Do-it-yourself projects and plans for anyone who can swing a hammer.

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Father's Day Gift Mugshot

The coffee mug pictured above was created nearly 20 years ago by my children (and me) for their father (my husband). I took these photos just the other day. I’d say their precious gift has survived rather well, though it’s been used as a pencil holder rather than a drinking mug. The main drawback of the paints I picture below is that they tend to fade with wear and washing. As decoration, they obviously fare rather well.

To make this gift really special, I had each of our children create a drawing on paper for me to recreate on the mug. The kids were then 8, 5, and 11 years old (in order, left to right, according to the art above).

I didn’t want them working directly on the mug for reasons of both health and esthetics. I felt fairly strongly that we could transfer their art, because I’m really good at copying. If you don’t choose to take this same route, there are places online that will reproduce your photo on a mug (or other products). In fact, one year we gave dad a mug with a photo of the four of us in our Halloween regalia. I’m sure you could also scan a drawing and send that in for your mug.

What continues to make this such a wonderful gift is that it truly is a snapshot of time. I can clearly grasp the period each child was in when they drew their pictures — Catyana was all vibrant colors and graphic movement, Khymba was into puzzles and shapes, Kellin was creating islands and planets with complex storylines. I am also drawn back to the years when I was painting on glass and ceramics, because it fit in with my otherwise full-time homeschooling and parenting schedule.

How to Make a Hand-Painted Mug

All you need to complete this project is a plain glass or ceramic container, some Pebeo Porcelaine paints (or another similar craft brand), brushes, water, and a regular oven. You’ll also need paper and pens if your children aren’t old enough to paint the gift themselves.

This could be a great project to do with church, a homeschool group, scouts, or some other gathering. The cost would also be spread out more broadly that way.

paints for glass and ceramics

Have the children help you clean the containers if you like. This makes them more a part of the process. Paint the mug/s. Once the containers are painted, they set for a day or so. Then you simply follow the instructions on the bottle and bake in the oven for 40 minutes. I always let mine cool in the oven with the door open — that way, there isn’t as great a danger of breaking the container or smearing the paint.

Note: it’s best if you paint below the lip line — or where someone would touch with their mouth when using.

An added layer to this gift would be framing the original artwork so dad (or whomever — this would be a terrific gift for so many other occasions) can hang it somewhere else, or one parent could keep the artwork and the other the mug. Grandparents could also receive the artwork instead.

More DIY Project Ideas

We have painted neckties, though those were only worn once or twice. In my experience, the more utilitarian the gift the better. Our overly “creative” ties didn’t quite go with the more sedate atmosphere of my husband’s place of business.

I’ve made a number of gifts and commissioned pieces using this medium. Below is just one of the many iterations I created. This particular project was a gift from the commissioner to her beau at the time. He liked birds (parrots in particular) and wine (along with other drinks).

I painted a wooden matryoshka bottle container and repeated the birds that were on the bottle holder on the glasses. I also put the names of the birds on the glasses so those less knowledgeable could see what they were.

I created a series of irises on drinking glasses for a wedding gift, farm animals for various friends and relatives, and a couple of collage glasses for my in-laws that depicted the farm they lived on.

I also painted our Santa set — plate for cookies and glass for milk. My children and I have painted mosaic-style shapes and other abstracts on glasses and mugs. We still use many of these.

The important thing, in my mind, is to have fun creating a useful, eye-catching gift that dad will treasure for years to come. If dad doesn’t drink coffee, color a beer stein or water glass. (When painting on glass, paint a background of white first so the colors pop once they’re applied.)

I hope this post gives you ideas to play with for an upcoming holiday or special occasion. It rarely hurts to bring more beauty and smiles to the world.

gift set of parrots

Photos by Blythe Pelham

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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


For the past 7 months I have been collecting food waste from Reno restaurants by bike and trailer which then gets turned into compost at local gardens.  The Reno Rot Riders, our name for this effort, has so far been a great success and a lot of fun.

