Thursday, March 13, 2014

Keeping My Sweetie Warm

A month or two ago after winter was well underway, the outside temperature here in Alabama dropped into the lower teens for the first time.  Although there were scattered reports of frozen pipes & power outages we fared okay.  But a few nights later, the low temperature repeated itself, and I awoke to a cold house even though the thermostat was trying to get the furnace fired up.  So I grabbed a flashlight & nut-driver, and headed out to take a look at the house’s main gas furnace while everyone else was still asleep.

Lots of steps are involved with getting a furnace to produce heat after the thermostat signals it is needed.  In a nutshell, after enough time has elapsed since the last attempt at lighting the burners, a small fan designed to suck exhaust gas out the heat exchanger comes on.  When a pressure switch senses the fan is on, a gas valve is opened, and an ignition coil sparks to light the gas.  After another sensor verifies the burners are lit, a countdown timer for the recirculation fan is started to allow the heat exchanger to warm up a bit so that cold air is not blown out of the vents.  After a short time the recirc fan spins up & distributes the heat to the ductwork.

After removing the service access panel, I was hoping to find a pile of ashes or some other form of smoking gun.  No such luck – everything appeared to be in good order.  Then, just as I was about to get up and get my voltmeter, there was a whirring sound followed by a click and a buzz.  Moments later the recirc fan spun up.  The furnace was back in action although I had done nothing to inspire its course of action.

I hate intermittent problems.  It is much easier to find a broken part once it breaks and stays broke.

To cover all bases I checked the furnace’ User Manual and found that the furnace may not work in cold weather, and that I may need to take steps to keep my pipes from freezing.

In the meantime, though, the house warmed up, and stayed that way.  After that, other than an occasional short cycle, the furnace appeared to be working okay.

All was well until last week when Kim called me at the office to tell me the house was cold again.  I decided to cut out early and see if something would stay broke until I could get home.

This time I decided to start tugging on wires in hopes of finding a bad connection.  Bingo! – A wire easily pulled out of a factory-crimped connector on the recirc fan delay timer/contactor.  After crimping a new connector on, the furnace happily whirred, clicked, and buzzed back to life.

Sadly, the repair only lasted for about six hours after I bragged about it on Facebook.  In the middle of the next night, the furnace suddenly sounded like a clothes dryer full of tennis shoes.  The recirc squirrel cage fan’s setscrews had decided to loosen up after 16 years and let the fan bounce around inside of its enclosure.


Fortunately, since the motor shaft was not chewed up, the fix appeared to be limited to re-torqueing the setscrews.

Well, that’s all that was physically needed.  Before reinstalling the assembly, the wires were hooked up, and the house thermostat was set to turn on the fan only.  No joy - there was no power in the wires.

Getting my voltmeter involved, the trail was found to end where this tale started - the recirc fan delay timer/contactor.  When I pushed just right on the newly crimped connector, the fan spun up like it was supposed to.  After verifying smooth operation, the fan assembly was reinstalled.

After popping the cover off the timer/contactor, I was about to look for a break in one of the foil traces on the printed circuit until I noticed how burned the contactor’s points were.  It was obviously time to replace the whole thing.

But of course, since I needed it now, no one in town had one in stock, and a new one had to come in on the train from Pixley.  Fortunately, with a little finagling, I was able to make the recirc fan spin 24-7.  This made the rest of the furnace’s sensors & circuits happy enough to provide heat when requested until the replacement part arrived.

The new part was a Factory-approved replacement for the now obsolete original part, and was not physically identical to the old one.  At first I thought some new/different connectors were going to be needed.


But the part ended up bolting & wiring up without incident.  The fan and furnace now work when each is supposed to regardless of me pushing or pulling on connectors.  Success has been declared since the furnace’s performance has been flawless for many days now.

In summary, there were two distinct failures, and one red herring.  The first fault was with the recirc fan delay timer/contactor.  Most likely, a tiny crack in a foil circuit trace developed, and was sensitive to temperature changes.  Crimping on the new connector, AKA the red herring, flexed the board enough to “fix” the problem for a short time.

