Sunday, September 28, 2008

Take Care of Your Tool

Here's one that most people never think about. Shovel maintenance.

Yes, maintenance for your shovels.

As with other tools, if you take care of your tools they should last a lifetime. Unless you buy cheap crap, since you can't polish a turd. Well, you can, but a shiny turd isn't much better than a dull one.

Below is the blade on my garden spade/shovel. You can see the edge of the blade is bent backwards, which creates resistance when trying to plunge the blade into your own skull after watching your NFL team blow it in the last few minutes of the game.

After my headache was gone, I decided to do something about the blade. This bent-over edge was from the manufacturing process, and probably shouldn't have passed quality control. I noticed it after getting it home and using it, after it was too late to swap it out.

Yeah, it's dirty. I'm not big on cleaning tools at 10 PM after burying pet hamsters in the garden...

So as with sharpening the mower blades, out comes the Angle Grinder with a sanding flap disc installed. Some people might cringe at spending $15-20 for a power tool like this, figuring you get what you pay for. Well, normally you do, and I'm all for spending more for quality tools. When it counts, that is. These grinders from HF have proven themselves to me.

Realistically, how often will the average home-owner use an angle grinder, so why spend $75 for a good one? These cheap-o's from Harbor Freight are actually pretty decent quality. I currently own three of them, and have burned out at least 4 of them in the past 5 years doing some rather major metal fabrication.

But if I burned out 4 of them how can I say they're decent? Because the 4 I burned out combined cost as much as one decent grinder, and with the work I was doing I'd have worn out even a higher-end grinder. Plus, I use three different discs; a sanding flap disc, a cut-off disc, and a metal grinding disc, so having one grinder dedicated to each task saves time & effort.

About 1 minute later the rolled edge is gone and the edge is reasonably-sharp. You can get the same results with a hand file and a little effort. I've got plenty of metal-working tools, so I might as well use 'em.

The blade won't stay sharp for long, but when it comes to digging out plants a sharp blade will much more quickly cut through roots, making your work easier. The metal on this shovel is pretty thin so I just beveled from the back edge.

I gave the same treatment to another shovel, sharpening from the front and back since the metal on this blade is about 50% thicker than the other shovel.

After the edges were sharpened I took a wire brush and knocked the dirt off. A coat of oil then protects the bare metal from rust.

I used to keep a 5 gallon bucket filled with sand in the garage. I dumped about a quart of old motor oil into it to thoroughly coat the sand. When I was done with a shovel I'd just jam the blade into the oily sand a few times to clean off the dirt and give it a coat of oil in one step. I didn't have room in the moving truck when we moved so I gave it to my neighbor. Some day I'll replace it.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Mower Maintenance

If you want your mower to last and provide a good clean cut for years, you need to take care of it. That includes changing the oil and air filter. You also need to keep the mowing deck clean and the blade(s) sharp.

I'll get around to changing the oil and air filter later this fall, but wanted to take advantage of a nice day to do the maintenance on the deck.

First step was to get the mower up high enough to be able to get at the blades. I could have just jacked the back end up with my floor-jack, but figured that I might as well raise the front as well. Jack stands were placed under the front end to keep it level, the transmission was left in gear, and the brake was locked.

It's been a year since I cleaned the deck - much longer than it should go without a proper cleaning. Cut grass builds up underneath, creating a block to the cut grass being discharged. It also traps moisture against the metal of the deck which can cause the deck to rust out.

I took a small scraper and got out all kinds of build-up, which should help the mower work a little more efficiently.

Next up was sharpening of the mower blades. I installed these right after buying the mower about 1-1/2 years ago. They're still in good shape, but the leading edge is getting a little dull. There were a few small dings from hitting either branches or pinecones.

Each blade is held in place with one bolt. Be careful when removing a mower blade, as I've heard that some mowers use reverse-thread bolts. When you think you're loosening the bolt you could actually tightening it. These were standard threads.

In many cases you can stick a piece of 2x4 between the blade and mower deck to keep the blade from moving when you are trying to break the bolt loose.

The angle-grinder ($12.00 at Harbor Freight for a 4-1/2" grinder) was used with a sanding flap-disc to remove the grass build-up and to sharpen the blade. There was quite a bit of build-up on the blades, but the sanding disc took care of that quickly.

