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

Build Your Own Water-Wise Toolkit

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Photo by Tony Wodarck

Water-wise living is about halving our water footprint through our everyday decisions.

One simple way to reduce your water footprint is to choose reusable products. The plastic industry uses a lot of water to make the many disposable bags and bottles that we consume in the course of a day. And more often than not, those disposables end up polluting our precious waterways and contaminating our oceans.

We can do better by our water! These six smart tools for change will help you conserve water during your daily activities.

Reusable Utensils. Stash a set of our reusable to-go ware in your day bag to use instead of disposable plastic cutlery.

Reusable Water Bottle. It takes 3 times as much water to create a petroleum-based plastic bottle as it does to fill it! So ditch the plastic bottle for an insulated water bottle that you can use for everything from camping trips to taking coffee to-go from your neighborhood cafe.

Cloth Tote Bag. Next time you shop at your local farmers’ market, swap out a plastic bag for a reusable cloth tote. Saves water and looks nice!

Bee’s Wrap. Plastic wrap is not only messy to use, but producing it consumes a lot of water! Biodegradable Bee’s Wrap is a beautiful food storage alternative that you can use for picnic lunches, storing sandwiches, cheese, fruit, and nuts, and covering bread as it rises.

Stainless Steel Tiffin. Going out? A stainless steel tiffin is a simple way to bring a nourishing meal or stack of snacks with you. You can also use a tiffin to take home leftovers instead of the styrofoam boxes that many restaurants provide.

Tubtrug. A sturdy Tubtrug is useful for collecting water as your shower warms up, storing freshly harvested fruit and veg, and more.

Evan Marks is founder of the The Ecology Center, a non-profit eco-education center focused on creative solutions for thriving on Planet Earth. The Center works to inspire communities around simple solutions that empower individuals everywhere to be part of the solution. Follow The Ecology Center on Instagram and Facebook to learn about what you can do to build a thriving world. Read all of Evan’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Older Girls (and Boys) Just Wanna Have Fun, Too

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I recently read an article about the importance of avoiding burnout. The piece referred to activist burnout in particular. However, googling burnout also yields posts about work, lifestyle, and daily routine fatigue. Stress and pressure along with a drive to succeed seems to often come with a side dish of burnout.

Very few experts mentioned play in their advice. Some came close, suggesting unplugged vacations, finding a hobby, or nurturing non-work activity. But the actual words fun or play were rarely included. I think our society often sees play as frivolous and unnecessary. In recent years, there have even been movements to reduce the amount of play for our children by removing recess and intensifying early learning.

I fall on the far opposite end of this spectrum, believing that play should be at least as important to our journey as is work. I suggest harmonizing the two in a merry mix as individuals see fit. Some people love to work hard and then play hard while others prefer a blending of play in their work— and some of us are a hybrid of both styles.

For me, play means partaking of an activity that is creative, brings joy and mirth, and leaves me feeling satisfied. Whether I’ve been interacting with others or playing by myself matters not. Play can be planned or spontaneous, triggered by need or by choice. It can be intensely physical, intellectually challenging, or a bit of both. My mind definitely loves tackling a good puzzle.

My favored forms of play are cooperative because they feed my brain and my soul while inspiring me toward my best and most creative self. Competitive forms that urge competition with others tend to bring out my most viscerally combative traits. I don’t enjoy feeling mean or out for blood.

The cooperative preference is so strong in me that I actually remodeled the game Hangman for my children to a game I called “Seat the Queen.” This version had so many elements in the drawing that success in solving the puzzle was ensured and the violence was lifted out. Likewise, we played Scrabble™ in a cooperative manner by pooling our scores and then trying to best them with each successive game.

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I rarely played with dolls as a child. Suffice it to say, I was quite surprised a decade ago to find myself happily playing with them midlife. A friend introduced me to Bleuette, a doll created in 1905 as an incentive for buying magazine subscriptions. She further introduced me to an online group of (mostly) ladies who adored playing with their dolls by recreating the fashions from the originally published magazines and creating fun scenes through photography.

For awhile, dolls became my work rather than play as I had the skills to create my own reproductions for sale. I also branched out and took a few years writing about a different type of doll in a monthly subscription newsletter. While I enjoyed the learning involved, the people I met, and much of the journey, it didn’t yield quite the same joy as when simply playing.

