What a tool!

(Hey, it was that or a hoe joke.)

I have to shamelessly plug a product today because it’s the best damn garden tool I’ve gotten my grubby mitts on in a long time.4d2d2-140831_001

This bad boy. I usually hear these called stirrup hoes, but the sticker on mine called it an “action hoe” (Oh . . . the jokes are coming out my ears – this is so painful!) and some folks call them hula hoes. Whatever. It’s an awesome hoe is what it is.

The stirrup is loosely attached at the ferrule so it wiggles a little. Both front and back edges of the stirrup are sharpened. This means no more whacking away as most people unfortunately do with standard-issue draw hoes (which, for weeding, should actually be used with the head as parallel to the ground as possible). Instead, you shuffle the stirrup back and forth just under the soil’s surface and it effortlessly slices through the weeds. The handle is nice and long so that you don’t have to bend (and so I can easily reach the center of my gargantuan front bed from the edges). I can also get under the drooping branches of my larger shrubs without having to lift the branches and crawl under and hand pick. Not only does it cleanly slice through my tougher weeds – like the wisteria that keeps trying to return from the dead, or the suckers my quince throws off, both of which are very woody – it also clears out all those pesky little tiny baby weed sprouts that are almost too goddamn tiny to pluck by hand.

Thanks to Matt’s foresight in getting me this hoe for Christmas I can now rid the whole 1000+ square foot front bed of weeds in 10 minutes without breaking a sweat.

— Amanda

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Always at hand

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Like the mismatched screws? They were left over from previous projects.

I use my ancient Corona pruners almost every day, regardless of whether there is any pruning to be done or not. They snip herbs for dinner (even in the dead of winter, because I love me some fresh thyme) and flowers for the vase on the kitchen table. Yes, I even use them to prune: fruit trees, ornamentals, the blackberries that are trying to colonize the back yard. Yesterday, after I used them to cut back all the dead wood on my sage, oregano, and thyme, I also used them for the rather unorthodox purpose of chopping up a section of split garden hose so that it would fit neatly in to the garbage can.

In short, if these guys lived in the locked garden shed with the wonky doors that only open a foot at most I would go nuts or resort to gumming up my paper scissors with tulip sap.

I got tired of leaving them on top of the dryer by the back door because that’s also where I toss my chore coat and gloves and I keep getting the three intertwined in irritating (and sometimes painful) ways. So when I was at the feed store today I invested in a $0.69 1″ conduit strap from the plumbing aisle. I needed to bend it out a little to accommodate the handles of my pruners, but I was able to do it without pliers. I screwed it up next to the can crusher, which the previous occupants mounted on a 1/4″ thick chunk of plywood. (I suspect, given what I know about the previous assholes homeowners that the plywood was originally intended to mask a large hole, rather than as a mounting plate for the can crusher.) I mounted it high like I did so that the pruners aren’t flush against the wall, which will make it easier to get my hands around them, particularly when I am wearing garden gloves.

— Amanda

Modern art

[A guest post from Matt.]

So for thems that don’t know, Art Lawn, our tractor, has spent the summer logging and made us approximately $1000 before expenses. Unfortunately this means that his two 6 volt batteries are pretty much shot. A new 6 volt battery at our local auto parts store would cost about $100 each. We only really need one, but it’s nice to have the other charged and ready to go since his charging system has gone the way of the dodo. (Ya ever have the battery die in the middle of plowing the drive way and have to wait 6 hours for it to recharge?) I decided to look into converting him to the more modern 12 volt that most every vehicle these days now use (some are running 24 volt but they are huge and scarce). So short story long he is now “modern Art Lawn.”

