Rustic Cyberpunk

Coffee. Code. Cabins.

The Strategic Luddite

3 min read

I have a conflicted relationship with chores. On one hand, I love the simplicity of a task allowing me to tune out the world. On the other, this is one more thing occupying my waking moments when the world is already tuned out and I'd rather be doing something else. Most chores for cabin life will be physical in nature.

Certain tasks will benefit a great deal from automation. E.G Closing the windows on a greenhouse during a sudden cold spell, opening them again to manage humidity, turning fans on or off etc....

I'll be avoiding anything "Cloud".

Moreover, if I rely on certain systems to maintain my lifestyle and I don't understand how these systems operate, I won't know how to repair them when they inevitably fail or when I need to make improvements. Opaque boxes hidden behind obscure circuitry and licenses, running programs restricted by the DMCA, is an unpleasant proposition.

Sacrificing my future freedom for convenience in the present feels like an unwise investment.

In that spirit, I'm working on a set of single-role, simple circuits for handling various chores. Task handlers which will still remain sufficiently low-tech, that should actual human intervention be necessary, they can remain on standby as durable conveniences. Not contrivances for the sake of technology, which can fail on command at the behest of a corporation that answers to no one but itself.

Part of my rationale is that a smart device, or similar general purpose programmable machine requiring a network connection, isn't always available or desirable for various reasons. The other is the high scavenge and reuse potential for parts. Hobbyists and professional carpenters alike routinely reuse scrap lumber, of varying textures, hardness, and appearance they have laying around and the principle is the same.

Even in times of stress, plenty of past luxuries get discarded.

Where one would use a specific microcontroller like an ATMega, PIC, or STM series these days, I'm trying to get back to basics with simple transistors and logic gates whenever possible.

I hope to have most of them doing these tasks without any stored programming, which may be susceptible to undesired changes or unexpected failure modes years or decades in the future. The circuit assembly of each will function as hard-wired programming for the most part, tailored to each task, using generic components. Many circuits in older reference books didn't even have labeled transistors. They would sometimes be called "NPN" or "PNP", implying "whatever similar you have on hand will suffice".

Should programming be absolutely necessary, I'll try to use the bare minimum circuitry needed such that most of the operation will draw very little power and can be supplied with a small solar panel and battery combination.

If procuring circuit boards also becomes an issue, I'll likely use narrow copper tape to draw out my traces and mica sheets as the base. These sheets are usually sold as replacement parts for microwave ovens. In the meantime, I'll be experimenting with regular printed circuit boards and prototyping on simple perforated boards. I have enough spares for now so I can manage some failed experiments without too much cost.

Of course, whenever possible, I will forego electronics altogether. Analog task-specific helpers may be even more desirable as they can usually be repaired and improved with locally sourced materials.

There's no guarantee that I'll retain the dexterity, visual clarity, or mental acuity of the present in my future years so the configuration and makeup of my helpers will be well documented and as clear to me as possible for the foreseeable future, in addition to remaining simple.

I'd rather not be burdened with the prospect of a diminishing pool of replacements for these. Nor do I want to be concerned with my relevance in my own upkeep.

Why Things Work

5 min read

I bought a typewriter at the beginning of this year. A Royal Safari from the 1960s, as something of a side-project and to enjoy my free time away from the computer. I have far more free time than I did before.

Royal Safari
Royal Safari, in all its gray and beige glory. I rather like the combination in this particular case since it fits with everything.
Serial SA5453737
This serial number dates to around 1963, I think, from the few reference materials I've been able to find

One of my neighbors sold it to me for $10 after trying and failing to fix it himself and thought I might have better luck. There were quite a few scuffs, scratches and dings on the case, but the internal mechanism was intact aside from a rail being slightly out of alignment. Most of the keys were covered in thick layers of White-Out, which I tried to scrub out as best as I could. I still don't know why people do this to their typewriters.

Key closeup
The keys look considerably cleaner now. I did my best to remove the built up layers of grime, but there are few corners that could still use a good scrubbing. At least the parts where my fingers will touch are relatively clean. I wasn't able to do much about the discoloration.

By looking at the insides, I'm inclined to think it was dropped from a fair height at some point. My neighbor got it this way initially from eBay. The seller had described it as working at first, but that it had "stopped" afterwards, which means something happened to it in storage.

Back cover screw
That looks like many failed attempts at removing the rear screw. I don't know if the previous owner or the eBay seller had poor eyesight.
Tab set rail
This rail was out of alignment and it seemed to have suffered a shock at some point. This is the tab set bar. Each of those pins is a tab stop which can be set via the "column set" key.

Preceding my purchase, I have no idea how many people tried to fix it themselves. There was a thick layer of WD-40 already on it, which ruins the delicate balance between lubrication and freedom of movement. There are various formulations of WD-40, but once the U.S. variant "dries", it becomes a thoroughly viscous magnet for all manner of dust floating in the air, in addition to acting as spider silk to whatever debris falls onto the joints from between the keys. The coating looked old already so I don't believe my neighbor was responsible for this failed attempt at maintenance.

