The AikiHomestead

Our Lifestyle Blog as We Create a Homestead in Northern Ontario

A Bush Trail no Longer Needed

December 20, 2012 [vehicles]

Pile of long logs in the snow. Grandpa and I were on a mission yesterday. With the success of Monday and especially Tuesday under our belts, we were determined to skid out the last of the logs from near the property lines.
Tractor skidding two logs in the snow. Using a cant hook in the snow.
I was up early, restarting the generator (again!) to charge up the batteries, with the side benefit of giving Donna a chance to pump some water and do some laundry. Grandpa and I also got cracking on starting up the tractor. It is a bit of a chore with the cold weather to start a diesel engine, I can attest to that. But it is certainly still easier than pulling the manual recoil of either generator. Even the small generator can take 15-20 pulls when it is cold, but they are much easier than the larger one, and obviously more effective. I should also add that it is even easier on petrol than I expected, running over four hours and still showing fuel in the tank.

In any case, after the tractor started, Grandpa set off for the remote log pile while I got the generator hooked up and brought some more wood for Donna to burn. I then followed him into the woods.

The first few loads went uneventfully, but as the morning turned to afternoon, we really struggled to climb one particularly steep spot where the underlying trail was just rock. Increasingly exposed, greasy rock. At last the tractor could no longer get up there, even unladen. We ended up resorting to hooking up Grandpa’s hand-cranked winch and pulling the tractor up there, three times. By the final load, we were both very pleased that we didn’t have to make that trip again.

But it did pay dividends. We now have emptied out that particular section, and there really is no reason to have to use that trail again, except perhaps if my larger tractor is ever required in Grandpa’s bush for something. I’m a little sad to see it go I must say. I was quite comfortable driving it, in fact, truth be told, the ruts from the tires had made it a self-driving trail. More than once I crossed it and then realized that I had really only been resting my hands on the steering wheel, and that the tractor had steered itself as far back as I could recall.

Back at the sawmill, I had to create two piles of logs to accommodate the influx. It is nice to see, but I sure hope they translate into a good supply of beams after they are on the mill!

Next up – the original bush trail we cut that currently leads to the lake. Although we know that the tractor cannot climb the ridge, it does travel along it quite a distance on higher ground, and on our way there, we did cut up a good number of logs – Grandpa thinks almost another dozen, although I’m a little more conservative in my memory.

Our first order of business will be to head out there and see if we think that the unladen tractor can make it. After that, we’ll see.

More Firewood Cut and Split Just in Time

December 18, 2012 [wood][vehicles]

Tractor with wagon sledge in winter. Yesterday I wasn’t sure if the weather was going to be up to Grandpa’s standards for any work in the bush. Apparently it was! Grandpa arrived just as I was pulling on my boots, and suggested that he was game to try to get both the tractor, and the trailer up onto the far side of the ravine. This was something exciting and new!
Tractor with wood in sled in winter. Tractor skidding a large log in the snow. Close up of skidded log in winter.
We hooked up our new ski-trailer, and I graciously suggested Grandpa could have dibs on being the first person up the hill. I took that opportunity to level off the new generator and start it up for Donna to do more laundry, and charge up our batteries again. It seems like we haven’t had a sunny day here in Thunder Bay for two months now. I think that perhaps they need to let go of their title as one of the sunniest places in Canada.

When I caught up with Grandpa, he was already across the ravine, but couldn’t climb the hill on the far side. The very first incline was the worst, and he was spinning all four tires madly with no effect. We disconnected the load (something that was to become familiar as the day progressed) and only then could the unladen tractor get past this sticking point. We hooked up the chain from the tractor to the trailer, and in this configuration were able to drag the trailer up afterwards. At the top of the hill we had piled the stove length deadwood from two days previous, so we disconnected the trailer, manhandled it upside down, sideways, and around to rest in the nearby trees, as Grandpa continued up the trail to a suitable turnaround for the tractor.

With the tractor now pointing downhill, it was just a matter of grunt work to hook up the trailer again and reload it. This time we opted only for a half load, knowing that there was also a slope on the far side of the ravine for the tractor to climb, this time with an even heavier load. Of course, we needn’t have worried, with just a little bit of finessing it, Grandpa got the tractor back up on (mostly) high ground, and turned the keys over to me. I returned with that load to the yurts, quickly offloaded it, and checked the generator.

I thought it had died – no power was reading on the battery bank. I asked Donna to plug in a light so that she would be able to monitor the generator better, and surprisingly, a light came on – how could that be?

I actually walked to the generator, and realized that it was indeed still running. The battery charger plug had just slightly vibrated out. I bent the prongs a bit tighter, and reinserted it to great effect. That was certainly a relief.

As Donna loaded the generator with the washing machine, it was interesting to see the amperage rise and fall in rapid pulses in time with the washing machine agitation. But everything worked!

I returned to the ravine, where we once again had to disconnect the trailer and haul it up by chain from a more advantageous position.

Two loads of firewood was judged to be enough to get us into January and hopefully deeper, more frozen snow.

It was still early, but Grandpa retired for lunch. I hit up the woodpile, and with great satisfaction dispatched the larger logs using my new and improved tanren uchi. Protip: bolt the tires together rather than just stacking them or trying to rope them together. Only two opposing bolts are required. It is so easy to split wood in this fashion. I can carry two pieces of wood and it feels like I just throw one of them in the direction of the tanren and the tires guide it upright onto the stump below. Splitting goes like a charm, without having to chase down any pieces at all.

During lunch I configured our laser printer to have its own email address, so that we can email documents to be printed to it, and then, within 24 hours, plug it in and have them automatically print. That’s cool. It will have to be seen if it works to our satisfaction. I noticed that the jobs can be rather delayed while the printer tries to connect to our proxy server. Our proxy is the biggest fly in our internet ointment, but I suppose I shouldn’t complain; we are very, very fortunate to not have to rely on dialup or expensive broadband options.

Grandpa returned and wanted to get the big logs off the property line.

It’s funny how relative things really can be. Compared to travelling on my (somewhat) groomed trails, driving through the field was a really fearsome event. But then it all was stepped up a huge notch by crossing the ravine and climbing the ridge at the back of it. With this experience fresh in my mind, suddenly going back to just driving through a rocky field was a breeze. I found myself whistling Christmas carols and wishing (as I often do) that my brother was here to participate in these sorts of adventures. I think he’d be able to appreciate them.

Grandpa and I hooked up the largest log we could easily reach, and I started back. This time we had much greater success – I was able to skid it completely off of his property and back onto ours, and didn’t get stuck until we were halfway to the yurts. But were we ever stuck! The tractor dug deep, and suddenly even with the four wheel drive engaged, I couldn’t climb forwards or backwards. And this was with the log set free!

Luckily I had reattached the winch, so we hooked up my spare battery, and used the winch to drag the tractor back out of the hole it had dug.

Grandpa used his axe and shovel to fill in the wheel pits I had dug, while I silently supervised. Then, abandoning the log for the time being, I climbed across this hazard, and extended a chain to drag the log across it. We chained up the log, and I dragged it a bit further so that it too cleared the soft spot. I backed up, we reattached the log to my three point hitch, and I proceeded another few feet before becoming trapped again.

This time, simply disconnecting the log was enough to let me climb over that problem. When we reconnected the chain, I just dragged the log back to the location of our future sauna. It was there that I had to climb a slight incline, and the tractor just wasn’t up for that, especially with the log digging itself down into the snow in the valley. We worked in reverse; I backed up the tractor and attached the log in tight this time. With this arrangement, the extra weight on the tractor’s back wheels worked in our favour, and I dragged this monster all the way back to the mill.

Grandpa felt we had time and need to try to get more out, so I put the tractor in high gear and headed back over the hills and through the woods to our log pile. While Grandpa shoveled more snow into the deepest wheel ruts, I managed to hook up another monster log and have it dragged almost back to the property line before he arrived. I was pretty proud of myself, but his expression didn’t betray any exceptional look of approval. I suppose that’s likely the fate of most son-in-laws, so I generally don’t take a lack of praise too hard :).

This one went much better. I engaged the four wheel drive far in advance of any obstacles, using it almost the entire trip across the rocky field. I didn’t need to do any finagling to get the log to the sawmill, where Grandpa decided to call it a day. This log was about 17-18 feet long, so I brought up my chainsaw and cut off a seven foot section where there was a bend in it. This will still be a great addition to my log pile, providing me with beams for the cabin finally. So far I have only been able to mill out smaller beams for the sauna.

Before leaving, Grandpa reminded me that he won’t be helping out today, and that he was expecting that I’d spend my time skidding more logs out of the bush. I’m not too worried about it, but I have a feeling it will be slow going if I start getting stuck again. I’ll just have to be patient, and we’ll see where I get.

Thawing a Frozen Water Line (Part Three of… Let's Not Go There.)

December 17, 2012 [water]

Large log behind tractor in the snow. So, earlier in the week as I set off through virgin turf to get the logs near the property line, I started up the generator and got Donna started on pumping water for a load of laundry. As I passed by on the tractor, she began to frantically flash me some hand signals. At first it was double V for victory – I was impressed with her enthusiasm for laundry, but her facial expression didn’t match her hand signs. Then she turned them both upside down.
Man opening well cover in the snow. View of ice in a well. Man holding fish tape, flashing V sign in wintertime. Water pouring into a bucket. Cheap generator in the snow.
I’ve never seen an upside down V for victory, but logic would say it would have to mean defeat, right? And double defeat in this case?

The look on MY face brought her out of the yurts to inform me that it was obvious she was signing W – M… Washing Machine. I guess I am a little slow sometimes.

Of course, further interpretation was in order. As it turns out, the washing machine worked fine. It was the well that didn’t work. She should have said her sign language was indicating “Well Malfunction”, that would have perhaps met me halfway.

I continued on the journey, and hauled home a few logs. Some others we have had to leave in the bush, as the tractor couldn’t budge them. Grandpa has informed me that he took out his come-along and staggered them out a bit, which should help. As my faithful readers will recall though, there are a few “monsters” dating back to confederation that may be a bit much for the tractor to pull up some of the slopes, or across some of the rough terrain between my sawmill and where they currently are lying.

Next up was to look down the well. As always, try the simple stuff first.

Looking down the well revealed no surprise – a layer of ice, not TOO thick, but clearly still water in the well.

Donna plugged in the pump, and I could hear it trying to work against whatever blockage existed.

Halfheartedly I poured a warm stockpot of water onto the ice, deducing that the blockage had to be in the pipe where it passed through ice. Surely ice outside a pipe would mean ice inside?

Anyway, my wimpy warm water didn’t have any effect. I closed it up, and added a 100′ fishtape to our shopping list. That, and a
tiny 800 watt Chinese generator I had seen at Tool Town. The previous attempt to start our generator had me pulling the starter cord 120 times. Not good for the generator, and certainly not good for my shoulders (well, maybe it would be good for them, if I considered it exercise, which I didn’t…). I knew that my charger only drew about 600 watts at the beginning of the charge, tapering down quickly after that. As long as Donna didn’t try to start the well pump or washing machine right after I started the small generator, things would be fine.

Donna and Mummu delayed their trip to town by one day, which was fine, and on sauna night I waited patiently for their return to retrieve my goodies.

It was too late to do anything that night, so we enjoyed family steam, Mummu’s pastries, Coronation Street, and then snuggled to bed.

The next morning, I retrieved the fishtape and generator, and, with Grandpa’s timely arrival, set to work. This time I think I accurately applied the V for victory sign, or maybe it reflected my second attempt at opening up the water line?

First I disconnected the water line 100′ up from the well. I was confident that the water line was frozen below this point. I was able to blow hard uphill, and Kenny reported that he heard and saw the small spray that came out inside the yurts.

I began feeding the fish tape down the water line towards the well. Talk about something ELSE not easy on the arms and shoulders… In any case, I managed to unwind about 97′ of the fishtape before encountering an obstacle. I guessed it was the elbow in the pipe, inside the well, and that the blockage was indeed where the pipe passed through the layer of ice.

Madly rattling the fishtape, I had Grandpa stationed at the open well, and he confirmed that to his ear, the end of the tape was at the elbow.

I returned to the yurts, grabbed two steaming kettles from the stove, and poured them carefully around the pipe. This is more difficult to do than you would suspect. The instant the first bit of boiling water hits the ice, the entire well fills with steam, and I have to just guess where to most efficiently pour the remainder.

I emptied the kettles, and then, using my genius system of yelling uphill through the well hose, screamed “O – N” into the pipe.

Nothing happened.

“O – N”.

Nothing happened.

“O! – N!”.

Nothing happened.

“O!!!!! – N!!!!! (gasp, gasp)

I heard the pump kick in, and listened carefully to the hose coming up from the well. I could hear ice tinkling inside, which was exciting. Then I heard water gurgling inside, which was more exciting. At this point, I realized that it was probably better to be patient and just watch the end of the hose, rather than holding it to my ear, current situation considered.

After a moment, a trickle, and then a flow of water! Yeah!

I reconnected, closed everything up, and Donna was back in the laundry business! I’m sure she was beside herself with joy. It was double joy too – she had brought back more than just a fishtape and generator – she also returned with another clean bill of health for our well. The second one! One more clean test and we are confident that we can drink our water! It would have been too cruel an irony that we get our clean test just when we can’t pump anymore.

I hooked up the generator, and it worked a treat for us. It finished off charging our batteries and was able to run most of the household appliances. We didn’t test the big one – the washing machine. That’s likely for today. Cross your fingers for us on that count. It was much quieter than the big one and much smaller (so I can just carry it to shelter when not in use, or even inside the yurts to briefly warm up if required…) It also is a smaller, two stroke engine (!) and thus can use the same petrol/oil mix that the chainsaw uses. I hope it’s a bit easier on fuel, being a smaller displacement and all.

Things have cooled off slightly overnight here, but it will remain to be seen if Grandpa says it is cold enough to return to the bush for firewood. We are back to burning slabs from the sawmill, so that means I need to cut more big trees so we can have longer lasting fires. I have been researching rocket mass heaters a bit lately, but am still not sure. They sound great, but there are also some reservations about burning softwoods in them, which puts me on the outs with the concept. If anyone has any experience or thoughts on the matter, I’d be all ears. We’re still in the design stages of the cabin, so it is a good time to incorporate things of that nature if desired.

Those two stroke generators are an environmental disaster with all the emissions they create.
  • Anonymous

I agree, and I'd extend it to cover all two stroke engines, not just those from generators. On the sliding scale from white to black, where most everything is grey, I'd say that running a two stroke engine to power your fridge and washing machine is further towards the acceptable end of the scale from the leaf blowers and dirt bikes of the world though.
Regardless, this generator is mostly temporary until next summer when the cabin is built. I plan on double or tripling my solar array then, and hopefully that should wean me off of the generator as long as the sun co-operates :).
Thanks for reading, and thanks even more for commenting!
  • Stephen Garstin

I like your blog and commend the challege and the balls it took to undertake. Just someone who feels all two stroke motors should be banned, now.
  • Anonymous

A Cold, Clear, Happy Day

December 11, 2012 [construction][leisure]

Hugs in winter. Yesterday was (not surprisingly) a cold one again here. I managed to sleep in until about 6:30 or so, which doesn’t happen all that often. (This morning it is currently 4:30 as I type this. I would have thought I would have been a bit young for getting up through the night to go to the bathroom, but then again, it had been over five hours so I suppose I shouldn’t complain.) It seems Grandpa always catches me before I’m out of the yurts and in action, which makes me feel pretty self conscious. In this case it was a laundry day so I spent 65 pulls getting the generator going before I could pile the chain saw, axe and loppers into the sled and head into the bush myself.
Log on a sawmill in the snow. Burn indicator in the danger zone.
I came to the end of the trail, and, not seeing Grandpa anywhere, felt pretty smug as I began picking up tools and making my way into the bush. Imagine my disappointment at suddenly hearing another chainsaw from futher ahead. Normally Grandpa heads up our trail, via our property. Yesterday though, I think he set off to our secondary bush trail via his property. This is sensible, because the newest trail we are cutting in goes right up to his property line. Sigh, beaten again.

I proceeded to snip, cut and drag bush out of the way, making my way along what was still clearly an old logging road. It’s humbling to work so hard to just clean up something that someone else must have done the real, initial labour at putting in. It’s also satisfying work to think I’m somehow honouring those efforts by reviving them and acknowledging that their choice in pathway was the right one.

Then again, the truth of the matter may be that they used a big skidder and were motivated purely by profit. I just prefer to think about it more romantically, picturing some tough Finns and even tougher draught horses breaking through virgin forest.

After a few hours work, in which I abandoned my jacket in favour of my fleece, suddenly Grandpa burst through the forest to my left. He had come in around a high ridge that ran along the west side of our ravine. Apparently there was a good stand of large jackpine there, making it an area worth accessing by the tractor.

We exchanged greetings and observed how close to finishing the trail we were. A few moments later, we were standing side by side in the snow, with an open path extending off in both directions. It was a very satisfying feeling.

Grandpa declared that after lunch he wanted to level off sections of the trail he had just come through, but he didn’t need any help doing that. With that, we headed back down my path towards the yurts, Grandpa leaving me nearly literally eating his snow/dust. By the time I got to the solar panels, he was already nowhere in sight. He sure is fast moving in his element!

After a lovely lunch with Donna and Kenny, I shut down the generator and watched with a bit of annoyance as my meter continued to show less than 60% charge. Of course, there was a little sun on the solar panels, causing them to be putting out a very slight current. It seems that the meter needs to see the batteries rest a bit before it can re-assess their condition. The sun continued to shine ever so slightly all afternoon, with the voltage reading over 12.8 and the meter stubbornly resting on 57% charge. Finally, with the sun below the horizon shortly before five, the meter suddenly shot up to 90%. Such is the way of things, and I suppose it simply means that I have to learn to adjust my expectations.

I got a warm bottle of water to take up to the sawmill. The blade on the mill uses a steady trickle of water to lubricate things while it cuts. Of course, this water froze in the hose, as a trickle of water isn’t enough to overcome the air temperature.

Moments after starting up the mill, a loud bang had me jumping for the off switch! I hadn’t even begun to cut!

Opening up the blade guard, it was easy to see that the blade had jumped off of the wheels.

With some effort, I managed to get it back on, and gave it a second try.

Bang, same thing.

This time I tried to look things over to see what the problem was. Lucky for me, my first guess and solution was the correct one. I noticed that the rubber grip on the unpowered wheel was looking really ratty, being covered in frozen, bumpy sawdust. I removed the belt from it, and twisted it up in my hands, causing the detritus to flake off in a very satisfying manner.

Replacing the rubber belt and blade made all the difference in the world, and I milled up two more beams for the sauna. I was a little disappointed that I was unable to mill a beam for the cabin, but I suppose my first logs were a bit small in diameter to hope for the larger beams we plan on using in the cabin (four by five, while for the sauna I am going to try to work with four by three).

I leveled off three skids near the yurts, and piled on my three beams. Even with one of the beams being a bit out of square, it still looked great, and I just had to change my expectations ;). I’m sure when I router a corner (to shed water), it will hide slight imperfections like that. And if it doesn’t, well, that just adds this mysterious “character” that carpenters seem to talk about, I think…

Looking out from this vantage point lets me get a general idea of the view we will have from our cabin. It was so beautiful yesterday, with the sun low in the sky; the trees heavy with snow. I called Kenny to come out from the yurts to see, and he was all smiles and agreed with me about how wonderful a sight it was. He was amazed at the size of the snowflakes, able to easily see their six pointed shapes, and marveling at how complex they could be. It was such a great feeling, not just the immediacy of that emotion, but knowing that this place had the power to affect me so. Knowing that I can have ups and downs, and that the ups are there, if I just am patient for them, is likely one of the more important things to keep in mind on a project like this. Probably it’s important to think that for any important venture in life.

Last night we all hit the sack early. This morning as I said, I am up early and as I fired up the stove, I had to laugh silently to myself about how things change in your head as you get use to them. I use to be terrified of the stove. Perhaps rightly so, as we were burning wood that was either excessively dry or excessively pitchy. Lately the wood has been much better quality, and so its burn characteristics are much more predictable. Predictable to the sense that now I’m actively seeking a hot fire to start the day! A few slabs from the summer’s work with the sawmill does a great job of rapidly raising the temperature in the yurts and on the stove.

Only a few weeks ago I would have been scrambling to assemble my firefighting equipment and prepare evacuation routes if I had seen the chimney temperature approaching the red zone. Now I pour myself a tea and settle down to calmly enter a blog post. If I were so inclined, I likely wouldn’t be against returning to bed, secure in the knowledge that my equipment has been tested far more sorely than this, and that all is well with the world. Besides, our stove can’t maintain this heat for more than a few minutes anyway, generally to our chagrin.

A Frozen Hose Indoors

December 9, 2012 [water]

Hose in the snow. Yesterday we pretty much finished our Christmas shopping. We hit up three different craft fairs, one McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, Chapters and the public library. I’ll leave it to my family’s imagination to see what gifts they can foresee based on that itinerary.It was a nice sunny day for once, but very cold. I made sure my solar panels were pointed in a generally favourable direction before we left, and when we returned, I could see I was running around 13.8 volts and 6-7 amps of charge. Doubling the charge (because my monitor seems to report half the charge at a time…) I came up with 12-14 amps of charge. Not too shabby in my opinion. I checked with my multimeter, and it agreed with my guess – 15 amps of charge was its best guess.
Hoses behind a washing machine.
In spite of that, I still fired up the generator (twenty six pulls – maybe I should have a new ripcord set aside for the premature failure of this one?) so that Donna could do a few loads of laundry. Friday night being sauna night, we decided it was a good time to also strip the bedding and have a fresh start to the weekend.

After the last incident where the laundry drain hose had frozen, I had cut about two thirds of it off, allowing just about ten feet of hose to drain the water away from the yurts. On a whim, I decided to check it. It appeared frozen solid, and I was a little chagrined. Later, Donna confirmed my fears when she reported that the wash machine was not draining the first load of water.

I poured a stock pot of hot water along the length, to no avail.

I poured a kettle of steaming hot water along the length, to no avail.

I took a break to relieve myself on a nearby tree, observing the steam arising from my own contribution, but decided that I still had other options.

Using my draw saw, I cut the hose down to about five feet. It had no spot left where it water could possibly collect, at least in future pumpings – where I cut I noted it was still solid ice inside.

Another kettle of water removed that, but still it refused to pump.

I removed the hose altogether, and blew through it – no resistance! The hose was fine. This made me more nervous yet. Returning inside, I got behind the wash machine and started to manipulate the rubber hose inside. Clearly I could feel and hear ice cracking. This was unexpected. I knew that the yurts get cold, but freezing up a hose like that was new. I suppose it doesn’t get much air circulation, and is against an outside wall, and the back yurt IS generally much cooler than the main one, but to freeze a hose solid?

We pulled out the wash machine to get better access to the hose. This is where I appreciate that we had purchased an apartment unit, already on casters and smaller than normal.

I manipulated the hose while Kenny stood outside calling the play by play. “Trickle of water! Now lots! Now a trickle again!”

At last we got “Now lots!” consistently, and with Donna setting the machine to a final spin and drain cycle, were satisfied that the problem was solved, at least for the time being.

Now we have a much shorter hose outside, that can’t possibly freeze (?) and a future plan to pull the wash machine out from the wall the mornings we are planning on doing any laundry. Hopefully that will thaw the indoor hose, which is never completely free of water.

It will be interesting to see if we can keep the future sauna warm enough to generally prevent this from happening again. Donna feels that it is more a case of the floor needing more insulation, than the trapped airspace being cold – she may be right – we only put in the prescribed 4″ of insulation, rather than the 6″ that we would have had space for. Next time...

Hi nice information provide about A Frozen Hose Indoors.
  • Wash Hose

Planning a Sauna

December 7, 2012 [shelter]

Floorplan of a sauna. A few days ago the temperature came up to around zero. This, combined with some rain, made for a rather ugly day. One of those times where if it was just a bit colder, it would feel much warmer, as the air wouldn’t be so clammy.

Not much outdoor work looked very appealing, so I marked off a rope into one foot sections to use as an oversize measuring tape, and sketched a few diagrams to reflect some of the thoughts I had on our future sauna.

I always want to keep things small, figuring that it is easier to build, heat, clean, and pay for the supplies I cannot make myself. I started out with a twelve by twelve square.

Dividing it into quadrants, I then placed a change room in one corner, the actual steam room adjacent to it, and the washing up/laundry room in the remaining half. Kenny and Donna offered lots of input, as did Mummu and Grandpa when we later asked them for any other tips.

Here’s a sketch I did between setting the supper table and supper making it to the table.

We decided that we would feed the sauna stove from the outdoors, and inside the steam room the stove would then be located opposite the door, with the bench running along the north wall.

In the washing up room, we would have the wash machine and sink/laundry tub also on the north wall, then a door leading outside in the north-west corner, a long counter on the west side, a sitting bench on the south side, and then the door leading to the change room facing east.

Finally the change room, in the south east corner of the building, would have a bench on the south side as well, with the doorway leading outside (and facing our eventual cabin) on the east side.

As additions to this plan, we want to have a high, open ceiling in the washing room, except the sauna, where a low one will help keep in the steam, and above the change room, where we can use the space for storage. Then, centred above the junction of the interior walls, is the place where I’m thinking we would locate our 1000 litre water tank. I think this is the strongest place that can handle that sort of weight.

Having the water tank in the sauna should give it a reasonably warm location so that it doesn’t freeze in winter. It is also located directly uphill from the well, and can drain down towards our possible garden plots.

Having it up in the roof peak will have the added benefit of providing natural gravity flow, and I imagine the ability to run a water line from it, across the space between the sauna and cabin, and into the cabin, so that we could have running water there as well.

Yesterday, after spending the morning clearing a bit more of a new logging road into our bush with Grandpa, I returned to the sawmill and checked and rechecked to ensure it was straight and level. Then I fired her up to cut the first beam for construction. I was really cautious, and it took me a good twenty to twenty-five minutes, but here’s our start!

How’s the sauna now? I think you can still pursue it before the winter ends. Anyway, you can still use the sauna for the rest of the year. After all, stress is always present for us to dilute, on different levels. A home sauna is a definitely a luxury to have and is wonderful for at-home therapy. And remember not to break the tradition: Keep the atmosphere peaceful!
  • Neil Dalby

This is a smart floor plan for a sauna. However, it would be more ideal for the sauna to be a little bit bigger. You could adjust the change room a little smaller to allow more room for the sauna, if you want. But if the space for the sauna is big enough for you, it's okay to change nothing.
  • Anonymous

Converting my Wheeled Trailer to a Sled

December 2, 2012 [construction][experiments][vehicles]

Chiseling a log in winter. The other day we had a slight accident in the yurts. While rushing to answer the cellphone, one of us knocked over a five gallon pail of water. Sigh. While mopping up the water and hanging the sopping mats, we were amused to notice that behind one of the beds the metal fittings on the inside of the northwest wall were showing that cold spots still existed indoors.
Building skids for a trailer. Trailer on skids. Trailer on skids. Pretty girl doing laundry with a plunger in the snow. Pretty girl with frozen clothes.
The last time my trailer lost a wheel, I opted for the most direct solution – I purchased a generic, solid rubber wheelbarrow wheel from Canadian Tire and installed it on the axle with some spacer bushings to prevent it from wobbling too much.

The side effect of this was that the new tire was about half as wide as the one on the other side, which actually was oversized from the first tire blow-out. First it was a blow out, then next the bearing disintegrated.

Now that I am moving through snow, the narrow tire was a bit of a liability, sinking in really deep, and making it hard for me to haul firewood. The last trip I actually had to unload some of my firewood in order to climb the incline out of the gulley in the back of our property, in spite of putting the tractor into four wheel drive. I did manage to get two loads back though, and they are already split and keeping us warm (even if they don’t get crazy hot enough to make cooking any easier). I wonder what my sensei thinks of my form for my tanren uchi practise.

So yesterday, as I was puttering in the dojo tent, Grandpa dropped by and suggested I build some skis for the trailer, and replace the wheels with them. Together, we got right on it!

I had two surplus poplar logs on the skidway, that were earmarked for random projects, so I fueled up the mill, checked the oil, and started pulling the starter cord. I expected it to take a number of pulls before starting up, and so it was a bit sheepishly that on the 24th pull, I realized that I hadn’t yet turned the switch to the “on” position. It started perfectly on the 25th pull.

We slowly cut up the poplar into two 5″ by 5″ logs. I was surprised at how hard it was to clamp and cut. I think frozen logs must be significantly tougher than in summer, so I will ask my sawmill expert about perhaps purchasing one of his special winter blades. In any case, with patience, I was able to cut them up.

I used the chainsaw to cut a 45 degree angle on the front of each ski, and Grandpa beveled the edges with my hatchet.

Pressing the chainsaw into service again, I slowly and carefully cut slots into the top of each ski. After some fine chiseling, I inserted short lengths of 2″ by 6″ boards into these slots. I screwed them in place, added another 2″ by 6″ plate to the sides of the first ones, screwed these together, and then drilled some 1″ holes through the doubled up layers.

I manhandled the skis up to the trailer, and with Kenny pounding away on the uprights, we were able to insert the axles into the 1″ holes on the ski uprights.

To help tie it all together, I cut up another board I had milled just for so, and used two pieces of it in two places on the skis to ensure they were locked together. One on the uprights, and one laying flat on the skis themselves (hopefully laying flat, it won’t collect too much snow).

I flipped the trailer back upright, and I must say it looks rather smart on its new feet. Not having any more firewood cut up, I haven’t had a chance to test it, and I knew if I hooked it up and just drove around, it would be hard to claim anything other than just joyriding. It’s already bad enough with my grader blade being considered a “toy”.

This actually proved a good time to hook up my “toy” grader blade, and as I headed off to clear a trail down to the well I came across my beautiful wife trying to get the smell of diesel out of my clothes. That’s true love for you!

Last trip to town, I pumped my own diesel for the tractor, and unfortunately, forgot to tighten the vent cap on the can as I hefted it into the back of the truck. Sigh. Diesel gushed onto my coat, and I stank for the rest of the day. Donna could smell it on everything I wore that day, so all of it was relegated to staying outdoors. Yesterday she was kind enough to hit it all up with snow, baking soda, dish soap, and vinegar. Right now it is still airing out on our outdoor clothes line. No telling when it will be allowed back in the yurts.

After finishing with my clothes, Kenny and Donna headed over to Mummu’s to get a bit more drinking water. Talk about riding in style!

I finished the day up by skidding some logs from around the well back to the sawmill. I think there are two or three more out there under the snow, and perhaps today I will go off to seek them out.

Thawing a Frozen Water Line (Part Two of Two [or Two of to be continued…?])

November 28, 2012 [solar][water]

Thermometer reading -23 Celsius. So yesterday I was at Mummu’s at 8:30 for water. She thought I was up pretty early – or maybe just out of the yurts early? In any case, I was psyched up for a long day of fritzing with the water line, and it seems the universe wasn’t out to disappoint me. I returned with the water and Donna fired up the woodstove and put the kettles and stock pot on. Kind of like a midwife preparing for labour in the old days, I knew we were going to need lots of hot water, I just didn’t really know why.
BM-1 Battery Meter.
While waiting for the water to heat up, I decided to tackle a side project at the power station. I had found an inexpensive amp hour type of battery meter on ebay, and decided to purchase it and install it so that I could have a better idea of my state of charge without having to open up the box and take various measurements from here and there throughout the system.

It involved a shunt – which if you aren’t up on your solar power, is basically a bar of copper with what I suspect is a wire or wires or toroid wrapped around it to measure the magnetic field and deduce the power passing through the bar. You ensure that all your power passes across this bar by wiring the negative pole of your battery bank to one side, and all loads and chargers to the other side. Then attach up your meter, and you’re all done. Well, aside from programming the meter with your overall battery capacity.

Magically, your meter can approximate the charge in your batteries (I hope it did that…) and then it watches current in and current out and state of voltage and deduces how much gas is in your tank, so to speak.

At first it thought I was about 75%, which at 12.5 volts seemed about right.

Then, as I was closing it up, Grandpa showed up, gracious enough to offer to help with the water line situation. I was ready to start on that, so his presence was welcomed not quite profusely enough. I don’t think I can really ever express my appreciation for everything he has done to help this venture. It would surely not be able to succeed without the assistance of either him or Mummu. I cannot fathom how pioneers could break into the bush and survive without the help of friends and neighbours. I really want to remember to pay this forward someday.

So first we played at doing actual work. Walking up and down the line, tapping here, prodding there, sweeping off snow and vaguely hoping that the sun would melt something when it came to shine on the black hose. Of course, the sun doesn’t get high enough to see the hose until after lunch, and then only shines on the line for about a half hour before it is behind another group of trees, and it was still well below zero all day anyway.

Finally we opted to work at things logically/lazily. That is to say, start with the easy stuff first. Assuming I had put in a 200 foot long hose for the first section, we found the coupling between it and the “last mile” so to speak. The next, short length bridged the final distance to the yurts, about 25 feet away. It was really unlikely that a blockage existed there as we could tap the hose and it really felt and sounded empty.

I opened up the hose, and blew into it towards the yurts. Easy work, and the yells of Donna from inside the yurts when a small blast of air and water droplets came out of the faucet confirmed my fears. The blockage was elsewhere…

Next easiest was to look down the well. Grandpa and I headed down, and I took off the cover. It was nice to see that we had about two feet of water in there; it was interesting to see that it was covered by a thin skin of ice. I postulated that perhaps some ice was inside the hose at the water level, and so we brought down two kettles and poured them in. That produces quite a bit of steam, let me assure you. By the time I finished, I could barely see inside.

Plugging in the pump, we could see the water and ice moving ever so slightly, so we assumed that the pump was still running, but alas, still no water.

Now the job was going to start getting real. Bearing in mind that I had no couplings, cutting my water line was not high on my list of options. Instead, I retrieved my ladder and actually went down the well to see what I could see. (I was very careful to make sure that the well pump was unplugged and unpowered up at the yurts, and at the power station, to be certain that I wasn’t going to be poached.)

I disconnected the water line at a ninety degree coupling just inside the well wall, where it enters the well horizontally, and then climbed out and had Donna plug the pump back in. Voila! Water came out the top of my 3-4 foot section of hose – the pump was fine, and the blockage was now narrowed down to somewhere in the remaining 200 feet of hose! I had eliminated the easy 25-30 feet of possibilities.

Next up – I grabbed the tent pole that my friend Jeff and his family had left behind on their visit. It was broken, but still had lots of life yet in other capacities. Breaking it down into 2 foot sections, I was able to take it down in to the well and begin to feed it up the water line from inside the well towards the outside. I was a bit happy to realize that it was blocked only a few inches into the line – I had found my first (only?) blockage!

I returned to the yurts for more kettles, and on the walk there, realized that my electrical fishtape would be an even better probe than the tent pole, so I fetched it as well, and returned to the well with kettles and the fishtape.

I poured hot water over the foot or two of water line inside the well casing, and also directly into the hose itself. Then I even blew HARD into the hose, but still the blockage persisted. Finally with a really surprising blast, four big chunks of ice flew back out into the well, exciting me tremendously!

Alas, the tale of the tape (fishline?) was different. It went in a few more feet before being blocked.

By this time Grandpa had fetched Mummu’s hair dryer, and noted where he heard the fishline rattling. We plugged it in for about a minute (while I watched the battery bank capacity plummet) before I turned on the generator and gave him permission to proceed.

While he was heating the water line, I returned for more hot water, and also to check on the battery meter as it charged up. I was a bit disappointed to see that it was dramatically underreporting the charge amps. It seems like it reports the charging amps as being about half of what they actually are. I’m not sure why this would be. As my charger went from 45 amps to 20, the meter reported 22 to 10. It predicted 13 hours to charge, and this number only INCREASED the longer the generator ran. I was getting very disappointed, but no time to dwell on that just yet.

We moved and removed blockage after blockage, feeding the fish tape further and further up the line until it ran out at about the 25-30 foot mark. Grandpa said he thought it sounded like I was actually pushing ice along with the tape, and I agreed that it felt that way too.

By this time we were well into the afternoon, and Grandpa took his leave. We were thinking that I would try to buy a longer fishline and some couplings on a trip to town today.

I had two kettles left, and decided to just dump them where we left off. As I walked down the water line with the two kettles, I noticed a previously unnoticed coupling in the line – I didn’t have a 200 foot hose – I had 2, 100 foot hoses – of course! I forgot!

