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Yes, I am being dramatic.  Anytime you are presented with an absolute statement such as this you should approach it with caution.  But hear me out about why changing your oil is the most important mechanical skill for those who fashion themselves, preppers, modern homesteaders, or simply folks more interested in repatriating the skills they rely upon into their own households.

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About to remove the oil drain pan bolt with the socket wrench

I don’t think anyone would disagree with me that we’ve become an increasingly less manually self sufficient society.  I think part of that is due to folks not needing to understand how to exercise those skills.  Some of that is because the things we depend upon are more reliable… there are fewer and fewer “shade tree” mechanics in part because it isn’t common to pull and engine and/or transmission to rebuild it.  Engines are much more reliable and so too are the individual systems, that is good.

The other part of the equation is that by and large we’ve enjoyed some pretty favorable economic times… which has allowed us to hire out work that a generation ago would have been done at home in order to preserve domestic finance as well as to replace instead of rebuilding.  Combine the improved reliability of systems which reduces the need to get our hands dirty together with the ability to hire out or replace and skill sets start to atrophy and disappear.

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Oil filter styles – replaceable cartridge style on the left, spin on canister on the right

Still with me?  So why is the lowly oil change the most important skill for those seeking to build more self sufficiency into their lives?  Bear in mind that it was just last week that I was buy lasix 40 mg, and I’m the guy who thinks you should be building your own buy lasix 40 mg online, buy lasix furosemide and buy lasix and buy cheap lasix online.

Simple.  Precisely because most folks are starting from a base of limited mechanical skills actually starting the journey is the most important part of the process.

The tools are limited – a good socket set, which is really pretty essential.  If you are hard up for cash a good enough socket set can be had for about $20 from harbor freight.

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Supplies for an oil change

A good oil pan is under $10.  Now there are a couple of styles.  One looks like a jerry can with a bit of a depression in the the top and a removable drain plug as well as a big screw on spout at the top.  The other style is an open pan, usually with a couple of handles molded in and spout to allow you to drain it with some precision.  I’ve used both and I much prefer the open pan style, in part because there is so much less spillage since the oil doesn’t need to go into the container through a relatively small hole.  Especially when you’ve got a bigger vehicle the rate at which oil will pour out when you remove the plug can easily exceed the intake capacity of the jerry can style containers.

You should also grab a funnel which makes pouring the oil into the filler cap so much easier.  Now you’ll see that I have a comparatively massive funnel.  That is overkill for a normal passenger vehicle, but I use the same kit for my F250 Super Duty with the 7.3 liter diesel which instead of getting a fill-up of oil from a jug requires part of a 5 gallon pail, now that merits a big funnel, I simply use the same kit for all of my vehicles.

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Vehicle ramps

You may also need a set of vehicle ramps if your vehicle has relatively low clearance.  A set of ramps – which run under $40 – can raise up the vehicle and give you lots of clearance to slide under the vehicle.  Now if you want to be luxurious pick up a wheeled creeper but that certainly isn’t necessary.  Of all of the elements of changing your own oil I think the driving up the ramps is likely the most stressful part.  Just take it easy, apply enough gas to get you up but not so much to shoot over them… but if you do grab your jack used to change the tire and lift the car up and pull the ramp out, lower the car and do it again a bit more gently.

Finally, you’ll need to pick up the correct grade and quantity of oil and a new filter for your vehicle.  I favor conventional oil for the warmer months but will pay the premium for synthetic for the winter, where the lower viscosity really pays off.  If you don’t have a use for the waste oil you can put it in a container and return it to most garages.

If you want some guidance on the specifics pick up a repair manual for your vehicle or look on then net.

Payback for the tools will take about two oil changes and then you’ll be saving money – but more importantly, the payback in skills and confidence will come right away.  From there I know you’ll be more comfortable taking that incremental step forward to gaining more mechanical skills to empower your independence.

