Saturday, 5 May 2018

Improvised Lock Picking.

No-SPP Hook Picking.

The chances are that if you ever have to pick a lock “for real” you will be away from your lock pick kit. What tools you have you will have to improvise. It is possible to create a rake or half-diamond by bending in a key-way but it is more likely you will have to use some form of hook.

This does not necessarily mean you have to use single pin picking (SPP). There are a couple of things you can try before you resort to this.

The first is “go deep!” I have discovered many of my locks will open if I move a hook about at the very back of the key-way. Apply light torque as usual, then reach deep and hook upwards. This may act on the final pin, another part of the lock mechanism or some combination thereof. It may be a statistical abnormality that my particular collection of locks can be opened this way. It is something worth trying. This also suggests that some of the bypass techniques that a razor pick or mini-knife are suggested for may also work with a stout hook.

The second technique is rocking. I have mentioned this in previous posts but it is worth repeating. Rocking is my favourite techniques for using a rake but you can also try it with “non-rakes”. To rock with a hook invert it so it curves away from the pins. Apply light torque and see-saw the inverted hook up and down in the key way.

The third “no SPP” hook technique is called “zipping”. You will also see it called “ripping” or “dragging”, although these terms imply a level of force or violence that is not needed. Like so much lock picking, a lighter touch often yields better results. Zipping is a raking technique. Apply torque and insert your hook. Withdraw the hook, running the tip across the ends of the pins like a stick on a railing. It is worth trying this several times, varying the pressure, torque and the speed you withdraw the hook.

Sometimes these techniques will set some pins but not others. If you suspect this happening keep the torque applied so the pins do not reset and experiment with different combinations of the three.

Jiggling Small Locks.

Readers may recall how I acquired a very small lock to test my finger rakes on. The main problem was finding a turning tool small enough to fit in the lock in addition to the rake. Luckily I had a piece of hair pin I could modify. Yesterday an alternate approach occurred to me. I inserted just a rake in the key-way and used it to apply turning force as well as moving the pins. Effectively I was using the rake as a jiggler key. This is an option to bear in mind when dealing with very small locks. You need a fairly rigid rake to do this, such as a Dangerfield Bogota. Most picks will be too flexible and you risk breaking them.

Carry Hair Pins.

Add some hair pins to your lock picking, tool and emergency kits. They have numerous uses.

Final Tip.

I have said this before but it is worth repeating. Lock picking tends to be the antitheses of brute force. If something is not working the solution is usually less force, not more.

If you have enjoyed this article or it has been helpful to you please feel free to show your appreciation. Thank you.
The Books

Monday, 26 March 2018

Equipment Pouches.

One of my reasons for writing this post is that I came across a statement that a certain army was currently issuing several dozen different designs of equipment pouch. I see pouches for survival tins offered, which misses the point of a survival tin! One even sees belt pouches for KFS! This got me thinking about what configurations would be most useful. Some of us do not have an unlimited budget or supply system, after all!

It would be very nice to have pouches designed based on the golden ratio, such as in the proportions 1: 1.618: 2.618. Such gives a litre pouch of about 6 x 10 x 16 cm and a two litre of 7.8 x 12.6 x 20.3 cm. Attractive though these are, we must also consider more practical considerations such as the dimensions of the items that such pouches will be required to carry.

To begin with, let us consider a medium-sized utility pouch with internal dimensions of approximately a litre volume. This could serve as a water bottle carrier for typical military designs such as the British 1-litre ’58 pattern and the US 1-quart M-1961. There should also be room for associated items such as canteen cups and stoves, so size may be something around 9 x 14 x 22cm. Personally, I think a two-litre bladder with a drinking tube is more practical, but designing the medium utility pouch to take a water bottle also gives us a convenient size for many other items. If you don’t carry a water bottle the pouch can still carry a cup and stove, zip ties, pliers, cordage, flashlight and a useful collection of other items. It can be used to carry several magazines, bagged stripper clips or several grenades. The pouch itself would be fairly basic. If a draw-cord neck is desired a suitable liner is added. Likewise, inserts can configure the interior to specialist roles. There will be provision to mount smaller pouches on the outside should external pockets be desired.
There would also be a small utility pouch, perhaps of about 10 x 12 cm. This item is obviously inspired by the M1967 compass/ field dressing pouch, and like this item it can exploit mounting positions high on the body. It will also be convenient for mounting on the sides of a chest rig where larger pouches might be awkward. The proposed item will not use the popper fastening that the M1967 does, since these are fiddly if a pouch is partially filled or contains soft contents. For some contents it may be convenient to be able to mount the pouch with the opening downwards or to the side. As well as compasses and first field dressings (FFD) such a pouch can hold various other items and would serve as a pouch for frag grenades. This latter requirement may require a change in proportions. There may be a case for sizing this pouch to carry mobile phone-shaped items. Small utility pouches would be designed so they can be mounted on larger pouches.

