The small chainsaw – sized right for many jobs

The small chainsaw - sized right for many jobs

The small chainsaw – sized right for many jobs

Bigger is better right, well sorta but what guy doesn’t have a Tim the Tool Man Taylor prejudice to some extent?  After-all, we buy tools for CAPABILITY not cuteness.

Now when it comes to chainsaws you can get some pretty big and really nice saws.  I’ve got a couple of bigger chainsaws, but a few years ago some friends were packing up and moving to the west coast to retire and were selling most of their kit.  Among the stuff on offer was a 12″ Homelite chainsaw, an LX-30 Bandit – it was the smallest gas chainsaw the wife could find when her husband insisted on getting a saw after the Ice Storm.  It was rather telling that she didn’t get the appropriate protective gear including a really good set of chaps since a 12″ saw is still plenty powerful to cut your leg off, nor did she get a saw with a chain brake.  .In all fairness the chain brake probably isn’t all that necessary on a saw this light – especially since it is furnished with a low profile – low kickback chain.

It hadn’t been abused – or really even seen much use – and I was able to pick it up for a good price once I assured them that I wouldn’t become an accident statistic due to them selling me the saw.  Part of the good price was because I didn’t particularly think I would use a saw that small while they didn’t want to give the saw to anyone that might then behave irresponsibly with it.

If I’d know then just how much I would end up using the small chainsaw I might have been willing to pay more.

017This saw is at the front of the line of all of my chainsaws and is used maybe 90% of the time I reach for a saw partially because it is so easy to use such a light saw and partly because it sees so much use I am pretty sure it is gassed and oiled.

Now, granted if I am going to be dropping trees I am going to be reaching for a bigger saw.  But that is more the exception than the rule.  Most of the trees I have dropped recently have been at my brother’s place or at the cottage not at my home.   I do end up bucking up a lot of wood that folks have tossed to the curb – everything from six to eight inch diameter trunk sections to loads of smaller branches and limbs.  All of which are quickly cut to length for drying and then use in the wood fired pizza oven.

The saw also gets employed a fair amount as a cordless circular saw for rough carpentry work, for some things it is much more suited to the task – like cutting 6x6s but for others it is often simply more convenient to grab the saw and the chaps than it is to fetch the circular saw and then get the extension cords.

I wouldn’t want to have this as my only chainsaw – when the job calls for it there is really limited alternatives to power and bar length – but added to the set of tools available it stands our wonderfully.  So if the opportunity comes along for you to add one to you tool collection consider picking one up, for most folks I imagine that it will become a valuable addition to your tool mix.




All American Pressure Canner – worth the investment if you use it

All American Pressure Canner - 941

All American Pressure Canner – 941

Ah preserving food,  there’s something romantic about it isn’t there?  Something that hearkens back to our forefathers – or more likely foremothers [if that is actually a term]  when life was simpler and things were more black and white. [ Or was that only Leave it to Beaver?]

The All American Pressure Canner likely marks the pinnacle of home food preservation – at least until home freeze dryers come down a bit more in price.

Boiling water bath canning allows you to preserve high acid and high sugar goods including things like pickles, jams, jellies and fruit in sugar syrup – that is definitely a little to no bar entry point for home food preservation, anyone can and should give it a go.

Take care not to misplace the pressure weight between uses

Take care not to misplace the pressure weight between uses

Pressure canning represents a considerable step up in cost – the canner itself often runs several hundred dollars, with the cream of the crop the  941 All American Pressure Canner clocking in at just under four hundred dollars [US]. Now that investment will allow you to safely put up meats, broths, low acid and low sugar vegetables and fruit but it is quite an investment.  That said if you take care of it the unit will likely be still serving your grandchildren it is built wonderfully sound and has no gaskets to fail and the only thing you could loose would be the pressure weight but that is simple enough to secure between batches.

But back to the issue of investment and payoff. I can be a bit of a romantic and an idealist, but there’s a pretty pragmatic streak in me too.  So, I have always had to smile when folks would talk about doing a day of preserving, and how wonderful it was, and how great the preserves are, and how quickly they go, only to find out that the sum total of their work was a half dozen jars of jam or pickles.  Now, I’m all for gaining experience so that you are comfortable taking on the next incrementally complex task, but this scale hardly makes the time and mess created by the process worth while.  Processing food is usually in my experience eminently given to efficiencies of scale. If you are preserving something from a bumper harvest or purchase make enough to last for your family – or even better enough to last for your immediate family and others around you.

