Oz-Post Instant Post Holes

Last summer, I needed to fence in my 1/2 acre back yard to contain our new puppies. Digging post holes is not a task that I particularly enjoy, even using a power auger, so I decided to try out the E-Z Spike fence post spike, which was carried at my local Home Depot. This consists of a long spike with a sleeve on top that receives a 4×4 fence post.

This worked fairly well. The resulting posts were sturdy, but the spikes had to be driven in with a sledge hammer. This task was perhaps more odious than digging post holes.

Then, I discovered the Oz-Post Instant Post Hole. These are similar in concept to the E-Z Spike but a bit beefier and made from galvanized steel. However, the big difference is that the manufacturer sells a special insert and bit that allow you to drive them into the ground with a jackhammer, which greatly reduces the installation time.

I had never used a jackhammer before, so I entered into this endeavor with a certain amount of trepidation. However, it ended up not being bad at all. I rented an electric one from Home Depot (the heaviest of the three types they rented out), and was able to get almost all of the spikes driven in one day. (I would have gotten all of them, but I miscalculated how many I needed and didn’t get enough.)

I hit rocks and tree roots several times, but just kept hammering away, and eventually the spike went in. It is difficult to keep the spike exactly vertical as you drive it, but there is enough play in the sleeve that I was able to shim all of my posts plumb.

All of the posts ended up being extremely sturdy, and since the posts are treated and not in direct contact with the ground, I expect that they will last a very long time.

-- Clark Case  

Oz-Post T4-600 4 in. Square Fence Post Anchor
$113.20 / case of 8



Backyard Sugarin’

I really like this small guide because the author emphasizes the cheapest possible way to get up and running. While commercial maple sugaring has gone all high tech, with miles of plastic tubing and vacuum pumps, a weekend backyarder can use traditional homemade apparatus to produce a few gallons of golden syrup each season. Don’t need much if you have the minimum trees, scrap wood, outdoor workspace and time. (And BTW, you can get syrup form all kinds of maples in the right climate zone.)

From my few clumsy experiments using an earlier edition of this book, I can tell you it’s a lot of work for a little syrup — but because its your syrup, it tastes like ambrosia.

-- KK  

Backyard Sugarin’
Rink Mann, Daniel Wolf
2006, 96 pages
$10

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

So, let’s sum up the things you ought to be thinking about well in advance if you’re aiming to make 5 gallons of syrup.

So, let’s sum up the things you ought to be thinking about well in advance if you’re aiming to make 5 gallons of syrup.

  • Save up at least 20 plastic milk bottles or other containers to serve as sap buckets.
  • Pick out your trees for tapping and get permission, if necessary, to tap them. You’re going to drill 20 holes.
  • Collect about a half cord of good dry wood, pile it near your planned evaporator site and cover it over.
  • Save up 10 2-pound coffee cans with plastic lids, or something comparable for storing your syrup.

There are other preparations that can be made in advance, too, like designing and collecting parts for your homemade evaporator, and perhaps whittling your own sap spouts, but these things can be done over the winter.

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Remember that if you’re standing on top of a four-foot snowbank when making your tap holes at the beginning of the season, those taps may be seven feet off the ground near the end of the season when the snowbank has melted. It’s hard to collect sap from buckets seven feet off the ground.

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Apart from eliminating the high cost of buckets, the Idlenot Dairy Low-Fat Sap Bucket has some very real advantages over conventional buckets. For one thing, except for the 3/4″ hole, it is completely enclosed, so you don’t get any debris or unwanted predators in the sap. For another thing, it’s semi-transparent, so you can see from a distance whether or not it will be worth slogging through the snow to empty it. And, maybe best of all, when the season is over, you don’t have to go to all the bother of washing and storing your buckets. You can just drop them off at your local recycling center and start with a fresh set of buckets next season.

