Thursday, May 31, 2007

You can all go to hell...

I'm goin to texas...

Ok, don't all go to hell; but we ARE going to Texas. See y'all next week.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Building the Damn Thing

Ok, so a request has been made that I publish a plan, BOM, and instructions on building the cargo box; well here it is in Google Sketchup format, along with views to illustrate construction detail:

This basic box design is shrinkable down to about a 24" long box (any smaller, and you'll want to go to thinner wood), and extensible to about a 4'x8' box; but anything larger than 2'x6' is going to need extra bracing. Instead of just face framing the rim of the box, at six feet, you would add a center strip; and at 8 feet you would add two framing strips, one each 2 feet in from the edges.

BOM for a 60"x20"x24" box:

2x sheets, sanded A-A hard wood plywood (plenty of leftover) - Oak ply appx $40 ea x2 = $80
8x 1"x2"x10' hard wood strips - Red oak appx $8 each x6 = $64 (should be leftover, 8 is just in case)
1x 48" Piano hinge - appx $8 (alternately 4 door or cabinet hinges could be used)
1x padlock hasp - appx $4
2x sash lock - appx $4 ea x2 = $8
2x 28" lengths of a fine chain (used to limit the travel of the top of the box on its hinge)

Fasteners, finish etc...

50x 18ga 3/4" brads
100x 18ga 1" brads
100x 18ga 1-3/8" brads
1x bottle gorilla glue (appx 2oz used)
1x bottle (8oz) resin wood glue
1x can (4oz) Minwax Colonial Walnut (23) "wood finish"
1x can (8oz) marine spar varnish

The total materials costs were around $175 plus or minus a bit including fasteners and finish; but you could substitute cheaper A-C modified plywood and strip poplar and end up at under $120. Also, unless you screw up a lot of cuts, you're going to have plenty of left overs; but they'll be of odd lengths and sizes.

Total construction time including finishing was about 12 hours; but should have been about 8 (I screwed up some of my setups and had to reset them several times).


1. Plane the strips down to 1-1/2" x 1/2" exactly

2. Crosscut and rip the ply panels to length using a fine finish plywood blade, and a zero kerf insert, to avoid tearout

3. Run a 3/8" wide rabbett 3/8" deep around all the panels.

4. Using a corner clamp, glue and inset lap the two ends to the front face panel using Gorilla glue or a similar waterproof expanding glue; then cross nail with brads. Repeat for the second side, and then the back. In an inset lap, the front face should completely cover the end grain of the side face when place in position.

5. Flip the box over, careful not to chip the top. Run a gorilla glue bead around the bottom rabbet, and drop the bottom into place, cross nailing once it's in position.

6. Frame miter the oak strips to exactly match the outside dimensions of the box (top front, top sides, and top back face;bottom front, sides, and back face).

You are essentially building two 2" high 1/2" thick picture frames, exactly fitted to the top and bottom rims of the box, and flush and level (if you cant do both, make it level, just below the high spots in the plywood; and we''ll sand flush later).

Glue and brad the face frames in place, including cross nailing into the end grains of the miters. You may want to biscuit, dowel, or joint lock (a specially shaped piece of wood or fastener) the miters instead.

7. Cut the two front, two left side, two right side, and two rear vertical risers; trimmed to fit exactly into the space between the face frames, with a gentle tap with a mallet.

Fit the front and rear face frame risers flush with the outside edge of the top and bottom miter frames, and glue and brad in place. Butt the side face frame risers into the front and rear risers. Glue and brad in place, including cross nailing through the front face, and top rim.

8. Sand the top rim of the box flush and level.

9. place the top on the box, and measure the width from the edge of the top to the outside face of the oak strip frame. It should be 1/2" all the way around. Plane 14 feet of oak strip down to 3/8" thick, and rip in half. then plane the strips to 1/2" x 3/8".

The object here is to end up with a filler strip exactly flush to the top and face frame of the box, and long enough to completely surround it, with miters.

10. glue and brad (use the short brads) the filler strip down to the remaining oak top face frame strips, building an L shaped frame strip.

Alternatively you COULD start with 1.5" or 2" thick stock, then plane and rabbet it down. This would be stronger, and more attractive, but expensive and a lot of work.

11. Using this l shaped frame strip, build a flat mitered frame, butting the filler strip carefully flush to the top rim of the box face frame all the way around; then glue and cross nail it into place.

It is critical that the front and rear frame of the top, be absolutely flush with the face frame of the box; to mount hinges and closures.

Optionally, at this point you may wish to pre-drill and drive a 1" screw into all of the face frame joints, plus one at each end and the middle of the face frame joins to the plywood. (meaning each of the rim strips would have 5 screws - 1 in each miter, 1 at each end of the plywood, and one in the middle of the strip)

12. Allow the glue to dry overnight.

13. Rough and finish sand the entire box, inside and out. Scraping away any excess glue; and rounding all sharp corners.

14. Fill all gaps, cracks, and nail holes with putty filler, or oak flour (you should have enough of it by now) mixed into a filler with thick resin glue, and let dry.

15. Hand rub the entire box, evenly, inside and out with your stain or tinted finish sealer; then buff off after a few minutes. Let dry, and then lightly sand. and tack cloth away the dust. Add another coat if desired.

16. Apply at least three coats of marine spar varnish, or similar water resistant finish; lightly sanding between each coat.

17. Mount the hardware, and test function.

The Damn Thing Is Almost Done - Damn Thing Number Two

Said "Damn Thing" being my heavy barreled AR.

Sorry about the lighting, these were jsut some quick and dirty shots for the web tonight.

A front quarter view:

I've covered this before, but lets go over it again.

The Gun is a DPMS forged lower, and a Wilson upper, with a 24" long, 1.25" thick under the forearm, 1" from gas block to muzzle 1-in-7 air gaged matched barrel with an 11 degree target crown; and a match bolt, lapped to the barrel extension (and with a D-Ringed extractor).

I've got a Harris collapsible swivel bipod, and a DPI first generation natural finish carbon fiber free float forend (it keeps the heat away from your hand very well) on it. I don't care for the new DPI forends, but this first gen is great. I've had it sitting around my shop for a while, waiting to use it on jsut such a rifle as this.

I've got a Magpul MIAD grip with the enhanced trigger guard built int, and a Chip McCormack single stage curved supermatch trigger, with about a 2.25lb pull on it.

The stock is an Ace tubular, with QD sling swivel points on both sides, and a 1" extended butt pad. The Ace stock is already 1/2" longer LOP than the A2 without the butt pad, and with it gives me a total of 1.5" longer LOP.

Inside that stock is an Olympic arms pneumatic buffer; which delays unlock and slows cycle time, as well as eliminating that annoying "sproooooing" sound on cycling.

It's ALMOST done, because I still need to pick up a David Tubb carrier weight system, an ambi safety and mag catch, an extended bolt catch, and of course my optics. Oh and I dont like my curent BUIS setup, so I'm looking to replace that as well.

I've got about $1500 into the rifle so far, plus about $300 in parts scrounged from my shop, and about $300 or so left to go on parts; and then the optics which could run me up to about the same as the rifle (including rings, and maybe a QD base).

...BUT, it will be ready enough for Texas this weekend, and that is the important part.

So, the obvious question is, how much does it weigh?

I don't know... but it's heavy. The upper alone weighs more than my whole Bushie superlight used to weigh.

I dunno how it shoots yet either; I haven't had it out in this configuration yet; but I'm expecting better than .5 moa with the right ammo.

Wish me luck.

The Damn Thing Is Almost Done - Damn Thing Number One

Said "Damn Thing" being my oak cargo box of course. I was going to finish it yesterday, but I ended up being 18" short of strip oak for the top face frame; because there was a bit more odd length scrap than I planned for.

Anyway, Mel grabbed another stick for me today, and I finished off the wood work after work; did the final sanding, then cleaned sealed, stained, sealed, and put the first coat of spar varnish on the thing.

These pics were taken as the first coat flashed over (the point where the surface has dried, and color has changed).

Oh and the distortion is from the lens and the angles I was taking the pics from, not from the box. I messed up some of the corner joinery (like I said, getting to 1/16th" precision over 60" with a portable table saw is a bit hard, and honestly after I missed the dimensions I didn't bother to try and make it fine joinery), but didn't do THAT bad.

Here's the front:

The two latches are window sash latches, which tighten the top down over a gasket to make a nice tight weather seal. The center latch is a rotating padlock hasp.

Here's the top:

Big SOB aint it. It's a 24"h x19"d x60"l box, made from 3/4" oak plywood with a 1/2" x2" red oak face frame. All panel joints are stair step lap (full lap joints) water proof glued and cross nailed; for strength and water resistance. All face frames are glued and nailed; and I'm going to put some countersunk screws in as well before the next finish coat.

