Copy/Paste DIY

Anyone who has written a program or designed a web page knows the value of copy/paste.

Hours upon hours can be saved by a Google search and Ctrl+c Ctrl+v.

Some people say that this behavior dampens the imagination, and emphasizes productivity over effort and ingenuity.

I say “So What?”

If I hit a problem that someone else has solved, why should I reinvent the wheel?

And say what you will about this approach, it makes me more efficient and effective, whether or not I generate the solution myself.

It’s not much of a stretch for me to apply this to me projects in the garage.

Often times it is faster and cheaper (believe it or not) to find parts in a commercial product that solves your needs, rather than buying individual parts or making them yourself.

For example: my Moxon vise. Rather than sourcing ACME threads and nuts that would meet my needs, I find a cheap tool that already used these parts (a C-Clamp) and re-purposed them. A reader suggested that threaded dumbbell handles could meet the same need, and this also seems like a fantastic idea. Both of these solutions are significantly cheaper than buying the “correct” components.

While it’s true that this is not a perfect fit for my programming analogy, the lesson is the same: If somebody else is making it possible for you to save time and/or money, why not take advantage of it?

Other examples of this are:

These are a few ideas I’ve come up with (or copied), you’re welcome to share in the comments if you have others.

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I Built a Website!

As I have previously noted, I have too many hobbies.

Between work, babies, projects, and marriage, I don’t really have time to devote to all of my interests, so I tend to focus on them cyclically over time (you could say I binge on them).

One on my favorite recurring pastimes is insulting people.

More specifically, I love coming up with new ways to insult people. Not necessarily specific people, more just people in general.

I’ve been dabbling in this pastime on and off for the last 9 years, and have really gotten quite good at it.

While extending the boundaries of known derogatory methods, I have noted that, surprisingly,  many people do not share this passion, and consequently have not developed this skill for themselves.

In the interest of enabling these people to experience the joy that I feel, without the tedium of developing their own debasing abilities, I built a website: dissincorporated.com

Using this website, I have chronicled my slanderous breakthroughs in the form of 5-inch by 7-inch greeting cards.

For example, card# 006:

Front

2.8cm

inside

Now anyone in the greater United States of America can share in the pure bliss that comes from flinging disparagement at a Master level.

A word of warning: During these last 9 years, while developing my skill, I have also developed, through trial and error, a certain level of discretion, and a shrinking number of friends.

Not every opportunity to deliver a crushing blow should be seized… or so my wife tells me.

I know that there is grave danger in enabling those without my benefit of experience to wield such devastating wit, but I believe that there is peace in equality, and who am I to hoard such power to myself?

And so I freely share with all, the fruits of my endeavor,  for only $3.25 per card plus applicable shipping charges.

Adding Cheap And Classy Storage To Your Shop

If your garage is like mine, it’s a mess.

Periodically you spend a weekend cleaning up; cramming your tools and scraps each into their respective spots (or wherever they will fit), and sweeping up the sawdust and shavings, leaving your shop spotless… until you start your next project.

At that point you dislodge a tool and the materials necessary to complete your project, and you may has well have just pulled the pin on a grenade.

A short time later your garage explodes in a flurry of tools and shrapnel, that leaves your garage as bad as it has ever been, and quite possibly worse, while it waits for another free weekend to be cleaned up.

Making matters worse, I have many times promised to get the garage clean enough for my wife to park her car, but I have thus far been unable to maintain the upper hand for long enough to actually pull the car into its place.

After extensive study of this phenomenon, I started to study the root cause. Surely this is not merely a symptom of being a lazy slob. Surely this is not merely my own fault….

…surely…

Thus, having ruled out personal flaws, I decided that the heart of the problem was simple: Storage.

I had some wire shelves, a rolling toolbox, a workbench, a hanging shelf, and a pegboard, but every tool I owned and used was living in increasingly cramped quarters, and there were some obvious opportunities to add enough space to get a little more capacity and flexibility in the storage system.

The first and largest opportunity: my metal working station.
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When I designed my metal working station, I left large openings with the intention of someday building drawers and shelves.

About a week ago I realized I was never going to find it worthwhile to spend a day building a bunch of drawers while I had a backlog of so many more important/interesting projects (swingset, porch lights, shed, small truck for my daughter, speargun, radius cutter for my lathe… and whatever else comes up between now and the finish of those).

What if I just bought some drawers?

