Journal: February 23rd, 2011

I had a pretty productive day today. It was another gorgeous clear day, and I decided to finally set up my “back-up” 45W solar panels to catch some rays while I can. Even though I could probably continue to get by on just my 100W panel, with another storm headed my way, I decided that if the weather forced me to spend more time indoors (while generally giving me less power), I might as well have a little extra capacity. I’ve seen my 100W panel output (as measured between the charge controller and battery array) as much as 80Watts, and the new 45W array was producing just shy of 40W today, so, combined, I should be able to generate as much as 120W. Though, the bigger question is how much they’d generate on a cloudy day, and that, I have yet to measure.

After I got the solar panels set up, I went and cut more firewood to shore up my stockpiles in preparation for the “arctic” temperatures predicted this weekend. I’ve been using my cordless reciprocating saw to chop dead mountain mahogany trees into short logs that’ll fit into my tiny stove. Even though there’s plenty of wood lying around, using the battery-powered saw is a suboptimal solution because it wears out the batteries, and batteries are expensive. Not too long ago, I used to be able to get a load of wood on a single charge, but the batteries are getting worn, and I’m losing power much faster now. At this rate, I’d be surprised if a set of batteries last through a single winter, and replacing batteries every year could cost about $100. It’s still cheaper than buying firewood (not to mention, firewood that’s being sold wouldn’t even fit in my tiny stove), but I’ll probably want to find an alternative if I plan on spending more winters here. An easy alternative is to get a gas-powered chainsaw, but a more environmentally friendly solution might be to use a wired saw. I could use a cordless saw to harvest long sections of branches, then chop them up back at camp where I could use a plug-in saw that’s powered by my larger battery array. Of course, using a manual saw would be the most environmentally friendly option, but I’m afraid that’s more work than I’m willing to put in, if alternatives are available.

Later in the evening, I finally got some work done on the raised floor inside Hut 2.1. One half of the floor is done, but I’ve been dragging my butt on the other half. Today, I finally mustered the motivation to work on the other half, mostly because of the predicted weather. I got as far as laying down the 2×4 joists on top of the existing floor (see photo below), but the 2x4s are a bit wet, so I’m going to let them dry out for a day or two before continuing. The next step is to fill in the gaps with insulation, then cover the whole thing with Tyvek, then the flooring goes on top of that. All in all, that’s probably just a few hours’ worth of work, so I’ll get it done fairly soon. Once the floor’s done, I’ll start working on furnishings, like a desk, a sink, and a kitchen counter to put the gas stove on. I haven’t yet decided on where to put the bathroom (there are two possible locations), but that’ll happen at some point, assuming Spring doesn’t come first. So far, I’ve just been using my outdoor composting toilet, and it’s working out fine for me. It gets a little cold sometimes, but the fresh air and nice view make up for it, if you ask me.

26 thoughts on “Journal: February 23rd, 2011

  1. Ever heard of a bow saw? It would take about 7 strokes to zip right through those little mahogany branches.

    Remember that Tyvek is a petroleum product and is highly flammable. Be careful when installing that around your hot woodstove. In fact, you should make a video where you cut a strip of Tyvek and light it. It would make a great firestarter.

    Be careful out there.

  2. A decent bow saw is really not that much work to use…especially with the smallish logs you are cutting. Bucking up rounds from 18 to 20″ dia trees is another story. Plus it will give you a touch of a work out

  3. I must let you know that it is not that difficult to use a handsaw. I am a 63 year old woman and I gather wood that is down, some of it almost rotten. I only get smallish – less than 6 inches around. I heat about 600 sq ft. The next step is to learn to sharpen the saw. Actually, the real key is to master the ax and the hatchet, and get good steel, which is not that expensive. If you think about it, that is how most of the world gets their heat. And many have no saws at all.

    You need to think about what you will do when you have burned all the wood around you. It is not sustainable unless you plant replacement that you could coppice. Probably the kindest thing to do (for your mountain) is to haul in construction ends that go to the land fill. I did that when I lived in LA and it was really easy to saw up by hand. You just have to keep an eye on the flue when burning anything resinous, because it makes more creosote.

    I am basically doing what you are doing in a town. I want to have it figured out how to live without utilities before the grid goes down and the price of fuel shoots up.

    I really enjoy your blog and sharing the adventure. You are doing great, I think. Ignore the arm chair critics. I admire your honesty. I am too big a wuss to get a blog going. People can be so hateful and that is hard to bear.
    Rita

  4. Ryo, you might try a Ryobi 18V cordless chain saw from Home Depot. The chain saw will slice through your wood a lot faster than the recip saw. I can’t vouch for battery life, but I suspect it will be better.

    Another heating option is to get (or make) yourself a basket for burning wood pellets in your stove. Wood pellets cost $3-$5 per 40 lb bag. They’re intended for pellet stoves, but will burn fine in a conventional wood stove. Check out http://www.pelleteer.com. I just got one of their baskets for my wood stove, and it works great. One load of 8-10 lbs of pellets burns 2+ hours.

    The pellets are carbon-neutral, more or less, because they’re made of compressed waste sawdust from lumber mills. Yeah, you have to pay for them, but at 10 cents a pound, more or less, they’re pretty cost-effective.

