you’re only human, it’s all right to make mistakes
If you do most things for yourself, eschewing messy decorators, useless contractors, and rip-off garages, then every now and again you are bound to commit one of the classic howlers. Mistakes you could kick yourself for. Really stupid mess-ups that leave you thinking; ‘how the hell do I get out of this one…..?’
I might admit to being guilty of some or all of these;
- Painting yourself into a corner. You can either walk on it or wait until it dries.
- Touching a spark-plug lead while the engine is running. If you’re healthy you’ll just get a terrific jolt, if you have a heart pacemaker you might get dead.
- Opening the radiator cap on a hot engine. Getting scalded hurts.
- Over-tightening a nut so the bolt / stud snaps. That is likely to be expensive to repair, unless you know how.
- Sawing off the branch you’re sitting on. The fall hurts.
- Sawing off the branch your ladder is leaning against. The fall hurts.
- Taking off the bathroom door handle and closing the door while you’re inside, with no way to open the door to get out.
- Putting up a picture / shelf by hammering a nail / drilling into the wall, and going right through a water pipe. Flooding is expensive to repair, so is the big hole you’re going to have in the wall.
- Ditto an electrical cable or gas pipe.
- Not learning how to use a spirit level and putting up a shelf.
Today I was guilty of #7. Just as well I took lessons from a master locksmith.
Some say that we learn by our mistakes. And that necessity is the mother of invention. All I know is that I can now build, decorate, install, make, repair….. just about anything ~ and I have the scars to prove it.
I didn’t build that,
but I could
growing your own food is like printing your own money
Some say they can’t grow their own vegetables because they just don’t have the space. And that all that bending and kneeling isn’t good for them. All I know is that if you get yourself a planter, or three, you can keep yourself in organic vegetables for 8 months out of every year.
Buying a planter can be quite expensive, but if you’re handy at all you can build your own. And if you’re no good at DIY, then find a man who can. (I made that planter above)
And if your space is really very limited, then just add some ingenuity.
Growing your own fruits and vegetables seems daunting to many people, but it’s actually very easy. All you need is a few square feet of good dirt, water, and a little time. Among the benefits you’ll see are;
- improving your health (and your family’s)
- saving money on groceries (your planter should last decades)
- enjoy better tasting food
- know exactly what you’re eating and where it came from
- stop worry about food safety
- have a sense of achievement
- get some outdoor exercise
- reduce your impact on the environment and food waste
try it, and I guarantee you will like growing your own
learning is not compulsory, neither is survival
learn woodworking and gardening
There was a time when most men could turn their hand to just about anything; from growing their own vegetables to completing their tax returns, from plumbing to motor maintenance. Yet I know some young guys who are so impractical they can’t even put up a shelf. I once met a guy who didn’t know how to open the bonnet, (hood), on his car ~ let alone check the oil. Hell, I once met a blonde girl who couldn’t open her fuel filler cap.
But we are not talking about girls here, we are talking about real urban survival skills for real men. What does a guy need to be able to do to survive and thrive? Leave out the whole surviving alone in the deep woods thing, (with a camera crew, doctor, and evac helicopter on standby). Let’s concentrate instead on what a cool guy living a great life should be able to do, and most can’t even make a decent attempt at. In no particular order;
- cooking ~ from making an omelette to an impressive signature dish. including doing the shopping and cleaning afterwards.
- DIY ~ how to you loosen a bolt?
- finance ~ budgeting, balancing your income and expenditure, completing official paperwork, negotiating a loan.
- first aid and CPR ~ from the Heimlich Maneuver, to using a tourniquet.
- health and fitness ~ fresh air, diet, food supplements, exercise.
- motor maintenance ~ from checking the tyres, lights, and fluids to doing a complete exhaust rebuild, to building an entire damn car.
- navigate from A to B without sat-nav ~ can you find north, use a compass, read a map, know how far a mile is?
- read, write, and do arithmetic ~ do you read interesting and challenging books? can you write a letter in cursive script? Can you make change, approximate pi, and work out a right-angle?
- safety and security ~ is your home safe and secure and can you walk the streets at night?
- disaster recovery ~ what will you do if there’s an earthquake, or a wild-fire, or flood, or your home just suddenly becomes uninhabitable?
