In 2003 I was a struggling young entrepreneur with my own computer business that may as well have been a non-profit, and four small children and a wife I loved but didn't get along with. We got better, but at the time I was a more than a bit overwhelmed. So when I saw the ocean for the first time at a software conference in California it wasn't the vast beauty of it all that got me, it was the Help Wanted sign in the window of the taco stand. In 30 seconds I lived an entire alternate life. None of the people clamoring for my attention had any clue where I had gone. I took the job. Worked at the taco stand. Slept on the beach. Swam in the ocean. Ate Fish Tacos. Watched the sunset. When I died they wrapped me in an enormous tortilla, doused me in sour cream, and rolled me into the ocean. Part of me is still there, floating in the waves, part of the cosmic debris, but most of me shook off the dream and went home to Cleveland and Life. Except every so often I drive past a place I had no idea I was looking for and I have to stop and go back, because I will have found the site for The Next Uncle Mud Taco Stand, a place where my mind can rest gently in the biggest bed of lettuce you have ever imagined.
As I sit here in self quarantine surrounded by my family with good Internet and plenty to eat and (even so blessed) a bit of a whiny attitude, I'm reminded of this experience from a Mud Family trip to Jamaica where nothing seemed to go right with the car, or did the car know better than we did what was needed? If you are going to break down in a bad spot....
Join us for a relaxing (not) drive through the mountains of Jamaica
In Jamaica making cob is a public sport. Everybody wants to know what you are doing. The kids come by on their way home from school and ask to help. They don't want to get their uniforms dirty but they don't want to go home and change because then they will have to do chores. No different from when I was a kid.
Its been really dry in Nine Mile Jamaica this year so the tanks are dry. If you want to get clean after making cob it might involve a bucket.
At the last Oregon Mother Earth News Fair I got my hands on this excellent rocket stove from Africa that uses a small solar panel and battery and fan to gassify small scraps of wood for cooking. I'm making a cheesy egg with a handful of wood chips instead of electric.
The Mud Family got a special treat at the 2020 Texas Mother Earth News Fair where we got to unbox our second Bulgarian Gamera Rocket Heater, the "Tiny" and fire it up with two of its tinyhouse cousins, the camp version of the Liberator from rocketheater.com (tell them Uncle Mud sent you) and our own versatile DIY CottageRocket.
January 2020 was the Mud Family's 4th mud building trip to Natural Mystic Farm in Nine Mile, Jamaica. We're starting to see our work coming together and getting a life of its own between our visits.
What could possibly be more fun than a pizza oven? How about a pizza oven AND a Tandoori Rocket Oven? Check out https://youtu.be/z7_hmwTyW2w to see what we make with it.
Dan from The Grass-Fed Homestead got this great footage of the builds from the 2017 Rocket Mass Heater Jamboree at Permies.com's Wheaton Labs. at minute 8:22 I start talking about the Greenhouse Rocket aka Season Extender, which is one of the three rocket heaters I designed/Built at the Jamboree. Great Fun.
On our way to the Topeka KS Mother Earth News Fair we stopped by to see our friend Sky and see the latest innovations. The Liberator is unique in that it is (as of early 2020) the only UL Listed Rocket Heater sold in the US. It also burns wood scraps or pellets (without needing electricity) and plugs into a thermal mass battery bench to make a Rocket Mass Heater. The video shows a lot of exciting upgrades on the second generation Liberator that improve efficiency (and probably longevity, though the first generation Liberators are still going strong. No burnout has been reported and mine is working great). You can find more at https://www.rocketheater.com/ If you decide to buy one Sky will give you $100 off if you tell him "Uncle Mud Sent Me".
Every so often we invite folks to join us for a weekend to build their own CottageRocket. This is Tim's. He built it to heat the sunroom of his Florida tinyhouse the few weeks of the year that it gets uncomfortably cold. Since this video it even has a dome grill top and pizza stone for baking.
In which we visit with Kirk Mobert at Paul Wheaton's Permies.Com lab in Montana and see how his Cyclone Tiny House Heater is working after one year in service.
This building has a special place in my heart. Most of the build I spent recovering from a heart attack, doped up on Metopirol sitting in a wheelbarrel giving directions to my amazing Mud Sisters as they learned by doing and I learned how to do by sitting on my butt.
Read Lloyd's entry on The Shelter Blog
Read More at Mother Earth News.
Throwback to an article I wrote for Mother Earth News awhile back. Sadly we lost this work of art to a fire. The Phoenix treehouse has since risen in its place. More on that later.
February 2020 was finished off with an epic Mud Family Tour of the southern United States from Texas to North Carolina building Rocket Heaters and teaching cob workshops and meeting up with friends old and new. As we go into anti viral social distancing mode we are looking for silver linings in our clouds and one of them is that we have time to catch up on our posting. We thought we would lead off with this excellent video made by Chris Strathy "The Capable Carpenter" as the Amazing Elaine and I made some cob to rebuild the Cowboy Hot Tub at a fantastic Treehouse workshop.
