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


Build a Wall-Mounted Wooden Rack for Easy Canned Goods Rotation

 

I tend to keep six months’ worth of food in my house. After being put to the test by a 60-day shelter-in-place order in response to the global pandemic, this supply has proved to be useful. Finally, on Day 60 of the order, I went shopping for four families and restocked my canned goods.

I realized a problem in how I used to store my cans: Stacked up on the floor or on the shelf was not conducive to proper rotation. I found cans that had “best used by” date of 5 years ago.

Because I had plenty of “free” time, I designed and built a wall-mounted can slider that easily dispenses the older cans first out the bottom.

Although I tried to make one that any can could fit in, it was next to impossible so I have made multiple sizes.  I am very proud of the final design, especially because me and wood don't always get along.

The project required quite a few days to get it like I wanted.  I put in a lot of testing — taking the racks apart and building them again — before I had what I think is a good design. I did learn that I have to pre-drill every hole to keep that thin wood from splitting when screwing together and to use tiny in diameter, 2-inch-long trim screws.

I used oak, poplar, and pine precut lumber. The sides are pine 1-by-4s and the rest are 1-by-2s. The sides are made from the cheaper pine and are as wide as the can is tall. I actually have three sizes of cans: Two of them are for milks — evaporated and condensed milk cans are much smaller in height than a standard can. I did have to make the pull-out slot bigger for the cans of fruit, as the cans are bigger in diameter. I used poplar wood for the holders in front and oak for the bottom where all the weight of the can is resting on it.

The trickiest part after putting the angle piece to slide the can towards the front is positioning the little piece of oak keeping the can from sliding out but still easy enough to pull the can out.

After adding the little shelves on the front for the miscellaneous cans, I ended up being able to fit 160 cans in a previously unused section of my kitchen.

Aur Beck, “DaEnergyMon”, is a NABCEP-Certified Solar PV Installer with AES Solar who has lived completely off-grid for over 35 years. He can be reached at tech@AESsolar.com . He has traveled with his family through 24 states and 14,000 recorded miles by horse-drawn wagon. Aur is a presenter at The Climate Reality Project, a fellow addict at Oil Addicts Anonymous International  and a talk show co-host at WDBX Community Radio for Southern Illinois 91.1 FM. Find him on the Living Off Grid, Really!?!? Facebook page, and read all of Aur's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Build a Thermosiphon Solar-Heated Shower System

Solar panel and water tank. Photos by Kyle Chandler-Isacksen and Be the Change Project

A few years back, a friend donated a Sunvelope solar hot water panel. We were just about to expand our greenhouse, so the timing was perfect to incorporate a solar shower.

The system is pretty basic with a panel mounted south and tilted to catch more rays just outside of our greenhouse and an old water heater tank positioned higher than the panel. Ours is a thermosiphon: Water circulates simply because of temperature differences with no need for electricity. It is also not plumbed to our house water source but instead is an isolated system, which we have to fill after about seven showers (more on that below).

How to Build a DIY Solar Hot Water Heater

Used water heaters can be found on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, no problem. It doesn’t matter if they work or not — just make sure they have no leaks. The heater has a cold and hot water port and a drain. For our purposes, it didn’t matter which port we used, because the water will circulate throughout the tank and to and from the panel.

I ran ½-inch PEX tubing from the high end of the panel (the hot-water outlet) to the tank and then from the tank back to the panel on its low end (intake). Before it cycles back to the panel, however, I put a “T” in the line and ran that into our greenhouse shower with ¾-inch PEX. I think I just happened to have ¾ laying around or I would have just used ½-inch throughout.

I both painted the PEX and covered some of it with a plastic pipe cover to prevent breakdown in the sun. I also tilted the panel forward a bit so that the outlet is lower than the inlet, which gives us a little more water to use before we have to fill it again.

At the bottom of the tank, I put another “T” before the intake and attached a short line to a valve. When we need to fill the tank back up, I just hook our hose to it and open the valve and fill it up from our outdoor hydrant. This valve also allows for easy draining of the system in the winter.  If you’ve never worked with PEX before, it has revolutionized DIY plumbing. It is so easy these days to connect and crimp and run lines wherever you need them with very little skill or knowledge.

Maintain and Use a Simple Solar Hot Water Heater

It’s wonderful to shower in our Nevada greenhouse, as the air is warm and humid and the water we use in the shower helps grow our plants. This year, we took our first outdoor shower in March during a warm week and generally use it into November.

