Category Archives: Self-Sufficiency

Get Off The Grid

Garbage warrior-Michael Reynolds
Garbage warrior-Michael Reynolds

Off-the-grid living, typically in alternative communities means living independently of council amenities such as water, electricity and providing your own power. It’s about being more self-reliant, being less dependent on the system, and providing a less toxic food supply. Anyone is able to go off-the-grid using such things as solar panels, wind turbines and techniques in rainwater harvesting. Many third world countries encourage people to help each other go off-grid in their local regions. Making accessible the latest research in various alternate energy production. These techniques need not be expensive, difficult to manufacture or maintain. Nature is the best guide it operates simply and it wastes nothing.

Typical Earth-ship Bathroom
Typical Earth-ship Bathroom

Some 750,000 households in America have gone off-the-grid, and this trend is growing at 10-15% a year, this is not confined to one country however, various communities around the World have successfully become independent. Despite, interestingly enough, Power groups like the Bilderbergers and Trilateral Commission who vie to keep the old inefficient energy systems in place to protect their investments, but the numerous off-the-grid movements sprouting up all over the planet serve as an alternative to this kind of centralized power and control.

The term off-grid refers to not being connected to a grid, mainly used in terms of not being connected to the main or national transmission grid in electricity. In electricity off-grid can be stand-alone systems (SHS) or mini-grids typically to provide a smaller community with electricity. Off-grid electrification is an approach to access electricity used in countries and areas with little access to electricity, due to scattered or distant population. More and more these remote communities are turning to alternate energy means for their supply. This includes the local production of Bio-fuel, Solar power production, Mini-hydro-power and Wind power generation. An off-the-grid home may also incorporate a small animal farm,  vegetable garden, grey water, black water reclamation system and rain water harvesting.

Off-the-grid homes are autonomous; they do not rely on municipal water supply, sewer, natural gas, electrical power grid, or similar utility services. A

Rain Harvesting
Rain Harvesting

true off-grid house is able to operate completely independently of all traditional public utility services. The idea has been popularized and made accessible to the general public through the work and research of pioneers including Jean Pain who developed the technique of generating electricity through compost, Designer and Architect of the Earth-ship Michael Reynolds, Paul Gautschi of the Back to Eden Wood chip gardening method and survival experts Les Stroud and Cody Lundin who promote off-grid living by having constructed their own homes according to those principles and living off the land.

There are many different ways to generate energy, from simple passive solar power systems that utilize the natural path of the sun, to self perpetuating magnetic motors. Electrical power can be generated on-site with renewable energy sources such as solar, wind or geothermal; with a generator and adequate fuel reserves; or simply done without, as in Amish and Old Order Mennonite communities. Such a system is called a stand-alone power system.
On-site water sources can include a well, stream, or lake that can encompass a paddle wheel to generate electricity as well as distribute water for irrigation. Depending on the water source, this may include pumps and/or filtration. Rainwater can also be harvested with rainwater tanks, mesh screens that collect early morning dew, and natural filtration systems such as limestone.

Eco Ark Building in Taiwan is made of Recycled Plastic bottles
Eco Ark Building in Taiwan is made of Recycled Plastic bottles

Survivalism is a movement of individuals or groups called survivalists or Preppers who are actively preparing for emergencies as well as possible disruptions in social or political order, on scales ranging from local to international. Survivalists often have emergency medical and self-defense training, stockpile food and water, prepare for self-sufficiency, and build structures that will help them survive or “disappear” (e.g. a survival retreat or underground shelter). Survivalists, sometimes associated with militia groups generally distrust government authority and ‘gear-up’ in anticipation of both local and global catastrophe, some of these Anticipated disruptions include but are not restricted to the following:

Detail of Polli-Brick System
Detail of Polli-Brick System

Clusters of natural disasters, patterns of apocalyptic planetary crises, or Earth Changes (tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, blizzards, solar storms, severe thunderstorms). A disaster caused by the activities of humankind (chemical spills, release of radioactive materials, nuclear or conventional war, oppressive governments). The general collapse of society caused by the shortage or unavailability of resources such as electricity, fuel, food, or water. Financial disruption or economic collapse (caused by monetary manipulation, hyperinflation, deflation, or depression). A global pandemic. Widespread chaos or some other unexplained apocalyptic event.

Power Your Car with Woodchips

Typical Gasifier from circa WW2

During WWII when gasoline and diesel were rationed or otherwise unavailable, over one million vehicles in Europe ran on customised gasifiers that used fuel made from burning wood and charcoal?  It was the first affectual widespread alternative fuel conversion in History.

A biomass gasifier is a chemical reactor that converts wood, or other biomass into combustible fuels that can be burned for heating, cooking, or for running an internal combustion engine. This is achieved by partially burning the biomass in the reactor, and using the heat generated to thermally break down the rest of the material into volatile gasses. By passing them over a bed of hot charcoal an efficient reactor will also convert combustion by-products like CO2 and water vapor intoflammable CO and H2.

Gas Powered German Panzer

A typical wood gas generator converts timber or charcoal into wood gas, a synthesised gas consisting of atmospheric nitrogen, carbon monoxide, hydrogen, traces of methane, and other gases, which – after cooling and filtering – can then be used for generating power around the home or power an internal combustion engine. The gasifier converts wood-mass or pulp into flammable gasses with little ash and charcoal residue.

Wood gasification is one of the best solutions to power a home because it can provide both electricity and gas for heating, all from renewable wood.

