Welcome to the second installment of our Tool Tuesdays. Last week we revealed the top power tool in our books – the corded hand drill. This week we follow it up with a tool that is nearly as indispensable and similarly as reasonably priced – the hand held circular saw.
There are loads of wood working projects around most homes – once you start to get comfortable with developing your own capacity to do and recognize that most of what you want done is within your grasp. A good circular saw will address most of your wood working needs – at least as you are starting out. It can cut dimensional lumber to length as well as rip sheet goods like plywood and chipboard. Add a chalk line to your tool kit and you’ll be able to mark out cut lines on sheet goods with
The Circular Saw
It is also eminently portable. Heading out to do some woodwork somewhere and this is your compact do it all tool. Now, certainly I’m not knocking the chopsaw. If you are laying hardwood flooring or putting up a good sized building a chopsaw is well worth the investment. Likewise I love my jobsite craftsman tablesaw (count on it featuring in this list in a bit) but while both of them are “portable” they aren’t what I am going to grab for a quick project in the back yard or a job at the camp or a buddy’s. That role, especially if I’m not completely sure what is going to be involved goes to the circular saw. It’s easy to tote along, can do pretty much everything that the table saw or chop saw can do and if you are careful (read take your time) you can achieve results that are for most purposes close enough.
If you are wondering why my number two tool wasn’t more into the metal working sphere it’s because as much as I love metal working being able to do simple carpentry is going to find a lot more application for most if not all folks.
So if you are in the process of building up a workshop in order to become more self reliant and you don’t already have a circular saw add one to your list to pick up (new or used) and begin to figure out a few projects to exercise your kit and build your skills.
Yes, I am being dramatic. Anytime you are presented with an absolute statement such as this you should approach it with caution. But hear me out about why changing your oil is the most important mechanical skill for those who fashion themselves, preppers, modern homesteaders, or simply folks more interested in repatriating the skills they rely upon into their own households.
About to remove the oil drain pan bolt with the socket wrench
I don’t think anyone would disagree with me that we’ve become an increasingly less manually self sufficient society. I think part of that is due to folks not needing to understand how to exercise those skills. Some of that is because the things we depend upon are more reliable… there are fewer and fewer “shade tree” mechanics in part because it isn’t common to pull and engine and/or transmission to rebuild it. Engines are much more reliable and so too are the individual systems, that is good.
The other part of the equation is that by and large we’ve enjoyed some pretty favorable economic times… which has allowed us to hire out work that a generation ago would have been done at home in order to preserve domestic finance as well as to replace instead of rebuilding. Combine the improved reliability of systems which reduces the need to get our hands dirty together with the ability to hire out or replace and skill sets start to atrophy and disappear.
Oil filter styles – replaceable cartridge style on the left, spin on canister on the right
Still with me? So why is the lowly oil change the most important skill for those seeking to build more self sufficiency into their lives? Bear in mind that it was just last week that I was making up brake lines, and I’m the guy who thinks you should be building your own grain mills, tortilla and cider presses and smokers.
Simple. Precisely because most folks are starting from a base of limited mechanical skills actually starting the journey is the most important part of the process.
The tools are limited – a good socket set, which is really pretty essential. If you are hard up for cash a good enough socket set can be had for about $20 from harbor freight.
Supplies for an oil change
A good oil pan is under $10. Now there are a couple of styles. One looks like a jerry can with a bit of a depression in the the top and a removable drain plug as well as a big screw on spout at the top. The other style is an open pan, usually with a couple of handles molded in and spout to allow you to drain it with some precision. I’ve used both and I much prefer the open pan style, in part because there is so much less spillage since the oil doesn’t need to go into the container through a relatively small hole. Especially when you’ve got a bigger vehicle the rate at which oil will pour out when you remove the plug can easily exceed the intake capacity of the jerry can style containers.
You should also grab a funnel which makes pouring the oil into the filler cap so much easier. Now you’ll see that I have a comparatively massive funnel. That is overkill for a normal passenger vehicle, but I use the same kit for my F250 Super Duty with the 7.3 liter diesel which instead of getting a fill-up of oil from a jug requires part of a 5 gallon pail, now that merits a big funnel, I simply use the same kit for all of my vehicles.
You may also need a set of vehicle ramps if your vehicle has relatively low clearance. A set of ramps – which run under $40 – can raise up the vehicle and give you lots of clearance to slide under the vehicle. Now if you want to be luxurious pick up a wheeled creeper but that certainly isn’t necessary. Of all of the elements of changing your own oil I think the driving up the ramps is likely the most stressful part. Just take it easy, apply enough gas to get you up but not so much to shoot over them… but if you do grab your jack used to change the tire and lift the car up and pull the ramp out, lower the car and do it again a bit more gently.
