Green Building Archive


Low-Impact DIY Solutions From Our Publishing Partners

Monday, August 19th, 2013

At Chelsea Green, our mission is to publish books designed to help people live more sustainable, self-sufficient, and ecologically conscious lives. Along with the books that we bring into print, we also partner with publishers and writers around the world and distribute their books throughout the United States.

A new addition to our catalog comes from Green Man Publishing. Author Frank Tozer self-publishes books on plants and their uses. With an abundance of new information on even more crops, The New Vegetable Growers Handbook is the most comprehensive manual on vegetable gardening available. This updated version, like the original, covers the what, when and why of growing common and unique crops, firsthand from Tozer’s gardening expertise.

We are also especially proud to partner with Permanent Publications, a forward thinking publisher in the UK. Like Chelsea Green, Permanent Publications produces innovative books and DVDs, and publishes the influential Permaculture magazine.

Below are the newest additions to our catalog from Permanent Publications.

Looking to eliminate debt and maximize freedom? Compact Living offers design solutions for minimalists, downsizers and small spaces. Embrace what you have, optimize your space and free yourself of clutter with Michael Guerra’s latest book.

After finding himself dissatisfied with conventional life and traveling Europe, Michel Daniek has incorporated solar energy into his daily life. His second edition of Do It Yourself 12 Volt Solar Power will guide you through a sustainable, low-impact, low-cost approach to energy for any home – traditional or off the grid.

With unique recipes, projects and foraging tips for every season, Glennie Kindred reconnects us to the natural world. Letting in the Wild Edges encourages openness to the world around us, by incorporating simplicities of nature into our everyday lives.

The Moneyless Manifesto teaches us how to live more with less. After three years of living without money, Moneyless Man Mark Boyle breaks down his philosophy and experience of breaking free from the constraints of our modern financial system and living a truly sustainable life.

Kemp has become an expert on growing food in small spaces by feeding herself from her tiny balcony garden. With low-impact and high-subsistence standards, Permaculture in Pots provides the power and know-how to grow your own food even in the smallest of spaces.

The updated and revised edition of The Woodland Way is an alternative approach to healthy and diverse woodland management. Ben Law is creating a woodland renaissance in the UK, using permaculture woodlands for the betterment of community, environment and climate.

DIY: Cut Your Electric Bill and Beat the Heat

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Is your electricity bill rising with the soaring temperatures as you try to stay cool this summer?

By changing a few simple habits you can reduce the heat and your energy costs. Such as: Unplug your electronics when you’re not using them; grill or prepare food instead of cooking with the stove or oven; hang your laundry to dry, draw your drapes during the day – and more.

Already doing these simple things but still sweating?

While these small habitual changes can make a difference, there are deeper, structural changes you can make, too, to make your home more energy efficient. An efficient home is cool in the summer and warm in the winter, and it can help reduce your environmental impact and save you a considerable amount of money.

Jeff Wilson, author of The Greened House Effect, shows you how to slash your energy costs up to 90% in this video, where he does a spray insulation as part of a Deep Energy Retrofit (DER).

Before you rip off your roof and get in over your head, be sure to do a thorough evaluation of your home. A HERS (Home Energy Rating System) test or other energy audit will help you determine where your home is leaking air. Wilson recommends getting an audit because it “will allow you to target the worst perpetrators of energy wasting crimes in your home so that you can concentrate on fixing the big problems first.”

Once you complete your evaluation, you can begin analyzing your problem areas and determine where to start. A full-on DER may not be for every home, but there may be some areas of your home where you can significantly improve your energy efficiency.

Get started by reading the excerpt on Designing Your Deep Energy Retrofit from The Greened House Effect below.

Excerpt: Designing a DER by Chelsea Green Publishing

New from our Publishing Partners

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Food. Water. Energy. Raw materials. Resources are limited and in high demand. Cultivating the ability to harness, reuse, and replenish is essential to sustaining a healthy planet.