Commercial Gasifier

Wood and other biomass is made of complex macro-molecules like Cellulose and Lignin that break down into hundreds or thousands of different smaller molecules via the reaction process. There are thousands of different complex chemical reactions going on inside the reactor. The air pipe enters the can tangentially and causes a cyclone effect in the top of the can which mixes the air and wood gas thoroughly. The result is the woodgas burns with a powerful roaring flame like a propane torch

Early Gasifier Powered Motor Cycle

Construction of these wood gasifiers vary according to its usage. Designs begin from simple charcoal & wood burners for heating water, middle of the range units for powering Car & Home, and large industrial units for Residential & Mass Production. One design features a 5 gallon batch fuel hopper that holds enough wood chips for over one hour operating time. A fan provides combustion air through five nozzles to produce a rich gas mixture sufficient for starting and powering a 3 to 12 horsepower engine. The hopper is loaded with wood chips and brought up to optimum temperature before the engine can start. The reactor vessel for this design is fairly easy to construct because it is made mostly from 4-inch pipe fittings that have been screwed together with a few simple welds.

Schematic of WW11 Imbert Gasifier by far the Most Reliable Design

Another design features a 12 volt DC alternator for charging solar batteries. A 2,000 watt inverter for intermittent 120 volt applications like powering drills, lights & other accessories can be added to this unit. For cooking and heating, the gasifier can be run by fan pressure which can produce 200-300 cubic feet of producer grade wood gas per hour. Propane burners can also be customised to run on wood gas, however it is advised that they be tested & tagged by an authorised technician.

A down-draft gasifier design generally produces the best quality gas as compared to petrol burners. Wood gas generators have a number of advantages over use of petroleum fuels:

  • They can be used to run internal-combustion engines using wood, in the absence of petroleum or natural gas during a fuel shortage.
  • They have a closed carbon cycle, contribute less to global warming, wood being both a natural & renewable resource.
  • They can be easily & quickly be knocked together in a crisis using readily available materials.
  • They are far cleaner burning than a wood fire or even a gasoline-powered engine producing little if any soot.
  • When used as a fixed or static unit as in a household, they meet necessary small combined heat and power requirements with heat recovery from the wood gas producer, and the engine/generator to heat water for hydronic heating, provided that a sufficient supply of wood is available.
  • Larger-scale installations can reap even better efficiencies, and are useful for district heating.
Residential Biomass Gasifier-Portugal

Except in the use of a gas holder water-displacement apparatus, long-term storage of wood-gas, is not a viable option, due to the volatile elements present in the gas, which, if allowed to build up could explode. Under no circumstances should wood-gas ever be compressed to more than 15 pounds per square inch (1.0 bar) above ambient, as this may induce condensation of volatiles, as well as lead to the likelihood of severe injury or death due to carbon monoxide or combustion if the vessel leaks or fails.

Let’s Make Biodiesel

You Will Need:

  • litre of new uncooked vegetable oil.

  • 200 ml of methanol, 99+% pure
  • lye catalyst, either potassium hydroxide (KOH) or sodium hydroxide (NaOH).  KOH is easier to use and it gives better results
  • blender or paint mixing kit.
  • scales accurate to 0.1 grams, preferably less — 0.01 grams is best
  • measuring beakers for methanol and oil
  • half-litre translucent white HDPE  container with bung and screw-on cap
  • 2 funnels to fit the HDPE container, one for methanol, the other for lye
  • 2-litre PET bottle (water or soft-drinks bottle) for settling
  • two 2-litre PET bottles for washing
  • duct tape
  • thermometer

Biodiesel is made from vegetable and animal oils and fats, or triglycerides, it can’t be made from any other kind of oil such as used engine oil. Chemically, triglycerides consist of three long-chain fatty acid molecules joined by a glycerine molecule. The biodiesel process uses a catalyst (lye) to break off the glycerine molecule and combine each of the three fatty-acid chains with a molecule of methanol, creating mono-alkyl esters, or Fatty Acid Methyl Esters (FAME) or what is more commonly known as biodiesel. The glycerine sinks to the bottom and is removed.  The process is called trans-esterification.

Beginners should start with small, 1-litre test batches. It’s important to use the best quality chemicals from a chemicals supplies store.  The initial costs may seem higher, but the final results will be more conclusive.  Once you’ve mastered the process then it’s time to find cheaper sources of chemicals for larger batches. The alcohol used can be either methanol, which makes methyl esters, or ethanol (ethyl esters). Methanol can be made from biomass, such as wood, but nearly all methanol is made from natural gas, which is a fossil fuel. methanol is an industrial process, there is no “backyard” method for producing it.

Producing biodiesel with ethanol is more difficult than making it with methanol.  Most ethanol is plant-based and you can make it yourself.  Ethanol or ethyl alcohol, grain alcohol — EtOH, C2H5OH is basically whisky, vodka, or gin. It’s also called methyl alcohol, wood alcohol, wood naphtha, wood spirits, methyl hydrate or “stove fuel”. carbinol, methylol, methyl hydroxide, hydroxymethane, monohydroxymethane, pyroxylic spirit, or MeOH (CH3OH or CH4O)  Methanol is not dangerous if you’re careful but must 99+% pure.

You can usually get methanol from bulk liquid fuels distributors. It’s also sold as a solvent by paint companies. Methanol is also sold in supermarkets as stove fuel for barbecues but not all “stove fuel” is methanol, it could also be “white gas”, which is gasoline. It must be pure methanol or it won’t work for making biodiesel. Methylated spirits or denatured ethanol doesn’t work either and neither does isopropanol.

The lye catalyst can be either potassium hydroxide (KOH) or sodium hydroxide (caustic soda, NaOH). Always keep lye containers sealed and airtight.  Both KOH and NaOH rapidly absorb moisture from the atmosphere (hygroscopic). Water makes them less effective catalysts.  Either KOH or NaOH can be used in the production of bio-diesel, whether it’s the basic single-stage base method, the two-stage base-base method, or the two-stage acid-base method.

