Making space


This was my first day helping out papa on our land this year. A good friend took our kids for the day and we went to work. Papa felled trees while I cleaned up the brush. We burn all the dead wood, roots and limbs which we can not use. The soft wood is put aside to make lumber for our house. We use all the hardwood for heating our home. It was wonderful to finally get my hands dirty. We had so much fun talking about the purpose of this new clearing which is needed for our disposal field. Meanwhile, across our drive was the monster destroying the forest for pulp.


We did take some time to walk through our land. When we clear we select cut leaving trees in place that we want to keep.  When we are done clearing for our needs which includes the house site, gardens and disposal field we will have just over an acre cleared, more than enough to sustain us. So far we have removed enough hardwood to heat our home for 3 years plus some we donated to a neighbor to heat their home. We also have enough softwood from our clearing for the structural components of our house.


We are very careful to respect fellow residence on our land, like this hornets nest. They are a beneficial part of the eco-system we wish to enhance here. They were very busy too.

It was truly a wonderful day being outdoors.


This week on the Mountain

Several days ago a monster once again entered the forest here on the Mountain. A Feller-buncher has started stripping the neighbors forest below our property, an ugly mess is gradually unfolding at our front door. The only thing we can hope for is that the damage won’t be too substantial and regrowth can develop quickly however from our experience we know this is at the best a pipe dream.


In the meantime work continues at the building site. I ordered in a load of sand and moved a pile of gravel up to the house footings in preparation for more concrete work.


Early Sunday morning I began mixing cement, sand and gravel and by 4:00 PM just over 4 yards of concrete was in place, creating the wall that brings the lower section of the footing level with the upper portion. Once this concrete has cured the basement walls can commence.

Finally for those of you that have been patiently awaiting the answer to the question in a previous post  ” What is the most important tool in the shop” 

The answer is the “BROOM” an all to often forgotten item in many shops.  We must remember that a clean organized shop is a reflection of both the creativity and work being done there. One of my favorite shops is The Granville Island Broom Company

Cramped Creativity

I’ve been asked to build custom shelving on many occasions both past and present. This week I was finally able to create a functional piece in the “Dungeon” (aka … the basement work space). Working late hours in every inch of the 96 square feet of workspace, and at many times knee deep in wood shavings from hand planing, I was able to transform some rough pine boards into an appealing little shelf unit.  shelf2

Working in this closet sized space brings to mind the days when I had a much larger workspace and several apprentices. Prior to hiring any apprentice I would ask them one key question. What is the most important tool in the shop? It was a confusing question for every one of them. They would reply with answers like … the bandsaw, the jointer or the tablesaw, etc, etc… all of which are wrong of course. I’d make it simpler for them by telling them it was not a power tool. Who can spot the most important tool in the woodworking shop in the picture below?  If you need a hint I’ll post it in my next entry.


Off-Grid Campaign

In 2002 when Tracey and I envisioned our collaborative business venture (which became Turn A New Leaf)  we never imagined that some day it would be set in the beautiful woods of Cape Breton. Through many trials and tribulations this business venture blossomed and underwent several transitions through the course of time. The most important transition for us was to downsize and leave the hectic pace of city life behind.  Our decision to downsize gave us a chance to focus more emphasis towards raising our children and the time to engage new and better strategies towards a sustainable business.


With a lot of effort and hard work we’ve made some important advances since arriving in Cape Breton 3 Years ago. We reestablished our business here with great success.  I’ve introduced a new line of natural children’s furniture which has had a mind of it’s own and is doing better than we could have imagined. We acquired our own 10 acre paradise last year and we now have a building in place which will soon become the creative workspace for the woodworking aspect of Turn A New Leaf.


We still have many monumental tasks ahead of us and we will take each one in stride. Our most pressing concern now is to move the woodworking shop from the dank basement to the new building. This transition will only be possible if a power source is in place for the necessary tools. We’ve looked at all the options available to us and we have come to the conclusion that an Off- Grid power source will best serve our needs. Our biggest hurdle now is the funding necessary for this endeavor. Up to this point we have never borrowed money (whether personally or for business) and have always lived within the means available to us. Since we do not currently have full funding within our means we have decided on the following campaign. Please follow the link below to learn more.




Firm Foot Hold

After many hours of sculpting and removing soil from the steep building site with the tractor I finally got down to the task of digging trenches for the footing of our house. I hammered and picked into the bedrock creating a stepped trench, wearing off an inch of steel from both the pick axe and mattock in the process.


By Monday (July 15th)  I had the forms in place and ready for the concrete. It ended up being one of the hottest days we’ve had this year, a blistering 35 degrees Celsius. The brutal task of moving, pouring and finishing 7 yards of concrete began at 11:00 AM and was done by 4:30 PM. Liam had come with me and was kept busy running for cold water from our little stream to quench the burning thirst from working in the heat.


With a steel reinforced 12″ x 20″ perimeter footing set into the bedrock our house will definitely have a firm foot hold, not to mention the 4500 PSI concrete used for this footing. Tomorrow the forms come off and the next phase of construction begins. More forms and concrete as I extend the lower portion of the stepped footing to meet the upper section with a stub wall. I’ll make sure to choose a cooler day to mix and pour this batch of concrete though.



Everything in the garden is coming up nicely with the warm damp weather. The humidity and heat over the past few days has made working outside a bit unbearable, especially since it’s necessary to wear long sleeves and pants along with a hoody in most cases to keep the bugs from eating you alive.


We finally received our certificate to “poop” on the mountain this week.  A document that states we can construct and install an onsite sewage disposal system as specified by the Province of Nova Scotia’s Environment Act. Eleven pieces of photocopied paper that cost $1500 and are based on a site evaluation that  took less than 10 minutes. 11 pieces of paper that have delayed all construction and progress at the building site. Now I can finally complete and submit our building plan for the Building Permit.


The reclaimed windows are installed in the shop and I’ve made proper storm doors for the entrance. The doors have a navy blue water base dye applied and were then sealed with a penetrating natural oil varnish. The trim is going up this week once I finish sealing all the frames.


Now we hope the weather will  cooperate as progress on the house commences.

Time keeps on slipping

It’s been a musical week with Kieth Mullins having a house concert at their new place on Hunters Mountain last Friday and Ian Foster having one at a neighbors house in Middle River last night. Both were wonderful and a nice respite from the work and a great chance to mingle with neighbors.

We  have a new addition to the family.  A red lady that boasts having 43 horses packed under her hood along with an antique back blade. Both these will help to speed up progress at the building sight.


With some new draft pins, a new center link, new bolts and pins the back blade is ready for some serious work. My back is feeling better already and the blisters on my hands are slowly disappearing, I hope I don’t turn into a softy.


The garden plot for our neighbor on Hunters Mountain is finally in. Hanna and Liam helped her yesterday, along with the occasional overbearing instructions from me. The rain expected from Hurricane Andria should help everything in the garden sprout up.


Spring is in full swing now and it’s hard to believe that we are fast approaching the second week of June already. Time slips by too fast and several bureaucratic delays have virtually halted work at the building site. In the meantime we can enjoy the wonderful blossoms of late spring and the whirring of June-bugs in the evening air.