Expedient Queen Rearing on Plastic Foundation

I was out in the beeyard looking to find the queen and get her in the nicot to produce some additional queens for splits.  As luck would have it a rainstorm was getting ready to roll in yet again and I couldn’t find her – but I did find a frame with a bunch of eggs and new larvae.

Printed queen cage

Queen cages by 3D Printer

So I ended up setting up the frame for the hopkins method of reporduction – that is orienting it horizontally in the hope of getting some of those cells drawn out and placed it wedged in at the top of one of my hives.  Now I didn’t go to through the effort to go queenless and then queenright or crowd – as I indicated this was last minute.

Now because it was a piece of plastic foundation I knew I wouldn’t be able to cut out the drawn out cells – so I ended up designing and 3d printing cages designed to protect the cells and trap the virgins as they hatched out.

The worked well enough to be an ok backup if you find yourself in a similar spot.

You can find the STL file on Thingverse.




Homeground flour – to sift or not to sift

Sifted home ground flour on right, coarse bran on the left

Grinding your own flour is a great way to get fresh healthy flour for your baking at dirt cheap prices.  Now the question is to sift or not to sift.

That is, do you remove some of the coarser fractions – generally the bran – or do you keep it 100% extraction.

Now, generally I just keep it whole – but if doing finer baking or doing baking for those less accustomed to full extraction it is easy to come up with a product that is closer to white simply by sifting the ground flour through a kitchen strainer. The fine flour components pass through and the coarser bran is retained.

Effectively it goes from 100% extraction to about 80% extraction.  It is fast, easy and gives a great product that is more generally accepted.


Stanley Adventure Crock – Lid Latch Fix

Replacement Adventure Crock Latch

There’s a reason our grandparents had skills – they needed to be able to do things for themselves because they couldn’t afford to pay someone to do or make it for them.  Now we live right now in a pretty easy money environment, but because fewer folks can do it can mean more advantages for those who cultivate can do skill sets.

Take my recent trip to Cabella’s to pick up some outdoor gear.  I popped into their “Bargain Cave” and there were a couple of Stanley Adventure Crocks at the back.  Now these are three quart/ litre insulated crocks and look perfect for bringing something hot to a potluck or outing.  List price $75 plus 13% tax.  (In the states it looks like they go for $45).  But these ones, well they were marked down to a third of the price because the latches to hold the lids in place were broken.  Without the latches these were pretty much useless.

Final layers of the adventure crock latch being printed in PETG

Now clearly given the apparent prevalence of broken latches Stanley needs to address the design.  But I knew I could take advantage of the deeply discounted price and make my own replacement latches very quickly at home.

Now the replacement job would have been a bit of a pain to machine in metal – I have all the tools but still… But the project was perfectly suited to designing a beefier replacement in Sketchup and 3D printing it in PETG.  The replacement latch works great – and I have even used failure testing as an excuse to watch TV while working the latch repeatedly.  No problems!

3D printing is a great capability to add to your home, and if you don’t already have machine tools it is a great entry point into homescale manufacturing.  If you do have a machine shop I’m sure you’ll find that there are lots of tasks that a 3D printer can accomplish more easily than you could with conventional fabrication techniques.

For those of you with a an adventure crock with a broken latch here is the link to the STL file on thingverse





Low Hoop Houses in Snow

This year I decided to put the plastic up on the hoop houses late in the fall – partly to provide winter cover to extend the season and secondarily to get things going faster in the spring then would inevitably happen if I needed to dig the plastic out and fix it into place.

The question though…. would it stand up to the snow load?  Well, we’ve had some good snow (a couple of feet) and some good cold spells… and the hoops have bent a bit but nothing much – and that’s without ever brushing off the snow.

Well, today I went and knocked the frozen snow layers off – last week we had a mild spell and even a bit of drizzle.  The snow came off quickly and the hoops and plastic look great!


Simple Plywood Jigs for Welding

Jigs are commonly used in industry to speed production of repeated assemblies, and there is no reason why you shouldn’t be using them in your own shop to make your life easier too.

Plywood jig for welded T's

Plywood jig for welded T’s

Now one of the key things whenever you are undertaking a project is to assess the tolerances required – I think that’s becoming less of a factor in industry with computer controlled equipment, but if you shop is like mine – pretty manual, then tolerances are a key factor.  Keep that in mind when you produce the jigs.  In this case I’m welding up parts for an iron and oak shelf for my brother and sister in law.  It has to be square but doesn’t need to be super precise – so a quickly put together jig made from scraps of plywood is just the think to make the repeat assemblies quickly and accurately.

Plywood Welding Jig for table legs

Plywood Welding Jig for table legs

While there are six T’s those are fitted into two larger leg assemblies – while there isn’t a whole lot of repeatably required with only two assemblies quickly assembling a jig to ensure that the parts get put together and are square and in the right spots is well worth the ten minutes it took to screw the plywood pieces together.  The end result is that the leg assemblies were identical – and I ended up saving a lot of time and cursing because they made holding the elements in the correct space without having to double and triple check.

