Creating Music (Notation) Together

My wife, Angela, studied music for the first couple of years at college. She plays the flute and still performs a few times a year (mostly at our church). However, in all the years we’ve been together, we’ve never actually played any music together. In fact, we haven’t really created many projects together (aside from two kids and numerous DIY house projects, of course).

Well, a couple of weeks ago Angela was asked to play a short piece of her choosing at a Wednesday night church event. She decided it would be fun to have out daughter and another young person from church, both of whom also play flute, to play a woodwind trio. Angela picked one of her favorite hymns and asked me to transcribe it using MuseScore. Other than helping the kids search that site for some piano sheet music, I didn’t have much experience with it or the desktop application.

After a few minutes, I had the piano treble clef transcribed in a file. I duplicate that part into two copies. Then came the fun part. Using the arrow keys to start re-arranging the piece. When I told it what instrument would be used for each part (in this case, a flute trio), it handily would color code notes that were getting outside the range of that instrument. Now, I don’t actually play the flute and aside from that note range and the knowledge that a flute can’t really play one than more note at a time, I considered this a first pass. Angela then went through the piece and indicated what notes need adjusting (a lot of them). She also borrowed from the bass clef and added in some flourishes of her own liking. The playback isn’t perfect (you’d never think you were listing to anything other than synthesized instruments) but it’s very helpful in arranging. What’s more, Angela and I got to work on something creative together!

The three of them played the piece last night at the candlelight service. I though it sounded great but as I ended up as the liturgist, I didn’t get to record them performing. But, you can at least see and hear the piece here:

Today We All Are Called to Be Disciples Flute Trio by amdyer

Guitar Pedal Board

I really make a point to try to learn something new with each maker project I do. Whether it’s a woodworking project, a guitar effect, or some other hobby project, I want to add in at least something new to each one. First, it just keeps things from feeling redundant. But also it helps to expand my skills.

Steel and plywood pedal board

I’ve needed to make a guitar pedal board for a couple of years now. Mostly just to clean up the corner of my office where my amp and effects sit. It’s not like I’m ever going on tour or anything. I figured the metal frame I made in my intro to metalworking class would be fun to use as a basis for a pedal board. Up until now, it’s just been sitting in our garage; leaning against a wall. Of course, the more I started planning, I quickly realized it was really just a decoration around an otherwise wooden stool (albeit a short and slanted stool; that’s really all this is). I had wanted to put a shallow rabbet around the edge of the board so the top of the steel frame would be flush with the wood. I tried using both a router bit and my table saw and both were pretty much complete failures. Oddly enough, the sample board I tried on the router worked fine, but that was with the veneer grain running along the direction of the rabbet. When I tried using parallel grain on the “real” board, it just shredded the veneer. The table saw gave a cleaner cut but was just far less accurate (and wasn’t much cleaner than the router).1

Cheap router bit and sloppy woodworking don’t result in clean rabbets, I guess

So, I basically just build my pedal board out of 3/4″ plywood to dimensions that I could slide the metal frame over it. The pedals don’t sit entirely flat, but they work fine for my needs still. I still need to get some more Velcro tape to attach them (which would just mainly help allow me to up the power cords underneath). It’s probably a bit too tall to be very practical and I’ll almost certainly replace it at some point. Whether or not I try to include the metal frame is another matter…

So it doesn’t really begin to hold all my guitar pedals (note those sitting on top of the speaker cabinet)
  1. I fully attribute both of these failures to my own inexperience. It doesn’t help that I have some very basic setups and things like featherboards, zero clearance inserts, etc. would also help actually accomplish what I had in mind. []

Drill Press Cart

I almost made through August without posting about a project. Then again, I almost made it throughout August without actually completing a project, as well.

Drill press cart completed

I decided to get around to a project I’d been wanting to do for a few years now: a cart for my drill press. This is part of the bigger project to revamp my garage shop and, eventually, clean up the garage as a whole. I started by tearing our an old workbench and putting my bandsaw and power sander on a cart. That bench was also where my drill press resided since I first got it and it had been moved to my main bench (along with all the other junk in my garage it seems). So the idea would be to make a relatively small cart with some drawers and storage for “drill” related items. I’m pretty pleased with how everything turned out, especially since there were a few new skills on this one.

