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Teaching an Old Compressor New Tricks

24 Jan

When it gets cold out the low pressure warnings start popping up on the cars and of course you need to pump up those tires a little to get rid of the nagging yellow light (and to keep the tires at a safe and efficient pressure, of course). For a while we were relying on my very handy CO2 tank which is very portable and quick to fill, but through experience we have found that CO2 does not stay in tires for the long term. It sounds like nonsense but apparently the molecules are small enough to seep through the rubber faster than the nitrogen molecules that make up most of compressed air. CO2 is amazing at filling tires quickly in an emergency or for track side or trailhead use, and great for powering air tools but will not sustain tire pressure in the long term. This was very evident when we were trying to use CO2 to maintain the bike tires. I got tired of going down to the local gas stations where you have to either wait on line or pay quarters or deal with unreliable equipment and even sprinklers. (At one point I had a slow leak in my tire and was stopping there every day at around 5am and the sprinklers were on at that time so it was a wet endeavor).
Finally, the other day I decided it was time to get back into the compressed air business. We were on the way home from Townline BBQ and I decided to pick up a cheap air compressor at Harbor Freight to at least have some source of compressed air. Once we got it home I read further into the reviews online and decided it really wasn’t up to snuff and maybe I should return it.
This brings us to my old air compressor.

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All Mixed Up

20 Jan

Corinne was in the kitchen yesterday making some of her mom’s famous “Snow Bread”, using the dough hook on her beloved KitchenAid stand mixer. It sounded like the machine was struggling a bit, but that happens when mixing dough because it has a lot of resistance. She also claimed it was getting a little hot (I felt the machine and it was beyond what I would call a little hot..)

At one point, the dough hook got stuck, making an awful grinding noise. She turned the mixer off and pulled the dough out to finish kneading it by hand. However, upon turning the mixer back on to make sure it was OK, we discovered it was not. The mixer was working, but it was making a noise that was not pretty.

As she finished up prepping the dough for its first rise, I began researching repair and replacement parts online.

I found a very helpful video that described exactly what part was likely to bad, and how to disassemble the machine, replace the part and reassemble it. It turns out that there is one gear in the drivetrain that is nylon, while the rest are metal. This nylon gear acts as a “fuse” of sorts by purposely being the weak point between the motor and the blades. While it is a bit of a pain to have to replace this, I’m sure it is about $100 cheaper than the motor it is intended to protect. It seemed like this was the likely cause of this noise and, while I was tempted to simply order the part, it seemed wise to confirm the damage and make sure there was no further carnage.

Follow along as we tear her down!

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Removing a roll pin on the lower shaft using a punch and a brass hammer. Seems low tech but this is exactly how it’s installed at the factory!

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Now that the outer planetary gear ring is exposed the 5 screws holding that in can be removed.

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The rear electrical cover is removed as well to free up the cord strain relief.

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After 4 screws below are removed, the motor housing can be lifted off, revealing the grease-covered drivetrain. (Luckily the video warned of this or it would have been quite shocking!)

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And here’s a view of the damaged gear.

A few more screws and one more roll pin and it’s out. I’ll wait ’til the replacement comes in to pull that out.
In the meantime, all the hardware I removed is neatly labeled so I know where it goes when it’s time to put it all back together.

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The replacement part can be found for as low as $4, I’ll probably order 2 just in case another stiff dough wreaks havoc again in the future…

Doing this ourselves is probably saving about a hundred dollars or so, if we could find a local place to do the repair. The mixer weighs about 35 pounds, so if we had to ship it to be repaired you could tack on another fifty bucks, probably.
We may replace the grease as well because of the shredded gear fragments and the fact that grease is known to break down under high heat conditions. Stay tuned for the follow up!!

Splitting Headache

20 Dec

After the storm, with all the trees down, there was an abundance of potential firewood lining most roads. I began scavenging it with my friend Jimmy so we could amass a good firewood collection for next year. We both filled our pick ups a few times, and we’re collecting some good piles. On Thanksgiving however, our neighbor had a tree guy who was dropping off some wood and he offered to drop some off for us too. We didn’t know what we were getting into. The guy dropped two or three loads off at both of our houses, and from then on much of my life has revolved around dealing with a back yard that has been taken over by firewood.

