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Archive for December, 2012


Look Ma, no hands!

The title of this blog is one that every kid has uttered at one time or other. Usually just before some major “oops” befalls them. It actually rates right up there with “Hey! Watch me do THIS!”. The latter generally is associated with a visit to the ER and some stitches (or worse). However this blog entry has nothing what so ever to do with those childhood memories or scars. Instead, it’s an Arduino project. But it all started very familiar like one of those childhood things…so let’s begin.

I picked up one of these rather cool clocks for the studio from a local music shop:

GT Clock

It’s a 17″ clock, 13″ face, neon tube that runs around it and the usual not-so-silent ticking battery clock movement in the middle. The thing is powered by an AC adapter but it only powers the neon tube.

It’s been hanging in the studio for months and the incessant ticking is like a WWII water torture. I thought about replacing the clock with an Adruino and LCD display, but that’s kind of hard to read from a distance. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to keep the neon light. Thus, I decided to gut the clock and use what I could.

As it turned out, the innards came out easily enough. Now I envisioned LED’s around the outside counting off the seconds. That’s 60 single outputs. Then 12 LED’s for the numbers. And and and and…the first order was to make a LOT of outputs for the Arduino. I designed some stuff and in the midst of it I happened across Dougs Word Clock. So I figured I’d make something like that. Again, I needed many outputs any way. In my browsing, I found a product called a Lightuino 5. Scads of outputs, IR, photo sensor, and Arduino all on the same board. I ordered one.

I’m not sure at what point I abandoned the Word Clock idea, but as any of my family or friends will admit, I love LED’s and the more the merrier. So I went back to my original 60 LED, 12 LED idea. And I started working on the clock “face”. First off, take apart the Groove Tubes clock.

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I picked up some 1/4″ foam board to built the clock face out of. It’s easy stuff to work with, and I could paint or cover it.

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How the numbers were going to light up was sort of an after thought. No plan, just see what happened as I made the clock. I covered the foam board in black felt. I inserted a few LED’s in the foam board, put it back inside the clock housing and had a look.

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Not a bad effect. I liked it. Right up to the point it dawned on me that I was going to have to insert 60 LED’s, 60 resistors, 60 wires and so on. My fingers were raw from pushing the LED’s through the foam board (took two days to do it). I even punched holes through the board to make it easier on the fingers. And to my credit, I got some of the holes in the right place and the LED’s just popped in. Others, not so much…

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Eventually my efforts resulted in this ring of 60 LED’s. And on the back side, something that looks like Stonehenge.

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I discovered in my wiring why some of those LED’s are so cheap on eBay. There are large variances between them. Some are super bright, others not as much. I tried as best I could to pick the best 60 out of the 100 that I had.

With the Lightunio 5, I ordered the ribbon cables for the 60 LED’s so I had to cut those ribbon cables and solder them on to the LED’s. The cables are really EIDE 40 pin drive cables.

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For an accurate time base, I considered going with a DS1307 RTC and updating it via ethernet. Which meant not only was I going to have a power cable (ac adapter) running to the clock, I was going to need an ethernet connection. Not cool. The DS1307 is not exactly a stellar time keeper either. While looking for alternatives, I found a few references to GPS. Ah ha. I wondered if it would work in the house…


They sell a lot of these GPS modules on eBay and they are based on the MT3329 chip. Serial communication, 9600 baud. And supported by the TinyGPS Arduino library. They are supposed to run off 3.3V, but I’ve been running mine off 5V with no ill effects. Any way, if you factor in an ethernet shield, some wire and/or a wireless connection, these GPS modules are probably cheaper. Besides, they are a hoot to play with.

After receiving the GPS module I tested it out and I commonly get between 8 and 12 satellites in my area. I checked the LONG and LAT and it’s pretty accurate as well. I found a GPSSYNC example code in the Time Library but it didn’t work. Found a web site that was supposed to “fix” that but the modified code didn’t work either, least on my GPS.

