Coping: Tuning Up Shop Practices

I don’t honestly know where to slot this note. It could be prepping (because it works with many project items), or cleaning (because it is), or whether it’s just good practice in the ultimate prepper shop.

So put it where you will, it’s a short discussion.

As part of our mega antenna project, I needed to run out a lot of cable and do measurements because despite its length, the mega antenna needs to be right at 568 feet on one side and 186 on the other – or engineering starts to fall apart.

I don’t care whether you’re a ham radio fanatic or a simple gardener, there are times with the standard 25 foot measuring tape just doesn’t cut it. As a consequence, I picked up a 300-foot tape this week (Stanley 34-762 300 PowerWinder Fiberglass Long Tape)and it made measuring the antenna a one-step operation instead of having to go putting tape marks on the wire – which leads to confusion and lots of goo removal when you want to get things sliding nicely through the porcelain insulators.

The other thing needed to do the job right was a large wire reel holder. It had to work both on the ground and – in the efficiency and speed department – out of the tractor bucket. There’s no faster way to lay out 186 feet of wire than a tractor bucket and a long tape.

As a result, I built this little gem in the shop. Only took about 20 minutes and it was one of those “right out of your imagination and into wood and screws” all in one fell swoop.


By the way, I don’t know if you remember a while back I was signing the praises of melamine-covered ¾-inch MDF, but with an edging glued on and scraped with a razor blade now and then, it still looks (if you’ll pardon my saying so) pretty damn good.


With derr major and frau now out in SoCal, Wednesday morning was clean up the shop time. And here’s this really useful wire dispenser (complete with a piece of rebar to stick the reels on) and I will use it every year or three.

Take a look at it again: Eats up a lot of space and you can’t store things on it because it’s not a convenient box shape.

What to do?

Well, I decided to break it down as a kit.

Step one is to label each of the screw connections. 1-T is the first screw. 1-B is the bottom piece of wood that 1-T screws into…and so forth.


After you have everything numbered for easy reassembly, you undo all the screws and pile up the wood, place the screws in an old pill bottle and label it.

Last step is to take a picture of it (the very first picture this morning) which is then viewed in the wireframe view of a high-end graphics program like Corel and then you toss it into Microsoft Word where you make a few assembly notes and such.

imageThe instructions go into an envelope and the packing tape dispenser wraps it all up and it’s almost manageable and a hell of a lot smaller and neater.

Plus, next time I need a cable dispenser, I will be able to reassemble it in 10 minutes or less and the process will be quicker next time I put it together or break it down.

No, it’s not the coolest project I’ve ever done, but there are lots of things in a shop which are only used about once a year, but they are time-consuming to build (or rebuild). So things like a taper-jig for the table saw, the cable dispenser, and a few other items…well this is a simple approach that you may find useful.

And, since the wood scraps are mostly 2-by-2 with a few other hunks, a fellow could use the same process to build a collection of idiot-level wood kits. Start off with something simple like this and then build the Eiffel Tower out of wood.

Put lots of labels on it so you don’t get messed up and use the materials in a different project.


Tucked away now on a spare bit of shelf-space, the project is ready for the next antenna project: Son of Mega Antenna or the Mega-Monster 160-meter 4-wavelength Loop.

What’s the Battery Charger For?

Oh, you picked up on that, did you?

When I wired up the shop, I kept running into the battery charger. A lot of people own then, and they don’t do anything except once every three or four years when you forget to shut off the dome light, or something, and you need to get the car charged.

So I put in a switched outlet, plugged the battery charger into it, and that powers the 12-volt outdoor flood lamps around the shop. I’d gotten a set on a close out – six floodlights for $15 bucks with wire. Cheap way to go.

Now I am looking at outdoor floodlights on Amazon but at $40-bucks for four decent ones, I am back to looking at regular shop lights of the LED sort that are coming down in price like the LLT LED Garage Vapor Proof Fixture 4ft 36W 5000K IP66 – Daylight.  Vapor proof means I can spray prain around without blowing things up.  In theory.

A couple of things I like about LED lights: They work in the cold better than fluorescent. And they put out more lumens of light for a given power input.

Key with these is mounting them. They should be just over the craftsman’s head (or the shop clown in my case). The idea is to get direct light on the work. Too far back and you get shadows and too far forward you get glare and tool shadows on from equipment and such.

I’ll still keep and eye on the various clearance racks while out shopping because I hate under-used battery chargers.

The Missing American Way

Talking about time spent in the workshop brings back a lot of memories. It was the time when lots of young men, now well into their “grays” got a proper sense of self.

It came from Dad and being required to learn everything there was to know about each and every tool in the shop. If you didn’t know at least five types of pliers (gas, electricians, channel lock, brake, slip-joint….well it’s a good list), you hadn’t been raised right.

Knowing lots of other hand tool intricacies was necessary, too. What’s the difference between teeth set on a rip saw versus a cross-cutting saw? One risked life and limb using the prized Disston 10-point cross-cut. When our family – mostly firefighters – were building homes in the 1950’s, Disston saws were the cat’s meow.

Just counting ‘em up: Uncle Bernie built one, uncle Stanley built two, Cliff built three as I recall, my dad extensively remodeled his, as did an uncle named John while another uncle John built a real archetectural masterpiece…so what’s that nine homes? Lot’s of work with a 10 point saw back when power tools were still fairly rare. Let alone battery powered.

