Jeep: finally ready for the trail

The new tires and rims came in today, so I went and picked them up. Here's my rig:


This is a 2015 Wrangler Sport 2Door w/AC (no other upgrades, 3.21 gears). Here's the modifications I've made to date:

  •   drains: drilled in plastic, floor plugs pulled
  •   hitch receiver: like factory, forgot the brand
  •   vacuum pump relo: OR vacuum pump relocation bracket
  •   fenders: trim, remove liner, spray bedliner coating
  •   programming: turn signal, light timeout, acc timeout, speedo
  •   spare-tire mount: teraflex hinged tire-carrier
  •   highlift mount: teraflex accessory mount
  •   headrests: bent back
  •   CB radio: midland CB, Wilson 305-483 Silver Load
  •   Winch: superwinch 9500, synthetic rope
  •   Winch plate: Rough Country, with D rings
  •   Tires: duratrak 285/75R16
  •   wheels: 4.25" backset steel
I still need to do something about the front fender lights for inspection (I could just trim the fenders a bit more), but she's trail ready.

Since my last post I added the tire carrier and jack mount. It basically replaces the factory hinge with something longer that goes all the way to the tire. This is necessary because the stock hinges are too lightweight for heavy tires. My new tires might just barley be okay, but I needed to reinforce it if I wanted to ever use a spare-tire mount bike rack. The carrier went on exactly as the instructions described just bolted on, it hardly took me any time at all so I'll leave out the detail. Anyway, I went from this:

To this:

This also gives a place for the CB radio antenna I added next. I did some reading, and basically if you want to hang out with other folks at all, jeep clubs, etc. you need a CB radio. I always kindof wanted to really install one properly, so I did. The Jeep Wrangler is something of a rediculous vehicle inside, everything just pulls out, so I was able to route the antenna wire trivially, the only hard bit was fishing it through the tailgate, which I did with a little stiff wire, some tape, and little swearing.


I have a habit of doing stupid things, and doing them alone. It's a miracle I never got Jane stuck (the Toyota Tacoma I sold to Jess). A Jeep Wrangler is just more encouragement to do stupid things. Given that I figured I really need a winch. Also, I was dragging trees with this Jeep before it hit 200 miles, and a winch makes a lot of that type of work easier and safer. General advice everyone says is around 2x to 3x the weight of your vehicle. My Jeep is ~3600 lbs (I know, modern cars are HEAVY), and that's before I weight it down with heavy tires and other junk. Given that I got a 9600 lb superwinch.

If you know about winches and ropes you'll know why I got a synthetic winch rope. Steel cable stretches significantly more than synthetic winch rope, and as a result can be extremely dangerous if it breaks, quite capable of killing people. Synthetic winch rope is so non-elastic that it will reportedly drop to the ground safely if it breaks. Additionally sharp kinks in it don't affect it much, and it doesn't rust. It does get damaged by UV over time of course, but oh well. Before the winch I've always kept 16000lb synthetic winch rope in my car, to use for vectored pull and the like (look it up if you are curious, you can move VERY heavy things with just a rope if you know what you are doing, and can capture your progress).

Anyway, THIS was the PITA project. To mount the winch plate

  • Pull the plastic air-dam below the front bumper
  • Pull off the front bumper
  • Strip out the plastic screws on the plastic piece behind the front bumper, try and saw it off, finally pry it off with a giant screw-driver.
  • Disassemble the bumper and swap the tow-hooks for winch-plate mounts
  • Put the bumper back on, drive to the store and buy a dremel
  • Remove the front bumper again
  • Cut off the vacuum pump mount with the dremel, paint over the raw metal, and bolt on the mounting plates
  • Reinstall the bumper, forcing the nuts on, assuming it's because the bolts were crappy (after spending a long time on youtube looking for help)
  • Realize you used the wrong nuts and they gave you new ones (standard instead of metric) and thus stripped some of the threads. Disassemble everything, swap back to the tow hooks and put it mostly back together enough to drive safely
  • Come back, remove the bumper again, swap the tow-hooks for plate mounts again, put it back together with the right nuts.
  • Bolt the winch mounting plates back on again, realize you have no way to tighten the bolts as they are enormous, and one is completely inside a frame member... decide to ignore it for now.
  • Bolt the winch-plate to the winch
  • Open up holes in the winch-plate using a dremel (burning out 2 bits) because the bolts for the aluminum haus are too large, and bolt on the haus
  • Loosen all the nuts on bumper so everythign shifts around loosely. 
  • Bolt the winch-plate to the mounts... except two bolts.
  • Shove on the thing for an hour finally realizing where you can shim to hold it all in place while you get the last 2 bolts in.
  • Tighten the bumper bolts and winch-plate mounting bolts down again
  • To tighten those impossible bolts, buy a socket that's a little too lose, and an extender to match.  Get the stocket up inside the frame member and over the bolt, there's a hole that doesn't quite line up that just barely fits a 1/4" drive, use this for the extender, tighten the bolt
  • Remove a nut from your battery so you can get the right size to bolt down your groundline
  • Drop the nut into the engine bay
  • To get it out without serious electrocution remove the groundline
  • In the process pop the clamp off the groundline... be sure to completely lose this in the engine bay.
  • Look for the clamp for 2 hours in the engine bay and on the ground, give up, go home and fabricate one the best you can from an old license plate.
  • Replace the plastic air-dam
  • Oh yeah, and use that nut to attach the groundline

AAAANYWAY. I got it on, and it works, and it's pretty cool :D.