  5. Buying batteries is not e-friendly. Recycling batteries will emit more carbon than you will with a chainsaw. You’re being e-friendly by burning wood and not propane or kerosene. Buy a gas chainsaw. A “used” gas chainsaw. You can then take it into the field to fell trees and cut them up to manageable pieces. Electric chainsaws are for homeowners with 1/2 acre lots and grid power.
    The right tools for the job of harvesting firewood are a gas chainsaw, a maul and some wedges, and a bow saw and axe as backup when the chainsaw won’t start.

  6. Laying a floor with those 4×2’s is not a good idea.

    Each piece of wood will be making a direct contact with the air inside your cabin, and the cold air outside, by conduction, convection and radiation, nullifying the effect of the insulation.

    Wood is not a good insulator, compared with polystyrene or Styrofoam etc. Any modern closed cell insulation is miles ahead in performance.

    The preferred method is to remove the wood supports shown in your picture and lay a completely floating layer of insulation, made of sheets of floor grade polystyrene, covering the existing floor, then cover the polystyrene in turn with another floating layer of plywood, oriented strand board or whatever you fancy, not using any form of nails or screws that will pierce the top layer, pass through the insulation into the existing floor, thereby installing a number of heat bridges and spoiling the effect of the insulation.

    Having three layers, the floor, the insulation, the existing floor, with the top two layers totally free to move, expand, contract, will completely isolate the inside warm air from the outside cold air and help keep the cabin warm.

    • You’re absolutely right that I’ll be losing heat through thermal bridging (which is part of the reason I covered my walls with polyiso boards), but I wanted to try using recycled cellulose insulation, and for that, I need the 2x4s. Less effective as insulation, but much more environmentally friendly compared to polyiso or polystyrene.

  7. Don’t forget to replant tree seedlings when you cut any down for your firewood. You can buy in quantity and just heal them in the ground in a shady spot till needed. You would be surprised how fast a forest can be depleted if not replaced as used.

    Three cheers for your project!!!

      • I don’t think people realize just how much dead-fall there is on a 60 acre parcel in these parts!

        I’ve got a similar size chunk of land and have been cutting up & burning the dead madrone, mountain mahogany, pines, and oaks for 6 years now. I doubt that I could possibly keep up with ongoing creation of new dead wood!

        The ecology around here evolved with frequent fires. Since we tend to prevent fires from occurring at the historical rate it is important to clear out all the dead-fall. Best you get the benefit of a warm cabin and reduce the fire danger for the fire season that will be here all too soon!

        Here’s another vote for a small gas chainsaw when the 31 days are up. You can cut an *amazing* amount of wood with a couple cups of gas. Don’t forget to invest in safety gear too!

  8. Thanks Perry525- very good info. If we all work together on this earth and share what we know, we’ll all be that much snugger in the end!

  9. Living in a bus for a couple years, while building the interior I learned that portable batteries don’t work all that well for any serious amount of time. I took a cheap (Harbor Freight) portable drill, removed the battery, and wired it to run off of my 12 volt deep cycle batteries with a pair of clamps. Worked like a charm. Did the same thing at the state park where they wouldn’t let you run a chain saw, electric or otherwise. Nobody bothered me about my quiet little reciprocating saw.

  10. Electric Chainsaw off your Batteries and a converter will do it, but, you’re in good shape, good bowsaw is good too. Mostly, CONGRATULATIONS on the continuation of the dream! As far as that floor goes, good job, its gonna be warmer that it was last winter!

  11. First, I really enjoy reading your blog. I have been following it since the beginning. As far as gathering wood is concerned I think you should listen to what the majority of comments are saying and use a bow saw to cut your wood and then an axe or maul to split it (if needed). You will get a good work-out and save money and electricity to boot. Not to mention, a good bow saw will still be cutting like new long after your reciprocating saw has bit the dust. Anyway, that’s my 2 cents worth. I really admire what you are doing and wish you continued success.

      • One word of warning, cutting wood with a bow saw (or any manual method including chainsaws) uses highly repetitious movements. If you do a lot of this before your body becomes accustomed to using it you WILL injure yourself. I did a pretty good job of that when I cut a bunch of wood with one. My shoulder hurt for months.

        A little at a time until you build up, then don’t do it in excess at any one time and you should be fine.

        Bob L

  12. I would seriously recommend picking up a bow saw like several others have said, they’re dirt cheap and will last forever.
    One like this should work wonders for you:

    http://www.harborfreight.com/21-inch-bow-saw-66545.html

    I use a bow saw that belonged to my grandfather when I need to take down small trees or cut up branches, maybe grab an extra blade or two just in case.

    As for your floor the floating floor-grade polystyrene sheet insulation layer will give you a lot better protection from the elements and it doesn’t squeak as much as the 2×4 option.

    You also might want to check out the rocket stove concept.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocket_stove

  13. Hey Ryo,

    Here is a bow saw that is very similar to the one I use. http://toolmonger.com/2008/12/09/the-bow-saw-that-wanted-to-be-a-hacksaw/

    I can’t remember the name of mine but I’ll come back and post it. I like the 12″ one for small wood because it is not cumbersome to carry around and it also takes all sorts of blades. I bought a bigger saw and it was a piece of crap … there are a lot of crap saws out there but you can pick up a really nice 12″ one at the hardware store.

    make sure that it takes wing nuts and not some ‘fancy” way to keep the blade on or you may have bought a piece of junk :( that was my mistake with the bigger one … When the wing nut fell out I just used the screws and it was fine … then when I lost the screws I put in old nails and it worked fine !

    Also, I did not skimp on my hatchet but bought a really good Estwig .. mine is actually an antique I bought off of Ebay that is probably 80 years old.

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