Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Attaching a Winch to my Tractor - Revisited

As I'm sure some of you remember, about three months ago I attached a small (3000lb capacity) winch to the former cultivator of my tractor. This worked out exceedlingly well in the interim, with me hauling in many logs that would have been nearly impossible to access by any other means. I understand why loggers use to employ draught horses to good effect, and apparently many still do! I am a little jealous of this technique as I think it would be much more relaxing than trying to get a heavy, noisy tractor back into dense, rocky and uneven bush. In any case, as I said, the winch I installed has been far and away better than our original technique of chaining logs to the tractor and just trying to find ways to drag them into a convenient location. The tractor could rarely approach the logs close enough to hook up our short chains, and when it could, it involved very challenging routes to get the logs back out to a trail groomed enough to drag them to the mill in any decent length of time.

As with many luxuries in life, one begins to look at them as neccessities, and then the grass begins to look greener. I had accepted that this was my entry-level winch and was mostly there to act as an experiment - that's why it was almost with relief that I realized that it had finally stopped pulling.

The small(ish) cable had begun to fray likely due to the fact that this winch didn't come with any sort of fairlead at all. The lack of fairlead ensured that the winch cable was constantly piling up at one end of the winch or another unless the tractor was perfectly lined up with the log, and the log pulled perfectly straight towards the tractor. Unspooling and redirecting cable every few feet were just two of the winch's charms.

The cable was also a bit on the short side, maxing out at about 30 feet. I tied together two other winch cables which were 25 feet each, so I had a range of about 80 feet, although this also meant that I had to stop every 25 feet to remove a cable and reattach the winch to the new length. This also got old after the first or second time I had to perform this manouver.

So with my tiny (in hindsight) winch now out of commission, I consulted with my sources (the latest Canadian Tire Flyer) for the best deal on a new winch - and it was my lucky day! Their largest winch, the SuperWinch LP8500 was on sale. There was apparently only one in all of Thunder Bay, and it took them over half an hour to find it somewhere in their warehouse, but eventually, it was mine!

Imagine my disappointment when I arrived home and realized that the picture on the box was a little deceptive. As pictured on the box, they had photoshopped out the mount for it, which was required to have the fairlead installed. Strangely the mount is not sold by anyone in Canada that I could see, and it was well over $100US plus shipping and duty to get it.

I put it aside for a day, and the next day fashioned my own mount out of angle iron and bolts. I think I did not a bad job; although the fairlead is a little crooked I cannot see how it will be a problem. It also took a bit of work to install beefier 4 gauge wiring to the battery. This is when I noticed that my battery terminal was cracked, which explains why the tractor sometimes is hard to start and needs the battery terminal to be wiggled on occasion before it will turn over.

I'll replace the terminal next time I get to the city and can purchase a new one. In the meantime though, the winch appears to spool in and out, so I am really excited to give it a try. Later today I'll head out to the bush and report back on what it can do.

As you can also see from the photos, I have attached four short lengths of "gold" chain on either side of the winch. I use these to actually chain log ends to my three point hitch, and then I can lift and drag them much more easily.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

More Cold Weather in the Yurts - Reflectix to the Rescue (?)

As I suggested in a previous post, I was very recently prepared to install some insulation between the canvas and felt of our yurts to try to deal with the fridgid temperatures we have been encountering most mornings now.I did a bit more research online (bless Google!) and found at least one person who suggested that this was not very effective. They didn't really outline why they were so disappointed with it, but it hinted at the lack of continuity between one panel and the next, unless I could somehow foam the seams. This was not on.

Going back to things that work though, I recalled our research on the different yurt companies and their methods of insulation. To my mind, the most common insulation offered by modern yurt manufacturers is Reflectix.

I recalled that when I was inquiring after space blankets for the ceiling Maier Hardware had suggested that they did have Reflectix, so I called them and quickly determined that they also had the best pricing per roll.

I bought their entire stock of two rolls and yesterday we set about installing them in the large yurt.

First we pulled all our items away from the walls of the large yurt. This was a great chance to sweep and dust the floor in behind!


Then I pulled both rolls around the perimeter. Every three or four sections I had to pull the wrap out into a loop, as I found the friction to be too great to just pull the roll around the entire outside wall in one go.

One roll I pushed down to the floor, then notched the wrap at each junction of the frame so that we could push the insulation an inch or so down below the outer edge of the floor.