To explain the tires. I wanted something that was reasonable on the road with no too much road noise, something that would be fun offroad, and something that would handle both snow and ice (totally different things), really well. For one, I want to be able to get in the driveway this winter, and I want to be lazy about shoveling :P.

As it happened, on Saturday Jess and I were out hiking in George Washington National Forest. We had decided to go somewhere different, so we were a little ways in on some mostly pretty smooth dirt roads. It was only exciting at any point due to the ice patches, which I was sliding on a bit. In any case, on our way out we blew a tire on some dinky little rock stuck in the dirt. It tore a slash in the tread of my left rear tire, firing the TPMS sensor. I took a shot at patching it, but to no avail given how it tore. If you were in any doubt, the stock wrangler sport tires really are just crappy street tires, just ignore the M+S rating. Happily though, I already had my new tires on the way, ordered almost a week prior.

After much reading I found that 33" tires run really well on the JK. The rest of the components are generally up to snuff so you don't tend to break things too much. 35" tires lead quickly to a long list of modifications such as reinforcing the front Dana 30 axle and things like that. I'm not looking to build a monster here, just something that's a lot of fun on the trails, and at least as capable as Jane was.

I really wanted narrow tires or "pizza cutters". Narrow tires would keep my gas milage up. In shallow snow like VA tends to get they tend to punch through to the bottom giving better traction than wide tires do, similar for mud. They fail hard in bottomless mud and snow, but I figured that's okay.

As it turned out though, I couldn't get 33" pizza cutters (say 235/85R16) in the tread I wanted, that is something with lots of siping but an open almost mud tread. I was also searching for something around 8 ply, but these tires only come in 10 ply in this size, oh well. So, I gave up and got what I could in the tire I liked 285/75/R16 10 ply. Driving home they felt pretty okay. Jeeps are a little flighty at highway speed, and the new tires make it worse than the old ones did, but it's definitely drivable. I'm tempted to fiddle with the toe-in to try and stabilize the new shoes a little. We'll see.

The rims are 4.25" backset. I got paranoid at the last minute, as it turns out I probably could've gotten away with a fair bit more backset (backset is the distance from the inner edge of the rim, to where the wheel bolts to the axle, so more backset moves the wheel more inboard). More backset has the advantage of making your vehicle narrower overall and fitting your wheels under the fenders to make them legal in more states. A lot of folks like the look of less backset, and it's less likely to end up rubbing, and I will say... I'm not even close to rubbing anywhere, especially with the fender trim. I kindof want to try going to full flex just to see if it rubs then, but I doubt it will.


I'm so used to "underpowered" vehicles, I actually like the feel of the engine and transmission a little better with the larger tires and 3.21 gears. It's easier to keep static friction and not overtorque - I know I'm breaking some terrible rule of 4x4's and MORE POWER. Right now I'm thinking rather than re-gear if I feel I need more low-end torque I might consider swapping the transfer case... Not for a while though, that's a lot of money to drop and she's built enough to be pretty darned capable. Besides that I still haven't tried things like pulling my trailer.

I can't wait to get the rig out on the trail. It should be a lot of fun.


Jeep: Vacume pump and Fenders

Now that I got the trivial stuff out of the way, I went on to some still relatively easy but more drastic mods. I drilled my first hole in a metal part of the Jeep actually as part of the fender mod. It had to happen some time ;-).

I moved the vacuum pump up into the engine compartment - so I can install a winch plate (now coming in the mail). And I trimmed my fenders, for full flex once I get 33" tires on there.



It looks almost the same right? Personally, I'm quite happy with that.

I followed (approximately) this guys directions:

I'll note now that after digging through the VA codes, although a LOT of people seem to do this mod and no-one reports having problems, it looks like strictly speaking I'm not currently quite legal. Technically VA requires side-lights to be on the widest part of the permanent body of the vehicle, as high as is practical, and visible from the front. Mine are currently not visible from the front, nor are they all the way out to the side. I have some new lights I need to experiment with, but I think it'll be okay until I get around to it.

With this mod, you remove the entire inner fender from the rear of the vehicle. This exposes the body to all the rocks that get kicked up.


The easiest fix is to cover the area in spray-in bed liner. I got some duplicolor liner at an autoparts store and put on about 6 or so coats. Paint would've sort-of worked, but the rubberized coating should protect a little better against gravel dinging the metal.


All in all it's simple and cheap, and it opens up a lot more space. It's pretty silly for the little 29" tires I have right now. It's not even needed for 33", but without trimming I'd probably rub at full flex and might have to adjust bump-stops and limit my flex more. This way if I put on a high-flex (low COG) lift kit later, (meaning a high quality say 1.5" lift kit), my fenders won't be what limits my flex.

Vacuum Pump

The other project was moving the vacuum pump. The newer JKs have the vacuum pump just behind the front bumper. It's a really dumb place for it for several reasons. For example, the exhaust for the pump has to run back up and into the engine-compartment so it doesn't fill with mud. Also, it's directly in the way of basically anything you might put on the front, either a winch-plate for the factory bumper, or any aftermarket bumper. Heck, it even makes it hard to get the factory bumper *off*.