The medium utility pouch will be complimented by a larger version of approximately twice the capacity. We will call this the “medium size 2” and the previously described variant the “medium size 1”.

The size 2 utility pouch would serve a number of functions and be designed so that it can be worn on the belt or be carried by shoulder strap. One of its roles is to carry a 2-litre hydration bladder fitted with a drinking tube. This allows the wearer to easily access a source of drinking water independent of any backpack. Another role for this pouch is to hold an immediate first aid kit (IFAK). This pouch would contain an insert roll holding a vacuum-packed major trauma kit and a pair of combat tourniquets. Two such pouches at the back of a soldier’s belt resembles a more compact version of the British army kidney pouches, but their contents are more useful and combat relevant.
The size 2 utility pouch was inspired by the Canadian utility pouch that was found to be useful for carrying a (C9) 200rd SAW drum. Alternately, a 100rd belt of 7.62x51mm/ 6.5mm Creedmore or five 30-round rifle magazines could be carried instead. If the waterbottle is the item we design the size 1 pouch around then the SAW reload is what the size 2 is designed around. For the ammunition carrying role the contents of the utility pouch should be rapidly and easily accessible. This again suggests that the utility pouches be a relatively simple design. For other roles one or more small stuff sacks could be carried in the pouch. It may be prudent to proportion the pouch so it can carry 2L plastic ice cream containers. Other possible contents include the US 2-quart canteen.
Utility pouches with shoulder straps allow a machine gunner’s ammunition load to be shared throughout a unit. Each soldier carries a bag and deposits it with the machine gun team when they take position. Such bags can also increase an individual’s ammunition if that carried by the chest rig is felt insufficient.

The fourth design of pouch would be the “munitions pouch”. As regular readers will know, I am fond of the chest rig. I am also a fan of not overloading said rig. The basic component of the chest rig should be a pouch that can accommodate a pair of magazines. Depending on body form a rig will have three or four of these. It makes sense to design the pouch for a pair of AKM 30 rd magazines, allowing it to also carry 20/ 25 round 7.62x51mm/ .260 Rem/ 6.5mm Creedmore magazines. Such a pouch can easily take a pair of 30 round 5.56mm magazines or a 60-round coffin mag. Box magazines for shotguns may also need to be considered. The pouch may be a little too big for the 5.56mm magazines but this may be addressed in several ways. The pouch may be adjustable or some item used as a spacer beneath the magazines (extra socks are always useful!). If the magazines are fitted with pull loops it probably does not matter if they sit deep in the pouch. Pull loops are detailed in my book “Survival Weapons: Optimizing Your Arsenal”. Should such pouches be built some smart company might produce larger capacity 5.56mm magazines the same length as those of the AKM. A number of pouches capable of taking a variety of magazines are already offered by a number of manufactures.

Other features of the munition pouch need to be considered. Some ammunition pouches have a pocket for a pistol magazine on their front. Such could also be used for other equipment such as wire cutters, flashlights etc. Many pouches do not have flaps, so it may be prudent to design the flap as removable. If fitted, should a flap need to be lifted up, as is traditional or is it more efficient to have it open forward? What is the most useful fastening for an ammunition pouch? Fastex buckle or tab and staple?  A possible design might be a separate flap piece held by a strap and quick release buckle at both front and back. This might also facilitate the pouch being adjustable to magazines or loads of varying height.
A single, filled munition pouch and a magazine on the rifle gives a shooter 90 – 120 ready rounds, which should be ample if correct fire discipline is observed. The remaining munition pouches might carry other contents. Such a pouch can take items such as rifle grenades or smoke grenades. It may also be used for items such as some designs of radios. At least one manufacture makes a “trauma insert” for ammunition pouches which contains an abbreviated IFAK. Extra small pouches to hold additional grenades can be added if the wearer desires.

“Dump pouches” have come into vogue in recent years. Many are designed to fold or roll up so they take up little room when not in use. Some are cleverly sized so that they can carry a soldier’s helmet when it is not worn.

A soft, padded pouch that could fit in the cargo pocket of a soldier’s trousers would be useful for survival items and first aid kits. This should have loops that fit over the pocket buttons to keep it in place.

