Archive for April, 2011

Glow Ammo

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

For you reloaders out there, a company called Hallam Inc. has come out with a new twist on the tracer round: a non-pyrotechnic, safe for the range, tracer “sticker” called Glow Ammo.

The actual Glow Ammo “sticker” is a plastic-like disc that is applied to the bottom of a bullet before it is loaded into the casing and pressed.

When the round is fired, the heat from the gunpowder’s explosion causes that little disk to glow a bright red giving you an effective tracer round.

Glow Ammo Reviews

Having scoured the web for reviews on Glow Ammo, the consensus appears to be the following:

The Good

  • They actually work: Most reviewers have stated that the actual results are very impressive and are more noticeable in person than the videos capture.
  • They are only visible from the shooters perspective: In a combat or self-defense situation, this would have some obvious tactical advantages if the person your shooting at can’t trace the round back to you but you can to them.
  • Work well as a training aid: These can be helpful to provide instant feedback as to where your shooting. In my opinion (I realize this is a relative statement), given there price, this wouldn’t be too cost effective.
  • They are non-pyrotechnic: Unlike true tracer rounds, with Glow Ammo there is no combustion taking place. This makes it safe to use in areas otherwise off-limits to pyrotechnic tracers.

The Bad

  • They are expensive: At $50 dollars per box of 255, this will add an extra .20 cents per round! Although if you compare them with the price of actual tracers, they are quite cheap. I guess, it depends on your intended use. I can see these as pretty effective in a low-light hunting or self-defense situation where the expense far outweighs the benefit.
  • They don’t work in the day time: Both the manufacturer and users state that they are not effective during normal daylight hours. The best time to use them is dawn and dusk (or in a dimly lit indoor range).
  • The adhesive isn’t always reliable: Some users have complained that the adhesive on the discs isn’t always reliable causing the tracers to peel off mid-flight. Since there were many others who did not have this issue, perhaps it was due to user error (not pressing them on hard enough) or the type or cleanliness of the bullet’s surface.

Example Videos

Learn Precision Shooting: In the Comfort of Your Home

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

For those of you who want to up your defensive handgun skills or are interested in improving your scores in IPSC (International Practical Shooting Confederation) or IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association) competitions but don’t have the money for ammunition and range fees there are other options.

The founders of BAM Airsoft who are both competitive ranked shooters in IPSC (pronounced “ip sic”) have developed a whole set of IPSC and IDPA style targets which have been designed specifically for practical shooting training with airsoft pistols and can be set up in the convenience of your home.

According to BAM, with a quality blow-back style airsoft pistol, airsoft training can effectively supplement actual real-gun training with some amazing results!

I know what you’re thinking. How can you train for IPSC, IDPA, or defensive handgun when airsoft pistols are only reliably accurate out to 7 yards (and that’s pushing it some cases) and the mininum target distance in IPSC and many scenario-based practical shooting training is greater than that? Well, the key has to do with perspective and sight picture.

For example a scaled-down version of a larger target will look the same in the gun’s sight picture if the larger target is placed at a specific distance further away than the smaller scaled-down version.

Given this phenomenon, BAM has developed scaled-down versions of IPSC and IDPA targets that when placed at specific distances represent what you would actually see when viewing the actual targets through the sight picture of your pistol. For a video showing how size and perspective work with these targets check out this one from BAM Airsoft (email subscribers may need to click on this link here):

The obvious major difference between airsoft and real pistol shooting is the lack of strong recoil (so sight tracking would be different). Despite this, it is still an excellent form of training that saves money, is convenient since various practical shooting courses can be set up in the comfort of your home/garage, and it’s just plane fun. And did I mention? It beats being relegated to only dull dry-firing practice.