Not a day goes by during my pick-ups when I don’t get a thumbs-up, a “thank you” from across the road, or questions from interested passersby. Most of the questions have been about the first trailer I built – a very functional though cumbersome contraption I put together at the Generator, a Reno makerspace which evolved out of the annual Burning Man festival just to our north.


Daisy, the First Trailer

First Attempt Building a Bike Trailer

I am not a welder, so for the first trailer, I used a salvaged steel rectangle for a base, ¾-inch conduit for the tongue and wheel wells, 20-inch bike tires, and a lot of wood for the frame. The wood was fence slats painted schoolbus yellow, which I salvaged from someone’s Burning Man camp. All of this was attached using lots of bolts and lock nuts.

It could carry two full bins of food waste (we use these nifty 21 gallon bins with wheels) and got the job done transporting over 13,000 pounds of food waste in 6 months.

However, as we expanded and I learned a thing or two about transporting heavy bins, I decided it was time to for a new-and-improved trailer.

The finished Trailer

Ursula, the Second Trailer 

Lessons Learned and the Second Trailer

I started out by doing extensive online research on trailer design. There are lots of forums with people comparing notes on DIY projects, several small bike trailer building operations, and scores of individual blog entries chronicling bike cargo trailer construction projects. There are trailers made from shopping carts, ladders, wood, steel, bamboo — you name it and it’s out there. 

Most folks who build their own trailers are carrying smaller loads like groceries or gear for camping. There are a few who go for weight including Bike Compost, a small operation spun off from a bike-powered compost service in Florida, and Surly, a serious bike and trailer fabricator whose “Bill” model trailer I borrowed from. A “Bill” would be have been great but my sense of adventure coupled with its $1,200 price tag put us on the DIY track.

As I continued researching, I debated whether to go for an axle or seat-post mounted design. I had no experience with seat-post mounted trailers but had for years been lugging my kids around in axle-mounted Burly and Chariot trailers (“Daisy” is also axle-mounted and uses an old Burley hitch).

They seemed to do great but both Bike Compost and a friend with Oak Park Soil (another bike composting operation outside Sacramento) use the seat-post mounting. I came across some good online debates about the merits and drawbacks of each but decided on the seat-post mounting in the end.

Once that decision was clear, I needed to figure out how to actually connect the trailer to the post using some sort of hitch. Again, there were tons of examples online but I put that on the back burner, thinking I’d figure it out as I went along.

The other major change for this second trailer was that it would be welded together. Enter John Jesse: John is a friend who is a true craftsman cut from a cloth reminiscent of a Renaissance guildsman. He is a fabricator and designer extraordinaire who also happens to be an avid cyclist and all-around bicycle enthusiast. He was an immediate “yes” to helping make this trailer and the main reason I feel ok claiming it as the best bike cargo trailer...ever.

Cargo Trailer Design

We got to work using a mix of salvaged and new steel.  he deck is ¾-inch expanded steel (the stuff with the diamond pattern) welded to parts of an old bed frame.  We used four crossbars underneath for support – one at each end and two in the middle. I wanted to minimize height of the sides because they don’t need to be very tall to hold the bins.  Their height is also just under the tops of another type of plastic bin we may use in the future.

I was very intentional about designing the trailer for the exact dimensions of the bins we’d be using. This customization makes it leaner, meaner, and uber functional.

We decided to use 16-inch wheels with independent axles for several reasons. First, they made for a lower trailer that would be easier to load and very stable. Second, we assumed the independent axles would be strong enough to support a 400-pound max load and didn’t have to bother with an axle spanning the width of the bed. Fortunately, I had a pair of old In-Step trailer wheels lying around that fit the bill.