NaOH is cheaper to use,but KOH is easier to use, and it does a better job — KOH is a better catalyst all-round than NaOH. KOH can also provide potash fertiliser as a by-product of the biodiesel process.  Experienced biodieselers making top-quality fuel use KOH, and so do the commercial producers.  With KOH, the process is the same as with NaOH, but you need to use 1.4 times as much (1.4025), and it comes in various concentrations.  You can get high-quality KOH and NaOH from soapmakers’ suppliers or from chemicals suppliers.  NaOH is used as a drain-cleaner and you can also get it from hardware stores. It has to be pure NaOH. Shake the container to check it hasn’t absorbed moisture and coagulated into a useless mass, and make sure to keep it airtight.

Don’t use Drano or ZEP drain-cleaners or equivalents with blue or purple granules or any-coloured granules, it’s only about half NaOH and it contains aluminium — it won’t work for biodiesel.  With used oil, titration with NaOH to check the acid content has become the de-facto comparative measure of different oils — whether they use NaOH or KOH in their processing, when describing oils most biodiesel brewers refer to however many millilitres of NaOH solution is needed to titrate the oil.

both NaOH and KOH or Lye  is extremely caustic. Don’t get it on your skin or in your eyes, don’t breathe any fumes, keep the whole process away from food, and right away from children. Lye reacts with aluminium, tin and zinc. Use HDPE High-Density Polyethylene, glass, enamel or stainless steel containers for methoxide

For beginners making their first test batches with new, unused oil, the best oils to use are rapeseed oil or canola oil, corn oil, soy oil, or sunflower oil.  Avoid peanut oil — biodiesel made from peanut oil can start to crystallise and gel at 60 deg F (15.5 deg C), and gives strange results in the quality-control checks, which are a crucial part of learning how to make biodiesel.  Palm oil, coconut oil, tallow and lard have high melting points: they start to gel and set at quite high temperatures. Biodiesel usually has a lower melting point or “cloud point” than the oil it’s made from.  Olive oil, peanut oil, palm oil, tallow, lard, can all contain more acids than the standard amount for refined edible oils (less than 0.1%), and extra acid interferes with the biodiesel process. For your first test batches you need oil with the standard acid content, so avoid these oils as well.  Build

Most commercial cooking oils contain additives, usually preservatives such as TBHQ (Tertiary Butyl Hydroquinone) or citric acid, and silicone (dimethylpolysiloxane), an anti-foaming agent. These additives are not a concern, they have no effect on the biodiesel process or the quality of the fuel. You need to be quick when measuring out the lye because it rapidly absorbs water from the atmosphere and water interferes with the biodiesel reaction.  Measure the lye out into a handy-sized lightweight plastic bag on the scales (or even do the whole thing entirely inside a big clear plastic bag), then close the lid of the container firmly and close the plastic bag, winding it up so there’s not much air in it with the lye and no more air can get in. Have exactly the same kind of bag on the other side of the scale to balance the weight, or adjust the scale for the weight of the bag. NaOH must be at least 97% pure, use exactly 3.5 grams.  With KOH it depends on the strength. If it’s 99% pure (rare) use exactly 4.9 grams (4.90875). If it’s 92% pure (more common) use 5.3 grams (5.33), with 90% pure use 5.5 grams (5.454), with 85% pure use 5.8 grams (5.775). Any strength of KOH from 85% or stronger will work.

1.2mgy Biodiesel Processor with Dewatering/Filtration System

Measure out 200 ml of methanol and pour it into the half-litre HDPE container via the funnel. Methanol also absorbs water from the atmosphere so do it quickly and replace the lid of the methanol container tightly. If you’re working at ordinary room temperature you won’t be exposed to dangerous fumes.  Carefully add the lye to the HDPE container via the second funnel. Replace the bung and screw on the cap tightly.  Shake the container a few times don’t swirl it round shake it up and down. The mixture will get hot from the reaction. If you swirl it thoroughly for a minute or so five or six times over a period of time the lye will completely dissolve in the methanol, forming sodium methoxide or potassium methoxide. As soon as the liquid is clear with no undissolved particles you can begin the process.  The more you swirl the container the faster the lye will dissolve. With NaOH it can take from overnight to a few hours to as little as half-an-hour with lots of swirling wait for ALL the lye to dissolve. Mixing KOH is much faster, it dissolves in the methanol more easily than NaOH and can be ready for use in 10 minutes, with five or six shakes it takes about half an hour.

Use a spare blender you don’t need or get a cheap second-hand one — cheap because it might not last very long, but it will get you going until you build something better.  Check that the blender seals are in good order. Make sure all parts of the blender are clean and dry and that the blender components are tightly fitted.

Pre-heat the oil to 55 deg C (130 deg F) and pour it into the blender.

With the blender still switched off, carefully pour the prepared methoxide from the HDPE container into the oil.

Secure the blender lid tightly and switch on. Lower speeds should be enough. Mix for 20-30 minutes, or longer.

Proceed with processing as above, maintain temperature at 55 deg C (130 deg F), process for one hour or longer.

As soon as the process is completed, pour the mixture from the blender or the mini-processor into the 2-litre PET bottle for settling and screw on the lid tightly. As the mixture cools it will contract and you might have to let some more air into the bottle later.

Allow to settle for 12-24 hours longer is better.

Darker-coloured glycerine by-product will collect in a distinct layer at the bottom of the bottle, with a clear line of separation from the paler liquid above, which is the biodiesel. The biodiesel varies somewhat in colour according to the oil used (and so does the by-product layer at the bottom) but usually it’s pale and yellowish (used-oil biodiesel can be darker and more amber). The biodiesel might be quite clear or it might still be cloudy, which is not a problem. It will clear eventually but there’s no need to wait.  After settling, carefully decant the top layer of biodiesel into a clean jar or PET bottle, taking care not to get any of the glycerine layer mixed up with the biodiesel. If you do, re-settle and try again.

