Sunday, June 30, 2013

An Electric Tool Box

Not long after I bought my truck, I purchased a tool box to mount in the bed. I thought the box was pretty cool because you could open it from either side without climbing into the back of the truck. 

Lately I've been having trouble opening the box from the driver's side (which is used the most) and it finally reached the point where it could only be opened from the passenger side of the truck. 

Why would that be a hassle? Well, if you are asking that question you've never had a toolbox for the back of your pickup truck. You see, once you get your tools where you want them it simply does not work to move them to another spot. If you do that, you can't find anything ever again. Ever. Kind of like the sock-eating-dryer thing. Either put them where they go or give them away. Same end result.

I tried swapping the locks on either side of the truck, but that didn't change anything. So I took a close look at how the mechanism that operates the single rod from both sides works. After several years there is some wear on the moving parts of the latch system. Apparently the "open either side" part only works within very strict tolerances, and the worn areas are not allowing the driver side lock to do what it needs to do, since it's on the "complicated" leg of the mechanism. There is no feasible way to turn the entire setup around so that the driver side would be the simple side.

I'm really not sure what an entirely new mechanism would cost- I didn't bother pricing it. I made life simpler with a bit of creativity :)

I went to AllElectronics.com and purchased a lock solenoid for $6. I ran a wire to a small switch I put in the dashboard and to power. I then made a mounting bracket from a piece of aluminum angle I had in the scrap bucket. Drilled a couple of holes, shaped the actuator rod how I wanted it, hooked up a switch, power and tested it out. It works like a charm! 

My next order through All Electronics will include a switch that's operated with a key. I'll replace the driver side lock with the key switch so I can open the box from the driver's side without unlocking my doors.

Here's a picture of the mostly-finished setup:

I still have to tie down the wires and clean it all up, but it works! Total cost estimate (even with the switch I want to order) is $12. And it still opens from the passenger side with the key, so if the battery is dead I can get in that way.

I really enjoy doing this kind of stuff :)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A door has opened :)

Quite a few years ago, when I first visited the house we live in now, I noticed that the sliding glass door leading into the computer room was not working so well. According to my lovely wife, it had been making the awful squeaking noises for a long time before I was around. The first time I took the door apart I noticed that the rollers on the most-used door had locked up and were cutting into the aluminum track that the doors roll on. I purchased new rollers (about $16 for two of them) and installed them into the offending door. This made the sliding action easier for a while, until the track wore completely through in areas causing the bottom of the door to drag. The constant sliding of metal on metal totally destroyed the rollers I put in and was actually beginning to wear away the bottom edges of the door.

The track depth is supposed to look like this:

And it was now looking like this:

So I called several door companies to see what it would cost to replace the track strip for the doors. Guess what? They don't replace tracks- they only install ENTIRELY NEW DOORS AND FRAMES. I could find no one at all that would  be willing to replace the bottom track. I even tried some handyman services, with the same results.

My next course of action was to scour the internet for door tracks that I could purchase and put in. There was not a single site found that could supply the track with the measurements I needed. (Distance between the rails that the doors roll on, height of the rails, shape of the rail, etc. You'd be surprised how many different types of rails you CAN find, but it's unlikely that any of them will fit the doors you currently have.)

So I drove to a local hardware store and talked to one of the old-timers. He told me that I could try a "rail cover" that some people use to bolster worn rails. It's basically a stainless steel cap that you place over the top of the rail. It doesn't work. The weight of the door causes the cap to bend at ANY point that isn't perfect on the rail. That totally defeats the purpose of the cap, you know? So that ended up warping and getting tangled in the bottom of the door. An effort in futility.

I waited another two years and when things reached a point where you had to pick the door up and move it instead of sliding it I decided to make a last ditch effort to fix the damned thing before spending the exorbitant amount they would likely ask to install a new set of doors and rails.

I went to a local steel yard that sells to the public and bought a strip of 1"x 1/8" flatbar, and a strip of 1/4"x1/4"x1/8" angle iron. I had to buy 20 foot strips of each since that was the minimum they would sell, but the total amount spent was on $18. I measured the set-back of the rail from the baseboard and tack-welded the angle iron to the flatbar using that measurement. This gave me a steel rail that matched the height of the aluminum rail needing to be replaced.

It looked like this (a short piece I had after I trimmed it to length):

And here you can see how I tack-welded every 8" or so on opposing sides:

I then cut out the damaged railing and inserted the iron rail under the edges of the remaining rail like this:

You can see that I tucked it in. I did this by loosening the screws holding the original to the threshold, sliding the new piece under it, and tightening them down again. This served to keep it in place and lined up with the original undamaged part farther down the track. I could have replaced the entire inside strip, but cutting the aluminum where it wasn't damaged is a pain in the butt. A grinder will gall up, the rail is on concrete so a hacksaw isn't feasible, and a rotozip  in this restricted area is not going to allow a straight cut that is needed. I used one of the oscillating tools that let you cut flush to almost anything. I used a fine-toothed wood attachment and a slow and steady approach to get a nice, straight cut so I could remove the bad material. It makes a lot of noise, but it's very effective.

After installing the new piece of fabricated track and screwing everything back down:

I bought new rollers to put on the door while I had it down ($16 for two) and reassembled everything.

It. is. awesome. You can slide the door open and closed with one finger now, and my total expense was right at $34! The steel rail will last longer than the door, and I still have enough material to replace the outside rail if I need to.

Take THAT, sliding glass door people!!! Bahahahahahahaha!!!