Leaf Rake Product Review


20171206_133028Fan rakes are used for more than leaves, and that is what gets most of us into trouble. Instead of fighting with bent out pieces of spring steel or brittle bamboo, you can buy a brand new fan rake for the price of you and your sweetheart going to a movie.

I’m not sure if that’s an accurate statement or not. I don’t get out much and, to be honest, I don’t remember the last movie I saw in a theater.

However, Mrs. Cunha probably remembers and would be glad to remind me.

To her credit, Mrs. Cunha encourages my tool buying habit. In our younger years, she learned to buy the heavy duty equipment after I burned out two electric chainsaws in three years. A little pain in the present prevents catastrophic failure in the future, when a tool is pushed to its limits.

I’m a Husqvarna man, but when the logger select-cutting my fire-damaged stand of white oak referred to my baby as a “butter knife,” my competitive streak kicked in. I’m now eyeing one of the big boy 461 models from Stihl.

Like being an drunk, the first step is admitting that I have a problem.

“Hi, I’m Carlos and I’m a tool-aholic.”

For the paltry sum of twenty dollars (.001198 Bitcoin, if you’re that sort), Mrs. Cunha replaced several previous fan rakes that failed to go the distance; thwacky-cracky bamboo, springy-sprangy steel, and bendy-snappy plastic.

20171206_133022This True Temper fan rake is a tough customer. It’s a bit heavier than I would like. Having said that, the trade off is the sheer amount of material it is able to gather up. We took turns working it hard. Leaves and twigs were gathered up easily, both is short grass and long. The tines are stiff enough to pull up partially buried yard debris, while working between tufts of grass we wanted to leave behind.

The wooden handle painted to look metallic does not impress me, but the end you swing it by has a medium density foam grip that lends a good amount of comfort to the chore of raking.

I raked out the sheep pen with it and was impressed at how clear a swath it left behind. It didn’t gather as much of the sheep poop as I would have liked because of the relative size of pellets to the tine spacing, but once they picked up some hay, a reasonable amount was left behind.

Where this rake really shinned was its ability to dig down and pull apart compacted chicken litter from the coop. The sharp points and stiff tines pushed right down to the floor and pulled everything out of the coop in a handful of motions.

20171206_133044The label says there is a fifteen year warranty, but like most such claims, I will believe it when I see it. This isn’t to say True Temper won’t honor their promise. I just haven’t had need to ask them, which is testament to their confidence in offering a long warranty.

My guess would be that leaving it out in the weather or exposed to sunlight for long periods will shorten its life, but so far, I’m pleased with this product and recommend it.

 

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Tractors…For Rabbits


photo12Wire cages are the standard way to house rabbits, but a rabbit tractor is a simple homestead DIY project within the skills of most people. We typically use rabbit tractors both as grow-out pens and for when the kits begin to crowd their mom’s cage.

A secondary purpose, during spring and summer when the grass is lush, is as a mobile enclosure. Rather than break out the lawnmower, I let my little bundles of fur take on some of the yard maintenance responsibilities. The lushness of what’s growing, the size of the tractor, how many rabbits , and their ages will dictate how often the tractor needs to be moved. We average moving it every other day.

It was glorious. All last summer, the rabbits kept the backyard nibbled down sufficiently that only a few strips and patches in the corners had to be mowed.

An added benefit was reducing feed costs. Every dandelion, blade of grass, and bit of clover the rabbits munch from the turf is that much less feed I have to provide. It’s not much when they are young, but as butchering time nears, it gets to be quite a bit less alfalfa pellets and hay that I have to buy.

photo13I’m still not entirely sure about putting them on forage alone because I want to make sure their diet is nutritionally complete, so we give them a reduced daily ration of the all-purpose rabbit feed and some Timothy hay. We estimate the amounts, so there is just a touch of each left over each day. That rule of thumb may not be terribly scientific or as economically efficient as it could be, but we figure they are getting the nutrition they need that way.