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Canning maple syrup presents the same problems as the hot canning of cooked vegetables, with at least one important (and happy) difference. If a jar of canned tomatoes goes bad, you’ve had it. With syrup, if it gets moldy, you can scoop off the mold, bring the syrup back up to a boil, and you’re back in business.

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This is what syrup looks like when it’s about to boil over. Quick! Someone lift the pot off the burner (or touch the syrup with a bit of butter).




Little Giant MegaLite Ladder

Unfolds to allow access to the roof, folds to allow use as a four-foot or ten-foot step ladder. One ladder that is light weight, serves multiple purposes, and is well-designed and built. Comparable folding ladders are either flimsy, heavy, or a pain to use.

-- Jim  

Little Giant Megalite Aluminum Ladder
$209

Available from Amazon



Surgical Huck Towels

Huck towels are durable low-lint cotton towels canonically used for wiping down surgical instruments after sterilization, but they are useful for many other tasks where a clean strong towel is optimal. They are praised by window-washers, auto detailers, and professional housecleaners, and they are very popular in my household.

I got some from a nurse friend and found them to be much superior to my existing “cleaning rag” options. I have had many lint-based disappointments with traditional “shop towels” and huck towels have displaced them for most uses.

Because they are designed to retain their advantages over a long life of many washings, they are a good value and there is a secondary market of still-functional towels removed from institutional service.

They are available new and “reclaimed” from many outlets. Check with a local janitorial supply merchant, or look online. Of course, there are several vendors on Amazon and Ebay. The big institutional distributors such as Uline and Grainger carry them, too.

Pricing varies quite a bit, but seems to cluster around $0.50 per towel when buying a small case.

-- Erik Hoover  

Surgical Cotton Huck Towels Blue 15″ X 25″ – Pack of 12 Pcs
$10

Available from Amazon



OXO Good Grips Microfiber Slim Duster

I was looking for something to clean under my major appliances without removing them. Vacuum crevasse tools are never long enough and nothing beats cloth-to-surface contact like this microfiber duster.

You’ll make a yuck face after extracting years of accumulated cat food kibbles and M&Ms from underneath your range and fridge.

The duster sleeve (washable and replaceable) is very fluffy along the edges and I’m slightly concerned about it catching on something under the appliance. Hasn’t happened yet, though. I ordered another just in case.

Yet another OXO win.

-- John Coke  

OXO Good Grips Microfiber Slim Duster
$23

Available from Amazon



Storey’s Guide to Raising Rabbits

For nearly 40 years this guide has introduced boy scouts, 4H-ers, homesteaders, survivalists, and pet keepers to the practicalities of raising rabbits. Now in a new 4th edition, it’s still the best manual for getting started with rabbits for food or show.

-- KK  

Storey’s Guide to Raising Rabbits
Bob Bennett
2009, 256 pages
$15

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Watch carefully at feeding time

A good raiser watches stock closely at feeding time. While they are eating, run your hand over each rabbit. A rabbit that’s a bit bony should get more feed. If a rabbit hasn’t cleaned up its pellets something is wrong.

To determine the cause of appetite loss, first check the water supply. Is the crock or jug empty? Is the valve plugged? Rabbits don’t eat when they are thirsty. They must have plenty of water. Most of the time a rabbit that isn’t eating isn’t drinking.

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If you run your hand over each rabbit at feeding time, you will know if you should increase the ration or not.

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If the doe starts to carry straw around, she probably will kindle in a day or so.

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The doe needs peace and quiet a few days before the litter is born and a few days after. Dogs and children can be particularly disturbing at this time. Upsetting the rabbitry routine can cause the doe to kill her young or abandoned them, so it it is vital that you keep things calm and quiet.

You will, of course, be very curious to see the litter. If you have placed the nest box in the back of the hutch but in full view from the front, you will be able to see into it, and by the 31st day you should see a pile of fluffy fur toward the rear of it, moving slightly up and down.

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Ten-day old babies in the nest. Newborns should be handled rarely if at all, so the doe will not be upset by the intrusion in her nest and so you avoid passing your sent to the young.




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