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Mel Tappan’s Personal Survival Letter # 23

Issue No. 23

A Third Wave Approach to Food Storage

By Nancy Tappan

About three months ago, I had taken nothing out of the freezer for dinner, so I opened a can of dehydrated
vegetable beef stew and a jar of peaches that we had put up last summer. While eating this gourmet’s delight, I
started thinking about long-term food storage and the aspects of it that I had never liked.

For one thing, although the stew was merely palatable, the peaches were delicious. I knew, too, that the peaches had
not been sprayed with Diazinon nor were they laden with sugar, salt, and MSG but I could not say the same of the
ingredients in the stew.

Emotionally, it bothered me to be so dependent on food that other people had produced and processed when being
as self-sufficient and independent of the system as possible was an integral part of the survival equation. Further,
the truth was that I didn’t really care for most dehydrated food and the idea of eating it day in and day out was

Everyone I talked to felt about the same way and had only purchased their dehydrated food for two reasons: it was
easy to store and it was supposed to last longer than food preserved by other methods.

If only there were a way to supplement existing supplies of stored food 1.) that you could do yourself on a
continuing basis, replenishing stores as needed, even under crisis conditions, and 2.) that would provide at least the
nutritional content of dehydrated food but would taste better.

These criteria eliminated commercially prepared wet-pack canned food, which has most of the disadvantages of
food commercially dehydrated and none of its advantages, and left freezing, home dehydrating, and home canning.

Because it depends on a power source that you are the least likely to have when you need it the most, freezing is not
the answer for long-term storage. On a short-term basis it is probably the best method currently available for
preserving the nutrient value in food.

However, the quality of frozen food begins to deteriorate if you do not keep your freezer at 0 degrees F or below,
which is all but impossible in the average home freezer and would be so under survival conditions.
Home-dehydrated food is a possibility for high acid foods that are dried at a low temperature, but all dehydrated
food is susceptible to oxidation, especially that prepared at home without sophisticated vacuum equipment.

If you want dehydrated food for long-term storage, you should definitely stick with commercially processed

After standing for three days in a 100 degree kitchen, cramming what seemed like 500 pounds of pears into Mason
jars last summer, I was less than enthusiastic about canning. A dozen or so quarts each of peaches, pears, and
tomato juice and a few of pickles, yes, but enough food to last a year or so, never!
Besides I had heard so many botulism horror stories about home-canned food that I would never attempt to can
anything but high acid foods unless I used a pressure canner; but the gasket on mine gave me trouble and pressure
canning on the stove was just as hot and tedious as was using a boiling water bath.

Such were my thoughts on home canning until I was introduced to the Embarcadero Home Cannery in Oakland and
its resident genius and owner, “Butch” Nagel, who sells equipment which duplicates, on a small scale, that used in
commercial canneries. He also teaches the correct way to use the equipment and you couldn’t ask for a more
knowledgeable teacher. He is a licensed canner in California, which in the canning world means that he has “the
right stuff”.

After listening to what Butch calls his snake oil pitch and watching him demonstrate the equipment, I spent $500
and purchased his complete set-up and have been playing with it -yes playing, its fun to use- canning cherries,
peaches, salmon, and beef. All of the doubting Thomases who thought that I had finally taken leave of my senses
are now converts to this canning method, and as Butch predicted, men and not women are its most vocal

I can hear some of you grumbling, “$500 for a pressure canner and a tin can sealer- that’s ridiculous! Besides,
they’ve been around forever.” You are partially correct. Canning in tin has been around since 1810, predating the
invention of the glass jar by 48 years and pressure cookers have been with us for about 200 years (a pressure canner
is simply a larger version of a cooker).

In addition to the canner and sealer, $500 bought me a supply of cans and lids, the temperature control valve that
Butch invented, a portable stove, pilot hose, valve, spud, light, propane regulator, and propane tank. (You can use
natural gas or butane if you prefer.) What makes the Embarcadero system unique are the modifications that the
company makes to the equipment, Butch’s automatic control valve, and the service that the company offers.

Except for the control valve, Embarcadero sells equipment manufactured elsewhere. Butch recommends and will
only sell the All-American pressure canner because it is well-engineered and uses a friction seal rather than a rubber
gasket. You can use any canner but once you see an All-American, I guarantee you won’t be satisfied with any

Butch tests and accurizes all the gauges on the canners he sells, “As they come from the factory, 48% are bad. What
I send back to them, they put on canners to be sold elsewhere...” Since the accuracy of the gauge on the canner is
critical to the safe processing of food, this service alone is reason enough to work with Embarcadero. If you already
have a pressure canner, you can send them the gauge on it and for $5.50 they will check it for you.

You can also take it to any place that guarantees traceability to the National Bureau of Standards. Butch fits a 1/8”
close nipple to a 1/8” pipe T on the canner so that you can fit it to a hose that runs to the automatic pressure control
valve, which is attached to the stove.

And when you join the hose on the stove to the propane tank, you not only have a portable stove but the means to
can anywhere- on a boat, on hunting trips, in orchards, and truck gardens. While I was visiting Embarcadero, a
young man came in who travels up and down the Snake River, catching and selling salmon that cans as he goes

Consider for a minute the possibilities that this equipment opens up: ​It gives you the ability to cook and preserve
whatever food you don’t need immediately, wherever you happen to be.
The weakest link in the system is the dependence upon propane, but a five-gallon tank will easily last a year. Before
his five-gallon tank ran out of gas last year, Butch and his family had canned 300 pounds of salmon, 220 of
albacore, and five cases of chicken, crabs, clams, turkey, and quail. You only need propane if you want to use the
pressure control valve; without it you can use any kind of stove- portable or stationary.

This valve, which monitors the gauge on the canner and supplies the right amount of heat when needed, is not
absolutely necessary but it does provide a degree of precision to the cooking process that you will not get otherwise
and it makes your job 100% easier, especially on long “cooks” such as salmon.

You don’t have to worry about the pressure slipping below 16 pounds, for example, because the controller
automatically raises and lowers the heat on the stove so that the correct pressure is maintained, and since you don’t
have to watch the gauge, you are free to do other things while the food is being processed. The night we canned the
salmon on the deck, I left for forty minutes to do chores, and upon returning, found the needle on the gauge pinned
right on 16.

If you can afford it, it seems silly not to spend $125 on this control valve, for in order to kill different organisms in
the food, you must maintain a specific temperature for a certain period of time. As Butch says, “As long as you
don’t fall below the designated temperature and pressure, you’re okay. Temperature and pressure are directly
related… for example, you’re doing salmon at 15 pounds for 90 minutes and you’re 89 into the cooking and the
pressure falls to 14 pounds. What do you do?

My generation says, ah the hell with it. I’ll just pick it up to 16 for another two minutes. That’s your first mistake,
because the organisms mutate so quickly that they can adapt to the thermal process and survive… if you don’t
follow the instructions, you can die. As a precaution, follow the policy of the licensed canners in California and
always go one pound over the mandatory pressure. Do not deviate from the instructions.”

Watching the automatic controller raise and lower the flame on the stove is intriguing but the automatic sealer
provides the real fun and here again, Butch sells equipment available elsewhere but he and his people take every
sealer apart and make certain that each functions properly before they let a customer walk out the door with one.
The day before I visited the cannery, he had removed a dozen warped chucks from sealers fresh from the factory
because a warped chuck makes a sealer useless.

