Monday, July 22, 2013

My first airbrush project

I had been thinking for a while that my motorcycle helmet was the perfect thing to practice my airbrushing on.  It's already pretty beat up, and well passed the point where everyone recommends replacing it anyway, so I couldn't really hurt it.  But I hadn't been able to decide on any type of design for it, either.

Well, I finally decided.  I'm going to paint a section broken open showing a section of brain underneath.  I decided to do a proof-of-concept on my computer case (what I've been using as an airbrush test panel).  The results are below, in stages.

It took me 6 hours to get to this stage.  I tried 3 different methods of doing the broken edge.  First, I tried just holding a sheet of paper to mask just the one edge I was painting.  But the overspray into other areas was just too much.  Then I tried free-handing the edge, both with a fuzzy boundary and trying a fine-line detail sharp edge.  Neither of these gave the definition (or illusion of definition) that I wanted.  Finally, I taped over what I had left with painters tape and drew a jagged edge on it and removed the exterior so I could paint it.  Or at least, I was supposed to.  Instead I removed the interior the first time.  That's why there are cut marks in the brain area (look close at the top right).  I had to do it again and the painters tape isn't clear, so I couldn't cut in the same place the second time.  This method was the best, but I ended up with a nasty overspray line at the edge of the tape in the brain, since I only taped off what I had left, not the whole thing.  I didn't even realize there was paint there until I peeled the tape off.  Oh well.  Anyway, I painted the cracked edge, then painted the brain inside with no masking.

I have no idea how long it took me to get to this stage, but all I did was tape the edge.  This is definitely NOT the proper way to tape something off.  I tried using just the straight edges of the tape at first, but that was wasting too much tape.  Then I tried tearing pieces to match the edges as closely as I could, but that was very tedious and error prone.  Finally, I ended up cutting tiny thin little strips of tape and putting them down the border, then went back with thicker bands further out.  It took way, way too long.  And I really should have done it before I painted the brain, and then I would have been able to better fill the smaller cracks and such, and wouldn't have gotten brain overspray on my edges.

This is after I've added the drop shadow.

Here I've added the shadowed edges of the break. The drop shadow really didn't take much at all, but the edges did.  I have a hard time with detail, and so I thinned the paint out and it took a lot of layers to build up to the full black.  Also, it probably shouldn't be black, but instead should be a darker blue so that you can better tell that it is the edge of the crack.  And, I've screwed up my highlights.  I just can't seem to get createx white to spray fine.  Either it's too thick and I can't get it to atomize, or it's too thin (I think) and I can't get it keep from "spidering" when I'm close to the surface for detail.  I also suspect that either I'm not mixing the reducer in properly, or createx isn't compatible with the com-art paints I was using to tint it.  I had a slight problem with "blue shift", but I fixed that by tinting the white to orange with the com-art.  I would get one spot to spray fine, and then it seemed like a drop of water or something (I have a water filter) would spit out.

Here it is with the tape removed.  You can see where the brain oversprayed onto the edge, since I didn't have the edge masked off when I painted them.  And one spot near the top actually pulled the paint up.  I also cut far too deep when I was cutting the tape, but I don't know how to get around that.  This tape appears to be at least 2 layers, so if I don't cut all the way through, it tears.  Regardless, here are things I've learned.

1) I originally thought one of the great things about airbrushing was that you didn't have to mix your paints.  Sure, maybe you mix a base color, but you just shade it to your desired opacity.  Then you just use primary colors layered on top of that to get all of the variations for whatever you need.  For instance, a hummingbird I started on would have been a solid medium green.  Then throw some transparent black in the shadows, some yellow in the highlights, maybe a little blue where his feathers shift color, and you've got it.
That's not the way it works, at least not for me.  You really need to think about your colors.  The airbrush is really just a blending tool.  Sure, you CAN layer colors to get new ones, but you should only really do that at the transitions.  At least at my stage, if I am trying to go from blue on one end, yellow on the other, with green in the middle, I need to mix the blue, and paint one end, then mix the yellow and paint the other end, then mix the green and paint the middle, blending it into the yellow and blue.

2) The above is slightly modified for transparents.  For opaques, it's hard and fast.  The colors really don't change as you layer them very much.  But transparents actually do appear to mix more.  But still, think about it.  If you were mixing the colors in the jar, you mix too many and you still get a muddy brown or something at the end.  And if you ever lighten with white and then blend it into something you darkened with black, it will do the same thing on the paper (or whatever media) that it does in the jar; it will head toward dirty gray.  So it's safer to mix your colors, and then use the airbrush to get smooth transitions.

