Love Glove

With three cats in the house, fur gets all over our furniture and clothes. I didn’t want to make a dozen Monkey Couch Guardians, so I bought a Love Glove to attack the problem at its source – on the cats.

The Love Glove looks like an oven mitt. The palm side is covered with rubber nubs. To use it, you simply pet your cat. The loose fur comes off and sticks to the glove. It’s easy to peel off. My cats go into throes of ecstasy when I use the Love Glove on them. They even get excited just seeing me approach them with the glove on my hand.

I have collected a lot of fur so far. My younger daughter is saving it because she wants to use it to make the projects in Crafting with Cat Hair: Cute Handicrafts to Make with Your Cat.

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-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Love Glove Grooming Mitt for Cats
$6

Available from Amazon



Reaping Hook

About 9 years ago I moved into a lovely saltbox style home nestled in the redwoods above Santa Cruz California. After a few seasons of neglecting the brush, weed, and redwood sprout growth, everything from invasive Scotch broom to the Russian wheat that my neighbor planted has invaded my yard.

I went about educating myself about brush clearing and now use a machete and a reaping hook, which I learned to make and use from a video tutorial. In the video Don Fernando Caamano of Ecuador shows how to create your own reaping hook from a bifurcated branch. Chop the branch down to the right shape and a very strong and lightweight hook is created. This tool has been very useful to me and even better, it was free.

The reaping hook is essentially a complement to the machete in your other hand. I also use it to help drag and clear branches after bucking up a fallen tree for firewood. The hook keeps your hands out of the area that you are swinging a machete into. It also keeps the poison oak, spiders, ticks, and whatever else is lurking to harm my person at arm’s distance. On softer vegetation you can use the hook to pull the plants taut to expose the roots and stalks and sever them with your machete. I also use the hook to pull all my longer or larger trimmings into a pile for cleanup before I go back through with a rake.

I’ve never tried a commercial reaping hook because as far as I know it doesn’t exist aside from the bladed models which are also referred to as reaping hooks but are really a sickle. This is a hand made tool that can be seen in museums and found in old barns. It is free to make but becomes a valuable tool once you use it a few times. Thank you Don Fernando Caamano.

-- Seth Wilson  

Reaping hook
Free



The Book of Bamboo

Bamboo works. Bamboo does more things than any other material. Many of its traditional uses are inventoried here. A shape-shifter, bamboo’s super-human abilities are amazing. Its grass fiber is all that plastic would like to be, plus more. This is an encyclopedia of bamboo ideas.

-- KK  

The Book of Bamboo
David Farrelly
1984, 352 pages
From $24 [only available used]

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Arundinaria gigantic: 30 feet by 1 1/4 inch, – 10°F
(Arundinaria macrosperma).

One of two bamboos native to the continental United States, its “canebrakes” once covered large areas from Virginia to Texas and provided an effective exist from the South for runaway slaves headed north for freedom before the Civil War.

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We live surrounded by such an abundance of tools that the advantage of a material that requires few tools, and those hand powered and even handmade in many cases, is not so apparent in industrial centers as in the hinterlands where bamboo is most abundant.

Bamboo’s high silica content is famous for dulling tools. Tool effectiveness will be increased, time spent sharpening reduced, and work in general cheered by using molybdenum steel or an equally hard alloy. Many a bamboo house has been machete built, but more tools are demanded for more refined work, some peculiar to processing bamboo and therefore unavailable at standard tool sources. The Chinese bamboo tub and bucket maker requires some thirty different tools and gadgets to measure, cut, fit, and assemble his wares.

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For kites or other miniworks, soak the pieces to be bent overnight in water with a dash of ammonia, then tie in desired shape around a mold to dry. You can heat small pieces in a candle flame. The mortar holding the fibers in place becomes flexible with heat and permits bending to chosen shape, which is retained after cooling. Take care not to scorch or burn bamboo by leaving candle too long in one position. Try using a bucket of hot sand to shape small pieces, as eyeglass doctors do to shape plastic frames. Don’t force the bamboo’s pace, nor try to bend it too far, or you’ ll crack it.

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Bamboo animal cages and feeding troughs reduce expensive importation of metal cages, are more amiable to the cages, and can be repaired from locally available material.




Big Wally’s Plaster Magic

This is a very easy to use system for reattaching parts of plaster walls and ceilings that have started to separate from the lath behind. You just drill holes through the plaster, inject a treatment that softens the plaster, followed by adhesive, then use screws with plastic washers to push the softened plaster flat against the lath and hold in place while the adhesive hardens. Then you can remove the washers, and smooth the area and fill the holes with plaster or joint compound. I’ve used it several times over the past 2 years and have avoided having to remove and replace whole walls and ceilings. It can also be used to try to prevent cracks from growing.

I’ve probably spent about $100-200 per room of my house. It’s very easy to use, and helpful if you only have a few small problem areas, or just prefer to save an old plaster wall or ceiling during restoration or repair of an old house. They also sell patching plaster as well.

