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question-tm.jpgnrChris commented on today’s TV Tonight post regarding Lost’s return to TV tonight and speculated on how they managed to build all those shelters and such by hand with virtually no tools.  He ended his post with the question, “How well would the Toolmonger readers hold up on a deserted island?”

That got me to thinking.  If you were to find yourself in the position of having to build everything you need from scratch, what five tools would you choose to have with you?

Admittedly, I’d say that unless you’re extremely creative — methane production from domestication of local animals and a methane-converted generator? — power tools are probably out.

Anyway, if you’ve got a minute, get your MacGyver on and drop us a comment with your list and justification for it.  And remember, every valid comment on the Toolmonger site serves as an entry into our RIDGID MaxSelect Giveaway.


29 Responses to Reader Question: What five tools would you take with you to a deserted island?

  1. nrChris says:

    I am flattered to have sparked a post, so here are my thoughts,

    -hatchet (doubles as a knife, hammer, hunting weapon, etc)
    -hack saw (make nice pieces from wrecked boat / airplane)
    -buck saw (I know it is redundant but I am not going to cut through trees with a hack saw)
    -egg beater style hand drill with 1″ auger bit (fitting things together, makeshift plumbing fixtures, etc)
    -Sat phone with GPS and extra capacity battery. (Screw that hand tool survivalist thing, I am going home!)

  2. Me says:

    Five tools in no particular order.
    1. An average sized hammer. For pounding things together or apart.
    2. A shovel. For digging and so forth.
    3. A sharp, large knife. (Machete maybe?). For cutting vegatation, food prep, self-defense.
    4. An axe to chop larger lumber and so forth.
    5. A Leatherman-type multi-tool to assist with some of the other tasks that will most likely come up.

    That’s my quick list.

  3. Aaron says:

    1. Leatherman WAVE
    2. Regular Axe
    3. Fire (I consider it a tool)
    4. Bush Saw (like a large hacksaw, but for wood)
    5. Shovel

  4. Randy says:

    5 tools, assuming that I won’t be rescued, and will have to make a life on the island, a’la Lost.

    1. Axe – Cutting timber and vines as needed. Shelter, fire, busting open coconuts, crustaceans, etc.
    2. Brace with 1″ Auger Bit – For making tools (mallets), water carriers, etc.
    3. Knife – Cutting, hunting, building traps, general use.
    4. Saw – Sawing wood is easier than chopping it, and can be used for building a boat perhaps.
    5. Big set of Channel-lock Pliers. Crushing, gripping/pulling things, tending the fire, bending metal, etc.

    With these, I could make wooden or stone mallets, build shelter, build a boat, crudely work metal into usable items, provide/prepare food. I could probably make crude digging spades from wood or scrounged metal.

  5. bbot says:

    1. Hatchet
    2. Folding knife
    3. Brace and bit
    4. Bar of michmetal (Fire!)
    5. A few hundred feet of cord.

  6. The foremost quality of a Toolmonger is creativity. Tools are a means to the expression of creativity in usable form. Therefore, the first tool would be something along the lines of a boyscout handbook, to jumpstart the creative juices.

    Second would be an 8-12 in blade. It is difficult to reproduce the functions of a good knife in the wilderness.

    Third, a large cup or small bucket. While this can be fashioned from native materials, it is unlikely that time to find and craft the materials would be on your side. Water is a necessity and must be located and ingested quickly. It will also function as a poor man’s shovel. If it’s square, I can even use it to form mud bricks.

    Fourth, a saw. This will be used to make firewood, shelter, other tools, traps, etc. A cross-cut hand saw will be fine, but one the the Japanese combo saws will work too.

    And last, a nice pair of shades. I’ll want to sit back on my self-made lounge and admire my work, undisturbed by cell phones, tv, noisy neighbors, et al.

  7. TimG says:

    Neat question. Some good suggestions by others, my five would be:

    – buck saw (making quickish work of cutting trees to build a boat/shelter/firewood would be very important)

    – flint/steel (FIRE.. duh!)

    – medium sized knife (very heavy duty knife, used for carvy, cutting up fish/animals to eat, making rope, etc)

    – bucket (I probably wouldn’t have thought of this, but do think it is a great idea)

    – BIG roll (largest this game allows, haha) of heavy duty twine or fishing line (for making the shelter, fishing, trapping, holding a boat together, making a sail.. )

    Be a fun adventure actually =)


  8. So, whose going to drop us off and see if this really works?

  9. Tom says:

    1. lots of para-cord
    2. saw
    3. multi-tool
    4. firestarter
    5. fixed blade knife

  10. Paul says:

    Everyone is bringing blades but I don’t see anyone packing a sharpening stone. So I’d bring one of those, I do when I go camping.

