Archive for the ‘Nifty Gadgets’ Category

Free association, checking at WalMart, and cat poop cookies.

Sunday, August 5th, 2012

So, there I was, checking (being cashier) at Wal-Mart in the garden center. This family comes through with a bag of kitty litter, a covered litter box and even an odor filter for the box. Being somewhat contrary, and not wanting to sound personal with someone that I don’t know, I commented, “You know, this is the wrong kind of litter pan for cat poop cookies.”

I had to explain the concept to the family (I was shocked this was an unfamiliar topic). Mom was grossed out, and I am not sure she ever really understood that you don’t use cat poop as an ingredient. Dad got it right away, and thought it sounded both fun and something neat to try. Last night I mentioned my surprise to an older couple checking out. They both thought it sounded like fun. My manager hadn’t heard of cat poop cookies. *sigh*

The AllRecipes.com recipe page has a cute photo. I think it is mis-done, but. . .
Picture of cat poop cookies, presented on Post Grape Nuts, in new and unused cat litter pan

Google, last time I checked, had scads of recipes for cat poop cookies. I found one cat poop cookie recipe on MuttCat.com. (MuttCats.com features an animal shelter directory, articles, fiction, pet memorials, discussion boards, shopping and more.)

I also tend to ask customers at my register how their Wal-Mart adventure went today.

Making hay, by hand

Friday, June 17th, 2011

I don’t use a lot of hay. My pony gets a round bale October/November, and that usually lasts until grass starts growing. So I want a bit to tide over rough spots.

A few years back I welded up a hay storage bin. About 5 feet square, and a bit over six feet high, whatever would fit out the shop door. I used 3/4 inch square tubing for the frame, and 2×4 welded wire for three sides, with the front open above a ‘keeper’ bar about 1 foot up. This worked pretty well with loose hay.

Where I live is old-growth pasture. The local story goes that it was virgin prairie, and has never been plowed. After 70 years of grazing pasture use, I doubt that there is much original prairie grass left, and Johnson Grass has moved in around the buildings and in the pony’s pasture. Johnson grass was introduced to Oklahoma for hay and pasture, and does well at both. The problem with Johnson Grass is that it is very persistent if you want something else to grow there, and it tends to spread. Widely.

So what I have around the buildings to harvest is a mix of short grasses including cheat, and Johnson Grass, mostly, and a few patches of bermuda grass, sometimes occupying the same space. Next to the driveway is a solid stand of Johnson Grass. When I cut it early, it comes in solid bermuda. Cut that, and it is Johnson Grass again. But it mostly stays green. . .

I have a book on ‘farm implements you can make’, from the 1800s, that shows a wood frame for baling hay. This spring I got to thinking, and got out the two-hand scythe a friend cobbled up out of stainless tubing and regular handles and a brush blade.

The first part of making hay, after the planning and hoping, and watching the grass grow, is cutting. I am still learning to use the scythe, but I did manage to put down some short and tall grasses.

Next is curing. Curing is when sufficient moisture leaves the hay leaves and stalks, so that the hay is dry enough to store well, keep it’s nutrition value and not decompose. Hay put up too damp can rot, and at times generates enough heat to catch fire.

The sun and open are do the curing. I leave the hay a day or so, depending on the condition of the hay and weather, then get out the hay fork (four tines, wider than a three tine or manure fork) and turn the hay so the stuff on the bottom is exposed to that curing sun and breeze.

For short stem hays, a day or so after turning the hay may be ready. Long and coarser stem hays may take another day or three, and another turn or two.

Almost anticlimactic is gathering the hay and tossing it in storage (for loose hay) or baling.

Dad baled hay, and my neighbors bale hay. This includes a tractor, and first a mower or conditioner, then a rake, and finally a baler. The result is, usually, a very consistent stream of round or square bales laid out in the field, to be gathered and stacked until needed.

I don’t have that kind of equipment. I have a ball of Sisal twine, a blue plastic muck bucket, a box knife, and a hay fork.

The bale bucket, the bale fork, and the bale twine

Baling implements

Using the same fork I used to turn the hay, I laid some hay on the bucket and pushed it down in, about centered. A couple-three modest forks full, and it is time to mash the center of the bundle of grass together, grab one end of the twine and reach down one side of the hay to the bottom, reach down from the other side of the grasses to the bottom of the bucket, grab that twine, and pull it on around. A quick (!) square knot while mashing the center of the bundle together and pulling the twine tight, and cut off the bale of hay. Lift the bale out (it looks a lot like a bundle of grass with a string around the center), and repeat.

