The Torch Bat Project
PART ONE: MAKING LIGHT
Back when I was a magazine editor, I was tasked to create a survival/preparedness magazine to cash in on the prepper craze. It was to be a one-off publication, a newsstand play for some quick money. This is what desperate baby boomer magazine publishers do these days: they throw shit at the wall and see what sticks. As it turned out, the magazine did quite well and the sell-through rate on the news stand was an astounding 60 percent--unheard of in an industry where the average rate is an anemic 10 percent at best.
So I was asked to make another issue, and then another and another and that continued for a few years until the suits kneecapped the whole enterprise. But during those years, I read deeply and widely about survival topics and how to live a prepared life. My bullshit detector was always on because in that world, a lot of things make no sense at all and there is a lot of bad advice that could get you killed.
I became very interested in grid-down scenarios: the power is out for an indefinite amount of time and things are looking grim. People fire up their generators but there are gas shortages and eventually fuel becomes extremely scarce. The lights of households flicker out one by one. Your canisters of Coleman propane slowly empty, even after careful rationing. Your rechargeable lithium batteries are useless and died long ago. Your flashlights grow dimmer and dimmer every night. The emergency candles have burned down to puddles of wax. And then there is complete darkness. For light, we must go back to the primitive ways.
One subculture I explored is bushcraft, which is something I am interested in but in most survival situations, bushcraft means wasting precious time dicking around with pieces of wood and that sets you on a trajectory to starvation.
One bushcraft project is making a torch. There are many variations but simply put, it involves bunching up some dry material (birch bark is a favorite) and wrapping it around the end of a stick, securing it somehow and then lighting it up. I've tried this and there are two problems:
1. You don't have much burn time.
2. The burning material flakes off and could drop onto your hand or arm. It's a messy source of lighting.
If that is all you have to work with then you might as well do it.
But I always thought there had to be a better way to make a torch.
PART TWO: THE YARD SALE
I stopped at a garage sale and bought some Olympic plates and an extra barbell. It was a great deal. The lady said it was her son's old weight lifting equipment. They weren't of use anymore.
I asked about her son. She said he was in the army and served overseas. He never made it back. He came home with a flag over his casket.
Near the pile of Olympic plates that I bought were a few old aluminum baseball bats of different sizes. She seen me looking at them and said they were her son's old bats when he was a kid and played ball. She asked if I wanted to buy them. I told her I was a Little League coach and I thought having a few spare bats might be handy. She said I could have them for free if I made sure they were put to good use. I promised her I would do that.
During that season, I hauled those old bats to practices and games and the boys never touched them. They only wanted to use the new flashy composite bats and if a kid absentmindedly forgot his bat, he would just borrow a teammate's bat of a similar size.
At the season's end, I put the bats in my storage shed and forgot about them.
PART THREE: MAKING THE TORCH BAT
One recent evening, I was futzing around in my garage, drinking beer and listening to early-years Metallica. I had just did a spring cleaning of my storage shed and I had random junk laying around that needed to be put away, put to use, repurposed, donated, given away or just shit-canned. And there were those aluminum bats from the yard sale and that's when I got the idea for the torch bat.
I put one in the bench vise and cut the end off with a Hackzall fitted with a metal-cutting blade. I wanted the barrel of the bat to be perforated so that oxygen could get in to feed the fire and for the light to come out. At first I was going to drill holes but instead cut a series of evenly spaced slits along two sides of the barrel..
For burning material, I keep a bin of cotton shop rags and I stuffed a few into the hollow barrel. To keep the rag from falling out if the bat is tipped, I drilled two opposite holes at the end of the barrel and added two cross bolts. I soaked the rag with Tiki Torch fuel and lit it up.
The handle/grip area becomes warm but not too hot to handle. Wearing gloves is a good idea.
Because of the hollow barrel, just about any kind of burning material could be used in an emergency situation: cardboard, newspaper, chunks of wood, etc. This would be a very handy tool during a grid-down apocalyptic event.
I used two cross-bolts at the end cap area to retain the burning material but this could be modified in a number of creative ways: a flip-top screen, a mesh lid, a threaded cap and so on.
Treat the Torch Bat like fireworks on the Fourth of July. Be smart and safe.
The knob of the bat could be drilled out and the bat could be mounted on a staked-out metal rod for outdoor/backyard illumination.