Sunday, February 17, 2013

Tightening the Tension on my Wood-Mizer Sawmill

Yesterday was a pretty cold morning. Actually, this morning was rather cold too. The inside temperature when my bladder finally forced me from the covers was -8.9 degrees. I think Donna has said she's awoke to -9, so she still has me beat in the hardiness department.

Outdoors it is pushing thirty below, but then it seems to come up to a rather mild ten below once the sun is up.

At ten below, I can start to run my engines again with (relative) ease. As my readers know, frozen water and cold engines have been my main sticking points this year. That, and my own lack of basic competence at various things. But I'm learning, and the weather is what it is.

I checked on the solar panels first thing; they had a bit of the rising sun on them, but I could clearly see a huge shadow across them from the (now abandoned) water line/electrical line/log support. I would have thought they would have been breaking even, but they stubbornly were stuck on a nearly two amp drain. I brought over my chainsaw, the only engine that seems to be able to start at twenty and thirty below, but as I switched off the choke, my makeshift starter cord broke again - ha ha.

I returned with just the bucksaw, and using it at a rather invigorating pace and angle, cut out the offending log and freed up the solar panels to receive much more sun.

The ammeter still was stuck on discharge - I supposed that the trees were still shading the panels too much. Shade is a real enemy of solar; any shade, any amount. I can't stress enough that panels need to be entirely exposed to the sun!

I planned on returning to the yurts to weave a new starter cord from sterner stuff, but met up with Donna and Kenny as they were on their way to Mummu's to do a load of laundry. It seemed a good time to tag along and perhaps set up a bit more of Mummu's internet. I am hoping that soon she will have the opportunity to finally switch from dialup to broadband. I put the equipment in place, but left the actual settings and experience on her computer the same.

I came back to the yurts alone while the others finished a second load of laundry. After a potato chip lunch, I headed over to the sawmill to see if I couldn't figure out how to tighten up the blade.

My sawmill progress has been much diminished lately. The blade kept sticking in the log at the slightest provocation. Finally, after consulting with Howie's Saw, I was told to check the blade tension. I consulted my manual the night before, and so, with a 13mm wrench in hand I tightened up the turnbuckle adjustment under the engine of my LT-10. It's really simple to do, not nearly as complicated as I feared it would be.

After a few ginger pulls on the starter (having had such bad experiences with my chainsaw and generator of late), I got the engine up and roaring.

What a difference! It cut through my logs like butter (albeit cold butter...). It was once again a pleasure to be milling.

I managed to put out four good beams yesterday, and a large stack of boards as well.

Between each beam, I would carry my new treasure over to my stack by the yurts, and then check on the solar box. Imagine my excitement when I saw the panels in full sun! And the charge indicator showing again - no charge! Wait... That's not right... Silently berating my abilities to put together a reliable system, I opened up the box to see if anything obvious was going on inside. I figured my charge controller was blown up. But no, it was glowing solid red - no charging. I returned to the dojo tent, and I must say it took me far less time than I feared to find my spare fuses. Curses, the first four I pulled out were all six amp - rated really only for one panel, not three. Then I was blessed to find a single 25 amp fuse in the pile. I have to remind myself to purchase more of those!

Back at the panels, I froze one finger after another trying to unscrew the back junction boxes and expose the fuses. Of course, there are two boxes, and the first box showed no signs of problems. All fuses were still fine, as confirmed with my multimeter set on ohms.

The second box showed my problem up right away - the main feed wire from the fuse "panel" had come loose from the connector - I suppose all the movement of the panels back and forth due to wind, or us adjusting them, had eventually worked it free.