The first stop on this journey is EVERYONE told me to convert him to 12 volt the day we brought him home. But I am stubborn (not to mention cheap) and wanted to leave him 6v for collector value or some horse crap that don’t make sense now. Also, the 12v coil for a ford 9n is around $180. This is because the coil on this tractor mounts on top of the distributor and covers the gap between cap points and the front bit of the cam shaft as well as making the connection between resistor and cap. In other words I can’t just go to my usual pile of spare parts throw literally any 12v coil from any model of Ford car/truck and make it work. (On the later years of the 8n and some of the 2n Fords this will work). Also the “factory” conversion kit cost around $200 as well and came with all the bells and whistles to convert to 12v, except it still needs the coil . . . That’s $380 to make a tractor that cost $300 and some whiskey to run just a little better.  The battery charger was $20, thank you very much.

Enter winter, as youse regular readers know, we lose power often around here, usually with a foot of snow on the ground at night . . . in fog . . . with drunk maniacs on ATVs. Not to mention the maniac on a 70 year old tractor doing donuts in the middle of the road. (Me.) Somewhere in here I realized that head lights would be awesome, but no one makes 6v lights any more except for the “custom restoration” market, which equals big money. Plus the battery would only last a little while anyway. Then this summer we went a-logging big time. You ever carry a 60 pound hard-to-hang-on-to spilling-sulfuric-acid-everywhere hunk of crap across stumps, loose branches, mud, and fuq all knows what else for about 100 yards? Hell, it ain’t easy on flat land. You get the idea why having a working charging system is so nice?

Through my various adventures and asking too many damned questions for my own good, I came across a parts guy who didn’t have his head up his ass and asked this guru of repair if he heard of such a thing that could change 12v to 6v without costing an arm and a leg. Enter the inline reducer. I don’t know how it works but it does and that is all that matters, plus it only cost about $10. Sign me up. Now I know what needs to be done. So commence the gathering of bits and odd scrap.

  1. Alternator, single wire Chevy model. (You can use the ford version but wiring is more difficult) $57.
  2. voltage reducer. (Try Napa. They always seem to have at least one guy who breathes O2) $10.
  3. 12v battery. (Shop around. It don’t need to be nearly as big as the old 6v beast) $37.

Total cost $104

My battery was reconditioned from a local battery supply place, Pacific Power). These guys are great for anything that takes batteries from cell phones to golf carts. Everything else was purchased new from our local Napa. (I used a dead Datsun alternator for core charge.)

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“New” battery.

Now for the install. First, REMOVE OLD DEAD BATTERY. It’s junk now, but you do not want to hook it to a 12v anything – it will explode. Remove the old dead generator. All it’s been doing these days is keeping tension on the belt so the water pump keeps spinning and doing its job. Track your wiring. (this part can be very difficult) You need one wire to go to the battery and one that goes from ignition key to the old coil – every thing else at this point is unnecessary. I suggest using a multi-meter to help with wiring. I personally got lucky (kinda?) and some time in the past someone somewhere tried to rewire Art and caught him on fire, so the only two wires that worked are for the coil and one to the generator. (Should have been three???). All I had to do to rewire was cut out the stock voltage regulator add an end that fit onto the battery cable and install the voltage reducer between the ignition switch and coil. In total I cut two wires and just removed hand full of others that are no longer working anyway. The trick with the reducer is to mount it to some sort of sheet metal to act as a heat sink and mount it as close to the power source (battery) as possible. In our case this was right on the dash, so now I have a shiny spot on the dash that looks like some groovy boost button or whatever . . . 

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Time warp button.

One thing to remember with this conversion is that the starter is meant for 6v so it will spin very fast, and it will get hot and burn up if over-used, so if’n it don’t start after 20 seconds fix whatever is wrong and start over because starters are spendy. Lucky for us it spins faster than the tractor idles so the biggest problem is spark and fuel, though both are rare problems with these old tractors (unless you run it out of fuel or flood it, but flooding is seldom when the starter is going so fast).

