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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

WD-40: The Ultimate Survival Spray


If you’re looking for a versatile multi-use cleaning/lubricating spray to add to your home storage, look no further than WD-40 (thanks for the idea Linda). Although there are a lot of urban myths surrounding this product’s uses (ease arthritis pain? what are you the tin man?) as well as its main ingredient (its petroleum NOT fish oil) there are still thousands of uses for it around the home, garden and shop.
Here’s the main functions for using WD-40:
  • LUBRICATES: WD-40’s lubricating ingredients are widely dispersed and hold firmly to all moving parts.
  • CLEANS: WD-40 gets under dirt, grime and grease to clean. It also dissolves adhesives, allowing easy removal of labels, tape, stickers, and excess bonding material.
  • PROTECTS: WD-40 protects metal surfaces with corrosion-resistant ingredients to shield against moisture and other corrosive elements.
  • PENETRATES: WD-40 loosens rust-to-metal bonds and frees stuck, frozen or rusted metal parts.
  • DISPLACES MOISTURE: Because WD-40 displaces moisture, it quickly dries out electrical systems to eliminate moisture-induced short circuits.
  • For a complete list (over 2000) of its uses check out this link from WD-40’s website: List of 2000+ Uses of WD-40

How to Turn Your Non-Fat Powdered Milk into Whole Milk


If you’re one of those who can’t stand drinking non-fat powdered milk (or have children that won’t touch it) but still nonetheless have it as part of your food storage — there’s hope. Turning your non-fat powdered milk into whole milk (or 1% or 2%) is a relatively easy process.
From Powdered Milk to Whole Milk
All it involves is a little understanding of chemistry and some extra items that should be part of your food storage anyways.
The only difference between reconstituted non-fat powdered milk and whole milk is the absence or presence of fat (this is what allows non-fat powdered milk to store for so long). But improving the taste by getting the fat back into the milk is not as easy as pouring some in and shaking. I’m sure you’ve seen what happens when you try to combine water and oil.
And now for the chemistry.
In order to mix two liquids together that otherwise would not blend (oil and milk in this case) requires what is called an emulsifier. And two of the most common emulsifiers used in recipes are eggs and honey — both of which are excellent long-term food storage items.
In the tables below I’ve put together some simple recipes that you can use to make 1%, 2%, or whole milk from a combination of powdered milk, vegetable oil and either powdered eggs or honey.
To prepare, just mix the ingredients specified in the tables below according to how much milk you want to make along with the desired fat content. It helps to use a shaker or a whisk but even a fork stirred vigorously works fine.
Keep in mind that the mixture is not homogenized so over time it will begin to separate again. If it does just shake it up, whisk it, or stir vigorously and viola! you got yourself some great tasting powdered milk. Try both recipes to see which one you and your family prefers (I’m partial to the honey mixture). Enjoy!

Using Honey

Desired
Fat Content
Desired
Milk
Honey Reconstituted
Powdered Milk
Vegetable Oil
1% Cup
Quart
Gallon
1/4t
1t
1T + 1t
1 cup
1 quart
1 gallon
1/2t
2t
2T + 2t
2% Cup
Quart
Gallon
1/2t
1/2T + 1/2t
2-1/2 T
1 cup
1 quart
1 gallon
1t
1T + 1t
1/4C + 1T
Whole (4%) Cup
Quart
Gallon
1t
1T + 1t
5T
1 cup
1 quart
1 gallon
2t
2T + 2t
1/2C + 2T

Using Powdered Eggs

Desired
Fat Content
Desired
Milk
Egg Powder Reconstituted
Powdered Milk
Vegetable Oil
1% Cup
Quart
Gallon
1/8t
1/4t
1t
1 cup
1 quart
1 gallon
1/2t
2t
2T + 2t
2% Cup
Quart
Gallon
1/4t
1/2t
2t
1 cup
1 quart
1 gallon
1t
1T + 1t
1/4C + 1T
Whole (4%) Cup
Quart
Gallon
1/2t
1t
1T,+1t
1 cup
1 quart
1 gallon
2t
2T + 2t
1/2C + 2T
Clabecq (Belgium), continuous casting of the o...