Tack welded table leg, making sure it stands square before final welding

Tack welded table leg, making sure it stands square before final welding

Now, wooden jigs for welding are not necessarily long lasting given wood deteriorates when heated to a temperature that will melt metal.  Sure, but you probably aren’t turning out hundreds of assemblies so this is a bit irrelevant, and the speed, ease and low cost offered by using wood more than offset the limited life-cycle of flammable jigs.

So, next time you have a welding job consider using jigs in your setup if it’s appropriate.


Nut Milk Press Concept

I was recently asked for a proposal on how to increase the amount of nut milk expelled from a mix of the remaining nut pulp after the free liquid had drained off.

Nut milk press concept

Nut milk press concept

Here’s my first go at a design formulation.  The key here is to apply pressure to the pulp to force out the remaining liquid.  There’s a couple of ways to go about that but a lever is probably the easiest and most sanitary with out special provisions.  There are alternatives though – you could for example use a car jack for greater pressure – but I’d tend to want to strip off the regular grease and then grease the screw up with a food grade product.

First I’d start with the press basket – a tall stainless steel container.  Tall containers offer the same volume as wider shallower ones but because the press disk will be smaller in size the pressure applied to the disk will be greater.  Think Pounds Per Square Inch (PSI) – bigger disk more square inches therefore less pressure for the same force.  There could be some tall mixing bowls or maybe one of those stainless steel kitchen cutlery containers.

Now the press basket needs holes in it to allow the expressed liquid to leave the vessel.  Holes can be a pain to drill on a round surface –  a much faster route is to use a dremel type tool with the small abrasive disks to cut slots along the side of the basket – I used settled on this technique when building the electric countertop brewing system after struggling with drilling.

A press disk – preferably some good hardwood – oak or maple would be my choices.  Cut the disk so it fits into the press basket – shouldn’t be a tight fit.

Then the frame for the press – probably 2x4s – two frames held appart with other pieces of 2×4.  A press pin in the back – probably 3/4″ steel pipe.  A lever – preferably hardwood but for a start go with another chunk of 2×4.  have the lever press on a block – probably  a 4×4 (or two pieces of 2×4 screwed together) that sits on the press disk.  You may need a couple of lengths of these depending upon how much you get your material to compress and the travel of the lever.

The press basket should sit in a pan or pot to catch the expelled milk – maybe on a wooden riser, and that pot should probably be supported with some pieces of 2×4 between the press frames.

The only question here would be if the unit would move too much with the pressure from the lever – I don’t know how much effort would need to be applied.  If the lever didn’t work I’d move to a car jack from the junk yard cleaned up.

Good luck.



DIY FirePiston Fire Starting

Fire Piston cylinder (L) and piston (R)

Fire Piston cylinder (L) and piston (R)

There are loads of different ways to start a fire – but one of the neatest ones has to be with a fire piston.  Matches and lighters are well known, using electricity…  well that isn’t that unusual and flint… well that is pretty well understood too, but starting a fire with compression – especially the compression that you can generate with only your own force – well now that is different.  That latter method – compression is exactly the means that a fire piston uses.

If you’ve got a few tools you can easily make your own setup in a couple of hours.  I used an aluminum round for the body and bored it out so that a rod fitted with an O-ring to improve the seal would just fit.  The piston has a small cup machined in the end to hold char cloth and that’s it.

For those not familiar with char cloth it’s cotton that is carbonized to become great tinder.  It’s simple to make too.   Wash out a tin can put in some old cotton material – like bits of t-shirt, put the top in if you have it and then cover it all with aluminum foil.  The idea here is to keep air out – you want to char not burn the cotton.  Put it on a BBQ burner or in a campfire and keep heating it until smoke stops emanating.  Then cool it before removing the foil.

Notice cup in the end of the fire piston for the charcloth

Notice cup in the end of the fire piston for the charcloth

Now when you use the fire piston you’ll put a bit of the charcloth in the cup of the piston, slide the piston just into the cylinder and then holding the cylinder slam it down on a hard surface to drive the piston up.  Quickly remove the piston and you should find the char cloth has an ember ready to be gently fanned into the start of a fire.

It’s a cool way to start a fire, and a good way to come to appreciate the value of a lighter!  Have fun and safe machining.


Buns in the Wood Fired Oven

Our homebuilt wood fired pizza oven gets a lot of use through the year and not just for pizza.

Baking buns in the wood fired oven

Baking buns in the wood fired oven

But pizza is usually a weekly ritual – and when I make up a batch of pizza dough I like to make it extra large so that I can make some regular pizzas, often a desert pizza AND a bunch of buns.

As the oven cools off after the pizzas have cooked the buns are slipped and slowly bake in the cooling oven making use of the fading heat and the coals without needing additional wood.

These make great buns for lunches  for the next couple of days for little cost or extra effort.