-- Reed Hedges  

Big Wally’s Plaster Magic
$87



Reflectix Foil Insulation

Reflectix is a reflective insulation that looks like silver bubble wrap. It’s commonly used in attics as insulation. It reflects heat, and works best if there’s a small dead air space between it and whatever you’re insulating (you can use a small strip of reflectix to create that space). It’s lightweight, you can buy a 4′ x25′ roll of it for less than 50 bucks, and it’s easy to work with.

I use it in a lot of ways beyond its traditional use as a radiant heat barrier in attics. It’s great for small-scale insulation projects, covering frost-sensitive plants at night, covering a window when the sun’s blasting in.

Last winter, I threw some over the chicken coop when it got really cold at night, and I’m planning to use it to shade their coop when it gets hot this summer. While I’ve never used it this way, it might make a great parabolic reflector for solar uses, as long as it didn’t get too hot. I can see lots of backpacking uses for a length of this lightweight stuff (as a thermal barrier under a sleeping pad, as a reflector behind you when you’re sitting by a fire to reflect the heat back (though you should take care to anchor it well so it doesn’t get into the fire), or as a sunshade on a hot day.

-- Amy Thomson  

Reflectix 24-Inch by 25-Feet Bubble Pack Insulation
$24

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Reflectix



Duracell CEF23 NiMH battery charger and USB Device charger

Low self-discharge (LSD) NiMH batteries have been mentioned at least 3 times before on Cool Tools under the Eneloop brand name. These batteries retain 85% of their charge after a year in storage, making them almost as convenient as alkalines (keep a few charged ones on-hand, ready to go). At about $2 each, they pay for themselves after 4 or 5 uses.

This review is about chargers, which are not all made equal. The Duracell CEF23 is superior to other chargers in several ways:

  • “Smart” charger – doesn’t just use a timer, but looks for specific behavior of the battery voltage to determine when charging is done
  • Independently charges each battery – can mix AA and AAA’s and start/stop each battery independently.
  • Charge speed of about 4 hours is a happy medium between reducing the life if your cells (very rapid charge) vs. having to wait very long
  •  Ability to charge from an AC outlet -or- 12VDC (e.g. car plug or solar panel)
  • Ability to act as a USB device charger – powered by AC, 12VDC, -or- the 4 batteries in the charger

Those last 2 points put this charger above most others. In emergency situations, you can recharge batteries without needing AC, and you can use any 4 AA’s (NiMH or Alkaline) to top off your cellphone or other USB devices. You could pop one of these in an emergency kit and give it a recharge every year or so.

Unfortunately, Duracell stopped making the US version of this charger. But you can get the Australian-plug version (CEF23AU), bundled with a US-plug adapter and 4 AA LSD NiMH batteries, for about $20. That’s cheaper than most other chargers, which don’t have the extra features this one does. Not bad!

If you add a generic 12V car power cable (e.g. from Radio Shack), a few extra LSD AA/AAA’s batteries (consider Tenergy brand), and some “AA spacers” that let you use the AA batteries to replace C/D batteries, you’d be totally outfitted with LSD batteries for about $60.

-- Adam Berson  

Duracell Mobile Charger with 4 AA Rechargeable NiMH Batteries, CEF23AU
$20

Available from Amazon



Real Goods

A good source for reliable off-the-grid appliances is Real Goods. Located in the hippy heartland of northern California where many folks live year-round off-the-grid, this store has been selling highly selected solar and eco-friendly gear since 1978. It’s good place to get 12-volt freezers, refrigerators and solar well pumps.

-- KK  

Sample Excerpts:

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Solar Well Pump Kit – 100′ Depth
Price: $2,199

Our basic solar well pump system can be submerged up to 100 feet underwater with a total of 230 feet of lift, giving an additional 130 feet of lift out of the well, ideal for pumping to elevated watertanks without the use of booster pumps. This system contains everything you need to ditch the noise and costs of the generator.

The Shurflo pump is 100% field servicable, and we offer a full line or replacement parts from gaskets to motors.

The following items are included with this kit:

1 Linear Current Booster 12/24 Volt DC, 7A, PPT 12/24-7
240 Submersible Pump Cable 10/2 Per Foot
1 SJE PumpMaster SPDT Float Switch
1 SHURflo 9300 24VDC Submersible Pump
1 MC4 PV Output Cable 15′
1 DP Custom Top Pole Mount
2 ET Solar 95w Polycrystalline Solar Panel ET-P63695
1 MidNite Solar 10A 150VDC Din Rail Mount Breaker MNEPV10
1 MidNite Solar Combiner Box MNPV3
2 PV Grounding Lug 980010




Common Sense Forestry

A woods can be managed to maximize recreation potential, or increase wildlife for hunting, or maximize timber. This guidebook assumes you’d like to optimize your woodlot’s timber potential in a sustainable fashion. Small-time woodlots with selective harvesting are a lot of work yielding little money, but with applied intelligence they can produce wonderfully rich and productive forests. This detailed manual will teach you intelligent woodlot management. What the author learned over 35 years is that you the forester should do as little as possible — just enough to encourage the woods to do as much as possible.

-- KK  

Common Sense Forestry
Hans W. Morsbach
2002, 240 pages
$28

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

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Here are eight steps for planting a seedling with a spud.

