The AikiHomestead

Our Lifestyle Blog as We Create a Homestead in Northern Ontario

Holidays on the Homestead

January 5, 2014

This has been quite a Christmas and New Year’s period here on the homestead.

Just before we were to leave for the sunny south, we realized that not only were the drain lines in the sauna frozen, so too were the water line from the well, as well as the drain line in the cabin. Not a very thrilling thought as we moved into the holidays.

It was very nice to return to our friends and family in the Waterloo region. Attending the candlelight service at church, seeing BY! not twice, but three times, congratulating my brother and his fiancee on their recent engagement, and just spending happy times with Kenny’s Nana and Papa and Aunt V!, were real highlights.

It also was a bit somber for Donna and I to take the time to go visit my Grandfather’s grave, as well as that of RL! who passed away within a day or two of my Grandpa.

Other nice visits were with our neighbours in Kitchener who both looked to be in good health and great spirits. Same with BY!’s sister and mom who we dropped in on at the same time. And Donna enjoyed a lengthy coffee out with M!, and she and Kenny had a fun lunch out with L! and J!

As stressful as it was to be reminded of my trials here on the homestead, I could sense the caring nature of my parents as they commiserated as best they could with our ongoing water dilemma. Since we have returned they have forwarded me some valuable links to consult to see if we can lick this problem satisfactorily.

While I don’t believe I have spent much time on the blog discussing our approach to Kenny’s education, it’s also a point of interest and discussion over the holidays with the grandparents and extended family wanting to see how he is shaping up. You see, we are currently “homeschooling” Kenny – finding that it is a good fit with the lifestyle and situation we are in right now.

Although I do occasionally try to present him with concrete lessons at times, and we work through lesson books and educational materials that we have accumulated over time, we also encourage him to pursue his own interests. Thank goodness for things like YouTube and the Khan academy. Kenny seems to really be drawn to math and science, but we are always gently guiding him towards literature and the arts as well.

It is nice to imagine how future Christmases may be spent here on the homestead once the cabin is more finished. Hopefully some year soon WE can play the hosts to our families to help repay all they have done hosting us throughout the past decades.

Kenny was able to have a full on Christmas when his basic criteria was realized (“Christmas isn’t over until I get some Lego” he declared). I suppose when you are six years old you have come to have basic expectations about the holiday season that must be adhered to.

Our flights on Porter Airlines were uneventful but enjoyable. It is a real blessing to have grandparents at both ends to deliver us to, and pick us up from, the aeroports.

Returning to the cabin was a treat – Grandpa had put on a fire the day before we were to land, as well as before he and Mummu had left to pick us up. We were able to come home that night to a warm(ish) home.

In the subsequent days since we have returned, we have been treated to one delicious meal after another thanks to Mummu’s dedication to providing food and fellowship throughout the season. A welcome home meal of KFC, followed by Christmas dinner, followed by New Year’s eve, followed by a delayed New Year’s eve with AA! and UE!. And then a breakfast of waffles and sausage, and bags of leftovers to bring home.

Generously, Grandpa warmed their sauna for us to wash up and take a hot steam. We have been caught in a real deep freeze, breaking numerous records and preventing us from accomplishing much of what we would have liked to.

Yesterday the temperature climbed to -10, so I put a fire in the sauna, and then ran the generator for much of the day with some heaters attached to try to thaw out the water lines under the sauna. (Details to come in the next post.)

On the plus side, it has been remarkably sunny, and I can see from my charge controller that the batteries have reached the float stage of charging three days in a row.

Sadly, they are cycled down completely by the next morning, even with very minimal usage, so I feel that they are not long for this world. I may have to contemplate replacing them before winter is over, something I don’t relish at all.

Fiscally this past year was far harder on the budget than we expected. Putting in the road, contracting out the roof and upgrading the solar panels and controller all took their toll. Hopefully I can drum up more of my computer business this year with some advertising. I could also try to spruce up a bit more with some current links or something. Trying to have any income off of the blog is good for the occasional laugh. It’s always amusing to check my monthly stats and see the pennies Google is tracking to pay me (I believe they wait until you hit the seemingly insurmountable sum of $100 before they send you a cheque… After how many years of blogging, I don’t believe I’ve climbed even a meagre fraction of that amount yet…)

While I don’t make resolutions at New Year’s specifically, this holiday season has had enough bumps in my road to teach me to try to stop and appreciate the things I have accomplished so far and be thankful for my blessings. I will try to embrace the gifts I have been given and let go of the rest.


Boiling Water vs. Thunder Bay Winter

January 9, 2014

Here’s my own version of these videos… Fun and weird!

Boiling Water vs. Thunder Bay Winter.

Why are We "Homesteading"

January 9, 2014

It’s hard to define exactly why we are doing what we are doing. Our motivations and expectations can change from month to month and year to year. I’m not sure if this is true for everyone, but I suspect it is part of the human condition.

As far as being in nature, and close to nature, I think my first real yearning for that came growing up in Wellesley and having “My Side of the Mountain” read to us in public school. It really planted the seed of being independant, and in nature, but still being connected to a select group of close, like-minded friends.

Back in Kitchener, married and with a child, we had rewarding jobs (either through satisfying work, or satisfying pay), a cute house in a nice neighbourhood, friends and family close by, and many amenities.

But still, like many people, we yearned for more space around us, more freedom to set our own schedules and make more of our own choices.

We also felt that we could make a more sustainable future for our future generations by trying to provide more of our own food and energy.

It’s funny how so far into the project we are learning that living “off the land” is more capital intensive than we first expected. We figured that shortly after getting here we would be providing for a good percentage of our own inputs (food, energy). The truth is that aside from a few blueberries and saskatoons, we have probably ended up with much LESS of our own supplied food than in the city. This is still something we are hoping to significantly change though. The priorities of shelter, water, and heat have all taken precedence over food – which in Canada is still an amazingly cheap commodity to purchase.

While we supply all our own energy for heating ourselves, our food, and our water, it does come at a small cost in terms of the chainsaw and tractor. The initial costs of those items, and the ongoing costs of repair and petrol for them will likely mean that the cost/benefit analysis must be looked at over a longer term than we may have hoped.

This experiment has been a real eye-opener though. While we haven’t been driven back to the city, we are learning that it has its own marvelous attributes to offer.

It’s nice to be out here in nature, but it also does mean that trips to the grocery store burn much more fuel than they did in the city.

It’s nice to be off-grid using solar power, but it is expensive, and needs to be rationed carefully.

We’re especially blessed to be able to spend so much time together as a family. We have been playing board games and helping Kenny with his projects and really getting a chance to form close bonds with one another. But it can be difficult to also sleep together in the same room, and, most of the winter, in the same bed!

As long as we keep focused on the progress we are making month by month, we can see how much better our standard of living is becoming. But to compare to the luxuries provided by on-grid or city living it’s easy to feel like we’ve moved backwards.

One personal commitment I made in this project is that I would try very hard to not have to give up any of the gains society and technology can provide, while still reducing our footprint on the planet and simplifying our lives. So far I think we are still on track for this, although it is more challenging than one would first expect.

Fundamentally, I try to look at all this as a giant experiment. In fact, Donna coined a phrase we have used many times here – “experiments in homesteading”. Whenever I come up with a crazy solution to our problems that fails, she helpfully reminds me that those are just as important as the successes.

For us, this isn’t really, or wasn’t really, a choice of an “unconventional” lifestyle. But perhaps it has worked out that way. We wanted it to be more of an “early-adopter” lifestyle, reflecting where we think perhaps many people will go, or want to go, in the future. And we can try to help them find an easier, faster, more rewarding path to their own peaceful and prosperous life.

To anyone contemplating a similar lifestyle change, I would suggest that having a good support network (and buckets of money) are integral. We couldn’t have accomplished half of what we have here without Mummu and Grandpa nearby.

Additionally, I am finding the most difficult part of this endeavour to be the mental one. This past holiday season was difficult for me. The passing of my Grandfather and family friend in the south, and people providing more skeptical questions than positive affirmations of our work here was a bit demoralizing. One needs to have a good sense of self confidence and the ability to appreciate the absurd to pass through these fires unscathed.

Surely the most important part of any “success” we are having here is because of having a loving and supportive wife and partner in Donna. Her patience with the conditions we are living in is biblical in proportion! It is hard to imagine how even the smallest victories could be enjoyed without her there to share in creating and appreciating them.

So I suppose to answer the original question, I feel that the main compulsion to be here is to give us more freedom, both with our time, and our choice of labour – while at the same time letting us move towards a more sustainable and involved future with our son.


I needed to hear that : )
  • Anonymous (2014-01-19)

PS… I can prove I'm not a robot!!!
  • Anonymous (2014-01-19)

Internet on the Homestead – AT&T Mifi vs. Motorola Canopy via TBayTel

January 10, 2014

In as much as we are choosing simplicity (or at least, professing to), we are part of a generation that would find life without internet access to be a bit too primitive and limiting to stomach.

Like any other tool, the internet has the capability to do as much harm as benefit. One can easily waste hours a day on less than noble pursuits checking on the latest meme’s and cat pictures (I’m looking at you
Reddit, Digg, and (occasionally Boing Boing!))

We were very blessed to have found an early internet solution that worked amazingly well for us. SpeakOut Wireless offered SIM cards with unlimited “browsing” for only $10 per month! I didn’t hesitate to do a test run on our iPad (which has 3G capability) and found it worked marvelously with a few caveats.

Their network ran through a proxy server which seemed to block a number of services. While we could surf and email without a problem, and watch youtube, we were blocked from downloading apps or using any instant messenger platforms. These concessions were totally acceptable at the price we were paying.

I reread the contract, which stipulated that you could not use the SIM “in a device in a manner to which it was not immediately designed” – I believe they were talking about tethering, something that was somehow blocked by their proxy anyway.

After a few failed starts, I was able to find a genuine AT&T mifi router which worked with our SIM, and that opened up a whole new world for us. We could download podcasts to our phones and ipod to listen to after dark!

And, technically sharing internet amongst multiple devices was exactly what it was designed to do! On top of this, we could then easily take the internet with us on road trips!

Alas, eventually the party ended. One evening when friends came to visit, I magnanimously told them to hook on to our wifi – they couldn’t, and I suggested I would take a look in the morning. That’s when I noted that I too couldn’t connect. The next morning, I investigated further and found that we had been cut off. Apparently the unlimited browsing was actually only 2GB. I’m not sure who had more cause to argue – me for getting cut off at 2GB when they clearly advertised unlimited – or them, because I was really bending the intended use of the SIM with my choice of a router instead of a phone for the SIM. This suspiciously coincided with their eliminating the unlimited browsing option to introduce a new pay plan – $10/100MB. A ridiculous plan, even for the most frugal of users!

I switched to TBayTel’s SIM package, but it proved to be prohibitively expensive to pay per GB used. With the initial tier set at 500MB, downloading a Windows Service Pack for one of my clients could wipe out a month’s worth of internet in an hour.

Luckily TBayTel also offers a Motorola “Canopy” service. Although it has a high up-front cost for the equipment (about $300), the monthly cost of $40 buys me between 1.5 and 3Mbps download and no bandwidth caps.

A month after applying, we were approved for installation and the fellows arrived in twenty below weather to put up the small dish involved.

My fears that we were not in a good location were assuaged when they laughingly described how they were able to get a good signal with the dish still sitting in their laps, in their truck, without even worrying about properly aligning it or any of the tweaking involved.

One down side is that the dish requires a small wall-wart transformer drawing between 1 and 2 amps. This cannot be helped. We also have the wireless router drawing about the same, so I have ordered up a really low power router (USB powered) to complement this system and see how that works.

After two weeks, suddenly the connection dropped. It became intermittent and then non-existant.

The installers arrived a week after I called and reported that the problem was that the signal was “too strong” and the dish was getting “flooded” with signal. TBayTel turned down the signal remotely, and things worked for an hour or two before we left on Christmas vacation.

We returned and the internet worked for about a day, then the same thing… Intermittent, and then non-existant.

Annoyingly it took over a week for them to get back to us. I suppose the thirty below temperatures didn’t help with their ability to keep up with installations. One has to be pragmatic in these situations.

Finally they came back and simply replaced the dish. They re-aligned it with an even stronger signal than before (54 dBi and a Jitter of 2, for people tracking that sort of thing…) They insist that any further problems will definitely be at the tower/TBayTel end of things, not with my installation.

We had internet for a couple more hours until the sun shone down strong on my solar panels, driving up the voltage over 15.5 volts, which trips my inverter and we have to wait until sundown before we can turn the power back on.

If you are reading this blog post as is, then the internet came back with the power. Otherwise, I’ll complain further below :).


Thawing the Sauna Drain Line

January 12, 2014

I did not really relish the thought of heading under the sauna floor in winter to pour boiling water on the drain lines to thaw them. I had purchased two different heat cables to wrap around the lines and plug in to see if that would work, temporarily, but each of the cables insisted that they needed to be insulated, and that they were a preventative measure, and were not really capable of thawing already frozen lines. Sigh.

I came up with the notion of putting one or two small electric heaters into the crawlspace and letting them warm up that area safely and easily. I purchased two small heaters and then ran the generator for the better part of a day before heading down to see what they had accomplished.

I was sorely disappointed. They seemed to have barely put out any heat, and I couldn’t say that they had made any more difference than just running the stove throughout the day with the cover off the crawlspace entrance.

I did notice that the floor drains had open water in them, rather than ice, so I actually put my lungs into service, and crouched down on the floor and *blew* down the drain. After a moment’s hesitation, water burbled up through the OTHER floor drain. This told me that everything was thawed between the two.

I poured a few cups of boiling water down the drain and blew it through to ensure everything was melted. I then did similar to the laundry tub, although I was unable (unwilling?) to try to get my head to the bottom of the sink to blow out the ice there. Instead, I exercised some patience.

Finally, I bit the bullet and crawled under the floor. Imagine my surprise (delight?) at finding that there was no ice in any of my drain pipes down there. I shook them physically all the way over to the foundation wall, and realized that the blockage was outside somewhere.

Grandpa had dug out the greywater pit and insisted that there was open water there, so the end of the pipe wasn’t the location of the blockage.

Instead, we dug out the pipe just outside the sauna. In hindsight, this is a somewhat obvious spot – it had no cover whatsoever besides snow. It ran directly across solid (likely very cold) rock.

In our defense, it WAS still on a fair slope, but we decided to go low-tech. I simply cut off the pipe about eighteen inches outside the foundation. This ensured that everything should drain away from the sauna, and that I can easily assess the drainage at any time. In the spring I will either re-connect to the greywater system, or else simply screen the end.

There is nothing going down the hose that I would ever worry about in terms of contamination. It will always be well over 99% water, with soap nuts and other natural particulates (
Bare Organics soaps and lotions, as well as icky stuff [i.e. hair, sweat, dirt.])

In any case, cutting through the pipe revealed an immediate block of solid ice. I poured some boiling water over the end until a chunk came out. Then I proceeded to pour some water directly into the open end of the hose and held it up so that the water flowed in towards the blockage. Hold a few seconds, then drop the hose to drain it. As I felt the water draining out, it was ice cold. Clear indication that the ice was being melted by my boiling water. That was a good sign!

As they say, lather, rinse, repeat. I repeated this four or five more times, until the amount of water flowing out was clearly more than what I had poured in. After a burble or two, a gusher! Yeah! The sauna drains were open!

Grandpa wedged a board over top of the drain to keep it sloping downwards, and I giddily reported back to Donna a success!

I fired up the sauna and we bathed that evening using melted snow. We hope to do laundry next time by hauling a few buckets of water from Mummu and Grandpa’s place. I still fear that thawing the main water line from the well may be a bigger challenge.


Replacing the Yanmar 155D Tractor with a Bombardier Outlander XT ATV (first impressions)

January 23, 2014

With the ongoing “Polar Vortex” dropping even more -30 degree weather on us for days and days at a time, it was clear that the Yanmar was NOT up to the task of ploughing out our driveway or skidding logs. I can confirm that it was getting more and more difficult to use it as a snow removal tool, having the main blade in BACK of the machine, and needing extended periods of time or generator power to get her running.

As such, I started thinking about my needs/wants in a homestead machine, and what was within the realm of possibility.

Now that the landscaping was mostly complete, the bucket on the tractor was much more a liability than an asset. It made it difficult to manouver in the bush, and to see how close I was to the edge of the driveway while ploughing. I didn’t need the bucket any longer.

The diesel engine was also a bit out of place here. It was the only diesel engine we had, so it required its own fuel supply, oil and hydraulic fluid.

After a bit of thought, I began to wonder if maybe a four wheel drive ATV would fit in any better.

Consulting with kijiji, I saw that price wise, I could likely fetch about the same for the tractor as I would have to pay for an ATV and plough.

I mentioned to K! down at KC Automotive that I was thinking of selling the tractor, and later that day his top mechanic, E! called and expressed interest in it for his small ranch.

He looked it over that weekend, and then decided he was willing to give it a go and came down a few days later with a trailer to load it up.

Grandpa and I spent a bit of time getting her started, as it was quite a cool day, but we eventually did with a bit of a boost.

Distressingly, as E! loaded it onto the trailer, grey, foamy liquid began to purge from around the gear shifter.

We pondered the implications but E! decided to take the tractor anyway and investigate further. I rushed inside to do a bit of research and it didn’t seem as critical as I first thought; it appears to be a fairly common occurance on the Yanmar’s that water can leak into the transmission fluid around that gear shift. It should be fixed by keeping her dry and replacing the fluid. Luckily I had given him a five gallon bucket of fluid to go with the tractor. I haven’t heard back from him now for a few days, and so I’m assuming that he made out okay.

A few days later, Grandpa and I called a fellow who had a Bombardier Outlander for sale, complete with the plough. Upon meeting him down by the Neebing Roadhouse, we discovered that we had an acquaintance in common! Young J!W! who had been working at The Athletic Club here in Thunder Bay – someone I knew well from church! Small world eh?

After some friendly negotiations, we agreed on a price and delightfully were able to load the ATV right into the back of my Ranger. Plough and all! I have to tell you that was quite a relief – arranging a trailer or different truck would have added quite a level of difficulty, and the fact that in the future if I do need to move the ATV for repairs or some other reason, it means much less expense and difficulty.

Arriving back at Mummu and Grandpa’s house, we proceeded to back up against the berm they had beside the driveway. It still was quite a drop through the snow from the tailgate, so Grandpa and I piled up some two by ten boards to make for a bit of a “ramp” behind the truck.

With some trepidation I fired up the engine and hit the gas.

Yes, I was in reverse – in case you were expecting another disaster.

Actually, she backed off the truck perfectly on the first go. Grandpa drove the truck forward and then kicked the boards out from under the front tires of the ATV. Once she was more level with the snowbank, I simply drove her forward out onto his driveway.

We hooked up the plough and I switched to high gear to drive her gingerly along the short shoulder between our driveway entrances.

Right away I ploughed out the large portion of our driveway by the sawmill that I had previously abandoned. It went pretty good – I had to push back the banks a few times, raising the plough blade as the ATV began to be rebuffed.

This encouraged me to try to plough out the driveway between the dojo tent and the cabin – here’s where I bit off more than I could chew. The Outlander couldn’t push that much untouched snow (with a hard packed centre where we have been walking) for more than a few feet. I eventually broke out the shovel and moved the small bank I had created, and then tried to just drive down to the cabin and back.

This too was optimistic. The Outlander got stuck twice, in spite of the four wheel drive.

I hooked up the comealong and winched her back to the dojo tent. My current thoughts are that I need to pack down the trails that I want to try her out on with my snowshoes first. Grandpa has been doing that already, and now I plan on taking some time to follow up on this.

Perhaps tire chains would help? I seem to see mixed opinions on them so I’ll hold off on another purchase for now.

The plough is a bit of a liability when you are not intending to clear the snow – it makes you much wider, and doesn’t raise up high enough to avoid getting caught up on the banks on either side of a narrow path.

The plough also means that you can’t use the built-in winch to pull yourself free of difficult spots.