One of the groups I loved has recently found new life. We have monthly challenges and exchanges. These are usually inspiring to me since I love puzzles and finding creative solutions to problems. A recent challenge led me to search the internet for traditional Irish outfits. I found one that enticed me to recreate it for the dolls. It was a challenge I eagerly accepted and I felt satisfied when it was met.

As a thank you to the friend who has reinvigorated my playful side, I created a pair of overalls for her dolls. Because she and her husband live a country life, I figured that she would appreciate this surprise gift. Her addition of a wee bandana (shown in her thank you photo at the bottom of the Pattern page) and excited reaction were a welcome response.

Deb asked me to share the pattern with our group for an upcoming challenge. I was more than happy to share. I love being a part of the motivation for others to play. I worked up a page with the pattern and photos and look forward to adding photos of the diverse renditions our fellow doll lovers create.

Whether kite flying, rock climbing, writing poetry, flag football, dolls, or board games are your preferred modes of play, I hope that you’re making time in your life for enough fun. Our lives are full enough of stress and drama. Play is a great release and relief for our bodies and our minds.

Pictured below is a fantastic pub and meeting place where the emphasis is on play. At D20: A Bar With Characters there are no big screen TVs. There are a plethora of board games and other enticements so everyone wants to play. This kind of venue gives me great hope that playful fun might be coming back into vogue.

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Top two photos by Blythe Pelham, last photo published with permission of D20 Pub.

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, 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. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Find A Market For Your Handmade Items

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Hand-knitted or crocheted items are just one example of something you might begin making as a hobby and later find a profitable venue for.

From Your Own Hands: Self Reliant Projects for Independent Living

At some point you might discover that your homemade hobby actually has business potential. Maybe people have seen your beautiful pottery and asked if you have any for sale. A neighbor of ours has experienced just that - her lifelong passion for pottery has blossomed into a home-based business and, as they had saved money, into a tiny home-attached studio. Maybe you’ve seen some handmade candles at an artisan fair and realized that your own are even prettier, so why not try selling them? Or maybe your home is full of homemade soap you don’t really have much to do with, but making it is too much fun to stop.

There is certainly a niche market for lovingly, individually made items, and you can explore several sales venues, such as:

Artisan fairs. I once had a stand for my candles at a local artisan fair, and it was great fun. The diversity of products made by local artists was amazing, too: pottery, rag dolls, soaps, wood-carved items, and more. Artisan markets are also a great way to make connections with like-minded individuals.

Home Tutorials. The people who would buy your hand-crafted product will also often want to learn to make it themselves. So you might offer, for example, group soap-making sessions in your kitchen, and at the same opportunity display your beautiful soap for sale.

Local Ads. There is nothing like good old-fashioned advertising in local newspapers. Make your offer enticing by advertising themed gift baskets for holiday seasons, packages for new mothers (for example, homemade baby skin care products + gentle laundry soap), and so on.

Online Sales. When you’re ready, set up your Etsy shop and advertise your products through social networks like Facebook and Pinterest. Offer giveaways, discounts and bonus items. You can offer not just the actual product, but also compile e-booklets on relevant issues. Think titles such as The Beginner’s Guide to Hand-Crafted Pottery. Are you inspired yet?

Either way, I would caution anyone against beginning by making a big investment in a home business that might or might not take off. I know people who have placed large orders for expensive materials and later experienced a bitter disappointment when they discovered there simply isn’t enough of a market for their product. Start small, build up your circle of customers and grow slowly.

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here


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

How to Sharpen a Chainsaw Better Than New

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Do you have trouble keeping a chainsaw sharp? Lots of people do, but it doesn’t have to stay this way. This is especially true once you realize how well electric saw chain sharpeners work. I’ve relied on a chainsaw to keep warm since 1988, and until 10 years ago I sharpened by hand with a file and a guide. The process worked and all that practice made me good at it. But my definition of “good” changed after I tried an electric sharpener about 10 years ago. Besides being at least 3x faster than a file, a machine-sharpened chain simply cuts better. Way better. In my days of sharpening by hand I could get an old chain to cut as well as a new one. My electric sharpener makes chains cut even better than new.

Of all the small homesteading tools in my life, a chainsaw is probably the single most important one. That’s because so much depends on a properly cutting chainsaw. We heat our home and workshop exclusively with firewood, plus all our domestic hot water. A chainsaw is also essential for keeping the forest from invading our fields. And when a destructive windstorm hits every once in a while, a chainsaw is the only way to cut through the tangled mess of downed trees and get out.

