Hey there, and welcome back. Or should I be welcoming myself back? It has been longer than I wanted since I last rambled on here. Still, the problems of the last month or so have been beaten back into their lair, so let's be at it shall we? I thought we might take a look at that most beautiful of knife steels, Damascus today.
Now I must admit right up front that not everyone finds Damascus as beautiful as I do, though I really don't understand how any one could not be captivated by the almost hypnotic wave patterns running through good Damascus like ripples on a pond. But what is Damascus? How do knife makers get that wonderful patterns? And what in the world justifies the truly astronomical prices some pieces demand? Or for that matter just where did that outlandish name come from?
To start to understand Damascus, or at least to start to understand it if you're as fascinated by history as I am, we need to go back 1000 years or so. At the time the best steel in the known world came from India and was imported into Syria in the form of ingots of what was call Wotz steel. Much of it came through a sleepy little trade town called Damascus where mast blade smiths turned this wotz steel into knives and swords. But there were impurities in the Wotz which, while accidentally making it superior to other steels of the day, also caused wavy patterns of light and dark bands to run through the finished blades. As a result, by the time merchants got these blades to Europe, the beauty of the blades, coupled with their superior quality made highly sought after; but the often illeterate nobles who could afford them had never heard of Wotz, or often enough India. Each and everyone of them had heard of Syria though thanks to the crusades, and so steel with that wonderful "water" pattern become known in Europe as Damascus.
Jump forwards to the 1600's and 1700's and gun smiths were starting to use a technique called pattern welding to make better quality gun barrels, especially shot gun barrels. Since this technique looked so much like the old Damascus swords that had been being handed down among noble families, these barrels and the technique used to make them came to be known as Damascus as well.
So, is Damascus really better than other knife steels? Or even gun steels for that matter? The answer is, maybe and kinda sort of. It certainly was ages ago when Damascus made by master smiths were stronger and more flexible than the regular steel of the day, but I'm not so sure it's all that much better than modern steels if at all. Modern science has made tremendous strides in metallurgy over the past several decades thanks in a large part to a better understanding of chemistry, and as a result more often than not it's possible to find a type of steel with almost any quality you wish. I mean the modern blade smith can choose from 440C, W2, D2, 8Cr13MoV, CPM 9V or 15V, 5160, 1095, AUS 8 or 10, VG-10,14C28N, V2-C, and a host of others too numerous to count easily.
So why then is Damascus so bloody expensive! Mainly because of the way it's made. You see, as a general rule Damascus must be made by hand using a method called forge welding or pattern welding. What happens is that the smith making it will choose 2 to 4 different steels, stack the bars of steel up, heat them to forging temperature, and then hammer them into a single piece of metal. That piece is then often cut or folded over and hammered out again, and again, and again, until the smith has a piece that pleases him. He might have as few as four layers, or as many as a 1000 (though that's rare), and because the different pieces of steel he started with don't completely mix with each other he (or she) will have a blade with those lovely streaks running through it. "Yeah, but surely that doesn't take that much time" I hear you saying. "After all, the smith's on History Channel's Forged In Fire only take 3 hours to make a completed blade!" Sorry Charlie, but that's TV, not real life. First off, on Forged In Fire the smith's are given the steal they're going to use, so there's no time wasted on picking out the steel they're going to use or cutting it the right starting length. Secondly, most of the time they're going for low layer counts because they simply don't have time to keep folding and folding the steel to get a higher layer count. For another point, each of those smiths are experienced smith at the height of their craft who can forge blades faster than most of the smith's out there. And finally, have you really looked at most of the blades turned in after that first 3 hours? Yeah, some are almost ready to have a handle installed, but at least 95% of them require extensive grinding to get the blades anywhere near ready. That's six grueling hours spent working non-stop. It's a miracle there hasn't been more injuries than there has been on that show, and there's an injury or heat related problem on at least half the shows I've seen. So, the blade smith who doesn't want to risk an injury that might result in him or her being unable to work for a month or two will take 3 days to a week easy just to make one Damascus knife. So when he or she sells that knife, they need to make enough off that one knife to pay all the bills that will pile up during those 3 to 5 days.
"But I've seen some Damascus knives going for less than $50.00" you say. No, most of the time you've seen knives that are labeled Damascus but really aren't sell for that. In some cases, the manufacturer has etched a pattern that looks like Damascus into the blade, in others people in places like Pakistan and some parts of china have made Damascus using the cheapest steel and the cheapest labor available, and you can guess what the quality of those knives are like. They're still pretty, but any use is going to rather quickly degrade the appearance; unlike a quality Damascus where the pattern goes all the way through the blade. In other cases a machine folds and forge welds the steel into a generic blank that is then either stamped or ground into the finished blade. These knives are more expensive than plain steel knives, but no where near what a true hand made knife would cost. And since it is made using true Damascus, the pattern does go all the way through the blade. However, the pattern will never have the same "water" quality where the pattern is folded and formed by the forging of the blade. Instead you'll see the pattern just stoping at the edge of the blade.
So there you have the quick and dirty on Damascus. Is there more I could tell you? Oh hell yes! Entire books have been written on the subject, including different patterns and how to select the proper steel for the results desired. But I've reached the end of what time I have for rambling on today. If you want to find out more, there are many good sources out there. One of my favorites is the Tips For The Knife Maker YouTube series by Walter Sorrells. But for now I'll wish you smooth sailing and sunny skies until we meet again. And, as always, remember. If something is worth doing, it's worth doing with attitude!
Hey there! So glad you found your way back, and a huge welcome to that new person in the back. Yes, I see you back there, LOL. I thought today I might continue on about caring for your knives, specifically sharpening them. To be even more specific, what to use to sharpen them.
Now deciding on a sharpening system can be more than a bit intimidating considering all the choices out there. There's steels and crock sticks, Arkansas stones and Japanese water stones, flat systems and V systems, and more powered systems than you can shake a stick at! So what do you choose? Is there really one best set up? Or is one choice just as good as another, or does it really matter? Well let's take a look at them and see what there is to see, shall we?
