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. [↩]
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 no shortage of shop projects for this same purpose, but it seems that most folks are ok with putting their chargers on a shelf semi-permanently. I figured I would need to occasionally get the chargers off the shelf as well. So I built in a small chase such that the cords won’t interfere with the French cleat system and can easily 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 with the back 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 had really been 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). I just happened to buy some paste wax today as I’d seen it mentioned in some videos. 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 say 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. [↩]
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. [↩]