Proceed to the wash test and the methanol test to check the quality of your biodiesel.  If your test sample “split” and the glycerine formed at the bottom, you have already succeeded in making biodiesel.  It often takes several attempts to pass the quality tests. For instance, different blenders and mini-processors have different shapes and different rates of agitation, and the processing time required for good process completion can vary accordingly. You might have to adjust it.  Follow the instructions exactly.

If the test sample passes the quality tests then wash the rest of the biodiesel. For washing use the two 2-litre PET bottles in succession, with half a litre of tap water added for each of the three or four washes required. Pierce a small 2mm hole in the bottom corner of each of the two bottles and cover the hole securely with duct tape.

Pour the biodiesel into one of the wash bottles. Add the half-litre of fresh water.  If you have a small enough paint stirrer and a variable-speed drill, cut the threaded lids off the wash bottles to accommodate the stirrer. Stir until oil and water are well mixed and appear homogenous. Settle for three hours or more. Then drain off the water from the bottom of the bottle by removing the duct tape from the hole. Block it again with yourfinger when it reaches the biodiesel. Transfer the biodiesel to the second wash bottle, add fresh water and wash again. Clean the first bottle and replace the duct tape. Repeat until finished.

If you don’t have a stirrer, don’t cut the lids off the wash bottles. Add the biodiesel and the water as above. Screw the cap on tightly. Turn the bottle on its side and roll it about with your hands until oil and water are well mixed and homogenous. Settle, drain as above, repeat until finished.  When it’s clear (not colourless but translucent) it’s dry and ready to use. It might clear quickly, or it might take a few days. If you’re in a hurry, heat it gently to 48 deg C (120 deg F) and allow to cool, this evaporates the remaining water, so let it ventilate.

Building a Wood Burning Stove from a Steel Drum

The beauty of steel barrel stoves are in their simplicity of design and their affordability.  Even though old rusted steel

Build This Upright Barrel Stove

drums should be avoided the 55 gallon drum can be obtained by anyone almost anywhere.  Attractive in a DIY novel innovative kind of way, variations on the theme are starting to creep into the domestic market.  Cast iron fittings such as the door and flu attachment can be purchased to embellish your stove and a second barrel added to increase heat exchange. There are many variations on these designs, the barrel can be upright and free-standing, attached to another barrel on its side or on top of each other, and these are all available in kits minus the 55 gallon drum.

To build your own the only tools needed are a drill, a reciprocal saw, tape measure, L-braces, black stove paint, simple hand tools and best of all only a basic level of skill.  You will need a sturdy 55-gallon steel barrel with both ends attached. With a hammer and screwdriver, cut out the end of the barrel that has the plug-in it. This will be the floor of the fire-box. The bottom end will be the cooking surface. After the end is removed, clean the inside of any chemical or other residue.

The stove-pipe opening should be on the cooking surface end of the barrel, near the back and close to the seam. Set a section of stovepipe on the top of the barrel about an inch from where the seam runs down the back.  Using the inside of the pipe as a guide trace a circle on the top of the barrel. Remove the pipe. Trace another circle inside the stove-pipe circle. The radius of the small circle should be about 3/4 inch less than that of the large circle. Drill a pilot hole in the small circle. Using a reciprocal saw, cut out the small circle and discard it. Next, mark and saw 1/2-inch wide tabs up to the large circle. With pliers bend these tabs up. The stovepipe will fit down over these tabs. Later you will bolt the pipe to the stove top with two “L” braces.

Cut two rectangular openings in the front of the barrel, opposite the seam. There should be two crimped rings running around the barrel, dividing it in thirds. The smaller rectangle (12″ x 8″) should be cut in the upper section. This will be the opening to the fire-box. The larger rectangle (14″ x 10″) should be cut in the lower section. Leave the bottom ring intact, it gives strength and stability to the barrel. This larger rectangle will be the door.  Save the small rectangle piece for making the draft. Do not flatten the rectangles because the curves fit well.

Sotz Barrel Stove

Use a pre-loved house door-hinge, the wear will allow for thermal expansion and contraction. Center the door over the opening, drill holes and hold the hinge to the barrel and the door. A single hinge should be sufficient enough to hold the door in place.  The door latch is made from two 3″ x 3″ “L” braces. One bolted to the barrel and the other to the door.    remove the end off one brace so it is a 3″ x 1″ brace. Then cut or file a notch about 1/4″ deep into the top of the one-inch end about 1/2″ from the bend. This notch will accept the brace bolted to the door and hold the door closed. Bend over the end of the other brace to make a  handle. Bolt both braces into place, ensuring the one on the door extends past the edge of the door enough to engage the notch in the one bolt in that brace. It might take some adjustment, but the latch can be made to hold the door snugly in place.

Building codes and homeowners’ insurance rules have changed, and federal laws governing wood stoves have been adopted. These stove designs may not comply with various federal and local regulations. It is advisable to check with appropriate officials before installing these stove in the home.

Barrel Drum Smoker

Barrel stoves tend to be much less efficient than a dedicated wood stove for using fuel. Since they are

often not airtight it definitely affects the quality of the burn. They are also hard to regulate as far as temperature goes. An improvement on the design can be in using a discarded electric water heater tank.  The walls are 3-4 times as thick as a 55 gallon drum making the fire-box easier to make airtight and if constructed properly be easy to load, and will have excellent fire and temperature control.  Lay the water tank on its side and add legs and the loading hopper box with a hinged lid  then weld in an exhaust stack or smoke boot.  Make sure all the parts fit snugly and the whole thing is airtight.   The most crucial part of all is the draft control.  If constructed well and doesn’t leak you have good and positive control of the stove’s blaze and temperature at all times.  When finished paint all its outside surfaces with Rustoleum Bar-B-Q black paint or high temperature engine paint.