Forges, Foundries, and Factories, by JIR

While you are deciding what to store away, don't forget about the needs of your grandchildren. They will need reference books. After TEOTWAWKI, any survivors in the USA will be living on capital. I am talking about capital in the form of basic commodities, like grain, legumes, clothes, fuels, and machines. Some of this capital needs to be replaced almost immediately, like food, for instance, but some of it will take generations to wear out completely. Until we can replace everything we use up, we will not be truly recovered. Eventually, we will need to replace our generators, tractors, firearms, cloth, etc. Within a couple of generations, we will need to replace our basic garden tools like shovels and hoes and plows. Finally, we will need to resume production of basic materials like steel. We may be able to lean on other countries during our recovery, but It's going to be a long backward road for a long time until we can build and replace the capital we have now.
We used to be a powerful industrial nation, but today, we are not. Most manufacturing capability in the USA has been "outsourced" to China. The metal fabrication shops in the USA evolved over time into larger and more sophisticated (and more efficient) factories and were eventually defeated in the global market by cheap labor overseas. Now, a generation later, we are running out of people who even know how to cast or shape metal. Even as late as 1960, mom and pop metal shops were fairly common in the USA. I remember back when I was a boy, my uncle needed a tractor part that was no longer produced. He simply went to the metal shop in town and handed them the broken part. They made him a new one in a few days and helped him install it on his tractor. This capability has mostly disappeared in the US.
Metal working has become complex and very exact since the 1950s. The tolerances have gotten so tight that manual lathes and mills can't compete with specialized machines anymore. The equipment has gotten outrageously expensive and largely depends on micro-chips. To compete in the global market, you have to use very specialized tools and machines, or cheap labor. The cost of production has dropped so low that local shops with basic equipment can't compete and have slowly been replaced by cell phone vendors or other service economy businesses. A major economic crisis or EMP event would likely destroy most of our remaining production capability (or make the products they currently produce obsolete along with their specialized production facilities).
We need to preserve and pass on as much industrial knowledge as we can to the next generation and the next, because it is our grandchildren who will have the leisure time and capital to rebuild. Our own generation will be too busy providing bare necessities. After TEOTWAWKI, who is going to make pumps and critical parts for important machines? The answer is: Your children and grandchildren. If you can't master and pass on these critical skills, at least buy and store some books. I have some recommendations under each topic. You probably also need to store school books of all kinds, and begin formal home schooling almost immediately after a collapse, so the light of knowledge doesn't flicker out. Make reading, writing and math important to your children so they will pass it on.
If you are able to do it, passing down the skills directly to your descendants is the best approach. Working with your kids to teach them metal working skills can be a powerful way to grow together and instills the child with a sense of empowerment. "Bending the black metal to your will" is a powerful feeling. Metal work builds character and makes you feel like you have some control over the world. You feel like you can accomplish anything.
I believe a basic machine shop with a foundry and forge will be almost immediately valuable after TEOTWAWKI if you can get it up and running again without the power grid. Critical machines in your community will need repairs and parts will need to be fabricated and other machines will need to be adapted to new uses. This is fairly easy work if you have a well equipped shop and some skill. I have no doubt your machine shop will be in big demand pretty quick. The good news is, you can set up your own basic metal shop for a few thousand dollars. For under $5k, you can have a very efficient one or two man shop. You can also acquire metal working skills for free in your spare time as a hobby. The bad news is, you probably won't be able to make much money casting and machining from your home shop. It won't ever pay for itself as long as your work has to compete with China and the throw-away economy. Metal work in a home shop is more of a hobby these days than a valid business plan.
Critical capabilities:
-Smelting. Not immediately useful. This is the ability to turn ores into finished metals. Usually, this is accomplished by cooking ores with the appropriate fluxes and adding elements you want in the finished metal. Some metals like aluminum also require complex processing like electrolysis. (There was no such thing as [large scale production] refined aluminum until 1825.) With all the refined metal we have laying around on the planet, I see no need to learn and practice these arcane skills for many generations after TEOTWAWKI. Visit any junkyard and you can pick up tons of metal better than you could produce yourself. Raw materials are not an issue IMHO and if you have a good supply of general reference books, that's probably all you should do to preserve this knowledge.
