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


Turning Nettles into Textiles

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Hidden in a weedy patch in your backyard, or on the forest edge, lies a humble plant that is most famous for its burning sting. But did you know that stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) can also be used for making textiles? Inside the plant’s stalks are long, strong, fine fibers. Surprisingly, nettle is anything but harsh when woven into fabric: nettle cloth is lustrous and smooth, similar to linen but even stronger.

Nettles have been used for textiles at least since medieval times. Along with flax and hemp, nettle was the most important plant-based textile material in Europe because, unlike cotton, it grows even in northern climates. Commercial nettle fiber farming started in the nineteenth century. During the First World War, with sanctions imposed on cotton, the German army used nettle fabric for their soldiers’ uniforms.

Now we see a resurgence of interest in nettle-based textiles within the sustainable fashion industry. Nettle fiber is a promising alternative for sustainable fashion for many reasons:

  • nettles grow vigorously everywhere, without intensive inputs such as pesticides, herbicides, or irrigation, even in fairly poor soil that is unsuitable for other crops
  • unlike cotton, nettle grows in cooler climates, making it a good candidate for local or regional production and processing
  • nettle fibers are hollow, making them cool in the summer and warm in the winter
  • nettle fiber has built-in fire-retardant properties
  • nettle is also valued as a food, medicinal, and dye plant

New spinning technologies, plant cross-breeding, and growing concerns over the environmental costs of conventional cotton-growing make nettle a viable alternative for eco-textile companies.

But it’s also possible to grow, harvest and process your own nettle fiber on a home scale. Given how common stinging nettle is in temperate climates, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding the nearest nettle patch — or growing your own, as I have done.

I first learned harvesting and processing nettle fiber when visiting my family in Finland. The stinging nettle in Finland is the same Urtica dioica, European nettle, that also grows in most of North America. My great-grandparents grew flax for clothing on our family farm. Now the flax fields are gone, but stands of stinging nettle are still abundant. I had used nettles as food, medicine, and dye, but once I learned about their potential for flax-like fiber plants, I had to give it a try.

I did the entire process by hand, as it’s traditionally done. It takes patience, and some experience working with fibers helps, but anyone can do it following the step-by-step instructions below.

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Processing Nettle Fiber

The steps for processing nettle for textiles are similar to processing flax. The key is softening the nettle’s woody stalks in order to be able to extract the fibers within.

1. collect nettles and remove the leaves

2. soak the nettle stalks (a process called retting) for at least one week to break down the cellulose surrounding the fibers so the fibers can be extracted

3. dry the nettles out in the sun, in a greenhouse or a sauna

4. break the dried-up stalks by hand to separate the fine fibers from the woody pith

5. scutch and hackle to further soften the fibers

6. spin the fibers into yarn

The only stings I got in this process were during the initial harvesting. Once the nettle stalks have been soaked and dried, the stinging hairs are gone. The fibers themselves are beautiful — light linen-colored, and very soft and strong.

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Harvesting

Harvest from August onwards, when the plants have reached their optimal height but have not yet begun to die down. Cut the stalks near the ground with pruning shears and remove the leaves. For this stage, you do want to wear gloves and long sleeves! The leaves make excellent compost.

Retting

Retting the nettle stalks can be done in a few different ways. As with flax or hemp, nettle stalks could simply be laid on the ground for a couple of weeks. The morning dew and the soil microbes will break down the woody plant matter and dissolve the pectin and the lignin that make the fibers stiff and bind them to the stalk.

The process can be expedited by soaking the nettles in any large enough vessel such as a wheelbarrow, a kiddie pool, or livestock water tank. I soaked mine the way flax is traditionally retted in Finland: in a lake, weighed down by pieces of wood and held in place by the tall sedges.

When the plant matter starts to have that earthy smell of plant matter breaking down, i.e. rotting, it is time to remove them. This will take about a week.

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Dry the Stalks

The next step is to dry the stalks completely. This can be done in the sun, in a greenhouse, or in a sauna if you have access to one.

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Break the Dried-Up Stalks

At this point, the dried-up stalks will snap easily, and you should be able to extract the fibers from the woody stem. After some experimenting, you’ll discover the best way to separate the fibers from the pith. If you squeeze the stalk flat until it splits, you can then run a thumb nail to lengthen the crack all the way to the end. Then it’s easy to break a piece of the pith off and pull it away, extracting the fibers.

