By the author of Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City and The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook.
Thanks to advancements in technology, materials, and manufacturing, the last few decades have witnessed profound changes in both lifestyle and consumption habits. Every homes used to have a handyman. Now, they largely don’t.
Until the late 1980s and early 90s, the majority of household items and appliances were built from metal, wood, and rubber. They were also designed to be more easily serviceable. Polymers had been around for over a century, and plastic was gaining favor amongst consumers. But the single-use plastics we’re all familiar with today were yet to enter the market.
Therefore, food and beverages were served in ceramic pottery, sold in glass pots, tin cans, jars, and bottles, and carried everywhere in wood crates. Toys were made from tin or wood. Meat, bread, veggies, and other fresh stuff came wrapped and taken home in paper sheets and bags.
Recycling on an industrial scale was not yet a thing.
However, “everyday” recycling was commonplace. Containers, vessels, and many other non-consumable items were reused, repurposed, exchanged, or rebuilt into something else. Even nails and wrapping paper saw multiple uses before being thrown out. It was common for wearables and appliances to get fixed or reconditioned.
Electric motors got rewired, furniture repainted and redressed, shoes re-soled, and broken or worn parts replaced. With that, washing machines, blenders, and toasters worked for decades, sometimes even passed down the generations. My parents have a beautiful, sky-blue 1960 vintage fridge that belonged to Granny. It has a freezer and still works. That was the era.
The household handyman: a near-extinct species?
My grandpa had an entire room full of shelves stacked with all kinds of stuff. I mean, all kinds, really: radio valves, fuses, canvas bags, leather pieces, circuit breakers and switches, wires, pressing iron resistances, all sorts of bolts and nuts. He’d stock up on new and recovered bits and parts to use again in domestic repairs and keep the house going.
It was a very common custom back then, but it sadly is not as frequent anymore. As mentioned above, the world has changed, and so have the skillsets necessary to deal with everyday situations. I suspect today, Grandpa would be called a “hoarder” and end up as an attraction in some TV show.
This is not a throwback to ancient ways, nor a critical look at modern life.
It’s just what it is. But it’s also a fact that being a jack of all trades can prove highly advantageous during recessions and depressions. When people have less money (or none), the price of stuff rises, or goods and services become rarer or even disappear, the value of things changes a lot.
In poorer countries, rural areas, and the countryside, people still need to be more hands-on if they want to keep everything running. Knowing how to use tools and being minimally able to repair, create, improvise, and solve practical problems is quite reassuring, no matter what or when.
Complexity and planned obsolescence are built into today’s society.
Nowadays, a great part of appliances and electronics are ultra-advanced and complex, built from thousands of customized, oftentimes tiny, and sensitive parts. These are made-to-order and supplied from tens of different makers around the world, making replacements not always readily available or easily sourced.
For instance, the same year/model LED TV can have a variety of similar yet incompatible boards, chips, or other bits. Ditto for cars and other objects. It’s wild. Also, the cost-benefit of the repair may not compensate when compared to buying a new (and probably updated) one.
Still, there’s a lot that can be repaired, restored, or refurbished around any house.
Clothes, shoes, toys, ornaments, drapes, parts of plumbing and electrical systems, furniture, lighting, and lots more. Simpler appliances, even some advanced ones depend on the problems and the skills required to solve them.
There’s also a lot that can be built or made at home, too, for those with available tooling, time, and inclination. This can be turned into a livelihood, side job, or part-time job to generate extra income during hard times. Even if taken as a hobby, these skills can be used to save money and keep stuff working around the house.
The suggested kits and skills below range from easy/basic to complex/advanced. As with everything else, the sky is the limit. Do your research to invest wisely. Some items repeat in different kits, though there is no need to buy anything in double.
Build the kits and skills you deem important, also considering the available budget and space. Some stuff isn’t found as easily anymore. This could get worse shortly, so perhaps getting the stuff you want/need now is a good move. I’m working on that myself, by the way.
Dry, penetrating, thin and thick oils (mineral, synthetic, vegetal, Teflon (PTFE), and petrol based), vaseline.
Lots of stuff in the house, cars, and other objects need periodic lubrication to perform well, reduce the chance of breakage, and extend their lifespan. Keeping a few different oils and grease types around has a low cost. These can be used in a wide range of applications.
Usually, these tend to last a long time, but correct storage is the best way to ensure chemicals don’t break down or evaporate quickly. Also, sprays can be practical but lose pressure with time, so I prefer lubricants in bottles, tubes, or cans whenever that’s possible.
Scissor, tape, pencil, seam ripper, various types and sizes of needles, pins, assorted threads, buttons, snaps, and hooks.
