Cabin :: specifications

4.5.2014 – Saturday (revised 4/16)

What size is the cabin? That is the #1 question I’ve been getting the past few months. Looks like a good time go over some details on the design and dimensions of the cabin. The Ol’ man dug up the last remaining set of prints for the cabin allowing me a good look at them. The prints are roughly 90% accurate. However, there are a few notable changes.

  • The front (large) porch roof is integrated into the main trusses; if the supports were taken away, the porch roof is engineered to be self supported even under heavy snow load. As a result there is a flat ceiling on the porch instead of the pitched ceiling in the plans.
  • The stairs are not as steep as depicted. Either because of a building code or the unreasonably steep angle, it was modified during construction. The landing at the bottom is also only one step, not two. As a result, the closets intruded too far into the stair way and the floor of the closet was reduced for more clearance when walking down the stairs.
  • The bathroom has a full tub/shower insert and the toilet is positioned next to the sink. Insulation was placed between the shower insert and the log wall to keep the tub warmer in winter.
  • The small porch off the main entry way was added by the head carpenter and is not shown in the plan. The recessed light in this small porch and the shelter offered by the porch roof really add convenience in snow and rain.
  • The two footings in the basement floor may be slightly left or right of drawn to accommodate our plans for finishing the basement as a game room.

_MG_4922 Front porch roof is integrated into the main house truss.

_MG_5028Center of photo: the closet floor has been reduced.

_MG_6343 The tub and toilet differ from the original plans

_MG_6547 HDRThe back porch was conceived in its entirety by the head carpenter.






Click each photo to enlarge. Having enjoyed the cabin for about 4 years now there is a surprisingly short list of design features that either I or the Ol’ man would dare change. An extra log in the wall would have moved the bedroom ceiling fans up just a little bit more and not added much to the overall cost of the cabin. A loft and two more solar panels on the pole make the design wish-list but were ruled out due to cost. Another wish list item ruled out due to cost is engineered basement floor trusses (would eliminate the two supports and keep all plumbing and gas lines concealed within the trusses – a benefit when we decide to finish the ceiling in the basement). The bathroom may have benefitted from an insulated toilet (it sweats from time to time) and a vent fan to evacuate the humidity from the shower – though there is a window above the shower). The cabin was constructed on a remarkably efficient budget due in part to the downturn in the economy. If constructed today, I doubt my blog would feature a log cabin, log sided garage, and a nearly finished basement. One choice the Ol’ man regrets is going with a oak veneer floor in the upstairs. It’s real wood with a factory finish over an engineered wood material. It looks nice, but we’re starting to notice some small deteriorations that would not occur with a solid wood floor.  On the garage we should have put 8′ garage doors instead of 7′ doors for more clearance, specifically to better accommodate the side-by-side and full size truck. If we redid the garage it would have an extra row of block (2nd row), span a few more feet in width, and have a 9′ wide, 8′ tall main garage doors and a 7′ by 8′ high secondary door.

f2056960The garage has a 8′ x 7′ main door and 7′ x 7′ auxiliary door Some details about the garage:

  • The four large 57 watt CFLS in the garage (~3,500 lumen) are placed so that when both garage doors are open the lights are set back just enough not to be covered by the door.
  • A hand winch is mounted to the wall with two pulleys to create an overhead hoist good for about 600 pounds lift. The crank style winch has proven faster and easier to use than a more expensive electric overhead winch.
  • Ceiling height is 9′ 2″ overall.
  • The wall LP heater can raise the temperature in the garage fairly quickly in winter (for skinning and quartering deer)
  • There is a spare mini-fridge set up for freezing meat during the warmer months of deer hunting season
  • Old kitchen cabinets have been salvaged and repurposed for shop storage
  • Concrete slab is 5-bag mix with re-rod outside edges with wire reinforcements through slab and is 4 inches thick.

Knowing what we know now about concrete slabs, the Ol’ man would have built up an even sand base under the garage slab, used 1/2″ re-rod spaced every 2′ throughout the slab (instead of just wire), and used a 6-bag mix. Our soil is mostly clay and rock with a 12-18″ covering of black dirt and detritus. We removed the dirt and have an adequate sand base under the garage, but because the garage is not heated in winter and frost sets in, a carefully constructed sand base that has a uniform thickness would have increased our chances having a slab that won’t crack after a few seasons. The slab needs to float – that’s where a stronger slab with a thick, uniform base to float on is important. Currently we have a nice long crack in the slab. The cabin gets lots of airflow on top of the ridge, if we were in a hollow where condensation is common the slab would benefit from a vapor barrier and insulation underneath.