The next roll I pushed up to the rafters, again notching the wrap so that it overlapped onto the ceiling about six inches. I was able to tuck the ends of the wrap under each ceiling rafter, and they nicely bridged between the wall wrap and the space blankets already up in the rafters.

With a bit of work and co-operation Donna and I were then able to run a strip of metallic tape around the seam. I resorted to regular duct tape to seal the insulation to the door frames, mostly to block the draughts that Donna had detected in these zones.

I would say that this will also act as a bit of a vapour barrier now, so the felt shouldn't be quite so humid. I like to believe that this will also help with increasing the felt's ability to insulate. Dry insulation has to be more effective than wet, doesn't it?

With the leftovers, I insulated both of our doors. They were just a single layer of planks, and you could literally see light through some of the cracks in them.

Cutting for the windows was a challenge. We had to find a compromise between access to the zippers and maintaining the structure of the bubble wrap.

We ended up cutting panoramic views that involve us folding the wrap up, and then the felt down. We've lost about 60% of the window space, but we feel it was a decent balance, especially considering that we are favouring our temperature comfort over our view.

We all agree that we now feel like we're living in some sort of science fiction spaceship. It reminds of me 2001: A Space Odyssey, but Kenny thinks it is just a regular flying saucer.

It sure seemed like we noticed a difference - we didn't put in a fire during the day at all yesterday. In the evening it only required a small firing of the stove to have us all agreeing that it was much warmer than usual in the yurts - both yurts even! It really appears that the heat from the larger yurt is better able to migrate to the bedroom yurt thanks to the added insulation.

This morning it was cold again, but that was after not having put on a fire for over six hours. Donna sent me to warm things up, and it took about a quarter of the usual time to do so. In half an hour the large yurt was quite comfortable - that normally took about two hours!

So anyway, after a sample size of one evening, night, and early morning, I am feeling very hopeful that this new experiment will be just what the doctor ordered.

As a side benefit, I can't help but think that this layer of protection will also help keep down some of the lint in the yurts - the felt is great to look at and natural and all, but it did constantly shed small fibres that we were picking off the floor, ourselves, and our plates.

I will consult with Donna at breakfast to see if she thinks that we should apply the same treatment to the bedroom yurt.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Rethinking a Tanren-Uchi / Splitting Wood with an old Tire or two.

When Martin, my friend from Aikido, saw the punctured tire on my trailer, he had the good sense to suggest that I could turn it into a tanren uchi.At the time I laughed it off, as to my mind, the trailer tire was far too small to be useful in that capacity, and I also had been letting my Aiki training lapse in the face of pressure to get the yurts built and inhabited.

In a strange case of circularity, or perhaps synchronicity, the bearing in my remaining trailer tire blew out today as I was carrying some more wood to split, as well as a new splitting stump and two bald tires, courtesy of Canadian Tire's dumpster (retrieved with permission I must add!).

After spending much of my time chasing split wood and tipped stumps, I knew there had to be a better way to get my wood put up, without investing in a commercial wood splitter.

Like many men, (and perhaps a few women...) I find splitting wood a relaxing and rewarding "chore". I just want to be more efficient at it.

I had in my head to simply stack the tires on top of my new splitting stump, and then insert wood to be split into the tires.

With my tires positioned and my log in place, I was delighted with how well it worked, and the parallels to a true tanren uchi appeared before my eyes.

As an experiment, I really tried to channel all my bokken work at Aikido into my axe swing, and it seemed to work! Donna immediately called out, asking if I was using my ki-ai. I also made certain to strike shomen uchi from my centre, and drop my hips. I was able to clear out my slated wood in a true fraction of the time I had previously recorded. It was a great joy to be able to just cut, cut, cut.

Hopefully no one from my dojo will expect that my buki-waza is any improved from my extra shomen training, but I do like drawing lines between what I have learned on the mat and real-world applications whenever possible.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Cold Weather in our Yurts.

The mercury is dropping off as Hallowe'en approaches here. Last night was optimistically only six below, but that was recorded right against the yurt fabric, so likely the heat escaping from us helped to drive that a few degrees higher than what it really was.

While we have all been completely comfortable in our beds, we can likely attribute that to multiple quilts and blankets that we have been utilizing for a number of weeks already.

Getting out of bed during the night and early morning though, that has been a different story altogether.

The stove we have is not an air-tight model, so it really only burns an hour or two at a time before it goes out.

