Tag Archives: building

Free box: growing vegies with salvaged materials

Newly planted seedlings in the salvaged vegie bed.

Living in a rented house, we’ve been slowly, subtly expanding the reach of our potted garden over the under-utilised spaces of the strata. Sophie recently spotted a broken produce crate in hard rubbish, and we thought it was time to set-up a herb and leafies bed in a sunny corner.

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Tools, tools, tools

I’ve been a bit of a sucker for old, hand-powered tools and utensils for a while. At every opportunity, I’ve snapped up rotary egg-beaters and mincers from secondhand shops, and my souvenirs from a trip to West Africa were a sickle and a machete, purchased from tool sellers in the Bamako markets.

Liberty Tools, profiled in the video above is a kind of paradise for those who are excited by mysterious, rusty objects, and in the last couple of weeks, I’ve come upon some other, local vendors for tools. If you’re in Adelaide, check out:

49 Torrens Road, Bowden SA 5007
0417 885 571
Mon-Fri 10.00am-5.00pm
A very impressive collection of old farm and shed tools, as well as kitchen utensils. I was particularly delighted by the presence of scythes, sickles and a comprehensive cross-section of egg-beaters.

Cross Road Collectables
441 Cross Road, Edwardstown SA 5039
Mon-Sat 9.00am-5.00pm
Sun 11.00am-3.00pm
Woah. This place is astonishing, with an array of antiques, tools and kitchen utensils overflowing from the shopfront and spreading, tsunami-like, through the house, the backyard, the carport, the shed. If you like mincers as much as I do, then this place is for you, together with vintage beer bottles, old LPs, comics, saws, soldering irons, souvenir beer steins, you name it really.

Stop By Op Shop
Church of the Trinity, 318 Goodwood Road, Clarence Park SA 5034
Tues-Friday 9.30am-3.30pm
Stop By is conveniently located in a cluster of secondhand and antique shops on Goodwood Road, and while it has a modest collection of goodies, the volunteers are delightful and seem determined to extract as little cash as possible from customers. They’ve recently been receiving tools, and local tradies have already started getting in on the action, regularly checking in for $1.00 chisels and more. Also have great kitchenware and oodles of baby gear. The Salvos have a giant shop across the road too.

There are more, and I’ll share any other discoveries as I come upon them – feel free to share some of your own too!

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Upcycling Pallets: the urban timber source

I’m a long-time admirer of pallets and am regularly delighted by the possibilities they offer for reuse and transformation into other useful objects once their life as a pallet is ended. Likewise, I’m often surprised by the quality of the timber used. I’ve used a red cedar pallet to make a light-weight bike crate, and a couple of years ago used another pallets to bang out an extremely rustic stool. I’ve been pondering some other pallet-based carpentry projects, and have gathered together some inspiration below. It’s especially exciting to see some craftspeople using rough-hewn materials with such elegance. The examples of intelligent reuse are seemingly inexhaustible, so I’ll update this post whenever I have the time and energy!

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How to make a stool from salvaged wood

Inspired by Nina Tolstrup’s book One Block of Wood, and its 15 slick carpentry projects, Jeremy, Innis and I decided to have a bash at the Pallet Stool. Using salvaged wooden pallets, we adapted and belted out a couple of stools in a matter of hours. Due to our breakneck speed and willingness to use our body weight to get results the legs are a bit wonky, but overall they’re more or less stable and bring a robust, post-industrial/Depression-era charm to our living rooms. Apart from the adjust-as-you-go changes we made as a result of having timber of different dimensions to that recommended, the main adaptation we made was to raise the base cross to halfway up the legs, improving the stability and creating the option of a little shelf!


The finished products, given a rough sand and oiled with linseed. Photo by Jeremy


Click here for downloadable instructions on making the stool, from Nina Tolstrup’s design company Studiomama.

