More uses for alcohol lamps

From last blog alcohol lamps can be used for many things, and burning incense is a great one.

Shown above is some frankincense, a wire screen to hold the incense , alcohol lamp, and some myrrh. Frankincense is reputed to be a calmitive, relaxer, and it smells pretty nice. I burn enough to fill my small room and it’s noticeable for sometime. Wire screen should be made of iron, and I use old window screen. I don’t use aluminum. The myrrh puts out a nice scent too.

And don’t run off and forget that it is burning like I have done.

Workshop alcohol lamp

A handy addition to your workbench is a nice clean-burning alcohol lamp. While a good gallon of denatured alcohol is fairly pricey at $16, it does put out a very clean burning flame with no odor, and a gallon lasts a long time. Other alternatives are cheaper kerosene which burns really nasty and smells bad, and isopropyl or rubbing alcohol, high proof it 90% or so, but it also puts out a strange smell and I don’t like breathing its vapors. So I prefer ethanol, because it burns so cleanly, and also this is something that one can make at home – – A sugar wash with 13 pounds of sugar and some yeast will produce in theory a gallon of good high-quality ethanol. That should run about seven bucks. Of course to use it as fuel you have to distill it, and there are plans on this blog for making a simple solar still to do that. Of course you need a federal permit to distill alcohol for fuel, but I imagine that in times of disaster or long emergencies there would not be much problem doing that.

Back to the lamp. Mine’s glass so I can see the fuel level, it’s fairly lightweight and very portable and quite easy to light. One disadvantage is that it is hard to see the blue flame in bright light, but you can always wave your hand over it to see if it’s on or not. Ha

It’s handy for many things and so far I use it for burning incense, and melting glue sticks without having to plug-in a stupid AC device, softening & shrinking plastics, quick heating the tip of a soldering iron, and here is a little piece on using it to replace the cover of a lithium ion battery.

I have recently gotten into lithium ion batteries, and while they are a lot of fun and a great learning experience they are dangerous. Top left photo shows the battery which has had its insulating ring degraded. The problem is that at the top of the battery the anode and cathode are very close together. If you accidentally shorted them together the battery will suddenly discharge. There’s a danger of it getting hot and even catching on fire. First I stripped off the old plastic outer cover and removed the old bad insulating ring. Next I put on a new cover and a new ring and fired up the alcohol lamp. After a little bit of practice you learn just where the sweet spot is in the flame and by waving the battery over it quickly you can shrink the outer wrapping. Works great.

Using PV solar when the grid goes down?

It is my understanding that when the grid goes down our newer solar PV panels will stop producing electricity. On one hand it makes sense because we don’t want people working on them to get electrocuted, but in the event of a prolonged power outage then what will we do?

Shown is a modified grain grinder running off of a 12 V panel to grind up some freshly roasted coffee beans. The coffee came out not too bad.

I suspect it is possible in the event of a collapse to disassemble those banks of panels remove them from being grid tied, and use them individually off grid to power at least some of our appliances.

Current panel prices are dropping to now under $100 for a 100 W panel. While it is very hard for someone like me on a fixed income to put out thousands of dollars for a PV roof, it is possible to buy a single panel from time to time throughout the year. And no you do not have to put up an expensive array on your roof, you can play with them in your yard off grid and use them to run many small appliances.

I have gathered about a dozen PV panels from various places, and while they are not tied into the grid I am finding that they are very usable. I use them to charge my 12 V lead acid batteries, to recharge my small but growing collection of old used lithium ion batteries, and can even use them directly to power 12 V and 24 V motors.

Below showing modified pasta maker running off a 12v motor and solar panel to make crispy crackers in solar oven. Need more salt…

Using panels direct you can Play with electrolysis, remove rust from old tools, make colloidal silver, in theory plate metals with other metals, and directly run fans, etc. I am working on making an evaporative cooler powered directly by solar panels which will use old computer fans as the air movers. This will include a small 12 V pump to trickle the water on to the cooler pads. It kind of makes sense to power a swamp cooler when the sun is shining, because that is generally when it is hot.

I’m learning how to blog. Woohoo!

Hi, I’m Craig and taking the beginners course for new bloggers from word press.

I want to blog about transitioning away from our wasteful misuses of energy and look for solutions for a less energy intensive new world. The planet uses something like 100 million barrels of oil a day and this number seems to be rising. I do not believe that the center of the earth is a yummy nugget of oil, that oil is a finite resource, and that we have burned through too much of it in the last 100 years. What is scary is that there are no seeming plans in place for when oil gets more expensive and hard to get. I have been playing with solar energy for the last few decades and want to share some of the cool things I have discovered to help us all get off grid and use less of these irreplaceable resources. The sun is free Energy. We need to start using it.

Well that’s my first official blog lesson so I will try to post this and then onto lesson number two. Thank you.

Solar powered coffee roaster

 This will roast a quart of coffee on a lazy Sunny afternoon, and is also good for roasting raw cacao beans,  toasting grains and other yet undiscovered things.   It has to be manually tracked so in other words you have to go out about every 20 minutes and change the position of the reflector. Until I can build a tracking system this seems to work fine for me because generally on a sunny day I am outside anyway.  I  have installed a stop button on the wiring to the motor and this is so that I can stop the basket from turning as you see in the video so that a portion of the beams will quickly toast and blacken.  After a few beans are dark it seems to work more efficiently. 

