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


This article was originally posted in Instructables and is reposted with permission from Dewey Lindstrom.

While building a couple of sheds (OK, glorified yard barns), I wanted to equip one of them with sliding barn doors. I like the look of sliding doors and they are very practical for a shed, allowing a much wider access opening than a normal door. But I developed a bad case of sticker shock after visiting my local building outlets to check out the cost of hardware I would need for such a project. The cheapest place I could find sold just the barn door hardware (not the doors themselves) for from $246 to $326, depending on how fancy I wanted it to look. 

So I began to snoop around for some sort of alternative I could fabricate myself. And the biggest obstacle for any DIY sliding doors turned out to be the wheels/rollers. I needed something sturdy enough to take abuse, made for exterior use, that would roll smoothly, and that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. While prowling around in my shop for something like that, I happened to stumble on my son’s old skateboard. And its wheels looked like a perfect candidate for the job.

After a few minutes price shopping online, I ordered a set of 4 skateboard wheels and bearings from Newclue Inc. via Amazon. The total price of the wheels shipped to my door was $17.35.

Next, I needed a rail for the wheels to glide on. I found the solution in the electrical department at Home Depot. It’s called Superstrut and a 10-foot length sells for $15. It’s a 3-sided channel of heavy gauge galvanized steel. Unfortunately, it didn’t come in 12-foot lengths, which is what would have been best for my project, so I had to purchase two 10-foot lengths for $30. To provide a little additional strength, I decided to top off the Superstrut with two 6-foot lengths of 1-by-1 angle iron at a cost of $26. (I doubt this extra precaution was necessary, and I believe the rail could be built without it.)

The hangers themselves are fairly simple: 1 1/2-by-1/8-inch flat stock steel was bent into a U shape and then drilled to accommodate the axles for the wheels/rollers. I bought two 4-foot lengths of the flat stock from Orchard Supply for a total of $18. The other miscellaneous nuts and bolts I used came to $3.

My finished sliding barn door hardware cost a grand total of $95. Yes, it is quite a bit more than simple hinges and a hasp lock, but it is also well under the cheapest commercial price of $246 for barn door sliders. 

Here's how I fabricated the barn door rollers using skateboard wheels.

Step 1: The Roller/Wheels

The photo shows the skateboard wheels and bearings as they arrived from Newclue. The wheels are 1 9/64 inches wide and 2 inches tall.

Step 2: Shaping the Hangers

Cut two 4-foot lengths of 1 1/2-foot flat stock in half, yielding a total of 4 sections at 24 inches each.  Each section is then bent in half around a piece of 1-inch metal pipe. To do this, lay the flat stock on a solid bench or table and then lay the pipe over the flat stock at right angles. Clamp the pipe to the work bench.

Grasp each end of the flat stock and pull upwards. It will bend relatively easy. Use a hammer to coax the bend down near the pipe. You want to end up with a fairly tight bend and space of about 1 1/4 inches between the 2 sides of your hanger.

Place a wheel in position to insure the width of your bend will allow free movement of the wheel and make a mark at the center of the flat stock where the axle with be.

Step 3: Mounting the Wheels in the Hangers

Cut a piece of 2-by-6 lumber 1 1/4-inches long and place it between the two sides of the hanger for support. Drill a pilot hole through the top and then the bottom of the flat stock where you made your mark. I used a drill press to do this but if you are very careful to keep things vertical you can use a hand drill. With the hanger still clamped in place, switch to a 5/16-inch bit and drill the final mounting holes for the axle. Most skateboard axles are universal, but measure the diameter of your bearings to insure a 5/16-inch bolt will fit snugly. The exact position of the axle hole from the top of the hanger does not need to be precise as long as your wheel is down far enough so that it will turn freely.

Photo by Dewey Lindstrom.

Washers will need to be placed on each side of the wheel bearing so that the axle bolt can be tightened but the sides of the hanger will not come in contact with the rubber wheel. You will also need to keep in mind the thickness of your door. You may need to experiment with different numbers of washers to get it just right.

Drill two door mounting holes near the other end of the hanger. The exact placement of these holes will vary a bit depending on the door you are building/using. Just make sure the holes will be placed in a solid area of the door.

The roller/hangers are then painted and reassembled.

Step 4: The Parts for Hanging the Rail

You will need a Suerstrut. For a 6-foot door opening like mine, the Superstrut is cut into two 6-foot lengths for a total rail length of 12 inches.