Heres the left front corner with a closer view of the latch, and the chest handle:

And the left rear corner, showing the piano hinge detail (and my poor miter joint):

And the right rear corner, to finish the circle:

Overall I'm pretty happy. It's not furniture quality; but it's huge, it's strong,it's waterproof, and to my eye it looks pretty good. Most importantly, it's ready for the Texas trip.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Operating Systems

The question was recently asked "What's the difference between blowback and recoil operation?".

If you aren't a gun nut, those terms probably don't figure much into your daily conversation. In fact, you've probably never heard of them. Even if you are a shooter, unless you are into the technology and engineering of guns, you may not know the terms.

What they are, are labels for two of the most common methods of operating a self loading (meaning automatic, or semi automatic) firearm.

In a self loading weapon, the operating system uses the energy of a firing cartridge, to eject the spent casing, load the next round, and re-cock the weapon; ready to fire again with the next pull of the trigger (or if fully automatic, firing again as soon as the cycle completes).

There are three fundamental ways of using the energy of a firing cartridge to cause a weapon to cycle itself (weapons that cycle off of external power, like Gatling guns are not counted here).
  1. Gas Operation
  2. Blowback Operation
  3. Recoil Operation
Gas operated systems tap the pressure of the expanding combustion gasses (through a piston, lever, gas trap, tappet, op-rod or direct impingement) to force the bolt, slide, or other breech mechanism back and cycle the action.

This system has physical complexities relating to regulating gas pressure (which can vary wildly), and timing of the operating cycle; but is less sensitive to firing position, weapon mounting, and cartridge power; as well as being less dependent on finely fitted moving parts; than other self loading systems.

As such, gas operation is the most common operating mechanism for assault rifles and light machine guns; as well as the operating mechanism for a large number of automatic shotguns (many are recoil operated instead). Some pistols also use gas operation, but because of the additional weight and bulk required for a gas system, this is uncommon.

The most prominent examples of gas operation, in its major variants (in order of mechanical simplicity) are:
  1. The AR platform rifle (AR-10 and 15, M16, and variants) which uses direct gas impingement; where the gas from the barrel acts directly on the bolt carrier.

    This system has the most inherent accuracy of any gas operated system; but is also sensitive to fouling, and is the most difficult system to time properly.

  2. The AK 47 and variants, which uses a short stroke linked piston op-rod design.

    In the AK system, the op-rod, piston, and bolt are mechanically fixed to each other and thus travel in a long stroke; but the gas only works on the piston for a short distance before it is vented, so it is a short stroke gas system.

    This system is mechanically very simple and reliable, but is detrimental to accuracy; because the gas system is physically linked to the bolt, and to the barrel; which induces unpredictable vibration into the barrel.

  3. The M1 carbine, which uses short stroke tappet system to cycle the action.

    In a tappet system the gas piston and tappet, which may or may not be physically linked (or even a single part), move a short distance very rapidly under gas pressure. After the gas pressure is cut off (either through a mechanical limit to the piston stroke, or a gas port cutoff actuated by the pistons stroke) the tappet flies back through inertia imparted it by the gas piston. At this point the tappet may be in contact with the bolt or op-rod; or it may travel a short distance to strike an op rod, or travel further to strike the bolt directly; in either case imparting a great deal of inertia to the op-rod or bolt. The bolt then flies back against spring pressure without any further mechanical connection to the gas system.

    This system is a good compromise of mechanical simplicity, accuracy, and reliability; because it uses the reliable gas piston system which doesn't foul as much or have as sensitive timing as the direct impingement system; but it doesn't mechanically fix the gas system directly to the barrel and bolt; which reduces vibration.

  4. The M1 Garand, which use a long stroke, long rod gas piston system which has a bolt, op-rod, and piston in three separate parts, not mechanically fastened to each other (but which remain physically connected to each other through spring pressure and friction fit). The entire system cycles for the full length of the operation cycle; thus "long stroke".

    This system is somewhat detrimental to accuracy (though not as much as in the gas system of the AK47), and is sensitive to very high or very low gas pressures (either bending the op rod, or short stroking the action); but is otherwise very reliable.
* It's not significant enough to be called a major variant; but the the M14 uses a design that combines elements of the tappet system of the M1 Carbine, and the long rod system of the M1 garand. It uses a short stroke gas piston that cuts the gas pressure off quickly, and an op rod that doesn't maintain continuous contact with the piston.

Blowback operation uses the reaction of the cartridge casing "blowing back" (the equal and opposite reaction to the bullet blowing forward) to push the breech mechanism back and cycle the action. It is mechanically the simplest type of self loading action, because fundamentally the only moving parts are the breech mechanism, and the cartridge case itself (not counting the spring which pushes the breech back into place after ejection). Effectively a blowback operated weapon is in fact a gas operated weapon; with the gas piston in this case being the cartridge casing.

There are two common major variants of the blowback system: Simple Blowback, and Delayed Blowback.

Simple Blowback operation is the most common operating system for pistols firing cartridges with less energy than 9mm parabellum (9x19). Without a delaying or supplemental locking mechanism, breech mechanisms have to be very heavy to handle higher energies; thus making pistols using simple blowback for more powerful cartridges very heavy and bulky. Many submachine guns, and pistol caliber carbines however use the simple blowback mechanism because the extra weight of the blowback bolt isn't a problem.

Delayed blowback is called this, because there is an inbuilt mechanism to delay the breech blowing back, until pressures have dropped to the point where the cartridge can extract safely. Common methods include roller lockers, gas delay, fluted chambers, friction locks (like the Blish lock, which proved ineffective), rotating lugs, or some combination of all of the above.

Delayed Blowback systems are somewhat common in assault rifles, battle rifles, and machine guns. Some pistols and SMGs also use delayed blowback, but this is uncommon.
The most significant examples of simple blowback systems are:
  1. The Makarov pistol (9x18mm), which is by far the most manufactured centerfire blowback pistol, and which uses a textbook example of simple blowback.

  2. The UZI submachine gun; which also uses a textbook simple blowback system; slowing down it's operation for use with high pressure 9mm nato and .45acp loads by using a very long, very heavy telescoping bolt design.
Also, it should be noted that almost all .22 auto pistols use a simple blowback operating system.

The most significant examples of the delayed blowback system are:
  1. The HK P7 pistol, which uses a gas delay mechanism. This system is very rare; only used on a half dozen weapons in modern circulation.

  2. The CETME/HK G3 series of rifles, and MP5 series of submachine guns (all based on the same design), which all use a roller delayed blowback system (the CETME/G3 also uses a fluted chamber to aid in the delay. The fluted chamber increases friction on the cartridge case as it extracts, slowing down the unlocking and blowback).
Delayed blowback systems are relatively uncommon, because they are extremely difficult to manufacture reliably. They require high precision machining, with very tight tolerances; and are very sensitive to differing operating pressures.

Recoil operated systems uses the energy of the recoil of the firing cartridge to cycle the weapon; by locking the breech and barrel together and causing the whole mechanism to be forced back (again an equal and opposite reaction to the bullet being forced forward).

There are two common implementations of this system Short Recoil and Long Recoil.

In the Short Recoil system, the breech and barrel are locked together only for a short time. As they travel back, a mechanism unlocks the breech from the barrel (typically a tilting link, or a sliding cam), which then stops moving; and the the breech continues moving back to it's full cycle length; extracting and ejecting the spent cartridge casing before being forced back into battery by the operating spring, or recoil spring (which may be the same thing).

A variant of the short recoil system uses a hybrid of short recoil and delayed blowback, by keeping the barrel and breech locked together through rotating or camming locking lugs that unlock as the mechanism cycles.

Short recoil is the most common operating system for centerfire pistols more powerful than 9mm Makarov (9x18mm); but is uncommon in most other types of weapons.

The most significant examples of this operating system are:
  1. The Browning M1911 pistol, which uses a tilting barrel connected to the frame with a link pin, and locked to the breech with locking lugs machines into the barrel and slide

  2. The Browning P35 Hi-Power pistol, which also uses a tilting barrel; but which connects the barrel to the frame with a machined cam lug that is an integral part of the barrel; and a cam pin which is fixed to the frame.

  3. The Browning M2 machine gun, the basic heavy machine gun of the armed force of the United States (and many other countries) from it's introduction in 1921 'til the present day.
Almost all modern centerfire handguns in a major caliber use a variant of the operating system in one of these two pistols. Most heavy machine guns use a variant of the operating system of the M2 (or a long recoil mechanism)

*A minor, but significant variant, is the sliding cam system used only by Beretta currently, but introduced by Walther in the P38; the first successful double action auto service pistol. In this system neither the barrel nor slide tilt relative to each other. They remain rigidly locked by a sliding cam separate from both, until that cam is moved out of position by the rearward cycling of the slide. It is significant both because it is the only major caliber centerfire semiautomatic pistol operation system in common use not designed by John Browning; and because the Beretta M9 is the service pistol of our armed forces.