The Outlander is very challenging to shift at times. It appears that this is a very common problem. I don’t want to bend or break my shifter, so I will try the “Outlander Hump” whereby you rock forwards and backwards on the machine while shifting.

There is an engine kill switch – I don’t see why you would use it, but if you do, make sure you switch it off again (on again? I’m not sure about the nomenclature) before restarting, or you won’t be able to restart and will scratch your head for awhile.

The starting ability of a gasoline engine in the cold vs. the diesel is just outstanding. It’s so nice to be able to fire up the engine inside of one minute, instead of ten or more. This is a huge selling feature!

The view from the ATV is nicer. You ride lower, so it’s a more comfortable feeling. Mounting and dismounting are hugely easier – you can get on from either side, and don’t need to contend with so many levers and a huge steering wheel. Even if you can’t see what you want from the seat, it’s a simple matter to stand up and gain a great new perspective.

Surprisingly to me, the ATV doesn’t turn quite as tightly as I would have expected. Not a huge deal, as it is still much easier to do three or more point turns on the ATV than the tractor with the loader on the front and the grader blade on the back.

The next big test will be to see how it performs on the bush trails without the plough. That, and skidding a log or two back to the sawmill.

(K! and D! were just posing for the picture; we won’t let K! ride on it.)

Stay tuned!


Suggest you order some carbide screws from Woodys. Easy to install and should make a big difference for winter traction.
Good luck!
  • Chris (2014-01-25)

Nice yellow.
Very "Hoff" like… without the beach and bikinis : )
  • Anonymous (2014-01-26)

Starting on Interior Walls in our Log Cabin

January 23, 2014

Last week it was with great excitement that I picked up a truck load of v-joint white pine panelling from Howie’s Saw and got it unloaded into the cabin. Now we had a good excuse to begin work on our interior walls!

Up until now, we had been living in a VERY open concept cabin. We utilized wire rack shelving as a way of defining the bathroom. It did very little to promote a sense of privacy – we hung our coats on the shelving and that did much to block off the visuals, but certainly no other ways in which a bathroom conveys its presence to our senses.

Upstairs was a similar, but perhaps less dramatic situation. Kenny had his area at the east end of the cabin, and Donna and I had ours at the west end. It really facilitated Kenny’s mid-night hikes from his bed, over Mama, and in between the two of us.

Then the panelling arrived, and shortly after, Grandpa showed up and we proceeded to bring in some of the two-by-fours that I had been milling up until now.

We first finished the panelling on the outside wall and ceiling. This allowed us to then proceed to the interior wall.

Because the interior wall had a section with a flat ceiling, and a section with an angled ceiling, we opted to build it in two sections. One was a traditional rectangular section, which we built on the floor and then lifted into position. With it secured, we built the remaining irregular wall in situ, toe-screwing (is that a word? If not, it should be…) the studs into position.

This was exciting! We could really see two rooms coming into being!

One consequence of having the upstairs divided was that there was no longer going to be an easy path between Kenny’s “room” and the other “room” – so I extended my temporary railing around the landing and cleared it off. This really opened up things and made it seem that much more finished.

Over the course of the next two days, Grandpa and I cut and completed enough panelling to finish one side of the wall. I left the other side unfinished because I believe I will put most of the wiring in the interior wall – one outlet low and centred for computers or tablets or things like that, and then another, switched outlet up high for some LED lighting. After some discussion, I also will likely add another outlet on the remaining wall which will separate these rooms from the main cabin. I’ll try to put it low and towards the outside walls, so that if a desk it positioned under the window, there will be a nearby option to plug in something there.

Subsequently, we also worked down on the main floor and were able to frame in the bathroom (most people would call it a “powder room” due to its tiny footprint).

We’ll see how far my current stock of lumber goes and if we can build up a few more walls. Current plans are that we’ll continue to use the main floor “bedroom” as the workshop, and only move into it when the cabin is essentially completed (perhaps omitting trim work).


It is looking real good Except I would question your railing? Hopefully it is only temporary Looks like a long way down
  • Anonymous (2014-01-28)

Replacing the Sauna Drain Pipe

January 29, 2014

Three sauna sessions ago, I noted with not a little discouragement that the drains had frozen up again.

This seemed impossibly horrifying to me, considering the amount of work I had put into ensuring that they would remain open.

I was at my wit’s end. Heating the drain lines was out of the question.

I have to confess that I’m possibly grasping at straws, but I wondered if perhaps the problem is one of flow. If the water isn’t getting out of the lines very promptly, it is freezing up in the twenty and thirty below conditions we have been experiencing for the past two months.

Looking again at my poly pipe drains with a critical eye, I can see that there were sections with steep drop, and some with shallow drop. As much as I worked very hard to keep a constant downward slope, it was nearly impossible to accomplish with the flexibility inherent in this type of pipe.

The other consideration was each coupling. Although the pipe is nominally one inch in diameter internally, each coupling reduces that to more on the order of five eighths or three quarters.

As such, I decided that the next course of action would be to replace the drain lines with ABS pipe instead of the polypipe.

I had hoped to be able to use two inch diameter piping, but home depot only had adapters for inch and a half piping. This also had the added advantage (which I didn’t realize at the time) of being able to fit through the opening I had in the sauna footing for this purpose.

Dusting off my mathematics skills, I calculate that the cross section of my poly pipe was πr^2 – (22/7)(.75″/2)(.75″/2) = .45 inches. The cross section of the ABS pipe is (22/7)(1.5″/2)(1.5″/2) = 1.77 inches. I’m embarassed to say how many times I had to recrunch these numbers to be sure they were correct. In any case, as I could obviously see when comparing the ends of the two pipes, I was getting double or triple the flow through the ABS compared to the poly pipe.

The other big advantage of the ABS is that it is stiff. This means that I can get the optimal angle throughout the whole run of drain without fear of “dips”.

Grandpa came over to assist, although he didn’t volunteer to go under the sauna – he did pass me tools and stoke the sauna stove.

I went under, took various measurements, and then tried to make fit the pieces I had purchased.

Everything looked great until the very final piece, which was about a foot short to reach all the way through the sauna footing.

I opted to leave it for the moment. The hole through the footing still slopes down and away from the sauna.

I also opted to leave the pipes as a “dry fit” for now. I will wait until I have the whole system in place, and working properly, before I start glueing too much of it into a permanent positition.

Donna and Kenny were away at a session with Eric the Juggler. As soon as Grandpa confirmed that one drain had opened and was flowing through our new pipe, I was up and out of the crawlspace.

Grandpa and I poked and prodded at the remaining drain, confident that it would open after a short while of more hot water and patience. As soon as Grandpa returned home, I rushed to the cabin, grabbed my last clean pair of Y-fronts, and returned to the sauna to enjoy the fruits of my labour.

The other drain opened, and I enjoyed the warmth and ability to wash up, knowing the water was being carried away to be recycled by nature herself.

I overstayed my welcome. I spent over an hour out there until I saw Kenny and Donna out the window, and then headed back inside. Bliss.

It will remain to be seen if this is the final solution to my problems. I’m hopeful.

Addendum: Checking today, I can see that they are blocked by ice again. This is proving to be quite the conundrum.


The ATV on the Snow Road

January 30, 2014

Well, “road” is perhaps an embellishment. It’s really a trail created mainly by Grandpa’s snowshoes as he kept a pathway defined for the tractor (initially) and then the ATV (secondly) to get into the bush to retrieve some of the logs we had cut in the fall.

It was reasonably warm (about fifteen or sixteen below) so I strapped on my own snowshoes and proceeded to walk over and over and over our trails all morning. I can safely say I covered many kilometres as I listened to various podcasts on my Windows Phone.

All in an effort to ensure a hard-packed surface for the ATV. It still had stock tires on, and as such, wasn’t a spectacular performer in the snow. Hard packed surfaces seemed fine, but powder rapidly defeated even the four wheel drive.

I took a needed break for lunch, and then afterwards Grandpa and Mummu dropped by to give us our mail (one cheque, numerous flyers) and then Grandpa and I disconnected the plough from the ATV and I headed up the trail.

Easily navigating to the cabin gave me a false sense of optimism. As soon as I got past the cabin, I slid off the packed surface and into some powder. Gunning the engine I was able to climb out of it, and then clawed my way up a short incline where I got stuck at the top. At that point we realized that this was one of our best sections of trail, and the pursuit was not going to be very productive.

A short distance ahead was a turnaround I had pre-planned. Experience with the tractor had convinced me to try to have turnarounds at regular spots along any vehicular trails. If we could just get to the turnaround, we’d at least be able to more easily, literally “turn around” and return to the dojo tent with my tail between my legs.

Hooking up the extremely convenient winch, I was able to drag myself back onto the trail, and gunned the engine until I was just past the turnaround. With Grandpa pushing, I backed into the turnaround where I got stuck again. Winching again got me on the trail (trial?) and I disconnected and then opened her up to rush all the way back to the firm footings at the cabin.

This is disappointing, but not the end of the world just yet. I think I will have to head to town to purchase some standard two-by-fours to complete the interior of the cabin, rather than cutting them myself.

Now I have to try to figure out a logging arch or some sort of system for getting logs out of my bush in the summer without dragging them through the dirt.


Not sure on the cost… but they would get the job done and safely.
  • Anonymous (2014-02-05)

Checked in with them. The price of their cheapest tracks is the same as what I paid for the ATV, which, while not unexpected, is no really in the budget…
  • Stephen Garstin (2014-02-07)

Midwinter Review of our Panda Washing Machine

February 5, 2014

As you all know, I have a problem. A problem that the majority of my readers can’t relate to, but the majority of the world likely can.

I don’t have running water in my home.

Neither in, NOR out. But I’m working on it.

I returned to the cold, dark, dirty confines of the crawlspace under the sauna, and dismantled all of my lovely ABS pipes.

Grandpa used my sledge hammer and a piece of pipe to drive the existing pipe back into the sauna, opening up a larger hole in my footings.

Upon closer examination, I noticed that the electrical cord that connected the generator to the cabin had broken exterior insulation, so I replaced it altogether.

I brought my pipes up into the sauna, where I covered them in insulation. I then replaced the four foot final length with a six foot one, to ensure that the drain water would not be exposed until it was beyond the footings of the sauna.

We thawed out the places where the existing pipes were frozen and then replaced everything. I poured a few cups of hot water through, watching it emerge outside, and we declared victory.

The big observation we made was that there was a fair amount of water in the frozen pipes, even though after the last sauna, we had seen water flowing through the pipe at the end of the sauna. Where did the water come from after we left?

As unlikely as it seemed, it must have been water that was still slowly trickling down the drain from the floor. We instituted a new “sweep the floor after sauna” and “plug the drains after sauna” policy immediately, to just as immediate results. The morning after our last sauna, I checked the outside drain pipe and could only find a small trace of ice in it – success! (?)

This renewed effort had two results – it has encouraged me to try the same thing in the cabin to allow us to drain water there (We’re currently schlepping buckets that are kept under the sink) – and I also pulled the washing machine out of the sauna and brought it into the cabin to thaw out.

We have spent the past couple of months doing laundry VERY sparingly over at Mummu’s, or at the laundromat in town. Mummu’s washing machine/dryer finally threw in the towel a few weeks ago, an event we feel at least partially responsible for because we obviously increased the laundry load on it in recent times. While Mummu let me help Grandpa install the new washer/dryer, she declined our offer of helping to pay for it.

In any case, the Panda had lain dormant for the past two or three months in weather ranging between twenty and thirty below. The most significant fear was for the fact that it had done this with a bit of water in the bottom that didn’t get pumped out before our final freeze-up.

Fearful that the agitator motor or spinning motor or pump had been damaged by the freeze, or perhaps the base had cracked under the pressure, we observed the washing machine closely as it thawed out; prepared to relegate it to the outdoors if water began leaking onto the floor.

The washer held and so with some trepidation, I poured in a pail of water, some pairs of socks and underwear, and some soap nuts. I twisted the dial, and low and behold – agitation!

After six minutes (the amount of time I usually select, although the Panda timer can go up to fifteen), I switched it to drain (with the outlet hose in the now empty pail I had used to fill it), and some dirty, foamy water began pumping out and into the pail! Success!

Finally, after a quick trip to the sauna to retrieve the plastic disc you put on top of the clothes in the spinner, I transferred everything to the spin side and set that for two more minutes of spinning. This went as normal, although I think I agree with one amazon reviewer who suggested that after being “broken in”, the spinner doesn’t quite remove as much water as it does the first few times it is used. The clothes still come out as dry as you would expect from a traditional washing machine’s spin cycle, but they didn’t seem as amazingly dehumidified as the first time I tried it.

In any case, I have to admit to being really impressed that this little machine could have been as abused as it was, and it still came back without missing a beat.

For the remainder of this winter, I believe we’ll keep it in the cabin. It will likely be more convenient this way. I’m not sure where it will wind up for the future, but wherever it is, it currently is on track to have a special place in my heart.


Updated Drain Lines in the Cabin

February 9, 2014

I was very enthused about how well things had worked out finally in the sauna, through the combination of updated drain lines, as well as the new technique of ensuring that water wasn’t “trickling” through the pipe for hours after the sauna had been finished.

As such, I picked up three more twelve foot lengths of the inch and a half ABS pipe and enough couplers and fittings to allow me to do a similar update in the cabin.

Early the next morning, I suited up and headed outside, where I used the snow shovel to dig out the corner of the cabin in the approximate location of the existing drain lines. Once I got down to the frozen earth, I headed over to Mummu and Grandpa’s to borrow Grandpa’s pick axe.

Grandpa suggested using his grubbing axe instead, and that he would deliver it personally.

With him doing most of the grubbing, he dug out the drain lines and I went down under the cabin to cut off the poly pipe drain and get ready to put together the new line. I took down the ABS cement – unlike in the sauna, this water had the likelihood of being smelly and dirty – and so I wanted there to be no chance of leaks.

I cut off the existing line, and noted that it was still frozen even up close to the floor.

Donna delivered a thermos of steaming hot water, which I soaked the end of the drain in until I noticed that there was more water running out of it than could be explained by melt. Suddenly, a large gush of (nasty smelling) water flowed out as the drain finally emptied for the first time since late November, early December. YUCK! I rolled around in a stunted attempt to stay away from the ever growing puddle under the cabin. Luckily it was only a small amount of water, and the flow stopped quickly.

Grandpa heaved the first length of pipe through the foundation, and I pulled it completely inside and set it aside, realizing that two lengths should be sufficient. This length I would employ later to drain the bathroom.

The next one I had him shove in as far as where I was stationed, then I glued on the adapter to convert it to my poly pipe. With that in place, I helped him guide it inside and glued on a coupling. He then rammed in the final piece and I glued it to the second one. I dragged myself over to the stub of poly pipe still dripping under the kitchen sink, and bellowed for Grandpa to shove in the last of the pipe. Calling out the feet and inches remaining, we finally had everything lined up perfectly, and I, for once, remembered to slide on the pipe clamp BEFORE connecting the pipes. I guess after a hundred or so connections, one finally learns.

The hookup went smoothly, and I headed back to the trap door at the bottom of our stairs and climbed out, dusty and aching, but otherwise excited.

I headed under the kitchen sink and reconnected the drain line there to my satisfaction.

With that done, I checked on Grandpa, where he was trying to ensure a good trench from the end of the pipe to the slope beyond the cabin. We hummed and hawed for awhile, convincing ourselves that the water would “never” be able to freeze and backup that far.

Meanwhile, Donna had completed a load of laundry in the Panda, and so had a bucket of room temperature, dirty water, waiting for me to carry out and dump. I was ever so clever, and just dumped the whole thing down the sink with mounting fear that perhaps I could have tested my system with less than twenty litres of water. Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound.
I didn’t hear anything from outside, so I rushed out, calling to Grandpa repeatedly “do you see anything?!”.

Finally, when I got right beside him, he said “yeah”, and there it was, delightful water flowing out! And when it finished, no drip, drip, drip to freeze up!

That is one blessing of the way water in the cabin will likely be used – it will generally be room temperature or warmer, and when it is sent down the drain, it will be as a single gush, not a steady drip. As such, I am even more optimistic in it not freezing up. Of course, it feels like I’ve typed these sentiments a hundred times before in previous blog posts. It is with sincere hope that I record these failures so anyone else can avoid them by learning from my trials. Actually, that’s one of the big reasons I’m writing this whole blog! So that anyone who comes later can see what did (or more likely, didn’t) work for me.

In any case, as I write this, it has been a few days of unmonitored usage of the new drain in the cabin, and it still is working fine. That’s a real treat.

My worries are that come spring, the ground at that corner of the cabin may smell a little funky, as we are flushing our dishwashing water into that area. There is nothing toxic there at all, but there are bits of food certainly in that water that I’m not sure how readily it will decompose, or worse, attract critters. If that’s the case, then I will have to either add an extension on, or rebury the end of the pipe.

For now, I’m happy to have it exposed so that I can readily see if it is blocked or not.


Congratulations on your problem solving and tenacity. Best wishes for success this time! 😀
  • Anonymous (2014-02-09)

Mole vs. Thirty Below Zero

February 14, 2014

Looks like the cold won.


Kenny doesn't look too impressed with the object in daddy's hand
  • Anonymous (2014-02-15)

Cleaning our Baker's Choice Woodstove

February 15, 2014

First off, I should make it clear that while I was involved last month when Donna and I cleaned out the stove for the very first time, I was a lazy lump this time around and it was all Kenny and Donna who dealt with this dusty, (slow but perhaps bound to get quicker as we get more comfortable with it) job.

Based on previous experience, we would suggest cleaning the stove from the higher areas first, and working your way down to the bottom.

First off, lift the right hand ring and get the ashes that build up on top of the oven box.

It’s worth noting that Suppertime Stoves (the manufacturer of the Baker’s Choice) supplies this handy cleaning tool with the stove.

Next up is the firebox itself. Even though the instructions make it sound like the bottom grates are intended for use with coal, we found them very handy to “rock” when cleaning – it drops most of the ashes down into the ash pan below.

Remove the pan, and then you can clean the area around and under where the pan sits.

Spreading lots of newspaper on the floor helps a lot to control the ashes. Note the cute nose photobombing the lower left of the picture.

With that finished, unscrew the plate under the oven box to reveal the access hole there.

It takes a bit of a knack to feel around under the box, as there are some obstacles. It also behooves one to try to extend the cleaning wand into the smaller box under the stovepipe to clean out the ashes that may accumulate there.

But, with that taken care of, you are treated to a clean, hotter burning, and safer stove to serve as the heart of your cabin!


Would love to see some action shots of cooking going on. What success have you had with baking? Are you happy with this stove?
  • Chris (2014-02-15)

Good thing that Kenny is such a great helper! Way to go Kenny! 😀
  • Anonymous (2014-02-16)

  • saab87 (2014-11-14)

Reconsidering a Winter Road Across the Ravine

February 16, 2014

Ha! The very instant I sat down to type up this blog post I got immediately distracted as a large Lynx just wandered past our patio door only a few feet away. Donna and Kenny both were able to silently approach to get a good view themselves and we’re all excited to have had the chance to enjoy our first encounter through that view.

Immediately I retraced the prints of the lynx, and we saw that it passed directly in front of the cabin, including the kitchen window where Donna was busy cutting up some chicken for supper tonight – she’ll have to be less focused on her work in the future if she wants to catch these moments more often.

This title MAY be misleading, as I am only revisiting the thought of a winter road across the ravine, but recent events have made me a bit more optimistic about it.

A few days ago the temperature finally warmed up above the minus fifteen mark, and I felt that I had a fighting chance at getting the ATV going. We have had very little snow since Christmas, and virtually none since I first purchased the ATV. With no excuse to start it up, I found that when I actually wanted to put it to work, the machine was not interested in catching. I eventually ran down the battery, and shelved the idea for another day or two, waiting for a chance to get to town to purchase some longer jumper cables. Each vehicle currently has about a six to eight foot cable, but the ATV has a battery in the back, and I had backed her into the tent last time I had her out, so I couldn’t access the battery without combining cables, something I wasn’t interested in doing.

