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The very first thing my dad taught me when I got a new car was how to change my own oil. It’s a great skill to have, but his lesson skipped an important step: how to recycle used motor oil.

I’ll admit that, until recently, I had no idea that motor oil could be recycled. I also didn’t realize that motor oil never goes bad—it just gets dirty. That means used oil can be re-refined into base stock for lubricating oil, and it can be recycled over and over again.

What about you? Have you ever recycled your used motor oil after changing your car’s oil? What about asking the local mechanic what they do with the oil? Most people are too busy to even remember to change their car’s oil, let alone think about recycling the used oil. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that over 200 million gallons of motor oil are improperly disposed of.

That can have a huge environmental impact. The used oil from just one oil change can contaminate 1 million gallons of fresh water—a full year’s supply for 50 people. If, like me, you change your oil every 3,000 miles (as recommended), you might have roughly three or four oil changes every year. That’s a lot of oil that could contaminate the earth if disposed of improperly.

The good news is, it’s easier to recycle your motor oil than you might think, and there are some amazing environmental benefits that you’ll want to consider the next time your “check oil” light turns on.

The Benefits of Recycling Motor Oil

• It prevents it from polluting our ground water supply and soil.
• It saves energy because it takes less energy to recycle used motor oil than to make new.
• It takes something old and turns it into a reusable resource. Reprocessed oil can be used in furnaces or power plants to generate heat and electricity.

Fact: If you recycle just two gallons of used oil, it can generate enough electricity to run the average household for almost 24 hours (Recycle Oil).

How to Recycle Used Motor Oil

1. If you’re changing your own oil, pour your used oil into an empty container—this is a great way to reuse the new motor oil bottles you’ve just emptied.

2. Check online or call 1-800-CLEANUP for a list of local drop-off centers near you.

3. Ask your local auto parts store if they accept used oil and filters.

4. If you’re not a DIY person and you stop in for a professional oil change, inquire about their process of disposing and recycling oil filters and used motor oil. Their answer may help determine whether or not you decide to use their services or look elsewhere.

Just as changing your oil is vital to the health of your car, recycling that oil is crucial to keeping the earth clean. Once you realize how easy it is to recycle motor oil, you’ll never consider disposing of it any other way.

Sommer Poquette is the Green and Clean Mom who shares her tips on recycling and DIY green tips for Home Depot. She writes her eco-friendly advice from her home in Michigan. If you're changing and recycling your car's oil, you can view Home Depot's selection of motor oils on the company's website.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



Hoop houses — this is my third year of using them. The first year, I put hoops over only one raised bed as an experiment. I used a plastic drop cloth for the covering, with various clamps and bricks to hold it in place. I wasn’t completely thrilled with it. During sunny days, even if the temperature was cool, the house would get incredibly hot because plastic doesn’t breathe. So I had to constantly vent the plastic by opening and closing the ends. The bricks and clamps were a lot of work.

But that year, I planted about three weeks before our so-called last frost date, tomatoes and all, and things went very well: I had an earlier crop that produced an amazing amount of vegetables. The no-longer-needed plastic tarp was stored under my potting table, where it promptly disintegrated from being exposed to the elements. The hoops were removed in early summer and stored under the shed, to be put up again in the spring. My garden had an obvious head start that year. Hoop houses were the solution I was looking for. A better design and a second hoop house were in the plans for the next spring.

After some Internet research, I found Agribon cold weather row cover cloth that was recommended by a few different sources. I ordered 50 feet of the stuff during winter in anticipation of getting an even earlier planting going the next spring.

It seemed flimsy to me, like a very lightweight interfacing you’d use in sewing. My fingers did punch through a couple of places where I tugged a little too hard while setting it up over the hoops, but it proved its strength and usefulness a couple of weeks later when it withstood several inches of heavy spring snow and several nights of temperatures in the 20s. I’ve gotten two years of use out of the fabric and will be able to use it again next year. It has a few holes poked in it, but so far they haven’t been a problem. I’ve even gone to the point of doubling up the fabric on especially cold nights and placing a space heater in the hoop house.

