Catching Up: Wow It’s Been Busy

The late summer is always a busy time for us because it seems that all of the vegetables we’ve been nursing along since early spring all come ripe at the same time and all have to be dealt with right now. We probably have enough wax beans and green beans to last us two years, and enough various tomato sauces to last us almost that long. On one Saturday alone MrsGF and I processed more than 40 pounds of tomatoes to turn them into tomato soup. Plus we did salsa, chili sauce and spaghetti sauce. And that was from just three plants.

Food made with our home grown vegetables always seems to taste better. We don’t buy any canned tomato products any more because the flavors of the grocery store stuff seems flat, insipid and often just plain nasty when compared to what we make ourselves. And often way, way too salty and way too sweet.

But the beans have been done for weeks now. We probably could have gotten another couple of weeks of production out of them but we were so sick of beans we just pulled them out. Tomatoes are pretty much at an end now as well. But the peppers are still going strong and will probably keep going until we get frost. We put in a variety of sweet bell and banana type peppers. We thought we’d have enough to make pickled peppers, but almost all of them have been going into various sauces.

We were only going to put in 3 cucumber plants because I’m the only one who likes to eat them fresh. But somehow we ended up with 6 plants and they went a bit goofy on us and took over the whole garden behind the garage. MrsGF made four different kinds of pickles plus some relish, enough to last us more than a year, and now we’re giving the things away. They’ve started to slow down but they’re still blossoming. I hate to pull out and compost plants that are still healthy and producing but I’m thinking of just pulling them out this week and being done with them.

It’s hard to see in the photo but there are also a half dozen tomato and pepper “volunteer” plants hidden in that mess of cukes somewhere and now those are bearing fruit.

MrsGF and I both love squash but our attempts to grow the stuff haven’t been all that successful. Last year we had powdery mildew that pretty much wiped them out. This year, though, wow… We planted in a more sunny location, worked in hundreds of pounds of compost before we planted, made sure they were well watered during the drought, and it paid off beautifully. The plants are starting to come to the end of their lifetime now, and we’re seeing dozens of massive butternut squash under the leaves. And I mean massive squash. Some of these things are a foot and a half long, and they all look absolutely beautiful.

We picked one yesterday and we’re going to make that one this week and see what it tastes like. Hopefully they’ll taste as good as they look. We’ll probably end up cutting them up into cubes, roasting them and freezing them for use later.

All the sunflowers got knocked down when we had a storm roll through here, but the other flowers and decorative plants made it through the summer fairly well. We’ve had no shortage of flowers out in the gardens this year.

It was a struggle to keep some of this stuff alive during the drought. We were careful to keep the vegetable gardens well watered but we occasionally neglected the ornamental plants. Still most managed to survive and even grow reasonably well until the rains finally came in August.

We have three roses out there in the gardens now and all of them came through the drought and even looked pretty good. We had something, we aren’t sure what, trying to eat the climbing rose, and MrsGF finally resorted to dusting it with something and that seemed to take of that problem. She only had to treat it once.

The hot, dry weather was not kind to the hostas out front, though. Some of those poor guys are looking pretty rough.

This poor guy looks pretty rough but it will survive just fine.

The giant large leafed varieties did a lot better than the more traditional looking narrow leafed types. The variegated varieties seem to have fared worse than the solid colored ones. This time of year the hostas start to look pretty rough anyway. They’ve all flowered now and are going to seed so there is no need for them to keep putting energy into the foliage, I suppose. They’re getting ready to go dormant for winter anyway.

With all of the gardening and harvest stuff going on I haven’t had a lot of time to putter in the woodshop. I haven’t done any wood turning since I produced these two bowls down below…

I love the grain on padauk, and it’s wonderful stuff to work with. It’s not cheap but I think the results are worth the expense.
More padauk. Once it’s finished this stuff almost glows.
this is MrsGF’s favorite. This little one was made from wood salvaged from the old pear tree in the backyard.

I do have some projects in mind, though. I picked up this piece of wood down below at a shop a few weeks ago. Paid way too much for it but I loved the grain and color. I still don’t know what I’m going to do with it.

I’m also trying to adjust to a new computer. I have three main computers, an iMac, a very old Macbook that I use mostly for email and reading the news, and my primary computer, a “gaming” computer my son built for me which I use for just about everything else, including amateur radio, photo and video editing and video streaming and other stuff. The gaming computer was taken out during a severe thunderstorm a few days ago. I think the power supply got fried. I’d been having problems with it for some time and knew it was going to have to be replaced, so I already had a replacement ready to go for a couple of months. Still, it’s a hell of a lot of work to have to try to redo that whole system.

The new one is a fairly high end MSI 17″ gaming laptop which works great for things like video and photo editing and pretty much everything. But I still need to install all my amateur radio software, hook up all the radio gear to it, etc.

But it also gives me a chance to tear everything down and rearrange everything to make things more convenient and less chaotic.

That’s it for now.

DeWalt 20V Max XR 12 Inch Chain Saw

So, let’s talk about chainsaws. Specifically the DeWalt XR 12 inch in that photo up there. I bought it back in March and promised I’d talk about it after I’d had a chance to use it, and then forgot about entirely. So here we are, five months later, and I finally remembered. Better late than never, I suppose. But one good thing about the delay is that I’ve had a chance to use this little saw a lot over the last few months and, spoiler alert, I like it a lot.

Not everyone needs a chainsaw, but there are times when you just can’t get a job done with any other tool. I have a gas powered chainsaw that I use for bigger jobs like whacking down trees. But for simply trimming off a few limbs, cutting up some bits of wood for the fire pit, cutting up a fallen branch, or trying to trim down a nice piece of wood to fit on the lathe, well dragging out a noisy, dirty, smoking, leaking, oily gas saw is a pain in the neck. And in the shoulders and hands. And in the ears… Well, you know what I mean.

How tough is this little saw? How much can it cut on a couple of fully charged batteries? As you can see, pretty darned tough, and it can cut a lot.

For small jobs like cutting off a six inch limb or cutting off a 4×4 that’s too long and things like that, these little battery powered saws do a pretty good job. They’re light weight, quiet, don’t require you to mix oil and gas, make less mess and are generally a lot easier to handle.

There are downsides, though. They generally have a smaller cutting capacity than the gas powered saws, have less power, often a lot less power, resulting in the motor stalling out or bogging down, and often battery life is simply woeful. But not all battery powered saws are like that.

So, the DeWalt. I picked this one because it uses the same batteries that all of my other DeWalt tools use, the 20V Max power packs. I was a bit anxious about that because I didn’t think a chainsaw would be able to run very long off one of those batteries, even the larger 5 Ah batteries I use. I was pleasantly surprised, though.

This thing will set you back about $150 without a battery, or a bit over $200 with a 5 AH battery and charger. That may sound like a lot, but in the world of chainsaws that is cheap. You can easily drop $600 or more for a good gas saw these days.

Build quality is pretty good. Yes, it’s made almost entirely of plastic, but these days, well, so what? High quality modern plastics are incredibly tough, almost indestructible, and that’s the kind of plastic the outer casing seems to be made of. If you look at the first photo you can see from the bar that this thing has been used a lot since I got it, but the case looks nearly as good as the day I got it. This thing has been dropped off a table, had wood dropped on it, at one point got hit with a flying piece of wood weighing about 10 pounds when I was splitting up some wood, and while there are a few scuff marks on it, it still looks almost new. Well, it would if I’d bother to wipe it down.