 3) I haven't actually tried frisket, but I can't see myself being able to cut a piece out, paint the hole, and then put that piece exactly in the same space, especially on something curved like a helmet.  So the way I should have painted this was to paint the entire area blue (possibly laying down white first, depending on what's under it).  Then tape off the entire thing and cut out my interior.  Then fill that with white to keep the blue from shading my brain, then paint the brain, drop shadow, and dark edges.  That would have kept all of the brain overspray off of my blue, it would have made it much easier to fill the tiny areas of the cracks, and it would have been MUCH quicker than all of those tiny little pieces of tape I used.  Now, if I was confident in my frisketing, I would have painted the whole thing white, frisketed it, then cut and removed the outside.  I then would have painted that blue and then put the outside back.  Then I would remove the inside and paint the brain and the drop shadow.  Then I would have put the inside back, but shifted it down and left and painted all of the shadowed edges.  Then, since I can't get a fine line with the white, I would have put it back and then taken the outside piece and just BARELY shifted it up and right.  Then I would have mixed a slightly lighter shade of blue to highlight the broken edges, as if they were just slightly sloped from the breaking.

4) I wasn't really considering light and shadow when I did the wrinkles in the brain.  I didn't really consider it until I was working on the highlights, so the wrinkle shadow is equal on both sides.  I really should have made one side of the wrinkles darker than the other.  The drop shadow should also be larger on one side than the other for the same reason.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

After 20 years, I have an airbrush that works

20+ years ago, our high school art teacher invited an airbrush artist to come in and teach the class.  We all got to play with the airbrushes, and I got a kick out of it.  I'd always enjoyed airbrushed art anyway.  Not long afterwards, I bought an airbrush at a pawn shop for forty dollars.  I couldn't for the life of me get it to work.  It would sputter, spit, bubble into the jar, etc.  I took it up to the airbrush artists shop, and she was no help.  Granted, just because she taught for a day didn't mean she wanted kids showing up at her shop asking questions, but it seems to me now that she basically knew how to clean her brushes and such, but may not know the underlying technicalities of why any particular problem happens, or maybe just didn't know anything about airbrushes in general, just her airbrushes specifically.  Regardless, I asked her and various others and got mostly either thin the paint (which I was), I'm missing parts (which I eventually called Thayer and Chandler and found out that either I wasn't, or there weren't any rebuild kits anyway), or that they just didn't know.  I ended up discouraged and the airbrush sat on a shelf.

I picked it up a couple of times over the years.  I bought a tiny air compressor at an auction, thinking maybe my father's big air compressor I tried in high-school was just too big, even turned down, and that didn't work.  I picked up a new compressor and airbrush at an art store several years later and it seemed to work at first, until I took it apart, cleaned it, and put it back together, then it started doing the same kind of thing.  I returned it and the guys at the art supply store couldn't figure out what was wrong with it either, even after they took it apart, cleaned it again, and put it back together.  I did keep the little Paasche air compressor, swearing I'd end up with an airbrush some day.

Eventually, a month or so ago, I decided to check the internet again.  In high school, there was no internet, and I either didn't think to check much later on, or there just wasn't as much information out.  This time, though, I made a concerted effort to determine exactly how the thing was working, and what could cause the symptoms I was seeing.  Spitting and spattering could be related to several things, but mostly thick paint or paint dried on the inside (or on the needle, but that was clean).  So I tore the whole thing apart and traced the entire paint and air channels and cleaned everything, even using an interdental brush to get the tiny openings.  A possible cause for bubbling into the cup was a clogged pathway, but after all of my cleaning, I knew there weren't any clogged passages.  But I also worked out what had to be happening.  One way or another, air was leaking from the air channel to the paint channel, and I new there were only a few places it could occur.  I determined it had to be leaking passed the threads in the tip, and I started looking up sealing it.  I tried teflon tape and it worked to an extent, but was a major pain.  I finally found a guy talking about using bees wax.  I didn't have any, but I had a bar of soap, and I'd used that to lube threads when putting tiny screws in wood before.  Sure enough, that fixed it right up.  I now had a working Thayer and Chandler Model C (as far as I can tell) airbrush.  I got some airbrush paint (because I didn't want to risk my paint quality as an issue again) and started messing around with it.

I'm real bad about dropping stuff like this after a few months, so I really didn't want to put any money into it until I had been practicing a while to figure out whether I was going to be able to do any good or not.  But I was definitely seeing issues with this airbrush.  For one, it has a massive tip for an airbrush.  And as luck would have it, Thayer and Chandler went out of business a few years back, so I can't get any smaller nozzles or needles for it.  It also is not a very fine atomization pattern, but it could be that it is actually meant for still higher pressure than my little air compressor can provide.  But I was puttering along.  Really just the equivalent of doodling, and getting discouraged again.  But my wife decided to buy me an Iwata Eclipse HP-CS for my birthday.  It worked out much better, much finer atomization, and I could tell that eventually I should be able to do detail with it.