The twine has been pulled around the bundle, ready to gather, tighten, and tie

Twine just about wrapped around bundle

When I tried it using the wheel barrow instead of the muck bucket, it was easier. The wheel barrow allowed for a bit bigger bale (fewer baling operations), and reaching around the bundle was easier than stuffing my arms into the muck bucket full of hay.

My hand-baled hay.

My bale of hay.

The hay fork is useful transporting the bales, too, as I can usually stick the tines through two stacked bales. I estimate the bales range between small muck bucket size, about two pounds of short grasses, and maybe ten pounds for a moderate sized wheel barrow bale. Toss them into the hay bin, and let them complete airing out.

My problem with Johnson Grass hay is the weather. We have been getting rain showers with little accumulation, just enough to wet everything, and that delays curing. This isn’t great, because the wet/dry cycles are letting the sun bake out the nutrients in the hay, and keeping the moisture up so I cannot gather the hay yet.

The pony stands about three feet, five inches. Johnson Grass runs from four feet to seven feet. The pony likes to nibble the tender ends of the grass. So fully grown Johnson Grass doesn’t feed the pony that well. Where I have cut the Johnson Grass, the new-growing returning stems are short, and the pony (“Little One”) gets a better nibble in. And I get (some) hay put by for later, if it is needed.

I reckon that gathering hay is something folks with livestock could be considering. Hay from along fence lines, along unkempt roadways, on unused lots. Chickens will eat some hay, and use it for bedding, hogs eat hay and use the bedding, cows, goats, and sheep, too. Learning to hay takes practice to learn the grasses you harvest, the tools you use, the process and exceptions of curing, and the techniques for transporting and storing hay.

I turn 59 this year, with back pains and lowering heat tolerance. Gathering in fields at a time is for the young folk. I don’t have a lot of storage, and find the hour or two a day very satisfying (that is, I don’t want more, at the time).

The sisal twine I got from Big Lots, in the garden section. It is light, strong, and traditional for haying. The fork I picked up at a farm sale, a treasure that too many people decided isn’t needed, since they went to crops-only, or automated livestock farming. A modern three tine fork can run from $30 to $40 dollars, hay forks and the larger field hay forks would be much more expensive.

Last year I sharpened the scythe blade with a flap sanding disk on my angle grinder. Last winter I ordered a ‘scythe stone’ from Amazon.com, and it works a wonder. The package the stone came in mentioned wrapping the stone in cloth. I whacked out a six inch wide strip from the leg of a pair of rag-bag bib overalls, about two and a half times the length of the stone (about 10 inches by 1 1/2 inches). I lay the stone in the center of the cloth, lengthwise, and fold the top and bottom over, then the sides. I can stick that wrapped bundle in my pocket for convenience; the stone unwrapped would catch and hang in my pocket something fierce.

The pony, Little One

Little One, in Johnson Grass just starting to grow

Orbital energy

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

I read a lot of science fiction, including David Weber and others that refer to “laser head” munitions. “David’s Sling” by Marc Steigler informs a number of innovative weapon systems some of which closely resemble weapon systems deployed to the Mid East.

I read a piece pointing out that most of what we know about so-called renewable energy, short of hydroelectric, really isn’t. Wind farms are expensive in money and energy for an intermittent power source – meaning they cannot displace coal fired power plants, and that the national distribution grid isn’t designed to make good use of such diverse, modest sources of electricity. Nuclear power, ultimately, consumes a non-renewable resource, uranium, uses a lot of precious resources including water, people, and besides, nuclear power produces wastes that pose problems of national scale for security and toxicity.

So I was thinking – how to capture the energy difference between an asteroid in orbit, or even de-orbiting, and the surface of the earth?. Since I was young, when Project Mercury introduced the nation to the hazards – and heat – of reentry, I have “known” about the way heat accumulates in the path of an object deorbiting into the atmosphere.

