Coping: Weekend Shop Weather & Prepping

imageWe had a pretty good fall weather front through here last night.  Strong enough to knock out the power.  Long-lasting enough that Zeus-the-Cat was let in the house to hide out from the weather for a while…thunder & lightning…Over the course of a couple of hours sitting out on the screen porch, the temp dropped from a muggy 85 down to a more-reasonable 75.  Low 60s this morning. 

56-inches of rain in the past year, too.  Eat your heart out Seattle.

All that cooling comfort came as a cost:  Plenty of lightning.  And, if I’m not mistaken, we will likely have a pretty violent spring next year.

Say what you will for climate (and change):  The severity of weather seems proportional to the extremes of low and high temps overall and this year those ranges have been impressive.

The good news is that the warm & humid end of the week should be it for weather too warm to work in this year.  From here on it, projects should get a little easier.

I thought instead of our usual grueling economic focus, it would be useful to move into the the practical side of living.  There are two kinds of “economic” when comes to the world of Things.  There’s the stuff you can buy – which drives you into the paper=earning area.  But there is also the world of “make” of “get-by” that often gets the short shrift.

Any damn fool can buy a piece of designer furniture.  The grade will be roughly related to how much paper (made-up) money you throw at the problem. 

It takes a special fool to declare their independence from the paper world and set off to create a using item in a home shop.

The son-in-law who lives up in Tacoma had a birthday recently and we offered him a smorgasbord of power tools.

A basic home shop doesn’t need a lot of tools.  Since he already has a fair assortment of car-working tools, this birthday was more “Home Project” oriented.

A secret from our Peoplenomics side – and from an eBook called “How to Live on $20,000 a year, or less…” which I wrote nearly a decade ago:  There are only a handful of basic shop operations.  Less than a half-dozen, in fact.   All you need to do is master these simple steps in something approaching the right order, and your success at project-building is assured.

The steps are:

(Optional:  Plan)

1.  Select Materials

2.  Measure

3.  Cut

4.  Join

5.  Finish

This has what to do with prepping?

I was coming to that.

Suppose you lived in an area that was hit by a powerful earthquake.  This isn’t something I would wish on anyone.  But these things do happen.

Being at least aware that these steps above are how any kind of construction happens will help to ensure that you will have at least some resilience when comes to housing, water, and so forth.

Amazingly, none of the prepping websites on the net seem to be selling “Tarp Kits.” Why is a mystery.  Because when you think about it, in the event of a real emergency, I can’t think of anything better that a half dozen tarps, mostly large, and some 3/16th’s nylon or Kevlar line – like the paracord bracelets are made from – to lash everything into place.

After that, it comes down to whatever a homeowner chooses to keep on hand as stock for emergencies. 

The basic “kits” in my shop are wood (and fasteners), electrical (including wire, junction boxes and fasteners along with assorted switches and light fixtures) and plumbing which is updates every six-months, or so, with fresh “hot set” PVC glue.  The glue should be fresh or it verges on useless.

Outside there is a storage area where lengths of PVC pipe live.  And, in order to get dual-use out of the storage, I fill the PVC with assorted sizes of rebar (steel reinforcing bar) which you can weld up just about anything with,.  Given me a chop saw, a few hand tools (like a square) and a welding table, and in no time at all I can turn out anything from furniture, foot-wiping grates, desks, yard art, tractor modifications like brush panels…welding is right up with framing in terms of rewarding.

The son-in-law picked Ryobi for his power tools, but other good choices are Dewalt and Makita. 

When you go tool shopping, what you’re after is a family of tools that will run on a single size battery and charger.

I don’t like the small battery size so we got him a couple of the BIGGER  Ryobi P108 18-Volt One Plus Lithium Plus High Capacity Battery.

It’s hard to tell what goes through the minds of corporate marketing departments, but I suspect one track would be to break up the price of the tool, battery and charger all separate so that a person of limited means (us!) could spend about $100 a month on tools and by the time six to eight months has gone by, have a pretty well equipped tool chest.  High priced, all inclusive sets are fine for journeymen and tradesman, but that leaves the rest of us.

His equipment now includes an electric drill, a jig saw, and a small circular saw.  The small circ saw is only good for a 2×4, but with the big battery pack on, it should do what…a dozen cuts?  Swap batteries for another dozen…and how many projects on a weekend are more than that?

The problem with these tools (talking prepping here)  is charging.  In the event of a disaster, when presumably the power would be off, you’d have to rely on hand tools and whatever battery packs are charged.

Notice I mentioned the plural on packs?  I am a huge believer in having more batteries than tools and working through them in an orderly way so they each get about equal use and so that you always have several charged up.  Having that battery powered tool isn’t going to help if there’s no power.

For emergencies, once you have some hand saws and a battery powered jig, zip, Sawzall, and/or circ saw, the next area to look at is your fasteners.

I’ve become a huge fan of coarse-thread drywall screws.  If you get the 1 1/4 and the 1 5/8ths size, that’s a decent small goods solution.  the 2”, 21/2” and 3” are good for larger work. 

