I am curious about all things, sometimes to a fault. Not only do I like to know what makes something tick, one of my joys is figuring out how to fix, restore, or make it myself.
This blog is an extension of a webpage I built several years ago. I hope you enjoy reading about whatever project currently has my attention.
My shop is illuminated by a total of 16, eight-foot-long, fluorescent tubes plus task lighting where necessary. Long ago I made a rule to always replace the tubes EN MASSE when the first fixture went dark simply because I know the lights have a pre-determined life span, and I did not care to be CONSTANTLY repacing bulbs mounted on a 10-foot-high ceiling. This plan has worked well for me since I get six to seven years of tube life between changeouts.
A light went out last week.
Unrelated, Kim handed me a five-dollar-off coupon the other day that was good at the orange home improvement store until tomorrow on purchaces over $50. I opted to spend the windfall on new tubes.
While I already knew there were at least six intensities of fluorescent light, the store's selection puzzled me due to the phenomenal amount of obviously returned product. I assumed everyone had returned home with the wrong color of light. Not a problem here - I was there for my shop's original design goal of Cool-White light.
Due to prices always going up I ended up paying $89 for a 16-count box of Cool-White tubes. No problem; the tubes' subsequent installation was supposed to be the end of this tale and not the price.
But after opening the box of new lighting, I found "they" have introduced a new kind of 8' bulb connector which does not not work with my shop's fixtures. Apparently, my shop's lighting NOW falls under the "commercial" category. Fortunately, the store took the product back, and refunded my credit card. I then went to the blue home improvement store.
The blue home improvement store had a much better layout. Sadly, there were puzzles there too. In addition to all the open, vertical displays of individual fluorescent tube offerings, there were boxes of "Contractor-Sale-Only" boxes of the tube which fit my shop's needs lying prone on the floor. The problem was that each box only had 15 tubes instead of the 16 needed. Go figure since fluorescent lights usually follow The Rule of Two doctrine, (known as Chwayatyun in Sith language and also called the Banite system).
But the Contractor Box of 15 was only $49, a marked difference from $89. A pack of two more IDENTICAL lights was only another nine dollars for a roughly $30 dollar savings over the other store. I can throw away the extra bulb, should I want to, and still save money over buying a box of 16 tubes from anyone.
To summarize, I saved ~$30 by purchasing the product needed to illuminate my shop since I could get over a variety of packaging.
Slowly but surely, I'm trying to get better at smoking meat on my Brinkmann water smoker. It's a pleasant challenge because so many different things will affect the final product. While the prevailing wisdom around here is to smoke food with hickory wood, the Internet told me that Yankees prefer oak. Since some of my best Internet friends are from up there, I decided to try it.
A freshly sharpened, antique blade of very few carbide teeth on the RAS made short work of creating chunks of white oak for the effort.
Up till now, ribs have been problematic because they fit a Brinkmann smoker poorly. Fortunately there's Facebook - Candy, one of my friends from way back, posted a picture of a simple concept that had eluded me until now - wrap the ribs with cotton string in a circle.
Between my latest sugar-based dry rub, and Candy's technique the ribs were outstanding.
Can't wait to smoke ribs with the right wood - I may just hit the competition circuit!
I started serious woodworking around the mid-eighties around the time carbide-tipped saw blades were becoming affordable to the average Tom. Back then I just took it for granted that a man who lived not too far from me could sharpen my dull blades to keep the operation fiscally responsible.
After the Boyz were born, my Shop's activities shifted more toward furniture restoration (baby-bed, bunk-beds & the chests-O-drawers from MY early days) than general construction. As a consequence, my trips to the man with the blade sharpening tools on Toftoy Drive stopped.
Four or five years ago, when the Shop found me building more cabinets, I decided to ask Santa to bring me some new saw blades just so I would have a blade of the right capability to use while the dull one was being sharpened.
A couple of months ago, after finding a bountiful collection of saw blades needing attention & deciding there was no need to purchase anything new, I phoned The Man on Toftoy Drive only to hear Ma Bell's tones followed by "This number is no longer in service".
After poking around the Internet & not finding an alternative I liked, I got my bride to check around here. Success! Although The New Man was on the north side of town, Kim had PTA business in the general area, and was able to drop-off & pickup the tools for me.
176 teeth total sharpened for $50 - No complaints there; Any one of the four blades purchased new would have cost more than that.