Fresh Salmon on Special - a buying opportunity

Fresh Salmon on Special – a buying opportunity

A pressure canner can save you loads of money by allowing you to take advantage of buying opportunities and preserving food for yourself.  I’ve paid for my canner several times over by putting up jar after jar of hearty turkey stock, bone broth or fish.  Note I said “can save” not “will save” in order to realize the savings potential you have to use it – and invest the time in the process.

For example, yesterday alone I put up 25 pounds of salmon – now the store was selling it as a teaser at 2.48 a pound.  I would have purchased more but that was all I could over a couple of visits before they sold out.  As it happens canned salmon is also on sale a 213g tin for 2.97.  After you’ve sharpened your pencil and figured things out to buy the same quantity of salmon canned would cost a hundred and thirty-five dollars, a difference of eighty-two bucks.

The pricey alternative - already canned salmon

The pricey alternative – already canned salmon

Now granted I’ve already sunk the investment into the necessary jars and I use Tattler reusable canning lids which while more expensive than the steel ones are reusable time and again – even when pressure canned.  This latter point is especially relevant because while you can probably get away with reusing lids in good condition from water bath canned jars the higher vacuum drawn by the pressure canning process effectively sees you destroy the steel lids when you remove them from a pressure canned jar.  Even if they look like they are ok I’ve found that the failure rate shoots up making it too costly in terms of time to bother to attempt a reuse – so Tattler lids while initially expensive start to make a lot of sense.

Canning is also a great means to add cheap but healthy convenience foods to your pantry.  The goose and turkey stock form the backbone of loads of hearty soups served in our home throughout the cool months.  Being able to dump a jar of turkey meat and stock into the slow cooker toss in some frozen and dehydrated veggies and a couple of chopped up potatoes, rice or pasta and walk away knowing that lunch or dinner is pretty much ready when you want it – or more likely in our house is only going to require pulling together some quick whole wheat biscuits or popovers – is wonderfully convenient, and makes it easy to not be tempted to head out for ho-hum meals which can really add up financially.

Now if you are tempted to opt for a smaller pressure canner I’d advise you not to.  Where boiling water bath canning has fast cycles – often 10 minutes once a boil resumes – pressure canner cycles often span four or more hours and including the time to boil the water in the canner and begin venting steam for at least ten minutes, the process cycle itself – which for fish is 110 minutes, and then the time needed for the canner to cool down and see the pressure drop to zero.  This means that your capacity is going to be capped at two to maybe four loads per day rather than the dozens of batches that could be boiling water processed in the same time.  Remember, making the canner pay means using it and really taking advantage of it when opportunity comes – so spend the extra and buy the biggest unit you can get – which is the 941.

I’m going to offer a caveat to that advice – the 941 is really best suited to being on a BBQ side burner, a turkey burner or a big gas stove.  It is a bit too hefty to go on an electric range, so if you don’t have those options and will need to be using your electric stove to heat the canner – well you’ll have to step down in size.  Additionally, weight may be a factor.  The 941 weighs in close to 40 pounds empty which is a reasonably heavy load, though the handles are excellent making keeping a grip on it reasonable.  Don’t figure on moving it when full.

All in all these are great tools, that while expensive can pay for themselves and add a lot of convenience and resiliency to your family’s larder and budget.




Henrob welding torch – welding zen

Known as the Henrob, Dillon, Cobra or DHC this oxy-acetylene torch represents welding zen.  The wiki definition of zen is achieving a meditative state – and that’s pretty much what you get with this torch, it’s not the fastest welding method but it is the most relaxing by far – and as a bonus it works a number of metals including steel and stainless.

Henrob, Dillon, Cobra, DHC welding torch

Henrob, Dillon, Cobra, DHC welding torch

I’ve had a Dillon for about 20 years and love it.  My first welder was a stick arc welder and I wanted to add the ability to work thinner steel and to be able to cut steel. It’s done a great job of that for me – and this past year has seen it’s use redoubled as I’ve discovered just how easily it welds stainless steel – really just as easily as regular steel.