You'd think that the blade should be sharp like a knife, but realistically, how long would that sharp blade last? I ground the blade sharp and then ran the sanding disc straight across the sharp edge to blunt it. The flat edge is about 1/32" wide.

To make sure the blades were balanced I set them on a small nail driven into the garage wall. As long as the blade stays horizontal it's good enough. Yeah, it's low tech and not as precise as a professional shop could do, but it's good enough for now.

After re-installing the blades and checking for vibration (none), it was time to clean the engine.

I changed the oil last year, but skipped cleaning the engine. I cleaned around the drain plug, but that's it. It's now dirty as the surrounding area. I sprayed on some engine cleaner and brushed it in with a cleaning brush.

A few minutes later the gunk sprayed right off and everything was nice and clean. It'll be possible to see if there are any oil leaks now, and the engine should be able to run a little cooler without a layer of gunk & grass coating it. If nothing else, it'll just make changing the oil a little easier.

This work took maybe 30 minutes and is something that the average do-it-yourselfer can do without a problem. The only tools I used were a scraper, a grinder, and a wrench.

If you don't have a jack or ramps like I used, you could just tilt the tractor and put blocks under the raised wheels to give a little more access.

Later this season I'll put some info online about getting the engines winterized.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Crud in the Pipes

No, this isn't a medical condition.

Since the dishwasher was installed the other day I noticed that the water flowing out of the kitchen faucet was slower than normal.

At first I figured it was the new shut-off valve installed on the hot water line, which may not be allowing full water flow.

But that shouldn't make the cold water line also flow more slowly, which was also happening.

Other faucets in the house were fine, so it was just something wrong with the kitchen faucet.

The fastest and easiest thing to check was the aerator (where the water exists the faucet) which just screws on & off. There is a screen inside there which traps debris.

The screen in mine was covered with a ton of debris and rust from the water line, which was slowing the water flow for hot & cold. Basically, there was a crud build-up that was blocking water flow.

The debris was probably dislodged in the pipes from the water being turned on & off during the dishwasher installation. The water was shut off to the house and faucets were opened upstairs and downstairs, draining the lines of water. When the water was turned back on, it knocked loose some junk that had built up in the lines, which got trapped in the aerator.

Lucky for me I turned the faucet on first, which sent the crap to the faucet instead of to the dishwasher!

Cheap, easy, and fast. The way I like my solutions.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I Will Wash Dishes by Hand No More Forever

Slightly modified quote by a famous leader. 10 points to the first person who knows what the hell I'm talking about.

I didn't want to wait for the weekend to get the dishwasher installed, and I had a couple of free hours to kill this afternoon, so I gave it a shot.

I cut out the guts of the lower cabinet and made sure there was plenty of room. Judging by the picture I've got more than enough!

As mentioned previously, this is just a temporary installation, done on the cheap. I had the water supply line and most of the parts I needed, but did find that there were two special pieces that I had to go out and buy.

First was a 90 degree elbow which fits into the bottom of the dish washer. Second was the splitter valve that connects to the water supply line. I could have gotten away without using the splitter valve, but then I'd have no hot water supply to the sink. Not the best solution.

The electrical hookup is ultra-temporary. I don't know where the final electrical line will be run, so I took an old grounded extension cord and cut the end off. I spliced it into the wiring on the dishwasher and secured the wiring so it won't move around and chafe. I'll just plug it into the wall when I need to wash dishes for now. Half-ass yes, but it works.

The blue protective layer is still on the outside in this picture, but the dishwasher has a stainless front.

Under the sink you can see the new lines. Hooking into the drain, the big line that looks like it's coming from the middle of the sink is the dishwasher drain line which actually loops around a bit. The extra slack makes it look like it's coming from the center of the sink - it actually comes through the cabinet wall on the left up high to create an air gap.

The black line down low is the water supply to the dishwasher. It connects to the gold splitter valve in the back of the cabinet.

I had a small drip from the valve when I turned the water on, but a quick 1/4 turn and it looks good to go. No other leaks were found.

I put in a little dishwashing detergent and fired it up to clean it out and make sure it's working properly. So far, so good! I look forward to running a load through it tonight.

