To be self-reliant requires having the right
tools to accomplish the hundreds of necessary homesteading
Hand tools, such as shovels, rakes, hoes, clippers, axes, mauls,
wheelbarrows, garden carts, scythes, hammers, saws, pliers,
wrenches and screw drivers can be purchased new or found at garage
sales, flea markets and auctions. You may want to rely on larger
tools, such as chainsaws, tillers and mowers, and spending the
money for a new tool that meets your needs and is in good working
order will make homesteading tasks easier to accomplish.
Large, motorized 'tools' — All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs), tractors
and riding mowers are wonderful additions to farms and homesteads.
The up-front cost may be sizable, but the time and energy saved by
using these motorized tools can be used on tasks that need a
Adapted from In Search of the Perfect Skillet by Anne
Vassal, Mother Earth News August/September 2003
It would be nice if I could share with you the wondrous aspects
of my long-time favorite skillet, but until recently I didn't have
one. Over the years, not a single one ever stole my heart. Having a
quality, 12-inch skillet ought to be a necessity of life, though,
along with shoes, cell phones and brie (OK, maybe not brie), so
finally, I set out to find my 'one and only.'
As it turned out, I found several skillets that tickled my
fancy: Calphalon's Commercial and Kitchen Essentials lines,
All-Clad Metalcrafter's own brand (my favorite!) and Emerilware,
developed by All-Clad with celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse. Here are
the most important points to consider when you're searching for a
skillet that will steal your heart.
SKILLET SHOP BUT NOT 'TILL YOU DROP
Most all-purpose skillets have either flared or straight sides.
Those with flared sides are called fry or omelet pans, and usually
come without lids; food just slides right out of these pans and
onto a plate. Those with straight sides are called saute pans, and
they come with lids.
I decided to limit my spending to less than $150, although it's
possible to buy skillets that cost twice that price. I tested
numerous skillets for 'release-ability' (whether the food stuck to
the pan), heat distribution and cooking time. I cooked a variety of
foods, including eggs, pancakes, eggplant, plantains, tofu and
Appearance, durability, feel and whether the skillet was oven-
or broiler-safe also were evaluated.
Appearance. This may seem frivolous, but a cookware's
design is what initially will attract your attention. Imagine how
the pan will look in your kitchen, on your stove. Evaluate its
scratch-resistance. The best skillets I tested were heavy-gauge
metal pans with stainless steel exteriors; they resisted scratches
and dents better than either black enamel or anodized aluminum
Durability runs a close second to appearance. All the
skillets I liked were listed as dishwasher-safe, but company
representatives all recommended hand-washing. Although better
cookware will come with a lifetime warranty, be sure to read the
fine print before you buy.
Feel is an important consideration, too. With the
exception of cast iron pans, you shouldn't have to pump iron to fry
an egg. A skillet should be a comfortable weight, but keep in mind
that quality skillets are heavier than bargain-basement pans. But
don't confuse 'heavy weight' with 'heavy gauge.' 'Gauge' is a
measurement of the thickness of the metal used in the cookware's
construction, not its weight.
Skillet handles will vary in feel, too, so test them out to find
which suits you best. Metal handles probably won't feel quite as
nice as wooden ones, but they will last forever. For safety's sake,
handles should have a 'stay cool' quality and be riveted through
the pan rather than screwed in place.
Options such as oven-safe or broiler-safe may be
important to you, too. The skillets listed here are oven-safe up to
a certain temperature, but all are not broiler-safe. If you love to
brown your culinary creations under the broiler, you'll want a
If you have an electric range, especially a smooth top, you'll
need a skillet that is ruler-flat on the bottom to ensure uniform
cooking. And, if you're buying an omelet or fry pan, you also may
want to find out whether a lid can be purchased separately, even
though most of the time you won't need it.
It's no wonder some folks swear by their trusty cast iron
skillets. Virtually indestructible, they cook fast once they're
heated and handle the highest temperatures with ease. They're great
for Cajun-style blackening; we use my grandma's to blacken fish on
the grill, and to make corn bread in the oven. Iron skillets
improve with age and can last several lifetimes.
Secondhand 10- or 12-inch cast iron skillets can be better than
new ones. They're inexpensive, too, at $15 to $20 in flea markets
or antique shops, although the collectible Wagner or Griswold
brands usually will cost more.
The downside is these skillets are heavy, the handles get hot
and the food can stick if the cast iron isn't properly seasoned or
cleaned. There also can be problems with uneven heating, and the
reactive metal does absorb and release food odors.
But on a Wisconsin winter's morning, I just love my
brother-in-law's fried potatoes, cooked in his favorite 16-inch
iron skillet, on his wood-burning stove.
Adapted from Top 20 Homesteading Tools by John Vivian,
Mother Earth News April/May 2001
If you're serious about swapping the urban rat race for a life of
frugal, back-to-the-land self-sufficiency, the right equipment will
make the difference between paradise and peril. The following list
outlines some of the essential homesteading tools.
TRACTORS, CARTS AND WAGONS
You'll need a properly sized, wheeled, perhaps engine-powered
machine to do the heavy hauling. The capacity you'll need and the
amount you'll pay will be determined by the size and topography of
your place, the nature of the work you intend to carry out, your
financial resources, maintenance skills, and available storage
facilities. Ideal, albeit impractical for most of us, would be a
team of horses, mules or oxen along with a hay wagon for field
work, a buckboard for trips to town, and a barn and paddock. If you
obtain beasts of burden, you'll also need pasture, hay and grain to
Commercial-grade Compact Diesel Tractors
The most universally capable modern homesteading machine we know
of is a commercial-grade compact diesel tractor. We like
Deere's 20- to 48hp 2000 class and New Holland's Boomer line.
Even the smallest models — which look like sturdily built lawn
tractor mowers — are equipped with powerful diesel engines and
industrial-quality transmissions and running gear. They also sport
a three-point rear hitch that will mount commercial farm land
plows, harrows and rakes and provide attachment points for a hay or
field corn cutter bar or silage chopper, a sprayer or buzz saw.
These tractors include a hydraulic system that will power remote
motors on the chopper's flails, the sprayer's pump or the saw's
blade. A modern, small diesel tractor is a major investment for a
ranch or truck-farming operation — but one that will expand your
homesteading capabilities beyond muscle-power, and will pay off
every day for a lifetime or two of strenuous use.
An alternative to a new and relatively expensive tractor is a
well-running antique tractor. They're
not quite as capable or dependable as a contemporary tractor, but
they're considerably less expensive. A small, still-running,
antique tractor such as a late 1940s or 50s Farmall Cub or a
low-riding, auto-style Ford 9N currently sell for a fraction of the
price of a new one, a little more if they're outfitted with new
rear tires or hydraulics. If at all possible, buy one with a newly
rebuilt engine, an onboard hydraulic system, a rear-mount
three-point hitch and one or two mechanical power takeoffs (PTOs)
rather than a drawbar.
Invest in a modern under-frame (Woods), rotary brush hog or field
mower and other post-1950s attachments. Look carefully, because
museum-quality antique tractors from the 1930s and earlier often
lack hydraulics and PTOs. (Polk's, the Antique Tractor Magazine,
published by Dennis Polk Equipment of New Paris Indiana and
Collector from the folks at Odgen Publications in Topeka, KS
are two great sources of info on older models better suited for
displaying on the front yard than grinding in the cornrows).
Full-size Industrial Tractors
If you intend to do any really heavy work such as logging,
trenching for soil-drainage pipes, digging in a septic tank or
cutting a logging road through heavy woods, consider a full-size
industrial tractor with a log grapple or excavating bucket on
the front and a backhoe on the stem. New, they cost five or six
figures. Good used ones cost about $15,000.
Deere Gator: For moderately heavy hauling chores that do
not demand a bulldozer or a two-ton hydraulically equipped tractor,
use your local Yellow Pages to find a franchised John Deere
servicing dealer for a two- or four-wheel drive Gator. Sized like a
cut-down jeep and powered and equipped for homestead-scale chores,
it seats the driver and one or two passengers comfortably up front,
but rides on farm tractor-style, forged-steel driveline components.
It is lightweight enough to navigate marshes or hilly wooded tracks
that could bog down a heavy tractor or four-wheel drive truck. It
will pull a water trailer and, in its rear box, will carry several
hay bales to livestock in a distant, dry pasture.