The rail is mounted to the building using four 3-inch lag bolts, 12 steel washers (some nylon washers are shown in the photo but use all steel washers) and four 11/16-inch nuts.  These nuts slip over the lag bolts and are used only as spacers.

Not shown are the two 6-foot lengths of 1-by-1 angle iron which are laid on top of the Superstrut.

Step 5: Hanging the Rail

To hang the railing, first place a temporary spacer about a 1/2-inch thick under your door opening. Set your door on top of this spacer and mark the height of the top edge of your door. (I have not covered the door or door construction in this post.) Make a second mark 1/2-inch above this first mark. With a carpenter’s level, use this upper marker to draw a line extending 6 feet to either side of the center of the door opening. The line should be 12 feet long total. If you are making your door wider or narrower than the 6-foot door opening width used for this building, adjust your rail accordingly.

Set the angle iron on top of the Superstrut and mark the angle iron in the center of the hole in the Superstrut. Drill a 3/8-inch hole through the angle iron. Then, with an assistant holding the Superstrut in place just above the line you drew earlier, mark and drill holes in the building for the lag screws. If there is no stud directly behind this hole, you will need to cut and nail a 2-by-4 support between the existing studs directly behind the hole. The lag screw needs a very solid base for mounting. Then assemble the Superstrut and angle iron and screw them to the wall as shown in the photo.

Set the right hand door in the door opening and temporarily clamp it or have someone hold it in place so that it is centered in the door opening. Slip two roller/hangers over the Superstrut railing and position them near the left and right sides of the door making sure they are positioned at a very solid portion of the door. Mark and drill 1/4-inch holes through the door to match the two bottom holes of each hanger. Then attach the door to the hangers using quarter-inch bolts and nuts.

Slide the door to the end of the Superstrut to insure it does not bind at any point. Then repeat the mounting procedure for the left side door. You will note that the outer-most lag bolt will act as a stop, preventing the wheels from ever running off the end of the rail.

Step 6: Installing a Bottom Deflector

To keep the door vertical while it is being opened and to prevent the wind from ever blowing it outward, install a section of galvanized or aluminum angle iron at the bottom of the door using concrete screws to fasten it to the surface.

And now you've got sliding barn doors! You can see more photographs of this project on my original Instructables post.


The paper stream runs heavy through most households, with catalogs, magazines, greeting cards and advertisements coming and going regularly. Typically thrown in the trash, these easily reused paper products can be transformed in any number of ways to provide a useful new item for your homestead.

This week we’re taking old seed catalogs, leftover note cards, a little patience and creativity to make personalized collage/silhouette cards. Perfect for revamping any extra cards (think excess Christmas cards, birthday invites, seriously out-of-date stationery) you have laying around, this easy projects allows you to get the creativity flowing and create beautiful new gardening-themed DIY stationery.  

Collage/Silhouette Note Cards


stationary 2

You will need:

Old card-stock note cards (or greeting cards) 

Seed catalogs

Glue or Mod Podge

A paintbrush

Acrylic paint (choose your favorite color)


A silhouette (printed from internet) or a stencil

Painter’s palette (or paper plate)



1. Get started by cutting out pieces from your seed catalogs. Lots of color is preferable!

2. Trim shapes as desired: squares/rectangles for a linear look or circles/wavy bits for a more organic look.

3. Using thin-out glue or Mod Podge and paintbrush, paste you colorful piece to the front of your note card. Cover the entire front of card.

stationary 14. Wait to dry completely. (This could take a while; you may as well take a coffee break.)

5.  Place cut-out silhouette or stencil on note card. For large designs, a centered placement may be preferred; for smaller, an offset placement looks nice.

6. Use pencil to trace around silhouette or stencil.

7. Using a small brush and acrylic paint, trace around penciled-on design, taking care to keep lines intact. Paint all negative space, so that only your design remains.

8. Let dry (again).

9. Use your fabulous new cards to invite friends to a great fall garden/work/apple-picking party this fall.

This project is perfect not only for adults that have a little time to craft in the slower season, but also for kids needing an indoor project. A perfect way to use this idea: as a family discuss silhouette choices (pick maybe three different ones), pile supplies on table and set kids loose to make this year’s family holiday cards.

Candis Calvert is a (sub)urban homesteader seeking ways to use what she already has to create useful and fun new things. Never content to buy new when old is available; she hopes to wring all the life out of everyday items through creative repurposing.

