Make-it-yourself devices archive page 9
Coffee grinder modified for fine grinding: 20071106

A couple of months ago I purchased a Cuisinart CCM16PC coffee grinder. It's an electrically powered unit that makes a cup of ground coffee in about 2 minutes.

The regular price is something around $100. The unit I purchased was factory reconditioned and priced less than half of the regular price. I got it through an offer from to get $30 credit when getting a Amazon credit card, so the coffee grinder actually only cost $5.

As designed, it does a good job of grinding roasted coffee beans for making drip coffee. It will not make very finely ground coffee for cappucino or for recipes that call for finely ground coffee. The Cuisinart is adjustable to be able to produce either coarsely ground or a finer grind. But the finest setting is not fine enough for cappucino. I wanted to be able to make wheat flour, bean flour and other flours and powders. That requires a finer grind. So I modified the Cuisinart slightly so that it produces fine ground coffee, whole wheat flour and other flours such as bean flour, chestnut flour, oats flour, and flax meal.

Those other flours and finely ground herbs and teas are not available locally. Freshly ground flax meal is said to be nutritionally superior to flax meal that is older than a few days. Home grown herbs that have been dried, ground, and stored in a freezer are much more flavorful than what I have purchased. Plus I want to experiment with other ground dried food that cannot be purchased. For me, taking the time to alter the Cuisanart was worth it. You might want to modify this or a similar grinder to produce cappucino or expresso from home roasted coffee. If you happen to be interested, here's a brief desciption of how to make the modification to the Cuisinart grinder. Perhaps other similarily designed grinders could be modified in the same way.

Make the modification at your own risk. It will void any warranties the the grinder may carry. The modification could also ruin the grinder. The procedure involves placing a paper disk spacer between two of the device's parts. The spacer causes two grinding surfaces to be closer together. If the spacer is too thick, the two grinding surfaces could touch. In the Cuisinart grinder, one of those surfaces is stationary and the other rotates rapidly. Normally the two surfaces do no touch. A spacer could cause the two surfaces to touch which could result in damage to the grinding surfaces. The idea is to choose a spacer with the right thickness so the two surfaces do not touch but are as close as possible to get the finest grind possible. I used a spacer thickness of about 6 thousandths of an inch, about the thickness of a post card or greeting card.

Unscrew the top of the Cuisanart that includes the hopper for holding the unground beans. Remove the three screws on the underside of the hopper. The screws secure a ring-shaped metal part with teeth-like protrusions. That is one of the two burrs whose surfaces impact the beans, breaking them up as the beans are reduced to the particle size typical of ground coffee. A very small Phillips type screwdriver is required.

Lay the removed ring burr on a piece of card. Use a pencil or ball point pen to mark the card where it needs to be cut to make a spacer that will fit between the burr and the hopper top. Cut the card along your outline using a utility knife or small sharp scissors. Insert the spacer in place. Hold the burr ring in place and poke a hole through the card with a small nail where one of the screws will go. Put the screw in place. Poke the other two holes. Replace the screws and tighten.

Carefully test the grinder by reassembling and turning the hopper top counterclockwise to the coarsest setting. Turn on the grinder and slowly rotate the top clockwise either until it reaches the finest setting or just until you hear the noise of the two burrs hitting each other. Note the position. When using the grinder don't set it to a position that will cause the burrs to meet. Or if the burrs touch before reaching the finest setting, you could remove the spacer and replace it with a thinner spacer that will not cause the burrs to touch.

I've used the grinder to make whole grain corn flour, unroasted ground coffee, chestnut flour, powdered green tea, whole wheat flour, flax flour, split pea flour, and powdered herbs. It won't make flour from anything that is oily, sticky, or soft - the moving parts clog up. For really large seeds such as chestnuts, first dry them. Put them into a food processor or blender to break them into small pieces. Then put the broken up nuts or seeds through the Cuisanart. For many foods, that produces a finer texture and a faster result than using only a blender or a food processor.

Here's the coffee grinder at Amazon.  Cuisinart Supreme Grind Automatic Coffee Burr Mill CCM-16SA

Words and phases descriptive of the content of this article: inexpensive coffee grinder, cappucino coffee grinder, fine ground coffee grinder, grinding coffee beans for cappucino, inexpensive flour grinder, grinding dried herbs, making powdered herbs, inexpensive grinder for herbs, grinding flax seed, making flax seed meal, how to grind flax seed
Drought resistant garden: 20071206

The soil in my garden dries out too much during the hottest, driest parts of the summer. The soil is only about a foot thick. Under that is about 4 inches of clay, then shale. Even if the soil is soaked by a summer thunderstorm, a week or so of rainless, hot weather and the garden plants start to suffer from lack of water. If I try to use water from my well, the well will go dry before the plants are supplied with enough water.

