Tag Archives: do it yourself

Building a Custom Cinder Block Shelf

I’m not going to go into great detail on this because a cinder block shelf is a pretty darn easy project.  It’s so self-explanatory that when I was walking out of the store with my cart of boards and cinder blocks, a friend that I ran into took one look at my supplies and said “Building a shelf?”  There’s really very little to it.  You put down some blocks, then a board, then some more blocks, and another board until it’s as high as you want it.  The only problem is that cinder blocks only come in so many sizes, so you basically get 16 or 8 inches between shelves if you get the cheap blocks, or 12 inches if you get the decorative blocks.  My problem was that I wanted shelves the correct height for my books, most of which were about 10 inches tall.  So I decided to cut the masonry blocks to the correct height.

I marked a few bricks at 10 inches and then used a carpenters square to mark a line across the brick.  I bought a couple masonry blades for my circular saw, donned eye and ear protection and wore a handkerchief over my mouth so I wouldn’t breath in the dust and started cutting.  The dust covered up my pencil lines pretty quickly so the first thing I did is score the whole line and then go back and cut all the way through the block.  Each block I cut left me with a U shaped piece that was 6 inches tall.  However, if I turned them on their side, they were 8 inches tall, just the right height for mass market paperbacks.

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One thing you’ll probably notice about my shelf is that I have small bricks under a board that the shelf is then built on top of.  This is because our room is in the basement and we’ve at times had the carpet get a bit wet from water coming in, so I wanted the first course of books off the floor.  I wish I had done wider blocks or more bricks under there, but by the time I noticed the shelf was basically built and I didn’t want to move those heavy blocks around again.  I think they’ll work out fine, I just wish I’d done it differently, for looks if for no other reason.

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This is one thing I like about masonry block shelves.  The openings in the block lend themselves to small items like little books or decorations. The U shaped pieces are suited really well for that!

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UPDATE: (3/25/15)

When I built my masonry block shelf, I was NOT planning on moving in less than a year.  My friends weren’t expecting it either.  One of them showed up when we were starting to unload the blocks and said, “So what? Now you’re just moving bricks for fun?” And it did look ridiculous.  They’re heavy, awkward, and no fun to move  .Why on earth were we bringing concrete blocks with us? To make matters worse, we originally thought that we were going to build the new shelf in the basement, so we carried them all down to the basement.  When we realized there was a better place for a large shelf upstairs, Jodi and I ended up carrying them all back upstairs.  (The books too)  Mason blocks shelves are not meant to be moved!

That said, the new shelf was still quite easy to build and it was easy to customize for the space we had.  Before we decided to put the shelf against the wall, we had set a couple chairs and a table there.  When our friend Tonya gave us the idea of putting the shelf there, we still wanted to leave the chairs and table.  The chairs would be easy to move to get at the books, but the table not so much.  So we decided to build the shelf around the table and lamp.  It ended up working out pert’near perfect.

We cut a few of our 6 foot boards in half which gave us a shelf on either side of our table and fit perfectly against the 8 foot wall.  I started out with 16” blocks because that’s what we had. Then switched to the 10” blocks I cut last time.  Because the ceiling slants on the right, we could continue with the 6 foot boards we already had.  This saved us having to run out and get 8 foot boards while we were putting the shelf together.  We decided to put a wooden crate in the open area which worked out great.

I ended up buying 2 more 6 foot planks after I had already started putting books on the shelf so I could make it a little bit taller than the last one.  Other than that it was pretty much built with the same materials as last time.  I had to borrow 4 bricks from the pile in the yard to turn a couple 8” blocks into 10” blocks, but I also have two 8” blocks left over.  One thing I added to this shelf was 3 corner brackets to attach one shelf to the wall about 2/3rds of the way up.  It probably would have been fine without, but it makes me feel more comfortable.

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Pick-Pocket Key Chain- How to Make a Guitar Pick Holding Keychain

So, I was trying to think of something to get my dad for father’s day and I ran across these key chains that hold guitar picks.  Since he plays guitar, I thought about buying one for him… but decided that it was something that I could make and it would be cooler if I made it myself.  This is my first time making anything out of leather, so if it doesn’t look super professional… give me a break.

I started out by outlining a pick and then folding the paper and tracing that, so there were two picks exactly opposite each other with a small space between them.  Then I drew lines around them, giving what I thought was enough room to stitch leather so that the picks would fit in the little pocket it created.  Once side doesn’t go all the way around, so the picks can easily be removed.  The other has a strap so that a key-ring can be attached and the pick-pocket can be closed.

Key Chain Template

Key Chain Template

Key Chain Traced on Leather

Once I had my design cut out, I folded it up to see if everything would work.  Would picks fit inside and would the strap be long enough to accommodate a key ring and reach the pocket? Everything looked good, so I traced it onto a piece of leather.  Then I cut out the leather using a scissors.

