First Aluminum Casting

Forced air makes for all the difference. and a 2-3ft tall flame.

Forced air makes for all the difference. and a 2-3ft tall flame.  Not seen: the hose to put of any stray flames.

Instead of making posts here, I’ve been doing things.  Over a two and a half years ago, I first attempted to melt aluminum in a tin can.  Well, since then, I’ve managed to make a bit of progress on melting aluminum.  The biggest issue I had with my first attempt was a lack of forced air.  I tried using a stand fan then, and there was not enough air, and it wasn’t directed at the charcoal.  My first successful attempt used a leaf blower on the lowest setting to get sufficient air, and charcoal as fuel.  An attempt or two later, I was able to use dry wood as a fuel source.  This is nice, because I have plenty of wood about to use as fuel at no cost.  After building a standard fire to get a decent size bed of coals, I turn on the leaf blower to kick up the heat and then start piling on wood as long as it doesn’t produce a lot of smoke.  Eventually, it builds up to what is show in the image. At this point, wood gets added to the outside edge of the fire and after it gets blackened and the wood under the crucible (in this case, the smallest dutch oven I had) is gone, the charred wood is moved under the crucible.

Carriage assembly

Carriage assembly

Several times, I’ve melted aluminum cans and formed ingots by pouring the molten metal into a steel muffin tin.  Today, however, was the first time that I cast a metal part, the carriage assembly for a Gingery lathe.  The part didn’t turn out perfect: there are several defects on the top face where the steel way for the cross slide attaches.  I will be attempting this casting at least once more and take the best of the castings to actually use.  I have the pattern for the cross slide nearly ready as well, but I will need to obtain a short piece of 1/2″ steel round shaft for the center hole.  Otherwise, that would likely be my next casting.

Compost, Band Saw, and Seed Starting

Compost spread over most of the garden.

Compost spread over most of the garden.

It has been a busy week so far and this has been the first opportunity I have had to write about my progress.  Last Saturday, I was able to spread all the compost I had over the top of the garden.  The endeavour took nearly the entire day to do and left me with several bruises where I kept running the five gallon buckets into my legs and arms.  The bruises are just now starting to fade.  This was the entire reason I had started making compost: to amend the soil so it is more fertile, hold moisture better and plant easier.  This may also act as a mulch to help suppress weeds.  (When I think of mulch, wood chips spread over a flower bed come to mind, and not compost)

Starting pepper and tomato seeds.

Starting pepper and tomato seeds.

Also on Saturday, I started the first seeds of the year in the greenhouse.  I started the same variety of tomatoes that I grew last year.  These are not seeds I saved from last years crops, but rather left over seeds that I purchased last year.  I plan on starting some of the seed I saved later on once I know I will have as many plants as I want.

I also started some pepper seeds that I bought this year from Terroir Seeds.  There was only 23 seeds in the packet and I am trying to start them all, two per pot, so I’m hoping that I get at least a couple of plants that I can save seed from.  Otherwise, I will probably end up trying a different pepper variety next year.  Last year I tried to grow green bell peppers, but I never got anything to sprout.

The band saw with new, bright safety orange tires.

The band saw with new, bright safety orange tires.

On Monday, the tires I ordered for the band saw came in, several days earlier than I was expecting them.  Actually getting the tires on the wheels was rather difficult, because they were about an inch shorter than the wheel’s circumference.  Thankfully, the tires stretched and were able to fit, but if I ever need to remove them, I will be doing it with a knife because I doubt I could get them off whole.

I was able to start making some frames for a super and I got six sides finished and started on six top bars before I it got too cold in the unheated shed for me to work.  I should be able to fabricate every part of the frame except the bottom bar with the band saw.  For the bottom, I need to make a groove along the entire length of the bar, which will probably require a table saw or a router as I cannot think of a way to make that cut with a band saw.

Seeds Are In, a Homemade Ladder, and a New Computer

All the things in the packet from Terroir Seeds

All the things in the packet from Terroir Seeds

I got the last of my seeds in nearly a week ago, just before heading out on a business trip.  Now all that I really need is for things to warm up a bit more before I can start planting.  The most exciting thing I ordered was the Bloody Butcher variety of maize (corn) which has a very deep red color.  Besides the corn, I have lettuce that should do fairly well in the Oklahoma heat, carrots, peppers, sunflowers, buckwheat and some Vitex seed.  The last one is a shrub/tree that will primarily be for bee feed.  The buckwheat will also be a good nectar source, but it also will provide seed that can be turned into flour.  Vitex, also known as the Chaste tree, appears to have some herbal medicine properties, but I haven’t ventured down that path so far.


