Friday, June 23, 2017

Episode 5 - Baby Steps with CNC

I've been super busy since last October, as per the norm.  A lot of little projects have gotten done but I've been sharing mostly to a group on Facebook so less attention has gone into longer style blog posts.  I did however sit down and make a video just to talk through some of the work going on with my CNC efforts, which began in earnest early this year with the purchase of an X-Carve 1000.  As a hobby machine, this is close to middle or high quality for the price point, which came in around $1,700 USD.  It is produced as a kit, manufactured by Inventables.  So far, I like the hardware and the controller is pretty good.  The free software, Easel, which is closed source, presents some frustrations.  I aim to overcome those however by purchasing a third party CAD CAM title, as yet to be decided.  I'm trialing CAMBAM at the moment, which is promising but proves difficult to work with due to some minor unintuitivities with the way editing works.

Anyway, here's the video.  I hope to have a few more posts to update soon - nothing terribly exciting but some good things to talk through from a project perspective, including a new larger work table.


Sunday, October 30, 2016

Quick Office Whiteboard - for Cheap!

Lately I have been working from home more and as I have been outfitting my corner of the bonus room and working on some tricky projects, I thought it was time for a whiteboard.  When it comes to writing software, I really need to get the problem written out and spread out before me so I can take it all in at once. Naturally, this means I need considerable whiteboard space.

I was about to head to Walmart and just quickly get whatever I could, when my wife reminded me we had used shower board in the old root cellar as writable surface.  So I went to Lowes, instead, for a project!

 Shower board has a white glossy side and a dull brown side.  It is somewhat flexible and not terribly thick. It can be cut with a utility knife and easily drilled.

To get it mounted to the wall, I needed a way to hold the weight of the sheet while I drove wood screws through pilot holes into the wall studs.  A quarter inch strip of scrap pine was screwed to the wall temporarily along the bottom of the level line I had drawn on the wall at the 3 foot mark.

The shower board rested easily on the pine and made it painless to get the five screws in along the top.  With the strip still in place, I put five more screws along the bottom all about 3/4" from the edge.

Then it was safe to remove the strip and start cutting the trim boards to fit.  I found some nice looking polystyrene trim boards for $8 each, featuring a burled maple or mahogany print.  While it could be cut with a blade, my goal was to get it done quickly and neatly, so I used the electric miter saw.   The only trouble there was that the hot plastic chips kept fouling the laser guide.

The trim went up easily with my electric brad nailer.  A mahogany colored marker touched up the edges and the end product is functional, not unattractive, and huge!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Sketchup Rockinghorse

A friend of mine runs a campground that features horseback riding and equine events. One day while he was pitching ideas to us for expanding the fun on the farm, he asked if I knew anyone who could build some adult sized rocking horses.  Well, of course I volunteered myself for the task... because horses and kids... and my kids love horses.  So I set out to design an easy to build Rocking Horse that could be cut out of one sheet of plywood and assembled with screws and glue.

My own design efforts didn't thrill me, so I moved from paper to Google Sketchup to try and model it.  My transition from Lightwave to Sketchup is far from complete, so I ended up finding a child size Rocking Horse  model in the Sketchup public domain library to work with.

Following a tutorial for using Sketchup to prepare CAM tool paths for Mach3, I took the component geometry for the horse, cleaned it up by closing gaps and removing extra points and lines, and then sank each part into a virtual sheet of 3/4" plywood.  I then deleted the exposed geometry, leaving the outline of each piece on the surface of my sheet of plywood. From there, I took a screenshot, saved it as a jpg and then imported it into Excel so that I could control the scale and page setup to print the image at 1/3rd scale on six sheets of 8-1/2 x 11 paper.  I then used entirely too much glue to secure the trimmed sheets to 1/4" aspen plywood, which is the proper thickness for my 1/3 scale model.

After cutting everything out with the jigsaw and scraping and sanding the paper off, I was able to glue and nail it together.  The final result, I will admit, is rough if not illustrative.