 While the motor is rated at 24 V DC, it turns far too quickly at that voltage to be doing any good. I am currently running it off of a 3.7 V lithium battery, and have found that for this particular motor it runs at a really good RPM for doing this roasting.  I have used it for quite a while and the lower voltage does not seem to affect the motor at all. It certainly seems possible that you could use other DC motors, like those from an old automobile that roll up the windows or some other DC type motor.  In post collapse times there will certainly be a great abundance of auto motors to scavenge and use. 

 The focal point is quite bright and I highly recommend that if you use it focusing parabolic dish that you get some kind of welder’s goggles or polarized filter to look at it.   Sometimes I forget and it really messes up my eyes. 

 I made the dish reflective by gluing on 2 inch mirrors bought online. Regular carpenters white glue works for this and it seems to hold quite well except every once in a while a mirror will fall out. I just glue it back on. 

 Parabolic dishes are quite ubiquitous and it is easy to make them reflective by gluing on strips of aluminum foil, or mylar, or mirrors which are unfortunately a bit expensive.  They can also be used for starting charcoal briquettes,  making char cloth and charcoal, and even heating up a quart of water to boiling and just over 20 minutes. 

Making CBDs with the Sun

Originally I created this as a photo since I am not well educated on blogging yet. The idea was that this is something you can download as a picture and either print out or copy onto your memory stick survival library for use after peak oil or any sort of emergency or disaster situation . Fortunately I just joined word press and I’m now reading through the material to learn how to blog. Rather than re-write the above I thought it would just be a good idea to paste this photo here.

I’m finding that learning how to blog is kind of like going back to school, and at 70 years old this is quite a challenge. And a lot of work. Thank you.

Experimental solar stills

 The Ft2  cooker and the mini Ft2 testing a new type of solar distiller.


You need a dark glass inner jar as the container for your materials. It fits inside a larger clear glass jar which not only helps contain and concentrate the heat, but also acts as the collector.   Of course you need a top cover otherwise all your good stuff would be lost into the atmosphere. I like to use glass or ceramic as shown by the white bowl setting on the larger collector.


As the concentrated sunlight from the reflectors heats the dark jar  vapors will form  and start collecting as little droplets on the inside of the clear drawer  and top cover.  When the unit gets hot enough these drops will fall to the bottom of the larger jar.  I like to keep the white bowl cover empty until I see moisture gathering. Then I put some water into the bowl and it provides cooling which helps the drops form more quickly. Note that this thing will even continue to work for a while after the sun goes down and this is probably because of the residual heat .


When it cools you remove the inner container jar and then pour out the contents of the larger jar which have collected throughout the day into your Stash.

If you want to just eliminate moisture, then put a top cover on with a hole in it and this will concentrate your solution and allow the vapors to escape into the atmosphere. This works great for desiccating and drying any herbs or plant material that you want to dry.


The three mirrored reflector (Ft2 cooker) is inexpensive, easy to build, and very portable. I prefer glass because of its great reflectivity and the fact that it lasts a very long time unless you accidentally crack or break one of the mirrors. It is always a good idea to put some kind of backing onto the mirror. You can use plywood, or plasticized cardboard, and a little bit of glue. Even if you cracked the mirrors it is still quite usable even though it may not be as aesthetic as you like. Many of my reflectors have cracked mirrors but I am not ashamed of that nor do I think I will have seven years of bad luck. Oh wait, with all the cracked mirrors I may have several lifetimes of bad luck. But anyway it is wonderful to be using free sun energy and playing with something that you don’t have to constantly tend to.

Dangers of parabolic reflectors

There are horror stories about solar reflectors catching things on fire. Even a standard commercial solar box oven is as dangerous as a mirrored parabolic.

The two Sun Ovens (above right) were cooking away on a nice sunny day, and I noticed a warm spot as I walked by. I searched around and finally found it.

It’s pretty easy to see the burn mark. It started on the right and moved toward the left as the sun passed across the sky.

Pretty easy to find the focal point and it gets real hot real quick.

And then I noticed that the two ovens were pointing at a wooden bench in the yard. When I looked closer I saw a little bit of smoke and then found that they were starting the bench on fire. It’s probably a real good thing I was paying attention, because I might’ve burned down the house.

It is always best to put your parabolic‘s away when you are not using them. Somewhere out of the sun or at least turn them upside down so that the sunlight cannot get at them. If you must leave them set up in the yard then make sure they are away from any combustible material. As the sun travels from east to west the reflected image moves from west to east and anything within that focal point is liable to catch fire. Be careful and be safe. Thank you.

Toward a sustainable future

Exploring simple devices that may help us conserve, get off grid, and perhaps save some resources for our kids’ kids.

The more complex a system, the more ways there are for it to break. We have not experienced cascading systems failure. Yet.

Solar cooking is a fast easy and inexpensive way to get off grid and lessen our dependence on fossil fuels. You can buy very good commercial solar box ovens for a couple hundred dollars and with care they will last you many years. You can also make your own for very little money and can use materials for the reflector ranging from cheap aluminum foil to very nice shiny mylar to long-lasting glass mirrors. I prefer mirrors because they have excellent reflectivity and are long lasting as long as you don’t break them.