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Homesteading Life with Steve & Sue


Miscellaneous Projects

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Panel Cam

Straw Shed

Trailer Mover


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How-to  ~  Ideas  ~  Inspiration
 From more than forty years having a good time living a sustainable life
in the northwoods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Our entire lives, and the homestead life for sure, is made up of projects. Planning, dreaming, imagining, designing, building, re-building, repairing, enjoying the doing and the results. Here you'll find odds and ends of projects and blog posts that don't seem to fit anywhere else. May they inspire you to a creation of your own.

Post by Steve Trailer Mover - 11/30/2017

This is the first of what I hope will become a series of projects that produced a tool or process that has worked for us. For some time I had wanted an easier way to move our two trailers around without endangering my back or having to hook them up to one vehicle or another.

I had seen a couple of possibilities on the Internet and got some ideas then headed out to the shop. Using an old, 1-7/8” hitch ball, some scrap steel (a piece of an old, large saw blade and a short piece of ” ID steel tube), our 40-year old hand truck and here’s what I came up with.

Trailer mover 1 Trailer mover 2 Trailer mover 3

The whole rig is based upon using that old hand truck without making any alterations to it. The unit’s backing plate (the saw blade part) slides down over the bottom of the hand truck’s base plate with the tube running on the top side. There is a large fender washer on a ” bolt that secures the bottom of the tube with a wing nut.

Building sequence:
  1) I brazed the shaft of the ball into the end of the steel tube.
  2) The backing plate was brazed onto the bottom flange of the ball, spaced out a bit more than the thickness of the hand trucks base plate.
  3) Two triangular gussets were brazed between the ball flange and backing plate to strengthen the unit.
  4) I drilled a ” hole through the lower end of the tube, just below the lower edge of the hand truck’s base plate.
  5) The fender washer was bent and shaped to fit the side of the tube.

Here is a drawing of the unit. Hopefully it will make some sense of the above.
     Trailer mover drawing

In use I slip the ball under and into the trailer coupler and lowering the handle of the hand truck to raise the tongue. I can then wheel the trailer around easily, parking it in a back corner of the garage or whatever. I have not tried to move any really heavy loads but this unit easily handles our 150 lb. boat on its trailer. This tool is especially handy when parking the trailers inside for the winter, stuffing one in a corner of the storage building and kind of nesting the other tightly beside it.

Post by Steve  Homestead Electronics -- PanelCam: Installment #1 -- 12/27/2016

One of the realities of powering our homestead in the north-woods with power from the sun is that in the winter there will be times when the solar array is covered with snow. Even a light dusting can make a significant reduction in power production. An inch of snow will effectively shut the panels off. The obvious solution is to hike on out to where you can see the panels – they are about 400 feet from the house – and if they are snow-covered gently scrape them clear with our handy-dandy long handled, foam-edged panel scraper. Often, however, we get out where we can see the face of the array only to find that they are clear. Not a big thing, really, just a brief snowshoe hike for the exercise. This is all setting the scene for my current project: a Wi-Fi camera mounted out in the garden area, facing the array.

  Array-cam sky view

The camera will, upon request, fire up and transmit a nice clear image of the panels back to any device hooked up to our home network. Bill of materials (Specifications): - Outdoor Wi-Fi Video Camera - (9 – 12 Volts DC powered, removable antenna) - Wi-Fi Range Extender - (DC powered, removable antenna) - “Cantenna” Wi-Fi Directional Antenna – (Homemade, increases signal ~12 dB (~400%)) - DC to DC Power supplies for both camera and extender - Small Lead-Acid Battery to run the camera - Two Arduinos with Wi-Fi units configured to turn camera on/off to save battery power - Low-loss antenna cable & misc. wiring for powering all units Are we done yet? Actually, all these items are readily available on-line and not terribly expensive. The Cantenna’s main component is a tin can about 3-1/2” in diameter and 6” tall (empty). The parts are ordered, except for the ‘can’, and the fun will begin soon. To be continued!


Post by Steve  Homestead Electronics -- PanelCam: Installment #2 -- 2/7/2017

Well, the 'Array-Cam' is finally up and running. Click a switch, push a button and check the snow conditions out on the solar array on a computer or tablet " the comfort of your own home". Of course, many days we get to hike out and clear the snow off the panels but mostly is just fun to see what's happening out there. The photos below are: Antennas mounted on the house roof, Camera box and its solar panel, Front and back of the camera switch circuit board and finally, the view from the camera.