The only kind of electric saw chain sharpeners I recommend look like a miniature wood cutting miter saw. There are smaller designs than this that use tiny grindstones, but they’re too slow and the grindstones don’t last long enough to be practical.

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Every pro-grade electric saw chain sharpener has two main parts. A clamp holds the chain firm at just the right angle, while the spinning grindstone swivels down into the leading edge of the cutter. Sparks fly, metal is removed, and a sharp edge is created.

Consistency is the reason electric sharpeners work so well. Once you have the machine adjusted for a given chain, it makes each cutter exactly the same. Cutters become so sharp you really do need to be careful not to cut yourself on them when you’re carrying the saw before firing it up.

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The only drawback of an electric sharpener is the fact that you need to remove the chain from the saw before sharpening it. My way around this minor inefficiency is to have two or three chains ready for each of my saws. I replace a dull chain for a fresh one out in the field, then I sharpen them all at the same time back in the shop when I have time to get out the sharpener and set it up.

Over the years I’ve noticed a tendency for self reliant people to avoid tools or techniques that they consider “too fancy”. I used to do this myself. But eventually, something usually happens. Either the self reliant homesteader grows weary of the struggle and gives up, or they start working smarter and more efficiently with great tools. My tool collection is a lot fancier and more lavish than I ever wanted it to be 30 years ago when I started homesteading, and I’m sure this is one reason I’m still here enjoying a successful life with my family out on the land.

Download a free ebook showing how I sharpen chains using and electric sharpener:  How to Use an Electric Saw Chain Sharpener

Steve Maxwell and his family homestead on Manitoulin Island, Canada, on a little patch of farmland surrounded by a sea of forest. Connect with Steve at BaileyLineRoad.com. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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The Dying Art of the Skilled Trade: The Importance of Working With Our Hands

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The age of the entrepreneur is dividing us into two classes of beings - the digital trailblazer, and the heart and soul craftsman. On one hand, you have a limitless arsenal of information at the disposal of the masses, and with it, people are turning soft skill sets into full-scale digital empires, hawking their services and establishing their brand.  

(Yep, that’s me.) 

On the other though, you have a group of people that I for one, am far more inspired by - the group that has or is acquiring tactile skills, and producing real tangible products for everyday life. They’re taking their passions, and turning them into businesses - a leap of faith, in the hopes that the everyday consumer might be able to look past the white noise of constant commercialism to see the beauty in the handcrafted, and the value in the workmanship that goes into crafting these products.

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Source: http://www.keefridersb.com/

Carpenters, builders, plumbers, farmers, cooks - they’re taking their hands, and applying them to something real, and they’re a dying breed in today’s society.

Do We Know How to Build Anything Anymore?

There’s a growing concern about the massive disconnect in what was once generational information. Thirty or forty years ago, it was pretty commonplace for grandparents and parents to pass on basic carpentry and culinary skills to their kids. Little boys and girls spent afternoons in their grandparents’ workshops amid piles of shavings, and warnings of sharp objects, listening raptly to the instruction being given, watching closely at every stroke of a saw and turn of a rolling pin.

Over the years, it seems something changed - the family dynamic shifted, people got busier, and the tools got set aside, forgotten about while parents spent extra hours in the office, and the kids took to extracurricular activities to close the gap.

It’s nobody’s fault, and it’s certainly not an act of wrongdoing - it’s just the nature of the modern lifestyle. No longer does a family’s focus lie on the function of a household; it’s all outsourced to plumbers and builders and painters and frozen dinners.

We don’t need to know how to change our oil, because it’s only $30 at the local Pep Boys. We’ll just replace every torn piece of clothing, instead of learning to mend them. Why would we learn to can, when you can get 64 oz of canned tomatoes for $1.49?

The marketplace expanded, international trade provided cheap labor, and products left the mom and pop workshops of the US to be slapped together in enormous factories half a world away, and the world hummed on like it always does. With each passing generation, the information became more diluted, less practiced, and before we realized it, we became a populace without any tangible skill sets.

We’re Taking Back Our Skills

A lot of people don’t know this yet, but there’s hope on the horizon - these skills are making a comeback. The new generation of movers and shakers are casting aspersions about what they’re supposed to be doing to the wind, and while they’re working their 9 to 5’s, they’re honing skills and crafts that do more than pay the bills - they sustain a family.