So I found examples that did work and started from there. First thing I found was GPS gives you UTC (universal time code). Real useful if you live where it’s the right time. Not so useful if you don’t. I started experimenting with the Time library and found a way to get the GPS time and convert it to local time. I admit it’s probably not an elegant way to do it, and there’s probably a lot easier way to do it. But it works. My rule is you can’t fix it if it’s not broke.

I use an LCD to display the date and time (more for debugging than anything else) and the LCD wasn’t a great eBay buy so I’m not going to miss it because it’s hidden inside the new clock.

I put some numbers on the clock to see what it looked like and Carol wasn’t happy cause they were “crooked”. No argument there. They were. She volunteered to help “straighten” them up and fly right…

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The circuits were all done, I just need to finish off the face. Couple hours later, all done.

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So how’s it work? Originally I was going to have only the current HOUR LED on. So if it was 2am or 2pm only the 2 LED would be visible (I used BLUE LED’s for contrast). Carol looked it and kind of harumphed. So I changed the coding a bit, and put in a bug. I didn’t notice it, but she called to me and said the clock was WAY BETTER. Wondering what the heck I’d done I checked it out.

Instead of lighting the current hour, I’d light it up sequentially as it marched through the day from 1 to 12, and then reset and start with only the 1 lit again. Yep, when she’s right, she’s right. It looked mondo cooler.

The outside LED’s (the 60 of them). One counts off the seconds the second one shows the “minutes”. So in the photo above, it’s 3:31:43. You have to watch the outside LED’s because one moves each second whereas the other is static for a minute. Works quite well and looks good.

I still have to neaten the wiring up inside somewhat, but here’s the innards of the clock.

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That’s a 4 x 20 LCD, Toasted Circuits Lightuino 5, and a GPS. Those little round white things that look like pill bottle caps, are, exactly that. I drilled a hole in the side of them and inserted a blue LED and the white cap diffuses the light for the numbers. Works very well that way.

So there ya go. A GPS clock. With no hands. A definite cool factor according to Carol and that’s like a seal of approval for me.


Treasure Chest Completed

Roland sent me the finished pix tonight of the treasure chest. Have to say that he did a superb job on it!

The back with the antique brass hinges and the rope handles.

Photo 1

Then the top, all sanded and finished off.

Photo 2

Finally the coolest looking part is the front with the initials, anchor and the green felt liner that really sets it off colour wise.

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Looks to me like this is going to be one cherished family heirloom for a long time to come. Nice job lil’ brother!


An early Xmas…

We’ve been wondering exactly how one wraps up a dresser, delivers it and most importantly, hides it under the tree. Right. Like there’s a thought for the holidays.

Since Keira was going to be plenty busy (with only a possible bazillion items to unwrap on Xmas day), we talked it over with Laura and decided to deliver it early. Hey, it saves wrapping paper!

According to Keira, she would have NO PROBLEM with opening ANY Xmas present early. Imagine that…

Today we snuck it over, well, okay, drove it over. After all, Keira was in school. It all fit in the Honda van nicely and we wrapped it well with blankets to avoid any damage. As it turned out, the only damage was to Keira’s door jamb when yours truly smacked it with a drawer. Minor though, didn’t hurt the drawer.

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Even lugging it up the stairs wasn’t that bad with the drawers out. With them in, we’d have gotten hernias for sure.

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After a couple of huffs and puffs up the stairs, we got it into her room. Laura was a little surprised at how big it was and yet didn’t completely fill the room. Actually it looked smaller than the one she took out even though the old one was only 30″ and this one was 64″ long. Probably had a lot to do with the depth, the one I made is 18″ deep. I think the old one was 22″ or so.

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Laura wanted to find the middle of the room so we could be “balanced”. Probably just luck but when we put it in I just eyeballed the middle and there she went. Laura said I was out about 1/2″. Darn eyesight must be going…

We put the drawers in, and put a bow in the middle and I put a Werthers chewy toffee in every drawer (Keira treats).

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We went to Keira’s school to pick her up. She knew we were bring her “something” but no idea what. She got home all excited and we told her it was in her room. She ran into her bedroom right past the dresser and looked on her bed. Yep, looking for something just a mite bit smaller than a dresser.