Recommended Airsoft Pistols

If your interested in trying your hand at some home-based airsoft pistol training, here are some of the BAM Airsoft recommended airsoft pistols recommended for their accuracy and quality (BAM also sells these and can customize them according to your needs):

Tokyo Marui HI-CAPA 5.1
Tokyo Marui is, according to BAM, the “best out of the box airsofts” available. Very accurate and with a boat load of aftermarkets available, the sky’s the limit as for however you want to trick them out.
Tokyo Marui HI-CAPA 4.3
KWA M1911 MKI PTP
KWA M1911 MKIII PTP

BAM Airsoft in Action

Here are some more videos showing the BAM guys doing what they love best (again, email subscribers may not see these so be sure to click on the article):

Progressive Backyard Survival: How to Master Survival Skills on Limited Time

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

If you’ve been a regular reader of my blog then you probably know how high I place the importance of learning wilderness survival skills. Being proficient at these skills provides the ultimate backup plan in a worst-case scenario where you’re left with only the gear on your back and your wits.

In my opinion, to truly become proficient at wilderness survival, you need to go out in the bush for at least 3-days; and go on these trips multiple times. It’s the first three days that are often the most difficult and really present you with the various challenges and difficulties that arise in a wilderness-survival situation.

On a 3-day trip your forced to build a shelter that keeps you dry and warm, collect and purify water, make a fire, and start finding food. A simple overnight will not provide this experience since you can last the night without water, fire, food, and sometimes even shelter.

The problem is our busy schedules and responsibilities make it difficult to find the time to go out in nature for an extended period of time to really practice these skills and that has been true for me as well. For example, since getting married and starting a family, I have not been able to take off for multiple days at a time like I did when I was in college. So I had to learn to work around this limitation through something I call “Progressive Backyard Survival”. In a nutshell, it allows you to spread a 3-day “survival trip” over an extended time period. Here’s the process:

Progressive Backyard Survival

When you are doing Progressive Backyard Survival, you’ll be practicing all of the major aspects of a survival situation: Shelter, Water, Fire and Food. But instead of it being covered in one extended survival trip, it will be broken up into smaller time frames over an extended period like a month for example.

Basically you fit it to your schedule and available time. It may take longer, but you’re still learning the necessary skills if you follow the process correctly. It’s important that each step is performed to completion before you attempt the next step. This will make it comparable to the steps you’d follow if you were in a survival situation. Take as much time as needed to finish each step before going on to the next one.

Step 1: Pick Your Training Ground

The first thing you’ll want to do is pick a spot where you’ll be practicing. Ideally this would be a place that is near your home, is accessible during both the day and night, and has the resources you need to practice the various survival skills. This will be your training ground.

Even if you can’t find a spot near your home, do not get discouraged. Your own backyard can be a great substitute. If you decide upon your backyard, for some of the exercises you’ll just need to bring the materials from other locations home with you.

Step 2: Setting up Shelter

Whether you live in an arid, temperate, or cold environment, exposure is often the first cause of death for those caught in a wilderness-survival situation. For this reason, shelter will be the first step you perform.

Choose your Shelter

If you’re new to wilderness survival, this step would be simply building a tent or setting up a tarp shelter. As you get comfortable with that you’ll want to move on to making a primitive shelter.

Since I cannot cover every shelter for every area of the globe, you’ll need to do some research in determining what type of shelter is best for your environment. The key factors are that it keeps you protected from the elements (dry when wet, shaded when hot, warm when cold, etc).

For example, I live in the Northeast — a place that abounds in trees and forest debris. My shelter of choice out here is the debris hut which is basically a framework of sticks that is stuffed inside and out with leaves or other natural debris for insulation. This will keep me both dry and warm without the need of a tarp or sleeping bag.

Build it

Once you’ve chosen your shelter, start building it. Again, this could be in one sitting (like setting up a tent) or if it requires normally an hour or two to build (like a primitive shelter) you can spread this over a few days as you have time available.

If you’re using your backyard and have the materials near you, use them. Otherwise you may need to bring them in from an outside location.

Test it

Knowing how to build the shelter is only half of the process. Sleeping in a shelter you built is really the best teacher.

It will teach you to overcome the fear of being alone, the dark, as well as sleeping in something other than your bed. In the case of a primitive shelter, it teaches you how best to insulate it, where to build it, what materials to use and so on.

If you don’t make it through the whole night, that’s fine. Take note of what needs to improve and use that for the next step:

Refine it and Retest

Now that you’ve tried it for a night, make the improvements to the shelter and when you have time, try it again. If you used a tent, this part might include buying a better sleeping bag or realizing you need to use a ground mat and so on.