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Source: www.a-land-of-grass-ranch.com

Millennials are taking to homesteading in droves, capitalizing on their endeavors and ideas with online course materials, and building online businesses around their innovations. They’re practicing and spreading these skills, and passing them down to their own kids, and slowly, the paradigm is shifting.

With every new hurdle that is encountered, a new skill is learned. Months ago, they picked up a tool they had never used, and now they’re building a fence with it, they’re cutting firewood with it; they’re expanding their skill sets, and giving them practical applications in everyday life, as it should have been all along.

A Well-Fed Industry Will Survive the Market

So how do we keep the ball rolling? How do we keep our society interested in learning real, tangible skills while the calling for digital revenue streams beckons so strongly? We keep them in business.

If you don’t have the time or capacity to build and learn these dying skills, support those that are honing them and keeping their craft alive.

Instead of buying your preserves from the local big box store, get them from the family farm at the Missoula farmer’s market. Don’t buy your furniture from some far away factory - get it from the little Santa Barbara custom furniture store. Resist the urge to buy the cheap pack of wool blend socks from factories far away, and invest in some from your local shepherd’s flock instead.

Feel the painstaking pride and pleasure put into what you’re buying, and support more than just businesses - support big ideas, and the growth of priceless knowledge.

If we keep these products in demand, if we decide we want something better, then they will do more than survive - they will flourish. The hordes of accountants and programmers will have more than just their technical skills under their umbrella, and we’ll have a prayer of turning the corner into a world where people can take care of themselves, and of each other.


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

Download Plans and Save Money With a Router Table

If you’ve got home renovation or building plans, a router can do lots of useful things for you right out of the box. This tool is essentially just a high-speed electric motor that spins a sharp bit that shapes wood to different profiles. Making trim and molding is one of the best money-saving uses for a router, and a good router can easily pay for itself after the first trim job you tackle. But the thing is, without a router table to go with that router, you’re missing at least half of what the tool can do.   Practical value is why router tables have skyrocketed in popularity over the last 10 years, but great equipment alone is never enough. Your workshop success depends on know-how, too. Add a little bit of customized tweaking to your equipment, and your shop will really shine. The skills you need come in small pieces, and some of the basics are what you’ll find here.

Bolt a router upside down in a table and the combination becomes a working router table. It lets you slide wood over the spinning bit instead of pushing the tool over a stationary piece of wood with your hands. Safety and effectiveness are what router tables are all about, but there’s a little more involved here than meets the eye.

If you had to choose just one operation to do with your router table, milling your own moulding and decorative edges would have to be top of the list from a money-saving point of view. Door trim for your home, decorative profiles on projects, plus mouldings and doors for cabinets are a few of the things you can make with a good router table. More than half of all modern router bits are made for this kind of work, and many include guide bearings that also allow router bits to follow curved surfaces. But as useful as these bearings are, you’ll get better results if you mill straight pieces of wood along a router table fence, instead of relying on the bearing exclusively. There are three reasons why a router table and fence makes sense.

Router bit bearings often leave groove-shaped depressions in wood, while using a fence eliminates this problem by supporting work pieces more fully as they’re milled. Another reason to use a fence is safety. By enclosing most of the bit, a fence makes it easier to keep your fingers out of harm’s way. Then there’s dust. Good router table fences include a shroud that allows effective vacuum collection of dust and shavings.

A growing number of routers include a feature called “top-of-table bit height adjustment”. This allows you to raise or lower the router in the table without reaching underneath. Top-of-table designs mean you can insert a crank handle or knob into the table top from above, making both large and small adjustments fast and easy.

Ideally your router table should operate as a team player, and the best team mate you can find for your router table is a good fence. I have yet to see any manufactured fence that’s fully useful in all situations, though you can modify an existing fence so does much better. I’ve made and modified quite a few router table fences over the years, and the one I’m most happy with so far has extra width for a variety of operations, including milling your own crown moulding.

The three bits shown here work together to make it happen. Milling your own crown can save you a ton of money, and you can download your own copy of the plans and assembly instructions I’ve put together for making an extra-wide and extra-useful router table fence here: 

Wide Crown Router Table Fence download

Here are a few more router table tips:

1. Consider modifying your router table so it’s the same height as your tablesaw, allowing both machines function as outfeed tables for each other.

