An Introduction to Charcoal




‘Charcoal by the bushel, charcoal by the peck, charcoal by the frying pan, or anyway you lek!’

“It was an era of charcoal and a time of disappearing trees”

Oh the wonderful things you can find at secondhand stores. My mom was once at a used goods store, and knowing my love for history, bought me a book called A Reverence for Wood, by Eric Sloane, © 1965. It had a price tag of $1, half of its original price of $2. I started reading the book, and was intrigued by the wast variety of wood related subjects covered in this compact but dense manuscript. One of the things that caught my attention was the portion written on the charcoal makers of old.

‘The charcoal burners were always a strange breed, living a lonely life in the forest, almost like wild beasts.’

Charcoal was used widely for a great number of applications. It was utilized for making Iron long before coal was widely employed for the purpose, but it was also used to store meat, make printing ink, gunpowder, and medicines, brush teeth, and even purify water. As you could imagine, something with such a wide variety of possibilities really piqued my interest.

‘At its best, the job of making charcoal was not for any normal human being. The time required for charring a small mound varied from one to two weeks, but with mounds of wood thirty feet or more round, a month was average. During that time, through every kind of weather, the maker of charcoal lived with his mound, sleeping only in dozes for fear a flame might start and explode into a full fire which would demolish the mound.’

Now, if you don’t know what it is already, I’ll try to explain charcoal really quickly.  *Stay tuned to this blog, and I’ll likely post something more detailed about the science of charcoal later on.* Charcoal is different from ashes, which is the grey/black stuff found after a fire dies. I like to think of charcoal as wood that has burned as much as it can without actually breaking down. You’ll see in my instructions below, that all the flammable gasses from the wood burn, but it burns outside of the container and doesn’t break down the wood, leaving it charred, not burnt.

Instructions for homemade charcoal:

You’ll need a metal can and its matching metal lid (any size is great, but the bigger it is, the more charcoal it makes, and the longer it takes) and a bunch of sticks, preferably all the same kind.

Cram the can full of as much wood as you can fit, and before placing the lid on top, poke a small hole in it (the lid). Close the box tightly, and put it in your fire pit with the lid facing upwards. Build a fire around the tin, and keep it going as hot as possible. In a couple minutes you’ll see a small flame pop up out of the hole in the lid. This flame is all the gasses from the wood. As soon as this flame goes out, you can let the fire die down, and once cooled, your charcoal is done. It may take an hour or two, depending on the size of the tin.

This is a fun and interesting project, that costs almost nothing, and is easy to do. And to find out what kinds of wood are best for different purposes, the internet is your friend.

Also, if you try this and use it for something cool, let me know in the comments below.


One final note:  I am interested in finding out the old method of making charcoal in huge mounds covered with sod and dirt.  If you know anyone with information about the old methods of doing it who would be willing to share what they know, please let me know by commenting below.




Water Boiling Over the Fire

Bottle Boiling

You’re lost in the middle of nowhere. You have a source of water but no suitable container with which to boil it in. You need to purify your water, but how? Here are a couple cool alternative water boiling techniques that actually work!

#1. Plastic Bottle Method:

If you’re in a situation where you have to boil water and don’t have a metal container to boil it in, this is a great option. Since plastic water bottles are common even as litter on the side of many trails, there’s a good chance you might be able to find one on the ground if you don’t have one with you. Simply fill the bottle with water, take the lid of, and suspend it above the fire. It’s crazy, but it does work. It won’t take long to boil, then let it simmer for about 10 minutes if you’re trying to purify it. As long as water is touching the plastic on the inside it won’t melt. Some plastics release chemicals faster when heated, so this method isn’t recommended for regular use unless you need to. Try it out at your next campfire, and have fun!

#2. Heated Rock Method:

Start by finding 10-20 dry stones that will fit in your water vessel. I say dry, because if you choose rocks from a riverbed or wet area, the rocks may have absorbed water, which, when heated could result in an explosion (which you don’t want). Put all the stones in the centre of your fire, and maintain the fire for about 30 minutes with the rocks inside it. After this time, take a couple of sticks to use as tongs, and very carefully take the rocks out of the fire, blow off the ashes, and place in your water. Do this with all your stones, and pretty soon your water should be boiling. KEEP YOUR TOES AND FINGERS AWAY FROM THE ROCKS! These rocks when heated like this can be over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit (about 530 degrees Celsius)! Using this method you can boil water in many different types of containers that can’t be put over a fire, such as wood.  Here’s a great video on how to correctly do the heated rock technique.

