Generator Rebuild

Hurricane Michael hit our area hard and took out power for almost 5 days. Luckily the small generator we already had was enough to keep the fridge running and some lights on, but not much else. The small generator is 120V only, so it also was not able to power the 240V well pump; 4 nights without running water was not fun. It’s not likely we’ll have another outage that’s this long for a while, but we have had a number of shorter outages that seem to indicate that this will be an ongoing problem – a bigger generator would be nice.

With that in mind we started looking at options; there are a number of ‘off the shelf’ options out there for whole-house standby power, but most of them are very pricey both to install and to run (propane particularly) and we couldn’t justify the cost for something that gets used so infrequently. What did seem to make some sense though was rolling the dice a surplus military generator; the prices are very low (when the condition is unknown), they’re way over-built, and are made to be repaired easily.

I bid on and won an online surplus auction for a diesel generator and picked it up outside our friendly neighborhood military base. It was a fairly easy move at ~1200lb; at pickup I just dragged it onto the trailer with a winch and to offload I tilted the trailer and winched it back down with iron pipes underneath as rollers.

To get it running I first put in new batteries (2x 12v car batteries) and troubleshot some miscellaneous electrical issues (broken connections, dirty switch contacts, etc.). From there it would crank but not run; bleeding the air out out the fuel lines fixed this and it started OK. Once running there was an erratic low frequency rattle that I traced to a bad rotor bearing on the generator head. With this bearing replaced it then ran smooth/quiet. The last issue was twitchy voltage regulation that I traced back to a dirty potentiometer; with this cleaned it held a stable 240V @ 60hz under a variety of loads. Along the way it also got an oil/filter change and a coolant flush/fill.

Altogether this was a very quick project, just a few hours to get everything sorted out. Up next will be setting aside some space for it (probably combined with a new area for trashcans and firewood) and getting it wired in with a manual transfer switch. It’s a “10KW” generator but that rating is on the very conservative side; in reality it’s closer to a 15KW or more consumer unit whose ratings are on the optimistic side. This should be enough to run the lights, TV, well, microwave, and at least one zone of HVAC.

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Sliding Doors

The shop floor plan allows for a large opening between the ‘far’ end of the shop and the auto repair/bus area. This will allow tools to be easily shared between both spaces; during a big auto project the repair bay can become an extension of the workshop. The opening is also big enough to bring in the front or rear of a vehicle if ever needed. When auto projects aren’t underway though I’d like to have doors cover this opening to prevent dust/mess from wood/metal project leaving the shop area and to save on shop heating/cooling costs.

The size of the opening presents a problem – swinging doors would have to swing ‘out’ of the shop to avoid hitting cabinets, and the large sweep would require moving anything parked on the garage side out of the way temporarily, kind of a hassle. To avoid this problem, sliding doors made the most sense.

The shop build project is being run with the materials cost set to minimum and the end-product quality set as high as is practical. This sounds unrealistic but is actually possible with the trade-off being time; it’s not a problem though since I count this as hobby time and there’s no particular deadline. The sliding doors are a great example of this – sliding doors and hardware are outrageously expensive compared to the raw materials cost. Building my own also gives me full control, in this case I wanted to avoid the farmhouse/barndoor/rustic look in favor of cleaner traditional/modern look. Over the last few weekends I’ve built the doors and tracks below, key points:

  • Door frames from 2×6’s, planed down to standard 1 3/8″ door thickness
  • Mortise and tenon joints connect frame pieces (tenons via table saw dado stack, mortises via router and chisel)
  • Slide rail is two 3/16″ x 3″ x 10′ flat bar sections welded in the middle.
  • Door bracket pins turned and threaded on lathe then welded to brackets.
  • Aluminum rollers turned on the lathe, held to the brackets using standard 608 skate bearings.
  • Brackets recessed into door frame and secured to the doors with studs welded to back side for a completely smooth front.
  • 1/4″ Tempered glass sourced from local glass shop.
  • Groove along bottom of door and small bottom bracket keep door located against the wall and limit inward overtravel.
  • Roller to door top spacing and roller flange width prevent door from lifting/falling off rail.

There’s a good bit of finishing work still left, but I’m happy with the results so far.