DR Powerwagon: Next size down in size and capacity are
Powerwagons, a unique line of powered garden carts made by
Products. All sizes are tank-tough and capable of hauling 800
pounds of bricks, firewood, garden compost or rocks. They are
maneuvered by hand with stout handles and castoring wheels at the
back, thus avoiding the steering mechanism that would boost their
Garden Way Carts
And finally, if a powered hauler is more than you can justify, get
yourself a shiny, metal frame and brown stained, plywood box-bodied
Garden Way-style garden cart like you see in many rural and
suburban gardens. These carts were designed by Garden Way founders
Eddie Robinson and Lyman Wood back in the 1940s; they took their
inspiration from the amazingly well-balanced, high-wheeled railway
station baggage carts of the day. You may remember
Way carts from the magazine ads that compared their
lightweight, easy-dumping gardening convenience with a tippy,
back-straining wheelbarrow. Perfectly balanced on easy-turning,
rustproof, chrome-plated spoked wheels, a box cart will let you
haul bulky or heavy loads of all kinds over an acre or so of
flatland. A word of caution: Don't overload them.
A Heavy-duty Gardening Fork
Until you have been on your place long enough to improve the
garden soil with rich, crumbly compost and loose, friable sand,
your best investment in a hand tool is a heavy, British-made,
three- or four-tined garden fork or landscaper's fork. It should
have a stout, 40- to 44- inch ash or hickory handle shaft, a
split-shaft wooden 'D' grip and a green, flat-tined business
hand-forged from a single blank of carbon-manganese steel. Don't
confuse this with the long-handled pitchfork designed for
slip-pitching hay or straw. Granted, the garden fork is a bit of an
investment, but it's well worth it — no other tool can do so much.
The garden fork will dig through anything short of granite ledge;
quarry well-striated, soft sandstone or limestone; lever up and
remove field stones; turn and aerate wet compost and grub out the
most stubborn tree roots. The multiple tines can penetrate soil
that would repel any full-bladed tool, from the toughest sod or
packed clay soil to (moistened) Southwestern hardpan, a good garden
fork will break it loose with a stern tug on the handle.
A Heavy-duty Gardening Spade
A companion to the fork is the spade. This thick, flat,
rectangular-blade shovel was used in northern Europe to cut pears
for fuel, and was later adopted by American frontiersmen for
cutting prairie sods to build walls for homes and farm buildings. A
sturdy spade will chop up the sod or clay dislodged by the fork.
Together, spade and fork can be alternated to pry large rocks out
of the soil and lever them up on a stoneboat or into loops of
logging chain to be skidded out by a tractor or team. Get a spade
with the top edge of one or both sides of the blade bent back at
90° or fitted with a welded-on inch-wide strip of steel. This will
support your boot when you step (or stomp) the blade into stubborn
These traditional British gardener's tools may appear crude
compared with their more polished, mass-produced counterparts, but
they are beautiful in a rugged, utilitarian way. With respect and
dutiful maintenance, they'll last a lifetime and be passed on to a
grateful gardening son or daughter. The first of several lines to
be promoted in North America were Bulldog brand hand tools,
developed 200 years ago by Cistercian monks and imported a
generation ago by the West Coast gardener's supply mail-order
catalog, Smith and Hawken. Smith and
Hawken's now has its own brand name on imported tools but the
Bulldog brand is still available from the heirloom seed company,
A Garden Rake
Forget about the plastic or metal spring-tined leaf broom used
for removing nature's autumnal debris; you'll need a wide,
forged-steel, rigid-tined garden rake as described in
This garden rake is heavy-headed and well-balanced, ensuring
that you needn't strain the small of your back or wrench the
muscles in your arms and wrists bearing down on the handle to break
clods and rake rocks out of newly tilled garden soil to make a
smooth and level planting bed.
A Rear-tined Rotary Tiller
Garden Way's big, red Troy-Bilt Horse tiller was the first big
seller; indeed Garden Way Manufacturing popularized the home garden
rear-tined tiller back in the 1960s and 70s. Though the old Horse
has been retired out to pasture, shaft-and-gear tillers are still
available in a whole stableful of equine-named models and power
ranges. Country Home Products markets a similar design, while BCS
America sells a commercial-grade tiller built in Italy for local
small-plot farmers and vintners. BCS walking tractors and
tillers are equipped with commercial grade, American-built gas
engines, so most common problems are readily fixed by any local
No other machine is as useful as a cast-iron, steel and bronze,
rear-tined tiller when it comes to breaking up garden-size plots of
meadow or backyard lawn sod. A good tiller will almost effortlessly
accomplish spring and fall soil preparation, and is essential for
the organic gardener who wants to incorporate sand, manure,
compost, leaves and other natural soil enhancers into the
CARPENTRY AND WOODWORKING
A Cordless Drill Driver
Once limited to six or seven-and-a-half volts, these cordless
screwdrivers now come in 22 volts or higher, relative to size and
weight. We still relegate heavy rotary-tool jobs to power drills,
but get as big and heavy a cordless drill as you can afford and
physically manage. You'll also want several Phillips-head or
square-head drive bits and a variety of stainless and blue-steel,
self-tapping deck screws. These deck screws, incidentally, are
replacing nails in all phases of wood construction — they go in
straight, fast and effortlessly and hold forever, but are easy to
extract if necessary.
A Circular Utility Saw
Get a conventional, 112-volt circular saw with a seven-inch or
larger blade for zipping through framing lumber. Skilsaw is the
brand name for this tool that is second only to a framing hammer in
tools most often used by house carpenters. Saws from any familiar
tool manufacturer, however, will cut just as well and for just as
long. For rough carpentry and demolition, get a supply of stamped
blue-steel, non-resharpenable blades that will work for a long
time, then go to the recycling dump. These blades are cheap and
won't bankrupt you if they hit a nail. For precision cutting,
invest in expensive, resharpenable carbide-tipped blades — and look
for nails before you cut. For heavier jobs, you may want to invest
in a ball bearing-equipped, worm-drive circular saw. This piece of
equipment is heavy and awkward, and managing it requires both
hands. It's also rather slow, but with the proper blade and
lubricant, this saw will cut through anything, including concrete
and bar steel. Expect to pay in excess of $125.
A Circular Detail Saw
A lightweight, high-speed, cordless circular saw, such as
sausage-shaped, three-inch blade model, is well-suited to a wide
variety of household cutting jobs and is the power cutting tool you
will use most often. It's perfect for cutting through thin plywood,
finish trim and soft metal or plastic sheeting. The circular detail
saw comes in a carrying case with a battery or two and plug-in
charger that can draw energy from your house current or truck's
battery. Get extra batteries if you plan to work for more than an
hour at a time. Once your house is framed and roofed, you can
finish, wire and plumb most of it using this little dandy and a
flat-jawed vise on a sawhorse to hold the work. If you're going to
be working with long boards, plumbing pipe or lengths of electrical
conduit, fit a second sawhorse with a vise to hold the materials in
ELECTRICITY AND WIRING
A Simple Volt/Am Meter
This handheld meter features several ranges to measure the
strength (voltage) and current flow (amperage) of high and low
power, AC and DC electricity. It also displays the resistance to
current flow (in ohms) of various electronic parts and materials.
You can choose from two styles: a cheaper model with analog needle
and dial, or a digital model. The analog model is easier to
understand for those who are not products of the high-tech, digital
era. Either way, this gizmo can literally be a lifesaver by telling
you how much current is on plus a great deal more. If you are new
to do-it-yourself electrical work, make sure your volt/am meter
comes with an instruction book. You can find this item at any Radio
Fasteners and Wire
If your home is a substantial distance from the nearest hardware
store, you can easily lose the meat of a workday driving to town to
purchase the little piece of wire or fastener necessary for a safe,
secure connection. Stock up on a collection of wire and fasteners
any way you see fit — We like Harbor Freight and other
discount tool catalogs. You'll want to store an assortment of
twist-on electrical fasteners and reels, and spools or boxed coils
of wire from fine generator wrap up to three-conductor, insulated
10-gauge household wiring. You'll find that you'll use it all in
time — most popular sizes first. Just remember, if you lack the
correct size, use the next-larger size for safety's sake.
Remember those rickety metal pliers that rattled loose on a bolt
head? Scrap 'em. Get yourself two pairs of electrician's pliers
with wire-stripper notches and plastic grip coverings. Made from
unplated, machine-tooled steel, these quality pliers have concealed
hinges, and grasp with precision. Be sure to look out for the
underside of your middle finger; it can get badly squashed between
AUTO AND MACHINE REPAIR
A gasoline- or current-powered air compressor and a kit of the
most commonly needed air tools (socket wrench, rotary impact
wrench, screwdriver, die tool, spray gun, tire inflator, blower and
others) will keep you going strong. An air compressor will power
air tools and spray painting guns, and it's indispensable on those
snowy mornings when you find a flat truck tire. As with any tool,
get the most capable compressor you can afford. Look through the
tool catalogs and check the operating pressure and airflow
requirements of the tools you think you'll need. A compressor that
can deliver seven cubic feet of air at 90 pounds per square inch
will operate nearly any tool. It will even power up an air-hungry
impact wrench to deliver more than 1,300 pounds of pressure to
remove rusted-on lugnuts from an old tractor (be sure to use
special black steel, impact sockets and plenty of penetrating oil
on rusted parts).