An interesting question we get up in snow-country is why did we choose shingles over a metal roof. The shingles are rated for 30-something years (we’d be happy with 25). Aside from the cost premium for metal, we did not want snow build up. Metal roofs are well-known and advertised to shed snow. That’s a good trait if there is concern over the roof holding up under a snow load. Take a closer look at the plans and note the roof has a load rating of 50 pounds per square foot (psf). With some simple unit conversion, 50 psf is equal to 9.1″ of water, 9.9″ of ice, 118″ of fresh snow, or 30″ of compressed snow. At this point a snowbank sitting right next to the cabin or garage is more of an inconvenience than some snow on the roof. With snow butted against a structure we would have to worry about water intrusion when the spring thaw begins. We already get a small amount of water coming in through the row of block around the garage in the generator corner (we’ll be sealing this over summer). Additionally, the only metal roof that I’ve liked the look of imitates the physical shape of shake shingles. It is quite expensive.

I hold the main carpenter and cabinet maker in high regard because they utilized a style I would call “legacy construction”. They take advantage of historical principles of design that utilize strength and longevity, but whose construction is achieved through modern techniques. One example is the edge trim outlining the entrance to the hallway. The trim is a solid pine 2×2 that has been sculpted into an “L” shape. The trim sleeves the edges and is impervious to tear out. Using a single piece of trim where two separate pieces adjoining along an edge would be adequate, but forgoes the simplicity and durability of a single piece. The cabinet maker placed solid wood panels (3/4″ thickness) on the end of the counter and I still find things to admire about his joinery when I visit the cabin. He also constructed the L-shaped counter top in his shop, making it a single solid peace. Simple and durable.


There are plenty of posts going over details that I like about the cabin as well as some of the projects undertaken. To balance things out here is a list of what the Ol’ man and I really like about the design and construction of the cabin:

  • Glass block windows in basement
  • Vaulted ceiling in living room
  • Carpeted bedrooms
  • Tiled bathroom and entryway
  • Free-standing wood burner
  • Large windows in every room
  • Window grids really dress up exterior
  • Roman shades on windows
  • Covered porches on both sides
  • Tall ceiling in basement
  • Egress window for basement (allows for sleeping quarters in downstairs)
  • Half wall by kitchen opens up main room
  • Minimal space wasted as hallways
  • Garage set back so living room has view of maple ridge
  • Cork flooring in basement is reasonably warm
  • 8″ pine D-logs
  • Placement of Inverter control panel and battery monitor in cabin
  • 12V DC and 110V AC power supplies
  • The gate! and the location

The utilities of the cabin were all added during construction. Because we cleared forest for the cabin we had the burden of drilling a well and adding a septic. Michigan building codes are great fun in this regard and now we have a septic that has the capacity for a 3-bed, 2-bath house for our 2-bed, 1-bath cabin that is occupied 120 days per year with an average occupancy of about 2 people. The septic is overbuilt (1000 gallon tank) so it can safely be considered low-maintenance. Our biggest concern is making sure that the drain field is kept tree-free and that tree-roots don’t cause problems several decades down the road. The well is 110-115 feet deep and utilizes an off-grid friendly 110V Grundfos soft start submersible pump. The pressure tank is a bit oversized additional water use when the power system is turned off and set to 30/50 psi to accommodate the 110V pump/well depth . This fall (2013) a water softener was added per Mother’s request. We manually recharge the softener since the power is not consistently on and our water use is relatively low. The propane tank is owned (not rented) and we shop around and pre-buy propane. The tank is 500 gallons and as far as use is concerned, it was filled mid-October 2013, and as of April 1, 2014 was at 40%. This will vary depending on how many nights the cabin is occupied in winter, but keep in mind that winter 2013-2014 was a record cold winter. The thermostat is set at 42-45°F for the winter months. When we stay we rely solely on wood heat. The new propane heater in the basement is also set at 42-45°F as a back up. Even though the plumbing is PEX material and the water is manually shut off when we leave, a cracked toilet from a freeze would still be a pain to deal with and neither the Ol’ man or I would like to test the freeze-resistance of PEX or risk freezing and exploding beer bottles and soda cans in the pantry.

