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

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Steve MaxwellA very wise man once told parables for the people around him “who had eyes to see," and I find myself thinking about this phrase more and more often as new developments unfold in the world. Many of our friends and neighbours are blind to the black clouds threatening the comfort and security we’ve taken for granted for generations. And whether or not these clouds really do bring trouble, why take chances when wisely applied self-reliance preparations completed now could save a lot of grief if your part of the world does become unsettled.

I was 16 when I took my first major step towards self-reliance and it’s been the driving theme of the last 34 years of my life ever since. It all started when I was foolish enough to buy a 1973 Honda CB350 motorcycle that I thought was in good condition. As it turns out, the bike burned a quart of oil every 200 miles and badly needed an engine rebuild. But rather than pay a mechanic to do the work, I realized that for less money I could buy all the tools and parts needed, then do the work myself. “How hard could it be," I thought. I’d also get to keep the tools afterwards, all while gaining hands-on knowledge that would serve me well on other jobs. 

A couple of months later, with a well-worn and greasy Chilton’s repair manual on the work bench in my parents’ garage, I fired up the bike with it’s new pistons, rings, valves and seals. It ran perfectly for thousands of miles after that and it taught me a lesson that I believe everyone needs to consider: Self-reliance is empowering – enormously empowering – and for much more than just getting a motorcycle to run properly.

I strongly suspect that self-reliance skills will cease to be the optional lifestyle choice they’ve been for decades. Do you really want to rely completely on systems and organizations for the food, water and warmth you and your family need? The entire western world is financially precarious, socially uneasy, and technologically vulnerable in ways we’ve never seen before. Do you have eyes to see this? I hope so. Just Google the term “survival” and you’ll find results from the more than 33,000 searches done on this one word each month.

Equipping people to make wise self reliance preparations is something I’ve been privileged to do here at MOTHER EARTH NEWS since 2001, and opportunities to share my self-reliance outlook are growing as more and more people beyond us back-to-the-landers find themselves with “eyes to see."

'The Survival Summit' Online Survival Prep Seminars

Between January 20th and 25th 2014, I’ll be one of 25 international experts delivering survival preparation seminars online at an event called The Survival Summit. Organizers are expecting 75,000 to 100,000 people to register for free to watch video seminars on all aspects of survival preparation, including my own 75 minute video seminar on root cellar construction and operation. You can sign up for free here. I’ll be explaining how to build different designs of cellars as well as cellaring options that cost little or nothing. 

So if the idea of energy-free food storage strikes you as a wise thing for you and your family, then join me by video as I explain everything I know about the self-reliant root cellar option and how to make it part of your life. I’m the last video on the summit roster, but you can check out the entire schedule of topics here.

Steve Maxwell is co-author of The Complete Root Cellar Book. Get how-to and self-reliance answers directly from Steve at




After successfully making soft cheese at home from goats milk, provided by the local shepherd, we decided toMaterials For DIY Cheese Press have a look at how to make hard cheese. From all the reading, we understood that we needed a cheese press. We set about thinking how this could be made with available items around our small holding.

DIY Cheese Press Materials

1 old enameled pan with handles (ours had been burnt so no longer used for cooking)
1 flat-bottomed bowl
1 piece of drain pipe
1 old baby milk tin (or any tin that fits inside the drainpipe)
1 glass jar
1 old inner tube from a bike (fixed to one handle of the pan)
1 hook attached to one end of the inner tube
5 brick off cuts
1 round piece of wood to fit inside the drain pipeDIY Cheese Press Materials


We put the flat-bottomed bowl into the enameled pan, upside-down. The drainpipe was placed onto the bowl. The round piece of wood sat on the cheese, inside the drainpipe, with the milk tin on top. Into the milk tin we placed a glass jar — this is to ensure an even pressure across the whole cheese. On top of the glass jar we laid the bricks. Then the inner tube was pulled over the top and, using the hook, fixed to the other handle on the pan.

Finished DIY Cheese PressThe pressure of the press can be changed by adding bricks. We started off with one brick and after a couple of hours added another until we had all five in place.

This cheese press is simple to make, cheap and does the job brilliantly.

