Friday, September 21, 2012

Harbor Freight Magnesium Fire Starter review

Being able to make or light a fire is part of basic preparedness, so with that in mind, I wanted to present a very inexpensive magnesium and ferro rod fire starter. My cost was about $2.50 at Harbor Freight. So, I give you my:

Harbor Freight Magnesium Fire Starter review

The best part first- It works.               

It works pretty well as a matter of fact. It works real well for something that costs $2.50

I've heard people say that some of the cheap Chinese fire steels don't work- they say that either it won't throw sparks, or that the magnesium doesn't catch the sparks and light on fire.

The Harbor Freight Fire Starter throws a lot of sparks, and the Mg lit right up.

I tried it with sparks on dryer lint and had no trouble getting the lint to ignite. Then I tried scraping some of the magnesium into a small pile, and they lit from the sparks. Then I tried it with a piece of lint and shaved magnesium onto the lint and again, it lit right up.

In the picture, the brown blob is the charred remains of the lint and the greyish white pile is the ashes from the burned magnesium. 

Of the 4 knives I tested, the one that threw the best sparks was...

The $1 Ozark Trails knife From Wal Mart!
It performed even better than the Mora knife . So I think I may try to find a way to disassemble the knife and see if I can find room for it in my Altoids tin emergency kit that I carry when I'm hiking or biking.

FREE Bonus!: Here's a quick review of the Ozark Trails Wal Mart knife:

It's a knife for a buck.

It's pointy.
It cuts stuff.
Not real well, but it will cut. It would come in handy for cutting plastic sheeting or light cordage and that sort of thing. It makes a great steel for using with a fire starter. 

The serrated edge actually work better as saw teeth. It saws wood better than it cuts paper. It would be very handy for cutting notches into wood for traps, shelters, spears etc.
One problem with the blade its that it's serrated for about 3/4 of it's length and doesn't provide enough usable regular edge. a 50/50 or 70/30 ratio would have been better.

As long as you check it and make sure the locking mechanism is solid and is functioning, it's worth including in a survival or emergency bag if you're on a tight budget. But I certainly wouldn't count on it as my only, or primary blade.

Now back to the fire starter- The scraper blade that included seems to work best if you use the 'short' edge. The spot where thet cut the blade into sections. Holding teh blade long ways in your hand and using the end of it, gives you more leverage than holding it cross ways and using the long edge to scrape.

The Ozark Trail blade worked better as a scraper than the included scraper did. The scraper also fails as a striker because it's painted. Cut a section from an old bike innertube (also Known as a Ranger Band) and strap them to each other for a fire making kit. 

I'd have zero hesitations in recommending the Harbor Freight Magnesium Firestarter, and pairing it up with a $1 Wal Mart knife.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I wanted to recap a few things we've gone over so far.

Inexpensive Emergency Supplies

Water: I think everyone understand this part. You want at least 1 gallon of water per person- per day.
Buying gallon (or larger) jugs of water at a local store is the easiest way to get started with the water storage. Once you get past storing 20 gallons, you'll probably want to look into either 5 gallon bottles or food grade white buckets for easier storage.

Food- start simple; Canned ravioli or pasta is cheap and easy. A few companies offer premade meals that don't require refrigeration. They have standard TV diner fare like roast beef and mashed potatoes. It tastes slightly better than the canned stuff, but it's still only slightly above jail food in taste.
I also think canned fruit is a great thing to have- it gives you something semi-healthy to eat, plus it has a little bit of natural sweetness and it also includes fruit juice for extra fluid intake. Note: buy fruit in natural juices instead of heavy syrup.
Remember that canned food requires a non-electric can opener unless you buy the cans with pull off tops.

