Thursday, November 19, 2015

Raising Poultry

The first project is in the books here at the farm.  We raised our first batch of chickens over the past two months, culminating with their delivery for processing this evening.  Tomorrow, I'll go pick up plucked birds that have been cleaned inside and out.  15 will go in my freezer (and then some of those go to friends) and half go to my investor who purchased the chicks for us.

We started our adventure by picking up 33 cheeping yellow fuzz balls in a cardboard box at the post office.  Apparently, it is not uncommon for live chicks to traverse the local post office as the postal employees found this to be completely normal.  My investors total outlay for the birds was $68.

At the farm, which yet lacks a barn (in the planning stages), I prepared for the birds ahead of time by taking eight 8 ft long deck boards, cutting two in half, and putting 1 1/2 " notches 2 " from each end on both edges.  This created a jumbo set of crafting sticks from which I was able to assemble a rapidly deployable brooder box.  Straw lined the bottom and heat lamps provided the warmth for the chicks for the first three weeks until they had put on some weight and feathers began to grow.

For starters, the birds only needed one water dispenser and one feed dispenser.  This quickly doubled by the end of week 2.  By week 4, I needed a third waterer and feeder to keep up with their demand for daily feeding and by week 5 they were being fed and watered morning and night.  The last two weeks we had the birds, weeks 6 and 7, they went through 100 lbs of feed each week, and the last week could have easily been 150 lbs if we hadn't taken them off their feed yesterday in preparation for slaughter.

Our cost per bag of feed was $18 for "chicken grower" quasi organic crumbles.  The feed and water dispensers ran about $20 each, and the heat lamps were around $10 each (we had two in use).  So our project costs were somewhere around $400 to raise 30 meat birds to slaughtering weight.  As these were technically free range (weather permitting) and definitely not cage raised, I could compare them to organic free range birds at about $25 for a 5-6 lbs. bird.  Our theoretical profit is somewhere shy of double our costs, so we feel this was a good investment.  Additionally, it was a learning experience for the kids and we got exercise from hiking up and down the hill to the chicken coop.


Chicks in the brooder box.

Chickens at 6 weeks

Off to the processor! Everybody buckle up!

As you can see in the last picture, the brooder box came back into play for getting the birds transported.  I put down a tarp in the back of my wunder wagun and we all went for a stinky ride about 20 minutes away from here.  Our processing costs will be $2.00 per bird at a very kindly Amish farm.

Next spring, we intend to bring in some layers and start producing our own eggs.  After that, we are considering sheep or goats, but will wait until the barn is built to settle on that decision.  I like the idea of having milk goats, but you have to keep your milk goats breeding to keep them lactating, unlike cows.  So I will also need to develop a taste for goat meat.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Quick Patch and Paint Tricks

The first project in our new home has been to add some fixtures to our somewhat austere bathroom.  We wanted to upgrade the light, add a mirror, a hand towel loop and a couple of towel hooks beside the shower.  This led to some unplanned paint and patch work.  Initially I was fearful this would turn an afternoon project into a multi-day project, but my stash of supplies saved me and produced a technique I will use again in the future, and recommend to you now.

Removing the old light fixture revealed a white rectangle on the light green bathroom wall.  The new fixture mounts to a circular plate only, leaving a big white area to contend with, as well as some screw holes and surface damage from removing the old fixture which was painted in.

Normally I would use plaster or mud for this, but these products take up to 24 hours to dry enough to become workable with sand paper.  By the grace of God, I had no mud.  But, I did have some Elmer's quick set wood filler and the previous home owner had thought to keep and leave the paint they used 4 years ago.  The wood filler dries quickly and can be sanded after 15 minutes of cure time.  Using this, and a hair dryer to quickly dry coats of paint, I was able to sand high spots with my shop-vac sander, fill holes and divots, sand again, paint, sand, fill and paint once more in the space of about 2 hours.

