Modular Shelving using Pallets

Okay, I needed some quick shelves to store some emergency supplies. As usual, a couple of free pallets from my local lumber yard, a handful of deck Screws, and my trusty DeWalt saw and driver and presto! Instant shelves! Continue reading “Modular Shelving using Pallets”

Tale of Two Thermometers

I have been engaging in some reasearch trying to come up with a hoophouse design that didn’t cook my plants during the day and freeze them at night.

To try and assess how well the design works I took two thermometers and placed one outside and one inside.

So far so good. Then I started getting some weird readings…. like off the chart stuff. The two thermometers were different types. (One was a bulb thermometer and one was the spring loaded kind.

Perhaps that was the problem. To get closer to accurate results I went out and bought another bulb type, an exact duplicate of the one I had…. or so I thought.

The readings were better but they still seemed off. Like in the morning when the temp inside the greenhouse was colder than the temp outside!

I thought about it for a day, then I had the idea to put the two thermometers side by side.


Two identical thermometers, made by the same manufacturer and the bulb assemblies were in totally different places!

I went back to the store and started comparing thermometers. To my astonishment, Not only was there no agreement in temperature between different brands of thermometers on the shelf, there wasn’t even agreement between the same manufacturers product!

How maddening is that? To buy two identical measuring devices, bring them home and find they are off by several degrees! Imagine if that were the case with calipers, or tape measures?

Lesson learned, when accuracy is importantin a measuring device, check the product before you leave the store.


I recently attended a farm symposium at which the keynote speaker was Ben Hartman.

Hartman is a farmer and author who has made a name for himself by adopting the Japanese practice of “Kaizen”, ( Continuous improvement ). In Japan, Kaizen is best known as the practice promoted by Toyota as a means of improving productivity by eliminating muda ( or waste). Through his writings and lectures – and by his experience on his small farm in Indiana – Hartman shows how the practise of Kaizen can help farmers to reduce costs and increase profits. By simply paying attention to how they farm, Hartman maintains, farmers can reduce waste and inefficiencies and grow more food in a smaller space with less work.

On the surface the practice of Kaizen seems like a slam dunk, no-brainer, win, win win…win. But as with all things, I think it important to examine what implications it has for the tinkerer.

Many of the innovations that Hartman espouses are pure tinker’s delights.

“Tools should be as light weight as possible…. if a hoe can weigh half a pound less, and if you raise that hoe 2,000 times in an hour, that equals 1,000 pounds that you didn’t have to lift in that hour.”

Pure genius.

Likewise, Hartman’s tenet that tools should always be placed as close to where they are used is nothing short of brilliant. If I added up all the hours I spend carting tools back and forth I would have enough time for a really long vacation in the Bahamas.

But other things in Hartman’s pantheon of waste reducing strategies are more troubling to me. Getting rid of any tools and materials that you don’t use, for example. While some may look at my yard and see piles of unsightly junk, many of my best ideas and tinkering projects come from poking around my junk piles and imagining how I can re-purpose a board or a piece of pipe into something useful. While to some it may seem unsightly and messy, in many ways I depend on that mess to spark the creative juices that keep the tinkering ideas flowing.

So while I admire Hartman and the discipline he embodies, I’m not sure yet how applicable Kaizen is to what I do. Order and efficiency may be good for factories or even farms, but when it comes to creativity, in my view, Chaos reigns supreme!

Horizontal Rocket Stove

Even tinkerers have heroes. One of mine is Pekka Leskela. The soft-spoken Swedish stove designer and builder embodies much of what I aspire to be. innovating, inventing, experimenting…. you know, tinkering. All in the service of inspiring others to do their own designs.

The concept for this project comes from one of Pekka’s designs that can be seen on this this YouTube video Pekka has a YouTube channel that is awesome. A tinker’s delight.

Horizontal Rocket Stove

I have long been fascinated by the concept of the rocket stove. The principle of these stoves is simple, by insulating  the firebox – often by surrounding it with mass – a hotter fire and more complete combustion can be achieved. Many of the designs out there are so efficient that you can cook a whole meal with just a handful of wood.

Unfortunately, many of the small “camp stove” designs suffer from the same drawback: namely that the only way to utilize the heat from the stove is to place your pot or pan over the opening where the exhaust gasses escape – in essence on top of the chimney.

Anyone who has ever Had to deal with a sooty pot knows what a hassle it can be. Thus I am drawn more to designs that use rocket stove principles but provide an actual stove top on which to cook.

Several of Pekka’s designs tackle this problem. By building a stove where the hot burning gasses circulate under a stove top before exiting up a flue Pekka creates stoves that don’t require you to stand with your head over the chimney to cook your meal.

In diagram it looks like this:


The design I came up with centers around a curiously shaped piece of stainless steel that I thought would make a good cooking surface.

I drilled a hole for a 4 inch stove pipe and then put together the rest of the stove to fit this cooktop assembly. The sequence went as follows:

ceramic tile base.

burn chamber

Metal plate

Top Cooking plate

So that’s the design. Will it work? Stay tuned.

Quick Sawhorse/ Bench

Need a sawhorse in a hurry? Why not use a pallet?

Today’s project was born out of frustration. The last several projects I have done have required me to bend over, squat down and kneel on the ground, all because my work surfaces were cluttered and my saw horses were all in use.

Clearly I needed some sort of quickie work surface that I could drag around outside, that I didn’t care if it got nicked or trashed. But it had to be easy to build…. and inexpensive…. and not require yet another trip to the hardware store.

Looking around the shop I saw a pallet, some old 2x4s and some lag screws. Perfect. Cut the pallet in half, cut the 2x4s at 10 degrees, drill some pilot holes and lag 8 screws into it and presto! Instant saw table.

Sometimes the best designs are the ones you don.t agonize over.

Back Of the Napkin Plans: