Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Quick Mend

If you are like me, you go through a box of leather work gloves a year.  I despise throwing away a pair of gloves that has only one or two fingers worn through.  But I love reusing things that I didn't throw out.  I also love something I picked up at a fabric store for some forgotten reason some years back: Liquid Stitch.  Near as I can tell, it's water based air curing liquid latex.  It works terrifically well and has no order.  It's also waterproof and washable once dry.

Tonight, after the kids were in bed, I sat down with a pair of sharp scissors, one sacrificial glove that was the worst of the lot, and started cutting patches of leather to mend the other gloves that were worn but in still usable shape.

My apologies for the poor photo.  The new LED lighting in the basement is fine for reading but not great for taking pictures.  From the one glove at the bottom (missing three fingers now) I patched the five above by cutting off fingers, removing stitching and then shaping ready-fit patch work.  All you need to do is then run a bead of glue around the underside perimeter of the patch (the rough side of the leather) and press it into place.  It dries fully in 24 hours and sets up in seconds to a holding tack.

I guess it was roughly 12 minutes of effort and it saved me $30 or so in replacement gloves. The glove on the far right has been done like this before with some old shoe leather.  It's the heavy insulated glove I use for tending the wood stove.  It sees the most use of the lot and when it's worn, a quick burn is your first warning.  Better to patch that one up sooner I think.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Combination Greenhouse and Woodshed

While I didn't know it when I unearthed the sandstone and limestone on my property last year, the find would set me on a long term project that is just now coming to a close: building a long needed woodshed, and long desired greenhouse.  My budget and materials, and suitable sites, were not such that I could afford to build both of these structures, so I settled on a hybrid approach.

It's a cold day today, has been all week with the exception of Sunday which got up to 50 F and was the day I finished the roof.  The only work that remains is mounting the last tenwindows.  As I am fortunate enough to be on vacation, and I'm done shivering outside for the day, I thought it was high time I write up this project which I have been photographically documenting in some detail along the way.  Grab a cup of coffee, this will be a bit of a long read.

Starting with the stone quarry, and realizing that I had what I needed to make a flat building site for a shed on our predominantly sloped lot, I built the stone boat, documented and demonstrated in earlier posts.  Then with a pile stone and a load of gravel, I built the stone retaining wall that would provide the erosion control needed to keep the gravel pad for the the shed in place.  Both of those projects occupied most of my spring and summer along with other minor projects that I just didn't have time to write up, most of them just repairs and upgrades on past projects, like the court-yard and picnic table.

This brings us to the planning stages for the shed.  I modeled the building in 3D to make sure I had a good materials list and dreamed that I might afford to side it.  We'll see.  The approach pictured would add $300 to the project (which thus far has run near $800 for materials).

The idea was for a transparent roof on the South face, and a solid roof on the North.  Firewood would fill the structure in the winter, slowly yielding space to set up seedlings and starts in late February. The overall process has been instructive and fun to see it come together, so let's start with the foundation.

Beginning with the retaining wall, the gravel pad needed leveling and cleaning up on the high side (farthest from the camera).

On top of this goes the 6" x 6" x 12' pressure treated beams, shown above to the left, to make a floating base upon which the shed will be erected.  The beams were lap-jointed with a circular saw and screwed together with 4, 5" deck screws at each corner.

Note that the point of view is now almost 180 degrees from the picture above of just the retaining wall.  Most of the remaining photos are from this vantage point or near to it, which better aligns with the point of view in the design concept rendering (first photo).  The gravel need a lot of tamping and leveling to get this structure square and plumb.  It was a lot harder than I expected it to be, but in the end the base was rock steady, plumb and true.  (as a side note, keep an eye on the background vegetation for an indicator of the time over which this project lingered).

The next step was to begin erecting the corner posts and their supports.  Getting these plumb and square was critical as the entire structure would follow the corner posts, from the beams to the supports to the skin and of course the roof.

The posts are glued and screwed laminates of two 2" x 6", one being 8' tall and the other, nearest the inside, 7' - 6 1/2" to allow a pocket for the beams to set upon, which once all four corners were up were the next part of the structure to put up.  This was the first instance where a ladder was needed and doing this alone was a bit tricky.

It was here that I found out just how plumb and square my posts were.  Overall, I was at the top off 1/2" in each direction at the SE corner.  I never figured out exactly why but attributed it to one of the posts being a little warped due to the fact that they were all but one from salvage and those on the South side were not as firmly anchored as those on the North.  Here too, notice the knee braces on the rear two posts.   That's the side that won't have windows, so the bracing won't be in the way.  The front required different bracing strategies and ultimately did not firm up until the plywood skin was applied but included horizontal corner bracing (seen in the last photo below) and small corner braces glued and nailed top and bottom.

Like the posts, the beams are glued and screwed 2 x 6's with lap joints created at each end.  The beams were shorter on the South and North by 3" so that the three members; post and two adjacent beams, all lapped together where each beam has bearing on the post, sharing part of the ledge created by the shorter member of each post (the one facing inward).  The whole affair is screwed together with 3" screws in abundance.

Once the basic box frame was in place, I began putting up the support columns that would help carry the weight of the beams and their loads.  Most of these were salvaged from a large pallet and have been used in part on my work table project as well.

Being that these were raw pine, not kiln dried, they had some twist to them after a year on my garage floor.  Using a piece of 2 x 6 as a lever screwed to the side of the posts, and a tie-down strap, I was able to twist the offending posts straight, tighten the strap, and then screw them into the beam at the top, having first screwed them down to the base.  

