The AikiHomestead

Our Lifestyle Blog as We Create a Homestead in Northern Ontario

Beginning the New Year – Similar to the Old Year!

January 2, 2013

Pots on hot stove.
Yesterday was the first day to get back into the routine here on the homestead. Of course, there is only a simulated routine – circumstances always dictate what we’re up to. We began with a treat. Grandpa had received a new waffle iron for Christmas, and was interested, if not eager to try it out. We were more than happy to eat his experiments. As such, we were up and out of the yurts and sniffing around their dining room table shortly after Kenny got up.
Thermometer reading 44 degrees CelsiusSlushy water in buckets.Pouring water from a kettle onto a water line in winter.
Grandpa had a few issues with the waffle iron, noticeable really only to him, as I found them to be delicious, and in no need of improvement in any department. It has fewer cavities for butter, syrup and jam, but the ones it does have are larger – a fair trade off in my opinion.

In any case, Mummu and Grandpa filled our bellies with tasty, warm food, and our minds with morning conversation.

Grandpa and I agreed to tackle our original bush trail – no real snow was predicted for the upcoming few days, so we decided to press on and try to recover some more large logs from across the ravine.

I left the festivities to warm up water (to pour down the well and hopefully free up our water supply), as well as to start up the new generator (apologies to the two-stroke haters – I really look forward to retiring that generator once it has served its purpose). The new generator started after a good twenty pulls. About a pull for every degree below zero it was. This is still a big improvement over the 120 that the four stroke required.

As an experiment, I ran the generator near the dojo tent, and with an extension cord, plugged in the tractor, which had a short 120volt cable hanging from the engine block. I wasn’t sure what that cord could be for, as it attached directly to the engine, rather than wrapping around the battery or something like any block heaters I had ever seen before.

My instincts were good though, as within a few moments I could feel the warmth around the cable, and after about fifteen minutes Grandpa arrived and announced that he couldn’t comfortably touch that part of the engine.

Still, the tractor required a bit of coaxing to start. I let it roll out of the dojo tent, spewing black diesel smoke, where the air was fresher for the operator, and it could have more of a chance to warm up.

I called Donna back to the yurts to report in for hot water duty – a challenge she accepted with better humour than I expected. As my readers know, she is a very long-suffering young lady who sure is willing to put up with much :).

A stock pot and two kettles went down the well, then another stock pot and two more kettles went down the well. Then I set off through the bush to deal with the water later – nothing seemed to be moving yet, but I figured that the ice block must be rather thick after we had been gone for the holidays. At least now we have a new high bar for stovepipe temperature that can be achieved without incident.

I offered Grandpa the option to take the tractor back to the bush. I like to let Grandpa operate the tractor when he is helping because I don’t think it’s right that he has to walk everywhere while I ride in comfort, and also because he is much braver at taking the tractor into new and precarious places than I am. I’ll let you formulate your own ratio as to what balance those two reasons have – am I being more noble, or more fearful? I don’t know the answer to that myself…

Grandpa accepted, and we were off. We made great progress, until we got across the ravine and hit our first serious incline. Grandpa had been prepared though, bringing along his hand-cranked winch right away with the understanding that this was inevitable. We quickly hooked up the winch and were able to coax the tractor up the first slope. As I dismantled the winch and chains, Grandpa continued up into the bush. I grew to understand why he wears mittens in this weather – my insulated gloves are still no match for the temperature, and I can assure you that pulling your fingers into the palms of a glove, and trying to use it as a mitten, is not very effective. Alternating which hand had finger use, I managed to unhook the winch and carry chains and accessories up to where Grandpa encountered the second incline.

We also conquered this obstacle with little difficulty, and managed to turn the tractor around and skid out three logs.

Back at the yurts, Donna managed to get more water up near to a boil, at cost of the temperature going from this:

To this:

Actually, the first thermometer was recorded in our fridge in the back yurt, reflecting how cold things must have gotten while we were away. The second thermometer is located above the doorway between the two yurts, so it is always a few degrees warmer than elsewhere.

I poured down more hot water, and still no go. Grandpa left for his lunch and I dismantled the water line to see if the blockage was in a previously discounted location. When Donna was plugging in the pump, I could see that a fair bit of water was actually being pumped out of the well, so the blockage must be further up than I thought possible.

Opening up the line 100′ from the well, I tried my basic test of blowing through the hose towards the yurts. You can imagine my surprise when I couldn’t! It was a mixed feeling – did I have two ice jams? One down the well, and one further up?

I asked Donna to plug in the pump again as Grandpa returned from his lunch. With trepidation I listened at the open end of the pipe. I thought I could hear water gurgling.

The mental image of a gush of ice water pouring into my ear convinced me to hold my hand over the end and feel for escaping air. Just as I did this, my hand got treated to the aforementioned ice water.

Exciting! Sort of… I didn’t have to go down the well! Now to find the blockage… I broke out my new fishtape, and discovered the blockage was upstream about 20-30 feet, at a spot where the line curved around between two logs and was suspended in mid air. I’m sure I checked it with the level and it was still on an incline, but there was no way the fishtape was passing.

Grandpa and I set Donna to heating more water, and decided to return to the bush to retrieve some more logs. This time I took the tractor seat, and managed to fortuitously climb the first incline in four wheel drive without having to bust out the winch.

After making a six point turn in the middle of the bush, I was turned around and we hooked up two more logs. This was exciting!

I returned the logs to the skidway, and then Grandpa and I started back on the water line. In spite of pouring kettle after kettle of hot (gradually becoming warm) water on the spot where the blockage was, we were unable to get the fish tape to move any further. Eventually Grandpa returned home, and I poured out my last kettle and still hadn’t gained an inch.

I left the fishtape in the line, and then headed up to the yurts to bring the buckets down to the opening in the water line, to fill them there.

This worked just fine. I got Donna to start a load of laundry then, and refilled the buckets for a future load. When she finished that load, there was still a basket to do, so I figured we shouldn’t quit now, and we agreed to do the second load while we were already in that mode. Although the water from the well was liquid, it rapidly turned to slush once in the buckets.

It was exciting to see the water pump successfully from the machine on the first go – I was certain that it would be too frozen.

I filled up the buckets again after she poured them out into the washing machine, and then closed up the water line.

Donna wondered why I didn’t continue trying to free up the main line, but I declared that I had had more than enough of pouring kettles onto the line with no success. I think I will cut the line at the blockage to get a better grip on the problem. Then reconnect it after picking up some connectors in town.

As I went to close the other end of the water line, I realized that I couldn’t move the fishtape – the kettles must have melted a bit of water, which refroze around the fishtape when I left it in place for the past hour or so.


Back to the yurts for a kettle, with images of my fishtape and water line left in this position until spring.

I poured out the kettle on the blockage again, and then worked out a few frustrations tugging on the line until with a final “Uff”, freed it.

I coiled it up, covered the end of the blocked line, and headed inside to help prepare for supper.

Just More Firewood

January 6, 2013

Load of firewood on sledge in winter.
Shortly after the holidays, we found ourselves back into the slab pile, rather than a nice wood pile. Grandpa and I hitched up the tractor and as I mounted up he walked ahead to start cutting down a dead tree we had noted on a previous expedition.

I got to the base of the ravine, stomped on the four wheel drive lever, and scrabbled my way back and forth from one side of our tracks to the other, but made absolutely no forward progress.

After about five minutes, I tried the trick of unhooking the trailer and trying with just the tractor, then hooking up the trailer once the tractor was past the steepest portion. This of course didn’t work.

I walked up to Grandpa to report on things, and I suggested I would go get my comealong from the dojo tent. He agreed, continued cutting, and I returned along the trail.

When I got back I began hooking up the comealong to a nearby tree. Grandpa happened along, and hopped on the tractor. Without blinking an eye, he drove it right past me and the comealong on his first attempt.


Tossing my equipment into the bucket with muted disappointment in my own abilities, we headed up the trail to where he had finished cutting and bucking the tree. It didn’t take long to fill the trailer and return to the yurts where I rounded out the adventure by splitting the larger pieces.

This proved to be some of the best wood we have gotten! It burns twice as long as anything else we have found – a real pleasure, and I feel sad that it’s only one tree and already nearly gone.

Then it was time for Grandpa’s trip to town. I attempted to repeat our performance single-handedly. I got slightly further up the slope, but again was stymied by the slippery slope. This time I cut down all the nearby brush, piling it on the slope and trying to make a rough brush mat trail. This worked a bit, but I still spun the tires just inches short of the crest.

Over the course of the next hour and a half or so, I was able to finally hook up the comealong (which I had sagely brought with me this time), and in a combination of dragging the tractor an inch, then trying to drive it an inch, then dragging it, then driving it, I eventually conquered my mountain!

I cut down a monster jack pine that was unfortunately infested with ants, such that there was no lumber in it, but still much decent firewood.

It was relaxing to finally shut off the saw and carry the logs through the bush and back to the trail. Eventually I got every last one, including the largest one at the stump which had mocked me initially by rolling all the way down the hill to the bottom of the ravine as soon as I cut it. I kept replaying my bible stories of the good shepherd, who, in spite of having all but one of his sheep, spent his time rescuing the lost one. It took me half of my gathering time just to heave that stump back up the ravine to the trail.

I managed to turn the tractor and trailer around at a fork in our trail, which was a boon as it would have been very difficult to disconnect the trailer and turn it by hand with only myself there.

I loaded up the wood, and returned to the yurts amid great fanfare – just kidding – Donna and Kenny had gone to town too, so there was no one to share my victory with.

I split what I had brought and put it in the woodshed to join the previous load. The shed now has enough wood to carry us well into February (hopefully), so I can shift priorities for a short while.

Cutting Beams for a Cabin

January 8, 2013

Sawmill covered in snow.On Sunday I decided to start the morning on the sawmill, try to use up all the petrol I had, and then make a trip to town in the afternoon to get more at Bannon’s Gas Bar. While driving down the road can net you a few pennies off per litre, Bannon’s has both clear and dyed diesel – something I needed for the tractor.I fired up the mill first thing, and started to work.
Beams stacked above the snow.
I must say that my new Christmas ear protectors were a real pleasure – I listened to a number of podcasts via Bluetooth while I worked. My only complaint would be that certain podcasts were too quiet to overcome the sound of the mill at full output, so I only took them in piecemeal. Next time I may just listen to the radio and save podcasts for nighttime or something a bit quieter.

My output was pretty good. I think I milled about four or five beams for the cabin, and one for the sauna. This was reassuring, as I had up until then only been getting smaller beams from my first number of logs. I still worry that I have only scratched the surface of the number of beams I will ultimately need, but we will have to see how it plays out once we have more designs drawn up.

It was also a nice, sunny day, and so I spent time between beams at the solar panels, tweaking them in tiny increments to gather every last electron I could. Somehow just knowing that the days are getting longer (albeit, only a minute or two so far) has me feeling better about our system. I guess the direction situations are taking is more important than where they are, psychologically speaking.

Eventually the lunch hour passed, and I checked in with Donna and Kenny to see if they were interested in riding to town with me. They had decided not to bother, so I set off on my own. In addition to the fuel, I stopped by Canadian Tire, Wal-Mart and Maier Hardware to pick up the parts I would need to get the water flowing around our place again. Stay tuned for THAT adventure.

How Not to Bypass a Frozen Water Line

January 9, 2013

Two men trying to thaw a frozen water line in the snow.As both of my readers know, trying to get water has been an ongoing issue here. We waffle between having trouble just getting liquid water, and then when we do, we have issues with whether or not it is potable (so far, not completely).
White potable water hose suspended in the forest.Man blowing into a water line outside of a yurt.Man with swollen lips.
When we returned from vacation, we were really disappointed to receive our latest water test saying: “Overgrown – heavily contaminated with bacteria often found in the environment. This condition interferes with the detection of coliforms or E. coli that may be present in your sample.” This really surprised us after the previous two tests had said there was no bacteria to be found at all!

We also returned from vacation to find that somehow a very long section of hose had been frozen solid, in spite of that hose being open to drainage at both ends.

It looked pretty much impossible to thaw this length of hose, so Grandpa and I wisely decided to just bypass it with a length of RV hose. (One should not use regular garden hose for drinking water, in spite of our childhood memories… I believe at one time they actually used lead to soften the hose, and that it still contains stuff that you don’t want to drink from.)

We still needed to thaw out about 25′ of my original hose, which we opted to try by running hot water over it.

We pursued this for a few hours before Grandpa packed it in. I then had the genius idea to pour hot water in one end of the hose, and then try to suck it out the other end – I could picture the hot water seeping past the ice chunks, melting them quickly and freeing up the hose.

Alternating between sucking and then letting the water and ice run out, I quickly reduced my upper lip to a slab of meat. Duckface anyone?

It did eventually work though – the last chunk of ice fell free, and I hooked up the hose and fired up the pump! Exciting!

Soon a trickle began to flow out into our yurts. Then, it progressed to slower trickle. With patience, it returned to a trickle.

After staring at the drops for a good half hour, I looked down the well – it looked like it was frozen pretty solid on top, but there seemed to be good water underneath.

I began disconnecting the hose in various spots to see where the flow was restricted. Imagine my delight to discover that it was the bypass hose!

While I’m no engineer, I have thought this through a bit after the fact. For starters, to go from a 1″ diameter hose to a 1/2″ diameter hose probably restricts my flow about 60-70% right out of the gate. Now I also suspect that the walls of the hose are not as ridgid as those of my pipe, which likely absorbs lots of the force of the pump, further reducing my ultimate flow. While the pump has been admirable at pumping water this height and distance, it isn’t producing residential water pressure.

So there you have it. I simply have to thaw the frozen pipe. Today I will likely cut free the remaining length of pipe and try to find a way to get it into the yurts without too much craziness.

Once I have it running again, I’m not completely sure how to prevent the situation from recurring. I somehow suspect that it was because on my final pumping, I only pumped one bucket of water, perhaps not enough to ensure all the ice in the hose had been melted out.

I also notice that once the pump is disengaged, the suction of the water dropping back into the well holds water in the hose leading to the yurts for a few minutes. Perhaps I can try to blow down the hose after each use to ensure no water is locked in place.

Hopefully I can talk about something else soon!


Cutting my own Stickers

January 12, 2013

Boy climbing a tree in winter with yurts in the background.Once I had a full layer of beams beside my building site, as well as another full layer by the sawmill for moving to the building site, I knew I had to cut some stickers.
Young boy carrying sticks in winter.Young boy carrying sticks in winter.Pile of stickers and logs near some yurts.
Stickers are smaller “sticks” of a uniform size that you space out between layers of lumber so that it can dry more quickly and consistently.

I had loads of 1″ planks already piled up at the sawmill, a by-product of milling the beams. It took the better part of a morning to drag the larger generator out of the dojo tent and into the open air. I then dug out my table saw from under the piles of tools and parts that had accumulated on top of it. Once I had these two items together, I began again to struggle with the starter cord on the generator. After a few more than 50 or 60 pulls, it roared to life and I was in business!

It was relaxing, enjoyable work to simply rip the boards down to 1″ sticks. Once I had a largish pile of these, I removed the fence from the table saw, and continued to use it to cut the sticks into approximately 4′ lengths.

I discarded pieces that had too much bark on them, and this still left me with what I thought to be a large pile.

Kenny was more than happy to transport these stickers from the sawmill to the building site – and we were more than happy to let him go!

He experimented with various methods to carry the stickers – I liked his impromptu travois best.

Now that I have three layers of beams stacked up, I see that my stickers may still be too far apart, and require some additions. Oh well, better to find out now rather than later…

Global Warming Comes to Thunder Bay

January 13, 2013

Tractor clearing snow with a grader blade.Thursday and Friday, it was raining. This is in January! It is very disconcerting for many reasons.
Very dirty trail cleared through snow.Young boy with toy loader in the snow.
Most immediately, it means that it is actually getting more difficult for me to get back into the bush where the larger trees are. I need that access to be able to build our cabin in the spring/summer/fall! It’s melting the snow that levels off the terrain for the tractor.

Trying to take slight advantage of the melted snow, I hooked up the grader blade to the tractor and decided to hit my snowbanks hard. This took far longer than I expected. I guess I need more experience mostly.

First I did a quick pass along the trail leading back to the yurts.

Then I tried to really clean up the area around where we park the vehicles. I was getting tired of having to use the come-along nearly every time I tried to park the truck. I am not exaggerating. At least half the times we try to turn the truck around, it gets stuck. Grandpa thinks perhaps I need more weight in the back of the truck. I suppose this isn’t impossible to accomplish – I just need to purchase more cinder blocks I suppose.

After clearing these areas, it was time to tackle the driveway.

I swung the grader blade around to point backwards and proceeded in reverse down the driveway. This was very hard on the back and neck after the first hour. The second hour was painful. The third hour I tried to twist around to the other side, but it really made it awkward to operate the three point hitch lever when you’re turned away from it. The fourth hour I decided I didn’t need my driveway to be so wide. The fifth hour Grandpa came out with his scoop to ensure there was no evidence of snow left on the road from my endeavours. We both had read in the Lappe Lantern a warning to people that they were not allowed to have any snow from their driveway on the public road, subject to fines.

While the driveway looks messy with the dirty snow exposed, it is much wider now, so hopefully we can continue to get to town when we need to.

Still the rain was coming down, and a very soggy me returned to the yurts for some home made chicken noodle soup and wonderful grilled cheese sandwiches. As hard as it is to prepare most foods on the woodstove, Donna has completely perfected the ability to make grilled cheese sandwiches. I think this is very fortunate, as soup and grilled cheese is almost my favourite meal!

The best part of the day came at the end – sauna night and the bliss that comes from being steamed and cleaned.

If you decide to add weight in the truck, remember that the further back the weight is, the better. No need to fill the whole truck bed. Start with just the space from the rear axle to the tailgate.
Also, you could use snow instead of cinder blocks for weight. You have plenty of it on hand. And it self-empties at the right time – when it's warm enough that you don't need it any more.
  • Jay Bazuzi (2013-01-13)

Thanks Jay! How did you get to be so smart?
I have five blocks already tied against the lift gate, but I suppose I need to add to that.
  • Stephen Garstin (2013-01-14)

Restoring Water Flow

January 14, 2013

Poly pipe coiled up indoors.Ice cylinders in a bucket.As I outlined in a previous post, there was really no getting around the fact that I had to continue to use my poly pipe to pump water from the well to the yurts, whether it was frozen solid or not. Seeing as it was frozen solid, and I didn’t have any real facilities to thaw out that much pipe in the field, I had to resort to drastic measures.
Man dragging a poly pipe through the snow.Man holding up pipe with noticable gap.
I had already cut the pipe at about the fifty foot mark, hoping to find the blockage there. At that time I noted that the frozen section was uphill from that spot, so this time around I cut free all fifty feet of cable ties, and spent the better part of ten minutes in a sweaty, fierce battle with the hose, attempting to return it to a manageable coil. Subsequently, I have decided that curses that you only mouth but don’t actually sound out, don’t count.

Eventually I managed to get it tied into a semblance of circle, and into the yurts. This went better than I feared. Originally I had pictured being unable to bend the hose at all, and having to feed it into the yurts a bit at a time through the door, waiting for it to thaw before being able to coil it enough to bring in another few feet. You can imagine my relief at only having to impose on Donna a tiny bit with this hose propped against the clothes rack for a few hours.

I returned later and began rotating the coil such that bursts of ice water could flow out into a nearby pail. After about five or six full rotations, I was confident that all the water was out of the hose, and it could be restored to its original glory.

This time I was very careful to tie the cable firmly to my log supports, ensuring at all times that there were no dips or level areas for water to collect in.

At last I arrived at the final cable tie. Donna was handy with the camera to capture my moment of glory.

No, I am not holding both ends of the hose apart, ready to connect them. This is where they actually meet. I am hypothesizing that between the hose being installed in 20 degree temperatures, and now being subjected to minus 20 degree temperatures, it has shrunk quite a bit. Add to this my new zeal for tying it to the supports much more firmly than before. Also, there was the little matter of a tree falling on my water line which I’m certain pulled the hose into strange permutations.

I very quickly rigged up a sloppy patch using spare hose and some homemade couplers. Things looked great! I even blew into the hose inside the yurts and could feel no resistance.

At the time, Donna had no need to do laundry, and the sun was shining brightly, so I exercised extreme patience, and we waited a day to start the generator and actually pump some water.

Do I need to say that it worked? Of course it worked! Donna pumped about 175 litres of water without a hitch :).

That in itself is a blessing – knowing that there is still that amount of water in the well at this time of year. Of course, February will be the most consistently dry month, but we are hopeful. Especially since we hope to have a resevoir arranged next year.

Will it last? We shall see.

A Few Observations on Using a Sawmill in Winter

January 15, 2013

Man operating a sawmill in winter.Using the sawmill to cut my beams has been a little bit of a learning experience now that the temperatures have dropped so low (recent days notwithstanding).
Pile of freshly cut beams in the snow.
One of the first difficulties I ran into was the water freezing up.

You see, the blade is lubricated usually by simple water. Unfortunately, when it is far below freezing that no longer works.

Inquiring with Wayne at my local WoodMizer dealership, I found that they switch to windshield washer fluid when the temperatures dip that low. I have followed suit. One thing though, I was trying to be stingy with the fluid, seeing as it costs me much more than water does. This lead to loads of sap building up on my blade, and even worse sticking. Live and learn.

Generally, I also find I just have to move more slowly through the log to prevent it from binding. This is okay, as I think of myself as being a patient man. I also don’t mind sawing, as it gives me a chance to listen to CBC radio on the AM/FM headphones Donna gave me for Christmas – did I mention them yet? They are the best gift ever!

A cursory cleaning on the rails on my mill is not enough. It took me a few days to learn this. I kept noticing that it was getting harder and harder to push the mill head down the rails. I cleaned the tops, thinking that the rollers were the only real point of contact. It wasn’t until I finally could barely move the mill, log or no log, that I got right down and brushed off all the snow. Then I noticed the mix of ice and sawdust that had built up on the support beams. This mix was like concrete, in fact, it was sort of used as such during the war and called Pykrete.

In any case, it took a bit of tool work to knock off this layer of obstruction that the mill head had been riding up and onto. From now on I will be sure to keep that area much more clear. It is amazing how much easier it is to move the mill without that added friction.

I have seen that they have created a new clamp for the latest mills, and would be interested in trying it out sometime if funds and circumstances ever permit. I love my WoodMizer very much, but there is one annoyance that I seem to share with other owners of this older model of the LT-10 mill. The log clamp.

It doesn’t always hold very well. I have cut a few “diamonds” due to the log rotating when the blade makes contact. This isn’t fun.

As I said, the clamp that I have now has been replaced, so in that sense I can’t speak to current mills. Mine is a solid bar with a wedge on the top that you cam into place and it just is suppose to dig into the rail based on the pressure. After repeated use though, it seems to slide on the rail. I finally opted to lock a pair of vice grips behind the clamp before engaging the cam. This has been working perfectly up until my last session, when the cam began to release on its own, seemingly due to the vibration of the mill head passing by. So now I am using two grips to lock the clamp in place. Inelegant, but it does work. I’ll likely stick with this system for the near future – it holds the log extremely securely, it is just more steps than I was originally use to.

My relocated sawmill seems to work out well, if only there was a way to separate the sawdust from the snow without having to wait for spring

EDIT: Just yesterday I was given a used, surplus clamp in the new style to try by my local Wood Mizer dealer! Now that’s true service! I’ll try to report back after I’ve had a chance to try it out.

The Problem Which Dare Not Speak its Name

January 16, 2013

Unhappy man going down a well in wintertime.Somehow the water line froze again. This time it was really as if it wanted to tell me who is boss. It froze solid from inside the well to a point about thirty feet uphill from the well. It’s hard to believe, let me tell you!
Man in frozen well.Man outside well in snow.
I don’t want to write about this subject any more than my readers want to read about it, but here we are.

This time I disconnected the faucet inside the yurts and removed the hose altogether. I’m willing to schlep water in pails for the rest of the winter if it means I don’t have to spend one or two days a week getting water to flow.

I cut the hose off at the top of the freeze, just outside the well, and at a point in between. With the newly created pair of frozen hoses in hand, I made made my way back to the yurts where I took them inside separately to thaw out.

First one large chunk of ice slid out.

Then a bunch of smaller ones.

Grandpa and I worked away at the hose that progressed from outside the well casing to the inside. We poured hot water on and into the hose, and used the fishtape to try to break up any remaining ice. This was progress in inches at best. Every once in awhile we would tip the end of the hose down, draining the water we had poured in, as well as the occasional small cube of ice. It was quite a slog.

Eventually Grandpa succumbed to the lure of home, and I decided drastic measures were called for. I opened up the well and dropped in the ladder.

It was not the high point of my day.

With Donna’s help and support, I managed to keep my sanity, and she kept up admirably with a supply of kettles for me to pour into and on the hose from inside the well. This was similarly slow work to what went on outside the well, but at least the slope of the hose ensured that my hot water was getting to the blockage, and then easily draining back out without freezing and making the situation worse.

Donna kept up a great pace on the outside of the well with the fishtape, unwavering in her optimism that we’d eventually break through.

I physically dragged some of the hose through the cement casing and a few feet of frozen sand, so that I could pour more hot water on the outside of the hose. This finally did the trick!

Donna cheered, and with the sun setting, I pulled up the ladder, restored the short length of hose to its original position, and reconnected another short length of hose so that I could control water flow.

I radioed Donna back at the yurts to plug in the pump, and quickly filled four twenty litre pails. Covering the end of the hose with a sandwich baggie and rubber band, it was with a sense of grim relief that I called it a day.

A Long Tractor Trip Through the Bush

January 17, 2013

Load of firewood in snow sled.It was a day dedicated to a combination of firewood and more logs for construction. Grandpa was here bright and early and with a bit of work, I managed to get the tractor started. Twenty below can be pretty inhospitable to a diesel engine, as I think I’ve mentioned previously.
Hauling firewood behind a tractor in winter.Skidding logs through the snow.Badly rotten base of a tree in snow.Boy in parka on snowcovered hillside.
Grandpa had cut down one large jackpine, but was a bit disappointed to find the base had already been invaded by ants. He cut off about five or six huge segments before getting to solid wood – this still gave us two huge twelve foot beams, so I considered it a success!

I skidded these two out of the bush with little difficulty, then hooked up the trailer, freed the runners from the ice, and headed back up the trail.

This time I was annoyed to get stuck at the base of the ravine yet again. It sure will be nice if we can ever just drive up there without a second thought. I disconnected the trailer, drove past the sticking point, then chained the trailer tongue to the tractor and dragged it a few more metres before returning and reconnecting. This worked well and more quickly than previously, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain.

By the time I returned to Grandpa, he had already cut down another tree that we thought would be good for firewood, and instead, it was still so sound that we opted instead to use it as beams. Leaving this tree for later, we then cut down and segmented two other dead, standing trees.

With some effort, we managed to turn the tractor and trailer around, and loaded them up with firewood.

This took us to lunch, so I just brought the load to the yurts and went inside for some summer sausage sandwiches (thanks to a great Christmas present!).

After lunch we headed back to the bush to skid out those last two logs. This time I proceeded down the trail to the very end! Grandpa had cut and slashed and landscaped a trail deep into the forest – right up to the property line and up high on the ravine. It was a great feeling to get to the end, turn around, and return without mishap. This was a long distance, and that spot up on the ravine was populated by a number of large, dead, standing jackpines – surely enough to see me through a month or two of hard weather!

It was uneventful to hook up the last two logs and skid them out.

All this time on the tractor really gave me time to enjoy my latest accessory – a cupholder that I hope does me proud. Pricing them out at $10 or so for a commercially made one drove me to try to be more creative. It works great!

Grandpa headed home for a bath, and I escorted Donna and Kenny on a trip to show them how far the tractor had gone.

Once we returned I took up my axe and finished off the trailer load in an hour or two of well paced chopping. The woodshed is not nearly full, but we’re back in business. It’s a good feeling.


Get some chains for those tractor tires and you will never look back.
  • Anonymous (2013-01-18)

A New Technique for Harvesting Firewood

January 19, 2013

Tractor skidding logs in snow.Man dragging large log through the snow.Bottle attached to a PTO.Man pouring boiling water down a well.Handsome boy balancing on a log.Multiple logs chained to the back of a tractor in winter.Logs burning in an open firebox.A few days ago Grandpa and I decided to grab up a load of firewood from close to the end of the trail.

This proved to be much more difficult than we had anticipated.

I managed to get the tractor up the ravine by disconnecting the trailer, driving through the difficult incline, chaining the trailer to the tractor, and then dragging the trailer up the same incline until they were both on level ground. We then could back up to the trailer and reconnect it directly to the hitch.

This is getting hard on our runners and trailer. On the previous trip we broke the tang on the trailer hitch completely off, and I had resorted to just resting the trailer tongue on the tractor hitch, dropping a bolt through the holes, and then dropping the three point hitch down onto the trailer tongue to hold it down. This worked fine for the time being.

The tractor and trailer then got stuck going up another incline further in the bush, previously an unproblematic spot, but now things were definitely showing up as more difficult than before. We used the same technique of disconnecting and dragging the trailer to work through this bottleneck.

Grandpa took the tractor right to the end of the trail, and with lots of finagling, we managed to turn both the trailer and the tractor around. We drove a bit back up the path to avoid the worst of another tricky incline, and then loaded the firewood in. This proved to be too much weight. The tractor groaned trying to drag the trailer up even the slightest incline; the runners began to twist and dig into the snow, cutting ever deeper until they hit roots or rocks or other immoveable objects.

Finally we unloaded half the wood, and managed to get the tractor to the highest point on the trail. Then we carried all the wood up the trail to repile the trailer there.

Of course, even on the way back the tractor got stuck again and required the disconnect and drag technique. It took us a half a day for one trailer load.

The trailer was in bad shape. Our runners were twisted and cracked and one support board had finally popped off.

It was at this point that I realized how much nicer it was when we were just skidding logs for beams – the tractor climbed inclines more easily and there wasn’t a big implement on the back to account for when turning around.

I posited the notion of skidding out even the firewood and cutting it up back at the yurts. Grandpa was a bit lukewarm to this idea, but agreed it may be better than what we were currently doing.

The next day I dusted off my small generator. After a few pulls, a loud “bang” and bits of plastic coming out the side, I realized that I had somehow cracked/broken the pull wheel.

People with electric start generators truly are blessed!

I, on the other hand, spent the remainder of the day trying to fix this pull wheel, accomplishing said task, reassembling everything, and having the same part break on the first pull.

On to the next day, where after 200 pulls, I managed to get the large generator to start. Never again! I hooked it up to the tractor’s block heater, as well as my spare battery, and managed to eventually get the tractor started.

Then I attached the generator to the solar battery bank and washing machine and pump.

The well was frozen.

I headed off into the bush with the tractor and chains and saw, and was able to bring in almost three trees to the yurts (usually a tree represents a load) completely by myself, as well as cut up another tree that likely is too green to burn.

Next I will likely get out the chain saw and try to render down these trees into useable wood. The sustained temperatures of -20 to -30 that we have been experiencing have quickly taught me that splitting the wood down smaller is a better use of it than larger chunks. I previously thought that large chunks would burn longer – that may be so, but they also don’t burn warm enough to heat the yurts. Now I am splitting the wood down into pieces that burn easily and hot. This morning I was able to take the yurts from 10 degrees to almost 40 in about 40 minutes. (40 was too hot – I left the larger yurt to finish typing this in the smaller one).

I also upgraded my tractor’s PTO shaft cover from the whiskey bottle (which kept falling off) to a more right-sized chocolate milk bottle, which I fastened in place with a cable tie.

Donna is so happy with the new wood texture that she took a picture of her “perfect fire”. I hope you too can feel the warmth vicariously through it.


Can't Use My Toy. (A.K.A. Diesel Won't Start At -25)

January 21, 2013

Small woodshed surrounded by snow.Man shovelling long drive in winter.Trail through the bush in snow.The skidding of logs just for firewood seems to have come out as a rounding success. I’m not sure if this would have been as useful in southern Ontario, where the limbs of a tree are generally just as useful for the stove as the trunk. Here, on the conifers, it’s rare that a limb is of a large enough size to make it worth pursuing. So you usually are only dealing with the trunk.

