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). 

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Tis the Season to Be Busy


A whole lot of signs

It's the middle of December and once again, the Holidays are upon us. 

During this time of year, for anyone that is at least a wee bit gifted in some sort of craft, whether it be knitting, woodworking, or making weird little electronic gizmos, it never seems to fail - you always seem to be in a bit of a whirlwind of making stuff.  

Sunday, December 6, 2020

A Really Simple "Dishwasher Clean" Signal


The dishes are clean!

We have a bit of a strange problem in my house when it comes to the dishwasher. The rule here is the one person loads and turns on the dishwasher while someone else is tasked with the job of unloading it. 

A bit of an ongoing issue has started to happen with the recent installation of the new dishwasher.  With the old dishwasher, everyone knew when the dishes were being washed based on all the racket that was coming from it.  Since the new dishwasher is so quiet, you really don't have any way to know when the dishes are clean, which causes a bit of tension when it's discovered that the dishwasher is still full of clean dishes several hours after being washed. 

I suspect that this is a fairly common problem in a lot of households since I have noticed that you can quite easily get magnets that you can stick on your dishwasher that say "Clean Dishes". 

While I suppose I could easily get such a magnet to stick on our dishwasher, but since we tend to be a bit pre-occupied with other things, I have my doubts that a plain old magnet is just not going to get much attention around here. 

We needed something that would be a bit more eye-catching.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

LED Mood Light

I built a funky mood light!

A little while back I wrote about a "crate" subscription service that I had tried out.  It was certainly a lot of fun putting together the ukulele that came with my first kit, but I found out that the neighborhood kids were also quite keen about them too, so I have ended up pretty much giving away a lot of my recent kits to them. I don't really mind - It's very refreshing to see kids tackling something that doesn't involve a screen. 😀

However, once I started getting the kits, I was starting to regularly see online ads for another kit from a company called Creation Crate. I really like how those Facebook algorithms know how I would be interested in these things... 

The particular spin with Creation Crate was that they were almost all electronic projects with a focus on teaching you electronics. 

This actually has a more direct appeal to me since the only formal training I had in electronics was with the course I took to get my amateur radio license - even then it was very much focused on theory.  So far all my hands-on learning with electronics has been at an experimental level. While I can make a few interesting gadgets, I don't really have a full understanding of how things work. The thought of being able to build something and learn why it works was certainly quite appealing. 

Of course, I ordered a crate and in a few weeks, my first project arrived - an LED Mood Light based on an Arduino. 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

A Simple Public Safety Radio Scanner with the Raspberry Pi - Putting It All Together

Waiting for fire calls

In my last post, I designed and built a cabinet for my Raspberry Pi radio scanner. Now it is time to wrap this project up and install all the electronic bits into the cabinet. 

As a first step, I gathered up all the bits of the cabinet, Raspberry Pi, and other components and laid them out on top of my work table. 

The other components included the SDR dongle, the USB sound card but also included 3 short USB extension cables that I had picked up from Amazon for a few dollars. 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

A Simple Public Safety Radio Scanner with the Raspberry Pi - Building a Cabinet


Scanner Cabinet

Once again I turn my attention to my Raspberry Pi radio scanner.  Now that I was happy with my electronic solution, I now needed to figure out how I can house my creation as something that looked fairly attractive. 

I did have a 2-watt laser engraver that up to now I've been using to engrave some wooden signs, but the manufacturer of my engrave also claimed that it could also be used as a cutter that can be used to make parts out of thin materials. 

I always wanted to give that a try and I figured that building a cabinet for my scanner would be the perfect first project to try this out.

Based on the literature that was provided with my lase, it was claimed that I should be able to cut through 1/32 inch thick plywood. With that bit of information, I immediately ordered a few 12"X12" sheets from Amazon

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Building a Tablet Computer Stand


Stand for my tablet

It's been a while since I made some real sawdust in the shop and the opportunity finally arrived when I started getting a bit annoyed with how I was using my tablet computer the other day. 

I find tablets to be a very handy gadget - you pretty much have the capability of a full PC in a format that is totally portable. They are much nicer than a smartphone since they also carry a much bigger screen - an added bonus as my hair is starting to go grey.

The only annoyance I have is when I don't need to have the portability, but rather I need to use it sitting down at my desk or I need to have it sitting on my workbench so that I can use it to look at something while my hands were busy.  The issue in those cases is that this often means that the tablet is sitting flat on the tabletop, which makes it a bit hard to read without doing a bit of neck calisthenics.

To solve this problem I really needed some sort of stand that I could set the tablet on, with the screen positioned at an angle to allow for easy viewing. 

As luck should have it, I just recently got my hands on a couple of pieces of 3/4 inch thick spalted maple that I scored from the "Free Wood" bin at my local cabinet maker. 

