Ammo Can Organizer

I can’t believe it took me this long to find this set of three organizer trays that stack neatly inside a common .50 caliber ammo can (available at any military surplus store, or here on Amazon).

The three sturdy  trays contain a total of 22 compartments of varying sizes and can be stacked in any order. The largest compartment runs the length of one of the trays and is large enough to hold a couple of screwdrivers. The organizer is made in the U.S.A. from chemical-resistant polypropylene.

Combined with the toughness of a .50 cal. ammo can, it should be a waterproof and practically indestructible small parts storage solution.

-- Curt Nelson  

Farm Show Magazine

Farm Show has been the DIY magazine of rural North America since 1977.  While MAKE magazine may have fantastic coverage of 3D printing and home-built drones, it’s a whippersnapper wet behind the ears compared to the depth of ingenuity contained by this tabloid magazine published 6 times a year.  They’ve been hacking in a parallel universe, and this periodical offers a window into that world for those who may not regularly come into contact with the <2% of the population that is involved in farming.

Don’t be put off by the name — even if you don’t have a farm, there is a surprising amount of useful data in each issue. I suspect someone living in an apartment would not find it particularly good for their lifestyle, but even urban gardeners with the tiniest of plots would find value in some of the firsthand experiences that are passed along by contributors.

Crop and plant wisdom, clever fabrication hacks, new alternate energy company experiences… it’s a wide and unpredictable mix of information.  One of my favorite areas is custom farm equipment modification that shows off what can be done with spare time and few dollars.  Some of the machines and mods are astoundingly practical, and some of which are head-shakingly bizarre or even dangerous (200HP lawn mowers?)

Much like Cool Tools, the content is driven primarily by contributor/subscribers. Included are tool reviews on pretty much anything used in agriculture, or in a farmhouse, or by someone who is self-sufficient.  Some of the reviews are long prose with photos and diagrams, but many reflect the “make-what-you-say-matter” ethos of the rural readership and are just short write-in messages with pros and cons in a few brief sentences or less.

Farm Show takes no advertising in their regular issues, and publishes reports about tools and companies for good or ill — mostly verbatim from people writing in. There are many articles that are clearly contributed by vendors, but they tend to be on the short side and are more announcements than advertisements, and are edited by the staff to have more content and less marketing noise.

I look forward to every mailing, and even review the back issues frequently since I often find that some new problem I have is addressed by past articles to which I didn’t pay much attention on the first reading.  And with the subscription typically comes a “Best of Farm Show” booklet, which is a compilation of some of the best hints and hacks.

I will also admit to having a soft spot in my heart for anything that comes on newsprint paper, perhaps from early mental pathway imprinting from the Whole Earth Catalog.  I really don’t like glossy magazine formats, and the cheap paper allows for more content at the same price. They have electronic back issues for subscribers dating back to 1977 and even offer a searchable back issue DVD for only $40, which in my opinion is incredibly reasonable given the content value.

Here’s the top of the list from around 140 articles from the first issue of 2013:

• 4-Speed Drill Press Works Great
• 4-WD Articulated Deere Tractor
• Abandoned Silo Sprouts Elm
• Ag Professor Helps Revive Churro Sheep
• Air Tool Organizer Rack
• Air-Powered Australian Water Pump Works
• All-Wood Brush Mower Built For $125
• Allis Chalmers “B” Gets A Low Profile
• Animal Hair Adds Life To Ceramics
• Articulated Case Garden Tractor

-- John Todd  

Farm Show
Yearly cost: $23.95/yr (6 issues)

Sample Excerpts:

Pesticide Powder Duster

Together with Delta Dust Multi Use Pest Control Insecticide Dust, I wiped out a humongous yellow-jacket nest inside one of our cellar walls.

Forget nasty canned aerosols — this nifty update on a classic industrial-age hand tool takes on anything from hornets to bedbugs. Extra points: go green with diatomaceous earth instead of the hard stuff.