I admit not knowing or even having much patience to knit or crochet, but I enjoy sewing and performing all sorts of repairs in my clothing and outdoor gear quite a bit. It’s the easiest and most accessible skill and renders immediate benefits. A small sewing machine can add quality, consistency, and agility if you plan on doing this often or for an extra buck.
Gluing kit (smaller repairs)
Plastic molding, silicone, various types of glue (white, contact, instant, vinyl, epoxy, resins, etc.), assorted tapes (duct, masking, vent tape, filament tape, carpet tape).
This is one of my favorite and most used kits. Being able to mold and properly glue parts means a lot can be fixed and kept in use. Each material demands a specific type of glue to both be effective and avoid screwing up the material or finishing.
Prior surface treatment and thorough cleaning of parts are important, too. Special agents can be used to reinforce fixed parts. Epoxy resins, liquid plastic, and molded plastic are a few that can play that part. Stuff like Bondic, Plast-Aid, and Sugru is useful for a myriad of smaller applications.
Mallets and hammers, punches (various hole forms/sizes), setter or anvil, sewing chisels and lacing awls, roller, rivet setting tool (and assorted rivets), leather sewing threads.
A basic leather kit will allow the servicing and repair of leather, canvas, and other tough fabric pieces like shoes, belts, bags, backpacks, tents, etc. This is something that tends to increase in value during a crisis, and there’s always a market for some items that may be worth investing in.
Slim Jims, lock picks, wedges, jigglers (for autos), and a few long-reach tools, pliers.
Even before becoming a prepper, I did a locksmith course and bought my kit. Throughout the years, I also learned a few tricks in the streets. Anyway, being able to open locks and doors is a real asset, not just in SHTF but anytime, anywhere. And it’s not rocket science. In fact, it’s actually easy and quite fun.
Foot pump, tire levers, tube patching kit (multiple patches and glue tubes), chain breaking and fixing tool, Allen (2, 4, 5, and 6mm), flat and Phillips screwdrivers of assorted sizes. Extra tires, chains, cables, bike oil, and grease.
Racing bikes (road, MTB, or whatever) are advanced and much harder to service. More simple ones can still be robust and practical yet easier to maintain. The most common issues are flat tires, broken or worn chains and transmission parts, fraying cables, and worn-out brake pads. Having some extras can keep a bike running for years for little cost and minimal work.
Solder iron, precision tools (pliers, screwdrivers, etc.), working tray, magnifier with light, extra parts, sockets, electrical tape, and heat shrink tubing.
Just understanding the principles and main components of an electrical system or installation and being able to find the issues is a good start.
However, everyone should have a basic kit to perform minor or temporary fixes, at the very least. Replacing damaged or broken wires and plugs, tripping circuit breakers, short circuits, dead outlets, and switches is easy and simple. Parts are easy to find, too.
(And don’t forget to figure out how to quickly evacuate with your kit! Check out our free QUICKSTART Guide to emergency evacuations for more information.)
Hacksaw, propane torch, pipe wrenches, metal and plastic files, adjustable jaw wrench, plunger (Plumber’s Best Friend), tubing cutter, closet auger (to clear clogged toilets), plumber’s tape.
This is perhaps one of the most useful to have, both for home repairs or to make an extra buck. Plumbing issues are common and frequent, regardless of technological advancements. Lots can be done without the need to call a specialist. Which, while commonly available, isn’t always ready and much less cheap these days.
Having some extra tubing, connectors, and other small parts, as well as glue, soldering material, and other bits commonly found in your installations (and others, if you plan to work with this), is also a good idea.
Glass cutter and pliers, suction cups, bottle cutter, anti-cut gloves with a gripping surface, glass repair kit.
A few simple tools make repairing and repurposing glass items easy, clean, convenient, and safe. Also great for craftwork for selling. Glass repair resins and kits make repairing cracked windows and windshields a breeze.
Tin snips, angle grinders, tungsten carbide cut burrs, bolt and cable cutters, rivet tools and assorted rivets, and drill bits.
Another simple yet useful kit with a few items to turn manipulating metal parts like sheets, ducts, tubes, and others is rather easy and convenient. Great for repairs in HVAC systems, for instance. A few sharpening stones and metal polishers round out a kit to keep knives, scissors, and other metal cutting tools in good shape.
Solder iron, precision tools (pliers, screwdrivers, etc.), working tray, magnifier with light, extra, compressed air can, parts.
Smartphones and other modern appliances require special tools, parts, and skills. Advanced services can only be performed in a lab, but some services are more accessible than most people think.
