Category Archives: Uncategorized

Looking Back Looking Forward

8.3.2020 – Monday

If you look back on the blog you’ll find that it started in 2009. Wow… that was 11 years ago. The internet is primarily occupied by video nowadays. Perhaps I should venture into that media and start a channel on all the homestead and wood working projects that I make. Well… maybe I’ll just keep that to instagram since it’s less work and I don’t have to listen to myself talk and edit video (@swiltzius if you are interested).

The cabin is more or less a complete thing now. There aren’t really any projects left to do. Sure, some will always come up and I have a few I’m tracking. Usually a project takes a while to mature and grow into something worthy of its own post. This year we planted some fruit trees, plans are underway to improve the already thriving pond ecosystem, and next year I plan to start a milkweed patch. It took two years at my house to establish a thriving milkweed patch after starting from seed in our nursery and planting late summer. The seedlings established in the Fall and then came back strong the following year. The year after that (this year) they tripled in number and emerged with much more vigor after building up healthy root systems the previous years.

But anyway, it’s now time to go through the battery bank and assess the health of each cell. You heard right: each cell. There are 14 batteries with 3 cells each, so… 42 cells. The best way to do this is to top off the electrolyte, run an equalize charge cycle, and take a specific gravity reading. Step two is to discharge the system, record how much power was spent, and then take another 42 readings. From this I can calculate the actual capacity of the battery bank and how it compares to the listed output from when the batteries were new. I plan to do this sometime this year. Admittedly, what I plan and what actually happens are often in disagreement.

One last thing. I value the time spent at the cabin and often take a number of photos of nature and of family. I’m thinking of adding a post from time to time about these trips as a way to keep this blog a bit more active. This aligns with my evolving view of the Cabin as well. It started as a thing to be worked on. It was a big project. The space between projects has lengthened and the frequency of my entires has diminished. Now the cabin is a place and an experience. Perhaps my entires should reflect that and focus for a bit on my experiences at The Off Grid Cabin (don’t worry, there always be more projects).

So far this year, we have taken the side by side down to the flowage to fish a handful of times with the kiddos, found some really cool creatures at the cabin pond, caught dozens of frogs, a snapping turtle, a few painted turtles, and I piled a bunch of soft maple cut from the home forty. Yeah… each of these would have been fun to share in more depth. Look for some short entries in the future.

Fall & Rise 2019


It’s been a while. I have been staying many more nights at the Cabin than in previous years. Oddly enough, it is work related. I was happily employed at Shopko, which as you may have heard is no longer in business. My departure from Shopko was timed just right; though I did not want to leave. Perhaps a little back story is in store (or skip ahead to the pretty Fall photo).

When I began in November 2017 at Shopko I was taking five years of Walgreens pharmacist experience with me and searching out a position that would allow me more time with my wife and kiddos while allowing a bit more professional growth. Acclimating was a bit rough but after two months I had the hang of things – though it would be a stretch to say that things were going smoothly. Prescription counts were in decline – for the last several years actually. Walgreens came to town 6 years previous and was right across the street. Luckily, things were on the up and up. The decline in volume stopped. Yup… the downward trend had ended! The staff was a step up from what I was used to and the pharmacist manager that helped recruit me to my new position had a knack for finding talent; I’m not sure how, but we had some talented techs and more were added. And then things took a turn: store closings downstate.

And this is the part where I started my research. Each week we got updates on pharmacy financials for our store and our district. Each abbreviation and acronym was looked up. I started with simple definitions and then began to ask what each meant. Things looked good. Next I asked the key question: why were these specific metrics used? And then I figured it out. The financial information being shared was only part of the equation. The company focussed on earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) – which skips out on a bunch of expenses and does an excellent job of obscuring whether a company is profitable or not. Hang with me, just one more level deeper and I’ll get back to cabin happenings…

So why did Shopko cancel 401K match in January 2018? Why were stores closing? Something stunk. I dived in to the company’s history and began to make sense of what was going on. Shopko was purchased in 2005 for $877 million by Sun Capital, a Private Equity Firm. Immediately after acquisition, all the physical buildings were sold to Spirit Realty. By doing this Sun Capital made $815.3 million by selling the stores, which Shopko now had to rent from Spirit Realty (rent is not reported in EBITDA). Sun Capital purchased Pamida and rebranded these as Shopko Hometown. Shopko stores were up to 358 in count and Shopko looked like a successful midwestern company being modernized for the future. Except Sun Capital has a history of wringing money out of acquisitions and then trying to sell them off or declare bankruptcy.

Sun Capital paid itself dividends from Shopko all the while in the background bills were going unpaid and rental fees for the buildings were an afterthought. The stores were falling into decay. Paint was falling off the outside. Light bulbs that burned out were not replaced. Three bathroom stalls but only one has a working latch. The inside and outside looked neglected. Neither Sun Capital or Spirit Realty wanted to spend any money on the buildings. And then on December 6, 2018 I got word that 69 pharmacies were being sold. The public found out two days later. The company that was built with pharmacy as the cornerstone was selling out. My store was not affected, but it was clear this was the beginning of an avalanche.

I made a phone call and had a job offer before I got off the phone. On January 3, 2019 I began as a Meijer Pharmacist. The store I work at ends up being closer to the cabin than my house. Depending on my schedule I’ll overnight at the cabin to save some drive time or use the evening hours to hunt. Meijer is also a progressive and fiercely competitive company. Unlike previous employers, the company culture is exceptional and the drive to evolve and embrace new technology is refreshing.


That was a lot of words to simply say that I changed jobs and now spend more time at the cabin.