I returned the kettles to the stove, and came back with the fishtape. I disconnected the coupling, and again blew towards the yurts – no problem! I fed the fishtape down the other direction and hit a blockage. With Donna and Kenny rattling the fishtape, I poured out my last two kettles on the section of hose from the blockage down towards where Grandpa and I had left off with our previous kettles and hair dryer work. Donna pushed the entire fishtape down the hose; I emptied the final drops of the kettle and asked her to return to the yurts to plug in the pump one last time.

Suddenly, slowly, the fishtape began to back out of the hose on its own volition! Inch after slow inch snaked out, until finally the tip fell. And then – nothing!

I looked into the hose cautiously, and saw ice, right there! I stuck in my finger, but couldn’t do anything. I started to twist and tap the end of the hose, and then, just like delivering quadruplets, four compact small pieces of ice slowly exuded from the hose, and then a stream of water! Yay!

I directed Donna to turn off the pump, reconnected the couplings, and then told her to pump everything in the yurts full of water – even the washing machine! She wisely decided to do a load of laundry right then and there.

As she was working at the laundry, Kenny and I added multiple tie wraps to the water line, and with the help of another set of tent poles, smoothed out the final few feet of the water line and proved it to be on a constant downward slope with the help of my level.

Using a long-handled cultivator, I wedged the butt of the cultivator under the lid of the well, and the claw end pushing down on the ninety degree coupling inside the well, so that water shouldn’t (couldn’t, wouldn’t?) settle inside the well hose either.

I closed everything up, and then returned victorious to the yurts, where Donna and I agreed I should still head back to Mummu’s for some drinking water. Yes, we still haven’t had the requisite three clear tests of our water for us to feel safe drinking it. I’m sure with all my activity down there yesterday, I also stirred up some turbidity as well. Coming back from Mummu’s, I was happy to see that after the generator had been shut off, the meter somehow recovered from its faulty interpretation of events, and was now showing my batteries at 90% charge, which made sense, with my ammeter saying that the generator was down to less than 5 amps of input.

Then, with the sun setting quickly, I entertained Kenny by pulling him up and down the driveway on the sled, until I grew tired and pointed him in the direction of a small hill instead.

Thawing a Frozen Water Line (Part One of ???)

November 27, 2012 [water]

Water pipe in the snow. This may be part one of multiple posts that last into the spring. The other day as I returned to the yurts, Donna informed me that no water was coming out of the faucet. Ugh. I ventured down to the well with an FRS in hand, and had Donna plug in the well pump at the yurts. I could clearly hear it start up, but after a few moments, she still reported no water. I took a stock pot full of water and poured it along about ten feet of the lowest, flattest looking section of pipe, but still no go.
Log with attached wiring in winter. Ice coming out of pipe in winter. Water running from pipe in the snow. Connecting pipe along log in snow. Drain hose in the snow. Laptop.
The section at the yurts seems to be on a good angle, and tapping it feels and sounds empty.

There are three areas where it approaches horizontal, but I was pretty sure it still had a slope. Today I will likely have to bring out my level and check them – decide which is most horizontal, and attack it with more hot water. One annoyance – without water, it’s going to be hard to get stock pots full of boiling liquid to pour out!

I suppose a number of trips to Mummu and Grandpa’s with our pails are in order.

It also appears that the drain hose for the washing machine was frozen – no water in OR out. This one was an easier fix. I cut the hose much shorter, opting to accept it draining only about eight feet from the back of the yurts for now. Then I brought the shorter hose inside and let it thaw into two buckets. Must remember to always drain this hose after use!

Stay tuned for further developments on this front.

On another note, I now have low-power wifi in our yurts! I’m so happy – the modem/router combination only requires USB to charge, and also has a four hour backup battery! I just had to spend a few hours with it flashing the firmware, then flashing it again, then bricking it, then flashing it five times in a row and editing some XML to get it back to working, but not just working – working properly! Yay!

If only I could log into it this morning to check on its status – but at least it is working.

Using a Grader Blade to Clear Snow

November 25, 2012

Grader blade in snow. So I began pricing out grader blades locally after our big snowfall. I sent out a few email inquiries, and then, just to have an idea what to expect, I also searched out pricing on used blades across Ontario. It seemed like I was going to be looking at around $400-$500. These things must really hold their value!
Grader blade in snow. Pickup truck in snow. Concrete blocks in back of truck.
Afortek Tractors
just south of Thunder Bay had a heavy duty blade in stock, regular price was $510.00, but they were willing to sell it to me for 10% off, so about $460.00 if I purchased before the end of next week. They would have regular blades in the spring, but they were still over $400.00, and a few months too late for me to clear snow with!

The Thunder Bay Co-Op
, on the other hand, had a regular duty blade in stock, regular price of $329.00 – which is less expensive than almost every used blade I had looked at! The caveat – it was only a 60 inch blade, not the (seeming) standard 72 inch. As always, I prefer smaller to larger anyway, so I was quite happy to brush the snow off the truck, and with Grandpa as my co-pilot headed down Highway 61 towards Neebing Township. Of course, I also loaded up the back of the truck with a few cinder blocks to help with my traction down the driveway.

After assuring me that the Kubota orange coloured blade at least “looked” faster than the standard grey, I selected the fancy blade and had it loaded into the back of the truck. They were even kind enough to throw in the pallet for free!

Back home, as I was removing my winch and skidder assembly from the tractor, I was chagrined to notice that at some point the three point hitch had somehow pinched the power cables, nearly severing them. Sigh, another thing to add to my to-do list. I guess I won’t be skidding logs today at least.

With the winch removed, I had to improvise a bit to get the grader attached to my three point hitch. The two lower bars were easy enough, but getting the top bar in place proved difficult with a 150-200 pound weight to lift into place. I ended up wedging a crate under the blade and then inserting the pin – awkward, but tenable.

The blade worked really well! I lowered it right down to the ground, as the Yanmar hitch does not have down pressure, but rather just relies on gravity for down pressure. This way the grader “floats” over the surface a bit, relying only on its own weight to hold it against the surface (or so I surmise because I am able to lift the hitch myself if I need to – oh my sore back!). It was a rough trip the first pass – knocking the points off of frozen gravel. I did get stuck in one or two places, but a combination of engaging the four wheel drive and raising the blade ensured that nothing too serious occurred.

I spent the remainder of the day passing over the trail from the yurts to the front entrance, with a pause to pull all the snow out of our parking area. It was a good learning experience.

One thing I noticed that I will have to watch for is that as the snow banks grew larger on the outside of the laneway, it seemed to push the rear end of the tractor and blade into the centre of the drive, rather than the weight of the tractor being enough to push the snow further out. I hope that my driveway doesn’t become progressively narrower as winter proceeds! I suppose I can try to use the front end loader to scoop up any trouble spots and just drop them further out. I also could likely turn the grader blade 180 degrees (tenkan for my Aikido readers), and push the snow off the surfaces in question.

When I went to move the truck though – ack! It was stuck in the same place as the Echo had been the day before! With much spinning of tires and cursing my fool luck, I finally swallowed my pride and slinked to the yurts to ask Donna to help. With her skillful maneuvering, and the tractor pulling, we managed to get the truck back far enough that it gained a small purchase in an area I had reconditioned for extra driveway width in the fall.

She returned to the yurts, and I did a bit more grading. I returned to the truck, drove it about a foot or two, and bam! Stuck again.

I didn’t have room in my stomach to swallow any more pride, so this time I hooked up the come-along and chain and pulled the truck back into its original position. I had graded it with the tractor a few times, so of course now the truck would be fine from there.

Of course.

As soon as I put it in reverse, it slid into EXACTLY the same ruts as I was originally stuck in, and then just spun there. Three times stuck in the same day? I was reliving
my mud adventure of the summer just a few feet from the original – this time with snow.

Now I was CERTAINLY too sheepish to ask Donna to come back and help me get the truck out of the spot she had found it in earlier, so I moved to the back of the truck with the come-along, and proceeded to winch it about eight feet back, past where she had left it, until I was confident that it was on high enough, flat enough ground that it couldn’t possibly slide anywhere.

Imagine my surprise when I was right! I parked the truck easily, and then worked into the twilight with the grader, practicing my techniques and widening our drive. At last, I returned to the yurts to find the thunder box full and awaiting emptying. A nice finish to my working day.

You may think I’m being a bit sarcastic about emptying a bucket full of Kenny’s deuces, but I assure you I’m not – at least this one was still warm, and its contents simply slid out and into the larger compost bin without fuss. The bucket from the Tardis, on the other hand, is still sitting upside down by the compost area – frozen solid and with its contents tenaciously holding fast to their blue plastic home. I have a bad feeling that we are either going to have to give up on the Tardis for the winter, or else bring its buckets into the yurts to thaw before emptying – not really my favourite choice.

How long until Kenny can drive the tractor? Then you can drive the truck and he can get you unstuck.
If you get enough buckets, you can just set the full, frozen ones aside until springtime.
  • Jay Bazuzi

Hmmm, that's a good question Jay. I suspect Kenny will be legally allowed to drive the tractor much sooner than I'd be prepared to let him. Much like driving a car, getting married, etc…
I don't know if I have enough storage space for that many buckets, but it is an intriging idea. I am thinking this morning that I will just make a point of taking a kettle with me and pouring it on the outside of the bucket before I try to empty it. Now if only I had water for the kettle!
  • Stephen Garstin

It's Official – Winter has Arrived!

November 24, 2012 [vehicles][weather]

Deep tire rut in snow. The night before last, as Donna and I returned late to the yurts, we were pelted with very cold, wet rain that quickly turned to snow. We were more than happy to warm the stove and snuggle into bed.
Changing a tire in the snow. Car with tire removed. Tardis full of snow. Tractor bucket covered by wood and ploughing snow. Tractor on the side of a snowy road. Makeshift wooden grader blade. Tightening the nuts on a wooden grader blade. Snow covered dome from the inside.
All through the night we could hear the patter on the yurt roof, and feel the wind lifting the canvas. I was rather concerned about our solar panels!

It was with some relief that I woke to discover them pointed north, but still safe.

I must say it was also exciting to see inches of snow everywhere. I retrieved our snowshoes and did a quick walkabout to see what there was to see.

The generator was in better shape than I expected. I had a large plastic lid over it to keep the rain off, and it worked equally well with the snow, although there was a little that had blown in onto some spots.

The dojo tent was in good shape, and now I know to close the door flaps on a night when snow is expected. Snow had blown in and onto the items adjacent to either side of the doors.

I walked out to the main road, and saw that only the far, northbound lane had been ploughed.

Returning to the yurts, I bumped into Grandpa, who had come over to see how we made out, and offer me a shovel in case I didn’t have one. I don’t have a snow shovel (yet), but I didn’t see a need for one at that moment.

After he left I started up the tractor and used the bucket to pack down the snow where we park the car. The night before, we had simply left the car parked just past the dojo tent. Once a path was cleared, I tried to get the car into its assigned place, but no go. There seemed to be a bit of ice under the snow, I suppose from the rain that had started all this.

Well, when your car is stuck in the snow, what better time than to put on the snow tires? The rims were still terrifically ugly – they had been left out in the elements and showed it.

But, I was really pleased as punch when the job was finished, and the car backed right up to our parking lot. Sadly, that’s when the party ended – there is a slight rise in front of the parking spot, and the car just couldn’t climb that ice. I eventually shovelled it right down to our driveway, and then was able to get in.

This opened up access to the entire driveway for the tractor. I made a number of passes with the front end loader, but was really dissatisfied with the result. The bucket either floated on top of the snow, or if I adjusted it to dig in, the front wheels of the tractor floated up, and I was unable to steer.

I attached the maple board that Grandpa had donated to the cause, and it seemed to work better, but I still was just pushing the snow directly forward, and had to have the bucket and loader at an uncomfortable angle, constantly in my line of sight, and digging into the driveway if I wasn’t paying 110% attention.

I then decided to try attaching the blade to the back, at the three point hitch. The maple board worked great for about three feet, then split.

I rigged up another version, this time plywood and poplar, with reinforcement from some square stock I had found in the ditch in the summer.

This worked even better for about thirty feet, before with a twang, the bolts snapped and disappeared into the distance.

A grader blade is now definitely on my shopping list. I think it will also be useful in the summer for levelling the driveway.

I did a few more passes with the tractor and bare bucket, which seems to have the snow fairly packed down. Perhaps today I will take the car and/or truck up and down the driveway a few times to see how it goes. I should also chip up some more brush and perhaps the chips can be used in places for more traction? It will also be interesting to get back to the brush trail we made two days ago and see how it held up.


Building a Brush Trail across a Swamp

November 23, 2012 [construction][vehicles]

Brush piled in a swamp. Dividing our property into two or three natural areas of high ground is an ancient riverbed, now a ravine with steep sides (cliffs in places). It makes for some really interesting and nice scenery as we hike our land, but it also proves to be a real challenge when we think about getting my tractor into the back 100 acres to harvest timber for our building projects.
More brush in a swamp. Kenny holding up a log.
As I described earlier, we planned on waiting for the snow to cross this ravine, when the swamp would be frozen and we could pack down the drifts into a snow road for the tractor to cross the hairier sections. Of course, as it seems, snow is later coming in Canada every year. With this in mind, we took the opportunity of another clear day yesterday to begin creating a path across the ravine to our original trail.

It was with some trepidation that I loaded up my tractor and wagon full of brush and branches and headed to the gulley in back that leads to the ravine. Brush and branches were resources I had quite a bit of around the yurts thanks to my recent obsession with cutting down the trees blocking my sun.

I do admit, I had the tractor in positions that made me somewhat uncomfortable. At one point I was clearly stuck, but I removed the trailer and backed carefully out of the hole I had dug for myself.

Grandpa also brought into service his MTD garden tractor and trailer, and deftly maneuvered it right to the edge of the ravine. It certainly is a nimble little thing! I imagine it has a bit lower centre of gravity than my Yanmar.

By lunch we were halfway across with our brush mat. Grandpa finished up for the day, and I took a short break for lunch. Then, back at it. Unfortunately, after my first load, the wheel literally fell off my cart!

Kenny and Donna of course rushed over for pictures. Kenny was a fabulous help – he took over the operation as soon as we fetched the socket wrenches. Apparently Papa had already taught him the ins and outs of using a socket set, so he was an expert. He expounded on how much he really loved to help Papa do chores. I wish I knew what the secret was! Oh well, I knew better than to look a gift horse in the mouth – it was awesome to have him helping me get the wheel back on and back to work.

We were scheduled to head to town for an information session on some future idea we are mulling over, so I finished up after the next load of brush. I was pretty much completely across the ravine by the time I put away the wagon and tractor and got dressed for town.

Next up will likely be throwing down bags of wood chips. My chipper was in the shop being repaired for a dirty carburetor, but I got it back so it’s ready to stand service there again.

Of course, it snowed hard all last night, so the schedule for today will almost certainly need to accommodate something in the department of finding our snowshoes, or shoveling (hmmm, I knew I should have bought a shovel yesterday!), or ploughing the driveway, or putting the snow tires on the car (finally!), or marking the logs that are surely buried under the snow now, or things of that nature. I’ll try to keep you posted!

Flies in November?

November 21, 2012 [leisure]

Stihl chainsaw with thrown chain. On Monday I set out to finish the last of my clearing of trees for the solar panels. I’m really hoping that in spite of a month to go before the Winter Solstice, the sun won’t go a huge amount lower. Besides that, I have cut all the trees I’m really prepared to remove (famous last words?). I have still favoured leaving the Jack Pine wherever possible, selecting spruce and especially balsam as they aren’t quite as useful to me for lumber. It was really nice to once again have my assistants march out into the field to bravely stack the pieces cut into stove lengths.
Logs piled. Flies on a marshmallow. Lying on logs and getting a kiss.
We had to take a bit of a pause when the chainsaw threw the chain. This is the second time it has happened to me. Somehow it also put some tiny dents in the bottom guide teeth of the chain, so before I could get it to settle back into the groove, I had to gently file it smooth again.

Next we took a walk to see the latest trail Grandpa had blazed to the back hundred acre wood. I really think we’re on to something now – it is a slope that I’m pretty sure the tractor can manage, and at the moment, we see that it may actually be following an old, grown in logging road from the very early days of the patent. It was difficult to recognize in spots, but every once in awhile, it suddenly opens up as if it were a genuine path!

We walked back to some logs I had cut a month ago to check the slope of the trail there (knowing the tractor had already mastered it many times), and Donna was impressed with the size of the trees we had cut. I decided to take the time to count the rings on one of the larger trees. It was at a minimum, 138 years old. What a humbling experience and thought!

On our way back, I was very much bemused to see a marshmallow that had escaped from Kenny’s snack bag had amazingly attracted some freeloaders – there are still flies out in November? What sort of country is this?

Ahhh, who needs a chiropractor when they can lay on a pile of logs and get forehead kisses?

How to Change the Oil in your Yanmar 155D Tractor

November 19, 2012 [vehicles]

Whiskey bottle used as PTO shield. After serving me well all summer, I wanted to finally give back to the tractor a little TLC and learn a bit more about her. I suppose many people treat their cars the same way I treated the tractor – only wanting to know enough to make them go, and assuming you could get someone else to deal with any other problems. My problem with that strategy was that if something went wrong with the tractor, it was going to be a big deal to find a way to get it to someone to look at it. I don’t have a trailer for transporting it – and I planned on taking it deep into the bush where problems may have to be solved on site.
Whiskey bottle covering PTO. View inside Yanmar tractor hood. Yanmar gauge panel. Retrofitted seatbelt on tractor. Winch hooked to battery by jumper cables. View of winch on tractor. Rear view of Yanmar tractor with winch. Artistic photograph of antique tractor gauges.
So with that in mind, I decided to tackle the most basic of maintenance – the oil change. I hit up the great boards at After a bit of backing and forthing, I had a recommendation to add almost seven quarts of oil, and another recommendation for what sort of oil filter I needed. After a bit of head scratching at Canadian Tire, I simply googled Napa 1064 to get a FRAM 8393A. I also picked up ten litres of diesel motor oil.

Yesterday I emptied out a rubbermaid tub (thank goodness I have a couple dozen of them from the move), and drained the inky black oil into it. There was shockingly little! As it drained, I used my time to connect some battery testing clips to the ends of my winch wires. This allowed me to connect the winch directly to a separate battery, which I will simply charge up using either my generator or the solar panel system at the end of a skidding session. We’ll see how long the battery can last next time I get a chance to winch. I want to wait for the ground to freeze up again so I don’t tear up my laneways too much.

Then I also tackled the broken connector on the winch where the controller enters the solenoid – I had foolishly moved the tractor once with the controller still plugged in, and running over the control cable broke the connection off right at the controller. I beefed it up by bolting a large washer over the entire connector, with just the shaft sticking through the hole in the washer.

After the oil stopped dripping, I replaced the drain plug (directly underneath the engine, facing straight down, starboard side of the tractor – under the dipstick), I opened up the oil cap on top of the engine, and poured in my first five litres bottle. On a whim, I pulled the dipstick and was surprised to see oil right up to the collar on the dipstick! I replaced it and came back to the yurts to consult the service manual for the tractor. After much squinting at the small print, I found an entry that suggested two litres of oil – I suppose I should have read the manual before asking well-meaning strangers for advice :). Mea culpa.

I returned to the tractor and was able to messily pull the plug again, but I drained this oil back into the jug for future use. I think because it was just in the engine and right back out again it shouldn’t be in bad shape.

After checking it over a bunch with the dipstick and plug, I finally got the oil down to “totally full” and called it a successful venture.

Replacing the oil filter on the port side of the tractor did involve me having to remove a small screen with three, ten millimetre bolts. It was too tight to turn off by hand, and with the screen there I couldn’t get my filter wrench any purchase. The gasket from the filter was left behind; I had to take it off with my fingernail. I lightly greased the gasket on the new filter and hand tightened it down. I check with my filter wrench, and it seems that the Fram filter is marginally smaller than the previous Kubota one, so I’m not sure if my wrench can get good purchase on it to remove it – hopefully I didn’t screw it down too hard.

I turned the engine over and let it idle a few minutes. The oil pressure gauge read about 60psi – I don’t know if that’s good or not, but I know oil is in there, so that’s my baseline. It’s also what it has always read.

I then started looking at the rats nest of wiring on the machine. I removed a bunch of wiring relating to two sets of lights (non functioning). I then removed the varied switches that related to those lights. I don’t plan on running the tractor after dark if I can help it. If I find I need to, I’ll add lights back on at that time.

I also realized that the one idiot light that had stopped working was simply due to a dead bulb – I removed the bulb from the oil pressure gauge as a previous owner had simply cut the wires to it. This caused both my idiot lights to come on, as I was use to. After a bit more fiddling, the OTHER idiot light went out. I’m not sure what that says about my abilities. Following the wires around, I can see that the first light only seems to go to the ignition, so that’s not very useful – I suppose it can remind me if the key is turned but the engine is not running. The second light goes to a sensor on the upper, front, port side of the tractor. I suppose it is either a temperature or oil pressure gauge, but I don’t know which yet. I’ll consult the service manual and see if perhaps it can shed some light on that. Looking in the radiator, I can see the fluid is high, and cloudy. At fifteen below it looked fine, so I’m not sure if I need to change it promptly or not.

Sadly the tachometer stopped working a month or two ago. I wiggled the cable, but it didn’t make a difference. That’s something else to look at if I want it fixed I guess.

The decompression lever was just a rod poking out from under the hood – hard to grip with gloves on. I removed it, and using the bucket of the tractor, put a kink in the end. Voila! It looks like it was designed that way – now it’s very easy to pull the lever to start the tractor!

The PTO on this tractor was totally exposed and it wasn’t a few times that I engaged it while climbing out of the seat. This is a bit too dangerous for me. I found that a Golden Wedding whiskey bottle made a great shroud for it. It fits perfectly snug. I’ll have to add some other way of holding it in place just to be sure, but it’s better than nothing!

Now with all that under my belt, I’m feeling a bit more confident about my abilities to keep the tractor running for me.

Engine oil is 2L max. Transmission oil is 9L.
  • Anonymous

have had a yanmar 155d for several years now, and have never changed the oil. Went to do that and I cannot see how I c can access the drain plug. The front end loader frame bolts on right in front of the drain plug (below the dipstick). I can feel it behind the steel plate of the loader frame. Short of taking those bolts off both sides and dropping the loader off, I can see no way to accomplish this……….any ideas?
  • frank

Are you sure that's the drain plug? I know on mine I believe it was on the bottom of the tractor facing down. They did make different variants though, so maybe your is different from mine?
  • Stephen Garstin

cant find the oil dipstick

Where is the oil plug and dip stock on 155d yanmar tractor? Can't locate.
  • Anonymous

Chainsaw Mishap

November 18, 2012 [solar]

Poorly notched tree The other morning was brisk in my opinion. But that didn’t stop me from jumping out of bed and practising some of my old high school’s carpe diem! I headed outside to find this greeting me.
Tree fallen across elevated water line. Beautiful girl carrying wood.
With temperatures like that, I knew it was going to be a little more difficult to get myself, and things moving.

It was agreed that Donna would again do a load of laundry, which would allow me to also punch up the batteries a bit. I had re-wired them so that instead of having my Interstates in series and my Trojans in series, then combined in parallel, I have the Interstates in parallel, and the Trojans in parallel (each brand giving me 6 volts at 400Ah), and then the two banks in series to give me 12 volts. Clear as mud? Maybe to someone who has tried to cipher out the same situation. In any case, I want to see if there is a difference in performance with this new wiring arrangement. It made for shorter cable runs in my battery box, which can never hurt.

Just for so, I decided to count pulls on the starter cord of the generator on a morning like that. It was exactly 80. At around 60-70 I wasn’t sure if it would ever start, but I reminded myself that pulls 1-3 felt much heavier than the subsequent ones, so I must have been making a small difference.

With the generator pumping up the batteries anew, and Donna pumping water for laundry, I decided to get merciless with the spruce trees shading my panels. Enemy number one was a large spruce that we had incorporated into our water line. With great care, I set up the ladder and cautiously made a notch designed to ensure the tree would fall to the side of the stump without the water line. As you can see, it was a bit amateurish, but my intention was right.

But then, the party was over.

After a moment of swaying in the correct direction, she slowly reversed course and started to come back towards my side of the line. I exited stage right, and watched with some bemusement at the carnage that ensued. Tie wraps (zip ties?) popped along the length of my water line as the tree came to rest. As soon as it stopped moving I rushed back in to cut the tree away from the line, relieving the downward pressure on it.

I must confess that it took much less hassle to repair the situation than I expected. I grabbed a bag of tie wraps (I try to keep two or three bags around for just such emergencies – they are outstandingly helpful!) and with some pulling and yanking got the line back in place.

I spent the remainder of the day felling any spruce trees that looked like they would be shading my panels within the next few weeks. I have to assume that as the sun gets lower in the sky, its descent will be decelerating as it approaches its nadir.

I still have a number of trees to cut – perhaps today will be their day – but it sure goes faster, easier, and more fun when I have Donna around to help out! For once I found myself on the other side of the camera, so I can record a fraction of the work that she does to help this venture succeed!

You may want to help ease the health burden on your readers by avoiding blog-post titles like "Chainsaw Mishap" (good sense at least told me that the "mishap" couldn't have involved horrible injury, or you wouldn't probably be writing the post in the first place… nevertheless).
  • Viktor

That's my attempt to exploit sadistic S.E.O. techniques. There has to be loads of people out there searching for "chainsaw" + (insert disturbing term here). It couldn't have been THAT bad – my mom didn't phone to complain yet!
  • Stephen Garstin

Building a Log Skidding Sled (But not yet using one…)

November 17, 2012 [construction][vehicles]

Four logs arranged into a sled. As the fall progressed and the sun began to get lower and lower in the sky, I really began to take notice of the trees as they started to shade my solar panels.

At first I just accepted that it was happening and figured that things would work out. But now I clearly understand how bad any shade can be for a solar power system.

One group of three trees especially stood out in the fall – a triangle of poplar that threw well over an hour of shade on the panels every morning. Oh how I waited and prayed for the leaves to just fall! Finally – they did. Just as the sun dropped below the crown of the trees anyway on its transit. Sigh. (I think this lifestyle has caused me to sigh rather a bit.)

So it was with no real sense of loss or impending loss when Grandpa suggested that they could be pressed into service as a sled to skid beams from the sawmill to our building sites during the upcoming winter.

I set to work felling them, which went better than usual. I don’t want to be premature, but I think I’m getting the hang of felling trees bit by bit. The poplar without any leaves on it is actually much easier to limb than even the jackpine here. The branches are even fewer and farther between, and grow out more from the trunk and one another, so there is more space to get the blade of the power saw in.

As it turns out, the largest one had already begun some rot in the bottom, so it was time for it to make room for the seedlings and saplings in the area.

I skidded them over to the sawmill and under Grandpa’s careful supervision set to work turning them into a sleigh.

First I cut a bevel on one end of two of the logs. Then Grandpa used the hatchet to smooth off any ugly knots, as well as four spots for our cross-pieces to rest on.

I had a partially finished beam on the mill already, and for our purposes, partially finished was enough – I cut it into a three and four foot length.

Using some 10″ spikes my father had given me, we fastened the three foot beam across the back of the two log runners. At the front, we centred the four foot beam across the front, leaving six inches of overhang on either side.

You want the runners to be parallel – it will certainly travel more smoothly that way. The overhang allows us to fasten one of my skidding chains around the front beam to drag the sled with the tractor.

Grandpa was very careful to set the whole thing up on some scrap slabs – unlike me, he had the foresight to see that just resting on the ground, the sled would be sure to freeze in place the first time the temperature goes above and then back below zero.

I figured I should cut up some more boards to cover it with, then add two or three straw bales, and we can have sleigh rides and hot chocolate!

Aiki-ken with Ken

November 16, 2012 [aikido][leisure]

Sword fighting with paper tubes One side benefit of purchasing two or three rolls of Reflectix insulation is that you end up with some awesomely long, glorified toilet paper tubes!
Crossing swords with paper tubes Paper tube swordfight with logs in the background
These make MUCH better bokkens (or lightsabers, if that’s what you’re after (and with Kenny, that was definitely what he was after, complete with sound effects and the Imperial March being hummed)) than paper towel tubes.

After only a few moments, he had me at a disadvantage.
His relentless hammering on my bokken reminded me of something, and suddenly my bokken was shattered!

Luckily, he was merciful. Well, that, and his hands got too cold to want to continue.

Interesting shot-by-shot instructional montage of san-no-suburi.
  • Viktor

Well, with Christmas coming up, you'll have loads of these tubes available afterwards and maybe you can convince Sensei to let you use them on your next test?
  • Stephen Garstin

Improving our Laneway's Feng Shui

November 11, 2012 [construction][vehicles]

Driveway with trees leaning in One of the notable features of our property is the extensive system of boggy areas. I won’t call them swamps here, although we often do refer to them as such. They really are not full on swamps – they are just low lying with lots of slow moving water under a cover of thick moss and laurel plants, dotted with tamarack, spruce and the occasional jack pine.
Driveway with trees cut and laying across it Limbing trees with an axe Kenny sitting on a cut tree
Upon leaving the road and passing through our entrance, you encounter a good stretch of this bog, and that’s what we built our laneway through. Faithful readers will recall that we used a mix of corduroy road and brush mats (branches of spruce and balsam laid over the surface of the bog) to act as a base for our gravel. We poured many dump truck loads of gravel onto this mat before we were able to cross the bog and connect with the higher ground where we planned to situate our buildings.

Over the course of the summer, the weight of the gravel has caused it to press down more and more into the bog. So far there hasn’t been any hint of any part of our laneway sinking out of sight, but it has had the definite effect of pressing down on the roots of the nearby trees, causing them to tip in towards, above, and sometimes even crossing over our laneway.

While it made the laneway feel very constricted and narrow, Grandpa has also pointed out a few times that it is likely a good snowfall would be enough to tip the balance in favour of gravity and cause some of these trees to fall across our drive. So yesterday, after a delicious and inspiring breakfast at Mummu’s house, I decided to be nearly merciless in clearing back any trees that were potential hazards, or were making it uncomfortable to drive through the bog. I did leave two trees at the entrance that were slightly leaning, as they weren’t right against the driveway and were adding some privacy. I also left the larger trees that were outside of the bog but still close against the driveway, as I thought it wasn’t a great difficulty to navigate through them with vehicles even much larger than ours.

After dropping the trees directly across the laneway, I opted to buck most of them up using my axe. It’s much more relaxing, safe, economical, and perhaps even faster to do it this way, as compared to the chain saw – at least in my limited experience.

Where they extended beyond the driveway, it was easy to cut them to stove length, and then when they were trimmed to just the width of the drive, I rolled them into the bog to continue cutting – much easier than trying to avoid touching the driveway itself with the chain of the power saw.

After building up a load of future firewood spread out to both sides of the laneway, I brought in the tractor to move the wood to higher ground – I imagine I’ll have other things to do in the spring rather than moving and piling these logs a second time – and they won’t dry so well down in the bog.

It sure was a great sight to have Donna and Kenny show up at this point to help me out! They were awesomely enthusiastic partners. Kenny really took to getting the logs into the trailer and bucket.

Then I moved them further up the driveway out of the low spot.

That’s where Kenny excelled at rushing to build his own woodpile – faster, straighter and more level than mine, I might add.

Now the laneway is quite smart looking, and I’m certain more comfortable to drive up. There is still excellent privacy – although in honesty, we have built behind a hill anyway, so there isn’t a direct line to the road from our building locations no matter how you slice it.

Oh, and cutting trees and logs so close to the gravel – I only had to stop and resharpen my saw twice when I made sparks fly!

Making my own Mulch / Bringing in Firewood

November 9, 2012 [wood]

Tractor with a full trailer of wood As I described last time, I was chipping and shredding a bunch of branches from my recent woodcutting. This material I generally gather up to use in our sawdust toilets and to spread on our driveway and trails. So far it has been wonderfully useful in both capacities. With some balsam branches added, it smells very pine scented when applied to the outhouse contents. On the trails and driveway, I’m sure it will keep down the Labrador Tea that grows EVERYWHERE on the property, and it is easier to work with than the dwindling supply of gravel/clay I’ve been extracting from near our well.
Tractor bucket full of firewood
Lately I’ve been building up a supply of the mulch in my trailer. It’s so much more efficient and satisfying to be able to have a full trailer load of mulch to apply to potholes and muddy areas, rather than trying to do it one bag at a time. It takes me about ten minutes of chipping and shredding to produce a single bag, which doesn’t go as far as you would hope.

On our hike, we passed by my latest pile of firewood that is suppose to be pre-dried. That is to say, it came from dead, standing trees. The last time I used it, all went well. This time though we had a few cold and wet days while it waited in the bush for me to get there with the trailer and bring it back to the yurts.

A little bit of snow made for a nicer atmosphere. Once it drops below zero it gets more comfortable again because you don’t get quite so wet, or so I find.

I loaded up the trailer as full as possible, and still had more wood, so I also topped up the bucket on the front end loader before heading home.

It was comforting to once again be able to split this pile, practicing my kiai to great effect. Kenny even got into the act, yelling back to me after each log was struck. It felt a bit like a gospel call and answer session.
Slightly annoyingly though, this wood would do better to have been put under cover sooner. The outside is still a little damp and cold, so it takes a bit more skill in positioning to get it to burn. You have to be sure to expose the nice, dry portions to the existing coals, so that the more humid outer layer has the water driven out of it. Oh well, live and learn!

A Fall Hike to the Lake

November 6, 2012 [leisure]

Trailer of chipped brush After chipping and shredding a bunch of brush late last week, we decided to try to treat our yurt fever (a subset of cabin fever) with a walk to our lake to see how things were out there.

I was surprised to see that the stools I had built for our friend’s visit were STILL standing unmolested – I guess I had figured that at some point something would have tipped them over. They are birch, mostly held together just by the bark, so I figured that a bear would be more than happy to tear them up in search of worms or ants. In any case, there they were!

It was also neat to see the lake surface nearly covered in ice. Under very careful supervision, Kenny went to the edge to poke at it with his stick. Both he and I got joy from throwing sticks and pebbles on its surface, and both listening to the plunking echos and watching the stick or stone go spinning off across the lake.

On the walk back we decided to investigate what Mama had figured was a mysterious windfall. She could see the freshly broken stump, but there was not a corresponding tree easily visible. Instead of
Tonttu (or perhaps Haltija?) making off with the tree, it was really just a matter of the tree falling into a bit of a deep spot in the forest where we couldn’t see it from the trail. But serendipitously, that discovery brought us far enough off the trail to find another floating rock similar to Kenny Rock – not nearly as large, but shaped like a giant chair and large enough for a birch tree to be actually growing on top of it!

All in all, it was a great way to spend an afternoon. We really enjoy exploring our property, and guessing that we’ve seen only perhaps a quarter to a third of it after our first six months is an exciting prospect!

Gathering Logs for our Cabin(s)

November 5, 2012 [construction]

Tractor towing logs As an ongoing process, Grandpa and I have been making small stashes of logs that we feel would be suitable for beams for our sauna or cabin. At the moment, our plan is to have 3″ wide and 4″ tall beams to make up the walls of the sauna, and 5″ wide and 4″ tall beams for the walls of the cabin. These plans are still very much in flux, but that’s what we have in our heads right now.
Stacked firewood Cut trees in a forest
Yesterday I cut down two more trees that were shading our solar panels. One very important thing to note about solar panels, that I don’t think has ever been made expressly clear enough to the public (well, to me anyway) is that the amount the panel is shaded is not at all proportional to the output of the panel. That is to say, if a tree shades 10% of a 100 watt panel, you don’t get 90 watts – you get about 10 watts – if that! It basically reverts the entire panel to the lowest producing segment. So shade on your panel isn’t just a nuisance, it’s a downright enemy.

There are a few trees that I’m willing to allow to shade the panel – jack pines exclusively, and a single spruce that is already supporting our water line, but otherwise, having light and power is a fairly high priority.

Anyway, with that in mind, there was another spruce that had most of its branches located at the top, which was good, but those branches were shading my panels for an hour or so in the afternoon, which is bad, when we only average a bit over two hours of full-on sunlight a day.

I cut it through just as planned, but of course, it got hung up in another tree right beside it. It actually didn’t take much work with my come-along and some straps to get it to fall perfectly where I originally intended. Even when cut right through, it came to rest on its own stump, so the come-along got it back up on just the stump where my wedge cut kicked in and toppled it in direct line with my log pile near the solar panels.

After bucking it up into firewood and a single log, I did the same with another spruce nearby. Then it was time to bring in the tractor and my new winch.