A ladder-like construct made from 2x4s

Before the business trip, I spent some time cleaning up one of the sheds I have on the property that is somewhat of a workshop.  There was already a workbench in place and was wired for power, but after moving in, we have just been using it for storage.  In the process of cleaning up the shed, I decided to put everything we were storing there in the loft area.  The difficulty in this was that it was difficult to get up to the loft to pack things in tightly because there was no ladder.  So I built one.  I don’t think many people besides myself could use it and using it feels more like climbing a tree than a ladder, but it fits my needs right now, so it will stay until I decide otherwise.

The driving reason for the shed cleanup is to have a space to use the band saw and a table saw I got from my father-in-law.  They have been sitting in his garage for several years without use and somewhat in disrepair, so he decided to let me use them.  I’ve been working on repairing them as best I can.  The table saw has a non-functioning motor and is rusted up badly.  The band saw was in better shape and after lubricating just about every part on the machine, it was working well.  Then the lower tire started coming off the wheel and now needs to be replaced.  Once both the table saw and band saw are up and running well, I will be able to start making bee frames, boxes and probably much more.  This makes it a lot easier than driving an hour and a half to my mothers to use the equipment at her house and so I will be able to do a lot more woodworking that I have recently.

20130302100129After my computer died about two weeks ago,  I read an article on Ars Technica about a very cheap computer that was less than $400 for everything including the monitor.  Using this article and the computer parts that were still good in the dead computer, I put together a system for just over $200.  The case is a nice 4U rack mount server case I purchased over a year ago for when I decided to build a server-class machine that I have yet to get around to.  I spent yesterday evening putting the system together after getting home from Virginia.  Everything went together smoothly and started up without issue.  Some basic benchmarking puts it at six to seven times more powerful than the machine that died.  This is not too surprising as the old machine was purchased in 2005.

Computer is Most Likely Dead

Guts of my dead computer

Guts of my dead computer

About three weeks ago when I got home from a business trip, I found that my desktop computer was not booting.  I quickly setup my small netbook to function as my main computer until I got around to troubleshooting the system.  Today, I finally got around to doing some troubleshooting and it looks like parts of the system may be functioning – most notably the 375W power supply – but the system is not booting.  This leads me to think the motherboard is not functioning anymore.  So I doubt that I will be getting any more use out of the desktop computer.

I’m not really upset about this happening.  I got the computer in 2005 a couple of years after I graduated from high school, so it has been going strong for seven to eight years.  When I have the time and money, I’ll be building a new computer from scratch that will run circles around the recently defunct computer.

Shelling the Last Pecan…

The last pecan, all by its lonesome self...

The last pecan, all by its lonesome self…

Today marks a small milestone for me: I have shelled the last pecan I had harvested from my four pecan trees last year.  This has taken an enormous amount of work over the past four to five months to complete as all of the pecans were cracked by hand.  All I have to say is that I have a great respect for the people who did this sort of for a living before the invention of mechanical nut cracker.  I doubt that I would have lasted.  At the very least, my hands would have been destroyed by the work.

The nine quart-jars of pecans I have in my pantry.

The nine quart-jars of pecans I have in my pantry.

The final result is twelve full quarts of shelled pecans.  Three of the jars were used for pecan pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas, so only nine are currently in the pantry.  I see several pecan pies in my future this year.  I will also be on the lookout for more recipes that use pecans and I will snack on some of these.  It is a good thing that I will be getting more pecans later this year, as these will be gone before too long.

I have a five gallon bucket full of pecan shells that I plan on turning into charcoal.  I haven’t been making much charcoal recently because the weather has alternating between warm enough to do work outside and too cold to do much outside.  When the weather is warm, I’ve worked until the sun goes down and that doesn’t leave much time for getting the needed wood together to run the fire.  And when it is cold, I don’t want to be outside for long, even if there is a blazing fire nearby.

Continuing Spring Cleanup

As the weather has been getting warmer recently, I’ve been spending a lot more time outside. With all the extra time I’ve been spending outside, I’ve been able to get several projects started. Things will be picking up more once I get seed and it gets warm enough to start the seeds in the greenhouse and even more once the ground is warm enough to start direct seeding things like beans and corn.