Basket closeup
There's still a bit of dried WD-40 in there, but I've done the best I could to get rid of it with the isopropyl alcohol I had at hand. A few keys are still a tad slow to fall back after striking.

To my delight, there are still typewriter ribbon vendors. I've ordered a few and they're on their way.

Returning this typewriter to working order gave me a good reminder of how a lot of us seem to keep doing the same thing without stopping to think why they should work in the first place.

Often times, finding out why something worked in the past is more important than understanding why it may not at present. The clues are all there. The typewriter worked because the intricate ballet of levers, slides, and joints are mechanically choreographed at the factory to precise tolerances. The addition of the problematic lubricant was unnecessary and so was the drop.

People train themselves to do the "working thing" so thoroughly that they keep doing it even when it stops working or the circumstances that lead to it working originally no longer apply. Sometimes, failures aren't the pillars of success; If nothing was learned, they're merely a pile of cumulative failures.

Allegiance to the same ideas in the face of better information is religion. That might be fine in some cases for mild doses of self-improvement, especially when the new information is possibly misguided and harmful, but it's also how civilizations end when left unchecked.

Hello OnionLand
This ribbon has probably been in this typewriter for decades

Writing on the typewriter is a great joy. I learned how to type on an electric typewriter I found thrown out by someone because I couldn't afford a computer at home for homework. It wasn't until junior high school that I was able to actually use a computer in the library and get to know typing on even lighter keyboards.

This is the first time I've felt the truly awesome tactile feedback of stamped steel.

I think the typewriter will be a fine addition to the library, once it's built. I'd like to leave it there permanently next to the reference material I read for inspiration. It's fitting that this specific model was originally marketed toward students and I still have a lot to learn.

Royal Safari booklet
The literature that came with the typewriter. Being crumpled between the back of the typewriter and the case all these years, it has definitely seen better days.
Typewriter introduction
This was geared more toward families, possibly with children who wrote their papers on these typewriters.
Touch Typing guide
Teaching touch typing was still the norm, even with the widely prevelant two-finger search and destroy method. I've developed a few bad typing habits that I hope I can also get rid of by using the typewriter.

Andy Rooney had a collection of typewriters in his own writing shed and it's only fitting that I feel compelled to do something similar.

Andy Rooney's writing shed'
Hopefully I can stop with just one typewriter.
Andy in his shed
Andy in his "pentagon" in 2001 going through a stack of mail. I like the shelf arrangement inside as well.

Since the library is not going to be wired for electricity anyway, it's perfect for writing for hours on end without needing to charge a device like a laptop or even my own writing computer. And since the structure will be insulated, it won't experience the same temperature swings that damage so many other forgotten mechanical relics in attics and basements.

Looking forward to many more pages indelible text.

Settling In

2 min read

This winter marks the first time in five years that I haven't gone camping. Considering everything that's happened, it wasn't entirely unexpected. I've cleaned up the apartment before Thanksgiving and my roommate helped out. We had our, long awaited, pie from the neighbor and were very thankful for that as well.

I have no specific plans this winter except surviving until spring. There is enough in terms of provisions that should I lose my current gig between now and March, I'll still have the mortgage and bills covered. Don't know what I'll be doing past that, but we'll see how the branches fall by then.

The hatches have been battened down.

I've been trying to relax while staying home by working on a typewriter I acquired a little while ago from another neighbor. He got it on eBay and sold it to me for $10. I think he paid considerably more, but he just wanted to be rid of it at that point. It's a nice machine for the most part, once the grit cleaned up. One of the worst things that can happen to mechanical devices is an incorrectly attempted repair. I've been thoroughly enjoying the immediacy of writing down my thoughts on it.

Since my own cabin plans are on hold, I was looking up how other cabin folks are spending their winters. I came across this one that I especially enjoyed. This is what I hope to be doing while on my winter strolls as well.

Another one I appreciate is this venture in quiet solitude.

I do want to get back on the cabin design and I have a rough idea of where I'm heading since the last two times. The overall plan is still the same from the middle of this year, but I'll obviously need to reconsider the timeline. The "solar shed" will likely be where all my electronics will also be housed as that will create the least amount of intrusion into the other living spaces. I still want to maintain that boundry of tech and non-tech as much as is practical.

Things may feel slow as molasses at present, but for me at least, it's still flowing in the right direction.

Cabin Life: Building Walls

6 min read

Between work tasks and copious sprouts of inspiration, I finally managed to put together the basic structure of the cabin walls. This is my first update on the cabin design in almost three months as I'm slowly making my way home from the work site.

The sturctures will be built on the previous foundation design. This is the overall direction I want to take, the details of which will be decided as I have access to more information as well as a building site. Because so much has happened this year, I don't know when I'll be able to begin, but I want to keep walking as long as I can see the path.

Cabin wall framing
The overall cabin wall framing.
Utility structure
Multi-purpose structure wall framing.

There are probably going to be many revisions to the final cabin layout from now until construction. And there might be revisions during construction as well, but I'm satisfied with this arrangement so far. It gives me the most amount of flexibility should things change.