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Building an Instagram Posting Bot

As a result of the 35mm film slide converter project that I had built a while back, I have managed to digitized a good number of film slides. The tragedy of all this is that while I definitely enjoyed looking at and preserving images that haven't been viewed in decades, I didn't just want to have them be just stored away again on some hard drive, only to be faced with being obsolete and lost to time again in another 10 or 20 years when technology moves us in a direction that I can't even conceive of now. 

Instead, I wanted to somehow share these treasures with the world. I started out by setting up a new webpage, "A Slide A Day" where I released a new photo each day with the capability of loading up several years worth of photos - so theoretically, if something catastrophic ever happened to me, I can pretty much guarantee that this website will continue to serve up new pictures way into the future. 

While the website is a nice archive for the photos. it may not ever get the broad audience reach that I think these photos deserve. 

While trying to figure out this quandary, I happened to chance upon Instagram. I knew that Instagram was a fairly popular photo-sharing app, but I didn't really pay a whole lot of attention to it until now.  

When I looked into Instagram a bit more, I was actually quite intrigued by how easy it was to share a photo with a large audience.  

The problem that I had with Instagram was that it was very much focused on people that used smartphones, so much so that the only way that you can post a picture on Instagram is via a smartphone. If you pulled up Instagram on a Windows-based computer web browser, you can only view pictures, not post them.

The other issue was that Instagram was very much an "in the moment" type app - meaning that you could only post in realtime. You do not have the capability to schedule your posts ahead of time.

This was a bit of a problem for me since I really didn't want to have to stop what I was doing at some point during the day and remember to post something - I really want to have a bunch of pictures loaded up in a folder and just drip-feed pictures at a regular daily schedule - publish "a slide a day" like the name of my site suggested.  

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Dishwasher Autopsy

Dissection awaits!

Last week I ran through the trials and tribulations that I had in installing a new dishwasher. During the install, I kept grumbling about how I always seem to be replacing dishwashers every 5 years or so.

I've had so much practice in installing dishwashers, I am almost tempted to offer my installation services as a nice little side hustle. 

Now that my new dishwasher was humming away in my kitchen, I was now faced with a rather forlorn old dishwasher sitting on my back deck. 

I was actually pretty curious about what doomed it to my deck, so before it made one last ride in the back of my truck, I figured a little autopsy was in order. 

Besides, who knows what kind of salvageable goodies I could find. 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

A Simple Public Safety Radio Scanner with the Raspberry Pi - Landing on a Permanent Solution


Zeroing on the final configuration of the scanner

Now that I finished my dishwasher installation, I was now able to swing my attention back to my scanner project. 

Since I had now ruled out my Raspberry Pi Zero as a credible platform for my radio receiver, I had to take another look at my Raspberry Pi 4 as the foundation for my receiver. 

The Pi 4 had certainly a lot more horsepower at its disposal and as an added bonus I also had a touch screen attached to it, so this gave me an opportunity to try to have some sort of display as part of the receiver, versus just having a plain box which was my original plan. 

The first problem that I needed to attend to was the issue that drove me to the Pi Zero in the first place. 

I needed to figure out some other way to get sound from the receiver without that infernal hissing noise that I had from the phono plug output when the receiver is waiting for radio transmissions. 

The solution for that problem came to me rather by surprise during my last scouting mission at the neighborhood surplus store. 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Installing a Dishwasher

My job for the evening awaits

I had to take a bit of a break from the radio scanner project to attend to some urgent house "repairs".

I don't know why, but it seems like I have to replace a dishwasher in my house every 5 years or so.

Granted, with a family of four and both parents working, the dishwasher is in almost daily use, so it does get quite a workout at our house. But like clockwork, at the 5-year mark, it always starts getting a little tired, making very unpleasant noises, and the dishes almost seem to come dirtier than when they went in.

Inevitably, the cause of all the misery is some part that, when including the labor to install it, costs almost as much as what I had paid for the dishwasher originally.

This is all rather frustrating since I don't seem to have the same issue with the other appliances in the house. My washer and dryer are both pushing 20 years now and other than a new heating element for the dryer. they are both working well. The same goes for the fridge and stove. Yet I am looking at my 4th dishwasher since I bought my house.

On the bright side, I have gotten a bit of practice on installing dishwashers, so I can usually get a new one installed, up and running within a couple of hours.

So, with a brand new dishwasher sitting in a box in the middle of my kitchen, I started work.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

A Simple Public Safety Radio Scanner with the Raspberry Pi - Part 3 - Trying to Downsize


Raspberry Pi 4 and Raspberry Pi Zero

After I built the amplifier last week for my scanner project, I quickly noticed a bit of a flaw in the design of the Raspberry Pi. 

