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Mandanities Vol. 3, Making Charcoal

One of the things about living on the edge of the forest, especially if you are trying to carve out more space along the edge, is that you have to deal with a lot of wood and brush.  Bigger trees are not a strategic problem, they get cut, split, and stacked as firewood.  For branches smaller than wrist-sized it is a judgment call, are they firewood or are they kindling?  For the most part in recent years the primary use was as kindling as Mrs. Barn, normally the fire tender as she gets up earlier than I do, would fill the giant cauldron on the front porch with sticks to serve that function throughout the winter.

The simplest way to deal with excess brush and branches is to just throw them back further into the frontier at the edge of the forest, a “solution” that bites you when eventually pushing that frontier back as we are doing right now.  For the most part the ultimate solution is to either get a chipper or burn up the inventory in a burn pit or barrel.

Recently Mrs. Barn came up with brilliant idea — turn the excess into charcoal.  This plan may or may not have coincided with her exploration of the Weber grill as a smoker/outdoor oven/broiler to keep heat out of the kitchen when it gets hot here (in the 80s).  She has been experimenting with great success in that realm.  Combined with my own interest in charcoal-making it seemed like this was the time to begin skipping down that path.

I hired a local fellow to do a ton of weed eating around the homestead, and one of the things that venture revealed was the number and size of brush piles we had underneath the greenery.  So, I’ve been slowly pulling out the brush and clearing the path to the felled firwood trees out behind the log barn.  Since it was going to be burned up anyway, why not try to turn some of it into charcoal?

I’d attended a charcoal-making workshop many years ago and remembered that the “controlled ignition” system while more efficient was also much trickier; you gotta get the burn conditions just right to cause the raw material to smolder until it was fully carbonized and no farther.  The “retort” system — essentially cooking the wood down to its basic carbon form — though less efficient, struck me as much simpler and easier.  So, I dug out a heavyweight small trash can, took it to the burn barrel, and gave it a try.  With great success!

Actually the first step was to select a few wrist-sized branches and haul them up to the barn and cut them into 3″ pieces on the chop saw.  When the small trash can was full it was time to head down to the burn barrel and give it a try.

I built about a six-inch bed of twigs at the bottom of the burn barrel and lit that, letting it burn and adding fuel until I had a hot fire.  Then I lifted the small trash can into the barrel and sat it on the bottom fire.  This was not particularly easy as the contents of the trash can had not been seasoned in any meaningful way, they had just been a pile of brush in the tall grass.  The can was really heavy.

One I had the trash can situated in the barrel I fed a large galvanized pipe through the handle so that the trash can would hang once the bottom fire burned down.  I did not know if this was a useful approach but it seemed like a smart way to even out the heat through the charcoal can.  I then selected a large number of smaller branches, 1″ – 2″, and hand cut them into 6-inch pieces which I then fed into the barrel all around the outside of the charcoal can, filling up the barrel to the lid of the charcoal can.  I laid a handful of 2-inch sticks on top of the trash can and waited to see what happened.

As expected, soon enough there was a plume of steam coming out of the four holes I had pre-drilled into the lid of the trash can, as first the unbound water and then the bound water was distilled out of the wood.  This process took about three or four hours.  All I had to do was stand there and watch.

The real excitement occurred at about the 4-5 hour mark as the moisture was all gone — the presence of the moisture had regulated the internal temperature to 212 degrees (remember 9th grade Physical Science?) — and the temperature inside the trash can jumped to the point where formaldehyde and methanol were being distilled off from the carbonizing wood.  Quick as a flash I had jets of flame whooshing out of the holes in the lid and from around the rim where the lid fit the trash can.  For almost an hour the flames did their job, then they were gone.

After that I let the entire barrel-and-trash-can stay undisturbed while any remaining fuel burned off and the whole thing cooled down over night.

In the morning I could hardly wait to see what I had wrought.  The results were spectacularly successful, beautiful charcoal just waiting to be put to use on the grill.  The end product was 1/3 smaller and 3/4 lighter than the original.  I’ve got the system down pat and will make more charcoal as the spirit leads.  I’m going to burn up all the wood anyway.

