I’m on YouTube Now

Quick post to share that I’m on YouTube making videos. This is a sort of natural progression seeing that blogs are now fairly dated and video is a more accessible and prevalent media. I have some highlights to share here and several new posts I plan to write because I’m fairly determined to see how long I can keep this blog going. Look for updates on maple syrup this year, bear hunting and the projects that spun off of that endeavor, another update on the batteries, and a massive project (in terms of time) installing some very noticeable finishing touches on the basement.

I do hunt quite a bit and have enjoyed a number of successes – the update with bear hunting will focus on the projects that came about afterward rather than the actual hunting (records are hard to find, but at this time it is the largest harvested in 2022 season in Michigan and is being entered in the Boone and Crockett record books as #74 all time for the state).

I haven’t shared this anywhere else, but I do appreciate the views. All the revenue that I get from being monetized (still not sure how that happened and I don’t really know how to play the game to maximize my efforts here) gets divided three ways and goes into my kiddos savings account – I haven’t told them that yet by the way.

On that note, here are a few videos of what I’ve been doing the last two years.

I built a treehouse: here is a playlist with the process https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLpwMi4wISEYZ9d0-slHvembT7pkeaf5u8

Maple Syrup 2022 – year of the RO

4.1.2022 – 4.12.2022

This year I took over the boil and it was a data driven season. I began work in July 2021 when I designed and ordered parts for a home-built reverse osmosis sap concentration system (RO). The design was based heavily off of the work Dan Roseum did to make his RO. Check it out on his website – his diagrams explain the layout of components nicely. From this starting point I learned about the recirculation valve and incorporated it into my design – this little valve loops a portion of the concentrated sap back through the system to further concentrate it. My boil rate was too fast this year for me to take full advantage of the recirculate, but next year it will come into play when I upgrade from 3 membranes to five membranes.

RO is basically a membrane and a pressure pump. Water is a small molecule that can pass through a membrane with a bit of encouragement (high pressure). Sugar is a large molecule that does not pass through the membrane. Most of the sugars get washed off the membrane and into the preheater pan of the cooker, but after some of the sugar molecules load up on the membrane, the flow slows down. Then the RO needs to be flushed with water to wash the clogged membrane. A flush is usually 15-20 minutes.

I ran a test early in the development. A lot of things went wrong. I had leaks everywhere. Turns out pipe dope doesn’t cut it on these tiny high pressure plastic fittings. I redid everything with teflon tape and pressure checked to 150 PSI. This time everything worked perfectly. Lesson learned.

Next I spent a lot of time with a spreadsheet and worked on the math side of things. This is the data from running room temperature water through the RO, and it looked very promising.

Skip ahead to the end of season and my real world numbers were quite a bit different. Output was about 42% that of my room temperature water test and pressure was running about 45 PSI higher. I redid the spreadsheet with actual numbers from processing cold sap

Here is the video where I am optimistic that the RO will work like a champ… but unsure just how well things will go with cold sap.

With regards to the RO system I built I also have a complete parts list. Keep in mind I’m not including a few random fasteners (nuts and bolts) or the wood used. Keep reading to the very end of this post to see what updates are being done to the RO for next season. This parts list is complete and includes all the updated parts in the current to-this-day RO setup (the 2023 model).

I think I spent 20 hours on the initial research, development, and testing of the RO. If I traded my time for money this would be a very costly project, but I enjoy learning and see my 20 hours as an investment in understanding a new topic that I had no previous knowledge of before – and that is really exciting!

Maple Syrup 2022 – Batch #1

The Ol’man placed taps on March 18, 2022 and it was a slow start. We were originally delayed by an ice storm on our original tapping date March 11, 2022. Ultimately, it made no difference since the sap didn’t start running until after the taps were placed anyway.

The first collection ran from march 18 to March 31 and saw 285 gallons collected for the boil. I arrived after work on April 1, 2022 and set up, filling my pans with concentrate from the RO and setting my alarm for an early start. The following day I boiled all day, encountered a hardware problem, and limped to the finish line of batch #1on the morning of April 3, 2022.

The stats below reflect the summary of nearly 200 lines of data collected over the course of the boil… I was by myself for quite a while. I needed something to do. Pump 1 is the high output TYP 8900K model that I burned up the transformer for (7A pump with a 5A transformer). Pump 2 is the smaller Aquatech 8800 I originally purchased and kept for a spare. The final Brix is also the last reading, the boil continued for 2-4 minutes after and at the rate it was progressing should have put the finished syrup at 59°Bx at 210°F for pour off.

Boil time18h
Wood used1 face cord
Gallons sap285 gal
Gallons Syrup6 gal
Brix sap (hygrometer)2.15%
Brix sap (actual)2.1%
RO run time pump 112h
RO permeate p1 GPH7.95
RO water removed p1 (gal)95.44
RO run time pump 28h 13m 48s
RO permeate p2 GPH5.49
RO water removed p2 (gal)45.14
Total RO water removed (gal)140.59
Water removed from boil (gal)138.41
Brix final (@ 218°F)57
Boil rate (GPH)7.69
Sap Collection Days13

The tricky part was knowing when to quench the fire and pull off the syrup. It basically just comes down to knowing the equipment – and that is where data collection proves its value. I was able to watch how fast the Brix was increasing over time and carefully watch my rate of boil to hit just the right timing.

Sarah and I were pouring off the finished syrup just as my folks arrived for the day. After the snow from the day before, it was nice to see some sun and relax a bit. But before heading out, the Ol’man and I collected more, and we started storing up sap for the next boil.

Maple Syrup 2022 – Batch #2

I returned on April 10, 2022 to the cabin after work. The Ol’man was there and staged some wood and set up the preheater pan. I got right to it, starting a fire and the RO before even thinking about getting supper. The jump start was well worth it. The next day I was able to shut down at sunset and get to bed early (compared to 12:30am the last time on batch #1).

The boil this time around was impressive. I set up an experimental sap preheater and it added 12-14°F to the sap. The RO worked flawlessly with its new 10A transformer. The woodburner was dialed in; the boil was so easy to modulate with the variable speed 12V inline blower fan. During peak efficiency I could move 10 GPH of water with the RO and boil off another 10 GPH while going 50+ minutes between loading the firebox with wood. The boil rate on the final day did slow way down, pulling the average down quite a bit, but the overall boil rate was still one for the record books despite the slowdown during the final 90 minutes of finishing.

Boil time17h 36m 53s
Wood used0.75 face cord
Gallons sap335
Gallons Syrup9.5
Brix sap (hygrometer)3.09
Brix sap (calculated after boil)2.47
RO run time pump18h 9m 56s
RO permeate GPH9.72
RO water removed (gal)177
RO concentrate GPH8.72
RO concentrate produced (gal)158.37
Water removed from boil (gal)149
Brix final (@ 218°F)58.5
Boil rate (GPH)8.5
RO preheater12-14°F
Collection Days10

I made another video and without having to worry about the RO performance was able to focus on optimizing the whole system.

It was great fun! I even celebrated with some maple root beer and rum.

This year’s syrup looks very good. It’s nice and light, whereas previous years it has been darker from the longer, slower, boil.

The Updated RO for 2023

The RO gets a few changes for 2023 (next year). I placed an order for two more membranes and there is a 2 month backorder on them. This is sort of the way things are now – as soon as the idea forms, make a plan, and then place an order so it is on hand when its needed in the future.

