Do-it-yourself projects and plans for anyone who can swing a hammer.

How to Make a DIY Water Filtration System Using Sand or Gravel

Green Cup In Stream Water

Water is something most people take for granted because it's so easy to turn on the faucet and fill a glass with the cool, pure liquid. But, there are times when access to clean drinking water is not so straightforward.

In those cases, it's handy to know how to make a water filtration system.

When Might You Need or Want a DIY Water Filtration System?

If you're trying to survive in dire circumstances and the only nearby source of water is a stream or lake, a DIY water filtration system could help you stay hydrated without also consuming dirt.

Many people in developing countries learn to build water filtration systems so they can avoid illnesses, although they use a more detailed method than the one covered below. It removes contaminants as well as filtering out debris. The one you'll learn about below only does the latter.

You may also want to create a water filtration system at home as a project to educate your curious kids and go into depth about how important it is to drink clean water and how even if a water source appears clean, looks can be deceiving.

The kind of water filtration system explained below doesn't require a substantial investment. It uses easily well-known materials, like sand and gravel, to filter out things like mud. Charcoal is perhaps the most crucial ingredient for removing any stuff you don't want to drink, and most traditional water filters contain it. Let's get started.

1. Cut the Bottom off a Small Plastic Water Bottle

Begin by finding a plastic water bottle, like a Gatorade container, and cut about a half-inch off, working from the bottom of the bottle up.

As a point of reference, the neck of the bottle will be the bottom of the filter, and the part with the opening you created is the top. Keep the plastic cap on the top end of the bottle. Some methods of making this kind of filtration system advise making a hole in the bottle's cap with a screwdriver.

2. Insert a Cloth Filter

The next step is to stuff a soft filter into the bottle and push it toward the neck. A bandana works well as a filter, and it's a readily found item. Alternatively, you could use several cotton balls or a coffee filter.

3. Rinse the Filtering Materials

Before you start adding substances to the bottle that act as filters, rinse all of them thoroughly. Doing this should mean the first portion of water passing through should have less debris than if you used unwashed materials.

Many traditional water filtering methods you see today rely on special kinds of membranes made from a polymer called PTFE — or, its full name, polytetrafluoroethylene. However, for our purposes of DIYing a water filter system, you’ll want to use more natural materials like sand and gravel or small rocks. Hence, rinsing off these filtering materials is an important step in creating a clean water filter.

3. Prepare the Charcoal

Get another piece of cloth and use it to spread out your charcoal. If you have charcoal from a grill or fire pit, that's a good source.

Make sure to break the charcoal into small chunks, using an object like a large rock to crush it if needed. After working with the charcoal to make it the desired size, wrap the cloth around the substance tightly. Finally, slide it into the bottle against the first piece of cloth.

4. Add Playground Sand

From here, creating your DIY water filtration system means adding more gravel to assist with the purification. You'll start with the finest material and add layers of progressively coarser stuff. Put playground sand directly on top of the charcoal layer. You don't need to wrap it in a cloth before pouring in the bottle, but add enough to fully cover the cloth.

5. Put in Paver Sand

Paver sand — also called polymeric sand — comprises the next layer. When running it through your hands, you'll notice it's more likely to have small stones in it that the playground sand didn't have.

6. Add the Gravel or Small Rocks

The final two layers of this filter are fine gravel and coarser gravel. Depending on your area, you may find it in nature. Due to the modest diameter of the plastic bottle, you shouldn't need more than a couple of handfuls, equaling an inch or two of coverage.

7. Secure the Contents

You've now added everything to the filtration system, and it's time to make sure all your hard work doesn't go to waste. Get another piece of cloth and stretch it tightly over the bottom of the bottle. Keep the soft material in place with a rubber band or a cable tie.

8. Pass the Water Through the Filter

You're finally ready to start seeing the fruits of your labor. Hold your filter over an empty cup and take off the cap. Then, pour water on top of and through the filter and wait for it to come through the neck of the bottle and into the cup. This is one type of portable water filter that's good to take when you go backpacking.

It's Easy to Filter Your Water at Home

These steps demonstrate it's not as challenging as some people think to filter water at home or wherever they are. Keep in mind, though, that you still need to use water purification tablets to make the water potable.

