Do You Have A Sewing Kit?

As I got out my winter coat for the first time I remembered that a button had come off last spring. When I was in school many years ago we had a class called “Home Economics” and both boys and girls took it (as well as shop class). In that class I was taught the basics of sewing among other home skills. The class was easy for me because much of it I had already been taught by my mother. Now I’m not claiming to be able to make an article of clothing from a bolt of fabric but I did turn out a respectable apron made out of denim that I used, ironically, in shop class. Continue reading “Do You Have A Sewing Kit?”

An Introduction to the Axe

While I would probably recommend buying a chainsaw first over an axe if you are a property owner with some woods, an axe is a close second. Further I find I really enjoy using an axe and for some smaller tasks it can be quicker than getting out and starting a chainsaw plus an axe is lighter to carry into the woods. I sure wouldn’t want to cut my winters firewood with an axe and hand saw, but I still wouldn’t want to be without one (or more) on my little homestead. There are some good ones still being made, but there is also a lot of junk and of the several I’ve bought at places like Home Depot and Tractor Supply have been close to useless.

In my experience cutting the small branches off of a tree is where you run the greatest risk of the chain coming off your chainsaw. A good sharp axe can take those off of a green tree with one hit. further the back side of the axe can be used to drive in a felling wedge (not metal, I use plastic) and help you get your chainsaw un-stuck when something didn’t go according to plan. An axe always starts, is quite and doesn’t run out of gas until you do. Further if you do any kind of green woodworking an axe is one of the basic tools.

If you want to buy new Husqvarna has a line of axes in the $60 range that have received excellent reviews and I own 3 of them and have to agree. However I haven’t found any retail store that sells them, even Husqvarna dealers would only order one for me if I made them, so I just went to Amazon and the axe showed up on my doorstep. These are forged heads and they are a little rough in that the head of the axe is not ground smooth. Just the cutting area is ground so you can still see the hammer marks further back, however I do not consider this a negative. To start with I would recommend the Multipurpose Axe and while I normally don’t like multipurpose tools as they often don’t do any job well in this case I feel this is the right design. I wouldn’t want to fell too many trees with it but for something you are going to carry into the woods it is a great size, small enough to carry and just big enough to do the job. Be careful because it is very sharp and I cut my thumb good because I was used to duller junk axes. Gransfors Bruks is another excellent brand, but all of their stuff starts in the $100 range and goes up. There are others names I would consider like Cold Steel and Council Tool, but I just do not have any personal experience with them.

Another good option is to look at garage sales and flea markets, but this usually takes some patience to find something and you will frequently need to replace the handle. However these can be a great deal (sometimes only a few dollars) and gives you the chance also to learn how to replace the handle or “hang” the axe. Avoid anything that looks cast and I find in older tools the metal almost looks black. Unless you are an axe collector or know what you are buying I would be careful going over $10-$15 for an axe head or $25-$30 for one with a good handle. Further you might be able to make a little pocket-money buying axe heads and refurbishing them and reselling the known brands. Below are a couple of good YouTube videos from the US Forest Service. The first shows how to hang and sharpen an axe and the second on how to safely use one. A great bit of safety advice is 9 minutes into the second video and I taught it to my son. If you follow it you will never cut your foot or leg with your axe. Below that is a couple of links I found on where to get good quality hickory handles online. Beware once you start buying axes and discover how usfull a good axe is you might find the number going up every time you find a “great deal”. Of course my opinion is there is no such thing as too many axes.



Tennessee Hickory Products Lots of good information but it appears they only sell larger quantities
Hickory Handle Store From what I can tell this is the way to buy small quantities of Tennessee Hickory Products


Cordless Drill and Impact Driver

Cordless tools took the world of contractors and builders by storm about 20 years ago. The price kept coming down and now they are very affordable for the home owner and are extremely convenient and have enough power for most jobs. One thing to keep in mind with cordless tools is the batteries will be a noticeable expense and they will need to be replaced over time. Also the various brands use their own proprietary shape and connectors so you cannot swap batteries between brands of tools, they are not like AA’s, C-cell or D-cell batteries. Therefore you will likely stick with a brand once you start buying it. For the homeowner and DIY’er I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the main brands like Dewalt, Black & Decker, Makita or Ryobi. There is a lot of debate over which is the best, but my opinion on the matter is unless you are making a living with the tool they are all good.