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Last weekend I was hauling a trailer load of garden-soil home to complete the planting of my fruit trees (for this year at least).  the truck would stop fine, but as I waited at a light the brake pedal would sink progressively to the floor.  The brakes were going…  I took it easy and made it home and slid under the truck.  Now it’s a 2001 F250 with the 7.3 diesel, so while components are beginning to rust the mechanicals seem to be in pretty good shape, and frankly I can’t justify or afford the replacement cost which would run over $50,000.

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Brake line in the process of being removed. The break in the line was a consequence of working to remove the line.

So we fix it.  No big deal right, course mechanic time doesn’t come cheap.  So when I slid under it and saw the the brake line between the rear splitter and the left hand brake leaking I figured I would fix it myself.  Now, I’ve never replaced brake lines before, never bent brake lines.  I have replaced calipers and brake pads and bled the brakes… but with the great teacher – youtube – I got a crash course in how to bend brake lines – and how to form the double flange needed for the high pressure lines.

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Tools to form the break lines

I ran up to the autoparts store and picked up the brake lines and fittings as well as the forming tools.  Total cost under a hundred bucks.  The old brakeline fittings were rusted but some penetrating oil – in this case my favorites are all lanolin (wool oil based) – and a bit of time saw them freed up.

I bent up a replacement segment to roughly the same shape and put it into place.  Now, came the time to bleed the brake system.

Here I hit a snag. The bleeder on the right side rear caliper was freed easily, but the one on the left side was stuck… really stuck.  I hit it with penetrating oil, let it rest, and tried it again.  When I had rounded the corners I ended up switching to vice grips… but still it wouldn’t budge.

Now, a replacement caliper runs in the order of $80, but replacing a perfectly good caliper solely because of a stuck bleeder screw is silly… now some folks will heat the screw with an oxy-acetylene torch and then cool it rapidly enabling it to be removed while on the vehicle… Since brake fluid is very flammable that isn’t such a great idea… Instead I removed the caliper and did this on a safe surface where if the torch lit the fluid on fire it wouldn’t take the vehicle with it.  It popped open in two seconds flat!  A replacement bleeder screw cost less than $3.  So it was quite a savings.

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New brake bleeder screw installed salvaging the brake caliper

The caliper was reinstalled, the lines fitted securely and the system bled and the truck was back on the road.

Ok, so it took a couple of evenings to get everything pulled together and fixed up… but the total cost of the repair was less than $10.  Ten bucks!  The tools cost about $90, but now I have them… and with the rest of the lines at the same age I know I need to set aside a bunch of evenings to replace all of the remaining lines.

I know I saved a bunch of money over taking the truck into the garage for the fix, more than enough to pay for the tools – but more than that I gained the experience to be confident in doing the job.  It’s also a skill stepping stone. I know that it won’t be such a jump the next time some bigger fix comes along.  That is a pretty cool investment.  So the next time you face an auto repair job…  consider doing it yourself.

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Belshaw B doughnut dropper in action

I’ve made yeast doughnuts for years now, ever since I left home and my mother’s prohibition on deep fat frying.  I’m still pretty cautious and tend to use the side burner on the BBQ when I want to do a fry-up.  That said I also keep a pot cover nearby and while some folks may have one or maybe at most two pipsqueak sized fire extinguishers I have a half dozen 20 pound CO2 extinguishers around the house including in the kitchen.  I haven’t had to use them, but it’s nice knowing that if I did have need for one that one is always close at hand and has serious knockdown power.

But I digress.  Yeast doughnuts are great and are easy to do with what you have around the home, and they were a frequent treat in my home. Then I started experimenting with cake donuts.  Now these have a different taste and texture from yeast donuts and are a breeze to mix up…. but I found making them to be a real mess.

