Sunday, December 30, 2018

Junkyard Entertainment Unit Update

The DVD player in its new case

It's been a while, so I thought I should give a bit of an update on the junkyard DVD player project.

With my last update I had built a wireless sound function to the DVD player with the addition of a pair of infrared transmitters and receivers.

Now that the electronic part of the project has been sorted out, I now needed to look into how we should package everything up.

My intent for this project was to have everything contained in a wooden cabinet so that it could very easily fit in a home setting.  The woodworking part of this project will be separated into two parts; building a case for the DVD player, and a frame for the LCD screen.

For this update, I'll focus on building the case for the DVD player.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Building a Dark Activated Switch Circuit

A very simple circuit to turn something on when it gets dark out

In my previous post I extolled the virtues of using "electronic LEGO" as building blocks to put together some rather complex electronics projects.

While using these electronic modules certainly have their advantages, sometimes it may just be simpler to break out the soldering iron and build your own "LEGO"

I tend to build a lot of projects that have a need to do something whenever it gets dark out, so I have a real need for a switch that has the smarts to know when it gets dark outside and yet be small, simple and reliable.

This circuit is effectively the heart of a lot of everyday items such as solar garden lights and night lights.

While I could just have simply just cannibalized an old garden light in order to have this functionality in my projects, I really was a bit curious on what made these things tick.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Electronic LEGO

Basic electronic building blocks

While I never really got any formal training in electronics, I've been playing around with little electronic bits like transistors and LED's for a few years in an attempt to uncover the mysteries on how those devilishly complex things work.

During that time I built a few things that either blinked or made some kind of annoying noise. I also killed a good number of helpless electronic parts when the dreaded magic smoke was released whenever the power was turned on.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Project - Junkyard Radio to Table Radio

This project I was always particularly proud of.

Back in 2016 this project was a runner up in the 2016 Instructables Amps and Speakers Contest. I was pleasantly surprised by the comments that were generated by what I had thought was a fairly straight forward process of just hooking up a radio and putting it in a nice box.

Some of the comments I received were from people who were experts in car audio. Needless to say, I learned a lot more than I expected, and it has encouraged me to try other projects that utilize audio - for example the car DVD player that I've been playing with in my previous posts.

Two years later, the radio is still going strong. In fact it's playing in the background as I type this.

Details on how to build this neat little radio can be found by clicking on this Link

Sunday, December 2, 2018

An Easel for the Digital Photo Frame

Add a touch of class with a picture frame with this easel

In the last post I rehabilitated an old digital photo that was doomed to the e-waste bin at my local land fill. While I was quite pleased on how the old photo frame turned out, there still was one slight flaw with the frame - it only had the ability to hang on the wall. I really wanted something that could sit on something like a bookshelf.

The answer to that dilemma was resolved by creating this small "artist's" easel out of some of the remaining pieces of oak that I had left over from building the frame.

The nice thing about it is that this easel can be built in less than a few hours.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Rescuing a Digital Photo Frame

Rescued from the ewaste bin - a digital photo frame gets a new life

If my posts to date have been any indication, I seem to have developed a bit of an attraction to things that other people have considered to be just junk, since I seem to be drawn to places like junkyards, surplus stores and so on.

So at this point it shouldn't be much of a surprise on where I got the raw ingredients for this project.

In some of my spare time, I volunteer to keep a small computer lab operational for a local charitable group. Due the budget (as in, no budget) that I have to keep the lab going, I sometimes need to get creative in sourcing my replacement parts for the lab computers.  In my area, the local landfill has an e-waste program where people can drop off their old electronics. As you can imagine, that would include a significant number of old computers. With the permission of the landfill staff, I usually take a look in the e-waste bin every time I drop something off at the landfill, with the hope of finding some much needed parts.

