Crafting: Wool raincoat

I go through a raincoat every 2-3 years. Each of these costs between $65.0 and $120.0. In addition they are made of plastic, which is filling up landfills. It's expensive and ugly. Lastly it's stupid loud when trying to walk through the woods, and thuse useless for hunting.

During Jess' stoneage project we thought a lot about what would work well as a raincoat. The obvious solution is bark-tanned deerhide, but with rather extensive testing (29 days of rain) on her trip she discovered that felt worked extraordinarily well.

We had planned to felt our own jackets (I even started one, which I botched badly), but then we were in a fabric store and they had some amazing super-dense thin felt. I decided to cheat a bit and picked up $40.0 of felt and a pattern for a jacket. Since we're hanging around my parent's house we finally got a chance to build the jacket, and here's the result.

The buttons are made with a pocket-knife using a stick from the backyard, and some of the waxed linen twine I use for everything.

The felt is backed, to help support the twine, with some buckskin scraps jess had saved.

This was my first time making clothing from a pattern. I've only done a couple of pieces before, and I did those by pulling a pattern off of existing clothing. Jess had to show me some of the tricks. Following a pattern requires a little knowledge, not much... but some.

Jess helped a lot with the whole project, especially the pinning. We used an extra heavy black thread for extra strength. I was concerned about the shoulder seams holding up under a backpack. Since it was available I borrowed my brother's sewing machine to speed things up. I've done most of my projects by handstitching, but damn a machine speeds things up.

The seams after being stitched are folded and top-stitched. I made an attempt to fold them in the most useful direction so the rain would tend to flow off instead of into the seam (This is a photo of the inside).

Here we're trying to get an idea how the pattern will work out.

I wanted the jacket to be long enough to cover my butt, but not much longer. This way hopefully I won't need rain-pants as often as I do with a modern waist-length jacket (which is already rare). It's actually halfway between the two lengths the pattern is made for

We deviated from the pattern in a couple of other places as well. This jacket is normally lined, but I thought that would be a waste of weight and bulk in the coat. We also ignored all the facing pieces as again I didn't want to pay the weight and bulk. I have a mild wool allergy, so we lined the collar with a bit of Marino wool from an old shirt/sweater that I wore out. We used 2 layers for the lower part of the collar for further protection from the normal wool where it presses against my neck. We sewed the collar as suggested with the liner, except that with no lining for the rest of the coat the bottom seam of the collar is hand-stitched to the rest of the coat. When I hemmed the cuff and bottom I left space to add drawstrings later as well.

Overall it's about what I was aiming for. The biggest change I'd make would be to change the sleeve design so it's set to 45 degrees out instead of straight down. This jacket as it is is a little restrictive of arm movement due to being curved through the shoulder like a suit coat. It's not too bad (better than I expected actually), just something I'd do differently.

The project took about 2 partial days once we got started.

The real question of course is... does it work. I'm going to save that for another post. It's mud season in new england so I'm sure I'll get a thurough test sometime soon :).


Renting in Vermont

We've found an amazing place to rent in Vermont.

The idea is to rent somewhere, get to know folks, understand the area, and get some pieces of our lives going before we buy. We intend to get started with remote tech work, on getting involved with Search and Rescue locally, and that sort of thing, while we do a more idle hunt for land.

We'll be renting a room on a dairy farm from a couple of fine folks who are starting up a cheesemaking business. They've got beautiful Jersey cows, goats, and some sheep, angora goats, and the largest cutest fluffiest sheepdogs I've ever seen. I believe they are english sheepdogs. Jess and I have been calling them dog-sheep.

Lots of details to work out as to how daily life will flow, but it looks like we'll be able to do our own work, spend a little time helping them on the farm, and spend a little time gardening. Jess is interviewing for fulltime tech positions, so she'll be pretty busy. I'm planning to look for part-time so I can put a bit more of my focus on the other things.

We'll be moving in next weekend, and we're super excited. We'll see what adventures await.


Research: Snow on a long driveway

Jess and I found a really cool piece of property in Vermont that's up a road that doesn't get plowed in winter. And I started researching various ways to deal with it. It's amusing enough that I thought I'd share some of my results.

Answer #1: Large truck and plow 

Okay, sounds pretty reasonable. There's a ton of forums where folks who do plow professionally chat about how to do it. I dug through these a while, as well as some manufacturer websites. What I came up with was not encouraging.