Mechanic's Hand Tools
However long it takes to acquire them, you should treat yourself
to complete sets of top-quality pliers and screwdrivers, open and
box wrenches, and ratchet handles and extensions (plus both
standard and deep sockets) in SAE and metric sizes. You'll want a
range from 1/64' to at least 1 1/2'. Get extras of the
most-frequently used — thus, most frequently lost — socket sizes
(1/4', 3/8', 1/2', and 5/8' and their metric equivalents). Buy a
good rolling steel tool chest to hold them and the other tools you
will accumulate over time. Good tools (like Sears Craftsman or the
tools sold in any auto-parts store) are expensive, but it is false
economy to waste money on cheap tools. Their soft, imprecise
working surfaces will bruise corners of nuts, strip threads and get
your knuckles skinned. You can save some money by purchasing your
tools in sets and by holding out for special offers; check the back
of Sears' sales flyers.
The Merck Veterinary Manual
This 2,305-page directory of symptoms, causes and treatments for
all diseases of domestic livestock is a real bargain. Also, get the
Farm and Ranch Supplies Catalog from NASCO. This free catalog contains
antibiotics, worming medication, syringes, bolus (huge pill)
shooters, calf-pullers, simple surgical instruments, sutures,
needles and any other veterinary devices the homesteader should try
before calling a professional. Be sure to stock up on tins of Bag
Balm medicated petroleum ointment and dauber-topped jugs of gentian
violet antifungal wound dressing.
Clamshell Post-hole Digger
If you plan on sinking fence posts, you'll want one of these.
Resembling a set of giant pliers, the clamshell post-hole digger is
essential for sinking wooden fence posts deep enough to stay.
Posthole diggers have four- or five-foot-long handles of wood or
plastic and jaws shaped like opposing spoons. To dig a post-hole,
you close the handles and use them to sink the closed jaws into the
ground. Then, open the handles out wide to make the jaws take a
bite of sod, soil or stone. Pick up the loaded tool (handles held
wide open so jaws remain closed — an awkward stance) and close the
handles. This will open the jaws to dump the bite of spoil into
your garden cart.
Come-along and Wire Fence Mandrel
The come-along is a hand-operated fence stretcher with a
ratchet/winch. The winch reels up a steel cable to pull on the
mandrel. (The mandrel fits over the loose end of a length of wire
fence already attached to a well-set corner or line post.) You can
buy a wire fence mandrel or make your own to match the spacing of
your fence wires by setting bolts through a length of steel or hard
A three- to five-ton come-along will also winch your truck out
of the mud, hoist a steer for skinning, or persuade a felled tree
to land correctly.
This may be the most vicious-looking tool in existence: a set of
long-handled pliers with a pickax on the working end and a
sharp-grooved hammer face for banging big fence staples into wooden
posts. There is also a pointed pick opposite the hammer end for
removing the aforementioned staples.
In addition, there are several holes, clamps and crimpers to
cut, bend, splice and swage fence wire ranging from single-strand
aluminum electric fence to 10-gauge, spring-crimped Cyclone bull
fence. If you find this tool lacking, there is also a long-handled
version available. You can acquire fencing pliers from the farm
supply and homesteaders catalogs or from your local farmers'
Excerpted from A Perfect Homestead Tractor by George
DeVault, Mother Earth News April/May 2002
Inexpensive and reliable, these sturdy old gray tractors can
still get the job done.
What kind of guarantee comes with this?' I asked, suspiciously
eyeing the few drops of oil on the pavement under the rear axle of
an old gray Ford tractor.
'Well, none, actually,' replied the man who had it sitting out
by the road with a for-sale sign. 'What you see is what you get, as
The tractor in question was a 1946 Ford x 2N. The four-cylinder
engine had been overhauled a few years earlier, he said. Then an
old Pennsylvania-Dutchman, who probably bought it new when Truman
was president, traded it in on a new Kubota.
The old gray tractors — the result of a partnership that later
dissolved into the separate Ford and Ferguson tractor lines —
revolutionized postwar farming. These classics have held up to
time, held onto collectors' hearts and held their value ever
Excerpted from The Case for Solar-powered Electric
Tractors by Stephen Heckeroth, Mother Earth News
The world is clearly running out of oil and gas, yet most people
ignore the coming crisis. Food production and distribution in the
industrialized world have become so dependent on petroleum use,
it's hard to imagine how agriculture will function without this
The most promising option is solar-powered electric tractors,
which offer several advantages over gas diesel-powered tractors.
Electric motors can operate at more than 90 percent efficiency,
while combustion engines are less than 15 percent efficient.
Electric propulsion is ideally suited to high torque, slow-speed
agricultural operations. Electric motors have only one moving part
and require little maintenance. Internal combustion engines, on the
other hand, have hundreds of moving parts and require a lot of
Electric motors don't idle, which saves energy. Plus, while the
vehicle is going downhill or braking, an electric motor can become
a generator and return energy to the battery. This process, called
regenerative braking, further increases the efficiency of electric
propulsion and cannot be duplicated using other technologies.
Electric-wheel motors eliminate the need for an internal combustion
engine, transmission and differential, allowing new options in the
design of tractors. Mounting an electric motor in the hub creates a
self-propelled wheel that can provide new levels of versatility and
Excerpted from All-Terrain Utility Vehicles by Les Oke,
Mother Earth News April/May 2003
These multipurpose four-wheelers can take you and your tools where
your pickup can't.
More energy-efficient than a truck and fun to drive, all-terrain
utility vehicles (ATVs) are perfect machines for farm, garden and
small-scale forestry work.
Just ask Lyle Hagerman, a dairy farmer and market gardener in
Picton, Ontario. 'It's maneuverable, compact and powerful. The
ATV's fat tires allow it to be driven over most terrain. We use
ours to round up cattle, harvest vegetables and seed pastures. The
new ones handle as well as a car, making them suited to anyone
regardless of physical abilities.'
The ATV was orginally designed for transportation, and was first
introduced in the early 1960s. Models had only three wheels, were
unstable on rough terrain and not suited to heavy work. But in
1984, when the first four- and six-wheelers hit the ground, it was
obvious that the heavy work of farming, gardening and forestry
could be made a lot easier. Most of the new machines have engine
displacements of 250 to 700 cubic centimeters (cc), can pull a load
of up to half a ton and reach speeds of up to 50 mph. In addition,
the many attachments that can be added to the front and back of an
ATV allow it to be a multiuse utility vehicle. Prices range from
$2,700 to $10,000, depending on engine size, number of wheels,
four-wheel-drive capability and accessories.
The most valuable labor-saving ATV activity is hauling. Several
new models, notably the John Deere Gator and Kawasaki's Mule have dump boxes
located behind the driver's seat. They are both well suited to the
homestead, built for work and should last a long time.
For ATVs without dump beds, trailers can be pulled behind the
machine. Simply attach a trailer ball to the ATV's back hitch and
your powerful machine becomes a hauling wonder. Bulky items
including lumber, compost, straw or soil can be carried with ease.
It won't be long before your overworked wheelbarrow will be
gathering rust. The popular lawn trailer and garden-sized trailers
work well for backyard garden jobs, but a full-size ATV trailer
allows you to handle bigger projects.
'Special trailers are designed for ATVs that are similar in
width to the ATV, making it easy to drive through tight places,'
says Honda dealer Jeff Van der Veer of Napanee, Ontario. 'You can
put the ATV on the trailer and tow it behind a truck to a rough or
roadless work site, then attach the trailer to the ATV.'
Collecting firewood is a whole lot easier with an ATV and
trailer. You can pile your chainsaw, gas and tools in the trailer
and drive right to the dead wood that needs cutting. You can cut
and split the wood on-site, load the trailer and then head to the
woodshed. Since ATVs are fun to drive, recruiting a teenager to
help with woodcutting isn't difficult either. (As fun as they are
to drive, ATVs are not toys. For safe operation, manufacturers
recommend an operator be at least 16 years old.)
The other firewood option is to haul the logs to the woodshed
and cut and split there. Several companies manufacture ATV
attachments to aid in moving logs safely and with minimal
environmental damage. The Novajack Company makes a hauling harness
called a logging arch that lifts up the front end of the log so you
can pull it behind the ATV. They also make logging trailers that
can haul loads. A slightly different logging arch, manufactured by
Forestry, is a cross between the arch and a trailer. Its design
allows more of the log to be lifted off the ground, reducing drag
and embedded dirt on the logs to a minimum.
ATVs make towing a wood splitter to the pile of logs you skidded
up to the woodshed easy. Logs that will be sawn into lumber can he
set aside. Later, you can use your ATV to tow a portable sawmill to
the pile. When sawn, the lumber can be loaded onto the trailer and
hauled anywhere you like.
