Monday, November 12, 2012

Efforts in metallurgy :)

Today I finally took a bit of time to try casting aluminum. It was not quite what I expected :)

I built a smelter of sorts out of scrap a while back-

 I obtained a can and put a handle on it:

I added charcoal and aluminum cans then fired it up. The pipe you see coming out of the bottom is actually a piece of tailpipe obtained for free from a muffler shop. I just went in and asked for a scrap piece and offered to pay them something for it but they just laughed and gave it to me at no cost. It's supposed to be used to push air through holes drilled around where the can sits to make the fire hot enough to melt the aluminum.

According to youtube you're supposed to put a hair dryer on "cold" setting into the pipe for proper air flow. I picked up a cheap hair dryer from Wally World and took it apart, then removed the heating elements because it didn't have a "cold" setting. Only hot and hotter. It refused to work. Upon closer inspection I realized that if the heating element was broken the circuitry refused to power the dryer (which makes sense in the normal use of the thing) but this did nothing for my efforts to have forced air. So I rewired the thing and plugged it in to promptly get a grand display of sparks and a tripped breaker. Screw the hair dryer.... I have better weapons in my arsenal :)

I hooked up the shop-vac on the "blow" side of things and used that instead of the hair dryer. Let me tell you- it worked fabulously! Originally I had the can sitting in the middle of the fire. This is a view after I had poured my first "ingot". The majority of the crap you see left in the can is slag or "dross" (which is a fancy word for stuff that's not pure aluminum.) You're supposed to lift the dross off of the top of the melted aluminum but the melting vessel I used is really too small to get into with the spoon once you take the heat factor into consideration, so I left it there. I just poured the melted aluminum and let it run from below the slag into the ingot mould that I made.

Below you see my efforts at an ingot. I would have done more but I was running out of fire/charcoal so I got what I could with the materials I had on hand. This is two separate pours. I poured the first, re-positioned the can, allowed more aluminum to melt and then made the second pour.

 All-in-all it was a fun experience. I'm going to add a stand into the bottom of the smelter to allow the can to sit up off of the steel plate so that the bottom isn't conducting heat away from the aluminum. I'm also going to get wood for fuel instead of charcoal. The charcoal worked fine, but it took an entire bag to do this little bit and at $9 a freakin' bag it would be simpler to buy a couple of pounds of aluminum, ya know?  The shop vac on "blow" worked great, but I'm going to use an old vacuum cleaner motor set to blow next time I do this.

Now I just have to figure out a how they make proper moulds so that I can possible create something useful with this new technology :)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Gotcha! Bahahahahaha!!!!

        I was out in the yard last week doing some lawn work when a guy walks up and asks me if I would be interested in getting a free estimate in regards to replacing my roof. Considering the condition of the roof at this point, I'd LOVE to know how much it would cost to have someone replace as opposed to buying the materials and doing it on my own. So of course, I said yes.

        Next, he asked me when I would be available for someone to come over and give an estimate. I was off on the following Monday, so I told him to have someone come by around 10am. He then asked if my wife would be home, to which I replied no. That was an odd question, in my mind. So I tucked a little red flag next to this guy's memory spot in my brain. He then proceeded to ask what time my wife would be home and I asked him WHY? He stated that often when they gave estimates they would need input on shingle color, etc. so it was easier to have both parties present when they came out. It still sounded a bit odd, but I made arrangements for them to come out between 6pm and 7pm to give me the estimate and assured them that my wife would be home but had no wish to interact with them in any way. The guy got his boss on the speaker phone, the appointment was confirmed, and we were set to go.

        Monday comes, 7pm flies by and still no roof guy to give me an estimate. Another red flag planted next to his memory spot. Wednesday rolls around and I get a call from the roofing company asking how my appointment went on Monday. I then told the man that there WAS no appointment because his guy never showed up. I let him know that we waited on dinner so that I could be outside while he was supposed to be here and also that I felt extremely inconvenienced because no one showed up or called to say why they never came. The man on the phone apologized and said "let me check my notes" after which he said "They came by and no one was home, so they left a card". I got a bit rude at this point. I let him know that I was off on Monday, I was home ALL day, and the only card I had was the one the original shyster had given to me. Then I let him know I had serious doubts about doing business with his company because if they didn't have the integrity to show up for the appointment to get my business in the first place, what were they going to do when they got some of my money? Fail to show at all? HA! Not with this kid! He apologized profusely and pleaded with me to let him arrange another appointment all the while assuring me that he would expedite this situation to the owner of the company for a resolution.