The tomatoes started blooming under several inches of snow! I figured out a way to make new, inexpensive and easy-to-use clips to hold the fabric in place. Now we’re talking! For the second spring of using hoop houses, I planted an entire month early and had the best garden yet. You can read more about that on my Herban Farmer blog.


By then I’d discovered the unexpected bonus of leaving the hoops up all summer. HAIL PROTECTION. Every spring, summer and fall we get several hailstorms that can be devastating. But the nice thing about hailstorms is that they usually come with an early warning system. Storm clouds that contain hail will have areas that have a distinctly greenish “iceberg” cast to them.

Because I work at home and am also attuned to the weather, I have the ability to run outside and cover the hoop houses with fabric when I see those hail-laden green clouds headed my way. I’ve gotten it down to about 10 minutes to cover both beds. Sometimes my efforts are in vain and the hail never falls, which is fine. But on those days when the hail comes pounding down and I have the fabric in place, I do a little happy dance and pray that the hail does not reach golf-ball size. Because nothing can withstand that kind of pounding.

There have been times when we get into a weather pattern, with violent storms every afternoon. At times like that, I leave the fabric up for several days in a row and it doesn’t cause any problems. The fabric breathes, keeps water evaporation down and I think the plants welcome an occasional break from our sometimes-relentless sun.

So, I’m completely sold on hoop houses. Next year’s plan is to get a track system working so the hoops can be slid back to one end of the garden to make soil cultivation and planting easier. And that will be yet another post!

Building a Simple Hoop House

Materials, to make a hoop house for one 4’ x 8’ raised bed (it should cost you less than $50)

• Four 1/2-inch (interior diameter) x 10-foot pvc pipes
• Eight 1-inch 2-hole conduit clamps, 16 screws
• Eight 1-inch (interior diameter) x 4-inch pieces pvc pipe
• 1/2-inch poly sprinkler tubing, cut into 3 inches for the clips (you’ll want 12-15 of these, this tubing can be bought by the foot; see clips instructions below)
• 1 package Agrigrow or other landscaping fabric (25 feet should be plenty for 1 bed)


1. On each of the long sides of a raised bed, attach four fairly equally-spaced clamp/1-inch x 4-inch pvc pipe assemblies, as per the diagram. See detailed photo below to see the pipe/clamp assembly.

2. Place each end of the 10-inch pipes a few inches down into the 1-inch pipe fittings, so they are secure.

3. Place fabric over the pipes and use the black plastic clips to secure the fabric to the pipes. If it’s cool out, you may have to spread open the clips first.

4. Tie the excess fabric around the 4 corner pipes. In the cold weather, if you need to make the beds more airtight, you can use 2x4s, bricks or pavers to secure the fabric to the ground around all sides.

To make the clips:

Cut a 1/2-foot lengthwise strip out of each of the 3-inch pieces of black tubing (see photo) with tin snips or some other tool that will cut through the plastic. Smooth the edges a bit using a file or even a heavy-duty nail file.


That’s all there is to it! Comments? Questions? Please feel free to ask, I’m here.

Deb Tejada is an urban farmer, foodie, do-it-yourselfer, graphic designer, illustrator and web developer living in sunny Colorado.  When she’s not in the kitchen or garden, you can find her at The Herban Farmer.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



A craft room is the perfect place to relax and let your creative juices flow, whether you’re making gifts, decorative items or clothing for your family. While it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by synthetic art supplies, you can give the space an eco-friendly flair with just a few simple touches. By adding natural elements into your creative space, you can find inspiration for whatever you’re working on—almost as if you were crafting in the great outdoors.

1. Soften your craft area with eco-friendly textiles.

When you’re sitting in your craft room for hours at a time, there’s nothing like a soft pillow for your back or a comfortable seat cushion to add color to the space. If you have old sweaters or fabric lying around your house, why not repurpose them into throw pillows for your space? You can see the tutorial here on my post Make Homemade Pillows with Recycled Fabric for tips. I also like to swap out different colored material throughout the seasons to reflect the current time of year. With the fall season nearing, I will swap out this summery peach color for a rust or burgundy pillow to feel the warmth of autumn inside my craft room! Don’t be shy about using florals, patterns and other types of recycled material to add texture to your craft room seating.