And I wondered – what if . . What if there was a way to capture, to encapsulate that heat of friction as an object at orbital velocity begins to impact the upper atmosphere. That heated almost-air, that blanket of superheated . . plasma. Some SF writers, including David Weber, posit a magnetic field to encompass the plasma of a high-output, nuclear-related (fictional) space drive. Could some type of mechanical or magnetic field hybrid container be constructed, to save and store the plasma – the heat – generated by a rock hitting the atmosphere?

That would be an astronomical quantity of elemental plasma, at temperatures similar to a nuclear reactor, I imagine, at times.

And that could be a mechanism for generating reasonably inexpensive energy: send men into space, reclaim an asteroid or section of an asteroid, shift it (I apologize for the hand-waving here, in the blithe assurance that if SF authors have figured it out, then industry and rocket science could, too. Solar sails, for instance, would be reasonably sustainable, and not contribute to carbon accumulation in the stellar field) to Earth orbit. Then carve it into 10 kilo size or whatever size is useful, fit with the “US Deorbital Plasmotic Energy Process and Collection Kit” (USDPEPCK, “Peck” for short, as in “a peck of plasma,” but name is subject to change), and drop the package using a powered ‘sled’ type minimal craft to deorbit the package, and release it in a way that the package lands somewhere innocuous but useful. The sled returns to the work site for the next chunk. Repeat until the asteroid (or fraction) is used up.

(Note – if you get an asteroid into orbit, there may well be more things to do than drop rocks – things like build manufacturing facilities for space-born processes, and processes that are toxic in the atmosphere. Or even building space colonies, interplanetary exploration and research launch platforms – the “airport” and “island outpost” raised to Low Earth Orbit.)

But – what about de-orbiting spacecraft? Or satellites? Could the heat that we currently ablate with consumable shields be captured for useful purpose? Could capturing plasma act as a shield to the spacecraft?

What if the compression of air in front of a vehicle in motion could be capture – by a rail train, or a freight truck? Or commercial aircraft?

Hmm. I wonder if DARPA has looked into this?

I wonder if you got an asteroid into orbit, and cut it into small chunks – could you drop each into a certain lake or reservoir, and just capture the heating to the targeted water?

l: Blog action day, 2010 – Water

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Susan Albert at Lifescapes mentioned Blog Action Day. I remember that from last year. Hm. Maybe I should have thought about Blog Action Day conceived at Change.Org. Or maybe even “water”.

I know that four families a couple of miles south of me ran out of water in their home wells. We live in an unincorporated area of a rural county, north central Oklahoma. Three of them “solved” their problem by switching to a community water line from the nearby town. The other cut down several pecan nut trees – and the water returned in their well. Around them there are a half-dozen houses for sale or at least empty. I wonder what will happen as new families move in, if any of those homes have home wells.

I put in a small garden this year – and bought a seep hose to water with. The pump electricity seems reasonable, and I can hear the submersible pump when it runs. I watered the garden between rains, and that seldom.

The pony and chickens don’t drink that much water. The pony’s tank is 200 gallons, 6′ by2′ by 2′ – and catches some of the rain. I keep goldfish in the tank to manage algae, so the water stays somewhat “fresh” without regular dump-and-scrub cleanings. In fact, the tank hasn’t been empty in 10 years, now. I siphon out part of the water with a shop-vac hose, vacuuming sludge off the bottom just like cleaning the under gravel filter on a home aquarium. That happens a time or two each summer. I let the water get down to 1/3rd full before filling, to reduce concentrating minerals from the water, etc. I dip water out for the
chickens and cats. Every once in awhile I consider catching water from the barn roof, but I haven’t, yet.

In California, they found that San Jose was build on a bed of sand. And as they used ground water – things sank. Buildings shifted and cracked. So they built Lexington Reservoir – to encourange rainwater to seep into the ground water. Arizona was getting into the “settling pond” routine when I left Phoenix in 1999. Back in Californial, they drained their Lexington Reservoir back in the early to mid 1980s, to do maintenance. Before they could refill the reservoir in the Los Gatos Mountains, a drought hit. The drought delayed refilling Lexington Reservoir for seven (7) years. About the time they refilled it – it was 1989. And the epicenter of that big October quake – was within three miles of the Lexington Reservoir. Likely the fault created surface features that made the place a good site for the reservoir, and the drought years likely had more to do with the quake than the empty reservoir. Likely.

