We Escaped!

Our nephew, Kei­th, invit­ed us to one of the The Escape Game adven­tures. These are real­ly pop­u­lar and I can see why. Any­one who was a fan of point-and-click puz­zle com­put­er games (like me) would love get­ting to be inside the game and that’s exact­ly what this feels like. My old­er broth­er, Stephen, and Kei­th’s fiancé, Jamie, joined us and we had a great team. We were able to divide up for dif­fer­ent tasks and fin­ished with over 11 min­utes to spare for our Mis­sion to Mars adven­ture. The entire facil­i­ty is real­ly nice­ly done and it’s easy to get caught up in the fun and pres­sure of try­ing to solve the puz­zles togeth­er in under 60 minutes.

The Escape Game: Mission to Mars
We escaped!

I Tried Hot Chicken

No, not that I tried eat­ing hot chick­en. Hav­ing lived near Nashville for over a decade, of course we’ve eat­en hot chick­en. Though, I don’t ever order the crazy hot stuff. I stick to mild and actu­al­ly enjoy eat­ing it.

No, I mean I tried mak­ing my own hot chick­en here at home for fam­i­ly din­ner. It’s no secret that cook­ing isn’t some­thing I real­ly enjoy. I’m start­ing to enjoy it more as I’ve learned to suc­cess­ful­ly cook some things beyond a cold-cut sand­wich. Angela real­ly enjoys cook­ing (and is also real­ly good at it), but her style is more of exper­i­men­ta­tion. I’m one who can fol­low direc­tions so if they’re clear­ly writ­ten, then I can gen­er­al­ly pull it off rea­son­able well. A few years ago, we start­ed Blue Apron meals and more recent­ly made Hel­lo Fresh meals. Both are great and I learned a lot about cook­ing (and also learned I would­n’t last a day in a pro­fes­sion­al kitchen set­ting). I also learned about fry­ing a bit more. Doing some more research, I found a real­ly good Bob­by Flay recipe for fried chick­en. More impor­tant­ly, fry­ing chick­en for chick­en parme­san — one of my all-time favorite dish­es. So I got some prac­tice mak­ing that at home.

Angela sug­gest­ed I try mak­ing some hot chick­en and I found a copy-cat recipe for Hat­tie B’s chick­en which is arguably just a copy-cat of Bolton’s, but that’s for anoth­er day. I used a lot less cayenne than the recipe calls for (that much is crazy) and I used the fry­ing oil as the base for the hot coat­ing. There­fore, mine is a lot brown­er and run­nier than most glam­or shots of hot chick­en. But it did taste pret­ty good and the whole fam­i­ly enjoyed it.

Homemade hot chicken
Home­made hot chicken

Tremolo Pedal Build

Christ­mas in 2018 was a lot of fun and my fam­i­ly got me a lot of won­der­ful things. Among them, my broth­er, Dave, got me a gui­tar ped­al effects kit. This was a tremo­lo ped­al, which is def­i­nite­ly some­thing I would­n’t have got­ten myself. If you don’t know, a tremo­lo ped­al mod­u­lates the ampli­tude of the sig­nal. That is, it’s as if some­one is turn­ing the vol­ume knob up and down reg­u­lar­ly. This effect was built into many ear­ly elec­tric gui­tar ampli­fiers. In the late 50’s an Aus­tralian elec­tron­ics mag­a­zine had an arti­cle on a rel­a­tive­ly sim­ple cir­cuit for this effect. That design has since been mod­i­fied and incor­po­rat­ed into many pop­u­lar gui­tar effects. The kit I got is by Arca­dia Elec­tron­ics and uses the EA Tremo­lo design.

This kit has all of the com­po­nents, even jacks and switch, all direct­ly sol­dered onto the print­ed cir­cuit board (or PCB). This sim­pli­fies build­ing and is, in fact, what most com­mer­cial ped­als uti­lize to speed up fab­ri­ca­tion (and even allow for auto­mat­ed com­po­nent sol­der­ing). As such, it was a rel­a­tive­ly straight-for­ward build process that prob­a­bly took me under three hours total. And mind you, I am inten­tion­al­ly slow with this things because I want to real­ly enjoy the process and also to pre­vent mak­ing any easy avoid­able mistakes.

Pop­u­lat­ed PCB for the Aca­dia Tremo­lo ped­al. You can see that I inten­tion­al­ly bent over a cou­ple of the elec­trolyt­ic capac­i­tors to keep them well clear of the Depth con­trol potentiometer.

The instruc­tions with the Aca­dia kits are very sparse. They basi­cal­ly include of a print­out of the PCB (which is very nice­ly screen print­ed and clear­ly marked, though) and a com­po­nent list. That’s it, there’s no oth­er instruc­tions or build steps giv­en. So, if this was a kit for a new builder, I’d sug­gest down­load­ing the instruc­tions for one of the oth­er Tremo­lo ped­als at Mam­moth Elec­tron­ics. They’re gen­er­al­ly sim­i­lar builds and pro­vide some good infor­ma­tion if you’re new to ped­al build­ing or elec­tron­ics. The Aca­dia kit came with high qual­i­ty com­po­nents. I test­ed some of the resis­tors and they were clos­er to nom­i­nal val­ues than the ones I pur­chase. The sin­gle diode in the kit had legs that real­ly did­n’t fit into the drilled through holes, but I just swapped it out for anoth­er 1N4001 in my parts bin. It’s not that the part was cheap; just that the pcb design as-drilled can’t accom­mo­date this par­tic­u­lar part. There’s prob­a­bly sev­er­al solu­tions to this, but this would be pret­ty frus­trat­ing for a first-time builder, I think. Oth­er­wise, I real­ly have no issues with this kit. It’s the first ped­al build I’ve done that I did­n’t have to trou­bleshoot at least one mistake!

