Sunday, February 10, 2013


Back in January when we were thinking of potential blog post topics, we came up with the idea to do a sort of "Skill-of-the-Month" series where we try to master (or at least get started learning) one new skill per month that will be useful on the homestead.  It turns out we were a little behind the ball compared to the folks over at The Survival Podcast (and one-thirteenth less ambitious), who already had their 13 Skills for 2013 Challenge up and running.  But, even though we haven't posted anything in relation to this topic just yet, we are already underway working on expanding our repertoire of proficiency here at the HL.  These are the twelve focus areas in which we're trying to become more adept this year:

  1. Google Sketchup.  Sketchup is a handy 3D drafting tool that can be very useful in planning out projects and convincing Katie that they might actually look OK when finished.  We probably won't have posts on this goal explicitly, but you will hopefully see our progress in future posts.
  2. Inner tube patching.  For those who commute by bike, flat tires are a tremendous inconvenience (especially on the way to an important meeting), and the price of replacing inner tubes (currently $5 a pop) adds up quickly.  We've got a pretty good collection of holey inner tubes, and have been meaning to figure out how to properly patch them up.  Taking the time to learn how will save us a good chunk of moolah in the future and keeps us from having to dispose of them (right away).
  3. Blade sharpening.  A sharp blade makes any cutting task way, way easier.  Almost every household has kitchen knives and scissors, but axes, shovels, saws, chisels, block planes, etc. also work much better if kept sharp.  We've always been able to get a decent edge on a blade with a grinding wheel, whetstone, or one of those handheld knife sharpeners, but we've had trouble achieving the golden standard of sharpness: sharp enough to shave with.
  4. Straight-blade shaving.  One part of the modern world that has become an unfortunate necessity for even moderately hirsute humans is the disposable razor.  Whether it's just the head or the whole thing that needs to be replaced, disposable razors are not consistent our ultimate goals of self-sufficiency and zero-waste.
  5. Orienteering.  Not in the competitive sense, but learning to navigate unfamiliar terrain without GPS (instead using a compass and a map) has many applications in homesteading, including finding property boundaries and laying out fields and pastures.
  6. Knot tying.  There are hundreds of different kinds of knots that have been developed for specific applications, but we don't know (much) more than how to tie our shoes.  Hopefully we'll be able to at least do a little better with the trellises for our square foot gardens this summer.
  7. Renewable energy design.  We've been learning about different kinds of renewable energy for several years, but we'd like to start implementing them in some our projects.  The Midwest Renewable Energy Association offers some reasonably-priced primer courses to get us started; we'll see where it goes from there!
  8. Composting.  We grew up with the "minimal-effort" approach to composting, without paying attention to things like carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, aeration, or moisture.  More recently, we've been vermicomposting, but sometimes (like during canning season) the worms can't keep up.  For times like those, we want to know how to make compost efficiently without adding macroorganisms like worms or black soldier flies.
  9. Glass marking/etching.  We've got some gallon glass jugs we'd really like to make graduated (like a measuring cup).  Permanent marker turns out to be not-all-that permanent when we wash the jugs.  We're going to figure out how to etch or mark the jugs (and other jars) with a more durable method.
  10. First Aid/Emergency Medical Treatment.  It's good to know how to respond to a medical emergency regardless of location.  Knowing how serious an injury is could be the difference between life and death, or at least knowing if an expensive ambulance ride to the hospital is necessary.
  11. Meat curing.  Making sausage is a skill from the traditional homesteads of a century or two ago.  We've done it a few times, but would like to expand our repertoire.  We're especially interested in creating something comparable to commercial lunch meat, but without all the fillers (and packaging).  It turns out eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch seven days a week is not the key to a happy wife.
  12. Iron Palm training.  The art of making your hands strong enough to break bricks, boards, etc. could have numerous potential applications around the homestead, like resizing certain kinds of bricks or rocks, self defense from crazies (people or animals), or even chopping nuts.
Check back in the 'Skills' tag to the left of this post to see how we're doing.  What types of skills are you planning to learn this year?  Let us know in the comments section below!

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