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.


Fixing a Fancy Bolt

When I first started using my lathe, I noticed that one of the two small bolts that secured the compound to the cross slide was stripped, and couldn’t be tightened down fully.

But since the other one worked and the compound seemed stable, I postponed the replacement of this bolt.

Recently I had been using my lathe for a lot of stainless steel parts, and the added strain of the harder metal took a toll on the remaining bolt; to the point that, when I tried to tighten it down the other day, it also stripped.
Lathe compound repair

I could procrastinate no longer, I had to fix this thing.

The problem was that the heads of these bolts was a semi-rounded T-bolt and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to find a replacement part easily. Plus I wanted to use my lathe NOW, not wait for shipping.

So I decided to recycle the bolt heads.

Here’s how it went:

First I took the nuts from the bolts and dug through one of the spare parts bins to find a machine screw with the same thread size and diameter.
Lathe compound repair

After this was accomplished, I bashed my knuckle.
Lathe compound repair

Then I place the old bolt shafts in the lathe and drilled the head off after center-drilling and countersinking it.
Lathe compound repair

Lathe compound repair

Lathe compound repair

Next I worked the new screws with a file in my lathe until they fit the countersunk hole nicely.
Lathe compound repair

After I was satisfied with the fit of the heads, I brought them flush on the milling machine.
Lathe compound repair

Then I took them over to the welder and glopped a Cheerio of molten metal on top. This didn’t have to be a very strong weld, just enough to keep the machine screw head from spinning in the T-bolt head.
Lathe compound repair

I used the milling machine again for cleanup, and once I trimmed the bolts to length, I was back in business.

Lathe compound repair

lathe repaired

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….


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.


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!


$40 KULLEN 3 Drawer Chest

$59 - Oh MICKE You're so fine!






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.

Granite Surface Plate – Part 2

Continued from Part 1

So, to set the scene:

I’ve got a 1200-pound slab of granite resting on a metal cart with wheels… in the back of my truck.

I also have an ingenious system of ramps and winches to load the granite into the truck.

The problem now is how to get it out.

…in a controlled manner.

As I thought this through, I broke the operation down into 3 steps.

Step 1: Use pulleys to pull the granite towards the tailgate.
Step 2: Re-configure the cable to pull from outside the cart’s legs.

Step 3: Once the granite is ready to role down the ramps, move the winch cable back to the “loading” position, and slowly let the cable out.

In practice, it went very similarly to this, at first.
Step 1:
Granite Surface plate

Step 2:
(I clamped a 2×4 onto the stand and against the back of truck cab to keep the granite from rolling back into place while I moved the cable to the other side of the leg)
Granite Surface plate

Step 3:
… here’s where I hit a snag.
Instead of rolling smoothly onto the ramps, the wheels of the granite were simply pushing the ramps off the end of the tailgate.

I tried running a rope around the end of the ramps, but that didn’t work, since I needed the keep the ramps separated to align with the cart wheels and the rope kept pulling the ramps together and askew.

So I did something a little more involved.

First I secured the granite back into place, wanting to avoid a bad situation while I worked behind the truck.

I drilled holes and then cut slots in the plywood on top of the metal ramps with my jigsaw (cutting just the wood, not the metal).
Granite Surface plate

Granite Surface plate

Then I ran one strap through each of the ramps,Granite Surface plate

and secured them to the bumper.
Granite Surface plate

Then I went back through steps 1 and 2, and this time the granite rolled effortlessly onto the edge of the ramps.

Before I pulled the front wheels of the granite onto the downward slope of the ramp, I clamped a 2×4 across the bed of the truck, in a position that would stop the granite just after it started pulling itself down the ramps (but before it started to gain any significant momentum)
IMAG0386Granite Surface plate

With the granite resting against this 2×4, I walked around the FRONT of the truck to get to the cable on the other side of the truck bed and move the cable into the “pulling” position to use the winch to slowly let the granite down the ramp.
Granite Surface plate

Granite Surface plate

…I need a nap.
…and a change of pants.