The uses for these home-made stove ovens are as varied as their design.  Commercially available units come in all shapes & sizes however it is important to note that the life expectancy of a new barrel is around four years depending on how often it is used.  Older rusted barrels are not recommended, nor are barrels that have been used to store chemicals as these could prove to produce toxic fumes when heated.  it is recommended that the barrel be painted with a good quality stove paint to improve its radiating capacity and its longevity.

Build Your Own Crossbow

Medieval Design By Leonardo Da Vinci

“Fear is the Mind Killer” This basic precept was the chief inspiration behind Greek and Roman siege weapons.  Leonardo Da Vinci knew this when he created them for the ruling class of his day, as did the Chinese of the three Kingdoms whose comprehensive understanding of mechanics and animatronics was far beyond that of its time.

The benefits of the crossbow weapon as a tool for survival are unprecedented, and can be summed up in one word- invisible.  For the survivalist, Do-it-yourself-er or the urban guerrilla enthusiast it is the weapon of choice- why?  Because its simple design of construction means anyone can build it out of everyday materials without arousing  interest.  The procuring of timber or sheet metal for example, from a hardware store, does not raise the same level of awareness as the purchase of a truckload of fertiliser and diesel fuel.

Medieval Crossbow

Like the hammer, the basic design of the crossbow has not changed- why?  Because, like the hammer, the @#$%*!! thing still works.  The crossbow stock is made up of a center spine covered on each side by a strengthening flank. As a bolted-together unit, this flat-aluminum assembly serves as a combination barrel or chase in crossbow terminology, trigger housing, hand-grip, and shoulder extension.  The bow, or prod, is set into the nose of the fore-stock, and the two-piece trigger mechanism, cut from 1/4″ plate steel, is pinned between the right and left flank pieces just below the receiver. Walnut stock inserts were trimmed and shaped to mate with the stock on either side of the shoulder extension.  Since the string does contact the barrel and is thus subject to friction, we added a pair of shoulder slides to the sides of the chase to reduce string wear and increase bolt velocity. Though these could also be made of walnut, we used Delrin (a Du Pont acetal resin) because it possesses an inherent lubricity.  This crossbow’sopen sights consist simply of a front frame made of aluminum strap, and an alloy rear ring mounted to the receiver. Socket-head cap screws threaded into each of these brackets provide sighting beads, and the rear unit can be lowered or raised as necessary to zero the piece in at a specific range.

Chinese Repeating Crossbow from the Han Dynasty

A repeating crossbow is a type where the separate actions of stringing the bow, placing the bolt and shooting it can be accomplished with a simple one-handed movement while keeping the crossbow stationary. This allows a higher rate of fire than a normal crossbow. More complex ancient designs worked with a chain drive instead: there is a magazine containing a number of bolts on top of the bow, and the mechanism is worked by moving a rectangular lever forward and backward.

The Chinese repeating repeating Chinese crossbowis a device with a simple design. Also known as the lián nǔ meaning “continuous crossbow”, the invention is commonly attributed to the strategist Zhuge Liang (181-234 AD) of the Three Kingdoms period, but those found in Tomb 47 at Qinjiazui, Hubei Province have been dated to the 4th century BC.    Developed by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during WWII and tested, but never adopted, by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE). The Little Joe was a hand-held crossbowconstructed of aluminum with a rubber band propelling mechanism. The darts were constructed of wood with a steel broadhead. This crossbow pistol fired the dart at a velocity of 170 ft / sec., or 115.9 mph. Maximum range was said to be 250 yards, with excellent accuracy out to 50 yards. It was intended to be used for eliminating sentries and guard dogs with a minimum amount of noise. The only thing rarer than the darts are the experimental crossbowpistols, with only very few known to have survived.

Crossbow Pistol

For ease of construction, outline the crossbow’smajor parts and drilling point within a grid, this will allow you to make up-scaled templates for the metal pieces. Match the templates perfectly before taping them to the metal and scribing their outline and carefuly cut the aluminum stock, as the pieces must join closely, and ensure the center spine’s weak spot—the trigger guard—is no thinner than 7/32″.

Use a band saw equipped with a metal-cutting blade to trim the parts accurately. Because the smooth operation of the trigger and stringy catch depends in great measure upon the perfect alignment of the three stock component, hold off drilling the flank pieces until you’ve bored the 9/64″ post holes according to the center points indicated on the template. Once those sockets are complete, clamp the aluminum center spine to one of the flanks and recheck the alignment, using the template cutout from the trigger housing. Then drill corresponding holes in the one flank piece

The Modern Twinbow II By Swiss Crossbow Makers

With that done, use No. 6 X 3/4″ machine screws as temporary locating pins for the two bored components, and clamp the second flank piece in place. When you’re satisfied that all three parts are evenly mated, drill the final member. Since the post screws are recessed, you’ll need to countersink the exterior openings with larger bits according to the design of the screws and nuts you’ve chosen.

The steel trigger components have to be thinned by 1/64″ in order to allow them freedom of movement within the stock. Once this is done, those parts can be drilled where indicated with a 1/8″ bit, and the 1/8″ X 3/4″ expansion pin pivots can be pressed in and centered. The pivot pins ride in 9/64″ sockets drilled into the right and left flank pieces; to be on the safe side, you might want to use the trigger-housing template cutout to position those openings accurately.    Both the trigger and the safety catch are returned by small compression springs set into slots cut through the central spine.

Setting the bolt tang or the spring-steel leaf that holds the projectile snug against the barrel, adding the wooden (or Delrin) slides to the flanks, and cutting, shaping, and fastening the walnut inserts that dress the shoulder extension. These can be cut to shape using the template as a guide, then rounded with a sander and bolted or glued to the aluminum spine prior to being finished with varnish or tung oil.