Using it couldn’t be easier. The only controls are a safety lock that has to be depressed before the trigger will work, and the trigger itself, and that’s it. It automatically oils the chain so you don’t even have to worry about that. And there is a safety shutdown system that all new saws have, of course, that’s the big paddle directly in front of the top handle. Push that and it stops the saw instantly.

Oil cap has a flip up lever thingie on it to make it easy to open it to refill it.
Convenient sight window to see how much oil is left.

It still requires the chain to be oiled. If it didn’t do that it wouldn’t be long before the chain would seize up entirely from lack of lubrication. But unlike my old Poulan gas saw there’s no manual pump to keep pressing with my thumb, the DeWalt takes care of that automatically. It should be able to use any decent quality bar oil. Just make sure to thoroughly clean the area around the filler cap before opening it so you don’t get sawdust in it and plug something up. Bar oil consumption seems to be no worse than other saws I’ve used.

One of the biggest complaints I hear from people who have battery powered chainsaws is that they lack power. That doesn’t seem to be a problem here. I cut a two foot tall, 20 inch wide block of wood straight down the middle with this saw with the entire length of the bar embedded in the block. It complained a little but as long as I didn’t put too much pressure on it, it made the cut without stalling out. In normal use no one is going to do something like that, of course. So a lack of power is definitely not an issue with this saw.

Basically this saw is easily capable of doing the job it was designed for.

Now, as for battery life, that was surprisingly good. See that big pile of cut up bits of wood in that photo? I did all of that with two 5 AH batteries. Oh, and the second battery still had enough life in it that I used it in my string trimmer to trim around the house and gardens.

I did have one issue, and that was my own fault. It was a really hot day, temperatures well into the high 90s, and I was sawing with it, and even though I could feel it was getting hot I kept on sawing and finally it just shut down on me completely. Basically it overheated and it shut itself down. I went in the house, got some lunch, cooled down for a while, came back out and it started right back up and I went back to sawing.

Chain side of the saw showing the chain adjusting knob and cover.

Adjusting the chain isn’t hard at all, and doesn’t require any tools. New bars and chains are readily available if you need them and aren’t expensive. Standard chain sharpening tools will work just fine to touch up the saw, which is something you will need to do.

This is most definitely not the kind of saw you’re going to take into the woods to make firewood all day long or whack down full size trees. But it isn’t made for that. It’s made for occasional light duty use like trimming a few branches off tree, cutting the occasional 4×4 or 6×6 when building a deck, cutting up downed limbs, and that kind of thing. And for those kinds of jobs it works very well indeed. Run time with a new, fully charged 5 Ah battery is, at least in my opinion, surprisingly good.

I did manage to overheat the saw on one occasion, as I said. That was my own fault. I was working on a day when the temperature was in the high 90s, and I was cutting at the maximum capacity of the saw for way too long, and it got hot enough to shut itself down. It recovered quickly and started back up as soon as it cooled down. That was the only glitch I experienced while using this saw over the last four months.

Overall I like this little saw a lot. I’ve had to sharpen the chain twice now, but considering how much it’s been used that’s normal. I haven’t had to drag out my gas powered saw since I bought it.

Endnote: Sometime yet this year a tree service is coming in to take down the big ash tree in the backyard. We’re going to keep the wood because A) it’s cheaper than having the service deal with it. A lot cheaper. B) We have a nifty heavy duty stainless steel high tech fire ring thingie we bought last spring and we need stuff to burn in it, and C) I might get some more wood to feed the wood lathe.

There is no way I’m going to be using the little DeWalt on that beast. The trunk is probably close to three and a half feet thick and the main limbs are bigger than most of the maple trees around here. And I doubt my elderly Poulan can deal with it either so I might end up still having to get a new gas powered chain saw this fall.

Farm Stuff: Bayer Pulling Roundup Off Consumer Market and Milk Milk Everywhere

Bayer, the owner of Monsanto, announced on July 29 that it was voluntarily withdrawing glyphosate (sold under the brand name RoundUp) from the consumer market by January, 2023. Once existing stocks are cleared out of the supply chain the company will no longer sell glyphosate in the lawn/garden market. A herbicide labeled “Roundup” will remain on the market but it will no longer contain the glyphosate herbicide. It will contain a blend of other herbicides, older ones, which presumably will be less lawsuit prone.

Bayer has been facing widespread lawsuits (the last I heard Bayer was facing 30,000 claims) in the US over claims that glyphosate causes some types of cancer. And it has been losing, not just in local courts but also in appeals court. The company is apparently appealing to the US Supreme Court but it isn’t known if SCOTUS will even take the case up, and if they do no one knows how they will rule.

Since 90% of the lawsuits are coming from the home consumer market, Bayer’s decided to cut its losses and stop sales, but only in that market. Glyphosate will continue to be sold to the agricultural market so the product will still be in widespread use.

The whole situation is — is complicated, to put it mildly. There is even considerable debate over whether or not glyphosate is actually a carcinogen. So I’m not going to get into that whole argument.

I know some environmentalists who are celebrating, claiming this is some kind of victory. It isn’t. Let me point out some things.

Bayer, and only Bayer, is withdrawing glyphosate from only the consumer market. This means two things.

One: the most widespread usage of glyphosate is in the agricultural market in the first place. That usage will continue unabated. Also glyphosate has been off patent since 2000 so it can be made and sold by any licensed herbicide manufacturer for any legal market. Under US regulations glyphosate is still legal to make and use. Bayer stopping sales to the lawn/garden market isn’t going to do anything to reduce the usage of the product.

Two: glyphosate was widely adopted because it was actually safer than a lot of the herbicides in widespread use at the time. There were far less health risks involved in using it, it was less persistent in the environment, and it was less toxic to wildlife. Many of the herbicides in widespread use at the time glyphosate was first introduced were seriously nasty. Bayer has already announced that the new “Roundup” is going to include a blend of various herbicides, some of which probably predate glyphosate, and which could very possibly be much, much worse for the environment, far more persistent in the soil, and worse for the health of human beings, animals and insects.

Sidenote: One wonders what the hell Bayer thought it was doing when it bought Monsanto. Just about everyone, including a lot of Bayer shareholders, saw the disaster in waiting that Monsanto was when the purchase was made. The first glyphosate cases were already in the courts, and the whole dicamba fiasco was already on the horizon. Bayer’s attempts at defending itself have probably cost the company tens of millions of dollars in legal fees, court costs, PR damage and regulatory problems, not to mention bribes lobbying efforts to various politicians.

Milk, Milk Everywhere. Here We Go Again

Photo by Monserrat Soldu00fa on Pexels.com

Well, here we go again… Sigh… Dairy farmers have been getting fairly decent prices for their milk for the last few months, but it is highly unlikely that situation will continue for much longer because milk production has been skyrocketing. If USDA’s estimates are accurate, the dairy industry is on track to produce in 2022 at least 8.4 billion pounds more milk than in 2020, 13 billion pounds more than in 2019.