With Grandpa’s supervision I was able to use the full 94′ of winch cable to bring it up to within 10′ of my log pile. That’s where the tractor battery gave out – the winch draws LOTS more power than the old one. So, I suppose I have to look into purchasing a much larger battery for the tractor. Oh well, at least I can winch over 80 feet at a time. I have to remember to also leave enough juice in the tractor to reel in the winch cable when I’m finished – it would be hard to wind up by hand!

I then figured I could bring up some logs to the skidway by skidding them with the tractor – another great chance to use my gold chains on the cultivator bar. Donna kindly rushed out to take pictures as I drove by. I’ve really “pimped” my tractor out since first purchasing her :).

We went for a walk to some unexplored areas of our property later in the afternoon, but not without Kenny first checking out my growing log pile at the skidway. We still have lots of logs to go, but the hardest part of any project is starting!

You probably need more electricity in the winter (when it's dark for more hours and you're indoors a little more). But solar is much weaker in the winter: fewer hours of light to collect, and it's lower on the horizon. Tilt the panels to optimize for winter.
(When you're grid-tied, you tilt to optimize for summer, since it doesn't matter *when* you produce the power.)
  • Jay Bazuzi

If I can just make it through November, we're suppose to get more sun in December on average!
  • Stephen Garstin

Attaching a Winch to my Tractor – Revisited

October 31, 2012 [experiments][vehicles]

Large winch As I’m sure some of you remember, about three months ago I attached a small (3000lb capacity) winch to the former cultivator of my tractor. This worked out exceedlingly well in the interim, with me hauling in many logs that would have been nearly impossible to access by any other means. I understand why loggers use to employ draught horses to good effect, and apparently many still do! I am a little jealous of this technique as I think it would be much more relaxing than trying to get a heavy, noisy tractor back into dense, rocky and uneven bush. In any case, as I said, the winch I installed has been far and away better than our original technique of chaining logs to the tractor and just trying to find ways to drag them into a convenient location. The tractor could rarely approach the logs close enough to hook up our short chains, and when it could, it involved very challenging routes to get the logs back out to a trail groomed enough to drag them to the mill in any decent length of time.
Winch mounted on cultivator Winch with chains
As with many luxuries in life, one begins to look at them as neccessities, and then the grass begins to look greener. I had accepted that this was my entry-level winch and was mostly there to act as an experiment – that’s why it was almost with relief that I realized that it had finally stopped pulling.

The small(ish) cable had begun to fray likely due to the fact that this winch didn’t come with any sort of fairlead at all. The lack of fairlead ensured that the winch cable was constantly piling up at one end of the winch or another unless the tractor was perfectly lined up with the log, and the log pulled perfectly straight towards the tractor. Unspooling and redirecting cable every few feet were just two of the winch’s charms.

The cable was also a bit on the short side, maxing out at about 30 feet. I tied together two other winch cables which were 25 feet each, so I had a range of about 80 feet, although this also meant that I had to stop every 25 feet to remove a cable and reattach the winch to the new length. This also got old after the first or second time I had to perform this manouver.

So with my tiny (in hindsight) winch now out of commission, I consulted with my sources (the latest Canadian Tire Flyer) for the best deal on a new winch – and it was my lucky day! Their largest winch, the
SuperWinch LP8500 (affiliate link) was on sale. There was apparently only one in all of Thunder Bay, and it took them over half an hour to find it somewhere in their warehouse, but eventually, it was mine!

Imagine my disappointment when I arrived home and realized that the picture on the box was a little deceptive. As pictured on the box, they had photoshopped out the mount for it, which was required to have the fairlead installed. Strangely the mount is not sold by anyone in Canada that I could see, and it was well over $100US plus shipping and duty to get it.

I put it aside for a day, and the next day fashioned my own mount out of angle iron and bolts. I think I did not a bad job; although the fairlead is a little crooked I cannot see how it will be a problem. It also took a bit of work to install beefier 4 gauge wiring to the battery. This is when I noticed that my battery terminal was cracked, which explains why the tractor sometimes is hard to start and needs the battery terminal to be wiggled on occasion before it will turn over.

I’ll replace the terminal next time I get to the city and can purchase a new one. In the meantime though, the winch appears to spool in and out, so I am really excited to give it a try. Later today I’ll head out to the bush and report back on what it can do.

As you can also see from the photos, I have attached four short lengths of “gold” chain on either side of the winch. I use these to actually chain log ends to my three point hitch, and then I can lift and drag them much more easily.

More Cold Weather in the Yurts – Reflectix to the Rescue (?)

October 30, 2012 [experiments][shelter]

Felt walls in a yurt As I suggested in a previous post, I was very recently prepared to install some insulation between the canvas and felt of our yurts to try to deal with the fridgid temperatures we have been encountering most mornings now.I did a bit more research online (bless Google!) and found at least one person who suggested that this was not very effective. They didn’t really outline why they were so disappointed with it, but it hinted at the lack of continuity between one panel and the next, unless I could somehow foam the seams. This was not on.
Sliding reflectix behind the wall supports Notching insulation around yurt rafters Reflectix behind the yurt wall frames Small window cutout in yurt wall Insulation on wooden door
Going back to things that work though, I recalled our research on the different yurt companies and their methods of insulation. To my mind, the most common insulation offered by modern yurt manufacturers is

I recalled that when I was inquiring after space blankets for the ceiling Maier Hardware had suggested that they did have Reflectix, so I called them and quickly determined that they also had the best pricing per roll.

I bought their entire stock of two rolls and yesterday we set about installing them in the large yurt.

First we pulled all our items away from the walls of the large yurt. This was a great chance to sweep and dust the floor in behind!

Then I pulled both rolls around the perimeter. Every three or four sections I had to pull the wrap out into a loop, as I found the friction to be too great to just pull the roll around the entire outside wall in one go.

One roll I pushed down to the floor, then notched the wrap at each junction of the frame so that we could push the insulation an inch or so down below the outer edge of the floor.

The next roll I pushed up to the rafters, again notching the wrap so that it overlapped onto the ceiling about six inches. I was able to tuck the ends of the wrap under each ceiling rafter, and they nicely bridged between the wall wrap and the space blankets already up in the rafters.

With a bit of work and co-operation Donna and I were then able to run a strip of metallic tape around the seam. I resorted to regular duct tape to seal the insulation to the door frames, mostly to block the draughts that Donna had detected in these zones.

I would say that this will also act as a bit of a vapour barrier now, so the felt shouldn’t be quite so humid. I like to believe that this will also help with increasing the felt’s ability to insulate. Dry insulation has to be more effective than wet, doesn’t it?

With the leftovers, I insulated both of our doors. They were just a single layer of planks, and you could literally see light through some of the cracks in them.

Cutting for the windows was a challenge. We had to find a compromise between access to the zippers and maintaining the structure of the bubble wrap.

We ended up cutting panoramic views that involve us folding the wrap up, and then the felt down. We’ve lost about 60% of the window space, but we feel it was a decent balance, especially considering that we are favouring our temperature comfort over our view.

We all agree that we now feel like we’re living in some sort of science fiction spaceship. It reminds of me 2001: A Space Odyssey, but Kenny thinks it is just a regular flying saucer.

It sure seemed like we noticed a difference – we didn’t put in a fire during the day at all yesterday. In the evening it only required a small firing of the stove to have us all agreeing that it was much warmer than usual in the yurts – both yurts even! It really appears that the heat from the larger yurt is better able to migrate to the bedroom yurt thanks to the added insulation.

This morning it was cold again, but that was after not having put on a fire for over six hours. Donna sent me to warm things up, and it took about a quarter of the usual time to do so. In half an hour the large yurt was quite comfortable – that normally took about two hours!

So anyway, after a sample size of one evening, night, and early morning, I am feeling very hopeful that this new experiment will be just what the doctor ordered.

As a side benefit, I can’t help but think that this layer of protection will also help keep down some of the lint in the yurts – the felt is great to look at and natural and all, but it did constantly shed small fibres that we were picking off the floor, ourselves, and our plates.

I will consult with Donna at breakfast to see if she thinks that we should apply the same treatment to the bedroom yurt.

Hi I am living in a yurt and we are looking into different ways to insulate for the winter. Any updates on the effectiveness of Reflectix? Thanks! -Tom in High Point, NC
  • rightbrainedmath

It worked very well, but it was still a tough winter. We wouldn't have managed to stay in the yurts without it, but even so, it was below freezing many mornings. At least our water didn't freeze.
Do you have a blog or anything? I'm always interested in hearing about interesting people, and yurt people often qualify!
  • Stephen Garstin

We are currently looking into Yurta and were quite interested in your details about how you added insulation to your yurt. Things that were concerning us were the mention of humidity on the felt insulation as well as the fibres coming off.
We are looking at purchasing a 21 ft Yurta this year but will only be using the yurt as a cottage property (year round). It will have a wood stove and we thought about putting a little kitchenette in it. Maybe not, with the thought that it could get too wet inside.
Putting the inside layer of insulation added another barrier that looked effective for you but I wonder if this is just the same as buying another yurt product that has a more plastic/vinyl/ bubble wrap insulation. What are your thoughts now that you have tried this and had a winter in it? What would you recommend? Are you still happy with YURTA?
  • Anonymous

We never really were too worried about humidity with the felt – condensation only occurred after we put in a vapour barrier, and fortunately we put it on the warm side of the walls, so it wasn't the felt that carried the brunt of any wetness. In cases where the felt did get wet, it seemed to suffer no ill effects.
I can't speak to other companies, but the combination of felt and reflectix seems to me to be superior to just a single layer of either. I would still be happy to recommend Yurta products.
  • Stephen Garstin

Thanks Stephen. Did you purchase the 4 season thickness for felt that had a reflective side to it? What material did you use for your outerwalls? They have 2 options: a cotton weave and a more premium cotton blend that costs a bit more. We are considering putting a second yurt on (down the road) and will put a second door on to accommodate this. Do you feel that the heat from your main yurt spreads enough to warm the second yurt? Thanks again!
  • Anonymous

Yes, we did purchase the four season option with the reflective side. The reflective layer seems to be wearing off where the windows are located – the flexing of the felt whenever you roll it up and down over the windows, combined with sunlight, likely weakens it at those locations. I don't recall if we had a choice in the type of cotton for the outer walls.
The second yurt will definitely be cooler than the main one, but it's doable – a fan to blow air would certainly help! Also, a good stove will probably make a huge difference in comfort. Don't cheap out like we did!
  • Stephen Garstin

What is the wear on the outside of the yurt like for you? (I figure you have had it up for 4 years now?). Are you finding that you need to do a wash on the outer side due to discolouration/mold or mildew growth? We will be located in the forest, north facing on a lake, so not a ton of direct sunlight. We will invest in a good stove for sure.Thanks for your help.
  • Anonymous

We have not done any maintenance to the outside at all. The colours have stood up great, as well as the fabric. There is discolouration on the window flaps, I don't believe it's mildew, but just rather from water naturally dripping onto the fabric at those spots.
The ties for tying up the windows have dried up and crumbled, but only after about three years. The plastic windows themselves are a bit of a consumable – the sunlight breaks them down after a year or two, depending on whether you leave them in for a longer period of time or not.
The doors will need to be repainted this summer I think. We have just finished selling the yurts to a local person who I believe plans on repainting them extensively to suit their own tastes.
  • Stephen Garstin

Rethinking a Tanren-Uchi / Splitting Wood with an old Tire or Two

October 29, 2012 [aikido][experiments]

log in some tires split log in some tires Swinging an axe at a log in some tires Split log in some tires When Martin, my friend from Aikido, saw the punctured tire on my trailer, he had the good sense to suggest that I could turn it into a tanren uchi. At the time I laughed it off, as to my mind, the trailer tire was far too small to be useful in that capacity, and I also had been letting my Aiki training lapse in the face of pressure to get the yurts built and inhabited.

In a strange case of circularity, or perhaps synchronicity, the bearing in my remaining trailer tire blew out today as I was carrying some more wood to split, as well as a new splitting stump and two bald tires, courtesy of Canadian Tire’s dumpster (retrieved with permission I must add!).

After spending much of my time chasing split wood and tipped stumps, I knew there had to be a better way to get my wood put up, without investing in a commercial wood splitter.

Like many men, (and perhaps a few women…) I find splitting wood a relaxing and rewarding “chore”. I just want to be more efficient at it.

I had in my head to simply stack the tires on top of my new splitting stump, and then insert wood to be split into the tires.

With my tires positioned and my log in place, I was delighted with how well it worked, and the parallels to a true tanren uchi appeared before my eyes.

As an experiment, I really tried to channel all my bokken work at Aikido into my axe swing, and it seemed to work! Donna immediately called out, asking if I was using my ki-ai. I also made certain to strike shomen uchi from my centre, and drop my hips. I was able to clear out my slated wood in a true fraction of the time I had previously recorded. It was a great joy to be able to just cut, cut, cut.

Hopefully no one from my dojo will expect that my buki-waza is any improved from my extra shomen training, but I do like drawing lines between what I have learned on the mat and real-world applications whenever possible.

Cold Weather in our Yurts

October 28, 2012 [experiments][shelter]

Handheld thermometer reading -19 Celsius The mercury is dropping off as Hallowe’en approaches here. Last night was optimistically only six below, but that was recorded right against the yurt fabric, so likely the heat escaping from us helped to drive that a few degrees higher than what it really was.
Space blankets on the ceiling of a yurt
While we have all been completely comfortable in our beds, we can likely attribute that to multiple quilts and blankets that we have been utilizing for a number of weeks already.

Getting out of bed during the night and early morning though, that has been a different story altogether.

The stove we have is not an air-tight model, so it really only burns an hour or two at a time before it goes out.

To my mind, the yurts are surprisingly difficult to heat. I understand that they have a poor chance at appearing and being well-insulated, at least with their stock wool felt, but it takes either a worrisomely hot fire, or many hours of decent wood burning, before they become comfortable. I’m not entirely sure what to make of this but it has been something I have been turning over in my head quite a bit now.

As a first experiment in keeping in some of our heat, I ordered more
space/emergency blankets, similar to the one I used in my testing of their effectiveness at boosting the abilities of our coolers.

I have spent the past number of hours sliding them between the roof rafters and the felt. I suppose this will also act as a bit of a vapour barrier, but a poor one in the extreme, as they aren’t taped to the frame or one another, and I left the rafter spaces around the chimney cone open.

Donna has been all over the yurts with our new infra-red thermometer, calling out discouragingly cold temperatures from every nook and cranny. She thinks that perhaps the blankets are making a three degree difference. Sigh.

I have also put up a shrink-plastic cover over the domes, thinking that perhaps a single layer of plexiglass wasn’t the best insulator either.

Next up will likely be trying to retrofit some polystyrene type insulation behind the felt. Hopefully this will also help with the condensation issues we are beginning to notice as our humid air condenses on the canvas.

Send us warm thoughts and vibes!

Yurts are really easy to keep cool in the summer because of the high ceiling and top vent. They are difficult to heat (compared to a house) for several reasons:
– More air infiltration
– Less insulation
– High ceiling
– Less thermal mass
You've tried the first two, now maybe try the others.
You can sleep in a bunk/loft bed, closer to the ceiling, where it's warmer.
Putting some firebricks on your stove. If you want to add a great deal of thermal mass, look at reinforcing the floor under the stove (with its own post & footing). Then add as much mass as you can manage.
With thermal mass, you can burn the hottest fire (lots of small, dry wood) until the yurt is comfortable. The heat will last a long time.
I've seen high mass stoves (online) ranging from 300lbs up to 21 tons.
Be careful about river rocks, as they can explode if heated up.
  • Jay Bazuzi

Thanks for the ideas Jay! The stove has a rather small top, which we already use for cooking, and have one of those circulating fans on – but we could possibly stack some brick between it and our reflector. Bunk beds would be cool – I'm not sure if I could sell that idea just yet, but perhaps with the thermometer we can see how much of a temperature difference there is from top to bottom. Then again, as I said, sleeping isn't bad, it's getting out of bed that is!
Today we will try adding a layer of reflectix around the large yurt. This seems to be the most popular insulation for modern yurts in general, so hopefully combined with our felt, this will make a bit of a difference. Grandpa reported that the night in question was actually thirteen below, not six below, so that was a chilly one indeed. Of course, it's not February yet!
  • Stephen Garstin

Winterizing my Solar Power System

October 21, 2012 [solar]

three solar panels in the forest I decided to get cracking on winterizing my solar power system, and it seemed to open up a can of worms that I am annoyed to have discovered.
tiny generator in a cart Solar power indicator
I was having more and more trouble keeping up with my power requirements. The third panel helped briefly, and I am certain that it will give me a large surplus come summer, but at the moment I can use some help.

Using the generator on a regular basis is something I would have rather not done, but seeing just how low the sun has gotten, and how briefly it makes its appearance, I have resigned myself to running it through the winter to power our washing machine and water pump, and to boost our batteries.

To help our batteries and charger, I added a few inches of insulation around the batteries, as well as a temperature sensor for the charger so that it could boost the voltage when the temperature dropped.

Surprisingly though, the first time I ran the generator it was unable to give the batteries more than a cursory charge.

I purchased a much larger charger and ran the generator again. This charged the batteries, but they rapidly depleted again after I shut it down.

After a few phone calls, it appears that none of my equipment is able to equalize my batteries. This is disappointing, but likely my own fault for not listening carefully enough to the limitations of my system.

At this point, I have actually taken my batteries to town to have them equalized over the course of a few days. I will perhaps repeat this in the spring. I am told that I am approaching quickly the time when I may want to upgrade to a 24 volt system rather than a 12 volt one. This will require a larger up-front investment, but is overall cheaper per watt. Sigh.

In the meantime I have some 117 pound loaner batteries that required the tractor to deliver to the yurts. I’m tickled that my box seems to hold them well!

A Washing Machine in our Yurts

October 20, 2012

Water pipe between two yurts Anyone who has been following the blog since we moved probably has heard me talk a bit about our different attempts to solve the laundry issue.
Drain line in the snow
My first thought was to work with an OddJob cement mixer. I was enthused about this option but in practice I found it wasn’t ideal either as a washing machine OR as a cement mixer.

Next we went back old-school, with a toilet plunger perforated with a number of holes. This was better, but it still was profoundly labour intensive, especially with wringing out water by hand. We even bought a mop bucket to try to squeeze the rinse water out but it couldn’t squeeze the clothes tight enough. And, with all these methods we still weren’t sure that the clothes were coming completely clean.

We also have taken three trips to the laundromat in town, as well as many trips to Mummu’s house to succumb to the temptation provided by her washing machine. The laundromat is rather expensive, and requires time and planning to work out well.

Finally, I consulted with kijiji, and found an inexpensive apartment sized washing machine that seemed to fit the bill. The thought of using an electric washing machine became much more palatable when I realized that this winter was going to have me running the generator a few hours a week to make up for the lack of sunlight on our solar panels. It also helps that our well is still providing a somewhat decent flow of about eighty litres per pumping.

The washing machine requires a surprising amount of water though. Due to our lack of water pressure, we fill the washing machine with buckets of water for both the wash and rinse cycles. This gives us good insight into just how much water it takes to do a load of laundry. At the minimal wash load setting, our machine required about thirty-five litres for the wash, and another thiry-five litres for the rinse. At the large load setting, our machine required about seventy litres for the wash, and again seventy litres for rinse. That’s seventy 2 litre pop bottles per load!

As for power, I am uncertain how much it requires. I have run it at the same time as our generator, but I plan on purchasing a kill-a-watt type of meter to see how much hydro some of my appliances really need.

For drainage I had some leftover hose from my well plumbing, so I mounted it in much the same manner as I did with the incoming well water. I have it draining into the small hollow that we originally thought may be a good location for water. This will give a great low-lying location for our grey water. We are using
soap nuts (amazong affiliate link)to wash with, so we are hopeful that we are not doing great damage to our environment.

So far both Donna and I have been pleased with the logistics of this solution. We’re monitoring carefully for leaks though, just in case!

It's a good idea to prepare the drainage site. River rock, or a pit filled with sawdust, or a bucket with holes drilled in it. Or a combination of the above.
Here's a good guide on laundry to landscape greywater:
  • Jay Bazuzi

Learning about Woodstoves

October 19, 2012 [wood]

Wood fire Growing up we generally heated with wood, and I helped (greatly to my teen-age mind) in the procurement and usage of it as our fuel.
Wood fire
This gave me an entirely false sense of confidence at my abilities to translate that experience into using it as our only means of safely heating our yurts.

Thus far we have done well though. In spite of our older (circa 1941) woodstove, and some rather chilly nights, we have survived by stoking the fire throughout our nights. It was disappointing to see that the woodstove struggled to keep the yurts warm when it wasn’t burning vigorously, but we were optimistic that we could somehow overcome this. At the moment I am planning on installing a layer of emergency blankets around the roof of the yurts to see if that will reflect more heat downwards.

As we rapidly burned our way through our woodpile, I felt more and more pressure to create a larger stockpile, so I set off to find some standing deadwood close by. One tree that proved to be a great candidate was notably ant infested, and nearly hollow due to their machinations.

Two nights ago I managed to wedge in the stump from this tree, and watched in growing terror as the temperature in the yurts rose, and rose. The air temperature around the stovepipe showed close to 225 degrees from a basic oven thermometer, and the stove pipe itself began to glow noticeably red.

We opened up the dome and the door and I began to plan our escape routes from the yurts.

My fears didn’t do much to change the natural course of things, and after an hour or so, the temperature returned to a more manageable level, but my anxiety about the fireplace was planted.

With a profound sense of inadequacy, I found myself in a similar boat the very next night when I threw on a much smaller chunk of wood which I suppose must have been full of pitch. Again I opened up the door to the yurts and fanned cold air towards the fireplace. This time the stove warmed up quickly, but the stovepipe didn’t really begin to glow, and things passed more quickly.

Consulting with Grandpa, he noted that it seems that often when ants hollow out a tree, it seems to generate more pitch around their tunnels and the combined effect of air channels and very flammable wood cause these sorts of pieces to burn hot and quickly.

In any case, it’s perhaps nice to think that I was able to learn these lessons through enduring sweaty, fearful moments, rather than some sort of catastrophe. Since then, we have been careful to throw in only small pieces at a time and monitor the stove temperature accordingly. To facilitate this, we invested in a stovepipe thermometer and have been pleased with its feedback so far.

Building a Vestibule for a Yurt, Revisited

October 18, 2012 [construction]

A tarp covered vestibule with snow After our first few snowfalls it brought to the fore of my thoughts the fact that our dining tent vestibule was not going to stand up against any sort of snow cover.

Luckily, after having moved the sawmill, I (re)cut my teeth on sawing up a stack of random sized one inch boards.

At first, I contemplated using these boards to add more structural integrity to the dining tent. After not much more thought though, it became obvious that a fresh start would be a better use of material and time.

I built a rough and ready frame with a slight slope from front to back featuring one or two diagonal cross braces made with leftover slabs.

The sound of my saw appears to have made an impression on the local
Whiskey Jacks who have quickly learned that it often means logs full of ants or worms. I noted this behaviour earlier with my chainsaw, but this time even my small circular saw brought them around.

They made out well, as a number of my boards were heavily worm-infested, although still structurally sound. At first the birds were happy to pluck out the worms, but as soon as I began to play along, they were equally at ease plucking the worms directly from my hands.

After a fun break talking to and watching their antics I returned to the vestibule.

I covered the vestibule with the tarp I had originally used to cover the yurt floors during their construction phase. When doubled up, it nearly covered the vestibule perfectly. I added a few panels by cutting up the original dining tent flaps, and stored away the dismantled poles from the dining tent as I knew that items like that were always useful for future projects.

The new vestibule is definitely sturdier and more roomy, not to mention easier to move in (it doesn’t brush against the door, or billow in and out at the whim of the wind.

While I was constructing there, I also added in a small step in the corner of the porch to better facilitate stepping into and out of the vestibule.

All in all, for something that hopefully only needs to last the winter, I’m pleased with the results.

Moose Tracks! (Not the Ice Cream)

October 11, 2012 [solar]

Solar panels mounted on gazebo frame Kenny with bed head A few days ago, as I realized that my solar power situation was getting progressively more challenging, I decided to modify my array ever so slightly to take better advantage of the morning sun. It was much easier than I expected – I grabbed my portable reciprocating saw with a metal blade, cut away a few spots on the lower right corner of the array, and voila! I can now rotate the array completely around again!

I then was chipping some brush, and decided to take a look at our driveway to see what landscaping needed to be done down there, when I noticed a strange deformity along the side of our gravel. After a moments thought, I realized it was far too large to be a deer – we had moose tracks again! (The last ones we saw were while snowshoeing on the property during our Christmas vacation.)

After only a moment of further examination, I found the trail going across our driveway towards Mummu and Grandpa’s house.

Smart moose are seeking out properties in our township where the people aren’t interested in hunting, considering the season opened so recently!

I happen to be going Moose hunting this coming week. Please send that moose over to us (halfway between ParrySound and Sudbury)
  • Jeff Windatt

Ha! Good luck with that – mine aren't domesticated enough to take direction!
  • Stephen Garstin

Relocating the Sawmill Part Two

October 9, 2012 [construction]

String levels with piers The sawmill is finally relocated. There are still a few things to do to have it up and running completely, but certainly the hardest part is finished (famous last words, I know).

Once the centre slab was completed, I leveled some strings across it and out beyond the dimensions of the sawmill using my line level. This increased the accuracy of my levels, and also overcame the very real problem of having nothing to drive stakes into, as we had dug down between 15 and 60 centimetres to get to solid rock.

Using the oversize tube that our window coverings had been shipped in, I was able to roughly cut four pillars of the varied lengths we needed. Of course, two of them had to be cut at large bevels to accommodate the unevenness of the rock below. Grandpa assisted me by holding the tubes steady as I poured concrete into them up to their brim, packing them with rocks and tamping the concrete down with a scrap piece of lumber. We leveled the tubes up decently, and left them to dry for a few days.

Next, Kenny assisted us in dismantling the old skidway. It had stood up very well to some unreasonably heavy loads we had asked of it, and it was with (little) nostalgia I stacked it up to become next year’s firewood.
Two concrete piers Three supports on the bedrock Sawmill on new supports Kenny on a wooden walkway beside the sawmill Dusting of snow on the forest floor
With the obstacles out of the way and the pillars ready to offer their support, it was time to actually move the mill. Grandpa and I had discussed a number of times the easiest way to accomplish this. He preferred to dismantle as much of it as possible, whereas I leaned towards dismantling nothing, and simply dragging it onto the new supports. In the end, we met in the middle. I agreed that it wasn’t worth the risk to try to drag it with the mast still on, in spite of my profound misgivings about being able to restore the mast to the track after it was moved. Mounting it onto the track the first time around had been responsible for my tractor tipping fear, and this time around I saw that I would have to do it under much more difficult circumstances. In any case, I decided to cross that bridge when we actually came to it.

Grandpa and I threw caution to the wind about our mutual weaknesses, and decided to remove the mast by hand – after dismounting all the items we realistically could. The engine, water supply and blade were all placed carefully in my nearby trailer, and then we eased the mast off the end of the track, and onto a scrap piece of OSB that has been doing various duties ever since the yurt floor was completed.

We then hooked up the comealong to the track after reinforcing it in various locations to reduce bending and twisting. Lowering it to the ground was more challenging than I expected. It was hard to lift the entire track by hand (that is to say, nearly impossible) while Grandpa removed the supports we had put in place under it.

At last it was down on the ground, and we winched it into position. But then – disaster! The end of the track hit the two tallest concrete pillars as it swung around, and knocked them both over. I suppose it should have been expected that they were not nearly anchored or supported enough to the rock below, but up until then I had glossed over that detail in my mind. We repositioned them under the track anyway and Grandpa rolled a large log up against them for support and called it a day. I was still feeling my oats so I lay down a trail of boards from the mast to the track and using a technique I had heard described a few days earlier in the context of moving the
moai (giant heads) of Easter Island, managed to get the mast onto the track, and positioned correctly.

Next we built a walkway alongside the track. This will give me a much nicer platform to work from, as well as be a good location to gather up the sawdust produced. In theory it should fall on and through this walkway where I can shovel it up into waiting containers. Kenny really got into this part and enjoyed nailing down a number of the boards all by himself. Myself, I’m more of a screw and driver man.

The next trip into town I picked up more bags of concrete to build up around my faulty pillars. Three bags of concrete was the sweet spot, allowing me to create cones around my two tallest pillars, andalso to just spread some around the two shorter ones that hadn’t failed yet, just as insurance.

While it was a surprise to see snow the next morning,

And the next morning…

I was confident that my fresh mix had not froze as it was still against the rock and in a small area of still-warm soil (or so I convinced myself).

No cracks have appeared yet.

After an unbelievably hair-raising tractor trip through some virgin forest to obtain new skidway logs, all that remains is to assemble a new skidway and to redistribute the soil we had dug out for the tractor to have a smoother approach to the skidway.

Adding to my Solar Power System

October 1, 2012 [experiments][solar]

Kenny and Papa in the forest Kenny and Papa on a windy ferry Kenny leaning into the wind Sorry for not having written sooner, but we took our first vacation/trip back south to visit family, and were gone about two solid weeks.

In preparation for our trip, we emptied our fridge and then shut down all loads on the power system. I was really curious to see what would happen in this scenario.

On the first part of the trip we spent time on Manitoulin Island to celebrate my father’s birthday – We were able to put together the entire family, including my brother and his girlfriend, and my sister.

Kenny made a new friend in a German girl he met at the beach. She didn’t speak much/any English, and Kenny doesn’t speak much/any German, but she stuck to him like glue and by association, we got to know her parents very well too. They were really great and fun people to spend time with, and we sure hope that they had a good time in Canada.

We followed my family back to Kitchener-Waterloo, via the
Chi-Cheemaun ferry, which I hadn’t taken in many years. It is a pricey journey, but saves some driving time, and is a real experience to take.

In Kitchener-Waterloo, we had very full days trying to touch base with our friends, family, church and dojo. Amazingly, we were able to fit most everyone in – including Kenny’s girl-friends on more than one occasion. It was a really fortunate coincidence that the Sunday we were at church, they were installing our newest pastor, as well as our youth worker, who I remember babysitting many years ago!
Kenny and his girlfriend on the rocks Kenny playing pool Papa and Kenny on the beach Kenny, Felicia and Shaelina in a tire Kenny with a llama, or maybe alpaca Daddy and Kenny slot racing Kenny under a tree with Winnie the Pooh Kenny hugging a white tiger Kenny bundled up for more car rides Kenny asleep in his car seat Solar panels in shade
We took in the dinosaur exhibit at
The Museum in Kitchener, and then headed down to check out the International Ploughing Match in Roseville.

Donna and I also were able to have our first date night in a long time, thanks to Kenny and my awesome sister deciding to hang out together overnight. Donna and I headed down to the
Princess Twin to see a really entertaining movie – Robot and Frank. I would recommend it highly as a fun, thoughtful movie.

It was a little melancholic though, seeing our friends and family and the places we use to frequent. We realized that by a long stretch, it’s the people we miss most. (A close second was hot showers and automatic washing machines.)

The trip back was equally interesting – we visited Garwood, the home of my brother’s cabin. Then we aimed to get to our preferred motel, but alas! No room at the inn! We ended up at the Webbly – under new ownership for all of three days. I can’t supply a review, other than to say it was inexpensive, and that the new owner seems enthusiastic to do his renovations.

Next it was on to Nipigon to spend the night with my Aunt and Uncle-in-law. They served up a delicious, fancy and filling meal that sent me straight to bed with a full belly and a smile. It’s always a pleasure to spend time with them. My aunt is a fabulous cook and always knows how to entertain guests with equal parts of feast and conversation. My uncle regaled us, and especially Kenny, with stories and observations about his growing up in Greece and moving to Canada to teach.

Finally we returned home. Mummu was super-kind and supplied us with lasagna (a current favourite food of Kenny) and news of what we had missed.

Now that you are all caught up on the vacation, back to the happenings here at the homestead —

Basically, we returned to a full battery, that was nearly instantly depleted just by turning on the inverter, even with no load! Fortunately Mummu and Grandpa had picked up my third solar panel while we were gone, and so the next chance I got, I hooked it up. This time went the smoothest of any. It was very prescient of me to have designed my system for three panels from the beginning – I had a spot for it on my mount, and it was easy to bolt it in place and then hook it up using standard automotive electrical hardware. Immediately I could see a 30% increase in my amperage, which, while still pitiful, is helpful.

Tomorrow I intend to modify the mount so that I can rotate it further east to take better advantage of the morning sun. I also will seriously look at thinning some of the trees that are blocking the late afternoon and early evening sun.

Way to go!! Having a solar installation makes you feel like you're in a club, right? Thats cause you are! The going green club!! And its great, only for people that care about the Earth as much as we do.
  • Sharone Tal

The club is nice, but they do charge a high membership fee!
  • Stephen Garstin

Relocating the Sawmill

September 12, 2012 [construction]

Kenny and Daddy with a trench near the sawmill Rolling the Odjob bucket to mix more concrete Grandpa has been encouraging me to move the sawmill to its final position, so for the past week or so that has been our family project.

Originally I had to skid the logs up somewhat close to the mill, then make a second pass with the tractor to lift them up onto our skidway. It was very hair-raising and inefficient. The ground sloped perpendicular to our mill and skidway, as did the main throughway that the tractor followed. It wasn’t long after using the setup that I pondered moving the sawmill into a position that took better account of the natural lay of the land.

With not much effort, it was easy to see that swinging the mill ninety degrees would greatly improve the overall workings of my system, so with that in mind Kenny and I marked out the general outline of where the tracks should lie. Donna came over to help us out, and together we dug the entire area down to rock. Normally we would have simply dug out for piers, but I am interested in capturing and using my sawdust, so I thought it would be easier and cleaner to scoop it up from off of the rock rather than the “soil” in the area.

We worked very diligently as a unit until we had everything cleared out. It really looked great.

Next I built up a small wooden form from what was left of my lumber drying rack/slab holder and leveled it out on some of the rocks we had dug up during our excavation. It took a surprising three and a half bags of concrete to fill. The Odjob mixer was repurposed from laundry (where it wasn’t so successful) to its original use as a concrete mixer. This was much harder work than I expected! I rolled it back and forth on the uneven ground and then hefted it up to dump out into the forms. 33Kg is surprisingly heavy in this form and situation.

At last I had it all poured out and I proceeded to use another scrap of lumber to level things off as best I could.
A concrete pad
Today I took off the forms, and it looks okay! The next four piers will be individual columns though, only the centre support will be a slab.

Grandpa insists that I have to remove the mast from the mill before I can begin moving it, so I suppose I’ll try to remove just that. I sure hope I don’t have to disassemble the whole track!

I’ll report back as soon as I get further along this project.

More Running Water in our Yurts

September 5, 2012 [construction][water][experiments]

Kenny and friends assembling a jigsaw puzzle I’Kenny and his friends in a tree Plastic water pipe running through the forest m sorry I haven’t written in a week or two. Of the many blessings that I count in my life, wonderful family and friends counts at the top.

The past week we were visited by my friend, his wife and their two daughters. It was so gratifying to see Kenny and the girls all getting along so well and playing together. Equally great was getting to unwind and spend time with my friend – I only wish he could have stayed longer, much longer.

With my winter wood mostly laid up there was room to breathe as far as that went, so we were able to relax and show our friends what Thunder Bay and our part of it had to offer.

One small job I didn’t postpone until after their visit was to move the power bar that was so close to the water faucet. I have raised it a few feet higher than the faucet, so it is well above the danger zone. I hope this allows some of you to sleep better at night.

Today Grandpa and I had planned on going fishing on our lake. Alas, it was very overcast and the forecast called for rain so we postponed that experiment for another day. Instead we decided to tackle the sticky issue of what to do when the weather turns freezing and we still are pumping water. There just isn’t room to bury my water lines below the frost line here, so I have to find some way to deal with it when I’m not actively pumping water. It seems to me that most people add some sort of heater to their line to keep it from freezing, but that would require more of my precious electricity than I am prepared to provide.
Instead I am attempting to pump “on demand” into our water cooler and perhaps a few buckets in the yurts and then allow the water to drain back to the well. This is a little challenging because the well and yurts are separated by about 225′. Added to this is the fact that the yurts are only about 15-20′ higher than the well. This gives me about a 10:1 slope at best. Keep in mind too that there is very little margin of tolerance. I simply cannot have any appreciable amount of standing water in the line, or else I risk it freezing and cracking the pipe.