Since 1984, Chelsea Green has been the go-to publisher for people and communities seeking sustainable solutions to systemic problems. Along with our own authors and books, we are proud to promote and feature books produced by like-minded, forward-thinking writers and publishers from around the world.

Whether they’re cooking up delicious local and seasonal foods, conserving woodlands, or collecting rainwater, our publishing partners offer the same quality, hands-on advice Chelsea Green is known to publish. Below are a few of the most recent books we’ve added to our catalog; more will be arriving in the coming weeks.

– –

Farm-Fresh and Fast Cover

The makers of nationally best selling From Asparagus to Zucchini have done it again. FairShare CSA Coalition brings us practical culinary techniques and over 300 original recipes to the table with Farm-Fresh and Fast. Menu suggestions, flexible recipes and beautiful photographs and illustrations encourage creativity and inspiration for any cook to make the most of fresh, local produce throughout the seasons.
Living Wood Cover

Mike Abbot takes us along for his green woodworking journey in Living Wood. Now with visuals from his workshop at Brookhouse Wood, the fourth edition is a comprehensive guide to developing and managing a woodland facility and setting up a woodland workshop. Tips, projects, instructions and resources abound to get you started on your own green woodworking adventure.
Rainwater Harvesting Vol. 1 Cover

In its second edition, Rainwater Harvesting Vol. 1 provides even more integrated tools and concepts, along with updated illustrations to aid in the design and implementation of sustainable home water-harvesting systems.

Brad Lancaster offers simple, time-tested solutions to making better use of the water falling on properties. The tools and strategies presented have the potential to help homeowners replace nearly all their landscape water use with water derived from onsite sources: rainwater, stormwater runoff, and greywater.” —Water Engineering Australia

Lancaster’s latest project, American Oasis, builds on these techniques on a larger scale to revive and expand the traditions and heritage of water-harvesting in the American Southwest.

Green Your Home with our Building Books: 35% Off

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Hammer? Check. Nails? Check. Straw bale? Cob? Natural paints? Passive solar? Deep Energy Retrofit? Increasingly, homeowners are integrating homes into the natural landscape, building with natural materials or boosting the energy efficiency of an older house as a way to tread lightly on the environment and live more comfortably.

Books for Green Builders: On Sale for 35% Off Until July 3rd

Before you put hammer to nail, we’ve put a selection of our keystone books on sale to inspire you to think about natural building methods for your next green building project.

Happy reading (and building) from the folks at Chelsea Green Publishing!

The Greened House Effect: Renovating Your Home with a Deep Energy Retrofit

 

The Greened House Effect Cover
Retail: $29.95
Discount: $19.47

The Greened House Effect is inspiring, empowering, informative, and entertaining. Jeff Wilson puts a human face on a technical undertaking by relating his family’s Deep Energy Retrofit (DER) story as an adventure drama—with defining moments, ‘learning experiences,’ and palpable joys—interspersed with solid advice about how to carry out one’s own DER. At the same time, Wilson views a single DER in the context of a growing movement that can positively impact our economy, environmental pollution, and national security. The Greened House Effect means a better life, for one family and for the world.”—Carol Venolia, architect, Come Home to Nature, and co-author, Natural Remodeling for the Not-So-Green Housed

Read Ch 1: Why A Deep Energy Retrofit? HERE…. 

The Natural Building Companion: A Comprehensive Guide to Integrative Design and Construction

 

The Natural Building Companion Cover
Includes instructional DVD!
Retail: $59.95
Discount: $38.97

 

The Natural Building Companion is a joy to read. The approach is holistic, the style is generous, and the authors gracefully balance technical details, beautiful spaces, and big ecological questions. This book empowers the reader to make choices that matter—for their own home and for the health of our planet.”—Paul Lacinski, coauthor of Serious Straw Bale 

Learn how to make paint from milk curds —  watch the video HERE…

 

Passive Solar Architecture: Heating, Cooling, Ventilation, Daylighting, and More Using Natural Flows

 

 

