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  • VA2SFX 10:08 pm on May 1, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , DIY,   

    New DIY chicken coop 

    I’m building out a new chicken coop in the shed on the property we bought a couple of months ago.

    It’s the second chance I’ve had to install laying hens in a small out-building. So I have a pretty firm grasp of the physical challenges and requirements of the job. In addition to seeing how that plays out in my own daily routine with the birds (as they cycle through the seasons), I’ve also worked at a bunch of other farms where I’ve seen a lot of other setups. Now I’m in the processing of distilling down the best of what I’ve seen with the given space and materials I have on hand.

    Initial framing

    Everything, as you can see, fits in the footprint of a 4’x8′ plywood cap for winter insulation.

    I’ve gotten to really enjoy this kind of light improvisational interior framing. I’m not the best at it, but neither am I the worst.

    Moisture appears to be entering the shed at the base of the walls. I discovered there’s not actually any outer sheating or wrapping, just this particle board on a 2×4 frame with vinyl exterior outside. Not ideal, but not ready to re-cover the shed just yet either.

    Re-using doors

    Complex pieces like doors I tend to re-use and just frame around to fit.

    I had both of those doors built already — the one on the left for my old coop, and one on the right (with the choroplast sheeting) from a winter shelter I built around our door at the old house.

    I like the option of having two different doors for convenience. It also means I can throw a divider in if I need to and have two smaller pens in a pinch.

    Nesting box

    I know that one guy’s “how to farm” post said just to buy nesting boxes, but that seems unnecessary to me. Plus I’ve never seen any for sale — and this cost me zero dollars. My experience has been that nesting boxes don’t need to fit more than really two birds at a time, and this size for 6 hens seems to work fine. (And more than six hens is just not useful for me — I have huge egg surplus as is.)

    It’s my preference to be able to pull the eggs without entering the coop, but in winter, I will probably wrap the outer wall up so that won’t be possible. But to improve on my old system, the nest is now right next to the door, so I don’t really need to step inside anyway — which has the advantage of letting me wear street shoes when I collect the eggs (e.g. not tracking bird shit and wood chips into the house).

    Wood Feeder

    I’ve been using in the past a metal round hanging feeder for hens, which actually works great and has enough capacity to keep them going on at least a week of food without having to refill. But it takes up a significant amount of floor space.

    So instead I did an experiment of building a gravity-fed wooden feeder (something I’ve seen succeed at another farm), such that I can fill it from the outside, and it can fit under the nesting box (without them being able — hopefully — to crap in it from above). In other words, stacked functions.

    Ceiling-hung waterer

    Another “innovation” that I cribbed from another farm I worked at is having elements hang from the ceiling by a chain. I had been using arms sticking out of the wall in the past, but there’s always a risk the birds will roost on the support, and crap into the food or water. Hanging directly from the ceiling like this serves a double purpose: you avoid the “crap-in-water” problem, and you can always hitch the hanging element up higher temporarily if you need to work in the space. Plus I got to buy a fun hook and a chain, which I liked. Yes, I am a hardware weirdo.

    Split roosts

    I used to have this egalitarian ideal about chickens. That if I gave them enough space, they would all roost together on the same perch. I’ve literally never seen this happen. In a group of six, at least one will always go roost somewhere else (like in the nesting box, which can be ‘crappy’ because they poop while they sleep and sully it). So, I’m accommodating instead from jump for the hierarchies/differences in bird groups and let them have a couple places to pick from at different heights. I’ve learned that stacking roost above roost doesn’t work great, because nobody really wants to sleep directly underneath a group of chickens who are going to poop on them all night long. Yes, you can offset them, but I don’t really have space to play with that here, and this works for me.

    Putting it all together

    Here’s a shot with all of the components together — er, mostly together. Still missing chicken-wire in upper panels. And after taking this, I ended up moving the waterer to be more centered between the two perches.

    As I mentioned at top, I built with the intention of being able to split this space into two pens. I’ve been raising broilers and turkeys the past couple years (not sure if I will get to it in time this year), but I wanted to have a built in temporary place where I could stick the young birds without needing all the ramshackle crap temporary pens I’ve dealt with prior to this.