Based on the way the rabbits go after the fresh forage growing from the ground, I suspect they wouldn’t put up much of a fuss, if we withdrew the hay and pellets entirely.

Where we do have a real concern is plants that may make the rabbits ill. While rabbit breeders may not have bred every bit of self-preservation instinct out the meat bricks we enjoy so much, a part of me suspects domestic rabbits don’t have enough sense not to eat something that will kill them.

Having said that, I have yet to see any of my rabbits eat something that kills them or makes them ill. I figure give it some time. I’ll kill one of them by accident sooner or later.

What concerned us more at the start was the possibility of pesticide or fertilizer residue that might present a problem. Perhaps, we were being overly cautious, but we waited an entire rainy season before letting the rabbits forage on the ground. Even then, as heartless as it sounds, we picked one to be the Crash Test Dummy for a week or ten days before letting the rest join in.

The perk to being the guinea pig was that he got to the grass first and had the entire enclosure to himself. Not a bad trade-off when you consider their purpose and ultimate fate.

photo8The rabbit tractor I put together isn’t anything revolutionary. A tractor isn’t just for rabbits. The same principle of a mobile confinement device works equally well for chickens or other small livestock.

It’s two square frames separated by upright supports and a cover. The whole project is far from rocket surgery, and I would feel like a turd explaining how to screw boards together. Rather than give a how-to on basic carpentry, I’m going to give some tips and lessons learned.

Size

The first rabbit tractor we constructed was 4×8 feet. We did that not realizing just how heavy it would be when finished. It can by moved by one person, but it’s a whole lot easier with a friend.

Another downside to the eight foot length is the long sides make placement a little more difficult. The earth underneath the bottom rail should be as level as possible. Otherwise, you wind up plugging the chinks with bricks, logs, rocks, scrap lumber…you get the idea.

The lid is also a little cumbersome to raise and lower. It really benefited from a lid stop. A piece of 1/4″ cable run through eye-bolts and secured to itself with crush locks keep the lid falling all the way open and tearing the hinges off. I couldn’t figure out a simple enough hinge arrangement to let the lid open more than ninety degrees.

Were I to build it again, I would have also hinged the other side of the lid because sometimes rabbits don’t feel like being caught and retreat under the side that does not open. You really lose the advantages of being human when down on all fours chasing a rabbit through what is essentially a two-foot-tall tunnel.

It’s enough to induce Vietnam flashbacks.

photo9On the up-side, you can divide it in half pretty easily and segregate your rabbits by sex or whatever criteria you like. That’s the only real advantage to the eight foot length. We scaled back on subsequent versions to 4×4 feet, and every problem associated with the eight foot length disappeared. I think I found the size I want to stick with.

Height

Separate the top and bottom frame by slightly more than two feet. We thought ahead and went with twenty-six inches. That way, a two-foot wide roll of chicken wire had an inch of leeway at the top and bottom. It gave us room to work pulling the wire tight as we unrolled it and didn’t leave any hanging over the edges to snag.

Top material

Use whatever you like for a top. We discovered a product called Tuftex panels. They are a corrugated poly-carbonate sheeting material that blocks UV rays. Think of corrugated tin on the roof of a barn or shed, but nowhere near as hot. We went with opaque, and it keeps everything beneath quite cool. I guess those UV rays are the ones that make the sunshine hot.

The Tuftex is a little pricey, but easy to work with and has held up well. I also used it for the top and sides of the rabbit condo. It will likely outlast the wooden frame and be re-purposed onto another rabbit tractor.

Lumber

I went with untreated lumber, suspecting the rabbits might chew it. Whatever turns treated lumber green probably isn’t good for them. I haven’t seen them chew very much in the year we have been using the tractors, so I don’t see the trouble I would have to go to in order to prevent a few chew marks as worth the effort. These rabbit tractors were intended to be quick and dirty projects without the expectation of them lasting forever. I have been thrilled to get this long out of them and expect another couple of years use, at least.

photoTo make the corners more stiff, I wanted something a little less flexible than a 2×4. Not having any 4x4s on hand and possessed of no desire to make a special trip to the Home Depot, I improvised and used what my wife affectionately calls a Portuguese 4×4. Just remember that a 2×4 is not two inches by four inches. Two put together are only 3 1/2 inches, so select your screws accordingly.