Passive Solar Architecture Cover
Retail: $85.00
Discount: $55.25

“If you read just one book on sustainable building, choose Passive Solar Architecture. In this single-volume handbook, authors David A. Bainbridge and Ken Haggard use warmth and wit to give readers a thorough understanding of passive heating and cooling. In an overheated world, where buildings gobble up the biggest share of energy, this book should be required reading for contractors, architects, homeowners and anyone who cares about housing.” —Nicolette Toussaint, architectural designer

 

 

Natural Building Classics and Bestsellers

 

 

The Hand-Sculpted House Cover

Retail: $35.00
Sale: $22.75

Read More The Hand-Sculpted House

Build Your Own Earth Oven Cover

Retail: $17.95
Sale: $11.67

Read More Build Your Own Earth Oven

The Straw Bale House Cover

Retail: $34.95
Sale: $22.72

Read More The Straw Bale House

Natural Building Books: 35% Off Until July 3rd

 

 

A Handmade Life Cover

 Retail: $25.00
Sale: $16.25

Read More A Handmade Life

The Earth-Sheltered House Cover

Retail: $29.95
Sale: $19.47

Read More The Passive Solar House

The Woodland House Cover

Retail: $29.95
Sale: $19.47
The Natural House Lot

The Solar House Cover

Retail: $29.95
Sale: $19.47

Read More The Solar House

The Passive Solar House Cover

Retail: $40.00
Sale: $26.00

Read More The Passive Solar House

The Natural House Cover

Retail: $40.00
Sale: $26.00

The Natural House Lot

 

 

Masonry Heaters Cover

Retail: $39.95
Sale: $25.97

Read More Masonry Heaters

The Book of Masonry Stoves Cover 

Retail: $35.00
Sale: $22.75

Read More What Then Must We Do?

Roundwood Timber Framing Cover

Retail: $39.95
Sale: $25.97

Read More Roundwood Timber Framing

 

 

Serious Straw Bale Cover

Retail: $34.95
Sale: $
22.72

Read More Serious Straw Bale

Cob Builders Handbook Cover

Retail: $23.95
Sale: $15.57

Read More Cob Builders Handbook

The Complete Yurt Handbook Cover

Retail: $21.95
Sale: $
14.27

Read The Complete Yurt Handbook

Stone House Cover

Retail: $34.95
Sale: $22.72

Read More Stone House

The Slate Roof Bible Cover

Retail: $34.95
Sale: $22.72

Read More The Slate Roof Bible

Adobe Homes for All Climates Cover

Retail: $34.95
Sale: $22.72

Read More Adobe Homes for All Climates

Independent Builder Cover

Retail: $40.00
Sale: $26.00

Read More Independent Builder

Living Homes Cover

Retail: $30.00
Sale: $19.50

Read More Living Homes

Energy Free Cover

Retail: $25.00
Sale: $16.25

Read More Farms with a Future

 

Discount codes do not combine with other offers—our books already on sale for example.
Free shipping for orders $100 or more is applied after the discount is applied.

 

The Green Home Renovation Revolution: Save Money, Save the Environment

Monday, June 10th, 2013

High energy bills got you down? Worried about the future of planet Earth? Fear not! Green building expert Jeff Wilson is here to help you save money and the environment this Father’s Day, and beyond.

“Weatherization on steroids” is how Wilson describes the deep energy retrofits (DERs) outlined in his book, The Greened House Effect. Drawing on 25 years of construction experience and the DER of his family’s own 1942 home, Wilson goes beyond the low-hanging fruit such as recycling and changing light bulbs, and instead presents a green renovation plan for homeowners that is both extensive and practical.

“Pay for your deep energy retrofit improvements with the money you’ll save on energy bills and get paid to generate your own energy right at home,” writes Wilson in the book’s introduction. “This grassroots, people-powered solution captures the energy we ‘drop on the ground’ every day to ensure and improve our comfort, health, prosperity, environment, and security in the new energy economy.”

In a readable and engaging narrative, The Greened House Effect offers information on energy-saving techniques, including:

• Superinsulation;
• Air sealing;
• Energy miser appliances;
• Financing your DER;
• Renewable energy generation; and more.