Have fun trying out both of these out, but remember to be careful, because you’re dealing with very hot stuff!


jungle stripWhat is a diorama? I didn’t know until a few weeks ago when we were visiting some friends and I had the opportunity to make my own. A diorama is basically a three dimensional model of a landscape, which can include trees, rocks, hills, sand, water, roads, people, cars, etc…

Our friends had recently learned how to make them, and while we were visiting they showed us how. I’ll give you a quick description of how I made mine, and then you can research more detailed instructions elsewhere.

I started by taking a thin sheet of plywood, and drawing out where the hills and elevations would be (a bit like the way a topo map looks). I then cut out different layers for the hills out of styrofoam, and used toothpicks and glue to fasten them on to the base to form mountains. You can get large quantities of hard foam inexpensively from a hardware store.

The next step was to tightly cover the whole landscape (except rocks and cliffs) in burlap. I used a glue gun and my fingers to press it into corners and attach it. When the hot glue was dry, I painted the whole thing in a generous coat of white glue.

Once that glue dried, I painted it. I did grey on rocky areas, and brown on the forest floor and ground. Then I sprinkled ‘grass’ dust on the areas where grass would grow. This powder gives the impression of grass or moss on a miniature landscape. I sprayed that with hairspray, which helps stick everything down to the burlap.

After that I took tree fluff and rocks and glued them to make a jungle/forest landscape, as I was making a missionary jungle airstrip, so I had mountains on either side, with a flattish grassy area running down the centre.

After all the finishing touches, I sprayed again with hairspray (which has many more uses other than just on hair, including making a mini compact flamethrower).

Note the painted burlap and hard foam visible in this shot from the side

That’s it! You can research more detailed instructions online, and search for pictures to inspire you. Remember, you can also save a lot of money by improvising cheap things instead of using the recommended modelling materials, for example using scent free kitty-litter instead of packaged rocks.

Here’s a few more pictures of my diorama.

The view from the cockpit of an approaching bush plane.

We had fun making these together, and they all turned out pretty nice.  Below are some pictures of some of the dioramas that the others made.


The Legend of the Stuffy Box

Stuffy BoxFor my twelfth birthday several years ago, my Grandpa Ross (who was a scout with the 30th troop in Hamilton) gave me a small box full of many little treasures. When I opened the box I found inside a rolled up ‘scroll’ bound by a birthday ribbon tied in a bow. The Scroll

You could tell it was (supposed to look) old because of the (tea bag) stains and marks all over it ;) I opened up the scroll and inside I read the following:

The Legend Of The ‘Stuffy Box’

What is a ‘Stuffy Box?,’ more common folk might ask … it is the beginning of a long journey.

Every twelve year old boy should have a stuffy box.

What is the origin of the stuffy box? Well, it is a modern day legend, and let me tell you that legends are very difficult to begin. In fact, this may be the only labelled stuffy box known to mankind, so you are at the beginning, Dorian!

The term stuffy box comes from your Great Grandpa Lloyd. When your Grandpa, Ross, was a boy, he enjoyed rummaging through his Dad’s little boxes that could be found in our shed. They could contain almost anything …. Screws, bolts, springs, washers, pieces of electric cord, broken pieces of plastic from a curtain rod, or whatever.

The great thing about Great Grandpa Lloyd is that he had a lot of stuffy boxes … you could find several in the shed, a couple in his personal desk, some near his easel and paint, easily one in the washroom, and on and on it goes. He is the true founder of the stuffy box movement.

You are now ready to begin your stuffy box journey. Dorian. Do so with honour and pride!

There are things about a stuffy box you should know. First, it can never be made of new material. It must always come from a pre-existing purpose. In your case, this stuffy box was a pre-existing wine box. The lid had to be reversed and many coats of Varathane were applied by your Grandma. Special wood letters were applied to make ownership unmistakable.

