Joe Abbott's Weblog

Letters home to mom

A good weekend

Posted by joeabbott on January 23, 2011

Well, as the weekend approached, I shot Suzy a quick note that declared my weekend intents: build a small box, install a TV for the back room on a wall mount, and start Sketching Up the front room bookcases. It sounded like a good list.

Then Saturday hit and it was a rare, sunny day and plans changed. To a different, but still good, list.

Suzy and I started by running errands. We’d intended on hitting a feed store and enjoying a big breakfast at the Sunbreak Café (in Auburn) before coming home to continue with chores. We both have had long weeks so we slept in late (about 8:30 AM) and it felt great. The morning unfolded leisurely and we didn’t get to the Sunbreak until there was a long queue in the lobby. Oh well, we settled for Panera after we picked up some organic crumble for the chickens and a little wood chip bedding.

When we got home I was helping Suzy haul a few things to the coop when she asked about putting up the water barrel we got last Fall and building her a composting bin. This is when my plans changed.

imageimageSetting up the water barrel was a simple thing. I had built a base for a previous barrel and used the same plan on this one.

The key is to make something that will raise the barrel up high enough so you can use the spout but also something that will hold up to a full, 50-gallon water barrel. Using a rule-of-thumb estimate of “7.5 lbs. to a gallon” and full barrel will weigh about 375 lbs.! That’s a big load.

So the design centers on four 4”x4” post with shoulders cut in them to accept a 2”x4” stud. I then top it with a 3/4” piece of plywood.

Dimensions are nominal, which makes the posts around 13” high (leaving 6” of exposed height) and the studs are cut to 20” long, leaving the top plywood panel a 21.5” square.

I then nail the whole thing together. On the first one I built, I used some 2.5” nails I had around from when I built the shed. It wasn’t hard but took some doing to brace everything up to have it supported while I banged away. Except the top … that was easy.

imageOn the second platform, I pulled out a framing nail gun that I had (also from building the shed). I charged up the compressor, pointed, and pulled a trigger. I’m not sure why it felt immensely satisfying, but I banged that sucker together in seconds. And, I didn’t split a single bit of wood!

For both platforms, I was using whatever scrap happens to be at hand in the shop; in this latest platform, the posts and studs are cedar and the top was a manky piece of plywood that wasn’t suited for anything else. But, after being outside in the Pacific Northwest weather, I’m pretty sure the whole thing will be manky in no time.

Suzy helped me knock this one out by leveling the area where we would set it up. Our yard slopes quite a bit* so finding the right place was the biggest trick. We wanted it to be useful … having a water barrel that just collects water is fine, be we have a lot of landscaping that loves water, so being able to draw and use the water is key.

Our first water barrel is out of the way behind the coop; for this one, everywhere we looked, it seemed to block a view or be in the way. Finally, we conceded that we’d have to “junk up” our corner of the yard with the gate\trellis\coop in order to have it handy, and leveled out a spot behind some tall ornamental grasses and sunflowers. As Suzy had also just pruned back the plants, the barrel is very visible. Let’s hope for a good growing season!

Oh, the final detail that makes this placement super good (not just “ordinary good”), is that the overflow spout is just above a dry creek bed that we built next to the path. At least in heavy rains, it won’t be so dry!

imageThe composting bin project was another project altogether.

My friend Tim had found a design up on the Pierce County Composting site and built one of their models. He liked it and sent me the plans. Unfortunately, the PDF file that I downloaded and printed wasn’t incredibly clear.

In the pictures, you get two of the same image (the picture to the right) … the one on the front is merely labeled Wood and Wire Stationary 3-Bin System and the back has the exact same image but with handy labels to things like “”fiberglass lid” and “divider walls”. One “helpful” label points to the middle of the a support and declares “4” carriage bolts”.


I suspect Tim is a better engineer than I am but I was sure I could knock this out. So, I started building the dividers but committed myself to putting the whole thing in SketchUp to “see” what was really going on. The dividers are easy but I wasn’t sure how the front slats are set in.

This post started out as a small primer in using SketchUp (with the compost bin as a model project) … if you don’t use it, you should. SketchUp is very easy use and learn, and a really great visualization tool. I’ll make good on talking through creating the composting bin in SketchUp but it’s getting late enough that the chill is out of the morning and time to get into the shop. Oh, and up on the Pierce County site, they have posted a better PDF that shows a lot more detail. You can actually see where the carriage bolts go!

* How much does our yard slope? Well, the picture of the water barrel above is taken from the second floor of our house and I appear to be at the same height as the water barrel!


3 Responses to “A good weekend”

  1. Mike said

    Since a U.S. gallon of water really weights at least 8.35 pounds, hope your stand had a weight tolerance variance of at least 14.8%. 🙂

    Maybe you got the 7.5lb weight from a high altitude weight measure of water.

    • joeabbott said

      Mike is right! Thanks for the correction!

      Back when I was working at Boeing I specialized in wing structures. As you all know (or do now), the interior of a jet’s wing is used as a fuel cell and, it was there that I became familiar with the rule of thumb that led to 7.5 lbs/gallon. You see, fuel is lighter than water … hence, oil slicks and gas that sits atop water. I believe the actual weight is less than 7.5 lb/gallon but, as I said, it was a rule of thumb.

      Anyhow, I’ve used 7.5 lbs/gallon as my go-to weight for water for years … most often when determining how much weigth I’d have in my pack. Now that’s where I feel bad about making the mistake!

      As for the water barrel weight capacity … it’s almost laughably strong. Considering two adult (US) men would weigh about as much as a full water barrel … and you’d have a hard time piling enough men on that platform to cause problems … we’re probably pretty safe. Safer than having a pile of men laying around, at least.

      But, I do appreciate the information, Mike!

  2. […] And, I have a big project ahead of me and so, I’m finding lots of little things to do. I’ve built a couple things, enjoyed a few weekends of nothing (detailed here and here), and generally dragged my feet. But, […]

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