In high summer, I cover half the panel with plywood to prevent it from getting too hot, because I don’t temper the water (mix the hot with another source of cold water). I could figure that out, but this it just so simple and easy that I’ve never felt that ambitious. During those hottest days, we generally take showers at the end of the day or in early evening when the solar panel is not heating so much, so the overall water temp is lower. It’s another way our appropriate technologies help us stay in tune with and appreciative of seasonal changes.

The Sunvelope (which happen to be made in neighboring Sparks, Nevada) is a great panel that will not burst and freeze in the winter. I do drain the system when the cold weather sets in, though, to be sure the PEX, the tank, and any connections don’t bust.

Kyle Chandler-Isacksen is a tinkerer, natural builder, and community organizer in Reno, Nevada. He and his family run the Be the Change Project, a fossil fuel-, car-, and electricity-free urban homestead and learning space dedicated to service and simplicity and inspired by the principles of Gandhian Integral Nonviolence. They were honored as one of MOTHER’s Homesteaders of the Year in 2013. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Make a Two-Pocket Safety Goggle Pouch

Across the field, I can hear the churning of a tractor as a monk cuts silage to store for the cows’ winter feed. Off in the distance among the trees, I hear the hum of a chainsaw bucking logs as a couple of brothers gather wood to store for the toasty winter fires in the monks recreation room.

Beyond the lake, I hear the tapping of a hammer as a monk fashions a field gate into repair to protect the half-acre vegetable garden from the bear, deer, and the 30 cows the monks raise for beef. Just past the 50-year-old azaleas and roses, a smell of burning iron is wafting along the pathway as the final grinding and welding is done on a new iron gate.

Today is a beautiful day in May and the monks are busy working here and there on the lovely Abbey grounds.

A Solution to Protect Safety Goggles

When the monks at the Abbey need to cut wood, trim and mow grass, mend fences, and weld gates, they wear safety goggles to protect their eyes and ear plugs to protect their ears. Not too long ago, a brother asked for a pouch of sorts in which to store his safety goggles and ear plugs to protect them from scratches and getting lost.

After designing a pouch and presenting it to him, he showed the other brothers. I soon had orders for five more pouches, some of rip-stop nylon and some of cotton weave.

Sewing has been a part of my life since I made my first dress in a scout troop in fourth grade. I enjoy sewing and consider it a hobby I can do anywhere, being able to hand sew and machine sew. I mend my husband’s and my clothes and the monks’ cassocks as well.

I measured a pair of safety goggles for the size of pouch needed and estimated the area needed for a few pair of ear plugs. They requested to have some pouches made of rip-stop nylon in order to use out in the fields and possible inclement weather. Other pouches they asked me to make will be made of cotton weave to use while welding, as cotton will not melt when sparks from welding land on it. The following directions are my own design and are suitable for either the rip-stop nylon or the cotton weave.

How to Make a Nylon Pouch

Please refer to the photos for a better understanding of these cutting and sewing descriptions.

Cut four pieces of fabric, two 5-by-4 inches and two 5-by-8 inches. I always make the pouches multi-colored with one color on the top and one color on the bottom. This is both for a fun look and for quick identification of which end holds the goggles and which end holds the ear plugs.

The black tabs, which help gloved or cold hands to open the pouch, are 2.5 inches and each pouch needs four of these, two for each end. The strings, used to cinch the pouch shut, are 16 inches long. There are two strings at each end inserted in different directions, for a total of four strings that are 16 inches long each.

Use a half-inch seam unless otherwise indicated. With right sides together, sew a large piece of fabric to a small piece of fabric along the 5-inch edges.

To make the casing on each of the four edges, turn down three-quarters of an inch and sew ¼-inch along edge to complete the casing. If your fabric is cotton, or otherwise frays, turn under ¼-inch and then turn the ¾-inch to prevent fraying while in use.

To sew on the black tabs, fold a 2.5-inch strip in half. Place it on the right side of the fabric just below the casing in one of the corners. Sew to secure. Do this on all four corners of the right side of one side of the pouch.

Sew down the length of the sides, with right sides together. Start at the bottom of the casing. Do not sew through the casing ends, as that would cause the casing to be closed off and you would be unable to thread the cord through.

There is a seam between the small pouch and a large pouch. Sew a seam on the outside right on top of the seam which holds the two colors together. When you’re finished, you will have two pouches rather than one tube.

Feed the 16-inch small cord through the eye of a closed small safety pin, and then feed the safety pin through the casing.

Feed the cord through one end of the casing all the way until it comes out the other end of that section. Insert the cord into the adjacent section all the way to the end of that section. When you’re finished, both of the cord ends should be coming out the same side.

