Category Archives: Biodiesel

You Calling Me a Lyer?

I’ve had a fun couple of weekends.  I’ve started a few projects, but because I’m long winded I’ll just stick to one in this post.

We have a wood stove, thus we have tons of ashes.  Tons.  I think I’ve “harvested” around 20 gallons so far – which might not actually be a metric ton, but is a lot to me.  And we’re still making it.

There's plenty more where that came from

There’s plenty more where that came from

Well, geeky off-grider that I am, I’m always trying to figure out what to do with things so that I’m not throwing it away.  Ok, that’s more of the pack rat side of me, but at least if I call it homesteading, then an episode of Hoarders won’t feature my garage.  But as luck would have it, I’d also stumbled upon a recipe a while back, which happens to require one special thing.

You guessed it: wood ash.

If you don’t already know what recipe I’m talking about, it’s for Lye.  If you still don’t know what I’m talking about, Lye is Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH), and it’s used for a number of things.  The most obvious uses are in making soap (like in Fight Club), and for a drain cleaner.  Another magical use is for combining with methanol (wood alcohol) and vegetable oil to make biodiesel.  Boom!  Full circle!

I don’t yet know how to make biodiesel (or methanol, for that matter), but one thing at a time, people.  As my good friend Chris says, “Don’t try to boil the ocean.”  Boiling lye takes long enough.

The ash from my wood stove contains a bunch of charcoal, and as far as I can tell, that doesn’t contribute to the lye-making process.  As such I took a net and filtered out the big chunks (so that I can figure out another project to use them for) to keep just the ash.

You gotta keep 'em separated.

You gotta keep ’em separated.

It’s a very scientific process.  And I’m very precise, as to avoid making a mess.

Ash Aftermath

Ash Aftermath 2015

Basically, the only other ingredient for lye is soft water (distilled or rainwater), because apparently the stuff out of the city pipes doesn’t leach the lye out of the ash as well.  I assume it’s because of the other stuff in the water (chemicals), but I don’t think about it too much.  Except that I recently put a pan of tap water on our wood stove to add moisture back into the air, and a white powdery film was left in the pan after the water had evaporated.  I think my wife threw the pan out because it wouldn’t come clean.  And that’s the water we drink, ladies and gentlemen.

Anyhow, I’ve luckily been gathering rainwater – both intentionally an unintentionally – for such an occasion as this.

The left is an offical rain barrel, the right is a future project that doubles as the cat waterer.

The left is an official rain barrel, the right is a future project that doubles as the cat water dish (the ponds that were previously dumped on our property).

So – the materials have been gathered, and all I need is a lye laboratory.  Which is of course made of buckets and junk.


I found an unused faucet drain in my garage from the previous owner (it still had plastic wrap on it), and I drilled a hole in the bottom of a bucket and ‘installed’ it.  That way, I could let the lye sit in the bucket and drain it out when I’m ready.  There might have been a better way to do it, but, for me, free is always the best way.


I added some rocks to the bottom of that bucket, because the wood ash would go in another bucket inside that one, and I didn’t want the other bucket to prevent the drain from opening.  That’s probably unnecessary because of the space that is naturally between the buckets, but like I said earlier – I’m very precise.

I drilled some small holes at the bottom of the ash bucket and added some shirt cloth to the bottom, so that the lye could escape into the drain bucket but the ash would stay.


Yeah, that’s right.  UK Male Chorus Day 1998.  You have no idea how hardcore I was in high school.  Funny enough, it was exactly 17 years to the day when I actually cut this shirt up and put it in the bottom of the bucket.  I’m pretty sure that makes me very, very old.  But still very hardcore.


The lab was assembled, and I set it on top of three other buckets so that I could use the drain.  I’ll eventually build a permanent stand for it – if it’s worth it.  If I end up only making three batches of lye, then I won’t waste the time…


Simply add the water and wait.  Boom.  As I read somewhere, it’s so easy you make it by accident.  I then found a glass container in the garage that I could use to catch the stuff – which can easily burn your skin.

For some reason, Gatorade won't honor the "Sports Bag" deal.  I checked.  (No - I didn't really check)

For some reason, Gatorade won’t honor the “Sports Bag” offer. I checked. (No – I didn’t really check)

After a good washing, I stuck the bottle under the drain, in case there were any leaks.  Hours later (there were luckily no leaks) when I opened the drain, out flushed glorious lye.  Well, I don’t know how glorious, because I don’t have a pH tester, but it was yellow – which is what the internet told me it should be.  You can test it by placing an egg in it, but my bottle was too small for that and I didn’t want to waste an egg.  Another way to test it was to see if it would disintegrate a feather – and I have plenty of those lying around.  Get it?  LYEing around?!?!

