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You Don't Know the Power of the Spade

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There will be very many uses for digging and for basic hand tools in a post-collapse world. Among them are agriculture, building and construction, and defence. To perform a lot of digging with hand tools, many people in modern life (and especially those with sedentary office jobs) will need to maintain a higher level of fitness than they currently have.

This page outlines the types of things that can be accomplished with very basic non-powered tools. Even just one very small spade, a lot of practice with it, determination, and a high level of physical fitness. It's presented as an end-goal in terms of a practical use for physical fitness — and also to demonstrate how much can potentially be done with such a basic implement.

The tray of the wheelbarrow below came from the local hardware store. I think it cost $10. The wheel was probably lying around the garden somewhere. A lot of things were lying around the garden. The rest of it, Dad made himself. I remember him proudly showing me the contouring he put into the wooden handle grips — which looked quite professional up-close.

Luke Skywalker's father knew the power of the dark side, but my father knew the power of the spade. He spent two full-time years years working like a convict to dig out enough rock and soil for the basement of our home extensions, almost entirely using simple non-powered hand tools. He even built the wheelbarrow.

Luke Skywalker's father knew the power of the dark side, but my father knew the power of the spade. He spent two full-time years working like a convict to dig out enough rock and soil for the basement of our home extensions, almost entirely using simple non-powered hand tools. He even built the wheelbarrow.

And Dad didn't even sharpen the edges of his spades to a knife-like level of sharpness (or sharpen them at all, as far as I can remember), like some people do. I'm referring here to the story below on this web page — and also to a gardening book I have which advises to sharpen the digging edges of your spades. In the gardening book, the reason is to make digging easier. I read that book before I ever read about the Spetsnaz (as you are about to), and it was the first time I even thought of the idea of sharpening the edges of a spade.

Below is an inspirational quote about what can be done with just a small spade 50 centimetres long including the blade and handle. Compared to this tiny piece of equipment, a full size spade with a long handle would be a luxury item. And be very much easier to dig with.

In modern life we're used to thinking of most digging work as being performed with petrol or diesel-powered machinery. And that an ordinary garden spade is an extremely primitive item in comparison. This quote attempts to turn that idea around somewhat — compared to a spade that's 50 centimetres long including both the blade and the handle, a full sized garden spade is a very powerful and capable tool.

The Soviet MPL-50 Entrenching Tool from 1917 and 1939.

The Soviet MPL-50 Entrenching Tool from 1917 and 1939. Photo by Andshel/Wikipedia.

From Spetsnaz: The Inside Story of the Soviet Special Forces, by Viktor Suvorov. Page 1, Chapter 1: Spades and Men:

Every infantryman in the Soviet Army carries with him a small spade. When he is given the order to halt he immediately lies flat and starts to dig a hole in the ground beside him. In three minutes he will have dug a little trench 15 centimetres deep, in which he can lie stretched out flat, so that bullets can whistle harmlessly over his head. The earth he has dug out forms a breastwork in front and at the side to act as an additional cover. If a tank drives over such a trench the soldier has a 50% chance that it will do him no harm.

At any moment the soldier may be ordered to advance again and, shouting at the top of his voice, will rush ahead. If he is not ordered to advance, he digs in deeper and deeper. At first his trench can be used for firing in the lying position. Later it becomes a trench from which to fire in the kneeling position, and later still, when it is 110 centimetres deep, it can be used for firing in the standing position. The earth that has been dug out protects the soldier from bullets and fragments. He makes an embrasure in this breastwork into which he positions the barrel of his gun.

In the absence of any further commands he continues to work on his trench. He camouflages it. He starts to dig a trench to connect with his comrades to the left of him. He always digs from right to left, and in a few hours the unit has a trench linking all the riflemen's trenches together. The unit's trenches are linked with the trenches of other units. Dug-outs are built and communication trenches are added at the rear. The trenches are made deeper, covered over, camouflaged and reinforced. Then, suddenly, the order to advance comes again. The soldier emerges, shouting and swearing as loudly as he can.

The infantryman uses the same spade for digging graves for his fallen comrades. If he doesn't have an axe to hand he uses the spade to chop his bread when it is frozen hard as granite. He uses it as a paddle as he floats across wide rivers on a telegraph pole under enemy fire. And when he gets the order to halt, he again builds his impregnable fortress around himself. He knows how to dig the earth efficiently. He builds his fortress exactly as it should be. The spade is not just an instrument for digging: it can also be used for measuring. It is 50 centimetres long. Two spade lengths are a metre. The blade is 15 centimetres wide and 18 centimetres long. With these measurements in mind the soldier can measure anything he wishes.

The infantry spade does not have a folding handle, and this is a very important feature. It has to be a single monolithic object. All three of its edges are as sharp as a knife. It is painted with a green matt paint so as not to reflect the strong sunlight.

The spade is not only a tool and a measure. It is also a guarantee of the steadfastness of the infantry in the most difficult situations. If the infantry have a few hours to dig themselves in, it could take years to get them out of their holes and trenches, whatever modern weapons are used against them.

The spetsnaz soldier loves his spade. He has more faith in its reliability and accuracy than he has in his Kalashnikov automatic. An interesting psychological detail has been observed in the kind of hand-to-hand confrontations which are the stock in trade of spetsnaz. If a soldier fires at an enemy armed with an automatic, the enemy also shoots at him. But if he doesn't fire at the enemy but throws a spade at him instead, the enemy simply drops his gun and jumps to one side.

This is a book about people who throw spades and about soldiers who work with spades more surely and more accurately than they do with spoons at a table. They do, of course, have other weapons besides their spades.

Post-WWII design. The blade cover to the left allows wearing the MPL-50 on the belt, in the blade up orientation.

Post-WWII design. The blade cover to the left allows wearing the MPL-50 on the belt, in the blade up orientation. Photo by One half 3544 / Wikipedia.

Cover image by Cpl. Reece Lodder, U.S. Marine Corps. U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. David Manning digs a foxhole at his platoon's defensive position during Operation Shahem Tofan Eagle Storm in the Garmsir district, Helmand province, Afghanistan, on Feb. 12, 2012.

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