So this fall, I moved a few remaining garden plants out of the way and went to work with a 36 horsepower tractor fitted with a scoop for digging earth. The scoop mounted on the 3 point hitch system used for attaching implements such as plows, corn planters, and other farming attachments.

About a month later and after around 20 hours work time and about $50 dollars in gasoline, half of my garden was a hole 16 feet wide, 60 feet long, and 3 feet deep. I had scraped the soil to the side out of the way and removed over a foot and a half of the shale. The shale holds very little water. To get the maximum amount of water storage, the shale would be replaced by soil. The soil to replace the shale will come from an area besides the garden. That soil was scraped to the opposite half of the garden, for now in a large mound. In its place I put the shale taken from the hole.

The idea is to have 3 feet of soil where previously there had been about 16 inches counting the clay. That increases the water holding capacity by about a factor of 2. The mound of shale taken from the hole and placed at the side of the garden has been sloped. Next summer, a tarpulin will be laid on the slope to direct rain water to the deep soil area. The area covered by tarp will be about 10 feet wide and 60 feet long. That should about triple or quadruple the amount of water the drought resistant part of the garden will receive. Typically in my area a 1 inch thundershower occurs once every 10 days or so in July and August. The water running off the tarp from those summer rains along with the added storage capacity of the deeper soil should dramatically improve the production of the garden during the hot, dry parts of the summer.

I'm guessing that no one is smart enough to know what the effects of global warming will be. My intuition tells me there will be a very slow, barely-noticable-to-most-people, worsening of drought in my geographical area. But it could be worse than that. My hopefully-drought-resistant garden could be a very valuable asset. Whatever global warming does, if my rain catchment/deep soil garden works out well for the present climate, it will have been worth it.

The hole has been dug and one third filled in with soil. As the hole is filled a six or eight inch layer of soil is alternated with a layer a few inches thick of organic matter - tree branches, briars, tall grass, and other plant material. As it decays it will improve the soil's porosity and fertility. That will help encourage garden plants to send their roots deep where the soil will stay moist longest and it will encourage runoff from the tarpulin to soak into the soil. A couple of days ago the ground froze. I'll wait until next spring to finish the project.

Update 20070408
Finished the garden project and sowed peas and fava beans today. The project took about $100 worth of gas for the tractor and somewhere around 50 hours time. Maybe half that time was putting a lot of tree limbs in the hole to improve the soil. I used a trailer pulled by the tractor to move the limbs. The trailer is 4 feet wide and 7 feet long with 2 feet high side. Filled the trailer 15 or 20 times, stacking the limbs about as high as I could. That's using a rope to keep the stack of limbs from falling over. Put 3 layers of limbs in the hole, each covered with just enough soil to cover them. Ran the tractor back and forth over the limbs to flatten them out before pushing dirt over them. Before putting the 4th and last layer of dirt in the hole, a layer of leafs, chestnut burrs, and twigs was spread on top of the 3rd layer of dirt.

It'll be a few years before I know if all that was worth it. Hopefully, I'll update this page a few years from now with an evaluation.

Update 20130206
Well, here's how the garden project turned out. The first year, none of the garden plants did well. Some produced a crop, some were almost total failures, for example the spinach. Apparently, too much organic material in the process of decaying is bad for most plants. And the dirt was very hard from having mixed in a lot of subsoil clay.

The second year I dug up the top 12 or 16 inches of the soil and mixed in fast rotting plant material such as leafs, cut grass, and weeds. Also mixed in a small amount of compost. Plants grow better and produced more, but still did not do as well as before. Carrots and butternut squash tasted very bitter.

The third year I dug trenches down to 24 inches along where the rows of vegetables would be. I filled the trenches back in with alternating layers of small tree branches and soil to fill most of the trench; then a layer of cut grass or leafs or weeds topped with 6 inches soil. This year the plants grew better, about as well as before starting the project. Carrots and squash still very bitter.

