7 Steps to Uncovering Your Hidden Handicraft for Survival

by Todd Walker

If tools could talk.

A few of my hand tools

A few of my hand tools

I love working with my hands. Connecting with my project takes me away to another time, another dimension.

When life gets too crazy, I tell Dirt Road Girl I’m going to my shop. The sight of tools, the smell of sawdust, and unfinished projects brings me back to center. I walk over and pick up an antique brace and bit or draw knife hanging on my wall. How many old timers used these tools to craft a chair or build a barn? My hand touches history – and our culture.

I own new tools that are very useful and have their place and function. Yet I was drawn to the old hickory handled hammer this past weekend while working on my new compost tumbler – the hammer my daddy gave me many years ago. He added many scars to its wood grain before passing it on to me.

I exercised my artistic muscle for Christmas of 2011. I took some old plumbing tools Daddy gave me over the years and designed a name plaque that reads “WALKER”. It’s hanging on his wall as you enter my boyhood home. It’s a reminder to him, and all who enter, the place of honor tools have in our family.

There’s also a connection between handmade, artisan handicraft items and our individual health. Visual arts, music, dance, and even expressive writing are effective in decrease stress and anxiety, reducing heart rates, and boost our desire to continue the healing process. Our youngest daughter painted DRG an oil painting of her favorite flower. It hangs near the kitchen lifting DRG’s spirit with every glance.

Oil painting by our youngest daughter

Oil painting by our youngest daughter

The doom and gloom in survival fiction often times portrays man reverting to dark age living. I understand the effects of some natural or man-made end of the world scenario. You know, the collapse of civilization stuff. Heavy stuff which I have neither the time nor desire to get into at this point. My purpose here is to point out the need and importance of working with our hands, developing artisan skills, and passing on lost/forgotten skills to future generations.

Our primitive ancestors depended upon skilled artisans to craft weapons for hunting and defense, brew beer/ale, harness fire for warmth/cooking/light, make baskets and containers from reeds and clay, and stitch clothing from hides and sinew. Their function and contribution built resilience in their family and tribe. They added value. They produced.

It’s so simple even cavemen and cave-babes did it. How hard can it be? An over simplification, I know. Or not.

You’re probably thinking to yourself that we can’t all be great writers, sculptors, and artisans of handicraft. You might be right. But even pursuing one new hobby or craft you’ve always wanted to try might be the spark needed to inspire the creative artisan inside you.

The degree we develop our skills and art not only adds function and beauty, but may increase our chances of survival and ability to thrive during chaos. At the very least, working with our hands offers stress release and sense of satisfaction that we created something  that didn’t previously exist.

If you’re cooped up in an office pushing pencils and paper, staring at glowing screens like so many other desk jockeys, you owe it to yourself to find a way to get your hands dirty and cleanse your soul. Here are few things on my artisan to-do list:

  • Soap Making. I got interested in saponification a few years ago. If you’re interested, there’s lots of info on the net and in book form. I bought The Everything Soapmaking Book for recipes. Hooking up with someone who has experience is always a great way to learn. There is a good chance you’ll find a local soap artisan in your area. THANK YOU TIME. Just before Christmas Darlene, a soap artisan in FL, sent me a bar of shaving soap to try with my traditional shaving equipment. I absolutely love her soap’s scent, lather, and texture on my skin. Darlene makes soap for people and puppies: body soap, shaving soap, and shampoo bars. She sells her soap locally but will ship to anywhere you are. You can find her on Facebook here: Doll Babies Farm Goat’s Milk Soap.
  • Permaculture. I’ve grown gardens most of my life but never practiced permaculture. Permaculture design emphasizes patterns of landscape, function, and species assemblies. It asks the question, “Where does this element go? How can it be placed for the maximum benefit of the system?” It seems to be a natural extension of sustainable living. Any tips or resources for a newbie like me are welcome.
  • Resilience in health, food, water, and preparedness. Thanks to conversations with a blogger friend over at Resilient News, my entire attitude toward preparedness and self-reliance is being challenged. Being better situated to bounce back from surprises is part of every preppers mindset. Storing consumable stuff that will eventually run out is a good strategy to get you through a crisis. However, DRG and I are now focusing on building resources that are sustainable, robust, and resilient. Another good source I’ve come across is Resilient Communities.

