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

Here are the Sketchup files for the 3D assem­bly (shown above) as well as my cut sheets. Bear in mind the cut sheet was done for the spe­cif­ic pieces of ply­wood I had on hand, and won’t nec­es­sar­i­ly be the most effi­cient if you have full sheets (or sheets of any oth­er size).

Last­ly, these are the soft-close draw­er slides I used (Ama­zon affil­i­ate link). If you use any dif­fer­ent slides, you’ll need to take into account the width of those when cut­ting the draw­er pieces. These are exact­ly 1/2″ on each side, which makes for easy math. I used 18″ length, which allows me to ful­ly extend the draw­ers.

Recycled Tool Stand

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.

He must be very tall to have tak­en the pic­ture at that angle!

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”).

After remov­ing 2/3 of the leg bolts, I could rotate the legs to ver­ti­cal

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.

Always use lots of cut­ting flu­id when drilling steel

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.

It may be only 5 lbs, but I wore myself out swing that ham­mer today

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 absolute­ly love Vice Grips. I used those a lot on tak­ing all these bent pieces of steel, too.

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.

Hard to believe that’s the same cart! It fits per­fect­ly and is exact­ly what I need­ed.

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.

  1. He has con­vert­ed on bay of a 3‑car garage to a very nice wood shop with nice pow­er tools. []

Battery Charging Station

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.

Small set of shelves for bat­tery charg­ers and bat­ter­ies

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!

My three charg­ers squeezed per­fect­ly into 1′-5 1/2″ by 5″

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.

Yes, I put eleven pock­et holes in a 5″ by 17 1/2″ shelf

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!

My mas­sive table saw sled on my lit­tle Ryobi table saw works great after adding some paste wax!

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.

The after­noon sun creep­ing into my work­space

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.

The Bazz Fuss

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.

The bazz fuss effect on a bread­board with labeled con­trols

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.

My ini­tial perf­board cir­cuit

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!).

The LED hot glued into the enclo­sure — note the old tan, 5% tol­er­ance resis­tor

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).

The fin­ished wiring. What a rat’s nest!

Honda Pilot Tow Hitch

We down­sized from a Hon­da Odyssey mini­van last year to a Hon­da Pilot. It’s been a great vehi­cle (despite the lack of a vol­ume knob). How­ev­er, one of the biggest dis­ap­point­ments last sum­mer was that we could no longer toss four bicy­cles in the back of our vehi­cle and go to a park for a fam­i­ly bike ride. Our neigh­bor­hood is ok for very short rides, but we enjoy park­ing at one of the area green­ways and going for a car-free ride, often on a shady path.

So I’ve been plan­ning on get­ting a trail­er hitch-mount­ed bike rack to solve the issue but of course, that meant hav­ing to get a trail­er hitch first as our vehi­cle does­n’t come with one. I did­n’t want a third-par­ty hitch because 1) they hang below the bumper, which is an eye­sore and 2) I had real­ly bad luck with the wiring on a U‑Haul tow hitch on our old Ford (the dam­age it caused to the sys­tem wiring cost me more than the hitch). My son has been real­ly want­i­ng to or more bike rides, so I fig­ured the time had come to order some parts.

Tow hitch, torque wrench, and bike mount

I did some research and found a cou­ple of videos on how to install the oem Hon­da tow hitch for a 2017 Hon­da Pilot. It’s about as sim­ple as it could pos­si­ble be, with only six bolts to mount it. The part comes with the replace­ment bumper inserts and bolts. I ordered the part from Ama­zon, but you can get it cheap­er (though not with free ship­ping) from https://www.hondapartsguys.com. It does not, how­ev­er, come with any instruc­tions per se; just a note on the box that you have to down­load them. The first thing the instruc­tions state is that this is not a job for do-it-your­selfers. Oth­er than the fact that you need a torque wrench, I hon­est­ly can­not image why not. Well, except that they want to fun­nel some busi­ness to deal­er­ship ser­vice depts. But no way am I pay­ing some­one hun­dreds of dol­lars to tight­en down a half dozen bolts for me. I can’t deep-link to the PDF on Hon­da’s site, but it’s easy to search for the year and mod­el and then find the trail­er hitch instruc­tions.

The first steps, and in my opin­ion, the most dif­fi­cult (or at least time con­sum­ing) is to remove the old bumper insert. It’s just a bent piece of plas­tic but it’s held in by mul­ti­ple screws, bolts, and clips. The only real trick is to under­stand how the pair of cen­ter-push clips work. This video does a great job of explain­ing how to eas­i­ly pop the cen­ter down to slide them out. You save a cou­ple of met­al clip-on-nuts to reuse on your replace­ment insert that has the open­ings for the hitch. Get­ting the new insert back in placed required some per­sua­sion, but once it was aligned onto all the clips and holes, it was very easy to reverse the process.

