Raised Bed for Gardening

We’ve been doing a lot of spruc­ing up in our yard in the past few weeks. Angela has want­ed a raised gar­den bed for a long time and Bob of I Like to Make Stuff has a real­ly great, sim­ple design which he recent­ly built that I liked a lot. I will con­fess that I might have bought a kit if one had been avail­able. The price of the mate­ri­als end­ed up being about the same and it was a fun project.

The raised gar­den bed with some veg­eta­bles plant­ed

The mate­ri­als for this were four 8′ deck­ing boards, a 4′ sec­tion of 2“x2” alu­minum angle, and some deck­ing screws (which I already had). I cut the deck­ing boards into 4′ lengths, two for each side.

Deck­ing boards and alu­minum angle from the big-box hard­ware store

Alu­minum is soft enough to cut with most wood­work­ing blades, so I cut the angle into four 1′ lengths1. I then used the band­saw to cut 1–1/2″ angles to one end of each length. These will act as spikes to hold the bed in place. I used a sim­pler cut than Bob’s, fig­ur­ing it would still stick in the ground well enough. I also used the band­saw and disk sander to round off the cor­ners. I left an inch gap at the top, as well so that the cor­ners would­n’t scrape any knees or shins.

The band­saw eas­i­ly cut through 1/2″ of alu­minum

I worked out a screw pat­tern to attach the cor­ners to the boards. The deck­ing boards had a cou­ple of thin­ner chan­nels on the under­side, so I tried to put the screws into the “meati­er” sec­tions. The cor­ners are over­lap joints, so the screw pat­tern isn’t sym­met­ric on either side of the cor­ner. Once I worked out the pat­tern and “dry” fit a cor­ner sec­tion, I used the drill press to drill a set of holes. I messed up a cou­ple of hole loca­tions but anoth­er dry fit had the pat­tern final­ized. I drilled and coun­ter­sunk 32 holes into the alu­minum.

A cou­ple of pieces of wood in the drill press clamp held the angle for drilling

Then it was time for assem­bly, which meant pre-drilling all those holes into the deck­ing. I prob­a­bly did­n’t have to pre-drill them, but as the holes were very close to the board ends, I want­ed to make sure they did­n’t tear out.

A view of the screw pat­tern and the angled steak end

Angela helped me car­ry the assem­bly into the gar­den where it was time to load up with soil and plants. Ains­ley helped her plant some veg­eta­bles. Some of these were seeds, so it looks more emp­ty than it is.

Ains­ley water­ing down the soil before plant­i­ng
  1. Bob’s design has longer cor­ner pieces, but he also appar­ent­ly had more alu­minum on hand than I could get. These alu­minum pieces aren’t espe­cial­ly cheap, either. []

Wheelbarrow Repair

Our old wheel­bar­row had been sit­ting long enough that the han­dles had more-or-less turned into mulch. Iron­ic, as mulch is pri­mar­i­ly what we’ve car­ried around the yard in the wheel­bar­row. I had con­sid­ered mak­ing some new han­dles out of pres­sure-treat­ed pine, but replace­ment hard­wood han­dles weren’t ter­ri­bly expen­sive. So I ven­tured out to the big-box hard­ware store to get some (where I was in the vast minor­i­ty by wear­ing a face mask!).

Rotted Wheelbarrow handle
The han­dles for the wheel­bar­row com­plete­ly rot­ted away at the end

This project would have been just about impos­si­ble if I did­n’t have some Liq­uid Wrench to loosen up the rust­ed nuts. It took about 5 min­utes for it to work into the bolts and almost every­one came right off.

Liquid Wrench
Liq­uid Wrench to the res­cue

Once I got the entire wheel­bar­row apart, I traced over the bolt hole loca­tions to the replace­ment han­dles. My assis­tant was there to ensure that all mea­sure­ments were accu­rate and well-sniffed.

Hargie helps with measurements
Hargie helps with mea­sure­ments

I used the drill press and a 3/8″ forstner bit drill the holes. I have a fair­ly cheap set of Ryobi bits (which pair nice­ly with my trusty Ryobi drill press!). I can def­i­nite­ly see pur­chas­ing a much nicer set of forstner bits as they are fast and clean.

