Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Tale of Two Vacuum Bottles: Stanley vs. Panesor

Now that we have officially transitioned from the season of plentiful electricity to the season of wood fires and supplemental butane burning, it has become very, very helpful to be able to carry hot water from one of our burn times through to a time when it is required.

Usually now we are having a fire in the morning, and then another one to prepare supper and carry us into the evening.  While these are also good times for doing dishes, sometimes it is nice to do the dishes while we await the fire to warm up.  It's at these times that we really want a good vacuum bottle (or "thermos") to carry us through.

From Kitchener we brought a generic bottle that I believe we purchased at Canadian Tire.  It actually worked very well.  Two quirks - it had a "snap" cap that allowed you to pour through the cap by snapping up a spring loaded ring in the centre.  I don't understand this idea - when we used it with anything other than water, it was nearly impossible to clean all the mechanism inside!  It was a real horror with hot chocolate!
The original, it has served us well.  Note the lid with integrated ring pourer.
Kenny will also attest to the annoyance at how, when full of hot water, it will soon begin to squeal and hiss as the steam tries to escape through the spring closed lid.

Some time after we moved here, I opted to purchase an official "Stanley" one litre thermos that has been a rock solid performer.  We save it for our hot potable water, and I find that it is still more than hot enough to use to make steaming tea over twelve hours after being filled (usually first thing in the morning before the stove has had time to warm up).  I will allow my editor to remark here on whether or not her morning coffee is acceptably warm from the thermos water in the morning. [Ed.: It's warm enough if I drink it very soon after pouring.]
This is our current tea/coffee water thermos.  Performs like a champ.
This summer, in an effort to move past the old spring loaded hisser, I researched on Amazon and came across this item: 

Unfortunately, for the past month it has totally failed to keep water warm overnight.  I believe the lid, which is only a cap on a hinge that pivots into position, is insufficient to keep the steam in.

Enter the Stanley Growler:

Now we're talking!  Check out the latching lid!

After only one night, it seems to be an obviously better suited product for our needs.  Part of me pines for the fact that it is designed instead to carry beer and keep it cold and drinkable for an extended time.  Instead, the levered, LOCKING lid is being pressed into service to keep the heat in.

It worked very well last night - I still had to temper it with cold water when I went to use it to wash dishes this morning, something that never occurred even with the previous carafe in a brand new state.

I have to say that if it keeps up, we are going to be a committed Stanley family very soon.

Bonus picture of my own travel mug:

Didn't even think about it until after I finished typing up the post - another Stanley!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Trying to Reduce Iron in our Well Water With Aeration

Whelp, another day, another scheme to try to reduce the amount of iron in our well water.  This time through aeration.

I've read a bit of information that says that iron (and manganese) can be oxidized and I suppose form larger particles that can actually be removed by a physical filtration system.  That sounds a bit positive.  I was contemplating setting up a pump similar to the one I installed at the pond earlier this summer to see if falling water within the well would be sufficient to oxidize some of the iron content.

Then about a month ago, I came across a small, USB powered aquarium pump and had my Gru moment.  I ordered one up, along with a solar panel that advertised as having a USB connector.  What could go wrong?

The pump arrived but there is no sign of the solar panel just yet.  Oh well, I'll try not to get too impatient.

Yesterday my assistant Kenny and I decided that the weather was too nice to be indoors.  We split and piled the last of some birch that I had cut up over the weekend, and then I decided to try setting up the pump.
Preparing our tools.
First I drilled out a spot on the side of the plastic top of the well casing to pass the USB connector through.
The pump, pre-placement.
Perfectly placed punchout for my purposes!
Then I screwed the pump to the inside of the well.  I was careful to attach the screws to an extrusion on the plastic where there was no danger I would drill right through to the outside.  One hole was enough for me to be concerned about contamination.
Hard to see, but the wires are VERY fine - I'm surprised it works at all!
Note the loose knot in the USB cable - taking no chances that the pump may have fallen in before I could fasten it to the side.
Kenny lowered the hose down into the water (there was an aerating "rock" on the end of it, I guess to create more bubbles?)

