Let’s all remember the debt we owe Congressman Lewis and more importantly, that it isn’t yet paid. Even ‑or, perhaps especially- white folks like me owe him a debt of gratitude. Through his leadership and nonviolent protests, he forced us to see Christ in those that do not look exactly like us. As this country pulls down monuments to those whose deeds betrayed the nation’s ideals, let us consider that statues should instead be erected to those who made the nation greater than the one they were born into.
It doesn’t take itself too seriously but it believes in itself.
In the round-table discussion slash behind the scenes documentary series, Disney Gallery: The Mandolorian, Taika Waititi discusses directing the season 1 finale. I love this quote as it summaries so well the idea of be true and earnest, without a fear of ridicule or need for validation. Simply the joy of can be validation enough. It really summarizes a lot of Waititi’s work (at least the parts I’m familiar with), like Thor: Ragnarok. But it’s really true of anything worth being passionate about: your joy of the thing is enough.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Then it was time to finish drilling the holes and wiring up the off board switch, jacks, and LED.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. [↩]
Yes, I need to write an entire post on my guitar and the modifications I’ve made to it. [↩]
Like most all of America (and the world), I’m staying home these days, hoping to avoid the spread of coronavirus. Of course, I’ve worked from home for over twelve years now, so what’s new? Well, fortunately, my spouse is also able to work from home. We are both gainfully employed for the foreseeable future (which admittedly, isn’t as long as was a month ago). Our kids are old enough to be responsible throughout the day to largely see to themselves. In those ways, we are exceptionally fortunate. May folks are seeing reduced ours, being furloughed, or even laid off of work all together. Many people are weathering this alone. Many more are dealing this while having to care for defendants that need far more attention.
But even for us, it can be tough. So I truly empathize with those who are dealing with far more issues than we are. So to those who read this, do try to take care of yourselves. These are tough times. It’s best to admit that we’re all having to deal with this to some degree. But it’s also good to acknowledge that everyone else is, too. Find somethings to help you keep perspective.
I’ll try to share some photos of some of the highlights of what we’ve been up to soon. I think I should be able to find some time…
It’s the very end of the month (a leap month, no less! I had an extra day!) and I’ve got a couple of projects I want to post about, but they’re still in progress. So, instead of some personal creative or DIY stuff, I wanted to post about something more work-related for me. From the very beginning of my work as a technical writer, I described my approach to how I see my documentation work being used as follows:
Immediate: tool tip, pop-ups, hover info in your IDE.
Quick answer: F1 on what a dialog field values are or a function/method
Long answer: search the docs and poke around until I find my answer
Learning: Intentional reading, in the order presented, if the documentation
Levels 0 & 1 both start in software or code and end there. This has the least and next-to-least interruption to your work. The answer is immediately when you need it or just a click & scroll away.
Level 2 is often back and forth between docs and software. This inherently can feel tedious. Often, this results in not even finding what you need (unless you were looking for frustration). Unfortunately, this is also where a lot of product help leaves you.
Level 3 is solely in the docs. You’re no longer performing your primary goal or job function. This was not so common for new employees or employees who just got a new tool in the workplace at one time. It feels like a rare luxury today, though. Too many workplaces prioritize keeping productive day-to-day over making their employees productive in the longer term.
So, what’s the point? Level 0 & 1 should be the goals, but they require significant more planning and coordination with product developers and UX designers. And, if we’re being honest, making Level 2 work effectively is going to require some of the same. And if you’re writing manuals like anyone has the time for Level 3, you’re shooting yourself in the foot for all of the other cases.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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. [↩]
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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! [↩]
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.
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.
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!
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. [↩]