My Plans For Beekeeping In 2016

I have been trying to become a beekeeper for something like 5 years now.  I have had some spectacular failures where a $100 package of bees absconded and never did anything in the hives I installed them in.  Other times the have appeared to do well but I have yet to have a hive successfully overwinter.  A couple of time I believe it was due to mice taking up residence in the hive, other time I’m just plain baffled.  I haven’t harvested any honey to date and this last year there were two deeps mostly full of honey when they went into winter.  I peaked in when we had a warm day in S.E. Michigan and the hive looks dead again.  I haven’t tore the hive all apart yet to do an autopsy of the hive as the Treatment-Free Facebook group I follow says bees can look dead but just be not moving due to cold.  I’m not too hopeful because my friend with a hive a few miles away saw his bees out flying that day.

My friend caught a swarm whereas I got a package of bees from the south.  I’m starting to suspect that my problem is I really need northern bees, ones that can survive the Michigan winter.  Previously I have not been able to find local bees, but I did just recently find a source of over-wintered nucs.  If they have any available for this year I’m going to try that.  I’m also going to put out my deeps as swarm traps in the hopes of catching a swarm from a feral colony or at least one that has over-wintered successfully.

Further I’m finding I really don’t like lifting the 10 frame deeps, which can weigh close to 100 lbs when full of honey.  Therefore I’m going to try a horizontal hive that takes the standard deep frames.  This is something I’ll have to build, but it is well within reach of my woodworking skills.  The down-side is they are very hard to move because they are large and can be very heavy.  However I have no reasons to move my hives, so that isn’t an issue.  The advantage is you really only have to lift one frame at a time.

I have found I really like the foundation-less frames that Kelley Bees sells as this lets the bees build whatever size cells they want.  I’m not a big fan of the idea of having foundation with larger than normal cells on it that forces the bees to be bigger.  I like the idea of natural cell size better.  Also when it comes to harvesting honey I can just cut out the comb and either keep it as comb honey or crush and strain it as I don’t have an extractor.

Hopefully 2016 will be the year I am a good enough beekeeper to have hives that live until spring of 2017.  Sign up for e-mail updates in the upper right corner of this site to follow my progress, good or bad.

Various Ways to Cut Lumber

I still remember 7th grade wood shop where my shop teacher explained to us how to use a hand saw.  I know most kids (myself included I’m ashamed to admit) thought it was a waste of time when there where power tools (insert grunt like Tim Allen) that could be used.  Now that I am a lot older and at least a little wiser I see the reason we were introduced to cutting wood with a hand saw.  Hand sawing gives you a feel for the wood, you get feedback through a hand tool that is hard to get from a power tool.  You learn how some woods are harder than others and that grain makes a huge difference when cutting wood.

The problem for new woodworkers is good quality hand saws are hard to find now and are expensive.  A beginner is also unable to sharpen a saw, which is required for it to work well.  If you ever find an old style wood worker that has some hand saws he uses, ask to just cut some boards with them.  This will improve your understanding of wood.  Since this blog is focused on what you can actually do, affordably with easy to find items, lets talk about what you should buy to cut wood.

Circular or Skill Saw
This is where I think you should start your purchasing and learning on how to cut wood.  Plan on spending $75-$100 for a saw another $20-$30 for a fine tooth blade.  If you are doing rough construction then the carbide tipped blade that comes with the saw will work, however if you are doing any kind of cuts that people will see you need a blade with a lot more teeth.  With different blades a circular saw can cut some metals, cement board and other things.  It may be slow going on these other materials, but if you only have a few cuts then it will be the easiest/cheapest way to go.  I also like the laser that is available on many models now, this will help you in making free hand cuts.

Jig or Saber Saw
For cutting any kind of curves you will need a jig saw.  You have to think about what kind of projects you plan on doing to decide if you need a jig saw rather than a circular saw.  If you plan it smaller items with decorative, curved edges than a jig saw might be right for your first saw purchase.

Hand Saws
An inexpensive hand saw will be useful as well and these can be had for under $20.  A circular saw cannot cut an inside corner so you need another type of saw to finish it.  I have a Japanese style pull saw like this.  This has both a rip and crosscut set of teeth and I frequently use it where the circular saw will not reach even though I have a jig saw that would make the cut.

