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
Lots of good suggestions in this article; the list of necessaries can go on forever, but the basics are all here. One thing to think about is the modern make a part capability using the computer and a 3-D printer to make parts. I know a young man down the road who makes plastic parts for various mechanisms around the house that are unavailable through replenishment resources; this prevents things from being thrown away that need a plastic part; for instance a catch for a screen door that he made for his parents which prevented the purchase of a new screen door. 3-D manufacturing goes way beyond plastic repair parts and essentially new objects can be manufactured; the sky is the limit with this type of modern technology; but of course, electrical power is necessary which is another problem for many of us.
I think 3-D printers are over-rated. Most plastic parts that you may need can be built if you have plastic of the required type and the tools to cut it into the required shape. Also, soft plastic parts can be made with moulds, by pouring molten plastic into them. If you know how to make a plaster cast, you can use it as a mould for soft plastic.
More complicated shapes are hard to make by hand, and a 3D printer excels at this…..
I know a young man who also does the same thing you mentioned, and he’s started getting a reputation in my neighborhood…..it’s also been a great way for him to learn math, science and engineering, because he very often takes an existing part and essentially comes up with something better… he also has a creative side, and has printed some really interesting art work/sculpture sorts of things….
The bottom line is, he has save people a lot of money by helping them find a repair solution to something they originally thought they were going to have to spend a lot of $ replacing.
Fabian, your collection of recommended tools (and stuff) sounds very much like my lifetime’s accumulation of both acquired and inherited items. I grew up on a farm where the maintenance shed was not wired for electric power, so most of the tools were muscle powered. Anything that had to be AC powered was portable for use in other locations. My first introduction to powered woodworking was in 7th grade school woodworking class. Years later during one college era summer job as a machinist making aircraft and missile parts, I learned how to read vernier calipers and micrometers.
That combination of early woodworking exposure and later industrial machining gave me a useful perspective when I stumbled across a cast iron era 10ER Shopsmith at an estate sale. It’s a multi-function tool for home use that includes capabilities of a table saw, wood lathe, horizontal boring mill, rotary sander, etc., with capabilities to drive accessories such as jig saws, band saws, jointers, etc. I didn’t know back then that generation of Shopsmith was the most widely sold multi-function woodworking tool for home use in America in the late 1940s. I later met a man who had been a Shopsmith salesman and service technician for Montgomery Ward. He told me that he had used his Shopsmith to help build 7 houses.
I later acquired one of the newer models that more easily could drive the various optional accessories without needing the adapter I had to devise for my older model.
In the list of recommended tools in this article, I didn’t see a mention of a bench-mounted vise — a really fundamental part of much DIY repair or invention activity. Maybe I just missed it…
Here’s a final observation about such tools and gadgets. After seeing years of estate settlement squabbles among heirs, over and over I’ve seen the male heirs going after the tools and guns while the female heirs go after the household items. Without commenting on the pluses or minuses of that pattern, all I can say is that “it is what it is.”
“ Fabian, your collection of recommended tools (and stuff) sounds very much like my lifetime’s accumulation of both acquired and inherited items. ”
Maybe that’s because it comes from personal experience, too. Not farm life, but in a smaller town and in a different era. But I feel you, Lewis. Know exactly what you mean, it’s the same here lol.
I mentioned my grandpa and his room of stuff. When I was a kid, I’d spend school vacation month with him and my granny, in another state here. We’d ravage his tools, bits and pieces to make all sorts of games and play, like traps, “alarms”, fake boats and airplanes, control panels, lighthouses, everything.
He’d patiently take part and help us, making sure we didn’t get hurt playing with tools and all sorts of old metal, glass, and wood stuff. After we left, he’d clean up and rearrange everything, and start collecting stuff again. As I grew up, he taught me to fix and improvise things around the house, and even at the church he volunteered.