NOTE: at all points during this process, unless the granite was fully secured, I only walked in FRONT of the truck, not behind it in the path of the granite should something fail. Keep in mind, 1200-pounds is a lot of pounds… Significantly more pounds than my one-rep max for bench press.


Granite Surface Plate – Part 1

I’ve been trawling Craigslist lately for… pretty much anything. I used to just click “for sale” and then “tools” and see if I needed anything; but the last few weeks I’ve done slightly more targeted searches.

I would type something generic in the search (“router”, “lathe”, “mill”, etc…), just to limit the number of floor scrapers and tile saws I had to sift through.

However, it turns out that even this limited filtering was excessive: I had been completely missing out on granite surface plates!

What is a surface plate? Google it.

In the unlikely event that Google brings you back here:

A surface plate is a certified flat surface with very tight tolerances for precision. It is used to check or verify the flatness of a tool or work piece. They are typically made of granite because it can be ground very flat and is stable enough to resist flexing and warping with pressure and temperature changes. It is also hard enough to come into frequent contact with metal surfaces without being worn out of true.

I stumbled across a small surface plate for $275 dollars, and it was a bit a expensive for my purposes, but I knew my father-in-law had been eyeing them too, so I sent him the link.

He replied with a counter-link: a huge 24-inch by 36-inch slab, 6-inches thick on a rolling metal stand for only $80! It weighed around 1200lbs… but only $80!

I called up my friend with a small flatbed trailer, and he was willing to lend it to the cause.

I contacted the seller, he still had it.

Game on.

I borrowed the trailer from my friend the next morning, threw some plywood in my truck to use as a ramp, and headed off to pick up my new flat surface.

I arrived at the location, got out of my truck, and it promptly started pouring down rain.

The seller came outside and we began a long process of looking back and forth between the trailer, the plywood “ramp”, and the granite, with our hands in our pockets, in the rain.

“Will the trailer hold it?”

“According to the manual, it should…”

“Should we try to get a running start?”

“…how would we stop the granite?”


<head scratch>

<other scratch>

“will the plywood ramp hold it?”



“well… it’s not going anywhere, if you want to come back and try another day…”

“that’s probably a good idea.”

I forgot to take a picture of this process, but it looked something like this:
And so I returned home, empty-handed and damp.

After a few sleepless nights and un-productive days at work, I came up with a plan. I had a small ATV winch with a 2000lb capacity, and a pair of loading ramps from Harbor Freight that can hold 1000lbs that I used in the past to load my motorcycle.

Loading winch

I bought one more ramp set with a coupon for $50, for a total of 2000lbs of loading capacity, and a pair of 16-foot jumper cables to power the winch for $17. With proper ramps I no longer saw any advantage to using the small trailer, so I returned it to my friend and started working on a setup to use the winch to load the granite directly into my pickup truck.

First I welded together a frame to mount the winch in the bed of the truck, up against the cab. it has extension arms held together with bolts and installed in the truck with clamps and straps so I can easily remove and store it.

Then I covered the ramps with  1/2-inch plywood secured with carriage bolts to give the wheels a smaller step up onto the ramp and a smoother ascension into the truck.

This took about a week and a half to finish (interlaced with life in general), but I was finally ready to go get the granite last week.

The sun was shining and I arrived to be greeted with complements on my welding job and general optimism that we may succeed.

We were all impressed with how well the whole thing worked and in 10 minutes I was on my way home with my acquisition.
Granite Surface plate

I drove very slowly and arrived without incident and started the simple process of reversing the loading procedure.

Right… how exactly do you get a 1200lb piece of granite out of a truck?

<To Be Continued>

Mobile Metalworking Station

Aside installing sprinklers and a new lawn in my front and back yard, one of the major obstacles to getting a lot of use out of my metal lathe has been the fact that it’s sitting on the floor in my garage, rather than being kept at a reasonable height on a workbench or stand.
Metal Lathe Belts - Installed

My intention was to build a rolling workstation that held both my milling machine and the metal lathe together.

