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.

 

Maintaining Your Chainsaw

It’s wood cutting season and I’ve already been in the woods a couple of times. Nothing is quite as nice as a fresh breeze, wonderful scenes, the feel of nature, and the smell of freshly cut wood. I choose the wood carefully, as described in Choosing Wood Carefully. However, no matter how carefully you choose the tree, the task is only as easy as the condition of the tools you use. The tools must be the right size, fully maintained, and inspected carefully. Of the tools I use, the one I worry about most is my chainsaw. A failure of my chainsaw at the wrong time could mean death.

I know a lot of people maintain their saws personally. However, given that my small engine experience is limited, I normally take my saw to a professional for its annual maintenance. This includes everything from cleaning the air filter and changing the fuel filter, to making sure the saw is clean and has a sharp chain on it. This annual workup is enough for my needs because I’m not using the saw professionally. I cut just enough wood to meet my heating needs each year, plus stock up a bit of emergency wood.

However, I do perform certain types of maintenance every time I go out to cut wood. This frequent maintenance may seem like overkill, but I really don’t want to end up dead due to an equipment failure, so I perform these checks absolutely every time I use my chainsaw:

 

  • Clean the exterior of the saw.
  • Inspect the saw for damage.
  • Check the sharpness of the chain and replace it if necessary.
  • Clean the area that houses the chain when I have the chain off.
  • Verify the chain is at the proper tension.
  • Grease the bar sprocket.
  • Fill the chain lubricant reservoir.
  • Fill the gas reservoir.
  • Check my safety equipment, which includes safety glasses, hearing protectors, and heavy gloves.


Even performing all of these checks, it’s possible that you’ll have an equipment failure, but it’s a lot less likely. If you’re smart, you’ll continuously check for potential problems while you’re working in the woods. Make sure you check the saw every time you refuel it and always ensure that you add bar chain lubricant when you gas up. It also doesn’t pay to be cheap in this case—use high quality lubricant and make sure your gas is fresh and has the proper two-cycle engine oil in it.

It often amazes me that people don’t take more care when they prepare to go into the woods. Even though I feel that the woods are one of the most beautiful places on earth, I also give them the respect their due and you should too. Let me know your thoughts on chainsaw maintenance at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Equipment Failures and Local Backups

I had originally thought to provide a post today on the TimeCheck application. Friday is normally series day on the blog. Unfortunately, my computer had other ideas. Yesterday morning it decided not to work any longer. I heard a pop and then the screen went black—no helpful error message, no blue screen of death—nothing at all. Replacing the power supply with my ready backup brought no joy. I’m sure I’ll find the cause of my woes eventually, but for now, I need to get up and running so I can meet my deadlines (and write this blog).

Fortunately, I had already decided to upgrade my computer and have all of the parts on hand to build my new dream machine (at least, what I can afford of that dream machine). In addition, I had made a local backup of my system the day before, so I’ll lose one day’s worth of work at most. What all this means is that I’ll be back online soon with a newer system that will provide me with everything needed to complete my work for the next while.

Using my emergency online e-mail will help keep me in contact with the few people who absolutely must contact me. Others are relying on the phone to contact me. If you’ve sent me e-mail about a book issue, I apologize in advance for not addressing your question in a timely manner. I hope that you’ll understand that it wasn’t my idea to have a  system failure (it’s never my idea—the computer apparently has a mind of its own).

The one thought that has come to mind during this current crisis is that I’m extremely happy that I don’t rely on an online backup service. In order to get some things working on my new system, I needed the backup files, but I didn’t have access to the Internet. If I had relied on an online backup service, things would have gotten extremely interesting. Fortunately, my local backup is easily accessed despite the lack of connectivity, so everything is fine. I mention this in passing because I know that online backups have become quite popular. They have their place, but don’t neglect local backups because you never know when you’ll run into a situation like mine where online access is impossible.

As far as the TimeCheck application is concerned, we’ll restart the series as soon as is possible on Fridays. I appreciate your patience while I get things sorted out. In the meantime, let me hear about your dream machine at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Keeping Track of Maintenance Costs

It’s spring and that means doing all of the start-up work for the summer. One of the issues that you need to address as part of being self-sufficient is maintenance. Every piece of equipment requires some sort of maintenance. Even the common spade requires maintenance in the form of sharpening (you do sharpen your spade, don’t you?). When you calculate how much you’re earning from your self-sufficiency efforts, you must consider maintenance costs. These costs come in several forms:

 

  • Parts
  • Consumables (such as oil and rags)
  • Personal Time
  • Third Party Support (such as when you take your equipment to the shop)
  • Down Time (when the equipment is unavailable for use)


Trying to assign a dollar figure to many of these areas is difficult. In some cases, you must make a guess. For example, you buy a box of shop grade paper towels to use as rags. Some of them are used for painting, some when you change the oil in your lawn mower, and some for spills. It’s incredibly hard to come up with a precise dollar amount for each use, so you must make an estimate and go from there. Of course, the total of your estimates should equal the actual cost of the rags. To make things harder, you may use old clothes for rags, which means that you have no basis on which to make a guess. Obviously, your worn, frayed pants turned into rags have little value, but they do have some value.

The problem becomes even more complex when you consider that some equipment is multipurpose. In order to account for maintenance costs, you need to assign them to a specific area of your self-sufficient lifestyle. For example, you may know that your hourly wage for growing green beans is $8.00 based on my Calculating an Hourly Wage post. Just how much is this wage reduced by the maintenance performed on a tiller used to till the soil in the spring? The tiller is also used to till the remainder of the garden, so at some point, you have to make an estimate of the maintenance costs for green beans in particular if you want to provide a precise accounting.

By now, some of you are probably wondering whether I’m a bit insane. After all, what do these costs matter? One of the motivators for being self-sufficient is knowing that, on some level, you’re saving money—that you truly are earning some amount each hour. People have ended up spending everything they earn, and even exceeding their earnings, by performing maintenance in the wrong way. For example, it’ll cost you in excess of $40 in most cases to have someone maintain your lawn mower. By following the simple instruction in the lawn mower’s manual, you can usually accomplish the task for around $10. The $30 difference in maintenance costs can mean the difference between earning something for your efforts and losing money.

There is another good reason to calculate the maintenance costs (at least, within reason). When it comes time to get a new tool (motorized or not), knowing the maintenance costs and understanding how often a tool breaks down can help you make smarter buying decisions. A tool that sees use once a year is probably not a good candidate for an expensive upgrade. On the other hand, when you find that a tool breaks down a little too often because it’s not designed to take the level of use you need, an upgrade may make sense.

Maintenance costs can tell you something else. You’ll find that certain brands of machinery are quite expensive to maintain, even if you buy the parts yourself. Knowing how much it costs to maintain certain brands of machinery can help you decide between tool vendors. A vendor may charge a little more at the outset, but if you save a considerable amount on maintenance costs, the additional purchase price is worth it.

Keeping track of maintenance costs is an essential element of self-sufficiency. You don’t have to become absurdly accurate, but well-informed estimates are essential. Create and maintain a log of your maintenance costs so you have a better idea of precisely how much you’re spending for each of the items you grow. These maintenance costs may actually change the items you grow because some items are prone to high maintenance costs. Let me know your thoughts on maintenance costs at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.