I used some silicone to seal the hole, and then Kenny ran an extension cord from the cabin down to the well - without the solar panel, I would have to power the pump from the house.
And all sealed up!
He ran back to the house for a USB power block - this took some describing, but he got the right thing on his second try.

We plugged it all in and...  Nothing!

I checked the connections on the extension cord all the way back to the cabin, and was getting very annoyed.  This seemed to be an ongoing puzzler - I've had the outdoor power seem to go on and off at random from day to day for no discernible reason in the past.

This time, I had a notion - I flicked the power to the sauna, and low and behold, Kenny reported it was bubbling!  I guess I had wired the outdoor outlet up to the sauna power - which isn't a bad thought.  Now I can remotely control that outdoor power from inside the cabin.

I hope I remember this trick for future.

I trotted to the well and was surprised at just how many bubbles were coming up.
Looks like a giant can of club soda!

My worry at the moment is that we are only aerating the top 25-30% of the water.  I guess I have to hope that when we pump to the house, that helps to mix everything up.  If I don't notice any improvement, I can always try to purchase a longer hose and see if we can get bubbles right to the bottom of the well.
I'm so pleased with the performance so far though, I've ordered another bubbler to try installing in the pond to keep the fish happy.

In fact, I wonder if this system would be a cheap way of keeping the water in my well thawed throughout the winter?  I believe it would be cheaper than any sort of heat-based solution!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Tweaking and Living With a Berkey / Berkefeld Water Filter

I probably haven't spoken of it in detail, but we've been living with a Berkey water filter now for the past three or more years.  It's been the exclusive source of our water for cooking and drinking.  Since the new well went in last year, we've had a fairly large problem with iron, and as such, haven't really pursued testing the water for contamination, as we're not prepared to drink it with the mineral content as is.

We purchased the Berkey (a clone of the British Berkefeld) water filter from a company in Canada, where it was available more cheaply than could be ordered from overseas.  Although there are American filters available for it, there are reports that they are really made in China, and of dubious quality.  Besides, they seem to be more marketed towards people concerned about fluoride and chlorine in their municipal water supplies, rather than the more immediate hazard of bacteria or viruses.  With that in mind, we have been ordering genuine Berkefeld filters from the United Kingdom at rather a high price.  Fortunately, they seem to last a long time.

Interestingly, this past summer Lowes hardware has opened in Thunder Bay, giving us a second option after Home Depot.  While I have always been happy with Home Depot, I don't believe it is anything but beneficial for everyone to have multiple options for home improvement stores.

So I found myself wandering through their selection of items shortly after opening to see if they would have anything of interest to offer.  In the plumbing aisle, while looking for whole house filter options that may improve my iron situation, I happened upon some "Rainfresh" ceramic filters that looked strangely familiar.  Upon closer examination, I discovered that they had fittings nearly identical to the Berkey ones.  The price was also about half what we and been paying, and they were advertised as being made in Canada!

I purchased two and shelved them until today - my cleaning routine put me in the kitchen today, which includes a complete teardown and cleaning of the Berkey.

I washed all the fittings and set aside the current Berkefeld filters.  They were heavily caked in orange goo.
Pretty covered.  Still finding it interesting how one candle gets coated higher up than the other.
I then unpacked both a new Berkefeld filter from our supply, as well as one of the Rainfresh filters to do some side by side comparisons.

Packaging doesn't look too special.
The Rainfresh has a white washer and nut at the base, and comes with this cleaning mesh, as well as the plastic "caliper" for checking wear.
The Berkefeld has a black washer, black nut, no cleaning or measuring devices, and is only 7" tall.

The Rainfresh filter is much taller than the Berkefeld.  We have been ordering 7" filters, this one must be slightly more than 9" I would think, although I haven't taken a tape measure to it.

The Rainfresh filter also has a cap on top, rather than the Berkefeld which is simply domed ceramic.

The Rainfresh filters come with their own scrubby pad - almost like a drywall sanding mesh. Conveniently, they also come with a plastic gauge for determining if too much ceramic has been sanded off, and the filter needs to be replaced.  I never really knew how far down I could sand the Berkefeld filters, and coincidentally enough, had purchased a cheap caliper for just such a measurement.  Now it's probably not going to get much use.

