DIY

Carry Homestead Gear With a Surplus Suspender Tool-Belt

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PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
The real beauty of this load-bearing equipment is that it allows you to customize the rig to suit a particular job by simply selecting the most appropriate components for the task at hand.

Got too few hands to carry homestead gear? Let the U.S. Army solve your problem by creating an army surplus suspender tool-belt.

When my mate Gayle and I moved our family out to our Oregon
homestead, we discovered that some of the fences on the
property hadn’t been tended for more than ten
years
, so the underbrush along those borders had
grown completely out of control. Well, I knew that walking
the fenceline to make repairs (it’s a two-mile hike around
the perimeter!) would be tough going, and that —
since I’d be clearing brush and mending boundaries
— I’d need a variety of tools to get the job done.
But I didn’t know how to manage this task without
having to run back to the house every time I wanted a
different implement.

“What I need,” I decided, “is something that will let me
carry everything the job requires, yet leave my
hands free to actually do the work.” After cogitating
awhile, I realized that soldiers in the field face exactly
the same problem . . . and that revelation led me
to my local army surplus store where — sure enough
— I discovered the perfect solution.

A U.S. ARMY SURPLUS BELT: BUCKLE UP

The apparatus I found at the shop is known among military
types as “LBE” (load-bearing equipment) or “web gear” . . .
and its basic components are a pistol belt, from which you
can hang a variety of tools and carrying pouches, and a
pair of heavy-duty suspenders to help hold the whole
assortment up.

The outfit distributes the weight of the attached
paraphernalia (it’s supported at my waist and both
shoulders) and moves easily with me . . . so wearing it for
hours on end isn’t uncomfortable or tiring. And because
both my hands are left free, I can use them to lug any
heavy major tools (such as an axe, a sledgehammer,
or a chain saw) that I might need on a given day. What’s
more, my fence-mending belt system — including
canteen, machete, and folding shovel — cost me about
$35!

SURPLUS SUSPENDER TOOL-BELT COMPONENTS

Here’s a breakdown of the main elements that make up my
tool-toter . . . and some observations that I hope can help
you put together an equally economical and
efficient setup.

Pistol belt. The basic design of this particular
piece of military apparel hasn’t changed significantly
since World War I days. It’s simply a wide waistband
perforated all around with metal eyelets that accommodate
various hardware-holding hooks or brackets. Belt prices
range from around $3.00 for a well-used, cotton-web version
to $5.00 for imported copies (such as the made-in-Taiwan
model I bought) . . . and up to $10 for a modern U.S.-issue
green nylon one with a quick-release buckle.

Suspenders. Over the years both the Army and the
Marine Corps have produced these belt supporters in a
number of different styles. The ones I purchased —
for a measly $1.98 — appear to be made of cotton, and
are stamped “U.S.” and “1948” in black ink. (The same store
offered a new green nylon pair for a whopping $12!)

Canteens. There are two kinds: military-issue
plastic water holders (currently priced between $1.00 and
$2.00 apiece) and an aluminum version (which costs
from $2.50 to $4.00). A heavy cotton carrying pouch for one
canteen costs $2.00 to $4.00 (depending, of course, on the
item’s age and condition).

Folding shovel. In the service it’s officially
referred to as an “entrenching tool” . . . but I just call
the little digger useful . It’s eminently portable
and has a blade that can be locked in either shovel or pick
position. Mine is an old-style model, with a folding wooden
handle, that was already beat up when I bought it for $2.00
(you can pay as much as $4.00 for one in better shape). The
cloth holster for my tool is in mint condition and cost
$1.50.

The military stopped using the classic wooden-handled
shovel 10 or 12 years ago and replaced it with an all-metal
version (current price: $8.50) that folds at two
points and fits entirely inside an inexpensive plastic
carrying case. This new design is a big improvement,
because the old model’s wooden shaft tends to smack you in
the back of the legs every time you take a step. You can
also buy civilian -made copies of the new shovel,
by the way . . . they’re manufactured of much lighter-gauge
steel and are consequently priced lower (about $5.50), but
they do seem capable of withstanding hard use.

Machete. If you need one of these oversized knives
for cutting brush and such, take my advice and buy the very
finest you can afford. (I bought the cheapest one
I could find . . . and after a year’s use the blade is
badly dinged and its plastic handle is cracked.) You can
expect to pay around $12 for a machete like mine and at
least twice that amount for a really good one.

Ammo pouches. Surplus stores usually carry lots of
these canvas pockets in a wide variety of shapes, sizes,
and prices (from a buck to a sawbuck). One or two
should be sufficient for carrying nails and fence-wire
staples. If you want to, you can purchase a larger one as
well . . . for packing along a couple of sandwiches.

First aid pouches. These little fabric
pockets have snap-down flaps and slip right onto loops on
my front suspender straps. The pouches were originally
designed to carry a compact field bandage, and I usually
wear one of the strap pockets for that purpose and/or to
carry a compass. Since they’re only $1.50 each, though, I
suggest that you go ahead and buy two or three . . . they
can come in mighty handy.

Hammer holder. This is the only non
-military item on my belt (I just couldn’t find an Army
version). It’s basically a sturdy leather panel with a
strong steel loop riveted to it . . . I just slip the
carrier onto my belt and pass the handle of my hammer,
fencing pliers, or whatever through the metal ring. I
bought the device for under $3.00 at my local Montgomery
Ward store. (Most hardware shops also carry hammer
holders.)

Elastic bands. Ordnance officers refer to these as
“blousing straps” or “boot bands” (soldiers use them to
hold the bottoms of their trousers to their boots). The
straps have a small metal hook at each end and stretch to
more than twice their seven-inch length . . . which makes
them very handy for securing rolled-up bulky items (such as
my poncho, a must here in Oregon) to my belt. At
50 cents a pair, they’re a real bargain.

OTHER USES

The real beauty of this load-bearing equipment is that it
allows you to customize the rig to suit a particular job by
simply selecting the most appropriate components for the
task at hand. The accessories I’ve listed go together to
make an ideal fence-mending outfit . . . but I can easily
change to different kinds of holders to accommodate the
gear needed for other work. If I’m going out to cut
firewood, for example, I can take the hammer and shovel
off my belt, and add a large pouch or two
for carrying a bar wrench and extra saw chains.

There are lots of other web-gear accessories available,
too, such as larger first aid kits, sleeping-bag carriers,
and even small knapsacks, known as a “fanny packs”. One
young lad who works around our farm uses these items with
his LBE when he goes camping, and he says the rig is much
more comfortable than conventional equipment.

I hope you’ll give the outfit a try. It’s a great way to
lighten your load . . . and — if you’re like me
— you’ll feel good about converting military hardware
into instruments for more peaceful purposes. In fact,
whenever I wear my tool-toter, I think of the Biblical
passage from the book of Isaiah: ” They shall beat
their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruning
hooks . . . .

Not a bad idea, eh?