And yet, like Susan reports in Texas, aquifers in Oklahoma are running lower than in the past, some of them. Wednesday the 4.1 quake in Noble, OK, was probably not related to changes in water usage, or to changes in global temperature. Probably.

Water is useful. I look at Hoover Dam, and the nearby Kaw Lake flood control district. And the South Fork Salt river. Could we put in some water wheels for generating electricity, in season, on modest farm creeks? Could we adapt water desalination to clear water purification, entirely powered by a modest creek? Dare we not?

I grew up on a Mennonite-build farm in Iowa. The house roof had gutters – that drained into a massive cistern. Could rain capture work for drinking water, for garden water? Amazon.com sells rain barrels for emergency use, for watering patio and garden plants. Someone must think so.

Google Earth, Wundermap, and the oceans

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

Google Earth computer program

Google offers a nifty earth-scene program GoogleEarth. Go to Google.com, on the menu at the top-left or wherever, select the drop-down list under “more”, then “even more”. In alphabetic order is “Earth”. This is a fairly large application, you download it and install it, that will then connect to Google for information about what part of the Earth you are looking at. It is fascinating to see moderately detailed images of your house, your city, the nation, or the world.

Earth comes in three flavors or prices. Google Earth is free – I have used it for several years, it is great. Google Earth Pro is $400, and I don’t know what that looks like. Then there is Google Earth Enterprise Solution – $Call $$Us. I think part of the difference is how fine a detail you get, and whether the images are a few years old (Google Earth free edition) or real time ($Call $$Us version).

Wunderground.com

I like the weather presentation at Wunderground.com (Weather Underground. Huh.) A few months ago they added a display option called “WunderMap”. It sure looks like Google Earth. It sticks current temps and radar activity (rain, snow, etc.) on top of satellite imagery of the ground. Really good satellite imagery.

This morning I wanted to check on the weather where a friend is working. While looking at the WunderMap, I zoomed out to see the whole nation, and noticed nothing much doing around North Dakota at the moment.

There has been so much wailing and gnashing of teeth about the storm on the East Coast I grabbed the image with the cursor, and dragged Washington, DC to the center of the image, and zoomed in slightly.

The Ocean

I noticed the Continental Shelf – the gradually deepening, rather flat extent of ocean floor near coast lines.

It looked gorgeous.

I zoomed out a bit. I had read a few months ago about the Gulf stream and how it flowed to the North Atlantic – and sank, to flow along the bottom of the ocean back to the Gulf of Mexico.

There is a seam along the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, guiding those warmed waters from Mexico up to warm and modify the weather for Ireland and the United Kingdom. And it is gorgeous, zoomed out to see most of the Atlantic Ocean from in one view.

Across the Pond

At the time of Columbus’ sailing, the general wisdom was for ships to stay nearly within sight of land, maybe several miles, depending on how tall the ship was for a lookout to keep track. Zoom in on the British Isles, and notice the broad and nearly flat (I am still admiring WunderMap at Wunderground.com) continental shelf – which moderates the power of the waves likely to be encountered by a ship. It is amazing to view, in colors representing height and depth (topological view of the ocean floor), the character and historical impact of the shape of the ocean floor.

Fault Lines

Back on the US side of the Atlantic, I noticed a string of “pimples” off the shores of New England – volcanic cones. A fiction book some years ago posited a major earthquake in New England. There are fairly major fault lines there – and I can see the progression leading up from the depths of the ocean and across the continental shelf there.

I looked for Haiti (not that Haiti has been in the news, or earthquakes there). That is one folded and torn piece of ocean bottom. The ridge from Haiti to the south, and crevasse to the north across the ocean floor sure look to me to indicate lots of stress in the earth’s crust, cutting right across Haiti.

And it is interesting to see the wide range of depths around the Caribbean Sea. Amazing – no wonder wrecks got so very lost. Or that the waters were so troubled as to sink so many ships over the centuries.

The oceans, as seen through WunderMap and Google Earth. Amazing.

UPDATE:

I glanced at the Indian ocean (South of India, between Africa and Australia is how I think of it). There was temperature and wind marker – at the top of a single volcano cone, on a fold of the ocean, in the middle of, well, ocean. Ile Amsterdam.