The climate situation has caused some cutbacks, but not much. Dairy farms added 153,000 more milking cows to their herds since last year. This is the largest number of dairy cows on record since 1993. And you have to remember that modern dairy cows are much more productive than they were back then.

What it all means is a massive increase in a production while there is no corresponding increase in demand and even a slight decrease in demand. The result is that wholesale prices for cheese and butter have been falling, and stockpiles of unsold cheese and butter have been skyrocketing. USDA says that the stockpile of unsold cheese as of mid year is the highest on record, and the butter surplus isn’t far behind, with wholesale prices dropping there as well.

At the consumer end of things generic butter and cheese have been dropping in price. I’ve seen a lot of generic and house brands of butter going for $1.99/lb or even less. Interestingly, brand name and “artisanal” butter is still going for absolutely insane amounts of money, ranging from $5/lb to as high as $11/lb for some brands of “organic” butter.

Photography Stuff – New Camera, and some Thoughts on Technology

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time you should know I’m something of a photography nut, and that goes back many years, and at one time it was a pretty serious obsession. But let’s skip the nostalgia, at least for now, and talk about the present. My good camera, a Fujifilm, is a pretty nice camera, but it is now more than 11 years old which makes it probably three or four generations behind the times. Technology has moved on. It’s time to replace it. So I did a lot of shopping around and and research and finally ended up with a Nikon D5600. It is considered to be at the high end of the consumer grade DSLR cameras. It’s been on the market for a few years so all the bugs are worked out of it and it has a solid track record. It is generally considered to be a pretty nice camera, so I got one with 2 lenses, an 18 – 55 mm lens and a 70mm to 300mm telephoto zoom.

Notice the manual sitting there. It didn’t come with the camera. The only “instructions” that came with it was a single sheet of paper. I had to track down the manual on the internet and print it out. All 400+ pages of it. Sheesh…

It wasn’t… I was going to say it wasn’t cheap. But everything is relative. My first really good SLR camera was a Minolta XG-M with a 50mm lens that I got back in 1982, and I quickly added several other lenses to the package. Accounting for inflation the Minolta was actually more expensive than the Nikon.

I’ve only had the Nikon for a few days and I’m still trying to get it all figured out. The Fujifilm was bad enough with multiple menus, way too many buttons and knobs, and the ability to adjust just about everything. The Nikon is all that and a lot more. I can still just put it in one of the automatic modes and let its computers handle everything, but the fun part with cameras like this is when you shut off the automatics and venture out on your own experimenting with ISO, shutter speeds, light levels and other goodies. The automatic settings are fine for making fast snapshots of a family picnic or something like that. But if you want really good images, images that really show off the scene you’re photographing, that express moods and feelings, well then you need to shut off the auto modes and start fiddling around. And there’s a lot to fiddle with.

The biggest improvements over my old Fuji are the lenses and the image sensor. The image sensor is much, much larger, the pixels are smaller and packed more densely, giving a much crisper, more, oh, dense, let’s call it, image. That also means the size of the resulting photo is much larger. For jpg images that seems to be running about 7 – 10 megabytes. RAW files are even larger. And one mode produces both RAW and jpg files. So this thing needs a decent sized SD card.

The lenses – the Fuji had a really nice lens that was more than adequate for the job, but it was permanently attached to the camera and I wanted to be able to get other lenses for special purposes, like for macro photography, or bigger telephoto, that kind of thing. So far the quality of the two lenses I got for the Nikon seem excellent.

Of course the most important thing is does it make good photographs, so let’s look at a few I’ve taken over the last few days. You should be able to click on an image to see it in a larger size. Some of the images have been cropped but no other processing was done on them.

This one is my favorite

I should point out this flower is only about a half inch wide

So far I’m pleased with the camera. I’m going to need to experiment and learn how to tweak the settings to get the results I want, but overall it seems to be pretty nice so far.

Now let’s talk about technology for a moment, specifically about photographic technology. Once upon a time I was heavily involved in film photography. I went through several 35mm cameras including some fairly expensive SLRs like the Minolta in that photo up there. That was the first really good camera I ever bought, purchased in 1981 or 1982. And it was expensive. I paid about $350+ for that camera at the time, a bit over $1,000 after including inflation. It was a very nice camera for its day. Still is. I still have it and it still works just fine. If I could be bothered to buy some 35mm film and deal with processing I have no doubt it would still turn out very good images even today.

I was pretty serious about photography. I also had my own darkroom and enlarger, developed my own film, made my own prints, etc. It was expensive, messy, I worked with potentially dangerous chemicals and I had to work in pitch black conditions or risk ruining the film or a print. It was a pain in the neck but it was also enormously satisfying.

A lot of semi-serious photographers complain about the decline of the use of film photography. They claim that digital photography lacks — well, lacks something. They don’t seem to be sure what it lacks, but for “reasons” digital just isn’t as good as film. The process isn’t as pure or something. Being able to manipulate images easily using Photoshop somehow makes images less real. That’s all BS of course. Film photographers like me always post-processed our prints to get the results we wanted. We just did it using chemicals, different types of photographic paper, dodging and burning and the like instead of tweaking settings on a computer.

I did pretty good with that old Minolta up there and my little darkroom. But I freely admit that the photos I produce today with modern equipment and software are so much better that there is simply no comparison. I would never, ever want to go back to the days of film.

I can understand why some people might feel that way, though. It’s like the people who think vinyl records are better than digitally recorded music. I share some of that feeling. I have a nice turntable and vinyl records and I love them. But even I admit that it is more a nostalgia thing than anything else. What I missed wasn’t some kind of ‘purity’ of the music, it was the process of playing the record that I missed. Getting out a record, putting it on the turntable, setting the tonearm down, I think it made me listen more attentively to the music because there was more physicality to the act. With modern streaming the music just plays. It’s almost like background noise, something you can ignore. When playing a record you couldn’t ignore it. You tended to concentrate more because you were physically involved with playing the record.

Drought Is Over (at least for now), Gardens Going Crazy And a B Movie?

The drought, at least for us here in east central Wisconsin, is over following a week or so of pleasantly damp and relatively cool weather. We got some significant rainfall that’s kick started everything out in the gardens. Unfortunately that also includes weeds, but that’s the way it goes.

We don’t have a lot of raspberry plants, just a fairly small corner of the garden behind the garage. They’re so loaded with fruit this year we had to put up support posts with twine to hold the dopy things up. They’re just starting to ripen right now. This is probably the best crop of berries we’ve had since we put them in a few years ago. We won’t get a lot, but we don’t need a lot. I’m not supposed to eat them because of the seeds, but I can’t help but snagging a handful when I’m working outside. They’re beautiful this year, and sweeter than usual as well.

MrsGF and I both love beets but we’ve had trouble growing them. This year we decided to fill one of the raised beds with them and wow, that worked amazingly well. They’re about 1.5 – 2.5 inches across now and we’ve been harvesting them periodically for over a week now. We just clean them, throw them in a pot, bring them to a boil and then simmer for a few minutes, then plunge into cold water. That lets us slip that outer skin off easily and they’re ready to either freeze or cook up for dinner. They are so good when they’re fresh. Much richer, sweeter flavor. Mostly we just simmer them in water until tender and top off with a bit of salt and pepper. We both love harvard style with a sweet sour sauce as well, but these are so good you don’t need a sauce to perk them up.

