ShopTalk Sunday: Saw Service, Mixed Media Projects

First, a big thank you for prayers on behalf of ailing Zeus the Cat.  His appetite is back a bit, and between hand feeding of food, some cat kidney pills plus a gentle application of deworming meds, he’s up and about better than a week ago.

Now into the projects of this holiday screwed-up week…

Laser Lesson 101

We have been using our 12-inch Harbor Freight compound miter saw for probably eight or nine years.  Got it on sale for something like $129 on a coupon deal back when.  (Came without a blade at that price.)

Over time, it has gotten a lot of use because with a 12-inch blade, you can chop through a 4-by-4 in a single pass.

One thing had started to bug me in recent years, though:  The laser saw guide had become nearly invisible over time.

So, with a fresh load of CR2032 and LR44 batteries, I figured I’d be set to go.

Off came the retracting blade cover.  Followed by the (reverse threaded) blade nut.  And now, where is that damn laser to replace the batteries in?

Oh-oh.  MWDRM (Men Who Don’t Read Manuals) disease struck.

After a few minutes on the Harbor Freight manual site, care to guess what I found?

That’s right! No battery.  It’s powered by the saw and not the centrifugal switch and batteries most saw lasers were “back in the day.”

Turns out the laser lives over here:

This was a dandy way to blow 20-minutes down a rat hole.  I should have looked for the laser sight line and not made the “Must be a battery change due” conclusion.

Drill Lasers are Worse

Which is usually the right choice.  The following hour was spent looking at how to clean up (and readjust) the laser guide on the old Craftsman drill press.  Drill press lasers are a particular curse on the butt of humanity: A wander through laser alignment makes it clear why.

  • You begin to line the crosshairs up by chucking up a very small drill bit.
  • Now clamp a piece of scrap on the drill press.
  • Adjust the drill press table height setting so the bit point is 3/4 of an inch from the scrap wood with the press quill all the way up.
  • Now, drill a hole (doesn’t have to be deep, just visible) in the scrap.
  • Raise the drill press bit to the resting (up p0sition).
  • Align the x and y axes of the laser to cross exactly at the dot where the drill hole is.
  • Move your scrap to drill a fresh hole.
  • Turn on laser and mark the crossing with a pencil.
  • Now drill the small hole in the new location.

If the new hole is EXACTLY where the pencil mark is, you’ve earned half a beer, though no drinking around power tools.

To use the setting, just remember to SET THE WORKPIECE point so it is EXACTLY 3/4 inch down from the sharp part of the drill bit at the top of quill travel.

The “secret sauce” part is?  The laser will ONLY be aligned where the hole will land when drill up to work contact is 0.75 inch.  This assumes you know a piece of scrap “one-by-six” is only 3/4 of an inch thick.  Just use the same spacer when doing (what passes around here as) precision work.

We’ll skip the detailed parallax discussions.

Joys of Yeggi

A number of people have accused me of being a hopeless tool slut (guilty!) because in addition to most of the major metal and woodworking tools, we also have two 3D printers and a few CNC machines in the box.

But there’s a reason why 3D printing is a godsend in the shop.  Look at this picture and see if you remember my telling you about this a long time ago?

That bright green thingy is hot glued into the dust capture area *(just ahead of the dirty laser department).  It nearly encloses the 12″ blade and reduces loose shop sawdust by perhaps 80-90 percent.

I mention this because few people realize that you can go to any of the 3D printing repositories (like, for example) or the Yeggi .stl file search tool.

Give it a try, sometime.  Here’s a link to that pulls up references to Harbor Freight and you’ll see there are enough goodies to keep your printers going with add-ons and improvements for weeks.  More .STLL files than money to buy the dopamine rush with.

Oh, and since we have an aging (non-DRO)  (digital read out, come on, keep up!) HF Milling machine, check out these printables!

Me?  Eccentric?

What’s the deal with having all these tools, George?”

Workflow, my friend.  Workflow.

