Jan
26

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DIY Conical Build Pt 1 The Materials

The foundation material for the conical needs to be stainless steel in order to keep the vessel from rusting.  Now for grade of stainless – something like 304 or 18/8 which is used for stainless pots and buckets should be just fine and is fairly common.  With that determined what options exist for us to get that material at reasonable cost.  Well, free is obviously best, but since I used up much of my pile of salvaged stainless steel sheets (mainly BBQs) building the wood fired pizza oven I don’t have much of that left.

Then there’s the buy option, and actually as I am going forward I find myself buying some stainless material for the legs – but now that I consider it I could have gotten away without making that purchase, but more on that once we get to that stage of the build…

Materials with which to build the DIY Conical

Materials with which to build the DIY Conical

Anyway back to the fundamental parts of the conical – the vertical segment and the cone.  Well since the top is basically like a pot without a base I thought I might as well go that route and build it out of stainless steel pots which are readily available and low cost.  As an added bonus the top segment is already nicely rolled and sealed.

Now some folks I’ve seen building conicals use a cone made from spun stainless funnels – but since I couldn’t find one easily and at low cost I figured I would just form one up from some more stainless steel sheet (or pot bits).  It’s more welding but I kinda want the practice to improve my skills so really not all that bad.  Plus as indicated before – by brewing in the conical with the associated 90 minute boil I would be able to achieve excellent sanitation even where weld imperfections might otherwise thwart chemical cleaning.

Now for the disadvantages… well these pots are pretty thin – definitely thick enough to do the job without problem but thinner material is often more difficult to weld effectively. Still cost and availability prompted me to consider this my best option – especially since I was reasonably sure that I would be able to handle the welding of the think stainless with the Henrob OA torch based on my experience with the stainless pizza oven.

The price – well a pot set from Harbor Freight where the largest pot is 4 gallons cost me $20 and and a 5 gallon pot at the local homestore cost me another $20.  Now some folks I’ve seen building conicals use a cone made from spun stainless funnels – but since

Now for the cool part right – the triclamp fittings that make the conical so versatile.  Well, these are available at low cost off ebay or amazon from manufacturers in China.  How low cost is low cost?  Well a 1.5″ weld-on tricalmp fitting runs $1.99 with free shipping!  So I purchased a bunch of 1.5″ fittings, gaskets, caps, threaded fittings, valves and the like along with a few 2″ fittings to allow me to pass the electrical heating element into the conical.

Total cost for the bits and bobs… slightly over a hundred bucks.  Not bad for a prototype.

 

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DIY Conical Fermenter and Brewing System on the cheap

I’ve been brewing beer at home for quite some time – since before I could legally drink what I was producing.  Much of that has been from kits or from malt extract and my homegrown hops in large part because of the ease with which that can be accomplished.  When I’ve gone over to the all grain side it’s been with cobbled together motley collection of coolers, strainers, bags and the like – which all things considered has gone pretty well.

Recently I’ve wanted to increase my all grain brewing in part because it offers more control but truth be told because it also promises to be significantly cheaper since malt extract and kits are now getting to the price point they produce beer for half the price of purchased product.

DIY Conical Fermenter and Brewing system beside a 3 gallon keg

DIY Conical Fermenter and Brewing system half completed beside a 3 gallon keg

In my review of the systems that are out there I’ve been drawn to the one vessel systems – either the brew-in-a-bag systems, or the brew in a single vessel like the braumeister out of Germany or the more recently introduced grainfather – which really resembles a large commercial coffee urn.  But the one that really caught my fancy was the system that has you brewing in a single vessel that vessel being a conical – now that is efficiency!

I’ve wanted a conical for some time now, and since I’ve started to get a hang of welding stainless steel with my Henrob oxy-acetylene torch when I built the stainless steel pizza oven I wanted to give it a try – but since my welding isn’t exactly commercial grade the idea of doing a 90 minute boil in the conical – which would sterilize the nooks and crannies left in my imperfect welds that might be otherwise hard to get clean – efficient and able to accommodate my stainless welding limitations.