We have one bed that’s just assorted peppers. I didn’t think these were ever going to amount to much. They looked healthy enough but just weren’t growing. But now that we’ve had the rainy weather they’ve started to take off. They’ve almost doubled in size in the last 10 days and are starting to blossom. We eat a lot of them fresh off the plants during the season, but most end up diced up and frozen for use during the rest of the year. They get used in tomato sauces, egg dishes, chili, curry, etc. I’m hoping we’ll have enough that I can put up a few pints of pickled peppers as well. I wish I could tell you exactly what’s all planted in there, but not even MrsGF remembers what she all planted in that bed. Which is okay. They all taste good.

Speaking of peppers, I have two jalapeno plants in pots on the front porch again this year. I only grow two because I’m the only one who seems to like them. Last year I put in a ‘no heat’ variety that they claimed tasted like jalapeno but didn’t have the heat. That was sort of true? Kind of? They did taste like jalapeno peppers and they were a bit milder, but I thought they were lacking a bit in flavor. This year I put in normal jalapenos and as you can see they’re starting to fruit. I picked a few for use over the 4th holiday when we had our sons over for a picnic. I’ve been eating them diced up in things like omelets or thinly sliced on a burger. I think they’re delicious. They are definitely not mild but I didn’t think they were that hot until I got my eldest son to try one and he nearly went through the roof. He loves spicy food but he turned bright red, started gasping and had to go walk it off. So a couple of observations. First, apparently I can handle hot peppers a hell of a lot better than I thought I could. Second, I’ve now been told by people who know these things that these peppers are really, really hot, a lot hotter than a normal jalapeno should be. So I’m going to need to be really careful with these when I cook with them so I don’t end up with MrsGF throwing things at me when she recovers from eating them.

The tomatoes have gone absolutely bonkers. In the last two weeks they’ve just about tripled in size and if you could peek in there you’d see dozens of tiny green tomatoes. I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing them coming ripe in a week or two the way they’re going. BTW, there are only 3 plants in that bed up there. I am really glad we didn’t put in more.

It’s hard to see now but there are onions all the way around the edge of that bed. We’ve been doing that for a few years now, sort of double cropping. The onions get a head start and get fairly mature before the main crop in the bed gets big enough to compete with them, and by that time the onions are big enough to hold their own and keep growing slowly through the season.

Why grow our own onions when they’re so cheap in the store? Flavor, of course. Most of the commercial onions are decent, but they just don’t have the intensity of flavor that our home grown ones have.

Those are wax beans in front, with some squash plants in the back. The perspective of this photo is kind of weird. The leaves on those squash plants back there are literally as large as dinner plates or even larger.

This is our “super” garden. It is in a corner of the house where the living room meets the kitchen, and faces south and west. We’ve put hundreds of pounds of compost in this garden over the years and that, together with the good drainage and protected, sunny location generally means things grow like crazy in there. And this year is no exception.

Those beans… Dear lord, what are we going to do with all those beans? There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of flowers on those bean plants in there. If half of those turn into beans we could probably fill up the entire freezer with the things. We love wax beans but I suspect we’re going to end up giving away half of these to anyone who’ll take ’em because we’ll never be able to eat all of these.

We also have pole beans in another bed and those look like they’re going to be just as crazy as the wax beans. That’s only about six bean plants in there. Sheesh…

We were only going to put in two cucumber plants because I’m the only one who really likes cukes. The seeds MrsGF planted out here didn’t sprout so she bought a few plants at a local nursery and put those in. And then, of course, the seeds sprouted as well, so it looks like we’re going to have an overabundance of cucumbers as well.

MrsGF is trying to grow blueberries because, well, why not, eh? We had two originally and haven’t had a lot of success with them though. First because we stuck them in a poor location, and when we transplanted them to a better location one didn’t survive so she bought another one. Then the original survivor had some kind of rust that was covering the leaves. We trimmed all of the infected branches off and didn’t think it would survive, but it did and looks pretty healthy. And the new one that we put in this spring has actual fruit on it. Not a lot but heck, even a few dozen berries is better than none.

On the decorative side of things we have these cute little dwarf sunflowers coming up now. along with a few other types in there including one variety that is such a dark purple it looks almost black.

The hot, dry weather didn’t do the hostas any good this year. The poor things look pretty beat up. They usually don’t start looking this poorly until September. Still they’re hanging in there and coming into flower which will hopefully attract the humming birds. I’ve seen a few humming birds but for some reason they aren’t coming to the feeder. I think they had a nest somewhere out back because I’d see them buzzing around back there, but I haven’t seen them for a while now.

Finally, how about a bee video because without bees none of this would even be possible.

Stuff From The Dim Past Because I’m Waiting For MrsGF and I’m Bored

This one is still up in the ancient archives of this blog or whatever it is and I keep telling myself I should just delete it completely, but oh, what the hell. The cow is clipart but I actually drew the rest of this — this whatever it is. Yes, I used to draw manga. Or tried to. This one goes back to around 2013 or so and, well, lord, what the hell was I even thinking?

The only excuse I have for this is that I was listening to a lot of Lawrence Welk music at the time. This is what happens when you listen to Lawrence Welk music for too long. Don’t let this happen to anyone else. If you know anyone who listens to Lawrence Welk, get them help now. Stage an intervention or something. Don’t let this happen to them.

You should be able to click on the image to blow it up to readable size.

Oh my god I can’t believe I drew this… This is what happens when you work in an elementary school for way, way too long. And listen to Lawrence Welk music. Don’t let this happen to anyone else. Ban Lawrence Welk now.

Catch Up: Gardening, Flowers, Hollowing Tool, Logo Designs and Stuff

We’ve been getting rain! The drought finally seems to be over. We’ve received several inches of rain over the last week and will be getting more today. Things were getting bad, and not just for home gardeners like me. We’ve had enough rain now that the plants have completely turned around and things are actually starting to look lush out there. The tomatoes have tripled in size and in full blossom. We even have some baby tomatoes on them already. The squash are growing so fast you can almost see the vines getting longer. We have baby cucumbers developing. The raspberries are probably going to be ripe in a week or so. Wow, it’s amazing what a bit of rain can do.

Baby cucumber

The color on the lilies has been almost breathtaking this year.

The warm, damp weather has really jump started the tomatoes. They look beautiful this year.

The raspberries are so loaded with fruit this year MrsGF had to put posts with string to rest the canes on because the weight of the fruit was bending them in half and snapping off the canes. I’ve never seen that happen before.

Anyway, as you can see the gardens here have been doing very, very well of late. Yes, we were watering everything carefully during the drought and keeping an eye on soil moisture and all of that, but for whatever reason artificial irrigation never seems to give the same results as natural rainfall, at least not for me. Even though I was sure the plants were getting adequate water, once it started raining everything just started going crazy.

Possible Logo

I’m going to (well, maybe) start selling some of my wood stuff. I got an account with Etsy now, but haven’t gotten around to actually putting anything up for sale over there, and I’m thinking of putting up a separate set of pages here to showcase a few things for sale. Don’t worry, none of that will appear here in the blog except for a link to the sales site. I’m not going to spam you or anything like that.