Butch also provides detailed instructions telling you how to check the sealer with feeler gauges in order to
determine if it is set properly. Because I was so afraid that I would not set mine correctly, this seemed the most
difficult part of the procedure to me, but once I relaxed and followed the instructions, it was easy. When you have
the sealer set, you are ready to can. Candy, Steve (my ranch hand, who monopolizes the sealer and never misses an
opportunity to ask attractive females over to look at this amazing equipment), and I took five minutes to fill twelve
cans with cherries, exhaust and seal them, and five more minutes to process them in the canner.

As with any pressure cooker, we did have to wait for the air to be removed from inside and for the pressure on the
gauge to reach five pounds before the actual process began, but we had no sterilizing of jars and lids, no huge pots
of boiling water to contend with, and very little mess.

And because you cool the cans of fruit and vegetables in cold water and Clorox (to kill any organisms in the water
that may find their way into the can, which is not actually sealed until it decompresses), you stop their cooking
immediately and the texture is far superior to that of home-canned produce processed in the conventional way.
Since it is important that you use this equipment correctly, Butch says that he will accept any calls except collect
ones, “I don’t care how silly the questions are, I will answer them and walk the customer through the process.” I
can vouch for this because the day that we did the cherries, we called him five times to make certain that we had the
equipment set up properly.

Not only does this equipment provide a portable, pleasant means of preserving food, but it offers you additional
advantages. As is true with any home-preserved product, you know exactly what you are putting up and you can
tailor the product to suit the tastes of your family, adding garlic to beans and deleting salt, or canning a batch of
your mother’s secret chili recipe, etc. Food canned in tin has greater nutritional value than that canned in glass.

As Butch says, “… take 100 grams of red bell pepper and it has 70,000 units of Vitamin A. You process it in tin,
you lose almost half. You process it in glass jars, you lose almost 90%.” Due to the oxidation that occurs in
dehydrated food, more nutrients are lost in it than in food canned in tin; for example, less Vitamin C is lost in the
canning process than in dehydration. But in order to utilize all the vitamins in canned food, you must eat the entire
contents, liquor and all.

The shelf-life for wet pack tin cans is not as great as that for commercially dehydrated food, although Butch says
that his family is still eating 15 year-old salmon. Shelf-life depends upon storage temperature, which should be 60
degrees Fahrenheit or below. Nothing will keep for any length of time at temperatures above this and I suspect that
part of the reason that people have trouble with spoilage in wet pack cans is that they store their canned goods in or
near the kitchen, where the temperature is normally 70 degrees or above.

Food canned in glass is another matter; for Butch claims that you never get a true seal on a glass jar and that the
only things that you should can this way are high-acid foods which you intend to eat within a year. Shelf-life
becomes less important if you use the Embarcadero system, since you are constantly adding new supplies to your
existing stores, and therefore can rotate your stock.

The taste of food canned by this method is so far superior to that of both commercially prepared wet pack and
dehydrated food that once you’ve tried it, you’ll not want to eat food preserved by these other methods. And the
consistency, particularly that of meat and fish, is very close to that of the original product. The salmon that we
canned, for example, tasted just like fresh-poached and had the same firm texture (and we canned it on our deck
under the shade of a sycamore).

Unlike our salmon and beef, dehydrated meats and fish are merely palatable when properly reconstituted. In fact
protein has always been the weakest part of dehydrated food storage programs. The cheaper ones contain little meat
and an abundance of beans and TVP, and the best, such as SI’s Maxi-Maxi-Plus, offer one serving of meat per day-
sausage and hamburger patties, chicken or turkey diced, diced beef, and beef steak. Moreover, they cost about 35%
more than the fresh product would at the supermarket, and the selection is limited.

Using the Embarcadero equipment, you can take advantage of opportunities to augment your protein supply as they
come along. Why not can the tougher parts of the deer and elk that you shoot this year, or the bass that you catch, or
even that leftover chicken and rice casserole?

If you have a power failure and the meat in your freezer thaws, you can salvage its contents without relying on
Pacific Gas & Electric. You do not have to waste any food and when you preserve it, you are doing so in such a
way that you can eat it six months or six years from now.
The initial cost of the equipment may seem high, but you will more than save that amount in a year if you are
willing to use the equipment, and if you are what Alvin Toffler calls a prosumer. If not, all you will have is another
expensive gadget to stash somewhere. Your savings will increase in direct proportion to the degree that you furnish
your own meat, fish, poultry, and produce.

At our local market, fresh and canned salmon are selling for $3.49 per pound. If you catch your own, a pound will
cost you $.22 for the can plus a few cents for the propane. If you buy the fish and can it, your cost is around $3.75,
but you will have the satisfaction of knowing that the entire contents of the can are useable and won’t crumble into
nothing when you touch them.

And for long-term storage, this is still less expensive than the equivalent amount of dehydrated fish (if my
calculations are correct, about $1.00 per pound cheaper).

You can economize on the equipment by using your present pressure canner and sending its gauge to Butch for
calibration, and you can get along without the pressure control valve for awhile. If you don’t buy the controller, you
can use any portable stove that you have, so you are left with a cost of $159 for the sealer and $7.92 per case of
three dozen cans and lids. If you are planning on buying a canner and think that you can cut costs by purchasing a
brand other than the All-American, you are mistaken- it is actually cheaper than a similar model in the Sears

Don’t forget that the canner and sealer have multiple uses; the canner is a Dutch oven, juicer, water distiller, and
autoclave. Think about all the non-food items you could seal in tin cans for long-term storage- among others, seeds,
medicine, and ammunition (take note, all of you who have written asking how to store ammo). As a tool to use in
bartering, this equipment could prove invaluable. In Butch’s words, “Survival is what are we going to eat next
week… when this thing finally makes the turn… I’m going to start bartering with my food reserves.”

Butch emphasizes the energy savings that accrue when you can seasonally. He does protein, which requires a long
cook, only in the winter and lets the heat from the cooking process warm his house. Except for fish that he cans as
he catches, he puts up no protein in the summer and he cans fruit away from the kitchen so it doesn’t heat up. He
does not think that you should spend time canning an inordinate amount of fruits and vegetables. “Eat fresh
whenever you can. Remember, under stress your body needs more protein. So spend time canning protein.”

I can think of no serious disadvantages to using this equipment. People have questioned me about its safety and it is
true that this is not equipment to be used by the careless or those who cannot read well enough to follow directions.
If you do not follow the instructions to the letter, you could kill yourself or your family- it’s that simple.

For this reason and because cleanliness is equally important for the safe processing of food, Butch is leery of
community canning efforts. I can tell you from experience that too many cooks do indeed spoil the broth. If you
want to work with two or three people, each person should take one job and do only that- one person fills the cans,
another seals them, and another works with the canner.

Never can more than one item at a time, and ​never use the same chopping board to prepare more than one item
without washing it down with Clorox. Do chicken, or beans, or peaches. One bit of chicken getting into your
peaches could mean botulism! ​Never lend your equipment, especially the sealer. In the hands of the inexperienced,
it is easily damaged.
I have also been asked about the safety of the cans and whether or not the sealer gives a true vacuum seal. It does
not. The canning industry has perpetuated the myth that you must have a true vacuum in a can in order to seal it, but
this is not necessary if you exhaust the product (preheat it in the can in order to remove as many of the gases
present as possible before sealing).

The only reason that the canning industry vacuum packs is that all canning is done at sea level and this enables the
cans to be shipped to various altitudes without their bulging.

If you live at an altitude greater than sea level, it is important that you increase the recommended pressure on the
various recipes ¼ pound for every 500 feet of elevation, because temperature is a factor of pressure and temperature
is what kills organisms. Do not worry if you take cans that you processed at sea level on a hike in the mountains
and they bulge; they will decompress when you come back down.