There were a few problems to solve with this idea:

  1. How would I make a rolling platform stable enough to be very top-heavy without risk of tipping over?
  2. With a 32″ wide lathe and a 30″ wide milling table that moves 18″ left and right, how could I create a shared space that wouldn’t be too big for my garage?
  3. How should I construct a platform strong enough to support 600+ pounds of equipment?

My initial thought was to build a long, narrow, freestanding workstation that would have the milling machine on one end and the lathe on the other; both aligned so that they could be used from the same of the workstation.

The problem with this is that the milling table when moved towards the lathe, would hit the tailstock on the lathe, and if I made the workbench long enough to accommodate the length of the lathe combined with the full movement of the milling table, the overall construction would be around 6 feet long.

Another problem is that the workbench would have to be fairly deep (at least 24 inches) to make sure it would not tip over during use or movement. So the overall footprint would be 6 feet by 2 feet, which is really just too big for the space I have

After a few mental gymnastics routines (one floor and two balance beam), I had an idea:

Since the workstation will be freestanding and I can access both sides, I may as well take advantage of that fact.

I decided to place the lathe on the back of the workbench and put the milling machine on the front.

So I took some measurements and figured that a 3 foot by 3 foot platform, about 30 inches tall, would fit both machines very well, be wide enough to eliminate the risk of tipping, and provide some good opportunity for storage.

The design was simple: plywood case and a bottom frame of 2x4s, held together with screws, and supported on four casters. I was confident that the structure would be strong enough to support the heavy tools, and the casters had a combined capacity rating of over 1000 pounds.
Platform Frame

I cut all the pieces out roughly on the floor with a circular saw and then trimmed them to their final dimensions on the table saw.

I ordered casters from; one pair of fixed casters and one pair of locking swivel casters. Both of these had a listed mount height of 3 1/2 inches, but when they arrived there was about an inch of difference in height that I would have to account for in order for the platform to sit flat.
Different Caster Heights

After building the bottom frame and platform, I started working on mounting the casters. I traced the casters on paper to compare the sizes, and found the difference in height was pretty close to 1 inch. Since my daughter was already asleep for the night, I had to find a quiet way to make a 1 inch spacer.
Different Caster Heights - Quantified

My solution was to put a 2×4 in the milling machine (which runs very quietly), and run it at a high speed to remove about half of an inch off the top of the board. This ended up working perfectly.
Making a spacer to extend the smaller caster
Making a spacer to extend the smaller caster
Making a spacer to extend the smaller caster
Casters... close enough
Small Caster installed

After installing the casters on the base I started working on the walls. Since I had already attached the 2×4 frame to the bottom, I could not run screws from the bottom into the edge of the plywood, so I had to figure out a different way to attached the walls to the base.

I briefly experimented with pocket holes, but quickly abandoned the idea, since I don’t have any of the bits or jigs to do this properly.

Instead I decided to make brackets out of short sections of angle iron that I quickly cut to length with my hacksaw and punched holes in on the drill press.
Attaching walls to the base

Once I attached the wall pieces to the base and each other, I attached the top, using Clamp-Its from Rockler and F-Clamps from Harbor Freight to hold everything square while I pre-drilled and attached the top with 1 1/4 inch deck screws.
Keeping it square during assembly
Keeping it square during assembly

I probably should have also used glue… but I didn’t, and everything seems very sturdy without it.

To answer your question: No I will not be using these pictures as part of my portfolio if I ever apply to work at a cabinet shop.

One corner of the work station has a 17 inch by 17 inch alcove in it, designed to house the base of my milling machine.
Installing the milling machine

Since one side of the installed milling machine would be up against a plywood wall, I needed a way to install and tighten bolts without being able to reach the top of them.

To get around this, I used relatively long bolts and taped washers to the top of them (to keep the washer from falling to the bottom of the bolt). I placed the bolts halfway into the pre-measured and pre-drilled holes so that I could slide the machine into place with the slots properly aligned with the bolts (if you look closely you can see the bolts in the back of the alcove in the above picture).