A bunch of little updates happened along the way. Here are some of my favorite ‘little’ touches.

  • The device got pretty heavy when full of fluid and adding wheels to the base are a really great little addition. It’s a lot easier to traverse doorways now.
  • Tiny cable ties (wood dowel and bungee) keep the lines organized.
  • Drilling a hole through a small spring clamp really helps keep things pointed into the correct bucket.
  • An inline ON/OFF switch for the power supply cord controls the pump.
  • Tipping the pressure gauge up and placing the needle valve up high makes it easy to adjust the settings without having to crouch or hunker down.
  • The handle makes a nice spot to store hoses.
  • The black container is built in and keeps the membrane preservative and measuring spoons on board.
  • The clear container stores extra fittings and the intake strainer on board.
  • The pump is off to the side with no liquid container vessels above it, just in case of a leak.
  • PVC conduit clamps, with a rubber shim, keep the fittings secure and organized.

One last thing. I made a user manual for the Ol’man to use the RO. I planned on supplying this system to Dad, but ended up running the boil this year. I really enjoyed boiling and will try to do it every year. But just in case, this is the RO Quick Guide for how to operate the RO. Images of the Guide below:

I am a student of everything and a life long learner. If you get something from this post, shoot me an email, drop a comment here or on youtube, or follow me on Instagram.

LiFePO4 Battery Update

4.12.2022 – Monday

I’m hanging out at the cabin boiling maple syrup and it’s time to convert the LiFePO4 battery bank from winter to summer mode.

The boil is going very well at the moment and I’ll have an update and some videos on that later. I have collected a lot of data, put together some summary statistics, and made two of three planned videos.

The sun is up and hot today! Wind is gusting up to 30mph and a few brown maple leaves are looking for spots to land. Only one scout found my boil pan so far. At the moment the battery bank is at 64% and climbing.

I moved the Blink wireless camera to the side for the photo. The camera system is still working great and we use it to monitor the battery bank capacity as well as the temperatures of the cabin, garage, and outside. It’s also very helpful for a snow report before making a trip up.

The battery bank has a heater plate on a thermostat and part way through winter I outfitted the batteries with a remote temperature probe. The probe I use is from MySpool and after three years I can strongly recommend this company and their devices.

Previously, I installed a MySpool device with temperature probe and leak detection probe in my utility room at home. It has reliably monitored the temperature of the water from my outdoor wood burner and alerted me of leaks (one so far, from a once in a decade rain storm that leaked through the hole in my basement wall that the wood burner water lines enter through). It sends helpful text alerts when the water temp drops to less than 165°F, signaling that I have an hour or two to load the firebox before I will have to restart the fire.

The MySpool remote monitor uses a USB power supply. This was added near the battery bank using a standard automotive 12V accessory outlet on fused line. With 5 months of reliable operation the monitor has helped verify that the battery heater is working exactly as designed and allowed fine temperature adjustments to be made to the thermostat.

There are a host of temperature sensors mounted on the battery bank. The thermostat is attached on the side, halfway from top to bottom. The MySpool monitor is mounted on the top of the battery bank. The heater is attached to the aluminum plate that the batteries sit on. Using the top of the batteries for my temperature graph I find that the batteries are maintained between 38.3°F and 40.8°F when the temperature drops. This gives a nice buffer from the danger zone of 32°F for LiFePO4 batteries — at below freezing, if charged, the batteries will be permanently damaged and no longer function.

The heater puts out a constant 65W using a 12VDC power source. It is hooked in to the primary copper buss bars on the wall to ensure even power draw from both batteries.


The heater usually takes 45 minutes to warm the batteries, using about 50W of power, with the insulated box in place. When the insulated box is removed, it takes 90 minutes, and 100W of power. With the insulation in place the battery heater will cycle every 8-12 hours during temperatures between 20 to 32°F (100-150W per day). When the box was removed recently, I noticed during days with temperatures in the 30 to 40°F range that the heater was cycling every 8 hours (300W per day).

On one extreme day it was -14°F at 7am. Here is the temperature graph of the batteries on that day. It was on track to use 250-300W that day, turning on every 5 hours. At the end of the day the generator was run to add charge to the batteries since the Ol’man and I were staying overnight.


The styrofoam box is used during the dark months of Winter – November though March. The insulated box is glued together with construction adhesive and held with screws to allow the glue to cure. HVAC metal tape protected the seems at first, but due to lack of adhesion has been replaced with a more tacky Gorilla tape. The insulation is 1-1/2” thick R7.5 closed cell polystyrene insulation. The box covers the top of the batteries to about the aluminum base plate. Air is allowed to move (though there is likely very little actual air movement) underneath the plate and the cables exit there as well.

One final update on the batteries has to do with money and the government. Believe it or not, it wasn’t until this year that the Ol’man asked the question, “are there any tax credits for renewable resources available for the offgridcabin?” Turns out “yes”. A tax credit is available for the entire system. The credit ended up providing a return of 26% of the total system cost. I have kept a precise inventory of all costs associated with the power system and the short answer is that the credit was greater than the cost of this battery upgrade once everything from solar panels to inverter was accounted for and claimed. The investment tax credit (ITC), also known as the federal solar tax credit, was recently extended and allows 26% of the total solar energy cost for residential systems to be deducted from taxes through 2022 and 22% through 2023 before expiring.

That’s all for now. I’m going to mix up something and head back to watching sap boil. Look for a very informative post on our 100 tap maple syrup operation soon – wait until you see the extent of my recreational spreadsheeting on this one!

Battery Bank 2.0

11.11.2021 – Thursday

Today the cabin saw a new battery bank officially enter service! But first, a brief reflection on the first battery bank and its years of reliable service.

The original flooded lead acid (FLA) battery bank, made up of 14 golf cart batteries, lasted for 12 years and 500-700 cycles. At the beginning it was capable of 1540Ah at 12V and weighed in at 860 lbs. The longevity of FLA batteries is commonly accepted as 500 cycles or about 5 years for high quality cells. The cabin had Sam’s Club batteries manufactured by Johnson Controls. They were pretty run of the mill. The one advantage we had was a solid maintenance schedule and we used only the top half of the battery capacity, operating between 100% and 50% state of charge (SOC).

The Ol’man was in charge of watering the batteries. As they charge and discharge, some of the water is lost as hydrogen and oxygen gas (remember the copper passive vent pipe in the battery box – it served us well). Over the years the need to water the batteries began to increase. It was a rare event for the first 5-7 years, then started to become twice a year, then finally ending at every 2 months. Along those same lines, the capacity started to decline slowly, then at year 9-10 it was noticeable. In the last 6-8 months it was abundantly obvious the bank was in a death spiral. We had maybe 150Ah of capacity before the system was at risk of unexpected shutdown from low voltage when a medium sized appliance requested power.

Goodbye battery bank 1.0 and thank you for 12 years of service.

Hello battery bank 2.0! I think it’s fair to say, it is sexy! – aluminum cases, bluetooth, over temperature and under temperature protection, overcurrent protection, thermostatically controlled low temperature warmer, and at less than 1/4 the weight.

