Is there an old charcoal iron under that ribbon?

Today I’d like to show off another interesting thrift store find that’s on the list to be fixed up. “Fixed up” is good term since I have no idea how to do this, and restoration implies a plan or expectation of a good result.

So, I believe this is an antique charcoal iron that has been painted to serve as a home décor item. The metal and wooden handle have been painted, and ribbon and fabric has been glued to the iron. Here is a similar, unaltered iron. If you would like to read more about charcoal irons, check out

The rooster at the front of the iron is actually a lever that holds the iron closed. The iron would hold hot coals, allowing it to stay warm and be used longer than previous irons. These were solid and would be heated, and once cool would have to be heated up again. The coals, along with the vents on the side of the iron, kept the iron hot longer.

Of course, it could also be a reproduction. This seems like an odd item to reproduce or fake, but it’s always possible. Either way it’s an interesting piece that I look forward to experimenting on.

How do I remove the paint? I put a thick poultice of dish soap and water on the ribbon for a few hours, trying to dissolve the glue, but it didn’t really work. I tried scratching the paint and ribbon, but it seemed too harsh on the metal.



First eggs from the bantam Sebrights!

Over the weekend we went up to the Smoky Mountains for a car event at Fontana Lodge. If you haven’t been to this area, you should check it out – especially if you are into driving. The Tail of the Dragon and The Cherohala Skyway are both awesome drives, and the Cherohala is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I love this area, but I’m rambling – let’s talk chickens.
Upon getting home, I visited with the dogs and then walked out to check on the chickens, and was greeted with 3 fresh eggs – the first they have laid since I got them a couple of months ago. The three brown eggs are bantam eggs, the large white egg is from the grocery, and is about 3x or 4x the bantam size.
Silver Sebrights aren’t known as great layers, so we aren’t sure how many/how often to expect yet, but three eggs are a good start.

My great grandfathers singletree yoke.

It’s interesting to me how different my dad’s upbringing in West Virginia differs from mine. Though almost everyone had a substantial garden growing up, not many people had livestock. I recall passing a few horses often, and a cow here or there, but had no interaction with them. It seems like that aspect of farming faded away in that part of southern West Virginia, but for dad it was different. He grew up around chickens, cattle, mules and sheep. Occasionally he brings me tools from the farm, like this yoke that belonged to my great grandfather Collins and used on their land in Raleigh County, West Virginia. I’m unsure of it’s age, but my great grandfather lived from 1871-1957.

I believe this is a singletree yoke, probably used behind mules to plow the garden. I haven’t found much information on them, perhaps they aren’t that uncommon, but here are a few videos showing them in action.

Ox logging using a single yoke Highland cattle 2017 02 15

Practicing long-reining and hitching up with a single tree for the first time

And here are the photos of my Great Grandfathers yoke.

Old yoke used on farm in West Virginia.
My great grandfather used this yoke on his farm in West Virginia.

Old yoke used on farm in West Virginia.Detail of old farm yoke.Old yoke used on farm in West Virginia.Detail of damage to end of old yoke.

Thrift store box: old, reproduction, import or just neat?

Posts have been few and far between lately, mostly due to a new job (woot!) and some additional community work I’ve taken on. Luckily, I can work from home often, which thrills me because years of a 1.5 hour one-way commute have left me impatient and grouchy. At least I’m blaming it on the commute.

Either way, the new office is near a couple of my favorite thrift stores. Be prepared for an uptick in “Look what I found!” posts.

Recently I found a small box at the store that has confused me. It’s nothing special, I brought it home because I liked it, but after getting it home I started to look at the construction, which is really different. It could be old, but reproductions and imported items sometimes make the age harder to assess.

I’ve included some pics of the box. What do you think? old, reproduction or import?


Meet Hewie, Dewie & Lewie, our new Silver Sebrights!

It’s been a busy week! Dad is in town, and next week I start a new job, so several projects needed to be completed, one of which is the chicken coop.

Finally! Around two years ago we started researching quail. That idea went through several changes – at one point it had turned into a duck adventure – but finally the confusion cleared and now we have a small coop/run large enough for a handful of bantams.

Pro’s of going with bantams:

  • They are compact – we live in city and on a fairly small lot.
  • Less sound/smell/mess – hopefully, we will see.
  • Will allow me to move the coop closer to the house for easier maintenance.
  • Will get me used to the idea of taking care of animals (other than feeding wild birds and the indoor dogs.)