See more of her adventures at her website, Adventures of Cactus and Fuschia.


T-shirts accumulate in our lives through all the usual channels: the impulse buy at a sporting event, the staff shirt from your old summer camp, the badge of honor from each 5k you’ve run, and maybe even the occasional shirt you caught at a parade (or is that just me?).  No matter how they arrived, they’re here now. With only seven days in a week and a boss that may frown upon casual Monday-Friday, how do we get enough wear out of t-shirts we can’t seem to throw out?

Two projects aimed at repurposing these wardrobe staples can help you get your old favorites out of the closet and back into daily life.  These projects are designed for a beginner or novice sewer, with a minimum of tools; stuff your homestead probably already has.

T-shirt bagThe Market Bag

For this project you’ll need:

A sewing machine (or needle and thread)

1. Lay your shirt on a flat surface. Iron if necessary to remove most wrinkles (some are okay).

2. Following the sleeve seam, cut off the sleeves, leaving the seams intact.

3. Cut U-shaped hole, centered on the neck opening, into the shirt. Make this as wide and deep as you prefer. I like about 8 inches wide and 10 inches deep.

4. Turn the shirt inside out. Use straight pins to hold bottom of shirt closed. 

5. Stitch along bottom of shirt following closely to hem.  I used a double zigzag stitch, but your preference is fine.

6. To make handles thicker, fold open arm hole (handle) onto itself, facing inward. Stitch together. This will create a natural pleating, which I left as it folded. For a more finished look you could run a stitch all the way around the handle/arm opening.

7. Use and enjoy at the farmers market, library, carrying picnic supplies or as a great scrap bag for leftover fabric and yarn.

The Bed Buddy PillowT-shirt pillow

For this project you’ll need:

An old bed pillow (standard works best for most shirt sizes)
Sewing machine (or needle and thread)

1. Lay your shirt on a flat surface. Iron if necessary to remove most wrinkles (some are okay).

2. Starting at the bottom of the sleeve, measure a straight line up the side of the shirt. Cut sleeves off on this line to create a (mostly) rectangular shirt.

3. Turn the shirt inside out. Use straight pins to hold sides of shirt closed.  Pin neck hole closed along a straight line just below the collar.

4. Stitch along sleeve line of shirt and neckline. I used a double zigzag stitch, but your preference is fine.

5. Turn shirt, now a mostly closed rectangle, right side out. Stuff with bed pillow.

6. Pin bottom hem closed and sew (carefully) using machine or hand stitch.

7. Sit back and relax with your new fluffy companion. This technique would make an excellent dog bed, too.

Bringing order to your dresser may be the biggest benefit of crafting with T-shirts, but these two projects are just the tip of the iceberg. From market bags to pillow, quilts to rugs, there’s really no end to what you can make with the (seemingly) never ending supply of T-shirts we all have lying around. Pick out an old favorite and give it new life with a 15 minute transformation. Who knows what uses you’ll find for them on your homestead?

Candis Calvert is a (sub)urban homesteader seeking ways to use what she already has to create useful and fun new things. Never content to buy new when old is available; she hopes to wring all the life out of everyday items through creative repurposing.

See more of her adventures at


Jwet feltingust what do you do with all those wool scraps you end up with between harvests? If you have sheep, alpacas, angora rabbits, or goats, you know what I’m talking about. Those short trimmings and brush clumps from grooming can be put to good use… by felting them! The simplicity of wet felting lends itself to being a great project for kids.

For this project, you can use any wool scraps, sheared or plucked, as long as they are at least one inch long. First, you will need a few supplies: a big handful of wool scraps from any wool producing animal, water, dish soap, and cookie cutters of any shape.

With your cookie cutter laying flat, take a clump of wool and shove it into the center of your cookie cutter. Stuff the center of the cookie cutter full of wool. Wet the wool down and try to fit a little more wool in. Next add a drop or two of dish soap. If you are working with small children, watch out, because as we all know-- kids like to use more dish soap than they really need.wool and soap

Now all you do next is poke it. You heard me right folks. Poke. It. I know, it seems like it should be more difficult, but what you are doing is you're creating friction. Friction makes wet wool felt. You can’t really over-do this step. Keep poking and squishing the wet wool until the soap is well distributed and and the wool feels like it has matted up. If you’re careful, you can even flip the wool piece over and back into your cookie cutter so that you can felt the other side. Just be sure to tuck in the edges if you do so.