ToolsIMG_0482

Unless you’ve got the hands of a gorilla, any money you spend on a powered stapler will be money well spent. After stapling twenty-four feet of chicken wire for the first rabbit tractor with the old style, ka-thunk version we’ve had for years, my wife was more than willing to spend $30 on an electric stapler. Save yourself the nerve damage in your hand and just get one.

Fasteners

I don’t screw around with nails much anymore. Screws are my fasteners of choice. Just be sure to drill a pilot hole, so you don’t crack the end of the board. Especially, when you have to inevitably screw into the end grain of one them. Take this advice, if nothing else, to avoid a lot of wasted wood, aggravation, and embarrassment from shoddy joinery.

Allow me to pass on another tip I learned years ago that will result in the tightest joints you have ever seen. Measure the shank length of the screw and make sure it passes all the way through the first board. If the threads ride on both pieces of wood, they advance at the same rate and leave gaps in the joint. Alternately, drill a clearance hole. It will allow the screw to spin free in one board, while the threads bite into the other.

A picture explains this better than words.

clearance hole cheat

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s about all I know on what to avoid doing when you build your own tractor. Oh, and have a good helper. They are invaluable when you need a third hand. So, get out there on a sunny day and build one. Your rabbits will be happier, and so will you from the reduced feed bill.

 

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Perfect Gift Picking for Your Prince


Gift 1Despite being detail orientated, women screw up gift giving, too.  It’s not their fault.  A woman’s sensibilities are just different from a man’s.  Men fail in picking the correct color or sizing of a gift (Hint: We always go small not to make you feel fat, but to avoid the accusation of thinking you’re fat).  That’s why we love giving flowers.  No sizes to worry about.  No whining about calories or recriminations about sharing like with candy.  And flowers can be given to a woman of any age and any relationship to the giver.

Just be sure to spend the couple of extra bucks for a card.  There are a million of them out there, so finding an appropriate one is a snap.  Don’t go for perfect.  “Good enough” works fine.

Where women miss the mark in selecting gifts for their men is misunderstanding exactly how basic most men are.  Sure, there are a few men floating around who would love tickets to Nutcracker, but most of them already have boyfriends.  For the most part, men are simple to please.  Weekend road trips, fancy dinners, and antiquing are the last things that come to mind when our woman says she has a surprise for us.  We are just not that complex.

Women, your best bet is to look around house (and definitely the garage) for a guide of what your man would most appreciate for a gift.  If he is a handy sort with a pegboard full of tools, there is your starting point.  The same goes for a workbench covered in remote control airplane parts, a large cigar humidor on his desk, or a set of golf clubs that are always in the car trunk.Reading

Free of charge, I will now provide you a tip of such profound insight that you will swear it was passed down from grandmother to granddaughter going back to the dawn of time.  Walk into the bathroom your man habitually uses and look around.  Most likely on top of the toilet tank (perhaps in a wooden rack or wicker basket, if you have managed to civilize him) will be a collection of magazines he uses to help wile away the time while responding to nature’s call.

If you see car magazines, your man likes cars.  If you see gun magazines, your man likes guns.  If you see nudie magazines,…well, you get the idea.

The point is a man’s leisure-reading interests are a good clue to activities he enjoys.  It is only profound in the sense that it is often overlooked.  Actually, women are the same way.  That probably explains why my wife’s bookshelf is filled with gardening books and romance novels.

Once you have an idea what interests your man, try to put yourself in a position where you accompany him to a store specializing in those items.  Even if you have zero interest in the activity, ask to go with him or include a stop there while you’re together running other errands.  Even if he suspects you are setting up the situation, any man worth his salt will keep his mouth shut and play along.  It actually works better if he is suspicious, and you will see why in a moment.

candy store kidWhen you arrive at this retail establishment that specializes in his interest, you will see a transformation occur.  One idiom everyone understands is “kid in a candy store.”  Your normally calm, staid man will develop a gleam in his eyes and become antsy.  He may even drool a bit.  That is when you know you have come to the right place.