The last time I visited the bin, I didn't really see any computer parts that I could use, but something else did catch my eye,

The original digital photo frame
The original digital photo frame 

Sitting in a box of what appeared to be old wall-wart power supplies was what appeared to be an old digital photo frame. Taking a quick look at the frame, I saw that the decorative portion of the frame was pretty beat up, but the actual electronics looked to be fairly intact.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Adding Sound to the Junkyard Entertainment Unit

Our DVD player finally has a voice

Over the past month or so, I've been playing with a DVD player that I had rescued from my local salvage yard with the idea of preparing it for a new life in my home.

While I can easily get the DVD player to start up and play movies, the DVD player was reliant on the vehicle's radio for sound, so the movies the DVD player showed were definitely of the silent variety.

While it would be fairly simply to hook up an audio amplifier to the audio outputs of the DVD player and connect a couple of wired speakers to the amplifier, I wanted to add a bit of a twist to this project  and make the audio from the DVD player wireless.

The obvious choice would have been to hook the DVD player up to a Bluetooth based connection, but I really wanted to keep the cost of the project down to a minimum.  With that criteria, I ended up settling for a much more older, but still a very robust technology - Infrared.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

NOMA Flexible Power Bar - A Review

NOMA Flexible Power Bar

Before I get into the nitty gritty details of things, I do want to disclose something right off the bat.

Here in Canada there is a very well known chain of stores called Canadian Tire. Now as the name would suggest, they do sell a lot of tires and automotive related gear, but they are equally well known for carrying a full range of items - everything from power tools to kitchen appliances to fishing tackle.

I tend to spend a lot of time at my local Canadian Tire store, so when Canadian Tire started up a program, called "Tested For Life in Canada" and sent a call out to their customers looking for volunteers that would be willing to evaluate some of their products that they sell, I jumped on that opportunity pretty quick.

Up until now, I've just been asked to provide feedback on things that I had bought at Canadian Tire - which I am always glad to do, since I subscribe to the notion that in order for a company to offer the things that you want, you need to tell them what you like!

This has gone on for a few months now, but one day a mysterious package showed up at my door.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Project - Little Birdie Welcome Sign

Another one of my Great-Uncle's designs, this is a very simple project that you can create over a weekend with a few scraps of wood and some metal rods.

Like the Cow & Bull Garden Ornament, I've given a few of these away as gifts over the years and I usually make a bunch of these at a time just so that I have some on hand to hand out as the need arises.

Instructions on how to build this cheerful little fellow can be found at this Link

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Junkyard Entertainment Unit - Part 2

In a previous post I discussed the rescue of an entertainment unit from a junked minivan. Once I got the unit home and determined that it seemed to function fine, the next step was to get the unit into a form that would make it easier to view videos in a more traditional home setting.

The main issue was in the way that the DVD player and the screen were installed in the minivan. Since the entertainment unit was installed in the roof of the minivan, the screen and player were upside down in the traditional home viewing sense where you would have your screen sitting on top of a table, not hanging down from the ceiling.

In order to make things "right side up" and to have things ready for a new cabinet, I needed to remove the player and screen components from their original containers.

To start the removal, I flipped the unit over in order to see the underside.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Installing an USB Charger Wall Outlet

Wall Outlet with built in USB Charger

These days there are more and more gadgets that draw their power through a 5 Volt USB connection.

It has almost gotten to a point where one has more devices that need to plug into a USB outlet than the old traditional 120 Volt outlet that's in your typical household wall outlet.

Around our house, it's always been a bit of a struggle to find a spare USB charger to plug into to the wall anytime I needed to charge any of my electronic devices.

The other day, during my weekly pilgrimage to the hardware store,  I came across one of these 120 volt wall outlets that had USB outlets built into them, Reading the box for the outlet indicated that the outlet was a rapid charge USB suited for many types of smartphones and tablets.

Another nice aspect of the design of the outlet was that I could use the USB and the 120 volt outlets at the same time, which eliminates the need of  the wall wart USB charger that I had been using. 

Intrigued, I bought one, along with a matching wall plate.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Junkyard Entertainment System

As I mentioned earlier, I like to sometimes take a bit of a tour of my local auto salvage yard just to see what is new and interesting,

Often during those trips I will see something that make me stop for a moment and think  "I could do something interesting with that..."