Personally I have all 18V Ryobi tools for the simple reason many years ago there was a 5 piece set for sale at Home Depot and that is what I started with and so that’s what I stayed with. I am a home owner, not a contractor so keep that in mind as it did influence my decision. However I did have a new house build and did most of the inside work myself using these Ryobi tools and while none of my original batteries are still good the only Ryobi tool I had stop working was the radio and having it outside in the rain might have had something to do with that. I’ve also talked to contractors and many of them are going with cheaper tools like Ryobi because when the get dropped off a ladder or left in the rain or on a job site or stolen, they are easier to replace. They are finding that a tool get damaged due to the operator or conditions it is in rather the just breaking because it is not up to the work. Buy what you want, just consider you may be paying more money than you need too based on your usage pattern.

After having said all that I recommend to start your collection of cordless tools with a drill and impact driver. Home Depot has the Ryobi set on sale for $100 and that price will probably stick through the holidays. I did find a similar Black & Decker kit for about $110, but I don’t personally know anything about it. You really do need both the drill and impact driver, they do different things. The drill obviously drills holes and can be used to drive screws, however an impact driver does a much better job. I have also used the impact driver to work on my tractor when I was not near a power source to use an air-powered impact wrench. I was surprised at the stuck bolts the impact actions could get out that I could not get out by hand with a socket. Of all my cordless tools (and I own more than I care to admit) I have used the impact driver probably more than the rest combined. After you buy these two you will also need some drills and driver bits. At this stage I would recommend just a small $10-$20 set until you know what you really need and there will be a future post on this subject.

Let’s Talk Tools

old-tools-3-1517382-639x809First of all let me start by saying I love tools. Old, new, power, hand it doesn’t matter. For some activities you must have tools and sometime special tools, other times you can make do with something close or cobble something together. I believe that everyone (and I do mean everyone) should own some basic hand tools, further if you own or take care of a home there are some additional tools that you should have. Then as you develop additional interests you can acquire tools specific to that area of work i.e. plumbing, mechanic, woodworking.

Tools will be assigned levels to give you our recommendation on when you buy them as your progress toward being a well tooled man or woman. Note that everyone’s circumstances are different so this should just be viewed as guidance. Each tool or category of tool will be described along with why you need it, how flexible/specialized it is. Level 0 are things that I believe every person should have, this will be a short list and will only let you do the very basics. Even those that live in an apartment should have the level 0 kit However everyone needs to start somewhere and this will be a set that doesn’t cost that much and doesn’t take up too much room. From there we will go to level 1 which is designed for the home owner and again are things that I consider to be the “must-haves” for anyone that wants to do their own projects around their house/property. We will try very hard to have options depending on your budget including answering “if I can only buy one, which one should it be”.

I also consider what you have in the kitchen to be tools and while I’m a little less qualified to speak in this area we will try to provide sound guidance. One of my favorites from the Food Network is Alton Brown and in his book on Gear For You Kitchen he describes moving everything out from his kitchen and putting it in the basement. Then when he needed something he went down and got it and in the end he was surprised how few things he really needed. I feel this is the case for many things we have, we may buy large sets of things thinking the company that put the set together must know what we need. However I suspect that many times it is the case they put together sets to sell more product.

If you are just starting out on building your tool collection I hope this series will help you. I’ve seen many articles and discussions on building a tool collection and I always felt they overwhelmed the new user with too many options and too many choices. This series will answer the question “What should I buy first” so analysis paralysis will not set in. if you don’t have everything in level 0 seriously look at buying them first. Next level 1 will likely be a “should have for most people who would read about tools on this or any other web site. Further there will be projects that are focused on learning how to use a particular tool to help build skills.

I hope you enjoy this series and everything will be indexed on the Tool Recommendations page.

Supplemental Light for Your Laying Flock

For whatever reason the hours of daylight, more specifically the lack there of, affect the number if eggs your hens will lay. That is why you get greatly reduced numbers of eggs in the winter time. For those of us that sell eggs to pay for the feed try to reduce this effect by adding supplemental light to the coop to simulate the longer days of summer. However you do not want the light on all night so many will put it, but that means you have to adjust it as the time the sun down goes down changes. I found a timer/dusk sensor combination in which it turns on at dusk and stays on for 2, 4, 6 or 8 hours. We have less than 10 hours of daylight here in S.E. Michigan in winter so I set it for 6 hours during the darkest months. For a light I just use a simple shop type light with an aluminium reflector behind it. I don’t see the one I have anymore at Amazon, but something like this is what I have. Below are pictures of my coop. Not a very pretty setup, but it will do until I can make it better.