There were a lot of choices to make when building the cabin. As in the plans, we have 3″ of pink foam on the basement walls, and blown cellulose insulation in the roof (with vapor barrier). The garage is insulated with R19 fiberglass insulation in the walls and ceiling. We chose logs for looks. What we are finding is that the logs are relatively low-maintenance on the interior of the cabin (finished with a UV-protector) but the outside will require periodic maintenance with Sikkens. The logs also provide a thermal mass which is convenient in winter and summer. In summary, when the logs are warm they tend to stay warm, and when cool, tend to stay cool. We chose slider windows (instead of double hung) due to cost. Adding covered porches instead of a deck added cost but the shade in summer and the weather protection for the decking are two benefits we are currently enjoying. Most of our gas appliances are electronic ignition to avoid a pilot light. Since the cabin is not a permanent residence, we like to minimize the number of pilot lights on when we are not around. It also gives us control over the water heater so we can selectively recharge our hot water supply once a day. The stove is also electronic ignition but with a big downside. The stove has a glow-plug that stays on whenever the oven is in use. Power consumption for the glow-plug is on the order of 400 watts! Without power the stove will not work. Here is a previous post with more information on our appliance power use. Appliances that have pilot lights are the two gas heaters and the fridge. The fridge is made by Dometic and offers up 8 cu ft of space with a 1.6 cu ft freezer. Fuel use is around 2 gal/wk. We have a sump-pump pit but after 4 years have never had so much as a drop of water in it. The pit is drained out the side of the hill with a PVC pipe with a screened end. In winter we cover the pipe with foam insulation and cover it with a board and a brick. The 12V DC system is one of our favorite decisions. I’ve covered it before on the blog and it will be covered again. It’s’ that awesome. We presently have six 12V accessories:

The 12V LEDs offer virtually no downsides. They run cool, use little power, and have roughly a 30 watt incandescent-equivalent output per fixture. The timed light in the kitchen is a great night light while the garage service door and bench light make arriving to camp after dark a bit more convenient. 12V LED was a gateway to replacing our existing CFLs with LEDs cabin-wide. The post off-grid system :: diagrams has been updated with the AC LED conversion. The upgrade was done in 2012 and we haven’t looked back since that time. The biggest advantage of LEDs (other than power consumption) is the instant-on nature. CFLs take far too long to warm up when used in exterior applications – especially in winter. The lighting quality and choice offered by LEDs is another advantage. See the post 12V LED lights :: observations for more on lighting spectrum.

Lastly, some thoughts on how to deter or prevent theft. Our previous camp was broken into and a number of curious things were stolen (frozen pizza, firewood sling, and some tasteful magazines from the 1970′s renowned for witty and intelligent commentaries on social and political matters). The break-in demonstrated the value of not keeping valuables at a non-permanent residence (guns, jewelry, hunting gear, electronics, etc…) I’m not going to discuss exactly what we do for security, but I have some suggestions. The number one way to deter theft is to always be at the cabin… or make it look like you are home. Motion lights can help, but if the locals are going to rob you they’ll know when you are home or away. In addition to lights, a garage where a car can be parked makes it harder to tell when you are home or away. Speaking specifically about a camp I’m not convinced strong locks make much difference. Any lock can be overcome with the appropriate amount of time or force. If on the end of a dead end or gated road, don’t advertise that there is a nice cabin at the end of it. I prefer a rusty gate and a weather worn Do Not Trespass sign. Also do not post the location of your camp on the internet and especially do not post GPS tagged photos (pretty much any photo taken with a smart phone at present). There is software for adding or removing GPS data from photos. I am very diligent about stripping location data from my photos before posting – I have been Geotagging since 2005. Trail cameras are another good security option. They are nearly impossible to find (especially if you have more than one!) and there is a good offering that allows cellular data connections at a reasonable price for remote surveillance. With our current state of technology, even the would-be-thief not burdened with an abundance of brains is likely to take a “Video Surveillance in Use” sign into consideration. A handful of companies make trail cameras specifically for catching license plates and now with true infrared flash it’s getting harder to get away with unsavory activities, even at night.


This post took a bit more research and time to assemble than most of my previous entries. It’s been in the works in some form or the other for over a month now. I’ve searched through old e-mails, my notes, and had at a least a dozen conversations with the Ol’ man on the technical details of the cabin and garage. As always, questions welcomed :-)

Revised for accuracy on 4/16/2014

off-grid system :: diagrams




  • off-grid inventory 5: (ADDED 4/12/2014) – I’m 18 months behind on this but I finally updated the inventory to include our conversion from CFL to LED lighting in the cabin. The update cost $486.10 for just 22 LED emitters. Wow how the price has changed. Non-the-less, we remain happy with the upgrade. LEDs in my observation offer much better lighting characteristics than CFLs and a wider choice of spectrum choices than incandescent.



  • Cabin DC wiring 2 (ADDED 8/26/2011) – updated; now includes battery monitor
  • Cabin Power System Schematic 2 (ADDED 8/26/2011) – Completely reworked and updated! This is a huge improvement over the old schematic. And that big blank spot on the LED diagram – that is reserved for the technical drawings of the 12V LED install planned for the cabin. The wire has been run from the garage and the bulbs have been ordered. We’re going to use standard E26 screw in bulbs specifically designed for 12V DC with a wide 180° coverage with 400 lumen output at 5.6W – in other words: we can use a standard light fixture and wire it for 12V DC instead of 120V AC.



