Oct 182013

Tim and I would probably not agree on our favorite tools as Tim always seemed to favor noisy power tools whereas I tend toward quiet ones. I realize that chop saws, table saws, power drills, routers, palm sanders, etc. have their place. But, a good hand tool is a thing of beauty and often of very intelligent design, has a long history and is pleasure to work with or hold in your hand.

I made a list of some of my favorite tools of the past year and why they were important to me:

Gimlet set: Usually comes in a set of four. It’s a hand drill for making a pilot hole or gaining purchase for a cup hook or hanging a picture. I read somewhere that in Colonial times entire houses were built using the gimlet. When you are making a single hole it’s a lot easier to get the gimlet than to get out the power drill.

Jaw Horse: I’ve used this so many times in the past year. It really grips stuff so you can clamp it, glue up, saw it, carve it, sand it or do what ever. Comes with attachment that will hold logs as well as one for full sheets of plywood.

Steam juicer: Live juices are no doubt healthier than cooked and canned juices but when you have lots of apples or berries to deal with a steam juicer is a pretty handy tool which allows you to make some juice and also creates pulp that can be used for jams and jellies. It’s more fun and tastier to use a cider press but I think you need a pick up truck load of apples to make the cider press worthwhile. We like pressing cider but the clean up is tedious and it’s usually cold when you do the pressing and cleaning up is a cold, wet job. The steam juicer can be efficiently used for small batches, is done inside on the stove top and is easy to clean up. We made quite a few quarts of apple juice plus lots of apple butter using the steam juicer.

Aeropress coffee maker: Makes one cup of coffee at a time. You need to grind some beans and heat some water. Takes about a minute and the coffee is consistently the same with each cup. It’s small, travels well and is inexpensive. Makes a better cup of coffee than a French press or Eva Solo coffee maker.

Narrow collinear hoe: Bought one after a tour of the Loganita gardens where they used this hoe to “floss” between and around plants. It’s a brilliant tool which can be used with surgical precision. Perfect for the anally retentive gardener. I have two. One has a three and a half inch blade. The other has a seven inch blade. Both are narrow with long handles allowing your to hoe without bending. Both use a scraping motion like a hula hoe. But, they work better than a hula hoe. I do sharpen them from time to time.

Two wheeled wheelbarrow: Don’t know why anyone uses a wheel barrow with single wheels. The argument is that you can’t maneuver it into tiny spaces. I rarely have a problem navigating mine with two wheels down garden paths or in between rows. Whatever disadvantage exists is offset by the fact that they never tip over and you can move them with only one hand. One of my most important tools.

Silky pruning saw: When it’s too much trouble to get the chain saw out and put on all the protective gear just grab your Silky saw and start sawing. Amazingly efficient on limbs up to six to eight inches. Great for pruning any size limb. Couldn’t be without this tool. I have a spare blade on hand to replace my saw if it ever wears out.

Post puller: Just a big lever but invaluable if you have to pull any metal posts that you’ve use for fencing. Had to redo our orchard fences which meant pulling 48 posts. Thirty dollars well-spent. I’ve pulled narrow diameter wood posts well (like the ones you use to stake trees).

Kuhn Rikon knives: Amazing knives. Colorful. Inexpensive.

Carving Chisels: I’ve got some nice carving tools but I’ve found this really cheap ($17) set from Harbor Freight to be very useful for a variety of tasks. They are so cheap I bought two and don’t have to worry about them like you do with expensive chisels.

I’m always interested in learning about other people’s favorite tools.

Chime in please.

Oct 142013

First thing every Monday I read James Howard Kunstler’s blog. He writes essentially the same essay every week and has for years but is such a skillful and colorful writer that I still look forward the latest iteration. His thesis is easy to recap: Happy Motoring will come to an end. Suburbia is screwed because it is so auto dependent. The party is almost over. Things could get pretty bad. Young people ought to become farmers. And, we better get used to the idea of living smaller and more locally for the time when we no longer have fuel or are able to afford fuel to jump in our car and drive or fly wherever we wish to go.

I’m sympathetic to his point of view and have taken some basic steps to prepare (as in “prepper”) for the economic and social disaster that might be just around the corner. That is, in fact, the continuing point of this blog—to suggest that, while we do our thing, we should give some thought to what our future might look like as individuals and as a community.

Living on an island it is a bit easier to imagine being cut off, to be forced into localism by circumstances beyond our control. As an example, if the ferry craps out we have a whole lot of problems to solve quickly and probably expensively. In the case of a general economic breakdown which more than a few commentators believe is possible, we’d need to do some real work to keep our heads above water.

One interesting thing to think about is who would have value if we were forced to go it alone. If we had to rely on ourselves and our own resources it’s obvious that people who grow food, raise food, know how to forage for food or catch food would be extremely important. Anyone who has skills relating to wells, water, water systems, water purification would be in demand. A person capable of making fuel out of available material could write their own ticket. Those with construction, mechanical and engineering skills would be very busy. A bike builder or bike repair person would be a VIP. Scroungers and inventors would be very popular.

We would need medical and surgical talents as well as unconventional healing skills. Security could be an issue. Like it or not, islanders knowledgeable with weapons could be important to us. We would want to keep our fire department staffed and trained and fueled somehow. Woodcutters, bakers, home health care, nurses…I could go on about skills that would be required to maintain some semblance of comfort.

Saturday, at the Grange Country Living Series Workshop, Ann MacDonald, a voice coach and therapist took a group of us through an hour of voice work, a reminder of another important set of skills a small community would need if cut off for what ever reason. We would need, in fact demand, the ability to entertain ourselves: to sing, play, act and write.

Ann’s workshop reminded me that I (and we) don’t sing enough. There is a psychological obstacle for most of us to singing. We don’t think we sound that good. Shockingly, with Ann’s coaching the singing among the dozen or so who were there was very pleasing. We learned, for example, that it was easier to sing standing on one foot. It forced us to concentrate on balance and those balancing muscles in the core of our body, which are the muscles that actually produce the sound, rather than thinking about making a noise in our throat. It was fun. It was therapeutic. It was motivational. We ought to start now to develop a choral group on the island as one of most important things we could do to get ready for an uncertain future.

At the end of the session she sang for us sitting in a chair, relaxed and patient, letting the sound flow. It would be nice to be able to sing like she did.

Maybe we can.