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Step by Step Tutorial on How to Build Your Own Box with PVC Pipe

Blowing out a fleece

After owning llamas for 11 years, I am finally starting to get interested in producing things with their wonderful fiber. Up until last year, we had been sending all of our fiber to mills that would process it from the fleece into a finished product, such as socks, rugs, scarves, and mittens.

I decided last year to have my llama fiber spun into yarn so that I could learn to make things myself. I have really enjoyed working with the yarn from my very own llamas. It is so soothing to feel its softness slip between my fingers as the intertwining loops grow into a finished creation.

I’m still very new to this process, but one thing I have learned is that there is a definite cost benefit to taking the extra time to prepare your fiber before sending it to a mill, or before processing it yourself if you are clever enough to be a spinner. When the mill receives your fleeces, the fees are initially based on the incoming weight. By the time it is processed into yarn, you can lose up to 50% of your initial weight if you haven’t cleaned it up a bit beforehand.

I’m only talking about llama and alpaca fiber here, as sheep wool contains lanolin, and requires additional steps, which I’m not going to go into. Before shearing, we carefully blow out our llamas to remove vegetation and dirt.

Blowing out the dust

Blowing out the dust

How llamas get so dirty in the first place

How llamas get so dirty in the first place

Then we brush them to further remove vm (vegetable matter). But even so, there will be junk that remains stuck in their hair. Then there are the inevitable second cuts, the small pieces of short fleece remaining in the fiber, caused by shearing the same area twice. All this waste will be processed out, but adds to your incoming weight.

Now— an easy way to clean up that fleece right off the animal, the Fiber Blow Out Box. (It’s still best to clean the fiber as well as you can while it is still on the animal). Just put your shorn fleece into the box and blow it with a Circuiteer high speed blower, or a leaf blower will do. This allows the fleece to tumble and separate so that the dust, trash, and short fibers are blown out of the mesh of the box.

blowing the dust out of the fiber--off of the llama.

blowing the dust out of the fiber–off of the llama.

I saw a version of a fiber blow out box at a recent llama conference and came up with a simple and inexpensive way to make one myself. I’ve been using PVC a lot lately in building agility equipment for my Goldendoodle pup, Bayley. PVC is lightweight, inexpensive, and very easy to work with. I’m not a “tool girl” and I only need one tool to make most anything with PVC.

PVC cutter. This one cost about $10.

PVC cutter. This one cost about $10.

These are the instructions for making your own blow out box. It will take a couple of hours and will cost less than $30 in materials. The finished size is 24” x 34”.
It is important to be accurate when cutting and gluing, making sure each pipe is fully seated in its connector, and your squares are as true as you can make them.

TOOLS
PVC cutter
Sharpie marking pen
Measuring tape

MATERIALS

You will need three 10′ lengths and one 5′ length of ¾” Schedule 40 PVC pipe. All of the connectors are for ¾” pipe. I designed the box with these measurements to minimize waste. If you cut one piece of 10′ pipe into four 22″ pieces, you will have 32″ left over for your side pieces. The fourth piece of 32″ pipe will be cut from the 5′ section.

All the pre-cut pieces, ready to be assembled

All the pre-cut pieces, ready to be assembled

1. 90-degree slip connectors (4)
2. 3-way corner fitting connector (8)
3. 22” pipe sections (12)
4. 32” pipe sections (4)
5. ½” plastic hardware cloth (36” by 15′)
6. White cable ties (8″ long) (100)
7. White Cable ties for door hinge (12″ long) (4)
8. Glue (see comments below)
9. Two 10″ mini bungee cords

ASSEMBLY

Let’s start with the 24” end squares. There will be 3. One square will serve as your opening door.

2 end squares and the door panel

2 end squares and the door panel

Start by gluing four 22” sections to four 3-way corner fittings. Once your square is assembled, place it on a flat surface and adjust so that it lays flat.

24" end square with 3 way corner fittings

24″ end square with 3 way corner fittings

A NOTE ABOUT GLUE
I don’t recommend using the PVC glue that is sold in the plumbing section. This stuff bonds IMMEDIATELY and does not allow for any readjustment that will be necessary to make sure all of your angles are true. Since this doesn’t have to meet a water pressure test, I have found that a plastic epoxy works wonderfully. This glue sets up in from 10 to 20 minutes, allowing you to tweak the joints once they are assembled.

Plastic welder

Plastic welder

Make the second end square the same way. Then make the door square using four 22” sections and the four 90-degree connectors.

Square for opening door with 90 degree corner fittings

Square for opening door with 90 degree corner fittings

Place one of the end squares flat on the floor, and stick one of the 32” sections in each joint gluing as you go. Then place the top end square in place and glue, pressing firmly to assure the pieces are fully seated.