Finally, you’ll need to pick up the correct grade and quantity of oil and a new filter for your vehicle. I favor conventional oil for the warmer months but will pay the premium for synthetic for the winter, where the lower viscosity really pays off. If you don’t have a use for the waste oil you can put it in a container and return it to most garages.
If you want some guidance on the specifics pick up a repair manual for your vehicle or look on then net.
Payback for the tools will take about two oil changes and then you’ll be saving money – but more importantly, the payback in skills and confidence will come right away. From there I know you’ll be more comfortable taking that incremental step forward to gaining more mechanical skills to empower your independence.
Last weekend I was hauling a trailer load of garden-soil home to complete the planting of my fruit trees (for this year at least). the truck would stop fine, but as I waited at a light the brake pedal would sink progressively to the floor. The brakes were going… I took it easy and made it home and slid under the truck. Now it’s a 2001 F250 with the 7.3 diesel, so while components are beginning to rust the mechanicals seem to be in pretty good shape, and frankly I can’t justify or afford the replacement cost which would run over $50,000.
Brake line in the process of being removed. The break in the line was a consequence of working to remove the line.
So we fix it. No big deal right, course mechanic time doesn’t come cheap. So when I slid under it and saw the the brake line between the rear splitter and the left hand brake leaking I figured I would fix it myself. Now, I’ve never replaced brake lines before, never bent brake lines. I have replaced calipers and brake pads and bled the brakes… but with the great teacher – youtube – I got a crash course in how to bend brake lines – and how to form the double flange needed for the high pressure lines.
Tools to form the break lines
I ran up to the autoparts store and picked up the brake lines and fittings as well as the forming tools. Total cost under a hundred bucks. The old brakeline fittings were rusted but some penetrating oil – in this case my favorites are all lanolin (wool oil based) – and a bit of time saw them freed up.
I bent up a replacement segment to roughly the same shape and put it into place. Now, came the time to bleed the brake system.
Here I hit a snag. The bleeder on the right side rear caliper was freed easily, but the one on the left side was stuck… really stuck. I hit it with penetrating oil, let it rest, and tried it again. When I had rounded the corners I ended up switching to vice grips… but still it wouldn’t budge.
Now, a replacement caliper runs in the order of $80, but replacing a perfectly good caliper solely because of a stuck bleeder screw is silly… now some folks will heat the screw with an oxy-acetylene torch and then cool it rapidly enabling it to be removed while on the vehicle… Since brake fluid is very flammable that isn’t such a great idea… Instead I removed the caliper and did this on a safe surface where if the torch lit the fluid on fire it wouldn’t take the vehicle with it. It popped open in two seconds flat! A replacement bleeder screw cost less than $3. So it was quite a savings.
New brake bleeder screw installed salvaging the brake caliper
The caliper was reinstalled, the lines fitted securely and the system bled and the truck was back on the road.
Ok, so it took a couple of evenings to get everything pulled together and fixed up… but the total cost of the repair was less than $10. Ten bucks! The tools cost about $90, but now I have them… and with the rest of the lines at the same age I know I need to set aside a bunch of evenings to replace all of the remaining lines.
I know I saved a bunch of money over taking the truck into the garage for the fix, more than enough to pay for the tools – but more than that I gained the experience to be confident in doing the job. It’s also a skill stepping stone. I know that it won’t be such a jump the next time some bigger fix comes along. That is a pretty cool investment. So the next time you face an auto repair job… consider doing it yourself.
Welcome to “Tool Tuesdays”. In an environment where everyone seems to have a top ten I thought I’d add my own – but since it’s tools we won’t be stopping at ten.
Without question I think the must have power tool – regardless of how much work you do – is the 3/8″ corded drill. It’s really a slam dunk given how much use it is likely to find in anyone’s home, and how much effort it will save compared to doing the same job by hand. At the same time a good unit is low cost – you are looking at less than $50 for a unit that should serve a home shop well for years – and on sale the price might fall to half that!
Now, what exactly do you need to accompany the drill to get the most out of it?
A twist drill bit set – note the reduced shank diameter on the 1/2″ bit to fit the 3/8″ drill chuck
Well, for starters a set of regular twist drill bits. Don’t go super discount here – they will just frustrate you. You don’t need to buy pro grade bits but pretty good quality drill bit sets come on sale at attractive prices fairly frequently – pick one up. Ideally you’ll be able to get a set with a range of sizes – which generally come with more of the small bits which break more frequently. If you can only afford a set of bits with one of each size up to 3/8″ or 1/2″ (which if you have a 3/8″ drill will need to have a reduced diameter shank) get a package of 1/8″ drill bits which I find is the best all around pilot drill size. Remember if you are drilling metal you’ll want to get a can of oil to lubricate and cool the bit while drilling.
