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

Add to My MSN


Seed Packets

As spring arrives in Seattle, visions of seed packets dance through my head. I await all of the bounty to come. I must admit I have never been very good at growing plants from seeds. I am not sure if the missing ingredient is patience, a greenhouse, or time. My dear friend and gentleman farmer David is a master of this art. In the past, David and I have gone to nurseries, looked at catalogs, and made purchases together, all the while talking about heirloom seeds and the rich gift of taste they add to our lives. And still I can’t quite seem to plant and harvest my own crop.

Thankfully, David pays our household a visit during the summer season and often brings with him a sampling of what he has grown. These treats are almost always grown from heirloom seeds, without the interference of biogenetics or chemical-focused farming. The flavors from his food, as well as our CSA's share, are always notably bolder, richer, and more distinctive.

In conversation with Carly at the dinner table recently, I was talking about a smoothie that I made for some friends. One of the ingredients was not organic, a compromise I thought would go unnoticed, but I noticed. This ingredient was nearly flavorless, even though I had added two entire cups. I have heard it said that there is no difference in flavor between conventional and organic food products, but I can't agree—nor can my taste buds. I have also heard it said that we cannot feed our world population without the help of biogenetic and factory farming. I’ve also read evidence to the contrary.

In our conversation about flavor, nutrition, and healthful food, Carly noted her sadness that healthful, organic, and sustainable food is so expensive in our country. Having traveled to many of the world’s developing countries, where the standard of living is regarded as lower than ours, she recalled more affordable healthful food.

Why do we continue to price healthful food and healthy bodies out of the general population’s budgets?

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.


Carpet Sample Rug A1

This colorful rug is a great way to re-purpose the little carpet samples you can pick up at home-improvement stores. This DIY project is fairly easy to make and only requires four materials!

The most difficult aspect of making this rug is sourcing carpet samples. I was able to get mine at a used craft/art supplies cooperative. This co-op operated like a cross between Sam’s Club, JoAnn Fabrics and Goodwill. Members paid a small yearly fee and one day a week were able to come and collect as many cast off home goods and craft supplies as they desired, at no extra charge. Some of the items I often took home included fabric, yarn, thread, ribbon, wallpaper sample books and carpet sample books.

The carpet sample books are great to work with because all of your carpet samples with be of a uniform shape, size and texture. They can be a pain though if the carpet samples are well glued into the book. It took me a while to pry each carpet sample out of the books, but it is doable. If you don’t have a craft/thrift store in your area that might carry carpet sample books, I recommend asking your local home improvement store if you can take 15-20 individual samples home. They are usually free, but it’s best to ask since you’re wanting to use them for a craft project rather than picking out new carpet for your living room. You could even see what the store does with their old carpet samples - they might be more than happy to have you take them off their hands!

Carpet Sample Rug B1

The total cost of this project is minimal. There’s a good chance you already have everything you need at home and the carpet samples will most likely be free.

To Make Your Own Carpet Samples Rug You Will Need:

Gather your materials, lets DIY!

• Carpet samples (uniform shape, size and texture are the easiest to work with, but sample pieces can be trimmed to a specific size), the number depends on how large you want your rug to be.
• Duct tape
• Hot glue, hot glue gun
• Non-slip rug pad (you can purchase these in large rolls and cut to fit your rug) 

The first step is deciding on a pattern for your run. Lay all of your carpet samples out and arrange them in whatever order you prefer. Have fun with the colors and pattern! I like to create a few different options and take a photo of each arrangement. Then I can look at and compare all of the possibilities at once.

Once you’ve decided on the layout of your mat, flip each carpet sample over so the carpet side is down (make sure to maintain the order and arrangement of the samples). I recommend working on one row/line of samples at a time. Using duct tape, tape an entire row/line of carpet samples together. Repeat until all of the individual samples in each row are taped together, then tape all of the rows together.

