Barley flour super fudgey brownies

Super chocolaty brownies  made with whole barley flour

Super chocolaty brownies made with whole barley flour

These brownies are crazy awesome good.  Frankly they are soooo chocolaty that it masks most (but not all) of the sweet nuttiness that I love from the whole barley flour.  These are really really good, and so quick to prepare that you’ll be able to whip them up and have them in the oven in under five minutes – washing your bowl will take as long as the prep.

This recipe is also a great one to hand to new bakers (of all ages).  Unlike cookies which are fun but can be a bit time consuming these brownies are pretty close to instant gratification and there is really little chance of it being screwed up.

If you have younger bakers you might find the mixing a bit of a challenge with a wooden spoon.  Pick up some Danish Whisks and the kids will be able to do all of the mixing themselves.  Once you’ve got them in your kitchen drawer they will end up being your default mixing tool they are that good.

Give these a go.


Essential Power Tools – The Wire Feed (MIG) Welder

A visit to the local Princess Auto store (roughly the Canadian equivalent to the American Harbor Freight stores) when I was in high school netted me an arc welder that was heavily discounted because the manufacturer had mistakenly shipped the wrong model to the store.  That purchase proved to be the catalyst that saw me gradually get drawn deeper and deeper into metal working.

Wire Feed / MIG welder an important addition to the homestead shop

Wire Feed / MIG welder an important addition to the homestead shop

Since then I’ve picked up a number of different welding systems, oxy-acetylene, engine driven stick welders, plasma, MIG and finally a spot welder.

It’s the MIG / wire feed welder though that ends up being the sixth most important power tool (in my opinion) to add to your workshop – and the one that will really open up a big segment of metal working to you.

Since I have and regularly use a number of different welding systems you would be right to question why the MIG is the first one that I suggest you should get, particularly since it was one of the last to actually assume a place in my own shop.

Simply, a MIG/wire feed welder offers the best combination of capacity, learning curve and price among all of the welding systems I have.  On price – the 170 amp unit I have from Harbor Freight is on offer as I write this for $190, but I am reasonably sure that there will be some discount coupon in the next few months that knocks that price down to about $150 – which is very reasonable indeed.

Necessary accessories - auto darkening welding helmet, gloves and wire brush

Necessary accessories – auto darkening welding helmet, gloves and wire brush – along with a partially finished grain mill

While a stick arc welder could be had at a similar price point, the learning curve for this latter welding setup is more difficult.  A wire fed rig by comparison is downright simple.  It’s not quite “If you can pull a trigger you can be a welder” but it’s not that far off.  Likewise, a wire fed rig will allow you to weld a greater range of material thicknesses that are of interest to a home shop fabricator.  You can work on fairly substantial thicknesses of steel – not as heavy as can be handled by stick arc welding – but probably most of what you’ll be doing on one side.  But then unlike the arc welder you’ll be able to effectively weld sheet steel – like car and truck panels – that a stick welder would find difficult to handle.

On the Oxy-Acetylene side the learning curve isn’t significantly different from a MIG.  It is probably even easier if you get a torch like the Henrob.  But, the cost – especially if you are going to be doing run of the mill work – is going to be several times what a MIG would run you when you figure in the cost of decent sized tanks.

Now, I really appreciate having both of those systems in my shop, but I have no hesitation in recommending folks grab a MIG/wire feed as their first welder.  For some it may prove to be all the welder you’ll ever need.  Others may find it simply serves as an introduction to what is possible for them to accomplish and serve as their own catalyst to broaden their metal welding systems.


Campfire Cinnamon Buns

There are folks who revel in roughing it when they head into the bush.  That’s not me.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love the outdoors and think glamping is silly but while I am perfectly capable of living rough if need be, if I can make things more comfortable for myself I will.  That includes food.

Cinnamon buns cooked over the campfire

Cinnamon buns cooked over the campfire

Much of my camping is done by canoe – so even if there are portages the size and weight constraints aren’t that rigorous – which makes more diverse outdoor fare reasonable.  These campfire cinnamon buns are a case in point.  Having these with coffee in the morning while looking out over still waters with the mist rising off them is a pretty awesome experience.

Now most would expect to need a stove to bake cinnamon buns – or at the very least a reflector oven, but these are cooked in much the same way as you would the english muffins we already covered – as griddle cakes in a frypan – which makes them much more reasonable to produce.