Total cost, about $8.00 in parts that I needed to buy anyway.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Dishwasher Installation, On the Cheap

When we bought this house, it had never had a dishwasher installed.

We figured that we could live without one for a year while the renovation work was taking place. In fact, we purchased the dishwasher when we bought the new appliances for the place right after moving in.

It's sat in the box waiting to be installed ever since.

The remodel work is progressing very slowly, as there is plenty to do outside, and I'm enjoying time with the family while it's nice out.

But we're finally sick of doing dishes by hand and using paper plates half the time to avoid having to wash dishes every day.

Plus, I'm sure we waste a lot more water washing them by hand compared to what a new dishwasher would use.

The problem is that the dishwasher will be installed on the side of the kitchen which I haven't started work on yet, so there are cabinet doors and drawers and a wide base cabinet where the dishwasher is going to go.

To make things difficult, I'm cheap. Some call it "frugal", but I will admit to being cheap. I hate to spend money on renovation stuff if I know I'll just be tearing out the work and re-doing it later.

The project: install a dishwasher while spending NO money for parts. None. I can only use parts I already have on-hand, even if it means an ugly install. It's meant as a temporary install, so I'm not aiming for "pretty". Lucky for me I have a good selection of parts on hand from previous work. Hopefully enough to pull this off.

At this point, I know I'll be re-using the dishwasher, but don't know exactly where water or electrical lines will be run. I also don't have a garbage disposal installed yet (dishwasher discharge lines typically connect to the disposal) so I'll need to tie in to the sink drain directly.

Since the lower cabinet is wider than the dishwasher needs, I plan to use a trusty saws-all to cut out the wood I don't need, and leave about 1/3 of a door on the hinges to hide the gap that used to be cabinet. It'll make more sense when I start the work and take pictures. Promise.

The drain line is easy, although I'll be installing it without an air-gap for now. When I do the work for keeps I'll put that in place. Electrical will be temporary hook-up as well - enough to make it function safely for now.

Over the next few days I'll need to go through my supplies and get everything together. I want to install the dishwasher this weekend. The only items I'm not sure how I'm going to handle yet are the splitter for the water supply and the drain line. The drain isn't high-pressure, so I'll use garden hose if needed. The supply IS high-pressure so I'm hoping I have a long enough stainless braided line.

Game on!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Happiness Is...

Much needed rain,

Cleaned gutters and downspouts before said rain,

The wife and kids out of the house for at least one of the games (Dad, who's #12? Dad, who's #88? Dad, who's #72? Dad, who are the guys in the blue shirts? Dad, can we watch cartoons? Dad, when is the game over? Dad, will you unlock the basement door so we can get out?),

A plasma TV,

Having the two games I want to watch playing back to back.

Quality jerseys to watch the game in, although the GB #4 jersey is retired and will be replaced for GB games with #50 AJ Hawk.

I love the feel of quality jerseys - sewn on letters and numbers, heavy-weight fabric, etc. Well worth the extra cost, in my opinion.

Monday, September 8, 2008


This isn't related to the house work, so deal with it. If it makes you feel better, remove the name Microsoft and replace it with Home Depot. Where I say Xbox insert the words cordless drill. There, now it's about house work.

Microsoft sucks. There, I said it and feel better already. They suck suck suck suck suck suck suck.

About a year after it first came out I purchased the Microsoft Xbox. It died shortly after the warranty ran out (isn't that always the case?).

I figured it was just a fluke, and since I had a bunch of games for it already I purchased another one to replace it.

That one worked fine, and eventually ended up in storage because games weren't being made for it any more, due to the new Xbox 360 coming out.

So about a year after the 360 comes out, I get one because it has the games I want to play and because it will also play my old Xbox games.

Until today.

It's dead now, too. Xbox owners are all too familiar with the term "red ring of death".

This time it died with 2 months of warranty left, so Uncle Bill at Microsoft gets to pay shipping both ways and pay to fix/replace the counsel.

Surprisingly enough, that's not what really bugs me. The thing I'm irritated about is the tech support system at Microsoft.

