Generator Install

After fixing the generator last year (this project) I needed to install it permanently. I pulled the permit last year and it expires soon, so lately I’ve put more work into this to get it done. After a year of on-and-off work it’s finally ready for inspection. Permanent installation consists of 3 main parts: mounting the generator, installing an interlock, and running cable from the generator to the house electrical panel.

#1 – Mounting the generator was relatively easy – I dug out a flat area, made a form, added rebar, and poured concrete. The only tricky part here was keeping the threaded bolts positioned correctly so that they’d line up with the generator mounting holes. After the concrete cured I moved the generator in place and bolted it down, using hockey pucks as vibration dampers.

1 2 3

#2 – The interlock requirement is the most important part of any generator installation since it prevents energy from the generator back-feeding into the utility, which would create a dangerous situation for the linemen that are working to restore power. There are several ways to accomplish the interlock:

– Automatic Transfer Switch: This switch is placed inline between the meter and main panel, during an outage it automatically disconnects the house from the utility, connects to the generator, and sends a signal to start the generator. This capability would be nice but there’s a lot of complexity, expense, and extra work involved.

– Manual Transfer Switch: This switch is placed inline between the meter and main panel and you can manually select which power source the house is using. This is much simpler than the automatic switch, but still requires an additional small panel for the switch.

– Main Breaker Interlock: This is a sliding plate that mounts inside the existing main panel and it prevents the main breaker from being ON at the same time as another nearby breaker (and vice versa). The generator powers the main panel through the nearby breaker.

I opted for the Main Breaker Interlock since it’s allowed where I live and it’s the simplest way.

3

#3 – Running cable was the toughest part. Since the generator isn’t a residential unit that’s fire-rated to be directly next to the house (it probably would perform better than a residential unit, but the military doesn’t do the residential testing) it had to be at least 2ft away. 2ft away would have made for an awkward placement and it would have been in the way a lot, so instead I took it much farther out near the tree-line; leading to a ~60ft long trench. Code requires either 18″ of cover or 24″ of cover depending upon whether or not conduit is used. I opted to use conduit since the shallower trench saved digging effort and also reduced the chance of encountering any other utilities in the process. Most of the digging was through very dense/hard clay and it was slow-going with a trenching shovel. I welded the shovel back together at least a few times. I also experimented digging with the pressure washer, which mostly made a mess. The last 2ft near the house were through concrete; the technique I used for this was to turn the area into Swiss cheese with a hammer drill, break it out with a small air chisel, and then progress down to the next layer. I had been on and off of this effort over the past year and finally finished this weekend.

4

(#4) Misc things. Since the generator wasn’t originally intended for residential installation there were a few extra things I did to convert it:

– I added cabinet locks to all of the access doors. This isn’t for security so much as it is to prevent anyone that shouldn’t be in there from getting into danger, especially the front door that has the output terminals directly behind it.

5

– One of the code requirements is that there must be a way to disconnect the generator outdoors. The generator itself sort-of/kind-of meets this requirement since it has a switch on the operator panel that will open the relay that connects the output power. Since this switch isn’t directly a disconnect though and since there’s a lock on the operator panel that could restrict access I also added a ‘real’ disconnect on the exterior of the house. I used the CNC router to make an engraved sign to mark it.

4 5 6

– Since the interlock completely disconnects the house from the utility it can be tough to know when power is restored. Electrically it would be possible to have a light/buzzer on the utility connections before the main, but since this wouldn’t have a breaker it wouldn’t be safe or code compliant. I found a device that’s made exactly for this problem and installed it. It has it’s own power via a 9V battery and has an antenna that wraps around the line from the utility to monitor power status. The alarm is armed manually when on generator power and as soon as utility power returns its siren sounds.

– I made a step-by-step instruction list with photos so anyone that’s home at the time of a power outage can start the generator and operate the interlock. This list and the key to the generator are held inside the main panel with magnets.

9 10

Next step is to get it inspected and then I can backfill the trench and clean the mud off of everything one last time.

           Leave a comment

Window Crank Adapter

It’s not particularly hard to use a window crank, but multiplied by several windows it does take a little bit more time than it could.  With this in mind I created an adapter for a cordless drill to more quickly open/close windows, particularly as it’s starting to cool down some and we’re using the windows more.