The local department store had a set of sixteen foot cables at a good price, so I brought them home and eagerly hooked up the ATV to our Echo.

It took many tries to finally get it to start. My final success came by following Grandpa’s suggestion to turn the choke off, but then as soon as the engine caught, I turned on the choke until I found the sweet spot.

With the ATV running nicely, I opted to try to see if it could struggle its way to the edge of the ravine, an endeavour we had previously rejected when we got repeatedly stuck on the established path to the top of the hill leading down into the ravine.

In the two weeks following my adventures with the ATV getting stuck, I had continued to walk on the trail, noting that it seemed to be growing firmer and firmer as time went on. It appears that while packing down the snow with my snowshoes isn’t immediately effective, after some further time passes, the snow “hardens” up significantly, and I shouldn’t lose heart so quickly.

This time I was able to take the ATV directly to my top of the hill turnaround without any problem and this really boosted my confidence.

I backed slowly down the path to the edge of the ravine, and then proceeded out about fifteen feet onto the ravine path without incident.

I was pumped. If I didn’t have an alternative mission, I would seriously have considered trying to go right across the ravine and then follow the ravine path.

Instead, Grandpa showed up with my bucksaw and Fiskar’s splitting axe and proceeded to fell one of the dead but standing spruce trees in the ravine.

After dropping the tree and helping me to buck it, I chained it to the ATV and handily dragged it back up the hill to my wood processing area. I was really tickled.

Taking his leave, Grandpa headed back to his place to stoke his fires, and I returned to the edge of the ravine to haul out the next tree.

This time I was a little more careless, and on the way down backed off the path and got stuck.

The winch made short work of that situation, but I still got stuck two more times before I managed to find a firmly packed path to the edge of the ravine.

I cut down the next tree, slightly larger than the first, and decided to haul it out in two trips. The first one went uneventfully, but the second time the ATV was no longer able to gain traction on the hill out of the ravine where I had torn up my path noticeably when I got stuck those three other times.

I disconnected the tree, winched myself up the hill, then reconnected the tree on a long chain and dragged it up the hill in that manner.

By this time I had had enough for the day. I was excited and humbled at the same time. I am hoping that after another few days the trail will firm up again and perhaps even the places where I slid off will also become less treacherous.

I headed back to the cabin, taking a detour to our pond when I saw Donna and Kenny shovelling off the ice in preparation for a visit from Aunt V!. We are so excited to host her and make her part of our household, if only for a longish weekend. She’s always fun and a great role model for Kenny.

I pulled Kenny along the entire snow road on our sled to help smooth out the ruts and pack it further. He took one spill and laughed through a faceful of snow. We certainly earned our hot chocolate that day!


Cinnamon Buns in the Baker's Choice Wood Cookstove

February 25, 2014

I suppose I haven’t written much about cooking on the woodstove lately, so as per my one request, here’s a few things we’ve noticed.

The top of the stove discolours very rapidly in use. It isn’t unaesthetic, it just loses its stainless finish quickly while under heat.

Depending on how hot-burning the wood is that you use, and how you arrange the ventilation into the fire box, you can obtain quite a bit of heat, or frustratingly little.

Donna feels that with the oven door shut, the stove doesn’t give off nearly as much heat to the cabin. I’m not so sure, but we haven’t done any tests of even a rudimentary nature to find out if this is true. The instructions for the stove certainly DO recommend that one leave the oven door open if the stove is to be used as a space heater.

With the oven door shut, it hasn’t been particularly difficult to attain extremely high temperatures in the oven box. We often “bury” the thermometer needle. In these cases, we have cracked the oven door open for a few minutes until it settles down closer to the suggested temperature for whatever we have inside.

While most of our baking has been limited to frozen entrees, the arrival of Aunt V! was a time for her to flex her baking skills – with awesome and delicious results! Luckily Donna took notes, and I’m sure we’ll soon be drowning in tasty treats!


Hubris on my Bombardier Outlander

February 26, 2014

In case any of you missed out, we recently got hit by a combination of the famous Alberta Clipper, as it clashed with a Texas Low.

This resulted in a day of continuous snowfall. Luckily, it coincided with the
Olympic Hockey semi-final of Canada vs. the U.S.A.

In any case, it left a huge pile of snow that took loads of work to make a passable path down our laneway. Thank goodness for the ATV though – it was so much easier to plough with it, and I believe it even is able to push snow further and higher than the tractor. A grader blade just isn’t that good for snow, especially when you have to drag it behind you, rather than pushing in front.

The other place it left snow that was harder to deal with was on my bush trails. I can’t get the ATV onto them with the blade, even at the best of times, so I have been packing them down with snowshoes, leaving them a few days, and then trying them with the ATV. This process has been working well so far, but it was disheartening to imagine the amount of wading I would have to do to recreate my trails after the latest dumping.

Grandpa and I had dumped a few dead, dry trees at the front of our property, in the small boggy area between our two driveways. We hauled them to the edge of our laneway, and then I thought I’d try to drag them to my woodsheds.

Luckily I decided to do a dry run on the ATV first.

It wasn’t so successful.

Donna helped me to push, pull and winch out the ATV, and then she tramped the trail a bit more with her snowshoes after I managed to get the ATV back to the dojo tent.


Firming up a bouncy floor

February 27, 2014

While I wasn’t especially trying to cut corners or build to minimums, I was trying to be mindful that space is at a premium, and so things like the thickness of the floors was going to directly affect the height of my ceilings.

With this in mind, I consulted carefully my building code books, and they suggested that two by six joists should suffice for a ten foot span.

In practise, this turned out to be inadequate in my opinion. It wore on my nerves more and more to have Donna and Kenny walk past me, shaking the table and everything on it as if we were riding a train!

I began plotting to install a beam (or beams) in the crawlspace perpendicular to the floor joists, centred on the open space, reducing their span to about the four to six foot range.

I had a large pile of one to three foot long six by six beams left as off-cuts from building the cabin, so I was happy to use them as upright supports under the beams.

Serendipidously, I came into possession of four, four by four inch beams in the nine foot long range.

Grandpa came over to assist, and we knocked out the ventilation screen in one corner of the cabin to allow the beams to be inserted into the crawlspace. I plan on also using this opening to insert the ABS pipe that will replace the bathroom drain line.

Grandpa slid in the four beams, and then waited outside while I set two aside for one half of the cabin, and two more in position under the main living side of the cabin (the south-west side).

I positioned the first beam, and then jacked it into position. I took as accurate a measurement as possible and Grandpa proceeded to use my Stihl to cut a six by six to the proper length.

I jammed it under the end of the beam, and then moved to the other end with the jack to get ready for the next support.

We repeated this process four times in all. I butted the beams in the middle of the space, and then came upstairs to a delightfully solid floor.

It was a rather dusty job indeed!

Grandpa was ready to go home to stoke his fires, so we held off on installing the other two beams for now. I left the jack down below, and we’ll likely try to tackle this chore sometime this week. I think I will try to also do the water drain line at the same time.

Strangely, in the loft we have the same span and two by six floor joists, but it doesn’t act as noticeably bouncy, so I’m not inclined to try to come up with any sort of solution at this point. We’ll see if that needs to change in the future, but for now I’m happy to deal with things as they present themselves.


Changing Tastes (Literally) – Poached Eggs on the Woodstove

March 2, 2014

As I get older, I find myself going through changes in just about every respect. One of the least distressing is that my tastes are growing (slightly) broader.

I am now willing to eat poached eggs.

A couple of months ago Donna and I were at A and W early in the morning and through a misunderstanding, I wound up with two
Bacon & Egger® sandwiches (oh! 300% of my daily fat!), both with poached, rather than my traditional scrambled, eggs.

Not wanting to cause too much trouble, I decided to just try scarfing them down – but instead, found that they were really okay.

I thought about that for awhile, and realized that this would make my breakfast ordering much easier. But I never considered it a “home” option until a few nights later.

As I was asleep, I suddenly began to dream about cracking eggs into some of our smallest enameled metal dishes (or ramekins), and then putting THOSE into a larger saucepan filled with boiling water.

When I woke up, I knew what I had to (ask Donna) to do.

We toasted some english muffins, cooked eggs as per my dream, added some ham and cheese, and were in breakfast sandwich heaven!

Over the weeks that have followed, we have experimented with slight variations on this theme. I purchased some silicon egg poaching bowls from Dollarama and they seem to be the most useable. The eggs tend to stick to everything we have used, even if we pre-treat it with a bit of oil. But the bowls fit easily into the pot, and can be reused if we want to make multiple batches. Just cracking the eggs directly into the water has been the least satisfying, but I suppose we’d be willing to try it again if we were presented with a method for keeping the egg all together.

It’s been nice having them as a new alternative breakfast. Kenny isn’t that much into them. He still infinitely favours his oatmeal.


A Stylish, Inexpensive, Right-Sized Sink for our Bathroom

March 3, 2014

Having a drain in the kitchen sink is another luxury that we’ve rapidly become accustomed to.

For a few months, I simply had a bucket under the sink drain, and we tried to be mindful of how full it was at any given time before pulling the plug. I managed to score the envious task of dumping out the “slop bucket” on a regular basis, with Donna filling in when I was neglectful of my duties.

Refurbishing the drain line from 1″ poly pipe to 1 1/2″ stiff ABS pipe sure has seemed to fit the bill for both our kitchen and sauna. Last up – the bathroom.

I coupled together two twelve foot lengths of ABS and with some finagling, managed to get them from one corner of the cabin (the bathroom) to the other corner (where the drain line passed through the foundation footing). I cut my existing drain line, and inserted a Y adapter.

Then I had Donna press a two foot length of ABS through my newly expanded hole in the floor, until I was able to get it through into the crawlspace. I glued it into the new drain line, and then propped up this new line with the remaining six by six blocks that I had under the floor of the cabin.

Returning to the surface world, I cut down a piece of fancy birch plywood to act as a bathroom counter.

At one end, I drilled in the holes for my faucet. While I don’t have running water to connect to the taps, I still wanted to ensure it was in an appropriate position for future use.

Due to our limited depth of counter and spacing, I opted to put the taps on the side of the sink, rather than behind it, as is generally traditional.

Next, I wanted to cheap out on buying a sink, as they can be rather expensive.

I also wanted something that would be slightly smaller than commercially available.

All this, and looking nice.

Enter the local department store’s mixing bowl selection!

At first I tried to use my spade bit to drill out a hole in the bottom. I was even willing to dull my bit and have to purchase a new one at the current price point of the entire sink assembly.

You can imagine my surprise at just how hard a cheap bowl can be compared to the teeth on a spade bit. It was no contest, as with a shower of sparks and smoke, the teeth on my bit disappeared into the ether.

I switched to drilling a number of holes in a circular pattern, and then using my side cutters to nip out an approximate circle for the drain to be installed.

The drain installed nicely.

It passed the initial tests. The only shortcoming at this point is that it had a circular “dimple” around the outside of the base which allows a ring of water to settle and not fully drain out.

I installed the counter at what I thought was an appropriate height (three feet), but which is now feeling a little higher than normal for a bathroom counter. We will try it out for awhile and see if we want it to be adjusted to our own personal preferences.

I dry fit the ABS up above the floor and simply lowered the sink drain down into the ABS pipe. Things seem to work fine from that end, although I will surely want to find a clamp or fittings to make this an air and water tight seal at some point, likely shortly after a snake, mole, or mouse climb out of the space between the two pipes.

Finally, I pushed the faucet into position. I wish I could find what I had done with the locking nuts that should hold it under the counter – if they don’t turn up when I come to plumb in the fixture, I guess I’ll have to improvise with washers and nuts.

We moved our toothbrushing equipment into place, and last night christened the entire assembly with surprising lack of fanfare. I guess we were all stuffed with Mummu’s delicious chili con carne.

Thankfully, no more wiping toothpaste out of the kitchen sink before doing dishes!


Experiments with Hardwood Floors

March 17, 2014

Well, I mentioned that upstairs my floorboards had exhibited a little bit of “shrinkage” – gaps of a sixteenth of an inch have opened up between the boards in numerous places.

It was suggested that it wasn’t a case of the boards continuing to dry, but that I hadn’t nailed them down tightly enough.

I had never installed a floor before, and didn’t see it being that much different from other projects, so I installed the entire upstairs simply with my brad nailer. Now I understand that there is actually a specific tool for nailing or stapling down a floor.

Don’t roll your eyes at me – I just didn’t even consider that there was a different option.

I’m not interested in pulling up the whole floor and re-doing it. Not at this point anyway… The boards have gaps, but they aren’t hideous or anything like that. They aren’t rocking or sliding around. I’ll let it ride and update my readers as to if they need further attention after I finish them.

By the time I was ready to move from the loft to the main floor, I had an offer of a loan of a floor stapler with a large compressor. I readily accepted, even at the rental cost (one case of beer – and not cheap beer either!)

I headed out to pick it up that night, and of course, got our Toyota Echo stuck in their driveway. At least they had a huge four wheel drive truck that was able to tow me up the driveway to the road, where I took a long drive in the dark through the back roads of the local townships.

Our lifestyle means that we don’t find ourselves out and about after dark very often, so it’s different driving when it does happen nowadays. More often, I find myself in the dark when I’m heading to town in the mornings in the dead of winter, with sunrise still many hours away.

The next day Grandpa and I got ready to put the flooring down in the bathroom. I plugged the compressor in and – beeeeeeep! The inverter balked. Sheesh, the compressor must pull down over 3000 watts of startup power?

I headed outside and started up the generator, then repeated my experiment…

In the bathroom, I abandoned the notion of running hot water from the stove reservoir, so I cut off that poly pipe and installed the hardwood directly over the truncated pipe.

Grooooooaaaaaannnnnnnn! The generator started to shake violently, but came into a sputtering level that managed to run the compressor until it cut off. We plodded away like this for the day, finishing the tiny bathroom floor with the stapler, and then doing the pantry.

In the main floor bedroom, we had no such luck on the next day. I simply could not get the generator to run the compressor. It stalled every time the motor came on.

We completed the bedroom with a VERY generous helping of my brad nailer again. I’m just going to have to see how this works out. The ends of the boards I was able to nail directly through the tops for a pretty firm joint. Elsewhere, I put in nails every five to six inches at the very most.

I decided that for the main part of the cabin, I wanted to try the nailer again. So I purchased an inexpensive two gallon compressor from Home Depot at a really sharp price. I’m sure it is very underpowered for a professional contractor, but I had their assurances that if it didn’t drive the stapler, I could return it.

At that price point, I would have accepted it blowing up after I installed the floor and just wrote it off as a consumable. Anything it does after the floor will just be “gravy”.

I haven’t begun the main floor yet, I think I will try to focus on finishing the floors I already have done to confirm the concept.

Just to test out the new compressor and floor stapler combination, I did finish off the trap doors in the pantry with the two items. I believe it was about every five to ten staples that the compressor had to come back on to charge up. This was reasonable to me.

It is nice that these smaller items run directly off my inverter and battery power. I have realized that on a sunny day at this time of year, my underwhelming batteries charge up for nighttime very rapidly, and then a huge amount of potential power is wasted if I don’t use it. So during the midmorning, Donna does laundry, we plug in lots of battery powered items to charge up, and just generally use our peak power.

I’ll try to update next on how finishing the bathroom and pantry go.

Here’s me playing with tilt-shift.


A Push To Finish Installing The Floor

March 28, 2014

Now that the main living area of the cabin had been completely disrupted to allow me to begin installing the floor, I wanted to get it finished in good time. This doesn’t include the “finishing” – sanding and sealing, but rather, just the installation to allow us to walk around on an even, firmer surface.

Grandpa and I had on previous days managed to work our way out from the south wall. By the end of the second day, I had managed to get under the kitchen counter and out the far side.

I framed a border around the stove, which went a bit better than I had initially expected. By using my circular saw to cut the bottom strip off of the groove side of the tongue and groove flooring, the boards fit perfectly over the durock surface under the stove.

Donna and I decided to cut a “bevel” into the durock at each front corner to make it not extend so far out into the wood flooring. Especially on the side where people were coming in from the front door into the living area, it “opened up” the path of movement.

Once we got to the stairs, it took a bit of work to get them disconnected safely and yet still secured until I could run the flooring under them and out the other side.
Gosh, these stairs make my butt look big.

This was also the right time to add in the new and improved railing posts on the landing. The topmost tread of the stairs had always been a few inches shallower than the rest, so the way I opted to correct this was to have the stairs moved out from the landing a bit. I saw the post as able to do double duty in that I could rest the stairs on it too and acheive nearly the perfect spacing.

Of course, this meant cutting off a bit of the side of the stairs at the bottom so they wouldn’t overhang the trap door in the floor there that lets me access the crawlspace from another place.

As a safety measure, I screwed down a two by three so the stairs could only slide so far out from their original position.

Yes Virginia, that extension cord was my idea for a quick and dirty “safety line”, just in case the stairs came away at the landing and were destined to fall. Of course, my main concern was the new tv under them, so I opted to remove it from the wall bracket altogether.

Between Grandpa using the mitre saw, the compressor coming on every few minutes, and the extremely loud compressive “bangs” of the floor stapler, Kenny opted for ear mufflers that could still allow him to hear his iPad games.

After Grandpa left to feed his fires, I decided to make this a one-day job rather than continuing the next day (or the next…) So I pushed on. First up was to raise the centre support column for the loft so that it was level with the flooring.

At the very end, I had to coax the final strip onto the tongue with the always-handy slot screwdriver. Never used it uch for driving screws, but as a thin handled lever, it was superb!

Then it was time for spaghetti supper – We were trying out our new slow cooker for the very first time, so Donna opted to cook the meatballs and sauce in that. I had noticed that on sunny days, our batteries reached full voltage on or around lunch, and then excess current was just being dumped as they absorbed or floated until sunset. With a little research and thought, and a burning desire to actually get some use out of that excess energy, I felt it was worth exploring if we could run a small load on top of the charge controller. I was right! (Doesn’t happen very often, give me my moment please…)

I think this will be a VERY handy and useful discovery and option during the hot days of summer when we don’t want to heat up the whole cabin just to cook a meal. We will surely have a glut of energy, and this will let us use it, while not having to make ourselves uncomfortable.

The spaghetti was excellent BTW. Kenny ate his whole serving and I had two, plus ate it for brunch the next morning.


Two Walls, One Room – More V-Joint Installations

March 31, 2014

It’s an exciting time here in our cabin!

Nana and Papa are coming to visit for the first time since last summer/fall when our progress had only been to get the outer shell of the cabin up.

Papa had only just begun on framing the floor in the “kitchen” before they had to return to the south.

At least we got to see them again at Christmas, but it’s seemed like so long since then. Thankfully we have gotten a chance to touch base by Skype and email and Google Chat, but there’s nothing like being able to have your family right there with you to share your time and space.

The visit of Aunt V! earlier in the year had gone really well (from our perspective). She slept in Kenny’s room and with her bionic hip, had little trouble navigating the stairs to use the facilities at any time of day or night.

While I’m confident that Nana and Papa will also have no problems accessing all parts of the cabin, it was looking logistically difficult to fit everyone into the two working bedrooms we have now.

With that in mind, the load of fresh V-jointed pine that I was able to pick up on Friday was a timely arrival!

Grandpa and I got to it right away on Saturday morning, hoping to be able to enclose the main floor bedroom before my parents arrive this coming Thursday.

First up was ratcheting the wall into a more permanent position – it had taken a bit of a bend and the top was out by over an inch in the middle. I will likely try to drill out and lag-bolt it into a more permanent orientation when I can get my hands onto some long bolts. At this point, I think I will drill a hole in the top of the wall, and then put in a long lag bolt of a narrow enough diameter that it doesn’t actually grip onto the wall itself. Then I will insert the bolt into the end of the floor joist above. This will hopefully allow the loft to settle, without putting downward pressure on the wall. Don’t worry, I’ll *try* to remember to take pictures of this scheme as I put it into practise, so you can understand what I’m on about.