To my mind, the yurts are surprisingly difficult to heat. I understand that they have a poor chance at appearing and being well-insulated, at least with their stock wool felt, but it takes either a worrisomely hot fire, or many hours of decent wood burning, before they become comfortable. I'm not entirely sure what to make of this but it has been something I have been turning over in my head quite a bit now.

As a first experiment in keeping in some of our heat, I ordered more space/emergency blankets, similar to the one I used in my testing of their effectiveness at boosting the abilities of our coolers.

I have spent the past number of hours sliding them between the roof rafters and the felt. I suppose this will also act as a bit of a vapour barrier, but a poor one in the extreme, as they aren't taped to the frame or one another, and I left the rafter spaces around the chimney cone open.

Donna has been all over the yurts with our new infra-red thermometer, calling out discouragingly cold temperatures from every nook and cranny. She thinks that perhaps the blankets are making a three degree difference. Sigh.

I have also put up a shrink-plastic cover over the domes, thinking that perhaps a single layer of plexiglass wasn't the best insulator either.

Next up will likely be trying to retrofit some polystyrene type insulation behind the felt. Hopefully this will also help with the condensation issues we are beginning to notice as our humid air condenses on the canvas.

Send us warm thoughts and vibes!


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Winterizing my Solar Power System

I decided to get cracking on winterizing my solar power system, and it seemed to open up a can of worms that I am annoyed to have discovered.

I was having more and more trouble keeping up with my power requirements. The third panel helped briefly, and I am certain that it will give me a large surplus come summer, but at the moment I can use some help.

Using the generator on a regular basis is something I would have rather not done, but seeing just how low the sun has gotten, and how briefly it makes its appearance, I have resigned myself to running it through the winter to power our washing machine and water pump, and to boost our batteries.

To help our batteries and charger, I added a few inches of insulation around the batteries, as well as a temperature sensor for the charger so that it could boost the voltage when the temperature dropped.

Surprisingly though, the first time I ran the generator it was unable to give the batteries more than a cursory charge.

I purchased a much larger charger and ran the generator again. This charged the batteries, but they rapidly depleted again after I shut it down.

After a few phone calls, it appears that none of my equipment is able to equalize my batteries. This is disappointing, but likely my own fault for not listening carefully enough to the limitations of my system.

At this point, I have actually taken my batteries to town to have them equalized over the course of a few days. I will perhaps repeat this in the spring. I am told that I am approaching quickly the time when I may want to upgrade to a 24 volt system rather than a 12 volt one. This will require a larger up-front investment, but is overall cheaper per watt. Sigh.

In the meantime I have some 117 pound loaner batteries that required the tractor to deliver to the yurts. I'm tickled that my box seems to hold them well!


Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Washing Machine in our Yurts

Anyone who has been following the blog since we moved probably has heard me talk a bit about our different attempts to solve the laundry issue.

My first thought was to work with an OddJob cement mixer. I was enthused about this option but in practice I found it wasn't ideal either as a washing machine OR as a cement mixer.

Next we went back old-school, with a toilet plunger perforated with a number of holes. This was better, but it still was profoundly labour intensive, especially with wringing out water by hand. We even bought a mop bucket to try to squeeze the rinse water out but it couldn't squeeze the clothes tight enough. And, with all these methods we still weren't sure that the clothes were coming completely clean.

We also have taken three trips to the laundromat in town, as well as many trips to Mummu's house to succumb to the temptation provided by her washing machine. The laundromat is rather expensive, and requires time and planning to work out well.

Finally, I consulted with kijiji, and found an inexpensive apartment sized washing machine that seemed to fit the bill. The thought of using an electric washing machine became much more palatable when I realized that this winter was going to have me running the generator a few hours a week to make up for the lack of sunlight on our solar panels. It also helps that our well is still providing a somewhat decent flow of about eighty litres per pumping.

The washing machine requires a surprising amount of water though. Due to our lack of water pressure, we fill the washing machine with buckets of water for both the wash and rinse cycles. This gives us good insight into just how much water it takes to do a load of laundry. At the minimal wash load setting, our machine required about thirty-five litres for the wash, and another thiry-five litres for the rinse. At the large load setting, our machine required about seventy litres for the wash, and again seventy litres for rinse. That's seventy 2 litre pop bottles per load!

As for power, I am uncertain how much it requires. I have run it at the same time as our generator, but I plan on purchasing a kill-a-watt type of meter to see how much hydro some of my appliances really need.

