Who Knew There Was a Use for Trigonometry?

Here’s a little story that you can use when your kid whines that he or she doesn’t need to do their math homework.

This summer I had a dead Big Leaf Maple tree that needed to come down. The previous owners of my house had wrapped a braided metal cord around the trunk and left it there until it garroted the tree and left it standing threatening my dinning room if it should fall in the wrong direction. This was also a great excuse to play with my chainsaw (as if I needed an excuse). In an attempt to do things safely I needed to figure out how tall the tree was to make sure it wasn’t going to land on my new grill, because I would rather spend an hour stubbornly failing at math then spend 30 seconds moving the grill just in case. 

First I measured 25′ out from the base of the tree, because that’s as far as my tape measure goes. Next I downloaded a protractor app on my phone, held it up to my eye and and got the angle from my eye to the top of the tree. Using that information I figured out the other angles and drew out my geometry problem.


I was feeling pretty smug with myself until I realized that I had to figure out 2 triangles now. No problem, I would just remeasure from the ground to the top of the tree and make it easier on myself.


There! Now I had all of the information that I needed to solve this problem and it had only taken me about 10 minutes. Time to solve for ‘X’. 

I was pretty good at geometry back in high school, but it’s been 14 years since I had to solve for ‘X’. I knew that there was a way to find the height of my tree if I knew some angles and at least one side, and I knew that I would have to use trigonometry. I remembered that trigonometry meant that I would need to use sine, cosine, or tangent. Now what the hell do those mean again, and how do I use them to protect my grill?

X=sinX / …no, that’s not it. X=(25 x sin(73) / sin(17)). Now that’s a good looking equation! How do I solve that? Duh! By using an online graphing calculator. My tree is 17.598651 feet tall. That’s not right. At this point I was slightly regretting programming my graphing calculator with games in high school.

I eventually texted my brother in-law who does math for a living. Instead of solving for ‘X’ he texted back another equation that I also couldn’t solve.

I finally gave up, moved the damn grill and cut down the tree. It would have hit the grill.

That was the end of that. I put it behind me in a flurry of cutting, splitting, and stacking rounds (I love splitting wood). Now the rainy season is upon us and I need to build a temporary shelter for my woodpile. I want the roof to slope to help shed water and I’d like to cut the uprights at the proper angles to be flush with the slopped roof. That means that I have another right triangle to deal with. This is twice in the same year. I guess that means that I should actually sit down and re-learn trigonometry.  


What’s in Your Toolbox?

I have put a lot of thought into the tools that live in my toolbox. These are the most versatile, and most often used tools in my arsenal. I was curious what other handy people carry in their toolboxes, so I did some perusing on the web to see what experts suggested. I was surprised, almost everyone mentioned large tools like handsaws and screw guns to carry around all the time. One person said he carries a 60 lb toolbox wherever he goes. This is too much for me to lug around for average household tasks. I own a Vermont American toolbox that measures 15″ x 4″ x 3″. Fully loaded it weighs less than 30 lbs and I rarely have to visit the garage for additional tools.



Claw Hammer: A versatile tool, good for both, construction and destruction.

Screwdrivers: 1 medium philips, 1 medium flat, 1 large flat, and I could probably do without the large flat. It’s rare that I need a different size philips head screwdriver unless I’m taking apart electronics.

Pliers: Needle nose and regular, great for grasping, holding, pulling, pinching, and the regular pliers also act as wire cutters for large gauge wire.

Crescent Wrench: Because I don’t want to carry my socket set everywhere.

Glass Cutter: Not necessary, but I always know where it is.

Nail Set: I don’t use it often, but again, it’s small and I know where it is.

Wire Stripers: Have you ever tried stripping wires without this tool? I have and it is not easy. I love my wire strippers. They also cut, crimp, and gauge wire.

Garden Wire: Someone once told me, “If it can’t be fixed with wire and pantyhose, it can’t be fixed.” Half of this statement always stuck with me, and the wire has come in very handy.

Washers: If the hole is too big for the screw, add a washer or two.

Paint Can Opener: I could hang it up, but it has a bottle opener on the other end, and sometimes a man requires refreshment while working.

Tape Measure: Duh.

