Monday, March 7, 2016

DIY hat rack out of old pitchfork

 I have accumulated my share of hats, and its a good thing too because between my husband and kids they get pretty beaten up and destroyed.  Ok, if I'm honest, I do my fair share of wear and tear too.  I made a coat and hat rack out of discarded railroad spikes and some old barn boards (easy enough to make with some spikes, a drill and a drill bit that is just a bit smaller in diameter than the spikes-maybe I'll show how to do that project if there is any interest).  Yet, I still wanted another hat rack for my special cowboy hats.
   I went walking about to see what I could find in a few of my favorite scrap piles and discovered a broken off end of a pitchfork that was missing the 2 middle tines.  Perfect!  I love re-using, re-claiming and re-purposing!

I was going for rustic and simple so I dug out an old weathered piece of scrap lumber, used my chop saw to even out some rough ends and made a square-ish base to attach the pitch fork end to.
     After considering several methods to attach the pitchfork end to my base I went with the most simple idea I had.

 I measured the diameter of the metal end where the wooden handle would normally jut out, found a drill bit just barely that size and drilled a hole through the center of my square little board.  Next I took a rubber mallet and tapped the metal end into the hole.  It was surprisingly very snug and very stable!

Now I decided I wanted the old metal and old wood to shine so I sprayed it with some clear lacquer and waited for it to dry.
     Once it was dry I drilled a few holes in my base so that I could mount it to my wall easily with a couple of screws.

     Done!  It was a blast to make and I love how it looks above my rake head that doubles as my chaps, spurs and scarves holder!

Friday, March 4, 2016

DIY make your own old-fashioned/faux antique child's desk out of reclaimed/repurposed materials

My version of a faux-antique , old- fashioned child's desk
 When I was growing up, my mom had a tiny, antique student desk that all of us kids loved to sit in.  It was sturdy and built to last and was perfect for drawing, writing, coloring,... you name it.  It still is today as my children love to sit in it and play when we visit Grandma.  I had looked all over trying to find one like it in size and construction and, frankly, had given up.  It is just awesome and apparently, "one-of-a-kind."  Recently I decided my little ones still need a desk like that, so I began hunting around for one and once again, came up empty (or way out of my price range).  So I had the thought, maybe I can build something similar on my own and make it look a little like the antique I wanted using mostly second hand materials and old odds and ends.
I hunted around and found a beaten up and broken up, homemade children's chair that my mother had rescued from somewhere.  Hmmmm.   I started thinking that maybe starting from a second-hand, small child's chair would be perfect for the size and budget range I was looking for.  I pulled the chair in to my house and got measuring, brainstorming and designing.  This blog is simply what I did- an easy project to make an antique looking, old fashioned children's desk out of a second hand children's chair using re-purposed lumber and inexpensive hardware.  I believe the basics of this design will work for most children's chairs, second-hand or new, be they of wood construction or metal.
     1st I made a trip to my mother's and took measurements of the small desk.  I returned home and put together a design based on the classic desk, but tweaked to fit what I had on hand.  I took a walk through my favorite scrap wood piles and brought back my loot to see what I could salvage and utilize.
     2nd I started taking my little second-hand chair apart very carefully.  The back rest and seat had been made of very thin plywood and much of the construction was wobbly and inadequate for the sturdiness I needed.  I had found a few great scraps of boards that would lend themselves to a new seat, backrest and desktop as well as a nice 2x2 piece that I could use to re-enforce the wobbly legs. (Just a quick side note here: If you are just looking for a quick and simple child's desk without the antique look, you can use just about any building material that you have on hand or some inexpensive plywood and paint it all up nicely and you've got it. Or you could paint the desktop with a chalkboard/blackboard finish for a unique and fun chalk-art desktop.  Use what you've got and have fun with it!)
3rd I measured and cut each piece to length and spec. with my chop saw and jigsaw.  Then I took my grinder, (still my favorite power tool!), put a flap pad sanding attachment on and smoothed and rounded edges.  That done I decided to use my grinder to hollow out a seat depression and add some curvature to the backrest as well.
4th it was time to put this thing together!  I decided to pre-drill the spots where I would put screws in to avoid splintering or splitting. When I took apart the chair, I kept the frame intact and just removed the arm rests, seat and backrest-so I just replaced those parts with my new ones and added my new bracing pieces to the legs at the bottom.
     5th With the chair back together, it was time to put on my attached desktop!   First I bought a large metal corner brace that was almost the width of my desktop to use as the support for my desk.  It didn't have pre-drilled holes where I needed them to be so I drilled a few more of my own and painted it black for an older look.  
(Doing a few gentle sprays with some rust colored browns and orange spray paints added to the black creates a very nice antique and or old metal look.  I have used this little mix on other projects with great results but for now I decided to just stick with the black to see how it would look!)     I attached the corner brace to the little chair leg and surveyed the result.
6th With the brace attached it was time to put the final piece in place!  I pre-drilled the areas where my screws would go on the arm of the desktop (and where it would screw into the back of the chair) as well as underneath the desktop to attach to the corner brace, and got to work. I used whatever screws I could dig up in my tool boxes and so I ended up with a smattering of all kinds of shapes, widths, lengths and head types. No one has noticed that and I think it adds to the charm of my little project.  (As soon as I had it together, my little boy gave it a test drive! Truth be told so did everyone else, little and not so little.  It was sturdy and strong- no wiggling!)  
     7th The only thing left were the final touches of staining, lacquer and black metal paint touch-ups.  Here again you can choose any paint style.  I wanted mine to look like an old fashioned child's desk or antique so I picked up a dark stain (walnut I think) & started sanding.