Throughout the research and design phases of the project I created and updated this schematic: Cabin Power System Schematic (UPDATED 1/27/2011). Please note that the DC switches used in the LED light diagram are standard 110V AC light switches and not the toggle switches in the diagram.

  • Each item purchased in the construction of the system was also briefly catalogued in order to keep track of expenses: off-grid inventory 3 (UPDATED 7/31/2011). In this new inventory I’ve added pie graphs and itemized expenses by project.
  • I also created a DC wiring diagram (ADDED 3/7/2011) to better show how the panels, inverter, fuses, and breakers are connected.

I will continually update this post to reflect the current set up of the off-grid system.

Previews of the most recent documents (open PDFs above for easier viewing):

Overview Inventory

Ice Climbing

4.6.2014 – Sunday

Brian and Paul made the trip up from Milwaukee after Friday classes. When not in med-school they trade a place to stay and home-made breakfast for access to their ice climbing expertise and gear. We climbed the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly on March 29th… on roughly 5 hours of sleep.


8:30am – start out on foot across lake
9:45am – reached destination of hike (2 miles later)
10:45am – reached the easy ascent route
11:30am – ascended easy route
12:45pm – reached final climb
2:30pm – repelled final climb
3:15pm – began climbing
5:30pm – concluded climb
6:00pm – began trek back to car
7:30pm – reached car
8:00pm – departed for home

batteries :: cold weather

3.24.2014 – Monday

IMG_0869 HDR

There has been little doubt that these past few months have been Winter. Little chance of mistaking it for any other season. Records are adding up and it’s reasonable to say that it has been consistently cold. The silver lining has been the lake ice of Lake Superior. More ice means the liquid water is locked away and we have more sun and fewer lake-effect snow showers.

2014 data from NWS Marquette:

  • February averaged 5.6°F
  • 78 consecutive days were below freezing
  • 5 days this winter the high was below zero
  • 20 days in February had a low below 0°F
  • -28°F was recorded on 2/28/2014

The off-grid tech we have in the un-heated garage faired quite well this winter. As a result, I think we can endure future winters without much worry. Despite the cold, the lowest recorded temperature at the battery terminal (where the sensor is bolted on) was still in the twenties. The garage is fairly well insulated and the generator exhaust vent gets closed off when we depart – sealing up the garage quite well. An interesting observation the Ol’man and I noted was that the exhaust fans for the generator (two 100 cubic-feet per minute 110V muffin fans) were not working as efficiently as hoped. The solution was to crack the service door just a bit to let fresh air in to displace the air vented by the fans. The garage is very tight with doors shut and windows latched.

Before departing we like to make sure the batteries have a charge somewhere between 85-100% in the winter months. After some data mining I assembled the table and drew up the graph in this document: Freezing Point Depression. Below is the graph.

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 11.21.06 PM

The document was my effort to determine what it would take to damage our battery bank. The short answer is that it is almost impossible to freeze-damage our batteries given the lowest observed temperature in the garage.

We charge up to 85% or more before departure because of the lake-effect skies. It may take 10 days for our panels to collect 100 Ah in winter. The 12V LED lighting requires about 30 Ah (at 12V DC) to operate each day. In 10 days without sun (not an uncommon event) we’d find our battery bank down 300 Ah! The battery bank is rated at 1540Ah at 80°F. Ever wonder why batteries get ratings at specific temperatures? I recorded some data from our battery bank (via amp-meter and specific gravity) and found that at 30°F the batteries are down to roughly 50% of the 80°F rated capacity! The reaction required to transform chemical energy to electrical energy gets inefficient as the temperature drops. In deep winter, 300 Ah becomes 40% or more of the battery bank capacity.

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 11.40.22 PM

My data set only has three samples and it would be nice to get another point below freezing. However, given how well this graph has aligned with casual observation, I’m not too enthusiastic about drawing up below-freezing electrolyte in a glass bulb for an additional dot on a graph.

While cold batteries may last longer, warm ones sure work better. If you happen to be in the process of deciding where to place batteries in an off-grid system, hopefully I’ve given you some useful information. To finish up, here are a few parting shots of winter. Despite the cold I enjoyed winter this year and the lake ice made for some fun family outings. None-the-less, I’m happy to move on to maple tapping.


IMG_0591 HDR

IMG_0690 HDR dark

IMG_0814 HDR

IMG_0910 HDR

12V :: fan box

2.27.2014 – Thursday

Sure was nice out today… except for the temperature. The sun was warm and bright but the wind dulled my sense of touch to the point that taking off my gloves to gain more dexterity for strapping a car seat into the Honda Pioneer was a foolish decision.