I zoomed in on the mountain – closer than they had imagery for all the surrounding water. Move the image to the center, zoom a little bit, repeat. There is a ring of trees just off the ocean on the east side of the island. With a road leading north. And a Land Rover-looking vehicle on the winding track, heading north. On the North side of the island is a group of buildings – La Roche Godon. Amazing. (67 degrees, wind to the southwest, from a station on the shore, to the west of La Roche Godon.)

Do it yourself paint

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

I was thinking about Sharon’s apocalyptic, if optimistic (she believes many of us can survive the approaching end of the American economy) Peak Oil prospects. And paint. We use paint for decoration, many of us, but some of us remember it is intended to preserve wood, too. And when we can’t afford to ship paint or cement from once side of the state to the other, let alone from China, then what alternatives do we have? Quick – everyone put in an acre of flax? And the re-learn how to press oils from flax seed for linseed oil. I need to look up why they call fabric made from the fibers of flax linen, and the oil pressed from flax seed is called linseed oil. Likely a bit of obscure history there.

What isn’t obscure is the long history of linseed oil and preserving and sealing wood – and creating a lasting and beautiful finish, too. Anyway, back to paints, if you want something brighter or more versatile than linseed oil.

From Mother Earth News, the original guide to living wisely, Make Safe, Natural Paint:

If you’d like to create a warm and inviting living space, consider using homemade, eco-friendly paints. Using natural materials is a great way to bring the outdoors in, and they’re easier on your home because they can allow painted surfaces to release moisture naturally. Plus, most commercially manufactured paints contain toxic materials or petroleum-based ingredients that are energy-intensive to produce.

The recipes an information make good reading, whether you are counting on Ace Hardware still being there after the end of things as we know it, or just want to reduce the number of toxic chemicals in the paint shed.

New beds and old

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

I bought a mattress. It was 1989, my air mattress leaked, and I wanted something that was a good value.

Instead I got a Spring Air, with pillow top (and bottom!) just like Vanna White was promoting, back then. The claim was that it would last 20 years.

I turned it over the last time, last fall. When a spring broke, and poked my butt. It only lasted 19 years and 1 month. I was irate. Problem was that for warranty I had to contact the seller who isn’t still in business, and was in St. Louis, while I have moved several times and now live in Oklahoma. No, I didn’t get a refund, I haven’t seen the receipt in about 17 years.

So I got to thinking. Mattresses often last 10 to 20 years. In any given year 5% to 10 % have to be replaced. What if we transition to a localized economy because the national economy and infrastructure collapse? Well, in the past beds didn’t use spring mattresses.

Crooked Tree Farms has a PDF file, laying out how to construct and string a Rope Bed. For real. No springs. In fact Crooked Tree Farms includes a number of 18th century living history designs and information. Hint: Most people in the 18th Century weren’t connected to the national energy or transportation grids, because there weren’t none. If you want to get by with less electricity, there are a couple of alternatives here, from period sewing issues to furniture and shelter information.

Free Woodworking Stuff has a list of plans for beds. Included is one from the Furniture Gallery of House Greydragon “devoted to attempting to recreate (and live in) the 14th century”. No, that isn’t a typo – but it is a hobby interest in the Society for Creative Anachronism.

Along with quality tools at GarrettWade, is a plan for a rope bed.

I found a variation, a modernized version that addresses some issues with the rope bed – they sag, the ropes need retensioning (frequently!), and two or more occupants will roll together in the center. The last might or might not be a problem, depending on who the occupants are. The MtMan list variation uses the rope to hold the bed together – but a sheet of 5/8″ plywood makes this a full-slatted bed. It is interesting, too how mortises and butt hinges are used to tie the sides and head and foot boards together.

CurrentMiddleAges lists resources for plans and options on 12th-16th century furniture, including beds. Country Bed.com illustrates one method of stringing the rope, and includes diagrams and sells a straining wrench, a wooden device made to tighten rope. The Stamford Historical Society illustrates another example of a colonial era bed wrench.

Trod.org (The Realm of Darkness fantasy world) journals making a hybrid rope bed for personal use.

Mattresses didn’t always come stuffed with cotton and springs. Rushes, grasses, wool and skins have been used between the tired body and the resting place. Keeping mice and bugs out might be an issue, though. And one might look forward to spring cleaning, as a time to refresh the mattress!

A bushel and a peck

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

So I was reading Sharon’s concerns on Casaubon’s Book about Permaculture and Transition (Part 1 and Part 2). And followed to Rob’s response at Transition Culture.

