Making a Quick and Simple “Stop” for Multiple Cuts

Sometimes a project calls for a lot of boards cut the same length. While it’s easy enough to just measure for each, mark, and cut, you’ll run the chances of making an error. Plus, that’s a lot of measuring. Here’s how to just measure once and then just use a block of wood to cut the rest.

quickstop1Use scrap wood – 2 pieces of 2x material + a piece of 3/4” material (plus whatever needed) to create a support base that is at the same level as the cutoff saw’s base. In this photo a layer of cardboard was used under the 3/4” material to obtain the right level.

quickstop5Check that the base of the saw is at the same level as the support base.

quickstop2Secure the cutoff saw to the worktable. Then square up one end of a board and mark it for your proper length to be cut multiple times, creating your set-up board.

Lay the set-up board so the length mark is directly under the blade. Center the support base under the other end. Fasten both 2x scraps down securely to the work table. Leave the 3/4” scrap loose for now.

quickstop3Nick the set-up board with the blade at the length mark. No need to cut it to length, you might have a use for it elsewhere.

quickstop4Keeping the set-up board held securely, flush edges with the 3/4” scrap. Pencil mark the 2x support base.

quickstop9Fasten the 3/4” scrap to the 2x support base at your pencil mark: the end of this board is your stop length.

quickstop8Use a straight cut scrap to flush the 3/4” stop board edge with the board to be cut. Start cutting!

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Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check out our suspension bridge book. Here is the link:

Building a Small Cable Suspension Bridge with the Cable Locking System

Images, diagrams, and text copyright 2013-2017 by Marvin Denmark unless otherwise noted. Please do not copy and post my content anywhere without my permission. Thank you.

Adjusting a Suspension Bridge Deck

One of the hazards of building a bridge in the woods is that there are trees in the woods. And trees sometimes fall. It was only a couple of weeks after my bridge was completed that a tree fell on it. It bounced off without causing damage other than a dent in a deck board.

A couple of years ago during a flood, a tree next to the bridge came down, and while not actually falling on the bridge, parts leaned heavily on the suspension cable. I cut off the branches that were in our way and let the rest stay for now since I was busy with other projects. This spring I finally cut the rest of the tree that was affecting the bridge cable. I knew that the deck had sagged a bit and would need to be adjusted at some point.

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That’s why I have turnbuckles installed on all the deadman-to-post cable connections as shown in my book, Building a Small Cable Suspension Bridge. I could just turn them to pull the posts back and level out the deck again.

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I used  what was handy to provide a resistance (something to work against) to turning the turnbuckle – in this case a big stick and a metal pipe.

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WD40 oil worked to loosen up the connections. They weren’t rusty having been protected under the cover of those white tubes all these years, but they didn’t want to break loose easily.

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I used a small bar for turning, but a longer one could have made things easier.

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I used a pencil mark to verify if I was tightening or loosening.

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Once they broke loose, each turnbuckle turned easily.

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Jeep seemed amused that one side was now lower than the other. But that’s just part of the process!

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I worked on all four turnbuckles, using line of sight to achieve the results I wanted.

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All done, until the next tree takes a dive into the creek and the bridge is in its way.

This all only took about 30 minutes. Here’s a movie of the process if you’ve never seen a turnbuckle in action.

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check out our suspension bridge book. Here is the link:

Building a Small Cable Suspension Bridge with the Cable Locking System

Images, diagrams, and text copyright 2013-2017 by Marvin Denmark unless otherwise noted. Please do not copy and post my content anywhere without my permission. Thank you.

Zip Line Challenge

My spousal unit, who actually writes this blog, is an author and illustrator of books for kids. She ran across this website for aspiring engineers, and thought it would be interesting to some of my readers. DiscoverE (formerly the National Engineers Week Foundation) helps to unite, mobilize, and support engineering and technology volunteer communities. They hope to increase the collaborative footprint in K-12 education and celebrate with the public as it discovers the value of engineering education and careers.

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I was especially intrigued by their Zip Line Challenge for kids. It’s actually a model that challenges kids to transport a ping-pong ball down a zip line from start to finish in 4 seconds or less. The activity discusses many of the considerations when designing and building a zip line. I’ve uploaded the PDF so you can download it from here, or you can get it from the website listed above. There are a lot of other creative engineering related activities there, all free to download and use in your classroom, home, summer camp, whatever.

Check it out: zip-line-challenge_091316

One of these years I hope to finish my zip line. All is ready, but now the brush has grown up so much I have to hire a tree climber to clear the 420 foot long pathway.

ZipLanding

View from the zip line tower to the landing 420 feet down the hill.

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check out our bridge book if you’re thinking about a DIY suspension bridge. Here is the link: Building a Small Cable Suspension Bridge with the Cable Locking System.

And if you’re curious about Robin Koontz’s books, look her up on Amazon as well: Books by Robin Koontz

Images, diagrams, and text copyright 2013-2017 by Marvin Denmark unless otherwise noted. Please do not copy and post my content anywhere without my permission. Thank you.

Habitat for Pond Turtles: Turtle Sofas!

