Last year we built a lovely shed to store kitchen cabinets we got for free from my parents. There was a tight timetable and we had to get the cabinets under roof very quickly, which meant the shed wasn’t quite finished in time for moving day. However, there was one detail – about a day’s worth of work – that we really should have done prior to moving day. It would have saved us a lot of frustration later on. We should have rodent-proofed it.


Dual-bevel sliding miter saw

Yeah, baby!

Ever since we borrowed a miter saw to build our deck a couple years ago, I have been quietly pining away for one. Specifically a Makita LS1013 dual-bevel slider. It can cross-cut a 4×12, weighs only 46 pounds so one could conceive of it as “portable”, and is legendary for its accuracy and smooth action. It’s a really nice saw. It also costs at least $500, which is far more than I could imagine spending on a single tool.

Well, Makita decided to retire the LS1013 and replace it with a new model. I discovered this on a routine shopping trip to the Home Depot, where I saw they had been marked down to $299. They had an open box left, and the display model. I thought, “Gee, it’s almost affordable, but still more money than I have. And it’s big, so where would I put it?” I let it go. (more…)


Okay I’ve always wanted to build my own house, but I have to admit this is cool.

So I have to decide how we are going to plaster the outside of our straw bale house. I mean, I have to decide now. Or at least before I submit our revised plans for review. For some reason details like that have to be figured out before we actually start building, so say the building officials.

There are basically three ways you can plaster the exterior of a bale house: cement stucco, lime stucco, or earthen clay. There are lots of arguments for and against each one and lots of people have done thorough comparisons. Sometimes it can even feel like a religious debate within the bale community. I don’t want to get into all that, I’m just trying to work out what we’re going to do with our house.


We submitted our cabin plans and of course they got kicked back for corrections. Most of the corrections are minor. Most of them. One isn’t.

Short story: The foundation requires engineering.

Long story: Pima County, where we are building was the first county in the U.S. to adopt a straw bale building code amendment. It outlines the rules for building a house out of straw bales. If you follow the rules, you can get a permit and build a house and you don’t need an architect or an engineer. (more…)

The past two weekends I made quite a bit of progress on the property.

Pumphouse with solar power

Pumphouse with solar power

Last weekend I did the lion’s share of the solar electric installation. I got the battery box hung on the north side (out of the way of traffic), the control panel set up inside, and the solar panel connected. It was on the ground all week since I didn’t have time to mount it on the roof.

I also got a door installed on the shed. We found this door in a dumpster. I bought a door frame kit from one of the home stores and the installation was really easy. I had better luck with the door frame kit and a salvaged door that I had with the second-hand pre-hung door we got for the pumphouse. It needs a deadbolt and threshold but otherwise is good to go. (more…)


Okay if you know anything about solar power this is the baby steps of baby steps but hey, I’m excited.

Behold, power tools charged by the sun!

Behold, power tools charged by the sun!

I put together most of the components of my solar power system to test it, and it worked without a hitch. It’s basically a solar panel, a charge controller, two 6-volt golf-cart batteries wired together to make them 12 volts, an inverter, and a mess of wires.

It can’t do much but it can turn on some lights and charge my cordless tools, which is really all I need it to do.

Combination solar panel and kitty shelter

Combination solar panel and kitty shelter

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