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The Lost Art of Carpentry

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In today’s fast paced and ever growing knowledge based society, you might ask yourself the question,  why should I learn carpentry?

The reason is because if we ever have a natural or man made disaster, most people will be in big trouble if they don’t have the basic tools to build even the most simple of structures. In the not too distant past, almost every family had a carpenter in the family or they had basic carpentry skills themselves. This is no longer true. 

Although most people have a small assortment of basic hand tools such as a measuring tape, hammer, a hand saw, pliers, and screw drivers, that is not enough to really do much at all.


All information or ideas expressed are the opinions of Confirmed5150. They can be used, distributed, or copied at NO charge to the user. By using any of the suggestions or ideas that are presented, the user accepts any and all responsibility for using any information. Furthermore, all information is, “as is”, with NO warranties either expressed or implied by Confirmed5150. It is the user’s responsibility to do their own research, and to verify all suggestions or recommendations. Confirmed5150 will not be responsible for any mistakes or misinterpretations that the user makes in regards to any information provided free of charge to the user by Confirmed5150. Confirmed5150 highly recommends that anyone that is interested in survival, join a actual survival association, and take actual courses in survival, that will assure that you are better equipped for most survival situations.

Obviously, the more tools you have, the more you can accomplish with less effort than if you have only the bare minimum of tools.

There are many books on how to build things. I suggest that you get some idea of how to plan and design something to meet your needs in case of such a disaster. Take a look around your home and you can start to see things that you might be able to use to create a temporary shelter.

I’m not talking about building an elaborate home, I’m talking about a simple structure that will hopefully keep you and your family out of the weather and relatively safe.

Obviously, you want to think about the materials that may be available to you at the time. In a crisis, you may not be able to get anything other than scraps from existing structures. In order to use any of these materials, you will need some tools that will make the job of salvaging the material a lot easier.

That's what this article is all about. It is about the tools that I think you should have. I am speaking from the knowledge base of over 35 years in construction and three generations of my family that were builders. I have built everything from simple play houses to Class A commercial buildings, including furniture and cabinets. I know that having the right tools to do the job correctly is important. But more importantly, having the ability to use the tools safely is just as important.

I suggest that the you purchase or get copies of books that explain what the intended use of the tools are before you go out and buy any tools. I'm going to list tools below that I think the average person should have around their home in one location, that should be easily accessible in an emergency. The list of tools is the minimum that I think you should have in your tool box. But of course, you need to decide for yourself.

Power tools are a great time saver also. But let’s say that you don’t have a lot of money to purchase power tools or you are in a situation where you do not have power to use these tools. That's why the tools listed below are hand tools only. Not to mention,  good hand tools alone will cost you a lot of money. If you have the money to buy a generator, power cords, nailing guns, gun nails, power saws, specialty saws, drills and etc.,  that’s great. Like I said before, the more tools you have, the easier the job is to build.

Another thing that I have to say right from the start is that if you buy quality tools in the beginning, you will be better off than most people. Also, when it comes to maintaining these tools, remember that the better quality tools will last longer if properly used. You don’t use a wooden handled hammer for pulling nails because the handle isn’t really intended for pulling nails.  

What I mean by quality tools is not a tool that has a lifetime warranty necessarily; I have had tools with lifetime warranties that were garbage in my opinion. If you have to take the tool back all the time to get a replacement, then what good is that tool? In addition, you may not be able to get a replacement tool when you need it. That would be just as bad as not having the tool at all.

I also suggest that you have at least 2 of each tool on the list because even the best of tools wears out eventually. Also, some tools require more than one to get the job done.  

Basic Hand Tools

My tool suggestions are those that I would want to have on hand and those that I feel will do the job correctly and make it easier for me to do the work.  Some of this is based on personal preference.

An example of this would be hammers. There are many different types of hammers for many different applications. You may make your decision based on the overall usage intended for the hammer, the type of handle, the proper balance, whether it has a curved or straight claw, all metal, hollow metal handle, fiberglass handle, or wooden handle. Should it have a smooth head, or corrugated head? Should it weigh 16 oz., 20, or 28 oz. This all depends on your strength too.

A wooden handled hammer is not going to be any good if you intend to tear apart materials all the time because the handle WILL eventually break or at least loosen up. Also, you can't leave it out in the rain. All wooden handled hammers will loosen up eventually. So in my opinion, you should either purchase a fiberglass handled hammer or an all steel solid metal handled hammer. But wooden handled hammers usually have the best balance. If you buy a wooden handled hammer, you should also purchase extra good quality handles and wedges that you will need for eventual replacements. 

Remember, I recommend at least 2 of each tool listed below.