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That’s one pile of two. Some of these logs are around 3 feet in diameter. Most of it is red oak, which is not light, by any means. It took an entire day for me and my friend Nick to move these piles into one orderly row along the back fence.

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That picture really doesn’t do it justice, it is about 100 feet long, 2 rows deep and 2 or 3 logs high most of the way. There were some logs that were simply too large and oddly shaped to move with just two people, so they remained scattered around the yard.

Finally this week, Jimmy was able to procure a gas-powered splitter so we could get to work on all this. Derek, always the eager arborist, has been on hand to lend his assistance, as this is much better a two-man job than one.

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Here Derek does his best Lieutenant Dan impression showing the splitter in its vertical position.

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This is really the only way to split these larger logs that are way too heavy to lift.

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The method we’ve developed is to split the larger logs into quarters or eighths, depending on how big they are, and stacking them like that, then coming back with the splitter in the more comfortable horizontal position to further break down the quarters into firewood-sized pieces. This has proven much more effective than fully splitting down the large logs to firewood vertically or breaking our backs trying to get them onto the splitter horizontally.

At this point there’s about 3 days invested in this project and probably a solid three more to finish splitting, then another day or three to stack it all off the ground on pallets near our existing firewood supply. This wood should be ready to burn next year, at least the smaller pieces, but unless we have roaring fires every night this is shaping up to look like about a four-winter supply of firewood. I think my back might be fully recovered from this by then!

Honda EU2000i Oil Change

3 Dec

As mentioned in my Powered by Honda post, we ran the generator for a very long time so I decided it would be wise to change the oil a few times. The little Honda only takes about a half quart of oil, but when you change that oil, you don’t want that oil to wind up in the generator, you want it to go into your disposal pan. Honda attempts to prevent that a little by designing a little ramp below the oil drain, which helps the oil flow out the drain a little bit, but it still doesn’t reach far enough out to stop the oil from dripping inside.
When we bought the generator from Wise Sales we also bought their oil change accessory kit, which includes an aluminum magnetic dipstick plug and an aluminum spout for oil draining.

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The magnetic dipstick is a nice feature because it catches any metallic particles that wind up in the oil; because small engines like this have no oil filter it is good to catch any particles you can to keep them from circulating in the engine and causing wear. Whatever gets stuck to the magnet you simply wipe off with a paper towel while changing the oil.

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The spout is shown above, you simply thread it in where the plug normally lives while performing the oil change. This spout pokes out way outside the confines of the body of the generator, now when you pour out the oil it goes right to the catch pan. It is also helpful for filling the oil, although a narrow funnel is still required. Much like filling the gas tank, filling the oil is tricky because there’s not much warning that it is full. It’s full when it’s level to the edge of the fill, which means it’s basically spilling out at that point. Knowing how much oil it takes in the first palace helps you at least have an idea when it should be full, but a few paper towels or a rag usually come in handy.

A high end generator like this is a big investment so maintenance is crucial to make it last. We’ve been running good gas, and changing the oil at least every 50 hours with Mobil 1 synthetic. The hour meter I installed and these two accessories make keeping on top of the maintenance a little easier, so we’ll be ready the next time. I’ve got a few more posts related to this generator in the works, so stay tuned!

