Sunday, July 29, 2012

Installing a Woodstove in a Yurt

Yesterday turned into a longish day, dragging into today, and finally culminating with me sitting here on our bed, typing up this entry, while Donna and Kenny lay beside me, reading from the Charlie Brown's 'Cyclopedia (sic). 

Grandpa dropped by early, after hearing me pumping out the well again. He suggested that he would get a start on our wood pallet woodshed, as he had some free time. Mummu and him have been just amazingly helpful, we surely wouldn't have been able to get where we are without them!


Donna and Kenny joined me at the well, and when I had pumped it nearly dry, I dropped my ladder down and climbed inside. I scrubbed the walls clean of sand and mud, and then rooted around in the last few litres of water, pulling out any roots, woodchips and leaves I could get my hands on. I figure that the less organic material in there, the faster it will pass a water quality test. After stirring up all that silt and such, when I returned to the surface, I pumped the well dry again right away - that water was not pleasant looking at all. More like chocolate milk, as expected under the circumstances.


I loaded up the tractor trailer with skids to take to our chosen woodshed site, and to economize on trips I also hefted in the two patio stones I wanted to place under the stove as a heat reflector/thermal mass/whatever. Those stones were far heavier than I expected. They were both 24 inches by 30 inches, which I figured would be 25% heavier than a standard two by two foot stone, but instead, they felt to be about 300% heavier! In any case, I put them in the bucket, and off-loaded them at the yurts. In light of their weight, I decided to just carry them right into the yurts and place them right away. After much discussion and work with the yardstick, square, and a washer on a string as a plumb-bob, we had the tiles placed, and then the stove as well. This naturally led to me trying to place a length of stove pipe, and then surprise surprise, it didn't fit!


Argh! I gave the pipe extra crimping, but to no avail. Finally, I decided to measure the pipe - 6 inches, as advertised. Then I measured the stove opening. 5 1/2 inches. Wha'?


Internet research was very unhelpful in this regard. There was no "adapter" that could be found. FInally I called Thunder Bay Fireplaces and spoke with someone named Glenn. He was very helpful, understanding my problem right away, and telling me that I had to just set things up contrary to all current wisdom. Instead of having my stovepipe crimps always going into the lower section, on the stovetop I had to place the stovepipe over the output of the stove; creosote be jiggered. I cut the crimping off a piece of my pipe and it fit nice and tight over the stove outlet. This tip was invaluable and I hope that future readers of the blog find it useful. No one recommends this but if you are using an older, non-standard stove, it really is your only option.

In any case, after working my way up to the canvas of the yurt, Donna and Kenny headed off to enjoy the festivities of FinnThunder. I stayed behind to continue my work. I carefully marked out the location for the flashing and, with my heart pounding, cut a 16 inch diameter circle in both the wool felt and canvas with a utility knife.

After mounting the inner ring and fastening it to the rafter with some extra muffler clamps I had in my odds and ends pile, I migrated outside and placed the flashing in position. The cone worked and fit very nicely with some adjustment. I brought it back down to ground level, and proceeded to snip flares into it so that the larger diameter, double-wall stove pipe would fit. This took lots of finagling, but eventually I got it to slide down nicely. At this point though, it didn't look terribly pretty, so I consulted the instructions which came with the flashing, as well as consulting the Yurta manual and website again to see if I could cipher out what they had done to make things look nice. This is when I came across something called a "storm collar". Which looked to me like an extra piece of flashing that fit over the main flashing. Redundant, but coincidentally enough that was the word of the day for Kenny and I the previous day! In any case, I was off to town to grudgingly purchase a storm collar.

Canadian Tire doesn't sell them separately, only as part of a kit. Home Hardware had them, but they didn't look to be the correct size (they were, I should have purchased them and made that decision later at home). The fellow at Home Hardware suggested I check with the fireplace dealers in town but both of them were closed by the time I arrived at their locations. Argh!