When you purchase your cans, make sure that you order the right can for the product that you want to preserve.
Corn, for example, takes a can with a different interior coating than tomatoes. While it is possible to reuse the cans,
they are so cheap that Butch recommends that you lay in a good supply. “… Out of 15,000 customers, I got one
guy, he’s out in Canada, he gets four uses out of one can. When you figure in the time for your labor to tear that
sealer apart, and put a can opener on it, and re-flange it, it is not worth it.”

The cans are bulky to store and for some this is a problem, but believe me, unless you have to, don’t mess with
reusing them. Further, the can opener is only available on the least practical model of the sealer. Although you can
reuse glass jars, they take up as much, if not more, space, and are heavier and subject to breakage.

As I mentioned earlier, the dependence on propane is the only flaw that I see in the Embarcadero system, but this
can be overcome by keeping a spare five-gallon tank or two on hand, or better yet, having access to a large storage
tank. A five-gallon tank will last you approximately 80 hours and will keep for four or five years, if stored properly.

And remember, you only need propane if you want to utilize the automatic control valve. Soon, Butch will have one
perfected that will work on an alcohol-burning stove. At present, the best solution to the fuel problem is to save
your propane for long cooks, when the controller is critical for safe processing, and to use other sources of heat for
short cooks.

If you want to be a prosumer, the Embarcadero system opens up a wealth of opportunities to you in the area of food
and other kinds of storage. As Butch says, “… the people that have a little initiative, and want to seek out the
technology, it is available so that they can do their preservation themselves.”

I am not recommending that you throw away your dehydrated food or that some shouldn’t be a part of your
long-term storage program (milk, for example). What I am saying is that this equipment offers you a way to
supplement and reduce the costs of your food supply now in a delicious fashion and, under crisis conditions, gives
you a way to replenish your stores for an indefinite period.

If you want a catalog from Embarcadero, send a SASE to Embarcadero Home Cannery, 2026 Livingston St.,
Oakland, CA 94606, and mention that you are a PS Letter subscriber. Do not bother Butch by phone until you need
help setting up your equipment.
Auxiliary Stoves
By Janet Groene

Editor’s note: Purchasing the Embarcadero canning equipment rekindled an interest that Mel and I had in portable
stoves (prompted by our having to use one the first three months that we lived here). We were, of course, looking
for the “perfect” stove, but soon realized that no one type could be suitable for all occasions, nor is one kind of fuel
superior in an absolute sense to any other.

To answer some of my questions, and hopefully yours, I asked Janet Groene to write an article detailing the pros
and cons of the various fuels and types of stoves. In a forthcoming issue, Bruce Clayton will evaluate specific
brands in a n article on lighting, heating, and stoves.

Janet and her husband Gordon lived on their sailboat, without refrigeration, oven, electricity, or shower, for ten
years. Janet’s book for cooking stored foods without using refrigerator, oven, or other appliances is “Cooking on
the Go”. PS Letter price is $12.66 ppd. From Botebooks, Box 248, DeLeon Springs, FL 32028. Retail price is
$13.95 plus $1.50 postage.

It has finally happened and the time is here for you to bring out the emergency supplies you have been storing over
the years. The electricity is off, of course, and if the gas lines are still supplying you with natural gas, they won’t be
much longer. If you have a tank of propane, you won’t be able to get more when this is gone.

Even if you have a wood stove, you can’t count on a lifetime of free wood in many areas of the country. In some
places, fuel-starved city people are already raiding timberlands, and supplies will get scarcer as the
socio-political-economic situation gets worse. If you think of wood as a resource that replenishes itself indefinitely,
keep in mind that England ran out of trees hundreds of years ago, in the days of King John. (That’s when they
discovered and began using peat as fuel.)

Chances are, any emergency stove you have now is fine for making a cup of soup or warming up a meal of canned
foods when the power lines go down in a storm. But for long-term, serious, safe, and heavy use, we all need an
auxiliary cookstove which will provide a cheap, hot flame from a fuel we can readily supply over the long haul.

When the emergency comes, you’ll need a hot stove fast because canning is the quickest, surest, and safest way to
preserve all the frozen meats and vegetables in your freezer. I always keep on hand a good supply of empty canning
jars, pickling salt, vinegar, and sugar against the day the freezer quits.

During the years that we lived aboard a small sailboat, and in the years since then that we’ve traveled in boats and
campers of all kinds, I’ve had the opportunity to live with many different types of stoves day in, day out. On our
own boat, we had no oven and yet I baked all our breads and pastries, did a lot of canning, and heated all our bath
water, on a gallon of kerosene per month.

In our home today, we have a propane stove with a 250-gallon tank, an electric burner, a microwave oven, Sterno, a
charcoal kettle grill, and a one-burner Coleman gasoline camp stove. Still, I plan to buy one more stove, a kerosene
Optimus/Primus. Let’s talk about the choices.
Many homes today have both electric and wood/coal stoves. In country homes, kerosene wick stoves are sometimes
used during the summer months when a wood fire is unwelcome. I recommend that each home have at least two
cookers, one of them a portable stove in case you have to set up your kitchen elsewhere.

Among the best places to stop for auxiliary stoves are marine stores and camp suppliers. Companies such as
Coleman and Optimus/Primus have years of experience in making safe, efficient stoves which, while most of us use
them for camping and boating, are used daily in Third World countries.

Optimus/Primus-type stoves are used summers in European kitchens, after the wood fire is put out. If you stick to
the popular, internationally-known brands you can get spare parts anywhere.

Depending on your own situation, choose one or more of the following as an emergency stove.


For: This is one of the most popular stoves for boat use because alcohol flames can be put out with water. It is
easily kindled, burns with a steady blue flame, and alcohol stoves and parts are easily found in boating areas. Better
brands are sturdily built, often of stainless steel, for long-term use even in a salt water atmosphere. This is an ideal
stove for indoor use, providing you have adequate ventilation.

Against: This is one of the most costly fuels per gallon, per BTU, and per hour. Because the flame has so little heat,
compared to kerosene or gasoline, it will take up to twice as long to cook every meal. The fumes are irritating to
many people. The fuel may be impossible to obtain in hard times, but an alcohol stove merits consideration by
those survivalists who are making their own alcohol fuels.


For: A hot, economical, practical fuel and its use is familiar to most of us. Like all flame fuels, this one should be
used with adequate ventilation but it is commonly used in homes, boats, recreational vehicles, and small shelters.
For now, the fuel is readily available in a variety of ways ranging from home delivery to a buried tank, to small,
portable cylinders. A 20-pound cylinder lasts us 2-3 weeks when used lavishly for baking, refrigeration, and heating
water. Supplies go faster when used for heating, but could be made to stretch far longer through conservative use.

Against: This may be a difficult fuel to obtain in turbulent times. It is heavier than air, which means leaks “pool”
into explosive pockets. In ordinary home or RV use, leaks can usually drain overboard, but this fuel should be used
with caution in boats (where it can collect in the bilges) or in underground shelters (where it will seek the lowest
point). Small cylinders, while practical for short-term use, are very expensive for long-term use.


For: These handy little cans are easy to light and use. The stoves are pocket portable and cheap to buy.

Against: To many people, the fumes are unpleasant. The heat is paltry on a per-dollar basis. Supplies dry up in
difficult times, such as hurricane season in Florida.

There are several types of kerosene/oil/diesel cookers. Familiar to most people is the kerosene wick burner, which
has been used in country kitchens for years. While this is one type of stove to consider, it is a dirty, smelly stove
which is not easily transported.

There is also the diesel pot burner-type stove, which requires some electrical source (12, 24, 32-volt) and a good
chimney. However, the most practical stove for emergency use is, I feel, the pressure stove made by marine
manufacturers such as Kenyon and Optimus. In such stoves, kerosene is delivered under pressure to a preheated
generator, where it turns to gas. It now burns with a hot, clean, blue flame.

