ShopTalk Sunday: Prepping Disaster – Field Day

Famine is coming.

Yeah, sure, Roe, Wade, demonstrations, hype.  Have fun with that.

The larger reality is there’s no caloric payoff to any of it and damn few people will have noticed the recent Newsweek story Gathering Storm of Famine Looms Over Many Nations.

What Preppers Miss

Most preppers I know have never done a “dry run” of survival gardening.  “I have stored food, so I’m good.”

No, not really.

Unless someone tells you to get Ace 55 tomatoes – which can produce in a little over 2 months in reality – you are in for an ugly and hungry surprise.

Most crops take 120-days, or so.  Which means if you have 120-days of food stored, you’ll only be alive four months while society finishes burning out.

At some point, you will have to wean off the freeze-dried and get back to survival food sourcing.  Eating squirrels shot with the .22 are going to depopulate quickly, too.  Along with other meat sources.  Why do you think beans were so important in the West?

At best, you might get three gardens in per year: spring, summer, and fall.  But, what about the water supply for them?  We can tell you from experience that our rainwater collection system was emptied last month and we’re on the second mains refill now.

Tomato Crisis

We were, as preppers very pleased with the “early results” of our tomatoes.

Why, we could almost taste these delicious fruits.

But a few morning’s later, a trip to the garden revealed this:

Birds had eaten our fledgling tom’s and as the blue arrow shows, it doesn’t take a “rocket surgeon” to figure out who the perps were.

REALITY CHECK:  Have you really figured out how to garden when society collapses?  Because right now – in our misadventure into self-sufficiency, we can get on the web and load up with all kinds of “scare tape” and bird netting on the cheap.  It’s all on the way.

When EMP or surprise first strike comes along (or just descent into general anarchy because people are SOOO stupid!) recovering from this kind of gaffe won’t be an option.

Ground Problems Too

And what about Ure’s prized cantaloupes?  Same story, different culprit:

And do remember those sugar pumpkins that sprouted from the 30-foot runner we let escape from the raised bed?  I mean, this looked just dandy!

Until along came squirrels.  Then, a pumpkin half again the size of a soft ball was eaten overnight by some kind of ground critter.

In our prepping inventory, the only quick option was a large sticky trap designed for rats and such.  We’ll see how this works when the blooms turn to edibles in the next week, or four.

Point is?

If you don’t have absolutely everything in stock and on-hand to get serious food production online again within 120-days year-round, your prepping efforts are likely just a one-way ticket to hell. Sorry to report.

The good news is that rather than piss away time into media distractions, you can be container gardening like crazy.  Building that lean-to green house and doing all kinds of other basic food production work.  Hydroponics, for example.

Just thought you might want to know – if we were forced to eat ONLY what we have grown here, we’d both be thin as rails.  For now – short of famine knocking – skinny is Elaine’s province, not mine.

Cold Air Idea

Want a free 2-degrees cooler from your air conditioner?

I got to looking at the window mounted units in the shop and my office this week.  Did some “wet finger testing” to see how the air flows were doing.

And made the useful discovery that air tumbling was causing the a/c units to work less efficiently.

See, when cooled air comes out of the a/c unit, it tumbles – air turbulence.

This already cool air – at least some of it – drops down and recycles into the intake area.

Naturally, it’s obvious that if 100 percent of air was moved away from the cooler, it would be more usefully employed in cooling the room!

The solution is two small pieces of thin plywood though you could use some duct tape and cardboard, too:

These make the return path (from outflow to intake) much longer as shown by the white arrow.

Thanks to 100-degree days this week I was able to do some serious testing.  The overall improvement (because a laser printer is close to the a/c (as you can see lower left in the picture) was about 2-degrees.

That seemed like a pretty good payoff for literally 4-minutes of thinking and doing.

Ham Radio Field Day

This being the last weekend of the month ahead of the Fourth, it’s Ham Radio Field Day.