Back at the yurts, I cut up the logs into stove lengths, and then with Kenny and especially Donna’s help, got them carried to the wood shed where my trusty
Fiskars X25 (affiliate link) rendered them down to suitable pieces.

Happiness is a full(ish) wood shed.

We tried to work promptly on this project because it snowed all day. Quite a bit of snow actually. When I awoke the next morning, it was clear that if we hadn’t gotten the logs uncovered the day before, it would have been a real chore to do so the next day! That being said, the temperature was at least -25 by our best guesses.

The small generator was broken, and the large one was clearly a non-starter. I thought perhaps hooking up my spare battery to the tractor would give me enough juice to turn it over. That worked for about five minutes, over which time the tractor didn’t even come close to starting.

I manhandled the large generator back to the yurts and put it inside the door to see how long it would take to warm up. As it turns out, it’s probably close to a day or so. It came up to about -6 degrees on the outside metal after four hours indoors. It was not going to be useable anytime soon, and we are really reluctant to keep it inside for very long, lest the gasoline fumes (small though they may be) cause us discomfort or harm.

Having not much else to do, I cleared off the vehicles of snow. Then I began to shovel out around them. Then I shoveled in front of them over to the start of our driveway.

All this time I was punctuating my work with trips back to the yurts to clean my glasses. Please, if anyone has a foolproof way of keeping glasses from fogging up in cold weather, let me know! I’m getting desperate. I tried dish soap, breathing only through my mouth, only through my nose, only breathing “down” by giving myself a deliberate overbite, pulling my glasses to the end of my nose, and prayer. None seemed to work. I’m going to try vasoline next, and also pick up a bottle of that “Fog-X” product that is suppose to work on windshields. In the end though, I spent most of the day leaving my glasses at the yurts.

Grandpa came over and commented that I wasn’t using my “toy” grader blade to clean my driveway. Although he agreed that it was unrealistic to be able to start the tractor, or most of my engines, in this weather. I can only hope that having a spare battery that I can bring into the yurts overnight lets me at least start the car or truck.

After estimating that we had received 8″ of snow, he returned to his place to put away his snowblower(s) (which I suspect are tools and not toys).

I returned to shoveling down the driveway.

And shoveling.

And shoveling.

Until boom, I was done. It took most of the day, and I was only using a small shovel, but it got done. I did a second pass back up the driveway, and then a third one to ensure it was all clear.

I haven’t yet seen how it looks – I didn’t have the energy to return with my glasses, but as I was finishing my second pass, Donna arrived and took a couple of pictures.

It’s comforting to know that in a pinch I can deal with this without resorting to my toys, but rather my old-fashioned muscles! (Which are complaining a bit today.)

Record Low Temperature in Thunder Bay

January 27, 2013

Broken generator in the snow.Generator charging battery in winter.Cutting wood in the snow.Little boy carrying a chain in the snow.Man with no pants running in the snow.I suppose I should have changed the entry on that other post to read more like “Climate Change Comes to Thunder Bay”. While it is unquestionably warmer than in the past here, there are occasional blips. We were treated to one this past week. It broke a new record cold temperature in the city. Mummu and Grandpa Oiva recorded forty below on their thermometer, which agrees with the general rule that we are 5-8 degrees cooler than the city up here in the bush and further from the lake.

We managed to survive in the yurts though. Donna stayed up rather late feeding the fire, while I got up once or twice during the night to revive it.

Even so, we are becoming use to sleeping in the yurts and allowing them to drop to the freezing mark. It certainly will be a luxury if our cabin can be made to keep us a few degrees warmer, and allow us to burn a little less wood.

These temperatures have really played havoc with our internal combustion engines. The truck refuses to even turn over. The car was the same, so I trotted out my backup battery and was able to start it in that fashion. After a day of jump starting the car at every stop, I traded out the car battery for my backup when we returned home. Now I’ll use the old car battery to power the winch.

The large generator was unthinkable to start, as would be the tractor.

As I said, the smaller generator was broken. I believe the cold weather made the plastic brittle, and the recoil starter uses plastic for its main cam. I was shipped a replacement promptly, and it promptly broke! I had wanted to give a super-positive glowing review of this generator, as it is shockingly efficient (even if not so eco-friendly), but these two broken cams have been disheartening. I must say though that Guy at King Canada Generator division is a real prince! There is a third one in the mail for me…

Coinciding with this cold weather, I have begun to get a few service calls for my computer business. This has been re-assuring (and also was a good excuse to replace my workboots). Here are a pair of shameless plugs – KC Automotive and Recreation and Howie’s Saw (and Woodmizer) both have asked me to help them set up websites that they themselves could edit and control easily. I have also done a number of calls for private parties too. Howie’s Saw was also kind enough to offer me some extra work in the office from time to time. This will be a nice chance to reduce pressure on our finances, while still giving me lots of time and flexibility to continue with the homestead.

The past few days the temperature has warmed up quite a bit, beginning to bump against the ten and fifteen below marks. I decided to try to start the larger generator (120 pulls) and used it to pull in a few more logs for firewood.

Happiness is a full woodshed!

Unfortunately while skidding in the logs, I lost one of my brand-new chains!

Offering up a chocolate bar reward sure came through with results though – Kenny and I retraced my route, and with a cry of victory, he pounced on it after about a half hour of searching. He totally discovered it on his own, and earned a well-deserved treat.

Grandpa dropped by, feeling that the mild weather (?!) warranted a try at thawing the well. We poured down all the hot water we could find, with no effect. With the large generator running, it was decided to make one last attempt to use an electric kettle to see if that worked.

I boiled up a full kettle, and slowly poured it down into the hose (for a change), and, just as we gave up, water began to run out!

Breathless with excitement I ran to the yurts to grab our pails and then back to the well. We filled two buckets when suddenly the water turned murky. I’m not sure why, but a large amount of sediment suddenly came through. We dumped out the brown buckets, and ran the well dry in an attempt to get back to clear water.

I brought up the two full buckets to the yurts and we shut off the generator and pump. Hopefully as the well refills it will clear too.

Meanwhile, back at the yurts, a combination of a toasty warm yurt, and too many mugs of hot tea, drove me outside to answer the call of nature in a state of “relaxed dress”. Of course, these temperature encourage one to not dilly-dally, so by the time I finished my business, I was ready to sprint back to the fire.

Thankfully Donna was ready with the camera to capture my abilty to maintain my dignity in any situation.

Small Engine Repairs on the Homestead

February 1, 2013

Cute boy in front of tractor in the snow.Log and chainsaw in the snow.Fiskar's axe hanging on a full woodshed.Ice on yurts.Water in buckets.Logs in snow.A beam on the sawmill in winter.This weather has definitely been hard on my various internal combustion engines here in the bush. The generators are virtually unstartable at twenty below, and difficult at ten below. The tractor is a total no go below ten below as well, but if I can get a generator going somehow first, I can plug in the tractor’s heater and then get a bit further.

The car has been much better since I swapped out its original battery for one I purchased new last spring. The truck, not so much. But now that it has warmed up to ten below some days, I have been able to get the truck to turn over and start again. Of course, the first time I returned from Howie’s Saw with the truck, it got stuck at the turnaround. Grandpa threw two more cinder blocks in the back for traction, but I had already given up and luckily it was pointed down the driveway, so I just left it blocking everything until I next had to go to work, and drove it out from there.

On the plus side, when I returned last night, I was able to park sweet as anything, so perhaps the extra weight has helped?

Wednesday morning, Grandpa popped by to see how we were making out. He had a specific tree in mind that he thought we should cut down and check for soundness. It could be either firewood, or perhaps lumber. I managed to get the tractor started without preheating, which was surprising, but didn’t want to look that particular gift-horse in the mouth!

The hydraulics were extra slow to come online though. I think the rear piston for the three point hitch is definitely on its last legs, so I really need to get online and order a replacement O ring kit for it, and make that my next project. I’ve also noticed that it’s leaking hydraulic fluid around the dipstick, which seems to be all cracked, so I need to replace that too.

I started up our large generator (the small one was still out of commission) and pumped a little bit of water for Donna to do laundry. Unfortunately we only got two buckets from the well before it ran dry. I’m not super concerned about that fact – this is suppose to be the toughest month for water levels. Hopefully next year if we have our tank installed and filled, that will be enough of a buffer to get us through any tight squeezes.

The other issue of late with the water has been that it has been a bit (I’m sure Donna would say very) murky. So of course, we’re trying to only wash dark clothes. I suspect that I stirred up something when I went down to thaw the pipe, but we’ll have to see how long this issue persists.

Once that was dealt with, Grandpa and I headed to the bush to fell this tree. You can imagine how impressed I was when my chainsaw wouldn’t start. After pulling an inordinate number of times, it was a real treat to have the pull-cord break off.

Grandpa took it in stride, and returned to his place to retrieve his Husky. He also gave me another life-lesson. Always start up your saw at home before you take it to the bush. That makes loads of sense.

We used the Husky to cut down the tree, which was really, really straight – and only a few feet of insect damage at the base. It didn’t take much to cut it up, and then we chained it to the tractor and with lots of cajoling, managed to skid it to the sawmill, where we further cut it into a few twelve foot lengths.

Grandpa returned home for his lunch and I did the same. After lunch I headed back to the dojo tent to check on my chainsaw. A few Torx screws removed the recoil starter, which I replaced with some cord I had kicking around. Grandpa had recommended heavy duty shoelace, so I’ll keep that in mind for next time. I took the time to clean the spark-plug as well, and that’s when I discovered my main (should have been obvious) problem with starting this saw lately – the air filter was completely clogged up. It looked more like it was MADE from wood, rather than just saturated with it. I soaked it in a bit of petrol for a few hours, with no visible effect, so I’m going to just purchase a few new ones next time we get to town.

As I finished with the saw, Grandpa returned with a package – my third recoil kit for my small generator! I thanked him profusely, and proceeded to reinstall that (after carefully ensuring that the generator was NOT seized up). Gingerly I pulled once, twice, thrice, etc. On about the fifteenth pull, she roared to life! I shut off the choke and after a few more cycles, she eventually stalled out. I was satisfied though. Now we’re getting back in business!

Feeling full of myself, I headed over to my LT10 sawmill and took the time to shovel it off. We had had a fair bit of snow of late that certainly accumulated when the sawmill wasn’t in use.

I managed to get that engine started too – I was on such a roll! It took me forever to make a few cuts though, and then I discovered that I had created a real diamond shaped log – grrrr, that log clamp will drive me up the bend yet. Wayne at Wood-Mizer tells me now that I am working with him, I can complain directly to the people at Wood-Mizer and ask them to come up with a better and better design. First I’ll try their version two design and see if it is any improvement. I have to drill out one of the rails to mount it though, so until I do that, I’ll just suffer.

Worse than the clamp was the blade binding in the log. I asked Wayne about that too, and he started down the logical chain of inquiry – Was the blade dirty? No. Was my blade tension correct? Yes. Was my belt tension correct? – Belt tension? You can adjust that? Wayne just smiled, and pointed me in the direction of the Wood-Mizer website to find their manuals online. He also pointed out that the same information would be available in my own manual. I assured him I had the manual in a safe place, and had read it once when I first got the mill. I guess it could even bear with a second reading…

That was enough for one day though. I returned to the yurts, only to find them empty. Donna and Kenny had gone over to Mummu’s house to enjoy her running, drinkable water. Small luxuries.

I stoked up the fire, and tried to squeeze in a few moments of reading before they returned and we could get supper started.

Before signing off this entry though, I wanted to give a quick message of thanks to our friends and family who are still reading this blog, and occasionally commenting either on the blog itself, or through email. It is really nice to stay in touch with everyone – being out in the bush here, the people farthest away from us physically can still be among the people closest to our hearts. An extra special note to the members of our church family – we miss you all very much, and it helps greatly to still consider ourselves part of that community of friends. You are all still in our thoughts and prayers.


Been reading your blog since you posted on the Yanmar tractor site. I must say I have been enjoying it thoroughly. Stick with it and you will have a new house built with your own hands.
Every beautiful home began with an empty piece of land at one time.
  • Corey Langley BC (2013-02-03)

Re-cording your Stihl MS170 Chainsaw

February 10, 2013

Stihl chainsaw with broken cord.Stihl chainsaw with back cover removed.Stihl chainsaw with caps removed.Ripcord panel of Stihl chainsaw.Closeup of Stihl pull cord clutch.Removing the plug from a Stihl chainsaw oil reservoire.Dragging a log in the snow behind a Yanmar tractor.A robot in a shopping mall.Sorry I haven’t written in a little while. These first three weeks of February, I am working four days a week at Howie’s Saw. This means some fiscal resources are coming in, but I am not accomplishing too much at the homestead.

As I described in a previous post, I managed to plug up the air filter on my chainsaw so completely as to render it inoperable. In discovering this, I had to work the recoil start to the point that the rope broke. My first attempt at replacing it with a length of multipurpose cord was successful until I actually arrived in the bush, when it broke immediately. I put the chainsaw away that day and didn’t get around to re-cording it until yesterday.

One other thing that has kept me from accomplishing much is a suspected fracture in my foot. This is the second time this has happened to me, the first being back when I was training much more heavily in Aikido. I woke up in the morning, thinking I had twisted my ankle and hobbling a little bit. The pain grew worse throughout the day, and moved down into the outside edge of my left foot. By the following morning, the pain was very intense and I spent much of the day just sitting or laying down. Grandpa was kind enough to produce a cane for me (that he’s never used), which greatly aided my mobility.

I worked the week with the cane, and by the end was back to hobbling and then limping. Now the pain seems to have moved back to my ankle in the form of some stiffness in the mornings. My foot is still noticeably swollen, but I think it will be okay.

In any case, yesterday I felt good enough that I wanted to bring in some more firewood. I began by first cleaning some snow and sawdust off the saw.

Next I removed the cover. You simply rotate the black catch counter-clockwise on the back of the saw, and the cover lifts up and back. I find that engaging the choke helps quite a bit, as the switch catches on the cover otherwise.

There are four screws holding the recoil mechanism in place. Two at the rear of the saw, one beside the oil plug, and one on the kickback brake. The one on the kickback brake is different from the other three, but that’s obvious once removed. A Torx T27 seems to be the best fit for these screws.

Pull the kickback brake up and off of the recoil portion of the case.

You have to remove the oil cap and the gas cap completely to get the recoil mechanism off of the saw. I found a pair of needlenose pliers worked best for this. The caps are held to the saw on a short length of string attached to a half-moon of plastic grid. Grasping a corner of this grid allows you to twist it sideways and pull it through the narrow threads of the respective reservoirs.

The recoil mechanism is wedged under the left-hand handlebar, and requires a bit of firm wiggling to pull it free. I’ve done it a few times now, and have a better feel for it.

Now you have the mechanism completely separated. You can likely see your old string there and how it enters the side of the spool and is then knotted to prevent it from pulling out. Unspool the string and prepare your choice of new cord. I found that it was easier to thread the new cord through the spool from within the groove and then pull it up and away from the mechanism, rather than the more accessible hole already facing outwards, and then trying to get it to turn and come out in the groove. Grandpa supplied a length of nylon cord for this step. Once it was threaded through, I put a knot in the end of Grandpa’s cord and attempted repeatedly to get the lighter to melt it slightly to prevent it from unravelling.

I wound a few wraps onto the spool (careful to go in the same direction as the original). The exit hole through the casing should be your guide here to which direction to go. Don’t make the same mistake I did with my generator – it is VERY frustrating to obey Murphy’s Law on items that take some time to redo.

Turning over the mechanism once you’ve wrapped the cord and have it extended outside the case, you can re-attach your handle. Currently the cord passes up the shaft of the handle, then makes a 90 degree turn and comes out sideways. I couldn’t re-thread it in this fashion, so I simply made a large knot on top – old school!

Try to make sure there is still a slight amount of tension in the cord – this will prevent the cord from falling off the spool inside the saw in the future.

Do a few test-pulls, to work out the kinks and be sure there is still some tension there.

Reverse the order of operations to get that mechanism back on the side of your saw.

Don’t do something dumb like I would do — Keep the saw itself on its side until you have a chance to replace the gas and oil caps and tighten them down. Washing chain oil out of pants isn’t that impressive for your spouse, especially when you have to carry your own water to the washing machine!

There! You’re all set! Pull the cord – and – if you’re like me – Grandpa’s never-fail cord breaks on the second try.

Repeat this whole process with a third cord that you’ve rigged up by braiding three smaller cords together. Now you’re in business!

I then managed to start up the tractor (n.b. Diesel starts about tenfold more easily in ten below than twenty below, i.e. about tenfold more difficult than at ten above.).

I headed out to the bush to cut down my firewood trees. I carefully parked the tractor at a safe angle from the first tree I intended to cut.

Carefully lining up the tree to be sure it fell at WORST thirty degrees away from the tractor, I was struck by how I managed to actually cut it so it fell directly towards the tractor.

Being the stoic that I am, I didn’t even give it a second look to see how badly it had crushed the old Yanmar. I moved on to the second, and then third tree, felling them also towards the trail.

Returning to the tractor, I was relieved to see that my ability to judge direction was matched by my ability to judge distance.

Yes, the tree fell directly at the tractor. But it fell at least six feet short of hitting said target. Oh happy day.

I ended up cutting it in half and skidding the lower portion far enough up to be able to grab both halves and skid them back to the yurts.

Donna informed me that Kenny wanted me to take them to town to visit the Lakehead University exhibits at Intercity Mall. Kenny never wants me to take him anywhere, so I had some skepticism. I told her I wanted to try to grab the other two trees first, and headed back to the bush.

These ones went slightly more smoothly. I brought them up in three pieces, told Donna to get Kenny ready to go, and then was able to park the tractor, refill it with diesel, refill the saw with oil and petrol, sharpen the saw, and change my clothes. All in the time it took Kenny to make a “deposit” in the thunderbox.

We were off, and I have to confess, I felt not a little shell shocked to be out in the bush by myself one hour, and then in the midst of the shopping mall surrounded by noisy, strange crowds, only an hour later.

(missing comment)
  • missing commentator

Glad you enjoyed it. The MS170 seems to be a great value. My rigged up cord broke again, but because of the troubles I've had with my little Chinese generator, I had extra pull cords for it, so I swapped one of those onto it, and it seems to work great.
  • Stephen Garstin (2013-02-21)

Tightening the Tension on my Wood-Mizer Sawmill

February 17, 2013

Man carrying a beam in winter.Cutting beams with a WoodMizer LT10 in snow.Pile of freshly milled beams in snow.Man sitting by solar panels in winter.Yesterday was a pretty cold morning. Actually, this morning was rather cold too. The inside temperature when my bladder finally forced me from the covers was -8.9 degrees. I think Donna has said she’s awoke to -9, so she still has me beat in the hardiness department.

Outdoors it is pushing thirty below, but then it seems to come up to a rather mild ten below once the sun is up.

At ten below, I can start to run my engines again with (relative) ease. As my readers know, frozen water and cold engines have been my main sticking points this year. That, and my own lack of basic competence at various things. But I’m learning, and the weather is what it is.

I checked on the solar panels first thing; they had a bit of the rising sun on them, but I could clearly see a huge shadow across them from the (now abandoned) water line/electrical line/log support. I would have thought they would have been breaking even, but they stubbornly were stuck on a nearly two amp drain. I brought over my chainsaw, the only engine that seems to be able to start at twenty and thirty below, but as I switched off the choke, my makeshift starter cord broke again – ha ha.

I returned with just the bucksaw, and using it at a rather invigorating pace and angle, cut out the offending log and freed up the solar panels to receive much more sun.

The ammeter still was stuck on discharge – I supposed that the trees were still shading the panels too much. Shade is a real enemy of solar; any shade, any amount. I can’t stress enough that panels need to be entirely exposed to the sun!

I planned on returning to the yurts to weave a new starter cord from sterner stuff, but met up with Donna and Kenny as they were on their way to Mummu’s to do a load of laundry. It seemed a good time to tag along and perhaps set up a bit more of Mummu’s internet. I am hoping that soon she will have the opportunity to finally switch from dialup to broadband. I put the equipment in place, but left the actual settings and experience on her computer the same.

I came back to the yurts alone while the others finished a second load of laundry. After a potato chip lunch, I headed over to the sawmill to see if I couldn’t figure out how to tighten up the blade.

My sawmill progress has been much diminished lately. The blade kept sticking in the log at the slightest provocation. Finally, after consulting with Howie’s Saw, I was told to check the blade tension. I consulted my manual the night before, and so, with a 13mm wrench in hand I tightened up the turnbuckle adjustment under the engine of my LT-10. It’s really simple to do, not nearly as complicated as I feared it would be.

After a few ginger pulls on the starter (having had such bad experiences with my chainsaw and generator of late), I got the engine up and roaring.

What a difference! It cut through my logs like butter (albeit cold butter…). It was once again a pleasure to be milling.

I managed to put out four good beams yesterday, and a large stack of boards as well.

Between each beam, I would carry my new treasure over to my stack by the yurts, and then check on the solar box. Imagine my excitement when I saw the panels in full sun! And the charge indicator showing again – no charge! Wait… That’s not right… Silently berating my abilities to put together a reliable system, I opened up the box to see if anything obvious was going on inside. I figured my charge controller was blown up. But no, it was glowing solid red – no charging. I returned to the dojo tent, and I must say it took me far less time than I feared to find my spare fuses. Curses, the first four I pulled out were all six amp – rated really only for one panel, not three. Then I was blessed to find a single 25 amp fuse in the pile. I have to remind myself to purchase more of those!

Back at the panels, I froze one finger after another trying to unscrew the back junction boxes and expose the fuses. Of course, there are two boxes, and the first box showed no signs of problems. All fuses were still fine, as confirmed with my multimeter set on ohms.

The second box showed my problem up right away – the main feed wire from the fuse “panel” had come loose from the connector – I suppose all the movement of the panels back and forth due to wind, or us adjusting them, had eventually worked it free.

With a bit of finagling, I was able to re-connect it, and was gratified to see the ammeter climb to 15 amps of current flowing back into the batteries. The voltage came up to 13.3 right away. After only an hour or so, it hit the magic level of 15.6 volts which causes my inverter to trip. For the entire afternoon we had no power in the yurts as the batteries charged at this voltage. I don’t begrudge my system this fault just yet. During the day we don’t really have huge power needs, and the fridge/freezer can weather the time off without much difficulty. Once the cabin is built though, I’ll have to ensure that the remote on/off switch for the inverter is in a more accessible location. I don’t wish to have to go outside at dusk following every sunny winter’s day to switch it back on.

So it was with a happy heart that I was able to come inside for supper last night, knowing I had batteries rapidly filling up, and a beam pile that was growing again.

Losing our Teeth. (Kenny vs. the LT10)

March 3, 2013 [construction]

Large beam partially cut on sawmill.Open head on bandsaw mill.Man carrying a large bandsaw blade.Boy with missing tooth.Man and boy asleep.I’m really sorry I haven’t written in some time. It seems that I have been sleeping in quite a bit lately when I’m not working, and I have also been working a fair bit off the homestead.

That’s been nice. Howie’s is a really good fit for me, and I hope that they are happy with what I have done for them – even if business is pretty slow at the moment.

Otherwise, on the homestead, it has mostly been about whittling away at the huge pile of logs I have on and around the skidway. I think this week (with me working again) I will still try to mill at least one log before the sun goes down after work each day. The sun is present for much longer already than it was even a month ago.

I’m still practising to get better and more consistent with my cuts. Sometimes it is difficult to look at the log and see the beam trapped inside. Last week I started cutting into a rather large beam from the narrow end, and soon found myself halfway into the log, cutting out a slab, and realizing that the slab was approaching three or four inches thick – a point where I could likely have cut a few boards out of it before getting to the beam at the centre.

Smart me, I decided to back up and raise the blade an inch or two, and then cut a slab off the top before continuing with this board. I’ve done this once or twice before without incident.

Today wasn’t my day though. As I pulled the saw head back through my cut, I must have encountered some resistance somewhere that popped the still spinning blade off of the wheels.

I replaced the blade, finished the cut, and then shut things down to examine it closer. Imagine how thrilled I was to see that I had knocked the points off of at least two teeth. It’s hard to see in the picture, they are a bit to the right of where I am pointing.

That was enough for that day. My beam pile had grown a bit anyway, so I put on one of my spare blades and closed things up.

By coincidence, about the same time Kenny’s first wiggly tooth also finally fell free. He had no undue assistance from Daddy – he was careful to only let me wiggle it a bit when helping him floss, and it eventually just dropped out of its own accord. He’s such a handsome lad!

Tomorrow it’s back to work, where I can attempt to grind my blade back into some semblance of a cutting tool, and hopefully be back in the beam business full tilt!

Disaster Strikes Our Yanmar 155D

March 11, 2013 [vehicles]

Tractor wheel linkage.Tractor with broken wheels.Tractor missing a wheel.Tractor part on the ground.Undercarriage of a Yanmar tractor.Sunday was one of those days I would generally describe as “craptacular”.

With our woodshed rapidly depleting, I had planned to make it a day for bringing in more firewood. It would be a real shame to have to purchase something that I have 160 acres of free for the taking!

I headed to the dojo tent and managed to get the Yanmar up and purring with minimal effort (we were hovering around 0 degrees). Then I headed back to the solar power bank to start up the generator. At first I was going to swap generators, but considering the path I’d have to drag the big generator through, I decided to just leave it where it was and use it to top up the batteries.

Returning to the Yanmar, I was able to get the hydraulics warmed up enough to disconnect the grader blade on the back, and replace it with my skidding bar. I set off into the bush.

Jouncing, bouncing, and clawing my way through snow that was past the axles, I first tried to get to the main part of the bush. This involved traversing the ravine on a diagonal – it was about double the distance as our straight-across path, and it suffered from not having been treated to a “brush mat” road before the snow flew.

After proceeding a few metres, the tractor simply could proceed any further. Snow was well above the axles, and it was all I could do to worry it in reverse back to the junction in my two paths.

This time I headed straight across the ravine, to much greater success. Of course, on the other side, the snow was too deep and slippery for the tractor to have any chance of climbing up the far side. Sigh.

I turned the tractor around somehow, and then set off through the waist-high drifts to the nearest dead tree I could see. I made short work of it with my Stihl (which, by the way, I had test-started back at the dojo tent before setting out – I learn sometimes, albeit slowly). Setting the tone for my day, it was rotten through and through. I struggled over to the next closest tree, same story. The third tree, a veritable sapling, same story. By this point I had gotten almost out of sight of the tractor and there were no other likely candidates to be seen.

Cursing the snow that had managed to climb up inside my snow pants and spill over into my boots, I mounted the tractor to make the “drive of shame” back to the yurts.

This took me the better part of another hour to cover maybe a hundred metres. Climbing out of the ravine on the near side was more than the tractor could do. I had to dismount, hook up the comealong and chains to a nearby tree, winch six inches, then drive six inches, then repeat… After about ten repeats of this cavorting, I managed to get onto level enough ground (packed snow really) that I was able to proceed by churning inches in four wheel drive back to the main path.

After lunch (truly, the high point of my weekend – Mummu had most generously invited us to share in her awesome meatloaf! I had more helpings than I care to admit.) I hooked up the grader blade to clear the driveway for work on Monday. Small blessings – I had done a single pass up and down, and had reversed the blade to push away some of the snow at the top of the driveway up onto the bank. As I turned around in my seat to move forward, I noticed that the left wheel was almost 90 degrees to the tractor and wedged in under the steering linkage and the front end loader. This wasn’t right. Especially with the right wheel still pointing 45 degrees to the right!

Further investigation revealed that the king pin had sheared completely off as if cut with a knife. Right under the steering linkage. I lifted her up with the front end loader (thank goodness for down pressure!) and the gearbox slid right out.

I managed to lasso Grandpa to line it back up as I lowered the tractor back down onto the remaining portion of the pin, and we lined up both wheels as parallel as possible. I pulled the tractor forward about six feet to get her out of the driveway. I suppose that’s another blessing. It happened right in front of the dojo tent, and not back in the bush.

We lifted her up again and dismantled everything we could. I still cannot get the top portion of the pin out of the steering linkage – not sure how to proceed with that just yet. I’m trying to see if I can source out a new king pin for the old girl – I’d hate to send her out to pasture just yet!


Grandpa Goes Above and Beyond!

March 12, 2013

snow-covered firewood.So on Monday after compiling my woes, I did make a small effort to count my blessings. I moaned about having to purchase firewood now that I can’t drive the tractor back into the bush.

You can only imagine the wash of feelings that came over me when I returned to the yurts last night to find a load of firewood piled neatly by the woodshed!

Grandpa had roundly showed me up by cutting up one of my trees in the morning, and then spending his afternoon hauling it out on a sled…

I really can’t begin to express my thanks! But it certainly underlines my observation that this venture would not have been remotely as successful without the help of Grandpa and Mummu!

Now he’s not just given me a load of wood, but shown me what else can be accomplished by just going out and doing it – rather than bemoaning your woes.


Lowering the (Final) Beam

March 28, 2013

Young boy on an aeroplane seat.Boy winching a log in winter.Pile of slab lumber in the snow.Bird on lumber pile.I have to apologise for not writing much lately.

Late in January I was worried that I had another stress fracture in my left foot. It swelled up and was very painful to walk on, but I had been through that experience a year or two or three ago, and so I didn’t worry unduly, nor seek any medical attention for it. I knew that in most cases, the only prescription was rest.

I rested it, and sure enough it improved rapidly after an initial period of pain and disability.

As it improved, my ankle instead began to ache. I attributed this to the fact that I was walking on it strangely all during the problem with my nearby foot.

My ankle didn’t improve though. As February went on, I found myself continuing to limp, but now it was from pain in the ankle.

March marked it getting worse, and last week when Kenny and I flew back to Kitchener to visit, I found it very difficult to get around.

I still managed to visit my dojo, and was really tickled to see so many familiar faces on an unannounced, Saturday morning visit. V! was in great form, clearly ready for his yudansha test this Saturday. M!, K! and C! were giving him excellent guidance, and I could see that everyone managed to survive, and even thrive, with my absence.

It was a little disappointing that my Sensei wasn’t there, having injured himself earlier in the morning in a freak weapons accident. Also, D! was working on nesting in a new home purchase, so I wasn’t able to touch base there either.

I would have loved to have stepped on the mat, if not for the fact that I’d certainly be screaming with each step.

Meanwhile, back on the homestead, I still had a little over a dozen large logs lined up to process on the LT-10.
Once the tractor had been dragged to the roadside, harvesting of new logs had obviously ceased. At the mill there were still many logs assembled, but I had managed to struggle through them before I left for the tropical south that is Kitchener-Waterloo.

These fourteen remaining logs were ones that I had piled up off to the side, and then, using a combination of the winch and brute force, dragged onto my skidway and alined with the sawmill.

The first day back from Kitchener, I managed to plough through eight of them. It was a bit slower going, as there were several logs in the 14″ diameter range that I was able to cut down into multiple beams. I know that one should strive for a single beam per log, but I just don’t have the time or willpower to cut down something that large into a single beam and a pile of boards and planks.

My ankle was on fire that evening.

The next day, I tried stuffing a sock into my instep to keep pressure off my heel. I think this helped a fair bit. The real help came in the form of Kenny and Donna. Kenny arrived to investigate my nearby snowbank, and Donna cut my milling time in half by grabbing the planks directly as they came off the mill, saving me a long walk to my pile and back.

With Donna’s assistance, I was able to complete the beam pile and finish all my available logs. This was an awesome moment! Kenny helped to celebrate by climbing onto our stack. As always, the unsung photographer was there to capture the moment.

Now we will pick out the number and type of windows and doors for the cabin, and see if between those natural breaks in the walls, and my available beams, we have enough to complete the cabin to our specifications. If not, I suppose I will have to consult with some more local suppliers of logs and/or beams to gather a few more.

I’ll try to keep everyone posted!