For once, I haven’t given you lots of links, because a man should be able to find appropriate stuff on the internet, and not just be able to find his own particular taste in porn. So whatever you can’t do, start learning…..
There are a lot more things that a true Renaissance Man is capable of, from building and sailing a boat, to building a car, to building his own home from scratch. In extremis a real man knows how to survive natural and man-made disasters. There is even a list of 100 skills every man should know, (but no Englishman needs to know how to throw a good spiral). And, a real man understands the art of attracting women and keeping her happy once he has won her.
Some say they don’t need to do anything because they can always hire someone else to do it. And that guys don’t cook, clean, or do the laundry, real guys just have fun. All I know is that I can’t bake a cake.
learn car mechanics
There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments. ~ Janet K. Phillips
For me, building a patio planter, or raised bed, out of any materials you like, is a fairly straightforward project. However, I know that isn’t so for everyone.
Therefore, in a spirit of helpfulness, here are a trio of videos showing how to make a few examples of planters you could use a prototypes for whatever you would like in your yard. As you can see, it’s a pretty straightforward project.
this easy wall planter
is one of my favourite ideas
You need time, effort, and creativity to build anything worthwhile.
I intend to build a tiny teardrop trailer sometime this summer. These tiny camping trailers are built on a commercially built trailer frame, on top of which a plywood structure is mounted.
I could build this from scratch, just using half-inch sheets of 8′ X 4′ plywood I cut to shape for myself, or I could buy a kit ~ and I think I’m going to buy a kit.
Some of the available kits include:
Make: features 11 Teardrop Trailer Builds on its blog.
Including this, which I really like because of its squared-off shape, which will give more usable space than a ‘classic’ teardrop shape.
This is totally home built from scratch on a commercially bought steel trailer frame.
This teardrop camper kit is from Fyne Boat Kits, and I really like its sculptural, upturned, boat-shaped design.
So-Cal Teardrops has a range of kits, including this off-roader.
And, Little Guy Trailers has this 5 foot wide teardrop kit.
Or, I could also build just from plans, like the Wyoming Woody.
You don’t need more space, you need less stuff.
Back when I owned a trailer park, shipping containers often made instant buildings which could serve a myriad of purposes for me, from simple storage units, through a workshop, to a pretty nice office.
(not my office, a home made from shipping containers)
What I have never yet attempted is to use a shipping container to make a tiny home, or more likely, use several shipping containers linked together to make a decent-sized home. The place to start is to learn something about shipping containers, and then buy the right units.
Shipping containers are usually strong steel boxes with doors at one end, but they actually come in lots of versions. The standard width is 8′ (eight feet), the standard height is 8’6″ (eight foot six inches), and the two standard lengths are 20′ (twenty foot), and 40′ (forty foot). There are a whole raft of non-standard lengths starting at 5′, but a 10′ container is the more common of the non-standard lengths. The internal floor areas work out at 150 sq ft for a 20′ container and 305 sq ft for a 40′ container.
Given that most people regard 1000 sq ft as a decent size for a home, (plus a garage), then we are talking of at least a couple of containers to make anything that approximates a ‘normal-sized’ house. Container architecture is a discipline all of its own.
You obviously need a plot, the appropriate permissions from whatever building authority is responsible for all the regulatory stuff, and you may / or may not need to lay a concrete slab on which to stand the container(s) you’re going to turn into a home. (Whether or not you need to lay a concrete pad depends on the ground, and how long you expect the container home to stand there.)
It’s no good just buying a plot, plonking a used shipping container there and expecting to live in it. Shipping containers are steel boxes, and that means they are damn hot inside in summer, and bloody freezing inside in winter. To make a home you will have to line out the inside, and perhaps even clad the outside. Even if you just buy one 40′ container and are going to be happy living in 305 sq ft, you will still need to do a hell of a lot of work to make your steel box habitable.
One of the first things you need to learn is how to cut steel plate. Your box needs more than a big door at one end, you need windows, (at least), and maybe another door, and perhaps holes so you can link one container to another to make a bigger home. Luckily, shipping containers are mostly made of steel that’s only between 1.5mm and 2mm thick, so it’s easy to cut. Realistically there are 3 ways to cut steel on site, (using an ordinary hacksaw will take you aeons and you’ll hurt your wrist and hands).