When I tried to run the SDR in "idle" mode by turning the squelch setting on the rtl_fm application way up, I was still getting a fairly load hissing noise coming from the speaker when I was fully expecting silence. The issue stemmed from the way the sound circuit is configured for the 3.5mm phono plug on the Pi. Due to the size and circuit restraints of the Pi, there isn't a "true" sound card running built-in, meaning that the sound will truly never be high quality. Apparently having a constant hiss when there is no audio output is quite common. 

One option in resolving that is to plug in a dedicated USB soundcard which can be easily bought online for a few dollars, however, when I was doing my research I noticed that you could also use a Raspberry Pi Zero to create fairly decent audio by using its GPIO pins plugged into a pretty simple circuit (the Raspberry Pi Zero doesn't have a built-in sound port) 

I actually liked the idea of using the Pi Zero since it would give me the opportunity to really reduce the size of my scanner. As luck should have it, I also had a Raspberry Pi Zero on hand. 

To have the Pi Zero be able to connect to my amplifier, I needed to build an interface circuit that will act as a bridge between the Pi and the amp. This bridge, usually referred to as an audio HAT is actually a pretty common add on that you can buy from a lot of suppliers, however, when I came across a video by Tinkernut, I found that I could easily build my own audio HAT. 

Sunday, September 27, 2020

A Simple Public Safety Radio Scanner with the Raspberry Pi - Part 2 - Building an Amplifier

Amplifier sketch

Now that I have my Raspberry Pi pulling in the local radio stations and playing some tunes, I really needed to find a way to have the music play at a volume that an average human can hear. 

The simplest way to do this is to plug some sort of amplifier into the phone jack of the Raspberry Pi and have it put the sound out to an external speaker. 

There are a lot of pre-built circuits out there that you can simply buy and plugin. While that can be a very easy solution to the problem, it would be a strangely unsatisfying thing to do from my point of view. I have never really built an amplifier before. since I am just looking to have something that can broadcast public safety transmissions and I don't really care if it was high fidelity quality sound I figured that this would be a perfect time to learn how to build one. 

Sunday, September 20, 2020

A Simple Public Safety Radio Scanner with the Raspberry Pi - Part 1 - Receiving Signals

All the bits needed to make a radio scanner

As I may have mentioned previously, along with a fondness of making sawdust, I am also a bit of a radio nut.

As I sit here typing out this post, I have my trusty HF Amateur Radio transceiver (an Icom 718 if you're curious) and my digital VHF scanner (a Grecom) keeping me abreast of what's going on, both locally and internationally.

My scanner in particular is quite busy since it is always checking the frequencies for a large number of public safety agencies in my area. While I certainly enjoy being in the know of what's going on in my local area, I do find that I may miss something that has happened closer to home because the scanner is busy telling me about something happening over in the next county.

This is particularly true about activity that involves my local fire department, which is about a kilometer away from my house. There have been a few times where I missed a call out and did not know that there was something going on until I saw the fire trucks rushing by my house.

I really wanted to have some way of scanning full time the four call out frequencies that the fire department uses in my area but still keep tabs on the other frequencies that I am scanning. It didn't really make a lot of sense to buy another scanner just to monitor a handful of frequencies.

However, I did have a few spare SDR (Software Defined Radio) dongles sitting around from my Glider and Balloon tracking projects. Could I use these for a dedicated scanner for my fire department?

Sunday, September 13, 2020

A Wee Life-hack - Making a Simple USB Battery Adapter

Who needs batteries?

Towards the end of summer, I always make a pilgrimage north to do a little bit of fishing. 

Since the place that I usually go has a decidedly poor coverage area for cell and internet signals, I find that those few days of fishing to be my time to fully disconnect from the world and recharge my body and spirit. 

The type of fish that I go for typically is the type that will go only for the freshest of bait - for some reason they are just not easily fooled by artificial lures. 

They especially seem to have a fondness for minnows, which, for those that aren't familiar with all things fishy, are a small fish that about an inch or two long - just the right size for the big ones that I am angling for to swallow in one bite. 

The issue is that the minnows up north know this too, and tend to be very timid about being captured for use as live bait. 

The minnows in the creek near my house however, don't seem to have this fear and are easily persuaded to enter my minnow trap with a few bits of bread. 

The challenge is how to transport my minnows so that they stay alive and well for the 2 hour trip to my fishing spot.  The key to transporting minnows is to make sure that they have plenty of oxygen in the container that I am hauling them in. 

Sunday, September 6, 2020

A Monthly Surprise in the Mail - Checking out a Kiwi Crate

A box of goodies

A few months back I developed a bit of a guilty pleasure in watching unboxing videos that seem to be everywhere on YouTube. 

The concept is that you get a box from an online store and you film yourself opening the box, removing and critiquing the items in the box. I actually tried my hand at doing one myself with my new table saw.  