Read Part 2 to learn how to make a larger cheese press that can handle cheese made from 10 liters of milk.


cabbageIn almost every climate, edible greens are scarce for part of the year - either a dry season or, more likely, a winter. For hundreds of thousands of years people had none of the refrigerators or pre-packaged foods we take for granted, yet still needed the human body’s natural ration of vitamins, starches and proteins. Starches presented no problem; dried grains like wheat and rice can last decades. Protein could be stretched through the winter; milk could be made into cheese, beans could be dried, eggs could be preserved in limewater or glasswater, meat could be salted, pickled and smoked, and of course animals were often slaughtered in winter.

Vitamins, found in fresh plants and needing to be frequently replenished, presented more of a challenge. Winter often brought high mortality, in part from vitamin deficiency – during Russia’s long winters, for example, people sometimes developed scurvy from a lack of Vitamin C. People did find many techniques for preserving vitamins in winter, and we can use these methods to save electricity and fuel today. One of the most basic involves fooling plants, as it were, into thinking they are not dead yet.

Last year, for instance, we ripped our cabbages out of the earth, roots and all, and hung them upside down in our shed, where they kept for almost two months. A thin layer of leaves grew brown and mouldy on the surface, but those could be simply peeled off, and the cabbages remained flawless underneath. We also stored root vegetables in boxes of sand, which kept the roots alive and free from pests. We had less success with this, as some of our roots either moulded or shrivelled, but it might work better in a less damp climate – meaning, pretty much anywhere. Other vegetables can simply be left in the earth for long periods of time, even under the snow. We left our parsnips under the earth for most of the winter, and the frost only seemed to sweeten them. As I write this I’m looking out the window on New Year's Day at a garden still filled with beetroots, carrots, leeks, celeriac, kale, broccoli, cabbages and onions – not even counting the herbs or what’s in the greenhouse. How well this works will depend on your crops and climate, but before you yank the crops out and then try to preserve them, see if they will keep where they are.

Around here farmers often clamped their potatoes, rich in vitamins as well as starch. They lay a bed of straw in a field, piled the potatoes on top, and covered them with more straw. Then they piled earth over the mound of straw, and the potatoes were relatively protected from the elements. You can preserve many fruits and vegetables in a medium that fungus, bacteria and other pests don’t like, either water that is too salty (salt pickles, sauerkraut), too acid (sweet pickles, onions and chutneys) or too sweet (syrup). You can boil the fruit and vegetables and add yeast to preserve them in alcohol, or add pectin to the syrup to firm it into jam. In some climates – although not ours – or if you have a dehydrator, you can dry your own raisins, sultanas, sun-dried tomatoes, prunes, as well as dried figs, apricots, cranberries, dates and so on. You can also slice vegetables – carrots, parsnips, beetroots, onions, cabbage and many more - dehydrate them for storage, and use them months later in soups or stews. Of course most of us are also familiar with dried herbs, and you can pull out whole plants in autumn and hang them upside down in the attic or pantry. dried vegetables

Few people, however, realise the number of wild leaves you can dry and preserve beyond the traditional herbs – we’ve preserved nettles, dandelion and fat hen, and could certainly try more. You don’t have to confine yourself to one method, of course, but can use a few at a time, staggering your methods through the winter months – if cabbage keeps in the ground until December where you are, and then keeps two more months hung in the shed, you can keep eating cabbage until February and sauerkraut after that. More than one method also allows you to a backup plan in case your beetroots don’t keep in the sand, or if a pest eats your cabbages. All these methods have one thing in common – they all take food grown in earlier months and, one way or another, keep it going during through the dark and cold. It is possible, however, to grow fresh crops through the winter months – even without a greenhouse. Even here, a thousand miles from the Arctic Circle, where the winter sun brings only brief and meagre light, we can eat freshly sprouted plants – more on that next column.


impact driverUntil 2002, almost nobody in North America knew what an impact driver was. Now most pros use them all the time, and a growing number of homesteaders and DIYers do, too. The first I heard of impact drivers was 11 years ago, from an obscure story in a little magazine that was reporting on popular power tools in Japan. Apparently, so the story went, carpenters in that country didn’t drive screws with cordless drills any more, they always used impact drivers instead. Speed is one reason why, but there’s a more enticing incentive, too. The only company at the time that offered impact drivers in North America was DEWALT, so that’s the kind I tried first.