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A typical oak seedling before trimming. Its roots are too long for spud planting.

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Some time ago, I surmised that I could establish an exciting mixed-species forest simply by planting as many seedlings of different varieties as I could fit in a given plot of land. As the stand matured, I could decide which trees to keep and which to cull, creating the mixture of trees I wanted. The stand would form an early canopy and the trees would side shade each other, meaning I’d never have to prune. Natural selection would favor the best trees to survive. They would become perfectly shaped veneer logs with little lateral branching. …By any reasonable standard of investment analysis, planting in this fashion is fiscal insanity. Yet this experimental plot promises to develop into a wonderful forest better than any other scheme I’ve witnessed for planting seedlings. It will require virtually no maintenance beyond thinning, which means it will flourish even if I do nothing.

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A site I had prepared for walnuts suddenly was inundated by giant ragweed, which grew to twelve feet in a couple of weeks, totally smothering all my seeded walnuts and oaks. Elsewhere I disced ash seeds between the rows of a walnut plantation. The ashes never appeared, but an influx of Queen Anne’s lace dominated the ground. Along a hedgerow of cedars I planted years ago, little cedars germinate in one particular spot and nowhere else. There must be something special about this spot (a “site-specific” condition, as ecologists and foresters say when they can’t explain such a peculiarity). Similarly, on property I own miles away from my main farm, I see new white spruces popping up next to their parents, while I seem to be incapable of making them germinate on my farm. The pH is not low enough at my farm, and conifers prefer acid soil.

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I have never seen or heard of a seedling that resulted in too many trees. Experts suggest that about fifteen thousand seedlings an acre is a good number, which means about three seedlings per square foot. I suggest that you plant whatever seeds you have.

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After having planted two fields next to a forest where squirrels stole every single nut in two successive years, I decided that I can live without walnut trees.

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Taping a fork as shown will strengthen the branches. Later, you can remove one branch and the other will become the new leader.

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You should also remember a suggestion I made earlier: Always cut the most inferior tree before cutting your best. You should upgrade your forest so as to maintain large, well-formed trees for future harvests. I urge you to be personally involved in deciding which trees are to be cut.

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Mark your harvest trees carefully. Most commonly trees to be harvested are marked with a paint gun by you or a forester. It is best to mark two spots on the tree: one at eye level to be seen by the logger and a second spot at the base to assure that only designated trees are harvested.

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An environmentally friendly method of getting logs to the logging roads is a system of winches and cables. Extracting logs by suspending them from cables does less damage to the forest than the use of heavy equipment. German foresters don’t allow skitters to move about in the woods, so all logs are dragged by cable to a logging road.




Living on an Acre

Living on a few acres may be the ultimate American dream. But before you leave, best read this realistic advice produced by the US Department of Agriculture for the wave of young back-to-the-landers in the 1970s, updated and rewritten for 2010′s young homesteaders. Think of this as a wise uncle who’s seen a million folks try this and has a few words of caution — and encouragement — for you.

You’ll get an informed overview of the thousands of things you need to think about (water, sewage, markets, pests, machines, etc.), and the hundreds of options you have for using the land (flowers, a dude ranch, raising pets, a country B&B, speciality herbs, etc). It won’t tell you the right answers or how to do any of them. It serves more like a checklist of all the possibilities and drawbacks to help fit your dream to reality.

Most folks caught in the fever of this dream don’t want this kind of overview, they only want to know how many rows of beans to plant and the plans for a chicken coop, in one book. If you do try to live on a few acres, you’ll need tons of how-to guides, videos, and forums; I know of no single source that can give sufficient details for the myriad tasks needed.

The key to successfully living on a few acres is not doing all the jobs right, but selecting the right jobs to do. This earnest Wikipedia-ish tome is an aid to that meta-job.

-- KK  

Living on an Acre
U.S. Department. of Agriculture
2010, 336 pages
$12

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Leasing machinery or hiring custom operators are alternatives to owning farm equipment. In some cases custom operators can complete the work faster and cheaper than you can. This is especially true when you have only a few acres and specialized machines are needed. When considering hiring a custom operator, talk to other people who have used his services. Waiting for a custom operator to arrive can be expensive if the crops are not planted or harvested at the optimum time. Timeliness is important when you compare leasing equipment, owning equipment, or hiring a custom operator.

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Bob and Peg Cremin have devoted their retirement years to a small egg farm at the edge of a residential neighborhood in Wallingford Connecticut. Their handmade signs tempt passing cars.




Carousel Composting Toilet

I grew up with a Carousel composting toilet in our house. It works well, Draining the urine, using a scoop of sawdust every time, and the occasional insertion of beneficial bacteria, all help prevent odors. We had a 12V fan, as well. Two years is the recommended time for between deposition and cleaning. We used it as our primary family toilet for over 15 years, before my father no longer wanted to clean it. It never broke down, and never had any issues. It can handle a whole family year round.

For individuals or occasional vacation use, I’d recommend the Sun-Mar standard Excel (below).excel

-- Courtney Ostaff