Sadly, I didn't take any pictures of it in the original position, but here it is in the new position:


I purchased an OR-fab vacuum pump relocation bracket. It comes with stupid low-quality crimp connectors. I couldn't find good ones, so instead I opted to do a modified lineman's splice and solder it. The wire is milti-fiber copper core, so it was very easy to do.


Here's what it looks like all wired up, you can see the wires running down to where the pump used to be, behind the front bumper.


Besides simply following the directions, there were 2 other things I needed to do.

First, Apparently older JKs had removable nuts on the factory vacuum pump mount... mine did not. When I went to purchase some at the local hardware store I couldn't find ones that fit, so I got a new set of bolts, nuts, washers, and lockwashers... but although they seemed like they were close enough, these didn't fit through the sleeve. I pulled the sleeves and that got everything working. That's what the first picture is from. Later I found the right nut and put it together properly, you may notice the rubber looks less "squashed" in the last photo than it does in the first.

Second, you remove about 3 feet of the vacuum hose, and the entire of the exhaust hose, but you extend the wires to the pump by 3-4 feet. The kit didn't come with any wire loom for those wires. So, I picked some up at the auto parts store. Here's what it looks like all finished up:


The new location seems better in every way. The vacuum tubes are shorter, the pump is better protected, the exhaust pipe doesn't need to exist at all. I don't know why they don't put it there in the first place. I'm pretty happy with the mod though.

More coming down the pipe. I'm not planning anything too crazy (yet), but there's a few more things I want to do that I feel like I'll really use. I was skidding logs with this vehicle, and had offroaded it, before it hit 200 miles. Given that, I decided I should spend the energy to make it nice for how I want to use it.


Trivial Jeep "mods"

Well, I got a Jeep. You don't get a Jeep so you can keep it stock. I'm starting easy.

Part of why I got a Jeep is so I would learn more about cars. The stuff here is the super-easy not-too-educational stuff, but you gotta start somewhere.

I didn't buy a hitch on my jeep when I got it. At the time I thought I'd get a bumper with one built in. Anyway, this was $55 on amazon, including wiring harness.


To mount it you just pull the bumper and bolt it on. The wiring harness (like most) is just a jumper that takes off from the plug on the left-side tail light. I've been spraying more undercoating whenever I expose a new part of the Jeep and this was no exception.


The well known mirror drain mod turns out to be unnecessary on the 2015 Wrangler. I drilled it first. Later I removed the mirror to use to look up our chimney (we didn't have any other mirror in the house, I guess I don't touch up my makeup enough). Apon inspection they've added a notch to the gasket and set it up so it seems to drain properly. It's been raining a lot and there was no water in it when I drilled it, or when I pulled it off.


Chrysler, in their infinite wisdom, didn't put drain holes in virtually anything but the main tub. I went through and added them to the plastic tray in the back:


I unplugged the doors a while ago to so it doesn't "ding" when they are open. I hate that feature in all cars, and carefully broke it in the Tacoma as well.

Lastly, I have no pictures for this, but I purchased a flash-cal. This lets you tweak the computer in a number of interesting ways. Some are only relevent to automatics, but a bunch are useful. I adjusted the front lights so I can use highbeams and fog-lights at the same time (I mean, why would you interlock those in the first place?) I tweaked the front-light timeout which for some reason applies when you turn the car off and then turn the lights off (ANNOYING!). I set it to one second so this doesn't matter. I tweaked the one-touch turn-signal, which again drove me nuts. I hate things with timeouts like that, let me flip a switch on, and then off.

Annoyingly it wouldn't let me adjust the stereo timeout. The stereo keeps playing after I turn the ACC off and then turns itself off about a minute later. I find this rather annoying. I'd much rather it just switched off instantly. Oh well. I suspect there's an update that would let me do it, but I haven't gotten the update software to run under wine yet (windows installer DLL hell).

The original impetus for purchasing the flashcal was so I could fix the TPMS and speedo when I upsize my tires (current plan is 33"). I already tweaked the TPMS so it won't complain until I'm below 20 PSI. I'd rather go on handling and watching the tires carefully than a light anyway. You may notice the tire guage in the last picture.

I've got lots more planned. I'm just doing the super-easy stuff first. I already have a kit for relocating the vacuum pump, but haven't gotten up the gumption and a couple consecutive days where I'm willing to break my daily driver.

I learned several things today:
  1. blogger's comment system is still totally hosed, after several attempts I've been unable to reply to the comment on this post. I've been intending to migrate the blog elsewhere at some point.
  2. Indeed, said comment is 100% correct for VA.  I found the regulation:
    http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+reg+19VAC30-70-160. It's  I-11-G-1. So, I'll probably be undoing that particular mod. Thank you very much for the comment!

New trailer

I just bought a trailer.

This in and of itself isn't that interesting, but I thought it might be interesting to explain why I got a trailer, and how I selected this particular one.


(the wheel on the side is attached via bungee cord, I did that after I got home)

As Jess and I were working on how to acquire wood, we noticed that if we could move it ourselves it would be a lot cheaper. This was kind of my plan from the start. In fact, I originally considered getting a serious tow vehicle, rather than the jeep, but decided to scale it back and see if I could get away with a smaller and cheaper vehicle. I adored having a pickup truck (as you've seen from previous posts) and wasn't about to give mine up without a plan to be able to move *more* than my old pickup, not less.