The state of the art PSE-TAC-15- Tactical Military Crossbow

The front sight is a piece of 1/16″ X 5/8″ X 6-1/2″ strap aluminum bent into an open frame configuration so the bolt can pass through it. It’s fastened to the top of the forestock with two No. 6 X 1/4″ machine screws, and a short cap screw locked through its crown serves as a bead. Though we used a machined ring at the rear (to provide a housing for an experimental scope sight), you can make an excellent sighting post by simply drilling and tapping a hole at the top of the receiver to accept a 632 socket-head cap screw about 1-1/2″ in length. This can then be adjusted up or down for sighting.

You need to order a prod with a draw strength of 175 pounds but, if you choose a lighter bow to lengthen string life, you’ll need a cocking lever to pull it into position. You can make one by bending four sections of 1/8″ X 1″ flat metal to create a two-armed, bolt-together yoke that uses mechanical advantage to ease cocking (see illustration). A pair of slots in the stationary part of the lever hook into a 5/16″ X 3″ steel rod fitted into the crossbow’s forestock (this should be located as indicated on the template and pressed in place before you install the prod), and another set of slots cut into the short “jack arms” catch the string. The fulcrum’s just a movable collar that can be locked into the optimal position.

The prod is held in place by a 1/4″ X 1″ X 1-1/4″ block of aluminum faced with a strip of hard rubber. A similar pad, glued to the rear of the prod socket, provides additional cushioning, and the metal block is forced tightly against the bow’s face by a 1/4″ X 1-3/4″ cap screw threaded into a tapped hole at the nose of the stock.    Once the prod’s installed, you’ll have the pleasure of stringing it. Unless you’re extraordinarily muscular, we’d suggest you purchase what’s called a bastard string along with the regular Dacron cable. This set of strands is longer than the service string and thus can be slipped onto the prod more easily. It’s then used to draw the bow’s ears back to the cocked position so the real string can be looped in place. When that’s done, both strings can be released with the trigger and the bastard removed. This is the only situation in which the crossbow should be “dry fired,” since that practice can split the prod.

Wrist mounted, Laser Guided Crossbow

The trend toward Laser technology, miniaturization, mobility and concealment have not escaped the modernisation of the humble crossbow, as the wrist mounted, laser guided mini crossbow by Hobbyist Patrick Priebe attests.  The device’s housing, bow body and bolts are custom built out of aluminum. The bolt rest and trigger string guides are manufactured of Teflon, while steel cable make up the trigger and bow strings. Most of the rest of the parts were turned out of brass and steel, as were the bolt tips.
Although somewhat of a novelty the design in the hands of an experienced manufacturor could be re-engineered into a more serious and permanent piece of hardware, albeit highly dangerous & illegal.

Electricity Through Compost: The Jean Pain Method

Jean Pain Composting Method

Jean Pain with Compost Heap and Water Bearing Hose

Jean Pain was a French visionary who established a compost based bio-energy system that provided all his energy needs. For washing and heating he heated water to 60 degrees Celsius at a rate of 4 liters a minute. Through these experiments he concluded that a circular coil or series of concentric circular coils was the best design for extracting heat from a compost consistent with ease of constructing and deconstructing the pile. He also distilled enough methane to power an electricity generator, cooking elements, and run his truck. Come to be known as the Jean Pain Method this process of energy production through the composting of waste materials has been exported throughout the world.

The idea is to produce and store methane generated from the compost pile but in order to do so, the temperature must be kept fairly low. The micro-organisms in the compost generate a lot of heat trying to break down that matter and running water through the system will keep the temperature low enough for the methane-producers to be happy. The side effect of this cooling system is hot water coming out the other end. Put simply this system starts with a carefully constructed, large pile of biomass.  The biomass heats up as it goes through the composting process.  Pipes running through the pile pick up heat which can be used for domestic water heating and/or space heating.  Some schemes simultaneously collect bio-gas, which can be used for cooking fuel or even running a vehicle or generator.

Wheelie Bin Hot Water Heater

The devastation of the Mediterranean forest by fire was of chief concern to Pain. With the introduction of grazing animals and cereal cropping thousands of years ago a terminal course of de-humification of soils was set in motion. He experimented with the production of compost from brushwood thinnings around France’s parched southern forest. Pain demonstrated by progressive applications of this compost and mulching technique that high quality vegetables could be grown without irrigation in these dry soils. He further speculated that the forest itself could he regenerated by selective use of the same material.

Pain pointed the way to making productive the expanse of scrub and dry forest of the sub-temperate and sub-tropic regions, whose soils were exhausted by the ware and tare caused by the natural course of modernity. Motivated by a profound hindsight into the inevitable depletion of natural resources, he mobilised the production of industrial grade energy from a simple yet abundant earth resource.  Its main attraction is the promise of a carbon neutral way of generating useful amounts of heat over long periods of time.  Most importantly this energy production system provides an economical if unique alternative to the modern world’s dependence on fossil fuels.

Jean Pain Early Heat Exchanger

Simply the technology works because Compost heats up. Reaching 60°C (140°F), a heap of this volume would ferment for up to 18 months and provide through a plastic coil embedded in the pile heated water for domestic use throughout its production life. Pain heated his five room 100 m2 house and provided hot water for its occupants from a 50 ton pile for six months, and a 12 ton pile maintained that output for a full 18 months.     It takes some work to build one of the structured compost piles and set up the heat extraction plumbing, but then you may be able to get useful heating from

the pile for an entire heating season.  The efficiency is claimed to be of the same order as burning the biomass — maybe even a little better.  In many cases, the biomass can be material that would just be left to rot in place.   The mixture should be well watered as a dry mix will not work so well. It is in the harnessing of the heat given off in the core of the wheelie bin that makes the process work.