I got the machine most of the way up the ramp when things shifted a bit I was stuck needing an extra hand while balancing the machine. So I called my wife with my cellphone

  • first call: no answer
  • second call:
    • Me: “Hi, can you give me a hand?”
    • Wife: “Right now?”
    • Me: “Yes.”
    • Wife: “I’m trying to send a text, just a minute.”
    • Me: “I’m holding up a 300-pound milling machine, and I really need a hand right now, can the text wait?”

…and she helped re-position the ramp and keep the newly constructed workstation from rolling away while I scooted the milling machine into position.

Fortunately, the bolts I placed in the pre-drill mounting holes lined up properly with the slots in the base of the machine, and I was able to use a pair of Vice-Grips on the end of the relatively long bolt to hold it in place while I tightened down the nut (laying on the ground and working blindly to tighten these bolts reminded me I really need to do some maintenance work on my truck…).
Milling machine installed

It was then a simple matter to put bolts in the other pair of mounting holes and make everything nice and secure.
Milling machine secured

One milling machine done, one lathe to go.
Surface for the lathe

Although my lathe is not very big, it is heavy, about 250 pounds. And since my wife presents less of an obstacle to gravity than myself, I had to move it without her help (sure I could have called a friend, but I wanted to install it now).

I started by working back and forth between the two ends of the lathe, moving each side onto and incrementally taller stack of materials.

  1. Cinder block
  2. Cinder block on end
  3. Cinder block + a piece of wood
  4. Cinder block +  a bucket
  5. Little decorative end table + cinder block + 2 pieces of wood

…and then finally lifting the heavy end into place on the workstation.

bringing the lathe close to the height of the work surface

Almost there...

I was concerned that the stack of items supporting the opposite end would shift while I moved the heavy end onto the work station, so I had propped it up with a 2×4 clamped to the wall cabinet.
keeping the lathe from falling while one side is lifted into place

And it’s a good thing I did. You can see in this picture where the lathe shifted off the top of its pile and was resting against the propped up 2×4 rather than the pile I had built.
dents in the rig that prevented the lathe from falling while the other end was lifted

But all’s well that ends well, I supposed, and I now have a metal working station on wheels that houses my milling machine and metal lathe in a relatively compact space with lots of extra room to add shelves and drawers… someday.
Lathe and milling machine installed

One Belt To Rule Them All

The metal lathe I purchased used was in good condition, but there were a couple things that needed attention; one was cleanup, and the other was belts.

I focused first on cleanup. I took the various slides and screws apart, cleaned them off with mineral spirits, re-lubed, and re-assembled.

That was a nice task to take on, because it introduced me to the various parts of the lathe and gave me a better feel for its construction, capabilities, and limitations.

The next issue was that of the drive belts. My lathe came with one belt, but needs three in order to have full range of speeds.

The manual listed their sizes: 0-710, 0-800, and 0-900. Great! So I did a search online for belts of this size, and found… links to the manual for my lathe!

That’s right: Harbor Freight had managed to use belts on this lathe that no longer exist in reality.

Just in case this was a fluke, and the internet was defective, I went to the local auto-parts store and showed them the sizes to see if they could find something similar, and they could not.

I called Harbor Freight technical support, and spent a long time waiting while they verbally scratched their heads, and then they came up with the answer: 710, 800, and 900 were the size of the belts in millimeters! (that may have been obvious to you metric readers, but I live in America, the God-Blessed land where measurements are based on thumbs, grains of wheat, and historical monarchs’ feet (hey, you started it, England))

So I converted millimeters to inches and ordered three v-belts from my favorite supplier (locally based so  they ship very quickly), and tried to put them on my lathe.

Not one of them fit.

I could almost get the smallest one on, but it was so tight I nearly lost fingers in the process. All three pulleys are in fixed positions, so I couldn’t shift them to loosen or tighten the belts.

Oh well, I thought, at least I know what sizes to order next, so I bought two more larger belts (I decided that I would only buy two, and continue using the old belt as well).

Failure!  These belts were also too small!

I had now accumulated $30 worth of belts without successfully equipping my lathe.