The North and East sides were fairly straight forward to frame up.  It got more difficult when it came time to start framing up the West, door side, and South facing wall which would hold 9 windows by itself.

The window sills are simply 2 x 4's.  The door is our old front door which had become warped and wouldn't stay shut tightly, but is fine for this application.  The door frame came from a friend's house which had had some remodeling done.  You'll also notice a few details in this picture, like the blocking between the corner posts and window frames: one of my many attempts to improve the rigidity along the South wall.

Fall has just about swept through the background, taking many leaves with it by this stage.  This part of the framing was fairly tedious and took a good couple of weeks of free evenings to complete.  The majority of things are still being screwed together, very few nails except where the posts contact the pressure treated bases, in which case galvanized nails were used.  Had I to do this side over again, I would have turned the framing for the windows sideways from what I did which uses predominantly vertical studs with screwed in horizontal sills.  Making the sills continuous would have offered I think better structural rigidity and more firm window seats.

The next step was to get the roof started.  From here on out I spent an uncomfortable amount of time with the ladders.  Getting the ridge up was the first step and required working out how I would do the ridge posts.  I settled on laminating several pieces of 2 x 6 that would provide good solid anchor points for internal wind bracing, external ridge rafters, external knee braces, and the ridge beam itself which would sit into the pocket at the top and extend 12" beyond to begin setting up the 1 foot overhang.  

Getting the ridge up by myself was a challenge, but should have been easier than it was due to the idea that the pockets would allow the beam to "slide" through.  However, I cut the pockets with a jig saw and they were not exactly as large as needed, so I spent a comic half hour atop a step ladder with a rasp, grinding away at the pocket joint to make it bigger after I had it all screwed in place.  It was here that my discomfort with heights began pushing its limits.  But, through much trembling and care, I gradually gained confidence atop the ladders and eventually got the roof done too.

With the ridge up, it was time to start putting the rafters on.  This is where I felt like the project really began taking shape and began encouraging me to press on.

No, the building isn't falling over, my crappy cell phone camera is a bit slow and caused the image distortion when I wasn't perfectly steady.  To put up the rafters, I created the first one strictly by measurements with a 23 degree bevel on the top end and a bird mouth 12 inches from the other end at the same angle and used it as a template for the others.  Driving nails became easier than driving screws at this point, but once these were all set, I followed up with 5 " screws to make sure they were not going anywhere.

With the rafters up, the next order of business was to start skinning with pressure treated 1/2" plywood.  Part of this was necessary to make the structure stiff enough to support me working on the roof further.

Putting up the skin was fairly easy.  I did however find right off that purlins would be needed to make sure I had a continuous nailing surface.  That's the horizontal light colored pine strips you can see through the window along the back wall.  All of the exterior plywood was fastened with 1 1/2" galvanized nails.  I used a total of 8 full sheets of 4' x 8' x 1/2" PT plywood for this.

This photo is a good representation of "math is hard".  The gable ends could have been cut from one sheet with almost no waste, but for my crap calculations first time through.  I wound up with two very long triangular pieces of scrap on the West gable, but I had it down pat by the time I did the East gable.  Getting the overhangs laddered out also was a tiny bit of a math fail, but they worked out fine.  I had made my rafters 8' long in total, which meant my North and South overhangs actually came out to 14" overall, while the East and West are 13" overall, but will anyone but you and I be able to tell?

Also shown above, the purlins for the roof are up on the South face and the strand board is ready to go up on the North side.  The purlins were really a life saver throughout the project when it came to putting up the roof materials.  Since I had an abundance, I used the 1 1/2" galvanized nails to secure them.

Getting the roof on was a lot harder than I expected. This is the part of the project I pretty much put little to no planning thought into.  The 4' x 8' sheets of strand board were far too heavy for me to get up onto the roof on my own.  I tried and failed.  So I wound up ripping them lengthwise into 2' x 8' sections which were much more manageable.

Here he is, the intrepid carpenter, far too pleased with himself for having figured out how to reduce the weight of the roof boards, which happens to be the only picture I have of that part of the roof in progress.

Once I had all of the strand board on both sides of the roof, I started putting on the polycarbonate on the South side.  This required pre-drilling the holes and it almost didn't go well but for the choice to use 1" x 3" pine purlins rather than 1" x 2".  The extra width gave me some fudge room for the drilled holes to line up with the purlins and provide a place to put a screw with washer and prevent a leak.

You may notice here that winter has previewed with snow visible here and there. The change in weather conditions began to limit the number of days and hours available to work on the shed and it seems like so long ago that I finished putting the polycarbonate up, which I think was back at Thanksgiving.  I almost forgot to note that the facia has been finished off here with 1" x 6" pressure treated pine all the way around the overhang and white aluminum drip edges were installed all around as well.

With that done, I started putting some of the windows in because I discovered that the Ondura asphalt sheet I had chosen for the roof required a temperature above 35 F to work with to prevent cracking.  Not too many days at this time of year offer those temperatures, but with patience and some carefully chosen time away from work on nicer days, I was able to finish that up this past weekend.

You can see here that I have three windows in so far.  Just 10 to go.  The windows go together with a 4" sill made from the same pressure treated plywood that adorns the exterior, some shims, and 3/4" x 1/2" clear pine trim to case them in.  The second tier of windows on the South side, and the bottom most on the East and West will each have a single chest hinge to allow them to tilt in from the top 3" for ventilation when needed.  The playset in the foreground will be coming down in the spring and re-built as a bigger better fort further down the hill in the tree line, which I expect will be the subject of a future lengthy posting.