Perhaps the simplest are the rods or stick, such as the sharpening steel included in most kitchen knife sets. However I cannot stress enough that every "sharpening" steel I've ever seen does not actually sharpen anything! They're designed to hone a knife, not sharpen it though for someone who does not understand the difference it can be almost impossible to see the difference. You see, as you use a knife, especially one with a very fine angle to the bevel (the angle that forms the actual cutting edge as opposed to the angle that forms the grind of the blade), the edge over time begins to roll a bit which causes a slight burr which can be felt by running your thumb along the side of the blade when it gets bad enough. By honing the blade, this rolled bit of metal can be pushed back to true; removing the burr and making the blade cut smoother. The trick is that this roll does not actually blunt the cutting edge but rather pushes it off to the side so that the edge is not really coming into contact with the material you're trying to cut effectively. When a knife is dull, the edge is worn down, not just pushed to one side or another; so honing the blade in an effort to push it back to true doesn't really do anything useful. To actually sharpen blade, a (hopefully) small amount of metal must be removed in order to restore the edge itself. Crock sticks and diamond impregnated "steels" on the other hand really do sharpen a knife. What's even nicer is that when they start getting worn with all the metal dust that will adhere to the surface of your stick, you can wash them with soapy water and return them to an almost new state. The bad thing is that it's awfully easy to get the angle wrong, making your job much harder.
Next up are more traditional sharpening stones. These come in a huge variety of styles and flavors ranging from simple one sided Arkansas stones, to two sided stones and three sided stones with a different "grit" on each side, to Japanese water stones, and a whole host of items in between including diamond "stones". To use most of these, you put some form of oil or liquid on the stone (water in the case of Japanese water stones) and glide the blade along the surface of the stone allowing the natural texture or grit of the stone to remove small amounts of metal until your edge is restored to where you want it. This is about as old school as you can get, and if you've got the skills it's even possible to make your own (I knew one guy who made a set of stones out of pieces of smooth but not polished granite and marble). What's more, they tend to be quite reasonably priced (well, the Arkansas stone ones any way) and available almost anywhere from sporting good stores and kitchen stores to your local Ace Hardware. Until you get really good however you'll want to use a guide or jig of some sort or, just like with the sticks, you'll find yourself getting kind of inconsistent with the angle you're trying to sharpen at.
Continuing on, we next come to what are often referred to as "V" sharpeners. These sharpeners have two pieces of sharpening material mounted to some kind of base or frame in a V shape, and you sharpen your knife by placing the blade into the V and drawing it through. The sharpening material used can be carbide steel, Arkansas stone, ceramic, or even diamond; and the sharpener can be small enough to fit in your pocket to large enough to stay on the counter or workbench even when not in use. They have a huge advantage in that you get the same angle every time you use it so you know the edge will be consistent; but unless you go for one of the upper end models, such as either the Extreme Edge V-sharpener or the Classic V-sharpener from Warthog, you're stuck with only one choice in angles. So unless you want your fillet knife being sharpened at the same angle as your hunting knife (not a good thing) you'll find yourself needing more than one.
The next step up is a style sometimes referred to as an "Aligner" sets. Available from companies such as Lansky, DMT, Gatco, and EZE-Lap, these sets feature a long, thin "stone" on the end of a guide rod that fits into a clamp that is designed to fit on the spine of your knife. Various slots in the base of the clamp allow you to be sure that the "stone" (which can be Arkansas stone, diamond, ceramic, or carbide steel) will always be at the same angle and at the same time allow you to decide which of 3 or 4 different angles you want to use. A bit more expensive than a plain stones (a basic set from Lansky starts at around $35.00), these sets help to guarantee that you're always at the right angle no matter how inexperienced you are or how shaky your hand can be.
Finally we come to the powered units, and to be truthful, I'm not really very fond of most of these. The majority of the powered units are based on the old bench grinder, and can put a new edge on your knife in a heart beat. They do however generally have two drawbacks to them. For one, at a price most people are comfortable paying they generally come with only one, or maybe two angles available for use. As a result, just as with the lower end V-sharpeners, you're forced to either buy several different units or else sharpen everything to the same angle. The second drawback is that, like the bench grinders some still use for sharpening, they can very quickly cause the blade of your knife to heat up, destroying the careful tempering that the knife maker put into your knife. As a result, your knife can end up softening over time and loosing it's ability to hold an edge or, potentially worse though thankfully rare, crystalizing and becoming brittle. Admittedly, if you sharpen your knives on a regular basis so that you never need to do any heavy sharpening then the odds of your ever running into this problem is small. None the less, there are really only two brands of electric sharpeners that I really feel comfortable recommending, WorkSharp and the water cooled Tormek; and when it starts at $399 for the smaller model, Tormek is really only suitable for the professional sharpener.
There are a few reasons I really love the Worksharp sharpeners, especially the Ken Onion edition. For starters, they're basically a scaled down version of the belt grinders used by professional knife makers without the $3000.00 price tag. For another, with their easily interchangeable belts and various after-market accessories, you can quickly sharpen everything from your prized Japanese ceramic sushi knife to your lawn mower blade. Try that with your Chef's Choice Angle Select! And perhaps best of all, you can vary the speed so that you can slow it way down when working on delicate kitchen knives, or really put the spurs to it when sharpening grandpa's old double headed lumber jack axe. Add in a price for the basic unit of only $69.95, $129.95 for the Ken Onion edition, combined with widespread availability (you can get it at Amazon.com, Northern Tool, Cabelas, and Bass Pro Shops just to name a few) and it's hard for me to understand why you wouldn't want this system.
Finally we come to honing and stropping systems. In all honesty, you don't really need these to keep your knives sharp; but they can make the difference between a decent sharpening job and a truly professional quality job. Both are designed to remove those little burrs that come with everyday use and tend to remain in minor ways after sharpening. The most basic is the "sharpening steel" that I mentioned earlier, the one that probably came with the set of kitchen knives you bought so many years ago. A strop is often made of a piece of leather impregnated with something like jeweler's rouge; and was a standard feature in many old time barber shops, especially the ones who offered to shave you with an old fashion straight razor. Or you can buy honing belts and wheels for many of the better electric sharpeners. Hell, you can even make your own with a bit of old leather and some jeweler's rouge from Ace Hardware. But if you really don't need this step, why do it? Simple.