Parents think I'm crazy, and the Doctor says I've cracked, but they don't understand me, Lord, 'cause I' just wanna get back....
"I wanna get back - back to the rocking horse..."
The final full size build should sit just a bit higher that chair height to allow adults to comfortably sit upon it.  We'll add old, not good for actual use saddles, and mop string for manes and tails. The next step, I hope, money permitting, is to build a large enough CNC mill to handle 4 x 8 sheets of plywood.  I've never built a CNC mill, but I think I can get it done for around $1200 based on conversations with peers who have made their own.  I also have it on good authority that Dave Gatton is "the man" when it comes to DIY CNC mills.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Toddler Safety Rail

Our intrepid 15 month old has become an expert climber.  She climbs stairs, chairs and all manner of barricades, including her crib sides.  Since it's a long ways to the floor, we decided to just take the side off of the crib. But, she fell out of bed twice the first night, onto waiting cushions, but was not happy about it.

Looking over the bed rails available locally, and reading some reviews online, we felt like we had no good option in that direction.  I knew, however that I could make one myself.

Using some donated MDF and a couple of  inside angle 4" metal strong ties from Lowes, I quickly fabricated something that matched commercial dimensions, but far exceeded the apparent weight and strength of them.  The finishing touch was two coats of sage green paint to match the walls in our room.  This should hold up for a good long while, maybe as she grows into a bigger bed as well.

Rounded Edges and Corners for Safety

Assembly was a little tricky.  I had to get the two piece, which I had beveled 45 degrees on the table saw, to line up together while I drilled pilot holes for screws and then drove the screws for the angle braces.  Using my table saw top as a work bench, I set up the bottom piece and then used long bar clamps to draw the pieces together.  The trick here was I had attached the angle brackets to the bottom piece already, so the side rail, when compressing its bottom beveled edge against that of the bottom section rode up slightly until meeting the angle brackets.  By tightening things up a bit, I had the side rail secure enough to drill and screw to the brackets.

36" x 26" base, 15" high rail, 1-3/4 " radii on corners
Just to make myself happy, I took the corner of one piece of waste from beveling and glued it into the inside corner between and aside each bracket.  It's comical, really, the brackets providing so much more strength, but it some how seems stronger to me this way.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Lo-chete Mk II

In the midst of cleaning out my garage, I came across the upgrade blade I had purchased for my original Lo-chete. Having also decided to start making video, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to play around with more equipment (decided against future use of the blue tooth headset) as well as more shots, camera angles, lighting, etc.  Still not a high production value composition, but several improvements to the method came about between Episode 1 and 2 of Random Fortification.

The steps involved in stripping down a one-handed loping tool and make it work with the Lo-chete are covered in detail in the video, but in general, a strategy for removing the old handle from the new blade was needed, sizing the holes in the tang of the new blade to the old holes in the handle was required, and then I had to find some random bits of hardware to put it together.

It feels really solid in its finished form and I hope to use it as soon as I can.  Maybe I will enlist a helper for some follow up video on the Lo-chete in action.

So - what do you think?  Video a more interesting and useful format than long format blogging?  Would you rather watch a video or see sketches and pictures with written explanations?

Let me know - I'm always looking to make what I do useful for my readers and viewers.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Random Fortification - Episode 1

I decided to take the leap and try my hand at making videos.  I actually have a degree in this stuff, but haven't made movies since analog linear editing was state of the art.  For now I'm just using my iPhone's built in mic and camera as it's actually much better than what I was trying to do with a blue tooth headset mic and the same camera.  I plan future upgrades for hardware including a dedicated video camera, a lav mic, and a shotgun mic.  I also need to get the lighting sorted out where I'm going to be doing most of my shooting.  Lots of stuff to do, but I wanted to get episode 1 in the can and on the screen to both encourage myself and start getting some feedback.

