Wednesday, December 2, 2009

DIY Saw Blade Efficiency Boost

I spent a good part of the late summer preparing our stash of firewood for the wood stove that had yet to arrive. As a consequence of not knowing the maximum log length I would be able to stuff into the stove, we wound up with a good pile of stick and such that were just too long. Many of them were too thick to break (I have some slightly messed up ankles from foolishly trying to break a piece of hickory by jumping on it). So, I employ a pruning saw to cut them down to size.Well, I noticed right off that when the blade was about half way through a log or thick branch, the blade would begin to bind up and would stick. It made it very hard to cut straight through a log. I had been having the same problem with my chain saw cutting particularly hard wood or wood with a twisted grain, like Black Locust.

My father-in-law recently had his chain saw blade sharpened and the craftsman that did the work also added an alternating camber to the teeth of the blade, which creates a cut that is wider than the chain bar. This virtually guarantees enough room to wiggle a bit while you cut and the bar doesn't bind in the process, meaning you cut more easily and efficiently.

I thought about that while I was taking the pruning saw to task again the other night. Why not add an offset camber to the teeth on its blade? Just a millimeter aside on every other tooth would make the cut 3 mm instead of the 1 mm the steel ribbon blade is on its own.

So, using a Vice-grip style pliers and a needle-nose pliers, I systematically bent each tooth in the opposite direction, leaving the double point teeth straight to make sure I had sufficient blade clearing the cut.

It took me about 10 minutes and was pretty easily accomplished. And, as I surmised, the blade now cuts much more easily and rips straight through thick branches with ease. The cut is only a bit wider, but plenty wide enough to keep the blade from binding up. I love it when a plan comes together.

Update 11/28/2012:  Christopher Johnson, whom I met via Google +, shared the following additional information which greatly enhances the above tip.

This is called "setting" a saw.  A good saw always has its teeth set correctly.

For example a crosscut saw has two types of teeth, cutters and rakers.  The cutters are set side to side and are filed on the "inside" to make sharp cutting points.  Their job is to cut the fibers of the wood, scoring it, on both sides of the actual blade.  The rakers are filed like a chisel and are set in line with the blade.  As the rakers move across the wood they shave the wood from between the score marks made by the cutters.

If the set of the blade is wrong it just does not work well.  It can take upto an hour per foot of cross cut saw to sharpen and set the teeth.

I will have to double check my bare blades to see if they are set correctly.

But binding isn't the problem I'm working on with a hand made bow for a bow saw.  You have to control the blade from twisting.  And having thought about it I think I need to add a steel peg (nail) to my saw blade kit.  Then I can take the bow, cut a slot for the blade, use the nail to hold the blade at that end.  A couple of wraps of the inner thread of paracord to form a whipping will keep the bow from splitting.  The other end is just for tension so it can be a simple line to the other end of the bow.

Time to go test all of this out.

P.s. the old timers using crosscut (and bow saws) used kerosene as a lubricating agent which will greatly reduce binding and pitch build up.  The National Forest service uses an Orange product that does mostly the same thing but costs more.  But it does protect the environment from the few drops of petroleum  product that might escape. 

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Monster - 2009 Garden Stunner

So, I followed the guidelines for soil preparation put forth in "How to grow more fruits and vegetables" using the "grow bio-intensive" method. It was a lot of hard work as the soil here is just about 100% clay. But, judging by the pictures below, it was worth it. Not only did I have a bumper crop of radish seed pods, tomatoes and acorn squash, my carrots, which never do well in the clay, were phenomenal!

Check out this ginormous specimen.

2 inches wide...

16 1/2 inches long.

What's most interesting is I did have some of the short carrots I usually get - notably orange. The Big Carrot of 2009 and many of its lanky brethren were quite pink on the outside and yellow on the inside, and much sweeter than the usual orange carrots. And the seed all came from the same package.

While preparing the soil was a lot of work this spring, turning the garden under by hand today was a dream. The texture of the soil is so rich and light from not having been walked on all summer. It's going to be amazing for our next year garden. I'm toying with the idea of putting in some winter wheat but I don't know where to get it in seed form.

