Monday, October 22, 2007

Keep Your Hatchet Scoured...

Most of you have seen it: the online picture of someone in all of their kit, standing in front of a bedroom door. The kit is of course, brand-spanking new. Pristine. Unused. Another variation on the theme is a photo of a knife. The owner is very proud that he owns this blade and is planning on surviving the apocalypse with this baby strapped to his side. And there is not a scratch or blemish on it. It is unused. Mint. Beautiful.

I really dislike those photos. Here is someone purporting to be ready to “take on all comers” with their Super Gear and it is obvious they have never used it. You can be assured it is top of the line, name-brand stuff. They KNOW it’s good because their Internet warrior buddies and all the magazines tell them it is. They don’t want to actually USE it because then it won’t be perfect when it’s go time.

By the same token, I really dislike observing poorly maintained gear. You know – the rusty knife, the mildewed tent, the gear that has been sitting around in a box for the past two months with caked on mud. Well-used is okay (in fact, it’s great); poorly maintained is a sin.

Long ago, back in the day, in a land far, far away we had this phrase: Maintenance is Training and Training is Maintenance. Basically, it meant that when you were spending time taking care of gear you were not wasting time –you were actually training. Training to maintain.

So often today we will schedule time for training – say we plan on departing Friday after work for a BoB campout and we will get home late Sunday night just in time to get some shut eye before getting back to the daily grind on Monday – but we fail to schedule time for maintenance. So our stuff just gets tossed into the garage or basement, or gear bay or whatever in some kind of sorry condition and not really dealt with until just before our next great adventure when we pull it all out to pack and then clean some of it up.

One problem with that approach is that your gear is not ready to immediately redeploy. Let’s look at a volunteer fire department. Most of their calls are medical calls and car wrecks. When the alarm goes off, these volunteers stop what they were doing, rush to the station, grab a fire truck and report to the scene. After the call is over, the truck is parked back in the bay and all the volunteer firefighters go back to what they were doing – mowing the lawn, sleeping, eating supper, whatever. Unless it was a fire.

When fighting a fire there is a lot of water (duh) and everything gets wet. Then everything gets muddy and sooty. Hose lines are all over the place and when the fire is finally out the real work is just beginning. The firemen have to clean the dirty, wet hoses, hang them up to dry, clean equipment and hang IT up to dry and repack hoses on trucks. All so that the department is ready to respond to another call should it come an hour later. This is not exciting work. There is no adrenalin rush – in fact much the opposite. There is that low that comes after the adrenalin rush of fighting a large fire. No one likes doing all this maintenance (invariably at three in the morning) but all realize the importance of it. Lives could depend on our gear.

Back to personal equipment. You have to use it to know what it and you are capable of. You have to maintain it to have it ready to go when you need it. Robert Rogers had a list of standing orders for his Rangers. One of them was “Keep your hatchet scoured and your musket clean as a whistle”. Do you think Rogers' Rangers all sported brand new hatchets and muskets? Of course not. They were well used. And well maintained.

Some of this maintenance is done in the field. Things like, well – scouring hatchets and cleaning muskets. Sure, it’s nice to have good light and all your cleaning solvents arrayed on your table with the little rubber pad and a rack to hold your weapon. But sometimes you have to do it sitting under a bush, in the rain, while your buddy pulls security. Some of this maintenance requires training. There are a lot of Rambos out there who don’t know how to sharpen their knives – let alone carry proper gear with them to do it in the field. Knives get dull when you use them. That’s why we constantly touch them up. A stitch in time saves nine - like in your pants. But first, one must learn how to do so.

I think one big reason for the photogenic warrior survivalists that populate the ‘net is that they don’t know HOW to maintain their gear and thus are afraid of using it and getting it into a state where it requires said maintenance. What they need to do is LEARN how to maintain their gear. As with everything else, we learn by doing.