The body of the trailer is a combination of salvaged metal (including parts of a bed frame) and leftover 1/16th-inch thick square steel tubing that John had in his shop. Although I am a big fan of using salvaged materials, all of the metal I found had a powder coating which we had to grind off so the welds would stick well and which still gave off some nasty, noxious fumes. If we ever make another we’d likely use all new steel tubing.

The Hitch

As the build progressed we had not solved the hitch challenge or even given it much thought. When the time came I posed the issue to John and in about 30 seconds he had an answer – rubber heater hose.

Heater hose is used in cars and is super strong, flexible, cheap, and easy to work with. It took all of 15 minutes to drill a hole through the hose and tubing and thread a grade 5 hardened bolt through it all: a simple and elegant universal hitch better than anything I’ve found online.


We chose to just keep the seat and seat-post with the trailer and change out for another seat when I just want to cruise on my bike without the trailer. We also added a bit of steel cable tied around the seat to prevent the heater hose from sliding down the post.

All told I think we spent about 10 hours putting it all together – welding, cutting, grinding and problem-solving. Total cost for materials was around $250 including $50 for a fresh tank of Argon gas for the welder.


After several weeks in use, Ursula is incredible! She turns on a dime, rides great, is quiet, holds four bins easily, and looks awesome! I am also able to stay in the middle chain ring for probably 60% of the time – even when loaded with bins.

Kyle Chandler-Isacksen is a tinkerer, natural builder, and community organizer in Reno, Nevada. He and his family run the Be the Change Project, a fossil fuel, car, and electricity-free urban homestead and learning space dedicated to service and simplicity. They were honored as one of MOTHER’s Homesteaders of the Year in 2013. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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


Handbag Upcycled To Hanging Planter

When trying to leave as little impact on the Earth as possible, discarding one’s belongings becomes a creative conundrum. We know that simply tossing a handbag into the landfill, for example, will cause problems down the road — so what are our other options?

If the condition of the bag is still good enough to be used for its original function, donating it to Goodwill or giving it to someone else to use are great options.

What about a purse, though, that has an irreparable hole or an unsightly permanent stain? Try upcycling it instead! Here are some ideas for giving new life to your old handbags.

Hanging Planter

Houseplants improve the quality of your air by filtering toxins and turning carbon dioxide into oxygen. A frequent problem for parents and pet owners, though, is keeping plants out of reach of little hands or paws. Rather than seeing potted plants spilled across the floor or having toxic leaves ingested, hanging them up high allows a dwelling to benefit from the advantages of greenery without posing a risk.

Any shoulder or cross-body bag will work wonderfully for this purpose. Simply settle an already potted plant into a bag of the same size and hang it where kids and pets can’t reach.

Using a bag instead of a flimsy plastic planter brings added texture and longevity to your arrangement — plus, you don’t have to go out and buy a new hanging planter!


For any small, strapped handbag, draping it on your front door handle will create the perfect space for an outbox. Slip in anything you need to remember to bring with you the next time you leave the house.

Bills paid on a Sunday that will go out Monday morning — check! Things you’ve borrowed that need to go back to their owner — check! Even daily necessities like your keys and wallet can find a new home here, and since it’s right on the doorknob, you won’t forget to peek in when you leave.

Large clutches can work for this purpose, too, if you add your own strap. Grab an old belt, sturdy ribbon, or anything else you can turn into a strap and affix it securely inside the bag. Now you’ve saved your clutch from the trash, and you’ve rescued another timeworn item, too.

Purse Upcycling Outbox Bag 

Pillow Cover

Do you have a soft purse with a broken strap? Remove the strap altogether and turn the bag into a pillow cover instead.

Leather sofas are coming back in vogue, so one easy way to get that look without contributing to the industry would be to turn a faux leather handbag like this one into a pillow.

Any frumpy-style purse will do. Just search for a pillow insert to fit or, better yet, create your own pillow stuffing from fabric scraps of discarded clothing, towels, sheets, etc. Not only are you improving your space, but you’re extending the use of your belongings and keeping them out of the landfill, too. Just settle your pillow onto the couch with the zipper/closure side down and no one will know about its secret double life.