First, I decided I’d model the project in CAD so I could make sure everything fit. I would be making drawers on slides for the first time, so I figured it was important to get the measurements right. I ended up using SketchUp since they have a free version for makers (that runs on the Mac). It’s a pretty nice program and I figured out to model my project as well as generate a cut sheet.

The full cart modeled in SketchUp Make 2017 – color-coded by material thickness

This morning I got to actually cutting and assembling. The cabinet for the cart isn’t especially large, but almost everything was larger than I could actually cut on my table saw. So I had to break down most of the pieces using my circular saw and my homemade track. It’s a more tedious setup and it has the drawback of not being able to make repeat cuts. I managed to make a passably square cabinet carcass. My assembly jigs came in handy getting the carcass together, too. I used pocket holes and glue.

Breaking down 3/4″ maple plywood
Coffee and pocket holes

I also followed April Wilkerson’s advice and glued up a double-thick top (1.5″ total of plywood as the entire cabinet is 3/4″ maple plywood) as the drill press is heavy and will cause long-term sagging if not well supported. I differed from her cart as a intentionally had the sides butt onto the top and bottom such that the pocket hole / glue joint isn’t in direct shear from the load. It exposed the pocket holes in the lower cabinet opening, but no one in the garage is going to complain. This also allowed me to place the castor at the very corners of the bottom shelf without concern of the lag screws splitting the sides.

Assembly of the cabinet carcass

I had an existing piece of 1/4″ birch plywood that I used for the back panel. Before attaching it, I added in the divider which is hidden by the bottom drawer. This goes to add a bit of stability to the cart and also helped in installed the drawers. I used a trim router bit to clean up the 1/4″ back as it was just slightly wider than my 16″ width. The carcass was just a bit off square, but I was able to nudge it just a bit when screwing on the back such that it trued up. That’s where taking some time with the main butt / pocket hole joints paid off.

Using my cross-cut sled to batch out the drawer sides

While the wipe-on poly was curing on the main cabinet, I got to work on the drawers. I used Brad Rodriguez’ general design for the drawers. Once I broke down the 1/2″ birch plywood into two pieces, I could finally batch out the drawer pieces on the table saw. I set up the fence to rip the false fronts and the moved the fence again to rip the 4″ drawer sides. I made sure to place the drawer slides and sides into the cabinet opening to measure for the width. I could then use my cross-cut sled to get my final pieces. Of course for the 1/4″ plywood drawer bottoms, I still needed to use the circular saw. I assembled the drawers with pocket holes (laid out such that they’ll be hidden once in place. You may notice that I didn’t use drawer pulls but went with just notched handles (again, somewhat inspired by April Wilkerson here along with some of our IKEA drawers). This coincidentally allowed me to easily clamp on the false fronts while getting them attached. I used the band saw to cut out the notches and then the power sander just to clean things up and get right up to my lines (and I should add that having those on a cart is also great!).

Drawer pieces ready for assembly

Getting the drawer slides installed was pretty straight forward, although I managed to get the spacing off some. Nothing critical, just that the slides are at different depths on the top versus bottom drawer. As of right now, the drawers are only held together with the pocket holes and 5/8″ screws for the bottoms. I did this to “dry fit” them as I wasn’t 100% sure they’d fit in the slides (it’s tight to be for sure). If they don’t bind up as I use them, I’ll probably take them back apart and glue them together. I probably would have done so today, but this “small” project ended up taking me over 8 hours so I just swept up the garage and called it a day. The good news is that I had some additional storage to put things away when cleaning up that I didn’t have this morning!

Cart drawers in action

Family Game Night

We try to have a weekly family game night. Usually, this is a board game or similar. The kids know that I have a bunch of old D&D books and are generally familiar with the game. A couple of weeks ago, a new D&D Essentials box set was released. This incorporates a new mechanism so that it’s easier for just 2 or 3 people to play (the game is typically best for 4-6 people and I don’t have that many kids). So I just off-handedly checked that our Target had the box set and asked if the kids wanted to go with me to get it. I was surprised that my daughter and my son were excited to go out after 8pm to pick it up.

Yep, they’re definitely my kids.

They asked to play when we got home, so we stayed up until about 11pm rolling up some characters and starting out on a first adventure (the one included in this boxed set). They didn’t get a chance to fight any monsters but still seemed to have a good time. They’ve already asked to play again this weekend!