When you feel that you’re done, carefully rinse the soap out and squish the wool flat to squeeze out the excess water. Try your best not to crumple it. Let the wool thoroughly dry and you’re finished! Feel free to do a little embroidery or add a ribbon to hang it from. The sky is the limit here.

felt shapesThe great thing about a simple project like this is that anyone can do it and you are using up scraps that may have otherwise been thrown away. Good luck, happy creating, and get messy!

Sarah lives with her husband and young daughter in an old Californian gold-rush town and is learning to be more self-reliant though gardening, animal husbandry, and by making things from scratch. Join her journey from the very beginning and learn along with her on her family’s farm blog, Frühlingskabine Micro-Farm.


Some things in life are certain: death and taxes. Add to that list laundry. The never-ending chore, laundry is a labor and resource intense process aimed at keeping people the world over smelling fresh and looking nice. Since forgoing laundry isn’t an agreeable option (for most), steps must be taken to make it more pleasant. Enter a little chemistry project: Creating Laundry Detergent.

Laundry detergent and fabric softener can be both shockingly expensive and chemically scary. MostChemistry In The Kitchen Creating DIY Laundry Detergent mainstream brands contain ingredients not easily understood or pronounced by the average consumer and the companies that make them strive to convince you it’s the only way to clean your clothing. Not true! Simple, safe and cheap, homemade detergent and softener can be yours for an investment of around $10 and 15 minutes.  Ingredients can be found at most big box stores, small general stores or grocery stores.

In addition to mixing ingredients, you’ll need a food processor or cheese grater, a spoon, and two storage containers (one needs to be liquid safe).  You may also want to label your creations, which can be done any way you like: chalkboard sticker and chalk, duct tape and permanent marker or white sticky label.

DIY Laundry Soap


For this project you’ll need:

½ cup borax
½ cup of washing soda
1 bar natural soap (suggestions: Dr. Bronner’s or Fels-Naptha)
3 drops essential oil (optional)


  1. Shave bar of soap. Using either a food processor or cheese grater, shave entire bare of soap into flakes.
  2. Mix ingredients. Pulse lightly in food processor or mix with hands in bowl, ensuring even distribution of all ingredients.
  3. Store and enjoy. Store indefinitely in an airtight container. Use 2 tbsp. per load of laundry.

No laundry cycle is complete without detergent’s constant companion: fabric softener.  Often eschewed by people with heightened environmental knowledge, homemade softener can be as “green” as you like. To give this solution the smallest footprint possible, use ingredients without sulfates, phthalates or parabens.

DIY Laundry Fabric Softener


For this project you’ll need:

3 cups white vinegar
2 cups hair conditioner
6 cups hot water


  1. Mix ingredients. Stir the hot water and conditioner together in a large container (with lid). DO NOT SHAKE! After well mixed, add vinegar, stirring to incorporate.
  2. Store and enjoy. Store indefinitely in an airtight container. Use ½ cup per load of laundry, more if washing whites, towels or sheets.

While the drudgery of washing, drying, folding and putting away can’t be taken away, this simple homemade detergent and fabric softener can make laundry a pleasure. While you may not see the massive suds quantity of conventional detergents, rest secure that yours is working.  Don’t be surprised when every houseguest asks about the soap you’re using and wants the recipe! Enjoy the fresh scents of your low-cost, chemically simple, and “green” replacements, and feel great (at least a little) about your weekly laundry.


This DIY rainwater collection system stores five times more water than a typical rain barrel.

Reposted with permission from Instructables.

I recently helped my father install a 275 gallon rainwater collection system.

The system is based on an industrial 275 gallon container known as an IBC. You can buy them used, or if you really look around, you can even find them for free. One problem with typical rain-barrels is that they can only collect 55 gallons. This rain storage container collects five times that volume, while not taking up all that much more space than a single rain barrel.

In my area, you can buy used IBCs through Craigslist for about $85 each. Those come with a metal cage around them that allows them to be stacked.

Instead of buying them, I found a local bottler who throws them out because they are plastic containers without the metal cages. These containers come to the bottler full of 275 gallons of high-fructose corn syrup. I got several containers from them for free, for just the elbow grease of going to pick them up. Some were wrapped in heavy cardboard. I recycled the cardboard into a clubhouse for my little girl.

After washing the container out well, it is ready to be repurposed for rainwater collection. I really like the irony of using GMO corn syrup containers to recycle into a conservation project!