Drill Press
Han­dle bolt holes with the drill press

I did spend a few min­utes clean­ing off some sur­face rust from some met­al parts with a wire brush and some min­er­al spir­its. I hit all of them with a coat of black spray paint to hope­ful­ly reduce some future rust. I did­n’t spend a lot of time and did­n’t even wait for the paint to dry before I re-assem­bled every­thing.

Wheelbarrow Parts
Dirt and rust on some met­al parts

I re-assem­bled the wheel­bar­row minus a cou­ple of wood­en shim pieces. They had almost lit­er­al­ly turned to dirt at this point and would have been a pain to re-cut. I also need to get some zinc-coat­ed bolts and wash­ers at some point since the exist­ing bolts are now too long with out that shim in place. But it’s a 100% func­tion­ing wheel­bar­row again and looks pret­ty great actu­al­ly, as far as wheel­bar­rows go.

Wheelbarrow Glamour Shot
Looks bet­ter than ever

Sabbath Drive

This is a post that has been a very long time in the mak­ing. I start­ed this project back in Octo­ber of 2018. Gui­tarPCB had a sale and it looked like their Sab­o­tage Dri­ve would be an inter­est­ing chal­lenge. There were six (!) tran­sis­tors in this cir­cuit. But I want­ed to make this a real­ly fun project so I designed some cus­tom art­work as well, all themed around Black Sab­bath — the inspi­ra­tion of this cir­cuit’s sound. This cir­cuit fur­ther seems to be inspired by Catal­in­bread­’s Sab­bra Cadabra ped­al, anoth­er pre-amp in a box effects that tries to cap­ture Tony Iom­mi’s sound of a Dal­las Range­mas­ter tre­ble boost push­ing a Laney Super­group head1. Or, put it anoth­er way, the sound of doom met­al!

Sabbath Drive Workstation
Sol­der­ing com­po­nents for the Sab­bath Dri­ve project

I did some lay­out in an SVG file for the graph­ics, which you can see above. This is also large­ly where I did the drill hole pat­terns for the enclo­sure, as those go hand-in-hand. My graph­ics incor­po­rat­ed some of the Sab­bath album cov­ers. I was fair­ly proud of the design, if not the actu­al imple­men­ta­tion. I then got to sol­der­ing the cir­cuit com­po­nents. Bar­ry Stein­del of Gui­tarPCB did a great job design­ing this for a rel­a­tive­ly com­plex build, it is a very clean lay­out.

Sabbath Drive PCB Resistors
Resis­tors and tran­sis­tor sock­ets in place

I think I’ve men­tioned this before, but I am in the habit of tap­ing out all the com­po­nents to a parts sheet with labels that cor­re­spond to the PCB silk screen labels. This would­n’t scale up to a large pro­duc­tion, but for one-at-a-time builds, it real­ly takes the stress out of try­ing to find the right com­po­nent for each step.

Sabbath Drive Component Leads
Com­po­nent leads being cut
Sabbath Drive Components
Close-up of the tran­sis­tors being placed in the sock­ets — bend those leads!

Once the com­po­nents were in place, it was time to final­ize the enclo­sure lay­out. The rel­a­tive place­ment of the pots/knobs are fixed since they are sol­dered direct­ly to the PCB. But the place­ment of every­thing else is depen­dent on get­ting it all to fit. I would have loved top-mount­ed jacks as you can see in the orig­i­nal sketch below, but that was­n’t going to hap­pen with this PCB lay­out (in the size of enclo­sure I chose, any­way). I need­ed to for­go that in order to squeeze every­thing in place. Regard­less, no 9v bat­tery in here! I don’t use ’em any­way.

Sabbath Drive Enclosure Layout
“Dry fit­ting” the off board com­po­nents and con­trols for the lay­out

When it comes to drilling the enclo­sure, I use a step bit in my drill press. Anoth­er thing I’ve prob­a­bly men­tioned: I have a small med­i­cine syringe with machine cut­ting flu­id. That way I can use my cen­ter punch to mark the point on my tem­plate and the put 1–2 drops of cut­ting flu­id right at that spot.