Some things did not do well in the dense planting plan used with the double dug soil. Beats, swiss chard and onions did not quite take to the soil. In the past, with mostly just tilled clay, we've had tennis ball sized beats. This year produced only acorn to ping-pong ball sized specimens. The swiss chard I think cares more about space around it than the depth the soil is dug to as they typically put down very deep roots even in hard soil.

Other good performers were lettuce and Basil. Lettuce I planted from seed and the basil from starts. I took the opportunity to harvest a good about of the basil seeds so maybe we can grow it from seed next year.

Another great performer was the purple bush beans. We had plenty to eat from 20 bushes and I was able to get a good number of seeds from what dried on the vine to start us out next year. Will probably put in 60 plants next year and try to put them on the menu more often.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Reproductions, Rapidly

This, to me, is insanely cool. The RepRap project, based in the UK, has free plans and software for MAKING your own 3D Printer! Yes!!!

I had been toying with the idea of making my own 3D extrusion mill, but this is a much more efficient approach as you only use material that you need rather than obliterating that which you do not need.

It is not a task for the meek, however. There are parts to buy, circuits to solder, and the thing itself to assemble. Still - for the determined, what an amazing device. Many years ago I wrote a mechanical doctrine of cell style community interconnectedness and partial self sufficiency. The underlying premise was that if you had a prescribed set of mechanical devices within a small collective, there was almost no need that could not be met. Having a Mendel RepRap device would potentially reduce that number, or at the very least make the upkeep of said devices much more simple.

This is one I may have to set aside time and funds for, maybe this winter. Certainly intriguing!

Update: Well, trolling through tonight has been a gold mine. Here I find, in addition to RepRap mentioned above, CupCake CNC. I think I'm going to faint.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tips from the Shop: Recyled Ear Plugs

Getting my shop in order was one small oasis of peace and tranquility in my otherwise chaos ridden world. Having had some time to play there (every man should have a play place!) I managed to snap some pics of little tips I came upon as I was going about being resourceful in my quest to do things that are fun.

Today's tip is making your own comfy recycled ear plugs - without the wax. :-) Yeah - the first thought I have when I hear "recycled" and "ear plug" is --- eeeeww! Well, stop wasting money on those throw away foam inserts that just get sticky and gross and then lost, dirty, found, washed in an attempt to salvage and then tossed.

Start keeping the ruined shirts you would throw away due to stains, tears, or other conditions that render them undesirable as clothing. I have kept a few torn pairs of jeans, a few shirts ruined by bleeding colors in the wash and the like.

From one such shirt, I chose a soft bi-layer cotton rayon mix, I cut strips of cloth about two inches long and a half to three quarters inch wide using, of course, tin snips. It's a manly shop - we can't do with ordinary scissors!

Pencil provided for size comparison.

Just role this up like you would a very stout cigarette....
... and twist it into your ear canal in the direction of the wrap.They fit my ears quite well at the size specified and cut noise from the table saw by about half. Some important notes - the cloth is wider than my ear is deep - important! You don't want to stuff something in your ear you can't get out! Also, the cloth is soft and of a material I am not allergic to. Use your good and common sense when using make-do safety gear!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


For as long as I've lived in this house, the back room in the basement has been crammed full of stored items. I had made a work bench for myself when we first moved in - nothing fancy, just some pine 2x10 thrown together with screws - but that was about it.

Well, earlier this year I started slowly transforming this disorganized space into a usable and comfortable work area. I started by moving the "locker" that came with the house out of the way and relocating a chest freezer closer to the door to the room so my wife would not have to navigate a dangerous mess to get dinner. Then I cleaned out the corner near the electric box where the freezer used to be and moved the work bench in, then the desk, then the shelves, sewing machine, relocated the drill press closer to the power, set up the table saw... and finally threw down the carpet padding I took up to lay tile for the stove and put a rug on top of it.
Rummaging through the pile of junk, I found some spare rails, shelf hangers and masonry mounting screws (all from different past projects or purchased / salvaged items) and was able to put some scrap oak and peg board up above the desk. Handy place to get prints up out of the way along with sundry other items. I even took some spare metal coat hanger lengths and made my own peg board hooks. Easy once you get the hang of it.