It's working out.  I was still getting myself discouraged though.  I couldn't (still probably can't) even write my own name.  Any lettering I tried to do was just junk.  Nothing really was half way decent.  And on top of it, I've apparently forgotten how to even draw, which definitely wasn't helping.  But the real problem was that I didn't have a goal.  Even with the lettering, I had no concept of what I wanted the letter to look like when I was done.  It's just doodling.  So I started a hummingbird, but that was screwed from the get-go.  I was painting it too small, and had some misconceptions on how to actually use an airbrush.  I watched more online videos and decided on a very simple project; painting a ribbon.  I used to always doodle a ribbon that undulated toward and away from the viewer doubling back on itself.  It seems like a perfect project for an airbrush; just one single color, with highlights and shadows in a single direction.  So I cut a stencil for it and went to work.  It sucks, but only because I only cut the outer bounds.  I though I could go back over the small overlap sections with the original color to fix overspray, but that didn't work.  But the sections that weren't covered by anything else did actually look shadowed and highlighted.  It was definitely a start.

And then, finally, my "creative juices" finally started going and I decided on a project.  But I'll talk about that in a later post (mainly because this is extremely long-winded, and no one will really care to read this just to see the project pictures).  Suffice it to say, it's not perfect, but it's MUCH better than I expected, and I learned a lot.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Killed another PICkit 3

I don't trust in-cicruit programming with the transformerless power supply I'm using.  I tried it once and blew up the PICkit, my usb hub, keyboard/mouse dongle, and my front usb port, along with a handful of traces on my solderless breadboard.  So what I've been doing is unplugging the circuit before I hook up the PICkit.  I've blown my triac driver circuit twice since because the AC power lines to the triac are plugged in separately.  I remember to unplug the main circuit, but leave the triac plugged in and it fries the transistor and one of the resistors.  But today, I forgot to disconnect the PICkit before I plugged the circuit back in and fried the PICkit, the pic18, probably fried some more traces on the breadboard, and it looks like both the diode and zener diode in my power supply circuit are fried as well, but I haven't tested them yet.

I need to find some way to isolate the PICkit from the rest of the circuit, but I don't know what will allow me to isolate it and still let me program it.  So I think what I'm going to have to do, and what I should have done originally, is build the bare-bones programming circuit on a separate board.  But I don't have a zif socket for this chip and that's a lot of plugging and unplugging.

I'm going to email microchip and make see if they can confirm or deny that the transorfmerless powersupply circuit works with the PICkit in-circuit programming.  If it does, then I'll just use that.  It's definitely a possibility that the problem is because I was still powering the circuit through the PICkit.  I know I was this time, and I didn't think I was last time, but I may have been.

If that doesn't work, I'm just going to have to buy 2 zif sockets.  I can't risk paying for this stupid thing again.  I have to get another chip anyway, since that was my last one.  I have some other older pic18s laying around, but they don't have as many pins.  I'll have to pull up the specs before I can see if they have enough ports to be usable.  I also have a couple of dsPIC30's that I haven't played with yet, but it seems a waste to use them for this project.  We'll see, though.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spontaneous Funnel Cloud

I saw a spontaneous funnel cloud yesterday. I suppose it is technically just a whirlwind, not a tornado, as apparently a tornado has to be connected to the cloud and the ground. To me, this was really cool. It would be cool to see a tornado for sure, but to see something that I had never even heard of was pretty cool as well.

We were driving along and I thought I saw smoke over the tree line, but it looked funny. It was as white as the clouds, which you normally only see if they are putting out a fire and you have steam instead of smoke, but there was no darker smoke above it from the pre-watered fire. Also, the smoke column appeared to be getting taller faster than it was rising. As we watched, it thickened and then suddenly tightened into a very distinct column just like a tornado, only it was white (which I suppose a normal tornado probably would be if it was out in the daylight instead of under a thundercloud). As far as I could tell, it wasn't connected to any cloud. And with the trees in the way, I couldn't say for sure whether it touched the ground or not. As to height, the visible column was at least 5 or 6 times the height of the trees in front of it.

The day wasn't clear. The sky was spotted with clouds, so an invisible vortex could have been associated with a cloud above. I think the original "smoke" was probably condensation from the pressure change as the vortex began forming. If that is the case, I would have expected it to be visible up to the cloud if it was connected, since a cloud would be direct evidence of enough moisture to become visible in the first place, but maybe not.

After doing research, the closest thing I could come up with is a "cold-air funnel cloud", which is pictured at right from wikipedia. The one I saw, as I said, wasn't attached to a cloud, and it was much more well defined, with a smoother margin, at least to me. I haven't found any images without the column being attached to a cloud, but I'm still looking. Surely someone else has seen one.

I wish I had gotten a picture, but the thing only lasted a few seconds. It had almost totally dissipated (there was still some high-level fluff left) 10 or 15 seconds after the column formed, so I wouldn't have gotten a picture even if I had had my camera with me. But trust me, it was still cool.

My wife's vent-a-hood

Our stove-top is on an island in the middle of the kitchen.  It has a vent-a-hood, but instead of being over the stove, it pops up out of the island behind the stove.  The circuit board in it went out 6 years or more ago, and I wired a radio shack push-button to the up-down motor and a light switch to the fan motor and just put them in the cabinet space under the counter top.  It works, but it is kinda annoying.