-Founding. This is the ability to melt metal and cast it into a rough shape. If you keep this simple it's much easier than you probably think and can be done on a tiny scale in your back yard. Each metal alloy has a different melting point (and obviously many other different properties). Casting aluminum alloys requires a foundry capable of reaching only 1,250F while casting steel requires a much more robust foundry that can reach close to 3,000 F. Casting Iron is probably beyond most people, but non-ferrous metals are not hard at all. Many machine parts can be made of aluminum, copper or bronze castings and work about as well as steel. While cupric metals are horribly expensive, aluminum is cheap. You can practice casting using aluminum for almost nothing. You can build a hobby-scale foundry for non-ferrous metals for under $200 and turn out small machine parts at least as good as any factory. A good reference for this is Stephen D. Chastain's two volume set "Metal Casting: A Sand Casting Manual for the Small Foundry". He also has a book called "Iron Melting Cupola Furnaces for the Small Foundry" that provides complete plans and operating instructions for a larger scale coke fired iron furnace.
-Forging. This is the ability to hammer metal and change the shape. It's much easier and cheaper to pound steel into shape than try to cast it. Blacksmiths heat steel, reshape it using a hammer and tongs and then heat-treat it to whatever temper is needed. A very professional forge can be home-built for under $400, even if you buy most of the parts. A decent anvil can be had for about $400 (or much less if you compromise). Most of your other blacksmith tools, you can make yourself from scrap steel. You can design a forge to burn propane, coal, or charcoal. To learn more, visit Ron Reil's web site and follow the links. I built a propane forge similar to the ones described on Ron's site from an empty propane tank and used a venturi burner made from plumbing parts for under $100. Four years ago I broke down a bought a professionally made burner from Rex Price. Rex is a great American who operates a "mom and pop" machine shop with his sons. He makes venturi burners that I can't recommend highly enough.
If you ever need to convert to another fuel, such as charcoal, it's pretty easy to do. I built a charcoal forge and a bellows in one day from an old grill. If you keep a few fire bricks, and a few pounds of satanite refractory cement on hand, you can build a new charcoal forge in less than a day. These materials are cheap and abundant now with internet shopping, but will be difficult to get after TEOTWAWKI. While you can do without them, they sure make your life easier.
There is no substitute for a good anvil. The bigger it is, the more stable it is and the more enjoyable it is to work with. But, if you need to, you can get by with using almost any heavy chunk of steel or even a big rock. My first anvil was a 16 pound sledgehammer head and it worked pretty well. The Vikings turned out some wonderful steel work with much less. The only specialized or expensive tool I recommend is a trip hammer. They are quite expensive, bulky and heavy, but you can do a lot more work with a power or even a foot operated hammer than you can by hand. It will triple your productivity and save fuel.
Blacksmithing is a lot of fun and easier than you probably think. I can recommend two great references: "The Blacksmith's Craft: A Primer of Tools & Method" by Charles McRaven, and "The Complete Modern Blacksmith" by Alexander Weygers. [JWR Adds: I also recommend Weygers' slim tome: "The Making of Tools"]
-Grinding and filing. This is the ability to abrade metal. Even something as simple as sharpening an axe requires this capability. There are a variety of power tools used for these operations. A good 8 inch Bench grinder costs about $150 and you can get a decent 4 inch belt grinder for around $200 for a home shop. These, of course require electricity and replacement abrasives. The old-school way was a foot powered stone wheel. To my knowledge, you can't even buy one of those anymore. Instead, if the power goes out for good, I plan to build my own, probably based on a bicycle chain drive and use existing abrasive wheels from electric bench grinders. An even older method was to use sand held by damp cloth or leather, but I would sure hate to try that.
Files used to be the most important tool in the machine shop. They were (and are) used to precisely shape and fit metal parts. 19th century machining depended almost entirely on files instead of lathes and mills and grinders. Steam engine parts were largely shaped using a lost art called "Flat Filing". While modern practitioners can't approach the accuracy and uniformity the machinists demonstrated in the age of steam, it's relatively easy to fit machine parts and castings using a set of good files. While you probably couldn't fit a BMW piston, you might be able fit cast parts with looser tolerances, like from a farm Tractor or old Ford truck. Unfortunately, files are extremely difficult to make yourself and they wear out with time. You will probably be able to replace them for some years after TEOTWAWKI by scavenging, but buying a good assortment now will cost less than $150. Buy top quality files. Craftsman (Sears) makes good files. Cheap files are useless. The best way to learn proper parts fitting technique is to just do it.