Things That Go Rumble, Rumble, CRASH! in the Night

April 3, 2013

Collapsed army tent in winter.Man shovelling off a tent collapsed by snow.Two men contemplating a tent buried under snow.Two men crouched by a collapsed tent in winter.Young boy smiling beside collapsed tent in winter.Bits and bobs under a tarp in the forest.Tent partially supported by a ladder in winter.Man jacking up a collapsed tent.Collapsed tent supported by a stump on a ladder.Tarp covering a collapsed tent in snow.View of rustic construction techniques.Two men jacking up a collapsed tent from within.Tent supported by a jack in blowing snow.Man repairing tent rafters.Post supporting army tent.Rustic rafters in an army tent.Last Wednesday I was fortunate enough to get an appointment at the local clinic for my very painful ankle. It appears now that I’m suffering from some tendonitis. I hope that it will get dealt with. I’m going to try a little physiotherapy, and also get a follow-up ultrasound to ensure that nothing more serious is happening.

At 2:30 on Thursday morning, as we were all snuggled in our beds Donna and I both were awakened by a deep and ominous rumbling that ended with a muffled crash.

“Did you hear that?”

“Mrmph…” (this means yeah in my sleepy language.)

“Don’t YOU want to go out and see what it was?” (emphasis mine.)

“Mrmph, I guess so, where’s my headlamp?”

My mind began to come up to speed. It sounded to me like it came from far in the bush, and I had visions of logs rolling down into the ravine. This wasn’t very realistic, the sound was much louder and longer than nature could normally present.

Next I began to think of the woodshed. We had a fair bit of snow again lately, and I knew that the load on the woodshed was very heavy.

Wandering out into the darkness, I was at once relieved, and then frightened to see that the woodshed still stood soundly. There was only one other structure on our property that was capable of making that sort of noise – and I had been eyeing it with suspicion late in the previous afternoon.

As I trudged through the snow towards the sawmill, I tried to catch a glimpse of the dojo tent. I could sort of make it out, but not clearly through the trees. As I rounded the bend I was… bemused… to see this sight by the light of my headlamp:

Smirking at my earlier self, I pointed out to him that he SAW the broken, rotted roof joist. I reminded him that both Grandpa and I had tried to shovel off some of the snow load from that corner, worried about the condition it was getting into.

He replied with some vague excuse about never imagining that the failure of one joist would bring down essentially the entire tent. I wasn’t buying it, but instead just admonished my past self to remember that proverb about ounces of prevention and thousands of pounds of cure.

I returned to the yurts and explained the situation to Donna.

After administering a half an ounce (give or take) of Alberta Premium to calm my nerves, I tried to empty my mind by watching a movie on the iPad. This didn’t really work, and I eventually drifted off around 4:30 or 5:00.

The next morning, Grandpa arrived to take stock of the damage. Donna had emailed Mummu in the middle of the night so that she was made aware of things as soon as she arose to check her email and the weather.

Grandpa took control of the situation and immediately began clearing out a tunnel to get deep into the wreckage. We were very fortunate, the walls remained standing for the most part, and it was a cave in of the roof essentially.

Also to our benefit – the stored tools and gear were all around the perimeter, so they seemed to escape the brunt of the falling snow, canvas and beams.

Over the course of the Easter weekend, Grandpa and I managed to jack up and prop up each joist individually, until they were back in their original locations (give or take ;)), and then fasten them anew.

Chainsaw carpentry came to our rescue when I was unable to get to my other saws.

I opted to totally replace the rotten joist with a new board, and then added extra stringers and supports throughout the entire structure.

The damage was far, far less than it could have been. My table saw is damaged beyond use as a table saw, as the top surface was cracked through and no longer can be considered true. But the stand is fine, and the saw will likely still cut, just without accuracy.

My mitre saw was hit hard, and was pushed at a large angle, but seems to not be suffering any permanent damage – I loosened the clamp and returned it to an upright position. Using it for the first time will really tell whether or not it is okay.

Many of my Ryobi 1+ tools ended up getting wet from the leaking roof. I am leaning towards replacing them with higher quality components as they pass on.

The tarp on the tent proved to be already on its way out. Shovelling the snow off, and simply pulling it to and fro, caused it to disintegrate. I will have to replace it as soon as I can next get to town.

There was no reason not to take time out for Easter traditions :).

On Tuesday, Grandpa and I were able to make quick work of positioning the final three rafters, and I have to give him full credit for the entire job. He always saw the best and quickest way to jack and prop up the wreckage, and didn’t let up on getting the job finished for anything.

I epecially liked the deliciousness of uncovering these two messages from N! and V! from my dojo, inscribed on the roof just where I took off my first shovelfuls of snow – “Good Luck, You’re going to need it!”


I'm still happy I was able to drop a literary reference (and Canadian to boot) onto your dojo tent.
  • Viktor (2013-04-03)

Susanna Moodie? Ever the optimist, wasn't she?
  • Stephen Garstin (2013-04-03)

Repairing the King Pin on my Yanmar 155D Tractor

April 6, 2013

Man adjusting a tractor tire.Tractor propped up on a log while missing a tire.Small hydraulic jack on a cinder block.Back of Yanmar tractor.Front end closeup of Yanmar tractor in the snow.Steering linkages on Yanmar tractor.Another close up view of the steering linkages on a Yanmar Tractor.Control box of Yanmar front end loader.Close up of seat belt portion of ROPS on Yanmar tractor.Man and boy posed with Yanmar tractor in winter.First off, I will apologise that there are no really good pictures of this repair “in progress”. Many key portions took place while our official blog/homestead photographer was doing other chores. In future, I’ll try to remember to snap some pictures myself, even if it means interrupting my “flow”.

As you will recall, the
Yanmar fell out of commission a few weeks ago when the king pin on the front left of the vehicle sheared completely off. Further investigation really pointed to this being a weakness in design. The “transmission” for the front wheels appears to be located directly at the wheel, beyond the axle and steering linkages. This seems to me to put some heavy torque and weight outside of the single bolt (actually the king pin) that holds the entire thing together. Not only does this pin hold the wheel and transmission to the axle, it also transfers the force of the steering wheel to both wheels via a linkage running under the tractor.

Asking Google reveals that I’m not the only Yanmar owner who has suffered this sort of fate.

Calling around, I was able to source a used king pin from Hoyes Tractors in the U. S., for US $400.00! This was not really a thought that I relished.

Instead, I called the fellow who had initially put in our driveway entrance. F! was one of those fellows that I am often in awe of – he talks casually about moving engines between dissimilar vehicles, and can throw out phrases like “I changed out the 375 for a 444 last year” (paraphrased) – things I have little to no idea of their meaning, but they sure sound impressive!

He looked over the Yanmar appraisingly last year, and even then I asked him if he would have a problem looking it over if I ever ran into trouble. At the time, it was a mystery box to me – I would sit on the seat, pull levers, and try to see what they did. Hopefully now I’m a bit more versed in its workings.

He came by to take a look at the situation, and offered some great advice about how to dismantle the last few components that were giving me a hassle. Namely the tie rods for the steering mechanism. They run from the steering wheel to a bracket above the left wheel, which, via a 90 degree linkage, travels to the right wheel. I had been unable to free the linkage from these tie rods, and with the top of the king pin still firmly wedged into it, that was a key step in getting things dealt with.

Applying a little pressure to the linkages in the direction I wanted them to go, F! suggested hammering on the outside of the coupling. It wasn’t exactly intuitive to hammer at a right angle to where you want something to move, but apparently these couplings are tapered, a bit like a cone. He predicted a dozen hammer whacks, and so it was with great admiration, they popped apart on the tenth and eleventh whack, respectively. (I’m not certain if a “whack” is an actual unit of force, but it seems close – I know a whack when I administer one – or when I have felt one…)

With the broken bits in hand, I headed over to F!’s shop, where it seems he could fix anything you care to bring him. He used a press to push the remainder of the king pin from out of the linkage (I believe he said it took about 15 tonnes of force), and we looked over the damage.

Cleaning things up, he pointed knowingly to the surface, showing where it had cracked partially in the distant past, and then fully in the more recent past. He suggested that if we couldn’t find another solution, he could possibly just weld it back together, but he didn’t seem entirely keen on that being a good or lasting fix.

Instead, he called up R! – a local fellow that seemed to be a machinist by trade, and had a small shop nearby. R! said he didn’t have time to fix it right away, but was willing to look at it if we wanted to bring it by. I loaded F! into the truck (he was nursing a broken ankle all this time), and we headed off to meet another new neighbour!

R! turned out to be another really awesome fellow. He is a pilot, having built his own aeroplane! He also was able to take in the situation with the king pin very quickly, and had a solution – boring out king pin, inserting a smaller pin inside, then welding it all together and machining it back to its original condition.

While I didn’t need the part for a week or so, as I was going to be visiting my parents with Kenny, he called within a day or two to report he was finished and I could pick it up!

After another very enjoyable visit with him, I brought the pin home, and headed off on vacation.

Back from vacation, I returned to F!’s shop to pick up the parts that I had left there. We talked at great length about many subjects (F! has knowledge and advice on just about any topic you could name. He’s a super resource for second opinions and suggestions.)

Finally, on F!’s advice, I purchased a small tube of “blue – sensor-safe gasket maker”.

Grandpa dropped by the next morning to light a fire under me on this repair, but in my defense, I was already heading out the door. I welcomed his company to help out with this, and on his suggestion, we went to his workshop to take advantage of his selection of tools, and especially a bench vice.

It was with not a little head scratching that I tried to puzzle out how to re-assemble the various bearings that were involved with this thing. It was helpful to look at the king pin itself and see the wear marks at different levels.

One difficulty right away was that nothing would fit over the key in the shaft. Grandpa pulled it out with a pair of vice grips and then things moved much more quickly. First I cleaned off the base of the king pin, and then applied a thin bead of gasket around the bolt holes, and around the perimeter of the base. I slid the casing for the transmission over the king pin, and let it come down onto the base. Finger tightening the bolts on the base of the king pin locked it nicely to the casing, and then I slid on first a small ball bearing, then the main gear. Inside this gear goes two “roller” bearings that fit nowhere else. Then another small ball bearing, then a large ball bearing, and finally, a “sleeve”.

I carefully carried this contraption back to the tractor, where I wiped off the gasket of the casing cover (which was still attached to the axle), and then slid the king pin up through another large ball bearing (which I hadn’t noticed earlier, but was still wedged up inside the casing cover), and finally up through the casing cover.

I inserted the key in the side of the top of the king pin, and then tapped on the steering linkage. Next came a stack of thin washers, followed by a larger washer and then the nut. I tightened the nut down with the largest wrench Grandpa had, and we seemed to be in business. Grandpa was a bit concerned that turning one wheel caused the opposite one to turn in the opposite direction. While I thought this was a normal outcome of a differential gear, I also wasn’t well versed enough in mechanics to outright discount his doubts. Of course, I also had to point out that we couldn’t possibly have screwed up the re-assembly of things so much as to cause this effect.

With huge amounts of WD-40 and screwing the nuts up and down the linkage shafts, we were able to free them up enough to allow us to assemble them and tighten the nuts in the proper position. These linkages don’t seem to have a means to hold the “bolt” in place as the nut gets tightened, so as soon as things begin to get tight, the nut starts to spin the bolt, and you don’t make any progress on tightening things. We needed to disassemble the linkages, hold them down lower with vice grips, and then spin the bolts up and down the shafts about three or four times before we were confident enough that they would go on without the vice grip. This did work for us.

Oh no! We had made an incorrect assumption much earlier in the process! With the keyed portion of the king pin broken off from the base, we simply eyeballed the key and judged that it was directly opposite the wheel. This was obviously not quite true upon re-assembly, as the wheels towed out a large amount. (Although thankfully not nearly as much as when the pin was completely broken.)

I headed over to the opposite side of the tractor to check on the adjuster for the toe-in of the tires. It was a simple turnbuckle mechanism, but had been screwed down tight previously, giving me no chance to observe the threads to see which was a left-hand thread, and which was a right-hand thread.

Grandpa walked over to see what it was about, and we agreed that we needed to undo the linkage from the steering side of things, and then use the entire shaft with a pair of vice grips on it to try to spin the linkage open a bit more. This was very fruitful! We were able to see which side had the left-hand thread, and which had the right, and we ended up dismantling the entire thing, lubing and cleaning it with WD-40, and then re-assembling it with lots of room for adjustment.

Climbing into the tractor seat, I was not a little exhasperated to find a lone, large, flat washer hanging from one of the hydraulic levers. Oh yes, I remember now, it came from between the steering linkage and the top of the wheel casing! I put it there for safe keeping when the tractor first became incapacitated.

I disassembled the top of the wheel assembly once again, inserted this washer, and then reassembled everything. Sigh.

Using the turnbuckle, I adjusted the wheels until they mostly pointed in the same direction, with enough of a hint of toe-in to make me think we were on the right track.

Removing the right wheel, I drained out the remaining hydraulic/transmission/lubricant fluid from the right wheel (via a 20mm bolt on the bottom of the wheel transmission – so to change the fluid on your front axle, there are actually TWO drain plugs that need to be opened). Then, I tried to add a very approximate .8 gallons via the plug on top of the axle. This seemed to fill rapidly, so I would stop regularly, and rock the axle back and forth to even out the fluid levels. I also spun the wheels by hand to get them well coated and push out any air bubbles.

Finally it was seemingly full. With great trepidation I climbed aboard and started her up with a loud, knocking roar. (I want to put on my ear muffs just remembering it!)

I lifted the bucket up, and removed the stump from under the axle where we had left her, low these many weeks. Slowly, I lowered her back onto the wheels, and it held! Of course, the proof was in the pudding. I lifted the bucket further, and then put her into reverse. Slowly releasing the clutch, I actually moved – in reverse! Both wheels moved in the same direction and I was greatly relieved!

Grandpa and I re-examined the toe-in angle, and made a few slight adjustments. For now, we aren’t going to lose sleep over the fact that we aren’t terribly certain if we are within tolerances there, or about the fact that there seems to be a bit of play in the key, so that the wheels can wobble ever so slightly compared to one another. I never take the tractor out of low gear, and it never really drives on pavement, so how much difference can it make? (Please, tell me if it will make a difference – I’d be more than happy to hear opinions.)

I turned her around in front of the vehicles, pondered what would happen if she broke down halfway along our driveway (no answer to that – other than a shudder), and headed down the driveway.

About two thirds of the way, I couldn’t take the pace anymore, and switched from second to third gear (still in low range though), and trotted to the end of our drive. Again, cautiously turning around, trying to stay off the public portion of the road, I headed back triumphantly! I parked her a little further out of the way, and would have done a victory dance, if not for my tremendously sore ankle.

Today it is snowing again. They predict five to ten centimetres. I’m thinking that perhaps I’ll put her to the test if the snow looks that bad. Of course, I’ll have to dig out the now fully buried grader blade, which may be an adventure in itself…


Edging boards on my Wood-Mizer LT10

April 13, 2013

Man clamps rough slabs to sawmill in winter.Stack of rough hewn boards.Slab pile in the snow.Man aligning a board on a slab pile.As a side effect of spending the winter milling beams for my sauna and workshop, I ended up with a huge slab pile. As well, I had just roughly piled up a rather impressive pile of 1″ thick boards off to the side. They weren’t properly stacked though, just basically laid one atop the next with no room to breath, and no great concern for being flat or level.

Once the last log was milled though, Grandpa initiated a programme to ensure that these boards would be useable.

First he shoveled off the snow nearby until he was down to a rather large, flat area. We then cut down a nearby poplar tree (one that was rather close to the driveway, and more a nuisance than an addition to the natural landscape).

I cut the tree into 8′ lengths, and milled one side flat.

We lay these lengths down in the newly cleared area, and shimmed them to be flat, with no pretense towards level.

Over the course of the next few days and weeks, as weather and my work schedule permitted, we worked together and transfered my pile of rough cut boards to the new area. As we did this, Grandpa eyeballed up each plank and would sort them into piles, based on the amount of useable wood vs. the amount of bark still present. When we had a stack of about five or six good boards, I would put them back on the sawmill on edge. Clamping them gently together, I would run the mill down first on one side, and then flip the stack, and remill it again on the next. This gave me a nice, clean edge on both sides of my boards, creating something much more useable again than just a slab of wood.

For example, to create a 1″x4″ board, we generally were starting with something closer 7″ including the bark. We would place a stack of these on edge on the mill, and do a pass at about 5 1/2″. This would take off most all bark on one edge of the stack. I would flip the stack over, and mill again at exactly 4″. This took care of most of the remaining bark, and would give me a very useable 1″x4″ board. These measurements were obviously not hard and fast – often we were shaving just an inch from one side, and three or more from the other. You just tried to keep similar boards together to make yourself more efficient.

It was surprising how quickly we made short work of my rough pile, and came up with a very large pile of lumber, ready for future projects. Having this mill has been a real blessing around here, and I look forward to many good years of future use for upcoming projects.

Cutting up Slabs

April 16, 2013

Pile of wood slabs in winter.Wood slabs on a ladder.Man cutting slabs in winter.Bundle of wood slabs on a ladder in winter.Having access to a large supply of slabs is a bit of a plus when you are heating with wood. It feels good to be able to use up this by-product of milling lumber.

One issue though is that they need to be cut up, and they are generally smaller than entire trees. This means you need to find a way to bundle them together and then cut a bunch at once.

Last year I had some leftover two by fours which I built into a frame for cutting up my slab pile. At the end of cutting through my pile, I just continued on cutting up my frame, as it was in such poor shape.

This year I thought of something similar, but then opted for something a bit more expedient.

Here is a disclaimer – I am describing something I do. I am not in any way advocating anyone else to do this.

First off, I suit up with my chainsaw chaps and ear muffs. I generally try to be as safe as possible when using the chainsaw. At least in this respect, I am able to work on a flat, clear surface with little overhead danger.

I set up my aluminum ladder, stacked a number of slabs through the rungs, and then put on a ratchet strap to bundle them together securely.

I also tried to anchor down the legs of the ladder with some more planks and cinder blocks. This was probably overkill, but again – safety first!

Then, with my slabs held at a comfortable working height, I alternated sides (to try to keep the loads balanced), cutting down the slabs until I made a final cut on either side of the ladder. The final cut I made with great caution, not being eager to make contact between my saw and the aluminum. I was obviously concerned about the saw, the ladder, and my person!

Eventually I even placed two bins under each side of the ladder, so my cut pieces of slab fell directly into some bins for carrying back to the woodshed.

I have to confess to some pleasure at how well this system has worked for me. Again, the place to be careful is when I am cutting close to the ladder, and just being mindful of the stability of the ladder as slabs are cut away.


Snow Storm in April?

April 21, 2013

Young boy in blizzard.Snowshoes deep in snow.Tractor under a tarp, covered in deep snow.Car and Truck both covered in deep snow.Yanmar tractor ploughing snow.Yanmar tractor using a grader blade to move snow.Yanmar tractor clearing snow.Dirty driveway in winter.My in-laws tell me that last year the snow was generally gone in March, and by April they were raking the lawn. I know when my brother and I arrived at the end of April, we could only find a little snow tucked away under some trees here and there. We freely walked about on the homestead and unloaded the trailer with all our possessions.

This year is quite different. We suffered through a record breaking low temperature, and have ploughed more than our fair share of snow.

On Friday though, Mother Nature decided we could take a bit more. It began snowing Thursday afternoon/night, and all through the night we heard the wind gusting and blowing stronger than ever, and then all day Friday it continued to snow.

We cancelled sauna night, as it wasn’t realistic to be able to walk through the drifts to even GET to the sauna.

I’m not sure if it was the right decision to hold off on ploughing until Saturday morning, when the snow finally stopped falling. I contemplated whether or not it was better to do a run with the tractor every few hours during the storm, as compared to waiting and doing it all at once.

Either way, I am not sure where I could have put the snow, and I’m still not entirely sure, it being Sunday morning now, and the driveway MOSTLY clear, but still rather narrow in a few places and likely requiring a bit of hand shovelling to widen it enough.

Now that the snowbanks are clearly about two to three times the height of my grader blade, it cannot accomplish much. The front bucket works marginally better, but it still requires me finding a way to get far off the drive to dump the snow, and I have to raise the bucket nearly to its eight foot limit to be able to dump it above the banks.

In spite of waiting a few hours in the morning for the temperature to get to -10, the tractor was still a struggle to get started. At last it roared to life, and while I spent much of the day on my backside in the tractor seat, trying hard to at least clear a walking path from the vehicles to the road, Donna slaved over multiple shovels to the same end.

Kenny tagged along and was tremendously distraught when he found that his snow fort had blown in. It was some effort to explain to him that it was simply an act of nature that had done it, rather than Daddy being careless with his snow clearing efforts.

Later in the day, in better spirits, he checked on us again to much better effect. He was in his glory conquering the beam pile and clearing it off for us.

As the afternoon turned to the supper hour, Donna and I cleared away the vehicles and then set down our shovels. Today I will try to get back at it to widen the driveway enough to get our car in and out. Hopefully some warmer weather will come along to assist us in our snow removal.

Gathering a Little Spring Firewood

April 26, 2013

Man in snowshoes carrying a dead log in winter.Dead trunks in snow.Man cutting firewood in winter.Firewood piled in a rustic woodshed.With the extended downtime of the tractor, gathering firewood became a bit more challenging. As such, the warmer weather has also lulled me into a sense of not needing so much to burn.
Of course, the arrival of more, and then more snow began to gnaw on my sense of heating security, and watching the woodpile dwindle finally got to be too much for me. With chainsaw in hand, I headed off on foot to see what was dead, but still standing, and within walking distance of the yurts.
Up near the front driveway, where it crosses a boggy section, there were plenty of smaller candidates. I cut up about eight or them, and then, drenched in sweat from the effort and the rapidly rising temperature, I returned to the yurts for a lunch break.

After lunch, Kenny and Donna pitched in to help me drag my treasures back to the woodshed, where we piled them alongside the path.

After we had them all arranged, I fired up the saw again and cut them up into stove length.

Donna also gathered up a number of the smaller, dry limbs that had broken off, and they have proved to be great at starting the fire – sometimes too great!

Although it didn’t amount to a huge increase in my woodpile, it will help to get us a little further along. This weekend they are predicting our first double-digit temperatures, and yesterday we were able to get along with firing the woodstove only twice (morning and night), so our needs are diminishing at a similar pace to our resources.

It will also be a help once we can dig out our propane tanks and be able to cook on the propane stove again.


Opening the Domes!

April 27, 2013

Man with head in dome above a yurt.Clear dome at the top of a yurt.Young boy using a long stick to open the centre dome of a yurt.Young boy concentrating on something overhead while holding a long stick.View of two yurt roofs side by side.Thursday was a momentous day! We peeled off the shrink-wrap plastic from the domes, and opened them up to allow in some fresh air and undistorted sunshine for the first time in months.

I managed to re-attach the rings for pulling the struts down without falling off the ladder.

Kenny was very excited to try his hand at catching the rings with our hook. He could JUST reach them when he knelt on our bed.

Maybe soon he can even reach the ones in the main yurt!

From the outside, it was refreshing to see them popped open, and yet the indoor temperature was still quite manageable, dropping to a low of about 17 degrees, and then climbing back to above 20 once the full afternoon sun was shining down.

While the actual difference in air and light may have been small, they sure seemed huge to us in comparison. I think I speak for the whole family when I say that it added a spring in our step!
It also helped that we had some guests visit, and so we gave the yurts a bit of a spring cleaning that morning too. Our guests were very gracious and we thoroughly enjoyed their company. Hopefully we can have them back again soon – Kenny seemed to really enjoy sharing his snow fort with them, and even (only ever so slightly protectively) his Lego!


Spring Run-Off

May 11, 2013

Packed earth.Frozen ice on a dirt driveway.Rutted dirt driveway.Water in the ditch beside a gravel driveway.Sun shining off an icy pond.As I have complained about lately, we have had an excess of snow. In fact, although much of our snow is gone, it is snowing as I type this – on May 11th.

This snow was a hassle to navigate while it existed. Now that it is melting rapidly, it has again become a hazard. It has turned most of our pathways and trails to mud. The truck and car have gotten stuck a few times just outside of the dojo tent – not because of ice, but now because of mud. Sigh.

For the past week we have abandoned the notion of driving up to the dojo tent. I now park both vehicles near the entrance of our property. The driveway is simply too soft, and I’m doing more damage driving up close than I care to repair with the tractor and grader blade once drier times arrive.

Halfway down the driveway, and continuing to the entrance, there is a veritable lake growing almost to the height of the gravel.

In an effort to prevent a full blown washout or stream across the driveway, Grandpa initiated a goal of creating a secondary ditch from this lake, directly to the highway and culvert. Kenny and I have regularly revisited the location to dredge it lower and lower. In this picture you can see it near the centre of view.

The melting of the snow is an exciting time though; it does clear the way for excavations to begin! Just today Grandpa and I set out preliminary stakes to mark off the cabin and sauna. We also discussed some other work to have done when F! arrives to do our heavy equipment work. Some ideas have included a greywater pit and a small pond. Both are exciting notions. I also like having a better idea of sight lines now that we have an idea where our cabin walls will really need to go.


Dismantling our Gravity-Fed Water System

May 19, 2013

Young boy measuring stakes in the forest.Freshly cut tree in the forest.Now that we have contacted F! and have arranged for excavation of our sauna and cabin building sites, it is time to prepare the location for some heavy equipment, followed up by some exciting construction!

I first prepared the area with Grandpa by staking out approximate squares where both the cabin, and the sauna would go. I placed our first two stakes where I thought the south-west wall should be, approximately 24′ apart. Then, using a rope that turned about to be nearly a perfect size for it, I tied three knots – two that were 24′ apart, and a third that was 34′ from the second one. In my head, 24^2 is 576. 576*2 is 1152. The closest square to 1152 is 1156. That’s close enough for my tastes. Thanks to Pythagoras, finally,
a practical use for geometry!

After the ongoing failure of our water system over the winter, I had cut out a segment of the raised water lines to keep it from blocking our sunlight. Now that the snow was off the ground in that area, I decided to dismantle much of the remaining water line as it cut off access to the cabin site from our main driveway. Carefully saving the tie-wraps, I clipped free both the water line, as well as the electrical line that powered the sump pump.

With these lines out of danger, I knocked apart the log supports and untwisted the wires that had helped to hold them together until we could drive in spikes and screws. I tried as best I could to make the locations of the screws and spikes that I was unable to remove from the logs.

Piling the logs together, I got out the chainsaw and very gingerly cut them into stove lengths. As dull and beat up as my current blade is, I still wasn’t interested in seeing what happens when chainsaw meets spike. As much as I put great effort into putting up the original water system, which did serve well until the lines froze, I took uncommon delight in cutting it down and rendering it too into something to keep us warm this upcoming season.

For now we will schlep buckets from the end of the hose, which is still closer than the neighbours. I also have decided to purchase a water filter – likely a Big Berkey with British Berkeshire filters. Not that I’m an expert, by any means, but a bit of internet research seems to indicate that the “American” filters are of very poor quality, and the British ones, while making fewer claims to their abilities, are nearly bulletproof in terms of quality – and they have over 100 years of history to back them up. I’ll try to remember to do a bit of a review of the filter after we have it and have used it for awhile.

Having our source of water back has been great, and now if we can also drink said water, we will be much further along our journey to some independence!

Moving our Solar Panels and Batteries

May 21, 2013

Man chainsawing in the forest.Man rolling a wooden crate through the forest.Man looking in a wood create with solar panels overhead and firewood piled in the background.Small solar panel installation beside a wooden crate in the forest.  Yurts in the background and firewood piled underneath.Once the water lines had been taken down and cut up into firewood for next year, the other big obstacle to excavations was my solar array and battery/electronics box. I was not a little leery of having heavy equipment tearing things up anywhere near my power station.

I anticipated this to be both
a crisis, as well as an opportunity. I didn’t want to risk my whole solar array to the whims of gravity either. With Donna and Grandpa helping, we gingerly detached the main support pipe from the tree trunk it had been attached to, and relocated it on the other side of my pathway to a new trunk.

I also dismantled the battery bank, and then with much grunting and groaning, rocked and rolled the box over to the new location as well. With Donna’s help, I managed to level the box at the new location, and then reloaded the batteries – this time with good space between them, and no foam insulation. I don’t anticipate that they will need to suffer another winter. I plan on locating them in the crawlspace under the cabin, foam insulation as an option but not a requirement. As long as the crawlspace stays around the freezing mark, I don’t anticipate any real issues, aside from a reduction in overall capacity.

With only one or two sparks, I connected everything back together again, plugged in my panels, and voila! Power on the first try!

It was a good chance for me to clean out the box, spread out the batteries and do a bit of re-cabling. Now it is much easier to plug in other items, as well as charge the batteries from the generator if I ever have need to do that (now seemingly more unlikely for the remainder of the summer, but still, with a modified sine wave inverter, I do need to run the generator to power the washing machine).

It was a very windy day when I did this – the panels were really swaying. I decided that because we seemed to be charging up very consistently, I would tie down the panels semi-permanently facing south-south-west. Now we don’t have to constantly be checking to make sure they track the sun every day. I also have the added sense of security that they are soundly fastened and no longer able to swing due to a sudden gust of wind.

Let’s hope the next time I have to move these guys – it’s to their permanent home on our cabin!


The Season's First Mosquitoes

May 25, 2013

Fingers squishing an insect.I snapped this picture a week ago. It’s the first mosquito I swatted this year.

They seemed larger than usual – and I hadn’t been bit by them yet. I was trying to convince myself that they were some sort of damselfly or something like that. I took the picture anyway.

Last night was sauna night. As I spent a bit of extra time outside (now that the evening temperatures have climbed into the teens), these things were buzzing around me to the tune of two or three at a time. Suddenly – zap! One bit me right on my bottom.

Sigh, and so it begins..


Low Tech Water Filtering with a Berkey / British Berkefeld Combination

May 25, 2013

Boy looking inside water filter.British Berkefeld water filter inside view.After repeatedly coming close to, but not quite passing, our water tests, I finally became disillusioned with attempting to get our well to a zero bacteria level. We have managed to avoid e. coli, but there often seemed to be other coliforms that managed to infiltrate somehow.

Bleaching the well is always an option, but that didn’t really sit well (get it? Well?) with me. So with that in mind, I returned to my camping roots and sought out options for filtering my own water as needed.

Having tried a number of different solutions as a backpacker, including MiOx systems, chlorine drops, and ceramic filters, I opted for the most cost efficient, lowest technology option. This was a ceramic filter. They last for thousands of gallons of water, are easy to care for (requiring occasional manual cleaning of the outer ceramic), and have a long track record of efficient, chemical-free filtering of potable water.

Not wanting to have to manually pump every drop of water though, I was very happy to find that gravity-fed solutions have been around for over a century now!

Online, the tubes of the internet seem to be saturated with the American “Big Berkey” canisters, which also heavily promote their “Black Berkey” filters.

Drilling a little deeper though, there seems to be some lingering questions as to whether or not the Big Berkey canisters and filters are actually made in the U.S. More importantly, though, quality control on the filters seems to be very questionable. Many, many reports of the filters coming apart without warning led me to worry about just how much they could be trusted. Of course, the Black Berkey filters don’t appear to be ceramic – they seem to be straight up carbon with perhaps some other components. Having never seen one in person though, I can’t really make a confirmed comment about them.

With these reports in mind, I opted instead to go for the original British Berkefeld system, which the Berkey system is a derivative of.

Boy filling a water pitcher from a British Berkefeld water filter.I couldn’t get an original Berkefeld canister, but this didn’t trouble me so much, as it is basically two stainless steel canisters which sit upon one a
nother. Untreated water goes in the top, and filters though to the lower canister, from which a spigot dispenses it for drinking and toothbrushing. The canister isn’t nearly as critical as the filter.

I did insist on original UK-made filters though, and wasn’t disappointed. I purchased two, 9″ ceramic Berkefeld filters. They seem to be very straightforward. Wipe off the ceramic dust with a wet rag, install in the upper chamber with a rubber washer above, and a plastic nut below, and then run one or two full tanks of water though before use.

At first I was going to only use one filter, but the time taken for the canister to empty was on the order of 10-12 hours, so I installed the second filter as well. This does not change the economy of the system – only the speed of filtering.

