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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Makeshift Workshop Skills for Survival and Self-Reliance - book review

 I typically do reviews on eBooks, but a while back I was contacted by James Ballou to do a review of a hard copy, Makeshift Workshop Skills for Survival and Self-Reliance, published by Paladin Press. Of course I was thrilled to review his book; honestly I had seen it previously and had been interested in reading it, so I jumped at the chance. It turns out that my instincts were correct, this is a great and useful book!

I contacted Paladin Publishing and they not only sent me James Ballou’s book, but a couple of others as well, I will be posting those reviews soon.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a hard copy book, with the advent of the internet and the digital age, I have long since converted to eBooks and audio books. It’s good to have hard copies of books; digital copies can be lost, corrupted or otherwise unreachable, if you don’t have your computer or mp3 player handy AND charged up, then you are out of luck. It’s nice to take book in hand, turn the pages and read, no batteries required.

When I received James Ballou’s book, the first thing I noticed was the quality, this book is big and the print is easy on the eyes. It is a paperback, but a very well done paperback book. There are lots of illustrations and pictures for those of us who enjoy visuals (I am included in that group).  There are 208 pages, 9 chapters and lots of reference materials and sources. James is not afraid to give credit where credit is due.

This book is essentially a set of instructions that show you how to create tools, how to repair and construct many useful items using little more than salvaged materials that you probably have laying around. The following will give you an idea of what this book contains, it merely hits the highlights of each chapter, James explains things in detail, but in a manner that most of can understand, this book was written for the common man (and woman), you don’t need to be a rocket scientist or have a degree with an string of letters following your name to understand this book.

In chapter 1, James starts out with the basics, from rocks and clay, animal products (horn, antler, hoof, bone, leather, sinew…), wood, plastics and metal. Talk about the Stone Age, Fred Flintstone would have been proud!  James even gives a recipe how to make your own plastic out of milk of all things.

Chapter 2 contains information about rope and cord. The different types of rope and cord, how to make your own from various materials. He discusses knots and their uses; I especially enjoyed the section about net making.

Chapter 3 is all about makeshift metal work. James explains how to create a forge, it looks fairly straightforward to make one, and James is a master at making something that could be complicated look easy to make. Metalsmithing is one of those things that we typically send out to someone else to do, with the knowledge in this book, and a bit of skill and a willingness to learn, this is something that many of us can do.

Chapter 4 is the chapter that I enjoyed greatly; it is all about improvised tools. You will find no power tools, cords or batteries here, just straight forward, simple yet extremely useful hand tools that you can make yourself.  Need a rasp, a saw or drill? No problem, make them yourself! How many times have you used all of your clamps to hold a particularly complex wood project together and you needed just one or two more? No problem, just make another, it’s very likely that you already have the materials to make all the clamps you need.

Chapter 5, expedient repair methods. Nothing lasts forever, that is especially of a tool or other gadget that you need to use right now! Sometimes it’s not convenient or possible to run to the store to buy a replacement; James shows how to repair many things using what you already have around your home. He explains the different methods and materials to do the various repairs you may run into on a daily basis. Glues, tape, cord, wire and more, James explains each material and gives examples of how each of these materials can be used to repair the various things that can and do break.

Chapter 6 is all about soldering, brazing and welding. This is another set of skills that most people don’t think they can do, it’s usually considered easier to send your broken items out to be fixed, usually at a premium price.  If you are willing to learn, it is possible to do this yourself, especially soldering and brazing. Though honestly, unless you have the proper equipment for welding, this may be one area that is best left to the experts. But after reading this chapter, at least you will be familiar with the different types of welding, techniques and such, it is good knowledge to have, and it may be something that you are willing to tackle yourself, it would certainly be a valuable skill set to have.

Chapter 7, things you can make out of other things. After reading this chapter, you will see your environment with new eyes; you will see the potential in everyday, ordinary objects that surround you, the potential to make something else out of what is already there.  Breaking things down to their component parts and using those parts to make or repair other things. Wire coat hangers and metal coffee cans can be repurposed to make dozens if not hundreds of useful items.  Wooden dowels, broken steel files, nails and a multitude of other things can be remade into more useful items, tools and such. You can even make a set of sandals made from an old tire. James gives a very good list of makeshift items that can substitute for other items.

Chapter 8, practical tips for the craftsman or handyman. This chapter shows you the tips and tricks of the trade, things that the experts already know but you might not necessarily be privy to. Some of these you might already know, but there are a lot of tips & tricks that will save you time, save your fingers, tools, and sanity. You will hit yourself in the head and say, why didn’t I think of that before?  Such as how to drill or cut in a straight line (it’s not as easy as it first appears), the proper way to pull out a nail (how to get more leverage and not damage your walls), an ingenious way to remove rust from metal (hint, it doesn’t require much elbow grease at all), and much, much more.

