonet and spear are ‘kind of’ the same, with the spear being ‘chuckable’ a first thought. Also, lighter, and tend to be a bit longer than a rifle, even a Garand. But I get your point (pun intended).

  9. I use a cane (motorcycle accident), and after about fifteen years, I have got pretty good at moving it around. I’m not saying that it works pretty well at cracking skulls, but a good modern walking stick (not the drugstore kind) is usually very tough and flexible. Mine’s carbon-fiber, but I’ve had wood ones in the past that were phenomenally tough. The flat handles are best, more comfortable than curved or ball handles, and present a few distinct striking faces. I’m just sayin’…

    Funny aside, I clicked the link to the wrecking hammers, and the only state they can’t ship to is mine. I’m just sayin’…. 🙂

    • Check Northern Tool and Supply, Rick- they can ship it to you. But, IMO, that wrecker ain’t that good a tool for pounding nails. Better off with a Stiletto Tool Titanium framer’s hammer. Same shape and size as a 24 ounce framer and weighs 14 ounces. Swings like a litning bolt and hits like one, too. Not to mention, it’s a real hammer. 😉

    • SurvivorDan says:

      Love the cane suggestion Rick.
      I no longer need my cane but I occasionally walk in somewhere with it as it appears harmless but can be a formidable weapon. I always board commercial aircraft with a strike bezel equipped Surefire flashlight, two steel pens, a kubaton (aluminum stick on my key chain) and a cane. All of these non-weapon items can be carried into nearly any venue you can imagine where weapons are forbidden. Need to go to court? Fly? Attend a concert? Go to a stadium? You need not be totally unarmed . The items I mentioned may not seem formidable individually but combined they make a decent defensive system…….when you can’t have a pepper spray, a Taser a knife and a firearm.

    • axelsteve says:

      I knew an old ww2 vet that ended up using a cane. He bought his cane in the phillipines during ww2. Well one day a cop asked him if he could see his cane.It turned out to be a sword cane and my friend had no idea. The punk cop/public saftey officer confinscated it on the spot. He hobbled back to his car and bought a replacement at the drugstore. He was in the navy from 1927 to 1947.

      • TomFish says:

        Ain’t that just the way? Good old warrior gets the shaft from a cop.

        • axelsteve says:

          not even a real cop.Public saftey officer is a cop/fireman/ dog catcher/meter reader.

          • SurvivorDan says:

            In defense of the officer, he could have arrested the old gent for having a concealed and forbidden weapon. Seems mean but what if later that day the old gent skewered on of his shuffleboard competitors?
            One can purchase a sword cane at the swapmeets here in AZ. Still very illegal.
            If he really needed the cane to walk and I were the officer, I would have taken him to CVS and gotten him a new (non-lethal) cane.

  10. Prudent says:

    FYI for yee olde Pack members. Skip the dress up and go to the edged weapon era of your choice. These are modern heat treated steel that will ‘blow through’ any made in the period. Sharpened or…. not. Your choice. “Boar Spear”

    There are pages on pages of sites that make small lot, hi and low grade, $$$ and not so.. edged and pointy things.

  11. With the exception of swords, most primitive weapons can be made from common items or easily purchased (ie aluminum baseball bats).
    One caviat. There are some of us who would likely be disabled “winning” a hand to hand fight. For us, a firearm or bow/crossbow are the only option. I would like to take this opportunity to point out that for self defense, a bow is a close range weapon (likely less than 25 yards vs a moving target). If you’re thinking Cressy and Agincourt, remember that 5,000 archers had 10,000 arrows in the air at any one time against a massed, largely immobile enemy.
    Make no mistake, martial arts and meelee weapons are good to know and great excersize. But you never “want” to bet your life on them if there is an alternitive, ie a gun.

  12. Very well done article. In many societies the peasants were not allowed weapons but were expected to respond for the common defense. In Poland the peasants used clubs (saplings grown for the purpose) with bits of metal, bone or stone implanted to great effect when fighting the Knights Templar. In the philipenes they developed different versions of stick fighting for defense in the jungle and as the Spanish, Japanese and Americans would attest were quite proficient with many style of medevial weapons.

    I’d suggest the purchase of a spare pick handle if one wishes to use a club. Cheap, hardwood, just right length, generally unoticed around the homestead, packs a great wallop. The natives in the desert southwest also used warclubs extensively. The native wood was often to small for anything else. They used them as striking tools and as thrown weapons to disable a moving opponent. The club can also be used to harvest small game, both thrown and hand held.