    A flint. Fire good.

    A machete. Unless I can trade up to a Bushmaster survival knife and kit.

    A frontier hatchet. Hammer, hatchet, prybar combo.

    A compass. In case I get tired of the easy life. More an instrument than a tool, but the question did not specifically limit I don’t think.

    I see people ahead of me with fishing line but no hooks. Or leathermen, like they’re going to be running into so many screws to turn. Lots of twofers on the list too it looks like. Like two knives, one for this, and the other for that. As I already said lots of blades, but no method to sharpen any of them. Really, I am predicting a 100% casualty rate with this bunch!

  11. Is there an upper size limit?

    Because you really can get an awful lot done with an axe, a machete, some rope, and a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer.

  12. Randy says:

    You can sharpen a knife/axe/hatchet/machete/anything metal or wood on a rock. You can start a fire with with friction. A compass has little use on a small island. You can quickly learn your way around several hundred acres of land, and it’s even easier when the boundaries are so well defined. A hatchet is just a wimpy axe, barely useful for making camp firewood, useless for trying to do serious wood cutting. A machete is good for chopping vegetation, and some other tasks, but is not an all purpose tool. A knife would serve better for most slicing tasks.

    Specialized tools are no substitute for imagination. If you are limited to 5 tools, you have to get the most utility out of what you take. If you can bring 1 tool and make 5 others with it later, it’s better to bring it than to leave it, even if it is not the most needed tool initially. I will admit that the brace and auger bit are a specialized tool, but they will aid in making many things. I could use a knife to make holes, but it’s slow, dangerous, and likely to break my knife eventually. I could burn holes, but it is slow and imprecise. I could use a pointed rock on the end of a stick, but I might find some pieces of metal as flotsam, and if I needed to drill them, the stick and rock would be a huge pain.

    I saw a show on PBS called “One Man’s Wilderness” about a guy that just moved to Alaska with a few tools and supplies, built a house and started living. That’s how I approached this answer. What tools would I really need to do the serious work of long term living without modern conveniences. If I couldn’t make it, I’d have to bring it. If I’m limited to 5 things, I need them to be useful for serious work, and have utility in making more tools in the future.

    Of course, this is just a highly confined thought experiment, so please don’t take any offense to my critiques of your answers. They are only my opinion, and you know what they say about those.

  13. Chris Ball says:

    Local conditions matter, except perhaps for the cat which would be good nearly anywhere. Any island near me will be absolutely loaded with (and made of) granite which is generally fine for sharpening things if you aren’t too picky (not so good for planer blades), it would also be very likely that if there isn’t a stream, you wouldn’t have to dig very far to hit water (and it would rain on you near daily for eight months of the year). So given that:

    1.) Pulaski Axe, which is a single bit axe and grub hoe combined, could probably be sharpened into a crappy adze for making a dugout.
    2.) Fire, artificial flint, butane lighter, lots and lots of hurricane matches, which ever is closest when the ship is sinking.
    3.) Really big florescent tarp, (instant shelter, rain catcher, signalling device)
    4.) Lots of warm waterproof clothes which helps limit the necessity of number 2.
    5.) A giant pile of food so the main tool (me) can have enough energy to shiver and tough it out and I don’t have to spend all my time and energy figuring out which beetles are yummiest.

  14. John says:

    Like many above me, I’d bring a blade of some sort, an ax of some sort, a fire making instrument, a carbine and lots of cartridges, and a large Katrina-esque tarp.

    a blade: a machete type blade would be best, cut jungle, prepare food, etc. it’s hard to make a good blade, but you can make other tools with one.
    an ax: a solid large ax, it would double as a large hammer as well. No other took does the job of an ax very well. You can cut wood to make tools.
    fire: a flint starter would be sufficient, and probably last longer than a bic or zippo. You can use two sticks, but your time is better spent making other tools rather than trying to make fire, especially if it’s rainy.
    a carbine and cartridges: it’s just a tool, no matter how some people want to paint it. self defense and hunting. No point making tools if you can’t defend yourself from natives/animals. And getting protein from meat is much easier with one than without.
    tarp: shelter and collection of rainwater. it’s hard to weave a waterproof fabric to provide shelter and to hold large amounts of water for storage. You need water and food to survive to make tool creation possible.