Around here, it’s common for folks who lose their jobs to learn to replace screens, batteries, speakers, and other basic computer, laptop and smartphone maintenance tasks. Then they invest in a kit to offer services in the streets and small bodegas and generate income.
Other types of electronics can be repaired, too. When my LED TV stopped working, I opened it, identified the damaged main board, purchased a new one online, and replaced it. I do the same all the time to printers, keyboards, PCs, blenders, and other stuff in my house and office. It takes some patience and work but saves money and keeps stuff functioning.
Measuring tools (bevel, framing square, steel tape, etc.), cutting tools (rip and crosscut saw, coping saw, hacksaw, diagonal cutter), shaping tools (chisels, round and flat rasps, scrapers, etc.), various hammers, saws, nails, screws, carving kit.
We used to have mandatory woodwork classes in school. It became an elective class and finally became non-available. Nowadays, one must attend a specific course. I’d say becoming comfortable with basic woodworking tasks is a good idea and a great hobby to relax and make some money too.
Woodworking tools and utensils are many, and decent-quality ones are not cheap. More elaborated woodwork requires precision power tooling and advanced skills. Invest according to your objectives, but aim for at least a few essential tools to measure, cut, drill, and shape, to perform emergency repairs and improvisations with wood items, and grow from there.
Fiber molding kit (larger repairs)
Carbon fiber, glass fiber, aramid cloth laminating epoxy resin and hardener, PVA mold release agent, latex gloves, brushes, and cups.
Dealing with composites – carbon, glass, or other types of fiber molding and laminating – may look to some like black magic. But it’s not complicated nor expensive, requiring few tools and easily found materials.
It’s worth investing in because it has many useful (and profitable) applications, the most common ones being fixing/repairing and building parts (e.g., car or motorcycle accessories) and all types of sports equipment (fishing rods, tent and trekking poles, hockey sticks, bicycle frames and parts, sailing masts, etc.).
Advanced or performance/aesthetic molding and laminating require specific tools and techniques. However, the market for carbon fiber items is huge and high-value, so it may compensate.
General “home” kit
An all-purpose combination wrench set is an ace.
It contains the most common types and sizes of tools (plus some odd ones) that can be used to assemble/disassemble furniture and appliances and perform various repairs around the house, vehicles, and others. No need to go fancy and spend a fortune, but aim for something of good quality to last a few years of intense use.
A Dremel is an excellent multi-tool to have at home. It’s useful to keep tools well conditioned, perform precision work to fabricate or improvise parts, cut, drill, remove broken screws, and much more. Electric or cordless impact and hammer drills and screwdrivers also add versatility, efficiency, and convenience.
Assorted masks, gloves, eye protection (goggles, eye washers), aprons, a hard hat, and steel-toed boots.
Safety is priority #1. Always use PPE to deal with more hazardous jobs and items. Focus on what you’re doing to avoid accidents. Be careful with cutting tools, gases, chemicals, and flammables. Whenever possible, have a helper or spotter when performing dangerous tasks.
Books, manuals, PDFs, prints, links, videos, and tutorials.
Don’t forget to build a “skills” kit. Attending courses and taking classes (or e-classes) is another option. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but make advancements, and no one turns into a handyman or woman overnight. Learning is part of the process and never goes to waste. At least have the means to study and consult when performing a job, so keep a few how-to sources at hand.
Other information and knowledge sources to start digging for information and gear or parts at the same time are Amazon and eBay. There are also endless DIY forums and blogs on the internet.
The DYI community is as engaged and helpful community that can greatly benefit preppers.
All you have to do is ask for help.
Many manufacturers, such as iFixIt, provide numerous blogs, manuals, and how-to guides, along with the equipment and materials on offer. Some companies also have customer service to help find the materials and other inputs necessary to proceed with the repairs or fabrications.
But what are your thoughts? Do you have your repair supplies organized into kits? Are there other tools you’d add to this list? Tell us in the comments.
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Fabian Ommar is a 50-year-old middle-class worker living in São Paulo, Brazil. Far from being the super-tactical or highly trained military survivor type, he is the average joe who since his youth has been involved with self-reliance and outdoor activities and the practical side of balancing life between a big city and rural/wilderness settings. Since the 2008 world economic crisis, he has been training and helping others in his area to become better prepared for the “constant, slow-burning SHTF” of living in a 3rd world country.
Fabian’s ebook, Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City , is a practical training method for common city dwellers based on the lifestyle of the homeless (real-life survivors) to be more psychologically, mentally, and physically prepared to deal with the harsh reality of the streets during normal or difficult times. He’s also the author of The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook.
You can follow Fabian on Instagram @stoicsurvivor