My first Ukulele stand

I got sick of having my ukulele’s lying on the couch, and after an aborted attempt to make some wall hangars I decided to make a stand instead. Here’s the final product:

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And then, with an actual instrument in it:

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It’s purposefully pretty simple since this was the first time I’d attempted any woodworking since I was about 14. I pretty shamelessly stole the design from something I saw on Etsy that looked like it was within my power to make. Comparing it with the final product now, I think I did OK. Obviously not as fancy.

I basically just drew a template on a normal sheet of printer paper that looked like it was big enough to fit my uke and then cut that out of a 1×12 piece of pine with a jigsaw. There was much uneven hand-sanding after that. Probably too much, the corners are way more than they should be I think. Eventually I discovered I could use the chisel to save myself a ton of work and cleaned up the edges that way. I had some blow out on the end-grain because it was too dull a couple times, so I had to spring for a whetstone to sharpen it. Much improved after that.

After cleaning up the pieces I stained them with some [edit: wood conditioner and…] walnut stain I had lying around and then gave them 3 coats with some leftover Polycrylic that I had from when I re-finished my office floor. I suspect that is somewhat overkill (being made for floors), but the that polycrylic gives it some more colour which is nice.

After that I pretty much just screwed in some tiny hinges, drilled a hole for the leather lace, and glued on some little bits of leather to keep the uke from scratching.

There are some things I’m going to change next time to make the process a little easier – I have one more of these to make for my 12-string uke that’s currently on my couch. Top of that list is to eliminate the little lip on the front – since that’s a real pain to sand/stain/finish properly – and with the leather strips there’s more than enough friction to keep the uke in place…. Also I’m going to try to take more pics.

Coat Tree

I’ve killed two of those Huck Finn’s coat trees that are floating around the office, and the only others I’ve seen go for hundreds of dollars.

Surely I can do better, right?

Cory’s Coat Rack Goals

  • Hold my coat.
  • Don’t fall over and break.
  • Cost next to nothing.
  • Be easy to fix when it falls over and breaks.
  • Don’t be a tripping/fire hazard.

Oh yeah: my woodworking background is that I have watched lots of YouTube videos.

First, I laminated two 2x4s together for the…trunk/body? I still didn’t know what I was going to make yet, but I figured I needed a roughly square tall piece.

All of the wood I used is from pallets I got from the dollar store that just opened by my house. They were free. I didn’t pay $1 for them. It probably took me a full day to disassemble and clean up about six pallets. Would not recommend.

I needed a way to make it smooth, but I didn’t really have the right tools. I ended up attacking it with a cheap, small, dull, poorly adjusted hand plane that I had, smoothing it as much as giving it “character.”

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For the legs, I joined 2x4s at 90 degree angles with half-lap joints, cut notches in the top of one and the bottom of the other so that they would fit together, and then cut notches out of the bottom of the body so that they would fit underneath it. Most of this was done on a band saw, sometimes maneuvering the 4×4 from across the room.

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I did a sloppier job than I wanted, and all of this is quite loose, but an 8″ lag screw in the bottom secured everything together well.

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I wasn’t sure what I wanted to use for hangers. First, I thought I would make small hooks out of hardwood and screw them onto the body. This was the result:

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I cut four of the shapes I wanted out of wood, but the first two exploded as I tried to route the edges round. I probably should have stopped after the first one did it.

At this point I almost ran to the store for metal hooks.

I ended up ripping 1/2″ strips of wood from more 2x4s, finger jointing them together, rounding the ends, and then screwing them onto the body. I claim this creates a “VV” theme, and it has some amount of symmetry with the base.

This is it before two coats of wipe-on polyurethane, proving that it can hold a jacket:

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Cameo by: water heater.

I intend to bring it in and put it next to my desk on Tuesday. The first time it falls over and something breaks, I will replace the broken parts and bolt it to my desk.

Robotics, A Rambling Personal History

Forewarning: this is going to be a rather rambling look at the robotics stuff I did back in the early 2000s. If you need to read something with an explicit point, then you might want to skip this.

Back when I was in middle school, I got gifted a set of LEGO Mindstorms (the original ones with the big yellow control brick). If you’ve never used them or their successors, they were a pretty groundbreaking piece of tech. You not only had a set of easy to use sensors and motors with standardized connectors, you also had software which made it easy to program (using a visual programming language similar to Scratch). LEGO eventually even released SDK 2.0 that allowed you to program in a C-like language (this was a pretty massive improvement for programming complex logic).