The real reason for the zen feeling is the soft flame – the torch sees you set your oxygen and acetylene pressures very low – which means you won’t find yourself blowing out your welds.  This allows you to produce beautiful welds all the way down to very thin materials easily.

The torch also cuts your fuel use considerably compared to my victor set – this isn’t just a great financial benefit but its also a great time savings – oxygen and acetylene tanks are expensive and it’s usually a pain to swap them.  I started with a couple of Acetylene B bottles and the comparable size of oxygen cylinder.  I’ve found that this is about the right average for use.  These cylinders are the largest that my local gas supplier sells outright and will exchange.    Recently I also picked up a set of Q sized cylinders which are one and a half times the volume of a B from TSC stores, in part because they have much more reasonable store hours.

Other advantages – well these work great on autobody sheet steel.  I usually will do the bulk of my work repairing the sheet steel on the truck with my MIG, but then anyplace I blow out I do the repairs with the Henrob torch.  Oh and stainless – a real pleasure.

Another nice benefit comes from not having to wear a full face shield.  Here in the winter I find that it doesn’t take long for my breath to start condensing on the face shield when I arc weld – but OA torces only require glasses or goggles – making them cold weather friendly – which is pretty important to me.

Now, I picked up a plasma torch about five years ago that has the capacity of cutting right up to 1/2″ thick steel so I haven’t been using the cutting capacity for a while now, but when I did it genuinely did a nice job with much less gas consumption.  Sure, it is nowhere as easy to set up to cut as a conventional torch – which is basically twist and go, nor is it as easy to master but it does do the job very nicely once you get the hang of it – and again my gas savings seemed to be significant, but if you have plasma you’ll find it is beats anything else within it’s capacity.

Now, some folks will doubtless complain about the handle design – but I guess it all amounts to what you get used to, I like the pistol grip style handle.  Now, I wouldn’t go for this torch simply for the handle design but since it’s part of the package Iike it.

It’s also very nice to have an OA torch to heat up stubborn fasteners – and that capability can save you a lot of cash.  The Henrob saved me the ninety bucks that it would have cost me to replace the caliper assembly on my F250 when the brake bleeder valve stuck.  The torch freed it in under a minute – now that is handy.

So what’s the verdict.  I think it’s worth the four hundred dollars the torch kit sells for – though if you can pick up a used one as I did all the better.  You may want to also pick up a conventional Victor knockoff kit which often run around a hundred dollars simply as the cheapest way to get the regulators and hose – with the added advantage of being able to cut some really thick material with the included torch if need be.

Is it the first welder you should get?  Well if you are going to be welding a lot of stainless I’d say yes, otherwise I think a MIG is the easiest – both in terms of skill and finances – way to get welding.   But, if you have the means these torches are a great addition to your shop – and I think you will find using them to be an utter pleasure.


Tattler Reusable Canning Lids – Great But Tricky

Tattler Reusable Canning Lids

Tattler Reusable Canning Lids

I’ve been canning for years – small batches when I lived with my parents that then grew to be a bit larger when I got out on my own, and by a bit I mean I’d do things like I’d use my big outdoor gas burner and converted stainless steel keg to make 10 gallons of marmalade, jam, canned fruit or other preserves whenever some product became available for a great price.  Enough to share with friends and family and last a couple of years.

All of that processing was boiling water bath canning and quite often I would reuses the rubber gasketed steel lids for several batches – until it appeared that they were deteriorating or they failed to seal.  That worked very well for me and saw a minimum of new lids purchased every year.

Tattler lid and gasket on a jar of apple pectin

Tattler lid and gasket on a jar of apple pectin

But then I picked up an All-American pressure canner – the really big one.  It’s a great tool and has been great for making homemade low cost convenience foods.  The value derived from being able to can up turkey stock alone has been huge.

However, there is no way that you can reuse a metal lid from a pressure canned jar.  The vacuum is so great that inevitably they are bent enough that the risk of failure were they to be reused is great enough that it makes more sense to recycle them once the jar has been emptied.  Doing that saw me needing to buy quite a few boxes of lids.  That’s when I decided to try Tattler lids.