-- Spencer Reiss  

Pesticide Powder Duster

Available from Amazon

Site-in-Clean Rest

As a responsible firearms owner, I keep my guns properly secured, and I keep them well maintained. However, I live in a town home and space is at somewhat of a premium. I do not have the room to create a dedicated “gun room” or “man cave.” I keep my firearm cleaning supplies stored in a toolbox inside of a closet. When it comes time to clean a rifle or shotgun, I invariably find myself laying towels out on a table, and using books or other items from around the house to prop the firearm up for cleaning or other work.

I realized that it was time to buy some sort of gun stand or vice, to hold a rifle or shotgun in place for cleaning and light gunsmithing, like installing a scope. The trouble is that gun vices are generally rather large and bulky. This is fine for someone who has the room for a dedicated gun workbench. But for the “kitchen table” gunsmith, a smaller, preferably collapsible, solution is much more desirable. It would be even better if the stand would double as a rest for bench rest shooting at the gun range. A rest that keeps both the foregrip and stock immobile is very useful when trying to sight in a scope. Enter the MTM Site-in-Clean Rest.

This rest is made of plastic, is modular, and disassembles for storage. The base has a removable cover under which the two black plastic “forks” can be stored. When assembled with the top off, the base cavity can hold cleaning supplies such as brushes, jags, patches, solvents, and oils. Depending on how the firearm is placed in the forks, the barrel can be angled down for cleaning, or can be held horizontally for use as a shooting rest. There are a total of four slots for the forks, allowing the user some customization based on the length of the firearm and the desired orientation. There are three rubber soled feet that keep the base stable. The rear foot is threaded with a knob to allow for height adjustment. This makes the rest useful for lining up a firearm when sighting in a scope. Overall the design is well thought out, while keeping the product flexible and cost effective for the consumer.

This product is clearly a rest, not a gun vice. I have used it for installing and bore sighting a scope at home, but I would not use it for any activity that requires a firearm to be held perfectly still under a great deal of force. Furthermore, I would not recommend using this as a shooting rest for extremely high power, high recoil rifles. For any caliber much beyond .22LR, I would recommend a dedicated shooting rest, or using some tie downs to ensure that this rest doesn’t move. Finally, this rest is better suited for rifles and shotguns with traditional designs and profiles. There are better vices and rests out there for the tactical rifle enthusiast.

This being said, as a rest for cleaning and a bit of work at the range, this product fits my needs quite well. My favorite feature is that I can collapse this down when I am done and it stores nicely in a closet. There are plenty of other options out there for someone who is looking for a gun vice or a shooting rest, but I would heartily recommend this product for the occasional shooter whose storage space is at a premium.

-- Ryan Gwaltney  

MTM Site-in-Clean Rest

Available from Amazon

Quick Door Hanger Brackets

I’ve been building a small cabin for my farm in Stamford, Vermont for 25 years — in my mind, that is. Last year I finally had a local contractor put up a shell for me to finish out. My wife and I went to the farm in July and lived in the construction space while we worked. I wanted to get the job done in in two weeks. (We met each other in Peace Corps Bahrain and are flexible people, but camping out among stud walls in your 60s got old fast.)

Our design included space-saving pocket doors, but the need for a bit of privacy for the bathroom forced a quick design change. A pre-hung door was my answer for the bathroom to get some privacy and get it fast. I watched some YouTube DIYs that showed me how to plumb and shim but I was a carpenter rookie with limited time. That’s when I turned to the Quick Door Hanger. It is easy, quick, dummy proof, and allows for adjustments of any mistakes you most likely won’t even make. The wood-shimming balance act goes away. I hung the door myself in no time and it closed perfectly.

To use the Quick Door Hanger, you start by screw-mounting one of the brackets behind each door hinge, as well as on the opposite side of the door. The brackets have notches in them, which you line up with a level line (drawn using a 6-foot bubble level) before screwing them into the door frame. That’s it. Perfect for rookies like me, but I’ll bet it’s a major time saver for pro finish carpenters, too.