To make wood-chip mulch, tow a chipper to the brush pile you
left in the woods and blow the chips right into the trailer. We use
a few boards standing upright in the back of the trailer for the
chips to hit as they come out of the machine. They fall right into
the trailer. It's a simple matter to tow the load of mulch to the
While we're still on the subject of firewood and logging, there
is another attachment that comes in very handy from time to time: a
power winch. Smaller than the 5- to 10-ton capacity of track
winches, most ATV winches are rated between 1,500 to 2,000 pounds
and can be mounted on the front or rear of the machine.
A downed tree, off the trail and inaccessible to the ATV, can he
winched, pulled to the trail and then hooked up to be towed.
Inevitably the hardworking ATV will get stuck in the mud, and the
winch can be used to pull it out. Simply attach the winch cable to
the base of a tree, turn on the winch and out you'll come. The
winch also can be used to pull cars stuck in the snow or
MAX All-Terrain Vehicles
Excerpted from Choosing the Right Sawmill by Brook
Elliot, Mother Earth News December/January 2003 and Profit
with Portable Sawmills by ???, Mother Earth News December/January
Are you dreaming of a new home or barn you can't quite afford. If
you cut your own lumber using a portable sawmill, you could save
enough to bring the project within reach. And you can use the mill
to develop a business custom-cutting lumber or producing other wood
products. Even if you don't have your own forest, you can salvage
storm-damaged trees or harvest trees being removed for construction
Portable sawmills fall into three general categories: chainsaw
mills, circular sawmills and band sawmills. They are available in a
diversity of styles and operating systems, and are priced to fit
any budget. 'Which to pick,' says Will Johnson, president of
a portable sawmill manufacturing company, 'depends on what you are
going to do with it.'
The variables, he says, are how much lumber you plan to saw and
how quickly you need to cut it. A third variable is how finely
finished you need the boards to he. Here are the pros and cons of
each type of mill:
From a cost standpoint, chainsaw mills are inexpensive, and are
thus appealing for homestead and farm use. Prices start under $100.
But these mills are relatively slow, which means you can use them
for major projects only if you have lots of time. Even with the
special chains used for lumbering, they still make rough cuts;
further milling is required for finished surfaces.
And they waste a lot of wood. 'Generally,' says Erin Domagalski
of Hud-Son Forest
Equipment, 'a chainsaw mill has 20 percent more kerf (width of
the blade cut) than a band sawmill.'
Most chainsaw mills require heavy-duty power heads. Your current
chainsaw may not he powerful enough to run it, and a new chainsaw —
which can double the cost — may be needed. Special-purpose chains
and bars are required as well.
Most chainsaw mills are used with a framework you construct
around the log you are cutting, which can he a slow, awkward
process. Lining up the first cut is particularly important with
these mills, because that surface acts as a guide for the rest of
your cuts. The Alaskan Mark III from Granberg International is a good
example of this type of chainsaw mill. Exceptions, such as the
Total J100 (available through Tilton Equipment Co.), consist of a
rail-and-stand system in which the log is held by base stands and
the saw rides upside down on the rails.
At one time, all sawmills used circular blades. Most larger
commercial operations still do. Their primary benefit is speed.
Circular saws cut much faster than band saw's, but the downsides
are that they are expensive and they usually have a larger kerf, so
they waste more wood. The quality of the cut tends to be on the
Circular sawmills tend to be transportable, but not portable.
They can take as much as a full day to erect once moved to the work
site. And most times a crew of three to five people is needed to
operate one efficiently and safely.
Older circular sawmills work with a vertical blade mounted in
the bottom of the bed, similar to a workshop table saw. Modern ones
position the blade overhead, with safety guards, like a radial arm
saw. A good representative is the Mighty Mite 'D' series sawmills,
which are priced starting at $29,500.
A novel approach is the Lucas Mill, an Australian design
imported by Bailey's, which uses a special five-tooth, thin kerf
blade mounted horizontally to cut logs that sit on the ground
instead of laying on a bed.
Today's portable sawmill industry is dominated by bandmills.
Technology has made them available in such an array of
configurations and operating systems that they've almost displaced
Although slower than circular sawmills, bandmills are truly
portable either with an integral trailer system, or inside a pickup
truck. They are simple and safe to operate; produce less waste
because of a smaller kerf; create smoother surfaces, requiring less
milling; and are flexible enough to cut specialty lumber, such as
shakes, shingles and clapboards. And they are much more affordable,
starting around $3,500.
Depending on your needs, they come configured as small, manually
operated mills; as mid-sized units with power heads and basic
hydraulics; and as industrial strength mills, with power heads,
built-in debarkers, hydraulic log-handling systems and computerized
When choosing a bandmill, the one thing you don't have to worry
about is its cutting quality. Virtually all modern bandmills
produce the same high-quality surfaces, requiring little final
finish work. Configuration and cutting speed are the two important
variables within each class.
However, don't pay much attention to manufacturers' claimed
production speeds, says TimberKing's Will Johnson. 'Productivity
numbers are almost meaningless,' he says. 'There are just too many
variables—including log size, lumber thickness and how fast the
operator can work—to provide realistic production figures.'
Decide whether or not you really need the particular bells and
whistles on any given model. While full hydraulics are helpful, for
instance, they can push the price up to $30,000 very quickly.
Manual bandmills come with either ground-level or elevated beds.
Ground-level beds usually are found on mills that are transported
by truck. Log handling is a lot easier with them, but there may be
more operator fatigue from constant bending. Elevated-bed mills
usually are transported by trailer, and are easier to operate. But
log handling is more of a bother, requiring ramps, lifts or
Manual bandmills can be used for commercial cutting, but are
considered best for personal use on farms and small acreage's.
A step up from manual mills are those with automatic
carriage-feed systems and, in some cases, automatic setworks. Most
do not include log-handling hydraulics. These mills are a lot less
labor intensive, and are good for custom sawing. They also are a
good option for those with physical limitations, or for jobs
requiring a lot of cutting in a short time period.
Bandmills in the middle price range include hydraulic log
loading, turning, clamping, and, in some cases, hydraulic toe
boards. They are considered ideal for custom-cutting and
At the top of the line are the high production bandmills. These
come with complete hydraulic and electronic operations for greater
production, custom sawing and commercial lumber manufacturing.
When you're considering purchasing a sawmill, part of your
decision should include what necessary accessories, such as
log-handling equipment, you might need. If you can do the job with
cant hoops and peavey poles, then a manual mill might meet all your
requirements. But if you want to cut bigger logs that require a
separate log lifter, then a hydraulic mill might make better
Cook's Sawmill Manufacturing
Dave's Welding (Timber Grizz)
Hud-Son Forest Equipment
Linn Lumber Mills
Norwood Ind. (LumberMate)
Thomas Bandsaw Mills
Points to Ponder
Sawmill marketing data and catalogs seem so filled with
hyperbole and lack of objective comparisons that it can be
difficult to know what to consider when buying a mill. We asked
Brian Grodner, co-owner of The Sawmill Exchange, the
largest broker of used sawmills in the country, for his thoughts.
Grodner has no dog in this fight, so his comments are worth
listening to. Among the things he says to consider:
- Ask the owners! Never buy a portable sawmill without first
conferring with sawmill owners. They are your absolute best source
for factual, honest information on how you can expect a brand and
model to perform.
- Consider income. Will you use the mill full time or part time?
Will the mill provide all or part of your income?
Not every portable sawmill readily fits into one category or
another. Hybrid sawmills combine parts and functions of several
categories. There are two of particular note:
Logosol's M7 Swedish Mill: the chainmill that thinks it's
a bandmill. At first glance, the Swedish Mill looks like a
bandmill. It uses an adjustable log bed, power-head rail, logdogs
(clamps that hold the logs in place) and an overhead support arm,
like all bandmills. But the power head is a chainsaw.
Not any chainsaw will work with it, however. Logosol recommends
the Husqvarna 395XP, which generates 7.1 horsepower. Along with the
heavy-duty power head, a special bar and low-profile chain produce
a 1/4-inch kerf, about the same as a band saw. The final finish is
said to be equal to a band blade as well. Bars are available in 16-
,20- and 25-inch cutting lengths.
Better-Built's Ripsaw: the bandmill that thinks it's a
chainmill. Imagine lifting the entire power head and blade support
off a bandmill, then building a cutting guide around a log (as you
would with a chainmill), and hand-feeding the band saw into the
log. In a nutshell, that's the RipSaw.
The Ripsaw comes in two versions. One has its engine. The other
is a conversion kit that lets you turn your chainsaw into a
bandmill in about 10 minutes. According to the manufacturer, you
can use the chainsaw to fell trees, then install the conversion kit
and turn those trees into finished lumber.