Adjust the cord ends so they are even. Knot the ends together. Do the same in the opposite direction on the same casings. This gives you the ability to pull the knots in opposite directions to close the pouch and then pull the tabs to re-open the pouch.

Mary Ann Reese has been a freelance writer for many years and is published in several magazines. She and her husband are Benedictine Oblate missionary volunteers at an abbey, where they serve with the seminarians and monks. Read all of Mary Ann’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.

 

Upcycling the Bundt Pan

bundt pan bird bath 

This bundt pan was turned into a bird bath/water station by simply placing it on top of one end of a log.

I knew it was time to retire the old bundt pan when a quarter of the baked pound cake finally stuck to the bottom of the pan. It had been through a good amount of baking projects, with many of them being this same exact pound cake recipe. Though I would no longer use the pan for baking, quite a few ideas popped into my mind on how to repurpose this into something once again useful, or decorative. Depending on the condition of the bundt pan, listed below are just a few ideas for crafting.

Please note that if the pan is so worn out that it is flaking on the inside, do not use this for projects where animals may ingest the flakes. If this is the case, simply stick to using it for non-animal related crafts/decoration only.

Critters

There are some interesting ways to repurpose that old cake pan into projects related to animals. Again, make sure that it is not flaking on the inside, as we don't want our critter friends to potentially ingest this. One idea that I first used was to turn the bundt mold into a feeder for our ducks. Our female eats much too quickly, and we decided to use this as a feeder similar to the way grooved, maze-like bowls are used to help dogs who eat too quickly. By portioning out her feed into this, we've found a new way to help slow down her eating. Some people even use these bundt pans to make their own wild game feed blocks, combining the ingredients and using this as a form for the block.

When looking into other upcycling projects, I noticed many other people had turned them into bird feeders. After drilling four holes in the upper corners of the pan, I ran twine through them and made a simple hanger so that our wild bird friends could enjoy it as their new place to find seed. Within minutes, the sparrows and cardinals were popping their heads out from the inside of the pan. However, this is definitely not squirrel proof, so note that they will enjoy turning this into their personal swing! It's possible to also use the pan as a mold for a birdseed block.

This is also one of the simplest bird baths (for smaller birds)/drinking stations you can provide. If you have the ability to, safely cut a log to the desired height and stand it on end, placing the filled water pan on the top side. The birds enjoy perching on the edge of this, and getting sips of fresh water, so make sure to keep it cleaned regularly. Remember, if you are a youngster reading this, make sure to have your parents handle any tools and always have their guidance when crafting.

bird feeder from bundt

A simple bird feeder made with a repurposed bundt pan.

Crafting

Living in the technological era that we do these days, it isn't hard to find a plethora of ideas on how to use household items in really unique crafts. This applies to the bundt pan, and searching something on the web similar to "bundt pan crafts" will not disappoint the DIY'er. A popular option is to paint the underside of the pan, if not already that color, and apply a little burlap ribbon to turn it into a wreath that looks like an apple or a pumpkin. Seasonal wreaths are a wonderful idea, and you can even have the kids help apply googly eyes and pipe cleaner to a brown pan to make it look like a reindeer for Christmas-time!

Another interesting project is to take the bundt pan and use it as a planter, filling with soil and planting small flowers or succulents inside. Perhaps you do not have any living plants to fill it with? This is a great opportunity to either place some artificial flowers inside, or even turn the pan into a flower itself! There are beautiful examples of how to paint the pan to look like a blooming, colorful flower and then place it on a green metal stand to provide garden decor.

While these are only a few ideas on upcycling that worn bundt pan, or inspiring you to look for one at the next yard sale, hopefully you will use your creativity to make something unique for your home. Remember to use safety whenever crafting, and if you're able, have fun making something together with your family. We would love you have you share with us some of the ways you've used one of these pans!

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.

Make a Bag Holder from an Old Feed Bag!

Completed feed bag turned into a grocery bag dispenser! 

I have a confession to make: I am a hoarder of empty feed bags. 

A couple of months ago someone was looking for some and I thought for a second that I would FINALLY be rid of the ??? number of bags I had stuffed into a corner of the feed shed. She changed her mind about said art project and I realized I needed to finally DO something with these.

So I’ve been brainstorming ideas for upcycling these sturdy feed bags… and wondering if I should have chosen my animal feed based on the exterior of the bags. WHY DID I GET YELLOW FEED!?! Yellow isn’t my favorite color. 

I’ve been using the "ugly" ones for garbage bags. They’re perfect bags for the garage as they’ll hold wood scraps, nails, screws, and pieces of wire without ripping the bag. 

For my first true project, I rigged a huge tarp to cover the end of our DIY chicken tractor. It took about nine bags and worked GREAT.