So, today, it was back to town, but since Home Hardware is closed on Sundays and the forecast called for rain, to Canadian Tire thinking I would buy the kit and take the hit. When I saw that their storm collar was simply a piece of stainless flashing, cut in a "C" shape, I asked the salesman (boy?) for a marker, and traced the "C" onto a piece of flashing at a fraction of the price. I'm so golden!

I meandered back home, visiting Hammerskjold high school to check out the FinnThunder market, as well as the McIntyre Township Community Centre playground (so Kenny could show me the tire bridge).

Within moments of arriving home, Grandpa trotted over to tell us that there was a severe weather warning, high winds and rain coming!

I headed up the ladder, screwed the flashing tight to the chimney, then used a tube of high temperature silicone to seal up the gaps. As I was pulling the dome shut over my head, a gust of wind blew our dining tent over catastrophically, and Donna rushed out to zip down our canvas windows. So far, no leaks in our stovepipe! As soon as things clear I will cut out and install our storm collar, which appears to be mostly for aesthetics but will also give redundant comfort against future leaks.


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Digging a Well

In the past, when I read and heard about people's trials and tribulations when putting in a well, I looked at them as just stories relating their anxiety and problems; for some reason, never cluing in that perhaps they were more a cautionary tail. Surely those were exceptions, rather than rule. That's why I was a bit stressed when I suddenly realized that this was truly an example of how there are no sure things in life. 

Our driveway contractor had quoted a sharp price for putting in our well, and after crunching the numbers, I gave him the go-ahead to do so. He was of the school of thought that put faith in witching for water, and suggested I have our property surveyed by someone before breaking ground. Myself, on the other hand, am no expert in the matter, but I'm still not convinced of its efficacy, and so proceeded to wander around with Grandpa, poking the ground with his tamping rod here and there to see what we could come up with. We eventually found one spot that was a real treat - close to where we wanted the cabin, but secluded by a few trees, with the tamping rod not finding any rocks, but coming up completely wet.


The big day arrived, and the weather reports called for rainfall warnings. My contractor called to say he wasn't going to show up unless things changed. Well, lucky for us, they did change! The clouds all blew over, and we only got a light mist that was gone by lunch. We heard the trucks shortly afterwards, and knew he had arrived.


Gosh it was exciting to see him hauling in the tiles through the bush, on our meagre trails with his big machine. He had brought us the larger, four foot diametre tiles, which were just on the edge of the ability of his loader to lift safely. Watching him thread his way through the bush with that huge pendulum swinging reminded me of my own trials on my little Yanmar. At least he was safely tucked into his cab, and had years of experience behind him. Still, my heart skipped whenever he hit a hidden stump or rock, and I was especially intent when he actually had to use his backhoe as a counterweight to get around a tricky spot on the slopes.


He looked at our chosen location with great skepticism, which was really evidenced on his face when he learned that I hadn't had it witched. He once again pointed down to the old well, over 100 feet away, as being his first choice, but it was my dime, so he proceeded to dig.


What a heart-wrenching sound when he crunched into bedrock only a few feet down. He tried in another spot close by, with the same results, and by that point, I realized how we could easily be at it all day with little to show for it, so I agreed that we could take a crack at the old well location and see what we could find there.


It wasn't much better, truth be told, as he hit the bedrock only a few feet down, but at least it was wet and had open water there. We ended up digging out the old well entirely, but the new one really only needed a single tile. Instead, we lifted the lid off, and placed a second tile on, and then the lid. I'm assured that this will help keep more groundwater out of the well, and also to put more insulation around it to prevent it freezing up in winter.


His truck was unable to navigate on the roads/trails we had put in ourselves, so he dumped his load of sand on our driveway, and had used this to pack around the tiles to level and install them. Much sand had accumulated on the sides of our driveway during his work, and so after he finished and left, I proceeded to haul about four trailers full to the well and shovel them around it by hand. This mounded up the well quite nicely.


We've spent the past couple of days pumping out the well with Grandpa's sump pump and my generator. Each time it seems to run much cleaner than the last. We guesstimate that it holds about 75-80 gallons of water, and it takes about 8 hours to recharge after pumping. It remains to be seen how this holds up in January and February, the hardest time for wells...