I squared up a scrap bit of shower board to make a portable white board for myself. It got used to good effect for a table top tutoring session last week with a neighbor teen while we discussed the industrial revolution and the effect of specialization on the software and computer hardware industry. It stands at the ready with the phrase "99% perspiration, 1% inspiration" on it (Thomas Edison).

Another task I undertook to make things more useful was to make use of empty plaster buckets to contain bits by type: wood, metal, wire... this has greatly aided in cleaning things up and has reduced finding that perfect piece of whatever to a short dig through a bucket rather than a hunt through the entire room. I took the same approach with the cardboard in the root cellar (cast off packaging from canned goods) by taking one large box and breaking all other packaging down into flat pieces for easy storage. Any time I need a bit of cardboard for whatever (shim, prototype, etc) I have one nice place to go.

It feels incredibly good to have thing organized. I was able to take a half hour tonight to enjoy some metal work without having to spend an hour just clearing a space and finding the tools I needed. Organization saves time, hair and money! (hat tip to Bruce Elgort for that line).

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Emergency Heat

I've been working on this for some time. Not in terms of my own labor, but in terms of planning and money allocation. For a few years now, I've been watching the energy legislation move around Washington and knew eventually, heating my home in the winter would become cost prohibitive - especially if the US passes Cap and Trade - which will trickle down as tax on me for everything from heating my home to driving to work. It seems almost unstoppable, and I don't want to be at the mercy of credit - ever. So, we saved the money and did our research and for the time being, this is our new wood stove.

I say "for the time being" because the stove I intended to get is about three times as expensive. I wanted a HearthStone Soap Stone fireplace, but between this little $1000 DutchWest 1000 stove, the $5000 or so for the 8" double wall stainless steel chimney and my tax bill this year, we're just about broke! So, the plan is to use this little steel unit for as long as it's worth or until we can afford the upgrade. I had the pipe all installed for a larger unit so the upgrade will just be the stove itself in the future. In the mean time, that chimney has some serious cold air down draft and I have to preheat the stove with a candle or two before I try putting anything that makes smoke in it.

The only problem I have with the installation is that the hole in our concrete wall that the pipe passes through isn't terribly well sealed. The installation instructions called for a half inch air gap, so that's what the contractor dutifully did. I'll be getting some stove gasket and high temp mastic to seal up some of the gap as it lets a good amount of cool air in around the chimney exit - not something I want on nights we don't run the stove.

Now I just need to get some good clean burning and seasoned hard wood delivered so we have something besides all the dead fall I've been scrounging from our property to burn.

Some project costs: Laying tile myself: $171 for all tile and supplies at Lowes. Retucking carpet around tile: $125 by original installer. Hole drilled in wall by a professional core-driller: $150. Installation labor: $950. Stove and Pipe: around $6500, but we'll get some of that back as we had to pay and pre-order more chimney than necessary to accommodate any complications during installation... hopefully getting $800 or $1000 back. Also, all of this should make us eligible for a $1500 tax credit next year as the stove exceeds EPA efficiency standards. Net cost after rebate and credits: $5396. Seems like a lot, but wood to heat the house each winter now should run us about $150 or so for the whole season. We were paying about that much or double PER MONTH last winter for gas for our forced air system. I am guessing we'll save about $100 -$200 a month, so this should pay for itself in 5 to 10 years and my family stays warm when the power goes out... (that would be the "priceless" part).

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Relic

I had almost picked up one of these while vacationing back in March. My wife and I took a little tour of NE Central Ohio and saw a different make up on the third floor of a nice little Millersburg antique shop. The owner advised me that it was hard to get parts for and to go with a more mainstream brand.

As fortune, or God's blessing, would have it - my mom that very week called me to let me know she'd found one through her work classifieds. And for a good price. She picked it up, I sent her some money, and this past week when we returned from a visit, I brought it home.Can you guess what it is? A foot powered Singer Sewing machine. This thing will push a steel needle through anything! (fingers too). Why am I so excited about this? My love of making things extends to anything practical, and that includes clothes, sacks, pouches - anything I can do with strong fabric, leather, woven nylon - you name it, I want to be able to make it. The fact that I won't need electricity to make it work is also very keen.