With a bit of finagling, I was able to re-connect it, and was gratified to see the ammeter climb to 15 amps of current flowing back into the batteries. The voltage came up to 13.3 right away. After only an hour or so, it hit the magic level of 15.6 volts which causes my inverter to trip. For the entire afternoon we had no power in the yurts as the batteries charged at this voltage. I don't begrudge my system this fault just yet. During the day we don't really have huge power needs, and the fridge/freezer can weather the time off without much difficulty. Once the cabin is built though, I'll have to ensure that the remote on/off switch for the inverter is in a more accessible location. I don't wish to have to go outside at dusk following every sunny winter's day to switch it back on.

So it was with a happy heart that I was able to come inside for supper last night, knowing I had batteries rapidly filling up, and a beam pile that was growing again.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Re-cording your Stihl MS170 Chainsaw

Sorry I haven't written in a little while. These first three weeks of February, I am working four days a week at Howie's Saw. This means some fiscal resources are coming in, but I am not accomplishing too much at the homestead.

As I described in a previous post, I managed to plug up the air filter on my chainsaw so completely as to render it inoperable. In discovering this, I had to work the recoil start to the point that the rope broke. My first attempt at replacing it with a length of multipurpose cord was successful until I actually arrived in the bush, when it broke immediately. I put the chainsaw away that day and didn't get around to re-cording it until yesterday.

One other thing that has kept me from accomplishing much is a suspected fracture in my foot. This is the second time this has happened to me, the first being back when I was training much more heavily in Aikido. I woke up in the morning, thinking I had twisted my ankle and hobbling a little bit. The pain grew worse throughout the day, and moved down into the outside edge of my left foot. By the following morning, the pain was very intense and I spent much of the day just sitting or laying down. Grandpa was kind enough to produce a cane for me (that he's never used), which greatly aided my mobility.

I worked the week with the cane, and by the end was back to hobbling and then limping. Now the pain seems to have moved back to my ankle in the form of some stiffness in the mornings. My foot is still noticeably swollen, but I think it will be okay.

In any case, yesterday I felt good enough that I wanted to bring in some more firewood. I began by first cleaning some snow and sawdust off the saw.

Next I removed the cover. You simply rotate the black catch counter-clockwise on the back of the saw, and the cover lifts up and back. I find that engaging the choke helps quite a bit, as the switch catches on the cover otherwise.

There are four screws holding the recoil mechanism in place. Two at the rear of the saw, one beside the oil plug, and one on the kickback brake. The one on the kickback brake is different from the other three, but that's obvious once removed. A Torx T27 seems to be the best fit for these screws.

Pull the kickback brake up and off of the recoil portion of the case.


You have to remove the oil cap and the gas cap completely to get the recoil mechanism off of the saw. I found a pair of needlenose pliers worked best for this. The caps are held to the saw on a short length of string attached to a half-moon of plastic grid. Grasping a corner of this grid allows you to twist it sideways and pull it through the narrow threads of the respective reservoirs.

The recoil mechanism is wedged under the left-hand handlebar, and requires a bit of firm wiggling to pull it free. I've done it a few times now, and have a better feel for it.

Now you have the mechanism completely separated. You can likely see your old string there and how it enters the side of the spool and is then knotted to prevent it from pulling out. Unspool the string and prepare your choice of new cord. I found that it was easier to thread the new cord through the spool from within the groove and then pull it up and away from the mechanism, rather than the more accessible hole already facing outwards, and then trying to get it to turn and come out in the groove. Grandpa supplied a length of nylon cord for this step. Once it was threaded through, I put a knot in the end of Grandpa's cord and attempted repeatedly to get the lighter to melt it slightly to prevent it from unravelling.

I wound a few wraps onto the spool (careful to go in the same direction as the original). The exit hole through the casing should be your guide here to which direction to go. Don't make the same mistake I did with my generator - it is VERY frustrating to obey Murphy's Law on items that take some time to redo.

Turning over the mechanism once you've wrapped the cord and have it extended outside the case, you can re-attach your handle. Currently the cord passes up the shaft of the handle, then makes a 90 degree turn and comes out sideways. I couldn't re-thread it in this fashion, so I simply made a large knot on top - old school!