2. Use your favorite natural materials for desk decorations.

A few years ago I decided to give my craft room a rustic feel. Instead of buying a brand new desk, I sanded down an old door and had it refinished and then sized to fit my craft room area. Repurposing is a great way to give old items a new function, and the rich stain gives my craft area more meaning. I also like to decorate with natural materials I have outside on my table. My daughter enjoys collecting seashells and pinecones, and we keep jars of our finds as decoration, and for easy access when we need them for crafting.

3. Decorate with family crafts that symbolize nature.

What’s more inspirational than the people you love? For that reason, I love to decorate with crafts created by my family. One of my favorite gifts is this flowerpot made from pipe cleaners, paper painted flowers, and a picture of my daughter that I received for Mother’s Day. As I’m working on gifts and projects for relatives and friends that symbolize nature, I often turn to this one as inspiration. Another craft my family enjoys is taking small sticks and branches, cutting them the same length and gluing them onto a pencil/pen holder for your craft room desk.

If you’ve been trying to add a decorative touch to your craft room, why not try these simple ideas? By bringing in some repurposed items and natural elements, you will give your space a fresh new look that will be sure to get that DIY feeling flowing.

As a green home design lifestyle expert, Ronique Gibson has some great organic decorating ideas which she writes about for Shutterfly and her blog To find some inspiration for decorative ideas like the ones in this article, please visit the Shutterfly home décor pages.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 



I’ve been on a de-cluttering rampage this year! I’ve gone through my wardrobe and gotten rid of clothes that don’t fit well and clothes that I don’t love. I’ve sorted through my book and DVD collection; keeping only cherished books and movies we’ll definitely watch over and over. My parents have emptied their attic and my sister and I have sorted through childhood treasures to be trashed, recycled, sold at a garage sale, donated or kept.

Along the way I have unearthed a large collection of old trophies and medals from my elementary years playing soccer, junior high basketball camp and junior high and high school Science Olympiad competitions. I had too many to keep, but I but I didn’t want to get rid of them all. I came up with two craft projects to repurpose these medals into objects I would see often, but that wouldn’t be cumbersome to move or take up too much space: key chains and magnets.

Before embarking on these projects, I set aside my favorite medals. I also put all of my medals and ribbons together and photographed them. A photo takes up so little space on my computer, and is an easy way to remember my accomplishments. Then I selected my favorite medals to DIY with. The rest I mailed to Bling for Bravery, an organization that takes medals from marathons and triathlons, which are repurposed into medals for children fighting cancer. I contacted the organization before mailing my medals to see if they would take my academic, non-athletic medals, and they were happy to have them.

How to Make Medal Key Chains and Magnets

To make your own medal key chains you will need:

• Old medals, the smaller the better!
• An existing keychain or a metal ring (if making a single keychain and not attaching to an existing one)
• Staple remover

They key chains are simple enough to make that they don’t really need DIY instructions. I simply cut off the fabric ribbon and used a staple remover to pry open my keychain so I could slide the small metal ring, which held the fabric ribbon onto the keychain. Super simple! I had four medals of a smaller size so I made four key chains and gave them as gifts to my sister and husband, who were also in Science Olympiad with me - it’s how my husband and I met!


To make your own medal magnets you will need:

• Old medals, larger ones work well!
• A nail
• A strong adhesive, preferably one that is meant for use on metal. I used Permates Steel Weld
• Strong magnets
• Something to protect your work surface (I used a piece of cardboard from my recycling bin)


The magnets take a little bit more work, but not much. I removed the fabric ribbon from the medals I wanted to turn into magnets. I also used a nail to bend open the small metal rings in order to remove them. I then scratched up the back of each medal with the nail. A rough surface makes it easier for the adhesive to stick. Follow your adhesives instructions, some, like the one I used, require two different liquids to be mixed before applying. Use the adhesive to attach a magnet to the back of each medal, set aside for the adhesive to cure.