Kayla Matthews writes and blogs about healthy living, sustainable consumption, eco-friendly practices and green energy. In the past, her work has also been featured on GRIT, Mother Earth Living, Blue And Green Tomorrow, Dwell and Houzz. To read more from Kayla, follow her productivity and lifestyle blog: Productivity Theory. Read all of Kayla's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

How to Make a Bone Needle

single bone needle

A single bone needle lays on a hair-on deer hide. The needles are sturdy enough to use with a thick hide like this. Photo by Fala Burnette (Wolf Branch Homestead)

Picture in your mind a recently taken deer from a hunt, and think about nothing else but the legs of the deer. What is your first thought, when you think of what to do with them after you've processed the meat? For most people, these are considered a waste product, just like the hides or heads. However, there are many different things that can be harvested, or made with, a single deer leg (excluding the meat). The legs can be used for a gun rack, the hide can be removed and tanned, sinew can be cut from the back of the leg, the hooves can be pulled off, and the bone itself can be used for a variety of other projects. For now, I will discuss the leg bone itself, and a very interesting way you can put it to good use.

During the process of making a deer hide arrow quiver for my husband, I was presented with an issue while stitching it together. A hide with hair on is very thick, and the leather needle I was using continuously bent while trying to sew it together. Having punched holes into it prior to this with an awl, I still had a difficult time maneuvering needles through those holes. It was then that I reached for something I had made only a few days prior- a bone needle. It was the first one I had ever made, very wide towards the eye end (similar to a nalbinding needle). Where the store-bought needle for use on thick leathers had failed, this handmade bone needle succeeded greatly, and I was able to finish the quiver and present this to my husband shortly after.

Bone has been long used in tool making, though not as prevalent today. For this particular craft I prefer to use the leg bones of deer, as they are straight and sturdy, yet small enough to manage. While primitive and modern techniques are listed, you can choose to combine the methods to best suit you. First, be prepared with a cleaned and thoroughly dried leg bone. It isn't necessary to bleach the bone, as the wearing down to its surface will whiten it significantly.

Safety Notes: We recommend using protective eye-wear for the splitting of the bone, a respirator mask for the sanding and shaping (it creates quite a dust), and gloves to prevent your fingers from being scratched while sanding as well. Please also make sure to dispose of or properly store all shards of bone, so that pets will not swallow them and children cannot get a hold of them either.

bone and needle on sandstone

Laying on a piece of sandstone used for shaping, the transition from leg bone to needle is shown. A whole bone is split to become a rough piece, which is then shaped carefully into a needle. Photo by Fala Burnette (Wolf Branch Homestead)


If you'd be willing to invest time and hard work into making a bone needle the primitive way, start with your bone set onto a semi-even surface such as a stump or flattened rock. We use the same piece of sandstone to split the bone that we use to shape it, as the top of it is fairly even.

The piece you'll really want to use on this bone is the sides, as they are fairly straight and not as curved. There are indented sections on the back of the leg bone, which you will use to split it so that you can keep those large, flat segments on the side. There are a variety of ways to split this, but I will discuss using only a stone. You will need to find a small rock with some weight to it, and for a better chance of success at splitting the bone correctly, you will need to find one that is narrow with rounded edges (it will fit into that groove you are trying to split). Have a firm grip on the bone with one hand, and pound into the groove with the rock using your other hand. It will take a great bit of force to get the bone to crack, so please use caution.

I highly recommend using natural, rough sandstone to shape the needle, however other rocks such as quartz are great to use as well. We source our rocks from the natural branch on our land, where these types of rocks are usually found in or near the water. You'll want to find a stone that sits flat and won't shift as you apply pressure to the top of it. Look for a stone that has a coarse, yet semi-flat top side as well if you can, as this will help the needle shape evenly. In your shaping process, make sure that the flat sides of your bone needle are not too thin (you do not want to be able to see through the bone, as this will mean it is too brittle to use). This is a labor intensive process, and can take sometimes two hours or more to shape one piece of bone.

When your needle has been shaped to your satisfaction, another time consuming task is at hand to finish it. You will need a bow drill (constructed a bit differently than those you see today for fire-making) to make the hole for your needle's eye. To see how your bow drill should look, use images of Alaskan Native bow drills for reference. These bow drills were set up to put holes in bone and ivory, with a very fine point to them made from a variety of different materials. Save the sinew from the back of the leg early on, and use this to make a strand of cordage that loops through the eye when not using the needle. Having your needle with a cord like this will help you keep up with it much easier.