 I didn't do a very thorough job sanding (any wood craftsman would be appalled) but like I said I wanted it to appear old with lots of imperfections and signs of use.  If I was going to do a good job of it, i would have probably taken it apart and carefully sanded every piece.  I didn't and I'm happy with my quick job.  I also wanted a small amount of "distress" on my desk as any antique or well-used piece of wooden furniture will certainly have.   I decided to let my toddler "play" on the desk and utilize it as much as his little heart desired for a few days to do some "distressing" for me.  (If he was a bit more gentle than his usual self I would help it along with a few soft whacks, scrapes and pokes from different simple tools like my screw driver, a bolt, a thumb tack, etc.  - I usually let my kids participate in any "distressing" projects I have as the job goes faster and is considerably more random- plus they enjoy getting permission to do things that they get in trouble for otherwise!) 

Next I got to staining.  It was cold outside so I hurried. Again, I figured it didn't need to be perfect.  Once it had dried (mostly anyway) I did a little sanding on the edges with a little piece of sandpaper to give the effect of wear and tear.
Next it was time to hit it with some clear lacquer to make it shine and seal it up a bit.  (Its also easier to wipe off food and drink spills when its got a nice coat of lacquer!)  Once it was dry it was finally finished!  Im a lousy photographer but you get the idea.  The kids love it as do my husband and I.  I hope your project is as rewarding!

Monday, February 22, 2016

DIY make your own inexpensive library ladder for your bookshelves

 I've always had a fascination with library ladders.  They have always just seemed awesome!  I guess it's an easy leap to make as I love books and libraries and bookshelves. When my husband and I got married we realized that between the two of us we had thousands of books and both of us were stubborn about keeping our several hundred favorites of differing shapes, sizes and degrees of shabbiness.  Yikes!  What to do with all of those books figured into our house designs when it came time to build our own home.  Our living room plans changed into a library/living room and every free wall changed into a bookshelf-most with closing doors to hide the mix-match of textbooks of every subject, worn classics, coffee table books, favorite novels, children's books, family photo albums and scrapbooks.  One of the problems with that was that we had planned the entry into the kids' loft along a wall now designated as a library bookshelf.  I was tasked with figuring out a way to make some sort of staircase entry into the loft while keeping as much bookshelf as possible.  My solution was something I've always wanted anyway: a library ladder!

     The bookshelf itself needed to be functional but structurally strong enough to hold the ladder weight and the weight of the kids and my husband and myself.  I am no great craftsman so for the bookshelf construction I turned to a local family who specializes in this sort of thing-"Generations Cabinetry." (They are not on the web!  If you are in the Southwest Wyoming area call Bruce at 307-679-0122)   They put up with me and my crazy ideas and built us an amazing set of shelves & cabinets that are also our main entry into the kids' loft.
     (Side note: Even though our bookshelves were custom made, I think these simple ideas for building and securing a library ladder could work for most bookshelves!)