Remember, do not continue to the next step until you’ve finished the shelter section.

Step 3: Finding, Collecting and Purifying Water

Dehydration is a major concern in not just arid environments but in cold environments as well. Since most publications say we cannot go for much longer than 3 days without water, this will be the next skill you will practice.

Finding Water and Collecting Water

The first part of this step is to find a source of water. This could be morning dew (in which case it is already purified), ice or snow, a body of water, a dried out river bed, setting up a solar still and so on.

Once you’ve found your water source, you’ll want to practice different means of collecting it such as soaking it up with a cotton shirt, long grasses, discarded bottles or cans that you find lying around and so on. In the beginning, use your own containers and as your skill grows you can practice making your own or finding field expedient ones.

Purifying Water

If the water you collected requires purifying then you’ll need to practice how to do that. This could be practicing using a commercial filter, Polar Pure iodine crystals, water-purification tablets, or fire which takes us to our next step:

Step 4: Making Fire

Fire making is one of the most popular skills that people practice, and for good reason. Fire increases moral, keeps us warm, cooks our food and purifies our water. In a primitive survival situation it helps us to make tools and crafts which are used in so many other survival applications.

For this step you’ll want to practice setting up and building a complete fire from scratch. Again, if you’re a newbie, this step might be using matches or a lighter with some Vaseline-soaked cotton balls. As your skills progresses try using a firesteel or flint and steel or for even more of a challenge try a primitive fire-making skill like the bowdrill, handdrill or fire saw.

In order to complete this step, you’ll need to get a fully mature fire going. That is, one that has burned long and strong enough to produce coals that you can cook on, purify your water from, and make other tools (if you’re practicing primitive survival).

Step 5: Finding and Preparing Food

Most of the time you spend doing Progressive Backyard Survival is taken up in this step. If you’re a beginner, you’ll skip finding food and just practice outdoor food preparation and cooking over a fire.

For everyone else, you’ll practice gathering and preparing wild edibles, procuring meat through trapping, fishing, hunting and so on. It also includes gutting, skinning, cleaning and preparing the animal, cooking it, and of course, eating it.

Using a trapping example, you might spend an hour one day buying or making a set of snares or building primitive traps. Then when you have some time, you’ll set them up (be sure you have the necessary permits) and check on them regularly to see if you caught anything. If you don’t succeed, take note of any improvements you can make (different bait, different location etc) and make those changes the next time you have availability.

When you do catch or hunt something, you’ll be practicing skinning, cleaning, and preparing the animal to be eaten. Since you’ve already made fire on a previous day, for this step you can simply cook it in your home, or if you have time, set up a fire outside and cook it that way.

Although a lot of time can be spent on this step, to complete a Progressive Backyard Survival session you’ll want to have procured (skip this if newbie), prepared, and eaten at least one meal (be it plant or animal).

Conclusion

This progressive survival training process is perfect for those with limited time. Although the time is more spread out than say a 3-day survival trip, you will learn the same skills and perform them in the same order as you would if you were out there for those 3 days. It may take longer but you are still learning the skills and getting experience. You can also add other steps if you want such as signaling for rescue or navigation to get yourself home.

There are also many other applications. Although the steps may be different than for wilderness survival situation, this step-by-step progressive process can be applied to other types of survival situations. For example, you could apply it to an urban survival situation where you’re caught in a city, a shelter-in-place situation where you’re in your home without utilities, or a bug-out situation where you’re on the go.

Food Storage Calculators

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Just wanted to quickly let you know that I created a new menu item called “Food Storage Calculators” that puts the two calculators I had created together in one convenient spot.

I’ve already received a number of good recommendation on improving them and will be implementing these changes soon. Like I mentioned before, these calculators are a work-in-progress so if you have any ideas or suggestions on how to make them better please leave a comment or send me a mail via the Contact link.

Thanks!

 – Erich

Space and Storage Calculator for Long-Term Food Storage

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

I know that those of you who are just beginning to put together your long-term food storage are often overwhelmed with not only how much bulk food to purchase but also how many 5-gallon buckets you'll need as well as how much space you'll require to store those buckets.

Since I had a little time today, I decided to code up a quick calculator for those of you who are beginning with this process.