In the long recoil system, the entire barrel and breech mechanism remain locked together to the limit of the cycle; where the bolt is held back, and the barrel is then forced forward by the recoil spring. After the barrel travels forward (it may lock forward all the way first, or it may not), the bolt is then released, ejecting the round (some systems eject the round as soon as the barrel moves forward), stripping a new round, and slamming back into lock with the barrel.

This mechanism is common in machine guns, and automatic shotguns; but uncommon in all other types of weapon.

The most significant example of the long recoil system would be:

  1. The Browning Auto 5 shotgun, which was the first successful semi-automatic shotgun design, and is the longest produced semi-auto shotgun by far at 98 years of regular production.

    Most automatic shotgun designs were based on this same principal until the introduction of the gas operated Remingtion 1100 in 1963.
You'll note, John M. Browning designed most of the significant recoil operated weapons I referenced. Though he did not invent the concept of recoil operation (Hiram Maxim made the first practical recoil operated gun), Browning perfected and popularized it; making it the most common system of operation for centerfire handguns and machine guns today.

Funny enough, Browning also invented the first successful gas operated gun, the Browning model of 1895; which was briefly adopted by the U.S. as a standard machine gun; and the first truly successful blowback semi-automatic pistol, the Colt model 1903.

Based on his experiences developing these (and other) weapons, Browning believed that blowback and gas operation were both inferior to recoil operation, from an engineering and physics standpoint.

From a pure mechanical and physical standpoint he is correct, in that recoil operation is the simplest and most efficient system capable of handling major power cartridges.

Unfortunately, to be reliable, durable, and accurate; recoil operation also requires very good production tolerances, fine machining, and excellent metallurgy. This is why most firearms manufactured in the third world, or former Com-Bloc countries are either simple blowback, or gas operated with a simple piston/rod system.

So what system is best?

Well, it really depends on what type of weapon you're talking about; and what you want to do with it. There isn't really a "best" system, or all guns would use it; but there are better choices for certain applications.

Clearly, gas systems are the most versatile for rifles (not necessarily best, but definitely most versatile); because they can be adapted to run most anything; but they aren't appropriate for most pistols because of their bulk. Also, gas systems are by their nature dirtier and more sensitive to fouling than other operating mechanisms. The most accurate gas system, direct impingement, is also the dirtiest.

Delayed blowback systems are more inherently accurate than gas or recoil operation (both for rifles and pistols, because there is no vibration induced by a gas piston, and no barrel motion in recoil), but in pistols they are more mechanically complex than recoil operation; and in rifles they are limited in the power and range of cartridges they can fire reliably.

Short recoil is certainly best for major caliber pistols; but it isn't necessary for .22s, and in fact the mechanical rigidity of the blowback system improves accuracy (no matter the chambering).

Just some general principles to guide you in figuring out an operating system:

  • Less motion is good
  • Less mass in motion is good
  • Slower motion is good (presuming sufficient energy)
  • More consistent motion is good
  • Fewer moving parts are good
  • Fewer closely fitted parts required is good
  • Better tolerances and tighter clearances are good
Reliability (all of the above 'cept the last, plus):
  • Less sensitive to timing is good
  • Less sensitive to pressure is good
  • Less sensitive to firing position is good
  • Less sensitive to weapon mounting or grip is good
  • Less sensitive to fouling is good
  • Less fouling overall is good
  • Looser clearances required are good
Power and Versatility:
  • Less sensitive to pressure is good
  • Less sensitive to inertia is good
  • Less sensitive to recoil is good
  • Less sensitive to overall power of the cartridge (one way or the other) is good
Unfortunately, you can't have all those things at once. To optimize your choices, you need to look at what your needs are for accuracy, reliability, power, and versatility, and make your compromises.

Best of luck, no-ones come up with the perfect solution yet... Maybe when we have hand held plasma pistols with an instantaneous recharge rate, and unlimited power source...

...'Til then I'm pretty happy with a 1911, an AR, an M14, and my manually operated pump shotgun and revolver.

Monday, May 28, 2007


Surfing around the web today, I've been tearing up more than a bit.

This is just a great video; I've seen it before and it makes me choke each time.

Funny thing; Sunrise Sr. living as depicted in the movie, is actually a real place in Chandler, AZ; a few miles away from me. The movie was made by a couple of local film makers in '04, and won a bunch of prizes.

James McEachin (who played the Army veteran) was one of only two survivors of the King company ambush at Kumsong. He was severely wounded, and near death; when he was carried out of the area by a fellow soldier who was never identified.

For his actions during the Korean conflict McEachin was awarded a purple heart (with repeat awards), a Silver Star (for valor, with repeat awards), and five other medals or citations for valor.

McEachin never received these medals however, because of a records error. He was unaware even that he had been awarded several of them, until 2005 (after this movie was made) when his congressman was doing research on him for a veterans history project.

Oh and David Huddleston, who played a Navy vet in the movie? He's actually an Air Force vet.

HT: Xavier

Memorial Day

To Absent Companions, and Fallen Comrades.

Christopher J. Byrne IV (Capt. USAFR, Ret.)

God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

-- Rudyard Kipling

Saturday, May 26, 2007

I'd be done, if I weren't an idiot

With the chest that is.

I ripped and crosscut all the panels (3/4" oak ply) to size this morning (actually early afternoon, and using my new tables, which are working out very well by the way).

Remind me never to try and do precision joinery on large panels ever again, with anything less than a cabinet saw. Trying to get square and trim down to 1/16" over a 5 foot length of two foot wide panel on a saw that barely weighs more than the panel....

Let's just say Ripping these panels to width was not the most pleasant experience, and its one I'd prefer to not repeat.

Then I put a 3/8" rabbet all the way around each panel, so I can inset the floor, and stairstep lap all the corners; both for strength, and for waterproofing.

Once I was done, I started gluing up; using gorilla glue, because it's expanding, gap filling, and water proof. I wet the rabbet, ran the glue bead, spread it, and corner clamped the sides together; then brad nailed the sides together in position (thank god for air nailers) , and move to the next corner.

This is where I made my error.

As I was doing the third corner, after the glue on the other two had already set, I noticed that I screwed up. Because I wasn't paying careful attention (I was chatting with Mel at the same time as I was working) I had screwed up the lap on one of my sides.

I had intended to inset both sides behind the face of the front and back, just like the floor; but instead I had done one inside lap, and one outside lap.

...and they were already well set with a waterproof expanding glue, and cross nailed in place....

Oh joy...

So I knocked the third corner apart (I was halfway done building it) and changed it's lap orientation to keep the box square, so now I've got two inset laps, and two outside laps.

That's OK from a joinery perspective, it's still strong and water proof etc... but it leaves me with a problem...

Remember, I'd already cut and rabbeted the top and bottom to the original dimensions. Well now, with the changed joints, the box is 3/8" narrower, and 3/8" longer.

So now I have to re-rip, re-crosscut, and re-rabbet the top and bottom; oh and of course the top and bottom are now too short; so I have to glue and brad two filler strips, and then cover them up with the face frame.

One the face frame is in place, you won't be able to tell a thing went wrong, but I'll know, and it will irritate me.

All that is about an extra two hours work, because I had already broken down the saw setup. So I had to reset everything for the rip and crosscut. Then re-set again for the Rabbet.

It was a PITA, and I'm irritated because if it weren't for all the extra work, I'd be done tonight; except for finishing.

Oh and even better, the box has a length constraint and a width constraint. The width is going to be OK, because the box is 3/8" narrower... unfortunately, the LENGTH is a problem. The box is now 3/8" longer, and I've only got 1/4" of wiggle room on my original dimensions...

So I'mna have to plane down the 1" oak (which is actually 3/4") to 1/2" on the sides in order to clear the side walls of the cargo carrier (I have a planer thankfully; doing it by hand is a royal pain; and doing it on the tablesaw is nearly as bad).

Anyway, all I need to do now is the face frames (all four walls, the top, and the floor have an oak face frame; glued and screwed to the panels, and each other, both for looks and for strength), and final fitting on the top, and I'm done. In theory it should be about two hours of work, maybe three. Hopefully the chest will be done tomorrow.

Friday, May 25, 2007

I can't stop myself...

The tool addiction continues unabated.

Actually, it should be sated for a little while; this one wasn't so much a new tool, as it was replacement of an unsatisfactory one.

A couple months ago I bought this Craftsman drill:

Just as a general household drill; not for any real heavy duty work or anything. I was going to buy a decent Makita, De Walt, Porter Cable etc... but their replacement batteries are $90, and don't last much longer than the Sears Die Hard batteries... plus the battery alone is the price of an entire new Craftsman drill with two batteries.