For a standard “Big Berkey” canister, 9″ filters fit fine, but seem to me to be oversized. In future I would order the 7″ filters. The top two inches of the 9″ filter are no longer covered by water within an hour of filling the top canister, if you even DO fill it. We also noticed while filling that there is a significant risk of contamination if untreated water runs down the side of the upper canister, as it would drain down into the lower canister. To account for this, we placed a “garter” around the base of the upper canister – actually, one of Donna’s unused hair bands.

On Friday I dropped off two water samples for testing. One is untreated well water, and the other is water that was run through the filter. Yesterday, Monday, I called for the results – 27 choliform in the well, and 14 after filtering. Disappointing, as that’s three times the safe limit, and I expected the filter to be flawless! I will tighten up the fittings as best I can, and re-run the test.

As we use and experience this filter more, I will try to give updates.


Testing a Coleman BlackCat Catalytic Heater

May 26, 2013

Catalytic heater with thermometer attached.Beautiful lady in a bathrobe with a propane heater blowing on her.Now that our dry firewood is pretty much exhausted, we are finding it harder to stand nights that still drop below zero (this morning they still announced a frost warning!)
In an act of desperation, I opted to purchase a heater – but I didn’t want a really large one, as I’m hoping this is just a very temporary need.

Having some experience with a Coleman catalytic heater from my winter camping days, it was with great hopes that I purchased one in town last week, as well as some of the (queue conflicting emotions) disposable propane tanks.

We brought it home, and I fired it up. It seemed to raise the temperature in the yurts at a painfully slow rate of three degrees an hour. It performed much better when we took it into the 100sf bedroom yurt and curtained off that area. But we didn’t want to let it burn through the night, so we turned it off once the temperature was over sixteen degrees. As an extra precaution, we also kept our carbon monoxide detector close by wherever we used the heater.

One thing of note, it seems to be a very humid heat. This was the first time we had noticed condensation or humidity during cold weather in the yurts.

The next day I instead opted to use it as a kotatsu heater in the larger yurt. This seemed a much more realistic use for it. I think this is about the best we can hope for all things considered. Best just pray for warmer weather, soon!


More Mud Means More Ditches

May 27, 2013

Water under a board.Muddy driveway with roots exposed.Muddy driveway with water flowing beside.Child playing with water beside a ditch.Last weekend it rained for four days straight. Luckily in the city they didn’t experience it quite as dramatically as last spring, but on my clay pathways, it was a disaster! Everything took on the texture of butter, with the look of fudge. Driving on it eventually became out of the question. I took to parking down on the lower, more graveled portion of our driveway.

Eventually Grandpa couldn’t stand watching our work wash away, and he began to dig a short ditch. I pitched in, and we managed to put in a much longer ditch (drain?) down the most vunerable side of our driveway.

Then we moved back to a section of my main pathway that also was very sloppy, and actually laid down two drainpipes to shuttle water from one side of the path to the other side.

Finally I tried bringing the truck back up the driveway. It wasn’t much of a success. I still got stuck multiple times and really left deep and lasting ruts in my parking area.


Breaking Ground on the Foundations!

May 29, 2013

Excavator in the forest.Excavator in the forest.Freshly dug ditch with water.Rough forms on rock.Muddy pond in the forest.So our excavator, F! predicted that he would be able to do our foundation work early last week. Of course, the weekend before it rained for four straight days, and I suspect this put his schedule way out of whack.

Thankfully, Saturday evening we received a telephone call informing us that he was going to work on Sunday to take care of it for us! We were super-excited!

Sunday was also Donna’s birthday – Mummu treated us to a really delightful wifesaver breakfast, one of my favourites! After breakfast, Mummu didn’t let me do the dishes, so I headed off to the local gravel pit to sulk – and get an extra load of gravel in anticipation of mixing concrete for my footings.

It was with great excitement that we heard the rumble of F!’s machine coming up the driveway about 11:30 on Sunday morning. We consulted briefly about the order and scope of operations, and then he was off! First priority was the sauna. Grandpa wisely (hmmm, Freudian slip? I originally typed “Grandpa wifely suggested”…) suggested that we have F! do the sauna first, so that if anything went wrong, we could at least proceed with working on the sauna and F! could deal with the other situations on a less pressing schedule.

It wasn’t an issue though, F! managed to scrape off the rock in an hour or two, and we set to work cleaning it a bit more with shovels and push broom.

Grandpa grabbed a number of 1″x4″ boards from my board pile, and we cut them to size for the sauna footings and screwed them together. Working with a pair of levels, we managed to position and satisfy ourselves with a good location for the sauna.

Meanwhile F! cleaned up our rejected well spot from last summer, and turned it into a nice, deep, small pond. I am thinking of adding a few goldfish for interest and to keep down the mosquito population. We’ll see how that works out.

After F! finished with the pond, he headed back up to the main cabin site, and there managed to give me half a heart attack as he pushed over a fully grown jackpine, and then tried to pick it up and move it out of the way with just his backhoe. I’m sure his tractor tipped to 45 degrees before he aborted and readjusted his grip on said tree. He persisted, and managed to get that tree out of the range of our cabin footings.

We had to adjust the location of the cabin by a few feet here and there, and will likely continue to do so, as we discovered that the spot we felt to be nice, flat Canadian Shield, actually did have a number of deep hollows in it.

Finally F! dug a trench from the sauna site to the cabin site. This was to allow me to bury a water and electrical line. As an added blessing, he was able to go quite deep with most of this trench. He even hit deep frost, and a higher level of standing water than the pond. This should hopefully go a bit of a ways to helping keep our water flowing from the tank in the sauna to the cabin. I am currently planning on running as large a flexible pipe as possible between the two buildings, and then running two 120V lines, 1″ flexible pipe, and heat cable through that. That should allow me room to run a future electrical line if need be, or replace the water line if need be. It should also protect all those lines from the backfill when I cover them up again.

After naming a very fair price for his work, I gladly paid him and sent him home. We puttered a bit and then Mummu and Grandpa came over for a celebratory barbeque.

Later, we returned to Mummu’s to enjoy more of Donna’s birthday with cake and fellowship.

That night, we fell asleep with visions of buildings dancing in our heads!

Preparing to Pour our Footings

May 30, 2013

Wooden forms on rock.Small tractor almost tipping over.Cement bags piled on firewood.Young boy pointing at a cement mixer.Grandpa returned to our building sites early Monday morning and we added an inner square of 1″x4″ boards to hold in our footings for the sauna. I am planning on using standard 8″ concrete blocks, and because the footings are only about 4″ high all around, we decided we were comfortable with 10″ wide footings. These footings are not at all designed to protect against frost heaving, but just to smooth out the irregular surface of the rock and give it a chance to bond to the blocks.

We added in two, 2″ diameter pipes about 16″ long, to act as conduits for incoming water and outgoing greywater. One of these faced directly at the well. The other pointed at an angle to the well, towards a slope that we were comfortable with the greywater flowing down towards.

On the side facing the cabin, I installed a 4″ diameter pipe, as I plan on putting in a nested series of pipes there to transport water to the cabin, and electricity both from AND to the cabin. (If I decide to run the generator to charge the house batteries, I plan on setting the generator on the far side of the sauna so it won’t disturb us too much.)

I then headed up to our front parking area to begin moving some of my gravel pile from there, closer to our construction site. The weight of the gravel, combined with some soft spots on the driveway resulted in one of my closer calls with tipping the tractor. I called out to Donna to call out to Grandpa to come and help me right the tractor. I was buckled in, and felt that if I bailed, the tractor would continue to tip.

Donna of course, bless her, thought I was only interested in getting photographic evidence of my folly, and rushed over, camera in hand.

Patiently I explained that I was fearing for my life, and could she please get Grandpa to come and stand on the high side of the tractor!

He got me back on four wheels, and I backed out of the resulting gully and took the long way around to the building site without further adventure. I dumped a few loads of gravel, and then it was time to get some cement and the cement mixer.

On the recommendation of Wayne at
Howie’s Saw and Woodmizer, I hit up Petersen’s Lumber on John Street Road. They set me up with six bags of cement, and a bit of a comment about how few people bothered to mix their own concrete anymore. This did little to encourage me.

Once I got home, it was determined that Grandpa’s lead on the cement mixer was still missing in action. At last he got ahold of his grand-nephew (I think) and we hopped in to the truck and were off.

The mixer has loads of experience. It appears that it belonged to Grandpa’s father, who used it to make a foundation for his farm house – AFTER it was built! He jacked the whole thing up, dug out a basement, poured a foundation, and then lowered the house. Unbelievable!

Grandpa and I managed to wrangle the mixer up to the building site as the sun was brushing the trees, and he headed for home while I did a bit more digging and cleaning on our cabin site. Finally Donna and Kenny returned from a shower at Mummu’s, and we all decided to come inside for bed.


Loved the part about Donna getting the Camera! haha Hope to see you soon and hear more about your house-building adventures!
  • ~Carolyn~ (2013-06-01)

Pouring the Sauna Footings

May 31, 2013

Wet concrete in forms.Man using a cement mixer in the woods.Almost poured concrete footings in the forest.Grandpa was up bright and early this morning, eager to get cracking on the sauna footing. I was just as eager, and although Mummu and Donna were off on their morning hike, and Kenny was still asleep, I decided to head out. I was certainly within earshot of Kenny if he woke up and was distressed at all.

Grandpa had consulted with his brother, who suggested a ratio of 1 part cement to 5 parts sand/gravel mix. I conceeded to his lifetime of experience, and we mixed up our first batch. It looked great!

We made sure that we wet down the rock first, then, using a combination of wheelbarrow, spade and bucket, poured in a bit of concrete. Then, thanks to the over-the-top efforts of Donna, we dropped clean, wet stones into the layer of concrete we had just poured.

After this, we tried to mix up a slightly thinner batch of concrete, which we would spread on top of the stones and, using a scrap of wood, would pat down the concrete with a quick tamping motion, to hopefully drive out any airspaces between the concrete and the forms and rocks. After this, we would use the flat edge of the wood to smooth out the top of the concrete, sliding it along the top edges of the forms while sawing it back and forth. I believe this is called “screeding” or something along those lines.

Although this was a good, honest workout, it went better than I expected, and when Grandpa broke for lunch, I was able to finish the job with 7 and a half shovels of sand/gravel and 1 and a half shovels of cement mixed.

As per my understanding, and Mummu’s reiteration, I broke out my collection of plastic bags leftover from the felt insulation in our Yurta yurts. Using some extra stones Donna had provided, I covered up the concrete to ensure that it didn’t dry out too quickly.

Grandpa plans on removing the plastic and forms tomorrow, hopefully to help my footings to cure faster.

When he returned from his lunch, Grandpa and I mulled over the situation with the footings for the cabin. It was not in quite such an auspicious location. There are several deep pits and grooves that coincide with our chosen footings.

We had been going based on a rough 24′ by 24′ floorspace, but upon closer examination, digging out closer to our 22′ by 22′ plan yielded a much more positive job. It still looks to be a much more major undertaking than the sauna footings. I think I will look into the possibility of pumping concrete up to our location, even if a truck cannot make its way all the way to the building site.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to work on the sauna, and with spare time, to clear more of the cabin footing area.


Levelling Uneven Granite for Footings

June 5, 2013

Fallen tree on a clothesline.Man holding a sump pump in a small pool.Young boy filling buckets from a hose.Wheelbarrow full of concrete.Rocks and concrete in a form.Empty forms on rock, waiting for concrete.While I was pleased to have the footings completed for the sauna, and had already purchased enough concrete block to build up four corners, Grandpa seems to be driven to also have the cabin keep pace. While this isn’t a requirement of our plans, it isn’t a detriment either, and when Grandpa wants to accomplish something, I sure won’t hold him back! On the contrary, I’ll try to help facilitate that.

The morning after a long night of wind and rain, I was a bit confused trying to understand what I was seeing here. I was watering a nearby tree when my eyes noticed that the clothes line wasn’t quite right. It took me a moment to really focus and understand that the wind had claimed another victim!

Grandpa arrived bright and early, and ready to pump out the rainwater from our excavation site. Electrical safety manuals are welcome to reprint this picture of Grandpa pooh-poohing danger.

F!’s excavations had revealed that the site of the cabin was not nearly as amenable to easy footings as the sauna site was. Both locations had an area of about 16 by 16 that was nice and flat, but then dropped off dramatically and randomly outside of that zone. For the 12 by 12 footprint of the sauna, this was not an issue. For the 22 by 22 footprint of the cabin, this meant that we had to try to fit our square onto a very chaotic surface as best we could. In the end, we wound up with one corner placed nicely on rock, another about a foot down, and the other two about three feet down. There were one or two pits along the walls as well that will need to be filled.
I decided to recycle some of the poles from my parent’s dining tent into the concrete – I figured a little reinforcement couldn’t hurt! Of course, in the interim, a concrete “guy” has looked at my situation and is certain that there is no need for these. I am building on a single, solid piece of granite that he is quite certain will not be moving in my lifetime.

At first I planned on pouring into the lowest hole and then running a course of block. Then pouring more footings that would butt up against the block I had run. Quickly I realized that the logistics of getting blocks to be level from one area to another would be very challenging in this locale. Of course, we had already poured a “complete” footing at that point. I decided that we’d just pour on top of this.

That made the next pour a little easier. This was in a truly deep hole, and after a frustrating time of trying to build a footing frame for it, I opted instead to just build a crib on the outside edge of the hole, and then pour in concrete (while Donna and Kenny set in rocks) to try to fill the hole up to a workable level. I believe this worked out a little better, and certainly was easier than building forms (even if it did mean mixing up a little extra concrete – a process that is rapidly losing its romance…)

That was enough for one day – I was wiped, physically and emotionally – I ate a little soup that Donna had prepared for us, and then retired while she graciously took care of Kenny’s nighttime routine.

Framing the Footings for Our Cabin

June 6, 2013

Framed footings on rock.Footings rough framed.Rough footings ready for concrete.Footings arranged in a square for a cabin.View of wire reinforcements in concrete footings.It’s funny how quickly you can forget important details when you are an adult, but little things from your childhood are lifetime memories. My vacation Bible school teachers will all be tickled to know that when Grandpa wasn’t talking to me, I spent much of the time working on the footings with “The Wise Man Built his House Upon the Rock” running through my head like an earworm…
After we had poured a bit of concrete into the bottoms of the deepest pits on our cabin site, I thought it would be instructive and valuable to build up the remaining forms for the footing in their entirety. Surprisingly to me, Grandpa agreed that it was a good idea, and we made that our next priority.

First we completed a run of 1″ by 4″ boards around the outside perimeter. I made the inside dimension of this run 22′ 4″. This was to allow me to lay my concrete blocks centred on a 12″ wide footing. I would have 2″ on either side of the blocks.
In hindsight, I would have added on an additional 2″. Having the inside dimension of this crib at exactly where I wanted the concrete poured meant that closing in the space below the crib would have to be done UNDER that 1″ by 4″ board. It would have been much easier to add on an inch all around, and then I could have simply dropped my enclosure down and attach it to the face of the board, rather than trying to fit it under and then using plates to tie it all together. Live and learn!

We spent two days working on this. It took much longer to box in the outside than the inside. As I suggested about adding the extra 2″ on the outside crib, I *DID* think to deduct an additional inch for the inside crib, and so we were able to just drop our enclosure down inside the space, and screw it quickly and easily to the 1″ by 4″. Even if our enclosure is of uneven thickness (and it is – we used lots of scrap lumber for this), it ensures a 12″ minimum thickness for the footing. Also, even if the enclosure boards come up a little short or uneven, the concrete pour will simply flow over top of these shortcomings and level up to the 1″ by 4″ top board.

As my father use to quote: “Nothing can go wrong… Nothing can go wrong…”
The mixing and pouring of concrete has really lost its allure to me now though. I called out a concrete ready-mix company to come and look at my situation. It is clear that buying ready-mix for a project this size is more economical than making it myself, even when my aggregate is free! Of course, looking at my location, it is too remote currently to bring a truck close enough. Grandpa thinks that we could likely get the truck halfway up my driveway, and then haul concrete back and forth from there in my wagon with the tractor pulling. I’m still not enthused with that idea. Currently the tractor is again our of commission due to a flat tire. I have managed to locate the last two tires of that size in the country, and am having them shipped in at my expense. I don’t want to rely on the tractor for something of this importance.
So that brings up the notion of building my driveway all the way to the cabin site. Something I never really considered seriously before, but discussing it with Donna only really reveals positive repercussions. I’ve called BJ Kapush, the fellow who did an awesome job at putting in our driveway as far as he did last year, and hopefully he can come out and assess what needs to be done, and give me a quote.

So now it looks like it may be time to advance the sauna work again.


Laying Concrete (Cinder) Blocks

June 7, 2013

Laying concrete blocks.Setting concrete block on mortar.Aligning fresh concrete block.Corner gadget to hold plumb line.Well, after Grandpa and I poured all the concrete I had left, there was still some time in the day to tackle another task, so I decided to try my hand at the concrete blocks.

I followed the directions on the package of Mortar Mix, but it sure seemed way too dry for me, so I added more and more water until it was more the consistency I had seen on the YouTube videos.

Slapping it down onto the footings and then laying in the blocks was a bit more challenging than they make it look. Online they just tap it here and there with the end of the trowel and suddenly it is level and straight. I had to lift and reset it a few times, and the mortar on the ends of my block occasionally fell off! I used a whole bag of mortar mix for only eight blocks. I hope I can improve on this in future!

In order to keep my walls straight and on the footing, I made my own string holder. This little gadget sure looks simple, but building a working model is much more involved than I thought. At least mine does work not too badly.

I picked up another dozen blocks and two more bags of mortar mix yesterday. I’ll take another crack at it perhaps tonight or on the weekend. I really want to keep moving with this project!


Concrete Block Observations

June 12, 2013

Vent in concrete block.Concrete block wall.Rebar protruding from a concrete block wall.Low concrete block foundation in the forest.Now I’ve had the chance to lay some more blocks, and I have noticed a few things. Please jump in (in the comments) to set me straight if you know more than I do (which is likely, trust me…).

The directions on the mortar mix bags must be taken with a grain of salt (NOT LITERALLY). I’m quite certain that on my first batch I exceeded the maximum amount of water suggested, and yet my mix was still very gritty. And yes, I did mix it thoroughly. It really makes a huge difference to your enjoyment factor when the mortar mix is smooth and consistent. The suggestions that it should look like a milkshake are helpful. Of course, it should be thick enough to hold its shape, and not allow the block to just sink willy-nilly.

This brings me to my next observation – don’t buy mortar mix that has been subject to any sort of water! With concrete mix, I’ve found that I can sometimes break it up, or it breaks up well enough in the cement mixer. Mortar mix – not so much. On my second attempt at laying blocks, I had bought some questionable bags that felt like a solid brick. Opening up the first one, it broke up into large chunks that I was never really able to remove from the mix. By the end, I was sifting through the mortar with my fingers to pull out the pebble and stone sized pieces that refused to mix. It’s not possible to level a block when it is resting on a single “stone” of mortar mix.

Those little wooden blocks with strings that I made? They were totally crappy the next day. I tightened up the strings and was very careful, and still they would drop from one end or the other while I was trying to hook them on. Eventually I realized that I had all four corner blocks in place, so I just made a looong string that went around the perimeter of my whole project. I would do it this way again, even if the blocks were not yet mortared into place.

This string can sag though. I didn’t pay attention to that the next day when I again started to lay blocks. At the end of my day when I crouched right down, I realized that my first row of blocks actually dips a bit in the middle and comes back up – following the string which had sagged slightly overnight. I will tighten the string up again before every session of laying blocks from now on. I hope that I can make the mortar a little thicker in the middle for my second row and correct this. Thankfully I am only laying two rows, so I anticipate that my accumulated errors will not come to much.

Try to keep your mortar mix and blocks handy, so you don’t have to walk all over to get them.

Lucky for me, I plan on building a wraparound deck on both my structures. This should hide my sins nicely. I have to admit that my work doesn’t look the prettiest. I didn’t take any time to clean off excess mortar mix from the joints or where it has dripped. It should all disappear.

It seems to be more forgiving than you think. The mortar dried equally hard where I have thought my mix was either too dry or too wet. You just have to wait a few days for it to set up fully. I keep reminding myself that even if I simply dry-stacked these blocks, they would likely last a hundred years without incident. The mortar should ensure that they live a very long life.

Remember that there is a “top” and “bottom” to the blocks. The flared end goes up.

Vents that you can open and close are very expensive. When I first was quoted $20.00 for a single vent, I laughed it off and left. The next place wanted $30.00 for an even simpler vent! I opted for the $4.00 versions that you cannot open and shut, as I had planned on blocking them off with foam insulation each winter anyway.

That’s about it for now. I’ll get back to it later this morning and if I have anything new to report, I’ll try to squeeze it into my next blog post.


New Tires for the Yanmar 155D!

June 12, 2013

Yanmar 155D in the forest.Yanmar 155D carrying concrete blocks.After the broken pin on the front axle of the Yanmar, I hadn’t been able to get the toe-in quite proper. This seemed to put lots of stress on the front end of the tractor, and the tires were beginning to show some evidence for this. As is my habit, I tried to ignore it.

When I noticed that the tire pressure seemed to be rather low, I hooked up my compressor and pumped them back up. Then I continued with my business.

Widening the clearing for our cabin foundation by hand, we had been using the tractor as a wheelbarrow – shovelling excess dirt into the bucket to deposit elsewhere. At last I parked the tractor beside the excavation, and upon returning the next day, realized that the reason the tractor was sitting so low at the front was not because the soil had compacted – the front tire was flat!

I hooked up the compressor again, but it couldn’t budge. The tractor was out of commission (again).

I loaded up the flat, took it down the road to
KC Automotive, but they sent me on to Action Tire in the city. They made some phone calls, eventually telling me there was only one tire of that size left in the country, and did I want it. Of course I did. Later in the day, they called back to say they had found a second one. I decided to purchase it pre-emptively.

After a week, both new tires arrived and I installed them, as well as adding in the bolt that had been missing since I purchased the tractor. It sure felt good to be back in the saddle again!

It was much easier to move the concrete blocks around with the tractor, than schlepping them by hand or wheelbarrow.

Mosquito Bites – Sure is Fun to Scratch 'em!

June 12, 2013

Mosquito bites.Mosquito bites.A few nights ago I tried to saw up a spindly tree that had fallen across the driveway. It was really warm, so I put on the bug shirt and no shirt underneath.

By the time I finished, I ran back inside, itching like mad from the bites I received THROUGH THE SHIRT. Ack! Now I know – you still need a shirt to go with the mesh!


Our Panda Washing Machine – an Early Review

June 19, 2013

Young boy with brand new washing machine.View inside a dual chamber portable washing machine.Young boy pouring water into a portable washing machine.A young boy holding a bucket larger than him.View inside a portable washing machine as it agitates.A portable washing machine draining into a bucket.As exciting as it was to move from buckets, to oddjob, to our own apartment sized washing machine, all good things must come to an end.

As such, I was unimpressed the morning when we switched on the machine, it agitated briefly, and then died. Apparently agitation is contagious, as it spread to me immediately.
I tried running it on the inverter (which it hadn’t done previously), and then back on the generator. Then by itself, then with a different cord. But no go.

I left it unplugged overnight and then plugged it back in. That was more exciting – it agitated briefly, and then died.
I again left it unplugged for a number of hours, but this time it was not to be revived.

We managed to drain the water out the back door. I popped the back cover off and saw no user-serviceable parts or fuses or breakers or anything useful for a tinkerer.

Loading it up and taking it to General Appliance down in the city saved me on what would likely have been an expensive in-house service call. The next day they called back – $250.00 for the part, plus labour, less the $50.00 sunk cost I had already paid just for them to examine it. I told them I would think about it, and then went online to check my options.

I knew I wanted something small and simple – that’s my current style. I was all over Future Shop and Home Depot’s websites, looking at their offerings. Nothing seemed to be available without special order, and even then, it was almost as expensive as a full sized unit!

I’m not sure how it happened, but eventually I found this
Panda Washing Machine with a Spin Dryer (affiliate link). It cost less than repairing the old one, even with taxes and shipping!

It took me two days to convince Donna to at least let me try ordering it, and on Friday morning I was able to close the deal. I suspect it was going back to this that helped convince her to order promptly :).

Amazingly, it arrived on Wednesday, and I excitedly retrieved it from the back of the car and brought it to the yurts.

We set it up where the old washer had been, and with its reduced size, it made the back yurt seem even larger than before!

We put in some underwear and dish towels, some soap nuts, and then poured in a bucket of water. I was delighted to see that it agitated just fine!

Two pairs of jeans was too much for it though. You do have to be cautious about overloading it. This is more difficult when you have to carry in all the water you plan on using – you are always trying to see if you can make it wash more in fewer, smaller loads. This will likely be less of an issue when we have it plumbed in to a larger water supply.

The spinner is really great. I wouldn’t even say the clothes come out damp. Somewhere between damp and dry. They can dry really quickly on the line after being spun out.

For the first few days we had it draining back into empty buckets, which I then carried outside to dump. I was a bit annoyed that it took me so long to realise I could just put its drain hose out the same hole as the previously existing drain hose. It even fit nearly perfectly!

We really like the fact that it is so simple to use and that there is actually more interaction – we know better what is happening. You can actually lift the lid while it is agitating and see if the clothes are tumbling well. This also allows you to gauge just how dirty the water is becoming.

Same for the rinse which is essentially another wash cycle that you don’t add soap to – you can observe the water before deciding to pump it out. This would also give you a future option to use it as a sort of “suds saver” feature – and reuse cleanish rinse water on a second load of heavily soiled items.

One feature that I super appreciate is that without complicated electronics or motors, it runs flawlessly on our modified sine wave inverter, and at a very manageable draw in amps – I believe that in full sun, our solar panels can keep up with it, meaning that on sunny days we don’t even draw down the battery bank to do laundry!

Donna and I discussed this morning how it would not be able to wash our mats or quilts – we’ll likely have to relegate those to an occasional trip to the city laundromat, or perhaps some vigorous work in a large tub. But otherwise, after a week, we’re still going strong with this little machine.


It's been a while since you wrote this post. I'd love to know if you still use the Panda, and what your thoughts are on its performance. I'm considering possibly getting one to work with our solar panels. Do you know how much energy it uses? Thanks for any advice!
  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (2014-04-29)

Hi Kendra! I did do an update on
the Panda here and then another update here.
I was surprised to find it frozen up just a few days ago, but it did thaw out, and then continued to perform well. It is making a few creaking noises, and as others have reported, I'm not sure if it spins quite as well as last year, but I would still purchase another if this one died.
On our 12V battery bank, it appears to draw about 8-10amps *while agitating*, which is about half the time it runs (it pulses back and forth, just like a regular washer, with a few second pause between flips). I find this to be really reasonable. We were more than able to accommodate it with three 95w panels, and now that we are almost triple that, I don't bat an eye at doing laundry when the sun is out.
Hope this helps! Let me know if you have any other questions about homesteading north of the border!
  • Stephen Garstin (2014-04-30)

Sorry if this posts twice, I forgot to sign in. Just wondering how many watts your inverter is. I have a panda washer, and would like to get away with the smallest one that will run it.
  • Colleen (2014-11-23)

Hi Colleen, thanks for reading the blog! (And writing!) – our inverter *was* a 3000 watt modified sine wave. The Panda ran fine on that. Currently I just upgraded to a 4000 watt true sine wave inverter that also runs the Panda fine. I imagine the Panda could run on 1000 watts or less fairly easily – I only ever saw it drawing about 150 watts at its peak.
  • Stephen Garstin (2014-11-23)

Zodi On-Demand Hot Water Shower – First Impressions

June 22, 2013

Portable propane shower warming up.Trickling personal shower with thumbs up.Man adjusting the flow of propane to a personal shower.Small boy showering a man in a plastic tub.Continuing briefly on the theme of reviewing our latest purchases, here’s our thoughts on the Zodi Instant Hot Shower (affiliate link).

Now that the warmer weather is here again, we find ourselves breaking a sweat much more often than in winter. Luckily, I found and broke out the good old “solar shower”.

As I remembered, it was much like having a dog peeing on you. Only colder. I know my parents have used it to great effect, but I suppose they are better able to keep it in the sun. I was generally a little miserable fighting the bugs to spray myself down and then try to rush inside before I caught a chill. This year I had the sense to hang it indoors as the sun began to set, and then sit in an oversized Rubbermaid tub and let it pour down on me. Better, but still required a sunny day, and foreknowledge that I would want a shower.

Donna has missed a shower, so it was with some excitement that she ordered up the Zodi, a propane tank fueled device that would hopefully see us through the summer and into our sauna.

It arrived, and she was very crestfallen to read over the numerous safety suggestions. No indoor use, no use within 15′ of combustables. This pretty much makes it only useable in the middle of a large concrete slab or desert.

After just looking at the box for a week or two and debating whether we were going to send it back, or take the safety rules as suggestions, we finally decided that our yurts could be well ventilated (or already were!), and that with a fire extinguisher nearby, it should be worth trying. My argument is that many people in enclosed cabins don’t hesitate to use propane powered lanterns, which admittedly burn slightly less fuel.

At last we decided to give it a try. I assembled our fire extinguisher, opened up the dome and some windows, checked the batteries in the CO detector, and then set up the Zodi.

Everyone was excited to see how it worked. I volunteered to be the guinea pig.

After inserting 4 D cell batteries in the pump and filling up the reservoir with some ice cold water direct from our well, I hit the red button and success! We had running water!

Next, I turned on the propane and hit the piezo starter button. With a knuckle-singeing “whoomp!” a blue fireball puffed out and then the heater settled into the hissing everyone is familiar with.

Soon condensation began to build up on the bottom of the heater – as expected and clearly mentioned in the Zodi instructions.

I felt the output of the water – it was cold. This was marginally better than the ice cold that we had begun with, so that was at least in the right direction. As many previous reviewers had suggested, I placed the output back into the reservoir to recirculate, and after about ten minutes, things had warmed up enough to consider the water above room temperature.

I would have to say that it could not even be charitably called an “instant” hot shower. It works, but it takes time to heat water. I suspect that it could be nearly as easy to purchase only the pump and a bucket, and then heat water on your stove and mix to your own preference before showering, but this is kind of fun.

Kenny volunteered to be my personal shower stand – with the added benefit that I could just name a body part and get it sprayed.

While I believe we are going to keep the Zodi and try to mount it at our sauna and arrange it in a more comfortable situation, if I were simply looking for a car camping solution, my bucket and pump idea would likely be a much more attractive option.

If anything changes, I’ll try to update.


Building a Log Sauna, the First Run

June 23, 2013

Flashing on a block wall.Siliconing the top of a cinder block wall.Drilling some aluminum flashing.Cutting metal flashing while wearing a bug net.Caulking some flashing.Logs fitted together to start a cabin.With the block wall in place, it was time to start actually assembling beams for the sauna.

Originally my plan had been for three inch thick walls at the sauna, and five inch thick walls for the cabin. When I found a source for much larger white pine, I upgraded the cabin walls to six inches thick. This meant I had a surplus of five inch logs. They would certainly be put to good use as extra sauna logs. It also was a bit of a blessing, in that some of the beams on the top of my beam pile had begun to warp or twist. I’m assuming this was because they didn’t have much weight pressing down on them compared to the beams at the bottom of the pile.

As such, my first two or three available beams were all of the five inch variety, so I had to load them up and carry then back to the sawmill to cut down to three inches. I was surprised to find that they were still as heavy as ever – I suppose it does take some time for beams to fully dry out.

Once I had beams of the right size, I began by ripping the four inch height beams for two sides of the sauna in half vertically. This would allow me to stagger my runs from one wall to the next. I am planning on using the simple, yet strong, mortis and tenon type of joint.

I centred these two beams on opposing walls, making them flush to the outside bricks. I had placed four pieces of rebar close to the corners of the sauna, and heavily mortared them in place. They were only a foot long, and in hindsight I would consider two foot long ones, as one of them did become a little loose from my fitting and adjusting the sill beams.

In any case, I drilled out a hole to allow the beam to settle on the 5 or 6″ of rebar sticking up. I then lined up full size beams on the remaining two walls, and, using a pencil, marked off where I would have to remove material to allow them to interlock.