- Oxy-acetylene cutting torch. These things are dangerous, and unless you’ve done this kind of cutting before, you would be best getting instruction before attempting to use an oxygen / acetylene torch. However, a cutting torch is fast and it’s easy to cut complex shapes. If you want circular cut-outs for round windows / portholes in your tiny container home, then oxy-acetylene could be for you.
- Electric jigsaw. The sides of steel shipping containers are pretty easy to cut, so an ordinary electric jigsaw will chop out your doors and windows. And, you can cut curves in steel with an electric jigsaw. This is possibly the best choice for the averagely skilled person.
- Stihl cut-off saw. STIHL is a trademark, but what we are talking about here is a big power saw of some description. Cutting lots of big holes in your containers, on site, you may well want something like a petrol powered Stihl saw, (and make certain you have the right disk for steel).
The benefits of using steel shipping containers to make a tiny home, (or something bigger), is that it’s pretty fast and inexpensive to get a weatherproof structure on site, they’re strong and durable, and you can put them down just about anywhere. A shipping container is probably the start of the ultimate off-the-grid home.
I can and have lived off-the-grid in a log cabin I built myself, (from a kit), but I would strongly caution anyone thinking of doing this concerning water. You will need a constant supply of potable water, either from the mains or from your own well / borehole. The average American uses between 80 to 100 gallons of water every day of the year. It’s possible to finesse around all the other services; sewage, electricity, gas, heating, telephone and internet, but shipping water in a small bowser on a regular basis is an absolute non-starter.
Once you have a weatherproof structure with the doors and windows installed, and you’ve made a start on connecting your services, then you can start on the really fun stuff, which is fitting out the interior to suit your tastes. The only limit to your imagination is the dimensions of whatever containers you have bought.
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Really successful engineering is all about understanding how something will break or fail.
For some strange reason I am blessed with the ability to fix almost anything, install almost anything, make almost anything, and build almost anything.
I built myself a Caterham / Lotus 7 sports-racing car, which I then drove all over Europe on long road trips. The trip I enjoyed most in this little car was driving down the entire Loire Valley in France. (Or maybe it was the Stelvio Pass.)
Minor pieces of carpentry are child’s play for me ~ which is why I could rip out the old kitchen in my garret and replace it with something that I liked and suited my needs.
(With help from my friend Marmaduke of course.)
I’ve also erected log cabins and built vacation homes from plywood. (This is a stock picture, not one of mine)
Sometimes, half way through a project, I’ve wondered why I started, and if the thing would ever be finished. The picture above shows this kind of ‘why am I doing this’ project. Although, this wreck of an Austin-Healey Sprite turned into a really beautiful little car, finished in British Racing Green as a frog-eye. (the almost completed little car, I like that I did the white stripes)
For my next project I’m thinking about finding an old school bus, rebuilding it as an RV, (Recreational Vehicle), and then spending an entire year in the thing, touring as much of the USA as I can, on the longest road trip ever.
Something you need, if you want to tackle advanced DIY projects, is a really, really comprehensive tool kit. And, take my advice, always buy the very best tools you can afford. (You may need a hard hat.)
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some power tools are a must have
click on the power tools picture
The Hydraulic Ram may not always be what some people think it is. A hydraulic ram is a free / low-cost method of pumping water from where it is to where you want it. The hydraulic ram is a pump that uses flowing water / water under pressure / a head of water as its energy source. This thing is sometimes also called a hydraulic ram pump.
A hydraulic ram can be made to work with the moving water in a stream / tidal flows / wave pressure, just as well as with any other moving water, or as in the diagram a head of water. The hydraulic ram uses water pressure to pump water.
The major uses for a hydraulic ram pump are to irrigate gardens or to pump fresh / potable water to your green home. One could buy a hydraulic ram off the shelf, or you build your own using some basic components and a lot of engineering ingenuity. Personally, I wouldn’t use plastic components except for the delivery and output pipes.
The hydraulic ram pump has a number of benefits;
- no electrical works
- no need for a petrol / gas / diesel engine
- low noise
One can build a ram pump which uses a different water source for power than the water being pumped. So we can use the sea to power a pump which is delivering fresh water from a spring. However, in this case a better alternative may be a turbine or waterwheel powered pump.