Construction was relatively straight forward, it’s just a bit of aluminum turned to size and with a hole drilled with the same size as the OD of the splines on the window crank mechanism. The only tricky part was creating the splines since this is the first time I’ve attempted it. The lathe has a built-in index plate that allowed the adapter to be positioned in the 12 evenly divided positions required; once it was in each position I used a small lathe tool to broach a slot, moving the carriage back and forth with the lathe off while slowly raising the tool. I then turned a bit of steel rod to size and pressed it into the back of the adapter.

Overall it turned out OK – the splines aren’t the greatest due to the tool not being very rigid, but it’s plenty good enough for it to engage with the window and hold solidly.

1 3 2 4 5 6

 

         Leave a comment

Exterior Projects & ‘Custom’ Molding

This weekend I finally got around to a few exterior projects at the house:

– One of the gable sides had flaking trim paint on its vent / rake boards and needed fresh paint on the siding. I sanded and repainted the trim and then put several coats of new paint on the siding. This gable end is the only original Masonite siding on the house that’s exposed (the entire back was replaced with LP Smartside by the previous owner, the dormer siding I’ll be replacing soon, and the rest of it is either under the porch or deep eaves where it never gets wet). Anywhere Masonite siding can get wet it’s critically important to keep good paint on it to avoid swelling; I think I caught this just in time. Getting access to the area took a little creativity and involved a few roof brackets, planks, and making a platform/box from 2×10’s; it was very rigid once all the parts were secured together though.

3

– Installed gutter guards. Leaves should start falling soon and I’ll see how it goes, anything will be an improvement.

4

– The gable side on the back of the house had a rotted rake board and molding. Replacing the rake board was no problem; I just needed to rip a 1×6 to the exact width and put a slight roundover on the bottom edges to match the existing rake boards.

(I didn’t get a before shot, but this shows the new board and missing molding. The dark area of the old board was covered by bad molding, but is still good. It will get primed before installing the molding, and this way the seams are staggered for stability)

5

Unfortunately the molding that’s between the rake board and shingles (conveniently called ‘shingle molding’) is not readily available. Replacing the molding leaves several options:

#1 – A millwork shop may have it in stock, but this would take a lot of driving around to find. Usually those places have 8-5 M-F hours and sometimes won’t talk about such a small order.

#2 – I could probably find it online, but it wouldn’t ship in one piece plus there would be a delay time, added shipping costs, etc.

#3 – Sometimes it’s possible to find the same profile on a larger piece (i.e. base molding) and rip it to width. I checked this as an option when looking for for the molding originally, but this also wasn’t available.

#4 – If I found the correct profile router bit I could make the molding with the router table. This can be pricy though, plus it adds delay time and it takes a lot of setup/finishing to get a good output.

#5 – I was able to find a matching profile on a piece that was too narrow. Since the ‘missing’ part is rectangular it’s possible to just make the missing strip and glue it on.

I’ve used #4 for matching other weird trim on the house, but for this scenario #5 made the most sense. To get a good glue joint I first ripped a bit off of the pre-primed molding to expose the wood. Next I ripped a 12ft scrap of 1x{something} to the right width. Dry fitting the two pieces next to each other showed that the 1x piece was just a bit thicker than the molding. I feed this strip through the planer until it was an exact match and then tightly taped the back sides of the two pieces together, forming a hinge. The tape ‘hinge’ was opened to apply glue and then tightly taped back together. Once the glue dries overnight it will be scrapped, fed through the planer, and then sanded, primed, and installed.

 

1 2

         Leave a comment

Kubota F2000 Snow Plow

We don’t get much snow here, but when we do it takes a lot of shoveling to get out to the road. If conditions are just right we can be stuck for several days waiting for it all to melt. As a result I’ve had a mower/atv sized plow on my watch list since last winter. Recently a new open-box plow popped up that, after factoring in their free shipping, I got for basically scrap value or less. I think the reason for the low price was that it had originally been part of a kit, but all the mounting parts were missing.  For my purposes that’s OK though – no one makes a kit specific to the F2000 anyways, so I was always going to need to fabricate the mounting parts myself.

