First ride of 2011 or first repair of 2011

Knowing we would be out of town for a while, and that the weather would almost certainly not hold, I made sure I got my bike out last weekend. It only took a little coaxing to get it started, and then everything was great. Great, that is, until I tried to pull in the clutch handle. The thing would barely move. I disconnected the cable from the clutch, and tried moving the cable by hand. This worked a bit and things started to loosen enough that I felt okay hooking it back up. I’ll need to lube that cable, though.

Then I was ready to ride, sorta. It turns out the cable was only 1/2 of the problem. Once it was all hooked back up, the lever was still tough to pull, and extremely slow to return. It turns out there is a little spring on the outside of the transmission housing that assists in engaging the clutch. That spring broke at some point, and is just hanging loose. Ok, the clutch is a little too slow for me to ride it safely, so I decide to take a quick look for any other obvious problems. Step one: Check the oil level. Looking through the peep glass on the reservoir, I couldn’t see the line indicating the level of oil in it. This tells me that either the thing is way over full, or completely dry. Any guesses?

After putting the two quarts of motorcycle oil I had into the engine, and running it for a bit, things were a lot better. The clutch was returning reasonably, and I figured I was okay to run to Kopp’s to pick up dinner. On the road, the clutch was still slipping under moderate to heavy load, so I took it easy. Got to the spot, ordered the food, snapped a quick picture, and headed home.

Notice the little puddle? I didn't.

I pulled into the garage, feeling great about my first quick ride of the season, and dismounted. That’s when I noticed the oil running out of the bottom of my bike. Shite. I laid some rags down underneath to catch it, and went upstairs to eat. Now I just have to figure out how bad the problem is.

The “shop”

Draft created: 12/17/2010

One of the things I struggle with in my home shop (calling it that is a bit of a stretch, I suppose) is organization. The place always seems to be a mess, and while I can usually lay my hands on the specific tools or parts I need, it takes a lot more digging through boxes and crates than I’d like. The challenges, as I see them, are as follows:

In short, there’s not enough. Our garage is under our house, taking up 1/2 of the basement. My bench and workspace take up about 1/4 of the garage. In this space I need work surfaces, including ones that will allow me to leave work to dry, ferment, grow, or dissolve. I also need storage for tools and materials. “Materials,” in this case refer not only to nice clean 8′ x 4′ sheet goods, and perfectly true 2x4s, but also the cast-off bits of the last hundred projects, broken devices that contain some useful bit inside, and all of the household stuff we accumulate. This last includes 1/2 roll of rope caulking, a pipe snake, 1 gazillion o-rings (non of which actually fit anything), and the burner from a natural gas space heater.
The second issue is that there is a lot of variety among the “stuff.” I’ve tried a number of different way to catalog and organize everything: by project (what about raw materials and things that might be part of multiple projects?), by material type ( works for materials, but not for parts; I wouldn’t put the extra motocycle handlebars in with the steel pipe), by season (this doesn’t even make sense, but i thought about it), by recency (i.e. newest stuff on the top of the pile). In addition to the variety “now,” the relative composition is apt to change at any time (like the day I suddenly found that I had 10 sealed 6v batteries, or the day I used up half of my scrap wood on a project).
The third challenge is access. I could just put it all in nicely labelled boxes and stack them somewhere, but then it becomes a PITA to actually get at them. It also makes it far less likely that I will put things back in an orderly fashion. If I have to open 6 different boxes from 6 different areas, it’ll mean that much more time to put it all back at the end of the day. I know myself well enough to know that those 6 boxes will sit on my bench until the end of forever, despite the stern lecture I gave Dillon about keeping a tidy work space.

I’ve thought it through, and I think I have a solution…

[You’ll just have to wait, as that’s as far as I got with this post.]

Nerf escalation

Draft created: 2/6/2011

Just after Christmas, when everyone at my office was getting back into the swing of regular work, someone (Ben) introduced a collection of small, single shot nerf guns, one for each designer/developer/Laslo. He also brought in his notably more effective [weapon]. This, naturally, led to something of an arms race, resulting is a fairly well armed Interactive Department. The coolest, I think, the the sawed-off shotgun-style number Tom ordered for the boss, and the most outrageous is the Stampede he ordered for himself:

The thing takes something like 20 D Energizers! My favorite, however, is the extremely accurate, extremely quiet, extremely long range, extremely cheap weapon I whipped up of a lunch hour at the local Home Depot:

That’s right, race fans… a blow gun! Completely destroys all other nerf weapons in accuracy (the barrel is way longer than anything I’ve seen) and range (nothing even approaches the capacity/power of my standard-issue breath-bags), and is better than many in rate of fire. Whistlers and suction darts have to be muzzle loaded and are the more accurate, but the N-Strike darts can be quickly loaded from the mouthpiece. Not nearly as fast as the Stampede, but I poped Tommy in the head from waaaay down the hall, and  he didn’t know it was coming until it was there.

Just in case I was not sure what this was

I realized that I have a bunch of little posts in the Drafts folder; I’m never going to add to these, so here they are. I still have those ones I’m working on, but for now…

Draft created: 1/28/2011

Tom and Laslo (Matt) went ahead and labelled everything at my desk, including several pens, my mouse, my coffe cup, and of course, my keyboard:


Thanks, Tom and Matt.

Plastic Injection Molder – Part 2

I want to be able to use recycled materials as much as is reasonable in my sweet new molder, so I decided to start with what I had around the house. My family goes through a lot of milk, and we’ve recently switched to an organic product with an almost waxy, opaque plastic bottle. I suspect that these will do well in the molder once it’s ready, so this is what I started with.

