Tuesday, December 09, 2014


On October 3, 2014 Auerhaus sold to a local couple.  It was a great journey and a rare privilege to have been able to realize building one's own house.  It was a great challenge, but others lie ahead.

Signing off

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Water Works

Just an update to report that after five years I decided to clean out my two 1350-gallon main tanks. I didn't know what I'd find. In fact they were clean as a whistle. No biofilm on the walls; not even any crud on the floor of the tank. Recall that I do use a 5-micron filter on the water that goes in, but still.

I pressure washed them with a mild bleach solution and I'm good to go for another five.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Water System Woes

I returned home the other day to find that both my hot water heater and my pressure boosting pump had failed. I still had flowing water thanks to my gravity feed system, but it is low flow, low pressure. It also meant I was back showering from a bag with water heated on the stove. 2.5 gallons of bathing pleaure. Just like the good old days in the double-wide during construction.

As a reminder of the need for redundancy, I've now permanently
mounted a pad-eye in the ceiling for any future failure. Be prepared,
the boy scouts say.

Both failing after 4 years was unexpected. More so the hot water heater, a Seaward 20-gallon model that had always dripped from what I assumed was the pressure relief valve. But an autopsy on the unit showed a failed weld in the tank. Perhaps this is why West Marine, a well known boating retailer, stopped carrying them.

The good news is my "controlled leak" system worked perfectly and there was no damage done.

Unable to find a replacement 20-gallon tank in a pinch, I decided to test the limits and try an 11-gallon model from Kuuma. So far so good, but I'm not sure back-to-back showers are possible, but the recovery time is very short.

The pump was not so much of a surprise, but unlike the water heater, it had increased in price about 50% to near $400. I'm not sure why it didn't occur to me earlier, but I still had the Shurflo 120V RV pump (only $110) that I'd used to cobble together a water system in the trailer. I'd already ordered a replacement Grunfos MQ, but I decided to plumb-in the Shurflo as a backup.

New configuration.

The Shurflo, inspite of its diminutive size, performs nearly as well as the Grundfos and has the added advantage of being lower power and thus probably could run off the batteries in a power outage.

I made up a sign describing the now 3 modes of operation and the correct
valve position for each: Normal (Grundfos), backup (Shurflo), gravity.

This new arrangement also enabled me to install a drain valve at the bottom of the system. Being before the UV light, it's not technically potoble, thus the sign.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Doors

The closet in the bedroom has been standing open for more than a year awaiting doors to cover it up. It was supposed to be a winter project, but other projects always seemed to jump to the head of the queue. I had, however, decided on the wood (alder) and purchased the material last year. Still I procrastinated. First the bearings in my table saw needed to be replaced. Then the bearings in my compound miter saw. Then I needed a stand for my planer. Finally I ran out of excuses and here they are. Well half of them anyway.

Frames being glued up.

Linseed oiled dooor frames and inset panels dry

Closet doors installed. Drawer faces and one more set of doors to go.

Case closed.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Sows Ear Into a Pork Belly

The planer has been a very valuable tool, but it is noisy, needs a lot of space in use and spits out copious amounts of chips and dust. I prefer to use it outside, but it is heavy. I estimated about 60 pounds. Moving it in and out is a chore. I'd imagined putting it on a dolly, but it would require one with substantial, "off road" type wheels to roll out on the gravel under the deck. Fortunately, casters with pneumatic wheels are available. I got this excellent set from Access Castors Inc. These are really beefy, with 3 grease fittings per caster. I ordered them all swivel and locking to afford maximum flexibility. I needed it. The completed stand just threads the needle going through the basement door.

Next I needed a stand. I found this $79, metal table; the Web was full of reviews stating the same thing was available from Western Tool for $29. I bought one. While determining if it would hold the weight, the sales guy looked up my planer. "97 pounds," he announces.
"I could hardly lift it when I thought it was 60 pounds. I'll never be able to lift it now," I reply.

I knew from the postings that the faux wood, particle board top, attached with a few wood screws wasn't going to cut it. I fashioned a top out of 1-1/2" fir t&g flooring, using 8 carriage bolts to secure it.

I just happened to have a bunch of short hex socket head bolts and nylock nuts, so I used those to bolt the frame together.

The whole thing is secured to the base with bolts using the existing threaded feet sockets in the table legs.

Completed I've turned a $27 stand into a $125 monument to planing.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Jeep: The Vehicle is the Journey

Currently, if you want to burn biodiesel and you want 4-wheel drive, you only have two choices: a full-size pickup truck or a Jeep. I sold the Ford F-250 in 2007 and bought a 2005 Jeep Liberty CRD (Common Rail Diesel). Diesels are known for their relatively high mileage, high torque, longevity and clatter. The famous diesel engines are Cummins, Cat, Detroit, Mercedes, etc. This CRD model, built only in 2005, 2006 has an Italian engine from VM Motori. I would say that the motor is pretty good, but Jeep's interfaces to it are problematic.