Soon enough, those high energy bills you once worried about will be a thing of the past. And you can feel good about doing something nice for your home, your wallet, and the planet.

“Jeff Wilson has provided an extraordinary service to all of us who are struggling to make our homes more energy-efficient,” writes Sarah Susanka, architect and author of The Not So Big House series. “I know of no other book that takes the reader on such a thoroughly entertaining but equally fact-filled tour of all the options and challenges in making an older home equal to, or better than, new. For anyone who is serious about making their existing home a better custodian of our planet’s resources, The Greened House Effect is a must read.”

The Greened House Effect: Renovating Your Home with a Deep Energy Retrofit is available now and on sale for 35% off.

Read Chapter 1: Why A Deep Energy Retrofit? below.

Chapter 1: Why A Deep Energy Retrofit?

Weekend Project: How to Build Your Own Cheap, Simple Solar Oven

Monday, May 13th, 2013

Want to cook your food for free? By building a simple and affordable solar oven, you can use the power of the sun to slow-cook beans and stews and more.

Spring is the perfect time to build your oven, which will work best during the long days and intense sun of the summer. By my calendar we’re just a month and a week away from the solstice so you better get to work! This step-by-step guide will show you how to build the oven plus some tips on how to use it.

Happy solar cooking!

The following is an excerpt from The Carbon-Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Kick the Fossil-Fuel Habit by Stephen and Rebekah Hren. It has been adapted for the Web. (All drawings are by Rebekah Hren, adapted with permission from Solar Cookers International.)

Simple Box Cooker

Renter friendly.

Project Time: Afternoon.

Cost: Inexpensive ($5–20).

Energy Saved: Low. Cooking’s relatively low energy requirements (4 percent of average energy budget) and solar cooking’s intermittent availability make dependence on at least one other cooking system all but certain.

Ease of Use: Moderate. Cooking can be done only on relatively sunny days and works better in summer than in winter.

Maintenance Level: Medium. How long this solar oven lasts depends on how well you take care of it. If it gets wet repeatedly, it will eventually turn to mush, so bring it inside when it’s not in use.

Skill Levels: Carpentry: Basic.

Materials: Two large, shallow cardboard boxes—the inner box should be at least 18 x 22 inches, preferably just a little bit taller than your pots; the outer box should be a little larger in all dimensions so there is at least 1–2 inches of space between the two boxes when they are nested. You’ll also need corrugated cardboard at least 6 inches longer and wider than the outer box to make the lid; window glass (or Plexiglas) at least 20 x 24 inches and longer and wider than the inner box by 2 to 3 inches; a thin, black metal sheet, sized equal to or slightly smaller than the inner box; 50 feet of aluminum foil; dry plant fibers such as leaves or straw or at least 50 sheets of newspaper, quartered and crumbled; glue silicone caulk; and rigid wire (hanger wire, for instance).

Tools: Paintbrush, utility or other knife, pencil, straightedge.

Caution: Solar cookers, especially parabolic varieties like the CooKit (described next), have the potential to cause retinal damage from the concentrated solar rays. Be careful to avoid looking at the bright reflections from any of these solar cookers.

Construction Steps

Cut the window opening in the outer box. See figure 4.3. Turn the outer box upside down. On its bottom, center the inner box and draw a line around it. Cut out this piece to make a window opening the same size as the inner box. There should be a small rim on all four sides, 2–3 inches wide. On the lid piece— the extra piece of cardboard—center the outer box and trace around it (these are the fold lines). Extend these lines out to the edges of the lid piece. Center the inner box between the fold lines on the lid (that you just drew) and trace around this box as well. Cut only three sides of the inner line, two short sides and one long one. Fold up the resulting flap for the reflector, creating a window frame opening the same size as the inner box.

Adjust the height of boxes, if needed. See figure 4.4 Set a cooking pot next to both boxes. The inner box needs to be just a little taller than your pot. The outer box needs to be just a little taller than the inner box. If the boxes are too tall:

On the inner box make a mark about 1 inch above the top of the pot and draw a fold line at this height straight around the four box walls. Score the fold lines with a blunt edge such as a spoon handle.

