Archive for June, 2009

Damage Repair 1

Monday, June 29th, 2009

As is not uncommon, I made a mistake.

Working on the previously mentioned border for my lacewood desktop, I began to make a miter cut on the wrong side of the wood.  I caught myself quickly, but was still left with a shallow cut across a display face of the pine and a chipped corner.



I am told that the fix for this is to take some clear wood glue, mix it with sawdust of the damaged wood, and work the resulting goo into the crack.  Making sawdust is easy.  Corralling it felt odd, given the visuals:


not what it looks like

I scraped the glue/sawdust mixture into the damage, pushed the chip back into place, and waited for it to dry.


After a little planing and lots of sanding with fine grit to get rid of any surface glue (which won’t stain), the result is less effective than I hoped, but will have to do:


The top of the filler is flush with the wood, the chip is reaffixed, and the gap is harder to see, but still evident.  I’ll see what happens when I stain it.  I think I should have used more sawdust in the mix.  Unfortunately, I am stuck with this piece of wood, since I had ripped the border pieces specially on a someone else’s saw.  Regardless, I’m happy with this first attempt so far.  The mitered corners match up almost perfectly, which is harder than it sounds.

Next up: stain.

Wax (The need for clearcoat)

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

My car at the moment might be charitably described as worn.  I’m afraid that I habitually use slightly more robust language to describe it, which is unfair to a vehicle that has served stalwartly.  The driveline is solid, the tachometer works, and the car no longer leaks gasoline.  One of the low points, however, is the body.  It has considerable non-structural rust, and the paint has long resigned itself to the depradations of UV-induced breakdown.


The result of running a wet finger down the metal.

As such, I cannot put the car through any sort of automatic wash, lest I be left with a primered car with a light dusting of the original color.  Further, car wax takes on a much greater importance when it is the only thing between the old paint and the sun, rain, dirt, snow, salt, magnesium chloride, errant paintballs, local yahoos, and tar-footed people walking on the hood (really!), all of which the car has seen in the last 6 years or so.

I have dealt with a goodly number of automotive problems, and for sheer commonplace bang-for-the-buck irritation, I nominate hand-waxing a car as the champion.  Certainly, there are more expensive, painful repairs to do, and there are rarer, cheaper problems that cause one to remove an equal amount of tooth enamel (that one bolt that snaps, losing a carb linkage nut into the engine head, etc.), but for routine annoyance, waxing the car is up there on my list at the top.  I dislike losing an evening to the process, but the state of my car’s exterior demands it once in a while.  This is why clearcoat finishes are so popular; you can theoretically ignore waxing the car for a long time before the actual colored paint starts to degrade, though you aren’t supposed to do this.


Yes, that's primer showing under the yellow.

It does look better now; see contrast in the above photo, but better is a relative adjective.  Friends have pointed out that I should probably get the body fixed up, and as an inducement have mentioned that I (or the car) am likely to get more distaff attention.  My argument to this is that I hope to get attention from those who can see though the rust damage and note that the suspension has new, heavy-duty components.  This counter, while having the virtue of humor, does not seem to carry the day.  Rolled eyes generally indicate the end of the conversation.

As if to drive the point home, I saw two restored Chevys with beautiful finishes on the way home from the car wash.  My mediocre wax job and veteran paint stood in sharp contrast.  But my car probably sees many more miles that theirs, appearance is vanity in the end, the job is done, what paint remains is safe for a while, and I can go to sleep knowing I don’t have to do it again for … at least 6 months or so.

Stain Prep

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Since I’ve got an interesting tabletop made, I have been trying to figure out what border to give it.  Since the top is veneer on plywood, the side edges need to be covered.  I could use strip veneer, which is easily applied with an iron and comes in exactly the size I need.  This being easy, I of course have chosen to use narrow pine boards, cut like a picture frame, with 45 degree mitered corners.  I think this will show off the lacewood desktop better.

Thinking further on the matter, I think the desk will benefit from some contrast.  Since I’m using pine, which has a relatively straightforward grain, the main question is what color stain to use.  I’m going to try for a lighter color, sort of a light honey.  However, since I’m using pine, I have another consideration to deal with.  Pine is cheap, and has a relatively clear grain, but it tends to get blotchy when you stain it, detracting from the visual continuity of the wood.  Minwax makes an inexpensive prep chemical that allegedly counters this problem.


On the left, the light stain I’m thinking of using – Puritan Pine – presumably a very disciplined stain.  On the right, the Minwax Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner.  (Is there post-stain wood conditioner?  Not sure.)

As always, as the instructions say: test first in an inconspicuous spot.  This stuff is easy to test because it only adds “5-15” minutes drying time to whatever you happen to be doing.  I can’t quite understand people who can deal with 72 hour drying times.

