Live traps, or box traps as they are sometimes called, are one of the easiest traps to build in your shop or garage. They can be used to catch and relocate nuisance animals, or they can be used to catch food.
The construction of box traps requires minimal tools. A tape measure, a square, a pencil, a saw, a hammer, a drill with a few bits, and a sheet of sand paper are all you need. The building materials needed are an 8 foot long piece of 1” x 10” lumber (actual dimensions are ¾” x 9 ½ “), an 18” by 2 foot piece of ¼ inch hardware cloth, a few nails, 4 small screw-eyes, and some string.
We’ll start out by building the box and door first, and when that’s done we’ll build the trigger and set the trap. Incidentally, the dimensions I’m using here will build a medium size box trap; good for squirrels, rabbits, possums, small coons, feral cats, and (unfortunately) skunks. So let’s cut out the pieces for the box and the door from our ¾” lumber.
You will need to cut the following:
2 pieces 24” x 7” for top and bottom
1 piece 8 ½” x 8 ½” for the back
2 pieces 4” x 8 ½” for the back sides
2 pieces 6” x 8 ½” for the front sides
1 piece 7” x 8 ½” for the door
2 pieces ¾” x ½” x 7” for the inner door guides
2 pieces ¾” x ½” x 8 ½” for the outer door guides
You will also need to cut two strips of hardware cloth 8 ½” high by 22” long for the sides.
Now we’ll assemble the box:
First, nail the back piece to the top and bottom. The top of the back piece should be flush with the top of the top piece and the bottom of the back should be flush with the bottom of the bottom piece. The back piece should stick out ¾” on each side of the top piece and the bottom piece. That sounds a little confusing, but if you’ll look at the picture below you’ll see what I mean.
Now we’re going to nail our hardware cloth onto the sides of the box. I have found that short roofing nails are good for this job but you can use carpet tacks, small u nails, or even heavy staples. Just make sure that the hardware cloth is secure enough to hold a trapped animal. The hardware cloth should butt up against the back and be flush with the top of the top and the bottom of the bottom. Again, confusing but look at the picture.
Next step is to nail on the back side pieces. Easy enough.
The front side pieces are next, but before you nail them on, take your sand paper and sand the insides of them smooth. This is to reduce friction so that the door will fall quickly and completely into place.
When you’ve finished sanding, nail the front side pieces on so that 1 ¾” of them (the part that’s sanded) extends out in front of the top and bottom pieces.
Now it’s time to nail on the door guides. Before nailing we want sand the edges of the guides where the door will be sliding along them. Smooth guides mean a faster and cleaner drop of the door.
When the guides are smoothed out we’ll first nail on the short, inner guides. You want to position these so that they are flush with the edge of the top and bottom pieces. I used some old paneling nails to attach the guides.
Next we’ll do the outer guides. You want to place the outer guides so that the distance between them and the inner guides is about an 1/8 inch wider than the thickness of your door.
With the guides all nailed in place it’s time to sand the edges of the door smooth. Round the edges and corners a little to help keep them from binding when the door drops.
Slide the door down between the guides and check to see that everything fits and slides easily.
If everything checks out, it’s time to build the trigger. The way this trigger works is pretty simple. The actual trigger sticks down into the inside of the box. The trigger is attached to the back end of a rocker arm that is supported by an upright on top of the box. The front of the rocker arm is attached to the top of the door. When the trap is set, the trigger stick is down in the box and the rocker arm holds the door up. When an animal enters the trap and hits the trigger stick it releases the rocker arm and the door drops closed.
So the first thing that we need to do is drill two holes in the top of the box. The first hole will be 8 inches from the back of the box and is 1 inch in diameter. This is the hole that the trigger will fit down into. The second hole is 16 inches from the back of the box and is ¾ inch in diameter. We will use this hole to mount the upright that supports the rocker arm. So let’s drill holes.
Once the holes are drilled we’ll make the trigger stick. The trigger stick is made of a ¾” x ¾” piece of wood cut 9 inches long. Round off the edges and give the stick a light sanding so that it will slide easily. Cut a notch in the stick that is ¼” deep with the bottom of the notch 2 inches from the top of the stick and then screw a small screw-eye into the top.