Total price, $125. I paid probably too much, but it came with two replacement belts in their original packaging, three wood casks containing a total of 6 replacement needles, the original wood box containing all the attachments and 20 or so spools of thread in various colors. This thing rocks, or will once I figure out how to replace the belt (broken) and operate it!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Project Round Up

I've been busy this spring with too many things to count. A brief rest is now upon me, just in time to get the house ready (thanks very much to aid from family) for my Daughter's first "kids" birthday party and plan a vacation. Life, thankfully, never stops sending stuff my way to keep busy.

First things, I got my fence in around my garden at 80 x 80 feet and thus far it has not been trampled by deer nor ravaged by rabbits - knock on wood. But, in the process, I missed the top of a metal T-post and came down on the handle of my three pound sledge, cracking it right off - seems it got a bit of rot in it over the years.

I carved my first tool handle, from our abundant surplus of Honey Suckle, and the result is a longer handle which give the sledge more heft and power.
I salvaged the metal wedge from the old handle and drove it as far in as I could. A precut split would have allowed it further in but I didn't think of that till later.

Also, upon request, I made an abacus for my kids to use in home school math (maths for my friends across the pond). The wife picked out a picture frame and I tin-snipped metal coat hangers to make the rails. Picked up some beads at the fabric shop for a few dollars and lined them up, 100 in all. Afterwards, I used an upholstery hammer to drive in some brass dome tacks like you would to leather over a chair to both conceal the holes for the rods and keep them from sliding out... 10 a piece on each side. The kids love it, and ignoramus I am, I have no proper notion how to use one. Hence Wikipedia linkage: Abacus.
From other pictures, I guess it's close to a Russian style Abacus, but now that I see others, I rather like the Roman model with it's high number-value potential.

Also, we've been getting hammered with rate increases on the electric. So, I bought a $9.50 string of while LED Christmas lights, direct from Hong Kong, on ebay and put them in a little plastic case hanging from the ceiling of the office. I now have approximately the light given by a 15 watt bulb which is just enough to illuminate things so I can find what I'm looking for. Most the time I gaze at the sreen which is much brighter anyway, so I don't feel any eye strain. The light is a pleasant moon-light shade and about the same brightness. Perfect for my needs and only 1.5 watts power consumed.

I also put 3 1.5 watt LED light bulbs (at 45 better-last-ten-freaking-years dollars for the set) in our dining room. The light is a bright white leaning ever so slightly towards the greenish yellow part of the spectrum. Estimated cost is $.48 per year to run all three, but with Cap-n-Trade coal-bashing legislation about to be crammed down our throats (the Midwest is heavy on coal use - first the auto industry, now this... coming soon - cheap American cities in the midwest) there's no telling the exact cost - except that it's way cheaper than the three 60 watt bulbs I had in there before.

Another energy hog has been my children, leaving the bathroom light on all night after they get up. $20 on-line for a dual pole, or $22 for two single pole motion sensing light switches (we have three now) and the kids no longer need to hear me gripe about the power they're wasting.
The new switch gave me a reason to upgrade their switch cover plate too, which looks better in wood than the putty colored plastic we replaced. This switch is from GE and has a 150 degree field of view as well as a timer (time left on after last motion detection, set to 5 min) and a light sensitivity sensor, so it won't come on at all in the day time.

So - I've spent nearly $100 to save pennies now, but I'm sure they'll add up to many dollars saved later. We also have an electric water heater which I plan to put a timer on so it's only on when we will have to schedule ourselves to use it - morning, evening and for the lunch hour will have to do. Keeping all that water hot all day is too expensive, and a timer for that (40 amp, 240 volt) is only another $45. That one will probably pay for itself in a month or two. I do plan to call the coop though as they already have a remote shutoff on it to kill it during peek load times.