Leather Purse Pillow Case 

Since the functionality of bags is so versatile, they can really be used for a bevy of purposes even after they’ve been retired from their lives as a fashion accessory. Try one of these three ideas or come up with your own.

Do you need a kindling caddy? A dingy old purse will be perfect. A garden tool carrier? Use a bag with lots of big pockets. The possibilities are endless when you put your imagination to work.

Julia Marchand loves inspiring others to embrace an eco-friendly lifestyle, especially when it involves sharing upcycling tips. She writes about sustainable habits for, where you can find second-hand handbags to repurpose.

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


Building A Garden Path 

Why pay for someone to come and install an outdoor patio when you could do it yourself? Outdoor patios are perfect for people who love to entertain. They don’t require a lot of maintenance and they can be completed within a single weekend.

So, if you’re thinking about building your own concrete patio, check out this list of things you need to consider before you start. What’s stopping you?

Location and Design

Location is everything! Draw up a rough blueprint of your patio plans on graph paper so you can get an accurate idea of placement. Be sure you include important structures in your yard like your house or shed, and don’t forget about trees and gardens.

Also keep in mind what’s underground. You don’t want to affect wells and you don’t want to run into large tree roots. The roots could ruin your plans, or your patio could ruin the tree.

What you use the patio for will determine where you want to place it. If you want to use it for entertaining and barbequing, you may want to keep the patio close to your house for easy cleanup and serving.

A patio surrounding a pool would need to be properly placed and planned out. Walkways and garden patios are great additions to your backyard, as well!

Also, consider the design of your patio. The shape of your patio, along with the paver style and color, is up to you. Make sure whatever you choose matches or complements the aesthetics of your house.

You can color a concrete patio through several different methods: stains, integral pigments, color hardeners and dyes. However, not every option is available for old concrete and dyes tend to fade in the sunlight. Keep this in mind as you consider coloring your patio.

Sizing a Patio

As you begin the planning stages of a DIY patio, size is an important aspect to consider. Of course, the function of the patio will help determine the size.

If you plan on hosting large gatherings of friends and family, you will probably need a large patio. If you want to be able to set up a dining area on your patio, look into the dimensions of the table set you will buy.

For example, a five-foot by three-foot rectangular table will require a patio size of about 15 feet by 13 feet.

If you are planning on creating a walkway, you will need to think about how wide you want it made. A width of 2 feet can comfortably accommodate one person walking on a path. Add 2 more feet if you want two people to be able to walk together. If your walkway needs to accommodate a wheelchair or a walker, 3 feet is the minimum width.

Patio Building Materials

When you decide on the location, size, shape and design of your patio, you need to figure out the amount of material you need for your project. The tools and materials you need for this project will vary depending on the size of your patio, design and shape.

Some basic materials you’ll need are pavers, a shovel, paver sand, paver base, 2-by-4 wooden boards and gloves. However, you can find a comprehensive list of tools and materials, depending on the type of patio you want.

The first thing you need to do as you look into buying materials, is decide on the total number of square feet your patio will use in your yard. This number determines the amount of pavers, paver sand and paver base you will need.

Next, measure the square footage of the pavers you decide on. This will help you determine the number of pavers you actually need to complete your project.

Decide if you want a raised or level patio in your yard. For a raised patio, use your shovel to dig 4 inches into the earth. For a level patio, dig down 8 inches.

Pour the paver base. The paver base is a layer of gravel that should be 4 inches deep when compacted into the ground you dug up. This helps with draining and maintaining a solid base for your patio.

Next, calculate the amount of paver sand you need. Paver sand is what holds your pavers in place. This layer should be about 1 inch deep.

Determine the perimeter measurement of your patio. This will help you decide the number of paver restraints you need. Paver restraints allow you to stay within your designated work area and keep grass out of your project.

