Old skills, crafts and trades for the new age

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The new post-fossil fuel age will require the skills, crafts and trades of the old ones, in many aspects, especially those of working with one's hands and with hand tools.

Despite the fact that shale oil and shale gas are now being extracted by means of the most controversial method of “fracking” we are coming to the end of cheap and abundant oil and gas.

In 2011 the world used 40% more oil than it produced and the forecast, though dampened by the Great Recession, was that in 2012 over 60% more than produced would be consumed.

For a while now already various countries have put oil from strategic reserves on the market in order as not to frighten the populous with rocketing prices at the pumps. Sooner rather than later, however, those reserves are going to run out and the pigeons are then coming home to roost for sure.

And when that happened and the reality of the fuel going beyond what can be borne by the people and industry, much of how we work now is going to change; change back to the way the old people did things way back when.

This will mean a return to working with hands and hand tools and human-powered machines, be this a treadle or hand operated sewing machine, a treadle lathe, or the billhook, axe and crosscut saw in forestry.

It is, however, not only the use of those tools and the ways of using them that we will have to learn (again). We also must learn how to maintain them and keep them in good order, and also how to bring old, neglected ones back to life and into use again.

Many of the tools for those old skills, crafts and trades that we will need for the new age are often no longer made and thus we must, aside from making them again, refurbish the old ones that we can still obtain. Those old tools will be more valuable after the even than any gold or silver.

The skills, crafts and trades required for the new post-carbon age are, in fact, legion and they are those that many of our ancestors mastered, more or less, themselves. Many knew a large number of them as to be as little dependent on others as possible.

It is true that no person can master all those skills and can be entirely self-sufficient but we all will have to become as self-reliant as it is at all feasible.

You may not be able to produce your own leather from scratch but you should be able to make your own leather goods and growing at least some of your own food must become second nature as it was to our grandparents and their parents.

Getting hold of some old how-to books from publishers such as Odhams is a good idea and another good source is the Foxfire series of books, and then practicing many of those sills until you master them. The Odhams books were published in the 1930s and 1940s or thereabouts in Britain and can today, almost exclusively, only be found on flea markets, yard sales, trunk sales, and such like, and maybe, but then probably expensive, in secondhand antiquarian bookshops.

Nothing, however, beats learning from the old masters, and I am not referring to painters such as Rubens and such, but there are today few and far between. Many of those old masters, alas, have gone by now and those few that are lest are difficult to track down. If you can learn from a practitioner of the arts count yourself very lucky indeed, learn all you can and then go and teach others.

For the great majority of the needed old skills, etc.,, you will have to, I should guess, resort to (old) books and then learn them – the skills not the books – by trial and error and of both there will be many until the stage of more or less perfection.

Aside from old books there are also new ones, even videos, to be had that show the how-to of many of those old skills, trades and crafts, etc. In most cases, though, the old books are a great deal better.

The most important skills is, however, your mindset and no one can teach you that one. The mindset of which I speak is the one of seeing a way of making things from almost nothing; reusing, repurposing and upcycling.

When we have to make do with less, and that is also that we will have to learn again, and can't buy everything (immediately) at the stores – because of costs – being able to reuse what we have is a great skill though it may not, necessarily, bring in any income as some of the others may.

Learn all that you can while you can...

© 2013