Pay attention to everything his picks up and examines.  Home in on those items because that is his heart’s desire.  If he examines two of essentially the same item, he is comparing them.  This is where you have to get sneaky.  Pretend to be interested.  Ask what the differences are and why one is better than the other.  Good men relish the opportunity to pass on our knowledge.

That’s why young men should find an older guy to hang out with; they know about stuff and are willing to explain it.  It’s something that comes with getting old.

Again, don’t worry about your man figuring out what you’re up to.  It will actually work to your benefit because he will say something like, “If I were to get one, it would be this one.”  And that is exactly how easy it is to buy a gift for a man.  Like I said, we are not complex.  We like useful gifts that accomplish a task.  With that in mind, here are some gift ideas for the men in your life:

Tools:  A man without an assortment of easily accessible tools considers himself slightly less masculine.  The first step to modern man was Homo Habilis.  The Tool Man, or Handy Man depending on which scientist you ask, was the first of our ancestors to use implements to make life better.tools

Shortly after discovering tools, I suspect Mrs. Habilis started writing out the first Honey-Do List, and weekends have never been the same.  Modern man continues with the innate desire to fix things.

In my garage, I have no fewer than two dozen hammers.  I don’t blacksmith as a hobby, which by the way requires a huge number of specialized hammers.  Neither do I collect antique hammers.  I have accumulated specialized hammers for different applications.  You don’t frame a house with an upholstery hammer or the other way around.  And don’t even get me started on how many sets of screwdrivers I have.

The way to many a man’s heart leads through the Tool Corral at Home Depot.

Firearms and accessories:  I am a Gun Guy.  Or as a friend of mine once called me, a Gun Queer.  I wear the title proudly, even though the entry on Urban Dictionary is derogatory.  Whomever wrote that definition can screw off.  I’m changing the definition starting right here, and I proudly say that I’m gay for guns.

Firearms themselves can be a big ticket item, and your budget may not allow for the purchase of a new Remchesterby Ultra de Luxe Extra Mangum Rex.  Have no fear, loving woman.  Ammunition in any of the common calibers is always a good choice.  It says, “I’m not exactly sure of your tastes and preferences, but I get you on a deep emotional level.”  It’s far more personal and heartfelt than a gift certificate.  Even if it’s a caliber he doesn’t have, it’s a good excuse to make another gun purchase or to use for barter.  Either way: Mission Accomplished!

Liquor:  Even men who are not connoisseurs of The Devil’s Drool will not turn up their noses at a bottle of firewater.  Scotch is my libation of choice.  Not just any Scotch, mind you.  I am a single malt man, but I have developed a taste for Bourbon over the past few years.  Yes, they are both whiskey, but they are entirely different from each other and wonderful in their own special ways.

If you man has a preferred drink, you probably know it already.  If in doubt, look at what he drinks already and get him more of it.  Just like ammunition, more of what he likes and uses is never a bad thing.  If you’re dead set on making it a surprise, ask one of his friends whom you trust to keep his mouth shut.  Alternately, ask your dad, grandfather, or an uncle.  One of them will either know or know someone who does.

knifeKnives:  These could almost be categorized under tools were it not for the fact that virtually all tool manufactures turn out piss poor knives.  So, they get their own heading.  Edged tools, which is arguably what knives are, hold an important place in life.  Look around your kitchen for an idea of how many forms they take and ask yourself why one may be better than another depending on the task.  Here is a hint:  You would have a tough time carving a roast with a vegetable peeler.

Looking at the gear I carry around for work every day, I count no fewer than six bladed instruments; a general purpose folder, a Leatherman Tool (one straight blade and one serrated), a specialized folding strap cutter (to get myself free of stuck seatbelts), a fixed blade Ka-Bar (that God willing, I’ll never have to use), and a larger strap cutter in my ditch bag that I don’t expect I’ll be able to reach if I ever have to cut myself free (that’s why I carry the little one in my pocket).