Had I used mud and let the paint air dry, this would have taken a couple of days of a tool strewn bathroom and disgruntled wife.  Thank God for Elmer's wood filler!  Having figured this process out will greatly accelerate future patch and paint work around the house.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

New Home, New Projects

I had just laid plans for how I wanted to finish my garden shed when we became the proud parents of our third child.  This was not unexpected, but it put a strain on our living conditions that was somewhat unexpected, but mostly just something we were ignoring.   During that time we were approached by a buyer.  I had mentioned the idea of selling the place years ago and recently as well and word had gotten round to a serious buyer.

This put virtually every project I had lined up for this past summer on hold and totally changed my planning.  But it was a welcome, though not a struggle free change.  First we discovered water damage in our old house and I was fortunate to be referred to a very competent builder experienced in rehabbing box windows, like ours, with water problems.  Then we discovered a problem with the septic field being too wet, but more regular mowing and some switching of the diverter box resolved that issue for the most part.  Finally, we were able to sell the home, but it took a whole month to get our heaps of junk out (Mostly all of my scrap lumber).

But, gradually we are settling into the new place with more acreage and a practically blank canvas to work with.  The house was move-in ready with little needed but for some bathroom fixtures.  The property, however, is almost 100% clover and wildflowers.  We are carefully planning out a mini-farm that should keep me busy for years to come.  I expect a lot more projects will come your way through these pages as a result of this move and I look forward to sharing them with you.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Quick Mend

If you are like me, you go through a box of leather work gloves a year.  I despise throwing away a pair of gloves that has only one or two fingers worn through.  But I love reusing things that I didn't throw out.  I also love something I picked up at a fabric store for some forgotten reason some years back: Liquid Stitch.  Near as I can tell, it's water based air curing liquid latex.  It works terrifically well and has no order.  It's also waterproof and washable once dry.

Tonight, after the kids were in bed, I sat down with a pair of sharp scissors, one sacrificial glove that was the worst of the lot, and started cutting patches of leather to mend the other gloves that were worn but in still usable shape.

My apologies for the poor photo.  The new LED lighting in the basement is fine for reading but not great for taking pictures.  From the one glove at the bottom (missing three fingers now) I patched the five above by cutting off fingers, removing stitching and then shaping ready-fit patch work.  All you need to do is then run a bead of glue around the underside perimeter of the patch (the rough side of the leather) and press it into place.  It dries fully in 24 hours and sets up in seconds to a holding tack.

I guess it was roughly 12 minutes of effort and it saved me $30 or so in replacement gloves. The glove on the far right has been done like this before with some old shoe leather.  It's the heavy insulated glove I use for tending the wood stove.  It sees the most use of the lot and when it's worn, a quick burn is your first warning.  Better to patch that one up sooner I think.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Combination Greenhouse and Woodshed

While I didn't know it when I unearthed the sandstone and limestone on my property last year, the find would set me on a long term project that is just now coming to a close: building a long needed woodshed, and long desired greenhouse.  My budget and materials, and suitable sites, were not such that I could afford to build both of these structures, so I settled on a hybrid approach.

It's a cold day today, has been all week with the exception of Sunday which got up to 50 F and was the day I finished the roof.  The only work that remains is mounting the last tenwindows.  As I am fortunate enough to be on vacation, and I'm done shivering outside for the day, I thought it was high time I write up this project which I have been photographically documenting in some detail along the way.  Grab a cup of coffee, this will be a bit of a long read.

Starting with the stone quarry, and realizing that I had what I needed to make a flat building site for a shed on our predominantly sloped lot, I built the stone boat, documented and demonstrated in earlier posts.  Then with a pile stone and a load of gravel, I built the stone retaining wall that would provide the erosion control needed to keep the gravel pad for the the shed in place.  Both of those projects occupied most of my spring and summer along with other minor projects that I just didn't have time to write up, most of them just repairs and upgrades on past projects, like the court-yard and picnic table.