This section is a little easier to describe, as it will take considerably less time. In the same way, have your bone set onto a flat surface. Remember that while you are targeting a specific, flattened area of the bone, other pieces can still be evened down. Use a small chisel and hammer in the groove mentioned before to split the bone, carefully tapping the chisel. With either method, you will be left with a multitude of widths and lengths in your bone pieces, so use your best judgement in finding a piece that you want to work with. For the shaping process, use a stationary benchtop belt sander. Be very careful and apply gentle pressure while using the sander, not only for the sake of your fingers but to also prevent the bone from splitting.

Once you have the bone to your desired shape, use a sturdy twist drill bit to make a hole for the eye. It's important to have a good quality bit that won't bend, and to also make sure you have the bit centered. It will take some pressure to get the hole going, but do not push down too hard, as thinner pieces of bone will be most likely to break here. You may also choose to use a handheld rotary tool if you have one for this step. Similarly to the primitive method of making your bone needle, I suggest threading a piece of twine through the eye when you are not using it. Hanging the needle can prevent it from becoming lost in your workshop, or if you do have a sewing/leathercrafting kit, store it with your other needles.

group of bone needles

A group of differently sized bone needles. Photo by Fala Burnette (Wolf Branch Homestead)

The next time you hunt and process the deer, make sure to save the legs for this unique project. If you are not a hunter yourself, have a friend or family member save them for you the next time they make a kill. I suggest having all four legs, and saving all of your pieces, just in case one needle breaks during the process or during later use. Again, remember that these methods can be modified and combined for your ease. The process of making your own bone needle will be well worth it once you've used it, and the time invested should feel very rewarding in the end while you admire your handiwork.

Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They are currently building their own log cabin and milling their own lumber, along with raising heirloom crops in the Spring and tanning furs during the Winter. Read all of Fala's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Work With Your Hands, Build A Community

granny square crochet 

Some time ago, I realized I'm addicted to my phone. I would whip it out and check my email or social media... only to remember that I have already done this three minutes ago. I was bored and restless, and my attention span was rapidly shrinking. I could no longer concentrate on a good book or enjoy nature. I was twitchy and stressed. 

Catching myself in time, I decided to do something about this. I decided to keep my phone in my bag when sitting at the park with my kids or waiting for an appointment. To keep my hands busy, I took up crocheting again. I used to crochet a lot, but somehow I never seemed to have the time anymore. Well, it turns out you can do a lot in those odd minutes here and there, instead of watching another cat video!

The satisfaction of working with my hands again was tremendous. I suddenly felt myself returning to a different, calmer, saner mode. My children enjoyed watching me work. My oldest daughter started learning to crochet as well. And there were other unexpected benefits. 

When you are knitting, sewing, crocheting, felting, spinning, or doing any other traditional handiwork, you don't become detached like you do when staring at a screen. You engage with the world around you, and signal that you are grounded and unhurried. The peaceful, interesting activity invites conversation and serves as a wonderful icebreaker. 

Almost every time I crochet in public, someone looks on and says, "I'd love to learn how to do that!" or "I used to crochet/knit, but have somehow dropped it" or "this reminds me of a lovely blanket someone once made for my baby". I have been blessed to make new friendships and get on speaking terms with people I only knew by sight, such as the receptionist at the doctor's and the caretaker at the local play center. Sometimes the conversation engrosses me so much that I forget all about my work, but never mind - I can always go on another time. I'm forming relationships in our new community, which is priceless. 

A little girl remarked to me not long ago that "she has only ever seen grannies knit." I think, however, that despite the lure of modern gadgetry, more and more people are discovering the pleasure and satisfaction of working with their hands, and creating something beautiful and useful. The artisan crafts, once common in every household, deserve a comeback. Working with fabric, yarn, wood, clay, etc, helps on the road to self-sufficiency, promotes mental health and helps forge personal connections. 

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna, her husband and their four children live on the outskirts of a small town in northern Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Author PageConnect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blogRead all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

7 Unique DIY Projects for Essential Oils

Essential Oils Example

It's no secret that essential oils are gaining attention. Essential oils are great for use in the home, as well as unique and meaningful gifts. They're all over the internet, and they're even getting popular in beauty and wellness products. Essential oils have been around a long time, but lately they're making such an impact that people are finding all kinds of ways to use them in crafts and daily life.

Create Your Own Oil

There's a huge variety of Young Living Essential Oils available to choose from, and while there are existing oil blends, sometimes it's fun to experiment! Grab some of your favorite base scents like lavender, lemon, or patchouli and put them together your way. You'd be surprised how many wonderful combinations you can come up with!

Essential Oil Diffuser Necklace

Diffuser necklaces are great crafts for both adults and children. You can even make them in a group and show off your creative designs! They're great for therapy jewelry, and they're easy to make. A few drops of essential oil goes a long way and might even last you all day.