-Bending/shaping sheet metal: Sheet metal is amazing when you consider it. Imagine trying to beat a chunk of steel into sheet metal on an anvil and you will appreciate that to create new sheet metal after a disaster, you will have to have some large machinery. Fortunately, with millions of dead automobiles and appliances laying around, you should have plenty of raw material for a few generations. You can make almost anything you can think of with sheet metal. It's especially handy for making cooking vessels and containers of all kinds. You can do basic sheet metal work with only a pair of pliers and some tin-snips, but for serious work, you need a sheet metal brake and an assortment of vices and dies. Before you buy any tools read a good book on the topic. This is a great reference, but a little pricey: Sheet Metal Forming Processes and Die Design
-Tapping. This is simply cutting screw threads. Fortunately, taps and dies for cutting screw threads are still manual for the most part.
-Welding. This is the ability to join two pieces of metal by melting them into each other. There are basically 3 ways to weld. Forge welding, arc welding and torch welding. You can also use thermite to weld large pieces. Welding is a huge topic and a whole career field on it's own. Being able to join to pieces of metal with a weld joint is a useful skill.
1. Forge welding is used to mix or join two hunks of metal by whacking them with a hammer. It's useful for making axes, chains and other tools, but in the modern world, it's mostly practiced to make expensive pattern welded (damascus) knife blades. This is one of the skills you master as you learn to be a blacksmith and the techniques are covered pretty well in the blacksmith references.
2. Arc Welding. This is using low voltage-high-current electrodes to create an electrical arc that heats surrounding metal. Arcs are very hot, but they effect a relatively small area. Working with simple low-carbon structural steels, arc welding is pretty easy to learn and requires very rudimentary equipment. $300 dollars can buy a decent basic rig. The hard part is buried in the details of improving on this basic capability. To weld complex alloys to each other or to prevent oxygen absorption (and later rust), requires a lot of knowledge, skill and better equipment. I have the most rudimentary equipment possible and almost no skill, so I can't recommend a reference.
3. Torch welding. Oxygen and acetylene from large tanks are mixed and burned to form a hot jet capable of heating, welding and cutting steel. Getting replacement gasses will be difficult after a couple of years, but while they last, this is a great tool. Again, having very limited skill at welding and no torch of my own, I cannot recommend a reference.
-Brazing and soldering. This is non-ferrous welding. It can be done at a much lower temperature than welding, usually using a propane, MAPP-gas or oxyacetylene torch for heat. Soft soldering is much easier than brazing and is very useful for working on electronics. I don't often braze so I have no recommendations on learning this skill.
-Riveting. This is one of the easiest methods for fastening metal pieces together. Most people have used a pop-riveter. The problem is, pop rivets are not easy to make and the supply will someday run out. Also, pop-rivets are weak compared to heavy steel rivets. Real rivets can be made as thick and strong as you need. They are cut and hammered from steel rods using a forge, hammer and tongs. They are easy, secure and quick to use, so they were very popular in the 19th century. Forge riveting is covered in the references on blacksmithing.
-Cutting. This is the most common operation you will probably do in a machine shop. Everything you make will require you to cut metal. There are a lot of methods for cutting metal, and you may use all of them interchangeably, depending on the materials you have to cut.
1. Hot or cold chisel cutting. This is simply heating metal until it's soft and then cutting it with a hammer and chisel. You can also cut bars quickly and easily on a hardy (an anvil tool accessory). This will be a quite common way to cut bar stock and will be the only method easily available once all the saw blades and torches are useless. I have split a truck leaf-spring lengthwise using this technique. While it's very laborious, it works every time and requires nothing high-tech. For smaller jobs or softer metals. You can also cut with a cold-chisel without heating. Techniques are covered in the aforementioned blacksmithing references.
2. Hand saws. Hacksaws are still commonly used in metal work. They are the workhorse of some shops. With enough patience and enough blades, you can saw a car in half. Buy only good blades to cut hard steel and keep them cool using cutting fluid or oil to cool the cut and remove chips. Making or re-sharpening hacksaw blades is possible, I suppose, but I have never tried it. Once all the hacksaw blades are gone, hand cutting is going to get much harder, so make life easier on yourself and stock up.
3. Power saws or angle grinders. There are many different power cutting options out there and none of them are pleasant. I use a reciprocating saw, jigsaw, angle-grinder and a circular saw. All of them require proper blades which are expensive. After a crash, you may wind up trying to make your own blades or re-sharpen them. For that, the easiest is the simple reciprocating saw. If you get the balance or temper a little wrong on a chop-saw or an angle grinder you might get hurt or even killed. If you get a reciprocating saw blade wrong, you won't get hurt. Also, the blades are much simpler to make on a forge and the teeth are fewer and easier to cut with a chisel.
