Hits and misses of DIY projects, both big and small.

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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

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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

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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.

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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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Caulking tube 

Caulking can dry out between projects.  To save the remaining caulk, use the tip of the tube as a cork.  

To remove the cork, just squeeze the tube above the cork. 

Caulking Tube Corked 

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. 


Hanging Lights 

Even with minimal building capability, you can learn how to make light fixtures from old metal chicken feeders. The feeders may be hard to come by, but if you know someone that has been in the commercial chicken-raising business, then you can likely find some in their used feeder pile. That's how I got some of mine.

This project is really quite simple. First, you will need to decide if you want a fixed light or a swag lamp. I made some of both. I ordered parts from a site I found by searching around on the Internet that supplied the lamp cords, sockets with rings, and rods. You can order any length rod depending on how low you want the light to hang.

Drill and Sander 

Project Components and Cost

The parts I ordered to make the fixed light were a little less expensive than for the swag light. I used steel pipe, 1/8-inch, threaded on both ends (this fits the socket thread size). Cost of the pipe: $4.52.

Keyless lamp holders (sockets): $3.28. Locknuts: $0.26 each (you will need 2). The 3-inch electric box was $7.00 and the cover was $0.95. Paint: $4.00.

The total cost per light was $19.32. I used some electric wire I had already, so you may have to figure in the cost of a few feet.

For the swag light, the cost of the cord with socket was $30.00. The chicken feeder was free. The paint cost me $4.00.

Chicken Feeder 


I needed to sand the metal feeder tray and the wire cage. I did this with an electric drill and a wire brush attachment (see photos). Clean up the feeder up and spray-paint it a bright color.

Sanding Attachment 

I wired the rod and light straight into a junction box with a cover (the cover needs to have a hole in it) and then painted the feeder portion a range of bright colors.

I also made a swag light that turned out to be the easiest. I simply ordered a colored cord with socket and ring together and attached the cord to the painted chicken feeder tray, put in a light bulb and attached the wire cage (which is spring-loaded).

Drill Attachment 

I did all the wiring of the electrical boxes myself but I did hire a licensed electrician to wire it to the main electric line.

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Occasionally, there can be unintentional side effects from switching to more appropriate choices. For example, when incandescent light bulbs are replaced with more efficient and longer lasting technology (such as LEDs and CFLs), waste is created. As more people choose to reduce their energy consumption and buy newer, energy-saving light bulbs, more incandescents are disposed of.

PowerSave Campus, a program working on California university campuses to increase energy efficiency, presented Humboldt State University students with a way to divert incandescent light bulb waste by hosting a terrarium-making workshop, where students could up-cycle their incandescents into something new: mini terrariums! 

PowerSave Campus set up a table at the Campus Center for Appropriate Technology and provided materials (incandescents, plants, tools) for students to use. The workshop had a huge turnout. The workshop encouraged students to swap out incandescent bulbs for a more efficient type of light taught students how to turn their incandescents into terrariums at home.

CFL and LED light bulbs use 10-20 percent of the energy of an incandescent and have a much longer lifespan, which compounds the monetary and energy savings.

How to Make a Mini Terrarium

1. Remove the metal plate from the bottom of the bulb by twisting it up and pulling the small metal piece out.

2. Break the black glass and remove all the pieces. Depending on the brand of the bulb, the black glass can be easy or tough to remove. If you are finding it difficult to remove, you will need to use skinny pliers that will fit in the hole left once you removed the metal plate. You can leverage the pliers against one side of the black glass to break it apart.

3. Break the inner glass inside the bulb by leveraging the pliers against one side of the light bulb and pushing against the glass lightly in the opposite direction. The glass is very fragile, so be sure to be careful when breaking it or you could break the actual light bulb, too. The glass pieces and wires will need to be pulled out through the opening.

4. Some light bulbs are coated with a white powder. This can be easily washed off by rinsing the bulb in water. If the powder is not wiping off easily, soap will help.

5. Fill the light bulb with dirt. How much dirt to use is up to you, but most fill the bulb up to the middle of the curve of the light bulb.

6. Pick your favorite small native plants, or purchase various plants that stay relatively small in size or do not grow too quickly, and do not require a lot of water. This will help you create a terrarium that you can enjoy for the longest amount of time possible. For the workshop, various lichens, mosses, and succulents were collected to create beautiful terrariums.     


Quick Tips

1. Dried leaves and small twigs covered with lichens can really add some color and character to your terrarium.

2. Don't be afraid to add a lot of lichen! They require hardly any maintenance and they make terrariums look great.

3. You can arrange the plants by using any tool that is long and skinny (i.e. long tweezers, small scissors, or even screwdrivers work).

4. If you are interested in making a terrarium with only succulents, you should consider using small rocks as a substrate instead of soil. Many succulents prefer small rocks since succulents require good drainage and loose substrate.

5. You can put 3 to 4 small dots on the bottom of the bulb with a hot glue gun so your terrarium can sit on a flat surface without toppling over. Or hang your terrariums up by tying them with a string or wrapping them with wire and hanging it at your window.

First and final photo by Matthew Ware

Middle photos by Ivan Soto

PowerSave Campus is a program of the Alliance to Save Energy, funded by the investor-owned utilities of California, and is a student-driven energy efficiency education program that promotes careers in the green workforce, generates actual energy savings, and increases awareness and education of the importance of energy efficiency and water conservation. Projects range from energy audits, competitions, academic projects, and career events that involve students, faculty, and community members. Click here to learn more about PowerSave Campus. You can read more about what Humboldt State’s PowerSave team is up to by signing up for our monthly newsletter on the HSU PowerSave 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.

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