Friday, April 15, 2016

Homemade Tincture Press

The $12 Tincture Press

Medicinal Plants: The $12 Tincture Press

(As featured in the June 2011 issue of Practically Seeking)
When making tinctures and infused oils you want to be sure and get every last drop of goodness from the plant materials you are using. For most of us, the traditional "solution" has been to put your plant material into fabric or cheesecloth and then proceed to squeeze by hand as hard as you can!

While this method does work, it leaves a LOT of your precious liquid behind.

Commercial presses are available, but they cost anywhere from $50 to $500 and for most of us home herbalists this is just not cost effective. Now you can call me cheap if you want to, but after a little pondering and a bit of good ol' southern engineering I created my own press (which works remarkably well) out of a couple of scrap pieces of 2x4, two metal bowls out of the kitchen cupboard, and a couple of nuts and bolts from the hardware store. Total cost to me: $11.34. 
Now that's more like it!
Here's what I did…

Step-by-step Instructions on How to make a Tincture Press:

  1. You will need to pull together the following items that can be found in any hardware store:
    — Two pieces of 2x4, each 10 1/2 inches long
    — 2 - 1/2" hex bolts, 10 inches long
    — 4 - 1/2" fender washers
    — 2 hex nuts
    — 1 - 6" x 3/4" hex bolt
    — 2 - 3/4" hex nuts
    — 1 - 3/4" fender washer 
    Now head over to the Plumbing department around the iron pipe fittings and obtain an Iron "1/2 inch flange". (Your looking for a flat metal thing with 4 holes in it.) You will also need two small stainless steel bowls of the same size — inexpensive kitchen bowls or pet dishes work great.
  2. What you need
  3. Take your 2x4 pieces and measure in 1 inch from the end and mark that point with a line, then measure and mark the center of that line. Do the same thing at the other end so that each piece as two marks on it, one at each end. These are your drill points. Now drill out a 1/2 inch hole all the way through your board on each mark. You should have a total of 4 holes, two on each board, and they should line up when you place one board on top of the other.
  4. Draw line one inch from end Mark the center of each line Drill the center point of  your line Drill second piece
  5. On one of your 2x4 pieces draw line diagonally from corner to corner in both directions, making an "X". Drill a 3/4 inch hole at the center point of your "X".
  6. Draw an X on ONE piece Drill through the center of your X
  7. Place a 1/2" fender washer on to each of your 1/2" bolts and then insert the bolt through the drilled holes in each end of the 2x4 that has only 2 holes in it. Put a hex nut on each bolt and screw it about two inches down the thread.
  8. Thread bolt through end hole Repeat with second bolt Add hex nut
  9. Slide the 2x4 with 3 holes on the bolts on top of the other 2x4, place another fender washer on each bolt on the outside of the piece of wood and screw a hex nut on each bolt. You now have a fender washer on the outside of each piece of wood, and hex nuts holding the top piece in place. You do not need to tighten the hex nuts down at this point.
  10. Slide 2nd board on top Put fender washer and nut on top Both boards in place
  11. Put your 6" long, 3/4" bolt down through the center hole of your top 2x4. Put on the fender washer and both hex nuts. Tighten the top hex nut up against the bottom side of the 2x4, holding the fender washer in place against the wood.
  12. Insert 3/4-inch center bolt Put on both hex bolts
  13. Screw the 1/2" flange onto the 3/4" bolt until the bolt is flush with the bottom of the flange, then tighten the lower hex nut down against the flange.
  14. Placing flange
  15. Put your 2 stainless steel bowls under the flange. Place your plant material in your bottom bowl with the second bowl sitting on top. Adjust the center 3/4" bolt as needed to seat the flange and upper bowl firmly down on the material to be pressed.
  16. Place plant material in bowl Place first bowl in press Place second bowl atop first Seat flange firmly against second bowl
  17. Tighten the nuts on the two OUTER bolts, evenly and a little at a time, causing the flange to press down on the top bowl squeeze down on your plant material. (Use a wrench as necessary.)
  18. Tighten down the outer bolts evenly Tighten with wrench if necessary
  19. Continue to slowly tighten down on the two outer bolts and pour off the resulting liquid a little at a time.
  20. Slowly tighten outer bolts Lift press to pour off liquid in bottom bowl Collect resulting liquid
  21. Repeat steps 9 and 10 until you can no longer get the nuts to tighten down any farther. THEN, open the press by loosening the center bolt to raise the flange high enough to remove the bowls, re-bundle the plant material and repeat the process another time or two until you are not extracting any more liquid.
  22. Continue to tighten down Pour off resultant liquid Remove bowls and re-bundle plant material before returning to press
  23. By the time you finish your plant material should be virtually dry, and can be tossed in to your compost to help nurture future medicinals. I have successfully used this press to extract an additional half cup to almost a full cup of liquid that would have otherwise been lost — what can be the most potent part of the medicine!
  24. Dry cake of remaining plant material The most potent liquid!