My freshman year of high school I found out about a competition called the Trinity College Fire-Fighting Home Robot Contest, held at Trinity College in Hartford, CT. I only ended up competing once, but I built two robots for it, and that’s generally what the rest of this story is about. The gist of the competition is that your robot has to run around a maze, find a candle, and put it out.

Gavin the Destroyer's LocomotionThe first robot I built was built with LEGO Mindstorms, and I regret that I only have a single picture of it, during the phase where I was building the locomotion setup. That robot was named “Gavin the Destroyer” and it had a tank base, two light sensors that I was using with some IR LEDs to sense distance, a third light sensor for sensing the candle, a fan for blowing out the candle, and a power relay so I could switch between powering the motors and powering the fan. If I can remember correctly, we ended up writing a sweep sampling algorithm where the robot would spin around and sample from the candle-designated light sensor until it got a lower value than the previous, pivot back a tiny bit and then go in that direction, avoiding walls using the IR/light sensor setups at the front. When it found the candle, it would switch the relay and power the fan to blow it out (I had hard-coded a light threshold for this).

Matt's RobotIt worked great in my basement (where we had a wooden replica of the maze for a while — someone had built it at my school and my friends and I were borrowing it for testing) where the lighting was 60 watt incandescent. Unfortunately, the gymnasium where the contest takes place has terrible lighting that has pretty intense IR output (even worse it has a really ugly flicker too). This basically flooded the light sensors and when we went to do the initial testing/qualification, it just ran straight into a wall and I spent the rest of the contest attempting to get it working to no avail. On the plus side, the person who had inspired me to go to it (his name is Matt) had a ridiculously cool robot that used an OOPIC coupled with an HP Jordana to figure out where it was in the maze and find its way to the candle. I can’t remember if he got it finished/working in time, but it was impressive to say the least. The pic at the top of this paragraph is his robot.

P1000827In general, I had found the Mindstorms to be relatively limiting and I wanted to play with harder things/”real” robotics. One of the companies that had a booth at the contest (there were a handful of different companies hawking their robotics bits) was Acroname; based out of Colorado and still in business. They made a board called the Brainstem GP 1.0, which has since been superseded by something significantly more powerful and less janky. The Brainstem is a controller board built around a PIC, some flash memory, and various bits to support the analog and digital IO ports, a GP2D02 IR rangefinder port, the servo ports, serial port, and I2C bus. It has firmware that runs a stack-based VM which makes programming for the chip significantly less horrible than using a raw PIC. It also has configurable interrupts which can run short handlers (called “reflexes”). It was pretty expensive, but the cleanliness of the design and the ease of use (compared to other solutions at the time) made it a huge step up. It is programmed in a C-like language called TEA (or in raw VM assembly). Acroname doesn’t have any of the software packages you need to program this thing on their site anymore. Thankfully, I have a copy of the old linux binaries for it and I managed to scrounge up the reference documentation at another site. I don’t think I’ll ever use it again, but you never know; it’s a really nicely put together board.

Dora the Explora At any rate, I got a bunch of parts from them and started learning as much as I could. Eventually, I built a robot that got named “Dora the Explora”. I managed to miss the registration deadline by a couple days the year that I finished it, so I didn’t end up going to the contest. The robot was a “pancake” style robot made of plexiglass. It used a GP2D02 rangefinder to do a left-hand follow of the maze walls and a Hammamatsu flame detector to actually find the candle. The fan mounted on the front was controlled via a relay circuit, and the two powered wheels use free-spinning servos. The general algorithm used was to move along the wall, occasionally scanning for flames and moving toward them. When a certain intensity of flame was detected, the fan would turn on.

Flame detector and driver boardThe flame detector does a significantly better job at identifying sources of flame due to its sensitivity to a very narrow band of UV radiation instead of infrared. This also makes it immune to the ridiculous lighting conditions in the contest arena. The detector tube itself is basically a discharge tube that has to be operated at around 350-400V. The driver board is a reference design that Hammamatsu manufactured. The board pulls the output high/low momentarily (depending on how it’s wired) when the tube both fires and that signal makes it through the smoothing/filtering logic. Flame detector tubeTo actually use the output, you basically need to count the number of pulses in a given timeframe. This was pretty much trivial to do with the reflexes on the Brainstem. You’d use interrupts on other boards for this same purpose. I don’t currently have any really cool ideas for how to use this sensor, but I’d like to incorporate it in a future project.