Sabbath Drive Drill Press
Drilling the enclo­sure holes

As you can see below, I actu­al­ly test­ed the cir­cuit before I even com­plet­ed drilling all the lay­out holes. I drilled the holes for the pots to get those mount­ed to the PCB in the cor­rect ori­en­ta­tion. I think wired up some leads for sig­nal in/out, the 9v pow­er, and ground to hook up to my test­ing rig.

Sabbath Drive Test Box
Test­ing the effect on the my test­ing rig

Then it was time to fin­ish drilling the holes and wiring up the off board switch, jacks, and LED.

Sabbath Drive Case Layout
Off-board wiring in progress (I don’t recall why there was a third jack!)

It was a bit of a tight fit into the enclo­sure, but part of that was my desire to place the LED near the top of the ped­al I real­ly don’t like LEDs right by the footswitch, where the get cov­ered up by your foot! Sure, they’re a lot eas­i­er to put there, but they don’t make it easy to tell you’ve prop­er­ly engaged the effect.

Sabbath Drive Offboard Wiring
Com­plet­ing the off-board wiring

I tried using our vinyl cut­ting machine to cre­ate paint­ing a paint­ing tem­plate from my SVG file. My first mis­take was using some cheap vinyl which did­n’t stick to the pow­der-coat­ed sur­face well.

Sabbath Drive Vinyl Cutter
Cut­ting the paint tem­plate on our Cri­cut

Then I used acrylic paint which bled under that tem­plate. Also, the tiny let­ter­ing details were just about beyond the scale was which the Cri­cut could suc­cess­ful­ly cut this vinyl. The end result looked about like I’d just hand-paint­ed the whole thing. I was­n’t at all hap­py with the paint job, but know­ing I was­n’t like­ly to improve on it, I went ahead and sealed it with some spray clear coat.

Sabbath Drive Paint Template
Vinyl paint tem­plate trans­ferred to the enclo­sure
Sabbath Drive Painting
Acrylic paint on the tem­plate

So I fin­ished all this Decem­ber of 2018. I nev­er post­ed about it all last year though because I real­ly was­n’t able to get a good sound record­ing of this. My iPhone demos so far have been pret­ty lack­lus­ter. And this effect did­n’t sound as great as I’d liked any­way because it’s real­ly meant to run into a cranked amp. Though I used my pre-amp, pas­sive vol­ume con­trol I could­n’t real­ly push the pow­er amp sec­tion of my tube head. Well, in the past cou­ple of months I got a pow­er atten­u­a­tor and a pret­ty good mic to record some audio with. My ampli­fi­er has a “cab emu­la­tion” out­put, as does the pow­er atten­u­a­tor but both frankly sound pret­ty ter­ri­ble. None of the record­ings with those ever had any of the low end that the amp actu­al­ly pro­duces. But using the atten­u­a­tor with the head vol­ume cranked and the mic into my record­ing inter­face, I’m final­ly hap­py with the sound I can get record­ed.

So here is the full sig­nal chain:

  • My Fend­er Tele­cast­er with a Lace Sen­sor Death­buck­er pick­up in the bridge posi­tion2
  • This runs through a TC Elec­tron­ic P0lytune 3 (I men­tion this because it has a buffer — all oth­er effects are true bypass) and then into the Sab­bath Dri­ve ped­al.
  • The Black­star HT5 Met­al head on the clean chan­nel (cranked to 10) and a TC Elec­tron­ic Hall of Fame 2 reverb ped­al in the effects loop.
  • The head runs through the Bugera PS1 pow­er atten­u­a­tor into the Black­star 1x12” cab­i­net with a Celestion G‑12T speak­er.
  • The cab­i­net is mic’d with a MXR R144 rib­bon mic into the Behringer UMC22 audio inter­face.

I use some of the EQ set­ting in garage band for the gui­tar and the over­all mix. This par­tic­u­lar record­ing was used with one of the “auto” drum­mers in Garage Band. This video is the live record­ing you’re hear­ing; just poor­ly sync’d to the audio. The gui­tar is a sin­gle track.

*cough, cough* Sweet Leaf — Black Sab­bath (with all apolo­gies to Tony Iom­mi)

On the whole, I’m real­ly pleased with the sound of this ped­al. The Range and Pres­ence con­trols give a real­ly wide tonal range. I’ve cranked the dis­tor­tion here (hon­est­ly, not even sure why that knob exists! Just fix it at 10!). The vol­ume is about at noon. I shud­der to think just how loud this ped­al would be with that cranked.