The trigger stick should fit easily into the 1 inch hole and the notch should catch on the underside of the board. When the notch is engaged, the trigger stick should not touch the bottom of the trap.
Now for the upright that will support the rocker arm. Cut a piece of your ¾” lumber that is one foot long and 1¾” wide.
On one end cut away wood on each side to leave a ¾” wide by ¾” long tab in the middle. Use a knife or wood rasp to round off this tab so that it forms a peg that will fit easily into the ¾” hole in the top of the trap.
On the other end of the upright we are going to cut a slot that is ¾” wide and 3 inches long. The easiest way to do this is to use your drill and ¾” bit and drill a hole three inches down from the top, then use a saw to cut down to each side of the hole.
When you’re finished with the upright it should look like this.
The rocker arm is just a ¾” x ½” stick that is cut to 20 inches long.
Lay the rocker arm down so that one of the ¾” sides is facing up at you and drill a 3/16” hole in the center of it (10 inches from each end). When this is done, drill a 3/16” hole through the slotted end of the upright. The hole should be one inch from the top of the upright. When the rocker arm sits in the slot of the upright it should look like this.
You should now be able to mount the upright into the hole on the top of the box, line up the rocker arm, and stick a nail through the holes in the upright and rocker arm. The rocker arm should pivot freely.
We’re almost done. All that remains is to screw a small screw-eye about ½” from each end of the rocker arm and another screw-eye into the top of the door. Tie a piece of string from the trigger stick to the back end of the rocker arm so that there is about 5 inches between them. Lastly, tie the front of the rocker to the top of the door so that there is, again, about 5 inches between them. When you are finished, the set-up should look like this.
One little thing that I like to do instead of tying the string to the door is to make a little wire hook an tie it onto the end of the string that hooks to the door. This makes it easier to disassemble the trap for transportation or storage.
Well there’s your live trap. To set it just place your bait in the back. I like to use a slice of apple with some peanut butter smeared on it or a sardine, but just about anything will do. Sometimes it helps to put a small piece of bait out in front of the trap. If the critter gets a taste, they are less reluctant to go on into the trap for more. Set the trigger and wait. When the animal goes into the trap they will hit the trigger stick while trying to get to the bait. The trigger goes up, the door goes down, and, boom, you’ve got him. Once you’ve set the trap be sure to check it every day so that you don’t leave an animal confined for too long.
In the past I always wore a little Iver Johnson in 32 S&W when we’d go trot lining. Why, you ask, would I wear a sidearm to go trot lining? The answer is Gar. We fish for catfish, but we often get a gar on the line. Because of their mouth full of razor sharp teeth, you can’t just grab them and unhook them. You have to kill them, and thence the sidearm. Well, last spring my friend was running the boat, and I was pulling up lines, and lo and behold I pulled up a five and a half foot alligator gar. I let the line go very fast. I pulled out my revolver, pulled the line back up and shot the gar to little effect. In fact I fired five rounds into its head and it didn’t seem to notice. It took my friend’s .357 magnum to put the thing down, so I decided it was time for a little fire power upgrade. The pistol I ended up buying was a little Taurus PT709 slim which compared nicely in size to my little .32, but fires the much more powerful 9mm parabellum.
So, the problem was that we didn’t go fishing anymore that spring or summer and I never fired the gun. When I finally got around to taking the Taurus down to my range, I was unpleasantly surprised to find that it jammed about ever third round. Bummer. I’ve had a Taurus PT92 for years and it has never missed a lick, even with the cheapest ammo.
The good news is that Taurus has one of the best warranties in the gun business. I shipped it off to the factory with a letter of explanation and they repaired it for free and returned it within three weeks. No warranty card, no writing in for a repair order, nothing. They also sent me an e-mail saying that they had received the gun, called me to confirm my shipping address, sent another e-mail saying it was being repaired, and a third e-mail saying that it was being shipped back. They stand behind their products no matter how old they are or where you buy them. I had a friend that bought a Taurus with a broken firing pin at a garage sale. He mailed it in, and they put in a new pin for free and mailed it back to him. So, anyway, I got the gun back, and it hasn’t jammed since.