Excerpted from Electric Fencing by George Devault,
Mother Earth News August/September 2003
The easy way to keep your livestock in and
In recent years, electric fencing innovations have
revolutionized some forms of livestock grazing and protection, and
garden crop protection, too.
Now, effective and relatively inexpensive temporary electric
fencing is available to protect everything from small animals such
as chickens in the barnyard or pasture to larger animals such as
riding horses out for weekend trail rides or involved in strip
Although some electric fences are considered permanent, much
like a traditionally built fence, other styles are intended for
semi-permanent or temporary applications, giving users more
flexibility and economy in meeting such fencing needs than they've
ever had in the past. Modern temporary styles of electric fencing
include the familiar rope line fence, some tape fence styles and
various sizes of mesh netting; all can be set up or taken down in a
matter of minutes.
Pennsylvania farmer Brian Moyer pastures 1,400 broilers
annually, using 42-inch-high electric netting with 31/2-inch-square
openings and plastic posts. Moyer says he especially likes the
heavy-plastic, step-in posts, which he just pushes into the ground
with his foot (or in dry times, hammers in with a rubber
The portability of temporary electric fencing means it can be
moved about according to pre-planned grazing patterns. The practice
allows more intensive use of pasturelands than is possible with
permanent fencing of larger areas. Aaron Silverman raises about
15,000 broilers a year in a small valley in Oregon. 'Our fields are
bordered by riparian zones — a river or a creek where there are
nesting marsh hawks and red-tailed hawks, bobcat runs and coyote
'When we started with traditional pastured poultry zones, we
confined the birds to the portable enclosures at all times and
moved the enclosures once, maybe twice a day. We noticed that
whenever we were close to a riparian zone, we would lose birds to
raccoons, 'possums and skunks, which were able to sneak under the
To establish secure outdoor pens for the birds, Silverman tested
electric sheep netting, with mesh small enough to stop coyotes, but
not weasels, 'so we were still losing birds.' Next, he tried
electric poultry netting with 2-by-3-inch openings and thin,
rigid-plastic verticals that keep the fence upright without corner
'That pretty much took care of it,' he says. The netted fence
keeps out predators as small as rats — as long as it's moved
regularly. When left in place for several weeks, such as around a
greenhouse-turned-brooder house, rats eventually tunnel underneath
to get at the chickens. 'In the field,' he says, 'where we are
moving the fence on a continual basis, they (the rats) respect
Permanent and semi-permanent electric fencing are most effective
in applications involving large livestock. Temporary electric
fencing and netting work well for smaller animals, or very
short-term applications for large livestock.
READ THE FULL STORY
Electric Fencing Folks:
Gallagher Power Fence
Ferris Fencing (Canada)
Self-reliance: Home Businesses
To be self-reliant on your urban homestead or small farm requires a
way to make enough money to augment what you cannot grow or raise
yourself. Finding your own home-business niche can make the
prospect of homesteading more attractive and realistic.
Adapted from Grow Trees for Pleasure and Profit, by Hans
Morsbach, Mother Earth News October/November 2004
In 1972, I knew nothing about farming; I was just a small
businessman from Chicago with no spare time. But, I ended up buying
a farm in Richland County, Wis., from a friend, and tried raising
cattle on the land, then bees. But these didn't suit me. So, when
the county forester proposed that I start a tree farm, I was
ecstatic. Over the next 20 years, I learned by experience the joys
— and work — of creating a forest. My ideas of forest management
are based on using it as a long-term investment strategy and a way
to have fun.
To reduce forest stewardship to its barest essentials, all you
need is a piece of land. Let's say you have a half-acre of land in
a part of the country where trees grow. In a matter of a few
decades, the land will revert to forest if you leave it alone. But
if you have an acre of land, or more, you can speed the forestation
process along. And, not much is required: Gather seeds, disturb the
earth — dig it, rototill it, plow it — and sow away. You needn't
feel you don't have the time, the money or the know-how to create a
woodland for your own enjoyment. It's an avocation that suits any
schedule, fortune or inclination.
Before you start, think about these '10 Commandments,' things
I've learned that have made owning a woodland a rewarding
1. ENJOY YOUR WOODLAND
Your woodland should be a source of pleasure and joy. Sounds,
animal activity and interesting vegetation are everywhere. Let
nothing interfere with the enjoyment of your forest.
2. BUY LOCAL LAND
One key to enjoying your woodland is buying land that is quick
and easy to get to. Buying land nearer to 'civilization' also makes
good investment sense, because it is more likely to appreciate in
value than land located far away from populated areas.
On the other hand, if you live in a sprawling metropolitan area
or a part of the country where the landscape is boring, you may
decide a longer drive is worth it. Regardless of location, real
estate should appreciate roughly on par with alternative
3. DON'T EXPECT TO MAKE MONEY
At least not in the short term. It is unlikely that you'll see
much profit from cultivating trees for hardwood veneers. Sure, a
timber sale from sought-after trees, such as walnuts, can bring a
windfall, but hardwood trees take about a century to reach
maturity. Considered over the long run, your rate of return is much
less than you would get from buying a certificate of deposit and
there won't be any regular cash flow. There may be money in
practicing short-rotation forestry, such as growing pines for pulp,
but this sort of tree farming is not friendly to nature, not nice
to look at and not any fun.
If return on your investment is what you're after, place your
hopes in appreciating land values rather then profitable timber
4. DON'T BUY MORE LAND THAN YOU CAN MANAGE
Your pleasure is more likely to come from observing and working
your forest than from its size.
5. DON'T EXPEND TOO MUCH TIME, EFFORT OR MONEY ON YOUR
Small-scale forestry is a poor business, but personally very
enriching. Only do it to the extent that it gives you pleasure
while you work the land and walk among your trees.
6. BE KIND TO THE ENVIRONMENT
Doing nothing is one way to be kind to your small woodland. This
means do not clear-cut, do not use chemicals and minimize the use
of your lawn mower. (You will soon observe that in the country, a
tract of land in its natural state is much more interesting and a
lot less work than a manicured lawn.) If you want to actively
benefit the environment, eliminate nonnative species, encourage
trees that provide food and shelter for wildlife, and allow old
trees to recycle themselves. (See 'The Life in Dead Trees,'
Mother Earth News August/September 2004.)
7. CONSULT FORESTRY EXPERTS — BUT REMEMBER WHO'S BOSS
No matter the size of your land, you can improve it with
forestry. As a starting point, I suggest you contact a forester
through your state's Department of Natural Resources. Such a
professional can provide useful literature, possibly prepare a
management plan for your woodland and suggest certain management
practices. He or she also can let you know whether your state has
any programs benefiting small woodland owners. If you participate
in any government subsidies or other programs, you are bound to
honor your commitments. Follow foresters' advice, except when it
conflicts with what you want to do, and follow your own
8. FAVOR MARKETABLE TREES
You may not get rich growing trees for market, but you should
still favor trees that are most likely to have timber value in the
future. You may either plant tree seeds directly in the soil, or
plant seedlings and follow accepted forestry practices to make them
marketable. Follow the German Dauerwald philosophy that calls for
growing timber in mixed forests of native species, unevenly aged,
in a biodiverse environment with abundant wildlife.
9. REPRESS YOUR COMPULSIONS
Often, woodland owners apply their city values to their woodland
dealings. They think they have to mow, grind trimmed branches into
tiny wood chips and eliminate natural ground vegetation. Remember
that nature recycles more efficiently than you do and that the
'waste' created by natural vegetation is essential to environmental
Another compulsion is to grow trees like row crops. Try to avoid
this; trees grow well in a natural environment together with all
kinds of other vegetation. A plantation is boring, more work for
you and more prone to infestation and disease. If you do plant
seedlings, mix the species up as much as you can. They will grow
better, foster more wildlife and be more enjoyable.
10. BE A GOOD CITIZEN AND ACTIVIST
Attend conferences of woodland owners' associations, which many
states host (visit www.woodlandowners.org).
They offer useful lectures and opportunities for vendors to sell
their wares. You will learn a great deal, and you will enjoy
meeting others who share your interests. Contact the U.S. Forest
Service and your local Extension Service for information about
small-woodland forestry. Make your land available as a
demonstration site to help educate other, less-experienced woodland
Become politically active. Encourage government to recognize the
importance of private woodland owners in preserving our natural
environment. Woodland owners play an important role in preserving
pure water, preventing floods and maintaining the equilibrium of
our climate. The benefits woodland owners get in return —
gratification and a wooded haven — can last for
READ THE FULL STORY
(not yet available)
Excerpted from Extra Stalls, Extra Cash by Deanna Mather
Larson, Mother Earth News April/May 2002
A little surplus space in your barn can give you some extra cash
each month with this bootstrap or home business.
As with empty stalls in many barns, ours were filled with junk.