I don't say this for my case alone. I don't just have a lemon, a one-off, poorly built example of an otherwise fine product. No, I have a product where the quality was designed out. I know because the online forums are full of complaints, fixes and workarounds. Living in the country, I need a reliable vehicle; I didn't reaalize I'd have to build it myself. Here are the 3 big fixes:

The crankcase ventilation system (CCV) spews oil and sludge back into the engine, instead of just gasses, eventually fouling important components. After learning how to fix this,
I did my own write-up here.

Although wired for one, the CRD does not have a "lift pump" installed in the tank. The system relies on suction alone to get fuel to the injection system. This invariable leads to air in the system requiring frequent bleeds. My write-up on that fix here.

But worse, the fuel heater is at the high point of the fuel system. Air collects there and the heater, designed to be cooled by a bath of fuel, overheats and leaks. I was awaiting my lift pump when I inspected my heater and found fuel leaking from the electrical socket. This necessitated an emergency fuel head replacement with a RACOR unit. The fix for that here.

Because another work-around causes the check engine light to come on
I have now installed an engine diagnostic scanner on the dashboard.

A few months or so after completing all these fixes I was driving home late one night when the Jeep starts to buck and falter. A visual inspection and the scanner show nothing. But, it's so concerning that I stay overnight in Vernonia and have the car towed to the dealer the next morning rather than risk driving home.

The tow truck drivers rig is right out of Madd Max. Inteior panels are missing, bare wires stick out of the dash, and the cab is littered with all manner of detritus. But, the driver has a glowing blue, wireless headseat in his ear, GPS and satellite radio.

This failure would have been the last straw, but the dealer could find no trouble and in the end we concluded that it was a bad quarter tank of fuel I'd topped off with that evening.

Since then the Jeep runs like a top.

Lamp Project

This was a fun project to knock out in a few days. The lamp head was found on the property and in very poor shape having been on the ground outside for who knows how long. I was really attracted to the shape, the cast parts and the spun aluminum shade. This winter I got an urge to clean it up and so I set about polishing the aluminum shade.

Next I painted the cast housing black. I cleaned and repaired all the interior parts, including fabricating a clear, Lexan disk to keep one from being able to put one's fingers right up into the socket.

I used 1-1/4" EMT tubing to make the stand, wiring a small toggle switch in on the vertical. The base is fabricated from two pieces of 3/4" ply. In keeping with its industrial look, heavy guage SO electrical cable is used.

The bulb had to be very short so as not to hang below the shade. I ended up with a compact 40W spot which casts an intense, narrow, warm beam. Good for reading

Wood Organizer

Managing fuel for a wood stove is challenging from an organizing point of view. I used to have a big box of wood, a small box of kindling and a box of newspapers scattered about on the floor. It looked unsightly and it took up a lot of space. Thus the firewood organizer idea was born.

As with most of my projects, it is made of as much old wood as possible. In this case centered around the box shown at bottom. It was found on the property and I'd left it outdoors for the past 2 or 3 years. I refurbished it, adding a new bottom, rope handles, and skirting. It holds the newspapers.

The center unit is built from old cedar and uses only pegs to hold it together; no screws or nails. It is designed to load wood in the top, but be able to pull wood out from the front once it is in the organizer. It can be loaded into the organizer from front or back.

The drawer holds the kindling and matches.

The idea was to span the necessary gap to the stove with a slate countertop. But to line them up, I'd finally have to replace the bricks the stove had been sitting on since day one with adjustable feet.

I was delighted when these arrived because, it is so rare it seems to find products that are well made and a good value. These feet from instawares.com and made by FMP were just the ticket. The mounting plates, not meant for exactly this purpose, were procured from Lee Valley tool. It took about an hour per foot as I did it in place and had to hand file a small notch for the center bolt to clear. A Dremmel tool might have come in handy.

The finished piece in place, stove leveled and connected with a slab of remnant granite (Couldn't get slate).

Another view. There still remains the issue of what to do with the back. The original plan calls for a bar there.

Below is a simulation of what a bar would look like with perforated metal panels. The panel at left would slide open to allow loading of wood.

Pimp My Deere II

Well I just can't stop. I had this old, gray toolbox of Roxy's. While I mounted a toolbox on the left fender, there just wasn't room for some larger items. Here it is painted green and mounted on the right.

