Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Building A Foot Bridge In The Wilderness.

Are you one of those lucky people who have a few acres of land with a small stream running through it? Well this post is for you! If not, join the crowd and read on anyway, maybe you will learn a new skill set. With the help of some friends, I will show you how to construct a foot bridge in the woods with mostly hand tools. Some of you may know that I have been a member of the Red River Gorge Trail Crew for going on a decade now. The RRGTC is a group of dedicated volunteers who meet once a month in the beautiful woods of east central Kentucky. The RRGTC helps keep the trails, bridges and back country of the Gorge safe and accessible for the general public to enjoy. 

Okay so first things first, you will need a large tree. What part of the country you are in will dictate the type of tree you will use. In the Gorge we use the eastern hemlock. The hemlock grows very straight and tall making it ideal for use as a bridge. Used properly the wood will last a long time in the elements. Once you have selected your live tree and felled it, with good sawyer techniques I hope, you need to strip the bark off. If you leave the bark on you will create an area for moisture to rot out your bridge.

Sad side note: The eastern hemlock is under attack in the US by the woolly adelgid. The woolly adelgid is a small insect that sucks the sap of the hemlock, desiccating the tree, causing the tree to lose needles and not produce new growth. After a hemlock is infested it typically takes 4-10 years for the tree to die. Even if it lives, it will be weakened and susceptible to disease. Unfortunately the woolly adelgid has made its way to the Gorge. Most of the Red River Gorge is going to have a completely different ecosystem in 20 years.

Okay after you have dried your eyes for the eastern hemlock you will need to find a lot of wedges. It helps to have friends with tools. You want to split the log so you have two equal and usable pieces. After you have figured out where you want to split the tree, mark it with a line of chalk or a string. Now start pounding the wedges in along the line.

This takes a while and it helps to have a lot of people around to switch off when you get tired, which you will. Even though hemlock is considered a "soft" wood, this stuff is pretty tough.

Once you get the metal wedges in a ways, you need to switch to wood wedges. Our sawyer cut up a bunch of them on the job site. As long as you keep applying pressure with the wedges you will eventually get the log to split.

The wooden wedges are just small diameter trees or limbs with an angle cut on one side. The bad thing about them is they break up pretty easily when beaten with a sledge hammer, the good thing about them is we could make as many as we needed.

Eventually you will win the battle if you keep at it. I have a lot of respect for the people who had to do this back in the day. We only split one log, with a lot of help and modern tools.

Ideally you want to get two usable sides out of each split log. This one split weird so we could only use one side for the foot bridge. I don't have a picture of it, but we used the other half to make a bench near the bridge.

Like I said you need to get all the bark off so the bridge doesn't rot. Having a bark spud is key to doing this fast. It is basically a chisel with the correct angle to peel the bark off in strips.

Okay so I said mostly hand tools. Our sawyer is cutting down into the log to specific points on both sides of the log. We measured the lowest points on the log and marked the sides. He then cut down to the marks with the chain saw.  Because he couldn't see the other side of the log, I sat across from him, and by using my hands, showed him how far away he was from the line. When my hands touched, he was at the line, and stopped cutting. It was raining off and on the whole day, so we did not bring out the crosscut saw. You could do this all by hand if you wanted to, and had the correct tools. 

The reason for notching the log with the chainsaw was so we could use this useful tool called an adze. This is an ancient style of tool dating back to the stone age. You can see this person using the proper technique of having one foot over the other and chopping towards them. This allows you to be pretty precise without worrying about adze-ing your shin. If you can't imagine the jokes around a tool called an adze, let me give you a few. "Get your hands of my adze" or "You sure know how to work an adze" or "Your mama's so fat her adze was made out of a manhole cover"... moving on.

You can see how smooth this log is getting. You don't want it completely smooth. You want to leave some grooves and imperfections for tread when it is wet. You can also knock the wood off with a pulaski, shown above.