Volt Meter: I’ve been installing a lot of lighting and plugs and switches. This is the fastest way to know if the power is off.

Lighter: I hate frayed rope ends. This way I can quickly seal the ends of cut cords.

Knives: I could get rid of the knife and leave the box cutter, but it’s been in there forever. A box cutter with disposable blades is great for those jobs that dull knives really fast, like cutting insulation.

Ruler: Because my torpedo level is in the mail, and you should always have a straight edge around.

Med Tape: It’s smaller than a roll of duct tape, keeps my natural fibre cord ends from fraying, and any other of the 1000’s of uses for tape.

Tin Snips: These are the newest addition to my toolbox, but I have used them so many times that I will never be without them.

Pencil: In EMT school they taught me, “The shortest pencil is better than the longest memory.”

Random Crap: I love the random crap in the bottom of my toolbox. Screws, eye-hooks, washers, nuts, bolts. because when you need an extra, whatever, it’s there.

What do you keep in your toolbox? Am I missing anything that should really have? Let me know in the comments.

Tool Review: Poulan P3314 Chainsaw


Retail: $109.99

Purchased on sale: $98.00

If you’ve been following me on Twitter @guycraftblog, you’ll know that I’ve been going through some chainsaw woes. I purchased my Poulan P3314 14″ chainsaw a few weeks ago. I was very excited because I have never owned a chainsaw. The weather turned South, so my new saw sat unopened, in the garage for a week. When a nice day came around I opened the box, mixed my fuel and realized I had no chain oil. Who knew you needed chain oil? After one more trip to Lowes I was finally ready to hack apart that pile of logs that have been calling my name for a month.

I followed the starting instructions. Push the primer 6 times. Pull the choke out all the way. Pull the starter cord 5 times. Push the choke in half way. Pull the cord until it starts, and the saw started with that wonderful sound of Springtime. I cut through my first two logs and shut her down to get my next logs in place. That was the last time the damn thing would start.

I tried for 45 minutes to get it started again. Half of the time the pull cord would seize halfway into a pull and be ripped out of my hand, which becomes rather painful after a while. I got it started once or twice only to have it crap out in a matter of seconds. The manual was no help. I’ve never known a trouble shooting guide in a manual to be of any use, but I still look at them. I even went so far as to call customer service. They gave me the address of a local repair shop. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that a tool should have to be taken to a repair shop after one use, (unless I do something really stupid with it.)

I had read reviews of this particular saw before I purchased it. They were split right down the middle. Half of the people loved the saw, and gave it 5 stars, because it started every time and it was so cheap and ran great. The other half hated the saw, and gave it 1 star, because it was hard to start, and had to be taken apart all the time. I just thought that I’d get one of the good ones. Stupid.

In the short amount of time that the saw was working it cut just fine. It was light, but it did vibrate quite a lot which caused my hands to go numb after a few minutes of use. The on/off switch felt cheap and flimsy and it was difficult to get the choke to stay where you put it.

Lowes was kind enough to accept the chainsaw back. I am now the owner of a slightly larger, far more expensive, and much better reviewed 18″ Husqvarna. That review will follow once I get some use out of it.

Maybe someday I will lear the lesson that you get what you pay for, but not likely.

Pros: It’s cheap

Cons: It’s a piece of crap don’t buy it

Poulan P3314 you have earned a 1/2 out of 5 chainsaw rating. Sad.

0.5 Chainsaw

Compost Pile or Pile of Crap?


With two years backlog of Spring cleaning to do in my yard, I have access to A LOT of organic waste. I have plans to grow a veggie garden so I figured I may as well begin a compost pile. It was only after creating a sizable pile that I considered researching the best way to begin composting. I looked at a number of websites and found out that I’m doing okay, not great, but okay.

There are a lot of benefits to composting. It’s good for the environment, it reduces landfill waste, it makes your garbage can lighter. But the benefit that I’m most interested in, it’s free! In the end you get a mound of healthy, rich, black soil for the price of a little effort.

There are a number of ways to start a compost pile, but I found the folks at the University of Illinois provided the most comprehensive starter instructions. They involve thinly layering equal parts organic material, fertilizer, and top soil to get your pile decomposing quickly. The goal is to get a good mixture of nitrogen from things like table scrapes or lawn clippings, and carbon from things like newspaper or dryer lint. I found a great list of compostable materials and whether they provide carbon or nitrogen.

