First 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 www.rykerhardware.com 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
There are times when you are working on an old piece of equipment and you have something rusted badly. It may come as a surprise to you but the rust can easily be removed by an electrolytic process that using electricity basically pulls the oxygen atoms out of the rust and leaves the iron behind. It actually removes very little, if any of the iron. A side benefit is grease, paint and other crud is also removed or perhaps it is better to say it is separated from the metal part leaving you with an incredibly clean part. This is the favorite method of tool collectors, assuming any paint on the tool is not valued.
The basic process is to use a battery charger and hook the negative side to the part you want to keep and the positive side to a waste piece of iron. You are basically moving the rust from the metal hooked up to the negative side to the metal on the positive side. The two cannot touch or that would short out your battery charger and shut it down if it is a good one, or damage it if it is a not so good one. In order for current to flow you suspend both pieces of metal in a solution of water and washing soda from the laundry aisle of your local supermarket.
In my case I had a badly rusted carburetor from a tractor. I took a plastic tub and clamped a piece of re-bar in each corner and tied them all together with regular copper wire. The positive lead from my battery charger was clipped on one of the pieces of re-bar above the lip of the tub. I took a piece of chain and suspended the carburetor in the middle of the tub. I then filled the tub with water and added a cup or so of the washing soda and turned on the charger. A day later the carb was as clean as the day it was cast. You can tell it is working by the bubbles coming off the metal After this picture I added more water so the piece was completely covered.
Some things to beware of is the process releases hydrogen gas that while not harmful itself, but it is very flammable (think Hindenburg) so you want to do this in a well ventilated area. You are also mixing electricity and water, which means you do have to be a little careful but since the voltage is low you should be OK by showing some common sense. Also the freshly cleaned part will look like it rusts right before your eyes, so you need to coat it with something. This should only be done with iron parts as some other metals can be adversely affected, in my cast the carb was getting a complete rebuild anyway so those other parts that I couldn’t get off before the process was started were getting replaced anyway. Further don’t get the positive and negative reversed or you will cleaning your junk metal and rusting the piece you want to keep
Next time you have a rusty part to clean up, give it a try you will think it’s magic. I’ve even read online of people doing large items by building a wood frame and lining it with one of those blue tarps, you just need more sacrificial electrode material, more time and a bigger power supply. There is a good write-up here with more details.
Electrical circuits are a mystery to many people and to be fair even household current can kill you, so unless you know what you are doing you might want to leave any electrical work on your house to a professional. However I firmly believe that everyone should know that basics about as many things as possible and with a basic electrical tester you can know if there are faults in household wiring that require someone with expertise to look at it. While I will not go into electrical theory and standards in this post, a simple tester like the one shown below will really tell you a lot. These are available at any hardware or box store like Home Depot or Menard’s and from Amazon and are in the $10-$15 range. By looking at the pattern of lights it will show you five different wiring faults as well as a correctly wired outlet socket. Further pressing the button will create a ground fault that should trip your GFCI protection. All plugs in wet areas (kitchen, bathroom outside…) should be GFCI protected. After the test make sure you reset your GFCI circuit which can be either the button in the center of the plug or could be in your circuit breaker box depending on the type your home has.
While this is certainly not an exhaustive test as it will not check voltage levels or tell you the size of a circuit, for basic circuit testing it is too cheep and easy to use for everyone not to have at least one. Further if you are having trouble with an electrical device it is good to make sure the plug is wired correctly. That way you will know if you need take the device in for service or have the house wiring looked at. The biggest thing this does for a novice is tell you if the power is on to a plug and if it is wired correctly or if there is a problem. Also it is safe for anyone to use because you don’t have to take anything apart to do the test, you just plug it in like anything else and look at what lights are on and compare it to the code printed on the unit.
As we move into wood heating season again I’m once again reminded on the fact that I really need to spend some time working on my fire making skills. I use a propane torch to get the fire going in my wood stove in the morning and I’m surprised some mornings at how much I have to hit my pile of wood to get the fire to take. Some mornings it is a few seconds and other mornings it is an embarrassingly long time. This of course mildly concerns me because if I ever really needed a fire and had something less than a propane torch, I could be in trouble. As I try to diagnose what I’m doing wrong I think I need to look at the following areas.
Dry Wood While the wood you burn should always be well seasoned (dry), you can get away with wood not as dry as it could be after the fire is already going. When you have a bed of coals a two or three inches deep you can throw just about any piece of wood on the fire and it will first cook off the water as steam and then it will burn. But when you are first trying to start a fire you need really dry wood. I still cannot tell if a piece of wood is well seasoned or not, I know if it is green but I have trouble judging if it is seasoned or just almost seasoned.
Structure You can’t just dump out a pile of wood and expect to do well. For some reason in my mind I have the “tepee” as the way to build a fire. However that really doesn’t work that well in my wood stove because the firebox isn’t really that high. The “log Cabin” method is working better.
Tinder & Kindling I believe this is where my biggest problem is, I trying to build a fire with material that is too big. I would use my hatchet and shave off a few bits of wood, but I don’t think it was anywhere near enough. Also I need some pencil sized kindling as the next step in the fire catching and I was more in the 1″ to 1-1/2″ size that I was trying to use as kindling. I haven’t found a good way to split wood up fine enough to be kindling, I’m too afraid I’ll take off part of my finger or thumb. I’ll have to work on that or just go out into the woods behind my house and get some dry sticks. It would be good to have a bucket of this available.
Left Over Charcoal If you can dig around in the ashes and find some charcoal that will really help in getting your fire going. Part of the burning process requires all of the volatiles to be driven out of the wood. While these burn it does take some heat to get this started. However the charcoal is almost pure carbon and will start burning quite easily. Not from just a match but they will start adding to the heat of your fire fairly soon after you get it started.
Draft Draft is the air moving into your firebox and up your chimney which keeps the smoke out of your house. A good draft will work wonders for your fire and it will increase the oxygen your fire gets. I have close to 40′ of chimney going up through the center of my house so I usually have a great draft. However sometimes I get the smoke rolling our of the wood stove when I first start the fire. Currently I am perplexed as to why this happens. If you house is very airtight (as mine is) would will need a combustion air supply for your fire. Some people will have this air supply come right into the firebox. In my situation I have the wood stove in the basement and about 15′ away is a combustion air supply for my hot water heater. This is basically a flexible 4″ hose to the outside that ends close to the floor near the hot water heater. This “make-up air” supply is especially important if you have a bathroom vent fan running as it is possible to get your chimney going backwards due to exhaust fans which fills your house with smoke.
Banking The Fire Of course if I would learn better fire management so there are still some hot coals in the morning that I can stir up from the ashes that will make fire starting much easier. We like the house cooler for sleeping so I need to learn the art of banking the fire so the core stays hot for the next morning.
Conclusion Fire making is a skill that we all should have and I would venture a guess that we can all improve on. It is one of my goals this winter to do so and a personal challenge to be able to do it with one match and then then no matches. Next year I’ll work on primitive fire making skills outside.