Sometimes I wonder if I make things sound too easy . . . here are some of my problems. To start with, I should never be let near wiring with any kind of cutting tool. I am mildly color blind (not full red green but more along the line of like colors sorta merging together). Now top this off with the fact that most of Art’s wiring has been on fire and then spray painted gray, blue, red, and grown over with moss. And then scrape the soot, moss, and paint off and – you guessed it – all the wires are the same color (I think), hence the multi meter, though it doesn’t always work. The old voltage regulator had three wires coming out of it two yellow? One black? Then there is a bus bar kinda deal on the back of the dash with six wires poking out of it all yellow all connected? Hum . . . Both ignition wires lead to this bus bar . . . Both yellow wires, but the coil wire is red right, man this shit don’t make any damn sense! So a little patience on my part and the use of my multi-meter, and now I know where each wire I need goes and kinda even why. The black wire to the old regulator is the only wire left that runs to the generator/alternator. Sweet. Cut that and mount to positive battery cable. The bus bar is supposed to be a fuse block (fire does wonders) so the ignition controls light and every thing – ah hah! Well, it’s useless now, so bypass that and run the ignition straight to the coil via the reducer and ITS ALIVE!!!

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Not a permanent mount. There will be a bracket eventually.

Now we got to mount the alternator. Turns out the way the new mount fits is kinda like taking two extension cords and trying to plug the like ends together male to male and female to female. You’re going to either start over or get an adapter. (Or go gay. Whatever.) In this case, a simple homemade bracket is in order. Simply drill two holes in a couple of pieces of scrap steel the appropriate distance apart, add an extra bolt and ta da! (Actually I got very lucky because the flange on the alternator is the same thickness as the mount for the generator, otherwise some real engineering may have been in order.) I still need to find a bracket for the top of the alternator since the generator never came with one and this kinda piece needs to have a curve and a slot. It’s just easier to find one than to try and make one. As it sits now, the top mount is just wired to the bucket frame. (Feck off, it works OK and it was cheap.) Also, the pulley is to narrow for the factory belt so it rides a little high. I can fix this proper by either buying a new one or modifying the pulley (not a big deal).

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Let there be light.

Now that we got a self-charging battery, I can finally put lights on him! The factory lights are one of the cute factors for this old tractor. Unfortunately that which makes them cute is also what makes them not work. With the loader on Art they stick out too damn far and the bucket is just in the way. That and the fact that the 12v version is $55 plus shipping each, not including the wiring.

Weather-proof switch.

Weather-proof switch.

In-line fuse.

In-line fuse.

Implement light.

Implement light.

Enter the Co-Op Supply. $15 for an implement light, $6 for a weather proof switch, $4 in connectors, a little recycled green wire (get it), $3 for an inline fuse, and poof! I can see I can see its a miracle dear gods I can see! and shit. The old factory wiring would have run under the hood, but since the hood comes off and the light mounts to the loader frame anyway, I just ran the wiring along the loader frame. Remember to think ahead a little on projects like this and run the wires where they are out of the way and not likely to get pinched (causing a short) by anything ever. Zip ties are your friend. They don’t dry out and fall off like tape and they look a little neater. Actually the Boing company (get it) has a kevlar twine they use to tie up wiring bundles that works really well and is really hard to get your hands on. (20 strands will tow a truck and weighs about an ounce.) Anyway, just don’t rely on any kind of tape to hold anything ever for more than a few days. (Except duct tape, and sorry Mr. Green, even it has its limits.)

One last caveat: when doing any kind of rewiring you should solder the wire ends together and use heat shrink wrap. The little crimp connector me and your dad used to use let water (and therefore corrosion) in. I really should have gone this route but without a garage to work in in this kind of weather it’s hard to get a soldering iron to work correctly. If it don’t get the wire hot enough you really just get a sort of shitty glue job. But hey, the connectors do work and if you tape them up its not so bad . . .

Without Wax,

Matt

It’s not me. It’s my oven.