If you have a larger budget, you could add energy/protein bars, meal replacement drinks and.or MRE's(Meals Ready To Eat).
These days, just about every grocery store and big box store near me has energy or protein bars in their pharmacy area They're anywhere from $1 to $3 each, so for a family of 4, they can become expensive calories very quickly. Same with the meal replacement shakes- they're convenient, but pricey for a large group. You also want to avoid the 'diet' shakes- you want as many calories in each meal as possible! So the "weight gainer" type shakes or mixes that only need water are good choices.
The MRE's can be found online, at local gunshows and at surplus stores. Prices and inventories fluctuate, so you're going to need to do your own searching on these. You may find you don't like some of the entrees, so it's best to try one, before you buy a case of them. The packages come with lots of extras like condiments, napkins, heaters etc.. and the can be opened up and stripped down to a smaller size if space is critical(like in a backpack). Current prices range from $5 to $8+
 per MRE.
You can also include Clif Bars or other energy/protein bars, preseasoned tuna packets or premade tuna or chicken salad, and kippered fish or sardines if you like those sort of things.

$5 First Aid Kit; I put together a basic first aid kit that anyone can do for just $5.
Alcohol wipes to clean cuts and abrasions

Triple antibiotic ointment for cuts and scrapes

Bandaids you could also use 6-10 Bandaids to tape down the large gauze pads if you had to

Gauze Pads- for larger wounds; use it with direct pressure to stop bleeding and then tape it in place for an emergency bandage

Super Glue- for controlling bleeding and closing large wounds. AKA "liquid stitches" 

What seems like a small wound can turn into a major problem in just 2 or 3 days. Especially if you don't have any access to an ER or doctor. Infections can spread through your body and kill you very easily.

Light When the power goes out, bumping around in a dark house is a good way to get hurt. It's also easily preventable. There is a great selection of inexpensive flashlights to choose from today that blow away what we had 10 years ago. To get strated on a tight budget, I always recommend the $1-$2 LED mini-flashlights that you can see in the picture at the top( and teh picture below). They come in different colors, and slightly different designs, buy basically, they all have 9 LED bulbs, have a machined, metal body run on 3 AAA batteries(included!) and have a push-button switch on the end-cap.The  Family Dollar stores in my area have them and sometimes has a 5 pack for $5.Harbor Freight has them by the bucketful.

This one has a length of paracord wrapped around it for better grip. I carry it daily when I walk the dog at night.

(Ha ha.. actually I don't have it any more. I just went outside and gave it to someone that was walking by with their 3 small kids in the dark.)

It's always better to have more flashlights, than not enough flashlights. Especially when they're only a dollar or two. One for the nightstand next to the bed, one in the kitchen and one in the car is a good start. I also think keychain flashlights are really handy- if nothing else, when the lights go out- you can use your small flashlight to find your bigger flashlights and/or your candles.

Speaking of candles... candles are an absolute necessity for a prolonged power outage. If you can't afford a $25 LED camping lantern- get candles!
flashlights are good for lighting up small areas- but candles can light up entire rooms.

The least expensive are the so called "tea lights". They are small candles that come with a small metal cup for a built in holder. They'll burn for several hours- but they don't give all a lot of light.

You can also buy a 6 pack  of small "emergency candles" for $1 at Dollar Tree stores. These give off more light- but you need to find a holder for them. You could improvise with a glass jar, or a coffee cup or bowl full of salt/rice/sand.

One way to get large size emergency candles cheaply is to make your own. All you need is a tin can with a lid- check thrift stores for empty tins- or you can use a tuna or tomato paste can.  When you go to thrift stores or garage sales - like all good budget minded preppers do- keep an eye out for candles.
New candles and wax are expensive. But wax can be easily remelted and formed into a new shape. 
Wicks can be made from any 100% cotton material. Use strips of clothe cut to size, or even shoe laces. Or you can be all fancy and buy your wicks if you prefer.

I've made a bunch of candles from 1, five pound candle I bought for $1.99 at a thrift store. I used a large kitchen knife - $1 at the same store- to hack the big candle into smaller chunks. Take the chunks and fill the can you want to use about 3/4 full and put the can on the heating element of you coffee maker. The heat will be enough to liquify the wax and it will reform itself to the new container. Carefully remove it from the heat and add the wick and make sure it stays in place as the wax hardens. Hot wax can burn the hell out of you, and small children should never handle hot wax.