I’ve managed to turn the compost pile over as much as it is going to be and wet the whole thing down as I did so. I’ll probably give the compost pile another month or so to cook before I start using it for seed starting and amending the garden soil. Now that I have the space, I can get the leaves from around the property raked up and start a new compost pile for next year and get the leaves out of the way at the same time.

I’ve been inspecting my seed starting equipment and getting it ready for use this year. I don’t think the seed starting trays are going to survive much longer. The clear tops have discolored a brownish-yellow color that will probably affect their usefulness and the bottoms are slightly warped. I would really like to have starting trays made from a more resilient material like a hard rubber, but I haven’t really gone looking for such a thing yet.

The new door fit into the door frame

The new door fit into the door frame

The greenhouse has also been getting some work. I’ve filled a few more cracks that had cold drafts coming thru them by cramming newspaper down them. I’ve also been building a new door out of scrap pallet wood. The old door was destroyed in the wind last year. Because of this, I’ve made sure the new door is very strong to the point of over-engineering. I still need to finish the door, but first I need to get more pallet wood as all that I have recovered, I have used to build the door to where it is. At least it now fits into the opening. The frame is somewhat crooked, so the door had to be adjusted to fit in.

Planting a potato from the kitchen counter

Planting a potato from the kitchen counter

Yesterday, my wife gave me a bag of potatoes that has been sitting on the counter long enough that the potatoes sprouted and told me to get rid of it. So I when out to the garden and stuck them in the ground. I don’t know how well this will work, but if any of them survive, it will be more than I would have otherwise.

Fence relocation in progress...

Fence relocation in progress…

I’ve also started to relocate a fence on my property. My puppies – really large dogs – have been getting the better of a couple of sections of the wire fence held up with metal poles that are anchored only in the dirt. So to remedy this, I’ve been moving a section of fence that has been an annoyance since moving in. Taking down the horizontal boards was fairly straight forward because of my experience with taking pallets apart, but I ended up breaking a couple of the board because the boards were so old and fragile at places where there were large knots in the wood. The verticals are going to take a lot longer because about a whole third of the poles are buried in the ground, making them very solid.

The Start of Spring Cleanup

Today was warmer than it has been in the past few weeks and I was able to take advantage of that so start my spring garden cleanup.  I still have some grass invading my garden plot that is going to take a large amount of work to get out.  I managed to get a bit out today, but I really need to get ahold of a good garden rake to separate the plant matter from the dirt.  Otherwise, as soon as it gets warm again, the grass will come out of dormancy and just pick up invading my garden, which I don’t want.

Nice, rich compost.

Nice, rich compost.

I also have started turning over the large compost pile I started on my property last year just after I moved in.  I started at the back of the pile so that I can start putting the leaves on my property in that place to start the next year’s compost and have this years available in a month or two.  With the exception of the top weeds and some pockets of leaves, the compost was like a dark, rich soil.  I still have a bit of learning to do to get the small clumps of leaves decomposed with the rest, but I can’t complain.  Overall, it turned out much better than I was expecting.

The forecast for tomorrow is looking a bit warmer than it was today and as it is a weekend, it will be available for me to do work outside.  Also, David, my brother-in-law is planning on coming down to help out with things, but most likely to take a peek at the hives.

This is also the time of year to start looking at seed catalogs in preparation for the next planting.  I’ve had my nose in online catalogs for a couple of weeks now trying to figure out what I want to try growing this year.  I am planning on trying to grow some variety of corn this year and I have my eye on either the Painted Mountain or the Bloody Bucher variety of corn.  Both are different shades of red and look to be good for making corn flour in addition to being eye-catching.  I’m planning on planting buckwheat for as a nectar source, as a grain source and to evaluate it as a smother crop for killing more parts of my lawn to turn into garden.

Aluminium Melt Failure

Things rarely go well the first time something is done.  This is no exception.  I have been wanting to start melting aluminium soda cans and learn the skills I need to do metal casting in my back yard.  I have a basically continuous supply of aluminium from soda cans.

Coffee can crucible filled with aluminium cans in fire.

Coffee can crucible filled with aluminium cans in fire.

This attempt failed, but just barely.  I used a steel/iron coffee can crucible to hold the aluminium cans as they melt.  I built up a good coal base from wood logs and forced air into the fire with a stand fan.  This got the can a nice glowing orange and the cans did start melting, but it didn’t get quite hot enough.  I never got a good molten pool of aluminium.

