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

DIY Blueberry Ink from Fresh or Frozen Berries

Blueberry Ink-1

Photo by Sarah Hart Morgan

It’s blueberry season! If you have an extra amount this season, may I strongly suggest that you use some to create blueberry ink — I don’t think you’ll regret it! At the beginning of last month, I led an in-person workshop (it was so great getting to see people again!) on making wild inks where we created this blueberry ink. I ended up using frozen blueberries during the workshop, so if you are reading this in the off season, know that using frozen berries is a good alternative.

6 Colors, 6 Papers

Using my method for creating ink and using several different modifiers — baking soda, washing soda, citric acid, apple cider vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide — we were able to make six different ink colors in beautiful natural hues. We also experimented and played with different watercolor papers and quickly found out that those six inks reacted differently to each type of paper, expanding what the inks could do even more.

Here's the short version of those steps, but see the longer post for details:

1. Boil plant material in a stainless pot. Depending on how much ink you want to make and for what purpose, you’ll want to add more or less water. I use water straight from the tap but depending on your own water, you may want to use spring or distilled water. With the way I work, I end up with 1 or 2 ounces of ink and I probably start with about 4 cups of water when I start.

 While the water/plant mixture is boiling, keep an eye on the plant material, I pull the plants out of the pot once all the color has been extracted. Depending on the plant, the color will actually disappear from the plant while boiling. At this point, just keep an eye on the water so the pot doesn’t boil dry.

2. Test for color. I like to test my color while the water/plant mixture boils, testing at different times. I tear a few strips of paper (use a heavier weight paper for this. Watercolor, cardstock, etc.) and dip them into the pot to test the color. Once you are happy with the color, you can stop the boil.  I like to make test strips of color on watercolor paper, being sure to make any notes on the strips for future reference.

3. Strain your ink into your sanitized bottle of your choosing through a mesh sieve.  To preserve you can add Wintergreen essential oil or Clove essential oil. I found in my own research that some recommend a whole clove bud but I’ve noticed the ink will color shift after a few weeks with a whole clove bud so I choose to use Clove essential oil instead.

Blueberry Ink Keeps 1 Month or Longer

It’s now the middle of July and those inks from the beginning of June have stayed in my fridge and I am happy to report that each ink is just as fresh as the day they were made. I’ve been experimenting with new techniques for using the inks in my creative practice and I can’t wait to share with you what I’ve been up to.

Blueberry Ink-2

Photo by Sarah Hart Morgan

Sarah Hart Morgan is a designer, 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.

Build a Sand and Water Table for Sensory Play

Ready to build sandcastles 

Ready to build sandcastles, photo by Sheryl Campbell

With a few dollars of lumber, a couple of tubs, and some simple tools you can make a sensory play table for the toddlers in your life. This is an easy enough project for even a work-away-from-home parent to do on a weekend or for grandparents to crank out en masse for all their young grandchildren.

When we found our lives full of young parents with toddlers my husband wanted to do something to delight the children. Our son’s favorite toy as a toddler had been the plastic sand and water table that occupied him for hours of play. But these are expensive.

 water tub and sand table

Time to play in the water!, photo by Sheryl Campbell

After scouring the internet for DIY tables, my husband came up with the following pattern for the tables he’s now been giving to the toddlers in our lives. They can be made out of simple lumber or even scraps you have laying around, but pressure treated wood will make the table last longer out of doors. You’ll need the following:


  • 1 2x6x8 board
  • 1 2x4x8 board
  • Outdoor paint (marine paint is even longer lasting)
  • 28 wood screws
  • Power saw (a mitre or circular saw works best)
  • Tape measure and pencil for marking
  • Drill
  • A cement mixing tub (28x20x5.5 size) with lip
  • A sturdy rectangular plastic tub with lid (we use the Hefty 34 qt. tub)
  • Sandpaper
  • Bag of play sand

 bottom of unfinished table

Upside down view of assembled table, photo by Sheryl Campbell

Cutting Directions

Measure your cement mixing tub carefully as they vary slightly in size which will affect how you cut your wood. Your goal is to put the wooden tub holder together so that the tub slips in easily but doesn’t slide around much. Use the cutting directions below as a guide and adjust based on your tub measurements.