1.          The straight claw hammer- Estwing makes a solid steel handle with a rubber grip. It is a good brand for all around usage, and especially for tearing things apart. It does not have the best balance but it is good for everything all around. Also, I do NOT recommend a curve claw hammer because it limits the use of the hammer claws to pulling nails only. 20-22 oz. is a good weight for the average person. But if you have little arm strength, then I suggest a 16 oz. hammer. Also see if you can swing the hammer in all directions, especially upside down like you are nailing into a soffit or ceiling to see how hard it is to swing. That is a good way to know if your hammer is too heavy right from the start. Also, since this hammer is probably going to be used for all purposes, I suggest a smooth faced hammer. But if you don't care about marking up the wood as in a survival situation, buy the corrugated, because it will not deflect as much off nails until you learn to swing it right. No matter what hammer or tools you use, do not strike any metal to metal surfaces without wearing safety goggles at all times.

2.                  Measuring tape- 25-30’ (Stanley is a good brand and it is easy to read)

3.                  Hand saws 8 point, ten point, and 12 point (Sandvik brand)

4.                  Crescent wrenches 6, 8,10, and 12 inch sizes are good

5.                  12” pipe wrench (straight and offset) Rigid brand is good (optional)

6.                  Rough wood chisels- various sizes from ¾” up to 2 +”

7.                  Levels- 28”- 4’- 6’ 6” One of each (see notes below)

8.                  Chalk box and chalk- (red and blue chalk) Get rid of the cotton line and change it out to nylon dry line. put the chalk in the box and then pull out the line and retrieve it a few times. Also wet the line before you place the chalk in the box and the line will absorb the chalk better the first time. Do not let the line soak in water or you will find it will rot eventually.

9.                Nylon dry line 100+ ft.

10.              16 – 32 oz. plumb bob (less than 16 oz, tends to blow in the wind too much)

11.              Rubber or wooden mallets

12.              3 lb. hammer- mini sledge hammer. (also known as a single jack)

13.              8 - 16 lb. sledge hammer depending on your strength

14.              100’ tape- (metal type is best and lasts longest if cared for properly)  

15.              Finish chisels- various sizes (Stanley type with plastic handles and metal ends for hammering on with metal hammers- can be purchased in a kit from sizes 1/8”- 2” wide (best prices are usually in kit)

16.              Wood Gouges for shaping and wood working (optional)

17.              Awl for marking for drilling or scratching a line

18.              7” dividers for stepping off stairs or making circles or shapes

19.              Scribers for marking patterns or copying shapes

20.              Pliers- slip joint- needle nose- lineman’s

21.              Dikes- (side cut pliers)

22.              End nippers- (end cut pliers)

23.              Sheet metal sheers- Also called tin snips- straight- right hand- left hand- or universal

24.              Vise grips- needle nose and regular

25.              Vise tongs for holding things where you need more than 2 hands

26.              Punches- various sizes

27.              Files- round –half round- mill- bastard- rasp- rat tail- saw files

28.              Flat bar

29.              Wrecking bar – at least 36” long

30.              Pry bar with nail puller end

31.              Cats paw with spoons on both ends

32.              Nail sets- different sizes

33.              Channel locks

34.              Carpenter’s pencils- medium hardness (Buy by the box)

35.              Keel- (carpenter’s crayon) black or red are good colors

36.              Speed Square (very durable and has all the pitches for common and hip/valley rafters too)

37.              Combination Square

38.              Carpenter’s framing square- (Steel or aluminum) not painted

39.              T square- (optional)

40.              C- clamps (optional)

41.              Pipe clamps (you can by pipe in any needed lengths)

42.              Miter clamps (optional)

43.              2 Carpenter’s tool boxes (or make your own)

44.              Wooden screw clamps (optional)

45.              Stair Gauges (optional)

46.              Block plane- (low cut)

47.              Jack plane (optional)

48.              Joiner plane

49.              Rabbit plane (optional)

50.              Dado plane (optional)

51.              Miter box (optional) You can make your own

52.              Back saw (optional)

53.              Straight edge (optional)

54.              Sheetrock square (optional)

55.              Hack saw- buy extra blades

56.              Coping saw- buy extra blades (optional)

57.              Key hole saw- buy extra blades

58.              Draw knife (optional)

59.              Utility knife- (Sheetrock) knife and extra blades

60.              Tree saw- Buy extra blades

61.              Brace and bits for drilling holes from 1/8”- 2” diameter

62.              Hand drill and bits (optional)

63.              Yankee type screwdriver and assorted bits (optional)

64.              Push drill and assorted bits (optional)

65.              Screw drivers- all types and sizes Straight slotted and Phillips type

66.              Hex head drivers (optional)

67.              Torx head drivers (optional)

68.              SAE and metric sockets and drivers in deep and standard depths

69.              Various trowels for working concrete, mortar or mud (optional)

70.              Shovels. Square and round nosed

71.              Hoe for mixing mud or concrete (optional)

72.              Mud box or wheel barrow (optional)

73.              Carpenters tool bags or at least an apron for holding tools and nails

74.              Sharpening stones (course and finish)

75.              Hand axe or rigging axe

76.              Axe- (full size) (optional)

77.              Carpenters trim bench (homemade) stands about 18" tall x 18" wide with tool shelf.       

78.              Standard 36” tall saw horses (optional) or you can build your own

79.              6’ fiberglass ladder Type II can hold about 250 lbs.

