Sunday, February 26, 2012

Heavy Metal

Well its been a couple weeks I think; well past the time for an update. The last 14 odd days saw a President's Day weekend full of automotive travails, the learning of a new skill and some work jammed in between to keep things real. Quite a bit to update on, so I better get to it.

First let me say that spring cannot get here fast enough. The past two weekends have had days of tolerably good weather and it has me anxious for outdoor activity. President's Day weekend the weather started off a bit rocky so we spent time plastering the basement wall and painting on Saturday. Everything is really starting to come together downstairs. The plan at the moment is to go crazy with drywall next weekend. Last Sunday the weather improved significantly so I took the opportunity to tear into a rather large car repair.

I popped the new rear heater core into the Vanagon: that was maybe a 40 min job....not the “large” part. I'd also ordered new shocks and leaf springs for the Jeep. The back end certainly was starting to drag and had developed an intriguing finger on chalk board kind of noise whenever you'd go over a bump. Everything I read online indicated that this is a relatively straightforward repair (which it technically is), so I thought that I'd be in and out in a manner of hours. Boy was I wrong. When doing research online for automotive projects I need to learn to be more exhaustive. What I failed to catch in my first round of net-surfing was the intense pain in the ass of getting corroded, rusty leaf springs off a 10 year old Jeep. A Jeep Cherokee's leafs are essentially held on by 2 large bolts per side (excluding the rear shackle which is another pair of bolts). IF (big if) you are lucky and in the favor of several deities these bolts will release after some spraying with PB Blaster and a bit of strenuous work with a breaker bar. If you are on the fast train to hell...apparently like myself...then no gods will smile upon you and you will be forced to wrench on these bolts for hours before you opt for the stomach churning option of cutting them out.

Let me say dear readers I got one bolt to actually come out clean and free. I got another to come out dragging along the sleeve from the bushing...which didn't exactly help my cause. The other two had to be extricated like wisdom teeth: with a lot of pain and some deep cutting. With the Jeep's back end hanging up in the air, rear diff resting on some blocks and axle free and loose I faced the prospect of having to get spare bolts on a holiday. Fortunately the good folks at Denver Spring were open promptly at 8:00 on Monday and I was able to get replacement bolts for a really good price. Armed with bolts I thought the reverse (without the 'benefit' of corrosion) would be a cake walk. Again, I failed to adequately research my task. I simply thought the new bushings would just slide into the eyes of the leaf springs: this my friends is not the case. They must be pressed, or forced, into the eyelets. So again I flew to the internet for some research on how the hell to do that, and I came across a clever design for a simple press made from a large bolt and some conduit flanges. I will say I took no pictures throughout the course of this ordeal: one because I was a greasy mess covered in PB Blaster and car debris, and because it was somewhat of an infuriating process and I wasn't in the mood for “documentation”. In hindsight, I should have taken some pictures of the bushing press. It didn't work “flawlessly” but it did get the bushings to seat far enough into the springs that you could whack them with a sledge and finish them off the rest of the way. Now with the bolts and the bushings properly seated the rest was actually pretty straightforward. Kate helped with the first side to hold the axle and center the differential, after which I was able to do the other side myself. So the lesson folks is check around first: had I looked at a couple more sites I would have seen the myriad number of posts from Jeep owners who'd suffered similar fates: I might have better known what I was getting myself into.

As back breaking as much of last weekend was, it wasn't all work and no play. In somewhat delayed fashion I enjoyed a bit of my birthday present last weekend. Kate got me a class at Club Workshop in Denver to learn how to MIG weld. So on Saturday after my comparatively relaxing VW repair I went to my welding class. Welding has been a skill that I've been very interested in for a while now: enough so that my wife must have gotten tired of me carrying on about it and finally decided to help get me trained up so I don't kill myself or burn the house down. The class was small and incorporated a lot of hands on practice and coaching. In the end we had to weld several pieces of metal together to form a vase of sorts which was intended to hold water; if your welds were correct. While mine wasn't impervious to a small drip in one corner, it held up far better than any of the others in the class. I felt quite accomplished driving home in my newly repaired Vanagon with my hunk of welded steel. So while in the middle of all of my other repairs last weekend I went out and acquired a new welder: an amalgamation of my birthday, Christmas and cash I 'earned' by selling a bunch of unused stuff on Craigslist (thank you to everyone for that bit of help!)

