Miter Saw Fix

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.

I near­ly broke my Allen key set get­ting these bolts loose

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.

Tough to cap­ture with a cell phone cam­era, but both points in the mid­dle are off the straight edge

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?).

Pre­ci­sion sledge work

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.

A lot of effort to close a very small gap

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.

Not the ide­al square device

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).

While tight­en­ing the main fence, I noticed the bolt-on wing was­n’t in line

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!)

  1. 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. []

Soccer Goals

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.

Wyatt 1, Jason 0

Also, Nashville SC won 2–0.

Electro-Harmonix Small Stone Mods

This project has been “in the works” for a while. I’ve had the ped­al work­ing for some­time but final­ly got around mak­ing the mod­i­fi­ca­tions to make it a mod­ern ped­al.

EH Small Stone with work­ing LED indi­ca­tor

Let’s start with a bit of back­sto­ry: Last sum­mer, my wife and I were help­ing to clean out my late father-in-laws tool shed. He had a lot of stuff and a lot of that stuff was entire­ly ran­dom. One such item was a late 70’s Elec­to-Har­monix Small Stone phase shifter. It was in decent shape, but upon open­ing it, the 9v bat­tery cor­rod­ed and ruined the bat­tery snap. So it was unus­able as-is. There’s not a defin­i­tive way to date it, but the pot is labeled 1377825, which means it was man­u­fac­tured the week of June 19th (25th week) of 1978 by CTS (man­u­fac­tur­er’s code 137). So the ped­al was like­ly build and sold in late 1978 or 1979.

EH Issue J board: the red (9v for LED), gray (ground), green (sig­nal in) and yel­low (sig­nal out) wires were ones added as part of this mod

The Small Stone is the oth­er phas­er sound from the late 70’s, where as the MXR Phase 90 is the one that Eddie Van Halen made famous (I have some the­o­ries on why that might have been, too.). That being said, it’s a great sound­ing phas­er. I’m not a fan of the col­or switch on, per­son­al­ly1. But with the switch off, the effect has got a rich, space‑y sound. This par­tic­u­lar ped­al just need­ed a bit of love.

The first thing was to put in a new bat­tery snap to pow­er the ped­al. This ped­al had a 1/8″ audio jack-style pow­er jack. There are adapters for using this with a mod­ern, Boss-style (2.1 mm bar­rel) DC pow­er plug. How­ev­er, it was a pret­ty sim­ple oper­a­tion to just drill out the case a bit larg­er and install a mod­ern pow­er jack. That got the ped­al work­ing again and how it stayed for about a year. And it sound­ed great.

Well, except for one issue and it’s why I think this ped­al was nev­er near­ly as pop­u­lar as the MXR or, for that mat­ter, many of EH’s oth­er ped­als such as the Big Muff π. That is there is a seri­ous vol­ume drop when the effect is on. Imag­ine Eddie Van Halen turn­ing the effect on for the drop‑C# chug in “Unchained” and then back off for the chord pro­gres­sion. The riff would be ruined! 2. So I real­ly want­ed to fix that. For­tu­nate­ly, 40+ years of his­to­ry with this design and folks have fig­ured out ways to address the issue. There are two resis­tor val­ues that can be changed that dra­mat­i­cal­ly improve the vol­ume drop. I swapped out R11 and R42 and a quick test (out­side of the case) saw the issue improve dra­mat­i­cal­ly.

Mods com­plet­ed: 1) Boss-style AC jack, 2) LED indi­ca­tor, 3) resis­tors swapped for vol­ume drop (blue resis­tors), and 4) true-bypass switch wiring

The bypass­ing mech­a­nism on this ped­al was fair­ly trans­par­ent. I per­son­al­ly can’t tell much of a dif­fer­ence when it’s in my sig­nal chain or not. How­ev­er, I did decide to make it a true bypass ped­al along with the oth­er mod, main­ly just to add an indi­ca­tor LED. Though I’m not a seri­ous gui­tar play­er and nev­er actu­al­ly play live (or record), I do like hav­ing indi­ca­tor lights on effects. If noth­ing else, it just reminds me to turn them all off when I’m done play­ing for a bit as a break dur­ing work hours! The updat­ed switch, even just a cheap­er “Tai­wan blue” is still a lot less of a “ka-chunk!” than the old switch, too.