Computer Graveyard

I’m taking my old iMac in tomorrow for one last time. That is, I’m dropping it off at FedEx to have shipped off to the recycling center. That was my first Mac and it served me well. I had it upgraded a couple of times (remember when you could do that to a Mac?) and even had to use AppleCare once to replace the video board. That combined with a couple of family moves, and I’ve kept the original box around all these years so I could box it up and take it some place. See, as much as I love the design of the Intel iMacs, they’re pretty awkward to lug around (at least the 24″ model I have – I know, sad story). I even put the original foam cover back over it from the first unboxing.

iMac re-boxed

I had the original drive replaced with the first 1TB drives on the market: the Hitachi Deskstar. Between that and the 8GB of RAM and giant screen, this thing felt luxurious… for about three years or so. After the last OS upgrade or so, it got really slow to use. Then finally, that Hitachi drive gave out. I had an external clone of the drive I could boot from and run, but that seemed even slower. So I ultimately decided to get a laptop (by then Angela was on her third Mac laptop).

Back in 2007, the idea of stuffing 1,000,000,000 bytes into a drive was pretty new

So it ended up sitting on the floor of my office for several years. I had meant to swap out the drive and restore it, but honestly it wouldn’t even really run the games my kids want to play (Minecraft recommends OS 10.12, which this machine couldn’t come close to running). So, the computer I got before my daughter was even born is now headed out the door. I’ve recycled many, many computers over the years. In fact, Angela doesn’t have any of those three Mac laptops anymore, even (she’s gone full iPad). But this machine is the one I’ve had the hardest time getting rid of.

As Marie Kondo would have me do, it’s time to thank it for its service and send it on its way. So I finally got around to cracking open the case. Since I can’t boot off the drive, it’s not very easy to format it (and removing it is easier than running DBAN for hours and hours). If you work on Macs, then you have to have a Torx driver set. I’d augment that to say you should have a magnetic Torx driver set, as I had to pull and replace the eight screws around the monitor with tweezers. It ended up not being such a terrible task as I’d feared all this time, but I couldn’t guarantee that the screen still works, either.

Hard drive pulled out of the iMac. That’s the screen in the top-left corner, turned backwards
A less fun version of Operation with eight Torx screws

Recycled Tool Stand

Ten years ago – not long after we moved into this house – my younger brother and I built a pair of workbenches. I designed a “tall” work bench for standing and a “short” work bench that I could sit at (aka, a desk). The idea was that I’d do electronics or other work at the desk. However, “near woodworking tools” is a pretty lousy place to do soldering , etc. and this ended up just being a place to pile scraps and store my drill press, band saw, and power sander. Unfortunately, to use any of those then, I had to haul it out of the corner and put it on another space. They’re not terribly heavy but none of this was ideal. So I had decided I’d tear out the “low” bench and put rolling tool stands in that space. If I’m going to move these tools out to use them, it should at least be easier to do!

Thursday morning, I just so happened on Facebook to catch that my neighbor posted he was giving away an old rolling stand. It looked perfect so I drove over (two blocks away) to grab it. Pretty quickly though I realized this was for far larger tools than I own.1 I couldn’t even shut the door on the Pilot! Fortunately, Angela was out of town so she didn’t need to park in the garage. Yesterday, I tore out most of that “low” bench in order to be able to park the stand in place. You can see that it took up almost the entire 4′ x 3′ space! Those slanted legs were fine for a very heavy piece of equipment, but my Ryobi band saw and Wen power sander weigh maybe 80 lbs combined. I did need to bend one of the caster mounts such that it was level with the others. This wouldn’t be the last time I got to bend some metal on this thing.

He must be very tall to have taken the picture at that angle!

So I knew I wanted to re-tool the stand such that the legs are vertical. I gave it some thought and realized that I could pivot the legs about one out of the three bolts that connect each side of each leg (i.e., two bolts on each leg – one for each connecting side). I had measured out and cut a bottom shelf from the “low” desk’s MDF surface so I had something to align the legs to. Then I could just use my level and speed square to get the leg alignment. I used a white paint marker to mark the four new holes and number each of the points so I could re-attach them (nominally it wouldn’t matter, but it just helps to reduce error when things otherwise don’t align because nothing’s “nominal”).

