Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wooden Mallet

Last summer we cut down a birch tree that had been planted too close to the house. I was kind of bummed, because I liked the tree, but it wasn't doing well, and had to go. I burned some of the wood, but saved some of the larger chunks to let them age.

I was farting around in the garage yesterday, contemplating a spring cleaning. Instead, I opted to make something. I've never made a mallet before, and this was kind of a "fly by the seat of your pants" project. I didn't draw up any plans, and I didn't really take any measurements. I just went with what felt right.

*Those are my wife's candles. I have nothing to do with them.
Here's the log that I cut the head from. It was too big to make one clean cut with my miter saw, so I had to rotate it. This resulted in pretty uneven cuts.
Here you can see what I'm talking about when I say "uneven cuts".

I used a chisel to try to get some somewhat flat sides. This was a trial and error process to get it small/square enough to finish it on the table saw. As I said, I was doing this in lieu of cleaning, so my benches had a lot of crap on them. I decided it would be easier to do the shaping on the driveway than to clean the bench off. For this stage, I'm using an old chisel that was a little beat up. I didn't want to risk accidentally driving a good chisel into the concrete.

This was probably the most laborious part of the project. It required a lot of trial and error. It was also extremely satisfying. There was a lot of table saw to the disk sander, and back again, to get to this point. Even though the wood sat for a good while, it was still a little green. I suspect that this head will develop some cracks, which I've decided I'm fine with.
Shaping this handle went a lot faster than it did for the head.

Here you can see that the tenon has been cut.
I forgot to take any picture of the mortise being cut. Basically, I rough drilled out the hole, then finished shaping with chisels and files. It was kind of tedious, but as always with mortise and tenon joints, when they finally fit, it is tremendously satisfying.
Testing the fit.
I did some shaping on the handle, and smoothed out most of the edges. I also cut the angle onto the mallet faces. I figured out the angle by holding the mallet in striking position, using my elbow as the pivot point, and drawing a line straight out from there. That sounds awkward. There's tutorials on line that explain it better than that.
I made the wedge out of a piece of trim from the head. Once driven in, it's really solid. Like I wrote earlier, I expect it to develop some small cracks, as the wood wasn't completely dry. But I think it will be okay. It might just give it a nice, aged look.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with it. It's a nice reminder of the tree that I enjoyed.

Friday, June 7, 2013


There are no small projects, although some are bigger than others.

Our store bought Play-Doh was a dried out melange of crumbly colors, and had to be thrown out. And, I never seem to remember that I need to buy more. Claire doesn't seem to understand that her dad is a dolt, and has consistently asked for some every day. So, today I got in touch with my inner-hippy-artist that was handed down to me from my mom, and we made our own.

This was the recipe we used, and I gotta say, it worked well.

Here's the dry ingredients (this is the Le Creuset dutch oven my sister got us for a wedding present. That thing works great for everything.)

After adding the water. I used the still warm water from the kettle I recently boiled for tea. It all came together a lot quicker than I expected it to.

Dough rolled out and cooling.

Quality Control Tester inspecting my work.

And now we play...

It passes the "Does it stick to windows?" test.

And it works well with the Play-Doh accessories.

So, for about 15 minutes worth of work, and a bucks worth of materials, I've managed to make a little camper pretty happy.


Monday, May 6, 2013

My wife asked me if I could build her a trellis for her beans and peas. I said sure. We talked about what she needed, and she asked if I could make if out of copper. I haven't sweated copper in quite some time, so I enjoyed practicing that skill again. We are still working on some parts of the garden, that is why there may be some unkempt areas in these photos. She still needs to lace it up with twine. Total cost was around $60 for parts. I only burned myself once.

I also made that cedar one in the background about 4 or 5 years ago.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fake Book

I recently purchased a Nexus 7, and I wanted a case for it. My sister has a really nice book bound bamboo case for her iPad, but those cost around $100. The Nexus only costs $200 new. I'm not going to buy a protective cast that costs half as much as the thing it protects.

I decided to dig around some old boxes of books to see if I could find one that would make a good case. This one was the perfect size. It looks like I paid $1 for it at a used book store (probably John King). I had a little anxiety about destroying a book, but a quick Amazon search showed plenty of used copies available for around $3, so this is in no way rare. Guilt assuaged, I went to work.

I didn't take any picture of the construction, which was unremarkable. There are plenty of tutorials online about making hollow books, so Google that if you are curious. The only thing I did differently was I used wood glue instead of Elmer's, which worked really well. I then lined the pocket with felt, to keep the tablet snug and safe.