If working on a large scale, it would make sense to try the traditional equipment for processing flax, such as a scutching knife and a hackling board.

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Carding or Hackling to Further Soften the Fibers

At the end of the extraction process, you’ll have a bundle of wispy fibers. Some green plant matter (cellulose) from the nettle stalks will probably still adhere to some of the fibers. Again, traditionally a hackling board was used to soften the fibers. I used my hand carders for wool, combing the silvery green mass until the remaining chaff was removed.

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Spinning Nettle Fiber

The final step is spinning the nettle fibers into thread. You don’t need a spinning wheel; a drop spindle works fine as well.

The actual spinning of the nettle fibers is comparable to spinning flax: the fiber lacks the crimp of wool and is somewhat slippery as a result. However, nettle fiber can easily be blended with other natural fibers to make it easier.

Holding in your hands your first fibers harvested from the wild, from a plant that does not need any human input to thrive, is an empowering experience. If you’re a spinner or a weaver, there’s no end to the unique pieces you could create. Some people even say that the medicinal qualities of nettle are transferred to textiles created from them: a shawl woven out of nettle fiber, for example, will soothe aching necks and shoulders.

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Resources

Rebecca Burgess, Fibershed: Growing a Movement of Farmers, Fashion Activists, and Makers for a New Textile Economy (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2019)

Startup Fashion, 2013

Fashion United, 2017

Yarn and Knitting, 2019


Mari Stuart lives in Asheville, N.C., where she stewards an urban homestead with her husband and daughter. She is a Certified Permaculture Designer and Teacher and a Certified Ecological Landscaper, who cofounded Project Grounded, an initiative that connects urban consumers to the regenerative agriculture movement through their daily choices. She is currently working to develop a pioneering community-supported carbon farming program in Western North Carolina. Connect with Mari at Make Gather Grow and its Facebook and Instagram, and at Project Grounded and its Facebook and Instagram. Read all of Mari’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Building a Front Yard Pond

garden-pondPhoto by Adobestock/valentinar.

A couple weeks back we hosted a work bee with Reno's "Permaculture Northern Nevada" group to build a small pond in our front yard.  Our friend with pond building experience led about seven of us for three hours of pond making. Our motivation in building a small pond or water feature was twofold.  First, we sought to add the soothing qualities of water in a area of our homestead where we spend a lot of time in the summer hosting guests and eating meals.  Second, we wanted another habitat to diversify the little ecosystem of our land that would support birds, aquatic plants, and insects.  

Katy and I spent some time beforehand figuring out the future location and size of the pond with particular attention to how it would fit in with an raised sitting area we intend to build later in the summer.  The pond will anchor one corner of this future "outdoor room". 

 
Photo by Kyle Chandler-Isacksen

Garden Pond Building Steps:

With the help of the group we dug a hole roughly seven feet long by four feet wide and two feet deep at its deepest point.  The edges we kept as vertical as possible.  The size of our our was in part determined by the size of the old pond liner our friend had for us to use.  We made it a bit irregular – one end wider than the other - to give it a slightly more natural look.  We also added about two feet to each measurement knowing we'd have to cover additional length over our earthbags (see below).

We used earth bags (sand bags) filled with the extracted soil to raise up the sides of the pond.  We stacked them two high to give us about 8" above grade.  Earth bags are great for this as they are malleable, smooth (no sharp edges to poke the pond liner), and easy to maneuver into place.

Level the bags using a long 2x4 with a level atop it and then tamping down or fluffing up the earthbags as needed.  We left a foot-wide spillway on one end intentionally lower by a couple inches.  This is the outlet should our pond overflow from rain or, more likely, our mistake in overfilling it.

We filled in the gaps between the bags and the ground and between the bags themselves with wet clay-rich soil from what we dug out of the hole. This served to make all the sides smoother and more plumb. 

We cut several roots back and laid an old nylon/polyester blanket at the bottom and up the sides to act as a cushion for the pond liner and reduce risk of puncture. 

Using scraps of an old billboard sign we then lined the sides of the hole and up and over the bags.  We tacked the billboard vinyl to the bags with old nails. Old billboard signs are another great urban resource – call your local companies and ask for their old signs. They are usually 40'x14' and can be found for around $20. 

We then lowered the pond liner into the hole and over the other materials with a large rock placed roughly in it's center point.  The weight made it easy to lay the liner and knowing the middle helped us get the placement right quicker. 