Flipping the beams over, I used my portable circular saw to cut four 1 1/8″ deep slices through the marked area. One on either pencil mark, and then two more at 1″ intervals. Then, with a 1″ chisel, I cleaned out this cut. With the half beams on the blocks, I did the same thing, only on the side facing up.

Once I had them assembled and looking good, I disassembled them again, in preparation for the next step.

I am planning on inserting two splines on the top of each beam as they go up. These splines should fit into grooves that I plan on cutting into the bottom of the next beam. Between these splines I plan on putting some sill insulation cut into 1″ strips. I’m hoping this will create a really good seal between courses.

My first attempt to cut a groove to accept my 5mm plywood spline was with the chain saw and a chalk line. This was noisy, wavy, and difficult to keep the depth consistent. It did give me a good, wide groove for the spline. But it wasn’t a nice prospect to think of doing this four times two each beam.

I next tried my router with a 1/4″ bit. This was much more physical! The router groaned under the effort, not to mention it didn’t run from my modified sine wave inverter, and I had to run the generator to get it to go.

Finally I tried my circular saw. It actually cut a groove that was acceptable, although just a bit too narrow. I really had to hammer to get the spline to fit.

I am thinking about the possibility of fitting two blades on the circular saw at the same time. We will see if that is realistic.

With the grooves cut into the tops of the beams, I was ready to put down flashing. I wanted to add flashing that overhung the concrete blocks both inside and out, to ensure that creepy crawlies wouldn’t have an easy path up to my log walls. I had found a large roll of it at the dump last year, and only needed to supplement it with about 5′ of newly purchased material at the last minute.

With Donna’s help, I laid it all out and drilled a hole for the rebar.

The hole needed to be enlarged with my snips.

Then I laid down a bead of caulking on top of the blocks, set down the flashing, and finally set down my first run of beams. Exciting!

Crouching down, I could see that the beams didn’t do a great job of compressing either themselves, or the flashing, against the blocks. I tried stacking a few extra concrete blocks on top of the beams to really create a good seal, but alas, wood does as wood does. I will certainly end up going around the wall again with my caulking gun, sealing under the flashing inside and out, and then doing the same between the first run of beams and the flashing.

All in all, it was an exciting and successful start – next step on the sauna will be to actually lay a second row of beams on top of the first one – made more challenging with this spline fitting notion.

Insulating an Underground Water Line

June 24, 2013

Large pipe laying in a trench.Man insulating a pipe in a trench with spray foam.Pipes exiting a conduit.Foam sheets half buried in soil.With the trench dug between my two structures, Grandpa was chomping at the bit to get the lines between both footings laid in and the trench filled in. We had a few rains which filled in the trench, requiring either bailing, or, in my lazy case, a siphon line with two garden hoses.

At its deepest, the trench was about three feet deep. F!, while digging it, seemed to think that at that depth we were close to being below the frost line. Unfortunately, at the sauna end, it rose up above ground level over the course of about six feet, and at the cabin end, it rose onto a rock plateau about twelve feet out, and then up to the footing in the last two or three feet.

To mitigate this, I decided to try to take a few steps to help as best as possible. First off, I wanted to have the option to change out the water line if it ever became unsuitable. To accomplish this, I laid down a non-perforated drainage tile as an overall conduit between the buildings. This also gave me a chance to run my electrical lines with the same flexibility. I decided to try them first. Shoving my 1″ poly pipe through the drain tile proved to be a challenge. Not impossible, but Grandpa had to follow along as I shoved from one end, shaking the tile to allow the pipe to pass the ribs. We got the poly pipe through, and with my fish tape and some dish soap, were able to easily pull through two 14/2 wires. One of these should supply power FROM the cabin, to the sauna during normal solar conditions. The other should supply power FROM the sauna to the cabin, when I decide to run the generator to charge up the batteries in winter time. This will allow me to run the generator on the far side of the sauna, hopefully shielding the cabin from the drone of the generator while it charges.

Grandpa, in an ever so clever move, carved out a “torpedo” from a nearby branch that was about an inch in diameter, and we duct taped this improvement to our actual waterline poly pipe. This pipe was twice as long as the drain tile and the electrical conduit (poly pipe). I wanted to run this pipe directly to the water tank in our sauna, and as close to the cabin sink as possible, before having to put in a coupler. Every coupler respresents a loss in flow and efficiency.

After feeding in about twenty-five of the one hundred foot line, I attached a gutter/eaves trough heating cable to the pipe with cable ties about every eight inches. This was my “nuclear” option for dealing with a frozen water line – I could run the generator, or perhaps on an exceptionally sunny day use my battery bank, to thaw the line with the heat cable. It is sixty feet long and draws about 300 watts. This is a considerable amount to run for any length of time, but compared to the alternative…
With both these lines run, it was time to take some passive measures. I purchased a number of sheets of 1.5″ closed cell foam suited for direct contact with soil and water, and cut them into six and twelve inch strips. The six inch strips I placed under my drain tile in all but the deepest part of the trench. Then I placed two twelve inch ones over the pipe from one end to the other. Again, using duct tape to hold them together in a sort of “A” frame, I squirted some “Great Stuff” expanding foam along all the seams and joints to seal it up.

Grandpa shoveled soil against this foam, completely covering it in the deepest part of the trench. After this, he made one more trip to my gravel/clay pit down by the well and topped up the trench with more fill. At this point, the trailer blew out a bearing again, and he decided that was enough for now. Besides, I had returned to work on the sauna itself, and my electrical cords and workspace had spilled across the path the tractor had to take.

I will place some more sheets of foam over the “A” frame as we build up the soil, probably just laying them flat and extending out some distance to either side. Then a light layer of soil over them to hold them in place, and we’ll hope for the best come winter!

Working in my favour hopefully are the following:

  • The line is deep in the trench for a good distance, hopefully at or below the frost line.
  • The line has an airspace insulation all around it in the form of the non perforated drain tile.
  • The drain tile has at least an inch and a half of closed cell foam insulation all around it for the entire distance.
  • The drain tile will also get another inch and a half to three inches of additional foam insulation where it rises up to the footings.
  • I can fall back on using the eave/gutter heating cable if it does freeze up.
  • If we take regular saunas, the water that will run from the sauna to the cabin may be significantly warmer than regular groundwater.

Only experience will tell how things really work out for us though. Much depends on just how warm the sauna gets, and how long it holds that warmth after the fire goes out. I’m sure I’ll post a notification when (or should I say if?) the water line does freeze up.

As I revisit this post in 2021, I see it was a total bust. Beware.
  • Stephen Garstin (2021-11-11)

Improving and Extending our Driveway

June 28, 2013

Young boy climbing a yurt wall.Young boy running toward an empty excavator.Young boy in an excavator bucket.Man and young boy carrying a wooden beam.Surplus military tent in the forest.Two yurts in the forest.Foundation ready to pour in the forest.Crunching the numbers and economy of mixing my own concrete led me to the realization that there is a reason why so many people opt for ready-mix solutions. Not only do they save you a load of hard work schlepping gravel, sand, portland and water, which you then have to mix and pour. They can do all that for less than the cost of the components. Even with a rapidly diminishing supply of sand and gravel, the cost of portland (cement) would have been nearly equal to that of the ready-mix quote.

The problem was my ongoing road issues made the thought of bringing in a concrete truck laughable. Regular readers will recall me almost losing the tractor to some quicksand-like mud on my “road” from the dojo tent to the buillding site.

All this just to get the footings poured. It ignored bringing in any further building supplies, or accessing the cabin in the future.

The only viable solution was to extend a proper driveway from where we had left off last summer, all the way to the building site. I managed to get a quick quote from the same fellow who had done such a great job last year (B.J. Kapush Contracting). A few days ago he arrived with his “big machine” – which proved to be exactly as described!

After the first day of work, he had managed to beef up our existing driveway to his own satisfaction. He cut down many of the trees that were leaning out over the driveway, and then laid them across the driveway, burying them under a new layer of gravel. He got up to the sawmill and dojo tent, where he expanded, levelled, and regraveled the whole area into a luxurious spot to park and turn around. We can now have visitors without fear that they will be unable to turn around – or without us having to move our vehicles to the neighbours!

The second day I went to work, and Donna and Kenny went to Mummu’s house to escape from the noise and (slight) dust. But I returned to the amazing sight of a driveway that could likely accomodate TWO vehicles passing one another. It took 12 hours of labour and 29 loads of gravel, but now we were ready to call the concrete fellows to come in and do their thing.

I made the call just as BJ was leaving, and we agreed that they would come sometime two days hence.


Further Thoughts on Building with Beams

July 1, 2013

I’ve been trying lots of variations on a theme to get my beams successfully installed. Cutting two deep grooves and then adding plywood “splines” with a strip of foundation sill insulation takes a fair bit of time. While I’m concerned with how slowly the walls are going up, I’m hopeful that in time I will become faster at it, and that perhaps with additional help from friends and family, it will also go more quickly.

The failure of using a chainsaw or router to cut the grooves for my splines led me to this crazy thought:

I’m quite certain it isn’t generally recommended to have multiple blades on one circular saw. And I ended up finding that it didn’t really make my cut appreciably wider.
Currently I have invested in a new circular saw that has better balance and power and fits the hand better:

Coupled with the new saw is a really cheap Canadian Tire saw blade (cheaper blades tend to have a wider kerf – or width of cut). I drop a chalk line on the beams, cut down the chalk line with one pass, then follow that cut with a second one in the same groove, but I guide it along the edge of the groove to try to double the width of it. This provides a good width for the spline. I find that with a rubber mallet in hand to tap along it, it works well. Even when the plywood cracks or actually breaks, I am able to continue tapping it into place successfully.

The “doubled up” groove is for the top of the beams. It holds the splines up nearly perpendicular to the beam, as well as ensuring they are most parallel to one another. I cut the grooves for the bottom beam slightly differently.
I realize that I will not likely be able to get a perfect fit from beam to beam. Many of my first beams had different twists and warps to them that made them difficult to be consistent with. At first I was trying to custom fit each beam, but now I think I have come to a better system.
The grooves on the bottom I cut similar to the ones on top, except that I tilt the circular saw blade at a 10 degree angle, and cut twice with that. The angle allows me to cut first on one side of the line, and then the second cut on the opposite side of the chalk line. This creates a deep V groove that is wide enough to catch the spline from the beam below and guide it into the new beam.

I had been trying to cut the corner joints customized for each beam at first. I found that this ended up compounding any imperfections in previous runs. Instead, I am currently cutting the corner joints at fixed places (4″ in from the end of the beam, 3″ wide). Then I twist or turn or shove the beams in and out and force them to fit the original plan. This isn’t nearly as difficult as it would have been at first – because the beams are getting less and less twisted and warped as I go deeper into the pile. I believe the weight of the upper beams helped to keep the lower ones in place as they dried over the winter.

The corner notches haven’t changed much in technique. I do a dry fit of the beam before I add the splines, then after I add them, and then I finally add the insulation and put the beam in place. Then I place a single screw in the notch to peg everything together.
At my openings, I also fasten the beams to one another by placing a 2.5″ screw on each side of the beam, a little over an inch up from the bottom, three inches back from the opening, and angled down at 45 degrees so that it goes into the beam below. This screwhead should be covered by a 4″ trim that I eventually plan for every opening.

I also check the beams for level before fastening them in place with the screws. Whatever end needs to be raised, I slide a small scrap of my 5mm plywood into. This is smaller than many natural gaps between the beams, and is not noticeable.
It’s slow going, and frustrating when it isn’t perfect. But that’s the cost of tuition in my self-taught log building school!


How I Join Two Beams Together in my Log Walls

July 2, 2013

I am not sure if I will have enough single logs long enough to span an entire wall in my sauna. As such, I am prepared to join them together. I’ve done two such joints already, as practise for the cabin, where I will have to do this multiple times, in multiple locations.

First off, I marked off the two beams in question at three inches in from the end. Then I returned them to the sawmill, where I cut vertical slots into the ends of the beams until my saw had penetrated three inches.

I returned back to the building site, where on one beam, I used the circular saw, set to a 1″ depth, to cut off the outside pieces of the end of the beam, 3″ in from the end.

The other beam I drilled down between the cuts from above using my 1″ spade bit. This freed up the 1″ by 3″ block of wood in the end of the beam and created a nice slot for the tab I had just created on the other beam.

I prepared them otherwise normally, and placed them on the wall as I would any other beam.

Once in place, I again used my 1″ spade bit in the drill to drill a hole from the inside, towards the outside, but checked the depth constantly to ensure that it only just reached the outside, but didn’t actually penetrate anywhere.

I centered this hole on the slots and tab I had earlier created.

Into the hole I inserted a dowel, and then using a Japanese style draw saw, cut it off flush with the inside wall.

A single 2.5″ screw from above ensured that it wouldn’t pull free, and then some caulking to fill in the gap between the end of the tab and the half-rounded slot completed the picture.

We’ll see how many more of these I have to do to complete the sauna. But it was again good practise to get it done here before I came to the main cabin, where knowledge of this technique would be a requirement!


Seems like a good idea, hard wood dowel I can make myself on a lathe, really good idea, thanks for posting. I will cut my two log ends just like tongue and groove and use a dowel to secure together.

  • Anonymous (2017-07-25)

love it
  • Anonymous (2018-02-10)

I love it it is very professional!!!
  • Anonymous (2018-02-10)

Calling in the Ready-Mix Concrete for our Footings

July 3, 2013

With our driveway complete, the next step was to get our footings for the cabin poured. I had called TBC Ready-Mix to come in and do the pour, as they were highly recommended by BJ, as well as conveniently local.

Wayne from TBC said he would come out in two days, but the next morning, he called and offered to show up that day to do the job! I agreed with that, but had to call BJ to move his excavator to be sure that the concrete truck would have enough room to squeeze past.

That afternoon, Wayne drove up and checked things out. It was gratifying to see that he was pleased with the road, as well as accepting of the forms we had made to hold the footings. He pointed out a few spots to beef up, which we did. He also offered to stick around and help us wheelbarrow the concrete across the footprint to the far side of the forms, where the concrete chute wouldn’t reach.

Shortly afterwards, to great excitement, Mark backed the concrete truck up to our footing forms, and we started to pour.

Grandpa manned the shovel, spreading our loads of concrete back and forth and ensuring consistent coverage everywhere.

Wayne and I generally alternated loads to various spots around the footings, although in one high corner Mark suggested that I no longer pour concrete directly in, but rather, carefully shovel it in, as the forms there were giving him a bad vibe.

Once we had poured in enough concrete to fill the areas his chute couldn’t reach, he swung around and began to cautiously pour into the forms directly from the truck.

In a few places, the wires Grandpa had threaded from one side to the other to hold the forms together snapped as the concrete poured in. We held our breath, and nearby wires continued to hold – but the forms began to bulge like some sort of plywood balloon.

No, he didn’t miss the forms. At this point we realized that I had indeed guestimated high on the number of yards of concrete I would need. So, in the interest of supporting the forms, we dumped excess concrete on either side of the forms. On the outside, I was mostly indifferent. On the inside of the forms, it actually was a bit of an advantage, as it went into the deepest corner, and brought it up to a level surface that would be nicer to deal with in the future “crawlspace” under the cabin.

With bugs biting us mercilessly, and these clouds forming up overhead, I’m sure it was with great relief that Mark finally emptied the truck, and took off back down the driveway.

Donna covered up all the power tools and brought us some cold water refreshments.

Wayne stuck around briefly to accept payment and help screed the concrete, and then the rain began to pour down, and we all headed for home to congratulate ourselves on a job well done.

Looks great – lots of progress! Most postings, I am looking forward to seeing the cabin and sauna progress!
  • Chris (2013-07-03)

Hey, come and see it in person! How about an August mini-vacation? Bring Vic with you!
  • Stephen Garstin (2013-07-04)

Round Wood Piles

July 4, 2013

Mummu has clipped one or two articles by Steve Maxwell over the past year, pointing out that he is not only a contractor, but one who has already done something similar to our venture – moving to bare land and self-building a home there.

As such, I have sometimes encountered his building and homesteading tips independently in my internet travels. One that I remember is his recommendation to pile firewood in round piles.

I had seen this done before, and found it intriguing.

With the onset of the new driveway going in, I had to move a number of regular piles that were set up close alongside the old one. This was a good opportunity to try out Steve’s notions.

I started with a spindly balsam near the yurts. I piled carefully in a circle and things started to look pretty awesome!

I didn’t follow Steve’s advice about placing long poles to extend completely through the pile, defining its diameter.

As I was about to add another ring around the outside to help stabilize things, with a gentle rumble, gravity reared its ugly head.

The last two loads of wood, I just chucked willy-nilly onto my folly. Kenny made good use of this pile as yet another part of his environment to conquer.

I actually haven’t given up on the round pile notion. I did rather like the look and concept of it. I will just have to try to follow Steve’s rules a bit more closely next time around.

I heard you have the walls up for the sauna…
show us!!!
  • your loyal fans (2013-07-11)

Okay, okay, I'm working on it! But now I wonder who the whistleblower is who blabbed about my progress?! Someone with access to PRISM?
  • Stephen Garstin (2013-07-12)

Building a Solid Log Wall Sauna – More Experiences

July 12, 2013

After more than two weeks of solo work on the sauna, I had just managed to prepare enough beams to pass over the opening for the sauna stove. I had put in place the spaces for both doors, and was using one of my best looking beams to square everything up.

As always, I was quite prepared to pontificate on my techniques, thoughts, and tribulations. At about this height, I wanted to get a better feel for how things were progressing, so I temporarily held off on adding the splines and insulation, and focused on just dry fitting the beams.

Often, I would run into a beam that was either twisted or warped, and I would have to get creative in finding a way to straighten it out. I found that using a ratchet strap wrapped around the end of the beams and tightened down worryingly snug would help loads. I would put in up to four screws in the notch under these circumstances.

Being able to place a header beam across the gap for the sauna stove was a very satisfying feeling. I had managed to keep the beams reasonably level and consistent up to a height of twenty four inches at least!

At this point, we were treated to a visit by my parents! I had been looking forward to this for, well, a year since they last visited! I had anticipated that the bug season would have ended just as they arrived, but instead, it seemed to get some extra legs. We were forced to don our bug shirts and nets to cope. Papa jumped right into construction and we decided to prepare all the remaining beams for the project, and then do a rapid assembly.

It was a great feeling when the final beam was completed and I could see the different length piles all waiting to be assembled. I was a little apprehensive though about the amount of work and fussing that I knew remained to insert the splines and insulation and make everything remaining fit.

Cutting the grooves in the beams for the splines had taken a large amount of effort and time. I was rapidly opening up to any sort of alternative technique for building this structure.

It was a really special moment when we realized that Kenny had developed his chisel technique so well and so rapidly that we could actually give him a stack of production beams to notch for us. He really enjoyed helping, and his work was very much appreciated!

It was at this point that Papa and I agreed to completely abandon the splines. I had been very dissatisfied with their performance. They seemed to be causing more troubles than they would ever solve. In fact, I suspect that they actually were working at cross-purposes to what I wanted them to prevent. Marking them with a chalk line helped to keep them consistent and straight, but that meant that any warps or twists in my beams would not be able to be addressed without causing the splines to misalign. Not marking them with a chalk line would mean that I couldn’t properly align them otherwise. Catch 22. Even when they did line up properly, any imperfection in either their length or height would prevent the beams from resting directly on top of one another. My rush to assemble beams in a dry-run fashion before my parents arrived had shown me just how delightfully easy it was to interlock the beams sans splines.

And so with a bit of apprehension, we stopped using the splines and would instead cup a double-width of insulation and insert both edges of it into the grooves that were designed for the splines. This worked amazingly well – the insulation held in place very manageably, and bulged upwards nicely to make good contact with the beam above. We even had the option to install the insulation in the grooves on the bottom of some beams if we felt that would make for an easier install.

To better fasten the beams together, I would use two drills. One with a 3/8″ bit, which I would drill down about three inches into the newly installed beam, and the other with a red (#2) robertson bit, which I would use to install a 3 1/2″ screw from the upper beam, into the lower beam.

I placed these screws at about two or three foot intervals – wherever I felt that the beams could be tightend up together. The walls went up much tighter, faster, and more level in this fashion.

With storm clouds gathering rapidly, we managed to rush up all four corners, and then had to leave the rest for the final day of my parents visit.

That morning we headed out early and rapidly put up the small walls between my windows, and then began putting on the final header beams above the openings.

Frustratingly, the final full beam didn’t align over the back corner. It seems that the door frame was a little bit higher on one side compared to the other. Debates on how to hide this, or recut a beam into a taper ensued…

In the meantime, Kenny used his newly developed skills to construct his own solid log fortress!

As the clock finally ran out on my parents’ time here, Papa came up with the excellent idea of drilling through the bottom beam (which would be covered inside and out by floor joists), inserting a pipe, and attaching a chain and comealong to it. After delivering Nana and Papa to the aeroport for their flights, I returned to construction in a bit more somber mood. A few cranks with the comealong and then a strap applied to the outside of the beam leveled things up perfectly and I completed the job in under an hour. If only they could have stayed just a tiny bit longer!

It was great having them here though, and they got to preview the new sauna stove we had had custom made just for our specifications. Kenny is very excited to see them again in September, when we hope they can stay even longer and Papa and I can put our new construction techniques to use on the scaled-up structure that will hopefully house my family soon.

Please forgive the formatting of this post. I have been having a few problems with my usual posting app, and am testing the waters of a new one.


The Water Line Revisited

July 14, 2013

As my “loyal readers” will attest to, I had loads of issues with the water line over the last winter. Every time it froze in a different place, I ended up cutting a new access to it, and then adding a coupling and clamps. Eventually the well froze where the water line passed through the water’s surface, and we were out of water for the remainder of the winter, forced to carry in all our water, and giving up on in-yurt laundry.

My general long term plan for our water system is to have the well pump up to the sauna, where I will have two storage tanks placed up in the rafters. From there, a second water line will pass down from the tanks, underground to the cabin, and back up to the bathroom and kitchen sinks. This will strictly be a gravity fed system.

I understand that the pressure will be rather low – but the sinks will definitely be at a lower altitude than the tanks in the sauna, so water SHOULD flow fine. We don’t see a need for high pressure, just for running water. Compared to how things work now, it will be an amazing luxury to be able to turn a tap and have water.

Running low on building supplies the other day, Grandpa and I decided to tackle the first phase of this improved water system. I had purchased 12 lengths of 10′ PVC pipe, 3″ in diameter, and we lay it out loosely between the sauna and the well. Then I threaded through this a new water line. One 100′ length, joined to a 50′ length. Alongside this new waterline, I added in a new electrical line, as well as the existing electrical line for the pump. After getting the new lines run down to the well, we extracted the existing pipe. I went down the well for the first time since February, and brought up the pump.

Disconnecting the pump from the existing hose, we passed the new electrical line and new hose through the hole in the well casing, and I connected up the pump to this new pipe. Then I used some cable ties spaced out every six inches to fasten a 5′ length of heating cable to the lowest part of the water pipe. There was enough cable to follow from the pump, right up to the well casing. I’ve never seen more than 3′ of water in the well, and the hole in the casing is above the surrounding ground level, so I cannot see a scenario where the plugs would ever become submerged.

I connected the heat cable to the new electrical line I had run down, and then returned to the sauna to pass the electrical cables and water pipe through the footing and into the sauna building itself.

With this done, we connected the PVC pipes together, effectively gathering together the three lines, as well as supporting them and keeping them on a generally straight and level slope down from the sauna to the well.

It wasn’t a perfect slope, so Grandpa and I hammered in stakes along the path from the well to the sauna, and then strung up the pipe to ensure a constant angle down to the well. This again should theoretically allow the water line to drain out when the pump isn’t running. Hopefully this will mean that there is no water in the line – which means no freezing up. We will have to see how this works. At least now we have only one coupling in this 150′ of line, instead of the five or six that existed by February. It also meant that there wasn’t a 90 degree bend in the line inside the well casing, as had been the case previously when I wasn’t sure if the water line could handle the turn radius inside there without kinking.

As a bonus feature, I connected the water line coming into the sauna directly to the water line exiting the sauna for the cabin. This allowed me to pump water directly from the well to the cabin foundation.

With water this close to the yurts, it was an easy decision to hook up my RV water hose to the cabin outlet, and then push it through to the yurts, so we could once again have running water in the yurts to fill our washing machine. Yeah!

This is just temporary of course. Ultimately it will include the tanks and the sinks, but for now, it is a big step up from having to carry four buckets of water from the sauna site to the yurts for every load or two of laundry.

I’m sure some wags want to point out that PVC is not stable in sunlight. I wondered the same thing, so I was sure to pick up some paint at the same time as I picked up expanding foam to seal the ends of the PVC against water/pest infiltration. A nice, dark green to help blend in a bit better, as well as to absorb sunlight in winter and keep the pipe perhaps marginally warmer.

For now it works as expected. The true test will come once the mercury drops below zero. Only a few months away – and us without even a foundation in our cabin! I have to get back to work now!


Framing the Sauna Roof

July 19, 2013

With my parents gone, Grandpa and I returned to the sauna with visionary ideas about the roofline and techniques which would be required to assemble it.

Grandpa, with his continued penchant for dancing a jig while up high, volunteered to put up the first few challenging rafters.

With the corner rafters and ridge board in place, I made short work of a “test” rafter for the porch. I cut them at six feet long, and using my square, notched a 3″ by 1″ corner to rest on the top of the cabin wall. Then I braced this up with a spare two by four from my rough cut pile. I ultimately braced three porch rafters on each side in a similar fashion.

It would be hard to understate the usefulness of bar clamps on a project like this. I’m currently coming around to upgrading my bar clamps to high quality versions as my cheap ones break.

After a particularly hot and humid day, it was very refreshing to take Grandpa up on his offer to take us to camp for a swim and sauna. Kenny even got in some fishing and watergazing.

With two corner rafters up, it was getting more easy to see how well the roof lines were coming along.

Also, when I knew that things looked okay, it was a green light to precut all the rafters for the porch.

Now we could really get down to business putting up the main roof rafters. They were just a shade over eight feet long. We put them on sixteen inch centers, two screws at each end to hold them in place.

With a few more porch rafters in place, I put up a fascia board to dress things up. I didn’t bevel the ends of the rafters to be vertical, imagining that the angle would help keep the ends of the rafters from getting much exposure to the elements. This would be fine, but I question its value now, considering the mental gymnastics involved in calculating the angles at the corners, and further imagining how I will connect support posts in the future. On the cabin I think I will return to a vertical fascia.

I also have to puzzle out how to add a support or two from the cabin down to the corner for the strapping under the steel roof. Stay tuned for that issue.

I really like the way the lines have come out though. Hopefully a hint of a Japanese tea house.

Then again, Donna thinks it is more UFO.

Meanwhile, back at the yurts, the mystery of the buzzing by Kenny’s bed has been solved…


Boarding up the Sauna Roof

July 27, 2013

With the rafters in place, it was time to clad the roof with some sort of solid decking, before the water/wind shield, and then the steel.

Both Grandpa and I agreed that it made good sense to use up my huge pile of 1×4 boards,

rather than purchasing any new plywood or something of that nature. I believe this option is also encouraged by the CMHC construction handbook under environmentally friendly practices.

Grandpa was the first up the porch roof, balancing on the rafters while starting to place boards up the main roof. As much as Grandpa was set on using nails to work at this part of the project, I insisted on screws (thanks to a vague feeling they were “better” – as it turns out, there is much debate on this point in contractor forums. Most professional opinion running towards nails as being a better solution – but perhaps that’s because they are much faster to install, and cheaper?).

We placed two screws at the end of each board, and then a single screw that alternated back and forth between the top and bottom edge of the rafters it was passing over.

I made the decision to overhang the boards about 16 inches at each end. This should protect my gable ends from the weather. This also worked well with my overall dimensions, as I am purchasing 15 feet of steel roofing. 12 feet of roof, plus 32 inches of overhang, leaves me still 2″ of overhang in the steel. On the sauna I opted to forgo the trims to finish it off at the edges, and instead, simply overhang the steel a few inches to help it shed snow and water.

Eventually we worked up to a height that allowed us to more easily move inside the structure to put on the last few boards. Once we were in danger of getting our heads stuck, we switched to the opposite side of the roof and worked our way about halfway up.

Then we set up a stepstool inside on the loft, and completed our first side.

With that accomplished, it was back outside to dismantle one of my ladders and use the two sides of it as a bit of a makeshift scaffold. We dropped a long, rough cut 2×4 across the tops of the ladders and I screwed it to the deck temporarily with some 3″ screws. This was enough purchase for us to complete the decking! It looked really great, and we were rather proud of ourselves.

By this point, I had dealt with my fear of heights enough to actually clambor up top to pretend to have a dogfight with the dreaded Red Baron!


I can't wait for this sauna to be done! Well, the roof is almost finished so you're almost halfway. Are there only two of you that's working on it? You guys progressed fast! Good luck on this project, I hope it finished fast and beautiful! [Pleasance] 😀

  • Anonymous (2013-08-02)

More (Anecdotal) Evidence of Climate Change in Thunder Bay

July 28, 2013

That’s one degree outside on July 21st!

Thankfully it warmed up to seven degrees in the afternoon a few days later.


ok I'll stop complaining ….
  • Anonymous (2013-07-29)

Strapping the Porch Roof

July 29, 2013

The porch roof is by no means going to be insulated, so I had no need to install any sort of decking there for extra protection or support. Instead, strapping spaced out at about 19 or 20 inch centres was judged to be sufficient.

I dug out a number of long boards from the board pile at the mill, and between Grandpa and I, managed to get them cut and positioned over the course of two days. It required a fair bit of moving back and forth with the ladders to place and then screw down the boards.

In the corners, I ran a pair of 2x4s from a block on the sauna to the corner of the fascia boards of the porch. The angles were very challenging to get right, as they had to be cut in all three dimensions! I think they came out better than I expected, but as I’ve said before, I don’t think I would go with a non-vertical fascia board on the cabin or other future porch roof.


Installing the Water/Wind Barrier on the Sauna Roof

July 30, 2013

With solid decking put down on the roof of the sauna, both Grandpa and I were eager to get the water barrier put up to start really keeping water out.

Traditionally this would be done with tar paper, but I think that’s increasingly falling out of favour, making way for more modern fabrics. I opted to install HydraShell by Marco Industries.

A testament to the simplicity of this phase of construction is that we completed it in a single morning with two of us snapping away on our staple guns.

Five sheets allowed us to complete the roof with a minimum of 3″ overlap. We tucked the ends around the boards at the gables and stapled them up underneath. Grandpa at first thought we would lay some boards
up and down each edge, but they went down tight enough, and with the wrap at the ends, we decided to forgo this precaution.

That night we were treated to some of the heaviest rains I have experienced in the yurts, and the shell stood up fine.

We have subsequently experienced rain every single day since it has been completed, and aside from rain blowing in from the sides and wetting the base layer of my logs and the window sills, the interior of the sauna appears to be dry. I am looking forward to getting the steel installed on the porch and roof sections though, as that will give us a large, dry work area to complete construction.

Apologies for no “in progress” pictures, but things went up just that quickly that Donna didn’t even have a chance to put her skills to use.


Lookin good!
  • Russ Mater (2013-07-30)

Framing the Gable Ends on the Sauna

July 31, 2013

Most of my early thoughts on the cabin and sauna involved having a solid log wall at the gable ends. This seemed somehow more “authentic” to me.

On this point I gradually conceeded that it didn’t make as much sense. Assuming that the beams WILL shrink over the first few years, even a small amount, it became obvious that there would be issues with the slope of the roof changing over time. This isn’t a good thing, or at least, an easy thing to deal with.

With fewer logs close to the eaves, and more at the peak, shrinkage would be more obvious under the peak than the eaves. One possible solution was that I’d support the roof(s) entirely as cathedral ceilings, or support them by the internal walls. Then I’d place a large (2×10 or larger) board on the outside as a trim to cover the ever increasing gap between the top of the beam wall, and the rafters themselves.

I’d have to monitor this gap for the first few years, packing it with extra insulation as it opened. I would also have to be able to adjust the support height of my theoretical interior wall, to accomodate the overall settling of the roof as the outer walls of the cabin settled.