One of a Kind Cleaning Products

>Some essential oils, like lavender and lemon, have natural sanitizing properties, which makes them perfect for creating your own cleaning products for your home. They're super easy to make, and you can use all kinds of different mixes to use in your kitchen, bathroom, or anywhere you like!

Scented Body Lotion

Essential oils have wonderful aromatherapy properties to relax or energize you. What better way to experience the benefits than to moisturize your skin at the same time? Plus, you can get way more creative making your own lotions than any of the ones you'll find in a store.

Refreshing Room Spray

Who doesn't want to add a little freshness to a room? Customize your own scent with essential oil blends or choose one scent to brighten your room. Room sprays are great to keep in your bathroom, or even by your bed to spray around the room before you go to sleep. Lavender, while it's already great for cleaning, is also good for helping you relax and get to sleep. Not to mention, homemade room sprays are a great way to reuse those empty spray bottles.

Potpourri Packages

These are super easy to make, and not only can you choose your own oils, but you can add a bunch of different ingredients that will make your home smell great. Potpourri jars make for unique and thoughtful gifts, as well as fun group projects. You can de-stress while you make them and keep the effects going long after you've put them all together!

Essential Oil Candles

These easy to make candles will help brighten up your home! With few ingredients, you can experiment and make candles in all shapes and sizes from mason jars to tea lights. Adjust the amount of essential oil you add depending on the amount of fragrance you want. If you want to add a little extra touch to your project, try decorating the outside of the container. Give your projects as personalized gifts (great for teachers or bosses) or keep them to add a homemade touch to any room!

Essential oils are a fantastic way to add some personality to your home and show off your creative skills to friends and family. These ideas can get you started with using essential oils in your daily life, and they're totally open for you to add your own touch and experiment with fragrances you like. With these projects, you can bring everyone together to create memories. Make something new and lasting to share and treat yourself at the same time!

Photo credit: Pexels

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Low- (or Zero-) Budget Shelter for a Stray Cat

Front view of cat shelter

When winter cold arrives, stray cats need a place to stay warm too. We have a stray cat with an injury hanging around our place. He or she won’t let us get close to it to treat it’s limp so we provide a meal a day and a warm place to sleep. But how to do that on a budget?

One solution came to us from a couple who also care for a stray cat. They built a double wall house by nesting two plastic storage containers, one inside the other, with straw for insulation between the walls. The lids were tied closed with cable ties to keep everything in place. A hole cut through the double wall allows the cat in and out. I thought that was a good idea but I didn’t want to spend the money on two storage containers so we repurposed a damaged ice chest. Cutting a hole through the wall at one end was easy with a reciprocating saw.

To make it a little more comfortable on those sub-zero nights, we put some loose straw inside. Opening the lid makes cleaning easy.

Top view of cat shelter

Bob Post is a mechanical engineer working in the waste-to-energy field. By day, he designs process machinery. By night, he is a recycler, composter, gardener and inventor. He contributed to the book How to Build, Maintain and Use a Compost System. Read all of Bob’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Salvaging Urban Wood with a Portable Sawmill

The Wood Cycle lumber company

Perhaps no sector of the wood products industry is more environmentally significant than the recovery and utilization of urban sourced timber. Equally, much of the recovered urban wood would not be salvageable without the availability of portable sawmills like the Wood-Mizer LT40 Super Hydraulic owned and operated by Paul Morrison’s business The Wood Cycle of Wisconsin.

An engineer and technical writer, Paul says he didn’t intend to start a full-time operation when he purchased his first Wood-Mizer in 1994. “My business, like many, was a hobby that spun out of control,” Paul explains. “I purchased a used Wood-Mizer to saw lumber to support my woodworking hobby and soon learned sawing lumber was as fun as making the finished products. The lumber piles grew, so I started doing side projects and soon found myself going to my boss to tell him I would not be there much longer.”

 Home with custom wood interior

Fifteen years later, The Wood Cycle employs six people and produces hardwood lumber, custom furniture, cabinetry, millwork, artwork, and other products from logs recovered from small lots, street trees, yards, and other urban areas. “Finding logs to work from was never a challenge,” Paul says. “As a society we are strongly connected to the trees in our yards, from our family farms and the places we frequent. I built my business plan around preserving those memories by turning those trees into useful objects as the trees needed to come down.” Also, Paul continues, “In recent years, local has become the new marketing buzzword, and it plays perfectly into where we are positioned.”