As an amusing aside, I can't rent a trailer from Uhaul. They have a somewhat esoteric and odd rule that you can't rent a trailer with an soft-top SUV (soft-top cars are fine). It's kinda weird. Otherwise I might've rented once or twice before purchasing.

So, I started looking at trailers with two purposes in mind. The first is just moving "stuff". Furniture, building supplies, whatever. Basically, the stuff I've moved in the pickup in the past. The second is to move firewood, something I would not have done in the bed of our little pickup. The wait capacity of anything short of a full-sized pickup just isn't sufficient (I looked at those a while back, and they are expensive). I *could* do it in a tacoma like ours, but I'd want to reinforce the frame, probably do a different suspension than we have, and we'd still be left trashing the poor clutch on the little 4 cylinder. In short... it would be very hard on it.

Common firewood here is oak, hickory, and  locust. These are all wonderfully dense hardwoods, great for heating. That means a cord of these woods weighs ~4500 lbs, even dry. This should make it a bit more clear why I don't want to do it in the bed of a light pickup.

My jeep can pull 1 ton (including the weight of the trailer), a cord of firewood weighs ~4500 lbs. A lot of 1-1.5 ton trailers are 700 or even 1200 lbs. That would only leave 800 to 1300 lbs of actual wood I could haul in a trip. It would take me 4-6 loads to move a cord of wood!

Given that I was looking for the lightest trailer I could. I'm not going to weigh the wood before I load it - just estimate, so something that won't fail if I accidentally overload it a bit is also important. With my vehicle it's clearly weight that limits how much wood I can haul, not the size of the trailer. For the other purposes I wanted between 4x6 and 5x8 (pickup truck size), just so it's easy to deal with and weighs less. As it happened the trailer place had 4x8 in stock... works for me!

My new trailer has steel wheels and plastic fenders.


The suspension is something I haven't seen before, a swinging-arm system sprung at the axle. The salesman said the axle is rated to 3000 lbs, thus meeting my "can handle mild overload" requirement.


It's also got a wooden deck and sides and aluminum frame. The sides are held on with funky rubber things to reduce rattle I guess. It seems to work, the trailer is surprisingly quiet (well, as judged when pulled behind a soft-top jeep :P).


It's ~300 lbs empty and just over a 1 ton GVWR. That's perfect to maximize what I can move with the Jeep. As a bonus, being aluminum, the trailer shouldn't rust. I considered getting something rated a touch higher, but it didn't seem worth the cost and would've reduced my practical load capacity anyway.

It's known that the wrangler's real tow limitation is it's short wheelbase and weight. It just gets squirrely pulling a large load. The engine is absolutely no problem and it doesn't stress the vehicle much at all, the 4 door version with the same engine can do 3500 lbs, and it's limit is still for the same reason. That means pushing near the tow limit shouldn't hurt my car at all. I should note that I expect my wood hauling to be short distances on surface roads, so pushing the squirrely factor hopefully won't a big deal. For other uses it'll be way below capacity anyway, so should be very safe.

My hope is that I can load a bit in the jeep as well as the trailer, and it should actually make the whole thing safer. So with a bit of the wood in the jeep I should be able to haul a thin 1/2 cord of hardwood, or a generous 1/2 cord of softwood. The previous tenent in the house I'm in now burned ~3 cords a winter, so that would be 6 loads. It's a fair number of trips, but sane... unlike say 12 or 18 trips.

That's all the theory... it pulled great on the way home (2.5 hours on the freeway). Once nice feature is being only a 4 foot wide bed the wheels land entirely inside the jeep's wheels. I didn't measure, but it felt like the wheels tracked maybe 2" inside the jeep's wheels on any reasonable turn. That makes pulling the trailer much less scary.

The one thing I don't like about it is the giant sail of a rear gate. I got >22mpg on the way up to PA, and about 15mpg on the way back... ouch. To be fair I think I had a tail-wind one way and a head-wind the other, but still. Oh well, I didn't buy it for high-gas-milage, I got it for doing things I can't do without it.

I'm not sure if I'll actually use the trailer to haul wood this year, we'll see, but now I have it so we have the option. I'm sure it will get use hauling all sorts of other things though, and this way I won't have to borrow Jess' truck all the time.


Cutting wood

I'd like to open this post by saying that I only sort of know what I'm doing. I cut wood as a kid, but figured a lot of what I know out by reading. That said, I thought I'd write a quick post about some of my recent experiences cutting wood.

First step is to fell the tree. We had a dead tree that was leaning heavily over the driveway. I wasn't sure that it would make it through the winter without blocking us in, and we needed the firewood. So I dropped it. My biggest concern was that I'd block our driveway, and then be unable to cut the tree before we wanted to go somewhere. Jess was gone at the time though, so I figured we'd have at least one car free.

This tree was leaning quite a bit. A mostly straight tree will be converting fairly little potential energy into kennetic in the first few seconds of the fall, making them relatively safe. A leaning tree though is read to drop fast, so they are much more dangerous to cut.

Also, a live tree is flexible, this means when the tree starts to fall the remaining wood will act like a "hinge". If all goes well this "hinge" stays attached to both the stump and the tree. That's great, because then the base of the tree isn't going anywhere *else* (like through your head).