The wall framing itself is fairly conventional and will use 2 x 4 studs for the most part. While this is smaller than a typical house framing, the sizes are matched to the overall smaller interior of the structures and expected snow loads with the relatively steep roof angle I'm envisioning. The stud spacing will be 16" on center as is typical for the U.S. and Canada.

Depending on the land I'll eventually be able to procure, the longest continous wall and the end wall without cutouts or openings will face the direction of prevailing winds on the building site. This will both improve longevity of the structures and reduce interior temperature swings.

Continous wall interior
Longest continous wall with blocking in-between studs. The blocking layout might change in the final version.
Continous wall exterior
Continous wall outside view showing ample room for insulation.

I decided against standard insulation like rock wool or fiberglass for the most part and will probably stick to two layers of "bubble foil" separated by an air gap for the walls, following the same scheme as the foundation. This will probably be eschewed by seasoned builders for various reasons, but my specific use case isn't a traditional building. My decision was based on time, effort, and cost involved when considering long-term viability in a highly weather-variable area with frequent intrusions from local fauna.

Insects and rodents love all manner of fiberous materials, especially in the woods, and I'd like to limit fiber insulation like rock wool only to the area close to the eventual location of the wood stove.

I may also have to move these structures at a future date and this will be a lot easier without the additional weight of fiber batts. Removable anchoring to the ground should suffice to keep the sturcture stationary in the winds expected in the area I've researching. Naturally, a lot depends on how the climate will change in the coming years, but there will be plenty of metal anchoring for the studs, foundation, and roof rafters as well.

Wall end stud
This is called a "California Corner", also called a 3-stud corner, and it's meant to provide a surface for the interior siding when two walls are joined while saving buliding material. The assembly should give enough structural rigidity and still leave enough space for insulation.
Wall blocking
The horizontal blocking between studs will have to be individually cut to fit the end studs, but this is a minor on-site adjustment.
Continous end wall
The end wall also has no cutouts for windows or doors so the final iteration will likely be centered on the middle skid for proper load-bearing
End wall length
The end wall is cut to fit in between the two longest walls of the structure

The walls will have horizontal blocking between studs to add resistance to shear forces. Traditionally, this was done with diagonal bracing, but since the studs are only 2 x 4, I didn't feel comfortable cutting into them to add the diagonals. This does add a bit more weight to the walls, but I feel that's an acceptable compromise.

End wall blocking
The end wall will also have blocking to add rigidity and will likely follow the same spacing as the longer continous wall
End wall and continous side wall joined
Once joined, the shared structure will add to the rigidity of the corner. The blocking will be installed on each wall before raising either one.

The one aspect that I'm still debating is the size of the door. Having a smaller door on the smaller structure template would make sense if I don't plan on bringing in larger equipment. But it adds to the surface area of the cutout, which is a problem when trying to maintain interior temperatures. I have to balance the aesthetics with practicality in this case, but for now, I settled on a 27.5" door opening for both structure types.

I may end up making the doors from scratch as the location and circumstances permit. This will also likely change in the final version or even during the build itself.

Door wall
The door shares a king stud (yellow) with the wall layout to avoid adding more lumber and is load bearing on the bottom skid. Only the jack studs (pink) are additions to the door cutout.
Door wall length
The door wall is the same length as the end wall, which has no cutouts. I'll be raising the door wall and end wall after raising and securing the two longest walls in their final location first.

The importance of nautral light wasn't lost on me during my camping trips and other outdoor frolicking. Even when living in a borrowed cabin, I noticed how quickly I missed the view, despite having ready access to it all the time. The main cabin will accordingly have two windows while the utility/multi-purpose structure template will have one window. I feel this will give me enough light and access to nature to enjoy, even during foul weather. The doors themselves will likely also have a window to ensure I have light coming in from two directions.

The headers for windows and doors are two pieces of 2 x 6 or 2 x 8 with three pieces of siding in between and insulation between the gaps. The roof won't be that big while it has adequate slope so even with heavy snow, this structure should be more than enough to transfer the load to the ground.

Window wall
This is the most complicated layout of all the wall assemblies. There's one king stud (right yellow) that is shared with the wall layout, but in the final iteration, I think I can share two for each window. The jack studs and cripple studs (pink) will come from cutoffs and extras left over from the rest of the structure, so this will likely be built after the rafters and other walls are built.
Window wall length
The window wall is the same length as the longest continous wall, spanning the entire length of the cabin. The utility structure will also follow this scheme for its window wall.
Window wall and door wall joined
There will be blocking between the studs in the final iteration to add structural rigidity.

There are a multitude of on-site considerations even with this overall plan. The actual placement of the structures will depend significantly on the ground conditions and weather. While I'm specifically looking at snowy areas, I'm hoping to avoid any locations with flooding. But this isn't always possible and there may be other issues with permits and easements.

I still haven't given up on building in New York since I have an affinity to the state. My family lives here and if at all possible, I'd like to be withn a day's drive to see them. Time will tell if this is a practical consideration with my potential budget in the coming years.

Onward to the roof structure.