Custom wood entertainment center

“The challenge in starting a business was not the sawing, but the side of building the business. As a technician myself, the marketing and business aspects of woodworking was more of a learning curve,” Paul remembers. “I suspect this is the weak point of most people starting a wood business, especially since we are more accustomed to making things we want rather than buying them. The real question is ‘What is that made thing worth to the person who buys things?’ It is this buyer who determines the market value. My biggest business error was taking too many years to learn this.”

Custom walnut dining table

The original sawmill has since been upgraded to an LT40 Super Hydraulic for its increased production capabilities and, Paul says, “We added a dehumidification kiln over the solar kiln so we could better control the drying process and to assure we heat sterilize the wood of any insects. I felt this was critical when we began selling wood instead of just supplying our own needs. Furthermore, due to the nature of working with urban logs, we hit plenty of nails and other interesting objects. So we probably use our sharpener more than some sawyers would need, but the price and quality of Wood-Mizer DoubleHard blades is a great fit for us.”

Wood-Mizer LT40 portable sawmill

Custom wooden cabinets in kitchen

Paul says he is satisfied with the size of his business and is now directing his passion towards growing public awareness of the value of urban wood. “If I continue growing I will no longer get to play with the wood myself, and that is not why I quit the day job,” he says. “Instead, I am looking at ways in which we can grow this urban wood marketing concept.” Toward that end, Paul recently completed a book describing and defining the growing urban woodworking industry. “The farm to table movement is hopping,” said Paul. “People fully understand the concept and value of buying local. ‘Tree to Table; Emergence of the Urban Wood Movement’ is aimed at helping this audience understand those same local options are increasingly available from sawyers and craftsmen in their area, possibly working from their own trees."

Custom wooden dresser

Wood-Mizer, founded in 1982, is the leading manufacturer of portable band sawmills and offers an extensive line of portable and industrial mills, blades, resaws, and edgers covering a wide range of cutting capabilities. The company has sold more than 50,000 sawmills worldwide. For more information about Wood-Mizer Products, call 800.553.0182 or visit

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Ways To Use Up Yarn Scraps

scrap yarn stash

If you are an avid knitter or crocheter like I am, you will inevitably at some point end up with a stash of scrap yarn, left over from various projects, which you cannot bear to throw away. Fear not, however - those little odds and ends can be used in a variety of creative ways which will leave your craft cabinet looking a lot more orderly. 

The obvious way to use small quantities of yarn would be to make little things like dishcloths, pot holders, doilies, baby booties and hats, but sometimes you don't even have enough yarn of one kind for that. So what next?

Dolls and doll clothes - There are lots of cute patterns online for adorable tiny dolls that the children in your life will love. You can also make clothes for old beloved dolls. 

Pompoms and tassels - Nothing can be easier than making a pompom. Just wind your yarn around your fingers (or an assistant's fingers - one of my kids is always happy to volunteer for this) until you have a thick full yarn ring. Gently slip the yarn ring off, tie in the middle with a bit of same yarn, cut the edges, trim and fluff.

Gift wrapping - Bow-tied pieces of yarn go great with rustic-style paper packaging and handmade gifts such as natural body care products, spice blend bags, or mason jars full of baked goodies. 

Bookmarks - A knitted or crocheted bookmark is a thoughtful, personal gift that can be whipped up in a flash. It's basically just a long rectangle made in any pattern you like. 

Hair bands - Knitted or crocheted hair bands are an accessory that will add a touch of individuality to the plainest outfit. Bonus points if you make them to match your favorite sweater. 

Crocheted flowers - These are super quick and easy to make, take up very little yarn, and can be used to decorate pretty much anything, such as hats, hair accessories, bags, and clothes. There are many beautiful patterns online which you will never get tired of making (I always add new ones to my Pinterest board to try later).

Pincushions - These can be made in a variety of shapes and stuffed with extra bits of scrap yarn. 

Colorful collage - Use yarn scraps for a quiet, low-mess activity with your kids. All you need is a piece of art paper, glue stick, and yarn. Create shapes with glue, stick yarn onto them, and display the artwork. This is great for really tiny scraps that you can't think of using in any other way. 

Yarn leftovers are perfect for exercising your inner artist and having fun. I sometimes find that I look forward to using up my scrap stash almost more than working on a big project, and challenge myself to put it all to use before I buy any new yarn.

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna, her husband and their four children live on the outskirts of a small town in northern Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Author PageConnect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blogRead all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

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