Admittedly a very odd concept - but a very popular one, and strangely compelling to watch.  I suppose with fewer people going to physical stores, this has replaced "window shopping". 

I am especially drawn to watching unboxing videos which definitely are a spoof on the whole genre

In particular, the videos that I watched seemed to delve into something called "Crate Boxes". Crate boxes are usually part of a monthly subscription where you get a box full of goodies delivered to your front door each month. These crates are usually geared to a particular interest (movies, video games, etc.) and the contents of the crates usually follow a monthly theme. 

Most subscriptions are actually pretty reasonable for what you get - usually around 20 or 30 dollars a month. 

There are quite a few of these subscription crates out there. For example, my spouse subscribes to a crate that sends her goodies for her card making hobby. 

The other day, I saw a post in my Facebook feed about a crate subscription service called KiwiCo that offered something called a Kiwi Crate. 

KiwiCo focuses its crates towards providing STEM, STEAM, and Science kits, mainly for kids. 

While I haven't been a kid for a long long time, I noticed that they had various levels of crate subscriptions based on various age and interest levels. 

I was actually surprised to see that they did offer crates for "older" kids in the 14 to 104 age range with 2 crates - a Eureka Crate that was geared towards Science and Engineering projects and a Maker Crate that was aimed towards Arts and Design projects. 

Of course, I was more drawn towards the Eureka crate so I checked it out a little more. 

I was actually pretty impressed with what you got in a crate. A crate usually contains a very useful item, such as an electric pencil sharpener, or an articulated desk lamp the comes in a kit form. Again the items have a heavy STEM slant as they use the assembly of the item as part of a teaching exercise. 

I was actually pretty intrigued, so I subscribed for the Eureka crate, with my first crate arriving at my door a couple of weeks later. 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Necessary Evil - Shop Maintenance

Changing the saw blade

Last week I was ripping some stringers from a pallet for a new project that I was working on when my table saw made a bit of a clunk and shot out a couple of sparks - it would appear that I had forgotten to remove a nail from the stringer before I started cutting.

Obviously, the saw blade didn't really like that too much and proceeded to tell me this by making an absolute mess of the cut on the next board that I ripped.

Effectively I wrecked the blade and it needed to be replaced.

Changing a saw blade on a table saw is a fairly straight forward affair of loosening the nut that attached the blade to the spindle of the table saw's motor, except for a slight twist.

If you tried to just take a wrench to the nut, you will quickly find that the blade will just spin freely as you turn the nut. No matter how dull the blade is, it is still not a good idea to have something like that near fingers that are in close proximity, nor can you just hold onto the blade with one hand while wrenching with the other - a sure-fire way to get a nasty cut.

To do it properly, you need to wedge in a piece of scrap wood between the blade and the body of the table saw.  The blade digs into the wood, and not your hand as you loosen the nut.

Switching saw blades is just another part of regular shop maintenance,  that thing you need to do from time to time to ensure that your fingers stay attached and your projects look decent.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

"Instant Pot" Autopsy

One Pressure Cooker Ready for Inspection

With everyone staying home more due to the situation that has been happening in the world this year, there seems to be a bit of an explosion of people letting their inner chef out and trying their hand at making home-cooked meals.

This really became apparent when I noticed a definite shortage in the grocery stores on things like flour and yeast. There certainly seems like there is a lot of bread being baked recently.

Another thing that I have noticed, actually long before the pandemic hit, that that there has been a renewed interest in making meals with pressure cookers.

Unlike the pressure cookers of my Grandmother's time, which resembled something that would have been more at home in a science laboratory, the pressure cookers of today look downright sleek and high-tech with custom programs built-in for handling almost anything you would which to make.

Pressure cooking is the process of cooking food at high pressure, employing water, or a water-based cooking liquid. High-pressure limits boiling, and permits cooking temperatures well above 100 °C to be reached, meaning that foods cook much faster with pressure cooking than with other methods

The most common pressure cooker being sold these days is the "Instant Pot" but there are a lot of other cookers on the market that function in exactly the same way.

A few years ago I bought a no-name pressure cooker mainly to do some canning, but recently I also started to use it to make some nice and easy one-pot meals.

Recently I was cleaning the cooker when the relief valve (which is a safety device that is used to release pressure if the internal pressure of the cooker gets too high) fell out of the lid and fell down the drain in my sink.

This meant that my pressure cooker now had a small hole in the top of its lid - not an ideal situation for maintaining pressure.

As it seems to be the case in our disposable world today, a quick search online for replacement parts made it quite clear that it was more cost-effective to buy a new cooker than repair the old one.

After a quick trip to my local store, I was able to start cooking again, but in the meantime, I still had this old cooker.

Perhaps a little dissection was in order - just to see what secrets it held - and maybe to see if we can find some goodies too for future projects.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Digitizing 35mm Slides with a Smart Phone

Build your own slide converter rig

Recently I got into a bit of a nostalgia kick when I found a box of old 35mm film slides at my parent's house a few weeks ago. 

Finding those slides brought back memories of sitting in a dark room, watching pictures of someone's recent trip someplace far away.  I can remember the click of the slide projector as it cycled through to the next slide, the smell of the hot bulb in the projector, and of course, watching the odd upside-down slide flash up on the screen. 

This was an experience that is now lost to time since we live in a streaming YouTube world. 

Millions of these slides now languish on the back of closets, forgotten. 

The really nice thing about 35mm slides was that they typically had a high-quality image, almost rivaling the high definition quality of the pictures that we can take on our smartphones today. 

There is a lot of history lock up in those slides, the problem is that without a projector of some sort, they remain locked inside their square cardboard sleeve. 

I developed a plan to rescue the slides that I had found by converting them into a digital format. You can purchase devices on Amazon that can convert slides for you, but again, my cheapness kicked in when I saw that even an inexpensive converter was around $150. 

Recently, I picked at an auction a lot of old slide viewers for a few dollars. The viewers were used to preview slides before you put them into a slide projector's carousel.

Most of the viewers had a small viewing window that had a small lightbulb inside to light up the slide. However, one particular viewer used the light from the room to illuminate the slide, and the slide was viewable as a large image. 

As an experiment, I tried to take a photo of a slide as it was seen in the viewer with my smartphone. I was actually quite pleased with the image quality that I got on the phone. 

So between this old slide viewer and my smartphone, I had the makings of a converter for my box of slides. 

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Building a Cheap Elliptical Trainer

Exercising the legs

Every Father's Day I always have the same issue, what do you get for a Dad that already has every conceivable tool and gizmo you can think of? (mind you, I have also noticed that my kids have a similar problem). 

Most years the situation was solved with the purchase of a gift card from his favorite tool emporium, but even that gets a bit stale after a couple of years, and you end up back at square one again. 

In the past couple of years, my Dad has started to have a few mobility issues which could be greatly helped with some regular exercise of his legs. 

A neighbor of theirs recently got an elliptical trainer for this exact same purpose and they claim that it made a world of difference for them. Grabbing onto this as the perfect gift for Dad, I did some online shopping for something similar. 

After quickly noticing the $500 - $1,000 price tag, I quickly had to do a bit of a rethink. While my father is certainly worth the cost of such a machine, I did have a bit of issue about paying that much for what was basically a fancy box with pedals sticking out of it. - effectively a fancy unicycle that doesn't go anywhere.

From what I could gather, the basic premise of the trainer is to provide a low impact way of giving the benefits of riding a bicycle, including providing a measure of pedaling resistance to build leg strength.

It was then it struck me that I already had the building blocks for building my own elliptical trainer out in the parts bin that is my shed.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Wooden Garden Tractor Update - Second Attempt at the Drive Train

Taking another crack at it

A few weeks back, my attempt to connect the rear wheels of my tractor to the engine ended in a complete failure. 

Going back to the drawing board I decided that trying to do a 90-degree twist in the drive belt was just not going to cut it. 

Unfortunately, this meant that I had to go with the more traditional route and have the engine drive to be more in line with the wheels, and avoid that 90-degree twist altogether.

The issue I had was that I still wanted to avoid having any moving belts as close to my limbs as possible. 

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Can You Mine Bitcoin With a Raspberry Pi?

Is it possible to mine Bitcoin on a Pi?

A while ago I did a post on mining cryptocurrency using a Raspberry Pi.

While I was able to mine some CPU based alternative cryptocurrencies like MAGI or Bytecoin, the Raspberry Pi just didn't have enough horsepower to mine major coins like Bitcoin or Litecoin. Those coins needed significant computing power from either a high powered Graphics processor or a dedicated mining machine - something that the Pi didn't have.

While my Raspberry Pi kept chugging away mining MAGI, I kept looking into possible ways to mine something a bit more substantial without busting the budget. I realized that I would definitely not get rich mining on the cheap, but I consider it more of a challenge to see if it could be done.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

CNC3018 Controller Board Repair - Or When Stupidity Strikes

Sometimes bad things happen if you forget to unplug your USB cable

I've been playing away with my CNC3018 router for a little while now with varying degrees of success. I still am learning the ins and outs of the machine but I have been able to make quite a few things with it,

I am definitely nowhere near the level of proficiency that I have seen other people have with the machine but as with any skill, that will come with time.

One thing that I do like about the router is that it's a compact design, making it very easy to move around the workbench whenever I need to make more space. Unfortunately, it was this very portability that got me in trouble.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Wipe Your Paws! - A Simple Laser Engraved Sign

Wipe your feet before entering

After using my little NEJE laser engraver for a little while and not managing to permanently blind myself by staring at the laser as if I was a moth to a light bulb, I figured that I could graduate up to something a bit more deadly powerful.