Fall is here. All the glory of summer that was spread out over several months is suddenly compressed in to a small handful of days with warm sun and cool crisp nights. At the house, Sarah and I have been busy with harvesting and canning. I don’t have a full list of everything but the honey harvest this year should be close to 8 gallons when finished and Sarah has made the following canned goods so far:

  • plum jelly
  • raspberry jam
  • canned whole plums
  • dill pickles
  • bread and butter pickles
  • bread and butter summer squash pickles
  • wild blueberry jam
  • tomatoes sauce
  • canned crushed tomatoes
  • wild grape jelly
  • canned banana & jalapeño  pepper rings
  • sun dried tomatoes preserved in oil
  • dehydrated giant puffball
  • tomatillo jam
  • applesauce
  • pickled reddish seed pods
  • frozen broccoli
  • frozen corn
  • frozen green beens
  • frozen shredded summer squash
  • dehydrated wild leak (from Spring)
  • salsa (still an abundance from last year)
  • suar kraut




The Ol’ Man and I teamed up to put up a stand on the center food plot. Believe or not, this food plot has been well maintained but never hunted on. A few clever designs came out of the collaborate R&D between the Ol’ Man and I. The ladder is a section from an aluminum extension ladder – apparently fairly easy to acquire second hand (for $30). We still have one more section to use too! The Ol’ Man built the platform while I built the stand in the wood shop. The skin is dryer felt and the roof can be put in place for snow or bad weather and then stored at a 45° angle when not in use. With the use of a roof the inside is nicely blacked out; it’s much easier to hide against a dark background than a horizon.


The floor was screwed in and construction adhesive was used to prevent the possibility of any future creeks as the stand ages. Having a fully outfitted fine woodworking shop available to construct the stand allowed me to build a perfectly square stand with exceptionally accurate miters onto X-bracing. On the front of the stand there is a place to sweep out debris and mud as well as a foot rest.


At the Cabin the Ol’ Man and I have been working on several projects. The one we just wrapped up was the shooting range. It’s been in the works for a bit and we finally had a break through. Targets are finally up and broken in. The range now has steel targets at 10, 20, 50, and 100 yards with a spot for paper targets at 200 yards. With targets always ready to shoot it’s effortless to grab a gun and go shoot. For long range rifle work the shooting bench can be rolled into position in a few seconds. Rain? No problem; just open the garage door and shoot from shelter off the bench or freehand.


I chose 1/2″ AR500 steel for the gongs and heavy 1/4″ high carbon steel chain with stainless steel claps. The post is a treated 4×6 with a simple deck board lag bolted on top. The whole set up uses parts that are easy to repair or replace. After trying it out I realized one thing that could be better – the gongs don’t sing that loudly when struck. I may need to pick up some thinner plate for pistol calibers so we get that lovely song when a pistol round hits its mark.

The locals have been noticing the increasing numbers of a certain species of K-9 and now the numbers are high enough that the out-of-towners are taking note. We haven’t seen bear hunters run dogs in our area for a few years. The other night while in the stand I heard a pack sound off after making a kill. They were very close. I made a recording on my phone and had a few others see what they thought. So far it has been unanimous. It was not coyotes! A few nights later the neighbor saw two wolves saunter through their yard. Generally speaking, I think wolves are fascinating and misunderstood. But at the same time, if the odds of meeting one in the woods continues to increase I prefer to be prepared for a confrontation.

A while back I picked up a Smith and Wesson M&P 40 from a coworker. The price was too good to pass up. He justified it as a necessary inventory reduction that would allow him further acquisitions… something about his better half placing a limit on the size of his collection. I tossed it in the gun vault and labeled it a someday gun. With my experience with hand guns and a little homework I put together a formula for a carry gun for out and about in the woods. I had a Vortex Venom 3MOA reflex site in the parts bin and added a weapon light. I can efficiently identify and aim in the woods in the dark – which is usually where I am when searching for or field dressing a deer.


Once I dug the gun out I remembered why I buried it in the back. The trigger is garbage. The stock trigger (shown below) has a long take up, followed by a gritty pull and sloppy break. Reset is also gritty and long.

Screen Shot 2019-10-05 at 11.17.25 PM

I couldn’t resist adding an Apex Tactical S&W M&P forward set sear & trigger kit. The reviews were not making stuff up: the upgraded trigger is just about perfect. Short take up, crisp break, short reset, 4.5 lb trigger pull. Rigid machined aluminum instead of flexible plastic. The gun is enjoyable to shoot now. Best of all, the gun’s accuracy is now more accessible with the reflex site and enhanced trigger.

Screen Shot 2019-10-05 at 11.17.04 PM

I plan on making many more trips to the cabin in the coming months. After more than a few reminders from the Ol’ Man I finally ordered a second set of wheels for the truck. I’ll run a very aggressive snow tire this winter. The 2007 Honda Civic was excellent with snow tires on the front only. I’m looking forward to snow tires at all four corners and four wheel drive this winter (If you look closely, you’ll notice this is the RST with a 2″ lift to match the ride-height of the Trail Boss).


That’s a quick update for now. Happy Fall.






Straight Line Wind

8.2.2017 – Wednesday

I’m back at the cabin and having a look around. It’s different now. Fewer trees for sure. I remember first walking the land and seeing the towering Balsam standing like sentinels over the lowlands. Basswood reached above the crowns of the maple trees on the high ground. Poplar trees stood shoulder to shoulder along the two-rut road leading to the cabin. Those trees are absent. Their bones litter the forest floor as reminders of what the forest used to be.