I plan on installing a storage tank closer to where we will be living, and pumping water into it as needed, so perhaps that buffer will work for us. For now, we're just happy to clean it up and know that this is one less thing we have to think about.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Building a Power Station

This past weekend we were blessed with a visit from my sister. It was wonderful to have another member of the family come out to see what we were doing and interact with Ken. He really loves to show people around his homestead, and his enthusiasm for everything is quite contagious!

In between the hikes and swimming and playing, my second solar panel arrived. One evening while Kenny and Aunt Vicki were amusing one another at the yurts, I rewired my initial solar panel so that its leads both ran into a junction box, onto a connection block, through some 6A fuses, and then down to the charge controller. Having a sealed junction box and connection block made future expansion to three panels quite easy, and I was really pleased with how it has come together.


Mounting the second solar panel was then rather simple. It was a matter of repeating the physical mount, that is to say, using stainless steel bolts and nuts to ensure that the panel was not directly contacting my frame. Then clipping the leads and attaching standard automotive spade type connectors. The leads on the solar panels are shockingly short, apparently only really long enough to connect one panel to the next, and I ended up mounting the second (and eventually a third) panel upside down, alongside the initial panel. This worked out without having an inch of cable to spare! But hooking up my meter afterwards showed me pumping 9.5 amps of current into my charge controller - hopefully enough.


It's been a few days now, and the batteries are slowly coming up to a higher charge. Yesterday wasn't so good, as it was overcast and raining most of the day, but up until then they were ending the day with a greater charge than the day before, so that was gratifying. I still think another panel and more batteries are in the plan for this fall yet.


In the meantime, I decided to practise building a log cabin, by building a minature one to enclose my batteries, charge controller, inverter, and battery charger. I milled up a large pile of four foot two by fours, and proceeded to place two inch notches, one inch deep, two inches in from the ends of each two by four.


Then I ripped four of these "beams" in half to place at the very bottom, and very top of the box, to ensure a level surface. It was a fun matter to fit the beams together, in the manner of the toy log cabin sets that Kenny has played with. Of course, it wasn't long into the project before I realized that my accuracy in measuring was not as great as required, and most of the beams required further work with the saw and chisel on the notches before they would fit together nicely. That, and wailing with a mallet.


I put in a less substantial floor than in the Tardis, trying to use up some poplar planks that were rapidly warping over in a corner of my sawmill area. I also built a small interior wall to separate the batteries from the charging equipment. While I'm sure the offgassing of the batteries is very small, I do want to be sure to keep them away from potential sparks. I sized the box to hold at least six batteries comfortably. More if needed.


The roof of the box is still under construction. I think that I will soon do a run to the ReStore in Thunder Bay to see what I may potentially use to cover the roof. The angles of a roofline are actually more complex than I anticipated in my mind's eye. I ended up dusting off my slide ruler to do some of the calculations, as the calculators I had handy were all financial ones, and didn't have any options to calculate squares, roots, sines, cosines, or tangents. SOH CAH TOA still sticks in my head though! Finally, a practical application for math! This is why I think Kenny can benefit from homeschooling - a more direct connection between the abstract things you learn, and the concrete things you do.


Hopefully soon I can cover the box and move it into position - I really want to get started on bringing in my winter wood!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Attaching an Electric Winch to my Tractor to Skid Logs

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had a bit of a dilemma. I had cut down a large, precarious jackpine that would be able to supply me with the start of my power station enclosure. Unfortunately, it was in a difficult location to access, and after spending about an hour to retrieve one piece, I decided it was time to pursue another tack. 

I had thought for some time about the possibility of a mechanized winch to bring my logs out. A little bit of google searching had revealed that many people were pressuring for the use of hydraulic or PTO winches on a tractor when it comes to skidding logs. This was discouraging, as those options are beyond both my ken and my budget.