Last, for the work bee day anyway, we filled the pond up with water.  As it filled we stood around the edges and made slight adjustments to the liner placement before it was too heavy to move. 

Since the work bee we covered and lined the liner with urbanite (salvaged concrete sidewalk chunks, in this case) and rocks to hide the plastic and help "ground" the pond in our yard.  We also added some aquatic plants, a log perch to make it accessible for birds, and a disc that promotes the growth of a certain bacteria which inhibits mosquito larvae development (gotten at the same place as the plants).  Mosquito Fish, which eat mosquito larvae, are on the way, too.  


Photo by Kyle Chandler-Isacksen

In the future, as our outdoor room takes shape, we'll add flowers and plants in the urbanite and rock cracks and connect a small deck to one side so we can sit and dip our feet as we like.

Kyle Chandler-Isacksen runs the Be the Change Project with his wife in Reno, Nevada. They are dedicated to creating a just and life-sustaining world while having fun doing it. They were one of MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ Homesteads of the Year in 2013. Shoot him an email.


 

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Purchasing a Used Tractor: A Checklist to Consult Before You Buy

 

 Photo by Pexels

Given the choice of a new or used tractor, most would choose new, but sometimes it makes sense to purchase used. Purchasing a used tractor may not be a bad way to go, especially for beginning homesteaders who are still learning their properties and the repetitive work tasks involved.

This post does not claim to be all inclusive, but is intended to assist those considering a used tractor to make more informed purchasing decisions. It goes without saying of any used tractor purchase, "let the buyer beware." 

You should inspect any tractor that you intend to purchase, even if you feel that you know its history. So before forking over the cash and extending that final handshake, it is worth assessing a used tractor before making a final decision.

Safety

  • Safety first. Never start a tractor without first being securely seated in the seat. There is the possibility of the tractor starting and moving forward, with serious injury or even fatal results occurring.
  • Also, never start a tractor without first determining if oil is present. Severe engine damage may result. Before starting the tractor, ensure that there is sufficient oil in the reservoir by checking the dipstick.
  • While you are there, check the oil. The oil should appear clean and relatively clear; without debris. The oil filter should also be relatively clean; not excessively dirty.
  • Next, check if an oil filter date has been recorded on the oil filter. It may coincide with the last oil change date.  However, there are no guarantees.
  • Check for leaks under the tractor. Dead or discolored grass underneath the tractor may indicate leaks. 

General

Check for general cleanliness and overall good condition of the tractor. Generally speaking, a well cared for tractor generally indicates a tractor that has been well cared for mechanically and otherwise. Again, there are no absolute guarantees.

Body

  • Check that the tractor's body parts are all the same color. If not, it could indicate that some parts have been replaced. The tractor could have been in an accident. If you see any body part replacements, ask the owner about it.
  • Check the tractor's bumper making sure that it's the original. Again, bumper replacement may indicate an attempt to hide damage from a previous accident.
  • Check the condition and security of the muffler and exhaust pipe to the tractor. A hot or warm exhaust pipe could indicate a seller attempting to warm the engine beforehand for a smooth starting performance. 
  • Make every attempt to inspect the tractor from a cold start.
  • Check that the fuel tank and fuel neck is rust free and in good condition.

Tires and Wheels

  • Check the tires and wheels. Check that the quality of the tire's rubber and treads are not excessively worn, cracked and in good condition. Check that the rims and valve stems are not rusty or in poor condition. Some older tractors may have counter weight added to the rear tires with the use of caustic chemicals that can leak and rust the rims.
  • Check all hoses and belts. Make sure there are no cracks or deterioration.
  • Check that the tractor's floor pedals are tight; not loose and wobbly.

Checking the Electrical Components

  • If possible, check the alternator's output by bringing along a $10.00 volt meter. Read the alternator's output while the tractor is running.
  • Check the good working condition of the heater and air conditioner, if present.
  • Check all lights. Any outage may indicate electrical issues.
  • Check that the battery and battery terminals are in good condition and that they are rust and corrosion free. 
  • Check that gauges are functioning.