You see, if you were to look at the edge of your knife under a really powerful magnifying glass after sharpening, you'd notice that you had some very fine scratches on the blade where the sharpener had "sanded" the edge. If you had finished the job using an extra fine grit, these scratches would not really effect the everyday cutting ability of your knife. However by honing the blade after sharpening you will effectively polish these super fine scratches away, which will lessen the drag caused when you cut something even more and result in an edge that will feel razor sharp even when the angle of the edge is rather blunt such as the 30 degrees commonly used for cleavers and axes. This is why I always finish with a honing belt whenever I'm hired to do a professional sharpening job (for more information on this, check out A Sharper Attitude).
So there you have a run down of most of the styles of sharpening systems out there. So now we really should talk about how to actually sharpen a knife, right? Well, ideally maybe. Only problem is I haven't yet found a way to describe how to do it in a written format that doesn't end up sounding like stereo instructions that were written by a Japanese engineer and then translated into English by a French company that uses Indian and Pakistani workers. So that part is going to have to wait until I finish my next video ramble which will cover that very thing. I promise you I have started working on it already, honest.
In the meantime, I hope this little ramble was useful in some minor way and I look forwards to seeing you again in this little corner of cyberspace I call my own. Until then I wish you clear skies and smooth sailing; and remember. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing with attitude!
Hey, and welcome back. Trying something new today. Allow me to introduce what hopefully will be the first of our new video rambles. This one is a review of the Meadowlark II from Byrd.
Hey there! And welcome back to my little corner of cyberspace. I hope you're having a great week so far, I know I am.
My ramble today is a bit different from what I normally do, but I hope you'll find it useful any way. As many of you know, my mother has developed dementia and so I've had to hire companions to help us keep her safe and sound. Over all, I've had pretty decent luck. Two of the ladies have almost become part of the family in many ways, and they are as devoted to mom as I could wish. Yet one and all of them, for what ever reason, seem to have never been taught how to properly care for good kitchen knives! Needless to say, this came as a rather large shock to me; and it leaves me wondering just how many others out there were never taught how to take care of their knives as well.
The first thing to understand is that a good kitchen knife is more like a hunting knife, or even a good pocket knife than a table knife that comes as part of a table setting. Unless you have a set of "Ginsu" type knives from Walmart or Target, or any other thrifty store, a good kitchen knife is a finely crafted tool designed to cut with little or no force needed. This means a good, high quality steel that's been properly heat treated and fitted with a handle or grip that fits the hand smoothly allowing for a firm, comfortable grip. And as such, it needs to be cared for in certain ways; especially since it probably se you back a pretty penny!
The first, and perhaps most important rule of taking care of any good knife is never, ever wash it in the dishwasher! Always hand wash your knife in warm, soapy water and immediately hand dry it and put it away. Why? Three reasons really.
First there's the handle. Even today with man made materials becoming ever more prevalent, many good knives have wood handles; and a dishwasher is entirely too harsh an environment for any fine wood implement. I mean, you wouldn't wash your $1000.00 dining room table with 140 degree water and allow it to air dry, or bow dry it with hot air! Before long you'd end up with a table that was dry, cracking, and probably warping into a hunk of junk you'd expect to find in the landfill. So why do that to the finely crafted wood handles on your knife? Before long, maybe even after the second wash, you'll notice that the handles don't feel as smooth as they used to in your hand. Then, as the wood continues to dry out after repeated washings, they'll start to crack; and sooner or later they'll get to the point where they actually won't be safe to use any more. By hand washing them, they'll last much longer. You'll still want to oil them with a good, food safe oil like Linseed oil or maybe Grapeseed oil now and them, but at least by hand washing your knife handles have a chance to last long enough to pass them on to your grandkids. If you continue to wash them in the dishwasher I can almost guarantee they won't last 5 years even if you're lucky.
The second thing to keep in mind is that in a dishwasher, items are not secured firmly. As a result there is always some movement of the items that will allow one item to bang into another. And when the item being banged into is a knife, you're going to end up with nicks, scratches, and rolled edges. Granted a good sharpening can take care of these little problems, but still. Allow enough nicks to form, and your prized $200.00 Shun Classic will cut no better than a $20.00 Walmart special; and maybe not as well. By hand washing with a soft cloth, all of that can be avoided.
The final reason has to do with the way a knife blade is made. Forging and grinding may be the methods used to shape a blade, but unless the blade has been properly tempered and heat treated it will never hold an edge. The blade needs to be tempered so that it reaches a hardness that will allow it to stand up everyday use, and then it needs to be heat treated so that it isn't too brittle. I know, I know. That sounds like a contradiction doesn't it. But consider a diamond. A diamond is the hardest substance known to man, which is why diamond edge saws are used to cut extremely tough metal and other hard things. But hit a diamond with a hammer and you'll find out that it's as brittle as glass. And so your knife needs to be heat treated so that it isn't brittle, which involves heating the blade up and then cooling it down under controlled conditions. But what happens if it is then heated up again, and this time isn't allowed to cool down under those controlled conditions? If it's only done once, probably nothing. But if it happens time and time again, especially if it's heated up to the hotter settings of a dishwasher using a Sani-rinse setting, then the blade will slowly loose it's tempering and start to degrade. After a while, your knife will no longer hold an edge the way it should and once again your prized blade will be no better than a flea market bargain basement knife.
So you hand wash your knives. But what then? Why you dry them of course, and you dry them carefully and immediately. Letting them air dry is almost as big a no-no as putting them in the dishwasher. Why? Simple. Any knife, given enough time, will start to rust. True, stainless steel will resist visible rust for many, many years. But even stainless steel will eventually rust, and if your knife is high carbon it'll rust almost just from looking at it cross-eyed! And there's nothing in the world that will cause rust to appear faster than water. So dry them immediately with a soft towel and put them away as soon as you're done drying them.