    My theory is that during summer months, when the hens can go outside, they won’t suffer by having half the floor space normally available to them, and a group of about 20 chicks could go on the left half until they’re big enough to need other accommodations. That will likely take some proving, but I’m confident it can all function smoothly, with maybe one other larger temporary pen for the broilers when they are of age (I tend to slaughter small, between 8–10 weeks as ‘cornish hens’). But anyway, that’s another reason why I split the roost in two and crammed all the hen equipment into one side with it’s own door access.

    Pop hole

    In cutting a pop hole for the hens to go outside, that’s when I discovered how poorly constructed the shed was, and why moisture is coming in.

    I like how from outside now, it kind of looks like the shed is a little face, the two windows eyes and the pop hole a little funny mouth. “Whimsical.”

    I framed out around the opening I cut in order to strengthen it, trimmed and framed the off-cut and stuck a hinge on there, with some flaps to cover the gaps to prevent wind and rain from entering:

    Again, I made the hole something which can be manipulated without having to enter the coop at all from the doorway. I am so smart.

    Next steps

    I haven’t had time to do the outdoor run, but I’m hoping to do something which will be kind of “three season” so they can be outside as much as possible. I may cover it to some extent from the snow — we’ll see.

    Will post my results as a response here when I have the chance to finish.

    All in all, I’m really pleased. I feel like it’s not often enough in life that I can really directly draw from past experience and build something almost perfectly the way I know it needs to be.

    The other beauty part, is that for this specific project, literally ALL the materials and components come from other projects I’ve done in the past. I only spent about $20 for a couple hinges and the plywood to make the feeder with. Yay me.

  • VA2SFX 9:54 pm on April 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Building, , Construction, DIY, Home Improvement   


    I became a carpenter by way of theatre. It’s a weird style of carpentry relative to what you end up using in residential situations, but it served as a good foundation. I worked briefly doing “real” carpentry for a contractor, and did lots of small jobs and projects around these subjects, but re-doing the basement stairs of our 100-year old house was a challenge.

    Sadly, I didn’t take a ‘before’ photo of the old stairs, but they were a mess. I did measure them though, with the idea that emulating their basic form would make sense since they were originally custom-built for this space.

    I’ll be the first to admit — especially after this escapade — that I don’t know what the “right” way to build stairs in a steep angle/narrow opening like a basement entrance is. I never got that far in my training with Yoda.

    I looked around a lot at stores initially while I was scoping out the project for stair stringers. The only pre-made things I found at box stores around here were short wood zig-zaggy things for decks, and eventually some steel box tubing things. I actually bought at first a set of steel stringers and steps, because it seemed to fit the overall stringer length I thought I needed. But when I got them home it was like…. uh, no.

    There are a lot of angles at play here, and getting them sorted out without a specific logical framework to peg them into didn’t quite come together. I tried just copying the 8″ rise, 8″ run of the old stairs, but with my stringers being these flat 2″x10″s instead of the cut-out zig-zag stringers.

    But that didn’t work out. I made some tests, and ended up with these divergent lines where my stairs wanted to be in 3D space, versus where the stringers actually were in real life.

    Maybe this will help if you visualize it:

    “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…”

    Real life, of course, has to ultimately win out in carpentry. It’s why carpenters end up hard-headed. It is not a theoretical exploration of possibilities. You have to actually build something — or bring the materials back to the store, which I did on the first go round.

    Anyway, my all-wood system eventually worked out with help from a friend. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you the calculation we did to figure it out. Basically I started with what I knew was right: the dit of my diagonal stringers into the space.

    So you start with a known good value. You have your ideal, of course, always in mind. But from your known good value, you build up, you attach onto, applying (hopefully) values abstracted out of your ideal.

    I looked at a number of carpentry staircase planning calculator sites where you could input your desired dimensions and it would spit out drawings with measurements for you. It was helpful in some ways in conceptualizing, but the execution in actual space was still a different story, even knowing what some website said I should do

    Eventually, as you can see it all worked out. The run is shorter than I wanted, but it actually fits about as well for the space as I think is practicable. I need to add a handrail and smooth out the noses on the stairs, and probably stain them, but they are solid and have a really good feel. Way less scary than what used to be there, which was all cracked, crooked, and broken in sections.