But I needed to come up with a name for this for Etsy, and a logo or something to mark the bowls. Most of my bowls have a 2 1/8 inch mortise (basically a shallow hole) in the bottom. This is how I attach them to the lathe with a four jaw chuck. I like using a mortise rather than a tenon because unlike a protruding tenon which has to be removed, I can leave the mortise in place. That means that if something goes wrong with the finish or something else happens, I can easily reattach the piece to the lathe to rework it or refinish it. And as for the remaining hole, I thought why not use it for a logo? I got these thin, 2″ wooden disks which work really well with the laser engraver, so I came up with a name and logo that looks pretty good when burned into the disk.

One of the experiment logo tests

Then just glue the disk into the mortise on the bottom of the bowl. I’m not sure if this is going to be the final version, but so far I’m fairly satisfied with it.

Hollowing Tool

One of the issues I’ve run into with wood turning is dealing with objects that aren’t actual bowls, but instead are what are generally called “hollow form vessels”, things like, well, this one down below here.

This thing is supposed to be hollow, and it is. Sort of. Kinda. But not much. I ran a 2″ hole into it with a forstner bit and then fiddled around with the tools I had to try to hollow it out, but it’s a damned poor job because trying to reach in there to hollow it out without damaging the small opening and without hurting myself is a pain in the neck, even with special tools. I have tools that claim they are for hollowing out forms like this, and for whatever reason they just don’t work well for me. I see guys on YouTube doing this stuff effortlessly. How the heck do they do that? I’ve tried using their techniques and tools and what I’ve ended up with is dangerous catches, broken bowls, broken tools, and a real mess.

So I spent way more money than I wanted to for this:

This is the “Simple Hollowing System” from Harrison Specialties. Harrison markets a line of lathe tools under the “Simple Woodturning” brand. I have some of their carbide tools and they are very, very good indeed. This system is supposed to make it relatively easy to hollow out even something like the bowl in that photo up there. This version comes with just about everything you need, including the system itself, the tools, cutters and even a laser guide system to prevent you from accidentally cutting through the side of a bowl as it is being hollowed out.

As you can see I haven’t even had a chance to set it up yet because it’s been so busy here, but hopefully I’ll be able to give it a try in the next week or two and I’ll talk about it then. I also want to cover the laser engraver in some detail as well in the future. So keep an eye out for both of those coming up.

Car Stuff

Let’s see, what else… Oh, almost forgot. I sold the Corvette. It was a very, very nice car, it was huge fun, but, well, even I had to admit that it wasn’t exactly practical. Basically it was a vehicle that I could only use about 5 months of the year, was a two seater, had very little cargo space. Oh, and did I mention that new tires for that thing were $500? Each. Yeah, it was over $2,000 to put a set of four tires on it because it ran high tech, high speed, run flat racing tires.

I bought, heaven help me, a Buick. Yeah, a Buick. It’s an Envision Avenir which is, according to Buick, at least, “the highest expression of Buick luxury” available. Here’s a photo swiped from Buick’s website because I’m too lazy to go out to the garage and take a picture of mine at the moment.

And I really, really like it. Well, of course I do or I wouldn’t have bought it. Duh.

The list of options on this thing runs two full pages of small type. Emergency braking systems (which I tested the first day I had it. Neighbor’s dog ran in front of the car when I drove into my driveway and the car stopped itself before I could even get my foot off the gas pedal. Wow), lane divergence warnings and even steering. Apparently if you wander outside your lane on the freeway the thing will actually steer itself back into the center of the lane you’re in. Automatic headlights, automatic cruise control that slows down or speeds up itself to match traffic, a 360 degree camera system along with radar systems to assist with parking. I won’t go into the whole list because it’s a bit ridiculous, really. Bumper to bumper warranty that covers everything, and I mean everything. With the package I got even the interior fabrics are covered. Tears, burns, stains, paint chips… All covered. Sheesh…

This thing is very, very nice. I absolutely love it.

And there’s another reason I went with it. It’s four wheel drive with good ground clearance. The roads here in Wisconsin are utterly horrible and getting worse every day. We have one of the worst maintained highway systems in the country. The roads around here are so bad you’re risking doing serious damage to your car if it doesn’t have enough ground clearance to get through the pot holes, cracks, gravel patches and other garbage we have to contend with. The Buick can deal with that a lot better than the Vette.

Why are our roads so bad? Go talk to our state legislature if you want the answer to that one. They can find billions to pay for building new freeways down around Milwaukee that no one wants, but they can’t find the money to maintain the highways, roads and bridges we already have. Those multi billion dollar freeway expansion projects are done by huge corporations that funnel enormous amounts of money into the campaign funds and PACs of our dear legislators down there in Madison. Meanwhile most road maintenance is done by local governments and small contractors who don’t have any influence at all with the legislature.

Let’s see, what else… I’m hoping to actually go fishing this year. Maybe. Every year I get my Conservation Patron license. That is an all inclusive license offered in Wisconsin that covers just about everything you can legally fish or hunt for in the state. At first glance it seems expensive, but when you consider that it includes almost everything, it is actually cheaper and more convenient than trying to get individual licenses. So I get the license every year and generally end up doing, well, nothing, because I don’t have the time. Spring turkey season came and went this year before I even remembered I had a spring turkey permit. Sigh… I think I went fishing exactly twice last year, and once so far this year.

I don’t deal with leisure time very well, I’m afraid. Heck, I’m retired for pete’s sake. I don’t need to constantly be doing something practical. But every time I start planning to go fishing there’s this little voice in the back of my head that’s saying things like “you know you really should be weeding the gardens, not wasting your time with this”, or “you should be spending your time finishing that jewelry box you started last week not sitting along a river waiting to catch a fish and wasting your time.”

Anyway, that’s it for now…

Farm Catch Up

It’s been ages since I did one of these and I was thinking of not doing one at all because I’ve been moving away from farming as a topic here for a long time now, but what the heck, why not? A lot has been going on in the ag world of late, so let’s take a look.

This bunch over at UW Madison are trying to convince people that milk, especially their “milk based beverage”, is a great sports drink. They claim that there is even actual real sciencey stuff behind their claim. Since the article doesn’t actually give any real data to back that up, excuse me if I take that with a rather large grain of salt because the entire sports drink industry is full of hype, nonsense, misleading information, heavily slanted “research” and in a lot of cases, flat out lies. I saw one “study”, for example, that claimed that drinking sodas like Pepsi and Coke was better for you than drinking water. Seriously.

Do we really need another sports drink in a world that is already infested with similar muck? Of course not. We certainly don’t need this stuff either.

Sidenote: Trying to do research about milk on the internet is interesting and frustrating. It’s almost impossible to find any kind of truly independent research being published if you start searching the internet. Just about any “study” that treats milk favorably ultimately traces back to the dairy industry either directly or indirectly. And they pump so much of this heavily slanted information out there that it buries the real independent research which almost all tends to indicate that milk really isn’t all that good for you in the first place.

Dicamba Banned by Court (but not really)

The dicamba based herbicides introduced by Monsanto, the so-called “XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology” were originally permitted in 2016 by EPA for widespread use. But it was immediately alleged to have damaged millions of acres of crops and other plants as the herbicide vaporized and drifted for long distances. Something Monsanto claimed it couldn’t do. And also immediately Monsanto (and later Monsanto’s new owner, Bayer) was hit by hundreds of lawsuits over the product. And despite the seriousness of the problems, EPA approved the stuff again in 2018.