7 Ideas to Help You Discover the Artisan Within

If you have no interests, you’re not interesting. Here are some Sherpa steps to get you in touch with your lurking artisan within. You’ll also receive the added bonus of having something interesting to say at your next social gathering other than who de-friended you on Facebook.

A.) Be Selfish. Not in a narcissistic way. Find stuff that stirs interest in you. Who cares if it’s popular or taboo. Block the voice of conformity. Every time I cave to someone’s political correct ideals, I lose 10% of my effectiveness. Carve some time out for you and protect it furiously. Feed your soul before expecting to offer any value to others. Be generous to yourself in a non-navel gazing way – unless that’s some yoga position.

B.) Connect with tradition. My mom still has the paper towel holder I made her in 7th grade industrial arts class. Bring shop class back! She also has the shoe lass that her my granddaddy used to repair the shoes of his ten children during the Great Depression. The tools of artisans tell the story of people we’ve never met. Mom’s storytelling motivates me to carry on the tradition. Blue-hairs have jewels of wisdom if we’ll only take the time to listen.

Broom maker at Foxfire

Broom maker at Foxfire

C.) Don’t segregate. Resist the temptation to pigeon-hole and compartmentalize your handicraft. Find ways to incorporate you skills in everyday life.

  • Darlene started making soap as a hobby and turned it into a profitable business.
  • You like to write. Start a free blog at Word Press. Self-publish an eBook. Why be at the mercy of an unhappy publishing executive who wants to change your writing to fit a certain demographic their group polling determines is best. Don’t wait for some ‘expert’ to approve.
  • Find local artisans and connect. It’s very likely these folks will welcome you into their group. Don’t forget to give value for value.

D.) Find your passion. What makes you pound your fist on the table? Find out and do something about it. Start. Today. You’ll become the “go to” guy or gal.

E.) Exercise your idea muscle. I’ve got notebooks and journals and iPhone apps for recording ideas. Sometimes I just sit and think of ideas. A word on the car radio, or a picture, or a seed stuck to your pants could be inspirational. How do you think Velcro came about. The saying “Use it or lose it” especially applies to our idea muscle. Shock your brain synapses by listing ten new ideas everyday. Ten is the bare minimum. You’ll become addicted and your idea muscle will never atrophy.

F.) Read – Outside of your “field.” Pick up a book or article that has nothing to do with what consumes the majority of your day. Fiction or non-fiction – doesn’t matter. Be open to change what you thought was the right way to do things. Diversify. Plant lots of seeds.

G.) Do what you love and the money will follow…maybe. But who cares, right? This goes back to being selfish. I remember watching Wild Kingdom with my daddy growing up. He’d say how he wished he had been able to do what Marlin Perkins did for a living. He always advised me to do what I loved for a job and it won’t be work. Writing hasn’t made me money, but I love doing it – even though there are no masterpieces to validate my work. I’m keeping my day job, but make time everyday for what I love.

It wasn’t long ago that people lived in tightly knit communities, connected with each other, and lived a local life. In our modern rat-race, folks have come to believe you have to be the best to be recognized and rewarded. If I don’t make it on American Idol I’m a nobody. I’ve been guilty of wanting a little fame and fortune. At this point in my life, I’m not waiting for that one magical moment to make me happy. I’m going in exactly the opposite direction. Simple living – back to my roots – getting my hands dirty.

What’s your hidden talent?


Categories: Homesteading, Lost Skills, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “7 Steps to Uncovering Your Hidden Handicraft for Survival

  1. Bravo! Hear, hear.

    You’ll never do it well if you don’t first do it badly.


  2. Pingback: 272 Notable Prepper Links in January 2013 - SchemaByte

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