A spade bit
Twist drill bits will go up to 1/2″ in a hand drill without issue – larger twist bits are available but those really need a drill press or specialized drill. Rather if you are working with wood there are a few more styles of drill bit. Up to nearly 2″ there are spade bits – these are simple and cheap. If you are drilling where you might hit a nail these are the bits to use. An added advantage are the extensions available for this style of bit – need to drill through a foot of wood – as needed to be done with the homestead cider press – and this is the bit for you.
If you are doing much finer quality wood work requiring larger holes you’ll probably want to get forstner bits. These cut around the periphery of the hole and chip out the central section and don’t tend to rip out wood as much as you would with the spade bit.
A hole saw set
Larger holes in metal or wood can be accomplished with a hole saw. Instead of cutting out all of the materials as the preceding bits have these only cut out a thin strip around the radius of the cutter. This is allows you to cut a much bigger hole using less energy. If you are cutting metal choose a bi-metal set.
While we covered a whole bunch of bits you might not need anything beyond a set of twist drills. But you will want a set of power driver bits – these are bits with screw heads. These make putting in and removing screws easy. Remember you may need to drill a pilot hole for the screw first depending upon what you are doing. Get a bunch you will find that these tend to wear out, even the really good ones. Bulk packs are reasonably priced – pick up a set and you’ll love using screws.
A set of power drive bits make installing and removing screws easy
Finally, there are a bunch of tools that have a shank to fit into the drill chuck including wire brushes and shown here a buffing disk that was just used to polish the stainless steel on the homebuilt stainless wood pizza oven.
Why corded when cordless are available. Well a few reasons – good cordless units that could compare with a corded one in terms of power are going to be expensive, cheaper ones just don’t measure up for power or longevity of the batteries. Plus these drills don’t use much power so you can easily use a light gauge long extension cord for a reasonable price. As well, if you are going where you’ll only have your vehicle you can easily power these off of an inverter attached to your vehicle battery.
Hands down you need at least one corded drill along with a twist drill bit set and driver bits in your home.
Sweet Sorghum – Dale on the Left and Simon on the right. Dale is 3 weeks ahead.
I’ve been growing varieties of sweet sorghum for more than 20 years. Now sweet sorghum or even grain sorghum for that matter isn’t a typical crop for Canada let alone Eastern Ontario.
But, the description in the Peter’s Seeds and Research catalog for Northern Sugarcane tickled my fancy enough to order and trial it. I should be honest and say that the threshold to tickle my aggie interest is pretty low – but this sounded like a really cool plant, and indeed it was.
It grew well, and later towards the end of that company’s life Tim Peter’s was kind enough to send me a sample of the John Coffer refined Dale variety in spite of it no longer being listed in his catalog. I’ve since obtained a host of different varieties to trial including a number from the USDA ARS seed bank – which included some pretty cool varieties from India with high sucrose contents – which would allow regular crystalline sugar production and not only liquid syrup yield. I also received a few varieties most graciously from Morris Bitzer from the University of Kentucky including Simon which is supposed to be 21 days earlier to harvest than the regular Dale variety.
Now, I’ve never had an issue having any of the varieties of sorghum I have tried reaching maturity save for a few varieties which are daylight sensitive and grew wonderfully but never headed out. The successes include Dale, Sugar Drip, Mennonite, and a bunch of ARS varieties. But, given how much earlier Simon is supposed to be I wondered if a cross might be in order… not only to allow for a hedging of agronomic bets, but also in order to allow for a staggering of harvest dates for processing. So I’m interested in trying a cross between my John Coffer Dale and Morris’s Simon.
Sweet Sorghum planted out
Anyway, this year I decided I wanted to boost my seed stock and plant enough that the syrup harvest wasn’t just sucking on the stalks. So I started the seed in trays – the Dale three weeks ahead of the Simon in the hopes that i might be able to overlap their flowering period – and committed to building three 4’X8′ raised beds along the back hedge. It’s not the best of spots, not receiving full sunlight but will have to do.
Those were completed this past weekend so I transplanted the sorghum along with a bunch of AC Sierra Sunflowers fronting the beds. Now Sierra is a cool variety in itself. It is an open pollinated dwarf oilseed sunflower that was bred to allow farmers to harvest the crop without needing special headers on their combines. That lowering of the capital risk bar created markets for oilseed sunflower whose development led to a transition to more productive hybrid varieties. But for smaller scale production, I still think open pollinated varieties where seed can be kept and evolved to better suit local conditions has a lot of allure. but I digress.
