Brilliant Way to Remove Rock From Soil

Our off-grid homestead has a lot of perks… and a lot of rocks. For most of our homesteading projects, they’ve simply gotten in the way. Now, that’s changed, and it’s all thanks to Jesse.

He recently designed a new tool for us that works to easily and effectively remove rocks from our soil, resulting in valuable fill dirt on our property.

If you’ve been following our adventures for a while, you know we worked way too hard this past fall in an attempt to install our water system before winter. We put an enormous amount of work into it and eventually had to admit defeat once the soil froze and became too hard for us to work it anymore.

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That said, before the soil froze, we had a chance to try our hand at building our own rocky grizzly and in three works… IT . IS. AWESOME.

Now that it’s spring, we’ve made some updates to our rock filter, and we’re using it even more! It’s really earning its keep as a permanent tool on our property.

Why Filter Rocks From Soil?

In the mining world, the process of separating rocks from dirt and debris is fairly essential, so miners rely on a tool called a grizzly to do the hard work for them.

Mining grizzlies are built from steel and essentially work as a big colander to strain out soil from rocks and put them both into neat, usable piles.

how to remove rocks from soil rock removal equipment

Digging trenches for burying our water cisterns left us with piles of rocks and dirt all over the place. We can’t put these rocks back into the trenches because there’s a good chance they could damage the cistern tanks (some of them weigh over 400 pounds!).

In fact, this already happened to our septic system when we were getting it installed. A rock fell and hit it exactly right, causing a huge hole. According to our installers, they’d never seen that happen before, so lucky us. As you can probably imagine, finding a way to avoid this problem again quickly became a high priority.

Buying rock-free backfill is always an option, but paying money for things we can do ourselves go against our mentality of debt-free independence. Check out our expense reports to get an idea of what we do choose to spend our money on.

For this reason, Jesse tried his hand at making his own rock grizzly out of wood scraps and chicken wire, and it actually worked, especially after a few improvements.

soil sifting rocks from soil
Our clean, rock-free soil for backfilling.
Just some of the rocks that we removed from the soil.
Just some of the rocks that we removed from the soil.

Making Our HUGE Rock Filter

For a first attempt at an innovative project, this was surprisingly successful. While there’s already a list of improvement ideas for next time, the fact that this rock grizzly worked at all feels like an awesome achievement.

The actual structure of our rock grizzly was simple. It’s just a 2 by 6 floor plan propped up with posts at a 45-degree angle. Braces spaced six inches apart give the frame structure, and Jesse coated the entire thing with chicken wire to keep big rocks from falling through.

how to separate rocks from dirt

We put our grizzly to work by propping it up and dropping shovelfuls of dirt and rocks onto it from an excavator (here’s what it’s like renting and running construction equipment). Larger rocks rolled to the bottom while dirt sifted through the cracks and formed a nice, neat pile below.

After a few shovelfuls, it was clear we needed to double up on the support, so we added extra braces to make it stronger.

While our grizzly isn’t as great at filtering as professional designs, it’s ideal for our needs. We don’t need a perfect pile of sand without any rocks at all, so this tool worked for us.

The soil ready to be filtered. This already had the large rocks removed with equipment.
The soil ready to be filtered. This already had the large rocks removed with equipment.

At the end of the project, we had a pile of perfect backfill ready to be used, all created by our own self-sufficiency. Best of all, the grizzly was made from materials we already had on hand, and it will be easy to take apart if we want to use them for a different project.

Future Improvements for Our Homemade Grizzly

While we’re overall happy with this project, it’s always good to think about improvements for next time. For example, we now understand why grizzlies on the market are made from steel- our wooden frame really took a beating!

Below are some of our improvement ideas and suggestions for you if you want to make your own grizzly.

  • More Space: Because of the layout of our property, Jesse had a pretty tight space to work in, meaning that swinging the excavator around to access the grizzly wasn’t easy. Next time we’ll plan out our working space better.
  • Stronger Materials: A wood frame worked for our needs because we don’t need this grizzly forever, but it started to break down by the end of the work. We did a great job with the substantial metal bolts in the top frame of the grizzle, but it would have been better to not rely on wood screws for everything else, as they sheared off the wood. We also don’t recommend using chicken wire- it’s just not sturdy enough. Chain link fence would be much more effective.
  • Raised Platform: After a few loads from the excavator, rocks and dirt would cover the bottom of the grizzly and reduce its effectiveness as a strainer. This meant we had to tediously shake it off to get it working again. Raising the platform about two feet would have given the rocks and dirt somewhere to fall, which would have made it far more efficient to use.

Rock Filter Improvements Round One

As it’s now spring time and we’re back to work on our water project, we’ve already done a round of improvements on our giant soil sifter and have created numerous yards of usable, clean backfill! Check it out in this video!

Rock Filter Improvements Round Two

Bonus Tip: Simple Rock Sifter

Looking for a super simple way to sift out a small amount of soil without making a grizzly? You can use a milk crate! They’re sturdy enough to handle rock and will sift out soil in no time.

Simple and Within the Budget – Our Kind of Project

Our DIY grizzly isn’t going to win any design awards, but that’s not the point. What matters to us is that we managed to solve a problem using the tools we already owned and a little ingenuity.

making clean backfill free from rock
Using our freshly-made backfill, free from rocks.

Who cares that it wasn’t perfect? Improvements can be made, but in the meantime, we’ve explored one more way to live out lives of self-sufficiency.

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I am an aspiring homesteader on a journey to become self-sustainable and free. In my past, I've worked corporate jobs to make ends meet and get ahead a little; it didn't make me happy or confident in my future. Since taking the leap to self-employment and living a more simple life, my happiness levels have increased greatly and I've never felt more alive. I finally understand what I want in life and how to get there, and that is what this blog is all about.

