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

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Sign In The Snow

We moved out to the Pacific Northwest from Ohio oh so many years ago for many reasons, but one of the big ones was a milder climate. At that time, Rolfe (husband dearest) was a builder and the winters seemed mighty long to his cold fingers, toes, legs, ears, nose, well, you get it. Anyhow, most years, we are blessed with receiving that mild kind of weather but this year, along with the whole rest of the country we received the Artic Snowfreeze Storm. It landed on Thursday and shut just about everything down. Then, it continued on Friday and by Saturday we had 14” out here in our mild climate.

I had a lot of fun watching the depth grow and change – looking out the window behind my computer, I could see the snow fast overtaking everything. Our espalier (pruned early this year and looking great!) had almost no remaining trunk with all that snow, and looked like it sprung out with its side-flowing branches almost immediately from the ground. My little fig tree (not even knee high yet) kept building snow until less than 1” of its highest limbs were showing – could determine its location mainly by the marker stick beside it. We live over a mountain pass off a State Highway where they take great care of the road, but during this particular storm, things became mighty quiet and there was hardly any sound of passing cars. This storm was serious, and a time for all to be home.Snowed Over Green Houses

We hunkered down, happy to still have electricity – an iffy thing during our infrequent storms. Workers were called off; after all, even if they could make it here, how could we know what conditions would prevail by the time they wanted to return to their own home. And, much of the work is outdoors. What’s a person to do under 14” of snow? The first day, I could barely stand to go outside. It was cooooooooooold and we’d recently returned from Mexico where we experienced 85 degrees daily. So my body was quite rebellious to the whole outdoorsy idea. But, there are necessities that draw you out (we are, after all, a mail-order seed business — — with a functioning computer and thus wanted to get those orders off to our customers at the earliest possible moment.

Each time I ventured out, I became more accustomed to the temperature and began to find it more and more delightful with each experience. Rolfe may not have found it quite as pleasant since he was the one who was in charge of getting up on the 8 ft ladder with a push broom to get the snow off the greenhouses so that they wouldn't collapse. That's tough work but he survived and the greenhouses did too. Sadly, many in our area did not fair so well.

Snowy AdventurerWe also were very proud of our post office and delivery person for staying open and carrying on following their old adage “Through rain, and the sleet and snow…….” It is hard to imagine fulfilling one’s job under these conditions – pulling over to each unshoveled individual mailbox to deposit our orders and bills and junk and to take away our fulfilled orders. Kudos to the mail-persons!! And, it was actually a treat for my husband and I to work just the two of us, a rare event these days in our business. Happy is the couple who can work together after 41 years and call it a treat! As darkness drew near, real darkness came when the lights (and all electric) went out in late afternoon. Then, our “pioneer” skills were really called upon.

Posted by Janet

Continued next time. . .


Three baskets made by the author

When I was growing up in the USA, people used “basket-weaving” as slang for insultingly easy busywork, like the college courses given to ringers on the football team. The implication was that weaving a basket requires no intelligence and has no purpose – the ultimate time-waster.

Few people today have ever woven a basket --- even the insult sounds antique, a relic of an age when schools taught practical crafts. Fewer people still have any idea how vital basketry was to human survival for tens of thousands of years, or how many things can be made from basketry beyond decorative containers.

Homestead Uses for Baskets

For example: Animal traps. Armour. Beehives. Boats.

Cages. Chairs. Chicken coops. Coffins. Fences.

Hand tools. Hats. Huts. Sheds.

Tables. Wagons. Walls. Weirs.

You get the idea. Basketry has been used to make all these things at one time or another, and a few aficionados still make many of these things out of woven wood here in rural Ireland.

Basketry History

Because wood decomposes, we don’t dig up basket bits as often as we do arrow heads or sculptures, but they were probably much more commonplace and vital to our ancestors. Archaeologists have found basket pieces as old as 13,000 years ago, and woven impressions on ceramics – indicating fibres or baskets – from as much as 29,000 years ago. (1) We also know that humans reached Australia at least 40,000 years ago, and must have either woven a basket-and-hide boat, as the Irish did into the 20th century, or made a raft with the related technology of knots. For all we know, the technique could be as old as hominids; certainly some apes use primitive tools, and I know of no reason that Australopithecines could not have woven baskets.

