Category Archives: Electrical

A new light & coat rack for the rear entryway

This rear entryway was my big project this last weekend.  When we moved into our house, the kitchen was tiny and had no cupboard space.  So we put a cabinet I had fixed up to use as a linen closet in the kitchen to use as a pantry. The landlord had our kitchen remodeled shortly after we moved in, but even with the extra cupboard space we decided that we wanted to keep the pantry.  With 5 adults living in the house, we figured it would be helpful to have some extra storage space for canned & dry goods. There wasn’t a good place for it in the kitchen, but in the rear entryway it would fit in the “coat closet” which was just a nook with a hanger bar and a high shelf.

This left us with a couple issues.  There was no light in the rear entry way, and now no place to hang coats.  Since I build both of those, I wanted to make a really rad industrial looking light and a rad coat rack made from bike parts and scrap metal pieces.  Well I ended up using a light fixture that was given to me in a tub of scrap metal.  It just seemed like the perfect light for that space. Even the colors matched.

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I’ve made a few switch boxes. When I want to put up a light fixture that you’d normally wire into the wall, but I can’t wire into the wall (because I’m a renter), I add a power cord with a switch box that can be mounted to the wall. If you don’t mind some exposed cord or a switch box on (instead of in) the wall, you can put a light fixture just about anywhere like this.

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In the rear entryway there is only one outlet that I use for the battery charger for my drill.  Since I would be using that outlet for my light and I still wanted to plug in my charger, I added an outlet to the switch box. The only real issue with this was that the box I picked up at the thrift store to use for this purpose was quite brittle. It looked pretty sturdy, but the wood split really easily. The entire top broke apart when I tried to drill a hole for the outlet, so I had to make some alterations to the original plan. It didn’t go together as easily as I expected, but I got it figured out. I just ran a sturdy lamp cord from there to where the light would be, holding it to the wall and ceiling with wire clips. Then I attached and hung the light fixture. Voila! We now had light for our pantry and I still had a place to plug in my charger.

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I really wanted to make some fancy coat racks, but it was just too easy to grab the hooks I’d salvaged from somewhere, screw them to the boards I’d salvaged from somewhere else and screw them to the wall.  It kind of fits with the saying, “The cobbler’s kids have no shoes.”  I always have all these ideas to make these fantastic things for our house, but when it comes time to actually build something for the house, I often end up making something pretty basic and utilitarian while I sell the coolest stuff I make.


DIY Chicken Water Heater

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The ladies have NO interest in getting their feet in the snow

We’ve been flying by the seat of our pants pretty much from the get-go with our chickens.  We’d been trying to get chickens for a couple years, but things just kept falling through.  We finally decided that we’d just order them even though we had to move again, and they were going to show up a few days after we moved.  We were tired of waiting for the perfect timing; we’d just pull the trigger and make the timing work.  Still neck deep in boxes, we picked up our day old chicks.  Fortunately, that meant we had plenty of boxes to make our brooder out of.  We’d read far enough into our chicken books to know what we needed to do.

We did plan ahead for some things; others caught us a bit off guard.  One of those was a water heater.  We live in Minnesota, so we knew that we were eventually going to need something to keep the water from freezing in the winter, but we’d purchased the chicks in the spring so it wasn’t at the top of our priority list.  We started talking about it again as the weather got cool, but fall lasted surprisingly long for Minnesota.  All of a sudden we were hit with a cold snap, and their water started freezing.  It wasn’t freezing solid, but freezing enough around the edges that we had to go out once or twice a day to make sure that they still had liquid water.  The heated version of our water font ran about $50, and of course money was tight when the cold snap hit, so we were figuring out who got paid next so we could purchase it.  In the meantime I started trying to think up my own system for keeping the water from freezing.  I came up with an idea, but I wanted to make sure that it was a viable option before I did it so I went online to check it out.  Why I didn’t immediately look online for “DIY chicken water heaters” is beyond me.  I guess I’m still of the mindset that I need to figure it out for myself.  I ended up finding a water heater idea that I liked better than mine and changing it a bit to fit the materials I had on hand, and to make it a bit safer.  I had all of the materials on hand, but it probably would have run $5 if I had to purchase the items.

Here’s what you’ll need to make one:

  • 1 lamp holder
  • Scrap of wood (about 10×10”)
  • extension cord
  • 8x8x8 concrete block
  • 2 wood screws
  • Light bulb (about 60w)

Center your concrete block on your scrap of wood and trace the opening onto the wood. (My concrete block isn’t an 8x8x8″ block. It was actually a leftover piece from building this shelf: /building-a-custom-cinder-block-shelf/)

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Cut the receptacle end off your extension cord leaving the plug and about 6 feet of cord.  Separate the cord sides of the last 2 – 3inches of cord. You can use a sharp knife if you need to, but make sure not to expose the wire inside.  Strip the covering from the last half inch of wire.