But now we have to consider where you keep your knives. I've been in more than a few homes where knives are carefully put in a drawer, but there's nothing in that drawer to keep them from banging up against each other as the drawer is opened and close; see reason number two for why knives should not be washed in a dishwasher. Why in the world would you hand wash your knives, and then allow one of the main reason for doing so to happen during storage? The least you can do is place each knife blade in a protective cover! Better yet, buy yourself a good knife block or a magnetic strip designed for storing knives. I've seen the magnetic strips sold at Ace Hardware for as little as $20.00 and on Amazon.com for as little as $15.00. Cheap indeed when you're talking about caring for a set of knives that could easily run you $300.00 or more.
Finally, you need to keep your knives sharp. Contrary to what I overheard one man telling his son at a recent gun and knife show; the sharper you keep your knives, the safer they are. And the reason is just plain common sense. The sharper your knife, the easier it is to cut; so you don't end up putting a ton of pressure behind the act. The more force you need to use to cut anything, the more likely it is that you won't be able to stop the cutting motion once you're through what ever it is you're trying to cut; and that will almost inevitably lead to cutting yourself. But to paraphrase Alton Brown, that's another ramble.
So there you have it. The proper way to care for your kitchen knives. If you need advice on buying them, well I've already done rambles on knife steel, blade shapes, knife grinds, and handle materials; and those rambles apply to kitchen knives just as much as they do the hunting and tactical knives I more commonly write about. However my wife has talked me into writing a self published e-book on knives that I will be offering through this site once I've had it edited, sort of a Knives for Dummies type thing (though of course copyright laws mean I couldn't call it that unless the company who publishes the For Dummies line of books decides they want my little book as one of their own). In the mean time, I hope the rest of your week goes as well as it has so far if not even better and I look forwards to seeing you here again. And as always; remember, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing with attitude!
Hey there, and welcome back. Hope you had a great Valentine's Day with the one you love most. Today I thought we might talk about one of the things that can make Autism so scary for those who don't have a lot of experience with it, namely Meltdowns.
Now before I ramble too far, l should point out that there is a distinct difference between a Temper Tantrum and a Meltdown, and as a result the way you handle one can be extremely different as well. With a classic temper tantrum, the person throwing the tantrum is very aware of what is going on; and with good reason. A temper tantrum is nothing more than an attempt to get one's own way in what is commonly held to be a socially unacceptable method. Most children out grown temper tantrums by the time they're in elementary school by learning (often the hard way) that temper tantrums are more likely to bring unpleasant results than rewards. But our point here is that the person throwing the temper tantrum always knows what going on around them, because they're busy trying to gauge the reaction of those they're trying to influence. Indeed, if you watch a child having such a tantrum, you'll often notice little pauses and sly glances where the child is trying to see just how successful they're being; and if everyone around them is continuing to ignore them they'll stop. The same if it looks like mommy and daddy are getting mad and punishment might be imminent. So for these types of misbehaviors traditional discipline (rewarding good behavior and punishing bad behavior) works just fine. But a meltdown is a horse of another color all together.
Now I must admit that sometimes a meltdown does start off as a temper tantrum, especially if the child is young. But this really isn't all that common (or at least it wasn't for my son); and even if it does, once it hits meltdown then all the rules for dealing with a tantrum go right out the window. You see, in a true meltdown a child (or even adult) on the autism spectrum seems to get locked into some kind of internal loop where most external stimuli can't register well enough to break through. Once this happens the person in meltdown mode is more or less lost in their own mind with no way out except through; an experience that can be truly terrifying for both the person going through it and those around him or her! If it can be caught early enough in the cycle, sometimes something as simple as a hug can help to stop the meltdown in it's tracks. I've also had luck with silly humor (sticking a pencil in my ear and talking into my shoe for example) and jokes. But once the meltdown reaches a certain point, all you can do is wait it out and try to make sure the person going through one doesn't accidentally hurt themselves or others. There have actually been times when I've had to use my martial arts training to subdue my son during a meltdown, and you can have no idea how heartbreaking that can be if you've never had to do it yourself. For the rest of the family, and this is what I've very carefully instructed all of my mom's companions to do, the best and safest thing is to simply get out of his way and let him work through it on his own. Fortunately before my health issues caused me to lose my job, I was able to get Wills some private therapy which has greatly decreased the number of meltdowns as well as shortening the length of time they last.
So what can you do if you find yourself needing to dealing with a family member who suffers meltdowns? Well the first thing to do is to learn to be aware of them and what's going on with them at all times. Very much the same sort of situational awareness that you should be practicing for the purpose of self defense, just narrowed down to one person (and yes, you can narrow it down to your loved one and still maintain it for your surroundings as well. It isn't easy at first, but it can be done). You also have to understand them on a rather deep level and learn to recognize the triggers that can lead to a meltdown. In my case, if my son starts talking about certain cartoon characters in certain ways then I know it's time to try to distract him before a meltdown occurs. But how do you distract them?
Every one is different, so what works for me might not work as well for you, but there are a few things you can try. And once you find things that work, you can start modifying them to work better for your situation. For my son, hugs are often a great way to head off a meltdown; and it makes sense if you think about it. A big ole' bear hug tells him that he is loved, and makes him feel safe. It reinforces the fact that he is not alone and that his mommy and daddy will do anything they can for him.
As I mentioned earlier in this ramble, another thing that works well for us is humor. My son has a great sense of humor, even if he is rather silly at times, and getting him laughing breaks the train of thought that is leading him to a meltdown and gives him something more enjoyable to think about. After all, I'd much rather deal with Silence! the pirate than a son who is locked into a dreadful loop that keeps him from realizing what is happening around him and what he's actually doing! And besides, I'm sure that dirty rotten stuffed parrot deserved to walk the plank anyway! Silly bird. Imagine not knowing when to be silent!
Another item that often works great for many families is a Calm Down Box. This is just a simple toy box or bin filled with things the child enjoys, such as puzzles, colored pencils and paper, games the child can play by him or her self, play dough or modeling clay, and things like that. Plus, at least for us, putting one together is a great way to spend time with your child and getting them to help decide what goes into it will help assure that they'll be more willing to use it when things get rocky.
I could go on for quite a while suggesting other things you can try. I could, but instead I think I'm going to give you some homework of a sort. Dealing with meltdowns means knowing your child, grandchild, niece, or nephew as well as you possibly can. Yet it can be extremely frustrating as well, especially since so many people on the autism spectrum have communication difficulties. So I'm going to recommend a few books that I found extremely helpful with links to where you can get them on Amazon.