Larger pouches may be needed for specialized roles. These could be carried as shoulder bags or mounted on larger packs or webbing. For example, some Canadian military units issued their personnel an extra buttpack to carry their NBC gear in. The Canadian 82 pattern butt pack was 30 x 25 x 12 cm, which is approximately 9.8 litres by my calculation. The US army M1961 butt pack was 22 x 21.5 x 14 cm, so about 6.89 litres. The most useful parameters for a buttpack/ shoulder bag need to be determined. Provision to attach small and medium utility pouches to the exterior needs to be included.
The M7 claymore mine bag (“bandoleer”) is another item that soldiers have found to be useful for functions other than its intended role. Such bags could carry ten 30-round magazines or 27 40mm grenades. A claymore bag has two pockets with a shared flap and is 30 cm square. Given their intended contents I would estimate that it is at least 5 cm deep, giving a capacity of about 4.7 litres. The claymore bag is similar in size to the haversacks used in the American civil war. These were used to carry rations and “table furniture” –a tin plate, cutlery and related items. The haversack had an easily washed cloth liner designed to protect the bag from the food and vice-versa. Civilian bags such as this one combine features of both, the larger pocket being useful for laptops.
I have touched on the topic of fasteners already. Fastex buckles or tab and staple systems are preferable to poppers, buttons, toggles or velcro. Fastening systems should be operable with one hand and compatible with gloves.

Ideally we do not want to issue duplicate items in different colour schemes. It is also worth remembering that disrupting the box shape of a pouch is different to camouflaging a whole person. The best “off the shelf” pattern for pouches is probably British two-colour desert DPM. The high contrast between the sand and brown disrupts both perceived shape and depth. The light sections help counter the body shading that usually can be seen with pouches. Two-colour DPM will be effective in a wide range of environments. In jungle the pattern helps break up the shape of more verdant patterned garments worn beneath it. In snow white tape can be added.

If you have enjoyed this article or it has been helpful to you please feel free to show your appreciation. Thank you.
The Books

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Frogs for Tools.

Entrenchments were a prominent feature of the American Civil War. Earthworks were an established component of sieges but this conflict frequently saw troops digging in at more temporary positions. “Hard Tack and Coffee (p.361)” tells us that each corps of 23,000 men had six wagons loaded with entrenching tools that were provided to units that needed them.
In later wars infantry were issued entrenching tools as part of their personal equipment. SLA Marshal criticised this practice:

The only amendment that might strengthen them would be to add that rations and ammunition should be specified only in the amounts which reason and experience tell us the Soldier is likely to expend in one day. Beyond that, everything should be committed to first line transport. This includes entrenching tools since twenty heavy and sharp-edged spades will give better protection any day to an entire company than 200 of the play shovels carried by Soldier
(The Soldier’s Load and The Mobility of A Nation, p.57)

There will be situations where a unit cannot be easily reached by the company train. The best approach most likely lies between the two approaches. A unit will have some tools organic to it but also have access to more substantial items from the company or battalion. For the prudent civilian the approach is similar. One should have portable items with some larger items cached at base, home or with a vehicle.
Level of issue is another issue. Some argue that if the enemy is close half the unit should dig while the other half stands guard, so only half the men should carry entrenching tools. If on a mobile patrol only a couple of tools may be needed. In an urban sweep digging tools are of limited use but there may be a need for crowbars and axes. This last point illustrates something that should be borne in mind in the following passages. For simplicity I may use spade-type entrenching tools for illustration but the proposed ideas are equally applicable to other types of hardware such as axes, mattocks, picks, tomahawks, prybars and so on.

When I was writing about the soldier’s load it became apparent that entrenching tool covers and carriers were rather superfluous. When on the march the entrenching tool is best carried with the rucksack. Rucksacks have numerous pockets, loops and straps that can be used to secure such an item so a carrier that can be affixed to them is redundant. There are times when the rucksack is not carried but the entrenching tool may be needed, and may be needed in a hurry! The various belt mounted carriers in common use take up a lot of room and do not permit the tool to be brought quickly into action. This is why we have numerous images such as the one below. Assault troops ignore their belt carriers and tuck their e-tools through their belts. The belly position is not ideal if the soldier has to crawl or is forced to go prone by enemy fire. A better position is around the right hipbone, as was often done with tomahawks. See my previous blog on fast-drawing of items such as tomahawks.
One function that a carrier or cover does serve is to protect the soldier from the sharp-edges of his tool. There are simpler, lighter and more efficient ways of doing this. The image shows a simple guard used with a tomahawk. For a spade a U-shape can be made from plastic or aluminium tube or siding. Cord or elastic and hooks or simple knots are used to keep this in place. Such constructions do not prevent the soldier from drawing his tool in an emergency. A muzzled pick, tomahawk or spade are still effective weapons.
If a tool does not carry well tucked through the belt a simple “frog” can be constructed. The simplest is to tie a cord into a circle and pass it behind the belt, letting one end to pass through the other to form a simple loop. Loops like this are used to carry hammers on tool belts. If the carry is considered too loose the circle is reduced. Other tricks can be used. It is possible to tie a clove hitch without access to the ends of a cord. This can be done with the hanging part of the loop and the shaft of the tool passed through the centre of the knot. Such a knot can be prevented from collapsing when empty by the simple use of a paperclip or loop of fishing line.