4. Torch cutting. If you have an oxyacetylene torch (or a plasma cutter) they make short work of cutting steel. Watch out about overheating any steel part that requires a known carbon content or accurate tempering. High temperatures cause loss of carbon and can result in spongy, brittle or soft steel. Some steel alloys react very badly to extreme temperatures and the finished part or tool will fail without warning if burned.
5. Shearing. This is the preferred way to cut thin metal, like sheet metal. A large pair of tin-snips or shears will make cleaner, easier cuts than any other method.
-Drilling. This is the ability to make holes in things. Making a precise hole in hard metal is a complex task. Drill presses with micrometer tables are indispensable to a good machine shop. A good drill press can easily cost over $1,000, but unless you need a very high level of precision, you can get by with a $300 press. If you are planning to buy a mill and your shop is small, you might not need a separate drill press. Drill bits are relatively easy to make yourself, but you will lose precision. There will probably be no problem with re-supply of drill bits for a number of years after a crash.
-Turning and milling. This is the ability to spin a metal part and symmetrically cut it to a perfectly round shape or precisely cut complex shapes into metal parts using a spinning cutter. Lathes are one of the most versatile power tools available and it will be impossible to do without them completely. Some method will have to be found to power lathes after a crash if we are to recover. A good lath or mill can be very expensive. But look closely at what you are buying. You don't want a computerized machine or digital anything. Precision is less important than reliability. For a small shop, a combination lathe/mill makes a lot more sense than two power tools and will save you a little money. A very basic, fairly accurate combo tool can be bought right now for under $1,000. This is the most expensive tool in your shop, so choose wisely. With a combo tool, you can do almost any turning or milling or drilling operation you can think of. (If you have a mill, then you don't need a drill press).
There are no hand powered drill presses, milling machines or metal lathes on the market today. 19th century mills used to power their machines using wide belts driven by water or steam. There are not many steam engines laying around these days and modern appliances are not easily convertible to other power sources. They usually have a belt drive, but it's not situated to make conversion to water or animal power easy, even if you are otherwise set up to do that. Once the power is off, you will need to produce electricity to use modern machine tools. Practically speaking, there is no easy way around this. You might be able to run a small mill off of a vehicle and alternator using a large inverter, but you really need more reliable and cheaper power than a vehicle can produce. You will need some kind of generator, at least 4000 watts to really have a working machine shop. Without power, you will be reduced to using a "brace and bit", anvil and forge and files or grinding stones for all your work and your efficiency will drop off to next to nothing.
So, what can you do with your cool metal shop?
Create a machine replacement part from scratch: Whatever metal part breaks on a machine, you have a pretty good chance of being able to fabricate a new part. If you have an example of the part you want to make, you can usually cast a blank part using your foundry. Even if a part is broken, or missing pieces, you can duplicate it if you can guess the missing parts and build a model from wood or something. Sand casting produces a rough shape only. When you dump your mold, you will have an object that vaguely looks like the part you want. It must be filed, turned, drilled or milled to final shape and then fitted carefully to replace the part needed. Some parts can be forged into rough shape and then filed or ground to fit. You can fabricate and fit a new part in a single afternoon with the right equipment. Useful? You better believe it.
Create a fixture. Often, you suddenly need a hinge, hook or lock or something from the hardware store. You can make mostly anything you can think of quite quickly using your forge and other equipment. I can't count the times I have quickly hammered out new fixtures using junk steel because I was too lazy to drive 10 minutes to Lowe's. Horse shoes and spike candle holders are easy. Fireplace furniture is a snap. Hinges, buckles, latches and hooks are pretty easy too. If you need it, you can probably make it.
Make a tool or knife: With a forge, you can bend and shape steel in many different ways. If you can think of a hand tool, you can probably make it. But, don't expect miracles, you are basically whacking a hunk of steel with a hammer. You cannot create small precision parts and tools on an anvil. You can, however rough them out and use a file to shape them into final form. You can also carefully control the temper of steel tools and produce superior cutting edges, all with primitive gear and no electrical power.
Making a pot, pan, colander, container, or set of dishes: You can make almost anything of this sort out of sheet metal taken from old appliances or cars. If you need a new tool box, just whip one out.
Turn junkyard steel into useful machines. Okay, this is harder than repairing an existing machine, but it's conceivable that you could design, cast, and fit your own steam engine or something equally impressive. The sky is the limit.
The quicker we can get rudimentary local industrial capability back in action, the easier restoration of society will be. - JIR
A selection of alkaline batteries in various f...