Many of you have seen the previous calculator I put together which figures out the suggested long-term storage needs based on the amount of weeks and number of people that you want to store away for.

After you arrive at that number, this next calculator will tell you how many 5-gallon buckets you'll need to purchase in order to store all that food, as well as the amount of floor space (in square footage) you'll need based on how high you want to stack your buckets.

Please let me know if you have any recommendations on improving this calculator as it is a work-in-progress.
Input Data
  Enter how many buckets high you are willing to have for each stack (the recommended number is 4-5): 
Enter the amount of food you need to store (in pounds)
  Wheat: 
  Beans: 
  Rice: 
  Dried Milk: 
  Flour: 
  Sugar: 
  Oats: 
  Macaroni: 

   
 
Estimated Storage Requirements
  Total number of 5-gallon buckets needed: 
  Total square feet of floor space needed: 

Converting a Lawn Mower Into a Generator

Friday, April 8th, 2011
With Spring almost here, keep on the lookout for many of your neighbors clearing out their sheds and getting rid of their older lawn mowers in hopes of upgrading to newer models. I see them every year around this time lying in front of their houses, waiting for the trash man to come pick them up. While many of them are junk, there are quite a few whose engines just need a little tune up and can be used to convert into a generator. Converting a lawn mower into a generator is not a complicated process. Here are the parts you'll need:
  1. Engine
  2. Alternator
  3. Electrical Wires
  4. V-Belt
  5. Pully
  6. (optional) Mounting Bracket

How to Convert a Lawn Mower Into a Generator

There's a number of great sites online that details this process. Here is a couple of the more notable ones:
  • EpiCenter.com: These guys go into some good detail on how to convert a lawn mower into a generator, detailing setup, build, and wiring. What's great is that they sell all the parts you need so you don't have to go digging through the web to find the different parts.
  • HomeDNS.org: Some good details into converting a lawn mower into a generator.

Lawn mower Generator Examples

For some inspiration, here are some videos on Youtube showing some different designs for homemade lawn mower generators:

Off-Grid Wheat Grinder Reviews

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011
Whether it's due to a natural or man-made disaster, an extended grid-down situation is a very real scenario and one that I am always trying to prepare for. For this reason, I like to buy tools and gear that can still function without the need of electricity. Since I have quite a bit of wheat grain stored away, and given the fact that I don't want to use the two-stone technique that my hunter/gatherer ancestors had used, I knew I would be needing a way of turning all that wheat into flour without an electric appliance. Which brings us to today's post. I thought I'd take a moment to share with you guys my review of two popular hand-powered wheat grinders that I purchased: the Back to Basics (also known as the Victorio) Grain Mill and the Wondermill Junior Grain Mill.

Back to Basics Grain Mill Review

Overall Construction and Setup

The quality of the Back to Basics grain mill is very good. The plastic hopper fits snugly into the metal housing, and the auger, handle, milling cone and shaft make for a solid working unit. Overall it is sturdy and well put together. Also, given it's small size, it can easily fit into a kitchen drawer or be stored away without much trouble. Setting up the mill is a simple process. It easily mounts to a counter top or table with the included clamp screw and I had no issues with it shifting or moving around as I turned the handle to grind up my wheat.

Function and Use

Although the quality is good and it has had no problems doing its job, after using it for some time the main beef I have with it is how long it takes to grind wheat. It's small size -- while good for storage -- leads to slow (and low) milling output. For example, to grind a cup of wheat (which makes about 1 1/4 cups of flour) takes around 5 minutes (it took me 4:51 without rest and at a good pace)! This is fine for an occasional loaf or two, but when you start making bread regularly it quickly becomes a hassle. Remember, an average loaf of bread is around 4-5 cups of flour. Multiply that by 5 minutes and you have more than 20 minutes of wheat grinding (probably longer since at some point you'll need to take a break) -- by hand, per loaf! Not something you want if your going to be living off of your long-term food storage.

Price

Since the Back to Basics Grain Mill was the first hand-powered grain mill that I purchased (around 2 years ago), the first thing that attracted me to it was the price; At around $60 it was cheaper than most other hand-powered grain mills out there and the reviews seemed fairly positive so I took a chance and bought it.