Anyhow, it didn’t disintegrate the feather, so I dumped the batch of lye that had already been made back into the top bucket, so it would go through the process again.  After that batch had seeped through, I tested it with a feather again, to no avail.  And then I figured I’d forget about that part, because my plan was to boil it down to a solid anyhow, since I don’t have any immediate plans to use it.

That goes exactly like you might assume it would.  Slowly.


I started it on a Friday evening (a week after I actually made it), and let it go for about 2 hours – only checking on it every 15-30 minutes or so.  I got paranoid about not being outside with it, so I shut the propane off and started again the next day since I’d be outside.

Yum!  Good enough to eat, right?  Well, don't - it'll kill you.

Yum! Good enough to eat, right? Well, don’t – it’ll kill you.

I technically should have kept simmering it down to only a solid, but my propane burner isn’t very precise, and I figured I could always cook it on the stove top (with windows open) if I wanted it to be further condensed.

I have a good amount of bacon grease and general animal fat stored up because my wife insists on letting it cool down before disposing of it – and luckily I’ve never disposed of it.  Maybe I’m rubbing off on her.  With that, I’ll try my hand at some soap making, just so that I can justify to her that my craziness can actually benefit her.  Not that I’m confident that she’ll be excited to rub animal fat on her skin…


You Win Some, You Lose Some. Aaannnd you lose some.

Yesterday morning, I woke up to a sad situation.

But first, let me back up…

As I mentioned in my last blog, my brother brought me six more chickens the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and I had a bit of preparation to do.  Because I only found out about it about a week beforehand, I fashioned together a fairly unstable coop for them for an unknown temporary time.  (Full disclosure…  I say I only found out about it a week prior, but we’d been talking about it for months.  I just hadn’t planned.  And you thought I was a prepper.)

Behind my barn, there was a pile of wood and junk under an awning, and the previous owner had built a structure that was sort of an incomplete workbench to support said wood.


I should have taken a picture before I cleaned out a huge amount of garbage, because you couldn’t even see the supports at the bottom.  I ended up having to jack some of the supports up, because they’d ripped away from the wall where they’d been nailed.  It’s still not that sturdy, but remember, this is a temporary coop.

Luckily, considering this started as a giant pile of wood, there was some scrap pieces that were perfect for this endeavor.


There were also some old posts in the pile, and I dug some holes with our post hole digger (included in the purchase of our house!) at the corners of the new temporary run.  Unfortunately, because we’re on a big ol’ slab of rock, I could only get about 8 inches into the dirt before the solid clank of the metal tool hit stone and signaled the end of the road.  If I were smart, I’d probably search around for better ground.  But instead, I filled the dirt around the post as best I could and tied them to trees.  Remember – temporary.  For the permanent coop, I’ll probably need to pour a little concrete.  But don’t worry – I’ve poured a ton of concrete.  Like, a literal ton.


After the awkward tied-up posts, I added chicken wire.  I’m starting to hate chicken wire.  It’s crazy hard to keep straightened, and it’s pokes the crap out of me when I’m handling the ends.  In the future I’ll probably use hardware cloth, which is the worst name in the world for fence material, because it sounds like it’s metallic fabric.  Like it’s the kind of thing I’d use for making pants if I was in a glam rock band.

So, as shabby as it is, the temporary coop and run is up, and just in time!  Only a day or two after it was “completed,” Michael brought the chickens in from Indiana and we transferred the old ones to their new home.  Beforehand, however, we clipped some of their wing feathers so that they wouldn’t be able to get out.


Michael assured me that it wasn’t painful – it’s more like a haircut.  Chickens can indeed fly, but without the longer feathers on their wings it’s much harder.

My whole family was actually there at the time - but only my nephew was forced inside the chicken coop.

My whole family was actually there at the time – but only my nephew was forced inside the chicken tractor.

Apparently I forgot to get pictures of my new chickens, so here’s another picture of the old ones.


They adjusted well to their new home.

I thought.

But that was the last time the four of them were together.  As I said, yesterday morning I woke up to a sad situation…  As I approached the “new” coop, one of the hens was pacing back and forth at a section of the fence.  It had apparently been doing it for a while, because it had worn a path into the dirt.  My first thought was simply, “Yup, I need to cover the run, because even with clipped wings they can get out.”

Then after I put the hen back in the run, I realized I only saw three chickens.  All that was left of the fourth was a few piles of feathers.


I also saw a few turkey vultures roosting in the trees above, so I figured the missing hen’s carcass wasn’t too far away.  I assume something grabbed both of them, but the pacing pullet got away while the other sacrificed herself.  At least, it was that dramatic in my head.

I was sad because something ate my chicken.