Drywall screws are not a heavy-duty outdoor fastener – galvanized deck screws are my favorite there.  We keep way more than is necessary for all but End of World events on hand.  A five pound box of each is a good start.  You’ll use an amazing number of them if you start doing lots of projects.

I didn’t mention measuring tapes, but I should.  I like the Stanley Fat Max series.

A bit of discussion about what I would gleefully pay almost $45 bucks for a Stanley 33-900 FatMax Extreme Short Tape 1-1/4-Inch by 35-Foot measuring tape is in order.

There’s a science to buying a good measuring tape if you’re doing construction or any sort around the house.  Remember, I love deck-building…

The science goes like this:  Home handy-bastards usually work alone.  (Often our wives are out shopping and we are planning to “surprise” them.  Or, they are inside sobbing “You’re ruining out house….”).  Thing is, for any variety of reasons, we end up working alone.

The first good measuring tape I used (borrowed and seldom put back) was a high-end Craftsman in a chrome case – 50-some years ago.  It was a good tape and Sears had an incredible parts department back in the day.  You could actually order a replacement blade and unscrew the old tape and put in a new blade.  I doubt in the disposable society if that level of support is there.

But the design of tapes has changed over the years.

Old tapes were thin – maybe half an inch wide – and if you were on a ladder, you could only put the tape out about 3-feet, or so, trying to measure on a wall for example.  The minute you got the tape 3-feet out, it would buckle.  So now you are on the ladder trying to measure (as an example) four-feet from a corner.

The damn tape keeps buckling and collapsing.  You then reach over, extending your body weight from being properly centered on the ladder in order to make the measurement.  And this is when accidents happen.  Ask me how I know…

The state of the art in design – just in measuring tapes – is amazing.  Any measuring tape will have measurements on it.  All will roll up nicely.

The truly superior tapes (like the Stanley Fat Max series) will allow you to push the tape out to at least eight feet before buckling.  The distant is determined by the roll of the tape (they are curved to add strength) and the thickness of the tape.  That Stanley link up above is 1 1/4” wide.

If someone makes a wider tape that could go out 12 feet, I would buy it in a heart beat.  I’ve gotten my Stanley on a calm day to poke out 11-feet, but to do it, I had to hold it my hand. outside the case.

It may look silly in the measuring tools aisle at the hardware emporium to see if you can snag the end of a wall at 8-feet with a particular tape.  But for anyone who appreciates that good tape makes for faster work, the scene would mark a serious handy-bastard’s equivalent of a test drive.

One other tool mention:  Socket sets.

Bostich has gone into sockets and I picked up a set a while back (BOSTITCH BTMT72285 Spline Socket Set, 82-Piece $58) and it has worked out better than most inexpensive sets.  If you go over to that Amazon page and scroll down, you’ll see where this along with a set of Stanley open-ends and a passable screwdriver set tips the scales at $94 – so if you are newbie to tools, that’s a starting point that will handle a lot of basic automotive tasks.

Workshop weather is here…and about damn time.

One of  these mornings I should put the “How to Build Anything” part of the “How to Live on $20,000 a year or less…” book on here. 

A one-time investment in tools and learning how to use them can save you literally 10’s of thousands of dollars over your lifetime if you figure out how to use them.

A Word About Amazon

I have mentioned this on Peoplenomics  a while back.  But thought I would mention it here.

When you get two competing items on Amazon and you don’t know which one to buy, scroll down to look at the customer reviews  and add up the top two lines.

Here are two Bostich socket sets as an example:




Adding up the top two lines, the first tool is a 75% “odds of being happy” whereas the bottom one is 96% odds of being happy.  The bottom review is the obvious winner…

When I deviate from my 75% happy, or I don’t buy it rule, I often regret it. 

In this case I did deviate – I was looking for the deep sockets not in the other set.  But whenever you can find two items on Amazon, add the 5 star reviews and the 4 stars and you can usually do pretty well in your purchases.

Oops!  On to real work now… have a great weekend and don’t forget, no worthwhile shop project is ever completed with a sliver or skinned knuckle or other minor injury.  Use reasonable caution, but don’t fear engaging in new things…

Write when you breakeven,


10 thoughts on “Coping: Weekend Shop Weather & Prepping”

  1. Basing amazon purchase worthiness on 4 & 5 star ratings is a good way to do that, but do read the comments. Not sure how much amazon has had in the way of fake reviews, but I read recently about an online company that harvested fake reviews and sold them to dubious clients. I’m not going to point fingers at any one place, because I didn’t dive deeper into the article. But knowing a product only has high ratings often rings a warning bell to me. I’ve never seen anything that pleased absolutely everyone.

  2. I would like to point out- The only power tool in a non production woodworking shop that can’t be effectively replaced by a muscle powered one is the vacuum cleaner.

