Is it Spring Yet?

What a week for weather!  Highs in the 70s followed by 50s and freezing overnight.  Fresh snow on Pikes Peak and all of the snow in the yard is melted.  None the less, we’ll likely have some cold nights ahead of us and I did fix the chainsaw last week…

After verifying my repair work by slicing up a dozen logs earlier this week, it was time to do some splitting.  When I first started splitting my own firewood a few years back, I started with a maul, a sledgehammer, and a couple of wedges.  These are great choices for logs around a foot across, but I’ve been splitting logs under six inches and there are better tools for the job.  Now, it’s easy to go overboard when looking for an axe.  I discovered this while hanging out on a knife and bushcraft forum.  Some people there rave about their Granfors Bruks axes and which go back and forth over which size is the perfect axe.  Now, I have nothing against them, but the cost can be mind-boggling.  I needed something to work around the house and maybe take backpacking.  I found the Fiskars X15 to be a nice compromise for those two uses and enjoy using it very much.

Splitting Wood

A few of the bigger pieces needed the maul to get started, but that pile is primarily the product of the X15.  After this, the maul and the axe needed a little touching up to ensure they’d work this well next time.  You might think sharpening an axe is something esoteric and difficult to do, but it’s really quite simple and it takes many of the same tools you might use to sharpen a knife.

Axe Sharpening

Start with a small bastard file and try to match the angle of the axe blade by placing the file as close as possible to the side of the axe blade.  Slowly file the edge with slight pressure to avoid removing too much metal too quickly.  After the major nicks are out, I switch to the a diamond knife sharpener.  Running the sharpener, coarse side first, towards the blade, I try to match the existing blade angle.  After touching up the blade edge with the coarse and fine sides of the diamond hone, I like to use a leather strop to the put that little bit of polish on the edge like I do with my knives.

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You can still see a very small nick in the edge on the right edge of this photo, but the blade will now shave hair off my arm just like it did when it was new.  The Frog Lube puts a layer of oil on things to prevent rust and has a great minty smell.  I love the stuff!

Garden update time!  I now have twelve celery seedling and the onions I started last week are already starting to come up.

Seedlings March 17th

I was not very happy with the stand I built to hold the lighting rig I built.  Half-inch PVC is just not rigid enough to support the weight.  I have since upgraded to 3/4 inch PVC pipe and the result is much better.  You might also notice, I swapped the bungee cord arrangement for chain attached to two eyelet bolts in the top bar.  Total cost was $15.

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Well, that’s all for this week.  Next week, I’ll be starting a bunch of seeds and looking for a different tray arrangement.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Two Weeks Later – High School Chemistry Comes In Handy

Sorry about taking a week off – it was a very humdrum week and I didn’t have anything inspiring me to write.  This week hasn’t been that exciting either.  I got some reloading done to go to a USPSA match here in town, but the weather was nasty and I didn’t go because there was another match down in Pueblo this weekend.  Again though, the weather was horrid and I stayed home.  I’ve got one more opportunity to meet my goal of shooting competitively each month, so I’m praying for good weather.

As I wrote in a previous post, I started some celery seeds last month.  I was starting to get worried as we were inside the 10-20 day germination period and nothing was happening.  Then, on Day 15, one seedling poked above the soil.

Celery Seedling

Celery Seedling

Hooray!  Today, as I post this there are now six celery seedlings coming up and according to my calendar it was time to start the onions.  I’ll give the celery a few more days to come up before I recycle the newspaper pots and soil into the raised bed, but I’ve got enough for my garden now.

The rest of my weekend was spent doing some basic maintenance on our vehicles, changing oil and checking fluids.  Stuff I’ve been doing since I was a teenager and isn’t in my 13 Skills challenge, but I noticed something that makes me think I’ll be replacing a car battery soon.

Battery Terminal Before

Battery Terminal Before

Pretty nasty looking isn’t it?  It’s caused by the sulfuric acid fumes coming from inside the battery.  I didn’t want this causing any more damage so I dug back into some high school chemistry to get rid of this mess.  The cup you see in the picture has some hot water, baking soda, and a wire brush in it.  The baking soda in the water creates a basic solution that neutralizes the acid and makes cleaning this up safe and easy.

Battery Terminal After

Battery Terminal After

Ta Da!  Shiny terminals again.  The copper sulfate turned my baking soda solution that green color.  I rinsed the top of the battery with purified water to clean things up.  This is a maintenance free battery and it’s three years old, so I’m taking this an indication it needs to be replaced soon.

I didn’t take any pictures, but I also repaired my chainsaw this weekend.  It’s an old Husqvarna model that I picked up at a pawn shop for relatively little cash.  Once I got it working last year by pulling the spark plug and replacing the old fuel, it sufficed to handle the minor cutting duties to allow us to use the fireplace a few times each year.  However, my wife had to brainstorm for me to use the chainsaw to level off the top of a large log in our backyard to use as a pedestal for a bird bath.  Shortly after that attempt at chainsaw carving (it’s alot harder than it looks!) the sprocket in the chain bar froze and the chainsaw was now kaput.  Again, the Internet came to the rescue!  After downloading the manual, I found I could replace the original 16 inch bar with a 20 inch bar and new chain.  Total cost was about $60 (over half what I paid for the saw), but it cuts like a dream now.  The extra bar length means I can cut through almost anything left from an old elm tree we had cut down three years ago.