Also, for ref­er­ence, here is a short demo I did of a Sleep song (“The Druid,” only slow­er tem­po) using the cab emu­la­tor from my amp head. The sound is def­i­nite­ly more “fizzy” and flat here.
  1. For the record, even though the old­er Sab­bath records were record­ed using those, it does­n’t appear Tony Iom­mi uses those any more. He has a sig­na­ture Laney head that appears to have the tre­ble boost “built in”. Laney also has a sim­i­lar, sig­na­ture ped­al which claims to box all this up, but appar­ent­ly Iom­mi does­n’t use it at all accord­ing to his site. []
  2. Yes, I need to write an entire post on my gui­tar and the mod­i­fi­ca­tions I’ve made to it. []

First Box Joint Test

So, if you hap­pened to read my post last month on injur­ing myself, you’ll recall I did so because I was hop­ing to make a box joint jig. A box joint, or as it also known: a fin­ger joint, is a series of over­lap­ping “fin­gers” along a joint. This style of join­ery gives lots of glue sur­face area as well as shear strength to a cor­ner joint. It’s com­mon­ly used for the cor­ners of a box, thus the name.

Well, I did man­age to make a first attempt at a jig and made a sin­gle joint test. I was hop­ing to use my stan­dard table saw blade with my sled in lieu of pur­chas­ing a dado stack1. The jig is a bit too loose in the cuts and it’s pos­si­ble my table saw sled is a bit too loose in the miter slots, as well. This com­bined with some cheap­er birch ply­wood (there are lots of voids and a very thin veneer) result­ed in the fin­gers look­ing more like a box­er who’d just fought Mike Tyson.

Some loose and chipped fin­gers

Also, the depth of the cuts were a bit too deep (which is easy to adjust, at least). But glu­ing up the loose joints was a mess.

You can see some of the over­lap here

I had sort of giv­en up on the exper­i­ment as a fail­ure, but I did recent­ly go back and sand the fin­gers down; this time on pur­pose (yeah, I get the humor after last mon­th’s inci­dent). The joint still does­n’t look great but it was­n’t as “gap‑y” as it seemed before cleanup. What’s more, I can attest that even as poor as this one looks, it is incred­i­bly strong. It’s not espe­cial­ly pret­ty, but for some util­i­ty box­es, it would def­i­nite­ly serve it’s pur­pose.

Noth­ing a bit of wood filler and fin­ish could­n’t make look nice

So, this was­n’t a total fail­ure and I did learn a lot from the exer­cise, includ­ing the injury. Which, my fin­gers have com­plete­ly healed back, nails and all. As a result of “baby­ing” the left index fin­ger, I did devel­op ten­donitis in my left elbow (which is real­ly the fore­arm mus­cles and ten­don con­nec­tion). So, that lit­tle inci­dent con­tin­ues to remind me to be safe!

  1. A dado stack is a pair of blades, often with inter­me­di­ate spacer/chippers in between which cut out a wider sec­tion of mate­r­i­al in each pass on a table saw. []

Cicero Footstool

A few years ago when I was con­sid­er­ing get­ting into more “fine” wood­work­ing, there was one project that came to mind: recre­at­ing the foot­stools my grand­fa­ther, Cicero, used to make. He was a handy wood­work­er and built a lot of use­ful projects1 I know we had two or three of these foot­stools around the house grow­ing up. I assume my aunts and cousins may have had some, as well. They’re per­haps not a mas­ter crafts­man project, but let’s not over-esti­mate my abil­i­ties. As my mom put it, though, after about a half cen­tu­ry, they’re still in use!

Foot­stool built by my grand­fa­ther along with my orig­i­nal notes and sketch­es

So in 2016 I sat down to care­ful­ly draw out the pieces. His were all made from 1″ thick sol­id pine, but I fig­ured I’d use 3/4″ ply­wood instead. The legs and sides have a rough­ly 10° slant such that the base tapers up to give a slight lip all around the top footrest. I also decid­ed to add a hand­hold to the top of mine (some oth­ers of his may have this, but the one that sits in our kitchen does not). On my notes and sketch­es, I also doo­dled out a logo that read “Cicero Hand Made Crafts. Est. 2016”. I fig­ured he was the “mak­er” in my fam­i­ly so I’d hon­or that by label­ing made items with his name.