The process of adopting a new chemistry required new knowledge. The internet is vastly more powerful at distributing knowledge compared to 12 years ago. There is a video for everything and a thousand comments for each video. Channels on Youtube are built around specific disciplines and span from casual to highly technical (yay!). When I started over 12 years ago, I stumbled awkwardly around forums and read manufacturer installation manuals front to back, stopping to research new terms as I encountered them. It proved a successful strategy, but wow, was it time consuming. This go around I managed the preliminary research and basic design of the pack in about 4 hours. From there I selected and researched specific components, another 2 hours. Orders were placed in early October and in one month I had a bench full of components!

I need a moment to give credit where credit is due. Off-Grid Garage on YouTube put together a lovely video with lots of delicious technical details and test results of the exact cells I purchased. Best of all, he listed downloads of the data he pulled from the testing on his website! I love data.

I also spent a lot of time on DIY Solar Power with Will Powers on YouTube and his corresponding website and forum. The DIY Solar Power Forum is a trove of good information (the resources tab was particularly useful). His videos introduced me to Overkill Solar BMS and helped me settle on the overall design of battery bank 2.0

Hardware time. After some back and forth the Ol’man and I arrived at a plan for battery bank 2.0. Here is the complete parts list for the project.

Once I built out the order list I took a moment to look up some alternatives to confirm that building the battery from the cell up was the best choice. SOK was the prime alternative for the stationary battery bank I had in mind. I also included two other batteries that have competitive technology. The SOK has prismatic cells like the battery bank I built, Renogy uses pouch cells like in cell phones and the new generation of power tool battery packs, and Battle Born uses cylindrical cells like electric cars and has a built in battery warmer for low temperature operation.

I assembled one more chart before purchasing the components. The main objective of this chart was to see just what $4300 could get from each of the four options above.

Confident with the decision to build, orders were placed. Everything arrived without issue, with the cells arriving last on November 9, 2021. The same day the cells arrived I stayed up late building the battery bank. I called it a night at 2am after powering on the BMS and verifying the cells were balanced and matched as advertised. Well done http://www.solarsupplyhouse.com – you guys delivered some top notch EVE 304Ah LiFePO4 cells with bus bars and nuts, making my life much easier. The Overkill Solar BMS were also extremely easy to connect to over bluetooth on my iPhone and very well built.

Building the pack to live in an insulated, but unheated garage was the first technical challenge. The cells are encased in an aluminum shell and should conduct heat fairly well. Starting with a large 1/4″ thick aluminum plate I added an adhesive heater pad to the underside. The heater pad I used was the Facon CW-T1218, which is 12″ x 18″ with a 3mm foam pad that covers the heating elements and wiring. The adhesive is quite strong and I am certain it will not fail with time. When active, 4.8A at 13.5V provides 65W of heat to the aluminum base plate, which in turn transfers heat to the cells. While the heater pad is automatic, turning on at 45°F ( ± 5 degrees) and off at 68°F( ± 5 degrees) I wanted more specific control, and added a 12V thermostat. The thermostat is from Inkbird and set to turn on at 40°F and off at 43°F. Four hockey pucks (handy for so many projects) keep 200 lbs of battery from crushing the heater pad and are attached with permanent mounting tape.

The next major component to unbox and prep was the Overkill Solar BMS. This battery management system for 12V batteries is an impressive unit. I selected it because the manual provided is extremely thorough and has just enough sarcastic wit throughout that I enjoyed reading it:

Whatever stupid thing you do with our products after you buy them is 100% on you. There is no way to make them completely safe. We support you learning new things through research and experimentation, but a certain baseline level of technical competence and sound judgement is absolutely required. If you are completely confident in your abilities, turn back now. Fear keeps you alive

OverKill Solar BMS Instruction Manuel

Overkill Solar also tests their product before shipping. Confident I would not amputate any fingers or otherwise harm myself I continued on…

I quickly realized that I was a bit short on bus bars. The only suitable conductor I had on hand was brass. Brass is not ideal, coming in at 28% the conductive capacity as tinned copper. Brass is, however, workable with woodworking tools. I fabricated 12 brass buss bars and doubled them up so they would be roughly 4x the cross sectional area as the tinned copper buss bars included with the batteries. The studs on the cells had just enough thread to accept my home-made bus bars double stacked. Thank goodness for a well stocked shop.

Next, I crimped and soldered ring terminals on to the balance wires of the BMS. I am fast becoming a fan of using solder in as many electrical applications as possible. Soldering is cheap, easy, and highly effective at preventing issues down the road. Soldered ring terminals will never come loose from the wire whereas a simple mechanical crimp could face issues from temperature fluctuations or vibration.

Using polyimide tape I assembled the cells into groups of 4 and then into a single pack of 16. A quick and dirty wiring test proved that everything worked. The BMS checked out and the cells were indeed matched. The official “it’s alive” screen capture from my iPhone after connecting over bluetooth to the BMS. Yeah… that’s 1:34am and 2:05am… this is the exact charge state of the batteries just hours after delivery.

Electrical tape, zip ties, double sided permanent mounting tape…

Soon the battery pack was in its finished form. Even the thermostat for the battery heater pad was wired in (it’s also fuse protected).

I then got some sleep. More would have been better… but some was enough.

11.11.2021 – Thursday

Figuring out how to transport the finished pack was a bit of a mind-bender; the aluminum base plate is not very tractive against the mating surface of the aluminum LiFePO4 cells. Let’s simply say that the solution was provided through the creative use of plywood, a rubber mat, and two ratchet straps. At camp I was able to slide the pack off the truck tailgate onto a lift table and slide it over to the battery platform in the garage. I cleaned and then reused the battery cables from the old battery bank and after two hours got things connected and properly torqued. A few cable were short of the required length to reach the buss bars on the wall. I doubled up and did my best to match the length of the four battery cables that connected the pack to the buss bars. A final touch was the addition of a styrofoam box with a 1.5″ wall thickness. It was assembled with construction adhesive, a few long wood screws, and metal HVAC tape and will be a winter-only accessory.

11.12.2021 – Friday

Is that smoke?

I learned something valuable today. Don’t buy electrical parts that are not UL listed (except for the Overkill BMS) because they will try to burn your off-grid garage down. A properly constructed off-grid system will defend against a failed component and should not burn down. That was the case this evening when I entered the garage and questioned why there was an odd smokey plastic smell. Not one to turn away from anything out of the ordinary, I investigated and discovered the issue. This (claimed) 500amp battery disconnect switch is complete garbage. It was purchased from amazon.com and was a ticking time bomb. Under a two hour sustained 130 A load (charging the batteries) it self-destructed. The undersized conductor burned right through and melted the plastic shielding.

After this surprise, the switch was deleted and progress continued adapting the off-grid system to the new battery bank. After reviewing some reference material and discharging and then charging the battery bank I was able to establish some settings that will work with this specific battery bank and our Xantrex SW3000 12V Inverter/Charger. The Inverter will cut out at a low voltage that leaves about 15-20% SOC in the batteries and high voltage cut out under charge will stop around 90% SOC. Operating in this sweet spot provides about 10KWh of power and allows for an estimated 5000 charge cycles and 30 year lifespan for the batteries.

Up for a three day weekend before the gun deer season began November 15, I began programming the new Off-grid cabin system settings into the BMS, inverter, and solar charge controller. After doing some research online I consulted some excellent charge/discharge charts from Youtube channel Off-Grid Garage and programmed the protection and capacity settings for the BMS. After that I began to discharge the batteries, stepping down the low-voltage cut off for the inverter until I was fairly confident I was sitting around 17.5% SOC and settled on 12.7V as the low battery cut off set point for the Inverter. Since batteries will experience a voltage drop under heavy discharge, I set a 6 minute delay so the system must read 12.7V without interruption for 6 minutes before cutting off. This makes sure that the inverter doesn’t cut out if the well pump or microwave is used when the battery bank is close to requiring a recharge.