Cabin Life: Building Foundations

4 min read

The dearth of work lately has left me ample space to wedge in design exercises for my cabin. While I haven't finalized the design on the main living structure, I'm getting closer to finishing the others. I've found a good balance between space, cost, and building practicality since I'll be doing most of the work myself. I eventually decided that I'd like to standardize on just two structural sizes.

The main living cabin will remain 8 x 12ft as a base. I feel this is the largest size I'd be comfortable with to spend most of my non-outdoor, waking moments. All other structures will be 8 x 8ft including the library and solar power shed. This size was very carefully considered after looking at cost and space. I was considering under-cabin space, but decided against it due to maintenance concerns and the possibility of having to deal with critters building nests under the structure.

I realized that having larger spaces will mean entertaining the possibility of having more things than I will actually need. This is counter to what I hope to accomplish in the end. There's a difference between having "possibly necessary" things and "I may want that later" things. Extra space for "storage" will attract detritus and I want to avoid it if at all possible.

I was working on the design with OpenSCAD, the same as my wood stove. With it, I found getting the exact cut lengths for each piece of lumber a lot simpler than manually doing the calculations. I don't know if I'll continue using it for other aspects of the structures, but it has worked very well for me so far.

base foundation
Base foundation design. Aspects of this will be shared among all structures.

The structures will be at most just 1 - 2 feet above grade. This is probably variable depending on flood conditions, but that too can be dealt with when the time comes.

foundation skids
The structures will be built on three 4" x 4" treated lumber skids with a treated plywood base on top

I settled on creating a sealed underside for all structures. The treated lumber skids or rails will keep the structure off the ground while the plywood, which binds the skids together, will close the bottom to rodents and weather.

foundation skids
Above the skids will sit a treated plywood base, separating the ground from the floor structure.

A skirting around the foundation is still probably necessary either way, but I won't be running any utilities under the structures. This will give me the fewest number of problems should I need to move any of them in the future.

foundation structure
The foundation structure will be made of 2" x 6" treated lumber joists with staggred blocking in the middle. These will be anchored through the bottom plywood to the skids below with screws.

There will be "bubble foil" insulation strips stapled between the floor joists, leaving a small gap between the bottom treated plywood and the top surface. These are a tad controversial in the Tiny House and Cabin building community, but I believe that is due to a fundamental misunderstanding of how it works.

The insulation value is measured as part an assembled unit with an air gap between surfaces. This provides ample heat retention in the winter and, more importantly, doesn't attract rodents or insects unlike most other insulation materials. This is a bigger concern when building in a rural area as I plan to do. Even in rural New York, rodents like mice and rats are still prevalent. I prefer to make my home less attractive to them in the first place rather than having to hurt them later, once they become a problem.

I'll be adding another layer of the same material on top of the joists as a continuous sheet, taped together. I may follow a similar arrangement for the walls and roof since this solution is also significantly lighter than other types and that will be advantageous if I have to move or raise any of the structures at a future date. Since this continous sheet is on the warm side of the structure, I'll be gaining the benefit of a vapor barrier in addition to a thermal break.

foundation top
The final subfloor will be 3/4" plywood or other composite product, and will have a layer of bubble foil directly underneath to act as a vapor barrier and provide a bit of additional insulation value. The walls will be built on this assembly.

I decided that the entire structure will be built with screws. While the shear strength of nails is greater, that's only one parameter in the whole assembly system. The disadvantages of nails far outweigh the advantages for me when taken overall. Besides, the shear strength is not as applicable in a fastening system that's less likely to work its way out of the structure. Screws are also more convenient when building alone as the material comes together more tightly while being fastened.

The main cabin foundation will also be a variation of this, just adapted to the 8' x 12' size.

main cabin foundation
Main cabin foundation

I hope to have the walls and roof rafters designed soon.

Cabin Process

3 min read

Over the course of looking into separating needs from wants, and distilling what's left to absolute necessities, I kept noticing that the specific problems I'm trying to solve are less about the technology and more about how it's packaged. Knowledge and experience are everywhere, if one spends the time to seek them out. Specific functions need to be separated to independent tasks which can be tackled with various methodologies and devices, if needed.

The things I need to get done are basic at the core level: To be fed, clothed, and sheltered. To be sheltered is what the cabin is for. The wood stove is an extension of this. Arguably, the library is as well as sheltering in comfort and safety is an extension of my needs, blending into wants. I haven't sorted out clothing yet, but feeding myself is not far down on the list.

Every action I'll take as part of cabin life will have a specific list of functions. The tasks and functions within these necessities need more attention. Every process needs an order of execution as well.

Before getting most of the work done, I'll need to charge the batteries for my tools, which means building the solar power shed and deploying the associated wiring first.

A rough breakdown of the cabin process, adapted from the previous list:

  • Build the solar power shed and deploy charging infrastructure
  • Build the main cabin relying on the power shed
  • Build the wood stove while sheltering in the main cabin
  • Build the library before the winter
  • Build the farm at first thaw in spring

The mechanism of the composting toilet will be for another day. I'll likely be staying in a tent or trailer until the main cabin is built.

The solar power shed can hopefully be built with a single charge of each tool so that once the wiring is complete, the shed can sustain itself and provide power to charge the tools used. I can then proceed to

build other structures as long as I can procure raw material. Von Neumann cabins with human intervention.