With a bit of work and a small cash investment, my husband and I
turned these unoccupied spaces into a home business. After a few
improvements, we advertised 'Horse Boarding.' Two months later both
stalls were rented and we had an extra $400 each month. You can do
it, too. Here's how.
Excerpted from Profit with Portable Sawmills by Brook
Elliot, Mother Earth News December/January 2002
Dreaming of a new home or barn you can't quite afford? If you
cut your own lumber using a portable sawmill, you could save enough
to bring the project within reach. And you can use the mill to
develop a home business custom-cutting lumber or producing other
wood products. (Or, after you've cut all the lumber you need, you
could sell the mill.)
This special section outlines how to choose and use a portable
mill to create value-added lumber and other products for your home
business. Even if you don't have your own forest, you can salvage
storm-damaged trees or harvest trees being removed when land is
cleared for construction or farming When it comes to making money
from lumber, it's all about value added,' says Michael Best. 'The
further you take wood from a tree to a finished product, the more
valuable it is.'
Best is the executive director of the nonprofit Sustainable
Mountain Agricultural Center near Berea, Kentucky. SMAC's mission
is to demonstrate that sustainable agriculture is possible on small
farms. 'Farmers can make enough profit from a sawmill home business
to avoid working outside the farm if they utilize the whole farm,
Initially, SMAC used its manually operated Wood-Mizer LT40
portable sawmill for on-farm use, cutting trees for tomato stakes,
barn hoards and racks.
In conjunction with the University of Tennessee's Agricultural
Development Center and funded through the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's Sustainable Research and Education Program, SMAC
recently conducted a survey to determine woodworkers' preferences
and buying habits. Anyone contemplating making money with portable
sawmills should read the study. Copies are available from the
Sustainable Mountain Agricultural Center; 1033 Pilot Knob Cemetery
Road: Berea, KY 40403; (859) 985-8648; www.heirlooms.org.
Better Built Corp.www.ripsaw.com
Cook's Sawmill Manufacturingwww.cookssaw.com
Dave's Welding & Fabricationwww.timbergrizz.com
Hud-Son Forest Equipmentwww.hud-son.com
Linn Lumber Millswww.linnlumber.com
Mobile Manufacturing Co.www.mobilemfg.com
Quality Manufacturing Co.www.bandmill.com
Select Sawmill Co.www.selectsawmill.com
TA. Schmid Co.www.taschmid.com
Thomas Bandsaw Millswww.thomasbandsawmills.com
Tilton Equipment Co.www.tiltonequipment.com
Turner Band Sawmillswww.turnermills.com
Adapted from Growing Greenbacks: How to Start a Backyard
Nursery by Michael J. McGroarty, Mother Earth News
Growing plants for retail or wholesale is an interesting and fun
way to earn money involving the whole family. You don't need much
land (our backyard nursery is only 1/20 of an acre), you can grow
thousands of plants at a time, and you earn several thousand
dollars a year ... working right at home.
Starting a nursery in your back yard is probably easier than you
think. When most people think of a plant nursery,they visualize
huge greenhouses, tractors and other expensive equipment. The fact
is, as a backyard grower you don't need any of those things to get
started. All you need is a small area to start growing some plants
and a little bit of information on landscape plant propagation.
Thankfully, there are many simple and easy propagation techniques
that are easy to learn and work really well.
SELLING WHAT YOU GROW
Here in the far northeastern corner of Ohio we have more than
100 nurseries, ranging in size from our 1/20 of an acre to much
larger ones measuring 600 acres. Many of these nurseries were
called 'lunchbox' nurseries, a term that dates from the early 1900s
when employees of one large wholesale nursery would smuggle
cuttings home in their lunch boxes to start their own backyard
nurseries. Many of these startups grew into very productive and
When you're ready to sell the plants you grow, there are many
different ways to go about it. We grow most of our plants in small
containers and sell them for $4 each. It costs us about 23 cents to
produce one of these little plants, and most of that cost is the
plastic container — the cost of the plant is next to nothing. We
spend $10 on sand, $20 on rooting compound, and can do 7,000
cuttings or more with these materials, which brings the cost per
cutting to less than a penny. As close as I can figure, our cost
for the potting soil is about 5 cents for a two-quart container.
The cost of the plastic container is around 16 cents. A small ad in
the local paper brings in customers like crazy and, because we're
lucky enough to live in a community that allows us to sell directly
from our home, we sell both wholesale and retail from our backyard
If you can't do retail sales from home, you should still be able
to establish a wholesale business. Large nurseries spend thousands
of dollars each year buying plants they need. Some of them buy
rooted cuttings while others buy landscape-size plants. Whatever
the case, they will buy from you if you offer good-quality plants
at fair prices.
You could even have a backyard nursery specializing only in
rooted cuttings. A four-inch cutting with roots has value on the
market, and there are wholesale buyers who purchase thousands of
them at a time. Rooted cuttings sell for as little as 35 cents or
as much as $1.25, depending on the variety. If you grow the plants
for one year after they are rooted you can sell them wholesale as
one-year transplants, which increases the price to $1.50 or more.
There is a market for just about any size plant you choose to grow
— and the market is larger than you could ever imagine.
I have a friend who roots and sells grapevines as one- and
two-year-old plants. At his 100-acre nursery they make over 500,000
grapevine cuttings each winter, as well as tens of thousands of
flowering shrub cuttings every summer. He grows about 100,000
burning bush plants each year and sells them bare root, which is
much easier and less expensive than wrapping up a root ball in
burlap. After digging the plants up, they shake all the soil from
the roots, tie them in bundles of ten, and stack them in an
insulated barn until it's time to load them on their customer's
truck. The nursery's annual sales exceed 2 million dollars!
That said, the backyard nursery business is not a get-rich-quick
business by any means. It takes many years to establish a large
nursery. On the other hand, it's a project that you can start with
very little money and expand into a thriving home business. In
fact, getting started is as easy as deciding what types of plants
you would like to grow and acquiring a few that you can use as
stock plants to get cuttings from. You'll also need a nursery stock
producer and/or vendor license from your state department of
agriculture. There is a small fee for the license, but you should
contact your county department of commerce for local regulations
Also, you need to know that some plants are patented or are sold
under names that are registered trademarks. You cannot grow these
plants without entering into an agreement with the person or
company that holds the right to them. Don't bother growing these
plants; there are plenty of others that you can grow without the
hassles. When you go to buy them, just look for a patent number, or
'patent pending' on the label or keep an eye out for the trademark
symbol ®. Lastly, make sure you know both the correct common name
and botanical name of the plants you intend to grow. You must have
them properly labeled in order to sell them. Good luck and have
Excerpted from A Minimum Investment, Maximum Profit Home
Business! by Larry William Koontz, Mother Earth News
With vacationing pet owners searching for home-style animal
care, it's a good time to start your total-care dog and cat
A few years back I suddenly found myself without a job. However,
what could have been a disastrous — or, at the very least,
unpleasant — situation actually turned out to be a blessing in
disguise. You see, once we were faced with the prospect of not
having a regular source of income, my wife and I were forced to
look into the possibility of starting a home business. And, after
some thought, we settled on a highly profitable enterprise that I
believe almost anyone could begin in his or her home — either on a
full-time basis or for only a few hours a week — with a minimal
cash investment. Just what was this gold mine we discovered? A
total-care dog and cat business!
Believe it or not, our operation is as easy and enjoyable to run
as it likely sounds to the animal lovers among you. The services we
offer include bathing, dipping, trimming nails, grooming, boarding,
walking, training, housebreaking, selling collars and leashes, and
maintaining breed/stud files. And all these duties can be performed
by any enterprising individual ... at a surprisingly high
READ THE FULL STORY
Excerpted from 10 Surefire Home Businesses for
the New Decade
by Paul and Sarah Edwards, Mother Earth
How can I free myself from the 9-to-5 rat race and start a home
business? How can I be my own employer and not spend a fortune
doing it? Here's what you need to know — and invest — to start a
We wanted to be able to answer these questions with confidence,
so we set out to identify what we consider to be the best
home-based businesses, given the realities of the new decade.
Before we introduce you to the businesses, a little introduction to
our picking and choosing techniques is in order.
First, we drew on our own experience. We have been working from
home ourselves since 1974, and ever since we began writing our book
Working from Home in 1980, we have been tracking which businesses
people have been running successfully from home.
Once we identified home businesses that seemed to have a good
future, we had to address the issue of what qualifies a business as
the best. Income potential was certainly one criterion. We also
considered other factors like lifestyle considerations, since today
people want more than money from their work.
