Piano Automation Continued

Over the past week I finished the lower valve manifold plate. The lower plate connects the row of holes on the piano tracker bar to the valves on the top plate. Obviously it would have been nice to just put the valves directly over each hole, but since the valves are much wider than the hole pitch I had to instead design the manifold with the valves arranged in multiple rows. Each tracker bar hole is connected to the valve above via passages that are routed into the bottom plate. The path of each passage was chosen carefully to avoid connecting to other valves/passages and to avoid running into the bolt holes that connect the manifold halves – each valve should connect to exactly one tracker bar hole. I let the CNC router do this work; it was relatively slow going with a 1.5mm end mill in aluminum but it turned out OK.

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After the passages were milled I created a gasket using wide tape. The tape covers and seals the top of the passages and a hole punched at each valve location allows each valve to connect to its passage. The tape has enough compression that any imperfections in the plates will be sealed once the plates are bolted together. I also added a lip/shelf to the back of the manifold to hold it in vertical alignment against the tracker bar.

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With the manifold ready, I connected it to the piano and tried firing the outputs. Results were not good, there was some vague correlation between outputs being on and notes being played but something was wrong. I had originally assumed the air passed all the way through the valves but closer examination revealed that they actually pass air from their stem to ports near the base of the stem. Since I had the entire stem/base of the valve mounted inside the manifold there was nowhere for air to flow when the valve opened. I re-made the top plate with smaller holes and re-installed the valves with only the stem in the manifold.

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Remaking the top plate solved the valve problem but there were many dead notes due to air leaks at the tracker bar. I experimented with several materials to seal the tracker bar to the manifold and ultimately landed on thick rubber outdoor electrical tape as the best performing, though many leaks remained. I found that the tracker bar was not very flat and I was able to carefully bend it back. This helped considerably but leaks still remained. I found that the force needed to push the manifold against the tracker bar for a good seal had the effect of bowing the tracker bar away from the manifold in the middle, so I added a thin aluminum lip to the shelf on the back of the manifold. The lip is just thin enough to fit between the tracker bar and the wood cover behind it and it allows the manifold to hook over the top of the tracker bar and more positively hold the bar along the entire length of the manifold with enough preload on the tape to seal. This essentially solved the leak problem.

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Currently there are ~12-15 keys that I’m tracking down problems with, this started from ~20 and was reduced by working through electrical/alignment problems. On the remaining dead keys I’ve ruled out problems on the piano side, problems with the lower plate, and any electrical problems; so next step may be replacing the valves themselves. It’s possible that those keys need more airflow, which would require milling their passages deeper and/or modifying the valves; hopefully it doesn’t come to that. Once they’re all firing though then the mechanical work on this is basically done and I’ll be able to shift focus to the control system side.

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Piano Automation Begins

This weekend I designed and began fabrication of the parts needed for adapting the solenoid valves to the piano’s tracker bar. This adapter will consist of two 3/8″ aluminum plates. The top plate will have holes to accept the solenoid valves, and the bottom plate will have holes to interface with the piano’s tracker bar. Grooves will be machined into the bottom plate to create airs channel between the tracker bar holes and the solenoid valves above. The two plate will then be sealed together, covering the grooves; a similar construction technique as some carburetors. As long as the grooves are carefully routed, each valve should connect to exactly 1 tracker bar hole.

I cut the 3/8″x6″ plate on the band saw and then milled to final length. I used an edge finder to locate the plate edges, and then used the mill’s digital readout to position above each row/hole. For each row I took 2 passes, first spot drilling with a center drill and then drilling to size with a twist drill. 88 * 2 plates * 2 passes = 352 cycles of positioning the X axis and drilling a hole. Once all the holes were drilled I sanded sides to remove burrs from the holes and scratches from the rough plate.

Next I installed and wired the solenoid valves in the top plate. The solenoid valves are an exact fit to the hole, but I added a bit of CA glue to ensure they stay in place. Wiring consists of scrap Ethernet cord that’s been stripped back; Every ~7 solenoids each share a common wire to reduce wiring, but it’s still ~100wires.