The power shed is also the single largest financial investment of the entire project. There's no escaping needing to buy a bank of batteries and solar panels. I'm not comfortable utilizing used panels, especially due to the large initial investment, and since I'll be running 120V cables underground to the main cabin. The reason for separating the power source from the main shelter, as mentioned in the "On Cabins" post is so I can place the main cabin in the shade and I won't need to worry about cooling in the summer. It's quite easy to heat a small shelter in winter. It's also to decouple "tech" from "non-tech" aspects of cabin life.

The power shed will also serve as storage for all my tools when not in use so I can better enjoy the main cabin unmolested by the ambiance of construction. The library will hopefully be built quickly with the leftovers from the main cabin build. Since I'm not running power to it, the structure will be the least complicated.

I've talked before about walking tractors and farming, but I haven't really looked that closely into the mechanisms of land movement. Eventually, I'll need some kind of farm to supplement what I can get at the store, and there will be a greater need to move earth in bulk at some point.

To build or to farm, I'll be moving earth. It would be nice if I can use just hand tools to accomplish this, and that is likely the first step in building the shelters, but it's impractical to rely on hand tools alone when there's no guarantee I'll retain my health as-is in the future. I'd like to try my hand at building an excavator once my welding skills are up to the task. This too will be another unit of functionality in the cabin life.

The Library Shall Have No Lights

3 min read

I had just started reading some of the older cabin related books in my collection due to the abundance of time lately. As part of my cabin plan, I've been allocating time and energy toward finding the least expenditure of resources that's practical while still giving me a comfortable living.

Although not quite a tiny "house" by some measures, the space in which I'm comfortable spending most of my time, besides the main living structure, will probably be the library. An 8ft x 8ft structure with one window and one door with a built-in window or two windows and a door without one built-in. And no other sources of light. This might seem counter-productive for a library, but not running any electricity to the structure was a carefully thought out decision.

I want to spend more time absorbing what I read.

The Internet has trained me to gorge and regurgitate without properly digesting information and I'd like to unlearn this behavior. Most of the time I spend reading isn't as enjoyable when processed through an electronic display. It's getting harder to read books because of my digital habit of scanning before context and nuance are properly steeped in the brew of my transient thoughts. Part of this is the faster pace of information and part is the environment. I feel having the information always available is making it rarely appreciated.

Limiting reading time to daylight hours will also, hopefully, re-calibrate my resting period. This isn't the same as putting the phone into airplane mode or putting time trackers or other such contrivances. I dislike setting alarms when waking up, despite having done so since high school. I don't feel very motivated to set similar alarms to stop reading. Understanding that consumption of information has a limited period of productive use need not come with locks, but with the gradual hint of a setting Sun.

The two sources of light, the window(s) and door, are to give ample illumination to read while giving me the best reading clock possible.

There will also be no clocks in the library.

I've been looking at the best approach to build such a structure, and ultimately settled on a modified ice fishing shanty. That website is a wonderful resource for many other ideas.

Ice fishing shanty

The original plans were for a 6x6 shanty, but the structure is simple enough that modifying it to 8x8 is rather simple. Most U.S. building materials, particularly sheet materials such as plywood, typically come in 2ft increments.

original floor sheets

Because of its size, I feel it's possible to build with mostly leftover material from the main structure and a few other scavenged parts. The windows in particular are simple enough, that I'm sure I'll find some removed from a previous demolition. Their sizes are flexible too. The door doesn't need the immaculate appearance of a mansion either and I'm confident that it too can be scavenged. If I can't secure two windows and if the door doesn't have one, it's a simple matter to install a window in the door with the tools I have.

My book collection isn't that large and I feel a single wall-to-wall bookshelf will give me years of reading. I hope to keep only the books I intend to read over-and-over and give away the rest as I finish them to the local library. I will also plan the location of my cabin near such a library for both convenience and to maintain my contact to the outside world. There really is a difference between solitude and loneliness.

Cabin Life: The Wood Stove

5 min read

Last year, I was taking time off in the afternoons and evenings to work on the wood stove design. I've finished the first iteration and uploaded it to Github as part of my ongoing Cabin Life project.

stove front view
Front profile view of the wood stove showing the door and interior fire grate

The overall stove size is 24" (~61cm) wide, 20" (~51cm) high to the cooktop, and about 14" (~36cm) deep including the stovepipe flue attachment, 4" (~10cm) in diameter, at the rear. This is the largest volume I'm comfortable utilizing for the stove alone in my cabin. Github now has 3D view rendering of .STL files so it should be easier to visualize the individual components. The final dimensions may change slighlty as I assemble the components.

I opted to design the entire main structure in 1/4" steel plate with the top cooking surface in 1/2" plate. I feel the thicker top plate should resist buclking under the heat and retain a more even temperature for consistent cooking.