Besides the water container, this project requires other materials, including:

  • Miscellaneous wood to build a simple pallet or platform
  • Garden hose spigot and hardware
  • Gutter screen and fiberglass bug screen
  • Gutters, downspouts and elbows
  • Silicon or other appropriate caulk or sealant

IBC industrial container In our case, nearly all the materials were already on-hand, reusing old components, and recycling and repurposing materials. Total out of pocket expenses were under $20.

Beyond the typical DIY and handyman tools, you will need tin snips, utility knife, pop-riveter and rivets, sheet metal screws, and related aluminum metal-working tools and skills.

Let’s get started with the rainwater storage setup.

Step 1: Locating the Storage Tank

The first thing you need to do is decide where you want the container to go. It needs to be located near the building where you want to collect rainwater, and it also needs to be elevated if you want it to work on gravity flow.

In this case, the building is a 100-year-old barn that was remodeled into a home office. The roof is a fair amount of collection area, and the building is on the top of a hillside — it's basically the highest point on the property. Because of that, the container was not put on any kind of a stand.

Building the pallet for the rainwater collection containerThere was a small rock garden right outside the barn that was slightly elevated. We leveled off a 4-foot-square area there for the tank.

That corner of the barn is also right where the downspout from one side of the roof is. That will make it a short distance to route the downspout to the tank of our rainwater collection system.

Next, we built a pallet out of scrap pressure-treated wood for the container to go on. This gives the container a solid base and gets it up just a little higher, making it easier to access the garden hose spigot we will add.

The front of the pallet has a notch around the drain port, which will make it easier to access the garden hose spigot later.

View a video demonstration of Step 1.

Step 2: Modifying the Tank Fill Port Cap

Tank port capNext, we need to modify the inlet of the tank so that we can get the rainwater in, without letting in leaves or anything else.

The fill port in the top of the rainwater storage tank is a 6" screw-on cap. Just removing the cap leaves a nice big hole to let things in, but even animals could get in there if you did that!

So, we decided to modify the cap to include a screen, make it self-cleaning, and keep out mosquitoes.

First, we notched out the edge of a 4" PVC pipe cap wide enough for a gutter downspout using a jigsaw.

Next, we centered the 4" pipe cap on top of the 6" cover. We then drilled holes around the inside edge so we could use pop rivets to connect the two. After trying a rivet, we realized the rivets we had were exactly the wrong length, so we used some sheet metal screws instead.

Then we drilled through both the pipe cap and cover with a 3" hole-saw. That kept a half-inch lip all the way around the inside of the pipe cap for the screws that held both parts together, AND as a place for our "Coarse-Filter" to rest.

Aluminum filterTo keep large items out of the storage tank, we needed some sort of screen. Since we had some aluminum "gutter-guard" around, we traced the 4" pipe cap onto it with a marker, and the cut the inside of the line with a tin snips. We then had an aluminum circle that fit inside the pipe cap, and would rest on the ledge inside. I friction-fit in place just fine, but you could add some sealant to make it more permanent if you wanted.

Lastly, we cut some scrap fiberglass bug screen to a little bigger than the cap. We simply laid the screen over the 6" hole, and then screwed the cap back on top right over it. That way, there is both the aluminum coarse filter to keep leaves out and screen to keep out mosquitoes.

View a video demonstration of Step 2.

Step 3: Converting the Drain to Garden Hose Connection

Garden hose connectionThe 275 gallon IBC features a 2" drain port on the front bottom. It has a cheap plastic ball shut-off valve, and a 2" plastic cap that gets screwed on to keep it from leaking.

Rather than use a number of PVC pipe adapters to get down to a garden hose, we reused the 2" cap and some spare plumbing parts we had kicking around.

To start with, we had a brass spigot with 3/4" NPT (National Pipe Thread) male connection on it. Standard threaded pipe is tapered, so the farther you screw it in, the bigger it gets. This helps make solid, water-tight connections.

We drilled a 3/4" hole through the center of the 2" drain cap.

Next, we stuck the pipe end of the brass spigot through the cap, added some sealant at the joint, and then threaded on a nut from the back side. Since the hole was the right size to start with, the sealant and tightened nut made a solid connection on the cap.

Puttying the drain cover We then headed back outside. Using plumbers putty (you could also use teflon tape) we threaded the drain cover with spigot onto the drain.