Dough rolled out ready for cinnamon and sugar

Dough rolled out ready for cinnamon and sugar

What I prefer to do is use an extra large ziplock bag – add flour – I prefer to use the whole wheat ground on the diy grain mill – add a pinch of salt, some yeast, a bit of sugar and then add water until you have a sticky dough.  You can do an ok job of roughly kneading the dough while it remains in the ziplock bag.  Since I generally do this step just before turning in for the night – I generally don’t do a second knead.  Make sure the air is out of the bag and don’t get carried away and make too big a batch, and place the bag in a warm spot overnight.

Something spectacular to wake up to

Something spectacular to wake up to

In the morning open the bag, punch down the dough, pull out dough balls, flour roll out, and sprinkle sugar and cinnamon on the dough and then roll up and cut as you would with regular cinnamon rolls.  Allow them to rise and then place them in an greased frying pan.  I often just use a couple of pieces of bacon to provide the fat needed to render the surface non stick.

Cook over low heat on one side for a bit, then flip and cook on the other.  Alternate sides until the buns are cooked through.  Allow to cool slightly and serve with a bit of butter if you have any along.  Enjoy.


Baked Maple Custard – Cottage Recipes

Preparing the baked maple custard

Preparing the baked maple custard

Ah summer… it’s the time that you least want to congregate in the kitchen – and that’s saying something considering I really like cooking.  But come on, sun, sand, deck, bbq.. let’s try to save wear and tear on our kitchens and instead work on quick and easy recipes.

So my summer cooking and baking rules – especially for the cottage – Super Quick, Super Good and Super Simple.

This baked maple custard fits the bill in spades – and since it uses ingredients you should always have around it’s a great last minute desert option.



Forming curves in sheet metal without slip rolls

Sheet steel bent and welded to form shroud for the homestead grain mill

Sheet steel bent and welded to form shroud for the homestead grain mill

You might not expect this coming from someone who puts up a significant number of posts discussing tools and the projects that can be accomplished with them… deep breath – you can accomplish a lot without much in the way of tools.

Specialized tools can really speed up work and make projects easier – but you can accomplish some pretty cool things with very simple processes.  Case in point – forming curves aka radius bends in sheet steel would normally be done with slip rolls – but you can do a very acceptable work for a lot of jobs using only a piece of pipe mounted in a vice.  Sure it takes a bit longer than putting it through the rolls – but in a lot of cases it will get the job done just fine.

Build a grain mill

Build a grain mill

Frankly,  I really value the options and capacity my tools provide.  But, I have been building my workshop for over two decades, and while some folks might go out and drop several grand on tools it seems more reasonable to expect that most folks would want to dip their toes in the water first to see if doing more mechanical work is really something they want to take on before dropping big sums of cash (if they do have that financial freeboard).

Fortunately a lot can be done with relatively low cost tools and simple techniques.  I’m building another grain mill – this time for a friend so I decided I’d take a few short videos to show just how easy it is to build the grain mill since I know the finished product is probably pretty intimidating to most.  Check out the book Building the Homestead Grain mill for all of the detailed instructions on how you can build your own professional grade grain mill using simple tools.



Harbor Freight Spot Welder Review

I generally really like Harbor Freight products – and I have a lot of them.  I’ve got some of the largest of their tools – the 2hp mill-drill  and their 9×20 metal lathe, some of their smaller tools including the 170A mig welder and 9″ angle grinder as well as a bunch of their hand tools. Pretty much all hands down wins in terms of bang for the buck.

So when I decided that I was going to fabricate a wood fired pizza oven from stainless steel I figured I would pick up the very reasonably priced HF “Chicago Electric” spot welder.

Harbor Freight "Chicago Electric" spot welder

Harbor Freight “Chicago Electric” spot welder

Spot welding was my first introduction to welding when in grade 7 metal shop classes at Shaftsbury High School in Winnipeg where we built wind chimes and the galvanized steel top section was joined by spot welding.  It was a real shop, and a real shop class, with a real shop teacher – who my father and I bumped into from time to time when we were out hunting upland game.  As a pretty good student (not just in shop class)  I got a bit more latitude in the class which was great.

Anyway,  my memory of using that spot welder was that it was a pretty useful piece of kit, which influenced my decision to go that route for joining the segments for the pizza oven.

Of all of the HF tools that I have, the spotwelder comes the closest to failing to deliver to my expectations, and that’s probably because I set my expectations too high.