The fourth year, I did the same trench procedure as the year before except the trenches were made between the previous year's trenches, so the entire garden would be trenched and all the soil mixed with organic material. This year the garden did better than before starting the project. Carrots and butternut squash still bitter.

The fifth year, dug trenches about 10 inches deep over half the garden. Put a layer of cut grass, weeds, leafs and whatever other quick rotting plant material I could find. Made the layer about 6 inches deep, then shovelled on 10 inches of soil. The garden did very well giving me more vegetables than I could eat plus filling the freezer. Finally, the carrots and squash had no bitterness. Apparently, too much decaying plant material and not enough humus caused the bitterness.

It seems that unrotted organic material in the soil does no harm as long as there is an abundance of thoroughly rotted material also in the soil. Once the soil is built up with humus, it seems that adding plant material to the soil is easier than making compost in piles then mixing the compost in the garden soil.

It took a tremendous amount of digging and a tremendous amount of organic material to get all that clay subsoil into porous, rich garden soil. Few people, I suppose, would want to go to all the time and effort. Me, if I had it to do over again, would probably check on getting somebody to truck in a hugh quantity of compost and then maybe pay somebody with a Bobcat-type machine to dig out the hole and refill with the compost and soil. Still, I call my experience positive. I got a lot of exercize over the last 5 years which I suppose helped my health and fitness and now have a garden with 24-inch deep, rich soil. The deep soil better provides moisture throughout droughts. And at one edge of the garden is the sloped area where I lay a tarpulin to direct rain water that helps keep a several foot wide swath of soil damp during dry summers as long as it rains at least once a week or so.

And now I know better how to fertilize soil without depending on commercial fertilizers. Adding organic material is a lot more work but has several advantages. It add humus which increases soil porosity (probably a big advantage for plant growth), increases the water holding capacity of the soil (a big advantage during drought), and probably adds trace minerals lacking in commercial fertilizers. That last factor seems likely to make the plants grow more, produce more, and, perhaps very importantly, make the food more nutritious and healthful.

Words and phases descriptive of the content of this article: drought tolerant garden, collecting rain water for a garden, dry weather gardening, rain water catchment, storing runoff for the garden, water for the garden in dry weather, gardening in dry climate, global warming gardening, using rain water for a garden, gardening in dry weather, watering a garden in dry weather
Homemade wallet: 20080102

Eight years ago I made a wallet out of duct tape. I liked that wallet, partly because it was my own design and had plenty of spaces for credit cards, library cards, phone cards, driver's license, and several other cards. But it finally became so frayed and falling apart that it was time to either repair or replace. Well it struck me that making a new wallet out of something pulled out of the kitchen trash would be eco-cool and creativity-chique. And what luck, there in the trash was an empty half-gallon cardboard carton that had contained no less than low fat organic soy milk. So without much planning or thought, I cut and folded said item, resurrecting a piece of trash into a replacement wallet to keep cash and cards together in a handy bundle.

I started by cutting both ends off the carton, then cut the seam away where the cardboard is two layers thick. Then two long folds were made by placing the cardboard on a table with the table's edge where the fold would be and bending the cardboard down making a crease. The crease was sharpened by pressing hard with a knife handle while sliding the handle along the crease. The knotches were then cut using a scissors.

The diagram shows the outline for the shape I used. Fold lines are in red. The end flaps keep credit cards from falling out. The narrower side flaps separate the cash from the cards and also keep cards from falling out.

I've only been using the new wallet for a couple of days but so far it seems to do the job all right. I keep a rubber band around it to keep it closed because so far it has a tendency to unfold. The rubber band is easily slipped off onto my left hand when I want to open the wallet, and then it is easy to slip the rubber band back on the wallet.

Making the wallet was more fun than driving to Walmart with my 3200 pound automobile and buying a wallet. And hey, it's a cool wallet. I can think of at least six things about the resurrected cardboard carton wallet that make me feel good.

When it comes time to replace this wallet, I hope I can think of something just as cool.

