It's Been Awhile


As is pretty self-evident, it's been some time since my last post. Hmm, reminds of being a kid kneeling in the confessional. Anyway, it's been awhile. I'm going to do my best to get back into keeping this updated and keeping this blog focused on DIY.

Lately I've found the benefits of getting some custom wood work done. I'm very cheap at heart and hate to pay others to do things I can do on my own. In this case it's resawing wood. Most of what I make are smaller objects. 3/4" thick wood is usually too big for the stuff I do. I used a lot of 1/4" and would usually resaw it myself. But it takes awhile to resaw and plane it all down.

There's a lumber store nearby called Barndoor Lumber that does custom work and offers a wide variety of wood. A little of everything from ash to zebra wood. I bought a couple dozen board feet of oak and had it sawn and planed down to 1/4". The small amount I paid was well worth the time I saved. Sometimes it pays to pay.

The last big project I did was applying hardwood facing to my basement stairway. I used a product called Retro Stairs. Basically a 3/4" thick, solid edge-glued oak with a built-in bullnose, that is glued/bradded to the existing stair tread. I used some 1/4" luan plywood to finish the risers. The old stairs were covered in thick carpet and really looked kind of nasty. After a weekend's work (stretched out over several weeks) I have a nice looking hardwood staircase.

Let's see if I can keep this posting up.


Back in the Saddle Again

Whew - it's been a long dry spell between entries. I've been through some job changes and tried my hand at selling some wood goods since the last time around. My latest project was some personalized boxes for the kids across the street.

I plan on getting this blog back on track again. I'll be covering new tools, projects and hints about working with wood and metal.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

CFL Bulbs

This is a new "green" technology that to me hasn't even come close to being useable yet. This weekend I had another one of these bulbs literally go up in smoke. This is about the third one to do that. I was in the bathroom and noticed a slight flickering of the lights. At first I thought the power was about to go out. Then I noticed the bulb brightened for a couple of seconds and then went out. A few seconds later, there was an slight yet aubible whoosh and smoke started coming out of the base of the bulb. I quickly shut off the lights and unscrewed the bulb. If I remember correctly all three of the bulbs that went up in smoke were in the bathroom fixtures. Other CFLs I've used have just gone out within months of first turning them on. This bulb lasted less than a year - next to incandescents that have been working since before we moved into the house.

I also tried an even more expensive (very expensive compared to the old-fashioned bulb) LED bulb. Not only was it very dim - much dimmer that the incandescent is supposedly replaced, but its lifetime was even shorter - only a matter of months. I don't mind doing my bit for the environment - like buying more expensive and supposedly more efficient bulbs and appliances - but I'd really like them to be even somewhat comparable to what they are replacing. I seen no way a $12 LED bulb that burns out in a couple of months will ever be more economical than an incandescent that costs $1.25 and lasts for a year or more.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Old Books and Things

I'm always on the lookout for old books related to tools and technology. I try to find them in the Salvation Army, Goodwill or other thrift store. I have a few sets of do-it-yourself encyclopedias dating back to the 1950s. I had been carrying around three volumes of a Popular Mechanic's Encyclopedia from the 1950s for years looking for more. I originally got the three volumes when I was a kid, then started looking for the set after getting out of the USAF. I found another volume after a few years. Finally one day I ran across the complete set for $10 or so.

I did pick up a couple of reprints of old books. Lee Valley sells a few sets that are very interesting. There's Popular Mechanics tip collection that spans the years from 1905 to 1930. The automobile hints from the early days are eye-opening. There was lot more to driving a car, than just jumping in and going. You had to be a pretty fair mechanic as well.

My latest treasure was a six volume set of Automobile Engineering from 1923 that I found in Salvation Army. I think they're leather bound in almost perfect condition. It tells everything about cars in the early twenties - more the late teens I think. Wooden wheels and frames, six volt electrical systems and solid rubber tires. Actually, the most surprising thing is how much things haven't changed. Just about all the technology used today was pretty much there. It's been refined a bit, but hasn't really changed much.

One of the things about old books is what you sometimes find inside. This set had an order blank for a "new Bargain Le Rhone" motor from Marvin A. Northrup in Minneapolis for $15 in full or $18 in 5 weekly/monthly payments.I've done a couple of quick searches for this online and pretty much came up blank. I wonder how many he sold?

