How to Make a Simple Paint Can Rocket Stove

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Update: Root Simple reader Ruben questions whether it is possible to build a true rocket stove out of metal. Ruben sent me to a Facebook post by Benjamin Rosen who says, speaking of another metal rocket stove, “Actually, you can say that this is not a rocket stove. A rocket stove gives great heat from a small amount of fuel because it burns very efficiently at high temperatures. This is achieved by having a ceramic lining in the combustion chamber that permits very high temperatures because it insulates the combustion chamber, and because it absorbs and returns the heat to the chamber by glowing white hot. A metal lining, as we see in this design, will shed heat to the environment and therefore cannot reach the high temperatures needed for a true rocket stove. Metal, in any case, would melt at the temperatures achieved in a true rocket stove combustion chamber.

Rocket stoves cook food with small pieces of wood efficiently and with much less smoke than conventional wood burning stoves. They also help prevent deforestation since you can burn small twigs trimmed off a tree rather than burning logs. Search the interwebs and you’ll find may different designs. But they are all based on burning wood in an “L” shaped tube to create a chimney effect. Insulating the tube increases efficiency.

A friend who lives in a remote part of Southeast Asia is visiting us this month and we wanted to come up with a design for a rocket stove that could be made from commonly available materials with nothing more than hand tools. Our goal was done rather than perfect. Here’s how we did it:

Continue reading…

How to Turn a Rotary Phone Into a Push-button Phone

IMG_6841Last month, AT&T forced us to switch to a voice over internet protocol (VOIP) phone service. When they did so my beloved Western Electric 500 rotary phone (that sits atop the cat scratcher I blogged about yesterday) could no longer dial outgoing calls. So much for backwards compatibility!

Thankfully, some Google searching led me to a device you can install in your rotary phone to turn it into a hybrid rotary/push-button phone. Old Phone Work’s rotary pulse to tone converter not only made the phone dial again but also added last number redial and stored numbers.

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You need to be somewhat of a phone geek to install this gadget. It took me about an hour to sort out the wiring with directions specifically for WE500s that I downloaded from the Old Phone Works website. Thankfully, many vintage phones, such as ours, have labeled connections and are easy to rewire. The Old Phone Works pulse-to-tone converter, pictured above, fits completely within our old phone. The phone dials just as it used to, but at the end of each turn of the dial a pulse is emitted. The pulse-to-dial converter I bought won’t work on a conventional phone line (non-VOIP) as the voltages are too high. For non-VOIP service Old Phone Works has this pulse to tone converter.

The reasons we still have a land line–as well as why we haven’t switched to cable service–are complicated and will have to wait for a future blog post. But right now I’m enjoying the novelty of navigating phone trees with a dial phone. It’s one of the more ridiculous projects around the compound, but I like that a 50 year old phone, built like a tank, is still working.

What is green water?

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Rhubarb roots, as reproduced in Root Demystified. One square equals one foot.

This is a new vocabulary word for me:

You’ve heard of grey water and black water–but what is green water?

Well, if you’re a sailor, it’s a term for the water swamping the deck during a storm. That’s not what I’m talking about here. Amongst sailors of the soil (i.e. gardeners), green water is the water supply held around the roots of the plants. Water from rain or irrigation which does not run off the surface of the soil, nor run down through the soil to ground water, but which stays with the plant for its use.

Green water is a plant’s envelope of life. It’s also a space of water storage which we don’t often consider. We’ll invest in a rain barrel, but we will forget the massive storage tank which nature has placed under our feet.

If we have healthy soil in our yards, our plants have a baseline supply of water. It’s held in the space between the soil particles and in the bodies of the microscopic creatures which live in healthy soil. How much water? I don’t know, but the real answer is, enough. Plants acclimated to your local climate (natives or similar), living in spongy, healthy soil don’t need supplemental irrigation. Not even in the summer. (Drip line doesn’t occur spontaneously in the wild, after all.) Conversely, in times of heavy rainfall, healthy, spongy soils also resist flooding, swamping and rotting.

By focusing on healthy soils, and allowing rain water to percolate into the soil, we empower the plants to take care of themselves. That’s better for them, and less work for us!

It’s easy to have healthy soils and deep green water reservoirs. We just have to take some commonsense steps to allow life to develop in the soil:

  • We stop adding fertilizers to our yards, even organic ones. They actually collapse the soil structure and make the plants into fertilizer junkies. Mulch, compost and worm castings are all a yard needs.
  • We design our yards so they capture and hold rain water rather than ejecting it straight to the street.
  • We leave the leaves. We keep our clippings and fallen leaves on our land, and let them return to the soil. Mulch is is vital to living soil, while bare soil is dead soil.
  • We make our yards lush. Soil life occurs around the root zones of plants, so more plants means better soil.
  • We plant trees, which the founder of TreePeople, Andy Lipkis, calls “living cisterns.”

Greywater Action Installer Course

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How about turning our historic drought into a job opportunity? That’s what you could do if you sign up for Greywater Action’s six day installer course coming up in November:

This course is designed for people with either basic plumbing, landscaping, or permaculture skills who want to learn how to design and build simple, economical residential greywater systems.

You will learn about the theory behind simple and high-end systems including the indoor use of greywater. We’ll cover basic plumbing and landscaping skills needed for the four types of common simple greywater systems. You will learn how to conduct a site assessment, determine which system to install and how to maintain existing systems. Additionally you’ll learn about what plants do best with greywater and the do’s and don’t of residential greywater reuse. By the end of the course you will know about proper installation of code compliant washing machine, and simple systems under the CA state code.

For more information and to sign up head here.

The best dry toilet ever

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We are fortunate to have talented friends all around us, because they are a never-ending source of inspiration.

Case in point: Our friend, Gloria, needed a toilet for her off-grid compound. She asked our mutual friend, Daniel, to make her one. Daniel is a gifted maker– all his creations seem to have an inherent grace about them. Using the classic text, The Humanure Handbook, as a resource, he built her the most beautiful dry toilet system I’ve ever seen.

See more pics of this system and read Daniel’s story on his book-as-a-blog, The Cabin Dweller’s Texbook.

Also, we interviewed Daniel earlier this year for Root Simple Podcast #044.