After the candle cools, you can wrap it in foil and store it away, The foil makes a perfect cap to extinguish the candle, so don't throw it away when you unwrap the candle.

If you want to take your emergency lighting to the next level- it's time to get LED camping lanterns. The Rayovac Sportsman Xtreme lanterns have been wildly popular and well reviewed. They run about $25 each and Rayovac claims a 90 hour run time on low and 40 hours on high- using 3 D batteries- not included.

So this version of the emergency kit is;
$5 on light- 1 or 2 flashlights,extra batteries, tealights, emergency candles and matches/Bic lighter
$5 on food: Ravioli, fruit, Clif bar or Snickers, gallon jug or 6 pack of water
$5 on first aid kit
$5 on supplies- TP, paper towels, hand wipes, sanitizer, and roll of foil or extra food and water.

This stuff is easy to do, and you can break it down into smaller "sub-kits" ie; light, food, supplies and add on to them as your budget allows.

A lot of it has to do with how many people you're doing this for.
Get food and water for everyone- enough for over night of 24 hours first- and then add the supplies later.
$20 can be enough for 1 person to be well stocked
$20 can allow 4 people to have minimal preparations.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The $20 Emergency Bag Version 2

First let me say thanks to the visitors that have been reading the blog, I'm going to be updating it every couple of days with new information and options for your emergency kits, so bookmark the page and check back often.

Version 2.

Since this blog is about being able to put together emergency supplies with a limited budget. I'm going to give you one of the best places to find supplies on the cheap.

Dollar Tree stores.
Everything they sell is just $1.00. They use smaller sizes of merchandise to adjust the price. 
Why buy a $4.00 box of 100 band aids if you really only need 10 or 20 of them?
Now to be honest, some items can be found less expensively at regular grocery or discount stores, and I'll try to point those out as we come across them.  
 Dollar Tree also offers in store pick up on it's website! You can go to and order everything you want, and at checkout, select in store pick up and they will ship your order to your closest DT store!

Let's get to it.

1st thing you need is something to put your supplies in. You can start with a recycled carboard box in a kitchen cabinet if you need to.
The next step up would be a backpack that you already own- in case you need to leave the house in an emergency or to double as a portable  'road trip'  emergency supply kit.

Dollar Tree has fabric laundry bags for.. yep.. $1.00!!! See how this works?? :D

The most important thing in many emergencies is water. Whether you stranded on the side of the road, or relocating to a temporary shelter in the high school gym, it good to have your own supplies. 

The least expensive way to buy water is in gallon jugs. The trade off is that you'll need to provide individual cups or someway to give everyone their own portion. DT has a 6 pack of 16 oz. bottles for $1.00 if you want to get individual servings. 
Remember that water is heavy, so If you think you'll need a lot, it may be a good idea to statsh a gallon or two in the car. 

Next up would be food. Dollar for dollar, it's hard to beat Snickers bars for cheap, portable calories. The downside is that they're chocolate and don't do well in the heat. My personal favorite is the Clif Bar (named after the inventor's father). They taste great, come in a variety of yummy flavors- blueberry, chocolate fudge,  black cherry, peanut butter, maplenut, oatmeal rasin and even white chocolate macadamia. They can be found at most larger grocery and discount stores and shouldn't cost more than $1.00 each. is the website if you need more info. They're top quality products.

OK, so now we have some water and some food. Next on my list would be some first aid supplies.
Here's a quick $5 Dollar Tree first aid kit: Band Aids- the (DT store brand work well- I like the waterproof type), alcohol wipes (this is one of the items that can be found at most regular pharmacies at a better value, ie; walmart has them 50 for $1.00, but DT has them 25 for a dollar), some antibiotic creme AKA 'generic Neosporin', a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and a tube of super glue will cover most of your minor emergencies. The superglue is actually a very valid way to stop bleeding from a large wound or gash that would normally require stitches. 
DT also offers a premade first aid kit for $1.00, and it comes with a handy reusable plastic box. It's quite popular among the "prepper' groups.