Tattler lids are basically a modern incarnation of the old glass lids with rubber gaskets – reusable time and again even after pressure canning.

So, what’s my verdict after about five years of using them?  Great but there is definitely a learning curve associated with their use.  They aren’t as easy to use as conventional metal lids – but once you get a feel for how to use them your failure to seal rate should be pretty close with either boiling water bath or pressure canning methods.

Check out the video for more on my preferred technique.  But until you get the process down I’d suggest you continue to do batches with the majority of the jars topped with metal lids to reduce your frustration.

There is no mistaking a jar properly sealed with a tattler lid

There is no mistaking a jar properly sealed with a tattler lid

Some folks have complained about the lack of ease in figuring out if the jar is sealed – sure you can’t push on the top of the lid and see if it has been sucked down but if you remove the ring you’ll see very quickly if the jar is sealed.  Really the danger is if the jar looks to be sealed but isn’t – that isn’t a problem with the Tattler lids – even with boiling water bath canned one litre jars the vacuum is great enough to allow you to hold the lid and suspend the jar – there is no guessing needed.  It is readily apparent if the jar is or isn’t sealed.

In terms of price – well I bought my first case of lids [and I have standardized with regular mouth masons jars] at regular price directly from Tattler and they do pay for themselves very quickly if pressure canning – less so if you are boiling water bath canning and can reuse the metal lids.  After getting hooked on them Tattler had a crazy special where they were offering their lids for around half price – and that’s when I purchased a couple of bulk bags of lids and gaskets – so I expect that I’ll be using Tattler lids for the the rest of my canning life.

Now I can principally with the Tattler lids – the steel tops are reserved for jars which will be given away with no expectation of return.

If you probably should give Tattler lids a try – play around with them a bit and I am pretty sure you’ll end up hooked on them.





Goodell Bonanza – the best homestead apple peeler

In good years I tend to pick put up a lot of apples – several hundred pounds – and much of those need to be peeled and cut.

Goodell Bonanza about to start peeling an apple

Goodell Bonanza about to start peeling an apple

Over the years I’ve used a few different styles of apple peeler including the modern hand cranked unit that seems ubiquitous – and frankly for it’s low price is a pretty good deal.  What really sucks on it is the attachment – suction cup stink.

I’ve also used the Reading 78 peeler which is a design dating back to 1878.  It does and ok job but at the end of the day isn’t in my view significantly better than the much cheaper modern design.

Neither of these really are production units but they do get the job done.

But, let’s be honest,  when the opportunity presents to pick and process bushels of apples the processing side needs to be fast and easy and that is where the Goodell Bonanza apple peeler comes in.  I think this has to be the best homestead apple peeler by far.  It peels and cores an apple in about a second and then is ready to go for another.  That type of production rate makes taking advantage of the opportunity to pick and process loads of apples realistic.

One second later the apple is peeled and the coring is nearly complete

One second later the apple is peeled and the coring is nearly complete

Perhaps then it’s reasonable for these units to routinely sell for many hundreds of dollars – nothing comparable has been produced in many decades and these are awesome pieces of kit.

But,  here’s where having some skills can really come in handy.  I was able to pick my Bonanza up for a fraction of the price that they usually change hands for because of a couple of cracks in parts.  I know that these faults scared away most other bidders – but I was confident that I could braze any broken cast iron parts or machine new ones if the cracks grew.  As it turns out that hasn’t been necessary even with the heavy use the unit has seen.

Already this season three bushels of early apples have been passed through this unit and since this is a great apple year – compensating maybe for the complete blueberry crop failure and the near failure of the strawberry crop in our area – its only the start having the Bonanza makes the process not just reasonable but pleasurable.




So Easy Homemade Spring Rolls

Spring rolls are awesome, and if you make them about half to a third of the regular size you get a super simple appetizer that will disappear off the plate.  It’s a bit funny – cut the size in half and folks won’t eat double but more like quadruple the number.

