Schlage Keypad Deadbolt

I have had this lock on my front door for three years. The advantages are numerous: one less key on the key ring, illuminated keypad, never lock myself out, easy to give the code to relatives, friends, dog walkers or anyone needing access to your house without you present. But, most importantly, when my wife has to run back in the house to get one last thing, I don’t have to turn the car off so she can use my key.

When the 9-volt battery start to go the keypad blinks, so you don’t end up getting locked out with a dead battery. (It will also accept a key).

-- Steve Haslet  

Schlage Camelot Keypad Deadbolt

Available from Amazon

Eco Brick

I love heating my house with my fireplace and wood stove. Its carbon neutral, it targets the heat where I want it, and somehow it just feels warmer then forced air heat.

I don’t love dealing with firewood. I don’t like storing it, trying to keep it dry, and I especially don’t like going outside when it is freezing cold to bring an armful inside.

That’s where Eco Bricks come in. They are compressed hardwood sawdust bricks that you burn in a fireplace just like logs. They are kiln dried and bug free, so they can be stored inside. Since they are kiln dried, they always light easily.

BTU wise, the company says that a pallet of Eco Bricks are equivalent to a full cord of hardwood firewood. Where I am, a pallet runs $235, which is roughly the same as a cord of firewood.

Since these things are so dense and dry, some care must be taken not to over-fire your fireplace or stove. I’ve been using them for three winters, and haven’t had any problems yet.

I’ve got about a half pallet in my basement queued up. I’m looking forward to my first fire of the season.

-- Clark Case  

Eco-Brick pressed sawdust fireplace fuel
Find a local retailer here

Sample Excerpts:

[Enjoy this video of a one-hour Eco Brick burn. – Mark]

Pocket Rocket Outside Diameter Rule

I work in a pulp mill and this tool comes in very handy when sizing up pipes in the field. The calipers quickly measure outside diameters of any round object up to 16 inches in diameter. The gauge is marked with actual inch diameter and also standard iron pipe sizes. When opened completely it also doubles 14″ ruler. Folded, the rule easily fits in your pocket. For years I used PI tapes but this is much quicker and easier to use on pipes in hard to reach or tight spots — you only need access to a small section of the pipe to get a read, not wrap the tape all the way around. Simple one handed operation, great when you are on a ladder. They are available in plastic or aluminum, I prefer the durability of the aluminum, it is worth the extra few dollars.

-- David Riecken  

Pocket Rocket Pipe / Diameter Caliper and Ruler Black Anodized Aluminum

Available from Amazon

Wiring Complete

The clearest, most intelligible, most up-to-date, step-by-step instructions of how to wire most household electrical jobs. Heavily (1,000 photos), smartly illustrated. Besides unraveling the complexities of 3-way switching (I always need help with this), this second-edition deals with other wiring besides electrical power: cable, phone, ethernet. Despite the wireless era, I’ve got more wires in our home every year, and this book has encouraged me to tackle them myself. The guide is supremely practical, full of great tips for working with real wires in real walls. It helped me figure out how to tap a power outlet inside my house for an outdoor line. I can’t think of anything it misses.

-- KK  

Wiring Complete
Michael Litchfield, Michael McAlister
2013, 272 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

In some old houses, the neutral wires — rather than the hot wires — may be attached (incorrectly) to receptacles or switches, in violation of code. So when testing existing receptacles, switches, or fixtures, test /all/ wires for voltage.




Each multimedia connector is to the left of the cable It terminates. From left: RG6 F-connector, dual-shielded RG6 coaxial cable; RJ-45 (eight-pin) jack, Cat 6 UTP data cable; RJ-ll (six-pin) jack, Cat 3 phone cable; two RCA audio jacks (sometimes called banana jacks), 14-gauge low-loss audio cable.


A nut-driver bit speeds up splicing, but be careful not to over twist wires.



They then use a plumb laser to transfer marks to the ceiling.



The Owner-Built Log House * Log Construction Manual

owner-builtLog homes are fashionable. You can order one pre-manufactured from a catalog. Or you can make your own crude log shell for under $5,000 (see the previously reviewed How to Build This Log Cabin for $3,000).