We creatively have built a framework from the well up quite close to the yurts now and I anticipate completing it in a week or so. Grandpa was very helpful as this was definitely a two man job, and his ability to choose and manipulate trees was truly inspiring.

Close to my solar power box, we also opted to raise the line up quite high to provide room for the tractor and roll-bar to pass beneath. We have to ensure access to the back acres of our property this winter to allow me to skid out the logs I need to construct all of our buildings next summer.

This exercise has also given us more food for thought about the location of some of our buildings. There is much to discuss but right now I am leaning towards keeping the buildings needing the most water closest to the well and the lay of the line.

I will try to post a few more pictures when the entire project is completed.
Plastic water pipe in perspective in the swamp Yurts, solar panels and a very elevated water pipe on a wood frame

Running Water in our Yurts!

August 28, 2012 [construction][water]

Water shooting from tap into bucket Kenny perched on a barrel Kenny sitting on a playground aeroplane Yes, today I finally hooked up our last length of pipe and a faucet to give us some much needed running water.

Grandpa and I (mostly Grandpa) have been working on getting the pipe from the well to run at a shallow, consistent angle up to the yurts so that when the pump is not running the water runs back into the well. This should allow us to not worry about a danger of freezing and bursting the pipe in winter. Even though we aren’t quite finished with this portion of the project I decided to hook up the hose to the faucet so that we could better access our well water.
Kenny shovelling a trailer full of clay in distress
Today I drilled a hole through the door frame between our two yurts. I then inserted the pipe through the hole and connected it to the faucet. To help keep the faucet from moving in and out as the water turned on and off I installed a pipe clamp on both the inside and outside of the door frame.

With fingers crossed I positioned a pail under the tap and plugged in the pump. I leaned down and listened carefully to the sound of the pump wheezing and gurgling. It took almost three minutes, before suddenly whoosh!

We had water, and it even seemed to have good pressure. Likely more than will be available when I set up a gravity fed system next year.

I filled up four, five gallon pails, and immediately used that water to do our day’s worth of laundry. It was very satisfying to have done it so self-sufficiently.

Tomorrow I plan on running a bit of the water, then bottling it and taking it to the city lab for testing. Our first test was a failure but in the interim we have added the crushed rock and bleach to the well.

On Saturday I expanded our turnaround a fair bit in an effort to facilitate bringing our Echo up to the yurts. It certainly makes it more appealing to unload groceries when you don’t have to walk through the bush with the bags. I also needed to fill in a spot where Grandpa and I had removed a large boulder. Unfortunately I took the turn too quickly and the wagon was nearly swallowed up! Of course, Donna ran for the camera first to ensure she documented another of my mishaps. This blog must be very gratifying to people who feel that they often bollocks things up; they must feel good compared to some of my blunders :). I look at it as a public service.

Yesterday, Sunday, we attended the Murillo Fall Fair. It was lots of fun witnessing the rodeo for the first time. Kenny really seemed to enjoy taking a crack at bull riding himself!

Later, he channeled the wing walkers of the past for half the afternoon. Luckily he was fueled by french fries, ice cream and Popsicles, so he was able to keep up his energy levels.

Tonight at the supper table, Daddy was gratified to hear that running water placed high in our list of items to be thankful for. What more could anyone ask?

Running water pipe right next to an electrical box? This makes me nervous! Please be careful!
  • Viktor

Yes mother! There are limits to where things can enter the yurts…
  • Stephen Garstin

Can you use some more pipe to move the tap further away from the electrical box? Or use more cable and move the plug points? It looks like they are right on top of each other with the plugs getting sprayed from the tap.
  • Gary Kenneally

The picture maybe doesn't show it well, but they are at ninety degrees to one another. But I think I will move the power bar up much higher on the wall so the optics are not so bad.
  • Stephen Garstin

Cutting in a Bush Trail

August 22, 2012 [construction]

Three logs ready for skidding Daddy and Kenny on an outcrop This past week Grandpa has been working me hard at getting a trail cut into the hundred acre wood. (Sorry for the lack of entries!)

It started with him pointing out a possible route to get the tractor from our main path back to the gully that marks the entrance to the wider, deeper ravine. Up until then I had assumed that I would follow the edge of a low-lying area that traced from our front driveway, north of all our constuctions, and into the gully that eventually leads to the ravine. Instead, this new plan is a more direct route from where we plan on putting in the cabin, through a higher and drier area, and then connecting to the gully right where it leads into the ravine.

With much trepidation, I slowly drove the tractor out onto pristine turf that Grandpa had already examined and declared suitable. He had gone ahead with his grub hoe and leveled off the worst of the lumps and bumps. He had also knocked down a few branches here and there to get the tractor through. I managed to get quite close to the gully, representing a real accomplishment. We used the tractor to skid out three large logs that had windfallen recently and looked to be great candidates for construction next spring. The remaining portions of the trees were piled carefully for future use in our stove, perhaps next winter, or this winter, if we burn through our woodshed supply too quickly.

Portions of the trail considered too difficult for the tractor at the moment are going to be easily passable once they are covered in a snow road, or so Grandpa assures me.

After we crossed the ravine, we slowly worked our way up the ridge that effectively divides the front and back portions of our property. After a number of days progressing north until we were close to the halfway mark, Grandpa turned left and we started to try to work our way up and to the west. Unfortunately, we came to what appears to be an insurmountable ledge, and had to rethink our plans.

Donna and Kenny came out to see how far we had gotten, and then they wandered off. One of their finds was a narrow valley that led from our trail up and onto the high ground! I examined it myself, and then showed it to Grandpa. He agreed that it was currently our best route west, even if the tractor wasn’t able to traverse it without extra landscaping. We tunneled through some incredibly dense brush, coming upon a large “floater” left behind by the glaciers. After christening it “Kenny Rock”, we continued cutting our way west. Grandpa announced that this trail was going to be a “destination” trail – leading to our lake! Very exciting – we hadn’t travelled to the lake via our own property since last fall.

Grandpa and I have been hacking our way through the bush the past week now, using our noses and the GPS as a guide. Yesterday I came late with my chainsaw, which I used to cut larger logs and stumps that were on and across the path, until I ran out of petrol. In the silence that ensued I realized that Grandpa wasn’t anywhere near where I had finished. I called out many times, and then pressed into service all my memories of books and movies about tracking. I followed upturned leaves, broken branches, and scuffed moss for almost a third of a kilometre before finally coming upon Grandpa – at the lake. He had decided to bushwhack to the lake, and work his way back from there. I helped him cut the trail from a nice location on the shore to another narrow valley that led down to the lake. We called it a day.

Today he sent me on ahead to the top of that valley to work my way back towards him, while he cut in from our original trail towards me. We hoped that being able to hear one another would best facilitate a straight-line connection between our trails. This worked surprisingly well. I would occasionally holler out and listen for his reply before continuing. Eventually I was able to hear the rythmic thumping of his axe, as he surely could hear my panting and groans as I pulled out tiny saplings on the trail, and flailed with my own axe against trees that appeared either made of iron, or alternately rubber.

We finally met up around the lunch hour, and declared today’s work finished. We really only have two more short sections to clear to have a trail completely from the front entrance to the lake. One is in the short valley at the lake, and the other is from the base of that valley to the short trail Grandpa cut in from the lakeshore. Very exciting!

Building a Vestibule for the Yurts (on the Cheap)

August 16, 2012 [construction]

Pressure cooker on stove Deformed tent on platform It has been a bit of a constant concern how to avoid tracking the bush into the yurts, especially when it is raining outside, and we would anticipate when it’s snowy too.

We talked a few times about building a vestibule or mud room outside the front entrance, but I have run my lumber yard dry at the moment, and didn’t relish the thought of interrupting my other projects to take on this one.

But then divine intervention came along in the form of a wind gust. When I was struggling to get the stove pipe up, there was a looming threat of a strong thunderstorm. Grandpa even came over to warn us, just as I was mounting the storm flashing and weather sealing the double wall chimney to the flashing. A few moments after he left, the sky turned very dark, and a huge and sudden gust of wind blew through our area. The dining tent that my parents had donated in the spring was instantly lifted up, and transported with a crash into the bush.

At the time I retrieved our table, chairs and stove that had accompanied it, and simply set them up where the tent had once been. Bug season had ended, so we were more than comfortable to sit out in the great outdoors and enjoy the scenery. The tent I left in its forlorn state, while I puzzled out how to repair it, with the main supports either broken completely apart, or the poles bent beyond repair.

Yesterday as I puttered around the property doing odd jobs and cleaning up the accumulated clutter, I started to look at the notion of mounting our solar shower on the deck outside the yurts. This progressed to me looking at mounting the remaining panels of the gazebo I had retrieved from the dump on the deck, and creating a mud room with those and a tarp. This further progressed to me thinking perhaps the dining tent could be pressed into better service in this regard.

I drilled a 7/8″ hole in each corner of the deck, straight down, about 5″. The tent poles from the dining tent dropped into these holes and were well supported. I mixed and matched poles until I had reduced from the original six corners, to my four, with some poles longer than others. I criss-crossed these on top and connected them all together with my largest pipe clamp. Then I opened up one end of the tent, and was able to get it to (with seams popping) fit around the doorway to the yurts. I fastened it to the doorway with two C clamps at the top, and then pulled out the sides with some twine attached high up into two nearby trees. Finally I fastened another length of pipe as a door header at the far end to hold the entrance to the deck up and out, making it easier to get through.

It isn’t the prettiest of sights, but we still anticipate that it only has to last us until we can move into the main cabin next year.

Interesting semantic drift. The classic Roman vestibulum was indeed "the room between the interior and the street". In more modern architecture, though, the vestibule is the room between the "entryway" and the "interior" of the domicile, so it might in fact notb be the first room you enter from the street. Glad to see you're sticking to your classicist background. 8)
  • Viktor

If you like that, why not visit us for "toga tuesdays"? Start with a bath in a storage tub, then use a pine branch strigil, then rinse off with a shower, thanks to a black bag of water hanging in a tree. 🙂
  • Stephen Garstin

Attending the CLE, Time at Camp and Canning

August 15, 2012 [leisure]

Kenny with a hot dog and candy apple Kenny colouring Last week we filled with activities of a more recreational variety. The winter wood is nearly finished, in fact, I believe we have a fair bit of wood set aside already for next year even. Of course, we have little idea how much we will burn to get through this year, so it’s perhaps counting my logs before they are burned.

Our first big activity was to head to the Canadian Lakehead Exhibition. As you can see, there was no shortage of traditional midway foods. Kenny is two-fisted, working on a candy apple and hot dog simultaneously. Technically, he chewed the candy coating off the apple, and then passed it on to Mama to finish off.
Next we checked out the agricultural building, complete with a petting zoo. Here Kenny got to experience goats, sheep, llamas, wallabies (who were sleeping, I suppose they were jet-lagged), pot-belly pigs, chickens, geese, buffalo and cattle.

Here he is checking out the business end of a Mama goat (nanny?). In the background you can see the piglets snuffling around for handouts.

We were all excited to see Maple, the official milking cow of the exhibition. Kenny even took a crack at milking her by hand – and won a ribbon for his efforts!

I can only assume he is imagining the ice cream that could be made from her milk.
After our adventures at the exhibition, we took Kenny into town for a last-minute trip to the dentist to re-attach his spacer, and then it was off to camp! A weekend of just swimming and sauna and relaxing with Mummu and Grandpa and Mama and Daddy.

Grandpa set Kenny up with a fishing rod, and he took another crack at casting. In spite of no bites, he still seemed to enjoy this, and I’m sure once he catches his first fish, he’ll be hooked! (ha ha).

The mornings were quite misty, it made for a really interesting view across the lake. You felt like you were in a surreal world all of your own.

When we returned, I was feeling adventurous, so I actually brought our car right up to the yurts! It went fairly smoothly, I did grate over one exposed rock, but now that I know it is there, I have avoided it on
Kenny milking a robot cow Kenny with blue ice cream face Kenny and Grandpa Oiva fishing off the dock Kenny fishing off the dock Kenny in sauna with a pot on his head Toyota Echo in front of yurts Square meter water tank on a trailer Kenny playing with a Merlin game subsequent trips.

Then I checked out the IBC water container I had purchased just before the fair – it is intended to be used as a bit of a cistern or storage tank, to ease pressure on the well and pump. I figure that I can pump it full over the span of a day or two, and then we can use the water in it from then on, relieving the well from having to supply larger quantities on short notice.

Finally, Kenny got to enjoy something from his parents’ childhood – Merlin! He is quite adept at learning the games on it, and has already mastered tic-tac-toe, and loves to programme it to play his own little tunes.

As for Mama and Daddy, we spent yesterday and this morning canning up some chicken I bought in town at a good price. We both realized how convenient it was to be able to open up a jar of something pre-cooked, and only have to warm it and mix it with a few other items to have a delicious and nutritious meal. Of course, the savings also are a bonus, and the lack of a freezer makes this an even more attractive option to get alternative foods into our diets.

Where did you et Merlin's. I loved mine.
  • Anonymous

Sorry, wat?
  • Stephen Garstin

After nine years, as I was editing this post, I realised that you were talking about the Merlin handheld game! So sorry! It was Donna's game that her parents had saved. I'm sure they are still available on eBay...
  • Stephen Garstin

Putting in our Winter Wood

August 9, 2012 [wood]

Cuttings slabs with a power saw Grandpa was up and at it early yesterday, so I wandered down to see what he was banging around at by the well. It turns out he was eager to continue with getting the wood shed filled, as well as preparing the wood for next winter already. I joined him in piling up some of the greener wood to dry for a year, as well as putting up the wood that was already dried, either by being cut last year, or because it was a windfall.

After we sorted a bit of that wood, I emptied off the rack I had been using to dry my cut lumber, added a number of scrap pieces of two by two lumber, and hoisted it up onto my skidway beside the sawmill. This worked a real treat to cut up my slabs into stove lengths. I blasted through this pile for the rest of the day, and then all day today, thanks to Kenny and Donna helping me to load slabs, and then unload wood back at the woodshed. This has been a really reassuring exercise, as by the end of the day today, the woodshed is already 75% full, and that’s mostly just with a windfall or two, and the slab pile!

There are still a few scraps at the slab pile that I can take care of in the next few days, and then I will start to venture forth to find one or two more windfalls that I can use as extra insurance. One thing that worries us a bit is that once again this morning we fired up the wood stove, as it was below ten degrees in the yurts, and hard to get out of bed. We’re using the stove for warmth in August! That almost makes me think that except for June and July, we’d need to be prepared to have a stove going in the yurts the rest of the year – which isn’t so bad, it hea
Kenny loading a slab on my cutting jig Cutting slabs with the tractor and tent in the background ts up quickly so far, and likely more so when the pipes no longer smell and we can keep the windows shut.

We also noticed this morning that while the stove throws good heat after the initial lighting, it doesn’t put out enough to boil water or toast our bread in a very timely manner. This will require further thought and investigation; perhaps we let the fire die down too quickly once the chill was out of the air.

Tomorrow we are planning on visiting the
Canadian Lakehead Exhibition in Thunder Bay, weather permitting, and also the Thunder Bay Co-Op, which even Grandpa hasn’t visited before!

Installing our Well Pump, Testing our Wood Stove

August 7, 2012 [construction][water][wood]

Woodstove door open with fire inside The other morning dawned just a bit too chilly for us, so I offered to fire up the wood stove for the first time as a test run. Donna didn’t put up any significant argument, so I headed out to rustle up some dry wood.

There were a few slabs just outside the yurts from the construction of the floor and support beams, so they were the first on my list – they had been drying out for the past couple of months in direct sun, and had been cut thinly enough that I was confident they were no longer green.

I also included a number of small cubes and off-cuts of lumber, as I felt they too would be in the same state. I bunched up some old papers, lit the match, and voila! Time for a second match… And then a third, but that was the magic number :). We had fire, we had heat!
Smoke coming from stovepipe with moon in the background tractor pulling trailer of wood Kenny carrying wood into the pallet shed Water hose coming out of well and along the forest floor Kenny looking down open well Water pouring from hose held high Electric wire and water pipe through concrete well casing Perspective of ladder down well Handing a bucket to Kenny Patched area where pipe and electric cable leave the well Water hose in a tree pouring water into a bucket

Donna even pointed out that we had smoke, and it was coming from the stove pipe, not the stove itself! This was great news; the stove seemed to have really good draw.

As Donna perked her coffee, and I sat at the table basking in my warmth and reading up on cooking on a wood stove, I started to detect an off odour. Just as I stood up to investigate, Donna opened the door, revealing the inside of the yurts to be churning with smoke. Sigh. We opened up everything, and I was at a loss to understand – the stove pipes were drawing well, and no smoke could be seen coming from any part of the stove. After a few minutes of puzzling, I decided it must be the stove pipe itself that was smoking from the first application of heat. Some research on the Google revealed that this is so common as to be trivial. Second examination also showed that the stove pipe closest to the stove was no longer a shiny blue/black, and had instead faded to a dull grey/black. It still looked good, and it was nice to have the mystery solved in a way that required only patience and ventilation.

Grandpa dropped by to complete his wood shed. He really can take credit for the entire thing – I can’t express enough my gratitude at his efforts! Kenny and I wanted to christen it right away, so we took the tractor out and loaded up almost two wagon loads of wood that Grandpa had declared burn-worthy this coming winter. He feels that if we fill the shed, that should be enough to get us through the winter. That’s our ambition. I will also have to make some sort of crib and cut up my large (to me) slab pile at the sawmill.

After Grandpa left, I unloaded the equipment to pump water to the yurts. After some discussion at Maier Hardware, I opted to switch from a sand point attached to 1.25″ pipe, with a large jet pump at the yurts, to a sump pump, attached to a 1″ pump. Due to concerns about freezing, I would have had to install the jet pump inside the yurts, or at least carried it outside every time we wished to pump. Instead, with the sump pump, as long as the well doesn’t freeze, we should be okay. Once it finishes pumping, I will try to have the line on a continuous slope so that the water simply drains back into the well. This solution also allowed me to use a smaller, less expensive pipe and pump, at the cost of having to run electricity down to the well. At first I thought that would be a dealbreaker but as it turns out, it wasn’t.

I attached the fittings to the pipe and with Kenny’s help created a 200′ long extension cord from a nearly full reel of 12/2 outdoor grade wiring.

Grandpa returned and together we attached 100′ of 1″ poly pipe to the pump. I lowered the pump into the well, inside of a small rubbermaid tub. That was Grandpa’s idea and it was awesome! I drilled holes all around the tub and that allowed us to isolate the pump from the rest of well, which still had some sand and mud in the bottom.

We plugged in to my power station which reported a 500 watt load as I guesstimated it should, and then, with a dramatic pause and lots of gurgling, water started gushing out at the 100′ mark, not quite halfway to the yurts both horizontally or vertically.

Unplugging the pump, we connected up the next 100′ hose and repeated our experiment. There was a longer pause, more gurgles, and then gushing water again! We were within a stone’s throw of the yurts – only about 20′ further. Then the final hurdle – could it pump high enough to fill an elevated cistern/ storage tank? I held the pipe up as high as I could, and it still was coming at a decent flow!

I had a celebratory ice cream at Mummu’s, then returned with my masonry hammer and hammer drill to punch a hole between the tiles for a more permanent entry for my hose and wiring. It took a little more digging than I expected to reach the seam between the tiles, which was a good thing as it showed how much covering there was over the seam. The hammer drill worked very hard, and I think it did very little. It was my wailing with the hammer that made the fastest work of chipping through the crack.

We reinserted the wiring and the hose which I attached with a 90 degree adapter, and then I grudgingly returned to town to purchase some patching cement and another length of pipe to actually get water into the yurts. I plan on installing a faucet directly through the coupler so I don’t have to come up through the more challenging floor. It also has the advantage of being able to directly support the faucet, and the hose can be mounted on more of an angle as it enters the coupling, rather than low if it comes up under the floor.

Kenny and I mixed up two small batches of concrete using his sandbox toys, and we applied patching on both the inside and outside of the well. I should also point out that I wrapped the hose and wiring in some aluminum flashing where it passed through the tiles to reduce worries about wear from the concrete.

While we waited for the concrete to set up a bit, Kenny and I headed up the road to a spot where we knew someone had dumped some crushed rock. We scooped up four pails full of the rock and returned home where it became a family project to transfer the rocks from the pails to our mesh wagon. This allowed us to winnow out the twigs and leaves that were mixed in with the stone.

As I monitored the water level, we pumped out the well again and Donna filled our pails with the effluent. Once the pails were full she rinsed the rocks over and over again. At last the well was empty and I sent Kenny running up the trail to tell Mama to unplug the pump.

With the well pumped down to about six inches of water I went back in, and with Donna and Kenny helping out we formed a bucket brigade to haul out a bit of the muck in the bottom. This is nasty business, let me assure you. It is cramped within those confines with a ladder, pump, wiring and hoses to contend with. Once my patience expired, we reorganized our brigade and started transferring our rock to the bottom of the well. That worked great! I could quickly feel the difference in the base of the well, and am very hopeful that this will help with the water quality. We failed our first test of our well water – too high a coliform count – which is apparently always the case and not cause to panic. I skimmed the top of the water to remove some remaining sticks and leaves, and called it a day.

Job one today will be to pump out the well again. I’ll do this twice a day for the next few days to get the water clarity back up; after all the activity down there it gets really turbid. Then we will test it again, and I’ll report the results!

Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts.
  • geothermal wells nh

[June 6, 2021] It's interesting that today I have just come inside from removing the pump from this well and plan on installing it in the new well later so that I have a backup pump. Also interesting how the above comment I was happy to have back then, but nowadays I would probably mark as spam and move on. At least they weren't so crass as to include the link to their website.
  • Stephen Garstin

Installing the Battery Box for my Solar Power System

August 5, 2012 [solar]

Kenny smashing rocks with hammer in protective gear Yesterday was Friday – Sauna Day here! This is the day where we all make a push to do some dirty, sweaty work, knowing that at the end, we can traipse over to Mummu and Grandpa’s to enjoy their sauna.

Kenny took this opportunity to try out my masonry hammer on some of the more stubborn rocks that poke up through our pathways. He really enjoyed pounding them into dust, and after his first few swings, I insisted that he put on the face shield I used when I ran the table saw. He was tickled pink to knock off a few sheets of mica, thinking that perhaps he had discovered some gold leaf!

In the end, it appears that he was feeding his inner caveman – fashioning a rather impressive stone axe, sans bindings.

His father, on the other hand, decided to buckle down and get the solar power system upgraded. Earlier in the morning, the onset of the freezer compressor had been presaged by the inverter screeching out a low voltage alert again. We have had a number of overcast days, and so the batteries had again been drained down, in spite of the doubled solar panels. Luckily I had purchased two new batteries and cables, and they were fully charged and ready to step up.
Kenny holding up an axe shaped rock
I managed to lever the box onto my trailer, and, using the tractor, hauled it over to the collection of plastic totes and tubs that had been serving as my power centre up until now. I lowered it carefully to the ground, waddled it into position, and then set off searching for appropriate rocks to level it out. This was a fun process, rather like tetris. Finally, with Donna’s assistance, we had it reasonably level, and I started setting in the components again, this time with double the batteries. The charger I opted to just store in the box, rather than hardwiring it in, as I had originally planned. I hope that I don’t have to use the charger very often, so I’m thinking in a pinch I will charge up one of the vehicles if required, and this way I don’t have to do a major operation to unwire it.
Levering a crate out of the trailer
My meter suggested the panels were still putting out a little over five amps, which was okay, considering how overcast the day was. The batteries were up to around 12.5 volts – pretty low, but good for a day or two of powering just the freezer (fridge? – we still haven’t gotten our head around what to call it…)

Donna and I muscled the roof into position, and that’s when I discovered that it was slightly askew. I’m sure it was just because I had rolled it around so much while installing the insect screening and vinyl roofing. I weighed down opposite corners with some rocks, and already today I can see that it has tightened back up.

Today is also a bit of a blessing at the moment, as it started out with heavy rain and thunder on the yurts but now it is sunny and the panels are basking in it.
6 volt batteries in a box with a solar charger and inverter
Two problems that I will have to address with the new setup – I can no longer easily monitor anything about the system. The electronics are all boxed up! I think I will just purchase a cheap multimeter and permanently wire it up to the batteries, so that I can monitor voltage more easily.

The second, more challenging issue, is that the box is close to the pole mount, and the roof is steep, so the bottom of my frame actually hits the roof when I rotate it to face the morning sun. I will likely saw off the bottom edge of the frame, which is unneeded anyway, and also perhaps raise the pole a few inches to accommodate the winter angle of the panels, which is steeper, and takes up more vertical space.

As an aside, today I purchased much of the materials to get water pumped from our well up to the yurts/cistern/sauna. Again, Dave at
Maier hardware is the man! I can’t speak enough to his knowledge and willingness to share it, as well as his patience at listening to my crazy ideas. I’m sure there will be much grist for a future blog post in how I eventually get water from our well.
A small log cabin with solar panels
Now it’s almost time to start our bedtime routine here, as we are serenaded by
Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap.

You have done your project well. It is great to hear that private citizens like you really take time to make solar power installations better.
  • Solar Panel experts

It can be challenging, but I try… The learning curve is steeper than I expected!
  • Stephen Garstin

Installing a Woodstove in a Yurt

July 29, 2012 [construction][wood]

A pallet structure Yesterday turned into a longish day, dragging into today, and finally culminating with me sitting here on our bed, typing up this entry, while Donna and Kenny lay beside me, reading from the Charlie Brown’s ‘Cyclopedia (sic).

An old box stove Grandpa dropped by early, after hearing me pumping out the well again. He suggested that he would get a start on our wood pallet woodshed, as he had some free time. Mummu and him have been just amazingly helpful, we surely wouldn’t have been able to get where we are without them!

Donna and Kenny joined me at the well, and when I had pumped it nearly dry, I dropped my ladder down and climbed inside. I scrubbed the walls clean of sand and mud, and then rooted around in the last few litres of water, pulling out any roots, woodchips and leaves I could get my hands on. I figure that the less organic material in there, the faster it will pass a water quality test. After stirring up all that silt and such, when I returned to the surface, I pumped the well dry again right away – that water was not pleasant looking at all. More like chocolate milk, as expected under the circumstances.

I loaded up the tractor trailer with skids to take to our chosen woodshed site, and to economise on trips I also hefted in the two patio stones I wanted to place under the stove as a heat reflector/thermal mass/whatever. Those stones were far heavier than I expected. They were both 24 inches by 30 inches, which I figured would be 25% heavier than a standard two by two foot stone, but instead, they felt to be about 300% heavier! In any case, I put them in the bucket, and off-loaded them at the yurts. In light of their weight, I decided to just carry them right into the yurts and place them right away. After much discussion and work with the yardstick, square, and a washer on a string as a plumb-bob, we had the tiles placed, and then the stove as well. This naturally led to me trying to place a length of stove pipe, and then surprise surprise, it didn’t fit!

Stovepipe beside the woodstove Argh! I gave the pipe extra crimping, but to no avail. Finally, I decided to measure the pipe – 6 inches, as advertised. Then I measured the stove opening. 5 1/2 inches. Wha’?

Internet research was very unhelpful in this regard. There was no “adapter” that could be found. Finally I called
Thunder Bay Fireplaces and spoke with someone named Glenn. He was very helpful, understanding my problem right away, and telling me that I had to just set things up contrary to all current wisdom. Instead of having my stovepipe crimps always going into the lower section, on the stovetop I had to place the stovepipe over the output of the stove; creosote be jiggered. I cut the crimping off a piece of my pipe and it fit nice and tight over the stove outlet. This tip was invaluable and I hope that future readers of the blog find it useful. No one recommends this but if you are using an older, non-standard stove, it really is your only option.

In any case, after working my way up to the canvas of the yurt, Donna and Kenny headed off to enjoy the festivities of FinnThunder. I stayed behind to continue my work. I carefully marked out the location for the flashing and, with my heart pounding, cut a 16 inch diameter circle in both the wool felt and canvas with a utility knife.

Insulated stovepipe through the yurt roof After mounting the inner ring and fastening it to the rafter with some extra muffler clamps I had in my odds and ends pile, I migrated outside and placed the flashing in position. The cone worked and fit very nicely with some adjustment. I brought it back down to ground level, and proceeded to snip flares into it so that the larger diameter, double-wall stove pipe would fit. This took lots of finagling, but eventually I got it to slide down nicely. At this point though, it didn’t look terribly pretty, so I consulted the instructions which came with the flashing, as well as consulting the Yurta manual and website again to see if I could cipher out what they had done to make things look nice. This is when I came across something called a “storm collar”. Which looked to me like an extra piece of flashing that fit over the main flashing. Redundant, but coincidentally enough that was the word of the day for Kenny and I the previous day! In any case, I was off to town to grudgingly purchase a storm collar.Stovepipe through the yurt roof outside view

Canadian Tire doesn’t sell them separately, only as part of a kit. Home Hardware had them, but they didn’t look to be the correct size (they were, I should have purchased them and made that decision later at home). The fellow at Home Hardware suggested I check with the fireplace dealers in town but both of them were closed by the time I arrived at their locations. Argh!

So, today, it was back to town, but since Home Hardware is closed on Sundays and the forecast called for rain, to Canadian Tire thinking I would buy the kit and take the hit. When I saw that their storm collar was simply a piece of stainless flashing, cut in a “C” shape, I asked the salesman (boy?) for a marker, and traced the “C” onto
Screwing together stovepipe Using a Rubbermaid tub as a bathtub a piece of flashing at a fraction of the price. I’m so golden!

I meandered back home, visiting Hammerskjold high school to check out the FinnThunder market, as well as the McIntyre Township Community Centre playground (so Kenny could show me the tire bridge).

Within moments of arriving home, Grandpa trotted over to tell us that there was a severe weather warning, high winds and rain coming!

I headed up the ladder, screwed the flashing tight to the chimney, then used a tube of high temperature silicone to seal up the gaps. As I was pulling the dome shut over my head, a gust of wind blew our dining tent over catastrophically, and Donna rushed out to zip down our canvas windows. So far, no leaks in our stovepipe! As soon as things clear I will cut out and install our storm collar, which appears to be mostly for aesthetics but will also give redundant comfort against future leaks.

Where did you get your ring to go through the roof? Looks like it transitions from single wall to double wall? I would be interested to know, I am currently planning a yurt but am running into some obstacles, whether to go through the center ring, side wall or roof panel. My yurt is not traditional, the covering is made from tyvek 🙂 Or will be, just finished working on the lattice and have the toono in progress now. I think ill also be making one of those barrel wood stoves, the insulation is a radiant barrier type, but not bubble wrap, it has a recycled denim side with a reflective side also, about 1/4, maybe little more. The ring for the stove pipe looks like what I need. I would like to run single wall up to the roof then transition to chimney, but all the collars are for 2×4 framing. Hoping to hear from you soon. I am going o take a look around at your site here, not many sites with a such a long posting history that are still active. Thanks.
  • Scott

Hello Mr. Scott.
We purchased the ring with the yurts – from . I believe they were having a local fellow fabricate them for them, so you could start with Patrick Ladisa there. The transition from single wall to double wall was a standard piece I bought with the stovepipe – but then didn't use any of the "bucket" or accessories that came with it. That was a bit annoying.
Hope this helps?
  • Stephen Garstin

Digging a Well

July 28, 2012 [construction][water]

Tractor carrying a well tile through the forest Tractor lowering the well cover Shovelling off excess sand from the well cover In the past, when I read and heard about people’s trials and tribulations when putting in a well, I looked at them as just stories relating their anxiety and problems; for some reason, never cluing in that perhaps they were more a cautionary tail. Surely those were exceptions, rather than rule. That’s why I was a bit stressed when I suddenly realized that this was truly an example of how there are no sure things in life.

Our driveway contractor had quoted a sharp price for putting in our well, and after crunching the numbers, I gave him the go-ahead to do so. He was of the school of thought that put faith in witching for water, and suggested I have our property surveyed by someone before breaking ground. Myself, on the other hand, am no expert in the matter, but I’m still not convinced of its efficacy, and so proceeded to wander around with Grandpa, poking the ground with his tamping rod here and there to see what we could come up with. We eventually found one spot that was a real treat – close to where we wanted the cabin, but secluded by a few trees, with the tamping rod not finding any rocks, but coming up completely wet.

The big day arrived, and the weather reports called for rainfall warnings. My contractor called to say he wasn’t going to show up unless things changed. Well, lucky for us, they did change! The clouds all blew over, and we only got a light mist that was gone by lunch. We heard the trucks shortly afterwards, and knew he had arrived.

Gosh it was exciting to see him hauling in the tiles through the bush, on our meagre trails with his big machine. He had brought us the larger, four foot diametre tiles, which were just on the edge of the ability of his loader to lift safely. Watching him thread his way through the bush with that huge pendulum swinging reminded me of my own trials on my little Yanmar. At least he was safely tucked into his cab, and had years of experience behind him. Still, my heart skipped whenever he hit a hidden stump or rock, and I was especially intent when he actually had to use his backhoe as a counterweight to get around a tricky spot on the slopes.

He looked at our chosen location with great skepticism, which was really evidenced on his face when he learned that I hadn’t had it witched. He once again pointed down to the old well, over 100 feet away, as being his first choice, but it was my dime, so he proceeded to dig.

What a heart-wrenching sound when he crunched into bedrock only a few feet down. He tried in another spot close by, with the same results, and by that point, I realised how we could easily be at it all day with little to show for it, so I agreed that we could take a crack at the old well location and see what we could find there.

It wasn’t much better, truth be told, as he hit the bedrock only a few feet down, but at least it was wet and had open water there. We ended up digging out the old well entirely, but the new one really only needed a single tile. Instead, we lifted the lid off, and placed a second tile on, and then the lid. I’m assured that this will help keep more groundwater out of the well, and also to put more insulation around it to prevent it freezing up in winter.

His truck was unable to navigate on the roads/trails we had put in ourselves, so he dumped his load of sand on our driveway, and had used this to pack around the tiles to level and install them. Much sand had accumulated on the sides of our driveway during his work, and so after he finished and left, I proceeded to haul about four trailers full to the well and shovel them around it by hand. This mounded up the well quite nicely.

We’ve spent the past couple of days pumping out the well with Grandpa’s sump pump and my generator. Each time it seems to run much cleaner than the last. We guesstimate that it holds about 75-80 gallons of water, and it takes about 8 hours to recharge after pumping. It remains to be seen how this holds up in January and February, the hardest time for wells…

I plan on installing a storage tank closer to where we will be living, and pumping water into it as needed, so perhaps that buffer will work for us. For now, we’re just happy to clean it up and know that this is one less thing we have to think about.

Building a Power Station

July 26, 2012 [experiments][solar power]

Aunt Vicki helping Kenny climb a rock A small square of interlocked beams This past weekend we were blessed with a visit from my sister. It was wonderful to have another member of the family come out to see what we were doing and interact with Ken. He really loves to show people around his homestead, and his enthusiasm for everything is quite contagious!

In between the hikes and swimming and playing, my second solar panel arrived. One evening while Kenny and Aunt Vicki were amusing one another at the yurts, I rewired my initial solar panel so that its leads both ran into a junction box, onto a connection block, through some 6A fuses, and then down to the charge controller. Having a sealed junction box and connection block made future expansion to three panels quite easy, and I was really pleased with how it has come together.

Mounting the second solar panel was then rather simple. It was a matter of repeating the physical mount, that is to say, using stainless steel bolts and nuts to ensure that the panel was not directly contacting my frame. Then clipping the leads and attaching standard automotive spade type connectors. The leads on the solar panels are shockingly short, apparently only really long enough to connect one panel to the next, and I ended up mounting the second (and eventually a third) panel upside down, alongside the initial panel. This worked out without having an inch of cable to spare! But hooking up my meter afterwards showed me pumping 9.5 amps of current into my charge controller – hopefully enough.

It’s been a few days now, and the batteries are slowly coming up to a higher charge. Yesterday wasn’t so good, as it was overcast and raining most of the day, but up until then they were ending the day with a greater charge than the day before, so that was gratifying. I still think another panel and more batteries are in the plan for this fall yet.

In the meantime, I decided to practise building a log cabin, by building a minature one to enclose my batteries, charge controller, inverter, and battery charger. I milled up a large pile of four foot two by fours, and proceeded to place two inch notches, one inch deep, two inches in from the ends of each two by four.