Chapter 9, theorems and formulas for inventors and builders.  This is a very good chapter for me; it contains mathematical formulas for many handy things. Temperature conversions, determining the mechanical advantage of pulleys, block and tackle, incline planes, gear ratios, calculating dimensions and more, you will find it in this chapter.

The final section contains a comprehensive list of resources and reference materials compiled over the years, books as well as websites are listed here.

All in all, I give this book 2 thumbs up, it contains very useful information that will save you time, money and headaches. Mountain Man Bob was also very impressed with this book, and that means a lot! It’s difficult to impress Bob, who is the ultimate do it yourselfer, James managed to do it and he did it with style! In fact, the reason it took me longer than usual to write this review was because I had to pry the book away from Bob!

Another thing that is clear to me is it appears that James has actually DONE all of these things, he isn’t just spouting theory or repeating what someone else has done.

So whether you are a survivalist or a weekend warrior, you will enjoy this book, and you will learn a great deal, I highly recommend this book.

You can purchase this book from Paladin Press, don’t forget to check out the other books they publish as well, including James Ballou’s first book, Long Term Survival in the Coming Dark Age.

James was kind enough to answer a few questions, enjoy!

Mini interview

First I want to thank you for allowing me the opportunity to review your book, it’s been a real pleasure to read and I know we will be using the info contained in this book.
Thanks, Wretha! I am honored and grateful that you’ve taken the time to review this book, and for your overall positive take on it.

What made you decide to write this book? What was your inspiration?
Years of camping, hiking, experimenting with things, searching for creative ideas, and contemplating all sorts of survival scenarios more or less channeled this kind of “make-shifter” mind set I’ve acquired, and at some point I envisioned a kind of niche for a book like this. So I began gathering ideas, researching certain related topics, and experimenting with projects and techniques until it all more or less came together in the form of this book. I will admit that I have never seen another book quite like this one in so many ways.

How long did it take to put this book together?
This project took more than a year to finish. I tend to approach these things slowly and methodically, but every part of this book was enormously fun for me.

Is there going to be a part two to this book?
Yes! The second Makeshift book is somewhere close to being halfway complete right now. Isn’t it amazing how sometimes you think you’ve jammed every idea you’ve ever thought of for a particular topic or category into a list, but the list still never stops growing? That’s how it is with this subject matter – it really is endless.

I know this will be like asking which child is your favorite, but humor me… For you personally, what would you say is the most useful thing you have in this book?
Believe it or not, that little cord wrap trick I attempted to illustrate on page 115 is one that I use routinely, perhaps more than anything else described in this whole book. I realize it’s sort of common knowledge, but it is an incredibly handy (and easy to apply) technique for things like whipping the ends of rope with small cord, attaching wire eyes to a fishing rod with strong thread, binding all sorts of different things together and so on. With a tight wrap of cord, it creates a very strong and enduring, neat wrap that requires no bulky knots.

Did you grow up with tools and the knowledge of how to use them or was this something you learned as an adult or later in life?
My Dad always had some tools and a workbench all the time I was growing up, and he encouraged my brother and me to use them safely. Even with all of his emphasis on safety I still managed to clobber my fingers with hammers and run sharp chisels and gouges into my hands fairly often. We would get really creative sometimes, making our toy guns out of wood and things like that. I never perfected any special skills with tools, but I experimented a lot.

What books are you working on now?
As I indicated, the second Makeshift book is a work currently in progress. I am really excited about it, and I tend to let myself become consumed by it at times – developing ideas, attempting to build weird projects, researching different creative how-to subjects and skills, and then putting everything into some kind of order so that others can pick it up more easily. We’ll see how it turns out.

Is there anything you would like to add, this is the place to do it.
I would just like to encourage readers to adopt this make-shifter’s mind set and go out there and get creative. What could possibly ever be more fun?

Click here for James Ballou’s book Makeshift Workshop Skills for Survival snd Self-Reliance

Click here to listen to a podcast interview with the author.

All written text and audio podcast from this blog are copyrighted and owned by Wretha unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved, You may download or copy for your own personal enjoyment., but please do not distribute (text or audio) without written permission.

properly pronounced wreetha (included for the text reader),

Thanks for visiting!

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  1. If Wretha and MMB give it their 2 thumbs up, that is 4 thumbs up!

    Drat! I hate it when you review this books! Now it is another book I will have to get. Saw this mentioned somewhere before but was not moved to purchase. now I have to set up my budget process to get this one! I know I will enjoy it too.

  2. Hey, Wretha! How did I miss this photo of you?? I love it!! You're super cool. I haven't read your review yet - too wrapped up in homework. Anyway, still enjoying your blog and always will, I'm sure.


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