As the Industrial Revolution gained steam (literally), and the people became caught up in the idea of "progress" and "modernizing", there was an entire class of technology which was swept to the wayside. As steam, gasoline, and electric powered machines became the foundation of progress, many of the solutions to everyday problems which had been developed and refined for centuries, disappeared from the public conciousness. In some ways, there was benefit to the industrialization of society. In other ways, it created an entire culture of corporation dependent slaves.
On this page, I will explore some of the technology which I have used personally, and was widely used in the time right before the Industrial Revolution. Today, these tools can be used to reduce dependence on outside systems, as well as contribute to a more healthy and sustainable life.
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A few years ago I purchased a traditional scythe from a small company in New England. The blades are hand made and hand hammered, and the body is made from hardened oak. When you purchase a scythe from them, they send you a list of measurements they require. The length of your arm, the length of your forearm, etc. When they make the body, also called the snath, it is fitted to your body.
Here is a 40 second clip of a woman mowing her lawn with a european scythe to see what I am talking about.
Once you learn how to use and maintain a well made scythe,it is not difficult to out perform a gas mower.
Learning how to use a scythe takes some practice. There is a method, and a meditation to it. You arent just swinging it around. But its peaceful. The scythe has been in continuous use since at least 500BC. And in Europe, since the 12th century. When something stays around that long, there is a reason, and it is improved and refined over the generations. I purchased two blades. One is a long grass blade, which is actually fairly delicate, and light weight. Its also razor sharp. It cuts through grass like its not there. The other blade is a bush blade. This is sturdy, and cuts through brush and blackberries quickly and easily. Many mornings in the spring, I will go for a walk around the property, and bring the scythe with the bush blade, to keep things trimmed back along the paths.
I like this tool because if I take care of it, it will last for a lifetime. And it requires no gas to operate, save a decent breakfast.
Ill end this with a video of an man harvesting wheat by himself, like they used to do in Egypt, Europe, Rome, etc...
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Japanese Pull Saws:
The Japanese pull saw has been used for hundereds of years. It differs from the western saw in that the cutting stroke happens on the pull stroke instead of the push stroke. This has the effect of largely keeping the saw from binding in the wood as easily, making cutting more smooth, and more efficient. The steel used in the hand made saws before the industrial revolution, was also some of the best in the world. The same blacksmithing methods which were used to make japanses swords were made to make japanese pull saws, which were a primary tool in the construction of the Japanese temples which still stand to this day. In fact, the temples are so sturdy, Japan is now re-studying the construction methods of these temples to understand why they survive earthquakes, when many modern buildings do not. The Japanese temple builders used no nails, instead relying on complex joints which distribute weight and allow for flex and movement without breaking. These joints were made possible by the precision cuts of the Japanese pull saw.
A short video of a japanese carpenter using a pull saw.
Today's Japanese pull saws are of course industrially produced, but they maintain the traditional shape and cutting precision of the old saws. When I originally purchased my first pull saw, I was amazed by how quickly they cut through wood. I began using them for construction projects, because in some ways it was easier to use them than an electric rotary saw. You dont need a power source, you dont need to drag a cord around, and the hand saws are much lighter than any rotary saw. Cutting 2x4s and 2x6s are quick and easy with a pull saw. In some ways, they even produce superior cuts to a rotary saw with small timbers. The only time I find myself wanting a rotary saw is when I am making long cuts on plywood, where you want the edge to be machine straight. But even then, if you are patient and let the tool do the work, this can be achieved with a longer blade pull saw.
In the context of the focus of this page, which is offgrid technology, for the purpouses of having simple tools with cut wood in a variety of situations, the pull saw cant be beaten. It requires no power, produces clean, accurate cuts, and its very easy to use. Much easier to use that westen saws. There are many different sizes. I have one with a blade that is 26in long, which gives a chain saw a run for its money when cutting down medium sized trees, and requires no fuel.
The one caveat I would offer is that modern pull saws are currently very cheap. Replacement blades can be had for $10 is some cases. But this relies entirely on the manufacturing and supply chain of modernity. If that were disrupted, it would be difficult to maintain the machined edges of modern pull saws. In that kind of a situation, having a couple antique pull saws would be beneficial, because they can be maintined with a file and a small hammer. These are harder to cut with, but not by much. And they can last for 100 years.
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The Dutch Oven:
The Dutch oven, as we in the west understand it, came into existence in around 1710. But the concept has existed in various forms for thousands of years. The thick walled cast iron cooking pot is available in a variety of shapes and sizes, but for the purpouses of getting the most bang for your offgrid buck, Ill be talking about what is commonly called the Chuckwagon Dutch Oven.
The Chuckwagon Dutch Oven is a large, deep, thick walled cast iron cooking pot. It has short cast iron legs on the bottom, which elevate the pot above the coals of a fire. It has a thick lid, with a high rim which runs around the edge. The rim allows the piling of coals on top of the pot. With heat coming from both bottom and top, it becomes a very functional oven.
I bought a 12 quart chuckwagon dutch oven a couple years ago for about $50. This summer I dug a firepit in the yard, and experimented with it. I am fairly amazed by how well it works. The thick walls prevent the temperature from fluctuating too quickly, and it stays hot for quite a while after the fire is out. What amazes me about it is not just that you can really cook anything in it (including bread, pizza, stew, rice, etc), but that it is so simple and primal. Even easy. All you need is a fire, and the pot, and you can cook almost anything. I found that the best way to use it, at least for me, was to make a fire pit large enough to have a fire going on one side, and have a coal bed and the pot on the other side. This way you can pull coals over from the fire when you need them, and better control the temperature. Additionally, if you do get one, also get the lid hook. When you have coals on the top of the pot lid, you dont want to try to open it with a hot mit. You want a hook of some kind. There are usually hooks for sale with the pots which are used to open the lid, and also pick up the whole pot. The hooks are with the investment.
From the experiments I did over the summer, I came to the conclusion that a dutch oven, a rocket stove (which ill write about next), and a simple pan, provide a complete kitchen in terms of being able to cook just about anything with just sticks. A great offgrid solution.
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