Shop Improvements

My shop is a mess. It has been since we moved in. Most of it is I have very poor shop habits that I really wouldn’t tolerate at work. But at home, I’m more than happy to make where ever I put something down as the new place that goes.

For example, here are two pictures roughly one year apart(Easily identifiable by the Halloween decorations):

IMAG0314 IMG_20141109_162325


And a Panorama:

Just dreadful. As you can imagine this made it hard to find things, hard to work since I had to do a lot of movement of anything to get work done and just a general unhappy shop.

So the first step to just clear out the junk I’ve accumulated, but don’t need. Old paint cans, old cans of finish. duplicate tools, broken things I’m totally going to fix eventually, and poorly stored items.

Some of it was just laziness. I’ve got a metal tool chest/work bench thingy, that was mostly empty because I was storing tools on the work bench.

So something I did was make a chest for my woodworking hand tools and make the tool chest work bench thingy home for .screwdrivers, wrenches…things like that. I haven’t finished yet, but got it finished enough to get a start. Soon I will put the drawers in.


Although, my usual foresight had me make 5 holes for my 6 chisels.  I’m sure there is a math problem in that.

“Mike has 6 chisels, but he made a chisel rack with only five holes. How many hours after the glue dries will he realize what a dumbass he is?”

Also, I had built things in the past like the scroll saw stand, Miter Saw stand, and jointer stand that had drawers and loads of storage that I didn’t use because they didn’t have handles. So, I put handles on them.

Another thing I did was hang the ladder from the ceiling to get it out of the way. The plan is to eventually build out the walls with drywall, so I might move it to hanging on the wall, but right now, I didn’t want to do too much to the brick.



Another thing I did that I hope will help is I closed up the back of my Table saw.  A typical problem with any sort of dust collection is that these saws have a huge open back that just lets the the suction go out the back. So I cut an old drawer bottom to allow it to go around the motor and taped it on. I’ve already got the bottom sealed with a port for a hose. So hopefully this will really help my dust collection.


Yes, I don’t have a blade guard. I got the saw second hand and it didn’t come with one. I ordered a replacement, but I’d installed a riving knife and the PM64a blade guard is too old to allow me to have third party riving knife and their blade guard. I need to sort something out. I also glued magnets to my pushstick so that it it always on the saw.

I’ve still got tons of work to do, I’m happier with it now.  I can do things and not feel too horrible about it. We can walk through the shop without needing a tetanus shot.

One of the big down the road projects will be to properly insulate and frame out the shop to make it more garage like.

Anyway, updated panorama.


What do you eat over there?

I often get asked what I eat when I’m in Africa.

Which, it often depends on where I’m at and the company that is contracted to do the catering at the rig or staffhouse


Usually it is a western company. Some times, we are given a per diem and unleashed onto the local populace. Sometimes it is an Indian company and you get curry every day.

Most of these places have had centuries of influence from Europe, so most of the food is what you would find anywhere. It really seems to depend on the colonial heritage. French colonies tend towards French food, and so on.

This hitch in Angola had me in the Soyo staffhouse. I took pictures of dinner everyday.

One night was ribs and chicken.



One night was shoe leather they claimed was steak.




I had a burger at the hotel.



Turkey and tripe on rice.


BBQ Chicken


Chili and ribs



Spaghetti and hot dogs.


Adding the rooms I stayed in.

Soyo(Decorated by Ikea, which had to cost a fortune. Soyo is a refinery with a town attached):

Luanda, Mianga staffhouse:

Skeleton Jam Band

Margo worked on getting the band ready. They are going to have some music playing and will have a bit of a stage set up.

We got these guys at Costco for dirt cheap, built the guitar, got the costumes all at the local Goodwill and the sawhorse is just something  that came with the house. They are tied to the sawhorse for stability and will have a curtain behind them to make it look more like stage.



She also put one of the pumpkins on the other side of the driveway to balance out the setting:


And put this banner across the driveway to welcome trick or treaters. Hopefully, this is more inviting than the covered bridge last year.



Decorative gourds!

