Home workshop projects and ingenious inventions are the hallmark of the self-sufficient American lifestyle. Generation after generation of inventive folks have made their homes and farms better places to live by designing and crafting their own vehicles; solar and wind energy systems; unique houses and outbuildings; boats; and home and garden projects. From hybrid-electric cars to earth-sheltered houses and hydraulic log splitters, they have met the challenges of everyday life with creativity and perseverance.
Check out this list of the best DIY projects to come out of Mother Earth News over the years. In some cases a construction plan accompanies the article. Click on the link at the end of the description to go to the plans shopping page.
Do It Yourself Vehicle Plans
An Amazing 75-mpg Hybrid-electric Car You can build your own hybrid gas-electric car from a 1970s model auto. David Arthurs developed this hybrid-electric vehicle with an Opel GT, using an onboard efficient electric generator and a jet engine starter. This vehicle can also run on battery power for short distances. David Arthurs spent 40 hours and $1,500 to come up with this incredible vehicle. Plan # 1764
1993 Update: Dave Arthurs’ Amazing Hybrid-electric Car
An updated report and interview about David Arthurs’ alternative energy, hybrid-electric vehicle.
Mother’s Wood-burning Truck Power your truck with a wood-fired generator that turns carbon monoxide, hydrogen and small amounts of methane into a burnable gaseous fuel. This wood-gas generator is fabricated from recycled water heaters. Convert an internal combustion engine of 100 cubic- inches or greater displacement into your own home energy system, or use the generator to run a truck. Plan includes materials list, step-by-step instructions and black-and-white photos. Plan # 762
Do It Yourself Renewable Energy Plans
HAHSA Outdoor Wood Burner
An outdoor, wood-burning boiler that transfers the heat generated and stored in the boiler, via underground pipes, for home heating. This outdoor furnace keeps the dirt, soot, smoke and firewood outside, where it belongs. Includes materials list and 29 pages of building instructions and diagrams. Plan # 1835
The Amazing $500 Wood-burning Stove … That You Can Build for $35 or Less!
Use a recycled electric water heater to make your own wood-burning stove. This stove heats 1,100 square feet, is less expensive to build and uses a heavier gauge metal than a stove made from a 55-gallon barrel. Materials list and step-by-step plans included.
Solar Hot-air Collector
A perfect solution for a mobile home or conventional house, this 5-by-8-foot, lean-to structure attaches to the house’s south wall and offers supplemental heat and storage space. Detailed plans cover siting, construction, assembly, a materials list and 22 illustrations and photos. Plan # 778
Mother’s ‘Heat Grabber’
This ingenious window device attaches to the outside of a windowsill. The 21-by-54-inch grabber takes cold, outdoor air that’s been heated by the sun and circulates it into a room. Easy-to-follow plans include wiring, airflow diagrams, photographs, materials list and step-by-step instructions. Plan # 754
Wind-driven Electrical Generator
Designed by Marshall Price in 1983 and featured in Mother Earth News in 1986, this low-investment wind plant is a backyard tinkerer’s dream. The 2,000 watt generator features redwood blades. The plan includes a materials list and detailed instructions. Plan # 765
The ‘Blue Max’: Affordable Wind Power
Harvest power from the wind for your own economical, efficient small-scale home power with this 350-watt generator wind plant. Includes information and instructions for building the generator and blades. The blades and tail are covered with polyethylene tarp material. This plan was featured in a 1985 issue of Mother Earth News. Plan # 769
Float Your Boat Plywood Row or Sailboat
You can build this charming plywood rowboat in a weekend. The design allows the boat to fold in half, enabling it to be carried
on a roof rack, as well as provide storage space. Plan # 770
The Return of the Brandy Bar Live-a-board Houseboat
Living on the water can be a grand adventure. With a little construction knowledge and a lot of elbow grease, you can build your own 25-foot houseboat, complete with kitchen and bathroom, from these plans. Plan # 789
Do It Yourself Homesteading Plans
Self-watering Sprout Cabinet
A great place to sprout all of the beans and peas your family can consume, this plywood sprouting cabinet can produce up to 40 pounds of mature, crunchy, vitamin-packed sprouts. Includes easy step-by-step instructions for building the cabinet and tips on how to successfully produce the sprouts. Plan # 750