Fast-forward a decade, and impact drivers are now the only way most serious professional builders drive screws. And while you might not be a professional yourself, there’s lots you can learn from pros in your quest for serious self reliance capabilities. Impact drivers are the ultimate woodscrew driving tool. They sink screws faster than a cordless drill of the same size, and this matters because screws are a growing part of how things are built these days. But speed and power isn’t even the best thing about impact drivers. More importantly, these tools also keep the tip of screw driving bits much more firmly engaged with deck screw heads, virtually eliminating the slippage and frustration that’s so common when driving screws with ordinary cordless drills. I’ve never seen anyone go back to using a drill for driving screws after they’ve tried an impact driver. Lithium-ion batteries and more efficient, brushless motors are the two most important innovations that are boosting the performance of impact drivers right now. That’s because the smaller and more powerful an impact driver is, the handier it is to use.

If you’ve never used one before, it might be easier than you think to give one a try. Visit for a chance to win one of three professional-grade DEWALT impact driver kits including the tool itself, a charger and two 4.0 amp-hour batteries. Contest ends December 15th, with prizes delivered just in time for Christmas.


In less than two minutes, you can learn how to build a rocket stove using only cement blocks. Just watch this brief video, "The 6-Block Rocket Stove," for the easy instructions.

The video's clever design for a dual-burner DIY rocket stove uses only six concrete masonry units (CMU), also known as cement blocks or foundation blocks. By stacking the blocks as demonstrated, you'll be able to channel enough heat from a small fire to cook food in two separate pots.

If you've not familiar with the concept of rocket stoves, these efficient cooking (and heating) devices are typically compact and simply designed. A rocket stove generates heat with substantially less environmental impact than an open fire, burning up about half the flammable material. Fires can be built and maintained inside rocket stoves using small twigs, branches and even grasses — making the devices especially suited to places where wood is scarce. This type of stove is valuable in off-the-grid living and rural applications where gas or electricity isn't available. Rocket stoves can be used to cook food or heat small spaces; some rocket stove plans incorporate heat exchangers for heating large quantities of water.

To build the rocket stove featured in this video, you'll need 3 standard cement blocks, 2 half-blocks and one stretcher unit. As the video demonstrates, the blocks can be arranged quickly, and your rocket stove will be fully operational in a matter of minutes. Start by placing one standard block lengthwise, with its solid surface down, and topping it with the stretcher unit having its openings facing skyward. Flank this arrangement on each end with one standard block, openings turned out to the sides (the side-facing openings will function as fuel magazines into which you'll feed the flames). Place the half-blocks on top to create two vertical chimneys, over which you can place recycled burner grates to support cooking pots and to allow for a draught. And that's it: Now you know how to build a rocket stove for cooking.

The video also includes instructions to build a more compact, single-burner rocket stove using just four cement blocks.

Rebecca Martin is an Associate Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, where her beats include DIY and Green Transportation. She's an avid cyclist and has never met a vegetable she didn't like. You can find her on Google+.


crocheted scrubbiesNow that the cool weather is here, I have found myself crocheting up a storm.  It gives me something productive to do in the evenings when I want to put my feet up and relax, and as we all know, the holidays are coming quickly, so I’m trying to get a head start on handmade gifts.

When I get tired of dishcloths and need a break, I switch over to making scrubbies.  If you’ve never tried using them when washing dishes, you’re missing out.  I love them, which is why everyone who gets a dishcloth for Christmas will also get a matching scrubby (or is it spelled ‘scrubbie’?  I don’t know.  It’s not important to the story!). 

The backstory on these is that my dear Aunt Audrey has been making them for years.  When I asked her how to do it, these were her directions:  “Cut some netting into strips and tie them all together.  Then, crochet a circle and increase for a couple rows.  When it’s the right size, start decreasing.  That’s all.” 

That’s all.

For a newbie crocheter, that wasn’t enough! 

Fortunately, I didn’t give up.  It turns out they ARE very easy to make and take almost no time at all, once you’ve cut the netting into strips (this will take some time.)  You want to look for ‘nylon netting’ (frequently used for tutus).  The toile stuff that is used for weddings (and frequently sold next to the netting) is softer and doesn’t have as much scrubbing power.  The major fabric stores have 40 or 50% off coupons on their websites, so print one off and get yourself some yardage (I would recommend 2-4 yards.  I’ve done 5 and it gets tricky to cut.  I would also recommend a dark color, since these will get dirty.)

When I was first researching how to make scrubbies, I went to a bunch of different tutorials online, and most of them said to cut the netting into 2” strips.  But Aunt Audrey was adamant that that would be hard to work with, so I decided to go with 1” strips like she uses.  She was right… sometimes it’s hard enough with the 1” strips, I think the 2” would drive me mad!