Saw Horses
You need something to put your wood on to cut it.  A couple of saw horses is a good way to start.  I have a pair of Black & Decker WM125 Workmate 125 350-Pound Capacity Portable Work Bench that I use but will be reviewing other options in the future.

Basic Understanding of Electrical House Wiring

Most if not all of us have our houses wired for electricity and with some basic understanding it can remove some of the mystery that surrounds it.  This write-up will be focused on how things are done in the US.  The principles will transfer to other countries, but the details will be different.  Also it is important to note this is not enough information to qualify you to start poking around in the electrical circuits in your house.

In the united states residential electrical service brings 240 volts to the house with the capacity of somewhere between 100 to 400 amps.  Think of voltage as the pressure and amps (also called current) as the amount of electricity.  This service is connected to a distribution panel that has circuit breakers that provide electricity to all the circuits in the house.  Most of these circuits are 15 amps and 120 volts.  Kitchens and bathrooms will have 20 amp, 120 volt circuits due to the fact that they usually have devices that draw more current like blow driers, curling irons, toasters and microwaves.  High power devices like electric ranges and electric clothes driers require dedicated circuits of 240 volts.

The service coming into the house has two legs and a common.  The voltage between the two legs is 240 volts and between either leg and the common is 120 volts.  Your service panel will split this 240 volts between two sides of 120 volts each.  If you need 240 volts the circuit breaker will bridge between both sides to get 240 volts.  A good electrician will try to balance the loads between these two sides, you should never see most of the breakers on one side of the service.

The way a house is wired the “common” or “neutral” is the white wire and it should never be run through a switch.  It is electrically the same as the ground wire.  If you open up your service panel you will see all the white wires and bare wire attached to a common bus (usually a copper bar with screw terminals).  The bare wire braid coming into the house will also be attached to this.

Each circuit is a black wire and it is attached to a circuit breaker that limits the amount of current that can flow into the wire.  The gauge of the wire (how thick it is) determines how much current it can safely handle and if it is exceeded the breaker trips and shuts off the circuit.  This can happen if you turn on too many thing on the same circuit or if some kind of fault happens in the wiring.  If the breaker doesn’t protect the circuit the wiring could overheat and cause a fire.

Further anyplace there is the chance of water being near the plug you will need to have the circuit going through a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupt (GFCI).  This will either be the first plug-in the circuit in the wet area (which will protect all the plugs that come after it) or the breaker itself can have the GFCI protection.  This device monitors the current flowing on each side of the circuit and if there is a difference it will trip and cut off the electricity.  This fault conditions occurs when the electricity finds another path to ground, which is almost universally bad and this device protects you from a getting a shock.

The standard convention in the us is that 14 gauge wire that handles 15 amps is in a white sheath of insulation, yellow if for 20 amp circuits and orange is for 30 amp circuits.  You will see this wire denoted as:

  • 14-2 which is 14 gauge wire with 2 insulated wires(colored white and black) and a bare ground wire.
  • 14-3 which is 14 gauge wire with 3 insulated wires (colored white, black and red) and a bare ground wire.  This is used for 3 and 4 way switched circuits.
  • 12-2 which is same as 14-2 except the wire is thicker 12 gauge.
  • And so on

Note that electricity can kill you and this is intended for information purposes only.  You need to know a lot more that is described here before you start messing around with the electrical circuits in your house.

An Introduction to the Art of Hand Filing

With the availability of cheap grinders these days few are learning how to do “bright work” or hand filing.  If you have a lot of metal to remove than by all means use, to quote Tim the Tool-Man Taylor, “More Power”.  But this is usually only needed during fabrication or major alteration of a piece of metal. In times past metal was expensive and the stock removal method of making things out of metal was avoided when ever possible.  So a good blacksmith or metal fabricator would shape the metal very close to the finished shape, the better the smith the less filing needed to be done.

No mater how good the smith all edged tools needed finish work with a file.  Even today you would be surprised how much better your lawn and garden tools work when sharpened.  While a right angle grinder will remove a lot of metal in a hurry, if you just need to clean up an edge why don’t you give a file a chance.  Also many people don’t know this but a putty knife is supposed to have a square edge on it and a minute or two with a file will bring this edge back and it will scrape much better.