So, it was either buy a drill for $90 with two batteries that'll probably last two years, and then go back and buy two more batteries for $25 each in two years; or buy a $180 drill with two batteries, and have to buy $180 worth of batteries in two years...

Yeah to me, it's not worth the extra for the expensive drill. With a pro, using their drill 10 hours a day, absolutely, pay for the magnesium cased drill. You're going to kill the batteries fast no matter what, and the drill will last through 5 sets of batteries. For me, I'm going to kill the batteries before the drill.

Only one problem: I discovered while driving about 240 3" deck screws over the past four days, that under heavy use at high torque, one of my batteries was discharging at an excessive rate, and not recharging to full capacity.

That's a bad thing. In an older battery thats jsut normal behavior as it dies; but in a new battery it could mean leaking and/or catching on fire etc...

Also, the drill has this "auto chuck" feature, that seems a bit fragile, and makes the chuck work oddly. I'm pretty sure much more heavy use and I'd break it.

Anyway, I'd used the drill rather heavily for several months, and I didn't think I could return it; so I went down to sears to go and buy a new battery. I also figured, hey, I'll buy another charger so I can keep both batteries charged at all times (the chargers have a trickle mode so it's safe to leave them on the charger full time).

I get down there, and the batteries are the normal $25, plus $30 for the universal fast charger; for a total of $55...

... oooor, they have this electric impact driver:

...which COMES with two batteries and the same charger, all of which are compatible with my existing drill; and it's on sale for $100. $80 for two batteries and a charger, or $100 for two batteries, a charger, and an impact driver.

So yeah, I bought the impact driver.

Now, here's where the REAL tool addiction shines through though. After I bought the driver, I mentioned to the sales guy that one of my drills batteries wouldn't hold a charge, and that I didn't like the auto-chuck. He tells me that I can't get a refund on the other drill, but that they'll exchange it for me no problem.


So I head back home, grab the old drill, pack it up, and head back to Sears looking to exchange it for a better drill.

Only the same problem exists with the Makitas of the world with the batteries, so I want to stick with Craftsmans; plus I just got the impact driver, so I want to stay with the same battery set.

... Ooooor, I can exchange them both and get a drill/driver, or the higher end drills etc...

So I decide that's what I'll do; I'll just exchange them both for $190 in store credit and get a $190 drill, or maybe a $120 drill and a couple extra batteries etc...

They've got this 1/2" Drill/Driver for $120:

It comes with two batteries and a charger, and then an additional two battery and charger set for it is $75.

That solves my drill problem, but honestly, I want an impact driver anyway; and the drill/driver thing doesn't work out as well as having two of them. I mention this to the sales guy, and lo and behold, they have this Combo Kit:

It has the same drill/driver they sell on its own for $120, plus an impact wrench, a trim saw, a recip saw, a work light, and a rather nice heavy duty tool bag for all of it; and all using the same 19.2 volt Die Hard battery and charger system. Even better, it's normally $239, but it was on sale over memorial day weekend for $180 (they also have a kit with just the two drivers that lists at $160, on sale for $120, but it wasn't in stock).

So yeah, I picked up the combo kit; which was handily covered by my store credit; and just to make sure I've always got power I grabbed the charger and two battery kit to go with it.

I tested it out, and I can't stop the motor on either the drill or driver driving deck screws into 1" thick Brazillian Ipe wood; even in high gear; a test most drills, even high end drills, will fail; so I'm happy.

Market Forces, Feedback, and the Gun Culture

"Man, that was stupid, why don't they make...?"

"Man, That was stupid, why did they stop making...?"

Insert your "why don't they" here...

Firearms manufacturers seem to do a lot of dumb things, a lot of the time. They discontinue extremely popular models, they introduce dogs that no-one wants to buy, they put in or leave out features apparently in direct contravention to what people seem to want etc...

Sure, all manufacturers in all markets do this a lot, but firearms manufacturers seem to do it more than most.

The worst offender on this score is probably Colt, who seems to think that consumers will simply bow down and worship at the altar of the Prancing Pony no matter what crap they throw at us. Colt has spent the last 25 years disrespecting their consumer, and they've danced around bankruptcy time and again (and are currently in the midst of acquisition, again)because of it.

Only slightly less egregious though, is Ruger; who sometimes seem completely unable to judge the desires and preferences of the gun loving world.

Why is that?

Because Ruger doesn't SELL to gun lovers. That's not their market. Oh, that doesn't mean gun lovers don't buy their guns; obviously they do; it means that that isn't who Ruger is targeting, or whose preferences they are responding and catering to.

Personally, I like Ruger revolvers quite a lot. I bought one for my wife as a personal protection gun for her Birthday two years ago (the first gun she ever owned actually). I'd LOVE it if they made a strong, lightweight, slightly smaller SP101. They'd sell like mad to the enthusiast community. I'd love to see Ruger produce a 5 shot .44 magnum or .44spl on the GP100 frame; I bet they'd sell to every revolver enthusiast on the planet. If they made a titanium framed (Ruger is the number one Titanium manufacturing foundry in the world) model in .44spl... us gun nuts would be beating people at the doors to the shop just to get in first to buy it.

If Ruger made the Deerfield Carbine with a 10rd mag, I would have two of them, one for my truck and one for my house.

If they sold decent factory large cap mags for the Mini-14 I bet Mini sales would double to the enthusiast community.

Then of course theres the fact that many in the enthusiast community feel betrayed by Ruger (or at least by Bill Ruger personally), because of his support for a ban on all magazines holding more than 15rds (a business decision really. he felt that a magazine ban would stave off a complete ban on the guns themselves, which he thought was inevitable otherwise). Many enthusiasts, gun lovers, members of the gun culture refuse to buy Ruger products to this day (of course Colt and S&W at various times also supported a ban, and are also being boycotted by some).

Given all of these problems that enthusiasts an gun lovers in the gun culture had with Ruger, you'd think they would never sell any guns...

But... that's not who Ruger are selling to.

Ruger is the largest manufacturer of civilian small arms in the United States by production volume; and worldwide are only exceeded by FN, and the Chinese Military.

Ruger are the ONLY manufacturer in the united states who make all four major category of sporting arm (rifles, shotguns, auto-pistols and revolvers); and they sell well in all of those markets.

Ruger sells more revolvers than S&W; the 10/22 alone sells more copies than all Marlins (their primary competition) put together (and at times has sold more than all other .22 rifles put together); they are the fourth most popular auto pistol for police (behind Glock, Beretta, and SIG), THIRD most popular among the general non-police public (behind Glock, and all 1911 type pistols); and the Mini 14 outsells every single brand of AR (though of course not all of them combined).

Why is that? The gun mags don't write much about Ruger. The enthusiast community pretty much ignores them, or actively dislikes them. All the market indicators you'd think would have them at the bottom of the pile...


Because Ruger doesn't market to the gun-mag crowd, or to the "serious" gunner; except when they market themselves as the more economical choice.

Ruger sells on price, and on durability. It's that simple.

For example, Ruger sells extremely well in the Over Under shotgun market, because they make a very high quality gun (the Red Label) for a much lower price than their competition.

Ruger sells very well in the large game rifle market, because they offer rifles chambered in African hunting cartridges, in a very strong action, for less than half the cost of their competitors.

Ruger doesn't compete on features, they compete on making strong (hell, nearly indestructible) guns at a better price than their competitors because of their manufacturing processes and efficiency. That's how they were founded and how they are run today.

Rugers primary market is the general consumer, and has been for a long time. In general, firearms consumers are not educated about the issues, either technical or legal, surrounding the guns that they buy. As an instructor and former gun shop employee, let me tell you, better than 90% of the people who buy guns are clueless, and don’t want to be otherwise.

Consumers in the gun market are primarily price driven; as in most other markets. Given the “gun culture” one would assume this is not so; but most gun owners aren’t really IN the gun culture.

I’ve had this discussion with distributors, and believe me, they know what sells, or they'd be out of business right quick. The best selling new centerfire hand guns in almost any “average” gun shop (unless they cater specifically to cops, or higher end gun sales) will be, in order:

1. Glock auto pistols
2. 1911 type pistols of any type (Kimber and Springer lead, Colt's a strong third)
3. Ruger revolvers and auto pistols
4. Kel-Tec auto-pistols (a recent development, primarily driven by the P3AT)
5. S&W Revolvers
6. Beretta auto pistols (they've been falling for years, and may be behind SIG now)
7. SIG auto pistols
8. Everything else

The reason for Rugers strong positions, is because they are typically speaking about 20% cheaper than their comparable competition in any model (as are Kel-Tecs by the way). Handguns, shotguns, rifles; at each competitive position Ruger is generally the least expensive gun with acceptable quality, and are often the most durable to boot.