Before we leave off though, I was confounded by how to finish the roof off on the North side.  Getting anywhere with the 4' x 69" sheets of asphalt was a challenge.  A ladder alone would not do the job, so I wound up creating and assembling a scaffolding that hung off the North wall and provided a platform to work from as well as something to step onto and off of for getting on and off the roof.

The scaffold consisted of two 2 x 4s anchored to the support posts and end post with 5 " screws, and a gusset of sorts made of one 2 x 4 cut in two, one piece which was beveled at both ends.  A third 2 x 4 was then fastened to the outside as a leg to provide more support, and an angle bracket was employed to ensure this whole thing would not pull away from the structure with a 200 lbs. idiot standing no it.

Whenever I would begin work, I would secure my 20' aluminum ladder to the shelf, also made of 1/2" PT plywood, with two long bungies wrapped around the shelf and hooked to the ladder.  This made getting up and down a much more sure-footed experience.

With that in place, I still had the puzzle of getting far enough up the steep slope to position sheets and drive nails.  I used a mix of a custom ladder and nailed in 2 x 4's to 'stand' upon.  But the ladder I made was designed to hook over the roof.  How to finish out the ridge?

The answer was to move the aluminum ladder to directly below where I wanted the wooden roof ladder to be, then invert it so that the hook end was against the aluminum ladder, where I tied it off with my trusty tie-down strap, and then was able to climb up to put the last three pieces of the roof in place.

The roof ladder, by the way, is simply 1" square rungs pinned in with 3" screws from either side, topped with heavy duty angle brackets at the top that form a U to hook over the top edge of the strand board and the purlin.   I quite literally praised God and said "thank you Jesus" when I was done with this part of the roof.  I definitely did not care for being up there.  However, now that I have no more reason to go up on the roof, I find that I do miss the excitement of surviving doing so.

The shed isn't done yet, there's still a lot of details to take care of, but it's done enough to call the project log a wrap for now.  I might feature some of the things that will go into it yet later.  One thing I did today was just put in some solar powered landscape lights to provide nighttime illumination for late-night wood-getting runs.  The kit included 3 spot lights and a solar panel and battery base, so I affixed them all to the rafters with simple pipe straps.

I'll dress the cables more neatly when they aren't so rigid from the cold with wire staples to get them out of the way and tidy up the appearance.

That's it for now.  I hope you've enjoyed seeing it come together.  It has certainly been the biggest project I've ever undertaken.  It has been immensely gratifying and educational for me and I feel like I'm ready to tackle bigger, more complex projects now.  We'll see what the estimate from the builder is for the addition on the house.  Maybe I'll want to try that myself?  nah.  Not enough time!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Recommended Reading: Robert's Projects

Robert has a farm in PA and has a load of great posts of farm-scale projects.  If you like the stuff I do but are looking for bigger projects and a wider range of skills, check out Robert's Projects.  Very well considered write ups.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Dry Fence Style Retaining Wall

If you wondered why I have been building a stone boat this summer, it was to haul a lot of sand stone and limestone from my little hill-side quarry on the North end of our lot. The purpose for all of this labor was to build a short retaining wall at the site where I will soon be building my combination wood-shed and green-house.

Dry fit stone walls are ancient in origin and require a good eye and patience to construct. To "dry fit" a wall is to use no mortar, but only bits of stone wedged into cracks and crevices to firmly set larger pieces of the wall in place and prevent wobbles. Some particularly skilled practitioners of this art yet today build beautiful full hearths and interior fireplaces from nothing but boulders and river rock.

Stone masons of yesteryear would use a variety of tools to shape stone when it became necessary to cut a stone to fit a need in a wall. Overall, though, tools often being absent, many ancient stone walls that stand today were made with only the materials on hand and a lot of care and patience.

My favorite stone working hammers - the 3 lbs sledge has a home-made honey-suckle handle.

Some of the tools used in antiquity included hammers made from other stones or iron or steel, hand drills which would be hammered or bow-drilled to make holes, and my favorite: splints and wedges. A good splint and wedge set would go along with a hand drill, which would be repeatedly hammered to make a line of holes along the edge you wish to cut. The modern equivalent is an pneumatic impact driven drill. Into these holes, a set of splints would go, then into the middle of each set of splints, a wedge. Tapping the wedges in sequence along the line of holes would steadily increase the pressure and eventually cause the block to fault in a line along the increasing line of stress. Today, we have diamond saw blades and circular saws which can do a much neater job in a fraction of the time. While the cut is nearly glass-smooth, it lacks the charm of the methods of by-gone eras.

I think stacking firewood by the face-cord as a kid conditioned me well in the art of fitting odd sized pieces together to make level layers upon which to stack the wood high and steady. Learning a lesson on what not to do from stacking wood is swift and merciless. A toppling row of logs can inflict pain and bruises as well as frustration. The trick, I have found, is to not only be patient but to consider all of your options. Eventually you get pretty good at visualizing which pieces will fit in the spot you're working and pave the way for a stable structure.  It's also important to not be afraid to undo something that isn't working.  I had three different parts of the wall that were all tight and tamped together, but when walked upon shifted dangerously, so down it came to be built in a more sound fashion.

Starting the wall.