Checking Tractor Start-Up

  • Put gear in neutral. Release the kill switch, if present.
  • Turn the ignition key switch to on. The tractor should fire right up without hesitation.
  • Note: The tractor should not start while in gear.
  • Gradually rev the engine up to PTO range (2400 RPM), then gradually decrease the engine back down to idle. Engine combustion should sound strong and smooth throughout. There should be no misfires, knocks or sputtering.
  • Check the PTO. Turn it to "off" and observe that the PTO shuts off. If the PTO continues to run, it may indicate pending clutch and or brake failure.

Checking Tractor Shut-Down

  • Turn ignition key switch to off.
  • Pull the kill switch out to engage. 
  • The tractor should shut down immediately.
  • Check the radiator front tab cover is in good condition. Observe that the radiator fins are in good condition; not bent or dented. Check that the radiator fluid is clean, green and that the radiator is not leaking.
  • Check the optimal level of transmission fluid is clean and not leaking. Check hydraulic fluid. Weep hole should have the Cotter key hanging in place.

Tractor Test Drive 

  • On test drive, increase speed, taking the tractor through at least the working gears - one through three.
  • Attempt to check performance in both high and low gears.
  • All gears should shift smoothly without grinding.
  • Check if the clutch is slipping.
  • Drive uphill, downhill and across grades, if possible.
  • Observe the tractor's handling performance on each.
  • Check that the loader raises and lowers easily.

Check hydraulics.

  • Disengage the brakes. Place gear in neutral. 
  • On level ground, the tractor should raise the front wheels. If it does, this is a pretty good indication that the hydraulic pump is working properly.
  • Check the tractor's steering. Does it pull left or right?
  • Check the front tie-rods by turning the steering wheel left and right. Steering should not feel loose or with any play.
  • It should feel solid and fully intact.
  • Check the brakes both in tandem and separately, if possible. On many tractors, there is a lever which allows the operator to test the left or right brake separately. Disengage the left brake to check the right and vice-versa.

Sources of Resale Value of Used Tractors 

USFarmer.com
TractorHouse.com
Fastline.com
IronSearch.com
TractorBlueBook.com

Sources of Used Tractors

AllofCraigslist.com
Fastline.com
Tractorhouse.com

Final Considerations

Check used tractors from local tractor dealerships that have a good service department. Some dealerships may fix the tractor on your property or pick up the tractor to take in for service. Also, be prepared with your own means of transporting a tractor to and from your property.

Whether you are dealing with a manufacturer, dealership or private owner, don't be shy about negotiating your best deal on price, any warranties and financing terms. Aside from the inspection itself, the final negotiated price and any agreed upon terms are crucial to getting your best value.

So invest all efforts upfront. If you are uncomfortable with any aspect of the inspection or any negotiated terms of the deal, don't be afraid to walk away. More value is likely obtained by investing more time and waiting later for the right deal, than by accepting any aspects of a poor deal right now. 

Remember to remain in the driver's seat at all times. With a little knowledge and preparation beforehand, you should be able to secure a better deal and reap the full value from purchasing a used tractor.


Monica White is a freelance writer, member of the Georgia Air National Guard, and an avid runner and cyclist who loves the great outdoors and all things DIY. She divides her time between Tampa and her central Florida property, where she's growing a self-sufficient homestead. Connect with Monica on her outdoor lifestyle blog, on FacebookTwitter and InstagramRead 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.

How to Make Holiday Gift Tags Out of Discarded Art

Artwork before punching into tags 

I have a lot of discarded art papers lying around. Working with ink as a medium can be a beautiful and unpredictable practice and not every work I create is good. I’ve had a large stack of work lying around my studio waiting for me to put them to use in some way. Last week, while wrapping my Christmas presents the PERFECT idea struck!

I love to get creative with my wrapping - it adds an extra layer of beauty to the process of gift giving and the receiver always appreciates it, I think. I love creating my own gift tags. I typically use blank business card stock, the kind you can get at any office supply store that come ready to print at home. They have perforated edges and are so easy to get crafty with. For Christmas, I have a few Christmas themed stamps that I hand stamp the business card with (Use your homemade inks for this process too!) and sometimes I print them off the computer using templates from Avery.com.  

Final gift tags after putting them together

But this year is by far my favorite! It dawned on me that I have large hole punches lying around from previous projects. One is a large circle, the other is a large punch that punches three different size tags at the same time. You can pick these up at any craft store- be sure to check their website for a coupon!  I positioned the punches around the discarded art, finding blends of color and compositions I liked and punched. That was it! I used another small hole punch and tied kitchen cotton thread to each. In under an hour I had way more tags than I even needed for this year’s Christmas wrapping so I’ll have extras to use when wrapping products for my shop.