So, all that is to say that this tree was a dangerous tree to fell. Given that, I wouldn't even consider using a chainsaw (I wouldn't use one alone anyway, besides that I don't own one). The noise would keep me from hearing the first moments of the tree dropping, and the speed would cause me to cut a lot away in the last moments, possibly causing a catastrophic drop. I could've used a handsaw, but a handsaw is likely to get pinched in this sort of tree. Also, it would put me much closer to the tree, and likely in a crouching position. So, instead, I used a nice long-handled axe.

Here's the resulting stump


Notice how far I cut the back notch above the front... I wanted a serious ledge to keep that tree from kicking back in case it broke free. As it happened this wood was wetter than expected and the tree hinged down very very slowly. You can see the fibers from that hinge on the stump, just in front of the split, and behind the area I cut with the axe. It dropped so slowly that I ended up walking up several times and whacking it a bit more to get it to actually drop. You can see the results of that here:


If you look closely at this you can see that I was hacking down into the split taking out more chunks of wood trying to get the tree to drop.

The drop worked perfectly. The top of the tree was mostly rotten, so it broke just at the top of the main trunk. This was ideal for me. It left two sections small enough that I could pull the jeep up and drag them with my 30k lb jerk strap, just like I've done in previous posts. This is how I cleared the driveway. The jeep has 2 front hooks, so I wrapped the strap around the trunk, and hooked each end to a hook, thus ensuring that I balanced the load and didn't risk twisting my frame.

The next challenge was getting the log up on something. With any saw you don't want to cut in to the dirt, so if you can you want to get the log up off the ground. Sadly, I didn't think to take photos, but here's what ended up working. I took my highlift jack and set it next to the log. Next I took a 2x4 and set one end on the ground on the far side of the trunk, and the other side on the jack, turned the direction in which it would be strongest. Then I took my 16k lb synthetic winch-rope (not on a winch) and ran this around the log, looping it through itself. I then tied a bowline in the tail, but with an extra 2 wraps around the 2x4 so it wouldn't slide down it. Using this kindof janky rig I got the log up off the ground and stuck a split log under it. So it looked something like this (this particular photo was taken later)


I then cut off a round or two. I have a great american tooth bucking saw I bought for this purpose. This tooth pattern is known for being a little hard to drive through wood, but fairly fast. I understand that it's also best used on hardwoods, or dry softwoods. Since I was working on dry hardwood it's probably about the best saw I could have had.


Working with this saw I can cut a round off the tree in about half an hour. Not too shabby. The only flaw is I can only do a couple a day without injuring my shoulders as they aren't used to this particular exercise. I'm a chicken and haven't brought myself to try sharpening the new saw yet, I'm sure I could cut more efficiently, but I want to wait until sharpening it will definitely make it better. For now I could easily make it worse.

One thing I might change is the length of the saw. This one is long enough, but I often end up sawing partly with the starter teeth on the end, rather than just with the good teeth in the middle. It's perfect for smaller logs, but if you were cutting this size logs a lot, I'd go a little longer.

I've been using a trick I've seen people use in crosscut competitions where they spray the blade with oil occasionally. I've been using WD40. I'm sure it's not optimal, but it'll be good for the blade and it seems to work.

Occasionally though you have to shift the supports for the log, so you can keep taking off rounds without pinching your saw (and dropping it on the ground again). To do this I've been using the scissor jack from my jeep. It works okay, though I think I'm stressing it a little because it's so low down.


Of course, this is only one point of contact, and sometimes it doesn't work so well... oops! it's back in the ditch.


I recently purchased this aluminum handled log roller, and decided rather than dragging the log out with the jeep again, or trying to get under it to jack it, I'd dry rolling it. You can't really get it in one move, but I found I could capture progress by bracing with logs.


And eventually I had it off the ground and up on top of logs again. I'm not so sure about this technique though. In some situations I can imagine it being perfect, and with two people it would be a lot safer. Alone it's hard to hold the log in it's new position, and handle moving something to brace it. Still, highlift jacks aren't exactly safe either, and neither is dragging things with a vehicle. I think I'll just pick whichever looks best for a given problem and go with it.


Below is 4 rounds split and stacked (the slightly rotten ones are the top round off the trunk, where the tree cracked when it dropped), and about 1/4 of the main trunk. So the wood below represents maybe (and this is really rough) 1 hour of tree dropping, 4 hours of sawing, and 20 minutes or less of splitting. So <6 hours of work.


I could've gone out and got a chainsaw, but I was really curious to try it just with traditional hand-tools (well, and a really nice aluminum log roller... the bit with the jeep was to clear the road, I didn't have to do it). I'm a far cry from the quantities I've read of people cutting, and I have to spread those 6 hours across several days to avoid injuring myself. But hey, they knew what the heck they were doing :P.

While an interesting experiment, I didn't have time/energy/inclination to cut nearly enough wood. I do still have a day-job and we had a lot to do after moving in. So, we picked up some phone numbers at the hardware store and Jess is going to order some firewood within the next couple of days :P.


Homemade shoes

I've been wanting to make shoes for a long time. I've made gillies, but while they were cool, I never got one that was really useful as a generalized standalone shoe. I've tried a couple moccasin designs, but never quite got it to work out.

Recently I bought a pair of original run-amoc moccasins from soft-star shoes... I just looked at their website, and can't find them, so they must've canceled them. Anyway, I like those shoes enough that I just wore them on a 4 day backpacking trip. They have been my primary shoe since I bought them in the spring.