Try to make sure there is still a slight amount of tension in the cord - this will prevent the cord from falling off the spool inside the saw in the future.

Do a few test-pulls, to work out the kinks and be sure there is still some tension there.

Reverse the order of operations to get that mechanism back on the side of your saw.

Don't do something dumb like I would do -- Keep the saw itself on its side until you have a chance to replace the gas and oil caps and tighten them down. Washing chain oil out of pants isn't that impressive for your spouse, especially when you have to carry your own water to the washing machine!

There! You're all set! Pull the cord - and - if you're like me - Grandpa's never-fail cord breaks on the second try.

Repeat this whole process with a third cord that you've rigged up by braiding three smaller cords together. Now you're in business!

I then managed to start up the tractor (n.b. Diesel starts about tenfold more easily in ten below than twenty below, i.e. about tenfold more difficult than at ten above.).

I headed out to the bush to cut down my firewood trees. I carefully parked the tractor at a safe angle from the first tree I intended to cut.

Carefully lining up the tree to be sure it fell at WORST thirty degrees away from the tractor, I was struck by how I managed to actually cut it so it fell directly towards the tractor.

Being the stoic that I am, I didn't even give it a second look to see how badly it had crushed the old Yanmar. I moved on to the second, and then third tree, felling them also towards the trail.

Returning to the tractor, I was relieved to see that my ability to judge direction was matched by my ability to judge distance.

Yes, the tree fell directly at the tractor. But it fell at least six feet short of hitting said target. Oh happy day.

I ended up cutting it in half and skidding the lower portion far enough up to be able to grab both halves and skid them back to the yurts.

Donna informed me that Kenny wanted me to take them to town to visit the Lakehead University exhibits at Intercity Mall. Kenny never wants me to take him anywhere, so I had some skepticism. I told her I wanted to try to grab the other two trees first, and headed back to the bush.

These ones went slightly more smoothly. I brought them up in three pieces, told Donna to get Kenny ready to go, and then was able to park the tractor, refill it with diesel, refill the saw with oil and petrol, sharpen the saw, and change my clothes. All in the time it took Kenny to make a "deposit" in the thunderbox.

We were off, and I have to confess, I felt not a little shell shocked to be out in the bush by myself one hour, and then in the midst of the shopping mall surrounded by noisy, strange crowds, only an hour later.


Friday, February 1, 2013

Small Engine Repairs on the Homestead

This weather has definitely been hard on my various internal combustion engines here in the bush. The generators are virtually unstartable at twenty below, and difficult at ten below. The tractor is a total no go below ten below as well, but if I can get a generator going somehow first, I can plug in the tractor's heater and then get a bit further.

The car has been much better since I swapped out its original battery for one I purchased new last spring. The truck, not so much. But now that it has warmed up to ten below some days, I have been able to get the truck to turn over and start again. Of course, the first time I returned from Howie's Saw with the truck, it got stuck at the turnaround. Grandpa threw two more cinder blocks in the back for traction, but I had already given up and luckily it was pointed down the driveway, so I just left it blocking everything until I next had to go to work, and drove it out from there.

On the plus side, when I returned last night, I was able to park sweet as anything, so perhaps the extra weight has helped?

Wednesday morning, Grandpa popped by to see how we were making out. He had a specific tree in mind that he thought we should cut down and check for soundness. It could be either firewood, or perhaps lumber. I managed to get the tractor started without preheating, which was surprising, but didn't want to look that particular gift-horse in the mouth!

The hydraulics were extra slow to come online though. I think the rear piston for the three point hitch is definitely on its last legs, so I really need to get online and order a replacement O ring kit for it, and make that my next project. I've also noticed that it's leaking hydraulic fluid around the dipstick, which seems to be all cracked, so I need to replace that too.