 I told them I would deal with the hardware and ladder myself and so this blog is about how I did just that with recycled lumber and some inexpensive hardware.  (My husband and I made the pulls on the cabinet doors on our bookshelves out of discarded railroad spikes.  To see how, go to my post on railroad spike cabinet pulls )

1st I realized that my ideal ladder on wheels idea needed to be re-examined- I needed a ladder that was less moveable so nobody would get pushed for a wild ride while trying to climb up!  (I know my kids.)  I did want to be able to re-position the ladder though, just not while someone was climbing on it. (Out go the industrial strength wheels and rollers!)  Hmmm.  I decided that I needed a metal pipe or runner of some kind to hold my ladder just far enough away from the wooden bookshelf to not scuff it while allowing some limited movement of the ladder from one side to the other.  I chose some simple screw-in bookshelf supports and a decorative curtain rod that adjusted to the width of my bookshelf.  My husband and I wanted to make sure that the curtain rod was sufficiently strong so we pulled it open, measured the inside diameter and purchased a smaller metal rod to go inside and add more core strength.  (A regular metal pipe or conduit would've worked fine with little or no re-enforcing required, but we wanted some fancy end caps and found that curtain rods had more selection on that score.)
2nd we attached the shelf supports to the bookshelf and then measured on the curtain rod where the holes in the shelf supports lined up.  We drilled through the curtain rod and core and secured the curtain rod to the shelf supports with a few bolts and nuts.

3rd With the rod in place and secured to the bookshelf it was time to work on the ladder itself.  I took some measurements and drew up my plans based on what I thought would be ideal for this particular situation (and the materials that would be inexpensive or that I already had on hand).  I needed some hooks now, instead of rollers, that would hold the ladder in place securely while someone was on the ladder but that would allow me to move and adjust the ladder when no one was on it.  They needed to be strong enough and long enough to keep the ladder on the bar safely.  I made my sketch and got to work!

I knew I had some lumber odds and ends so I planned accordingly.  I also know that my childrens' little legs might have trouble with ladder rungs placed too far apart so I planned a ladder with rungs slightly closer and easier to navigate than a typical hardware store ladder.
4th I hunted around until I found some previously used 2x4 boards.  I found several that had been used as bracing and other temporary fixes during our house construction.  I love re-using and re-purposing lumber and when all it costs me is the time it takes to pull a nail or two, I am loving it.

5th I placed my long side pieces (called stringers) against the bookshelf at the angle/steepness I desired the ladder to be and used my tape measure and small level to get the steps at the correct angles and distances apart that I had chosen.

6th Once I had the angles drawn with pencil,  I used my circular saw on its shallowest setting(1/4") to cut into my stringers where the steps/rungs would go.  After running the saw through several times, I finished cleaning out the space with a hand chisel and hammer.  I used my cross cut saw to cut my stairs/rungs all the same length and began piecing together my ladder. I decided I would pre-drill all the holes I would require to attach my handrail and screw the steps/rungs into place before I tried to finish/stain or lacquer my ladder.

7th I decided to call up my cabinetry folks again and ask them for the color of stain they had used on my bookshelf so I could match it.  I was going to try to router the edges of my steps as well as the stringers, stain and lacquer them up and then screw everything together.  These kind folks, offered to router, stain and lacquer everything for me so that my ladder would "fit" the design and stain of the bookshelf exactly.  They did a great job at a very affordable price and I was excited by the result-I've got to admit it was much better than my job would've been.  (They even went so far as to give me an extra wooden rung or two just in case, and put it all together for me, minus the handrail that I was still working on.) Thanks Trevor and Bruce!

8th While my ladder was getting routered, stained and lacquered up, I turned my attention to my handrails, hooks and braces.  I felt that a metal pipe for a handrail would be easier for little hands to hang onto than a 2x4 or 2x2.  So I walked into my local hardware store and found 2 steel pipes about 10ft long and 3/4" in diameter.  The ends of the pipe were sharp so I grabbed 4 rubber chair leg covers with the appropriate diameter so that they would fit snugly over the rough metal ends.
 That done, I found four, 7" long 1/4" diameter bolts with washers and locking nuts and four, 1 1/2" long spacers with 1/2" diameter.  I wanted the smooth spacers to hold the handrail just far enough away from the ladder to make it comfortable for little hands (and my own as well) to grab the railing.  Next I hunted down some corner braces to screw under each stair rung to re-enforce them so that they could easily handle the weight of someone as large as myself or my husband (or both of us together hauling furniture items up the ladder).
That done I started looking for metal hooks.  I couldn't find a type of hook that I wanted for my ladder (to hang onto the bar on my bookshelf) so I picked up a plain metal strap about 30" long and 1 1/2" wide and about 1/8" thick to make some custom hooks myself. I took them all home and spray painted everything black (except the strap and long pipes) to match the hardware I had already for my bookshelf.