After reviewing the offerings on hand on Amazon, I settled on a 2.5-watt engraver that had the magic mix of being cheap but having very good reviews by what seemed to be actual humans (though I do hear that the bots are starting to get pretty smart these days 😀) 

The laser also had a much larger engraving surface - which really opened up the project possibilities that I could consider.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Building a Garden Tractor Out of Wood - Trying to Power the Wheels

About to build a drive train

The last time I worked on the tractor, I had mounted the engine to the tractor. Now I was faced with the prospect of attaching the engine to the rear wheels so that the tractor could actually move under its own power.

As I mentioned at the start of the build, I wanted to keep all the moving parts of the tractor's drive train as far away from my limbs as possible, My idea was to use the vertical drive of the lawnmower engine to connect it to the rear wheels with a drive belt that would have a 90-degree twist to a secondary set of pulleys that in turn would be connected to the rear wheels. 

I got the idea for this arrangement from a set of plans for a wooden go-kart that has its wheels powered via that type of arrangement.

I'm not entirely sure how successful I will with this since I am not entirely sure how the belt will stay on the pulleys with that severe of a twist, but I am willing to give it a try. 

To start the build, I first gathered up the various parts that I needed to make the drivetrain. 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Building a Garden Tractor Out of Wood - Mounting the Engine

Installing an engine

In my last post, I had just acquired an engine for my tractor, thanks to an old lawn mower that I managed to score to free.

Now that I had my engine, it was time to install it in my tractor.

I started the process by setting the engine on top of the tractor's chassis. The idea was to position the engine as close to the front of the tractor as possible.

However, as the plans had indicated that the engine was to be surrounded by a hood, including a front grill and a dashboard, I also needed to make sure that the engine was not too far ahead, which would prevent proper air circulation around the engine.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Building a Garden Tractor Out of Wood - Sourcing an Engine

Getting an engine for my tractor

Now that my garden tractor is now able to roll around on its own wheels, I really needed to get an engine sourced for it before I can go any further.

In the original 1941 magazine article, the tractor was powered by what was referred to as a "utility motor" with no further specification on what type of motor that it was, or what type of horsepower that it needed to have.

Looking at the diagram in the magazine, it appeared that the motor in question was the fairly typical small engine of that era that you would find in your finer lawn mowers and garden tillers.

With small engines, there are two basic configurations, regardless of how many cylinders or how much horsepower it may have. A small engine could be configured to have a horizontal drive shaft (ie, the engine provides power to drive things from the side of the engine) or a vertical drive shaft (power is being provided from the bottom of the engine).

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Building a Garden Tractor Out of Wood Update - Getting Things Rolling

Starting to get things rolling

A few weeks back I embarked on building a small garden tractor based on plans that I had found in a copy of Mechanix Illustrated from 1941.  The unique thing about this tractor was that it was built completely out of wood. 

I managed to put together the chassis for the tractor, so the next step would be to attempt to put some wheels on to create a rolling chassis. 

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Making Custom A/V Patch Cords - A Quick Project

Transferring some old video tapes

Last weekend I was doing a bit of deep cleaning in the shed when I stumbled across a box of old VHS tapes.

Its been at least a good 20 years since I last played a VHS tape, so I was a bit mystified as to why I would be holding onto a box full of these things.  Since the intent was cleaning out the shed, these tapes now had a long-overdue date with the recycling bin.

But before I sent them on their way, I felt that it might not be a bad idea to at least take a quick look at the contents of the tapes. If there were some treasured memory stored on them, I should probably rescue them before they were permanently lost.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

How Did I Get Here? - Playing with Wires

Radio Shack Crystal Radio

Last week I chatted about how I developed my interest in creating a large amount of sawdust,

But if you have taken a look at my projects, you would also see a good number of items that either lit up or did some sort of display.  Often these electrical projects were located in close proximately of materials that suspiciously looked like wood. 

My interest in electronics was somewhat related to my chosen career in IT.

However, my career has been focused on building the software that are run on computers, which typically doesn't really require much in-depth knowledge of the innards of a computer. 

But of course, wanting to know how random bits of electrons can make the software that I've developed come to life has always intrigued me. 

I suppose my first exposure to the mysteries of electronics came one Christmas morning when I was around 9 years old. That year I got a "Science Fair" Crystal Radio from Radio Shack as a gift. 

Sunday, May 24, 2020

How Did I Get Here? - A Woodworking Journey

Let it be said that I never claimed to be an expert

A little while ago I was asked by a reader how I got to where I am today - puttering around with wood and electronic bits and posting about my misadventures for the world to see. 