I looked at the design, and loosely based a shoe on it. It's really just a basic turnshoe, the the trick comes with the heal flap going *under* the toe-piece this allows the lace, which runs around the heal, to pull the heal forward when you cinch it, thus pushing your foot up towards the front of the shoe towards the tongue.

Here's my attempt at a shoe using this idea:


I started by tracing my feet, and adding a seam allowance. The top of the shoe I literally just pulled the material over my foot and traced around the outer edge. For the pattern we used some left-over shipping foam that came from something we'd received.


I simply saddle-stitched it together, nothing magic here. Notice that I'm stitching it with the shiny-side out. This is because although the design that inspired my shoe is a turn-shoe I decided I'd had so many failures I wanted to really keep it simple, so I did this shoe as a simple-shoe rather than a turn-shoe. Fewer things can go wrong this way.


Here's the completed moccasin with the single-layer leather bottom.


Knowing that wouldn't cut it, I glued a sole to the bottom using some barge cement. To get it to to join properly I filled a bag with beans and stuffed this in the shoe for a little weight. The seam around the edge tends to pull off the shoe, so the clothes-pins here are to hold it on.


That glue-job was sufficient for about 3 days of wear. I took them to a primitive skills gathering in South Carolina (falling leaves) and the sole started to fall off :(. Fine I said, and stitched the sole on using saddle stitch. That worked okay, but I went just *inside* the existing stitching, so the shoe shrank by a half-size. This pushed my heal back a tiny bit. This caused my heal to stretch the heal-cup backwards a little, so now if I take long-strides the seam on the back sometimes lands under my heal. It's also possible that the leather choice is just wrong. This is a chrome-tan thin chap-leather, a different leather might help, prestretching it, etc. I'll have to experiment a bit.

I almost wore them on our backpacking trip instead of the purchased shoes that gave me the inspiration, but I got nervous about the heal-seam problem and chickened out. They are totally wearable, and I would consider the project a success, but before I want to call this a solid design I'd make again, I need to solve the heal-stretch problem so I can backpack in them.

Note BTW, that the entire shoe is only the seam running around the sole of the shoe, and then a second one for the sole. That's IT. The string runs around my heal, and the leather is just folded over over it, and that seems to keep everything in place fine.

A pair takes maybe a day to make, probably less time the next time. that's pretty awesome actually! Notice that the top photo has p-cord for lacing, even though I was using leather initially. Another flaw is that the tension on that cord needs to be pretty high, to hold the heal forward. Because of that I broke on of the leather laces and decided to just switch to p-cord for now.

Not a bad experiment! Jess is still working on a pair made as a turn-shoe, using leather she made herself out of deer-hide. I can't wait to see her final shoes. In the meantime, I'll continue wearing mine looking for other flaws to look in to in my next design.

Gravity filters

I just got back from a four day backpacking trip with my parents. We were playing with a lot of new gear this trip, and had a few difficulties as you usually do.

I had a new sawyer squeeze mini, and my dad had gotten a new platypus gravityworks system, and then substituted in a rapid-pure filter. This did not work well as it turned out, but for hilarious reasons.


Let me back up a bit and talk about some of these newer filter technologies. For years there have been 2 primary filter types, carbon and ceramic. Carbon filters have short lifespans and don't remove viruses, but they are cheap and relatively robust. Ceramic filters are fragile, often require a bit more pressure, but are quite sensitive to being dropped.

More recently the technology used in dialysis machines has made it in to water filters. The first major production filter to incorporate this was the MSR hyperflow. It got great reviews initially, but was generally a disaster. Requiring back-flushing every couple of gallons it just wasn't usable. The pressures required to push the water through caused problems for the seals, and in general they screwed up on the valve designs. Everyone I knew who had one was plagued with problems.

A bit later the sawyer squeeze came out from an independent company. This filter using the same tech took the ultralight community by storm. It's simplicity of being *just* the filter unit with no pump complexity made it lightweight, and tempting for minimalists. You could put it inline in your drinking system, or squeeze through it using a bag. It mostly works, but the pressures occasionally cause the bags to bust... annoying, but not deadly. You still have to backflush all the time though. The mini is just a newer miniature version of this filter with a little bit slower filter rate. I picked one up after my polar-pure bottle (purchased in 2009, and chipped the same year) finally shattered on the kitchen floor while prepping for a recent trip. This was it's second trip actually, so I've filtered maybe 4-6 gallons with it now... and it's annoyingly slow.

My dad is a bit of a gear-head, and found out about a newer technology. Instead of being based on super-tiny tubes, it uses more of a mesh. It's still small enough to remove viruses and such, but due to the mesh shape supposedly achieves a better flow rate. Dad's idea was to use the platypus gravity-works filter system, which includes all the bags and hoses in a nice configuration he didn't have to figure out himself, and then swap in a faster filter. Sounds good in theory.


On our trip, water barely flowed through his filter. He could filter 3 liters overnight after half an hour of fiddling to remove all the air-bubbles. My sawyer squeeze was too annoying to use to filter everyones water, but the combination got us by. In retrospect we should've hooked his system through my filter, but at the time we didn't think the pressure would be enough... it didn't work with his super-high-flow rate one after all, why would it work with mine?