  15. Joe Alcorn says:

    Tool 1: Stanley Fubar Multifunction Pry Bar
    Tool 2: A woodsman’s pal machete
    Tool 3: 12′ x 10′ ORANGE poly tarp
    Tool 4: Long handled spade
    Tool 5: one-man buck saw

  16. Michael says:

    1. Axe – medium sized for felling trees, etc. can also be used as a mallet
    2. Adze – for shaping wood
    3. Machete – clearing undergrowth
    4. Multi-tool or knife, almost any, best if it has tweezers – multiple uses
    5. Survival Cards™ By Lee Nading – best compact survival reference set, see below for a listing of what is included and a link. My dad had an awesome tropical/sub tropical set (Navy Vet) that I memorized as a kid. I can’t seem to find thenm anywhere.

    I know that I don’t have a tool listed for number 5, mostly because there really isn’t a need for more. The card set I listed instead would take the place of my memory which is becoming more faulty as I get older. If that doesn’t qualify as a tool, bump it of the list.

    Protection against predators would be (on a deserted island) overkill. I would be the biggest predator. Islands have to be really big to support a predator that would hunt a human (except in Hollywood). If I needed to I’d make some spears. If I had to worry about hostile natives than I’d be up the creek. There’d be only one of me and I’d have to sleep sometime. If they hunted people then my best bet would be that they didn’t notice me. Shooting at game would alert them, big no-no, but then this is a deserted island so I guess that’s a moot point.

    All of what I would need to build (shelter, traps, water collection and storage)
    could be built using the tools above. I guess having rope would be nice, but I’d rather have a good length of wire instead. More useful for snares.

    A nice shelter good be built quite simply. I wouldn’t attempt to build a waterproof structure. Too much work for too little return. A lean-to would suffice.

    For food I’d have to depend on fruits, roots, tubers and fish. The former I’d gather with my best tools (hands). I’d make a simple split spear to fish with.

    Water would be my biggest concern. If there wasn’t a fresh supply (spring) I’d have to depend on finding plants that store water, make a rainwater collection device.

    Survival card set –
    The most comprehensive compact survival guide.

    * Wt. 1 oz.
    * Five sturdy 3 in. x 5 in. plastic cards
    * 300 Facts and Techniques, 40 First Aid.
    * 150 Illustrations, incl. 64 Edible Plants
    * contents field tested; military survival sources
    * bulk less, weightless, durable, weatherproof

    Water: all climate zones, solar still, purification. Shelter: lean-tos, natural hiding places, snow blocks. Fire: tinder, flint/steel, bow-drill, burning glass, bone/fat, ammunition, battery, torches Edibles: insects, birds, animals, reptiles, marine life; 64 edible plants. Hunting, Trapping: devices, tips, snares, spears. Fishing: tips, traps, drugs. Equipment: implements, chipping stone, cordage, sinew, bow and arrow, pottery, weaving, rafts, snowshoes, pitch, wooden knife, more. Techniques: dressing game, rawhide, tanning, cooking, roasting, drying meant, pemmican and jerky, cooling food. Desert, Arctic, Tropics: facts regarding dangers, water, travel, wild edibles. Survival Tips: plant edibility test, nutrition, packing equip., travel, knots, measurement equivalents and scales, rescue pick-up. Emergency Signals: heliograph mirror, fires, ground-to-air symbols, body signals, code. 40 First Aid Topics: mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, external heart massage, shock, pressure points, suturing, amputation, insect and snake bite, sunstroke, hypothermia, crushing wounds, gunshot, scurvy, typhoid, fractures, dislocations, and more…


  17. James says:

    There are a couple of tools I’m surprised I haven’t seen yet. I guess my list is going to be radically different than most so far…

    1. Cat’s paw. If you haven’t seen one, it’s a traditional Japanese tool that combines a pry-bar, a nail pull, and a hammer all in one. I have two different sized ones and they work very well together. You can use both as pry-bars for extra leverage, or you can use one as a chisel and the other as a hammer. I use them all the time. In fact, I used one earlier tonight to tear apart a built in cabinet. I needed no other tools.