Well, I'm finally getting around to rebuilding the circuit board.  I had a guy at work that knew electronics try to decipher the existing circuit for me.  It seems that I thought he knew more than he did, as all he really did was trace the wires and tell me what some of the components were, not actually how the circuit was working.  Basically, I could run the up-down motor without a problem; simple on-off and there are limit switches at the top and the bottom.  But the fan has multiple speeds but only two wires.  I didn't know how they set the speed on a fan without having a different wire for each speed, and that's what I needed to find out.

Luckily, just knowing the parts put me on the right track.  Apparently, the on-off for both motors is controlled by a triac, one of the components that make up a solid-state relay, instead of using a mechanical relay.  But since the triac isn't mechanical, it can be very quickly turned on and off repeatedly; in fact, turned on and off fast enough to chop a peak of the AC sine wave in half.  This is called "phase control", in that you are controlling the speed of the fan by only allowing a certain percentage of the AC phase to get to the motor.  (Solid-state relays are just as reliable for fast and frequent on-off cycles, but they are more expensive and often have circuitry built in to make sure they only turn on and off when the AC sine wave is crossing the zero line, preventing phase control.)

So that got me started in figuring out how to run the fan, and there are numerous examples out there of phase control.  The other part of the circuit that I couldn't figure out, and that the guy at work had no idea about, was the power supply.  There's no transformer on the old board, but it's powering microcontrollers and such, so I know it has a low-voltage DC side somewhere.  But when you get on the forums and start asking about transformerless power supplies, the typical answer is something along the lines of "those things are inherently unsafe and will kill you, so we don't talk about them here".  Again, I got lucky and ran across an application note put out by MicroChip that is exactly what I needed.  I got that working, powered my circuit and programmed it and everything was going great, but my triacs weren't working on my AC lines.  I could use them to modulate a DC line to flash an LED, but I couldn't get the AC line to go off at all.  At first, I thought it was because I bought the wrong triac (I bought a standard one instead of a "logic sensitive" one) but when the new ones came in, they still didn't work.

And then, luck again.  With all of the examples I had found, I had never come across a true full schematic for doing exactly what I wanted to do.  But I had found a lot of information.  One of the bits was that inductive loads, like fans and such, may require a special circuit to keep the back-flow from turning the triac back on when you try to turn it off.  And another was that with resistive loads like light bulbs (or maybe both types), the phase control produces radio-frequency interference that needs to be filtered out.  So I was doing a search for triacs and resistive loads and found another application note from Microchip, this one about using a triac; AN958: Low-Cost Electric Range Control Using a Triac.  The circuits there use a transformerless power supply and use a triac to phase control a heating element.

Well, by golly, when I used their transistor driving circuit to drive the triac instead of trying to drive it straight off of the microchip, it worked like a charm.  The little ac night-light I am using to test just politely flashes right along with my status LED with no problems.  So now I have to build the zero-cross detection circuit and test it.  That is giving me problems, but they should be coding related, not circuitry related.  Of course, I decided to try and test it with a push button instead of actual AC input first just so I could make sure I had my interrupts right before I started worrying about timing, and that didn't work.  I was thinking about it last night and I think I may have fried the pin on my microchip.  I have the pin wired to ground through a pull-down resistor and then wired to +5 through the button.  So it is truly grounded until you press it, and then pulled to positive when you push the button because the button circuit has less resistance than the ground circuit.  In fact, no resistance.  See, I didn't put a resistor in the positive-flow path at all, so I am wiring my pin straight to positive and giving it, in essence, infinite current.  It is supposed to max at 25 milliamps, so unless it has internal protection, I may have burnt that pin out.

I'm going to move to a different pin and test with a proper current-limiting resistor this time and see if my code works.  If it does, and still fails when I go back to my preferred pin, then it's fried.  Luckilly, the PIC18F4520 that I am using has plenty of input pins I can use as interrupts, so I should still be good if I only fried one pin.  And since it still flashes my LED and accepts programming, I know I didn't fry the entire thing.

High tensile fence installation

I've been working on the fence out at the property again.  We spent spring break out there and I went out again last weekend by myself.  We're using a method I found in a Bekaert installation guide to set the posts.  I'd never heard of this before, but it seems like it is working very well.  You pack 8 inches of dry concrete at the bottom, then alternate 6 inch layers of concrete and soil the rest of the way up the hole.  After doing this, I realized that I don't think we ever packed posts correctly when I was a kid.  We always filled the hole up, then packed down the dirt.  Then filled it up again and packed the dirt.  And we just kept doing that until we couldn't pack any more in.  Our posts always had a good bit of wobble in them, and it's probably because the bottom of the hole, especially with a really deep hole, never really got packed.  But this Bekart method forces you to pack it in layers all the way up, so it is evenly packed all the way to the bottom of the hole.  These posts we've put in seem to be completely solid as soon as we are done packing them, and we don't have to haul water and a wheel barrow around to mix concrete or anything.  I want to say they are just as solid as they would be if we poured concrete, but I don't really want to lean into one enough right now to determine if the tiny bit of movement I see is the ground around the hole or the dirt in the hole.  At worst, they are "almost" as secure, and I'm confident that will change to "absolutely as secure" once the concrete layers finally cure.