For: Kerosene is readily available and can be stored fairly safely because of its high flash point. Most of these
stoves can also be used with diesel fuel. Parts are found readily today. The stove is fairly portable, and marine
models are made sturdily for long, hard use under the worst conditions. A hot, efficient, economical cooker that
makes a quart of fuel go a long, long way.

Against: These stoves can soot up badly, especially if they are not properly preheated or if you try to use too low a
flame. They need draft-free conditions but should, like any fossil fuels, be used with adequate ventilation. With
diesel fuel especially, pressure kero stoves should be run at full blast, requiring the use of a flame-tamer for slower
cooking. Some models must be preheated with a different fuel such as propane or alcohol, so shop for a
self-priming model.


For: Wood will be available free for most of us over the short term, and perhaps forever. The fire is pleasant,
steady, and provides a good baking heat. The warm area around the stove can be used for drying clothes and food,
and for warming the room. Stoves and supplies for them are readily available, require little maintenance, and are
economically priced.

Against: Not portable; fuel could become difficult to obtain in your neighborhood. Cooking is slow when you’re in
a hurry; kindling can be tricky; temperatures are difficult to regulate. Smoke can be spotted for miles. Draft can be
difficult, so the stove should be elaborately vented. If stowage space is limited, wood has a low BTU/cubic foot
value or, if you purchase fuel, per dollar. This stove will be unpleasant to use during heat waves and, like all flame
fuels, depletes oxygen and puts moisture into the air.


For: This fuel is easily found now, and is compactly stored. Kettle-type charcoal grills can be used for baking as
well as for grilling. The cookers are portable and cheap.

Against: The fumes are so dangerous that charcoal should never be used indoors. Fuel supplies may be limited in a
survival situation. It has a low BTU rating, and is hard to kindle and regulate. Cooking applications are limited and
cookers are likely to rust out within a few years or less.

For: Free, inexhaustible fuel. Compact

Against: While gimmicky solar cookers come along form time to time, and are good for some items, solar cooking
is not yet a serious survival alternative.


For: Camp Stoves with a long history of safety and reliability are easily found in local hardware and discount
stores. Parts are also found readily. Gasoline is a hot, quick fuel which can be easily obtained now and stored for a
year or more (although the Coleman Company advises that stores be rotated).

White gas is an inexpensive fuel. Coleman fuel costs a bit more, but is said to be better formulated for the purpose.
These stoves are highly portable.

Against: Painted steel will rust in time (although our Coleman stove is ten years old and saw service at sea).Like
any flame fuel, gasoline should be used with caution and in a well ventilated area. Gasoline will probably be
difficult to obtain in hard times.

Where to Shop For a Survival Stove

First check local camping suppliers and marine stores.

Kenyon, P.O. Box 308, Guilford, CT 06437

Optimus, 12423 E. Florence, Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670

Shipmate Stove Div., Richmond Ring Co., Souderton PA 18964

Washington Stove Works, Box 687, Everett, WA 98201

Galley Maid, Box 10417, Riviera Beach, FL 33404

August Enders, P.O. Box 8120, D5880 Lüdenscheid 8, Germany

E.J. Willis, Park Ave., Middleville, NY 13406

Letters from the Editor
In September the first issue of Bob Brown’s ​Survive will be on the newsstand. Many of its authors are on our staff
and I highly recommend that you subscribe to the magazine and give gift subscriptions to those whom you’d like to
interest in long-term survival.

Survive is geared to the mass market and, for that reason, it will contain more general interest information than that
found in PS Letter and it will deal with various aspects of short as well as long-term survival, featuring articles on
such topics as the way the Mormon Church teaches its members to prepare, urban survival, survival schools,
whitewater survival, home protection, and backpacking equipment. From what I have seen, it should complement
rather than compete with PS Letter.

I know from listening to discussions between Bob and Mel that Bob is genuinely concerned about the sorry state of
affairs in this country and that he conceives of ​Survive as a tool to help people prepare for an uncertain future.
Survive will be published bi-monthly, 6 issues for $12. 12 issues for $22. The subscription address is P.O. Box 49,
Englewood, CO 80151.

Body Armor for the Survivalist

By Bob Taylor

Editor’s Note: Many of you have requested information on body armor and we are finally able to help you. Several
months ago, I asked Bob Taylor (see PS Letter No. 18) to contact Richard Davis, the inventor and owner of Second
Chance, which, in Mel’s opinion was the only body armor worth having, and see if he could arrange both to review
the equipment and to work out a way for PS Letter subscribers to purchase it. Since Second Chance is normally
only sold to police and the military, Bob had to do considerable talking, but finally convinced Mr. Davis that
survivalists do not pose any threat to police.

If you decide that you need body armor, you may order Second Chance vests from The Cop Shop, 25807 Ferguson
Road, Junction City, OR 97448, Attention: Ron Plumlee. Phone: 503-998-6945. Specify that you are a PS Letter
subscriber and include your UPS shipping address. The shipping charges will be COD. Mr. Plumlee says that he
will be happy to answer any of your questions by phone.

Please do not abuse this offer. Only order vests for yourself and your immediate family, and if you decide to sell
yours, do not advertise that you are doing so. N.T.

“For the first time in 400 years, the common foot soldier can be equipped with a practical body armor, which will
stop the standard weapons of the opposing force.” From the Second Chance Body Armor brochure.

When we think of body armor, the first image that comes to mind is of a medieval knight in full battle regalia.
Many of us also remember using or seeing the Vietnam-era flak jacket.
Neither of these two types of armor was totally effective. Many a knight was felled by a crossbow bolt or sword.
The flak jacket was not designed to stop the AK-47 (7.62x39mm) bullet and failed to do so even on an angular hit,
and it only worked “sometimes” on shrapnel from fragmentation grenades and RPG’s.

Modern bulletproof vests fall into two distinct categories: concealable vests designed to stop handgun cartridges
and those designed to stop high-powered rifle cartridges. Concealable vests are usually worn by police officers and
other professionals under their uniform shirts.

These have little practical use for the survivalist, for it is doubtful that anyone would attack a retreat armed solely
with a handgun, which is not an offensive weapon. And if an assailant did so, you could make two assumptions-
that he was not playing with a full deck, and/or that he was unskilled and ill-equipped, On the other hand, a skilled
or even unskilled person equipped with a rifle could pose a major threat.

In the second category of armor- that intended to stop high-powered rifle cartridges and the one that is of interest to
the survivalist- there are two distinct types. Ceramics, which we will refer to as the first generation, consist of
special ceramic material bonded to a thin sheet of steel.

The drawback of this system is that the ceramic, which is the intended bullet stopper, shatters with the first or
second round, leaving little or no protection for the third, fourth, and fifth rounds. The proponents of ceramics
emphasize that it is lighter in weight than steel, but, in fact, there is usually only a difference of 10% or less- one or
two pounds.

Second generation armor, like the Second Chance Hardcorps, is constructed of ballistic steel, heat-treated, along
with ballistic nylon and Kevlar. Unlike ceramic, the Hardcorps plates do not shatter, and can take multiple hits
without losing effectiveness. The Hardcorps will stop virtually all rifle cartridges, except possibly the .577 and .600
Nitro Express.

Second Chance’s president and inventor, Richard C. Davis, pioneered concealable body armor in the early
seventies, only to be copied by a large group of imitators, and the same has been true for the Hardcorps series. In
my opinion, and that of many other professionals, there is no equal to Second Chance; and H.P. White and other
independent testing laboratories confirm this belief.