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How to host a worm party, (or: making a worm farm that doesn’t incinerate the little beasts every summer)

Last summer in Adelaide seemed, yet again, to reach new heights for backyard devastation. We kept our chickens in shape with plenty of shade, periodic hosings-down and ice-blocks in their water. For worm farms however, it seemed to be pure apocalypse, with the black plastic barrels transforming entire civilisations of megadriles into a foul-smelling puree as the temperature climbed above 45 degrees Celsius.

When we recently visited Nirvana Organic Farm, farmer Deb Cantrill demonstrated her snazzy, lo-fi worm farm: an inground bucket, filled with holes. I remember my pal Jeremy describing a similar contraption as a “worm party”. The bucket, buried to its rim, is filled with food scraps and soil, and wild earthworms are free to come and go through the holes as they please, digging into the treats and redistributing the wealth of their castings into the surrounding garden bed. Because the bucket is buried (and the top can be covered with a terracotta pot), when the temperature goes up, the worms can retreat to the cool beneath the surface.

Unsuspecting cheese buckets, about to be transformed

When Sophie was a cheesemonger, she managed to accumulate an enviable collection of buckets that formerly held olives and cheese. We decided to use some of these to make our own experimental worm farm, and install it in our community garden patch.

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How to build a cold-frame for absolutely nothing

Spring is on it's way!

Spring is on it's way!

A few weeks ago I settled down to look through my seed collection and plot the possibilities for this season. It’s a unique kind of excitement that seed packets fill me with. Despite never quite being game enough to try and grow corn – I understand it demand rich soil and plenty of water – this year I’m eager to give it a go, hoping to grow a Hopi blue corn, and a multicoloured ‘Anasazi’ sweet corn. From my motley collection of paper bags and envelopes, I selected some left-over tomato seeds and foraged seeds from wild fennel plants, and set to building a cold-frame.

Ingredients: old windows, old bricks, a sunward spot

Ingredients: old windows, old bricks, a sunward spot

East elevation: the new coldframe laps up some early morning sun

East elevation: the new coldframe laps up some early morning sun

I found a generally sunny, north-facing wall, and assembled some old bricks into a broad ‘U’-shape, making them wide enough to fit two old windows that Sophie once salvaged from hard rubbish. This structure is intended to work as a miniature greenhouse, catching the warmth of the still-cool sunny days to germinate tomatoes and other joys. As soon as the warm weather arrives, we hope to have strong young seedlings ready to be planted out into the manured ground of the old chicken yard.

Newly seeded trays and punnets promise tigerella, roma and red fig tomatoes

Newly seeded trays and punnets promise tigerella, roma and red fig tomatoes

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Making a Tortilla Press

One of the things that provided endless fascination for me in Mexico and Central America was the creativity and innovation employed to create hand tools and appropriate technologies from available materials. We saw regionally distinct street stoves made from everything from bent sheet metal (Mexico City), adapted oil cans (San Cristobal de las Casas) to customised car wheels (Solola, Guatemala), all employed for the same task of cooking maize cobs (elotes) over coals.

Wooden tortilladora, Mercado San Juan de Dios, Guadalajara, Mexico

Wooden tortilladora, Mercado San Juan de Dios, Guadalajara, Mexico

Steel and wooden tortilladoras in their natural habitat, Mercado San Juan de Dios, Guadalajara, Mexico

Steel and wooden tortilladoras in their natural habitat, Mercado San Juan de Dios, Guadalajara, Mexico

I was particularly taken by the tortilla presses (tortilladoras), usually made from wood or metal, once again with subtle regional variations in design. With a few photos of presses from Guadalajara’s San Juan de Dios market, and some sketches, on returning to Adelaide, I thought I’d try to replicate the concept.

Sketches of tortilladoras, from my Mexican sketchbook

Sketches of tortilladoras, from my Mexican sketchbook

If making your own seems too terrifying for words, then you can get iron tortilladoras from Colorado Joel at Chile Mojo on the Parade, Norwood. They also sell maize flour, and various other Mexican and Southwestern US delicacies. However, you can get maize flour from most respectable bulk foods shops, and of course, experimentation with other, local flours is encouraged.