We decided to have the brass spigot rotated clockwise part-way, because the open big drain valve made it harder to grab the knob on the spigot.

Then we connected a garden hose, ran it downhill, and tested our flow from the rainwater collection system.

View video demonstrations of Step 3, Part 1 and Step 3, Part 2

Step 4: Gutter Work

Now for the tough part — modifying the gutters and routing them to the rainwater storage container.

Modified gutterFor the gutter closest to the rainwater storage container, it was pretty straightforward. We cut the downspout a few feet above the container, and then set the cut-off piece to the side for later use.

We also wanted to collect all the water from the other side of the roof as well. To do that, we added two elbows to snake the downspout around the back of the barn, and then a long section of angled downspout sloping downward, towards the rain container.

We had to figure out the best way to connect both gutter downspouts together to combine the water going to the rainwater storage container. After a little thought, we decided that the best way to do it was to use another short piece of gutter. Not only did we need to combine both downspouts, but we also needed to move the water sideways a couple of feet and then send it to the IBC. A short piece of open gutter could accept both downspouts and extend to the IBC tank. It would then have an elbow and short downspout going directly to the the fill port on top of the tank.

I had never worked on any gutters before, so I got a lesson on working with aluminum, sealing it, and in the mind-set of how water flows. About half an hour later, I had created my very first custom gutter. I then attached it to the wall of the barn with some long screws, and a slight slope towards the rain container.

Modifying the rain gutterWe now had a rain collection system — two gutters, whose downspouts combined into a short gutter, which lead directly to the rainwater storage.

View a video demonstration of Step 4.

Step 5: Learning Experiences and Future Improvements

A little back of the hand math, ball-parking the size of the roof compared to the volume of the container, told us that one inch of rain would be enough to fill the whole container. Sure enough, when we finally did get some rain, less than an inch filled it most of the way up!

After we installed the gutter modifications, we cleaned the gutters real well. This is a typical asphalt shingle roof, and the grit from the shingles does come off. We flooded the gutters, and rinsed the entire roof, with the output of the gutters diverted from the storage tank. Next, we are adding gutter-guard screens to the full length of both gutters, as well as our short section that combines both downspouts.

Rainwater storage systemAlthough a metal roof is ideal for rainwater collection, this building was re-roofed not long ago with the asphalt shingles. The water will be used for general irrigation, and not for watering animals or human consumption.

Because of the angle and direction that the downspout goes into container, it makes a good point to add an extra section of downspout to just "overshoot" the storage tank. For example, that's what we did when we washed the roof and cleaned the gutters. Some people use a "roof-wash" system — that's a way to divert water away from your rainwater storage container at the beginning of a rain storm, so that the water washes the roof clean, once it's clean, the system then allows water to go to the storage container. This is often accomplished with a spring-loaded bucket contraption that uses the weight of the water filling a bucket to then connect the diverter to the water storage container.

If we want to add a "roof-wash" diversion device to the system, we will most likely add it right before the tank's fill port.

One thing that I learned the hard way on this project: DON'T fill the tank all the way up with water for experimenting! When I was putting up the short section of gutter, I had to work around the tank. I didn't have a good place to lean the ladder, and I was working at odd angles with the screw driver to put up the gutter. If I had just left the tank empty, we could have simply moved it out of the way!

After the first big storm and some hot weather, we noticed that the shape of the tank bulged and distorted a bit. It's not that it was going to rupture or anything — mostly it just looked really bad. Many of these tanks come "caged." which helps them keep their shape and makes it possible to stack them when full in warehouses. Since this container isn't caged, we are thinking right now that we will box it in with wood, to not only help it keep it's shape, but also make it match the barn and chicken coop. The wood boxing could also keep out sunlight, to prevent algae growth.

This is the first large rainwater collection system I have worked on. It is slightly experimental, and I expect that we will add some improvements in the future. In the meantime, I hope that our work on this system gives you some great ideas on how you might want to collect your own rainwater!

UPDATE: Early Summer 2013

We are increasing the size of the rainwater storage system to TRIPLE the original capacity and building it on a raised platform for better water pressure and gravity flow.

For more photographs of this rainwater collection system, visit my project page on Instructables.


This article was originally posted in Instructables and is reposted with permission from Dewey Lindstrom. 