The Hardcorps vest consists of four layers of bullet-resistant materials which, together, achieve the desired effect.
These layers are held in a tough, durable carrier constructed of Zepal-treated urethane-backed Cordura fabric, and
utilize velcro fasteners to hold the elastic straps in place, making the Hardcorps adjustable in size so that it can fit
most people.

The outermost protective layer is the K47 (.19” thick) insert, which is made of a special heat-treated ballistic steel,
bonded to ten layers of ballistic nylon by a fiberglass-type resin. The K47 plate also has two layers of Kevlar and is
covered with the same cordura material as the carrier.

Behind the K47 is the K30 (.10”) insert, which is simply a thinner heat-treated ballistic steel insert without a
backing and the final protective layer is a ballistic pad, identical to the concealable Second Chance vest, that is
constructed of Kevlar.

All of the standard Hardcorps vests come with front protection for high-powered rifle fire, and back protection for
handgun shots and buckshot. Optional back protection can be added for rifle fire, if desired.
To test the Hardcorps 2 vest, the least expensive one, I taped it to a large stack of phone books in order to simulate a
body inside the vest. I utilized the most popular cartridges currently available in the US: .30-30, .30-06, 7.62 (.308),
and .223. (These are also the ones most likely to be encountered in a survival situation.) I also included .30-06 and
7.62 (.308) armor piercing, along with the .375 H&H Magnum 300 gr. FMC.

Starting at the bottom of the scale, I fired the .30-30 out of a Marlin 336 lever-action rifle at fifteen feet and
achieved almost no penetration, barely damaging the K47 insert. Both the 150 and 170 gr. soft points simply
splattered. The Mini-14 was the next piece that I tested, using military ball, firing two shots at fifteen feet, placing
the bullets ½”, center-to-center, apart. Neither exited the ballistic nylon on the back of the K47 insert.

Using the HK-91 and M1 Garand, I then tested the impact of the 7.62 and .30-06 military ball. The bullets were
caught between the K47 and the K30 inserts, leaving a slight dent in the K30 insert. Expending four rounds of my
precious armor piercing ammo with the same weapons, I achieved penetration through both inserts, only to have the
fragments catch in the Kevlar ballistic pad behind the inserts. All of the .30 tests were conducted at fifteen feet.

Being an advocate of the .375 H&H Magnum -because of its high penetration capability when using the 300 gr.
FMC (full metal case)- I fired two rounds from fifteen yards into the vest which made an exit hole of approximately
1 ½” into the K30 insert, but which was caught in the Kevlar pad behind it. The phone book had a one-inch

Many people who have heard of ​blunt trauma would have you believe that this much impact would kill the wearer
of a vest. Further testing showed that the impact of the .375 was less damaging to the phone book than that of a .357
158 gr. soft point fired at point blank range into the Kevlar pad alone, from a 4” S&W Model 28.

Second Chance has on file, numerous accounts crediting the concealable vest with saves from close range shots
with .41 and .44 Magnums. The ​blunt trauma in these cases amounted to a nasty bruise and soreness, with ​no
internal injuries. If hit with a .375 H&H, you probably wouldn’t want to go square dancing that evening, but you
would be alive to observe the dance- if you were wearing a Hardcorps vest.

The above tests were done under optimum conditions at close range. All of the hits on the vest were perpendicular
or 90-degree hits. Second chance has an old saying, “there isn’t a bullet that can’t be stopped or a vest that can’t be

I decided to find out what would cause the vest to fail. I placed five .308 bullets in a less than one-inch circle, at
five yards. The first three rounds pulverized the K47 insert but did not penetrate the K30. The last two had clean
entry into the K30 plate and went through the ballistic pad, into the phone books. It appears that as long as the
bullet strikes any part of the K47 insert’s steel plate, the .30 will be stopped.

Being more realistic, I placed the vest at a fifteen degree angle, and fired six .223’s at fifteen feet. None penetrated
the front of the K47 insert. I then did the same with .308’s. Only two managed to penetrate the K47 insert but did
not even dent the K30 insert. At 200 yards there was no penetration from either weapon, when there was an angular
For those who already have their survival battery, ammunition, and food and water stored, the Second Chance
Hardcorps vest could be a definite asset. This is especially true if you haven’t yet been able to retreat to a safe area
and live in or near a large metropolitan area, where the probability of an armed confrontation is more likely.

The only drawback that many people can conceivably justify is the weight and bulk factor. If 14 to 30.5 pounds of
additional weight on your body bothers you more than a gaping chest wound, then I will concede to this way of

A friend who was fighting in Rhodesia before the Communist takeover, wore a Hardcorps 3 in the field, and even
though the weight slowed him down when “the ship hit the sand,” so to speak, he said that it was very comforting
to know that he was “immune” to a torso hit. Before he left, the men in his unit fought over who was going to buy
the vest.

A number of people, after viewing the vest, have told me that if they saw that the person whom they intended to
shoot was wearing body armor, then they would simply aim for the head. So they concluded that the armor is
almost useless.

It is obvious that these people have never been in a firefight. Shooting someone in the head that is moving and
shooting back at you involves more luck than skill for 99% of the population.

Currently there are three models of the Hardcorps available. While all three offer the same protection from
high-powered rifle fire, the difference is in area coverage and, of course, price.

The Hardcorps 2, which is the economy model, offers the user a Model “X” ballistic pad, the final protective layer,
while the Hardcorps 3 and 4 utilize a model “Y” type. The Model “X” pad ​will not stop certain .357, 9mm, and .44
Magnum rounds from longer barrels without the K47-30 inserts being in place, but the Model “Y” ​will​. These
ballistic pads are 15” x 12 ½” for both front and rear.

The shoulder straps also offer protection from pistol fire and shrapnel, and are designed for comfort. They do an
excellent job of distributing the weight of the vest and do not dig into the shoulders and fatigue the wearer.

Frontal protection from high-powered rifle fire in the Hardcorps 2 consists of a 9” x 12” K47 insert, with upper lip
to protect the face and throat from bullet fragments, with the K30 insert behind it.

An optional set of K47 and K30 inserts could be added for rear rifle protection if desired. Another option, which I
would prefer, is the K30 rear flexible insert rather than the K47-30, which makes the vest uncomfortable. The K30
flexible will not stop a .308 or .223, but in all probability you will be facing the enemy.

Using the K30 flexible insert does not affect comfort, and increases the rear protection to include .30 Carbine, .357
and .44 Magnum rifle, along with 12 gauge slugs at one meter, as well as all pistol cartridges, including metal
piercing KTW’s. The Hardcorps 3 and Hardcorps 4 come with two 2” x 6” x 10” side pockets for equipment and
magazine storage but this is not an option with the Hardcorps 2.

I found that using surplus ammo pouches with the new style keepers (see “Web Gear” by Bill Henry- PS Letter
Issue No. 18) works satisfactorily without any need for modification to either the vest or pouches, and enables me
to keep the vest and four to six loaded magazines readily available for emergencies.
The price of the standard Hardcorps 2 is $214.00, with a total weight of fourteen pounds. Optional K47-30 inserts
are available for $122.00 and weigh eleven pounds, combined. The K30 flexible weighs only five pounds and
retails for $23.00.

The Hardcorps 3, which is ​the recommended model, if price is not a factor, is the most popular among the military
and police. It offers excellent area coverage at a moderate cost. The Model “Y” ballistic pad is used and provides 12
½” rear protection. Frontal rifle protection is approximately 12” x 17 ½” and is achieved by one 6” x 9” K47-30
insert with an upper lip for fragmentation protection, and two 6” x 12” K47-30 inserts that overlap approximately

Which, on most adults, gives the Hardcorps 3 the flexibility needed in a vest this size. This coverage extends below
the beltline, offering protection to the groin and pelvic area.

