carpentry, farming, firewood, gardening, homesteading, tools, wood working

Tools Make The Homestead

When we think about homesteading we always think of images of chickens and fall harvests.  We rarely see pictures of the tools that make homesteading possible.  No two homesteads are alike, and neither are their tools.  What makes homesteading great is that you get to do it your own way.  You can choose your own land and what crops you will grow,  but most importantly you get to choose or make your own tools.  This blog is a tribute and an introduction to the tools we use on our homestead.  Hopefully it will give you a few new ideas about what to use around your homestead.

The Chainsaw

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This is one of the tools that we can’t live without.  It brings us warmth and Christmas trees.  Its uses are endless, especially in places where power cords can’t reach or in an emergency.

 

 

 

When we first started our homestead and decided to burn wood for heat, we realized quickly that we would need a chainsaw.  Initially we started with a box store bargain, but it only lasted a short time.  The next purchase was the largest saw the box store had to offer, but we had a similar experience, it didn’t last. We knew it was time to ask the pros. Knowing that we cut 10 cords of wood a year, we knew we needed something reliable. We went to our local Huqvarna dealer and he helped us select a saw that would fit our needs. We settled on a 365 special because it was a saw we thought we could handle, but can also get the job done.  After 7 years, and still running strong, it has not missed a beat. We try not to spend a lot, but in this case, we learned that you truly get what you pay for.

The Homemade Apple Press

On our homestead we have 7 apple trees, and once they started producing we knew we wanted to make cider so we needed an apple press. We looked into buying one, but they were too expensive, so we made our own plans using an inexpensive Harbor Freight bottle jack to apply the pressure.  Later on when we planted the vineyard, we were able to use the press for wine making.  This tool works well and brings us plenty of joy.  There is nothing like drinking your own fresh pressed cider (or wine!).

Antique pencil sharpener

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Whenever I use it I am reminded of our grandfather’s shop.  I think it makes me work just a little harder to make him proud. No other explanation needed.

 

 

 

 

Small Tractor Supply Trailer

 

This trailer has served so many purposes of the years it’s hard to remember them all.  It was initially purchased to allow our older son to mow lawns.  It has hauled everything from lumber to pigs.  We built a removable rack to keep the pigs on board.  It is the versatile workhorse of the homestead.

The Antique Crock

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This old school tool makes great food and looks good too.  It is one of the few tools we display in our living space. It makes wonderful sauerkraut and dill pickles.  We can not imagine the homestead without it.

Solar Electric Fence Charger

When we decided to keep honey bees, we needed to keep bears out.  After a lot of research we decided on a high voltage charger that was big enough to zap a bull.  This was one of the few times we went right for the best tool first.  It wasn’t cheap, but it has never let us down.  It has saved us money on the electric bill,  and has enough capacity to fence in our pigs as well. It is a Parmak Magnum 12 Solar Pak Fencer and was well worth the $250 we spent on it.

Mowers and Tillers

After years of small front tine tillers and shovels a few years ago we upgraded to a good used rear tine tiller.  We were so happy to not feel like our arms are ripping off every spring.  Used tillers are very reasonable especially around Christmas time.  After years of different riding mowers, this Fall we upgraded to a lawn tractor.  We won it at an auction and it came with a snowblower, tiller, and a mowing deck.  It is an old Simplicity and we could not believe the difference it made.  It does everything well and has a hydraulic drive and lift to make work easy.  By far, its best feature is the tiller.  I can see us expanding our garden with this monster.  We could never afford a new compact tractor, but this used beauty suits our needs.

The Simple Tools

These provide us with heat and nourishment. We always choose durable items like cast iron, composite handles, and ball canning jars. In our house we have a saying “nothing bad ever comes out of the dutch oven”, and to this day, that remains true.

The Green House

img_2602This is our first year with the green house, but we already have cold weather crops like kale and lettuce growing in it.  It is unheated, but we can see that changing in the future.  This $300 dollar investment should pay big dividends in delicious vegetables.

 

 

Maple Syrup Evaporator

This is a tool that may actually pay us back one day.  When we first started making maple syrup we made it in a small pan over a fire.  It took a very long time to boil the sap down into syrup.  During this time we always dreamed of having a real evaporator, but their price always put them out of reach for us.  Last season we were able to get a good deal on a real maple syrup pan from a friend.  We found this old tank in a junk yard and after a year of planning and welding we had made our own evaporator. At 1/4 the cost of a manufactured one, it is the little engine that could.  It makes the most delicious maple syrup.

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The Farm Stand

 

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This simple stand started as a way for our son to make a few extra bucks, but now that he’s older it allows us to recoup some of the money we spend on seeds.  It is so much fun to chat with people when they stop by to make a purchase.  We also enjoy how cute it looks on the lawn when you drive by.

The things that keep us sane

Just like everything else here on the homestead, the hot tub serves more than one purpose.  It is also our onion and garlic drying rack, and potting bench.  It is our favorite place to go after ice fishing in the winter.  Our solar pool heater allows us to extend the swimming season by 3 weeks on either end and is incredibly cheap to run.

As you can see, tools make the homestead an efficient and happy place.  They are our constant companions.  We would be lost without them.  They are more than just tools they are part of us.  Every year we add more and more of them.  Which naturally leads us to a future blog, where to store them.  Time to build a bigger shed.