Your box frame is now complete and ready to be wrapped in the plastic hardware cloth.

Cut the plastic netting to 9′. This will be too long, but we will cut it to size once it is attached to the frame. Lay the netting out on a flat surface and place the box on top so that one end of the box is aligned with the edge of the net. You want the net to be the exact width of the box, so go ahead and cut the net to the correct width. It should be 34″ wide.

Place one of the end squares on the remaining net and cut two pieces. They should be 24″ square.
My advice, measure the net to the frames before cutting it. There could be variations in the dimensions of your box.

Laying out the netting

Laying out the netting

Now line up one edge of the box with the 34″ edge of the plastic net.

Position frame along edge of netting

Position frame along edge of netting

Attach the net to the PVC pipe with the 8″ cable ties. I put 3 on each pipe, pulling the net tightly as you wrap it around. Once the net is secured, go back and put a couple more ties on each rail and trim off the tails. You can get an idea of what we did in this photo.

Initial wrap with 3 cable ties on each rail

Initial wrap with 3 cable ties on each rail

Finished wrap with 5 cable ties on each rail

Finished wrap with 5 cable ties on each rail

Attach the net to one of the square ends, but leave the other end open. This will be your door opening.

Then attach the net to the square that you made with the 90 degree corner connectors.

Attach net to door square

Attach net to door square

Now you are ready to attach the door to the box. For hinges you will use the 12″ cable ties. Connect one side of the door panel to a top rail of the open end of the box. 3 ties should be enough, and don’t tighten them down too much. You want the door to swing easily but not be too loose.

Use 12 inch cable ties to attach the door.

Use 12 inch cable ties to attach the door.


The door should swing easily.

The door should swing easily.

To secure the door, use the two 10” mini bungee cords. It’s quick and easy to “lock” and open the door to load your fiber.

Bungee latches

Bungee latches

Now you’re ready to try it out.

Load one fleece at a time. You want the fibers to be able to separate and move around as you are blowing it out.

Blow Out Box with 1 Raw Llama Fleece

Blow Out Box with 1 Raw Llama Fleece

Use a circuiteer high speed blower or a leaf blower and blow air into the box. There will be a lot of dust flying, but it doesn’t show in the photos.

blow out 1

Keep rotating the box and blowing up under the fiber to keep it moving. When you don’t see any more dust, (it’ll take about 5 minutes or so), it’s done.

blowing out fiber

blow out

You fiber should now look clean and fluffy.

Fluffy fleece

Fluffy fleece

You may find some remaining longer pieces of grass and hay that is still in the fiber. The longer stuff won’t be blown out of the small holes in the net. This stuff you will have to pick out by hand.

Long hay pieces may remain.

Long hay pieces may remain.

In the future we’ll try to make sure our floor is clean when we shear. I know what happened here. We had a hay bag by the shute to keep the llamas entertained while we sheared, and they dropped pieces of hay into the cut fiber on the floor.

Shearing Santiago

Shearing Santiago

As I said earlier, it is much easier to clean the fiber while it is still on the llama. Time spent on this step is not wasted. This blow out box will not clean a filthy fleece. It will merely remove any dust, dirt, small second cuts, and bits of vegetable matter that may remain in a relatively clean fleece. You might want to use a 1 inch plastic hardward cloth, but I was afraid of losing too much of the good fiber.

Please let me know if you decide to build one of the boxes. You might come up with even better ideas that I would love to hear about.

Next, I’m going to run this fleece through a drum carder to make it into batts that I can use for my needle felting and wet felting projects. I’ll let you know how that comes out.

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We got the llamas sheared, finally. It is always a daunting task cause it’s dirty and tiring work. It takes up about 1 ½ hours per llama to blow, brush and style and we have 8 llamas. It has been a strange spring. Early March we had 80 degree days, so we scheduled our first shearing day for the first weekend in April. That week the temps plummeted to below freezing at night, and we were afraid some of the lighter coated boys would get chilly. So we did four of the heavy wool guys first, and yesterday, finished up with the other four. Here are a couple of before and after shots of the llamas.

I think they look pretty good, if I do say so myself.

Before and After Shearing

We counted up the years, and were astounded that we have now sheared the llamas for the 10th year. Hard to believe how the years zoom by. The llamas get an annual body cut to cool them down in the summer. I cut them with Fiskers spring loaded scissors. I’ve never used an electric clipper as I don’t like the close cut and the furrowed look. The scissors take longer, but give me more control and finesse.