The first, and the one that helped me the most, is The Reason I Jump by Naomi Higashida. Written when the author was only 13 years old, this is a first hand account of what it's like to have autism.
Two others are Look Me In The Eye by John Elder Robinson and Thinking In Pictures by Temple Gradin.
For some more suggestions on how to manage meltdowns, and hopefully keep them from happening I found No More Meltdowns by Dr. Jed Baker to be extremely useful. I don't necessarily agree with everything he says, but his book is still hands down the best I've found so far.
And finally, a new one (to me anyway) that I wish I had found sooner, there's 101 Games and
Activities for Children With Autism, Ausbergers, and Sensory Processing Disorders.
Are these suggestions and books a magic bullet that will make everything hunky dory and your life all sweetness and light? Oh hell no. But they may make things easier and more manageable, and that's all we can really ask for, right? But for now I must get ready to head to the smoke house where I'm working part time now. So I'll wish you luck, and remember. If somethings worth doing, then it's worth doing with attitude!
And a Happy News Years to you! I'm glad you made it back. Let's see, last time we talked I had rambled about half way through the list of things one might need in an emergency, or bug out pack designed around my family's special needs keeping my autistic son and a mother who suffers from dementia in mind. So far we've covered water, medical supplies, and shelter and warmth. We've also established that due to my family's needs, I'm already up to 23 out of the 40 pound limit a reasonable pack should have when looking at the average American. So what else should be in the pack?
Well for me the most obvious thing to look at next is a source of light. Admittedly, a camp fire will give off a fair amount of light; but it's a bit difficult to carry around with you. True, you could try to make a torch; but believe you me, that's not anywhere as easy as adventure novels and movies make it out to be. First couple of times I tried I ended up with singed fingers! To make a short story long, in the end the best way to use torches for light is to make them up ahead of time and carry them with you and if you do that you'll quickly find that they weigh considerably more than a flash light does. But which flash light or camp latern to choose? And are we going to be okay with just one? Not that long ago I'd have recommended a combination latern with a radio built in so that you could keep up with important news announcements, but with modern cell phones that's not needed so much any more. What I personally chose for my kit is the Pika 3-in-1 Latern. It weighs in at just over 5 ounces, produces 150 lumens of light, can be used as either a latern or a flashlight, and also serves as a recharging unit for your phone. And yes, it is a product that I carry on the Cool Products pages of this web site; but that doesn't negate it's advatages to me as part of my bug out kit.
I also highly recomend what is commonly referred to as a headlamp. These can range in price from as little as $4.00 at a place like Harbor Freight to several hundreds at some specialty shops; but no matter how little or how much you spend, there's no denying the handiness of a light that rests on your head. It frees up your hands and turns with your head to shine where ever you might be looking, and that can be a huge advantage when you need both hands free to get through rough terrain or assist a family member over a rocky spot in the trail.
Next to be considered in my opinion is food. When you're bugging out by car, this isn't a huge problem since you can pack almost any can good you wish and stores are likely to be easily found. When you're hoofing it on the other hand food can become quite a headache, and when you're considering food for an emergency bug out kit the troubles can quickly multiply. Yes, you could consider can goods. They last for years, and even when using a camp fire or pocket stove, a can of soup is probably the easiest thing to prepare imaginable. But at the same time they weigh close to a pound a can and they're bulky. When you consider that at the best rate my mother could possibly make through rough terrain is a measley seven miles a day on a good day, it's pretty obvious that the amount of can goods I'd have to carry just to feed her and myself would quickly eat up four to six pounds of the 40 pounds I'm trying to limit myself to. Add in the fact that I've already used up 23 of those 40 pounds, and can goods go right out the window as a consideration.
So what should we consider? Actually there's quite a lot we could use. Peanut butter crackers can keep you going for a surprisingly long time, or you could put in a supply of protien bars. Two I'm particularly fond of are Balance Bars (they've got a mint chocalate bar that taste almost like a Girl Scout thin mint cookie) and Robert Irvine's Fit Crunch bars, but any quality protein bar will do as well. They typically have between 20 to 30 grams of protein per bar, a goodly percentage of the 50 grams a day that is recommended; and they have a ridiculously long shelf life as a general rule. Or we could chose a modern equivalent of the army's old standby, the MRE or Meals Ready to Eat. These can be found from a number of companies ranging from Wise Food Storage to Honeyville and can be purchase both on-line and at your local sporting goods store that specializes in hiking and camping supplies. They're light, easy to prepare, and surprisingly tasty compared to those of yesteryear.
Of course you could try to hunt while you're hoofing it out of danger; and a collapsable rifle similar to the old AR-7 that the Air Force used to place in airplanes in case the pilot had to bail out or the more modern Keltex Sub2000 wouldn't be a bad thing to have along any way, but I think that I'd find myself too busy trying to make tracks to spend any time trying to plinck small game like rabbits and squirrels. Besides, trying to get out of the way of a disaster would tend to make most people too anxious to be able to hunt successfully.
So we have food covered, as well as water and shelter plus warmth and light; but what are going to heat our meals in? Yeah, if we go with protein bars we don't really need to worry about cooking utensils, but it would still be nice to at least be able to make a cup of coffee or tea don't you think? Well cookware specially designed for hiking is easily found, of decent quality, and weighs in at well under a pound. Your local hiking store should have a nice collection, or just check out Amazon.com. So now we have food for a couple of days and cookware yet have only brought our total weight being carried up to 24 pounds, leaving us 15 to 16 pounds free.