See the batter is sticky, so trying to push it off a spoon with your finger (like you might with cookie dough) doesn’t work so well – and ensures you are covered with batter, and by the end of the process so too is much of the kitchen.  I then tried to extrude them using a jerky gun… That worked okish, but getting the batter loaded into the tube… well that was a mess.  Then I picked up a cheap “home” doughnut dropper… those are small, and low cost but I couldn’t get it to work really well, and loading the small hopper still created a mess…

Then my brother and sister in law gave me a copy of the Saveur magazine donut issue… and I decided to stop screwing around with half assed solutions to the problem and move up to commercial equipment where any issues had been addressed.

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Doughnut hole production underway with no mess!

Now, the smallest pretty common donut dropper out there seems to be the Belshaw model B.  There is a slightly smaller version but that isn’t nearly as common.  Now, let’s not get you all exited that you are going to get pro gear at amateur prices… these units routinely sell for several hundred dollars – with the plungers alone going for over a hundred even when well used.  But I am a patient guy, so I set about watching e-bay for a Belshaw B to come up cheap… dinged and dented didn’t matter so much as the price.  I ended up being able to get one for a fraction of the usual price, complete with a doughnut hole plunger for about $150.

The first couple of times I used it I filled the hopper and held it with one hand over the pot of oil while cranking it with the other hand… not exactly the easiest balancing act.  But man,  was I hooked… it worked so well, and so quickly with so little mess.  I could instantly see why cake donuts are a commercial hit they are so easy and fast to produce when you are using commercial grade equipment.

Anyway, I needed a stand for it… I’ll get around to welding something nice up at some point,  but for now a couple of pieces of 2×6 from scrapped projects and a piece of 1/2″ steel rod assembled and clamped  in a folding work bench is all I really need.

It’s an interesting juxtaposition… high quality commercial doughnut dropper mounted on a 15 minute wood working project made with scrap, but in the assembly the quality is located where it needs to be – in the dropper, while the stand… well it just does its job.

So the next time you set about tackling a project under time constraints consider where and what quality level you need to achieve.  Now I could have made a great stand… but instead I’m making some great donuts!

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Any trip through a kitchen store will reveal a loads of kitchen gadgets.  Some seem to be perpetually available and others, well they are here today gone tomorrow.  In all likelihood most of these, irrespective of which category these fall into end up shoved to the back of the odds ‘n ends or junk drawers in most kitchens.

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My odds ‘n ends drawer with the danish whisk front and center, and this wasn’t a staged photo.

I’m not one for filling junk drawers.  I’m willing to have tools that will radically speed up operations I do only a few times a year, like the Victorio food mill – or the cheap lasik eye surgery in mumbai, but not junk.

So I was a bit suspect about the utility of the danish whisk and it’s great reviews when I saw it in the cheap lasik eye surgery philippinescatalog.   But,  I needed Christmas gifts for my hard to buy for mother and sister-in-law, so I picked these up for their kitchens.

Turns out they are as good if not better than billed in the description.  They blend dough faster and with much less effort than a wooden spoon.  This is obviously a nice advantage for adults,  but at least in my home it was the difference between my kids being able to complete the task of mixing doughs and batters and having to call dad to do most of the mixing when there was only a wooden spoon in the drawer.

Now the title says the poor man’s stand mixer, and that probably bills it fairly.  Pick one up today and soon you’ll find that the formerly indispensable wooden spoons have been pushed to the back of the odds ‘n ends drawer from lack of use.

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We left off the wood fired pizza oven construction at the point of having finished the back of the inner shape.

Now, we have to produce the back of the outer shape and the front of the oven.  We’ll start with the back of the oven.  This is pretty much like the production of the back of the inner shape but the larger dimensions presented me with some issues.

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Laying out back segment of the pizza oven across two pieces of stainless sheet

The outer back segment is really much like the inner back segment – except that with the materials I had available to me I had to use two pieces.  So my first step was to trace out the outer curve from my template.

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Marking out outer curve to provide for tabs

Then as we did previously we are going to mark out another curve 1″ outside of the curve you just traced from the template.

Cut along this line with a metal cutting jigsaw blade.  Once that is done,  you want to cut out the tabs.

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Rear segment cut to shape – ready for the tabs to be cut.