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Monday, June 15, 2009

My Cars

I've owned a few cars over the years and as best as I can remember, here's the list:

1962 VW Beetle Convertible - Michigan

To be honest, I'm not too sure of the year. What I bought was a partial body. There was no body behind the windshield except for the pan and front seats. The windshield was there and nothing much in front of that. I had some straight pipes welded up from water pipe for the exhaust and some oversized retreads for tires. I never had the title, but sold it back for the $50 I'd paid for it. I used it to run around on the farm. I learned quite a bit from it.

1971 Chevy Nova - Michigan

My first real car. I bought it in high school. It was gray and had a 307CID engine with a three speed on the floor and vinyl interior with bench seats. My parents told me if I let them pick the color and engine they'd help pay for it - they lied. I think the 350 engine which was much better was only about $50 more. I ended up adding some black stripes down the side and an Amoco 8-track with rear deck speakers.

Eventually I jacked up the rear with air shocks and added a glass pack dual exhaust system along with chrome reverse wheels. I tried to add header but couldn't get them to fit, and a couple of experiments with four barrel carbs didn't work out too well either.

1971 Opel GT 1.9L - Michigan

Again, I'm not too sure of the year. This car was a blast. It would do 120 mph and get mileage in the hight 20s. It was also gray and I added some black pin-striping. The headlights were stuck in the upright position. It handled amazing well for someone who was brought up on Chevies and Fords. It took a lot of maintenance. I think the I had the brakes redone twice in the roughly one year I owned it.

1969 VW Fastback - Michigan

One of my lemons. White. It had a fuel injected engine and the injectors kept leaking. I bought it in Michigan during the 70s gas crisis while I was in the USAF. I drove it to Dover and it didn't last too long. Most of the time in Dover it was sitting in the parking lot.

1972 Chevy Nova - Delaware

My only beater. I think (I hope) I only paid a few hundred for this wreck. Pieces would actually fall off as I drove down the road. On one trip, the passenger window collapsed into the door and the driver's side mirror fell off, and something else - never did find it, fell off as well. My USAF roomie almost laughed himself to death, until he almost fell out when the passenger door opened. It's funny, but I don't remember what happened to it in the end.

1975 VW Thing - Delaware

My funnest car. It was originally white and later gained an olive drab paint job. The doors came off, the top folded down and the windshield folded flat. It had a gasoline heater that sounded like a jet engine warming up. I had the VW roll cage mounted and added some aftermarket steel wheels. I also added a brush bar (made of water pipe) to thefront and moved the spare to the front as well. I added large backup lights and additional driving lights for the front. I actually coasted the VW Fastback into the dealer's lot as a trade in.

It went to England with me where the engine was replaced. My dad did help pay for a paint job (to olive drab - he wanted gloss and I wanted matte) and a new top. It was showing its age. It was a great off road vehicle but could only get to around 60 mph on the highway. And it was COLD in the winter.This car lasted me ten years! Yes, there was an engine change in those ten years, but still, not bad.

1985 Chevy Cavalier - Colorado

The old Thing was traded in on a new 1985 yellow Chevy Cavalier. This was the best car I've ever owned. In the ten years I drove it, the only problem was the odometer died just after 50,000 miles. It had cruise, no A/C, and a manual transmission. About all I did was change oil. In 1990 I was planning on taking it up to Alaska via the Alcan and took it in for an engine block heater and to have all the hoses and belts replaced. The engine heater popped on the way from the dealer - what a mess, but they fixed it. Finally towards the end, the steering got a bit stiff until it warmed up. I sold it to a neighbor of my dad who wrecked it a couple months later.

1995 Chevy S10 Pickup - Michigan

The worst vehicle I ever owned. It drove nice, when it ran, and I liked the looks and handling, but it was a lemon from day one. I bought it in Michigan while on leave and drove it to Merced, California where I was stationed. The cruise died about half-way there. I got really familiar with the dealer in Merced. The backup lights, radio speakers, under -the-hood light, and driving lights all stopped working at one time or another. While being worked on the dealer's mechanic dropped his tool chest on the front which required the grill to be replaced and the front end repainted. About six months after I bought it, I totaled it at an intersection. A couple of folks helped me put it back right-side up and even though it was totaled, I still drove it over 50 miles back home. I ended up getting sued two years minus one day later too.