So I guess it's time we talk about clothing, right? Well... actually no. If push comes to shove, we can get by with wearing the same clothes for a few days. Hell, we could actually go for almost a month for that matter, though I certainly wouldn't want to. What is actually more important in a way is personal hygiene, and not just because we don't want to offend someone by the way we smell! We are after all talking about having been forced to hoof it to escape some major catastrophe here, and in the natural course of such a hike small cuts, scrapes, and other boo-boos are going to happen no matter how skilled we are; and that can have major complications. Yes, we have a first aid kit to deal with such issues, and yes that will take care of the immediate problem. What it doesn't do however is take care of the long term effects that might arise from these minor little annoyances. Infections can breed like nobody's business in these kind of circumstances, and the best way to prevent them is good ole soap and water. Nor it is a good idea to ignore your teeth. It's absolutely amazing the number of people with heart problems that can trace their problems back to a bad tooth that was left alone too long. So by all means, use a pound or two of your 40 pounds to pack along some toiletries. Besides, when you get to where you're going to and you have to buy the things you couldn't carry with you, you don't really want to look any more like the wild child of Borneo than you have to do you?
So now we finally get to the last two considerations in making up our emergency bug out bag, clothes and cash. Why cash? Well if the disaster you're fleeing is big enough, nearby towns may find themselves cut off from the major hubs for a couple of days. If that is the case, then all your credit cards and debit cards are going to be just so much pretty plastic until communications can be restored. It won't matter if you have the wealth of a Rockafeller or a Mellon in that case, you will not be able to access anything in your bank, period, end of story. Cash on the other hand spends no matter what's going on with the utilities. So try to have at least $100.00 or so with you. I think you can leave the silver and gold in the safe however. I don't know about you, but I don't know a lot of merchants that will accept bullion as a form of payment.
So now we talk clothing. By now we're down to somewhere around 13 pounds available to pack clothes in, which isn't really very much; but then we don't need as much as you probably assume. At the top of the pack, or even beside it, I would have some good, tough, outdoorsy clothes; such as jeans, a tee shirt, hiking boots, and a good tough long sleave shirt. However these won't be staying in your pack for the trek, instead you'll be changing into them as soon as it's obvious that you're going to need to take off on foot. Why? Because you aren't going to last very long if you try going cross country wearing dress clothes or shorts and sandles. Next down should be a jacket or coat appropriate for the season and locale you're going to be trying to cross. Obviously if you're trying to make it through the wet lands around Charleston and Beauford in the summer you won't need a parka. On the other hand if you're hiking through the maple syrup regions of Vermont in January, a light weight windbreaker isn't going to do you a lot of good. Next down should be an assortment of good heavy socks, and then a couple of days worth of underwear. Why the socks first? Because when you're hoofing it through rough country, you need to take care of your feet above all else. Cold, wet feet can not only lead to athlete's foot (which can stop you dead in your tracks if it's allowed to get bad enough), but a host of other problems including blisters and, believe it or not, hypothermia. The underwear of course I shouldn't need to explain.
Next under all that, you'll probaly want a lighter weight shirt in case it gets too warm as well as a good sweatshirt or a sweater along the lines of the old paratrooper sweaters seen in old movies such as The Dirty Dozen in case it gets colder than you expected.
By now my pack is just over the 40 pound limit I had set myself, but not badly. Definately not heavy enough to be able to keep up with my mother who's age and dementia is going to set the pace for our group. Admittedly I'm not going to have a complete change of clothes for when we get to where ever we're heading, but I've got everything I need to make sure we can get there and I can always buy a new change of clothes once we get there, right? Well, on paper yes. In the real world? I may have everything we need, but if my family cannot make more than 7 miles a day under good conditions then there's no way in hell that we're going to survive any disaster bad enough to force us to try to hike out. It just ain't happening. So at least as long as mom is alive and living with us, we won't be visiting the Natahala Gorge again; which sucks. But the main point of this ramble was not what my family may or may not be able to do, but to get you thinking about what you and your family should do to prepare for a disaster such as Hurrican Matthew or the recent "California style" wild fires that raged through the Carolinas and parts of Tennessee. In that at least, I can only hope I've succeeded. Are there other things I could have included, or that you might want to consider? Well of course there are. For example, since my wife has severe asthma my kit also includes a box of N-95 respirators. I had considered buying a PAPR hood, but battery powered respirators such as a PAPR tend to only last for an hour, hour and a half max; and so my wife's pack would have had an extra 6 pounds of weight in it for something that wouldn't have lasted anywhere near long enough to be useful. You may find something that you need in your kit that I wouldn't even consider for mine
In the meantime, I hope I managed to give you an idea or two a mix all of my rambling. Until next we meet in this little corner of cyberspace, I wish you smooth sailing and sunny skies. And, as always, remember; if it's worth doing, it's worth doing with attitude!
A Tisket, A Tasket, Just Who is Going to Carry That Basket? Bugging Out with a Special Needs Child or Adult.
Hey, and welcome back! I'm sorry I've been gone so long, but between a dead computer and various health related problems in the family November has been a rather interesting month. But one the causes for it being so interesting is part of the inspiration for today's ramble. Namely the wild fires that so recently raged through parts of North and South Carolina as well as parts of Tennessee. Not only was there massive destruction of property, but local hospitals were hard pressed to take care of all the patients who were suffering from asthma related illnesses brought on by all the smoke drifting down for hundreds of miles from the center of the fires! And from what I hear from my friends up near Gatlinburg, there's still at least 3 people missing and presumed dead from the fires there. All in all it's just further proof that having an emergency "Bug Out" kit is not just for wild eye preppers preparing for the upcoming zombie apocolypse! But what about those of us who have a loved one with special needs? What sort of changes does that make in our planning?
For starters, let me say that at least in this case, Special Needs does not necessarily mean only those who are normally considered that way; such as those on the Autism Spectrum like my son. In this case we must also include those with dementia like my mother as well as other health concerns such as asthma and diabetis. All of these concerns can complicate things in ways that could leave you in serious trouble if you don't plan for them well in advance; so let's take a look at some of them.
Let's start with the health concerns. One of the big things any emergency kit should include is at least a three day supply of your medicines, and it sure wouldn't hurt to include enough for a week or longer if you can. After all, if you find yourself being force to completely leave town, like those who had to flee Hurricane Matthew or the fires in and around Gatlingburg did, find a pharmacy that can access your files and legally refill your meds might be a form of mission impossible! How long might it take? Who knows. If you deal with a national chain such as CVS or Walgreens, it might not take any time at all. On the other hand, if you deal with a small local pharmacy, it might not happen until your doctor's office reopens and they can talk with him. So having too much might actually be the best thing. Yet you also need to look at the meds themselves. Some meds must be stored under very controlled conditions. For example, most forms of insulin needs to be kept refridgerated, and many types of antibiotics are almost as sensative; so keeping a supply in your car might be a really bad idea. On the other hand a large cooler is going to prove to be more than a bit cumbersome if you find yourself needing to hoof it as several people in Gatlinburg did.