We went to the Georgia State Farmers market and spent 20 bucks getting huge pumpkins to decorate. We decided to paint and glue things to them instead of carving them so they would live longer. Which, I’m useless at painting. So this is all on Margo to get the guys ready for the big night.

The first was to draw the skull bases on them to give them a base.


Next was to draw a face,

And to make them look like calaveras.


Margo has been hard at work making the skulls look more sugar skully. The gems are hot glued on in the hopes that are skulls and skeletons can go back to normal for future use.

Calaveras aren’t usually blinged out. We got some face tattoos to use but after research, we realized wanted something that was a little more visible in low light from a distance.


Another big thing for Día de Muertos is marigolds. Fake marigolds cost a small fortune and we didn’t want a ton of a fake marigolds just sitting around. Real marigolds die sooner than we would like. These are made from tissue, pipe cleaner and parts of an unloved orphan we got from a guy.

and we made a fake guitar for one of the skeletons in the jam band. This year, they will just be static with music being played behind them. I found a Day of the Dead party mix, but I’m not sure they know what it is. My first impulse was Mariachi music but We’ve moved to more general party music that fit with the theme. Plus, it is all Amazon Prime streaming music, so free is a pretty good price.

Robot coffin for Halloween

Every year for Halloween we do a big them. Previous year was a Sleepy Hollow theme and it really bothered people. I think me dressed like the Headless Horseman and waving around a sword was a big part of that.

So this year we decided to do a Day of the Dead theme. A little more light hearted. One of the features was going to be a coffin. I got some fence material from the local home center and built a toe pincher. wpid-wp-1412466439155.jpeg

Which is fine, I even got hammered hinges for it. The problem is it looks new. After some research, I found out that mixing steel wool with vinegar creates a chemical stain that can artificially age wood.

I applied it and got disappointed at first because I just got a piece of wood that smell liked vinegar. After an hour, I got this:


So I put a few more coats on it.

I decided to use some old robot parts and animate it. The first was with a windshield wiper motor that wasn’t able to keep up with the weight, so next I used a pneumatic cylinder from Clippard that I had.

I had to weld up an adapter to cross the threaded rod over to something I could use:


Which shattered the first time I applied air pressure because of the wonderful steel Home Depot uses. Fortunately, it seems to still hold and function, so I’m not too worried, but that is a problem that will need to be addressed before next year.

Second was to weld up an mount to hold the other end:



It is hard to see, but I welded a nut to one side of the bracket and drove a screw through the other side. The nut  also melted under the welding process because of the high quality steel Home Depot uses.


This is a pneumatic 2 position/5 way valve. It fires electronically and pushes air though port A and exhausts through one of the rear ports. When the electricity is removed, the air is routed through port B and it exhausts through the rear ports. I put speed control mufflers on the exhaust to reduce noise and to slow down the piston action to keep it from throwing the door across town.

And to trigger it, I got a cheap motion activated security light and removed the light parts and replaced them with power ports I can use and connected a 14 volt wall wart to drive the solenoid.


Which here is the coffin closed:


And here is it open:



And here is a video of it functioning and triggering as cars drive past on the road:


I think next year, I want to create a comedy routine so he opens it up, tells a joke and closes it.

Some books aren’t very good on Kindle

The way I work is that I go some place and I’m there until the job is done. It could be a week, it could be two months.

It used to be that when I’d travel, books would be the heaviest thing I’d carry.  Mostly because there aren’t a lot of English book stores where  I go.

So when ebook readers became a thing, I got one. It was great, I could stick 100 books into something that weighed next to nothing. Right now, I’ve got the Kindle just below the Paperwhite. And to be honest, I still love the Kindle. I’ve got dozens of books, and sure, I’ve to charge my book and occasionally it crashes, but it is better than the alternative.

The only problem they can’t seem to get to work is technical books.

I bought Headfirst Java which is a good book, but most of the code snippets and exercises are something other than text. So they are lighter than rest of the text and  I can’t figure out how to make them darker or change the font size.  So I’ve got a good chunk of the book(and the teaching contained within) that is unreadable.

I’m not sure if this is an e-ink limitation or a Kindle limitation or the book was just converted poorly.

Either way…. grrrr.

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