Lets see - oh yes, the garden is in and I've been chopping wood in preparation for a wood stove to be installed sometime this summer - if I can settle on one. Had been looking at Vermont Castings but their reputation for durability isn't that great amongst owners and family members. I'm looking at Kuma brand and other sturdier steel units that are both high efficiency and can handle burning trash, as we will likely do. Hopefully we can use fire for heat a good portion of the coming winter rather than the increasingly expensive electric needed to run the blower in the gas furnace... and the gas that goes with it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Window Stress

You may remember my post about our new windows. It's been about 6 months since installation completed and the winter was a lot harder on things than I ever guessed they would be.
Our nice new front window took the brunt of 70mph gusts and the vinyl frame cracked near the top left of the center window. The glass is all intact but a small amount of water was forced through from the outside by the incredible winds. The company that installed has estimated it will take $1500 to repair as the expect they whole thing needs to be replaced.

Another let down; where most of the new windows were caulked during warm weather, the vinyl frames contracted during the cold winter. This appears to have caused the caulk to pull away around the corners of most of the windows. In some cases, wind creeps around the edges on breezy days. Needless to say, not what I expected but probably about what I paid for based on the price my Dad expected us to face.

So, Vinyl windows - I can't recommend them for their strength or stability. But, they are much warmer in terms of the material not conducting cold. And, I can recommend the triple panes and e-glazing. Winter sun comes in easily, high angle spring sun bounces off.

Overall, I can probably replace the caulk or tighten up the frames with some shim material to take care of the air leaks. The cracked front window frame though, I'm still debating whether to let them come do the work or hold off till the problem is more of a problem. As is, it's just a crack and only severely strong wind gives it any trouble. I might install a shelf across the mullion and anchor it to the structural members as a form of reinforcement and use some epoxy to weld the crack up... would be cheaper than having the whole thing replaced... not sure how much better though.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

New Garden Locale

Well, the winter is a waning and spring is springing, so it's time to get serious about the gardening.

A week ago we started our tomatoes and lettuce. I bought a portable green house, really a shelf system with a clear vinyl cover, at Lowes for $30. I'll be able to transplant my lettuce and harden it out doors ahead of the last frost date here, May 15. I'll have to keep a close eye on the weather though - too cold at night and keeping the frost off won't mean much. Although I've seen pictures of French gardeners using glass bell jars as cloches in winter to harvest lettuce year round, so maybe it will work just fine.

The big news right now is I'm moving my 20 by 20 garden, well, really just making another one, and resizing it to 80ft x 80ft. Yes, I'm crazy. Actually, I have a plan I pulled out of a very good book, How to Grow More Vegetables (and fruits, nuts, berries, grains, and other crops) by John Jeavons. The plan is for feeding a family of four, and I mean really feeding. Fruit trees, grains, vegetables, legumes... all in what is called a bio-intensive format.

A big part of the approach is deep soil preparation done by hand, and ongoing soil ecology upkeep - all done in as sustainable a fashion as possible. The emphasis is on high production and low cost. Some of you might spot the potential for profit between those two aims, and indeed, the method has been used world wide to teach impoverished peoples how to begin self-sustaining and even deriving modest incomes from gardening small plots of land.

One of the challenges we face here is the deer and rabit population. To combat these, I'm installing a 5 ft perimeter fence to disuade both. I know a deer can jump higher than that, but I hope di discourage this by adding a bit of electric fencing several feet out from the fence so that even getting close makes them think twice. I'll probably not add that measure till the first proves faulty though. There's plenty of easier things to get at and eat for the deer besides a fenced garden.

So, nuts and bolts: I've already dug 5 holes (4 corners and 1 gate end post near a corner) and set three poles plumb, with two to go. The poles are pressure treated 4" square by 8ft tall. The wire mesh is 2 x 4 inch x 5 ft. I'll be doubling it with chicken wire along the bottom 8 inches just for the wee rabbits. All told, that will set me back $310 plus tax. Not a bad one time investment. The materials are expected to last 20 years in the elements.

After getting the fence up, the real work will begin - double digging the soil by hand. It's not as bad as it sounds, taken in turns. About 3 hours, over several days, for 100 sq ft. I aim to get 200 sq ft under cultivation this year and plant a small collection of dwarf fruit trees within the 6400 sq ft area as well. I might try my hand at grain next year, we'll see. All in time.

Also on the future meter is a composting bin. I hope to get that in this year but a corner of the garden will do for now. Pictures will be posted when the fence is up and the gate built, which will be a small project unto itself.