And then she spotted it. After all, it is kind of hard to miss. The red bow was probably a give away.

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We got her to open one drawer, and apart from the fact it was a little stiffer than her old dresser (hey it’s new, wait til it breaks in), it took her about 1 millisecond to spot the Werthers and about 6 more milliseconds to check the remaining drawers (she knows how grandpas mind works).

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She needed to place her jewellery box on the top, well, you know, to serve as a Werther holder. She commented that her dresser colour matched the jewelry box. Seemed pleased by that. Guess we passed muster.

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Laura said that the two of them would be organizing the drawers and would send me a photo when it was done. And as might be a guess because the top of the jewelry box isn’t visible, but I’d wager the Werthers are all gone…

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I actually see some white space in the bottom left drawer so I’m assuming that it’s not completely full yet. Although, I should think if the dresser makes it to the teen years (and it should) I may have to build an extension…


Treasure Chest

While the dresser build was completed my brother decided that he was going to build a treasure chest for his new grandson. So once again, the tools came out and away he went (I was just along for moral support)…

He started with a basic plan he drew up on the iPad in a wood working app. Which I forget the name of at this moment. The app supported some dimensioning and gives you a cut list of material. Like a lot of these programs, what you can do with pixels is somewhat different than what you can easily do with wood.

His original design of the chest had a sides that sloped outwards like a flower planter. Not too difficult to do, but we then had to get a top to fit nicely on that so it was not going to be all that easy to cut those angles and get things to mesh.

After some initial eye brow raising on my part, he compromised and went with the more traditional square bottomed chest.

We used the table saw to cut the rabbets and inset the bottom. Originally I thought the chest would be fairly large but the design was for a dresser top style. Which Roland kept insisting it was not a jewelry box. I Googled the difference and…a mini treasure chest is, for all intents, a jewelry box. But I’m not going to rain on his parade.

First order was cut up the pieces we needed.

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Then sand them down because it’s easier to sand them before you glue them together.

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We used some clamps to ensure the corners were at least some resemblance of square. Then glued the lower part of the box together.

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Next, measure the bottom, then cut, fit and glue it in place. Not a pin, brad or staple was used to hold the bottom together. Strictly glue and clamps. Worked quite well.

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Originally Roland designed sort of a three angle top, probably because it looked easier than a rounded top. But when pressed he said he really wanted to build a round top. After a LOT of figuring by both of us, he came up with a design, and cut it out.

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We took the slats we had for the top and proceeded to glue and clamp it all together.

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Considering the thickness of the wood top, it worked fairly well but it was obvious some of our angles were not glued together all that well. We added a middle support inside and then filled the gaps with glue mixed with sawdust. Carpenters bondo I guess you’d call it…

After the glue was dry enough to work on, we filled in all the other gaps with wood filler and Roland would finish off the top at home.

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So here’s the candid shot just before he left for the evening.

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We used a chop saw, table saw, jig saw, sanders and amazingly no cuts, scraps, abrasions for either of us. It’s a good day when you start and end with the same number of digits on your hands that you started with.

Roland sent me a photo of the top after he finished sanding it.

Photo 1

Now that thar looks purdy…


Dresser Completed

After what seems like a decade or so… Carol finally finished the painting, I started putting the drawer pieces together.

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Then attached the front drawer pulls.

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I reinstalled the glides in the dresser and for some unknown reason, I had to realign the backs of the glides to square up the fronts.

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No big deal, quick work with a wood chisel and on to the next drawer. After we ran out of drawers to reinstall, it was time to take a photo.

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We put felts on the backs of the drawer faces because the drawers are self closing. I was testing that facet of the dresser here. If you get the drawers within 2″ of closing the spring mechanism takes over and closes the drawer. On your hand if it’s in the way.

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About this time the realization that we can’t leave the thing set up in the kitchen for the next two weeks occurred to me so, yep, out came all the drawers and Carol and I lugged the whole thing into the living room. And of course, set it back up again.