Metal Lathe Belts - Failures

After this, I took a different approach. V-link belts are a favorite for woodworking equipment because they don’t have as much memory as a standard solid rubber belt, and so lead to less vibration and smoother cuts.

I have one of these belts on my table saw, and while I haven’t seen an appreciable improvement in the quality of my cuts, I like the belt because I can adjust its length fairly easily.

These belts tend to be expensive. $7-9 per foot, or $30-40 for a 5-foot loop.

I found mine at Harbor Freight. It’s a name-brand product, so it’s still not cheap, but $25 for a 5-foot loop and then a 20%-off coupon means it’s $20 and a lot cheaper than anywhere else, and I could use the 5-feet plus a few extra links from my table saw to make both the belts I needed.

Metal Lathe Belts - Solution
After picking up a belt on my lunch break, I spent 10 minutes tweaking the length of the belts and getting them fitted.

They fit. The pulleys turn. The Lathe cuts. Done.

Metal Lathe Belts - Installed

Why don’t I always try the obvious solution first?

Pardon the Repetition

I have said this before, but I feel the need to make excuses for myself once again.

It has been a while since my last post, and unfortunately it was something of a cliffhanger.  I am moving at full speed towards setting up a little “machine shop” with a milling machine and a metal lathe so that I can really start to explore the metalworking world.

Oh, did I mention I bought a lathe? I had intended to purchase a new Taig lathe, with all the trimmings (power feed, headstock and tailstock risers, tooling, etc), but I happened across a larger 8.5″ x 18″ Chinese lathe from Harbor Freight on Craigslist and (somewhat impulsively) bought it instead.

Time will tell if that was a good decision, but at least, since I bought it used, I have the opportunity to turn around and re-sell it for a similar price if I find it to be lacking.

So, back to my original purpose for this post: making excuses for myself. I have continued to be very busy with my job and working on my house. My hope had been that things would calm down after mid July, but they have not.

And so updates will likely be scarce for the time being.

When I do find time to tinker in the garage, I’ll try to remember to take some pictures and tell you about it.

Router Table Adapter Plate Modification

I had a little free time this weekend and used it to address a couple of things in the garage.

1. I got my motorcycle running again

  • I’m actually very proud of this. After watching a friend do it once, I took out the carburetor, took it apart, cleaned it, reassembled it,  and re-installed it in 2.5 hours.
  • When the bike STILL wouldn’t start, I hooked it up to my truck battery and jump-started it, now it runs like a scared bunny.

2. I modified my router table adapter plate

I make the adapter plate a while back out of 1/4″ thick aluminum sheet. The center hole I cut was 2 1/4″ in diameter, which was sufficient for any router bit I owned.

But then I came across a large raised-panel bit on clearance at Rockler and bought it, only to find that it was too big to recess into the hole in the adapter plate.

I bought a set of large diameter hole saws from Harbor Freight to address the issue.

The drill press powered through the cut without any significant problems (just a lot of screeching and vibration), but the result was problematic.
Router Plate - Cutting
Router Plate - Cut
My thought had been to keep the inner portion of the cut with the original smaller hole to use as a bushing to support work pieces when using a standard sized bit; but with a large gap between the inside of the new hole and the outside of the old one, I needed a way to fill this gap and keep the inner bushing secure.

So I traced the new hole onto a piece of plywood and cut it out on my scroll saw.
Router Plate - Outer Diameter
After confirming a snug fit on the large hole, I placed the bushing on top of the plywood circle to trace it and removed the inside of the circle with the scroll saw.
Router Plate - Inner Diameter
Router Plate - bushing

After a bit of quick sanding I had a completed solution: The wooden ring fills the gap between the large hole and the inner bushing, allowing the bushing to fit securely inside the larger hole.
Router Plate - Small
Router Plate - Large

All in all, I was happy with this fix, but I may still thread a screw through the inner portion and into the router base, just to make certain the new bushing doesn’t turn into a hypersonic projectile the next time I use the router table. Although I do like hypersonic projectiles