Put your work gloves on and lay down your pavers. Decide on the pattern you want to create and keep the pavers flush against each other. You can use a rubber mallet to move and adjust the pavers once you lay them down. When you finish laying down the pavers, frame your patio with the paver restraints.

After your patio surface is dry and ready, follow the instructions on your bag of joint sand and spread it over the surface to fill in holes between pavers and finish off your patio.

Pouring Cement Down A Chute 

Other Tips and Tricks

Remember to make safety a priority on your worksite. Keep the worksite visually clear to eliminate any unnecessary dangers like falling, tripping or slipping.

Also, consider checking with your homeowner’s association and local building codes before you start the process of building your patio. You don’t want to start a project that you won’t be able to complete.

To add a nice finish to your patio, think about the landscaping surrounding the area. Plant flowers and bushes or even add some lighting to the walkway you made.

You don’t need to spend a ton of money on hiring someone to build your patio. Keep these things in mind as you prepare to DIY your own outdoor patio!

Megan Wild improves homes by focusing on increasing their sustainability and finding new ways to repurpose old materials. When she’s not holding a hammer, you can find her writing up her ideas and thoughts for her blog, Your Wild Home.

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


I think most people that own chickens have heard of chicken saddles. Chicken saddles are fabric "vests" you can put on hens that are suffering from overly, ummm, romantic roosters. The rooster’s constant attention causes chickens to end up losing feathers on their back, which leads to irritated and abraded skin, which leads to bleeding and then things really go south from there: the dreaded cannibal chickens. Putting the saddle on the chicken protects them from the rooster's claws AND the cannibals.

Here’s Jenny modeling her new saddle.

While I don't have roosters, I have needed chickens saddles in the past to protect injured chickens. The most memorable time was when a coyote, in broad daylight, attacked my hens. One of the hens was grabbed by the back, but the coyote dropped her when my son chased it away. She had a 3-4" gash across her back, wing to wing, another gash lower on one side—but for the most part seemed okay other than being in shock. I rushed her to my (horse!) vet, who cleaned and stitched up her wounds. I kept her indoors in a dog kennel for several days while she recovered and regained her strength. But I knew that the sooner I'd introduce her to the flock, the better. And if the other hens caught sight of her wounds and stitches, it would be all over.

Not having the time to look for and buy a chicken saddle on the internet, I threw a very crude one together in about 15 minutes, saw that it kept her wounds hidden and protected and eventually made myself a pattern so I could make more saddles.

So, whether your problem is roosters, wounded chickens or you just like to dress up your chickens, I'm sharing my pattern and basic instructions. I suppose you could do all the sewing by hand if you had to, it would just take less time using a sewing machine. You can download my pattern for free. You don't have to buy fabric, I suppose repurposing clothing, an old pillow case or even cotton towels would work. Depending on the weight/thickness of the fabric you use, you could do without the interfacing, which adds thickness and body to the saddle. 

Instructions for Making a Chicken Saddle


• Printout of the pattern
• fabric
• lightweight interfacing (iron-on preferable) or an extra layer of fabric
• scissors
• sewing machine
• straight pins
• 12 inches of 1/2-inch elastic
• 2  1-inch pieces of Velcro.


1. Download, print and cut out the pattern.

2. Using the pattern, cut two pieces of fabric and one piece of interfacing (iron-on is nice) or make three layers of fabric if you don’t have interfacing.

Pin the pattern to the fabric & cut.

3. Pin all three pieces together (right sides facing out, you can iron in interfacing if that's what you're using)

4. Pin elastic through neck edge of fabric.

5. Pin 1-inch of loop Velcro to each side of saddle where marked on pattern.

6. Pin 5/8-inch piece of hook Velcro to ends of elastic.

All pinned together, ready to sew!

Sew all pieces together (using a zigzag stitch is preferable around the raw edges, sewing twice around is even better)

    Done! I used red thread here so you could see it better. 