And the con’s:

  • Expensive for their size, aka not worth the money since they don’t lay eggs often. (Ours aren’t laying yet, and while they will lay less than standard hens, they will give me good experience)
  • Poor layers. (Again, this is more of a con for an established farmer or someone solely wanting the chickens for the eggs)

We ended up bringing home three female Silver Sebrights. Wow they are pretty. We didn’t expect to bring home something so fancy, but I guess most bantams are show birds anyway. They may as well be pretty to look at. Hewie is on the left – she is a bit larger and seems to be the leader. Dewie and Lewie seem to be chill. Dewie is in the middle and has darker plumage. Lewie is on the right.


Here are some notes on Sebrights provided by

The coop is more or less a mix of plans that looked like they would work for our space. We started with a very sturdy, homemade dog house. From there we cut out floors, doors and covered it with 1/2″ hardware cloth. Roosting boxes were made from old plastic milk crates that were cut in half and mounted to the wall.

new chicken coop
The new chicken coop near the end of construction.

The run is made of untreated 2×4’s and is wrapped with a sturdy chicken wire. Since our chickens are close to the house, and securely locked in the coop at night we decided that chicken wire would be ok.  In any other case we would have used the 1/2″ wire on the run as well.

It’s not complete yet, but as we learn more we can tweak it a bit. So far the chickens seem content, and the dogs have not torn the coop down so I consider it a success!

chickens pinterest




Rendering fat for making bird suet.

Earlier this year, a friend offered us several bags of fat from their uncles processed pigs. Being avid birders, we immediately thought of using the fat for suet, and gladly accepted.

As usual, we had more ideas than time, and the suet sat in the freezer for almost a year. Finally we allocated time for the project, and researched suet recipes online. Usually when trying something new, I will look for similar recipes. In my mind, consistency like this means a greater chance of success.  For suet ideas and ingredients, I relied on a several sites.  and The Farmers Almanac will get you started.

My ingredients changed last minute –  over the last few months, I kept scraps of bread, leftover nuts and such to be chopped up and added to the suet. Unfortunately, I moved it from the freezer to the fridge too early and it molded. That went into the trash, and I scanned the kitchen for items to include. The final ingredient list included peanut butter, oats, a standard bird seed mix, and a partial quart bag of West Virginia blackberries.

My tips for ingredients are to make sure everything is dry and similar in size so that your suet will stay together in a single piece.  In the first batch, I added berries that were too wet, which caused the suet to crumble, which is messy, and will lead to the suet falling from your feeder.

You need to have your ingredients ready before you render your fat, as you will need to add it to the warm fat so it can be molded into the size and shape you desire.  We tried 2 forms for the completed suet: a mini muffin tin and a 9×9 Pyrex dish (both lined with plastic wrap).

Once your rendered fat is strained and still warm, we added our “good stuff” ingredients, which were berries, oats, and bread – basically everything but the store bought bird seed. Once that was mixed in, I added bird seed in small, half-cup batches, until the mix looked thick and filled with ingredients for the birds. By this time, the mixture had cooled, and I carefully made small balls of suet and flattened each ball in the mini muffin tin. Once that was full, the remainder went into the pyrex dish.

Important note: some recipes say you should render the fat 2 times so it ends up harder. I would recommend this!  I only rendered once, and the result was very soft suet. The mini muffin suet blocks work well, but will melt quickly. I keep them in the freezer until needed. The pyrex dish never got hard, and since its in a large dish it had to be divided into smaller chucks. The pro of having softer suet it that it can be rubbed onto tree bark, which the wood peckers loved, but for general use, I would render twice.

For the process of rendering the fat, which I had never done, I relied on Good Cookery, which has provided an instructional video.

I won’t transcribe the entire rendering process, mostly because I found myself referring to that video while I actually rendered the fat, pausing when needed, to ensure that my product was looking similar.

Here are a few pics of the finished product, with some pics of the fat as it’s rendered.

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Room-temperature suet and water warming on the stove top.
Starting off with room temperature suet, with about an inch of water in the pan.
Rendering fat on stove top.
The suet will start to turn slightly translucent as the fat is rendered out.
Fat turns dark as it cooks down.
The fat will turn to a dark golden brown as it cooks down. This is almost done!
Separating rendered fat from cracklings using a collander.
The fat is rendered. Time to separate the fat from the cracklings using a colander.
melted, rendered fat
The melted fat will turn a pale cream color as it cools. This is the time to mix in additional bird foods.
Rendered fat with additional bird treats stirred in.
Now we have added seeds, nuts and blackberries.
Finished bird suet.
Suet was spooned into a plastic wrapped muffin tin to make easy to handle standard pieces.
Finished bird suet waiting to be frozen.
These suet chunks are cool and ready to be stored in the freezer until ready to use.
Fresh bird suet from rendered fat.
Close up of finished suet ball for birds. Use on pinterest.