I’m happy with the results so far; this is by far the most precise thing I’ve made on the mill and everything is lining up perfectly. The next step will be to 3D model the grooves and convert these to paths to run on the CNC router. I’ve done some aluminum milling with it previously so it should work out OK, especially since it’s just cutting the shallow grooves – I wouldn’t have trusted the router to drill the holes as well as the mill did.

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Piano Automation Proof-of-Concept

I did a quick test tonight to check/confirm the feasibility of using the ebay solenoid valves I got a while back to control the player piano. I connected one of the valves to a 12V battery pack and a push button, and then held it in front of one hole of the piano’s tracker bar while the rest were taped closed. When I pressed the button, the valve opened, and the piano played the key! With this successful test I can move forward with designing an adapter to connect all 88 valves to the tracker bar.

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Saw Milling v2.0

A while back, in anticipation of more log milling, I made a jig for holding the chainsaw level along the length of the cut. This is basically a homemade version of an ‘Alaskan Sawmill’, with a few changes.  Since I processed last winter’s log recently it made room for another in the drying area, so I finally had a chance to test out the jig this weekend. For the first cut a ladder is secured to the top of the log to establish a reference surface.

I opted on not tie the reference block into the end of the bar, since I have a limited bar length. Because of this, I also couldn’t make the reference block adjustable without introducing too much flex. Instead, I set it at the maximum board width I may need, and for all thinner boards I’ll add more wood to the block or log to shim it. This also gives me the ability to cut from both sides for a log that’s up to ~2x the bar length.

Altogether this test seemed to work great, the cut was extremely flat compared to the previous log that was cut free-hand. It was fairly slow-going though since I was using a standard chain; I have a ripping chain on order that should cut faster with the grain, I’ll install it before finishing this log.

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First Finished Lumber from Saw Milling

The oak I cut down last fall and “milled” last winter (this post) seemed to be dry enough to attempt further processing. Since the milling was very crude, there was a lot of thickness variation and therefor a lot of variation in moisture content. It hasn’t been a full year, but it’s also been a hot/dry summer. I measured an average of about 11% moisture content, which is near the lower limit that can be expected for outdoor drying in my area. Turning the log into lumber consisted of a few steps:

#1 – Rip a straight edge along one side of each plank. Since the log doesn’t have any straight reference surface, I created a sled out of some spare 1/2″ MDF and attached the plank to the sled. The sled provided a straight edge to ride along the table saw fence, ensuring a straight cut edge on the plank.

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#2 – After the 1st straight edge is cut, the sled is removed and the newly cut straight edge rides against the fence while the other side of the plank is ripped.

#3 – With the sides now flat and parallel, a flat face needed to be established. To do this I put the plank on a long 2×6 and shimmed it until it no longer rocked. I fed the entire stack through the planer with multiple passes until a flat face was established across the entire side.

#4 – With 1 flat face established, the plank was removed from the 2×6 and fed through the planer until a new face was established across the other side.

#5 – The ends were cut on the table saw to be square with the sides.

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For this initial test I used the board from the top of the stack. This top board had warped a good bit, so instead of trying to plane the warp out, which would have created a very long/thin board, I cut the plank into sections to create shorter/thicker boards. For future drying stacks I need to add weight on the top to prevent warping of the top planks(s).

After planing the first board I am seeing some cracks form. The normal process is to allow the wood to finish drying inside after the outside drying phase is complete, so this wasn’t necessarily a surprise. I’ll likely leave the rest of the log in the garage to finish drying to ~8%, and then re-process the test pieces with the full log once they’re fully dry and stable.

I’m planning to ‘mill’ the rest of the logs soon and put them in this log’s prior location outside, protected by the eave of the garage roof. These should be ready for initial processing and moving into the garage next fall; by then this initial log should be processed into final lumber and will be out of the way.

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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. I turned down the upper hockey pucks on the lathe and machined a step into them so that it keeps the generator centered on the mounting bolts.

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#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.

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#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.

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(#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.

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– 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.

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– 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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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– 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)

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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