Because I didn’t want to invest too much money into the project I decided to start with a few cheap stainless steel pots – a four pot set from harbor freight, the largest one a 4 gallon unit, and an additional 5 gallon pot.  Both the set and the larger pot were nineteen bucks each.  Tri-clamp fittings from e-bay, direct from China added another $40 or so, toss on a pound of stainless tig rods and we’re looking at about a hundred bucks.

Now, I’m frugal, but one of the other factors here is that this is a prototype, and as such it won’t be perfect, so it doesn’t make sense to dump a lot of cash into something that inherently will be less than the optimal design.

The other thing is that this won’t handle a full five gallon batch – but it should be sized right for three gallon batches, which if this system is as easy to use as I would like to make it is about the perfect size for turning out loads of different beer variations.

Oh, and I’ve got a twist up my sleeve that I’m going to explore, but I’ll save that for later.  Stay tuned to see how it works out.

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Building a Grain Mill – Easy as Pie

Build a grain mill

Build a grain mill

As easy as pie – just a bit longer to realize the result.  Seriously. Really.  You just need the right tools (which are reasonably priced) and to gain some insight into how to pull everything together with smart techniques.

Not really much different than baking a pie – and there are lots of folks who are seriously intimidated by the thought of pulling together a great pie crust and that perfect filling.

But, that’s why cookbooks and cooking shows are so popular – they provide both guidance and the insight into the techniques needed to effectively convert the ingredients into the finished product.  Once you’ve done it once that initial hurdle of getting those techniques down is breached and going from making an apple pie to a peach torte is comparatively a breeze.  That’s no different with metal working – get a handle on how to pull one project off and you’ll be well on your way to having the skills and confidence to pull off much more complex projects.

In terms of how high that bar to entry is – with modern power tools it really isn’t much more difficult than baking that pie in a home oven.  Wire feed welders are not only easy to master but also low cost – as I write this Harbor Freight has their welders on for $110 for the smaller unit to $180 for the midsized one that I adore.  Their angle grinders start at $20 for a 4 1/2″ “heavy duty” one that will do for the work you have to carry out on the project to $45 for a versatile 7″ unit all the way to $65 for a top of the line 9″ unit – but those prices are all before you apply the 20% off coupons that always seem to be floating around.  Another $20 will get you the needed drill.

Homebuilt Grain Mill, Tortilla Press and the required tools

Homebuilt Grain Mill, Tortilla Press and the required tools

Add in the consumables and hand tools and even if you are starting your shop from scratch you’ll be able to buy the tools and the materials needed for the grain mill build and have money left over compared to buying a comparable mill with 6″ diameter burrs.

Now the economics of building your own tortilla press isn’t nearly as compelling – but if you’ve got the tools… well then building it is a breeze.

Of course, the prime advantage in my opinion isn’t the grain mill, or the tortilla press, ore even the nicely equipped shop – but the change in perspective that you’ll gain once you’ve seen how achievable these metal working projects are.  That shift will see you empower your independence, and that

is really cool – especially with a slice of pie.

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Barter Blanket Sale

Building the Homestead Grain Mill

Building the Homestead Grain Mill

We were lucky enough to get our books on the barter blanket at the upcoming TSP event.  For all those that won’t be able to make it there we’re offering a sale on our books – each one of them has been discounted for a limited time.  I’ll also whisper a secret to you folks – business cards were recently printed up with a discount code on them.  Even if you don’t have a card the code 10OFF will get you 10% off your entire purchase.

Build a tortilla press

Build a tortilla press

These books drop the barrier to entry for those who want to have more handy skills, which combined with the current low low price for the tools you’ll need to make these projects combine to form a compelling argument to take these up.

Our most extensive project by far is the grain mill, and our book will walk you every step of the way through the construction of a unit that is every bit the equal of ones costing several hundreds of dollars – you’ll more than pay for the materials and tools by building just one, and you’ll have both the tools and knowledge to use them to jump to more advanced projects.