    The older I get, the more I prefer a selection of GOOD, sharp and appropriately sized hand saws, ditto of chisels sharp enough to shave with and a selection of well sharpened hand planes. Work is quiet, the chips fall at your feet, no need for hearing protection and a dust mask.

    If you make a mistake, it happens slowly enough to often save the workpiece as well…

    I do like to use good battery operated drills, and I rip long pieces on the table saw or with a skil saw. For building a whole stud wall, I do break out a powered miter saw for repetitive cuts.

    But building solid wood furniture, chairs and tables? Hand tools. Arts & crafts joinery. It is the way… No slower, really, and you can hear yourself think.

  3. Hi, George!

    I’m now 62 and one of those guys who took six years of shop classes when I was in school – grades 7-12 and have never regretted it. Back in the late 60’s, the curriculum included full Semesters in Printing [where we learned by chasing lead type for a letterpress… to this day I can still read backwards as a result!], Mechanical Drawing [“take this geometric block of wood and draw it out flat”], Electricity [where we learned to wind a motor armature made from rods and angle iron we bent ourselves] and Sheet-Metal Working [using heavy solid Copper soldering irons heated in a gas flame jet] in addition to basic Carpentry [where we even learned to weave a chair seat from cord]. The teachers were retired craftsmen who taught us as they would an apprentice. Bear in mind: I was all of 13 years old when I began these classes! Do they even offer instruction like that anymore outside of Voc-Tech schools? I doubt it. It would be all power-this and CAD-that these days.

    I still remember my first shop teacher, one Mr. Miller. A crusty old Master Carpenter who brooked no nonsense. Got my first swat from him for misusing a wood chisel and I still remember the blistering WHACK! But you know what the most valuable lesson old Mr. Miller taught his class? He would not let ANYONE even touch a power tool until they had fully mastered the hand variety. No power saws: use a Crosscut, Rip, Back or Coping type. Same thing with a Jack or Block Plane [we also had to learn how to sharpen the blades]. Power drill? NOPE! Use a Brace and Bit or Yankee Twist. One test measured us on the different types of Hammers and their proper use [Pop-Quiz: How many can you name?]. Other tests included identifying and listing the properties and uses for about 12 different kinds of wood, including growing characteristics of the trees themselves. A TRULY VALUED EDUCATION!

    Which brings me to my point. Power tools are all nice and well -and I have a cluster of them myself- but more often than not I’ll reach for the hand tools first as I know they will not disappoint. They also work just fine under ANY circumstances with NO power. Instead of a sleek bunch of Ryobis or Makitas, methinks a better gift may have been a classy set of Chisels, a sturdy Plane, some classic Handsaws and the files to keep them all sharpened. And perhaps most importantly: when a man finishes a project using only hand tools he can step back and take a special measure of PRIDE in his accomplishment while also furthering the time-honored traditions of pure CRAFTSMANSHIP. And: that’s really what it’s all about. Or, should be!

    Just a random thought from an old man…and of course, that dear old Mr. Miller!

  4. Hey George,

    That book used to be about living well on $10,000 or less, not $20K! It’s still possible, and you can keep your wits, health, and assets if you’re careful. You might not gain much in the way of new purchased assets, but you sure can have a good time in life. I agree that 20K/year after taxes is what it takes to live really well.

    BTW, on power tools, I MUCH prefer long 12 or 14 gauge extension cords and a plug. Even if I have to use a generator. You need to keep situational awareness, but you save a ton on batteries, and can saw or screw all day long without missing a beat.

    I use deck screws in preference to sheetrock screws for anything structural. Why nail when you can screw.

    On PVC pipe – keep it out of the sun. It crosslinks and becomes more fragile. You’re at low elevation, but you are at low latitude too.

    BTW, the freebee 25′, 1″ wide tape from Harbor Freight will extend seven feet if you’re careful. It has been OK for me, YMMV.

  5. On Ryobi cordless: I have quite a collection, going back to the blue and Homelite era. They have held up pretty well and seem to improve with each redesign. Recently got the P125 6 port charger, it helps keep them organized and maintained at full charge. Next will be the 9.5′ pole saw. Home Depot has deals (the big 4AH batteries just dropped from $100 to $50 apiece). Ryobi = cost-effective.

  6. Regarding hand saws… I purchased a set of Japanese hand saws about 10+ years ago and just love them. They cut easily on the back stroke [rather than the fore stroke, as with American saws] and accomplish the job with far less muscle exertion… and extra saw blades can be purchased individually online. I highly recommend them!

  7. I live in Podunk USA, and my rent, utilities, car expenses, entertainment, and groceries cost $16320 a year. I’m just barely making it! The internet makes movies and TV essentially free. The cost of cable Internet + a pile of hard drives = Hollywood’s best product in infinite supply.

  8. A great deal on tarps is used billboard signs. I have several of these and they don’t disappoint. other tarps just fall apart. These are made to be hung out in the sun and heavy weather. Here’s who I bought from. There’s several sites. I don’t have any financial interest in them.

    P.S. They can be glued together because they’re vinyl just like swimming pool liners.

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