IMG_0308 IMG_0309

But inside the cabin the weather was much the better. Wood heat. Wonderful, radiant, wood heat. A rolling flame softly rising against the glass pane. As much as I could while away the day sinking into the couch next to the fire, the latest cabin project required my attendance in the basement. The Ol’man had already run a surrogate wire up the wall behind the gas stove from the floor to the ceiling – which we would use to pull the lamp cord through and up the wall. In the two weeks previous I was able to acquire some things:

  • $17.62  - KingWin Four Channel Turn Knob Multi-Fan Cooling Controller FPX-001 (LED Indicator for Power On/Off, Control 4 Sets of Fans, 3 Pin Fan Connections)
  • $5.00    - 2x Neodymium Magnets 1/2 x 1/2 inch Cylinder N48 (26 lbs pull force each)
  • $1.51    - 2x Neodymium Magnets 1/4 x 1/4 inch Cylinder N48 (6.3 lbs pull force each)
  • $27.80  - 4x Evercool 60 x 25mm High speed 3 pin fan EC6025H12CA (Dimension (mm): 60 X 60 X 25, Bearing Type: 1Ball Bearing, Speed (RPM): 5000, Rating Voltage (VDC): 12, Power Current (AMP): 0.24, Air Flow (CFM): 26.5, Noise (dBA): 30, Pin Type: 3 Pin Type / 3 wire)
  • $0.85   – 5 amp blade fuse
  • $6.20   – 4x male &  female insulated connectors
  • $0.35   – 1x butt connector
  • $9.00   – 50 feet of lamp cord (18-2 copper stranded, $45/250 feet roll)

I had some extra parts as well – that’s just what was used in the final installation. The actual construction took about 5 hours start to finish with some additional time invested in gathering measurements from the stove. The total for this project was $68.33 and 5 hours.

 The fan box is an alternative to a $260 factory accessory. The factory accessory plugs into exiting connections on the stove and requires access to a 110V outlet for power. The objectives that had to be met by the fan box were 12V DC power, easy installation, ability to use existing wiring on stove, and to force enough air between the fire-box and firewall to increase heat distribution throughout the basement. 12V DC power means that we can heat up the basement without wasting power idling an inverter. The magnets allow for easy installation and adjustments. I purchased wire connectors that mated with the existing wiring on the stove for installation. And lastly, the fan controller allows for each fan to be individually adjusted for output (which is nice for fine-tuning the airflow to noise ratio).

Design wise, the fan box is glued together with a few plugged wood screws. The fans slide in from the open end and all the wiring connections are enclosed.IMG_1786

Sliding everything into the box allows for easy maintenance and fewer screws. The fit is snug so there is no rattling. IMG_1783

Once the cord cover panels and controller plate is slid in the end cap is magnetically held in place by small 1/4″ x 1/4″ cylinder magnets that mate up with screws counter sunk and adjusted for a perfect fit. IMG_0254

The two large magnets are quite powerful. As a test I was able to easily support two hammers over the fan area without failure of the magnetic  bond. IMG_0259

I had thought that a rheostat was pre-installed on the stove, but when I started the install I discovered that there was a space for a rheostat and not actually a rheostat. The stove has an aesthetically pleasing ON/OFF rocker switch for the front flame. The flame turns ON and OFF with the switch, but also turns ON when the stove fires up and starts to produce it’s 20,000 BTU output. I suppose in a house it would be nice to see a constant flame without having the stove run at 100% in order to see the flame. For the time being the switch has been repurposed as the ON/OFF switch for the fans (instead of the rheostat switch like originally planned). The install went reasonably smooth, making this the 3rd 12V accessory added to the cabin after the LED lights in the kitchen and the charging station automotive outlets. Three of the six slots on the 12V cabin fuse block are now in use.


The blue LEDs are visual indicators that the fans are on. They do make sound as well, but if we decide to slot in quitter fans in the future it may be nice to have a visual indicator that something is running. IMG_0300

Two additional accomplishments for today were the replacement of the energy hungry 42″ plasma TV with a much more conservative 42″ LED TV, and the discovery of a battery charger that does not make LEDs on the 12V system pulse. The unofficial drop in power for plasma to LED is from 15 amps to 2.5 amps (multiply by 12V for watts). The charger we now use at the cabin is better designed for utilizing 12V power and uses a constant current to charge batteries instead of a pulse wave. The result is no more voltage fluctuation on our 12V system. The charger appeared in the previous post and is the Nitecore IntelliCharger i4. The charger is able to charge our AA, AAA, CR123a, and 18650 flashlight batteries. A $5 car cable makes it ideal for our charging station. At about $20 street price, it replaces the Lacrosse BC-700 Alpha that we’ve been using with a 12V to 3V automative transformer and charges the batteries in about 1/3 the time – still acceptable to promote longevity of the battery, yet quick enough to provide a useful upgrade to the current charger.