I'm also experimenting with a different H-Brace method.  According to everything I have read, the h-brace cross member has to be two and a half times as long as the fence is tall.  For our 4 foot fence, that's a ten foot cross member.  The documents all suggest a 4 inch pole as a cross member, but I don't see how any wood is going to work long-term at 10 feet supported by its ends.  Sure, if it's pressure treated it may not rot, but it's still going to get soaked when it rains and risk sagging.  So I'm using 1 inch galvanized pipe as my cross members.  They're not as strong if you sit on the cross member as a pole would be, but they are only meant to absorb force long-ways, not up-down (compression, not bending) so it should be fine.

I also tried to cheap out on brace pins.  These are supposed to go through the upright post and into the ends of the cross member to support it.  Even though I'm using pipes, I still needed these to hold the pipe up, and I found that zinc-plated hex bolts were cheaper than actual brace pins of the same length.  Unfortunately, I also found out that the new(ish) compounds they use in pressure treating eat through the coatings very quickly, even on heavy galvanization.  So my bolts may not last long.  The hot-dipped galvanized is what is recommended, but even that will corrode.  So, instead of pricing out hot-dipped galvanized bolts vs the "class III" galvanized brace pins, I just decided to use a 1 3/8" forstner bit to drill a pocket about an inch deep into each post.  I then left the plastic thread protector on the end and set the pipe in the hole.  I don't know what "class" the galvanization on pipe is, but hopefully the plastic cap will help protect it from reacting regardless.  So far, the assemblies look very nice, even with the crappy home depot posts.  I'll put a picture up as soon as my phone starts working again (I took it on my camera phone, and can't currently get it off).

Friday, February 15, 2013

The continuing saga...

Well, the transmission leak is back.  I don't think it's as bad as it was before, so maybe it actually did have a gasket leak from the warped pan.  But I think it's coming from an aftermarket temperature sensor someone installed.  I plan on installing a DashDaq at some point, and need to be able to watch transmission temperature, but according to the internet, my truck has one factory installed, so I don't need this one.  If I can seal it, I'll probably leave it, just because it's cheaper than buying a pipe plug to fill the hole.

The next thing I've worked on is the steering gear.  The alignment shop told me it was leaking and needed replacing.  When I started taking it apart, I banged into one of the fluid lines, and it was loose.  I didn't know whether I knocked it loose or it was already loose, so I finished taking the gear off in the hopes that I could test it.  If you have to do this, I found these instructions.  One thing I screwed up, when it says "remove the steering shaft pinch bolt", it really means "remove".  I figured, "it's just a pinch bolt, so I just need to loosen it, right?"  Wrong.  The input shaft has a groove that the pinch bolt goes through.  So in addition to pinching the clamp closed, the steering shaft can't be removed from the input shaft until the bolt is fully removed.  I slipped while trying to pry the steering shaft off before removing the bolt, and that's when I banged into the power steering fluid line.

Anyway, I couldn't find any way to bench test the steering gear, and I didn't see anywhere it was obviously leaking after I cleaned it; none of the seals seemed to be leaking.  The internet said the loose line was supposed to be loose and is the pressure-side line, but I figured I'd hope that was it anyway.  So I put it back on and hooked the lines up.  The steering gear looks like cast iron and is the standard rough, rusted, surface.  So it's not like I can polish it up and see a clean trail of fluid when it leaks.  Instead, any leaks just soak into the surface and the entire thing looks wet.  And without a torch, I couldn't get it completely dry in the first place, so I wouldn't be able to find a small leak.  So I covered the whole thing in flour.  I figured any leaks would soak in and stain the flour.  The loose line was definitely leaking.  The other line got a little red, but didn't appear to be getting worse, so I chalked it up to just left-over fluid that was spilled while I hooked the lines back up.  After more research, I've found that there's supposed to be a washer on the pressure-side line.  Then says there's supposed to be an o-ring on both lines.  The pressure-side line has a seat for a washer or o-ring and I had an assortment pack from the plumbing department in lowe's.  It fits, I'm just hoping the Mercon fluid doesn't eat it.

The leak is much slower than it was, but still leaking.  I think it's the other line.  The flare nut on the that line is bigger, and doesn't seem to have a seat for the washer or o-ring, so I'm still trying to figure out for sure where it goes.  I found a tiny o-ring on the end of the line running through the flare nut, and I'm searching the internet to determine whether that is the only one and needs to be replaced, or whether it's supposed to have another on the nut.