For drainage I had some leftover hose from my well plumbing, so I mounted it in much the same manner as I did with the incoming well water. I have it draining into the small hollow that we originally thought may be a good location for water. This will give a great low-lying location for our grey water. We are using soap nuts to wash with, so we are hopeful that we are not doing great damage to our environment.

So far both Donna and I have been pleased with the logistics of this solution. We're monitoring carefully for leaks though, just in case!


Friday, October 19, 2012

Learning about Woodstoves

Growing up we generally heated with wood, and I helped (greatly to my teen-age mind) in the procurement and usage of it as our fuel.

This gave me an entirely false sense of confidence at my abilities to translate that experience into using it as our only means of safely heating our yurts.

Thus far we have done well though. In spite of our older (circa 1941) woodstove, and some rather chilly nights, we have survived by stoking the fire throughout our nights. It was disappointing to see that the woodstove struggled to keep the yurts warm when it wasn't burning vigorously, but we were optimistic that we could somehow overcome this. At the moment I am planning on installing a layer of emergency blankets around the roof of the yurts to see if that will reflect more heat downwards.

As we rapidly burned our way through our woodpile, I felt more and more pressure to create a larger stockpile, so I set off to find some standing deadwood close by. One tree that proved to be a great candidate was notably ant infested, and nearly hollow due to their machinations.

Two nights ago I managed to wedge in the stump from this tree, and watched in growing terror as the temperature in the yurts rose, and rose. The air temperature around the stovepipe showed close to 225 degrees from a basic oven thermometer, and the stove pipe itself began to glow noticeably red.

We opened up the dome and the door and I began to plan our escape routes from the yurts.

My fears didn't do much to change the natural course of things, and after an hour or so, the temperature returned to a more manageable level, but my anxiety about the fireplace was planted.

With a profound sense of inadequacy, I found myself in a similar boat the very next night when I threw on a much smaller chunk of wood which I suppose must have been full of pitch. Again I opened up the door to the yurts and fanned cold air towards the fireplace. This time the stove warmed up quickly, but the stovepipe didn't really begin to glow, and things passed more quickly.

Consulting with Grandpa, he noted that it seems that often when ants hollow out a tree, it seems to generate more pitch around their tunnels and the combined effect of air channels and very flammable wood cause these sorts of pieces to burn hot and quickly.

In any case, it's perhaps nice to think that I was able to learn these lessons through enduring sweaty, fearful moments, rather than some sort of catastrophe. Since then, we have been careful to throw in only small pieces at a time and monitor the stove temperature accordingly. To facilitate this, we invested in a stovepipe thermometer and have been pleased with its feedback so far.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Building a Vestibule for a Yurt, Revisited.

After our first few snowfalls it brought to the fore of my thoughts the fact that our dining tent vestibule was not going to stand up against any sort of snow cover.

Luckily, after having moved the sawmill, I (re)cut my teeth on sawing up a stack of random sized one inch boards.

At first, I contemplated using these boards to add more structural integrity to the dining tent. After not much more thought though, it became obvious that a fresh start would be a better use of material and time.

I built a rough and ready frame with a slight slope from front to back featuring one or two diagonal cross braces made with leftover slabs.

The sound of my saw appears to have made an impression on the local Whiskey Jacks who have quickly learned that it often means logs full of ants or worms. I noted this behaviour earlier with my chainsaw, but this time even my small circular saw brought them around.

They made out well, as a number of my boards were heavily worm-infested, although still structurally sound. At first the birds were happy to pluck out the worms, but as soon as I began to play along, they were equally at ease plucking the worms directly from my hands.

After a fun break talking to and watching their antics I returned to the vestibule.

I covered the vestibule with the tarp I had originally used to cover the yurt floors during their construction phase. When doubled up, it nearly covered the vestibule perfectly. I added a few panels by cutting up the original dining tent flaps, and stored away the dismantled poles from the dining tent as I knew that items like that were always useful for future projects.

The new vestibule is definitely sturdier and more roomy, not to mention easier to move in (it doesn't brush against the door, or billow in and out at the whim of the wind.

While I was constructing there, I also added in a small step in the corner of the porch to better facilitate stepping into and out of the vestibule.

All in all, for something that hopefully only needs to last the winter, I'm pleased with the results.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Moose Tracks! (Not the Ice Cream)

A few days ago, as I realized that my solar power situation was getting progressively more challenging, I decided to modify my array ever so slightly to take better advantage of the morning sun. It was much easier than I expected - I grabbed my portable reciprocating saw with a metal blade, cut away a few spots on the lower right corner of the array, and voila! I can now rotate the array completely around again!