For the back portion I didn’t bend over the tabs, preferring to wait until I had welded the two sides together into one piece.

The front piece is a bit different.  While the back inner and outer pieces will be joined only to the inner or outer curved segments respectfully, the front piece serves to link the inner to the outer curved pieces.

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Not enough material to make the full curve with one or two pieces of sheet.

Somewhat like the back outer piece the front segment for me required three pieces to create the full segment.  So the first thing I did was trace out the inner and outer curve from the template.  Then you’ll need to mark out a 1″ line beyond each side of the curve and then cut along these lines.

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First front segment clamped and ready for the tabs to be bent down.

Just as with the other segments you’ll need to mark out the tab segments and cut those with the angle grinder.  Unlike the back segment I bent over the tabs after having clamped the pieces to the pattern.

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Middle segment showing overlap portions without tabs

Now,  the third piece I needed to use to fill the gap between these two I followed the same practice, but trimmed the tabs off from the areas where the linking segment would be under the other two pieces.

With these done we’ve completed curved segments and are ready to move on to the next steps of the fabrication process including the roof segments that will go between the front and back pieces.

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Front along with inner and outer back segments cut out and placed in relation to the fire brick


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We left off in buy generic lasix online having arrived at the dimensions for the pizza oven and cutting a template from 3/4″ plywood to use to assist in laying out the sheets and later on in forming them to the appropriate curve.

So really the key peace is the curved segment you form – the arc with the inner radius of 13 1/2″ and the outer arc 16 1/2″.

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Pattern marked out and ready to cut the stainless sheet for the inner back of the oven

The first step is to trace out the parts for the inner back of the oven.  I had one piece upon which I could trace the form and allow for a 1″ tab all around the outside of the form.   After positioning the pattern I traced out the outer curve and followed it up by using a ruler to mark our a new curve 1″ further out from the first one based on the pattern.

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A selection of Jigsaw blades for cutting the stainless steel sheets

So now to cut the steel to shape along the outermost curve you’ve drawn out.  For the curved segments I used a good quality metal cutting blades on the jigsaw.  I grabbed two sets of blades to trial from two quality brands (Bosch and Vermont American) – one coarser and one set that was finer.  I suspected the finer blades would be by far the better choice on the thin sheet metal.  As it turns out, the coarser blades were more effective, and the Bosch beat out the Vermont American by a consider margin in longevity.  That said “longevity” is a relative thing… even the coarse Bosch blades were given to stripped teeth and eventual breakage.  For the project as a whole I needed nearly ten blades!

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The angle grinder – the “right” tool for straight cuts

Much more effective was the use of the angle grinder with a 1/16″ thin kerf metal cutting disk mounted.  It raced through the stainless steel sheet with what seemed to be no difference in progress or wear than with regular carbon steel.  Of course,  the angle grinder is really only suited to straight cuts, so as easy a solution as the grinder proved for the straight cuts the jigsaw remains necessary for curved cuts.

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Marking out locations to make the cuts to form the tabs.

The 1″ section that lies outside of the patterned curve is intended to be used to form tabs so that we can bend inward so that we can create parallel surfaces to join the assemblies by spot-welding.   Another benefit of the tabs is that they will add three dimensional rigidity to the forms.

Mark out the locations for the cuts to form the tabs – approximately 1″ apart.  The slots between the tabs can be cut easily with the angle grinder – making the cut just so deep that you contact the inner line that was traced from the pattern.

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Stainless steel sheet clamped to the form in preparation for bending the tabs

Once the tabs are cut clamp the steel sheet to the form making sure that it lines up with the original inner curve you traced out.

Your next step is to bend the tabs inward overtop of the plywood form.  Use a ball peen hammer to tap them over.  Once the tabs are all bent over – and you may need to shift your clamps around before the process is completed – use the hammer to make sure the tabs follow the contour of the plywood form – rather than simply being bent over at 90 degrees from the original sheet.

You’ll now want to take a file and remove any rough edges that may be left.  That finishes up the inner back segment of the build.