If consumers were driven primarily by quality over price, semi-custom 1911s, SIGs, and S&W revolvers would top the list. Clearly, they are not.

The fact of the matter is, Ruger doesn’t make large capacity magazines for sale to the general public for Mini 14s, the deerfield carbine, 10/22s etc… because the public as a whole doesn’t make them do so. They have no interest. Their products sell at or near the top of every market they compete in without the legal and PR hassles associated with large magazines, so why WOULD they produce them?

Corporations are in business to make money. If a company is making a lot of money doing one thing, why would they change that to do what you want, even if you are right? Their feedback mechanism is sales, and Rugers sales are excellent.

The only way Ruger is going to change, is if people stop buying their products. The only way that's going to happen is to bring more Ruger buyers into the gun culture, so they know what they are buying, and why their choices are sub-optimal.

Only then will Ruger change to respond to the desires of the gun culture; and only then SHOULD they.

Last Day

So today is Rosie's last day of school.

Damn this year moved fast.

Next year she'll be in "real" school in one of the three kindergarten classes at the private Catholic school she's been attending and Shai will be in the preschool class. Both kids have been accepted and paid for and I don't have to worry about anything until it's time to buy uniforms for Rosie. Given my latest experiences shopping for an unusually tall 5 year old amid a sea of short skirts, I'm looking forward to putting her in standardized plaid jumpers.

But for now I have 2 1/2 months of both kids at home to deal with and the added benefit of no longer having to drive in 100 degree heat on a daily basis. Yay! However this does mean 2 1/2 months of the girls fighting with each other, which isn't as fun. I'll think we'll survive somehow.


Just call me Mel, everyone else does.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Tired, Tore up, and Tabled

Well, I finally have the third table done; and I'm ready to start tomorrow afternoon on the chest. That one should be interesting.

Doing this one was pretty simple; this time I pre-measured and precut almost all the wood; then I drilled once the pieces were in place (and square in some cases), and glued and screwed things down.

Anyway, I'm tired and sore, I'm off to bed.

Another Day, Another Damn Table

Two down, one more to go.

Well... for today.

My tool addiction progresses, but at least I'm doing something useful with it. As you can see from these pictures, I've been doing some panel cutting:

Which is the whole reason I was driven to build these damn tables right now in the first place.

Of course, I'm following the traditional bootstrap method; I'm using the tools I've built, to build more tools, and then using those to build other things etc...

First I built simple little jigs to help me build the tables. Then I built one table. Then I used the table and the little jigs to build more complicated and useful jigs. Then I built another table, faster, and more precisely...

Anyway, I'll build the "final" table today, and then my "shop area" will be organized enough, and easy enough to use, to get satisfactory results building my cargo box.

Of course when I get back from TX, I'm going to need to build a "saw station". What's that you ask?

See the stand the saw is resting on? Those metal legs? Yeah... they suck.

It's not just THIS saw, it's pretty much all "portable" or convertible saws. They have bases that are designed to be easily moved; and easily moved bases are... well... easily moved, both intentionally and not. Intentional moves good, unintentional moves bad. With some of the sheetmetal saw stands you can bolt them down to the floor; but that's a pain in the ass, and the relatively thin sheetmetal still isn't all that stable.

So, a home built saw station consists of a stable (and heavy) base, surrounding the portable saw on two or three sides; and having a table top matching the height of the saw (with the thickness of the base being such that the height of the saw table end up the exact same height as your other worktables and benches). This effectively turns your portable saw into a cheap cabinet saw... or more accurately you're building your own Biesemeyer tables which does something similar.

(an aside, Biesemeyer is like 10 miles from me. Too bad they don't offer a "factory discount")

Now, why bother?

Well, other than that whole stability thing (like I said, unintentional motion BAD) a REALLY BIG work surface for your saw is an amazingly useful thing.

With a BIG table, you can horse big work pieces around, clamp them down, run them along full length straight edges (MUCH more dimensionally accurate and stable than the piddly little rip fence on your saw), spin them at any angle, use any kind of weird jig you want etc...

...and of course, it's just a damn big, stable, table; which is a remarkably useful thing to have around.

But... didn't I just build three big tables?

Sure, but those tables are not very big, and not very stable. They are designed to be movable and convenient worktables. A saw station is meant to be set in place and not moved... STABLE, STABLE, STABLE is the watchword here.

Have I mentioned stability? It's not just for sawing; a stable platform is important for any number of "building and making" tasks.

BIG in this case means at least six feet long by four feet deep; and maybe as much as 8x6 or 8x8 if you have the room (I don't). Big means big enough so that whatever the biggest work piece you think you'll be cutting, will be stable in whatever orientation you think you might cut it in

Note: If you're going to build it bigger then 4x8 or so it's best to build it in modular sections that can be bolted together and then unbolted for transportation, because nobody wants to get an oversize load permit to move their tablesaw.

Heavy means 300+ lbs. Enough weight so that any work pieces you are moving around aren't going to movie the table; though not enough that you can't EVER move the thing.

Stable means you aren't building it on four widely spaced legs, you're either putting a big post of a leg every 2 feet; or preferably you're building a subfloor frame... though putting some adjustable feet on it is a good idea so you can easily level the thing. Oh and if you want to be really fancy, stick some retractable casters on the corners and center posts to make the thing easier to move when you want to.

Basically, you aren't building a table, or a cabinet, or a countertop here; you're building a house. In fact, you are building a stable floor, with decking (you didn't think I'd leave all that space empty did you? and give up 100+ cubic feet of storage? I'd have to be mad), silled and headered walls, and then another stable floor on top of it for the "second story", which in this case is your worktop. Oh and level... everything has to be completely level and plumb along the way. Enclose the whole thing in sheathing if you want, and add doors. It looks neater, and adds torsional rigidity.

Oh and the part just under the saw? box it in and put in a port for your dust collection system (in my case a shop vac, but hey). Then you've got 100 cubic feet of cabinet space AND less dust.

Now, here's the really fun bit.

Once you have your saw station built, you build tool stands that set the height of all the fixed tables on your shop tools at the exact same height (or at least the ones that should be. Some tools benefit from having chest height tables). That way you can move heavy work pieces from station to station without changing elevation.

Honestly, it sounds like a lot of work, but it really isn't, and you aren't using high quality finish grade wood here, so it's not TOO expensive. The wood and hardware for a 4x8 saw station should run something on the order of $100.

If you want to get really fancy and add on some aluminum channels and rails for jigs and fences, and a steel scale and straightedge on the front, maybe another $100 added on. That's still a hell of a lot less than the $500+ for two Biesemeyer tables (on side, one back), and to my mind just as good or better.

Oh and it's still a lot cheaper than buying a cabinet saw as well; though it's not a real substitute, more of a temporary standin. Once you DO buy a cabinet saw though, it's not like you need to toss the old saw station. You can just cut out the part of the saw station that your portable saw fits into, and then match your station to the new saw (using a circular saw and a recip saw).

If you're "design challenged" and don't want to draw up your own plans (hey, I paid good money to get an Aerospace Engineering degree, I have to use those skills SOME time right?), Norm Abram did one in "The New Yankee Workshop" a few years ago; and plans and measured drawings are available on the web site. I think the version he made is a bit small, but it was designed to still be portable. Oh, and the two parter he did on table saws is excellent; and includes how to use your saw properly, as well as how to build a bunch of great saw accessories (like side and outfeed tables, featherboards etc...).

Also very useful from Norm are this Chop Saw Station, this Router Station, this Workshop System, this Miter Bench, this Shop Cabinet/Tool Stand, this Grinder/Sharpening station; and most useful of all, Norms plans for his Work Benches, Jigs, and Shop Helpers. I just wish they would get around to putting it all on DVD rather than VHS (some episodes are on DVD, some aren't).

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Confessions of a Tool Addict

So in a week and a half, we're heading off to Texas for the NoR shoot; and we're going with four people, probably about 30 guns, at least 5000 rounds of ammo, a camp kitchen and a camp pavilion, some folding chairs, and some shooting tables; plus clothes, air mattresses, bedding...

Anyway, it's a LOT of crap, honestly more than I want to carry AND have all of us in the truck, and I don't feel like towing a trailer; so I picked up a new hitch carrier.

I was thinking about the 2” Hitch Haul, with a side rail kit. I had been thinking of the Hitch haul magnum, which has the same carrying capacity and 4"x60" of extra space (20"x60" vs24"x60", but I found out they don’t have rails for it. Cabelas is currently selling them for $65 plus $45 for the rail kit; and $40 if I want the folding receiver, for $150 all up.

I was also considering the Valley industries heavy duty model. It has the same cargo carrying capacity, but lower rails. However, the rails are welded not bolted on; and it has a folding receiver built in, for $140 all up (or $120 for fixed - $10 more than the Hitch Haul for fixed, $10 less for folding compared to Hitch Haul).