This brings us to the planning stages for the shed.  I modeled the building in 3D to make sure I had a good materials list and dreamed that I might afford to side it.  We'll see.  The approach pictured would add $300 to the project (which thus far has run near $800 for materials).

The idea was for a transparent roof on the South face, and a solid roof on the North.  Firewood would fill the structure in the winter, slowly yielding space to set up seedlings and starts in late February. The overall process has been instructive and fun to see it come together, so let's start with the foundation.

Beginning with the retaining wall, the gravel pad needed leveling and cleaning up on the high side (farthest from the camera).

On top of this goes the 6" x 6" x 12' pressure treated beams, shown above to the left, to make a floating base upon which the shed will be erected.  The beams were lap-jointed with a circular saw and screwed together with 4, 5" deck screws at each corner.

Note that the point of view is now almost 180 degrees from the picture above of just the retaining wall.  Most of the remaining photos are from this vantage point or near to it, which better aligns with the point of view in the design concept rendering (first photo).  The gravel need a lot of tamping and leveling to get this structure square and plumb.  It was a lot harder than I expected it to be, but in the end the base was rock steady, plumb and true.  (as a side note, keep an eye on the background vegetation for an indicator of the time over which this project lingered).

The next step was to begin erecting the corner posts and their supports.  Getting these plumb and square was critical as the entire structure would follow the corner posts, from the beams to the supports to the skin and of course the roof.

The posts are glued and screwed laminates of two 2" x 6", one being 8' tall and the other, nearest the inside, 7' - 6 1/2" to allow a pocket for the beams to set upon, which once all four corners were up were the next part of the structure to put up.  This was the first instance where a ladder was needed and doing this alone was a bit tricky.

It was here that I found out just how plumb and square my posts were.  Overall, I was at the top off 1/2" in each direction at the SE corner.  I never figured out exactly why but attributed it to one of the posts being a little warped due to the fact that they were all but one from salvage and those on the South side were not as firmly anchored as those on the North.  Here too, notice the knee braces on the rear two posts.   That's the side that won't have windows, so the bracing won't be in the way.  The front required different bracing strategies and ultimately did not firm up until the plywood skin was applied but included horizontal corner bracing (seen in the last photo below) and small corner braces glued and nailed top and bottom.

Like the posts, the beams are glued and screwed 2 x 6's with lap joints created at each end.  The beams were shorter on the South and North by 3" so that the three members; post and two adjacent beams, all lapped together where each beam has bearing on the post, sharing part of the ledge created by the shorter member of each post (the one facing inward).  The whole affair is screwed together with 3" screws in abundance.

Once the basic box frame was in place, I began putting up the support columns that would help carry the weight of the beams and their loads.  Most of these were salvaged from a large pallet and have been used in part on my work table project as well.

Being that these were raw pine, not kiln dried, they had some twist to them after a year on my garage floor.  Using a piece of 2 x 6 as a lever screwed to the side of the posts, and a tie-down strap, I was able to twist the offending posts straight, tighten the strap, and then screw them into the beam at the top, having first screwed them down to the base.  

The North and East sides were fairly straight forward to frame up.  It got more difficult when it came time to start framing up the West, door side, and South facing wall which would hold 9 windows by itself.

The window sills are simply 2 x 4's.  The door is our old front door which had become warped and wouldn't stay shut tightly, but is fine for this application.  The door frame came from a friend's house which had had some remodeling done.  You'll also notice a few details in this picture, like the blocking between the corner posts and window frames: one of my many attempts to improve the rigidity along the South wall.

Fall has just about swept through the background, taking many leaves with it by this stage.  This part of the framing was fairly tedious and took a good couple of weeks of free evenings to complete.  The majority of things are still being screwed together, very few nails except where the posts contact the pressure treated bases, in which case galvanized nails were used.  Had I to do this side over again, I would have turned the framing for the windows sideways from what I did which uses predominantly vertical studs with screwed in horizontal sills.  Making the sills continuous would have offered I think better structural rigidity and more firm window seats.