Of course, much of what I'm doing out here is experimentation, and, with electric winches being a rather inexpensive proposition, I decided to discover for myself whether or not I would be disappointed with their performance.


On our trip to the Teddy Bear's Picnic, I took the chance to pop by the nearby Canadian Tire and picked up a 3000lb winch that they seemed to be clearing out. I spent that evening and the next morning assembling the winch, and trying to mount it to the tractor.


I ended up removing all the tines from the cultivator that had come with the tractor. It is pretty unlikely that in this part of the world I will have enough earth together in one place that I can easily cultivate with the tractor. Then I bolted the winch through two plates of plywood to the cultivator. It looked like a pretty steady mount to me.


Next I had to run two wires from the battery at the front of the tractor, to the cultivator/winch at the back. This went pretty smoothly too - I stripped some 14/3 house wire that I had, and used the red and black lines, just to ensure consistency with 12V systems. I currently have these two wires twisted together and covered with electrical tape, but I intend to replace this rigging with an actual plug next time I can get to town to purchase the parts.


In any case, the winch worked! Now to test it in the field - I headed to the gravel pit, and connected up the winch to my logs - and it pulled! It even started to drag the tractor once or twice when a log dug deep into an alder bush or another log.


I have to say I was very, very happy with its performance. So much so that if and when it does burn out, I think I will be more than willing to pay more money for a much higher capacity winch. Mine only has a 44' cable (which I've already put a small kink in :( ), but between that, and my other 40' cable, and my multiple chains, I should be able to get at a really good number of trees in normally inaccessable places.


Expanding our Turnaround

After the incident with getting the truck stuck for a few hours up by the yurts, a turnaround was added to our to-do list. Grandpa was kind enough to get us started on this project, by using his grub hoe to knock down some humps and fill in some holes, in the area beside the dojo tent. He then threw on a few loads of our gravel/clay, and we had the start of a turnaround!

Upon cutting up a large jackpine for use as my power station enclosure, I realized that skidding it out of the bush with the tractor was going to be a tall order. It was 25 metres from the gravel pit, and 30 metres from my dojo tent, and located in dense bush. I managed to get one piece of it skidded to the gravel pit by using a combination of all my cables and chains, and driving the tractor a few metres, then backing up, and resetting all my equipment. This was clearly going to take far too long to be sensible. I put that project on the backburner, and instead decided to focus on the turnaround a bit.


This was a fun project. I could really visualize things improving by the moment, as each shovelful of gravel was quickly loaded into the trailer, and in short order, it made its appearance at the turnaround, covering up the weeds, filling in depressions, and opening up the area for a more comfortable and accessible experience.


I cut down a few smaller trees, using only my bucksaw, and then used the loppers and a small hatchet to trim off any branches that were intruding on the space.


Finally, a large alder bush had to be winched out. I had forgotten just how impressive their root systems can be. For a weedy bush, they grow a root that seems indistinguishable from that of a full grown tree. I had to winch, then hack with an axe, then winch, then back to the axe, and just continue with this routine for an hour or so to fully extract the bush.


Kenny was wizard at using his bulldozer to loosen up gravel at the pit, and then he was all over the place when it came time to offload the gravel at the other end of the drive. He really is a joy to have helping on projects. It will be nice to see this continue in the future. Donna and Kenny have certainly been among my greatest blessings in life!


After a day or two of this, it was time to take a trip to town to attend the Teddy Bear's Picnic. Kenny opted to take E.T. rather than a more traditional Teddy, but he fit right in. On the way home, he received his reward for all his hard work, and it certainly seemed to agree with him!


Monday, July 9, 2012

Building my "Tracking" Solar Panel Mount

When I first set up our solar panel and accompanying electronics, my theme was speed of getting my investment up and running. Everything was packaged into plastic tubs, and as you can see my actual mount for my panel was lacking in adjustability and security. Luckily we haven't had too many really windy days.