Oh and the Valley can fold with the rails in position (because the rails are a fixed welded part of the frame); the Hitch Haul can’t fold with the rails in place.

What I ended up buying was this:

MasterBuilt Hitch Haul 2" reciever hitch cargo carrier

MasterBuilt Hitch Haul folding receiver bar mount

They totaled out at $110 plus tax. It would have been $25 more for the Magnum model, which has the same weight capacity, but an extra 4” of depth on the platform; and $45 for the side rails.

I looked at the depth of the side plates, and the structure of the thing; plus the size of the cargo box I’d be building, and I decided no way did I need the rails, or the extra 4”.

Anyway, on to the topic in the title...

Have you seen what they want for a truck cargo box lately? A 20x60 will cost me $150 for a cheezy plastic model, and at least $300 if I want a nice diamond plate one.

Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick.

It’s 10 small pieces of sheet metal presuming fully cut sides, or two pieces from a press and brake, a piano hinge, some weather stripping, two handles and a lock.

1.5 sheets of aluminum, $20 worth of hardware, and a half hour worth of welding.

The plastic ones are even cheaper to make; and NEITHER of them have what I would consider acceptable fit finish or quality for a piece you’re paying that much for.

Anyway, I looked at that, and I looked at the cost of plywood and said “Screw that, I’mna build one”. I can build a really nice one out of oak plywood with oak stringers, marine epoxy, and spar varnish for about $100. Probably take me two hours without the finishing".

60x20x20 main box with a 4” deep lid; rabbeted corners and a mitered 1/2” oak face frame all the way around. Brass piano hinge and some generic locks and handles from the hardware store; or use amplifier handles and road case locks from musicians friend for fancy hardware if the Lowes doesn’t have it and it’s an extra $20.

The main difference of course is that I’ll actually be PROUD of the way the oak box looks; never mind the price.

I went to the local Lowes, and picked up two sheets of 3/4” oak plywood, 4x 10 foot and 3x 8 foot 1"x2" strips of red oak for the frame, a piano hinge, two handles, two latches, and a hasp.

Total: $150 after taking $20 from a friend for the half sheet I’m not going to use; $118 in wood, $32 in hardware.

I wanted to use 1/2” oak for both the plywood and the frame, and they didn’t have any; it was special order only. That would have dropped my cost about $20 on the plywood and $20 on the framing wood for $110 total if I’d had time to wait a week for the special order, but obviously I didn't have that kind of time.

The box is going to be 24"h x 20"d x 60"w outside dimension, 3.5” smaller internal length and width (because of thickness of wood) for a total volume of 22374 cubic inches, or 13 cubic feet. Unfortunately it's also going to weigh about 100lbs; but it's going to be beautiful, solid, weather tight, well made, and should last longer than I do.

What does this have to do with my tool addiction?

Don't worry, I'll get there... you need to context to understand how it all made sense at the time.

Ok, so that was Saturday morning to mid afternoon. Then, on the way home I stopped by the pawn shop closest my house which I try to check out once a week. While I was there I grabbed up a nice Bostich brad nailer for $30. I don't know where my brad nailer disappeared to when I moved last, and it's damn useful to have one around in general; plus I wanted one to build the box with.

Sunday I head out to start building the box, and I'm getting excessive vibration from my table saw; a 10" Ryobi portable.

Anyway, I decided to remount my saw "permanently" on my "temporary" work bench. I put the "temporary" in quotes there because it's a ripped sheet of 3'x5' 3/4" plywood, and a pair of heavy duty saw horses; and it's been my main wood working and general use outdoor work bench for about six months now. I keep meaning to build a couple of real benches, I just haven't had time.

I didn't have any carriage bolts handy, and besides, I couldn't find my glue brushes (those cheap aluminum tube brushes that you buy 5 for $0.99); so I headed out to the local ACE.

In the process of picking up the carriage bolts to mount the saw (and some extras to remount my bench grinder, my band saw, and my drill press, which were all mounted on these Black and Decker x-fold aluminum tool stands, which I love by the way), I hit the discount bin and grabbed a couple pairs of cheap vise grips, and a bunch of small clamps, all $o.99 or $1.99 each. It's amazing how a $5 trip can turn into a $50 trip ain't it.

But, you can never have too many clamps.

So I get home, remount the saw and test again, and the vibration is worse. I try and make a cut, and it wobbles so much that the 1/8" kerf blade is making a 1/4" kerf cut.

I tore down the saw, and the wobble was in the motor... seems the bearings are gone.

Great... time for another table saw... but not on Sunday; by then it was time to go pick up the kids from grandmas.

Monday afternoon rolls around, and I take a long lunch to go pick up a new table saw. I looked around the websites of all the local tool retailers looking for a good deal, and unsurprisingly it seemsthe best deal and selection are at Sears.

So I'm on the web site checking out the deals, and I find a couple of really spectacular ones, but for some reason when I call the local store they can't tell me if anyone in the area has them in stock; so I head down to the store directly.

There was a special closeout deal that I really wanted on this saw:

It's just a spectacular deal, $265 for a $600 entry grade cabinet saw.

One small catch though, the nearest one is in northern California, wouldn't arrive for 14-21 days, and would cost $251 to ship.

Which actually is STILL a decent deal, but no way am I going to pay $250 for shipping, and I can't wait two weeks anyway.

So, my second choice was this other spectacular deal, $250 for a JET convertible saw that lists at $500:

Another small problem, the nearest one is in Ohio, wont even ship for 21-28 days, and is $60 to ship (80lbs on this saw, vs 350lbs on the other saw).

Well damn.

So after the little bait and switch act, I'm still looking for a half decent table saw in the $250 price range. Of course Sears has a half dozen saws between $99 and $269; but the cheapest ones are really crap, and the more expensive ones aren't really worth the premium over the $200 saws. Really you're better off just buying one of the $200 saws, or going all the way and and spending the $500 to $1000 for a contractor grade saw.

Anyway, that's what I did; buying this convertible saw:

I payed $199 on sale from $220. There was a similar saw mounted on a plastic cabinet for $220, but I saw no real advantage to it. There was another saw $30 cheaper, but it had a smaller table, that didn't extend as far, and had a smaller outfeed support etc....

I read all the reviews on the saws in the price range before I went to the store, and the one I bought had the best reviews; and seemed the best value for the money, so there you go.

One REAL irritation I had in this process, other than the bait and switch: ALL the saws in this price range have these little tiny t-slot miter gages. They're so small as to be basically useless, and the t-slots are not only unstable, but you cant replace them with a standard miter gage, or a panel cutter, or any other jig that runs in the miter gage slot, because of the stupid "t-slot"

Ok, so I pick up the saw, and then head over to Harbor Freight, to pick up a couple of those cheap roller stands they had on sale for $10.

Tactical error on my part.

There are so many things waiting for me to buy them at horror freight, most of them under $5. I grabbed two new vises (one tiny hobby vise for gunsmithing, and one big benchvise) for $30 TOTAL for example. Sure, they aren't very good, but they work, and a good vise is $200. All the bar clamps were on special sale 50% off, so I grabbed about a dozen various bar clamps for a total of about $30.

Remember, you can never have too many clamps. Seriously.

Funny how a $20 trip can become a $200 trip ain't it?

So anyway, I put the saw together Monday night. I ripped some pices up and was VERY happy with the saw overall.

I started to rabbet the edges of the ply panels for the box with my router, and it was just irritating. For stop rabbets, or curved rabbets yes go for router, but were talking about long straight lines here. The proper tool for this job is a dado head cutter.

Unfortunately, I can't find mine anymore.

Also, working with the limited bench space and saw space that I had was REALLY irritating with these 5 foot long panels.

I've been needing to build a couple new benches and work tables lately anyway...

So, I headed down to the Lowes again, pick up the dado set ($40) three sheets of plywood (1x 23/32" and 2x 15/32" A-C - $65), 10x 10 foot doug fir 2x4s ($27) and 3lbs of 3" deck screws ($15); or $107 total for three tables, or $35.33 a table.

That's gonna give me three tables; two 3'x4' and one 2'x4'. The tables are saw height (35.5"), with two layer tops 1-1/4" thick (one layer is 1/2" the other 3/4", glues and screwed together), with the frame fully deck screwed together, and a 1/2" plywood shelf on the cross braces.

I may make the tables 32' to fit through standard interior door jams, or 24" to fit through exterior jams; I haven't decided. The two larger tables are intended for exterior/shop use, and I could use the extra couple inches of work space. Besides, I have a sliding glass door I can get the tables through if I have to. Of course I may not always have that option, and it IS only losing 2" or4"... I'll figure it out as I go.