    Books of interest:


4 Wild Teas Every Survivalist Should Know


The value of a warm beverage in a survival scenario is nothing to laugh at. What could be dismissed as a luxury is actually a valuable asset. The drink provides you with vital hydration in any climate or situation. In cold weather, the warm drink can bolster you against hypothermia. And if there is a medicinal or nutritional element to the tea, that’s even better. Any survivalist worth his or her salt should be able to identify and brew up these prospective panaceas. Get ready for tea time.
Pine Needle Tea (Pinus spp.)
This tea is a Vitamin C powerhouse. Positively identify pine, chop up a tablespoon of needles, and soak them in scalding hot water for 10 minutes to get 4-5 times your daily requirement of C. Just make sure you skip the loblolly and ponderosa pines, as their needles may be a little toxic, according to recent research. And don’t consume pine needle tea if you are pregnant, as it may cause premature birth.
Mint Tea (Mentha spp.)
There are few better remedies for digestive troubles than a cool glass of mint tea. It can certainly be drunk while hot, but a cool beverage seems to be as soothing as a slug of pink Pepto. It’s good for indigestion, colic, and hangover. Mint is also used in aromatherapy to allegedly improve your concentration and diminish depression. There’s just one problem with this elixir. Pregnant or nursing women aren’t supposed to consume strong, fresh mint food or drink; and anyone with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may find their condition temporarily worsened as the valve at the top of the stomach can be relaxed by menthol (the oily compound in mint).
Black Willow Tea (Salix nigra)
Bark from several species in the willow family, including the black willow, has been used since 400 B.C. to treat inflammation and pain. Black willow bark contains salicin, a predecessor to aspirin. It was once common for people to chew directly on the shaved bark for pain and fever relief, but a better effect is gained through the tea. Steep a tablespoon of twig bark shavings in a cup of water for 15 minutes, and drink until your headache is gone. Not all willows can be used in the same ways, so consult a local plant expert to find out what your local willows can provide.
Slippery Elm Tea (Ulmus rubra)
The bark shavings of twigs from slippery elm can be steeped just like the black willow, but instead of curing a headache, this tea cures a cough. The natural mucilage in the slimy bark will coat and relax your dry cough, and it is much safer than other natural cough remedies (like colt’s foot, which can be toxic to the liver).
If you’re not sure about all this plant eating and foraging, don’t let a few bad plants scare you away from gathering wild foods. Take a respectable field guide with you, and use it.  My top recommendation is "Peterson’s Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants." Although it is advertised as an eastern plant book, it works well on the west coast, too. In fact, many of the plants in this book are non-native to America, and are scattered around the globe.
Do you have a favorite wild tea? Tell us about it in the comments. Good luck and safe foraging.


Books of interest:

Thursday, April 14, 2016

How To Build a Kickass Chicken Coop

DIY diva
So, a few weeks ago I set out with the intention of building temporary housing for the Nuggets– a FEMA trailer of the poultry world, if you will– and instead my little flock ended up in a penthouse chicken suite. I may have gotten a little carried away.

