Soap: How it works.

No matter what you do you are going to need to get clean.

Even if you are near a large water source and can wash there you will probably need soap. You will probably want to make soap eventually but before you do that well you need to understand how it works in order to do it well.

If you of your clothes were dirty and all the dirt was water soluble you could simply wash in water.

Salt is soluble in water so if you clothes were covered in salt you could just wash them in fresh water and the clothes would be clean.

However not all things are soluble in water, this is where soap comes in.


Almost all things are soluble in water or soluble in oil. In chemistry this is called non-polar and polar.

Water happens to be polar, which means able to form charged ions and other compounds like this will dissolve in it to some extent.

Oils are non-polar and don’t form ions easily and other non polar substances will dissolve in it to some extent.

Soap is a molecule which is both polar and non polar, having a polar  (oil soluble) component and a non-polar (water soluble) component.

It’s polar part is soluble in water it non polar part soluble in oils.

This allow you to use soap and water to wash out both water soluble and oil soluble material from an item.

Chemical structure diagram of a typical soap. The serrated line represents a chain of -CH2- units with a -CH3 at the end.

The soap allows the oil the ability to become partially dissolved in the water and spheres of oil with soap molecules embedded. These are called micelles

A micelle: oil sphere (green) with soap molecules (black) embedded in the surface giving it partial water solubility.

The process of micelle formation looks something like this:

Material (red and flat) and an oil droplet (green and rounded) forming in the presence of a soap, which allow the oil to form micelles, spheres suspended in the water (light blue).

Once the soap has liberated the oil from the material the soap/oil/water solution has to be removed, hence the need for the removal of the water with rinsing.

Rinsing allows more oil to be removed as all of  the initial oils might not have been removed. And excess soap will have more water to liberate the oil into.

Rinsing also allows anything already soluble in water to be removed. this is why a pre-rinse makes sense.

Rinsing also remove the excess soap which would otherwise attract dirt and oil and be an irritant.

Scram bag : Aluminium can stove

Aluminium can stove photograph

Firstly I know my North American readers will say you spelled it wrong, and while you may be right in that in your area its spelled aluminum. But  according to IUPAC its been officially Aluminium for the last 15 or so years.

We are of course talking about the 13th element on the periodic table witch has low density and low corrosion rate due to its propensity to form a protective oxide layer.

Aluminium will however corrode markedly if it is left in a salty environment such as a salt spray zone near an ocean or salty lake.

I should talk more extensively about Aluminium as a material at a later date.

We live in a throw away society where things are made to be used once and then destined to become land fill. The humble aluminium can is one such product.

However we can change the game and turn a low cost one use item into something much more useful and possibly life saving depending on the situation.

Water is of course essential for life, 3 days without water and its likely that you will be dead, close to dead, or if miraculously resuced at the last minute you may suffer from life long health effects.

Water is a great mobilizer of materials and living things some of these living things will be very harmful if you drink them.

If you find water of unknown quality you will need to be cautious.

Straining water even with a cotton shirt will remove most suspended material (dirt etc) but will not kill pathogens.

Boiling water after it has been strained will kill most pathogens and make water much safer to drink.

It not appropriate  or possible to make a fire in ever possible location you might be so a small cooker is a great option to have.

You could buy a propane/butane gas cooker but they are expensive by comparison require large gas canisters and are in themselves somewhat bulky and fragile.

So there is a niche for a cheap to make cheap to run cooker for boiling water or cooking food.

I made an awesome info-graphic and I’ll add it here. it may be better to download the image or open it is a separate window to see it in its full glory.

It described the manufacture of one of many designs of the aluminium can stove.


Aluminium can stove info graphic

Manufacture notes

1-Remove all of the paint from the can with sandpaper.

2-Empty the can.

3-Put holes into top section. (thumb tack or drill)

4-Cut out the circular section around the ring pull. (razor blade)

5-Cut into 3 sections. (razor blade or tin snips)

6-Cut center section.(razor blade or tin snips)

7-Flange out the  sharp edge bottom section slightly. (screwdriver shaft)

8-(optional) add glass wool between bottom and center sections.