A better frog can be created from nylon strap. Ideally a second strap would be sewn to the outside of the loop, the outer having either a fastex or double-D buckle. The outer strap can be tightened when a more secure grip on the shaft is wanted, the buckle easily released when it is not. To the frog I would add one or two eyelets to which a short length of cord can be attached. For articles such as tomahawks the cord can be passed over the top of the tool and tucked down inside the loop, which is then tightened. This helps secure the tool but is easily released by the action of pulling upwards on the head.

Potentially, items such as machete sheaths and even pistol holsters could be designed to be compatible with the frog.

If you have enjoyed this article or it has been helpful to you please feel free to show your appreciation. Thank you.
The Books

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Seven tools of EDC.

Today, as I was coming into work I was thinking about “magic number seven”. In short, this is an observation that the average number of related “data chunks” a person can recall is seven, plus or minus two. This is usually specified as for short term memory, but may be relevant to longer term memorization of lists too.

A friend of mine is working on a language-related project. It seemed to me that if you must have lists of categories or affixes then breaking them up into groupings of seven or less might be a good approach.

As it is wont to do, my mind drifted and I began to think about the ninja “six tools of travelling”. I know six is not seven, but bear with me a moment. I remember this list by recalling that three things on it are “flexible”: hat, rope, “towel”; and that three are not: medicine, writing kit and fire tube. As I point out in my earlier article, this list does not include a knife, since telling a ninja or any other sensible person of that era to carry one was probably redundant. If we add knife/ tool to the list it becomes seven.

Ok, I thought, does what I have on me right now meet the criteria of the six/ seven tools of travelling/ everyday carry (EDC)?
  • Firstly, I have a hat. It’s cold out and my head has little remaining natural insulation. If it was sunny out and I was planning to spend any time outside I would probably have a hat of a different design.
  • Rope, or cordage at least. I have a spare shoelace tucked into the bottom of a pocket. I also have the dental floss in my pocket kit which can be used for a variety of purposes.
  • “Towel”. The item the ninja regarded as a towel was a relatively thin, multipurpose item. I have a bandana in my pocket which can serve similar purposes, including as an emergency hat.
  • Medicine. My pocket kit contains plasters, painkillers and disinfectant wipes.
  • Writing kit. I have a pencil. I can also write things down on my phone.
  • Fire. No ninja tube of smouldering charcloth, but I do carry a source of fire. A lighter rides in the same pocket as the bandana and shoelace.
  • Knife. I carry a Swiss army knife and a mini-Leatherman squirt and have a Swiss army classic mini-knife on my key ring.
These seven tools do not just represent concrete objects. They also represent broader, more generic categories. For example, the hat also represents shelter, so includes a coat suited to the weather, scarf and gloves should they be needed and the survival blanket I carry. The writing kit also represents communication, so includes my phone and the USB drive I carry. Communication can include signalling, which includes my phone and the whistle and photon light on my keychain. Illumination can be taken as a subset of signalling. The knife also represents tools in the narrower sense, so includes my mini-prybar, diamond sharpening card and the P38-style can opener on the keychain. The knife also represents the requirement for self-defence, where such is permitted.
As can be seen, the “seven tools of EDC” are a good starting point for planning an EDC or larger kit. There are other categories, of course. Money is always useful and documentation may be needed. I carry tape, pins and other items that might be used for repairs. These might be considered a subset of the knife/ tools category. I may add a magnetized needle and a few feet of invisible thread to my little bag of pins and paperclips. None of the seven categories really covers navigation but I do carry a Suunto clipper compass which has proved to be surprisingly useful in town. On the next level up food and water, or the means to procure and prepare them should be addressed. At the EDC level this is addressed by the money and credit card. If you live in a very hot, dry environment carrying a supply of water on your person is prudent.
If you have enjoyed this article or it has been helpful to you please feel free to show your appreciation. Thank you.
The Books