It utilizes the same protective shoulder straps as the Hardcorps 2, and can also accept the 9” x 12” K30 insert,
which would be my recommendation. As mentioned earlier, the Hardcorps 3 has two 2” x 6” x 10” side pockets that
are standard equipment.

The Hardcorps 3 list price is $485.00 and the standard vest weighs 24 pounds. The optional 9” x 12” K47-30 insert
is $122.00 and weighs eleven pounds. The 9” x 12” K30 flexible insert weighs just five pounds and sells for $23.00.

The Hardcorps 4 is designed to provide maximum coverage for an attack force. It includes, as standard equipment,
a 6” x 17” x 15” removable backpack, with a quick-release shoulder system, and also features the same
2” x 6” x 10” side pockets as the Hardcorps 3.

The Model “Y” ballistic pad is also used with a 15” x 17” front and 15” x 12 ½” back. The frontal rifle protection is
approximately 12” x 23” using a four-plate system of one 6” x 9” K47-30 with the lip splashguard on top, two 6” x
12” K47-30 middle plates, and one 6” x 9” K47-30 without the lip on bottom.

Unlike the Hardcorps 2 and 3, the optional back protection can be varied. The Hardcorps 4 has three pockets that
accept the 6” x 12” K47 and 6” x 12” K30 plates. The standard Hardcorps 4 weighs 30.5 pounds and retails for
$740.00. The optional K47-30 inserts weigh 7.04 pounds and retail for $69.00 each.

I recommend that anyone who is serious about his survival planning purchase a vest for as many members of his
family or group as is financially feasible.

* Kevlar is a registered trademark of Dupont.

** Hardcorps is a registered trademark of Second Chance.
Evaluating Retreat Property

Conclusion: Evaluating the House and Outbuildings

An Interview with Bob McQuain

Q: How do you evaluate a house?

A: Before you begin, throw out all of your preconceived notions about what your “retreat” ought to look like.
Invariably, people are disappointed in the ordinary looking farmhouses that exist around here; either they expect to
see underground homes, domes, or concrete bunkers built in the sides of hills, or they want exactly what they had in
the city or suburbs- a two-story Colonial or a New England saltbox.

Many forget that, for security purposes, the last thing you want is for your house to be conspicuous- it should blend
into the area. A Spanish adobe, for example, would be totally out of place here, but is very appropriate for the
Southwest. If you want an unconventional home, say an underground one, you will probably have to build it since
rural areas are not noted for daring experiments in architecture.

Incidentally, don’t make the mistake of dismissing some of these newer kinds of housing just because they are
different. They can be less expensive than more conventional structures and, properly designed, can blend
gracefully into their surroundings, as well as provide energy efficiency and security.

But to get back to your question. When you begin to evaluate an existing house, look at how it is situated on the
land in terms of security and seclusion, what its exposure is, where your neighbors are in relation to the house, and
how accessible it is. As I said earlier, every buyer has a unique set of requirements, so it is difficult to get specific in
this regard.

Architectural soundness is far more important than are cosmetic factors and you need to go through every inch of
the place, looking for structural defects. Start with the foundation. If there are major cracks in it, you should
determine their cause.

Next, look at either the crawl space under the house or the basement (every dwelling should have one or the other),
checking for any signs of water seepage and examining the earth to wood contact points for any indication of
termite or dry rat. In the basement, an excellent place, by the way, to get a feel for the structure of a house, see how
much dampness there is, whether or not it has a sump pump, and how good the ventilation is.

Termites are not normally a problem here, but in older homes they can be. Obviously, their presence depends on the
particular region of the country that you are investigating, but remember that wherever you have earth-to-wood
contact, you are going to have some kind of infestation, dry rot, or decay.

If you buy an older building, even in an area where termite inspections are not a normal procedure, I would
recommend that you have the structure examined by a licensed inspector and make the purchase of the property
conditional upon his findings. You can have some unpleasant surprises if you don’t- I know of one couple here who
did not have their house inspected before they bought it four years ago and they have just found out that they have
severe dry rot to the tune of $15,000.

Take a good look at the exterior walls and if you see a patch, find out what it is hiding. Maybe the damage is not
excessive but you certainly need to determine this before you buy the property. I’ve seen people bring an ice pick
with them and stick a small hole in any part of the exterior that looks suspicious- if the wall is rotten in any way,
that pick goes through it as if it were a stick of butter.
Look at the roof as best you can and pay particular attention to the roof line. A sagging one can mean that the roof
is improperly supported and curling edges on a composite roof are an indication of age. Check the condition of the
gutters and look for evidence of improper drainage, such as water collecting around the foundation.

In the house proper, start with the floors, especially those in the kitchen and bathrooms, paying special attention to
the areas around the sinks, tubs, toilets, and showers. If you see signs of any leakage, you need to check further for
dry rot. Replacing flooring can be extremely expensive. Make certain that the interior walls are dry and if they have
cracks or stains, find out what’s causing them.

Stains don’t always indicate a current problem, but that one did exist at some time. You simply need to determine
whether or not it has been corrected. Often, evidence of moisture is also indicative of poor ventilation. Many
people, in order to cut down on heating costs, will close every opening in their house from attic to basement, and
the result is a moisture build-up that can cause serious damage, so see if the attic and basement or crawlspace are
properly vented.

Another advantage to having a termite inspection is that the inspectors will check for vents and, if there are not
enough, mark where they should be.

Check the condition and fit of the windows, window frames, weather stripping, and screens. It is interesting that
houses are now being built with smaller windows for the same reason that older homes were. Although smaller
windows may keep less light from coming in, they make a house more energy-efficient. As, you know, the heat loss
from large panes of glass is extreme.

Q: We learned that the hard way- they are also a security risk. What should you look for in the area of

A: You may want the local power company to come out and do an energy audit on the house for you- The cost is
nominal. You can also request a readout listing the monthly charges to the house for the past year. I’ve found the
local people here to be very knowledgeable about alternate energy sources and quite willing to suggest ways to help
the customer conserve, be it by using wood, solar, or whatever.

Insulation, or the lack of it, probably makes more difference than any other factor in the energy efficiency of a
house, so you need to examine the attic and the space between the exterior and interior walls. A good method of
checking for wall insulation is to remove a base plate and poke around for the insulation through the hole around
the plug.

When you are checking the crawlspace, look up to see if there is insulation under the floor and down to see if there
is a vapor barrier on the ground. If you are not an expert on the subject, get someone who is to help you. Just
because you see insulation does not mean that it is any good. If the house is not insulated, get an estimate for
installing it.

If you are looking at property during a hot spell and air conditioning is on in the house, find out how expensive it is
to run and how often it is in use. It may be that the house is designed all wrong and holds heat like an oven, an
important consideration for anyone contemplating living without air conditioning. Make certain that the
cross-ventilation is good too.
You should also spend a few dollars and have a competent electrician go over the wiring if the house is an older
one. Many times the wiring is jury-rigged and is neither safe nor capable of handling the load placed on it. I
remember Mel telling me that your electrician found a hot wire dangling around a pole out by your barn. And treat
the plumbing in an older house just like you do the wiring- check it out very carefully.

A look at the plumbing fixtures will tell you how old they are; flushing the commodes and turning on the faucets
may tell you how good the water pressure is. If it is poor, the cause is either clogged pipes, an inadequate pump, or
a poor well.