But now the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that EPA’s approval of the product is invalid because EPA apparently ignored multiple rules, regulations, federal law and actual real world data when it issued the approval. It violated the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. It violated the Endangered Species Act. It refused to consider multiple reports of widespread damage caused by the products. It violated its own internal rules and regulations. It… Well, the list goes on, and on, and on.

I imagine Bayer thought Monsanto was going to be a cash cow when it bought the company. I wonder if they still think it was a good deal now that it is being hit with hundreds of lawsuits over not just the dicamba problem but also over Monsanto’s RoundUp herbicide?

What about that “but not really” bit in the header there? Well it turns out that isn’t the last word on the issue. The Arkansas state supreme court apparently just told farmers in the state something like “Hey, go ahead and use the stuff anyway for another couple of months.”

Drought

It’s been dry here in Wisconsin where I live just east of Lake Winnebago. Dry and unseasonably hot. We went directly from heating season into air conditioning season with temperatures abruptly leaping from daytime highs of about 50 degrees to temps in the high 90s. At first this was actually rather pleasant, but it’s getting a bit much now. The forecast indicates temperatures are going to remain in the high 80s to low 90s for the rest of the week, with little or no chance of rain in sight. And the long range forecasts are not looking good. They’re predicting above normal temperatures and little or no rain through the entire long range forecast period.

They’re even thinking now that we could be heading into the worst drought we’ve had since 2012.

The drought here is concerning, but it hasn’t reached the extremes it has hit in the south and west, and up into the Dakotas and into Minnesota. This is causing huge problems for the entire ag industry, of course. Ranchers and dairy farms are already culling cattle, some farms aren’t even bothering to plant crops because there’s so little moisture in the ground the seed wouldn’t sprout.

It’s especially hard out west where aquifers are already depleted after years of drought conditions and over pumping of water, and reservoirs depleted by a lack of winter snowfall.

Of course it’s still early in the season, at least for those of us up here in Wisconsin and Minnesota. If we get any kind of decent rains up here in the near future it isn’t going to be too bad. But in other parts of the country, well, things don’t look good at all.

One good thing is that the drought has kept the mosquitoes down. MrsGF and I can actually sit out in the backyard in the evening without getting eaten alive by the little buggers.

Prices Going Up

Yes, the I-word, Inflation, is back. It is only just starting to filter down to the average consumer but it’s been hitting the ag industry hard for some time now. Construction lumber has skyrocketed, doubling and even tripling in price. Corn and soybean prices are still floating at extreme highs, with corn flirting with $7 a bushel and soybeans up close to $16. Increased corn prices have pushed ethanol costs up which, along with increased demand, have pushed gasoline prices up.

Trucking costs have skyrocketed as well, which has hit food distributors hard. And as if that weren’t bad enough, they’re having trouble finding pallets. Pallets, for heaven’s sake. Costs for those have shot up from about $12 each to as high as $40 each. Considering most pallets are made from wood and wood prices have gone up about 300% that’s not surprising.

Anyway, there are a lot of different factors that are pushing prices up. A lot of it is increased demand. After over a year of hunkering down because of the pandemic a lot of people now want to get out and buy stuff and do stuff that they couldn’t do before. I think a lot of this is going to be temporary. Once things start to settle down a little as people get used to living a more or less normal life once again, demand will start to ease.

Employee Shortages

Farmers have always had trouble trying to find workers but now they’re competing against just about everyone else as the pandemic slows down and people try to return to some kind of normal life. The pent up demand for consumer goods is putting huge pressure on the whole system, and just about everybody is scrambling to try to find employees. For decades farmers have relied on immigrant labor to perform temporary jobs like harvesting fruit, vegetables and the like. Jobs that are strictly temporary and only last a few weeks or even days. But government policies have made it far harder, even impossible, to bring in enough immigrant workers to do the work. The same is true for the restaurant, hotel and tourist industries which have also relied on immigrant labor for decades.

Farmers aren’t the only ones having trouble finding employees. Just about everyone is. A lot are going to extreme lengths to try to attract people. It isn’t just increased wages, either. KayTee, the bird and pet food company, is located here and their starting wage for warehouse workers is now pushing up to $20/hour starting, with full benefits, including health insurance, starting the first day of employment, longevity bonuses, and even arranging shifts to be more attractive. You can work a three day shift, 12 hours, get paid for a full 40 hours, and then have the rest of the week off.

Farmers can’t offer those kinds of terms, though. Farmers can’t increase the prices of their products the way manufacturers can in order to try to cover increased labor costs. They get whatever the monopoly food processors will pay them. It’s hard to try to reduce costs as well because most farmers are already operating on razor thin profit margins.

Hemp Hype Hits Roadblock

For decades certain persons have been pushing hemp as the crop that would save the American farmer or some such nonsense. Hemp was going to be hugely profitable, would be in demand for paper making, making clothes, making rope, foods, as yet discovered medical advances and, well, magic pixie dust for all I know.

Yes, hemp was indeed a major industrial crop in the US up through the 1950s. The last commercial hemp crop was planted in 1957 here in Wisconsin, and the crop was banned entirely in 1970 when hemp was classified as a Schedule 1 drug, making it comparable to heroin. Apparently certain persons in the administration at the time had a nightmare involving roving bands of stoned hippies wandering from farm to farm smoking industrial hemp?

Anyway, it is now legal to grow industrial hemp. Sort of. Maybe. Kinda. And it sure isn’t easy. Federal regulations seem to change on almost a monthly basis, and what was legal last month may not be legal this month. Every state has its own laws and regulations. Three states, Idaho, South Dakota, and Mississippi, don’t permit it at all. But the others generally have some kind of permitting process to allow growing it.

But here’s the big question: Can you actually make money growing the stuff?

The answer to that seems to be, frankly, no. At least not enough to bother actually going through all the headaches involved in growing it. Wisconsin’s ag department received 48% fewer applications to grow the stuff this year. The number of registered processors dropped by 37%. And the reason why is that it is damned hard to make a profit off the stuff.

The problem is that except for CBD there just isn’t any market for hemp. Yes, hemp makes an excellent fiber for making paper, even better than wood fibers I’m told. But none of the major paper manufacturers have the equipment or skills to actually use it, and they don’t want to invest in changing because it would be hugely expensive. Yes, you can make a lot of stuff out of hemp. Once upon a time we did. But none of that infrastructure exists any more. Manufacturers switched to different materials and different technology and they have absolutely no reason to switch back.

So that leaves CBD as pretty much the only product that’s made from hemp that might be profitable, and CBD is, well, basically it’s snake oil. Except for use to treat some forms of epilepsy and perhaps arthritis, most of the claims you see made about the stuff are entirely unproven or even outright lies.

So, if you are a farmer with bills to pay, employees to pay, a mortgage to pay, equipment loans to pay, are you going to plant hemp which you will probably lose money on, or are you going to plant corn or soybeans or milo or some other crop that you will actually get paid for?

Cybersecurity

JBS, the huge meat processor (they have 25% of the market in the US) was hit by a ransomware attack that shut down their operations in the US and Australia. JBS apparently had to pay $11 million to the attackers to get control of their computers.