Now, most paper shredders intended for the home are able to handle a credit card, and I know that the one we have has eaten its share of them, so it seemed like a good place to start. I figured that just cramming whole milk jugs into the shredder might be a bad idea, so I started by cutting the bottles up into reasonably flat pieces. I set aside the handles, necks, and parts of the bottom that seems over-thick and set to work feeding them through. Ultimately, the shredder did a reasonable job, though not as I’d expected. It sort of thinned and perforated the plastic, making it easy to pull and cut into thin strips. These strips should make it easier to feed material into the chamber than trying to spoon in granules.

In addition to recycled materials, I plan to work with some relatively virgin plastic. Luckily, Mike over at has been running through a fairly wide variety of the stuff in his search for a non-bank-breaking way to feed his sweet, sweet Stratasys. The result being that he has some material that won’t work for FDM but will work for PIM. I’m planning to relieve him of some of that inventory very soon.

I also got the word from Mike yesterday that the heating chamber is ready. No more procrastinating, I guess…

Plastic Injection Molder – Part 1

When the weather started to change, I had a long list of projects I wanted to get done. So far, I’m not done with any of them, but I have gotten a reasonable start on some. The shop is looking a lot better, but is not where I want it to be. I got some of the “around-the-house” things done (like installing Rose’s new light switch). I haven’t had a chance to get any of the work on the motorcycle done, yet, but that’s next on the list. I’ve also gotten a good start on a plastic injection molding machine. What’s a plastic injection molding machine, you ask? Well, let me tell you!

A plastic injection molding machine (PIM) is a machine that, at its most basic level, melts plastic and squirts it into a mold. A significant portion of the plastic stuff in your life was injection molded: The case of your phone, every remote in your house, the knobs on your stove, the keys on your keyboard, the handles of your favorite scissors, your tupperware containers… Injection molding is fast, cheap and flexible, making it ideal for a wide variety applications. Personally, I have a handful of product ideas that I plan to try out, and the fact that I can use the machine to recycle plastics at home makes it a neat thing to show the kids. Also, none of my friends have one, so I can finally win at tools, at least for a moment.

Original heater assembly

My PIM machine is based on the design in Vincent Gingery‘s book Secrets of Plastic Injection Molding, plus some modifications from this guy, and some additional changes from Mike. The most interesting, and the most drastic, deviations from the original plan are the heating chamber and the temperature control. The original plans call for a rectangular chamber with a 250 watt cartridge heater to make the magic happen. Actual industrial PIM machines, though, use cylindrical heating chambers and band heaters for the heat. Mike suggested that I might do the same, and so we did some looking on the intertubes for band heaters and found one the will do nicely. After a slight detour toward a pneumatic piston (a detour that was abandoned after a short while) and a little time on ebay, I ordered a 3″, 500w band heater.

Band heater

At 500w, this will not only heat up faster than the original design, but by using a cylinder, I should get a very even heat in the chamber itself. Honestly, I’m not sure this will matter that much, but it feels a lot better than the rectangular chamber, and the price was right. Of course, using the band heater means the original chamber design is out the window. Instead of ordering the 1″ x 1 1/2″ CRS from Speedy Metals, I ordered a chunk of 3″ round bar and proceded to chop off a piece a bit more than 4″ long. Having never worked with steel in any significant way, I was not sure what to expect. My number 1 observation: Steel is different than wood. A few notes about that whole experience:

  1. This was my first order with Speedy Metals, and it went pretty well. It was a helluva drive out to their place, but they were helpful, and fast, and got me what I needed (once I found the door)
  2. Cutting 3″ steel bar with a hack saw sucks
  3. Using a liberal amount of WD-40 as you are cutting 3″ steel bar makes it a lot easier
  4. Even with the WD-40, it still sucks
  5. If you need a 4″ hole in a 4″ bar, you want a 4 1/2″ bar to start
Soon to be the heating chamber

Unfortunately, Mike’s Sherline Mill (on loan for quite a while, now) can’t finish the job up without the purchase of some additional tools. As I’m already at my budget for this project, and anxious to actually use it, Mike has agreed to finish up the chamber and the guide for me. Now I just have to get the frame built.

I also went with a proper temperature control module instead of the somewhat hacked together solutions others have used. I’ve got everything hooked up now, just to see it all go, and it’s awesome! Seriously, when you put something together, and turn it on for the first time, and it works, it is an exceptional feeling. When part of that success involves both green and red 7 segment displays and tells you the temperature of the room, it makes you a little giddy. In addition to the general awesomeness of the temp controller display, it will actually provide a much more stable, repeatable process for the molder.

Temperature controller and SSR

Initially, I expected basically a digital thermostat, but there seems to be a lot more going on. From what I can tell, the controller tracks the rate at which the chamber (the thermocouple wedged between the heater and a chunk of aluminium for testing) is heating and switches off the heater well before it actually reaches the set temperature. For example, I turned the system on and set the controller to 40 degrees. The temperature started going up as expected, but around 30 the power to the heater switched off and the rate of increase in temperature slowed. It still overshot the 40 degrees, but no by much. Pretty cool, I think.

So, next is the frame, or the enclosure, depending on how I’m feeling. Also, I’ve started to try to get some molding material together, and design my first molds, but I’ll get to that in another post.

Symphony of Science

Somehow I missed this before now, But Mike has corrected that oversight for me:

We recently had a meeting that started with an icebreaker of the “what celebrity would you meet” variety… my answer is all of these men. So good.

P.S. I am working on several other, meatier posts, but this was too awesome to wait.