Splitz-All Log Splitter

My kid has been watching YouTube videos lately on neat, new gadgets and one that caught my eye was this Splitz-All Log Splitter. And, while I’m not quite sure it’s worth the price tag, the Splitz-All sure is an interesting way to split wood besides with an axe or hydraulic log splitter. Enjoy…

How to Survive Getting Stranded in the Snow

Winter is here, and the temperatures are falling fast. One thing no one wants to think about is the possibility of getting stranded in the snow. How will you survive if you get stranded in the woods during a blizzard, or your car gets stuck in a snowdrift on the side of the road? What about getting snowed-in when the power goes out? Here’s a comprehensive guide that will help keep you alive if you get stranded in the snow.

Stranded in Your Car

You’re heading over the river and through the woods to grandma’s house when the unthinkable happens — you hit a patch of ice and drift into a snowbank, getting your tires stuck. You can call AAA, but you’re stuck with the task of surviving until they reach you. How can you survive getting stranded in your car in the snow?

Car survival starts with proper preparation. You should keep a survival kit in your car at all times, which should include supplies like:

  • Food: Keep some high-protein,non-perishable snacks in your survival kit, like nuts and protein bars. You’ll need more calories to keep moving if it’s cold.
  • Water: Store plenty of drinking water in your kit. If you can, store them upside-down so that the tops don’t freeze. You can still get dehydrated even if it’s snowing outside, so make sure you drink plenty of water.
  • Extra clothing and blankets: You need to stay as warm as possible. Keep an extra set of clothes and some blankets in your car so that you can layer up or change clothes if you get wet.
  • Flares and flashlights: Emergency flares can help rescue crews see you even if it’s snowing heavily. Flashlights will keep you from draining your phone battery trying to see in the dark.
  • A spare phone battery and charger: Keep your phone charged so that you can contact emergency services.
  • A shovel: A military e-tool (folding shovel) is ideal because it takes up very little space when folded. You’ll need to keep your tailpipe clear of snow and other obstructions if you’re planning on running the car to stay warm. If the exhaust pipe gets blocked, it can cause carbon monoxide to back up into the car.

The key is to stay warm until the tow truck or other rescue services can arrive. You can run the car to keep warm, but make sure that the tailpipe is clear. Car interiors aren’t very good at conserving heat, so if you’re worried about running out of gas, just run the car until it’s warm, then shut it off. Turning the car on for short periods will conserve fuel while helping to keep you warm.

Try to remove the snow around and underneath your tires, as well as the snow in front of your car, as much as you can. Then, try to move the vehicle forward and back slowly, a few feet at a time, to see if you can get enough traction to get yourself out of the snow and back onto the road. If you’ve got a few people in the car, you may be able to get yourself un-stuck with some old-fashioned elbow grease.

You can give yourself more traction with sand or kitty litter too. Just make sure you’re using something natural — you’re not going to be picking it up afterward.

[Editor’s note: A come-a-long could be a useful tool for this very purpose.]

Keep snow chains or other traction tools in your survival kit as well. It might be cold outside, but adding chains to your tires is a lot better than staying out in the cold for hours or days on end.

Stranded in the Woods

Camping or hiking in the winter can be fantastic, but getting stranded in a blizzard can be dangerous. The key to survival here is to have the right equipment. You’ll need four primary things to survive if you’re stranded in the wilderness— food, water, shelter and warmth. If you’re camping or hiking, chances are you have at least two of those things. If you don’t have water, melting snow over a campfire is a useful alternative.

You should know that shelter is essential if you’re hiking or stranded without a tent. A proper shelter will help protect you from the wind and keep you a little bit warmer while you ride out the storm. If you find yourself stranded in the wilderness, building a shelter should be your first priority. Look for downed branches, especially those from coniferous trees that still have a lot of foliage on them. You can use them to build a lean-to in a sheltered area to protect you.

If the snow is deep enough, don’t hesitate to start digging. Snow insulates and can help keep you warm and out of the wind. Just make sure the roof of your snow structure is strong enough that it won’t collapse and trap you inside. You can even dig a trench in the snow just large enough for you and top it with the branches you found.

Your second priority is to build a fire, which serves two purposes: to keep you warm–which is vital in these situations–and the smoke from your fire can help rescuers or passers-by narrow in on your location.

Doing so can be difficult in the wintertime because most of the dead wood is wet from the snow, but if you can get a good fire started, you should be able to dry out most anything. You’ll need a firestarter (the Swedish Light My Fire firesteel is good). If you smoke and have a Bic lighter in your pocket, you should be covered. If you don’t usually carry a lighter, starting a fire with wet wood can be nearly impossible. It might be a good skill to practice when you’re not in a survival situation.

