Sunday, June 21, 2009

Let there be light!

The barn now has electricity!!!

After 3 years of running the door opener and a few other things off of an extension cord running from the house, the barn now is fully wired for electricity!

Cathy talked her sister's husband who is an electrician into coming to visit this weekend and helping out by wiring up the barn. I helped out and learned some tips and tricks that I will probably never use again. We were able to get it done in right at 8 hours and it would have probably taken me at least 4 or 5 times that long doing it by myself. He was super fast at bending the conduit and even faster at figuring out the circuits and running the wire. I hung the light fixtures which took me about the same time it took him to run all the conduit for the outlets and the lights.

I had already got the panel up and hot last Friday with the help of the local electric cooperative. Here's the 100 amp panel and the first run of conduit running out of it.

It never seems like you plan for enough outlets so I probably went overboard. I have 10 boxes around the barn perimeter and each of them has 2 outlets in them for a total of 20 outlets. I have another outlet on the ceiling for the door opener as well. The outlets are on 5 separate circuits as well so I shouldn't be tripping many breakers. This corner is where I plan on having some type of shop area eventually and these outlets are setup on 3 different 20 amp circuits.
I bought a used 12' stepladder thinking I could use it to hang the light fixtures and then it would be useful in the future to change light bulbs, etc., but as you can see in the picture I think it is too tall. It was useful in hanging the fixtures but it is actually too tall to move around easily and the 8' ladder that my brother in law is on will be plenty tall to change light bulbs and things like that. I'm either going to donate the ladder to our church since someone borrowed theirs and hasn't returned it (I was planning on borrowing theirs instead of buying one) or a co-worker said he would buy it from me if I give him a good enough deal on it.

Here's my brother in law running conduit to the light fixtures.

I got the light fixtures for free when we remodeled our office. I wasn't sure whether they would all work or not as they've been sitting in the barn for 2 years and have been moved around a couple times. I ended up with way too many and sold a few on craigslist, and I still have some left if anyone wants some! Thankfully they all worked other than 1 bad light bulb and 1 poor connection on one of the fixtures that I wired up!

Here's the same corner later with everything up and running!
I still need to put one cabinet up and plumb up a sink. Hopefully I won't wait 3 years before getting that part done!

I didn't take many pictures, but I'm very happy with the end result! It is amazing how bright it is in there with 7 - 4 foot light fixtures with 4 - 40 watt bulbs in each one. A total of 1,120 watts of fluorescent lighting with decent reflectors in the fixtures. I hung 2 fixtures over the future shop area and it is really bright there.

I also now have a hookup for my welder that I've had for a couple years now and never used. Of course I've never even attempted to weld anything and really have no idea where to start, but I now have everything I need to try it other than some welding rods. Now I just need something to practice on!

That's it for now.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Concrete work is finished!

Well, my concrete projects are finished for now!

I got the flagstone sidewalks cleaned up for the most part last night and the driveway is curing nicely.

Overall I'm pretty happy with the driveway. There is one small low spot about 2' long by 1' wide that collects a little bit of water when I'm spraying it down, but other than that it seems pretty good. The small puddle is only about 1/2" deep and the cement is 8" thick where the puddle is so I don't think it will cause any real problems. There are a few other low spots but none really hold much water, they are all less than 1/4" deep and the water evaporates off of them in less than 1/2 an hour.

The finish is good, but they told us to keep the dogs in the garage overnight so they wouldn't walk on the concrete as it dried and we did that, but there are a few cat tracks on the cement and something went across it a couple times and left some light scratches. I meant to take a picture of them but forgot. I think it might have been a rabbit as we've been having problems with them eating Cathy's tomato plants. I think they just add a little character to it, they aren't deep enough to actually be an issue at all.

Here's the final product.

I still need to clean up the area around it a little bit and level off the road leading up to it a little but that shouldn't take much time. We are continuing to water it down 3 times a day to help it cure slower and hopefully avoid any major cracking. Eventually I'll bring in some more dirt from elsewhere on the property and build up the ground around it to make it a little more level so there's not such a steep drop off away from the driveway.

