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The lost art of improvisation - Survival weapons & tools

By Cleve Cheney

We have become used to a society where everything we need is ready made. Seldom nowadays do we have to make something for ourselves and so we have, by and large, lost the art of improvisation.

What is meant by the art of improvisation? Improvisation is using something for a purpose for which it was not really intended.

A weapon is an object of offence or defence, an implement with which you can protect yourself inflict injury on another or which can be used to procure food.

A tool is an implement or object which is used to make something, which is used to facilitate a task or which can assist in procuring food.

In a survival situation a weapon can make the difference between having food or not having food – it can make the difference of being able to protect yourself or being vulnerable to attack by man or beast or both.
Whenever you find yourself in a survival situation and you do not have a weapon then start thinking about making one. Objects which would normally be considered useless rubbish suddenly take on great value and significance.

Weapons and tools work by crushing, cutting, penetrating, abrading or colliding with. With this realization you can now let your imagination run wild for any object that can crush, cut, penetrate or collide with is a potential weapon. Look around you – you are surrounded by weapons. All that is needed is a little imagination and ingenuity.


Cutting weapons must have a sharp edge. If possible the material used should be able to retain a sharp edge and should preferably be of such a nature as to be easily sharpened.

Cutting weapons or tools can be made from glass, hard rock like obsidian, or metal. What immediately comes to mind for "cutting" weapons are glass and steel and certain types of rock such as obsidian. The lid of a tin can, normally thrown away as garbage, can be turned into useful survival tools – one of which is for a cutting tool or weapon. A piece of round metal bar or wire can be hammered flat and the edges sharpened on a smooth stone. Broken glass can have a very sharp edge that can be fabricated into a very useful weapon. Sharp cutting tools or weapons can be obtained by "flint knapping" suitable rocks.

A crushing weapon or tool is usually a heavy object which is brought into heavy contact with another object, person, or animal. Once again one does not have to look far to find a crushing type weapon. A heavy stick, rock, wheel spanner readily come to mind. Good examples of crushing weapons are "knopkerries" made of wood or a heavy stone attached to a stick.

> Crushing weapons or tools can be made from rocks or hard wood. Here a rock is used to break open a coconut. Clubs (right) made from hard woods or rocks affixed to handles make effective crushing weapons.

Piercing or penetrating tools usually have a sharp point but do not necessarily have to have sharp cutting edges although in many cases such as with knives, spears and arrows this is the case. It is fairly easy to make piercing weapons. A sharpened wooden stake, or sharpened bicycle spoke would be obvious examples. In more primitive bows and arrows the latter have sharp points but not very sharp cutting edges.

< A sharpened stake, length of wire or pointed blade (be it an arrow, knife, spear) make for effective piercing or penetrating weapons

> Weapons with cutting edges include spears, arrows, knives, slashers, swords and so on.

A colliding weapon implies a projectile being launched from some launching device and the object colliding with an intended target and by virtue of it’s weight (mass), velocity, and / or sharpness can penetrate the target, but in some instances does not have to do so to be effective. Examples are arrows, spears, bullets, stones, rocks or other objects which are given an initial launch by hand or some propelling device. Figure 4 gives examples of these types of weapons.

< An example of colliding weapons – a catapult propel stones or other small projectiles towards a target.

To abrade means to "wear down through abrasion". Sandpaper or a file works by wearing down a surface through abrasion. In a similar way rough stones, and even some plant materials can be used to wear away, shape, sharpen or smooth down surfaces for a particular purpose.With a little imagination, survivors will be delighted to discover that they are surrounded by a variety of useable weapons and tools wherewith they can defend themselves, procure food, or use to make articles of survival value. All that is required is ingenuity and improvisation.All that is required is ingenuity and improvisation……..

Look at any object and ask yourself the following question:
What can this object be used for? The obvious will be obvious but once you allow yourself to "think laterally" (as the modern saying goes) you will discover many more useful possibilities – this is the lost art of improvisation.

In future articles we will look in detail at how to make a variety of useful weapons and tools.


About the Author

Cleve Cheney

Cleve Cheney

Cleve Cheney,  hunting and environmental editor of Africa’s Bowhunter is a very well known figure in bow hunting and in conservation circles in South Africa. Cleve Cheney has been in conservation for 27 years, of which 20 years were spent with the National Parks Board – most of it in the Kruger National Park. During the time spent in the Kruger National Park Cleve culled no less than 50 elephants with a rifle and he has hunted most African game during culling operations.

Cleve has also been an avid bow hunter for 22 years and he has an extensive technical knowledge on bows, arrows and broadheads. Cleve is also an accomplished bowyer and has built many recurves over the years. He began offering bowhunting education courses more than 15 years ago. Until recently, Cleve was a lecturer at the South African Wildlife College where was a lecturer and instructor. He has a diploma in Nature Conservations and a MA degree in animal Physiology. Over the years Cleve has written more than a hundred articles on tracking, hunting, survival skills, and bow and rifle hunting. He started an 18 month long professional hunters course at the SA Wildlife College where he trained the first group of professional hunters.

Cleve has trained many bow hunters and his educative articles on how to hunt African game, as well as many other articles on different aspects of archery bow hunting an bush skills has been published in Africa’s Bowhunter, Game and Hunt magazine, Universal Hunter and many other magazines. He has been the lead article writer for Africa’s Bowhunter for more than 14 years.

His book on tracking, The Comprehensive Guide to Tracking: In-depth information on how to track animals and humans alike, is probably the most in-depth study on this subject available. For those who want to learn more than the basics, this book is a treasure trove of tracking information, insights, methods, and knowledge. The book is divided into logical sections: teaching yourself to track; understanding wildlife behavior; identification of tracks and signs; gait patterns and pressure release; blood trailing; tracking specific animals; track, stalk, and approach; bird, reptile, and invertebrate sign; man tracking; and dangers in the bush.


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