Key Chain Traced on Leather

Key Chain Cut Out of Leather Scrap

Key Chain Cut Out of Leather Scrap

Next I folded up the pocket portion of the key chain and started sewing it together with sinew.  I started in between the folds, so that the knots would be hidden. Then I started sewing along one side and along the bottom.  I kind of doubled back on my stitches so that each seam was sewn twice.  When I got to the bottom, I stopped so I could install a snap.  I would have actually done that first, but I didn’t have my stuff handy, so when I got to that point I stopped until I got the snap installed.

Partially Sewn with Snaps Installed

Partially Sewn with Snaps Installed

Snaps are usually super easy to install.  For the ones I was using there’s a spiked ring that you push through the fabric.  The other part of the snap sits on top of that, and using a little tool you hit it with a hammer to drive in and bend those spikes.  With leather it’s a bit more difficult to get those spikes through the “fabric” so I folded up a scrap of leather and using the side of a knife pushed the ring forcing the spikes through the leather (and into the leather underneath).  Once I had the spikes pushed though, I installed the snap like normal.  (Again, I didn’t do any measuring and got the snap off-center on the pocket… but everything still works fine.)

Pocket Completely Sewn

Pocket Completely Sewn

I put the female side on the pocket, then installed the male part on the strap, using the same method.

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Now all that was left was to finish sewing.  I finished sewing up the one remaining side of the pocket, and then went to work on the strap.  I stuck the strap through a key ring, and then snapped it to the pocket.  I held the key ring where the strap would sit flat when folded and then sewed a line underneath it to hold the ring in place.  Again I started inside the fold to hide the knots.  Also, I didn’t sew around the edge of the leather because the edge sees a lot of wear and I was worried that the thread/sinew would get worn through and then come unraveled.

Getting Ready to Sew Key Ring into the Strap

Getting Ready to Sew Key Ring into the Strap

Sewing the Key Ring into the Strap

Sewing the Key Ring into the Strap

Test Fitting 3 Guitar Picks

Test Fitting 3 Guitar Picks

Finished Pick-Pocket Key Chain

Finished Pick-Pocket Key Chain

I finished that seam, tied off the sinew and test fit the 3 guitar picks I had handy.  There was plenty of room for them, maybe even one or two more.


Diagnosing and Fixing an Infrared Sauna

Here’s a project not everybody will find terribly interesting, probably like when I wrote about replacing a water heater in Resist Zine.  However, it was a bit of a learning experience for me, and since I was already taking pictures so people could help with the diagnosis, I figured I might as well share my experience.

A few years back I bought Rachael an infrared sauna.  Most years these Minnesota winters are really tough on us.  The days get so short that if you have a normal job you barely see the light of day during the week.  The temperature can drop below zero for days at a time with the wind making it feel even colder.  Then there’s the snow.   Some years it seems like you spend half the winter shoveling, and the piles get so big you run out of places to put it all.  It seems like you’re always cold.  For some of us, it really starts to wear on our psyche.  Some folks use sun lamps to help.  We figured an infrared sauna would probably do the trick.  We found a used one that a couple were selling because they were losing their house and moving into an apartment.  I kind of felt like a vulture buying it from someone who could no longer afford to keep it.  It broke down into 6 panels and we loaded it into the van.

She’s been using it the last couple years pretty regular.  Just recently, a few of the heating elements started working intermittently.  Sometimes they would work, sometimes they wouldn’t.  Sometimes when they weren’t working, I would go on top and check the connections.  3 of the panels had heating elements, plus one on the front of the bench, so each had power connections like the 3 prong power cords on desktop computers.  I would pull them apart, take a look, and put them back together.  Sometimes just doing that would get them going again.  I would think that the problem had been solved, and then it would happen again the next time.  When they were not working more often than working, I figured I’d better dig deeper and see what I could figure out.

The heating elements that weren’t working were all on the same panel.  There were two on the back wall, and the one on the front of the bench that plugged into the back wall.  Also on the back wall was the control panel for setting the temperature and timer.  If it was something with the control panel, I figured it would affect all the heating elements, not just the ones along the back wall.  The connection seemed to be fine, so it must be something else.  I figured the only way I was going to find out was to start taking it apart and tracing the wiring looking for problems.  I thought maybe I’d find a fuse broken or loose fuse connection or something.  Only thing was, I couldn’t seem to find a fuse.  While I was pulling stuff off the top, I found the owner’s manual which showed where to find the fuse.  The problem was, the owner’s manual was wrong, and it wasn’t where it was supposed to be.  However there was one bit of useful information in there, a wiring diagram.  Two actually.  The second one seemed to make sense.  It showed 3 heating elements on one fuse, and 2 on another.