With the wall in position, and the sun already falling onto my panels enough to both charge them, as well as run the mitre saw, we were off!

One complaint I had with our work upstairs was the butt joints of the wall boards had opened up a bit and it didn’t look as neat as I would have liked. I want to try to find ways to avoid this from happening completely, and in this particular situation, I figured the best option would be to put all my joints behind the side support of the stairs, even if it meant that we couldn’t locate the joint on a stud. My thoughts were that the run of jointed boards above and below the joint would still give it support and hold it in position. So far, I’ve been vindicated. The wall looks flawless, even though it was a few inches more than ten feet, and all my boards were in the eight foot range.

I’m not sure how I will hide my joints in the rest of the construction, but at least in this case, things worked out really well.

I cut out for my electrical boxes, and am especially enamoured with these outlets which include two USB charging ports as a replacement for the top half of the receptical. We currently have two of them in the cabin and I am tickled pink with their usefulness!

We can’t forget about the television mount – I took great pains to ensure it was level, but of course, once the weight of the television itself was on the end of the arm, it took up the slight slack in the arm itself to go just slightly off from level. I don’t believe it’s noticeable to anyone but me, and considering how I had gotten use to the previous mount being WAY off, this will be totally fine.

You can see how neatly the power meter fits onto the wall. It even shows we are charging up the batteries at this point in the construction process!

At the top of the wall, I wanted to really ensure the final board was nice and tight, so a little help from my pry-bar went a long way.

This was all accomplished in the morning, so when Grandpa returned in the afternoon, we were more than primed for the narrower wall on the other side of the room. This one went up lickety-split. It did have the slight difference in that it had the doorway in it.

The doorway meant that I installed the boards up the large side, across the top, and then a number of thirteen inch boards down the narrow side. This went better than expected, and will surely be my new technique for this sort of situation. I will have to research and think about how to do something similar around windows.

We now have an enclosed bedroom on the main floor! I just have to clean up this room, and it should be close to fit for human habitation!

With a third bedroom prepared, now Nana and Papa can easily find their way to the facilities for nighttime trips, without fear of having to use my “unconventional” staircase.


Safening Up My Landing And Staircase

April 1, 2014

With the stairs in their final position and my parents less than a week from arrival, I knew it was time to try to address some of the kludges I had been living with that would be cause for concern.

One thing that was admittedly not up to anyone’s standards was the railing I had built for the landing. It would likely have withstood one person falling against it hard, once, but that wasn’t going to cut the mustard any longer. It was not enclosed beneath the rail, although Donna did keep blankets hung from it at all times to act as an extra visual cue that the area was a hazard.

The rail itself was uncomfortably low. On the order of slightly less than three feet. This is a fine height for a counter, but with an adult’s centre of gravity above that, it felt more like a pivot point than a safety rail.

Leaving the rail in place, I opted to use four carriage bolts on some four inch by four inch by four foot cedar posts to beef things up.

With these posts leveled and installed, I then capped them with a cedar deck board to act as the official “railing”. This process was a delight to smell. Fresh cut cedar just has something about it.

The railing worked great. It is actually notably higher than one would at first expect, but that seems to make it more comfortable to rest one’s elbows on it were one to eng
age in a lengthy survey of the domain below :).

Donna rightly pointed out that the rail sagged a fair bit when I rested my arms on the centre of the five foot span. I plan on purchasing another deck board and mounting it directly under the railing at a right angle to support it more strongly.

This gave the landing a railing, but still didn’t address the issue of the area between the posts and under the rail, where someone (or something) could easily slide under and off the landing. Especially at the new height.

Enter our excess clothes line!

With a handful of eye hooks and a turnbuckle, I pressed Kenny into service mounting the hooks up and down the three posts.

Donna suggested starting up high enough that someone could still SIT on the landing, and dangle their feet off, if they wanted to. We’ll see how often this happens, but in the meantime, the option exists.

Four lines, spaced at 6″ intervals, worked out just about right.

On the stair side of things, I fanned out the lines and then ran them down to a safe height at the main floor. This allowed the cables to act as a safety support for people on the stairs. I will see how this works in the long term, and decide if a railing is possible and/or required.

As much as I tried to tighten these lines, two of them are still a bit loose, so I will add in more turnbuckles on each line to be able to tighten it individually. Otherwise, I feel it LOOKS and feels good, maybe even great.


See you soon
  • Anonymous (2014-04-02)

Civilization Returns To The Homestead – Gravity Fed Water Runs!

April 10, 2014

I’ll write up a longer post later, but for now… Yes! That’s a trickle of running water INDOORS!


Mama And Kenny Save The Yurts

April 13, 2014

Just before spring finally started to melt our snow, we had two really powerful dumps which put a strain on all our original rooflines.

The sauna I had already shovelled off once, and the dojo tent I had been half-heartedly poking from beneath all winter (the combination of snow and fabric was really quite heavy!) until I made one last concerted push from both inside and outside to clear it nearly completely of snow.

The yurts I had also pulled a bit of snow off of from time to time, but the junction between the two buildings was an area not easily accessible from the sides.

From the outside, Donna had noticed that the fabric was pulling in an odd way, and upon interior inspection, the weight was bowing the rafters noticably.

Fortunately, at this point the snow which had piled up on either side of the link was high enough for Donna and Kenny to stand on!

So, one day while I was away at my part-time job, I came home to find the yurts all cleared off, including this linkage! Donna and Kenny had spent the better part of their day shovelling off the yurts, as well as cleaning up the driveway to ensure that I could get back!

Helping one another out unexpectedly is an awesome feature of our small family – one that I’m sure goes a long way to promoting the huge love and respect we all hold for one another.


Straightening a Crooked Wall (Before it is Panelled)

April 13, 2014

With the arrival of Nana and Papa, I had a new vigour to accomplish different tasks aroud the homestead. This time coincided with me obtaining a bunch of new v-joint panelling, so Papa and I decided to try to finish at least one side of every wall remaining in the cabin, to finish defining the rooms.

To cut our teeth though, I suggested that we could straighten out the main floor bedroom wall. This one had been built out of my own rough-cut two by fours, and while they had had some time to air dry, either the top plate curved after installation, or it went unnoticed when I built up the wall initially.

My plan, as approved by Papa, was to lever the wall straight, then drill out about 3/8″ holes in the top, and install lag bolts through these holes into the edge of the floor joist above. As the loft settled, the bolts would be free to slide through my holes but the vertical shaft of the bolt would still hold the wall directly under the rafter.

First we levered the wall into position.

Then we drilled out and used the socket wrench to install the bolts. (I believe the proper tag for the next two photos is “When you see it…”)

And hey voila! A straight wall.

Already I think I can see the bolt heads are down a bit from the top plate of the wall, which would indicate that the loft has settled slightly in the past week. Surprising to me, as I really haven’t noticed any settling throughout the entire winter. Maybe things are going to move more quickly again now that warmer weather is here? I am counting on everything being finished settling this fall…


Bedrooms in the Loft

April 16, 2014

Donna, Kenny and Nana went to town together, leaving Papa and myself behind to try to accomplish as much as possible in the short time they were away.

After fellowshipping briefly and planning our respective tasks, methods and order of construction, we got down to business.

These upper walls were within an inch of exactly eight foot lengths. This is something I was very pleased to discover, as in the other portions of the bedroom I was disappointed with how large of gaps had opened up in the v-joint over the course of the past winter. With no joints, hopefully at least on the horizontal I wouldn’t see too many gaps.

Papa used my cordless circular saw to cut lengths, and then passed them to me on the loft. I reached through the stud wall to fire my nailer back into the boards. This was easier than I feared, but still a challenge at times.

When I reached the top of the wall, I switched to the inside of the room and panelled it too. We installed some Roxul (mineral wool) insulation into this wall to help reduce sound. I plan on installing insulation into every wall, as well as the floor/ceiling of the loft mainly for this reason, although in the pantry, the insulation will hopefully allow us to keep the pantry at a cooler temperature than much of the rest of the cabin. In fact, I would be quite happy to only heat the main open area of the cabin, and allow the other rooms to be significantly cooler, heated only by leaving their door open when required.

At the top of the wall, Papa ripped a board to size and we nailed it in place. Papa was more surprised than I was that the difference in height was nearly an inch from one end to the other.

To finish the outside of the loft wall, I headed up into our attic space and reached down through the collar ties to get a decent angle for nailing. This was also a challenge, but it worked out fine in the end.

We were encouraged to finish the final boards by the arrival of Kenny and the ladies, and it has made a huge difference in the look and feel of the bedrooms and cabin in general. The cabin doesn’t feel smaller for the newly enclosed loft, and in fact, it seems that things are brighter on both sides of the wall.


It was so nice to be visiting and share this with the three of you.
  • Anonymous (2014-04-17)

Processing Slabs for Firewood

April 17, 2014

Just like last winter, I burned through my entire supply of firewood while there was still snow on the ground, and was forced to scrounge.

Luckily Papa was here and raring to go – in the morning after his trip to the Tardis, it appeared that he dug out a bunch of slabs from down by the sawmill. Working together, we managed to pull out a few more slabs and then I set up the sawhorses and prepared the chainsaw.

Papa continued pulling out all the slabs he could move, and when he couldn’t budge any more, I fired up the saw and he began loading bins with the cut lengths.

I did put one or two ratchet straps around the bundles on the sawhorses to keep things from flying everywhere, but had to adjust the spacing until stove length was easily attainable. (I have to recut a few boards that Donna and I simply cannot fit into our stoves.)

It sure was nice to see the pile of slabs in our woodshed though. I was pretty sure that there was enough there to see us through until the snow was gone and I could retrieve more windfalls from the 100 acre wood. Of course, things are a bit cooler now, and I see fifteen below predicted for this coming week, so maybe I’ll have to repeat the process by myself if winter hangs on much longer.


Getting My Gravity-Fed Water System to Flow After Freeze-up

April 18, 2014

The advent of some wonderfully sunny and warm weather got me once again excited about the prospect of having our water lines back in action.

I strapped on the snowshoes, and began digging down to the exposed water line at the sauna. I had painted it a dark green last summer (to protect the pipe from UV, as well as to help disguise it in the underbrush). With the amount of sun we were getting, I felt that exposing the pipe would help it to heat up to a far more beneficial degree than the snow was insulating it.

For the next few days after exposing it to a few hours of sunlight, I also turned on the heating cable down in the well and between the sauna and the cabin. This appeared to not be helping with whatever blockage existed, as turning on the well pump still didn’t result in any water appearing in the sauna.

After Nana and Papa had returned home, Grandpa showed up to help me out with getting the water flowing again. We opened up the well cover and were immediately struck by the amount of water sitting on top of the ice down there, as well as the obvious melting of the ice around my pipe. Clearly the short heat line I had put down the well had been doing its job. In fact, I would say that it exceeded my expectations!

Turning the pump on and off showed that the surface of the well water wasn’t fluctuating much, indicating that perhaps the blockage was still close to the pump itself.

Assuming that the heat cable had kept liquid water in the first few feet of pipe, we got Donna to provide us with a number of containers of hot water which we poured on the pipe on both sides of the well casing (again, the place where the coldest temperatures and the least slope coincided).

I don’t know if you can imagine my surprise when Donna turned on the pump again, and in a few moments reported that water was flowing into the sauna! I have to confess to a fair amount of jealousy. After a week or two of sitting in the sauna waiting for water to flow, I was put out that I wasn’t the first one to get to report the good news.

Water in the sauna was so exciting! I was more than happy to schlep buckets from there to the cabin. I returned to the cabin feeling satisfied with a days labour, but decided to push my luck, turning on the heat cable between the cabin and the sauna, and turning on the tap at the sink. (Yes, I was also smart enough to remove the plug from the sink drain).

After about ten minutes sitting at the iPad, I realized I heard trickling water behind me! There was a small stream of water flowing! I called Kenny over to take a photo, and immediately texted Donna (who was warming the sauna) and instant messaged everyone who was online at that moment.

A quick post (that most of you have already seen) was warranted, it was such an exciting moment!

The water has continued to flow unimpeded here in the cabin, although very soon I will shut it off temporarily to install the bathroom faucet properly. Heady and exciting times!


To Our Door Delivery Courtesy of the ATV

April 19, 2014

With the melting of the snow everywhere, the packed trail between Mummu and Grandpa’s house and our cabin had become extremely treacherous. In fact, my foot is STILL store from going down hard while carrying both water jugs. Luckily Papa saw me coming and rushed out to help, with similar results.

Grandpa came to visit shortly afterwards and agreed that the pathway was no longer suitable for moving water back and forth. Although the well was opened up, our water is not yet fit to drink. I have ordered more filters for our Berkefeld filter, but in the meantime we are still relying on Mummu and Grandpa’s for our drinking water.

With that trail closed, I attempted to get down our laneway with the ATV, but rapidly became stuck. Grandpa fetched his gravel shovel and managed to make a good showing in front of the cabin before he broke for lunch.

When he returned, I grabbed my similar shovel and began where the ATV had left off. My path was a fair bit narrower, as I am lazy (or efficient?) and only shoveled exactly to the width of the ATV.

Once we reached one another, I climbed into the seat of the ATV and established that it was possible to get to the front door!

So, I loaded up the water jugs and drove to Mummu’s via the front driveway. This worked well!

Subsequently, I have also used the ATV to help me move some insulation and lumber from the dojo tent to the yurts/cabin area. Next year, I really hope to be able to keep our laneway open right from the road to the cabin. The ATV plough should go a long way towards accomplishing this hope!


A set of tracks for that ATV would make it unstoppable year round.
  • Anonymous (2014-04-19)

The best price on tracks I could find was identical to the price I paid for the entire ATV!
  • Stephen Garstin (2014-05-09)

Water in the Bathroom – Fast Expansion of my Gravity Fed Water System

April 20, 2014

Recently Donna and Kenny decided to take advantage of Mummu’s full size washing machine to make short work of the bedding. Our little Panda washing machine, while it has endeared itself to me, still is rather limited with what it can handle in a single load. I would say that it can only do one sheet at a time, and it best not be a very heavy one at that.

As soon as they left, I took a rather unsatisfactory break to gather my thoughts.

With the break over I decided I best have something to show for my time alone. Just before the two of them had left, I had cleared under the bathroom sink to prepare to hook it up to the water line in place since the fall (when it had leaked many, many litres of water onto my floor, unnoticed during the night).

In the sauna, I turned the shut off valves on each tank, and then opened up the kitchen sink faucet.

Even so, I had to drain a little water into a basin as the bathroom sink is a few inches lower than the kitchen one.

Luckily, I had extra fittings from my failed attempts to have hot running water at multiple sinks. In fact, the length of hose was pretty much exactly correct – serendipidous, as I was thinking I would have to cut it, and fearing it would be too short.

With a little manipulation, it slid onto the adapter under the taps, and this time I (correctly) double clamped it.

I returned to the sauna, turned on the valves, pondered pessimistically “what if it leaks and it takes me a few minutes to get to the cabin, and then a few more minutes to get back here to shut off the valves?”

For once, I needn’t have worried. I returned to dry pipes, which gurgled and belched briefly when I turned on the bathroom faucet. Suddenly – water! I could wash my hands! I could rinse out the toothpaste in the sink!

Once I fish some of the twigs and leaves out of the well that fell in while Grandpa and I were thawing the short section of line there, I will be prepared to use this water to also wet my toothbrush and rinse my mouth while brushing teeth. I don’t see it to be much more hazardous than swimming in the lake at camp and getting some lake water in my eyes, up my nose, or in my mouth. I *know* that animals are doing thier business (including a rather grisly death that Grandpa described last fall) directly in *that* water. At least my well is filtered through a few feet of sand, and clay before that.

I plan on shocking the well with some chlorine once I get those physical objects out as well. But then I think I will return to using the Berkefeld filter and will even contemplate drinking the filtered water, even if it comes back with bacteria reports. I’m very tired of hauling water from the neighbours, no matter how nice the visit.


Putting Up Next Year's Winter Wood

May 6, 2014

It has been a slow start to spring here for sure this year. My big project for the summer will certainly be getting the porches in a useable condition on both the sauna and the cabin. These are predicated on me being able to dig down at least a short distance into the “soil” to put some sort of footings for the porch posts. Right now it is easy to see that the ground is still quite frozen only a short distance down, as there is no shortage of standing water all over our property from the snowmelt.

Yesterday marked the first time that I could really begin to see some of my piles of scrap lumber appearing from under the rapidly melting snow. With everything else looking muddy and wet, these piles especially stood out as looking untidy and keeping the whole homestead looking like a giant construction site.

At first I set up some metal sawhorses at the front of the homestead, where the dojo tent resides, and began cutting some of the slabs from my slab pile there. Previously my father had been a huge help in processing these slabs and then moving them up to the cabin to burn. I planned on cutting up many more, and by myself, so I opted to move them more efficiently than just having my father carrying bins of wood down the driveway.

Fortunately my trailer had melted out of the snowbank enough to be able to be hooked up. There were two caveats – first, the tongue of the wagon was just a piece of square stock, with no hitch, and, worryingly, Grandpa and I had pounded it slightly flat when we first got it to get it to fit into the tractor’s simple pin hitch. The ATV had a small ball hitch. I purchased an inexpensive hitch for the trailer, but then Grandpa and I had to work at pounding the tongue back to a reasonably square shape. With a bit of wailing using Grandpa’s heaviest maul, we managed to get the new hitch installed. Then the second problem – the trailer had a profoundly flat tire.

I managed to pump up this tire, but then noted that it was badly split down one side. Sigh, I hooked up the hitch (which was very, very tight the first time, but has loosened up with repeated use) and set off anyway.

As a test run before collecting my first batch of slabs Grandpa and I cut down a very, very dead jack pine between our properties and then I loaded it up and brought it to my splitting stump. This worked like a charm, although backing up with the trailer on the back of the ATV was a bit of a challenge.

Next I did a load of slabs, and by this time the tire was pretty much fully deflated. In the thin, soft layer of soil I opted to keep going.

As I unloaded the slabs, I noticed a pile of wood coming out of the snow just beside the sauna. I decided that it should be my priority, as it was cluttering our actual living area. So I emptied the cut up slabs into my main woodshed, and then backed through the water to the new pile. With Kenny helping, we began to cut up and load wood from there. I tried to note if there were nails or screws, and set them aside for more careful processing.

Of course, after only a short time Kenny and I came to blows and only a bokken / light sabre duel could solve our differences. I ended up taking several blows to my backside and had to surrender.

With him heading inside to celebrate with a victory candy, I continued well into the afternoon as Donna fired up the muchly appreciated sauna and did some laundry. It was nice that she was handy with the camera to capture my horror as, after cutting up a bundle of slabs, I set the chainsaw down on a small workbench, only to hear it slide off and tumble into a deep puddle.

Crying out in despair and rushing back to the hissing, steaming, dripping saw, I made a priority of putting the bench on firmer, more level, and dry ground.

It was gratifying to be able to pile up enough slabs to cover an entire wall of the woodshed. And this was without tackling the main slab pile – something that may have to wait until the weekend, as I’ve been asked to work for the remainder of the week.


A Fire Pit for the Homestead

May 28, 2014

As Donna and Kenny have been putting in the first baby-steps garden here at the homestead, I have spent a bit of time down there giving (often unsolicited) advice and just keeping an eye on the pond levels.

While observing the developing traffic pattern down there, I noted that Grandpa had recently leveled off a large circular area just off the path where last fall we had burned a large amount of brush we had cleared around the cabin. I started to formulate a plan of perhaps someday turning that pre-burned area into a nicely cleared circle for a fire pit. It was centrally located, sporting afternoon and evening shade, somewhat level, and very close to the pond for easy access to water.

I mentioned it as a passing thought only a few days ago to Grandpa, and lo and behold, yesterday he was game to get it done.

First though, he had to establish that his garden tractor could traverse the ravine. He proved this easily first thing, with me following on my ATV, just in case we did need to use the winch.

With that completed, he then proceeded to shame me by hauling a load of gravel along the same ravine path, filling in low spots, all in the time it took me to simply rake out the leaves and clippings he had brought from his place as job number one of the day.