The second fault, and one that was new to me, was the fan set screws loosening up after that many years.  But to have two disparate failures at the same time amazes me.

But my sweetie is now warm, and that makes everyone happy.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Quest For A Trombone Cleaning Rod

Within a few days of starting practice on my vintage trombone, I decided the slide was not moving as freely as it should.  A good cleaning & lube seemed to be the best starting point to clear up the issue.

Although I was familiar with the generalities of brass instrument cleaning from my trumpet-playing days, YouTube was checked just to see if trombones required any sort of special attention.  Sure enough, in addition to a cleaning snake, all videos reviewed followed up with the use of a Trombone Cleaning Rod.   This tool is roughly three feet long, and has an eye at the end for threading on some sort of absorbent material.  The inner & outer bores of the slide are then gently swabbed out with the rod.

The man behind the counter at the downtown music shop was able to sell me the cleaning snake and some slide lube.  But he did not have a cleaning rod, and allowed that, as a guitar player, he had no insight into why one was not in stock.  So I went home and with only the new snake & my mouthpiece brush from 30 years ago and cleaned what turned out to be a very dirty instrument.

While every music store on the Internet had one for sale, the shipping & handling charges were more the rod itself.  My preference was to source the tool locally.

A week or so later, I stopped at a brass instrument repair shop, and was surprised to find they did not keep the cleaning rod in stock either.  While the technician allowed that they had one in their shop, he said the only time it was used was when slides came in gooped with too much of a certain brand of slide cream.  He inclined that, for routine cleaning, he thought a snake was sufficient as long as slide cream was used in accordance with directions.

I then posted a question on a trombone forum asking for insight on the tool’s use.  Of course some people immediately replied “Get one & use it!” without elaboration.  Other members recalled having one, but did not necessarily know where it was.  Some people thought using the tool was worth the effort; others did not.

One guy, though, sent me a message expressing his belief that swabbing after brushing was important, and went on to explain how he had made the tool out of a 3/8-inch wood dowel.  Since I already had woodworking tools, and a dowel was only 98₵, this appeared to be the way to go.

Sadly, it was not meant to be.  The dowel was so close in size to the inner bore that I all but could not get a paper towel in.  The helpful forum member’s trombone must have had a bigger bore because he said he used the modified dowel with patches of old sweat clothes.

Looking around the shop, I found an old brass welding rod.  But milling a slot in the end was going to be an issue.

Then I remembered another fellow posting that he used the rod that came with his shotgun cleaning kit.  Hey! I’ve got one of those!

While the aluminum rod was only slightly smaller than than the dowel, the screw-on plastic tip was notably smaller.

It worked out perfectly for holding on to a swatch of paper towel.

The inner bores both swabbed out clean.

The outer bores both had a tinge of green.  Can’t say I’m surprised because the first time the ‘bone was washed, big cylindrically-shaped chucks of green/black slime washed out.  And, I was careful to not push the snake too far into the end curve.

Out of curiosity, the outer slides were then swabbed with denatured alcohol to see if any additional coloring came out.  Not enough came out that I think a solvent is needed on a routine basis.

Afterwards, the slide was lubed with a fantastically small amount of Superslick, and then spritzed with water.

The jury’s still out as the whether or not the swabbing helped.  But I will most likely do it at least one more time to see if any more green comes out of the outer slide.


Saturday, February 8, 2014

I Like The Easy Fixes

My shop’s compressed air supply is fed by a big ole 220 vac, Devilbiss compressor which Kim bought me in 1996.  Although the cut-off switch was replaced about six years ago, I believe the compressor has been ON since the day I got it.

Yesterday found my shop OUT of compressed air.  After less than five minutes of troubleshooting, I found a failed crimp-connector in the compressor motor wiring:

Although it is hard to see in the jittery image, I think the connector fatigued from vibration, and then arced & melted.  Thankfully, the mating post was still useable.