    I also took this rebuild opportunity to widen the mouth of the stairs going down from the kitchen. I cut off with a sawzall about 6 inches of wood on the left side. It was tough for me to squeeze my shoulders through the opening before but now it’s breathable and you can more easily pass downstairs carrying stuff into (or out of) storage.

    Total project cost:

    • Pretty cheap, since it’s just wood and screws. I spent about a hundred dollars Canadian, though that included a bunch of cuts I had them do at the store for convenience (which i had to re-do later).

    Total time:

    • With demolition, two weekend days, one of them a half day. I’ll probably need to put another half-day in tomorrow to clean up and finish the area off suitably.

    Project difficulty:

    • High intermediate to advanced, depending on the space restrictions you’re dealing with. This is way beyond a novice carpenter and was a challenge for me to get right with about 6 years experience. Replacing something in an already-built structure and space is always much more difficult than new construction in an open area.
  • VA2SFX 1:13 pm on April 4, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: DIY, , , , Outdoors   

    What to do with wood 

    Managing windfalls of materials in the garden

    We bought a house at the beginning of February with piles and piles of old semi-rotten wood out front:

    I would estimate there is probably about 10x this quantity of wood piled in various spots around the property, thanks to some big old dying trees that were cut down last year.

    Part of the vista from Google Street View:

    There are some other stashes in other places as well, not shown above.

    Since we were living just next door when those trees were cut last year, I was happily able to capture a big quantity of mulchy goodness, which I incorporated onto my garden soil.

    View story at Medium.com

    Option #1: Firewood

    Clearly the most obvious option for using a bunch of pre-cut logs is turn it into firewood.

    Now, I’m no expert here — and we do have a woodstove (plus electric heat)— but people with more experience in the matter say that this wood won’t produce quality heat as it’s old and in some cases rotten. It will burn too fast, and maybe dirty. Sounds probable.

    Plus splitting and storing all of it sounds… boring!

    Option #2: Mushrooms

    I’ve played around pretty extensively with inoculating logs with various types of edible mushrooms, like shiitake, oysters and even reishi.

    View story at Medium.com

    This season will tell me whether or not I’ve finally found the pathway to success on that front. But I know from experience, again, you don’t want to inoculate old bad wood with mushrooms, as there will be too much competition: wild strains, etc will have taken hold by now. Best practice seems to be cut fresh wood, let it age a few weeks and inoculate once it’s only somewhat dried out.

    Option #3: Hugelkultur

    There’s a permaculture thing, hugelkultur, where you bury a bunch of wood in mounds, it decomposes slowly and holds moisture and builds soil over time.

    View story at Medium.com

    It sort of works/sort of doesn’t/maybe I haven’t found the right technique yet. From my experiments, it seems that on a relatively small scale, it’s a challenge to get these things to perform.

    I suspect, based on the Sepp Holzer examples you always see of this, that you have to pile these things really high with tons of material in order to achieve the critical mass necessary to accelerate the biological processes at play. It’s *probably* like a hot compost pile — it won’t get hot if it’s not big enough and the chemical reactions at play are restricted.

    That said, I finally think I have a large enough quantity of wood to actually try out a freakin’ big mound of buried wood, plant over it and see what happens. For the soil moving though, I will enlist the aid of someone with a tractor. Because I don’t want to spend the next 4 months spading soil out and getting nowhere.

    Option #4: Beds

    There are any number of variations on the old “wood in soil” trick in gardening.

    • Use logs for garden bed borders.
    • Dig a trench and stick logs in it. Plant over top.

    Or some combination of the above.

    Given the sheer quantity of material with which I have to experiment, you can rest assured that I will exhaust every possible configuration of the above and post my results. Oh the wheelbarrowing that is going to take place!

    Option #5: Walls

    Lastly, we’ve noticed a benefit of having the wood in stacks as they presently are, since it forms a basically free barrier between us and the street. It’s a bit haphazard though, since it was “built” by a tree-cutting crew. A more formalized wall or walls, perhaps even including masonry of some sort — a more true cordwood wall — is in my future.

    Anything is possible, but everything requires work. I’m fine with wheelbarrowing, and a certain amount of digging, but I’m not into “getting my hands dirty” just for the sake of it. I have a limited amount of energy and tons of things to do in the house, garden and at work — and the name of the game with land management seems to be the least effort for the maximum payoff. So we’ll see what develops!