That’s it! These very simple DIY projects are an easy way to keep a treasured prize from school or a sporting event without storing them in a box for years (and possibly forgetting about them!).

If you’re feeling particularly crafty and have more old medals and trophies to repurpose, you might be interested in one of these DIYs:

Repurposed Trophies: Cupcake Stands from Just Something I Made
Trophy Bottle Stoppers from Decor Adventures
Vintage Trophy Coat Rack from Design Sponge
Repurposing Trophies from Coastal Kelder
What To Do with Old Medals and Patches from Coastal Kelder
Wind Chime made with Race Medals from The Run Commuter
Race Medals as Ornaments from fit bottomed girls

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Root Cellar on Wall

As we experiment with cultivating a greater agrarian connection, it’s time for us to revisit the age-old wisdom of the root cellar. Traditionally, root cellars are underground structures used to store vegetables, fruits and other foods. Because the earth’s mean temperature hovers around 60 degrees, a root cellar serves as the perfect natural refrigerator.

In our modern, technology-driven world, root cellars are sometimes considered a thing of the past. But unfortunately, when we shift away from the old ways, we also lose much of the practical know-how that was part of the tradition of root cellars. A simple reliance on our senses, for example, to tell if a fruit or vegetable is ripe or has gone bad, is no longer relevant when everything is packed into the refrigerator for days or weeks until food is ready to be used. Further, many fruits and vegetables lose their nutrients and flavor in the fridge, which defeats the purpose of preserving them in the first place.

Although building a root cellar may not be practical for everyone—especially for those of us who live in urban areas—we can still apply some of the same concepts and techniques utilized in traditional root cellars to keep our harvest naturally fresh and lasting longer.

The design of this urban root cel­lar, by Elliott Marks, was inspired by an exhibition by Jihyun Ryou, called “Save Food from the Refrigerator.” The design incorporates key elements of a good root cellar—a variety of shelves, humidity, and air circulation— while also being small and portable. It is easily achievable by anyone and we encourage you to adopt this design or create a version that works for you. The general concept is to create a storing space specifically designed to preserve the gar­den harvest using grandparents’ know-how.

How the Urban Root Cellar Works

Root vegetables such as carrots last longer when buried upright in slightly damp sand, mimick­ing their growing conditions. We put ours in galvanized tin buckets on the lowest shelf.

Above, fruit vegetables such as peppers and squash benefit from moist storage (evaporated water from the bucket), rather than the cold and dry environ­ment in the fridge.

Apples, pears, peaches, plums and tomatoes emit ethylene gas that can make root crops bitter. Store these on the higher shelf, which allows the gas to escape.

Eggs have porous shells that easily absorb odors. Dowels in the top-most shelf create nooks for storing eggs. Fresh eggs last up to three weeks out of the refrigerator, eliminating the absorption of odor from leftovers.


• 8-foot pine, 1 x 12 cut to 4 pieces of 22-inch each
• 7 dowels, 3/4-inch x 48-inch, cut to 14 pieces of 23.5-inch each
• 2 buckets, 10 quarts (metal buckets may need to be cocked to prevent leaking)


•1.5-inch nails
• wood glue
• drill
• 3/4-inch & 3/32-inch drill bits
• hammer
• tape measure
• pencil
• square/straight edge
• 30-inch clamp


1. Mark with pencil and ruler locations for dowels (see illustration)

2. Drill 3/4-inch holes through sides at marked locations with scrap wood underneath to prevent tear out on the backside of board