I looked at a myriad of other stoves of similar size and came to the realization that they use a lot of valuable internal volume to enhance the fire display through the front glass. That's great for appearences, but I'm looking at this from a more utilitarian and practical standpoint. I may add a glass front at a future date for aesthetics and lighting, but this isn't a priority. It's also an additional expense that I can't afford in an experimental prototype.

side view
Side door view with the door hinge.
rear view
The top surface is as flat as possible to maximize cooking area without interfering with the rear flue pipe, when installed

The choices I've made best reflect the anticipated heating and cooking needs of my cabin life, once I've established a foothold. This stove is intended for the main living cabin where I'll spend most of my time. There are neccessary alterations, I'm sure, but this is reasonably close to the final iteration of my stove.

damper mechanism
This assembly controls both primary and secondary air flow on either side of the stove with a single lever each. The half-circle offset makes it more inclined to close than remain open, which adds to the stove's safety. The friction between the plates is what allows it to remain open.
damper installed
Damper mechanism installed
air inlet cutouts
Cutouts for the air on either side mirror each other

The design is intended to minimize the time spent with the door open when the fire is being started. Once the flue is warm and the dampers are lowered, the fire should last a good while. The embers should also be warm enough in the morning that adding a fresh log would start the fire again without adding more kindling.

door handle
A single piece of bent steel rod with a spiral wire handle to reduce heat transfer to the hand

A lot of stoves also use a series of pipes with drilled holes to heat and introduce air for secondary combustion, but I'm not sure if I'll follow something similar. I thought this can be done simpler with just a horizontal channel, but until I make the prototype and fire it up, there's no way to make sure this was a good call. For now, I'd like to try the "slot" arrangement in the prototype to see if the burn characteristics are acceptable as-is.

The stove promotes internal circulation where the primary air is aimed down from the top of the fire, and the secondary air is aimed upward from behind the main combustion. This should create a horizontal vortex which should aid in drawing out the gases out of the rear flue. It's a downdraft type with the exhaust products exiting lower than the combustion point. I haven't seen it being used as often, but I think it should work in this arrangement.

grate placement
Location of the fire grate within the stove in relation to the flue and front door
air baffle and secondary inlet
Location of the rear baffle and secondary air inlet in relation to the front door and flue
primary and secondary air
Primary and secondary air intake cutouts in relation to the front and rear baffles

I opted not to have a separate ash tray. In my experience with wood stoves, I've found these to be cumbersome and messy to operate, especially in smaller stoves, while introducing an additional point of failiure. The steel grate should provide adequate airflow underneath the fire, while allowing enough ash to accumulate and protect the bottom surface. Every day, I can scoop out some of the excess ash. This will be part of my morning routine. The grate is a tad overbuilt for its purpose, but this is a simple matter to rectify during actual construction. I may end up increasing its height to give additional clearence below for better airflow

Some of the design choices stem from reducing the cumbersome, tiny log sizes needed in other, similarly sized, wood stoves. I dislike the idea of waking up at 4AM just to stoke the fire because the stove couldn't handle typically larger logs which burn longer and fit just fine in bigger stoves. I also dislike having to further process wood once they're of manageable size to bring into the cabin. The stove is designed to handle full 16" logs. I feel this is a good compromise between a large-enough fire to cook and stay warm, and a long-burning one.

The side air inlets also allow me to reduce the distance to combustibles. A smaller cabin won't have the luxury of extra side space and the addition of extra heat shielding will also detract from the aesthetics of the interior. The inlets, in effect, add side heat-shielding. I want to make this space-efficient while remaining safe.

exploded parts view
All of the components of the stove in relation to each other in exploded view

My welding skills have improved somewhat, but I haven't tested them in practical use. That goal seems unrealistic in the midst of this panedmic, but I hope to get in some more stick time and collect resources for tests once the fog of war has lifted.

I'm considering whether I should build more of these if the design proves to be effective. Although I'm not nearly as familiar with welding as I am with carpentry, I'm sure I can practice enough to turn making stoves into an additional source of income. Even if that isn't viable, it's good to have a few spares in case I'll need to give them away during emergencies. Being able to cook and stay warm with availble natural materials is a good fallback option either way.

Winter is only a few months away.

Rethinking the Cabin

5 min read

Sometimes, I really do get ahead of my physical ability for a lot of things. I enjoy a good snow storm now and again, but I need to acknowledge that my body won't hold up at its current level of functionality forever. It barely functions adequately as it is.

I do still enjoy it when the Earth tries its best to obliterate me. But I also don't like the prospect of an early grave because my strange Winter proclivities might send me outdoors at a bad time. Especially when I'm older and more feeble.

I really liked the idea of an outhouse since it gave me the option of adding a nice outdoor shower and keeping all sanitary needs away from the living space. But realistically, that's terribly inconvenient in bad weather or if I become seriously ill at some point. The area I'm planning for this is somewhere in heavy snow country. I can make do with a sponge bath until Spring, if I can at least do my business indoors.