9th Next I picked up my ladder all stained and pretty and measured on my metal pipes where I wanted my handrails to fit.
I had already pre-drilled holes in my ladder so I just marked on each pipe where the holes needed to be drilled and got to drilling.  I had some extra pipe lengths to cut off- a task easily accomplished with my hand grinder (my favorite power tool!) and the metal cutting disc attachment- and so while I was at it I cut my metal strap in half as well.  That done I set my straps aside and painted the newly drilled and cut to length handrails a nice black to match my other metal pieces and pulls.

10th Once my metal pipes had dried, I attached my handrails!  I couldn't wait to see what the ladder would look like propped up against the bookshelf at this point so I hauled it upstairs and showed it off to my kids, nieces, nephews and my husband, who all tried it out.  It was at that moment that my husband requested that the ladder be about 4-6" narrower and one more step added at the top of the ladder for the convenience of the little ones. So... back to work!
After I un-screwed everything, measured for the new top step, cut a space for it with my circular saw , chiseled out the rest, measured and cut each rung 5" shorter and added a new rung, I put it all back together, hauled it back upstairs and got the thumbs up to finish!)

11th I added my nicely painted corner braces under each step for additional support.  (I was glad I had waited 'til now to screw them on!)

Just a quick side note here:  to make the metal screw heads match my new black paint job, I used a black paint pen, but I have used a black marker before and had similar results.
12th I took my metal straps out to the vice and secured one end in the vice. I bent the straps by hand over a scrap piece of pipe the exact same diameter as my curtain rod.  That done, I drilled several holes in the areas where I wanted to secure the straps/hooks to my ladder.
13th Next it was time to paint!  After the straps/hooks had dried, I used my drill and secured the hooks to the ladder.  At this point I decided I wanted to put a soft surface between the hooks and the rod so I added a couple of peel and stick felt bumper strips to the inside of my hooks.

14th Time to throw it back up and survey the scene!  We love the ladder and the hardware!  Here's hoping that this was helpful and that your projects are fun and rewarding too!

Monday, November 9, 2015

What we do with venison

The girls here at Dirt Road Renaissance are ranch raised.  We grew up eating beef, pork and lamb that we raised on the ranch.  With a plentiful supply of those meats, I didn't see the need for supplementing our freezer supplies with venison, but my husband has developed the desire to hunt, which leaves me to find ways to put that meat to use.

 The biggest challenge with harvesting wild game is keeping the meat clean.   I spend a lot of time washing and picking hair off of our meat before I ever get started on processing.
Our first year, we made jerky and pepperoni sticks out of our deer.  The next year, we saved a few steaks, made jerky and pepperoni sticks, tried to make summer sausage and put a lot of meat in bags in the freezer to deal with later.  Later didn't come until almost a year later when I finally pulled it out and made bratwurst.  This year my husband added an elk to our harvest and we are turning it into steaks, roasts, burger and jerky.

We have had a mix of successes and failures:

Jerky- We have tried many different flavors that we bought and attempted a few of our own recipes.  My husband likes to add brown sugar to any mix, but I prefer the original and mesquite jerky flavoring that we buy. You don't need any special equipment to make jerky,  but a slicer makes it much easier to cut to the proper width.  We use our oven to cook the jerky, but a smoker works great too.

Pepperoni/snack sticks- The kids love these.  Also made from a store bought mix.  You need a grinder and sausage stuffer to make them, but they can be cooked in the oven or smoker like the jerky.

Summer sausage- We tried a recipe found on the internet, but it didn't turn out well.  It has the consistency of hamburger with summer sausage flavor.  I hate to waste food, so I mix it in sloppy joes and nobody can tell. (Shhhh) This also requires a grinder and sausage stuffer.