The Jean Pain Method implements two basic biochemistries: in the presence of oxygen, cellulose and lignins in woody material break down to humus; and suspended in water, anaerobically, and held at 36°C (97°F) the same woody material will support bacteria that produce methane gas. Interestingly, only slightly different to the process in the production of wood alcohol.

Methane—natural gas—is an industrial fuel. It can provide combustion energy for cooking and space heating, but it can also run motors. Convenience in transport and for vehicle use dictates compressing the gas, but this too is possible with methane-generated electricity and simple compressors.

Composting Toilets

Homemade composting toilets, include a compost bin underneath the toilet and do not involve transporting humanure to a separate composting area. They

Composting toilet

are less expensive than commercial composting toilets and they can be built to whatever size and capacity a household requires. They are usually permanent structures located under the house or basement, but they can also be free-standing outdoor structures. The walls are typically made of timber and roofing iron but they can be made from any building material. Unlike regular house-hold toilets these toilets require a bit of maintenance in the form of the regular addition of  sufficient carbon-based filler material, such as sawdust, peat moss, straw, hay or weeds. one benefit of these homemade composting toilets is most do not need water or electricity.  Composting toilets are available commercially, some use water and others require electricity and come in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges. They’re usually made of fiberglass or plastic and consist of a composting chamber underneath the toilet seat.

typical commercial sawdust toilet

Flush toilets create pollution and squander invaluable organic resources for soils and gardens. Composting toilets recycle waste and cultivate soil nutrients from human manure and urine. Flushing toilet systems, not only waste water, but squander financial resources by way of electricity bills and waste-water treatment costs. Flushing toilets also contribute to environmental problems inherent in waste disposal. Composting toilets on the other hand produce useable organic  material in the form of fertiliser, but need to be managed properly to ensure their hygienic and safe operation.

The homeowner must take responsibility for the overall management of the toilet. The degree of involvement will depend on the type of unit installed. In most cases, it may only involve adding some clean organic material such as peat moss, sawdust, rice husks or leaf mold to the toilet after each use. in place of flushing.   The job is simply to make sure sufficient cover materials are available and being used in the toilet.  They must also add bulking materials to the toilet contents when  needed, and make sure the toilet is not being used beyond its capacity, not becoming waterlogged, and not breeding flies.  Composting toilets husband an organic mass with a high level of microscopic biodiversity. The contents are alive, and must be watched over and managed to ensure greatest success.

Humanure contains the potential to harbor disease-causing pathogens. This potential is directly related to the health of the person producing the excrement. If the individual is healthy, the danger in the production and use of the compost will be very low, however if they are ill then the potential for contamination is very high.  Human pathogens thrive at temperatures similar to that of their hosts.  Safe compost temperatures must remain significantly above human body temperature  (370 C or 98.60 F) in order to begin eradicating disease-causing bacteria.  Most pathogens however only have a limited life-span outside the human body, and given enough time, will die even in low-temperature compost.

Thermophilic composting is the best method to render Humanure hygienically safe. The simplest collection method is to deposit the waste on an outdoor compost pile like any other compost material. Open-air, outdoor compost piles are easily managed and offer a cheap, odorless system for the thermophilic composting of humanure. This system though the simplest, still require the regular collection and  cartage of the organic material to the compost pile, making it relatively labor-intensive when compared to low-temperature, stationary, homemade and commercial composting toilets.

All About Aquaponics

Aquaponics is a combination of Aquaculture & Hydroponics. Water from a fish tank circulates through a grow bed delivering nutrients to plants grown there. Nitrifying bacteria convert fish wastes into plant-available nutrients.  The water in the fish-tank is filtered by the plants, giving the fish clean water to live in.  The process of Aquaponics is a natural interaction between plants and fish that neutralizes pollutants.  Both the plants and the fish contribute to the cycling process in a symbiotic relationship – the fish provide the nutrients for the plants and the plants filter the water so that the fish are able to live. Natural chemicals and the fish food are the only additives to the Aquaponics system.

Aquaponics systems vary in size from an indoor fish tank with either fish you can eat or look at that can be adapted to an aquarium that is already operating, or commercial systems for market distribution.  Some of the benefits of this system include: Reduced chemical and water usage. Aquaponics does not use any chemical fertilisers or artificial nutrients. In an indoor system such as a greenhouse it eliminates the use of pesticides. Erosion is also reduced by eliminating the need to plow soil and eliminate weeding for the home gardener. The system’s adaptability and minimal running costs compared to a conventional horticultural set-up, make this system affordable to everyone.

Aquaponics does not need chemical nutrients, as the fish waste provide these to the plants. This eliminates the pollution of waterways where these

Small-scale Domestic unit

chemicals are typically dumped.  Compared to conventional systems, Aquaponics does not collect contaminants in the system that cause water to become toxic due to the build up of nitrites. The plants consume this waste as their main nutrient source. The bacteria in the grow beds converts the nitrites into nitrates. Essential to the Aquaponics system, the beneficial bacteria are intrinsic to its grow-rate, without which the water would quickly become toxic to the fish, and plant nutrients would not be produced for the plants, while the fish would choke in their own wastes.

By converting ammonia into nitrites and then into nitrates, the bacteria convert fish waste into plant-available nutrients, , which becomes the main growing agent for the plants. The bacteria are aerobic, and proliferate in oxygen rich conditions. The system has turned anaerobic when there is not enough oxygen, and smells will develop. Bacteria builds up naturally when a system is setup. Testing of your Aquaponics water is essential to know how your system is performing, keeping records gives a good indication of how balanced the system is.

