Monday, November 16, 2015

Make Do Engineering: Essential Skill for Survival and Everyday

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Make do engineering is a skill that many people love and others hate. It has been around as long as there have been people and has gone by many names, a lot of which were not very flattering some were downright insulting. To many make do engineering is only for those who are short of money, lazy, or in a really big hurry. Make do engineering is the ability to use supplies at hand to improvise or repair existing technology. Most of the time when someone thinks of make do engineering they think of a bad situation and just making the best. While this is the most common situation where this skill is used, it is not the only place where it is valuable.

Learn the Mindset


This is probably the most difficult part of make do engineering. Lots of people are so tied to the traditional ways of doing everything they cannot comprehend any other way to accomplish anything. This is a major constraint for anyone wanting to accomplish a desired goal unless they have everything that they think they need. One of the biggest problems some people face is not having everything. If a person doesn't have a special made tool or a certain part or ingredient they think they cannot come to an acceptable end product. I will be the first to admit that there are certain things that are critical and others that are optional. If everyone would look at a project like they would a recipe a lot more things would get done.

Beef stew would be a perfect example. You cannot make beef stew without beef. That would be a critical component. You can however make beef stew without celery or even potatoes. Now, I am not sure I would really want beef stew that didn't have potatoes, but if I were in the situation, I could make do.

As strange as it may seem there are many people who if the recipe calls for celery and they don't have it, they believe they cannot make beef stew. This is called box thinking. What is box thinking? Wikipedia defines is like this.

What is encompassed by the words "inside the box" is analogous with the current, and often unnoticed, assumptions about a situation. Creative thinking acknowledges and rejects the accepted paradigm to come up with new ideas.
Thinking inside the box means you are accepting commonly held beliefs. I cannot do this unless I have that, that, and that. As homesteaders or preppers we cannot be tied to conventional thinking. We need to figuratively throw away the box. When confronted with a challenge we need to think of as many ways as possible to deal with the situation.

Learn the Skills

Make do skills are numerous and varied. Like I mentioned in the section above, cooking is an area were making do can be practiced, but many people refuse to see that. The same mentality can apply to anything. I remember when I was a child, the plow implement had broken. My grandfather had called the farm store and had priced the replacement part. I have no idea how much the part was, all I do know is he mumbled under his breath and said that we would have to find another way to fix the plow. One major problem. One of the parts that we needed to repair the plow was lost in the field. What did we do?

First we walked the field in the hopes of finding the missing part. Nope. Next, we looked at all of the other pieces of equipment to see if there was anything we could borrow that could be made to serve the same purpose. Maybe, but not really. Third, we rummaged through the barn hoping to find an extra that we really knew wasn't there. Finally we looked around for something we could fashion into a replacement part. Ah ha! An old piece of thick sheet metal, a cutting torch, a drill and a carriage bolt and we were able to fashion a make do part for the plow.  Was that part perfect? Heck no! Did it do the job? Yup, and did so the entire season.

It doesn't matter if you are improvising a tripod for your camera, a television antenna, or fixing a garden hose, there is always more than one way to accomplish the desired goal. This can apply almost any area and you are going to fail a few times, that's okay. Learn from every failure and success alike.


The Tools

This is the coolest part, anything and everything can be a tool or a part to something else. I don't know if you remember the television show Mac Gyver.  He was this guy who could make anything out of really just scrap. This television show was so popular that even today in some circles make do engineering is called Mac Gyvering. Why am I putting this here? Because while over exaggerated this show really did show lots of ways to use anything.

The Made Do Engineer's Supply Hall of Fame

Duct Tape . Duct tape has been the hero of countless situations. Almost everyone I know has duct tape. It's great. Though I will admit there is a newbie on the scene that is kicking duct tape's butt. It Gorilla Tape has been very impressive. YouTube and Instructibles are filled with duct tape projects and fixes. It doesn't matter which type of tape you decide to have in your make do engineering box, this is one area where I suggest you do not purchase the off brand. I have found many just aren't very good.

Bailing Wire Bailing wire is great for things that you want to secure, but you still want it to be able to flex, twist, or move a little. From securing fence wire to believe it or not improvised shoe laces, there are hundreds of uses.
Zip Ties I am now going to officially go on record...I love zip ties. I don't even care if you call them zip ties, cable ties, wire ties, or even plastic zippy thingies, they are great. They come in a variety of sizes and colors and have who knows how many uses. They also come in regular and outdoor variations. The outdoor zip ties can stand up to UV light better and don't degrade as quickly. I have used zip ties for everything from repairing a chicken pen to holding my pants up when I forgot my belt (haven't done that in a long time now thank goodness).

Courtesy of
member of the Rural Roundtable

 Here we see that Sean with used heavy duty zip ties to secure cattle panels together to build his chicken house.  Sean is a member of the newly formed Rural Roundtable and will take your questions on permaculture.
WD-40 Let's go the opposite direction for a little bit. If something is supposed to move and doesn't grab WD-40. WD-40 is truly an inspirational story. WD-40 was the fortieth attempt at creating a rust inhibitor for the space industry.   This company started with three employees. In my opinion this is still one of the best products out there for what it is designed to do and this is the only product this company produces.
Paper Clips Paper clips aren't just good for Mac Gyver. From zipper tab, bookmark, and hair barrette to emergency fish hook (yes, it works, not great, but it does work) paper clips are truly versatile.
Handkerchief Oh the wonders of a handkerchief. I love them and never leave home without at least one. You can read a full blog post on 30 Reasons to Carry a Handkerchief. This is not an all inclusive list either and this is our most popular post of all time.

How do you practice your Make Do Engineering skills? Do you have used for the items I have mentioned that I didn't list? I would really enjoy hearing about them, and pictures are great too.

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