2. Add four lockable swiveling casters to the router table for easy portability around the shop.

3. Avoid burned edges on your routed profiles by making the last cut remove just a tiny bit of wood. This is especially useful with maple, oak, hickory and other burn-prone woods.

Getting good with tools that can make you more self reliant comes down to a simple starting point. Choose a tool that makes sense for your situation, get your hands on it, then learn by doing. And if you’ve got aspirations to make good things happen with wood, then a router, router table and fence are a great way to start.

Steve Maxwell and his family have homesteaded on Manitoulin Island, Canada since 1985. Connect with Steve at BaileyLineRoad.com. 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. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Rescuing Wood from the World’s Fifth Oldest Tree

Rescuing historically significant wood and turning so-called “waste” wood into works of art are both passions of Florida sawyer and artisan Robert “Bob” Hughes. For 20 years, Bob and his son Tim have operated their wood salvaging and woodworking shop, The Ole General Store, with a portable sawmill and an eye for finding purpose in every fallen or damaged tree.

Bob and Tim Hughes

Today, the family-owned “wood-rescue” business specializes in reclaimed wood and custom milling of rescued Florida hardwoods, but the business has grown over the years to also offer lumber sales, kiln drying, slab wood cutting, river-recovered wood, exotic lumber and more. In recent times, Bob has raced the trash truck to recover hurricane destroyed Cuban Mahogany, rescue African Mahogany from the burn pile, uncover long sunken river logs, and more. However, Bob’s rescue of a lifetime has been the recovery of heritage wood after the destruction of one of the world’s oldest and largest living trees.

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When “The Senator Tree” began its life near what is now Longwood, Florida, about 3,500 years ago, King Tut was 50 years away from occupying the Egyptian throne. Throughout its storied history, the large cypress has been admired by people from all walks of life.

By the turn of the 21st Century, the majestic old giant had become recognized as the world’s fifth longest living tree and had been a local landmark for hundreds of years because of its massive size. All that history could have ended when someone lit a fire inside the tree.

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The Senator’s hollow trunk acted like a chimney and in a few short hours, the tree’s long and historic life was ended. In another sense however, The Senator lives on because the people of Seminole County and dozens of artisans like Bob Hughes refused to allow the tree’s story to die.

“I contacted Seminole County after the fire and helped them realize that something more could be done with the tree’s future, something other than the landfill,” Bob comments. “Our business is built around rescuing trees, saving what is left of them and turning them into something. Saving The Senator promised to be, and was, the most wonderful woodworking project I have ever been part of.”

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The Ole General Store, with their well-known community reputation and experience milling recovered wood, was one of only three companies chosen to rescue and commemorate The Senator Tree. In cooperation with Seminole County officials, Bob acquired half of the wood remaining after The Senator burned for use in creating works of art memorializing the majestic old tree. “This wood was too precious to lose to a big kerf [blade]. The Wood-Mizer sawmill’s thin kerf and clamping capabilities allowed for very precise cuts and minimal waste.”

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Ultimately, 100 pieces were created for Seminole County from that material that included tables, guitars, picture frames, commemorative pieces and more. “We worked with a total of 13 artists plus my son Tim and myself,” Bob says.

“Tim and I turned in 82 pieces of Senator art. Friends and fellow artisans created the rest.” The rescued pieces of The Senator Bob had to work with were natural with bark on one side and burned on other. The largest pieces were 8” to 10” thick, 48” wide and 10’ in lengths. “For all the pieces of art, we went with the natural shapes of the wood,” Robert explains. “In some cases we needed to mill up to three edges for some of our tables and picture frames.”

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With an expertise on the sawmill along with his creative and resourceful woodworking skills, Bob was able to save another piece of history. In addition to the art pieces, seedlings of The Senator Tree have been planted in order to preserve the majestic tree’s history through new living trees.

“How can I ever, in my lifetime, be able to top this project?” said Bob. “The Senator Tree was a very special tree for Seminole County. 3,500 years is a lot of history to lose. Today, The Senator lives on through art.”

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The Wood-Mizer Team includes a diverse group of woodworkers, farmers, homesteaders, arborists, entrepreneurs, and more who are excited to share their knowledge and experiences of working with wood from forest to final form. Since 1982, the team has brought portable, personal sawmills to people all over the world who want the freedom of sawing their own lumber. Find Wood-Mizer on their website, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest and Twitter. Read all of the team’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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