Second, the wise care of a stuffy box includes having one place to keep it where it never moves.

Third, it’s preferred if it gets scuffed and chaffed a bit. You want it to look rough and rustic. It’s a working man’s treasure box … in it you can keep anything you want … a favourite screw driver, coins, stamps, nuts and bolts, candy, a pocket knife, whatever. Odd stuff.

It’s not really a secret box … that is the stuff of another legend. It is more a place to put stuff when you don’t know where to put stuff.

Every few years it’s a good idea to add another stuffy box to your collection. It doesn’t have to look the same, or even be labeled … it just needs to be a good container for stuff. Make the year ahead be full of good stuff, Dorian. Collect good stuff. Do good stuff.


Grandpa Ross.

I have shared this letter with you so that you can begin your own stuffy box journey.  Please ‘Do so, with honour and pride!’

Hawker Fury

FuryWith two forward firing 7.7 mm machine guns and a top speed of 333 km/h, the Hawker Fury packed a punch for anyone that got in its way.

This fast biplane interceptor fighter was created in 1927, and was used throughout the interwar years until larger more powerful monoplane fighters started appearing on the scene.  One of these monoplane fighters, the Hawker Hurricane, was based on the Fury, but with a more powerful engine, enclosed cockpit, retractable landing gear, and many more modifications.

The Hawker Fury was manned by one pilot, and was the first British fighter capable of surpassing 200 mph (322 km/h). The sleek strait lines of its fuselage make it look fast even if it’s not flying.  Despite the performance of this airplane, it never received a production contract and only a total of 275 were made.  Nevertheless, the Fury was an important step towards providing the Allies with one of their most effective fighters during WWII, the Hawker Hurricane.

For further reading check out these sites:

Aviation History

Military Factory

Here are some watercolour paintings – from the pilot’s view – of strafing a train on the ground.  The spray of white dots are machine gun bullets.  A good pilot will first take out the engine, and then the rest are easy because the train stops moving.  These paintings where inspired after I watched some real gun-camera footage from the cameras in the wings of WWII fighters.Air to Ground Attack


Here is another picture of the 1/72 scale Hawker Fury model I recently finished assembling.




A Dream Come True

IMG_0580.JPGWhen I first started learning to unicycle (in February 2016) my only goal was to be able to ride consistently.  After visiting my Great Uncle David in Toronto – who owns a collection of unicycles of various sizes and descriptions – and trying out some of his unicycles I began to realize how many possibilities there are with unicycling. I tried his five foot tall ‘giraffe,’ and the big ‘36er’ which has a wheel diameter of 3’. You can get going really fast on the 36er, so once you get one of those you don’t ever have to ride a bike again, unless of course, you want to…

Later that summer, after I was feeling more comfortable on my 20” trainer, I decided I was ready for an upgrade of some sort. The only one I found that was relatively within my price range was a used five foot tall giraffe that was a 2 hour drive away, and not on the way to anywhere I or my family really ever goes. I was also a little hesitant to pay the price they where asking, as I didn’t know what shape the unicycle was in. I was about to buy it, but prayed first.

I decided to wait a little longer, and literally the next day I found another ad in Toronto for a giraffe that was half the price of the other one, and it came with another 20” trainer as well! The seller was just trying to get rid of them. And, since I know people who go to Toronto fairly often, this was the perfect opportunity. My very kind Uncle David generously went out of his way to pick it up for me, and my Dad later picked it up while in Toronto for another reason.

Dad got back late, and the next morning told me to go look in the back of the van. I opened the van door, and pulled out a Norco Giraffe and a 20” trainer. I found that neither of them needed a new tube despite the seller saying they did, so I was able to start riding the giraffe right away. The whole story is an example of how God loves to give us good things. We can learn to wait on the LORD for some things instead of trying to figure out everything by ourselves. As the bible says:

Delight yourself also in the LORD: and he shall give you the desires of your heart.

That summer I posted a WANTED: UNICYCLES ad online, and started buying used unicycles, and selling some of them to friends after I had taught them how to ride. I was able to find a 24” uni (unicycle), which was fun because you can go a little faster than on a 20” uni (larger diameter = larger circumference = more SPEED).