Go watch this marvelous video about making a solid copper sledge hammer from what is essentially shop leftovers and admirable personal recycling efforts:

What you’ll see is the graceful mix of workflows to collect old copper (and melt it down into ingots) which happened before the video.

Then you’ll see the role of 3D printing using Fusion360 (I’m more a TinkerCad guy, myself) to print up an insert for the casting process.

All rammed up in a wooden flask (cope and drag are the two halves) made of wood, and then finished with a nice assortment of dandy metal cutting and milling skills.  Mighty envious of this dude’s skills.

Toss in an ability to use Fusion360 to hog out circuit boards on a CNC machine, and then throw in “assortments” of electronics components from Amazon and the world is your oyster!

Or, almost.

I’m on a quest now to find the best (simple – where is AI when we need it, right?) PCB layout system for the hobbyist?  I mean Autodesk Eagle used to be OK, but when I went to update, the update site went deaf, dumb, and blind on me.  So trying Altium, but it’s a way too powerful product for what I really need.

I’ll keep an eye on TinkerCAD and see if something for PCB layout (that will output g-code for CNC) pops there…

But as always, the biggest issue in my shop isn’t finding tools or projects, it’s in getting the workflow down to something reasonable.

In the “dream projects” column, just a PCB tool that would export g-code and handle single-sided FRG copper and work up to 100 parts, or so.  That would handle most of my interests.

No soap on the quest for that yet, but let us know if you have ideas.

If you don’t want to add electronics, maybe a simple visit to Melting metal in a home foundry, backyard metalcasting, will serve you well.  I still have a Lionel Labs casting rig ready to set up and use.  Just a matter of when to get to it.  Because that will mean firing up the printers for moldmaking and the metal shop for finishing and buying propane.

There were some OK, but not GREAT prices on home melting equipment for Black Friday on Amazon.  Looking for a complete kit in the 10-12 KG range but I may settle for a 6 KG rig.  Something like this Gongyi USA rig with a $50 off coupon.  Even so, still about $210.  So, why not roll my own on the Lionel platform?

Thing to keep an eye on is the safety gear and the quality of the crucible handling tongs and such.  If you’re going to be a one-man casting operation, safety is everything.  Some kits come with cheap-looking tongs.  Better cowardly than safe.

Write when you get rich,

ShopTalk Sunday: Design Failures — e-Spa Plan

Before we begin, an unashamed plug for Amazon (“get ’em while you can”) as Cyber Monday Power Tool deals are here.  Best seen with your spouse present (and you in handcuffs).

If you’re not already maxed out from Black Friday, life is short and power tools are safer fun than chasing something extra (ahem) on the side.  Way cheaper than a divorce, after, lol.

Design Failure School

Growing up, Pappy always insisted that a “good” design was one where, under normal use, if something failed, it would remain in service, and no one would be injured.

So, when I wandered through the tractorport this week (my consigliere, visiting, is prepping for a trial next week) I noticed this design abomination created by my own hand and in violation of Construction Axiom #86.

Which says – and I will paraphrase since children (under 55) may read this column:

C. Ax #86:  Oriented strand board is a piece of shit, next-to-useless material that weighs too much and unless used under a watertight membrane as roofing underlayment; should be burned at the earliest possible moment.

The reason was clear instantly.  A week ago, before out house guest, this was a dead-level shelf installation which made the tractorport look at least half-assed organized.  It has sagged and now looked like shit.

If you’re in “right mind” this early (who is?) you’d surmise that the droopiest shelf is the one bearing the most weight.  You’d get the optional green star.

How to fix?

Well, since OSB sags like an old SOB over age 65, the only thing to do is to add a reinforcing piece of real wood.  Since I keep spare 2-by-4’s for such uses, it was easy to find some 48-inch lengths.

One was placed on the top of the shelf, like so:

And then a squeeze clamp applied at the middle, like this:

And a couple of additional clamps were added at the midpoints between ends and the center clamp.

Then the Master of Drillermanies came along and put in more screwing than the previous sitting of the U.S. House and removed the clamps.