After reaching the low SOC point, the generator was run until 80-90% SOC was reached. The same technique was used. The charge current was set to 14.4V and the charger bulk terminate voltage was stepped up until the charger cut out around the desired 90% SOC. This setting is specific to charging at 130 A for 1216 Ah of EVE 304Ah prismatic cells because the charge current and battery internal resistance will primarily determine what the stop voltage is for 90% SOC. The inverter stopped charging at a reported 14.2V current – however, the battery BMS recorded a battery voltage of 13.70V at this same point in time. Once the battery came to rest it settled around 13.30V under a load less than 150W.

Watching voltages, consulting charts, and changing settings for three days left me with an interesting observation. Battery monitor, Inverter, and BMS all report fairly similar V under discharge. Things get more interesting under a large discharge, and are wildly different under a charge current. This is why it is important to discharge/charge, let the battery rest, test the voltage and repeat until the Inverter/Charger settings correlate to the desired operating SOC range. In this case it is 17.5-92% SOC.

I still need to set the solar charge controller to play nice and not attempt to overcharge the batteries, but for now it is set at what I think will work best. Because it charges at a much lower current (0-40A normally) I have it set to a slightly lower 14.1V bulk but kept the 13.6V float. If it’s not set just right the BMS will step in to protect the batteries against overcharging.

And now for some reference charts. These are widely regarded reference numbers for LiFePO4 batteries. Unfortunately I cannot find manufacturer charge/discharge data that is more specific than a simple pixelated graph. Below is the data from the voltage table found in every off grid forum.

I can do better though. The charts and graphs that follow are specific to 16 EVE 304Ah cells wired up into a 12V battery bank. Remember, Off Grid Garage did a capacity test and shared his data – and I love data! Using his test results I have reference numbers. I’m charging the battery bank at 130A under generator power and his test is 160A (reported as 40A per cell… 130A divided into 2 batteries with 8 cells is 32.5A per cell). Pretty dang close!

I also ran a discharge of the battery bank and set the Inverter cut-out voltage at 12.7V before running a charge cycle. Once fully charged from 17.5% to 92% SOC I recorded 925Ah, which is remarkably close to the 912Ah estimated. Error can creep in from many sources and I am trusting the BMS to count amps, but coming that close to reference is remarkable! The next step is to get the battery monitor dialed in just right. But that should be fun now that I have detailed charge/discharge profiles and data-rich BMS units collecting information and streaming it to my iPhone.

If you prefer a closer look, here is the discharge profile and the charge profile entered into a spreadsheet and graphed. For the original data files, head over to Off Grid Garage’s website.

It will be interesting to see how this battery bank performs. I was 23 when the first battery bank was installed and it lasted until I was 35. Just think, I’ll likely be retired when this one is up for replacement… whoa…

Spring Foraging

4.22.2021 – Thursday

Sarah, the kids, and I arrived late Thursday morning. We would be spending the night and leaving the next day. I worked the upcoming weekend this go around, so I had had a shorter work day on Wednesday, was off Thursday, and then would be going in to work Friday through the weekend. The only downside to a cabin trip was having to take both vehicles, since we had different destinations Friday.

At home I have already finished cutting, splitting, and piling wood for next winter. With that 23 ton task complete, I brought the wood splitter back to camp – a good middle point for sharing equipment between the Ol’man and me. I know, the splitter has wheels and a hitch… but those tiny wheels are only good for a sketchy 45mph and hydraulic wood splitters lack suspension. A better way is to use a hitch receiver mounted on the front of my trailer bed and a single ratchet strap. This way the trailer takes up the bumps and the splitter stays secure at any reasonable speed.

It was a gorgeous day. My youngest helped me prep a base for the next cutting. Right now there is 1000+ board feet of hard maple from the home forty headed to the mill. It needs a place to go once it’s cut, and building a base while a trailer of lumber sits waiting is no fun. With the great weather and a tractor on hand it was an ideal day to play in the dirt. Like the rest of the pile I started with a nearly level platform and added a vapor barrier underneath.

With plenty of daylight remaining we took a tour of the nearby forest roads and foraged. Our annual harvest of wild leek was quickly acquired and then we continued exploring, stopping several times to see what plants were beginning to emerge.

The small purple flower is Spring Beauty. It is responsible for the tiny edible tuber Sarah is holding – called a fairy potato by some. By counting the bumps on the tuber we estimated it was close to 16 years old. Marsh marigold (Cow slips) buds are edible (when pickled), as are newly emerging fiddle heads (ferns). We focused primarily on wild leek for our harvest, since the forest is rich with them and their flavor is quite strong, it doesn’t take long to harvest for a years worth of cooking.

The woods are so pretty this time of year. It’s more fun still because we have a knowledge of what a lot of the young plants will grow to become later in summer. The lack of biting insects and abundance of sun is also welcome.

Dinner was breakfast. Home made sourdough English muffins. Oh, and I found another bottle of Rum in the basement. Did I mention we stayed the night?

The two drain pipes added to the inlet and outlet side of the pond have kept it at a reasonable level this Spring.

We previously had stopped in for a quick night stay in early April, and it ended up being ‘Big Night.’ This is the night when amphibians return to mating grounds in abundance and it is the loudest night of the year in the swamps. The sound continues on other warm evenings over the next few weeks and we heard peepers (tree frogs) on this trip, but nothing will match the deafening sound of Big Night. Blue spotted salamanders were incredibly easy to find. One small pool had five in a small grouping about two feet across. We put every critter back where we found it after getting a closer look for science.

The food plots are a mixed bag this Spring. The middle plot with the partner archery stand (I have shot two here while accompanied by my oldest) is healthy clover.

The 6×6 stand overlooks grass! All of the cabbage and turnip based plants from last Fall are completely gone. We’ll reseed this Summer.

One of the Ol’man’s Spring projects has been brushing out the Western slope. I had to go back a few years to find a before photo, but there were several hundred small trees that had started after the woods was thinned of softwoods around the time the cabin was constructed. The wind storm in 2017 removed a few more trees and accelerated the growth of the underbrush. Now with the tree tops crowning out and filling the gaps in the canopy, hopefully we can maintain an open undergrowth.

This trip ended with an unceremonious return to work the next day: COVID vaccines and prescriptions. Here is looking forward to the next cabin trip.

Maple Flavored Aurora

3.13.2021 – Saturday

At 9am we rolled out. Cabin bound. At the cabin the Ol’man had a boil going. The sun was out. The temperature was rising. Soon gloves were off, then hats, and lastly jackets. The temperature rose to the mid 50’s °F. I checked out the upgrades for this year. 

First up is the adjustable draft unit. The set-up is simple and wicked effective at creating a rolling boil. The blower is mounted on an adjustable stand with a steel control box. Inside the box is a 110V AC to 12V DC transformer, a motor speed control dial, and an on/off switch. All these components are connected with simple spade connectors that allow for easy replacement of any component. The 3” fan is adapted to a 2.5” truck exhaust pipe with a 90· bend on the tip that aims the air up and directly into the wood from below.