All that infused me with passion for DIY, tools, manual work, fixing and building stuff, mechanics, woodwork, even a bit of chemistry and electronics. I live in an apartment in the city, but I love my tools and do lots of things here as I can. I also built me a tool shed in my parent’s house in a small rural town, it’s not a farm but there’s still a lot of stuff to be done to keep the place running in good shape.
Fabian, you and I have much in common. Every farm (in the area that had been in the 1930s dust bowl) where I grew up had a ever-growing junk pile of seemingly unrepairable appliances, machinery, gadgets, and often questionable whatnot. Sometimes years later pieces of such junk would be called into service for purposes never envisioned by the original manufacturer. That was only possible with a collection of vital tools, lots of practice using them, and an imagination to visualize new possibilities.
That mindset was a regular enhancement to the 1930s depression saying of “Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do, or Do Without!” Making pieces of something “do” in previously unthought of applications just wasn’t as memorable or catchy an expression for writers of that era. Sadly there is usually not the room (or tolerant city bureaucrats) in urban or suburban areas to accumulate as much “stuff” as was possible via the space and privacy in farm settings. Although at one point I used to buy up wrecked Italian cars and use the parts from them to make one whole and saleable car. Those years certainly enhanced my collection of metric tools.
Brazil is also part of a little known piece of history. After the mis-named 1861-1865 “Civil” War in the US, a number of very badly treated Southerners chose to flee their former homes to Cuba, Mexico, and even Brazil. Some drowned in shipwrecks on route. Those who made it to Brazil founded a new city called Americanos and from there kept in touch with many American relatives until later generations lost their command of English. Remembering Brazil as a bastion of freedom in that era is perhaps easiest with a book titled “The Lost Colony of the Confederacy.”
amazing. after reading you page for quite a while, I have come to the conclusion that with all the “stuff” a prepper needs…one of the thing is a CDL and an
eighteen wheeler to bug out with.
Actually I think that is a fair assessment, no sarc implied.
Thinking on it, really, if everything were to go all SHTF, no more JIT/BAU, no timely deliveries at the Wally-World for everything from shampoo, to electronic gizmos, batteries, light bulbs, toothpaste, TP, cheezy poofs, beer, bread, etc. what would you need to have the means to produce the bare minimum?
Ideally, we all would all live at our BOL, with all the things we would need to produce the bare minimum.
How realistic is that?
There are a few regulars who post here who I think are close to that.
But they are the exception to the rule.
The rest of us . . . Improvise! Adapt! Overcome!
My father was the ultimate handyman. I married a man just like dear old dad. He will definitely be an asset in more ways than one. I cannot count how many times he fixed or rebuilt things around the house.
Thank you for such a great article n many suggested items.
Clearly, I have some gathering to do since I had not thought of these before.
I m on it now n I m grateful to you for that assistance.
Butchering kit? Hey, I can tell you a good set of knives makes breaking down a whole hog that much easier. And the means to sharpen those knives.
Reloading kit? Not just smokeless, but black powder too. From dies, to trimming, to cleaning brass. I save my pistachio nut shells. Rolls-Royce used to use barely hulls to polish their pistons.
Hi there 1StMarine.
The above is not really a SHTF or TEOTWAWKI tool kit list. I wrote this thinking more as a “recession kit”, like people used to have back in the 70’s and 80’s to save money maintaining and fixing household appliances, furniture, etc., or starting a side job and making some extra doing jobs for others during hard times.
walnut shells come in handy for things like that too….
In the sewing kit, I’d add dental floss (waxed) and duct tape and an iron. Dental floss to re-attach buttons to cold weather clothes or stitch fabric back together. I’ve heard that Alaska uses more dental floss than any other state for this reason. Duct tape over a tear in outerwear, then gently heat it with the iron. The glue melts and then hardens. I have a 40+ year old down vest that has been snagged countless times by barbed wire fences and various brambles. Duct tape to the rescue!
Good list! Did I miss the small engine repair kit? Just in case you wanna maintain your property. Though I’d probably let mine go back to the natural look…to attract some food maybe.