Don’t have fancy hole punches? Not to worry! Just cut up your paper using any shape you like. Easy shapes like rectangles, squares, circles. Use jar tops, mug bottoms, anything lying around the house that you can turn into a template and then cut with a pair of scissors. Use cotton thread, embroidery thread, twine, yarn, etc. to tie to your packages for a unique color palette that fits your style. 

Another option that I have done in years past is to get a box of the manila inventory tags from an office supply store. You can usually get 50 or more in a package for just a few dollars. I have tea dyed them for a vintage look. You can easily do the same or use your homemade inks to dye the whole tag, dip the bottoms in the ink for an ombre effect or paint directly on the tags. The possibilities are endless!

Presents wrapped and ready to give

This is an easy and fast project to do with the kids too during their winter break.  Let me know how your crafty session goes- I’d love to hear.


Sarah Hart Morgan is an artist, photographer and author of Forrest + Thyme Apothecary: simple skin care formulas you can make uniquely your own. She lives in the Shenandoah Valley, where she works with foraged plants in her skincare and apothecary products, camera-less photography, using plants as a developing agent in film photography, and creating natural inks for painting. Connect with Sarah on her website, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. 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.

Colorful DIY Weaving Loom and Block Set You Can Gift (or Make With) Your Kids

quick knit weaving loom

Quick knit weaving loom

When we first announced to our kids that we would be making handmade gifts for each other for Christmas this year, the reactions were less than enthusiastic. Would Santa approve of the toys coming out of our workshop?

But as the shock wore off and the ideas started flowing, our kids soon discovered an ancient truth: "'Tis more blessed to give than to receive."

For the next few weeks our kids lost themselves to a world of toymaking. They sourced materials from scrap lumber piles and forest floors. It’s really quite remarkable how creative kids can be under the influence of their own imaginations. Mom and Dad got in on the act as well—after all, it was our idea in the first place!

As a result, our family has never been more excited about a Christmas morning unwrapping than this year, both the givers and receivers.

Here are a few of our favorites:

Quick-Knit Weaving Loom (ages 6-12)

This simple loom is perfect for making small knits, such as washcloths or scarves. It can be easily made out of any scrap wood and nails you have in your shop.

What you will need:

  • 1x4 or larger piece of wood at least 12-inches long (pine works great)
  • Drill with 1/8-inch and ¾-inch bits
  • Jigsaw
  • 1-½-inch nails (thicker joist hanger nails work great)

Steps:

Cut a piece of wood 2-¼ inches by 12 inches.

marking loom before cutting

Marking loom before cutting 

Mark the wood to cut a 10-inch by ¾-inch wide slot down the center of the wood.

Drill a ¾-inch hole 1-inch in from each end.

Using a jigsaw, cut out the center section between the two holes.

loom frame with hole cut

Loom frame with hole cut 

Sand the wood frame smooth. Optionally, lacquer or paint the frame as desired.

Mark the frame with 30 holes spaced ¾-inches apart: 14 along one side, 14 along the other, and 2 on the ends.

Using an appropriately-sized drill bit for the nails (such as 1/8-inch), drill a ½-inch deep hole for each mark (use a drill press if available). This step will ensure the nails go in as straight as possible.
pre-drill holes for nails

Pre-drill holes for nails 

Lightly set-hammer in each nail, being careful not to drive the nails too far and split the wood.
hammer nails into holes

Hammer nails into holes

Turn the loom upside down. Using a scrap block of wood, lightly hammer the frame to force the nails to insert to the same height.

hammer loom upside down

Hammer loom upside down.

Your Quick Knit Loom is ready for weaving! Wrap with a skein of your favorite yarn.

picture of finished loom

Tip: Search for YouTube videos on “loom knit scarf” for a tutorial on getting started.

Colorful Blocks (ages 1-5)

colorful blocks

What child can resist colorful blocks? This simple DIY project will turn your scrap lumber into hours of creative play.