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So there it is. Until Xmas gets here and Keira gets it…ah, unwrapped, ah, under the tree? Probably not..:-)


Dresser – Day 7n8 – Paint

After two rather busy days, we finally got back to ah, more filling and sanding. And filling. And sanding and, well, you get the idea. Finally…it was time.

Carol started off with the primer coat on the cabinet:

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Of course the camera makes it look finished because the primer is white, but trust me, it’s not finished. However, I was surprised by the fact that the primer didn’t absorb into the pine so bad it needed eleventy eleventy coats to cover. Instead it just sealed up the wood and made the grain in it stand up.

While the main part was drying I put my drawers, er, make that the dresser drawers on the dining room table (if I put my drawers there, we’d have a meeting about that):

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Carol primed all of those. Again, I was surprised by the fact it didn’t completely soak into the wood.

I found the wood was VERY rough to run your hand over. I checked the internet (when you don’t know what you’re doing, that’s not always a good idea either) and there seems to be two camps. Those who sand after primer (and every coat of paint) and those who don’t. I was primarily looking for people who worked with pine and I found a few. Again, in both camps.

According to the lore of the net, if you sand a latex primer, it rolls up into latex balls and messes up things. I grabbed a drawer and tried sanding it ever so lightly with 120 grit on an area that wouldn’t show. Ah ha. Needed sanding and not a heavy one at that. Actually more of just a rub down to remove the grain that had stood up. Took about 10 minutes to do everything and it was smooth again.

We let those dry overnight and then I checked them the next day. By now Carol had the makings of a nice cold, sneeze, cough, chortle at night. None the less, tired and all, she grabbed the semi-gloss latex and laid on the first of the final two coats.

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In a word, wow. Left the grain of the wood showing but provided a very nice finish. Ten hours later she put on the second coat (and that’s all it really needs). So now it’s just to let the whole thing dry for a day or two and then I can put it together.

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If you’ve been paying attention to the photo’s, you’ll have noticed that I am NOT in any of them. There’s a couple of reasons for that.

First, Carol is pretty fussy when it comes to painting. So my “let’s just dip it and get it over with approach” doesn’t bode well. But really, she actually likes to do it, I’m good with a spray gun or airbrush not so much with a roller or paint brush. So the deal has always been, I build, she finishes. We’re a very good team that way. The proof would be that we just celebrated our 43rd anniversary yesterday.

Who’da thunk it.


Dresser – Day 6

You might say working on the dresser is “filling”. As in wood filling. Pine being the open grain that it is, and the fact that the pieces I used are raw rough edge joined, there’s plenty of filling to be done…

Followed by lengthy stretches of sanding:

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So that was the first filling and sanding. Which was followed by another. I thought I was done of it at that point. Nope. I found yet some more today that needed filling and yep, more sanding.

My helper was finding areas in the drawers that needed attention for sanding and filling.

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We knocked off all the “sharp” edges on the wood so once the sanding is done (will it ever be done?) then Carol gets to apply the first coat of primer. Which should be absorbed post haste.

I don’t paint (I airbrush) and I’m more of a glossy Varathane finish kind of guy. Whereas this is going to be a semi-gloss white when it’s done. Plus it has to be neat. Which is another reason why I don’t do it…


Dresser – Day 5

It’s been five days of working on the dresser and it feels like three months. Probably because we’ve been busy doing other things as well.

Started off by gluing an edge piece onto the existing top we had so it’s wide enough. Used my biscuit cutter and presto. Glue, clamp , done.

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We picked up the drawer pulls today from Lee Valley Tools, and also picked up some other things as well.

Like a jig for marking the placement.

DC Jig

I have to say this is one slick little jig and makes marking the draw pulls a piece of cake. Cake..mmm.. I digress. The screws that hold in the pulls aren’t long enough to go through the 1 1/2″ fronts so I drilled a hole from the back side to allow the heads to sink in.

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With a pull mounted it looks like so.