I started up our large generator (the small one was still out of commission) and pumped a little bit of water for Donna to do laundry. Unfortunately we only got two buckets from the well before it ran dry. I'm not super concerned about that fact - this is suppose to be the toughest month for water levels. Hopefully next year if we have our tank installed and filled, that will be enough of a buffer to get us through any tight squeezes.

The other issue of late with the water has been that it has been a bit (I'm sure Donna would say very) murky. So of course, we're trying to only wash dark clothes. I suspect that I stirred up something when I went down to thaw the pipe, but we'll have to see how long this issue persists.

Once that was dealt with, Grandpa and I headed to the bush to fell this tree. You can imagine how impressed I was when my chainsaw wouldn't start. After pulling an inordinate number of times, it was a real treat to have the pull-cord break off.

Grandpa took it in stride, and returned to his place to retrieve his Husky. He also gave me another life-lesson. Always start up your saw at home before you take it to the bush. That makes loads of sense.

We used the Husky to cut down the tree, which was really, really straight - and only a few feet of insect damage at the base. It didn't take much to cut it up, and then we chained it to the tractor and with lots of cajoling, managed to skid it to the sawmill, where we further cut it into a few twelve foot lengths.

Grandpa returned home for his lunch and I did the same. After lunch I headed back to the dojo tent to check on my chainsaw. A few Torx screws removed the recoil starter, which I replaced with some cord I had kicking around. Grandpa had recommended heavy duty shoelace, so I'll keep that in mind for next time. I took the time to clean the spark-plug as well, and that's when I discovered my main (should have been obvious) problem with starting this saw lately - the air filter was completely clogged up. It looked more like it was MADE from wood, rather than just saturated with it. I soaked it in a bit of petrol for a few hours, with no visible effect, so I'm going to just purchase a few new ones next time we get to town.

As I finished with the saw, Grandpa returned with a package - my third recoil kit for my small generator! I thanked him profusely, and proceeded to reinstall that (after carefully ensuring that the generator was NOT seized up). Gingerly I pulled once, twice, thrice, etc. On about the fifteenth pull, she roared to life! I shut off the choke and after a few more cycles, she eventually stalled out. I was satisfied though. Now we're getting back in business!

Feeling full of myself, I headed over to my LT10 sawmill and took the time to shovel it off. We had had a fair bit of snow of late that certainly accumulated when the sawmill wasn't in use.

I managed to get that engine started too - I was on such a roll! It took me forever to make a few cuts though, and then I discovered that I had created a real diamond shaped log - grrrr, that log clamp will drive me up the bend yet. Wayne at Wood-Mizer tells me now that I am working with him, I can complain directly to the people at Wood-Mizer and ask them to come up with a better and better design. First I'll try their version two design and see if it is any improvement. I have to drill out one of the rails to mount it though, so until I do that, I'll just suffer.

Worse than the clamp was the blade binding in the log. I asked Wayne about that too, and he started down the logical chain of inquiry - Was the blade dirty? No. Was my blade tension correct? Yes. Was my belt tension correct? - Belt tension? You can adjust that? Wayne just smiled, and pointed me in the direction of the Wood-Mizer website to find their manuals online. He also pointed out that the same information would be available in my own manual. I assured him I had the manual in a safe place, and had read it once when I first got the mill. I guess it could even bear with a second reading...

That was enough for one day though. I returned to the yurts, only to find them empty. Donna and Kenny had gone over to Mummu's house to enjoy her running, drinkable water. Small luxuries.

I stoked up the fire, and tried to squeeze in a few moments of reading before they returned and we could get supper started.

Before signing off this entry though, I wanted to give a quick message of thanks to our friends and family who are still reading this blog, and occasionally commenting either on the blog itself, or through email. It is really nice to stay in touch with everyone - being out in the bush here, the people farthest away from us physically can still be among the people closest to our hearts. An extra special note to the members of our church family - we miss you all very much, and it helps greatly to still consider ourselves part of that community of friends. You are all still in our thoughts and prayers.