On the outer box make a mark about 2 inches above the top of the pot and draw a fold line at this height straight around the four box walls. Score the fold lines with a blunt edge such as a spoon handle.

Cut the corners of both boxes down to the fold lines. Fold the sides outward along the creases.

Trim the inner box flaps. When the walls of the inner box are folded down to the right height (or if you didn’t need any adjustments), trim the flaps to make them as narrow as the small rim around the window opening on the outer box (refer to the first step if necessary).

Join the boxes. See figure 4.5. Turn the outer box right side up, so the window opening and rim are down. Spread glue on the inside of the rim. Turn the inner box upside down and lower it into the outer box, onto the glue. Press the small flaps against the inside of the rim around the window opening to join the two boxes into one double-walled box, now open at the bottom (which should be facing up at this point).

Insulate and seal. Without disturbing the drying glue, carefully spot-glue aluminum foil on all four walls and the underside of the inner box, covering all surfaces between the two boxes. This layer of foil helps insulate the cooker. Lightly fill the gaps between the two boxes with crumpled newspaper, plant fiber, or other insulation. Add a few strips of cardboard and more crumpled newspaper or other insulation on the underside of the inner box (which should be facing up at this point). Close and glue the flaps of the outer box to seal the bottom of the cooker.

Glue foil inside the box and lid. Turn the box right side up. Dilute glue 1:1 with water and, using a paintbrush, spread it thinly on the dull side of sheets of aluminum foil. Press the glued sheets of aluminum foil tightly and smoothly like wallpaper to the inside and rim of the box. A few wrinkles won’t hurt. Set the box aside to dry. Repeating the procedure, glue foil to the underside of the lid flap (the folded-up center part only).

Cut, fold, and glue the corners of the new lid. See figure 4.6. With the lid upside down (foil facing up), make one cut at each of the four lid corners, just to the first fold lines. (The cuts should be parallel to the long side of the lid.) Score all fold lines with a blunt edge and fold along the creases with a straightedge such as a board. Overlap and glue the corners, and secure them with clothespins or clamps until the glue is dry. To make quick clamps, cut cardboard-width slits in a small stack of cardboard pieces.

Insert the window. Spread silicone caulk along the underside edge of the window opening rim (outside the cut edge of the foiled reflector piece), then press the glass in firmly but carefully to make a good seal with the caulk. Let the box and lid dry overnight.

Make an adjustable prop. See figure 4.7. Make small holes in a corner of the lid reflector and the side of lid. Loop string through the holes. Make several notches in a stick and tie the stick at both ends to hold up the reflector and allow angle adjustments.

OR

Bend a sturdy wire at both ends and glue corrugated cardboard strips to the lid and reflector as shown. The wire can be inserted into any of the corrugations for angle adjustment.

Add the black tray and “cook” the cooker. Put the black metal sheet inside the box. (The pots will sit on this light-absorbing sheet.) Put on the lid, with the lid reflector propped open, and aim the cooker toward the sun for several hours to drive out the last bit of moisture and any paint or glue fumes.

Cooking Directions

Put food in dark pots. Use with dark, tight-fitting lids.

Choose a cooking location. Set the cooker on a dry, level surface in direct sunshine away from potential shadows. For best results, solar cooking requires continuous, direct sunshine throughout the cooking period.

Put the pots in the cooker and replace the lid. Put the pots in cooker. If you’re cooking multiple dishes, quicker-cooking items should be placed toward the front of the cooker (opposite the reflector) and slower-cooking items toward the back, where access to sunlight is best. Place the lid on cooker.

Orient the cooker. Orient the cooker according to the details below. Once oriented, the cooker doesn’t need to be moved again during three to four hours of cooking. For longer cooking, or for large quantities of food, reorienting the cooker every couple of hours speeds cooking a little. Food cooks fastest when the shadow created by the cooker is directly behind it.