That did give me a bit of a pause to be honest, mainly because my journey into the shop has been a bit of a meandering one with lots of curves and dead ends.

I guess my interest in things wood and electronics had separate points of origin with the two interests meeting because of a very basic reason - being as cheap as possible, I was forced to use what I had on hand because I didn't really want to spend a lot of money. 

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Building a Garden Tractor Out of Wood - Building the Chassis

I'm really intrigued by this tractor

In my last post, I discussed that there seemed to be a lot of neat projects published in the "How-To" magazines that were put out over 50 years ago.

While I marveled at the sheer number of cool projects that there was, I was immediately drawn to one particular project that was published in an issue of Mechanix Illustrated from the late 1940s.

That particular project was for a small garden tractor. While that in of itself wasn't too unique, what made this particular project leap out at me was that it was constructed completely out of wood (well, except for the engine and some small mechanical parts).

Sunday, May 10, 2020

An Idle Mind is a Dangerous Thing

I usually strive to stay busy, whether it being at the day job, or puttering away in the shop during the evenings and weekends or doing the other obligations that I have on the plate.

However, when I do have an odd moment when I have absolutely nothing on the go I often find that my mind tends to wander on what sorts of things I could try out. Often these flights of fancy turn into projects that I have posted here,

Sometimes the pondering sends me down a rabbit hole - with some help from my good friend Google.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Kitchen Hand Mixer Autopsy

One Hand Mixer - Deceased

The other night I heard a great deal of fuss emanating from the kitchen.

Poking my head around the corner, I noticed my spouse was in the midst of mixing a batch of chocolate chip cookies (yum), however, after 10 years of faithful service, the electric mixer that she was using had decided at that moment to cease functioning. 

The mixer was still making the appropriate noises that you would expect, but the beaters were definitely not beating anymore. 

Initial diagnosis - stripped gears

After finishing mixing the cookie dough the old fashion way and doing some quality control testing of the resulting cookies, I decided it was time to take a look at the mixer and find out what really killed it.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Turning a Simple Clock on a Lathe

Keeping time on the wall of my cubicle

Now I was always intrigued by clocks, even from a young age.

A few years ago, I came across an old report card that was issued during my tenure in kindergarten. In the report, the teacher made a comment that one day I had somehow gotten my hands on a box of "broken" alarm clocks - which were being used to teach us how to tell time - and somehow I had managed to get those clocks to work again. Which was pretty amazing except for the fact that I had somehow managed to make the alarms go off during nap time!

Needless to say, I always found timepieces interesting, as evidenced by previous projects that I've posted.

A few months ago I posted a little tutorial on how to turn wooden bowl blanks on a lathe.

Well, I got sidetracked a little bit with some other projects, but the lathe was starting to look a little lonely so I figured that I should give it a little love and try making something with it again.

The project that I settled on was basically an extension of the bowl blank, but with some extra touches including rounding the edges of the blank and cutting a groove into the face.

The spark of this project was due to some more experimentation that I was doing with the Cricut Maker where I wanted to see how the Maker handled fine detail work on wood veneer.

So, being a creature of habit,  I decided to build a clock using the Maker and my lathe.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Building an Aquarium Stand - Step 6: Putting It All Together

The aquarium stand finally comes together

After all planning and construction, it's finally time to put everything together and get things ready for George to move into his new home.

Since I took a modular approach to the build, assembly is pretty straight forward.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Building an Aquarium Stand - Step 5: Adding a Door

A door for the aquarium stand

With the major components of the aquarium stands now built, I just needed to do one more thing before I put everything together,

As I mentioned in my initial design sketches for the stand, I wanted to have a door to cover up the front storage opening in order to hide all of George's food and supplies.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Building an Aquarium Stand - Step 4: Building the Base

The aquarium stand base

With the body of the aquarium stand out of the way, the last major component to build the base of the stand.

Since the base of the aquarium stand is going to have to carry the full weight of the aquarium along with the stand itself, I needed to engineer in a lot of extra strength into the base, however, I needed to make sure that it reflected the character of the rest of the stand.

To build in that strength, I decided to have the stand predominately built out of a much heavier material - 2X4 lumber.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

This Isn't Our First Rodeo Folks.

Iron Lung made from wood

Needless to say, we are living in interesting times.

The world seems to be in a great deal of turmoil these days trying to deal with the virus is anywhere and everywhere. There is a lot of fear out there and it seems like the world has shut down and people are hunkering down.

On the whole, I do need to take a moment and at least appreciate what I do have. I am thankful that I have a job that allows me to be virtually anywhere - especially in my home - and still be able to work and interact with my colleagues (albeit via a webcam).