My orig­i­nal Cicero logo sketch

It took me about a year-and-a-half until I actu­al­ly got around to mak­ing my first foot­stool. I batched out the pieces on the table saw for two foot­stools from a 2’x4’ project board of 3/4″ maple ply­wood. Some of the angle cuts using my cut pat­tern result­ed in a col­or mis-match in the wood, but this could prob­a­bly be resolved by buy­ing high­er qual­i­ty ply­wood in the future. The band­saw was used for all curves, includ­ing cut­ting the arch­es in the legs at 10° (so they’re actu­al­ly lev­el when assem­bled). I used the drill press and a 1 5/8″ forstner bit to hog out mate­r­i­al for the han­dle (which I then cleaned up with a series of rasps, files, and sand­pa­per). The disc and belt sander were used to clean up all the edges (with care not to remove any more fin­ger nails). My super-sim­ple router table was used to add a 1/4″ round-over to edges. I then used the ran­dom orbital sander to clean every­thing up.

Cut mate­r­i­al for the first foot­stool

I used made an assem­bly jig for the first piece and used pock­et holes to attach the legs to the top (some­thing my grand­fa­ther did­n’t have but he seemed like a prac­ti­cal enough per­son, he’d have used them if he could have). I attached the side run­ners to the legs with some counter-sunk wood screws (black). I used a light col­or wood filler for any ply gaps (or oth­er blem­ish­es). Final­ly, a gen­er­ous coat of wipe-on polyurethane was applied for a fin­ish.

Jig hold­ing up leg at cor­rect angle and spac­ing for pock­et holes
My daugh­ter help­ing apply fin­ish to the foot­stool for her grand­moth­er
First foot­stool assem­bly — note that I used a lot more round-overs in this build

I assem­bled the first foot­stool as a Christ­mas gift for my old­er broth­er last year and then com­plet­ed the sec­ond foot­stool as a Christ­mas gift for my mom this year. The process for build­ing both pieces was a learn­ing curve, so I did­n’t real­ly take great pho­tos of either build. These are a mix of both projects (which is why the tops look dif­fer­ent). I already have planned out mak­ing some addi­tion­al tem­plates to use with a trim router to help improve the process for future builds. This project is so great because it ends up using almost every pow­er tool I have. But just like every project I try, there is always some­thing new to learn even when I’ve already built the same thing before!

Assem­bled sec­ond stool before fin­ish applied
Cicero crafted stamp

  1. One of which was a long shelf for my dad’s hi-fi sys­tem; a gift to his new son-in-law. This lat­er became the plat­form which our G.I.Joe USS Flag air­craft car­ri­er play set lived! []

Hard Shop Lesson

I got a hard les­son deliv­ered today while start­ing a project in the garage this after­noon. I’ll lead in with say­ing that I’m ok (and will heal up fine in a week or so); only a bit rat­tled. Let me start with where my head was (and should­n’t have been) that got me here.

I’ve had on my “To Do” list for 2019 to learn how to make box joints. Well, here we are into Decem­ber and I’ve not even tried it. I had want­ed to spend last Sat­ur­day work­ing on it, but I let the week­end get away with me with Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions (which are fine and I was glad to get the time I had with all my fam­i­ly). This evening, I had a Cub Scout event with my son in which I was respon­si­ble for bring some audio and video equip­ment (i.e., our home AV receiv­er, speak­ers, and disc play­er). That end­ed up tak­ing a lot longer than I had antic­i­pat­ed. But I had an hour to spare so I fig­ured I’d at least get a jump start on my box joint jig, know­ing all day Sun­day (tomor­row) is going to be busy with oth­er things.

And it’s entire­ly worth under­scor­ing here: this is all arbi­trary pres­sure I’ve put on myself. Absolute­ly no one else cares if I fig­ure out how to make box joints ever, let alone today or even this year. But I had con­vinced myself that I need­ed to rush through the hour to get the table saw jig set up.