To make the rug as sturdy as possible, I ran a line of hot glue down each row on the opposite (carpet) side of the mat. Allow the glue to dry before proceeding to the next step.

The final step of this project is gluing a non-slip rug pad/mat to the back of your rug. Duct tape can be really slippery and you want to make sure your rug is safe to walk and stand on! Once your non-slip mat is attached you only have to decide where to put your lovely new rug!

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. 


Maple Tapping Hanging Bucket 

Maple tapping time is just around the corner! Have you ever considered taking up this fun hobby but wonder how it all really works? I’m so excited to share with you everything we’ve learned about sugarmaking. I know you’ll find it to be a great outdoor family activity and I think you’ll see it is much simpler than you thought. Best of all, your reward will be one of nature’s sweetest treats: pure maple syrup.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to take you through the process of tapping trees, collecting sap, and turning this sweet bounty into enough syrup to feed your family all year long. For now, I’d like to answer a few questions I’ve run into and give you a little primer on the tapping process.

What Kind of Trees Can I Tap?

The best maple syrup comes from sugar maple or hard maple trees because their sap has the highest sugar content. You can also tap soft maples, birch, or box elder but the end product will taste a bit different and the boiling process takes a little bit longer. The tree must be healthy with a full canopy of leaves in the summer – thanks to the magic of photosynthesis, the more leaves a tree has, the sweeter its sap. One taphole will produce up to 12 gallons of sap in a season (which boils down to approximately one quart) and larger trees can accommodate more than one tap. Most sugarmakers follow this taps-per-tree rule:

• 12-inch to 18-inch diameter = 1 tap
• 18-inch to 32-inch diameter = up to 3 taps
• 32-inch or more diameter = up to 6 taps

Does Tapping Hurt the Tree?

If the tree is healthy when tapped and proper tapping procedures are followed, the taphole will start healing within a few weeks of the spile’s removal and the tree will be perfectly fine. Many maple tree farms have been tapping the same trees for over 100 years. Each taphole, however, must be placed in a different spot on the tree from the previous year. One thing to note: the bottom 4- to 6-foot "tapping zone” will result in trees that are less valuable if cut down for lumber.

When is Tapping Season?

The sap run typically begins in March and lasts through mid-April or until the trees bud out. The start date will vary depending on where you live but the run is always triggered by the same conditions: below-freezing temperatures at night followed by daytime temperatures in the 40 degrees Fahrenheit range. So, if you live in a zone with this seasonal freeze/thaw cycle, you can become a sugarmaker!

What Tools do I Need?

You need just a few basic supplies to start tapping trees – and with proper care, these tools will last for many seasons. For drilling the hole, you’ll need a cordless drill or a hand brace fitted with a wood-boring bit. The taps or spiles typically come in two sizes (5/16-inch and 7/16-inch) so make sure your bit matches the size of your spile. You’ll also need a small hammer to tap the spile into the hole.

Obviously you’ll need spiles for every taphole and a way to collect the sap. Choices for collection abound and you can find preassembled taps and tubes (which can also be connected with couplers to run all through the woods into one large bucket); buckets that hang right on the spile; or sacks that are designed to fit into a channel-type holder that also hangs on the spile. Any and all of these systems work just fine and really are a matter of personal preference. We used all three this past season just to try them out and my favorite was the tubing – it is more of a “closed” system which keeps debris and bugs out of the sap. (I know that sounds gross but don’t worry, anything that gets into the sap will be filtered and boiled out!)

You’ll also need an extra (or two or three) food-grade buckets for collecting your sap each day. We found that it was much easier to go to each tree with our larger buckets on the back of the ATV. Not only did it save time but we were able to get the containers back in place quickly so we didn’t have sap dripping on the ground.

How to Drill a Taphole

This is so super simple! We actually drilled many of our holes with our neighbor kids (ages 8 and under) and they loved helping out – by the fourth tree, they were running the drill. Here’s the quick step-by-step:

Step 1: Mark your drill bit with tape or a marker at 1-1/2 inches from the end. This will show you how far to drill into the tree.