This and the pipeline attack should have people not just outraged but also more than a wee bit frightened because they’ve proved that our basic infrastructure systems are woefully inadequate when it comes to security.

Anyway, let’s wrap this up for now.

Coming up…

I need to get out in the gardens with the camera and get some pictures up. It’s going crazy out there. We’ve had to water the gardens pretty much every single day for two weeks now because of the lack of rain and the abnormally high temperatures, but there is a positive result, everything is growing like nuts and most of our plants out there are about two or three weeks ahead of normal. The tomato plants are loaded with flowers, the raspberries will be ripening in probably a week, we’ll be harvesting lettuce today, we’ll have a few blueberries coming ripe in the next few days on the new bush. The poor hostas are showing some problems from the heat that we normally don’t see until the end of summer.

I haven’t been talking about woodworking and amateur radio much of late because I just haven’t had the time. We spent all of yesterday morning buying food and helping to prep for a kids’ day camp coming up in the near future. That’s something MrsGF is involved in and I just get dragged along to do the heavy lifting. Do you have any idea how much food 40 kids can eat in one week? I didn’t until now. We’re helping to fund a university research project to study the effects of climate change on small fresh water lakes with a small college in upstate New York. And now that the pandemic has started to settle down we really, really need to get down to the brewpub and see how things are going down there because it sounds like the place needs to have some basic renovations done that have been ignored up until now.

My wood shop is horribly over crowded. I need more storage space down there, I need to move out equipment I no longer need and, build racks for wood storage. I just got in $400 worth of wood the other day and until I get things reorganized I don’t have any place to store it conveniently.

I need to get something set up on Etsy so I can start selling some of the stuff I’m cranking out. That means I need to set up a separate bank account for that because I most definitely do not want to tie my personal accounts to an online sales system.

And my kids thought I’d have nothing to do when I retired….

Tree, Spring Photos, Garden Tour, And Stuff

I’m not going to miss this tree too much. It’s been shedding limbs every time we get a 20 mph wind for years now.

The only big old tree we have left on the property is going to have to come down. I’m sad about that but it has to go because it’s rotting out from the top down where two of the major branches of the canopy come together. If we don’t take it down soon it will come down itself and quite possibly do some serious damage. So that will be coming down probably in August. That’s going to mean some big changes in the gardens around here. That tree is massive and it shades out a huge area which always meant what we could grow back there was seriously restricted because of the shade.

Right now I’m thinking of putting in another decorative feature like this one:

MrsGF looked at me like I was nuts when I first proposed it, but then she thought about it for a moment and said sure, why not. Neither of us want to end up with just a big area of nothing but grass back there. So we’ll see. Putting in that feature up there with the retaining wall blocks and all that was a hell of a lot of work and it wasn’t exactly cheap. I think I have about a thousand bucks sunk into that one garden when the costs of the retaining wall blocks, rock, plants and everything else is added up.

The two new raised vegetable beds are doing quite well. One of these days we’re going to get around to building a brick/stone wall around these to make them more decorative looking, but that’s in the future. We have three tomatoes in one, surrounded by onions, and pole beans and more onions in the other.

I highly recommend raised beds for vegetables. They work really well, are easy to keep weed free, easy to tend the soil, the height tends to discourage animals from getting into them. The biggest drawback is that they dry out rather fast and they need to be watered almost every day. Especially this spring because we haven’t had a decent rain in, well, a month or more, I think. It has been an exceptionally dry spring here.

The other two raised beds are doing well also. One has a variety of pepper plants in it. You can see that the plants have #10 cans with the bottoms cut out surrounding them. Those will be coming off this week yet. The cans are a great way to give the plants protection when they’re first transplanted into the garden. The other bed is all beets with more onions planted around the outside. We really, really like beets. We like ’em roasted, sliced, pickled, etc. They freeze pretty well also so we figure we’ll have enough to hold us through the winter with all of these.

Mr. Spiny, our pet cactus is still doing fantastic along the foundation wall. It’s hard to tell in this photo but there are three other cactus off to the left, started from pads we took off Mr. Spiny and stuck in the ground. The soil right along that wall is absolutely horrible and normally almost nothing will grow there. The cactus seem to love it, though. Makes a great conversation piece because people can’t believe that a cactus will thrive here in Wisconsin for some reason, even though Wisconsin does have some native cactus, including this one. There are some other types that are hardy here as well. You don’t need to live in the southwest to have cactus in your gardens.

If you want to grow your own, go for it. I will warn you that in early spring they will look absolutely horrible and you’ll think it’s dead. At least this one does. It’ll be laying flat on the ground, the pads looking all brownish and nasty. It isn’t, though. Once the weather gets a bit better the pads begin to turn green again and start filling out again.

The hosta garden in the front of the house came through the winter quite well and is looking pretty good. They still haven’t reached full size yet but will be getting there pretty soon at the rate they’re growing.

And then the flowers – holy cow have we got flowers this year!

Other Stuff

Yes, I’m still doing the wood turning thing. Below is a tiny little bowl I cranked out the other day from a piece of scrap walnut I had laying around. It’s only about 3 inches wide and 2 inches tall. Cute little thing. Useless for just about anything, but cute.

This one down below is a rework. This was a rosewood bowl that started to show microcracks on the surface about a week or so after I made it. So I put it back on the lathe the other day and reworked it.

It turned out that the cracks were surface defects that only extended a few millimeters into the body of the bowl. So I reshaped the bowl, put on a finish, and we’ll see what happens this time.

My experience with rosewood has been puzzling. I’ve made four pieces with Indian rosewood, and three of them exhibited what I’ve been calling microcracks, very, very thin, sometimes lengthy cracks that do not follow the grain of the wood and seem to be confined to the surface of the wood. I’m not sure why, either. The wood was dry and stable, didn’t exhibit any other defects. Someone said that rosewood is very oily and that perhaps the oils were evaporating from the surface causing the wood to shrink, and I suppose that’s possible. We’ll see what happens with this one.

Night Sounds, Lasers and Handles

Let’s start out with frogs with this little 30 second video. I put up a video a few weeks ago of some frogs singing when I was out on the bike, but this is in my own backyard this time. As soon as it starts to get dark here, this is what it sounds like here at the house. Turn up your volume and wait a bit. It takes about 10 seconds for the sound to kick in. You aren’t going to see much, it’s dark. It’s the sound that I want you to hear.

Frogs. Dozens and dozens of frogs singing their little hearts out. It one of the most amazing things I’ve ever heard. As soon as the weather got warmer and we got a bit of rain this frog chorus started in and I find myself going out into the backyard a couple of times a night just to listen to these guys.

Lasers

So, let’s move on to lasers, specifically the laser engraver over there on the left. This is the “Laser Engraver laser engraving machine 3000mw laser class 4 Off-line Upgrade Version CNC Pro DIY Logo engraver” from a company called GanGou.