This is project #2. As I love the color blue and cute goat faces, it seemed like a good idea to make something decorative out of this goat feed bag. I LOVE making grocery bag holders from fabric so I decided to try making one with feed bags…. WITHOUT using elastic.

You’ll need:

Start by taking your feed bag and cutting the bottom off. I cut right below the photo of the goat.

Cutting bottom off feed bag

I cut up the sides and used only the front of the bag.

Cutting up the side of the feed bag.

I folded the bag in half with the white sides out.

I cut an angle at each side at the bottom. The opening wasn’t quite wide enough so I had to cut off a bit more later on. You want the bottom of the holder smaller than at the top... this keeps the bags from falling out. 

Cutting an angled bottom.

I sewed along the long edge and each diagonal.

Sewing along the side and diagonals.

I turned it all right sides out so you can see the goat face again. Then I folded over the top of the bag and the bottom of the bag. I sewed a straight stitch around to make the edge look finished. This was difficult… you can skip this if you want!

I cut a long piece of leftover feed bag to use for the strap. This is around 23 x 4”. 

I folded the edges like this and pressed them with my fingers.

Strap for bag holder.

Then I folded them in half and sewed a straight stitch.

Sewing a strap to hang the holder from a door knob.

I sewed each end of the strap on one side of the grocery bag hanger.

Strap sewn on.

And that’s all there is to it! Very simple! This should be pretty durable too!

Completed feed bag turned into a grocery bag dispenser!

Grocery bag holders make GREAT gifts for friends and family. Everyone needs one, and if they have one, they could probably use another. We keep one upstairs, one in the kitchen, and another in the garage. I just made a DIY bag holder from scrap wood too!

What’s your FAVORITE use for these feed bags? 

Oh if you haven't seen one of these bag holders in action, here's how they work:

Danielle Pientka is a stay-at-home mom to three boys and a blogger at DIYDanielle.com. When she's not chasing children, goats, or ducks, she's gardening, reading, sewing, or brainstorming her next DIY project. She is the author of How to Sew Cloth Diapers, as well as a few other sewing books. Her husband and she developed a sewing phone app, Sew Organized, available for iOS and Android devices. Connect with Danielle on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube, and read all of her 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.

3 Ingredient, Alcohol-based Hand Sanitizer

 

This recipe is not a substitute for cleaning solutions as recommended by the CDC. Please follow the CDC’s protocol on handwashing and disinfecting solutions to protect against COV-19 if absolute sterilization is required....

Washing hands with soap and water is the most effective way to kill germs, but let’s face it, that isn’t realistic on the go. With the scarcity of disinfectants and the need to continually combat germs, there is an urgent need for a solution. DIY sanitizers have gained recent controversial attention due to lack of FDA regulation, but demand outweighs supply. In my research, I discovered a basic formula with common household ingredients.

DIY hand sanitizer is a simple mixture of: isopropyl alcohol, Aloe vera gel and essential oil. Isopropyl alcohol is listed by the EPA as a product that meets criteria for use against SARS_COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The solution must be at least 70% alcohol to meet the standard. Note: rubbing alcohol is a mixture containing 68-72% isopropyl, so it can be substituted. The anti-inflammatory and soothing properties of Aloe vera balances the harshness of alcohol and essential oil adds a pleasant scent. Lavender, Tea Tree , PeppermintLemon or Young Living Thieves are my top choices for both scent and antibacterial properties.

According to the CDC, homemade sanitizers must be at least 60% alcohol to be effective. The optimum percentage of isopropyl alcohol is surprisingly 70% as it contains higher water content needed to permeate the cell wall to kill germs. The formula listed below contains a 3:1 ratio of alcohol to Aloe vera to keep the overall content of the alcohol in the mixture as high as possible but not too harsh.

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup 70% Isopropyl Alcohol or Rubbing Alcohol
  • ¼ cup Aloe Vera Gel
  • 10-15 drops essential oil 

Equipment

  • Glass Measuring Cup
  • Whisk
  • Refill bottles with airtight lids 

Directions 

1. Sanitize all equipment and surfaces prior to mixing.

2. Wash hands with soap and water.

3. Add isopropyl alcohol and aloe vera gel into glass measuring cup.

4. Whisk until blended into gel-like consistency.

5. Add essential oil to preferred scent, minimum of 10 drops recommended.

6. Pour mixture into refill bottles or a glass mason jar with an airtight lid.

7. Label bottles and date.

8. Let mixture set for 72 hours before using.

9. Store out of reach of children.

ISO alcohol evaporates over time. Most store-bought brands list an expiration date between two to three years. Treat the expiration of your homemade concoction with caution. If concerned, make smaller batches at the 3:1 ratio.