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Next up was to cut all the drawer bottoms out of the 1/4″ sheet of birch we got.

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Glued and tacked all those onto the drawer bottoms. While the drawer bottoms were gluing the top was set enough to work. I sanded it lightly on the under side so we could put it on the dresser.

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And finally, we put the top on the dresser.

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The last job of the day (other than running all over the project with wood filler) was to finish off the legs.

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I just make a box to finish off the leg. Kept it simple.

The next rather major job will be to go over the whole thing and look for areas to be filled, fill them, and then sand them down to prepare for the primer.

Actually writing about this is good therapy. Maybe I’ll think twice about taking on projects like this. Nah…:-)


Dresser – Day 4

Yet another short day because of other commitments, but none the less we got a fair bit done.

When we last left our dynamic duo, they’d cut all the pieces for the drawers. Thanks to time lapse building, the drawers will be test fit and setup today.

With any project, there is always the “problematic” part. In my case it was the first drawer. It simply did not want to cooperate in any way (as it turned out the first and last drawers were problems but solved any way).

First operation is to put the glides on the drawers themselves. To do this I used a 1/16″ spacer under the drawers (to give the bottom of the drawer clearance in the cabinet). I wanted a flat surface to do this so what better than the dining room table.

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I used a Dremel tool to make the pilot holes (don’t need split wood from screws) and put the glides on the drawers. Next it was out to the cabinet to install the side glides. I clamped the drawer face on so the glides would stop at the right point. Drilled and screwed them in place.

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Then it was time to get the drawer and slide it in for a test fit.

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Took a little wiggling and really, forcing because I think the screws we got with the glides might be a little big. Yet once installed, the drawer slides freely so I don’t know. Weird. Leave it at that.

After getting the drawer in, attach the back of the glides (you don’t want to attach front and back of the glides in case the cabinet isn’t perfectly square. Trust me.

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Then clamp on the face, glue and pin it in place. Next drawer. Until there’s only one left and they you see Sully from Monsters Inc. hiding inside…

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The full fit test fit looks like this:

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And no, I could let go of it and it won’t fall over…:-)

I still have a fair bit of little fiddly work left in various parts so it will be at least another day of cutting and fitting before it starts to get some serious sanding and prep for paint priming.

Oh, my second new favourite tool is a Hitachi Belt Sander. Used it on the problem fit areas. They never stood a chance.

At this point the top has not been made, but we have gone through seven pieces of pine, 16″ x 96″. Apart from the sawdust in previous photos, this is all the scrap we have left. The top is our 8th board and I still have to glue a narrow piece to the edge of it so it’s wide enough. I do have one 4″ x 96″ scrap left not shown in the photo, except it’s not scrap it’s the edge of the top.

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I don’t plan much when I do cutting, most of it is designed and built in my head. I’m not sure if I used a cut list if I’d be any further ahead. Might be faster but that’s not a lot of scrap left to anything else with.


Dresser – Day 3

Not a lot of time to work on the dresser today, had to go pick up some new tools. Aaahhhh. New tools. The simple phrase that warms the heart of even Ebenezer Scrooge.

I was originally going to rabbet the drawers with a router and if I’d been paying any attention at all when I bought the router bit I’d have noticed it wasn’t going to work. So I decided that it was about time I finally got a set of dado blades.

Day 3

Freud makes lovely, if somewhat pricey stuff. None the less, after using these the verdict is that they are GREAT.

Carol and I spent most of the day, after the tool run of course, cutting the drawer parts. Which was of course cutting a lot of dado’s.

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My table saw didn’t come with a dado insert so I had to make a temp one. Which of course means that, well, there was some dust spillage. I took a photo and it’s not hard to see there’s some…ah..particulate in the air…

We only made seven drawers so I call this candid shot, “Snow White and The Seven Drawers”.

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Not to mention a pile of “fine” pine under the saw.

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Next came the assembly. I had some corner clamps so probably for the second or third time in my brief building career I actually got something square. Quite uncommon. Really.

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And with that, we called it a day. Big day. We’re still shovelling sawdust…