To cook a noontime meal orient the cooker so that the front side (opposite the reflector) faces easterly, or approximately where the sun will be midmorning. In general, it is good to get the food in early and not worry about it until mealtime. For most dishes you should start cooking by 9 or 10 am.

To cook an evening meal orient the cooker so that the front side faces westerly, or approximately where the sun will be midafternoon. For most dishes, it’s best to start cooking by 1 or 2 pm.

For all-day cooking orient the cooker toward where sun will be at noon or early afternoon. The food will be ready and waiting for the evening meal.

Adjust the reflector. With the adjustable prop, angle the reflector so that maximum sunlight shines on the pots.

Leave the food to cook for several hours or until done. There is no need to stir the food while it is cooking.

Remove the pots. Using pot holders, remove the pots from the cooker. (CAUTION: Pots get very hot.) If you won’t be eating for a couple of hours, you may want to leave the pots in the cooker and close the lid. The insulative properties of the cooker will keep the food warm for a

while.

Enjoy!

Care and Storage

Store your cooker away from rain and animals, preferably indoors. Keep the glass clean.

Green Buildings for a Better World

Monday, May 6th, 2013

To address a warming world and an ever-more-erratic climate, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. Even as awareness of the threats of climate change spreads, the world is becoming more and more industrialized, and more urban every day.

Efficiency is one of the most important concepts to embrace as a would-be planet-saver, and one of the best places to scrimp and save on energy use is in our buildings.

Buildings use a whopping 42% of America’s total energy each year, and a mind-boggling 72% of all electricity generated. That’s more than any other single sector of the economy, and according to the research in RMI’s book Reinventing Fire cutting the wasted energy from buildings could save, get this: $1.4 trillion!

So called “green” buildings come in many forms. The US Green Building Council‘s rating system for buildings, called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED, is the most common, especially for new and large-scale construction. LEED practices look at every aspect of a building, from how much power it takes to air condition to how much construction waste gets recycled, and whether there are bike racks for conscientious commuters.

But let’s say you’re not a major corporation or government. How can you participate in building green?

If you’re in the market for a new home, you can explore LEED rating for new home construction. You can also look into EnergyStar standards which focus more narrowly on the home’s energy efficiency.

You can also investigate a deeper level of green, and look into natural building techniques. Whereas “green” buildings tends to look and act a lot like “normal” buildings, natural buildings can look as if they grew organically out of the earth itself — which is basically true. From timber framing with whole logs, to thick walls made of straw bales and plaster mixed from site soil, and built-in wood-fired heating systems, a natural home can be a beautiful way to build a better world.

If you already own a house, you can still gain a lot from green building practices. There are countless small ways to increase your house’s overall efficiency, from insulating your refrigerator to building a simple outdoor shower heated by the sun.

But if you’re facing any sort of extensive renovation already, you’ll gain the most through the process of a Deep Energy Retrofit (or DER). This is not for the faint of heart — it involves getting into the guts of your old house and tightening things from the foundation to the rooftop. But if you can afford it, a DER will bear fruit for the entire life of your house.

Coming this summer, we’ve a great book to help you master a deep green renovation of your existing house. The Greened House Effect by Jeff Wilson tells the story of his family’s DER. Even better: the Wilsons documented the whole process on video, and you can watch right here! Below is Episode 1 of The Greened House Effect show, and you can find the others on our book page.

Join Chelsea Green Authors at BuildingEnergy

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Buildings use a whopping 42% of America’s total energy each year, and a mind-boggling 72% of all electricity generated. That’s more than any other single sector of the economy, and according to the research in RMI’s book Reinventing Fire cutting the wasted energy from buildings by maximizing efficiency could save, get this: $1.4 trillion!

You can experience the latest in the push for efficient and sustainable buildings yourself. From March 5-7, The Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) brings its annual conference, BuildingEnergy, to the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston, MA. BuildingEnergy is three days of trade show exhibits, live demos, 60 sessions offering cutting-edge information on renewable energy and high-performance building, and 24 intensive workshops.