When loading the stove, the blower is switched off, the flame settles, and the boil calms down. With a strong forced air draft from below the wood (Probably around 90 CFM after pushing air through a 5 foot 2.5” diameter pipe, which is 7.85 square inches down from the 9.42 square inches fan outlet, or 17% smaller) we had a very controlled and consistent boil. I highly recommend using some sort of controlled draft on a boiling stove. It makes all the difference and allows a much finer level of control.

With beautiful weather and nowhere to be, I got to study the boiling operation today. Here come the tips and tricks! 

Two pieces of brass were set in the bottom of the pan. One was 2” tall and the other 3” tall. When boiling we are trying to keep the level between the two. This is a shallower boil depth that we have done in the past and the steam rolling of the pan looks very promising. Our hourly boil rate in a 24” x 48” pan was just over 7 gallons per hour. 

The pre-heater pan, or dripper pan, is located over the coolest part of the large boiling pan. This location allowed for the fastest boil rate and allowed the most steam to escape. A weakness of our stove’s design is the short firebox. Because of the truncated firebox we can only achieve a strong evaporative boil over 60% of the surface of the pan. 

A 4-foot carpenter level is kept nearby and occasionally the stove is adjusted. As the frost leaves the ground this time of year the stove can fall out of level. A simple bottle jack and wood wedges make for a quick and easy way to level the pan from day to day, while keeping the heaviest part of the stove over the concrete slab off the front of the garage.

Every 20 minutes the stove is tended and three things are checked:

  • check the boil and depth in the pan
  • add sap and adjust the dripper pan if needed
  • check the firebox and add wood if needed

Between one check the Ol’man and I made a trip down below to a corner of the property that is mostly small scrub brush. Freezing nights and receding snow cover made for the perfect time of year to survey the site. Right now the plan is to add a second pond about 50 to 60 feet in diameter in this low area. There isn’t much for deer trails or cover, and the pond would add animal habit to the property. Hopefully more on this project in the future. Prior to bringing in an excavator only light site preparation is needed. A modest trail will be cut and leveled. The excavator will be able to clean and bury the small scrub brush without first cleaning the site.

With two four wheelers at camp now, the Ol’man and I each had our own ride! The Pioneer 1000-5 side by side is set up for sap collection so having two ATV’s to run around on was a luxury. Having driven both machines back to back a lot of changes happened in the 15 years between each ATV’s development. The Honda has a fully mechanical infinitely variable transmission with hi/lo and is the smoothest transmission ever developed for an ATV. The Suzuki’s transmission is bullet proof and small with hi/lo/super low and an auto-clutch 5-speed manual. The Suzuki also lacks effective front fender coverage; so I take it slow through the mud and puddles.

One of the four cedar duck houses I built this winter with the kiddos found its way to a low spot on the property. We now have two duck houses up on the forty.

The wind settled a bit in the later afternoon and suddenly the sap let loose. The kiddos set a tap each near the garage with the help of grandpa and each of their trees ran a gallon in about 3 hours! Sugar content dropped to 40:1 from 28:1 earlier this season. 

The Ol’man found an electric pump in his garage attic and put it in to use. Using a small toggle switch (left hand) the pump is turned on and off. To prevent back flow or siphoning there is an inline ball valve on the pump. Also in use are some quick-connect hose fittings. It’s a lot easier to swap hoses in the cold versus trying to twist on and off a standard connection. The gasket in this design also seals very well and increases the seal strength as pressure increases.

After the 3:30pm CST collection, three trash can were full and the overflow tank even had some. We anticipated that we had collected enough by this point to boil down for 7 to 8 gallons of syrup this year. 

Meanwhile in the off-grid cabin…

Last year’s syrup was being used up. My wife calibrated her candy thermometer and then started cooking down the syrup. At 22-24°F  above boiling point the syrup was removed from the stove and placed in an ice bath. Once at room temperature it was stirred and stirred and stirred. 

It began as a thick liquid that fought back against the stir with great tenacity. Then it got slightly easier before suddenly locking up. After 15 minutes more of stirring a sudden transformation occurred and in less than one minute it went from thick liquid to cream with the consistency of fudge.

Think maple flavored fudge, but in this case it’s pure maple syrup – amazing maple flavor but higher sugar than fudge. 

You should now be hungry (and maybe jealous). This is homemade bread (100% from scratch, no store-bought yeast) fresh from the oven with real butter and thick maple cream. 

After collection, with the shadows getting long, I took a drive around to check on the taps.

In less than an hour a pint was already in most bags.

Sap was still flowing as the sun set. 

Little dude got some quality outside time today!

At 8pm the last wood was added. In the darkness we could really see just how much heat that the stove is generating. This is not an infrared photo. That is how the stove door looks with a hot fire and a 3 second camera exposure in the dark. 

My folks stayed, but we headed out around 10pm EST. 

Our late departure was rewarded by sleeping kiddos and a surprise light show to the North. I asked Sarah if she saw those odd light streaks in the sky? With no towns in that direction, I pulled over and set up my camera and took a long 20 second exposure. It was exciting to see that first photo!

A bit further down the road we stopped once more for a better view. Holy wah! What a way to cap off the day!

And if you made it all the way to the bottom, check out a video of our day that I put together. I’m fairly new to video, but with the incredible performance of today’s phones (iPhone 12 Pro) it’s fairly easy to take high quality video. I may need to work on audio though – it was windy and that came through on the video.

A few days later the syrup was finished. The Ol’man sent a few photos of the process and reported that this year yielded 8 gallons after some spillage.

Suzuki LT-4WD Restoration

The Ol’man and I have been philosophizing about the ideal small four wheeler for a while now (3 years maybe). Something 250 to 300cc with four wheel drive would do nicely. So we started looking around…

The closest thing we found was the Honda Recon. It’s a gorgeous machine! It is 229cc with a five speed transmission and comes in at a petite 434 pounds curb weight (with fluids). But with only 2WD it’s not ideal for our needs. It’s also $4200 at our dealer. To get to 4WD the most budget friendly Honda is the Rancher: 420cc, 580 pounds curb weight, and $5500.

In other words, what we want simply doesn’t exist new from a major manufacturer. It once did, but is now long extinct. A Honda Recon is a fine machine… and there were a few almost-purchases on some used machines. That is as close as we got to adding a small four wheeler to the stable. And then…

Our cabin neighbor offered up his 1992 Suzuki LT-4WD Quadrunner to my Ol’man and me. We graciously accepted and I set to work. This ATV first showed up in 2012 here. Good thing I don’t put much stock in first impressions.

On to the restoration! I started at the very end of October, took a break in December, and then wrapped it up in January. Along the way I scanned the original Owner’s Manual and tracked my time and money meticulously. The Ol’man backed the project and I supplied the labor. After roughly $1250 in parts and services and 60 hours of work the ATV was fully restored.

10.31.2020 – Saturday

Once I got the ATV up to my shop I tore it all the way down to the frame and started making an inventory of parts to order. The hot water faucet on the outside of my garage shop was fantastic when combined with a Ryobi electric pressure washer. The ATV received several sessions of soap and power wash. After shedding several pounds of gunk the tear down went smoothly. A few bolts were snapped in the process but all were able to be removed with an extraction socket set from Rocket Socket – this set (made in USA) was a pretty great new tool purchased just for this project. A few bolts could not be extracted however, but they were drilled out before using a tap to clean the remaining shards from the threads.