The last step was to drill out the hole for the LED bezel. Drilling steel is a bit hard­er than alu­minum. I used a step bit as usu­al, but cut­ting flu­id is a must in this case. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, a cou­ple of steel shav­ings scratched rings around the open­ing as I was drilling. I can prob­a­bly buff them out, but a sim­ple piece of painters tape would have pro­tect­ed the sur­face when drilling (and I usu­al­ly think of that when it’s a pow­der-coat­ed enclo­sure!). I boxed up the effect, plugged it in, and SQUEAL-EEE-OOO-EEAAA! Turns out, the out­put jack can rotate just a bit and short out on the col­or switch con­nec­tors. A small piece of black elec­tri­cal tape fixed that, though.

Black elec­tri­cal tape over the col­or switch con­nec­tors to pre­vent it from short­ing on the out­put jack

Reverb has these vin­tage v7 Small Stone ped­als going from between about $150 to $200, depend­ing on their con­di­tion (they retailed for around $80 back in the 70’s). Even non-func­tion­ing, this one could have sold for $75-$100 (which would have eas­i­ly cov­ered the cost of a mod­ern “Nano” re-issue mod­el). So did I reduce its val­ue? Maybe. Maybe not. There are some mod­ded Small Stones also sold on Reverb going for even more. Many of those have addi­tion­al con­trols added or the abil­i­ty to attach expres­sion ped­als or oth­er more sig­nif­i­cant mod­i­fi­ca­tions.

How­ev­er, none of that is real­ly the point for me. I think it’s real­ly cool that this par­tic­u­lar one belonged to some­one in Ange­la’s fam­i­ly (most like­ly her late uncle, John, who played gui­tar some). I think of all the effects in my col­lec­tion, this would be one I’d nev­er real­ly want to part with any­way. It’s got some real his­to­ry; used by peo­ple I knew. And it’s been fun to take it and make it hope­ful­ly even bet­ter than before. It sounds great and though it may not have been the phas­er I would have bought oth­er­wise, it’s even bet­ter to me.

With all apolo­gies to EVH, my incred­i­bly rough take on the intro riff to “Unchained”

Some notes on that demo: first of all, it’s just record­ed from my iPhone X on a tri­pod (as if the leg was­n’t the give­away). The iPhone attempts to lev­el out sound, so try­ing to show that the vol­ume does­n’t drop when the ped­al is engaged in this record­ing isn’t too use­ful. Next, even though you can clear­ly hear the switch click­ing, it’s tru­ly just because the amp vol­ume is rel­a­tive­ly low. There’s no pop through the amp. Last­ly, I’m bare­ly pass­able at play­ing this riff and try­ing to coor­di­nate the ped­al on-and-off with it was a par­tic­u­lar­ly chal­lenge for me.

  1. The col­or switch seems to add sec­ond lay­er of phas­ing at a slow­er rate than the first so there’s a weird­er change ampli­tude. I think this was more pop­u­lar with organ and elec­tric piano play­ers than gui­tarists. I cer­tain­ly can’t think of any record­ings where I may have heard that col­or switch effect. []
  2. I’m not say­ing EVH ever actu­al­ly even used one of these… In fact, after about 5 min of research, EVH actu­al­ly used a flanger rather than a phas­er for that par­tic­u­lar song; but he did and does famous­ly use a phas­er for oth­er songs such as Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love), but for any­one who did they sure­ly would have noticed the vol­ume drop. []

Burying or Embracing the Past?

The first trail­er for Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Sky­walk­er came out today. There’s so much to unpack and enjoy about it, but one thing that caught my eye from the trail­er & the Star Wars Insta­gram post about it was Kilo Ren’s hel­met:

Good News About Black Holes

For the moment, CNN’s head­line is about grad stu­dent Katie Bouman who helped accom­plish some­thing extra­or­di­nary because she’s real­ly bril­liant. The world’s pret­ty messed up, but for its great to see smart peo­ple get famous for awe­some things.

Thank this grad student for first black hole image

[Adden­dum: Dr. Bouman gave a TedX Talk a cou­ple of years ago on how a com­put­er sci­en­tist such as her­self end­ed up work­ing on a globe-span­ning astro­physics project and how the her imag­ing algo­rithm would even­tu­al­ly help make the image pos­si­ble.]

LED Wiring

This is a basic ele­ment of many elec­tron­ics projects: how to wire up an LED with a cur­rent lim­it­ing resis­tor. Most effects have a 5 mm LED and many wiring dia­grams show a 4k7Ω resis­tor. There’s a fair­ly wide range of val­ues you can use, depend­ing on how bright you want the LED (and what the LED’s specs are). You can cal­cu­late out the exact val­ue to use if you have the specs for an LED, but using a 4k7Ω works well enough for most sit­u­a­tions.