This is the spot where architects, energy experts, builders, DIYers, and owners come together to keep abreast of the latest options for sustainability, and hear from top speakers and instructors from around the country.

Chelsea Green authors on the scene include:

  • Jacob Deva Racusin (co-author, with Ace McArleton, of The Natural Building Companion and a pioneer in building science for natural design and construction) will present on creating resilient capacity—not just in homes and buildings, but also in communities.
  • John Abrams (author of Companies We Keep and co-founder and CEO of the employee-owned South Mountain Company) will speak about how to build the kind generative economies that can promote sustainability.
  • And all those inspired by Amory Lovin’s and the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Reinventing Fire, a roadmap for getting the nation off oil by 2050, should check out the multiple presentations by Kendra Tupper, a senior RMI consultant focused on deep retrofits of existing buildings, whole building energy analysis, energy efficient HVAC design, and life cycle cost analysis.

To register or find out more, visit www.nesea.org/buildingenergy.

Project: How to Make an Axe

Friday, January 4th, 2013

When it comes to useful DIY projects, I’m sure most of you don’t think, “Gee, I think I’d like to make myself a hatchet today.”

But with some scrap steel, a hacksaw, a file, a drill, a bonfire, a bucket of water and an oven, you can make this simple, hardy, “democratic” axe.

Don’t believe it? Read on!

The following project on how to make a quality broad axe is from A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity by William Coperthwaite.

When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.
—John Ruskin

It is hard to find a good broad hatchet—a small, broad axe with a wide cutting edge beveled on only one side, like a chisel; this special bevel makes it easier to hew to a line.

After forty years of hunting in antiques shops and flea markets, I have found only two broad hatchets that passed muster. To friends who sought one of their own, the outlook was discouraging. They could get one made—if they happened to know a good blacksmith, if they had a good design, and if they could afford the price.

Or you could forge one yourself, but by the time you had learned to make a fine one, you would have become a blacksmith yourself. This is an elite tool.

In Japan, in the Tosa region of the island of Shikoku, I was surprised by the number of blacksmiths. Each village had its smith, and all could make excellent edge tools. It was delightful to see the grace and skill of those smiths. I became friends with one who made a broad hatchet to my specifications. Twenty years went by, and in the interim I had studied many axes and was blending what I had learned into my ideal of a broad hatchet.

A few years ago I carved a pine model and sent it off to my blacksmith friend in Shikoku. Yes, he would make it for me. Two years passed and it did not appear. I assumed the project was forgotten.

While visiting Italy, I came upon an elderly smith who had made axes years ago. I carved another pattern, and he forged the axe. Now, these are far from democratic tools. To get one you first have to design it and then know a smith in Japan or Italy or wherever who can—and is willing to—make an axe from your design.

It was doubtful that the axe from Japan would materialize, and the Italian smith was very old and sick and would probably not make another. A good broad hatchet for students and friends who wanted one was as elusive as ever. And though this axe adventure was exciting, and I had acquired some fine ones, we badly needed to have some inexpensive ones available.

While studying in Switzerland the breakthrough came. The tiny fellow who lives upstairs above my right ear (and works mostly at night) shouted “Eureka!” He presented me with a full-blown design for a democratic axe.

I could hardly wait to get back to my bench. For steel there was an ancient plow point of about the right thickness lying behind the barn. Into the bonfire it went and when glowing red, we heaped ashes over it and let it remain until morning, cooling slowly and releasing its hardness. Next day I reheated and hammered it flat using a handy ledge for an anvil. When it cooled, I drew the pattern on it. Three hours of work at the vise was needed to cut it to shape with a hacksaw and another hour to dress it with files.

For us amateurs in axe making, there are two major difficulties. One of these is forging the eye of the axe—the hole into which the handle is inserted in a conventional axe. This democratic design eliminates the eye. The other difficulty is tempering, or bringing the steel to the correct hardness. Smiths have long been respected for their skill at this magical process of tempering steel, which requires good judgment and much experience to be able to do dependably.