If you get more than about 3 inches you need to "plow with the storm". If you don't apparently it can be very difficult for your truck to get through it. Sure you can probably get that up to 6 or so inches with a good large truck and a good plow, but what if I'm off visiting my folks for christmas when this happens? With a short driveway you go "well shit" and you shovel it, and it sucks but you can get to your house. With a 1/2 mile of road... not so much.
Apparently if you try and plow deep snow it puts a lot of strain on your truck. You need a true heavy-duty truck with extra modifications, plus a special ram plow, and some folks say to never put chains on as the extra traction is likely to cause you to break an axle... wow, okay.

Answer #2: Snowblower

You're kidding right? 1/2 mile with a stupid little push snowblower?

Answer #3: ATV with snowplow 


This seems to work surprisingly well. Because it's so much smaller than a truck it seems ATVs handle the stresses much much better, and surprisingly can actually push *more* snow. Now, after many years of snowplowing with a lawnmower I'm quite familiar with the limitiations of this sort of approach, and it's mostly *weight*. If we used this solution we'd likely end up putting tracks on the ATV for logging and such anyway, so it would could push a lot more than our old lawnmower, but it's still pretty limited.

Answer #4: ATV with a snowblower 


This looks pretty viable. Up to say 18" of snow this seems to work very well. An interesting catch is that ATVs don't have a PTO, so the snowblower runs off of it's own engine. This is kindof awkward, and means we have another engine to maintain who's reliability is paramount... ugh. But, with the right width you could do this in one run down the road, turn around and come back up the other side, and it'd be done. Not bad.

Answer #5: Unimog with a snowblower 

  Okay, this is a little silly, but it'd work. A unimog is a special type of tractor designed to double as a truck. It's got portal axles and is known as one of the best offroad vehicles in the world. It would double as a vehicle for getting to town and towing a large trailer. Being a tractor though it's got a PTO, and there are some sweet snowblowers made for it. Also, if the snowblower fails there's a good chance you could just drive out anyway. Downside is that these things are hard to keep running, and you can only get old ones in the U.S.

Answer #6: Something else with a PTO and a snowblower

Well, that would probably be a tractor. Many don't have PTO's on the front. 1/2 mile is just too damned far to back a tractor. To have it on the front would require another engine, with similar downside as the ATV. Also, even if it has the PTO on the front, a fullsized tractor is pricey if that's all we intend to use it for. But, this is likely a good option if we decide we need a tractor anyway.

Answer #6: Why are we trying to move the snow again?

Get a snowmobile and to hell with it. Find a place to park the car down on a plowed road, and just snow-mobile to it. This is a very attractive option as you just don't have to care about the snow getting deep. Plus I mean... snowmobiling, what's not to like? Obviously cross-country ski's would be the backup option if the snowmobile breaks down. Unlike other options if your mechanical solution fails the car isn't behind 1/2 a mile of snowed in road.

We were toying with getting an ATV anyway, for doing selective logging on our own land. It's best to do it in winter as it causes less damage, so this is another option (though not legal on local snowmobile trails).

Answer #7: If that's a good idea, what about a snowcat? 

Lots of reading about cool old snowcats later, they are kindof a pita to maintain. They have almost no advantages for my sort of purpose over a snowmobile, and quite a few disadvantages. But... I learned a lot about snowcats, so that was a lot of fun :).


To be clear, I grew up shoveling snow. My parent's have a snowblower attached to a lawnmower now that works pretty well. I'm not unfamiliar with snow-clearing and problems like super heavy snow, or the snow that already got pushed around by the town plows. What was interesting here was considering the feasibility of different solutions to 1/2 mile or so of snow between your house and a plowed road.

I'm thinking in reality some combination would probably be best, like an ATV with tracks and a little blade, and park one of two cars where it can get out if we can't clear the road. Then just pop the blade off and drive down on the ATV to the other car. Also, having our normal vehicles have 4wd and such we can probably often drive directly over the snow anyway.

Most likely we won't end up getting a place requiring all of this, but the research was both fascinating and hilarious, so I thought I'd share.


Review: Taylor 1522 Indoor/Outdoor Thermometer

As a house thermometer it's probably fine, but don't let it get cold.

