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Durable Chair Mat

One of the difficulties of having a desk and an office chair where there is residential carpet is the chair-mat. Especially when it sees full-time daily use. You can spend $50 for flimsy vinyl, or $200 for high-end vinyl chair-mats. In my experience, none of them last a year; as soon as you get into the colder months and the floor cools down, I'd flop into the chair one morning and hear that tell-tale snap of cold vinyl failing. Even before the failure, the vinyl develops divots where the wheels tend to rest, and once they start to develop, gravity ensures that same location is the natural resting place for the wheels every time you sit down.

You can make your own chair-mat, and you'll find many people online who have described how they've done it, with a variety of materials. But they only show you the newly finished product; they don't show you how it's held up over the course of years. Many of them won't last, despite their creators' confident claims. Here, I distill about a decade's worth of chair mat experience.

Attempt 0

I bought a vinyl chair-mat. It died quickly.

cheap-vinyl-wear.jpg

Attempt 1

Thinking that maybe this is a case of "you get what you pay for," I bought a high-end vinyl chair-mat. When the temperature dropped and I flopped into the chair, it died with a snap. And continued to crack, and crack, and crack.

quality-vinyl-wear.jpg

Attempt 2

Let's try building something sturdier. I bought a sheet of plywood, cut it to shape, and stained the top of it. A hard, flat chair-mat that wouldn't snap when it got cold? Perfect!

Well... that lasted a while, but the rolling of the wheels across the wood grain compressed the wood unevenly, and the wood fibers began to separate.

plywood-full.jpg

That doesn't really do it justice; you need to look closer; so you can see how the wood separates with the grain.

plywood-closeup-minor.jpg

But it just kept getting worse, and the damage kept getting deeper.

plywood-closeup-depth.jpg

After a while, I was generating piles of wood splinters. I used that for about 3-1/2 years, but I put up with it falling apart for way too large a portion of that time.

Attempt 3

For my next attempt, I flipped the plywood over, and applied self-adhesive faux-wood vinyl laminate flooring (4x36" planks) directly to the plywood. I figured that would keep the plywood from coming apart, and the plywood would provide a solid underlayment for the flooring. Unfortunately, the slats of flooring immediately began sliding under the pressure of the chair. They didn't move rapidly, but as they edged away from their initial position, they exposed the gooey adhesive that was failing to hold them in place. And the slats under my feet went even faster. I had a mess under my chair in less than a week.

In fact, if you look back at the first picture of the torn-up plywood chair-mat, you can see the adhesive backing of the flooring sticking out from under it around the edges.

laminate-mess.jpg

Again, the above picture doesn't look as bad as it was. If you look closely, you can see the seams don't quite line up, but it was only in this "good" of shape because I kept pushing the slats back into place.

Attempt 4

At this point, I did some research, and found that there are two kinds of office chair caster wheels. The normal kind that comes with any office chair you buy, and a second kind made from a different plastic intended for use on hardwood floors. Hardwood floors? Hmm...

I ordered a set of those wheels and installed them on my office chair in the hopes that they'd be gentler on my next attempt.

Construction

I bought a 4'x8' sheet of 3/4" particle board to use as the base because I wanted something more rigid than the plywood I had been using before.

For the flooring, I bought faux-wood engineered flooring that snaps together at the seams.

This is the label from the flooring sample of what I used; but I'm not finding any indication that they even make this stuff any more.

flooring-product.jpg

The planks were about 5-1/2"x48" planks; that allowed me to build the chair-mat with no end-to-end seams. I glued the flooring to the 4'x8' particle board using liquid nails.

construction-glue-planks.jpg

The next day, after the adhesive had dried, I flipped the board over, cut off the excess length and trimmed the long edges.