9-Put top section inside bottom section.


this stove runs best from pure alcohol.
Pure alcohol is quite hard to obtain. the pureset from of alcohol is methylated spirts.
methylated spirts is about 96-99% Alcohol.
the rest (1 -4%) is made up other impurities (like methanol) so that is is toxic and/or unplesant to drink.
Methlyated spirits is quite cheap at about $2-3 per litre making this a very economical fuel.

pour fuel into the center section of the stove and light.
it may be easier to light the stove with a  match or piece of paper or dry grass rather than a lighter.

during day time the flame may be difficult to see.
once light the stove cannot be easily extinguised and the flame heat is not adjustable.
Different sotves produce different ammounts of heat and this may be a way of controlling heat.
multiple stoves may be used together to produce more heat.

Why is this item important.
It shows that useful things can be made from commonly available low cost items.
It introduces people to making things for themselves.
In many situations the ability to boil water to sterilise it maybe a life saving device.

The material
Aluminium does not readily corrode except for in a very salty environment.
(such as in the salt spray zone of beaches)
Aluminium may begin to corrode when place in contact with other metals for extended periods of time.
Aluminium melts at 660C, so its unlikely to melt during normal operation.
the thickness of Aluminium in cans makes them quite fragile.
A  sturdy container is recomended to prevent the stove being crushed in a backpack.

Alternative designs
there are many alternative designs to the can stove.
Each have their merits in terms of use and ease of construction.
For some people constructing these is a serious hobby.


Scram bag: Scissors

It may seem like a mundane item but it’s extremely useful if you have a good pair of scissors.

Stainless steel is key here, durable, rust proof, sterilizable, retaining edge for extremely long periods of time.

For things as basic as cutting your fingernails and toenails to small craft projects these come in handy.

Of course because they can be sterilized in boiling water and/or bleach they can be useful for medical purposes ( medical knowledge not included).

A good medical kit will include scissors of some kind but its worthwhile having a pair of scissors for general use.

As pictured the scissors should have a small screw in the pivot point this is so they can be tightened if they become loose.

I have had these scissors for almost 20 years, a testament to how durable stainless steel really is.

Stainless steel scissors


Materials: Stainless steel

Some people would like everything they posses to be made from natural materials, and there are good reasons for that thinking.

However there is one material that is really special for a lot of reasons.

Stainless steel.

It doesn’t rust, and therefore can last for several lifetimes.

The most common varieties are 18/8 and 18/10, what these numbers refer to is the composition of chromium and nickel respectively, that is mixed with the iron to create this steel.

Often these numbers are stamped into the item, and commonly with the terms ‘Rost Frei’ (rust free) or ‘INOX’ (Inoxidible).

If the steel rusts its not stainless steel, however some rust spots on stainless steel are the result of other ‘lesser’ steels coming into contact with stainless steel and leaving their rust on the unblemished surface.

Stainless steel also has anti-bacterial properties due to the chromium levels in the metal, this makes it an ideal material for items related to cooking and eating.

Because of its anti rust properties its good for marine related uses too.

Some basic modifications to common stainless steel items:

Stainless steel fork: A few bound (prongs out) onto the end of a stick: fishing spear tip.

Stainless steel forks bound onto stick to make a fishing spear.

Stainless steel knife: cheap abuse proof sharp knife? Get a standard  stainless steel butter knife and sharpen it with a disc grinder, the knife will be close to razor sharp and won’t rust or dull easily.

Stainless steel  spoon:  Arrow head!- hammer flat,  cut off sides to make a sharp ‘V’ point, sharpen edges, cut off excess tang (handle), done.

Normal stainless steel teaspoon showing how a broad head arrow point can be made from it.

Stainless steel  Pot,  boiled water distillation, from salty or dirty to pure distilled water, stainless steel make this possible, a normal pot would rust eventually.

If you come across items made from stainless steel, I suggest you start collecting them even if you see no immediate application for them. Think of them as good metal… forever.

If you think collecting stainless steel sounds a bit silly, read on…

I once talked to a guy who did some welding in the outback of Australia in a mining town where they were routinely extracting tons of lead, silver, and beryllium. He was an immigrant and thought of stainless steel as being superior to normal steel and slightly not vastly more expensive. He asked for some stainless steel from his employers to complete the welding work he was doing, every one gave him a reaction as though he had asked for platinum or gold. Feeling like he had stepped into a parallel universe, he was wondering why there was no Stainless steel anywhere. there was no other material he could have used to complete the work either.