Step 2: It’s not essential, but for best sap flow select a spot above a large root or below a large branch on the south-facing side of the tree. Drill the hole 2- to 4-feet off the ground and make sure you measure from the ground and not the snow level – as the snow melts, your tubing may not reach your bucket! Also, if the tree has been tapped before, locate your new taphole no closer than 12 inches above or below an old mark or 6 inches from side to side.

Step 3: Hold the drill steady and drill at a slightly upwards angle into the tree, stopping when you hit the mark on your drill bit. This ensures that you will only drill into the sapwood and not the heartwood, which could render the tree more susceptible to disease. Be careful not to wobble the drill – this can result in an “ovaled” hole which will not adequately hold the spile and may allow sap to leak out around the edges. As you remove the drill, try to pull with it the debris left in the hole. Sap will most likely begin running as soon as you drill the hole. Go ahead and taste it – it’s just barely sweet. 

Step 4: Insert the spile into the hole and gently tap until the hammer begins to bounce back. Be careful not to tap too forcefully as it could cause the spile to bend or break and possibly damage the tree.

Step 5: Attach your collection container and smile. You’ve just tapped a tree!

What to Do Next

Once you’ve tapped all your trees, it becomes a waiting game. If the temperatures cooperate, you will need to empty your containers every day. Sap can be collected and kept chilled for a few days until you’re ready to boil. In my next blog, I’ll talk about best collection practices and get you ready to start cooking. Until then, Happy Tapping!

Photo by Julie Fryer

For more information on sugarmaking, Julie can be reached at Her books, Guide to Maple Tapping and Kid’s Guide to Maple Tapping, are available on Amazon in both ebook and printed versions.

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.


Read Part 1 of this series of a general materials list for this project.

Read Part 2 with help in designing and planning a pallet guitar project.

Tools for Installing a Guitar Sound Chamber

You will need a few basic tools to do this build:

• A plunge router, this is used to create the cavities.
• A rotary tool
• An orbital jig saw

tools 1

Making a Plan for the Inner-Workings

This post is done on a very cold day here in Wisconsin, -20 degrees. Too cold to be outside. Besides, this is much more fun. Anyway, below you will notice a horizontal cross section of the guitar. Imagine the top cut off. This shows, I hope, the routed out areas that make up the sound chamber, pick-up pockets, and control panel - brown in color. The brown hatched areas are the built-up sides. These are, for the most part, free hand drawings, so bear with me. I draw these again to actual size to avoid transposing measurements, I’m Irish, old and simple, need all the help I can get. Here goes. Again maintain that center line. If you look close you can see it on my plan.


guitar image

Applying the Plan to the Material or "Field Engineer” If It Is Wrong

Once you have developed the plan you are hap! hap! happy with, cut out around the outer perimeter of the drawing, lay out on the block of wood material selected for the body with neck attached, and trace. Don’t cut out the shape until you have routed out the inside cavities with the router. Once the routing has been complete, cut out the perimeter “shape of the guitar." This is where the jig saw comes in handy. Now the body and the neck should be one piece and in a rough form. Using the rotary tool, clean up any rough areas.


I use copper foil for all my shielding. You might say, “what in the heck is shielding and why?" Without proper shielding, the pick-ups, potentiometers “pots” and input jacks would pick up outside humming noises, even hum-bucking pick-ups don’t always stop all noises. I save as much copper flashing material as possible for this use. If purchasing is the only source, hobby/craft stores carry copper foil by the roll or sheet. I use latex-based contact adhesive to adhere the shielding material to the cavity base and sides. Got to think (environment) sometimes. If you want, you can substitute magnetic chalk-board paint for copper shielding, this works, but is not quite as effective as copper. Remember, all cavities should be shielded, except for sound cavities.

I know this may be hard to understand without progressive images. I didn’t start taking image shots till later builds. Feel free to contact me with questions.

