Sunday, April 18, 2021

Taking a Wee Break From the Shop

My trusty ICOM IC-718

This weekend I took a bit of a break from the shop to say hello to some folks that I hadn't spoken to for a little while. 

In most cases, I have never met these people in person, and they live literally hundreds if not thousands of miles away from me, and to be honest, I need to do a lookup to see what their actual names are since  I only really know them by the government issued code name that has been given to them. Likewise, they only really know me by my own special code name - which happens to be VA3ATW, and in certain circles that is the name, I go by.  

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Time for an Upgrade - Moving from a 3018 to a 3018-PROVer CNC router

 

Sainsmart 3018 PROVer

A couple of years ago I bought myself a pretty cheap CNC router off of Amazon, mainly just to experiment and learn how to use one in my woodworking projects. 

The router that I had bought was a very cheap one based on the very common 3018 router platform, which uses an Arduino as its brain and uses the GCODE language as its instruction set. It was a very basic router and I could tell that it was certainly made on the cheap since a lot of the plastic parts, particularly the spindle motor mount was made from a 3D printer - so it wasn't necessarily made to precise tolerances. But for a learning machine, I figured it would be a good one to start with, 

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Repairing a Lawn Tractor Muffler - A Tale of Baling Wire and Bubble Gum

My muffler is broken!

When springtime comes a not so young man's thoughts turn to lawn care. 

And so this weekend I hauled my old lawn tractor out from its winter hibernation.  After giving the battery a quick charge and adding some fresh gas to the tank, I started the old girl up for the first time this year. 

I've had this tractor for about 10 years and it always provided faithful service in keeping the grass around the house nice and trimmed. 

So I was a bit bummed out when, after starting the engine I was greeted with a metallic clang and a really loud noise coming from the engine,. 

Hopping off the tractor, I immediately found the cause. On the ground, in front of the tractor, I found a large metal box - more commonly referred to as a muffler.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Finishing Up the Whirligig

 

All painted up and ready for summer

Last week I developed and built a prototype of a whirligig that I derived from plans that I had found in an 80-year-old copy of Popular Mechanics, 

I wasn't quite sure how it would all turn out, so I built a very basic prototype that was really more functional than decorative. 

I was really please with how the prototype looked and worked in the wind, but the true test was to see how it would last over an extended period of time. 

The bare wood version of my prototype definitely was not conducive for surviving very long in the elements. 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

A Different Take on an Old Whirligig

 

A prototype Whirligig

I've always been a bit fascinated by the weather. If you take a look at some of my past posts on this site, you will find the odd little project that either entails tracking the weather conditions or using something weather-related (usually solar-powered) to drive some sort of device that I've dreamed up. 

As a kid, my grandmother had a few whirligigs in her backyard that performed some sort of activity whenever the wind blew.  More of them performed some sort of crude animatronic action, like making a lumberjack saw a log or a donkey kicking a bucket over,  I was fascinated by the concept that some invisible force was making all this happen. 

In subsequent years, I did some experimenting by hooking up a fan blade to a stepper motor and a LED and watching the wind create the power to light up the LED, but I couldn't really something really tangible to apply it to. 

I hadn't really thought too much of it for a while until I recently found a plan for a pretty simple-looking duck whirligig in an issue of Popular Mechanics that was published back in 1940. 

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Building the Bargain Boat Horn

It's pretty loud!

With the snow starting to recede in my part of the planet, the mind starts having visions of warmer weather activities. In my particular case, I love to spend a weekend afternoon out in my boat with a pole in my hand, trying to determine if there was anything hungry for worms in the water beneath me. 

When out in the boat, it is vitally important (in fact it's the law in my country) to have certain safety equipment on your boat at all times. Besides the usual life jackets, flashlights, and tow ropes, you are supposed to have some sort of sound signaling device. In the little safety kit that I bought for my boat, that came in the form of a small whistle that you are supposed to blow into to signal for help. 

Personally, I found the whistle a bit lacking in the sound volume department, but to be quite frank, installing an air horn on a small 14-foot boat with an outboard motor seems a bit ridiculous. 

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Cup Holder Mount for a Car Voltmeter

A custom cabinet for the car voltmeter

Last week I tried out a project from an old issue of Popular Mechanics where you could make a voltmeter for your car. 

Wiring up the voltmeter was actually a pretty easy project to tackle and I was able to get it up and running with a couple of hours of soldering.

As s temporary measure, I put the meter in an old plastic food container while I was out driving around. 

While functional, it certainly wasn't very attractive to look at. 

As I may have mentioned before, I recently got a 3D printer and I have been spending a bit of time getting acquainted with it by printing out a few "canned" 3D models that I had found online. While I did enjoy printing out some of the things that I had found, I really wanted to make my own custom parts, which is the main reason why I wanted the printer in the first place. 

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Making a Voltage Gauge for Your Car - A Retro Popular Mechanics Project


While cars today are technological marvels that seem to have so many smarts built into them that they seem to almost drive themselves - I can distinctly remember when I first got my 2017 Honda Ridgeline out on a road trip and being a little freaked out at first when I would feel the steering wheel turn by itself when I was going into a curve on the road. 