First try:


This doesn’t look very good.

Can you even tell where I applied it?  It’s on the left of the picture, extending right about three inches from the pencil line.  I began to think I had wasted my money.  You can see why I would want to avoid the uneven absorption of stain; much of this test piece doesn’t look very good at all.

However, when in doubt, use more!  (Note: this is not actually a good axiom when it comes to finishes, but I had a pint of the stuff just sitting there.)


I used about three times as much and gave it the full 15 minutes to absorb.  It works better.  There’s a bit of glare in the picture, but you can see the middle area is much clearer than the right and left edges.  I suppose I’ll use it.  I am concerned about the blotchiness of the stain detracting from the main desk surface, so any mitigation of the problem will be welcome.  I’m not sold on the stain color; I may add a few drops of something redder to darken it a bit.

Lots to think about.  I am increasingly impressed with craftsfolk, industrial designers and engineers, who deal with all of the design decisions about this sort of thing day in and day out.  Material?  Alignment? Color?  Treatment?  Joints?  Adhesive?  Topcoat?  Everything constructed has had these decisions made, even if not necessarily dwelt upon.

LED jar

Friday, June 19th, 2009

I saw the Sunjar at, purveyors of interesting stuff, last week, and thought it looked like a pleasing nightlight.  I don’t feel that I need a nightlight, but I happened to notice that the empty jar from my hair, erm, product looked similar to the Sunjar’s container.  When I saw a spare electronic switch on my desk, I figured that I had the makings of a minor diversion on my hands.


Step forward, Tresemme Smooth and Silky European Deep Smoothing Masque!  At $4.00 for a sizeable jar (alas, not quite large enough to qualify as a “jug”), this is the least expensive chemical of its consistency on the supermarket shelf.  The adjective to dollar ratio is also quite good.

Step 1: wash the jar.  While the fragrance of Vitamin H(?!)-fortified hair goop is not unpleasant, it is more suited to salons of the follicular type than the dining sort.  Oddly, the jar is double-walled, and some water got into the gap between walls when I washed it.  I had to flex the outer wall a bit to drain the water out.

Step 2: This jar has the additional advantage, for our purposes, of having the product information applied via sticker, rather than painted on.  One scientific application of pocket knife later, the large label is free, and the top label yields quickly to a fingernail.  I cleaned off the top with alcohol to get the glue residue off of the otherwise pleasingly gloss black plastic.

Step 3:  Drill a ~ 3/8″ hole in the center of the lid.  Finding the center is left as one of those irksome “exercises for the reader”.  I measured across mine a few times and marked several linear center points until they clustered.  There is probably a more elegant way to do this.  Note: don’t use a center punch; it will shatter the plastic.  In unrelated news, the lid to my currently in-use jar of hair gunk has a large swathe of packing tape across it.

Step 4:  Remove the threaded nut and lock washer from the switch.  There is a little nubbin at the top of the threads meant to restrain the lock washer.  This will be in the way later on, so cut it flush.  Do not look straight down at it as you do so, lest it bounce off of your face when it flies off.


Step 5:  Twist the switch through the hole, leaving the button on the top of the lid, and then thread the lock washer and nut onto the switch threads from the other side, leaving it spark-plug like when viewed from below.


Step 6:  Retrieve your electric gear bag from your car trunk, where you forgot it last night.  Wear your coat or you’ll catch a chill.

Step 7: Do some math.  You usually want a resistor in series with the LED (“throwies” notwithstanding).  The LED circuit formula to get the needed resistance is:
R = ((Battery Voltage) – (Voltage drop over LED))/(LED current spec)
The latter two terms are printed on the back of the box of LEDs.  Unfortunately for me, the box I got was an assortment, with a voltage range given.  It turns out that different color LEDs use different voltages.  Fortunately, this is usually predictable.  I looked up the value for yellow LEDs, since I wanted a yellow color.  I then did the math and then bought a “close enough” valued resistor.  Yellow LEDs with 2 AA batteries (3 volts) need about 45 ohms inline with them.  I got a 47 ohm resistor; since this resistor has +/- 5% confidence, I figured I was close enough.

Step 8: Figure out a way to hold your batteries.  I had a battery holder lying around, so I just used that.  They’re cheap enough, but you need to make sure to find one that will fit across the inside lid of the jar with the switch in the way.  Make sure to thread the bottom of the jar on when testing the size, since the male threads diminish the available space further.

Step 9:  Solder things.  In order: 2xAA positive battery holder terminal – switch – 2 yellow LEDs in parallel – 47 ohm resistor – negative terminal of battery holder.
Things to look out for here:

– LEDs have a positive leg (longer) and a negative leg.  Make sure to solder them in the correct order.
– You might want to use a length of wire in between components to ease the geometry a bit.
– Don’t lean your soldering iron against the jar lid.  It smells bad if you do so.

