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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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”).
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
He has converted on bay of a 3-car garage to a very nice wood shop with nice power tools. [↩]
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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).
…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.
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.
We downsized from a Honda Odyssey minivan last year to a Honda Pilot. It’s been a great vehicle (despite the lack of a volume knob). However, one of the biggest disappointments last summer was that we could no longer toss four bicycles in the back of our vehicle and go to a park for a family bike ride. Our neighborhood is ok for very short rides, but we enjoy parking at one of the area greenways and going for a car-free ride, often on a shady path.
So I’ve been planning on getting a trailer hitch-mounted bike rack to solve the issue but of course, that meant having to get a trailer hitch first as our vehicle doesn’t come with one. I didn’t want a third-party hitch because 1) they hang below the bumper, which is an eyesore and 2) I had really bad luck with the wiring on a U-Haul tow hitch on our old Ford (the damage it caused to the system wiring cost me more than the hitch). My son has been really wanting to or more bike rides, so I figured the time had come to order some parts.
I did some research and found a couple of videos on how to install the oem Honda tow hitch for a 2017 Honda Pilot. It’s about as simple as it could possible be, with only six bolts to mount it. The part comes with the replacement bumper inserts and bolts. I ordered the part from Amazon, but you can get it cheaper (though not with free shipping) from https://www.hondapartsguys.com. It does not, however, come with any instructions per se; just a note on the box that you have to download them. The first thing the instructions state is that this is not a job for do-it-yourselfers. Other than the fact that you need a torque wrench, I honestly cannot image why not. Well, except that they want to funnel some business to dealership service depts. But no way am I paying someone hundreds of dollars to tighten down a half dozen bolts for me. I can’t deep-link to the PDF on Honda’s site, but it’s easy to search for the year and model and then find the trailer hitch instructions.
The first steps, and in my opinion, the most difficult (or at least time consuming) is to remove the old bumper insert. It’s just a bent piece of plastic but it’s held in by multiple screws, bolts, and clips. The only real trick is to understand how the pair of center-push clips work. This video does a great job of explaining how to easily pop the center down to slide them out. You save a couple of metal clip-on-nuts to reuse on your replacement insert that has the openings for the hitch. Getting the new insert back in placed required some persuasion, but once it was aligned onto all the clips and holes, it was very easy to reverse the process.
Mounting the hitch itself wasn’t hard to do by myself, either. I literally just sat it in my lap and the slid myself under the bumper. I was able to rest the hitch in the insert’s hitch opening and get two of the bolts started to then support the rest of the weight. I used my small power driver to get the bolts snug tight (I set it to 20, which I assume is Nm). The bolt heads are 19mm, but you can safely use a 3/4″ if you only have SAE sizes (19 mm = 0.748 inches; which is within the tolerance of most sockets anyway). I didn’t use an extender, but rather just a 1/2″ to 3/8″ adapter on the 3/4″ socket and was able to get all six bolts tightened to spec. The instructions mention a 22mm socket, which I didn’t have but purchased at Lowes for 99¢. However, I never needed it and honestly don’t even know what it was supposed to be used for!
I saw at least one video where the installer only lowered the spare tire but I’d recommend getting it entirely out of the way. The spare wench system on Pilot allowed me to just drop it onto a furniture dolly. I also saw where one person detached the muffler to get better access to one of the mount bolts. As I had gotten that one very tight using a small ratchet, I didn’t need a lot of room to get it to the full 70 ft-lbs of torque with the large torque wrench. I had never used a torque wrench before, but it’s pretty straight forward. The relatively cheap ($25) one I purchased from Amazon seemed to work fine and was easy to set to the desired torque (loosen a small nut, turn the handle to the measurement, tighten the nut back down). Just tighten until it “clicks” (which sounds a bit like a ratchet going backwards). This video demonstrates it nicely; though they apparently were using some after-market part and mention “140 pounds” (sic: foot-pounds) but the oem part was far lower torque.
Just for estimates, the difference between 30 ft-lbs and 60 ft-lbs was less than a full turn of the bolt, I think. The difference between 60 ft-lbs and 70 ft-lbs was maybe only 1/8th of a turn! But that last 1/8th of a turn required me to get into position for each bolt and brace my knees to the frame to pull. You’re not likely to accidentally over tighten these bolts to the full tension using a driver (unless it’s an air-powered hammer tool) or a smaller ratchet. I’d strongly suggest buying or borrowing a torque wrench and getting these tightened up right, though. They are so much more unwieldy than a driver or small ratchet, I would only recommend them for going from snug (or tighter) to full torque, though. Sure, $25 is a bit much for a tool you use so briefly but it’s good knowing the hitch is on to stay.