Or you can use the system featured in these books to make a log home so finely crafted that it is more like living in a gigantic piece of dove-tailed furniture. Called scribed-fit, this method produces handcrafted joints thinner than a piece of paper. You won’t save any money this way, but you’ll live in hand-made shelter of utmost craftsmanship. That joy can be worth the trouble.

And trouble it is. Building with logs this way is similar to post-and-beam construction: the scale and details are beyond a single individual. You need a team, and you should try something small first. Your path is made much easier by either of these two books.

The Owner-Built Log House is geared to the dedicated individual willing to do as much as this hard work as they can themselves, from peeling logs, to hoisting them using pulleys, to carving notches and chinking. It presents the task of building a log house as part construction project and part lifestyle — since it will consume your life. Remember, a shell of a house is only a fraction of the work. This guide is good about detailing the ways to finish it off, and the tricks need to say, get wiring in the logs.

logAt the highest end of quality is Log Construction Manual, the Ferrari of log homes. These aren’t houses as much as wooden jewel boxes. Most guides are based on the personal experience of the author building their own house (see above); this one is based on the author’s experience teaching thousands of others to build theirs. You get a comprehensive course, laying out the steps, the logic of the steps, and much hard-earned wisdom anticipating your problems as you learn how to scribe-fit logs into a house. But to be honest, the precision and energy needed to build this way demands you hire contractor help. You’ll probably end up working alongside the pros, perhaps teaching them some new notching skills.

In many ways, building a fitted-log cabin is like building a wooden boat in your backyard. Many will begin, few will finish on their own. The magnitude of this quest should not be underestimated.

-- KK  

The Owner-Built Log House
B. Mackie
2011, 248 pages
Available from Amazon

Log Construction Manual
Robert Wood Chambers
2002, 272 pages
Available from Amazon
Book’s website

Sample Excerpts:

From The Owner-Built Log House:


Cutting the groove while standing on the wall. You need a steady hand and a good sense of balance.






A true and accurate cut may be obtained with a chainsaw equipped with guide pads. These are now available commercially, or they can be made.


From Log Construction Manual:

Log Homes Don’t Waste Trees

One of the most widespread and damaging myths is that log homes use extravagant amounts of wood. It does appear that “you could build a couple homes out of the logs that go into one log house,” as I’ve heard people say. But, an average log home uses about the same volume of trees as a conventional, stickframed house of the same size.



On each wall, we alternate the direction that tips and butts point every time we add another log. This helps keep walls from becoming tipped.





I recommend you build walls so that the centerline of each log is plumb above the center of the wall. Trying to make one side of a wall more or less plumb can be difficult, unattractive, and perhaps unstable.



A tightly-fitting round notch. Note that there are no saddles, so it is not a saddle notch.



Top: Husqvarna 362XP with 24″ bar.
Middle: Husqvarna 354XP with 18″ bar.
Bottom: Jonsered 2016 electric with 16″ bar.

I have taught more than 1000 people to cut notches, and I have seen chainsaws of almost every model, age, and condition. I’ll be blunt — an average student with a great saw does a lot better than a great student with an average saw.

Husqvarna and Stihl are the saws that I recommend. Most chain saws are not suited for log building. And, buy a professional model saw, not one designed for homeowners. Stihl and Husqvarna both have a “pro” line of saws, and you should choose from these. Expect to pay $550 to $725 USD (in 2011).

Every saw has its own feel and character. These differences are not easy for beginners to recognize, but they are real, and important. Stihls are easy to start — when cold or hot. They have a distinctly softer suspension than Huskys — the handles have a more flexible attachment to the motor, and the bar also has a softer connection to the motor. Stihls drive like a Cadillac. My choice for heavy ripping is a Stihl: the big Stihls (bigger than 80cc) have power, are easy to start, and have soft suspension.

Husqvarna saws are more difficult to start than Stihls, especially when they are hot. Huskys also have a harder feel to their suspension. I have more control over the bar and chain — it’s like there is a more direct link between what my hands are trying to do, and what happens. Huskys drive like a Ferrari. My choice for notching is definitely a Husky: great power-to-weight ratio, high chain speed, finesse, and superb control.