Urban Root Cellar

3. Mark where nails will go into the edge of bottom and back boards (see illustration)

4. Drill holes with 3/32-inch bit through side boards to avoid splitting when nails are driven into back/bottom boards

Materials For Urban Root Cellar

5. Apply wood glue to the holes in one side board

6. Insert dowels into holes

Urban Root Cellar Parts 

7. Apply glue to holes on the other side board

8. Fit other side board over dowels

Urban Root Cellar Assembly 

9. Glue the back boards and drive nails into the edge

10. Glue and nail the bottom board

Urban Root Cellar Shelves 

11. Drive nails through front edge into front dowels to stabilize box

12. Use nails driven through back into wall to hang root cellar at desired height

Urban Root Cellar Shelves

Besides the energy savings opportunity of the root cellar, an added bonus is the visibility of fresh produce—fresh food is beautiful and we know what needs to be eaten by keeping an eye on it. By bring­ing the harvest inside, our hope is that we eat more fresh food, eliminate for­gotten food spoilage and get in rhythm with our natural garden cycles.

Root Cellar 

Photos by Scott Sporleder

Illustrations by The Ecology Center

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



I made this terrarium after the mesh screen in my French press was no longer doing its job of filtering out loose coffee grounds (and no replacement could be found online). I spotted a photo of a large French press terrarium on Pinterest a few years ago and decided to make my own with my small, single serving coffee maker. I didn’t purchase any supplies for this DIY and was able to use items I already had at home. If you don’t have a French press to repurpose, try picking one up at a local thrift shop or garage sale. The other items can be purchased at any home improvement or gardening store.  

The three main components needed in a terrarium are pebbles for drainage, charcoal to clean and purify the water and soil for the plants to grow in. The most important thing to remember when making a terrarium is drainage. A French press doesn’t have a drainage hole, but I was able to improvise by using the metal filter to separate the potting soil and plants from the drainage pebbles in the bottom of the glass beaker.  

To make your own French press terrarium you will need:

• 1 French press
• small pebbles
• potting soil
• charcoal
• small terrarium plants or mosses
• larger pebbles or other decorative items
• water
• spoon (optional) 

Before beginning the project, make sure your French press is thoroughly washed and dried. Once the glass beaker is ready, add the pebbles. You'll want a small layer, about a ½ -to-1-inch deep. If you’re using a large French press with a deep beaker, you can add more pebbles. 


This next step is where things get tricky. If at all possible, remove the lid of your French press so it is no longer attached to the plunger. You can then put the plunger with the assembled metal filter parts into the glass beaker, on top of the pebbles. Removing the lid makes it easier to add the charcoal, potting soil and plants. If you can’t remove the lid, like me, you can put the three pieces that make up the metal filter and mesh strainer together and place them on top of the pebbles. As you add the next layers to your terrarium, avoid putting any charcoal, soil or plants over the hole where the plunger and lid screw into the metal filter pieces. It’s more difficult, but completely doable.  

Sprinkle or spoon a layer of charcoal over the top of the metal filter and mesh strainer, about ¼ to ½ inch thick. Add a layer of potting soil, about ½ to 1 inch deep. Again, if you couldn’t take the lid off of the plunger, avoid the hole in the center so you can attach the plunger and lid later.  

If using small terrarium plant(s), take them out of the container you purchased them in. Gently tease the root ball so it's a bit loose before setting the plant in the beaker. Once your plant is sitting where you would like it, add potting soil around it. It's easiest if you pre-moisten your potting soil with a bit of water before adding it to your container. Dry soil will get everywhere; with damp or wet soil you have more control. I prefer to spoon a little bit of soil into a plastic container, add water and stir before adding the damp soil to the jar. I also use a spoon to add my soil to the teacup, but that’s entirely optional. If you’re using moss, you can add a couple spoonfuls of potting soil to the beaker, make small depressions in the soil and set the clump(s) of moss in the depressions. 


Next you can add a decorative touch to your planter. I used some of the same pebbles that make up the drainage area in the bottom of the beaker to decorate the top of the soil and a small metal frog. Any small items can be used, a little plastic animal or other trinket adds just a little something extra! 

The final step is replacing the lid of the French press plunger. If you were able to remove the lid from the plunger, simply screw or twist the lid back into place. If, like me, you were unable to separate the lid from the plunger, you will need to insert the plunger into the metal filter and twist it into place. 

Be sure to keep the needs of your plants in mind when caring for your French press terrarium. Some plants need more light than others and since your French press will not be watertight, you will occasionally need to water it.  