Thus we know that at least some of our forebears practiced the craft while they still lived alongside mammoths and sabre-toothed cats, and might have slept in basket-framed huts, and kept predators out with basket fences. Some might have caught eels in basket traps, which they might have gathered while paddling rivers in a basket-frame boat. They might have begun their lives rocked to sleep in basket cribs and returned to the earth in basket coffins.

 “The technology of basketry was central to daily living in every aboriginal society,” wrote Neil Sugihara, and baskets “were the single most essential possession in every family.” Early humans must have regularly cropped basketry plants as they would edible plants, and burned woodlands to encourage their growth, according to anthropologist M. K. Anderson. Anderson even proposes that some of the first agriculture might have been to grow basketry crops, not food crops – baskets might have created civilisation. (2) (3)

Starting a wicker basket

Let’s clarify some terms: basketry involves weaving thin sticks or wood strips in some way; if it used only plant fibres, it would be “cloth.” Baskets can be woven with any one of hundreds of plant species; here in Ireland writers spoke of using dogwood, privet, larch, blackthorn and chestnut branches; broom, jasmine and periwinkle twigs; elm, and linden shoots; ivy, clematis, honeysuckle and rose vines; rushes and other reeds, and straw. Perhaps the most popular, however, was willow -- highly pliable when steamed, lightweight and tough when dried, and growing so quickly that a new crop of branches up to two to three metres long can be harvested each year. 

Weavers here in rural Ireland traditionally cut their willow from massive century-old stumps that had never been mature trees, but kept growing each year, fed by their roots and new shoots. The shoots were trimmed each winter and left to dry for several months, then steamed to make pliable again – the wood shrinks as it dries, so simply weaving the green shoots would result in a loose and rickety basket.

Types of Baskets

Baskets come in several types, classified by the way they are woven, like coiled, plaited, twined or wicker. Modern Westerners are unlikely to have seen most of these, although once I knew what “twining” was I realised I had seen it in home-made floor mats. In twining – an old Native American technique -- are wound around a stick, twisted, and wrapped around the next one, until a row of fibres going in one direction wrap a row of sticks going the other. The sticks would seem to limit this approach to flat surfaces, but bending and shaping the sticks allows twining to create a variety of containers and shapes. 

Coiled baskets wind flexible wood strips or fibres in a spiral, starting in the middle and working outwards. The spiral pattern limits them to circular objects like bowls or hats, but that still leaves many uses. For thousands of years beehives were made this way, called skeps – it was only in the 19th century that humans discovered how to make modern beehives with slats that can be removed, allowing beekeepers to collect honey without destroying the hive. Straw hats are still made this way, using bits of straw that are plaited – braided – together and then sewn into a spiral. Victorian children earned money this way, and contemporary writers described gangs of teens loitering on street-corners gossiping while folding straw together, as teens today might stand around texting.

Wood and other fibres could also be plaited, with flexible materials criss-crossed like threads through cloth. The Irish flattened and plaited bulrushes for hundreds of years into mats and curtains; rushes were harvested each year, flattened and interwoven, and set to dry. Here too, the approach would seem to limit plaiting to flat surfaces, but as the rushes must be woven while green and flexible and harden as they dry, they can be plaited around a mould to create boxes, bags or many other shapes.

Wicker, however, probably remains the most versatile technique, weaving flexible but sturdy material like tree shoots around upright sticks that provide support. Wicker is the form used for fences, walls, furniture, animal traps and most containers – when I say “basket,” you’re probably picturing something fashioned wicker-style.

All of these techniques could be practiced today, and while that’s true of many traditional crafts, most of those require substantial training, infrastructure, and an investment of money and time. Basketry, however, requires only a few days of training to learn basic techniques, and can use materials that be harvested naturally from almost every biome on Earth. It can be practiced around a modern working schedule, and can beautiful, durable and sustainable tools and furnishings for all areas of life.


(1)    Archeologické rozhledy, 2007, Baskets in Western America 8600 BP: American Antiquity 60(2), 1995, pp. 309-318.
(2)    Fire in California's ecosystems, By Neil G. Sugihara, p. 42
(3)    Anderson, M.K. – The fire, pruning and coppice management of temperate ecosystems for basketry material by Californian Indian tribes. Human Ecology 27(I) 79-113. 1999.

Furnishings made out of wicker (courtesy of WikiCommons)


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.

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