Bratwurst and pepperoni sticks
Bratwurst- I was very excited to buy a brat mix for wild game and froze some venison specifically for making some.  I was disappointed to realize that the recipe called for mostly pork meat with just a little venison thrown in. I learned that it is important to keep the ingredients very cold to keep it from becoming an unappetizing mush when stuffing the casings.  The result is still quite good, although I recommend cooking with a meat thermometer to make sure it reaches 165 degrees and then immediately remove from the heat.  Otherwise, they dry out.  Since I still have some seasonings and casings, I hope to play with that pork/venison ratio to see if I can make them more on the venison side.  These also require a grinder and sausage stuffer, but you can cook them however you would usually cook fresh brats.

Steaks/ Roasts/Burger- We processed our deer and most of our elk from this year into steaks, roasts and burger.  The backstrap and tenderloin are the most tender muscles in an animal, so we cut this into our steaks.  We saved some meat from the rear legs for roasts and froze some to make into jerky later.  Everything else we cut into small chunks and ran through a grinder with some pork fat that I had in the freezer for burger. The pork fat is not necessary, but I am of the opinion that pork makes everything better.

We have tried quite a few things with our wild game and we will continue to try new things for as long as my husband wants to hunt. (Soon my son will be joining in as well)  However, we did something new this year that I think is my favorite way to deal with the venison that they bring home.  We heard about a few families in our area that are going through difficult times.  We offered our deer to anyone that wanted it and then cut and packaged it into steaks and roasts and burger to be delivered to those families.  I found this link for those wanting to donate their game meat to others in need.  Hunters Feed  Knowing that the meat was going to people who could truly use it made the time spent cleaning, cutting and packaging feel much less of a chore.  We will probably continue to donate all or part of our hunting results in the future.

Hopefully I have given you some ideas for how to deal with the wild game that may come to your kitchen.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

DIY Make your own homemade fishing lure for trout out of a penny

When I was a kid I loved to fish but hated using worms or grasshoppers.  The first time i saw someone fishing the river by my home with a lure was an eye-opening experience.  I was impressed by the fact that only the trout in the river were attracted by the lures.  With my live bait it was always a gamble to see what would bite, a trout, a bony white fish or the more likely "sucker fish" that all called the river home.  I had no idea how to fish with a lure, but I was sure I wanted to fish with them from that day forward.
The problem for me was the price.  I couldn't afford the nice lures that I'd seen work so well to pull trout out of the river.  After examining some in the store, I decided it wouldn't be hard to make my own.  I "borrowed" some of my little sister's awful, plastic beads, dug out a penny and with the help of a paperclip and an old rusty treble hook that I found inside my brother's abandoned tackle box, I had my lure!
Shockingly, it worked on its maiden voyage and I caught 3 fish before hopelessly snagging my penny lure, loosing it and coming home.  Even though I'd lost my lure, I came home triumphant.  I'd only lost a penny really, and I'd gained 3 fish.  The biggest problem was explaining to my little sister what happened to her jewelry. (I think she has finally forgiven me.)
So to make a short story long, this blog is here to show you how to make a simple, but effective, homemade, trout lure.
First, dig a penny out of your couch cushions, find a medium-sized paperclip, some beads and a treble hook (I've used regular hooks before and they will work, but not as well as a treble hook I think).

Second, take a small hammer, rounded if you have one, and pound your penny on a piece of scrap wood or a wood block until in has a concave/convex (spoon-like) shape.

Third, as close to the edge as you can, drill through the penny with a small diameter drill bit. If you don't have a power drill at your disposal, you can do as I did as a kid and use a hammer and small nail to make your hole through the penny.  Do your best to smooth out any rough edges on the hole so that the penny can move uninhibited as it spins through the water later.

Fourth, straighten out your paperclip and using needle-nose pliers, make a hook at the end.  Place the treble hook on the hook and using the pliers again, bend the end of the paperclip around to close the hook, making a tight loop.

Fifth, string the bead or beads on the paperclip as desired and thread the penny on, concave side down so that it spoons around the beads.

Sixth, clip off any extra paperclip, leaving about 3/4 of an inch above the penny and beads.  Make a tight loop with the top end of the paper clip for your fishing line or swivel clip to attach securely onto.

Seventh, go try it out!  Make sure the penny can spin freely on the paperclip to attract your trout.  You may also need to add some weights/sinkers to the line to help things along.
Have fun designing your custom homemade lures and good luck!  I hope you have as much fun as my kids and I have making your own lures.  I will include some of my favorite lure designs for catching the rainbows, cutthroats and brown trout varieties that are native in our rocky mountain rivers here.