The unit handles joining 0.0200 stainless steel pieces just great, it can’t handle 0.0400 pieces.  The other issue is that the points deform rather quickly and there is only one more set included with the welder.  Replacements are available for the miller welders but those are pretty expensive – as in $30 at my local welding shop.  If you have a lathe you can machine your own but it is a major hit that Harbor Freight doesn’t have replacements on the rack.

I guess my feelings towards the spot welder are colored by the fact that when I couldn’t weld the parts for the pizza oven I decided to try my hand at OA welding the stainless… which I had initially discounted as too hard (doooh stupid move that?).  I discovered that my Henrob torch was totally suited to welding stainless – with really no more difficulty than welding carbon steel.

Completed spot welded stainless steel English muffin rings

Completed spot welded stainless steel English muffin rings

So,  with light materials and for a couple of quick welds it’s a good bet.  I really liked it for the English muffin rings I put together.

I also think it’s a good option for teaching kids basic metal working – which is basically what it was being used for when I was first introduced to it.

So, take home message… it’s limited in capacity so it’s probably the last welder I’d get but it looks just as solid when you acknowledge its limitations as the other HF kit I’ve grown to love.


Essential Power Tools – the table saw

We’re onto tool number five this week and that’s where the table saw fits in for me.  If you are working wood – and you should  – and are doing a lot of cutting or require a significant level of accuracy the table saw stands well above the circular saw that holds the number two spot on  the list.

Craftsman contractor table saw

Craftsman contractor table saw

Now my table saw is a  craftsman contractor saw model.  Now, I chose the “semi” portability of the contractor saws because in the winter it sits in my basement workshop but as soon as the weather improves it gets moved into the garage – and when it’s getting used is placed in the driveway putting the dust outside.  It’s also been taken to projects at other homes.  I say semi-portability because it is awkward and is a good lift.  Now if you only need to roll it around on its wheels – it really is an easy move.  BUT, the heft does equate to some really solid construction – and that is key here.  DON’T bother cheaping out and getting a small wobbly table saw with a crappy fence – stick to your circular saw until you can afford to get a good saw.  As a reference point, the Craftsman I have runs something north of $400.  For my purposes it is the best compromise between accuracy, portability and price.

Push sticks, hearing and eye protection - not optional parts of your kit

Push sticks, hearing and eye protection – not optional parts of your kit

Now there are a few not so optional accessories you need along with the saw – the hearing and eye protection you should already have – but you will need some push sticks.  Push sticks are essential when you are working close to the blade.  You can cut these yourself, but purchased plastic ones are cheap and I particularly like the ones that have a grove in the lower surface which allows me to get better purchase on the material.

Now,  you’ll note that I don’t have the blade guard in place in the photo’s and videos.  Having an unguarded blade is a risk that I am willing to run – and it is a risk.  I run it in part because a significant amount of my work involves cutting blind groves in material.   That said, I am very careful around the saw, and don’t work with it when I might be tempted to be complacent or in a rush.  If you aren’t doing that type of work and prepared to accept the same elevated risk profile leave the blade guard in place.

Combination roller stand - a near necessity to go with your table saw

Combination roller stand – a near necessity to go with your table saw

If you are working with longer or larger materials – sheet goods or lumber you should probably get a roller stand that will allow you to avoid struggling with acquard material – and you don’t want to make a risky move around a saw blade.

My saw has found use building furniture, buildings and of late has seen a lot of work cutting materials to produce bee hive woodware.   It wasn’t cheap, but it certainly is a pleasure to use good tools – and it has paid for itself several times over.

If you don’t already have a table saw consider investing in one to add to your workshop as a means of empowering your independence.


Grinding Cornmeal with the Homestead Grain Mill

Homemade Grain Mill

Homemade Grain Mill

One of the great advantages of having your own grain mill is being able to grind a huge assortment of grains – and grind them as fine or coarse as you want… You get to make the choices!

The homestead grain mill is great for grinding corn for cornmeal or corn flour – but not masa… it’s a dry mill and not intended for grinding nixtamatal.  If you are going to do that – and you should – pick up a masa mill – they are very cheap.

Freshly Ground Cornmeal (R) beside Whole Wheat Flour (L)

Freshly Ground Cornmeal (R) beside Whole Wheat Flour (L)

But back to grinding corn for cornmeal or corn flour.  Now compared to grinding small grains there is one tweak you need to do in order to have a reasonable production rate.  You need to start with a greater gap between the burrs to accommodate the larger grain size.  That’s it… really that simple.  So add some whole grain corn to your larder and start using it in your baking.

