Archive | May, 2012

The Huskee

30 May

We had our big Memorial Day weekend camping trip and the truck was filled to the roof line with camping and cooking supplies and food!


There was lots of great food including my baby back ribs, as promised, and a 14 hour brisket by Matt.


We even made two kinds of chicken drumsticks from a great butcher in New Hampshire.

And of course, there were the clams, as usual. I don’t have a picture of that because I was too busy spilling a whole tray of hot wine and clam juice all over myself. Luckily I was wearing my Carhartts (which I promptly ripped off) and I was given lots of ice quickly so the burning was limited to about 15 minutes with no lasting effects, so that was fortunate, plus I managed not to drop any actual clams!

The Clams and the Ribs were both transported in frosty style in the good old Huskee Hercules “disposable” cooler.

This cooler was purchased one day at work when we forgot a cooler and meant to be thrown out. Almost two years later it’s still kicking along and it does a great job of keeping meats and stuff cold for long periods. I think it may have better insulation value than the “real” coolers we have, and we usually reserve it for just such things, so it does not get opened up repeatedly either.
This is a very low tech cooler, but as far as styrofoam coolers go it is built like a tank, I’ve even carefully stood on it on occasion when loading the truck. The sides are very thick and it even features a deluxe packing-tape hinged lid.

It shows the wear, of course, and I reinforced the hinge with some new packing tape, which has held up quite well for what it is made of. If you come across a Huskee and might be in the need for a cheap cooler that’s just about as good or better than a “real” cooler, I suggest you pick one up… And tell me where you got it!



Waiting on the Weather

25 May

We have Friday off this week for Memorial Day weekend and we’re hoping to be able to use at least part of that Friday to get some decking done because we won’t be able to the rest of the weekend. At this point it looks to be touch and go with the rain situation so we’re not sure if we’ll be able.
The wood is all tarped up to stay dry while it’s being stored. Obviously the wood that is down already is getting wet but the manufacturer recommends keeping the wood covered prior to installation. I covered it up with some 6 mil sheeting but left it loose at the ends so air can flow through so it doesn’t get all extra humid in there hopefully. Even so, a day uncovered would probably be good for the pile.

We spent a little time on Sunday sorting the stacks of of decking by size so we could more easily see and access what we have.

Little, Yellow, Different (Dewalt DCF885 20Volt Max* 1/4″ Impact Driver)

21 May

First off, Dewalt, you ain’t foolin’ me! The 20Volt Max* name is strictly marketing, in fact this same item, DCF885, is sold as the 18Volt in other countries; there’s a reason there’s a big * next to “Max” and it’s because the battery is rated for its max charged voltage, while the previous generation 18Volt was rated for its nominal voltage.

So, why am I writing this, anyway? What has driven me (bad pun?) to buy yet another power tool? Well, in working on the deck this weekend we ran into an issue that I thought me might run into. We kept killing batteries. I have a kit with an 18Volt drill and driver, which comes with 2 Lithium-Ion batteries and a charger. If you’re only using one of the tools it’s perfect, but as soon as you try to use both for an extended time you wind up having a dead battery and your spare is on the other tool. The efficiency of having a dedicated tool for drilling and one for driving screws is negated when you can’t use one of them because one of the batteries is on the charger. The clear solution was simple, an extra battery… or so it would seem. It turns out that the 20Volt Max* series is not an upgrade from the 18 volt, it is the next generation, and so it would seem the classic Dewalt battery mounting system that has been in use for, I’d guess, 15 years or so is being phased out slowly.


Old vs. New Battery Mounting system

I found that replacement batteries were a little hard to come by, and expensive if you did find them. So expensive that for the price of two 18 Volt replacement batteries I realized I could get two 20Volt batteries as part of a kit with a charger and the new version of my beloved 1/4 impact driver. Now, granted I DO have a total of four tools that use the old 18Volt system, the aforementioned Drill and Driver, a jigsaw and a circular saw, all of which are great tools. But sometimes I rationalize my way into making a new purchase that seems redundant and in the end, I now have two 1/4″ impact drivers.


What is an impact driver and why do you want one?