With logs, this quickly becomes routine and simple. I've stacked 2 standard cords of wood in just an hour or two following simple patters of cross bracing for stability and leveling by selecting logs from the pile of like size as I go. With chunks of stone, the game is quite different.

First Section Complete

Naturally, you want a firm foundation. This can be undisturbed soil or compacted gravel. In my case I have a little of both. The gravel pad along which I am building the wall is flush with the earth on the high corner and 16 inches deep on the low side, making two sides sloped enough away from the square and level pad to require reinforcement to prevent erosion and critters or roots from undermining. Upon a level path laid out between stakes in the ground, I start by laying down stones that will create the first level or a monolithic section of the wall. From there, it's very much like assembling a jig-saw puzzle in three dimensions.

Tamping in gravel, using a stick, to fill cracks and stabilize stonework

In my situation, I have a lot of sandstone and lime stone, and a lot of crushed gravel. So I've combined the two in my building process, using the crushed gravel to fill cracks and back fill beneath wobbly stones, and pieces of splintered limestone as shims and wedges to tighten things up. The stability of this method can be attested to by the fact that I can walk on this wall without any wobble beneath my feat. Each stone has been tightly wedged into place and rests firm.

Finished wall with pile of wood waiting for a winter home.  Shed foundation beams pictured at left.

Now that the wall is done, the much harder work of leveling the landscaping beams that will be the foundation of my shed begins. Making one level is not so hard. Interconnecting four in a box with lap joints and leveling and squaring all four will be quite a challenge - especially as each beam requires two people to safely lift off the ground, and I am a one man crew.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Stone Boat In Action

I finished up my stone boat this week, wrapping things up by screwing the runners on.  The runners got a heat treat with the propane torch and then I melted Paraffin into them for protection.

Once that was done, I took it for a test spin with the riding lawn mower.  Even with the weight further distributed over the are of the skids, the riding mower lacked the mass to gain traction to get it up the hill when loaded with stones.  So, out came the big guns, my 1973 International Harvester 284, which perhaps not inconsequentially is a 28 hp, 4 cylinder smaller size farm tractor.

You can just about make out the crease in the  grass from the boat in that picture.  Still a lot better than tearing up turf or killing myself with a wheel-barrow.  I had tried using my garden cart with the lawn tractor, but I wound up with two flat tires after just getting it partially loaded.

Here are a couple of videos to cap off the project.  Getting the stone from the quarry site to the construction site was the sole purpose I built this boat for, but it will no doubt serve in the future for other projects that require moving heavy loads.

Here's the boat in action!

And here's my haul for the evening.  At the end, if you're wondering, I said "I'm tired.".  Kind of hard to tell.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Making a Traditional Stone Boat

A stone boat is a bit of an anachronism in this age of mechanization.  You can think of it as a sled for heavy stones.  Farmers in the 1700's would use them, usually pulled by an ox or team of oxen, to help clear their fields as they tamed the wild, and the boat made it easy to transport the stones they pulled from the earth.  These stones may have become the foundation for their home, walls for a cellar, a hearth or chimney.  In very rocky areas, stone walls and fences were and still are today a common sight.

So why is this tool from yesteryear such a handy device on the modern farm where a bulldozer might suffice?  For starters, a heavy piece of equipment capable of shoving or carrying stones around is an expensive item.  It also virtually guarantees you will be tearing up the ground as you go.  A stone boat, on the other hand, distributes the weight of the stones you are hauling over the entire surface area of its runners.  This reduces the point loads that wheels would have, reducing the impact to soil.  In my case, I've been quarrying stone from a hill size in the midst of neatly mowed garden paths.  I do not wish to tear up the sod, so a stone boat is an ideal device for dragging my stones around.  Also, I don't want to have to lift the larger stones up into the bed of my pickup truck, and just rolling them end over end onto the boat is fairly simple.

To make a stone boat, I started out with some salvaged deck timbers from an old free standing deck which I tore down at a friends house.  He inherited it and really did not like what he had.  If you've been reading along, you may recall that I've used those deck materials to make our picnic table, wooden stakes, and some raised garden beds among other things.  You never know what an afternoon of hard work and helping a friend out is going to yield.

Selecting some better pieces of 2 x 10, I knocked together a frame, then put some of the old deck boards back on this new frame to make my boat.  I then added reinforcement to the under carriage to take the strain of a large eye bolt which would become the hitch for the boat.

Finally, using my saws-all, I rounded the front of the frame to accept the runners.

For the runners, a bit of red-neck engineering was required.  Starting with pine tongue and groove siding acquired from cleaning out a co-workers garage, I stuck them into a 5 gallon pail full of water to soak roughly 18 " of the boards.  I left them there for 5 days to make sure the wood was good and wet and pliable.  1/2" pine doesn't bend too easily, so in order to get them to bend and have the curve I want for my boat runners, I propped them on bricks, wedged them under the rear wheels of my mini-van, backed it up and set the parking break.

I'll leave it there for a week to allow the boards to dry out some, then bolt them onto the frame of the boat to complete their drying out time.  I have to admit, I didn't think this would work, but so far the boards are bent perfectly with no sign of breaking or splintering.

