Saturday, October 14, 2017

My 70 lb Lapdog

I spent the day trying to fix a tractor, not working on my masonry heater (among other things). The days go by quickly, filled with a seemingly never ending list of projects. Its hard to plan as very often I'm forced to completely drop what I'm doing due to circumstances beyond my control. All I can do is start up with another task.

It's getting cold in the house - no heat. Maybe in a couple weeks I can finish up the heater. Still need to build the chimney and clad the thing with fieldstone.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Masonry Heater Progress

 Some of the smaller rocks that we've picked were dumped near the house earlier this summer. They still have a bit of dirt on them, which I'm now cleaning with our balky pressure washer. The motor surges and eventually dies.

The internet has a solution, which has worked, somewhat.
The idle (pilot/lo) circuit in the carb is gummed up. What happens is when the engine achieves the desired rpm's, the governor closes the throttle. At small partial throttle, the engine must run on the idle/transition jets. Since they're obstructed by varnish, it starves for fuel. Rpm's drop, the throttle opens, the engine now draws from the less obstructed main jet, rpm's recover, throttle closes, repeat ad nauseum.

2 choices. Remove the "main jet" from the carb and clean it again (special attention to drillings along the side of the jet), and poke out the idle circuit while you're in there..... Or:

Add "Sea Foam" to the tank at double the recommended ratio on the bottle. The stuff is good at removing varnish, and in a little while the washer should be happy again.


 I still have a lot to do on the heater. Finish up the core, another 6 courses, then put the downdraft channels on either side. Next would be building the clay chimney, which is routed through the 6 ft long bench and 9 ft up to the ceiling where it transitions to a double wall metal chimney and goes through the second floor and the attic/roof.

Finally, the whole core/bench gets clad with the field stone. 

I was hoping to get a little help from my friend Andy. I'm not sure if he'll be able to do so. In either case it'll be tough to get it done in the next month given all the other stuff that I need to do.

 Wikipedia has a good entry on Masonry Heaters if you want to learn more.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Fall Tillage

(Click on either picture to make it bigger.)

Tilling ground uncovers a lot of rocks, ones that are big enough to do damage to planting and harvesting equipment, so they need to be picked up and dumped at the edge of the field. It's an ongoing problem. There are large piles of rocks all around the border of the field, put there in previous years, decades. I think the land was first tilled in the late 1800's, so there are probably piles dating back that far.

Because I was tired of lugging rocks up the steps of the tractor and putting rocks in the cab, then finding the cab floor full before I could get to the end of the row to dump them, I decided to make a "rock box". I found a picture online of one that another farmer had made and using his basic idea put one together from steel angle and plate. The task was complicated by the fact that there are cast iron weights, 600 lbs, already attached to the front of the tractor.  (Keeping the front end down when doing heavy tillage is an issue with tractors.) The welded unit I made is bolted to the tractor, in two relatively manageable pieces, so it can be removed when its not needed.

By running the disk over this field I'm hoping to do several things. One is to hasten the breakdown of the clover and oat material/residue. The disk chops, and to a certain degree buries, the material. I'll still have to do some tillage next spring as I need a relatively smooth seed bed to let me row cultivate next spring after I plant. Too much residue will plug up the row cultivator.

Another goal is to get as many existing seeds to germinate this fall, causing there to be fewer seeds in the soil longer term to interfere with the crops I want to grow. Any time you disturb the soil you'll get dormant seeds to sprout, something that is never going to change in an organic row cropping system.

No till is an intriguing option, but its next to impossible to do in an organic system. No till relies on herbicide, instead of mechanical tillage, to control weeds. Soil is conserved at the cost of a higher chemical footprint.


After I see my videos I usually want to edit them for some reason or another. It seems I'm always pressed for time, and don't have much interest in learning how to use the software, to make changes to them. In the video above I noticed that I said the noise coming off of the disk was due to hitting buried rocks. That's only partially true; the linkages in the disk are loose, and the hitch pin rattles as well.  But trust me, plenty of the sounds are rocks.