The event is held twice a year and is sponsored by the American Radio Relay League.  Contest rules are over here; Field Day 2006 Rules (

The basics of ham radio are not difficult to learn.  With the Morse Code requirement being dropped a couple of decades back, robust citizen radio with global reach is widely accessible.

The best way to play at field day – is to use low power, a suitable antenna, and an off the grid power source.  Batteries or solar – whatever is at hand.

A low power radio is good, too.

We usually have several, including the USDX(plus) which son G2 has with him on whatever mission he’s out on (doesn’t talk about it).  You can find these radios on eBay for between $120 and $150.  Be aware of gougers, though.

The radio I’m thinking about putting on line today is my uBITX.  This radio can be had for just over $200 from HF

The uBITX is a much more capable radio mainly because of better power output at 12.volts and a much more mature receiver.  Still, any radio in a storm, huh?

The best antenna for these kinds of exercises (I mean really portable) would be an off-center fed dipole.  135-140 feet of wire, with a balance to unbalanced transformer (4 to 1) because the antenna will be around 2oo ohms of impedance (AC resistance) and the coaxial feedline will be 50-ohms, or so.

William at the Radio Ranch is partial to the one other good antenna for such events:  An End-Fed Half Wave (EFHW).  These use a higher turns ratio for antenna matching (often 9:1) and they work quite well.  My problem with them is you need to get two ends as high as possible.

The Off-Center Fed Dipole (OFCD) will work well in an “inverted vee” (think droopy ends) off a single center support.

Whichever way you go, great weekend to look in on public parks and such.  If you see a collection of people (often looking up into trees for no obvious reason) those are likely hams.  Go say hi and tell ’em AC7X sends 73s.  *(my call sign, and 73 is the Morse abbreviation for “best regards”).

On that note, still some phantom rain in the forecast to time to fire up the riding mower and prune 3-acres of time sink.

Write when you get rich,

ShopTalk Sunday: Hot Rod Welding Carts!

If you have ever tinkered with any kind of serious welding gear, there’s one simple – inescapable fact – that we can’t get around.  Stuff’s heavy!  You need a cart.

Now, not everyone has a poured and polished leveled concrete shop floor in their home.  Out here in the woods, my shop is a “redneck special.”  A 40 X 40 building.  Put up more than 25-years ago, the treated wood from “back in them days” will not only foil any insect or pest of modern times. It will also break or dull anything you throw at it; saws, knives, flame throwers…

Thing is, though:  They did not put in a concrete pad. Budgets matter.  It was a hell of a lot cheaper to find a road crew with some time and hustle-up a 2-3″ thick (or more) layer of asphalt for a floor.

(Now we come to the good part…)  Fast-forward those 25-years and it all still works – great – a testament to red-neck engineering skills – BUT there is one small problem.

Casters Rated

(Go ahead, say it out loud 5-times fast, lol…)

Small casters (1 1/2-inch or smaller) don’t roll on worn asphalt for shit.

From trials and tribulations, I have tested and found nothing short of a 4-inch wheel size works here.  5-inch is better. And if it goes outside (You mean like where the welding table is?) there is an ugly door lip to lift things over.

First step, therefore in hot-rodding welding carts here, was to get several caulking tubes of the best concrete filler I could find and get to work on making the doorway less of an obstacle.

tubes of concrete patch fill the gap
Tubes of concrete patch were used to build a workable (though still-steep) gradient.

I decided to set the plasma cutter and TIG cart right first.

Notice that the big casters on the front now make the angle of the welder deck more acute. We’ll see how that creates problems in a sec.

The wheels I chose were vastly more than what I needed BUT the “5-inch Swivel Casters Wheels with Screw Safety Dual Locking and Polyurethane Foam No Noise Wheels, Heavy Duty-550 Lbs Per Caster” was only $31 bucks for four of ’em. Came with hardware, too.

Putting all the gear back on the cart, it all rolled smooth and only one-tenth the effort as the (damn, miserable) small stock casters.  I’ve seen “Texas hoopties” with less stylish paws:

Anything worth doing is worth OVERDOING.