Once this project is complete, I'll be able to begin constructing a stone retaining wall for the gravel pad that is the foundation of my as-yet wood shed / green house.  I hope to have that well under way this August.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Carbonizing Wood: The Picnic Table

Several years ago I became aware of the origin of the blackness inside those half wood barrels you see for sale in garden centers.  The wood is charred to guard against decay.  Charcoal, it turns out, has very little to offer mold and fungus in the way of nutrition and so is very resistant to it.  What led to this understanding, for me, was seeing that a house and barn had been clad in charred wood, and that several wood product manufacturers now offer carbonized wood in various degrees of "cooked".  Being the curious guy I am, once I had a propane torch, I wanted to see how easy or difficult it was to master this technique.

First a word about the table.  It was built from salvaged wood using a pattern I found on the internet.  It's really quite simple and any search will turn up a number of patterns to chose from.  I chose one that fit the materials I had on hand, all scrap and salvage.  Only the lag bolts and screws needed to be purchased.

As you'll see in the video below, it's trivially easy to char wood.  With clean, stripped wood, just wave the flame of the torch back and forth over the surface until the desired level of char is achieved.

After the wood is charred I find that with the pine decking the loose soot is easily wiped off on your hands and clothes, so I removed this with a fine brass wire wheel attachment for my electric drill.  Just lightly running over the surface to remove the powdery char was all that was needed.  The remaining browned wood is still amazingly rich in color.

In Process - freshly washed after stripping

The final step involved using an old jug of "wet look sealer" from Baer.  I had thought to use it in the basement long ago but decided against it for some reason I can't recall.  It's water based and was still in good condition and the results on the charred wood are amazing.  I applied the first coat with a brush, the second with a sponge brush, and the third coat I just poured it into the cracks and crevices and smoothed it over with the foam brush to fill in as much of the irregularities in the surface as possible.  

Ready for Dinner - Blue hue reflecting the sky

The end result is quite impressive.  It came out much better than I had anticipated and I have to give the credit to the materials as the work was far too easy for me to consider this high craft-work.  See for yourself. If you decide to try the method on your own, make sure you use your torch in a well ventilated area and try not to set your wood on fire.  Small gouts of flame are going to be normal with resinous woods, but self-sustaining flames should be extinguished quickly.

Deep Grain
Update 7/19/2015:  I should have updated this post earlier this spring when the results of the Baer "wet look concrete sealer" surviving the winter were clear -where the sealer clearly failed to withstand the weather.  It did fine on surfaces that were vertical, eg. where the water she away, but on the top of the table, the portion upon which snow would sit and melt, the sealer failed almost 100%.  I'll be wire brushing the whole thing and will have to see if the carbonized look remains.  I'm going to try to get an oil based sealer or something that will take the weather better.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Failing: Learn From Your Mistakes

Usually I talk about what has gone right.  Seldom do we like to dwell on what has gone wrong.  But in this case, I fought a good fight and so don't feel too badly about acknowledging when it was time to call it quits with a repair job that just didn't want to be.

It all started when I reassembled a mower deck after obliterating the spindle housings after hitting a fist size rock.  In that case, I was fortunate enough to find, and was able to get replacement spindle housings for less than the cost of a new deck.  A week later, I had my mower back in operation but I failed to consult a parts diagram, and as I now know, omitted an important spacer.  With the spacer between the top of the spindle housing and the bearing missing, the pulley rode directly on top of the spindle housing, creating a lot of friction and heat.  Eventually the, the somewhat toothed hole in the center of the pulley wore smooth, and then as it loosened, oblong until it was so worn it had no more ability to hold the mower belt in tension and it failed with much noise.

I was able to purchase a replacement pulley for $13, and was back in business.  That is, until late last week when yet again, I discovered the same pulley wearing out. Fortunately, I caught it before it was bad, but it was definitely spinning free.  Exasperated, I pulled things apart and discovered that the spindle itself had worn to the point where there were no more ridged teeth to engage the pulley.  So, I got back on the parts site and ordered a new spindle.  While doing so, referencing the part diagram for the part number, I noticed the spacer.  It all clicked in a moment of realization - the spacer was the problem.  Without it, the spindle and pulley could not hope to function properly for long.

This is where the fail really starts rolling though.  So, first lesson learned: consult a parts diagram and make sure you have everything when you reassemble something.  Not being one to give up easily, and wanting to mow my lawn while waiting on new parts, I devised a way to get the spindle and the pulley to lock up and work as intended.  All I needed was a little machine work and a suitable washer to turn down as a temporary replacement spacer.

As you can see below, with a little drilling and filing, I created an index slot in the pulley, and a hole in the spindle to receive a set screw which I imagined would engage with the slot.

Notion courtesy of: "507 Mechanical Movements"
In theory, this was a sound mechanical principle.  I made a couple of miscalculations, however.  First, my set screw was just a happy find in the parts bin.  I had no idea what the strength of the material was in terms of hardness or even composition.  It might have been mild steel from the ease with which it failed.  Second, I drilled and tapped the hole in the spindle, but the spindle was hollow, and the wall thin, and getting my hand held tapper to cut threads correctly was a challenge and it didn't go so well.  As a result, the screw jammed in the threads and turned itself in half with the torque of the vice-grip pliers I was using to insert it.

SO close, but not working out.  I reasoned at this point that if I had spacers, I could make it work, so I drove all the way to the hardware store hoping to get a replacement pulley and maybe find a lucky washer that would match the spacer dimensions.  I found one with the right ID (inside diameter), but not the right OD.  So I thought - no problem, I have a metal lathe, I'll just put the washer on the outside of the chuck, turn it down and have a spacer.