Here is the other end. When you have a good adze in your hand, you can do amazing things...

We used these log movers to bring in the base of the bridge. Out in the wilderness, simple tools and manpower get most jobs done.

After the bases were striped of bark we used a brace to drill some pilot holes for re-bar "nails". You want to drill them at an angle so the base has less of a chance of moving in a large water event. Another hole was drilled on the opposite top side of the log with the same angle but going the other way. This pins the base into the ground with the re-bar going down like this ^ .

One of the best lubricants for pounding re-bar into wood is kerosene. We also use kerosene when we use the crosscut saws. It helps dissolve any saps in the wood and lubricates the blade.

Here we are setting the bridge in place. We then marked it so we could cut out divots on the bottom. This allows the bridge to sit snug on the base.

You would think that with how much wood you have to work with in the base you would notch it instead of the thinner bridge. If you were to do that, you would create a depression for water to collect where the bridge meets the base. This would slowly rot out the base and all your hard work would be for naught.

You can see how smooth you can make the wood with the proper tools. You might even say it is as smooth as a babies adze...

We repeated the brace and re-bar technique for the bridge. This thing is not going anywhere. The re-bar we used was about 4 foot long.

So here is the final product. An inviting foot bridge in the middle of the woods, crossing a small stream. If you are interested in seeing this for yourself, just hike the Whittelton branch trail east from the camp ground and you can't miss it.

Thanks to all the volunteers who come out month after month, year after year, in the rain, snow and cold. And a special thanks to our fearless leader Charlie, the forest service is lucky to have you and so are we. So I didn't have to fool around with getting everyone's permission, all photos are headless and taken by me. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Hard Cider Made Easy

So first things first, find a friend with 7 mature apple trees and tell him you can turn them into alcohol. The apples, not the trees. Next, with your friends help, collect as many apples as you can and invite him over to learn how to make said alcohol. Making alcohol is always easier with an extra set of hands. And of course, drinking alcohol with a friend, while you work, raises moral.

We could have gotten more apples out of his trees but it was getting dark and this seemed like a lot. So many people have fruit trees and let the fruit drop every year. If you are one of those people, and you live in or near SW Ohio, let me know. We can work out a 'you give me fruit, I give you alcohol' kinda deal.

My friend Mike, you know the guy with the apples, also owns a semi-industrial juicer. In the olden days you would need to press apples in a huge, heavy apple press. Even though we had the advantage of an electric juicer, it still took us a few hours to process all of the apples. Not sure if the multiple greyhounds had anything to do with that.

We filled my aluminum brew kettle up twice. That is a lot of apple juice! Mike saved the pulp for his chickens. I am sure they are happy about that.

Doesn't this look delicious? We didn't run the juice though a sieve or filter so a lot of the pulp and particulates got into the brew kettle. Not a big deal and much easier this way.

I think Mike convinced himself (I had nothing to do with it, I swear), that he needs one of these 210,000 BTU propane burners. I think you may need some convincing. You need a 210,000 BTU propane burner! Don't buy one of the cheap turkey fryer ones. You are going to have a lot of weight sitting on it and it needs to be sturdy. Plus this doubles as a turkey fryer! There is a link in the side bar if you want to know more details about this burner.

Right, I was suppose to tell you how to make hard cider. It is simple really:

  • Juice a bunch of apples.
  • Heat the juice to 160 degrees and hold it at that temp for 8 minutes. 
  • Cool the juice down fast, I have a wort chiller but you can use an ice bath around the kettle.
  • Transfer the juice to a carboy.
  • Add yeast nutrient to the carboy.
  • Add yeast to the carboy.
  • Put on an airlock.
  • Wait 2-3 weeks.

You can also make hard cider without heating the apple juice. I have not done this but it seems most people do it this way. Side note: I don't think one of my blog posts have been unamended after reddit gives their 3 scents. Seriously reddit always gives me great feedback or some meaningful suggestions. Thanks!