Now for the technical stuff. The PT709 Slim is 6 1/8’ long, 4 ½” tall, and, including the slightly protruding safety lever, 1” wide. It is chambered for the 9mm parabellum. When fully loaded with 7 in the magazine and 1 in the chamber, mine weighs one pound and 6.4 ounces. The lower frame is a nice heavy polymer and the slid is steel.
The name “Slim” is well earned. The profile is very slim.
The only protrusions are the manual safety lever, which sticks out less than an eighth of an inch,
and the slide release which sticks out even less.
The magazine release is located near the front of the grip and has a very low profile. This keeps the release from snagging on anything, but it is a little awkward to curl your thumb around and press it down. Maybe my thumb is just too short.
In addition to the manual safety there is also a trigger safety to prevent discharge unless your finger is actually pulling the trigger.
There is a chambered round indicator on the back of the bolt. This indicator sticks up about a sixteenth of an inch and is easily felt with the thumb to determine if you have a round chambered.
The PT709 feels good in the hand. Due to its small size you can only wrap two fingers around the grip, but it does not feel awkward and the gun stays under good control with this grip.
The grip is nicely textured and a small depression at the top of the grip provides a place for your thumb to rest.
The grip is situated in such a way that slid pinch is virtually impossible when the firearm cycles.
The slide itself is deeply knurled in order to facilitate racking it back, but it still takes a good grip and a firm pull to operate.
The sights have a low profile and the familiar three white dots to help with target acquisition. A very nice feature is that the rear sight is fully adjustable for both elevation and windage.
The Pt709 is striker fired so there is no external hammer. The trigger pull is around five or six pounds. Because it is striker fired, the first trigger pull is long. The first time I shot this gun I thought it was never going to fire, but the trigger finally broke, fairly crisply, and the gun discharged. You don’t have to let off all the way on the trigger for subsequent shots so the long travel is only on the first shot. It takes a little getting used to, but you fall into the rhythm pretty fast.
Recoil is not nearly as bad as you would expect for a 9mm that barely weighs a pound. Smaller individuals should not be afraid that the recoil will be too much to handle.
Accuracy is very good considering that the PT709 only has a two inch barrel. I shot this 7 shot group off-hand from 30 feet. The bull is 2 ½”, and I’m not a great shot, so I’m happy with the way it shoots.
The slide locks back when you fire the last round making mag changes quick and easy. Just hit the mag release button to drop your empty mag, shove in a fresh one, and thumb down the slide release. You’re back in business.
The PT709 field strips for cleaning using the same system that Glock has made famous.
First remove the magazine, take the safety off, and clear the round in the chamber.
Then pull the slide back just slightly and pull down on the little tabs located on each side of the frame just below the chamber. This will release the slide.
Now pull the trigger (you did make sure that there wasn’t a round in the chamber, right?), and move the slide forward and off of the frame.
Push the slide spring forward and up to remove it.
And lift the barrel out of the slide.
The PT709 lists for a little over $400 US, but you should be able to find one for $350 or less. They now come with a hard case and two magazines, but at the time I bought mine from DICK’s they apparently did not. Very unfortunate because the mags are expensive.
So there’s the Taurus PT 709 Slim. If you’re looking for a small 9mm, I don’t think you’ll go wrong with this one.
If you make a lot of arrows, gluing the feathers on can become a real chore. Getting the feather in the right position and then holding it in place as the glue sets is very tedious. A device that makes this job a lot easier is a fletching jig. You can buy fletching jigs that range in price from tens of dollars for a bare bones one-feather-at-a-time rig, up to hundreds of dollars for a bench mounted, fully adjustable, three-feathers-at-a-time set-up. Or…… you can make a fletching jig for less than ten dollars depending on what kind of junk you have laying around in your shop. There are a lot of different ways to build a fletching jig; this just happens to be the way I built mine. It’s not hard to build, it’s easy to use, and it does a good job.