Unfortunately, my bench lathe is a 7" made for larger, heavy duty work.  I haven't a chuck small enough.  My machinist mentor later asked me: "Did you try putting the washer on a bolt and..."  "DOH!"  Yes, I could have mounted it to a bolt with a couple of nuts and put the bolt in the chuck.  Duh.  But, by the time I learned that, it was 24 hours past the time I humbled myself, gave up on trying to repair my mower with make-do parts, and wandered down the street to borrow my neighbors riding mower.  The grass looks great.  His new John Deere all-wheel steering mower was a beast and got the job done with nary a complaint. I might have to upgrade... some day.

I strive to learn from my mistakes so that I might not repeat them, and that I might learn to be more thorough, and careful, in the future.  I hope this little story helps someone else avoid similar pitfalls!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Creating Additional Parking

America is a funny place.  Even some of the poorest people have a small herd of cars grazing in their front yard.  There are .797 vehicles in the US per every 1 citizen.  Considering that many of those people are only legally passengers, and that many who are of legal driving age don't even own a car, it's actually a lot of cars.  Like most families with more than one driver, we have more than one car.  Part of this is strategy, and part if it is just God's grace.  Long story short, I couldn't sell the old Dodge mini van when we upgraded to a used Honda Odyssey, but it has worked out very well having a paid-for backup vehicle.

This blessing, however, presents a problem.  My driveway is only 20 feet wide and 78 feet long.  Crammed end to end, I could fit about 6 cars in it. Our garage (crammed with other stuff) is attached and faces the street, so while urban neighborhoods often have a detached garage in the back and a back yard to stuff an extra vehicle into, our driveway, so far, has been the only parking available for us.  This has made shuffling the vehicles a bit awkward at times.  The solution dawned on me last fall - I need (just like a couple of my neighbors have) an extra parking spot. Thus began a seemingly simple project: kill the grass, spread some gravel around, call it good.  Alas, "simple" quickly led to "expensive" as my over-developed sense of perfection took over.

Here's the final bill of materials.  The initial grading was "free" since I already own the 1973/4 International Harvester 284 which I used to scrape the area bare.

Fuel for Tractor and Hauling
Pressure Treated Landscaping Ties
12 Tons of 305 unscreened gravel,  delivered
Bobcat S150 Rental, w/ Trailer
Dr's Visit
Total   :-/$741

The lumber yard got me for $36 each on the 6, 6" x 6" x 12 ft landscaping ties.  Once upon a time you could get them a lot cheaper.  My dad and I built a lot of stairs and retaining walls when I was a kid and I remember they were closer to $8 a piece back then.  But, they make in my case what is essentially a weed barrier and retaining "wall", albeit only about 2" tall.  I buried them 4" in the ground to keep them from sliding out of place, and to keep grass rhizomes from creeping under them.

Why 12 tons of gravel?  Because I wanted the gravel bed to be deep enough that my vans wont sink into the wet clay beneath after a heavy rain.  And I needed some extra gravel for an upcoming project.

The Dr's visit was for a hernia.  Yes - long heavy beams should not be lifted up by one person.  Turned out to be minor enough that with care it went away,  for the most part, in a few months time.  It did slow me down quite a bit last fall, however, when I began this project.

While the project started with grading the grass off last fall, followed by digging long square trenches by hand with a spade, the gravel was dropped in the street last night and I had it scraped up, spread around and packed down with the Bobcat by this afternoon.  The results are probably not all that impressive, but the suddenly open driveway feels spacious.

Bus Parking Only

A somewhat separate project was the disposal of the dirt that I scraped up to make a level spot in the yard to begin the project.  I had thought about using it to level a part of the hill in the back yard, but there wasn't enough to make much of a difference.  Instead, I decided to cover it with a truck bed load of mulch ($40) and plop a Sand Cherry tree in it ($37).  The rock border was a happy find that I discovered on my property when I was trying to dig a flat spot into a hill to park a future gazebo.  In my way was a vein of sand stone. It yielded up several stones of varying sizes and makes an attractive border for my dirt pile.

Dirt pile?  What dirt pile?

So, if you're considering this project for your parking needs, you can save yourself some money by doing some things yourself.  While the Bobcat rental and gravel was expensive, having a parking spot made for me could have run into the low thousands depending on the contractor you have chosen.  

Having a truck to tow the Bobcat on its trailer 10 miles too and from the rental place saved me $115 on delivery.  But it also ate up a lot of gas in the F250's V10, did a number on my brake pads (I could smell them on the way back into town) and gave me a chiropractic exam as the combined mass of the trailer and Bobcat S150 fought with the truck all the way to and from the store.  That was probably the most unnerving part of the whole experience.  Driving the Bobcat was a piece of cake and saved me a lot of time and effort.  If you have a big job to do, make it smaller by renting or borrowing some big tools.  :-)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Building a Worktable: Part III - Final Installment

Well, after a valuable lesson in reading the directions and selecting the correct adhesive, my worktable (See part 1 and part 2) is now ready to enter service.  The first adhesive for the sheet metal top I chose was whatever was in reach at the hardware store that said "Liquid Nails" on it because when I was a young man, there was only ONE kind... the kind that you never, ever, undid.  It just worked.  Now with the different chemicals that are known to the state of California to be bad for you, most adhesives are specialized, for some purpose, silicon rubber of one kind or another.  Near as I can tell, they are mostly all varying grades of caulk.

Taking some time to read the instructions proved valuable as I found this amazing stuff:

For when Duck Tape just won't cut it.