    A side benefit to training with primitive weaponry, is that it can provide a good workout and maintain flexibility.

  13. TomFish says:

    I’d add gardening tools to this list. A good hoe, rake or similar implement has obvious uses in the yard/garden, but are equally effective in a hand to hand situation. I have a dandilion popper, about 4 feet long with an iron ‘v’ on one end…that has at least three uses – eliminates need for buying (expense) weed killer (toxin), eliminates dandilions, and would a hell of a stabbing weapon without needing to get too close to the attacker. Not too long and not too short. Perfect.

    I do keep a regular size axe in my safe room. I figure it has obvious defensive capability (if my Glock and Winchesters both malfunction – though not likely!) but would also be useful to hack my way out of a situation like a tornado, wind storm that knocks trees and branches into the the basement area.

    Another really handy close range combat item is those hacksaws that are used to tighter quarters – like under a sink, when a regular size hacksaw won’t fit. You can find them everywear – they have a handle and hold the saw blade at two connection points. Slashing with them would be painful and effective for dispatching an attacker. Though they won’t stand a direct blow from another hand weapon, like a club or bat, they can be used in the right situation. And, they also happen to be handy for cutting stuff! ;o)

    I think I have a knife, hatchet, dandilion popper or other “weapon” in every location of my home/garage/garden shed. If you think about it, YOU probably do too! Make sure to have a good Louisville Slugger under your bed, as well!

    Nothing wrong with nice hickory axe handle, either, they don’t take up any space, are easy to swing, are light and concealable and hurt like a bugger. It also gives you a backup to your current axe handle.

    I could talk about this kind of stuff all day!

    • Prudent says:

      Fish…. do you mean a “drywall” saw?

      • TomFish says:

        No, although a drywall saw would hurt too :0) No, a mini-hacksaw…it’s built a little differently, but basically, imagine a hacksaw, then eliminate the 4-5 inches of air space….i don’t know how to describe it….go to home depo and ask them to show you one.


    • alikaat says:

      Nice… the gardening shed for an armory. Found myself at the Depot today eyeballing the rack of replacement handles, wondering if any of my tools might need a new one… and maybe I should just pick up a couple in case. The wood they are made from is pretty dense. I wouldn’t scorn a broken tool handle as a spear or stabbing tool in the hands of someone with bad intent. Would make an OPSEC-friendly weapon, as well. Who would look twice at a broken garden tool?

      • TomFish says:

        Exactly. The only worry is that we have to remember that they are also a nasty tool that can be used against us…don’t leave ’em laying in plain site…and certainly don’t leave a garden tool within a large radius of the doors and windows of your home. Sometimes opportunity creates criminals….”hmmmm, look at that shovel standing right next to the front door of that house”.


  14. Good article ,
    I did take medieval weapons training when I was younger . Two things that if your serious about learning this you need to take .
    #1. quarterstaff fighting – this is something that can beat multiple opponents and something that transfers over into everyday objects that may be in reach when you need them .

    #2 . Two weapon fighting – This is a must if you dont like getting hit . This allows you to both attack and block incoming at the same time .

    Go to and go through all their demonstration videos , they are entertaining if nothing else …..BUT they also give you a general idea of damage capabilities of hand weapons . Just remember … isnt like in the movies , if you dont practice , practice , practice . YOU will be that side of beef and not the other guy . Any idiot can learn to shoot a gun in less than 5 min . In your face weapons take skill to master , which brings up another important thing : GET INTO SHAPE !
    have no illusions about this , if you have no endurance – you will die if the other guy does have it . If you get cut or sliced you will not be able to call time out to wrap it up . Your just going to hope its not deep so you dont bleed out before you can get the other guy or find an exit . This kind of fighting is that base .

  15. tommy2rs says:

    As one who uses a brush ax and machete nearly daily in combat with sweet gum, privy hedge and briers let me say that they are tiring. The brush ax is an awesome cutting device but it is heavy and slow. Even the machete wears you down faster than you would think, especially in the heat. If you think you will be using these or any melee type weapon start practicing now to develop the muscle groups necessary. Lol.. I remember from fencing class in college the pain in my legs while committing the simple lunge to muscle memory. And yeah I have an antique cavalry saber that could be pressed into service if needed. I even work out with it.