In 2013 our friend Merlin Jacov bought the "Love Bus" to live in but soon found himself spending more on propane to heat the darn thing in Cleveland winters than he would have spent on the rent he couldn't afford--about $30 per night. He heard how our home made rocket heater had dropped the heating bill for our double-wide from $1000 some months for propane to less than $100 per year for hardwood scraps from the flooring mill down the street. So he brought the bus to us and we fitted her out with a rocket heater made mostly from scrap metal and a DragonHeater cast refractory core. If I were to do it over I would use a 6" core (35,000 btu per hour) instread of a 4" core (20,000 btu per hour and fit at least a couple hundred pounds of cob mass in the upper barrel for longer lasting heat like we do in our newer CottageRockets. Jacov found he could gather enough scrap wood or twigs to heat the bus for the evening in a park or by the side of the road in a matter of minutes. Not having a mass battery like most Rocket Heaters means the bus is quick to heat up but it is also quick to cool down, so he still sleeps in a sleeping bag but his gas mileage didn't suffer any more than it already does from hauling around a big chunk of cob.
Cleaning the paint off your barrels so they don't offgas into the house and make you sick is an important part of building a Rocket Mass Heater. We've done it with a sand blaster (long and messy). We've paid a barrel refurbisher to do it (very nice job but expensive at up to $40 per barrel). We've thrown them in a bonfire (inefficient and dirty but fun, just don't breathe and don't roast marshmallows). We've used an extra lid for the drum we are trying to burn off to make a more efficient "pocket rocket" heater. That works but it doesn't burn all of the paint off evenly. Unless you wrap the barrel in newspaper soaked in clay slip the paint just goes directly into the air, and the basic pocketrocket it doesn't help getting the paint off a drum lid (we use them in some of our designs). Enter the "overage barrel". These are special 60 and 80 gallon barrels one of my suppliers sometimes gets that are used to contain a leaking 50 gallon barrel without opening it to pour its contents into another barrel. So take one of these big barrels and make a pocketrocket out of it. Put three bricks at the bottom to hold your 50 gallon drum. If you want to burn off a lid you can put the lid on top of the bricks, then add three more bricks, then put in your barrel. Size the feed tube length so it sits a couple inches from the bottom of the inside barrel. Add fuel and go. We are finding that the big pocketrocket approach burns the paint off much faster, with less fuel because the outside barrel holds the heat in. The paint fumes also appear to burn up in the hotter environment.
In which we wander around Ray Cirino's home and studio checking out his and his friends' creations including a rocket stove powered pizza oven on a trailer in the shape of a dragon.
The paint on a used barrel is not meant for the high temperatures in a Rocket Mass Heater so you can either slowly poison yourself as it offgasses in the house over the next few months as the you use the heater OR you can clean the paint off. I have found barrel refurbishers who will charge me $40 or so to beadblast the barrel and I must say those look really nice but that's about 4x more than I usually pay for the barrel so most often we end up burning the paint off outside in a bonfire then wire brushing the flaky residue off. Usually it looks like hell and we end up painting the barrel with BBQ paint or stoveblack which looks nice but slightly insulates the barrel so it doesn't radiate heat as well. This time my hosts took an old shop trick and wiped the barrel down with a rag and a little bit of diesel fuel. Looks pretty good
The last day of our Rocket Mass Heater Workshop. Our crew was awesome. We were able to build this in four days instead of five (including prep). Even though it is hot August (the worst time to fire a rocket and get it to draft) AND it is still very very wet our RMH is warming up nicely with a little help from a fan, turning the house into a bit of a sauna.
The crew is going gangbusters on this Rocket Mass Heater. We have the body of the bench and the burn chamber built.
The Rocket Heater is starting to come together. We have laid out the shape of the bench and the burn chamber and now we are laying a cob floor for the stratification chamber (bell) inside the bench that will warm our butts. Watch for Part 3 coming soon
In which we are breaking up the clumps of clay and really crumbly sandstone from the site to make cob. This soil doesn't have much structure. You can actually break the "rocks" by hand and they shatter into sand. If you put them in a cob wall as is they would crumble over time. The good news is there are also chunks of pure clay in this soil and when we break them up everything sticks together marvelously. Watch for part 2 of this video as we build the rocket heater.
We're here with Uncle Mud at the Mother Earth News Fair, learning how to build with mud and straw!Posted by Mother Earth News on Sunday, October 23, 2016
This was a fun video to do. We stepped away from our live demos for a few minutes to go LIVE on Facebook and answer questions. We look forward to seeing you at the Mother Earth News Fair in Topeka again in October.