And that might be the understatement of the year. But really, why go to the trouble
 of making all that sawdust if you’re not going to build something that’s at least a little awesome?
The chickens concur.
The Nugget Barn isn’t 100% complete, but it’s close enough to give you a look at how I built this baby from scratch with nothing but a picture for inspiration and a desire to use a lot of tools. (God, I love my tools.)
Anyway, here’s a fair warning before we delve into this project… I don’t have a step-by-step plan, complete with measurements, fasteners and “attach board A using screw B” directions for building this coop. My favorite part about building shit is not working from a plan, so I don’t have one to give you, but I can show you the techniques and tools I used throughout the building process– what things worked well, and what things almost cost me a finger. So hopefully that gives you a leg up if you decide to build your own chickens a small and tastefully decorated McMansion. (Really gives a whole new meaning to the term, doesn’t it?)
So, let’s dive in. Here’s a really high-level look at the materials and tools involved in this adventure…
  • 3/8″ Plywood – 1 sheet for the platform and roof sheathing
  • 1/8″ luan – 1+ sheets to skin the sides of the coop
  • 2×4’s – several to build the frame
  • 2×3’s – several to build the frame
  • 1×2 – 1 board for door accents
  • 1×6- 1 board for ramp
  • 3/4″ x 1/2″ trim – 1 piece for ramp treads
  • old barn wood – various sizes for siding, trim, and doors
  • 1/2″ wire mesh for doors
  • hinges and latches
  • corrugated metal roofing – 2 pieces for the roof
  • 10″ metal flashing – 3 lf for the roof cap
  • 20# roofing felt
  • a shit ton of framing and finish nails, screws, a few brackets, and roofing screws
Tools (this is the fun part)
  • Table saw
  • Compound miter saw
  • Circular saw (this saw was the hero of this project)
  • Hand-held jigsaw
  • Framing nailer
  • Drill/driver
  • Finish nailer
  • Stapler
  • Level
  • Tape measure
  • Chisel
  • A not insignificant number of Band-aids (if you’re smart, you’ll replace this item with gloves)

I sketched this out a few times to really wrap my head around how I was going to build it, what supports would be striclty necessary and what ones I could sacrifice to keep the weight down. In the end, I started with a platform built of 2×3’s.
The platform is roughly 3′ x 4′, and I assembled it by end-nailing the boards into place, similar to how I would if I was framing a wall. (Here’s some more info on legitimately framing something, and all of the techniques can be used on a smaller scale when, you know, building a smaller house.)
Next up were the legs. I used a 2×3 and 2×4 for each…
The legs were about 18″ tall, and this was definitely the wrong spot to attach them…
I mean, it makes a nice table, but the point was to have the nesting boxes as an overhang– this is the kind of thing that happens when you’re figuring it out as you go– but in the end, no big deal to take two of the legs off and move them to the proper spot.
There we go.
Now, at this point I should have also attached the braces for the legs, but I didn’t think of it at the time– which, in the end, meant I had to lay underneath the coop to attach them after the Nugs were already living in it. Unless you like chicken poop in your hair, I suggest doing it at an earlier stage in the build process.
Ah, well. Live and learn.
The top of the platform is 3/8″ plywood, cut to size with the circular saw and tacked down with screws.
Then it was time to start actually framing the structure of the coop. I used 2×4’s for the main area.
And 2×3’s for the nesting-box “addition.”
Since I was figuring out the dimensions as I went, when it came to cutting angles I would hold the board in place and mark the cut-line with a pencil instead of making my eyes bleed with mathematical equations. I’m building a chicken hut here, not a bridge.
You can see the beam for the top of the roof was attached with brackets, but everything else was nailed together with the framing nailer.
Here’s what the coop looked like framed in.
Next up was figuring out how I wanted to sheath the damn thing. There are a few things to take into consideration here, particularly the type of siding you’re using and your climate.
For example, if you were using something like T1-11 siding, you could probably just use 1/2″ without sheathing the coop first. I decided to use some old barn wood, however, which coincidentally, came off of the very barn in which I built the coop.
“Well hello down there. I will make something awesome out of you one day. Like….. now.”
It was fairly warped and not very structurally sound, so I decided to sheath the coop in 1/8″ thick luan first, to make sure the Nuggets would be protected from the elements. I used screws every 6-8″ on the studs to attach the sheathing.
To cut that arch I first tried to freehand it, and then realized I was being an idiot and wrapped a piece of wire around a screw and my pencil.
Makeshift compass for the win. (Of course, I later realized my actual legitimate compass was exactly seven steps away from where I did this, but whatevs. It worked.)
Next up was siding. For the trim I ripped down some 2×6 barnwood on the table saw.
Then filled her in with barn wood.
Just for fun I used some different wood for the nesting boxes.
Two tips about working with old-ass barn wood. 1.) You are going to get splinters. One of them may still be under your fingernail three weeks later
…and 2.) Sometimes you’ll need to creatively persuade a board into place. With clamps, a hammer, and the sheer force of your stubbornness.
But it’s worth it.
Next up was putting the roof on. So, here’s a true confession for anyone who thinks I brazenly take on any project with the slightest hint of fear… that’s a big fucking lie. Number one on the list of projects I’ve manage to avoid in the last decade is “things that occur on a roof”, number two is “things that involve cutting metal.” So basically this portion of the project gave me enough frown lines to keep Botox in business for the next decade.
But, before you write me off as a the worlds biggest wimp, last year I had to suck it up and re-roof the donkey barn which taught me a lot about roofs and getting the eff over my fear of falling off of one. And since I wasn’t actually going to be climbing on the roof of the Nugget Barn, all I had to do was put on my big-girl tool belt and cut the corrugated metal roofing down to size.
Here’s how that part went down…
First, the metal roofing panels I got from Lowe’s were actually a lot thinner and lighter than I expected them to be, which bolstered my courage when it came to cutting them down.
I decided to use my circular saw with a metal cutting blade, which meant the wood blade had to come off…
Metal blade went on, along with safety glasses (which are 100% necessary unless you want your eyeballs burned out by little flying pieces of glowing hot metal), but I did not put on long sleeves or gloves. In retrospect, sharp edges of metal roofing + gusting winds = goodbye fingertip. So. Yeah. Don’t do that.