We purchased this thermometer for our truck. We go out in all sorts of different weather, and especially after our stint in Montana last November I thought it would be nice to know what temperature it was both inside and out of the truck body.

The thermometer fit perfectly in our 2002 Tacoma. We pulled the ashtray and pushed it up into the remaining hole using double-sided tape to hold it in place at the top and at the back against the face below it. It worked great!
I then ran the outdoor sensor through the hole in the carpet and floor. The hole in the floor is as from the factory, it just had a rubber plug I had already pulled out for running a radio antenna wire. I had also slit the carpet for the same purpose.

My first attempt had the sensor inside the frame, this didn't work as too much heat got stuck there and the thermometer was WAY off if the engine was running. So next I moved it to the outside of the frame and back a ways, tying it to the rear cab mount on the frame. That worked great. We compared it to thermometers on banks, and at houses we were staying at, and it seemed to read about right.

Now comes the problem. Jess and I were up looking at land up in Vermont, and slept out in the truck. Temperatures got pretty cold that night, but not THAT cold, maybe down to 0 or so, and in the morning the thermometer didn't work, and hasn't worked since.

So, it's probably a fine thermometer for house use, but do not buy this for a vehicle, or for use anywhere that drops notably below freezing.


To Vermont!


Back when Jess and I hiked the AT we talked about it and decided to stay in normal fulltime tech work a while longer to build up some money. We succeeded in getting a nice little nest-egg for ourselves, and as you all know quit our jobs and went on adventures this summer. The goal though was always eventually to use that money to get some land. The hope was that this would open whole new worlds of opportunities to live with the land, and help it help us prosper.

Several months back Jess and I were talking and trying to decide what we wanted to do next. We rolled around various crazy things to do related to stuff we talk about on this site - like guiding, teaching outdoor skills, homesteading, tanning, hunting, logging, farming, land-management etc.

As we talked it slowly sank in that neither of us wanted to do any of those things full time. We were also both loath to give up software engineering entirely. This may sound odd to some who read this blog, but I love programming, and I crave that type of problem solving. It's such a pure form of thought, requiring and thus inspiring a type of clarity of thought in general. That clarity becomes a habit at invades how you do everything, I LOVE it. That way of thinking is why I got into computer science in the first place, and I have no desire to give it up. I really want to do woodworking and all the rest, but I still want to program, I just want to do it *less* than I used to.

My old "server"

Then we realized that part-type remote tech work exists. In fact, there's a fair amount of it out there, especially for my skillset. With that in mind, Jess and I have been trying to decide where to house-hunt since before the holidays (with that little medical side-trip in the middle). Jess will get probably a fulltime remote job because she wants to keep doing techy management stuff, and I'll likely find some part-time tech work. Then we can spend the rest of our time on the type of stuff you see in this blog.

So, how does one decide where to live? Not knowing where to start, and being nerdy engineers, we started like any one of those proclivities would. With a list of goals:

  • Good enough internet for videoconferencing
  • Forested land to manage
  • Deciduous trees (we both have a fondness)
  • The right mix of folks, politics, and education levels
  • Large public lands to play on
  • Has Weather

With this in mind we quickly paired it down to a short list. We visited a few places on the short-list, did some research on local politics, temperatures, etc. and after not too long had it down to Washington, Vermont, or Virginia. Vermont and Virginia beat Washington in the end for being near our families. After a few road-trips looking at examples houses and towns we chose a small area in Virginia and another in Vermont that we decided we liked. Decisions are hard, but all things together Vermont looked better in most dimensions, so right now we're pursuing the Vermont idea. The snow's made it interesting as well.

Our next step is probably to rent a place in that area of Vermont while we find a place and strike a deal. I've been spending almost all of my free time for the last couple of weeks reading about buying land, researching different types of house construction, researching various methods of transportation on the snow, different ways to clear driveways, off-grid systems, passive solar systems, insulation, housing codes, outhouses and composting toilets, etc. It's a lot to learn, but it's fun and exciting! We've been using a (slightly older version of) this book:

In the meantime it's been pretty cool hanging out with both our parent's again. It's always great to have a place to go back to in-between things, and people who love you and who's counsel you can consult.

So, with some luck you should be seeing a bit more of us around White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire, and out on the Long Trail.