The wear indicator seems sized just fine for the Berkefeld.
And of course the indicator looks normal on the Rainfresh filter.
Surprisingly, the old filters still seem to have enough ceramic to go around at least one more time.

I installed both Rainfresh filters, and that's when I noticed that they actually extend beyond the top of the Berkey unit about a quarter inch.  Sigh.

Looks nice from here.
And underneath it looks fine.  Note the white nuts?
Oh wait, they are out past the top of the reservoir!  A problem?  Only if I decide it is...
The lid is going on whether they like it or not.
To quote Jacques Parizeau - Like Québécois lobsters, trapped in the pot!
The lid rests lightly on them though, and still completely seals the top reservoir, so I'm not thinking that is a big issue.  If someone had a smaller sized Berkey though, these filters would likely be unsuitable.

One other substitution I have had to make with the Berkey is in regards to the plugs in the base of the upper reservoir.  There are four holes in the upper reservoir, so that you can install four filters for maximum flow.  We have really only ever used two filters at a time, which seems sufficient for our needs.  The Berkey came with threaded plugs for sealing the holes one doesn't use - but they become brittle over time, and I recently broke my last ones.  Ordering new ones was a tremendous hardship fiscally - and for some reason I couldn't think of a good substitute.  That is until opening a bottle of wine and realizing that a simple cork would work!

At K-W surplus while on vacation, I purchased a small handful of ones I felt would fit, and they work divinely.  This is a MUST use trick for owners of these filters!  They are so much easier to install and clean than the multi-part threaded plugs that were originally supplied.

A cheap solution to a nagging problem.
Looks good from inside.  Perspective sure makes these candles look HUGE!

And a view from below, ready to go...
With everything put together, I'm excited to fill it with water, once it all dries out later today.

Bonus shot of the hunters moon at night - photo credit to Donna.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Loading and Unloading the ATV from my Ford Ranger

Whelp, it was time to get new tires on the Ranger...  The old ones I purchased used about five years ago already, and I don't swap them out seasonally the way we do with the Echo.

As such, I thought it made sense to get the ATV readied for winter at the same time.  I leave this operation to KC Automotive, as they are better equipped and more experienced to get right into the nuts and bolts on a machine with which I'm not mechanically familiar.

The actual tire fitting and winterizing took place on separate days, so I ended up returning a day or two later to pick up the ATV (as well as deliver a computer I had repaired earlier in the day).

It was very nice to return home and find Donna and Kenny exploring the end of the driveway.  Donna managed to catch a shot of me on the highway coming in.
The prodigal father returns!
Heading up the driveway.

And I disappeared as I turned around.
Donna decided to chronicle my unloading of the ATV photographically and perhaps it would be of interest?
Awesome to have such a nice helper!
Previously, I would borrow the ramps from KC and load at home, then return the ATV and ramps, only to repeat the process once it was completed.  KC's original ramps were very narrow and I was always very timid about driving the ATV up and down them off the back of the truck.  When I saw that Canadian Tire had a sale on a set of combination snowmobile/ATV ramps that were far wider and linked together, I was sold.
Linking all three together to create a wide platform.
I always link all three pieces together, and then use some ratchet straps to anchor them to the truck itself.  I once witnessed someone attempt to drive an ATV up onto the back of a truck, and as they reached the top, the ramps fell off the tailgate and a calamity would likely have ensued if myself and a third fellow hadn't jumped in to grab the back of the ATV and hold it until it was driven fully onto the truck.
And fastened to the truck so nothing can go wrong.
The front tires of the ATV always are wedged by the wheel wells of the truck - it's a bit of a jump to drive it over those wheel wells in either direction - especially concerning when you were driving on as they clunk down and the winch comes perilously close to the rear window.  I always wedge a piece of plywood in that space before loading the ATV.  I call it the "Eric" board since the...  incident.
Got all the tires over the hump and starting down the ramp.  Time to dismount!
Anyway, today I was unloading - the last two times I have loaded and unloaded the ATV, I haven't actually rode it beyond the first and last moments.  Instead, I've tried to dismount and use the winch to do the important work of getting the ATV up and down the most precarious part of the ramp.  It strikes me as being a bit safer - I can better see the tires on the ATV as they move up and down the ramp to make sure they aren't in danger of heading off the side.  It is also twelve or more stone less weight for the ramps to support.
Letting the winch do the hard part.
I got the ATV unloaded without incident, and much more enjoyably with my help, and then used the opportunity to bring in two more logs that Grandpa had cut and winched into a good position.
Cut high up the ravine and winched down to the trail by Grandpa.