One of the books I've read for inspiration is Compact Cabins by Gerald Rowan. One design in particular struck me as having everything I needed to get every creature comfort I'll actually use at some point.

cabin design
I like the interior layout of this one, sans over-sized kitchen

There's an outdoor closet that I'm sure will be better served by a dedicated storage shed. I'd rather turn it into a set of windows instead, as in this design.

cabin exterior window design
The exterior front windows look better to my eyes

I'll be tweaking those quite a bit to fit my exact needs. The size is twice the original idea I had for this, but I think folding the outhouse into the one living cabin will more than make up for the cost. If I still use the composting toilet, it will also help save water for sink duty. I don't plan on having as many amneties since I do value more free space. The bed will be significantly smaller as well. The additional windows are good for more natural light for longer hours, which will help preserve battery power until night.

Calculating the amount of labor and materials needed, it's still actually a significant saving. I bought that book a while ago and there are quite a few more ideas in there that I'd like to explore.

I still plan on building a separate structure for the library as I feel a separate space from the living and sleeping area to think and tinker is important. That structure may also double as a tea room, although I'm parttial to coffee myself. That idea may have come from In Praise of Shadows by Jun'ichio Tanizaki. Although Tanizaki was quite fond of the outhouse, it was also written when he was still an able-bodied man. A lot of lessons on appreciating the understated in there and it's well worth a read.

I don't think I'll be getting rid of the solar shed idea as I do want to keep power generation separate from the main cabin. It's significantly easier to transmit high-voltage AC with relatively little loss via underground cables than via heavy, and expensive, DC wire from the batteries for the same distance. Keeping the power generation separate also simplifies adding other electrified structures at a later date.

Other resources I've been looking at are the myriad of small cabin and shed plans available. There are possibly hundreds of thousands out there of varying quality, but I settled on complete plans with attention paid to the details. I was specifically looking for ideas on how to build the foundation.

A simple shelter

This plan was floating around in various places including smallshelters.com. The domain seems to be defunct now, but the Internet Archive has the last snapshot, to the PDF download page.

I'm also quite fond of the toilet and the kitchen arrangement in that. They're quite a bit more space-efficient than in the Compact Cabins example.

Burying the wood post footings in concrete piers seem to be a common method of building foundations for small structures, but I prefer anchoring steel retainers in concrete and attaching the treated lumber posts to them instead. This allows for replacement of the wood if it rots at a future date. Even treated wood does rot eventually and keeping them away from moisture is the best preventative action. This additionally makes it slightly easier to move the cabin, should the need arise at a later date. It's more simple to unbolt the posts than to cut them off from the concrete piers.

Land is still the primary goal for now. I was looking into places in upsate New York, but it's getting to be quite a challenge to find areas which deliver more solitude than loneliness.

Parcels of land way off in the boonies are quite cheap, but they're far too remote to be practical to access and awfully lonely. Accessible land is plenty yet expensive, and is quite often picked clean for lumber or already industrialized. Thus defeating the goal of solitude. I haven't given up on New York yet, but elsewhere is getting more enticing like Vermont, New Hampshire, or Maine.

New Hampshire seems to offer the best of solitude, but at a very high price. By far, Maine is the most affordable (and the best weather for my tastes), but I fear it's suffering a population drain and so it may eventually wander into loneliness as well.

Wherever I end up, I'd like to thrive in solitude.

Carrying Things

3 min read

I'm taking an inventory of everything I would consider worthwhile to keep and take with me when I move. Most of these are second hand tools from eBay and the like, with a smattering of electronics here and there. I also have books for comfort and sentimental reasons since I never got used to e-readers. After those are the important documents.

I was pleasantly surprised that I now have every tool necessary to build a cabin. It also happens to be the bare minimum needed to start making furniture at home if I go that route as another source of income.

Only money, materials, and land are needed for the cabin project (that's all, eh?). I've been working on the materials front by batering whenever I can, which isn't easy since most folks keep to themselves around here. And winter puts a cap on how often you meet people outdoors.

I'm fairly certain this is all I'll actually need to keep besides the books and documents.

  • Hammer
  • Wrenches
  • Spirit levels
  • Portable table saw (AC)
  • Circular saw (DC)
  • Reciprocating saw (DC)
  • Blades for recip and circ-saws
  • Hammer drill (DC)
  • Power drill (DC)
  • Drill bits
  • Batteries and chargers for tools
  • Socket set
  • Concrete mixing drill attachment
  • 5-Gallon buckets (3)
  • Crowbar
  • Wire cutter/stripper
  • Clothes
  • Linens and towels
  • Laser cutter components
  • Laptop and desktop
  • Servers (3)
  • Backup drives/CDs
  • Day bed

Surprisingly, the 5-gallon buckets are one of the most important in that list since one of them can serve as a DIY composting toilet in a pinch.

I don't own a vehicle anymore since it's an added expense. In this part of New York, most everyday destinations are short walks for me. I can take public transport for anything further. It's becoming obvious that I'll need a vehicle at some point if I'm carrying all these. You wouldn't want me in the driver's seat of a rental truck. I have plans to add a small MIG welder to that lot in the future when I'm ready to make my own wood stove.

The largest single item is the day bed and, although it can be taken apart, I'm not sure if it will fit in most family cars even with the seats down. The mattress definitely won't so that leaves SUVs and maybe crossovers. It doesn't help that most searchable cargo dimensions for consumer vehicles are all in cubic feet/meters instead of actual length, width, and height. All these should reasonably fit into a typical cargo van with plenty of room to spare for the books, but a van would be a burden to own after the move is complete.