The four wheeler originally came with an unsealed lead acid battery. The two bolts securing the front plastic body to the frame were at the bottom of the battery box and were horribly rusted. The heads snapped off with little effort from the extraction socket. Conveniently, the body could be removed revealing the rusted bolt shaft. There was enough length on the bolt stud for a smaller extraction socket to gain purchase to torque it out. Only one bolt gave me a quality fight. I ended up snapping it off, leaving the stud flush with the engine casting.

Below is how to extract a snapped off bolt in an engine casting incorrectly. I drilled the center to the steel bolt stud, and then used a screw extraction bit. The bit ended up splitting the bolt and cracking the casting. Luckily, there was plenty of metal left for a longer bolt to find threads. The was field down and the resulting gap was shimmed with a few steel washers. Always drill and tap broken bolts if there is not enough of a stud for a socket extractor to grab. Also, when removing old bolts a correctly sized impact driver is far better than using a socket wrench or breaker bar – the impacts are more likely to loosen the bolt where a long gradual pull on a bar tends to snap the bolts. Lesson learned.

11.5.2020 – Thursday

Unlike a modern ATV, there were no pop rivets anywhere. Instead there were dozens of shouldered cap screws with washers and lock nuts. Replacing these with new parts would have run somewhere around $400-500! Originally these fasteners were all black oxide coated. The coating deteriorated. Evaporust had proven useful for my previous metal restorations so I labeled a dozen plastic tubs according to the location of the ATV the fasteners came from, and then filled each with the rust removing solution. An overnight soak followed by a scrub with warm water and dish soap resulted in some paint ready parts.

11.17.2020 – Tuesday

I wasn’t interested in learning how to apply a black oxide coating so I went with black paint. A dab of hot glue on a sheet of cardboard held the machine screws upright and made the process of applying paint much easier. I applied two coats to all fasteners.

1.5.2021 – Tuesday

A lot of work has happened and now it starts to look like I’m actually doing stuff. I’ve sourced parts, sent parts to be sand blasted and painted, got it running, and tore it apart. Forty hours of work in and now begins the last 20 hours when it all comes together.

Today the frame was wire brushed, sanded, and cleaned before painstakingly brushing on a thick coat of black paint. Most of this will be hidden under plastic so it’s primarily for preservation. The pretty bits that will be bolted on later were professionally painted.

1.9.2021 – Saturday

The four wheeler came with good plastic, but parking it outdoors under a lean-to for almost 3 decades takes a toll. An inspection suggested a wandering porcupine got intimate with a few pieces and sharpened its teeth a bit. A stick also went through a mud flap. Luckily, a salvage yard supplied one part that was in pretty rough shape, but other parts were too scarce or too costly to replace and needed repairs.

The first task for plastic restoration was to rebuild and repair. Black fender trim and mud flaps with gaps or tears were mended. I purchased the Polyvance 5700HT Mini Weld Model 7 Airless Plastic Welder for this task. The kit was well supplied and by reading through the included materials I was able to hit the ground running.

The black plastic is softer and more pliable than the colored body panels. This makes it easier to repair and easier to hide blemishes. Using metal HVAC tape as a backing, repair plastic was melted into the fender flare and then shaped with a sharp knife. Fine shaping was then accomplished with sand paper. Once the repair blended in nicely, the surface was flashed with a heat gun at 1100°F to smooth the finish and blend it nicely.

The red body panels have cracks at most of the frame attachment points. I’m not sure the cause of this. It could be a combination of temperature changes and overtightened bolts. To reinforce the cracks, a stainless steel mesh was melted into the body and then some fresh plastic was welded over the mesh for additional strength.

1.10.2021 – Sunday

The muffler was a wreck. After sourcing a replacement from a salvage yard it was sleeved and returned to me. The sleeve weld looked… rough. I massaged it with a die grinder before stripping the paint off the muffler and prepping for paint. A matte black high temperature paint was applied prior to installation. 

1.13.2021 – Saturday

Ethanol sucks. The old Suzuki was certainly fed E15 and it suffered for it. All the fuel lines and any synthetic material the gas touched was damaged.

First up was to drain the bad fuel from the tank. After that I removed all the hardened rubber fuel lines and replaced them with soft new rubber lines. That was easy and very satisfying because it went exactly as planned.

The fuel filter was new and I decided to keep it (I think it’s also an aftermarket accessory). The next photo shows what ethanal can do to rubber that is not compatible with the fuel additive. This piece connects the carburetor to the cylinder head. Atomized fuel flows through it. It dried out, hardened, and cracked.

1.16.2021 – Saturday

Restoring the front brakes was more than half a day of work; about 6 hours. Drum brakes are hard. The service manual from the early 1990’s said to do one at a time so you could reference a complete brake assembly while struggling to put a pile of parts back in just the right place to stop an ATV with a modest squeeze of the right hand brake lever. Reading that was probably the first sign this would not be easy as suggested by the clean package of two springs and two brake pads that had just arrived.

No time for one at a time. I took photos. It’s not the early 1990’s anymore! All the parts were submerged in Evaporust and left to descale for a few hours. Reassembly took 1 hour for the first, and 20 minutes for the second.

Aside from rust removal the drums needed to be turned on a metal lathe… or in my case; a wood lathe with a four jaw chuck and a square carbide-insert lathe tool. This method worked amazingly for cleaning up the drum. It would be an understatement to say I was surprised and pleased with the results. I was over the moon it actually worked.

Feeling brave from that success, and lacking the patience to wait two weeks for a new part, I secured the self-adjusting mechanism with worn out teeth in a vise and carefully filed new teeth. When I finished filing, the small parts I had soaking in Evaporust were ready to be cleaned and reused.

I read the section on replacing brake pads in the service manual twice to make sure I wouldn’t be taking these apart again anytime soon. I followed the recipe in the manual to a ’T’ even using brake grease in the appropriate locations. Look how clean the springs are now! Fresh pads and clean drums.

And now for the rear drum brake: the compound separated from the pads. The drum surface was still clean and smooth. Drop in new pads and that was it. Effortless compared to the front brakes.

The last step after assembly was a cinch. Flush the brake lines twice and then add fresh DOT 4 fluid and bleed the lines. My test drive a few days later (I hit 40 mph!) was an outstanding success. I smiled the whole time and at the end I was able to stop. The brakes have excellent bite!

1.17.2021 – Sunday

The parts that could be unbolted and given to a professional paint shop were sent off early on. The skid plates had over a dozen rubber pads glued to them to damper and eliminate rattles. Photographs proved invaluable for the reinstallation. 

The ATV was acquired with brand new tires. Before encountering engine and battery troubles the previous owner had installed new tires with the plan of keeping this little ATV at their cabin as a run-about. The tires that were freshly mounted were taken off and the wheels sent off for paint.

The front rack had damage and the front most bar was bent beyond my repair skills. The junkyard did not offer up a replacement in bolt-on condition so the rack was sent off to a metal fabricator. The damaged section was cut out and the repair after paint is nearly seamless. As an added benefit, the replacement bar is a bit heavier gauge than stock.

What is the point of fixing up an old ATV and spending $1000 on the project and having ratty old plastic all over the four wheeler? 

With the rack off I could easily clean up the plastic.

The process was fairly simple. The plastic was sanded with 400 grit on the random orbital sander to remove staining and smooth over small scratches. Once the plastic was sanded uniform the transformation really started to take place.

