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  1. DanielC what kind of crucibles do you use? I really enjoy your threads, btw, especially with the images. And after following your posts, I watched a video of Pendray making and talking wootz and Damascus (he uses busted beer bottles) and actually understood what was going on and why.
  2. I built a forge from a deceased propane grill (a JAGOD-Just A Grill Of Dirt) and wrote about it here. These forges are not hard to build because Charles R. Stevens in his JABOD (Just A Box Of Dirt) threads has already broken down what you need to do and how to do it. He did such a good job, you'll follow the steps and think, "There is NO WAY this is going to work." And then it works because Charles obviously did his homework. At the end, you'll have a forge and an understanding of how forges work conceptually, so then you'll start rebuilding your JABOD/JAGOD to work better. There's very little money involved and a lot of opportunities to get your hands literally dirty. Even if you decide you want to go with propane, a JABOD is an easy, fun, and effective way to get started. Oh, and put your location in your profile---there's a chance one of the cranky old blacksmiths who post here will say, "Hey! I'm like three miles from you. Are you that person who always puts their garbage cans out the day before the garbage truck comes by? Dang, you're annoying. Now come on over here and I'll show you how to blacksmith the right way, not like all those other people."
  3. Thanks, IF&C. How often have you had to replace the chimney pipe? And what sort of material is it?
  4. Thanks, IFI and Uri for pics and notes for the side draft chimney. The Wonderhut (16'x16', ht 12') is slowly taking shape. It's a pre-fab metal shed with steel frame and siding. I'm finishing the insulation (walls got rockwool, ceiling got something else) and then will do interior siding, do the electrical, etc., in the next few weeks provided I don't fall of the scaffolding. I like the side draft because I just do not want to go through the roof. Roof penetrations are just asking for trouble here. But I have some questions... Question 1: I think the side draft chimney is going to work well for my charcoal forge. Have I overlooked something regarding chimneys and charcoal? I figured I'd have to clean the stovepipe every year depending on use, but I know how to do that. Question 2: I really like how this side draft slopes down so any rain that gets into the chimney pipe will drain out the bottom. Does it matter if I drill holes or use some kind of steel with openings as a vent at the bottom of the side draft below the chimney? Can it be removable, so when it comes time to clean the chimney I have easy access? Question 3: Is there a thimble or some other transition piece I should use at the wall? I can't tell from the pictures. I was thinking I'd wrap the side draft in/at the wall with rockwool and use flashing interiorly and exteriorly to stop air and water intrusion, but is there a better way to do this? Thank you for any help. Much appreciated.
  5. Hey, Dale Russell, I use a Hookway-style retort, too. I call it, "Burnie." I use wood to get the rocket stove to temperature and then the pyrolization happens. It is awesome. I had to take Burnie apart but will have him back together and re-wrapped in October to get to charcoaling. Funny, two days ago I used a cheap tiny chipper to chip the charcoal into smaller bits to inoculate and use in the gardens---making biochar. I wore what I most charitably call my clown pants, a Windows 98 t-shirt with gross stains on it and a respirator because it was DUSTY. But it took like fifteen minutes to get wee tiny bits of charcoal for the biochar-making. (The respirator was necessary. The clown pants may or may not make it through the wash. The t-shirt is getting set on fire---I'm not saying I'll set it on fire, though I admit I will be more or less in the vicinity when it happens, because that t-shirt is disgusting, even when clean.) Also, when I took a shower, my forearms were dusty and I kinda got gently exfoliated. Srsly, my skin feels smooth and clean. From now on when people ask me what I'm doing I'll say, "My beauty regimen." The cruncher I was looking at was this one. There are some others though...J.Leon_Szesny, yeah, they are terrifying. I mean, like this dude or this one. I wear PPE when using chippers because going to the ER just isn't as fun as it used to be. I need a cocktail to get my heart rate down. I admire the ingenuity and the courage in building and using one of those crazy things, but no. Just no.