THE BEST HOME BUSINESSES:
- Bed and Breakfast Inn
- Computer Consultant
- Desktop Publishing
- Remodeling Contractor
- Tax Preparation Service
- Web Site Designer/Webmaster
- Alternative Energy Installer
- Home Health Care
Self-reliance: Building Projects
Every farm, homestead and even backyard garden plot could use a
barn, tool shed, wood shed or animal shelter. Small barns and out
buildings can be beautiful, elegant structures or simple,
functional ones. They can house firewood, garden and yard tools,
small animals, animal feed and other farm supplies. No matter what
your specific needs are, your homestead will benefit from having
these useful structures.
Excerpted from Beautiful Barns by Lynn Byczynski,
Mother Earth News October/November 2004
Building a classic, functional barn can be
easier and more affordable than you think.
Barns have long been a cherished part of the American landscape
as symbols of our agricultural heritage. Barns of the past spoke
volumes about the farmers who built them: what types of crops and
animals they raised, which foreign land they once called home, and
how successful and prosperous they had been. But somewhere in the
past half-century, the art of the barn was lost. Instead of
building barns that reflected regional and occupational
differences, many rural residents across America started erecting
one-story, steel-clad buildings to house animals, crops, machinery,
tools and vehicles. The era of beautiful barns seemed to have come
to an end.
Today, though, there are signs of a barn-building renaissance.
Several architects, designers and builders are selling plans and
kits for traditional barns, and the Internet has made them widely
available. Proper use of scale, proportion and simple details can
mimic the grace of old barns and make new barns more appealing. If
a new barn is in your future, don't be afraid to expect more than
just storage space. Building a barn that also looks great takes
effort, but the results will add to the value of your property and
be attractive, too.
The best news is that many of these traditional-looking barns
are designed to be no more expensive, perhaps even less so, than
metal buildings. 'A well-designed barn, using wood siding, can be
surprisingly affordable. The price can be in the same range as an
ugly metal box if the owners are willing to get involved, even if
it only is to manage the building project, saving the cost of a
contractor,' says Craig Wallin, author of Small Barn Plans for
A few simple tricks can give new barns that classic feel.
Z-braced barn doors and traditional window trim are the kinds of
features that don't cost a lot but that can make a world of
difference in the aesthetics of the building. Roofs are also
important. 'Traditional barns were usually two or more floors, or
at least a floor and a loft,' says small-barn designer Donald Berg,
Rockville Centre, N.Y. 'It's the loft and the big roof that give a
barn its character. Modern pole barns have shallow-truss roofs and
no lofts. That gives them a flat, uninteresting look.'
Wallin agrees the roof makes the barn: 'Features that make a
barn attractive and traditional are a steeper pitched roof — at
least an 8:12 pitch (the roof inclines 8 inches for every 12 inches
of length), with generous overhangs.'
Cupolas big enough to ventilate the barn are also classic barn
features. Farmers used to take pride in designing cupolas that
reflected their own individual style.
Here are some suggestions for building a barn that is
traditional in style and economical in price:
Size and Design
- Your first task is to decide how much square footage you really
need. Don't assume that bigger is better; small and efficient is
more economical to build, maintain and, possibly, heat. Also, a
smaller barn might not interrupt a view and, if it is in scale with
the rest of your buildings, it probably will contribute to a more
pleasing overall property design than a bigger
- Measure everything you plan to keep in your new barn. If you're
designing a workshop, for example, figure out how much space you
need for your tools and an efficient work space for yourself. If
your barn will house livestock, figure in adequate space for the
animals, too. A great advantage of building your own barn is that
you can tailor it to fit your needs.
- Next, start looking at barn designs. Your best resource is the
Internet, where you will find many sites with plans or kits for
small barns. Several books are also available with barn plans and
- The type of construction you choose will depend on the barn's
- The least expensive is the pole barn, now known as
post-frame construction. Post-frame involves sinking posts
into the ground, then connecting them horizontally with lumber. The
poles serve as foundation, bracing and framework, and no excavation
is required other than digging holes for the poles. This is the
type of construction used for most metal buildings today. But it
doesn't have to be limited to shallow-pitched roofs and single
stories; two stories are possible, too.
- Another type of construction is called light-frame. It
is is used in most residential construction. Frames of 'two-by'
lumber (2-by-4, 2-by-6) are built and attached to a foundation.
This type of construction costs more than post-frame because it
requires more lumber and a concrete foundation. Light-frame barns
can be any size.
- A third type of construction often used for barns is
post-and-beam, also known as timber frame and
requiring long, strong timbers. Vertical posts and horizontal tie
beams are assembled into sections called bents, then raised and
attached to a sill beam on a stone foundation. This is the source
of the phrase 'barn raising.' Timber-frame barns are the most
expensive type of construction because the timbers are hard to come
by, but several companies make kits you can assemble and raise
yourself, with the help of many friends or a crane. Timber-frame
barns can be small or large.
Choose your building materials with an eye towards aesthetics.
Siding is the most obvious feature of the barn, and you can choose
from wooden lap, wooden board and batten, composites such as T-111
(a brand of plywood siding), fiber-cement lap or panels, steel
panels, or vinyl. 'I've used T-111, HardiPlank (a brand of
fiber-cement siding), rough sawn boards and even metal siding,'
Berg says. 'Any and all can look good if they're on a
well-proportioned barn.' The idea is to mimic the grace and style
of a classic barn as much as possible, without sacrificing
Roofing materials need careful consideration, too. Metal roofs
are common, but you also can use composite shingles to match your
house or wood shingles to mimic historic barn roofs.
Doors and windows also will have significant impact on the
character of your barn. If you really want to stick with tradition,
you can build your own barn doors, such as Z-braced Dutch doors or
sliding doors, or you can purchase them from a horse-barn specialty
manufacturer. Specialized doors are more expensive than
manufactured residential doors, though, so if you need to keep an
eye on costs, stick with a door that's readily available.
Historic barns usually have fixed or awning windows that either
don't open or that are hinged on the top or bottom and open only
slightly. If you want to be able to open your new barn's windows
and keep the barn free of wasps, birds and other critters, you are
probably better off purchasing double-hung house windows with
One of the most fetching features of an old barn is the cupola,
often topped with a weather vane. Some companies that make metal
barns put small ornamental cupolas on the roofs, but a real cupola
functions as a ventilator, drawing warm air upward and releasing it
Functioning cupolas on historic barns were big because they had
to draw off the heat and moisture from a number of large animals
and hay. To keep that authentic look, be sure to get your cupola's
proportions correct. Berg, who has studied the proportions of old
barns throughout the country, says a functioning cupola should be
built to a ratio of 1 1/4-to-1 1/2 inches for each foot of roof
line; for example, a 24-foot barn needs a 36-inch-square
Site your barn carefully. A hallmark of many American farms is
that outbuildings are all placed exactly on the square, with walls
at right angles or parallel to each other, Berg says. That neatness
and symmetry is naturally appealing to the eye. If you want to vary
from this, try not to put your barn too far away from your house or
it won't be convenient, but don't upstage your house with the barn,
either. Also, be sure to place your barn in convenient conjunction
with drives, walkways and other outbuildings, and keep nature in
mind by allowing for the growth of trees and the direction of water
runoff on your property. Last but not least, don't forget to
evaluate what you're doing to your view.
Build your Own
Experts say that you can save half the cost of a pole barn by
doing the work yourself. If you have some building skills, you'll
find a pole barn is a good place to hone them because you don't
need every detail cosmetically perfect.
Wallin says that, unless you have experience in construction,
you will probably appreciate the help of a professional to build
the foundation and shell of the barn, both of which are fairly
major undertakings. Kits are available from several companies; you
can build one yourself or hire a local builder.
Another option is to hire a builder who specializes in timber
framing and who will be able to get trees milled locally into
lumber for the project. That was the approach taken by Mark Cain of
Huntsville, Ark., who needed a barn for his flower and blueberry
farm. He hired a local timber framer and a neighbor with a sawmill,
and they found enough big trees on his land to mill into the huge
timbers for the barn's frame, plus boards for the board-and-batten
siding. Then, Mark staged an old-fashioned barn raising with 30
people present to raise the first-floor timbers on his
24-by-48-foot, two-story barn.
Wind vents on the roof of this 1833 corn barn, built near
Bernardston, Mass., were to prevent the roof from blowing off; the
plan originated in England, where America's high winds were widely
Hiring a Builder
If you decide to use a builder, choose carefully. Get
recommendations from other people who have hired barn builders, and
then contact two or three, and ask them to bid on your project.
Builders who specialize in truss-roof metal buildings are certainly
capable of building a custom barn. You may be surprised at the wide
range of styles and custom design services available from national
barn companies that are best known for their metal pole barns.
When you ask for bids on your building, be specific about
materials and request that all siding, roofing, windows and doors
be described. If possible, go to the building-supply yard yourself
to approve the materials the builder has quoted. Be sure the
builder specifies how long it will take to build your barn,
including a reasonable completion date. Be as specific as you can
when going out to bid; you don't want to discover a
miscommunication when the building is halfway built — that leads to
cost overruns and bad feelings.