July 10, 2008:IMG_0070.JPG

On July 6, at about 8pm EST, a powerful storm moved through. It moved swiftly over the cabin and created powerful strait line winds. These jest of wind were irregular but uniformly oriented. While no-one was at the cabin at the time of the storm, wind speed was projected to reach 90 mph. Patches of forest were leveled and trees that shouldn’t have ben felled by wind were tore out root and stem.  Basswood trees snapped off 30 feet up as the crowns were forced toward horizontal. The point of failure on some maples was over a foot thick and over 20 feet off the ground.

July 12, 2017:IMG_8741.jpg

I arrived on Monday, after work. The storm passed through in the twilight hours on Thursday. The County had just opened up the main graveled road. The Ol’ man had warned me to take the long way around because the road was impassible by vehicle. While grateful for his wisdom I ignored his advice. There were heavy equipment tracks on the roadway from what looked like a large front end loader. Word was passed to me that the storm hit hardest on the other end of the graveled road. I figured they would start at that end of the road (the end of the road closest to the County garage). Seeing tracks at the North end was a sign that the road might be open again. I was also prepared. I had two Husqvarna 61 chainsaws freshly tuned up with just-sharpened chains. Over the past three years I’ve cut about 40 cord of firewood and become quite proficient with my saws and with my sharpening techniques. One saw would have done they job but there was room for two in the trunk of my 2007 Honda Civic.

As I approached the area hit hardest by the wind storm I slowed my pace. The 3 inches of ground clearance that my economy car yielded didn’t inspire enough confidence to drive swiftly as limbs and leaves began to litter the roadway. I came to an intersection and met a County truck. It was a large and fairly new Ford F-250 crew cab. I got the good news that the road was now open. Along with the good news I also got, “are you crazy driving that through here?” Not wishing to explain the merits of driving an automobile renowned for reliability, efficiency, and low maintenance costs I instead stated that I had two chainsaws and was about to get to work opening up the road to my Cabin. As I drove off I put on my Lee Vally cap and felt a little more rugged. When I reached as far as I could drive up the two rut road I changed out of my dress pants, collared shirt, and dress shoes. Now appropriately dressed in tattered blue jeans, steel toe work boots, and a stained T-shirt I prepared my saws. I fueled up, greased the bar sprocket, and filled up the oiler. I strapped on my professional kevlar chaps and chainsaw helmet. While I may be saving money with my choice in automobile I spare no expense on safety equipment. An injury would really wreck my day and it’s about a half mile walk from car to cabin at this point. Furthermore, emergency care in these parts isn’t, well, all that good frankly.

My first saw was a bit lethargic and after sitting for a year the carburetor was out of adjustment. I switched to my other saw and enjoyed quick cutting. Most of the trees in this spot were poplar, with a basswood here or there. The 3/8” chain with rakers filed just a bit deeper than the recommended 25 thousandths was the perfect combination for this job. Despite the success I was having the number of trees that lay before me was daunting. After three hours of only cutting I made it to the gate before walking back to the car to change. Wind fallen trees are a bit more than a nuisance and each one would easily cause an injury requiring a change in plans and I painful drive to the emergency room. The primary issue is that the trees were upset from their natural state. The wood is under stress and can snap violently at any point in the cut. The tops are also unsettled and can roll one way or the other as the trunk is cut. Of the nearly 40 trees cut tonight I had to carefully examine each one from root to crown and look for potential hazards.

Unscathed and a bit dehydrated I trudged back to my car to change and pack in to the cabin. The walk was hot and treacherous. I packed light but the further along I got the more I thought I could have packed lighter. Eventually I arrived. I rested up and replaced the water and calories that I spent earlier. Astounded with the damage of the storm I was eager to see what the rest of our land looked like. The ‘not-knowing’ was fueling my curiosity and I set out on foot to walk our trails. The walk usually takes about 15 minutes but this time took almost 2 hours. I even took a short video because after a while all the photos start to look the same.

Looking down the road from my parking spot.



I was sweaty and tired after 2.5 tanks of gas.



Setting out for the cabin I walked over my cuttings.



Some trees were uprooted, some broke off up high, and others like this one shattered at their strongest point.


Five poplar trees in a mess at the gate. A 6th is to my right just barely out of frame of the fisheye lens.


The gate once again survived in tact.



Heading away from the gate toward camp I came across one more large tree down and a few limbs. It didn’t look too bad… yet.


Then I started hopping over trees.


And more trees…


Over some, under others.


The road turned into the wind and 5 or 6 trees were uprooted right alongside the road.




After setting foot on our property I crossed over a single basswood on the way to the cabin.


TV reception didn’t look too good. I climbed up on the roof and straighten and repositioned the antenna after my walk.



The cabin was just out of reach. Phew.


On my walk down the slope on our trails I saw a few snapped spruce. The beetles did a number on the trees and the wind finished off the remaining trees.


There was a forest here… the large food plot is straight ahead, through about 10 or more trees. Of coarse they are all matted down in a cluster.


I made it to the plot. Looking back toward the hill now.


Plot looks nice at least. Any grouse and deer that weren’t blown away or crushed should have food.


A jet plowed through the center of our lowland. You can clearly see the direction of the wind.


October 10, 2015:IMG_9845

July 10, 2017:IMG_8634 (1)

I crossed the plot and headed up the trail to the 6×6 stand.


I snaked around through the woods and stepped back up on the trail and looked back the way I came.


The stand survived! The clear cut along out Eastern border wasn’t to blame for the wind but it didn’t do any favors for our forest.


The back trail was thinned by GMO a few years before we bought the camp.  Those trees folded right over across the trail. They are small and shouldn’t be too bad to clean up, but there are a lot of them!