I haven't been saving for the cabin and a vehicle and that's an oversight on my part. It seems pretty obvious now, but when you're so used to having easy access to transportation, having your own mode is a hard pivot. I don't think it will delay cabin building too much, but I may end up taking on another job in the short term.

Leasing isn't going to be a viable option for me when accounting for milage, road-time, and the possibility of dings over several years. After my experience with mortgages, I also don't think long-term payments of any sort for material posessions is a good option for me. I'd much rather collect the cash and make it an outright purchase.

A worst case scenario is having to sell the apartment if a second job isn't viable or if saving would take too long. The good news is that it seems everything I'll end up actually using already fits into a van. My most treasured things already fit into a backpack.

On Cabins

5 min read

I was looking at one-room schoolhouses lately and found the aesthetic very similar to cabins and tiny houses. The setup is almost the same with one door, one wood stove, typical windows, and that's about it. I wonder if it's possible to model my cabin on such a school.

The similarities don't just extend to the exterior. In a lot of ways, the layout - everyone facing forward - applies to a lot of cabins which are also oriented the same for the most part. Most of the direction of life ultimately takes one aim. With space for just a small table and chair, a bed, and a fireplace, the Walden House fits this aesthetic nearly perfectly. I don't think I'll be building the cabin in the Walden frame exactly, but there will be a lot of similarities.

My cabin will be 8 x 12 feet to the exterior - after a lot of back and forth fluctuating on dimensions - and there will be one wood stove, two standard windows and a window on the door. Getting light from multiple directions was very important. And maybe one folding table and a chair. I haven't settled on the table or chair completely because any flat surface tends to quickly get covered in junk I don't need.

Not leaving space for clutter is a key goal and I also want to make built-in closets that will house the bedding and such. I'm tempted to go the Japanese route with a sliding door closet to both save space and keep the doors simple and dust-free. It can then extend the full height of the cabin as well. I also wanted to avoid using a full bed to save space. I considered a folding bed like a Murphy bed, but that too is a bit of a hazard and that's one more wall that I can't use for storage. A roll up futon is the next best option and it doesn't have the hazards of permanent fixtures or frames. And it's a lot easier to take outside and dust whenever needed. Life is impermanent as well and embracing that feels important.

I decided "The Cabin" will actually be 4 small structures:

  • Main living cabin (8 x 12)
  • Library or study (6 x 6 or 8 x 8, budget permitting)
  • Outhouse and shower (6 x 6)
  • Solar power shed (4 x 12)

Dedicating resources to heating and cooling structures I'm not immediately using felt wasteful in the long run. Besides, multiple structures give me an excuse to venture outside, which is one of the wonderful side benefits of cabin life. Smaller structures also let me live in a complete building quickly instead of having to live with the detritus and mess of construction, as is the case during the construction of larger dwellings, when all these things are under one roof.

The solar power shed will contain the batteries, the inverter, and cables. The powered structures will be wired with direct burial cable. This is a lot simpler and less expensive than running thick, heavy cables from the batteries to the cabin. And this gives me the flexibility to place the solar power shed out in the Sun and almost in direct contact with the solar panels. I decided the panels will be mounted on a fixed frame on the ground for easy cleanup of snow and less susceptibility to strong winds.

The other structures will be in the shade most of the time to take advantage of natural cooling during the summer. When the leaves fall in autumn and winter, the sun will bathe the structures in natural warmth so I can reduce wood heating to mostly nights.

I've debated whether or not I should wire up the library for electricity. Power could mean access to the computer, which I plan to take with me, and potentially the internet, which has given me great access to information at the cost of destroying my ability to focus on anything in particular for any meaningful length of time. The solitude of not being connected is something I've missed. And limiting the library to daylight hours creates a schedule for intellectual consumption. I believe schedules are important to all forms of consumption, including nutrition and information.

All of the structures will be within line-of-sight with potentially the solar power shed outside of that range. The decision to keep the outhouse away from the main structure was met with some criticism when I discussed it with friends, but I think this too is important to my peace of mind.

There's a wonderful treatise by Junichiro Tanizaki called "In Praise of Shadows". It had a strong influence on most of my decisions regarding the cabin and the lifestyle I've pursued since reading it. The outhouse is a taboo subject, as are most subjects related to bodily functions, but this taboo is personality limiting and ultimately self-decpetive. Everyone poops. Pooping is endemic to our species so hiding its function is both a lie and, ultimately, counter-productive. The solitude of the outhouse is one of the subjects discussed in "Shadows". The respite it gives the mind from the performance art we call "society" will be most welcome.

Most of my time will be spent in the main cabin, including cooking and sleeping, followed by the library. The main cabin and the library will be the only two structures with a wood stove.

I don't have a timeline for construction and I haven't even selected the land yet. There are many options in upstate New York, but few are cheap and buildable. I was searching for solitude, not isolation so I wanted to avoid lands where there are very few neighbors and even fewer emergency services. I'll be living by myself after all and life is not without risk.