Unfortunately, as the cars get smarter, the less they seem to want to tell the driver how the car is doing mechanically. Many years ago a lot of vehicles had gauges on the dashboard that told the driver such pertinent details as the old pressure, coolant temperature, and battery/alternator voltage. Except for some pickup trucks, most cars these days only give you the engine temperature as a gauge, relying on warning lights when the oil pressure and voltage get too low. The issue is that by the time you see a warning light, is usually too late and you are stuck by the side of the road. 

With gauges, you had the opportunity to spot trouble before it had a chance to leave you stranded. The movement of a needle on a dial off of its normal spot would always give you a clue that things were starting to go bad under the hood. 

As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, I have been browsing through the back issues of Popular Mechanics magazine. The other day I was leafing through the October 1977 issue when I came across an article on building a testing tool that measured the health of your car's charging system.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Building an Apartment Sized Workbench - Part 2

 

By looking at it, you wouldn't think this was a workbench

Last week I started work on a small workbench that I could use in my house for those little jobs that didn't really warrant a trek to my larger shop. 

At the end of the week, I had a somewhat functional workbench and if it was going to end up in the shop or in a garage, I could have called it good and finished the build there. But since it was going to be living in my home, it really needed to at least somewhat blend into the rest of the furniture in the house.  I really needed to dress it up a bit more. 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Building an Apartment Sized Workbench - Part 1

 

Starting to build an Apartment Workbench

After building a stand for my3D printer, I also quickly realized that I also needed to have some sort of small workshop space in the house.

Now don't get me wrong, I am still going to have the "big" shop, however, it is a few miles down the road from my house, and sometimes, it's just not worth the trip if I have some sort of quick or small project that needs to be done. 

My 3D printer is currently sitting comfortably on its stand in a corner of my family room. Looking at where I have it located, I noticed that I just had enough space beside it for a little work area and I did have a fair bit of scrap wood pieces leftover that was still looking to be put to good use.  

Looking at the space around the 3D printer, I figured that I could put it in a small work area that would be about 2 feet wide and 16 inches deep. While not a lot of space, it should be sufficient for the small projects that I had in mind. 

I also wanted to make the workbench something that could more or less blend into the family room, meaning that I wanted to make it look more like a cabinet, allowing for the storage of tools and supplies within the workbench, hidden away from sight. 

Due to its small size, this would make a very nice accessory for someone who lives somewhere like an apartment, but would like to have their own dedicated "shop space". 

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Building A 3D Printer Stand - A Scrap Wood Challenge

 

A custom stand for my new 3D printer

In my last post, I talked about the new toy that I had gotten myself for Christmas. 

While I really do enjoy trying it out and making parts for some projects that I hope to feature here soon, I did have a bit of a problem with it. At the moment it's sitting on a countertop here in my home and it's starting to get a little in the way of the day-to-day activities in the house. 

I really needed to have a more dedicated place to put my 3D printer. 

The simplest solution was to find a pretty simple stand that you could probably pick up at the local Walmart or even a simple "box" made out of wood would do. 

Over the past weekend, I was doing a bit of a clean-up of my lumber stash in the shop and I noticed that I had a rather large selection of odds and ends wood pieces. These pieces were typically either odd shapes or widths (like thin strips of plywood) or were materials that I usually would not use - like slabs of particle board that I had salvaged from old flat-pack furniture.  

I never had the heart to pitch those parts, since they were in good shape and I always kept telling myself that I would find a use for them someday. Unfortunately, someday never really arrives, so those wood outcasts just stayed piled up in the corner of the shop, neglected and forgotten. 

So, I decided to challenge myself to find a new life for those forgotten ones - I would challenge myself to try and make some sort of stand for my 3D printer out of them.

Part of the challenge was to not really follow a strict plan of construction (though I would have a basic concept sketched out as a starting point) and I was to use only the scrap wood that I had - my supply of "good" wood was to be off-limits. 

While it is only going to be a tool stand, it will be also sitting in my house. So while it doesn't necessarily need to be built like fine furniture, it should at least look somewhat attractive.  

With that in mind, I set about coming up with my concept.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

A New Toy for Christmas Or When An AnyCubic Mega Zero Shows Up

The mystery box

I feel that every kid at Christmas time should have Santa deliver that one special toy that they have been dreaming about all year. 

To be honest I think the definition of what constitutes being a kid needs to be more broadly defined.  I mean, just because you now old enough to shave, vote, or hold a mortgage, why should you condemn yourself to a lifetime of gaudy ties and tube socks for Christmas?

To reaffirm my "kid" status, I was pining for a special toy this Christmas, trying my best to be good (with varying amounts of success) so that Santa could grant me my wish. 

While I do recognize that Santa does have some age limit rules around delivering presents. I did get a generous amount of Amazon gift cards and just plain old cash that allowed me to act as my own Santa Claus. 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Bringing a Small Engine Back From the Dead

 

Will it live again?

A few weeks back I mentioned that I had hatched a bit of a diabolical plan for a project that involved an old bicycle and an equally old small engine. 

The engine in question was actually a 2 cycle engine that was part of a grass trimmer that was manufactured back in the early 1990s and has sat for several years and not in working condition when I got it. 

Obviously, for it to be of any use to me, I needed to get it working again. 

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 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.