Cutting the long edges was needed since the 48" long planks had the interlocking groove system on their ends as well; so I had to trim them to a bit less than 48" Then I rough-cut the inside corners ...

construction-cut-rough.jpg

... so that I could reach with the drill press and a hole-cutter to fillet the inner corners.

construction-fillet-corner.jpg

I also cut the outside rear corners of the mat at a 45 to give the whole thing a more interesting shape, without reducing the usable surface of the chair-mat.

construction-cut-to-shape.jpg

I bought matching quarter-round trim, and used liquid nails to glue it to the edges that would not be adjacent to the desk, with the top edge of the trim flush with the top of the flooring since I didn't want a lip. Yes, that means I can roll off the edge, but in practice that hasn't been a problem, and makes it easier to sweep stuff off of it.

construction-glue-edge.jpg construction-glue-edge-bottom.jpg

construction-finished.jpg

I also later added nylon furniture sliders to the edges of the mat that were rubbing on the desk; I should have done that to begin with.

furniture-sliders.jpg

Challenges

One of the challenges building this was the weight of this thing. I damaged a bit of the edge one of the times I flipped it over because I had trouble with the weight.

The other was that cutting through the particle board and flooring caused my circular saw blade to over-heat, leading to this awful cut.

construction-bad-cut.jpg

Fortunately I learned this on the first cut to remove the excess particle board so fixing it simply meant taking another cut and losing a quarter-inch of the over-all length.

Wear

So the real question is, "How has it held up?" From a photo taken the day it was installed, you can see that the corners were nice and clean.

corner-wear-original.jpg

Due to where this corner is, it sees a great deal of foot traffic; not just when I'm going to sit down. From this picture taken after nearly three years of daily use, you can see that the cut edges had worn noticeably, but is still very serviceable.

corner-wear-years.jpg

The other location which shows some wear was mostly due to damage sustained while I was building the chair-mat. The damage is a bit difficult to see in the original photo

edge-damage-original.jpg

but the surface of that damaged area eventually broke off.

edge-damage-years.jpg

I tried to get a picture that would clearly show the wear from the wheels, but found it surprisingly difficult... though I should not have been surprised, given that until I started working on this write-up, I had not noticed any wear at all on the main flooring. Most of the color differences you can see in the picture are due to shadows or reflections, not wear.

full-wear-years.jpg

But if you look carefully, you can see that the floor is just slightly lighter in a ring (marked in blue) centered where the chair sits most of the time. This is where the wheels most often travel; but there aren't divots that the wheels roll into and stay; it's still a solid, flat surface.

full-wear-years-highlighted.jpg

And there is one part of a seam that is showing significantly more wear than the rest of the floor (circled in red) which may need some attention. Here is a close-up taken a year-and-a-half after that showing that the wear has increased some, but not rapidly:

full-wear-years-seam.jpg

At some point, I managed to step on the quarter-round edging with all my weight one time too many, and it separated from main body of the mat. A bit of liquid nails put it back on and it has held up fine since.

Looking at it overall after over 4 years of use, it has held up extremely well:

full-wear-overall.jpg

Conclusion

I'm happy with how this chair-mat has held up over the past 4+ years; when it eventually falls apart, I expect to build another much like it. Differences I may consider include using a thinner particle board so the weight is more manageable, being more generous with the liquid nails for the edge trim, and adding the nylon sliders on day one.

Power Strip, Extreme

I have power tools and those from whom I can borrow power tools which require several different types of power. The mundane things run on your standard 120V 15-amp receptacle. The less mundane tools require 240V 15-amp. And then they get interesting... 240V 30-amp, and two variants of 240V 50-amp receptacles.

Wiring up receptacles on the wall for each of those ties the tools to that one location, and for some things, I want to be able to use them outside, not just in one location. So that means an extension cord, but I didn't want five different flavors of extension cord, either. Maybe one extension cord to rule them all and a half-dozen dongles?

I really wanted a more elegant solution. Ok, maybe a less awful solution?