    2. Dozuki rip saw. I love these saws, but make sure it’s a rip saw with an uncomplicated tooth pattern. Many Japanese saws are impossible to sharpen with basic sharpening tools.

    3. Triangle file. If a whole file set can count as one tool, all the better. If I can only take one, I’ll have to take a triangle file. Sure you can sharpen your knife or axe on a rock, but you’ll ruin your saw.

    4. Machinist’s vise. If I’m making my own tools, I will certainly want one of these. You can beat or squeeze many things into submission with this. Plus, it can hold my saw while I sharpen it.

    So I now have one slot left, and no knives or axes. The side of the pry-bar on the cat’s paw can be sharpened, but it may be difficult to use as a knife or axe. However, I can’t think of any tools that are easier to make than knives or axes, so I’ll take my chances and go way into left field:

    5. Drill press. Seriously. The first thing I’d do is remove the motor and rig up a way to power it with my legs. Then I would find or fashion a fairly cylindrical rock and chip out some indentations on the top and bottom so I could get it to spin. With a setup like that, I can fashion blades in no time. I could also tilt it 90 degrees and use it as a lathe. Eventually I could build a small wooden windmill and give my legs a rest. 🙂

  18. Eli says:

    It’s deep into the list and many things valid have been mentioned, so some repeats:

    -Magnifying glass
    -Medium stainless pail
    -3.5 ” folding knife (with pocket clip to hold it onto your fur bathing suit) I like the Gerber ez-out w/ combo blade
    -US Army Woodsman’s Pal (heavy machete)
    -150′ line (whatever you got)

  19. Bill says:

    – axe
    – brace and drill bits (at least one decent sized bit)
    – Maul/pick
    – hammer
    – wetstone

    I’d need to chop things (aluminum commonly found in planes and boats can be hacked at with an axe too). I’d want to be able to drill holes for all manner of reasons. I’d imagine being able to dig holes too. Whether it be for a well, a shelter, latrine or even to dig up a hatch or two. Of course I’ll need to pound things together with a hammer and I’ll want to try and keep things sharp too.

  20. ambush27 says:

    lets see,
    an ax
    a saw
    a knife
    a strong rope
    and a bucket
    I was considering a sharpening stone but I figured there was a good chance of natural alternatives.

  21. Terry HUmphries says:

    Who needs 5! Just give me a rool of duct tape and I’ll build any thing else I need using it!

  22. Terry Humphries says:

    Hum, looks like the first thing I better make is a spell checker…

  23. Fong says:

    1. The Professor
    2. MaryAnn
    3. Ginger (The MovieStar)
    4. Skipper
    5. Giligan

    Those guys figured out how to survive 4 seasons with stuff that just washed ashore.

    1. Blade (strong enough to chop, Tom Hanks used the bottom of an ice skate in Castaway)
    2. Bucket (holding anything, including water)
    3. Tarp (A large enough one can be used to set up shelter from rain, as well as catch rain, or catch evaporating water when dry. Punch holes in part of it to make a net.)
    4. Flint Stick of some kind.
    5. Giant roll of waterproof duct tape

  24. Charlie says:

    1. Duct Tape, ’cause duct rules all.
    2. Swiss Army Knife, for cutting said tape, etc.
    3. Multi-Tool of some sort, just in case you happen upon goodies from previous stranded folk.
    4. Stick of magnesium, for making fire (I’m too lazy for the stick-rubbing thing)
    5. 500′ spool of parachute cord, for tying things together.

  25. Rob says:

    1. Axe
    2. Saw
    3. Knife
    4. Tarp
    5. Lathe (well you know what they say, you can make anything with a lathe ;))

  26. ian says:

    1. leatherman
    2. 22 oz hammer
    3. tarp
    4. first-aid kit
    5. sawzall

    (this is a desert island with power, right?)

  27. MikeSac says:

    1. Hatchet (obvious reasons)
    2. A dependable rifle
    3. Big box of ammo
    Am I really the only one who thought to bring a gun?
    4. Tarp – big as I can carry
    5. Bic lighter

  28. Jon Soroko says:

    1. Halligan tool (Firefighter’s multi-edged pry bar – I think they’re called something else in other parts of the country – the New York legend is that it was invented by a NYC fireman named Halligan);

    2. Leatherman or Spyderco multi-tool;

    3. Rope or cable;

    4. Mineral/friction based firestarter

    5. Tarp or sheeting – Nomex/Goretex/Kevlar in some combination

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