This view (1), or path, if able to walk would lead you straight across the center food plot and into the center of the pond. See the satellite image I annotated below for reference.


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(2) At the other end of the path, on the bank of the pond looking back.


Back at the cabin I called the Ol’ man on my iPhone, setting it on the bed and using my bluetooth headset to keep the phone positioned in a location of good reception. Dad asked how they cutting went. Funny… I never said anything about that. In fact, I was advised not to start cutting until he arrived tomorrow morning. Bob, from the neighboring camp called Dad and said something along the lines of, “Some one cut a shitload of trees and made it all the way to your gate! Does you kid drive a Honda Civic?” So that’s how Dad knew what I was up to… I headed back out to the car after Bob stopped cutting, drove up to the gate and then cut for an hour around the gate.

Nightfall halted my efforts. I trekked back with my chainsaw gear this time along with one of my saws.  The next morning I got an early start.  Dad texted when he was 30 minutes out. I made it to the gate around 8am and started hiking out the trail. When I met Dad he had just got the tractor unloaded. The Ol’ man arrived around 8am EST. He appeared to have the same eagerness to open up the road that I did. Too bad he didn’t have steel toe boots though. After discussing the merits of protective gear he dropped a tree on his foot and limped about for a bit. All his toes on one foot except for the smallest toe was purple, and the front third of his foot was discoloring. He iced for a bit while I continued on with the tractor. After icing for a while he pulled the truck up to the gate and we headed up the cabin road cutting and setting the logs and tops aside with the tractor. I suppose we would have been a bit more productive had the Ol’ man not stopped to ice his foot 4 or 5 times today, but overall it went pretty well. Good thing we discussed safety gear before cutting… I suppose after this post is finished I should give him a call and see if he bought a pair of steel toe boots. Now that it’s a few weeks since the storm it’s worth mentioning that the foot was only bruised… same as his pride. Luckily both healed, leaving no lasting damage.

Rudy has also arrived this morning. His camp is the next one up from ours. He started cutting toward his camp but then broke the handle off his saw. In other words, he got it pinched in a tree and tried to pull it out. Both my saws are over 30 years old and both have their original handles. There is value in having two saws (or a separate bar and chain at the least). It guarantees that if a saw gets pinched you can free it up without damage. In this case, Rudy had to call it a day and pack up.

We made camp at 2pm EST. Not too bad. After a brief lunch break, our energy returned and we got back to work. Everything on the ground by the cabin was cleared and most of the leaners were taken down. All told, the tops of 7 trees were removed and 5 leaners were felled. A total of 13 trees fell down or were damaged to the point where removal was required within 200 feet of the cabin. By day’s end the lawn was clear and there was a lot of firewood to cut up. Eleven trees down and two to go.

We took care by the garage and used the tractor to remove logs and persuade trees to fall where we wanted.


Bob stopped over to thank us for the work on the road. After demonstrating the versatility of a few choice words to describe the storm, work done, and work yet to do, he headed back out to the road to cut. Nice guy. Fairly hard working. After the yard was cleaned up we put in a pizza, some local sort with quality meat and a healthy quantity of fresh mozzarella cheese.

The next day I drove the two rut road and remembered what it used to look like.

June 8, 2008:P6083528 (1).jpg

July 12 2017:IMG_8773

What’s next? The Ol’ man will continue to work on the trails and hopefully by the beginning of August we will have unfettered access to our stands (marking a milestone in the clean up, not the conclusion of it). The basswood will be cut over the next several years to make campfire wood and the maple will be cut in the next 18 months and either split and stacked for the cabin and maple sapping stove, or hauled out to my house for the outdoor wood burner. The lowlands will mostly be left alone. The poplar and balsam that were felled by the storm will be left as cover for whitetail deer and other animals. This is the way things go. Give and take. The lowlands were at an apex back in 2007. No longer! The ridge was thinned of basswood; good thing! had they not, many more maples would have been damaged from wind-felled basswood. The cabin was not damaged and the solar panels are still in place. Both elevated stands survived unscathed. A culvert on the cabin road was crushed by the processor that cut up wind felled trees as part of a salvage operation. Plans were already set to replace the culvert, but not until next year. The Ol’ man and I would also like to do another fly over in Spring 2018.


Every unexpected event is an opportunity. And like an old timer up the road said standing by his truck parked at the end of the road to his cabin after the storm, “It’s bad, but at least the cabin is OK and I have my health.” I replied, “I like how you mentioned the cabin first.” He chuckled.



Marksman in Training

7.10.2016 – Sunday

I’ve been building. It started last year with a prototype shooting bench. I included a photo in last year’s post Cabin :: changing forest. The Ol’ man had cut some cedar a little over a year earlier and the large rough sawn 2″ thick planks ranged from 6″ to 12″ in width; ideal for a outdoor bench top. The wood was dry and stable and mid-October 2015 it was delivered to the wood shop. The delivery also included some rough sawn 1.5″ old-growth 6″ white pine. Old-growth pine is lovely wood. It is stronger than the sapwood you typically get as construction lumber at home centers and machines cleaner. The home-center lumber has a tendency to be softer and every now and again when cutting it you’ll hit a sap pocket and gunk up your blades.


I began construction of the cedar top November 26, 2015. The prototype bench taught me a few things about ergonomics and sizing. My original bench was a little tall so I dropped the seat an inch and closed the gap between the seat and the top another two inches. The design was unconstrained by size and grew into an ambidextrous design. So far we only need to accommodate right-handed shooters but with kiddos getting bigger and fond memories of a .22 Buckaroo in the back of my mind, I know the bench will get used by more than just Dad and I.