Now at night we can charge our flashlight batteries, have only the 12V kitchen lights on, and watch shows on a 42″ LED TV and only use a total of 6.5 to 7 amps! (or about 80 watts). Add just 0.5 more amps and the basement can be warmed up using the fan box to push hot air out of the gas stove. IMG_0298


Remember how I mentioned it was cold? It reached 0.0°F at the cabin in the sun. Right now, at midnight EST it is -21°F and dropping (without windchill). This is a winter for the record books. I’m glad I’m not a yearling deer this winter.

Flashlight Review 2014

When I depart my dwelling at the start of a weekend I spend an hour traveling several lonely roads, and it is not uncommon to encounter less than three cars the final 45 minutes of the commute. As for the last 15 minutes, it’s a pretty safe bet that I won’t encounter another soul, let alone an occupied vehicle. Winter this year has been particularly brutal. With darkness falling early in winter and more sub-zero days and nights than I can remember it would be unfortunate to have a mechanical difficulty en route to camp.

2.23.2014 – Sunday

I’d wager most cell phones have an LED capable of casting a fair quantity of lumens. None-the-less, I wouldn’t want to rely on my phone on a dark, cold night. Especially with the majority of the trip occurring in the absence of cellular reception. In addition to winter travels a good flashlight is a valuable tool for hunting, home protection, and camping. Over the past few years I’ve acquired more than a few flashlights and after some wisdom from my wife have decided to declare my flashlight collection complete (for now).

These are my primary flashlights that get use throughout the year. Left to Right (model – battery type):

  • Sunwayman T20CS – 2x CR123a / RCR123a or 1x 18650
  • Sunwayman V11R – 1x CR123a / RCR123a
  • Princeton Tec EOS – 3x AAAs
  • Armytek Wizard Pro – 1x 18650
  • Sunwayman M40A – 4x AAs


Testing (in the real world)

All photos taken at identical exposures: f/5.6, 5.0s, ISO 200, 5150K white balance, 28mm focal length. Temperature (5.4°F) and light conditions were constant – lights were photographed within 5 seconds of turning on. Burn time is a combination of my experience, best guess (results may vary depending on batteries), and manufacturer claims. The EOS is an older light and I can’t find information on burn time and output anywhere (other than the high mode). The Center of the beam is between 130-140 feet, the corner of the garage is 40 feet. I have corrected the exposure to reflect what the relative brightness is in real life.

  • Sunwayman T20CS 648 lumen (5 min limit), 476 lumen (2.5h), 92 lumen (11h), 18 lumen (82h) – runtime for 18650 battery
  • Sunwayman V11R 570 lumen (25 min total / 5 min limit), 1 lumen (35h)
  • Princeton Tec EOS 50 lumen (1h), 25 lumen (?), 10 lumen (?)
  • Wizard Pro 1010 lumen (1.1h), 550 lumen (2.8h), 250 lumen (7.5h), 115 lumen (15h), 30 lumen (50h), 7 lumen (9d), 0.5 lumen (100d)
  • Sunwayman M40A 500 lumen (1h), 150 lumen (5h), 15 lumen (60h)


The Sunwayman T20CS has four well-spaced output modes and will be used as the standard.

18 lumenIMG_0174  T20CS low 18lm

92 lumenIMG_0173 T20CS medium 92lm

476 lumenIMG_0172 T20CS high 476lm

658 lumenIMG_0171  T20CS turbo 658lm

I consider 500 lumen to be an adequate benchmark for a high-power LED flashlight. From my casual use I’ve noticed that for a flashlight to be an upgrade it has to either have double the brightness or double the burn time. If I were to upgrade from a 500 lumen light to a 550 lumen light it would be tough to notice a difference, but make the jump from 50 lumen to 100 lumen and the difference is immediate. The next test image is of the Princeton Tec EOS on 50 lumen (high). It is quite clear that this is weaker than the 92 lumen image above.

IMG_0177 EOS high 50lm

The next quality to consider in a flashlight is the beam pattern. The Sunwayman M40A and T20CS have deep reflectors. This translates to a long throw beam. The Sunwayman V11R has a hybrid reflector that is moderately deep for it’s size. The Wizard Pro has a shallow reflector and a 70° flood pattern. As a general rule of thumb a deeper reflector will yield a longer throw and less flood. A smooth reflector is also an advantage for long throw (T20CS) while an orange peel textured reflector disperses light for a more pleasant experience at distances less than about 20 feet (V11R, M40A). A newer development is the micro lens front element on the Wizard, which works flawlessly for a flood light pattern.