Filling for spring rolls

Filling for spring rolls

I made these for our family reunion and .they flew off the plate, kids and adults were snatching them with slightly less decorum than you might have expected – from the adults anyway – fortunately since these are so easy to make in number there was just enough – the last ones were taken off the plate as I cleared it in preparation for the dinner.

The homemade whole wheat wonton wrappers refrigerate or freeze wonderfully – so make a bunch of wrappers, stick them in the freezer and then pull these together whenever the occasion strikes and you need to wow quickly and easily.

Homemade spring rolls frying

Homemade spring rolls frying

Now, for the wrapping – here’s the trick, lay the wrapper on a dry surface and wet your fingertips in a little bowl of water.  Wet just inside the edge of the wrapper – try to keep the edge from getting wet – which will make it stick to the prep surface.  Put a reasonable amount of filling about 1/3rd of the way up, roll the bottom of the wrapper up over the filling and then lift the top part of the wrapper and fold it down over the part of the wrapper you’ve just rolled over the filling.  Tap it down so that the moistened surface sticks to the lower part of the wrapper.  Then fold the ends over into the center.

After you’ve done each spring roll dry the work surface and repeat.  When you’ve completed a  bunch of them gently lower them into wok of hot vegetable oil.  Allow them to cook until the bubbling subsides – but not so long that it stops, then drain them on the wok draining rack.

Serve these with plum sauce  or sweet and sour sauce and prepare to receive the accolades.

Click on the post title for the full recipe.


Whole Wheat Flatbread Panini

Panini on Whole Wheat Flatbread

Panini on Whole Wheat Flatbread

Whereas in the fall and winter I tend to use extra pizza dough to make dinner buns, cinnamon buns or desert pizzas in the summer my favorite use by far is to simply make flatbread to use for making panini.

I think Panini has to be one of the great summer meals combining perfectly with the loads of fresh veggies from the garden, salty preserved meats, and great cheeses – washed down with a nice pint.

My flatbreads are full extraction whole wheat which is not only healthier but also heartier yet won’t leave you feeling like you’ve over indulged.

Toasting the panini on the BBQ side burner

Toasting the panini on the BBQ side burner

Now,  my favorite way to make these is to put my cast iron ridged skillet on the side burner of the BBQ – which ensures you don’t warm up the house – and weigh the panini down with another smaller frypan.

Favorite toppings include veggies like tomatoes, olives, sweet red peppers either preserved in oil or charred, hot pepper rings, eggplant and artichoke hearts, meats like black forest ham and spicy salami and cheeses – particularly Monterrey Jack.

On the side a panini begs for fresh salad with fresh cheeses and salty preserved veggies like sweet pickles and beets as well as pickled pepperocini peppers.

Definitely a meal with merits – and an easy one to produce when the flatbread is on-hand so consider adding it to your meal list this coming week.

Click on the post title for the whole wheat flatbread recipe.




Essential Power Tools – The Jig Saw

The Jig Saw - an essential power tool

The Jig Saw – an essential power tool

If a scroll saw – or maybe a bandsaw – hooked up with a circular saw the resultant offspring would likely resemble a jig saw. This tool has some of the attraction of both tools – and some of the disadvantages of each.

Like the circular saw the jig saw as a handheld tool is able to go to the material rather than then other way around – this makes it infinitely easier to cut segments out of large sheets of plywood, or store the tool away in a small space if you don’t have a proper shop space.

Like a scroll saw or bandsaw it can handle free form cutting.  Got a curve to cut – it can do the job.  Of course as with any tool intended to cut curves you’ll have to select a blade of shallow enough depth to allow it to turn within the curf you are cutting.  At the same time you don’t want to select one too shallow since blade longevity and cutting speed is generally better with a deeper more solid blade.

You can also make acceptable cuts in light metals – either sheet metals or thicker light alloy materials such as aluminum.  It’s not the optimum tool to do much of this work – an angle grinder is faster at making straight cuts in ferrous metals and sheet material is better handled with a hand held powered shear – but the point is sometimes is more one of what is available – or what tools that are already paid for – that can be pressed into service to complete the task rather than which tools with complete it most efficient – and here the jigsaw is a can do piece of kit.