I feel like this does a good job of camouflaging the tablet, while also protecting it. This cost me practically nothing, and took about 45 minutes to make.

I also glued an insert to the front cover that basically says "I belong to a nice guy. That guy has a baby. You wouldn't want to steal something from a nice guy that has a baby, would you?". It then has a couple pics of my daughter and contact info in case someone finds it.

Wood and Bone Ring

I saw a picture of a wooden ring somewhere, and I decided to make one. I had some scraps of  brazilian mahogany laying around, so I used that. The first attempt was made out of a single piece, and was too brittle. This was the second attempt. I sandwiched two pieces around a slab of bone I cut out of a dog chew.

I kind of winged the shaping of it on the fly, and this is what I came up with. Brazilian mahogany is a really dense wood, and it polished up quite nicely on a buffing wheel.

Teener was very happy with it when I gave it to her later that night.

Monday, March 12, 2012

TV Stand

I built a TV stand. For the past 2 years our TV has "temporarily" sat on the basic stand that it comes with. I've never liked it, it sits too low, takes up too much space, is annoying to keep clean, and generally unattractive. The problem was deciding what to do about it.

Teener picked out a new rug for the back room, and a couch is on the way. Saturday she deep cleaned and sealed the floor, and put a pad under the new rug. I wasn't going to let her have a plus column day all to herself, so I decided to tackle the TV.

I purchased some angle iron, and put this together in about an hour or so:

It might not be the most attractive thing in the world, but it matches the base of the coffee and side tables. It is sort of a test of concept, and most of the frame will be hidden. My main goals where to make it simple, hide the cables, bring it to a better viewing height, and not have to drill into the walls. Also, the whole thing cost around $40 to build, which is way better than the $100 wall mounts that in my opinion rarely hold the TV back as far to the wall as I like, and still leave a lot of cable management problems.

The weather was great, and it was a perfect excuse to use the welder, angle grinder and little drill press. That's about it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Suzuki GS750 Cafe

Let's start with a cute story.

About a half dozen years ago, I was at the Secretary of State to get a title transferred. It was about three in the afternoon on a Tuesday, and the wait was, as always, ridiculous. I had been waiting for about ten minutes (looking at probably another forty) when one of the clerks announced that they were calling last call on all written tests, and anyone there to take one should come up to the counter.

Seeing a shortcut, I approached the counter and said that I was there to take the motorcycle test, but that I also had to do a title transfer and get a plate. Could I do them all at the same time?

The woman said yes, and gave me a copy of the test.

Even thought I had not read the motorcycle handbook, the test was hilariously easy, took about five minutes, and I passed it easily. So, after being there for less than twenty minutes I walked out with my title, plate, and a motorcycle learners permit.

The next logical step was to buy a motorcycle. That motorcycle ended up being a Suzuki GS500 that I found on Craigslist for about a grand. It was a great bike to learn on, but ultimately not the bike I wanted.

I've always loved the bikes from Mad Max, and wanted something in that style. I ended up buying a 1978 GS750 from a buddy, and after doing some poking around, I decided to go the cafe route.

Here is a crappy cell phone pic of the original bike:

The picture doesn't do it justice. It ran okay, but was far from showroom condition. The first thing I did was replace the handle bars with a set of clubmans, and I removed the tank to pound some knee inserts into it.

Here is the tank with the outline of the inserts marked with tape:

It took some nerve to take that first swing of the hammer. After that, there was no turning back. Here is the tank after the initial pounding, and with body filler to smooth out the surface.

*tip: if you are going to attempt this, put a block or some sort of spacer in the tunnel of the tank. Mine pinched together ever so slightly, but now it is a little tight whenever I have to mount it on the frame.

Here is the tank back on the bike, and the beginning of the first seat pan. I haven't yet chopped the frame:

I really liked the shape of the original "duck tail", so I decided to retain it. I used a couple of ideas I gleaned from other builds to make my tail section. In retrospect, I kind of wished I hadn't. I learned about using fiberglass, so that was cool, but the product I ended up with was big, bulky, not what I wanted, and took a lot of time to make.

Here is the start:

I wrapped the original piece in tape and foil, and then began covering it in fiberglass. It was a messy and imprecise process. I am betting a could do it much better now.

Here is the fiberglass reproduction next to the original. Pretty close, but at no point in time did it occur to me that I was reinventing the wheel. Why make something, when I already have a perfect item sitting right there.

Here is the tail with the beginning of the board sitting on the frame. Also featured is the first crappy paint scheme:

Here is the seat glassed, puttied and sanded, with the beginnings of a seat:

I built it to work on the original hinges. Once again, pointless:

Here it is, mostly assembled:

Kind of ugly, but it is getting there. I traded the original exhaust for a 4-1 kerker style, and also sold the original seat to help fund the project. I should mention that I am doing all the work either in my basement, or my charitable neighbor's garage.