Our next steps will include the building of the outer back piece and the front curved segment.

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Inner back segment completed and placed against the fire bricks for comparison


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This past weekend, May 24th weekend, marks the safe planting date – the risk of frost, is in theory at least, has passed.
Now, we’ve had some really warm weather already, in the mid and upper 20c’s, but sure enough just last week there was a frost warning.

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Hoop house one – the red are the already thinned several times R148 Amaranth for greens and grain. Trays of sweet sorghum and paddy rice at the far end.

So, as most folks here are just putting in their gardens where am I?
Well, the where to buy lasix water pill are going great, the tomatoes and tomatillos need to be staked and are growing wonderfully, the peppers and eggplants are happily pushing forth. The hardier stock, while not needing the higher temperatures has shown its appreciation by rewarding us with a salad again last night. Lettuce, radishes, and amaranth leaves. Lovely!

In my other beds that are uncovered the results are significantly less spectacular. There the tomatoes, peppers and herbs have established themselves nicely and started to grow, but the growth pales in comparison to those in the hoophouses, and we are still a couple of weeks away from adding rappini and sugar snap peas to the salads – if they manage to travel that far – and at least at the start of the season the best I can expect is that they will be detached from the plant before being gobbled down with relish.  I will truly know that our fresh fetish is at least partially satiated or overwhelmed when more item start to appear in the salad bowls but that won’t be for a while.

So for the time and energy invested I am definitely a fan of the medium hoop houses thus far.

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Hoop House Two – Tomatoes and peppers and eggplant and greens and more – oh my!

Now, I have learned a few things about the construction of the hoop houses. The biggest lesson is that the opening and closing has been pretty tough on the frames. The corners really need to be reinforced with 4×4 blocks on the inside and steel brackets on the outside. I also thought I could get away with not screwing in the female side of the conduit. Sure they can’t move up, but they will move down! The last significant item for me to figure out is if I should switch from plastic to metal conduit straps as several of the plastic ones have broken- now that may be because the conduit slipped down and was pushed out as I opened the frame- which should be addressed by fixing the conduit in place on both ends – so I’ll take a wait and see attitude for now.

Right now I am planning on rolling up the plastic towards the middle to end of June depending upon the weather and the growth of the plants under cover.  Then it will probably be unrolled in mid-September to support the fall crops and eek out a few more months from the warm weather commodities.

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So what am I on about here?  The definition of fantasy is the act of imagining impossible or improbable things.  You might be expecting that since I very much enjoy getting my hands dirty thus the feel for the feel for the tangible and all that is reasonably within grasp that I’d take a rather dim view of fantasy.

In fact that isn’t the case.  I think imagining the impossible or improbably is part of what makes us creative, what has us stretch the boundaries.  Today a smart phone is reality – but fifty years ago it was fantasy, even when Startrek came out the “communicators” were fanciful. Today it’s reality – and cheap reality. Now the developments that resulted in the technological marvel that is the cellphone where incremental – and were distributed over a wealth of folks.  But each of them had component fantasies, those bits of technology and knowledge that they figured out and paved the way forward.

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Fantasy or reality – can you recognize the difference?

Things don’t even need to be that far out to be “fantasy”.  The wood fired pizza oven that I am in the process of building can reasonably fit into that category.  That it’s well known how to build drops the achievability bar pretty far,  but still in an environment where most folks buy rather than build there is a level of fantasy there – especially since I am new to working with stainless steel, which has a reputation for being a demanding material to work with.

I’m also not going to knock kicking back and enjoying a fantasy for relaxation and downtime.  As a kid I read under the covers with a flashlight because I’d get so into a book, and I do quite enjoy kicking back on the couch to watch a good show or movie.

But, you know,  as that kid who’d read most of the night because I couldn’t put the book down I also knew that I had to face up to the reality that the next morning I’d be dragging my ass but better put a smile on and make the most of the day.  I knew that while I might be buried in the pages of a fantasy that reality was still there and needed to be treated with respect.