The next group I'd mention after food, water and first aid is light. Whether it's the power going out in a storm, or having to change a tire in the dark, light is invaluable. It can also be very comforting if you're lost or stranded. The first thing you must have is a flashlight. I really like the small, inexpensive LED flashlights you can get for a dollar. They're about the size of a roll of quarters, have an aluminum body, come with batteries and are usually $1.00 or less! One of the best deals in the world in my humble opinion. You can find them at Family Dollar ( DT doesn't seem to have them but sometimes DT has decent keychain flashlights for $1.00) After the flashlight, I suggest some candles.
The "tea light' candles are probably the least expensive option here. These are short candles that come in a small metal cup so they don't need a separate holder. A box of 8 candles runs about a dollar at DT or Walmart.  Add a box of kitchen matches- or to be really frugal you can get free books of matches at gas stations and convenience stores. You can substitute a Bic light for the matches if you want. The Bic tends to be more waterproof than the matches. 

Bonus tip: you can make an emergency candle from an empty tuna fish can ( or any similar sized metal can) buy filling it with olive oil or cooking oil and making a wick from a strip of cotton cloth- like from a tshirt or shorts.

"Free" stuff: Using things you already have around the house; I'd also include a roll of paper towels, and at least 1 roll of good toilet paper. I'd also add a large- like a (folded) 3ft long piece of aluminum foil and a couple of plastic trash bags. You can make a million and one things from foil, and the trashbags can haul stuff or be made into emergency rain coats/ponchos.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cheap Chuck's $20 Emergency Kit Version 1

Hi all.. I apologize if you came by before this page was completely set up. Since there seems to be a lot of interest in this subject, I'm going to put up a bare bones post to give everyone the basic information. If you have any questions, just leave a comment and I'll answer it fort you. Thanks for reading.

I think i will post several different versions of the $20 emergency kit, so you can select the one that best fits your needs.

Version 1: A battery operated radio is worth more than gold in a disaster situation. Cell phone towers, TV broadcasting antennas and phone lines will be down, so it will be difficult to get information or news. There are a lot of examples of people with a little portable radio being the ONLY communication that's available in a damaged neighborhood, or in an emergency shelter. our radio maybe they sole lifeline to the outside world to get weather reports - is there another storm coming??-  or finding out when they may reopen roads or highways in the area.

The best value I've found in portable radios is the Sony ICF-S10MK2 Pocket Radio. It costs about $10-$15, has good reception and clarity. In a short term (less than 30 days) emergency, I'd trust batteries more than I would a radio with a plastic crank handle and plastic gears.

After a radio, a flashlight is the most important piece of equipment to have in an emergency. 
You can literally find decent LED flashlights for $1. at the dollar stores. I like the ones that are made from aluminum and come with batteries already installed.  You can also find them at Harbor Freight- sometime free with a purchase- like $1 work gloves.
(Bonus Tip: dollar stores usually have really good prices on batteries) 

So now that you have a radio and a flashlight, the next necessity is water. If you look around a bit, you can find gallon bottles of water for under$1.  

The radio, flashlight and water will give you a basic kit to make it through most minor emergencies. 
If you have a dollar or two left over, but  some Snickers or Cliff Bars to put in your emergency kit and you'll be well on your way to being prepared.

Remember this is just a bare bones kit- and can be supplemented with things you should already have around the house - like canned food and some first aid supplies. 

Version 2 of the kit will focus more on food and first aid. If you already have put together your version 1 of the it, you can just add your version 2 kit to it and they will compliment each other. 
so this week, you can put together version 1, and then next week.month.payday you can add to it with version 2. 

I hope you all find this useful, so feel free to leave comments, suggestions or questions if you have them.