Comments

  1. Harry Smith says

    Like your ingenuity with the rock sifter. Not perfect by any means but it works well enough to get the job done. Have been watching your blog and site for a number of months now. Keep up the good work. Good on both of you to be able to stay on course and still love each other.

  2. Moz in Oz says

    I keep looking at that and thinking you really want the supporting frame parts under the things you’re supporting. Yeah, I phrased it that way so it sounds more obvious :)

    I drew you a detailed CAD image using my world-reknowned MS-Paint skillz. It’s mostly just putting the top and bottom cross-pieces horizontally under the longitudinal members rather than across the ends. Especially at the bottom where rocks sliding down hook up on that bit.

    https://s24.postimg.org/ydhh4dq2t/Untitled.png

    You should be able to buy giant wood screws with hex heads that apparently the US calls “lag screws”. You should be able to find those in 1/4″ to 1/2″ shank size fairly easily. Use with washers or the hex head will just drill itself into the timber. They won’t stick in an end grain (nothing will screw effectively into an end grain), but they will be better than the little screws you’re using now. You *must* pre-drill them or you’ll split your timber.

    • MisterM says

      Lag screws split wood ends too easily. Joist hangers are a much better solution. These two need to stop renting the equipment and buy a decent used backhoe with a 4-in-1 bucket. The money they’ve wasted on rental and time is huge.

      And baffling why he didn’t build a ramp to raise up the front tires of the backhoe to make it easier to dump rock over his grizzly. Slow and unsafe to raise a full bucket to max height while on uneven ground.

      Amazed they’ve accomplished so little in the last 18 months. Amateurs in every sense of the word. They’re playing at this – seems more of a means to drag out content for a Youtube channel than actually being serious about building a homestead.

      • says

        Three cheers for a matures MisterM; joy’s in the journey, as they say. We have been putzing at it for three times as long and I wouldn’t trade the experiences for anything…..

        Totally agree with your sentiments about renting equipment. The second big tool we purchased was a backhoe, fabulous decision.

    • Ty Tower says

      Your bolt placement needs changing .When the holes are drilled they should be about 2/3rds the way down from the load direction so the thick section carrys the weight . If placed centrally the timber will split at a much lower force .

  3. Bill Blackburn says

    Hi Guys

    Love watching your videos.

    My Dad has a truck camper with the same type of lights as whats in your guys trailer. He was asking if I knew of some good replacements. I remember Jessie talking about some great replacement lights for your Trailer. Can you remember were you got them?

    Thanks for the help.

    Bill

  4. Jim says

    One enhancement you might consider is to add plywood panels slopping back at the bottom of the frame. These will direct the fill back away from the rocks and any rocks that tumble back won’t be mixed with fill.

    Maybe hinged panels with stops to lift the panels off the ground when moving it.

  5. Germeroth David John says

    I’ve watched a couple dozen of your videos now and have enjoyed following your journey. I’m retired now but you guys are doing something I guess I always wanted to do. I love the way you both work together and your positive attitude toward life. I wish you success in your endeavors.

  6. Archie Rayment says

    Hello to the hard workers, When you are laying any poly pipe you have to un-rolled the bundle by hand to get the twists out other wised you will end up with a bees hive. Also please do not drive over it as it will damage the wall off the pipe. Its going to be very hard trying to control the bundle standing up when you unrolled it but its worth it in the end. We had to do 18 miles of it seven years ago. when coating the ends of the sawn timber with wax how about using a paint brush its a lot easier and not so hard on your wrists young lady. Keep up the good work and keep drinking heaps of water in the hot weather. Thank you

  7. Ed says

    I wondered if you had thought of using all the rock you are sifting out for construction purposes.
    My Grandparents lived in a granite rock root cellar that was on the property when they moved to East Wenatchee there in 1939. There are so many structures you could construct with just mortar mix/cement and all the rocks you have.

    My wife and I enjoy your pages and videos. Keep up the good work.

    Your neighbors to the south

    Ed.

  8. Mrs M says

    The two of you are just so inspiring! Since I discovered you on u tube I have been unable to stop reading and watching!
    We are at early retirement stage(50 &54) and can’t wait to buy our own farm in the next 6 months!!
    We will be (God willing ) also totally debt free! However we won’t be doing the off the grid thing from scratch, we hope to buy a farm already built and off grid.
    I admire you for the effort you are putting in and ur principals and love watching u r progress!!
    I might even do some blogging (having learned from you)
    God bless!

  9. says

    Brilliant! We are at the VERY beginning of our homestead adventure and this tool is a great addition to our knowledge base. Thank you!

  10. JavaMan says

    I have taken a que from you folks this summer. I was planning on getting my 500 sq ft cabin dried in by the end of October this year, but with all the changes going on in my personal life, I have decided that I will simply get as much completed on the underground part as I can (footers and basement walls) – and then finish next spring and summer. While it’s been 10 years I’ve had my property, there’s no sense in beating myself up over one more year!

    Besides, it gives me time to pay off more debt, watch more videos by this couple that I found that are homesteading their place and getting ideas from them!

  11. Rod (in Georgia) says

    If you get to Grizzly 4.0, you might consider installing the cross bracing at an angle so that it will be vertical when the screen is in place . . . the filtered dirt would fall straight through and not accumulate on the cross braces.

    Looks like you found a good solution to rocks in the soil during construction. When your garden is fallow, might be useful to process that soil there to make planting easier.

    Really enjoy your work.

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