Using a heat gun on 1100°F the surface plastic was flashed and picked up a nice sheen that is 95% factory fresh. Since the top 0.5mm actually melts, a lot of care needs to be taken to not accidentally touch the heat gun nozzle to the plastic or a hot knife through butter effect will happen and that takes more time to repair.

The oil change was uneventful. It was dirty as expected, but again, no surprises. A new air filter and spark plug were installed at this time too.

1.19.2021 – Tuesday

The front differential oil was drained and replaced with Honda GL-5 hypoid gear oil. The Suzuki has a magnet on the differential drain plug (not even my newer 2009 Honda Rubicon has this). The oil was fairly dirty when compared next to the new oil. I also decided to change the fluid in the Honda, which was probably 6 or 7 years old instead of 29 years like the Suzuki (oil samples held in front of each wheeler).

The complex drivetrain has several gear/range selectors under the handlebars. The original rubber dust shrouds deteriorated. In the shop I had some durable siliconized rubber scraps suitable for replacements.

The old rubber was glued on to the metal inserts. It was scraped and then any remaining bits were removed with a small wire wheel on a die grinder. I ran a high quality brad point bit in reverse to cut two holes in the rubber. Then a straight edge and X-Acto knife connected the holes. Contact cement did a fantastic job of securing the new rubber.

After about 15 miles of driving around the homestead and a brief discussion with the Ol’man it was decided that the mirrors should go. I picked up two metric bolts and plugged the holes before touching up the paint a bit.

1.23.2021 – Sunday

The shocks were adjusted to the softest setting on the rear and the second softest on the front to make for a nice comfortable ride. Also, the kiddos will be driving this soon and they are all lightweights; softer is better.

A new foam tube was added to the handle bars and after some debate, the Ol’ man parted with another $50 for new front bumper from a parts warehouse, making the ATV completely restored and original. This is essentially how the quad looked from the factory floor (except for a few missing stickers on the plastic and the upgraded modern tires). 

1.26.2021 – Tuesday

The Suzuki is home now! It was just delivered to the cabin and I took the opportunity to snap a photo before heading inside to sit fireside on the couch.

Winter at the Cabin

1.29.2021 – Friday

The cabin is closer to work than work is to home. A 62 mile work commute (one way) is less than ideal, but the drive from work to the cabin is shorter at 44 miles. The drive is slower paced and still takes less time, so it’s always a nice leisurely transition from the fast pace of work to the relaxed pace and warmth of the cabin.

To wrap up 2020, we made a trip to the cabin to celebrate Christmas. We arrived on Christmas day after nightfall. At the cabin it was warm and inviting. Sarah headed to bed with the kiddos while I stayed upstairs and tended the fire. I also found the rum (Smooth Sailing Rum from Northwoods Distillery in my home town) and mixed it with Peach Coke and watched the just released today on HBO Max Wonder Women 84’

The evening was fantastic. The movie was OK.

I opened the bed when I arrived. When I finally got in to bed it was cold… instead of ice cold. 

We had a wonderful December 26th at the cabin. My folks were not in attendance, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t present. I did a bit of work on the orientation of the cellular booster antennas inside the cabin and eliminated a signal interference issue that we previously had – in other words, we were able to use FaceTime video on an iPad while the kiddos opened presents.

I believe in discipline and self-sacrifice. This year that meant following strict guidelines and doing our part to endure the present pandemic. It is tempting to live life as normal. I could go on and on about this topic; the substantial commute to and from work allows a great deal of time for self-reflection as well as education opportunities via podcasts. As the new year unfolds, I intend to focus on seeking truth in all things and facing conflict with kindness. Just imagine if everyone sought the truth of the matter and spoke kindly to one another in their shared goal of finding truth. Hmm…

…I know that won’t happen, but a bit of fine quality rum and a rolling fire affords one a bit of optimism and nostalgia as the new year approaches.

We returned to the cabin the evening of January 7 and were greeted with splendid weather the next morning. Over three dozen Pine Grosbeak gathered to gorge on black oil sunflower seeds. It wasn’t until the late afternoon that we got in a quality outing and walked the trails.

It was a quality hike.

We returned again the evening of January 26 and managed to spend one of the coldest days of the year playing outside the next day. Remember that old Suzuki Sarah and I towed back this past October? I brought it back fully restored today. More to come about that in a future post.

Despite the brutal cold (I think 14°F was the high) the sun was strong. The days of 10-20Ah a day look to be giving way to 100-120Ah days! The batteries are enjoying the extra boost and soon the generator will be returning to backup duty instead of being the primary power source. Even with the sun, I still wore two hats out and about today.

After dark we packed up for departure, stoked the fire, and sat down for a hearty home cooked meal. This is meatball hoagie. The meatballs are half venison from a deer I shot and half pork from a pig raised down the road. Sarah and I took the meat and ground it one night after the kiddos went to bed. I think we finished around 1am. The sauce is homemade as well. Sarah took tomatoes from our garden and turned them into this wonderfully spiced thick sauce. The garden where the tomatoes were grown began as a plot of sandy soil at our house that was once scrub trees. I cleared the trees and it is now beautifully amended soil fenced off from deer where the flowers of cultivated plants are pollinated by honey bees. The bees live in hives built in my wood shop. I love how food tells a story.

Have a blessed 2021. Seek truth and be kind. Cheers!

battery monitor upgrade 2021

1.28.2021 – Thursday

My time using Victron Battery monitors is over.

A brief history:

  • July 2011: the first battery monitor was installed. A Victron BMV-600s.
  • May 2014: upgraded to a Victron BMV-702
  • January 2020: added a temperature sensor
  • January 2020: added a bluetooth module for iOS app compatibility

All along we have had several accuracy issues. The monitor would perform normally for a few hours and then it would be incredibly unreliable. Ultimately, the only useful bit of information it could report was voltage. I pored over the settings and made adjustments, updated software, and even the wiring was checked and redone. No luck.

After over 9 years my long term testing is done and I can say with certainty I would not recommend a Victron battery monitor. The two I still have aren’t for sale (or free for that matter) because I can’t in good conscious give away an inferior product that I wouldn’t use myself.

In this new post-Victron battery monitor world the Ol’man and I tried something new: a pair of generic battery monitors. The model I selected is the bayite DC 6.5-100V 0-100A LCD Display Digital Current Voltage Power Energy Meter Multimeter Ammeter Voltmeter with 100A Current Shunt from amazon.com


  • Working voltage: DC 6.5 ~ 100V 
  • Measuring Accuracy: 1% 
  • Power Consumption: 0.2W 
  • Measurement speed: 2 times/s
  • The blue backlight can be turned on/off manually
  • Test Range and Display format: 
  • Active Power range: 0~10kW
  • Energy range: 0~9999kWh 
  • Voltage range: DC 6.5~100V 
  • Current range: 0~ 100A 

Pretty basic specs. I purchased two and installed them in the garage. The are affixed to the wall with that really awesome outdoor velcro made by 3M that goes by the trade name: Dual Lock Reclosable Fastener.

The top monitor records information for the 12V accessory system at the cabin (cellular booster, 12V motion lights, cabin phone charging station) and the bottom records the solar energy generated from our 810 Watts of PV array. So far after half a year of use, these two $16 monitors have proven accurate and reliable. One advantage, and something the Ol’man and I both took a liking to is the ability to see four values at one time; Volts, Amps, Watts, and Watt hours. With our previous battery monitor, only one value was visible, and manual input via a tiny stiff button was required to glimpse additional values. Here is the full user manual for these two garage battery monitors.