But, at least I think I found a better way to work on it next time.  Originally, I pulled the battery, the battery tray, the air filter, and a pipe running to the intake manifold (which I think is actually an output pipe used to exhaust excess pressure from the turbo).  The battery tray had to be pulled because it has an extended section that holds up the housing for the Air-Aid filter.  I know the box is after-market, so I'm guessing the battery tray isn't the stock one either, but I could be wrong.  I could actually work without moving the turbo exhaust pipe, but it was easier with it removed.  Now, while I was tightening up the steering gear-to-frame bolts, I realized I could see the top of the steering gear and the fluid lines through a gap between the wheel well insert and the frame.  So I think if I just remove that insert, I should be able to get to the lines without having to take everything else loose.  That's also why I think the other line is the leak; looking at it from that angle, the exposed threads on that flare nut appear wet.

Anyway, so that will be the next thing I work on.  Them I'm going to pull the turbo to try to find the oil leak.  I haven't decided whether to do that right away or not, though.  I have to get back to the property eventually and clear more fence line.

Finished the alignment

Well, I installed the ball joints. They are slightly smaller than stock, so the ball joint press I got from AutoZone didn't quite fit. When pressing a balljoint in, you are supposed to press on the outside rim; pressing on the top could, in theory, collapse the top of the socket. Unfortunately, I also couldn't find a pipe at Lowe's that fit it precisely either. I did find a couple of sockets that would fit, but I would have to cut them apart to get them over the threaded shaft. It would have been fine by me; 20 bucks to keep from having to tear the front end apart again later would have been fine. But my wife didn't want me spending the money, so I just pressed on the top. I couldn't see any issues, so I think I'm fine.

I took it back up to Firestone to complete the alignment. They are the only place in the area that has equipment that can handle a truck my size. It took them a while, and when they finally finished, they told me that they couldn't get the drag link loose. So to get the tires straight down the road, the steering wheel would be crooked. It was already after closing, they had soaked it with PB BLaster and the next step was to heat it up with a torch, which they didn't have time to do that day. I went back the next day, and they got it loose, but told me the steering box is leaking and needs to be replaced. Apparently it can't be rebuilt, at least not by them.

So, that's on the list. I'm fixing things in order of biggest puddle right now. This past weekend, I changed the oil, just to be safe. It was low, and I know I have an oil leak somewhere. I'm hoping it's something relatively simple. The high pressure oil pump (HPOP) is a typical culprit and is supposed to be fairly easy to fix (although I have to take off the turbo to get to it. I've also found that the turbo has an oil drain, and that it needs its o-rings replaced any time the turbo is removed. I know it was removed by the wholesaler I bought the truck from in order to install the EGR delete, so it may be that they just didn't replace the seals. I'm going to first try finding it with the inspection mirror. If not, I'll remove the turbo and see what I see. Even if it is the turbo drain, I may go ahead and proactively do any HPOP fixes I can.

Technically oil isn't leaving a big puddle, it's just all over the back of the engine. The biggest puddle was transmission fluid, so I fixed that today. I figured it was a bad gasket, so I changed it and the filters out yesterday. And then it was leaking even worse. I drained the fluid back out into the bottles and left it until today. I pulled the pan back off today and found that it had been overtightened at some point (probably before, and then I made it worse). Many of the bolt holes were domed up. I used a hammer and backed it with one of the bars from a flaring tool. That gave me a nice flat surface (I clamped it to the pan) that I could hammer down to. I got it all as flat as I could, installed the original gasket (it's reusable), and rented an inch/pound torque wrench from AutoZone to make sure I didn't overtighten them again. I got it all filled back up and drove it around the block, and it's still not leaking, so I think I'm good. Next I'll tackle that steering box. I think I'm going to remove it, tear it apart, and see if I can find enough parts to rebuild it myself.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A step closer...

I got the axle out. The seal was just really stuck; I had to stick a screwdriver in at C and hit it with a hammer. I have to order that online, so I went ahead and put in an order for all of the other seals you are supposed to change any time you pull the axle and locking hub. And as long as I am waiting anyway, I ordered a set of XRF ball joints off of ebay. I hear good and bad about them off the forums, but I got tired of trying to dig through and find "the best" ball joints. They have to be better than the cheap set I was going to install from O'Reilly.

In other news...
My wife and I went to a dollar cinema the other day and found a Chinese grocery nearby afterward. It turned out to be Korean/Mexican, but still useful. One of the things we picked up for me was a large package of corn tortillas. I enjoy corn tortillas every so often, but my wife normally buys flour, which I also enjoy; alternation is the key. (Although why are the burrito tortillas so small, while fajita is large? Burritos are wrapped; how are you supposed to do that with the small ones?)
Anyway, my wife doesn't want to buy flour ones for me again until I finish the corn ones. So I finally told her the other day that I'm not eating the corn ones unless they are cooked my way, and if she won't do it, I will. So, I got "uncensored" tacos tonight. See, Katherine wants to keep me healthy or something, and won't let me get a lot of grease or oil if she can help it. So my "tacos" have been with microwave-steamed tortillas. Works great for the flour ones, but leaves the corn ones with something to be desired. When I was growing up, the way we ate tacos was with the tortillas cooked in a frying pan of grease. Not crunchy, just enough that the tortillas got hot and soggy with grease. My wife has been keeping me from cooking them that way, hence the "censoring". But they sure are good.