Step 10: Neaten up a bit.  I stuck the battery holder to the lid with some 3M double-sided sponge tape.  You can’t fasten it to the jar because then you can’t screw the lid on without breaking wires.


Step 11: Try it out.  You might need to bend the LEDs around to get a better throw pattern.


This won’t replace a real Sunjar, since this looks cheaper, isn’t made as well, isn’t as bright, and isn’t solar powered.  Looks neat, though.


The switch and LEDs here are from Radio Shack.

Switch: SPST Push-On-Off switch (275-1565)
LEDs: 276-1622 (assortment)

Pride and Power (tools)

Thursday, June 18th, 2009


I have been dwelling on a philosophical conundrum this evening.  Being both Catholic and an admirer of C.S. Lewis’s apologetic works, I see merit in the belief that pride is the greatest sin, being the only sin that leads directly to others, putting self foremost.

What, then, does this mean for the pursuit of power in the form of tools with more capacity than one needs?  Tools that accomplish what you need to do fall outside the scope of this argument; I am thinking about tools that are likely more powerful (and stylish) than you need.  A homeowner probably won’t use a 1000 lb-foot gas-fired torque “wrench”, and a commuter probably won’t ever redline a V8 automobile, but both tools impel a visceral reaction.

(As my friends will attest, sooner or later, most any conversation with me eventually turns to cars.)

Is hot rodding your car motivated by pride or the desire for glory?  Often, I would guess, though there are certainly those who do it to learn, or out of a commitment to engineering excellence.  One could argue that people do not need 3000 horsepower drag cars, and yet the competition they represent has been hard fought for thousands of years by horseflesh, chariots, packet ships, Regency-era coaches, bicycles, wood-track cars, locomotives, and numerous other conveyances.  The nitromethane fueled cars of the dragstrip carry no cargo beyond their drivers and a parachute.  They cannot be viewed as dispassionate research into more efficient passenger and cargo movement.  Corn dogs and similar foods of enthusiasm seem to be inextricably involved in drag racing, for example, in a way that they are not in airline menus.  It is also worth considering the impossibility of routinely driving a vehicle capapble of 5.7G.  And yet, the struggle for more horsepower, more perfectly applied, leads to extraordinarily careful efforts in developing fuel delivery, chassis design, and aerodynamics.  Is there a way to dispense with pride and lust for glory in the automotive world, while retaining both engineering progress and enthusiasm?  Is this the right question?

I will say that the note of an old V8 simply sounds pleasant when driving over old country roads.  Is it because I sense the history behind the engine’s development and the concominant history of the buildings, billboards, restaurants, fields, I pass by?  If so, why would a young child smile at loud (probably fuel-inefficient) cars?  They undoubtedly don’t know about the Interstate Highway System, the flathead Ford, and the rest of it.  And yet, many kids really like powerful cars.  Perhaps it is simply that the hot car is an exception to the quiet norm, and a fun one at that.  Fun seems to be tied into the technical and historic appreciation of the car.

Enthusiasm matters.  “80 percent of success is showing up”, as Woody Allen put it, and you are more likely to show up if you care about the work at hand.  That crawling feeling in your stomach just before you punch the throttle, fire up the welder, or even as you make a final decision on the blueprints, says that you care about the result.  The child who smiles at the fast car might learn to work on his (/her) car a decade later, and the result of that work might well be a grin similar to that of 10 years previously.

I read somewhere that the fact that something is dangerous just means that it is powerful, and so it may be with the lure of that power.  It can be used to try to sate an unquenchable desire for glory, and it can be used to develop skills and knowledge, and have a little fun.  I can go to a gas station and buy a truly vast amount of energy in a 5 gallon can.  I could use it in my car to intimidate other drivers, to risk others’ safety out of some sense of power.  But it is worth noting that the desire for a more potent conveyance led to a situation, as P.J. O’Rourke writes, where “Forty years ago the pimply kid down the block, using $3,500 in saved-up soda-jerking money, procured might and main beyond the wildest dreams of Genghis Khan, whose hordes went forth to pillage mounted upon less oomph than is in a modern leaf blower.”  (WSJ,”The End of our Love Affair With Cars”, 5/30/2009)  Power to the people, indeed.

I suppose that the counter to pride in power would have to be humility, humility before the capabilities that we have.  I am glad to live in a world where I might commute further than many people, historically, ever traveled away from home.  I am also happy that work is ongoing to make that travel safer, less resource-intensive, cheaper, and faster.  All of these things make life better.  I shall have to remember that the power I have is a gift, and to shepherd it well, while also remembering that enthusiasm for the improved is very much a good, and only to be suspected when it turns toward enthusiasm for me.