    • SurvivorDan says:

      Let’s not forget the omni-present 9 iron….no wait….I believe I’ll try a wood on this fellow.

  16. Rob Crawford says:

    “An exception to the size is the Assegai, a Zulu fighting spear with a 3 foot shaft, and as the colonial British could attest, a very effective weapon in deed.”

    The Assegai, IMHO, was more a short sword than a spear. Compare its use to the Roman gladius.

    • Im a big fan of short swords , main reasons are they have decent reach but take less area to use . They are also VERY fast . I have a celtic leaf blade , its razor sharp , and lightning fast .

  17. I’m so glad someone did a post on this subject! Great job Steve A!

    I’ve done some research on various types of primitive weapons but that’s about all. You are correct in saying that there may come a time or place where firearms either aren’t available or don’t fit the task at hand. I’d like to learn more about how to make effective primitive type weapons and look forward to reading all the comments from the Pack.

  18. I actually have a trail hawk (from coldsteel) and a brush knife that i made attached to my survival pack. i used to do baton wood the old fashoned way with another piece of wood as the hammer but its much easier with the back of my trailhawk. i also am able to use, with great effeciency, the actual tomahawk to clear limbs off of small trees for a lean to. I have recently started getting into the defensive portion of the tomahawk. So far i really pity the fool that tries to pull a melee weapon on someone with a tomahawk and knife combo.

    • axelsteve says:

      I have an interisting tool/weapon. it is made by sandvick and it is a light axe handled with a c like section on one end that comes with a cutting blade. It was made for cutting limbs and such.You can cut fleshy limbs with some practice if needed.I used it when I worked for the C.C.C. 30+ years ago.Kinda cool thing to have.

  19. JeffintheWest says:

    I’d like to note that if you have access to a good library, especially one that has a collection of military history or similar books, you MAY be able to find a book in there called something like “Fairbairn’s Guide to Unarmed Combat.” I think Paladin Press (who publishes our very own MDC) also sometimes has copies for sale. Fairbairn was one of the founding fathers of the British Commandos in World War II, and his book is a superb guide to the basics of unarmed combat and improvised weaponry. I cannot recommend it enough. It’s very well written and very well illustrated, to the point that a couple could easily take one section a week and master it in that time. Of course, it would go quicker if you have someone who knows something about unarmed combat around to teach, but even so…. I stumbled across a copy in the University of Texas at El Paso’s “S.L.A. Marshall Collection” back some 30+ years ago, at the same time that I was taking Tai Chi and Wing Chun, and despite being in those two martial arts learned a TON from that book too. Well worth the time and any money invested!

  20. Because in Canada you cannot use your firearms for home defence in most scenarios (you have to have them stored so they are locked, out of sight and not available quickly) I keep an aluminum baseball bat around as a bludgeoning weapon.

    As well as a good machete, which is usually used for clearing vegetation if I have to hike through an overgrown area.

    My folding shovel is nice and heavy too.

    Great article! We can’t always rely on guns and the tools we have around us have more than one use.

  21. A lot of movies show people in castles dropping hot oil, grease or rocks on the bad guys. If you are at your bug in or bug out location and run out of ammo consider deadfalls, pungi sticks etc., or devise your own molotov cocktails and make crispy critters out of the attackers. Use of fire is both intimidating and lethal.

  22. George is Learning says:

    Louieville Slugger from walmart. Great stuff , get the junior size as it swings nice and fast, fairly light weight. Nothing like a good piece of oak to smack someones day into next week. I have 1 in every room 🙂 Batters up baby!

  23. Kelekona says:

    Good article. I’ve been wanting to get a naginata (polearm) for home-defense, but I think I should go for something that has reach without being so cumbersome indoors.

    It seems like is the only design for glove-weapons that is even trying to be practical, but it seems like traditional gauntlets tend to have designs with potential skin-removing power. (Glove weapons would be at-hand for if your first weapon loses its range advantage, you’re already screwed if someone can get them away from you.)

    Might I humbly suggest keyword ABANA. Not only is blacksmithing useful, but it would also build arm-strength and control. (Whee, a blacksmithing club has come to my area and no membership fees.)

    (Double whee, the local SCA has an archery club.)

    • SurvivorDan says:

      Check out sap gloves. Lead or steel weighted gloves. The metal is in pockets woven into the knuckles. Illegal in most jurisdictions but available on the net (I believe Cheaper than Dirt has offered them from time to time) . I’m certainly not advocating carrying them but rather purchasing or making them to be stored in the event of a cataclysmic failure of society. They look innocuous to the untrained eye and may provide a surprise defensive weapons system. {check your local laws}. A couple extra ounces of lead in your thrown punch produces a surprising increase in the power of your punch. Like anything else, do practice with them.