To start with, you’ll need to assemble a few supplies. You’ll need a scrap piece of 2” x 4” lumber and a scrap of 1” x 4”, a very small piece of wood that is about 1/8” thick (a paint stir stick works good for this), and few square inches of felt cloth. You’ll also need about two feet of 1/8” or 3/16” all-thread rod and four wing-nuts that will fit onto the all-thread. The heart of the fletching jig will be made from an old clipboard. I used an old one I had laying around that is made of masonite with a six inch metal clip. If you don’t have one on hand, you can pick them up at an office supply store for about three dollars.
Miscellaneous hardware includes a bottle of wood glue or some epoxy, four wood screws that are about an inch-an-a-half long, four small finish nails, one 12 or 16 penny nail, and two rubber bands that are about 4” long.
Tools needed are a saw (a hand saw and miter box will do), a drill (hand or electric), a 1/8” , a 3/16” and a 3/8” drill bit, a tape measure, a square, a pencil, a hammer and some scissors.
How to Build It
First, take your piece of scrap 2” x 4” lumber and cut off a block 6 ½” long. Then cut two pieces of 1” x 4” that are each 6 ½” long.
Now measure down 2 3/8” from the top of the two pieces of 1” x 4” and use your square and pencil to scribe a line across each board. Measure to the center of this line and make a small vertical mark.
Take your drill and the 3/8” bit and drill a hole in each board where the horizontal and vertical lines intersect.
Now take your saw and cut each of the 1” x 4”s along the horizontal line.
Scribe three lines on the top of each short portion of the 1” x 4” blocks. One line should divide the block in half long-wise, and the other two lines should cross the block ¾” in from each end.
Put the 3/16” drill bit in your drill, and drill a hole completely through the block where the lines intersect on top of the blocks. It is important to keep the hole as nearly straight up and down as possible.
Now place the short portion of each block on top of the long portion. Square everything up and make sure that the top and bottom portions of the 3/8” hole line up perfectly. Drop your 12 penny nail into each hole in the top block and tap the nail lightly with your hammer. This will give you a mark to drill on the lower block.
Use your drill and the 1/8” bit to drill a one inch deep hole at each mark on the bottom block. Again, try to keep the hole as nearly straight up and down as possible.
Take your all-thread rod and cut four pieces that are each four inches long. Smear one inch of each piece of all thread liberally with wood glue and tap them down into the four holes in the bottom portion of you 1” x 4” blocks. Set aside for a couple of hours and let the glue dry. (If you use epoxy you won’t have to wait as long)
If you did everything right, the top portion should slide down over the all-threads and the 3/8” hole in each block should line up nicely. You may have to bend the all threads a little to make slight adjustments for a good fit. To keep from getting confused it’s probably a good idea to mark which top goes with which bottom and the direction the blocks should be turned.
Now we’re going to cut a groove in each of our top blocks for the clip to slide down into. The groves are going to go from the top of the block down to the top of the 3/8” hole. It is important to note that natural feathers do not have the vanes centered on top of the quill. On right wing feather the vanes sit to the right of center of the quill as you look down the feather. On left wing feathers they sit to the left. So, the point of all this is that the grove can’t be dead center of the 3/8” hole. It has to be slightly off-set. The good news is that this fletcher will do either right wing feathers or left wing feathers depending on which direction you put the arrow shaft into it.
So let’s cut the grooves. My clipboard is just a shade over 1/8” thick, so I made my groove just a shade over 3/16” wide. If your clipboard is the same size, you can use the same dimensions. Lay out your grooves with a pencil and straight-edge so that on one block the center of one groove is just slightly (about 1/16”) left of the center of the 3/8” hole and on the other block it is just slightly right of the center of the 3/8” hole. Clamp the top portion of the block into a vise and use your hand saw to carefully cut out the grooves about 5/16” deep. I found that the best way was to make a cut to establish each side of the groove and then a cut down the middle. This left some little ridges of wood in the groove which I broke out with a pocket knife and then smoothed off with a rat-tail file. Of course if you have a table saw this would be an easy job.
O.K., things can start to move faster now. Assemble your 1” x 4” blocks and glue and screw them to the ends of the 2” x 4” base. Make sure that you have the grooves facing to the inside.
Cut the bottom portion off of your clipboard so that there is about 1/16” remaining below the edge of the clip.