There’s a stream that runs through our property and into Wildcat Creek, close to where our bridge resides. Though the stream is officially nameless, we’ve always called it Phillips Creek, because it ran through the Phillip’s place; Belle’s Creek, because our neighbor’s dog loved to play in it; and Penn Creek, so named by the ODFW who showed up (without notice) to count fish one day. Whatever the name, the stream tended to cause flooding in the pasture in winter, so we put in a pond. How that was done is a blog for another day.

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At first the pond dried out in summer, but once the beavers noticed it, they routed more of Phillips Creek so that it flowed into the pond year-round. We installed a bigger culvert along with a fence to keep the beavers from clogging it up, and had ourselves a nice pond we called Buddy’s Lake, after our beloved Swamp Puppy, Buddy.

We had seen pond turtles in various wetland areas on our property, but were amazed at how fast they discovered Buddy’s Lake. They first appeared on a log that we’d left out, sunning themselves in the spring chill. When that log began to sink, as logs are often prone to do, we decide to make turtle sofas.

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Previously we milled up a few logs for various projects and had kept the sides for benches or whatever. So why not a turtle sofa? And to keep our sofas from sinking, we screwed on strips of rigid insulation we also had left over after building our house. The material isn’t toxic for the watershed.

turtlesofa11After launching the first sofa, we noticed that it tended to hang out close to the shore where a turtle might feel vulnerable to land animals, especially the two-legged variety.

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This turtle is game to try anything new!

So we tied an anchor to a rope attached to the sofa and tossed it out so the log would float more in the middle. We also roped the sofa to a tree on shore so we could haul it back in if need be. And, we added measuring sticks as a fun way to see how big the turtles were. A full grown pond turtle gets to be 6-7 inches long.

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Jeep, Buddy’s predecessor, wonders why we threw such a big stick for him to fetch.

windjammers

We added windjammers to a couple of sofas to help stabilize them. Probably not necessary unless you have beavers who like to knock them over and use for their dam.

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This is a turtle favorite, probably because of the moss that has grown on it. Without the foam underneath, this old log would have sunk by now.

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Six is not a crowd!

We’ve seen up to nine pond turtles at once on Buddy’s Lake. We’re happy that our turtle sofas are a preferred place for them to hang out. Or do whatever it is turtles do.

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Floating Mantel Shelf

cherry treesOur house has posts, beams, and siding made from Douglas fir milled on our property. I decided to employ another kind of wood for a fireplace mantel. Bitter cherry, also called Oregon cherry (Prunus emarginata) is a native tree that popped up in our woods when it was replanted in 1988. I wondered what the grain and color would look like when it was milled. It has an interesting bark, that much I knew.

So I picked a tree I liked and thinned the woods by one cherry tree. I parked it in the barn to dry for about five months, then had it milled to about a five foot 5-1/2″x7″ with bark edge on the 7″ width. mantle-sawmill

As control against splitting, I scored slices on one side in varying depths, the deepest being the middle cut over the tree center at about 1-1/2″ deep. Then I primed the sawn sides and left it to dry, standing up, for about 3 more months.

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I was hoping to preserve the bark, so cutting and fitting the corners was tricky. I sanded down the precautionary slices (which were on the bottom) and cut the pieces. I sanded, splined and glued it all together, then applied a clear finish. The bark is threatening to peel, but underneath looks pretty cool so I really don’t care.

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de-barked Oregon cherry

I used a bracket system to install the 35+ pound mantel. I hollowed out two slot holes at 9/16″ depth on the backside that corresponded with metal brackets that screwed to the wall studs.
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Metal straps, which were recessed so that the mantel would fit flush with the wall, were screwed across the hole slots. Taping their location on the mantel top,  I could line them up with the marked brackets.

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A bit of hammering with someone else holding on, and the mantel was up.

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I have 3″ metal posts that I had intended to install on either side, not for support just for looks, but for now we’re seeing if we like just having a floating mantel. Eventually there will be a wall sculpture underneath. I’m just waiting for my spousal unit to come up with something…
finish

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check out our bridge book if you’re thinking about a DIY suspension bridge. Here is the link: Building a Small Cable Suspension Bridge with the Cable Locking System

Images, diagrams, and text copyright 2016 by Marvin Denmark unless otherwise noted. Please do not copy and post my content anywhere without my permission. Thank you.

Metal and Wood Computer Desk – DIY

Marvin-DeskLegsI’m not crazy about much of anything we can buy in today’s furniture market, at least in my price range. It’s all badly designed and sloppily made using cheap materials, including a lot of plastic. I feel that even a practical piece of furniture such as a computer desk can be well designed and interesting to look at. And it’s not all that difficult or expensive to make it yourself.