Then I ripped four of these “beams” in half to place at the very bottom, and very top of the box, to ensure a level surface. It was a fun matter to fit the beams together, in the manner of the toy log cabin sets that Kenny has played with. Of course, it wasn’t long into the project before I realized that my accuracy in measuring was not as great as required, and most of the beams required further work with the saw and chisel on the notches before they would fit together nicely. That, and wailing with a mallet.
A log box with divider

I put in a less substantial floor than in the
TARDIS, trying to use up some poplar planks that were rapidly warping over in a corner of my sawmill area. I also built a small interior wall to separate the batteries from the charging equipment. While I’m sure the offgassing of the batteries is very small, I do want to be sure to keep them away from potential sparks. I sized the box to hold at least six batteries comfortably. More if needed.

A complicated roof frame The roof of the box is still under construction. I think that I will soon do a run to the ReStore in Thunder Bay to see what I may potentially use to cover the roof. The angles of a roofline are actually more complex than I anticipated in my mind’s eye. I ended up dusting off my slide ruler to do some of the calculations, as the calculators I had handy were all financial ones, and didn’t have any options to calculate squares, roots, sines, cosines, or tangents. SOH CAH TOA still sticks in my head though! Finally, a practical application for math! This is why I think Kenny can benefit from homeschooling – a more direct connection between the abstract things you learn, and the concrete things you do.

Hopefully soon I can cover the box and move it into position – I really want to get started on bringing in my winter wood!

hey. the blog is just awesome to read about. its really interesting and informative. do keep up adding more posts.
  • canadian solar

Your website is only flash? Us iPad users cannot see any part of it!
  • Stephen Garstin

Attaching an Electric Winch to my Tractor to Skid Logs

July 15, 2012 [experiments][vehicles][wood]

Small electric winch on the back of the tractor Log shackled to the winch As I mentioned in my previous post, I had a bit of a dilemma. I had cut down a large, precarious jackpine that would be able to supply me with the start of my power station enclosure. Unfortunately, it was in a difficult location to access, and after spending about an hour to retrieve one piece, I decided it was time to pursue another tack.

I had thought for some time about the possibility of a mechanized winch to bring my logs out. A little bit of google searching had revealed that many people were pressuring for the use of hydraulic or PTO winches on a tractor when it comes to skidding logs. This was discouraging, as those options are beyond both my ken and my budget.

Of course, much of what I’m doing out here is experimentation, and, with electric winches being a rather inexpensive proposition, I decided to discover for myself whether or not I would be disappointed with their performance.

On our trip to the Teddy Bear’s Picnic, I took the chance to pop by the nearby Canadian Tire and picked up a 3000lb winch that they seemed to be clearing out. I spent that evening and the next morning assembling the winch, and trying to mount it to the tractor.

I ended up removing all the tines from the cultivator that had come with the tractor. It is pretty unlikely that in this part of the world I will have enough earth together in one place that I can easily cultivate with the tractor. Then I bolted the winch through two plates of plywood to the cultivator. It looked like a pretty steady mount to me.

Next I had to run two wires from the battery at the front of the tractor, to the cultivator/winch at the back. This went pretty smoothly too – I stripped some 14/3 house wire that I had, and used the red and black lines, just to ensure consistency with 12V systems. I currently have these two wires twisted together and covered with electrical tape, but I intend to replace this rigging with an actual plug next time I can get to town to purchase the parts.
Like Jenga!
In any case, the winch worked! Now to test it in the field – I headed to the gravel pit, and connected up the winch to my logs – and it pulled! It even started to drag the tractor once or twice when a log dug deep into an alder bush or another log.
Logs loaded in the back of the trailer
I have to say I was very, very happy with its performance. So much so that if and when it does burn out, I think I will be more than willing to pay more money for a much higher capacity winch. Mine only has a 44′ cable (which I’ve already put a small kink in 🙁 ), but between that, and my other 40′ cable, and my multiple chains, I should be able to get at a really good number of trees in normally inaccessable places.

That is the look of true pride!
  • Chris

Expanding Our Turnaround

July 15, 2012 [construction]

Kenny shovelling the last of the gravel from the trailer Kenny digging out the gravel pit After the incident with getting the truck stuck for a few hours up by the yurts, a turnaround was added to our to-do list. Grandpa was kind enough to get us started on this project, by using his grub hoe to knock down some humps and fill in some holes, in the area beside the dojo tent. He then threw on a few loads of our gravel/clay, and we had the start of a turnaround!

Upon cutting up a large jackpine for use as my power station enclosure, I realized that skidding it out of the bush with the tractor was going to be a tall order. It was 25 metres from the gravel pit, and 30 metres from my dojo tent, and located in dense bush. I managed to get one piece of it skidded to the gravel pit by using a combination of all my cables and chains, and driving the tractor a few metres, then backing up, and resetting all my equipment. This was clearly going to take far too long to be sensible. I put that project on the backburner, and instead decided to focus on the turnaround a bit.

This was a fun project. I could really visualize things improving by the moment, as each shovelful of gravel was quickly loaded into the trailer, and in short order, it made its appearance at the turnaround, covering up the weeds, filling in depressions, and opening up the area for a more comfortable and accessible experience.

I cut down a few smaller trees, using only my bucksaw, and then used the loppers and a small hatchet to trim off any branches that were intruding on the space.

Finally, a large alder bush had to be winched out. I had forgotten just how impressive their root systems can be. For a weedy bush, they grow a root that seems indistinguishable from that of a full grown tree. I had to winch, then hack with an axe, then winch, then back to the axe, and just continue with this routine for an hour or so to fully extract the bush.

Kenny was wizard at using his bulldozer to loosen up gravel at the pit, and then he was all over the place when it came time to offload the gravel at the other end of the drive. He really is a joy to have helping on projects. It will be nice to see this continue in the future. Donna and Kenny have certainly been among my greatest blessings in life!
Kenny with a message chocolate doughnut
After a day or two of this, it was time to take a trip to town to attend the
Teddy Bear’s Picnic. Kenny opted to take E.T. rather than a more traditional Teddy, but he fit right in. On the way home, he received his reward for all his hard work, and it certainly seemed to agree with him!

Building My Tracking Solar Panel Mount

July 9, 2012 [construction][solar]

A solar panel on a chair, a generator covered by a plank When I first set up our solar panel and accompanying electronics, my theme was speed of getting my investment up and running. Everything was packaged into plastic tubs, and as you can see my actual mount for my panel was lacking in adjustability and security. Luckily we haven’t had too many really windy days.

It worked rather well to whet our appetite for the system, and kept up with charging our iPhone, iPad, and cordless tool batteries. Unfortunately, we had to keep plugging them in right next to the inverter, in the largest tub, and this was rather inconvenient. So next I shifted the entire setup closer to the coupling in the yurts, and ran an extension cord from the inverter, into the yurts, and placed a power bar against the door frame.

Instead of resting the panel on one of the tubs, I moved it to a bigger and better mount – leaning against a lawn chair!

But, as you know, we then decided a fridge was the next action. The fridge has been working out very well, but it sucked the batteries dry. Rats, now we had to hook up the generator to pump up the batteries, and it ran for hours and hours to do so. This was not on! The panel was already in the shade of the yurts until early afternoon, so it was probably missing out on about half of the potential sun that was available to it.
Gazebo parts bolted together to make a solar panel frame
As I may have mentioned earlier, on the dump trip where I picked up the screen and lamp for the Tardis/Outhouse, I also picked up other treasures. The remains of a steel gazebo were still in great shape for odd sorts of projects, so I grabbed them and stacked them beside the dojo tent for future use. Now, it was their moment to shine! I arranged three pieces into what already looked like a pretty good mount – able to comfortably accommodate three solar panels. I built expandability into my design! With some simple stove bolts, they were securely anchored together.
A large pipe T clamped to a treestump
Next up was a mount. At first I had considered simply adding more gazebo panels to the back, to create an “A” frame setup that was just pointed at the noonday sun, possibly allowing for adjusting the angle to catch the sun in both winter and summer configurations. Instead, I rigged up an inch and a quarter galvanized pipe, six feet long, muffler and pipe clamped to a nearby tree I had cleaned up for this purpose. I then created another galvanized “T” by screwing two, three-quarter inch by eighteen inch pieces into a T coupling, with a four foot length of three-quarter inch forming the main shaft.

Originally I just dropped this shaft down the larger pipe, but, as my father pointed out, it was a little bit sloppy, and could be easily rectified by adding an inch and a quarter coupler on top, that the flare on the three quarter inch T coupling could nestle into. We created our own out of a scrap piece of aluminum siding and a pipe clamp, but I decided to go with the actual coupling and ended up purchasing that on my next trip to town.

Using some pipe hangers, Dad and I mounted my gazebo frame onto this system, and it worked really well! We could adjust the direction and tilt with ease!

The issue that I then had to contend with was ensuring that the angle of tilt would be reasonably adjustable, and yet, still secure. I had a few notions of straps and wooden braces, but then decided that the more elegant solution simply required more pipe!

This time I added another T coupler, six inches below the original, with the shaft of the T facing the front of the frame. Then, I bolted a small piece of plywood at the level of this opening, but on the gazebo frames. To the plywood, I bolted two more of my “T” supports, in half inch, one with just a threaded connector, and one with a six inch pipe. It’s perhaps a bit difficult to see in the pictures, this one was dark when taken, so I’ve manually brightened it up. In any case, I can now use the threaded connector, which aligns with the hole in my main support shaft, in winter, which makes the whole frame align nearly vertically.
Adjusting the angle of the mount
Currently, I have swung it up and out of the way, and swung the other one, with the six inch pipe, into alignment with the open hole, and it is resting there, giving me a bit more than a forty-five degree angle on my frame, better for the summer sun. They are very secure, and yet, only take a moment to swing out of the hole, and get repositioned. Due to the fact that the panel frame is aluminum channel, one must be aware of the possibility (certainty) of
galvanic corrosion. Thus, mounting to my steel frame using only stainless steel nuts, bolts and washers – and ensuring that no parts of the panel are in contact with the frame directly.

Donna helped me to carry the batteries, inverter and charge controller over to the base of the new panel, and I hooked it all up. We did this just as the sun was setting, so I swung the panel around to the morning direction, and we had to retire for the evening, way too late! The next day, I beefed up the support by screwing a few two by fours from my main tree to the stumps from two others nearby. Over the course of the day, which was a mix of sun and cloud, we managed to end up getting .1 volts more than we had started with! That’s good news!
Solar panel on the mount with tubs full of electronics and batteries
My next project will have to be something a bit more permanent for the batteries and electronics to reside in though. And for that, I’ll need to harvest a few more trees for lumber…

That was pretty smart to use parts of your gazebo to make a sturdy mount for your solar panel! Now that’s resourcefulness at its finest! And it is a good thing that you made it capable of tilting and adjusting its orientation, so that it can make the most of the sunlight throughout the day. Anyway, your steel mount looks big. Have you considered adding up another set of solar panels?
  • Kurt Amezcua

Well, I'm up to three right now. That has been enough for most of my needs up until it has turned to fall sun…
  • Stephen Garstin

How to Convert a Chest Freezer to a Chest Refrigerator

July 7, 2012 [experiments]

Thermostat hanging on the back of the freezer A view of the probe hanging in the freezer As is pretty obvious, it is much more efficient for refrigerators to be configured in chest form. Why else are so many stores totally willing to run their freezers twenty four/seven without even a lid? The cold air becomes notably heavy and just sits in the bottom of the box.

On the other hand, it’s also pretty obvious that upright orientations are more handy for daily use. Sigh. Well, as in most things when you are off-grid, it seems that efficiency must win out over ease of use. In this particular case, our lack of a fridge for the past two months has made us feel that having a fridge, ANY fridge is worth the small hassle of digging down for items, rather than searching deep into unknown recesses.

When we were first married and purchased our conventional house back in Kitchener, my parents presented us with the wonderful gift of a small deep freeze. It has served us very well over the past number of years, generally stocked with many pounds of cheese and butter, as well as other delicious goodies (and the occasional hard disc – of course you know freezing a dead hard disc is the first line of action in data recovery, right?).

When the time came for us to move here, I was at first of the line of thought that a freezer would not be realistic, at least, not in the near future. But, as a means to store items, I thought it would be okay, so I willingly had it loaded into our moving truck. (As I recall, I was actually too sick to move it, and my father did it amazingly and single-handedly!)

After connecting up our solar power generating station, a fridge was the next logical item to add. It only took a very short time of checking on the prices of high efficiency fridges designed for off-grid use before my mind opened up. A bit of research brought me around to this website where the author had home-built a replacement thermostat for his freezer to turn it into a surprisingly efficient fridge!

I wasn’t sure I wanted to get into all those components though, in spite of the fact that I’m not afraid of a soldering iron. Further research brought me around to many homebrewing websites where the more adventurous individuals had converted their freezers into “kegerators”. These conversions were usually done with a
Johnson Controls model A19AAT-2C (amazon affiliate link). It cost me just north of $100 Canadian to get it shipped from The Beverage Factory.

So far both the thermostat and freezer are working out well. I do need to beef up my power station though – it gradually ran down my batteries, and I had to spend about eight or nine hours listening to the generator yesterday to get them back up to full. I’m hoping that being able to point the solar panel to the sun will help greatly – that’s my next project!

In any case, it worked better than I expected, and having fresh and cold food sure is an awesome thing. This whole lifestyle makes me appreciate the conveniences I’ve always taken for granted much more!

Time to head to town to get (hopefully) the final parts for my solar mount.

So can you include some details on the power consumption (KWH/week) of your freezer (now running as a fridge) under typical use?
  • Jeff Windatt

It is quite variable depending on the outside temperature, but generally it runs about five minutes per hour, at 120watts. So 120watts for 2 hours a day, .24KWH per day, or about 1.18KWH per week, unless my math is all screwy. And this is based on my initial wild approximation.
  • Stephen Garstin

Your math was mostly correct, but .24KWH/day * 7 days/week is 1.68 KWH/week 🙂
Is your freezer/fridge a 10 cu. ft. size ? Did it have an energuide rating for reference ?
FYI: I have a camp between Sudbury and Parry Sound that I'm thinking of with regards to power and refrigeration potential.
  • Jeff Windatt

Oh, I was using the less popular 5 day week, I forgot that most people are on a 7 day week, that's my problem! It is a 7 cubic foot model. The Danby DCF719W, which I think is discontinued. I forget the energuide rating, sorry! Are you at the camp full-time? That's a sweet location!
  • Stephen Garstin

I used 7 because I figured it runs every day 🙂
Energuide 2009 shows 276 KWH/year for the DCF719W.
We are at the camp for some long weekends in the summer, and then for 10 days for moose hunting in Oct. The place is wired like a house, and I have an old 1700watt inverter, and a 12v-230ah battery pack, and a small generator + charger. I'm going this weekend.
  • Jeff Windatt

I would think your setup would be fine. I'm running a modified sine wave, with twice the AH, but Running just the solar panels for the past month. With a genny that you aren't afraid to use, you'll be fine.
  • Stephen Garstin

How to Build an Outhouse, Part Four. A.K.A. How to Build a TARDIS

July 1, 2012 [construction]

A beautiful TARDIS Today is Canada Day here. This is my best Canada Day weekend ever! My parents are here, visiting with us for a very short time. Kenny has been beside himself with excitement at the prospect of their visit, and now he is in his glory that they are actually here. I’m so happy to just have them near again. Even Dad’s jokes seem fresher and funnier now.

One of the things they brought with them were some graphics that my friends at
ProMark Window Film and Shades made for me to complete my outhouse.

Yes, I have made a pretty nerdy outhouse. Disturbingly enough, Donna guessed my intent simply by looking at the floor. I have tried to keep it under wraps as much as possible ever since. I wonder if anyone was able to pick it out based on previous photos?

My father just thought it was a unique, police box outhouse until we mentioned that it was from Doctor Who.
A view of the TARDIS signage
Yes, I know there are no shortage of flaws and errors, please feel free to point them out if you need to,
Jeff Albertson. Concessions to my situation had to be made. I basically built it by consulting pictures in the morning, and then heading into the bush during the day to match my memories.

The walls are just rough cut lumber direct from my land and sawmill.

The roof is just some leftover siding I pulled from the dump, I painted it to match, but it couldn’t be formed into any sort of peak.
The dump lamp I mounted on top
The light on top was another dump find – some sort of carriage light that I removed the wall mount from. I am proud of how it turned out.

I couldn’t see a need for making the telephone panel open, so it is just the sign. I’m pleased to have managed to mount a lock and key though – Donna likes that she can lock it from the inside for full security!

Inside, it is just a normal sawdust toilet.

The windows are mosquito screens from the dump, harvested from a number of cast off screen doors and windows. I will insert “storm” windows in the winter, perhaps with the munton bars present in the original tardii. I wanted it to get lots of air, considering the intended use.

Well, that’s about it. I hope that a few of you can appreciate the strange effort to build this thing. I’m really tickled that I was able to do it entirely with lumber cut and milled on site.

It’s almost time for breakfast here, I best be off to spend another awesome day with the parents!

Can't wait to see what you'll do with your cabin…
  • Anonymous

Ha ha! I think I best try to be a bit more traditional. The in-laws are already worried about my sanity.

  • Stephen Garstin

You'd better be careful. I can see this building suddenly becoming a rare geocaching target.
  • Viktor

Hmm, perhaps I should hide the key? Or add a donation box?
  • Stephen Garstin

Can you give me your adress?
Not that im going to steal anything, just want to take a look inside the tardis, and I also need to test out my new teleporter
And dont try anything, I got my sonic screwdriver.
  • Frederik

Address in what sort of coordinates?
  • Stephen Garstin

Wow, that looks great, you did an amazing job! Easily the coolest outhouse ever.
  • Denise

Something tells me the bar is set low when it comes to outhouses.
  • Stephen Garstin

The Turdis?
  • Anonymous

It's bigger on the inside right?
  • Samantha

Stephen. I stumbled upon your "turdis" while searching for pics to base mine on. I'm sure there are numerous "DR "fans that could pick apart your design, but they can just go poop in the woods I guess? It looks wonderful and bet it does the job just fine. Making it with the resources you have available makes it that much better. I will be putting mine in my piece of heavily wooded forest about a half mile from the nearest road near the PennsylvaniaNew York border.I am lining the interior of mine with a shower surround with a floor drain, and a flushable boat potty with a small removable waste tank. Any water used for the shower will be from rainwater collection, pumped and heated by solar power.Some design changes will be required because of the heavy snow that we get in the "Enchanted Mountains" , but like yours, there will be no doubt as to what it is…. at least to the surprisingly few Dr Who fans that live here in "The States".( when I tell people that I'm building a "Turdis" most people don't have a clue as to what I'm talking about).My biggest issue will be with making sure that there is enough ventilation, to prevent mold and mildew growth when it is closed up for weeks at a time during "hibernation season", while keeping it closed up tight enough to keep out the critters, Thanks a bunch for sharing your blog, and the great pictures of your outhouse! Job well done!
  • al

This is too cool. I was looking for "easy outhouse" designs tonight and came across this. I had to send it to a friend of mine obsessed with "the Tardis" and I pined it on Pinterest for good measure. 🙂
  • AKmamaOf7

I to am contemplating building a Tardis. Has anyone come across a collection of outside pictures from all sides? Possibly a blueprint ala Star Trek? Why hasn't a portable potty company already produced one in plastic. I do believe it would be a hit at festivals of all kinds.
  • Anonymous

A Fartis?
  • Anonymous

nice post
  • Joseph Ferguson

How to Get Your Truck Out of the Mud

June 28, 2012 [vehicles]

This is about as far into the roundabout as I got. Spiffy new dent and scratches courtesy of molested tree. Yesterday was a long day for me.

We were low on water for breakfast, so I hiked over to Mummu and Grandpa’s to refill our supply. While there Grandpa assured me that the truck would navigate his roundabout. He told me it would be tight, but that it could do it.

Back at the yurts, over breakfast, I decided to give it a real try. Ugh. Commence pictorial story…

Yes, it was a long morning. I backed the truck down the entire trail from the yurts to our driveway, and, as there isn’t a place to turn around yet, continued on down the driveway in reverse too. That’s a long trip with your neck on wrong, especially if you are carrying lots of tension in your shoulders to begin with!

After the lunch hour, we followed Mummu and Grandpa to camp, where Kenny blew off huge amounts of energy running around and around the cabins. After begging canoe rides from me twice and Mama once, I gave in and away we went. He insisted that I could only steer, but he was to provide all the power. He was still full of beans enough that he made a great showing of himself! We didn’t stay too long though, and when we got back, I returned to working on my solar panel stand. I fear it isn’t going to work in its present configuration though; it’s simply not stable enough. Time to try something new.

Donna made another great supper of boiled potatoes and our last home-canned soup. She’s really stepped up to keeping us well fed here in the bush!
Cavalry again!  Fun factor evident from my expression. I won’t hit that tree again! Kenny brought up his bulldozer to help return the roundabout to its former condition. But wait, there’s more! Note large log jammed into undercarriage! Don't ask. Between the proverbial rock and a … soft place? Ahhh, now this is how to get around!
I did another Odjob laundry, and then we all were treated to apple pie at Mummu’s house. After that, I was so beat up by the day, that it was only a few moments in bed before I was gone.

If I'd have been there, you'd have not bothered with un-stuck attempt one (the plastic grippers!)
Awesome job. My place seems so… tiny. 😉
  • Chris

Your place is just right for you! We probably haven't yet left a portion of our land equivalent to your whole parcel. The plastic grippers are still in the pile they landed on when I threw them away in disgust.
  • Stephen Garstin

Finishing the Corduroy Driveway, Doing Laundry in an Odjob

June 27, 2012 [construction][experiments]

Kenny picking boulders off the driveway RoboKenny extending a friendly handshake Today started out typically for us – porridge breakfast, that amazingly, Kenny turned down! We mixed up some milk for him, and he dove into his Corn Pops cereal for a change. I headed off to try out the outhouse for the first time, and it worked great! There are still some finishing touches to do, but in the meantime, it is now functional.

I worked on the finishing touches for the morning, and around ten decided to call my driveway guy, as he hadn’t arrived yet. Of course there was no answer, and moments later he arrived with an extra driver in tow.

Twenty-one loads of gravel. And I suppose I should also take into account the three loads that I pushed around (over the course of three weeks…) But we have a driveway! She’s pretty rough in places. I have to make a point of walking to the road once or twice a day, taking the time to pick stones and maybe rake places smooth, but I hope over time she’ll grow more and more easy on the suspension.

After finishing up, I asked him if he wanted to look over the spot we had been thinking of as a possible dug well site.

He was gracious enough to humour me, and came along to look. It was a valuable experience! He looked over the lay of the land, and pronounced our location to be sub-par. He looked around a little more, and I pointed out the location of the original well, which he felt was a much more promising locale. This doesn’t really change our plans as far as a cabin location, but it definitely helps us to revise our thoughts on wells and grey-water.

I was also pleased with his estimate on costing for the well. Even accounting for the fact that his guess for how much gravel the road would require was fairly inaccurate, I figure we can still afford to have a well. That’s a nice thought!

Kenny, typical of all little boys, and taking a page from my childhood (uninfluenced I may add), has been finding great pleasure in converting boxes and odds and ends into machines, especially robots! His favourite has been a club soda box that he has cut a slot for eyes in. As soon as it is on his head, he becomes his alter-ego – “Robo-Kenny”. Complete with a robot voice, and very stilted movements. Yesterday he also added a Breton cracker box for a “Robo-arm”. Robo-Kenny came down to watch the work on the driveway too, although he wasn’t around when it was time for a robot that could pick rocks.
RoboKenny meeting a RoboDinosaur
That was okay – in spite of the roughness of the road, I still drove up it with the truck and car!

Before supper, after an inordinately long thought process, I was able to put up a clothes line. I’ve been itching to attain laundry independence, if at all possible. It was a bit of a slog through some swampy stuff (actually, where we thought the well would go!), then up a sticky tree, with clouds of blackflies swarming all around.

I did get up the pulleys though, and was pretty pleased with the result. I had to trim down some alder shrubs, and cut off one sapling, but otherwise, I didn’t have to slash through too much bush to have a clear path for clothes to hang.

Another great supper – this time a can of bottan soup (nod to my Garstin clan), mixed with a potato soup I had made and canned last year, and served up with lots of butter and pumpernickel bread. Donna is really coming through with good, nourishing meals in a difficult circumstance.

After supper, Mama went to the in-laws for a well-earned shower. This was my chance to try another experiment.
Odjob is good for small concrete jobs, not so much for laundry
I had purchased an
Odjob bucket) (amazon affiliate link)not that long ago, and tonight was the night to put my plan into action. I dumped in a load of dirty clothes, some Borax and detergent, and two kettles of boiling water. I topped it up with cold water, put on the lid, and started rolling!

After a few rolls, I went back inside (was driven back by bugs, truth be told) and washed the dishes. After dishes, I went back outside and did a few more rolls, then back inside, where Kenny and I straightened up the felt on the yurts and vacuumed a bit. Then outside where I transferred the clothes to a rubbermaid tub and topped them off with some cold water. I swished them a few times as a rinse, and dumped out the Odjob. I refilled the Odjob with clean water, and put the clothes BACK into it for a final swishy rinse. After that, it was onto the line with them!

Now, all that remains is to see how long it takes hand-wrung clothes to dry on a line. Maybe a wringer is in our future, although I’m not sure where to source one, antique stores notwithstanding.

Great Progress on Our Driveway!

June 26, 2012 [wildlife]

Kenny on the rough driveway A garter snake on the car floor This morning dawned cold. Very, very cold! Donna and Mummu had agreed to return to camp today to finish preparing it for my parents’ visit at the end of the week – we’re all really excited to host them!

I was enjoying a few moments of quiet reflection outdoors, when I suddenly heard the sound of engine brakes out on the road – could it be? Was today the day to get our driveway done?!

I quickly finished up my paperwork, and, exiting the outhouse, saw Donna running towards me to make sure I had made the same deduction as she had.

Yes indeed, everything was coming up for us today – the driver pointed out that he was working alone, so that was going to slow him down, but otherwise, he was going to get to it.

I returned to working on the outhouse, enjoying the sound of him dumping and grading the gravel throughout the morning.

Close to lunch, Donna and Mummu and Kenny returned from their preliminary trip to town, and so I helped Mummu out by coming over to her house and eating up three different meals worth of leftovers.

Then it was time for Donna and Mummu to make their trip to camp. As Donna went to remove Kenny’s car seat from Mummu’s car, she realized that the strange strap under his seat was not actually part of the car seat at all – it was a decent sized garter snake!
A view of the improved driveway
Mummu ordered me out to get it out of her car – something I was more than willing to do, although to be honest, I have never caught a garter snake before in my life, even though I was more than familiar with them.

As I reached out to snatch it up, it darted off the rear seat, under the passenger seat, and up, under the front dash!

I spelunked under the dash, but didn’t come to much success. I’m sure that Mummu started talking about calling in a mechanic or exterminator, and I’m equally sure that her next move would have been to sell the car, but Grandpa arrived, and, with me rattling a stick around on the passenger side, he managed to grab the snake from the driver’s side and tossed it into the yard.

Mummu breathed a sigh of relief, and she and Donna were off to camp.

Kenny and I hiked out to the driveway to check it out, and then took off into our bush to do some exploring.

Next time, I’ll take my GPS. We got totally lost, and ended up having to bushwhack our way out by listening to the traffic on the road and finally sighting the hydro lines on the road. We both agreed that our adventure rated a shower at Mummu’s house, so we returned there to get cleaned up and recharge our batteries (metaphorical, not literal – the solar panel does great for that job!) While there, Mummu and Mama returned, so we all went out to look over the driveway. Bit by bit it was getting longer – but as we feared, it didn’t quite get completed today. We are reasonably assured that it will be done tomorrow though. I was told that tomorrow there are two guys available to work on it.

After a lovely supper of beans and bread – prepared entirely by Donna – I added two shelves to the outhouse, and opened up the back of our thunder box to accept a different pail. We’re still working out our system of composting, but things are falling into place.

Kenny took time out today to also do a bit of exploring of the poplar I felled last week. For being considered a soft wood down south, it sure was hard compared to the pine and spruce I have become accustomed to working with! I nearly stalled the sawmill trying to push through it at the same pace I was use to taking. And I find I have to pre-drill all my screw holes, lest it split!
Kenny playing with smooth rocks
Grandpa also dropped off some really interesting rocks he had retrieved from a discarded fireplace. Kenny amused himself greatly using them as a natural xylophone, and then stacking them up to make Inukshuks of various sizes and configurations.

Gosh, we are all looking forward to finally being able to drive up onto our property for the first time – and tomorrow sure looks to be the day! I’ll keep you all informed!

Building an Outhouse, Part Three

June 24, 2012 [construction]

Four walls on the outhouse Progress on the outhouse has been steady, but broken up into chunks of time here and there. This has mostly been due to the weather.As some of you may be aware, Thunder Bay and this part of the world have been hit by above average rainfalls this past month. Duluth has been especially hard hit in the past week.
Flooded gravel pit
Thankfully, we are at a pretty high elevation here, and so the biggest inconvenience has been our gravel pit being turned into a pond for a day or two. Well, that, and having to open and close the yurts a few times a day to reflect the changing weather.

After the first wall of the outhouse went up, the other two walls went rather quickly. As always, after the prototype has been built and fleshed out, the remainder of a project goes more smoothly, especially with such eager help!

The door was a bit of a trick. As I will show in future posts, I didn’t purchase a pre-made or pre-hung door, and instead opted to build mine from my own lumber. That has been a really satisfying part of this particular project – I have not used any lumber that I didn’t mill myself. It’s a really cool feeling – sure to make me spend extra time in there reflecting.

With the knowledge that the door was made with solid wood, at least an inch thick, I was really concerned with its weight. As such, I opted to hang it with four hinges. It took a little finagling to get them installed, but nothing I couldn’t handle, and I was especially tickled that I was able to do it myself, so that Donna and Kenny were able to see it as a completed and finished door when they performed their daily inspection.

Actually, by the time they arrived, I was just finishing up the platform that the actual toilet seat would rest on. Kenny helped me to attach the seat to the platform, and then we carried it out to the outhouse to see how it fit together.
Kenny screwing on the toilet seat
In order to make good use of space, I opted to place the seat in the corner of the outhouse, rather than the traditional bench centred on a wall. Can you guess what I forgot to account for?

It looked great, until I tried to lift the lid – rats. The lid couldn’t lift up completely because it was too close to the walls! I didn’t want to build a new platform, just to space the lid out further, so I opted for a more simplistic solution – I cut the lid off the seat altogether. With a handle screwed on, I won temporary approval from Donna for this idea.
Kenny using the toilet seat as a shield
Kenny liked it best, combined with his “sword” and he played at being a knight for some time – defending Mama from imaginary dragons :).

I tested out the bucket, which fit well, and then realized that not all five gallon buckets are created equal – they have different heights and diameters!

Luckily I have some flexibility. For the time being, I have two identical buckets that will work great, and that solution should last for a few years I hope. But, when the time comes to get a new bucket, I can either lay down some boards under the seat to raise the bucket up, or else just cut the top edge off of a bucket to make it fit. No great concern!
Corner bucket toilet
Next step, as far as useability is concerned, is to put in a few shelves. There can’t be too many places to store things in the outhouse. Oh yes, there needs to be some mechanism to lock the door too. No one wants to surprise, or to be surprised by anyone out there.

There are still a number of steps to take before the outhouse is completed – I may begin my next project before it is totally finished, as there are a few things that are moving up the priority list, and I can think of one or two items I want to do to the outhouse that I can’t perform for a week or so yet. Stay tuned, I’ll be sure to post the completed outhouse as soon as possible, but I’ll also try to keep everyone updated in the meantime. Until then I’ll enjoy one of the benefits of the rainy/sunny weather we’ve been having of late – beautiful rainbows!

Building an Outhouse, Part Two

June 20, 2012 [construction]

The frame of the outhouse up Rough boards for the back wall Last night we had a really powerful rain. It was so powerful, it somehow blasted water into the yurt from places we couldn’t begin to identify! I mopped it up, and lifted up the felt where it was slightly damp, to give it a chance to air out, and decided that my next priority was to try to seal up any remaining leaks in the yurts.

This morning, we enjoyed another porridge breakfast (when you don’t have a refrigerator, porridge is a pretty popular breakfast), and discussed some plans, as well as compiled a bit of a shopping list. While finishing up our list, we were treated to a visit from Mummu, who was just checking in on us.

After she left, I headed over to my outhouse project again. It’s progressing both faster than I expected, but slower than I think others expect. I’m taking my time with it, and I think that perhaps I’m overbuilding it. I suppose inch thick walls and roof, and two inch thick floor, are a bit overkill. On the floor, I forgot to make room for joists, so I just figured that two inch thick floor boards wouldn’t sag noticeably over time anyway – and then I still did string some two by twos under that, and piled rocks up against them so everything is rock (pardon the pun) solid.

Today I worked a bit more on the first wall. I want it to be very bright and airy inside, not a dark, dingy place, full of cobwebs and mosquitoes. As such, I’m going to put in lots of windows.

Grandpa thought my roof pitch was a bit shallow, but acknowledged that it really only has to shed rain. It can handle any snow load one could imagine.

Kenny and Donna stopped by around lunch to do a short inspection, and I think they were pleased with the look. The next step was to put up that all important screen in the window openings. Unfortunately, I had no screen.

Grandpa offered to go with me to the dump after lunch, and we found loads and loads of treasures there! Including almost enough screen to complete the outhouse – but when I brought it home and started cutting it to size, I realized that one big reason people throw out screens, is because they have holes in them :(. I think I will have most of my windows covered, but I may need to get a bit more screen to complete the project. In the morning, I will cut up the remaining pieces and assess my needs from there.

At the dump, we also discovered the steel remains of someone’s gazebo. I grabbed all the sections, in the hopes that I can use them to create a frame to mount my solar panels on. We also picked up some tea lights and copper wire for Grandpa, and I found a good plastic bin (maybe for sawdust?) and another nic-nac that may be revealed in a future post. Oh yeah, and some sort of medical “IV” type stand, that Grandpa thinks I could use for the solar panels, but we’ll have to see; it’s sturdy, but I don’t want to risk a few hundred dollars worth of equipment on something unless I’m really sure of it.

When we got back, I got the whole family involved in running a few strips of duct tape around the bottom edge of both yurts. I wondered if somehow water was being wicked back up off the bottom edge of the canvas via the felt. It also was obvious that at the corners of the doors there was a definite airspace. Perhaps this will cut down on the random mosquitoes that appear after we are in bed?

Then it started to rain. I puttered in the dojo tent a bit, then headed to Mummu’s for another delightful supper. The rain got worse and I ended up dozing until Kenny was out of his bath (Tuesdays are bath days for Grandpa and Kenny). The rain is now even worse, and I’m back at the yurts. There is still a bit of water coming in under one door, but it’s far less than before. We’ll have to do some more brainstorming on that one.

Kenny is running around the yurts, burning off the huge post-supper eating binge he embarked on after emerging from his bath, and then we’re all ready to climb into bed for another evening of listening to the patter of the rain on the canvas.

Building an Outhouse, Part One (of Many)

June 18, 2012 [construction]

Starting the outhouse floor Yesterday I buckled down and started some more serious work on my outhouse. Donna had suggested that guests wouldn’t really feel comfortable with our “thunder box” just being in the large yurt. I saw her reasoning, and set to work on my next project – a nice and refined outhouse. I am still going to continue with my sawdust toilet experiment, so I don’t need to worry much about having a hole.

I located it nice and close to where I am composting the bucket contents, so that helps, and it is only sixty paces to the yurts (Mummu’s outhouse is fifty-one paces from her porch, so I think I’m competitive.)

I dug out the top layer of peat and lichen, right down to good old Canadian Shield. It looked great, and when I placed the floor on it, it was very level and stable. A sturdy outhouse is very comforting to me. Well, that, and a spare roll of toilet paper.

Today is Father’s Day! I sure miss my Dad (and Mom too for sure) – I can’t recall any job or project I’ve tackled here that I didn’t imagine or wish for his help and presence on. Being apart from him for so long really makes me appreciate how much he has done for me (as well as how powerfully he has made me who I am).

We all woke up together this morning, and headed over to Mummu and Grandpa’s for a special breakfast of french toast and scrambled eggs. As always, they were awesome!

Then Grandpa and I headed off to catch some
delicious bass for supper. Sadly, we didn’t even get a bite at either of the lakes we tested out. Grandpa agreed that the fishing has been really poor lately. Then it was off to the abandoned dump to retrieve some aluminum siding that he had scoped out in the past. I was hoping to use it to make a metal roof for my outhouse. After that, it was already noon, so we headed home.