One thing we did with the driveway to keep from having to build everything up around it even more was make some ramps up into the garage. It doesn't look like much but there is a 4 inch drop from the garage to the rest of the driveway over the first 3 feet coming out of the garage. This really helped in matching the driveway to the grade of the land around it and really shouldn't be any issue on getting in or out of the garage at all. Plus if we had a torrential downpour it would help keep rain water from running into the garage.

Here's a picture of the ramp before the forms were pulled off.Back to the sidewalks, that's where I spent my time and effort yesterday.

I mentioned in my previous post that it really wasn't a big deal to get cement on the flagstone since you can clean it off anyway. Well, there's a fine line (or wide line actually) between being overly careful and being downright sloppy and I think I crossed it! When it came time to clean the cement off the flagstone I realized that I should have worked a little bit harder when the cement was still wet to get the flagstone a little cleaner! It took alot more work than I expected to get the flagstone cleaned and there is still some cement left on some of it.

Here's what the sidewalk to the barn looked like yesterday when I got ready to start cleaning it. The sad thing is that it was in alot better shape than the sidewalk by the house! I had 2 gallons of muratic acid and I ended up using both of them. I mixed them at about a 50% mix ratio with water in a 5 gallon bucket and started scrubbing. (I mixed 2 separate batches, that kept the mix cleaner). One thing you should probably do when scrubbing a very basic material (cement) with an acid is wear good eye and skin protection. Of course I was out there in shorts and slip on shoes with no socks! I got stung a few times but the muratic acid really isn't that strong and the only place it hurt was when it splashed on an open sore where I had a scratch on my leg or something.

I washed everything down once with the acid then rinsed it all down then repeated the process. It really is kind of neat scrubbing it down as the acid foams up when it comes into contact with the cement like hydrogen peroxide does when you put it on a cut. The second time around it was easy to see where the worst of the cement was on the flagstone because it foamed up.

After an hour or so of scrubbing and a final rinse, here's what it looked like. I think it turned out pretty good overall. There are still a few spots with some cement on the flagstone but not too bad.

Here's what it looked like this morning after drying.

For some reason this cement ended up being a little lighter in color, but I think it helps the flagstone stand out better. I think it is because this cement was fibered cement and the last batch I worked with wasn't. I think over time it will get a little dark also.

Here's the sidewalk from the front porch to the back sidewalk this morning.

You can see it is a little rougher than the barn sidewalk with the cement, but partly the stones are just a lighter color and don't stand out as much. I'll probably wait until the end of the summer and scrub it down again one more time to see if I can get all the cement off.

I still have a little bit of cleanup to do and I'll probably bring in a little dirt with my tractor and fill in around the edges a little bit, but other than that I'm done.

Overall I'm pretty happy with the results of both projects. My list of things to do is getting shorter and shorter! Hopefully after this weekend the barn will be wired for electricity (lights, outlets, etc.) and that will be one more item off my list!

That's it for now. Nathan

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

New sidewalks. Part 1

Well, I guess I might as well make a post on my sidewalk work. I'm not 100% complete on it yet but it is done for the most part. Just a little cleaning left to do.

Did I mention in my last post that it was 105 degrees yesterday when we were working the concrete? Well trust me, it was.

About 6 or 7 years ago we decided to put in flagstone walkways around our house. I dug down into the ground about 2" and filled it with sand and then placed the flagstone down into the sand so I could level it all out. It looked really good for a while but then grass started to grow up through the sand and most of the grass around our house is actually sand burrs so that didn't end up working out very well.

5 years ago when I built the greenhouse onto the shed I decided to put in some real sidewalks, but we really liked the look of the flagstone walkways so we decided to pour cement sidewalks but put the flagstone on top of the cement. We poured a large sidewalk coming to the front door and a little patio around the hot tub on the back porch and also a sidewalk going to the shed. They turned out really well.

3 years ago when we had the barn built I didn't think ahead to extend the sidewalk out to the barn, but now it was a no brainer that we should extend the sidewalk out to the barn since we were having other cement work done. As I mentioned in my last post, then we decided to add a step on the front porch and also a narrow pathway from the front porch to the sidewalk coming off the back porch.