After a good deal of pondering, experimenting, and reading all that I could find on tempering, some of the mystery began to fade. Before tempering, the steel must be hardened by being brought to red heat and then plunged in water. Then it seemed that tempering was merely a matter of temperature control. So we put the axe in an oven set at 475°F for half an hour and let it cool slowly. This worked!

Now, you smiths may object, reminding us that a tool like an axe that gets a blow needs to be soft in the eye to resist breaking. To this charge I plead nolo contendere. However, a broad hatchet is made with a short handle for use on a block, and such hatchets do not undergo the same severity of blows.

For the first time, we now have a democratic axe—an axe that most anyone who wants one can have. (You say you never knew you needed an axe, and I say, very well. Even so, here we have another example of one more democratic tool, which will make design of the next one a little easier, whatever its purpose.)

This experience with the broad hatchet is important for me on several levels. First it has been a exciting adventure all along the way, from learning to appreciate the variations in different forms of such a basic tool, to designing my own which others made, to ultimately making my own. Another level of the adventure is to be able to help others make their own hand axes and in the process gain the confidence that comes from making a tool. This process demonstrates how we can have adventure in a variety of ways: designing, working with the hands, and working with the mind as we carry the concept of democratic things further.

Another value this experience has had for me is the breaking of mental and social barriers, which we need to be able to do if we are to solve our problems and create a decent society that works for all people.

At times the outlook appears very dark. It would seem our problems are insurmountable. As with this little hand axe, I was quite sure that I would never make my own. And yet, without consciously focusing on the problem directly, unconscious forces were at work and discovered a solution. This gives me hope that if we can continue searching and caring and supporting one another—we may be able to find the solution to even our worst problems.

P.S. The broad hatchet from Shikoku finally arrived. It is a veritable gem. Actually, two came—a left- and a righthanded one—polished to a mirror finish and gently wrapped in small white towels.

To Make an Axe:

  1. Trace the pattern on the next page on annealed (temperable) steel, 5/16-thick.
  2. Cut out the axe head with a hacksaw.
  3. Smooth all edges with a file, and file the bevel to make the cutting edge. (For a right-hander, the bevel should be on the right, for a lefty on the left.)
  4. Drill two rivet holes.
  5. The face should be slightly hollowed, like a shallow gouge. To do this, carve a hollow (6 inches long and 1/4 inch deep) in a chopping block. Heat the axe head until it is glowing red, then hammer it into the hollow with the bevel side up.
  6. To harden the steel, heat it to glowing red and plunge it immediately into cold water.
  7. To temper the steel, put the axe head in an oven at 475°F for about twenty minutes and allow to cool slowly.
  8. Carve a handle of hardwood in the form shown in the photograph and rivet it to the axe head. You can customize the handle’s curve and weight to your own preferences.

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
—Henry David Thoreau

WATCH: Greg Pahl’s Sustainably Heated Home: A Fireplace Insert

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Greg Pahl, author of Power from the People, the latest installment in our Community Resilience Guides Series, also wrote Natural Home Heating: The Complete Guide to Renewable Energy Options, which we published in 2003.

The book is a guide to using woodstoves, passive and active solar, biomass, and other natural methods for keeping your nest as toasty as possible. It may be too late for you to prep your home for the winter that’s already here, but perhaps the cold weather and the video below can inspire you to scheme some sustainable heating upgrades for your home in the coming year.

Greg Pahl performed an energy overhaul on his 1950s tract home in northern Vermont. In the process, he transformed a house that was built with no consideration for energy efficiency or sustainability into a naturally heated home using sustainable fuel sources.

In this video, Greg explains the conversion of his decorative living room fireplace—a “smoke alarm tester,” as he puts it—into a usable and efficient home heating appliance. He’ll explain what’s involved in installing one in your own home, saving you money and energy this winter.

This video is part of a series. See also:

If you’re curious about Pahl’s new book on community-based renewable energy systems, and our partnership with the Post Carbon Institute, visit Resilience.org to find out more. For an easy intro to the concepts in Power from the People, you can watch a recent webinar that Pahl led, here.


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