Cutting the roofing was much easier than I anticipated though, even with the wad of gauze and bandaids keeping me from bleeding out all over my new chicken roof.
To attach it, I put 3/8″ plywood on to sheath the roof, then stapled on some roofing felt…
Then the pieces of metal roof were attached, overlapping, using some metal roofing screws that have a rubber gasket on them to seal the hole as the screw is driven.
For the cap, I used some aluminum flashing and a makeshift brake (ie a 2×4 and my T-square) to bend an angle into it.
This works for now, but I need to find some thicker metal for the final cap.
The last thing that needed to be done for this phase of coop building was to build the doors to the side of the cage and attach everything.
To build the doors I ripped down some old barn wood (similar to the trim) to make the frames.
Then I clamped them together, used my staple gun to attach the wire cloth, and screwed some metal brackets in over top to both hold the frame together and keep the mesh in place.
Once I held them up to the coop though, I knew they needed a little something extra.
To make the cross braces, I used some pressure-treated 1×2 (technically scraps from building the frames for the run, which I’ll get into in another post). To get them to lay flat I used the same technique as I did when I built the legs for this picnic table– cut notches into the wood then chiseled them out.
Plus a little paint…
The very last thing was to build the ramp so that the nugs could actually get in and out of the coop on their own.
This is a 1×6 with the treads spaced every 4-5 inches, evenly across the board.
I glued the treads in place and then tested it out with the actual end-users before finishing it off…
Ehhhhhh…. what is this strange thing that is ergonimically designed for my little chicken feet so that I can easily make my way up and down from the penthouse?
Who needs wings?
To finish the ramp off, I added some dowels to the top and then drilled holes into the platform on the coop to hold it in place.
The hinges and locks were the last thing to go on (and I’m still figuring out double-locking mechanisms for each of them, to keep any smart-ass racoons out.)
And then, of course, I had to but in the bed and kitchen.
You’ll see I put a little roost in up by the roof (which is why the roof on my coop is taller than in the inspiration pic) and they totally love it.
Before they moved in, I also installed braces on the legs and painted any exposed “new” wood so that it didn’t stand out so much. I don’t 100% love it, so I’m deciding if I’ll clad the legs with barn-wood or just see if it grows on me.
The chickens have been living in the coop (and free-ranging when I’m home) for over a week now, and they seem to love it. You know, because I’m a chicken psychic now and totally know what they’re thinking.
However, the Nugget Barn is not quite complete yet. To finish it off I need to:
1.) Build a brace to hold the roof of the nesting box up to make it easy to collect eggs.
2.) Divide this space into 3 nesting boxes using some 3/8″ plywood and brackets.
3.) Build the attached run so they can be safely outside when I’m not there.
4.) Attach the wheels/handles to make the coop portable.

And that, my friends, is how the Nugget Barn came into existence. It was a really fun project, and there are so many different ways you could finish these things off with new and re-claimed materials. (Which may or may not be proportional to the number of ways you can find yourself in a little padded room for hoarding farm animals…)