The mother beam
During a remodeling project in the fall of 2016, one of my family member decided to remove a load-bearing wall that divided a living room and kitchen. In order to maintain the structural integrity of the three story building, my brother, a civil engineer, worked his magic and came up with a solution that involved a 17ft x 19in x 7.5in parallel strand lumber (PSL) beam, commercially known as Parallam. Had it been covered in gypsum, the beam could have been slightly smaller in width and depth (to account for the fire retardant properties of gypsum), but PSL being a beautiful engineered wood product, leaving it exposed greatly enhanced the appeal of the room it was in.
As delivered, the beam had an extra foot of length that was removed using a chain saw. My cousin wanted to toss away the left over part, but interested in the looks of the material, I picked it up with the intention of turning it into a piece of furniture. This summer, I finally garnered enough free time to get to it. PSL being very porous and brittle, it took severe belt sanding and 13 coats of polyurethane varnish to get a decent finish. Four legs later, I had myself a curious looking side table that since then has never failed to catch people’s curiosity (even more so than those other tables).
Two years ago, we had to fell an old apple tree from my parent’s garden. Wanting to experiment with this unusual variety of wood, I gathered the best logs and took them to a sawmill to have planks made and let them dry for a year in a shed.
Fast forward to last Christmas, not wanting to buy gifts and being left with very little time to come up with something before the 24th, I had the idea of making balanced wine bottle stands for everyone out of that old apple tree. It’s a simple project, it’s can be made in batches, can be gifted along with an actual bottle and would make an awesome souvenir of that tree we had so much fun climbing onto and playing around during our childhood.
Apple tree is a pain to work with, the grain is highly irregular and convoluted and the density of the wood varies widely within the same piece. However, the end result is spectacular, especially on the more weathered down parts of the tree, which have turned multiple shades of pink, brown and black due to parasites and moisture. From log to plank, there was a huge amount of loss but through keeping the project small I managed to get something workable out of all that wood.
After 15 years of use and abuse in my sweaty jeans, my wallet had finally reached the end of its run. Looking at a worthy replacement, I started shopping around the web and found several canditates. However, either slightly too bulky or just out of my means, I finally decided to build my own. A tedious search on the web turned up this one, a template for a simple bifold wallet with slots for two cards on each size. Careful analysis of the design indicated that there was much more to leather work than met the eye and instead of cooking up my own design only to risk the wallet not folding properly, I opted to simply follow the instructions (for once). It’s sturdy, maintainable and looks good; hopefully, it will outlast me.
Wanting to offer some as Christmas gifts as well, I ended up making three. Here is abbreviated list of the challenges I encountered during the building:
- leather is difficult to find, be thorough in you search for sources, call every fabric shop and cobbler in your region and once you find some, get there and feel the material for yourself;
- sewing leather is long and tedious if you want to do it properly (with saddle stitching in this case), get the right needles and be patient, I ended up going through David Attenborough’s entire series on plants and birds in the course of putting mines together;
- burnishing the edges of the leather (ie: make them smooth and shiny) is hard and appears to not work on vegetables tanned types; you also need a burnisher, which I build by cutting a section of a branch, hooking it up to a Dremel and then sculpting it to make a groove.
my old wallet
the edge burnisher with the branch it came from
cutting the leather
burnishing the edges
pieces ready for assembling
sewing the pieces
neatsfoot oil for protecting the leather
Having filled up the last page of my store bought dive log, I decided it was time I started printing my own log sheets. I wanted a template that could fit in a small binder (half letter (5.5″ x 8.5″) or A5), where there was enough space on the page to log two dives and that gave me ample space for comments while providing the standard diving data fields. Unfortunately, I could not find anything that suited my needs so I decided to put together my own.
It features the following built in fields:
- dive number
- dive start time
- air and bottom temperature
- air or nitrox (EANx)
- gas consumed
- time under
- safety stop
- boat or shore dive
- fresh or salt water dive
- buddy or divemaster signature and number
The layout is compact and text has been kept to a minimum: you write the units yourself. Once it has been printed (on good paper stock and double side preferably), cut the sheets in half along the dotted line, punch holes if you want to store them in a binder and go log some dives.
For those interested in the source, here it is. Suggestions for improvements are welcome!
It is currently 3 hours 16 minutes
Going way back to 2006 actually, to my very first electronics project, a digital clock with an analog twist. I had very little experience in programming let alone electronics and back then, user-friendly prototyping platforms were not that common and mostly underground; the arduino had only came out the year before.
The clock with its faceplate removed
For many evenings in my dorm room I battled with a bunch of components and a serially programmed Microchip PIC16F628. I recall having loads of trouble getting inputs to the chip functioning, with the minutes and hours buttons activating or refusing to work with a mind of their own. The internet was not of much help but in the end I figured it out: pull-down resistors. No wonder I could not find anything on the subject, for someone with the least bit experience in electronics, it’s one of the most elementary concepts, akin to trying to troubleshoot a TV that’s not plugged in. For beginners attempting to learn electronics by themselves, its nothing but trivial.
Eventually, I succeeded in putting a working clock together on the breadboard that I had. Back in my basement over the next break from school, I soldered the whole thing on a perfboard and equipped the circuit with a face plate. The programming is rudimentary, the circuit is much less than optimal and in spite of the 32kHz watch crystal, there is still a bit of drifting but I could not have asked for a better learning experience. Some LEDs have burnout, but even after those years, it’s still doing a fine job at reminding me that time is ticking.