  • Cut the 2x4 board into 4 pieces that are each approximately 18 ¾ inches long. Cut a 5th piece 20 inches long.
  • Cut the 2x6 board so that you have two 20-inch pieces and two 25.5-inch pieces

 Assembly Directions

You’ll be building your table upside down so that the legs point up.

  • From the 2x6 board cuts, lay out a rectangle with 25.5 inch long sides and 20 inch ends (the long boards will fit inside the short boards as shown in the picture)
  • From the short sides, run two screws into each end of the short boards to attach the long boards to the short ones
  • Lay the extra 20 inch board (the brace) across the middle from one long side to the other
  • Screw the brace on with two screws at each end
  • Attach each of the legs to the outside corners and screw each one onto the table using four screws

 Ready to paint the table

Time to paint the table, photo by Sheryl Campbell

Using sandpaper, sand the table to a smooth finish and dust it off. Carefully apply two coats of paint to all surfaces making sure to completely cover all the screw heads to protect against rusting. Allow the table to dry fully and you are ready to play.

Setting Up For Play

  • Set the cement tub inside the table so that it rests on the brace – this tub stays permanently in the table and can be filled with water, cooked spaghetti, or even foam pieces to allow your child hours of play
  • Fill the lidded tub half full of play sand – this tub can sit inside the cement tub so your child can build sandcastles or excavate
  • The sand tub (with the lid on it) sits perfectly under the table when the water tub is in use – the lid is tight enough to keep water out of the sand even when stored permanently outside

Studies show that children need sensory and tactile play to activate their learning processes. Here’s an easy way to give them hours of fun while increasing their ability to learn. These delightful brown tables now sit in yards and on decks at the homes of many of our young friends. Start now to build one to bring joy to a toddler in your life when the weather turns warmer.

Sheryl Campbell is an heirloom gardener, shepherd, and edible flower educator who owns Bouquet Banquet in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Read Sheryl’s previous blogging with Mother Earth Gardener and Grit 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.

Portable Sawmill Maintenance Considerations for Fuel, Filters and More

Portable Sawmill On Homestead 

Portable sawmill's engine maintenance in homestead operations
Photo by Monongahela National Forest

A portable sawmill's engine is a durable piece of machinery, yet as durable as it is, there are certain maintenance practices which can go a long way towards extending the life of the engine and providing its users with many years of satisfying and rewarding service.

Assuming that the manufacturer's regularly scheduled maintenance is followed for your portable sawmill, here are a few essential tips which can help prolong the life of the engine and other sawmill parts. 

Tip 1: Perform Routine Repairs, No Matter How Minor

The first tip may seem cumbersome at first, but it is good operating practice to keep a dedicated tool/supply kit with your portable sawmill at all times. While operating remotely, a minor malfunction could occur. The temptation may be great to continue operating or making an  improvised repair which could directly or indirectly impact the engine. By staying properly equipped, operators stand a better chance of addressing minor repairs as needed, which can prevent major costly repairs to the engine.

Tip 2: Check the Oil Every Time

Check the oil before starting the engine. This acts as a cautionary safety measure which helps preserve the life of the engine. Many sawmills have a low oil shut-off switch, preventing the engine from being operated in low oil states. If your sawmill does not have this switch, make certain that you have enough oil to operate the sawmill for the intended duration and intensity of the job at hand. 

Tip 3: Check Fuel Lines

Before starting the engine, make sure that the fuel lines are not loose and check them for cracks and leaks. If you find any, do not operate the sawmill. Remember also, to close the engine fuel valves whenever the sawmill is not in use.

Tip 4: Choose Quality Fuel

Use a decent quality, ethanol-free, fuel for your engine. Ethanol gasoline can be too rich and clog the carburetor, which can introduce problems that may lead to engine trouble. Also, ensure that there is an adequate fuel supply to prevent sawmill shut-down in the middle of tough jobs or cuts.

Tip 5: Check the Air Filter Every Time

Check the air filter before each use. Portable sawmills generally operate outdoors in environments filled with dirt, dust or sawdust. The debris can build up in the air filter's housing chamber. Clean the filter by hand or by gently blowing the debris out using a compressed air hose. You may also install a clean filter and take the dirty one to be cleaned and brought back sanitized for replacement. Clean air filters prevent harmful deposits from getting into the engine. It's a good idea to keep a clean air filter in your supply kit at all times.