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If you ask me, yeast breads are the gold standard of baking. Everyone I know who pursues baking excellence measures themselves and those around them by their yeast breads. My little brother explores sourdough starters and rye flours. My mother is the family champion of sweet doughs. My personal field of expertise is potato bread. But even after I mastered the pre-bake mechanics (yeast-proofing, beating, kneading, shaping, rising, etc.), I continued to struggle with the actual baking part of bread baking. To make my beloved Cooking Light Monday Morning Potato Bread I had developed a complicated process involving aluminum foil (ten minutes with top and bottom covered, ten minutes with only top covered, ten minutes with no cover) and even then my crusts were sometimes near black and tough as hell. A chewy crust is all fine and good if you’re making a rustic loaf to rip apart with your stew, but I’m kvetching about sandwich bread here. Well, at long last, my suspicions are confirmed. It’s not me. It’s my oven.

For the duration of the now six years that I have been using the cheap and ugly electric range/oven that came with our questionable house purchase, I have set the temperature 25ºF lower than called for in the recipe and I generally underbake by 5-10 minutes. This usually works satisfactorily. However, when we got a free turkey from one of Matt’s turkey-tired co-workers over the holidays and its button popped up halfway through the recommended cooking time, I was suspicious. Chalking it up to a defective button and ignoring the fact that the bird looked phenomenal (and the juices ran clear!) I continued to cook as directed by the Plaid Book*. You guessed it: it was charred. Even the stuffing was dry. The seed of doubt was planted, and when my most recent ham was blackened in record time I put my foot down. That ham used to be attached to one of my pigs! I did not dig through two feet of snow three times a day to slop and water an ungrateful 250 pound omnivorous monster only to have my oven desiccate half of a hard-won five pound smoked ham!

So I bought a cheap oven thermometer and I popped it in the next time I was making a casserole. I set the temperature to 350ºF as called for in the recipe, rather than my usual 325ºF, just to make things easier on my math-challenged mind. After the preheating light clicked off I waited about five minutes and ducked in with a flashlight to take a look at the dial (my bargain-basement oven has neither window nor interior light). 450ºF and climbing! No wonder everything burns – this is no Easy-Bake, it’s a frigging crematorium! (Although that does explain why I have never had to scrub an oven that has no self-cleaning feature . . .)

Tuesday, armed with the knowledge that my oven is at least 100 degrees hotter than advertised, I turned out two beautiful loves of buttermilk bread with crusts so golden and soft you could use them as pillows. I actually had some for dessert it was so good! I smeared two lightly toasted slices with honey and butter and ate them with a handful of sweet red grapes on the side. (This combo is one of my favorite snacks, incidentally.)

So if you’re having trouble with breadmaking go get an oven thermometer from the housewares section of the supermarket. Maybe it is you – but maybe you have a legitimate scapegoat in that powdercoated heap of scrap metal masquerading as a modern household appliance.

— Amanda

* Our pet name for the ubiquitous Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book.

DIY clothespin apron

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I love hanging laundry on the line. It doesn’t take too long to put it up or take it down, and given a nice day and a bit of a breeze it doesn’t take too long to get things dry, either. Yes, everything comes down stiff as a board, but it smells heavenly! (Unless one of your neighbors decides it’s a good day to burn some trash . . .)

When I’m loitering around the thrift stores I keep an eye peeled for orphaned pillowcases. If there’s just one in a pattern that appeals to me (or two that don’t have matching sheets) I’ll buy it and add it to my growing stash. Slowly but surely, these are getting turned into grocery totes. I follow the directions I found in this great tutorial on Craftster. One such pillowcase that followed me home had bold black and white stripes and a ruffled edge. I set this one aside, envisioning one of those little hanging clothespin holders that look like an old-fashioned child’s shirt or dress, but I never found a child-size wooden hanger to complete the project. In the meantime, I kept all my clothespins on the line when they weren’t in use, which meant that if I forgot to take down the clothesline (I have the removable umbrella kind) in inclement weather the clothespins got soggy and sometimes got knocked off into the grass and dirt below.