2nd of 2 Electrical Diagrams

2nd of 2 Electrical Diagrams

Since the fuses weren’t where they were supposed to be, I started unscrewing the top of the top panel.  Sure enough when I got enough screws out to pull up one edge, I could see an electrical box.  I tried to take out a few more screws so I could pull it up further and open it, but the electrical box was screwed shut too.  So I had to take the entire top off, and then unscrew the lid of the electrical box.  That’s where I found the fuses.  They weren’t glass ones, so it wasn’t readily apparent if they were burnt out, but since the elements were still working intermittently, I didn’t figure that could be it anyway.  Also, the connections for the fuses looked just fine.  Back to the wiring diagram.  There was only one other thing that made sense.  Those 3 elements also had their own relay.  I’d seen relays go bad on motorcycles (also the places I’ve seen fuse connections go bad), so I figured that was the culprit.  On a motorcycle when that happens, you can just jump the poles with a screwdriver, because it’s just for the starter and it’s just a battery.  I was a bit apprehensive about trying the same thing with wall power.  Instead I loosened the screws and stuck a piece of copper wire between them, effectively bypassing the relay.  Then I turned on the sauna and waited to see if the elements would heat up.  The first time I jumped the wrong relay and nothing new happened.  Then I switched the jumper wire to the other one and got all the elements to heat up.

Jumping the relay

Jumping the relay

Now I just had to figure out where to find one of these relays.  I’d posted a picture on Facebook while I was diagnosing this to see if other folks had differing ideas.  The opinions mostly agreed with the relay being the most probable cause (even though they’re solid state and almost never fail) with some folks saying to check the connections, maybe use some contact cleaner.  I posted again to confirm the relay diagnosis, and an acquaintance said that he had a bunch of those from an old project.  Still not being 100% sure of my diagnosis, I was thinking about buying new ones, just to be sure I got working ones to test my theory.  He confirmed that he’d tested them and knew they were in good working order and sent me a couple the next day.  (Thanks Matt!)

We had a busy schedule, so it took me a couple days to get it installed, even though it’s a super easy job.  Rachael freaked me out by telling me that she’d kept using it with the relay jumped.  Yikes!  I should have pulled that jumper wire out instead of just unplugging the sauna.  After she told me that, I got right on top of getting that new relay installed.  There’s nothing too complicated about it.  I used a socket driver to remove the relay from the box, and then one screw at a time transferred the wires from the old one to the new one.  Rachael used the sauna yesterday and informed me that everything is working fine.  Now I can close up the electrical box and put the top of the sauna back on.

Replaced relay

Replaced relay


Converting a Kid’s Electric Guitar into an Amp

Today’s fun little project was converting a kid’s electric guitar into an amplifier.  My daughter’s friend got an electric guitar for his birthday, but didn’t have an amp.  He did have  his old First Act electric guitar which he wanted to trade me for one of the little amps I have sitting around to put into cigar boxes or other containers.  It was one of those little electric guitars that have a speaker built into the front of the guitar.  It was pretty beat up.  4 of the 6 tuning knobs were missing, and the machines were pretty crapped out too.  A couple adjusting screws for the bridge/tailpiece were missing.  I said, “You know how your guitar has a speaker?  That means it has a built-in amp.  So we can use the pieces from your guitar and build an amp.”

At first I was thinking we would take the pieces out and put them in a cigar box or something.  When we started looking at it I said “Why don’t we just take the neck and tailpiece off, and then the guitar body can be your amp.”  So that’s what we did.  They grabbed screw drivers and started removing the neck (while I went and grabbed a camera to document their progress)

Removing the neck
Removing the neck

Then they removed the tailpiece/bridge.

Removing the tailpiece
Removing the tailpiece

They we started uncovering the electronics.

Unpacking the electronics
Unpacking the electronics

Here’s where you can kind of start to see the plan coming together.  On this guitar you have a magnetic pickup, but instead of just going through a volume pot to the output jack, it also goes to a little amp which is connected to the speaker.  If you plug in a cord, a switch in the jack cuts the signal to the on-board amp and sends it to the external amp instead.  So our plan was to just switch things around.  We wanted to turn the output jack into an input jack.  It seemed like the simplest way was just to cut off the magnetic pickup and hook the wires to the jack.  So here they are removing the pickup.

Removing the pickup
Removing the pickup

Next we stripped the wires, and then hooked up a battery and plugged in a guitar.  Esther played her guitar while I touched the stripped wires to the tabs on the jack to make sure we got things hooked up right.  I would have originally figured white wire to white wire, and black to black.  But I wasn’t taking that switch into account.  So once we started hearing Esther’s guitar through the speaker we knew we had it right.  Once we had things in the right place, I soldered them up.  I usually like to let the kids do pretty much everything.  Esther has done soldering on a cigar box guitar she built, but her friend had never soldered before and it was kind of a tricky job for someone who’s never done it before, so he helped hold wires in place while I soldered them.