The point I’m getting at is that a man does not have to be John Rambo or running a trap-line to have need of something with a sharp point and the ability to cut.  Even something as simple and utilitarian as a single-blade, folding pocket knife is a heartfelt gift your man will cherish the rest of his life.  Good quality brands of knives can even be found at Walmart.

Grooming:  Men may look scruffy sometimes, but we all have need of grooming supplies.  Even men with beards have need of them.  Give him a thrill every morning with the gift of a shaving brush.  Not just any old shaving brush.  Pay the extra money for a badger hair brush.  The badger isn’t harmed.  He’s wrestled to the ground, a clip of fur is taken, and he is released back into the wild (not really, but you can tell yourself that if you’re one of those animal rights folks).  This is a situation of a natural product being far and away superior to anything man-made.

A good quality badger hair shaving brush will last your man the rest of his life.  It can literally be handed down to his grandson.

As a matter of fact, if you have the funds and the inclination to search for one, there are exquisite examples of shaving brushes made in the 19th century set into handles of exotic hardwoods and even ivory.  We are talking usable antiques.safety razor

If you insist on going the modern route (I recommend boar hair, at a minimum), get a set that includes a shaving mug, stand, and a cake of soap.  There is a huge range of shaving soaps available in different scents and ingredient combinations to suit your man’s skin type.  If you want to be really adventurous, include a new safety razor.  Or if you’re going with the antique theme, ask grandma if she has one squirreled away someplace.  Again, if you go new, go quality.  You’ll be money ahead in the long run.

Of special note:  This is a different kind of shaving that has a bit of a learning curve.  Don’t hurry and don’t try to learn while drunk or tired because it can be a little dangerous at first.  However, once mastered, a safety razor provides a smooth, extremely kissable face you did not know was possible.

For the man with facial hair, nothing cleans up a mustache or shapes a beard quite like a quality pair of scissors.  I’m talking about purpose built, micro-serrated along the edges shears used for nothing other than keeping your man’s facial topiary in tiptop form.  They may seem a bit pricey for a pair of scissors, but like anything else in life, get a quality tool and it will never need replacement.

Sausage and cheese combo packs:  My wife scoffed at these until I explained.  For those who don’t know what these are, you see them in front of checkout registers starting about Thanksgiving every year.  Those packages of assorted dry cured sausages and various cheeses.  The really fancy ones have tiny little jars of assorted mustards and crackers (and for the adventurous, chutneys).  I scream like a little girl who discovered a spider in her underwear drawer when I receive one of these.  These are the perfect gift for the man who has everything or if selecting from one of the above categories still makes you nervous.

How better to say “I love you the way you are and don’t mind if you get a little chubby”?  Maybe that was a poor choice of words.

You can’t ever have too many of these combo packs around.  They keep just about forever, and have protein and calcium without too many carbs in the crackers.  As a quick meal for the gentleman on the go or a bachelor sitting in front of the boob-tube in his boxers who doesn’t feel like cooking and can’t order take-out because pay day isn’t until Friday, these combo packs are better than a supply of Meals Ready to Eat stashed in the basement.

I have instructed my wife to keep a supply of them somewhere in the house for those times when we need a last minute gift for a man.  However, she has to hide them because I will ferret them out like a…well, like a ferret down a rabbit hole.

That’s it, ladies (or men.  I’m not picky when on the receiving end….damn, another bad word choice).  A guide to buying gifts that will make any man think you’re the coolest chick he knows.

Four Can’t-Miss-Gifts Men Welcome From Stalkers


Any secret admirer worth her salt would have the foresight to do some research about me to discover I’m not really a flowers kind of guy.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I like flowers just fine, but I prefer more practical types of gifts that differ from women’s sensibilities.  So for anyone interested in admiring me from afar, up close, the next house over, or standing outside my living room window at night with a machete in one hand and a squeeze bottle of Miracle Whip in the other while lightening creates a creepy silhouette, here are some gift ideas for me (or one of the men in your life):

Tools:  A man without an assortment of easily accessible tools considers himself slightly less of a man.  The first step to modern man was Homo Habilis.  The Tool Man, or Handy Man depending on which scientist you ask, was the first of our ancestors to use implements to make life easier.