At the time I write this, I am and my immediate family are still healthy.  While we are not under a quarantine order, we have greatly curtailed our activities dealing with the outside world and staying at home as much as possible.  Thankfully this also means that I'm not locked away from the shop - which has proven to be a Godsend for me since it allows me an escape from the constant bad news out there.

Yes, in light of everything that is going on, there is much to be thankful for.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Building an Aquarium Stand - Step 3: Building the Body

We focus on building the body of the aquarium stand

In my last post, I had just completed building the top of the aquarium stand.

One of the key items that I needed to figure out for the stand was the overall dimensions of the aquarium that I would be using, the reason for that is that it dictated the overall dimensions for the top of the aquarium stand, which in turn determined the size of the body and base of the stand.

So with the top sorted out, I started working my way down, making next item on the agenda building the body of the aquarium stand,

The design of the stand was that the body of it was going to be basically a large box with some internal storage in order to allow for stashing fish food and other supplies. The box will also need to be built heavily enough to support the weight of the aquarium when it's full of water (which could weigh over 100 pounds).

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Building an Aquarium Stand - Step 2: Building the Top

Ready to start the build

In my last post, I sketched out a bit of a design for an aquarium stand that I wanted to hold a tank to house George, our tame Sunfish.

With my plan of attack determined, it was finally time to head into the shop and start building.

As I previously mentioned, I designed the aquarium stand to be constructed in three distinct parts (top, body, and bottom).

Since the stand will be custom-built for the aquarium, the first logical step would be to start from the top.

The first step in the process was to find out the footprint of the tank.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Building an Aquarium Stand - Step 1: Determining a Design

For several years, I've always enjoyed doing a little fishing during the warmer months.

I find fishing to be almost a zen-like experience.

Sitting quietly in a boat, watching the water ripple around me, focussing my senses on a thin monofilament line, trying to sense a bite. I often find the experience quite relaxing and even if I don't catch anything, I always come home rejuvenated. 

While what I may call relaxing, others in my house would call it boring, so my fishing experiences have more or less been done solo. So it was much to my surprise that my son wanted to try his hand at a fishing derby that I usually take part in during the fall.

I was even more surprised when he actually enjoyed it enough that he wanted to do a couple more fishing excursions before the snow started to fall.

Typically we fish for Smallmouth Bass or Perch, so when during our last trip of the season my son caught a rather small Sunfish, I was fully expecting him to let the little guy go and keep fishing for bigger quarry.

Instead, he slipped the fish into the minnow bucket and we ended up taking him home with us.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Web Visitor Counter Revisited - Building a Case for the Counter

Web counter in its new enclosure

A few months back I published a series of posts around the construction of an electronic counter that would provide me with a constant display of the web traffic to this website. 

The counter has been working away for a number of months now with no issues or complaints, well maybe one complaint,,, 

While the counter does work beautifully, it is also just a lump of wires and electronic components that's been sitting on my desk in an unsightly mass. Additionally, the wires have recently become an attractive plaything for some of the furrier members of the household.

Obviously, if I wished to have my new toy to continue to function, I needed to do something.   

In my last post, I did some experimenting with the Cricut Maker, a new tool that we recently got. One of the reasons that I was intrigued by the Maker was that it was capable of making very accurate cuts in thin sheets of plywood. 

After some initial experiments with the Maker, I was ready to try my first project - a proper enclosure for my web counter.  

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Using a Cricut Maker as a Poor Man's "Laser Cutter"

Cricut Maker

For the last couple of years, my spouse and I usually buy a large gift to each other for Christmas. 

Usually, these gifts entail some sort of high tech toy like a large screen TV.  The idea was that we would pool the gift budget and buy a really nice gift - of course, it had to be something we would both like (so alas, that 3-D printer that I always wanted will need to wait).

When Christmas came around again this past year, the usual question came up - what did we want to buy each other this year?  Earlier that year my wife had started to get into card making and had been busily stocking her own workspace with all the various tools and supplies that she needed for this new adventure. 

During a tool shopping expedition, she came across a new machine that was just launched by Cricut called the Maker. My wife has had some experience with Cricut in the past, but the machines that she had used were only made to only cut card stock or paper. Additionally, the old Cricuts used proprietary cartridges that cut out pre-programmed shapes and did not give you the option of creating your own designs. 

The Cricut Maker was a vast departure from the old Cricut's. The Maker connected to your computer or smartphone and ran off of a web-based interface. Gone were the stock shapes and letters and in their place was an online community where you could download pre-built projects or you could create your own designs using a tool that was very familiar to the Easel tool that I use for my CNC router. 

The Maker also came with a variety of cutting, engraving and marker heads that allowed one to be able to cut into everything from paper all the way up to 1/32 inch plywood. 

When my wife mentioned that she would like this magical tool to me, I was immediately on board. 

And so, Christmas morning brought a new toy under the tree for me to try out - albeit I did need to share it ☺