Specifically, because something besides me ate my chicken.  I got it plump and juicy for some thieving animal that now knows where I live.

Unfortunately, I had a lunch meeting soon after, so I wasn’t really able to do anything at the moment.  And then the day completely got away from me (because, you know, I have an actual job).  And the next morning I woke up to seeing this out my window.


Yup, my three remaining older chickens were just prancing around in the woods.  So, apparently they have no trouble getting out of the fence.  I didn’t really know what to do, because I don’t want to spend much time (or any  money) on my temporary coop, when I’m planning on building the permanent one soon.  I did, however, find a big roll of plastic.

It’s probably not very effective, but I just covered the run with the plastic, hoping that it would obscure vision if death came from above.  If something does swoop down into the plastic, it would be like that scene in the movie “Unbreakable” where Bruce Willis falls into a covered swimming pool.  Except possibly a bald eagle instead of a bald dude.  If something crawled in through the side, they’re still sitting ducks chickens.

How much safer are these chickens? None. None more safe.

How much safer are these chickens? None. None more safe.

I need to figure something else out for the temporary long term…

In other news, I bought a truck!

I says to the guy, "But do you have one in Pepto-Bismol pink?"

I says to the guy, “But do you have one in a Pepto-Bismol shade?”

It’s a bit bigger than I planned on getting, but it was the cheapest diesel that I could find that would actually run.  It’s stick shift, too, so that’s fun!

It ran perfectly fine when I went to test drive it (it’s a little tricky getting into reverse), but when I tried to start it on Monday to get my emissions tested the battery was dead.  Sigh.  I plugged the battery up to a slow charger and left it overnight.

The next morning was a bit colder, and – like me – diesels would rather not wake up when it’s cold and early.  So I had to plug in the heating element for a bit before she fired up.  It wasn’t until I passed a cop (no license plate, a note in the back window stating I was applying for tags) that I realized I’d also forgotten to get insurance on it.  Eek!

Luckily, the cop didn’t pull me over.  Either he could read my note (fairly unlikely), he didn’t feel like writing any tickets that day (also unlikely), or he appreciates the hard working farmer and realized that anybody with a truck like that is hard working farmer.  (Still probably unlikely)  I think he was simply looking down as I passed, by the grace of God.


I think this truck will fit in just fine on the Stevenson Family Farm, provided it continues to start.

Also, the tenderloin of the roadkill I butchered was dee-lish!

I know what you food critics are thinking... Yes, it was too much broccoli.

I know what you food critics are thinking… Yes, it was too much broccoli.

Oh, and this happened in my front yard last week…


Second wreck in my front yard this year.  (Don’t worry – the driver was ok)

Doesn’t Everyone Gather Acorns?

To make up for the lack of off-grid-iness over the last couple of months, I crammed a few random things in over the last week or so.

To start off, I’d been looking into acorn flour lately…  So, one day when I was planning on going outside to do who knows what, I got distracted by all of the wonderful acorns on the ground.  I thought I’d pick up a handful or so, and make that a ritual each time I went outside, but I got a little obsessive.  I filled all my pockets, and then got a bag  and went back to it because I just couldn’t stop.  I mean – there were so many of them!

Around that time, some friends of ours (who left a jacket at our house) stopped by.

Mitch: Hey David!  What are you doing?

David: Oh, you know…  Just picking up acorns.

Mitch: ….Oh yeah…  Yeah, I know all about it…  I just love gathering acorns…

(There was a lot of sarcasm in there, in case you didn’t pick up on it through my typing)

I finally realized that I was a borderline psychopath, so I stopped with a healthy amount.


Later on that night, I started splitting them.  I’m extremely glad I didn’t spend any more time gathering these nuts, because almost all of them looked like this:


It looks like my worm friend there – and all of his worm friends – got to the acorns before I did.  Instead of finding a nut inside, I found dirt and usually the culprit.  I cut every single shell open, and I had less than a handful that were decent.  And a lot of those were questionable.


I realized I was probably going to do a ton of work for about a cup of acorn flour, so I decided this might be a project better suited for next year.  When I start hearing them hit my roof as I’m attempting to fall asleep next Autumn, I’ll know it’s time for the harvest.  Then I’ll be a psychopath again.

Later that week, my buddy Andy and I went to visit his friend Todd’s farm.  Andy had been talking to me for a while about it, telling me of all the cool stuff that Todd has going on, and we finally carved out some time to make the trek down.  Andy didn’t know exactly where Todd lived, so we simply followed the map announced on Andy’s phone.

Big mistake.