On to the construction! I began with the top. I milled thick cedar planks to 7/4 and then began to glue up the top. Nine boards were glued up into 3 planks, then the 3 planks were glued together to make the top. I flattened it with a hand plane and then smoothed it with a cabinet scraper.


A straight board acted as a guide and I trimmed the top to length. A little more work with a reciprocating saw and I had a fully shaped top.




With things going so smoothly, I decided to try my hand at constructing a breadboard end. This is a useful technique since I have long-planned to build a large kitchen table some day and this technique is proven and durable. Basically, a breadboard is a series of tenons that are pinned into a series or mortises in an end-board. The end-board prevents the table-top from cupping and shifting. Because the end-board needs to float as the width of the top expands and contracts with humidity, only the center tenon is glued.




The outer tenons have elongated holes for expansion and contraction. The pinned tenons ensure that the breadboard end maintains a tight joint while allowing for some seasonal changes.



Next was the frame. The frame was then built using oversized mortise and tenon joinery. Each joint is hand fit and locked in place with Gorilla Glue and two large SPAX lag bolts. Each mortise and tenon is labeled below.



A beam then secures the front legs to the rear legs and allowed me to disassemble the bench in to three frame pieces and the top.


I chose Defthane polyurethane and applied one quart to the entire bench. Once finish was applied it was sent away to storage.


Winter came and went. I burned 12.5 cord of wood at my house and created several heirlooms in the wood shop. Soon spring was upon us and everyone was anxious to get outdoors. When we finally got back to the cabin to enjoy the outdoors the kiddos insisted that we fish and catch frogs.

Catching and releasing amphibians and fish seemed like a good idea, and a good excuse to get back to work on the bench. I assembled it in the back of my 5×10′ trailer and hauled it to camp. The Ol’ man had worked in the months prior to assemble the needed materials to complete the project. For strength and simplicity the bench sits atop a sheet of 3/4″ treated plywood that is attached with SPAX to two 4×6″ treated beams. Proving that attention to detail runs in the family, the Ol’ man cut a 45° on the skids and even rounded over the sharp edges with a rasp. On April 30, 2016 the bench was completed.


I’ve been working on a target/coyote gun over winter and its completion matches up pretty well with the bench and shooting range. I’ve never been much for firearms that deviate from traditional designs and wood grips/stocks. I love Ruger firearms, especially the earlier models like my revolvers and No. 1B single shot rifle. It took a while but eventually I decided to get a sporting rifle (as Ruger calls it) and see what all the fuss was about. I ended up with an SR-556VT before it was discontinued (The ‘VT’ model is no longer available but other SR-556 models are still in production). Piston guns tend to be a bit heavier and I wanted a bench/hunting gun so the varmint model was a good fit. The accuracy is fantastic and it has a great target trigger straight from the factory. Prior to this project, and this firearm, I had never reached out to 200 yards and a .22LR was the largest semi-auto I had owned and shot. I had no idea what I was missing out on.


I’ve tested out a few different bullet types and manufacturers and found that Fiocchi 50gr. V-MAX Tip Bow Tail bullets and my gun get along great. The bench aids in reducing shooter error, making it easier to evaluate the performance of different ammo. It feels really good to push the gun and ammo to its limit.

File Jul 10, 11 59 05 PM

The shooting rest and sandbag combination has been refined as well. After some trial and error the set up is pretty solid now. Wood risers/shims with a durable rubber floor mat material glued to one side grip the bench and provide a good foundation. Leather sand bags also have a good feel and an adjustable front rest simplifies adjustments.


I’ve already seen measurable improvements in my marksmanship skills. There are lengthy article on how to shoot well. I’ve read a number of them, and while I find the content valuable, it’s no substitute for practice. Currently we have a target at 100 yards that I’m getting some time on. I would like to hand-gun hunt this deer season and part of the decision to take a handgun in to the field is to be proficient at 100 yards. I have equipped a Ruger Super Redhawk chambered in .44 Rem Mag with a Leupold 2x scope and am already starting to shrink my groups. It’s a fairly expensive endeavor since a decent hunting round costs a little over $1 per round for the .44 mag . While I save up for more .44 mag ammo I’ve been practicing on a .22 LR revolver. After all, 100 rounds of .22 LR costs the same as 6 rounds of .44 mag. The Ol’ man donated a few hand loaded .44 mags but they lasted just long enough to sight.


The bench was a project that started out with a few simple objectives:

  • Provide an ideal platform for sighting in firearms by minimizing shooter error
  • Accommodate shooters of multiple body sizes
  • Suit the needs of left and right handed/eye dominant shooters
  • Last at least 30 years
  • Test out breadboard end joinery/durability

It will take a while for the last two on this list, but the first three can be checked off with confidence.









Off Grid Update

7.27.2016 – Wednesday

Things at the cabin have become routine. Everything just works and I’m not aware of any lingering bugs with the system. The battery monitor used to go on the fritz under just the right circumstances but that was remedied by removing the solar charger input from the shunt. The meter automatically resets to full when the batteries are fully charged. The batteries are also watered roughly every three months.