Making the mounting bar just consisted of cutting some 1″x2″ tube to length, squaring off the cuts on the mill, drilling holes for the pins, and then welding everything together. From there the plow’s base just clamped between the mounting bar and another section of tube.I made the clamping bolts fit just inside the plow base’s big hole so the plow can be rotated by loosening the bolts. Since the push bar connects to the standard implement mounting points, the plow can be raised/lowered the same way as the mower deck. I also needed to make some stepped bushings on the lathe to fit the plow base to the plow.

Kubota doesn’t list a tow/plow rating for the F2000, but it’s 4WD with a 3 cylinder diesel and built exactly the same as a ‘normal’ compact tractor, the only difference is that its seating position is spun around 180deg. For occasional plow usage I don’t foresee any issues. I may need to tie into the plow base’s rear holes for stability and to prevent unwanted rotation, but I’ll try it out first to see if this is necessary.

As part of the plow installation project I also went through the mower’s electrics and replaced a lot of corroded connectors with solder/heatshrink splices. It turns out the glow plugs hadn’t been working all along. With the glow plugs now working it starts a lot faster and in winter this will likely be a necessity to start at all.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

           Leave a comment

Hacking the Player Piano – Part 1

 

It was only a matter of time before this happened – the player piano (original post) is a real workout to play manually. Since it works on vacuum, I had set aside the motor from an old vacuum cleaner for potential use in powering the piano. Tonight I built a small box to contain the vacuum motor and connect it to the piano. The box is made from MDF, partly because I had scrap that needed to be used, and partly because it’s very heavy & sound absorbing. I made the big fitting by cutting/milling a square from scrap, I then bored a hole in it on the lathe and welded it to a scrap of pipe.

One very large hose goes to the manifold powering all the key bellows, and another smaller hose powers the vacuum motor for the tracker/scroll mechanism. I didn’t notice the smaller connection at first, so I had to go back and tap a fitting into the connection for the large hose; there’s still enough room for both to connect though.

20190828_224303 20190828_224411

Overall it seems to work great, this effort was definitely a quick proof-of-concept though and I’ll need to go back and fix/test a few things:

#1 – Motor controller to slow down the vacuum motor. Currently it has way more vacuum than is actually needed and slowing down should reduce noise from the motor.

#2 – Ensure cooling is OK. Especially after slowing the motor down I need to test that air flow is good enough to keep the motor consistently cool.

#3 – Mount in piano base and complete further noise insulation.

#4 – Tee hoses (and potentially add check valves) so that manual operation still works.

Beyond that I do have plans to eventually (could be tomorrow, could be in 5yrs) automate the player mechanism using some small pneumatic solenoids I found on ebay. These would tee off of each line from the tracker bar and when they open it would simulate a hole in the paper passing by. With this it would then be computer controlled and able to play anything. By default these are off/closed, so the paper mechanism would still work fine, in computer-controlled mode I’d just need to block off the tracker bar holes with some tape.

20190828_230109 20190828_230112

             Leave a comment

Kubota F2000 Lift Cylinder Re-Seal

Tonight I rebuilt a leaking hydraulic cylinder on the mower. The leak was coming from the scraper/seal that seals the rod to the end of the cylinder. Unfortunately since the end of the rod is larger than the seal, the cylinder has to be disassembled to replace it. The process went as follows:

#1 – Remove cylinder from mower.

#2 – Remove the internal cir-clip that holds the cylinder end inside the cylinder bore. This was extremely fiddly and took 20min or so with dental picks and small screwdrivers to get the end of the clip pulled out.

#3 – Remove the cylinder end and piston/rod from the cylinder bore. The cylinder end’s O-ring catches on the cylinder’s cir-clip groove, so while it moves freely to a position that’s ‘almost’ out of the bore the last bit of movement requires clamping the rod in place and persuading the cylinder downwards with a hammer.

#4 – With the piston/rod/end removed from the cylinder, the nut can be loosened and the piston removed. The piston is a press fit and requires a gear puller to remove and a hydraulic press to reinstall.

#5 – With the piston removed the cylinder end slides off of the rod and the scraper/seal can be replaced. The scraper has it’s own small cir-clip that’s much easier to remove.

#6 – Re-assembly is the opposite of assembly, while I was at it I also replaced the cylinder end O-Ring.