What you will need:

  • 2x4 lumber at least 30 inches long
  • Plywood or other backing 9x9 inches
  • 4 pieces of scrap wood at least 1-inch wide (for edges)
  • Miter saw
  • Sandpaper
  • Liquid water color paint or other liquid dyes (food coloring can work)

Steps:

If available, use a table saw to shave ½-inch off the 2x4 lumber, making it exactly 1-½-inch by 3-inches.

cut lumber to width

Mark the lumber every 1-9/16-inch. The extra 1/16-inch will account for the width of the saw blade when cutting on center to produce 1-½-inch blocks.

mark lumber before cutting

Mark lumber before cutting 

Cut the blocks. There should be 18 in total, with some scrap left over.

creates 18 blocks

Sand each block smooth. This is the most time-consuming part. Conscript little hands to help!

Now paint the blocks with liquid water colors or other brightly-colored dyes and allow to dry.

paint the blocks

Optionally, Coat the blocks with clear lacquer to preserve the paint job. Water-based dyes will bleed if they get wet.

Assembling the Tray:

To create a holding tray for the blocks, cut a piece of plywood or other backing to 9 by 9-inches square.
cut tray backing

Cut tray backing

Cut four pieces of scrap wood at least 1-inch wide and slightly longer than 9-inches to make a 45-degree join. For example, if your piece is ¾-inch thick, then cut 10 ½-inches long with two 45-degree angles on each end.

cut tray edging

Glue each end and pin-nail to the backing to hold in place.

Ready for play

Your blocks are finished and ready to wrap or stack (and topple)!

Rory Groves is a technology consultant and family farmer who lives in southern Minnesota, with his wife, Becca, where they farm, raise livestock, host workshops, and homeschool their five children. He is author of the book Durable Trades: Family-Centered Economies That Have Stood the Test of Time (Front Porch Republic). Connect with Rory at The Grovestead, and read all of his 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.

Pallet Wood Walkway

Pallet wood walkway 

There are many paths we walk multiple times a day around the farm to get to the barns, coops, and gardens. Many of these paths are on the north side of the buildings, and during the winter the shade causes them to become a slippery, dangerous mess. When we first started building our homestead, we quickly realized that these paths needed to be more than just dirt. They needed to be something that could be easily shoveled and kept clear, and not track too much mess into our house as we were going in and out. We also wanted them to look nice and add to the rustic atmosphere of our farm.

We tried gravel — too messy and hard to shovel. Then we considered cement or cement pavers — too pricey. Ultimately, we ended up building a walkway out of pallet wood. We spent very little money on it and five years later ,it is still serving us well. It was quick and easy to build, is easy to shovel snow off of and keep clear through the winter, and it decreases the mess tracked into the house on our boots.

Supplies and Tools:

  • Hardwood pallets for decking and supports
  • Pressure treated lumber for supports (optional)
  • Screws
  • Bricks or edging
  • Gravel and/or Weed Fabric (optional)
  • Sawzall with long metal cutting blade
  • Circular saw
  • Power drill with drill bit and driver bit

Hardwood Pallets

Many people are familiar with pallet wood and places to get pallets. But for this project it is important that you use specifically pallets made of hard wood (oak, ash, poplar, etc). If you use soft wood pallets (pine, fir, etc.), then the walkway will not hold up and will not last as long as the hard wood will. To tell the difference between hard wood pallets and soft wood pallets look for heavier pallets with a tight, dense grain. You will be using all parts of the pallets, both the main slats, and the pieces in between that hold the slats together.

Pressure-Treated Lumber

If you live in a very wet climate, or the walkway will be built through a very wet area, you might consider using pressure-treated lumber for the supports under the walkway so that they will last longer and not rot. We live in a dry climate and have not had any trouble with using the wood from the center of the pallet (the pieces that the main slats are attached to) as our supports.

Screws

To hook your path together you will need to use 1.5 to 2-inch screws that have an all-weather coating on them.

Bricks or Edging

As you can see in the photos, we used red cement edging bricks. Having something to edge the walkway makes building it go quicker and easier and gives it a more finished look. You can try doing it without the edging, but you will need to be more careful and purposeful that your walkway edges line up and end where you want them to.

Gravel and/or Weed Fabric

Depending on where you are building your walkway, you might want to use weed fabric underneath it to prevent grasses and weeds from trying to grow up in between your decking. We used weed fabric in several places under our walkway. If you are putting the walkway in a very wet area, you should consider prepping the area with gravel for drainage and using pressure treated lumber for the supports as discussed above.

How to Build the Walkway

Prepare the area. Start by deciding exactly where you want your walkway to go, and how wide you want it. I recommend not going any wider than the width of your pallets for the majority of your walkway as this will reduce your waste and the labor involved.