We recently moved from the remote North Woods of Wisconsin where large lakeside fire pits were simply dug into the ground and lined with large rocks, creating great campfires.  We now live in a residential neighborhood in the Central Valley of California. Campfires here are confined to well-defined containment systems and small controlled fires. These can be easily extinguished with no sparks or embers and can continue to burn or blow into neighboring combustibles when left unattended. fire pit 1

Even with these restrictions, our family still loves to sit around an evening fire.   But we didn’t want to spend a small fortune on a pre-manufactured fire pit or a contractor-built unit.   We were also not sure where we might want the pit permanently located.  So, we needed something we could take down and move to a different spot without a lot of trouble or expense.

Fortunately, while cruising the aisles of Home Depot recently, we saw concrete tree rings on sale for $2 a section. We borrowed a tape measure and quickly determined the rings might make a dandy low-cost fire pit that would incorporate a small Weber grill (which we already owned) as an inner firepot, allowing a very controlled burn and positive air shut-off to extinguish the fire when we were ready to call it a night.


Weber Smokey Joe Portable charcoal grill or equivalent 14-inch diameter grill. ($30 new)

4 sections of 14-inch inside diameter concrete tree ring ($2 to $3 each = $8 to $12 total)

6 sections of 24-inch inside diameter concrete tree ring ($2 to $3 each = $12 to $18 total)

2 cubic feet of small stones, pebbles, road gravel or decorative rock ($0 to $20 depending on how fancy)

Total cost: $50 to $80 depending on your taste in stones.

fire pit 2

Step 1: Constructing the Inner Ring

Find a nice level area of your yard or create a level circle approximately 3 feet in diameter. It's not absolutely necessary, but we sprayed our pit area with weed/grass killer to make a bare spot.  You will notice the ring of browned grass surrounding the pit in the final photos.This is due to the weed killer and not the result of heat from the fire. 

We also placed a layer of weed barrier cloth under the pit tofire pit 3 prevent grass or weed from growing up into the pit.The tree rings will be more stable on bare earth than on grass, particularly if you have Bermuda grass like we do. Also, you should have no problem if you want to place your pit on top of a concrete or brick patio.

The trick to turning tree rings into a decent looking fire pit is to make the ring two sections tall by turning the fluted top sections upside down so they interlock with the fluted bottom sections. The first photo shows what the 14-inch tree ring sections look like when you buy them from the store and the second photo shows them stacked.  They don’t fit perfectly, but the small air gaps look sort of decorative in my estimation and are barely noticeable once the unit is being used.

Step 2: Adding an Outer Ring

fire pit 4We thought the 14-inch tree rings looked a little puny by themselves so to give the fire pit more mass, we surrounded the inner ring of 14-inch tree ring sections with an outer ring of 24-inch diameter sections.  The sections are 2 inches thick, so the outer diameter of the completed fire pit will be 28 inches.  

Note that the 24-inch outer rings have a very convenient tab locking design.  One end of each section has a tab and the other end has a slot. This helps a great deal to stabilize the rings when they are stacked two high.

Step 3: Filling the Void

fire pit 5

You will quickly notice that when the 14-inch rings are stacked inside the 24-inch rings that there is a 3-inch gap between the inner and outer rings. You will also notice that each 14-inch ring is about an inch shorter than each 24-inch ring. 

To solve both of these problems, the outer ring is erected first and then filled approximately 2 inches deep with small stones. The inner ring is then set on top of those stones. You’ll have to do a bit of trial and error to ensure the tops of the inner and outer rings will be level when they are completed. Once the inner and outer rings are in place, fill the 3-inch void between the rings with more stone.

Step 4: Installing the Weber

fire pit 6The Weber Smokey Joe grill may come with legs attached. If so, unscrew the three connecting screws and set aside the legs. In an amazingly beneficial coincidence, the Weber grill is perfectly sized to slip right into the inner circle of the pit and just enough lip remains above the surface of the pit for the cover to fit tightly in place. 

Once the Weber is in place and you start a fire, it would be difficult and perhaps hazardous to adjust the lower air vent of the grill. So, set the vent opening however you want before you put the grill in place. I set ours about half-open and it works great for creating nice, small fires. 

fire pit 7And when the cover is put on and the top vent closed, the fire will go out in very short order. If you want or need more or less bottom air for your fire, you can easily remove the grill to adjust it between fires when the unit is cool.

Step 5: Light It Up

Get out the graham crackers, marshmallows and Hershey bars. It’s time to enjoy your fire pit.

You can view more photos of this project on my original Instructables post.

Photos by Dewey Lindstrom

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