At first I thought I thought I’d use a coupon to buy a couple Harbor Freight toolboxes, since they are so much cheaper than anything equivalent from Sears or Home Depot, but I’ would have still ended up spending a few hundred dollars.

What should I do?

Begin theme music! …Possibly after advertisement!

<Note: Please leave this playing while reading the remainder of this article>

Enter the Swedes, stage left!

IKEA TO THE RESCUE!

$40 KULLEN 3 Drawer Chest

$59 - Oh MICKE You're so fine!

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Granted, there’s still a lot of cleanup to do, but I have now added more than enough storage for all of my metal working tools and work pieces.

And at a total of $100, it costed me less than I would have spent on the plywood and drawer slides to make the drawers that I would have never taken the time to build.

Those clever Swedes.

…and now for something completely different

If you look at my history of posting topics, this one is completely uncharacteristic. However, if you think of my postings as showing off something I did that I’m proud of, this fits right in.

My sister got married last week. I was supposed to give a toast, but her other older brothers and I decided to surprise her (and the groom) with a song instead…

Shh! The Baby’s Sleeping!

My daughter is 1.5 years old and goes to bed around 7pm.

I get home from work around 5:30pm and after dinner, play time, and bath time, 7pm comes too quickly.

I’m not complaining that I don’t get enough time to play with my daughter, I’m complaining that I can’t make any loud noises after 7pm.

When she’s asleep, I can’t use the  table saw, circular saw, air compressor, bench grinder, angle grinder, sander, router, impact driver, or shop vac.

This cramps my style.

Want to break down plywood sheets? Can’t. Want to rip a 2×4? Can’t. Want to clean up the garage? No. But even if I wanted to, I can’t.

I do have some power tools that are a bit quieter that I can use after curfew.

My bandsaw, scroll saw, jig saw, milling machine, lathe, drill press, and hand tools are all available (although hammers are iffy).

Over the course of my pergola project, I have made extensive use of my hand saw and chisels to trim posts and timbers at night… in the cold… while it was raining… barefoot… uphill both ways.

Last night I needed to cut a 1.25-inch wide channel 1-inch deep along the length of a 4×4 post 40-inches long.

The tool for the job was the table saw with a dado stack, or the router table with a spiral cutter. But since it was 8pm, these were off limits. What was available was the milling machine.

I haven’t found a lot of examples of people using their milling machines for wood, but in my experience they work very well.

Since the post was 40-inches long and my milling machine only moves 18-inches on the y-axis I had to clamp the post in place in three different positions in the vise to cut the full length, but it worked really well.

The process was simple:

    1. move the table all the way to the left
    2. clamp the post in the vice with the start of the post near the cutter

Milling Wood

    1. turn on the milling machine and turn it up to full speed
    2. crank the handle to move the table to the right as fast as you can
    3. widen the cut with a second pass

Milling Wood

  1. repeat as necessary, shifting the post to the right in the vice each time until the full length is cut.

Milling Wood

The milling machine spins very slowly compared to a router (2000RPM versus 25000RPM, but the vise holds the piece securely and I was able to make full-depth cuts with a 3/4-inch end mill without bogging the milling machine down at all.
Milling Wood

Granted, I was cutting douglas fir, but my experiments with oak have not turned out any differently. Apparently wood just isn’t much of a challenge for metal-working machines.

And it only took about 8-minutes to cut the channel in the board, including setup time, which is really not bad.

Plus I didn’t wake the baby!

Full disclosure: when I turned off the milling machine my daughter was crying, but I’m reasonably certain that was coincidental.

Del Mar

Don’t Tell Me What I Can’t Do.

I am in the process of building a pergola off the back of my house (it might technically be an awning, but it will be open on top like a pergola so that’s what I call it).
backyard concept

It’s partially a design element in the backyard, but the real reason I’m building it is so that I can add a railing and a gate to allow my 1.5 year-old daughter to be outside without having direct access to the pool.

I got a quote for some 3/8″ tempered glass panes early in the design phase of the project and while it was less expensive than I expected it was still a significant cost (about $500).

We started looking at alternatives and eventually decided that we could use welded steel railing panels from Home Depot, cut to length and framed by wood, and it would still look nice but be significantly cheaper.

I was okay with this plan, but not thrilled. So the night before I was supposed to buy the railing from Home Depot, I looked on Craigslist for “Tempered Glass” and found a guy selling pieces that were close to the right size for $40 total.