I then was chipping some brush, and decided to take a look at our driveway to see what landscaping needed to be done down there, when I noticed a strange deformity along the side of our gravel. After a moments thought, I realized it was far too large to be a deer - we had moose tracks again! (The last ones we saw were while snowshoeing on the property during our Christmas vacation.)


After only a moment of further examination, I found the trail going across our driveway towards Mummu and Grandpa's house.


Smart moose are seeking out properties in our township where the people aren't interested in hunting, considering the season opened so recently!


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Relocating the Sawmill Part Two

The sawmill is finally relocated. There are still a few things to do to have it up and running completely, but certainly the hardest part is finished (famous last words, I know).


Once the centre slab was completed, I leveled some strings across it and out beyond the dimensions of the sawmill using my line level. This increased the accuracy of my levels, and also overcame the very real problem of having nothing to drive stakes into, as we had dug down between 15 and 60 centimetres to get to solid rock.


Using the oversize tube that our window coverings had been shipped in, I was able to roughly cut four pillars of the varied lengths we needed. Of course, two of them had to be cut at large bevels to accommodate the unevenness of the rock below. Grandpa assisted me by holding the tubes steady as I poured concrete into them up to their brim, packing them with rocks and tamping the concrete down with a scrap piece of lumber. We leveled the tubes up decently, and left them to dry for a few days.


Next, Kenny assisted us in dismantling the old skidway. It had stood up very well to some unreasonably heavy loads we had asked of it, and it was with (little) nostalgia I stacked it up to become next year's firewood.


With the obstacles out of the way and the pillars ready to offer their support, it was time to actually move the mill. Grandpa and I had discussed a number of times the easiest way to accomplish this. He preferred to dismantle as much of it as possible, whereas I leaned towards dismantling nothing, and simply dragging it onto the new supports. In the end, we met in the middle. I agreed that it wasn't worth the risk to try to drag it with the mast still on, in spite of my profound misgivings about being able to restore the mast to the track after it was moved. Mounting it onto the track the first time around had been responsible for my tractor tipping fear, and this time around I saw that I would have to do it under much more difficult circumstances. In any case, I decided to cross that bridge when we actually came to it.


Grandpa and I threw caution to the wind about our mutual weaknesses, and decided to remove the mast by hand - after dismounting all the items we realistically could. The engine, water supply and blade were all placed carefully in my nearby trailer, and then we eased the mast off the end of the track, and onto a scrap piece of OSB that has been doing various duties ever since the yurt floor was completed.


We then hooked up the comealong to the track after reinforcing it in various locations to reduce bending and twisting. Lowering it to the ground was more challenging than I expected. It was hard to lift the entire track by hand (that is to say, nearly impossible) while Grandpa removed the supports we had put in place under it.


At last it was down on the ground, and we winched it into position. But then - disaster! The end of the track hit the two tallest concrete pillars as it swung around, and knocked them both over. I suppose it should have been expected that they were not nearly anchored or supported enough to the rock below, but up until then I had glossed over that detail in my mind. We repositioned them under the track anyway and Grandpa rolled a large log up against them for support and called it a day. I was still feeling my oats so I lay down a trail of boards from the mast to the track and using a technique I had heard described a few days earlier in the context of moving the moai (giant heads) of Easter Island, managed to get the mast onto the track, and positioned correctly.


Next we built a walkway alongside the track. This will give me a much nicer platform to work from, as well as be a good location to gather up the sawdust produced. In theory it should fall on and through this walkway where I can shovel it up into waiting containers. Kenny really got into this part and enjoyed nailing down a number of the boards all by himself. Myself, I'm more of a screw and driver man.


The next trip into town I picked up more bags of concrete to build up around my faulty pillars. Three bags of concrete was the sweet spot, allowing me to create cones around my two tallest pillars, and also to just spread some around the two shorter ones that hadn't failed yet, just as insurance.


While it was a surprise to see snow the next morning,


And the next morning...


I was confident that my fresh mix had not froze as it was still against the rock and in a small area of still-warm soil (or so I convinced myself).


No cracks have appeared yet.


After an unbelievably hair-raising tractor trip through some virgin forest to obtain new skidway logs, all that remains is to assemble a new skidway and to redistribute the soil we had dug out for the tractor to have a smoother approach to the skidway.