#7 – Reinstall

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

After the rebuild the mower no longer has any hydraulic leaks; the last remaining leak is an engine oil leak that I’ll be tracking down next…

         Leave a comment

Piano!

Christina has had an eye out for a piano for a while.  Interestingly the standard price for used pianos is ‘free, must be able to move’. With this in mind we were shopping on ease of moving – looking at the surroundings in the listing photos to determine where it likely was (i.e. garage vs inside) was almost as important as the piano itself. The right one popped up this week, so this weekend we took the trip to pick it up. I had a particular interest in this one also since it’s a player piano. Player pianos are one of the earliest (the earliest?) wide-spread programmable automated ‘machines’; it’s fascinating to see how these were designed to be built using mostly hand-made parts and to operate without electricity.

Moving: Pianos are the archetype of things that are difficult to move. The trick, as usual, is letting the equipment/physics do the work. At the pickup side it was already in a garage; after backing up near it I jacked the tongue of the trailer up so the ramp/bed formed an even & shallow slope. I was ready with the winch at this point, but because their driveway sloped away it actually rolled onto the trailer without needing it. To unload, I backed the trailer around the back of the house to the back door and then raised it up on jack stands until it was about even with the threshold. We then put a 4×4 timber across the bottom of door frame of a nearby interior door and used this as an anchor point to winch the piano inside with ratchet straps. Once it landed on the tile floor it was easy to push around.

Rebuild: As near as we can tell from the serial number the piano seems to have been built in 1920. It was also signed inside with a 1996 date, likely associated with a rebuild. The good news is that everything seems to be in place and after sealing a few vacuum leaks it was able to play automatically; It definitely had/has room for improvement though. I was able to make it sound noticeably cleaner by dialing in the correct ‘capstan’ height on the back of the keys. The next priority is getting the keys working more consistently; several of the keys (~40) were missing felt from their front hole. The front hole felt prevents the key from wobbling side-to-side. Several keys (~20) also had cracks where the back hole goes through the key. The back hole is where the key pivots, so these cracks allowed the keys to tilt side-to-side. Felt was added to the front holes and the cracked back hole parts were glued back in place; this resolved the loose key problems. For just a few keys (3) the cracked part is missing and I’ll need to create and glue in a repair piece. Once I’m finished rebuilding the keys I can then go through and set the key level and adjust the hammer action. Along the way I’ll also be coming up with an electric vacuum pump – pumping with the pedals is a work out!

1 2 4 3 5 7 6

         Leave a comment

Security Lug Defeated

 

This week’s challenge was a flat tire; I switched to the spare relatively quickly and uneventfully except that when I was tightening the security lug bolt the security key slipped out a bit. When it slipped it broke a little chunk off of the security key and warped the security pattern on the lug bolt. I ordered a new key and lug right away but since I didn’t want to risk the warped lug bolt breaking the new key, I had to come up with some other way to remove it.

First I tried a broken lug extractor – these are cheap and readily available at the local car parts place. They’re basically a regular impact socket with a reverse thread on the inside rather than the usual hex pattern. The theory is that as you loosen the lug the socket’s threads bite into and turn the lug bolt. This actually would have worked great if it weren’t for a collar that’s integrated into the security bolt – the socket only bit into this collar and it spun on the lug bolt without turning the bolt body. It’s almost like they thought of this scenario when the security lug was designed…

Next I tried to cut some small grooves in the bolt head and deform the collar into these grooves so that the collar would be able to drive the bolt out. I think this was an OK idea, but since the collar was glass-hard steel it chipped instead of deforming.

Running out of options, I decided just to weld a nut to the security lug bolt and unbolt it. I had held off on this ‘nuclear option’ because there is a level of risk – the ground current could actually weld the bolt into the hub somewhat or damage bearings/electronics – I chose the ground clamp location carefully and also cleaned it carefully to avoid this. It was a messy weld (prioritizing not damaging the spare) but worked great. I think the heat from welding may also have helped by expanding the bolt and relieving some of the pressure against the spare.

With the lug bolt out the spare was swapped to the (now repaired) wheel and tire. Not sure how a dealer/mechanic would handle this scenario, but I’m guessing it means the welder has now paid for itself for at least the 3rd or 4th time.