First, let's talk receptacles. Power receptacles follow a standard set by NEMA with identifiers like NEMA 5-15R, or NEMA L14-30R. The key to understanding these is presented in this document from automationdirect.com. Essentially, the first number indicates what wires you have available in that connection. An "L" prefix on that number indicates it is a "locking" variant. The second number indicates the amperage. And it ends in "R" for receptacles, and "P"for plugs. (That document is worth perusing; it improved my understanding of practical electrical power in a number of ways, and helped me see the logic in the design.)

The receptacles around your house are NEMA 5-15R; these provide one hot, one neutral, and one ground wire. Higher amperages (NEMA 5-20R, etc) change the configuration of the prongs and the gauge (thickness) of the wires needed, but they all have one hot, one neutral, and one ground wire. But 240V outlets require two hot wires, so for NEMA 6-series, the neutral wire is replaced with a second hot wire. That isn't the only choice for 240V though; the NEMA 10-30R and NEMA 10-50R that you often see for electric dryers have two hot wires and a neutral, with no ground wire. To get to a receptacle with all four wires you move to NEMA 14-series with two hot, one neutral and one ground.

For the selection of equipment I have or can borrow, I needed several types of receptacles:

  • NEMA 6-15R
  • NEMA 6-50R
  • NEMA 10-30R
  • NEMA 10-50R

I didn't want to set up 4 receptacles on the wall with 4 extension cords. I wanted to consolidate this to one extension cord to rule them all. So I needed one that had a superset of the wires of the desired receptacles. The NEMA-6's needed two hot and ground, while the NEMA-10's needed two hot and neutral. So between those, I needed all four wires. That gets us to the NEMA 14-series. And the highest amperage is 50, so the extension cord would have to be a NEMA 14-50P to NEMA 14-50R, with a matching NEMA 14-50R in the wall. As it turns out, those are pretty standard extension cords; they're used for RVs and Teslas. In 50-amp applications, you want 6-gauge wire, not 10-gauge like some on the market are. They aren't cheap; here's a 25' extension cord for $130 for instance, and building your own to cut that cost takes some dedicated comparison shopping for 4-conductor 6-gauge SOOW wire.

So that solves the extension cord; what about all the adapters? I really didn't want a pile of adapters, so I decided to build a power strip with each of the required receptacle types in it. And since I would already have all 4 wires coming into it, I decided to add a boring old NEMA 5-15R to the mix.

Oh, but there is one additional wrinkle. A NEMA 5-15P will plug into either a NEMA 5-15R or NEMA 5-20R. And a NEMA 6-15P will plug into either a NEMA 6-15R or a NEMA 6-20R. Which means that by opting for the 20-amp receptacle, I could gain additional flexibility with no downside.

So that gets us our requirements for the power strip; a NEMA 14-50P on one end, and a box with NEMA 5-20R, NEMA 6-20R, NEMA 6-50R, NEMA 10-30R, and NEMA 10-50R. Given that the wire size depends on the amperage, I chose to order them by amperage, with the highest amperage at the end where the cord comes in, so the most expensive wires are the shortest.

power-strip-1.jpg

power-strip-2.jpg

power-strip-3.jpg

A few disclaimers are likely prudent here: this is showing how I approached the problem, not how to safely solve this. Note the lack of any fuses, and the fact that this is connecting devices that are designed to pull 15 amps to a power source capable of supplying 50 amps. Plug everything in at once, and this will easily throw a breaker. Not to be mixed with water. Use this information at your own risk.

This is working well for me. Combined with a massive extension cord, this gives me the flexibility to power what I need, where I need it.

Circles to Rectangles - Tortilla Wraps

Sometimes, algebra and geometry apply to food.

The problem I wanted to solve was how to make a wrap with a single large (10") flour tortilla. Being a perfectionist, I wanted a rectangular tortilla so that the amount of bread was reasonably even through the length of the wrap. With a round tortilla, the ends don't quite enclose the food while the center becomes rather chewy with all the tortilla layers. Knowing that moistening a tortilla and pressing it together will make it adhere, I decided to figure out how to cut a circular tortilla, rearrange the pieces, and wind up with a rectangular tortilla. The strategy I chose was to cut pieces to create corners which could fill the vacant corners.

diagram.png

But where should I make the cuts in the tortilla?