Camp Kitchen Trailer
This consolidated kitchen and storage trailer is just the thing for organizing and transporting all your food and cooking supplies for a weekend or week in the woods. It includes a ‘cool’ box plus a storage bin for tent poles. Three pages of illustrations, instructions and a materials list are included. Plan # 773
Mom’s Hydraulic Super Splitter Log Splitter
In about 20 hours’ time, with a little bit of scrounging, you can build this gas-powered, hydraulic log splitter with wheels, to make the task of firewood splitting much easier. Three pages of instructions, photos and materials list are included. Plan # 757
Turn Your Pickup Truck Into A Dump Truck
From a 1985 article in Mother Earth News, learn to build this wonderful hydraulic dump bed for your truck. The inventor used the power-steering pump to run the hydraulic lift. Includes two pages of instructions, materials list, photos, illustrations and a section on hydraulics theory. Plan # 3600
Mother’s Mini Tractor: Part I, Part II, Part III
Make lawn and garden work easier with a lawn tractor to help. From a 1982 Mother Earth News article, learn how to build your own 17-horse power garden tractor for much less than buying one from the store. The plan includes five pages of instructions, illustrations, photos and a materials list.
Plan # 3598
Little Red Barn
For your backyard or small farm, this 8-by-12-foot barn offers space for chickens, goats or horse tack, plus 40 bales of hay in the loft. With the two shed additions on each side, this barn gives weather protection to horses or other livestock, as well as storage for small farm equipment. Plan includes three pages of illustrations, instructions and a materials list. Plan # 777
Rope Tree Swing
Charm your children, grandchildren and friends young and old with this wooden-seated tree swing.
Build Your Own Mailbox
Install your mailbox with this sturdy wooden frame.
Build a 32-by-16-inch colonial-style doll house for a special child or child-at-heart in your life. This lightweight house is constructed of cardboard and scrap wood. Three pages of plans include a materials list, illustrations and instructions. Plan # 784
Do It Yourself Green Home Building Plans
Straw Bale Home Study Plans
A package of photos, illustrations and design information gives you all you need to know for building this 2,400-square-foot straw bale house, designed by Living Shelter Design Architects in Issaquah, Wash. Plan # 1999
Prefabricated, Gambrel Roof, A-frame House
You can build the sections of this 20-by-24-foot house in town then put it together at the new building site. The gambrel roof adaptation of a traditional A-frame house allows for more head room in the loft. The plan booklet gives all of the details for the construction phase of this house. Blue prints not included. Plan # 771
Mother’s Earth-sheltered House
Mother proves, once again, that energy-efficient housing doesn’t have to be expensive. This 1,000-square-foot , two-bedroom, earth-shelterred house has a cement block foundation built in an almost complete, 36-foot diameter circle with a greenhouse on the front, south-facing wall. The seven page plans includes helpful information on the foundation and roof design, plus all the other construction components. This house was designed and built at the Mother Earth News Eco-village in 1983-84. Blue prints not included. Plan # 766
Build a home in the shape of the classic arch: an elegant, economical, and empowering way to build. This 1989 plan includes diagrams and instructions for the design, as well as planning for construction. Blue prints not included. Plan # 790
Budget Vacation House
A charming, shed-roofed, 8-by-16-foot cabin with a loft. It includes two 4-by-8-foot additions on opposite ends of the cabin, one for use as a dining nook and the other as an entry porch. Blue prints not included. Plan # 792
Bi-pad Solar Earth-sheltered House
Sketches and preliminary ideas for an earth-sheltered house with a passive-solar heating system. Blue prints not included.
Plan # 793
The Plains Indian Tipi
Construct your own Plains Indian tipi for weekend getaways. Plans include instructions and scaled patterns for a canvas cover. Illustrations show how to put up the poles and securely lash them. Plan # 2070
A Blueprint for Better Building
Advice on how to build the most efficient and well-crafted buildings possible, including information on creating a workshop or garage with Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs).
