Milling Pine, First Snow & New Tools

Mon Nov 15 2021

We're in a race against time to mill the pine logs for our solar kiln and get them stacked and stickered before we leave Vermont for winter.

Milling Pine, First Snow & New Tools
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If you've seen some of our recent blog posts, you'll know that we've been busy working on some projects on the property.

First, we were very excited about the arrival of our new sawmill! It took us a couple of days to assemble it, but it's important to do this carefully - if it's not square, level and flat, nothing we mill ever will be either!

Assembling the Woodland Mills HM126 XL Sawmill

After waiting more than 3 months, our Woodland Mills saw mill finally arrived! It took us about 2 days to get it assembled, but now we're ready to start milling!

Assembling the Woodland Mills HM126 XL Sawmill

With the sawmill assembled, we immediately began milling! Our first project was simple - milling some spruce to create the stickers and cants we need to stack our lumber for drying. We were briefly distracted and built some saw horses too - these have already proven themselves incredibly useful!

Milling our First Log & Building Saw Horses

After  assembling our brand new Woodland Mills HM126 Woodlander XL sawmill, we couldn't wait to mill our first log to make stickers, cants and saw horses!

Milling our First Log & Building Saw Horses

Speaking of drying lumber, we're building a solar kiln! We bought some pressure treated lumber and sheet materials to build the floor assembly, but the rest we'll be building out of our own lumber.

Solar Kiln Build: Part 1 - Floor Assembly

Find our why we decided to build a solar kiln to dry green, rough sawn lumber, and how we built a crazy strong floor assembly for our portable solar kiln.

Solar Kiln Build: Part 1 - Floor Assembly

Milling Pine

We won't have time to frame the solar kiln before we leave Vermont and head south in just over 2 weeks time, but we do want to try and mill all the lumber we'll need for it so it can begin drying over winter - yes, despite the extreme cold, lumber can still dry during winter!

Sawmill Setup
Our goal is to mill the pine logs in the pile by the tractor before winter - we have a lot more logs than that though!

We're going to build the solar kiln mostly out of pine - 2x4s for the framing and 1x material for the board-and-batten siding. The solar kiln is just under 19ft long and about 6.5ft wide, so we need to mill a lot of lumber!

Sawmill Framing 2x4
We're using the equipment trailer as a drying rack right now - that's our collection of stickers for stacking the lumber. The base of the solar kiln is a perfect place to stack our lumber - the big pile is our 2x4s.

As a result, we've spent almost every dry day at the property, milling the logs from trees that were cleared for our driveway. We're still new to milling so we're taking it slow and steady - learning as we go and getting a little quicker each time.

Woodland Mills HM126 Pine Log
This big pine log gave our sawmill a good workout!

Even so, the sum total of our efforts so far means we've probably milled less than 10% of the logs we have!

Log Piles
Here's the rest of the logs that came from the driveway clearing - pine in the pile on the left and hardwoods on the right. There are still some more logs to drag up from the sides of the driveway too.

We've set ourselves the timeline of Thanksgiving to mill as much as we can by then. We're heading south for winter with the RV on December 1st, so that gives us a few days to get everything packed up and ready to leave.

Sawmill Sawdust
The sawmill generates a lot of sawdust and we've taken to calling this area the beach. Let us know if you have any creative ideas for a lot of sawdust!

Heated Storage

A month or two ago we took delivery of a rented 40ft high-cube shipping container.

Renting a Shipping Container

We rented a 40ft high cube shipping container for temporary secure, dry storage for our tools and materials while we build our house, finally freeing up our truck bed!

Renting a Shipping Container

It's been immeasurably useful for storing all our tools and materials - things that we were previously transporting back and forth every day in the truck bed. It's also given us room to store things that were previously in an unheated storage unit nearby - things like our solar panels and the foam insulation board that's now part of the solar kiln!

Solar Kiln Build: Part 1 - Floor Assembly

Find our why we decided to build a solar kiln to dry green, rough sawn lumber, and how we built a crazy strong floor assembly for our portable solar kiln.

Solar Kiln Build: Part 1 - Floor Assembly

In fact, it's even big enough that we've been parking the tractor in there each evening - keeping it a little more secure as well as protected from the elements.

But the shipping container, obviously, isn't heated - and that means it's going to freeze this winter. The freezing temperatures mean that condensation could be a real challenge, especially for any expensive tools left inside.

So after much consideration, we've rented a 5x15 heated storage unit nearby. While we'll still leave the tractor and sawmill inside the shipping container this winter, we'll move all our tools and anything else valuable to the heated storage unit where they'll stay safe and warm until we return in spring.

When we moved into our RV 3 years ago, we rented a climate-controlled storage unit in Houston, TX.

Establishing Texas Residency with Escapees RV Club

Despite the nomadic lifestyle of many full-time RVers, everyone in the US must have a home state. Our main reason for driving all the way from California down to Texas was to become Texas residents - to establish Texas as our domicile state.