Framing the gable ends would eliminate these problems. They would not shrink within themselves, and they would settle on top of the beam walls at the same rate as the roof itself. Through Howie’s Saw, I am able to purchase 5″ wide V-Joint boards that will closely resemble my own log walls.

So it was settled – I would frame the gable ends of the sauna and cabin.

Because the sauna is so small, I made the decision to rely on my ridge board and beam walls as vectors for the roof weight. As you can see in my framing pictures, I did not in any manner assume that my gable ends would be load bearing. I will likely do this differently in the cabin, where the roof is nearly twice the size.

We decided to put in a window on the south side of the sauna gable – this would allow in more natural light, and hopefully some of that winter light may fall upon the water tanks I plan on installing in the loft.

Yes, I know that the window is not “properly” framed and reinforced. Again, this was a decision based on the lack of any real stress in that wall. I will do it differently in the cabin where the forces are geometrically different.

I was hoping to have a nail gun by now, to use to put the log siding up with. Unfortunately, Home Depot was sold out of the model I have my heart set on, so I have to wait a few days while my ever so wonderful parents purchase one on my behalf and UPS it to me. Grandpa and I agreed to try to go old-school with a nail punch and hammers. How stone age!


Retiring the Runners on my Trailer – They Do Not go Gently into that Good Night

August 1, 2013

I took it into my head a few days ago to try to clean up a little bit around the yurts and building site. One item that had been abandoned since midwinter was the two “skiis” or runners that Grandpa and I had attached to the trailer for winter trail use. They worked somewhat, but not terribly successfully, and it turned out to be a fair bit easier to drag logs back to the yurts and then cut them into stove lengths there, so the runners were abandoned.

The runners were full 6″x6″ poplar beams and still rather heavy. I figured that I’d cut them up into stove lengths and let them finish drying out before I use them as firewood this coming winter.

I knew that they had a few extra screws still remaining in them where my cross-members had existed, but of course, the saw suddenly stopped cutting dramatically on the final, mostly unneeded cut.

Yes, I found a screw that appeared to have broken off deep in the runner. This may be a good excuse to try out my new chain.

I have convinced myself that this is the sort of thing that happens to anyone who uses a chainsaw on a regular basis.


Installing V-Joint Without a Nail Gun

August 2, 2013

Yesterday was miserable weather again in the morning. Cold, grey, rainy, windy. I spent the first little while typing up a blog post, and then finally ventured out for some chore that I currently cannot recall (empty slop bucket, take out chamber pot, get more sawdust, get more firewood, etc…)

As soon as I stepped off the landing, who should be moseying up the driveway but Grandpa.

He said that he had already walked by once but that things were quiet. Usually he comes to the yurts and calls out something along the lines of “I guess you’re all asleep yet”. I don’t think he’s caught ME asleep yet when he does this, but Kenny ALWAYS has still been asleep. Kenny has trouble getting to sleep most evenings in the yurts – at least in summertime. I think much of this can be attributed to the dome, which lets in light until after sundown, which is currently about 9:40 here (and beginning to accelerate towards the depressing 5:00 of midwinter).

If you have young children in yurts, you may want to find a way to enclose their sleeping area, or shade your dome, to help encourage nighttime calm.

Anyway, I was up, and Grandpa and I walked over to the sauna to inspect the V-jointed boards I had picked up from
Howie’s Saw earlier. As an aside – Wayne at Howie’s was kind enough to enlighten me on the difference between V-joint and simple tongue and groove. V-joint seems to be more commonly used for walls – to my mind, it’s identical to tongue and groove, with the added profile of having a slight “V” cut into the inside and outside joints, so the boards slightly taper along each edge. Simple tongue and groove is more for flooring, where you want a perfectly smooth surface.

Grandpa seemed to be leaning towards leaving off on putting up anything, as the wind and rain were not that pleasant to work with, but suddenly the wind died off, and he declared an intention to give it a try. All day long he kept insisting that the wind was “suppose to calm down” – but it really didn’t until well after we finished.

We cut our first piece of the wind and water shield, and stapled it into place. So far, so good. Then I cut our first board with a 45 degree bevel, and we headed up to install it.

I’ve never installed anything like this before. I did know I wanted to try to hide the nail heads as much as possible, so I put that to Grandpa, who was good natured enough to be willing to try. This seems to involve installing the nails at an angle through the base of the tongue of the board. (Tongue faces up, I assume to more properly shed any water or dust).

I didn’t have any regular nails, I only had a box of strips of nails for my as-yet unarrived nail gun.

Opening the box, I was rather bemused to see that they were more like glorified staples. I showed them to Grandpa, and we decided to give it a go anyway. We had to break nails off individually with a pair of pliers. I also ran and got two of my punches, so we could set the heads of the nails.

While the nails were given to bending with very little provocation, it went much better than I think either of us expected, and we managed to work our way up to the peak by lunch. We anticipated an even easier time on the south side of the sauna, where we had framed in the window.

This was true. It also had the added benefit of ensuring that we didn’t have to do any horizontal joints in the boards (save the very first one under the window).

Once we got above the window, Grandpa took his leave, and I completed the job.

I had given him my slightly more useable nail punch, and as he was leaving, we both had to laugh when I unthinkingly offered to “trade punches” with him.

Along the edges of the eaves, I ripped two more boards in half and nailed them in place to cover the uneven ends of the V-joint. I now plan to put up three or so more boards directly under the roofline, to cover the bottom of my own rough-cut 4″ boards. This should cover up and clean up the entire surface nicely.


wow, you are moving right along – I have been following your blog even tho I don't reply often.
Keep up the great work, it must be exciting to see the progress.
  • Anonymous (2013-08-06)

Under the Sauna Eaves with my new Ryobi Nail Gun

August 9, 2013

As Grandpa and I were finishing up the gable ends in the previous post, I happened to take a more careful look at the gable end wall from the inside, and something looked just subtly off – from my perspective up on the ladder.

Fetching a nearby level, I confirmed that the gable end walls were not quite vertical. Upon reflection, I realized that we had never bothered to confirm that the roof rafters were vertical before we began installing the roof boards. I guess they were close enough to fool our eyes, but that when a real wall was attached to them, it became obvious that they were out by close to an inch from top to bottom.

It was far, far too late to fix or disguise this problem. At least I can take solice in knowing that it is undetectable to anyone unless they are actually right up beside the wall. For reference though, I will want to confirm that the roof is square and level on the cabin before I begin putting on the sheeting.

These roof boards were rough cut planks that were left over from the beams I had cut throughout the winter and spring. They weren’t always very pretty to look at, but they were very serviceable. As such, I decided that I wanted to cover them up with something more finished. I had a few lengths of V-joint remaining, and so I broke out my new nail gun and set to work.

The nail gun arrived with great excitement. Kenny wanted to try it first. We confirmed a bit of safety requirements, and he proceeded to pop a few nails into some scraps to check on depth and pressure settings.

I loaded it up with some nails and headed up. Things went lickety-split and I was very happy with the overall look of the eaves.

The last length of V-joint I ripped to size on my table saw (yes, the one that was broken in the great dojo tent collapse of ’13) and it really finished off the look of the eaves.

I’m quite happy with how this turned out, and I plan on using a standard steel drip edge flashing to cover the ends before I put the actual steel roofing on.


Installing the Steel Roof on the Sauna Porch

August 9, 2013

Lately Kenny has been really into The Hardy Boys stories. He is beginning to get more and more into reading – very exciting for mama and me! But then we found something to distract him.

My steel roofing had arrived! With great excitement I brought home a few hundred pounds of steel roofing and flashings. Thank goodness for the Ranger.

As is the usual case, it rained right away, but the first clear morning found Grandpa and me unloading the flashings and steel and setting them up near the sauna.

To start with, I placed a full sheet on the porch roof under the eave of the main sauna roof, which extended down slightly further than under the gable, if you take my meaning. Basically I wanted to determine where the sheets would overhang the most, and use that as my guide for the remainder of the roof.

This was found to be about three inches. More than the one or two inches I had planned on, but hopefully still within the realm of possibilities. I didn’t want to cut down every sheet if I could help it. I feel that three inches of unsupported overhang on the eaves of the roof won’t be a liability. I like to believe the snow will spill off of this before the steel would bend.

With this figure in mind, I put on my first full sheet. I butted this into the corner as close as possible without actually having to cut any part of the sheet. It worked out that each corner required nearly exactly two sheets to be cut to fit right down to the outside corner of the porch roof.

To cut the steel, I flipped it upside down, marked my cut, and then used the circular saw with a crummy old ripping blade installed backwards.

This is incredibly noisy – seriously. Please make certain that anyone even nearby has hearing protection.

It also shoots off a number of hot, sharp debris. Long sleeves and pants, as well as gloves and eye protection are also well advised.

The cuts are not very smooth, but in my case, they were going under a hip flashing, so I wasn’t terrifically concerned with the aesthetics.

One thing I learned quickly is that if you are not pre-drilling your holes, you should be using a hammer, or perhaps a mallet, to pound the screws once or twice to get them started. It’s challenging using just the drilll. Also, be sure to have some 1/4″ drivers prepared, as you will wear them out over the course of a few hundred screws.

This portion of things was not really a two man job, so Grandpa spent his day landscaping. Grandpa teamed up with a wheelbarrow and spade are the equivalent of a bulldozer! He has made some amazing changes to the lay of the land around the yurts and sauna and cabin!

In one day, I managed to get half of the porch roof covered. Not bad!


You sound like a professional roofer, Stephen! Where did you learn your roofing skills? Also, you work fast. You managed to finish installing half of your porch roof in one day! Good job!
  • Ernestine Wollard @ WestFallRoofing (2013-09-30)

Yet another delay…

August 10, 2013

Another delay strikes!

My specialist decided to take a more invasive look at an ongoing health issue I’ve been having. This puts me out of commission for a few days…

Surely I’m not the first guy to have to be reminded by the nurse to put the gown on with the opening to the back, am I?

Surgery went fine, but I’ll spare you the oozing pictures, and serve you up what is likely to be a tiny scar in a few weeks when the dressings come off.

In the meantime, here’s a picture of Kenny in the cabin after another rainfall.


The Porch Roof of the Sauna, Revisited

August 11, 2013

Ugh. This was definitely a bad day in progress.

Of course, it was only an internally poor experience. I did manage to continue with the same techniques to complete the roof.

All my problems began when I came in for lunch and decided to release Donna from any responsibility to feed me. Instead, I opted for a bag of potato chips with some Buffalo Wing (Blue Cheese and Jalapeno Pepper) dip.

As I approached the bottom of both the chips and the dip, my stomach suddenly revolted. I managed to supress the insurrection, but there still were ongoing tensions the remainder of the day.

This really made it difficult to have much fun. Trust me, even people who like blue cheese and jalapeno probably don’t like the feeling of it burbling onto the back of their tongue all day.
That feeling, combined with the knowledge that I was going under the knife in a few days, didn’t help to improve my mood. This feeling of low-level nausea persisted until after surgery – so it made for a slightly miserable few days.

Anyway, I persisted on the roof and finished the basic installation by myself, in only two days. Then I took to my sick bed for the rest of the evening. Until the morrow, here’s the picture of me driving in “The Last Spike”.


Starting on the Floors of the Sauna

August 12, 2013

Once again it was raining so we decided to work indoors on the sauna floor.

I had planned on having six inch rafters and fully insulating the floor.

To ensure that pests could not get up into the insulation from below, I had purchased some 1/4″ OSB.

First Grandpa and I built a six by twelve floor and Kenny used the nail gun to fasten the OSB to the bottom of the joists. This concept of enclosing the bottom insulation was first suggested by Mummu, and readily accepted by Daddy.

I do have a concern that OSB is somewhat of a vapour barrier on its own, and I don’t want my insulation trapped between two vapour barriers. I’m hoping that such thin OSB will still permit a bit of air flow.

Logistically, putting the solid barrier on the bottom of the joists made things a bit more difficult, which is why we opted to build the floor in two sections. This actually worked out very well. It meant that there was a built-in “beam” through the centre of the sauna. I had poured a small pad in the centre of the sauna, which I will finish off with a post up to the twinned joists from the two halves of the floor.

It took us to lunch to complete the first floor section. Grandpa had some of his own chores to pursue in the afternoon, so once he left, I went out in the bush to heave up my breakfast (yes, still reeling from that blue cheese fiasco) and then headed to the yurts for some ginger ale and tea.

Shakily, I returned to the sauna and allowed myself a relaxed pace at building another copy of the floor we had built in the morning. The big difference this time was that I framed in a trapdoor to access the crawlspace in the future. I see myself needing to get there at least twice a year to deal with ventilation under the floor, as well as if I ever need to get down there in the future to deal with plumbing or wiring issues.

Feeling my oats, after I had assembled the entire floor, I thought it would be impressive if I could flip it and place it by myself. This turned out to be more difficult than I had hoped, but less difficult than I had feared. I could see how it could have been (was) somewhat dangerous though. Trapped in such an enclosed space with a precariously balanced floor was slightly unnerving, and I must confess that when the floor finally flipped, I jumped for it and wound up with a slightly skinned knee for my trouble.

Grandpa heard the thump from his property, and came over just in time to help me slide the second floor into place. This was also a bit of a dicey proposition, as the tolerances were tight. It probably wasn’t a single man operation, and with his help it went fine. I even had two extra pieces of OSB to put down for us to stand on and enjoy the feeling of a floor under our feet.

Kenny also found a break in the rain to be a good chance for him to take up a new hobby in woodcarving.


Installing the Hip Flashing on the Sauna Porch Roof

August 13, 2013

After the rainy day pushing us towards starting the sauna floor, we had a clear day encouraging us to get back to the roofing.

To help us to feel more comfortable on the roof, Grandpa and I installed a rope that we could swing from for extra leverage.

Installing the hip flashing over the corners of the porch roof proved to be a 90% single man job, with a second person required just to help align the corner for the first few screws. Once again Grandpa went to work landscaping out the areas where puddles from the previous rain were visible. He was gracious enough to interrupt his work for a few minutes each time I tried to align the hips.

The hip flashing was rather straightforward to install. I cut a V in one end of the flashing, headed up on the roof and pressed it in as tight as possible at the top of the hip – taking care to ensure that it covered from one side of the corner gap to the other. Then Grandpa marked under the bottom corner for the cut there.

I climbed back down off the roof, cut a point at the bottom, and then used some self-adhesive “universal foam” under the hip flashing to ensure that pests wouldn’t have a gap to get from above the roof to below. The hip would naturally shed water and snow, but there would still have been a space between the flashing and the bottom of the steel otherwise.

Once again Grandpa ensured that the bottom of the hip flashing was over the corner of the roof, and I drove screws down through the hip and into each rib of the steel roofing. Driving the screws through two layers of steel was slightly different than on the main part of the roof where it was a single layer of steel over wood. I found it was fairly beneficial to put my full weight behind the screw as I was drilling, to help prevent the screw from “lifting” the hip flashing off the roof until the screw bit into the rib of the lower steel.
The hips certainly accentuated any imperfections in the junction between the two roofs, but it wasn’t as noticeable from down below, especially if you weren’t specifically looking for flaws, so I’m not getting myself worked up about it.

With the hips complete, now I just need to find a day that’s clear enough, and with me in physical shape enough, to get up on the roof and install the endwall and transition flashings. I don’t want to begin to insulate the inside of the sauna until I am certain that it will shed water everywhere.


Finishing the Steel Roof on the Sauna

August 14, 2013

Still looking for sympathy from my recent surgery, I begged off working in the morning yesterday, and instead told Grandpa I would be a real go-getter come afternoon.

At the duly appointed time, we discussed a plan of attack, and it was decided that I would head up onto the roof, and Grandpa would cut and pass up the flashings for me as I required them.

I set my bar low for the day – I would be happy if I could get some or all of the flashings installed. I figured that they were going to be the most difficult part of the remaining roof work.

First we cut the endwall flashings, where the steel roof meets the gable ends of the sauna. Under these flashings I also stuck down some “large tab” foam closures, to ensure that pests and debris couldn’t make their way up under the flashing and against the sauna, or back under the porch roof.

Then I screwed the flashing tight to the gable end wall, at about every other rib. On the porch roof itself, I screwed through every rib.

At the opposite gable, the flashing extended up into the window opening about a centimetre or so, but nothing unreasonable, and I’m not going to do anything about it until I actually begin installing the window.

This went marvelously smoothly, so we decided to continue on with the “transition flashings”. These are the flashings that are suppose to take us from one roof pitch (12:12 for the main roof) to another roof pitch (a wild guess at 4:12). I screwed down the porch side of the flashing first, which made the roof side stand up off the decking. Grandpa and I judged this to be a minor issue, as the weight of the roof panels would surely press the transition flashing down flat against the roof deck – a prediction that later came easily true.

While we had extended the eaves of this roof out from the ends of the gables, we didn’t try to attach the overhang to the porch roof below. I don’t see any reason to do this at all. The porch roof extends under these eaves, as does the hip flashings of the porch roof. I did run the transition flashing all the way from one end of the roof to the other, so at the ends of it, it is hovering over the porch roof for a foot or so, unsupported and unfastened. I can’t see this being a problem, and it certainly isn’t an aesthetic problem.

This flashing also went up with remarkable ease. Grandpa was game to help me install at least one of the roof panels, so we carried them over to the sauna, and together hoisted one up and placed it on the roof.

Carefully guestimating the overhang (a theoretical 1-2 inches) we squared it as best we could to the horizontal portion of the roof. As I have already described, the sauna roof is not perfectly square, so we anticipated that the ends of the roof panels would not be completely parallel to the ends of the decking.

Also, under the first panel and along the gable edge, I installed a drip edge flashing to sort of box in the ends of the roof boards and v-joint boards. This drip edge was surplus material in a more turquoise colour – but under the shadow of the roof panels it is very difficult to notice the difference, and it looks just fine I think. You can look carefully at the pictures to try to pick it out if you like.

The panel went up well, but just to be sure, I only screwed it in with two or three fasteners along the bottom edge.

Grandpa headed down to terra firma, and passed up another panel which I set and fastened myself.

We continued in this fashion for the next four panels, at which point I had completed one side. Of course, there was a hitch – the panels, while covering exactly thirty six inches as part of a group, are actually close to thirty-eight inches if you count the overlapping rib built into each one. This meant that when I got to the front of the sauna, I had closer to four inches of overhang. It was too much.

Our options were to cut off the last rib of the panel, or try to shift all the panels back across the roof to even out the overhang to more like three inches at each end.

Considering how difficult cutting a rib off and keeping a nice edge, as well as having to do it on both sides of the roof to make it symetrical, I opted instead to move all the panels backwards across the roof.

I installed this panel where I wanted it, and then went back to all my previous panels, unscrewing them and sliding them into a new position. Thank goodness I opted to only put in two screws on each one!

This worked well, and set us up for the far side. Now we had a better idea what the overhang should be, so that side went even faster!

Now Grandpa was on a mission, and began cutting up the ridge cap and foam to seal it up. As he did this, I went back along the roof panels, adding many screws to hold them firmly in place. On the gable ends, I put in a screw every twelve inches.

We took a break for a delicious supper at Mummu’s – her famous chicken and rice dish. I had seconds, and then my stomach suggested I take a break. My taste buds sure didn’t want to, and I regretted not gorging myself more later in the evening when I had returned to the yurts and began salivating again, thinking about it. Oh well, we can’t nurse our regrets forever.

After supper, Grandpa and I returned to the sauna, and in short order I climbed up onto the roof, then used the rope to drag myself to the ridge. Straddling the ridge, I couldn’t help but feel chagrined at how my hips complained about being held at a ninety degree angle. Back during my aikido heyday, I could occasionally approach twice that!

In any case, I put a screw on every rib to hold down the ridge cap, and had it fastened down in only a few minutes.

I think things turned out really well! It’s almost disappointing now that we have a forecast that DOESN’T call for rain any time soon. Likely the first time this summer we’ve seen that.


Green steel roof, huh? Nice! Will that be theme color of this sauna? From your last post, I see that you're starting with the interiors. How is that going? A few more touches here and you're done! Let us know when you start furnishing the interiors! =) –Sol @
  • Anonymous (2013-08-22
  • )
Is that branch of tree hanging above or too close to your roof? Watch out for that one; if its leaves keep falling on the surface of your roof, it will wither there and the moist might cause an early deterioration. Cool choice of color, by the way! B-)
  • Anonymous (2013-08-22)

Changing my Dressing

August 15, 2013

After a tough day up on the roof of the sauna, Mummu was kind enough to let me take a shower and change my dressing at her house.

She pulled off the old dressing, taking a few beard hairs with her I’m sure! I remarked that I imagined that was what waxing must be like, but she commented that I really didn’t have a clue.

Donna threw on a clean one, and I’m back to work, full throttle, and lighter by a few grammes thanks to my surgeon.


Framing the Interior Sauna Walls

With the roof on and us able to depend on the insides of the sauna being a bit more weather-tight, Grandpa and I opted to spend the other day working up the interior walls.

Framing these in was delightfully simple. The main wall was designed to run through the centre of the sauna, so it rested directly on my double two by six inch floor beam.

We built the wall to come up about 2″ below the loft. Grandpa and I agreed that this seemed a reasonable amount to deduct to allow for settling of the building over time. Once I can see that the sauna is no longer settling, I will shim the top of the wall and seal it up.

Kenny was rather excited to see us hoist this wall into place. He came over and began chanting “Aud-i-ence!” and clapping. Not sure where that came from.

The greatest debates revolved around the size of the interior doors. Both Donna and I were happy to keep them rather narrow, and that’s what we did in this case. I roughed them in to be about 24″ wide and about 6’6″ high. Small by any conventional standards, but probably average for a
Next it was fast work to put up a short wall perpenticular to this wall, to separate the steam room from the change room. There was no door in this area, so it was a simple matter to build a frame wall and attach it to the first one. Neither of these walls was screwed to the main structure of the sauna. Again, this was to allow for settling.

Now to get the windows ordered so that we can insulate and close up the floor.


Building the Humanure Hacienda

August 17, 2013

The turd tower, the poo palace, the colon cabana… Over supper we worked hard to come up with different names for a permanent place to store our sawdust and compost our kitchen scraps and nightsoil production. Kenny enjoyed learning about alliteration, and took to our game with great gusto.

Recently we have simply been dumping everything in an area bounded by a number of trees and marked off by some bright orange snow fence.

During winter we had quickly filled the pole and pallet frameworks I had built, so as an emergency measure, I marked off the trees with some cheap snow fence, and we began using that. It worked well, even if unsightly, and there wasn’t much compunction to change it.

One big drawback though was that the sawdust generated back at the sawmill was completely exposed to the elements, and was getting more and more soggy and less and less useful as a covering agent.

I also knew that eventually the snow fence area would fill up, and I would have to find a new location to dump our buckets.

Having seen some pictures of other people’s “Humanure Haciendas” online, I had a fair idea of how to construct one.

Kenny and I gathered together a bunch of my rough cut 2″x6″ boards, and then yesterday Grandpa and I cut them to size. I opted to make the entire structure 13′ feet wide, as that matched the longest boards I had at the moment. I then made it 5′ deep.

We divided it up into three sections, the two outer ones were 5′ wide, and then the centre section remaining was 3′ wide.

I put in posts in the outer corners that were 4′ high (I wanted initially to go higher, but then realized that 4′ was about as high as one could even remotely, comfortably hoist a bucket).

On the inner, 3′ wide section that was to be dedicated to storing the sawdust, I put 5′ posts in the back, and 6′ posts in front. Then I covered it with a leftover piece of steel roofing from the sauna. This gave it a nice sloping roof to shed most rain, although the top foot or so was unprotected at the sides. I’m hoping that it still will allow the sawdust to dry, and remain mostly dry.

I used scrap 1″ thick boards to box up the sides and back, and then cut more boards to use in the fronts, where we would insert and remove them as needed.

The rest of the day was spent hauling the sawdust pile from the sawmill back to the hacienda. Kenny was eager to help at this point, until the bugs got to be too demanding, even for him!


Wiring the Sauna

August 30, 2013

With the walls for the sauna framed in, it was time to get down to putting in the electrical components.
From the cabin site, I had run two extra wires to provide power from the cabin to the sauna (via my solar panels and batteries), and then a second wire to provide power from the sauna back to the cabin (so that I could run the generator out on the far side of the sauna, and have it charge up the batteries in the cabin).
The latter cable simply needed appropriate ends put on it for now. The former, I wired up directly into the sauna’s walls. I placed three switches inside the change room, one for each room of the sauna (change, washing-up, and steam). In the change room I also added a light.

In the washing-up room, I put in a single light, a single GFCI outlet, which seems to work fine on my modified sine wave, as well as two switches. One of the switches was an older timer switch I brought with me from Kitchener, which worked on the modified sine wave as well. The new timer switch I bought didn’t like the modified sine wave, so I just put in a regular switch there. These two switches are for my water system. The timer switch is hooked up to my heating cable down in the well. I can run it for up to 30 minutes at a time. We’ll hope that we never have to use it!

The other switch just runs the water pump. We’ll just have to turn it on and wait a bit for the water tanks to fill. I will have to see how this eds up working for us.
The GFCI outlet is mainly for the washing machine, but should also give us the ability to plug in something else if required.
In the pictures, the mix of black and white wiring is due to me having some extra 12/2 wire from the pump, which I wanted to recycle as best as possible.


Finishing The Sauna Floor

September 6, 2013

After listening to a discussion between Leo Laporte and Grammar Girl, I decided to follow the TWiT network’s policy of capitalizing every word in the title of an episode :).

With the wiring in place, I realized that it was getting increasingly difficult to pussy-foot around on the exposed joists of the floor, and so I opted to make the next step finishing the sauna floor.

First I boxed in and cut holes for the spaces where the floor drains were to be.

Then Kenny and I cut and fit batts of Roxul insulation in between all the joists. The Roxul seems to cut reasonably well using my handsaw. They specifically recommend against using a non-serrated knife on the packaging.

Knowing that the steam room and the washing up room were going to be subject to lots of water and moisture, I opted to put
down a vapour barried under the floor. I’ve heard a bit of conflicting opinion about whether or not to put down a vapour barrier under a floor – and would like to hear real thoughts. Does plywood act as a vapour barrier?

In the steam room and washing up room, I strapped around the outside edge of the floor using .5″ to .75″ slats. Then put down the plywood and screwed it down tight. Lots and lots of screws because it was deformed by the straps. The strapping ensured that the floor sloped away from the walls and down towards the centre of the floor.

Kenny tested the slope with some of his marbles. I suppose one could infer that Daddy has lost his.

I drilled out a hole for a floor drain in the middle of the steam room, and then another one in the washing up room, although this time I placed it more towards the far end of the room, where we are theoretically going to be doing most of our splashing. (I decided that at the laundry end of the room, we shouldn’t be splashing much water. This has so far turned out to be an incorrect assumption!)

Over the course of a few days, Kenny and I painted over the plywood with Rustoleum’s “Restore” deck treatment. It is some sort of really heavy and thick “paint” that seals wood and gives it a rather rough texture. It is expensive, and doesn’t go far. I needed about 8 gallons to put on two coats. I still have about 2 gallons left, but I will save that to put on my baseboards when I come to install the final versions of those.

As I put down the second coat, I ran a bead of alex plus around the base of a drain, and pushed it down into the wet paint. I even used my finger to run some of the paint up onto the edge of the drain.

Surprisingly, I don’t believe I ever got any paint onto my socks!


How did the Rustoleum Restore work out? I am planning to do this in a few weeks as I build my sauna
  • Steve (2014-10-31)

Hi Steve, nice to hear from you.
As I outline in
this post the ReStore did not work out at all. It was very disappointing and I ended up parging over top of what was left of it. I cannot recommend ReStore, especially in this application.
Thanks for commenting! Have a super day!
  • Stephen Garstin (2014-11-01)

Repairing The Tardis Roof

September 11, 2013

When originally constructed, the Tardis was done on the cheap. I tried doing the roof with some scrap aluminum siding that Grandpa has directed me towards at the dump.

This worked fine in all weather except for rain, snow, sleet, etc. As long as it was dry outside, we were dry inside.
Donna didn’t really approve of that situation, and I recently learned that my own mother also was put out by having icy cold water dripping on her while she was enjoying some solitude on the throne.

One of my first attempts at a solution was to purchase some of that “tar in a can” type of product, and heavily spray down the seams in the siding. This didn’t do anything to help the situation.

Using up a few tubes of latex caulking also didn’t seem to find the location of the leaks.
At last the solution presented itself in a serendipitous manner – the steel roofing for the sauna came with two brown “cover sheets”.

I aired myself out on a particularly warm day, and then set off to redo the roof.

It took a fair bit of coaxing to remove the lantern from the middle of the original roof, but after that, I was able to lay down the sheets, install them, and replace the lantern with a minimum of fuss.

I wasn’t able to get the lantern to sit perfectly flat, so I just goobered on a tonne more of caulking as an adhesive, and things were good to go!

So far, everyone has been quite pleased with the solution.


Testing The Sauna Stove

September 20, 2013

Things were far enough along now that we could bring the sauna stove over closer to its final position.

Grandpa and I loaded it into the bucket of the tractor, and then I followed along while he drove it from the dojo tent to the sauna.

With a clunk, it unceremoniously dropped from the bucket as soon as I tried to adjust the ratchet straps.

Fortunately it was close enough to where we wanted to fire it that we didn’t really have to move it again.
I filled her up with some chunks of surplus building materials, and then went back to work.

Returning later, I opted to help it along with some vigorous blowing. It wasn’t that my fire went out (that’s not to say my fires never go out – on the contrary, they often do!) – it just needed a bit of a boost to burn in a hot and timely fashion.

It smoked merrily away, and the paint on the outside cured with a nasty stink that I was glad wasn’t deposited inside the sauna.

We got it up to what Grandpa deemed to be a decent burn, and then let it go out. Soon we would be prepared to actually get it installed in place!


Wanted to ask about this stove:

– Homemade or purchased?
– Firebrick inside?
– Baffled?

Any information you could post would be appreciated (including dimensions)

  • Anonymous (2014-01-17)

It was purchased from a fellow who builds them locally. I have not installed firebrick, it was made with very thick steel. I will leave a few inches of ash on the bottom at all times. It is baffled inside, yes.
It is about 14x14x24 I would say. We wanted to keep it fairly small.
  • Stephen Garstin (2014-01-17)

The Floor In The Sauna Change Room

September 20, 2013

The floor of the change room didn’t need to be quite so waterproof as in the “wet” areas of the sauna. As such, I opted to finish it off in red pine.

Unlike V jointed lumber, tongue and groove boards fit together nearly flush for a perfectly flat finish (or thereabouts). Otherwise, installation is the same as for V joint.

I lay down a double layer of my OSB and then put down the V joint over top of that.
Also in the change room I provided a trap door to gain access to the crawlspace under the sauna. Instead of any fancy fittings to lift the board, I simply drilled out two 1″ diameter holes at each end of the board. No hinge or anything showy, just lift out and climb in.

The floor looked great for a few hours, until continued construction traffic dirtied it completely up. I’m hoping that once construction in the sauna tapers off, I’ll get a chance to clean, sand, and treat it. In the meantime, I suppose it is developing some character!


Plumbing the Sauna

September 20, 2013

Plumbing the sauna was something of a testbed of ideas. After the multiple failures of the water system over last winter in delivering us consistent flow (or any flow whatsoever!), I had spent many brain cells trying to come up with an alternative system that was still very energy efficient.

It was Grandpa who suggested that I could store water in the sauna to use in the cabin. This had the advantage of keeping the water tanks in a building that was designed to handle “wet” situations. It also meant that I could utilize the loft of the sauna to create some gravity pressure for the water to flow.

I also like to believe that if we take steam on a somewhat regular basis (every second, third or fourth day), we will be able to maintain the water temperature in the tanks above freezing, thus allowing us to keep pumping water throughout the winter.

The first fixture I set in place was our laundry tub. I shortened the legs on it by almost a foot to help it to have a bit more head. I also had the cunning plan to hook up the tank from the sauna reservoir to the hot water tap of the laundry tub, thus giving us the illusion of hot AND cold running water.