Mount­ing the hitch itself was­n’t hard to do by myself, either. I lit­er­al­ly just sat it in my lap and the slid myself under the bumper. I was able to rest the hitch in the insert’s hitch open­ing and get two of the bolts start­ed to then sup­port the rest of the weight. I used my small pow­er dri­ver to get the bolts snug tight (I set it to 20, which I assume is Nm). The bolt heads are 19mm, but you can safe­ly use a 3/4″ if you only have SAE sizes (19 mm = 0.748 inch­es; which is with­in the tol­er­ance of most sock­ets any­way). I did­n’t use an exten­der, but rather just a 1/2″ to 3/8″ adapter on the 3/4″ sock­et and was able to get all six bolts tight­ened to spec. The instruc­tions men­tion a 22mm sock­et, which I did­n’t have but pur­chased at Lowes for 99¢. How­ev­er, I nev­er need­ed it and hon­est­ly don’t even know what it was sup­posed to be used for!

Torque wrench dialed to 95 N‑m (70 ft-lbs) and the use­less 22mm sock­et

I saw at least one video where the installer only low­ered the spare tire but I’d rec­om­mend get­ting it entire­ly out of the way. The spare wench sys­tem on Pilot allowed me to just drop it onto a fur­ni­ture dol­ly. I also saw where one per­son detached the muf­fler to get bet­ter access to one of the mount bolts. As I had got­ten that one very tight using a small ratch­et, I did­n’t need a lot of room to get it to the full 70 ft-lbs of torque with the large torque wrench. I had nev­er used a torque wrench before, but it’s pret­ty straight for­ward. The rel­a­tive­ly cheap ($25) one I pur­chased from Ama­zon seemed to work fine and was easy to set to the desired torque (loosen a small nut, turn the han­dle to the mea­sure­ment, tight­en the nut back down). Just tight­en until it “clicks” (which sounds a bit like a ratch­et going back­wards). This video demon­strates it nice­ly; though they appar­ent­ly were using some after-mar­ket part and men­tion “140 pounds” (sic: foot-pounds) but the oem part was far low­er torque.

Just for esti­mates, the dif­fer­ence between 30 ft-lbs and 60 ft-lbs was less than a full turn of the bolt, I think. The dif­fer­ence between 60 ft-lbs and 70 ft-lbs was maybe only 1/8th of a turn! But that last 1/8th of a turn required me to get into posi­tion for each bolt and brace my knees to the frame to pull. You’re not like­ly to acci­den­tal­ly over tight­en these bolts to the full ten­sion using a dri­ver (unless it’s an air-pow­ered ham­mer tool) or a small­er ratch­et. I’d strong­ly sug­gest buy­ing or bor­row­ing a torque wrench and get­ting these tight­ened up right, though. They are so much more unwieldy than a dri­ver or small ratch­et, I would only rec­om­mend them for going from snug (or tighter) to full torque, though. Sure, $25 is a bit much for a tool you use so briefly but it’s good know­ing the hitch is on to stay.

Torquing down one of the hitch mount­ing bolts to the frame. The frame itself has three thread­ed holes along each side on the Pilot.

The nicest thing about the oem Hon­da kit is that it’s hard­ly notice­able once installed. It does­n’t stick out past the bumper (it’s actu­al­ly recessed a bit), so no one is going to lose a knee cap or shin bone to this thing. It came with a lit­tle rub­ber Hon­da insert to stick in the receiv­er when it’s not in use, too.

The fin­ished trail­er hitch is bare­ly notice­able

I also ordered a Yaki­ma Long­haul bike rack. It appears this mod­el is intend­ed for RVs or sim­i­lar vehi­cles, where you would like­ly leave it in place. It does­n’t move out of the way or fold down. Fur­ther, it attach­es with a large thru-nut. How­ev­er, it was the cheap­est Yaki­ma-brand rack for four bikes sup­port­ed on a trail­er hitch. I’ve had very good expe­ri­ences with their equip­ment so I decid­ed to go with this one. It’s fair­ly mas­sive but does the job. The bikes were easy to mount onto it using their zip-tie style straps and did­n’t budge at all to-and-from the bike trail.

Wyatt and I ready to go on our bike ride

One down­side we not­ed to the bikes mount­ed is that the back­up sen­sors con­stant­ly think col­li­sion is immi­nent. So any time you’re in reverse (such as back­ing out of the garage), there is a con­stant beep that must be ignored.

Check Your Sur­round­ings! We’re all gonna die!

As I was installing this for the pur­pose of a bike rack, I did­n’t spring for the addi­tion­al $175 wiring har­ness. I think I’ll like­ly have to take the trail­er hitch back off to place it in the mount, which is not going to be fun (though at least I’ll get some more val­ue out of that torque wrench invest­ment!). That’s some­thing to con­sid­er if you’re look­ing at doing some­thing like this your­self as well. I’m not sure a deal­er will be will­ing to install only the trail­er hitch with­out the wiring har­ness (they’d prob­a­bly still charge you just as much even if they did).

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. []

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. []