Between Kim's help, and the seven years elapsed time, it's probably now time to make Project Big Tub's laundry room cabinet doors. But if nothing else, it's cool to be ready for what comes next.
Earlier this year Dave, over at Dave’s Cupboard blogged a recipe for transforming corned beef into pastrami. Click here to read it. Dave used to blog a lot about home charcuterie, and between that & my love of pastrami I knew this would have to be the recipe to try.
The immediate problem for me in making the dish, though, was that I did not have a proper slicer. Since there was no way I was going to slice it thin enough by hand, plans to make my own pastrami were pushed to the back burner.
Last month when Mrs. Claus hit me up for a Christmas list, “meat slicer” popped into my mind. From past fast food experience I knew that nice slicers are expensive. But the Internet now lists several brands of home-duty slicers all for around $100 each. While I knew Dave already had a nice slicer, and probably little current knowledge of cheap slicers, I emailed him anyway and asked his opinion. He replied back with some brand names to stay away from, and a brand name he would try if he was in my situation. Christmas day found me unwrapping a new ChefsChoice slicer.
Only corned beef points were available at the stores I visited, and the pieces were kind of small after allowing for shrinkage. So I ended up buying 6-1/3 pounds of meat in two bags at a reasonable $2.88/pound.
The Internet also listed another blog of someone who had made pastrami from corned beef. That poster said he skipped the step of soaking the corned beef overnight to soak out some of the salt. Even though I generally like a lot of salt, I stuck to Dave’s directions and soaked the corned beef overnight..
The spices were coarsely ground Friday night so that everyone would not have to listen to the spice mill at 3:00 a.m. Saturday when the points were rinsed, patted dry, and pressed with Dave’s public blend of six herbs & spices.
The beef was allowed to come to room temperature until it was loaded into my Brinkmann smoker around 6:00 a.m. While my preference for an outside temperature would have been for something higher than that morning’s 35 degrees, you can’t always get what you want. Maple wood was used for smoke.
Around four hours later the meat temperature hit the wall at around 160 degrees. After wrapping in aluminum foil the beef was finished off in a slow house oven. After hitting ~165 degrees the meat was pulled out and allowed to rest until its temperature started dropping.
Since it was so cold outside, the pastrami was moved to the cold gas grill and set underneath a fan out of an older ceramic heater to get it chilled enough for easy slicing.
The pastrami was just plain perfect!
The meat looked fantastic, and tasted even better. The soak was warranted – I thought my first pastrami had the perfect amount of salt. The Boyz & I enjoyed it warmed with rye bread, onion rolls, provolone cheese, and spicy mustard. Kim enjoyed watching us eat it as she feasted on something else.
While I would not want to run a deli with this particular meat slicer, for occasional home use I think it is a good unit to have around. It had sufficient power to cut the meat, and cleaned easily. It does have a lot of plastic parts, so I had to be careful about pushing the meat flat against the fence as rigidity is not its strong suit.
I got tickled, though, the first time it was switched on. The unit has a universal motor, and the blade hooks up to it via a geared reduction box. So until you look & see the blade spinning considerably slower than a commercial unit’s, the motor’s noise makes for a fairly intimidating presentation. But it got the job done. As long as the blade stays sharp for a reasonable amount of time, I am going to consider the slicer a good deal for the money.
On the flip side, the slicer will probably be worn out by slicing Dave’s pastrami on a frequent basis. Should that happen it will be replaced with a sturdier unit – Dave’s pastrami is worth it.
Listening to my CD jukebox or news radio is important to me when I’m working with my hands. To make sure nothing is missed, there are speakers in the kitchen, in the soffits near the patio, and in my shop which can all be set to provide a continuous trail of sound while I move around from one activity to another.
Three Christmases ago, I noticed a dead zone between the patio and my shop. So Santa was asked for a set of 6X9 coaxial automobile speakers to install in the shop soffit closest to the area. In what was poor planning on my part, I had the shop’s attic blown full of insulation before the speakers were installed. Having no desire to tromp around in the insulation running wires, the speakers languished on the wood vise bench until a way of running the wiring without getting in the attic dawned on me the other day.
Cutting the holes in the soffit was supposed to be the easy part. Thinking the soffit’s plywood seams all ended on rafter tails, after referencing off of a seam, I got halfway through the left-hand speaker’s hole before finding a rafter tail in my way. Oops. But after scabbing the wood back in & slathering the boo-boo with wood filler, the outcome of round two was matching oval holes.