Prepare the ground by making it level and smooth. If you are going to use gravel, dress and prepare the area for good drainage. If you are using weed fabric, lay that out, being sure it goes underneath your edging as well. Get your edging set firmly where you want it along both sides of the path.

Prepared Ground for walkway 

Disassemble pallets. There are many ways to take apart pallets. In order to get the most length out of your slats, and thus have less seams, you should cut the pallet apart with a Sawzall. Use a metal cutting blade - longer is better. Cut through the nails holding the slats to the interior wood of the pallet by putting your blade between the slats and the interior wood. Keep all wood pieces as you will be using the interior pieces as the supports under your walkway.

Using sawzall to cut pallets 

Separate the slats into piles based on their width so that if you need to use more than one to span the width of your walkway, you have them matched up by their widths.

 Pallet slats

Lay the supports. The pieces of wood under the walkway give it support and lift it off the ground, as well as giving you a place to attach the pallet slats that are the decking. Lay the supports out along the length of the pathway. You should have a support 1-3 inches from each edge, and as many more as are necessary to be sure there isn’t a span of greater than 12 inches between them. This will ensure that your decking wood will be supported and feel solid as you walk.

In this photo you can see that we only needed 3 rows of supports for the width of this section of our walkway.

 Supports for under the walkway

Supports for under the walkway

Then the walkway got wider where it split, and in that section we switched to 4 supports. The supports can line up with each other, or they can overlap a bit next to each other like you see in the transition from 3 to 4.

 Supports under the walkway

Cut and attach the decking slats. The pallet slats will be attached laying the opposite direction as the supports. First, lay the slat you want to use across the path. Use a pencil to mark where the cuts need to be made.

 Slat marked for cutting

Slats marked for cutting

Using a circular saw, cut the slats where you marked them. Set the slat down in place and make sure you are please with the fit.

 Slat set in place

Slat set in place

This is a rustic-looking walkway, and thus you don’t need to be too particular about it all being perfect.

Once it is in place where you want it, screw it to the supports in two places at each support. If you find that the wood is splitting, you need to pre-drill the holes before placing the screws.

 Screwing slat in place

Continue in this way, a piece at a time, down the walkway. Be sure to keep your slats at the same angle to the walkway edges. If you find that the whole walkway is beginning to skew a bit due to inconsistencies in the slat width, just leave a bit of a larger gap as needed to keep them lined up how you like them.

10 

How to Place Two Slats for a Wider Walkway

Most of our walkway was a good width to use one slat at a time. But in areas where it changed direction, it got wider and one slat wasn’t long enough. If you need to use two slats to you’re your path, pick two that are very similar widths. Lay the first slat out and cut the end to fit the edging.

 First piece in place

First piece set in place

Then set it in place and draw a line to cut it where it falls halfway across one of the supports.

Cutting first piece 

Cutting first piece

Next, lay your other piece on the other side and cut it to fit the edging.

Placing second piece 

Placing second piece

Lay it in place and then lay the first piece you cut in place over top of it.

Cutting second piece 

Cutting second piece

Mark the line where the other piece ends on top of it.

Close up of cut line 

Close up of cut line

Cut the second board on that line and put each in place. They should line up nicely and fit snugly.

2 slats in place next to each other 

Finishing the Pallet Wood Walkway

Once you have all your decking in place, it is time to apply finish to the walkway. Decide if you like the look of the wood as-is, or if you would like to sand it down. If you want to sand it, use a square floor sander (12x18 inch) with 36-grit sand paper.

Whether you sand it or not, you need to clean it off thoroughly before applying the finish. Also, be sure the weather is good for finishing. It needs to be warm and dry, with no wind, for at least 6 hours.

Apply an oil-based finish, such as Penofin, Cabot, or a similar product. It takes at least 24 hours to dry, so be sure not to walk on it until it is fully dry.

Finished pallet walkway 

Finished pallet walkway

You now have a beautiful walkway made of pallet wood that cost you next to nothing and will last for many years.


Kat Ludlam is a wife, homeschooling mother, and homesteader living in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, where she breeds landrace sheep, chickens, and crops accustomed to elevation. She and her husband own and operate Willow Creek Fiber Mill. You can read about their adventures homesteading at high altitude on her blog Willow Creek Farm and read all of Kat’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.