Some Real World Battery Life Data, by Cactus Jim

Battery technology has come a long way in the last 10 years since Y2K. Back in the late 1990s, I stocked various types and brands of batteries for long term storage or use. Batteries ranged from store purchased alkaline, rechargeable alkalines, NiCd, generic deep cycle marine
batteries, gel-cell sealed lead acid, lithium and even the ubiquitous flooded lead acid Trojan T-105 floor scrubber batteries. I wrote dates on all the batteries and rechargeable batteries had logs kept of use and maintenance.
In most cases enough batteries were purchased to allow for a reasonable statistical sampling, thus providing a real level of confidence in the results. Note that the word battery and cell are often used below in singular, even though the same test was repeated multiple times on
different units. All voltages and times are given as composite averages of the tests, removing clear outlier data, such as an obviously failed cells that leaked electrolyte during storage.
10 years later, most of those batteries were still in my possession, untouched (with a some exceptions) and I decided to run controlled experiments on them to see how they fared. Each battery type is discussed by type and brand if applicable. Finally, as technology has
provided for improvements, some additional battery types are discussed that have only received short term testing due to being recently brought to market.
All batteries were stored in 60-to-75 degree F conditions with <50% relative humidity.
Generic Alkaline
These are what you find at most stores on the shelf, having virtually eliminated the old carbon-zinc batteries that were still sold in the 1990s. An extensive selection of all standard sizes was tested, including Energizer, Energizer commercial use (not sold via retail) and
Duracell. The cells offered 2-4 year lifetimes based upon their expiration dates. All were stored for 10 years, with the exception of the commercial Energizer D cells, which were 12 years old at the time of testing.
Several of the Energizer cells (2 out of a lot of 50) had developed leakage failures during storage, in one case contaminating a co-packaged battery. This matches my anecdotal experience with this brand, with several case leak failures damaging equipment that had Energizer brand
batteries left in them for longer time periods (1-2 years). I expect these are design related failures since even newer batteries of this brand leaked, spanning a sample period of five years.
Interestingly, the commercial Energizer batteries, of which I had over 50, did not have a single failure. They also performed slightly better even though they were older. No failures were seen with the Duracell alkaline batteries, but there was a smaller sample available (20 of each
type).
The aged batteries were tested on a constant resistance tester that tracked battery voltage until the cells were completely depleted, to a voltage of 0.2V, which would not provide even the smallest amount of usable light in a flashlight. Initial current drain of approximately
1/20th of manufacturer recommended maximum was used. (12 Ohms for AA cells, 2.75 Ohms for D cells)
The output voltage of the 10 year old batteries started out at approximately 0.1V different from a brand new battery and maintained this difference until the battery chemistry failed, leading to a rapid decline in voltage. For AA batteries, the usable lifetime (to the 0.9V mark) was 18 hrs for the 10 year old battery vs. 22 hrs for a brand new cell. The voltage discharge curves tracked each other with the noted 0.1V difference. At the 18 hr. mark, the old cell dropped to under 0.2V a matter of minutes. The new cell soldiered on, declining slowly from
0.9V at 22 hrs to 0.2V at 27 hrs.
The commercial Energizer cells matched their retail cousins almost identically to the 0.9V cut off. However, they did not exhibit the sharp 20 minute decline to 0.2V once the battery chemistry started to fail. Instead they provided another 5 hours of possibly usable output with a slow decline between the 0.8 and 0.2V marks. This would be indicative of a slightly longer life span in an intermittent on/off usage where the voltage would creep back up to a more usable range during the off cycle.
When batteries were tested at high loads, the 10 year old units showed excessive voltage droop very quickly. This matches with published manufacturer recommendations that alkaline cells should not be used in high current draw applications.
All working cells showed an open cell voltage of 1.4V before being connected to a load.
Conclusions:
Alkaline batteries are usable well beyond their expiration dates.
Alkaline batteries properly stored for 10 years will still provide functional capacity of 75-80 percent with lighter loads such as flashlights and radios.
There will likely be a fallout rate with some percentage of cells showing complete or partial failure during storage. Thus large packs of batteries should be broken up into smaller packs to limit the amount of damage one leaking cell can do and extra batteries should be purchased to take into account such failures.
Batteries sold for commercial use may be built better and will last longer than stuff sold into the general retail market.
If the battery shows a voltage of 1.4V or so after storage, it's still probably usable.
Nickel Cadmium Rechargeable
The entire lot of 1990's era NiCd batteries were found to be unusable, showing shorts or inability to take a charge of any capacity. This technology has drastically improved over the last ten years, although such batteries are still of limited long term storage use due to rapid self discharge and not having a design criteria for long life. There are also many variables that affect the durability of NiCd and NiMH, both from a cycle life and long term storage standpoint. My anecdotal evidence points to cheap batteries not lasting long (as little as 0-3 months for cheap no-name brand packs) and expensive brand name cordless tool packs still going strong after eight years of light use. The well known self-discharge and memory problems are still issues with this chemistry.
Conclusions:
Not suitable for long term storage.
Expensive portable tool packs might have long life spans with periodic use and charging.
Probably acceptable for daily use, but there are better alternatives available in NiMH.
Cheaper than other rechargeables.
Rechargeable Alkaline (no longer made)
A group of Eveready rechargeable alkalines were also tested. This technology was produced for a few years but never really saw commercial success. The batteries had low self discharge, thus being ready to go after longer storage periods but could also be re-charged. The recharge
cycle was unusual in that if the battery was heavily discharged it's recharge cycle life was very short, only 16 cycles or so. With shallow discharges, the battery could be "topped off" hundreds of times. Looked like a perfect fit for long term storage, provided that could be topped
up once a year.
The 10 year old AA and D cells were fully charged before testing. All fell significantly short on both voltage and life, even compared to 12 year old alkaline cells. Starting voltage was only 1.2V and within minutes was 0.2V lower than the 10 year old cells. The cells chemistry failed at the 22 hr mark vs. 28 hours for the 10 year old cells.
Conclusions:
Be careful with new untested technologies.
Nickel Metal Hydride
No Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) cells were used in the long term test due to their very high self discharge and the technology being in it's infancy in the 1990s. However, this chemistry deserves mention due to some recent innovations. Although NiMH batteries have higher capacity and most of
the memory effect has been overcome, they continue to suffer from very high self-discharge. A fully charged battery can be at 50% in under a month of sitting idle. In general, the higher the capacity of the cell the faster the self discharge.
Recently a new internal construction was designed that allows NiMH cells to retain up to 80% of their initial charge up to year later .[JWR Adds: These are also sometimes marketed as "Low Self Discharge (LSD)" batteries.] I have been extensively testing these over the last year with very good results. No outright failures to date, good capacity compared to alkaline batteries, very good tolerance for high current drains such as radio transmitters and good shelf life.
These cells are often sold as "pre-charged" or long shelf life NiMH. Duracell Pre-charged and Eneloop are the two most commonly available brands.
Conclusions:
A technology to watch, may replace alkaline batteries in many applications.
Long term life span is currently unknown or unpublished.