Mundanities, Vol. 2

Perhaps I should call this series, “Fun with scrap wood” as many of the projects are derived from the piles of leftover wood laying around the barn.  Such is the case with this one.

Using pressure treated southern yellow pine and some cypress boards I fashioned this movable/removable shower seat for the bath tub.  I hand planed all the boards before assembling them with decking screws.  The seat slats are cut to fit between the bathtub walls and screwed to underlying battens, and top end elements perpendicular to them to rest on top of the tub walls.

I planed chamfers on the tops of all the seat slats, thinking it would eliminate any discomfort while sitting and taking a shower.  That has not worked out so well as the corners still press hard against flesh; I may go back in and round the upper chamfer corners.

Otherwise, the bench works perfectly.  I will keep an eye on the top piece to see if cracks appear along the screw line.  If so I will have to retool it.  But for now, when I need it I can grab if from the space behind the hamper, and when finished I put it back.

Prepping for Tordonshell Demo

Labor Day weekend will be the inaugural 18th Century Craft shindig here in Highland County, where I have been asked to demonstrate tortoiseshell craft.  Events | Fair Lawn Farm (

Since tortoiseshell is a restricted material I will be focusing my efforts on the making and working of tordonshell, a convincing substitute I invented many years ago so that I could make Boullework, starting with a pot of hot hide glue and a few select additives.  At the time I was contemplating patenting the formula, but then I con$ulted with a patent attorney and found out how much it would co$t to go through with it.  Phooey on that, I just published the paper and moved on.  (The estimate wa$ for a completed application and patent to co$t $25-50k.)

Along the way I made a lot of tordonshell things to make sure it mimicked tortoiseshell accurately, which will be of great interest to the powder horn crowd.

For the rest of this week and into next week I will be gathering the materials and rehearsing the demonstrations, beginning with discussions of the materials themselves and the making of tordonshell so that all the attendees can go home and make it themselves to use in their own craft work.  It will also be a dry run for my next video project which I hope to begin filming this winter.  I keep telling myself I cannot start a new one until I get the Gragg Chair video edited and posted on line.

Mundanities, Vol 1

As I gently ease myself back into the routine of life on the homestead, especially a life of work in the barn studio (I find that each day adds another few minutes to my naturally recovering stamina), my first few projects are ones that do not require any special level of precision or strength.

Those first few outings to the barn were spent at mundane tasks like tidying up the workshop and organizing my product inventory.  I hope this makes it easier to be prompt in my fulfillment, even though I will still probably only mail things out once or twice a week.

What was most important about these tasks is that I could accomplish them while sitting down.

A second undertaking revolved around the fact that my entryway “steps” to the barn had been, for the past fifteen years, two hunks of southern yellow pine 8x8s left over from the original frame raising in November 2007.  Could it really be almost fifteen years?   In recent time the timbers had become aged and their corners rounded, making them unsteady underfoot.

Using some pressure treated lumber from the inventory I fashioned a new platform, one much steadier when I step up and into the barn.  Nothing fancy, just pure crude utility.  I will probably appreciate that even more when this coming week I attempt to hoof it up the hill rather than taking my little truck given that my legs are only now gaining adequate strength and muscle mass.  I’ll take it slow, probably 4-5 minutes to ambulate the almost 200 yards, and hope my legs don’t turn to jelly before I get there.  It’s quite amazing how much muscle tone I lost with nearly a month of inactivity.

Recuperation and Recovery

This will almost certainly be my final comment on my recent bout with the engineered bioweapon.  My previous post evoked enough response, mostly privately, that I just wanted to wrap everything up, and unless there is some dramatic change in the recovery trajectory this should suffice.

In the final 48 hours of hospitalization when it became clear that my release was coming down the pike and my full recovery was simply a matter of time, one message from the nurses, respiratory therapists, doctors and even pharmacists was clearly presented with great emphasis and zero ambiguity.  To whit, “You cannot ‘power your way through this.’  Recovery will take its own path and you cannot speed it up even if it is your tendency to try.  Resist the temptation to work harder because that route is the path of relapse.”