It worked rather well to whet our appetite for the system, and kept up with charging our iPhone, iPad, and cordless tool batteries. Unfortunately, we had to keep plugging them in right next to the inverter, in the largest tub, and this was rather inconvenient. So next I shifted the entire setup closer to the coupling in the yurts, and ran an extension cord from the inverter, into the yurts, and placed a power bar against the door frame.

Instead of resting the panel on one of the tubs, I moved it to a bigger and better mount - leaning against a lawn chair!

But, as you know, we then decided a fridge was the next action. The fridge has been working out very well, but it sucked the batteries dry. Rats, now we had to hook up the generator to pump up the batteries, and it ran for hours and hours to do so. This was not on! The panel was already in the shade of the yurts until early afternoon, so it was probably missing out on about half of the potential sun that was available to it.


As I may have mentioned earlier, on the dump trip where I picked up the screen and lamp for the Tardis/Outhouse, I also picked up other treasures. The remains of a steel gazebo were still in great shape for odd sorts of projects, so I grabbed them and stacked them beside the dojo tent for future use. Now, it was their moment to shine! I arranged three pieces into what already looked like a pretty good mount - able to comfortably accommodate three solar panels. I built expandability into my design! With some simple stove bolts, they were securely anchored together.


Next up was a mount. At first I had considered simply adding more gazebo panels to the back, to create an "A" frame setup that was just pointed at the noonday sun, possibly allowing for adjusting the angle to catch the sun in both winter and summer configurations. Instead, I rigged up an inch and a quarter galvanized pipe, six feet long, muffler and pipe clamped to a nearby tree I had cleaned up for this purpose. I then created another galvanized "T" by screwing two, three-quarter inch by eighteen inch pieces into a T coupling, with a four foot length of three-quarter inch forming the main shaft.


Originally I just dropped this shaft down the larger pipe, but, as my father pointed out, it was a little bit sloppy, and could be easily rectified by adding an inch and a quarter coupler on top, that the flare on the three quarter inch T coupling could nestle into. We created our own out of a scrap piece of aluminum siding and a pipe clamp, but I decided to go with the actual coupling and ended up purchasing that on my next trip to town.

Using some pipe hangers, Dad and I mounted my gazebo frame onto this system, and it worked really well! We could adjust the direction and tilt with ease!

The issue that I then had to contend with was ensuring that the angle of tilt would be reasonably adjustable, and yet, still secure. I had a few notions of straps and wooden braces, but then decided that the more elegant solution simply required more pipe!

This time I added another T coupler, six inches below the original, with the shaft of the T facing the front of the frame. Then, I bolted a small piece of plywood at the level of this opening, but on the gazebo frames. To the plywood, I bolted two more of my "T" supports, in half inch, one with just a threaded connector, and one with a six inch pipe. It's perhaps a bit difficult to see in the pictures, this one was dark when taken, so I've manually brightened it up. In any case, I can now use the threaded connector, which aligns with the hole in my main support shaft, in winter, which makes the whole frame align nearly vertically.

Currently, I have swung it up and out of the way, and swung the other one, with the six inch pipe, into alignment with the open hole, and it is resting there, giving me a bit more than a forty-five degree angle on my frame, better for the summer sun. They are very secure, and yet, only take a moment to swing out of the hole, and get repositioned. Due to the fact that the panel frame is aluminum channel, one must be aware of the possibility (certainty) of galvanic corrosion. Thus, mounting to my steel frame using only stainless steel nuts, bolts and washers - and ensuring that no parts of the panel are in contact with the frame directly.

Donna helped me to carry the batteries, inverter and charge controller over to the base of the new panel, and I hooked it all up. We did this just as the sun was setting, so I swung the panel around to the morning direction, and we had to retire for the evening, way too late! The next day, I beefed up the support by screwing a few two by fours from my main tree to the stumps from two others nearby. Over the course of the day, which was a mix of sun and cloud, we managed to end up getting .1 volts more than we had started with! That's good news!

My next project will have to be something a bit more permanent for the batteries and electronics to reside in though. And for that, I'll need to harvest a few more trees for lumber...