Foot Salvation in a Jar

finished salve

I walk barefoot. I’ve walked barefoot since a kid. I’ve even walked barefoot in snow, if I was too impatient and wanted something outside in winter and was too lazy to put on shoes or slippers. My husband thinks I’m crazy but that’s just how I am. I love the feel of the earth between my toes and the floor beneath my feet. The only time this becomes a problem is during goat’s head sticker season. Ow! I’ve found another one. You would think I would learn but you can’t teach this old dog new barefoot tricks!

The other problem is my feet get very, very dry. I mean, extremely dry to the point of soreness. As I’ve gotten older this is even more of a problem. Fortunately, I have discovered my own homemade remedy which I will now pass on to you. Years ago I bought an amazing ointment from a cosmetics manufacturer. I used it with great success until the manufacturer decided to discontinue the product. Oh, no! I read the ingredients on the jar of the quickly dwindling supply and decided right then and there that I was going to make my own. The manufacturer’s ointment smells better than mine, I have to be honest. But mine works very well so who cares? Mine doesn't smell bad. To me. Maybe you can improve the scent. If you do please let me know how you did it.

This recipe is so easy you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

Homemade Dry Feet Salve

Ingredients:

1 ingredients

  • 2 oz shea butter
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa butter
  • 2 tablespoons beeswax
  • 1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
  • Essential oils of your liking (I like tea tree oil for its antiseptic properties and peppermint oil for its aromatic properties)

Tools:

3 tools

Double boiler (An old-fashioned double boiler is hard to find these days and if you do find one they are very expensive! I use a slightly bigger pot that holds a smaller pot inside it. It’s also very convenient to have a smaller pot that has a spout. I got both my pots at a secondhand store. I use these pots exclusively for making cosmetics. Then I don’t have to clean them out as well as would be needed to cook food in them)

A small jar with a lid, approx. 4 oz. (this can be any jar you’ve saved up. Baby food jars are great. Old cosmetic jars are great.)

Stirring stick (I use wooden chop sticks saved from after we eat Chinese. They don’t conduct heat and don’t have to be cleaned so well. Just wiped off.)

Directions:

1. Fill the bigger pot with water about 2 inches deep. Enough so when it starts boiling it won’t boil away fast.

2. Place the smaller spouted pot inside the bigger pot so it rests on the edge and not down in the water. Turn on the heat and bring it to a boil. While you’re waiting for it to come to a boil add the ingredients to the small pot but not the essential oils. Wait on those.

3. Stirring occasionally with the stick, melt all the ingredients together.

6 melt

Warning: do not walk away from the melting ingredients! These ingredients are not as dangerous as melting paraffin but if you let them get so hot or the bottom pan boil dry you could have a kitchen fire.  Trust me on this one. I know what I’m talking about because I got too distracted one day and the pan did boil dry and it was bad news.

4. When the ingredients have melted add a few drops of essential oils. Start with a couple drops, smell it and if it’s not fragrant to your liking add a few more drops. You can always add drops but you can’t take them away so go slow.

5. Take the spouted pot off the heat and let the melted ingredients solidify. I like to let it solidify in the pan to see what the consistency comes out to be. If I pour the melted stuff into jars and I don’t like the consistency, it’s hard and messy to get it all out to be adjusted and melted again.

6. After it solidifies and you like the consistency melt it again and then decant it into your jars.

7 solidify

What if it isn’t to your liking? Simply melt it again and add whatever ingredient is needed. It’s ok to melt and re-melt.  If it’s too hard, add a half ounce of olive oil. A little bit goes along way in this recipe. If it’s too soft add an ounce of beeswax or cocoa butter. This recipe is meant to be on the stiff side. A little bit stiffer than petroleum jelly.

Note: if you modify the recipe it’s a good idea to note what you did so the next time you make it you will have the exact amount of ingredients and don’t have to start from scratch.

This is how it works best for me: when my feet get too dry and before the calluses start cracking I apply this ointment liberally to my feet and put on socks that I don’t care about. I wear them to bed overnight or put on shoes and wear them all day. When I remove the socks my feet are vastly improved!


Renée Benoit is a writer, artist, ranch caretaker and dedicated do-it-yourselfer who currently lives in a 26-foot travel trailer with her husband, a cat, and two dogs while they travel the Western United States in search of beautiful, peaceful vistas and hijinks and shenanigans. Connect with Renée at RL Benoit, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts.


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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