Aluminium stuck in the coffee can.

Aluminium stuck in the coffee can.

In the end, I took a hammer to the can to try to extract the aluminium from the coffee can crucible, but this failed and just crushed the can.  I think that next time, I will use some of the charcoal that I have made to get things going hotter than this time.

Do-It-Yourself Home Repairs

One of the downsides to owning your own home is that you are responsible for fixing everything yourself, or hiring somebody else to fix it for you.  I’m not about to hire somebody else to do what I am able to fix myself if I don’t have to.  So today I spent some time fixing various things around the house.  Most of this was tightening down the hardware on cabinets, closets, and drawers of everything in the house.  Most of these were quite loose, which is what prompted me to go around tightening everything.  The more involved fixes were replacing the cylinder of a door knob and re-glueing a wood panel on the entertainment center.

The door cylinder after being replaced.

The door cylinder after being replaced.

A few weeks ago, my wife noticed that one of the bathroom doors was being difficult in turning the door know.  I finally got around to checking things out today.  It turns out that the cylinder, or whatever its real name is, was not retracting the door latch and needed to be replaced.  Luckily, one of the previous owners to the house had taken a door off and stuck it in one of the sheds and I was able to scavenge the cylinder mechanism as a replacement.  If another cylinder goes bad, I will probably have no choise but to purchase a new one.

Using books instead of clamps to re-glue a wood panel.  Large, textbook like programming books work well for this.

Using books instead of clamps to re-glue a wood panel. Large, textbook like programming books work well for this.

The other fix I did today was to re-glue one of the wood panels on a door in the entertainment center.  The panel has been attached on only a single edge since I moved into the house.  Today I detached the door from the entertainment center, pushed the panel completely out of the door, removed the remaining glue with a razor blade, and then glued the panel back in with wood glue before putting the whole thing under a stack of heavy books.  This should allow the glue to hold the panel well.  After the glue cures, the door is going back onto the entertainment center.

Garden is Finally Doing Something Again

Finally, some more bean pods.

I just got back from a week-long trip for work and came back to find that the beans are putting out pods once more.  The last round of beans I planted were pretty much a dud as I got not even a full handful of beans out of the crop.  So far, this is looking to be my largest crop yet.  The plants are packed in much closer than my first attempt at beans and there are flowers on everything.  Some of the last round of beans  decided to start flowering as well, so I will probably end up getting a some beans from that as well.

One double row and a partial single row of pinto beans.  There is communal bee feeder  at the very top of the picture.

The two latest plantings were both directly seeded into the ground in double- and single-rows. I am liking how this is turning out much better than my first plantings started in the greenhouse and I will probably be doing this for all but very earliest crops started before the chance of frost has completely passed.  I think that I will be doing that from now on to try and get as much in before the high summer heat stops everything from producing fruit.

Flowering chives. I hope I can get some seeds off of this.

When my grandparents came to visit, they left me with a bunch of chives in addition to other plants and flowers.  Regardless of what I get out of this plant, the flowers are quite beautiful. I think it was worth getting for just for that.

Once the summer heat wave broke and we were no longer dealing with highs of 115, the plants have sprung back quickly and the flowers are seem to be trying to make up for lost time.  I’ve seen more growth in the past couple of weeks than I have in the rest of the time I’ve had them.  It makes me hopeful that I’ll have some really nice flowers to show off next year.

The pecans are getting nice and big as the harvest starts getting closer.

After I finish with harvesting all the apples, the only tree harvest remaining will be the pecans.  This will be the first pecan harvest I have here.  I’ve had one other place that I have lived where there was a pecan tree, and that produced a freezer full of pecans from a single, giant tree.  I don’t think that any of the trees I have will produce that much, but I do have four trees, so I might end up with more pecans.

A bunch of bees and one wasp on the communal feeder.

While I was gone on my business trip, my brother in law stopped by to build a communal hive feeder and to do inspections.  This should make it quite a bit easier to provide large quantities of feed to the hives without a lot of work.

During the inspections, it looks like the blue hive has no eggs in it.  This may be because the queen stopped laying, or because the queen died.  I hope it is just the first.  But to be safe, a frame of brood has been moved from one of the other hives so the bees are able to raise a new queen if the old queen died.