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

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This article was originally posted in Instructables and is reposted with permission from Scott D. Reinhardt.

Most of the time I work alone, so clamps are my imaginary helper. 

bar clamp 1Sometimes my ratchet clamps break. Not being a person to throw things away, I keep them in a scrap box.

Well, I was in the need of clamping some oddly shaped items and I remembered my box full of broken clamps.

I came up with a simple solution. I bent some S-hooks onto an O-ring and mated them with the broken ratchet clamps. This allows me to clamp in many directions for oddly shaped items.

In this configuration I am using three clamps, but I could add more if I wanted to. In the past I've made several holding fixtures and most of them take up valuable space when not in use. This assembly breaks down for easy storage and to create other configurations.

Step 1: Components and Tools

bar clamp 2You'll need the following components and tools for this bar clamp project:

  • 2-inch diameter O-ring with a 1/4-inch wall thickness
  • S-hooks: 1 3/4-inch length S-hook with a 1/8-inch wall thickness. (I used three — but not all S-hooks are made equally. I purchased a few sets and discovered they sometimes broke in the bending process, therefore, I went with S-hooks from rubber tie-down straps.)
  • Ratchet bar clamp (I used two 6-inch clamps and one 24-inch clamp. I used broken clamps and removed the damaged/broken finger end. Note: clamps that can take the one finger off will work for this project.)
  • 5-inch bench vise (almost any vise will work)
  • 15-inch adjustable wrench
  • Large Channellock pliers

Step 2: Bend the S-Hooks

bar clamp 4

Here's how I bent the S-hooks so they'd work for this bar clamp project. 

First, I placed half of the S-hook into the vise. Using the 15-inch adjustable wrench, I put a 90-degree bend into it by pulling the wrench towards me. 

I repeated this process on all 3 S-hooks. 

Then, I put the same part of the S-hook that was in the vice onto the O-ring. 

Using my large Channellock pliers, I closed the end permanently to the ring. I did this for all 3 S-hooks. 

I choose to keep them mounted all in the same manner and direction.

Step 3: Assemble the Bar Clamp

bar clamp 12I choose to make a 3-clamp multidirectional ratchet bar clamp system. (Wow, that's a mouthful.)

Because I designed this bar clamp to take apart, "assembly" is a loose term.

The clamps have holes in the end of the bars; the bent S-hooks are mounted into these holes.

The S-hooks on the ring are all facing in the same direction, so all the clamps are positioned correctly to close around an oddly shaped item.

Note: Setup for clamping might be easier if you permanently squeeze the S-hooks to the ratchet clamps. I didn't try this myself, but I do know that if they were kept permanently all together, the bar clamp would collapse nicely to hang on a wall.

Step 4: Clamping Options

Keep in mind that I used ratchet clamps from my scrap box. I'm pleased to have a new use for them.

bar clamp 13

bar clamp 14

Different lengths of bars and different size clamps, along with different rubber pads, can be used for specific applications.

You can see more photographs of this project on my original Instructables post. Check out other projects on my blog, Fikjast.


Cheese press mark 2

In Part 1 of this blog post, you will have seen the first cheese press we made that worked brilliantly. The problem was, for us, the cheeses were too small. From 5 litres of whole milk I could make two cheeses, since our friend always brought 10 litres of milk with him … four would be made at a time. This led to the problem of where to store all the cheese. It was taking over the fridge, as this was the coolest place (especially in Summer) to allow the rind to form.

We set about making a bigger press that would allow us to press all of the curd in one go. Kev found a plastic box and a massive screw. He drilled a hole, where the screw would push down and fixed the screw to the box.

We then made two circular pieces of wood to fit inside a large piece of drain pipe. This wood had lines carved from the centre to the edge to allow the whey to run off. We measured out the centre of the wood and put a dent in it so that the screw would sit dead centre.

Big cheese

When pressing the cheese for the first time, we realized the whey was running into the box and staying there. We decided to use another piece of wood under the back of the box to tip it forward a little. This allowed the whey to run off into a container placed underneath.

As we pressed our first cheese we found that the pressure on the plastic box was too great, owing to the size of the screw and handle. This resulted in the plastic box starting to crack. So using palette wood Kev built a frame around the box to strengthen it.