We used to make what we thought was music with very rough instruments: stump fiddle, wash tub base and drum, four string guitar and harmonica. Not in tune, but fun. We didn’t consider ourselves poor, just resourceful. Doesn’t take much to make me happy. Did I mention I’m a simple, poor Irishman?

Electronics: Fun Stuff

electronics harness

Now we get into the electronics. I made up my harness outside the guitar, this way I can take time soldering and will be able to test the components before installation. I used all reclaimed pieces, pots, input, pickups, and any switches needed. You will need the following equipment. Various electronic component diagrams are available for free on the internet. Just search "guitar electronics." Many diagrams will show up. To start with, select one that is basic. I use all passive systems, meaning no pre-amps or batteries are needed, must keep that carbon foot-print as small as possible.

needed equipment

Needed Equipment:

• soldering gun
• flux
• solder
• cordless drill, I'll explain this later
• multimeter 
• wire stripper
• assorted pliers

Follow the diagram very closely as to where the wires are located. I label all components, and use colored wire. You will notice some pick-ups have 4 wires and some 2. I make most of mine 2 wire applications, again, I’m a simple Irishman. Now we are ready to test.


This is where the cordless drill is handy. I use an amp, cordless drill, and a multimeter for testing. Follow this procedure and things should go well.

testing tools

1. Solder following the diagram.

2. Test connections using the multi-meter set on ohms to check continuity.

3. Plug your jack cord, one end into the input of your harness, the other into a small guitar amp.

4. Turn the amp on with volume about half, crank the volume and tone pots all the way up.

5. Using your cordless drill, hold it near the pick-ups, you should hear an amplified version of the drill.

sound test

Happy thoughts, thanks.

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.



Read Part 1 of this series of a general materials list for this project.

Read Part 3 for how to build a guitar sound chamber.

Top View/Basic Measurements

Guitar top

This bout design allows me to play all 24 frets comfortably, sitting or standing. The playing scale length is the distance from the nut to the bridge. The fret layout depends on this distance. I made my fret layout gauge from measurements obtained from a book. You can now find them on the net for free.

The distance across the body was directly influenced by my planer, that's the widest stock I could run. To cheap to buy a larger planer. The neck, body and headstock are made together. You wouldn't need to do this, a set neck could fit into a pocket built into the body, or a bolt on type could be added.

Always work with a center line, this will almost guarantee a near perfect alignment for strings, bridge, pick-ups, headstock, etc. Design your guitar to fit you and your artistic slant. Try to use recycled, or reclaimed materials. They are very dry, and probably not plantation grown, these two characteristics make great instrument material.

Side View

side view

This view gives a visual of the entire instrument. I canted the headstock so I wouldn't need string hold downs and to give it that Irish flare. The neck is a three piece laminated unit. I cut the pieces using a gauge I made of old sub floor material. One piece of the neck is mahogany, two are maple, cut identical in shape but not length. The center piece goes the length of the guitar from head to body tail. The Maple pieces go from head to two inches into the body, Glue and clamp. I use Tite Bond glue, does the trick.

This is my neck gauge.


Body Back

The drawing below shows how the neck is incorporated into the body back. The center Mahogany piece is 3/4 inches wide and runs the length of the instrument for strength and looks. The Maple pieces run just inside the body. You can run them 2 to 4 inches in. They are also 3/4 inches wide. The body back is two separate pieces 3/4 inches thick x 6 inches wide x 20 inches long cut to fit tight to the neck material. Dry fit, glue and clamp. To achieve the body thickness, I stacked another piece of 3/4-inch material around the perimeter of the body. This material can be anything and in pieces, no waste, and a good way to use small pieces.

body back

cross section

Body Cross Section

I'll get into the inner body design next post. Remember to maintain that center line through out the project.