I picked out my back­ing board and was look­ing for a piece of scrap that approx­i­mate­ly the same thick­ness as my table saw blade kerf (sim­ply put, that’s the width of the cut that the table saw makes and is frac­tion­al­ly wider than the blade itself). My ini­tial plas­tic piece for the jig end­ed up a big loose the back­ing board, so I want­ed to quick­ly try a dif­fer­ent approach. Mind you, the piece I’m try­ing to cut is less than a 1/4″ thick. So I fig­ured, why not start with a thin off cut and just sand it down to the nec­es­sary thick­ness?

My pow­er sander is a com­bi­na­tion of a belt sander and 6″ disc sander. The disc of course will put a twist on any object pushed into it, so a firm grip and just being mind­ful of one side lift­ing and the oth­er push­ing down is impor­tant. I grabbed a long thing piece of scrap and tried sand­ing it on the disc, not think­ing about where my hands would go if (when) it slipped out of my grip. I also failed to put on gloves. You cer­tain­ly do not wear gloves with some pow­er tools (any­thing with a cir­cu­lar spin­ning blade), but they are a good idea with a sander.

The same pow­er sander I have. The disc spins counter-clock­wise. I don’t even have any pho­tos of my own of this pow­er tool!

With­in less than a sec­ond of me push­ing the wood into the disc, it knocked it right out of my hand and left me push­ing my fin­gers into the sand­ing disc. Now, in all the pow­er tools I have, if I had to pick one that I was going to injure myself on, it would prob­a­bly be the pow­er sander. Blades, as you can imag­ine, can quick­ly cut into flesh and cause seri­ous injury or death. I can­not imag­ine sus­tain­ing a life-threat­ing injury on a small pow­er sander like mine (though I’m not say­ing it’s impos­si­ble). But at 3600 rpm, 120 grit sand­pa­per can remove skin and nails quite rapid­ly. Cer­tain­ly faster than my reac­tion time. Before I knew it, my unnec­es­sary rush and lack of think­ing about what I was doing caused me to injure my index and mid­dle fin­gers on my left hand. My mid­dle fin­ger got the skin scraped bad­ly but my index nail is about 1/4″ too short now. And boy howdy is that sen­si­tive skin under there!

Again, it’s noth­ing seri­ous. I was able to turn off the machine and imme­di­ate­ly go treat it myself. My fin­gers are sore but the nail should grow back. Hon­est­ly, it’s the les­son I need­ed to learn. Pow­er tools are not any­thing to be in a rush around. Every action with one requires com­plete focus and atten­tion. I need to always think about how the tool could injure me based on the action the tool makes. Giv­en that I was also using my band saw and table saw today (which, I do take less for grant­ed, to be fair to myself), I’m for­tu­nate that this is the injury I end­ed up with.

As my kids join me in the shop more, I’ve had to teach them lessons about safe­ty. I’ve even had to warn my son about touch­ing that very sand­ing disc until it comes to a com­plete stop (he thought he should stop it spin­ning one day after I’d killed the pow­er). I even recent­ly watched James Hamil­ton’s (aka, Stumpy Nubs) video on injur­ing him­self with an angle grinder and remarked on the need to pay atten­tion when I’m work­ing. I firm­ly believe that the num­ber one most impor­tant piece of safe­ty equip­ment is your brain. Too bad I failed to put that and my gloves on this after­noon. I’ll do my best to take that les­son to heart from now on.

Ah, Rats (Pedals)!

The Pro Co Rat is a, if not the, clas­sic dis­tor­tion gui­tar effect1. It’s still around though “vin­tage” effects can go for hun­dreds of dol­lars. There are many vari­ants and, like any clas­sic gui­tar effect, there are many clones. It’s also one of those ped­als that many of the mods and clones have improved upon the orig­i­nal.

Aion Helios Vin­tage Dis­tor­tion Kit

I got a com­plete ped­al kit from Aion effects — the Helios Vin­tage Dis­tor­tion. I have built one of their effects using just a PCB before, and the instruc­tions are top-notch. The kit was equal­ly well done, with qual­i­ty com­po­nents. The Helios is basi­cal­ly a Rat clone that uses an OP07 chip (instead of the hard to find LM308N and most folks who seem to know say they sound the same, any­way). The Helios also includes a cou­ple of very com­mon mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the Rat: an addi­tion­al “sweep” con­trol and a clip­ping diode selec­tion. The for­mer adds an addi­tion­al EQ con­trol to the ped­al where as the lat­ter adds the abil­i­ty to select dif­fer­ent clip­ping diodes that decide the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the dis­tor­tion.