Lithium primary batteries
Non-rechargeable lithium batteries are the king of long term storage. They have been around for decades and are well understood, with devices still working 20 years after installation. There are many different chemistries that are used, with the actual type not disclosed to the consumer, so be aware that not all lithium batteries will have long shelf life.
The CR123A battery size almost always comes in a chemistry that will allow for 10+ year storage without a problem. I'm still using up my 12 year old batteries and even in bulb style Surefire lights they last so close to a new cell that it's hard to tell the difference. No tests were
performed on this stock of batteries since they are so well understood and quantified.
I had a limited stock of AA lithium cells from the 1990s and they too appear to be at 80+ percent capacity. When they reach 15 years I will test a few and see if the group test should be put at the 15 or 20 year mark. Note that the 1.5V batteries use a different chemistry than the 3 volt CR123, thus they may have a shorter life span, but that remains to be seen. At 10+ years, they are still the top choice with the exception of price.
Conclusions:
Low weight.
High capacity and high current.
Best for low temperatures.
Extensively verified 10+ year shelf life.
Available in AA, AAA, CR123A and various non-consumer sizes.
Industrial/commercial availability in 9V but metal body versions are slightly oversized.
Lead acid gel cells
Gel cells are a type of truly sealed lead acid battery. They are commonly used in backup devices such as emergency lights and alarm systems. Typically seen as 6V or 12V batteries with connecting tabs, but available commercially in over a hundred different sizes, shapes and
voltages.
The small batch (5 units) of lead acid gel cells I had from 1999 all died various deaths over the last 10 years. All were 12V 7Amp Hour packs of the commonly available 5.94 X 2.56 X 3.70 size. All showed degraded performance (over 10% capacity loss) after the 5th year, even packs that
were 100% unused and one pack that was under a constant charge. All were trickle charged at least once a year to 13.8V to make up for any self discharge and four of them were used intermittently for various purposes from charging a motorcycle battery to powering GPS in aircraft. None were
ever subject to severe discharge cycles or overcharging.
Each cell was charged and then test discharged to 50% once a year to check remaining capacity. Charging was done by constant voltage to 14.2V and discharge test was done at 1/20 capacity, constant resistance to 50% state of charge, as indicated by voltage.
At the seven year mark the first cell had a complete failure. The last unit, which had been installed in a trickle charging backup application failed this month.
Conclusions:
Realistic safe life span of five years.
After the five year mark, sudden failures may take the battery out of service without warning.
Require yearly charge maintenance due to self discharge.
Very high current capacity, allowing for use to minimally re-charge much larger lead acid batteries.
Often used inside of car self-jumpstart packs and for backup batteries in alarms and lighting.
Flooded lead acid batteries
I'm going to skip right past car starting / dual use batteries as they are 100% unsuitable for any long term application. While I have had certain vehicle starting batteries last eight years, there has never been any consistency between brand, size or use. I consider any car start battery over 2 years old to be suspect. The fact that they can be seriously degraded or destroyed by a single deep discharge makes them worthless in any situation where one must depend upon them. Even the consumer branded "deep-cycle" batteries are suspect from my experience.
The long term test batteries encompassed two large deep cycle "maintenance free" Energizer batteries from Wal-Mart and a bank of 24 Trojan T-105 6V industrial units. All were maintained as they would be in an industrial setting with water level, specific gravity and voltage checks each month.
The Trojans were connected to a grid-tied solar system and kept at peak charge for the first three years of their life. They were more heavily discharged at least once a year during power outages or for testing. In 2002 the system was converted to use the batteries each day for a period
of 6 hours, with cycling to 25-50% depth of discharge each day. Although their capacity is currently at about 60% of rated and there has been one hard cell failure in the bank, they continue to function.
The deep cycle batteries from Wal-Mart didn't make it past two years. They were used a few times a year to power tools and lights through an inverter. Note that "maintenance free" often means that there is just a slightly larger reservoir of water and acid in the battery. If you want
to try and use these, cheap batteries you should pop off the top caps with a screwdriver and re-fill the water just like any flooded lead acid battery. I consider any such off the shelf consumer batteries as a poor choice and false economy compared to a commercial battery such as the
Trojans.
Conclusions:
Buy true commercial/industrial batteries.
They cost more, but even my bottom of the line T-105s lasted five times longer than the cheap "deep-cycle".
Flooded batteries require maintenance (water & charging) or they will fail.
Note: Flooded batteries make hydrogen gas and a fine mist of sulphuric acid when being charged. These must be vented to prevent explosions and corrosion of battery terminals other any nearby items.
AGM
Absorbed glass mat (AGM) batteries are a type of true maintenance free lead acid battery. They have no ports to add liquid and will re-combine any generated gas internally. The military and aircraft industry use this technology due to low self discharge (1-3% per month) and no liquid to
spill.
They have only recently become widely available, both in starting applications and for deep cycle use. My actual test time with them has been limited to only two years.
I have three units in starting applications. All are in vehicles that sit for extended time periods (6-12 months), but then get used frequently, thus creating a cycle of many starts followed by long periods of inactivity. I have had one internal cell failure on the most used
battery in it's first year. The two others have worked perfectly, allowing me to start a car that had sat idle for six months as if I had been driven the previous day.
One unit was subject to a severe discharge, showing less than 3V when disconnected. The unit was charged overnight on a commercial bulk charger and then load/capacity tested back down to 10V. All indications were that the battery suffered no damage and it was returned to starting
service.
Current specifications for heavy industrial AGM batteries and accelerated life tests indicate life spans of 20+ years even under heavy use. This would not seem unrealistic given that old industrial telecom backup batteries are often sold after 20 years of service with buyers reporting acceptable capacity of these 20 year old batteries.
There are many cheap imports being labeled as AGM. As it's difficult to tell the difference between a gel-cell and AGM battery from the outside, stick with brands that have been making AGM for commercial use.
Conclusions:
Expensive.
May be the best longer term / large capacity battery technology if weight, space and price are not an issue.
Stick to name brand and industrial battery makers.
Heavy industrial AGM batteries are very expensive but will offer a real 20+ year life.
Contact Corrosion
When batteries are placed inside and object that is subject to motion, and left there for extended periods of time, there is the strong possibility that atmospheric oxidation various types of corrosion will occur. Basically the contacts will become dirty and poor overtime,
leading to the dreaded weak or intermittent flashlight output that magically restores itself when you bang the light a few times. Even sealed flashlights will develop this problem, especially if subject to temperature cycles or vibration, such as storage in a car.
This can be addressed in several ways. The batteries can simply be replaced every year. The contacts can be gently cleaned once a year or whenever low output is noticed. Never use an abrasive to clean contacts, as you may scrape away any protective coating that has been
plated on. Coatings such as gold, silver or nickel are often very thin. The contacts can be safely cleaned by rubbing with with a pencil eraser or clean sheet of paper. The batteries contact areas can also be cleaned in this fashion. Finally, you can place fabric or paper barriers between the batteries and the contacts to prevent metal to metal contact until you want to use the device. Note that this can be useful if you have devices such as radios that slowly drain the battery even when powered off. Some newer electronics use solid state ON/OFF switches or run a clock or memory retention device from the battery, thus slowly draining it. You will want to verify that any any stored settings on the device are saved even without a battery present before disconnecting the battery in this way. If the settings are stored for two weeks, it should be okay to leave the battery out indefinitely.