1995 Saturn Wagon - Michigan

Just plain basic transport. A bluish green without much to say about it. I bought a wagon, in case I couldn't find a job after finishing the USAF and needed a place to sleep. Actually, that was the same reason for the unlamented pickup. The best part was the no hassle buying. I also liked the plastic body panels and it drove OK. Towards the end of five years, it started to slowly fall apart. So I traded it in on my current vehicle.

2001 New Beetle 1.8L Turbo - Michigan

I have mixed feelings about this car. After a few years of dealer hassles, it's finally running pretty good. The dealer in Bay City, just plain sucks. They fussed with it for 5 years - until past the warranty swapping parts and not accomplishing anything. I love the looks, but yes, the drink holders and sunshades suck. It runs just fine, gets good mileage and can really move along when pushed. There's lots of room with the seat folded down and once fixed, it has been giving great service. I just wish there was another VW dealer nearby. I have started taking it to an independent mechanic who seems to be pretty good. And thus ends the car saga for now...


Monday, June 8, 2009

Auto Parts

I am one who gripes often about crappy service at stores. However, my faith was restored, at least a little bit, this weekend.

My Beetle had the CEL (Check Engine Light) come on a couple of weeks ago. I stopped at the Advance Auto Parts store on Bay Road, in Saginaw and they used their reader to check it for me. They said the reader code P1296 which translated to Multi faults - bank 2 with low side shorts -- huh? Turns out that description is for a Ford. I later looked up the code in my Bentley's manual and it was Cooling System Malfunction. It cleared itself a day or two later and I quit worrying about it.

This week the CEL came on again. I called around our local area to see if any of the auto parts stores had a reader they could use to check my car with. There was one store, Freeland Auto Parts, nearby, but I couldn't remember the name to call, so decided to stop by in person. They were closing as I pulled in, but held the door for me. When I asked about an engine code reader, the guy reached behind their counter, handed me a reader, and told me to drop it off when I was done with it to the address on the back.

To say the least, I was amazed and surprised. I asked if he needed my name or anything and he offered his hand, saying "I'm Paul, what's yours?" Then he said just drop it off in the morning. Wow. I'm impressed and hope I can steer some business his way. If you need some car part or tool, check these folks out. Service like that deserves to be rewarded. By the way, it was the same code again. I guess I'm off to the mechanic to have it checked out. From a quick web review it seems like it's probably a temperature sensor that has failed - yet another somewhat well known VW engine problem.

Freeland Auto Parts Inc (989) 695-5467, 1060 E Washington Rd,Freeland,MI48623

Advance Auto Parts (989) 249-13192119 Bay St,Saginaw,MI48602

Never happy...

After telling this story a couple of times, some folks weren't too happy that Paul didn't offer to actually use the reader himself to read my car's error codes and instead just handed me the reader. First, I should add that when I pulled up to the store, I wasn't driving the car that needed the reading and second Paul did give me a quick how-to-do of the reader. However, for any of you who have even seen a reader used, you know it's pretty simple -- even for someone as simple-minded as I am.

As anyone who reads my blogs knows, I'm not usually too happy with service. I'm also surprised that so many listening to this story seem somewhat disappointed in the result. For those, I want to repeat here, I am extremely happy with this episode at Freeland Auto Parts. Thanks Paul, I wish more stores were like you.

And actually, Freeland has several stores like this. There's a bird feed supply store that is equally as friendly and helpful. They have a good selection of bird feed, feeders, house, etc. and they know what their birds. They've even pointed me towards other places that supply bird seed. Freeland seems to breed friendly stores

The Birdhouse, 282 S Main St. Freeland, MI 48623-8937, 989.695.5958

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Anybody remember Penncraft tools? They were sold by JC Penny, I'm guessing back to the middle or late 70s. I have a few wrenches left as well as a big black machinist style toolbox. One of crackle finish ones with a top compartment and about 12 or so drawers. I was cleaning it up last night. Some of the felt is coming loose and it's a bit scratched and dinged, but overall, it's in pretty good shape.

Hard to imagine now that Pennys once sold a pretty extensive line of hand tools. The quality of them seemed pretty good - at least those that I still have are doing OK. Who would've guessed back in the seventies that Craftsman would now be sold at Kmart. Sheesh...

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