Cut the ends off of the clipboard so that it seven inches wide.
Saw a little notch out of the bottom corners of the clip so that it will not get hung up on the felt that will be protecting your arrow shaft.
If everything has been done right, the clip should drop down into the grooves and slide easily down to the 3/8” hole. I find it helps everything slide better if you rub a little bar soap on the edges of the clipboard and in the grooves.
Now dissemble the 1” x 4” blocks so that you can line the inside if the 3/8” holes with felt. Just cut the felt into ¾” wide strips and glue the little strips into each of the half holes. It may take more than one layer of felt to get the fit that you want around your arrow shaft. You want the shaft to be held firmly in place when the blocks are clamped together, but you still want to be able to turn the shaft with a little pressure from your fingers.
To help keep a constant, even pressure on the clip while your glue is drying, take your four small finish nails and hammer them part-way in to the base block bout two inches in from each end. Your rubber band will go over the top of the clip and hook over these nails.
Cut a small wedge from you thin scrap of wood to make the position indicator for your jig. When a shaft is properly positioned in the jig, just the nock will protrude, and the indicator can be wedged into the exposed nock.
Notice that the 1” x 4” has been marked with the proper shaft position for gluing on each fletching. These markings are placed on each end along with a designation for whether the nock protrudes for a right wing feather or a left wing feather.
After using the jig for a while I made a couple of improvements. One was to drill a little slot into the base of the jig so I could put the little wedge in it and, hopefully, keep it from getting lost.
Another improvement was to paint the fronts of the two upright different colors so I could easily see which top went with each bottom.
How to Use It
To use the fletching jig the first thing that you have to do is take the clip out and loosen the wing nuts enough to slide your arrow shaft through the holes. In the photos below I am fletching with right wing feathers, so the shaft is placed in the jig with the nock protruding on the right wing end.
Now snug the wing nuts down so that the shaft is held firmly but not immovable in place.
Place the small wedge in the nock and turn the shaft until the indicator is pointing to one of the fletching positions. I have a “C” on my indicator to show which position is correct for the cock feather.
Now take the clip and, before placing your fletching in it, rub a little bar soap along the bottom and front edges of the masonite. I find that this helps keep the clip from sticking to the fletching if get a little too much glue on the quill.
When the clip is lubricated place a fletching in the clip with the quill resting up against the bottom of the masonite. Position the large end of the fletching to the left and line it up with the edge of the metal clip. I find that this gives me the right location for my fletching on the shaft. If you would like the fletching to be closer to the nock or farther away, you can make a mark on the clip at the position that you favor.
Next you need to run a thin bead of glue down the quill. I use Fletch-Tite, but you may wish to use Super Glue, fletching tape, or whatever.
Slide the clip down into the grooves and press the fletching firmly into contact with the shaft.
Loop the two rubber bands over the top of the clip to keep pressure on the fletching.
Let the whole thing sit for a couple of minutes to give the glue time to set, then remove the rubber bands, pinch the metal clip open, and lift the clip assembly out of the grooves.
Use the indicator wedge to rotate the arrow shaft to the next position, load another fletching into the clip, and repeat the gluing process.
When all three fletchings are glued in place, loosen the wing nuts on the left block a little, and remove the block on the right completely. Slide your finished arrow out of the jig, and insert a new shaft.
That’s all there is to it. I find that it takes me about ten minutes to fletch one arrow, that the position of the feathers is more consistent, and that the glue contact of fletching to shaft is more even.
Many people are intrigued by the idea of making their own bow, but they are intimidated by the thought of making a wooden bow. This is totally understandable since making a wooden bow involves so much in the way of procuring the right materials, taking the time to season the wood, and then making the actual bow; all with no guarantee that the bow will turn out to be an effective shooter.
Well what if I told you that there’s a way that you can make a bow in one day, and that said bow is made from readily available low cost materials, and that the bow is virtually guaranteed to work. Would you be interested then? Well, it’s not just a pipe dream. This is a bow that anyone can make and it won’t take a lot of time or cost you an arm and a leg. It’s the amazing PVC bow.