So if you don’t have a mill, why not consider building one – it’s going to be much easier than you probably are contemplating, and it will leave you with the skills to tackle loads of additional projects that will likewise yield independence dividends around your home and homestead.



Essential Power Tools – The Air Compressor

So, leading up to this Tool Tuesday I faced a bit of a quandary… which tool was my No 4 most important power tool? That really hadn’t been a big factor with the first three… they fell into place very easily.  But with number four there were a bunch of contenders for the spot… you’ll see them all but it was a very close finish for the next group of tools.

Air Compressor - An Essential Power Tool

Air Compressor – An Essential Power Tool

But of course if you can read the title you’ll know that the winner of spot Number 4 on my Essential Power Tools list is the air compressor.

So why did it win out.  Well, units that are capable of doing home shop level work are reasonably priced.  As I write this Harbor Freight has a 2.5hp unit on for $159, and it needs to be broadly applicable to the work you’ll find around the home, homestead and garage and shop – specialized tools aren’t in this list.

This package really needs a bit more to be of any use – the compressor is just the equivalent to buying a generator and being able to then use power tools.  Really the first air tools to pick up are a combination brad nailer / stapler (for $20) and a tire infiltrator.  This starting tool kit will allow you to do a lot of small and detailed woodwork – whether it is putting on baseboards or molding around the house or nailing together bee hive woodware (especially important while the glue is setting) the brad nailer and stapler is frequently used.  The same applies for the air chuck.  Sure I could go to the garage and use that compressor but having my own means I can top up my tires as part of my vehicle checks – which reduces my fuel consumption and extends my tire life – both money saving propositions.

Air Tools - like this framing nailer - can significantly improve your productivity on the jobsite.

Air Tools – like this framing nailer – can significantly improve your productivity on the jobsite.

A smaller gravity fed HVLP spray gun runs about $15 and allows you to bypass the expensive cans of spraypaint an instead pick up liquid paints and a can of paint thinner.  In this role alone it’s saved me a load of cash!

Then there are the larger nailers – for framing, roofing and hardwood flooring.  These run about $75 and up for good quality units – but man are they ever a time and body saver.  I spend a great summer working as a caprenters assistant – earning an awesome education and getting payed as a bonus – but I can honestly say that swinging an eastwing 22oz head framing hammer for a summer is work.  Now I wouldn’t dispense with it by any means, but as we were putting up an addition to a bunky at the cottage my eight year old daughter was able to drive 3″ framing nails using the air nailer!  For an adult – well construction time was cut to about a quarter of what it would have been with only old fashioned manual nailing – and that is a pretty paying proposition.

Likewise, if you are installing hardwood flooring having the specialized air nailer for that task is practically a requirement.  I think mine has done at least two dozen homes as folks have borrowed it and it is no worse for wear.

The air die grinders and sanders, ratchets and impact wrenches are very nice pieces of kit as well and can be had on special at very reasonable prices.

But for all of this capacity and efficiency improvements you need to start with the compressor… so consider picking one (and a few accessories) up and adding them to your shop if they aren’t already there.


Easy Whole Wheat Graham Crackers

Once you’ve had homemade Graham Crackers you’ll have a hard time ever buying a box of commercial ones.  Now,  graham flour is just a particular coarseness of whole wheat flour so you’ll find the fine whole wheat flour you can grind on your own mill a perfect match with this recipe.

You’ll find loads of recipes for graham crackers that date to your grandmother’s time – and the resources she had in her kitchen.  They take a few extra steps that you can bypass making the production of these graham crackers faster and easier.


Rolling graham crackers between silicon baking sheets speeds production

The key here is using silicon baking sheets.  The old way of rolling out the dough called for mixing and then chilling the dough for a half hour.  This hardens the butter which makes it less sticky when rolled out between the two sheets of parchment paper.  But,  silicon baking sheets are so much better that if you are using them you can skip the chilling step completely.  Simply roll out the dough between two of the sheets and then peel of the upper sheet.  At this point you can score the dough to lay out the cracker shapes, slide it onto a baking sheet and put it in the oven.

This recipe is enough to make about two dozen full graham crackers with a bunch of not quite full sized squared for crushing for use in pie crusts, and can be fitted on two baking sheets.  I usually double this, but then I’m usually into mass production.  That double recipe takes about a total of four sheets, which can be accomplished in two goes.

Click on the post title for the full recipe.