Sunwayman V11R (balanced flood/spot characteristic – 570 lumen)IMG_0175 V11R turbo 570lm

Sunwayman M4oA (biased toward spot/some flood – 500 lumen)IMG_0187 M40A high 500lm

Wizard Pro (flood – 550 lumen)IMG_0183 Wizard Pro high 550lm

Wizard Pro (flood – 1010 lumen) another example of what doubling output looks like. IMG_0184 Wizard Pro turbo 1010lm

Some side by side beam shots (screen captures)

Beam Comparison   Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 9.40.42 PM   Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 9.45.26 PM

The final quality that merits consideration is the user interface. There are two primary types of interfaces: set interval and variable output. The V11R is 1-570 lumen infinitely variable. It is a great feature on an EDC (every-day carry) light. Having a super low and super high setting is a brilliant feature. In the deer stand I can get situated discretely, yet if I drop the gate key in the snow I can flood the woods with light and retrieve my lost item. Because it is a pocket light with a huge output, burn-time isn’t paramount and I don’t need to know how much time I have left on the battery. I usually keep a soft memory card case  with two spare batteries nearby (glove box, duffle bag).

The rest of my lights have set intervals. The advantage of this second type of user interface is that I can pretty accurately gauge my burn time. With the variable power V11R I have no hope of guessing the output and the associated burn time. I wouldn’t want a variable power tactical light. The perfect light with set intervals would have exponential intervals: 1000, 500, 250, 125… etc. The newest light in my collection, the Wizard Pro, plays to this preference fairly well. It also has a super low mode – one of my favorite and most useful modes. The T20CS is a tactical light and the tail cap switch ALWAYS goes to max-output (648 lumen) when activated. Then it must be stepped down into lower output modes. The M40A has to be stepped up from the lowest output. The Wizard Pro is an interesting light and has an interface I really like (though not everyone shares my preferences). It’s too much work to explain the entire interface but here is how I use it: since it remembers the last mode it was in, I usually have it set at either 250 or 500 lumen. From this point I can click once to turn on to my previous mode or hold the button and it starts at the lowest output. A double click will go straight to 1010 lumen. Among my lights it has the fastest combined time from off to highest or lowest output.


  • Flood light ranking: Wizard > V11R > T20CS > M40A
  • Long throw ranking: T20CS > M40A > V11R > Wizard
  • Most versatile user interface: V11R > Wizard > T20CS > M40A
  • Easiest user interface: V11R > M40A > T20CS > Wizard
  • Best burn time: Wizard > T20CS > M40A > V11R
  • Cost (highest to lowest): M40A > Wizard > T20CS > V11R

The Sunwayman T20CS is a superb light! – I’m starting to think that the manufacturer brightness ratings are underrated. It is a very long throw light with an intuitive user interface and some flood for walking at night without tripping on obstacles. The burn time is very good using a 18650 cell. The Sunwayman V11R is my everyday carry light (EDC). It fits comfortably in a well fitting pair of jeans and securely clips onto any piece of clothing that lacks a pocket. The output from such a tiny light is mind bending and I’m in love with the variable light output from 1 to 570 lumens. The Princeton Tec EOS has been my go-to light since 2003! The new ones have improved output and light color and it lasted me about 10 years before being claimed by obsolescence – they really last and last… but the Wizard Pro is my new go-to headlamp. It’s not much bigger than the EOS but has many more light output modes – the low moonlight mode and 550lumen high mode being my favorites. It’s also made from aluminum and feels very light and strong. The elastic headbands and silicone light holder are top quality and it is unequivocally the most comfortable headlamp I’ve ever worn! The venerable Sunwayman M40A is like a shorter more potent Mag-Lite. It is way overbuilt and over engineered, very bright, and fills the hand quite assuredly. It’s a superb AA flashlight but due to it’s high cost (probably due to generous over-engineering) and the better burn time offered by 18650 powered lights it’s hard to make an argument for this AA powered light.

Current Uses

  • The T20CS sits in a small gun vault with a Ruger P95/Crimson Trace for home/cabin defense (rarely used)
  • The V11R is always at my side – only my iPhone gets handled more on a daily basis.
  • The EOS is a camping light my wife uses from time to time – I don’t use it anymore
  • The Wizard Pro is my hunting and camping light – always in the tent, on my head, or in my pocket when in the stand or field. I can track a deer with just this light at night! Prior to this light I needed a 400 lumen Princeton Tec LED dive light (8C batteries).
  • The M40A is a backup light – stowed in a car, in the bottom of a duffle bag, or on a shelf at home (used regularly for family night time walks). Rugged and reliable.

Dad uses his T20CS all the time – it is his EDC and he uses it daily when at the cabin and always tosses it in a pocket when heading out hunting. I agree. He keeps a Panasonic NCR18650B in his and carries a spare. If I had to choose one light the T20CS would be that light… but I sure love the tiny V11R and Wizard Pro.