If you're in the terrarium/tiny planter making mood, you could follow my DIY instructions for teacup planters and plant some tea or coffee cups with plants to go with your French press terrarium!

Photos by Courtney Denning.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


With the outdoor cooking season almost underway here in Reno it was time to rebuild our Stoven.  About three years ago I created a rocket stove/cob-oven hybrid (see blog post here) to meet our summer food cooking needs.  We live without electricity and fossil fuels at our Be the Change Project and when we can't or don't use our Sun Oven we fire up the Stoven.

For three years our original Stoven was great - it performed well and generally aged well.  It was made mainly of cob with some firebrick used in the burn chamber.  My impetus for making this second version was threefold: First, to make a more durable model; second, to add a water heating cooktop; and third, as part of an overall redesign of our outdoor kitchen.  

While the first Stoven aged well overall - the exterior was perfect (and protected under a roof) and the interior dome showed no damage from three seasons of firings - the shelves which held the grill grate had worn away considerably on both the front and back of the chamber.  This caused the door to fit poorly and made it more difficult to place and hold the grate once the fire was burning.  Now, admittedly, I could have simply mixed up a little cob and repaired the area and gotten years more use but that wouldn't have been nearly as fun as making a much better Stoven and more functional outdoor kitchen.  For this new-and-improved model I incorporated much more firebrick including for all of the grate-holding surfaces.  I had about thirty salvaged bricks left over from my mini-masonry heater project (including halves and pieces) so I used them to build the interior frame of the new Stoven.  The halves and chunks were great fillers (along with regular old red bricks) which save a lot of cob and mixing.  



I started by laying a layer of regular red bricks over the existing wood platform that held the last Stoven.  Then I played with firebricks for a while to see what shapes I could get.  I wanted a burn basin that was small enough to keep it efficient but big enough to handle some decent sized sticks and a good amount of charcoal for when I roast a rabbit or two.  I wound up laying a layer of landscape pavers for the basin floor and then standing fire bricks all around it save for the wood feed slot.  The pavers were just a little wider than the firebricks and seemed to make a good-sized basin.  This gives me two layers of bricks above the plywood base, more than enough, in my experience, to prevent damaging heat from reaching the plywood.  Also, any gaps between the bricks are quickly filled with ash once I start cooking with the Stoven which act to insulate further.  

I continued building up with bricks for the burn basin (the bottom half of the burn chamber) and then laid some cob on the outside to create a shell and to hold the next layer of firebricks which was reset back from the grate-holding first layers.  In dry Nevada I only had to wait an hour or so for the cob to firm up enough so the bricks could be set on top without causing any splooging.  I should mention that I re-used the cob from the old Stoven.  After hacking it apart with my two young hammer-wielding sons, we collected the pieces in large basins to which I simply added water and used a shovel to break it down further.  I took a little break and let the water do the work of "melting" the cob (overnight is great if you can plan ahead) and then mixed it up a bit with a shovel again.  I love this about cob: it's infinitely re-usable. 

I set the bricks and kept building up the cob on the outside.  The cob does several things:  it adds thermal mass, holds the firebricks together (I smush cob into any large gaps between bricks to serve as mortar, as well), allows me to make a dome and a curved door opening, and creates an aesthetically pleasing form which can be further sculpted and plastered.  Cob is also a super-local product that takes no fossil fuels to create or transport.  I could and would have used solely cob if I didn't have free and salvaged firebricks lying around.  It would have worked just as well and likely have needed some minor touch-ups over time.

To make the dome top, I added layers of cob which slope inward bit by bit and take breaks in between each layer so it can set up.  This is not technically difficult in any way but takes a little time.  My new Stoven was built over three days for a total of maybe 8 hours for one person (without any finish plaster).  I could have made a complete dome like the original Stoven but wanted to add a water heating surface so I inset an old fly pan into the top of the dome.  This made making the top easier and gives me a place to heat a kettle for tea or a pot for hot water to clean the dishes (because we live without electricity and fossil fuels, hot water is sometimes at a premium).  Being on top and outside the Stoven also means the teapot will not get sooty - the one major annoyance with this type of cooking.  And, yes, we'll lose some heat for cooking by having this feature but our desire for hot water trumps that bit of savings.