Repeated on the (they were going to anyway over time) remaining shelves, the after view of things looked a lot more organized:

Takeaways here:

  1. Don’t buy OSB.  I got five sheets of the stuff (wasn’t needed) on the roof project which was nicely done.  So, there was no out of pocket.
  2. Don’t use OSB:  If you are going to build your own roof, plan on using 5/8ths exterior “playwood” and you will thank me in perpetuity.
  3. If used, install with four-sides supported.  In this, there’s no back shelf support, so over time it will sag there.  But this can be fixed with a 3/4″ rail into the back wall.

I was in a hurry (always too much urgency to do right, but the do over was OK) and that will get you over time.


Elaine, who actually worked construction a bit (running a jack hammer and such for an outfit that rebuilds apartment building carports all over the PNW back in the 1990’s, or earlier) is quite the little OSHA Inspector.

She spent the better part of five-years coming through the shop and complaining that I’d kill myself one day on the assortment of electrical cords, air hoses, and vacuum lines running this way and that.

To her credit (and persistence) I can proudly say there is nothing on the floor to trip an old man.

Out in the tractorport, while working on this little hemorrhoid of a sagging shelf, there was the power cord over to the battery float charger on the tractor.

After about killing myself at least three times (I’m a slow learner) I decided that a 20-foot extension could be run up into the roof supports and over under the purlins and drop down over the tractor.

One of the lines goes to the pressure washer, the other is on the droop to here:

This isn’t a big deal if you are young, still drinking heavily and used to falling over (a lot).  But as bones (and heads) get more brittle with age, and the cardiologist’s suggestions begin to sink in, falling becomes a less enjoyable thing.

Keep a few extension cords around in the inventory to keep cords in the clear.

One of these days, I will run a water supply overhead to the pressure washer, which for now is still a tripper when in use.

Merry e-Spa

Elaine and I have noticed over the past year, or so, that our feet have begun to get tender after a few days of hard work outside around the ranch.  I mentioned recently that I’d bought her (really us) a foot massager.

It sits under the desk in the conversation room so we can take the odd 15-minute break and go get a foot rub:

Well, this got me thinking:

“As long as I’m sitting on my ass, wasting time, is there anything else I can plug into?”

Sure!  The LED “light crown” works great.

A few more sittings and I started thinking “More!!!”

Lo and behold, here comes a complete chair shiatsu thingy:

Well, Ure, now you are getting somewhere:  Foot massage, light therapy, and a body rub.  What ELSE can be added, then?”

The latest additions Saturday (while our guest worked on trial prep remember) was to toss on the shiatsu neck and shoulder machine – a splendid addition.

And the coup d’ville:  Remember, I told you Elaine had run a jack hammer while working construction?  Well, now she has a hand massager, too!

Somewhere in here, our consigliere took a break from making mincemeat of opposing counsel’s legal brief.  “You know, my mom had one of those lift chairs and it vibrated, too…”

I’d seen those – thought about them – but then with “design failures” recently in mind, decided to go this route for a little home therapy.

The nice thing about this is a) You don’t need $1700 out of pocket to build this kind of e-Spa chair.  You add a piece at a time until you’ve rubbed every possible body part just so.

b) It strikes me that the chairs don’t even do the feet.  And while some do the arms, those are in the $2-kilobuck and up range.

No, this has been a lot more fun to sneak up on. Piecewise.

With our guest now gone, the next step is to hook up a 10-outlet power strip and connect all the massage elements to that.  Plus, mood lighting and so forth.  Aroma diffuser?

All of these, in turn, will plug into a Kasa smart outlet which then let’s us come strolling into the room and tell our silicon slave:  “Alexa, turn on spa!”

Yes, that’s right.  Alexa is our silicon slave and while Amazon may have lost a bundle of dough making it all work, we have really enjoyed it for the many entertainment and personal safety aspects that voice dialing and so on bring into seniorhood.

You’re welcome to steal as much of the e-Spa project you feel like.  I’m going to go get a foot rub and coffee now.

Write when you get rich,