Loctite™ PL Premium Construction Adhesive. Made for metal and non-porous surfaces. Forgetting to wear my respirator may be why I had a sore throat this morning (or I caught the bug the kids are passing around) but this stuff really did stink going on and had I read the instructions a bit more, I would have discovered that, yes, a respirator is recommended.  Ah well.  I as yet live.   More importantly, the sheet metal table top is FIRMLY secured and flat as a 'possum that's been laying in the road for a good week or two.

In preparation for using the correct adhesive, I did scrape and sand away the wrong adhesive before applying.  Hopefully this will hold the table top down for the life of the table.  If not, I am prepared to drill, counter-sink and screw it down but for aesthetic reasons (eye roll) I didn't want to do that if I don't have to.  I also didn't like the idea of screw heads, recessed or not, gathering gunk and looking dirty.  I'm not a clean freak, but some things I do get OCD about.

Here's a few more shots of the table.  I will probably stain it but don't plan to post any more pictures except as incidental when discussing future projects that will probably be built upon this table.  It has certainly been a worth-while and fun project.  It's very motivating, too, as I now know I have a place to work on things where previously it always meant clearing off the garage floor or setting up a rickety saw-horse table.

Reclaimed Materials - Evidence of Age and Use = Beauty

Showcase Shot at Sunset
Center of the Table

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Building a Worktable, Part II

I've been building a worktable this week from salvaged wood and sheet metal.  Today, I assembled the top.  While I was prepping the metal, I decided to get a little creative and experiment with applying a patina to the sheet metal.  After studying several different approaches and taking a quick inventory of what I had on hand, I decided to try both a black and a blue patina.  Both require different processes and equipment and I ran into a little unexpected problem, but it was a good learning experience.

First thing I decided to do was set a pattern of colors rather than just random shades of blue, black and rust. Using simple painters masking tape, I taped off my pattern.  This was to provide a mask for the black patina,which I was going to be applying via a spray on rust treatment.  It turns metal black by chemically neutralizing rust.

Taped and ready for spraying

Once I sprayed a light coat on, I peeled off the tape and moved on to the bluing.  I decided to heat-treat to apply the patina, which worked well, but this is where my problem started.  Since heating metal causes it to expand, and I was only heating areas that I wanted blued, I wound up with a wavy sheet of metal.  This would be fine for artwork, but for a supposedly flat table top, not so good.

At any rate, I used a MAP torch to heat the metal until the blue patina began to appear.  The metal heaved all along this area and then receeded as it cooled but the warping remained.  The effect however was very interesting and fun to play with.  I want to try other patinas in the future now that I've had a play with it. One thing that I think looks like absolute crap is the way the rust treatment came out.  It apparently needs to be rolled on or wiped on in an even layer.  I plan to go back over the table top, re-taping it and then wiping on a few more coats to get a uniform black.  You can see below the graffiti effect from just spraying back and forth.  Live and learn.

Did I say spraying?  Should have rolled or wiped it on evenly.

I did find some interesting effects with the torch and the rust treatment where they interacted.  It gave the coating a nice brown effect that I actually much prefer to the black.  Lemon juice left to etch steel for several hours will brown metal.  In the future, I want to try that out as the brown, leathery look is very appealing to me.

While the metal sheet cooled on flat concrete, I used a scrap piece of 3/4" plywood to create the reinforced base for the table top.  This got glued and screwed to the table base which was now fully assembled.  Once I had that done, I put the salvaged and de-formicaed table top upside down on the garage floor and traced the outline of the base on the underside of the table top.  Then I squirted half a tube of liquid nails all over within the outline and used a piece of plastic to spread it out somewhat evenly.

After laying the table base down on the table top, I screwed it together with more cabinet screws.  At this stage, the table was really feeling solid.  I could have left the metal top off and had a very strong and sturdy table and called it a day.  But, I wanted my metal table top, so now I had to deal with the warping.

Turning the worktable back over, I put the sheet metal on top to see if the warping could be overcome just by weighing it down and gluing it.  Not a chance - too much deformation had been created by the heat treating.  So out came the trusty 3lbs. hammer and using the same scrap of plastic I used to spread the glue as a sacrificial barrier, I hammered out the high spots until the sheet was relatively flat, or flat enough that weights and clamps would get it down on another layer of liquid nails.  IMPORTANT: Make sure the adhesive you use is for METAL.

Hammering it out was a noisy affair, but the work table felt very solid underneath it and it was easy to tell when I had a section flattened out by the lack of deflection caused by each blow of the hammer.  The hammering added an interesting dimpled effect that I hadn't planned on, but like most accidents that add interest to things I build, I don't mind leaving it.  It sort of looks like it's supposed to be that way and I don't mind it.  Call it a "distressed" look if you like.

One thing I also experimented with today was blackening wood to see if I wanted to do that as a treatment for the wood base of the table.  As it turns out, pine doesn't blacken as well as hard woods and the effect is too inconsistent.  It's neat, but not what I wanted to see.  So, I'll use some left over wood stain instead (I have no shortage of that) and just put a good dark walnut stain on it after I soften up the wood with some soft-wood primer.  Eventually, I'll be building a lower shelf to sit upon the bottom stretchers and might work a cabinet into the base of the table, but for now, there are projects besides this table that must be completed as soon as possible, so it will be going directly into service this week.