Eventually one of his bosses quietly lured him away from the others and whispered  “Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve got some Stainless steel”.  He was later ( in secret ) given access to a secret locked box perhaps the size of 2 shoe boxes which had about 40 random pieces of stainless steel in flat and pipe form. Most were clearly off-cuts salvaged from other work. The guy took a few pieces that seemed useful to the task at hand, but didn’t have enough to complete the job.

Later on another one of his bosses (a close friend of the first boss) lead him aside and essentially repeated the same process giving him access to a different secret stash of stainless steel, where upon he had enough material to complete the job. Interestingly neither of the bosses knew of each others Stainless steel stashes, the paranoia and secrecy surrounding this scarce material was so intense. Once he had acquired all the Stainless steel, each of the bosses realized that he had got stainless steel form more than one local source. Later on both bosses approached him on separate occasions to be reassured their source of Stainless steel had not been revealed and to inquire about where the other Stainless steel parts had come from. A few times subsequent, several people on the work site quizzed him about his source of stainless steel, to which had had to remain evasive. He thought it might have been part of an elaborate practical joke, like stories of the giant carnivorous red kangaroo that’s 25 feet tall with huge sharp teeth,  but they were just too serious about it, and there was no punchline later on. Some people in the area even speculated enviously over who might be secretly hoarding stainless steel, in the same way we might speculate who had gold bars under the bed. Apparently one of the few source of stainless steel in the town was a small truck that would travel all across the outback towns selling scrap stainless steel arriving at each town for a day about once or twice a year.

Remember that this happened in a prosperous mining town with a buoyant economy, long before peak oil was to occur. Why the paranoia and scarcity about stainless steel? Stainless steel was imported to the manufacturing bases in capital cities which were over 1000Km away, and most of the mines didn’t use stainless steel for their equipment so very little of it ever went near a mining town.  So short of hacking up or melting down cutlery and cookware (which had an equally large transport cost) there was no real source of this material. While this parable is a bit of an aside it does demonstrate that scarcity of a material or resource really does determine its value and the way people begin to act around scarce resources.

The irony of the story was, if he had asked for solid silver to do the work, people would have been quite accommodating, they had it in several different nugget and bullion forms.

Scarcity is  often; right here – right now, rather than; somewhere – eventually.

I think you’ll look at cutlery differently from now on.


An often overlooked quantity for a human in a difficult situation is mindset.

Mindset is a term unladen with psycho babble, and I’ll define it the way I think suits it best.

It’s how you look at the world, regardless about how you feel about the world, its how you look at it. Its how quickly you assess a situation. Its how quickly you admit you were wrong. It’s not giving up too easily. It’s learning from your successes and your mistakes.

So what is the mindset of a human that survives a crisis?

Determination, patience, pragmatism,sobriety.

Determination: You just can’t give up. This cannot be stressed enough.

Patience: this will help when determination wavers. sometimes just trying or waiting that little bit longer is all that it takes.Know when to be patient is just as important as the ability to sit it out.

Pragmatism: Sometimes unexpected thing will work in your favor, don’t feel you have been cheated  out of a challenge by fortune if things go your way for a while. There will be plenty of times where you have to work for it and you will need luck.There will be many times you have to choose the least worst of two options, which will be a lot different than the best one of several.

Sobriety: This means a calm and clear demeanor as much as it means don’t be out of you tree all the time. It doesn’t mean you cant have fun, but it does mean you have to choose carefully you moments when you can let your guard down. There will be plenty of dangers of all types, sobriety means you are more likely to see them coming than not. It will also mean you will be more likely to see opportunities as well.

These were the more important aspects of mindset, they don’t take into account skills, knowledge, situation, equipment or location, but even so they shouldn’t change much depending on other factors.

Cleaning yourself

Such a mundane but essential thing. You probably had a shower recently, you probably didn’t even think about it much until you read this.

How long were you in the shower?

How long did it take to get get clean and how long was just being a little self indulgent?

How much water do you think you used?

Consider yourself in a water and water heating limited situation.

How fast could you get yourself clean and what’s the least amount of water you could use?

Could you do it in 2 minutes?

Could you do it with less than 20 /10/ 5 liters of water?

What are you going to do with all the black(?) water you just created?

Have you tested your own home made soaps?