Una Tortilladora

The tortilladora is a simple concept. It involves:

  1. 1 large, broad piece of timber for the base.
  2. 1 large piece of timber of same width but slightly shorter for the top piece. We’ll call this the “squasher”. These two pieces will be connected by hinges, and your tortilla dough will be squashed between them.
  3. 1 long piece for a handle that can be pulled down to push pieces 1 and 2 flat together.
  4. 2 pieces to attach to the base and to which the handle is bolted. We’ll call these the “supports”.
  5. 1 small piece, same as the width of the base to be the contact point between the handle and the top. We’ll call this the “crossbar”.
  6. 2 hinges with screws.
  7. 6 or 8 extra screws.
  8. 1 long bolt with its nut and 4 washers to hold the handle to the supports.

Have a look at the photo of the completed press and check you can identify all the bits described in the completed version.

Hinge view of the tortilladora

Hinge view of the tortilladora

1. I started by going through my dad’s collection of salvaged timber and found some bits of pine he must’ve picked up off a building site. I cut my base, squasher and crossbar from one piece, and the handle and 2 supports from a narrower beam.

Pre-tortilladora timber: from left, the handle, 2 supports, the squasher, crossbars and base

Pre-tortilladora timber: from left, the handle, 2 supports, the squasher, crossbars and base

2. Then, after a frenzy of sanding and filing the bits into shape I hinged the base and squasher together, and screwed the crossbar into place.

3. From here, I stood the supports upright, and place the handle where it would be bolted in place. Here is where the maths really kicks in: place the handle horizontal so its base is flat against the crossbar. Then measure, do sums or guess where you will drill holes through the supports so the handle is rests in that exact position. Drill the holes in the right spots through the top of both supports and the handle.

4. I stood the supports next to the base to figure out how much to saw out of the bottom of them (check the photo above to see how they’re attached). I cut out a small rectangle from their bases so they half sit on the base. I then attached them to the base with a couple of screws.

5. Now, all you need to do is ease the bolt through your pre-drilled holes and the handle, ensuring that there is a washer between each piece of wood. Screw the nut tight. You might like to wipe off the dust and oil the entire press with olive oil to protect the wood and bring out the colour.

Now, let’s hit the hotplate.

Perfect tortillas every time.

There’s some American dude here who’s decided to make his own video displaying his homemade press and offering a step-by-step guide to the operation of the press.

Here’s a text version of how we do it.

To make maize tortillas, you need:

  • 2 cups of maize flour, or masa lista
  • 1 teaspoon of sea salt
  • 1 1/4 cups warm water (plus perhaps a little bit extra)

1. Combine flour and salt in a bowl and add the warm water. When the mixture is cool enough to touch (which might be immediately) mix with your hands. If the dough is a little dry, add warm water bit by bit until the dough stays together without crumbling.

2. Knead the dough for a couple of minutes, ensuring that there is enough moisture that it doesn’t crumble, and enough flour that it isn’t too sticky.

3. Pinch off the dough and it into smooth, round balls with your hands, covering the other dough to stop it drying out.


4. Now, the tortilladora enters the scene. Open the tortilladora, and lay cling wrap on the inside of the squasher and base (or you could try coating it with lots of flour, although I can’t vouch for its success). In Mexico, we saw people using plastic of about the consistency of a Zip-Lock bag so it can be washed, dried and reused.


5. Place one of your small, unsuspecting balls of dough in the centre of the base.


6. Close the press, and push the handle down.


7. Open the tortilladora, and unpeel the top piece of plastic. Then, pick up the plastic, flip it over so the tortilla rests in your hand and peel the plastic off the tortilla. Then, drop the tortilla into a hot, heavy-based pan or hotplate. We use a well-seasoned cast-iron frying pan and it works well without oil. A bit of olive oil doesn’t hurt from time to time though.

8. Wheat flour tortillas are probably even easier than corn thanks to the magical elasticity of gluten, and there’s no reason why you can try them will all manner of other flours! Mexican cookbooks from your local library are sure to have everything you need.

Post by Joel.


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