The next step was to get the roof started.  From here on out I spent an uncomfortable amount of time with the ladders.  Getting the ridge up was the first step and required working out how I would do the ridge posts.  I settled on laminating several pieces of 2 x 6 that would provide good solid anchor points for internal wind bracing, external ridge rafters, external knee braces, and the ridge beam itself which would sit into the pocket at the top and extend 12" beyond to begin setting up the 1 foot overhang.  

Getting the ridge up by myself was a challenge, but should have been easier than it was due to the idea that the pockets would allow the beam to "slide" through.  However, I cut the pockets with a jig saw and they were not exactly as large as needed, so I spent a comic half hour atop a step ladder with a rasp, grinding away at the pocket joint to make it bigger after I had it all screwed in place.  It was here that my discomfort with heights began pushing its limits.  But, through much trembling and care, I gradually gained confidence atop the ladders and eventually got the roof done too.

With the ridge up, it was time to start putting the rafters on.  This is where I felt like the project really began taking shape and began encouraging me to press on.

No, the building isn't falling over, my crappy cell phone camera is a bit slow and caused the image distortion when I wasn't perfectly steady.  To put up the rafters, I created the first one strictly by measurements with a 23 degree bevel on the top end and a bird mouth 12 inches from the other end at the same angle and used it as a template for the others.  Driving nails became easier than driving screws at this point, but once these were all set, I followed up with 5 " screws to make sure they were not going anywhere.

With the rafters up, the next order of business was to start skinning with pressure treated 1/2" plywood.  Part of this was necessary to make the structure stiff enough to support me working on the roof further.

Putting up the skin was fairly easy.  I did however find right off that purlins would be needed to make sure I had a continuous nailing surface.  That's the horizontal light colored pine strips you can see through the window along the back wall.  All of the exterior plywood was fastened with 1 1/2" galvanized nails.  I used a total of 8 full sheets of 4' x 8' x 1/2" PT plywood for this.

This photo is a good representation of "math is hard".  The gable ends could have been cut from one sheet with almost no waste, but for my crap calculations first time through.  I wound up with two very long triangular pieces of scrap on the West gable, but I had it down pat by the time I did the East gable.  Getting the overhangs laddered out also was a tiny bit of a math fail, but they worked out fine.  I had made my rafters 8' long in total, which meant my North and South overhangs actually came out to 14" overall, while the East and West are 13" overall, but will anyone but you and I be able to tell?

Also shown above, the purlins for the roof are up on the South face and the strand board is ready to go up on the North side.  The purlins were really a life saver throughout the project when it came to putting up the roof materials.  Since I had an abundance, I used the 1 1/2" galvanized nails to secure them.

Getting the roof on was a lot harder than I expected. This is the part of the project I pretty much put little to no planning thought into.  The 4' x 8' sheets of strand board were far too heavy for me to get up onto the roof on my own.  I tried and failed.  So I wound up ripping them lengthwise into 2' x 8' sections which were much more manageable.

Here he is, the intrepid carpenter, far too pleased with himself for having figured out how to reduce the weight of the roof boards, which happens to be the only picture I have of that part of the roof in progress.

Once I had all of the strand board on both sides of the roof, I started putting on the polycarbonate on the South side.  This required pre-drilling the holes and it almost didn't go well but for the choice to use 1" x 3" pine purlins rather than 1" x 2".  The extra width gave me some fudge room for the drilled holes to line up with the purlins and provide a place to put a screw with washer and prevent a leak.

You may notice here that winter has previewed with snow visible here and there. The change in weather conditions began to limit the number of days and hours available to work on the shed and it seems like so long ago that I finished putting the polycarbonate up, which I think was back at Thanksgiving.  I almost forgot to note that the facia has been finished off here with 1" x 6" pressure treated pine all the way around the overhang and white aluminum drip edges were installed all around as well.