   Antennas on house   Camera box & solar panel   Array-Cam Remote Circuit   Sue cleaning the panels

(February 19, 2017 Update) I have including details of this project including a few more photos and Arduino microcontroller code on a new web page. Click for the complete 'PanelCam' article.

Post by Steve Homestead Electronics – Arduino -  12-5-2016
And you thought that I hibernated all winter! I have been amusing myself this fall/winter by designing and building small electronic gizmos based upon Arduino microcontrollers. This all started, as many homestead projects do, with being frustrated by the fact that neither our solar charge controller nor inverter can handle diversion loads.

There are many times, in all seasons, when the sun is out bright and the batteries are fully charged. Sometime this happens early in the day and the potential energy from the solar panels for the rest of the day is just wasted. The charge controller sees that the batteries are full and says, "I'll do my job of protecting the batteries from overcharge by reducing the power I'm sending to them".

If we are around and notice that the controller has been in float mode a while, we can manually turn on a one or two circuits that power electric heating panels. This has the potential to reduce the amount of firewood we burn - a good thing.

So, back to the electronic things. I am designing a pair of circuits that sense battery voltage and charge current and some software that runs on an Arduino that will turn on/off relays that control those two heating panel circuits. I think I forgot to mention that I have not always had a lot of luck with electronic stuff. I have smoked many a home-made device. I figured that with that background I’d start with something a little simpler; an Arduino-operated greenhouse fan controller. This sort of thing is commonly known as a ‘thermostat’. Wheel reinvented!

Here’s what the fan controller looks like inside…

Greenhouse fan controller
All kinds of fun components and wires seemingly running everywhere! By the way, it works just fine. The display shows the current temperature as well as upper and lower set-points, which are adjustable. The unit has been working well for a few weeks now. No smoke at all!

More on the main project as it evolves… Steve.


Temporary Storage using Straw Bales and some boards and plastic sheet

The articles, discussions, and books on straw bale building have been fun and intriguing. If we build again, it is a technique we will certainly look into. But it is an idea that can be used on a less formal scale as well, for temporary storage and shelter.

When we first moved to our current homestead, we discovered, to our surprise and dismay, that one summer was not long enough to build a complete homestead -- not even a complete house -- not even close. We also discovered that those unanticipated odds and ends drained a limited savings even faster than the grasshoppers devoured the new garden, planted on worn-out soil. Fall arrived with the house built up only as high as the footings. We looked around and made the responsible decision to move back down to the city to work for money for a few more years (which lasted two months before instinct overruled supposed responsible action, and we moved back to the homestead).

But all our worldly goods were residing under a large sheet of heavy black plastic, where we had unloaded them from the moving van that spring, and had laid them out in more or less organized rows for their temporary stay until we got the house done that summer. So we thought. But now, it didn't seem the best storage facility for a longer duration. And besides, the thrill of crawling under that black plastic to find the particular box that had that one item in it that we wanted had long faded away. A neighbor down the road was baling straw about then. Ah hah!

We bought enough bales of straw to stack, one over two, into a building eight feet wide on center by about twice that long, with an opening in one wall for a door. For the roof we had the eight foot rough wood forms we had made for the footings and walls of our planned house (ala Nearing slip-form type stone and cement wall, which later turned into an Oehler PSP wood type). We set the heavy forms, made of rough pine 2-by-4s and 1-by-6s, on the straw bale walls and covered the whole thing with the piece of 10 mil black plastic that had been covering our belongings. Scrap boards laid on the plastic kept it from blowing away.

What a great improvement! What luxury! It was something we should have done at the very first. This hay bale temporary storage building lasted for many years, and the chickens that came the next year loved to scratch around the base of the straw walls. When we built a more permanent wooden storage building, the straw went to good use on the garden, and the plastic and forms went on to other lives.

As is the way on the homestead, many of those wooden forms were used a few years later as a roof on a "temporary" lean-to off the wooden storage building -- for rototiller, corn grinder, tires, and the like. Last year the "temporary" lean-to (probably twelve years old) was replaced with a "real" addition (2-by-10 rafters, metal roofing, walls made of salvaged used metal garage doors). The best of the forms became a new porch off the woodshop (former cabin). The rotten ends of the worst were sawn off, the remaining halves used as scaffolding for building a new hangar. And life on the homestead goes on -- for people and materials.

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Copyright 1999 by Susan Robishaw

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Copyright by Susan Robishaw and Stephen Schmeck

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Have you read  "Frost Dancing - Tips from a Northern Gardener"? A fun short read.

or "Homesteading Adventures"    Creating our backwoods homestead--the first 20 years.

and "Growing Berries for Food and Fun"   A journey you can use in your own garden.