Then he hauled another load of gravel to where I had laid out the fire ring. I made it in a large enough circle that the fire bowl would fit nicely, as well as lawn chairs that could be moved forward or backward to accomodate everyone’s preferences.

I tried to keep up with his shovelling on the next two loads, and eventually we got the main area mostly covered in a mix of clay and soil.

Grandpa then agreed to come with me down the road to a local pit to commandeer some more uniform gravel. We loaded that up in a flash and returned to the circle before taking a break for lunch.

After lunch, Grandpa returned and we used the wheelbarrow to empty the truck and rake out a smoother surface.

I found last year’s fire bowl under the yurts, and set it up on some bricks in the centre of the circle. I didn’t like the look of that, and it was really challenging to level. Instead, I put the bowl directly on the gravel, leveled it as best I could, and then jumbled the bricks under it. This still looked roughshod, so I found some larger, flatter rocks and piled them under the bowl. When Mummu agreed that this looked good I knew I had a winning solution :).

Now, we just need someone to come and share our fire and fellowship!


Whaaa…. I want to come now!
Let me see what I can do for a scoot up to roast some veggie dogs : )
  • Anonymous (2014-05-28)

Or make pizza!!!
  • Stephen Garstin (2014-05-28)

Fixing the Trailer with Wooden Bearings

May 31, 2014

As you may recall, the trailer tire had a tough winter. It was flat, and split, and as it turns out, the bearings were completely shot in it.

I managed to remove the tire, and with Grandpa’s help, we eventually got the remains of the bearing off.

It took nearly two weeks for a replacement tire to be found and mounted on my rim, but this past week I was able to pick it up and begin the process of reinstalling it.

Grandpa suggested a fix that he has been using for many years – replacing bearings with wooden ones made of tree limbs. He brought over a suitable diameter of birch, which I peeled and drilled a 1″ diameter hole through.

This fit nice and snug. But of course, there was another issue – I could no longer find the washer that held the wheel on the axle!

Once again, wood to the rescue. A slightly larger disc of birch was pressed into service and so far is holding… We’ll see how long it lasts under real use though.

In the meantime, I was able to flip the trailer back onto its feet, and roll it to the top of my ramp down to the sawmill. Soon I will load it up with slabs and get them under better cover.


Grandpa Builds a Dock

June 19, 2014

A project that Grandpa had mentioned a number of times lately was a small dock for our pond.

While I don’t believe we’ll get much chance to fish from it, it certainly would make fetching water for the soon to come garden and plants much easier.

I pointed Grandpa to my rough lumber pile and told him he had carte blanche to do as he sees fit. I have to admit, I was very impressed with the final result! I didn’t see any part of the construction progress, he simply told me one day he thought it was ready to put into the pond if I wanted to help him move it in.

He built it into a sort of sideways “L” shape – with the lowest end weighted down by some large, heavy, flat rocks. The opposite end was where it would rest on the shore.

His plan went off flawlessly. We slide a long board into the corner of the dock, where it balanced perfectly. This let us both advance on opposite sides of the pond until the dock was as far out as he desired. We lowered it down, and I slid out the board.

The dock felt stable, no rocking. He then built up some rocks and soil at the shore side, and it looks and works great! It actually makes me feel better about Kenny filling his bucket. No more slippery rocks!

Another amazing gift from Grandpa!


Starting to Plant

June 21, 2014

With all the other things to do on the homestead, we have opted to make the garden one of the lower priorities. This was on the advice of another famous proponent of rural living – Steve Maxwell, who suggested that gardening took up a large investment in time that he wasn’t able to commit to while building his house.

Besides, in the western world, and Canada especially, food is sometimes incredibly cheap (but that’s rapidly changing too).

This summer we couldn’t resist the urge to at least begin to take some baby steps. Now that Grandpa had given us a safe and easy means to keep our plants watered, we just needed to get started.

First Grandpa and I headed off to a nearby location to see if we could transplant some hazelnut trees. Grandpa wasn’t exactly sure where he had seen them in the past, but we found some likely candidates that he couldn’t identify, so we brought them home and Kenny and I dug some holes for them. It will be a laughable situation if they turn out to be something different and I spent so much time transplanting them.

Then a neighbour hooked me up with several large trays that Donna placed close to the pond and her and Grandpa filled them with soil.

Kenny pitched in later when Grandpa brought over some flowering plants that they had extra of.

Now we’ve expanded out to rhubarb, raspberries, strawberries, parsley and chives as our “perennials” – and Donna and Kenny also have some potatoes, onions, carrots, beans, lettuce, cucumbers, radish, pumpkins, sunflowers and other flowers all showing good signs of growth.

Some unexpected but appreciated red pine seedlings rounded out our efforts so far.

We’ll try to keep our expectations realistic, but it’s a fun start!


Finishing Off Cutting the Slab Pile to Stove Length

June 22, 2014

It has been a very slow progress spring for me here on the homestead. It has been at various times rainy, and buggy, and hot, and I’ve been fighting though some pretty severe fatigure. My off-homestead work commitments have also increased.

In between the other obstacles, and naps, I managed to spend a couple of solid days plugging away at the slab pile down by the sawmill. It took much longer than I expected! At least I had the ATV and trailer running well and was able to use the trailer to haul away the cut up slabs.

For now I cut them up by laying them across two metal sawhorses, strapping them onto both of the sawhorses, and then cutting one end and then the other. I alternated to prevent the weight from moving off centre and tipping over the whole thing. Finally I cut between the supports and repeated the process.

Well, except for breaks.

And a second break. It was certainly the highlight to have Kenny and Donna come to visit, especially when they brought a cool drink of water.

Eventually I was able to nearly fill my largest woodshed with all these slabs – that’s a nice feeling. But I still have three more to go before winter, and that’s assuming that I’ll burn much less wood this year if I can improve the overall insulation of the sauna and cabin.

A nice side effect of cutting up the slab pile was that after having sat for so long, the slabs readily gave up their bark. I had so much bark coming off of them that I was able to spread it around the sawmill site in a manner that smoothed out the landscape slightly. I’ll see if this can continue.

Wait! That’s not where those are to go!


A Slow Cooker on Solar Power

June 24, 2014

This is not going to be some sort of fancy post about a “solar” cooker with mirrors or foil or glass or anything like that. As simple and effective as they may be, I was more interested in something that would simplify our life, rather than complicate it.

Cookers of the solar type are generally home-built, something I wasn’t all that keen to entertain at the moment, and I feel that they lose their power to keep food safely and consistently heated when a cloud passes overhead.

At the same time, I had noted that our charge controller has a habit of tapering off the amps going into the batteries shortly after peak output, as they take on more and more electrons. This notably resulted in the solar system spending large portions of the day ignoring loads of potential energy. We generally have been using that up by doing laundry on sunny days, and pumping water, and things of that nature.

After awhile I began to wonder about other loads that might be utilized during these times of overabundance of power. Enter the humble slow cooker…

Research online revealed a great range of possible wattages, but the enticing price and overall hint of energy savings finally gave me incentive enough to at least try it and see.

I ordered one of the smallest ones I could find, while still feeling that it would have the capacity to cover the three of us, plus occasional guests. I ended up with a 2.5quart model with a simple off/low/high range.

In practice, it has been really a great addition to our household and has so far this spring and summer earned a position in our pantry.

On low it seems to draw about 10 amps from our 12V battery bank, and on high I would say closer to 16 or 17. This means that it is very realistic and not at all nerve-wracking to plug it in even at 11 or 12 on a sunny morning and already it won’t be drawing down the battery bank. We often turn it on high for the first hour or two before switching it to low to continue cooking our evening meal.

It also means that it doesn’t heat up the cabin as much as starting some sort of fire would do at the end of the day.

One of our favourite meals has been to simply throw in a package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs with a large helping of barbeque sauce and enjoy this on some buns with a side salad.

Here is my attempt today at turkey burrito mix – it was a “mixed” success though – I added a bit of water to make sure it didn’t dry out, but instead, it turned into a burrito slurry. Worked okay, but soaked through the tortillas right away.

You can see that in spite of it being set on high, my battery bank was charging just fine.

Donna has become a wizard at making different casseroles, and one that I could have over and over again is her perogie one. Each one has been different, first with chicken and gravy added, then with ham and asparagus, and lately with sliced sausage.

I am so blessed to have Donna here, enduring one scheme or experiment after another, and making the good ones actually work and be enjoyable. Her commitment to keeping Kenny and me healthy, grounded and happy never fails, even at the expense of her own needs at times. I am constantly amazed at the good fortune I have had to find her, and often find myself questioning if I really deserve someone so great. Homesteading really requires an exceptional spouse and Donna is one of a kind!

Speaking of which, one of my friends from Aikido just told me that they were getting married this fall. I’m very happy for them, they were such a great training partner and exhibited a wonderful spirit on and off the mat, and their future spouse will be very lucky to have them in their life! Best wishes!


Apple Cider Revisited

July 4, 2014

One of my most popular posts ever predates our actual homesteading start by a fair bit. It seems like other people are also interested in being able to naturally and easily create something that has the ability to bring such pleasure (or pain – if unmoderated).

While I still don’t have enough room to set up a 20 litre carbuoy, I did think I could go back to small batch brewing and create something we might be game to try.

My first attempt was really, really quick – I simply cracked the lids of two large plastic bottles of cider and added some yeast. This worked well, but soon after I discovered a local source of larger, 5 litre glass bottles that allowed me to buy my cider in any format (that didn’t contain preservatives) and use it for future recipes. I treated these the same way I use to do for the gallon bottles I was able to purchase in Wellesley. I forwent (forgoed?) a vapour lock, opting instead for a small metal cup as a cap to keep out dust and foreign yeast.

Bottling is a little more low-tech than previously; so far I have graduated to racking it from one large bottle to another to try to reduce the amount of yeast sediment, and then after a day or two, bottling into my Grolsch gurdles.

The first few batches were quite flat. Both Donna and I like our cider to have a little snap to it, so the last batch I added about one or two teaspoons of sugar to the gurdles before bottling. It will remain to be seen if that is enough to carbonate the brew for us before we put it into the fridge. Timing may be important, to ensure that the yeast are still active enough when I bottle.

In any case, it’s a nice sideline hobby that pays good dividends. I am looking forward to seeing how well it will work in the dead of winter, with the bottles likely making their home on top of the warming closet.


Building a Rustic Wraparound Porch on the Sauna

July 10, 2014

After thinking hard about various schemes for properly finishing the porch on the sauna, I think finally settled on something suitable. One factor I wanted to keep in mind with this porch was to be sure that my style and technique could be later transferred to the cabin porch, to maintain consistency of aesthetics.

First up was guesstimating the location of my first post. I opted for cedar posts with standard SPF construction for the remainder of the project. I didn’t (and don’t) have much lumber saved up from the sawmill anymore, most of it had been used in other projects, or was an unsuitable size or dimension. While I understand that SPF construction theoretically won’t last as long, the two things I have going for me are the fact that the wood is under the cover of my solid porch roof, and the fact that with my mill, I should be able to cut replacements as I need them. The cedar posts were a choice because it’s difficult to find 4×4 in SPF, and we have a no-pressure treated wood policy here that so far we have been able to stick to.

I decided to go with the deck block concept for the porch supports as it was a nearly instant option from what I can see. Level it, and then go. I have opted to spend an extra $10 per post and have an adjustable bracket at the base of each post. This gives me many inches of play before I have to actually lift the block and shim it (something I am prepared to do – mostly by sliding a patio stone under it). Compared to pouring multiple concrete pads or piers, I feel that checking the porch for level on occasion and fixing any variation is much easier. We’ll see in the future.

With my first post up and clamped to a two by six board, I lag bolted into it from the side and began working outward from there.

Having the roof already on the porch presented a unique issue. I would cut the posts shorter to ensure that they would fit up under the steel, but I wasn’t too fussed on just how much space there was between them and the steel, so long as they got up past the existing rafters.

With the posts up, I placed another two by six “support” up tight underneath the porch rafters. I lag bolted this into place as well, and put in a few temporary hurricane ties to hold it under the rafters without it tilting in or sliding sideways.

In an effort to save on the number of posts I needed to install, I made the (experimental) decision to not put a post directly in the corners of the porch. I backed it off between three and four feet, convincing myself that the very corner of the porch roof doesn’t have to support a large amount of weight, even in winter, because it isn’t subject to any “run-off” from the main roof of the sauna. I told myself that the cantilever effect of my two by six support beam will give enough stability to the corners, especially coming from two directions at once.

Cutting the corners, (literally!) worked well in practice. While I did have to figure some extra 45 degree angles, and create an inventive pattern of floor joists, it also had a side benefit that I only realized later. The low outside edge of the porch roof made stepping onto and off of the porch feel rather cramped. By coming up in the corners already under the roof, the headroom was greatly expanded.

On the sauna I put in floor joists all the way around, an option I may not pursue on the cabin – I may hold off on finishing all areas of that porch to allow myself to mill more of the lumber myself.

With floor joists installed all around, I hit up my board pile and managed to work my way from the front entrance corner, across the front, down the side, and halfway along the back. This gave me firm decking at the front stairs, in front of the entrance, in front of the stove, down the side where we hang laundry, and then across the back doors.

Next up will be transferring my techniques and knowledge to the main cabin!


Looking good Steve
  • Anonymous (2014-07-31)

This is fantastic!
  • Hana (2014-08-06)

Sad there are not more regular updates to the blog.
  • Chris (2014-08-22)

Continuing on With the Cabin Porch

September 2, 2014

Well, it has been a slow progressing summer here for me, and so I’ll just offer a quick apology for the length of time between posts.

As I finished up the main construction of the sauna porch, I began to move over to the cabin porch. I followed very similar techniques and style, with a few significant differences due to the time frame of construction that took place on both buildings.

This also coinceded with me hosting my friend and his two daughters for an extended visit. This is nice, as they are planning on moving out of the country this winter and we wanted to be sure that the kids could have a good chance to play together before they left for warmer climes. It was nice that we were able to share the Canadian Lakehead Exhibition with them!

The past few weeks I have also been spending in southern Ontario with my family to help my brother celebrate his marriage to a beautiful and wonderful young lady. That was heaps of fun, and it was nice to see Kenny even come around and participate as their ring-bearer! We were so proud of him!

On the other hand, this trip also plagued me with more homesickness than I expected. Maybe it was mostly for the foods I remember from Kitchener-Waterloo, or seeing how great a community it was and continues to become. I also was feeling extremely run-down (possibly a side effect of some of my latest medications), which didn’t help me to feel enthused about the work I had left to accomplish at the homestead before winter truly sets in. Or, most likely of all, it was re-experiencing activities Kenny and I had done when he was little, and missing those times now that he is growing all too quickly into a young man.

This past labour-day weekend also didn’t help with its reminders of the end of summer and back to school type of narrative :(.

In any case, things at the homestead do keep getting better month on month and year on year, so I shouldn’t complain too much.

As for the porch on the cabin, I was able to make it about nine inches higher than on the sauna, which should help a bit with light and open-ness.

Also helping with opening things up was my work at clearing the trees around the cabin. Judicious use of straps helped to ensure no serious mishaps with trees falling against my handiwork.

Before I left, I was able to get the rafters and most floor joists installed, so the next big job will be to strap the rafters and install the steel.

As with the sauna, the floor joists were on 12″ centres so that I could feel more comfortable using true 1″ rough cut boards for the decking. The rafters were on 18″ centres, hopefully that will be sufficient for the snow load they are due to experience.

There are a number of other jobs pending as well, hopefully my friend will have more free time to help out with those, and then perhaps my parents can visit us once before Christmas so that they can keep an eye on Kenny while Donna and I work on some of our other projects.


Loved having my family home for 2 1/2 weeks 🙂
  • Anonymous (2014-09-17)

Parging the Sauna Floor

September 16, 2014

The sauna floor has progressively gotten more and more disappointing. Finally with J! there, and the weather growing colder, I decided to address it directly.

There were two main issues to my mind.

The first was that in the washing up room, water tended to flow past my floor drain and pool at the opposite end of the room instead. As distasteful as the notion was, the only proper solution that I could see was to bend to the will of gravity, rather than fight it. As such, I purchased the fittings to install a third drain in the sauna (one in the steam room, and two in the washing up room).

Cursing inwardly and warning my friend J! that I would be crabby for the duration, I slipped on my musty overalls and squirmed under the sauna to investigate my situation.

In short order I managed to cut in a hole to access the floor where I wanted the drain, and installed it with surprisingly little fuss. It was a bit of a challenge to cut and glue and set up the ABS pipe underneath the sauna, but I had experience with this from all my adventures during last winter.

A new drain was installed in about an hour – not bad!

This led me to the second sauna problem I had to address – the floor itself.

Initially I had thought of treating the sauna floor with a product known as “Stone Effects”. This is a sort of roll-on stone coating that looked to fit the bill perfectly.

While in the paint aisle, I happened upon another product called ReStore – a really thick, textured paint designed to go over wood and concrete, sealing it from the elements. It was able to be applied in one or two coats and at a far better price point than the three step “Stone Effects” system.

At first it looked great, but after a short while, it began to flake off, especially in areas where the water was meant to flow. Very annoying! As time went on, it progressively became more and more gritty, until it was nearly impossible to clean, or walk on without feeling like you were just walking in dirt or (charitably) sand. I took to wearing sandles at all times.

J! and his family graciously scraped off as much of this product as they could one day while I was away at work, but there were sections that stubbornly DID stay attached to the floor.

Donna and I then decided to apply Thompson’s Water Seal to the entire surface, and then perhaps hide it away under some rubber or plastic mats.

While installing the new drain though, I realized that the old drains were now slightly raised above the surface of the floor (they were flush with the ReStore flooring, which had flaked away around the drains, leaving them noticeably higher than the surrounding floor).

With much struggle, I realized that removing and reinstalling them flush was going to be a large undertaking. Instead, I finally decided to copy Grandpa’s sauna – where he had mixed up a layer of concrete which he spread over all the wet areas of his building.

I headed off to town again (!) and returned the water seal product unopened, and left with six bags of parging mix.

There was still plenty of day left, so I mixed them up in the wheelbarrow and J! and I set to work.

He tackled the corner of the washing up room, while I headed straight into the steam room. It was a good job – I tried not to be too fussed on making it appear totally flat, just as long as it was smooth and sloped generally towards the drain.

J! decided to take on a big portion of things, bigger than his bucket could handle. This led to the incident.

After a short while, J!’s wife, L! came out to ask if she could try. Eventually all the kids took a turn, and then L! finished off the job by parging herself into the door frame.

It has been drying out for two days now, and hasn’t cracked during the drying process. I will keep my fingers crossed that the floor is stable enough to keep it in one piece. If not, I will likely have to patch it as needed, or perhaps silicone over any defects. I also plan on looking into sealing the entire surface.

I can’t express enough thanks to J! and L! for their help on this! It has been a real blessing to have them here this summer – they will be sorely missed when they leave for warmer climes.


Strapping the Cabin Porch

September 18, 2014

With L! helping to parge the sauna floor, I was freed up to begin work on strapping the roof of the cabin porch.

I had already purchased the straps and had them on the truck, ready for unloading.

In short order I manage to installed one or two straps and by that time, I was prepared to call it a day.

The next morning I headed back up and began plugging away when who should appear but Grandpa, offering his assistance! I gladly accepted and together we were able to make rapid progress.

I spaced out four rows of straps on my six foot rafters. One strap butted up against the cabin, one flush with the ends of the rafters, and the other two spaced at about two foot increments.

In the corners I was satisfied with the straps having a slight gap. The steel would probably not meet up completely in the corners either, but I had a hip flashing to cover any gaps that may appear.

I even had time to begin work on a permanent ladder for cleaning the chimney (and perhaps sweeping the solar panels…)

Grandpa very generously suggested we could use their sauna while we waited for the parging to finish drying in mine. I appreciated it very much, especially knowing that it meant Mummu felt obliged to give it a good cleaning before we trooped in to scrub up.