On my last trip to the yard, I noticed a number of vehicles (mostly minivans)  that had these DVD players and screens built into them. These systems were meant to entertain back seat passengers during those long road trips.

Being intrigued by this, I researched a little bit about them, focusing on the various makes and models of vehicles that I found in the yard that had one of those systems installed.

The main problem that I had found with a lot of those systems was that they were electronically connected to the main stereo unit installed in the front dashboard of the vehicle. In essence this meant that the DVD player and screen, even though they were physically separate from the car's audio system, wouldn't be able to work without being able to talk to the main stereo unit,

In order to do what I wanted to do, I really wanted the DVD and screen to act as a stand alone device.

Thankfully there appeared to be one vehicle that seemed to fit that bill - DVD units from mid 2000's Ford minivans.

So, grabbing my bag of  tools - I headed back to the junkyard and identified a suitable donor for my DVD player

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Project - Cow and Bull Garden Ornament

This project is a really good way to put scrap lumber to good use!

This was a design that was original to one of my Great-Uncle's, who had passed away many years ago.

I was quite fortunate to have "inherited" a few of his designs and I consider sharing them as a good way to continue his legacy.

I have given away a number of these as gifts over the years and I have also sold a few from the "herd" that is currently occupying my front lawn.

Very easy to make, you can whip up your own herd over a weekend.

All the details can be found here.


Sunday, September 30, 2018

Roaming Through the Junkyard

I've always had a bit of a fascination with my local "Pick and Pull" auto salvage yard.

The beauty of these places is that the inventory is always changing so I always make it a point to check it out at least once every couple of months or so.

I'll just never know what I will find.

Besides the cheap entertainment factor of exploring these old hulks, it's actually a good way to get some fresh air and exercise.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Wood Stove Eco Fan Revisited

A few weeks ago I built a very simple wood stove fan using a couple of computer CPU heat sinks, a TEC wafer, a motor from a CD ROM drive and a home made fan.

At that time I was quite satisfied in how the heat sinks and the TEC were able to provide enough power to drive the motor, however I was just not very satisfied in the design of the fan blade.  The fan spun at a good clip, but it just wasn't moving much air. More of a flaw in the design of the fan blades than anything else.

A week later, inspiration hit at my trip to the Surplus store

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Nerd's Paradise

I actually live a fair distance from any large urban center, so when the significant other says that she would like to do a trip into the city for some shopping, it usually isn't too hard to convince me to come along. 

To me a trip into the city usually means one thing...

A stop at the Surplus Store!

I don't usually have anything particular in mind that I need to get when I go, so I treat the visit as an adventure - you just don't know what you will find. 

Often ideas for potential projects usually pop up during the course of one of these trips (as you'll see in a moment) 

Most time I'll take the opportunity to top up on the essentials for my electronic parts bin such as LED's and perforated circuit boards. Some times I fine odd stuff that is really cheap and mght be useful at some point (for example a large scrolling LED sign for 10 bucks) 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Project - Deck Planter

This project started life as a Christmas gift to my parents a few years ago to complement a new deck that they had just installed.

The main idea was to try and build something that was sturdy, quick to assemble and be very attractive at the same time.

Built with pressure treated lumber, this planter still looks great today even after spending a few years out in the elements.

Full details on how to build this planter can be found at this Link

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Miraculously Self Healing LCD Screen

This is a story of triumph, heartbreak, redemption with a bit of stupidity mixed in.

I have an old Raspberry Pi Model A floating around my junk drawer that I wanted to find a good use for. While it isn't the fastest Pi out there anymore, it did have lots of life left in it and I wanted to do something useful with it.

That "something" turned out to be a little Internet of Things (IOT) device that tied into my Pi Aware installation to show a real time map of the aircraft flying around in my area, along with a real time radar view of the local weather. The information is displayed on a small 7 inch LCD screen that I bought off of ebay for around $30.

I will provide full step by step details on how I built this neat little gizmo at a later date, but this story is more about what happened after I just finished building it.