Tip 6: Is the Machine Level?

An additional reminder before using the sawmill, make sure that it is level. Using a level, align it along the welded or adjustable back stops. Check the level's reading and adjust accordingly, until the level reads precisely level and square. Doing so, ensures that the cuts or "cants" can be cut truly square.

Tip 7: Check Lubrication Points

For good overall track maintenance of your sawmill, you may want to adopt the habit of adding a little oil to each "grease zerk" before each use. The grease zerks are lubrication points fitted along the sawmill's track, where oil is added to provide lubrication that allows smooth track operating conditions.

Tip 8: Consider Winter Operation Changes

Many operators come up with their own blade lubricant solutions, which may work for a time. However, it is not recommended to use diesel fuel or kerosene as a blade lubricant. Over time, these products increase belt wear and decrease sawing performance.

Use a mixture of windshield wiper fluid and water during winter operations for blade cutting. Do not leave or store blade lubrication in the tank, in temperatures near or below freezing - 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tip 9: Prevent Sawdust Buildup

Sawdust attracts moisture and contains potentially damaging tannins originating from the wood, so keep all areas clean where sawdust tends to accumulate on the sawmill.

Use a Teflon spray in areas requiring a cleaner, "less build-up" of lubrication, such as on the sawmill's body surfaces and blade track.

Tip 10: Re-Tension the Blades

At the end of the day, you may wish to loosen the tension on the blades. This tension can leave an impression or indentation mark on the blade. However, if you make this adjustment, make sure that you remember to re-tension the blade at the next use.


Make sure that the saw head lifting cables are in good condition. Inspect the cables frequently for excessive wear and kinks. The coiled part of the cable should be oiled frequently to prevent friction wear. If irregularities are observed, replace the cables immediately.

A few words from Kohler, a prominent portable sawmill engine manufacturer:

To reiterate how vital engine oil is to the life of a portable sawmill's engine, Kohler notes that many sawmill operators in an attempt to cut costs by purchasing less expensive engine oils do more harm than good. This is not always a cost effective practice. Kohler suggests that sawmill operators strive to use a high quality engine oil with a Zinc dialkyldithiophosphate additive. Often referred to simply as ZDDP, this chemical compound of zinc and phosphorus is added to provide a highly effective protective barrier against metal-to-metal breakdown within the engine due to friction. It also controls corrosion and high internal engine temperatures. Zinc enhanced engine oils have been updated in recent years to provide increased protection of engines, while still preserving and not negatively affecting the qualities of other vital engine parts.

With time being one of our greatest commodities, you can make the best use of your maintenance time by performing regularly scheduled (or "as needed") maintenance to your portable sawmill on a regular basis. The time that you take to spend on preventative maintenance, is likely the most cost effective investment that you can make towards the upkeep of your sawmill and its engine. Make sure that your time is not wasted by remembering to record all maintenance items in a maintenance log. A maintenance log builds a historical maintenance record, which may be referred to should any major maintenance issues arise. All upcoming maintenance items should be scheduled in either a calendar format or on a maintenance chart. As with most preventative maintenance items, follow the manufacturer's recommendations as your primary guide, adjusting as appropriate for your specific needs. 

Mechanical failures are a fact of life. We can not predict when a mechanical failure will occur. Only time and the quality of preventative maintenance which we choose to provide, are two significant areas that we can control when it comes to prolonging the life of your portable sawmill's engine. Wishing you many satisfying hours of trouble-free sawing!

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 Unique DIY Furniture for Your House

footstool overall 

Photo by Steve Maxwe

Why buy the kind of new furniture that everybody else has when you can make your own highly individual pieces? Furthermore, making your own furniture can often be more environmentally friendly than purchasing items that are manufactured and transported from overseas. So, here are some ideas for making DIY furniture that will transform your home into something special. 