You’d think that with all the hours I have under my belt shearing llamas, I would have more confidence to jump in and start shearing my new goldendoodle puppy, Bayley.  Bayley has just turned 5 months. I’m not sure when to start the clipping. So far, she is brushing out with no mats, and her hair is about 3 inches. I’m thinking I’ll wait until she becomes too difficult to brush and just let it grow in the meantime. It’s gotten cooler here in the last couple of weeks, back to more normal temps in the 50s and 60s. If she looks like she’s too hot, I’ll have to jump on in.

I’d like to do the clipping myself, rather than risk being totally dissatisfied with what the groomer may do. But I know nothing of electric shears, and I’m planning to do her with scissors. I just start to hyperventilate whenever I think about putting scissors to her hair.  But, I’ve always heard that the difference between a bad haircut and a good haircut is about 2 weeks.

Bayley at 5 1/2 months old

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Santiago

It’s that time of year again. Spa day for the llamas, though they don’t look at it that way. And for that matter, neither do we. Shearing day is a day of sheer agony for all involved. When the daytime temperatures get into the 80’s and the nights are safe from freezing we give our 8 llamas their annual spring haircut. We do this for the comfort and health of the llamas, not merely as a fashion statement. And we get all that luscious fiber that we can make things with; socks, rugs, scarves, mittens. I also create little sculpted animal figures with their fiber by a process called needle felting. I sell these items in my Etsy Shop online.

I’m sure from the llamas perspective, it is the animal version of the Spanish Inquisition. For their safety, we restrain them in a chute so that they can’t jump around and accidently get poked with the scissors. We try to make the occasion as stress free as possible. I’ve seen videos where the llamas are “hog tied”; their feet bound with rope and forced to lay on their sides with their legs stretched tight. This must be “shear terror” for the llamas. Imagine going to the barber shop for a haircut. You walk in and the staff rushes at you, puts you in a straight jacket, ties you to the chair and proceeds to run a buzzing clipper all around your ears. At least you are just having your head trimmed, and the clipper is not running around your tummy and under your tail. We have always used scissors rather than electric shears. This is just a personal preference. Electric shears are much faster, but cut very close to the body and leave a “skint” look. With the scissors, we can leave about a ½ inch of wool, so that they don’t risk getting sun burned and don’t look “nekkid”.  At first the cut has a ruffled look, but that evens out in about two weeks time.

Santiago's New Do

The day starts with grooming the llamas. They love to roll in the dirt. I think it helps to cool them off, like putting talcum powder on after your bath.  To remove most of the dirt, we use a reverse vacuum that blows forced air into their coat and loosens the dust and debris. Then we brush each llama to remove the remaining grass and hay that gets stuck in their hair. The worst area is the “lint trap”, the area at the base of the neck. For some reason, everything seems to congregate in this area so we take extra care to brush all the crud out before we use the scissors. Grit and vegetable matter will dull the blades in no time flat.

Now the shearing begins. It’s really quite painless, and after 10 years of going through this, you’d think they would remember that they are not getting killed, and that it actually feels cool and wonderful once all that hot wool is cut off of them. Some take it better than others. And typically we take the easy ones first and save the dreaded ones for last. But this year we decided to go ahead and tackle the difficult llamas first while we were fresh and energized. And the worst of all is our alpha, Santiago. The herd leader; brave watchman of the night, bold protector of the pasture and chaser of bears; he cowers and cries like a baby when we make the first snip of his flowing locks. Maybe he has a Samson complex.

From the moment he stepped into the chute, Santiago kushed (lay down). This was a bad indicator, for in years past, he’s waited at least 10 minutes before starting his antics and allowed us to get a few good snips in. But we were prepared for him this year. Last November, at the GALA llamas conference, we purchased a cinch strap designed especially for this purpose. We placed it under his belly and secured it to the top of the chute so he couldn’t kush anymore. He was mad as a hornet and kept shifting from front to back, kneeling as much as the cinch would allow, and then popping back up, so that it was like trying to shear a llama on a pogo stick. But thankfully, he settled down after a while and we were able to loosen the cinch and trim his sides and belly. It took about an hour to complete Santiago, the average time it takes us to shear one llama. This year we decided on the style popularly referred to as the lion cut. This cut removes the wool from the barrel area and the tops of the legs to allow circulation to their abdomen and the area under the tail and arm pits. It’s very important to keep the llamas cool and comfortable in our hot, humid Virginia summers.

The next three llamas were amazingly good. Perfect, in fact. They stood perfectly still and even chowed down on some hay during the process. Maybe they are starting to learn that getting that hot, heavy fur coat off is a really good thing.

By the time we finished the 4th llama at 6:00 pm, we were exhausted, sweaty, hairy, and nasty dirty. We decided to call it a day and go out for pizza. A shower never felt so good. Now, just four more to go.

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