An impact driver differs from a drill in that it is specialized mainly for driving screws and bolts. An impact driver is much like an impact wrench that many people will equate with a NASCAR pit stop. The impact driver functions by repeatedly hammering a rotating shaft at a very fast rate, which translates into the bit turning quickly and with lots of torque. This torque is much higher than what you’d get with a standard drill with a screw bit but puts much less strain on your wrist. With a regular drill if the bit encounters resistance there is a strong twisting action that can really take you for a ride and possibly twist your arm or jam your hand into something. With the impact driver you simply pull the trigger and push down, there is very little twist feel. A regular drill will strip out most screws over 3″ or bog down before they are driven in, meanwhile an impact driver can drive in an 8″ lag bolt without pre-drilling and no wrist strain. An impact driver with a Lithium Ion Battery is significantly lighter than a comparable drill causing less fatigue, and the body is also a lot smaller, making it possible to get in much tighter spots.

One drawback is that impact drivers are LOUD, that has actually caused us to call it a day earlier than we might like because we’re afraid we’re disturbing the neighbors. An impact driver is NOT a drill, it doesn’t have a drill chuck, it only has a bit holder. Impact drivers are also very fast and strong so if you’re doing delicate work like woodworking or furniture assembly you should either use a different tool or have a very good feel for the impact driver or you will tear the wood apart. I could countersink a #10 screw all the way through the mahogany decking if I tried, it’s that strong. On that topic, there is no adjustable clutch like a drill would have, so again, not over-driving is a serious consideration when deciding whether this is the right tool for the job you’re doing.

Differences between the DCF885 (20Volt Max*) and DCF826 (18Volt)


DCF826 Weight: 3Lbs,1.5oz


DCF885 Weight: 2Lbs,14.5oz


18Volt Li-ion Battery Weight: 14.75oz

20Volt Max* Battery Weight: 12.625oz

As you can see, the new version of the driver is lighter, as is its battery. At the same time the 885 spins at 2800 RPM vs the 826’s 2400 and the 885 impacts at 3200 IPM vs the 826’s 2800. Driving torque is also bumped up a bit from 1330 for the 826 to 1400 for the 885.

The battery on the 885 I have is rated at 1.5 AmpHours while the one on the 826 is rated at 1.1 AmpHours, theoretically this should translate into longer run times. It should be noted that higher capacity batteries are available for both the 826 and the 885, but at significant weight penalty in both cases.

The 826 has a single LED light under the bit that is on with the trigger, the 885 has three LEDs surrounding the bit holder that stay on for 20 seconds after you release the trigger, a neat function but it would also be nice to be able to disable that delay.

The 885 has a new bit holder that you can now just push the bit in with one hand, you still need to release the collar with your other hand to release the bit, but it is a small improvement.

There is a belt clip included with the 885, this apparently was an accessory you could add on to the 826 as I can see the threaded hole for it where the clip would go.

One thing I will miss on the 885 that the 826 featured was a spare bit holder. I would usually keep a torx bit in the chuck and a philips in the spare holder and always have the other readily on hand. This is not available on the 885, though one video showed a magnet on the side opposite of the belt clip on a European version.

So, what’s the verdict? Is newer better?

I don’t know, it’s raining and I haven’t tried it yet, and really only some solid use will show if this new version is an improvement or if they cut corners. I’ve dropped my old 12 Volt Dewalt drill off ladders numerous times and it’s still in one piece and kicking, I can only hope they are still built to the same standards as that drill while adding all this new technology. I assume any improvements over the 826 will be incremental; the slight reduction in weight and size is nice, and I’m hoping I’ll get a little more battery life out of the new one. I do like how I can keep the charger in the case and plug it in, where the old one sat sideways and had to be removed from the case to be used. Obviously this new case is just for one tool where the old one was for two, so the new case is considerably smaller.

If I run into any problems with the DCF885, you can be sure I’ll sound off about them here, until then we’ll be putting this thing through the wringer finishing off the last 1200 or so linear feet of decking we have yet to install.

Click here for update post!

Chugging Along

20 May

We started the day off by spraying the bees nest and weeds under the deck. We did have a couple run-ins with an angry bee or two, which sent us running, but no stings! The weed killer gave a bit of a toxic smell to the air, but it turned most of the stuff under growing under the deck brown by the end of the day.

After all that, we got to work on the deck and pushed on until the sun really started beating down on us and we got hungry. There was also the matter of a little drive we needed to take…

We went to one of our favorite summertime lunch spots, The Shack, in Centerport, where we found they had the new Bluepoint cans.


We planned the trip just right so we would hit the 100,000 mile mark on Corinne’s car! (Corinne was adamant about hitting the big 100K driving somewhere fun rather than to work during the week.)

We hit it just a mile before we returned home and pulled into the driveway. A tasty lunch at The Shack was a fitting celebration, and a nice break from working in the heat!