Ever since I had ridden Uncle David’s 36er in Toronto, I had dreamed of getting one of my own. 36ers just fly! A 36er’s wheel is large enough that it is almost as fast as a bike. I looked all over Canada and the US for a used or new 36er at a good price, but could hardly find any that where affordable, or located somewhere I would be able to pick it up. I looked on UDC, Creigslist, Kijiji, and even considered buying all the components and building my own (which would have been pretty cool, but was also pretty expensive). I really wanted to get one but just couldn’t seem to find one that would be the right fit, so I talked to the LORD about it.

One day in March (of 2017) I was (half jokingly) trying to convince my Mom to buy one for me. She told me to talk to Jesus about it, because he loves to give us good things.

Literally ten minutes later I got an email from a guy named ‘Mike’ who was replying to the wanted ad for unicycles I had posted months ago. I could hardly believe my eyes as I read the message. He was selling his Qu-Ax 36er with some KH accesories on it, and it was for less than any of the unicycles I had previously looked at. And, it was only a 30 minute drive from my place!

I took this as a clear sign from God that this was the unicycle for me, and in less than two hours I was back home inspecting my very own 36er! After tinkering around and changing a few things on it, the next day I was happily riding around the tennis court. It was amazing to realize that God had just provided something I had been looking for for the past year. God loves to make dreams realities for his children, and for me, He had just made a Dream Come True.

Avro Lancaster

Lanc Painting.jpgThe Avro Lancaster was the best night heavy bomber in WWII, and is the most famous of the RAF (Royal Air Force) heavy bombers.  It was born after the twin engine Manchester proved a failure because of the inadequacy of its Rolls-Royce Vulture engines. The designs for the Manchester were changed; two more engines were added, the wingspan was increased (first from 80 ft to 90 ft, and then to 102 ft), as well as several other modifications.  Thus, the Lancaster was created, with the first one flying in January of 1941.

Lancasters continued to be modified throughout the war, and many versions were made, each with a few small differences. You may have heard, for example, of the famous ‘Dambusters’ who used modified Lancasters to skip ‘bouncing bombs’ into dams in Germany.  After the war they were also modified for many civilian and experimental jobs as well.

I’m going to describe the Avro Lancaster Mk. I.  Although other versions had slight changes made, this is the basic design of the Lancasters:

The Avro Lancaster Mk. I had eight 7.7-mm machine guns, and a crew of seven. It had two guns in the nose turret, two in the dorsal (upper) turret, and four in the tail turret. The Mk. II had a couple more machine guns in a ventral (lower) turret, but this was not implemented in the majority of the ‘Lancs’, and so did not prevent hundreds of airmen’s lives from being lost to upward firing enemy night-fighters.  The Mk. I could carry a maximum of 8,165 kg (18,000 lb) of bomb load, sometimes including a 1800 kg (4000 lb) – or even larger as the war progressed – ‘Cookie’ bomb as well as many more smaller explosives. This impressive bomb-load capacity was almost equal to the American B-29 Superfortress, even though the Lancaster is a much smaller plane.  It was 21.18 m (69.5 ft) long, and had a wingspan of 31.09 m (102 ft).  It could fly as fast as 394 km/h (245 mph) at sea level, and had a range of up to 3589 km (2230 miles) or slightly less with a full bomb load.  It had an operational ceiling of 6706 m (22,000 ft).

Lancasters were the main force behind the night bombing runs over Europe during WWII, serving with the RAF, RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force), as well as other commonwealth air forces.  They flew over 156,000 bombing sorties and saw service throughout, and well after the war.  In all, Lancasters dropped 618,378 tonnes (that’s over 628,000,000 kilograms!) of bombs on Europe, destroying huge portions of land.

Sadly, almost half of the 7,377 Lancasters ever built were lost in action or accidents. Now only two specimens remain airworthy; one is based in Great Britain and the other in Canada.

Below are some pictures of the Lancaster scale model that I recently finished assembling.




Here are a few more sites where you can read a little more about the Lancaster:

Aviation History

World War II Database

Bomber Command Museum