        Now keep in mind that I really want to know what a roofing company would charge to come out and replace the roof. That's all I really need to know- is it worth it to pay someone for the labor I would have to expend over the course of a week or two?

       Which brings us to today. After agreeing to allow them to come out and give an estimate, a guy pulls up in an SUV. I went out to meet him, all the while counting the red flags by this company's memory spot. Yep, three so far. While he was getting his folding ladder out he asked a few questions, I answered, and we chatted about the current condition of the roof. Then he says "when I'm done, we'll go inside and discuss the estimate" to which I replied "my wife is not interested in speaking to anyone". He then tells me that he has to read the "insurance mitigation clause" to both parties involved with the home. I asked him what insurance had to do with anything and he told me that homeowner's would give us 31% per year off of our homeowner's premiums with a hurricane rated roof. So I asked (with innocence in my voice, if you can imagine that from me) "when did insurance companies start giving discounts for home maintenance"? He says " Oh, no... only for HURRICANE rated roofs". (insert red flag #4) It seems that he wanted to install a super-special-hurricane-driven water-proof-roof on the house and would have to document every step of the process for the insurance company so that we would get our discount. (red flag #5)

        So my next question was "how MUCH MORE is this hurricane roof compared to a conventional roof?" to which he replied "25-30%, but you save that in insurance premiums!". Hah! Yeah, right. So I informed the little man that I only wanted my free estimate to encompass normal roof replacement. He got surly and asked me why I didn't state that when I made the appointment. I got just as surly (perhaps just a weeeee bit more) with my reply of "why didn't your guy tell me what he was really trying to sell?".  He was not a happy camper. He said he couldn't give me an estimate for a normal roof, packed his little ladder, and scooted his sorry self off of the property.  It's not like I was going to do business with them anyway after the way the initial appointment was handled :)

        I could tell that he was miffed about driving out, unpacking his ladder and finding out that he had nothing I wanted. Yeah, buddy..... karma is a bitch. You should have kept the first appointment- I can be a really nice guy when I'm treated with respect :)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Life as a sponge.

I don't know what it is about me that attracts water. I'm not even a great fan of Spongebob Squarepants. But  dammit if the water doesn't find me where ever I may be.

A couple of months ago I noticed an unusually wet spot in the middle of the yard. We had no rain in the previous couple of months and this spot was not at a low point in the lawn. A couple of days after I noticed this spot, the lawn guys cut the grass. I'm surprised that they didn't raise hell, because judging from the size of the hole they fell into the mower had to be stuck. 

Upon investigation I discovered that it wasn't a sinkhole, but a "junction box" for the septic system drain field piping. And of course, in typical contractor fashion the freakin' box was ABS (soft) PLASTIC. It's a wonder someone didn't put a foot through the damned thing.

So I dug all around it, framed it up and poured a concrete box around the junction. I then bought a cement stepping stone large enough to cover the opening and laid it on top. Now I have access to the drain pipes so that I can snake them out when necessary and keep the system working as it should. And I don't have to worry about the riding mower falling through again.

Ok, let's take a look at what we've had so far:

Solenoid on fridge- check.
Busted pipe in wall- check.
Leaking roof- check
Septic drain issues- check

What else could go wrong?  Hah!

After several months of no rain whatsoever, tropical storm Debbie decided to grace us with 6 or 7 days straight rain, rain and more rain. Heavy rain. During a lull in one of the downpours I went out to the shed (my workshop) and discovered that the many of the screws holding the tin on the roof had worked loose and water was pouring in onto everything. So what did I have to do? I got on the roof with a bucket of tar and took out each screw, tarred the hole, and put the screw back in tight. An hour or so later (and 20 pounds heavier from my clothes being soaked) I had everything water-tight once again.

Only to have my wife inform me that we had some water spots forming on the ceiling in the bedroom. *sigh* Due to the fact that it was now rather late in the evening, I told her I'd check it the next day after work, which I did. I found that the AC drain line was stopped up, and the switch that's supposed to shut off the compressor when the water backs up in the drain was not working. So the water was dripping through the insulation and eventually to the sheetrock of the ceiling.