I called him, he still had the glass, I picked it up the next morning.

The plan now was to build the railing and slide the glass into 3/8″ channels after cutting it to the correct length. Test fit below for proof of concept:
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After building a section of railing to the point that it was ready to receive the glass, I went into the garage to cut the glass.

I have cut glass before, and it is a relatively simple process: score the glass with a glass cutter, then break the glass along the line. It’s worked pretty well for me in the past.

I set the glass on a flat surface, then used a straight-edge to guide the glass cutter and scored a line at 50″.
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According to prior knowledge, I then placed a metal dowel directly under the scored line and pressed down firmly on one end of the glass.

The whole piece of glass pivoted on the dowel like a teeter-totter.

I placed a heavy log on the end of the glass to hold it down and tried again.

The whole piece of glass pivoted on the dowel like a teeter-totter with a log on it.

Time to consult the internet…

Me: “Google, how do you cut tempered glass?”

Google: “you don’t.”

Me: “Google, there must be a way to cut tempered glass.”

Google: “two options: A laser cutter, or heat the glass in your oven to 900-degrees Fahrenheit and let it slowly cool before scoring and breaking it.”

Me: “has anyone ever successfully cut their own tempered glass at home?”

Google: “No.”

Me: “Challenge accepted.”

I placed clamps on the end of the glass that was prone to levitation and then placed another pair of clamps on the other side of the dowel. I placed a third pair of clamps directly over the dowel. All three pairs of clamps had 2×4 lumber under them to spread the pressure across the glass more evenly.

My first move was to tighten down the clamps directly over the dowel. The thought here was that the 2×4 was soft enough to sort of wrap around the dowel, applying pressure to either side of it and eventually breaking the glass.

I maxed out the clamping pressure… nothing happened.

Next I methodically beat the 2×4 furiously with a dead-blow hammer… still nothing.

So I began to tighten down the clamps on either side of the dowel, gradually increasing the pressure on one side and then the next… nothing happened.

Tighter… nothing.

TIGHTER… nothing.

TIGHTER…  nothing.

<put on earmuffs in addition to safety glasses>

TIGHTER… nothing.


…maybe I should re-think my strategBANG!
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Contrary to what the internet told me, I did get a fairly clean break at the score line.
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I have since gotten a revised quote for tempered glass with the final dimensions and it will cost about $420. Not bad.

Precision Preschmision.

When it comes to manufacturing process, there is a direct relationship between precision and cost: the more precise the product, the more expensive it is.

The reason for this is simple: making precise products requires the use of even more precise tools, and it requires additional steps to measure and verify that the accuracy is within tolerance.

This applies to the home shop as well.

If you want to work precisely, and repeatably, you need to set up your tools perfectly, you need to measure and verify your results, and you need to plan your moves ahead of time, to make sure your plans for assembly and finishing allow you to maintain the accuracy of the components in the finished product.

All accuracy takes time, but there are two different classifications of precision in my mind, and one matters far more than the other.

  • Absolute Precision: making components exactly 3-inches long, or exactly 45-degrees
  • Relative Precision: making components that fit together exactly, with little concern for absolute dimensions

For example: I can make a table with a top that is exactly 6-feet long and 2.5-feet wide, made from 5 planks that are exactly 0.5-feet wide and 6-feet long: this table looks nice, is well made, and is absolutely precise.

OR: I can make a table that is about 6 feet long and about 2.5-feet wide, made with planks that are all the same length and width: The end result looks the same, and has the same quality, but all of my “measurements” are really just making sure the parts fit together. This is relative precision.

Sometimes absolute precision matters: In mass production you need to be able to provide predictable dimensions so that the packaging and usage can be consistent; replacement parts must meet exacting specifications.

But at home it’s often less important that the part be a certain number of inches, and more important that is fits, works, or looks good, whatever the length ends up being.

This is a liberating principle for me. I don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on Starrett measuring tools to make six cuts of the same length; I can just make the first cut however I like and then keep the setup in place for the next five.

Now, this does require some forethought. If you are planning to repeat the same cut, you need a setup that will allow it. Your bandsaw and tablesaw should have a sturdy fence (but Biesemeyer and Kreg are probably overkill), and you should use stop-blocks and simple jigs where needed.

You may be thinking: “if you’re making something exactly 6-inches wide, isn’t that just as difficultas making something exactly as wide as something close to 6-inches wide?”, and the answer is: …sort of.