We took them seriously and it was a large part of our decision to stay an extra week at a local motel to rest before flying home.  It was the smart thing to do and worked exactly as the hospitalians had exhorted me.

Last week at The Fortress of Solitude I spent a good bit of time simply resting, napping every morning and afternoon for 15-20 minutes, punctuated by gentle activity including a few hours per day in the shop.  Even then rather than walking up the hill, my commute is normally a 150-yard stroll up a 15% incline, I drove to the barn and spent virtually all of my time there sitting.  You can do a lot of cleaning and organizing while sitting down.  I made no attempt to do anything remotely resembling productive work, although I did get out to run errands in town every day.  Just to do something different.

I can honestly say that my strict adherence to the post-hospitalization instructions have resulted in me feeling better every day.  Literally.  Every day.  Yes, my legs are sorta tired as you would expect from almost a month’s inactivity, but even their muscle soreness gives me delight.

On Thursday I saw my local doctor, whom I like and trust a great deal.  He is temperamentally an old soul; when he comes in to examine a patient he sits down and begins a conversation that will last as long as it needs to be for him to come to a solid understanding of the issue.  He even writes down his observations by hand and pen on a legal pad!  None of this breezing in and out for a few seconds and punching a few places of a compewder tablet.  He spent a good long time with me as I recounted the whole harrowing tale and he checked me out completely.  After listening to my heart and lungs, he said, “This is remarkable.  If I did not know already that you have been sick I would not know that you had been sick.  Everything sounds clear as a bell!”  He reiterated the warnings about over exertion, reminding me that my recovery to full strength and stamina is nearly a 100% likelihood but also the timetable for that is 10-12 weeks.

I go back in a month for some follow-up testing that is not possible until the pharmacological cocktail coursing through my veins gets purged (I took my very last pill with breakfast this morning).

At this point the only peculiarity is my sleep pattern.  I have suffered from sleep dysfunction (insomnia) for over 50 years and am currently on a curve that is unfamiliar to me.  Beginning in the motel after release from the hospital I began incorporating melatonin into my night time routine, and the effect has been remarkable.  For the past two weeks I have been falling asleep easily and promptly, but thanks to the now-completed course of steroids I’d been waking around 3AM.  Last night I fell asleep around 10.30 and slept through the night until 4.56AM.  With steroids now in the rearview mirror I am hoping that I regain a more congenial sleep pattern.

Thus ends my final report on this matter.

The “Lost” Months

NB – I have no intention to turn this post into a rant, but I will be expressing some observations rather pointedly, observations I believe are borne out by the public record.  Regardless, this will be one of the most personal postings I’ve ever made here, so if that is of no interest to you I am fine with that. 

Finally, it is worth noting that I ascribe to the Mollie Hemingway aphorism, “My spiritual gift is that I do not care what you think about anything.”


Those faithful 300 readers of this blog have assuredly noticed my long absences from these pages over the past 5+ months, and I wanted to give you a bit of the back story on that.

Our timeline trajectory was in great part established by the birth of our new grandson, Li’l T, in early March.  The trauma surrounding that blessing was one which lingered for a long time.  He was in deep distress and retrieved from the womb by emergency surgery, emerging limp, blue, the umbilicus wrapped around his throat five times, and his respiratory system fully engorged with bodily waste.  Th neonatal specialists in Labor and Delivery had a couple dozen seconds to bring him to life, which they did.  Li’l T proceeded to spend ten days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit while Mrs. Barn and I did what we could to support, encourage, and assist his mom and dad with excellent home cooking (her) and projects around the house (me).

Since coming home Li’l T has made steady progress, even beginning to flourish.  As near as anyone can tell he is a healthy, bright, developing little boy who is still on the small side but growing steadily.

In the five months since then we have been traveling and spending extended time with our family, doing whatever we could to help the little guy out.  While there, I frankly had near-zero interest in the blog so my presence here was scarce.

Meanwhile I did shoehorn in a couple of SAPFM presentations, but other than preparing for them until this week I have spent only a few dozen hours in the shop since the beginning of March.

