Thursday, July 10, 2014

Building a Rustic Wraparound Porch on the Sauna

After thinking hard about various schemes for properly finishing the porch on the sauna, I think finally settled on something suitable.  One factor I wanted to keep in mind with this porch was to be sure that my style and technique could be later transferred to the cabin porch, to maintain consistency of aesthetics.

First up was guesstimating the location of my first post.  I opted for cedar posts with standard SPF construction for the remainder of the project.  I didn't (and don't) have much lumber saved up from the sawmill anymore, most of it had been used in other projects, or was an unsuitable size or dimension.  While I understand that SPF construction theoretically won't last as long, the two things I have going for me are the fact that the wood is under the cover of my solid porch roof, and the fact that with my mill, I should be able to cut replacements as I need them.  The cedar posts were a choice because it's difficult to find 4x4 in SPF, and we have a no-pressure treated wood policy here that so far we have been able to stick to.

I decided to go with the deck block concept for the porch supports as it was a nearly instant option from what I can see.  Level it, and then go.  I have opted to spend an extra $10 per post and have an adjustable bracket at the base of each post.  This gives me many inches of play before I have to actually lift the block and shim it (something I am prepared to do - mostly by sliding a patio stone under it).  Compared to pouring multiple concrete pads or piers, I feel that checking the porch for level on occasion and fixing any variation is much easier.  We'll see in the future.

With my first post up and clamped to a two by six board, I lag bolted into it from the side and began working outward from there.

Having the roof already on the porch presented a unique issue.  I would cut the posts shorter to ensure that they would fit up under the steel, but I wasn't too fussed on just how much space there was between them and the steel, so long as they got up past the existing rafters.

With the posts up, I placed another two by six "support" up tight underneath the porch rafters.  I lag bolted this into place as well, and put in a few temporary hurricane ties to hold it under the rafters without it tilting in or sliding sideways.

In an effort to save on the number of posts I needed to install, I made the (experimental) decision to not put a post directly in the corners of the porch.  I backed it off between three and four feet, convincing myself that the very corner of the porch roof doesn't have to support a large amount of weight, even in winter, because it isn't subject to any "run-off" from the main roof of the sauna.  I told myself that the cantilever effect of my two by six support beam will give enough stability to the corners, especially coming from two directions at once.

Cutting the corners, (literally!) worked well in practice.  While I did have to figure some extra 45 degree angles, and create an inventive pattern of floor joists, it also had a side benefit that I only realized later.  The low outside edge of the porch roof made stepping onto and off of the porch feel rather cramped.  By coming up in the corners already under the roof, the headroom was greatly expanded.

On the sauna I put in floor joists all the way around, an option I may not pursue on the cabin - I may hold off on finishing all areas of that porch to allow myself to mill more of the lumber myself.

With floor joists installed all around, I hit up my board pile and managed to work my way from the front entrance corner, across the front, down the side, and halfway along the back.  This gave me firm decking at the front stairs, in front of the entrance, in front of the stove, down the side where we hang laundry, and then across the back doors.

Next up will be transferring my techniques and knowledge to the main cabin!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Apple Cider Revisited

One of my most popular posts ever predates our actual homesteading start by a fair bit.  It seems like other people are also interested in being able to naturally and easily create something that has the ability to bring such pleasure (or pain - if unmoderated).

While I still don't have enough room to set up a 20 litre carbuoy, I did think I could go back to small batch brewing and create something we might be game to try.

My first attempt was really, really quick - I simply cracked the lids of two large plastic bottles of cider and added some yeast.  This worked well, but soon after I discovered a local source of larger, 5 litre glass bottles that allowed me to buy my cider in any format (that didn't contain preservatives) and use it for future recipes.  I treated these the same way I use to do for the gallon bottles I was able to purchase in Wellesley.  I forwent (forgoed?) a vapour lock, opting instead for a small metal cup as a cap to keep out dust and foreign yeast.

Bottling is a little more low-tech than previously; so far I have graduated to racking it from one large bottle to another to try to reduce the amount of yeast sediment, and then after a day or two, bottling into my Grolsch gurdles.

The first few batches were quite flat.  Both Donna and I like our cider to have a little snap to it, so the last batch I added about one or two teaspoons of sugar to the gurdles before bottling.  It will remain to be seen if that is enough to carbonate the brew for us before we put it into the fridge.  Timing may be important, to ensure that the yeast are still active enough when I bottle.

In any case, it's a nice sideline hobby that pays good dividends.  I am looking forward to seeing how well it will work in the dead of winter, with the bottles likely making their home on top of the warming closet.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Slow Cooker on Solar Power

This is not going to be some sort of fancy post about a "solar" cooker with mirrors or foil or glass or anything like that.  As simple and effective as they may be, I was more interested in something that would simplify our life, rather than complicate it.

Cookers of the solar type are generally home-built, something I wasn't all that keen to entertain at the moment, and I feel that they lose their power to keep food safely and consistently heated when a cloud passes overhead.

At the same time, I had noted that our charge controller has a habit of tapering off the amps going into the batteries shortly after peak output, as they take on more and more electrons.  This notably resulted in the solar system spending large portions of the day ignoring loads of potential energy.  We generally have been using that up by doing laundry on sunny days, and pumping water, and things of that nature.

After awhile I began to wonder about other loads that might be utilized during these times of overabundance of power.  Enter the humble slow cooker...

Research online revealed a great range of possible wattages, but the enticing price and overall hint of energy savings finally gave me incentive enough to at least try it and see.

I ordered one of the smallest ones I could find, while still feeling that it would have the capacity to cover the three of us, plus occasional guests.  I ended up with a 2.5quart model with a simple off/low/high range.

In practice, it has been really a great addition to our household and has so far this spring and summer earned a position in our pantry.

On low it seems to draw about 10 amps from our 12V battery bank, and on high I would say closer to 16 or 17.  This means that it is very realistic and not at all nerve-wracking to plug it in even at 11 or 12 on a sunny morning and already it won't be drawing down the battery bank.  We often turn it on high for the first hour or two before switching it to low to continue cooking our evening meal.

It also means that it doesn't heat up the cabin as much as starting some sort of fire would do at the end of the day.

One of our favourite meals has been to simply throw in a package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs with a large helping of barbeque sauce and enjoy this on some buns with a side salad.

Here is my attempt today at turkey burrito mix - it was a "mixed" success though - I added a bit of water to make sure it didn't dry out, but instead, it turned into a burrito slurry.  Worked okay, but soaked through the tortillas right away.

You can see that in spite of it being set on high, my battery bank was charging just fine.

Donna has become a wizard at making different casseroles, and one that I could have over and over again is her perogie one.  Each one has been different, first with chicken and gravy added, then with ham and asparagus, and lately with sliced sausage.

I am so blessed to have Donna here, enduring one scheme or experiment after another, and making the good ones actually work and be enjoyable.  Her commitment to keeping Kenny and me healthy, grounded and happy never fails, even at the expense of her own needs at times.  I am constantly amazed at the good fortune I have had to find her, and often find myself questioning if I really deserve someone so great.  Homesteading really requires an exceptional spouse and Donna is one of a kind!

Speaking of which, one of my friends from Aikido just told me that they were getting married this fall.  I'm very happy for them, they were such a great training partner and exhibited a wonderful spirit on and off the mat, and their future spouse will be very lucky to have them in their life!  Best wishes!