  6. I know how to cut, limb, split, and stack---got lots of practice from heating the house with wood for twenty years. Most of the wood we get from our property, which is what I do for my current charcoal process. I use deadfalls, windfalls, and any other trees I take down that I don't have another use for. We also have big leaf maple that sucker and as soon as they get to a certain size, I trim them. With all this, some goes for greenwood carving and turning, some to the chipper, some for firewood. I also have material from pruning, especially the 200# of dry bamboo I've been macheting up to throw into the charcoal retort when the weather cools. Anything useful from the woodshop may go into the charcoal feed bin, but mostly I'd use what's coming from the woodlots. Last week I helped my neighbor with some small alders he had taken down. He rigged up a really neat tool on the front of the tractor that held one end of the tree perpendicular to the bucket so we could chainsaw from one end all the way to where it was being held. He also built a spring-powered splitter, which works pretty well once you get the rhythm of it, and we had it all stacked in less than two hours. Definitely faster than my peavey, sawbuck, and splitting maul routine, though my way is a lot quieter, esp. since I got a battery-powered chainsaw. My neighbor uses a Stihl I gave him a few years ago that's a great saw but dang, it is loud. The battery-powered saw runs for a good 40 minutes before needing another battery, it's better balanced than the Stihl, and lighter but not in a flying-around-out-of-control way. So, no one's used a chunker? Bummer. The mechanism looks very much like a huge Vermeer chipper I once used, though the Vermeer would leave tiny little chips. It had two teethed wheels running in parallel. I have a manual sugar cane crusher that has a similar set up. Huh. Maybe I'll have to build one of the chunker things.
  7. So I'm pondering whether or not to get or build a wood chunker.It's a machine for chunking wood into pieces a bit larger than say, a chipper, and a nice size for charcoal in a forge. Youtube has some terrifying DIY hunkers made with the rim of a car cut out with a hook in it that spins slowly around and lops of chunks of wood from a limb---tree or person. Looks like it works but all I can see is the spurting of blood. A company in Poland makes a chunker that autofeeds that's sold in the US by Exeterra, the same company that sells the Exeter retort. I'm going to have to look extra hard under the couch cushions for any pennies to buy that wood chunker but in the mean time, has anyone built or operated one? In one of the other threads someone mentioned how much of a pain cutting the wood for the retort is and I read that and thought, "Ya know, it really is a pain in the conjunction," so I looked around for some options. But since I am not made of money---which is good because I'd be highly flammable---I can't afford to buy one of those Red Dragon chunkers. So I thought I'd ask if anyone here has built a chunker for charcoal and if so, what was it like? Hard to build? Terrifying to operate? Brought out on Halloween to teach all the young'uns a lesson in true fear? Rusting out on the back forty? De-constructed?
  8. Treozen, I have a JABOD (actually a JAGOD---Just A Grill of Dirt using an old gas grill to hold the dirt) built based on Charles's directions. Well, more like I started with Charles's ideas and then screwed it all up by myself. Regardless, a JABOD is EASY and cheap to build and you can get an air mattress hand pump from Big 5 for $10 or something (I'd give you my old one but Pierce county is way to far from Snohomish county for a plastic piece of crap). I use charcoal that I make using Burnie the Charcoal retort I built with my neighborhood gang of pyros, but you can also buy lump charcoal at Safeway when you're starting out. So in a weekend or less, you can build a JABOD and start forging well enough to find out if you want to use charcoal, or if blacksmithing is even something you want to do. Because the JABOD is easy to build, you can experiment with setting it up in different ways that fit you and get a sense of how to manage the fire, how much is too much air, and how steel that looks cool and peaceful may actually be hot enough to make you cry when you pick it up. Building a JABOD is fun, too.
  9. Ohio


    The amazing entomologist Marla Spivak (link is a pdf article from Apidologie) has done tremendous work regarding hygienic behavior in honey bees, known as Varroa Sensitive Hygiene or VSH. Unfortunately, breeding for VSH is a tricky business. There is a field test for showing hygienic behavior that involves liquid nitrogen, but we've never done it here. Anyway, if you have the bees with the behavior, a successive queen may not have offspring with that behavior because the genes connected to it are recessive. IOW, a VSH virgin queen may have the recessive gene but she breeds with drones (20 or more in her one mating flight) who come from all over the place and may or may not have that recessive gene. So you can try to select only these queens but she may not have daughters who have the behavior. There are breeders who have inseminated VSH queens and you can buy her daughters, bred with VSH drones, from them. You can also buy queens raised in an area where the breeder controls the entire breeding population. We've had mixed success as far as productivity and low-to-no success regarding varroa control with these queens. Adding insult to injury, we once paid $60/each for some VSH queens. Those $60 queens were the meanest bees I've ever dealt with and that's saying something. We live in the sticks so it wasn't that big of a deal until the septic guy came to pump out the tanks and they went after him. He was sixty feet away and standing in the shade. He actually screamed. Poor Patrick. He said we can pump our own SWEAR WORD from now on.