After lunch, I strapped the floor of the outhouse on Kenny’s wagon and pulled it to my clearing. It fit great, and, with Donna’s help, I twisted it “tenkan” or 180 degrees to put its best face forward. Later, with Donna and Mummu’s assistance, I attached the corner support posts, and raised everything into position. I’m happy with how the shell has turned out, now I just need walls, door, roof, shelf and toilet seat. It will be interesting to see how long it takes to get this one completed. I’m hoping to have it done by the end of the month, but I also realize that I’m on a different schedule nowadays – one that has to take minor emergencies into account.

I’m also a bit slowed with the sawmill – the piston that raises the mast seems to have died completely, so now I have to lift the entire weight of the mast by muscle power alone. It’s no biggie, but it is a challenge to accurately lift that mass to exactly the height I wish to cut at. I’m told that they should be able to get a new piston around Thursday of this coming week.
Kenny in the thunderbox
One advantage of having a thunder box perched over a sawdust pail, is that when the pail is out for emptying and airing out, the thunder box apparently makes a great hideout for little boys. Donna returned from outside the yurts to find Kenny exploiting this discovery.
Abandoned Dump Sign Moose skull!
Tonight I took a few measurements for the roof of the outhouse, and, before I could proceed, Donna and Kenny came by to check up on me. I invited them for a walk back to the dump, where I showed Kenny the remains of a moose, and Donna the remains of someone’s crushed stone. Hopefully we will be able to get back there and scoop up some of the stone once our driveway is complete and I can bring it right up to the yurts to use as a path to our porch.

Installing a ROPS, Fixing a Tractor, Building a Bed

June 15, 2012 [construction][vehicles]

Sorry I haven’t written for a day or two – there have been a few trips that weren’t really blogworthy, and we misplaced the camera and didn’t want to post things without pictures, not that the pictures I’ll be including tonight are all that spectacularly interesting anyway.

On Tuesday Donna and Mummu went to town for the day, leaving Kenny and myself to our own devices. Grandpa also was gone for much of the day, so we opted to try to get the yurts in a bit of a presentable state. I think we succeeded admirably – we no longer had bags and bins and crates EVERYWHERE! Now they were mostly unpacked, repacked, catalogued, and transferred to my dojo tent/workshop. Of course, that makes it more cluttered there. Some days it just feels like I’m pushing piles of stuff from one place to the next, with no destination arranged for them anytime soon.

I was scheduled to receive my rollover protection system (courtesy of
Just Tractor Parts – a real pleasure to deal with! Very good, personable people!) for my tractor on Tuesday, according to the UPS website anyway. Of course, they never deliver this far north, so it didn’t arrive. When I called UPS, they said it wasn’t their problem, as they had passed my package off to Purolator on Monday night. Purolator doesn’t have a listed phone number in Thunder Bay, and their national number only rings through to a call centre that was less than adequately prepared to tell me what was happening.

On Wednesday morning, I decided to take a chance, and drive straight to the Purolator depot and plead my case. I knew that my ROPS was just laying in the back somewhere, awaiting a destination. I was ready to provide one!

Everything went better than expected. I explained my situation, and the kind lady simply asked for my ID, and went in the back. She returned carrying my packages, and after paying an amazingly outrageous brokerage fee, I was on my way!

I stopped at Canadian Tire to pick up extra battery cables for my power system, and as I left, I was confounded to find that the truck had a flat tire. Sigh. I suppose I shouldn’t have been fiddling with the plugs the day before. Back into Canadian Tire, where, surprisingly, the plugin compressors were the same price as the foot/hand pumps. I opted for a plugin compressor, as I had had great success with one on the Echo. It did work, but it took close to 20 minutes to reinflate my tire! Oh well, it worked, and gave me time to reply to emails using the iPhone’s tiny onscreen keyboard.

When I told Mummu that I was taking along the iPad to download updates, she told me not to go to McDonald’s, and instead loaded me up with coupons for A&W, which Donna assured me had free wifi as well. That was nice. Even though they put tomatoes on my hamburger(s), I was able to easily pick them off, and, after a slow start, the downloads began while I munched on my french fries. I was also happy that they substituted chocolate milk for pop without batting an eye. That doesn’t always happen.

I was home in time for Donna and Mummu to run off together again, so I grabbed Kenny and we headed off to install the ROPS on my Yanmar. As we worked on this project, Grandpa opened up his MTD just around the corner from us, and tried to determine what was wrong with her. He had somehow rocked and rolled his tractor until it at least went into neutral, but even after that, he could not get the starter to turn over at all.
The new ROPS!
Kenny and I made good progress on installing the roll bar on the Yanmar. In spite of the bolts likely never having been removed in over thirty years, they came off quite nicely. Perhaps because I had spent the previous two days spraying them with WD-40 type products.
Rear view of the new ROPS
I had to adjust the seat forward, but I took that chance to tighten it up and straighten it out anyway – it had always been loose and crooked. There was also an issue with clearance between the plate that the seat rested on, and the rollover bar – I decided to just reef the rollover bar up against the plate, it wasn’t tight against the original location, but it was still certainly solid against the tractor. A seatbelt attached, and things were looking pretty professional!

Meanwhile, Grandpa had disassembled his starter, and discovered that the main gear on the starter (made from plastic) was completely stripped! We hooked the unmounted starter up directly to the battery and it torqued right out of Grandpa’s hands! That told us the starter was still good.

Today, Grandpa drove into the city, and returned with a new gear on the starter – $15 for the gear, and $15 to have it installed on his starter. After installation, his tractor roared to life! In fact, it started up much better than I’ve ever seen – I think the gear was deteriorating for some time up until now. I offered to pay for the starter, but he graciously refused.

As he was installing the gear, I spent my time working on a new bed for Kenny. During the move, his original bed was damaged, and I had planned on replacing it for some time. I opted to try to make good use of space here. He had lots of his books already stored in Staples milk-crate style containers. I sized them up as best I could to fit under his mattress, and think I did rather well.
Sanding the edges of the bed
Donna insisted on a wall on three sides, she didn’t want him to fall off the ends, or roll between the wall and the bed. Hopefully he won’t roll off the front, but, in case he does, we’re going to put down some cushions for a few days to test the waters. He did fall off the bed in a similar configuration on the first night, but it didn’t wake him up!
Glad this isn't the bed of Procrustes
The bed was made from three main sources – the large support board was the original from his crib/bed – it was already perfectly sized for the mattress. The sides and back I just ripped from a leftover sheet of plywood. I fired up the generator and smoothed and rounded it down using my belt sander. The framework to keep it square and supported came from our property – extra lumber I had milled for my projects. That was the most satisfying to use of all!

Kenny’s right now picking out a book from under his bed for his nighttime story, so I’ll attach some photos from the past two days, and proofread/post this!

Purolator's Thunder Bay phone number is (807)623-4058. I think the front office extension is 2000.
(It's easier than going through their 1-800 hell).
For most smaller cities in Canada Purolator handles the UPS freight. If you can get items delivered by methods other than UPS from the states (USPS for sure) you can avoid the insane UPS brokerage fees.
  • Anonymous

Thanks for this info, it is invaluable! Please feel a warm fuzzy for your comment!
  • Stephen Garstin

Thanks for the info!
  • Anonymous

How to Build a Sawdust Toilet

June 12, 2012 [experiments]

Log crib for humanure Not that long ago, I was totally ready to go with an indoor, composting toilet for our final cabin here.I also was trying to be pragmatic, and realized that an outhouse was going to be hard to do without until we had the cabin.

Then, after seeing references to it during my internet travels, I finally took the time to download and read
“The Humanure Handbook” – I devoured it in two sittings (on the chesterfield, not the commode!).

It really changed my entire outlook – I was eager to try it as soon as I had the chance! And now, being here on the land, I finally had my opportunity to pee in a bucket of sawdust!

Up until today, we had the first half of the equation working acceptably – five gallon bucket, check. Sawdust in ample supply (thanks to my sawmill), check. People peeing in it during the night, check. Adventurous people adding more substance, check. Unfortunately, as Kenny would say, “there are two problems”.

First, the bucket was uncomfortable to sit on for more than a few minutes. Not that you should sit there longer, but the edges were not butt-friendly.

Second, we couldn’t agree on a place to empty the bucket. We understood that in theory it wasn’t suppose to smell, and it wasn’t suppose to contaminate surrounding ground or water. But we also didn’t want to take chances with either of those possibilities.

We roamed a fair distance around the back portion of our property, but everything seemed too close to something we wanted to preserve. Finally, last night, I noticed a stand of trees that were actually quite close to the sawmill, but not in the way of anything, and a number of ridges separated from our potential well and building sites.

This morning I pointed it out to Grandpa, and he agreed that it would be a good location. It couldn’t be any closer to an ongoing source of sawdust, it was in a small hollow of its own, and the swamp nearby “flowed” away from our building sites, across our (naturally filtering) driveway, and towards the highway.

With his blessing, I quickly grabbed a number of three and four foot long firewood that hadn’t been cut down to stove lengths yet, and made a small crib.

With our first bucket already piling up to the point that we were going to be sitting on sawdust tonight, it was a go for emptying it right away.

With a satisfying thump, the whole mass slid out and into my crib. I covered it with another layer of sawdust, and then began to tackle my first problem.

I gathered up some of my shorter boards and cut them all into sixteen inch lengths. I knew that my bucket was fifteen and three quarters of an inch tall, and my toilet seat would fit onto a sixteen by eighteen surface quite nicely.

Using some scrap pieces of OSB leftover from the floor of the yurts, I was able to fashion a box from my own lumber. I had to fire up the generator to do much of the early cutting, and then again to cut the hole(s) on the top, but otherwise, it was all cordless tools charged up courtesy of the sun. I likely could have done it all with my solar power, except that my mitre saw suggested over 1000 watts of motor, and my inverter manual recommended doubling up my cables if I was drawing over that amount. I’ll add double cables to my shopping list for next time I’m in town.

Grandpa was kind enough to donate his old toilet seat. Even though Mummu had consigned it to the dump, he stashed it in his woodshed for future needs (?), and when the time came, it was perfect!
Kenny sitting on a bucket toilet
I cut my own layer of boards to the shape of the hole in the toilet seat, and then cut the OSB underneath in a perfect circle to accommodate the bucket. After screwing together the whole box, Kenny and Donna arrived just in time to install the seat and give her a trial run.

Kenny said she was great, and tonight, christened her with his own champagne. I’m pretty happy with the results.

Donna still wants me to build her an outhouse, but hopefully this has bought me a little breathing room. Even if I do go ahead with the outhouse, I intend to just put the bucket in it and to empty the contents on a regular basis. That will be nice too, because I can locate the outhouse much closer to the house, and not be concerned about contamination.

In other news, Grandpa has reached a huge milestone in his road construction project! He has managed to build the road, on his own, all the way from our lower corduroy at the front of the property (where we have commissioned my gravel guy to build), to our yurts! He has likely built as much, or more, road than what the gravel fellow is going to have to do.
More axle fixing
Annoyingly though, the day after Grandpa’s MTD suffered its indignities, Grandpa hit a stump with my trailer fully loaded, exposing the fact that it didn’t have a solid axle from side to side. Instead, it was a solid “pin” installed in a hollow pipe. The pipe broke off, and Grandpa was forced to unload my trailer onto his, and then fix the axle. After a few false starts, he seems to have gotten it back and working well. He cleaned up the pipe a bit to allow us to hammer the axle back in, and took off an extra collar that had been on the axle for no discernible reason, allowing him to insert more of the pin into the axle supports. He also had a great idea that if it suffers any future deformation, we’ll drill through the pin in one or two places, and add extra pins to try to stabilize it.

Tonight Donna and I endured a cold drizzle while we offloaded our canned food into my “bear box” – a dented and twisted pickup truck lock box. When the drizzle finally stopped, unbelievable clouds of black flies appeared. I felt a bit like Pharaoh – and I would have been more than happy to let the Israelites go if it would have helped!

Tomorrow sounds like a grocery trip for Donna, and, if my rollover bar arrives, I’ll perhaps head into town to pick it up too. But for now, it’s growing dark here, and I’m ready to retire.

Oh, one last thing, for the wag that pointed out that my blog entry about bears and food didn’t actually have a bear sighting, here’s a pile of bear poo that we found:
Donna touching poo

So with a sawdust toilet, where are you getting all the sawdust? During building, I see you might have a lot, but where do you get it as time goes on? Do you go out and saw wood just to get it, or buy it in bags ???
  • Jeff Windatt

This is a great question! Now that I have cut most of the logs I have easy access to, the sawmill has been dormant, and our sawdust supply is being eroded. I am thinking that I have enough for another month or so, and in the meantime I am seriously contemplating the purchase of a chipper/shredder. If it came down to buying bags of sawdust, I wouldn't be against that either. I may check in with the larger mill down the road and see if they have a policy about the sawdust they create too.
  • Stephen Garstin

The local mill sounds like a great idea.
But if you did choose to buy a chipper, can your solar + inverter handle it ? Or maybe you'd have to run that off the generator…. unfortunately.
  • Jeff Windatt

If I bought a chipper, it would be a gas powered model. I would love to be all electric, but it isn't realistic for certain tasks. Maybe I should look into wood gassification technologies.
As it happens, the sawmill down the road gave me a fantastic deal on sawdust, so until I get a good deal on a chipper, that is likely my best option.
  • Stephen Garstin

I too would love to go all electric with things, since you get reliability, silence and I can make electricity from solar, but I can't make gasoline.
Wood gas did sound interesting, but then you still have a 25% efficient internal compustion engine (ICE) and a gassification unit with losses. On top of that, you have to go harvest wood for it. With a slightly larger solar array, maybe you can manage a small electric chipper and schedule to run it on sunny summer days… and stock up your sawdust for winter. Or were you going to use the gassification in another way?
  • Jeff Windatt

I just don't know if there is a chipper that is all electric, can handle 3" diameter branches, and not some sort of prohibitively expensive unit. I've barely scratched the surface of wood gas options, but next year with the sawmill in full swing, I expect to have more slabs than I can shake a stick at. This year over half of my winter wood supply has come from slabs left from the few projects I did this summer, and compared to what I want to tackle next year, that's a drop in the bucket… Maybe I'd be better served making a boiler to drive a generator, and use the wood to create electricity directly, and then go all-electric, with the solar supplementing my steam power?
  • Stephen Garstin

Chipper for 3" … might be costly… not sure. Or convert a gas type that has a blown engine? But living in the woods, can't you collect and chip smaller stuff? I did look into steam run generators a bit, and aside from the potential dangers, the cost for setup, etc.. sounds like a lot of complexity, for little gain. I still like the simplicity of solar…. but I realize that winter doesn't have much sun in Nov/Dec. Maybe you can get a PTO driven chipper for your tractor? I'm not sure of your charging schedules for the battery pack from your generator, but once you fire up a steam generator, you might want to run it for many hours before shutting it down. The startup and shutdown could be time consuming and energy consuming.
  • Jeff Windatt

About a cool grand. I can get a pto version, but they are much more expensive. I haven't run down the batteries since the second panel was installed…
  • Stephen Garstin

Kitchen Thoughts in Bear Country

June 10, 2012

A screened dining tent Today we started out right away working on clearing a spot for our dining tent.After a bit of thought, we have decided that to be on the safe side, we will try to not prepare (and hopefully not consume) food in the yurts until late in the fall when we are sure that the bears are dormant.

Last week Donna heard tell of a bear that had gotten quite use to being fed by the (previous) owner of a nearby cabin, and had recently returned to sit on the front porch, refusing to leave for the (current) owner of said cabin. We are really not interested in trying to deal with a recalcitrant bear (or would that be calcitrant if it was his or her first offense?), so we don’t want to give them any excuse to hang around the yurts at least.

We have purchased an old, beat-up pickup truck toolbox, where the locks don’t work any longer, but it still latches shut in a (hopefully) bearproof manner.
A cute salamander!
So, we have had up a dining tent generously provided by my parents, in just the first location I assembled it. Mummu and Donna realized that it wasn’t really in the best of spots, so we decided to move it outside the front door of the yurt, where it will be more accessible – and not directly on an anthill! It was a location rich in salamanders though, all of which were diligently relocated.

That particular area hadn’t been cleared of the “swamp weed” yet (we believe it is a type of mountain laurel that grows like crazy everywhere here), so we set about pulling out a large patch. Donna came to help out, and shortly afterwards, Mummu and Kenny showed up to help too! In spite of her dicey back, Mummu dove right in, and between her and Kenny, they used our two sets of loppers to trim up stray tree branches galore.

After lunch, I visited with Grandpa as he worked on the road – but disaster! Something was seriously wrong with his transmission or differential. He couldn’t get it out of gear, and it wouldn’t start. At first he charged up his battery, but that wasn’t the problem. Then we decided to tow it, but when I tried to drag it while it was still in gear, it chewed up his road, not to mention the issue of the stress it put on his tractor. We finally gave up and dragged it off to the side of our road until we have a full driveway put in, then we’ll bring in his truck, load it on, and take it down the road to the local mechanic.

I returned to the dining tent site, and with Donna we cleared it of weeds completely. Then we went off to explore a bit with Mummu, looking at different future building sites. We still haven’t found a final location to compost our bucket waste, but we’re getting close I think.
Towing one tractor with another
After supper we took the Yanmar to our gravel pit and loaded up two trailer’s full of gravel to spread around the site. I decided to back the trailer in to the site, it was challenging, and I had to take a few runs at it to get the tractor and trailer to behave, but I did manage, and I figured it was good experience for the future when I may be obliged to do the same. Grandpa watched me on the second trip, and thought I would have been smarter to just create my own turnaround spot, but I wasn’t that worried, as I said, I like to get experience when the stakes aren’t as high.
Trailer loaded with gravel
Midday was nice and sunny, and I was really excited to see my solar power generation system really bear fruit – my voltage spiked up to 13.1 volts! That was awesome, and I was really hard to bear, gushing about how it felt to be producing my own power :). Tonight it is back down to 12.6 or 12.7, as the sun was off my panel for the past few hours, but it still feels good to know that a few more sunny days should boost it back up.

We’ll likely spread a bit of sawdust on the gravel tomorrow, and then move the tent over. We’re excited to set up our own stove and begin cooking our own food.

The gravel hauling tonight was really hot and sweaty work though – Donna was really wondering how we could create our own shower. I don’t mind a solar shower, but the list of biting flies is growing longer now, so I’m skeptical how much of a tradeoff I want to make in terms of washing up, versus getting chewed up.

Right now Donna is reading
The Canine Kalevala (amazon affiliate link) to Kenny, and then it’s off to bed for all of us.

Wow – what an inspired life! Kenny's a lucky boy. Yurts look good! 🙂
Thought you'd be interested in this:
small stage gasification!
  • Pat

How to Build Small, Quick, and Dirty Solar Power

June 9, 2012 [solar]

Sleepy Kenny on the floor Well, not so dirty – solar power is actually considered a “clean, green” power. I was just referring to how quickly I managed to get it online and supplying us with power.

This morning was not nearly as cold as the past three. I actually regretted wearing my sweat suit all night. I was uncomfortably warm, although it did offer a little protection from the sandflies that were tormenting me as I fell asleep. I noticed that Donna has out my old bug protection kit, which does include a mosquito net designed to drape over a bed, so perhaps we can give that a try tonight and see if it is helpful.

Kenny, perhaps instinctively, always retracts deep under his covers and leaves no flesh exposed when he falls asleep, so he doesn’t act as bug fodder as a matter of course.

As an aside, tonight is sauna night, so I’m going to type up this blog post between steam sessions. I’m already dripping with steam and sweat from my first go, but I dried my hands carefully so as to protect the keyboard. There is
doonerwetter brewing here, big dark clouds are rolling in, it should be interesting in the yurts tonight, but it’s not so cool now that I can’t sit outside for a time, and the sauna has a nice bench and porch to relax on.

Back to the day though.

This morning we used the tractor and trailer to haul our final loads from my in-laws, through the bush, to our yurts. It went uneventfully, and while the specter of rain hung over our heads, it held off until after everything was at least on our porch.
Batteries and controller in tubs
I managed to haul in my batteries on the wagon, and placed them inside an inexpensive bin from the now nearly-defunct Zeller’s chain of stores.

I had purchased two, deep-cycle six volt batteries, each rated for about 210 amp-hours. I wired them in series (positive terminal on one, to negative on the other), and ended up with twelve volts, still at 210 amp-hours. The rain began, so I retreated inside for lunch, and attached the terminals to my Motomaster 3Kw modified sine wave inverter. I chose a modified sine wave inverter because I felt that I needed to stay on budget, and I wasn’t planning on plugging in any deal-breaking electronics.

The iPad can be charged via USB, and this inverter had a built-in USB port. It remains to be seen if it feeds enough power to actually charge the iPad. I know it can do Donna’s iPod, so I’m hopeful at the moment. I’ll try to let you know when I actually charge up this device.

After lunch there was a break in the rain, so I drilled some holes under the handles of the tub, keeping the batteries reasonably weather-safe, but still well ventilated. I then got a similar bin, although this one was hinged, and put the inverter in there. Ran the wires between the two, hooked up positive to positive, negative to negative, and, after some exciting sparks, pressed the inverter power button – success! 12.6 volts, and my little multi-cell battery charger began charging some spare D batteries for our lantern.
Battery chargers and inverter in a tub
I also tested my Ryobi One+ charger, which also worked (so far) to charge my Ryobi Lithium batteries – that’s a real handy thing – now my cordless tools are still available to me.

As I said, I finally plugged in Donna’s iPod to the USB port, and it began charging, so I’m hopeful that the iPad will also get enough amperage to charge too. It is sometimes hit or miss with USB.

Then the rain began again, so I sat in the yurt and wired up my charge controller, in anticipation of getting the solar panel attached, and some power coming into my system, instead of just drawing out.

As I worked, Donna suddenly remarked that water was running in on the floor at the coupling. I headed outside and did an impromptu installation of our eave’s trough. It was tricky, and not helped at all by Donna yelling out the location of more leaks from inside the yurt, as water gushed off the roof and straight down my sleeves, which I conveniently held aloft so that it ran past my armpits, finally pooling at my waistband. Gore-Tex is not always the miracle it’s made out to be, at least when you don’t cinch shut your wrist straps.

Adjusting the doors outward off the floor alleviated the rest of the leaks, and I will screw them into place next chance I get.

The rain diminished yet again, so I rushed outside and, with yet another small plastic tub, hooked the charge controller to the batteries. Now we were really close! The charge controller reported that my batteries were low, which isn’t surprising, as they haven’t really been charged up yet, and had been subjected to a (small) load for awhile, so I’m not going to panic right now.

This took us close to the end of the afternoon. The rain came back, I closed up everything, and tackled my backlog of paperwork. I suppose part of me is a
Hermes Conrad – a born bureaucrat. I get great satisfaction from organizing and filing stacks of paperwork. Especially when I can shred or recycle it. I guess that makes me also a partial minimalist too?

We broke for a mouth-watering roast that Mummu had prepared in the slow cooker and allowed us to share with her.

After dishes, the rain let up YET AGAIN! So I grabbed my solar panel, attached it to the leads from the charge controller, cut one set of leads off so I could re-attach them again, this time with some heat shrink tubing that I had forgotten (to make my connections weathertight).

Now, it’s just a matter of waiting for a sunny day to see if I can generate some juice! Next up will be trying to see if I can convert our chest freezer into a chest refrigerator. Possible in theory, but we’ll see how it is in practise.
Kenny inspecting the controller
I hear far off thunder, and it’s time for my last round of steam, and then a shave.

"Good news everybody…we've got solar power!" – Prof Farnsworth 🙂
  • Denise

When you belong to the race of Atomic Super-Men, these things just sort of happen.
  • Stephen Garstin

Another Moving Day

June 8, 2012

Daddy and Kenny snuggling Well, here we are for another night in the yurts. So far they have been fun, but cold by morning! We’re all in the mood to try to stay under the covers and snuggle as much as possible until either our stomach, our bladder, or our shame at sleeping in so late drives us from our beds.Yesterday afternoon, Donna and I headed into the city again, intent on making a few more big ticket purchases. We picked up a propane stove to cook on, a few construction items, a new tire and inner tube for my trailer, and were really pumped to get our solar system set up.
A loaded trailer
The fellow at
Maier Hardware really seemed to know and enjoy this aspect of his business. He walked us through loads of things, taking time to ask many questions, and explain much of his decision making tree as he went. It was refreshing this time to not have to suffer through too forceful of an upsell, a definite problem I had at other solar dealers.

Unfortunately, by the time we had decided on what we needed, he still needed more time to get it together and ask the final questions. And we were already on track to be late for supper at Mummu’s house. We agreed that I would return this morning to pick up our solar system.

After supper, Grandpa and I headed down to the garage to try to mount the new tube and tire on my rim. What a chore that was! We had straps on it, bands on it, clamps of all sizes and shapes. I stood on it, Grandpa stood on it, we both stood on it. We hammered it, we swore at it (well, as much as we swear, mostly just grunting in a particularly annoyed manner).

Finally, we gave up.

This morning, shockingly, Grandpa appeared with it all mounted and even back on the trailer axle! He still has a few tricks up his sleeves it seems.

After a quick breakfast, I was off to town to see to my solar panel and batteries again.

I arrived, eager to go, and we got down to the final few items – wire, connectors, things of that nature. The inverter I already owned was still in the box, so I wasn’t sure what wire gauge was recommended. He advised I check and come back, rather than simply purchasing a wire without being certain. I rushed to the store where I had bought the inverter, checked on the wire size, and then ended up just purchasing it there, mostly out of convenience.

On the way home, I stopped to pick up my newly sharpened sawmill blade, and to visit the chip stand that had set up shop there.

Donna and I immediately began to load up my wagon to take some extra large loads to the yurts and dojo tent. It was a bit tricky to navigate through Grandpa’s trees to get onto our bush trail, but in spite of the roots and rocks, I got through a number of trips, all without debarking any of his trees (except the one poplar that I had already mangled with my front end loader the very first trip I took with the tractor on the back trail…)

It was with a real sense of accomplishment that we totally emptied Grandpa’s garage of our possessions, and even managed to clear off all the notable items left outside. Tomorrow we should be able to empty out the guest room entirely of our things, and then we can claim storage independence!
Grandpa fixing the axle
After that, it’s likely time to work on our solar system. My own personal power generating station – that should be super-cool!

Oh yeah, I probably also have to find a place to start a compost pile, that stuff is beginning to build up faster than I expected too.

Ack! There are a few no-see-ums in the yurt, it’s time for me to wind this post down and retreat under the covers until the cold night air takes the bite out of them.

Moving Into a Yurt

June 5, 2012

A wrecked tire So today we were treated to a huge stack of Grandpa’s famous Finn style pancakes!

What a great way to start the day. We all indulged ourselves with pancake after pancake, smothered in butter and jam or maple syrup.

Grandpa then headed off to see if he could catch some fish for supper, while the rest of us went down to the entrance to push the last of the gravel out onto the driveway before the contractor would have a chance to finish our driveway for us.

We managed to finish our work before Grandpa returned, so we headed up the road to collect my new trailer. Imagine my annoyance to discover that at some point, we had blown out the tire of the trailer. I made several telephone calls but with little satisfaction. The store where I purchased it could not replace it until Wednesday, but I could purchase a lesser quality tire for $20. Canadian Tire couldn’t be convinced to check to see if they had a replacement, they simply told me to come and look for myself through their stock. Grrrr!
Kenny watching a tire roll down the driveway
At least Kenny was able to find a new friend in the flat tire – he took it for a tour all over Mummu and Grandpa’s acreage :).

Grandpa returned, empty canoed, and offered to transport our furnishings using the MTD and his trailer again. We really owe him a few tanks of petrol!

First we took the dresser, it was empty and taking up lots of room in the garage, so it made sense to move it in right away.
Dresser on a small wagon
After the dresser, Grandpa decided we should have a deck so the step up isn’t so high. We managed to build it out of spare lumber within an hour or two. Amazingly, something went quickly!

Next came the parts to assemble our bed. It took a surprising amount of time to arrange Kenny’s bed, our bed, and the dresser in the limited and round space. We eventually did seem to come up with a pretty acceptable concept though, which freed up the door, as well as gave us room to curtain off Kenny from the rest of the yurts when he goes to bed or sleeps in.

Dresser and bed frame in the yurt
We returned to Mummu’s for supper – salmon – so we got fish after all!

After supper, I opted to just pull our hand wagon loaded down with Kenny’s books and a few odds and ends, then finished up with our bedding for tonight. We didn’t get the mattresses, so we will be using our camp mats instead. It will be just like camping – sorry, glamping!
Kenny and gear towed in the wagon
Right now Donna is bathing Kenny, and then we’re off – we’ll check back in soon :)

Looks like you've got yourself a tarenuchi!
  • Mart

That's a genius idea! I'm posting this while the rain patters down on the yurt canvas, and the skylight slowly gets darker and darker… First night in the yurts!
  • Stephen Garstin

Congratulations on moving in!
  • Jay Bazuzi

Thanks Jay! I think having a mattress will make for an even more comfy sleep!
  • Stephen Garstin

🙂 I hope your first night was good!!! We miss you guys!
  • Anonymous

Congratulations Stephen, the yurts look fantastic! It's been great seeing them come together blog-post-by-blog-post 🙂
  • Denise

Gosh, thanks for reading Denise! It's gratifying to hear that people are actually reading this stuff!
  • Stephen Garstin

Deck looks great Stephen. Got a good thing going there with Grandpa and Mummu too!
  • Pat Ladisa

Don't I know it! And you haven't looked at the deck up close ;). It's the thunderbox which I'm proud of.
  • Stephen Garstin

Assembling the Yurts

June 4, 2012 [construction]

Reloading a tipped wagon Sorry you had to wait an extra day or two for a new post – we have the yurts up! It was two days of sweating, cursing, head scratching, and crippling exertions – but they are finished, and they look really great!

Yesterday Grandpa and I hopped to it, loading up all the yurt parts, and heading to the work site.

Of course, for the superstitious, one would have taken a hint from what happened within the first few moments… Suddenly the dump lock on my trailer released, dumping all of our parts out right in front of my in-laws’ house as we passed by. Amazingly, Donna was there to take a photo of our predicament. Uncanny luck, wasn’t it?

We unloaded, used an old piece of wire to secure the lock, and reloaded our frames. Donna was still trying to get Kenny in gear to visit, while Grandpa and I started assembly. Mummu was gracious enough to snap a few photos as we began.
Using the dome ring as a hula hoop

I think we did rather well. I followed instructions as per the video, manual, and my memory of our trip to
Yurta to put up our thirteen foot frame. It went up quite nicely, and with a bit of thought as to which way the doors would open, we had the door and coupler on.
The small yurt takes shape
Then we set up the larger yurt. This went much the same as with the thirteen footer, except everything was heavier, and larger. Once it was up, we installed the door, and then had to get it attached to the other yurt.

As they were about a foot apart, it was now time to move the floor of the smaller yurt over to the larger. We hooked up my winch cable and comealong to a nearby tree, wrapped it around the floor, and on to a stump on the far side. With Grandpa adjusting the beams and Kenny winching, we brought the two floor surfaces into contact. The coupler attached to both yurts well, and we were feeling good.
Kenny sweeping off the floor
Kenny really pitched in, handing us felt hanger sticks, and ensuring that the floors were well swept!

Next we started on the felt. We realized soon that it was slightly confusing, as
Yurta had assumed that we would use the coupler as a door, and the door as a coupler, on both yurts, and had labelled the felt accordingly. For the past two days we have had to always remember to substitute one word for the other.

The felt was a little more tricky to install. The velcro bars that hung on the cable around the perimeter of the roof rotated or fell off as we tried to apply the walls. Even now I still have to adjust them, and find that they seem to settle back afterwards.
Felt walls on the small yurt
We did get it though so I went back up through the centre ring to collect the felt roof. Grandpa pushed it up along a rafter, and between Grandpa, Donna and I, we managed to flip it all out and get it into position. Next was the roof canvas… It was tight and sweaty work getting it adjusted, but we managed. Finally we went with the walls. That’s where we ran into one of our real puzzlers… We rolled the wall around from the edge of the door, to the coupler, and that’s where we realized that the zipper for the wall went OVER the coupler, which was fine, but at the same time, there was a rope that was to go UNDER the coupler, and both of these were attached to the remaining section of wall that continued after the coupler.
Loading canvas through the dome ring
After some thought, we opted to remove the rope, and re-install it after throwing the remaining wall over the coupler.

This went better than it could have, but it did take up precious time. It became obvious that we were way overly optimistic to think we could have both yurts up in a day!

About this point, Grandpa decided to call it a day, and I began to try to tuck the canvas in around the doors.

After a bit of this work, I decided to try looking out one of our windows. It was at this point that I noticed that the felt and the canvas didn’t line up at the windows. Sigh. We carefully created a “loop” of velcro along the top of the wall and worked it sideways to get the felt wall and canvas wall to align properly around the window.

We headed back to Grandpa and Mummu’s house, where we barbequed up some hamburgers for supper. This seemed to improve everyone’s spirits and energy levels. Donna and I returned to the yurts, where we finished bolting down the brackets using threaded rod and nuts, and then I tensioned down the canvas fabric. We tied a rope to the dome, and without further delay, pulled it up, and placed it into its brackets.

It had been a long day. We cleaned up briefly, and headed back to the house for the night.

This morning we started a little later. Kenny had his morning telephone call with Nana and Papa. He was really chatty! It was nice to listen in a little bit, and try to know what the conversation was about based on his responses. His telephone manners have improved dramatically as he has gotten older and more articulate.

We sure expected today to go smoothly. We had experienced all the problems we could imagine on the day before. Of course, life throws you curves all the time, doesn’t it?

We started carefully with the felt. This time exercising extra caution, we made sure the windows were properly aligned with the frames, so that when the canvas went up, it would automatically be all oriented together. In this picture, right where Grandpa’s hand is, a mouse had “borrowed” a small patch of our felt while it was in storage in the woodshed… Luckily the felt overlaps in this spot, so there was minimal loss to our insulation – but a cautionary tale to others who have to store their yurts before assembly!

The felt walls went great. Then came time to do the felt roof. It was heavy. Sinfully heavy. We tried the recommended method of sliding it up a rafter from the outside, but that wasn’t to be. We were too far off the ground without a platform. We brought the felt inside, where I hoisted it up to the centre ring, and then Grandpa and Donna, using sticks, directed it up onto the rafters. We worked hard, very hard, spreading it out. We got close, and then I began to try to pull it up and over my head to cover the other side. That’s when I realized that it had been folded and sent to us inside out! Augh! That was frustrating! We puzzled for a few moments to cool down, and then I managed to grab the bottom edge, drag it up to the centre ring, and right over and down the far side. Problem solved. We poked, prodded, twisted and grunted, and managed to get the roof felt all arranged and looking rather sharp in the end.

We had opted to save a bit of money by having
Yurta use up some spare felt, so they made our roof from two different wool lots. One from dark sheep, and one from light… They alternated these lots in quarter sections, so the roof looked great with a star or cross pattern.

Next was the roof canvas. I was reminded to keep the drawstrings above the door – which in this case we did, without substituting “coupling” for “door” – as the cleats for the strings were on the door frame.
Zipping on the canvas walls
Then came time for the wall – ack! Another problem! The zipper was designed to start at the door, go a short distance to the coupling, then up and over, and around to the far side of the door again. That would be great, except we had switched the door and coupling. Fine, we would start at the coupling, then past the door, then back around to the coupling. Except that the roof was already aligned to the door as the starting point. (I’m sorry if this sounds confusing, but imagine trying to figure this out with heavy, akward parts in your hands and time and patience running thin.)

We twisted and turned the roof canvas to align with the coupler instead. But now the drawstring ropes were above the coupling, and the cleats were above the door! I had to remove the cleats from the door, and try to install them on the coupling, where I had precious little room. Luckily, my mini ratchet set was handy, and I was able to use it to drive in the four screws.

With the roof re-aligned, we were able to put up the wall with more grunting and groaning. On the plus side, we were able to easily pass the zipper over the door and the rope under it, as it wasn’t really an obstacle the way the coupler with a second yurt attached was.

Of course, now we had to operate a tension strap from between the floor surfaces. It was difficult, but we managed.

I returned to the ladder, and in the same manner as yesterday, we pulled the dome up to the ring and installed it in the brackets. This was actually one of the most rewarding and simple parts of the entire endeavour.
Installing the clear dome
As always, it was a challenge to tuck the canvas in around the coupler and doors, but at least we knew the general idea, and were prepared for the stress of doing so. Even with advance expectations, I could still feel frustration growing. Luckily we broke for lunch. Maybe we will have to remember that in the future. Take a break when things start to really get to you.