As far as other corrections I'll refer you to our customer service department.

Thursday, August 24, 2017


After applying heat, followed by soaking it in PB Blaster failed to free up the moving parts on my rotary hoe, I'm using electrolysis to hopefully get rid of the rust that has seized it up.  If this doesn't work I'll look into buying another one at auction.

(above image found here)

Chemistry wasn't my best subject; it's a kind of magic that isn't made any clearer by the language/formulas used:

The cleaning process has 4 components - a battery charger, the water with sodium carbonate (washing soda) dissolved in it, an anode (stainless steel object such as a spoon) and the cathode (the rusty iron).
The solution:  The solution of sodium carbonate has two purposes. First, sodium carbonate is basic. The electrochemical reactions that occur at the rusted iron work best in a basic solution. Lye( sodium hydroxide) would work as well but it is less safe to use. Sodium bicarbonate, baking soda, may not work as well as sodium carbonate because it is less basic. The other purpose for the sodium carbonate is to make the water conduct electricity. When the salt, sodium carbonate, is dissolved in water it becomes sodium ions, Na+, and carbonate ions CO3-2 . These positive and negative charged ions carry the current in solution. Carbonate moves to the positive wire from the battery charger and sodium moves to the negative wire. This movement of ions through the solution results in a current, just like electrons moving in a wire results in a current. Pure water has a high resistance, about 20 million ohms per centimeter, and negligible current would pass without the sodium carbonate ions.
  For electrolysis to proceed at a reasonable rate, a high current must flow which requires a low solution resistance. Solution resistance goes down (current up) as the anode and cathode are made closer together as well as when the concentration of washing soda is increased. A 5% solution of washing soda is a good starting place to try. It is best to surround the rusty item with the anode so the distance between the rust and the anode is about the same so that the current reaching each part of the rust will be about the same. When this arrangement is impractical, the rusted object should be rotated occasionally to get uniform electrolysis.
The battery charger:  This is the source of electrical current and voltage. Current is the flow of electrons in a wire. Voltage is a measure of the electron energy. So, the battery charger provides electrons with an energy of 12 volts at its negative lead and accepts electrons at its positive lead. The current indicated by the meter provides a measure of how many electrons are flowing. Current can also flow through water, if the water has ions dissolved in it, as provided by the sodium carbonate. When the battery charger is connected to the solution with a metal anode and cathode, the negatively charged carbonate will migrate to the positively charged anode and sodium will migrate to the cathode. The solution completes the circuit so a current of electrons can flow from the negative wire of the battery charger to its positive wire.
The Anode:  The simplest anode to consider is an anode made of stainless steel. In this case, the anode is inert, that is, the stainless steel does not undergo any chemical reactions. Its only function is to provide electrical contact between the positive lead of the charger and the solution. The copper connector of the battery charger must make good contact with the stainless steel but it must not touch the solution. If it does touch, it will dissolve. The copper that dissolves will wind up depositing on the iron object being cleaned and cause it to rapidly rust (see advanced chemistry section for details). When 12 volts is applied to the anode some chemistry does occur in the solution touching the anode, which will be explained below.
  There are two chemistry terms, oxidation and reduction that must be explained in order to understand the chemistry that occurs at the anode and cathode. Oxidation is a chemical reaction where something gives up electrons. When a chemical species gives up electrons we say it oxidizes. For example when iron metal oxidizes it looses two electrons to become ferrous iron, Fe++. If iron loses three electrons it oxidizes to become ferric iron, Fe+++. Reduction is when something accepts electrons. For example, if Fe++ accepted two electrons it would become iron metal, Fe. We would say, ferrous iron was reduced to iron metal.
  Oxygen likes to be reduced. When oxygen is reduced, accepts electrons, it makes oxide, O--. If we put oxygen together with iron metal, the iron is oxidized (gives electrons to the oxygen) and the oxygen is reduced(accepts the electrons lost from iron). The product is one form of rust, ferric oxide, Fe2O3. It is always true that whenever something is oxidized, something else must be reduced. Electrons must come from some where (oxidation), to go some where (reduction).
  Getting back to the anode..... The anode is hooked to the positive wire of the charger. The positive wire accepts electrons. If the positive wire is accepting electrons something is losing electrons( oxidizing). When 12 volts is applied to the anode, water is oxidized at the anode surface and gives electrons up to the anode. The product is oxygen. The bubbles you see coming from the stainless steel anode are oxygen that resulted from the oxidation of water.