Well, today we decided to test it. He hooked up his system and water just didn't flow. We hooked up the sawyer and it dribbled, like okay... this is annoying and not really usable but kinda what you'd expect. It certainly implies that his is somehow faulty though. Dad had read reviews (on Backpacking Light) that were VERY detailed, so it all just didn't make sense. So, we hooked up the smallest of his 3 filters from rapid-pure, and a STREAM of water shot out! Wait... what??!!!


Next we hooked up the mid-sized one, it was even faster. We timed both, the small one is just under 1 liter a minute, the medium is more like 1.1. We didn't get the 1.2 and 1.6 they advertise, but it was fast, and we may not have hit the requisite PSI for the advertised rate. In any case, it's way faster than dad's old sweet-water pump! In fact, it's the fastest backpacking filter I've ever seen.

Finally we hooked up the original gravity-works filter, it absolutely shot out of the far end as I hooked it up, so much dad jumped out of the way. We timed it at over 2 liters a minute. We're not sure what tech this filter uses, but whatever it is it seems to be more fragile. It's possible it clogs faster or something than the newer tech, we don't know, it'd probably be interesting to try both for a while and see how they last in practice.

These filters are starting to peak my interest a bit more now. I decided on this trip that the squeeze isn't really worth it. It's too slow and annoying. The first half-cup comes out okay when I set on a 2 liter bottle, but it's just annoying to use. It doesn't take forever, but it's too slow for my liking. It's not that I'm in a rush, but I don't want to spend all my time filtering water. I like to spend it wandering, starting fires, building shelters etc. In fact, I think I drank less than I needed sometimes because getting water was annoying.

The squeeze mini though threads directly on to a standard soda bottle, which for me is a big deal since I use standard soda bottles and stainless steel bottles to the exclusion of all else these days. The day one of these faster ones comes in a form-factor that's that simple, so i can use it on top of a bottle, or as an inline filter, or as a squeeze filter, I might finally switch off iodine. Maybe I can fashion something myself. In the meantime, I recently found more polar-pure on Amazon. Jess and I purchased 5 bottles of it in fact, since we're not sure we'll ever find it again. My last bottle lasted me 5 years before I broke it, so I should be set until these filters come in the form-factor I want. BTW, If you want polar-pure, I'd get on that fast.

For those who are okay with a little bulk, complexity, and fragility of bladders though the future is now. These things are impressive. I might get something similar to store in my car and use when car-camping, where these things matter less to me.


My dad called the company he bought the filter through, and they contacted the manufacturer. The manufacturer asked for the filter back so they could understand the problem, and sent 2 replacement filters as thanks.

When they got it back they tested it and found that indeed it is faulty and appears to be a manufacturing defect, and they're looking at how to improve their processes. So far this is the only incident I'm aware of of this kind.


After a little usage I gave up gravity filters again. I just can't keep them from clogging for long enough. They are fine for a week or weekend, but for long-term use they just don't cut the mustard. I've gone back to not treating water at all, or using polar pure iodine.


Butchering Rabbits (photos/thoughts/emotions)

Recently Jess and I met a friend of a friend. We were talking about long distance backpacking and primitive skills and that sort of thing. At some point the conversation turned towards animals, using them, eating them, etc. Partly as a meat-eater she was very interested in trying actually slaughtering and butchering an animal with us.

Jess had already been planning on getting an animal to put up some meat for ourselves. Partly because we like the meat better, and partly because as uncomfortable as it is, we both feel a lot more comfortable knowing exactly how the animal lived and died. We figure it's better than the unknowns.

So, one weekend our new friend came by our house. Jess had found a source of rabbits on craigslist and that that evening we drove out to their house to pick them up. We got 3 rabbits. A little younger than optimal for meat, but we decided to roll with it.

We had brought 2 rubbermaid bins that we'd carefully drilled holes in the tops of. We put the rabbits in these and went home. At home we tried to make the rabbits comfortable in our shower.

After not long they were hopping around pretty chill. We don't particularly believe in avoiding feeding animals before slaughter, it might make our jobs a tiny tiny bit easier, but I'd rather the animals are happy. We had some sprouts we grew that we'd failed to eat soon enough, so we gave these to the rabbits, they enjoyed them thoroughly


Overnight they didn't even hop out of the shower. Domestic rabbits are kindof ludicrously relaxed.

I should mention here that this was actually my first time taking part in slaughtering an animal. I've processed animals before, but they were roadkill. I've spent a lot of time thinking about hunting, and considering taking an animals life, and somehow for me hunting is notionally more comfortable. It sounds weird, but you get a chance to "ask" the animal, and in many cases it gets a chance to kindof decide to leave or not. It sounds crazy, but I know people who take game this way, and yes, they do take game in the end.

Anyway. The next day we talked for a while. We went to the rabbits and held them, petted them, got to know them, and we thanked them. Once we all felt (or at least said) we were ready, we slaughted the rabbits.

To actually slaughter them we used the "broom-stick" method. There are tons of good youtube videos of this method. Basically, you put the animal on the ground. You place the broomstick behind the animals head across the neck. Then you push down on the broomstick with 2 feet, and pull up on the rabbit's hind-legs until the rabbit dies. It takes only about a second.

We went one-by-one each doing one rabbit. I went first. I pulled to hard and popped the head off, out of fear that I might not kill fast enough. That wasn't a problem though. Afterwards I cried... it's hard to explain, I had done this with intention and knowledge, and I wasn't sad. My emotion was "crying", not sadness.