1

 

       Leave a comment

Saw Milling Test

Last fall prior to Hurricane Florence I took down some good-sized white and red oaks. These were great trees but both had large limbs overhanging/threatening the garage, so they had to go. Rather than cut them up for firewood as usual I let them stay where they fell through the winter. Today was unseasonably warm and I took a stab at milling one of the logs. Drying takes a long time, so the point of this was to get at least something started – this way if I don’t finish milling the rest of it for a while I’ll at least have something in the queue.

To make the milling cuts I just free-handed with the chainsaw and there’s a good bit of variance in thickness as a result; to get straight boards I’ll have to deal with this variation at the joining/planing stage. For the next attempt I plan to build a metal guide frame over the saw to allow it to rest level on top of either a ladder laid on the log (first cut) or the level surface made by previous cuts. Also, my saw is a middle/low power model (3HP) and bogged down occasionally. Normal chainsaw chain is meant for cross-cutting and takes too big of a bite for ripping, for the next attempt I plan to modify an old chain into a ripping chain by grinding back some of the teeth – these converted teeth will help clear chips out of the cut rather then cutting themselves and it should mean less bogging down.

Once milled, the log was reassembled with some ‘sticker’ pieces I cut from scrap 2×4’s to create airflow gaps. It’s under an overhang that should provide enough rain protection. The drying happens from the inside out over a long period of time, getting wet from rain only temporarily increases the moisture level on the outside; this dissipates quickly and doesn’t hurt the overall dry time. Drying should take about a year per inch, the slabs are about an inch and a half on average so I may be able to use these as soon as next summer.

We have some ideas for the wood but no immediate plans; this is just a long-term thinking/prep. The white oak is good outdoors and may become some much-needed patio furniture. The red oak may be used to upgrade the fireplace mantel and be used for a headboard and side tables.

1 2 3 4 5

         Leave a comment

Dust Collection

This weekend I installed the shop dust collection system. The system consists of several parts:

Fan/Motor: I repurposed a portable dust collector fan I’ve had for a while that’s been underutilized (collecting dust, but not as intended). Space is limited in the mechanical room so since the fan won’t need easy access I mounted it high up above the air compressor near where the dust collector pipe enters the mechanical room.
1 1-2

Pipes: 4″ PVC DWV pipes; there are a few branches leading to the different tools. I tried to keep the overall length as short as possible and the bend radius’s large.

Blast Gates: The blast gates control the air flow though the system by blocking off unused branches. I made these with 1/2″ plywood and 1/4″ hardboard. Circle cutouts were made on the lathe to match the pipe outside diameter exactly.
4 2 3

Filter and Collection Bin: The portable dust collector came with a light canvas bag that restricted the air flow massively while still allowing fine particles to escape. To improve this I replaced the bag with a semi truck air filter mounted to a trash can. The theory is that air will exit the filter and larger dust/chips should fall into the trash can below. There are purpose-built dust collection filters available, but the costs are much higher for these and the semi truck filter has the same specs; different economies of scale. To mount the filter to the bin I made a plywood ring, for now they’re just taped together but I may add latches at some point. The design may need some tweaking; I’ll know more after it gets further use, but for now the airflow is excellent.
5 6

Return Vent:  Having the collection bin in the mechanical room created a problem; the mechanical room is well sealed for noise reduction, so there was nowhere for the air exhausted from the filter to go. For heat/air to be retained in the shop, the exhaust air needed to return to the shop via a vent. Since I also wanted to keep the mechanical room noise level as low as possible this meant the vent needed to be sound proof. I built a sound proof vent by creating a 3ft long box and offsetting baffle plates inside of it. The sound has to reflect a dozen or more times off of the baffle plates; at each reflection it gets absorbed some by a fiberglass lining. The air, however, is able to snake around the baffles and find its way out. The inlet to this vent also points directly at the floor away from the sound sources. Somehow after adding this vent the mechanical room noise is actually noticeably quieter than when it was completely sealed. I think this may have had to do with the air pressure changes resonating in the previously sealed room, whereas now any fluctuations are equalized through the vent.
7 8

Control: For now control of the system is via a remote control outlet (repurposed from controlling the vacuum at the old shop), at some point I may integrate some low voltage switches with the blast gates so the motor will turn on as soon as any gate is opened.

           Leave a comment
Page 1 of 2812345...1020...Last »