Make Sure You Have the Right Tools and Know How to Use Them

If you are new to DIY, of course you won’t have all the tools required for building furniture. So, your first step should be getting tools and learning how to use them properly. After all, you cannot construct a table without knowing how to make clean cuts with a saw and knowing the correct way to use a drill and other tools. You don’t need to be perfect, but spend time learning the basics before you begin to design and construct custom pieces of furniture. Common tools you will need are:

  • Hammer
  • Saw
  • Measuring tape
  • Drill
  • Electric sander

However, if you’re beyond such basics, you may like to consider upping your furniture-making capabilities by using Computerized Numerical Control  (CNC) machinery. These machines are widely used in the manufacturing industry and more and more hobbyists are now using them for home projects. Too expensive? Not when you consider how much money a CNC machine can save you in furniture bills. 

One of the best CNC tools for making furniture is a CNC router. It basically consists of a cutting bed, spindle, drive system, and controller. Most CNC routers have drive systems that enable the spindle to move and cut in three different directions, which means you can create some very complex and interesting shapes with high precision. Whatever you can design on a computer screen your CNC setup can render in real wood. You will find used CNC routers for sale from leading brands that are just as good as new, so it does not have to cost a lot to purchase CNC machinery.

Make a Plan

Whether you’re using hand tools or CNC equipment, you must have a plan in place before you begin constructing your chosen item of furniture. If you are new to DIY furniture making, start with simple projects. A footstool is good. There is no point in trying to run before you can walk. Beginners should start with something like a basic table, while proficient DIYers may like to try their hands at something more challenging such as a shelving unit or armchair. Whatever your level of expertise, you need a plan to follow. A good plan will save you time and money, and make the overall experience of the project much more enriching. 

Projects to Try

The great thing about making your own furniture is you get to design pieces to your exact specifications and sizes needed. You may know how many hours can be spent looking for furniture in stores and online, and often still never finding the item that you have in mind. When you make your own DIY furniture, you control every element of the design, enabling you to create highly individual pieces for your house without driving all around town. As you develop your DIY skills, you will eventually be able to make any item of furniture you want, from desks, chairs, and bookcases to bed frames, cabinets, and even settees. Here are three projects to consider.

An Upcycled Coffee Table

chair leg bench 

Chair-leg bench
Photo by

Upcycling is a great way for DIY newbies to begin as it involves revamping old items rather than building pieces of furniture from new wood. Upcycling is also fantastic for more experienced DIYers because it allows you to make truly unique pieces that become talking points. Furthermore, upcycling helps the environment.

Try making an upcycled coffee table by first buying a couple of old chair bases at a salvage yard or flea market. You can also buy two whole used chairs and saw off the seat and top. Select a piece of beautiful wood to be used as the tabletop, then set it on top of the two chair leg assemblies, one at each end. Mark the location of holes for the legs in the underside of the top, bore those holes, then glue the leg assemblies into place. Finally, stain or polish the wood, paint or clean the legs, and voila, you have an amazing one-of-a-kind coffee table.

Wall Shelving Unit

wall shelf overall 

Wall shelf
Photo by Canstock Photo

One way of creating more space in a room and making all of your books, DVDs, records, and other items look pleasing is to get rid of bulky furniture and instead build a shelving unit that covers an entire wall. You can choose from a variety of woods – pine, oak or veneered plywood – or try an industrial look with black iron pipes. With a wooden design, you will need to learn joining skills. Working with black iron pipes can be simpler, involving nothing more than threading pieces together, cleaning then painting.  

A Cube Coat Rack

cube coat rack 

Cube coat rack
Photo from Amazon

A great way of tidying up your entrance hall and having a custom item that people see as soon as they enter is to build a coat rack. For a stylish design, consider a cube coat rack. Not only does a cube rack look elegant, it’s also easy to make. Construct a box shape, adding your own features, then add some stylish hooks on the bottom for coats. Paint the rack a color to match the rest of your hallway’s interior.

Steve Maxwell calls himself “Canada’s Handiest Man.” He connects with a worldwide audience to share his carpentry and DIY expertise. He lives with his family on Manitoulin Island, Ontario. Follow his work online. Read all of Steve'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.