    That's it, you’re done! Now just grab a chicken, place the saddle on her back, run the elastic under her wings, front to back, and attach elastic ends to the saddle with velcro. You now have a safe and very fashionable chicken!

    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 FarmerRead all of Deb's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

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



We’ve kept chickens on our Manitoulin Island homestead since 2002, and experience has taught me something that no one made clear to me beforehand. When it comes to chicken coops, a handful of smaller, semi-portable coops are better than one large, permanently anchored house. I call this approach “modularity”, and I’ve worked this ideas into some free plans you can download. 

The big problem with permanent chicken houses is that they’re always troublesome and expensive to build. Lack of flexibility means they offer no chance to reduce or expand flock size, either. You’ve got what you’ve got when it comes to coop size. Keeping chickens in one place in a permanent coop turns that area of your yard into a dusty, vegetation-free wasteland. Permanent coops are also difficult to heat with winter sun – an issue that really matters where I live in Canada.

All this is why I’ve come to prefer one or more smaller, semi-portable backyard chicken barns that can be mixed and matched in different ways. We use one to raise day-old chicks, others as production houses for adult birds.  Add another house if you want to separate some birds because of disease of bullying.

The modular coop I designed is solid and exceptionally warm in winter because of the clear, solar roof, yet also easily ventilated in summer by hinging open the roof. Simple to build, this design can be moved to new locations when needed. Individual modules can be pulled out of production for a time  to break pest cycles, and they're easy to clean without standing in poop.

Although my solar-heated design looks fancy, it’s really only a  box made of 5/8-inch plywood with trim. Nothing this substantial could be easier to build.

My design sits on legs that raise the structure off the ground, and there are two reasons for this. First, it keeps the wood of the coop high, dry and away from rot-promoting soil. Raising the height of a chicken house like this also makes it perfect for winter use in areas that get snow.  I used 1” diameter galvanized steel pipes for my chicken house legs, but you could also put it on some replaceable 4x4s.

The opportunity to collect eggs without opening the chicken door is one advantage of the clear, hinged solar roof. Simply swivel the top upwards, reach down into whatever nesting box you’re using, then retrieve the eggs. You can also replenish feed and water this way, too.

Although hens can get in an out of a very small door, having a large door makes it easier to move feed and water in from the side if you want, and move out manure when it’s time to clean the houses. In my design nearly one whole side swings outwards, with no lip above the floor level. Manure and bedding is easy to scrape out. There are more details here than I have space for, but you can download free plans for my chicken barn at

As practical as it is to keep backyard chickens, the real attraction for me is also because these birds are great fun to watch. In a world with too many screens in front of us, it’s refreshing to be entertained by something non-digital for a change. Try it and you’ll understand what they mean by “chicken TV."

Steve Maxwell, “Canada’s Handiest Man”, is an award-winning home improvement authority and woodworking expert. For more than two decades he’s been helping people renovate, repair, build and maintain their homes. Find him online at Maxwell's House blog and read all of Steve's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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


DIY water filter kits allow just about anyone to create potable water from natural, fresh water sources such as ponds and streams. Simple, off-grid water systems using these kits can negate the expense and effort of packing in water and having lots of plastic bottles to recycle or dispose of.

The kits discussed below were designed for, and perfected in, developing-world refugee and missionary situations but are also available here at home. Camping, off-grid living, or simple emergency water back-up for just-in-case situations are excellent applications for these DIY kits.

In 2012, a previous article ran on the MOTHER EARTH NEWS website discussing these filters and a few changes have been made since then that will be addressed here.

A Quick Recap on Ceramic Water Filters

It is pretty easy to create a water-filter system using a “two-bucket” or “gravity-drip” configuration. The buckets are stacked one on top of the other with the filter connecting them. The upper bucket contains the contaminated source water and the lower bucket collects the filtered water.