Maintaining the pile once decomposition has begun is as easy as turning the pile into itself about once a month to mix in some air, and keeping the pile slightly moist with occasional watering. The pile can be monitored with a metal rod jammed into the center of it. Pull the rod out every once in a while and touch the end. If it’s warm or hot to the touch, your pile is decomposing nicely.

I think my compost pile will do alright. I have a good variety of both carbon and nitrogen materials in my yard. I didn’t use the nice layering method described in the starter instructions, but I will monitor the internal temperature to make sure that decomposition is occurring. I may have also added some perennial weeds to the pile, but there’s no way I’m picking over the entire thing to pull weeds a second time. I’m just going to cross my fingers and hope I don’t spread a bunch of weeds with my compost next year.


New Tool Review Xtreme Power 12′ Telescoping Extension Ladder

I will be keeping a tally of the tools that I acquire and once I get some good use out of them, I will provide a review of each. First up:

Xtreme Power 12′ Telescoping Extension LadderladderRetail price $225

Purchased from Amazon for $74.50

I had never seen a telescoping ladder until my home inspector used one, it looked so convenient that I knew I needed one. The Xtreme Power is only 34″ tall when totally collapsed, and weighs a grand total of 25 lbs. It’s rated to carry a 300 lb load, so some of you will have to empty those tool belts before climbing. I’ve used it to gain access to my attic, my roof, and to a derelict treehouse that needs to come down. Its compact size and light weight make it perfect for people suffering from a lack of storage space. After some use, I did find one small issue: if you don’t fully extend the ladder, the last few rungs remain collapsed. This creates a small barrier between the last step and the ground. I found myself missing that last step a few times. This could become a safety issue if you are carrying a load while descending it would be easy to misjudge that last step and roll an ankle.

I would not be super thrilled if I had paid retail price for it, but for $75 it’s a great ladder for my needs. I give it 3.5 chainsaws out of 5.

3.5 Chainsaws

PROS: Compact size

CONS: Must be fully extended for safe use

Removing Moss from Your Roof

Living in the moist climate of the Pacific Northwest we have a lot of moss, and much of it is growing on my roof.


My mossy roof before sweeping.

Moss is a nonvascular plant that grows in moist, shady areas and acts like a sponge holding water for long periods of time. It’s important to remove moss from your roof because all of that extra moisture will degrade your roof surface and shorten the lifespan of your roof. Replacing the roof is a big job that you can do yourself, but I would like to wait a few more years before tackling that project.

There are several ways to remove moss from your roof, and some are better than others.


A pressure washer seems like a great idea. It’s a handy tool that could be used to easily blast the moss right off the roof, but the high pressure water will also blast the protective granules off of your shingles, shortening the life of your roof, so what’s the point? My home inspector showed me where the previous owner had used a pressure washer on my roof and exposed the fiberglass layer on some of my shingles. Once again, so we all hear it.


There are a large number of chemical solutions to a mossy roof. These are usually sprayed on, allowed to sit and then you can sweep the dead moss off. The active ingredients in these products range from citric and ascorbic acids to zinc sulfate and ammonium salts. I’m sure that all of these products work very well, however products that begin on your roof end up on the ground where your child, dog, or local wildlife can be exposed to it. There’s also a chance that some of these chemicals can discolor your roof surface, and you still have to climb up on your roof to sweep the dead moss away. I just don’t like the idea of using chemicals if I can avoid them.

I chose simple manual labor with just a ladder and a push broom I solved my moss problem without purchasing anything and I saved myself a trip to my local hardware store. Because moss doesn’t have roots there’s not much holding it onto your roof, and with a little elbow grease you can simply sweep it away. It was suggested to me to use a soft-bristled broom for the sweeping to further protect those shingle granules, but I found that the bristles weren’t firm enough to dislodge the moss.

In less than an hour I had half of my roof swept clean. I would have finished but it began to hail on me. Once your roof is clean, take 5 minutes and clean your gutters. You’re already up there and you have just filled them with moss.


After sweeping my roof.