After removing 2/3 of the leg bolts, I could rotate the legs to vertical

I used the drill press and my step bit to drill the holes. Drilling steel is significantly more difficult than drilling aluminum (which can be generally cut with woodworking blades or bits). I recently read Adam Savage’s book “Every Tool’s a Hammer” in which he has a chapter titled “Use More Cooling Fluid” and, man, is that every sound advice for cutting steel. I typically call it cutting fluid, but given the amount of smoke I was generating, it was definitely getting hot. Also, unlike aluminum, steel is going to have burs that need to be filed off, even when cutting with a step bit. So I had to clean up each of the sixteen holes drilled.

Always use lots of cutting fluid when drilling steel

I got the legs re-assembled and cut a top surface (also cut from the old bench’s MDF surface). I did have to replace a few of the bolts with spoiled threads but I happened to have some spare 1/4″ bolts & nuts. It was at that point that I realized that the surfaces of bent steel that were formerly parallel to the floor were now about 10° out of flat. Enter the 5 lbs sledge. I basically whacked the hell out of the top lip all around until the to surface lay nearly flat. Using some screws through the mount holes then got it nice and level.

It may be only 5 lbs, but I wore myself out swing that hammer today

The casters are the threaded bolt post type. If you’ve never seen these before, please know that they are the worst. The end of the threaded rod is some weird star thing (no, not a Torx bit) which you cannot hold and just spins with the bolt. So, there’s no real good way to loosen a stuck nut – of which I had two. My design required that these casters come off so that I could use them to also mount the bottom shelf. So, some Liquid Wrench and some vice grips to hold the threaded rod (which messes up the threads some, but wasn’t important as that’s where the shelf now sits), I prevailed.

I absolutely love Vice Grips. I used those a lot on taking all these bent pieces of steel, too.

I finally drilled some holes in the corner of the lower shelf so I could sandwich that shelf with the leg bottom and the caster nut & washer. I had to use the sledge to somewhat flatten out the base of each leg. Otherwise the casters would all be at a tilt towards the center of the cart and it would be miserable to move around. This hammering allowed me to get the nut started on the caster threaded rod. I could then tighten it enough to make the entire thing sturdy again.

Hard to believe that’s the same cart! It fits perfectly and is exactly what I needed.

So, this was a simple adjustment that took me about five hours of work. I couldn’t be happier with the results, though. It rolls smoothly, is plumb and level, and fits perfectly into a tight area. I may put another shelf into this (I still have plenty of leftover MDF!) so that I can store sander belts, band saw blades, fence, etc. But for a project that I didn’t have to buy a single item for, this is exactly what I needed for this space.

  1. He has converted on bay of a 3-car garage to a very nice wood shop with nice power tools. []

Battery Charging Station

This is a small project I came up with an evening last week after cleaning up my shop bench some. I’ve always just sat my battery chargers on top of the bench area, but they take up precious space there. After getting another Ryobi quick charger recently, I figured it was time to make a dedicated space for these.

Small set of shelves for battery chargers and batteries

There’s not shortage of shop projects for this same purpose, but it seems that most folks area ok with putting their chargers on a shelf semi-permanently. I figured I’d need to occasionally get the chargers off the shelf as well, so I built in a small chase so the cords don’t interfere with the French cleat system and can easy come out.

The dimensions of this project are very specific to the set of chargers I have (two different Ryobi and a Bosch), as you can see here. However, I’ve posted my set of plans below and it should be easy to change the dimensions for different chargers. Just make sure to account for the power cords!

My three chargers squeezed perfectly into 1′-5 1/2″ by 5″

I used pocket holes to assemble the entire project (edit – which was made entirely from 3/4″ maple veneer plywood I already had on hand from repairing my kid’s bed). 28 pocket holes is a lot for something this small, but when the back is split as in this design, I wanted to makes sure it was plenty rigid. I could have glued it up as well, but by the time got it all dry fit, I figured that would be overkill. I can always disassemble it and glue it later. The real trick with this was getting to all those pocket holes. Basically, but the shelf fronts on first and then put the back/sides onto the shelves.