After crimping & soldering a new connector on, I was back in business.

Since my going-in thought had been “motor replacement”,  I was really happy that a simple connector replacement was all it took to get my shop air back online.


Monday, February 3, 2014

Building Up My Chops

Well, its been about a month since I started learning the trombone, and I am thorougly enjoying the experience.  Since I have been good about picking up the 'bone every day, my 52 year-old lips are now hanging with me for about an hour of practice.

Oddly, my brain is not necessarily relating the printed notes in the learning guide to the seven slide positions like it did while learning trumpet valve positions back in my high school days. No complaints, though, because I do believe my tone is developing nicely with all the repetition.

I have now made it to Instruction Book's lesson on the Chromatic Scale.  While Wikipedia defines it as "a musical scale with twelve pitches, each a semitone above or below another", I learned it as, "start at Middle C on the piano and play all the adjoining black & white keys one after another".  The Chromatic Scale, to me, is an excellent building block.

While I had a lot of piano lessons long ago, my 14 year-old has only been at it for about 2-1/2 years, and I think he has a better feel at it than I do.  To that end, has graciously provided free sheet music for him to accompany me on my trombone.  We are both practicing our respective parts for the concert.

I'd like to give a shout-out to John Wright, a trombone major & band director, for all the on-line, method help he posted on his web site: . I have learned a lot from his posts, and am looking forward to playing along with his band recordings since he posts links to the trombone sheet music parts.

While my starting-out goal was simply to learn how to play the trombone & play along with the big bands of past (I digitized my LPs),  YouTube has a really impressive lineup of new talent.  If I should ever be able to hang with Christopher Bill, my life would be complete.

I'm keeping my day job for now.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Vintage Olds Ambassador Trombone

Although I really enjoyed participating in my high schools’ Concert, Marching, and Stage Bands playing the trumpet many years ago, the trombone was actually my first choice of brass instruments.  While exactly why my parents guided toward a valved instrument is a mystery, I still got a lot great memories out of The Band experience.

Recently I came upon a free-to-me, 1964 Olds Ambassador Trombone in amazingly good shape.   Even though the ‘bone required cleaning, and the case was in need of light repair I was thrilled with the acquisition, and decided that 2014 was a good year to learn a new instrument.

It’s been a week now since I started learning how to play from a Rubank Elementary Method instruction book purchased from a local music shop.  While my chops are not yet up to competing with Tommy Dorsey’s rendition of “Marie”,  I’m getting the biggest kick out of learning how to play my 50 year-old trombone.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Lookie, Lookie, Lookie…

For a variety of reasons, I do my own home pest control.  Usually, all this entails is spraying the kitchen baseboards at the beginning of summer with ant killer, and crawling around under the house every year or so with a garden hose hooked to an insecticide sprayer dispensing joy to all the stuff I’d rather not have living under there.

This summer was different. While moving something around out in my Shop, I found evidence of a dormant termite path.  It surprised me because I had had the ground under the monolithic slab treated with phenomenal amount of termiticide before the concrete was poured, and there is a termite shield bridging the gap between the foundation block & veneer brick.  Since I was not there the morning the brick layers started laying the Shop’s veneer brick, I must assume there is a disconnect somewhere with the termite shield.

Long ago, just before we purchased our house, we were told the garage had once been treated for termites but all was well now.  Out of curiosity, I followed up on termite treatment methods, and found the most effective method of preventing/treating termites is drilling through the veneer brick’s mortar, and injecting the space between the brick and foundation block with a prescribed amount of termiticide.  Although our house had this treatment, neither the addition we added later nor the detached Shop had.  It was clearly time to do it.

Due to the sheer volume of termiticide that was going to be required, a 35 gallon mix tank was purchased from Tractor Supply to dilute the many gallons of concentrate needed for the effort.  Since it needed to be portable, but was too big to fit in the wheel barrow, the wheel barrow was modified.