I explained to our friend that to me, it's important that it's a little hard every time you do it. If it wasn't hard, it definitely would not be okay by me. It would be creepy and weird and wrong.

Anyway, we all took a little time to deal with it, and then got to butchering. Jess had both processed enough animals that this part was just not emotional anymore. We were looking at meat... dinner. It took a minute before we realized our friend was not of the same mind and was still seeing the animal she had just killed; though she was pushing bravely on anyway.

We were so caught up in it that I failed to take any pictures. So, a while later we had this:


And this


Oh, and blood pudding which I failed to take a picture of. We ate the blood putting and the organs as lunch.

We dried the pelts for other uses. Jess is going to try to tan hers. I tried to tan a wild-rabbit pelt and ended up tearing it up quite a bit due to it being so thin. So I declined. Domestic rabbit skin is much thicker though, so Jess stands a good chance of success.

That evening we roasted one of the rabbits for dinner. It was good. It was odd to eat domestic meat that I had butchered, I'm used to the meat being very rich, wild meat. This was much richer than commercial meat, but not nearly as rich as wild.

Jess and I made a soup with the rest of the carcass that made several meals. We used the meat in probably 3 subsequent stir-frys as well. We took the other 2 rabbits and chopped them up and froze them for later use. We'll make a minimum of 2 more soups, and the meat should be most of what we need for a few months.

So, now we can meat for a while where we know where it came from, how it lived, and how it died. There are few things I've found so grounding as eating meat where that is the case.  It makes you turn and look at the rest of your world the same way. Is it comfortable? No not entirely. Does it make me feel better about myself than eating other meat? Definitely. Would not eating meat make me feel even better? No... it wouldn't, and explaining that I'll leave for another time.

Sorry this post lacks the technical bits in the middle. We'll try and get more photos the next time we need more good meat.

Canning over a fire

Now that Jess and I are finally settled in a place again we're starting to get into the rhythm of working on projects.

Jess through a housewarming party, and a farmer friend brought us some spare produce, mostly tomatoes and cucumbers. So we decided to can them.

Jess picked up a nice canning pot, but when we tried to use it we realized it didn't work on our stove, because our stove is electric glass top. The air-gap between the pot and the stove was way too large, so the water never boiled.

Our next thought was to use the propane camping stove. We canned a few jars of pickles on the propane stove, and it worked great... except that we used most of a canister of propane! That makes for expensive pickles!

After much consideration we realized that we could just do it over a fire, so we got to work. I gathered firewood and built a tripod while jess finished the preperatory steps, built a fire-circle, and attached a wire to the handles of the pot as a bail.


Most of the forest around us is oak, so we didn't have too much trouble getting a good fire going (cheating with a lighter). Two evenings of canning and we had canned this:


Not bad!

Today I opened one of the jars of pickles... Crunchy and delicious! The recipe we used was hotpack with a bit of mustard in it, and a nice balance of garlic and dill.


DYI: Chair seat

I inherited two chairs, both partially broken. The chair frame were solid, but the several of the slats in the seats were broken. As luck would have it I was able to build one complete chair-seat using the two existing ones. Then came how to make a seat for the other one.

I have no idea how this is normally done, but rather than look it up I decided to try my own idea. I had some 7 ounce canvas from my tarp experiments. I also had grommets, and 550 paracord. My idea was to make a canvas seat, laced on the bottom, and that's about what I got:


And here's what the bottom looks like:


It took me two tries to cut the right shape. I was WAY too lazy the first time. Second time I measured much more carefully, then checked it against the feet of the chair as a sanity check. Based on that I caught several measuring mistakes. I did a test fitting actually before putting in all the grommets (it's a lot of grommets). Here's what that looked like:


DSC00214 Notice all the dirt on the seat. Before the final fitting I soaked it for a while in some non-chlorine bleach and warm water to get the stains out. I mounted it wet, As it dries it should also shrink a little helping with the fit.

Besides cutting the right shape there as only one tricky setp to this project. The grommets are not totally trivial. This fabric is a very loose weave, so it turns out you can push the fibers out of the way rather than breaking any, this should help retain the strength. But, it's hard to get the grommet between the threads. To solve this I discovered if I used my elk-bone awl to create the hole, I could slide the grommet up on to the bone-awl, and just work the threads off the awl and down over the grommet. Here's a series of pictures to help.

DSC00217 DSC00218 DSC00221 DSC00222 DSC00223

After I had these locked in I actually finished setting them all out on the deck, as hammering that hard might shatter a tile.

Overall I'm pretty happy with the result. The unfinished edge on the corners is a little rough, and may shorten it's lifespan. If I do it again I'll see about finishing those. I can crank it pretty tight, and I expect it'll take a couple of tightenings before it really stays taught. A tight as I can crank it though it seems good enough for my somewhat indelicate rear :P. I'm very curious to see how well it holds up.


Tore out one grommet in the back trying to crank it really tight. This canvas can't hold up to that kind of abuse. It's at the back-side where it doesn't get much stress during use, so I faked a hacky repair (just wrapped over the chair frame instead and skipped that grommet). It may just be that the canvas is too weak, but I'm going to wait and see.

Oh also, you can definitely feel the front bar, it's still usable, but definitely not as nice as the slat-seat of the other chair.