Once I have it stained and the top patina finished to my liking, I'll post up two more pictures of the final product.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Building a Worktable

One thing every home shop needs is a sturdy work table.  A work bench is usually the place you mount your bench top tools or store endless capsules of scavenged screws and spindles.  A work table is a critical support in any shop endeavor.  It's an extra pair of hands, a light-duty anvil, a paint stand, a drafting table, a seat, a pedestal and a place to store things that just don't have a home yet.

My garage is my shop.  I have long wanted to build a shop but materials and finances are not aligning to that end, so the garage has been claimed, the vehicle evicted, and the materials stock-piled.  The mice have been quite happy.  But my garage is a cluttered mess.  I would post a picture but I fear the shock would drive my readers away forever -- all two of them.  So the first major task I am undertaking is making a work table.

To get us started, I did what any modern man would do and googled for plans or videos.  I found the following video very helpful and it is the pattern upon which I am building my table, minus the wheels, and I'm adding a steel top.  I don't like the wobbly feel wheels gave the work bench I created for the kids.  It just doesn't feel solid, though it serves their purposes well.  I want a work surface that is one with the planet and moves nowhere unless intended, so my table will be heavy and solidly built.

To get started, I'm using salvaged materials happily gleaned from a nearby dumpster (with permission).  I pulled some 4 x 4 pine beams (untreated) from heap and also three friends from work gave up scraps from their garages to supply the 2x4's and the table top.  I bought some 1/8 inch steel plate from another co-worker which will be cut to cover the top to provide a rock hard work surface that will take a lot of abuse.

Here are some starter pictures and more will follow.  The dimensions I have chosen are to fit the table top that I inherited.  The table top, by the way, came with some really beautiful pink and gold fleck Formica veneer... and what a joy it was to peel that off and toss it.  The top itself that remained consisted of oak and 1/4" high density fiber board.  I give this detailed description as it is not yet pictured.

Here are the sides after assembly.

Legs, glued and screwed.

And here they are a few days later mid way through final assembly.  The stretchers on the floor are already glued and screwed in.  The one's on top had to wait for a trip to the hardware store.  I have fallen in love with the green-coated decking screws for most heavy duty assembly jobs and had to buy some.  Salvaged drywall screws are great for most things, I built out most of my basement with them, but now that I have experienced the joy of the low friction corrosion resistant screws, of which screwing into wood is amazingly easy (especially with a pilot hole), I can't do without them.

Table base nearing completion
Last picture for today is the sheet metal I bought for a reasonable price.  It came from a guy who once owned a motorcycle dealership.  He has an amazing collection of Honda Goldwings and Valkyries.  Part of the sheet was cut out with a plasma torch and used for some long ago project.  The rest is big enough to cover my table and I have a couple of ideas of how I might cut it down.  I'm still toying with the idea of folding it over the edges of the wood top which will be reinforced with a layer of plywood, glued and screwed, or just cutting it to fit the edges.  One complication is that the salvaged table top has rounded corners, so it might work better just to cut the sheet metal to fit the top surface and adhere it with some liquid nails.


It almost looks like someone drew a picture of a road bike on that metal.  I didn't notice it till the camera flash picked it up.  Anyway, I hope to have the table completed within the week.  Soon enough I have other projects that need to get started and the table will be a big, and necessary, part of those projects.

Also see Part 2 and Part 3.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Fix what's Broken Instead of Going Broke

I'm the long term happy owner of a Husquavarna riding mower with a Briggs and Stratton V-Tec Twin 24 HP motor.  It's a great lawn tractor about one step up from a 48" rider with a 54" 3 blade deck.  At an initial cost of $2300 and several acres of grass to mow, this mower has paid for itself over the last 6 years.

Last year, the frame cracked in two identical places on the left and right side at a weak spot in the stamped frame.  It looks sort of suspiciously like planned obsolescence, but my neighbor can weld, so we're good to go there.  Replacing the frame, aside from the time and expense to tear down the whole machine, would have been cost prohibitive.  Thankfully I had access to someone with a MIG welder, though a stick welder may have gotten the job done.  At present, I'm happy to not need to incur that cost.

Unfortunately, that's not the only problem I have encountered.  With about 280 hours on the engine, the heads suffered some temperature related failure last year where by the brass valve guides slid out of place while the engine was over temp (no temperature gauge is available on this model but I might try to install one), and seized up in the incorrect position while cold causing mechanical failure of the push rods in one cylinder on the next startup.

Bent Rods - Despite what the TV tells you, there is no pill for this.

Brass and Aluminium have different deformation temperatures

This happened on the number 2 cylinder last year in the spring.  After ordering a replacement head assembly and push rods and installing, it ran great until my neighbor tried putting the wrong fuel in it when he borrowed it.  It was an honest fatigue based mistake, but it resulted in an identical failure to manifest itself in cylinder 1.

Through some misfortune, I did not order the push rods with the No. 1 replacement head this year.  I thought the parts were included with the assembly but last time the issue was diagnosed by a technician so perhaps he added the parts to my order for me.  As it stands at present, the new head is installed with new gaskets all around and as soon as the new rods arrive, I'll be able to install and adjust them.

The new head with push rods and shipping comes out to about $100.  A new engine runs about $900.  Repairing rather than replacing in this case is definitely keeping me from breaking the bank, and learning to do this repair didn't take too long reviewing some online videos of similar repairs being conducted.

In a way, perhaps the way it's supposed to be, a tiny bit of adversity has provided the opportunity for me to increase my skills and confidence repairing what is broken.  I'm encouraged to look more carefully in the future at broken gear before deciding to replace it with a new item.