June 10, 2016 – lightning near Lena, WI

Here is a quick glimpse of the current settings on the system (I’ve been tweaking them for years and have settled on these inputs for the past two years now):

 Xantrex C60 (PV Charger)

  • 13.8V FLOAT (CHG)
  • 14.7V BULK (CHG)

Xantrex RS3000 (Inverter/Generator Charger)

  • 20A Power Share
  • 100% Max Charge Rate
  • 10.5V Lo DC Volt
  • FLA Batt Type
  • 1540Ah Batt Size
  • 55W Sense Below
  • 8s Sense Interval
  • 3 # Chg Stages
  • 15.5V Egz Volts
  • On Force Charge
  • 85V Lo AC Volt
  • 45Hz Lo AC Freq
  • 135V Hi AC Volt
  • 65Hz Hi AC Freq

Victron BMV-600s (Battery Monitor) 

  • 85% CEF (charge efficiency factor)
  • 1.20A Ith (current threshold)
  • 1.25 PC (Peukert exponent)
  • 14.4V Vc (charged voltage)
  • 1500Ah Cb (battery capacity)
  • 50% DF (discharge floor)
  • 2.5% It (tail current)
  • 1 min Tcd (charged detection time)
  • 1 Tdt (ime to go)


The only area left to perfect is the battery monitor. Since it no longer keeps track of the solar charging it needs to reset when the batteries reach 95-100% SOC. Getting these settings just right takes a little persistence and some trial and error. Currently, the Battery Monitor will reset to 100% SOC (full charge) when the following conditions are met: 14.4V Vc or greater with 2.5% It or less (38.5 amps) for 1 minute Tcd. It resets most of the time when the Solar Charge Controller’s green light comes on indicating full charge. Because the battery monitor doesn’t track amps from the solar charger the only two variables that come in to play are Vc and Tcd. I may try lowering the Vc at some point. Currently, the system has been resetting to full-charge when left alone for a day or two between visits.

The system is now going on 7 years old! So far everything is working great and there are no signs of wear and tear. With the cabin only occupied 120 days per year I continue to hope for longevity of components and batteries.


An Unlikely Heirloom

2.2.2016 – Tuesday

I recently completed the restoration of an antique Herring-Hall-Marvin Safe. The goal of the restoration was preservation. I wanted to take it completely apart, clean it, and then put it back together. Along the way I decided to completely strip and repaint it as well as build an entirely new wood interior.


Here is what it looked like. It appears that it was originally sold by Herman Heinrichs from Menominee, Michigan. and belonged to a J. W. Hermansen. After that it likely came in to the possession of my Great Grandfather. I never met my Great Grandfather, but I know his name was Jake Nelson. I first learned that this safe existed from my Great Aunt, Violet Nelson – my Grandmother’s Sister on my Dad’s side. Lineage aside, it’s fitting that my Great Aunt had an old safe, because she was a woman of distinct personality as well as some secrets and intrigue. She gave me more than one gun as a birthday present through the years; one is supremely accurate and remains a personal favorite to this day. She was independent and never married. Other tales recall that she had little sympathy for frogs and was quite talented with a whip, cracking a few frogs here and there… I can’t confirm that, but I don’t doubt it.

I don’t know the weight of the safe, but I estimate it to be in the neighborhood of 500 lbs. The dimensions are 18-7/8″ deep, 21-1/4″ wide, and 27-3/8″ tall. The height is 33-1/4″ from floor to top. Interior dimensions are 13-7/8″ x 16-1/2″ x 22-1/4″. It is concrete and steel. There is an ample supply of 1/4″ plate steel and the door frame has some cast iron. The restoration officially began on January 12, 2016. It concluded after 3 weeks of hard work and roughly 60 hours.


The beginning of the project was the most tedious. I delayed beginning the restoration as long as I could. After a few months of a large, barely movable, object sitting in my shop I had had enough. It was time to begin. From the pictures, you’ll notice that my work on the safe did not take place on the floor. I soon discovered that solving the puzzle of how to lift a 500 lb object onto a table roughly 30″ tall is a good way to pass the time. Utilizing a low-profile hydraulic car jack, some blocks, a salvaged coffee table, and some brute force it can be done. Only the coffee table was harmed. Luckily it was made out of wood, which burns – so I still got one more use out of it.


While taking apart the safe and taking off the paint, I generated a lot of dust and debris. The wall vent fan above my head has never worked since we moved in. It now works perfectly. I got accustomed to wearing safety glasses, hearing protection, and a respirator. It was my least favorite task for the whole of the project – but there was no avoiding it. This first step set the tone for the next three weeks and I discovered everything in need of maintenance and repair. I also found 66¢ in Mercury dimes and wheat pennies that were lost in the nooks and crannies.


A torque wrench was required to remove the nuts holding the castors to the safe body. All of the hardware was in good shape but the wheels wobbled. The washers and nuts needed a good cleaning with a degreaser and a scrub with some dish soap.


Using my new Bosch angle-grinder and Dremel I cleaned up the castors (funny how sometimes one of my projects requires me to purchase new tools). The wobbly wheels bothered me so I looked in to it. After some research I determined the only way to rid myself of the wobble would be to knock out the axle pins and then find new axle pins. The caster would need to be rebored for the pins and the wheel would need to be rebored to fit a new bushing. That required a lathe and a Bridgeport milling machine. After thinking about how often I would leisurely wheel the safe from one end of the house to the next I decided that this repair was exempt from my restoration.


Once the wheels were off I took the bottom off the safe and found a large crack in the firebrick. The patina on the bottom plate was gorgeous.


The next several hours were spent removing old paint from the safe. My favorite tools for this were a flapped sanding disc for the large flat areas, a twisted wire-wheel for the edges and recessed areas, and a spun-fiber paint-eater disk for everything else. I found out that a $10-15 angle grinder disc is worth at minimum about 6 of the $4 discs. Cheap wire-wheels are also extremely hazardous and shed wires like crazy. I had to pull out more than one wire from my hands and thighs on this part of the project. Between my hands and upper legs I had at least 20 small red dots from high-velocity wires.