After testing and installing the electronics into the custom case that I built for this project, the final step was to install the back cover of the case. The back was built as a friction fit, so it took a bit of force (not a lot) to fit the back into the case.

Even though I took a lot of care in protecting the screen, when I put the new toy in its place of honor and plugged it in, I had a very ominous black line running down the center of the screen.

I had cracked it! After kicking myself, I immediately went back onto ebay and ordered another screen to replace it.

Since it'll take a good month for the replacement to come, I decided to keep using the bad screen in the meantime.

The screen was kept on 24 hours a day, and I hadn't really paid much attention to it until a couple of days later when I wanted to see if there was any rain headed my way.

That's when I got a shock....

The screen seemed to be repairing itself!

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Building a Wood Stove Eco Fan

Towards the end of last winter, the squirrel cage fan in my wood stove gave up the ghost.

Pricing out a replacement fan for my type of wood stove almost made me wonder if they were also tossing in a new stove with the price of the fan. Looking for alternative ideas, I didn't have to go no further than to my parents house.

My parents have heated their home with a couple of wood stoves for many years, with the heat from these stoves being distributed by fans that get their power from the heat generated by the woodstoves themselves. Though much cheaper than the replacement fan for my stove, I felt that even those fans were a bit too pricy for my tastes.

Looking at my parent's fan a bit more closely, I noticed that there seemed to be some sort of magic wafer that was mounted in the middle of the metal framework of the fan. That wafer was wired up to the fan motor and was providing the motor its power. It all looked pretty simple - assuming I could get one of those magic wafers.

A quick search on Instructables and YouTube, gave me the answer, since there are quite a few people on those sites that have built these gadgets. The magic wafer is in fact a  thermoelectric cooling (TEC) module.  These modules work by generating electricity if one side of the wafer is cooler than the other side. In the case of the stove fan, the electricity is generated by having a piece of metal pull heat into one side of the wafer, while a metal heat sink pulls heat away on the other side of the wafer.

A quick look on ebay showed that I could have one of those TEC wafers for less than $3.

An idea began to form....

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Dremel - Praise and Lament

I'm usually not too married to a particular brand of tool, but a quick scan around the shop seems to have revealed that I have seemed to have collected more tools that have the word "Dremel" stamped on them than any other tool that I have.

Now I'm probably not what you would consider your typical Dremel user since none of those tools are the rotary tools that Dremel is famous for. I do have a rotary tool, though it is a very cheap no name brand.

Rather, I seemed to be attracted to Dremel's more specialized tools. A quick inventory of the shop revealed that I possess:

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Project - Building a Junkyard Clock

In this first post I would like to give a tutorial on how to build a very stylish clock out of some scrap wood and a quick visit to your local auto recycler. In recent years a lot of auto manufacturers seem to go towards a more "retro" look in some of their styling. As part of this movement, a number of cars have been using the more traditional analogue clocks versus digital clocks.

As time goes by, all cars eventually end up in the junkyard. In a lot of "you pull" junk yards, clocks are not a very high demand item, and a very well-made clock can be had very cheaply ($4 at my local junkyard).

The goal of this project is to show how to make an attractive desk clock from a clock salvaged from the junkyard - the perfect gift for the family gearhead! For all the details on how to build this very "moving" clock, click on this Link for the instructions. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018


It all started innocently enough... After becoming a new home owner many years ago, the need was to merely have a few simple tools around the house so that I can tackle those simple fixes that seem to pop up. 

Little did I know that those few tools would spark an addiction which 20 years later would have me taking on more ambitious projects, and along with it a growing collection of stationary power tools. 

During all this time I was still confined to a small corner of my basement as my "shop" since any potential budget for any expansion to my workshop going towards such things as kids and bills. Not to be deterred, I've had to be very creative in the use of my space - especially if you are building something like a desk! 

The purpose of this site is to act as a bit of a "How To"  archive of my build projects. 

The main idea to provide me with a guide if I needed to build a particular project again in the future, but I also wanted to provide others the opportunity to build something that they might find interesting here.  

My aim will be to post a project every month - I hope you enjoy them as much as I had building them!