Pressure Washer Secrets: Ways to Use These Tools Correctly

opening image pressure washer

Cleaning farm equipment
Photo by Steve Maxwell

If you’ve got outdoor stuff to keep clean in your life, then you’ve probably thought about getting a pressure washer. I know they’re useful tools because I’ve owned and used several models here at my place every year for more than 25 years. In this article I’ll explain how gas-powered pressure washers work, what they’re good for, what they’re not so good for, and I’ll show you the top uses I put my pressure washer to each year, including two you’ve probably never even heard of before.

pressure washer close

Up close spray
Photo by Steve Maxwell

What’s a Pressure Washer?

Pressure washers are portable cleaning devices that take water from any typical garden hose outlet at pressures of 40 to 70 psi, then boosts that pressure up to 2500 psi and beyond to increase the cleaning action of the water. This boost in pressure comes from either an electric motor or gasoline-powered engine. I prefer gas pressure washers because they deliver the powerI need, so gas models are what I’ll focus on here.

pressure washer action

Removing tough mud
Photo by Steve Maxwell

How a Pressure Washer Works

Every pressure washer has a water inlet port where you connect a garden hose, plus an outlet – a high pressure water outlet – where you connect a special hose and wand that delivers water for cleaning.

Start by connecting the garden hose to your pressure washer. I always install all-metal quick connect fittings for this, to speed setup and take-down time. It’s much better than threading the garden hose directly onto the pressure washer.

pressure washer quick connect

Pressure washer quick connect
Photo by Steve Maxwell

It’s important that the engine on any pressure washer never run without the pump being filled with water first. This is why I always let water flow through the pump until all air is displaced before firing up the engine. Simply turn on the water at the hose outlet, pull the trigger on the wand, then let low pressure water flow through the hose and onto the ground until all air bubbles stop coming.

Here’s an important detail: Be sure to remove any nozzle tip that may be installed on the end of the wand before letting water flow to purge air. This allows water to move through the pump more quickly and it also allows any sediment to flush from the system without plugging the removable nozzle tip. If the nozzle tip becomes clogged or partially clogged when the engine gets fired up and pressure builds, it can make the nozzle very difficult to remove for cleaning. Flush first, then install the nozzle tip of your choice after flushing and purging. I know from experience that this could save you considerable hassles.

pressure washer nozzles

Choose the right nozzle for the job
Photo by Steve Maxwell

Speaking of nozzle tips, every pressure washer comes with a variety of nozzle tips that produce different spray patterns. The wider the pattern, the more gentle the spray. Narrower tips are best for removing tough dirt on tough surfaces that are not easily damaged.

With your pressure washer purged of air and an appropriate nozzle installed on the end of the wand, it’s time to fire up the engine. The procedure is different than starting a lawn mower or snow blower even though the engines involved are similar.

pressure washing starting

Start up
Photo by Steve Maxwell

Starting a Pressure Washer

The challenge when starting a pressure washer is that the engine is usually under considerable resistance even before it starts. Since the water pump can’t be disconnected from the motor, it makes the motor harder to spin over during start up, and this resistance to spinning can prevent the engine from starting easily. Switch ON the ignition, turn ON the fuel, set the choke and pull the starter cord and you’ll see what I mean.

If the cord isn’t sluggish and difficult to pull at first it will get that way with more pulls on the cord as the pump loads up internally with water. The solution? Simple. Just hold the wand in one hand and pull the trigger and keep it open with water flowing out, then use the other hand to pull the starter cord. Just remember to point the wand in a safe direction as you do all this since high pressure water will come out of the wand as soon as the engine starts. Let it run and warm up for 15 to 30 seconds while continuing to hold the trigger open. After that you can usually take the choke off and release the wand trigger.

pressure washing cleaning

Use for cleaning surfaces
Photo by Steve Maxwell

Pressure Washer Use #1: Cleaning

This seems like an obvious use for a pressure washer, but there’s more here than meets the eye. While pressure washers do deliver much more pressure than a garden hose, it’s possible that this pressure can damage surfaces. Avoid trouble by approaching any new surface with caution. Begin with a wide-spray nozzle and keep the tip at least 24” away from the surface at first. Change to the next more intense nozzle and bring the wand tip closer to the surface if you need more power. Pressure washers are very effective at cleaning nooks and crannies, as well as delivering water up high enough to reach elevated locations. Be careful, though. Always test a small area first, and let the surface dry completely before deciding if your pressure and distance details are correct. It’s possible that a pressure washer can leave marks behind that only become visible after the surface has dried.

