Wood Stove Cleaning Day

It’s February and the wood stove has seen a lot of use this season. It’s easy to forget that the wood stove needs maintenance while you use it. I discussed annual and regular maintenance of a wood stove in my Care and Feeding of a Wood Stove post. However, a wood stove requires more maintenance to continue to work properly. A reader was asking me the other day just how much maintenance I recommend and that’s a really hard question to answer. It depends on how much you use your wood stove and what sort of wood you burn in it. You also need to consider the wood stove type and its age.

I actually do maintenance twice weekly during the heaviest usage portion of the season. During the twice weekly cleanup, I make sure the wood stove is completely out and empty the ashes. The ashes actually work quite well when spread on icy areas. The grit in the ash keeps you from slipping. It’s a bad idea to put the ashes where they could cause a fire, such as your compost heap, unless you’re absolutely certain that they’re out. Even then, you must exercise extreme care.

As part of my maintenance, I sweep down the outside of the wood stove using a foxtail broom. This includes the stove pipe and any other surfaces that could become encrusted with dirt, dust, or cobwebs. Not only does such cleaning enhance the appearance of your stove, it can also help (slightly) with its efficiency and potentially reduce any fire hazard.

Cleaning any glass on the front doors is helpful. You can’t manage the fire as well if you can’t see it. I’ve tried a number of cleaners. Mr. Clean is my current choice. It seems to do a better job with the buildup on the glass. If someone else comes up with a good selection, please let me know (but please try Mr. Clean first for comparison purposes).

Chimney fires are something to avoid at all costs. Burning hardwoods that are completely dry help quite a lot. A little creosote can still build up through and you really do want to get rid of it. All the chimney sweep should find in your chimney is a little ash. To help keep things clean, I spray Anti-Creo-Soot into the stove once a week. Make sure you follow the instructions on the bottle precisely.

Keeping things clean will help you enjoy your wood stove longer and to use it safely. A few minutes spent cleaning your wood stove may save you a lot of grief later. Let me know about your cleaning tips at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.


It’s All in the Engineering

A considerable amount of my time in fulfilling the self-sufficiency dreams Rebecca and I have is spent building new items and repairing existing items. Existing equipment of all types requires constant maintenance as well. If you leave a cage exposed to the elements long enough, it’ll simply rot away. Everything has a tendency to fail without some sort of maintenance. All of these efforts—everything from building to maintaining to tearing down when an item is no longer useful—relies on some sort of engineering principle. If you want to get water to your garden, but the hose diameter is too small, the resulting trickle will only serve to frustrate you. Building shelves that don’t rely on proper engineering principles are downright dangerous. Installing electrical elements without regard to the amount of current the circuit needs to handle will almost certainly result in a fire. In short, in order to know in advance just how well something will work and what you need to do to maintain it, you need to know the engineering behind it.

In the Building Larder Shelving post, you learned about the engineering behind building shelves that will hold up to the weight of canning jars, which is considerable. This is just one of many posts that I’ve created that define the math behind self-sufficiency. If you ever find an error in my calculations, please let me know so that I can provide an update with the correct information. It’s also important to realize that my calculations are for a specific project type and you need to use them with your project in mind (making any required changes).

Fortunately, there are other places where you can find interesting information about engineering principles. One of the best places I’ve found recently (as passed on by a friend) is Engineering Toolbox. This site provides all sorts of useful information about various engineering disciplines, including how to create the proper sort of concrete for a project that you have in mind. If you were to mix the concrete without using a recipe, you’d either end up spending way too much money for your project or you’d end up with a project that won’t hold up to any kind of abuse.

It’s incredibly dangerous to take on a building or maintenance tasks for which you lack the proper equipment or training. Always make sure you understand not only the engineering behind the task, but that you also adhere to any required building codes and obtain the proper permits and inspections, as required. More than a few people have gotten hurt by not taking the proper precautions, so always verify that every step of a process you perform is done correctly before you proceed to the next step. The care you take in performing self-sufficiency tasks will always pay dividends in your personal safety and the longevity of the project.

Finding the right site to discover just how to create, maintain, and tear down the equipment needed to be self-sufficient can be an adventure akin to the mysteries solved by Holmes. You need to exercise care in using the information you find and verify that information across several different sites to ensure it’s accurate. Of course, there always comes a time when you’re simply in deep water and need the help of a professional. Some professionals will mentor you in building your project (for a fee in most cases); others will let you help them perform the task so that you gain needed knowledge and experience.

Building and maintaining your equipment can be a lot of fun. However, doing it the wrong way can be a disaster. Let me know your thoughts about building and maintaining equipment at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.


Preparing for Planting

It may seem a bit odd to talk about planting in the middle of winter, but this is actually the time that many avid gardeners, especially those interested in self-sufficiency, begin to think about the planting season. Of course, the planning process starts in the larder. Even though there is a catalog in your hand at the moment, the catalog doesn’t do any good until you know what to order and your larder contains that information.