I labeled the ped­al once it was all closed up for test­ing. I’ll paint and dec­o­rate the case anoth­er day.

I got the hard­ware all sol­dered onto the board. I did add some elec­tri­cal tape to the back of the pots as well as to the inside of the case back. This is prob­a­bly not nec­es­sary, but I want­ed to pre­vent any pos­si­bil­i­ty of the pots or com­po­nents ground­ing out.

The ped­al sounds great. The vol­ume boost on this was pret­ty sur­pris­ing, in fact. Just dial­ing the Rate and Depth con­trols to zero makes this a pret­ty effec­tive clean boost, even. The range of the tremo­lo is all the way from noth­ing to com­plete vol­ume clip­ping. I record­ed a fair­ly poor sam­ple for this post, but the sound is real­ly great in person.

Tremo­lo Ped­al Demo

Repairing a Kid’s Bed

As part of my goals for 2019, I am going to try to write about some of my DIY and mak­er projects. So, here’s an unex­pect­ed one to start off the year…

The oth­er evening, I heard a thud and an “uh-oh” from my 11yo daugh­ter’s room. Turns out, when hop­ping on to the bed to read that night, the bed rail snapped. The bed rail was made from press­board, veneered to look like the rest of the fur­ni­ture (which I think is of slight­ly high­er qual­i­ty). Our daugh­ter felt ter­ri­ble about break­ing the bed, but in real­i­ty it’s a won­der it last­ed for the 7 years it did. An aver­age size tod­dler could break this stuff, let alone an aver­age size 11 yo girl. The press­board had cracked in two pieces, right through one of the screw holes for hold­ing the slats. 

We con­sid­ered pur­chas­ing a new IKEA bed or sim­i­lar, but she said she real­ly like this bed and would pre­fer if we could just fix it. Maybe that was part­ly her still feel­ing bad for hav­ing done it, despite my wife and I assur­ing her it was­n’t real­ly her fault at all. The only down­side to this was that I was going to have to pur­chase a full size sheet of ply­wood at the big box store to get the 6′-6″ rails out of them. I nor­mal­ly have the store cut the board along the short dimen­sion, so that it’s less than 7′ long as to fit into my Hon­da Pilot. How­ev­er, in hind­sight, I should have had them then rip down some strips to make it eas­i­er to man­age. A 6′-8″ by 4′ sheet of 3/4″ ply­wood is only slight­ly eas­i­er to man­age by your­self than a full size sheet.

Old, press­board rail (bro­ken) and new, improved rails with hardware

I did get to try my hand at edge band­ing the ply­wood. Edge band­ing is a nar­row, thin strip of veneer (almost exact­ly like the sur­faces of hard­wood ply­wood) that has a heat-acti­vat­ed glue on the back­side. You sim­ply iron-on this to the edge of your cut ply­wood.1 It’s actu­al­ly a lot of nice fur­ni­ture and cab­i­netry is made and it’s a pret­ty amaz­ing trans­for­ma­tion. Of course, it’s also how a lot of cheap fur­ni­ture is made, too, but that’s often a plas­tic veneer rather than actu­al hard­wood. I could­n’t find maple veneer at my big box store, so I took a trip to my local Wood­craft shop. There, I also got a self-cen­ter­ing drill bit. I’d always con­sid­ered one of those to be for some­one who makes a lot of fur­ni­ture or cab­i­netry, but it’s worth it to buy some even for DIY’ers like me. It’s a huge time­saver for mount­ing hard­ware and real­ly makes the process more accurate.

Using a self-cen­ter­ing bit made mount­ing the hard­ware a breeze

So, I ripped down the near­ly full sheet of ply­wood on my lit­tle band saw. Again, I should have had the store cut this down, because it’s just not easy for one per­son to do this on even a high-end cab­i­netry saw, let alone a my small Ryobi2. It result­ed in some not-so-straight cuts, but they were good enough for this as I was­n’t joint­ing any­thing. I straight­ened out some of the bend met­al slat sup­ports in my machine vice and then got all the screw holes drilled out.

I did a small test piece with the edge band­ing and tried using one of those spring loaded edge band­ing trim­mers. The band­ing went on easy, but the trim­mer was not so great. It end­ed up tear­ing the band­ing in a lot of places. I still tried using it one the first rail, which was a mis­take. When try­ing to sand every­thing, the orbital sander grabbed one of those tears and ripped off a huge chunk of the band­ing. For­tu­nate­ly, I was able to cut out that piece by re-heat­ing the glue and Angela helped me put on a patch. It end­ed up look­ing just fine for our kid’s bed, but I learned my les­son. For the sec­ond rail, I sim­ply flipped the piece over and cut along the edge with a box-cut­ter blade. I then light­ly sand­ed over the cor­ner with a sand­ing block.

I used a sin­gle (though pret­ty heavy) coat of wipe-on polyurethane for the fin­ish. The final step was to stamp the work and then it was ready for assem­bly this after­noon. The final clip slid­ing in to place was so sat­is­fy­ing! The maple match­es the fur­ni­ture, but of course it will have to dark­en over time with expo­sure to light to ful­ly match. But, I’m pleased with the final result and I’m con­fi­dent this will last longer than the original.

Stamped and in place
Like new again!
  1. If you want to know more about edge band­ing, Bob of ILTMS made an excel­lent “Bits” video on the sub­ject late last year. []
  2. It’s actu­al­ly my old­er broth­er’s table saw. He just need­ed a place to keep it and I need­ed one to use, so that worked out for us. []