-- Richard Silc  

Quick Door Hanger Kit
$5 Website

Six years ago I left the city for a house in cottage country surrounded by acres of woodland. The house included a big but simple woodstove and we began using it. As I was new to this method of heating, I began searching the net for advice. is the best site for all your questions about the matter. This nonprofit, nongovernmental agency, dedicated to the responsible use of wood as a home heating fuel, is full of informative material about all aspect of using wood to heat your home. The site is huge and has sections about firewood, chimneys, fireplaces, safety, water heating, boilers, etc.

I used free plans provided on the site to build two inexpensive woodsheds to shelter my firewood. We also upgraded our stove to a non-catalytic EPA certified one. On average, advanced EPA-certified stoves are about one-third more efficient than the old box. This I learned from the site. is packed with techniques and valuable tips. Also worth mentioning, and rare today: you will not find any advertisement anywhere on the site.

-- Jean Schoeters  

Sample Excerpts:

The hardest lesson: firewood takes a very long time to season Most folks who split their wood and stack it in well-spaced rows find that they can dry their wood in about six months. If you have your wood stacked in early spring it should be ready to put away for winter’s use by October. However, it may need longer than that if you live in a damp maritime climate or use very dense wood like oak, which is notorious for taking a long time to dry. If you burn very hardwood, it is wise to process or buy it in the fall for use the following fall. That way you’ll be sure of having properly seasoned wood.


The biggest single efficiency booster: upgrade to an EPA certified stove

1. Although the EPA wood heater certification program was created to reduce air pollution, it resulted in added benefits like higher efficiency and increased safety. On average, EPA certified stoves, fireplace inserts and fireplaces are one-third more efficient than older conventional models. That’s one-third less cost if you buy your wood and a lot less work if you process your own.

2. Because advanced technology EPA certified heaters burn the smoke before it leaves the firebox, they extract more of the energy in the wood. This results in higher efficiency and less air pollution in your neighborhood.

3. Less smoke in the flue gas means less creosote (which is condensed smoke) in your chimney. Using an advanced technology wood heater reduces maintenance costs because your chimney will need sweeping less often.

4. The chimney deposits that do accumulate are much less combustible, which greatly reduces the chance of having a dangerous chimney fire.

5. EPA certified heaters are easier to use because their fires ignite and burn more reliably.

Just Enough: Lessons in Living Green From Traditional Japan

Japan’s Edo period found it serving as home to some of the largest cities of the time, and although it ended nearly 150 years ago, its people were faced with the very same issues of resource conservation, food production and population control that the we struggle with today. In Azby Brown’s recently reprinted book, the pragmatic solutions developed by the Japanese people during this time are presented to the reader in a format that is immediately engaging and a joy to read.

Just Enough is a self-professed “book of stories” separated into three sections that take us from the rural landscapes of a forest-dwelling rice farmer to the crowded row-house apartments of a city carpenter, and finally to the dignified formal lodgings of Edo’s samurai districts. In each section we are guided by the author into the lives of the area’s inhabitants and introduced to the way they live as if we were guests in their home, with an eye toward resource conservation at all times. At the end of each section critical points are summarized and reinforced, and throughout the text Brown’s beautiful sketched illustrations and hand-written margin notes bring life to each topic.

The book is packed with information and features an extensive bibliography. While many of the solutions featured may not be directly applicable to life outside the Edo period, they remain fascinating and are usually rooted in ideas that will have value in any time period or environment. Highly recommended to anyone with a remote interest in low-impact living or traditional Japanese culture.