Establishing Texas Residency with Escapees RV Club

This winter, we're planning to drive down to Texas (without the RV), empty that storage unit and bring everything back here to Vermont. So although 5x15 is larger than we need right now, the extra space is needed to fit everything from our 5x8 unit in Texas.

Canceling our Grapple

You may recall we've mentioned a few times that we ordered a grapple from Everything Attachments for our Kubota L3901 tractor. Well, after some discussion, we've canceled our order.

Kubota L3901 Compact Tractor

We bought a brand new Kubota L3901 4WD HST compact tractor with attachments and accessories for helping build our house.

Kubota L3901 Compact Tractor

We originally placed our order on June 14th, despite an estimated lead time of 14 weeks which meant a delivery date in mid-to-late September. Unfortunately, our order has been delayed again and again. Based on the latest information we have, it probably won't ship until early December, after we've already left Vermont for winter.

To be clear, I'm not blaming Everything Attachments at all. They, like so many other businesses, are struggling with supply chain challenges and unprecedented demand. I also don't feel too bad about canceling the order (they were totally fine about it) - when I spoke to them in late August, our order was about halfway down an order list totalling about 600.

We did consider having them hold our order until spring and ship it once we were back in Vermont, but the delay isn't the only reason we canceled.

The reality is that a grapple would make some tasks with the tractor much easier - carrying logs, moving brush piles, etc. But that's just the thing - it makes them easier, but we can already just about manage with the pallet forks and bucket. Yes, a hydraulic grapple would be easier than forks, but we've learned to manage.

Given the grapple costs over $2,300, that's a lot of money to spend to just make something easier! We can always change our mind later and order a grapple, but for now, our order is canceled.

Wood Chipper

We've talked about wood chipping so much on our blog and YouTube channel that we sometimes joke we're turning into a wood chipping channel!

Wood Chipping with the Vermeer BC900XL

We rented a Vermeer BC900XL brush chipper to see how quickly we could process our slash and log piles - can it really chip 9" logs?

Wood Chipping with the Vermeer BC900XL

But the reality is that wood chipping is a great way to dispose of a lot of our forest waste, and wood chips are really useful for us - for spreading on our trails, mulching areas near the driveway, and allowing to compost for garden projects later.

Plus, with the sawmill, we're starting to produce a ton of offcuts. Sure, some of them we can burn in campfires, but we've already got a lot of firewood for that!

Cutting Firewood

We turned the trees cleared from our driveway construction into enough firewood for a LOT of campfires using a chainsaw, homemade sawbuck and hydraulic log splitter.

Cutting Firewood

Our approach so far has been to wait until we've got lots of chipping to do, then rent the 6" or even the 9" wood chipper from Essex Equipment and churn through as much as we can in a day. These are powerful chippers and this approach does work well, but there are some drawbacks.

First, is cost. Renting the 9" chipper costs well over $200 per day, and the 6" chipper isn't much cheaper.

Second, is convenience. We have to leave our RV around 5:30am to collect the chipper when they open at 7am so we can have it for as long as possible before returning it by 5pm when they close. Plus we are reliant on its availability - we tried to rent it last week, but the soonest they could do was more than a week out. Booking that far out is a gamble on the weather if nothing else!

Third, is intensity. By this I mean that chipping is hard work, and doing nothing but non-stop chipping for a day is tough! We've never been brave enough to try multiple days in a row!

So, we've come up with a new plan. We're going to buy our own wood chipper!

Rather than the tow-behind chippers like we've been renting, we're planning to buy one that connects to the 3-point hitch on our tractor and is powered by the Power Take-Off (PTO) on the back of the tractor too. Specifically, we're looking at the Woodland Mills WC68 - yes, the same company that makes our sawmill.

The Woodland Mills WC68 can chip wood up to 6" diameter, which honestly is perfect for 95% of what we need. Our tractor puts out just over 30hp on the PTO shaft, right in the middle of the specs for that chipper. By comparison, the 6" chipper we've been renting has a 25hp engine and the 9" chipper has a 35hp engine.

We know it won't likely be as powerful as the tow-behind chippers we've been renting, but we won't have to pay to use it each time (other than diesel in the tractor), and we can use it whenever we want, even just for an hour or so. We can always rent the big 9" chipper for a day from time to time if we do have some really big stuff too.

There is a lead time of about 1-2 months at the moment, so we'll order it early next year so it's ready for when we return to Vermont.

Miter Saw

Building a house requires a pretty comprehensive set of tools, and I've learned over the years that having the right tool for the job isn't just more productive, it's also often safer and leads to better quality results.

As I'm sure most people are all too aware of, lots of things are backordered right now - not just grapples and wood chippers!

One tool we know we'll need is a miter saw. I know, a lot can be accomplished with a circular saw but there are situations when a miter saw is a better choice. Specifically, we wanted the Dewalt DHS790 - a 12" sliding double bevel miter saw that's powered by two Flexvolt batteries! Yes, a cordless miter saw!

Dewalt DHS790 Cordless Miter Saw
The Dewalt DHS790 is powered by not one but two Flexvolt batteries!