The feed slot has a brick on its side and another couple odd bricks angled up after it (towards the exterior of the Stoven) to make use of a little gravity to help deliver the sticks more easily into the burn basin.  I also added a little cob there to further extend the feed slope so it would hold sticks in place and prevent them from falling onto whatever shelf I make next to theStoven.

I also tacked on a piece of flagstone to serve as the loading dock at the door.  From the firstStoven I knew that I wanted a larger surface to easily hold my pots and a more durable surface as it is used often.  On the first model, this shelf was made of cob and wore out a bit.

Sculpting the Stoven


After I got the overall structure up I started adding some sculptural elements.  I knew I wanted some sort of fire on the front and as I played with the cob what evolved was a sun with fiery rays emanating from the door.  I realized the back could use some art too so that turned into a moon to go with the celestial theme.

The next layer after the cob is the brown coat.  I used a mix of 2 parts screened sand and 1 part screened clay.  The clay is from our yard and the sand from up the road in the desert.  Both materials are just perfect for building – the clay is quite pure and sticky and the sand has sharp grains of varying size.  It would be entirely possible for all of Reno’s building to be made of cob using these abundant, non-toxic, low-tech, and local materials.  Can you imagine that?  It would be amazing.

I find applying the brown coat to be the most enjoyable of the natural building processes. The screened materials feel so sensual and luscious in the hands and they spread across the walls like butter on hot toast.  Also, there is less pressure to have the coat come out perfectly since it will be covered by the finish plaster anyway.  No pressure and silky materials make for a good natural building time.  

Finish Plaster


After getting the Stoven roughed out I spent several days building our outdoor kitchen.  I made use of old lumber, salvaged granite counter tops from a local tile store, salvaged wood from a cabinetry place, and a sink from the local Habitat for Humanity store.  I plumbed the sink using some leftover half-inch pex tubing and have each sink draining into a bucket that we empty as needed on the few plants in our front yard not on our irrigation system. 

I bought Kaolin clay several months ago to use on finish plaster projects I knew I’d be getting to this spring and summer.  Kaolin is the most commonly used clay for finish plaster.  It is mined in Florida and shipped all around the world, which is why I generally don’t purchase it but make do with what we have or what shows up from pottery stores and pottery classes.  However, we hadn’t been able to find any light clay of late and I wanted to put on some ridiculously beautiful finish plasters around my house.  So, I bought two 50 lb bags for about $25 bucks each. .  (Update:  I just found a great source of local Kaolin-like clay in a dry lake bed just twenty minutes from our house.  Woo-hoo!) 

For the first finish coat I mixed 2 parts screened sand with 1 part Kaolin and added some yellow iron oxide pigment (bought at a hardware store).  The finish plaster goes a long way so I never mix up too much and always keep track of my ratios if I do need a second batch.  The best tool for applying finish plaster on round surfaces is a plastic disc cut out from a 32 oz yogurt container lid.

Overall, this layer came out quite white.  From here I started experimenting with clay paints.  I made a wheat paste and mixed it equally with Kaolin and then added lots more pigment and enough water to get it to a paint-like consistency.  This got me a smooth paint that I was able to brush on all over the first finish coat.  It was a light yellow and served to fill in some of the small cracks that had appeared in my finish plaster.  More pigment and some vegetable-based paint powder (“tangerine” was the name) we found in the kids’ closet made an even richer orange paint that I added for accents.  I am quite pleased with the result and look forward to using this Stoven (and trying, unsuccessfully I am sure, to keep soot off the plaster) this season and for years to come.

Kyle Chandler-Isacksen runs the Be the Change Project with his wife in Reno, Nevada.  They are dedicated to creating a just and life-sustaining world.  They were one of MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ Homesteads of the Year in 2013.  Shoot him an email at

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