This had all happened my junior/senior years of high school and I went to college and haven’t touched my robotics stuff since because I don’t have an interesting enough project to do with them. There’s also much more ridiculously awesome/powerful boards out there these days. I’m currently working on getting back into electronics with a remote sensing/data logging project which I’ll write about once I’ve gotten enough done on it.

Bowie Knife Project

Here’s some pictures of a Bowie knife project I made for my Uncle. Don’t ask me why he wanted one, he lives in the suburbs on Long Island, But can’t say no to family so I made him one. This is actually the second attempt because the first one I slagged when I went to harden it.

20151129_115318Here’s my base drawing. I used 1090 High carbon steel. I cut off the tip with an angle grinder and hand forged the blade to get the base angle and greater width. Sorry for no pictures of those steps. I was disgruntled after slagging the first one. (Seen to the left of the one in the picture above)

I then started Grinding the profile. I use a little buddy grinder. It was the best value for my money I could find, but I had to build it myself. I have other pictures of that build if people are interested.

20151129_13420520151129_160134The Hilt was Ground from   the scrap of the first build. Getting the hole in it was fun. I had to forge punch it and then use a hand file to get the shape I wanted. I also needed to tweak the design of the handle to allow the hilt to slide up. In the end it worked of fine. Just had to use some elbow grease. I also drilled the holes for the rivets.

20151129_195346 20151204_112230I needed to drill the holes BEFORE I hardened it.

If you don’t you’ll never get through.

For forging I built a Forge in my driveway. This is my second on. I got the hot-pot from a family in NC. My old one was a brake drum. I forge with Coal.

 

20151204_15345620151204_154557 20151204_153751I then Forged the Hilt to have the bends I wanted. Hot fitted it. Then brought the blade up to temp, Performed a none-magnetic test  (Steel loses it’s magnetic properties when it’s hot enough to quench) Then I quenched it in Oil. This makes the steel VERY hard, but also very brittle. I then tempered it up to a straw color (about 450 degrees) and held it there for about two hours. That was done in a toaster oven on the front porch. That give it the right mix of strength and flex.

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20151206_18531720151206_200657 20151209_195942Alright, clearly I have no idea how to add images to this wacky website. Sorry about that. Anyway, I made the scales out of Cedar. I recommend against this! I messed us, but that’s a story for another time. Either way, with enough wood stabilizer soaked into it, it was fine. I used some blind rivets and then took it back to my grinder. I then wanted to add a scrimshaw bone butt. I also added my touch mark (another mess up, do that BEFORE you harden)

20151212_082527 20151219_205603 20151219_205554 20151216_201119 20151216_203204  I used a Hand dremel with an 20151217_082651engraving bit on the bone (it was beef bone, I made a good soup and had leftovers) I then did a ink wash. The end result was pretty good for my first time. I used Danish oil on the handle to seal it (or was it tung oil? I forget, don’t quote me) I then Electro-etced the blade. Just masking tape, a battery. q-tip and salt water. Super easy. I then took it up to razor sharp on a few whetstones Up to 12k (I have then because I usually do straight razors) I then made a box to mail off to my uncle. 20151220_102446  20151220_102618  20151225_10515420151225_11004920151225_11551520151225_121430 20160101_11504220160101_115048 20160101_132822

Micro 105 FPV Quadcopter

Over the winter break, I wanted to build a micro FPV quadcopter.  I have a few larger FPV quadcopters, but I wanted something I could fly around the yard without scaring the neighbors.

FPV stands for first person view.  You install a camera on the front of the quad and you fly wearing goggles or using a screen.  You get to experience the flight as if you are the pilot and it’s super immersive and loads of fun.

I ordered all the electronics and searched Thingiverse for a suitable frame.  After printing a few that weren’t quite what I was after, I decided to design my own.  I designed the frame using Fusion 360.  Fusion 360 is a very powerful parametric CAD modeler and, best of all, it is free for tinkerers and start-ups.

This is what I ended up with.

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I have since revised the frame a few times to make it a bit lighter.  You can check out my Thingiverse page for more information.

Here is a video zipping around my front yard.

 

LEGO projects

Years ago, I made two projects out of LEGO bricks. More photos, full construction details, and CAD files (yep, LEGO CAD is a thing) are available in the original blog posts linked below. Here are a couple pictures so you get the idea:

First was a Mini-ITX tower:lego_computer_front
Second was a WRT54GL router:lego_router_front

Contrary to what the Internet seemed to expect, they haven’t burst into flames or melted into puddles of plastic. In fact both are still in use today.