Of course, we were out of salsa. But, I had a solution; we grew a bunch of jalapeños this year in our raised bed gardens. I pickled a couple of jars and gave the rest away. One jar, I used pickling spice, since my wife bought some (I had "pickling salt" on her list, and she misinterpreted it), and just vinegar and such in the other. I didn't like the pickling spiced ones, as they were too sweet. As to the others, I didn't know if I liked them or not; see, I don't normally eat jalapeños at all. Every once in a while added to my Whataburger is about all, and I don't do that often enough to know for sure what they are supposed to taste like by themselves, especially with all the mustard and such on the burgers. So I took them to a friend's house, and they said they tasted right. I gave them the spiced ones outright, and let them pour off half the unspiced ones.

I shouldn't have done that; I've started eating them on stuff, like my chili, my tacos tonight, etc. They're really good. Now, I could go down to the store and buy some more and pickle them, or even just buy a jar pre-pickled, but it wouldn't be the same. I'll just have to wait until next year, I suppose.

Speaking of which, Lowe's sells a "Taco Garden" during the growing season; it has tomatoes, lettuce, jalapeños, and cilantro. But to me, that's not a taco garden; a true taco garden would need to also have corn, onion, cumin and other seasonings, etc. And the lot next to it would have to have a steer. That's what I want; it's not "home made" unless you really made it all at home. Granted, it's probably not a goal I'll ever meet, but we're moving toward it with our lake property. So, has anyone out there done it? Are there any self-sufficient homesteaders that have truly made a taco from scratch? Grown your own vegetables, dried your corn, ground it to meal, made your tortillas, slaughtered your steer and ground your own meat? Cooked it on a wood-fired stove? Of course, other fuel would work; peat if you have it on your property, dried dung from the steer, solar. Even natural gas would work, but only if you're running your own well, not siphoning it off a leased pipe that the leaser is pumping. (Or do they even pump gas? If not, siphoning it off their pipes, with permission, would be perfectly fine. After all, I'm not discounting wood stoves just because you didn't mine the ore and cast your own stove.)

Let me know, I'd love to hear about it, and I'm sure others would as well.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Still working on the truck - Axle shaft removal

Ok, so the day before yesterday, I got the snap-ring off of the axle shaft. Yesterday, I managed to get the hub off, and then I spent the rest of the night trying to get the axle shaft out. According to the forums, it should just come right out, since there should only be a single seal holding it in. Of course, the Chilton book I have is completely useless. I don't think they realize that the hub design changed around 2005, so their instructions are for a different design.

I think I know what is going on based on what I have read at the forums, but I need to post over there to make sure. Because what it LOOKS like at first glance is that there isn't a way for the axle to come out of the knuckle at all, or that there isn't a way to get the seal off of the axle. There is a metal ring (A) around the back of the axle (B). This ring is sloped inward to the axle, but it isn't on the other side of the truck. I think it has deformed from me banging on the axle. It is stopped against a lip on the axle, so it can't go off that direction. C looks to be the back of a rubber seal, and is loose. I can see it move against the knuckle as I wiggle the axle. D was covering it and fell off.

From the front of the knuckle, the axle is E, and I'm 90% positive that part really is "the axle". It looks like F is also part of it. It doesn't make sense for it to be part of the seal, since it is separate from the rubber (G). You can see the gap at H. So if the rubber is behind this part of the axle, and G isn't moving, it would seem that it can't be the same seal as C, and that the seal at G can't possibly come off the axle in this direction.

But on looking at it more closely, F seems to have a seam on the inside edge. I think that either there are two seals, one on the front of the knuckle-to-axle junction and one on the back of the knuckle-to-axle junction, or it is one seal that has completely broken in half. Either way, I think F is supposed to be part of the seal, and is pressed onto the axle. Or it could be pressed on after the seal just to hold the seal in place or protect it from the hub bearing or something. I think G is not a permanent part of the knuckle, but is the front of the seal I am supposed to be removing and has bonded itself to the knuckle. C is the back of the same seal and has separated from G completely. I need to get G out of the way to get the entire axle out, then I can pound off F, which will let all of the other pieces come loose.

I'll post these pictures over in The Diesel Stop forums and see what people there say.

Working on the new truck

Ahh, now we're caught up

So, we bought the new truck back in November. It's been pulling a little to the right so I decided to get the front end alignment done. Every little bit to help gas mileage. Anyway, they told me the right upper ball joint and right outer tie-rod end needed replacing. So I've been digging into that. I don't know whether it's because the previous mechanics used locktite or it's just that the truck is so much bigger than my old one, but I've had to use a cheater pipe on every major nut and bolt I've token loose. And then I finally got it torn down to the axle in the middle of the hub. Before you can take the hub loose, you have to get a snap-ring off of the axle. This ain't no standard snap-ring either. I couldn't open it my standard way (stick needle-nosed pliers in and spread them out by hand) so I borrowed a friend's snap-ring pliers. I snapped the end off. Then I bought some from Home Depot and bent the tips. Then I bought some from OReilly's and bent the tips on those as well.