3D-03 B

Building a cold smoker

The tortilla press build is an especially good project to take on if you are new to metal working.  You can in reasonably quick fashion construct a tortilla press that won’t just work wonderfully, but that your grandkids will be proud to have in their own kitchen – and fresh tortillas are awesome.

Build a cider press

Build a cider press

The cold smoker offers up a simple project that will allow you to produce mouth watering foods at a fraction of the price they would sell for in stores for under $20 – and it’s simple enough that you can be smoking food this weekend.

The cider press is a simple and rewarding woodworking project – and this unit is built like a tank.  It will enable you to make use of the abundance of apples that grace so many neighborhoods but go unharvested.

Like all of these books the price is low enough that the savings you’ll enjoy from not having to toss wasted material from a wrong cut to the side more than pay for the book – discounting the savings in time and energy entailed in perfecting your own designs since at all of these projects are the result of at least the third generation of design evolution.

These projects aren’t as intimidating as they may at first appear – so what are you waiting for?  IF you aren’t lucky enough to be busy at the nine mile farm, then grab the books and start embarking on projects to bring manufacturing back not just onshore but to your home today.

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DIY Folding Clothesline – Sturdier for a fraction of the price

004I’ve always liked hanging laundry out to dry – sure it’s a bit more work than tossing them in the dryer but it’s cheaper, the clothes last longer and they smell better.

When I moved into my current home a number of years ago there was no outside clothesline.  When I started examining the options I quickly dismissed both the long line and the square lines that sit in the middle of the lawn as too intrusive.  Instead I wanted a clothesline that could be bolted to the side of my garage and folded out of the way when not needed.

Folding Clothesline stowed flat

Folding Clothesline stowed flat

Now there does exist such a creature – a few models in fact – but all of them are rather pricey and some looked downright delicate.  Delicate is a definite non-starter here, I wanted to be able to load it up with a few loads of laundry without worrying about the potential for collapse.

So, instead of buying I build and installed an alternative in an afternoon from materials I had on hand.  Over the past seven years it has served exceptionally well – especially considering its low cost and the little time needed to fabricate and install it.

The heart of the unit is a frame made from 1 1/2″ angle iron – in this case the material is actually from bedframes that folks have tossed out.  The frame is made up of two segments 7′ long and another two segments 3′ long.  The two three foot segments form the sides of the frame while one 7′ segment forms one end, and the other 7′ segment forms the other end – but is inset 4″ from the end of the 3′ sides. Welding the frame together is a quick and easy matter.

010

Measurement along the side of the frame for the folding clothesline

This frame is bolted at one end to the portions of the assembly that are bolted to the house.  These were made from some 3″ alumimum angle – but steel material could just as easily suffice.  If you have only narrower material that will work just fine, but you’ll want to install a wood spacer behind it to allow the clothes frame to pivot freely rather than bind against the house.

In my case I fixed 2×6 members to the wall since my studs didn’t line up with the spots for the placement of the fixed pieces.

You’ll need to loosely bolt the clothesline frame to the piece of angle that will be fixed to the house.  Another bolt or block needs to be secured at the lower end of the fixed piece of angle to hold up the free end of the arm that is bolted to the far end of the frame.

Fixed portion of the folding clothesline

Fixed portion of the folding clothesline

In my case this arm is 39 3/4″ long, but frankly this was established with all the other pieces in place and measuring the length of member needed to hold the frame level.

When everything is ready drill holes 4″ apart on the sides of the frame.  Then bolt everything in place and paint any steel pieces to protect against rust.  My preferred paint in this application is aluminum anti-rust paint.  It will last for several years and does a really effective job while also being cheap.

When the paint is dry thread your clothesline through the holes and get ready to hang your first load of laundry out.