The nicest thing about the oem Honda kit is that it’s hardly noticeable once installed. It doesn’t stick out past the bumper (it’s actually recessed a bit), so no one is going to lose a knee cap or shin bone to this thing. It came with a little rubber Honda insert to stick in the receiver when it’s not in use, too.
I also ordered a Yakima Longhaul bike rack. It appears this model is intended for RVs or similar vehicles, where you would likely leave it in place. It doesn’t move out of the way or fold down. Further, it attaches with a large thru-nut. However, it was the cheapest Yakima-brand rack for four bikes supported on a trailer hitch. I’ve had very good experiences with their equipment so I decided to go with this one. It’s fairly massive but does the job. The bikes were easy to mount onto it using their zip-tie style straps and didn’t budge at all to-and-from the bike trail.
One downside we noted to the bikes mounted is that the backup sensors constantly think collision is imminent. So any time you’re in reverse (such as backing out of the garage), there is a constant beep that must be ignored.
As I was installing this for the purpose of a bike rack, I didn’t spring for the additional $175 wiring harness. I think I’ll likely have to take the trailer hitch back off to place it in the mount, which is not going to be fun (though at least I’ll get some more value out of that torque wrench investment!). That’s something to consider if you’re looking at doing something like this yourself as well. I’m not sure a dealer will be willing to install only the trailer hitch without the wiring harness (they’d probably still charge you just as much even if they did).
One of my earliest “nice” tools was a compound miter saw. I bought a “new”1 Ridgid 10″ miter saw about 15 years ago. It’s been pretty handy over the years, but I noticed last year (on my finishing storage rack project) that the fence was bowed. As the blade would cut through he piece, the piece would then pinch into the blade. At best, that just ends up messing up an otherwise clean cut. But worse, it can be a bit dangerous any time a piece is pinched like that (at least with a miter saw, the blade is generally pulling it downward into the support). I searched for a replacement part, but those are no longer available for this model.
Thus it was time to just try to fix it. The fence is a very oddly shaped piece of aluminum. I had to unthread the four hex bolts holding it in place. They were pretty tight, to say the least.
It’s important to have a references for “straight” and for “square” and so any maker should know what the flattest and most square things in their shop are for a true reference. I don’t have any machinist’s squares or a heavy, cast-iron table saw, so I just make do with some aluminum tools that are pretty good. I grabbed the large dry-wall square to use a flat reference. Sure enough, there was about an 1/16″ bow in the fence.
I placed some scrap pieces on the garage floor and used a 4lb sledge to hammer the center of the fence. Aluminum is a brittle metal, so I had to go slow. This usually mean 1-2 firm whacks and then check to see if it was level. I actually went a bit too far, and the fence started rocking side-to-side on my straight edge. A couple of whacks on the other side got it right on. I did have to shore up one side as the points nearest the blade weren’t in line any more (or maybe they never were?).
This was the most tedious part, but I got it so I could just slide a piece of paper under it. That’s going to be about as accurate as I can get using this method I think.
The fence is attached with round (or fixed) holes on one side and slotted (or adjustment) holes on the other. I got the fence placed on one side and then used my aluminum speed square on the other. This is where a good machinist’s square would be used if I owned one, but again – this whole fix is a bit rough anyway, so the speed square is good enough.
I also noticed that in addition to the “fixed” fence having been warped, which would have just resulted in the same issues. So I quickly adjusted that one too (no sledge hammer required).
A quick test cut and I immediately could tell the piece didn’t move a bit as soon as the blade cut through. And, just as important, it was square! (well as sure of square as I can be with my tools!)
Though as it turns out, it had been used to cut some stuff and returned (probably by some 2nd rate contractor), only to be sold as “new” by Home Depot. But it worked fine and I needed it for something at the time, so I just lived with it. [↩]
Wyatt & I went to the Nashville SC match with Memphis 901 FC tonight. We attended with his Cub Scout Pack and got to sit in one of the field level suites. The game was rain delayed an hour and there was rain on-and-off during the game, but we stuck it out. Mostly because, as part of the suite package the group got, we got to go out on the field and shoot a few goals after the game. Most of the families & kids had left due to how late it had gotten, but we stuck it out. Wyatt got 2/3 shots and I missed my one shot (trying to shoot for the corner). Still, was a really fun experience and glad he & I got to do it.