Unfortunately, while I was loading the plywood, I managed to jerk my arm free and accidentally ram a 1" long 1/4" thick splinter deep under the surface of my left forearm, exactly at the spot where I cant get to it, and deep enough that Mel can't dig it out.

And by can't dig it out, I mean can't get it out with a scalpel, a 1/4" deep 1/2" long incision, and forceps. I was an EMT basic at one point and I don't see any point in going to the emergency room if you can do it yourself.

Anyway, it's bad enough, and deep enough that we cant get it now; so I've butterflied it up. I'm taking antibiotics (tetracycline lasts for 3 years without refrigeration), and waiting a couple days to see if it pushes towards the surface enough to get at it. If not I'mna have to go in for surgery to have it removed.

Oh Joy.

Anyway, nothing I can do there; and now I'm really irritated, so at about 6pm I saw "screw it, I'mna go build a damn table.

At 9 'clock, I had this:

A 2' by 4' saw height smooth top table. It's not completely done yet, I still need to put in the final two side stringers around the bottom, and screw down the lower plywood shelf; but other than that it's ready to go.

The best part of course is that now that I have one table, building the other two is going to be MUCH faster; because I have a nice large work surface at the right height. It should be two hours each for the other two tables, maybe less.

The BOM on this table is pretty simple:
  1. 1x - 2'x4'x3/4" a-c plywood. Used as tabletop base glued and screwed to the finish top
  2. 2x - 2'x4'x1/2" a-c plywood. Used as finish tabletop and shelf
  3. About 40 foot of 2"x4" whitewood. Longest length is 4'.
    • 4x 48" long stringers (top and bottom)
    • 4x 34" legs
    • 2x 19" top side rails
    • 2x 15" top rail doublers
    • 2x 11" bottom side rails
    • 2x24" feet
  4. 70x 3" deck screws (just over a pound)
The plywood top configuration here assumes you are making multiple tables, and taking advantage of that extra 2' whacked off the end. If you want to just built a 2'x4" table you can do it with just one sheet of 1/2" plywood, cut into 4x 2'x4' planks, and tripled for the top.

A 1/2" sheet of a-c ply is $20, 4x 10 foot studs are $11 and a pound of deck screws is $6. Throw in an extra stud for insurance, and you've got a total of $40 for the whole thing.

Considering Home Despot will charge you $60 for a "kit" for a similar, but lower quality table (thinner, lower quality wood), or god forbid $150 from Sears for a cheap sheetmetal one... that's a pretty good deal.

I built this table as a workbench with a 2" clamping lip on the front edge; if you want flush rails, add 2" to the side dimensions. Obviously, for the 3'x4' tables, you just add 12" to each of the side pieces, and another 8 or so screws.

The same design can be extended out to about 4'x6'; but any bigger than that and you'll probably want to go to 4x4 posts for the legs (or use a doubled 2x4 mitered or lap jointed into an "L" angle beam, but a 4x4 is simpler), and 2x6s for the main frame members.

Oh and you can build 3x 32" deep tables from the same number of sheets, if you are looking to buld tables you can move through interior doorways... or you can take the extra 8" and make two back splashes (I prefer no back on my benches and tables so I can slide stock around on them).


So, what started off as a simple $110 cargo carrier, is ending up as a $110 cargo carrier, $500 worth of tools and $300 worth of wood and other materials... oh and maybe a $500 urgent care trip to boot.

Hello, my name is Chris, and I'm an addict... but I swear, I can stop any time I want to.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Ron Paul, the Republicans, and the "Hidden Support"

Cross posted from The Liberty Papers, be sure to check out the comment thread for real fun:

Ron Paul killed himself the other night. Oh he's still walking around and upright, but his political career is pretty much over except for the appeal to the fringe elements of hard core doctrinaire Libertarians... and I suspect that at this point he knows it.

Of course saying this sets of a shitstorm of indignant bull from the aforementioned folks; because Paul is the "White Knight" in their little fever dream.

Doctrinaire Libertarians always assume that:

1. They are right, without question (after all, their perfect doctrinal system says so).

2. It is so obvious and intuitive that they are right, that there must be a huge but silent majority that agree with them entirely.

Thus, their anointed representative in the Republican party MUST have huge reserves of previously unseen support, the polls are inaccurate, they aren’t measuring all the libertarians, he’s ready for a surge blah blah blah.

Ron Paul never had anything more than a snowballs chance in hell. I agree with him on most things, but his stance on 9/11 and the war alone put him (and almost every other doctrinaire Libertarian) into the “would vote for McCain first” zone.

For anyone who knows me, that is as stinging a rebuke as I could possibly give without resorting to vulgarity; or invoking a Clinton.

The Doctrinaire Libertarians will point to polls saying "the majority of Americans don't support the war"; but really that isn't true.

Actually, the majority of the American people AREN’T against the war; they are against the stupid way we’ve been running the war, which seems calculated to lose.

What non-agressionists and isolationsists don’t seem to understand… in fact what Libertarians in general (note the large L) don’t seem to understand, is that 80% or more of the people in this country fundamentally disagree with them on the non-agression principle.

Both committed Democrats and committed Republicans, who combined make up about 80% of the population; support some type of interventionist foreign policy. The two sides simply differ on the type and circumstances of such intervention.

I’m a libertarian, not a Libertarian.

I support fundamental liberty; and the supremacy in moral principle of the liberty of the sovereign man.

I reject the non-aggression principle; because sometimes it IS necessary to initiate aggression to ensure that greater offenses against liberty do not occur.

Sometimes, interventionism IS right. Sometimes it IS moral.

Also, sometimes pragmatism is necessary in order to function in this world. Doctrinaires live in a land of theory; pragmatists live in the real world.

Doctrinaires (including Paul)will say "If we weren't over there we wouldn't be attacked"; that is quite simply a lie.

The people who attacked us, and plan to attack us still, are not motivated by reason or logic. They are motivated by a religious death cult; and a kind of zealous madness. Our foreign policy is irrelevant to their desire to kill, convert, or subjugate us all.

Not to say we haven't made foreign policy errors, many of which have in fact made the problems worse; but trying to explain the actions of madmen through logic isn’t only futile; it’s harmful.

We could have been perfect angels, and the terrorists would still be attacking us because of their pathology of a failed culture. We are the biggest symbol of everything they believe to be wrong and evil in the world; and would be even if we were completely non-interventionist.

If we abandoned Israel completely; and left the middle east entirely; they would still be trying to kill us, simply because of who we are.. and if we did that we would be declaring ourselves craven; which I sincerely hope we as a nation are not.

At that point, “why they hate us” is completely irrelevant; the only thing that matters is stopping them.

"But, you've just been tricked by the evil government and corporations into believing in this illegal immoral war"

Uhhhh no.

I haven’t been tricked into anything. I recognize that there are problems, and that Libertarians have valid points; but I believe in the core mission, even with the problems and issues

This is why the Doctrinaire Libertarians always remind me of those German marxists from the 80s...

“But, our ideas are perfect everyone would see that if only they weren't fooled by the evil government and corporations. One day, we’ll show them, they’ll see and we’ll lead them in glorious revolution”.

Alright, so let's look at exactly what about Paul (and many other Libertarians) positions I disagree with. Pauls positions are quoted here in italics":
"The war in Iraq was sold to us with false information. The area is more dangerous now than when we entered it."
A flat out false assertion there.
"We destroyed a regime hated by our direct enemies, the jihadists, and created thousands of new recruits for them."
Not quite a lie, but at best a half truth.
"And now, there are new calls for a draft of our young men and women."
A bullshit scare tactic.
"We can continue to fund and fight no-win police actions around the globe, or we can refocus on securing America and bring the troops home."
I believe we are doing, in principle though not currently in practice, the right thing by intervening in Iraq. Now what we need to do is win the damn war; and yes it is entirely doable if we have the political balls to do it.

"bringing the troops home" may feel good to people; but it's nothing more than that.

Let us continue...
"Too often we give foreign aid and intervene on behalf of governments that are despised. Then, we become despised. Too often we have supported those who turn on us, like the Kosovars who aid Islamic terrorists, or the Afghan jihads themselves, and their friend Osama bin Laden. We armed and trained them, and now we’re paying the price."
As I noted above, we could have been perfect angels, and they'd still be coming after us. Our foreign policy is completely irrelevant to their hatred for us or their attacks on us.

Oh and we never armed or trained either Bin Laden, or Al Qaeda; we armed and trained various Afghan mujaheddin groups against the Soviets, but Bin Laden wasn't involved with us when we were there, and this was long before the formation of Al Qaeda. The Saudi royalty provides most of the funding for Al Qaeda... and don't get me started on that one.

Anyone who thinks that changing our foreign policy will make us more secure is deluding themselves. They are diving into that same fallacy that weak kids try to appease bullys with, that abused women try to appease their abusive husbands with: "if I'm just nice to him and don't make him mad, he won't hurt me".