Another advantage to having a termite inspection is that it will turn up any damage from old plumbing leaks and
any new ones. Water heaters have a way of failing right after a buyer moves in -yours did as I recall- so look
carefully at those in the house. If you can afford it, a passive solar system for heating water makes a lot of sense to
me, for it is one of the few practical ways for the average house to utilize solar energy, and in the long run it will
save you money.

Q: What about specific rooms in the house?

A: It seems to me that most people underestimate the importance of the kitchen. They will find an older house that
they love and think that they can get by with a small, outdated one or that they will remodel one day. Men are
particularly willing to sacrifice the size of the kitchen or the entire house for a huge barn or shop, forgetting that
their families must work in it, and not realizing the expense involved in remodeling one.

If appliances come with the kitchen, take down their brand names and serial numbers, and specify in the purchase
agreement that they go with the house. A good realtor will help you do this. Don’t think that I am paranoid. I’ve
known of more than one seller who has replaced stoves and refrigerators with cheaper look-alikes after he signed
the escrow agreement.

In order to avoid the possibility of later misunderstandings, it is also a good idea to have the seller or his agent list
in writing everything that stays with the house- which light fixtures, drapes, etc. Go through each room carefully,
taking a flashlight with you for peering into dark corners and closets.

Make sure that the stairways and balconies are stable, and that the closets are large enough (older houses have very
few, by the way, and they are usually quite small). Examine any porches and decks for dry rot and see, if they are
an integral part of the house, if they were tacked on as an afterthought.

Q: What about outbuildings?

A: If you are going to have animals and equipment, you will need outbuildings (barns or sheds), but they don’t have
to be picture-postcard perfect. The important thing is that they be functional, i.e., they should be dry, provide plenty
of storage and workspace, and, if you want animals, be free from cold drafts. Many of the homesteading books can
help in this regard.
Q: In closing, have you any final words of advice?

A: Just remember that you will never find the perfect property, and that if you try to do so, you will end up doing
nothing. If you think that it’s important for you and your family to relocate, decide which criteria are most
important to you and if you have to sacrifice items 6 and 9 on your list in order to get 1 through 5, so be it. You
must be willing to compromise.

Editor’s Note: If you have any further questions for Bob McQuain, you can reach him at McQuain & Co., 122 N.E.
Savage, Grants Pass, OR, 97526. Telephone: 503-479-8686.

Bob’s Notes on Relocating to His Retreat Area

At the close of our interview, Bob talked about the hard and humorous truths that he had to face about himself after
relocating. His experiences are so representative that I have decided to share them with you. N.T.

When I first came here, I imagined myself clothed in a heavy Pendleton jacket and wearing a beard, chopping
wood, cutting trees, keeping the grounds cleaned up, hunting, and fishing. While still in the city, I had fantasized
about building my own house, and after coming here, I even dreamed of getting a pick-up truck and having a
mobile workshop (an excellent idea, by the way, for the right person).

I bought saws, drills, ladders. Extension cords, etc., and could see myself driving up to a house, say an older
couple’s, and making any needed repairs right on the spot. The only thing that I didn’t consider was that I hate
doing that kind of thing, and when it got down to the nitty gritty, I had to admit, “I don’t know how to do that type
of work.”

I had visions of a big woodworking shop in my garage -I’ve never met a man who didn’t have the same dream- but
I can’t cut a straight line. I tried to build a shadow box one time and I still keep it to remind me never to try
woodworking again. I even took a class in woodworking and the instructor told me, “Bob, do yourself a favor and
never do this again.”

When I lived in Southern California, I raised chickens and goats and horses and bees, wanting to know if I could. I
helped deliver baby goats, shod horses, trimmed their hooves, gathered honey, and gardened- and as soon as I knew
I could do these things, I couldn’t wait to stop doing them. Why I thought that I would find these back-to-nature
activities more enjoyable once I moved to Oregon, I don’t know.

It finally occurred to me that I was not cut out to be a master builder or a gentleman farmer. I knew that I could use
the skills that I had learned if I had to but I didn’t want to support my family in the present doing what I neither
enjoyed, nor did very well.

I tried a number of jobs -for awhile I cleaned chimneys- but gradually I found myself drifting back to doing the
same things that I had done in Los Angeles. I started to think about putting together a newspaper, or a graphic arts
center, or producing documentaries. It dawned on me that I should not feel guilty about using the talents that I had
even though they weren’t the typical macho survival skills.
I was so prepared for the changes in society that I know are going to happen, that I wasn’t prepared to live in the
present using my particular gifts. I spent a lot of time waiting for the crash instead of simply seeing the need to be
prepared and then going on with my life.

I had one friend who made elaborate survival preparations and spent so much time waiting for the crunch that hre
finally reached the point that if a group had come along determined to trigger a collapse, he would have joined and
supported it so that he could justify all of his preparations. I’m afraid that there are more than a few people like him.

You don’t stop living while waiting to survive, but I see a lot of people who come up here and do just that. Right
now, they are tapping their feet in boredom, saying, “Now, when’s it going to hit?” They’ve become so involved in
survival that they overlook everyday living and forget about incorporating their unique talents into their new

Survival Gunsmithing- Smith & Wesson Revolvers

By J.B. Wood

The Smith & Wesson revolvers on our list can be considered as a group, with a slight variation in parts
requirements for the small-frame guns. For those who may not be familiar with the frame-size designations, the
N-frame is the largest, and typical examples would be the Model 27, Model 28, or Model 29; the medium-frame K
models include the Model 19; and the Model 36 is representative of the small J-frame. In basic mechanical detail,
the K- and N-frame guns are the same, so let’s cover these first.

As with all high-quality guns, you can expect long and trouble-free service from any Smith & Wesson. There are no
chronic ailments. Long use of heavy loads in both the Magnums and the small-frame guns will frequently tend to
loosen some of the screws, and all of them should be checked after extended firing.

Another item to check for loosening is the ejector rod, and it should be noted that on guns made after 1960, the
ejector rod has a reverse thread, and is tightened ​counter-clockwise (front view). The guns having this feature are
marked “I” after the model number. This change was made so the normal rotation of the cylinder would tend to
tighten the ejector rod.

A basic spare parts list for the K- and N-frame Smith & Wessons should include the following: hammer spring,
hammer nose, hammer nose rivet, hammer nose spring, cylinder stop, cylinder stop spring, grips, and grip screw.

The leaf-type S&W hammer springs are remarkably durable, but as a class, springs of this type are more likely to
eventually break than the helical coil type. If your Smith & Wessons include more than one model, it’s worth
noting that the same mainspring is interchangeable through all of the K- and N-frame guns. The firing pin, called
the “hammer nose” by the factory, is subject to impact crystallization after long use, especially if the gun is often

The firing pin is mounted in the hammer by a cross-pin, and the ends of the pin are expanded (riveted) into coned
areas on each side of the hammer. When the pin is driven out to replace a broken firing pin, the riveted end on one
side may shear off, and the replacement “hammer nose rivet” is included in the basic kit for this reason. The small
positioning spring is included in the basic kit for this reason. The small positioning spring is on the basic list in case
of loss.
Of all the parts in any revolver, the cylinder stop is under the most stress, both from wear and from repeated impact.
The stop will rarely break, but after years of use it may wear enough to need a replacement. The cylinder stop
spring is a coil, and will probably never break, but it may take a “set” in time and weaken.

There is also the possibility that it may be lost during complete takedown. Smith & Wesson grips are of good
quality wood, but are not immune to breakage in survival conditions. If custom grips have been added, save the
originals as a spare set. Be sure to keep the original grip screw, as the custom screw may not fit the S&W grips.