All fish require dissolved oxygen to survive. the amount of oxygen that the water can hold depends on the properties of the water, particularly temperature, with warmer water holding less oxygen. High oxygen depletion occurs shortly after feeding. Factors that will change the amount of dissolved oxygen in the system include the amount of fish that results in less oxygen, higher temperature will also result in oxygen reduction,  as will high concentrations of dissolved salts and use of air diffusers. Water will only absorb a certain amount of oxygen before it becomes saturated. Water temperature is critical for fish survival. A drop or rise in temperature too great can induce a state of shock, possibly causing fish deaths. Each species of fish has a different temperature range, and depending on your climate, heating or cooling of the water may be needed to maintain a suitable living environment. In cold locations, if water is not heated over winter the fish will enter a type of suspended animation, where they will not eat or swim too much, until water warms up again.

Large Scale Commercial System
Rotating Commercial Scale Set-up

The pH is a way of expressing the number of Hydrogen ions in water. Pure or distilled water has a pH of 7 which is classed as neutral. The pH scale ranges from 0 -14, anything below 7 is acidic, anything above 7 is alkaline. The optimum range pH is between 7 – 7.5, which is a compromise between optimal ranges for the fish, plants and bacteria.  Large differences occur between the hardness of rainwater that is slightly acidic and bore water which is more acidic, due to bore water traveling through the ground and dissolving compounds such as carbonates. The more dissolved material in the water, the harder the water is. Soft water has 0 – 55ppm, very hard water has 211 – 500 ppm. The hardness is used to show the total concentration of calcium and magnesium ions in the water, and is measured in parts per million (ppm) of calcium carbonate.

Both macro nutrients and micro nutrients are essential for the plants in an Aquaponics system. Most of these come from the fish waste, which has been produced from the ingredients of the fish food.  These nutrients improve flavor in fruit and vegetables and aid plants in the recovery of pest and disease problems.

Aeroponics: Step-by-step How To

Plants grown with an Aeroponics system grow faster, yield more, and are heartier than soil-grown plants. The system is suitable for any plant type and requires little space, making it ideal for growing plants indoors, in an apartment or Urban environment. No growing medium is used with an aeroponic growing system. Instead, the roots of the plants are suspended in a light-tight box, which is sprayed at regular intervals with a nutrient-rich solution.

Commercial domestic aeroponics unit

Home-made do-it-your-self  Aeroponic systems are gaining popularity among the self sufficiency community. They are reasonably cheap to construct and maintain, and provide a reliable product all year round. These systems vary in size and structure but the basic method of construction remains the same.  The system can be built as modules to compensate for an expanding enterprise, and issues of supply and demand, should the grower decide to move into the commercial market. You can create an aeroponic growing system using whatever materials you like and whatever size you want. The most popular system uses plastic storage bins and PVC pipes, the size and length are determined by the grower”s needs.

The pump pushes nutrient solution through that sprays the inside of the container with a fine mist of nutrient solution.  There is no growing medium in this method. The plant roots hang down into the container and grow mostly in air.  The pump used is a high-pressure pump, and the spray emitters are made especially to deliver a very fine, highly oxygenated spray.  Ph changes and nutrient imbalances occur more quickly because of the increased absorption rates and high levels of oxygenation. With no grow media to protect the roots, the negative effects on the plant is more immediate, but offers faster growth rates. Fill your reservoir with clean water at room temperature.  Adding a nutrient supplement such as B1 helps reduce stress and promote quicker and stronger root development.  Keep temperature as close to 72 degrees.

Any large, cheap, plastic container can be used for the nutrient reservoir.  A home made system would require a 75 ltr container capacity. A dark container will help keep light out and prevent algae growth like fungus gnats.  Flip it upside down. About two-thirds up from the bottom,  measure and drill a hole in each side of the storage bin.  Drill the hole a few millimeters smaller than the diameter of the PVC pipe that will fit through it.  the pipe will need to sit level in the container. Leave 2-3 inches on the overall length of PVC pipe, as you’ll need this later. The pipe should be long enough to fit through the storage bin, with some extending out each side. Cut the pipe in half and attach an end cap to each piece. Add 3-4 sprayer holes within each section of pipe. (These should be about 1/8″ for a ¾” pipe.) Carefully fit taps into each sprayer hole, and clean out any debris as you go.

When constructing any homemade aeroponics or hydro system you should always use PVC and not CPVC. CPVC can leach harmful chemicals into the nutrient bath.  To prevent this it is essential to use PVC cleaner on all the parts and the inside of the container before you apply PVC glue and join the parts.

Now take each section of pipe and gently slide them through the holes of the storage bin. Make sure the sprayer

Nutrient Delivery System

holes face up. Screw in your sprayers. Take the extra 2″ section of PVC pipe and glue this to the bottom of a tee fitting, which will connect the initial two sections of pipe. Add an adapter to the other end of the small pipe. This will be connected to a hose. Turn the container right side up and place the pump inside. Clamp one end of the hose to the pump and the other to the adapter. If you want to add an aquarium heater, add about eight (1 ½-inch) holes in the top of the storage bin.  Apply weather-seal tape along the outside rim. Fill the container with nutrient solution just below the sprayers. Secure the lid in place and insert netted pots into each hole. Add the plants to your

The completed unit

growing system.

In force flowering the gardener chooses a few branches that have begun to bud and are pruned to the desired length, generally 2-3 feet.  A slit is made in the end of the branch at least 3 to 4 inches long with a sharp knife and any excess branches are removed evenly so that the bush is balanced.

The branches are put in a unit and trimmed about an inch off the base of the stems. These are submersed under water. From this point on, the branches shouldn’t be exposed to air.  The temperature of the reservoir is regulated between 60 and 70 degrees F.  And fresh water added every few days.

Forced flowering Iris

When the buds begin to color move the container to a sunny spot indicating they’re beginning to bloom. The buds should bloom in a week to two months, depending on the type of bush. Lightly mist the branches daily and continue adding fresh water weekly. Trim the stems by an inch each time.  Another way to ‘force flower’ plants is to control the light..  changing from an 18 on 6 off cycle to a 12 on 12 0ff cycle will make many plants flower.