The first thing callers are subjected to is a computerized "person". "Hey, my name is Max, thanks for calling!" Gee, thanks crappy computer program, thanks should go to Microsoft for selling me a crappy product, leading me to get to deal with you...

The sound quality of the "dude" I eventually got to talk to (after "Max" failed to help me) was pretty horrible. I'm assuming he's either somewhere So Cal or he's doing a great job at disguising his Indian accent. The sound was so bad I had to turn the volume on my phone way down to keep it from distorting, but then I had a hard time hearing the guy.

Plus, the music on hold was some techno-crap, which was also heavily distorted. The distortion may have made it more tolerable, I'm still not sure... He kept apologizing for putting me on hold - he must know what I was forced to listen to.

The call dragged on an extra 10 minutes because he had a hell of a time trying to get my address to work in his system. Waukesha County uses a grid system for the streets, such as N85 W20345 Oakdale Drive (not my actual address, you stalkers), which tells you exactly where you are, even if you don't know the street name. The addresses are weird, but very useful if you spend 3 minutes trying to figure 'em out.

I can't blame him for the address issue. Finding an address like this in Mapquest or other online map programs is often a lesson in futility.

With all that said, I understand technology can be problematic. But 5 years down the line a company like Microsoft still putting out crap quality products? Amazing.

I think it's safe to say this is the last game system I buy from Microsoft. 2 out of 3 going bad indicates a bit of a problem.

Damn technology. When I'm Emperor, companies will be forced to provide QUALITY phone support, and any CEO who uses a "Max" for support line will be sodomized with a roadcone and 2x4.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

This "Work" Thing is Starting to Get Old

Some more tree trimming was on today's schedule. Now both trees on the side of my house are much cleaner looking, and I'm able to get much more light to the ground. There is a lot of moss back there which I don't think will survive much longer.

From the road, the side of the house looks a lot lighter physically now, without all the visual weight from the trees.

Each of the two trees resulted in a full trailer full of branches which were taken to the recycling yard to be ground up for mulch. It's still kind of scrubby looking at ground level, as I need to get all the old pine cones raked up and cut all the little weeds and crap that had been trying to grow.

Over the next few weeks I plan to do a lot more cutting & pruning. Might as well make full use of the trailer while I have it! I want to get all the trees near the house trimmed back so there is nothing overhanging the gutters. Clogged gutters suck.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Check Your Gutters, Folks!

Not just on a sunny day, and don't forget to check the downspouts, too!

We're finally getting some rain, after about a month of beautiful dry weather.

Being the anal-retentive home owner that I am, I took a quick walk in the rain to make sure water was only coming out of all the downspouts. In heavier rains, it doesn't take much to clog a gutter. I know this first-hand, and have had the water in the basement to prove it.

Upon checking the downspout by the tree I recently did a bunch of trimming on, I noticed that the downspout (which drains directly under the tree) wasn't draining any water. None. Zero.

The other downspouts had a little trickle coming from them, so I knew something was up.

Evidently, when I was pulling the cut branches out from under the tree I disconnected the downspout from the vertical run that goes up to the gutter. When it was re-connected, it was put on upside down which left a 1/2" gap in the bottom (hard to explain, but trust me) that all the water was pouring out. Right up against the foundation.

Not good, if the rain were to continue for too long.

5 seconds later and it was fixed.

No damage, but if I didn't notice it and it was left this way too long during a storm I could have ended up with a lot of water in the basement.

Moral of the story: check the gutters AND the downspouts. Not only when it's nice out, but when it rains, 'cause that's when you'll notice if it's working or not.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Taking My Own Advice

So not too long ago I was blathering on about chainsaw maintenance and not leaving gas/oil mix in the gas tank because it goes bad quickly enough to damage the little 2-stroke engines.

This afternoon I realized that my weed wacker and leaf blower have been sitting with the same gas/oil mix I put in at least 3 months ago. The leaf blower doesn't see a lot of use, and that gas may be even older. Not a good idea.

To be safe, I drained the gas from both tanks and put in enough fresh mix to fire 'em up. I let them run long enough to warm up completely and flush out any old gas, and then drained the tanks. They were then started again to run through any remaining gas in the lines. My plan is to drain the tanks and run them dry every time I use them from now on. In theory, this should help avoid getting a varnish build-up in the carburetors. The weed-wacker has been good to me so far. It's at least 10 years old and has never needed service. The leaf blower is only about 3 years old and still runs great (as it should).