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Cut a groove in the bottom of your lamp holder for the cord to pass through.  I cut 2 slits with a saw and then broke the piece out using pliers.

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Attach the wire to your lamp holder.  This is as simple as loosening the screws on the bottom, wrapping the wire around them, and then retightening them.

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Once your cord is securely attached, you can attach your lamp holder to the wooden base with your wood screws.

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Your concrete block should already have a little grove, but you’ll need to make it a little bigger so the wire can pass through it.  My daughter did this part with a hammer and chisel in about a minute.

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All there is left is to set the block over the lamp holder, making sure the wire passes through the groove.  Insert a light bulb, and plug it in.

(EDIT! We had some trouble with water condensing and dripping onto the bulb which would then break.  This problem was easily solved by placing a large mouth pint mason jar over the bulb.  We haven’t had a bulb break since and a 78watt bulb has always kept the water from completely freezing)

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The water font sits on top of the brick, and although we have yet to get any of our really brutal 30 below zero days, so far this has always kept the water from freezing.

When I originally made this I ran a drop cord under the door to plug it in.  Since then I’ve used added an outlet to the chicken coop, and used wire clips to attach the cord to the base of the heater as well as the wall.  I didn’t want loose wires dangling around in there.


Rewiring the Garage with Drop Cords & Power Strips

Before we went to the store yesterday and found out that we were looking at getting 16 inches of snow today, I was out in the garage actually getting some stuff done. My garage is set up kind of strange, it’s semi-finished with plasterboard or paneling on the walls.  It even has insulation in all the walls.  However, there are only 2 outlets in the whole garage, and they’re on the same wall about 5 feet from each other.  Oh wait, there’s one in the rafters for the garage door opener too.  There’s nothing by the garage door, so if you’re working in the driveway you have to run a drop cord all the way from the back wall of the garage.  I’ve got a workbench along one of the side walls, but there’s no outlet there for plugging in tools.  I had this same problem in my old garage, but my old garage was a tiny little thing and was completely unfinished.  It had one two receptacle outlet on the wall and the garage door opener plugged into one of those with an extension cord. So I’m kind of used to it and I know how to deal with it.  When it was my own garage, I planned to eventually put in some permanent wiring, but since I’m renting this will probably be as far as I get.

The obvious solution is drop cords and power strips.  The thing is I hate having a cords running all over the floor, running under things and draped over other things.  They’re always in the way.  I hate having power strips sitting on the floor because then you have to squat down every time you plug something in and I hate having them sitting on the bench because they’re always in the way.  Plus it takes two hands (or a hand and a foot) to quickly unplug things.  So what I started doing is attaching power strips to the wall.  I remove a light fixture and replace it with one that has an outlet.  I attach a power strip to the wall and then run a drop cord up the wall and through the rafters to the outlet, using wire clips to hold it in place so it’s never in the way.  I’m basically rewiring the garage with drop cords and power strips.  The thing that’s nice about this is it’s pretty darn easy to move the wiring around later if you decide to rearrange your garage. The only trick is, who keeps the screw template that comes with a power strip?

I know of two quick ways to make a new template.  The easiest most accurate way is to just put the power strip on a copier and make a copy of the bottom.  If you don’t have quick access to a copier though, the next best thing is to do a ‘rubbing.’  I think just about every kid did these in school.  You took a piece of paper, a pencil (or a crayon) and found something textured to make rubbings of: plaques, tombstones, raised symbols, etc.  Just do that with the bottom of the power strip.  Hold (or tape) a piece of paper and rub your pencil back and forth over the mounting holes until they show up on the paper.  Then all you have to do is tape it up where you want it and run some screws through it.

The wall above my workbench is plasterboard, which I hate for garages. Sure if you finish it, it looks nice… but nobody ever finishes it.  It MIGHT get plastered, but it almost never gets painted.  Then there’s the problem that it’s in the garage and it’s not very durable, so when you accidentally hit it with a 2×4 or a pipe falls against it, you end up with dents or holes.  Also, it’s terrible for hanging things on.  My last garage I had finally gotten around to putting up plywood walls.  They look better than unfinished plasterboard, are more durable, AND you can hang stuff wherever you want.  I wasn’t about to plywood the whole wall, but I did throw up a scrap strip of chipboard above the workbench.  Now I can hang up tools or supplies without the nails working their way out of the wall, and it gave me a good spot to screw up my power strip so the constant plugging and unplugging wouldn’t pull it out of the wall.