I have three small 16″ pieces to place yet, and then we are ready for the steel.


  • Anonymous (2014-09-18)

Cleaning the Cabin Chimney

September 30, 2014

Ugh. I knew this to be a job I had to tackle sooner or later, and I wanted to be able to do it on my own terms.

I’ll apologize in advance for not having any or many photographs. Donna was away during the afternoon and I was really pressuring myself to get this done.

I was up on the porch anyway, putting in another row of screws on two sides, and with that complete, didn’t have many excuses not to try to finish off my ladder to the chimney. With my friend J! watching (to fill out the accident report I imagined), I stepped onto the bottom rung of my ladder timidly, and with it holding, I began screwing in more rungs.

Repeating this process, also while holding onto a rather thin rope I had thrown right over to the far side of the cabin and tied off, as a last-ditch safety device, I worked my way to the peak. At the peak, with legs shaking noticeably, I put on the last two rungs (one on the far side of the roof to give extra stability to the whole contraption).

I then went back up with my brush and rods to actually attempt the chimney clean.

I managed to straddle the peak of the roof, and got the 7″ brush down 10′ until it became immoveably lodged in the stovepipe. Cursing under my breath, I finally returned to earth and wandered over to Grandpa’s for advice. He suggested gripping the rod with vice grip pliers and trying to twist and lift it. I did managed to free it using this technique, but was unwilling to repeat the situation. Grandpa assured me that it would be sufficient to switch to a 6″ brush and simply run it up and down the sides of the chimney briskly. I did this instead, but took the time to tie a rope to the brush, just in case it slipped from my hands and fell to the bottom of the stovepipe. I wasn’t that interested in dismantling the stovepipe for a lost brush.

This worked well, and I could feel the brush travel down, down until it hit the bottom of the chimney where my pipe narrows into the oval opening on the back of the stove. I brushed again as I raised it up and then returned to earth with a sense of accomplishment.

Heading indoors, I removed the cleanout on the front of the stove and crouched down with a flashlight. I could see a mound of black ashes pouring out of the base of the chimneybox. Grandpa held up a small box under the cleanout hole, and I used the cleanout tool to drag the ashes into the box. We nearly filled it (it was about the size of a box of 12 pop cans or 6 bottles). Towards the end, the ashes became grey, which we both interpreted as being the ashes that normally collect around the firebox.

Next up will be cleaning out the sauna stove, which I think may be more involved as I ponder the design of that stove itself.

Of course, the most important part of any job is the cleanup.


Installing the Steel on the Porch Roof – Another Lesson in the Law of Unanticipated Consequences

October 2, 2014

Over the course of a week or so, I finally was able to get cracking on installing the steel on the porch roof.

It was nice to have clear weather to do this – I did it mostly on my own, as it really wasn’t a job well suited for two people, and J! was busy with his own machinations.

Cutting steel with a circular saw is an incredibly noisy affair. I highly, highly recommend good ear protection!

The corners were somewhat tricky. I mostly guessed about how close to come with each sheet, cutting them just slightly off from a 45 degree angle. This was because they were a compound angle – meeting at a right angle when viewed directly from above, but obviously needing more material as they moved out from the cabin because they were also sloping downwards. About an inch more material every two feet or so was close enough in most cases.

I anticipate being able to mask my jagged and inconsistent cuts with the hip caps later.

One of my fears was just how much sunlight the porch roof was going to block, and that it would make the inside of the cabin really dreary. So far this has not been the case. The upstairs windows still let light in, and we get the morning and evening sunlight just fine. I put up the steel without installing a fascia board, and Donna has asked me not to bother installing one, as it does mean that light can come in between the rafters too.

An unanticipated side effect of the additional steel in the back corner of the cabin is that it seemed to interfere with our Canopy internet. Moments after I rounded the corner under the Canopy dish, our internet began to get progressively worse and worse.

I actually went as far as to remove most of the steel around that corner, but at the time it seemed to have little effect (to the positive), so I ruled it out as the cause of the problem, and instead chalked it up to an (unlikely) coincidence.

After a week and a half (TBayTel has pretty underwhelming response times in my personal experience), the fellow came out and switched us to a Yagi antenna and blamed the new roof for our issues.

Here’s crossing my fingers!


A Poor-Man's Log "Arch"

October 3, 2014

Currently I try to skid logs out of the bush in winter; this has the advantage of keeping them much cleaner and easier to move, as they can travel on the snow. In order to open up the possibility of moving logs in summer, I often wonder what it would be like to have a log arch for myself.

The problem is that log arches are neither cheap nor plentiful.

The other day, when I saw a small “cart” for moving trailers around, I immediately perceived new possibilities. At $60, I felt it was cheap enough that it was worth experimenting with.

It came with a ball hitch for the trailers, and I was at first reluctant to try to remove that. As such, I had put together an elaborate “cap” for the hitch consisting of some 2″ ABS pipe fittings. I could see that it wouldn’t last, and started searching for a replacement in metal pipe.

Then, in the bolt aisle of the local Home Depot, I realized that I could probably remove that ball hitch and replace it with an eye bolt instead. This allowed me to size it for some cheap gas pipe which extended the lifting force of the “arch”.

Another U bolt, some washers, and I was on my way, excited to see what I could put together.

I set it up, and it seemed to work. J! and I headed to the bush to put it to a real test – I brought my chainsaw, and cut two tiny 8′ logs to skid back.

It looked very precarious, but it held! I even went back and brought in two more logs – and it still held up!

At this point, I still haven’t brought in anything of substantial size. That may have to wait until snow is on the ground. As well, I realize that at least where firewood is concerned, it isn’t that efficient to bring in such small quantities – my trailer may be more suited for that. I guess it’s back to trying to keep my trailer running! But for logs I may want to cut for lumber, I think it has possibilities, even if I will ultimately have to beef it up in some areas.


Trying to Winterise our Dug Well (Part… I've Lost Count)

October 6, 2014

This year I’m trying to get a bit ahead of the curve when it comes to our water situation.

First up was working with our observations from last year. It appeared that the water lines were freezing up in three locations that I was aware of.

  • Inside the sauna

  • Between the sauna and the cabin

  • Where the water line passes through the well casing and through the surface ice in the well itself

To solve the issues inside the sauna, I still plan on putting up a bit of a vapour barrier, along with extra insulation and another layer of panelling.

Between the sauna and the cabin I do have a heating cable. I am prepared to switch it on and either run the generator, or just use it on sunny days.

Where the water passes through the surface ice of the well itself I already had a heat cable that I could switch on in the sauna, so again I have a solution there.

The new location that I hadn’t anticipated last year was where the water passed through the well casing itself. I shelled out the big bucks on the smart heating cable and then headed once again down into the well with Kenny supervising.

We had dug out the cables and water line on the outside of the well in anticipation of this.

With me pushing from the inside and Donna and Kenny pulling from the outside, we managed to get the heat line through the casing and fed a short distance up the pipe towards the sauna.

I fastened it as tightly as I could against the water line inside and outside the well casing, with the last few feet just resting loose in the PVC protective pipe.

Grandpa arrived with a sheet of rubber which we wrapped around the exposed pipe and wires, and again fastened with cable ties. We backfilled around the well and then worked together to ensure that the water line from the well to the sauna was always running down towards the well.

I have suggested that if this does not work, then we will have to look at the financial possibilities of drilling a well closer to the cabin next year.


Replacing the Trailer Axle and Bearings

October 8, 2014

Not many pictures here, just relating my latest work with my trailer.

I’ll freely admit it wasn’t a super-quality trailer to begin with. I believe it was around $250.00 brand new.

It didn’t have a proper hitch. With the tractor that wasn’t a huge deal, as the tractor only had a pin hitch as well. I had to use a sledge hammer to flatten the trailer tongue a bit to fit, but that worked while I had the tractor.

When I upgraded to the ATV, I purchased an 1 7/8″ ball hitch for the trailer and had to employ the sledge once again to undo the modifications it had previously done. This worked well, but the trailer was suffering from an ongoing axle and bearing issue.

The axle was one of the first failures of the trailer – flat tires notwithstanding. As it turns out, to save on weight or cost, the manufacturer had opted to make the axle a hollow pipe, with the axles only being solid for the last 10 inches or so. Under regular use, this led to failure of the pipe and we subsequently just tried to hammer the remains of the axle together. This had the effect of the tires not really being perpendicular to the trailer for the past year or so.

This probably put undo pressure on the bearings, and quickly all four of them failed and were replaced by Grandpa’s wooden bearings.

The wood worked, but only on a disposable basis. I wasn’t eager to spend ongoing efforts to keep it operating as is. Instead, I removed one wheel, and took it to Canada Bearings here in Thunder Bay. They were excellent help, even directing me to Wajax two doors down when they could only supply three of the four required bearings. Cost per bearing – $6.50 – $7.50.

With the bearings in hand, I then headed over to Rudnicki Industrial on my side of the city, where I commissioned them to fabricate a new axle for me of solid steel for $20.

Back home, I was finally able to cut out and pound out the remains of the old bearings on the wheels, and then reassemble the whole trailer.

My predicted diameter of holes for the pins that held the wheels in place was off – the pins were much thicker than I had anticipated, so they didn’t fit the new axle. I solved this by just using short pieces of a wire coat hanger. This held up through two trips in and out of the bush loaded with firewood, so I’m hopeful that it will continue to suffice for now.

This upgrade to the trailer is a real load off my mind. Now I can feel very confident about getting loads of wood or gravel transported without having to incorporate time for repairs in on a regular basis.


Cutting Firewood

October 9, 2014

Last year we burned through my four woodsheds, and still needed more.

This year I am hoping to seal the cabin and sauna better, and as such, anticipate that I won’t quite need the same amount of firewood to see me through.

As such, we had already seen snow, and I only had two and three quarters of my woodsheds full. And the largest of those was full only of slabs.

First order of business was to kill off two jobs at once – cleaning up all the scrap lumber around the homestead helped to top off the third woodshed. I even cut up some of the least useful scraps of the beams that had gone into the cabin. I have to think that after being cut and stacked for at least a year in the sun, they should be ready to burn.

With the trailer repaired, Grandpa and I took a trip into the bush with both my ATV and trailer, as well as his tractor and trailer. We brought out some really gorgeous wood from some dead and standing trees. Grandpa then headed home while I split what we had returned with. The biggest highlight was stacking the new wood with Kenny. It was really great chatting about Minecraft with him and having his company on this easy, but necessary chore.

Then the evening was rounded out by another great meal of rice, spicy beans, and chicken cordon bleu prepared by Mama, and then a pastry of fresh baked biscuits prepared by Kenny. I had mine with raspberry jam and whipped cream. I think I had the best toppings.


Flooring for the Sauna

October 10, 2014

With the sauna floor now (successfully?) parged and sealed, it was immediately evident that walking on concrete, even in summer, is remarkably cold and uncomfortable in bare feet.

I had always envisioned some sort of easily draining mats to make it easier on bare, or slipper-clad feet. My first thoughts had generally trended towards picking up some 1×1 interlocking rubber tiles and setting them out throughout the sauna. Unfortunately, I couldn’t easily source them at a reasonable price. Home Depot had some gorgeous looking ones that were rubber underneath, and faux cedar on top, but at $45+HST for 10 square feet the cost was just not justifiable.

On the backburner, I had had another thought. It too involved Home Depot products, but once again, it was me trying to find an unconventional use for something designed for a different purpose.

One sauna floor option that would be neat, but expensive and not very practical, would have been to build a grid of thin cedar strips. This was in my head, but I couldn’t see myself having the time to build such an item, nor the realism in cost. I also worried about the actual longevity of such a grid, as it would be roughly treated.

When I saw fence lattice, and then cedar fence lattice, and then a resin cedar fence lattice, I experienced a
Gru moment!

I purchased three sheets ($40 each) and headed for home, feeling that perhaps I could get away with using just two, and returning one. Still much cheaper of an option than the tiles.

The material cut easily with my circular saw. I had feared that perhaps it would shatter, but not at all. The cuts were uniform and not sharp at all.

I ended up using all three sheets, as I wanted to completely cover the washing up room without making it look piece-meal. Fortunately, one of the off-cuts fit into the steam room perfectly.

It looks and works better than I initially expected. Acknowledging that the floor is already slightly irregular due to the parging, water is able to drain underneath the lattice. The fact that the lattice is resin means that it can stay wet for extended times without worry of rot. In the spring and fall, we should be able to easily take it outside to get a good brushing down and drying off in the sun.

Reviews are currently mixed. There is a low spot close to the main drain that Donna feels collects water and she is uncomfortable with the idea that there may be water there for extended periods of time. I’m hoping that it will tend to dry out on its own, it just may not be until the day after we take steam. I can’t see how it would be an issue if it is sealed concrete, with a plastic lattice over top of it.

Kenny feels that water is collecting on top of the lattice straps. They are slightly textured (wood grain), so that’s possible, but I don’t think it can be avoided, or that it is a major issue. It dries off very, very quickly, as it is only the thinnest of films of water, and certainly no more than what would be expected of any floor.

Considering the alternatives, I love it. It makes the floor feel warmer to walk on, and I think it looks nice to boot!


Servicing the ATV

October 11, 2014

After having used the ATV since January without doing any maintenance, I decided that at the very least it was deserving of an oil change.

I did some quick searches online, as the location of the filter isn’t immediately obvious, and I don’t have the manual. It appears that it isn’t a big job, as long as one is prepared to take off some of the body panels and monkey around with things.

At this point, with winter wood still to be brought in, and other prep work to be done on the sauna and cabin, I opted to let my local mechanic, KC Automotive, take a crack at it instead. Graciously they let me borrow their ramps and with some trepidation, I loaded the ATV into the back of the truck. Miraculously without smashing into the back window of the cab!

With the ATV buckled down, she was ready for her trip to the doctor, hopefully just for a checkup to ensure a full winter of ploughing.


Kenny Bakes Biscuits

October 12, 2014

One of the reminders of the time we spent with our friends the C! family is the dry goods they have left with us.

They must really love pancakes, as when they left, I counted no less than four different boxes of various pancake/biscuit mixes. (Although I freely confess that one of them at least was ours…)

As such, Donna has made pancakes for us once, and the other night, I suggested that if Kenny wanted to have some sort of sweet pastry after supper, maybe he could mix up some biscuits and take advantage of the surplus baking time the already ticking woodstove was supplying.

Kenny jumped in eagerly, and the two of us were able to quickly and easily put together a half of a baker’s dozen of round balls of biscuit dough.

Popping them into the oven just before supper, we were already anticipating the doughy goodness awaiting us.

After a delicious Mama meal, we waited the requisite time, and then together were able to enjoy the fruits of our labour. Kenny with butter and jam, and myself with jam and (oh so decadent) whip


  • Anonymous (2014-11-02)

Insulating the Sauna

October 14, 2014

As much pride as I take in my first attempt to build a log structure, I do have to confess that my fit on the smaller beams was not quite perfect.

While it is structurally sound, and looks very nice in my opinion, there are areas where the beams had twisted or were slightly warped, and as such, the fit between them allowed for many small gaps and irregularities.

The inside bare logs weren’t the nicest to lean against. They were rough cut, and there were about three or four gaps of up to an eighth of an inch. As well, there were spots where one beam was almost a half inch offset from the beam directly above or below.

These added up to a decision made already a year ago that I would be panelling the inside of both the sauna and the cabin to make the interior more uniform. The other pleasant side effect was that I would be able to add more insulation, and a vapour barrier.

The priority was the sauna – we want it to stay warm enough to keep the water tanks liquid for up to 48 hours at a time. This also gave me the opportunity to test my techniques before applying them to my cabin.

I was able to score very inexpensive 1×2 straps from the local Home Depot. They were cheaper than petrol in my own sawmill!

They were 5/8 of an inch thick, which was a worry when I was first looking at 3/4″ insulation. Luckily I was able to spot nearby a stack of 1/2″, 24″ x 96″ foam panels. I purchased a small amount of both items and headed home to begin.

First up was to strap around the outside of each wall. I used Kenny’s mining hammer to coax the straps as tight as possible into their positions.

I also needed to remove the existing framing around the windows and doors to let me install the more regular straps. Also – the supports for most of the benches.

It was nice to fit the panels into place. Very much like Tetris or Lego or something along those lines.

I really like how it has made the sauna feel cleaner and warmer. In the change room and washing room, I will use a standard vapour barrier with pine panelling. In the steam room I have only added insulation to the wall without the stove and will switch to cedar panelling. The stove wall will only have a vapour barrier and cedar.

In the steam room I will ensure that the vapour barrier is foil all around. Most sources seem to suggest that a plastic vapour barrier in the presence of the heat and steam is not a good idea.

Stay tuned to see how this develops – my current source for cedar panelling has already told me they are not able to supply any more any time soon, so I may have to try to match as best as I can.


Don't use plastic vapor barriers while building your sauna. There is a reason why wood and stone are used, primarily for sauna construction – when heated, they don't emit toxic vapors. They are used to being heated and cooled. That is not the same for plastic. While a plastic barrier sounds good, it probably is unwise for your sauna construction.
  • Ronni Casillas (2016-12-06)

I agree completely. If you check out my further blog post here:
Adding the Last of the Cedar Panelling To The Sauna you can see that I actually used foil with taped seams, rather than a plastic vapour barrier.
  • Stephen Garstin (2016-12-06)

Things That go BEEP in the Night – A Refrigerator on Solar Power

October 15, 2014

Having an upright refrigerator with freezer compartment sure has been a nice addition to the cabin.

While the previously created downright fridge (as compared to an upright fridge ;)) that I created by
converting our chest freezer to a refrigerator worked very well for us for almost two years, we had to admit that it was getting tiresome always having to reach DOWN into it to retrieve items. Especially when they began to be piled two or three deep.

We researched at great length before finally settling on a special order Danby from Walmart.

Upon closer examination, I noted that this Danby model appears identical to the Home Depot Magic Chef design that was cheaper and more readily available. Oh well.

The big downside to this new fridge is the amount of startup current it wants to draw. When the batteries are completely full it is just testing the limits of my inverter. After the sun goes down though, it doesn’t take long before the startup of the fridge causes the inverter to alarm with a low voltage (or perhaps overcurrent – it happens so quickly that I still haven’t seen the exact code).

This is surprising, considering we have what I assume to be a large enough battery bank.

My first solution was to plug the fridge in via a long extension cord. This reduces the current available to it. It only helped delay the alarm somewhat, and isn’t considered safe by all but the most daring of adventurers.

Now I’m going to have to get more creative. Unfortunately I can no longer find a manufacturer of a soft-start outlet. I will likely next try to increase the size of my battery cables to the inverter. Hopefully this will make more current available when required. I just worry about the amount of current that may have to travel through the bottleneck of my 100A fuse or my 100A meter shunt.


A Ladder for the Sauna

October 17, 2014

Having the water tanks in the loft of the sauna has been working rather well for us – at least, during the portions of the year where we can keep them from freezing up.

Having them up there has made it a bit challenging to examine them for leaks or cleanliness.

For most of the summer I had put off checking on them. I didn’t notice any water except when we overpumped the tanks, in which case the water just dripped right through the ceiling.

My ladders were always in use elsewhere. Finally I decided to mount a permanent ladder in the sauna. This ladder could also double as a drying rack for towels or fundoshi.

With a pair of 2×6 cedar beams, and an 8′ hardwood dowel, I was able to churn out a really nice looking ladder in the span of an afternoon.

Grandpa donated six tiny L brackets, and I soon had it mounted. I didn’t run the ladder right to the floor, so it is suspended from the wall. I must confess that it still makes me nervous to climb it – my imagination is able to graphically picture the ladder coming away from the wall and sending me crashing down.

So far, it has performed perfectly though. And it looks really nice to boot! The sauna is really coming along. Stay tuned for more tweaks.


Upgrading the Sauna Stove

October 20, 2014

As part of the overall upgrades on the sauna, I wanted to switch out the concrete board I had originally used to “frame” the sauna stove on the inside and outside of the log walls.