Now I’ve been interested in laser engravers for some time now. You all know by now I fiddle around with wood, and I thought it would be interesting to be able to burn artwork onto some of the things I crank out here from time to time. Especially now that I’ve been getting into this lathe stuff. If I am going to sell this stuff I’d like to put a logo, name, maybe a date, on the bottom of the bowls. A lot of people use custom made branding irons, but those are expensive and can’t be changed without buying a new one. A custom made branding iron with your own logo can set you back well over $100 or more, and then that is all it can do. This laser here costs about $250 and can engrave just about anything you can stuff into a .BMP file.

I never bought one before because they were way, way out of my budget. The good ones anyway. There were always really cheap ones on the market but every one of those I saw was utterly horrible in every single way. ES (Eldest Son) bought one of those a few years ago and it took him days just to get it running and it was utterly useless if he tried to engrave anything bigger than about 1 square inch.

That’s changed, though. Some of the cheap models are now very, very good, and this is one of them. It goes for around $250 on Amazon and it is a lot better than I expected it to be. The build quality on this thing is excellent. It is very, very well made. The hardware is all beautifully finished, the tolerances are excellent, the stepper motors are high quality. It is just very, very good.

This is what comes in the box. Don’t be intimidated. Everything is pre-wired. All I had to do was bolt it together. Four screws hold the arm with the pre-mounted laser to the main arm, 8 screws hold on the feet, and that’s it. It’s ready to go. I went from opening the box to making the first (successful) test engraving in less than 20 minutes.

It does have its quirks, though. The manual is terrible. But then I expected that. Utterly horrible manuals, instructions, assembly notes, etc. are pretty much par for the course with a lot of equipment these days, and this is no exception. The instructions were in both English and Chinese, and interestingly enough the Chinese instructions were just as bad as those in English. (Google Translate makes life for us dabblers in oddball equipment much easier.) The instructions for putting it together are pretty clear, but the rest of the manual deals with the included software, not the engraver itself. And, well…

The software that comes with it, well, you might as well not even bother installing it. In my case I installed it on my test computer, a more or less bullet proof generic, business class Lenovo laptop that I picked up refurbed for $200, running Win 10. This computer will run anything because there is no speciality hardware, no oddball drivers, nothing. It is your basic, simple, 100% compatible Windows 10 computer.

It won’t run the Gangou software, though. The drivers installed. Well, I think they did but it was hard to tell because all of the prompts were in Chinese. The software installed. It ran, and then immediately locked up tight as soon as I tried to click on any of the buttons. As far as I can tell, clicking anywhere in the program, on any control, makes it lock up tight. Sigh… I’ll fiddle with it a while longer to see if I can figure out what’s going on, but I don’t have a lot of hope. I don’t know yet if the hardware will work with the other open source or commercial laser engraver programs out there. I only just got the thing and I haven’t had time to really look into it further.

Fortunately you don’t need the software at all to run this thing. You can do everything from that little touch screen. Plug a flash drive with your .BMP file into it, turn it on, select the file you want to use, set the laser strength, do the positioning test to make sure the object is in the right place, and hit start. Using it from the touch screen is about as simple as it gets. And as you can see from the results of a test run on a tap handle I cranked out the other day, it does a pretty darn nice job.

So far I’ve only done about a dozen engravings with it, including test runs, so I have no idea how long it will hold up under continued use, but considering how well made it seems I’m not too worried about that. And at around $250 the price is right. The reviews on Amazon are all over the place. But you have to be really cautious about reviews these days. And a lot of the really negative reviews seem to have been from, well, idiots, to be blunt, people who couldn’t figure out how to put it together, didn’t know anything about laser engravers in the first place and that kind of thing. One of these days I should really do an article about product reviews and how to try to sort the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

Tap Handles

So I’ve been making handles for beer taps of late. A couple of very good friends of ours bought a tavern in a Milwaukee suburb and are converting it into a brewpub, and we might have invested a few bucks in it. The handles on their taps were left over from the previous owner, and all of those handles are left over from the usual big monopoly beer brands which sell stuff that tastes like their breweries are directly connected to the Clydesdale stables drainage ditch. So those handles have to be replaced with something that reflects what’s actually in the kegs they’re connected to. Hence the need for the laser engraver I’ve been talking about. I’ve done a couple of experimental efforts already. They’re dirt simple to turn out in just about any shape I want. The chrome ferrule down at the bottom consists of a threaded rod; a wood screw on one end to go into the tap, machine threads on the other end to fit into a chrome plated brass fitting that then screws onto the tap itself. Those are cheap. I got these for about $1.50 each from a company in India and they’re good quality.

So now that I’ve done some experimenting I am going to crank out about 8 of these for them, and use the laser to engrave their own company logo on them and even specific beer names if they want. And I can make ’em out of scrap wood I have left over from other projects, even glue up blanks with different types of wood like the experiment over there on the left.

Still Biking

Someone asked if I was still bike riding and I am indeed. As soon as the weather started getting warm enough to get out I was out on the bike every chance I had. I’ve had some issues with breaking spokes. I’ve had to have spokes replaced three times already this year and I only have a couple of hundred miles on the bike. I think it’s being caused by shock from going over the railroad tracks around here. The rail crossings have gotten really, really bad over the past year.

Anyway I am out and about, but I haven’t said much here because I figured you all were getting bored with it.

Holy cow it’s dry out there. Thats the river down by the old stone bridge which is on my regular route. This time of year that river up there should be about 3 feet deeper and flowing along at a pretty good speed. Instead it looks more like it normally would at the end of August – completely stagnant, only about a foot or so deep.

We’ve been under fire warnings almost since the snow melted here, and we’ve already had several wild fires. They’re small when compared to those out west, but yes, we have them here too. We got a good shower last night but it doesn’t come close to making up for it. We’ve had to water the gardens here on a regular basis already, something we generally don’t have to do until mid to late summer.

But it still looks amazingly beautiful out there. The road and trailside flowers are in full bloom and I really look forward to getting out of town and into the countryside.

Let’s see, what else… The vegetable gardens are all in. We have the raised beds planted with onions, beans, a variety of peppers, etc. We have one that’s all beets this year because, well, we like beets so why not? We put in a couple of squash, a few cukes. I have two jalapeno peppers growing in pots out front. Only two because I’m the only one who likes jalapenos around here. We only put in 3 tomato plants this year because we still have a lot of canned tomatoes from last year.

The big ash tree in the backyard is going to have to come down. I noticed a large hole near the top of the trunk right where two of the main branches come together and it looks like it’s rotting from the top down. So that has to go before it comes down and damages something. We already talked to a service about doing that and they’ll be coming at the end of summer to take it down. I’m going to keep the wood, at least all of the big stuff, and we’re going to keep the stump and turn it into a decorative feature. That means we get a significantly lower cost for the removal of the tree, all they have to haul out is the brushy stuff.

And that, my friends, is about it for this time.

What’s coming up…

I’ll put up photos of the “official” tap handles once I get those done.

I’m doing some experimenting with the boxelder wood I got from MrsGf’s sister and that stuff looks really nice. If that turns out I’ll put up some pictures of that.

I suppose I should talk about the DeWalt battery chainsaw I picked up a few months ago. That has turned out to work a lot better than I ever thought it would and it deserves a look. I have a Poulan gas chain saw but it is very, very old, very noisy, very messy, leaks oil and is just nasty. So far the DeWalt has been working well. I use it for cutting up large blocks of wood that won’t fit on my band saw or table saw so they’ll fit on my lathe.