May 27, 2017

Dan's Workshop: Making the Bents

What is a bent? It will probably be easier to show than explain, but I'll start this post by trying to put some words to it. In timber frame construction a bent is a one-planed structural unit that's assembled on the ground, rather than adding each timber to the structure one at a time - kind of like a roof truss. In Dan's case, it was pre-assembling the posts, beams, and kneebraces. He figured it would be easier to do the drilling and pegging on the ground rather than at precarious angles in the air.

In my last workshop post I showed you how Dan was cutting the joints and had also made these...

Trunnels (pegs) cut from 1" home-milled oak boards.

The next step was starting to assemble the bents. First he drilled holes one-inch holes in the timbers, but then had to trim the corners of the pegs to fit the holes.

Dan used his handheld grinder to trim down the corners.

More octagonal than square or round.

First size check: a tad too big. 

A little more needed to be shaved off. 

Perfect fit.

Next the peg was coated with linseed oil

and pounded in with Dan's homemade mallet.

They are pounded through until they stick out about the same on
both sides. They can later be cut flush, or the pegs can be pegged.

So here is Dan's first bent.

Now we just have to figure out how to raise this thing and set it in place. It's not exactly light weight!

May 24, 2017

Prepper's Total Grid Failure Handbook

Last month I gave you a homestead energy update, about how Dan and I have made small steps with both decreasing our energy consumption and utilizing more alternative energy devices. I also admitted how impossible a switchover to a true off-grid lifestyle seemed to be. Then I got a copy of this book, Prepper's Total Grid Failure Handbook by Alan Fiebig and Arlene Fiebig.

What I really like about this book is how it breaks down a complicated topic into a series of understandable explanations. It is very well written and even those who aren't interested in preparedness and alternative energy would likely get hooked by the prologue ("A Cautionary Tale"). Then comes the introduction, in which we read that on the very day the Fiebigs moved to their off-grid property, they hooked their computer up to a battery and blogged about it!

The book is divided into three parts. "Part One: Earth, Wind, and Fire: Generating Renewable Energy," discusses the basics of the various familiar sources of energy: water, wind, and sun. It explains the various kinds of generators and fuels to power them, plus their pros and cons. It goes on to give a good introduction to electricity and how to determine how much you need, including a number of non-electric alternatives for common things we do. A chapter on people-powered generators is included.

"Part Two: You Are My Sunshine: Working with Photovoltaic Power," gets to the nitty-gritty of solar energy. The concept is simple, but the how-to gets complicated, yet the Fiebigs break it all down in a sensible way. Discusses various kinds of solar panels and batteries, plus how to care for and maintain them.

"Part Three: I've Got the Power: Bringing Your System to Life" starts with a discussion of wiring, make a strong case for switching from AC to DC current, how to live 12-volts at a time, and how to use your energy (lighting, water pump, electronics.)

I think this book the best primer for off-grid energy that I've seen so far. Explanations are excellent, especially for someone for whom this is new territory. Even for those with a basic grasp of the concepts, this book brings off-grid living into the realm of doable. I especially appreciate that the authors don't try to push any particular system or product. They give you the facts including the positives and negatives, and let you decide what's best for your needs and situation. I respect that. The only thing I think the book is lacking is a good glossary.

More information is available at the publisher's website, Ulysses Press. The book itself is available in both paperback and Kindle versions at

May 21, 2017

Fermenting Grain for Chickens (& Ducks)

Do you remember my "Sprouting Grains for Goats" post? Well, Goatldi mentioned in the comments about fermenting grain and sent me some information. I decided to give it a try.

Fermented chicken scratch.

What do I mean by fermented grain? I mean lacto-fermented grain, similar to sauerkraut (how-to for that here.) or kimchi. Lacto-fermented foods are rich in probiotics and are higher in vitamins and digestive enzymes than non-fermented foods. Our critters benefit from these too!

I started with a small batch to see how well the chickens liked it, because apparently, some chickens like it better than others. Mine loved it! Now I'm making it in 5-gallon buckets. We fill a 5-gallon bucket with about half full with chicken scratch, then cover with water. Some people add vinegar, and some use plain water.  I add a little whey to kick-start it. Unlike sauerkraut or other lacto-fermented foods for human use, no salt is necessary. When it begins to bubble, it's ready.

Bubbles mean fermentation! This usually takes a couple
of days, but it depends on temperature. Warmer = faster.

We scoop it out with a soup ladle and let it sit in a colander on top of the open bucket to drain. Then it's tossed into the chicken yard like any chicken scratch.

It gets stirred every time we scoop some out, and occasionally we add more water to make sure the grain stays covered. If exposed to air the grain will start to mold, smell yucky, and must be discarded. The sour, acidic soaking liquid keeps it safe. Sometimes a white film forms on the surface, as it often does when lacto-fermenting food. The white film is not mold but wild yeast and is not harmful. You can remove it if you wish.

5-gallon bucket of fermented chicken scratch. The key is
to keep the grain covered with water so it doesn't get moldy.

We keep a bucket going all the time now. The longer it sits, the more sour it gets, but both chickens and ducks like it just as well at the end of the batch as they do at the beginning. Like the sprouted grain, the fermented grain seems to go further too, so it's definitely a win-win for all of us.

May 18, 2017

Dan's Workshop: Timber Joints

It's been awhile since I did an update on Dan's workshop, but it always seems to rain on weekends, so progress has been slow. Last time I told you about our piers versus footer debate and what Dan decided to do.  His next step was to begin fashioning the joints to hold the posts, beams, and girders in place.

Joinery is basically joining two pieces of wood together, and there are any ways to do this. Modern "joints" often use metal fasteners, traditional ones use cuts in the wood and wooden pegs. Techniques vary as well, from traditional to quick and easy, and anything in between. Here are a scattering of photos I took while Dan worked on them.

Mortise and Tenon

Tenons first for mortise and tenon joints

This tenon is at the top of a post.

The end of the tenon was measured and drawn on the underside of the beam.

Making the mortise.

For the first one he used the tools he had. It was extremely slow going, so we decided to invest in some proper timber chisels. He made the maul (mallet).

The process was much quicker and more efficient after that.

Corner chisel


The kneebraces are completely non-traditional. Dan saw them on Youtube, utilized by someone in Europe who renovates old homes. They are simpler and quicker, which counts for a lot when time is at a premium.

Lap Joints

Made with the circular saw and chisel method.

I believe this one is a half-lap scarf joint. Scarf joints
connect lengths of lumber (in this case girders) lengthwise.

The last thing was to make the pegs to secure the joints.

Of course there has been an interested observer.

"Big Duck"

The next step is to start to put it all together. Upcoming weather forecasts are for hot, dry, and sunny, so that should mean good progress. I hope to have more to show you soon!

May 15, 2017

Beautiful May Days

I can't complain. The weather has been perfect: mild days, pleasant nights, and the right amount of rain. Everything is growing!

Violet. That's Colby in the background on the
right. He's on the other side of the hedgerow.


Kids playing "king of the stump." That's Beau wanting to jump up.

Jack's currently got it.

And he's off! The proverbial flying leap.

Sky hunting for leftover acorns.

Conner (I think he had an itch on his back)


Windy and Anna.

All of these were taken last weekend, on weaning day. The girls were later allowed back into their home paddock, but the little boys had to stay behind. They are not happy campers! Such is the way of having to grow up.

About a week later I got these of the bucks.

The Grizz and  Colby. Beau in the background.

Colby and Meowy

All three bucklings and two of the doelings head to new homes this month. It will certainly seem quieter around here after they're gone.

Beautiful May Days © May 2017 by