DIY Conical Pt 2, 3 & 4 Layout and cutting the cone parts

So down to business – doing the layout and cutting of the pots to form the conical.  The first part is to figure out the layout for your conical cone.  Basically your cone will be made from a circular segment that is larger in diameter than the base of the upper pot segment.  The greater the diameter of the circle that will form the cone vs. the base of the pot the taller the cone.  Simple enough right?  So how did I figure out the diameter of that circle?  Well to a significant extent that was limited by the material I was going to be using to form the cone – the sides of the 5 gallon pot.

One piece of the segments of the conical taped to the 5 gallon pot

One piece of the segments of the conical taped to the 5 gallon pot

With this figure as the upper limit I then laid out a couple of circles with a compass on some newspaper in preparation for some trial and error folding.

A key part to making the cone is cutting out a pie shaped segment from the circle you’ve just laid out – determining what size that needs to be is simple enough.  You need the length around the big circle you’ve just laid out when the pie shaped segment is removed to equal the cirucmference of the bottom of the pot you’ll be using as the upper portion of the conical.

In this case the diameter of the cone I chose was 18 1/2″.  Measuring these is most easily done with a very flexible tape measure such as those used for sewing.  Now I should note that I added just a tad to the circumference in order to have the cone be just a bit wider at the mouth than the base of the upper pot since it’s always easier to trim material out than try to fill in significant gaps.

I decided to cut out half of the cone circle in one piece and the smaller segment, that is the other half of the cone circle less the pie shaped segment that isn’t needed for the cone in another piece.  It seems to have worked out OK, but now that it’s done I wonder if it might not have been easier to have the two pieces of the cone eaually sized thus providing a greater gap between the final welds.  It shouldn’t be a big deal either way, but I might try out the other variation just to see how things work out as I refine the design.

OF course if you are using a solid sheet of stainless steel you only need to remove the pie shaped segment, but the five gallon pot offered me a low cost readily available source of the steel sheet so that is what I used – thus requiring a bit more assembly work.

So that is how the template for the cone was established.   I then taped it to the sides of the five gallon pot and marked out the shapes with a sharpie marker.

To cut them out I used my angle grinder with a thin abrasive cutting disk.  It’s not perfect but with care it’s a pretty good result.  I then cut the bottom off of the 5 gallon pot from the pot side – not the pot bottom – to free the segment.

You can check out these videos for a quick overview of how that work was accomplished.


Vacuum Food Bottle Showdown – Stanley vs. Thermos

Vacuum Bottle Tops and Lids

Vacuum Bottle Tops and Lids

I feel like you should be reading this and thinking monster truck announcer voice for this epic showdown between the two leading brands in vacuum bottle technology battling it out to see which is the champion of the lunch box!  The reality is slightly less epic.

My guess is that for many folks the value of a vacuum food bottle has diminished as microwaves have become pervasive in many workpalce kitchens.  But that isn’t the case for all workplaces, nor is it true for many kids – including mine.

For them especially this is relevant because food restrictions due to allergies can really cut down on what you can put in a kid’s lunch box – no nuts or nut butters is pretty standard, but last year there was even a prohibition against bringing fish to school because someone had an allergy or at least one that was close enough that the administration didn’t want to trouble themselves with deciding what was in or out.

In anycase, a vacuum bottle allows you to pack a warm lunch that can not only diversify the regular fare, but at least in my home is a very economical means of packing lunch.  We’re talking here things like leftover butter chicken, Thai curries, and hearty soups with a chunk of homemade bread or a wholesome whole wheat biscuit.

Vacuum Bottle Heat Loss Chart

Vacuum Bottle Heat Loss Chart

All those things do best nice and warm, and I’ve found that cheap vacuum bottle just don’t cut it given I reheat lunches shortly after 6am.  So this fall  when shopping for a few quality vacuum bottles I found those made by – Stanley and Thermos brands came with a variety of competing claims on how long they would keep contents warm or cold.  With them priced reasonably closely I decided to pick up a few and trial them to see which ended up being better.

Well, the end result is that all claims aside they all perform equally well and seem to loose heat at comparable rates – the biggest determining factor being the starting volume of the contents you load rather than which brand or model you choose as can be seen in the chart.

So knowing that which ones win out.  Well, for adults I like the 17oz Stanley – it’s a nice size and had the much better designed top.  Thermos tops should really be redesigned to give better grip.  As the contents cool there can be a pretty substantial vacuum pulled which fights against easy opening of the top.  But all things considered for the kids the 16oz Thermos brand ones win – particularly based on size to volume.  They are a nice meal size for kids and they are only 2/3rds the size of the Stanley which makes a difference in a jammed backpack.   The folding spoon originally struck me as gimicky, and likely to get lost in short order – but somewhat surprisingly we’re about five month into their frequent use by the kids – at least once a week – and those spoons are still around.

Slightly more worrying is the silicon gasket.  I worry every time I wash them that the gasket will go missing – but so far so good.  I will probably end up contacting Stanley and Thermos and asking to order a few replacement gaskets to have in the spare parts drawer.  Apart from that I can see both of these living up to their claims of a lifetime of use, and both have already paid their cost back in lunch savings (roughly $25 to $30).

These definitely trump the cheap thermoses that will end up disappointing and being chucked time and again.  Buy something that will deliver and keep you happy.