Part of the plan had always been to cut a hole in the inside wall above the existing receiver connection to access the new wires.
If this was a home improvement show, the host would tell you to simply fish the wires from the oval holes to the square hole with an electrician’s wire snake. Through the magic of TV wires would then appear where needed in mere seconds.
But this is real life, and it is not that easy when a soffit is involved. Fortunately, in my case, there was a soffit vent located halfway between the speakers almost in front of the hole in the inside wall. Removing it allowed for really easy wire access.
The next hurdle was how to fasten down the installed speakers & grilles. Since the plan had always been for the speaker to rest on top of the soffit’s plywood, nuts & washers were hot-glued on before the speakers were set in place.
Since the garish grills that came with the speakers obviously provided no protection against mud daubers, Santa also brought me a more suitable set.
But in dry-fitting everything together, the hole patterns were found to not line up. Fortunately, my toy box had a set of used, bland grills whose hole patterns were more accommodating.
Painting was the next step. Normally I spray paint outside of the shop. But a new water heater installed a day or two earlier came wrapped in a phenomenal amount of cardboard which made a great spray booth for the four items needing paint.
The speaker project itself turned out looking & sounding good.
The downside was the new paint covering up the boo-boo reminded me the shop’s original paint is now over 13 years old. I think I know what one of next spring’s blog posts is going to be about.
After purchasing a huge pressure fryer many years ago, I looked long & hard for a reasonably priced, natural gas standalone burner to hook up to the patio grill’s gas connection since none of the kitchen cooktop outlets were sized big enough to heat the pot effectively. Surprisingly, there really wasn’t a selection available, and the fryer ended up being heated by an LPG-fueled turkey cooker burner from the home improvement store.
The Internet did have a few tales of people using the burner out of an old water heater for outdoor cooking but no one had posted any pictures. Since the whole idea sounded like a great way to re-purpose parts I hoped to one day try it out.
I got my wish the week before Christmas when Kim called mid-morning to tell me our gas water heater was leaking water from the top.
With 17 years use on an eight-year warrantee I couldn’t complain. But I did start complaining about how slow the 40 gallons of water was draining until compressed air was hooked up to the opened relief valve to speed the operation.
After that, though, it was smooth sailing. I even had time to replace the leaky shut-off gate valve with a new quarter-turn ball valve before the Boyz got home from school.
The old water heater’s next stop was my shop where the burner assembly came out with very little effort.
The burner itself was in great shape as was the tank bottom which contacts flame. Although it makes sense, it surprised me to find the metal was better than 3/16” thick.
A box of spare parts provided a gas hose from an old grill for the effort. After borrowing the charcoal rack from the Weber grill, my latest cooking accessory was one step closer to being realized.
Sadly, though, it is not to be. Or, at least, it was not to be for this particular pot. The burner’s flame pattern is too diametrically dispersed – most of the heat swirled out along the sides of the post instead of heating the bottom and looked like it was going to toast the handles.
If the flame’s pattern been more suitable, a needle valve would have been procured for heat control.
The burner would probably be perfect for heating a cast iron wash tub from the days of old. Hmm, I should probably hold onto the burner for a while; ya never know.
On the bright side, now the Internet has pictures of an old water heater burner being used to heat a pot.
It has been especially rainy here today in North Alabama on this Veteran’s Day, and while we spent time appreciating our Service-People, I was happy my son’s Scout Troup was not scheduled to participate in today’s downtown parade because I usually walk with them. We both were happy to stay warm & dry @home since the rain was accompanying 50 degree temperatures.
After getting an email earlier today from a fellow Airstreamer in which he confirmed that today’s rain had not leaked past his latest sealing attempt, I remembered a loose rivet found on the roof of my Airstream while repairing the air conditioner.
Hoping that this new leak path might be a contributor to a small puddle found in the bathroom after a good rain, the rivet was sealed with TEN-X, a sealer left in the Overlander by the original owner.
After Perry’s email exchange, I went out and found the Airstream’s bathroom countertop blissfully dry – something which I have been wishing for (after a good rain) for the last couple of years. TEN-X kicked butt!
While it may be a miracle sealant, don’t go looking for the product; it does not appear to be made anymore. Never fear, though - its good, squeeze-into-a-paper-bag type of smell reminds me a lot of Parbond.