The South Willamette Valley Bean and Grain Project

Along in the comments to Rob’s piece, Risa B mentioned the Bean and Grain Project. So I Googled that. It turns out the South Willamette Valley Bean and Grain Project is a modest start to reintroduce the practices of growing food on farmland. Currently 60% of the rich farmlands of Oregon’s Willamette Valley is planted in rye and fescue grass seed. I read about this on the Post Carbon Eugene site, Mud City Press Bean and Grain page, and the Friends of Family Farmers Bean and Grain page.

Small Farmers Journal

Now, the Friends of Family Farmers site name got me thinking of Sisters, OR, and the Small Farmers Journal – a long time and important publication to the Draft Horse, Oxen, and horse farming communities. So, I checked their site, www.SmallFarmersJournal.com. And, yep, there it is. Still publishing after 25 to 30 years.

The cover picture up today includes a farmer striding from the field, with a smile, and bundle of something under an arm, and a bushel basked of vegetables under the other.

And that got me thinking.

I told you that story, so I could tell you this one.

Containers used to tend to last a bit. When a bucket was an empty five gallon purchase of grease – the steel thing lasted until it well rusted through. While it was tight, you hauled water or whatever. After it started leaking, you just carried dry feeds and things. Rusted badly? Trash can. Or final container for used parts that might be useful to cobble up a fix for something else that breaks. “Reuse” isn’t all that new a concept.

Baskets.

I can remember having a few baskets around Dad’s farm, when I was a little nipper. I imagine they came with peaches in them, or maybe apricots. So I Googled that. Baskets, that is. And found the Texas Basket Company. They sell bushel baskets by the dozen, about 30 pounds for 12, the minimum order, at $2.53 or so each, that would be $30.36 a dozen, plus shipping and tax. Unless you want them colored – there are bunches of color options, single and two colors. And half-bushel baskets, etc.

Wow. The old-timey thin wooden baskets. Board bottom for seafood, or round bottom, etc. With care, I imagine they will gather and store apples and other fruits and veggies for years. Get together with a neighbor for a handful each, or stock up for a CSA gathering of tomatoes. And Texas Basket isn’t the only one.

Hubert.com (866-482-4357) lists many and varied styles, shapes, and sizes of baskets for active use, or fruit and vegetable presentation accessories.

Little Rock Crate and Basket lists baskets for Home Decor, for Fruit and Vegetables, and for Seafood use.

All three carry peck and bushel baskets. A peck is 1/4 bushel, in case you notice they have bushel, 1/2 bushel, peck, 1/2 peck, and 1/4 peck sizes.

The song.

I guess the song (Bushel and a Peck, from the musical show Guys and Dolls) just really harps on the bushel full and overflowing – 25% more than full.

I love you,
a bushel and a peck,
a bushel and a peck
and a hug around the neck!

Whatever. But baskets are still around, and at moderately reasonable prices for a durable work tool for gathering garden, field, and orchard produce, leaves and clippings, or other bulk management needs when you really don’t want to buy a plastic bucket from Wal-Mart, or another 5 gallons of paint from Sherwin Williams. Or a five gallon pail of grease.

Transition at Wal-Mart – and elsewhere

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

First, the way Wal-Mart has been dropping product lines and raising food prices continues.

The Great Value store brand pudding cups I like – still gone. And there are other products that they have dropped since the last time I got it. It isn’t really drastic, and they move stuff around rather than leave blank shelves, but they are changing.

The Peak Oil premise claims that the end of cheap energy will make shipping food more expensive. And the increase in energy cost will also make food unavailable.

The crunch in credit availability means that businesses have to operate using cash instead of credit. This means that having very much product in inventory doesn’t make sense. Changes from volume buying practices will also increase pressure to raise prices.

The Ekco 1045659 Can and Bottle Opener – the “Miracle Turn”

Ekco makes a nifty can opener. It has been around for decades, works nicely. Chromed steel, it is moderately inexpensive, but doesn’t look sleek and sexy and big plastic handles or nifty “easy” motors. You spread the lever from the handle, slip it onto the lip of the can, squeeze the lever and begin turning the thumb dial. Cut the top of the can off, and voiler! an open tin can, just like Grandma did it.