From the diagram, we can describe a few constraints on the lengths and angles.

  1. a + b = r
  2. r * sin(o) = b
  3. r * cos(o) + a = r

Solving the last equation for a yields a = r - r * cos(o). Substituting that and the second equation into the first equation gives r - r * cos(o) + r * sin(o) = r.

Simplifying:

r - r * cos(o) + r * sin(o) = r
-r * cos(o) + r * sin(o) = 0
-cos(o) + sin(o) = 0
sin(o) = cos(o)

And for the sine and cosine to be equal, o must be 45 degrees.

Now that we know the angle, we can apply this pattern to a tortilla by eye-balling where we would cut the tortilla if we were to turn it into quarters. Once we have the points around the edge of the tortilla, we can cut opposite chords, then cut those parts into symmetric halves.

wrap-01.jpg wrap-02.jpg wrap-03.jpg wrap-04.jpg wrap-05.jpg

Now that the pieces are arranged, wet them and press them into place with the heel of your hand.

wrap-06.jpg

And now we have a rectangular tortilla. Time to add the meat (evenly!)

wrap-07.jpg wrap-08.jpg

and veggies

wrap-09.jpg wrap-10.jpg

and cheese

wrap-11.jpg

and dressing

wrap-12.jpg

and a dash of fresh ground red and black pepper.

wrap-13.jpg

Wet the upper portion of the tortilla

wrap-14.jpg

and firmly roll the wrap.

wrap-15.jpg

Cut it in half so it can fit in a sandwich bag.

wrap-16.jpg

These taste pretty good, if I do say so myself.

wrap-17.jpg

And that's how you apply geometry and algebra to get food fit for a perfectionist!

Adhoc RSS Feeds

I have a few audio courses, with each lecture as a separate mp3. I wanted to be able to listen to them using AntennaPod, but that means having an RSS feed for them. So I wrote a simple utility to take a directory of mp3s and create an RSS feed file for them.

It uses the PyRSS2Gen module, available in Fedora with dnf install python-PyRSS2Gen.

$ ./adhoc-rss-feed --help
usage: adhoc-rss-feed [-h] [--feed-title FEED_TITLE] [--url URL]
                      [--base-url BASE_URL] [--filename-regex FILENAME_REGEX]
                      [--title-pattern TITLE_PATTERN] [--output OUTPUT]
                      files [files ...]

Let's work through a concrete example.

An audio version of the King James version of the Bible is available from Firefighters for Christ; they provide a 990MB zip of mp3s, one per chapter of each book of the Bible.

wget http://server.firefighters.org/kjv/kjv.zip
unzip kjv.zip
mv -- "- FireFighters" FireFighters # use a less cumbersome directory name

There are a lot of chapters in the Bible:

$ ls */*/*/*.mp3 | wc -l
1189

We can create an RSS2 feed with as little as

./adhoc-rss-feed \
    --output rss2.xml \
    --url=http://example.com/rss-feeds/kjv \
    --base-url=http://example.com/rss-feeds/kjv/ \
    */*/*/*.mp3

However, that's going to make for an ugly feed. We can make it a little less awful with

./adhoc-rss-feed \
    --feed-title="KJV audio Bible" \
    --filename-regex="FireFighters/KJV/(?P<book_num>[0-9]+)_(?P<book>.*)/[0-9]+[A-Za-z]+(?P<chapter>[0-9]+)\\.mp3" \
    --title-pattern="KJV %(book_num)s %(book)s chapter %(chapter)s" \
    --output rss2.xml \
    --url=http://example.com/rss-feeds/kjv \
    --base-url=http://example.com/rss-feeds/kjv/ \
    */*/*/*.mp3