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Shop Insulation

The shop is coming along well and this weekend the bulk of the insulation was installed. Friday night we picked up R15 Roxul batts for the walls and installed in just few hours. The attic was another story though and all of Saturday and Sunday AM were spent crab walking over attic joists installing baffles. The baffles are needed to keep the blow-in insulation from falling out of the attic area and into the soffits. The roof over the garage has a shallower pitch towards the edges (if you visualize a pizza hut roof you’re not far off) which made it especially tricky to get access.

Once the baffles were up we picked up the blow-in insulation Sunday mid-day and had it all blown in in couple hours. The high pallet of insulation looked really odd on the trailer, but was secured well. Even compressed it’s not very dense, this was ~900lbs maybe ~1100lbs with the machine.

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New Shop

It’s been over a year since the last update but with good reason: we’ve moved. As a result of the move I’ve been busy with a long list of projects to get the new place up to standard. It isn’t exactly a complete fixer-upper, but it definitely is/was behind on a lot of maintenance and upkeep.

With this change comes more garage space; the plan is to have more dedicated areas in the garage to better serve the three (sometimes conflicting) purposes of: #1 Machine Shop / Wood Shop, #2 Auto repair bay (Doubles as Bus storage), and #3 parking for commuter cars.  Key to this idea is building a partition wall between garage and shop areas –  cars will no longer get covered in sawdust during projects, and the extra wall will create more wall space for workbenches, machines, and storage.

The design has part of the partition wall at 45deg to make the commuter parking area larger for easier loading/unloading. This also leaves some space for a utilities closet to house the air compressor, dust collection, and the house’s existing central vac unit. Putting the utilities in a small ‘lean-to’ shed on the exterior like I had at the old place would have been a better use of floor space, but there really was no good place for it on the exterior and that would have added more complexity.

I’ll be building 100% of this as I have free time, so it may take a while. Realistically completion will probably be about this time next year.

Garage Plan

 

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Building a better air return

Today, as part of a repainting project, I constructed a new air return out extra slats from wooden blinds and some scrap wood. Nothing was wrong with the existing metal return other than being ugly, so it will get added to the scrap metal pile and possible used on some metalwork project. All the materials were scraps from other projects, so total cost was just some paint/glue/staples and a few cents of electricity. As a bonus, the new return seems to be quieter and less restrictive than the metal version.

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Garage floor finished, leaf harvest begins

I didn’t get “after” pictures from the garage floor project, but it’s visible in the mower pictures below. Overall it turned out very well and will be much easier to keep clean.

The leaves are falling this time of year and if left alone they are able to form a mat several inches thick over the entire yard/house/driveway/garage every few days. To combat this in years past I’ve used an arsenal of leafblowers, rakes, and mowers; the secret weapon in this arsenal though is the 33″ snapper rear engine rider from the mid 1970’s. It’s not great as a mower since the long single blade does not conform to the terrain; but as a leaf collection device there’s nothing better since the single long blade moves tons of air (think airplane prop). This moving air carries all of the leaves/sticks/nuts off of the yard and into the collection bag.

The mower’s deck had taken a beating from using it for trail-clearing; and once the deck deformed enough the blade began to wear against it. I’m replacing the blade and welding the deck back together so it can get back to clearing leaves. In the process of fixing the deck I may also add some sort of reinforcement or “cow catcher” to the front to prevent future damage.

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Garage Floor Overhaul

The garage floor was in rough shape when we moved in, and because of this I wasn’t particularly careful with it during the 4yrs of bus restoration. I rented a diamond grinder today to begin remedying this. I used the grinder to flatten the high side of the “fault line” cracks and to open up the surface overall in preparation for epoxy coating, and a hand grinder to clear the loose edges out of the cracks. The cracks will be filled with a sand/epoxy mix and then leveled flush to the surface with the hand grinder.

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Giant Spider

Yet another giant spider, this time in the garage. It stayed still long enough to get a ruler next to it.

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Unwelcome Visitor Spotted

Unwelcome visitor spotted outside the back porch. Bus and garage will get thorough inspection prior to continuing with work. The photo makes it look small at first glace; use the brick for scale, this was huge!

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