Sensor Timer in the center just under the roof
Sensor Timer in the center just under the roof
Close up of sensor and light
Close up of sensor and light



I’m planing on an upgrade and thinking about just mounting an exterior light inside the coop. Home Depot has a selection in the $5-$10 range. Since I have a home automation system in my house I can take advantage of this. There is a LED bulb in the $30 range that has an internal switch that can be controlled by my home system. The system I have has the feature of turning on at dusk and setting an off time, for example the security lights on the garage come on at dusk and go off at 11PM. This gives me the advantage of turning the light on a schedule from the central controller or turn it on or off from my smart phone.




So You Want To Start A Garden

Believe it or not now is a good time to get started on gardening in that you can prep that gardening area and let is set over winter and be ready to go in the spring. If you have not gardened before I recommend that you start with Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening. Once you get some experience you can modify the methods in Square Foot Gardening and the garden bed you build will still be useful to you.

Step 1 – Build and Fill A Raised Bed
I recommend building the bed out of regular 2×6 construction lumber and make the bed either 4′ square or 4’x8′. Two 8′ 2×6’s will give you the 4′ square bed and three of them will build a 4’x8′ bed. The book describes “Mel’s Mix” that you can use to fill the bed or you can do what I did and just get compost.

Step 2 – Decide What To Grow
Looking at a seed catalog can be overwhelming and I would almost recommend that you not do so for your first year or two. In reality as a beginner you will probably just want to go to a local green house that will have vegetable starts and seeds. Pick 5-10 that you like to eat and get them. Greens like lettuces will grow quickly and can be harvested and replanted. Broccoli is a good one also as you can cut the main head and smaller heads will grow back. Also there is nothing like a home-grown tomato. Some taller or climbing plants will need support or a trellis on the north side of the bed. You plant your tallest plants to the north and the shorter ones to the south.

Step 3 – Plant
You need to know what your last frost date is and different plants are planted outside based on that last frost date. Check the instructions on each plant.

Step 4 – Enjoy

Tim Stephens, a gardeing expert cautions all new gardeners is to start small so you do not get overwhelmed. You will be surprised how much you can get from one 4’x8′ bed. Also something large like corn or pumpkins are not really a raised bed type of plant, they take up too much space

Lastly I believe everyone should have a garden even if it is just a small one. It is something that will reconnect you to what is real and help you deal with the stress of modern-day life as well as provide you with the best quality food there is.

Square Foot Gardening Book

Green Woodworking – Skill Wanted

So much of what I’ve learned and been taught about woodworking (and I’m far from an expert) all deals with kiln dried wood that has already been planed to a standard thickness and finished on 4 sides. This have been used to create fine (and not so fine) furniture for centuries and now is something you pay a fair bit for. In all fairness if you are going to build something that has the potential to last for generations the initial cost of the wood is not really an issue when viewed with the lens of time.

However many of us need to build more temporary items who’s use will be measured in years at most rather than decades or maybe will be in a location that is not conducive to long life. Or maybe we just want to spend less on the materials when we are learning woodworking, because the equipments at had really caught our eye, and we wanted to save some money for them. Further many of us have woods on our property and therefore have a supply of wood, just not the milled/kiln dried stuff that you see had the lumber yard or woodworking store. You could invest in a small sawmill or even get an attachment for your chainsaw, but you still have the drying time. There are traditional methods of working with green wood that takes advantage of how wood shrinks as it dries to make joint that lock up and will last for centuries. This type of work involved a lot of splitting of wood to get blanks rather than milling into boards. Further green wood is usually easier to cut than dry wood, something important when you do not have power tools. In my mind learning how to work with green would could be an advantage for those little things you need to build around your homestead, anything from handles to seating to roosts for your chickens.

I do have a couple of draw knifes that I got from who knows where, but I have never got any real use out of them. I think the missing piece is the shaving horse that I do not have and need to build. Interesting set of plans at Popular Woodworking that only requires one 10′ 2×10. However it does require a compound angle and I do not have a compound miter saw or band saw. I’ll have to look at the plans for a way to build with a table saw. Of course the old timers just built one out of what they had in the forest, so maybe I’ll try that.

Next Steps – build a shaving horse and learn the green woodworking joints

Crafting using a draw knife and shaving horse


Check out a bench made from two logs and a chainsaw. No nails, glue or pegs, the joints will tighten up as the wood dries