The interior was showing its age. The solid red-oak boards were removed along with the locking deposit box and locking drawer.

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The door took just as long to break down into its parts and to clean up. I began with the removal of the inner door panel.


The firebrick was cracked pretty badly and a pound or two had fallen out when I opened up the panel.


Using a small 1/2″ rock chisel and a ball peen hammer I knocked out the concrete and began to disassemble the lock mechanism.


The shroud covering the lock mechanism was sealed to the door with grout. Once the grout was removed the shroud came out and I could see the locking mechanism and the lock housing.


The lock was removed and the door was then cleaned up with the angle grinder.


At this point the project was divided into three smaller projects: the door, safe body, and wood interior.

The Door

Sans firebrick, inner panel, and all the mechanisms, the door was now approaching a petite 45 lbs of plate steel and cast iron.


Where grout was used originally, I settled on using sanded siliconized acrylic latex caulk; the same stuff I used to seal the seam between the floor and wall in my tiled showers. Two spring clips were used to wedge the shroud into the door before caulking. A good seal was important because when the concrete was poured I didn’t want any of it getting near the lock mechanisms or between the plate steel door front and cast iron door frame.


While the caulk dried over 48 hours I cleaned up the inner door panel and prepared it for paint.


The concrete pour totaled close to 45 pounds. I chose a special fire-brick concrete designed with an operational temperature of 2700°F to line the door. While this doesn’t necessarily give the safe an improved fire rating, it is in keeping with the original intent of the safe-builder. The relative humidity in the shop was about 30% at 65°F. To extend drying time, I sprayed the concrete with water after it initially dried and then covered it with plastic while it cured over the next 24 hours. After curing I took the Bosch angle-grinder with a flapped sanding disc and cleaned up the surface so the inner door panel would have a nice flat fit.



The squeeze-out from the caulk reveals the gap between the shroud and the door front. Looks like my water-tight seal held for the concrete pour.


The door bolt group was installed prior to the concrete pour. I used a corrosion inhibiter designed for firearms called PrOlix on the internal bare metal parts and greased the contact points where parts slide past one another.


I taped the handle stud and then primed the door with two coats of spray on primer. Due to availability, I used Rustoleum products. After two coats of primer I sanded the door and inner panel and prepared it for paint.


The first coat didn’t go so well, but I knew that I would have to build up a base through thin coats and sanding.


Sanding frequently cut through the paint and exposed the primer.  The door front was not flat and there were deep scratches and some pitting that the original primer hid. These defects were from manufacturing and not from neglect.


At this point I had applied two coats of primer and four coats of black enamel paint. I used an orbital sander with 320 grit sand paper and vacuum connection to dry sand lightly after the paint was allowed to dry for at least 10 hours. Then I used 600 grit emery paper to wet sand until I had a uniform finish. The water was lubricated with a few drops of dish soap. The sanded paint hardened over the next 8 hours before the application of another coat of paint. This process was repeated and repeated and repeated until the 6th and final coat of black paint.


The final coat went on smooth! After 45 minutes of dry time I lightly dusted the door from about 20″ with the spray can and left a semi-gloss slightly textured surface that is appealing to the touch and somewhat resistant to showing smudges. The inner door panel received similar treatment but ended up with a high gloss finish after about 4 coats of black paint.


While I spent day after day painting and sanding the door, over at the work bench I cleaned up the dial. The black enamel was chipping off of the dial. I was faced with repairing the black enamel or polishing the metal underneath. I decided to go all in and use a woven paint stripper wheel on the Dremel and take the black off. As things progressed I really liked the look of the dial and decided not to repaint it.


The handle got similar treatment. I’m not sure how it was plated or even what metals were used in the construction, but the rust mostly came off with a fine wire wheel spun on a Dremel.


I mounted the handle in a vertical position instead of the horizontal position that it was in when I started.

The Safe Body

When the dust settled from cleaning up the safe body I began with the bottom. The first order of business was to patch the crack.


While it’s not the prettiest patch job it did the trick. The inside of the bottom panel was never painted from the factory. I painted it and then prepared the bottom for the panel. The castors were also partially painted in preparation for assembly.


The bottom panel was sealed on with sanded siliconized acrylic latex caulk and then secured with two machine screws and held in place under the pressure of a pile of wood blocks until the caulk dried. I then ran a thin bead along the front and rear of the safe. This should prevent rust, especially in summer if we get a wide temperature swing from night to day and the exterior of the safe sweats. The planned location of the safe in the house should guard against this; but it usually doesn’t hurt to over-engineer.


Some paint was then applied to the metal that would be covered up by the castors.


The portion of the castors that mounted against the safe were pre-painted prior to assembly.


The bottom and wheels were then painted in two coats. With the bottom done I could now upright the safe and start painting for remaining sides.


Just like the door I began with primer and sanding before applying two coats of black enamel paint.


The Wood Interior

My skills are biased toward woodworking. I originally planned to leave the interior alone, but I should have known I wouldn’t be able to resist. The old interior was a bit wobbly, showing signs of deterioration, and just not as functional as it could be. The shelves didn’t extend all the way to the door, leaving about 2 to 3″ of wasted space from shelf front to inside door panel. There was also only one large shelf. I sketched up plans for a stronger and more functional interior. Two additional large shelves were planned.


I had available white ash, hard maple, black walnut, yellow birch, cedar, and white pine. I quickly ruled out the use of soft woods and then narrowed it down to white ash or yellow birch. Eventually yellow birch won out because I had experimented with it a few weeks earlier and was impressed by its hardness and the color of the heartwood. The heartwood looks stunningly similar to cherry but the hardness approaches white ash.


