Last time we talked about disaster prep, we covered the basics of a SIP KIT – that is, the basic stuff you need to shelter in place short-term after a local or regional disaster. All of those supplies are pretty common and can be had cheap or even free if you know where to look. But these… these are the big-ticket items. If you recall from our last post in the series, the big three that are non-negotiable necessities in your SIP KIT are a chainsaw, a generator, and a gun. They’re expensive no matter which way you slice it. But just because you’ve gotta spend money doesn’t mean you’ve gotta spend a LOT of money.
Just like everything else I’ve talked about in this series and Jonathan’s covered in the Survival Time Machine series, there are always ways to save money without compromising quality. We both hate reading articles about building a kit that feature things like $500 flashlights and $2,300 rifles. For most of blue-collar America, those articles are aspirational, not practical. We don’t have that kind of money, and we’re guessing that most of you don’t either.
So if you need these three items, where do you look? The big box hardware store, and Cabela’s for the guns? Nope, set your sights lower. Go across the tracks to that sketchy part of town and hit up the place that every redneck and his brother already knows about: The pawn shop.
For today’s post, I visited my local honey hole, Cherokee Gun & Pawn. They’ve been consistently good to me for many years. Their staff are knowledgeable, professional, and attentive, they’re always getting new inventory in, and their prices cannot be beat. Seriously, there’s no place in this area that has better deals. They’re also friends of SARCRAFT – check out our flyer hanging on the wall for a discount code worth 10% off all of our courses.
Pawn shops are awesome, plain and simple. You can find guns, tools, guitars, electronics, jewelry, archery equipment, fishing gear, and more for a fraction of retail prices. Hell, your establishment can even be Billy Dee Williams approved, for the right price. And unlike mainstream retail establishments, you can sometimes do a little bit of haggling to get a better deal, especially if you’re a frequent customer. Just don’t be obnoxious about it. Pawn shops make money on both ends (from high-interest pawn loans as well as selling the pawned items when people default), so they can afford to sell stuff dirt cheap and still make a profit. Some of it is trash, some of it is treasure. I’ve seen some items that were almost brand new (looked like they came straight out of the box), as well as some things that were probably better off in the junkyard. (Missing parts, broken, badly rusted, etc.) We’re here to help you sort out which is which.
Item #1: Chainsaw
Chainsaws at pawn shops generally fall into two categories: Used hard or hardly used. Either they’ve been owned by someone who didn’t know what they were doing and beat the absolute hell out of it, or they’ve sat on a shelf in a garage and been brought out once every few years for light work.
When looking at a saw, there are a few points to consider. Check the fuel lines and primer bulb. Are they supple, or are they stiff, and feel like they’re about to break? 10% ethanol fuel found at just about any gas station is absolute death for small engines. The alcohol in it reacts with plastic and rubber fittings, turning them hard and brittle. Primer bulbs will shatter and leak fuel, fuel lines will break and fail to feed, carburetor diaphragms will crumble... you get the idea. Many homeowners don’t know this, and will leave their chainsaws sitting full of ethanol fuel for years, leaving the fuel lines and other rubber and plastic parts prone to breakage. This can mean a complete overhaul before you can even use the saw. Adjustment screws are also important. Take a small screwdriver and turn the adjustment screws for the chain. Are they rusted in place? Stripped out? Or do they turn firmly but freely?
There are also things you can check that don’t have a great deal to do with the saw’s performance in themselves, but are indicators of broader maintenance patterns (or lack thereof). Pull the air filter. Is it nasty and full of dirt and sawdust? Don’t expect it to be pristine, but if it looks like it’s never been cleaned, it may be a symptom of general neglect. Same with the chain. Is it sharp, or does it look like it was used to cut open a car? If the previous owner kept the saw clean and sharp, it’s reasonable to assume they probably took good care of it all around.
On my pawn shop expedition today, I found five chainsaws of various quality in different states of (dis)repair. I’ll start off by saying that none of them are what I’d call premium brands. Stihl is the king of chainsaws, and Husqvarna is the queen. I have a Stihl I inherited from my cousin that’s at least 30 years old (it says “Made in West Germany” on the side), and still going strong. The official SARCRAFT chainsaw is Jonathan's Stihl Professional Grade. They’re reliable, powerful, easy to maintain (as easy as chainsaws get, anyway), and they have a worldwide dealer network with great customer support. The same can be said for Husqvarna. They are a slight dip in quality from Stihl, but still make a top-notch saw. They occasionally turn up in pawn shops, so if you see one in good shape, don’t leave without it.