Titus Road, Powered by Honda

26 Nov

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The day after the hurricane came through, we lost power, as did the majority of Long Island. I am not among the LIPA bashers. All you had to do was drive around a little to see what they were (and still are) up against. The sheer amount of trees that fell down is mind boggling, and it seems like 75% of them fell on roads and power lines. In any event, we were without power… For a few minutes, at least.
Unlike last year’s power outage from Irene we were prepared. We got back from my brother Tim’s wedding on Saturday and got right to work prepping the house. Some of this included getting the Honda EU2000i generator hooked up to the house. A while back I had ordered a transfer interlock for our electrical panel, and had procrastinated on installing it. Obviously, the time had come. There would be no running of extension cords through cracked doors and windows this year, the entire house would be powered up by the generator. I took my amp meter and with Corinne upstairs on the phone I checked the amp draw of various lights and appliances throughout the house. Doing this enabled us to decide what we could use freely, what we could sparingly, and what we should probably avoid using. We found out that heat/ hot water system, since it runs on natural gas, was a pretty small consumer of electricity. It only needs to run the circulators, the combustion fan and the controls. Both refrigerators were also pretty low consumers, except on motor startup. The microwave, toaster oven and hair dryer were on the no-no list.
The generator we have is very small, so it does have limited capacity, but for a house with gas heat, hot water and stove we found it more than met our needs. It is my opinion that most backup generators are oversized. This really came into play when the gas shortage started and we were using about 1/6 as much gas as other people with full size generators. Most people I spoke to were reporting gas usage of 4 to 5 gallons for an 8 hour period. We were using just about 2 gallons for a 24 hour period! Most people were only using their generators in the evening due to the gas shortage and THE NOISE. Over a 6 day period we only shut our generator down 3 times, and that was to change the oil. Besides that it ran constantly for 146 hours. Due to our careful usage we were able to be extremely fuel efficient. Our refrigerator never defrosted because it had power for all but a total of maybe 3 hours. We were careful with lights we used and hand washed the dishes rather than using the dishwasher (although it could handle it). We switched from the big plasma TV to the smaller LCD, which used about 150 watts instead of about 350. Most of our frugalness was to maximize fuel efficiency and keep the generator running nice and quite. Even at its loudest, though, it is probably 1/8 as loud as a standard generator, and at its normal level on Eco mode it is super quite. You can just barely hear the hum inside the house. If any of our neighbors had their generators on, we’d have to open the window to hear our little guy.
I can now fully endorse the Honda EU2000i generator as a durable workhorse that can power our entire house if we are smart about our energy usage. It operated flawlessly for the duration of our power outage. I strongly recommend adding an hour meter to this or any generator that does not have one to keep tabs on maintenance.

Stihl Working

8 Aug

The chainsaw we have, which was donated to us by Corinne’s Dad, has been out of commission for some time because the bolt that holds the bar on was stripped out. More specifically, it’s actually a stud and it was actually the aluminum casing of the saw itself that was stripped out. Aluminum is a great, lightweight material but it is relatively soft and therefor threaded holes are easily stripped out if over-torqued. I think this was the case due to the missing chain tension adjuster mentioned in an older post. I was a little nervous to tackle this repair for two reasons; first, if you screw up the repair you don’t really get a second chance and second, I didn’t have the necessary tool to do the job. OK… who are we kidding? I think everyone knows that I’d just see that as a reason to get another tool. I tried to resist, though and asked the mechanic next door to work to see if he could repair the threads. After about a month and a half of him being sorry he didn’t get around to it every time I stopped by I took it back and took matters into my own hands. I went and searched out a Heli-Coil kit to fix the threads. I wound up getting it at County Line Hardware in Huntington, which is right around the corner from my old apartment. As always they were very helpful and were able to determine what type of thread size I needed (Metric 8 x 1.25) and supply me with the needed kit to do the repair.
Follow along as I go through the repair step by step:

The first step is to drill out the damaged threads with a specific size drill bit that is called for by the tap. (I didn’t take a picture of this) It’s important to try to keep the drill bit as true to the direction of the original hole as possible. Then you take the tap in a tap wrench and basically screw it in to the hole you just drilled. Again, it is crucial to keep the tap aligned properly. I actually was a tiny bit off but luckily it was close enough to get away with.

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The tap is essentially a hardened bolt which cuts new threads, it has recesses to catch the metal shavings as they come off.

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Here is the newly tapped hole.

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This is a look at the actual Heli-Coil itself, with the installation tool and the tap in the background, it is basically like a spring where the exterior fits perfectly into the cut thread and the inside fits the bolt that fits the original hole. The little tang sticking in to the middle is how the installation tool drives it in.

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The installation tool has the same thread as the bolt that will go on with a little notch that engages the tang so it spins it in rather than just threading through it.

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This is a view of the fully inserted Heli-Coil, the thread is now repaired. The tang is broken off by inserting a hardened punch and giving it a smart tap, it has a little notch in it so it breaks off easily.

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The last step is to install the original bolt or stud into the repaired hole.

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I actually wound up replacing the stud with a brand new one because the original nut was a bit stuck on and it was easier to get a new one for 85 cents rather than fight with the old one.