The lower bucket also contains a spigot for dispensing the clean water. The basic setup is shown below. Because buckets are cheap but bulky and expensive to ship, DIY kits usually just contain the filter and spigot components and leave it to the end user to procure buckets locally.

Besides buckets, the components can also be mounted into other types of containers at the user’s preference. The spigot and filter come with washers and wingnuts that create a watertight seal with simple hand tightening. The only tool required to make this assembly is a drill and a couple of drill bits.

Now made in the USA! and Other Improvements

One of the big improvements since the first article in 2012 is that we now have U.S. manufacturing for the ceramic filter cartridges, which form the heart of the DIY kit. This has a porous ceramic shell coated with colloidal silver that is used to remove micro-organisms. The pore size ratings on these are on the order of 0.2 to 0.5 microns. We have also improved the media inside the shell by adding resins to the activated carbon so that it will remove a wider array of chemicals.

How long the filters last is a common question. While the biological filter can last for as long as the ceramic shell is intact, the chemical filtration only lasts until the media becomes saturated with contaminants. In typical applications is 8 to 12 months with regular use, and usually they are changed out after a fixed amount of time.

The above diagram shows three stages of filtration that includes a pre-filter sock (included in the DIY kit).  There is also a picture of the actual device in action and a picture of the components that make up a US made DIY kit. Another improvement that has been made since 2012 is that U.S.-made filter cartridges that remove fluoride in addition to the other chemicals are also available.

Water Filtration Flow Rates and Daily Quantities

A major parameter of water-filter systems is the flow rate. The amount of water you need per day is variable depending on the group size and what you plan to use the water for (drinking only, drinking and cooking, drinking and cooking and washing up, etc.).

Single-filter-element DIY kits are usually able to provide 12 to 15 gallons per day, but these can be sped up by using a siphon tube, which supplies an additional vacuum pressure on the outlet of the filter that is in addition to the water pressure provided by the upper bucket.

Each DIY kit comes with a 2-foot siphon tube. Using siphon tubes, one can easily double the flow rates of these systems. There are ways to configure systems if even more water is needed, such as larger containers (to increase water pressure), putting filters in parallel (up to 3 ceramic, 4-by-4 dome filters can fit in a 5-gallon bucket), or pressurizing the upper bucket. In short, the DIY kits can be configured to match a wide variety of water needs.

Water Filter Maintenance

All filters will eventually clog up. Many filter types use a back-flush method to clear them. Instead of back flushing, ceramic filters are cleared by removing the outer surface of clogged pores by lightly scouring them. The shell is thick enough that it can be cleared dozens of times. Using pre-filters can increase the length of time needed between cleanings.

The storage life of the filters before they are put into use is indefinite, and it is also noteworthy that the filters can be used intermittently (for example, on annual camping trips) as long as they are thoroughly dried out between uses.

Hanging Water-Filtration Bags

Another system that was not discussed in our earlier article but is very popular with campers and hikers is the hanging bag. This filter type has ceramic cartridges in it but uses a collapsible bag and long siphon instead of buckets.

The bag filter is filled with water and hung from a tree or other object and the water is directed to other containers as needed by the siphon hose. To stop the water flow, the siphon tube is simply turned up so that the end is higher than the water level in the bag. This bag can be rolled up and is a lot more compact for traveling. Because the sides collapse as the water in the bag drains, they have very good flow rates.  It is also very nice, because unlike straws or drinking bottles, the water can be dispensed easily for other needs like cooking and washing.

DIY ceramic water filter kits are an easy way to create potable water from natural water sources. They are a proven technology that has been used in many areas of the world for disaster relief and refugee situations. Ceramic filters are now available from a U.S. manufacturer with improved chemical-removal media. Additional filter kit styles are available as are fluoride-removal filters.

Homespun Environmental is a small business specializing in affordable DIY water filter kits, such as the ones discussed in this article. They also offer individual components for maximum creativity. If you are interested in finding out more about them or how to purchase kits please visit the Homespun Environmental website.

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