When we returned, we knew we were really in the home stretch. Grandpa prepared more threaded rod, which Donna and I used to anchor down every bracket in the large yurt.

With the brackets bolted to the floor, we ratcheted down the outer walls, tightened the hem, and then began rolling up the windows. It was really exciting and interesting to see the windows open. There was so much light and breeze. It is really, really nice.

Tonight we returned to sweep floors and adjust the interior felt. Our spirits were very much renewed. It was a very long haul to work out the bugs and get things together the way we wanted, but at last they are. I’m really hoping to be sleeping there tomorrow night now!

Grandpa has declared that he will make celebratory pancakes for breakfast – and that he’ll also head out to see if he can’t repeat his fishing success of last week.

Assembled yurts!
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, And while my trials were pretty small, my blessings have been many

Building a Yurt Floor, Part Seven (The Finale!)

June 2, 2012 [construction]

It’s done!

I was really committed to getting it finished today, and finally things worked out.

There was a chill in the air as I started out this morning, so I took that opportunity to continue cleaning up around the yurt site. I managed to put away the generator and power tools, anticipating that they would be used elsewhere on our property. I also cleaned up the scrap lumber and rocks.

Then I went around, digging out some of the roots, shoots and trunks that were sticking out perilously close to where we would be spending most of our time. I had been tripping over them since we started on the yurt floors, and now I finally felt I had a chance to deal with them.

Grandpa spent the day working on extending his road around a particularly difficult turn. On the one side, it was solid granite, and on the other side, there was a pretty substantial drop-off. The tractors had navigated it without a problem, but it did make things difficult if they had a load – and it certainly would be a problem for a regular vehicle to manage.
Making painting a family affair
He made it up with a bit of corduroy, lots of rocks, and even more sweat! He certainly earned his pastries today!

With the yurt site cleaned up, I headed to the driveway and felled five or six trees on my own with my Stihl. It was nice to not have Grandpa watching over my shoulder – except for the fact that the trees fell exactly where I wanted them on the road! Rats – I had to go and tell him what I had done, but it would likely have been so much better for him to witness it in person.
Kenny painting himself into a corner
I limbed them, cut them into about twelve foot chunks, and then Donna and Kenny showed up as the sun had warmed up the floor surfaces enough for the second coat.
Two white discs of floor
Kenny was very, very enthused about painting again. It was difficult to focus his energies – he painted us, and himself, into corners, or painted areas that interested him, even if they weren’t all continuous.

It was a relief that finally the paint went further than expected. Running out of primer was very frustrating, and I would have really, really been annoyed if I had run out of the actual paint. The cans both claimed coverage of 400 square feet, which is more than I’m trying to cover with the yurt floors, so I found it perplexing when they barely covered 300 square feet worth of floor. I suppose unpainted wood is pretty thirsty, but still…

I even managed to save a few ounces in the bottom of the can, for the inevitable touch-ups.

We broke for lunch, enjoying Mummu’s company as she regaled us with tales of her trip to Safeway’s in the big city.

After breaking bread, I went back to the driveway and started digging out a path for the tractor to get past the gravel pile. Eventually I heard Kenny and Donna approaching – he was in a bit of a mood, so I could hear him as soon as he left Mummu’s house. He did calm down when he arrived at the gravel pile, and took to shoveling with amazing gusto and ability!

After a hot, dirty afternoon of work, we broke for a drink and small snack, and then it was off to Mummu’s house for supper.

Tomorrow morning, we’re going to get up bright and early, and see if we can’t get both yurts put up – stay tuned for the big post

Sooo… where are you actually living then, while the yurts aren't up yet?? Teepee?
  • Martin

The in-laws, why else do you think grandpa is the first person on the job site every day?
  • Stephen Garstin

Oh, I just thought he was not as lazy as you 😛
  • Mart

He is not…
  • Stephen Garstin

Building a Yurt Floor, Part Six

May 31, 2012 [construction]

Sorry to be taking six parts to get this floor finished. At the pace I’m setting, there are still a few more parts to go before I can complete this! Yesterday I expected to be a big day – we had the vapour barrier and second edging installed, and I figured that it wouldn’t take nearly as long or be nearly as challenging to install the upper floor as it had been to install the plywood under the joists – under the joists, we had to contend with one yurt being divided into two sections, and the other divided into four – up on top, we could just start at an edge, and work our way across, without regard for any division other than between the two yurts.

I was wrong.

As regular readers may recall, we chose tongue and groove OSB for our flooring material.

I am guessing that the fact that it was tongue and groove was our first strike against us – it meant that all the pieces had to be oriented in the same direction. We couldn’t spin a piece and then reset it, as it would prevent a tongue or groove from aligning with its complimentary partner. Strike two was that we were also trying to keep the same side up, as the OSB clearly had two different sides. This meant that we couldn’t just mirror image a scrap piece if required. Finally, strike three was likely just that we were really working hard to avoid having multiple small pieces in a patchwork anywhere on the surface, something that wasn’t as critical on the bottom of the joists where it wouldn’t see the light of day.

So we worked our way carefully across the large floor surface first, things going rather well. The OSB, like most plywood type products, is very susceptible to chipping when drilled through, especially around the edges, so I tried to cut down on this issue by pre-drilling a very wide, shallow indentation wherever I intended to place a screw. This seemed to help quite a bit, but there were still a few spots where some shavings came up. We’ll just have to paint thick there :).

One thing we made sure of, was to arrange our boards so that the locations of perceived higher traffic (the doorways) would get full sheets, rather than partial sheets. We then worked out from them.

Donna and Kenny attended a playgroup in the morning, but it was really, really nice to have them come out after lunch to help. Kenny did a huge amount of landscaping with his bulldozer – it was working so hard, it threw a track more than once and required an extra hand to get it back up and running.

Donna set about making sure that the boards were clean and ready for primer. Shortly after starting, she noticed an obvious error in the installation that neither Grandpa nor I had realized. Can anyone see what it is and describe it in the comments? I’ll assume that no comments means that I’m just as smart as my average reader.

After we cut a vital sheet short AND backwards, Grandpa decided that was enough for him, and we didn’t see him again until he called us in for supper with Mummu.

Meanwhile, Donna helped me to mix and match our off-cuts to maximum efficiency. In spite of this, it became clear that we needed more OSB than we had.

Anyway, at least we had come in with one bag of insulation extra that we hadn’t needed. Same with Tuck Tape – the original directions called for one roll for the smaller yurt, and two for the larger. I assume that that was if Tyvek was used as a wrap for the bottom of the floor. We only used up perhaps half of one roll on both our yurts – it only took two lines to finish the smaller yurt, and maybe twice as many to finish the larger yurt, where we did have to seam more of the vapour barrier than I expected, but we did have enough.

After supper, Donna and Mummu were awesome enough to take over dishwashing duties, so I loaded up the truck and headed BACK to the big city. I guess those drives give me time to think or listen to my podcasts, otherwise, they aren’t so thrilling.

My exchange of insulation for another sheet of OSB went uneventfully, but I was surprised to see that some of the other stores in Thunder Bay had closed up at 6pm. Even some chain franchises that normally are open much later in the south. Oh well, live here and learn…

I posted our cheque to the local services board (essentially a roads tax) on the way home – it is due tomorrow, and we only finally received it yesterday after it was delivered to Kitchener. I guess I have a few more businesses and organizations to contact with our new address here.

As I finish typing this, the sun is just now rising, so I best be off to see what progress we can make today.

Building a Yurt Floor, Part Five

May 30, 2012 [construction]

Using a JAWS ladder as a lever The weather reports yesterday and today were not very favourable towards getting much work done.The rain was drizzling and cold most of the day yesterday, so I took the Yanmar up to the front entrance and used it and lots of shoveling to make short work of the pile of gravel that was waiting there for me. It was nice, I called my gravel guy, and told him to deliver another load this morning.

We worked until just after lunch to get it all done, and then headed to the local garden centre so that Mummu and Donna could buy some seeds and seedlings, while Kenny and I visited the farm “zoo” and then played in the children’s play area.

Today dawned with all weather reports calling for rain every hour of the day. It wasn’t promising, but Grandpa noted that it wasn’t raining where we were, and the sky was only partly cloudy.

We decided to go up to the yurts and brainstorm how we were going to flip the larger yurt floors completely over. It appeared that the logistics were to flip one half of the large floor, onto the other floor, and then slide it over onto the smaller yurt floor. Flip the second half of the large floor into final position, and then slide the floor from off the smaller yurt, into its own final position.

It sounds easy describing it that way. In reality, we were in the bush, trying to flip an 8 1/2′ by 13 1/2″ floor that was already balanced up on two 5 by 5 beams.

We opted to get one edge of one floor onto the surface of the other, then use a winch attached to a nearby tree to flip it up and raise it until it was balanced on that edge. We then moved that winch around, and used it to lower the floor down slowly.
I tightened this C clamp like never before
Of course, when the floor got close to horizontal, that sideways forces overcame the friction and it suddenly slammed down. Luckily this was more dramatic than anything else. We disconnected, and slid the large floor section onto the already flipped and finished smaller floor.

Suddenly we could hear the sound of a large diesel engine revving at the entrance – our latest gravel had arrived!

The fellow managed to get back a few feet further than the previous time, and dumped his load right up against the parked tractor.
Dumptruck leaving gravel on the driveway
As I paid him, he was in a talkative mood, and wondered aloud if I would be interested in letting him finish building the driveway for me. We walked together along the length of driveway I would need, and he was impressed with my sawmill and the work we had already done. Aside from materials, which I would have to pay anyway, he roughly estimated $400 in labour to finish building my driveway with his own equipment, as compared to me, who would likely spend much of the rest of the summer completing the job. I also imagine that what I spend in his labour, I would save in not pushing gravel into the wrong places.

In any case, I’m pretty sure I’m going to green light his suggestion, it makes sense on basically every level.

Anyway, after he left, it was back to working on the floor…

The second floor section proved to be more challenging. With the first one, we had raised it and placed its edge onto this second floor section – that provided lots of support and friction. Now we could only try to provide lots of scrap lumber across the beams to support the edge of the floor as it rose up. Unfortunately, before it could rise any appreciable degree, the sideways forces began to tip over our support beams!

We ended up raising this section entirely by hand, with Donna rushing in at intervals to brace it so we could adjust our grip. I then tied the beams together with more lumber and my ratchet straps. We began to winch down the floor section, and, as with the first one, when it got close to the end, it suddenly slammed down. Great for effect, but it didn’t really affect the structure of anything else.

Amazingly, the rain held off, and so we clamped and screwed it together completely. I grabbed a bit of expanding foam and used it to seal up all the seams in the plywood. We covered up, and took a lunch break.

After lunch, in spite of the ongoing weather reports calling for rain, Grandpa and I loaded up the MTD with insulation, and headed back.

It began to drizzle pretty heavily, and I was feeling pessimistic, but we assembled everything we needed, and then waited a few minutes to see if the rain let up.

It did, and we rushed to install the insulation on the smaller yurt. Cutting to get things to fit into the corners wasn’t that difficult, and we managed to get it completely covered with just two of the three suggested batts.
Vapour barrier under OSB
The rain was still holding off, so we got the vapour barrier installed too! What a day! I grabbed some more of my thin-sliced pine and was able to wrap the entire edge, sealing off the vapour barrier and finishing the edge of the floor of the smaller yurt nicely. I didn’t have enough expanding foam to seal up the seams on the larger yurt floor, so we called it a day, which was timely, as it began to rain shortly after we covered everything in tarps again.

I grudgingly took this chance to go to town to the Arthur Street Canadian Tire and get more foam. I also picked up eighteen feet of threaded rod to anchor the yurts down when we get to installing them. Then I headed to Safeway to get some petrol. Donna had somehow earned a nickel per litre discount, so I decided to top up the Echo, and fill up my gas can as well.

Back in time to barbeque up some sausages for supper, and then out to the sauna – what a great, productive day!

Oh, and just to reassure you, while we were affected by the flooding, you can see that we have managed to adapt…

Building a Yurt Floor, Part Four

May 27, 2012 [construction]

I wanted to post another update yesterday, but a new-found quirk of the iPad and our internet situation prevented me from really being able to do so. We currently access the internet via a 3G connection that provides the ability to surf and check email, via proxy, and it seems that the proxy does limit other traffic that we try to initiate. There are three things that it blocks that we do notice:

  • push alerts, which allow applications to notify us if things change that are related to their functions.
  • instant messaging, which would allow us to use any sort of chat programme or VoIP.
  • application downloads, including updates to existing applications.

So, what ended up happening is early last evening, I noticed that there was an update available for my Blogsy application – which is what I use to create and maintain this blog. I initiated the update, which then failed because we are on the aforementioned 3G. This meant the Blogsy software was stuck on “trying to update” – and after some research, I discovered that you cannot abort the update! So I essentially cannot use any programmes which have begun updating, until they complete the update.

Today was constant rain though, so we headed to town as a family, where we stopped at McDonald’s, and I used their free wifi hotspot to update all my applications and solve the problem. Lesson learned – I won’t initiate any updates until I am logged into a wifi signal and know that they can complete.

We picked up some expanding foam, paint, children’s rubber boots (we can’t find Kenny’s, and generally, the only way to find something here is to buy a replacement for it – then it turns up in less than a day.).

So, getting back to building the floor…

Grandpa hooked up my new trailer to his MTD, and we used it to transport all the 1/4″ plywood to the work site in just two trips. The trailer worked great!

After a huge amount of head scratching, we worked out what we felt was the optimal use of our resources. It is definitely a puzzler, trying to fit 4×8 sheets of plywood to a 13′ and 17′ diameter pair of circles. We did very well though, and ended up using 12 of the 13 sheets I purchased. I anticipate that for the upper flooring we should be able to be even more economical as we don’t have to worry about the seams that exist right now to facilitate turning the floor over.

We spend the remainder of the day cutting the plywood to size, mostly using a combination of my cordless reciprocating and circular saws. After a shameful performance on the original joists, they shone when confronted with only 1/4″ thick lumber :).
Two large sections with plywood applied A chord of the floor
Kenny and Donna came out to help and document, and it was especially nice when Mummu showed up to have everyone there.

With some grunting and groaning, Grandpa and I were able to flip over the 13′ yurt floor, and then with the help of some bar clamps, we screwed it together and positioned it on the beams in its final resting place.

That’s when I realized that I still needed to add to the edge of both it and the 17′ yurt, so I slid it about a foot away from the larger yurt floor, until they were both finished and could be pushed together in anticipation of the yurts and coupler.

The real challenge is going to be finding a way to flip over the larger sections of the 17′ yurt floor. It’s very heavy, and not a little unwieldy. I’m very open to suggestions! At this point, I keep picturing comealongs, winches, tractors, beams and all sorts of block and tackle type options. I know I have in my belongings a book describing possible methods employed by the builders of stonehenge – maybe I should try to find it and see if it has any notions to offer me?

We knew that the forecast was calling for rain, so we covered up both yurts with the new tarps that I had purchased. We piled stones around the edges, and followed that up with a rope tied around the perimeter. Grandpa also had the inspired idea to place some beams in the centre of each floor space, to make a peak which would hopefully better shed water.

Now it’s just a game of watching the weather reports, and hoping to find a few solid hours to take our next action.

so i guess the plywood is for the underside of the yurt and you are going to use OSB for the top side of the floor? I remember you mentioning that you were going to use OSB in and eariler post.
how much do you think the large halves weigh?yeah, block the bottom, secure a rope to the top side, pull it up(with someone guiding and pushing from underneath…or maybe that's not safe!) and over! Providing that fall wouldn't cause any damage to it or something else!
  • Brad

That's exactly what I'm thinking… Except how to block the bottom when there is very little soil there… Maybe chain it in the opposite direction.
  • Stephen Garstin

I used OSB for the top and the bottom, but I have the luxury of all gravel fill under the cabin, so very little humidity.
  • Chris

Why OSB over plywood? They were the same price for both in Thunder Bay.
  • Stephen Garstin

Building a Yurt Floor, Part Three

May 26, 2012 [construction]

Yesterday was a big day for trips to town. I woke up early, and was able to get on the road before Donna and Kenny were even awake yet.

I managed to get back to Home Depot and loaded up with the remainder of the insulation, as well as the plywood to go on the bottom of the yurt floors to prevent insects and rodents from entering. It was nice that the rain held off.

I checked out the options for flooring on top of the joists, and returned to Mummu and Grandpa’s with the knowledge that OSB was $13 a sheet, tongue and groove plywood was $23 a sheet, and good one side plywood was $45 a sheet.

Donna quickly researched OSB, as the price definitely put it into the front running. After determining that it would suit, I headed back to town to lighten my wallet even further.

I took the chance to stop in at some of the woodstove shops in town as well, and was pretty chagrined to learn the prices and involvement in setting up a woodstove now. It was much more involved than I expected, and the prices that I was quoted were truly sobering.

I next stopped at
ToolTown, which is Thunder Bay’s answer to KW Surplus.

It was timely, they had on sale tarps, of which I needed three. One to cover the tent (it had a number of small holes in the roof), and two to cover the yurt floors as we constructed them. It’s been a very wet week, and there doesn’t seem to be much relief in sight.

They also had on sale their utility trailers. Again, timely, as I had already decided to purchase one to use on the homestead behind the tractor. I purchased the larger one, after having observed just how much we had stressed Grandpa’s smaller trailer.

Next I hit up Home Depot to get the OSB. 13 sheets of very heavy 4 by 8 sheets. It took me quite some time to get served there, and then to find someone to help me load it. Luckily I had bought the tarps first, as the rain began to pour down just as I began loading the wood. I tried to cover it in tarps as best I could, and then strapped it down as best I could, and took off for home at a conservative pace.

I knew that we were having roast beef for supper, and was in the mood to have horseradish on it, so I stopped at Arby’s on the way home to score some of their packets. I didn’t feel comfortable going through the drive through, and wanted to take the opportunity of stopping to check the load anyway. I was very weirded out as I walked to the front entrance – the restaurant was nearly full, and everyone, and I mean everyone, turned and watched as I walked to the entrance, entered, and walked to the cashier to order. I suppose they had a very exclusive, very regular clientele that didn’t see strangers very often. Then again, perhaps I still feel like a bit of a stranger in a new city.

The rain let up a bit when I got back, and Grandpa was kind enough to help me unload the OSB. Once that was done, we began to work together to assemble the trailer.

The rain returned, and I installed a reinforcing bar upside down. Upon realising my mistake, Grandpa took that chance to head to the house. I stayed out, and Donna was kind enough to bring me a warm tea and stay with me to keep me company while I tried to assemble as much as possible in what had by now become a downpour.

I managed to get much of the trailer assembled, except for the rear panel, before the supper bell rang. That was enough for me for one day.

This morning I again tried to be up in good time, and headed back down to finish the trailer. I moved one group of bolts for the third time, cursing the assembly instructions which were actually just a parts list. In the meantime, Grandpa was off checking to see the condition of his driveway, and picking out a tree to fell to use as edging on the yurt floor.
OSB on the trailer
The official Yurta instructions called for plywood to be ripped and curved around the outside edge of the yurt floor. I had noticed that my green lumber, when sliced thin, was terrifically flexible yet strong. I decided to improvise and use my own lumber, rather than purchase more plywood, for this purpose.

Grandpa felled another Jackpine quite close to the sawmill, and he used the tractor to get it up onto the skidway.

The butt of the log supplied enough slabs to completely enclose the circumference of the larger yurt – so I quit sawing right then.

I had marked out the large yurt to cut off the excess on the ends, and was disturbed to find that some of my stringers were too close to the end, and had to be removed and replaced further from the circumference. I’d suggest that one could use a tape measure and pencil and mark out the circumference before putting in the stringers, to ensure that they were far enough back that they wouldn’t get cut.

After moving the stringers, first tried my circular saw to cut the ends. I know that a hard core carpenter could likely have done the job with a handsaw, but my skills just aren’t up to that yet. I couldn’t get the circular saw to do more than score the ends of the joists anyway, and so I resorted to an elegant solution – I fired up my brand new Stihl MS170, and put the job behind me in just a few moments. I’m definitely going to keep in mind the chainsaw in applications like this in the future – it worked a right charm!

Once the ends were bevelled correctly, Kenny and I grabbed my cordless drill and driver, as well as my cordless circular saw, and made quick work of cladding the ends with a 3/8″ thick band of pine. This provided really surprising structural support – serving to level off the ends of joists to a remarkable degree. Once finished, it looked totally awesome!

I disconnected the four sections, and then realized that my count of cladding for the ends was woefully short – I forgot that I had to put on two layers of the cladding! I returned to the sawmill, and was able to slice up about 16 more slabs within an hour.

It’s really remarkable how you can just picture what you need, and, with the sawmill, have it ready to go in such a short time.

Kenny and Donna and I managed to slide the large yurt floor about a foot off of its beams, making room to flip over half of the smaller yurt floor, and I arranged it on its own beams. I screwed the two halves together temporarily, and again, with Kenny’s help, managed to mark out most of the circumference of the circle. First thing tomorrow morning, I get to fire up the Stihl again, and trim things.

Grandpa is ready to hook up my new trailer and use it to begin transporting the plywood to the yurt site.

We’ll have to see what exactly the weather permits us to accomplish.

That Yurt floor looks amazing buddy! That's so cool that you milled it all too! Very impressive. It's so huge too! You could have some fun square dances on that floor….er, round dances ; )
Hey, I think it's about time your photographer appear in some photos too don't you? Don't hog all of the glory! 😉 Miss you guys!
  • Brad

I will let my photographer know you said so… Kenny deserves all the glory! He's the most photogenic of all.
  • Stephen Garstin

I went the OSB route too!
  • Chris

Going to paint it?
  • Stephen Garstin

Building a Yurt Floor, Part Two

May 24, 2012 [construction]

Joists stacked Today was a day for early starts in the Garstin clan. I first woke up around 3:15, and then slept fitfully for an hour or two after that. Kenny woke and called out to Mama around 6:00, so after she went to tend to him, I got up myself. After a big bowl of shreddies, I was ready to go, and, for the first time, I beat Grandpa to the work site! I was a man on a mission – to try to cut and assemble the large yurt floor joists in enough time to be able to head to town to pick up some of the other materials needed, and still be home in time for supper. I was very diligent on making certain that my off-cuts were carefully measured and judged for suitability in other areas, and I wound up with four spare boards!

I was also very proud of how I was able to construct the smaller floor sections without a flat area to construct them on. I simply placed two small boards on edge on top of a beam, then lay the long board across them like a small table, and nailed directly from above into the smaller boards. Then I worked back and forth, putting in larger and larger boards until I had completed the smaller floor section. I suppose my description does nothing to explain what I actually did, but trust me, I was proud of myself for making it so easy. Just the stringers were a difficulty – it’s simply tiring to hammer sideways and bent over for half the time.

Yurta directions so far have been really excellent. My only suggestion is that on the diagrams I was given, there were places where some of the measurements were ambiguous as to whether they were centre measurements, or measurements of the space between the joists. Added to the confusion was again the fact that my self-milled beams were a full 2″ thick, rather than the more common 1 1/2″.
Joists assembled
As I plugged away at cutting and nailing the sections, Grandpa worked on the bush trail, transforming it dramatically from a two-rut trail, to a real driveway! He made trip after trip to our private gravel pit, filling his small wagon with gravel and loam, only to spread it a few feet further down the drive. He worked until lunch, when I sent him on ahead, as I only had to add the stringers before I was finished the joists.

He returned quickly, but his MTD ran into trouble on a rougher patch of the trail that hadn’t been cleaned up yet. Some roots got caught up in the belt under his tractor. He began to clean them out as I headed into town in the truck.

I purchased a new Stihl MS170 chainsaw at my first stop, then headed to Home Depot where I picked up the insulation, vapour barrier, tape, and screws for the floors.

I popped over to Canadian Tire to grab a new gas can for the new chainsaw (gas/oil mix of course). And then finished up at Safeway. Safeway is currently my number one wifi spot for downloading updates and apps for the iPad. Sadly and strangely, I can’t download those two things via my 3G connection. Perhaps someone can explain why (not)?

I was home in good time for a delicious chicken, potatoes and salad supper prepared by Mummu and Donna. It really hit the spot after a long trip to town.

Oh yeah, while I was pumping petrol into the gas can, I saw a large and dramatic lightning strike on the far side of town. On the drive home, the radio reported
this story about the strike hitting an old, tall landmark of the city.

While I was gone, Donna and Kenny checked out the latest load of gravel at the front of the property – it looks pretty formidable to get my tractor into that! Wish me luck!

Building a Yurt Floor, Part One

May 23, 2012 [construction]

Tomato stakes as surveying tools Today I was up early for some reason. I guess I had lots on my mind (and perhaps a little in my bladder too, truth be told). I was up before anyone else in the house, so I slipped into Donna’s robe, put on my sneakers, and moseyed down to the paper box to see if the newspaper had arrived. It hadn’t, so I headed back to the house, checked my email, and then began assembling the yurt floor directions. It still jived with the joists I had already cut, so that was exciting. Soon Grandpa and Mummu came into the kitchen and then things really started moving. Toast and coffee were soon prepared (I opted for a cuppa myself – I’m a tea drinker, no coffee for me thanks) and Grandpa agreed that today was the day to try to get a good start on the floors of the yurts.

He brought over the MTD, and while on his trek, I put the generator into our wagon, and transported it to the yurt site from our tent site. I then strung up our largest tarp between four nearby trees to help create a sheltered area where the power tools could be ran and stored.Grandpa pointed out that a circular floor was beyond his ken, and opted instead to work on smoothing out the trail and creating a driveway for Donna that led right up to the yurts.After having washed his hands of responsibilities for errors and omissions with the floor, I knew the pressure was on. I fired up the genny and got down to business. It wasn’t too bad, as the instructions from Yurta were really well done and accurate. There was a bit of head scratching to do in a few spots where things weren’t totally clear, and of course, the boards I had cut were 2 x 5 1/2, not the typical 1 1/2 x 5 1/2. I think I did a pretty bang up job though.
So much use out of Grandpa's tractor
Shortly into the morning, my gravel guy showed up, and dumped a new load for us to pick away at. It was about 6 feet further along than the last time – hopefully not an ongoing trend! By lunch I had managed to cut all the joists and stringers for the small yurt, and had nailed a quarter of it together.

After lunch, Donna and Kenny came out to help, and I have to say, Kenny did awesome! He was hammering away at every nail in sight – and he didn’t bend over ANY! That’s more than his father can generally say! In any case, I think they turned out looking okay. I had to slightly modify the final stringers, again likely because joists were all a half inch wider than called for in the specs.Then came the real crunch time – I wanted to make room to build the larger floor tomorrow, but the half floor of the smaller yurt was really heavy! I ended up managing to get it onto its long edge, and then “walking” it over to the other half, and slowly laying it down right on top.

Everything went very well. We spent our lunch hour discussing how to properly clad the top and bottom of the floor and how and when and where to obtain the materials.The weather today was really cold and wet, but clearly we didn’t let that slow us down overly. Grandpa accomplished some really impressive results on the bush trail and driveway up to the yurts.The remainder of the week also looks pretty wet and dreary.

Tomorrow I will try to get a good showing done on the larger floor – at least I have the general concept now. Maybe tomorrow night I will go to town to pick up materials, and then return on Thursday for more materials. I think it will take a few trips just to get the items needed to complete the yurts, let alone my other shopping list! Well, it’s sauna night tonight. I’m off to pack my robe and razor.

Pike and Beams

May 22, 2012

Two fish equals one Kenny Grandpa’s fishing trip was successful! He returned after just a couple of hours, sporting two great sized pike. Kenny was intrigued with them. I suspect that if they were stacked end for end, they would have been longer than Kenny is tall, but he wasn’t game to find out. He felt brave enough to try touching them though.I suppose touching the pike in the morning is what loosened him up enough to try holding a toad later in the day.
A toad in the hand
It was a dreary, cold, rainy day – perfect for fishing I suppose, but hard for getting work done with enthusiasm. It’s funny how the day before, it was so hot and humid that I was dreaming of ice cold lemonade, and then the very next day, It was so cold and wet that I was dreaming of steaming hot tea. I think a thermos should be on my shopping list, it would cover both eventualities.

Late in the afternoon, Grandpa and I headed back into the bush and cut down a really large jack pine near the abandoned “stable” on our property. (There actually are the remains of an old homestead on our property – a really, really dilapidated cabin, and a slightly less decrepit stable – you can still see the beams interlocked skillfully in some of the corners.) It was leaning the wrong way, so Grandpa had me winching it towards where we wanted it to fall, while he was cutting. I was re-assured that as I first tightened the winch, he was kind enough to point out a spot where the brush was less thick, saying – “there’s your escape route.” There is something counterintuitive about trying to force a tree to fall directly at you.
The old homestead
In the end, it fell at least 30 degrees away from where I was standing. This wasn’t too bad. I was able to trot out my customized winch cable, and use the tractor to drag the tree through my gravel pit and to my main bush trail. Grandpa decided enough was enough (it was a really biting drizzle at this point), so we abandoned the log and returned the tractor to the tent for the night.
Looks just like Grandpa!
The pike must have made a big impression on Kenny, he constructed a lovely centrepiece for the table, using his Lego – it was a tribute to Grandpa in his canoe with his fishing pole. Donna was kind enough to provide a backdrop of one of the fillets.

This morning we retrieved the previously abandoned log, brought it to the skidway, and I rendered it into the last of the floor joists for the yurts. We made really good progress today I think. We finished the cutting of the floor joists, then I continued to saw up the pile of slabs into 1″ boards. That still was completed by lunch, so in the afternoon, Grandpa and I spent our time levelling ALL the beams at the yurt site. We now have the beams in place, and have begun transporting the joists to the actual construction area.

After Grandpa called it a day, I stayed on to oil and fuel my generator, and started it up for the first time. I plugged in my table saw and mitre saw, and was able to use them both to clean up my 1″ boards. That’s another item that is nice to have working. Now we have hydro if we need it.

Tonight Donna and I moved a few more items to the tent using our own little wagon. We spilled it twice, but nothing serious. Then we discussed a few more possibilities regarding where to locate outbuildings. It’s always nice to connect like that – it prevents us from getting too disparate of ideas that would need to be reconciled later.

It’s also been really gratifying to hear back so much feedback from my dojo. My sensei posted a link to my posting about the tent, and I heard from a number of my friends back at Golden Triangle Aikido. I really miss them, and am happy to count them as my friends.

This week is suppose to be pretty rainy, that’s not so nice to hear – but we take it as it comes. If it rains, I have a number of items to pick up in town, so I’ll just make use of that time. As well, I ordered gravel, and that’s likely something I can push around, rain or shine.

The Tent, Part Two

May 20, 2012

So many bins Success! We have the tent up, and have already put her to use! What a useful, thoughtful, and wonderful gift from my dojo!

After a good night’s sleep, we arrive back on site, with the last joists already having been cut the day before. That was a challenge – we still haven’t unpacked the generator, so we were using bow saws normally reserved for cutting up logs and trimming trees – accurate only in the hands of someone as skilled as Grandpa. My cutting using a bow saw was really, really bad. So bad that when Grandpa saw one of my cuts, he even had to call over Mummu to show her just how crooked it was :). At least I set the bar low, and can only achieve much better success in the future!
Pallets a plenty
Grandpa used the MTD to haul over a stack of pallets that we had obtained for free from the
Habitat for Humanity ReStore here in Thunder Bay. With Kenny’s help, we assembled them around the perimeter, and, yesterday Donna began prioritizing which bins needed to be assessed and moved to the tent. It’s large enough for our bins, and, right now, I am able to park the tractor completely inside.

It was fortunate that yesterday I did so at the end of the day, and found myself with an extra few minutes, so I cleaned up everything around the sawmill and stored it all inside the tent. Last night, we were awakened by a thunderstorm and loads of rain! I’m confident that the tent held up a champ, but I haven’t yet checked, so we’ll see.

Today Grandpa is planning on taking time to go catch a
pike for supper. I haven’t found (or updated) my Outdoors Card yet, so I’ll likely stay back and work around the yurt site. I can remove the stacked rocks, and dig more holes for the other beam supports.

The driveway is pretty leveled out, so I also can call for another load of gravel. We are all really hopeful that the dump truck will be able to travel further down our driveway before emptying his load. It will be truly nice to be past the brush and courderoy road altogether, and onto rock/peat/loam/soil, where the gravel will be able to go much, much further! Of course, I could likely be using my own gravel pile at that point, to be working my way along from the property side of things. Already Grandpa and I have been using my gravel pile to try to level out the sawmill site a bit more. It’s looking better, safer and more stable all the time. I’ve even begun thinking about switching around the sawmill a bit when I have more time.

It will also be nice to be able to cut my logs in winter and allow them some drying time before I need to mill them. Even the smallest logs are very heavy when still full of sap – I was getting winded just stacking 7′ 2×6’s yesterday!

Sadly though, my Poulan chainsaw died out yesterday. It was already very old, and I had recently had its’ fuel system replaced, so I’m a bit at a loss as to what I should do. Grandpa thinks that we can use his new, small saw to finish cutting down enough trees to make the floor for the yurts, after which we aren’t as compelled to cut down trees with a power saw. I’m eyeing an entry-level Stihl saw that I know is on sale right now, but I’ll perhaps also call the Husky dealer in town and see what they have that is comparable. I’m really mindful of making large ticket purchases, but I suppose I also have to remind myself that “I’m too poor to be cheap” and should be willing to pay for quality items that I will use for a long time.

That’s about all to report for now. The
spring peepers sang me to sleep last night, and woke me up again this morning. Much like my schedule having a certain order to things, I suppose it is their time to peep. Everything here has its time. They are still going like gangbusters up here. It’s nice to know that the population here is so healthy. St. Andrew must be so happy.

Hi Stephen and family,

Just got the link from Sensei and the tent looks good. I bet you are learning new skills everyday.
Just wondering, if it rains, will the water sip/get inside the tent from the sides? It might be a silly question.
Any bears around, did you get 101 book on how to fend the bears? :-).

Cheers and good luck,
  • Marian – kitchener – from aikido club

I suspect there's places to economize and places to not overspend, but spend on quality. Regular, everyday-use appliances that will save you a ton of manual labour time strike me as high on that list. If you're smart about how you eat, then having a dishwasher saves you, what, 10 or 15 minutes of light labour after a meal? How long are you going to spend felling those trees and cutting 'em up without a chain-saw?

  • Viktor

Well, Grandpa did give me a bucksaw with a brand new blade as a housewarming gift. I suppose with some skill, one could put it to good use quickly. But yes, watching him pulling the starter on his economy chainsaw about a dozen times to get and keep it running through one tree makes me feel that a quality saw is a sensible investment. Maybe Thursday – it's suppose to be rainy then, and I should be close to having the floor joists finished.

  • Stephen Garstin

The Tent, Part One

May 18, 2012 [construction]

Chainsaw carpentry at its finest Today, Grandpa and I were determined to get a good start on the tent. We both entertained dreams of having it completed and up by tonight.

I carefully read over the instructions, ensuring that while we were building our framework to our own specs, it would still fit the original directions. We used our level and protractor to ensure everything was per the original, and had gotten up two out of the three main rafters by lunch.

While we were plugging away at this, Donna took the time to unwrap and lay out all the canvas. This proved invaluable, and, in hindsight, I would tell everyone to do the same. As we broke for lunch, I found it hard to reconcile the angles I saw on the canvas on the ground with the structure we had constructed. I suggested that the first thing we do when we return should be to compare the canvas to the structure before we went any further.

How disappointing – we were off by two feet in width, and at least one foot in height. We had to remove the rafters we had constructed, reconfigure them, and then move the walls two feet in from where they were located. Grandpa and I were a bit perturbed. I suppose though, it was better to find out when we did, rather than when we had put up much more structure. We plugged away until we ran out of our very small supply of nails. We headed in for supper. We have the main structure up, and it fits the canvas, now we just need to reinforce it with an extra pair of rafters and some slabs to help with snow load. Tomorrow looks to be rainy in the morning, so Grandpa and I plan on heading to town to buy more nails, pick up some pallets to lay down in the tent (to get our bins up off the ground), visit the reserve to get petrol, and a few other errands. Perhaps if the afternoon clears up, we will be able to make some more progress?
King of the hill
Tonight, after supper and dishes, Donna and I headed down to the drive to see if we could also get a bit done there. The latest load of gravel wasn’t really dumped any further along than the first load, as the truck’s rear wheels had begun to sink on my new gravel. Using shovels and
sisu, we managed to dig a trail around the pile wide enough for the tractor to power through, and then it was just a matter of picking up loads of gravel and depositing them around the drive we had already done. We essentially were trying to double the thickness of gravel on the drive, if possible. We managed to pick away at around half the pile before it got to be bedtime for Kenny (who was back at Mummu’s house), so we knocked off for the day. I’m hopeful that we can get something done tomorrow.