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One of the latest Lehman’s catalogs (♥!) had a clothespin apron in it. It didn’t look complicated – sort of a waitress apron with deeper pockets – and it was even stripey. So I got out my black and white and ruffled one-off pillowcase and got to work making my own version. I stitched the bottom shut through the existing bias tape, leaving the ruffles free to ruffle, and cut the pillowcase off seven inches above this stitch line. I cut two more strips, 3-1/2” wide, out of the remaining fabric, opened their side seams, stitched the end of one to the end of the other and ironed them in half lengthwise to make the tie. I folded up the edges and ends of the tie 1/4” and situated it so that the center seam was centered on the pocket piece, encasing the back of the pocket in between the halves of the tie so that the top of the pocket’s raw edge was level with the folded-up edges inside the tie (sort of like an enormous strip of bias tape) and topstitched through all the layers. Then I covered the raw edge on the front of the pocket with black bias tape and stitched through all the layers straight up the middle (from the pocket bottom to the pocket top – not through the ruffle or the tie) to divide the pocket into two halves. Voila!

Matt snickers every time he sees me wearing it, which means that it has the appropriate level of cutesy silliness. It’s also very handy.

— Amanda

I’m pretty hard on gloves

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These really are the very same kind of gloves.  The one on the right is three months old and the one on the left is unused.

No, really.

— Amanda

End of the world deals

Saturday the 21st was supposed to be the end of the world. I’ve been through three of these predicted world-endings now. My favorite was the one in the eighth grade (I think it was a Nostradamus prediction. It had an exact time attached to it.) when my Journalism class came to a crashing halt so that the whole class, teacher included, could count down exuberantly. Given my experience with past end-of-the-world failures, our general disinterest in Biblical-code folderol, and the predictor in question’s track record of predicting the Rapture, we decided to forge ahead with our plans to spend as much time and as little money as possible wading through other people’s cast-offs. In other words, we spent most of Saturday at a rummage sale and the swap meet.

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At the (surprisingly tiny) rummage sale at a local grange I scored a Fuller brand carpet sweeper in perfect working order for the astounding price of fifty cents. (I’m probably leaving the sticker on there until the world really ends.) When I was a kid, the Fuller Brush man, an honest-to-goodness door-to-door salesman, came around a few times a year. He sharpened scissors (which, I assume, he had sold to their owners on previous visits), and sold scissors and, naturally, brushes. The morning of the presumptive Last Day I was actually sweeping the hallway carpet with a broom because it was littered with softwood shavings that I was tracking in from the meat peep pen and which seem to be Kryptonite to our anemic vacuum cleaner. The Fuller carpet sweeper, while so narrow I think it was intended for RV or marine use, has no problem with these little shavings. It also grabs a lot of the stuff the vacuum lets lie, like the glitter-sized metal shavings that Matt sheds all over the house, slivers from the firewood pile, and the tiny bits of gravel that spontaneously generate in front of the couch and in the middle of the kitchen. Sadly, I still haven’t found anything that will grab stray threads besides my own fingernails. But I can still hear the radio and my cell phone ringer when this thing is in operation.

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At the swap meet, Matt struck blacksmithing gold: a straight peen hammer. He’s been looking everywhere for one of these and in all the years I’ve known him the closest he had come was a $20.00 cross peen a few years ago from the stall next door to the one where he found the straight peen for just $5.00. The way Matt explained the peens to me is that most hammers have two striking faces: the flat one and the other one. (On your standard household claw hammer you strike with the flat face and pull nails with the claw.) On a peen hammer you strike with either side, but the two sides serve different purposes. The ball side of a ball peen hammer was designed to mushroom the stem end of rivets. A cross peen hammer has a flat face and a wedge-shaped face that is perpendicular to the handle. Matt says that cross peens are used in blacksmithing to strike a piece of hot metal in such a way that it widens. With a straight peen the wedge-shaped peen is arranged parallel to the handle and its purpose is to lengthen the metal it strikes. Maybe I should have had Matt explain that directly . . .

— Amanda