Prepare: Just In Time Preppers


You hear frequently about the problems with "Just In Time" inventory management practiced by American businesses the past 40 year of so. Critics say that JIT is the wrong way to go for our fragile society. They point out Hurricane Katrina and how easily food and supplies in surrounding areas were wiped out as evacuees fled New Orleans.

The problem critics have with JIT is that stores and companies no longer stock extra things in the back like they used to in the good old days. That the modern grocery store, for instance, only carries enough on hand for about three days of normal business.

This has been a big deal for those who like to be prepared for unknown scenarios like war, invasion, and societal collapse. "Preppers" like to have plenty of extra food, water and supplies on hand in the event the stores run out or simply cease functioning.

The problem is "prepping" takes years. Acquiring enough food to feed a family of four can cost a great deal of money and is not something that can be done in a single day. And there lies a big problem.

The Just In Time Prepper.

Many of us have prepared for this eventuality.

Scenario: After one too many disasters and financial misteps, the federal government goes belly up. Chaos reins. You are at home and decide to take this chance to get to the store and pick up "a few extra things".

When you get there, its a mob frenzy. People are grabbing anything they can get in their cart or hands and running pell mell through the store. Those coming out of the store are having their purchases commandeered by those trying to get in.

This is the scene of the Just In Time Prepper. That neighbor or friend who never kept more than a few cans on the shelves who thinks that magically they can obtain enough food to feed their family for an unlimted amount of time with one trip to the grocery store.

Here are some numbers which blow holes in that position.

A 2lb 10oz canister of Quaker oatmeal has about 30 normal sized servings in it. That would be enough for one person for a month. To feed a family of four, you would need four of those for a month and forty eight for a year.

A 50lb bag of rice has 454 servings. That would roughly be enough for one person for one year barring any spills or waste. To feed a family of four, you would need four of those bags.

The amount of food needed to feed a family or group of people for any appreciable length of time is staggering. Thinking a quick trip to a mobbed grocery store is going to make a dent in your long term food needs is ludicrous.

Start stocking now a little at a time and a one month, six month or one year supply of food can be built over time. Don't be a Just In Time Prepper.

On another note, here's a lesson learned the hard way. I used some cracked red winter wheat for bread this morning. Don't do it. Cut it at least three to one with regular flour or you will end up with a hard as a rock hockey puck. This is something to think about when you have to start using those fifty pound buckets of wheat - get a good grinder to make flour with.