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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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