Now one wouldn't think that this is much of an issue, right? Just unstop the line and everything is fine you say. But the idiots that installed the drain line on the AC did it the same way that all of the AC people seem to do it.... without any concern for the person who has to unstop the drain. The way things are set up looks like this:

You have the AC unit with a drain line and a "T" installed on it. The "T" has a removable plug so that you can "clean out" the line. Yeah, right. There is no good way to get anything into that tiny hole at a 90' angle which would be effective in removing the slime clog. And you can't really blow it out because the slime builds up in the drain line past the "T" and not so much between the "T" and the AC Unit. So if you try to blow it out, the air goes down the path of least resistance, which is back to the AC Unit, effectively negating the effort to blow the slime out of the drain.

After having to do this once before, I decided to make it user friendly so that next time I was in the attic sweating and trying not to fall through the ceiling I would be able to get the drain blown clean and get out quickly. I went to the local hardware and picked up the fittings I needed, came home, and put together the ideal junction for doing this sort of thing:

I made an "H" junction using two "T" fittings (bottom image). On the end of each "T" not connected to the main line I put a 45' elbow, which gives plenty of angle to insert an air hose or even a clean-out fish (top image).  With a plug in each elbow the air integrity is maintained as well. So now I can clean out the line between the unit and the junction, and from the junction to the outside. Both can be accessed with ease. Disconnecting them at the point shown allows me to insert a plug so that compressed air can be used to clean out either section of line without having the air take the path of least resistance, but instead pushing out the blockage.

Now, instead of running hose from the air compressor through the house and into the attic to blow out the drain I can simply take a small air tank with a ball valve (for a blast of air) and a hose that fits snugly into the 45' elbows that I installed up into the attic to take care of the problem. 

Total spent in parts- $4. Why the HELL can't they do this kind of thing in the first place? I'll tell you why- so that they can charge you $95 to come out and clear the line for you. Now all I have to do is replace the defective switch and the ceiling shouldn't get any further spots :)

*Edit- I put plywood in the attic this morning so that I'm not balancing on the rafters when I have to work in the attic. While I was up there I took a pic of the new fitting that shows it better than my primitive drawings :)

Monday, March 5, 2012

When it rains, it pours...

And now I know why.

Today I decided to finish working on the eaves of the house. I started on them last year. I know, I know.... it should have been done already. But I went to sleep and when I woke up a year had gone by and the eaves still weren't finished being repaired. (To be fair, the wife is very efficient when it comes to planning things for us to do on my day off.) Anyway, today was the day to finish.

I pulled out the scaffold, ladder and tools. I ripped out the bad soffit and I was greeted with this:

If you aren't sure what you're looking at, it's the underside of the roof sheathing. And it shouldn't be wet and rotted like this. So instead of just working on the soffit I decided to replace the sheathing. This involves removing shingles, tar paper, etc, then cutting out the bad sheathing and replacing it. Then you have to replace the drip edge, tar paper, flashing, and finally the shingles. I've not replaced shingles before. I know how to install them initially, but I haven't had the opportunity to replace damaged ones on an existing roof. This was going to be fun.

Here's another shot of the damaged area (from below):

First step: remove the shingles from the affected area-

Next step: Remove the felt/tar paper to expose the wood- and guess what I find!

The idiots that put the roof on put the flashing ON TOP of the upper layer of tar paper instead of under it. You can clearly see the bump in the flashing that was allowing water to run straight down onto the wood. Like making a funnel for the rain to run into the walls. Freakin' idiots! Once I removed that flashing, the wood underneath it just fell apart.

And the view from the bottom:

Moving forward: Remove the bad sheathing-

After removing the bad wood, I "sistered" some 2x4's to the existing so that I would have a place to nail the new wood down on the left and to level the board on the right that was water damaged on the top. You can see the added boards in the photo above.

Next I put the new plywood in place:

Next: Tar paper, starter course of shingle, and flashing. I also put in a new drip edge before adding the preceding items. The drip edge has to go on first :)

It's not perfect, but it's not bad either. And it shouldn't leak. Now for the fun part.... tying in the new shingles to the old. This is the part I was unsure of but it turned out fairly well.