Yes, I put eleven pocket holes in a 5″ by 17 1/2″ shelf

Another small thing that made this little project fun: my table saw sled. I’d really been somewhat disappointed in using it. I put a decent amount of work into getting it right but it just wasn’t sliding well. I’d sanded the runners down as much as could (more and I figured there be too much slop). So I just happened to buy some paste wax today as I’d seen it mentioned. It really should be stressed more: put paste wax on your table saw sled runners! The sled glides along with very little force now and cross-cuts are a breeze!

My massive table saw sled on my little Ryobi table saw works great after adding some paste wax!

So this was a good little project and went off with (almost) no mistakes thanks to putting in some decent planning and taking plenty of measurements of what I wanted to store. I saw almost, as the cut-out above the bottom shelf to accommodate the AC adapter was initially cut without accounting for the bottom shelf depth. Another quick pass on the band saw and it fit fine.

The afternoon sun creeping into my workspace

In case you can’t quite read those sheets on my rolling workbench, here are my plans for anyone so inclined to build something like this. One potential modification would be to put some handles (either hardware attached to the top of the sides or handholds cut into the sides) and a bungie cord across the front of the lower shelf. That way, with just unplugging one cord, I could take all my chargers with me.

The Bazz Fuss

You know a project’s been lingering too long when your son – who couldn’t care less about guitar or effects pedals – wonders into your office one day, points to a jumble of wires and components, and asks “are you ever going to finish this thing?”

That “thing” is the bazz fuss circuit I soldered onto a perfboard several months ago. I had watched Paul of DIY Guitar Pedals put together his “5 minute fuzz” effect and had read an article on Seymour Duncan’s site about building the effect with some nice mods to the original circuit. Some more details about the original effect are available here, but essentially it seems Christian Hemmo developed a fuzz effect for the bass that used the fewest components possible (and still generate a decent effect, anyway). The design is extremely elegant and produces a nice “dirt” fuzz effect (probably perfect for bass guitar). Hemmo’s original site is long lost on the internet (ah, Angelfire.com! – still available via Archive.org, though, of course) but his circuit lives on.

The bazz fuss effect on a breadboard with labeled controls

I built my first attempt at a Bazz Fuss effect by wiring the components in my breadboard, following along with the Seymour Duncan article (seriously cannot recommend that article enough). I went through the various iterations on the breadboard in the article and ended up with the “modded” version there-in. I even tried adding a battery sag control as well, to emulate a battery losing its charge which sounds good on some effects. This particular effect is one in which it basically just no longer has enough voltage to make any noise, so it just kills the sound below that threshold. This is the breadboarded effect that I used to demonstrate my test rig, in fact.

Inspired by this Make video on circuit skills on using perfboard to quickly build a circuit, I figured I’d try soldering the components down. I just bent over some longer leads and soldered them to make more-or-less a ground rail and a power rail, and then built the circuit from there. I sketched it all out on graph paper before hand, but the circuit is so simple I had nearly half of the perfboard free after soldering everything.

My initial perfboard circuit

And so this sat on my shelf for months until my son asked about it. I figured I really did need to wrap this thing up before moving on to any other projects. I had purchased a blue powder-coated enclosure for my tremelo kit pedal and had already transferred the guts of that effect to its new home. So I had an enclosure that only needed a couple of holes made larger.

I should note here that I use external nut AC jacks on all my builds. Yes, they stick out further and are less attractive. But, here’s my reasoning:

  • all the other external components (except LEDs) already have external nuts
  • I found that the extra 1/4″ of depth provided using an external nut AC jack really helped in a 1590A enclosure, such as my Micro Amp clone
  • most importantly: I can pull the guts of a pedal out without having to cut a single wire; nothing is actually even necessarily wired after going into the enclosure at all this way!

In the spirit of recycling old parts, one of the resistors I had pulled from my CryBaby Wah mod was the right value for the LED resistor! I don’t even know why I bothered saving it, but I was glad I did. I use some of the spare space on the perfboard to mount the LED and the resistor. I used a bit of hot glue to hold the LED in place (in fact, that’s the only thing holding the entire board in place!).