We, my two brothers and I grew up in a small house that sat on cedar posts, our job was to help lift the house, no not by hand but, with screw jacks and build a block foundation under it. The point I am getting at is this, the blocks were used, salvaged from another house we tore down. At nine years old, I was chipping mortar from blocks to reuse them on our house. This type of approach has stuck with me through the years. We didn't get paid to do this, just our way of life., but a little cash would have been nice. Oh well, foiled again. Have a good time. Recycle, Re-claim, Repurpose.


Willow, Maple, Walnut, and Cherry

Read Part 3 for how to build a guitar sound chamber. 

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.


DIY Framed Floral Arrangement

I've saved all of the corsages my now-husband gave me for Prom and Homecoming when we were in high school. I’ve always loved flowers and couldn’t bear the thought of throwing them out after the dance. Instead, I hung them from my corkboard bulletin board in my room where they stayed for many years. The flowers dried out and lost a lot of their brilliant colors, but they are still a beautiful reminder of our evening.

I wanted a way to display these flowers, and the memories so I framed them in a shadow box. I used some brown kraft paper that had a floral pattern on it for the background and used glue and a needle and thread to keep the flowers in place. In keeping with the romantic theme, I included a poem: "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It’s one of my favorite art pieces in our home.

Dried Flowers Red

The entire project cost very little to make, the only thing I purchased was the shadowbox frame, which retail for anywhere from $10 to $30, depending on size. I did not have to purchase any of the other materials. The corsages did have a cost that my boyfriend paid, but since I am using them after their intended use was over and done with, I am not counting their original cost.

To make your own Framed Floral Arrangement you will need:

• Shadow box style frame, with glass
• Flowers and/or corsages or boutonnieres (must be dried, to dry flowers, hang upside down in a well ventilated area for a few weeks or until completely dry)
• Decorative paper like scrapbook paper, pretty stationary, pages from a book of poems. The brown paper that I used was from a decorative paper bag.
• Liquid glue, like Elmer’s Glue
• Sewing needle
• Thread, try to match the color of the thread to the color of the florist tape on the corsages/boutonnieres or to the dried stems of the flowers
• A romantic poem of your choice, can be taken from a book or typed and printed from a computer, use pretty paper or stationery if you can.

Gather Your Materials, Let's DIY!

The first task is to decorate the backdrop for your flowers. I used liquid glue to adhere the decorative paper to the cardboard insert that came with the shadow box frame. If your frame doesn’t come with a cardboard insert, or if the cardboard is too flimsy, you can cut a thicker piece of cardboard to size. The cardboard needs to be sturdy enough to support the weight of the glue and flowers, but thin enough that you can pierce it with a sewing needle. Be sure to allow the glue to dry before continuing to the next step.

Before gluing or sewing down any flowers, play with the arrangement you want. Try several different options by placing your flowers, corsages and poem in different positions. I like to take photos with my digital camera of an arrangement before creating a new one. That way you can look at all of the possible arrangements at once before making a decision. Once you have an arrangement you like, lightly glue your poem and each flower and corsage in place. Only put glue on the parts of the flower/corsage that touch your backdrop when the flower is laying flat. Allow the glue to dry.

Once the glue holding the flowers in place is dry, reinforce the flowers by stitching them in place. Use a simple running stitch and be sure to match your thread to the color of the corsage or the stem of the flower. Once every flower is stitched in place you can frame your floral masterpiece!

Dried Flowers Sewn

This DIY project is lovely way to preserve flowers from special events in your life. Be sure to keep the frame out of direct sunlight, to keep the flowers from fading. Enjoy!

Have a healthy and happy Valentine’s Day!

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.


Don’t burn that wood pallet! You can instead salvage the wood, imagine and build a guitar. Pallets are made with beautiful wood, once planed and sanded. Pallets have to be strong, so you know the wood is good. Stringed instruments need good wood to resonate and sustain, in the musical sense, well. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy a hobby than to work without a budget. The creativity and cost savings involved in these projects justify the three 'R’s: recycle, repurpose, reclaim. The environment will love you.