The Homebuilt Stainless Steel Wood Fired Pizza Oven

The Homebuilt Stainless Steel Wood Fired Pizza Oven

Showing just how much you can do with relatively little kit is part of what we’re interested in demonstrating here, which is one reason why instead of pulling out the metal shear to cut the stainless sheet for the wood fired pizza oven we stuck a metal blade in the jigsaw and forged right ahead after having used it to cut out our curved plywood patterns.

This isn’t a fast tool – which can be a downside – if you are cutting straight lines using the circular saw will be much faster.  BUT, as I said in the previous  piece on the scroll saw being a slower cutting tool can be a big advantage when you hand a tool over to less experience folks of any age.  Like the scroll saw the jig saw is on the friendly side of the power tool spectrum both in appearance and reality.

As we’ve proceeded through this list we started with some very reasonably priced [and sized] tools – ones anyone should be able to afford and store – but they we got into some more expensive and unwieldy pieces of kit.  Tools like the mill-drill, lathe and even the table saw add a lot of capacity to your shop – but they may exceed your monetary and space constraints.  The jigsaw fits firmly into the former category – low cost and small – making it an everyone tool.  So if you don’t have one in your shop consider adding one today.


Whole Wheat Wonton Wrappers – simpler than you think

Stack of homemade whole wheat wonton wrappers

Stack of homemade whole wheat wonton wrappers

Often things that appear intimidating the the uninitiated are a breeze to pull off for those that know a few tricks.  It’s that way with  so many things including many in the kitchen.  Wonton wrappers are one of these.

I think most folks who’ve eaten spring rolls, pot stickers, egg rolls or wonton soup would dismiss the idea that they could produce so thin a dough at home.

Yet, it actually extremely easy to get great results – and do so quickly – using whole wheat flour to boot!


Rolling out wonton wrappers – it’s easy to get them thin if you are patient.

There are a couple of tricks to making the process easy.  The first, as is the case with our whole wheat bread we want to add a bit of acid – in this case white vinegar – to make the gluten stretchier.  Whole extraction flours have a lower ratio of gluten to the rest of the flour since we’ve got all of the germ and bran mixed in.

Now like the song lyrics you “can’t rush love” or was that “can’t buy love” you actually might be able to do both but you can’t rush making wonton wrappers.  A good rest is required after the first kneed to allow the gluten to strengthen – I generally prefer to make the dough, bag it in a ziplock, place it in the fridge and come back to roll it out the next day.

Now you can do all the rolling out with only a stout rolling pin, but if you have a pasta machine – and you should – this will really speed up the process.

The final secret is corn starch and the liberal application of it when rolling out the dough.  Forget flour, corn starch is it.

Now this recipe forms quite a few wrappers;about three dozen give or take,  but the great news is that the wrappers refrigerate and freeze well, so you can make a big batch and freeze what you don’t need right away for another meal – and there will be many more meals featuring these as soon as folks try them.   If you want to keep folks thinking you’re some kind of genius for mastering these I promise I won’t whisper to them how easy it really was,  then again, maybe just being willing to try something new and seemingly daugnting qualifies you as a minor genius….

Click on the post title for the full recipe.


Whole Grain Waffles – Barley Flour

Waffles are decidedly the high class alternative to the pedestrian pancakes.  Sure,  they are slower to produce but they are a great treat for a breakfast or brunch.

Breakfast fixings, barley flour waffles, strawberries, bacon and maple syrup

Breakfast fixings, barley flour waffles, strawberries, bacon and maple syrup

While a variety of whole grain flours can be used to pull these healthy waffles together my favorite is unquestionably barley.  There’s a sweetness to barley that plays perfectly in this recipe – and by that I mean you’ll be hard pressed to make enough to satisfy the crowd at your table.

You may be hard pressed to find barley flour in your local grocery store – it will probably take a trip to a specialty retailer if you don’t have your own grain mill.  If that’s the case why not consider building a grain mill  – it isn’t much more complex than the baking you are already doing,  just in a different domain.

That said,  like all whole grain products it will fill you up and keep you going – you won’t be getting hunger pangs mid-morning after a hearty breakfast where these are featured.

So oil up your waffle iron, get it heated up and get ready to wow with these whole barley flour waffles.

Click on the post title for the full recipe.