We did get back to work eventually, and while it may not look like much, it’s progress. It’s been a little tough working right against the house so that has been slowing us down a little since we’ve been working on top of each other.


There’s finally some room to walk around and put some furniture down, and it’s really starting to look like something. We can even walk outside the kitchen window now, which is a new point of view for us. Pretty soon the deck will be big enough to set up our outdoor table for the first time!

Rounding the Corner

20 May

On Saturday we made it to a milestone on laying the decking: we reached the corner of the kitchen! Now we’re heading to the deep end.

We’ve laid the first board that goes the full width of the deck, and let’s just say we “planned well” (some might argue we got lucky). The result is that we did not have to rip a board down, which would entail cutting a board down its whole length to part of its width. Fortunately, running a full board at the current spacing worked out very well with the spacing from the house. There is a tiny space, but not enough to fill it in with a sliver of wood.


We’ve actually been somewhat dreading what would happen when we got to this point, so it was a relief that our fears were not realized. We snapped a chalk line down where the edge of the board should be so it would be a nice straight line since we didn’t have the existing boards to use as a reference in this area.

Before we continue on, we have to do a little under-deck landscaping/plant killing as well as some bee finding/killing. We may lay down some landscaping fabric as well to try to keep weeds from reappearing.

We’re pretty pleased with what we’ve got so far! It really does look like what we had hoped and, while it is a little tedious, the half lap joints are working out well, plus we’ve got a pretty good rhythm going.


8 Square Feet

18 May

Thursday I started work later in the day, so I had some time to work on the deck in the morning. We were toying with the idea of doing something a little different to deal with the joints of the deck boards where they meet on the joists. Because there are no 28 foot long boards, and the boards come in random lengths, there must be joints. Normally you butt the boards up against each other, end to end, and screw both down to the one joist. This disturbs the lines of screws that go down the joists.

I thought of a woodworking joint called a “half lap” as a way to still screw down both boards without having double sets of screws. The half lap joint, illustrated below, removes half of the thickness of two boards, one from the top and one from the bottom and overlaps them, hence “half lap”.



This joint requires perfect depth cutting of the joint. I made a router jig to cut half the thickness out for a length of 1.5 inches. The jig supports the router base, and has built in fence to stop the cut right at the 1.5 inch point, as well as aiding dust collection so I don’t get covered with saw dust, and so I can see the bit at work. The jig is sized to perfectly slide over the end of the board and is held in place with one bar clamp.

It took 4 tries to get the depth setting correct. A difference of two 100ths of an inch was noticeable, so I got it within one 100th and then used coarse sandpaper to take it down the last little bit to make it perfect to feel.

Refining the joints over and over took most of the morning and left just enough time to lay down one 16 foot row of decking with one joint to test it out. And that’s how I came to do 8 square feet of decking.

This method of decking will certainly not speed things up by any means but it should add a little touch of quality to the installation, and hopefully having all the screws lined up will be a nice effect.

Here’s a normal butt joint…


And here’s a half lap joint…

Even the wood seems to be smiling about it!

Coleman Comes Through

17 May

Last year we bought a propane powered Coleman camping lantern at REI for one of our camping excursions. The first time we used it, though the glass globe cracked. At first we weren’t even sure if it was cracked or there was something on the glass but our friend “Uncle” Andy did the honors of touching it to check; it turns out it was not only cracked but also hot enough to alter finger prints. It was a painful lesson.

When we got back we went to REI to see about getting a replacement glass, and they said that while they do carry it, they were currently out of stock. Fall and winter came and the lantern with the broken glass sat forgotten in the basement. We finally have another camping trip on the horizon so I figured it would be a good idea to address this issue again.

I dug up the box and then I went online and found the Coleman customer service number, my faith in well established American companies bolstered by my recent experience with Weber barbecues. I called up and explained what had happened and that I wondered if this might be covered under warranty. The guy at Coleman listened and then replied, “Well, no that’s not normal. You certainly should not have to replace the glass on your lantern each time you use it! We stand behind our products and of course we’ll be happy to send you a new one, free of charge.”

So, after taking my information he promised it would be packed well so it we didn’t receive the next one pre-broken.
Today when I got him there was a box waiting for me with GLASS stickers all over it. Our new globe had arrived! I brought it inside, unpacked it from its bubble wrap cocoon and sure enough, it had arrived in one piece, so I got to work swapping out the globe.

Now our little lantern is as good as new and hopefully this globe will last as long as the lantern does.

It’s Alive!