There are three levels of maintenance. Field Maintenance is what we do while in the timber (or sand, or on the water, etc). It is that woman cleaning her rifle under the bush (ha! and you though only dudes did this stuff – wrong!), it is that scouring of hatchets and so on. Heck we even maintain our FEET in the field with fresh socks, foot powder and massages. Happiness is a warm, dry pair of socks – oh yes it is.

Deep Maintenance is what we do when we get back from the field – that is the detailed stripping down of the rifle for cleaning, replacing worn parts, washing things, re-waterproofing gear and so on. This requires a bit of time and a PLAN. The goal is to have your gear in as near perfect shape as possible before storing it.

Finally there is Routine Maintenance. You know, cleaning that rifle you haven’t shot for six months, treating the wooden handles on your rakes and hoes and shovels, making sure the moths have not invaded your sweater bin and so on.

It is best to have plan for maintenance. You list makers out there ought to love this one. You can have one spread sheet for when you are going to maintain all your different pieces of gear and other spread sheets for each bit of kit that list all the things to be checked, replaced, touched up, etc. Go get ‘em! I’ve said before - I ‘m not a list maker. I just know what has to be done. I think the list makers are probably more efficient and reliable than I am – if they follow up and actually DO what is on their lists. But I do get it done. You can do it any way you want - as long as you get it done.

This blog is about preparedness.
You are not prepared to use your gear if you have not really used it in the past; if you have not pushed it to it’s limits in the mud and the rain, and snow and the heat.
You are not prepared if your gear is jammed into the basement in some sorry poorly maintained state.

Training is Maintenance – Maintenance is Training.

Proverbs 27:17 Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.

See you out there.
If you have any comments I’d love to hear them.
If they really interest me, I may even post them.
You can reach me at

Prepared Americans for a Strong America


At 22/10/07 12:16, Blogger Jay said...

Great article. Maintanence is something that I have always viewed as work. Your article has changed my perspective. When I get back in from the field, the last thing I want to do is to go through my stuff and then I play the procrastinate game. That phrase will help. Thanks. Docjamo

At 22/10/07 16:42, Blogger G said...

I couldn't agree more with this blog post. I have found that equipment I thought I liked or looked cool just ended up adding weight to my pack. Use you gear; find it's weak points. I have been pursing a preparedness mindset of and on for many years. It is only now that I consider it of great importance due to the uncertainties of American life and the inevitable history it seems to be repeating(The Empire Model)

I have fond that when focusing on the gear it's all to easy t over look the basics. For instance when I see recipes for Bug Out Bags. I rarely see and extra socks in them or small food rations. Ever travel for two days with limited or no food? If so I'm sure you are very aware of the blood sugar aspect. Finding food of any real quantity is difficult at best and many people think it's as easy as walking into the woods. In a real SHTF situation everything will be stripped including wildlife. Of course there is still earthworms and tree bark 3 seasons out of the year...

At 26/10/07 09:03, Blogger Andi said...

Here's a tip for maintaining the garden tools: Make a box and put sand in it. Pour used cooking oil in it. When you have finished working in your garden, work your shovel or hoe up and down for a bit in the sand, and it will clean off the dirt plus lubricate it.

At 30/10/07 14:51, Blogger Bro. Brandon B. said...

great post, and I couldn't agree more.

I especially liked the part about fire departments (I'm a firefighter) and it is all true how much work goes into being prepared for the next job.

A favorite pioneer quote of mine also certainly applies to ones gear, "Buy it once, wear it out - fix it up, or do without."

At 16/10/08 13:13, Blogger nicholas said...

as a hobby i fix up blades of any sort and living in a major metropolitan area i see alot of cheap chinamart knives and hatchets, for the most part they dont need any real work, but every once in awhile someone brings in something beat up almost beyond recognition and its incredibly satisfying to regrind a blade, replace a handle and send it on its way. its enjoyable to see something soulless beaten up and fixed up enough times that it actually develops character. its terrible that our society doesnt bother fixing things anymore. "oh its broke? buy a new one" its a terrible mindset.


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