So, take your yardage and cut it into 1” strips (the long way).  You don’t have to be precise, as the width won’t make a huge difference in the outcome.  Aunt Audrey uses scissors, which seems to me would take forever.  If you don’t have a rotary cutter and mat, I would highly recommend it!  I fold the yardage over itself and one roll of the cutter yields many strips.  Tie them together, and roll into a ball.

Once you’ve got your ball made, you can start crocheting.  I use a size ‘I’ hook just because that’s the same size I use for my dishcloths and I’m too lazy to go find another.  I’m sure H or J would be fine.  This is how I do it, which is a combination of many other different patterns.  You can play with it to adjust to your liking.

Smaller Size Scrubbie

Row 1:  chain 3, then connect to the first stitch using a slip stich.

Row 2:  In the hole of the circle you just made, work 12 double crochets.  Connect to the first using a slip stitch.

Row 3:  In each stitch, work 2 double crochets and connect to the first using a slip stitch.

Row 4:  In each stitch, work 2 single crochets, connecting to the first using a slip stitch.

Row 5:  (You will now start decreasing to make the ‘back’ of the scrubbie.) Single crochet, single crochet, skip a stitch (and repeat all around).

Row 6:  Work a single crochet into every other stitch and keep working in the round until it’s closed up.  Stuff all the knot ends inside and work it into a pretty circle by pulling and tugging if you have to.

Larger Size Scrubbie

Row 1:  chain 3, then connect to the first stitch using a slip stich.

Row 2:  In the hole of the circle you just made, work 12 double crochets.  Connect to the first using a slip stitch.

Rows 3 and 4:  In each stitch, work 2 half double crochets and connect to the first using a slip stitch.

Row 5:  In each stitch, work a single crochet, connecting to the first using a slip stitch.

Row 5:  (You will now start decreasing to make the ‘back’ of the scrubbie.) Single crochet, single crochet, skip a stitch (and repeat all around).

Row 6:  Work a single crochet into every other stitch and keep working in the round until it’s closed up.  Stuff all the knot ends inside and work it into a pretty circle by pulling and tugging if you have to.

Lanette Lepper is a beekeeper, chicken keeper, gardener, food preserver, and proud Navy spouse who blogs at


This article was originally posted in Instructables and is reposted with permission from Brent Garcia.

Photo by Brent Garcia

This travel mosquito-net tent is made from a couple of fiberglass rods, rope and aluminum tubing. I bought 4 yards of mosquito mesh at Hancock Fabrics for about $20. It's an easy project and very simple to set up. No sewing required!

Step 1: Fiberglass Rod Protective Covering

Fiberglass rod is strong and flexible, which is a must for this mosquito net tent. The problem is that you get invisible splinters from handling it. To fix this, I gutted 3/8-inch rope and used the sheath to cover the rod. Next, I sealed them in by crimping and melting the ends. What’s even better, they now fit snuggly into the tubes they'll go in.

Photo by Brent Garcia

Step 2: Tent Pole Connectors

I got the aluminum tubing at Home Depot. I cut four 4-inch sections with a pipe cutter. Next, I removed the burrs with a file and drilled a hole 10 millimeters from the bottom edge.

Step 3: Form Eyelets in the Stakes

I placed the hooked end of a stake in a vise and closed it along with a socket. This created the needed loop for the connectors. After slipping the tube on, I closed the hook the rest of the way. The tube should be able to fold freely for storage.

Step 4: Rope Rings

The ends of the shelter will be gathered together and threaded through the rope rings. To make the rings, I cut two 6-inch sections of the rope and fused the ends together with a torch. Make sure the rope is threaded through the looped end of the stake before you fuse together the ends.

Step 5: Cut the Mosquito Mesh to Length

I figured out the length by rounding my height up to the nearest foot, and then doubling it. My net is 12 feet long. About 3 feet of that hangs over the supports on each side. There's nothing fancy about cutting the net — just use a pair of scissors.

Step 6: Set Up the Mosquito Net

Hammer in the stakes as far apart as you are tall. Make sure they're close enough to form an arch using the fiberglass rods. Gather the ends of the mosquito net together and thread them through the rope rings. Anchor the ring stakes into the ground. Drape the mosquito mesh over and pull it tight. I used a constrictor knot and a fish bone to get the tension right. 

You can see more images of this mosquito-net tent on my original Instructables post.

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