What I saw today consisted of two Poulans ($149/ea), a Homelite ($80), a Jonsered ($99), and a Ryobi ($99). Homelite used to be a well-respected and high-quality brand. I used one recently that was made in the late 1970s and it was a solid hunk of craftsmanship. Other than a broken muffler that made it obscenely loud, it ran flawlessly. This one was a newer model however, and it showed. The handle was loose and wobbly, and the plastic housing rattled when it was picked up. Even though it was nearly new, it was already falling apart. It was the cheapest at $80, but not worth it.
The Jonsered looked to be in good working order. The adjustment screws turned freely, the fuel lines and primer bulb were supple, and it was clean and well maintained. Not a bad pick for $100. It only had a 12” bar, but that could be replaced with a longer one if desired. Jonsered is owned by the Husqvarna Group, and is supported by Husqvarna for parts and service.
The Ryobi was brand-new. Yes, new. I can say this with certainty because it was still in the box and had not been opened. I don’t know the story behind it, but it either hasn’t seen the light of day, or was carefully re-packaged. At $99, it was about $20 off retail, which ain’t a screaming deal, but it’s not bad. This saw is a little on the light side for my taste. At 37cc and a 14” bar, it’s made more for clearing small brush and pruning limbs than it is disassembling fallen trees.
Both of the Poulans were the 42cc Pro models. They were very clean and hadn’t seen much use. Like Jonsered, Poulan is owned by the Husqvarna Group. Poulan is Husqvarna’s budget line, and as such, they share a lot of parts. And you can obtain parts and service for Poulan saws at any Husqvarna dealer. While not on the quality level of Husqvarna, Poulan is a decent saw at a reasonable price. This isn’t the saw you want if you’re an outdoor professional who uses it all the time, but for the purposes of this kit, it’s just fine.
Either of the Poulans or the Jonsered would be perfectly adequate saws for the money.
Item #2: Generator set
If you’re a hardcore prepper, this item will be superfluous. Ideally, you’ll have solar panels, wind power, or a human powered generator system (like a converted stationary bike – it’s a super cool project and we’ll do a feature on it one day). But if you’re just getting started (which is what this series is all about), you’ll want to consider purchasing a generator. Most of us have food in our freezers and refrigerators that we don’t want going bad, especially if the power is knocked out in spring or summer and the temperatures are soaring. Being able to use a microwave when the power is out is pretty convenient. If you have an electric water heater or an electric oven, being able to use those things can make a bad situation a lot more bearable. Now keep in mind that you probably can’t do all of this at the same time unless you’ve got a seriously powerful generator, but it’s great to be able to do any of them in the event of a short-term disaster.
Sadly, I struck out on my search for a generator at the ol’ CGP. I’ve seen them many times there in the past, however, and much like the chainsaws, they are usually either used hard or hardly used. Portable generators are popular among contractors and construction crews to run their power tools (and microwaves – if you’ve ever worked with a Mexican framing crew you’ve seen this in action), and those units tend to lead hard lives, since they’re used every single day. Better to find one that’s been used for what we’re going to do with it: Backup power in the event of a short-term disaster.
Like the chainsaws, there are some simple ways to test whether or not the generator you’re looking at is trash or treasure. Look at the primer bulb (if it has one, some don’t), fuel lines, gas tank, etc. Check the oil. Is the level correct? Does it look good, or is it overdue to be changed? Ask if you can start the unit and run it briefly. This can tell you a lot. Does it start easily, or is it temperamental? Does it run smoothly? Does it smoke? Bring a small electronic device (like a hair dryer or a Skil saw) to plug into the generator when it’s running to make sure it’s actually generating power.
When looking for a generator, stick with established brand names. Some of the off-brands are great. They’re well made, and are sometimes built under license from major manufacturers. Some are not. They’re unreliable, hard to find parts for, and difficult to maintain. Play it safe. Honda is the royalty of the generator world. Honda’s small engines are pretty tough to beat, and they’ve been in the generator game a long time. Their dealer network is huge, and parts for almost every model can be easily and cheaply obtained almost anywhere.
For the purposes of this kit, look for a unit that generates at least 5kw. More is better, but generators bigger than 10kw start to get seriously expensive. A generator in the 5-10kw range will power fridges, freezers, microwaves, and power tools with ease. Oh, and a word on safety… I would hope everyone already knows this, but don’t leave your generator running in a confined space. You’ll die of carbon monoxide poisoning and all your prepping efforts will be for naught. Put it outside.