Com­po­nents for the Rat ped­al laid out

I’m not sure if I’ve real­ly men­tioned this in any posts of effects build­ing, but I pre­fer to tape down all of the com­po­nents for each build onto paper along each of their descrip­tions. This is sort of anal­o­gous to “knolling” a LEGO kit, I sup­pose (though tap­ing them down makes the com­po­nents eas­i­er to iden­ti­fy lat­er!).

Aion footswitch board and red resistors
Aion footswitch board and red resis­tors

As I men­tioned, the Aion kit comes with what all seem to be high qual­i­ty com­po­nents. I have to admit, the all red resis­tors had me con­fused. They were clear­ly labeled with text as to each val­ue (which is much bet­ter than try­ing to read col­or bands!). They appear to be 1/4W 1% met­al film resis­tors with a coat­ing and print­ed val­ue is all.

Rat pots and switch­es

The kit comes with lit­er­al­ly every­thing you need, includ­ing pot iso­la­tion cov­ers. The fit-up of the top-mount audio and pow­er jacks is very pre­cise, so I did have to re-work the sol­der joints on one of the jacks. But the result­ing fin­ish of the enclo­sure is that much nicer.

Rat ped­al ready to assem­ble

The wiring in the ped­al is done using head­ers and small rib­bon cables. If you real­ly hate off-board wiring (I don’t mind it so much), this is real­ly nice. Here you can see the cus­tom dress­ing nut used over the stomp switch (there’s a sim­i­lar cus­tom nut for the clip­ping switch!), which gives the ped­al a very high-end made feel.

Rat ped­al guts and signed bot­tom cov­er
Rat ped­al guts shot after final assem­bly

I do have a few com­plaints about the kit, though. First is that the PCB just refused to lay flat on the selec­tor switch and pots. I could have fid­dled with it more, but it seemed like things just did­n’t want to line up. Even though Aion states the 3PDT footswitch is a pre­mi­um switch, with longer life, I’m not a fan of the feel of it (I guess I’m just so used to either a relay or the Tai­wan blue switch!). Last­ly, and this is some­thing I absolute­ly plan to change on this ped­al: the LED is insane­ly bright! I mean, it hurts to look at and is actu­al­ly dis­tract­ing, even when you’re not look­ing direct­ly at the ped­al! I’m going to swap out the LED resis­tor to dim it down. A lot!

Helios Vin­tage Dis­tor­tion Kit Com­plete

But these are great kits and this is an amaz­ing ped­al for less than $75 (on sale, reg­u­lar­ly $82). The assem­bly took me about 2 hours or so (that includes tak­ing a few min­utes to put my son to bed). Of course, your mileage may vary. Some of their ped­als are sold ful­ly assem­bled on Reverb or you can also reach out to a builder to see about pric­ing an assem­bled ped­al. Even at that price, it’s a good deal! With the clip­ping options, it can cov­er ground from almost a trans­par­ent boost all the way to a medi­um gain dis­tor­tion ped­al (I mean, it’s no Boss Met­al Zone…). It’s hon­est­ly cheap­er than you could pur­chase a used Rat ped­al and mod it, and already mod­ded Rat ped­als go for much more.

Now, none of this mat­ters if it does­n’t sound good, of course. Once again, I’ve man­aged to build a ped­al and write a blog post with­out both­er­ing to record any audio. Part of that is because I don’t yet have a mic and I’m not pleased with the cab­i­net sim­u­la­tor on my amp head. But most­ly, it’s because I’m lazy and not real­ly a great gui­tar play­er! I’ll try to get some audio post­ed soon, though.

  1. Now, when I say “dis­tor­tion effect”, I’m not refer­ring to fuzz ped­als or dis­tort­ed ampli­fiers, I real­ly do just mean dis­tor­tion effects ped­als. Hen­drix nev­er played one of these! []

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