Some pressure washers have a reservoir that delivers liquid soap automatically into the spray stream for maximum cleaning of greasy or grimy surfaces. Just be sure to rinse surfaces with clear water as a final step.

When it comes to pressure washers and cleaning surfaces, there’s something that many people find surprising. Sometimes scrubbing before pressure washing works better than pressure washing alone. Surface dirt, especially dust, can hang on even under the full brunt of high pressure water. In cases like these scrubbing can be more effective, though it can’t extend to every corner. This is why washing house siding, for instance, often works best with a three step process: initial low pressure washing using soap delivered by the pressure washer; scrub the siding with a long-handled brush; pressure wash off the dirt and soapy water with moderate pressure and clear water. Avoid directing high pressure water under the bottom edge of siding or anywhere else where water penetration into the building envelope might happen.

pressure washer media blaster

Media blaster
Photo by Steve Maxwell

Pressure Washer Use #2: Sandblasting Surfaces

If you need to prepare metal for finishing or refinishing, then a pressure washer with something called a “media blaster” attachment is something you should know about. Made by several manufacturers, these fit onto the end of any pressure washer wand and includes a large diameter hose. Stick this hose into a pail of sandblasting media such as glass beads or coal particles and it gets drawn up into the wand tip by suction caused by the rapid movement of water through the tip. The abrasive particles get mixed with the water, delivering more abrasive action than if the blasting media had been used in an air-powered sand blasting gun. No dust, either, and faster results!

pressure washer leaching pipe jetting

Leaching pipe jetting
Photo by Steve Maxwell

Pressure Washer Use#3: Septic System Revival

You’ve probably never heard of this technique before, but a pressure washer can save you a five figure septic rebuilding job if you’ve got a system that’s failing for the usual reasons of clogged leaching pipes. Connected to a long, flexible jetting attachment with a self-propelled head, your pressure washer becomes the engine for cleaning inside the leaching pipes that are at the heart of most septic systems. Have your septic tank pumped so you have at least a couple of days before sewage flows out into the leaching bed, then dig down and find the ends of your leaching pipes.

Cut off the ends of the pipes to open them and allow the flexible jetting attachment to enter. The head of this attachment is self-driving in that it will pull itself into the pipe under its own power. No need to push the jetting hose. Rather you’ll need to hold it back. One jet points forward to bust through crud, while three jets angle backwards to propel the rest of the hose inside the pipe via the force of the pressurized water. The results work very well. When nothing but clean water comes out of your leaching pipe, stop jetting, then replace the end cap that you cut off from the pipe with a removable port that can be unscrewed next time for easy access.

I’ve used the same procedure to completely revive septic systems so far gone sewage was overflowing out of the top hatches of the tank. This same technique works well for clearing badly clogged plumbing drain pipes, even when the clog is 100 feet from the nearest inlet.

pressure washer winterizing

Use non-toxic plumbing anti-freeze to winterize your washer
Photo by Steve Maxwell

Winterizing Your Pressure Washer

Does it get below freezing where you live? Water that remains in the pump can freeze, expand and damage your pressure washer if it’s stored in an unheated garage or shed, as many are. This is why winterizing the pump is essential. Connect a funnel and a short length of garden hose to the pump and pour about 6 ounces of non-toxic plumbing anti-freeze into the funnel. With the ignition switch OFF and the spark plug wire removed, pull the recoil starter handle several times until anti-freeze squirts from the high pressure outlet of the pump. It just takes a few pulls to get the job done.

I’d be lost without a pressure washer here at my place. It’s one of those things you don’t realize how often you use until you have one handy. Get one and you’ll understand what I mean.

Steve Maxwell is a DIY expert and longtime contributor to MOTHER EARTH NEWS. He and his family homestead on Manitoulin Island, Canada, cultivating a little patch of  farmland surrounded by a sea of forest. Connect with Steve at, 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.

Building Closet Shelves with Medium-Density Fiberboard with Video

Under construction closet shelves. Photo by Adam D. Bearup

As a custom builder, I get the opportunity to build closet shelves on a regular basis. When a client asks me to build closet shelves for them, my first question is, “do you want wire shelves or do you want solid shelves?” Sometimes, clients love the wire shelves that can be bought at a box store, and I will buy a kit to install. Wire shelves can be nice, but, most clients do not want wire shelves and ask for custom solid shelving instead.