The Cathode:  The cathode is connected to the negative wire of the battery charger. The negative wire supplies electrons. Therefore, something must gain electrons at the cathode (reduction). Two things are reduced at the cathode, water and the rusty iron. The reduction of water produces hydrogen. The bubbles coming from the cathode are hydrogen gas. (A safety note: The fuel for the space shuttle is hydrogen and oxygen. Rust electrolysis should be done with good ventilation (outside preferred) so that explosive concentrations of hydrogen and oxygen are not reached.)
  The evolution of hydrogen plays a beneficial role in the cleaning process. All these tiny bubbles forming at the surface blast things off the surface that aren't stuck tightly. Loose rust, grease and even paint are removed by the action of the hydrogen bubbles. This process is sometimes called cathodic cleaning. I suppose the anode is scrubbed too, but who cares.
  The reduction of interest is the reduction of the rust. Rust is typically a mixture of many iron compounds. Which iron compounds are present in rust depend on how much oxygen and water was present when it formed and many other factors. The electrochemical reduction of rust is very complicated.
  During electrolysis the rust turns from orange to black. It is natural to wonder what the black stuff is. In most cases, the rust next to the iron is reduced to iron metal. This reduced iron will form a somewhat porous layer of new iron on the object cleaned. After electrolysis the iron object will rust very quickly unless it is protected because this porous layer of new iron has a high surface area and it is particularly susceptible to oxidation (rusting). The rest of the rust may reduce to a variety of compounds depending on the compounds in the original rust and the details of the electrolysis. Typically the black stuff that can be rubbed off after electrolysis is a mixture of iron metal and magnetite, Fe3O4 , an oxide of iron. Magnetite is an intermediate product in the reduction of rust back to iron metal. It is the black stuff in magnetic recording tapes.
Advanced Chemistry:  Rust is a complicated material. Typically, it is a combination of ferrous and ferric oxides, hydroxides, and hydrated oxides and some of these compounds may be present in several crystal forms.
  There is much speculation in the chemical and archeological literature about the products that form when rust is reduced in sodium carbonate. In searching for an answer, people may find a lengthy publication on the DENIX web site. Much of the electrochemistry described is not correct and the conclusions drawn about reduction products are not in agreement with most chemical literature. It was not until 1996 that some chemists from the Swiss Federal Institute and Brookhaven National Lab did definitive work on this subject (see papers by Virtanen in J. Electrochemical Soc 1996 and 1999). Using a sophisticated X-ray technique they determined what was going on at the cathode when iron oxide is reduced. Normally reductions occur in solution. That is, something has to dissolve before it can be reduced. However, they found that iron oxide will conduct electrons and therefore can be reduced without going into solution. This process is referred to as solid state reduction. The ferric iron atoms in the rust begin to reduce to ferrous oxide, which initially results in a mixture of ferric and ferrous oxides. This combination is called magnetite and is often written as Fe3O4. Eventually, all the ferric oxide becomes ferrous iron. Under less powerful reducing conditions the product would be ferrous carbonate or ferrous hydroxide. However, under the extreme conditions of reduction powered by a 12 V battery charger, they found that ferrous iron can be reduced all the way to iron metal. All this chemistry can occur without any of the iron going into solution. So, based on this work, when we see the rust slowly turning black, we are seeing the formation of Fe3O4 which is black and eventually iron metal, which is also black. Finely divided iron is black, not shiny like a solid chunk of iron. All this work was done under laboratory conditions.
  We wanted to find out what happened when a rusty plane iron was reduced in a bucket. We did reductions of a heavily rusted iron object in sodium carbonate under conditions normally used for cleaning rusted objects. We used either a 1 or 5 % solution of sodium carbonate and a 12 volt battery charger and continued electrolysis for about 2 hours. The iron piece was dried under an oxygen free atmosphere (nitrogen). The loose black deposit on the iron surface was removed by sticking it to a piece of tape and it was analyzed by X-ray diffraction. We found that the deposit was magnetite. No iron was detected and no ferric oxides were detected in the black material that readily came off on the tape. Therefore, under our conditions, all the rust was reduced, but the reduction of what had been loose rust did not proceed all the way to iron metal. Perhaps it would have if we had continued electrolysis for a longer time. We had no way of determining whether the rust at the surface of the iron object reduced all the way to iron. We expect that at least some iron was formed at the surface, because after reduction the iron surface rapidly forms red rust (ferric oxide) if it is not quickly dried. Magnetite does not rapidly rust, but finely divided iron will form rust in just a few minutes if it is wet. We conclude, based on our work and that of Virtanen, that rust reduction under the conditions normally used for cleaning, results in the formation of magnetite and possibly some iron metal.
  The other chemistry that occurs is the electrolysis of water. At the anode water is oxidized according to this equation:
2H2O = O2 + 4H+ + 4e-
The H+ formed is quickly neutralized by the carbonate to make carbon dioxide. So, some of the bubbles at the anode may be carbon dioxide as well as oxygen. At the cathode water is reduced:
H2O + 2e- = H2 + 2OH-