Hello Stephen
I have been following your progress and admire your determination and energy in pursuing this endeavour. I must say that I was very surprised when I heard about your plans (which was only a week or so before you left Kitchener)to move up north to become a modern homesteader. I'll watch your progress from a distance and wish you all great success.
  • Michael Newark, WMC

Thanks Michael! We were keeping to our plans rather quietly, but it was really nice to be mentioned at church on our last Sunday. We still will be back and forth to Kitchener (and Wellesley) of course, so hopefully we'll see you again in a few months. In the meantime, thanks for reading – it's nice to know that people appreciate the news :). Give our best to everyone.
  • Stephen Garstin

Laying Out Beams

May 17, 2012 [construction]

On the level Well, yesterday we decided to try to actually lay out the beams for under the yurts. Not all of them, but to at least get a start at knowing where they were going to be positioned.

First we marked out very generally the edges and centres of the two yurts, using my tomato stakes.

Then, based on those positions, we set out the beams that we had already cut.

Originally we had planned on building a large deck, and then resting the two yurt floors on the deck. We planned on it being thirty-two feet long, so we cut up sixteen foot beams that we were going to butt together to get thirty-two feet. After rethinking the deck, we’ve decided to put the yurts directly on the beams, and then just construct a deck in front of the door to the size that we want. That will save lots on lumber and work. With the large yurt being seventeen feet at its’ widest point, we will be putting the beams on either side of centre, rather than having a beam under the centre of the yurt. I don’t see how this could be an issue.

I cut down two of our other sixteen foot beams into eight foot beams, and we’ll locate them as chords on the perimeter of the yurts. They should also provide much more than enough support.

We dug down to rock under the ends of the beams, and stacked up the rock that we had gathered. Some of them were rather precarious, but we did manage to level them, after lots and lots of work.

This morning Grandpa came up with the much better idea of positioning only one loose rock against the bottom of our hole, and then placing a log on top of that. We can much more easily cut the log to size to help us to level off the beams above.

In the meantime, we’ve adjusted our priority list to get the tent up. So today we cut up a bunch of two by fours for the walls. We’re going to go off-manual for the tent assembly. Grandpa is more familiar with traditional construction techniques, so we’ll just construct a normal wall and ceiling assembly, and drape the canvas over that. I can’t see any issue with that.

We didn’t have any nails though, so unfortunately, in spite of great weather, I had to drive to town in the afternoon to pick up nails. (I also picked up 8″ boots – my steel toed shoes were okay, but after getting my ankles bashed a few times, and realizing how vulnerable they were to the chainsaw, I relented on this purchase). Actually, I also bought a few other odds and ends, grabbed yet MORE cash (Grandpa agreed that cash is a very useful thing to have around).

I also received another load of gravel today – it covered the whole width of our road, so I had to pick away at it with the tractor from the opposite side. Hopefully I can find a way to dig through the centre so that I can turn around and begin to push it onto the bough road. That should be much faster and easier. I accidentally short changed the gravel man, but I phoned as soon as I realized it, and he was very understanding and said I could make up for it on the next load.

Tonight, Donna, Kenny and I returned to the yurt area to clean up some swamp weed, and then discuss some of the layouts. We also discussed briefly some of our thoughts on an eventual cabin. I’m beginning to think that four by four beams may be the best option. Of course, it’s still early, and we haven’t learned everything about anything.
Everyone pitches in
That was about it for today. I’ll likely cut up a few more two by fours tomorrow to help finish up the tent. It sure will be nice to have that finished!


May 15, 2012 [construction]

Big beams on a little wagon So now we flipped back and forth between our two main projects – building the driveway in, and getting a base made for the yurts.

First off, we had to move the beams from the sawmill site to the yurt site. Grandpa has really been stress-testing his MTD. We loaded up these beams, three at a time, which required me to both hold them down (so they didn’t lift the rear tires of the MTD), but also to push them forward, as the terrain didn’t offer enough traction.

Grandpa had noted that some construction vehicles had been dumping some dynamited rock on a nearby back road, so we toured down there after a dump run, and loaded up his truck with any good sized rubble that was flat on top and bottom.

On returning, the MTD was pressed back into service to haul this rubble (I mean, piers) to our building site. We’re trying to save on funds, so this will help us to avoid having to purchase some cinder blocks, although I’m sure we still will need a few.

Grandpa had been planning on getting down to his camp to rake the lawn there for some time now, and this morning was his morning. He was kind enough to drive the tractor from the mill site, across his corduroy road, across his brush pile road, and right up to our gravel pile.

After he left, I had a bowl of Shreddies, and then jumped back in the saddle of the Yanmar myself. It went much better than I expected. I managed to chip away at probably 80% of the pile, throwing it down on the brush pile, flattening it, and then heading back to try to scoop up more. It was a really, really good education. I learned to feel more comfortable on the Yanmar, and even a few times I lifted one of the rear tires while trying to dig in and lift too much gravel. I was able to calmly lower the bucket and back out, without feeling like I had lost control of the situation.

Donna and Kenny came out, and while Kenny was a bit off-put that he couldn’t play too close to the tractor, we were able to (with effort), keep him engaged and out there with us. I made a small pile for him to use his bulldozer to smooth out. It was good that they were wearing their bug shirts – the blackflies have arrived! They were swarming like crazy, but I was able to work through it.
A cool looking dude
Grandpa arrived close to lunch, and I turned over my seat to him, and grabbed a shovel instead. Grandpa added more gravel from the remainder of the pile to the driveway, as he was certain that although I had coverage, it would settle quickly over time.

We did a late lunch, where we re-evaluated the yurt floor planning, and came up with a different idea, that will save us on having to cut quite a bit of lumber, while allowing us to use what we’ve already prepared. It did mean that we needed a few fourteen footers. So we found a likely candidate, and I felled it. I think I did better than the last one, where I dropped the tree directly onto my chainsaw case. This time I was within about 15 to 20 degrees of where Grandpa had asked it to drop. It was fine, we cut it up and dragged it to the sawmill.

Grandpa wasn’t sure why, but that log was heavy, like, really, really heavy! He totally lifted both rear wheels trying to lift the log, and even he had to relent that it wasn’t realistic to try to pick that up, and then maneuver a narrow U turn on uneven ground, before lifting it onto the skidway. We ended up just pushing it to the skidway, and then just lifting it straight up and on.

We really need to level out the area around the sawmill in order to make future work easier.

Four logs later, Grandpa declared it a day. I took this opportunity to check on Donna and Kenny before supper.

As for the floor joists, I didn’t cut them up today, so, tomorrow, weather permitting, I’ll likely saw them up into some 2 by 6s.
Courderoy road
In case you’re curious, this is how the other end of the corduroy road is looking. It will be interesting to see how many loads of gravel it will take before we get to it.

Road Building for Dummies

May 13, 2012 [construction]

Nice level ground for the tractor Today was actually a day mostly involved with preparing beams for under the deck, which will go under the yurts. Grandpa and I downed and limbed two more trees this morning, then worked away at figuring out how to use a combination of the winch and the tractor to get them over to the mill. The two winch cables that I had purchased worked well for about half a second. Then the two pipe clamps that I had used to connect them together disappeared into the bush, and I was left scratching my head. I created a new knot. It was a square knot, and then I tucked the loose ends of the cables back into the knot and we decided to give it a try. Under tension, the knot tightened into a pretty unique looking “butterfly” – but she held! The cable was a success! The winch, on the other hand, was mixed. It was terrifically slow to pull a log with tremendous effort, a few inches a minute, punctuated by efforts to unhook the log from stumps or underbrush. More thought is required on this account. Perhaps an electric winch somehow bolted to the tractor is in order?

In any case, after the logs were assembled at the mill, I spent the afternoon shaping them into a 4×5, and two more 5×5’s. I know it took a number of hours to make a few beams, but the knowledge that I had done it myself from tree to beam really made me prideful. (N.B. – I know, I need more Gellasenheit).

In any case, that was enough for the heart of the workday.

Supper was awesome, Donna had prepared a truly great chili con carne and toast – I liked it so much, I think I may have another helping when I finish this entry!

After supper, I spent a bit of time with Kenny, and reinstalled Mummu’s AOL software, and, when it was still before seven, I headed back to the bush, fired up the tractor, and drove it all the way around to the entrance of our driveway.

You see, this morning, a local contractor had dropped off a load of gravel at the end of the driveway, and I was interested to see if it was going to be possible for me to actually use the tractor to push gravel down the bush trail.

I started out very tentatively, trying to push a trail around the pile. I was very cautious at the edges, not wanting them to slide out from under me and leave me either stuck, or in a precarious position. It wasn’t too bad though. The first few pushes WERE rather soft. But each subsequent run seemed to pack down the gravel more and more, and as I reversed away, I applied down pressure with the bucket to help smooth things out and pack it even tighter. Eventually I managed to get completely around the pile, which to me felt to be a real accomplishment.
Please don’t assume Kenny is running in fear, I think he’s actually excited!
It isn’t a road, but it’s a start. Even if I have to relent and let someone else with a bigger machine do it for me, at least I conquered another fear, and demonstrated that, with patience, and faith the size of a mustard seed, I really can make things better, even if only incrementally.

Who is taking these pictures? Also, by what measure are you deciding that "today you have done enough" — running out of daylight? feeling tired enough not to continue? Most of us have our work-day more or less regulated for us, so I'm curious…
  • Viktor

My official photographress – Donna of course!
Generally, I work with Grandpa Oiva's schedule, although he's usually on the job before I am. If I don't have to catch up on paperwork or online stuff, then I sometimes go back out after supper. I suppose it would be interesting to see if there is a time when we don't feel like doing much, to see what would happen, but, right now, we are motivated to get the yurts up so that we can move into them as soon as possible!
  • Stephen Garstin

I understand. I'm so far removed from life on the farm that I've forgotten what the rhythms are like, and I can only imagine what it would be like to be building things up from scratch as you guys are. Knowing you as I do (even such a little bit) I suspect overdoing it is more within your range of possibilities than underdoing it. 8)
  • Viktor

Well, I'm perhaps guilty of overdoing my intention to not overdo it. ;).
Donna wants me to point out that the weather also contributes to our daily plans.
  • Stephen Garstin

Two by Fours a-Plenty!

May 12, 2012 [construction]

Well, yesterday was the big day. Grandpa and I finally rolled a log onto the bed of the sawmill from the skidway he had constructed, and I fired up the Kohler on the mill with loads of excitement and apprehension. Everyone cleared back, although my faithful photographer stayed in close for some great action shots.

I spent the better part of two or three hours, flipping logs, moving my mill head up and down, sawing logs, checking boards for square and consistency (both of which eluded me very consistently.)

I did end up with a small stack of eight foot long two by fours. Delightfully – true two by fours! My nominal size and finished size were likely to be very close to the same figure – just like our house in Kitchener :).

Of course, they are only my practise boards. They will likely be used to put up the awesome surplus canvas tent I received from my dojo as a parting gift – while it looks to be a great tent, it probably can deal with some supports that are less than square.

Then it came time to deal with the tractor again. I spent an hour or two in the evening yesterday trying to even out the main trail through our property using soil and gravel from our small private pit, before I shattered the handle of my spade, cutting my hand up enough for me to call it a day. The thought of the stability of the tractor weighed heavy on my mind last night. I was up until well after midnight, researching tractor tipping points, and rollover protection options. I will continue to look into rollover protection for the tractor, but in the meantime, I will simply refuse to do things that make me uncomfortable. We took on this venture to have fun and learn to relax – so losing sleep over this situation needs to be put aside.

Of course, today I arose bright eyed and bushy tailed. Actually, I was a bit reluctant to get to it this morning. Grandpa and I got started by eight, and I cut my teeth on chainsawing some real sized trees. I brought down three close to our driveway, and then Grandpa declared that he could handle it from there. I ventured back to the gravel pit to continue on my project of leveling off the trail for added tractor comfort.

Donna, Kenny and Mummu all pitched in to help clear the gravel pit of “swamp weed” (we’ll try to figure out what it really is called later…) And together we managed to level off a fair amount of the trail.
Kenny lining up some boards
Grandpa appeared around lunch hour, eager to get started on loading the big logs on the sawmill for supporting the yurts. We decided to go with 6, 16′ beams under the yurts. 16′ is a bit easier to manipulate in the bush, and we can take slightly smaller trees for that.

We already had two or three good candidates down near the saw, so we brought the tractor around, with the intention of using it to load the beams onto the skidway. After very little bobbing and dipping, I declared that I had had enough. Grandpa volunteered to load them on, and after my 1 minute instruction in how to use the tractor, he was off.

I am pretty sure he has 20-100 times the nerve that I do. He didn’t seem to flinch, as he loaded up the beams on the front end loader, proceeded to back up and down slopes that I wouldn’t attempt unladen, and it didn’t seem to cause him the least concern to lift a back wheel now and again. I felt profoundly outclassed. He either was supremely skilled, or… something else.

We were able to load one beam with the loader, but the next two were less co-operative. Grandpa used the tractor in some tight corners to drag one of the beams to the skidway, where he then lifted it on the loader. The other beam we just manhandled to the mill.

Later, we headed back to the gravel pit, where we noted a great candidate beam leaning high on a hill. Grandpa was sure he could back the tractor up the hill, and, in spite of hidden stumps and hazards, he started backing up. When the tractor got close to what I would think was a 30 degree angle, and I was totally certain he was about to tip, he finally relented, and brought it back to the path. I suppose on the plus side, I know that it can go far, far beyond my comfort point. I’ll try to carry that with me.

We climbed the hill, where I downed two good trees, so now we just have to find one more beam for the yurts. We decided we would just have to figure out a way to winch the trees off the hill and down to the tractor. It began to rain, which was a great chance for me to head to town. I managed to accomplish a number of errands in the two hours I had been allotted (before supper was to be served). I got to a credit union to rePIN my card (yes I forgot my PIN number). I deposited a few business cheques, withdrew some badly needed cash, and headed to “ToolTown” – where I picked up some magnetic levels (to attach to the tractor naturally – extra feedback), and a hand powered winch. Then I hit up Canadian Tire for some extra winch cables – serendipity! They were on sale! I bought two, which I will connect together, giving me hopefully 60 or more feet of winching capability.

On the way back to the in-laws, I managed to update my car ownership information, and even pick up a birthday present for Kenny (some more Lego on sale at Zellers).

I still felt a bit bummed out when I got back for supper… Feeling so uncomfortable on the tractor is a bit of a liability, but one that we’ll surely work through. The bush trails up here are pretty rough in places, and she has a very narrow wheelbase that is proving to be as much a liability as a feature.

Washing dishes with Donna and talking to her about how I felt and possible solutions was by far the best therapy though. I look forward to the chance to wash up dishes and chat with her, as so far we haven’t had loads of opportunities to connect – our chores don’t always coincide geographically, and, in the evenings, at least one of us is always ready to just fall straight asleep.

I’d love to hear any other anecdotes or stories about being nervous about something new, that turned out well in the end. Please, comment or email me if you have the time or inclination!

Hey Buddy! You will get used to it. The first car I bought was a standard and I had never driven one before! That was a bit nerve wracking. A few stalls out on the road for the first week or so created some stress, but soon I got the hang of it and it was clear sailing from there.
Maybe you have been getting more comfortable with it already…Sorry, I'm a bit behind on your blog posts!

  • Brad

Well, I'm way more use to it than I was, but I'm still not quite as brave as Grandpa. It's helpful that he's been working so much on the trails too.
  • Stephen Garstin

Building a Sawmill

May 10, 2012 [construction]

So, job one was clearing some land for both the yurts, and the sawmill. At first we divided our time between the two, but once the yurts were generally layed out, it was time to focus on the centre of our endeavour – the sawmill. After clearing off a suitable area, we purchased two, twelve foot long 6×6 beams from another local sawyer. It was a real challenge for Grandpa’s little MTD tractor and wagon to haul them through the bush, but, with me lifting the end so that he could gain the more than occasional traction, we managed to see it through.

It’s funny how things that look level really aren’t – we ended up having to stack a number of cinder blocks midway down the beams, and then I had to actually construct a rough crib of logs to hold up the really low end of the mill.

With the beams in place, we roughly assembled the tracks, and waited for things to settle. After a day of rain, we came back to shim and level things.

The difficult part started out easily enough – returning to my in-laws driveway, I couldn’t start the tractor – it appeared to be a dead battery. When we went to jump it though, we noticed that the terminal was almost falling off. Some sandpaper and awkward work with a wrench fixed that. She started up a charm, and I strapped the mast of the mill to the bucket. I was JUST able to lift the mast into my father-in-laws wagon, where we strapped it in place and he set off to the mill site. I followed on foot to make sure that nothing shifted in the wagon. His trip went fine, and so I returned to bring my tractor through the bush. This was the first time I had taken my tractor on anything rough. It went uneventfully, but when I arrived at the mill location, it appeared that there wasn’t anything terribly level for me to be able to lift the mill out of the wagon. It took lots of fritzing around to finally have the mill off the wagon, and that’s where the real excitement began! Although I lowered the mast, the tractor was somewhat unstable. As I tried to back up, one of the front tires found a low spot and it caused the back tire to lift up. A very unpleasant feeling! Like, REALLY unpleasant!

It even happened a second time, more pronounced, I had pretty much had enough of the venture. I was pushing off on a nearby tree, Donna was holding down the back tire, and Grandpa was holding up the front tire. I pulled forward again, we blocked under the tires, and that did the trick. I backed onto some more solid ground, and brought the mast straight to the end of the track. It was a relatively simple matter to slowly lower the mast onto the rails, where it ran nice and smooth.

Today was the day to finish up. I installed the gasoline engine, belts, blades and cables. By this time, it was late afternoon, and we decided to wait until tomorrow to do the first test run.

My final chores today were to try to level out the trail in some places. Every little dip and twist on the trail now has me second guessing how stable the tractor is – I know, people mow lawns on tremendous angles with them, but I am still finding my comfort level.

Well, we’re still making progress, I’ll try to keep you updated.

Awesome sauce!
  • Your Bruddah

Thanks for reading bro – it's nice to know that my posts aren't just disappearing into the ether!
You sure are missed. Make sure you keep me updated about YOUR construction adventures too.
I'll try to post again soon with more action.
  • Stephen Garstin

Really enjoying reading your progress on construction and how your dealing with things in a remote area. Based on he pictures your all adapting well. Take care and keep posting.
  • Troy C.-W.M.C

Thanks for reading Troy! I appreciate hearing from everyone back home. Kenny adapts the quickest and best. Then again, he spends most of his time with the Grandparents, which is probably fun for just about any child :).
  • Stephen Garstin


May 6, 2012

Moving went remarkably smoothly. It basically followed my plan exactly, with one minor hitch – I was profoundly ill during some of the most important parts. I suppose this is where good planning, and great family, pays their dividends.

Saturday, after a wonderful lunch at
King’s Buffet with my fellow Aikidoka, I noticed that I was beginning to feel as though something was coming on – scratchy throat, achy back, general malaise.

Sunday morning I thought I had recovered a bit, although I had a bit of a runny nose. Sunday afternoon was suppose to be family dinner, but with my riding the couch the entire afternoon, a pattern was soon to develop.

Monday was moving day! I felt marginally better after a sleep, and managed to direct the driver from
Pestell Transport to the proper location right outside our house. My father came by very shortly afterwards, and was amazingly helpful. We managed to get the yurts fully loaded, and had started on some of the basement items, before I succumbed to my condition again, and I ended up taking an hour or two to nap and rebuild some of my resources. Everyone was so understanding and helpful, I can’t possibly express my gratitude enough. I did get back to it, and between my father and I, we managed to load everything in good time. I drove over to my friend’s house to pick up the tractor (he had graciously allowed me to park it at his house for the winter), and there we managed to get it to start on the first try! I drove it right onto the tilt and load truck that had been sent over from Active Frank’s. Back at my house, she started up again on queue, and I was able to drive her right into the back of the trailer, and tucked her in nice and tight against the side, and back of my gear. I called for the trailer to be picked up, emailed my brother and my buddy Brad to tell them they didn’t need to come after work to help out, and collapsed onto the couch for another night.

The remainder of the week I don’t really remember, aside from the pattern of waking up feeling marginally better, but more stuffed up, and then feeling completely awful by evening again. On Friday, I dragged myself to the doctor, where they pronounced a strong suspicion of a sinus infection. I received a prescription for antibiotics, and began taking them immediately. Later that afternoon, I met my brother to drive up to Thunder Bay to meet my trailer. He was kind enough to drive the first evening, and even listened to my choice in music and podcasts! We stayed at our usual spot in Sudbury, where we had an uneventful night of watching the Food Network on cable television.

Saturday I took the wheel for a few hours between Wawa and Nipigon, but perhaps I needed more rest, as I definitely felt myself flagging, and my brother complained that my driving was not up to his high standards. The welcome we received at my in-laws cheered me greatly though, between them and my medication, I was feeling much better.

Sunday we began unloading, and had made great progress by the time the driver from
Smith and Walter’s arrived to unload the tractor. This time it didn’t quite go as smoothly. The battery went dead, perhaps from me trying to warm the glow plug too much. Then, after he boosted the battery and I managed to start the engine, for some reason, the left rear wheel refused absolutely to turn. We eventually gave up and dragged the tractor off the trailer, and then dragged it down to the ground. An inauspicious beginning! The driver was duly recompensed, and we finished unloading the trailer into my in-laws garage before noon. I hopped back on the tractor, intending to adjust every lever I could find to see if I could learn something about the mystery of the immoveable wheel, except that it worked fine right away. Sigh. I must have bumped something, but it will take more experimentation to find out what. Mmmm, Lappe Mountain Pizza for supper though – that was a nice treat – even if I had lost my sense of taste.

On Monday we flew back south, which ended up a little stressful, as traffic was heavy and we were to meet the tenants to turn over the keys. Our friend Brad, who is also our property manager, managed to delay them until we arrived, which was only momentarily late. We also received a lovely card and blanket from our church, which has already been put to good use by Kenny.

Tuesday we packed the last of our belongings, locked up the house for the last time, said goodbye to the neighbours, and spent the remainder of the day and evening with my parents. Wednesday morning we went out for breakfast at
Jack’s Family Restaurant. Fortunately my parents had already booked tickets to come and see us in a few weeks, so the goodbyes were more “see you soon”s, at least, to my mind. By Thursday evening, we were back in Thunder Bay as a family.

The move is finished, and I am mostly back to my normal self (although I still can’t really taste or smell much, and I still have issues with my sinuses.)

Until next time.

Thanks Steve for the update – I am going to enjoy reading this blog 🙂 I knew part of the update … until Donna left us at Public Health. Glad to hear that you are feeling better and that you are together as a family in Thunder Bay.
  • Melanie

Glad for the update – miss you guys – what happened to Donna's facebook? All my chatter scare her away 🙂
Keep updating please.
  • Anonymous

Red Tape

April 20, 2012

Sorry to everyone who has been waiting so patiently for our next post – preparing for the move has been both easier, and much more difficult than expected.

I have tried hard to be proactive, and have been packing up and organizing items for the past few months. I believe I have done a really good job at it too – this weekend will be the real push, as Monday is when our transport trailer is scheduled to arrive, and as of last night, we’re going to attempt to have it fully loaded in one day.

The past two days have been a bit of a headache though. I can feel my stress levels building up a bit, old anxiety type symptoms seem to be plaguing me again, and things that I thought were dealt with, have come back in strange, and annoying ways.

First was our mailbox. On Wednesday night as I was returning home from
Aikido class, I noted that I had missed a phone call from Thunder Bay. It was Canada Post informing me that my request for a mailbox had been denied – no formal structure=no mailbox. It’s a bit off-putting, as we aren’t asking them to deliver directly to our property – just to the common group of “super” mailboxes that already exists. More annoying still is that there seemed to be no chance for appeal – the voicemail simply stated the facts, and then hung up. I returned home, and found that they had sent an automated email that was even less encouraging – basically telling me my case number was closed. The End.

On the plus side, their customer service number was still open until 8pm, and Evan, the fellow I spoke to was very sympathetic to our situation, and reopened our case with a new ticket number and further clarification of our intentions and need for mail service. I’m hoping that they will do the right thing.

Yesterday was also a bit of a long day, as it was determined that insurance on our house, while having been finally arranged, didn’t extend to our property in Thunder Bay. I suggested all I wanted was liability, but they weren’t enthused about the idea of us living there, and building our own home. If I wasn’t a licensed contractor, it was somehow a big deal. The quote for us to live in a tent and build a cabin in the bush was quite a bit more than we are paying for our rental house in the city! I didn’t hear back from our broker about how things ended up – and I’ve tried calling one or two other places, so we’ll see what transpires. I have no philosophical issue with insurance, I just want to be realistic – liability makes sense, but to charge more for it than for comprehensive coverage doesn’t make sense.


Ahhh, but now today I have heard back from my current broker, and he says that they will continue to extend liability coverage to us at our current rate for both properties, even when we live in Thunder Bay full-time. That’s super news! We do have to check back when we begin building our home though, so we’ll deal with that, then.

Until our next post…

How I Sort Through Books (A Guest Post From My Wife)

February 11, 2012

As we go through our belongings and decide what to pack for the move and what to give away, I’m looking at our books with a new focus, asking:

Will I read this book before we move? (Trying to be realistic about the limited time left here.)

Do I want to pack and move this book because I want to read it next winter in our yurt? (Assuming that we will be too busy working outdoors in the summer, during the longer hours of daylight.)
Is this a book that I will want to refer to for information? (And will it be easier to get the information from this book than from the internet?)

Is this a book that has meaning to me or my family? (Such as my “learn to speak Finnish” workbooks and books about Finlanders immigrating to Canada.)

Was this a book that inspired me, gave me strength, or otherwise led me to this point in our adventure?

It is this last question which prompted me to write this post. There are some books that I have read, and while part of me wants to hold onto them — to remember the feeling I had when I read them; to flip through the pages and get re-inspired; to see what additional nuggets I can glean — I know that the books could be put to better use by sharing them with others, who may then be inspired and gain strength to move forward with their own dreams. So these books will be going to a thrift store, and I will also share their titles with you. If you’d like to know more about these books, send me a comment and I will reply.

Books that inspired me, in no particular order (amazon affiliate links):

  1. Beyond Black Bear Lake (copyright 1987, but I got it from the used book store only a couple of years ago) by Anne LaBastille
  2. Thinking Like a Mountain (c. 2000) by Robert Bateman
  3. Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy the Things that Really Matter (c. 2001) by Elaine St. James
  4. The Practical Dreamer's Handbook: Finding the Time, Money and Energy to Live the Life You Want to Live (c. 2001) by Paul & Sarah Edwards
  5. Follow Your Heart: Finding Purpose in Your Life and Work (c. 1997) by Andrew Matthews
  6. Don't Sweat the Small Stuff for Women: Simple and Practical Ways to Do What Matters Most and Find Time for You (c. 2001) by Kristine Carlson
  7. Finding Your Strength in Difficult Times: A Book of Meditations (c. 1993) by David Viscott (The content of this book is actually much more uplifting than its title or cover art suggest.)

One nice thing about all these books is that they were an easy read; several consisted of short sections with key messages highlighted.

I'm sure there were other books that inspired me, but they were from the library or I've already passed them on (or my husband has already packed them), so I don't have them here to reference. Maybe in a future post we will reflect on other sources of inspiration for our adventure. Let us know what you would be interested in hearing about or any other questions for us.

Buying a Truck

February 8, 2012[ vehicles]

After buying the tractor, our next step was to find a pickup truck. It has also been a good exercise in learning the ins and outs of human nature, human kindness, and inhumane taxes ;).

I’m not sure how I came by the knowledge that in spite of a childhood of mocking Ford products, their trucks were worth a chance – but I certainly had that impression. While an F150 may be popular, I was looking for the smallest thing I could find. A Ranger definitely fit the bill – and a bit of internet research only served to reinforce that idea.

I also knew that the Mazda B-series of trucks have been rebranded Rangers (or is it the other way around?) for a few decades now – so I was willing to consider them as well.

My brother favours the Toyota line of trucks, and with good reason. Our little Echo has performed a champ since we purchased it, and I have no complaints whatsoever about it! But even with what I considered fairly generous price criteria, no Toyota’s ever came up in my searches within my price point…

There still were daily groupings of one or two Ford Rangers/Mazda B’s available, so it didn’t take long for me to get a feel for pricing and what I should be looking at.

It’s a really interesting study in just how differently two people can view the same situation. The first truck I went to look at seemed in really, really good shape. It was owned by a young fellow who clearly loved the truck at one time. It was very clean, had some nice aftermarket touches, and was in the right price range for the kilometres on it. But then he pointed out that it was missing the entire exhaust system – He said someone had stolen it. Unwilling to even consider driving a vehicle without an exhaust to a mechanic to have it inspected, I decided to pass.

The next one, a Mazda with very high kilometres, again owned by a young guy (come to think of it, four out of five trucks that I looked at were owned by guys under 30!) seemed like a good deal, but talking to a friend who was giving out an AMAZING amount of free advice and help, I asked after getting the vehicle certified. Although the fellow said it only required a $40 brake cable to safety, he was unwilling to have it done himself, and I was counselled to avoid buying a vehicle that *I* had to safety myself.

On to a nice, low-kilometre Ranger with a supercab and a snappy paint job. In this case my mechanically inclined friend even took it upon himself to inspect the vehicle! I can’t believe he did that for me without any prompting – it really impressed me greatly. Unfortunately, neither the vehicle, nor the seller, were really suitable material. My friend wasn’t impressed with the condition of the body, nor the fact that the parking brake needed replacing for a safety. (Again, four out of five trucks needed the parking brake replaced to make safety – I believe that *IS* a known issue with Rangers…) Myself, I instantly put this vehicle in the “no-go” category when the seller pointed out the broken bumper where he had been “showing off and got stuck on a fence – I had to get a buddy come with HIS truck to pull me off”… If that’s how someone freely admits to treating their vehicle, I’m afraid I have to say no thank-you.

Next up, another young man (obviously at this point) was trying to reboot his life by selling off most of his possessions and moving to another city. His truck was in better condition than the others so far, and he graciously allowed me to take it to my friend to have him look it over. He seemed to think it was okay, although there seemed to be an issue with the wheel bearing – and the front tires didn’t match. The seller couldn’t explain the tires, and said that he would safety the vehicle, so I kept it under careful consideration.

That same day though, a new ad appeared at the highest end of my cut off price. Actually, it was AT my limit, and advertised as having to be sold by Monday (this was Friday), otherwise, it was just going to be traded in at the dealer. My mechanic had some time off in the afternoon, so I drove him to take a look at this new vehicle. It had the lowest kilometres thus far (and was four years newer than anything else I had seen) – and was in really good shape. A few little dents and scrapes, but no rust! Both of us thought it looked like the best candidate yet – my friend said that the difference in price was worth getting a vehicle so much newer. I called the lady later in the afternoon, and after my tiny bit of price haggling (mostly to feel like I DID get a special deal), we agreed on $200 less than the asking price, paid in cash the next day. I rushed to the credit union, apologized for having such short notice on such a large cash withdrawl, but was still sent off with what I believe is the largest sum of cash I’ve ever carried (breaking my old record set a month earlier by the purchase of the tractor ;)) – this homesteading thing isn’t for the faint of fiscal heart!

The next morning, she delivered the truck to a nearby Canadian Tire, where they pronounced it fit for safety – AFTER a parking brake cable – which I had already resigned myself to expecting. We signed the papers, but by this point, the MTO office was closed, and I left the truck with Canadian Tire for the weekend.

Monday afternoon my father and I headed back to Canadian Tire, picked up the safety and etest certificates, returned to the MTO office (on the other side of town) and waited in line for my turn. I clearly demonstrated my vehicular ignorance when I had to confirm that I was going to pay HST on a used vehicle – ouch! Another $1000 I wasn’t expecting!

We returned to Canadian Tire to put on the plates, and started her up! It had been snowing the wet, heavy stuff that afternoon, and as soon as I turned on the wipers, the driver’s side wiper fell off – ha ha. Luckily we were at Canadian Tire! I ran in and bought a new one, and with that in place, we headed for home.

Gosh, driving a rear-wheel drive pickup truck in wet snow was an experience I had quite forgotten about. Especially a manual transmission! Slight fishtails at every stop, and me having palpitations thinking of the hills I was going to have to climb to get home… I luckily managed to time the lights at the bottom of the worst hill, so that I was able to get up it, and take the back roads for home. I don’t like driving on the 401 at the best of times, and with this weather and unfamiliar vehicle, I took the road less travelled!

Getting over to my buddy’s place, who was generously allowing me to park my tractor in his garage, we realized that there wasn’t really room to get the truck in beside the tractor… Perhaps if we moved the tractor to the opposite side of the garage, and tucked it way in the back…

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to start a cold diesel tractor inside a garage, but let me assure you, you’ll soon get a lifetime’s supply of exhaust intake! It took me a good five minutes just to get her started. Warming the glow plugs, then trying to turn her over, then back to the plugs, then back to turning her over, all the while with black smoke blowing – ugh! Of course, once she started, it took forever again to get the hydraulic fluid warmed up. Probably another five minutes of sitting in the garage with smoke all around, until we could lift the cultivator and loader enough to move. Add to this mix, the fact that the shift pattern is a total mystery, and we have a few more moments before I got the tractor tucked in – but I did!

The truck fit in with about three or four inches to spare on either side :).

Dad and I headed over to
Morty’s Pub, where we rounded out our eventful evening by polishing off thirty outstanding and varied flavours of chicken wings – it sure was nice to have that settled!

Buying a Tractor

January 12, 2012 [vehicles]

I never could have imagined myself actually owning a tractor of any size just a few years ago. Growing up in Wellesley, there was no shortage of tractors in my life, but I certainly had little interest in them aside from their usefulness in hauling wood out of Schneider’s Bush.

It was my brother, who had the love for all things farming. He was the sort of fellow who actually rolled the windows of the car DOWN when we passed a manure spreader to enjoy the odour.

I began first considering a tractor when we were very seriously negotiating to purchase a different property. It had a beaver dam and creek separating the driveway from the best location for a cabin or homestead, so it was decided that a road must be built across. Clearly a tractor was in order, and, as such, I began learning the basics – but nothing too serious – I would save that for if we actually bought the land. When we didn’t, I let my interest wane.

Now, though, we are again in the same situation. There is a distance of low lying land between our entrance, and the most likely spot for us to build. It seems to me that the most economical solution will be to have my own compact tractor and either dig my own gravel, or still have it trucked in, and I will handle the job of pushing it around.

As soon as the ink was dry on our paperwork, my wife and I decided to take a drive around the area, researching both tractors, and solar power. Our first stop was
Rosslyn Service. They had a gorgeous Yanmar/Cub Cadet there, but, at $13,000.00, it was just fun to kick the tyres and move on.

We stopped in town at a number of solar power outfits, but I was disappointed at how they all seemed intent on either grid-tie systems, or on just doing everything for me. I’m of the mindset of starting very small, and learning the ins and outs myself as I go along. It was not a little frustrating, but I’m trying to take it in stride and it gives me more time to do my own research into the subject.

Our last tractor stop of the day was at
The Chainsaw Centre – right in town. They also had some really beautiful Kubota machines. But again, the $14,000.00 price tag made it simply another educational field trip where I could learn a bit more about what was available, and how the technology has changed (or not) over the years.

So, for the past number of months, I’ve been subscribed to the compact tractor alert on Kijiji. It appears that most compact tractors with a loader seem to be going for around $6,000.00 to $14,000.00 (yes, even used!) – so when I saw one nearby for $4,500.00, I bookmarked it and began a few very tentative questions. Eventually I realized that it wouldn’t hurt to go out and see what an older, used machine was still capable of. My brother graciously agreed to accompany me on a short road trip, and we were both really impressed with the condition of this little Yanmar YM155D.

I made an offer, which I was accepted, and yesterday I took delivery.

Thanks to the kindness of friends, I have the use of a garage for the winter, so I had her dropped off there yesterday, and got her tucked in safe and sound.

<ninja edit – fixed too many “yesterdays” due to typing this entry over the course of a few days.>