This worked well in some sense. The pressure generated from the elevated sauna reservoir to the tap only a few inches below it was anemic. You can put a basin in the sink and turn on the tap, and then take a fair bit of steam before your basin is full. In fact, just the time taken for the hot water in the reservoir to warm up the basin is pretty lengthy on the first run. I can accept this though, as running water is pretty special no matter how you slice it.

After the laundry tub came the washing machine. This seems to work pretty good. I placed a quick connect connector on the tap from the laundry tub, so we can easily hook up the washing machine when it is time to do laundry. There is a pretty cool advantage of this. When you disconnect the washing machine hose, my connector cuts off the entire flow of water. By having nothing connected, and both hot and cold taps turned on, the sauna reservoir refills from my storage tanks. I don’t have to shlep buckets!

Sadly, pressure at the laundry tub is a bit disappointing. It takes a good five minutes or so to fill the washing machine, so that must be taken into account when one is working on that.

At first I felt that perhaps the problem was the narrower PEX hose that I had run to the laundry tub from off of my main poly pipe.

I removed the PEX and replaced it with poly pipe, and the result was even worse.

Note to self – be prepared for water to come gushing from a water line that you cut through with a saw!

My trickle continued to diminish until it became nothing. My father-in-law examined the situation and felt that perhaps the problem was in my taps. I puzzled at great length, and decided that instead there must have been a bubble in my water line, at a spot where it rose up from the water tank before dropping back down to the faucet. I massaged the poly pipe up and down until finally a squirt of bubbles made itself known in the water tank. The flow to the sink began again, albeit not anything spectacular.

I tried to reroute the line with a more direct route to my auxiliary tank, but this doesn’t seem to have boosted performance notably. I’m of the mind that right angles in a low pressure water line are death to pressure. In any case, the water does flow here, and I hope that we can learn to live with it.

Ahhh, the bliss of a filling wash machine!

I tried to raise the machine off the floor a bit with some cinder blocks and a nice cedar edge.

I wish that I had a door on the sauna though, as unexpected guests with cameras are a bit off-putting.

Nothing like two full water tanks!


Installing Windows and Doors in the Sauna

October 7, 2013

With great excitement we brought home from the city a real treasure – our friend B! He had never been up to see the project before, and we were delighted to at last have him amongst us.

We had loads of fun (especially Kenny) hanging out together.

Walking to the lake…

Visiting the Terry Fox monument, and Kakabeka Falls…

Playing at the Marina…

The most fun of all for Daddy was working together again with his friend. It was great to be able to commiserate again about our trials and tribulations.

B! and I had spent a large portion of our working life together at ProMark Window Film and Blinds. It was a great job, with great people there – I still dream about being back at work with them sometimes!

This time things were slightly different. Instead of installing blinds or film on existing windows, B! and I were actually installing the windows themselves!

B! is exceptionally handy, and with very little guidance from me, had things looking really awesome in no time flat! I think some of his trim work will be permanent, even though really it should be scheduled to be replaced next year when I add more v-joint and account for settling.

I’m not sure how we managed it, but we got the patio door onto and back off of the truck in what turned out to probably be the most difficult manner possible. While picking up a subsequent patio door, a local that I know through work showed me the proper way to do it.*

We also picked up an exterior door for the sauna. This was a bit complicated. We wanted an outswing door to maximize space inside the sauna. Apparently most domestic doors are sold as inswing doors. I’m not sure why this is – I would have thought safety alone would dictate a preference to outswing, or even a requirement! The lady at the store mentioned screen/storm doors, which perhaps makes sense.

Anyway, we wanted an outswing, so I made the crazy decision to take an inswing (also, inswing are far less expensive than custom ordered outswings…) and we installed it backwards. I wasn’t concerned about the hinges on the outside – any thief would be bound to just smash a window rather than try to pull hinge pins I’m sure. It took longer than I expected to puzzle out which direction to have the door open. As I age, things that came easily to me in my youth now seem to escape me. In any case, let me save some of my readers a few moments of topological thought – it’s the opposite.

B! got the door in and working great in no time. No one has yet noticed that it is in backwards until I point it out.

It was with a very heavy heart that we returned him to the aeroport for his flight home only a short time later. We all hope that now that he has finally taken the plunge and visited us, he will be able to find time for us again soon! He’s certain to be a lifelong pal for our whole family.

* Place the entire patio door centred in your truck bed with the panes both down and the empty frame facing up. Then use your ratchet straps to go from each corner up to the frame, wrap the frame a bit, and then back down to the far side. Do this up close to the cab and then back at the back of your box. It helps to hold the doors at a bit of an angle when you put the first strap on, so as you ratchet it, it comes up to vertical in your truck bed. Email for further clarification if required.


Installing the Stovepipe in the Sauna

October 21, 2013

Before I get too far into this post, I want to come clean on something – this blog entry, and I imagine the next few to follow, are all referring to things that happened over a month ago.

After B! left us for the sunny south once again my family all came to visit and pitch in to help on the main cabin. This left me very little time for blogging about the days work, as we worked the whole day, and then caught up each evening. I also find myself getting fatigued more easily than in the past, either due to old age, or my ongoing health thingie (a new favourite word of Ken’s).

After my family left, then our awesome friends the C!’s all came to visit – that was amazingly fun and a nice way to transition from summer into autumn, although it probably felt more like a transition from autumn into winter. We were bumping against negative temperatures the final few nights, and it was only a matter of luck that they didn’t see actual snow.

In any case, with that off my chest, I will endeavour to try to churn out a few posts between my current work commitments, and see if I can’t get back up to date before Christmas!

In the breathing space between B! visiting and my parents arrival, I tried to tackle getting the sauna in a state where my brother could actually spend the nights there, rather than in the tent we had previously been pressing into service for overnight guests.

With B!’s hard work on putting in the windows and doors in the sauna leaving only the hole for the stove to be filled, I knew where my talents were needed!

First up I positioned the stove on some cinder blocks in the opening. I leveled it with a piece of square stock and then put in the cathedral ceiling support as supplied by
Bob’s Woodburner’s in Thunder Bay.

I was careful to position the ceiling support such that there was exactly three feet between the top of the stove and the bottom of the support. This would help me in adding a short length of single wall stovepipe later.

The remainder of the distance I used a double wall insulated “Selkirk” type stovepipe. At least one person told me this was a “zero-clearance” pipe, so I took them for their word and cut the hole in the sauna roof with only about a quarter inch clearance between the pipe and the deck material.

I connected up all the double wall segments to get a few feet above the ridge cap flashing. This is really easy with this stovepipe. Just nest them, and then attach the clamping collar. It feels very secure and yet takes no time or tools to install.

A quick measurement of the outside diameter of this stovepipe, and it was time to trim my silicone “Dektite” fitting. This is a neat rubbery boot that you slide over any pipe to seal it to a metal roof.

I squirted a generous dollup of polyurethane sealant under the boot and then slid it over the uncapped stovepipe. Where it contacted the roof, there is a clever strip of some sort of metallic band that allows you to mold the boot to the profile of your steel. While the band appears to be lead, I’m sure it is some other alloy. I then fastened it down with many screws spaced out about every inch or inch and a half or so.

Finally I dragged up the cap with Grandpa’s ever handy rope. This too clipped on easily.

I was prepared to pick up a three foot length of single wall stove pipe on my next trip to town, but amazingly, Grandpa had a length that he had picked up at the dump on a previous trip! With only a little bit of scrubbing to remove some bird poo, I had a pipe that was more than adequate, and came with some history!

With the stovepipe fully assembled, it was only a short time until I could declare the sauna ready for use! Exciting!


Building a Log Cabin Using Regular Square Beams

October 25, 2013

With the conjunction of the sauna becoming useable both as a sauna, and an extra space for guests, the next logical step was to begin work on the cabin.

This coincided with the arrival of my parents, and then both my brother and sister just a few days later. Fortunately my parents visited us bringing their tent trailer and two large boxes of galvanized 10″ spikes. They had good accomodations even if their heater gave them the occasional troubles. At least they weren’t still here when the snow began to fly!

I had contracted out the laying of two runs of cinder block to a local fellow, and his work was completed and dried by the time everyone arrived. (Although there was still standing water inside the foundation.)

Over the course of construction, I ended up taking delivery of one hundred and twelve white pine beams. Each of them measuring six inches by six inches (plus or minus about an eighth of an inch) and sixteen feet long. I have to admit that for someone with little experience driving a large trailer, this was a bit stressful, but with my father and brother’s help, I managed.

With our materials assembled, it was time to confirm our building practises, and then get to work!
I confirmed that the outside footprint of the cabin was to be twenty two by twenty two feet. We also were going to strive for six inches of overhang at each corner where we would cut in a simple mortise joint. Where logs needed to have a butt joint, we would cut a tongue and groove of about two inches. Each run would have a layer of five and half inch wide sill gasket installed (sometimes two or even three layers if there was a noticeable gap due to variance in the height of differing beams).

Each beam would be spiked down at each end, as well as approximately every three to four feet, also being mindful of butt joints on the run below, where we would ALSO spike on either side of the joint.

My lesson learned from the sauna was that there was a dramatic amount of labour involved in trying to cut and insert splines in the beams – and as often as not, they actually reduced the quality of work, in that they sometimes would force a beam to rest unevenly on the beam below.

Otherwise, we were rather similar in approach. The corner joints as a mortise rather than a dovetail would work well, and the fact that my plan included a full wraparound porch meant that the ability to shed water was greatly diminished, if not eliminated!

With my beams at sixteen feet (generally six to twelve inches more than this actually), we were able to use a full beam, plus a half beam, to get us to twenty four feet. Then trim off rough ends, or the occasional broken or rotten end, and we got down to twenty three feet in good order.

Working together felt really good. We fired up two circular saws set at slightly different depths (one at an inch and a half for the mortise grooves, and the other at its maximum depth to try to cut through beams completely) and began churning out the first row of beams.

Mentally setting the bottom of my door frames at nine inches (six for floor joists, and then two more for actual flooring materials) seemed about right, so on the second run we notched the beams at the preset spots for the doors.

While Donna and I had spent many hours going over plans, I am pretty sure we both understood that they were just guidelines, subject to the realities of construction materials and techniques. Many things were unknown going into the project.

A few of the guidelines we had going in, and that we tried to maintain during construction were based on the structural properties of a log wall. As such, we kept all breaks in the log walls at least three feet in from the outside corner (so basically from the inside, there are always thirty inches of solid logs coming out of a structural corner). We also insisted on the same three feet between breaks in a continuous wall, so there would be at least thirty six inches of log wall between a door and window, or combination thereof.

Another consideration that happened basically during construction was related to window and door sizes. It is tremendously more thrifty to purchase windows and doors in standard sizes if possible, rather than custom ordering them to fit your openings. So we went with a standard door, two standard patio doors, and then the remaining windows in regular sizes of three feet by three feet, and five feet by four feet. Two tiny windows were also standard stock, although they were eighteen by thirty. Strangely enough, the eighteen by thirty windows cost about thirty dollars more than the three by three windows. And yes, they both were openers, although the larger ones were just sliders.

The main guideline I tried to stress was for everyone to be safe. We were very blessed in that no one suffered even a minor injury on this project.

With the first run in place, I had to go off to work for the next day and leave my brother and father to all the fun. Staying up with my brother and enjoying a quiet beverage (or two), I sketched out the remaining blueprints. Google sketchup they weren’t, but they served the rest of the construction quite admirably. It’s fortunate that Donna was wise enough to snap a few pictures of them before they were recycled.

Sadly, my brother had to return to his life in the south all too soon… Just as we reached the three foot, nine inch mark – where we began cutting in the windows.

I wanted the windows to begin fairly low to the floor after my work in the sauna. There I kept the windows fairly high (for modesty), but then it transpired that they were overly shaded by the porch roof. While I am willing to accept this in the cabin, I’d like to keep it to a minimum.

It was doubly troubling to have my brother leave, as he was another strong back for the hoisting of the beams, which began the next day.

We had mulled over a few different schemes for hauling the beams higher, and higher up the wall. I wanted an emphasis on safety, but expediency was also important. It was fortunate that my back and co-ordination permitted me to haul beams approaching the seven foot mark on my own. I directly attribute this to my aikido training, as I discovered that it was very similar to koshi nage, or ganseki otoshi. You had to quickly feel for the beam’s hara, and position it above your own. Then the weight of the beam would tend to merge with your own, and you could go about your business normally. I even utilized this to move much larger beams over level ground, but didn’t have the courage to climb a ladder with more than a half beam.

Finally, we settled on a system that worked remarkably well. We would arrange our ladders on the inside of the walls, one at each end of the beam, and then throw a rope over the wall and tie it to the ends of the beam. My father at one end of the beam, and myself at the other, we would count down, and then pull the beam up together and position it on the wall. I insisted that we also screw in some temporary two by fours pointing up to the sky on each wall, to prevent us from pulling the beams right over the wall and onto ourselves.

With a beam in place, we would use my cordless drills to pre-drill a 3/8 inch hole. Then pressing my four and a half pound sledge hammer into service, we would pound in a ten inch spike. Finally a strip of sill gasket was stapled into place and we got ready for the next layer.

Door and window openings would be treated to an extra two or three inches on the sides, and two or four on top, depending on their height. This seems to me to be generous, but at the same time, I wanted to be sure to be able to build a box “frame” around each door or window to attach the trim to for this year. Nothing was to be directly attached to the sides or top of the opening, as I expect it to continue to settle for a year.

We worked away missing my brother, but he was well replaced by Grandpa who came by to pitch in. Then the other shoe dropped and my sister too had to return home. We hold out great hopes that she will be able to return again soon though, perhaps even during the winter, and certainly sometime with her “little girl” K!. Kenny especially misses her, although just last night he received a lovely card, complete with a large wad of paper money that made his eyes grow VERY large. (Of course, the picture on the money was that of
Sandy McTire.)

As we got above the height of the doors, I decided that I wanted some sort of beam from one side of the cabin to the other, to prevent the walls from spreading at all due to the future weight of the roof.

A solid beam would require a complicated joint, and to my mind wouldn’t be nearly as strong as a laminated one, so off to the lumber store we went, shopping for enough materials to create one.

We settled on three two by eight boards, through bolted and laminated with industrial strength glue. We were able to notch and insert this beam into the middle of the north and south walls without too much fuss at about the eight foot mark. This was actually much higher than I would have intended – I was hoping to create more on the order of seven foot ceilings on the main floor, but I was also mindful of keeping the beam above the height of the adjacent door trim.

As the cabin settles though, perhaps the ceiling will come down an inch or two.

This beam marked the end of the main floor, and the beginning of the second floor (well, loft…). I had originally only hoped for a six inch knee wall beyond the loft floor. With careful calculations and fitting of the remaining beams, we were able to push that to a very, very welcome two feet! This should make the upstairs rooms feel much more spacious!

Just as we completed the final run of beams, my mom and dad’s time allotted for us ran out, and we bid them an (internally) tearful farewell.

Kenny passed along a traditional stink eye, and with a farewell “Ba-Ba-Boom!” they were off.

Much still needed to be done!

So exciting! Good for you ! 😀
  • Anonymous (2013-10-26)

Looks pretty sweet…..
  • Martin (2013-10-28)

A Tempory Tarp Roof

October 26, 2013

Nana and Papa still had another day and a bit after the walls were complete, so we rushed to enclose the space so that work could continue in their absence.

Grandpa had the original tie rod from his house, which had served a similar purpose to the laminated beam we had made up for our house. As we were transporting it from his place to ours, we noted a hitchhiker that explained why it felt so heavy!

With a long connector nut, we were able to extend his rod with some threaded rod of our own, and make it bridge the distance between the two walls.

I put up two notched two by fours, about five or six feet above the tops of the walls. We then worked to get the tie rod up and into these notches. This part of the whole construction was to me, the most nerve-wracking. There was little support around the tops of the two by fours, and we were now at the height limit of most of our ladders. Not to mention that the rod seemed to grow heavier each foot higher we climbed
Thankfully, no one was injured and we got the rod in place. We attached support lines to the ends of it and tied them to nearby trees and blocks.

That was enough, and we took part in yet another campfire. Thanks to Aunt V!, we had decided to invest in a small campfire bowl, and it proved to be one of Kenny’s favourite activities to have a campfire and roast marshmallows (Although it seems he likes to roast them for others – he likes his best when they are just straight from the bag). This also proved to be the time where Kenny learned to start fires on his own. He is a bit shy about matches, but is comfortable lighting the campfire with a stick type lighter. And yes, we are all very careful to explain to him that he is not allowed to play with the lighters, or light fires, without our supervision.

The next morning we unpacked the giant tarp that Donna had sagely supplied. It took a fair bit of coaxing to get it up and over the first wall, then over the rod, and eventually down the far wall.

Grandpa, as he often does (I suspect he enjoys it), did a great high wire act that thrilled and terrified us all.

In the corners, Papa had the great foresight to install temporary, rounded boards to prevent the tarp from tearing too much. As it turns out, the tarp has torn at the tops of all the two by fours supporting the tarp, as well as a little bit in some of the corners. It still has been shedding the rain (and lately snow) pretty well though, with only a few leaks here and there.

Using what I believe to be a trucker’s hitch, I have fastened down the edges of the tarp all around the cabin as tight as possible, and occasionally even try to retighten them to keep it as taut as possible.

As far as this portion of construction goes, I have called in a local professional to finish putting on the roof. I have neither the stomach for the heights involved, nor the skills or time to complete it before we really would like to be inside. I have volunteered to help out if there is anything I can do though. And he has graciously accepted my offer, although he did quip that he charges double when a client asks to be involved in the project.


Looks great!
  • Anonymous (2013-10-27)

Finishing the Sauna Stove

October 31, 2013

With the doors and windows in place in the sauna, enclosing the area around where the front of the stove passed through the wall was the next big operation to have it habitable.

Although the bugs had greatly, greatly diminished after another uncommonly buggy summer, they were still there, and we didn’t want them to have free run of the sauna, especially with guests spending the night.

Grandpa’s saunas both used a straightforward piece of sheet metal to bridge the gap between the front of his stoves and the surrounding walls. Part of me really liked this idea – it was simple, looked good, and was non-flammable. It also offered very, very little insulation, and I wanted – no, needed the sauna to have some decent insulating qualities as well.

I opted for something with a bit of thermal mass. Small bricks. Kenny helped me to do a dry fit, and they went in the space rather well!

With a small amount of spare mortar in hand, I bricked up the area and was rather proud of myself.

Some nice wood trim, and we were all set!

Of course, after one or two firings, I got in for a closer look and found that the temperature just above the brick and on the inside was still bumping against 250 degrees. This is enough to be a concern, and obviously it was an issue.

I removed all my wood trim. Left a decent sized air space above the brick before my log wall began, and then replaced it with “trim” I cut from a sheet of concrete board. I believe it still looks good – and it should not be so susceptible to the heat.

After a few more firings, my mortar proved to be cracking in many places. I took some clear, high temperature silicone and ran a bead over my joints in the brick. This too has subsequently cracked in the area over the stove (a very vivid illustration of how heat loves to rise). At this point, I am happy to leave the brick in place in a very tight, dry fit. It is secured inside and out by the concrete board.

In hindsight, I would use the silicone instead of mortar, to create what for the most part would look like a dry fit of the bricks. The concrete board would hold the bricks in place and the silicone, even as it breaks down, would still form a seal against air leakage.

But for the most part, the sauna was finished enough to be useable for the foreseeable future!


Building the Cabin Floor

November 2, 2013

With Papa’s final guidance and assistance we began work on getting the floor installed in the cabin.

At right angles to the laminated beam in the upper reaches of the cabin, I had put in some small footings to hold up the ends of my floor “sections”.

Much like in the sauna, I had envisioned building the cabin floor in four sections, each about ten feet by ten feet. I figured that these would be more manageable, and then we could simply drop them into position after putting some OSB on the bottom to hold in the insulation, and keep out any pests.

The four sections would then be screwed or bolted together, forming a “cross” in the middle of the cabin of doubled up boards. It would be one line of these boards that would rest on the piers. Or so I envisioned.

As we were beginning work in this area, I was impressed to see that Kenny had taken safety to heart, and while working on his own project, had put up a “men at work” warning sign that the had created himself from memory!

With the window and door openings temporarily covered to keep out the elements (to a small degree), it was time to get cracking!

Papa pointed out that it wouldn’t be so hard to actually install a beam across these piers, and then rest my floor joists on that beam. Very strong, and just as easy to do.

Thanks to my sawmill, I was able to cut up two beams at the right size, and in short order they were transported to the cabin and installed across the footings flush with the bottom of my (at the time imaginary) floor joists.

After this, the floor went in quickly enough. We built the floor conventionally, opting to use joist hangers where the ends of the boards were not resting on more than an inch of either concrete block sill, or the interior support beam. Because the span was just a shade over ten feet, I felt that two by six construction would be sufficient. This would give us slightly more head room inside, and once the plywood and then (pine?) flooring was installed, I didn’t feel the floor would be noticeably bouncy.

While I had originally thought that we could build in a manner similar to the sauna, where we construct the floor similar to a wall, and then lower it in place, Grandpa was more inclined to build the floor in place. Then he amazingly would slide under into the crawl space to install the sheets of OSB from below. I would have found it challenging, but he sure seemed to take to the job. I suggested many times that I would go under to do the grunt work, but he brushed me off. (Or perhaps I didn’t insist hard enough?)

One caveat I would provide to anyone in a similar situation though – when someone is below the floor using a brad nailer to attach OSB – don’t spend lots of time directly over them. After a moment or two of trying to help guide Grandpa in accurately hitting the studs, I realized that his misses were potentially hazardous to my health! From then on I ensured that I was a few feet off to the side of where he would be aiming.

After two or three days, we managed to get all the joists in place. I put in two spots for future trap doors. One to access my batteries from my solar power system. (I have subsequently decided not to keep the batteries indoors. My solar panel expert feels that there would be too much potential for a buildup of hydrogen gas down there.) Also, another double trap door in the pantry to give Donna a chance to store things in a cool/cold place.

Until the roof is in place, I have only lay down the cover layer of plywood loose. I don’t think I should insulate and vapour barrier until I’m sure that things won’t get wet.

It’s amazing how quickly your tools and odds and ends expand to fill whatever space you create for them!


Correcting Imperfections on Our Log Cabin

November 3, 2013

One issue that came up on the sauna, and was eventually corrected, was the nearly inevitable situation of two sections of a wall not being exactly the same height on either side of an opening.

I suppose that if one were to build a solid shell of a log building, and then use a chain saw to cut in the window and door openings, there would be no worries about this sort of thing. But for those of us who are intentionally trying to use up shorter lengths of log, incorporating openings as you build is de rigour.

On the sauna, this was only an issue at the back patio door. The final beam was as much as a few inches above where it was suppose to be as it crossed over the door opening.

Eventually I was able to bring it into place with a combination of a comealong compressing all the beams on the high side of the door, as well as another strap pulling the end of the header beam down on the low side of the door. A number of screws to hold the beam in place, and no one was the wiser. I anticipate that as things settle, the beams will find it more comfortable in their final positions.

Fortunately, the cabin, with more, larger openings, really only suffered from a poor fit in one corner. This was slightly different from the sauna though, as the beams coming from the corner to the door opening actually ended up taking a noticeable slope downwards.

In this picture, you can clearly see the wedge shaped gap that appears in the door frame just under Papa’s ever-present grin.

Once again – the sawmill to the rescue!

Donna followed me down the the mill to see how I would deal with this crisitunity.

It was easy enough to first put a sticker (a one inch by one inch stick used to separate stacks of lumber to assist in drying) under one end of a short beam. I then clamped the beam, so it was actually at an angle to the blade of the mill.

Fire up the engine and…

One wedge – just what the doctor ordered!

And, as you can see, fits like a glove. No one is the wiser.

Again, I feel very, very fortunate that I only had to perform an operation like this once, and that it worked out so well and easily. Everything here is new, and I am so happy that we keep managing to find (occasionally elegant) solutions to our problems.


Building the Loft in our Cabin

November 4, 2013

With the revised idea of actually attaching the loft to the laminated beam, we were able to move forward with constructing it and not have to worry about what would happen as the cabin settled.

Grandpa continued to be full of great ideas – starting with attaching a board along the beam to hold our floor joists temporarily until we could screw them into position.

He then continued in the vein of doing all the work, while I do all the watching and talking. Luckily Donna’s photographs capture these moments accurately.

This went very quickly, and I was able to move into building the “landing” just off of the loft, where people would stand at the top of the stairs before deciding which of the two rooms they would enter.

At first I had though of building this landing just in place, with the beam as the central support, and then some sort of “suspension” to hang the outside corners of the landing in place. I was at first thinking of using some threaded rod or pipe which would be suspended from the collar ties of the ceiling.

Instead, I then opted to install two two-by-eight inch beams about thirty-two inches out from the loft, and then put in a few floor joists between them to act as the landing. This made the landing about five or six feet wide, and over thirty inches deep.

The stovepipe would pass between the loft and the landing’s two-by-eight at one end of the cabin, and the stairway would go up to the loft at the other end.

It didn’t take long to get the plywood up and onto the loft floor. I opted to screw it in place in this case, as I felt I could acceptably insulate (for sound) from below.

With the ladder in place and almost exactly the correct length for a stairwell, we tested the angle for comfort. I was almost half disappointed that it wasn’t steeper, and that we can likely use a standard (albiet steep) layout for the stairs, instead of the more unique “paddle” stairs.

It was really exciting to get up onto the loft and feel how roomy it was, as well as to be able to look over the top of the cabin walls and get a whole new perspective on our living zone.


Installing Windows and Doors in the Cabin

November 5, 2013

This part went pretty smoothly.

Thanks to our friend B! who had helped me work out how to properly install the windows and doors in the sauna, I had the techniques and confidence to repeat the same thing on the cabin.

Again, it was basically a matter of only attaching the window or door at the bottom, and then building a sort of pocket frame around it to allow the sides and top of the opening to slide down within the frame as the logs finished settling. I am really looking forward to next year when I hope/plan on fastening the windows and doors directly to the logs for a more secure, better insulated fit.

First I obtained the patio door for the south side of the cabin, and installed it in short order with a bit of help from Grandpa.

The two small windows in the bathroom and pantry followed in short order.

Next up was the kitchen window, and by that time, the C! family had arrived and together J! and I got in the front door.

With J!’s assistance, we then proceeded to finish off with the patio door in the bedroom, and then, joy of joys, the two picture windows in the living room.

Donna found us in repose, enjoying a chance to take a breather from our grinding pace of work!

It sure looks great with the windows all in place. Now, if I only had a roof! (Yes, the second patio door isn’t in in this picture, but I wanted to show the windows here. Trust me, all the doors are in now!)


Taking Delivery of our Baker's Choice Woodstove

November 6, 2013

Recently we were in the city running some errands. While in Home Depot, I got the call from Howie’s Saw – the woodstove had arrived!

With Donna and Kenny in tow, I realized how fortunate I was to be with the truck, and that it wasn’t heavily laden yet.

We pulled in at Howie’s, where the boss gave me a fright by declaring that my little Ford Ranger wouldn’t be able to handle the weight of the stove. Of course, had I given it a bit more thought, I would have been able to calculate that the weight of the stove (no more than five hundred pounds) was equivalent to that of two or three large fellows – easily within the capacity of the truck!

Anyway, he laughed at my gullibility, and then proceeded to load up the stove in the back of the truck and send me giddily on my way.

We got the stove home safe and sound, and the next day Grandpa arrived with his superhero equipment to help us get the stove into the cabin.

It went much more smoothly than I expected. I was able to back the truck right up to the cabin, where we removed the front door from the hinges to give us a full inch of clearance.

We removed everything possible from the stove, including the doors. Then bridged the gap between the tailgate and the cabin with a small piece of plywood.

It was suprisingly easy to scootch the stove across the span, and with it inside, we replace the door of the cabin in short order.

We haven’t yet reattached any of the parts of the stove we have removed, as we haven’t yet insulated the floor where it will go. Once that is complete, we will put the stove in its final position.

For reference, here is a photo of the back of the stove. I searched high and low online for a picture of the back of the stove to see the placement of the stovepipe. I suspected that it was off to the right, directly behind the oven, but no one could confirm that for me. As such, here it is. A 7″ oval exhaust, but included with the stove was the adapter to permit the use of round stovepipe.

I’m sure in the future I will be posting more and more about how this stove works for us. In the meantime, we are just too excited to give it a test run!


Winter Arrives at the Homestead?

November 7, 2013

Oh how quickly the weather changes from this...

To this...

You’ll notice that one of our first models refused to appear in the second picture.

In any case, here’s a visual treat of what it looks like around here.


A Simple Woodshed

November 8, 2013

Based on the humanure hacienda I constructed a few months ago, I decided to build a simple woodshed. It looks like it will work so well that I ended up building three of them so far, and currently think I may make ALL my wood storage along similar lines.

The first one I built was five feet deep, nine feet wide, and five feet high at the back, six at the front.

The next two were only six feet wide. At six feet wide, five feet high, and five feet deep, they hold about a cord of wood.

Having them in widths of three foot increments allows me to cover them with three-by-six foot sheets of steel – readily available and in manageable sizes.

I cover the sides with odd boards and slabs from my slab pile – stuff that is destined to burn anyway. I leave one to two inch gaps between the boards. This is enough to allow good drying, while keeping off the bulk of the rain.

I face these generally towards the south.

It remains to be seen how well they work over the course of the winter, but for now, I’m excited about how easily they can be constructed and how well they have protected my extra wood.


Great to see all the progress lately and the cabin looks fantastic!
  • Chris (2013-11-08)

Frozen Water Lines Already + Bonus Review of the Panda Washing Machine

November 9, 2013

Ugh. After a night of fourteen degrees below zero, in the late afternoon, Donna headed out to the sauna in her cold weather gear to attempt a load of laundry.

She returned shortly after with photo evidence of how cold it was. The water pails had frozen. Sigh.

At first I didn’t register any concern. It wasn’t until I went out myself and realized that the water pipe had frozen that I began to feel a bit of panic well up inside me.

I rushed over to the cabin first, to test the water line from the sauna to the cabin which had been constantly dripping for the past month. Thank goodness, it was still dripping. I opened it up and let some good water flow through for a few moments before capping it back to a slow drip and returning to the sauna.

I put on a roaring fire in the sauna, and then broke the ice in the pails. Using ice cold water, I started the Panda washing machine and got it to agitate a moment. Hearing some of the chunks of ice banging around inside, I quickly stopped the machine and waited an hour or so for some warm water to be present in the sauna stove’s holding tank.

I poured this water into the Panda to melt the ice, and then resumed the load.

Imagine my annoyance when I tried to switch it to “drain” mode, and the dial was also frozen. Forcing it slightly, the knob suddenly banged, and then I could spin it freely around, obviously not engaging anything.

This brought me nearly to my knees with frustration. No water, and now no way to drain the washing machine! What else could there be?

I pulled off the knob, and saw that the cog underneath had somehow “fallen” lower than the knob could reach. Retrieving my needlenose pliers, I pulled it up, and switched it to drain.

The Panda groaned under the strain, and no water moved. I check the hose underneath and – you guessed it – frozen solid.

I bailed the water out by hand, and then moved the clothes to the spin side. It spun for a moment, and then it too started to groan.

It appears that the two sides of the machine have separate reservoirs. Something that should be obvious, but wasn’t always so to me. Whenever you are spinning, the spin side tried to drain water. So the drain pump was straining to pump against the frozen hose. Also, as soon as enough water builds up in the spin side to reach the basket, the friction of the water is far too much for the spinner to move at any great speed. Thus, I couldn’t spin the clothes. They were coming out of the machine soaking wet and freezing. Pieces of ice were still falling from them at that point!

I pulled the hose up as high as I could, restoked the fire, and was mildly happy to see that the faucet was finally drip… drip… dripping.

By about six-thirty in the evening, the faucet had thawed, and I could get water. The washing machine had made all sorts of awful sounds, and I was fairly certain I had killed it by pumping against the blockage for so long, not to mention washing clothes with chunks of ice in the agitation side.

When it was finally pitch dark, I decided to call it a night and go in for supper. As I left the sauna, I tripped heels over head on the wagon that I had so unwisely left at the bottom of the stairs earlier in the evening. Great Grandpa Higginbotham would have been proud of my attempts to not take the Lord’s name in vain. Instead, I just made up a few new words.