We can now make one massive cheese with the 10 litres of milk and cheese storage is becoming less of a problem.


sproutsIn my last post, I listed some ways we preserve our fruit and vegetables for vitamins during the winter. It is possible, however, to grow fresh crops through the dark months – even without a greenhouse, and even where we live, a thousand miles from the Arctic Circle, where the winter sun brings only brief and meagre light.

Growing Chicory Root

The white leaves of chicory, for example, make a refreshing salad in winter, and can be grown in a pot in the shed or closet. Start by planting chicory in your outdoor garden in spring, and let its broad green leaves grow out all through the summer and autumn. These green summer leaves are edible but bitter, and exist only to swell the root underneath.

Around November, dig up the now-massive root, decapitate the leaves and throw them into the compost. Plant the root in a bucket and scoop in soil — damp but not soaking — until the top of the root lies even with the surface. Set the bucket in the closet or other cool, dark area, and place another bucket upside-down over it to make sure the root remains in darkness. The plant has spent all year storing energy in the root to grow more leaves in spring, and when placed in warm soil should ideally sprout a head of white leaves, like a small cabbage. It worked for us, although not as well as we had hoped. It certainly sprouted leaves, although they came up at different speeds and ended up looking more like unkempt hair. You should get a few crops of the chicory from each root, but we learned the hard way to check under the bucket daily – leave it too long and the leaves can rot quickly. Having satisfied ourselves that we could do this, we decided not to grow more the next year – the summer chicory took up space in our garden we would rather devote to other things. Try it yourself, though, and you might have more productive results.

Growing Rhubarb in Winter

Other crops like rhubarb can also be grown outside and then brought indoors, and while rhubarb farmers usually do this to encourage the stem to grow long and tender, you could do the same thing to keep rhubarb fresh in winter. I have not tried this one myself, but give it a try and see if it works for you. Or you could grow sprouts – not Brussels sprouts, but beans or seeds that have been soaked in water and begun to germinate into seedlings, as they would in soil. Sprouting might be the only kind of kitchen gardening that almost anyone can do, almost anywhere, even a rented room in the city, a bunk, a barrack, a shed or wherever you happen to be. Sprouts require no land, yard, garden, tools, infrastructure or practice, the crops come to fruition in a few days rather than a few months, and most can be eaten with no cutting, peeling, cooking or preparation. * Best of all, they are one of the cheapest healthy foods you can get – I once calculated that a 500g bag cost me 1.60 euros and lasted four weeks. That’s 40 cents per week, or eight cents a day for lunch.

Sprouting Seeds Indoors

You can sprout the beans or seeds of most edible plants — I favor mung beans — but avoid any plants whose leaves would be toxic, like tomatoes or potatoes. The details of how to sprout will vary depending on what kind of seeds and containers you have, but the basic idea remains the same – keep the seeds wet until they are a good size to eat. School-children are often told to let them lie on a wet paper towel, but I use plastic tubs - discarded from a nearby take-away restaurant, with holes poked in the top to allow the sprouts to breathe – or you could use pottery, a plastic bag, or just about any food-safe container. I rinse the beans first, and then let them sit in a tub of water for about 12 hours or so. Then drain the water and let the beans sit, damp but not in standing water – rinse and re-dampen them every 12 hours if possible, and every 24 if necessary. If you forget for a day or two the beans will probably recover, but tend to start growing roots, making them tougher and less tasty.

In addition to mung beans I recommend lentils, although they grow a day or two more slowly and I find them less tasty. I occasionally sprout the seeds of fenugreek, broccoli, alfalfa, or clover, but generally find them too expensive for the small amount of sprouts they yield, and they run a higher risk of moulding before fully sprouting. Larger beans also presented a problem; Adzuki beans were even slower and less tasty than lentils, I found, and soybeans – the common sprout of Chinese stir-fry – often rotted before there was enough living sprout to make it worthwhile. Of course you can grow other kinds of plants inside - young herbs in the window, or cress for a bit of extra greenery on those sandwiches. You can bring established plants or even small trees in from outside and keep them in pots, if they will continue to flourish in the window or greenhouse. Come up with your own ideas and let me know how well they worked.

What all these methods have in common, though, is that they allow people to have enough vitamins to get by during the winter, on almost no money and without the refrigeration and convenience stores upon which most of us depend. If anyone wanted to live independently, or were hard up for cash or transportation – or if the winter power went out, as happened to half a million North Americans this winter – they could continue to feed their family healthy foods until the first shoots of spring. Soybean sprouts, I’m told, are an exception – they must be cooked.


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.

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