That brings us to the question that is probably foremost in your
mind: How much will a new barn cost?
That's a hard one to answer, because so many variables, from
location to materials, affect construction costs. If you want to
build a barn at your rocky mountainside retreat in Colorado, you
could easily spend as much for site preparation as someone else
spends on an entire barn built on a rolling Iowa meadow. Still,
most people find ballpark figures more helpful than no-park
figures, so consider these barn-building examples:
Wallin says one of his 1,872 square-foot barn designs was built
in 2003 for a materials cost of $18,000, or about $10 per square
foot, which is a typical cost for other barns he's built. Double
that if you hire a builder.
Berg says his barns cost on average $25 per square foot of
ground-floor space (not including the loft) if built by a
The barn we built last year cost $19,500 for a 768-square-foot
footprint, or about $25 per square foot. Add in the storage space
in the loft, and the cost drops to about $16 per square foot.
Cain figures his barn, which is almost 2,300 square feet
(including the second floor), cost about $20,000, or less than $9
per square foot. He cut costs by using his own trees for timbers
and siding; allowing timber framers to use his barn as a
demonstration project, which reduced his labor costs; and having
friends over for the barn raising.
Building a barn on your property doesn't have to be expensive or
difficult. And when you think of the benefits — beauty, increased
property value, functional work space and recreating a piece of
American history — planning your barn can be a great investment
along with just plain fun.
Excerpted from Keep Backyard Chickens With
Class in MOTHER'S Mini-coop
by Steve Maxwell, Mother Earth
There are so many good reasons to keep chickens that even city
folks really should have a few birds. But too many backyard chicken
operations look like something plucked out of a John Steinbeck
novel, and that's a stumbling block for many. While the
chicken-shack lifestyle is fine for some folks, the cause of
sustainable, small-scale food production will never make serious
headway unless it is presented with a touch of class and style.
That's the goal of MOTHER'S mini-coop, which makes it easy to keep
a few hens even in the fanciest neighborhood or smallest back
Our design team sought the advice of several poultry experts in
our quest to come up with a coop design that keeps the birds safe
and productive, makes daily care as easy as possible, and looks
good enough to park on a front lawn in town. The mini-coop keeps
the birds safely fenced in, but can be easily moved around the yard
and garden by just one person, so the birds can feed on fresh grass
and bugs as much of the year as possible. The sheltered coop area
is about 4x4-feet a perfect bedroom for three or four hens. The
attached chicken yard is 4x5-feet, or you could make it longer if
you want to.
MOTHER's mini-coop is a great project for kids. It's easy for
children to help build the unit, then take complete responsibility
for overseeing the egg production, giving them valuable, hands-on
experience. You can even slip the coop into the back of a pickup
truck — chickens and all — and take it to schools for
demonstrations. We predict your local schools will be glad to host
READ THE FULL STORY
Excerpted from Backyard Shed
Vivian, Mother Earth News
Here's an easy-to-follow set of shed
directions that anyone can use.
Summer's getting long in the tooth; rain is scarce and leaves
are beginning to show color. The family vacation is over—if not
paid for—the garden is tending itself, the fish have quit biting,
and pro football hasn't yet kicked off. Weekends drag ... it's time
to find something to get you out of the house. What better project
than building a shed to store your gear?
In just such circumstances some years back, I responded to a
magazine ad for a plan set that promised a pretty shed 'anyone
could build.' But the plan proved to be nothing but a single sheet
of paper with a crude drawing, a materials list written in
shorthand, and instructions that began 'Anchor sole plate ...'
What's a sole plate? Don't ask me — the plan didn't say.
As luck would have it, our little country town took up recycling
that year and I got to carry boards for a carpenter as he built us
an open-fronted recycling shed. I still have a mind's-eye picture
of him with his deliberate but steady pace, measuring twice,
cutting once, and then setting nails with a whack. Thus instructed,
I built a scaled-down version of the recycling shed, closed in the
front, and made a woodplank door and sliding window. You can use
this shed to store garden tools or wood, to garage your lawn
tractor and attachments, to house a few goats, sheep, or chickens,
or for a combination of uses. (Just be sure to put a dust-proof
partition between the laying hens and your work or storage
The shed is a few inches short of 16' long, 8' high and deep.
It's designed for mistake-proof construction, using economical,
standard-size materials. But it is made to last, with ground-facing
floor beams of pressure-treated lumber to resist decay and insect
damage, and a frame more closely spaced than you'll find in many
new homes. The siding is T-1-11 plywood, which is weather-proofed
and grooved on one side to simulate barn boards.
Excerpted from A Timber-Frame Woodshed from Vermont High
by John Vivian, Mother Earth News
Build a woodshed that will last 200
The woodsheds that help make the evenings glow and crackle must
be filled by local woodsmen as fast as they are emptied by
vacationers, and they are marvelously designed for the use. The
best have full-open fronts for easy access, no floors to trip over
or low roofs to bump a head on. They are not so deep that either
loader or unloader has to step in more than one pace. Roofs are
steep enough in back to shed the heaviest snowfall and have a front
overhang that is so sharply-pitched it will never collect snow to
avalanche off and dump down the back of a wood gatherer's neck ...
and that juts out just far enough to keep rain or snow off the
Here is how to build your own Vermont-ski-country woodshed.
Dimensions and materials are given for 1 1/2-, 2-, 3-, and 4-cord
capacities. When empty in the summer, any size can serve to store
the garden tools or mower. Add a folding shelf in back and use it
as a potting shed. Or, add a floor, frame and close in the front,
cut door and window openings and you have a garden house, work shed
or playhouse for the kids.
Excerpted from Mother's Bioshelter Greenhouse
by the Mother
Earth News Editors, Mother Earth News
This quality greenhouse uses both solar and
compost heat. It even houses chickens and rabbits!
Our new greenhouse does so many different things that it's been
difficult to figure out what to call it. Naming it by its separate
functions could lead to a conglomeration such as this:
compost-heat- and active-solar-heat-augmented, photovoltaic,
earth-bermed, plant propagation and production rabbit hutch/chicken
coop/terraced growing bed/runway greenhouse system. See what we
mean? Let's compromise and use a term coined by the New Alchemy
Institute — bioshelter.
The design of the structure was conceived in an attempt to get
as many quality uses as possible out of one building by integrating
it with its living occupants wherever possible. The goal, however,
isn't so much to see how many interactions of plant, animal, and
building we can create as it is to develop the most effective ones.
For example, in the back of the bioshelter is a small room where
chickens and rabbits can come in out of the weather. The solar
input helps keep the critters warm, while the animals themselves
add their body heat to the building. More important, the structure
of their home adds to the overall mass of the greenhouse. The fully
bermed masonry walls help to stabilize interior temperature. All
these factors (and more) work together to create a beneficial
Despite the attention paid to creature comfort, the bioshelter
is still primarily intended for plant production. And the key to
getting the most from the greenhouse beds is to keep soil
temperature up — preferably in the 80°F range. (Up to a point,
plants double their growth rate for each 10°F rise in soil
temperature.) Air temperature is less important as long as it's
high enough to prevent leaves from freezing. Consequently, our
growing beds are heavily insulated on the sides, and the 10' of
medium in each rests on a layer of rock through which warm air can
be circulated. The areas under the beds are sealed but are
accessible through hatches that allow us to experiment with several
different supplemental heating methods, and we've borrowed ideas
from a few other research organizations to pump warmth from these
chambers into the soil.
First, we've taken a lesson from Rodale Press's Residential
Passive Solar Greenhouse and are picking up hot air from the
ceiling and distributing it below the beds. A squirrel-cage blower
powered by a Solarex photovoltaic panel hooked to a battery moves
the air around. The fan takes orders from a blower control
thermostat that switches it on when the temperature at the peak
reaches 85° F and from a heating thermostat that turns it back off
when the temperature drops to 75° F. There's also a manual override
switch we use to force air into the compost piles when necessary
for maintaining decomposition.
Rodale's greenhouse has rock under the beds to offer mass for
heat storage; a system that seems to work quite well. However,
we've followed the lead of the Biothermal Energy Center (P.O. Box
3112, Portland, ME 04101) and the New Alchemy Institute and are
composting various mixtures of organic matter in the bins beneath
our beds. Though this technique is still in the experimental stage,
it does have a number of both already-demonstrated and still
theoretical benefits. The most obvious plus is that decomposing
organic matter produces a great deal of heat: Our compost piles
have reached 180° F and have maintained 160° F for more than a week
at a time. Furthermore, the same material also yields moisture,
carbon dioxide, and nutrients, which rise through the rocks and
into the growing medium. These benefits are at least as effective
as the heat input in increasing plant growth rate, but further
experimentation is needed to determine the optimum mix of organic
matter in the compost piles themselves.