With that done, I started putting some of the windows in because I discovered that the Ondura asphalt sheet I had chosen for the roof required a temperature above 35 F to work with to prevent cracking.  Not too many days at this time of year offer those temperatures, but with patience and some carefully chosen time away from work on nicer days, I was able to finish that up this past weekend.

You can see here that I have three windows in so far.  Just 10 to go.  The windows go together with a 4" sill made from the same pressure treated plywood that adorns the exterior, some shims, and 3/4" x 1/2" clear pine trim to case them in.  The second tier of windows on the South side, and the bottom most on the East and West will each have a single chest hinge to allow them to tilt in from the top 3" for ventilation when needed.  The playset in the foreground will be coming down in the spring and re-built as a bigger better fort further down the hill in the tree line, which I expect will be the subject of a future lengthy posting.

Before we leave off though, I was confounded by how to finish the roof off on the North side.  Getting anywhere with the 4' x 69" sheets of asphalt was a challenge.  A ladder alone would not do the job, so I wound up creating and assembling a scaffolding that hung off the North wall and provided a platform to work from as well as something to step onto and off of for getting on and off the roof.

The scaffold consisted of two 2 x 4s anchored to the support posts and end post with 5 " screws, and a gusset of sorts made of one 2 x 4 cut in two, one piece which was beveled at both ends.  A third 2 x 4 was then fastened to the outside as a leg to provide more support, and an angle bracket was employed to ensure this whole thing would not pull away from the structure with a 200 lbs. idiot standing no it.

Whenever I would begin work, I would secure my 20' aluminum ladder to the shelf, also made of 1/2" PT plywood, with two long bungies wrapped around the shelf and hooked to the ladder.  This made getting up and down a much more sure-footed experience.

With that in place, I still had the puzzle of getting far enough up the steep slope to position sheets and drive nails.  I used a mix of a custom ladder and nailed in 2 x 4's to 'stand' upon.  But the ladder I made was designed to hook over the roof.  How to finish out the ridge?

The answer was to move the aluminum ladder to directly below where I wanted the wooden roof ladder to be, then invert it so that the hook end was against the aluminum ladder, where I tied it off with my trusty tie-down strap, and then was able to climb up to put the last three pieces of the roof in place.

The roof ladder, by the way, is simply 1" square rungs pinned in with 3" screws from either side, topped with heavy duty angle brackets at the top that form a U to hook over the top edge of the strand board and the purlin.   I quite literally praised God and said "thank you Jesus" when I was done with this part of the roof.  I definitely did not care for being up there.  However, now that I have no more reason to go up on the roof, I find that I do miss the excitement of surviving doing so.

The shed isn't done yet, there's still a lot of details to take care of, but it's done enough to call the project log a wrap for now.  I might feature some of the things that will go into it yet later.  One thing I did today was just put in some solar powered landscape lights to provide nighttime illumination for late-night wood-getting runs.  The kit included 3 spot lights and a solar panel and battery base, so I affixed them all to the rafters with simple pipe straps.

I'll dress the cables more neatly when they aren't so rigid from the cold with wire staples to get them out of the way and tidy up the appearance.

That's it for now.  I hope you've enjoyed seeing it come together.  It has certainly been the biggest project I've ever undertaken.  It has been immensely gratifying and educational for me and I feel like I'm ready to tackle bigger, more complex projects now.  We'll see what the estimate from the builder is for the addition on the house.  Maybe I'll want to try that myself?  nah.  Not enough time!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Recommended Reading: Robert's Projects

Robert has a farm in PA and has a load of great posts of farm-scale projects.  If you like the stuff I do but are looking for bigger projects and a wider range of skills, check out Robert's Projects.  Very well considered write ups.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Dry Fence Style Retaining Wall

If you wondered why I have been building a stone boat this summer, it was to haul a lot of sand stone and limestone from my little hill-side quarry on the North end of our lot. The purpose for all of this labor was to build a short retaining wall at the site where I will soon be building my combination wood-shed and green-house.