You can see a slight "hill" on the left where I tied into the existing shingles. I think I should have taken out a bit more, but wasn't sure. Apparently I should have :) All in all it's not bad for a first time with no guidance. The new shingles are some that came with the house so I'm assuming that's what the old ones looked like when they were first installed. It's about time for a new roof- there are issues in other places as well. I'm thinking about taking a week or so off and replacing the roof myself. I'm confident that I can do it, but I hate to try to tackle that by myself. I hate paying someone to do it even more :)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

I'm in hot water! *sigh*

I just changed restaurant locations a couple of weeks ago, so in order to determine the true strengths and weaknesses of the new location I worked a week of night shifts. This means that Saturday I went to work at 6:30 pm and got home Sunday at 5:15 am. After sleeping 3 hours I got my butt out of bed so that I could spend my day off doing things for work that can only be done at home. (I had some sandblasting and brazing of various parts that needed to be completed.)

During the process of setting up the sand blaster I heard a strange hissing noise at the corner of the house. Upon closer inspection I found a steady stream of water rolling out from under the wood paneling that covers the outside of the home. I went inside and found a big wet patch of drywall (kind of oxymoronic, eh?) and a puddle forming on the floor. Just what I needed.... a leak inside of the wall.

I grabbed my sheetrock hole-saw from my truck and cut out a nice square patch around the wet spot and was immediately greeted by a jet of water gushing from a hole in the copper pipe. It was the hot water return line leaking, so we should have been able to at least have cold water for coffee making and toilet flushing while I worked on repairing the bad pipe. Hah. Fat chance. The freakin' cheap valve that they put on the inlet refused to turn completely off..... the water would have to be shut off at the meter.* (I really hate those cheap valves. Hate them!)

So I gathered up the wife and kids and it was off to Lowe's. I really like Lowe's :)

Since I had enough 1/2" pipe in the shop, all I really needed were a pair of couplings. But I figured that as long as the water was off, I should go ahead and replace the cheap valve with a nice ball valve that will outlast the water heater, and perhaps even the house itself. I didn't have any 3/4" pipe or fittings on hand, so I ended up spending about $40 total for two 1/2" couplings, four 3/4" elbows, a 24" length of 3/4" copper pipe and some emery cloth for cleaning all of the connections for soldering. Everything else I needed I already had.

Next step- cut the offending valve out of the line and drain enough water from the heater to make sure it wasn't in the way of the soldering. I also vacuumed out the lower pipes with the shop vacuum before I started working with the heat. If you don't have adequate space between any water in the line and the heat source steam is created which will absolutely prevent a solid solder joint from being able to form. I cut and dry fit all parts, then pulled them out and cleaned / fluxed everything before putting it back together. Fifteen minutes later it was time to turn on the water main and check for leaks.

No leaks! None! ~happy dance~ Disaster averted, and I'm figuring that since it's Sunday if I had called a plumber the bill would have come in at roughly $230 give or take a few.

I like not spending money I don't have to :)

*The funny thing here? A couple of weeks ago I spent a few hours in the shop making a big wrench for turning off the water main. Yes, you can buy them for next to nothing, but I enjoyed making it. When I showed it to the wife she says "What would you possibly need a water wrench for?". I reminded her of that today :)

Monday, January 16, 2012


I am working on a new movement. It will save countless millions of dollars for the country and every municipality in it! The movement could possibly be considered a stroke of genius due to the simplicity and effectiveness of the idea.

The concept came to me while I was working. It was supposed to be a normal morning but it seemed unusually slow for a Saturday. This meant that it would be very busy later in the day. I asked the crew if anything was happening in the area that would explain the slow start and they told me that there was an MLK parade happening in a nearby municipality. Last Saturday there was an MLK parade in the town where we are located and it was CRAZY busy. We were in for another crazy day.

Then I started thinking.... why the hell do they have separate parades on different days? It's not like the parades are money makers for the towns. On the contrary- they cost the towns tons of money when you consider blocking the roads, police presence required, emergency personnel presence required, stores losing business while the parade is going on because no one can get to them, etc, etc.

So why not just have "Parade Day" every year? On January 1st (while the children are out of school, many parents are off, etc.) each city could have as many parades as they care to fit into the day. After that, no more parades for the rest of the year. That would give them a solid time frame to budget for each year, businesses would be able to plan for that day, and by wrapping all celebrations into one day across the nation billions of dollars would be saved.

Just consider it.... you could have the Christmas parade, followed by MLK parades, Superbowl parades, Mardi Gras parades, and wrap it all up with a New Year's parade. Towns and cities close to each other could have alternating events so that everyone has a chance to see whatever flavor of parade they care to watch.

And when it's over you've paid overtime to the Police one time, you've inconvenienced Emergency personnel one time, you've paid to have the streets cleaned one time- and then it's done for the year.

Next move: Consolidate holidays :)