We left the paved road, and then left the gravel road, to what seemed to be a driveway, or perhaps better called a trail.  Thing is, we drove on this thing for at least two miles.  His little Mazda 3 did not like the gigantic water-filled pot holes whose gaps were bridged by old doors.  Yes – someone had taken interior doors to fill in these holes – but the years of driving over them pretty much just made them random splintered pieces of tire-death.  We also passed a sign that said “Stop – Gun Range in Use.”  The sign was not actually up – it was laying on the ground beside the road.  At that point, Andy really started wondering if we were in the wrong spot.  I said “Hey – we’re surely almost at something – we might as well keep going down this road.”  Because – as we have already determined – I’m a psychopath.

Well, the road abruptly came to a steep hill, and he wasn’t excited to see if his car could make it back up said hill – especially if it wasn’t the right farm.  Luckily, there was a bunch of Amish dudes building a house at the bottom of the hill, so I walked down to inquire.

Nope – not the right farm.  But at least it was the amish, and not a live gun range.

After we got back on the road (backtracking the splintery trail), we got ahold of Todd who updated our destination.  Funny enough, Todd’s house is literally right off the pavement.  No off-roading needed.

The first thing I noticed was that his chickens were just about everywhere.  I asked him if he was afraid of predators, and he said his dogs keep them at bay.  (reason #432 why dogs are better than cats)  The second thing I noticed was there were children just about everywhere as well.  I think they have 11 kids, and there were a few friends in tow.  Yowza!

We helped him start some ferments, and had some awesome fresh-from-the-farm cuisine, and just talked about life, God, and everything in between.  Kind of the way I imagine a conversation with a true farmer should go, rather than the distracted dialogue inserted between glances at a phone screen.

The next day, I was planning on doing a little work outside (cutting logs), and I realized – Hey!  I’m better than a dog, right?  I could keep those mangy predators away while I’m outside beside the chickens!

Thus instituted the inaugural free-ranging Saturday.


It was hilarious, actually…  The first time in their lives they are given actual freedom, and they pretty much stayed where the chicken tractor had been circling for the last few months.  Specifically, where the ground was down to just dirt and covered with their poop…  Anything familiar, I suppose.

And apparently I’m familiar, too, because anytime I came nearby, they’d all circle around me.  At the time, my wife laughed and cutely said they were following their farmer.  Now I’m wondering if they were simply plotting to take me down.  When I sat down on a stump and sharpened my chainsaw blade, I’ll bet they decided to rethink their plans.

They even followed me to places that contained nothing for them to peck at…


I suppose the cats are following me because I’m their farmer, too. Just kidding. Holly won’t let me eat them.

I didn’t get too far into my wood cutting for two reasons:

  1. Turns out I’m not very good at sharpening a chainsaw.  I’ll give it another go, but I’ll probably just take them to my dad so he can refresh my memory on how to do it.  It would still cut, but not as easily as it should.
  2. Someone stopped by to look at the Blazer sitting at the end of my driveway.

That was a pleasant unexpected visit, because I’d just put the Blazer by the road on Thursday evening, and I’d fielded a couple of calls from guys on Friday that said they might stop by Saturday afternoon.  It wasn’t noon yet, but this guy bought it right on the spot.  It makes me excited that I had so much immediate interest, because that means when I put a sign in my front yard that says “Fresh Eggs,” it will be seen.  It also makes me think think I should have priced it higher!  (Only halfway kidding)

With the money from the Blazer, I’m hoping to buy a beat-up diesel truck.  Beat up, because I want something cheap that I don’t worry about getting scratched to pieces driving through my woods.  Diesel, because I want to try my hand at alternative fuels.

Well, sure, I guess diesel is alternative, but I’m talking about making biodiesel from cooking oils.  (If any of my readers have a restaurant and need to get rid of a bunch of used oil, I’d be happy to take it off your hands.  Or – if you don’t have a restaurant, but you fry food for 11+ kids, you probably have plenty of oil.)

Also, at some point earlier in the week I checked on the bees, who have been fairly silent.  I knew they wouldn’t be out and about when it got cold, but I expected to hear them generating heat in their hives.  I got nervous because I couldn’t hear a sound.  Luckily, when it was warmish, I opened them up to find them balled together just like they’re supposed to be.  One hive had bees up in the top super, though none of the comb was drawn out.  The other hive had no bees and no comb drawn in the top super, so I removed it.  I figure they’d prefer to save on their heating bill this winter by not warming a huge empty space.  (For anyone wondering – and I’m sure you all are – there was still a frame or two of undrawn comb in the remaining top box, so they shouldn’t feel claustrophobic)

Also also – apparently my subscribe button wasn’t working there for a bit – so if you tried to subscribe but didn’t get this in your inbox, please try again.  Chalk up another reason why I’m not a fan of wordpress.