Saturday, January 16, 2021

Wooden Barn Mailbox

Waiting the the mail on a cold winter's day

 The previous week I posted about a wireless alert system that I had devised with the use of some surplus parts and a cheap doorbell in order to let me know when the mail had been delivered. 

While I was happy with the concept, I was a little less than thrilled about the reduced range that I seemed to be getting when it was being used with my metal mailbox. My suspicion was that the mailbox was acting a bit like a faraday cage with the doorbell transmitter, severely cutting down the range of the signal being transmitted. 

I did try to have the doorbell transmitter located outside of the mailbox, but I was wasn't too happy with the idea of having it exposed to the elements. 

Since my mailbox was starting to look a little rough, I figured perhaps a mailbox upgrade, one that would be a bit more radio-friendly, would be a nice project to tackle.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

You Got Mail! - Wireless Mailbox Alert


From the mists of time comes an idea

Last week I chatted about looking into the past and reviving projects that seemed to have been lost in the mists of time. 

One such project, which I found in the March 1963 issue of Popular Mechanics, addresses a problem that I actually have today, so it seems very interesting that a solution to my problem was found, and basically disappeared 57 years ago. 

I live in a rural area that still relies on my local postal carrier to drive up and down the road and deposit my mail in a rather traditional box at the end of the driveway. 

While very convenient and I on occasion get to have a friendly chat with my local mail lady, I do have one small annoyance with the arrangement (well, 2 actually - the first one is that the local road plows tend to knock off my mailbox each winter!) - when my mail is delivered, the practice is to raise up a little red flag at the side of the mailbox to indicate that the mail has arrived. 

The issue is that my mailbox is situated in such a way that I cannot easily see if the flag is up, and sometimes I make the trudge down my driveway in the rain to an empty mailbox.  

While the solution outlined in the Popular Mechanics article still won't solve my issue, it did spark an idea to give this solution a 21st-century upgrade. 

Why don't we make the flag wireless?

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Going Forward By Looking Back


Popular Mechanics Archive

Recently I posted up a project that I had first built back when I was just a kid. When the memory first popped into my head, I had a vague recollection of how it worked, but I couldn't really remember any specific details on how it really went together, 

One thing I did know was that I did get it from an issue of Popular Mechanics, a magazine that I was absolutely into during my elementary school days. Since we are talking about something that was built over 30 years ago, of course, I no longer had that particular magazine in my possession, nor did I have the foggiest idea in which issue that project was published. 

Trying to see if by some chance someone else had the same thought that I had and managed to build the item that I wanted to make, I hit the search engines and scanned the internet for any sign of the project as I remember it. 

Sadly, I couldn't find anyone out there that had built the thing, but I was rather surprised to find something even better. 

By chance, I had stumbled upon the complete library of all the issues of Popular Mechanics that had been digitized and available for viewing on Google Books. 

The beautiful thing was that the library was fully searchable and with very little trouble, I was able to pull up the article that had my project - exactly as I remembered it.

After getting reacquainted with this old friend from my childhood, something dawned on me. 

We are very much in a world now that almost all information is available within seconds by typing in a few words on a screen.  Except that isn't necessarily the case. 

For the majority of the time in the past, things were written on paper, meant for primarily "at the moment" consumption - you read this month's issue, perhaps tore out a page with something you've found interesting to save, but the rest was usually put in the trash. No one really considered saving this stuff for someone in the future. 

I started roaming through the other issues of Popular Mechanics, starting with issues that were produced in the 1950s. 

I was immediately struck by the wide variety of things that one could make that were illustrated with those pages, that I am almost certain no one has looked at or least considered building for the last 40 or 60 years. 

While some of the projects illustrated sometimes made me shudder a little bit (a dog house with asbestos insulation comes to mind). There was quite a lot that I know I have never seen before, and I know deserve to live again. 

Geese Whirlygig
From 1964 
I have never seen one of these
Would be a great garden ornament!

 Likewise, I also saw some projects that utilize what would be considered fairly old technology these days (vacuum tubes anyone?) but the concepts are novel enough that one could easily put a 21st-century spin on them with a little bit of tweaking

Mailbox Flag
From 1963
This is a good idea even for today 
Though I may look at adding some sort of wireless alert too

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been browsing these old issues and I've starting to compile a list of some of the more intriguing projects that I have found.. My goal for 2021 is to awaken some of these old projects from their 50-year-old slumber and to reintroduce them to the world again. 

It would be amazing to see if something from the past would seem new again. 

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Scrap Wood Phone Charger

A nice place to charge my phone

With the holidays upon us, I usually try to make something that I can manufacture quickly to hand out as a last-minute gift for anyone that happens to unexpectedly drop by the house. 

The idea is to make something that is attractive, useful, and can quickly make a batch of them to have on hand. 

This year I managed to get my hands on a bunch of wormy and spalted maple, mostly in sizes that didnèt lend too well to making anything real sizable. I find this type of wood to have a nice design in the wood grain which immediately makes any project very attractive. 

While I did use a lot of my larger pieces of maple to build my tablet stands, I did have a pile of smaller pieces on hand. I just did not have the heart to just chuck them into the woodstove.  

The inspiration hit me when I charged my smartphone the other day. To charge my phone I had to plug it into a charging cable. While that in of itself is not a big deal, I usually charge my phone on my desk, which means that my phone ends up lying on top of the various bits of stuff that I usually have sitting on my desk. 

This usually means that the phone usually ends up lying face down or in some other position where seeing any texts or other notifications is not really possible. 

It would really be nice if I had some way for the phone to sit on a stand while charging so that I can easily see any important notifications. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Easy To Build Bike Repair Stand Revisited

A simple little stand for bike repairs - going to you from 1980

The other day I got a bit of a brainwave on a project that involved a small gasoline engine and an old bicycle, 

As luck should have it I happened to have a small gas engine and an old bike! However, like any good project, success lies in planning and preparation. 

I realized that this project needed to have the bike up off the ground in order to make working on it a little easier and to prevent the bike from making an uncontrolled trip when I was testing the engine. 

It was then a dim memory from my childhood sparked in the back of my brain...

Even as far back as elementary school, I was always a bit interested in tinkering. Often with very crude results. 

One year, I got a subscription to Popular Mechanics for Christmas. Every month, for that year I got a nice little present in the mail and I spent hours going over the magazine from cover to cover. 

I distinctly remember looking at all the woodworking and electronic projects that were highlighted, always feeling a bit glum that I didn't have the access to the neat tools needed to make those projects (Even if I did, I don't think anyone in their right mind would give a 12-year-old kid access to stationary power tools) 

However, the woodworking gods smiled at me when the July 1980 issue arrived in my mailbox (yes, I know, I'm old).