When I
first installed the sauna stove and concrete board, I thought that it would be a nice, permanent solution. As the year progressed though, the board began to crumble around the edges and screw holes. It also developed a network of spiderweb type cracks across it and it became clear that the heat was not kind to such a thin sheet.

After my experience with having the axle custom made at
Rudnicki Industrial, I felt more confident in asking the dumb questions of people clearly smarter than me. I headed back there and spoke to J! about replacing the concrete board with some sheet steel. I wasn’t interested in it being a fancy thing, just functional (functional IS beautiful to me…)

He suggested that for something of that nature, I would be better served by visiting
Nu-Tech Metals down in the city and speaking with M!.

Kenny and me, on my next trip to town, visited there and managed to catch M! in. He looked over our plans and thought they were doable. It did max out my budget ($200 – the amount I had mentally prepared myself for as a worst-case scenario). I agreed though, and he said he could have it done in a day or two.

Returning promptly at 8am two days later, I was delighted to see the finished product. Exactly as I had described!

Yesterday, I carried it to the sauna around lunch to begin the retrofit. I carefully removed all the paving stones and cleaned the loose mortar off. I also removed the side supports as I anticipated the steel to hold the stones in place. This also made space for the bolts linking the inside and outside plates together.

After I set the inside plate in place, I repacked some mineral wool insulation around the paving stones (not shown). A perfect fit!

With Donna and Kenny helping out tremendously, we managed to line up the bolts and get the outer plate installed just perfectly.

I had to expand the holes on the lower inside plate slightly, but that was very minor compared to just how badly I feared things could have gone.

I tightened down all the bolts, and things looked great to me. We’ll see what sort of patina the steel plates take on over time. I also have to see how much heat gets transferred from the stove to the plate and then on to the wall. I don’t want it to


Keeping my Deep Cycle Batteries Warm in Winter

October 30, 2014

All batteries suffer from a diminished capacity as the temperature drops. We all can appreciate this effect from our Canadian winter experiences with difficult starts, block heaters and battery heaters. My deep cycle batteries are no exception.

The past two winters I have relied on the battery box I first built as a template for most of my construction techniques since. In addition, I have packed the batteries in extra closed cell foam, and then last year in two surplus picnic coolers donated by Mummu and Grandpa.

With the porch on the cabin this year, I intend to have them out on the porch for the winter. But still, they must have some protection.

From Home Depot, I purchased an inexpensive outdoor storage box that seemed to have good overall dimensions. I supplemented this with two, two by eight foot sheets of 3″ insulation, cut to fit inside the box as precisely as possible. One sheet on the bottom, which I expect will buckle under the weight of the batteries.

I believe the end result sure looks good. There is a tight fit for the batteries, and they will be better insulated than they previously have been. It will be interesting to see just how well they can retain their heat as the winter progresses.

Now that the box is complete and ready for the batteries, I have decided to also upgrade our inverter from the Mastercraft 3000W we have been using since the beginning of our endeavour here. Watch for the changeover in my upcoming posts.


Papa Panels the Bathroom, Nana Learns About Minecraft

November 4, 2014

October found us blessed with a visit from my parents, Nana and Papa. We were so excited to be hosting them again after not having seen them since my brother’s wedding in August, and not hosting them since the spring!

Kenny and I stopped at
Maier Hardware to order up the new inverter, and of course, Dave and I spent more time than expected chatting about the ins and outs of my system. You aren’t going to find someone better suited to the do it yourselfer than Dave at Maier.

Nana and Papa arrived slightly earlier than predicted, but Kenny and I managed to discipline ourselves to also be at the aeroport a bit early, so we only had to wait a few moments to be treated to the sight of Nana and Papa coming down the short hallway to us.

We stopped at a few places on the way home to pick up some last minute supplies, as well as let Nana and Papa drop by
Minute Muffler on Memorial where they were treated amazingly well. I think it’s safe to say that they can’t recommend this shop enough. Of course, out in Lappe here, KC Automotive is my mechanic of choice!

After settling in, Papa and I set to work improving things around the homestead. While I plugged away in the sauna, putting in a vapour barrier and paneling, Papa went from door to door ensuring that they swung freely and no longer stuck (a problem that developed early and only got worse as the logs settled).

Once he had the doors operating nicely, he moved on to our bathroom, adding insulation to all the walls and ceiling, and then panelling it with 4″ v-joint cedar boards I had picked up at
Howie’s Saw.

Meanwhile, Kenny kept Nana hopping by showing her the ins and outs of Minecraft. It was also very gratifying to see her coax him off of the screens from time to time to get outside or snuggle or practise more traditional homeschool type activities.

Thanks for capturing Kenny’s best angle Nana!

Then, all too quickly, we were taking them back to the aeroport to return to southern Ontario. We were so happy to have them here with us, and appreciate all they are and all they do. It will be exciting to see them again over the holidays!


A Cold Start to November

November 5, 2014

November 1st proved to be a bit “invigourating” as Papa would say.

Our pond froze over, but I could see small “pulses” around the solar water fountain as it still struggled to aerate its small part of things.

Perhaps most importantly, it reminded us that winter really is coming, and helped encourage me to finish up some of my outdoor chores that were best done before snow flies and the daytime temperatures are lucky to reach that point!


Closing up the Foundation Vents on the Cabin and Sauna

November 6, 2014

When the sauna and cabin were constructed, I wanted to ensure some cross ventilation in the crawl spaces, so I put in two vents on opposite corners of the sauna, and four vents in the corners of the cabin.

On Grandpa’s recommendation, I crawled under the buildings last fall and thumped some solid foam rectangles into the openings where the vents had been mounted.

This year I was less enthusiastic with crawling around down there again. Besides, putting in the foam now, meant I *HAD* to go back down to remove it in the spring.

My best idea? To mount the foam on the OUTSIDE of the foundation in the fall. At the moment, for most spots, this meant I only had to straddle the open joists of the deck. Even when I finally have all the deck boards down, I will only have to work my way across five feet of space to reach the vents, rather than crawling around under the buildings for many multiples of that.

I cut new foam blocks oversize to help ensure a good seal around the vents.

On top of the block walls I had set down some flashing which I bent downwards to try to discourage pests from climbing the blocks and getting direct access to the log of the cabin. I had to bend up this flashing over the vents to be able to push the foam up more flush with the the top of the vents. I put in a few screws right through the flashing and into the bottom of the deck joists to hold it in place.

Some scrap two foot pieces of wood mounted like a hinge allowed me to swing them up and apply pressure to the outside of the foam. Another screw and a short length of string tied with a trucker’s hitch completed the simple device.

At this point I am pretty happy with the outcome. It will be very challenging to try to compare the two options accurately. Grandpa indicated that it was mainly to keep the wind from blowing through the bottom of the buildings during winter, and that even snow would have worked if we could have banked it up against the foundation once it had accumulated. I trust that the porch roof and shovelling the porch itself will help to accumulate snow all around the cabin, at least in future when I have more porch to shovel :).

There was one vent on the sauna which did have full deckboards over it and required actually crawling under the deck to access and install the vents. I was ever so clever, carrying over a scrap piece of steel that was propped up behind the woodshed – it was already five feet long, three feet wide, smooth and clean. I slid it under the deck and gave myself a clean, comfortable (I put it under with the ribs facing down) workspace that caught dropped screws easily. I will surely have to remember this trick for future reference. It is much nicer than rolling around on the ground.


Tuning up the Sauna Porch

November 7, 2014

After having completed the sauna porch first, the remainder of the summer was given over to working on the cabin porch.

This allowed the sauna porch to grow into its role and begin to mold itself to its surroundings and situation. This sounds all organic and nice, but what it really means is that the roof and floor were sagging in spots.

I had expected and tried to plan for this – so I wasn’t too upset or concerned. When I had lag bolted the structure together, I had only put one bolt in each area so that it would act more as a pivot, and allow the wood to move around each other.

On a recent trip to town, Kenny and I had purchased a dozen 10″x10″ patio stones that were about 1 1/2″ thick. I reasoned that they would fit perfectly under my deck blocks and allow me to accomodate that much movement, in conjuction with the screw mounts that each post was mounted with.

I spent a day cleaning off the porch, and then was ready to proceed.

I started on what I felt to be the lowest side of the sauna – as the summer progressed I experienced the sensation of “falling off” the porch more and more along that side of the sauna as the outside edge dropped an inch or two compared to the inside edge.

Using my 2 tonne jack and a solid piece of firewood (in conjuction with several scrap pieces of two by six), I raised it up until it showed level on the floor.

I repeated this process at each post, working my way clockwise around the sauna. Where it was a small adjustment, I simply screwed out more of the post jack. Where it was a larger adjustment, I backed the screw off completely, removed the deck block and scraped off the frozen soil (it was a challenge in some places to remove the deck block as the ground had already developed a frozen crust).

Then, I replaced the deck block and jack, and, with much cursing and finagling, I was able to further slide a patio stone under the deck block, and return the screw support to a position ensuring that the floor was still level.

Frustratingly, because the screw jack and the deck block were inset in one another, it was not possible to install the supports from the ground up. Instead, I had to install the stack from the top down. This was a real challenge. I think if I have to do it again, I will enlist an assistant to try to slide the patio stone under while I hold up the deck block.

It took the better part of the morning and early afternoon to adjust all twelve posts on the sauna. I don’t believe I have to do anything with the cabin yet, as it was built completely level, and I can’t see any signs of it sagging yet. Perhaps under a snow load that will accelerate the process (although that will also occur when the ground is likely frozen and unlikely to have much give either).

With the sauna porch levelled, I then moved on to installing the remaining lag bolts at the important load points. This went quite well, I pre-drilled the holes to ensure that the support boards wouldn’t split, and then used my impact driver to put in the lag bolts.

Finally I yanked and kicked the posts until they were as vertical as possible, and installed hurricane ties near to each one to keep them there. This had the added effect of levelling off the roof of the sauna porch in a location that had become noticeably “humped” where the post was tipping outwards and forcing the outside edge of the roof higher than at the posts on either side.

Stepping back and admiring my handiwork, I can honestly say it looks really good now (it doesn’t hurt that I spent another day just clearing off the tools and building materials that had accumulated over the course of the summer). When I think back to the spring and just how much the snow had deformed the roof, I’m pleased as punch, but not a little apprehensive to see how things go this winter.


My System for Cutting Firewood

November 13, 2014

I make no claims to being very good at either picking or harvesting firewood. Probably north of 90% of the time, Grandpa points out to me a standing tree that he suggests would be good for burning “this year”, and we either cut it right away, or I return on my own to cut it.

We do have two different systems for bringing back the wood we do cut. I acknowledge that he has a smaller trailer and garden tractor, while I have the ATV and a trailer that is probably 50-100% larger in capacity.

It seems to me that Grandpa prefers to cut his trees into stove lengths in the bush, then pile them near his bush trail, and then bring them in to his woodshed/home woodpile area after they have spent time in the bush drying. I suspect that perhaps it is just a matter of space that he doesn’t bring the wood out directly to further dry, perhaps today I will ask him if I see him. (edit: I have asked Grandpa, and he confirmed it is a matter of space, AND the fact that he still cuts in winter when he cannot get his smaller tractor into the bush to retrieve his wood. Excellent reasons!)

Myself, I prefer to be the “wood lord”, to borrow a term we used to use when we played
Setters of Catan (affiliate link) in old days. I like to have the wood nearby and be able to have the warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you know you have enough to get you through the winter (a feeling I think I’ve bumped against, only to be treated to exceptional circumstances that drive me to get even MORE wood for the next burning season…)

As such, I like to bring back my firewood as soon as possible after cutting it. Currently, this is because it will likely be burned later in the season (hopefully not until spring though) anyway. Perhaps in a year or two I will have enough wood to get me through two winters – dare to dream!

Another difference between most people and myself (I think!) is that I don’t like to cut my wood into stove lengths in the bush. I have been appreciating cutting it to around 42″ (VERY approximately) and then loading those lengths into the trailer, bringing them home, and then doing the final cuts here. I have a few reasons for doing this, and am not sure if any of them are compelling, perhaps some experienced woodcutters will have something to add here?

First off – I have a future desire to capture my sawdust. It is handy for filling in potholes, and especially for use in
our sawdust toilet. Doing a large portion of my cutting in a specific area will hopefully allow me to harvest the sawdust in the future, if it ever does amount to anything significant.

I also note that trees (especially ones I cut) don’t always tend to fall in easily accessible spots. This makes cutting and then carrying to the trailer or temporary pile both annoying and more hazardous. Fewer cuts means less awkward spots, and less “back and forth” of logs. Doing 2/3 of the cutting back at home where I have the advantage of open, clear, flat work areas with access to my car and cabin must definitely be safer. I also think my three at once is more efficient, as generally when it is cut to stove length, I can only carry two at a time (one in each hand, possibly stacking smaller ones when appropriate). This is the biggest factor for me. Safety and ease.

Finally, another consideration for the “future” is that eventually I would like to try switching over to all electric chainsaws. I feel that a cordless one may not have the stamina to let me do extensive cutting in the bush, but if it could at least cut a tree and then buck it into three unit lengths, that would allow me to return to the cabin to finish cutting with a corded machine running either off the battery bank, or directly off the solar panels if it is a nice, sunny day. My system would put less pressure on the smaller rechargeable batteries of a cordless chainsaw.

These are simply my current methods. I wonder if as I get older, maybe shelpping the heavier logs will become more of a burden than an advantage, so it may change. Of course, I note that Grandpa could easily manage these size of logs and larger, so that gives me hope.


Water Freezes, Thaws, Freezes, Thaws – Already!

November 16, 2014

As I have outlined here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here, we have had no shortage of issues with frozen water lines here on the homestead. It is perhaps one of the major defining issues that we have encountered here.

I have said a few times of late that if we have any more problems, I will bite the bullet and have a well drilled, and we will install a pressure tank and heat line and live with the consequences. Of course, that’s probably outside of our current budget. We are now on full lockdown of expenses until we can pay down our line of credit a bit more.

In any case, I digress, back to the story. I was thrilled yesterday morning when I returned with some logs that Grandpa and I were working at harvesting, to have Donna report that there was no water flowing in the cabin. A quick check of the tanks in the sauna showed that there was water available. Sigh. We should have warmed the sauna the night before, but we were too busy/tired and didn’t feel completely icky.

My lazy/bright idea was for Donna to start up the sauna right away and we’d just warm the whole building. I suspected that it was the line in the sauna that was frozen – earlier in the morning I had been able to fill a kettle from the cabin, so the water in the line itself must have been able to flow.

After a number of hours, we were thrilled to suddenly have the water flowing again! An easy fix – and it conveniently gave us an excuse for an earlier sauna. I think we will have to really stick to an every other day schedule for saunas for now. Grandpa even suggested putting on a single fire every day, to ensure that the sauna stays above freezing.

Feeling quite high and happy about having water back in the cabin, and a second sunny day to brighten my time in the bush, I advised Donna to do as many loads of laundry as she could find time to do.

When she again reported no water, I figured no problem – we had likely drained the sauna tanks. I was certain that the water between the tanks and the cabin were flowing without issue.

I headed over to the sauna, sat down with my cellphone to play a round of hearts, and turned on the pump. After five minutes, there still was no water. Sigh. Now the well was frozen.

Time to try my
new thawing cable! I turned on the power to the thawing cables in the well, and suggested to Donna to set a timer for twenty minutes Of course, I was still splitting and piling wood, so I let the time drag out to more like a half hour. I turned on the pump, left the thawing cable turned on, and proceeded to park the ATV.

After ten or fifteen minutes, I returned to the sauna, and the delightful sound of water splashing into the tanks! I think my new thawing cable has paid dividends already! Oh happy day!


Something as simple as flowing water we take for granted. I love reading these every time you write a new one. I may not comment on all of them but I am definitely reading them all.
  • Hana (2014-11-17)

Thanks Hana! That's very validating! I think you need to start your own blog for me to follow?
  • Stephen Garstin (2014-11-18)

Biting off More than I Could Chew

November 18, 2014

Thursday was overcast, but not too badly so. I headed out to the bush early with the ATV, and pulled in what I thought was a 16′ log I had cut a few months ago. It was a rough, difficult ride, but when I got it to the mill, I realized that it was (surprise), probably about 18′ long. When you don’t have a measuring device with you, you tend to err on the side of caution!

The difficult, jarring trip with that monster convinced me that I didn’t want to haul too many more large logs without modifying my system.

Grandpa showed up as I was preparing to head back into the bush. He had noted a standing dead pine that he had a hunch contained a few good boards still in it. He started cutting it, while I went further down the trial (Freudian slip – trail) to grab two previously cut 7′ logs that were estimated to also provide a few 2×4’s. I returned with the trailer and we loaded up what he had cut in the way of firewood. I noted that he had managed to find two 10′ logs that were also of decent size.

Grandpa retired for the day after that, and I thought I might do the same, but then after lunch got a second wind and instead opted to try to go back to skid out the 10′ logs he had cut. I figured that as long as I could still get up the slipperiest slope, I may as well continue with the groove I was in.

The first log skidded ok, although it did catch on a root once that jarred a few of my fillings loose. I don’t like subjecting the ATV to that sort of abuse! Let alone my own body.

The second I experimented by strapping it to our old toboggan. This did, and didn’t really work. While it stayed on the toboggan, it worked great, clearly much easier to slide over the uneven trail. But it often tipped over, and then it was just as bad as ever. I am currently brainstorming a skidding cone of some sort. If anyone has any ideas, I’d love to hear them!

After skidding out all the logs available, there was still a few hours of daylight left, and some steam left in my body, and room in the last woodshed. I checked with Donna and then headed back to the bush to try to bring in one more load of firewood. This time I went to the very end of the accessible trail. I figure that I should probably try to get the furthest wood first, so that if the trails get bogged down later in the season, I don’t have to fight my way quite as far to get firewood.

There was a large, tall and straight jackpine that marked the junction between our old hiking trail and the new ATV trail. I moved the ATV far away, and proceeded with my cut.

Of course, the tree tipped back away from my first wedge cut, pinning my chainsaw. Sigh. I still consider myself a real novice at tree felling, so this wasn’t completely unexpected. Just an opportunity to learn.

Foreseeing this in a previous life, I had purchased a pair of felling wedges a couple of months ago. I’ve never seen Grandpa use them. He tends to use a nearby pole to push trees that aren’t leaning right, or to hook up the comealong high up the tree and try to pull it where he wants it. This sort of makes me nervous. With the comealong you have to take extra time, and you are usually within a few degrees of where you are trying to make the tree fall. Of course, the wedges mean that I’m right at the base of the tree, so perhaps there is a danger there too.

Anyway. I first knocked off some of the bark around my back cut, to better see where to insert the wedges. I pushed the tree and managed to move it enough to get the tip of the wedge in. I used the back of the axe to drive it a bit further, and then added the second wedge a few inches off to the side of the first one. Briefly alternating between the two, I was quickly able to expand the cut enough to extract my saw. A bit more tapping, and I started to see and hear the telltale signs that she was going over. I stepped back a few paces and yelled “Timber!”

Surprisingly, it fell exactly where I wanted! It did take a single bounce that jerked directly towards me, stopping a few feet short, but still illustrating the tremendous (and dangerous) power that a falling tree has.

I whipped out my four foot measuring stick, and bucked the tree into segments that were about 6″ shy of the full four feet.

Loading the sections closest to the butt of the tree made me somewhat rethink my notion of cutting such long sections. These ones felt rather heavy!

I loaded the trailer up to what I thought was full, and then realized there was only a little bit more to go and I wouldn’t have to make a second trip – of course I decided to go for it!

I strapped the whole thing down, and set off… Within the first few metres, I had to break out the winch to climb a small rise. A few metres after that, repeat.

I wasn’t discouraged, I knew that after I got past these sections, it was a long section of mostly flat area… I started to move at a good pace and then rounded a corner before BAM! The party was over.

Past the axle! I knew this was a wet, soft spot, but there must have been a crust of frozen ice or soil that finally broke through. There was no way to avoid it. I would have to unload the trailer. Sigh.