Shortly after discovering tools, I suspect Mrs. Habilis started writing out the first Honey-Do List, and weekends have never been the same.  Modern man continues with the innate desire to fix things.  That’s why men like profoundly flawed women.  However, that might be better left for another post.

In my garage, I have no fewer than two dozen hammers.  I don’t blacksmith as a hobby, which by the way requires a huge number of specialized hammers.  Neither do I collect antique hammers.  I have accumulated specialized hammers for different applications.  You don’t frame a house with an upholstery hammer or the other way around.  And don’t even get started on how many sets of screwdrivers I have.

If you want affection requited, the way to my heart leads through the Tool Corral at your local hardware store.

Firearms and accessories:  I am a Gun Guy.  Or as a friend of mine once called me, a Gun Queer.  I wear the title proudly, even though the entry on Urban Dictionary is derogatory.  Whomever wrote that definition can screw off.  I’m changing the definition starting right here, and I proudly say that I’m gay for guns.

If my secret stalker is afraid of gifting me a duplicate or concerned about getting something I don’t like, ammunition in any of the common calibers is always a good choice.  It says, “I’m not exactly sure your tastes and preferences, but I get you on a deep emotional level.”  It’s far more personal and heartfelt than a gift certificate.  Even if it’s a caliber I don’t have, it’s a good excuse to make another gun purchase or to use for barter.  Either way: Mission Accomplished!

Liquor:  I presume my Secret Sweetie will have designs to advance the relationship past the one-way gift giving stage.  Possibly move to gazing adoringly at me while I bloviate on all manner of topic.  If she turns out to be a stalker of the succubus variety and desires the relationship to be less than platonic, liquoring me up is always a good start.  But I’m pretty sure I’d have to run that one by my wife first.  She can be a little possessive.

Whatever her level of infatuation, Scotch is my favorite libation.  Not just any Scotch, mind you.  I am a single malt man.  You can keep that blended stuff.  The exception being Johnny Walker.  Red Label is fine.  Going to Black Label isn’t worth the price jump.  Green and Silver are excellent.  However, finding a bottle of Blue on the porch would induce me to leave the front door unlocked for you.

As a guide to Scotch purchases, my preferred brands are difficult to pronounce and will deplete your bank account as fast as a bad cocaine habit.  Be warned.

Sausage and cheese combo packs:  My wife scoffed at these until I explained.  For those who don’t know what these are, you see them in front of checkout registers starting about Thanksgiving every year.  Those packages of assorted dry cured sausages and various cheeses.  The really fancy ones have tiny little jars of assorted mustards and crackers (and for the adventurous, chutneys).  I scream like a little girl who discovered a spider in her underwear drawer when I receive one of these.

These are the perfect gift for the man who has everything or if selecting from one of the above four categories still makes you nervous.  How better to say “I love you the way you are and don’t mind if you get a little chubby”?

Maybe that was a poor choice of words.

You can’t ever have too many of these combo packs around.  They keep just about forever, and have protein and calcium without too many carbs in the crackers.  As a quick meal for the gentleman on the go or a bachelor sitting in front of the boob-tube in his boxers who doesn’t feel like cooking and can’t order take-out because pay day isn’t until Friday, these combo packs are better than a supply of Meals Ready to Eat stashed in the basement.

I have instructed my wife to keep a supply of these somewhere in the house for those times when we need a last minute gift for a man.  However, she has to hide them because I will ferret them out like a…well, like a ferret down a rabbit hole.

That’s it, ladies (or men.  I’m not picky when on the receiving end….damn, another bad word choice).  A guide to buying gifts that will make any man think you’re the coolest chick he knows.