As part of the preparation process, you should go through the larder, ensure all of the oldest items are in the front of the shelves, verify that all of the jars are still sealed, and wash the jars to keep them clean. Make sure all of the jars are properly marked with both food type and year canned as well. The process of organizing your larder and keeping it clean is important because doing so will make it a lot easier to determine what to plant. Once you complete this task, you can perform an inventory to determine what items are in short supply. These are the items that you need to order from the catalog.

Sometimes you can use your larder as a jumping off point for dreams of things you’d like to try in the future. For example, until last year, our larder lacked pickled asparagus—now I wouldn’t be without it. However, before we could pickle the asparagus, we had to grow enough to make the effort worthwhile, which meant planting more asparagus and waiting several years for it to get old enough to produce a decent crop. Yes, the larder was the start of our dream and the catalog provided us with ideas on how to achieve our dream, but in the end, the realization of our dream happened in the garden and in the kitchen.

Our larder also holds our canning supplies and equipment. This is the time of the year when you should perform an inventory of these items as well and ensure they’re in good shape. For example, the seal and pressure relief value on your pressure canner requires regular replacement—we simply make it a practice to replace these items before the start of the canning season because doing so is inexpensive and reduces the risk of mishap in the kitchen later. No matter where you store your canning supplies and equipment, now is the time to maintain them.

Writing your needs down as you discover them is a great idea. Check out the various catalogs you receive starting this time of year to determine which products will best suit your needs. It’s unlikely that you’ll completely fill your garden with just the items you need from the larder. The catalog will also supply ideas for new items you can try. Sometimes we try a new variety of vegetable or fruit just to see how it grows in this climate. Over the years we’ve discovered some items that grow exceptionally well for us (and also experienced more than a few failures).

Don’t just address your main garden, however. It’s also time to check into herbs and address any deficiencies in the orchard. This is the time for planning. Trying to figure everything out later, when you’re already engaged in preparing the garden, will prove difficult and you’ll make more mistakes than usual if you wait.

It’s also important to start ordering as soon as you know what you need. The catalog companies won’t send you product until it’s time to plant. However, they do use a first come, first served policy. Other gardeners are already order products. If you wait, you may not get your first choice of items and may have to reorder later.

Planning is an essential part of a successful year in the garden and orchard. However, I also enjoy starting the planning process this time of the year because it makes winter seem a little less severe. A little spring in winter is like a breath of fresh air. What sorts of things do you do to prepare for spring? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.


Emergency Repairs

A less thrilling part of being self-sufficient is dealing with emergency repairs. They seem to happen far too often. We use our snow blower to remove snow from our long driveway, as well as create paths to the various animal enclosures. It’s in this second capacity that I encountered problems the other day. The snow blower moved in an unexpected manner while working around the chicken coop and the side of the wheel hit the coop stairs. A small pop sounded, but I didn’t really notice. I did notice a few minutes later when the tire deflated and the snow blower was no longer usable .

Trying to blow the tire up with a hand pump didn’t work because the bead had popped. So, that meant putting the snow blower away and continuing snow removal by hand. Four hours later, I finally completed the task with Rebecca’s help. Nothing provides quite as much exercise as four hours worth of snow shoveling in freezing winds, but we also needed to get to town to fix the flat (as well as perform other tasks).

The snow blower is too large and heavy to get into the Explorer. So the obvious course of action was to get the wheel off and take it to our local repair shop. The only problem was getting the wheel off. The bolt holding the wheel in place is designed to provide a tight fit and proved quite resistant to any effort at removal. Blocking the tire would normally provide enough friction to allow removal of the bolt, but that technique didn’t work in this case because the wheel simply turned within the tire. I finally improvised by attaching a large deep reach c-clamp to the wheel, which blocked the wheel and made it possible to gain purchase on the bolt.

At this point, the bolt wouldn’t move at all and penetrating oil (WD-40) wasn’t helping much. I brought out my persuader—which is a length of pipe that I slip over the end of my socket wrench handle to increase the torque I can apply to the bolt. Actually, it isn’t a pipe in the conventional sense. I saved the torsion bar from our old garage door and have cut it into several pieces that I use for a number of tasks, including persuading bolts. Extending the handle of the socket wrench gives you a physical advantage and makes it easier to remove stubborn bolts, but you have to be careful not to break the sockets as a result of using the pipe.

Bolt removed, the wheel still wouldn’t come off. The snow blower shaft is keyed and the wheel fits quite tightly. Unfortunately, working with the front of the wheel wouldn’t accomplish anything because the wheel goes on in that direction. The back of the wheel isn’t easily accessed because the snow blower transmission is in the way. In order to gain access to the back of the wheel, I angled a 2 × 2 over the top of the engine and hit it with a mallet. After a few pounds with the mallet on the end of the 2 × 2, I turned the wheel 90 degrees. Each 360 degrees of movement saw me applying a little more WD-40 to the front and back of the wheel shaft. Eventually, the wheel came off.