I unloaded the trailer, lifted it by hand and simply deposited it so that it straddled this sinkhole. Then reloaded it, and as soon as I began moving again, who should arrive but Donna and Kenny! Apparently my long absence had made their hearts grow fonder (and their worries grow larger…) It was nice to see them, but there was no time for pleasantries – I knew I had a few more rough patches to manage. Which I did! I got the load back to the last woodshed, and spent the remainder of my time cutting and splitting what will probably be the largest load I take with that trailer, on those trails…

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again – happiness is a full woodshed! I even had enough left over to begin piling it outside of our current woodshed – in anticipation of it being emptied out within the next week or two. I’m really trying to stay ahead of our needs this season – and the ATV is helping with that tremendously!


Updating our Solar Power System – Modified Sine Wave and 12 Volts to Pure Sine Wave and 24 Volts

November 19, 2014

And now the circle is complete. I have upgraded every single component in our original solar power system – so I have a second system in parts that I will likely try to put together on my future workshop.

As exciting as it is to join the big(ger) boys club with the new system, I did wake up this morning to realizing that the inverter had shut off our power due to low batteries – doubly annoying because yesterday was actually a pretty sunny day!

I will be the apologist for the batteries I guess… It was sunny, but there was a constant haze that really prevented the batteries from quite getting to absorption. We also ran the washing machine for a couple of loads, as well as the heating cable in the well, and the well pump for a good twenty minutes to half an hour (at about 30 amps).

Still, I think they should easily be able to handle the loads we are throwing at them overnight. I could show you my math, but I don’t think you’re interested.

In any case, this was all an upgrade from the older, modified sine wave inverter courtesy of a Canadian Tire sale about three or four years ago. I sure cannot complain about the use I got out of that one. It’s still going strong. My only issues with it were the way it cut out at 15.5 volts (easily reached in winter, or while equalizing) and the low voltage/current alarm that was audible, and sounded every time our fridge compressor kicked in. (Switching to 4/0 cables from the battery to the inverter mostly solved this problem.)

First I had to remove all the old wiring and setup.

Unfortunately, the inverter I ordered was delayed a week or two, so I temporarily wired back in our original one until it came.

With the old inverter, it had a few cheap built in circuit breakers, and outlets on the front. I didn’t bother wiring in a panel box or anything complicated like that. I simply put a male end on each circuit and plugged that into the front of the inverter.

With the new setup, I had a distribution panel with three circuit breakers. I wanted to include an outlet on the input side, so I could get power directly from the generator if the inverter ever failed. I also wanted an outlet on one of the circuits so that I could plug in our router and modem close to where the lines came into the house from outside.

Finally the new inverter arrived. I booked off the rest of the day to get it installed. I screwed a pair of dollar store cookie sheets to the wall, as the inverter dictated that it shouldn’t be directly mounted to a flammable surface.

With significant effort, Donna marked where the first few screws should go while I tried to hold the inverter up to the wall. It weighs quite a bit actually. Be prepared!

Finally I had it mounted, wired up with 4/0 cables in from the batteries and 10/2 out to my distribution panel. I switched off everything, put on a single, Michael Jacksonesque glove, and mounted the fuse…

I didn’t see the spark myself. Donna managed to capture it though.

I was delighted to see a display on the remote indicating all was well.

Next I actually turned on the inverter, and then one breaker at a time. The fridge started up as soon as it was in the circuit, and I was feeling great!

A few observations… The new inverter is much louder than the cheap one was. It hums constantly, sounding like a fridge or transformer box itself. We’re getting use to that. I will hopefully someday soundproof it somewhat.

I no longer have a shunt, so we have to observe things based on the inverter’s display of volts and amps out, versus the charge controller which shows volts and amps in from the panels. It’s something we’ll be fine with I’m sure – just not as nice as the old display which simply showed whether we had a surplus or deficit of amps. Someday in the future perhaps a new shunt will be in the budget. But not for now.

The new inverter/charger allows us to charge the batteries a bit faster – it can push the amps and voltage higher than our old Iota. It seems that the generator maxes out at pumping a little over 30 amps at 24 volts. I think upgrading the wiring between the generator and the cabin would help with that. It will be a project for the spring, as I am not thrilled with the notion of going under the sauna anytime soon.

Now if only I could find a way to make the batteries last through the night!


The Roof Rake – an Early Review

November 30, 2014

So a short while ago the fellow who built our roof and mounted our solar panels came back to squirt a little more foam insulation into a few voids that were developing condensation problems.

While here, I pointed out my construction techniques on my porch, and he thought it looked pretty good. He did have one caveat though – if it had been him building it, he would have doubled up the supports at the outside edge of the porch roof.

This was something that I had originally put into my plans. I even told myself that I would add this in the fall/winter when there was an actual snow load on the roof. At the moment though, I’m not sure if I want to add this to the monetary or time budget. Instead, I opted for another solution that just involved routine maintenance… Keeping most of the snow clear!

Previously, I had used a long branch that Grandpa had rigged up with the end of an old gravel rake and a small piece of plywood wired to it. This worked passably to clear snow from the dojo tent and the outside edges of the sauna porch roof, until it self-destructed.

I spend the remainder of the winter poking the dojo tent roof and yurt roof from underneath – VERY challenging work! My shoulders were screaming by the end. Then I stood on a step ladder and tried to use a snowshovel to clear snow from off of the sauna roof. Not very safe (I recall actually falling off into the snow), and not very effective. I wasn’t willing to actually step up on the roof with the snow there too, and no real, permanent supports in place.

In any case, this year I decided to bite the bullet and purchase one of those “angled snow shovels for pulling snow off the roof” – which it turns out has its’ own name – a “Roof Rake”.

I looked at pricing in the area; all were between $43.00 and $50.00. Most of them had about 5′ or 6′ segments that you clicked together to get the length you desired. Canadian Tire had a version with a telescopic pole that caught my eye, and it also was apparently better because the tube had an oval profile, which should lend it greater transverse strength.

I purchased that one, at about $46.00. It was relatively easy to assemble, and actually using it was such a joy! I was stunned with the ease of use and effectiveness. I would certainly recommend one to anyone who has similar needs.

My greatest regret is that I didn’t buy it the first winter. It would surely have prevented
the collapse of the dojo tent – a tough, time-consuming tragedy. I can say it has a real use here on our particular homestead.


Looks like a good purchase! I love bringing home an effective new tool. I continue to enjoy your blog…
Question – have you considered tire chains for your ATV? I have seen many in the north who use them with great success and they are not too expensive.
  • CB (2014-12-01)

I have definitely considered tire chains for the ATV! I even priced them out again at Canadian Tire this past weekend when I was picking up (yet another) generator. At $77.00, I decided that I haven't yet encountered enough of a difficulty to justify their expense. Maybe in future when finances aren't always back of mind. I have also pondered making my own.
  • Stephen Garstin (2014-12-01)

Just a follow-up. I'm still using this rake in 2021/2022 and it's well worth the price!
  • Stephen Garstin (2022-03-07)

More Water Modifications and Observations

December 1, 2014

As much as I don’t want to report on water, it is something that our lives revolve around, and I want to help out those who come after and may want to imitate the experiments in our lives that are successful.

Water this year has been a struggle, but one that we are (pardon the pun) treading water with. Actually, at this very moment we have water just barely trickling into the cabin, which is a step backwards – it was running freely last night, and Donna left a good trickle going into a bucket all night. (The bucket was full this morning when I got up, so no water is wasted – and I would be nervous about a trickle in the drain pipe all night – I think I would rather have no water coming in, as compared to no water going out. Carrying clean water in is nicer than carrying dirty water out.)

So anyway, this morning I started the sauna before sunrise, to try to warm up the pipe there, and the tanks there. I have a hunch that it is the pipe in the wall of the sauna which is the problem. I may go as far as to cut an access hole in the wall and try to insulate that pipe, and see what difference perhaps that may make. I also started up my new generator to let me run the heat cable for a bit and see if that also helps. I’ll try to post my generator thoughts and woes soon.

Previously I managed to get the water flowing well, and at the same time decided to give a good mopping of the inside of the water tanks (there was some notable sediment there…) Shortly after stirring up the silt, I noticed that my water flow inside the cabin was abnormally low, in spite of the sauna and heating line having been warmed up.

This prompted me to feel that something other than ice was at play. I then thought back to having cleaned the tanks, and wondered where the silt would have gone once it went out of the tanks… Into the bottom of the line that travels from the sauna to the cabin? And then did I really have enough pressure at the best of times to flush that out? Not likely… So it must have been accruing down there. Sigh.

First up – I replumbed the sauna lines so that the well pump would pump directly to the cabin.

This increased the pressure notably and blew some nasty looking water into the kitchen.

Second up – I replaced the kitchen taps with a “cheaper” set, that had the advantage of not feeding the water through a tiny little “straw” of a pipe.

These taps could open up much more notably. And low and behold, better flow than we had ever had before!

Now we need to find the magic formula to keep the water flowing between buildings… My heating line seems to open things up in a pinch, but now I think our next step will be daily fires in the sauna to try to keep its ambient temperature from going too far below freezing.

Of course, we will also continue to keep the tap dripping inside to help ensure water flow. Over Christmas, I will likely add the RV antifreeze to the line as well to try to keep it from freezing while we are gone.

As always, stay tuned, and send us your positive, wet thoughts!


Bonus Video – Skidding Logs With My Outlander XT

December 2, 2014

Is it work if you enjoy it so much?


Cheap Generators oh My!

December 10, 2014

Generators. Ugh. When you are off-grid in Canada, you really do need to have experience with them. I would love, LOVE it if I could easily find or make a steam powered version. Now THAT is something I could get behind!

In the meantime, I have to make due with regular gas ones. I’m thinking that gas is currently ubiquitous, and it’s easier to get it serviced locally (At KC Automotive down the road…). We don’t need a huge one to charge our batteries here at the homestead – we are still pretty small and only use our electricity for the refrigerator, lights, water pump, washing machine, television screen, Internet, and charging electronics and batteries. At least, in winter… In summer when we can see that we have a surplus, we do allow ourselves the slow cooker on sunny days – that’s really awesome!

I do hope to double or triple our solar capacity in the near future, but for now, we make do with what we have.

Here are my experiences with generators so far. This is just my experience, not any sort of advice or buying guide, although I may intersperse my discourse with my perceptions, rather than just my direct observations.

The first generator I purchased was a Champion 3000/4000 watt model from Canadian Tire. It has good power available for charging, although I have noticed that it seems to only produce about half the rated capacity in each of the circuits it has for plugging in. Thus you are more limited to 1500 watts on anything you wish to use.

This generator is still going for us – it has been down to KC numerous times for different issues – dirty fuel line, dirty carb, bad low oil sensor and most recently – bad spark plug. K! reports that in his experience Champion generators just “wear out” after awhile. I am okay with trying to keep this machine going, but I’ve learned that you cannot rely on it.

Which brings me to a thought – when I’m off grid and about to use the generator – it’s not because I want to. It’s because I *need* to (usually batteries are down to 50% and there is no sign of solar charging in the near future). This means that if the generator doesn’t go, we’re instantly in a serious pinch! As such, it has led me to the unfortunate conclusion that in my present circumstance, we need to have TWO generators ready to go at any one time.

The next generator I purchased was a King Canada 950 watt model from Tool Town. It was cheap – $150 on sale. It was also a 2-cycle engine which I confess gave me pause while I thought of the environmental consequences. It ran quietly and well for us for a few summer months, before the starting clutch self destructed. I had it for repairs many times until it was finally replaced. The new one ran worse, although it did start. It is currently sitting in the back of the dojo tent, apparently in working condition (although I suspect only in 15+ degree weather, as I couldn’t get it to start last time I tried.) I cannot, CANNOT recommend purchasing this generator. There is even someone online who had one set itself on fire, in case you want something else to worry about if you decide to use one of these.

We relied on the original Champion 3000/4000 for the most part since we have been off grid, but about six weeks ago it quit just when the batteries were quite low, so I decided that in spite of finances, we needed to backup. I dropped it off at KC and proceeded down to Wal-Mart where I passed on their cheapest 2-cycle option, and instead went for their 3250 watt option.

I have to say it wasn’t bad – it had wheels and and handle for moving, and it always started by the second pull. My in-laws reported that it was noticably louder than the Champion, but from what I could see it was almost identical. I figured it was, but just rebranded and in a slightly modified frame.

I went to do the first oil change, and that’s when I noticed that the aluminum strut from the generator to the frame was completely snapped off. This was disappointing. I loaded it up to exchange at Wal-Mart, but they didn’t have any other generators there, so I simply returned it and headed back to Canadian Tire to see what they were offering.

They had a model similar to my original on sale for slightly less than the Wal-Mart brand, and it got really good reviews online. I purchased it and brought it home. Loaded it with nice oil and started it up. It worked really nicely.

Then it stalled.

Then it stalled again (for no reason).

Then it started to run pretty rough.

I was done with it for the day, and a few days later started it up again and left to run some errands in town.

Donna texted me to report that the inverter/charger said it wasn’t producing any current, and then texted me soon after saying the generator was making lots of noise and smoke and an ugly liquid was running out of it and she was shutting it off.

While in town, I headed straight to Canadian Tire and bought their small Champion 1200/1500 watt generator. I had eyed this model right from the start of our venture, but felt it may be too small. It was on sale for only $200 with a 2 year warranty. I figured that if I can actually get two years out of it, then it probably could be looked at as a “lease” that was within the budget.

I returned the other generator (which wasn’t Champion – it was Canadian Tire’s Mastercraft house brand). They accepted it without complaint when I explained the multiple issues it has exhibited. I’m not sure what was wrong with it.

As an afterward, I do really like the new, small generator, but it isn’t without its own issues. The inverter charger asks much of it to charge the batteries, and when the fridge kicks in, that can sometimes cause it to fault out with an overvoltage condition. This means we have to go out to the generator and unplug it and then plug it back in. I’m not sure what the answer will be to this issue, aside from perhaps turning off the fridge for a few hours while we charge the batteries from the small generator.

Ultimately I would like to build a small generator “shed”. I picture something almost like an old fashioned well – it would have a cover to keep the generators out of the weather, but still be open all around for good access and ventilation. I could have both generators positioned together and simply alternate between the two for charging.

If I come up with any fundamental changes to my system or thoughts, I’ll try to note them in a future post.


If I need a reliable generator there is zero doubt – I would immediately buy a Honda or Yamaha. Expensive yes but built to a much higher standard just like all their outboard motors, snow blowers and lawn equipment. You get what you pay for!!
  • Anonymous (2014-12-10)

Oh, I forgot to include this in my post! Thanks for the reminder – if you can afford it, I would second this opinion. I think having a Honda or Yamaha would be choice one, with perhaps a cheapo one as your backup if you really need it. Our finances don't run to paying for one of these just yet, but that is certainly how I would lean in the future – thanks for reminding us all of this!
  • Stephen Garstin (2014-12-10)

A followup here in late 2021 - No doubt in my mind, buying a Honda right away would have been the smart decision.
  • Stephen Garstin (2021-11-11)

Learning about Actions and Natural Consequences

December 11, 2014

Sometimes it’s nice to sit in a natural comfy chair.

And then just slide right off the end.

Oh, but snow can go up your back.


Lovely photos.
  • Linda (2014-12-12)

Thanks Linda! As always, it is our official photographer and blog editor Mama (Donna) who took that series – she really is a marvel!
Nice to see you reading the blog. I reciprocated and visited yours too – I see we have Just for Laughs Gags as a common interest!
Have a really nice weekend!
  • Stephen Garstin (2014-12-12)

Love you Kenny
  • Anonymous (2014-12-15)

In Praise of our Otlander XT ATV for the Homestead. Including a Cheap and Easy Log Skidding Cone

December 19, 2014

It’s the rare time I am on the ATV for any more than a few moments that I don’t appreciate just how valuable an addition it has become to us.

When I compare doing identical jobs with the ATV as compared to the tractor, I can’t help but shake my head at how much better that ATV is for the small homesteader. About the only chore that the tractor could claim to be superior would be skidding multiple logs on clear, flat, open terrain – an amazing rarity here on the homestead.

I haven’t added chains to the wheels as yet, but so far I don’t know how much difference they would have made. We have managed to skid everything (with varying degrees of difficulty) we have wanted to so far.

Some of the larger logs did prove to be quite a challenge. I had given up on two of them, after describing to Grandpa the use of skidding cones by people with larger budgets than mine. He took it upon himself to winch the last two monster logs up the unclimbable slope, and then dismantled his old wheelbarrow and turned it into a thrifty log skidder.

Our first attempt to use it proved questionable. Once moving, I kept trying to increase speed on the ATV as this was the best practice in previous attempts… It allowed the log to have some momentum and break through smaller obstacles.

With the skidding barrow (cone? No, that’s not quite right…) in place, the extra speed was a liability that caused it to tip over and lose all usefulness. I found that by easing off to a brisk hike, the log kept itself on the flat portion of the barrow, and slid over the small imperfections in the trail.

It was a real winner! Grandpa had planned on only taking out a single log as proof of his concept, but it went so slick, we rushed back to the bush and easily took out the other one as well. We had won! We had skidded out the largest portion of the tree, at a 10′ length!

Credit to the ATV, and to Grandpa for his persistence. I am often quick to abandon a project in favour of coming back to it much later. He keeps thinking.

Ploughing snow with the ATV is so much nicer than craning my neck on that old tractor. As well, it actually starts even when the thermometer is below zero!

Problem though – I hadn’t thought of it much before, but the plough was attached to the framework supporting the foot rests of the ATV. Last year when first purchased, I noted that it wasn’t aligned straight to the ATV, and so the plough always canted a bit to the right. No problem, I generally kept it sloped that way anyway when ploughing.

After the first use or two against snowfall, I noticed that it seemed to be favouring the right side of the ATV even more than usual. Climbing down and looking underneath, I was unamused to note that the framework of the foot rests had been badly swept backwards, likely due to the strain placed by the plough hitting hidden stones or heavy snow. Sigh.

Luckly KC Automotive was willing to take a look at it for me. I even suggested that I would be willing to pay to have them drill out the frame and add some cross bracing to help it.

Two days later they texted me that it was ready for pickup. They had spent a day and a half on it, first straightening out the existing framework, then actually WELDING supports from the main chassis of the ATV to the plough attachment plate. This should make it multiple times stronger than it originally was! I am so impressed. I cannot recommend them enough to my local readers (well, that’s probably just Mummu and Mama, but one can dare to dream that someone else reads this blog…)

Yesterday late in the afternoon the internet was still out (due to the temperature, our solar charge controller ups the voltage to the batteries so high that the inverter feels there must be a fault with the system and cuts out – don’t get me started on our power situation!). I asked Mama permission to go out to the bush and retrieve some more firewood. I didn’t have any specific tree in mind, there are so many candidates on the trail. I headed to the end and found a nice one that looked well suited. It was also closer to the trail than I had recalled, so I opted to cut it first.

It fell mostly uneventfully (okay, it rocked back and pinched the blade of my chainsaw – that happens all the time to me. I was able to push it over by hand.)

I had managed to get it to fall across the trail, where the top had conveniently broken off anyway. I backed the ATV up, hooked it on and hit the gas.

Humming my jazz tunes to remind me of my recent video record of this trip, I could feel the ATV pull against the weight of the tree and drag it from the bush and along the trail.

I have gotten use to the feel of the machine to such a degree that I can now tell mostly by feel when or if my log has become detached, so I don’t have as much a need to keep checking over my shoulder to confirm that it is still there. I drove out of the bush without glancing back.

Imagine my surprise when I got back to the cabin and discovered that this log was well over 30′ long! Kenny, at about 4′ measured out nine lengths of himself against it.

With the sun low in the sky (when isn’t it at this time of the year? Two more days until solstice!), I bucked it into stove lengths, and then split it down even more.

I was about to call it a day when Donna and Kenny arrived to help me pile it by the back woodsheds – what a team! Everything is so nice when we all pull together!