Batteries and Chargers

Rechargeable AA/AAA batteries should be used for best results. They far outperform alkaline in the cold and pack much more energy density. I can confidently recommend Sanyo eneloops.  For pure performance, look for flashlights powered by the energy-dense 18650 lithium ion rechargeable cell. If the flashlight packs it’s own ‘protection circuit’ then buy ‘non-protected’ batteries, otherwise look for protected cells. If you have a short, lithium ion batteries can dump a massive amount of energy in a short time which can generate a lot of heat – this is very bad (explosions, fire, etc…) I use Panasonic NCR18650B 3.7V cells, and have had good luck so far (about 4 months only – I have 4 years experience with eneloops). The 18650 is a superior battery for one simple reason: capacity! A typical rechargeable NiMH AA has about 2.5mAh and the 18650 has 12.5mAh of capacity (5x the power). Look to the T20CS and M40A for a comparison in performance. I also use RCR123a type cells from Tenergy and Ultrafire and so far have no complaints. The Ultrafire seem to perform slightly better in the V11R – likely because they are not voltage limited to 3.2V like the Tenergy cells.

A bit more on protected cells. Protected cells do three things very well: they keep the battery from exploding in the event of a short, extend the life of the battery by preventing over-discharging (cut output at 20% charge), and leave you stranded in the dark without warning. Protected cells will appear to die instantly and without warning. Unprotected cells will not do this. The Wizard Pro is designed to accommodate unprotected cells and will flicker a few times and then drop to a low output mode when the battery is low. The low ‘battery saver’ mode then allows the user to locate a back up battery or second flashlight. Know our battery and know your light.

I’ve had mixed luck with chargers. I started out with the Lacrosse BC-700 Alpha (AA/AAA). I was drawn in by the positive reviews on Amazon and bought one for me and one for the Ol’ man. It was a regrettable move. Mine failed after a minor run in with a toddler and the Ol’ man’s has been misbehaving – not registering a full charge after a day of charging. Pop the battery out and in again and it will register charged. I tried again with the Maha PowerEx MH-C9000 WizardOne charger and am much more pleased. The interface, ease of use, and performance far exceed the Lacrosse BC-700 Alpha. The Maha also has some heft to it which makes me feel better about having it in the same house as a toddler. I value durability more than ever these days. I use the Nitecore IntelliCharger i4 Battery Charger for RCR123a and 18650 batteries, and it has performed as expected. It also feels durable like the Maha (and uses the same power cord as my Canon T3i DSLR battery charger).




Final Word

If off-grid or in the woods you have to own a headlamp. It’s pretty much a requirement. 100 lumen is more than adequate unless you plan on tracking a deer with it, then step up to 500 lumen.  After the headlamp, a 18650 battery powered tactical light with at least 600 lumen output is the next best choice. And if you are a flashlight geek like me and require a 3rd light, an EDC with a 1 to 500+ lumen range like a Sunwayman V11R is simply epic.

Hope you enjoyed the review. Buckle up and stay warm this winter!IMG_0096


…if you’re looking for in depth information on lights and related check out CandlePowerForums and get your geek on.

Basement 2.0

12.19.2013 – Thursday

The basement has come a long way. Here are some progress notes I’ve been collecting:

  • 2009 August – cabin was built
  • 2009 September – top half of basement walls insulated
  • 2012 March – basement walls studded out and fully insulated
  • 2012 June – wood room finished in rough sawn paneling
  • 2012 July – electrical wiring and light switches added
  • 2012 September – final wall of store/wood room paneled in pine, adjustable shelving installed
  • 2012 September 12 to November – basement stairway, pantry walls, closet under stairs paneled in pine, adjustable shelving added to pantry wall
  • 2013 December 13 to March – remainder of basement paneled in white ash (game room). I made pine and ash window sills in my wood shop.
  • 2013 June – cork flooring installed in game room and septic pipe painted ‘decorative bronze’ via spray paint
  • 2013 July – gas fire place installed in game room
  • 2013 September 25 – pool table and foosball delivered and assembled
  • 2013 November – billiard cue/ball rack made in wood shop and installed, new 32″ LED TV hung on wall, and dart board installed

From here it is decorations, furnishings, and eventually the covering of the main support beam and pillars with spruce to give the look of a solid spruce beams holding up the floor. Someday we may even finish the ceiling… but that is at the bottom of the list and is likely 5-10 years off if ever it is accomplished.

In pictures:

2009 July 9_MG_3791

2009 Sept 5cabin basement 2

2009 Nov 28

2012 Mar 4_MG_6329

2012 July 21IMG_9295

2012 Oct 9IMG_2464

2012 Nov 7IMG_2781

2012 Nov 7IMG_2792

2013 June 6IMG_3482


2013 Nov 26IMG_8524





This billiard rack took 6 hours of preparation (milling lumber, designing templates) and an entire day to build (16 hours). The finish was applied over 5 days.