Searching forums, I've found that the pliers I should be using are going to run $50-$80. So, I figured I'd try something else first. I got an old pair of wire strippers and ground the tips down so they would fit the snap-ring holes. Needle-nose would have worked, but the cutting surface was junked on these strippers anyway. Then I used a heat gun to get the handles off. I planned on drilling holes in the handles, but found that there were already holes. Since I didn't drill them, I didn't want to ream them out bigger, and I couldn't find a bolt or threaded rod small enough to go through that I also had nuts for. So I found a link of chain and cut it in half. I welded each half to a large nut (making sure they face opposite directions) and then I welded a piece of scrap iron over the hole on one of them, and then hooked the chain pieces through the holes in the handles.

I ground the threaded rod down on the end so the threads wouldn't be there to engage with the nut, and then threaded it through. As the rod screws in, the threadless end pushes against the scrap metal on one nut, while the threads pull the other nut in the opposite direction. It makes a spreader for the pliers. It got too hard to turn by hand, so I had to put jam nuts on the end of the threaded rod so I could get a ratchet on it. After that, it worked like a charm. Pictures are below, and more will be coming eventually of each piece in a step-by-step fashion later.

Just some notes:
  • The welds suck.
    1. I weld fine on longer runs, but my starts are almost always bad. I need time to see the puddle and make sure it welds right. The welds on these nuts are so short that they are basically all starts.
    2. A lot of these welds were done in late evening, and I didn't have a good light.
  • The threaded rod is massive overkill. I figured a larger rod would be easier to turn by hand, but it wasn't enough. I'm also of the opinion that you can always make a rope shorter, but it's a major pain to make it longer. I feel the same way about threaded rods, so if I don't have to cut it, I won't.

Bought a new truck

Really late post to provide background to current posts

We bought some property out at Lake Tawakoni, and the road leading to it is private with deep pot holes. My wife won't drive her car over it (and can't in the rainy season) and won't learn to drive a stick. And the transmission on the truck started making noise a couple of months after it went in the lake. It acted like the synchronizer between first and second gear was going out. But it may have just been that I never got around to changing the gear lube in the transmission to make sure it didn't have water in it. Anyway, with Katherine's driving difficulties, the transmission problems, the plastic that had all been falling apart for years, and the fact that our son is supposed to be buying my wife's car from her, it was time to get something new.

So, we started looking at 3/4 ton and 1 ton trucks. We don't need anything that big right now, but Katherine eventually wants to get a bigger RV. And I was debating on whether to focus more on 4x4 or on dually, since I doubted we'd be able to find a truck with both. (And I still wonder which actually has better traction.) But as it turns out, we found a nice 2005 F350 Dually 4x4 diesel with only 58 thousand miles on it. It was too good a deal to pass up. Of course, we greatly underestimated the poor gas mileage it would get, but oh well. We did recently visit my relatives, and we still think it costs us less in gas pulling our little 19ft travel trailer than my 1500 did, so maybe it's not so bad. Maybe it's just that we didn't realize just how bad the gas mileage in the old truck was.

My truck ended up in the lake.

(Really late post to provide background information for current posts)

Well, on July 4th, my truck ended up in the lake. For some odd reason, I got it in my head that leaving it running would make it easier to pull out in a hurry if something went wrong. So I had it running and was loading the boat up. I hit the trailer kinda hard, and everything looked good, so I went to shut the boat down and hook the trailer safety cables up. I heard people yell and I looked up and water was half-way up my tailgate. I jumped out but only managed to get in the truck as it died. I didn't realize until after that that the bed was up to my shoulders, and my feet weren't touching the ramp. I figure the emergency brake either came loose, or the truck started sliding when I hit the trailer with the boat. The boat is big enough that it floated the front of the trailer and the back of the truck. So once the truck went in far enough, the boat lifted the back wheels and the truck rolled the rest of the way. If I had killed it, I could have left it in gear. If the emergency brake is what gave, then at least the gears would have held.

Luckily, it only rolled until it was sitting level, so the boat actually saved it. It didn't get deep enough to short the battery, since the electronics were still working, but it wouldn't start when we pulled it out. I got lucky and let it sit for 3 days while I drained the oil and it started right up. I drained the oil again, and removed the oil pan as well just to get out any standing water. I drained the power steering fluid, since it was low enough to have gone under. The master cylinder didn't go under, or the clutch fluid reservoir, so I didn't worry about those. I didn't even have to pull the spark plugs, or the dreaded buried-back-at-the-firewall distributor cap. I also noticed oil leaking out of one of my axle tubes, but I think that was probably less from the lake than from when I rebuilt the u-joints a few years back. I had probably nicked the seal then. But that would let water into the front differential, so I drained and replaced that as well, and replaced that seal (which was a major pain, since it's buried in the middle of the axle tube).