-- Cody Raspen  

Just Enough: Lessons in Living Green From Traditional Japan
Azby Brown
2013, 224 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:





The Japanese have used these pounded earth floors since they began to build three thousand years ago, and the firepits and lashed and thatched roofs bear an identical pedigree. In fact, the doma sometimes goes by the name of niwa, “garden” or “courtyard,” implying that it began as a truly outdoor space. This degree of continuity, with design solutions being continually refined but surviving from neolithic times into the early modern period in clearly recognizable form, is remarkable and probably unprecedented among literate civilizations.


The kitchen is equipped with a variety of storage shelves, but there are only a few dishes and cooking implements. Good durable dishes must be purchased from specialized craftsmen, such as potters and woodturners, and like most farm families, Shinichi’s tries to use only what they can make themselves, minimizing cash expenditures. Each family member has a bowl, a cup, homemade spoons and chopsticks, and little else. On the other hand, durable storage jars are considered worth the expense of purchase.

Woolzies- Wool Dryer Balls

Woolzies are felt wool drier balls the size of a tennis ball. I have been using them for several months – after purchasing them on Amazon, and trying for the first time, I just keep them in the drier all the time now.

They save quite a bit of energy as the drying time is reduced by 30-40% or so [See note below – Mark]. Woolzies also work better than plastic drier balls: I have noticed a marked difference in the quality and softness of the dried garments.

This product is efficient and environmentally friendly through and through: they’re made of pure wool so no plastic or other chemicals are used to make them. They drastically reduce the time required to dry clothing, they are gentler on the dried fabric, which also comes out softer and almost wrinkle-free.

-- Denis Zaff  

[We use these at home, too. A couple of drops of essential oil (lavender, for instance) make the clothes smell good. A note about drying time from Cool Tools reader Morten Nisker Toppenberg: "I think the science behind the claim to drasticly reduce drying time is somewhat sketchy. "I'm unable to find the any information from the company or other companies making dryerballs on how they come to this result. However a couple of private test pop up: Do dryer balls reduce drying time? | Do Wool Dryer Balls Cut Down on Drying Time? "They seem to suggest that there is little or no effect and describe their method of testing allowing you to replicate the test." - Mark Frauenfelder]

Woolzies- Wool Dryer Balls
$20 / 6-pack

Available from Amazon

The Backyard Homestead

A pretty good introduction to all the homesteading tasks you can do in a small urban space. I found it a bit more helpful than similar tomes like The Urban Homestead. Most of the subjects covered — vegetable gardens, bees, composting, fermenting, animal husbandry — are just scaled down versions of rural homesteading — a huge education that can’t be squeezed into one volume. But this book has a few good ideas that only work in smaller city patios or rooftops.

-- KK  

The Backyard Homestead
Carleen Madigan
2009, 368 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Threshing wheat in a large, clean trash can helps keep the released grains contained.


backyard-homestead1sm (1)





Tips for Buying Feeder Pigs

The greatest variety and highest quality of pigs is available in the 40- to 60-pound weight range.
Crossbred pigs are generally more vigorous and faster growing than purebreds.
Male pigs should be castrated and healed.
Buy pigs that have been treated for internal and external parasites.
Buy pigs that are well past the stress and strain of weaning.
Bear in mind that while females (gilts) may grow more slowly than barrows (males), they will generally produce leaner carcasses and can be pushed harder with more nutrient-dense rations.

Practical Bamboos

In our yard we’ve been nursing along some small clumps of bamboo, and since then I’ve been investigating other hardy bamboos. I own a lot of bamboo books, but Practical Bamboos is by far the most useful of all. Other bamboo books are more encyclopedic; this one focuses on “only” the 50 most useful bamboo species, spelling out what types are good for fence rows, which are drought resistant, which work well in containers, and how to identify those variants from lookalikes. There’s very specific growing tips for each variety and solid advice about the principles of growing bamboo plants in general. This is the manual to get.

-- KK  

Practical Bamboos
Paul Whittaker
2010, 176 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:


A selection of bamboo culms showing variation in shape and form.



Simple division using a saw.