Since I was showing some lovin' to the 2-strokes, I decided to also check out the 4-strokes on the push mower and the riding mower, by checking oil, air filter condition, etc. The push mower gets very limited use and mainly sees duty mowing the ditch - it's too steep of an angle to be safe on the rider. I might run one full tank of gas through it during the entire mowing season.

All of the motors are in good shape for the remainder of this season, but I'm making a list of spark plugs, air filters, crankcase oil, bar chain oil, and gas pre-mix oil for my next trip to Menards. I want to have everything on-hand to do all of the tune-ups this Fall. If I wait until Spring I might just keep putting it off.

It's early to talk about winterizing engines, but I do have a list to follow.
1. The engines will be started and warmed up to make sure they run properly.
2. All gas will then be drained and the engine started to burn off gas remaining in the lines.
3. After the engine cools down I'll pull the spark plug and put in a little squirt of oil.
4. With the plug out and the kill-swith in the "OFF" position, slowly pull through about two cycles to fully coat the cylinder.
5. In goes the new plug and the engine is ready to hibernate for the winter.
6. The three chainsaws get their blades removed and taken in for a professional sharpening.
7. The sharpened blades get stored in a can of oil.
8. The chain bars get cleaned, coated with oil, and warpped in newspaper.
9. The 4-cycle mower engines get gas drained and oil changed.
10. Air filters get replaced on the mowers and chainsaws.
11. Mower blades get removed and sharpened.

All that stuff will probably cost me $30.00 in parts and will hopefully keep my motors happy for another season of abuse. It'll probably take about 2 hours to do all the work. I can take a small TV out into the garage to watch a Packer game and be done before the game ends.

Some people fill the gas tanks on the mowers with gas mixed with a fuel stabilizer for winter. Since all of the gas tanks on mine are plastic, I think I'm better off leaving the tanks empty. My snowblower has a metal tank which is kept full at all times, even during the summer. The reason is that the metal rusts if it gets a chance, and an empty metal tank can get moisture in it from the air, leading to a rusty tank. I've seen it on motorcycles stored with empty tanks, so I have to assume it could happen on a snowblower.

Changing subjects, a while back I mentioned the weird design of my windows - the windows original to the house. Besides never having had the trim work painted (THANK YOU, previous owners!), the top panes are hinged. To open 'em, I remove the screen from the lower pane and then flip a little lock on each side.

The whole top pane then is pushed open as shown below. The only reason I can think of for this design is that it might allow warmer air closer to the ceiling an easier way to get out in the summer. It doesn't make the windows easier to clean by any means, so that's not it.

With the top hinged out I can then open the lower pane if desired. Maybe this helps air circulate? If the top window is open the screen is useless as it has to be removed to open the top window. If the bugs are out in force (welcome to Wisconsin) opening the top window is kind of useless because the house will be swarmed with bugs.

The more I look at these windows, the more I think I want to keep them. They're a weird design, but they're all solid. They also have two panes of glass so they're reasonably efficient for their age. I figure I can remove them one at a time to completely clean 'em, scrape and loose paint, sand 'em, and re-glaze 'em. A few of them need new glass which I can cut to fit myself. Doing one window per weekend as time permits in Spring and Fall might take a couple of years, but at least they're in good enough shape now that they can wait.

Last for the day, I put the boy character to work helping me clean up under the tree I was cutting on a few days ago. We ended up with 6 boxes of pine cones, small branches, and needles. I'll take it to the yard waste recycling station next weekend. This trailer was filled twice, just with junk from the ground.

I'm much happier with the cleaned up tree now. The big thing next spring will be to find ground cover plans that like living under pine trees. A lot of plants won't grow there because of the soil acidity. I'm planning on covering the area beneath this tree and the one behind it, and extending that planting all the way up to the house (just to the left in this picture). It's all scrubby looking and crappy right now due to the lack of light. Only weeds and really thin spots of grass have been growing there for the past decade, and a lot of the area is just dirt, which does nothing to help shed water away from the house.