The Hardy Cabin
A lovely 25-by-30-foot log house, this article shows the floor plan and gives advice on foundations, plus how to design and install the roof trusses and beams.
My Mother’s House
Mother Earth News offers a step-by-step lesson in building a 1,500-square-foot earth-sheltered house. Outside measurements are 25 feet by 60 feet, and include a passive solar design with the entire south-facing front of slanted windows. This house was built in 1981 at the Mother Earth News Eco-village.
Thoreau built a house that was just 150 square feet. This small house is ideal for temporary living or limited space. These two articles give you all the inspiration and advice you need to build your own Thoreau-style, mini-cabin.
The World of the Microhouse
The Rustic Temporary Microhouse
Do It Yourself Garden & Yard Plans
Mother’s Bioshelter Greenhouse
This 13-by-13-foot, multi-purpose greenhouse uses both solar and compost heat, and can even house chickens and rabbits. The seven-page plan includes all of the instructions and illustrations necessary to build this unique greenhouse/shelter. Plan # 768
Mother’s Add-on Garden Toolshed
This charming, closet-like shed is the perfect place to store all your garden hand tools.
Mother’s Rustic Pergola
Build this charming 10-by-8-by-4-foot gazebo from whole logs.
The plan for this practical and useful 16-by-8-by-8-foot storage, tool or garden shed includes materials and tools lists plus foundation and roofing tips. This plan was originally published in 1993, so prices of materials may have changed.
Walkways, Fences and Walls
Paths and Walks
This article offers ideas for creating paths and bridges to transform your yard or woods into a park-like space that is visually attractive and fun to explore.
Natural Paths and Walkways
Create alternatives to muddy paths with the creative ideas, such as a roll-up board walk, homemade cement pavers and forest products for path and garden mulch.
Building with Native Stone
Long-time contributor, John Vivian, tells you all you need to know to build a stone wall from the rock native to your region. He gives tips on how to find a cut stone, the tools necessary and how to build a good foundation for your project.
With this article in hand, you can build a charming picket fence for your garden or yard.
Jordon Pond Bench and Table
The Jordon Pond House at Acadia National Park in Mount Desert Island, Maine, offers diners the opportunity eat outdoors at unique benches and tables. You can build replicas for your own backyard. Plan # 1966
The Ultimate Outdoor Furniture
Adirondack furniture has been a hallmark of gentle living in the Northeast for generations. Use this article to build your own Adirondack chair and footstool.
From this article, you can build wonderfully creative stick furniture including chairs, benches and tables, for your porch, yard or garden.
A Split Log Table and Bench Set
Using simple hand tools and a 3-foot log section, you can fashion a simple, but functional, split-log bench for home or camp.
Wild and Woody
Daniel Mack tells how to make all manner of stick furniture from a variety of tree species native to his locale. He gives tips on tools and techniques for making the craft of stick furniture easy and fun.
Miscellaneous Garden & Yard Projects
Woody’s Folding Tomato Cages
You can build these handy, foldable tomato cages for your summer garden from scrap lumber and a few fasteners.
All Decked Out For Summer
Build this 16-by-24-foot deck for your backyard enjoyment. The 1992 build-your-own-deck article includes a materials list plus illustrations and elevation sketches for framing, foundation and stairs.
A Weather-proof Deck
This deck design from a 1996 article in Mother Earth News gives updated information on weatherproof materials plus more sturdy construction details to build a backyard deck that will last for decades.
Custom-made Garden Tools (From Old Saw Blades)
With a little time and effort, plus a few tools, such as a circular saw, drill, vise, propane torch, hammer, pliers and files, you can turn an old saw blade into handy garden tools not found in any hardware store.
Make an Old-time Strawberry Barrel
Growing strawberries in your backyard is wonderful taste treat. If you have limited space, but still want that fresh fruit flavor, plant your strawberries in a barrel; it takes up less space and can be close to the backdoor.
Multipurpose Grow Light Bookcase
You can build this 4-foot, two-in-one bookcase and seed-starting grow light unit in a weekend. The only tools needed are a saw, hammer and screwdriver.