Significant Health Hazards in the Winter Woods

Be aware of the two most significant health hazards that come from wintertime survival situations — hypothermia and frostbite.

Hypothermia is the condition that occurs when your body temperature drops too low. You’ll start to shiver uncontrollably — it’s your body’s natural way of trying to warm you up — and you may begin to get confused or have trouble thinking. You’ll know it’s progressed to severe hypothermia if you stop shivering. At this point, your body has used up your energy reserves and can’t keep you warm any longer. At this stage, medical intervention is needed.

Frostbite occurs when the tissue in your extremities or any exposed areas freezes. The water in your cells turns to ice crystals, causing the cells to burst. Severe frostbite can even require amputation. Stay as covered as possible, and take the time to warm up your fingers and toes, especially if they start to tingle or the flesh starts to feel hard.

If you know you’re going to be out in the woods, investing in some self-heating clothing which can help keep you warm no matter how cold it gets. If you’re going to be out in the snow fora while, or you find yourself stranded, this gear ends up being worth every penny.

Once you have a shelter and a fire, it’s time to start thinking about food and water. There are plenty of foods you can forage for in the winter time. Just be sure you double and triple check anything you harvest to be sure that it’s not poisonous.

Stranded at Home

Weathering a winter storm at home might not seem like the hardest thing in the world to do, but if the power goes out and with it your heat, it can quickly become a survival situation.

Keep a storm preparation kit in your home at all times. It will be similar to the one that we listed above in the section about getting stranded in your car, with a few notable differences:

  • Water: You might be able to get by with a few water bottles in your car, but at home, you’ll need more. Plan on one gallon of water per person per day for the duration of the storm. Half of that is for drinking, and the other half is for hygiene needs.
  • Battery or crank-powered weather radio: Keep track of the storm and changes in the weather with a radio that’s tuned in to your local NOAA station.
  • Diapers, formula and other infant supplies: If you have a baby in the home, keep everything they’ll need in your emergency kit.
  • Pet supplies: The same rule goes for pets. Make sure you have everything they could need for the duration of the storm.
  • Prescription medications: If anyone in your household relies on prescription medications, make sure you have a sufficient supply on hand before the storm hits.
  • Flashlights and lanterns: If the power goes out and it’s storming outside, these tools can make it easier to see.

The most important thing to do during a winter storm–especially if the power goes out–is to stay warm, fed and well-hydrated. In most cases, all you can do is wait it out.

If the power is likely to go out, consider investing in a generator to keep your lights, heat and other appliances running until power is restored. Always place the generator outside, and make sure it’s clear of snow and other obstructions before starting it up. Don’t plug your generator into your home’s main power though as doing so can create dangerous feedback for linemen who are trying to restore power after the storm.

Further Steps to Take While Waiting at Home

Unless you have a fireplace, don’t start a fire in the house. If you do have a fireplace, make sure the chimney isn’t blocked by snow for some odd reason. Otherwise, the smoke and CO2 can start building up to dangerous levels inside your home since it will have nowhere else to go.

[Editor’s note: ALWAYS have a quality battery-powered CO2 alarm if you have a fireplace or any gas appliances… it could save your life!]

Keep each room closed, primarily if you’re relying on a fireplace or portable space heaters to keep warm, and try to avoid going outside if at all possible. Homes are designed to maintain their internal temperature, but opening doors let in more cold air which then must be needlessly heated. Besides, it’s usually safer to stay inside during a winter storm anyway.

Remember to be aware of the signs of frostbite and hypothermia even at home. Make sure to stay dry. You might sweat or get wet from moving snow away from the door or generator. If you do, change your clothes immediately upon coming inside! Wet clothing pulls more heat away from the body, increasing your risk of hypothermia.

When you’re sheltering at home, the best thing you can do is stay warm, stay hydrated and wait for the storm to pass. Electric companies sometimes can’t work to restore power until the storm is over, so be prepared to remain in place even after the sun comes out and the storm dies down.

Take the time to check on your neighbors once it’s safe to do so as well. Young children and the elderly are more at risk during a winter storm, so if you can safely walk to the neighbors’ house then it might be worth it to check on them and make sure they’re warm and have plenty of food and water.

Staying Safe in the Worst Circumstances

No one wants to think about getting stranded in the snow, but it does happen. The best thing you can do, in any of these situations, is to be prepared for it. Set up an emergency kit in your car and home. Keep a small survival kit — with supplies like matches, a knife, a saw and some high-protein snacks — on your person or in a vehicle at all times. If you’re heading out into the wilderness, be prepared. Have proper clothing, and remember the four most important things that you need — food, water, shelter and warmth.