Dry fit stone walls are ancient in origin and require a good eye and patience to construct. To "dry fit" a wall is to use no mortar, but only bits of stone wedged into cracks and crevices to firmly set larger pieces of the wall in place and prevent wobbles. Some particularly skilled practitioners of this art yet today build beautiful full hearths and interior fireplaces from nothing but boulders and river rock.

Stone masons of yesteryear would use a variety of tools to shape stone when it became necessary to cut a stone to fit a need in a wall. Overall, though, tools often being absent, many ancient stone walls that stand today were made with only the materials on hand and a lot of care and patience.

My favorite stone working hammers - the 3 lbs sledge has a home-made honey-suckle handle.

Some of the tools used in antiquity included hammers made from other stones or iron or steel, hand drills which would be hammered or bow-drilled to make holes, and my favorite: splints and wedges. A good splint and wedge set would go along with a hand drill, which would be repeatedly hammered to make a line of holes along the edge you wish to cut. The modern equivalent is an pneumatic impact driven drill. Into these holes, a set of splints would go, then into the middle of each set of splints, a wedge. Tapping the wedges in sequence along the line of holes would steadily increase the pressure and eventually cause the block to fault in a line along the increasing line of stress. Today, we have diamond saw blades and circular saws which can do a much neater job in a fraction of the time. While the cut is nearly glass-smooth, it lacks the charm of the methods of by-gone eras.

I think stacking firewood by the face-cord as a kid conditioned me well in the art of fitting odd sized pieces together to make level layers upon which to stack the wood high and steady. Learning a lesson on what not to do from stacking wood is swift and merciless. A toppling row of logs can inflict pain and bruises as well as frustration. The trick, I have found, is to not only be patient but to consider all of your options. Eventually you get pretty good at visualizing which pieces will fit in the spot you're working and pave the way for a stable structure.  It's also important to not be afraid to undo something that isn't working.  I had three different parts of the wall that were all tight and tamped together, but when walked upon shifted dangerously, so down it came to be built in a more sound fashion.

Starting the wall.

With logs, this quickly becomes routine and simple. I've stacked 2 standard cords of wood in just an hour or two following simple patters of cross bracing for stability and leveling by selecting logs from the pile of like size as I go. With chunks of stone, the game is quite different.

First Section Complete

Naturally, you want a firm foundation. This can be undisturbed soil or compacted gravel. In my case I have a little of both. The gravel pad along which I am building the wall is flush with the earth on the high corner and 16 inches deep on the low side, making two sides sloped enough away from the square and level pad to require reinforcement to prevent erosion and critters or roots from undermining. Upon a level path laid out between stakes in the ground, I start by laying down stones that will create the first level or a monolithic section of the wall. From there, it's very much like assembling a jig-saw puzzle in three dimensions.

Tamping in gravel, using a stick, to fill cracks and stabilize stonework

In my situation, I have a lot of sandstone and lime stone, and a lot of crushed gravel. So I've combined the two in my building process, using the crushed gravel to fill cracks and back fill beneath wobbly stones, and pieces of splintered limestone as shims and wedges to tighten things up. The stability of this method can be attested to by the fact that I can walk on this wall without any wobble beneath my feat. Each stone has been tightly wedged into place and rests firm.

Finished wall with pile of wood waiting for a winter home.  Shed foundation beams pictured at left.

Now that the wall is done, the much harder work of leveling the landscaping beams that will be the foundation of my shed begins. Making one level is not so hard. Interconnecting four in a box with lap joints and leveling and squaring all four will be quite a challenge - especially as each beam requires two people to safely lift off the ground, and I am a one man crew.