I’m happy to report that I was able to rebuild the chainsaw, install the bar and chain and actually start it. I gave it a test spin and then shut it down to tension the blade a little. Then I made my arm sore trying to get it started again, first because I had the cutoff switch in the Off position and then because it was out of gas! Once I put some gas in it and turned the switch On I was able to get it started and actually get it to idle and I even cut a small branch that had fallen in a few pieces. It seems like the chain could use sharpening or replacement to make it cut well and safely. A dull chain encourages you to push too hard, which can be dangerous, so, as with knives, sharper is safer than dull. Once I get that chain taken care of I think we are good to start chopping down a bunch of overgrown saplings and bushes on the side of the house, maybe even the berry tree by the deck, although I might solicit the services of Derek and his Stihl Farm Boss again if we decide to go for that.

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.

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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.

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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)

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DCF826 Weight: 3Lbs,1.5oz

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DCF885 Weight: 2Lbs,14.5oz

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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!

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.

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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)

Fully Involved

29 Apr

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I’m diving pretty deep into the lawn tractor to find out why it’s not starting. So far I’ve removed the hood, the air cleaner, the fuel pump, the shifter cover and the fan shroud to try to access the starter. Now I just need to get my hands on a couple fuses so I can see what happens when I turn the key. The starter gear doesn’t seem to be engaging the flywheel, so now I can actually watch it… But I guess I blew the fuse from trying too many times. There also looks to be a fusible link which may have melted so that could be trouble!

Small Engine Repair

25 Apr

Last weekend when we tried to mow the lawn, I went against all good judgement and used gas that I knew was most likely bad from sitting out all winter into the lawn tractor. And it was. It started running like crap instantly. So then I proceeded to drain the gas tank and the gas tanks of all our small power equipment into our largest gas can.

Getting rid of bad gas is a tricky proposal, as it turns out. Finally I asked our mechanic if he knew what to do with it, and he told me he could take the gas for me in his waste tank. They have a Safety Kleen contract to deal with waste fluids from oil changes and other mechanical work.

Anyway, once I had an empty gas can, I was able to fill up with new, 93 Octane gas. The leaf blower actually requires 91, but I figured the 93 would help everything run a little better if they had any residual bad gas in their fuel systems. So I took the 1.5 gallon can and put in Sta-Bil fuel stabilizer and Echo oil mix and mixed the fuel. I then put some fuel in the weed whacker and the leaf blower, pumped the primers, and luckily they both started pretty easily. I let them run for about 5 minutes and they both sound like they are ready to work!

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I put a little pure gas in the lawn tractor, pushed it out of the garage, and tried to start it. Nothing. Didn’t make a sound when I turned the key. I had forgotten to plug in the Battery Tender, and I had tried to start the tractor a bunch of times when I had put the bad gas in, so after checking out a few things I got out the meter and saw that the battery was only reading 2.5 volts. It really should be 12 or 14, so i’m hoping when the battery charges up it will start.

My last task was to see if I could get the old Stihl chainsaw, that Corinne’s dad gave us, working. I have never gotten this chainsaw to start before. I pulled the spark plug, cleaned all the gunk of it, and tested it by grounding out the body of the plug on the metal of the motor and pulling the string. I saw a spark, so I knew that aspect of the fuel/air/spark equation was good. Next was the fuel, so I poured in some of the mixed fuel and brought the saw outside to try to start it. I put the saw on the ground and gave a few pulls. After the fifth or sixth pull it sounded a little close. Then I realized the throttle has a feature where it can be pinned a full throttle for starting, AND I realized I hadn’t turned on the choke. After I did that it started in about three pulls! I quickly released the throttle, revved it a few times, and it was able to hold a decent idle.

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Unfortunately, now that I’ve got the engine issue sorted out, there is another issue I have to deal with. There is a nut that tightens down the bar (the thing that the chain rides on), and the cover and the stud has stripped out the aluminum casing of the saw. Due to this the bar is all loose and floppy and won’t stay in place. If it were even possible to use in this state it would be dangerous. I’m hoping the stripped out hole will be able to repaired by drilling out the hole to a bigger size and tapping it for a Heli-Coil insert. I’m going to hopefully find out if this will work by talking to the same mechanic who took the bad fuel off our hands.