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firewood, homemade, homesteading, wood working

A Lesson in Wood Shavings

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On a cold February day,  my son Luke and I set out to make an ax handle. In the process, we received an unexpected lesson.  In a world with Home Depot and Amazon, we give little thought to buying the things we need.  The things we need are always at our fingertips, or at most a short drive or two days shipping away.  However, there are still a few things out there that you can’t get by just clicking a button and a handle for an old ax is one of them.  So we took a page out of our ancestors book, and when we needed something we made it from what was available.  The ax was special to us, as it had belonged to an older gentleman that had lived near us.  When he would walk by our house he would sometimes stop and talk and we always listened.  One time while we were splitting wood he stopped and told us all about how he used to split wood just like we were doing. As sad as we were about his passing, we happily purchased the ax at his estate sale along with a few other of his prized items.  The ax was small with a short handle. It split well, and was easy to carry along in the woods.  The day it broke, we were crushed,  so on this cold February day, we set out to make something truly homemade.  In the garage, we found a scrap piece of black walnut that was the right size.  We began by tracing the shape of the old handle onto the walnut.  We also added a center line for reference.  We clamped the wood in the vise, and went to work with our old draw knife,  also acquired at an estate sale.  It became apparent that this was not going to be a quick job, and as the work went on, I began to think of how much more careful our ancestors must have been with their tools.  When an errant swing could cost you a half a day of work, I bet you focus a whole lot harder on your task.  We also knew that the next time we used this ax we would have the same type of focus.

As the wood peeled off with each stroke of the draw knife, and the shavings piled up on the floor, the handle slowly took shape.  We often paused to hold the handle, because how it felt in our hands was important, and how it felt became just as important as how it looked.  We could imagine our ancestors doing the same, since this was a custom piece made to fit only our hands.  It was now our tool, not some generic thing from Lowe’s.

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The more we worked, the slower we went. We put so much time and effort into getting the handle to take shape that we wanted it to come out perfect.  This was another lesson in craftsmanship that has been lost today.  As we painstakingly carved the handle to fit the ax head,  my son Luke came up with a great idea to put a spent casing from our rifle in the handle, now the ax would most certainly be one of a kind.

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In the end, we hand-crafted a beautiful ax handle, that we will never forget making.  We also found that we had a greater appreciation for our forefathers, and how hard they worked for simple things.  It was nice to take a break from today’s world, escape the “screens” for a few hours, and do something that felt worthy of our effort.

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firewood, homesteading, Uncategorized

Firewood the story of the Holzhaufen

 

Years ago when I was a kid, my parents installed a wood stove in our house.  We always had a fireplace but this was just a bit different. For one, it actually heated the house.  I’m sure it offset our heating bill in some way, but I was too young to care about that.  What I cared about was all the wood.  My dad would bring it home in the trunk of his car or we would have some logs dumped on the lawn if they were trimming trees in the area.  From the first strike of the sledge hammer onto the wedge I was hooked.  There was something about splitting wood that called to me.  Even when we were at my grandmother’s house in the country for the summer, I would look for opportunities to split wood.

When I finally bought my own home I knew I wanted to heat with wood.  It took me a few years, but I finally found my opening to get our first wood stove.  We had a very cold, snowy winter one year and the power went out often and when the power was out, our furnace didn’t work.  The very next winter my wife was pregnant and I suggested that  we get a wood stove in case the power goes out to keep the baby warm.  Our first stove was an old oval barrel stove with a top that opened to load it.  We bought split wood and stacked it on our porch, but this did not feed my desire to cut my own wood.  The next year, I ordered my first tri-axle load of logs which is around 8 cords of wood, give or take. I was in wood heaven.

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I even got to buy a chainsaw, talk about awesome! I enjoyed it so much that I would order two tri-axle loads of wood a year, burn one, and sell the other. It helped us heat the house basically for free, except my labor.  I eventually bought a better saw, a Husqvarna 365 special. I was in love. Oddly, splitting wood to clears my mind.  After several years, even I got tired of splitting so much wood, but I refused to own a wood splitter and still don’t.  I eventually scaled back to one tri-axle load per year, but this left me with some free time and led to my new obsession the Holzhaufen.  The Holzhaufen or Holz for short is a way that they stack wood in Germany. It literally means “woodpile”.  It dries wood much faster and there is no need for a tarp or shed, plus they are beautiful.12107867_10204290066405957_7282361856006673061_n

Whenever you can make this pile of wood look like the pictures below you know you are onto something.

They are made by stacking wood in a circle, and once the circle is complete you fill the center with wood stacked vertically.  This creates a chimney effect and dries the wood quickly.  The top is stacked with the bark out to shed rain.  They are most beautiful in the winter with a fresh coating of snow on them.

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They make stacking firewood seem like an artistic pursuit, as opposed to a chore.  Each one holds about 1.5 cords of wood so its easy to tell if you have enough for winter.  The first year that I built them, they were the talk of the town,  and people would stop and take pictures.  Now they are just a landmark when people give directions.  I think I will always stack wood this way. Constructing one is like doing a puzzle.  Your mind is totally engaged with what you are doing.  Every knot must be stacked to the outside.  I believe it is a perfect way to give tribute to the firewood that I love so much.

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