Maybe that’s part of why I am so ok with fantasy – I can enjoy it or use it to spur me on – but I always keep a bit of me planted in reality so when the fantasy fades and only reality remains it isn’t a shock.

I wonder how many folks today don’t have that other foot planted in the reality field, for whom life is lived between fantasy and deeper fantasy.   Those are the folks whom when reality confronts them – as it is almost sure to do at some point – are likely going to be grumpy at the intrusion of reality.

For my part,  I’m off to do a bit more work to make the fantasy of the wood fired pizza oven a reality.



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With a stack of flattened stainless steel sheets my next task was to figure out dimensions for the pizza oven.

I started with dimensions for the commercial units I liked which was 27″ x 27″ for the interior dimension.  Recall that as an insulated stainless steel unit there is both an inner and outer. shell.

Laying out the template for the wood fired pizza oven.

Laying out the template for the wood fired pizza oven.

The standard fire bricks I am using are 9″ x 4 1/2″.  So three bricks placed long way wide gives 27″  and six bricks deep makes 27″.

To get a handle on what I could accomplish using the materials at hand I labeled each piece of stainless steel and measured them up and then set about with a pencil and pad of paper figuring out designs.

The oven shape is simple enough- half circles.  The formula for the circumference of a circle is 2 x 3.14 x radius, so the half circle shape amounted to half that or 3.14 x radius.

So, long story short,  the material I had to work with dictated that the inner shell have a diameter of 27″ wide by 22 1/2″ deep.

The outer shell would have a radius 3″ greater to provide a gap for insulation between the inner and outer shell.

Getting ready to cut out the templates with the jigsaw

Getting ready to cut out the templates with the jigsaw

To make layout work a bit easier I grabbed a piece of 3/4″ thick plywood to make a master pattern with.  To draw the half circle I picked a piece of aluminum flat from my scrap pile and drilled a bunch of 1/8″ holes in it.  The first near the end would serve as the pivot point – when placed over a finishing nail tapped into the plywood – and other holes were drilled 13.5″ and 16.5″ further out from this point – the inner and outer curves respectively.

I used a jigsaw to cut the plywood curve out.  This then served as the template for laying out the back inner wall, the back outer wall, and the front curved piece.  One thing to take not of is that I marked out the initial curve described by the template but then added another inch to use to make tabs to bend over to provide additional structural support as well as give a place to spot weld the backs and fronts to the flat outer pieces…

Stay tuned for the next steps as we work towards a  really cool pizza oven made from stainless steel scrap.


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Don’t sweat the smoke

If you are familiar with electronics you may be familiar with the line “Don’t let the smoke out”… the idea being that electronics run on smoke and if you let electronics smoke… well you let out the working essence out and they cease to exist.

That’s all very cute, and you don’t want your kit to stop working but I wonder how much the fear of letting the smoke out keeps us from actually risking to fix our kit.

Bottom of the laptop along with replacement fan

Bottom of the laptop along with replacement fan

Case in point, the laptop I’m using now slowed way down… the issue – well it’s about four years old and the fan failed and that really kills performance.  Now it would have been easy to drop a few hundred and get a new unit.

But, if that is the alternative – giving up what you’ve got, where’s the risk in trying to fix it?  Let the smoke out and… well I’m no further back than I was if I had to get another machine.

So that”s what I did… I picked up a replacement fan off Amazon for a whole $7!  I backed up my files, removed the back of the laptop unscrewed the old fan and unplugged it.  Then I swapped in the new fan.  The job took about five minutes… and saved me somewhere around $250.

Replacement fan installed in the laptop, ready to replace the rear cover

Replacement fan installed in the laptop, ready to replace the rear cover

The computer is back to clipping along and that money is still in my pocket – actually it’s paying off my mortgage.  I’d consider that a pretty sound and low risk investment.

So the next time some of your kit starts to malfunction give some thought to repairing it rather than trashing it and buying another.