Old-Time Skills - Basic Skills for Survival and Self Sufficiency

Basic old-time skills are more important to you today than ever. Skills that used to be a normal part of daily life become newly important when our everyday conveniences are not available. In a best-case scenario we may not be required to know these skills but these days it’s best to be prepared.

“The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortable living from a small piece of land.”

Abraham Lincoln

The Good Old Days

Little did we know that everyday skills Grandma and Grandpa practiced would eventually become our safety net. In the good old days, tanning, butchering and blacksmithing were part of everyday life, but today we might not even know what some of these words mean.

The old time skills once used in the process of everyday life were simply chores before the conveniences that we now enjoy became available. The difference between the good old days and our time is that most of these skills then were a matter of necessity. The unfortunate reality today is that the need to have these basic skills might come unexpectedly before we are prepared.

If you are lucky enough to have this knowledge, you are one step ahead. If you do not, then it is time to learn the basics of these skills so that you may explore them further. Basic survival old-time skills include the knowledge of:

  • Butchering
  • Tanning
  • Weaving
  • Blacksmithing
  • Wine and liquor making
  • Candle making
  • Sugar making

“Over the years, Americans in particular have been all too willing to squander their hard-earned independence and freedom for the illusion of feeling safe under someone else's authority. The concept of self-sufficiency has been undermined in value over a scant few generations. The vast majority of the population seems to look down their noses upon self-reliance as some quaint dusty relic, entertained only by the hyperparanoid or those hopelessly incapable of fitting into mainstream society.”

Cody Lundin, When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need To Survive When Disaster Strikes


The most common animals to butcher are the cow, pig, sheep, goat and some of the smaller animals such as chicken and rabbit. If you are a hunter, you can butcher game such as deer, wild hogs, moose and various types of fowl such as wild turkey. Methods may vary slightly depending on the type of animal, but a few basic rules apply to all of them.

The main tool required for butchering is a sharp butcher knife, and, in the case of larger animals, you should have a large knife as well as a smaller one.

The main purpose in learning the old time skills of butchering is to minimize waste and to avoid any contaminations that will either affect the taste of the meat or spoil the meat altogether.

Just as important as proper butchering, you want to make sure that you choose the proper storing methods for your meat. In cases where you may not have power for refrigeration or freezing, methods such as curing and drying will allow you to maximize the life of the meat.

Proper butchering takes into account the skins and hide to avoid any damage or waste. The skins of the animal are valuable, and the proper way to process them is one of the old-time skills that go hand-in-hand with butchering.

“Equip yourself for your own needs.”

 Patti Digh, What I Wish For You: Simple Wisdom for a Happy Life


Tanning is the process of treating the skins of animals to produce leather. The skins go through various stages in the tanning process before you get leather that is useable. The first stage is curing the skin either by storing the skin in low temperature or curing it with salt. The main purpose for curing is to stop the hides from spoiling by slowing down the growth of bacteria.

Several steps are completed between curing and tanning. Here is a brief look at each:

  • Soaking — Soaking skin in clean water to remove salt
  • Liming — Treatment with milk of lime to remove unwanted particles
  • Deliming — Bringing down PH to increase enzyme activity
  • Bating — Treatment with extra enzymes to soften the skin
  • Pickling — Treatment with common salt and sulfuric acid to enable tanning

The type of tanning you use depends on what kind of final product you want from your leather.


Among old time skills, the craft of weaving is one that you will appreciate when the time comes. Weaving will come in handy when you need to repair patches, weave fabric for new clothing and weave useable items such as baskets, covers and blankets. The methods that you use when learning weaving will also apply to unexpected tasks such as setting traps, weaving a hammock and even patching large holes in your shelter. The materials you use may change, but by learning how to weave, you acquire a very useful skill.

Wine and Liquor Making

Wine and liquors have been a part of our diet since the beginning of civilization. With the basic knowledge of how to prepare these spirits, your old-time skills will ensure that you always have a supply at home.

You can make many variations of wine to suit your taste by varying the types of fruits that you choose to use for your wine making. We often think of grapes as the only fruit source for wine, but you can use a variety of other fruits to ferment delicious and unique wines.

Grains such as barley and rye, as well as corn and potatoes, are generally used to make hard liquor. A big difference between wine and hard liquors is their processing time, as hard liquors generally take a few months whereas wine can age for years.

Learn more at How to Make Wine

Candle Making

Candles are the first things that you think about when the power goes out. Mastering the old time skills of candle making will provide you the light you need for basic tasks. Candles are also one of the first few things to run out of supply at your local supermarket. Making candles is one of the simple old-time skills that you can learn quickly. More than 20 different waxes can be used but paraffin, gel and beeswax are used most often. Add a jar and a wick, and you have the basic essentials to making good candles.


The art of forging steel and iron into useable tools has really become a lost trade. Very few blacksmiths are still in operation these days, but the need for these old-time skills will always be here.

The blacksmithing trade has many sources of information and guides to help you in the process of learning this skill. Children as young as 8–10 years can learn the skill of blacksmithing and you too can learn the basics. Blacksmithing will empower you to make your own tools, building materials and weapons.

Making Sugar

Sugar is a natural byproduct of fruits and vegetables, and you can learn how to change beets and sugar cane into useable sugar. The main phases in creating sugar include:

  • Harvesting — Growing and processing the sugarcane or beets
  • Extraction — The process of slicing the harvest and releasing the sugar juice
  • Pressing — Squeezing the remaining slices to release excess sugar
  • Carbonatation — Cleaning of juice before processing
  • Boiling — Removal of excess water, leaving sugar crystals

The final product will be the white sugar that we know, recognize and love.

Old Time Skills For Life

Learning these skills is a work in progress and as you integrate them into your everyday activities, you will learn even more skills and find them to be a natural part of your life. With basic knowledge, you have a great foundation to continue building proficiency in some old-time skills.

More Old Time Skills for Self Reliance and Survival

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