I milled it down and used a router-cut glue joint for the 1/2″ panels (doubles the surface area of a regular glue joint). The 1/2″ panels are not shown. Above are some 5/16″ panels for the removable shelves.


For the finish I used a tried and trusted recipe:

  • sand to 220 grit on the orbital sander; following a sanding progression of 120 – 150 – 180 – 220 and candling the wood to look for scratches or defects prior to finishing
  • brush on and wipe off two coats of Birchwood Casey Tru-Oil, using 000 steal wool between coats, allowing 24 hours to dry each time
  • level the finish with 320 grit sand paper prior to final coat of Defthane gloss polyurethane


The back was wedged in to place and secured with a dab of no-clamp siliconized adhesive at each corner.


The next few pieces are where the real engineering comes in. The top went in next, followed by each of the sides. Again, I used siliconized adhesive. There is a 3/32″ rabbit on the ceiling board that the side boards fit in to. The bottom board was then shimmed to be parallel to the ceiling board before hammering in a snug fitting center shelf support. Everything is locked in by the previous board. Since the inside of the safe wasn’t perfectly square, I used some small wood screws in the shelf dados to apply pressure to the wood interior and get the fit just right. Because the screws are in the dados they are hidden from sight.


The locking deposit box was the next item to install and fit.


The scaled rust sure cleaned up nice! I made some stepped shims for the box. It used to sit proud of the shelf originally, but would now fit flush. I applied the shims with siliconized no-clamp adhesive and massaged a perfect fit. Four small screws driven from inside the box, securing it to the interior.


I deliberately left the front of the deposit box in its original condition. I wanted at least one thing left untouched by the restoration.


The locking drawer was really fun to build. I copied the same construction as the original, but sized it to the new shelving.


The original lock mechanism was in fine condition so I cleaned it up with the Dremel and fit it to the drawer.


I even polished the screws. One screw was driven in crooked and bent by the original makers and needed to be gently straightened before re-using.


A look at the neat locking rabbit that holds the drawer front on.


Two thin leather strips were glued to the back of the drawer so it shuts softly. The strips also perfectly position the lock slide to match up with the mortise in the shelf above.

The Move

The safe was finished! Only took 3 weeks of hard work (60 hours of shop time). I constructed a pallet and then nearly sprained a pectoral trying to get it under the safe. Funny how when you use a muscle in a new way it can retaliate for a few minutes with a sharp pain. Once built, the safe was protected with a packing blanket and strapped to the pallet. A few more blankets and a few more straps and a heavy duty hand truck later it was ready to move. Thankfully, the idea of being included in moving a incredibly heavy object appealed to my neighbor Todd and my coworker’s husband Don – for reasons I am still pondering.

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My custom pallet featured handlebars for easy stair ascent, and was made out of oak. Rather serendipitously, the handlebars on the pallet made the corner on the stairs – just barely.


Despite all the preparations, it was still a brute to move up the 20 steps and around one corner. I’m glad we moved it without the door attached.

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The Future

The safe is tuned up and happy but could use some decoration. I would like to find a local artists to paint a picture on the inner door panel and then do the door front. On the door front I’d like to have a small 5×7″ photo painted above the dial. Keeping with tradition I would like the door to have S. Wiltzius and Herring-Hall-Marvin Safe Co. on it somewhere. A classic pin-stripe around the edges and perhaps a decal of some sort in each corner. This safe also originally had finials on the hinges. I have three of them. Due to their condition and construction I am still looking to commission a machinist to make four finials out of solid brass.



This post is in loving memory of Violet Nelson, Nov 4, 1933 – December 13, 2011


A brief update

8.22.2015 – Saturday

I’ve been chewing on a few ideas for a new post. House and Family have been the focus this summer and the landscaping projects at home have included trail improvement, removal of the rusted out Ford across the road, constructing three raised beds, lawn re-do, perennial garden one & two, adding a culvert to the driveway, prepping for firewood (including building a deluxe lean-to), clearing some brush for a garden, taking down some trouble-trees near the house and shop, and a whole bunch of other things I’ll think of later… oh, and a bit of camping and swimming here and there.

Meanwhile, some interesting things have been happening at camp in terms of logging. While I haven’t been much of a presence this summer, I have a bunch of pictures and will be collecting some more shortly. Also, Dad had help from a pro-builder and a lean-to was constructed this summer – a design I shamelessly copied for my own use at home. Good design. We continue to have battery monitor issues and I’ve been investigating alternative ways to wire it in. Currently the shunt is at one end connected to the batteries and at the other connected to 1) inverter/charger, 2) solar charger, 3) 12V DC fuse panel. My most recent idea is to only measure current out from the batteries (removing no. 2 in my list above). I’ll set the meter to reset to zero when a full charge is detected to compensate. I may be spending a few days at the cabin coming up and the off-grid time may provide the opportunity to author a proper update of happenings this summer.

Until then I’ll be tinkering with a new firearm (ever heard of .22 TCM Micro-Mag?) and finishing up the shooting bench – that could be a post of it’s own actually. The shooting bench is a prototype I’ll be basing the one I plan to build for the cabin on. Now that I think about it, judging by the interest in my Wife’s grandfather’s talent on a Bridgeport, and the interest in sporting-firearms in general, I suppose it’s almost mandatory that I gather up some hi-res photos and put a post together. Additionally, the camp cook-box I posted had some people interested in ordering one, so as a disclaimer: the shooting bench is not for sale or order, but I’ll do my best to provide rough measurements in the post (it might not be a camp cook box but it’s still really cool).

Well… until September or October.