We've been on the lookout for a little while, but it's been out of stock nationwide. Then, just over a week ago, they suddenly appeared in stock on the Home Depot website. Even though we technically don't need the miter saw just yet, we decided to snag one anyway. It arrived last week and it's a beast! Along with the rolling stand, it weighs in at over 100lbs, and having run a couple of test cuts through it, it's not short on power!

Dewalt Miter Saw Rolling Stand
We bought the miter saw in a bundle with this stand which makes it much easier to move around.

Planning for Power

Another big tool we'll need next year is a table saw. While Dewalt does make a cordless table saw, we're looking to buy the SawStop Jobsite Saw PRO because of its advanced safety features, as well as a sturdier build for things like the fence.

But because it's not cordless, that means we'll need a way to power it. We'll have our RV on-site next year and our RV's inverter is beefy enough to run the table saw.

RV Electrical Upgrade: Part 2 – Battle Born Lithium Batteries & Victron Inverter

In Part 2 of our series on upgrading the electrical system in our RV, we're going to be jumping straight in with the biggest components - the Battle Born Lithium batteries and a new Victron MultiPlus inverter / charger . We'll also be laying the groundwork needed for installing the remainder of the system later on in the series too.

RV Electrical Upgrade: Part 2 – Battle Born Lithium Batteries & Victron Inverter

Not for very long though, as even with 400Ah of Battle Born lithium batteries, we don't have any solar on the RV any more!

Replacing our RV Roof

After discovering mold in our RV roof, we had the entire roof replaced. We learned what caused the mold and made some modifications to help stop it happening again.

Replacing our RV Roof

Which opens up the broader question of how we're going to get power on the property until we have the electric utilities hooked up.

Well, the reality is we're going to need a generator. After more than 3 years on the road, we've prided ourselves on being able to live off-grid, powered by the sun and never owning a generator.

Our Perfect Off-Grid RV Solar System

Find out how we upgraded our RV with Lithium batteries, solar panels, an inverter and more so we could camp off-grid in comfort!

Our Perfect Off-Grid RV Solar System

But, we're also realists. We'd need a lot of solar to be fully off-grid in a forest in Vermont in spring next year, not to mention the power to build a house!

So the question is, which generator should we buy? Ideally we want something relatively quiet, small and portable so that we can take it with us when we go RVing (we haven't decided what to do with solar on the RV yet). But it also needs to be powerful enough to run the table saw.

If you have a recommendation for a generator, please let us know! Leave us a comment below or send us an email. In particular, if anyone has a small (~1,600W) portable inverter generator and a table saw and can confirm it works, I'd love to hear from you!

Coffee Upgrade

OK, now for something a little lighter!

Being a Brit, I grew up drinking a lot more tea than coffee. But over the last few years I've been steadily transitioning, and trying to up my coffee game at the same time.

The biggest change was a few years ago, migrating from instant coffee (yes, that's how most people drink coffee at home in the UK) to "real" coffee - using pre-ground coffee in our Clever Dripper.

Clever Dripper Coffee Maker

An amazing cup of coffee with no electricity, no expensive pods and it's easy to clean. The Clever Dripper is the perfect boondocking coffee maker!

Clever Dripper Coffee Maker

This year I've been experimenting with grinding my own coffee beans.

My first attempt was using a manual burr grinder. This worked well, but was slooooow - several minutes of cranking the handle to grind enough for one cup.

Things improved when I realized that the shaft on the manual grinder fits the clutch on my cordless drill. Although it's not much quicker (you want to keep the speed low to avoid excessive heat), it's a lot less work!

Having learned to enjoy freshly ground coffee, I decided I wanted a proper electric coffee grinder. The problem is a distinct lack of space in our RV!

So last week, I took a bit of a gamble and bought a cordless electric coffee grinder! I can keep it in a cupboard when it's not in use, and there are no cables to worry about. It charges via USB-C and the battery life seems pretty good - I've not had to recharge it yet!

As for the quality, I'm really impressed! I'm sure the purists out there will reject it for not being a burr grinder and leaving the coffee unevenly ground. I'm happy to say I haven't reached that level of coffee connoisseuring yet, and with 10 seconds of grinding it makes a very nice cup of coffee!

And since it's really just a small blender, it can be used for other things too - mixing spices or even making a small portion of marinade as we used it for yesterday.

First Snow

While milling at the property a week or two ago we had our first few snowflakes. It was too warm for them to settle and it only lasted a few minutes, but it was a good reminder that winter is on its way.

Over the weekend, we had some more substantial snow fall, including a good storm on Saturday night that dropped a couple of inches up on the mountains. Compared to the reds and oranges in fall just a few weeks ago, the landscape is starkly different - but still absolutely beautiful. The snow also made the roads a little more treacherous, especially up on the mountain passes.

Vermont First Snow 2021
The roads were wet and icy in places, but the views were stunning!

Anyway, that's about it for this update. It feels very busy right now. We're trying to get as much milling done as possible, but also get ready to hit the road in just over 2 weeks time - we still don't know where we're going to spend the winter, but somewhere warmer than here!

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