Winter is here–ready or not–and the snow has already started to fall. Being prepared for such a situation can quite literally mean the difference between life and death. Take the time to prepare now, before you need any of these supplies or survival skills. Wintertime is beautiful, but without the proper preparation, it can also be deadly. Stay safe out there.

[Editor’s note: This was a guest post.]

Why A Mylar “Survival” Space Blanket Is Worth Having In Your Pack

I’m generally VERY against the cheap mylar “survival” space blankets mostly because there are better option and, honestly, people don’t use them right. I’m a much bigger fan of the SOL Heatsheets (two person version) which are discussed in the following video. That said, any such blanket has limitations and must be used appropriately as shown below…

What To Do If Your Oven Catches Fire

Last night I was making two pizzas in the oven like I’d done many times before. When they were done I pulled the oven rack toward me as far as it would go so I could slide the pizzas out easier; I got the first one out no problem, but when I returned to get the second pizza, it was missing. I thought to myself, “Where in the world did the second pizza go!?” Turns out, the second pizza was now sitting atop the oven burner catching on fire and making one heck of a smoke signal!

My guess is the second pizza got stuck to the back of the oven wall and stayed attached as I pulled the oven rack out without me realizing it. Eventually, I fished out the second pizza and still need to clean it out, but that got me to thinking that we ought to remind ourselves what to do should the oven or a pot on the burner ever catch fire…

Oven Fire

Here’s what to do if the oven catches fire:

  1. “Leave the oven door closed!
  2. Turn off the oven and allow the fire to burn out on its own.
  3. If it does not go out on its own, leave the house and call 911.
  4. If it does go out, then open your windows.
  5. Carefully open the oven door (it will be smoky!) and remove the hot pan.
  6. Allow the smoke to clear before determining the cause of the fire and possibly resuming cooking.”

Burner Fire

Here’s what to do if a burner ever catches fire:

Never Use The Oven to Heat Your Home

This article explains why you should never use an oven to heat your home: “Do not use a gas or electric oven or surface units for heating. A gas oven may go out or burn inefficiently, leading to carbon monoxide poisoning. An electric oven was not designed for space heating.”

The article also explains important safety considerations regarding keeping warm during the winter in an unheated house… all of which are good reminders for everyone to read.

Toaster Ovens

I also want to quickly point out that toaster ovens are particularly susceptible to fires for a few reasons, so keep a close eye on them. And if you ever choose to makeshift a candle-powered tea light oven because, why not, then REALLY keep an eye on it, lol!

BioScarf – Cold Weather Scarf with Built-in N95 Protection

I’d never heard of such a thing as the BioScarf until today. Interestingly, it’s like a typical scarf but with an N-95 mask built into it. Apparently, it can filter out all sorts of airborne pathogens, from bacteria to smoke and plenty more. Plus they come in a variety of colors, including camo, olive drab, black, and white. Check it out below and consider grabbing one as an early Christmas gift…

The Mors Kochanski Super Shelter

Here’s Mors himself discussing his “super shelter” design (based off the igloo) for wilderness survival. Inside the video he shows you a few different shelter, including one really BIG one! You can get the book he recommends to explain the idea even more, if you like…

Passive Solar Heating Panels

Image Credit

This article on the Zen of Passive Solar Heating Panel Design is a neat write-up on how to make walls that can be used to gather the power of the sun to heat your home or, in this case, a workshop.

The author clearly took this project very seriously, going so far as to angle fins to absorb the most energy of these solar panels. In fact, the author states that he can maintain the internal temperature of the shop at 65 degrees Fahrenheit when the outside temperature is about -20 degrees.. what a difference!

Here’s the beginning of the article (originally found here)…

“A solar heating panel is not just a box with a glass front, a black interior, and a pair of openings in the back. Any fool can build such a box – and many have, but very few have managed to heat an entire building with the result.

You already knew that, of course, or you wouldn’t be reading this. I mention it only because you may not have known that you knew, and because I think it’s an important starting point for our discussion.

When I decided to seriously tackle the design of a solar heating panel, I listed seven requirements for a successful design:

Passive operation
The panel must operate efficiently using only the thermal energy it captures – independent of all other energy sources.
Diurnal operation
The panel must deliver heat efficiently during the day, and not lose more than an absolute minimum of heat when there is insuficient sunshine to provide any deliverable heat.
Season-dependent heating
The panel must deliver maximum heat during winter, and a minimum in summer.
Maximum reliability
The panel must have no moving parts to wear out or fail, and must operate dependably in untended situations.
Long service life
The panel should last at least as long as the structure it heats.
Minimum maintenance
The panel should operate at full efficiency for extended periods of time without needing servicing.
Low-cost
The panel must provide the fastest payback when compared to all other heating methods, and must incur no expense after purchase and installation.