I didn't like the black/yellow, so I repainted it red/silver. Repainting it will be a common theme:

I was having carburetor issues (also common theme), so those had to be fixed, as well as some electrical issues (yet another trend). Here it is torn down and the frame also getting some paint:

Wiring hell (note makeshift soldering station):

I hated the clunky dash, so this is the beginning of a long term streamlining project:

Around this time I also swapped the airbox in favor of pods. I like the look more, and I hated removing that fucking airbox every time I had to work on the carbs. Which was often. This left me with jetting issues that took about a year (and a donor set of carbs) to get right.

I also eliminated the battery, and replaced it with a bank of capacitors. I bought the capacitors off ebay. At the moment, I don't remember their value, or the calculation I used to come up with what I needed. They were wired in parallel, and then wrapped in electrical tape and shoved under the seat. In case you are wondering, the electrical output of the stator fluctuates with engine speed, so this is needed to keep your electrical system steady (otherwise your headlight does some funky stuff, amongst other things). They also help a lot with starting the bike. Which is important, since there is no pushbutton start, it has to be kicked over.

It was around this time that I also bought a second engine from a guy in Cleveland for $80. I needed it to replace my head, as there was a broken exhaust stud that refused to be removed. After trying everything short of EDM (vice grips, WD40, PB Blaster, welding a nut onto the end) I broke a hardened backout bit in it. Sometimes you just need to know when to say fuck it.

As a nice bonus, there was a new Dyna ignition in the engine, which put me about $40 ahead on the deal.

Also during this time I had had it with the wiring harness. There was an almost never ending series of shorts and bad grounds. Since I had eliminated the turn signals and starter, most of the existing harness was vestigial, so I decided to junk it rather than keep fixing it. I designed the new one from scratch, used better wire, soldered almost all connections, and I think I layed it out better for my purposes.

This is a crappy meter that I threw on the ground in a fit of rage:

This is the bike around then (note different paint scheme):

Notice how there is almost nothing in the frame other than motor? I like that.

Unfortunately, now I was sick of my seat. I decided to do something much simpler. The original tail, bolted to a metal pan.

Also, I wrapped the headers. Initially it was just for looks, but it ended up being quite practical. I was chasing down a plug fouling/carb problem, where sometimes cylinders would stop firing. Being able to touch a header to see if it was warm was a great troubleshooting helper. I don't know if any of you have accidentally touched an unwrapped header, but I have. I slipped once while looking at the engine, and reflexively reached out to steady myself. I grabbed a header pipe like it was a monkey bar. It totally sucked, and burned my hand into a clawlike shape for about a week.

I can't stress this enough: Don't do that.

The bike was getting closer to where I wanted it to be. Also, somewhere around this time, the rear wheel bearing ate itself on a ride. In a very rough part of town. Exciting! So, I found another one on ebay. I also repainted the bike again, and stripped some of the aluminum parts (forks, brakes).

Also, the front brakes started to leak (of course), so I replaced the lines with stainless from Z1. I also removed the splitter from the brake setup and ran two lines all the way up to the master cylinder. I can't recommend this upgrade enough, they feel so much better now.

The next summer I broke my collar bone (on a pedal bike) and had a daughter, so nothing of note happened with the bike.

This summer I painted it (again), got rid of the infuriating fuel door, did some more work on the dash, and general cleanup.

Also, my mother made me a leather seat, which I love. It is also the first peace of work done on the bike that wasn't performed by me.

For a 30+ year-old bike, I think it rides pretty great, and pulls strong. To quote a friend, "it's vintage fast", and I'm pretty proud of it.

Here is video proof that it runs:

*other things I forgot to mention:

  • Fork Gators!
  • Lowered the headlight bucket considerably
  • Removed left hand controls
  • LED tail light bulb
  • Louder horn (activated by the old starter button)
  • Since I re-wired it, there are only three wires going into the headlight bucket. Three! Can you believe it?

Not sure what I want to do next. I often think about spoked wheels, but the mags have grown on me. I also think about doing a lighter chain conversion. I like the small gauges JC Whitney sells, but I also like that I have retained and used the stock speedo. Rearsets would be nice, but I don't want anything too "new looking" on the bike. Maybe suspension upgrades. Perhaps I should rebuild that spare engine I have.

If you got to this point by reading the whole thing, thanks! If you just skipped to the end, you have betrayed yourself for what you really are, which is little better than an animal.