I bought a length of 1-1/2″ square metal tubing (wall thickness roughly 1/16″) and enough steel angle to build a nice, sturdy structure that could hold up a heavy wooden top. I cut and bent the angle steel so that it formed a three-sided structure, allowing for a chair to fit underneath.
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I made wooden feet from some ipe (that’s a hardwood) that I had. I cut out blocks, then cut a little off each of the four sides of each block so that they fit snugly inside the metal tubing, leaving about 1/2″ for a foot. A nice look and a way to protect the floor.

tablefeet

For the top, I had several 2″ thick slabs of rough-sawn wood that I got from a local sawmill last summer. I knew the seller well and got a great price on some beautiful big leaf maple as well as Lebanon cedar he’d cut down in someone’s yard. The slabs had been drying for about ten months and looked good. I decided to use the cedar for this project.

tablestructure6

The tricky part was picking out the part of the cedar I wanted to use for the table. It wouldn’t be deep enough so a second piece would have to be glued to the first and they’d want to match or at least, go well together.

top-cut

finishtable-2A lot of cutting and sanding later, I had pieces that worked. I splined and glued the pieces, removed the bark, then finished with clear Sitkens stain, one of my favorite finish products. I also added holes for the computer cords, etc.

finishtable

I added more angle steel to hold a shelf for the keyboard, and my new computer desk was ready to use.

MarvinOfficeYou won’t find this at Ikea, or anywhere else for that matter. It’s not a design everyone will love, but suits me. That’s the beauty of building your own stuff.

I didn’t include a lot of detailed instructions here, as most of it is self-explanatory. Please ask questions if you have any about this project or any others included on this blog.

And thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check out our bridge book if you’re thinking about a DIY suspension bridge. Here is the link: Building a Small Cable Suspension Bridge with the Cable Locking System

Images, diagrams, and text copyright 2016 by Marvin Denmark unless otherwise noted. Please do not copy and post my content anywhere without my permission. Thank you.

 

DIY Radiant Floor Heating System

This is about installing radiant floor heating in a slab floor system. While it was done as a new house was being built, in my last house I poured a concrete floor on top of a wood framed floor system and could have put radiant heat in that as well.

Pex-Plan

I obtained a design for the entire system from Supply House where I bought all the parts. They will provide, free, a layout according to your specs and also give you a list of parts you’ll need for the heating system. You can also download a free program from Uponor and also read more information than I will include here.

I opted for a single pump, single zone system for our 980 square foot little house, but opted to have each room a separate system zone that could be controlled by shutting down the water supply. For larger spaces, they would recommend more than one zone with a pump and thermostat for each.

First step was to install a vapor barrier and then insulate. I used extra (rigid) insulation – R15 – to encourage the heat to go up, not down into the dirt.

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Next I added 6×6 welded wire fabric (WWF) aka concrete reinforcement wire and used that to tie down the pipe. I bought a 1,000 foot roll of 1/2” pex pipe. You can get smaller rolls, but no way did I want any connections under the concrete floor. The pipe is very unwieldy especially in a coil that long, so I built a big spool for it and added dolly wheels so it could follow me around as I unwound pipe. The same contraption came in handy later when I wired the house.

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I used zip-ties to tie down the pex pipe. Here are a few photos of the process. We took a lot more photos so we could remember exactly where all those pipes fell. I did not want to be nailing down a plate for a closet and poking a hole in my heating system.

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Then I installed concrete doobies and tied down rebar, just standard practice for a concrete floor.

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I also tied all the pipes together and pressurized them. I wanted to make sure there were no leaks before that 4 inch thick concrete was poured on top of them.

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After the floor was poured, I moved on to building the house. Since I worked pretty much alone and at my own pace, it was a couple of years before it was time to set up the heating system. I built a large utility core with plenty of room for two water heaters as the one designated for the floor would be set low, and space for me to get in and make adjustments. The option for an instant-flow water heater was there, but I didn’t want to spend that kind of money. I just got a standard 40 gallon hot water heater for a couple hundred dollars.

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The heating system consists of a thermostat which is wired into a relay transfer switch. I located the thermostat in the living room, which in our house is a central location. Since I was building the house from scratch, I could easily run the wire in the walls and over to the utility core. The relay tells the system when to start up. A pump kicks on and water runs from the water heater and into the floors. Water from the floors runs back into the water heater. If you can see the numbers on the gauges in the photo, the water going out is about 100 degrees and the water coming back is about 80 degrees.

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The first issue once everything is connected up is getting the air out. If you troubleshoot a radiant floor system by googling, “air in the lines” comes up as the #1 issue. I futzed with it until the air was gone. The second issue was the size of the pump. I trusted the supply house to provide me with a pump adequate for the system they designed, but that didn’t happen. The pump has to be strong enough to deal with the resistance in over 900 feet of 1/2” pipe. You can determine the needs by calculating the feet of head, which I did and the pump came up short. I ordered two sizes up and the system is now working beautifully. The pump doesn’t kick on very often and the house stays evenly heated, ranging from 69-72. I use a Cen-Tech infrared thermometer to see what’s going on.

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Meanwhile, the pets have figured out where the supply pipes are and love to lay down on the nice warm floor.

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With me doing all the work, the total cost including everything involved was about $1,700. We haven’t got an electric bill yet, but considering that the house is so warm and the water heater is well insulated, plus the water going back in is almost as hot as it needs to be anyway, we suspect we’re not using very much energy for this system. It is a wonder that at least in Oregon, there are no Energy Credits for putting in this efficient system. I hope to change their minds about that.

Happy winter!