Not sure why I decided that I was going to work the sidewalks instead of hiring it done (at the price they were charging me it would have only cost a little over $100 for them to do it) but it was something I figured I was capable of doing so I decided I would do the sidewalks myself while they worked on the driveway.

I had some flagstone already in place off the front porch and a little bit on the pathway from the front porch to the back sidewalk and I had some more stacked around our wood pile from the last sidewalk project so the first thing to do was to see if we had enough of it on hand or whether we needed to buy some more.

After setting the forms I decided to do a test run to make sure I had enough flagstone. I hate to buy flagstone because it is priced at an outrageous amount if you buy it by the stone so I always end up buying it by the ton since the way they price it, if you buy 250lbs of it by the stone you pay about the same as buying a ton of it in bulk. Last time we did a sidewalk I think I bought a pallet of it which was 2 1/2 tons if I remember right. The problem with buying it in bulk is that you generally end up with more than you need. This time that turned out to be a blessing, because after scrounging around the property and even pulling out some flagstone that I was using to hold up some of my farm implements and replacing it with some concrete pavers I ended up with exactly the amount of flagstone that I needed. Not even one small piece to spare.

Here's the sidewalk going to the barn. You can actually see part of one of the other flagstone sidewalks on the right side of this picture, I actually made that one myself with some extra concrete they had when they poured the barn slab. That sidewalk is only about 8' long x 3' wide and I had about 10 minutes to form that up before they poured it. Also they used a different kind of concrete on the barn slab so it ended up with alot of exposed gravel in the cement between the flagstone. I'm not sure how this batch is going to turn out, but I think it will be similar.

Here's the sidewalk going from the front porch to the back sidewalk. As I mentioned before, this is really more of a walkway than a sidewalk. First i was only going to make it 18" wide, but I ended up making it 20" wide. Kind of like a 1 lane sidewalk.
The good thing about putting all the flagstone in for a test fitting was I realized I had exactly the right amount of flagstone that I needed. The bad thing was that I then had to take it all back out to get ready for them to pour the concrete. At least I was able to do that in the morning before it got hot though.

Here's the sidewalk to the barn ready for concrete. I smoothed and packed and watered it several times in the week before the pour. I set the rocks beside it in some semblance of order, but when it came time to stack them back on there I don't think I got them back in quite the same spots as the test fitting.

Here's the pathway to the back sidewalk ready for the pour. I did all this the night before the pour because we decided to do it at the last minute. The concrete guys ended up putting us off a couple times and it turned out to be a good thing because I'm really happy we decided to put in this walkway.
The guys that were doing the driveway did help me get the concrete in the forms. It was like talking a foreign language to get the truck driver to understand how I wanted to pour it, they have some special hand signals that they give the driver to pull forward and speed up or slow down the amount of concrete coming out. I could have gotten it done, but they saved me quite a bit of time so I was very thankful for the help.

The concrete was already setting up when it came out of the truck so I had to work pretty fast. I didn't get any pictures of it in progress as Cathy was at a softball game, but I don't think you are missing out on anything not seeing pictures of me in my cut off slacks and grungy T-shirt and straw hat working with the cement.

Since the cement was so dry I had to actually jump up and down on some of the larger rocks to get them down into the concrete. The key is to get the top of the rocks fairly level and some of the rocks are 1" thick and some of the rocks are 3" thick. When we poured the concrete we didn't fill the forms to the very top with the understanding that as I added the flagstone it would displace some of the cement and end up the full height of the form.

After all the rocks were in the cement and fairly level, I used an old broom to work the concrete into and around the rocks to get it as smooth as possible. When you force the rocks down into the concrete you end up with little berms around each rock, especially when it is dry like it was. I sprayed some water on the top to make it a little easier to work with as well. By running the broom back and forth over everything it knocks those bumps down and fills in any low spots. It takes a little bit of work, and the end result isn't perfect, but you end up with a fairly smooth sidewalk when it is done.