PVC, or poly-vinyl-chloride, pipe is one of the most widely used plumbing pipes in the world today, and it is readily available from big-box and local hardware stores almost anywhere. To make this bow we are going to use ¾ inch schedule 40 PVC pipe. A ten foot piece of this pipe at my local hardware store costs about three dollars, U.S., and that is enough to make two bows.
Tools you will need to make this bow include a tape measure, a pencil, a hacksaw, two or three wood clamps, a rat-tail file, a flat wood rasp, a small piece of 80 grit sand paper, and of course you will need something to make a string out of. You can use your kitchen stove to heat the PVC for this project, but a heat gun makes the job a lot easier. I bought a heat gun for $20.00 U.S. at a discount tool store, and I have used it to make several bows as well as other projects around the house.
So, let’s get started. Assuming that you have a ten foot joint of PVC, let’s make our bow five feet long. that way we can get two bows out of this one pipe. So step one is to use your hacksaw and cut a five foot piece of ¾ inch, schedule 40 PVC.
When you have your PVC cut it is time to taper the limbs down. To do this, you will heat the PVC until it is pliable and then press it between two flat boards to leave it thick at the handle and tapered down to flat at the ends.
I found that the easiest way to do this is to build a simple jig out of a few pieces of scrap lumber. The base of the jig is a piece of 2 x 6 that is 36 inches long. The top board of the jig is a 36 inch 1 x 4.
To hold the PVC in place while it is being heated and shaped, I nailed a couple of 1 ½ by 1 ½ inch blocks on each side of the pipe. These blocks need to be the same height as the thickness of your pipe. In this case they are one inch tall.
I recommend that you pre-drill the blocks to keep them from splitting when you nail them down.
So, now you need to heat the PVC to make it pliable. You can do this over a burner on your stove, but I have found that an inexpensive heat gun, $20 U.S., works better for this part of the project. We are going to shape one limb at a time on the bow, so set your PVC into the jig with the center mark between the small blocks and fire up your heat gun. Heating the PVC evenly takes a little practice. You need to keep the heat gun moving slowly up and down the pipe, and keep turning the pipe so that you heat it all the way around. Make sure that the end of the pipe is well heated, as this is the part that will be flattened out the most in your jig. If you are using your stove to heat the PVC, keep the pipe moving, and keep turning it.
You can tell when the pipe is ready to shape because when you lift it, it will sag easily.
Now is the time to move fast. Place your pipe in the jig with the end of the handle section even with the edge of the small block. Place the top board over the PVC, and press it down. Quickly attach your clamps and squeeze the down tight. The end of the pipe should be pressed completely flat.
If it isn’t tapered correctly, or if the limb went a little crooked, don’t despair. The great thing about working with PVC is that if things don’t go right, you just heat it up and go again. As long as you haven’t scorched the pipe, there’s virtually nothing that you can’t correct.
OK, you’re half way there. Now do the same thing to the other limb. When you have both limbs tapered it time to round each tip off to give your bow a more finished appearance and to cut the string nocks. Use your hack saw, wood rasp and sandpaper to round the tips.
You can make a simple string by twisting together six strands of artificial sinew that are about one-and-a-half times as long as your bow. Tie an overhand loop in one end and then tie the other end off as you string the bow. The string will stretch a little at first, but you can correct this by unhooking the loop and twisting the string tighter. This will shorten the string. Keep making this adjustment until you have the brace height that you want.
There’s nothing like actual time in the woods to improve your camping skills. A recent trip into the woods for a little camping trip with my son and one of his friends resulted in yet another lesson on how to prepare for wilderness living.
You see, the weather on this campout was not a beautiful spring day. It was a very early spring day, and it was still cool, and it was raining. Hey, there’s no weather guarantee for the apocalypse, so you’ve got to practice in all kinds of conditions. So anyway, we’re in the woods and we decided that we needed to get a fire going. Everything was wet, but I had some paraffin and cardboard fire starters; so I wasn’t worried about getting a fire lit. But then we discovered a problem. All we had to start the fire with was a fero-rod striker. A fero-rod is not the right tool for igniting a wax and cardboard fire starter. So, we had to traipse out into the field and locate a juniper tree, peal some bark off the dry side, shave off the inner bark, and buff it up into tinder. Then we could use the fero-rod to light the juniper bark, use the juniper bark to light the fire starter, and use the fire starter to get our damp squaw-wood twigs burning. Not a major problem; I’m sure we could have got the fire started with enough juniper bark and some rich pine slivers, but it was kind of a pain.