How to Build a Thermostat Controlled Outlet

One of my issues with building instruments during the winter is that my garage is not heated.  I have an electric baseboard heater mounted to the front of my workbench.  This keeps my hands and front warm, but it doesn’t do much for my feet or any of my materials.  I have a little ceramic heater that I sometimes use toward that end. But that’s not even the real problem.  The real problem is that it’s too cold to apply finishes to my guitar necks.  I have on occasion used my little ceramic heater to dry necks.  Usually by just putting it under where the necks are hanging. That works okay, but the heat dissipates quickly and the heater has to be on all the time.  If you forget to turn it off, as I did for a couple weeks one time, the electric bill gets pretty extraordinary.

At one point, I used my kids playhouse as a paint booth.  It’s small enough that the whole thing stayed warm.  This gave me an idea to have a small area in my garage that I could keep warm enough for curing finishes, without attempting to heat the whole garage.  When they started getting rid of tall metal cabinets at work, that seemed like the perfect thing.  I could put the heater on the bottom and hang necks from the top.  The only issue was, with a space that small, even my small ceramic heater would get it way too hot (and it would still be running all the time… driving up the electric bill.)  So I decided that what I needed to do was install a thermostat in the cabinet that would control my heater.  Then I could keep it at a constant 70 degrees.

You could also use this for an electric heater in a greenhouse (or in the summer, a fan to keep it from getting too hot).  Baseboard heaters in the basement?

This is how I put that together.

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This is what I started out with. This wasn’t quite right.  I didn’t realize that thermostats were rated for only 24 volts. So I started with the wrong thermostat and mounting plate for that thermostat.  If you’re going to reproduce this, here’s what you’ll need.

  • 2 2-gang electrical boxes (or a 4 gang should work if you can find one)
  • 1 switch
  • 1 recepticle
  • wire (I used a leftover piece of 14 gauge romex)
  • power cord (Mine was saved from a broken appliance)
  • 2 small screws and nuts
  • 1 combination connector
  • switch/recepticle plate
  • outlet plate (with rectangular opening)
  • LINE VOLTAGE thermostat

First knock out a couple of the holes that will line up when the boxes are screwed together.

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Then using a couple small screws and nuts, attach the boxes. (There are holes in mine already so I just had to slide the screws through and tighten them up)

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Using a pliers, break off the tops on the switch and receptacle.

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Knock out a hole in what will now be the bottom of the assembly and install your combination connector.

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Separate the sides of the cord and strip the end of the wires.  Feed it through the clamp on the combination connector.  Make sure you feed enough in to attach to the switch and receptacle (better to have extra than not enough)
My power cord wasn’t quite thick enough for the clamp to get a good grip on, so I tied a knot so it couldn’t pull out.

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Attach the cord as show in this wiring diagram.  Run the hot side (small prong on the plug) to the switch.

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Attach the switch and receptacle to the cover plate, then attach wires to go to the thermostat.  Feed those through the hole between the two boxes.

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The cover plate comes with screws and nuts.  I put in the center screw on the receptacle and forgot about those until I had the whole thing buttoned up and noticed the empty holes on the plate.

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Here is the correct line voltage thermostat and plate.  (Actually this is a double pole thermostat and I only needed a single pole, but that’s all they had)

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Take a look at the wiring diagram that comes with your thermostat.  If you have a single pole, it should just have two wires.  If you have a double pole like this one, you’ll have to look at the diagram to see which ones  you’re supposed to use.  Feed the wires through the plate, install the screws and tighten on the nuts that come with the plate.

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Connect the wires using tight fitting electrical caps.  Cap any unused wires as well.

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Now just screw the covers on.  I had to elongate the holes on mine to get both plates to fit next to each other.  I just used a drill.

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Now all you have to do is plug it in and test it.  I tested it by plugging my heater into it and setting it directly in front.  When the heater brought the temp up to 70, it the thermostat shut it off.  Perfect! Now I just need to get it installed in my cabinet.

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The switch on this one actually ends up being superfluous because as you can see in this picture, the line voltage thermostat has an “OFF” setting.  I’m not sure if all voltage line thermostats have this setting.  I’m guessing they do in which case you can eliminate the switch entirely.  I kind of wish I had picked up a lighted switch, so I would have a visual reminder that the power was on and wouldn’t accidentally leave the heater running when it wasn’t necessary.  Maybe later.