I hope that was worth the wait.  Happiness is a sharp chainsaw!

Building a Raised Bed and Seed Starting

We’ve had some nice weather lately and a long weekend, so it’s time to get out in the yard and get some things done!

First on the list – prepare the ground where the raised bed is going.  I’m adapting a method I learned from Jack Spirko and incorporating wood into the ground under the bed.  The idea is that the wood provides several benefits:

  • it absorbs water and slowly releases it back to the plants, reducing the need to water.
  • as it breaks down, it improves the soil by adding organic matter.
  • it provides a place for helpful fungus to grow underground which aids the plants in the bed.

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Since I’m moving up from a container garden, I’m keeping this raised bed at 6ft by 2ft.  I dug about eight inches down where the bed is going in an area that once held an 50ft tall elm tree.  The elm was dead when we moved in three years ago so we had it cut down and there’s still a lot of trunk and roots in this area.  So I’m building a woody bed on top of a woody bed in a sense.

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This is where I stopped this week.  The rest of the bed will be filled by re-using the soil from last year’s containers and probably adding a couple bags of soil from the garden store.  On to the seed starting!

It’s too cold to start my seeds outside, so I’ve got to start them inside the house.  However, there’s not enough sunlight coming in any one window in our house due to the layout.  Solution?  Build a grow light system!  In keeping with the theme of doing-it-myself, I dug back in my memory archives and pulled up those mad electrician skills I learned twenty years ago.  Twenty dollars of parts from Lowes and I’m ready to begin.  Here’s the basic layout-

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The octagonal boxes are where the lights will be mounted.  The rectangular box is for a switch.

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Wiring up the light receptacles.  Not shown is the plug end I put on the end of the cable.  The next part of the project will be to hang the light system on a height adjustable system.  This will allow me to keep the CFL bulbs close to the seedlings as they grow.

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According to the calendar I put together, it’s time to get the Dell Early Celery in seedling pots.  The wooden PotMaker makes great little seedling pots from newspaper.  The nice thing is the newspaper breaks down and adds organic matter to the soil, so transplanting is a breeze.  I’m planning to put nine celery plants in the square foot allotted for them, so I started 18 seeds and will plant the strongest ones in May.

That’s all for this week.  Thanks for stopping by!

Marksmanship and When to Call the Pros from Dover

Kind of an up-and-down week.  One of my goals for this year was to get out shooting competitively more often and improve my marksmanship.  With the ammunition shortage going on right now, I’ve had to rely on reloading to get enough ammo to do to practice.  One of the local sportsman’s associations hosts a Civilian Marksmanship Program (www.odcmp.org) shoot on the second Sunday of each month.  I’ve been to these a couple of times in the past year and a half and they’re a laid-back and enjoyable event.  The guys that show up are friendly and very helpful, loaning equipment and giving advice if asked.

Squeezing in some time each night, I managed to get enough 30-06 cartridges loaded last week to be ready for this Sunday’s shoot.  I’m using a single-stage press and don’t have the fanciest equipment in the world, so I have to take my time and be meticulous.  In the middle of this, the drain line for our kitchen sink clogged Thursday night.  It was my fault for running too much down the disposal, so I knew I had to fix it.  Friday afternoon, I was at the local Ace Hardware picking up some Drano and ran into a plumber who is an exceptional salesman.

Now, I’ve done sales before my Navy career, so I can appreciate someone that does it the “right” way.  All this guy did was ask about my problem.  Then he handed me his business card and said if the Drano doesn’t work to give him a call, they only charge $89 to clear a drain line.  No pressure, no dire predictions that the Drano wouldn’t work just a low price and no BS.  I really appreciate that.

Well, the Drano didn’t work, but I wasn’t completely deterred.  I picked up a twenty-five foot drain snake, dismantled a couple of sink drains to get better access to the drain lines and did what the plumber would most likely do.  I found the clog, but only ended up breaking the snake.  This is when I knew I needed professional equipment and a professional to run it.  I pulled that business card out and within a couple of hours the drain was clear.  Will I call a plumber first next time?  No.  I’m still going to try to fix it myself.  Maybe with better equipment next time.

Back to marksmanship! Sunday dawned cold and windy, but thankfully it hadn’t snowed so I drove out to the range and waited for the match.  This CMP match was shot at 200 yards and the course of fire consists of ten, slow fired shots from a standing position, ten rapid fire shots from kneeling or sitting, then ten rapid fire shots lying in the prone position followed by twenty rounds fired slowly from prone.  Out of the three CMP shoots I’ve attended, this was my worst.  I need to get better at discerning the wind’s direction and compensating for it.  The twenty slow-fire prone shots were my worst.  Thinking back on it, I did have trouble getting the sights on the target.  My target picture tended to have the sights low on the target and it was a bit of a struggle to get them high enough.  That and an increase in the wind probably explain why most of those shots ended up low and to the right.

Back to the reloading bench to get some more practice!