The LED hot glued into the enclosure – note the old tan, 5% tolerance resistor

I did use sockets for both the diode and the transistor. I don’t know that I’ll ever swap them out, but I have that option. In fact, Paul of DIY Guitar Pedals has an entire video just comparing different combinations. Though my pedal doesn’t have a ton of gain, it sounds pretty good using the BAT41 diode and MPSA13 transistor. You can see where I used a sharpie to mark the orientation for both, as well, because I won’t remember should I ever want to swap them out. On the subject of troubleshooting, I spent a lot of time troubleshooting this build only to ultimately determine the A100k put for the volume was just a bad pot! So I definitely don’t want any more headaches trying to figure out the correct orientation for a diode or transistor. I even got so paranoid, I lined the back of the pots and the back of the perfboad with electrical tape to ensure nothing shorts!

Overall, it’s not the prettiest build I’ve done but it is complete, works, and sounds pretty good. I’m proud that I was able to layout the components in an efficient way (which is of course important to printed circuit board layouts, which I hope to try out at some point).

The finished wiring. What a rat’s nest!

Game of Thrones Has Ended

…but A Song of Fire & Ice has not. I’m actually several seasons behind on the show so I didn’t even watch the finale last night. While I’m somewhat avoiding spoilers, I’m not too concerned about it. Because it became very clear to fans of the books series from about season 2 or 3 that HBO would finish the show long before George R.R. Martin ever finished his novels. So however the show ended; if it is anything like the books ultimately end it will be more of a coincidence than anything. Frankly, I doubt they’ll be similar at all but time will (hopefully) tell.

My then girlfriend (now wife), Angela, bought me a paperback copy of A Game of Thrones from the university bookstore in Blacksburg, VA for a birthday present after I’d finished the original Dune novels. I was starting to read for fun again (five years of working towards an engineering degree means you don’t read for “fun” much). That book was recommended to her when she told the bookstore clerk I liked Dune. Basically, it was all about politics and family intrigue, but only in medieval times. And I really did enjoy it. The third book in the series, A Storm of Swords, had just been released and these books were starting to gain popularity. Also, that time, GRRM was cranking out these novels about every other year!

I didn’t read the subsequent novels for a while as I stopped reading much genre fiction for a few years (outside of Dune prequels). When I did get back to them, I had discovered the joy of audio books. Particularly, getting to listen to audiobooks to pass the time rocking our baby daughter to sleep. That’s when I also discovered Roy Dotrice. As much as I enjoyed the first book, hearing his narration brought the series to life in a way that’s still hard to describe. I’ve been a fan of Peter Dinklage since “The Station Agent” but I will always hear the phrase “A Lannister always pays his debts.” in a Welsh accent thanks to Dotrice. Don’t get me wrong, the HBO series is fantastic and the acting is wonderful. But there’s a reason that GRRM wanted no one by Dotrice to narrate the audiobooks and it’s clear why.

“Roy gave his all in the studio,” said Dan Musselman, a producer who worked with Dotrice on the series, by email. “George R.R. Martin wanted Roy to narrate his books, and he was absolutely right. Roy was the perfect narrator for the series and no one else could possibly have done what Roy did with the narrative, the story lines, and especially the characters. It was an enormous undertaking and worth every minute.”

And he was meticulous in his work and research. The night before recording, he would go over pages of notes on the next day’s characters. By the end of recording all five books, he had every character name listed in alphabetical order on more than a dozen pieces of paper. 

The Man Who Spoke ‘Game of Thrones’ Into Existence

And it’s not just that they’re the books and books are always better than the movie (nay, television series). When Dotrice wasn’t available to narrate the fourth book the producers got John Lee, one of the finest narrators alive today. I have listened to a dozen books he’s read (mostly Alistair Reynolds or Peter F. Hamilton), but it just wasn’t the same for A Feast for Crows.

Unfortunately, Dotrice passed away in 2017 and he won’t get to finish the series. No one knows when those books will be done and who’ll narrate the audiobooks. I’m sure to read and listen to them once they come out, regardless of who narrates them – or who the HBO show runners put on the iron throne. But I’ll still have Roy Dotrice’s voices in my head as I read the words.

I.M. Pei

Fourteen years ago, when Angela and I visited Paris, I took this photo inside the Louvre pyramid. I posted it to Flickr with the attached caption.

The glass pyramid at the Louvre, designed by I.M. Pei. Usually referred to as the “controversial” pyramid. I was in awe, if you can’t tell by this photo.

Pei passed away yesterday at the age of 102 after having forever changed architecture around the world.