Repeating the items from the basic group, here is the comprehensive spare parts list: hammer spring, hammer nose,
hammer nose rivet, hammer nose spring, cylinder stop, cylinder stop spring, grips, grip screw, cylinder hand,
cylinder hand spring, center pin spring, thumbpiece, thumbpiece nut, and rear sight.

Both the ratchet and the cylinder hand are subject to eventual wear, but the ejector/ratchet piece is not normally
available to non-gunsmiths, as it requires fitting that may be beyond the capabilities of the amateur. However, any
new cylinder hand will have slightly more length than the one in the gun, and this will compensate for ratchet wear.

The torsion-type cylinder hand spring is included in case of age-weakening. The center pin spring is listed for the
same reason, and its function is especially important, as it locks the cylinder and crane assembly into the frame.

The thumbpiece and its slotted cap nut are included in case of lose, as the nut may loosen because of recoil, as
mentioned earlier in regard to the screws and ejector rod. Some gunsmiths suggest a drop of Loctite on the screw
threads, and I agree that this will really anchor them.

If the gun has to be taken apart, though, this will make it very difficult, and I can think of several survival situations
in which this would be a liability. I’d rather recommend that the screws, the thumbpiece cap nut, and the ejector rod
be tightened snugly and checked frequently.

If the adjustable rear sight is damaged, it may be possible to repair it, but there are some tiny parts involved, and at
least one special tool is required. For survival purposes, it makes more sense to just have a complete rear sight on
hand, replaceable by removal and replacement of a single screw.

In regard to the smaller J-frame guns, the same parts lists and comments will apply, with the exception of the
adjustable rear sight and the hammer spring. For these guns, the leaf-type hammer spring is replaced in the parts list
by three items: the hammer strut (S&W calls it the “stirrup”), the coil-type hammer spring, and the cup-shaped
hammer spring base (“mainspring swivel”, factory nomenclature is sometimes a little weird).

It should be noted that very early J-frame guns had a hammer strut with a ball at the top, mating with a concave
recess in the hammer. Late in 1962, at around serial number 295,000, this was changed to a fork-type top, bearing
on a cross-pin in the hammer.

If your J-frame is much later than the date and number above, then it will use the current fork-type strut, the strut
and base are included in case of lose during disassembly or reassembly, and the spring in case of “set” or age
Exploded views of all the Smith & Wesson revolvers are on pages 171 to 188 of ​The Gun Digest Book of Exploded
Firearms Drawings,​ Second Edition. Takedown and reassembly of a typical N-frame (the Model 29) is covered on
pages 378 through 386 of ​Volume II: Revolvers in my ​Firearms Assembly/Disassembly series. The J-frame guns are
represented by the Model 31 on pages 271 through 278 of the same volume. If not at your gunshop or bookstore,
both of these books are available from DBI Books, Inc., One Northfield Plaza, Northfield, IL 60093.

The Benelli Shotgun

by Jeff Cooper

While any sort of shotgun will suffice for the majority of social work, there seems to be a consensus that the
semi-automatic 12 gauge version is probably the most generally useful. Among the various self-loaders now
available, the new Benelli is quite useful in its functioning. We have just finished a brief examination of the piece
here at the ranch and have come to some general conclusions. We must remember that no short test can ever
evaluate such things as durability and reliability, but a weekend’s work and several boxes of shells will serve to
discover at least the obvious characteristics of the weapon.

The Benelli is neither gas-operated nor recoil-operated. It has a form of inertia-delayed blowback, utilizing the
setback of discharge to release the locking system. Such an arrangement avoids the complexities of a moveable
barrel inherent in a recoil-operated weapon. The delayed blowback action can be extremely simple and involves
very few moving parts. If it is well-designed it should work, and we have no reason to believe that the Benelli is not
well-designed. Only time, however, will tell.

There are two sorts of Benelli shotguns suitable for home defense: one a sporting slugster and the other a frankly
military-and-police item featuring parkerizing and a generally course outward appearance. We selected the sporting
version for several reasons. We preferred the shorter magazine to the extension tube, and, in view of the “substitute
rifle” capabilities of a weapon designed for single ball, we preferred the superior sights on the sporting model.

The test weapon we received was very attractively finished and functioned flawlessly in all departments. The piece
is of conventional appearance for a semi-automatic shotgun. The top of the receiver is angular (as in the Franchi)
rather than rounded, which makes the fitting of a proper Williams-type “ghost ring” difficult.

The open sights furnished on the weapon, however, are of very good design, featuring a square black front post and
a matching rectangular rear notch. This arrangement provides for a very satisfactory index of elevation, even if it is
not particularly fast. The rear sight is accurately adjustable –a feature not found on many “riot guns”. We would
prefer a true ghost ring arrangement, but it would be difficult to fit to this weapon and we find we can live with
these sights as furnished.

The piece weighs about eight pounds, unloaded. It is 43 inches long and its barrel measures 22½ inches, including
the chamber. The sight radius is 19½ inches; the stock length is 14 3/8ths, with a drop of 1 5/8 inches at comb and
2¾ inches at heel. The capacity of the piece is four plus one.
The trigger pull, as delivered, is unsatisfactory, weighing over the limit of my six-pound scale, and with
pronounced grit and long travel. Detailed examination of the hammer-trigger relationship suggests that this trigger
could be improved by skillful gunsmithing, but it is not our policy to put modifications on a weapon which is to be
returned to the distributor.

Interestingly enough, while the action and stock assemblies are made in Italy, the barrel is made by Manurhin in
France. This barrel is chrome-plated on the inside and of extremely high quality. No information as to choke was
furnished with the weapon, but its accuracy with single balls was remarkable. This model is listed as a “slug gun”,
and with rifled slugs it is at its best.

We fired a series of three-shot groups off the bench at 50 meters and, while we were unable to do full justice to the
piece because of the gritty trigger pull, the groups we got were both small and consistent. This piece should stay
steadily in a three-inch circle at 50 meters and the best group we got was 1 5/8-inches center-to-center. As one
observer put it, “You could go varmint hunting with this piece, as long as you stayed inside fifty yards.”

With shot the barrel did not perform as well. We were forced to conclude, after a series of tests with various sorts of
ammunition, that fifteen meters is about maximum with this piece if one wishes to keep all shot pellets on the
center of a man’s chest.

Many observers have pointed out that the Benelli action cycles with amazing speed. We did not have any way of
measuring this, but it would certainly appear that the slide moves faster than with any other semi-auto we have

I am not sure that this is a matter of any consequence (except for specialists such as John Satterwhite, who claims
that no semi-auto will function as rapidly as a slide when used in trick shooting). I have never been troubled by a
slow cycle in a semi-automatic shotgun because I simply cannot shift targets any faster than the ordinary action will

The safety is of the button cross-bolt type, but it is placed at the rear of the trigger guard instead of at the front.,
making it a bit harder to mount the weapon from Standard Ready than would be the case if the button were at the
forward edge of the trigger guard.

A peculiarity of the action is that one cannot feed a shell from the magazine tube into the barrel by working the
bolt, since the feeding system in inertially actuated. This means that, in the event of a stovepipe, the weapon cannot
be readied simply by racking the action, but must be loaded by hand with a spare round. We did not encounter any
stovepipes and the point may be academic.

We found that the excessive drop in the stock tended to exaggerate recoil. Stock fit is essentially a matter of
individual configuration, however, and no one form will suit everyone.

I was personally pleased with the Benelli and would be glad to own one. If I did, however, I would do something
about that trigger and I would also work out some practical ghost ring arrangement for the sights. It would seem
that the perfect social shotgun has not yet been marketed, but meanwhile we get along very well with what is
available. For those who fancy the rifled slug, I think the Benelli should be an excellent current choice.