Nice dry pine, ready for the sauna!

Easier to turn the arch separate from the ATV in this spot.

Abandoning the next birch log at a tight turn.  I'll cut it up here and just carry it to the splitting zone.
Life with Kenny and Donna around sure is good.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The First Snowfall of the Season

I guess we've had a long summer season here this year.  In fact, it seems to have shattered previous records.  More worrying evidence of climate change - even if the immediate effects seem more beneficial to us here in Thunder Bay, I don't want to think it comes at the expense of others in the world, or into the future.

But, winter did come - on Wednesday the snow began to fall (loudly!) here, although Donna reported that it didn't happen in the city.

Mana from heaven.

Kenny rushed out to investigate.

And yet, the sun is shining brightly.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

A Visit From a Spruce Grouse

Ha!  The other day this fellow acting like a cock of the walk came strutting up around the sauna.

Sheesh, it's like he owns the place!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Cold Morning in October

Yikes!  We woke up to this the other day!

At least it was predicting sun!
Yup, 16 inside, and almost 7 below outside!  The pond hadn't frozen, but small puddles elsewhere certainly had!

Thankfully we got a cheery fire going eventually.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Adding a Heat Shield to the Sauna

With the new tile work around the inside and outside of the sauna stove complete, and much of the trim, it was time to add the heat shield on the inside.  This should also protect the walls a bit from thrown water, which can tend to stain the walls with drops or water spots.

Leftover from the installation of the heat shield behind our kitchen stove were two sheets of the same black industrial profile.  They were well sized for the operation, although I learned I did have to cut down the smaller one in order to fit it above the stove opening.

Once cut to size (no pictures of me doing this - it makes a terrible noise and Kenny made himself scarce while it was going on) I drilled some pilot holes where it would line up with some aluminum square stock I had set aside just for this project.
Drilling out holes to line up with my aluminum channel.
It was a bit of an effort to keep everything aligned as I screwed it to the wall.  I managed to get the larger sheet on more easily as there was plenty of space between the stove and the wall for it.

The smaller sheet over the area where the stove passes through the wall to the outside of the sauna was a fair bit larger challenge.  I refrained from cursing excessively as I tried to keep the aluminum channel on the screws, while fitting the sheet of steel between the front of the stove and the wall.  It was a very tight fit.  The steel touches the top front edge of the stove, but I don't think it should be an issue.
Let me assure you this was a challenging fit.
Getting closer.  Still tight at the front!
And nearly there.
With it in place, I proceeded to replace the water tank on the back of the stove.

Replacing the water tank.  Trying to get it tight to the stove so the water heats up more quickly.
There, looking better now.
Then I got the sauna in a condition so that we could use it tonight - always a highlight!  Interestingly today Kenny filled out his question and answer journal, describing the sauna as something he use to dislike, but now is coming around to liking.  That's a breakthrough!  Perhaps because I indulge him in extended Minecraft conversations while we are taking steam there.

Filling up a bucket with some water.  The sauna well is still flowing fine.
And pouring it into the tank.
Now to top up the bucket for throwing steam.
Laying out a towel so we don't have to sit directly on the wooden bench.
As we were leaving, I asked Kenny to snap a few pictures of the floor in the change room.  I've put down some vinyl planks there that I am rather proud of.  Donna is less impressed with them, philosophically preferring a more natural material.  I am trying to be pragmatic, and seeing that they will likely do a better job of shedding any water they encounter, as well as wearing better in the long run.  They also can be installed without the tremendous disruption that would accompany sanding, staining and varnishing a traditional floor.

I think it looks okay from here.
You can see where the parging has chipped away a bit here.  I plan on goobering this area up with some grey silicone.
A better view of the edge of the parging.
Finally, they are easy to repair or replace if the need ever arose.  We'll have to have ongoing discussion about whether or not they would be an appropriate material in our main cabin.