And that leads rather neatly to the next point, namely how much should you bring with you in your emergency kit? As a general rule, experts say you should be able to carry a pack weighing a third of what you do; but let's be honest here. For me that amounts to somewhere around 90 pounds, give or take a pound or two; and there ain't no way in God's green earth that I'm hiking 10 to 15 miles carrying almost a hundred pounds! No, it's much safer to stick to a pack that weighs at most around 40 pounds, which is about a quarter of the weight of the average adult male in good health. Still, keeping it under 40 pounds can be harder than you think. For instance, to stay healthy we need a minimum of 2 quarts of water a day for drinking purposes, and a gallon is recommended by more than a few. Yet 2 quarts of water weighs 4 pounds, and what happens if someone in your family cannot carry their fair share for one reason or another? In my case, my son could probably be convinced to carry at least 15 to 20 pounds since he's used to carrying almost that much every day in the backpack he uses for school, but my wife suffers from asthma which will severely limit the amount she could carry and convincing my mother who suffers dementia to carry anything is unlikey to say the least. So if things go to hell in a major way, I'm likely to be looking at carrying enough water for 3 people by myself; a grand total if I stick to the minimum safe amount of 12 pounds (15 when you add in the weight of light weight containers). So of that 40 pounds we started with, I'm already down to 25 pounds available.
Next thing you have to consider is first aid meterials. You can go for 24 hours without eating if you absolutely must, though it's never a good idea if there's any options at all; but when you're operating under true emergency conditions accidents are just a matter of time. When you consider that under these conditions what would be a relatively minor wound at home can turn life threatening in a short period of time, the first aid kit becomes an item of major importance. The one I carry is 11 inches x 6 1/2 x 6 inches and weighs right around 2 1/2 pounds. It's in a tough convas bag that can be strapped to the outside of a back pack, or used as a pack in and of itself and contains just about anything I would need for a family of five for 3 days to a week. Still, it does mean that I'm now carrying 17.5 pounds, leaving me a slim 22.5 pounds left.
Next you need to consider shelter and a source of heat and light should it be necessary to abandon your vehicle. Will there be a good chance you can make it to your target destination in less than a day while on foot? If not then you will definately need some form of shelter and a source of warmth. That may be as simple as a drop cloth and a bic lighter, or you may find that you need something more substantial. In my case it would be my elderly mother that would be the desiding factor. While it's true that the average adult in good condition can normally manage 20 to 25 miles a day, that assumes a host of things including that the person is not carrying a lot of weight, the weather is good, and the path is reasonably smooth. Take any of those out of the equation and the distance starts to go down surprisingly quickly. My mother is not in any way caple of walking more than 10 miles a day even in perfect conditions, and if things are bad enough we might be lucky to make 7 miles in a day. Add in that she would be effected by the elements in a major way, and a simple drop cloth or poncho is out of the question. An emergency bivvy might do in a pinch, but only if I was able to improvise some additional shelter to supliment it. So add in 4 ounces for the emergency bivvy, 6 ounces for some paracord to use for lashing things together, and 2 pounds for a camp axe since using a survival knife for chopping limbs and branches to work with would take longer than I might have. Then add in another 4 ounces for some dry tinder to assure the ability to start a fire, 8 ounces for a pocket stove to assure warm food, and another 4 ounces for some fuel cubes for the pocket stove, and I'm now up to 21 1/2 pounds. Oh, and we forgot to add in the weight of the meds my family would need to carry with us so let's call it 22 pounds even.
Now, we covered water in a way; but it's becoming rather obvious that my family would never be able to make it completely to safety in a day if for some reason we had to abandon our vehicle, so now we need to consider what happens when we run out of water at the end of the first day. The lightest and easiest thing would be water purification tablets. They work well, weigh almost nothing, and take up so little room they're almost unnoticeable. They do however have a habit of leaving the water tasting rather nasty. There are also filters by the dozen available that weigh well under a pound, and don't tend to leave the water tasting so bad. Most of them are not exactly speed demons though when you're trying to use them to refill your water bottles or hydration packs.
By now we're up to 23 pounds out of the 40 pound limit we had placed on ourselves as a reasonable target, and we still haven't covered light, communications, food, and clothes. Nor have we considered whether or not some form of weapon might be a good idea or not. None the less this ramble is starting to look more like a chapter in a book than an article or blog post, so why don't we stop here for now. I'm sure you've got some thing to think about now. I know I sure do, and I'm supposed to be the expert! In. the mean time, I wish you all the best and a positively fantastic Christmas. Good Lord willing and the creek don't rise, we can continue this train of thought next week; so enjoy your holiday. And as always, remember; if it's worth doing, it's worth doing with attitude!
Hey, and welcome back. Got something of a different subject for my rambling today for you.
In The Path of the Storm
So here we are, watching intently as yet another hurricane comes rampaging through the Caribbean towards American soil. And if you're anything like me, you're probably experiencing a sense of deja vu since Matthew, like Hugo before it, looks like it's headed right for Charleston. I sincerely hope that any of my readers who live near the coast from Florida on up to North Carolina have gotten the hell out of Dodge already, or at least have dug in well. I wouldn't wish what I went through during the weeks following Hugo on any one. Yet as all too many are finding out the hard way right now, it illustrates today's theme of my ramble perfectly. And that is the need for a bug out plan.
For all too many people, just mentioning the phrase "bug out" automatically marks you as a member of some lunatic fringe group eagerly awaiting for some apocalyptic melt down of society. Yet here we are with thousands of people making a mad rush for safety which is pretty much the very definition of bugging out; and other than facing a choice between dumb and dumber for our next president, there's not a zombie in sight. So maybe having a bug out plan in place isn't such a bad idea after all. But what sorts of things should a good plan consider?