  • VA2SFX 4:17 pm on March 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , DIY, Home, Woodworking   

    Hanging Doors 

    DIY Home Improvements

    We recently bought a 100+ year old house, so I’ve gotten into doing a lot of small-to-medium size fix-its.

    I’m looking at housing as like a continuum that connects you to your environment and the ecosystem. It’s your linking system to Nature, but you build in “cyber” controls over which insects you’ll let in, how fast your food decays, and little things like how much water on the floor is acceptable…

    DIY Nature

    This door ^ I bought as a blank, which means it had no hinges or doorknob. No hole for the doorknob.

    Work done:

    1. Cut with circular saw bottom 3 inches to make it fit in threshold.
    2. Cut with chisels indentations into door edge for hinges. Freshen up existing threshold indents.
    3. Hang door — easier said than done.
    4. Cut with hole saw space for handle.
    5. Attach handle. Also easier said than done, but now I know more too.
    6. Freshen up and expand indent for strike plate and attach.

    Time to completion:

    Probably about three mornings. (3–4 hrs total?) That’s how I tend to measure these things — in mornings, rather than hours. Work a little around the house before going to my “day” job: where I work at home also, but on a computer.

    Total cost:

    Probably around $100 CAD or just a little more with the door (on sale for $50, the hinges, doorknob and taxes).


    Interior of door, with wood paneling that I installed after demolishing an existing closet in this room. (You can see a little bit of fancy footwork I did to plug an area of the floor — in lighter-colored pine — that was under the closet)

    French doors

    Hot on the heels of this door-hanging success, I decided I was ready to try and flip our French doors to fit on the other side of a threshold in our cuisine d’ete (summer kitchen? I don’t know what the English-language equivalent is).

    I knew this was a risky maneuver, but it would mean that the doors would open out into the room instead of out into the entryway, where there was less room for them (previous occupant had removed doors altogether — which is a shame because they’re beautiful).

    Depicted above are the doors after being flipped inward. You can see the old hinge-indentations left on the threshold.

    This operation went remarkably well for the first door, but hit a bit of a hurdle on second door, when I discovered that both sides of the threshold did not have equivalent openings.

    You can see in this shot, where the hinges are on this door that I had to cut a not insignificant slot into the existing threshold upright member, in order to have enough space for both doors to close.

    For this cut, I used a combination of the “multi-tool” I bought recently from Canadian Tire.

    I bought it on sale for $40 CAD, versus it’s semi-ridiculous normal price-tag of $140.

    After performing this cut though, it’s pretty much worth it at either price though, because I don’t know how I would do this cut otherwise.

    Maybe with just chisels and a lot of cursing — and probably a much worse finish. I’m not thrilled with some of the finish quality in the above, but it was a learning process for how to remove that wood in sections without ripping up too much what remained.

    It’s one of those things, if I had it to do over, I would know how to do a better job. But it’s such a custom operation that I will never have to do it over — at least not exactly in this configuration. But then you take from it skills and approaches which you find ways to apply elsewhere.

    Happily, without more than 4 hours work, I was able to flip these doors so they close snugly and pretty accurately — if not quite as perfect as I’d like.

    Headless hockey chicken belongs to my dog, Bob

    Some work you have to save for other days though. I still need to put in some wood strips at top and bottom somehow to act as stoppers for when you close the door. They are sort of free-floating right now.

    The floor one will be harder due to the fairly extreme height distance you can see as the floor slopes downward under bottom door edge toward right of photo. Like I said, an old house.

    I would like maybe also to add one of those bolts that communicates to the floor from the left door, which holds the strike plate. Then the one door could be locked into place for convenience as necessary.

    Total cost:

    $0 for flipping the French doors, as all materials were already in house.

    Total time:

    4 hours

    Life-saving tool:

    Multi-tool from Canadian Tire for deepening the threshold to accept doors on interior side:


  • VA2SFX 3:16 pm on December 17, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: DIY, , Handcrafted, Herbs, Soap   

    Have a very soapy Holiday from Invironment! 

    Special thank you to Terri May and co., proprietors of Whimsical Moon Herb Farm of Indiana, from whom I was the lucky winner of this hand-crafted soap package. Whoo!

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