With the success of the two new monitors in the garage my attention was turned toward the cabin. The search for a Victron upgrade began and ended in about 30 minutes. The clear winner was a unit from Renogy and it came in around a reasonable $100. It has a much shorter User Manual than the Victron and displays all the important information at once. Specifications:

The wiring was a bit of a challenge and took about 3 hours to test and verify. I was sure glad I brought a multimeter to the cabin to test continuity or else I would have gone mad. The solid core ethernet cable could be stripped and inserted in to the five pin connector. The fit was good and once shrink tube was applied over the connection it produced a sound cable. I built several cables this way.

The 5-pin to ethernet adapter cables allowed the existing buried ethernet cable to be used for the new monitor. The original layout and design of the system allowed for these additions to be easily integrated.

The screen is intuitive and displays a lot of information at a glance. The bottom of the screen shows voltage, amps, watts. The time on the right side can mean one of two values depending on the battery icon: time to full charge or time until battery depleted. The battery icon has two small triangles that will point up if the batteries are being charged, or down if the battery is being under draw.

But wait! There is one more thing! Because the display shows all this information at a glance and we have wifi connected surveillance at the cabin, remote monitoring of the off grid system is now possible.

The camera holder simple and adjustable. It is just three elm boards drilled and threaded for 3/8″ rod with slots cut in two for adjustability. The boards are finished in shellac with self adhesive cork applied on the surfaces that contact the half wall.

Below is an image from the Blink camera. The camera is positioned at the correct distance for the auto exposure to adjust to the backlight and produce an easily readable image.

After a month of service it was decided the Renogy is here to stay. The temporary faceplate I made was discarded and the battery monitor was carefully hand fit into the wall.

Long Weekend

10.15.2020 – Thursday

I just wrapped up a three day weekend at the cabin. It was good for the soul and worth reminiscing about. I arrived after work and loaded bait and gear in to the Honda Pioneer 1000-5 side by side and set out down the trail as daylight started to fade. The movable top had blown off the bow stand at the middle food plot. A few trips up the ladder and I had the roof in place and chairs set up. A hanger for my bow was reinstalled on the ceiling. Lastly, I set some bait out (most of which would be gone by morning) and then I headed back to camp. Up on the ridge, headlights brushed the tree tops as a car pulled up to the cabin, my family had arrived just after nightfall.

We settled in for the night and made plans for tomorrow.

10.16.2020 – Friday

6:30am EST. The alarm on my iPhone sounded. The case is magnetic and it sticks to the frame of the bed, so along with the sound I also got the experience of feeling the bed frame vibrate. I headed downstairs and reached into the top bunk to disrupt the sleep of my eight year old. William resisted but then got up dutifully and we headed upstairs. After a snack we bundled up in warm clothes and headed out. It was 38°F.

The view from the stand was superb. Photos are getting closer to capturing the majesty of our view as technology evolves, but the crispness of the air, and the smell of Fall still escapes the best photo. No deer this morning. But we heard a bit of fuss from several Ruffed Grouse. After eggs and toast back at camp, I took a walk for grouse. Ever since acquiring my Ol’ man’s Benelli Montefeltro 20 gauge semi-auto shotgun I have been eager to try it out. It is lighter than any double barrel and has a lovely balance and feel. Paired with my electronic ear protection it is a joy to shoot. Low recoil, and the delightful mechanical sound of the action can be felt with every shot as a finely constructed firearm cycles a spent shell. I got my wish.

Walking in to the clover field I spotted grouse #1 on the very edge of the clearing. A quick shot and a clean kill. A few steps further along the trail and the sound of a bird in flight drew my attention. I wheeled around to shoot it mid-flight. This gun is quick! Before that bird dropped I pivoted and took aim at another, this time roosting in a tree. In five minutes I used three shells and had three birds. Not bad! I continued my walk and returned to camp a short while later.

My folks arrived. Mom’s birthday is tomorrow. The kiddos kept her busy the whole visit and did their best to make sure Mom slept in on her birthday. I spotted them playing in a leaf pile while I helped Dad.

Meanwhile, the Ol’ man and I did yard work. I used the back pack leaf blower, the largest model from Stihl, while Dad used the riding lawn mower. After a bit, the pond, old cabin clearing, and cabin lawn was clear of leaves and cut to 2″ in preparation for Winter. Before my folks headed out from their day trip the Ol’ man gave William and me a ride to the stand (because of COVID-19 we are limiting the chance of transmission. I am a retail pharmacist, and while I follow the strictest guidelines the same rigor cannot be claimed for a fair number of people I regularly come in contact with). My youngest (Felix, 3 years old) also came along for a ride with Grandpa.

The view from the stand was again without fault. Another post-card evening and a successful hunt. An adult doe came into view and we waited ten minutes for a shot. Once a good shot presented, I took it. After a few minutes we packed up and went to look for the deer. Our hike became quite long and after 200 yards I marked last blood with a red blinking LED light (the kind designed for dog collars) and we walked back to the cabin. Two hours passed and supper was allowed to settle in my stomach before I found my second wind.

I changed into different clothes, slung my camo sling-bag over my shoulder, and holstered a pistol. My trusty woods gun is a Smith and Wesson M&P 40 with an Olight weapon light and a Vortex reflex sight. Not knowing what else might be tracking my deer this time of night, I took precautions.

I walked up on the deer 250 feet from last blood and determined that the animal was near death, but still holding on to a bit of life. I took the necessary steps to ensure the outcome I desired and brought the deer back to the cabin. It was late and nearly midnight when I took the hide off. Felix was still up and Sarah brought him out to watch.

When I reviewed the video of the shot (from an iPhone X). The doe dropped, turned away slightly, and moved forward after the release and before the arrow hit. My arrow struck 4.5″ from where it would have hit if the deer had not flinched. Instead of the lungs, and got the liver. Instead of a 75 yard walk I got a nearly 300 yard hike.

10.17.2020 – Saturday

Today was a day of rest and reflection. I finished cutting up the deer and we enjoyed the warm cabin. A fire was kept going all day and we even headed downstairs to play billiards. In the afternoon, the Ol’ man messaged saying that our cabin neighbor asked if we wanted his old four wheeler. Sure! We all headed over in the Honda 1000 and towed it back.

Early afternoon brought the first snow of the season. The kiddos rolled a few snowballs before stacking them into snowmen and decorating them with rocks. Next Spring I wonder if the Ol’ man will pause and ponder why there are rocks in his lawn.

Here is a quick preview of a winter project: A restoration of this old Suzuki four wheeler. I have a bunch of small things to replace and an electrical issue to resolve. A mouse nest above the fuel tank might be related to the latter issue. The front rack will be fixed as well; either by cutting and welding in a new front tube or by sourcing a rack from a wheeler junk yard. Scotch Brite and paint will fix the rust and I’ll no doubt go through the brakes and replace all fluids, filters, and spark plug. It’s gonna be pretty cool! The Ol’ man and I have a fondness for four wheels that are both lightweight and four-wheel drive. Did I even mention we used to have an old Honda Fourtrax 300 4×4? That was a dandy of a machine.

I ended the evening with Saturday Night Live on the TV and a beer, a gentle fire, and some grouse on the cutting board.