I didn't have a good place to put the length of rusty, old chain that every farmer uses to drag stumps, pull things over and move dead animals. The strength of the chain is never known, but it is assumed to be strong enough for any task. It's also awkward and dangerous. I used to keep it in the footwell, but it would snake down and threaten to get caught in the undercarriage. This $5 crab-bait holder (lid removed) is near perfect.

There are many, many grease fittings on a tractor, but no good place to put a messy grease gun. After a long search I found "Grip Fist" from End of the Road. They are beefy, industrial strength and completely overkill for this task; in short, perfect.

Finally, and I do mean finally, I knew I'd gone too far when I mounted these puppies on each side of the ROPS. I had looked high and low for a pair of small metal boxes to mount under the head lamps and above the footrests (behind one's leg when seated). I had given up and thought Rubbermaid must make something in plastic. But when I googled them lo-and-behold I found a near perfect match in stainless steel. What was it? A sanitary napkin disposal bin from their institutional line of products. In the end I went with a competing brand that was slightly smaller. Even so, it didn't fit where I originally intended, and the easiest and almost last space available was on the ROPS where they sit like nacelles; completely ridiculous, of little storage value and evidence that this Deere is pimped-out.

The End.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Heat is Off

Sunday, December 28, 2008 finds me back home in Birkenfeld after being snowed-in in Portland for two weeks. The weather is warming, yet eight inches of dense “corn snow” remain. My first day consists of the usual chores associated with restoring a dormant cabin to habitability. The power failure meter has maxed out at 99 hours, 59 minutes, meaning the backup battery system had been out for 100-plus hours. The power comes on as I walk in the door, a welcome surprise. I had assumed no power and had even brought dry ice. Five hours of continuous fire in the cookstove raises the interior from 45 deg. to a more pleasant 65. The phone is still out.

Here’s a photo shot by my neighbor of the house while I was gone. The skylights are invisible and the vent pipe is just showing its top. About 18” of snow or a total weight on the roof of between 4 and 7 tons.

No skylights and vent tube barely visible. [photo: JB]

Although there remains a significant quantity of snow on the roof, and the chimney is canted a few degrees, I think little of it. Only after arising the next day, well after the morning fire has gone cold, and after going outside to do chores do I see that the snow, rather than glide off the roof, has compressed and folded up like the wrinkly skin on one of those fancy, over-bred dogs. The chimney pipe is bent at about 30 deg. Remarkable, as it is a 6 inch inner stainless pipe, 2” of insulation and an outer 10” pipe also of stainless.

Snow & ice on the move.

In an effort to melt off the snow, I put my two electric heaters in that room on full, the hot air naturally rising to the highest point, the watertight collar fitted around the chimney pipe. This has little effect and by the afternoon the chimney is bent at 45 deg.; the snow starting to roll over it in an agonizingly slow motion frozen wave. From the inside the silicone seal is distended to the point that daylight shines throug

Neighbors wondered why I didn’t have any guy-wire supports. I’d had them removed the prior year as they had slid down the roof ridges to which they had been secured and even so the chimney had never moved a single degree. But two things were different this year. The volume of snow; about 24 inches, and the fact that without power or someone to tend a fire the snow just sat. Sat accumulating rain, and compressing under numerous freeze-thaw cycles.

No true disaster had befallen me yet, but disaster loomed. How would the chimney situation resolve itself? With a violent release of pressure or ripped off in an avalanche of mass movement of the snow pack or just quietly melt away? Fortunately the forecast is for warmer, wet weather.

I begin to prepare by evacuating the room as in any event removal of part of the chimney was going to be messy. I then start to brace the chimney in preparation for possibly pulling it down myself from the inside.


I call my roofing person who thinks he can be by on Wednesday or Friday to give me an estimate.

Late in the day I sit on the sofa and contemplated the precariousness of my situation. I am now relying on electric heat. A storm is coming and outages seem unavoidable. I calculated that my battery backup will last only a day if I have to power a heater.

As if on cue, the lights flicker and die. Power is out. I lay down on the couch and sleep. It is very, very quiet.

Mercifully the power is restored in 3 hours.

Tuesday is spent watching the ice and snow melt imperceptibly on the roof. I had devised a plan to lower the bent chimney part into the house, remove it, replace the 48” section with a 24” one and push it back up. But to even attempt it I need the pressure off the pipe, meaning the snow has to melt.

New Year’s Eve morning finds little change inspite of above freezing temperatures. I spend the night monitoring the situation. The forecast is for heavy rain and high winds. We are on flood watch. The phone works.

New Year’s Day. Raining and the snow is melting away. Just as I start to contemplate a difficult repair from inside the house the cavalry arrives; my roof guy and help show up and the are ready and willing to get on the roof right now. 3 hours later I’ve got fire again.

The cavalry arrives.

Happy New Year