As with any new product, try a small amount on a patch of skin to test and monitor for 24 hours for any signs of rash or reaction. I found that the blend is well balanced with a pleasant scent and works in both refill plastic bottles as well as spray bottles. Alcohol will evaporate so it is essential for the lid to be airtight.

Good luck out there. Stay safe and healthy.

Lyndsay Dawson Mynatt is a dedicated forager, outdoor enthusiast, and blogger for MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Her published articles include: Build a DIY Cider Press in the 2015 September/October issue of GRIT and 5-Minute, 5-Ingredient Mayonnaise in the 2015 Best of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Follow her adventures at A Faithful Journey, and read all of Lyndsay'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.

Reusable Toilet Paper Cloths

Reusable Toilet Cloths 

DIYers, we need you! Homesteaders, take the lead! The supply and demand of toilet paper is off-kilter during COVID-19 lockdown, and the nation needs us to reduce the demand. We have been practicing sustainability and resilience for years, sometimes just because it feels like the right thing to do. Now, in a time of need, we have the skills and mindset for resilience. Now is the time to roll up our sleeves to make roll replacements--reuseable “toilet not-paper” cloths.

As a homesteader, I could eat for weeks from my home supplies, but I don’t grow toilet paper. However, I can make some. 

Making reusable toilet "paper" cloths is easy. Dig through the fabric bin for some nice soft cotton or flannel to cut into more cloths. Use pinking shears if you have them, to prevent fraying edges, or sew the edges. You can make your cloths as simple or fancy as you like. There are also pretty cloths in patterns and bright colors for sale by small companies. They are soft and lovely and nice on my skin. I bought some at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR (wish I remembered the vendor name!). I may never go back!

Make them or buy them, conserving your paper rolls for when you really need them and helping out the desperate customers at Costco. Ladies, if you like these, you’ll love GladRags for your monthly moon cycle. I’ve turned several friends onto GladRags who have thanked me for this lifestyle change.

As I take inventory of the two rolls in my bathroom and dread the store outing to find toilet paper, I am motivated for change. I can make it last longer. I’ve heard about the shortages in my town this week. I certainly don’t want to make several trips out of distancing, in a search for toilet paper. And I definitely don’t want to join the masses competing for short supply, fights, grabs and all. I don’t want to play. I’d rather adjust my habits. Cloth for pee, squares reserved for poo.

Washing reusable toilet cloths is easy. I used cloth diapers for my babies. I know all about washing bathroom products. A bag of pee cloths would be no big deal at all. A shake of oxygen bleach or vinegar in a hot wash cycle for good measure, and we’re good. If there ever was a time to take this on, now would be good.

There is a reason beyond hoarding for the shortage. Toilet paper is sitting unused in the supply cabinets of schools and workplaces and restaurants, while kids and employees are at home all day and evening. They are using their home bathrooms now all the time, using 40% more toilet paper at home.* Cloth sets are only reasonable to use at home, which is exactly where we are all using the bathroom these days.

This has been popular just for fun and sustainability, often dubbed The Family Cloth. That label doesn’t resonate with me. It sounds like too much family sharing. As the only female in my household, these will be my own private cloth set. But I imagine a household full of women and girls could really save some rolls here. 

My only word of caution: Don’t flush them! Flushing cotton wipes will clog pipes and damage septic systems. But there is a surprisingly persistent habit to toss the paper in the bowl. So the key is to close the lid before wiping. It breaks the habitual toss into the bowl. I keep the wipes in a small container or drawstring bag until washing. 

Saving the squares for Number Two will conserve significant rollage. This is my game plan. But even for that, I have to say, paper is not a requirement. In Japan, they use a bidet instead of paper. Can’t we adjust? I’ve got a squirt bottle and a towel; I’m set! I’m not kidding. This can be done if necessary.

So “pee cloths” or “toilet cloth” or my friend's term, "ladies wipes", call them what you want, but considering using them, at least for a while. And why not? As a resilient homesteader, I know how to roll with the punches, wipe out the issue, clean up the problem. I can create a self-sustainable, reusable bathroom wiping system that works. Especially now. 

*Source: Oremus, Will. What Everyone’s Getting Wrong About the Toilet Paper Shortage. Marker.Medium.com. April 2.

Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods Farm organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are 2013 MOTHER EARTH NEWS Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life on the farm's Facebook Page. For more about House in the Woods Farm, go to the House in the Woods website, and read all of Ilene'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.







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