Item #3: Gun
I’m going to try and keep this portion brief, but I'll probably fail. Confession: I am a shameless gun whore. I shoot, tinker with, buy, sell, trade, talk, live, and breathe guns. In fact, I love guns so much that I got my FFL and started a company around it. It’s SARCRAFT’s sister company, and she’ll get a lot more press in the future. She’s just not quite ready for her debut yet. My point is, I could write a whole series on guns for survival and prepping, and I likely will.
I believe that for serious preparedness, you need a battery of at least five guns – combat rifle, shotgun, hunting rifle, rimfire rifle, and defensive pistol. They all serve distinctly different purposes, and will cover nearly any situation you’d need a gun for. However, the purpose of this series is basic disaster prep on a budget. We’re going to start with the assumption that you don’t already own a gun, and that your budget for purchasing one is pretty slim. With that in mind, may I recommend… drum roll please… the 12-gauge pump-action shotgun. If you’re only going to own one gun, make it this one. It is unmatched in its versatility, consistently lethal, and reliably dependable. With a 12-gauge pump, you can do anything you need to do in a disaster scenario, short or long term. They are simple to use and quick to learn. The wide spread of a shot pattern means it’s harder to miss your target under stress. Since they’re a manual action, they will reliably cycle any ammunition, and work when full of powder fouling, mud, dust, or snow. Using birdshot, they’re great for hunting small game. With full-power slugs, you can take down deer or hogs. And with defensive buckshot loads or low-recoil slugs, they’re one of the best home defense guns around. You can even buy less-lethal loads like beanbag rounds or rubber slugs and buckshot if you want the option of deterring an attacker without killing them.
There’s a dizzying array of possibilities when it comes to 12-gauge pumps, but your options really boil down to two tried-and-true platforms: The Remington 870, and the Mossberg 500 series. They’re like the Ford F-150 and the Chevy Silverado of the gun world. They’ve both been around forever, they’re both great, they both have their diehard defenders, they both have their strengths and weaknesses, but at the end of the day, they both do pretty much the same thing. I’m a Mossberg man myself – the SARCRAFT camp defense gun is a Mossberg 590A1. Jonathan carries an 870 with a Mesa Tactical adjustable stock adapter. To each his own.
When looking at used guns, there are a few things to keep in mind. The most important is the condition of the bore (the inside of the barrel tube, if you’re not familiar with it). This is critically important on rifles and way less so on shotguns, but it still matters. Ask for a bore light and take a look down there. It should be smooth and clean. There should be no signs of rust, pitting, or scratches. Cycle the action. It should work smoothly without any weird catchy spots, and it should lock up tight. If the gun has a wooden stock, make sure it isn’t cracked. A little surface rust on the barrel or receiver is no big deal, but if it’s deep pitting, or if it’s inside the workings of the gun, that’s a no go. Fortunately, if you go to a reputable pawn shop (Like Cherokee Gun), most of this work has already been done for you and you can buy used guns without too much worry. It never hurts to take a second look, though.
I found a good deal on a pump shotgun in my shopping today. It was a Mossberg 500A with olive drab green furniture and a badass shell carrier attached to the receiver. The barrel was a little long at 24”, but it could easily be replaced with an 18” or a 20”. It had some dings and scratches on it and needed a good cleaning, but the action cycled great and all the parts that needed to work, worked. Price? $259.95. This would make an awesome home defense shotgun, all for a little over $300 if you include tax and a few boxes of ammo. That’s about as good as it gets for a reliable, brand-name gun. While I was there I found a bonus gun… I know we’re focusing on shotguns today, but if you were looking for a combat rifle on a budget, it would be hard to beat this Norinco SKS-D. The SKS is a very reliable, tried-and-true platform, but most either have fixed box magazines that take 10-round stripper clips, or have been converted to use TAPCO duckbill mags, which are… well, less than satisfactory. The SKS-D is kind of a unicorn in that it takes AK-47 magazines. Mags can be found anywhere, swapped quickly, and it feeds reliably. There are better guns out there and this one was a little rough around the edges, but if I’d had $349.95, it would have come home with me.
I found this Coleman camp stove sitting on a shelf for $49.99. It’s in great shape and looks like it’s barely been used. We talked in our last post in this series about how awesome Coleman stoves are. You can cook, make water safe to drink, use them for heat, make medicine, and more. This would be a great one to add to your kit.
Whew! Now you know what the basics of a home disaster prep kit are, and how to procure them affordably. From here, we’ll be going outside the home – the kit you keep at your workplace, your EDC bag, 24-hour bag (Get Home Bag) and your 72-hour bag (Bug Out Bag). Stay tuned!