  24. Martial arts are superior for unarmed in the very long run , drawback is that they take too long to become proficient enough to do you any real good in any reasonable amount of time . Down and dirty styles like Krav Maga help in both short and long term .

  25. one that you didn’t mention is a scythe.

    As a weapon it’s a pole axe type slashing weapon. As a tool it cuts grass ( keep your sterile approach sterile), harvests grain ( food is useful), and with the right blade, controls scrub. It is also a nice low impact excersise.

    You will want to have two or more blades, and the equipment to sharpen ( hone) and peen.

    For weapon use, straighten the tang on one blade. This can be done when events dictate. No need to rush.

    Polearms are area control weapons, having a reach to place a blade on a target so that they are not able to immediately melee you. However it is important to maintain a good situational awareness, as momentium will work both for and against you. Make sure that the aggressor does not end up inside your blade arc.
    You should target soft tissues, rather than major limb segments, as bone impact will seriously slow you down, transfering the leverage advantage to the opponant. Joints make good targets, as does the neck and belly.
    Thrusting motions may be used to ward attacks.

    • axelsteve says:

      You just reminded me of my cold steel bushman with the tapered hollow handle. It is designed to accept a stick or tool pole handle. It is a nice knife in itself. The sheath is kinda stupid design though.

  26. I think there is a good reason the Hells Angels, and others gangs carry ball peen hammers, large crescent wrenches and chains as weapons . Light , fast and can do a lot of damage.
    I found a small hatchet handle a few weeks ago and put a tennis ball on the end of it and filled it with concrete and then taped it down with gorrila tape and it made a pretty fine indian war club. The end is hard, fairly large to weight ratio and can do some damage.

    • axelsteve says:

      Goerge . patent the idea and asseble them and color it red and white. You could make that a official Hells angel hell raising weapon and sell it to them.You can make some big bucks call it the Banditos basher.

  27. Good article with the basics covered throughly. I’m sure many folks had not considered these last ditch efforts. Thanks again MD. Definite food for thought.

  28. If you think poky and cutty things have no place till the ammo runs out read up on Sgt Dennis Tueller. The Tueller Drill pits a holstered firearm against an edged weapon. To make a long story short inside of 20 to 25 feet it’s a tossup. Most people have trouble with basic target practise let alone running a Tueller Drill. [Well worth the time to study] As a guy that has as many primitive weapons, as firearms in plural gunsafes, I endorse learning the use of a few. My go to is the Sai a lowly rice planting tool. Gibson throwing knives can be had in a set of three matched blades, increases your practise time to throw three then recover as opposed to only one knife for practise. A flail is another farming tool that comes to mind, wheat is not the only thing it can thresh. Great post and comments.

    • alikaat says:

      Ok…. again, SCA holds knife and axe throwing competitions in addition to the archery and heavy-weapons events. Some of the people who compete in these events are incredibly good, and almost all of them are open to teach if you ask them at an event.

      These folk may be a bit strange on the surface, but when you get to know them, they are crazy like a fox. It seems to be a thinly-veiled prepper training ground, and the majority of people that I know from there would fit right in here on MD’s blog. Many do not hide from other Scadians that they are preppers. It is pretty close to the surface, and they’ve been active for about 40 years. Some of the families there are multigenerational, and it is not unusual to find grandparents there with their children and grandchildren, all in one camp.

      If you can stomach some of the sillier aspects of this group which give it good OPSEC (who would ever suspect medeival re-enacters of being anything to take serious?), there are many skills there that can be learned from people who have been performing them for years. Beekeeping, soap making, spinning, organic gardening (they do sell fresh food at these events), tanners, shoemakers, weavers, tinsmiths, blacksmiths for weaponry, utilitarian/household items like hinges and latches and horseshoes, cheesemaking, brewing, pottery, basketry, herbal medicine, cooking large game in a pit oven… the lists are endless.

      If there is a prepper skill that you might want to learn, there is someone at one of the bigger SCA events who is proficient, loves what they do, and are usually very willing to share what they know. It’s a lot like here.