You see, I like to start building based on a concept in my brain, and progress through the project adaptively, with the results of each step determining the details of the next.

I don’t want to sit at my computer planning the minutia of the project in Excel when I could be spending valuable time at the bandsaw. And since nothing turns out perfect anyways, my measurements would invariably need adjustment as the project progressed, which then begs the question: Why measure in the first place?

As noted previously, the tape-measure has it’s place, and the blade of any saw should be square to its work surface, but there is nothing magical about hitting the inch within a fraction of a millimeter: These are arbitrary lengths that were made up in antiquity.

The real test of valuable precision is simple: Does it fit? Does it work? Does it look good? If so, it doesn’t matter what the ruler says.

Garage Sandals: a Title, Not a Recommendation

I really enjoy reading blogs and articles about peoples’ projects and their tools and techniques.

But something that tends to stick in my mind even more than these little “how to” stories with their various tips and tricks are the mistakes made.
I like it when a craftsman has the honesty to point out the errors they made, and the various ways not to accomplish a goal.

Being a mistake-prone person myself, it’s nice to have a hefty knowledge of what not to do while figuring out what my next steps should be.

This weekend I made a couple mistakes, but I fear that their value lies in entertainment more than education, since I’m fairly certain that very few people out there would have thought these mistakes were a good idea to begin with.

I suspect that I have been gifted with a peculiar form of creativity: the ability to think of and carry out completely unprecedented errors.

I will share with you my lessons learned:

  1. Do not wear sandals while welding
    • Sparks and slag are subject to the effects of gravity, and as such they will tend to move down from the work piece and on to your feet
    • Many of the pieces of hot falling metal will fall elsewhere or harmlessly bounce off your skin, but a small (yet significant) percentage will either stick to your skin or lodge between your toes
    • Lesson Learned: the resulting distraction is likely to cause a poor quality weld
  2. Do not use Masking Tape to protect items near your weld
    • Although the sparks and slag may seem more likely to deflect off the tape, the quantity or sparks involved greatly increase the likelihood of detrimental effects to the tape’s integrity
    • Lessons Learned:
      • Burnt masking tape is much harder to remove than raw masking tape
      • The resulting flames from the tape itself likely pose a significant threat to the item or surface you were trying to protect

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Working with Friends, and Other Stupid Mistakes

A couple days ago I had a friend come over to help me work on a project for my church.

The project was simple enough: we were starting construction on two small mobile sound booths for the elementary school age kids.

We had the afternoon set aside to work and we had made up a good set of plans with material layouts made up in advance (we ended up slightly modifying the design, but we had a good starting point).

SoundBoothSketchup
Working with another person is great; especially when dealing with heavy 4×8 sheets of plywood. Assembly work is also a breeze when one person can hold a plank in place while the other person fixes it in place; and since I don’t have an outfeed support on my table saw yet, it’s a huge help to have someone else to support the ends of the larger cuts.

But there’s a dark side to having a coworker in the shop. I’m not sure what the technical term for it is, but two people are dumber than one.

I think it may be a combination of factors. Maybe it’s because we’re both trying to work fast to ensure we don’t waste the other person’s time. Maybe it’s because there’s an unspoken competition to prove who can drill the most holes in a given amount of time. Maybe it’s because we skipped lunch…

“okay, the offset from the edge of the circular saw is 1.5 inches.”

“We need the piece to be 64 inches long.”

“<mumbling> okay, so 64 plus 1.5 inches…</mumbling> So we need to set the guide at 66.5 inches.”

“Right.”

<cut completed>

“…”

“…”

“We’re stupid.”

Whatever the reason, we had moments like these with increasing frequency as the day went on.

At one point, we even installed supporting rails for shelving on the wrong side of the cabinet, not noticing our mistake until the glue had set up (TitebondII is really strong).

Eventually we completed what we set out to do for the day.
Soundbooths
When I’m working alone I can gladly spend hours tweaking settings, checking measurements, and getting things just right (full disclosure: I was working alone when I cut two boards in a row 1/2-inch too small while working on my metalworking station… but that’s aside the point).

In contrast, when I have friends in the shop, instead of thinking things through at each step, I try to keep up the pace and keep my friend entertained. The result is a good time, but with unnecessary re-work and a product of only sufficient quality.

All that said, I will maintain the stance that I would rather work with friends than work by myself, but I can only justify that because I value my time with my friends more than my workmanship.

…or maybe that’s the source of the problem…