Anyway, this year my goal is to grow out a significant quantity of Dale and Simon seed, try my hand at making a cross and also build a small sorghum press.
The Little Wonder Sorghum Mill – Inspiration for the impending build
Why build a press? Well for starters sorghum syrup isn’t a typical Canadian product – that would be maple syrup – nor is it even a northern US product meaning a fairly long trip south would be necessary to get to where Sweet Sorghum was more common. Don’t overlook the “was” in that last sentence either – sorghum mills aren’t like one of my letterpresses or machine tools which were common and still viable commercially into the 1970s, and hence are today “obsolete” but not yet rare, sorghum presses fell out of fashion long long ago. Moreover, I’d really like to get the three roller horizontal units rather than a vertical roller one more suited to having the mule on the walking pole, and those especially the smaller ones that are still around appear to be in very high demand.
Fortunately I happen to have a whack load of metal working tools that are always eager to be put to work – funny how that function stacking works out eh?. So much like with the homestead grain mill build it looks like I will be engineering a modern rendition of the small end of the commercial horizontal mills over the course of the summer. With the sorghum in the ground I’ve got to get moving… (of course there are always a few projects vying for attention but the need to be ready for a harvest is a pretty good incentive to set a solid pace). Stay tuned…
I’ve made yeast doughnuts for years now, ever since I left home and my mother’s prohibition on deep fat frying. I’m still pretty cautious and tend to use the side burner on the BBQ when I want to do a fry-up. That said I also keep a pot cover nearby and while some folks may have one or maybe at most two pipsqueak sized fire extinguishers I have a half dozen 20 pound CO2 extinguishers around the house including in the kitchen. I haven’t had to use them, but it’s nice knowing that if I did have need for one that one is always close at hand and has serious knockdown power.
But I digress. Yeast doughnuts are great and are easy to do with what you have around the home, and they were a frequent treat in my home. Then I started experimenting with cake donuts. Now these have a different taste and texture from yeast donuts and are a breeze to mix up…. but I found making them to be a real mess.
See the batter is sticky, so trying to push it off a spoon with your finger (like you might with cookie dough) doesn’t work so well – and ensures you are covered with batter, and by the end of the process so too is much of the kitchen. I then tried to extrude them using a jerky gun… That worked okish, but getting the batter loaded into the tube… well that was a mess. Then I picked up a cheap “home” doughnut dropper… those are small, and low cost but I couldn’t get it to work really well, and loading the small hopper still created a mess…
Then my brother and sister in law gave me a copy of the Saveur magazine donut issue… and I decided to stop screwing around with half assed solutions to the problem and move up to commercial equipment where any issues had been addressed.
Doughnut hole production underway with no mess!
Now, the smallest pretty common donut dropper out there seems to be the Belshaw model B. There is a slightly smaller version but that isn’t nearly as common. Now, let’s not get you all exited that you are going to get pro gear at amateur prices… these units routinely sell for several hundred dollars – with the plungers alone going for over a hundred even when well used. But I am a patient guy, so I set about watching e-bay for a Belshaw B to come up cheap… dinged and dented didn’t matter so much as the price. I ended up being able to get one for a fraction of the usual price, complete with a doughnut hole plunger for about $150.
The first couple of times I used it I filled the hopper and held it with one hand over the pot of oil while cranking it with the other hand… not exactly the easiest balancing act. But man, was I hooked… it worked so well, and so quickly with so little mess. I could instantly see why cake donuts are a commercial hit they are so easy and fast to produce when you are using commercial grade equipment.
Anyway, I needed a stand for it… I’ll get around to welding something nice up at some point, but for now a couple of pieces of 2×6 from scrapped projects and a piece of 1/2″ steel rod assembled and clamped in a folding work bench is all I really need.
It’s an interesting juxtaposition… high quality commercial doughnut dropper mounted on a 15 minute wood working project made with scrap, but in the assembly the quality is located where it needs to be – in the dropper, while the stand… well it just does its job.
So the next time you set about tackling a project under time constraints consider where and what quality level you need to achieve. Now I could have made a great stand… but instead I’m making some great donuts!
Any trip through a kitchen store will reveal a loads of kitchen gadgets. Some seem to be perpetually available and others, well they are here today gone tomorrow. In all likelihood most of these, irrespective of which category these fall into end up shoved to the back of the odds ‘n ends or junk drawers in most kitchens.