Wood Pallet Guitar Components Materials List

Below I will give an overview of the components of my pallet guitar, which has an Irish flare.

Control panel

The material list is as follows:

This guitar is made of pallet material and was handmade on a dare. Part of one of my class requirements was to have the students build or design something useful with little or no budget. They, my students, figured if they had to so should the instructor, me and my big ideas. So I couldn’t be out-shined. It is a six- string, 24 fret, semi-acoustic, dual humbucker pickup instrument. The following bullet point will list the materials used.


Pallet Guitar

Body top: Book match cut willow, maple pick guard, cherry pick-up plate, walnut in-lay
Body bottom: lark (similar to fir), reclaimed stadium seat.
Edge banding: cherry, water soaked to conform to guitar shape, pallet material
Sound ports: walnut pallet material
Neck: through body, laminated maple and mahogany pallet material
Pickups: four singles paired in reverse to create two duels
Fret board: Maple with walnut inlay fret marks and walnut banding pallet material, fret wire is reclaimed.
Headstock: maple, walnut banding pallet material, tuning machines are reclaimed
Control panel: pots are reclaimed, tuning knobs are reclaimed, slide switch is used and reclaimed, from a dumpster.
Shamrocks: maple
Bridge: reclaimed Hipshot type
Finish: woods are natural, shamrocks are toned with compressed grass and cedar foliage creating a green stain liquid. Top coat is low-VOC latex acrylic clear (3 parts per gallon), well under LEED guidelines for sustainable use.

Guitar Case

Guitar Case 

Next, the guitar case. I had much fun with this piece because I had to mix species of wood in order to have enough.

Case exterior: made with combining book match cut alternating species of reclaimed pallet material, maple and black walnut, shamrock is white pine.
Case interior: reclaimed material purchased at a thrift store, price, $ 2.50.
Padding: reclaimed carpet pad. Chain stay probably mined from a dumpster as is all hardware used on the case.
Finish: natural accept for the shamrock, (again foliage liquid)

Guitar Stand

Lattice Guitar Stand 

The guitar stand was fun as well, this has no mechanical fasteners and made of old flooring.

Tripod: reclaimed redwood spindles (removed from a house in). Back spindle is reclaimed furniture stock.
Top: Lattice design is throw away wood rips incorporated into a frame made of reclaimed maple flooring.
Finish: natural with clear coat as guitar and case.

Finish and Hardware

Note: All clear finish is applied with a high volume/low pressure sprayer (H.V.L.P.) system, creating little or no overspray. The only thing new is a set of strings, only after my wife, Judie, convinced me to buy for $6.00. It plays very well, and I use it often. No mechanical fasteners were used in the stand, case or guitar, other than visible hardware, such as, hinges, handles, guitar hardware, etc. All connections are doweled, mortise and tendon, or glue joints.

My next post will explain how to build this style instrument.

Attend a Guitar-Building Workshop in Wisconsin

A personal note, Judie and I won Best of Show and first place with this instrument. I still don’t consider myself an artist, just having fun with salvaged stuff. I would like to start workshops on this subject. I am hosting a pallet-guitar-making workshop at a local Marinette, Wisconsin, library for ages 9-12 building small, 3-string box guitars in February. Ages 9-12 years, limited attention span, I must be quick. These guitars are a 3-D puzzle that will work!

Read Part 2 with help in designing and planning a pallet guitar project.

Read Part 3 for how to build a guitar sound chamber.

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.

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 66% Off the Cover Price

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Lighten the Strain on the Earth and Your Budget

MOTHER EARTH NEWS is the guide to living — as one reader stated — “with little money and abundant happiness.” Every issue is an invaluable guide to leading a more sustainable life, covering ideas from fighting rising energy costs and protecting the environment to avoiding unnecessary spending on processed food. You’ll find tips for slashing heating bills; growing fresh, natural produce at home; and more. MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps you cut costs without sacrificing modern luxuries.

At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet’s natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.00 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.00 for 6 issues.