What’s a bit less obvi­ous is how to sol­der a resis­tor’s legs to an LED leg and the con­nect­ing wires. Here’s my method:

  1. Using a pair of craft tweez­ers, I roll up the pos­i­tive leg of the LED.
  2. Then take the resis­tor leg and bend it through this loop, then twist it around once. This forms a chain-like con­nec­tion.
  3. Sol­der this con­nec­tion and then trim the resis­tor leg back.
  4. Curl up the out­stand­ing leg of the resis­tor in a sim­i­lar fash­ion.
  5. Bend the tinned tip of your hookup wire at a 90° and hook around this loop to sol­der just like you would a jack con­nec­tion.
  6. Curl up the neg­a­tive leg and sol­der a 90° bend from anoth­er hookup wire to this end.
  7. Apply heat-shrink tub­ing over both con­nec­tions. I picked up using the bar­rel of sol­der­ing iron from Collin of CS Gui­tars.

You could do NASA-spec sol­der joints if you want, but this is typ­i­cal­ly more than strong enough for con­nec­tions. As for the resis­tor, it does­n’t real­ly mat­ter which leg you attach it (that is, before or after the LED in the cir­cuit) as it will have the same effect. How­ev­er, by def­i­n­i­tion, cur­rent will only flow through a diode in one direct, so it does mat­ter that you have the LED leads clear­ly iden­ti­fied. That’s why I try to be con­sis­tent with using red as the pos­i­tive (and typ­i­cal­ly black for the neg­a­tive, but I was out of black hook-up wire dur­ing this par­tic­u­lar project).

Shop Air Filter Installation

My garage is sort of orga­nized, but it’s cov­ered in dust. I knew it was get­ting bad and so I ordered a rel­a­tive­ly inex­pen­sive air fil­ter for shop spaces. I’d had my eye on the WEN 3410 3‑speed air fil­ter for a while. Home Depot has the best price for this item, but it’s rou­tine­ly out-of-stock. It came back in stock in Feb­ru­ary so I ordered one then. It arrived, I plugged it up just to make sure it worked, and then it sat on my work­bench for the past 6 weeks or so.

The WEN Air Fil­ter installed

I had pur­chased the nec­es­sary hang­ing hard­ware a cou­ple of weeks lat­er, but still did­n’t get around to hang­ing it up. You see, our garage has real­ly high ceil­ings (12′-6″) and the dinky 12″ chains that are packed in the box weren’t going to cut it. The instruc­tions state to hang it at least 7′ above the floor, but I’m pret­ty sure 11′ in the air isn’t going to cap­ture a lot of dust. I pur­chased some pre-punched angle and about 20′ of 300lb chain. But still, this all sat on the work­bench (ok, so maybe my garage is less orga­nized than I’d like…).

So, today I final­ly decid­ed it would the be the day to install this thing. And appar­ent­ly none too soon. My son want­ed to go over to his friend’s house but told me he did­n’t want to ride his bike because it was cov­ered in dust (he’s not wrong, but we got it down and aired the tires any­way).

My first time cut­ting steel with a cut­ting wheel on an angle grinder

So the angle I pur­chas­es was a 4′ sec­tion, and I need­ed to cut it in half. I also bought a cut­ting wheel for my angle grinder. This was actu­al­ly the first time I’d ever cut steel with an angle grinder. I did wear a full face shield but did­n’t cov­er my arms. The sparks were min­i­mal, but I would­n’t want­ed to have cut sev­er­al that way. I could have uses the same cut­ting wheel to cut the chains to length, but my bolt cut­ter was faster.

The first angel and chains installed (that’s a 9′ lad­der by the way)

After that, it was just a mat­ter of get­ting the angles lag screwed into the ceil­ing joists. I used some thread­ed quick links to attach the chains, just in case the unit start­ed swing­ing around. That proved to not be a prob­lem. Frankly, this was prob­a­bly all overkill to hang a 31 lb unit, but it’s room to grow if I need some­thing big­ger.

I had to add an exten­sion cord to get it plugged into the same out­let as my garage door open­er and my retractable exten­sion cord­By the way, the retractable exten­sion cord is one of the sin­gle best items I’ve got­ten for my shop. Between that and my rolling work­bench, it feels like hav­ing a whole new shop area.. Then it was ready to test. Admit­ted­ly, this isn’t a very pow­er­ful air fil­ter. At full speed, it’s 400 cfm. For­tu­nate­ly, that’s not enough to get it mov­ing hang­ing from hose 4′-6″ chains.

Air fil­ter and garage door motor shar­ing some ceil­ing space

I don’t yet have much of a sense of how well it works, but it gets pret­ty good reviews. I’ll put it to the test soon enough by tak­ing my air com­pres­sor to start blow­ing dust off of every­thing.