Let me make this even clearer. I like Paul, I respect him, I agree with him on far more issues than any other candidate, wspecially when it comes to economic and domestic policies; BUT FOR HIS POSITIONS ON THE WAR AND 9/11 ALONE, I WOULD NEVER VOTE FOR HIM.

Do you know how many MILLIONS of people out there feel exactly the same way?

Funny enough, unlike the phantom Paul supporters the doctrinaires insist are really out there, just waiting for a chance to save the country from itself; those people aren’t hidden, they’re the ones campaigning for Duncan Hunter, and Tom Tancredo, and Fred Thompson… or misguidedly supporting Romney because they think that somehow he’s electable and at least better than McCain or Rudy.

I can’t stomach Paul for president AND I’M A LIBERTARIAN FOR GODS SAKE. I MIGHT vote for him over Hillary; but I’m more likely not to vote in such a contest.

Does this not put any lights on over anybodies heads?

The support you seem to believe is there?

It isn’t.

The agreement you seem so sure is there?

It isn’t.

The surge you seem to think he’s going to make…

Do the math.

Friday, May 18, 2007

A Profound Observation

When in a group of Geeks and/or Engineers, never utter the phrases "how could it get any worse?", or "What could be worse than this?".

They WILL tell you, at great length, and in great detail.

This is why you check, and double check

Everybody knows what those are right?

Sure; it's a primed .38spl case, and some small pistol primers. I'm sure at least half the people reading this have some of each around.

What makes these particular primers special though, is where I got them.

Where you ask?

In my spent primer tray after decapping them; in particular after Mel had decapped them.

We bought a 500ct bag of cleaned and sorted .38spl brass at the last gun show ($0.05 a piece); and were getting ready to load them in preparation for the Texas trip next week. I wasn't happy with how well they'd be cleaned, so I tumbled half of them for an hour, and then Mel started decapping.

Normally I inspect the cases after cleaning and before decapping, but this time with Mel doing the decapping, I forgot entirely. She finished all 250 that I'd tumbled and handed me the try to dump the primers, when I noticed something.

A couple of what appeared to be unexpended primers.

I was... somewhat alarmed and irritated by this; but I thought "well, maybe they're dead"; so I took one, put it in my priming tool, and primed a case. Then I loaded it in the SP101, put my ears on, and fired it into the trash can...

Yup, it was live.

We ended up finding about 15 un-expended primers in the bin. We also went through the remaining 250 "fired" cases, and found that a total of 37 out of the 500 cases had live primers in them.

For those of you who are not reloaders, let me explain the danger here.

When you decap a case, you are applying a hell of a lot of pressure (as much as several hundred pounds) to the case, and to the live side of the primer. With an expended primer this just pops it out. With a live primer though, it may cause the priming compound to detonate.

If the priming compound detonates when your hand is on the lever, that lever could be forced back to the top of it's stroke, breaking your fingers or hand in the process. Depending on how far down your decapping pin is, it could detonate with part of the case wall unsupported and blow out the side of the case(though thats unlikely), flinging high velocity hot brass out the side.

The worst possible thing, would be if a spark or hot metal shaving dropped into the spent primer tray where those 15 live primers are sitting; causing sympathetic detonations in the tray.

That's very very bad.

This is one of the reasons I usually inspect every case before decapping; usually just looking at it when I grab it for insertion into the shellholder... except this time I wasn't the one doing the grabbing, and because it was a change in my process I didn't think of it. It's also why I ALWAYS wear safety glasses when dealing with primers and powder.

I'm also rather irritated with the guy who sold me the brass. I mean, I've had one or two live cases out of 500 before; but never 8%.

Anyway, we safely expended the primers into the garbage can (wheeee, pop gun) re-de-capped them, and then hand inspected each. All was well, so I re-primed them, and they're sitting in my loading trays waiting for Mel and I to finish loading them up.

At least this served as a very graphic demonstration to Mel why you always check, and double check, EVERYTHING when you are reloading.

UPDATE: So I've received several comments to the effect of "Ahhh it's not dangerous, I've done it lots of times"...

You know what, I've done it too; that doesn't make it a good idea, or not dangerous.

I’ll grant you this, a small pistol primer is the smallest conventional primer, so it would do the least damage of any centerfire primer. The pressures generated by a large rifle primer or shotgun primer on the other hand, are quite substantial.

That said, even a small pistol primer can generate enough pressure to dislocate a finger or fling a hand into a cast iron press presuming you weren't prepared for it; and with other primers lying in the tray below it, just one spark is all that would be needed for a detonation. One spark, like a burning hot primer popping out of the bottom of the case it just detonated in (because it is partially pushed out already, and isn’t supported by the shellholder) and flying into the tray for example.

The saving grace here on the impact side, is a compound lever is a lot of force to act against; unless you’re near the top of the stroke. So if it’s a long cartridge, and you’ve set your decapping pin as short as possible, then the only thing that should happen is you getting the crap scared out of you, and maybe having the handle jerked from your hand.

Unfortunately, I have an old fashioned press, with a single point lever…

... and that still leaves the try full of live primers.

So, tell me again how it isn’t dangerous?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

And "The System" Rolls On

So, it's been over 100 most days for the last month and a bit, with some massive wind and dust storms... generally not the most pleasant outdoor environment, and like many Arizona residents we've neglected our yard a bit.

Note, I said "a bit"; here's the total weed growth since we last did the weeds in March(the dead branches are damage from a series of severe wind storms over the past couple months. We've been waiting for the trees to recover a bit before trimming back; and the desert scrub grass at the base of the trees is there ON PURPOSE):

Today we received a notice from the city of Scottsdale, demanding we remove the "Excessive weed growth" from our "desert landscaped" front yard by Sunday, or face a $2000 fine.


Well, first of all, they call THAT EXCESSIVE?

WTF Over?

Not only that, but a $2000 fine?

We're not talking about some anal HOA here. Our house was built in 1953, long before the unholy institute of unlawful prior restraint, the home owners association, was an itch in Satans scrotum.

No, this is the city of Scottsdale...

Now, I thought something was a bit fishy about that; so I started looking at city ordnances etc... and there is nothing that says they can levy a $2000 fine for weeds. The only thing I can find is a "blighted property" statute where they can charge you $2000 for allowing your property to fall into a dangerous state of disrepair or abandonment.

Sooo, they're going to declare a property "blighted" because of (and I counted them) 29 small weeds, mostly right along the edge of concrete.

Yeah, Ok, that's really gonna fly. Obviously, if I took them to court then I would win; but seriously, who's going to do that? Hell, just to take them to court, I'd have to post the fine, AND fees penalties and costs in escrow before hand.

So, grumbling, we go out in the 102 degree sun and pick the weeds. Then we notice a bunch of other folks outdoing similar things.

It seems that every house in the neighborhood got some kind of a violation notice.

Our neighbor got a notice saying he would have to pay a $600 fine for not having his house number posted properly so that it was visible from the street...


Not only that, but it's also on his mailbox, which is on the side of his house facing the driveway. He has a set of numbers on the side facing the street as well, but one of the numerals had fallen off during a recent windstorm, and he hadn't fixed it yet.

This one was flagged because it was a "fire hazard" because "emergency services may not be able to find the address in case of emergency".

Did I mention that every address in the city is in the cities GIS database, which is GPS linked to all city vehicles, and emergency services?

We talked with him (a great guy actually. A rastaman in his early 50s who's been here for 20 years. He and his wife have a beauty salon a couple miles away, and a bunch of grown kids), and he says a few days ago a guy from the city was around looking at everyones houses, and didn't leave 'til he found violations on everybody. Then this morning he went around posting notices.

So, what would have happened if we were gone on vacation for the week?

This is your tax dollars at work ladies and gentlemen. bureaucrats have to justify their existence after all, or they could be downsized (unlikely, but hey, it could happen). Thus, they drive around every neighborhood in the city, and search every house and yard for some kind of violation.

I guess if here are no violations, then obviously they aren't doing their job; so there have to be violations.

Just like lawmakers have to make new laws... because after all, they are lawmakers right; if they arent making laws then they aren't doing their jobs...


But what about when there AREN'T any violations, or no more laws are needed?

Of course THAT would never happen, because there are ALWAYS more laws to make, and the laws are written so that EVERYONE is a violator, no matter how they try not to be; because the government cannot control you if you aren't guilty of something.

So everyone is guilty, and the system rolls on

...and more bureaucrats are hired, and more attorneys, and more prosecutors, and more officers... and the system rolls on.

Because that's what systems do. They perpetuate themselves. They create work, to ensure that there is always work. They increase work, to ensure they can always increase their empires. They justify work, to ensure they will always increase their budgets... and the system rolls on.