Here what the sidewalks look like after the pour. It seems pointless to spend all that time and effort putting the flagstone in a perfectly good sidewalk if it all turns out gray doesn't it? Well, it isn't going to stay gray. I've seen and tried it both ways where folks try to keep the rocks from getting cement on them and when they don't even bother trying to keep the cement off the rocks. When you try not to get cement on the rocks you end up getting cement on them anyway and you still have clean them off, and if I remember right, cleaning them off isn't very hard. Hopefully my memory is correct because that is the only part I have left to do! You just add some muratic acid to some water (I always have to double check the correct order on adding acid to water or vice versa) and then scrub the cement film right off the flagstone with a broom or brush. At least that's what I remember.

Here's the walkway from the front porch to the back sidewalk.
I pulled the forms off this morning and I plan on cleaning the flagstone off tonight so I'll probably have another post with the finished product. I'll update the driveway project with the same post probably.

That's it for now. Nathan

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Our new driveway - Part 1

Well, I actually have 2 projects going at the same time on this one and I couldn't decide how to post them. We're having a cement driveway added behind our garage to give Eli a place to be able to ride his cars, bikes and hopefully in the future play basketball and other fun stuff like that. Plus hopefully it will keep the garage a little cleaner with some of the mud falling off the cars before they get inside the garage.

Since we are having the driveway done, I figured I would finish the sidewalk out to the barn. It is only going to be 36 square feet, so it wasn't enough to get a cement truck out for, but since one is coming anyway I figured it would be a good time to do that too. After brainstorming a bit we decided to put in a step off the front porch, and after some more brainstorming (and after I had already made the form for the step) we decided to extend a small path from the front step to the back sidewalk. Now the total square footage that I was in charge of was closer to 80 square feet, but I still thought I should be able to handle it. I'm going to put that part in a separate post though.

We wanted the driveway to be fairly level so that it would be a good spot for Eli to play basketball in the future, but where the driveway was going to be wasn't exactly very level. I ended up using the tractor to move around some material off our extended driveway (it's 1/2 mile long so there's plenty to take from) and then we packed it down really good with our vehicles and watered it in several times over the course of a week or so. Here's what it looked like after it was leveled out. It might not look like much, but I built the bottom right corner up nearly a full foot. The posts are where the driveway will extend out to.

Here it is after they got the forms placed. All leveled out and ready to pour. We ended up soaking it down a few more times trying to keep the ground moist so that it doesn't suck all the moisture out of the cement and cause it to dry too fast and crack.
I'm not sure what the code is on pouring a driveway, but since I live out in the country most building codes don't apply anyway. We basically don't have a frost line here, so a lot of contractors don't pour any kind of footer, but I wanted one on the uphill side of the driveway to keep water from trying to run under the slab and also because that's where we will be driving in from and it should keep that edge stronger. They are going to pour fibered cement so they didn't use any rebar or wire.
Here's what the temperature was today when the cement trucks came out and started pouring the cement! It wouldn't have been so bad if I was just watching them pour the driveway, but I was working on the sidewalks too!
Here's the 2nd truck unloading. I didn't get a picture of the first truck because I was working on the sidewalks. Cathy was at a softball game so there won't be any action shots of me working concrete! They did add some water to the mix, but I got some of the cement out of the first truck and didn't add any water to it and it was already setting up pretty quick. Cement dries pretty quickly at 105! They didn't add a whole lot of water so I still think it should be plenty strong when it dries.
Here's a shot of them working the concrete a little bit later. They ordered 15 yards of concrete and we ended up with about 1/4 yard extra that they just shoveled off the end. I added some water to it and spread it around so it should be about like the rest of my gravel driveway after it dries.
They really seemed to do a pretty good job on it although I am by no means an expert. I found them on craigslist and they were pretty cheap but really seemed like pretty good guys and seemed to do a pretty good job.
This is the last picture that I took before it got dark. They ended up out there working under the headlights for nearly an hour or so. They are going to be back out in the morning at the crack of dawn to take the forms off and I'll get some more pictures then.
Well, that's about it for this post. I'll be making several more posts over the next couple days on the finished driveway and also on my sidewalks. This weekend there is more work scheduled with one of my brother-in-laws coming to help me wire the barn up. It really makes me feel good to be getting all these projects done.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Getting some stuff done!