It seems that the only major distributor still carrying Ekco products – is Ace Hardware stores. Wal-Mart, K-Mart, etc. have all dropped the very functional Ekco steel gizmos for plasic and nylon handled stuff with better markup. I keep mine in the drawer, so appearance doesn’t matter near as much as the fact it doesn’t bind up like the others, or take up as much room in the drawer. The one I use today I got at a flea market some 6 years ago or so.

So I thought I would plan on a replacement – eventually they start to rust, and .. stuff happens. Anyway, I looked at a couple of stores, didn’t find what I wanted. I Googled Ekco can openers. I found that World Kitchen distributes the Ekco can opener to Ace Hardware stores. And Brandt’s Hardware in Ponca City, OK, doesn’t carry the one I want. But they would special order me one .. er, three. Three is the minimum number the store could order. So I have three spares – ought to last me and my nephew for years.Ekco part number 1045659

The Ekco
This is the Miracle Roll model. The Miracle Turn is similar – except no handles. A tab latches onto the side of the can, and, with a minimum of operator skill, easily opens a tin can. It is smaller, easier to pack of you need to, and works well. But I wanted the 6 3/4″ long handled version.

The scary word – scarcity.

There are often ways to work around high prices during recession and inflation. But scarcity – too few products for the demand – that is really tough to get around. For necessities – scarcity will equal violence.

Can openers are a luxury. In need, you can bash a can with a rock or rod or another can until one splits – and you can try to catch the contents. Use a screwdriver to pierce and pry – that would work. A knife, that would dull the blade, but solve the immediate problem of getting into the can. Just beware – cleanliness counts. And dull knives cause more injuries than the sharpest knives – and the best knives are may break or shatter.

But what happens when the stores in town no longer have Ramen noodles – or boullion cubes? What when the last gas station open runs out?

When the tires that have gone to $100 and $150 each aren’t available for that 1991 Ford Escort Wagon? (down to a single tire line in this size, at Wal-Mart).

Truly green

High prices are an annoyance, compared to scarcity. Instead of hollering about making Hummer’s “green” – how about requiring a standard tire size, a “green” wheel for each car that takes a standard size of tire?

Why not focus now on adapting to a reduced set of standard maintenance items – so more people are likely to have access to the tires and windshield wipers and other needed replacement items?

Standard bicycle tires, too.

Metal forming without a forge – metal spinning

Monday, October 27th, 2008

Not all metal forming requires a forge or acetylene torch.

Some amazing projects can be done using metal spinning.  Today the equipment often starts with a wood lathe, a form. and a few tools.  The work piece spins at an appropriate speed for the tools and the dimension of the work piece.

The lathe has been around since long before the electric motor.  Non-electric power sources, I imagine, have included apprentices or helpers manually whirling a flywheel;, water-wheel power, windmill, steam, pedal-powered like a bicycle, a sharbening wheel, or a potters wheel.  Adapting to one or more of these power sources should keep the budding craftsman or artist in business.

If you don’t get sidetracked, throwing pottery crafts and art, or sharpening blades, or other rotating crafts, arts, and manufacturing processes.  Windmills in the US Midwest typically devolved to “used to pump water on Grandpa’s farm.”  Aeromotor, one of the premier makers of shallow water well pumping systems, is still in business, still  selling repair parts and new systems.

Google Books includes the classic lathe and metal spinning book, “Lathe Work for BeginnersBy Raymond Francis Yates, and “Turning LathesBy James Lukin.  Amazon.com carries  The Art of Metal Spinning: A Step-By-Step Guide to Hand-Spinning by Paul G. Wiley :

Written by a professional metal spinning artisan with twenty five years’ experience in the art, design and automobile aftermarket fields. This is the perfect workshop companion for anyone interested in learning this 3,000 year old craft.

Amazon.com also carries Sheet Metal Handbook: How to Form and Shape Sheet Metal for Competition, Custom and Restoration Use by Ron and Sue Fournier, and Turning Lathes: A Guide to Turning, Screw Cutting, Metal Spinning and Ornamental Turning by James Lukin.

The obvious application for metal spinning is making seamless bowls.  And caps for fence posts.  And shaped cups for  wind and water devices.  By combining shaped forms, metal spinning – then cutting shapes from an intermediate curved  surface, a wide variety of metal parts can be created.

Metal spinning.  Not an award for turning around and around and around in place.

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