Toilet Auger

We try not to think about clogged toilets, an unpleasant subject, until it happens to us. I don’t know why plungers became the default household tool for unclogging toilets, because they don’t work 100% of the time. Closet augers do, and they don’t require bending over a smelly mess and splashing the foul water up and down, either. That’s why plumbers use them when you pay them hundreds of dollars for a house call. Augers are cheap ($30), very easy to use and also easy to store (they’re called closet augers, after all). So get one, now, before you need it. Then when you do, leave the bathroom, and take a few deep breaths to relax while you watch one of the short how-to videos on YouTube. You pull the handle out so the bulb is right up against the curved tube, protected by no-scratch plastic. Then put the auger into the bowl (no need to bend over), and push and spin at the same time until the handle is all the way down. The most gratifying part is the moment when you actually break through the clog – whoosh, the toilet flushes just like it’s supposed to. A few more normal flushes to rinse the toilet and the auger, pull it out to dry, and put it back … in the closet.

-- Matthew Perks  

Ridgid K-3 3-foot Toilet Auger

Available from Amazon

Bissell Natural Sweep

Like the classic, previously reviewed Hoky, this quick and quiet carpet sweeper is what I grab for touch-up “vacuuming.” Lightweight, never needs recharging, no noise, very little to break, it’s much superior to a Dustbuster. Cleans low carpets fast, empties fast. All the same satisfying benefits of the Hoky — but half the price!

-- KK  

Bissell Natural Sweep Dual Sweep 92N0A

Available from Amazon

Amped Wireless WiFi Range Extender

My cable modem and WiFi router are on one end of our long house. The signal peters out before it gets to my daughters’ bedrooms, and because they like to do their homework in their rooms, I needed to come up with a way to extend the range. The Amped Wireless SR20000G Range Extender did the trick. I placed it in our dining room and it greatly extended the wireless signal. Setup was trivial and hassle-free. The speed of the data transfer did not noticeably diminish (i.e., my kids don’t complain when they watch Netflix on an iPad). I recommend this quick solution for spreading Wi-Fi around your house.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Amped WirelessHigh Power Wireless-N 600mW Gigabit Dual Band Range Extender, Model SR20000G

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Amped Wireless $140

How to Build This Log Cabin for $3,000

A log cabin is one route to cheap housing. You need land with access to lots of tall straight trees. And time. Lots of time. With a chain saw and winches you can erect a modest uninsulated shelter for less than $5,000. People spend up to a million dollars making artfully styled log homes; this is not one of them. It’s a quick and dirty home-made shell without wiring or plumbing. This guy shows you how.

-- KK  

“How-to” Build This Log Cabin for $3,000
John McPherson
1999, 140 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:


One specialized logging tool that will be handy is the can’t hook (or peavy … one has a pointy end, the other, as here, don’t). This is of special help when rolling uneven logs … especially when fitting in and out several times while notching.


Ripping logs into boards may seem daunting at first, but it ain’t that bad. There are more efficient ways to cut lumber but not that I am aware of “straight from the saw”. The main thing is to have sharp chain ALWAYS! The sharpness will allow the saw to do the work and all you need do is concentrate on following the guide string.




This was my log raisin’ challenge. As the main support purlin, it was 32 feet long with a small end diameter of 12 inches. Lotsa log! I set up two logs as a ramp, hooked up (as described in that chapter) and pulled away. There were so many points of contact of the cable between the winch and the tie off points that the winch never strained.



Cree 9.5 watt LED light bulb

I have used the Cree LED warm bulbs for a month and they are a excellent replacement for a 60 Watt incandescent bulb. The light is better than CFLs I have used. This new 800 lumen light has a color temperature of 2700K, on 9.5 watts. It has the shape and general look of a incandescent bulb and is a screw-in replacement. Its rated life is 25,000 hours and comes with a 10 year warranty At $13 from Home Depot, I see this as a game changer and a CFL killer. They work with dimmer switches.

-- Louis Nettels  

Cree 9.5 watt LED light bulb
$13 from Home Depot

Available from Amazon