Wondermill Jr. Grain Mill Review

Overall Construction and Setup

If the Back to Basics mill is built strong then the Wondermill Jr. is built like a tank. The housing, hopper and body is a solid metal uni-body construction that has a thick powder coat finish that resists scratching and chipping. The Wondermill Jr. also has a large hopper that holds slightly more than a quart. While that's great and all, from my perspective hopper size is not that important in a hand-powered mill since you're right there operating the thing and refilling as you're going along is not an issue. This would be more important in an electric version where you'd leave it to let it do its thing. The handle is around 10" long giving you the leverage to easily and quickly grind most grains without too much exertion. It also comes with two stone heads for grinding hard dry seeds. If you purchase the Deluxe version it also comes with stainless-steel burr grinders which allow you to grind up oily nuts and seeds to make things like nut butter. Pretty cool I guess but not that practical for my purposes. For the setup side of things, the Wondermill Jr. is more of a hassle than the Back to Basics mill. Since I didn't buy the Wondermill Jr. Deluxe that comes with an adjustable mounting clamp (which would make it just as easy to set up as the Back to Basics mill) I will have to mount the base to a table with wood screws, making it a permanent fixture. As a temporary solution, you can see in my picture that I jury rigged it by using vice clamps. If you want more mobility, another option would be to mount it to a board which you could vice clamp to a number of platforms.

Function and Use

The Wondermill Jr. is a pleasure to use. It's long handle and large stones make wheat grinding a cinch and it's fast! Just to compare, I was able to make around 1 1/4 cup of flour in about a minute -- 5 times faster than the Back to Basics mill.

Price

The cost of the Wondermill Jr. is around $165 dollars. The Deluxe version, which includes the adjustable clamp and stainless-steel heads, will cost you around $220. And by the way, you can always purchase the additional heads as well as the clamp at a future time if desired.

Back to Basics / Wondermill Jr. Summary and Comparison

Back to Basics Pros and Cons

Pros:
  • Stainless steel cone-shaped burrs for grinding
  • Small size as well as parts fit nicely together for ease of storage
  • Good quality build
  • Affordable Price
  • Can be used when the power is out
Cons:
  • On "Fine" setting, ground flour is still coarse.
  • It's slow as all get out...unless you're looking for a good workout (1 1/4 cups of flour in 5 minutes)
  • Although it appears to be built well, my gut feeling is that it is not designed to be a high-output grain mill and over time it will break down with much use (this is obviously not confirmed by testing, it's just a general feeling)

Wondermill Jr. Pros and Cons

Pros:
  • Built like a tank and built to last a life-time
  • Mills flour extremely fine which makes for great bread as well as pastries
  • With stainless steel heads, it can make nut butters if desired
  • Powder coated for protection and easy clean up
  • Mills flour pretty fast for a manual mill (about 1 1/4 cups in a minute)
  • Can be used when the power is out
Cons
  • Flour spews out the sides of the grinding stones requiring a fairly large receptacle (note: the latest models come with a flour guide that fixes this issue that can also be purchased for about $10 if your model is older).
  • Cost is more expensive than the Back to Basics mill but worth it given the efficiency and quality.
  • Non-deluxe model requires you to bolt the mill to a table since it doesn't come with a clamp (this also can be purchased at a later time if desired)

Comparing the Two

Overall the Back to Basics mill will do the job, and if you're only interested in a back up and price is an issue, then it's a pretty good mill. On the other hand, the Wondermill Jr. is leaps and bounds over the Back to Basics mill. But realize that the cost is substantially more (about $100+ more), so you're paying for the upgrade. However, if I could go back in time, I would have not purchased the Back to Basics mill, although it's nice to have the extra mill for redundancy or future trading reasons. For me, one of the biggest reasons -- besides the speed of output -- is the quality and "fineness" of the flour. The Back to Basics mill makes a pretty coarse flour (even on its finest setting) whereas the Wonder Mill Jr. makes a very fine flour. The finer the flour, the better the bread (in my opinion) and you have the option of making things that require fine flour like pastries and pie crusts. Here's a photo showing the difference in consistency of the flour between the Wondermill Jr. (left) and the Back to Basics (right).