My attitude was that I would take as long as needed to get the job done – and that it would cost whatever it cost. There was the possibility that I might run out of resources without achieving recognizable success, but the possible benefits of success seemed to far outweigh the risk of failure…”

Read the full article here

DIY Chimney Sweep – Gardus Sooteater Rotary Chimney Cleaning System Review

Recently, I’ve been wanting to clean my own fireplace flue rather than having to pay somebody to do it. And, yes, I know there’s something to be said for having a qualified chimney sweep inspect it once a year, which I still plan to do, but for peace of mind until then I figured it couldn’t hurt to do it myself. As such, I started looking for DIY chimney sweeps.

The only problem, however, is that I REALLY don’t like climbing on my roof, especially since it has a rather steep pitch, but mostly because I’ve inherited my dad’s general fear of heights… you should see me trying to climb on my rooftop, it takes me at least ten minutes to do as I slowly shimmy my way way up there, lol. And getting down is even worse!

Anyway, rather than getting a traditional chimney sweep with a metal brush, the kind where I’d have to be on top of my roof, I found this Gardus Sooteater Rotary Chimney Cleaning System which allows me to keep my feet safely on the ground and to clean my flue from the bottom up:

The contents include the following (as shown in the photo below):

  1. Chimney sweep head
  2. 6 three-foot flexible rods
  3. Plastic sheet (to cover the fireplace opening)
  4. Manual
  5. Drill bit adapter and wrench

I should note that I was a little concerned about the “flexible” rods because they didn’t seem that flexible to me at first glance, but I was wrong… they’re fairly flexible and I had no trouble with them. Time to get to work.

Now, here’s what the inside of the flue looked like before attempting my chimney sweep (after about a cord of wood). Clearly, there is some buildup, but it doesn’t look horrible compared to some photos I found online. Truth be told, I don’t really know what “normal” is so my opinion here doesn’t count for much:

The first thing I had to do was to trim the rotary head to be slightly larger than my flue diameter. I measured my flue diameter to be 5.5″ and, so, I trimmed the head to be about 6″ in diameter according to the directions:

I was a bit concerned about trimming the head to be THAT short because I felt like it may not clean the flue well enough if, for example, the head slid along one side of the flue pipe as I worked up the flue. I read online, however, that as it speeds up the head will tend to center itself and properly clean all of the flue. In addition, if I’d chosen to NOT trim the head to fit as directed that it may not clean well enough because it wouldn’t properly scrape the flue wall. Ultimately, I took the internet’s word for it and trimmed the head as directed.

Next, I cut out some of the plastic sheeting to fit my fireplace and taped it in place with some duct tape, though I left the bottom open so I could fit the chimney sweep inside, like so:

The directions, however, stated I should have poked a hole in the center of the plastic and taped the entire sheet in place; by now I figured I knew more than the manufacturer and, so, I ignored that recommendation… hopefully that wouldn’t come back to haunt me.

I quickly started to work my way up the flue and it was surprisingly easy to do. Here’s what it looked like after I’d added a few extensions:

I was done in only a few minutes, but I did slow down as I got near the top because I was worried about knocking off or otherwise ruining my chimney cap. Here’s what I got out of the flue pipe:

It was a good several scoops of what I’m assuming is first stage creosote because it was black, light, and fluffy. And, just out of curiosity, I wondered what my chimney flue looked like when I was done:

As you might be able to tell, half of the flue looked like it was cleaned well. The other half (where the red arrow points) didn’t look very cleaned, which is something I’d worried about when I cut the head strings so short. From what I could tell, however, it did seem to clean all of the flue pipe further up, at least, from what I could see. It was really just the bottom few feet where it didn’t clean because the head never centered itself. Oh, well, I think that next time I’ll try to replace the head strings and cut them a bit longer or really focus on the bottom section.

Ultimately, I’d say my DIY chimney sweep  was a success. I was able to use my old 14.4 volt cordless drill (even though I was worried about not having enough torque) and I didn’t make a mess either by not fully sealing the door opening with plastic and tape… which also means I get to stay married for a little while longer. 🙂

One thing I do like about this system is that apparently I can replace the head strings on my own with weed-eater string (it just needs to be the right diameter) which means I can do this on my own again in the future, and very inexpensively.

I also think that next time I might try to work my way from the top down (but still keep my feet on the ground) as I saw this guy do here:

Overall, I’m fairly pleased with the Gardus Sooteater Rotary Chimney Cleaning System. It allowed me to clean out my chimney flue without having to climb on my rooftop (which I would have dreaded), was easy to do, can be reused, and didn’t cost much.

That said, I’m still probably going to have a qualified chimney sweep come out before next season starts and check it out just to be sure.