But on a wet run with the tank filled with just water, the ~280 pounds was found to be too much weight to safely push around.  Fortunately, since there’s been no rain lately my truck was able to stand in for the effort.

While the Internet listed many suppliers of store-bought termiticide injectors, everyone wanted a surprising amount of money for the simple device.  It is times like these I am happy for my coffee cans full of spare parts.

After a couple of setbacks, the Termiticide Station was finally ready for prime time.  The delivery pump for this effort is the original PAR water pump out of my ’67 Airstream.  While it works okay, because it leaks it was mounted over a drip pan.  The pump runs off of 12 VDC.  If I had had a spare trailer electrical plug lying around, the pump could have been easily powered off of the Silverado.  But since I didn’t, the Airstream’s original Univolt, hooked to an extension cord, was used instead.

To access the areas of interest a ¼” hole was drilled every two to three feet with a masonry bit attached to a hammer drill.  In my case this worked out to every fourth brick.

While the main house already had the holes, many of them were now found to be plugged with mud dauber nests.  Fortunately, it was easy enough to poke the holes open with a metal rod.

During the wet run, the pump’s flow rate was determined with a kitchen timer and a one-gallon milk jug.  So, after the holes were drilled, each opening was injected with a timed amount of termiticide which corresponded to quantity guidelines established by the Ag department of the University of Nebraska.

The effort finished up early enough in the day that Kim did not mind reminding me about how many cockroaches she had noticed lately scurrying for cover every time she turned the lights on at night in the garage where she parks.  Cave crickets appeared to be making a comeback, too.  She thought the roaches were living in the woodpile, and I figured the crickets were hiding out under the water heaters where they did last time.

So everything within reason was pulled away from the walls so that the perimeter could be swept & sprayed.  For this effort, I used the same stuff I use under the house.  A respirator has to be used due to the chemical’s choking odor.


That evening, I went out to the garage and found at least 20 dead or twitching cockroaches spread out across the entire floor.  The carnage was swept up the next morning after the floor dried, and Kim had a chance to see the bugocide.

Like the Christmas decorations that get pulled out once a year, the mix tank & injector now quietly wait on a shelf in the garage for their next use.

Hopefully, it will not be anytime soon.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Humpty Deere Had a Great Fall

The other day, I had just popped the hood open on my riding mower to check the oil when my wife came out to ask something. After no more than a sentence or two, there was a sick-sounding noise followed by the John Deere’s plastic hood cracking into pieces on the concrete floor.

The King's Men scooped up the mess for a repair trip to my shop.

It appeared the hood’s left-hand pivot point had failed.

The other side’s pivot point had been repaired about three years ago and was still in good shape.

The root problem is that the 18 year-old plastic is getting brittle. In fact, it appears to be more brittle now than it was during the last repair. At ~$600, a new hood is out of the question.

To kick off the repair, the broken pivot piece was Superglued in place before damming off the general area with RV putty in order to really pack in a lot of resin and Fiberglas. The front part of the side above the pivot was strengthened with more glas & resin at the same time.

Repairs to the top of the hood were made in a similar fashion. Due to the number of small pieces, the joints were sealed with masking tape to keep the resin from seeping out.

A lot of Natty Lite was required due to the number of sloped surfaces.

Due to the scope of the repair, the grass had to be cut once without the hood. I don’t normally wear hearing protection while cutting grass. An exception was made in this case because the engine is really LOUD without a hood. My neighbor even noticed the extra noise.

Small holes were drilled in some of the plastic pieces to afford the resin anchor points. For whatever reason, the resin did not seep into all the holes and joints as much as I wanted it to. So a syringe full of resin, minus needle, was used to fill in irregularities.

While this was never planned to be an undetectable repair, the really rough-looking areas were sanded down a bit. I did skip the Bondo, though.

After being sprayed with a half-can of paint, the hood turned out looking okay.

The yard has been cut a few times since the repair, and the hood seems to be holding up well. I even checked the oil … once. Hopefully this will be the last hood repair I ever do on the mower.