      • alikaat says:

        Oh… and it wouldn’t be a good idea to just show up in plain clothes (normal every day wear) and start asking people questions. The SCA is a good resource, but you have to be willing to become Scadian. Go in with open eyes and an open mind. There are easy ways to make starting ‘garb’ a.k.a. medeival clothing out of some pretty basic items. Start at the SCA website – there is a link somewhere there about starting up. You won’t have to purchase anything – all starting garb is made from household items that most of us have plenty of extras floating around of, and beginners are much forgiven for any breaches of custom or design. At least until they aren’t considered newcomers any more! I’ve been involved for 20+ years, and to some, I am still a newcomer. Mine is an old, old shire.

  29. Cold Warrior says:

    Very interesting article, well done. The sad thing here is that some of the people who posted comments were forced by freedom restricting laws to rely on such weapons. Baseball bats, really?!

    I purchased a machete 30 years ago after returning from Service and take my machete everytime I go into the woods or jungle. It’s light weight, cheap, and very useful.

  30. Great article! Where I grew up it was sharpened combs and rock in a sock. Disarmed peasants will always find a way to defend themselves. Second the SCA; if you’re not into martial arts or boxing, many people have never had the opportunity to even get in a fistfight.

    If you stop having the “OMG he hit me!” moment you’re a couple seconds of useful reaction time up on your adversary. Same goes for being able to ignore a certain amount of pain; you have to let yourself get bruised, bumped and dented. I went from OH NO I’M BLEEDING! Get the first aid kit!” to “It’s not bright red and spurting, no bones sticking out. Somebody toss me an Ace.” but it took about a year.

  31. Great article but a quick point – the ice pick comes from the days when there was no power and icemen drove horse drawn ice trucks into the big cities in the summer. If the grid went down for years you’ll see a return of this. My wife’s family still has an antique wooden ice chest that was used to store blocks of ice in the summer.

  32. SheepDog says:

    While I have always lived in places I could go around armed like one of the Pirates of the Caribbean I have gotten the most use out of the humble walking stick/walking cane.

    Even when I could legally shoot or cut someone/something getting out of the situation with a walking stick makes for a lot less/no paperwork.

    I have on numerous occasions used or presented my nose high walking stick and diffused or rapidly ended a situation that would have dragged on for days if I had pulled a gun or shot someone/something.

    I have in fact only talked to LEO’s once using my walking stick and that was because some trouble seeking neighbors who are always messing with everyone in the area called the law when their dog attacked me in the middle of the road.

    It did not go anywhere of course as animal control told them I could have killed it right there and they should be happy I only used a stick to keep it off of me.

    Yes I like most kinds of weapons both modern and historic, but day in and day out I get the most use out of my hiking/walking sticks/canes.



  33. LOL! Love the title on this one. Another improvised weapon is a knife firmly attached to the end of a sugar cane. Simple and effective spear for food gathering, etc.

  34. If I were living in locale where guns were restricted, I’d be buying armor and shields, and getting tools — axes, hatchets, etc. — as long as a hefty collections of historical swords and so forth. If SHTF, I’d put on my plate mail armor and get the shield ready and any hoodlums would PAY when I sallied forth.

  35. Ron Bobeck says:

    As, someone who lost his RIGHT to own a firearm , NON Felony , I have really struggled with That I know That I have been told That a Black powder gun (ie) a Cap and Ball type pistol or rifle, However Talking with a retired DEA agent , IF I did use one I still get BAGGED for it… so I have gone with Cross bows and Throwing Darts . the late Roman legions issued these Style d arts to The Infantry .. they Look Like the old Lawn Darts from the 60’s .. The ONLY problem with a Cross bow is that are slow to reload. The Darts are easy to throw I can hit a man size Target at 25 yrs in torso Most of the time. The darts replaced the Pila of the 1 and 2 century legionary’s. A DESCRIPTION OF darts can be found by searching weapons of the late roman legions .. were Not that hard to Make I have X number . also I have a Bushmaster cold steel on a ash pole, a cold steel WAR Hammer, and a S.O.G Machete.. Not Ideal by any means But, The old British army saying ” He gave a Good account of Him self.”

  36. Its not the weapon that makes the warrior, you give a good description of basic tools for self defense, and put out a good argument that common sense and a willingness to think outside the box can turn anything into a weapon. I carry a gun because its the easiest tool to defend myself, but if I have to get creative I know I can, after reading your post, I guess I can move my tool bag from the back of the car to the front, so I can keep my hammer a little closer to hand.

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