So you want to make cider without heating the juice? There are two schools of thought.

School number one:

  • Juice a bunch of apples.
  • Transfer juice to a carboy.
  • Add yeast nutrient to the carboy.
  • Add yeast to the carboy.
  • Put on an airlock.
  • Wait 2-3 weeks.

School number two:

  • Juice a bunch of apples.
  • Transfer juice to a carboy.
  • Add campden tablets to juice.
  • Wait 24-28 hours.
  • Add yeast nutrient to the carboy.
  • Add yeast to the carboy.
  • Put on an airlock.
  • Wait 2-3 weeks.

I have only done the pasteurization method, but it seems the majority of people I have talked to use either campden tabs, or are the more adventurous types, and just pitch yeast after they juice.

You want to place your carboys in a temperature stable area. I always ferment alcohol in my laundry room. There are a few thousand worms living in that bin behind the carboys. If your worms are happy, your yeast will be happy. If you don't have a bin with thousands of worms in your house, you are doing it wrong.

Our elusive feline Guenhwyvar (Guen for short), approves of her masters alcohol endeavors.

The white sediment on the very bottom is the yeast cake. There are trillions of yeast just laying around after a three day bender. The bread looking stuff on top of the yeast is apple pulp.This is the primary fermentation.You leave most of this stuff behind when you "rack" or transfer the alcohol to the secondary fermentation.

Our other cat Err apparently does not care for my alcohol operation. I am racking the primary into the secondary here. It is good to have a ton of carboys laying around. The more you have, the more you can brew!

You can see a small amount of yeast left on the bottom after the secondary fermentation.

Here I am racking the secondary into the bottling bucket. The brown one gallon carboy is an experiment Dara is doing. She put a bunch of shredded ginger into the carboy before fermentation. We will see how it turned out soon.

Here is Mike racking one of the smaller batches into the bottling bucket. We decided to mix this carboy with the cider from the carboy on the left. This gave us about 5 gallons in the bucket.

You have to be careful when you get close to the yeast cake on the bottom. The device I am using is an auto-siphon. This will suck up any liquid so when you get to the bottom you need to be careful not to let too much yeast get into the bucket.

Once you get your cider in the bucket you need to "prime" it if you want carbonated cider, which we did. You need to put some form of sugar in at this point. We used priming sugar at a ratio of 1 ounce by weight priming sugar to every gallon of cider you have. The yeast will wake up and eat this sugar, making a tiny bit more alcohol, and as a by product, CO2. With the bottles capped, the CO2 will build up and slowly carbonate the cider. This takes anywhere from 3-5 weeks. You need to be careful not to over prime your bottles. They can explode if you give the yeast to much sugar. It is one thing to get woken up in the middle of the night to exploding bottles, it is much worse to go to open a bottle and have it explode in your hand. Be careful and know your ratio.

I use a no rinse sanitizer called Star San. This stuff is great because you do not have to rinse the bottle out after you sanitize it. For all you hippies out there screaming chemicals are bad, just remember you are drinking them in every beer you have ever drank in your entire life. So either make your own beer without sanitizers, which will get infected and taste like band-aids, or just go on with your life and enjoy a good beer. Seriously though, I couldn't do a better job talking about no rinse sanitizers than the guy who invented Star San. Here is a great podcast on the subject. It is an interview with Charlie Talley, the inventor of Star San. If you want to get into brewing, I highly recommend the podcast Basic Brewing, which has been around since 2005. It is actually one of the first podcasts I ever listened to, it is really well done and a great resource. 

Here are the bottles Mike and I went to all the trouble of drinking so we could fill them with, well... more alcohol. Make sure they are not twist off and that you rinsed them out very well before you store them. I bought a 12 pack of 22 ounce bottles from the brew store for mike and I to split.

So here is my haul! Mike has the other half. Not bad for a couple guys standing around, cutting up apples, and drinking alcohol.