15 May

It was a little too rainy to try working on the deck after work today so I got back to work trying to get the lawn tractor going. Our neighbor, Mike, is a landscaper so he has a good amount of experience working on lawnmowers and such. He saw me working on it the other day and he saw us using the mower generously lent to us by Corinne’s parents so he offered to lend me a hand trying to get the tractor going.

I had originally thought the starter was an issue. The starter has a gear that pops up and spins the flywheel to start the engine and then it pops back down to get out of the way.


I was convinced the starter was at fault, but it turns out that the battery was simply dead and did not have enough power to engage the starter fully. In the process of trying to start the engine repeatedly I had burnt out a diode so I ordered a new one to replace it. We figured out that it wasn’t needed for the engine to run, only to charge the battery when it was running, so it should run without it. I took the air filter assembly off so we could get a good look at the carburetor. We took off the fuel bowl, which has a float that sort of regulates the flow of fuel, Mike sprayed that with some carb cleaner and we reinstalled it. Then we sprayed the whole carburetor down to clean it out as well and then it was time to try starting the engine. He sprayed some carb cleaner as I turned the key to help the engine start, and it worked!! It ran for about 5 seconds and then I turned off the choke and it stalled. He told me to try again, but this time to leave the choke on, it chugged and smoked a good bit but it kept running, after about 20 seconds the exhaust cleared up and we released the choke and it ran on its own! Success!

I still have to reinstall the diode and test the engine with it installed but I have my fingers crossed that it will function properly. After that I can reinstall the flywheel shroud and finally the bodywork, and then we can get back to mowing! (and the garage can go back to being a place for parking cars instead of a lawnmower repair shop)

Lobster Repair

14 May

I’m sure this is a confusing title, but it’s true… I fixed a lobster today!

Since Christmas, Ishi’s favorite toy has been Santa Lobster. He’s a little stuffed lobster with a Santa hat, and he has crinkly stuff inside that really drives Ishi wild. She loves to stalk and pounce on him and she’s fond of somehow carrying on to our bed when we’re not home. She also likes to lay on her side and hold him with her front paws while she sort of digs into him with her back paws, which is adorable.
So, you can imagine our dismay when his stitching tore a little bit and his stuffing started to poke out a few weeks ago. And then today when we got home his stuffing was all over the bed and he was pretty much empty. It was time to take action!


Corinne dug up a little sewing kit and I got to work stitching. I collected all the stuffing, and put it back in and reformed the little guy as much as I could. I even reinforced the stitching on his claw for extra security. He looks almost as good as new, but proud of his scars with contrast stitching.

Santa Lobster is back to work and in typical cat fashion, Ishi couldn’t be less interested.

I’m sure she’s happy on the inside and relieved to have her old friend back… I bet she’ll be boppin’ him all around the house when we’re not looking in no time.

We’re Up and Running!

13 May

We only got 4 boards done today but it’s progress. There was a lot of thinking, figuring out, and jig-making, so it was a long process to get the first board down, but the rest of the decking references off that board. It’s a little tedious but as of now we are pre-drilling for all the screws. We are using a Starborne Smart-Bit to do the pre drilling, and it is a nice tool, the bit drills very quickly and has a depth stop to set the counter sink at the perfect depth.

I’m fortunate enough to have a separate drill and impact driver so I don’t have to keep switching bits. We use one for pre drilling and one for driving the screws.

The impact driver is kind of like an impact wrench you’d see in a NASCAR pit crew but a lot smaller and battery operated instead of pneumatic. The bad thing about an impact driver is that it is LOUD, the good thing is that it doesn’t strain your wrist like a regular drill with a screw bit. The 18Volt lithium ion batteries are very light, the impact driver is especially light, I’d guess it’s half the weight of my old 12Volt Dewalt drill.

We decided, finally to go with standard 10×2.5″ screws rather than trim head screws. The point of trim head screws is to be as small as possible but the small heads seemed to too easily sink too deeply into the counter sunk holes, it seemed like you could drive them all the way through if you wanted. The trim heads were only available in a number 7X2.25″ so the regular head screw we got are thicker as well, which I think should hold stronger into the joists. The screws we settled on are made Simpson and are 316 Stainless, which is the highest corrosion resistance. They are also torx (star) drive, which I prefer to square drive (Robinson) for their easier engagement and the fact that the don’t look like they’re rotated wrong like square drives can if they’re not square to the surface.
Anyway, it’s a bit of a tedious process, but the little bit we have done is very encouraging and we’re pretty excited about how it’s turning out so far.