If you don’t have a welder you can use angle iron to bolt the frame together, but if you look at the price of buying a commercial folding clothes line compared to the price of a wire feed welder from a place like Harbor Freight or Princess Auto it will become clear quickly that you can pay for the welder and needed safety kit on the basis of this project alone – and wire feed welders are exceptionally easy to use so don’t let that dissuade you. After this project I am sure you’ll start envisioning more potential projects for your new-found skills around your home or homestead.

 

 

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Homemade Penetrating Oil

I often work on rusty kit -so I always ensure my tetanus vaccination is always up to date, and I have penetrating oil on hand to help free rusted parts.

Homemade penetrating oil alongside commercial products and a can of white gas.

Homemade penetrating oil alongside commercial products and a can of white gas.

If the requirement is small or time sensitive I will generally use a commercial product.  The ones I make sure to keep on hand are lanolin (wool grease) based – because they are not only good penetrating oils, but because the lanolin is an excellent way to protect metal against rust without establishing a gummy surface that would require a lot of clean-up before the tool can be used.

But when I have bigger projects that require a lot of penetrating oil – such as the corn binder that I am rebuilding for sweet sorghum harvesting – I turn to homemade penetrating oil which costs a fraction of the commercial products, and while it may not work quite as quickly that price advantage is considerable.

Quite simply you want to use a light oil – that can be diesel – which I’ve used very successfully to free up stuck engines or a mix of a heavier oil – such as an engine or transmission oil – and a light solvent such as acetone, paint thinner or my favorite naphtha – also known as white gas or Coleman fuel.   All will work just fine but I keep naphtha on hand for my camping stoves and find that it doesn’t have the odor that acetone does.  Generally I add between 10 and 20 percent solvent to the oil depending upon the starting weight of the oil and how much I slop in (accuracy isn’t very important here in my experience).  Mix the two in a container and then use a regular oil can to dispense them.   Easy as can be and priced right.

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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.

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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.

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Grain mill power drive improvement

I do a lot of baking, which means lots of flour – and since I grind nearly all of the flour I use (I do use commercial flour to cut my whole grain flours when I bake for friends) the homebuilt homestead grain mill gets a lot of use.  Now,  I regularly run through a loaf worth of grain by hand… but more often I grind up quantities of flour using the simple power drive.

Grain mill power drive powering through a few pounds of whole wheat

Grain mill power drive powering through a few pounds of whole wheat

It is a simple drive, a 1/4hp archaic electric motor whose speed is reduced (and torque increased) with pulleys and an intermediary pulley set on pillowblocks.  All of this setup is mounted to a wood frame that allows me to clamp the grain mill to the base.

The drive was put together using what I had on hand and has worked very nicely.   But, the belt on the grain mill was originally one that was pulled off of my snowblower when it became too worn to serve in that capacity.  Snowblower belts are heavy duty, but it was frankly very worn, and worn unevenly.  Still….it worked as the final drive belt for the mill for about a year.

But, by last week it was pretty clear that the life was pretty much gone from the belt, so this weekend I decided to get a new replacement belt.

Whole wheat flour off the burrs

Whole wheat flour off the burrs

I had been putting the grain through to pastry flour fine in three passes in order to keep the belt from slipping.  I started to adopt the same strategy when I finished swapping in the new belt, but,  change a variable and you change the outcome right.  In this case two things became apparent.  The overall pace at which I could process the grain could be boosted with the new belt, and rather significantly, which wasn’t unexpected since the new belt would have a much greater contact area with the pulley sheaves therefore transferring more torque to the grain mill.  But, something else changed too.    The old belt had been unevenly worn which introduced a bit of shaking, the new belt didn’t do that so the feed rate for the grain though the mill was reduced… so instead of three passes it now makes sense to grind to pastry flour fine in just two passes.  That reduces the necessary adjustment, which while quick and easy is still an extra step, so all in all a nice bonus and one that I hadn’t really counted on…. now to get baking…

 

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The essential power tool – the corded hand drill

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

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

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

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

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.