  10. Ohio


    Heh. Yeah. Drink it right after it's finished first fermentation and you'll be sad. But it is fun to make. Winemaking of any kind is fun to make. I think making wine is like waiting tables---everyone should try it at least once. You learn a lot very quickly, especially how hard it is to do it well. SLAG, those techniques are well known to most beekeepers I know. You don't have to do much to stop honey bee drift (when a bee goes into a hive not belonging to her) and robbing (when honey bees attack another, weaker hive, to steal food) because honey bee navigation is impressively accurate. The larger problem are people who decide to "help the bees" by putting a hive on their property but never check on the colony's health. Often these colonies fall prey to the viruses, many of which are carried by Varroa destructor, an amazing insect that has parasitized honey bee colonies. When that hive is weakened, bees from another hive sense an opportunity and rob out the dead or dying parasitized colony. And the varroa jump on the miscreant foragers and travel to the healthy hive. Varroa originated in Asia, but the honey bees from that region developed responses to manage the parasite themselves. Elsewhere, like here, varroa showed up a couple decades ago and apiarists responded with chemicals. The original varroa species evolved to become immune to those chemicals, evolved so much that it's a different species---Varroa destructor. We've written for Bee Culture, including an article doing a field test of a specific beneficial insect against Varroa destructor. Basically, we introduced into a hive an indigineous mite, Stratiolaelaps scimitus, that jumped on the varroa as the varroa rode around on the back of a honey bee. Imagine walking around with a dinner plate glommed onto your back, biting in and sucking your hemolymph. I mean blood, unless you have hemolymph, which is fine---who am I to judge? The strats were no threat to the honey bees but swarmed the varroa like a pack of sharks. Unfortunately, strats are ground dwellers and passed through the hive and out. While it was satisfying to find varroa body parts strewn about like a spilled bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, the strats made no appreciable difference to the varroa mite counts. This was a bummer because we're all looking for ways to mitigate the effects of varroa and take some pressure off, letting the honey bees survive. Unfortunately, it appears that Apis mellifera is going to have to develop a defense that evolves as they respond to this threat. There are some entomologists who suggest stopping all varroa treatments and letting the honey bees die, except those in select breeding programs. Projected colony losses in this scenario run in the millions of hives. My idea is to help the varroa evolve to eat food high in cholesterol so they all get fat and slow and can't jump onto bees anymore, then die of heart failure. This plan won't work because varroa don't have hearts, literally and metaphorically, the little SWEAR WORD I'M NOT TO USE ACCORDING TO THE TOS. Alas, varroa is only one of the threats to honey bees. And all honey bees who collect pollen, nectar, water, plant saps---basically, all the bees who do actual work are female. Yes, you read that right. The drones have only one job. They don't even feed themselves the little ANOTHER SWEAR WORD I'M NOT TO USE ACCORDING TO THE TOS.
  11. Ohio


    Yeah, this year was catastrophic. We had 40% losses---the worst season we've ever had, and the way the colonies were lost was pretty weird, too. There are some of the industrial migratory apiaries that were hit by the floods in CA. We can't even look at the pictures. One of them we've done business with in the past and it looks like he lost pretty much all of his colonies---we're talking hundreds if not thousands. Nobody Special, interestingly, honey that ferments isn't honey---it's nectar. Honey must be below a certain moisture threshold to be honey and once it is, it will last pretty much forever. They got honey out of one of the tomb of one of the pharoah's recently. But you are totally right that fermented nectar is usually horrible and stanky, though it gives you a pretty good idea of how people figured out mead. Alcohol depends on fermentation, fermentation needs yeast, and yeast is local (unless people intervene). Some indigenous yeast yield a great-tasting beverage (or other yeast-dependent thing) though most give you something that smells and tastes not great. I've made mead and have a batch aging now that is very dry because sweet mead is ick, gross. I actually make melomel, honey and fruit wine, with blackberries as the fruit. It's a lovely color but the seeds in the berries are full of tannins and the fresh wine was, well, let's just say it was a bit astringent. One sip and every part of you puckered to a degree you didn't think was anatomically possible But the melomel has been sitting for several years, which makes me think maybe I should crack open a bottle and try it now. I don't recall us getting a mouse into a live hive though we did get one in a stored collection of hive boxes and that was gross enough. I have seen pictures of mice caught in a hive that have been stung to death. The corpse is too big for the bees to move, so they coat it with beeswax and propolis. Propolis is plant saps the bees collect to use to fill gaps and entomb mice once they've evaporated some of the moisture out. Interesting stuff, and like honey, is different based on micro-climate. We use it as a wood finish and I've developed an incense with it. Some people use it in a tincture, basically dissolving it in vodka and either swishing out their mouths or just drinking it. Not for me---why ruin vodka? what did it ever do to you? The propolis we get from the bees is monumentally sticky, iron red (like, when you see it you think there was a gunfight), and smells amazing. There's also a theory that Stradivarius used propolis from local hives as the ground for the instruments he was making, which was more yellow than massacre-red and could account for the description of the instruments being gold or golden. We did find something corpsified in one of our surviving hives early this spring, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't a mouse because it was too small. I just scraped it out. Now, where did I put that corkscrew...