Soldering the wires
Soldering the wires

From that point on, I let them finish it up themselves.  They screwed the back plates back on and tightened up the strap knobs.  (We realized that because the amp is battery-powered, if we left the strap knobs on, you could wear the amp.)  Below is a quick video of Esther demonstrating the finished product.  It’s not the best amp ever, but it will make a nice practice amp for him to use while he’s learning to play his first real decent guitar. (He got a Fender StarCaster) His parents will probably appreciate that it doesn’t  get very loud.

I got to keep the extra parts.  I’ll probably put the neck on a cigar box, after I dress the frets ends (which are sticking out on both sides of the neck and are rather sharp.)


Fixing a stripped strap knob on a guitar

My daughter bought an electric guitar recently.  She’d been using her mama’s, but wanted her own.  We found a nice one on clearance at the pawn shop.  She actually had a little money saved up, but didn’t have quite enough so she offered to do chores to pay off the amount she couldn’t cover.  The guitar was actually pretty nice.  Apparently they’d taken in a bunch of guitars and then they got lost in the backroom, so when they came out they had to go on clearance right away.  It’s got the Eddie Van Halen paint scheme, and it’s an odd brand nobody’s ever heard of, but it played well and sounded good.  So we brought it home with us.  The only problem with it was that one of the strap button screws was coming loose.  We fixed it at first by replacing it with a slightly bigger and slightly longer screw.  That held for a while, but eventually that one came loose too.

Esther asked how to fix it.  I suggested that she go look it up.  She found a forum where a guy suggested gluing in a couple toothpicks.  I suggested we go with a more permanent solution and get a dowel that actually fit the hole.  We picked up a little oak dowel at the hardware store, and cut off 2 or 3 inches.  We tested the fit of the dowel in the hole, and it was pretty much perfect.  It fit, but it was snug enough that it took some effort to get it in.  Esther used a tooth pick to get a decent amount of wood glue into the hole.  Then she twisted the dowel in as far as she should by hand.  I used a hammer to tap it in just a little further.

We let that dry overnight, then Esther used a flush cut saw to cut off the dowel even with the surface of the guitar.  I offered to let Esther drill the hole, but she preferred to have me do it.  She’s used a drill before, but this was just a little bit delicate.  I found a bit that was a little smaller than the original screw, and drilled down the center of the dowel.  She screwed the strap button back on and we were good to go.

Her mother’s guitar had developed the same problem, so we fixed that one next.

We didn't scratch it up fixing it, it was already like that


Building an Emergency Pedal

This was something I put together years ago.  I just ran across it while I was working in the garage and thought I’d pass it along.

I was on my way to have a free meal and after that was going on a bike ride.  I was riding my tallbike, and about a mile from where I was heading my pedal broke off.  I don’t remember that I even felt it going.  If I did feel it start to go, it didn’t give me more than a block or two warning.  The whole spindle broke off leaving me no way to pedal.  Fortunately although I was miles from any bike shop, I was just a couple blocks from a hardware store.  I didn’t want to walk home or miss my bike ride, so I stopped in at the hardware store to see what I could come up with.  I guess I was hoping to come up with some pedals.  Sometimes hardware stores will have a few bike parts, but this one didn’t.

After looking around a bit, I came up with a plan.  I grabbed a large stove bolt, a large washer, a lock washer and a nut.  I figured that would give me a spindle, but I’ve ridden with just a spindle before and it ain’t a lot of fun.  Your foot always wants to roll off of it because it doesn’t spin.  So I set about trying to find something I could slide over the bolt.  I couldn’t find anything the right size, so I asked an employee if they might have a short length of PVC.  He brought me in back and let me pick a piece out of a scrap barrel.  I grabbed a couple more nuts to hold the PVC on and went up to the counter to even up.  I think it cost me about $5 for the parts.

I went out to my bike and got to work putting it all together.  I always carry a 6″ adjustable wrench, so I didn’t have any trouble getting the rest of the old pedal out.  I slipped the stove bolt through the crank arm and then slipped the washers on.  I tightened the nut on until the square section of the bolt bit into the aluminum of the crankarm and the lockring flattened out.  Now it wasn’t going anywhere.I slipped the PVC on and then put the other two nuts on.  I must have had another wrench on me because I tightened the two nuts against each other with enough room to allow the PVC to spin without having it slide back and forth on the bolt. 

I rode to my free meal, arriving just a little bit late.  After my meal I went on my bike ride, and then rode home.  Near as I can figure, I put about 20 miles on that “pedal” before I got home.  I think I might have actually ridden it that way for another day or two before I got a replacement crankarm on there.  I’m sure the original crankarm would have been fine, but I guess I wanted to keep the evidence (which is why I can provide a picture of it now.)