In this episode, I talk a little about my plans for the immediate future of the shop in general and show off my "floating shelf" stock rack that uses lap joints, hidden flush mounts and strong ties.  I have an idea that I can augment what I do here, on the blog, with the videos, or the other way around.  For example: I thought about drawing up a cross section of the floating flush mount cut with dimensions and putting it here along with the video.   Does that sort of two-part media seem useful or better than just a blog + vlog?  I'm curious to know what people think.

So here it is:

Please let me know what can be better. I listed the things I can think of but a good film maker listens to his constructive critics.


Sunday, December 6, 2015

Standard Railroad Tie Raised Bed

It's December, but it's not yet too cold for me to work outside.  One of my long range plans came to fruition today with the completion of a raised bed for our garden composed of 6 railroad ties and 5 straw bales.

Standard US railroad ties are 8' - 6" long (most of the time) and range in width from 8-10" and run about 8" deep for the most part.  I picked up 6 this summer as part of a little horse trading with the idea that I would make the raised bed pictured above.  I also obtained about a dozen straw bales for free from work after they had an outdoor festival and no longer needed the bales.  The Wunder Wagun (tm) was crammed full to the ceiling to make that haul.


Raised bed gardening has been around for  along time.  From Portugal to ancient Peru, agronomists have recognized the favorable conditions obtainable in a raised bed where the soil is otherwise poor.  Extreme examples can be seen at Machu Picchu.  The famous terraces on the mountain tops there were not just aesthetic, they provided arable soil in which to grow high altitude crops for sustenance.  A raised bed improves soil drainage and reduces infiltration from varmints.  It can aslo provide an extended growing season when used as shown above with thick, insulating timbers which will keep the perimeter soil from freezing too soon while raising the crops up above the cold air that may settle on the ground during Spring and Fall frosts.

The straw is another story.  Used as a planting medium, it provides both superior drainage and root depth.  What it lacks, however, is high nutrient content.  We will be adding that through a couple of successive steps of decomposition through natural processes.  Right off, the straw is already sprouting and providing growth medium to wheat grass.  I'll be adding some bone meal to provide phosphorus and protein to the mix.  I might try to get some mushrooms established early in the spring by purchasing some spore or seeing what I can get ahold of locally through foraging that can be positively ID'd as safe to eat.  A simple tarp and a bit of water will be all we need to add to this for growing mushrooms.  

Once the straw has broken down over the course of the first year, we'll begin sowing seed directly into the straw.  I will most likely start with crops that will be good to leave the roots behind, like swiss chard or beans.  Regular crop rotation will apply thereafter, perhaps favoring those things we wish to grow for early and late crops.


To make the bed, I cut two of the ties into 51" lengths, then laid out the first level in a butt-and-pass fashion.  The second level is the same, but flipped around to provide overlap at the corners.  I then drilled holes and drove 12" galvanized nails into the corners and middles of the top timbers to keep things from falling over.  I had considered more elaborate lap joints at the end, but decided the time to do those along with the need for additional fastening on the lower level before installing the second level was overly complicated for such a simple structure.


Railroad ties are incredibly heavy, and soaked in creosote.  They are rot resistant but do decompose over time.  Coal-tar creosote is generally considered toxic in high doses.  It is used as a pesticide, with the proper license, and can cause kidney or liver damage or death when eaten.  Why am I not worried about that here?  These railroad ties are very old, to begin with, and have been exposed to the elements for 20 years or more already and much of the actual creosote has leeched away - they have practically no odor.  The amount of creosote that can leach from these ties into the straw and then into the food we may grow here is extremely low.  One good tell as to whether there is an appreciable amount of creosote entering my soil is the health of the plants grown there.  If the plants become ill as they develop roots that reach the perimeter of the bed, we'll know the soil is not good for food stock and will switch to growing flowers there.  I suspect, based on years of my own observations, that these will do just fine though for vegetables.

That said, the weight of the ties, the difficulty in obtaining and transporting them as well as building with them make them something of a novelty here.  I'll probably not replicate this project.  We will instead next time look at using red fir, which is naturally rot resistant, though in terms of cost, it may be more expensive.