80.              Safety glasses

 This is the list of tools that I suggest you have in your tool box. You can get by with much less. If you just need to throw something together, then I suggest getting only what you think you need or can get by with.

 Like I said before, good tools are not cheap. If you set yourself a budget of buying at least one or 2 tools a week, you can get all of these tools in a little over a year. Some tools are just to make the job easier. You decide which ones that you need most and can get by with. I have tried to help by marking some tools as optional so that you can prioritize.

Regarding levels, you can get away with using a 28” level to do everything that the larger levels do as long as you have a really straight edge to use to extend the ability to level or plumb up your work with. You can also buy a water level. It will help on jobs that are too far apart for conventional levels. and is highly accurate.

I also suggest that you go to the library or better yet, buy a couple of used books on carpentry. You can usually pick up used books on the subject for a lot cheaper than new books. I suggest Fundamentals of Carpentry I and II. These books will teach you about the terminology, and how things should be built. They cover the basics on everything from foundations to finish work. Also try to find books on wood joinery. These books teach you how to build without nails. Things like mortise and tenon joints, dovetail joints, dado joints, doweling, and rabbit joints are just a few of the old school ways that carpenters attached things before we had nails. Also learn how to make glue the old school way. Pine pitch glue worked for thousands of years before all the modern glues were invented. Although, it doesn’t hurt to have modern glues too. The same can be said about caulking. Sealing cracks in materials can be done using Oakum. Oakum was made from tar and hemp fibers. Old rope (hemp rope) and pine pitch tar works just great in that it is still used to this day to make authentic replica ships.

I do recommend having at least a couple 50 lb. boxes of nails. One of each size in 8d and 16d sizes for most basic uses in framing. You can get them in either vinyl coated or galvanized. Do NOT buy “box type” nails such as 16d box nails. They are thinner than regular 16d HD galvanized nails and bend much easier.

Do NOT use vinyl coated nails on exterior uses unless you have too, because they will rust away.

I also suggest an assortment of wood and metal screws and finish nails too. Usual sizes in most common screws are a size 8 in lengths from 1-1/4" to 3" with course threads. Finish nails common sizes are 8s and 4s. About 10lb.s of each one are going to help you do most things that require screws or finish nails for emergencies.

Just remember to use all nails or screws sparingly so you don’t run out of them. You can always put more screws or nails into something after you have assembled it. The exception to this rule would be in the rough framing. Some places cannot have nails added after you have assembled the frame if you want to have the maximum strength.

As far as caring for your tools, most tools will need to be wiped off to remove any dirt or rust, dried completely, and lightly oiled if used in rainy or moist climatic conditions before you put them away. Even tools that are not used outside will rust if you don’t oil them periodically. Some carpenters like to occasionally coat all their metal tools with shellac so the don't have to worry about them rusting as much.

Tools should be kept sharp and clean at all times. Trying to use a dull chisel is more dangerous than using a sharp one in reality, and they can damage the work or harm you if not properly sharpened. Never cut towards yourself just in case the tool slips. Also, never have any body part in the way just in case you miss your target with a tool. Lots of people have learned that the hard way.

One Power Tool

One tool that was not mentioned in the list of hand tools is rather obvious. It is not a hand tool in the sense of a tool that doesn’t require anything but "hand" power. It is the chain saw! The chain saw is a very valuable tool in that it can cut materials quickly and neatly if used properly, it can also make less work for you. I recommend a chain saw because it is one power tool that can do more than just cut trees. It can be used to demolish things that need to be removed quickly and it also can be used for cutting down trees with a lot less effort than a hand or tree saw. It can also be used to make rough dimension lumber if you make a jig for it. I highly recommend having one. You need to have extra chains too. They make rip and crosscut chains. Rip chains are specifically made for cutting with the grain of the wood whereas crosscuts are for cutting across the grain.

I prefer a chain saw with a 16” bar because in that size it can do anything that you would usually want to use it for anyway. Plus it won’t kill you just handling it from the shear weight of the saw. A 24” or larger bar saw is in my opinion; more saw than you would need in most situations unless you intend to make wide planks or big timbers with it.

But remember, this is a tool that will require fuel and oil. I do not recommend an electric chain saw because it requires electricity to run. Although electric is fine if you have power. However, in an emergency, I may not have any power, so I want to choose something that is more portable and I can use anywhere.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to rely on others to take care of my family. That is the whole reason for writing this article. So that you can be one of the few that can actually build a temporary shelter in the event of a natural or man-made catastrophe.


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Last modified onSaturday, 22 December 2012 00:16

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