My odds ‘n ends drawer with the danish whisk front and center, and this wasn’t a staged photo.
I’m not one for filling junk drawers. I’m willing to have tools that will radically speed up operations I do only a few times a year, like the Victorio food mill – or the apple cider press, but not junk.
So I was a bit suspect about the utility of the danish whisk and it’s great reviews when I saw it in the Lee Valley catalog. But, I needed Christmas gifts for my hard to buy for mother and sister-in-law, so I picked these up for their kitchens.
Turns out they are as good if not better than billed in the description. They blend dough faster and with much less effort than a wooden spoon. This is obviously a nice advantage for adults, but at least in my home it was the difference between my kids being able to complete the task of mixing doughs and batters and having to call dad to do most of the mixing when there was only a wooden spoon in the drawer.
Now the title says the poor man’s stand mixer, and that probably bills it fairly. Pick one up today and soon you’ll find that the formerly indispensable wooden spoons have been pushed to the back of the odds ‘n ends drawer from lack of use.
Kids and cookies – a great way to get them hooked on baking
The “Bigger is better” school of thought isn’t always true, but at least where cookies and kids are concerned it carries a pretty strong appeal.
While a lot of cookie recipes have difficulty scaling up from the average to the jumbo to the ginormous this one is perfect for building the bigger cookie – so big in fact that you should be using pizza pans to bake them in.
Wedges of the giant whole grain cookie – before gobbling
This basic cookies is great on its own – or toss in a cup or two of chocolate chips, smarties or chopped nuts.
If you’ve got kids who are baking with you this is an easy recipe to get them excited about playing around in the kitchen. If your junior baker has trouble mixing the batter with a wooden spoon consider picking up a danish whisk which speeds mixing while reducing the effort required to a fraction of that a wooden spoon.
Using either whole wheat or whole barley flour is a great option for these cookies. Give them a try with your junior baker or to satiate your own inner junior baker.
We left off the wood fired pizza oven construction at the point of having finished the back of the inner shape.
Now, we have to produce the back of the outer shape and the front of the oven. We’ll start with the back of the oven. This is pretty much like the production of the back of the inner shape but the larger dimensions presented me with some issues.
Laying out back segment of the pizza oven across two pieces of stainless sheet
The outer back segment is really much like the inner back segment – except that with the materials I had available to me I had to use two pieces. So my first step was to trace out the outer curve from my template.
Marking out outer curve to provide for tabs
Then as we did previously we are going to mark out another curve 1″ outside of the curve you just traced from the template.
Cut along this line with a metal cutting jigsaw blade. Once that is done, you want to cut out the tabs.
Rear segment cut to shape – ready for the tabs to be cut.
For the back portion I didn’t bend over the tabs, preferring to wait until I had welded the two sides together into one piece.
The front piece is a bit different. While the back inner and outer pieces will be joined only to the inner or outer curved segments respectfully, the front piece serves to link the inner to the outer curved pieces.
Not enough material to make the full curve with one or two pieces of sheet.
Somewhat like the back outer piece the front segment for me required three pieces to create the full segment. So the first thing I did was trace out the inner and outer curve from the template. Then you’ll need to mark out a 1″ line beyond each side of the curve and then cut along these lines.
First front segment clamped and ready for the tabs to be bent down.
Just as with the other segments you’ll need to mark out the tab segments and cut those with the angle grinder. Unlike the back segment I bent over the tabs after having clamped the pieces to the pattern.
Middle segment showing overlap portions without tabs
Now, the third piece I needed to use to fill the gap between these two I followed the same practice, but trimmed the tabs off from the areas where the linking segment would be under the other two pieces.
With these done we’ve completed curved segments and are ready to move on to the next steps of the fabrication process including the roof segments that will go between the front and back pieces.
Front along with inner and outer back segments cut out and placed in relation to the fire brick
If you make bread you quickly come to understand just how versatile a good standard dough, such as this whole wheat bread recipe, can be.
Whole Wheat Apple Braid
You can make bread of course, but we’ve also covered how you can turn it into standard buns, and fancy buns, cinnamon buns, bagels, pizza, and now fruit braids.
One of the reasons why this is such an attractive proposition in my mind is that I can produce a single batch of bread dough and split it to produce two very different products… usually something like buns and then something sweet, and fruit braids are a great option to keep in your baking pocket.
Apple Braid right out of the oven
Really you roll out the dough divide it into thirds, and cut the outer two segments so that they can be braided over the fruit mounded in the center.
In my house the fruit filling often is apples and cinnamon with a bit of sugar in large part because I tend to harvest and process so many apples.
Give it a try when you next make a batch of bead dough.