I guess I take for granted that I was raised with a “If It Can Be Fixed, Then Fix It” outlook on life beat into me by my Father (not literally beat, but metaphorically). Dad is pretty amazing guy, and is handy with just about any task you set in front of him. Wood, metal, electrical, plumbing, it doesn’t matter, he’ll get it done. I’m pretty handy, but I don’t hold a candle to him.
Tool wise, there’s no way I could take all of my tools with me, I’d need a pretty big trailer to haul it all. Though Bugging Out is a last option for me due to physical disability.
To be honest, I don’t expect to make it through whatever collapse happens. Once certain medications are no longer available, that will be it. So my goal has been setting up my family to survive without me. Teaching the older Grandkids “How” to use both manual and power tools. How to troubleshoot electrical and mechanical equipment and so forth.
As for kits, I’ve not bothered. I’m very OCD about tools and where/how they’re stored, so everything in my workshop has its place. Woe to anyone who moves or borrows anything without putting it back.
My advice to anyone starting a tool kit, is don’t go cheap. There’s a lot of junk on the market and the quality of materials in cheap tools is generally lacking. As a general rule, if it says “Made in China” on it, I’ll look for something else. Buy the best you can afford. I’ve seen box after box of cheap broken tools in every shop I’ve frequented.
Nice work! As a life long fixer of everything around the house and 35 years in professional carpentry/handyman work, I find most of your lists helpful for those who are just getting started. A few recommendations for the woodworking section:
Japanese Pull saws are the way to go. Fast cutting rip and crosscuts. Multiple blades snap into one handle. They fold up or store in two pieces, cutting on the pull stroke means thinner blades, more control and less weight, replacing just blades is cheaper than the whole saw. Good options are available even at the local Farm store.
You probably will not need a coping saw unless you are going to make small intricate cuts, Hacksaw not so much for wood working but essential for metal work.
Speed Square. A plastic one is all you need, go aluminum if you tend to break stuff, The standard size (about 7″) is optimized for all general construction squaring, marking and layout tasks.
Bevel gauge. Allows you to copy any angle, then layout on your wood.
Utility Knife. One that opens without tools, stores extra blades inside. Scoring, marking (more accurate than pencil) cutting thin materials, sheetrock, carving, stripping insulation off wires. Cutting holes in walls
Cheap snap off blade Knife. The extendable long blade is perfect for reaching and cutting many things that the workhorse Utility knife cannot, and the snap off tips allow you to sacrifice the tip when needed. Perfect to cut foam insulation boards, fiber glass batts.
25′ Fat Max type tape measure. If you’re working alone, a wimpy tape will not standout far enough, high enough, or be sturdy enough in a breeze. Look for one that actually has 25′ of useable length. Use upside down for a passible straightedge.
Hand Brace with auger bits for drilling holes in wood
For salvaging and reusing wood:
Flat bars, Cats Paw, nail punch to remove boards and nails with minimal damage. A nail punch allows you to drive finish nails through and thus free the board without damage to the top of the board, Cats Paw digs under the head of a nail to pull it out (cosmetic damage to the top of board other side not damaged)
Not really woodworking but really good for making crude shelters livable, and keep your wife happy (hence livable!)
Reusable Professional Foam Dispenser: with a can or two of expanding foam, I like the black color foam from PUR. One can goes a VERY long way and will exclude rodents, stop drafts, make molds, custom foam tool box liners, etc. Pairs well with the extendible snap-off knife for trimming excess. (Avoid the can with the attached straw, they make a mess, and are only good for the first use, then they clog and you will loose the rest of the can). Stopping drafts is the first priority to prevent heat loss from a building! Get some dollar store stainless steel or copper kitchen scrubbies to jam into mouse holes then foam them in place.
The black color is ideal for gaps and cracks in the home, once trimmed flush, they disappear and look like a shadow line.