So after our camping was done, and I was back at the house; I decided to make some fire starters that I could ignite with a fero-rod. This is what I came up with:
To make these fire starters you will need some corrugated cardboard, a pair of scissors, some heavy jute macramé string, some light cotton string, and some wax. I use recycled candle wax that I keep in an old coffee can.
Holding your fire starter by the wick, dip it down into the wax. Cover the cardboard completely with wax and also make sure that the first ¾ inch of the wick is also coated with wax. If the lower part of the wick does not have wax on it, the jute will all burn up too fast, and won’t ignite the starter.
A final lesson learned from this camping experience….. Make sure that you throw a cigarette lighter in your bug out bag. Always better to have multiple options.
A SPECIAL NOTE ON CANNING TOMATOES: There are many different varieties of tomatoes. Many modern hybrid tomatoes have been bred to be low in acid. For this reason many sources now recommend that tomatoes should be canned using a pressure canner rather than the water bath method. I only raise the older non-hybrid, heirloom type tomatoes which have a high acid content. I process them using the water bath method, and I have never had a problem. You will have to use your own judgment as to what type of canning method to use; and if you are in any doubt, you should ere on the side of caution.
To make and can 4 to 5 pints of hot sauce you will need the following:
1 gallon of stemmed and sliced fresh tomatoes
1 medium onion coarsely chopped
8 fresh jalapeno peppers stemmed and coarsely chopped
4 teaspoons of pickling or non-iodized sea salt
1 teaspoon of granulated garlic
1 teaspoon of powered cumin
1 tablespoon of chili powder
1/8th cup of distilled white vinegar
Equipment needed includes:
4 to 5 pint canning jars
4 to 5 canning lids and rings
A pot large enough to hold your upright canning jars with one inch of water above the tops of the jars
A smaller pot to sterilize lids and rings in
A large cook pot to prepare the hot sauce in
A long handle wooden spoon
A jar lifter
A canning funnel
A cup to pour hot sauce into the jars
Tongs to handle the hot lids and rings
A damp cloth to wipe the jar rims
Begin by placing your lidless jars in the large pot and covering with water until one inch above the jar tops. I always do five jars even though this recipe usually just makes about 4 ½ pints. The 5th jar is to hold the left-over which I put in the refrigerator for immediate use. Some times, for reasons only the canning gods can understand, I will end up with 5 full jars. Place the covered pot on your stove over high heat and bring the water to a rolling boil. Boil jars for ten minutes to sterilize. Reduce the heat to low to keep the jars hot.
Place lids and rings in your small pot and cover with water. Set this jar on the stove but do not begin heating yet.
To prepare your hot sauce begin with firm, unblemished, ripe tomatoes. Slice the tomatoes in half.
Turn on blender. You will probably have to use your wooden spoon to press the mixture down into the blender until the mixture turns over and starts to blend. Be careful not to get the spoon down into the blades. Blend for about 30 seconds.
Place the uncovered pot of blended mixture over high heat and bring to a boil. Sir the mixture every 4 or 5 minutes. Drag your spoon across the bottom of the pot to keep the mixture from sticking and scorching.
Reduce the heat but make sure that the mixture continues to boil. Set your timer for 25 minutes for a single batch or 40 minutes if you are preparing a double batch. The purpose of the long cook time is to cook and sterilize the sauce and to reduce the moisture content and make the sauce thicker.
As the sauce boils add your salt, garlic, cumin, chili powder and white vinegar.
During the last 15 minutes of cooking, turn the heat on under your lids and rings. As soon as the lids and rings come to a boil, turn the heat off.
About five minutes before your hot sauce is done you can dip out a spoon full, blow it to cool, and sample it for flavor and (spice) hotness. If it is not hot enough for your taste, you can add some cayenne pepper to bring up the heat. You can also observe the thickness of the sauce at this time. If it is too thin for you, you can extend the cooking time to drive a little more moisture out of the sauce.