Before I could get my welder going I wanted to add a 240V circuit to the garage so it would run with full power. In terms of welders I got a Millermatic 211 which conveniently can run on 240V or 120V: but 240 yields a better range of power in the welder and thus better beads. Its also a welder that hopefully I can 'grow into' as I practice more. While welding odds and ends will be fun in its own right, and it will have utility around the house, in the garden and with the car my real long term objective is to be able to make parts for bikes or bikes themselves at some point. But I have to start off somewhere, and after my Jeep wrangling (not Jeep Wrangler) I ran the 240V circuit. Fortunately the prior owners already had run 8 gauge wire to the garage they just never hooked it up to a breaker. I added a 50 amp breaker to the panel and wired in the receptacle for near instantaneous 240V power!--unlike my Jeep effort this was a piece of cake. It took a couple days to acquire the remaining pieces of my welding outfit: helmet, gloves etc. but by mid week I was awkwardly sticking metal together in the garage.

This weekend I decided that I really wasn't in the mood for any more home projects: I was going to weld stuff. I figured after several weekends of labor either in the basement or under the dangling axle of our car I had earned a weekend to play around. I made a trip down to the scrap yard with the old leaf springs and the pipe from the basement and cashed it in for some 'new metal' funds. I took my small amount of cash down the street to the metal supply and rummaged through their yard of miscellaneous sized pieces. My goal was to get enough angle and plate to make a small cart to hold my welder and tank. This would hopefully accomplish two things: I'd get to practice welding and I'd get the welder off my table saw. Saturday I took my pile of metal and cut, ground and welded the hell out of it to make the basic frame for the cart. Today I finished up the work to put metal sheet on the top and base so it would actually be functional. All in all I'm very pleased with the experience, even if the cart itself is somewhat lacking. There's clearly an evolution to the welds that shows the progress from my first dozen plus attempts—in all their splattery, lumpy splendor—to my later efforts after an entire cart of practice.

The design is more or less an amalgamation of several designs I pulled together from the internet. The welder is angled up for better view of the controls. It sits on a base of caster wheels for easy mobility and has room (or at least planned room) for large cylinders on the back. I added two pieces of rod bent to seve as a cord wrap to help keep the ground cable and gun out of the way. Through the effort I learned about the need for thorough prep: which I did pretty well. I also learned about the effects of sustained welding on metal: it can twist it. And I learned a bit about designing and working with metal, which is a different medium for me. All it all it turned out pretty well for a first project. If you squint even the bad welds (once thoroughly worked over with a grinder) look pretty good. I do have some pics of this project below.

Welding Cart (More or Less Finished---needs grinding and paint)

Welding Cart, Side View of Cable Wrap

Small Cylinder in the Back, Larger One Will Go Next to It

A Few of My Only "Photo Worthy" Welds

Monday, February 13, 2012

Coming into Frame

Its been two more weeks of sawing and hammering and I've finally gotten everything framed, square (enough) and ready for drywall. Last week when I finished most of the rough framing we were still left with the question of how to handle the entrance to the new laundry/storage area. I made one trip to the hardware store to check my options for doors and get dimensions for the rough opening. While we surveyed the various door frame options we found ourselves wrestling with how the door should swing. Swing one way and it stops short at the adjacent wall. Open the other way and it swings out into the 'hall' somewhat blocking the way at least unless you open it entirely. Opening inward was completely out of the question due to the HVAC duct work running along the opening just inside the door; it might have cleared it...but then again maybe not. In weighing the options we were drawn to the simple and unassuming allure of the pocket door. The unfortunate part about the pocket door is that the opening essentially needs to be twice as wide as the door itself. Since I hadn't planned for this I found myself pulling out some of the existing framing that I had worked quite hard to salvage and keep in place. Fortunately I didn't have to tear out any of the new framing I had built in place of the two double sliders.

I got the opening squared and situated the week before, and this past week I managed to get the door installed and nailed up in its place: it slides smoothly and doesn't take up any extra room to do so. With the hard work behind me, Kate and I started moving out all of our misc junk and stuff from the existing storage area. As clean and tidy as our new laundry space is starting to look the rest of our basement is a mess of things and construction debris bound for the habitat store. Underneath our pile of camping gear and other bits were two substantive storage cabinets built by one of the prior owners. These massive pieces would have been a pain to deconstruct for the trash, so I had the idea to pull them out and put them on Craigslist in the free section. We had a taker for them in less than an hour, and with a bit of struggle and fussing we managed to get them out of the basement and out to the driveway for pickup. Almost instantaneously we went from a storage area choked with junk and over sized plywood boxes to a long, surprisingly spacious, space for our new storage area. The cleaned up space is starting to really look pretty nice.

Framing going in, and the opening for the pocket door.

Looking at the the laundry.

The new storage space leading to the utilty room

Pocket door