Now, I ask you, does the first rig look “work-ready” or what?

Plasma cutter top and TIG rig on the bottom.

The “hot rodding” of the MIG rig cart went twice as fast. The only thing taking time was punching in the holes for the new casters.  One existing hole was used, though.

Now, remember the “steep angle of the welder deck?”

Well, it was high enough that (with the machine on) it wouldn’t quite fit under the bench where I wanted it:

The fix was very quick and easy:  Lift off the MIG rig, and drop the front support attach point by an inch and a half.  Now the welder deck still has a tiny angle to it.

While I was lowering the deck, I also decided to move the left side wire hook bracket over to the right.  It was attached to the rear post.  Now, the ground wire can be “wound-on” in a more workmanlike manner.  And the large MIG feed winds (though not as tightly!) like so:

This “narrows up” the overall width of this cart by almost 3-inches – which means a much nicer fit under the 3D printer and CNC bench:

The wire cart (far left) is the chainsaw rack.  Very efficient use of space.

Lessons for Newbies

No ShopTalk adventure would be complete without an Axiom, a Process, and a Shop Trick.

First the Axiom:  Any really worthwhile project always involves a little bloodshed.  Strangely, the shop “bloodshed” this week was from a sharp tree limb that drew blood during lawn mowing. Then I went after this project.

Next, the Process:  There is a simple trick to drilling steel and not everyone has heard of it.  You begin your drilling (there were six holes on one cart and 12 on the other for the two carts) with a small hole.  Something on the order of 3/32nds or 1/8th.  Not too small, or you will break bits.

Two things happen:  The small hole acts like a pilot hole, so the bigger hole actually ends up where you want it.   Secondly, the small holes are very fast to drill.  You save time and that’s always a good thing.

If you want some “bonus points” put a drop or two of cutting oil on the holes while drilling.

Last is the Shop Tip:  We have a big bag of what are sold as “finger cots” on Amazon.  Have $7-bucks ready and click over to the “Jeembay Disposable Finger cots Pack of 220 – Anti Static, and Durable Rubber fingertip Protectors for Cleaning, Repairing and Painting.

These are the “disposables” you use in lieu of the (higher cost) nitrile gloves.  I use them on my index finger when spray-painting.  And look how well they work to cover up all those air hose and argon lines for welding! Keeps the mud daubers out.

While I was putting this one on the argon regulator for the MIG rig, I noticed Zeus the Cat eyeing me.

“Yes. the Cat, what is it?”

Could I use something like that as a condom?”

“YOU IDIOT!” I thundered.  “You’re fixed!”

Could Elon?

He glared for a while.

Chill fatso…marketing ploy, safe sex, all that crap…”

“No! No rubber dams, either!”

Elaine and I aren’t sure why Zeus and the new outdoor Siamese are getting along so well, but we do have some suspicions, now.

Over the Toilet Printer Farm Shelf

Worked great over one of the 3D printers!

One of the things that building out a dream shop with a number of “workstations” has taught me is that when you buy something, go ahead and buy the storage for it at the same time.

There are a ton of easy ways to find storage – I like to give Craigslist “Free” a once-over when I need cheap storage.

People will throw out really interesting goods and often you can snag real wood products pretty inexpensively.

All it takes to make things useful again is often just a little bit of elbow grease.  If you’re not lazy and put in a little time on things, you can really do well for yourself.  Not just fixing up chests and tables into near custom workspaces, but also restoring tools.  We still have that Radial Arm saw restoration project on the agenda ahead.

Next Week is a Holiday Weekend

And Ure’s got a special treat for you – a little commentary and a directory to many of the classic power tool companies that have keep the home handybastards happy for almost a century, for some.  Very useful when eBaying.

Work smart, safe, but not too hard.  Get a machine to do your work. (Or keep the spouse hapoy to be involved!)

Write when you get rich,