When the sauce is cooked to your taste it is time to can it.
Remove the sterilized jars from the canner dumping about an inch of water from each jar back into the pot.
Fill and apply lids to the jars one at a time. Pour hot sauce in jar leaving ½ inch of head space at the top.
Place a hot lid on the jar and immediately screw a ring firmly onto the jar.
When all of the jars are filled and sealed return them to the water bath canner, cover, and turn the heat to high. Make sure that you have a least an inch of water covering the tops of the jars.
Bring the water to a full boil and process for 20 minutes.
When the jars have finished processing lift them, immediately, from the water bath and place them on the counter to cool. The lids should ping down as the jars cool. If a jar doesn’t ping, and the lid stays bowed up, then you don’t have a good seal on the jar, and it will spoil. At this point you can either replace the lid and ring and reprocess, or you can put the jar in the refrigerator for immediate use.
Be sure to label and date jars before you put them in storage. Be sure to check each jar before you open it to make sure that the lid is still bowed down and the seal is good. Any jar whose lid is bowed up should be discarded immediately.
The garden is in full production of jalapeno peppers, so its time to get some canning done. I pickle my jalapenos so I can do my canning using the water-bath method rather than pressure canning. To make six pints of pickled jalapenos you will need:
A one gallon freezer bag full of jalapenos, washed and dried
Six grape leaves
A large covered pot that is big enough to hold six pint jars completely covered with water
Six pint jars
Six canning lids and rings
A jar lifter
A canning funnel
A wooden chop stick or a thin knife
And ten cups of canning brine (ingredients below)
I always start my jars sterilizing first since this takes longer than any other part of the process. To sterilize jars, fill them with water and place them in the pot, then fill the remainder of the pot with water until the jars have at least ½ inch of water over the tops. Place the pot on the stove, cover, and turn the burner on high. After the pot comes to a rolling boil let it boil for ten minutes then turn the heat off. Keep covered.
Next I prepare the pickling brine. To make the brine I use a medium large pot and pour in five cups of distilled white vinegar, five cups of water, and five tablespoons of canning salt. Be sure to use canning salt, kosher salt, or pure sea salt. Do not use iodized table salt. To this mixture I add one teaspoon of mustard seed, one teaspoon of granulated garlic, and ¼ teaspoon of turmeric. Cover this mixture and bring to a boil for 15 minutes. This is actually a little more brine than you will need, but there’s nothing more frustrating than to run short of brine and have to make a new batch to finish up that last jar.
Place your lids and rings in a small pot and cover with water. Heat until the water just starts to boil then turn the heat off. I usually don’t turn the heat on under the lids and rings until about ten minutes before I’m going to use them. It doesn’t take long for them to heat up, and I want them to be hot when I use them.
When your jars have sterilized, use your jar lifter to take them out of the pot. Pour about an inch or two of water from each jar back into the pot then discard the rest. Recover the pot to retain as much heat as possible.
Line your jars up on the counter and stuff them as tightly as possible with the jalapeno slices. Add one grape leaf to each jar as you are filling it with jalapenos. The tannin in the grape leaves will keep the jalapenos from getting too mushy.
Run your chop stick down the inside edge of the jar all the way to the bottom. Do this three or four times around the inside of the jar. This is to remove trapped air bubbles. Top up the brine so that it is about ½ inch from the rim.
As they cool the lids should make a loud pink as the center of the lid pops down a little. If the lid doesn’t ping down, you do not have a good seal and the peppers will spoil. All you can do is either replace the lid and ring and re-boil the jar, or discard the peppers. You may choose to refrigerate the contents and use them in the near future, but I either re-can or discard.
When the jalapenos have cooled for 24 hours; I remove and wash the rings for re-use, date the jars, and put them into storage. Be sure that the lid is still popped down and that the seal is intact when you open a jar for use. If the lid is not down discard this jar as it may contain botulism. I have never had this problem, but it can happen, so be safe.
One note: don’t be dismayed if your peppers float up and leave a little empty space of brine at the bottom. It is almost impossible to pack the peppers tight enough to keep this from happening.