  12. Ohio


    We have an apiary and have captured swarms that the neighbors had in their low trees and shrubs. We were just working some of the hives a couple days ago. And in with all humility I am famous for, the honey from our hives has won prizes, mostly because we wait until the honey is fully cured before harvesting and that we have a small lavender farm that some of the foragers work during the season. One reason the bees were on the outside of that thingie is that they may have gotten hot. Honey bees will set outside if it gets too warm inside the hive, or if there's a weird smell in there. In the third photo, if you go up from where the two red cables are, you'll see some cells in the honey comb that are covered and pouched out a bit---those are brood cells, where pupa are turning into new bees. "New bees" = newbies. Get it? FYI, new bees are adorable. They can't sting yet and they don't have all their fuzz, so they kind of stand there while nurse bees feed them and take care of them. A nurse bee will then go to the next stage of her life and the new bee becomes a nurse bee. At some point, they'll be sent out of the hive to take an orientation flight, where they literally fly around the hive getting their bearings, and then they'll fly back in. We don't capture swarms way up in trees or in structures, but I do know a guy who tore the drywall off two bays in a ceiling that was jammed with honeycomb. They figured the colony had been there for several seasons---the homeowners knew they were there and didn't really care. The roof was high and the bees never went after anyone. Then a couple years ago, honey started dripping into the house. The said part is that he couldn't find the queen, so while he removed the comb, the colony was lost. It was just too big with too many bees for him to find her.
  13. Hefty, the JABOD is just great---you're learn so much so fast, with the reward of heating up steel and smashing it with a hammer and making it move. Here's a link removed due to language on that site. that explains different kinds of firebrick and what it's for. Right now in my JABOD, I used "splits" I had lying around for replacing busted firebrick in my woodstove. When I go to build my next forge in the Wonder Hut (my metalworking shop), I'll probably used insulating firebrick (IFB) to see if I like that better. My blacksmithing neighbor (who is in the hospital because he set himself on fire while welding and no, I'm not kidding, but he's going to be ok) uses IFBs on his rather neato forge table. He stacks the bricks to shape depending on what he's smithing and uses propane burners as his heat source. This is a clever design as it gives him a lot of flexibility, which he'll need once the skin grafts heal. Honestly, I love the guy but setting yourself on fire should only be done when I am there to 1) put you out and 2) video it so I can put it on Youtube. Hope this helps---if I am wrong, I'm sure someone will be by to correct. Best of luck to you. Charles's generosity is matched only by the simple usefulness of the JABOD. As a measure of my gratitude, I will make him a batch of delicious cookies and then eat them in his honor.
  14. Ohio

    Cutting tools

    Enco, which appears to now be mscdirect dot com, sells HSS blanks. I bought some for my mini-lathe. I use both carbide and HSS and have a copy of the South Bend book soaked in machine oil because someone spilled the bottle on it but won't admit it. I also watch a lot of videos on youtube by tubalcain about lathe operations. I also read a bunch on mini-lathe.com (he has some retail listings as well) and Little Machine Shop (they sell an Atlas kit that includes cutters as well as blanks) that show how and why behind sharpening HSS. LMS isn't the cheapest, but I like retailers who share info. As I recall, Enco was the least expensive of the online retailers and the products I purchased were exactly as described. That was a while ago and there may be others selling for less now. My experience is that HSS blanks are inexpensive and it's not hard to learn how to grind the cutters to the shape you want. I have a Rikon grinder with some nice wheels on it so it doesn't take too long and it's kind of...zen, maybe? But I also grind woodturning and metal spinning tools---and may very well be making a bowl gouge for wood carving---and for me, that's part of my process. There are days when I use carbide because I want to get one step completed a little more quickly or, for example, I want to rough out a bowl from a gnarly chunk of wood and carbide tends to be faster and seems to catch less on the material. But for other stuff, HSS works best for me. Grinding the HSS tools has also helped me understand why certain tools do a certain thing and to learn how to choose the right tool for each operation. That, and safety, is important to me.