There are more options for solid shelving than just buying a pre-laminated shelf board and putting into a closet. Custom, built-in shelves are more easily accomplished using the different thicknesses of MDF board that is available at most box stores.

What is MDF?

The acronym MDF stands for “medium-density fiberboard” and is made of a combination of fine-particle wood fibers, glue, and pressure to press it all together. MDF differs from particle board, which is made of larger wood chips and is not smooth. MDF can be molded and custom painted with ease, while particle board is rough and does not handle edging tools very well without chipping.

My go-to material, with regards to MDF, is the ¾-inch, 4-foot-by-8-foot sheet. This is a heavy board that may be hard to handle as a sheet, but is more versatile to build with than any other material I have used. This is because MDF is easily cut, shaped, and sanded, and the material paints extremely well.

Custom MDF Shelves

In the video, I show you how to make a simple set of shelves in a closet. I start with a full sheet of ¾-inch MDF and cut multiple shelves out of a single sheet. The toughest part of this process is getting the shelves to fit into the closet, because no closet is ever perfectly square.

After watching this video, you should be able to create a custom set of closet shelves without having much more than a few tools. Transform your closets into more storage space and less clutter by building shelves with MDF.

And don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel so that you can keep up to date with new videos!

Adam D. Bearup is a designer, green builder and farmer, who learned about biodynamic and regenerative farming for a project he built in Northern Michigan, The Earth Shelter Project MichiganAdam has degrees in marketing and management and a Masters of Science in Green Building. 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.

Video: How to Make a Raccoon Fur Bag

raccoon fur bag

Finished bag made from a tanned raccoon fur
Photo by Fala Burnette, Wolf Branch Homestea

For nearly 7 years, my husband and I have enjoyed tanning hides and furs in our spare time, responsibly putting part of a harvested animal to good use. I often encourage those who are thinking about small predator management, such as the trap and dispatch of a nuisance raccoon who may be lurking near a chicken coop, to learn about tanning and not let the hide go to waste. The question remains of what to do with the finished hide, and it opens the door for many interesting craft projects.

Raccoon furs are often turned into the old fashioned mountain man/pioneer style caps, but what else could be done with them? We tried using a bottled tanning formula last year for a raccoon hide, and decided to make a small carrying bag for the woods from it.

The accompanying video is a look at how we approached making our bag; I wanted the tail to remain on, so I folded the hide almost in half, and draped the tail over as a way to close the bag by tying a piece of lace around the tail to hold it in place. The item requirements included: one raccoon fur, lace/strap material (I used some previously tanned deer hide leather, braided), a pencil, scissors, a small utility knife, artificial sinew, sewing needle, awl, and a hammer. Because of the tools used, younger folks need to ask for an adult’s help in making this project. Please use caution when handling tools.

I started by folding the bag as I wanted it to look, making pencil marks where I needed to trim off the excess hide. It is important when using the utility knife to carefully cut from the underside (“flesh” side that is tanned) and not use scissors or cut from the outside. This helps to preserve the length of the fur, which helps cover your edges. I then turned it inside out, lining up the edges and carefully using the hammer and awl to make matching holes through the fur. Once the sides were sewn together, it was time to turn the bag right side out again.

I made two small holes at the front, using a small piece of tanned deer lace (we used a scrap piece of buckskin and turned it into even lace strips) to feed through from the inside that would tie around the tail and hold the flap of the bag closed. I then took three long strands of the same lace and braided it together to make my strap. I made two larger holes at the top of the back side of the bag, feeding the laces through and tying a knot to hold them in place.

Other ideas for this include making a smaller bag with a belt loop instead of a braided strap or sewing a liner to the inside (flesh side), so that your bag has a nice clean interior instead of directly putting items into the tanned area. Take your bag with you on a nice walk in the woods, carrying inside your emergency fire starting supplies, or carry a book with you for a nice relaxing read in nature. Consider learning about tanning, and put your next raccoon fur to good use by turning it into a little bag just like this!

Be sure to let us know how the project turns out for you, and how you’ve made the bag all your own!

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.

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