Well the first step is to decide whether to bug out or "bug in". "Now just a minute here" I hear you saying. "Bug In? Now you're just making shit up!" Well no, not really. Let's say you live in Moncks Corner, a small town about 35 miles from the coast as the crow flies. That's far enough that you wouldn't have to worry about the storm surge at all if it wasn't for the river, but close enough that you'll probably get the full effect of the wind and rain. If you're far enough from the river and you're properly prepared, it might actually make sense to stay where you are. That's what I refer to as bugging in. You know things are going to be bad, but you have everything you need to ride it out for up to a month or two if need be.
But what if you're not prepared, or worse yet, you live on the Isle of Palms with beautiful beach front views out your patio and deck doors? Then my friend it's time to make like the birds and get the flock out of there. But where do you go? That's when your bug out plan comes to the fore. This year South Carolina is lucky. Our governor, Nikki Haley came through for us in spades. By Monday night she had already declared a state of emergency, and by Tuesday afternoon she not only had a plan but had started implementing it!
Unfortunately that doesn't always happen. I remember one hurricane that hit when my daughter was a new born baby and we were still living in Charleston. Our governor at the time was a real idiot who not only didn't have a clue about what to do, he also didn't know who to turn to for anything. So the day before the hurricanes was due to hit my wife packed up our daughter and headed to her mother's house 3 hours inland from us. But between everyone trying to get clear and our governor's complete inebtatude it ended up taking her eight and a half hours to get to her mother's! And even then she only made it because she knew the back roads, thousands who didn't took even longer to get to safety.
So if you ever find yourself facing a disaster the first thing you need is a plan, and you need to have it ready before the fecal matter hits the rotary impeller cause you won't have time to come up with one at the last minute. Nor can you count on having decisive leaders like Governor Haley looking out for you. So think. What sort of emergencies would be likely where you live and how could you deal with them? If you live near open fields or deep woods what would you do if a wild fire broke out? If you live in the mountains what would you do in the event of a major blizzard that close the roads for days and took out power lines? If you live in a valley what happens if it suddenly decides to flood? When Johnsonville, PA flooded it caused over 17 million dollars in damages. Then think. What would you need to have to keep yourself and your family safe? Could you stay where you are, or would you have to leave? If you do bug out, where would you go? What sort of things would you need once you get there and how would you get there? Is there a secondary route in case the best way is blocked? And finally, if for some reason you find it necessary to abandon your car, such as it breaking down too close to whatever disaster you're fleeing, can you walk there in 3 days or less?
Think about this carefully, and never assume nothing could ever happen to you. I lived in Kentucky back in 1974 when 148 tornadoes hit the Midwest in one night. I lived through the blizzards of 1977 when there were snow drifts in western Pennsylvania that reached higher than some houses, and I lived through Hugo. So think and think carefully. Then come back next week and we'll look once more at the things you might want in an emergency bug out kit. Until then, for all who find themselves victims of hurricane Matthew know that you are in my thoughts and in my prayers. May God keep you safe in his hands until next we meet.
Hey! Welcome back, I'm glad you made it. I've been doing a lot of interviewing this past week, and I noticed something about my sports jacket that kind of disturbed me. Now when I bought it I made sure I worked with the people at the men's store to be sure it would conceal my holster well while still looking good. Surprising? It really shouldn't be. With the number of people who have cancelled carry permits on the rise, many of the better stores are more than willing to work with you though they may ask you to unload your weapon as a safety precaution.
What concerns me though is that the sleeves have become rather tight around my biceps lately. Not sure if I've started to put some fat on my upper arms or if my efforts to get back in shape after all the health problems I've had over the past year is adding muscle to my arms. It sure hasn't done anything to shrink my stomach yet! But the point is that I was concerned that the jacket might bind my arms at the wrong time; so I went down to my favorite range for a little tactical practice and sure enough, and sure enough I couldn't draw with my holster in it's normal position and still put the first round on target smoothly!
Now admittedly I don't wear suits very often so this might not seem to be that big a deal to some of you. Especially since I can change guns and holsters to overcome the problem, but if I hadn't stopped by the range I would never have known just how bad it really was! If I had needed to defend myself I would have been in some serious trouble and would never have known it until it was too late. Which brings us to the whole point of this ramble.
If you are going to carry a gun for self defense, you absolutely must practice your shooting skills regularly. I don't care what someone else may tell you, shooting a gun is NOT like riding a bike! If you don't practice then you'll fumble things badly when the adrenaline kicks in, and one of the things you need to practice is drawing and registering your gun. In fact as my little story shows, you need to practice while wearing any style of dress you might find yourself wearing. So you can draw rattle snake quick when wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Fine. I'm proud of you. What happens when winter comes and you're wearing a heavy coat? If you're wearing a suit? Or even worse, a trench coat over that nice suit? Believe me, Murphy will bite you hard if you don't practice in every combination of clothes you may find yourself in; and he bites harder than a pissed off pit bull!
"But my range won't let me do that!" some of you are saying. Yeah, that can be a bit of a problem, but it doesn't mean you can't practice drawing from the holster. Contrary to popular belief, it's actually perfectly safe to dry fire most modern center fire hand guns; and even if that isn't true for yours, they make a product called "Snap Caps" which are basically rounds with no powder or primers. So find a safe place in your house where you're not going to break something, unload your gun, and get to it. In fact many experts (including the man who trained me) recommend doing this at least 10 times a day in addition to live fire practice at the range. In a surprisingly short period of time this daily practice will have you moving as smooth as, well, Wyatt Earp. Which brings up another point to keep in mind.
According to legend, Wyatt Earp, one the most respected as well as feared gun men in the old west reportedly once said that it's not who shoots first that wins but the one who shoots accurately first. You can be faster than Jerry Miculek, but if your first shot tends to hit the 7 ring on the range then sorry to say you probably won't be able to hit the broad side of a barn from the inside when the chips are down. So take your time and practice doing it right. When your first shot from the holster is consistently hitting the x-ring, then you can start trying to up your speed. Until then just concentrate on the basics.
In the meantime though, it seems I've done it again with the chapter length rambles. So until we meet again in this little corner of cyberspace I call my own you take care of yourself and your family. And as always, remember. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing with attitude!