Getting the wheel fixed was quick and easy. The local repair shop has a compressor and the tire blew back up without problem after applying a sealant to the bead. The tire is back on the snow blower now and the snow blower is ready for use after today’s snowstorm. The point is that you have to think ahead about the potential for emergency repairs and have a strategy in place for dealing with them. Yes, the approach we used was a bit inconvenient and time consuming, but it did work.

What sorts of emergency repairs do you think about when thinking about self-sufficiency? Do you have contingency plans in place to handle your emergencies? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.


Entering the New Year

Today is my first day back from vacation. I’ve been looking forward to telling you everything that has happened during my down time! In fact, unlike many people, I really look forward to getting back to work. Well, the crammed inbox is a bit of a pain, but even the e-mail surplus is a reminder to me that you’re finding the help in my books useful.

Vacation is a bit of a misnomer for me. Yes, I do unplug from the computer as described in my Learning to Unplug post, but there is plenty to do outside. One of the new experiences I had during vacation was working on a large tree. My uncle had an oak with a 44″ diameter trunk fall several years ago. It was time to cut it up this winter. I only have a 22″ bar on my chainsaw and a 22″ bar doesn’t quite reach 22″ into the trunk, so we had a bit of trouble getting the rounds cut from the trunk. Cutting as much as I could and then using wedges to do the rest worked fine. Moving pieces that large is also a problem because you can’t lift them (or barely budge them for that matter). I learned how to use a cant hook to move the large pieces of wood onto the splitter (my uncle has a hydraulic splitter attached to his tractor). I still use a 20 pound splitting maul and splitting wedge to hand split all of my wood. Most people use a lighter splitting maul, but the abundance of white and red elm, black locust, and hickory on my property makes a heavier maul a necessity. Lets just say that between helping my uncle and cutting a bit of my own wood, I didn’t lack for exercise during vacation .

This year we did get to spend quite a bit of time with family and friends, especially since the weather here is Wisconsin is unusually mild. We don’t have any snow on the ground to speak of at the moment and none is in the forecast. Of course, the lack of snow makes travel easy, but it’s also worrisome because our plants will miss the moisture come spring and we could experience problems due to the lack of cover. However, each winter is different and I’m sure we’ll get clobbered by a snowstorm or two before all is said and done.

Rebecca and I also spent time putting a puzzle together (a review will appear later this week) and we had some fun watching movies. Of course, the tea kettle received a workout as we spent time in front of the wood stove enjoying something good to read. Overall, a nice way to rest during vacation. We didn’t just stay at home though. The new Sherlock Holmes movie called to us, so we went to see it at our local theater. Of course, there were visits to Deli Bean (a local coffee shop) and Stone Hollow (our local restaurant), where we enjoyed some nice treats.

The mild weather also made it possible for me to walk in the woods. During one of my visits to the woods, I kept track of a fox. Cody (see Many Hands Make Light Work) and I had spotted a dead raccoon near a den in the woods, so I perched a distance from the den to see if anything came out. The den had a fox in it last winter and it appears that the same fox is there this winter. So, I sat on my stump for a while and watched. I find nature amazing. The woods provides us with food, heat, and entertainmentwhat more could anyone ask?

However, in addition to these activities, I also worked on some ideas for upcoming books, which is one of the focuses of this post. I’m planning to write some books on self-sufficiency. The books will have the same focus as my blog posts. I want to make things simple and to demonstrate ways you can also receive a financial benefit from your activities. Self-sufficiency is great because you help the environment, improve your health, and get a better product. For many people, these reasons look attractive until you start considering the financial element of self-sufficiency. Surprisingly, many people are unaware of the fact that self-sufficiency saves considerable money—enough that you really need to consider it as a source of income, rather than as a money sink. My new book will emphasize what you get in exchange for your efforts and how to optimize the benefits you receive. If you have some ideas on what you’d like to see in my book, please be sure to write me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Vacation is a time for equipment maintenance as well. I was able to get a few necessary maintenance tasks done during vacation. Another week off would have been nice, but I did get the essentials done.

One of my favorite activities during vacation was baking cookies with Rebecca. She makes the most delightful cookies and it’s always a pleasure to give her a hand when I can. We made sugar cookies this time around, but next time we may do something a bit more exciting.

Today is the first in-office work day of the year for me. Please be patient if you’ve sent me an e-mail while I’ve been gone. I promise to answer every e-mail that I’ve received while I was gone, but with a little over 900 reader e-mails in my inbox, it takes a while to get the job done. In the meantime, I hope that you’ve had a great start to the new year and I’m looking forward to presenting you will all sorts of really neat posts this upcoming year on just about every topic imaginable!