Once our routine settled with Li’l T came the unrelated news that Mrs. Barn’s sister’s husband was in the later stages of terminal pancreatic cancer, which eventually took his body in May.  The logistics of the funeral arrangements in Kalifornistan were daunting, but right after the Fourth of July we winged our way west.  The trip was to be a short whirlwind, I think 4-1/2 days in total.  A couple days on the ground with all of Mrs. Barn’s siblings, the military interment one day, the worship celebration at church the next day, one more day for family time then a flight back home.  The trip was expected to be so fast I did not even take my laptop, only my Kindle.  It turned out to be a life saver.

The day we were scheduled to fly home I had a little sore throat and tested positive for the bioweapon plague.  We rescheduled our flight and hunkered down in the hotel.  In a little over 24 hours from that point I digressed from having a scratchy throat (never did have a sustained fever, severe headaches or the wracking cough) to being gravely ill in critical condition with bacterial pneumonia, hypoxia, dehydration, and disorientation so extreme I could not find the bathroom in the hotel room.  Mrs. Barn and her sister got me to the ER ASAP the next morning, and I was admitted for what turned out to be almost two weeks.

I found out later that when I first arrived in the ER the plan was to intubate me as soon as I could get into a room.  Fortunately, it took several hours to get me a room and by that time the antibiotics and high flow oxygen had revived me to the point where I was fully aware and engaged even if I did not feel particularly sparkly.  What followed was 13 days of conscientious and competent care with a remarkably successful outcome.

In my last 48 hours in the hospital I was overhearing conversations between the nurses and doctors that over the past 30 months this hospital was concentrating on being a Front Line Covid Critical Care facility (they literally dedicated over half of the hospital to this undertaking) I was only THE SECOND PATIENT out of hundreds(?)/thousands(?) to make the recovery I did.  From near-100% intubation candidate on Day 1 to being released on Day 13 with no external oxygen needs after Day 10.  When the doctors and nurses asked me to what I attributed this recovery I replied simply, “In addition to your care I had an Army of Saints raising me up in prayer from coast-to-coast.”  That is what I truly believe.

After release from the hospital we stayed at a nearby motel for six more days, “just to make sure.”  The flight home was entirely uneventful, we arrived back in Shangri-La last Sunday afternoon.  I have been slowly and carefully easing my way back into gentle activity including a few hours in the shop every day, mostly sitting and organizing and cleaning.

Since the beginning of this historical episode thirty months ago I have never doubted, not even for one moment, the risk that this engineered organism posed for some cohort of humanity, particularly for those with multiple co-morbidities, the worst of which were extreme age, compromised pulmonary systems, and obesity.  Any of you who corresponded with me privately know this to be true.   It has killed millions, disrupted and destroyed the lives of hundreds of millions, and destroyed ten$ of trillion$ of human flourishing due primarily to the unrestrained totalitarian impulses of political “leaders” and public health “experts.”

What I have doubted was virtually every “official” pronouncement regarding the nature, genesis, source, and response to covid.  As time unfolds it becomes increasing clear to me that my doubts have been more than well-deserved as the posture of the “experts” rnged from outright deception and untruths, ass-covering, blame shifting, and leveraging benefits.  As an informed, critical-thinking person I can only wonder about how differently the trajectory of this history might have been had Fauci obeyed the explicit directive from President Obama to discontinue gain-of-function research.  Instead, using nefarious subterfuges Fauci outsourced the projects to the Chinese Communist Party Peoples’ Liberation Army bioweapons program at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.  Who could’ve seen a problem with that?

I cannot say that before thirty months ago I ever wonder about the nature of a theoretical chimera formed by merging Josef Mengele and Josef Stalin.  Now, I no longer have to wonder.  Watching the “establishment” medical bureaucrats especially choose a path of explicitly discrediting, defaming, and destroying any honest scholars or even common citizens who disagreed with them, I’m thinking there should be a special residential wing underneath Leavenworth Prison.

So now you know a bit about my recent “lost” months.