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Farmhouse Construction Update #9 - Foundation Stablilization

The block foundation under the north wall of the house was at the very early stages of failing.  Years (decades?) of water pouring alongside the foundation due to missing gutters and poorly graded soil had a lot to do with it.

I found a technique online that let me brace it from the inside, using steel beams. The other option was to excavate outside and either pour a new concrete wall alongside the existing, or simply rebuild it.

The wall had a slight bulge in the center, approximately 3/4" over 4 feet.  By anchoring the bottoms of the beams in the basement slab and lag screwing them to the joists overhead, I should be able to stabilize the wall.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Farmhouse Construction Update #8

I've been working on the north wall of the addition, which is where the kitchen (and my temporary bedroom is located).  I'm removing an old sliding patio door and putting a new window in its place. I'll also change the double casement window over the kitchen sink.  New 1" rigid insulation will go outside, then some new siding.

There was water damage from decades of minimal maintenance.  Basically water was getting where it wasn't supposed to be, leading to rotting wood which in turn attracted ants.  It wasn't as extensive as on the east part of the farmhouse, but I still had to brace up the floors and start cutting rotted wood out.

(Click on any image for a larger picture)

Things can take longer than I'd like. For example I thought I could install the window(s) in one day. Once I opened up the wall and had a look at the rot, I had to fix that. To date, I've worked three long days on this project. I still have to install the kitchen window, shore up the foundation with i beams, and put on the rigid insulation/siding.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Dog, Squirrel, Tree

Carl loves to chase critters. There are a bunch of little red squirrels here, sooo...

Part way through the video my camera operator lost the plot. While making my way over to the tree I forgot what I was doing.

The way Carl has caught the squirrel before is either the squirrel tries to make a break for it and Carl catches him before he can reach safety or I walk over to the tree and “flush” the squirrel, forcing it to chose between me or the dog, which is what I did in the video.


That plastic nailed on the tree was to keep squirrels from using the tree to climb up onto the roof of the house.  The tree was about 2 feet from the house and needed to come down.  I hired a tree service to do it, and $1150 later, the branches were gone and the trunk was in pieces on the ground.

My dad was here to stack the pieces up. Anything bigger than 8" in diameter will eventually get split. All of it will be used to heat the house after a year or two of seasoning/drying out.

I took a video of him a few seconds after taking the pics above, but it didn't make it onto my phone.