Well, I haven't posted in a while, but I'm really getting a lot of stuff done. Just stuff that doesn't really lend itself to taking pictures.

Last weekend my wonderful wife helped me clean and organize the barn. It's only 3 years old, but I've been bad and it was pretty junked up already. Working on getting everything labeled where it goes and hopefully I'll be able to keep it that way.

This weekend Cathy and Eli were out of town so I decided to tackle the shed while they were gone. I talked a friend into coming and helping in exchange for a protein skimmer that I hadn't used in about 5 years so obviously I didn't need it anymore and he did.

Here's the shed with most of the stuff cleaned out and sitting in somewhat organized piles in front of the shed. The shed is 12'x16' with a 12'x16' greenhouse attached to it that I use exclusively for my aquarium hobby. (The fish tanks stacked out in front might have been a clue on that). A few years ago I raised ocellaris clown fish (Nemo for you Disney fans) and over the 10 years that I've been in the reef aquarium hobby I've accumulated quite a bit of stuff.
Here's some of what was still inside the shed when the above pictures were taken. The big tank on the right is what I use for mixing saltwater to do water changes (I used to use it anyway, I haven't made a real water change in about 4 or 5 years). I go through about 10 buckets of salt every year or two just adding salt to make up for times when I have big spills in the shed and things like that. When you have a couple hundred gallons of saltwater spill, it basically ends up the same as making a water change. My biggest spill ever was about 600 gallons but I think I've got things setup to prevent anything more than a couple hundred gallons now.
Here's the greenhouse part of the shed after we got it cleaned up.I put that white vinyl on the walls and thought I remembered that it was supposed to be UV resistant, but after 5 years in the West Texas sun it is brittle and cracking. Not sure whether I need to remove or replace it or what. The big tank is 1,100 gallons of actual water volume. It is a 1,250 gallon irrigation tank that I removed the top on. It is buried about 2' into the ground so it is much deeper than it appears in the picture. (It is 3 1/2' deep) I have 150 and 100 gallon stock tanks in there also.
These are the racks that the fish tanks go on. I thought about growing corals and other things in there but never got around to it.
A storm was blowing in so I put everything back in the shed before I got a chance to get it completely organized but I put it in groups. I got my camera out and started taking pictures of stuff and have already listed a bunch of it for sale on our local aquarium hobby bulletin board.
It was amazing when I listed it all out for sale how much money I've had sitting in boxes out in my shed. Most of it was stuff that I bought because it was a good deal, not because I needed it. Hopefully I will be able to sell most of it for what I paid for it, but even if I don't, it will be well worth it to have the shed cleaned and organized. I am keeping enough stuff so that if I ever start raising clown fish again I pretty much have everything I need. I'm just getting rid of the stuff that I bought just in case I started another tank or two or three! ;-)

I've got several other projects going on too. On Friday the electric cooperative sent some guys out to hook me up to the meter and I now have power to my main circuit breaker panel in the barn! It only took 3 years for me to get that done!

We're putting in a 20' wide X 52' long concrete driveway behind our garage, mainly as an area where Eli will be able to be able to ride his pedal cars and stuff like that as he really doesn't have anywhere to do that. (Gravel doesn't work very well). In the future it will be a place where he can play basketball and stuff like that too.

Since we are getting a cement truck out, I'm going to extend the flagstone sidewalk to the barn and put in a step on the front porch. I'm hiring the driveway part but I'll be doing the sidewalks myself.

All that should happen on Monday evening so hopefully I'll have another post soon.

That's about it for now.


Monday, June 1, 2009

Successful Hog Hunt!

Well, I'll take the suspense out of it with the title, but our hog hunt this weekend was successful!

I was a little worried that with all the construction activities on the hunting blind that I might have scared the wildlife off for awhile but evidently that wasn't the case.

Ben and I got a late start and didn't get to the land until 7:20 pm on Friday night. I hadn't gotten the windows on the blind rigged up to stay open yet, so that took another 1/2 hour or so with us working on the outside of the blind in full view. I even drove the pickup up on the top of the hill for a little bit to unload some stuff. Finally at about 8:15 we were sitting down inside the blind with most of the windows operational after making way more noise than I thought we should have.

