If you could only have nine off-grid tools, what would you choose? When I say tools for off-the-grid work, I want to be clear. I mean truly off the grid. This isn’t about power tools that depend on electricity or gas. This is about a pure, pioneer environment where muscle and leverage are the only power sources. In other words, these are tools your great-grandparents, and their ancestors, would have used, and these are tools you read about in the history books.
You probably have your own ideas, but these are the nine tools I’d pick for off-the-grid survival.
The long-handled ax has always been a popular and important tool thanks to its flat head on one side for pounding and the sharp blade on the other for chopping. Axes of this design are commonly referred to as a “Michigan Axe” because they were widely used during the lumber days in Michigan in the late 1800s. It’s used for not only felling trees, but splitting logs and rails. And the flat end can be used as a wedge when pounded with a large wooden mallet, or to pound wooden stakes or wooden wedges.
Sure, an ax can take down a tree, split logs and split rails, but using one to cut a log into any amount of firewood is backbreaking work. A backsaw is the easiest, non-powered way to make this happen.
A blade length of four feet with rip-saw teeth can make relatively short work of cutting firewood, although it’s still a lot of work.
3. Claw Hammer
The standard carpenter’s tool. We’ll get to a supply of nails soon enough, but the claw on the hammer helps pry loose everything from nails and shingles to wallboard. Of course, it also has significant value as a hammer.
If I had to pick one size of nail it would be a 20 penny nail or size 20D; six gauge and four inches in length. This is a good size for driving nails into timbers for rough, log construction and most lumber. I guess we’ll cheat a bit here and allow ourselves more than just one nail.
If you don’t think you need a shovel, try digging a hole without one. This also goes for turning over soil in a garden. If I had to pick one shovel it would be a flat, edged spade. A spade is great for digging and shaping a hole, can dig narrowly for post holes, and works best for turning soil for a garden.
Sometimes, even a shovel can’t cut it. If you’ve tried to dig through rocky soil, heavy clay, a rock face, or pry out a stump you’ll appreciate a pickaxe. Go for the long-handled size that will give you a full swing. The tip of one side should be pointed with a curve and the other side flattened with a curve. They also have value for prying things apart, especially those long, rail log splits that just won’t budge.
7. Metal wedge
If I had to choose one metal wedge, it would be made of iron and be about 10 inches in length and two inches wide, tapering from a flat edge to two inches thick at the top. If you’ve ever tried to split a stump without a wedge, you know what you’re in for. It’s also invaluable for rail splitting and for the day that your bucksaw gets bound in a tree or limb.
Never hit a metal wedge with your ax head. Use a large wooden mallet that you’ve crafted from a large branch with a club or mallet end. Striking metal on metal can cause metal fragments to splinter. I had a metal splinter drive into my knuckle once. It’s something I don’t want to repeat.
A chisel can do unique things that no other tool can accomplish. It can help you cut grooves for timber-framing and make inlays for hinges and other types of fittings. It can be used as a coarse plane and create tapers for precision fitting of timber for furniture and building construction. If I could only have one, I would choose an eight-inch-long blade that was one and a half inches wide with a 20 to 25 degree bevel. It would also have a wooden handle attached that was at least 12 inches long. If need be, I could craft a longer or shorter handle out of wood. Here again, only hit the handle of a chisel with a wooden mallet. A metal hammer or ax will split the wooden handle very quickly.
9. Hand drill and bits
Some people might disagree with me about this choice, but I’ve had many occasions where simply driving a nail either didn’t work or the situation called for a different solution that required a precise hole for a dowel for furniture making. I’ve also experienced the frustration of driving a nail into oak or maple only to watch the wood split or the nail bend half-way down the shank. My choice for a hand drill can be braced against your chest with a curved length of metal extending from the end. If I had to pick one bit it would be a one-fourth inch to accommodate most dowels, although I might sneak a few more bits into the handle of my hand drill.
So, what’s your top nine? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.