Which gets me to a couple of points.

One is that in Wikipedia, you will find whatever happened to Disston saws?

“The company, known as Henry Disston and Sons, Inc. by the early 20th century, cast the first crucible steel in the nation from an electric furnace in 1906. The firm’s armor-plating building near Princeton Avenue and Milnor Street contributed tremendously to the World War II effort, building a volume of armor plates for steel tanks.

But the company’s innovation and industriousness would not last forever. In 1955, with mounting cash-flow problems and waning interest on the family’s part to run the firm, Henry Disston and Sons was sold to the H.K. Porter Company of Pittsburgh. Porter’s Disston Division was sold in 1978 and became the Henry Disston Division of Sandvik Saw of Sweden. This division was then sold in 1984 to R.A.F. Industries of Philadelphia and became known as Disston Precision Incorporated, maker of specialized flat steel products. Although the company has ceased making Disston handsaws, the Disston brand name still exists in this firm.”

The other point is that there’s no reason to have a shop if you’re not going to mess around in it a bit. To be really effective, you need inspiration. Family Handyman magazine is a good start along with Woodcraft and just about everything you can buy at OK, or afford, then.

At some point, you can get a good sense of how we have “Lost the America that Was” by looking at old How-To and What to Build kinds of magazines.

Popular Mechanics always inspired me as a kid. Not so much nowadays, as they get a bit heavy into tech. so for the hands on stuff, you can do better picking projects off, for example.

Google Books has an awesome collection of early Popular Mechanics online.

Over here if you scroll down to the “Motor Castings” ad in Popular Mechanics of January 1905, you will find that you could buy “Motor castings” to make your own from-scratch automobile. A 25-horsepower upright four cylinder engine was prices at $100.

Two great perspectives on this squishy stuff we call “Progress” are these:

1. Back in 1905 a person with a good home workshop, including blacksmithing tools (my MIG and gas welding rigs weren’t around yet) could actually build a car and there was no licensing. Build it, drive it.

Today you can build it, no problem there. But license it to run on a public street? Good luck with that, Bubba. The PowersThatBe are the powers that regulate and force you to buy their approved cars even if you are willing to take on some risk yourself. Something to think about on Election Day: We have lost huge amounts of personal creative freedom when you know where to look.

2.  Second key perspective is that the price of the engine castings today would be on the order of $2,600-$2,800 for the four-banger engine.

Assuming you wanted to buy a bunch of square-tube, sheet metal (which I recently got acquainted with if you remember the old truck rework), some bearings and gears, you could make your own car today.

Except, of course you can’t. For the reasons cited above: Has to be licensed and has to be “Safe” because the prevailing social mood is that more government is good government.

Problem is that instead of specifying specific items for home built vehicles, they have been banished to the land of no D.O.T. and VIN number, no license.

Again, small niggle but that’s how freedom disappears into the rearview.

That and people not voting and holding the crooks in office accountable, let alone returning them for another bite of our Freedoms.

I feel the need to make something. Wanna bet I could make a silencer on the metal lathe?

Oh wait…that’s illegal too. Which would make two liter plastic bottles and gaffer tape illegal, too, wouldn’t it? No?

Hmmm…Well, would it be OK to make a Trebuchet, then?

Regi8ster you slingshot while you can!  Get a concealed Ginzu permit!

By degrees, fellow patriot, by degrees. 

Write when you get rich – or free,

8 thoughts on “Coping: Tuning Up Shop Practices”

  1. Actually my late husband had your ideas – though he never got around to working on them – he was awfully tempted by an old microwave ‘innards’ but decided not to ‘fry’ himself and destroyed it.

    One thing he did have as a possible deterrent was the simple ball-bearing – spread those around an area and no one is going to walk un-impeded. You can use a large magnet to pick them up – whether on a pole or drug on a rope. Take care to pick them all up.

    Years later I still find an occasional one in an old container and it brings back memories . . .

    • and my 2 battery chargers sit on top of the old fridge that i keep welding rods and paint i don’t want to freeze in. Shop living is great!

  2. You can still get most of the way to building your own car, just have to start with an existing junked car and customize. For example will sell you an electric car retrofit kit. Start with an engineless VW Rabbit and you can get a fully electric car with about a 100 mile range that costs the equiv of about $1.15/gal to run. Fine for errands and groceries, and rechargeable on your solar panels if you plan right.

    • Every state has its bennies and drawbacks. Texas has more financial freedom and NM has more personal freedom(in some ways). The states that get crazy with inspections tend to be really rough to register homebuilt cars in. The mountain states(two in particular) are fairly simple to register homebuilts in, as long as you can prove the legal sources of the parts. I’m planning to build such a car when the other ten years of projects get cleared. BTW, my two battery chargers are used regularly to either charge or start various vehicles and equipment. George must have good batteries.

  3. What do you spool up your air hoses with? You creation looks an awful lot like my air hose reel holder in the shop down on El Rancho de Chaos. Mine is made out of oak and a piece of 3/4 galvanized pipe.

    • No air tools used on the project. No oak, either. Hunk of rebar for the axle and so. pine 2×2’s an d some scrap

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