As soon as we sat down, I noticed a deer grazing along the fence line on the east side of my property about 500 yards away. I guess we hadn't spooked off every animal anyway! A few minutes later and there were 3 deer out in the field on the southeast corner of my property, they must have been bedding in the tall grass and weeds that are the end result of my failed attempt to grow hay last year. Around 8:30 we saw 2 more deer showed up at the East feeder. A couple small bucks - they are just starting to grow their antlers so it's somewhat difficult to tell the difference right now. Then a few minutes after that we see 2 more deer in the southeast field for a total of 7 deer.

Seeing the deer made me happy, but that's not what Ben was there for, we were hog hunting and it wasn't looking very good from that aspect. We had double checked the trail camera pictures from the last month and the large groups of sows and piglets were gone. We've been having a pretty good drought and my pond is almost dry so I'm not sure if that has anything to do with it or they finally just decided there were less dangerous places to live or what but I haven't had a picture of the sows or piglets in over 3 weeks. I have had 1 medium piebald boar showing up almost daily, but he is pretty sporadic at the time that he is showing up, and rarely is he showing up before dark. Of course I have a feeder light just for that kind of occasion, but I've been meaning to repair it as 1 of the 3 lights is broken and left it at home. Sunset was at 8:45 and still no sign of a pig. I hadn't noticed many tracks when walking back to the blind from parking the truck at the trailer either.

I haven't gotten the recent trail camera pictures uploaded yet, but here is a trail camera picture of the piebald boar from a couple months ago. The 2 nearest deer made their way to the protein feeder and spent some time there and then it started to get dark. Legal shooting light for game animals is 30 minutes after sunset, but there basically are no laws on hog hunting in Texas. You can shoot them 24/7 365 days a year with any legal weapon. Of course trespassing rules and things like that apply, but basically if they are on your property they are fair game anytime of the day or night. It's a good thing too, because at 9:15 right at the end of legal shooting light the pig that had been showing up on the trail camera pictures stepped out into the open at the North feeder. This is where the new blind really paid off already, because from the old blind you couldn't see the North feeder at all so it would have been completely dark by the time he would have gone to the East feeder and we wouldn't have had a chance at him.

I told Ben to take it easy and relax, the hog wasn't going to be going anywhere for a while, as long as he could still see him in the scope things were fine. Ben was breathing really hard for a bit as this was the first big game type animal he was getting a chance to shoot at. He's hunted a few times but mainly birds. After a little bit Ben squeezed of the shot and the hog dropped on the spot. It is right at 140 yards from the new blind to the north feeder and Ben put a good shot on him. One of the reasons we were a little late getting to the land was that Ben was working on getting his rifle sighted in and it sure paid off. All of the second guessing about being late and not bringing the feeder light went out the window as we had a hog on the ground!

We waited about 15 minutes and went back to the trailer to get the truck and pick up the pork. Here's a picture of Ben with his pig.
He weighed in at 145lbs on my game scale which is about the perfect size to me for eating. Plenty of meat to justify the work of butchering it. Then the work started, he was quartered up and in the cooler on ice about an hour later. Current plans are to have Ben over tomorrow night to show him the ins and outs of butchering a pig.

I was pretty pumped to give Ben his first opportunity to shoot a big game animal. He seemed pretty excited about it too!

As far as the new blind I was very happy with how it worked out. It was nice to be able to have 2 people sitting in the blind together and I think it will be fine hunting out of it by myself as well. As far as all the work we did on the camouflage paint, it doesn't appear that the animals cared that much as our successful hunt was out of it when it was still bare wood and stuck out like a sore thumb to me. Looking at trail camera pictures from last week I had some pictures of animals at the feeders the evening that I finished the blind so it doesn't appear that they really worried about it too much. The paint is necessary to keep the wood protected and the camouflage paint job makes it blend in better and look better to me if nothing else so I'm still happy with it.

I've got a months worth of trail camera pictures to work through and post so maybe I'll get that done before too long. No projects pending of any excitement that I can think of, but I do need to clean and organize the barn. Maybe I'll actually get the electricity working in it!

That's it for now. Nathan