I recommend you start with buying regular hand or flat files that are about 8″-12″ long and get both a fine and coarse.  Don’t confuse a metal file with a wood rasp.  A wood rasp will have even wider spacing between the teeth and is used for shaping wood and other soft materials, not metal.  Traditionally files are sold with what looks like a metal spike sticking out one end.  This is called a tang and make sure you buy a file handle to go over this tang if it doesn’t come with one.  Trying to use a file without a handle is a good way to impale the fleshy part of your palm, our goal is to avoid blood on our tools.

Just as important as the file is also getting a file card, which looks like a flat brush with metal bristles on one side and sometimes some kind of softer fiber on the other.  This is used to clean the teeth of when they build up with material.  A file with clogged teeth will not cut at all, leading to much frustration.

A file needs to be stored like any other edged tool.  If they are just thrown into a drawer not only can they damage other things in the drawer (files are very hard) if they bang against each other they can be dulled.  Also a file should only be in contact with the metal on the forward, cutting stroke.  You do not saw it back and forth like a wood saw, which will dull your file as well and a dull file does not cut very well.

Introduction To The Circular Saw

As you start to build your woodworking skills I recommend starting with the circular saw.  It is the first saw you should buy and will take you a long way toward learning basic woodworking.  It does has some limitations such as not able to cut an inside corner or rip narrow boards, but for general straight line cutting it is possibly the best power tool available.

When you go to buy look for something in the $75-$100 range.  If you are building houses for a living you will want something at a higher price point, but if you use a saw that much you wont be reading this post. When you are picking out a saw check that the blade doesn’t have side-to-side play and I prefer to have a laser on it as it helps free-hand cuts.  The adjustment you use the most is the depth of the blade, so make sure that it is something you find easy to use.

The standard size saw and one you should buy is 7 1/4″, which is the blade size.  The saw will likely come with a blade that will work fine cutting 2×4 type of lumber for rough construction, but plan on buying a 40 tooth blade for about $20 to go with it.  This blade will let you make fairly smooth cuts in both lumber and plywood.

If you are planing on building plywood projects you should also consider some kind of fence.  A fence is something that guides the saw and helps you make straight cuts.  When breaking down 4′ x 8′ sheet goods you need to make a lot of long straight cuts and a fence really helps.  You can buy a fence that is usually an aluminium track that is about 9′ long and can be split into two pieces so you can cut either across the 4′ or 8′ length.  You can also make your own.  A speed square, drywall square and chalk line are also helpful in laying out your cuts.

Where Should A Wood Stove Chimney Go?

Wood StoveMany times you have little choice where to put your wood stove and chimney.  However there are some things you should consider that will make the chimney draw better and provide the most heat to your house.

Many times I see the chimney come out the side of a house and go up the outside.  This should be considered your last option.  The best option is up through the middle of your house.  The chimney can then radiate heat into the house all the way up.  Since the chimney has to be higher than anything else near it that means you cannot just stop soon after going through an outside wall.  If you are going to pay for all that vertical pipe, you might as well have it warming your house rather than the outside.

In my situation any wood burning had to be done in the basement, my wife was not going to allow it in the living room of the house.  My house is a Cape Cod style with a center great room that is open to the peak, about 25′ from floor to center peak.  I put my wood stove in the walk-out basement only about 2′ off the center of the ridge line of the house and 1/3 of the way from the gable end of the house.  This gave me a stainless steel pipe (insulated for fire safety) that was about 30′ high and 6′ of stove-pipe in the basement connecting to the stove.  When that thing gets heated up it has so much draw with the wood stove door open it roars.

While there is a considerable time lag of a more than an hour between when I start a fire and the main living area warms up, I have no problem heating the whole house just with the wood stove in the basement.  I don’t even need to run fans to try to transfer the heat up from the basement.  Some things I think that are working to my favor is that most of the house has hardwood floors which do a better job of transferring heat than carpet and the chimney radiating heat into the main part of the house.  Further my house is built out of Structural Insulated Panels so it is very well insulated and has no drafts.

I feel this turned out very well in my case.  I did my research before hand and am pleased with how well it turned out.  Carefully consider where you install your chimney.  While you can always swap out your wood stove if you don’t like it, you will find it expensive and hard to move your chimney.