Greens press: 20080409

Many green leafy vegetables are too bitter to taste good unless you add a lot of cheese and/or sugar and/or oil to cover up the bitterness. Or you can boil them in water and drain away the water to remove bitterness. What I like to do is puree the greens in a blender with water, heat the slurry in a microwave oven to boiling, then strain away the water. It's slightly more complicated, is actually quicker, and the greens are heated for less time. So I suppose the greens have more nutrients. And I like the taste and texture. Sometimes I use a coffee press to remove the water. It's convenient for small quantities of greens when I'm cooking for just myself. The fine mesh of the coffee press looses less fine particles then typical strainers, especially for some greens such as swiss chard or if you are using powdered greens which have very small particles. I use a Bodum Brazil 3-Cup Coffee Press. As purchased, the plunger will not go down far enough to remove all the water from 1 or 2 ounces of greens slaw. When cooking for myself, often all I want is 1 or 2 ounces of slaw. The press can be modified so single serving amounts of greens can be pressed. The following is how I modified mine.

Adjust the flame on a propane torch to as low as it will go. Heat the top of the Bodum press by moving the flame in a circular pattern to soften the plastic between the top's edge and the center where the plunger shaft goes through. Try not to heat the edge and the center, so those two areas do not become distorted. With the top in place in the glass barrel of the press and the top having been softened just enough to be easily bent, push the plunger all the way down. If the plastic is at the right temperature, the plunger will go down easily and when it cools it will hold its shape. The modified press can be used to press water from quantities as small as 2 tablespoons.

Works great for removing bitterness from small portions of dandelion, swiss chard, kale, powdered collards and probably other bitter foods. One of these days I'll get around to trying an acorn flour cookie.

Here's the coffee press at Amazon: Bodum Brazil Glass 3-Cup Coffee Press, Black

Update: 20130206
I seldom use the coffee press method anymore. It is only practical for doing a couple of ounces of greens and probably loses a lot of water soluble nutrients. Now, I use a combination of many methods to reduce the bitterness of greens and other bitter vegetables. For most greens I use most of these methods at the same time, even then the greens still have some bitterness.

1.) The most effective method is to cut the vegetable across the grain every quarter inch or so and boil for two hours in a large quantity of water and then strain the water away. This also removes some of the good flavor.

2.) Boil or pressure steam the vegetable for 5 to 20 minutes. Moderately to slightly effective.

3.) Mix the vegetable with oil, sugar, and salt. Usually I'll pressure steam the vegetable and then puree in a food process until smooth. Most often, it is necessary to use 1 tablespoon oil for every 8 ounces food, 1 tablespoon sugar for 8 ounces food, and 1/2 teaspoon salt for every 32 ounces. Some foods such as tomato required double that amount of salt. Sour fruit requires double that amount of sugar. Sunflower seeds (about twice the volume of oil) can be substitued for the oil.

4.) Add 1 teaspoon vinegar for 8 ounces of food.

5.) Add a starchy food such as potato or boiled rolled oats, or cooked grain flour/water.

6.) Eat only a small quantity of the bitter food and eat it at the beginning of the meal when hunger makes the bitterness less objectionable.

7.) Add another flavor ingredient such as steamed onion or garlic.

8.) Add cheese or powdered milk. I seldon use this one because I am lactose intolerant and because of possible health consequences.

9.) Grin and bear it and get used to it. The more I do this the less the bitterness bothers me.

Words and phases descriptive of the content of this article: removing bitterness from dandelion, removing bitterness from greens, removing bitterness from swiss chard,

arrowhead necklace: 20080430

In early April I found a flint arrowhead in my garden. It's mostly black, a little over 2 inches long, and in good shape with just about 1/4 inch broken off the tip. That arrowhead could be thousands of years old and seems to me to be a quintessential symbol of a bygone way of life. I sometimes wonder how likely it is that that way of life could again be forced upon mankind by some catacylismic event or set of circumstances - a huge asteroid or comet hitting the earth, a severe epidemic, an all out nuclear war, or some other such disruption of normal ways of living. It might be well that we keep in mind that a return to old ways of doing things is a possibility and that it is prudent to stay able to abandon our present modern ways and take up other ways of sustaining ourselves.

With that in mind, it seemed a worthwhile project to take that arrowhead and attach it to a necklace that I normally wear whenever I am away from home. The necklace came with a flashdrive that I use to backup computer files. If my computer is ever lost to theft or fire, or if the harddrive fails the backup could be needed. The arrowhead on that neclace reminds me that backup of other sorts is also needed.

To attach the arrowhead I stripped the plastic insulation off a 6 inch piece of number 12 solid copper electrical wire, bent the wire into a U shape around the necklace cord, twisted the two parallel lengths of the U together for 1-1/2 turns, and bent the copper to grip the arrowhead at the notches where the original user wrapped some sort of cord to bind the arrowhead to an arrow's shaft.

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