4-H Country Ham Project

University of KY Meat Science Extension has something they call the 4-H County Ham Project that teaches youth how to make a country ham. This is about a 9-month project that starts with a fresh, or green, ham and ends up with a county ham that is shelf-stable and worth a fair bit of money.

Think about the value of a protein source that doesn’t need any refrigeration and enhances the flavor of anything that is included with it. I would willingly pay for someone to teach me how to do this. I know there are food laws that make it difficult for places that are not state inspected to offer this. I’m sure there are ways around this. Imagine a place I could go where someone would “help” me prepare a green ham. Afterward, I would pay them to store it for me in the proper conditions. The ham would be tagged as mine and when it has reached it’s cured & aged state I would go pick it up.

Curing meats is rapidly becoming a lost art and I applaud this effort to save this skill. Personally I don’t know anyone that has ever cured meat. If I can find a way to do this anywhere near me I will give it a try. We are planning on getting a whole hog (butchered into parts) and I may risk one of the hams to see if I can do this.

Skill Builder – Pounding Nails

Why you should pound in some nails

How many of you are comfortable swinging a hammer and have confidence that you will hit where you intend? Can you drive a 16d nail in straight without banging the wood up with misses? A skilled framing carpenter can drive a nail to just below the surface with two hits – one tap to set the nail and then a power hit to drive it home. And they can do it all day.

I’m not saying you need to be that good, but unless you actually practice you will not be able to drive a nail when you need to. So rather than mess up a project you are working on you should spend some time driving nails, until you are at least competent at it. I recommend you get a hammer and practice with it until you become comfortable with it and then keep it.

My hammer of choice is a 20 oz straight claw Estwing. I have had this same hammer for over 25 years. As a homeowner, this hammer will serve you for the rest of your life. Get a smooth face head, do NOT get a hammer with a crosshatch pattern on its face. When, not if, you hit your thumb with the hammer you do not want the head to grip your thumbnail.

My recommendation is to buy a 30lb bucket of 16 penny nails, a hammer, and a couple of 2×4’s or 2×6’s. Then proceed to nail the two boards together. Don’t get carried away and do too many to start. For something you haven’t done before you can strain your arm if you do too much before you build up the muscles. Gradually build up the number of nails you drive each session until you build up the strength and coordination to nail two boards together – it is not as easy as it sounds.

Laundry Room Make Over – Adding Cabinets

Adding wall cabinets to the laundry room.

Before

No one has ever said they wished they had less storage. In many cases, the answer is looking up. This is our laundry room, which has 9′ ceilings. That means there is a lot of space above the washer and dryer. A quick trip to Menards and I find that two 36″ wide by 40″ high wall cabinets will fill the space nicely. Granted a shelf up near the ceiling will require something to stand on to reach it, but I have plenty of items that I use less frequently that can go on the upper shelves.

Here you see the cabinets installed providing a considerable amount of storage. This is all “found space” since it was completely unused prior to installing the cabinets. We found that we can easily reach the bottom shelf, but the middle and upper shelf requires a step stool. We also have tall cabinets in our kitchen that is close to the laundry room so we have a step stool available.

Why You Should Learn Fusion 360

Computer-Aided Design (CAD) used to be only for those with high-end computers and very expensive software. I remember a designer at GM telling me 20 years ago that the company paid more per year for the workstation and software he used than they paid him. That has all changed with the average home computer becoming more powerful and low-cost or even free software. For many years Sketch-Up was the leader in free software. However, that has now changed since the free version has gone away, or at least hasn’t been updated in a few years.

Enter Fusion 360 from AutoDesk, a long-time leader in CAD software. This is top of the line software and get this, it is completely free for students and hobbyists. It stays free until you make something like $100,000 using the software. This isn’t a crippled version, it is the full version. I don’t believe that the free users will be using anywhere near all the features of Fusion 360, but everyone can learn and benefit from it.

Once you learn to design your projects digitally first, it will open up whole new worlds for you. You can try several things without using materials. You can discover and work out problems sitting in your office chair rather than in the shop or at an outside site.

There is a bit of a learning curve. I took drafting in school and since I work in the computer field I fully understand the concepts of CAD. However, I’ve tried several times over the years to learn it on my own without much success. Our local community college has classes, but that meant committing to going into the school twice a week for 3 months at a time, and my life is just too busy for that. I’m now going through a course called Fusion 360 For Hobbyists and Woodworkers at Udemy and it is just the jump start I needed. Further, right now the course is only $10

For anyone that wants to design their own projects, I consider this a must-have skill. Therefore why don’t you give it a try either with or without the class?

Plumbing Basics – Water Shut Off Valve

There are some things every homeowner should know, one of them is how to turn off the water to your house. Knowing this, and ensuring that the valve works, can prevent a small plumbing problem from becoming a complete disaster. If you have some kind of leak being able to turn off the water that prevents other parts of your house from damage. Replacing drywall and flooring can get very expensive very fast.

For most houses, the water enters at one point and if you have a basement it will likely come close to the floor. If you live in the north then it will have to be below the frost-line which in my area is at least 42″ deep. In my house, it comes in about 1′ off the floor.

In order for water valves to keep working they need to be cycled through on and off periodically. One word of caution, trying to turn off old plumbing can actually create problems. If it has become corroded then forcing it to turn can cause it to start leaking and then your problem just became worse. This means turning off the water at the street and replacing the valve. If you really know what you are doing and have the proper tool you can do this, but likely it means calling a plumber, and if you create this problem after hours then the price will be much higher.

The picture at the top is the main shut-off valve for my house. It is the ball valve type and is better than the gate valve type. Take a few minutes and find your main shut-off valve and assess it’s condition.

Adding A Trailer Hitch

For those of us that cannot justify a pick-up truck, but still on occasion need to haul items famously labled as “Stuff” a small utility trailer can fill that need quite well. However to pull a trailer you need a hitch on your vehicle. Fortuntly most cars now have tapped holes in the frame for an easy install, provided you get a hitch designed for your car.  

In my case I ordered a hitch and wiring harnes from etrailer.com

Opening up the box shows what $190 buys me

Since the holes were not protected from road dirt I needed to clean them out before the bolts would thread in. I spent more time looking for a brush in my garage then it ended up taking me to install it. Only 5 bolts in holes that were already tapped meant that once I actually started mounting it I was done in less than 15 minutes. The whole job including the wiring harness was only a bit over an hour. It did take 2 people as it needed to be held up while the bolts were started.

Ready to pull a trailer

Over the years I have hauled all kinds of things in a small 4′ x 8′ utility trailer that I got from Harbor Freight. Everything from lumber to moving to compost. I have several projects planned for the next year and this will help me get the materials to get things done.

Change To LED Can Lights

A simple upgrade you can do is to convert your can lights to LED. In recent years LED lights have become widely available and very reasonably priced. I got the above light from Costco at about $15 for a two-pack. In my case, I have 10 of them on my front and back porches.

Old Can Lights

One problem I had with my old lights is they were open around the bulb and this allowed wasps to get up above the soffit and build nests. If you look at the picture you can see this problem and there really isn’t any way to fix it that I have found. With an incandescent bulb, there isn’t a cover that you can put over it due to the heat created.

Old vs. New
Replacement Light

Looking at the replacement LED you can see that it simply screws into the existing socket and has what is in effect two springs that hook into the can and draws the light up to be flush with the ceiling.

Installation could not be simpler:

  • Remove the old bulb and trim ring
  • Screw the plug into the socket
  • Hook the springs over the lugs in the can
  • Push the light up and it will snap up to the ceiling
The final results