Back in the yurts, Donna nourished my body and spirit with both soup, and kind, supportive words. I decided to make use of the warm sauna and go out to wash my face and hair after eating.

Once there, I attempted one last try at draining the washing machine, and, lo and behold, it worked! I quickly raced outside in my boots (and little else) to start up the generator again, and banged off a few loads of laundry while I could.

With the pliers, I pulled up the cog for the wash/drain setting, and put the dial back on it. As of a few days later, it is still working okay.

While the Panda cannot seem to properly agitate our largest, flannel blankets, I am still quite happy that we have the ability to wash most of our other items. However, it is difficult to resist the temptation to overload this little machine.

Donna has been using a home made liquid detergent she has been making with
soap nuts. Occasionally she doesn’t even bother with a rinse, as this detergent is suppose to be very mild. This saves us on water, time and electric power.

I still would recommend the Panda to anyone in our situation, and would readily replace it if it were to be retired in the future.

In any case, I spent the next day redoing the framing around the sauna doors. I removed almost all of the existing framing, and as I replaced it, I added surplus sill gasket and some leftover Roxul insulation. I also made sure that all openings were covered as best as I could to keep out any draughts. I had a fire burning most of the day, and put on the final log about three-thirty. Donna went out as late as seven to wash her hair, and reported that the stove water was perfect for washing!

Now it remains to be seen just how often we need to fire up the sauna to keep those lines open.


Drying Laundry in the Sauna

November 9, 2013

With the advent of the heavy, wet snow our hanging laundry on the washline has been curtailed to the point of completely ceasing.

I had in my head that laundry could continue to dry, even in sub-zero weather, but as it happens, when it is wet and around zero and there is no wind or sun, laundry tends to get cold and clammy, and no where approaching dry.

My next thought was to hang the laundry on the small porch that Grandpa had built for us behind the sauna. We still had our drying rack from last winter, and I pressed it into service. Alas, even with the snow not actually falling on our clothes, they didn’t see to be drying in any semblance of an acceptable time period.

Bringing the rack from outside the sauna to the inside improved things quite a bit on the drying front. With a fire on in the steam room and the door propped open, it only took about a day or two for most things (save mats or heavy items) to dry out to a useable degree.

Finally, Donna pressed on me a suggestion that I had first put forth before the sauna had ever been constructed.

She had observed that the sauna seemed to take quite a time to warm up. Attributing that to the fact that heat rises, and we have a rather high ceiling we both concluded that much of our warm air was spending its time up in the peak of the sauna.

Heading up there with two lengths of one by four inch boards, about five feet long, I threaded clothes line back and forth through holes in the boards, and then screwed the boards into the rafters of the ceiling. I made sure to tension the clothes line so it didn’t sag too much, and then came back down to the floor.

Pressing into service a large number of clothes hangers and the hook we use in the yurts to open and close the domes, I was able to easily hang the laundry on hangers, and then raise the hangers up into the rafters and in turn hang the hanger on the clothes line.

I have to say, this worked amazingly, amazingly well. The rising heat when the sauna is in use dries clothes extremely quickly. I have certainly hung heavy items up in the early afternoon, and been able to bring them down warm and dry later in the day when we actually take sauna. This is one idea that I am going to declare a real winner.

It isn’t difficult to hang everything on hangers right from the spinner of our washing machine – and it actually should be even more helpful to just bring items in on the hanger and hang them in our (as yet to be built) wardrobes.

The only challenge is oversized bedsheets or mats. I’ve tried putting them across multiple hangers with some success. Socks seem to work most efficiently hanging five or six on a hanger with clothes pegs before transferring them up to the rafters.

We just have to be diligent about throwing hangers into the wash baskets with the dirty clothes, so they will be available in the sauna as items come out of the spinner.


An Overflow for our Gravity-Fed Water System

November 9, 2013

Well, it had to happen sooner or later I suppose.

The switch for the pump was originally a simple on/off switch and I had anticipated that whoever turned it on would carefully monitor the water level in the tank and switch it off in an appropriate manner.

After a number of times whereby I was distracted and then with terror in my heart came back to find that the tank was nearly overflowing, I decided to change the controls to a timer switch. Now whoever was pumping the water could simply elect to run the pump for five, ten, fifteen or thirty minutes. Thirty minutes maybe if the tanks were both completely empty. Five or ten minutes being much more likely options.

Problem solved!

That is, until the pump was set for about five more minutes than it took to fill the tanks, and we were suddenly treated to the sound of water falling from the ceiling and into the change room. Augh!

Shortly after, I decided that we could no longer trust ourselves to accurately predict how much water we should pump into the tanks. My solution? An overflow hose leading any excess water to a harmless location.

I was reluctant to run a line down the outside of the wall and to the laundry tub – my first thought. Upon climbing into the loft with the water tanks I was presented with another option – I could still drill down from above and run a small line down the inside wall to the floor. There, we could have it harmlessly drain onto the floor and over to the drain in the steam room.

After one or two test runs, I found the sweet angle for the hose, and called Donna in to help me snake it inside the wall and out a hole I had pre-drilled near the floor. When I add a baseboard all around, I will make the drain hole even smaller and have the hose snugly extend out and down towards the floor drain.

Now, although I’d rather not use it, we do have the ability to run the pump with much less supervision than before. While I was up there though, I did take the time to mark the “danger” level on the side of the tank so we would have better feedback.


Spreading Some Humanure

November 12, 2013

Where our pond had been dredged this past summer, a large pile of rich, dark soil had appeared on the shore.

Grandpa took it upon himself to turn over this pile a number of times, spreading it wider, and pulling out all the rocks and stones that appeared. He used these to line a pathway down to the pond and what he now declared to be “Kenny’s Garden”.

As fall approached, Grandpa mounded this soil into eight deep rows. He then pointed out that it could probably still do with a bit of amending. We both were a little interested in seeing just how the humanure piles had come along.

The first piles I had created had lay fallow for over a year now, so we decided that they were safe to bring up to spread on a garden that would not be pressed into service until after the winter had passed.

Driving the tractor down my sawdust and gravel ramp by the sawmill to the old humanure piles was an adventure in itself. One that I am not enthused about repeating any time soon. Maybe with the addition of more gravel to make it a bit more solid.

In any case, with the tractor and trailer positioned close to my original piles, I was able to get in with a wheelbarrow and shovel and start filling the trailer.

The humanure piles were in much better condition than I expected. That is to say, there was very little identifiable material in them. One was a single “wet-wipe” that must have accidentally found its way into the thunder box or Tardis. It was completely unaltered by the time it had spent percolating. A fair warning to people that flush those things. We have subsequently turned to making our own degradable wipes from baby wash, baby oil, and thick paper towels.

Corn cobs, (not kernels!), eggshells, and avocado skins were the only other items that I could pick out while transferring the heap. Otherwise, not a turd in sight! (Or smell, thankfully).

In fact, aside from pockets of pure sawdust, which I never expected to compost quickly, the rest of the heap was a uniform yellow/brown colour, very similar to other composted materials one would expect to purchase.

Two trips polished off the previous summer and fall’s supply of humanure, and I deposited it into the furroughs Grandpa had created. As each trench filled, I used the neighbouring peak to cover it, until the garden was returned to a (mostly) flat surface. I grabbed the gravel rake and passed back and forth a few times until everything looked fertile, and then sat back to imagine all the goodies that this may grow for us in the future. It will be very interesting to see just how well things will grow in this unusual mix of soil here in the boreal forest!


Roofing Materials Arrived!

November 13, 2013

Just as we were preparing to head to Nipigon for another fantastic visit with Aunt A! and Uncle E!, the lumber truck arrived from Peterson’s to drop off the boards and sheets that will be used to construct the cabin roof.

I “helped” the fellow unload (really more a matter of chatting while he used his remote control boom to offload the materials) and then rushed over to Mummu and Grandpa’s to hitch the ride to Nipigon.

Grandpa remarked on my natty workpants, and Mummu threw in a comment about my sawdusty fleece sweater, and sent me back home to change into appropriate clothes for a classy visit with my in-laws.

Returning in (hopefully) more suitable attire, we headed off for a super evening of great food, and stimulating conversation.

Coming back late at night, we stumbled to bed, well fed, but cold.

Talk about a winter wonderland when I woke up the next morning!

It took me three hours to get the driveway cleared to this point. The first ploughing of the season. Surely not the last, but hopefully it won’t get as dire as it did last year.

Returning to the sauna I saw that the snow had slid down considerably. I’m not thinking I would want to spend time under the edge of the porch!

I dusted off our building materials, and am excited to get started with the roofers!


The Log Cabin Roof Begins!! (And a Few Solar Panel Placement Observations)

November 14, 2013

Bright and early Monday (well, shortly after eight – that’s as soon as it gets bright enough to work here in Thunder Bay now…) Ranta Construction showed up to get cracking on our cabin roof.

It was amazing how quickly things appeared to go together that first day. First some support posts at each end.

Then a long ridge beam, and another support post in the middle.

After that, with Jeffrey cutting rafters and Kyle and Ryan skillfully and bravely assembling them, things began to take shap in no time.

I couldn’t help but insert myself into the thick of things a number of times (although I don’t believe I provided any assistance. Kyle charges double when the client helps – a wise fellow!) to see how things looked.

I was very tickled to see just how much sun exposure the top of the cabin receives compared to where my panels are currently located ha ha! (Get it? Solar electricity – *currently* located… Oh, don’t act shocked at my dumb electrical puns – you knew I couldn’t resist!)

After a day or two though, I did come to notice that one of my jack pine trees does provide a little shade – I think that this is a very temporary thing though, dependant on this exact time of year. It is enough to convince me to wire my panels in parallel rather than series. While my new controller can handle up to 150 volts on the input side, I am using 4 gauge cables for about a twenty foot run. Plenty enough that even at 24 volts I won’t suffer much in the way of cable losses. And wiring solar panels in parallel means that if one panel is partially shaded, it won’t limit the current on the other panels, the way they would if they were in series.

The first day was clearly the glory day. The second day as they framed the gable ends, things didn’t change that dramatically.

Day three though, that was another big one! The sheeting went up and one could really see how the roofline and cabin came together. It was up until this point that I still had a feeling that the pitch of the cabin roof would overwhelm the overall look of things. Now I’m a fair bit more relaxed. I think that the roof doesn’t overpower the cabin, and complements it nicely. It also provides a very comfortable second floor space for Kenny’s room as well as a spare bedroom/office.

Family and Children’s Services of Thunder Bay rang me up the other day to see if we were still entertaining the thought of fostering a child in the near future. I assured them we were, but that we still needed to have a roof over our own heads before we could think to provide one for others. They will reconnect with us in the spring to see where we are at.

I am told that early next week the fellow will come in to apply the spray foam insulation. This will be another exciting moment! (I’m curious to see if I get any spammy spray foam insulation comments after noting this sentence… I’ve been noticing some context-correct spam appearing in comments on the blog.)

By the end of next week the steel should arrive for the roof, and then we’re really in the home stretch! The floor needs to be insulated, and the wood cookstove installed, but after that, we should be green-lit to move in! (Donna willing…)


Exciting and impressive! Congratulations on the progress! 😀
  • Anonymous (2013-11-16)

looking good!
  • Anonymous (2013-11-23)

The Log Cabin Roof is Insulated

November 25, 2013

Once again, these posts are a little bit delayed between things actually happening and the posts going up. It certainly isn’t as severe as the last few posts though… These events are all less than a week old. It’s just that this has been a difficult time for us on the homestead. There have been ups and downs as far as the logistics of the homestead itself goes, but I also just learned a few days ago that my Grandfather has been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

I have been extremely conflicted about this situation. It is hard to imagine a more difficult choice to make as far as to try to arrange a short-notice flight down to see him one final time, or to remain here with my family and maintain the gains we have made.

I know that Grandpa Ken (yes, Kenny was named for his great-Grandpa) is surrounded by many, many friends and family and is well loved and cared for there. That certainly helps.

Here, with the last of the contractors finishing the cabin, the temperatures dropping to ten and twenty below, and our water lines (both in and out) having frozen up in the past two days, I really feel it would be a difficult hardship to impose on my family here.

I called my Grandpa and spoke to my Grandma (he was sleeping) and let her know that we were thinking of them. It was probably more comforting to me than her, but it felt good to be sure that she knew we were praying for them.

Here on the homestead, with the cabin roof structurally complete and the ice and water shield installed, it was time for the insulation to be installed.

As per every recommendation a rational person could find, we opted to go with spray-foam. It provides a very compelling R-value, as well as structural attributes that are hard to beat.

The fellows showed up that morning with a huge trailer and their own, impressive generator. I jokingly suggested that I could mooch some electricity from them and they surprisingly agreed right away. I thought my 4000 watt generator was pretty peppy… They had a 40,000 watt diesel in the back of the trailer!

I did feel a little special though when they pointed out that it would take them two days to install the foam, and that their generator needed to be warmed up before it would start on day two. They actually needed me to run my generator the next day to warm up THEIR generator before they could continue the job.

After carefully covering and masking any areas that I didn’t want overspray foam on, they set to work in full body coveralls and breathing masks. The gasses during installation are not that healthy to breathe directly, but after only a few hours it is perfectly acceptable. I found that after only a few hours I couldn’t notice an odour, and certainly after a day it was innocuous.

Contrary to their first assumptions, they were able to complete the job in a single day. They normally have to give the foam time to cool off and cure between four inch coatings. The day they installed was pretty cold though (twenty below or so), and the foam on one side of the cabin had cooled sufficiently by the time they finished the other side, so they were able to return to their first work and build it up to a good depth.

I apologise that we didn’t have any “in-progress” photos, but one could hardly expect my staff photographer and ouchie-kisser Donna to risk life and limb going into the cabin while it was being sprayed.

I did do a careful inspection after they had left, and am very happy and hopeful for its ability to keep us warm in the years and decades to come.


Installing our Baker's Choice Wood Cookstove and Initial Thoughts / Review

December 5, 2013

It was a sombre moment a few days ago when I saw my Mom’s name come up on my call display. As expected, she was calling to let me know that my Grandpa had just passed away. This, on the heels of learning that our family friend (and huge influence on my life) R!L! had also suddenly passed on, was a tough thing to take in. It really made for a tough few days.

All these events were transpiring while the roof was going up, and inside there was lots of work for me to accomplish. Even as the roofers were putting down the steel, I was getting the stove up and running.

First Grandpa and I finished insulating, vapour barriering (is that a word?), and screwing down the plywood on the floor.

Then I located the spot for the woodstove, and we screwed down two sheets of DuRock, to make an approximate five foot by five foot square.

Donna had noted that the woodstove surface was ever so slightly low for her, so I opted to put a patio stone down under it. The footprint was nearly identical in dimensions to a stone, so it seemed to make good sense.

Here you can see the poly pipe for “hot water” to be carried to the bathroom and kitchen sinks. It remains to be seen how well this works. I believe I will have to put some sort of adapter from the reservoir to the poly pipe to space it away from the heat of the stove.

Reinstalling the doors on the stove was a snap. The rest of it was a much larger head-scratcher. We didn’t receive any assembly instructions, and it wasn’t quite as obvious as one may think.

The two side supports were obvious, and locating the water reservoir was pretty straightforward. When it came to the warming closet though, things became more complicated. Notwithstanding a small modification I made to the warming closet that I will relate in a moment, one had to hold the nuts for the warming closet from underneath, in a location that was actually INSIDE the water reservoir. This was very frustrating and difficult. The end of the stainless steel was razor sharp and unforgiving. The backs of my fingers still show scars from that particular battle.

A sheet of spare steel for a heat shield would suffice until we were ready to move in.

The stove has a 7″ oval stove pipe fitting. They ship the stove with a single-wall stainless oval to round adapter. This looked to work great, except I was trying to minimize clearances with the stove, and you have to work out from your weakest link. This would have been the adapter – and single wall wasn’t going to cut it.

The helpful fellows at Thunder Bay Fireplaces suggested I purchase a foot long piece of double wall stove pipe, and just force it onto the oval fitting as an adapter. I had to use my tin-snips to also cut away part of the base to get it to fit onto the stove. Even so, it was leaning back at a fair angle, and I ended up also modifying with snips the next piece of pipe.

This all served to finally get the stove pipe running straight up from the back of the stove. It looked pretty good!

Then I went to install the warming closet and realized that it stuck out the back of the stove about two or three inches! Once again, I was bitten by
the Law of Unintended Consequences – the most important law of the homestead!

I drilled new attachment holes in the warming closet and brought the back of it flush with the back of the stove. This had the stove pipe right against the back of the stove and closet, so I took a spare decorative pipe band, and used it to actually anchor the stove pipe to the back of the warming closet. This not only looked really complete, but added support. I also wonder if it won’t help make the closet slightly warmer.

The double-walled stove pipe is really remarkable! I find that I can rest my hand on the outside of it most of the time, even with the fire going merrily away – this almost seems to be better performance than the all stainless and all insulated Selkirk pipe I have in the sauna which seems to get too hot to touch (although not scorching hot).

With a little bit of shuffling back and forth, I managed to get the stovepipe seven inches off of the outside wall (code calls for six, but I want to leave room to panel the wall behind the pipe next fall). I also think I did a pretty good job of making it straight up to the collar where it switches to insulated pipe for the trip through the roof.

At the collar, I installed the telescoping piece of pipe. This should allow the cabin to settle a number of inches and not have any effect on the chimney.

One thing I have noticed – the firebox is not as deep as I had anticipated. I was spoiled in this respect with the box stove, which has a VERY deep firebox. The literature on the Baker’s Choice also describes a deep firebox so I hadn’t been cutting my wood much shorter. We have been finding that a number of my logs need to be put in diagonally to fit, or resting on the lip inside the door. This isn’t a huge hardship, but just something I personally have noticed. If there are logs that are simply too long, we set them aside to use in the sauna, where the stove still has a pretty deep firebox.

While Kyle was still fastening down the steel roof, I fired up the stove with much excitement and trepidation. It took me three or four goes to finally get her lit. But when I did – it was pretty awesome! The draught is excellent with a straight, tall chimney effect.

One of the adventures of a new stove and new stove pipe is “curing” the paint. Here I open up the oven door after a few minutes of heating it up good and hot and you can see the smoke pour out. It no longer does this, although sometimes with a hot fire we do still notice an odour.

We have made a number of soups on the top of the stove, and I think I am correct in stating that it gets much warmer on top than our box stove in the yurts. We can boil water much more quickly and readily now than we did in the yurts.

We normally keep the damper closed to force the smoke around the oven, and then leave the oven door open. Suppertime Stoves suggests this is the best way to use the stove to heat up your living space.

Joy of joys – we even had pizza one night! As you can see, we can get the oven quite warm, and having pizza from a wood-fired oven is just sooooo thrilling! For someone raised in a culture with ready access to an oven for baking, having something baked after 18 months of stove-top food is a real luxury.

The other nice thing about this stove is that it is (or nearly is) air-tight. At night we can dial shut the air vents and close the door tight, and the fire continues to throw heat for hours. So far we have been able to wake up about half the time and find coals enough to just add more wood and get the stove to come back to life. This is practically un-heard of in the old box stove in our yurts!

The ash-pan is a nice feature. We find that we have to empty it every three or four days at our current burns. I also find that in spite of the warning to not open the ash pan door while a fire is going, it actually can be very helpful when you are having trouble getting the fire lit. The draught from having air intake UNDER the wood is amazing, and it is thrilling to hear the roar of the air and fire mixing this way. I always close it back up again when I am sure the fire is going to take, and I never leave it open when I am not directly tending the fire.

Upstairs in the cabin is always super-toasty warm while the fire is going. I often fall asleep on top of the covers and only migrate under them a few hours later when it cools off a bit.

The main floor is generally cool, but nothing like what we encountered in the yurts. I am confident that when I find and seal all the cracks, and then next year add a vapour barrier and panelling, we’ll be super warm down here as well.


What a great stove! Nice job getting it installed. I take it you guys are now living in the cabin full time?
  • Chris (2013-12-06)

Yes, we are now! I'll post about that as soon as I get a chance.
  • Stephen Garstin (2013-12-06)

How did you put the pulley system together?
  • Anonymous (2015-10-01)

Our stove is in the kitchen but not hooked up yet- we are getting there. Excellent blog – thanks
  • EllenB (2016-08-17)

Excellent blog- way to go!😊 Our stove has made its way to the kitchen – progress lol! Soon to be hooked up – at least before the snow flies.
  • EllenB (2016-08-17)

Okay, it's almost been a month now – have you got your stove installed yet? When can we visit to check it all out?
I'm going to try modifying our stove a bit today – I'll probably do a blog post if it's successful. We're getting pretty close to starting to fire it up again!
  • Stephen Garstin (2016-09-11)

Installing the New Solar Panels

December 9, 2013

As the skies of November continued to turn gloomy, I more and more realized that I needed to find a way to expand my ability to produce solar electricity. My three 95 watt panels with a mid-range PWM controller were likely putting out a maximum of about 210 watts when in full sunlight.

Full sunlight on these panels no longer was happening anyway, as the sun had fallen below the treeline for the location they were mounted.

At first I had planned on relocating them to the roof of the cabin. But then I decided to use the move as an excuse to update. I purchased a new, MPPT controller and three 230 watt panels.

My quick version of the difference in controllers is this: PWM works by taking the voltage coming off of my solar panels, analysing the battery condition, and then clipping the excess voltage off and discarding it and only letting in appropriate voltage to properly charge the batteries.

This is ok, and will help your batteries to last long and get a decent charge, as long as you get a regular supply of sunlight to charge them.

MPPT, on the other hand, converts the excess voltage to extra amperage, so you do not lose that power. This has two big benefits for me specifically.

The first benefit is that you can have a fair difference in voltage of panels and voltage of batteries. Normally for a 12 volt battery bank, you would have 12 volt (really more like 18 volt) solar panels to charge them. With an MPPT controller like mine, I can approach 150 volts on the input side, and it will automatically bring it down to an appropriate voltage with much higher amps.

The other advantage for me is related to this – as we get extremely cold weather at times, this actually improves the efficiency of my solar panels, and I can acheive more than 100% of their rated output. This excess power on very cold days again does not get discarded, but is also put into the battery bank as increased amps.

More on my battery bank at the end of this post.

I spent many hours pondering how to attach the solar panels to the roof. There are some very expensive solutions available! They were certainly beyond my budget and desires.

At first, I had obtained some retired vertical blind track, and was thinking of screwing it down and then inserting some bolts and washers with the thread facing up to mount the panels.

Unfortunately, appropriately sized hardware was not to be found. On top of this, the aluminum track seemed to be rather flimsy when I considered the value of the load it would have to support.

At last I discovered the concept of C channel, or strut from an electrical supply company. Combined with spring loaded nuts to fit in the channel, it worked perfectly!

The panels were pretty much exactly the length of one strut when assembled side by side by side, so I had K! and R! cut the struts in half and space them apart a short distance. This meant that my centre panel straddled two struts. They assured me that they had lag-bolted the struts to my rafters, and they were very, very solid. We have stood up to some very high winds already, so I have to say I am pleased.

After a quick trip to Maier Hardware to grab some longer bolts, they were able to pop up the panels by mid-afternoon. Feeding the wires into the cabin, I created my own terminal blocks up in the rafters and joined everything together.

I triple checked to ensure proper polarity, and then threw the breaker.

A little bit of juice went into the batteries, and then the sun set.

The next day more juice went in, and I was pleased.

Then we had about ten days of no sun at all, and I was frustrated.

The past three days have been extremely sunny, and I could see the batteries taking in tonnes of amps the first day. Then half that amount the second day, and then half that amount again the third day… Which was yesterday. Imagine my surprise and annoyance when the sun set, the fridge came on, and after about fifteen minutes of the fridge load, my batteries had depleted about 30-40% already! They were fully charged (well, hopefully on the verge of going to float) only moments before.

It’s a very discouraging thought to consider that I may have to replace my batteries sooner rather than later. The budget for the homestead is already becoming an issue, and this isn’t helping!

Well, we’ll just have to see. I’m still crunching the numbers to better determine the economics of batteries. I’m sure they would be fine for awhile yet if only they weren’t in such a cold environment. Next year I plan on relocating the battery bank up onto my deck, and then insulating and covering it to an even greater degree. That should hopefully help somewhat.

In the meantime, I will try to take pleasure in the awesome potential and look of these new panels!


Moving into the Log Cabin!

December 9, 2013

It has likely been obvious from the past two posts – we are in the cabin!

As I explained, some of my posts are delayed by a week or more due to the chaotic nature of our life here. This sometimes has me describing a project and including a brief review of it all in one post. As soon as the cabin had heat and electricity, there was nothing compelling us to stay in the yurts any longer. In an afternoon we moved over the beds and food, and that was that!

The cabin is MUCH warmer than the yurts, although it takes longer to get its temperature to move up. Generally speaking the upstairs is very comfortable. Kenny spends three quarters of his time up there, playing in the loft where he has many times the space he had in the yurts.

There are still spots where we can see gaps between the logs leading directly outside. They are quickly sealed up with some caulking. Now it is mostly poor fits around my temporary window and door trims. I am confident that these can be well addressed next fall when I plan on vapour barriering the entire inside of the cabin and putting up wood panelling.

My current looming projects are the stairs for up to the loft/bedroom(s) there. We had been using a ladder, but then I tried to build a staircase. It clearly needs some modification to make it more useable. I have some ideas, but we’ll save them for a blog post all their own.

It’s challenging living in such a rustic place, but hopefully the increased light, space and heat offset the dust, lack of privacy, and general disorder.

I have used some drop sheets to wall off what will ultimately become the master bedroom – this will be where we can cut the flooring and panelling over the course of the winter. I sure hope we can contain the dust to an acceptable degree!

Some of the big differences we have noticed –

Better connection to the outside world! As close to nature as you feel in the yurts because you can hear every noise and feel every gust of wind, in winter, you have to have it sealed up tight to keep in the heat, and that means you don’t actually see much of the nature around you. Now we have large windows on the south and west sides downstairs, as well as windows on the east and west sides upstairs. Kenny has already changed his choice of bedroom to take advantage of the east facing window which always has a spectacular view of the rising sun and brightest constellations of stars.

More moderate temperatures. Even though it still cools off at night, we are not waking up to sub-zero temperatures and trying to light an ice-cold stove. The majority of mornings we are able to open up the stove and stir some coals back to life. This is dependant mostly on the night before and at what point we close up the air vents on the stove. It sure helps to just spin the dials and throw on a log and expect some warmth. The only downside is that in the yurts the space was small enough that it heated rapidly. Here it takes noticeably longer to cool down AND heat up. Hopefully it will become even more even heated once the extra barriers are in place on the outside walls, and the inside walls and ceiling slow down the movement of heat in and out of the different living areas.

The Yurts have quickly become an extra storage place, as well as a makeshift workshop. Generally I keep my tools there, but at -30, I bring them into the cabin to use them.

In any case, I wanted to share this special time with the readers. We’re still moving forward – even if it is three steps forward and two back with most experiments!


Building Alternating Tread Stairs

December 15, 2013

Using a ladder to travel between the main floor of the cabin and the loft got very old, very quickly. My poor feet have had enough of walking on ladder rungs in less than supportive footwear. Especially if we were carrying anything other than ourselves!

With that in mind, I quickly purchased the initial materials to construct a set of simple but sturdy stairs. I opted to go with two by ten inch construction to ensure strength and stability. I am pleased that I did not go any smaller.

One thing that was shockingly expensive was the steel hardware to actually assemble the runners and attach the stairs to the floor and landing. I had considered making these parts out of lumber, but then felt that speed of construction and finished look would influence this decision. I almost returned to building them myself when I realized how dear they were – but I wanted to get the stairs up quickly, and liked the look of the wood and steel working in unison.

It took a fair bit of “figuring” to get the angles correct for the stairs. Unfortunately they could not be put at my new favourite angle – 45 degrees. This would have had them finishing too close to the outside wall to be comfortable, and also I have a “trap door” in the floor at the bottom of the stairs to access the crawl space, and this door would have been too covered by the bottom stair if the stairs were at any less of an angle.

As such, they are at about a 58 degree angle. It is much better than I had feared.

An early error I made was to measure along the upper length of the stairs and divide my treads up at eight inch intervals. I had in my head an eight inch tread height as being a good compromise between the steepness of the stairs, and my desire to not build more treads than I had to.

Of course, I forgot to take into account the fact that my stairs were not at a ninety degree angle, so when I tilted each tread to make it level, I wound up with a tread height of more like six and three quarter inches. This is still considered an acceptable tread height in some building codes.

I was reluctant to replace the sides of my stairs because of the screw holes already in place, so I accepted this oversight. It was purely a matter of not conforming to my original thought, and didn’t have any real effect on the utility of the stairs.

Or, lack of utility as the case turned out. As I placed the final tread available (I was actually two treads short – another miscalculation that I felt would be easily fixed with another trip to the lumber yard), I felt the stairs at least LOOKED like real stairs.

Walking up them was a totally different matter. Due to the steepness, the treads overlapped one another by six inches. This only left a tread depth of four inches. Trying to walk up the stairs in a normal matter was rather treacherous. One’s toe was constantly catching on the tread already occupied by the opposite foot. Then when your foot came down, it was only on the ball of your foot that you could get your purchase.

We endured this for about a week while I hatched my next plot.

What goes around, comes around. I had originally considered my options if I was unable to get a proper set of stairs into the cabin. Spiral stairs were thought of, but discarded as too difficult to either build, or fit into our plans.

The ladder was something that perhaps Kenny could endure for years, but this is not just our cabin, it’s also our home. A ladder as a day-to-day item was just not in the cards.

And so it was, I felt I had been backed into the corner of building my “paddle stairs” or “alternating tread stairs”.

I looked up a few pictures of crazy concepts online, and opted to try to create something fairly simple and traditional looking.

I purchased a bandsaw (fortunately on sale at Canadian Tire for the same price that people were asking for on Kijiji).

The nine inch depth of the bandsaw looked to be a huge liability after I tried cutting my first template. But in frustration, when my tread hit the side of the bandsaw, I continued to push the free end of the board forward in an arc. This turned serendipidous, as the arc was quite shallow but aesthetically pleasing. I flipped the next tread upside down and repeated the process. The two treads meshed very nicely when replaced on the stairway, and I continued working my way along all my treads. Thus I have treads that are about a foot wide, with gaps that are about nine inches. The treads alternate their way up the run.

Once complete, I mounted the stairs for the first time and was quite comfortable to climb them to the top. Coming down is even more comfortable for me, I suppose because I can see the treads I am approaching.

Kenny is contrarian, and says he prefers the old stairs, which perhaps suit his smaller feet better. I have a feeling that won’t last as he grows and comes to appreciate the sizing of these ones.

Donna feels they are a big improvement, although the final stair only had a tread depth of about five inches, due to it being up against the landing. I’m trying to come up with a solution to this issue, although it doesn’t seem to be a deal-breaker.

In any case, now we feel much more at ease heading up and down the stairs on a regular basis. The final touch will be a railing for anyone who has any qualms about them. I’m planning on mounting it against the inner wall, but we shall see how things proceed.


I haven't been on this site enough! Wow! Amazing work you guys! Love your alternating tread stairs… The whole project you've undertaken – project with a capital "P" – is absolutely awe-inspiring. I'll look forward to catching up with you guys soon and catch up on all your amazing work.
  • Pat Ladisa (2014-01-25)


December 15, 2013

In case it seemed like I obsessed about my frozen water lines last year, you’ll all be pleased to know that my lines are already totally frozen again this year. Sigh.



I just finished reading your blog from start to finish! (why isn't there a way to see the posts from oldest to newest!)
Anyway Good work and congratulations on all you have done. Just curious, if its not personal could you do a post on why you chose such and unconventional lifestyle?
  • Andrew, Toronto (2014-01-06)

Gosh, oldest to newest does make sense! I'll have to reflect on that.
  • Stephen Garstin (2021-11-11)

After a little more reflection, here I am reordering everything from oldest to newest! Thanks Andrew!
  • Stephen Garstin (2022-02-02)