That's simple, and good enough to be useful. Fixing up the names of the bible is beyond what that simple regex substitution can do, but we can also do some pre-processing cleanup of the files to improve that. A bit of tedius sed expands the names of the books:

for f in */*/*; do
    mv -iv $f $(echo "$f" | sed '
        s/Gen/Genesis/
        s/Exo/Exodus/
        s/Lev/Leviticus/
        s/Num/Numbers/
        s/Deu/Deuteronomy/
        s/Jos/Joshua/
        s/Jdg/Judges/
        s/Rth/Ruth/
        s/1Sa/1Samuel/
        s/2Sa/2Samuel/
        s/1Ki/1Kings/
        s/2Ki/2Kings/
        s/1Ch/1Chronicles/
        s/2Ch/2Chronicles/
        s/Ezr/Ezra/
        s/Neh/Nehemiah/
        s/Est/Esther/
        s/Job/Job/
        s/Psa/Psalms/
        s/Pro/Proverbs/
        s/Ecc/Ecclesiastes/
        s/Son/SongOfSolomon/
        s/Isa/Isaiah/
        s/Jer/Jeremiah/
        s/Lam/Lamentations/
        s/Eze/Ezekiel/
        s/Dan/Daniel/
        s/Hos/Hosea/
        s/Joe/Joel/
        s/Amo/Amos/
        s/Oba/Obadiah/
        s/Jon/Jonah/
        s/Mic/Micah/
        s/Nah/Nahum/
        s/Hab/Habakkuk/
        s/Zep/Zephaniah/
        s/Hag/Haggai/
        s/Zec/Zechariah/
        s/Mal/Malachi/
        s/Mat/Matthew/
        s/Mar/Mark/
        s/Luk/Luke/
        s/Joh/John/
        s/Act/Acts/
        s/Rom/Romans/
        s/1Co/1Corinthians/
        s/2Co/2Corinthians/
        s/Gal/Galatians/
        s/Eph/Ephesians/
        s/Php/Philipians/
        s/Col/Colosians/
        s/1Th/1Thesalonians/
        s/2Th/2Thesalonians/
        s/1Ti/1Timothy/
        s/2Ti/2Timothy/
        s/Tts/Titus/
        s/Phm/Philemon/
        s/Heb/Hebrews/
        s/Jam/James/
        s/1Pe/1Peter/
        s/2Pe/2Peter/
        s/1Jo/1John/
        s/2Jo/2John/
        s/3Jo/3John/
        s/Jde/Jude/
        s/Rev/Revelation/
    ')
done

There are a couple of errors generated due to the m3u files the wildcard includes as well as 'Job' already having its full name, but it will get the job done.

Run the same adhoc-rss-feed command again, then host it on a server under the given base url, and point your podcast client at the rss2.xml file.

AntennaPod lists episodes based on time, and in this case that makes for an odd ordering of the episodes, but by using the selection page in AntennaPod, you can sort by "Title A->Z", and books and chapters will be ordered as expected. And then when adding to the queue, you may want to sort them again. While there is some awkwardness in the UI with this extreme case, being able to take a series of audio files and turn them into a consumable podcast has proven quite helpful.

Improving a Damaged Extension Cord

The humble extension cord is frequently overlooked relative to its value in a garage or shop. Over the course of years of abuse, one of my extension cords wound up with a cut in the insulation, exposing the copper wiring. This resulted in an electrical "POP!" when it was pulled across a piece of metal. I cut out the damaged portion of the extension cord, but didn't throw the cord away. Instead, I gathered up some electrical bits from stuff I had salvaged and bought a few parts from the hardware store.

  • two-gang metal box
  • power outlet
  • dual power switch
  • two-gang faceplate
  • two grommets
  • a bit of copper wire

I wired the switch so that one controls the outlets in the electrical box, and the other (the one closer to where the cord leaves the box) controls the plug on the last foot or so of the extension cord.

Pictures showing the internal wiring:

wired-1.jpg wired-2.jpg wired-3.jpg

Ready for the faceplate:

assembled.jpg

The end result:

finished.jpg

Flashlight sheath for Fenix LD22

Five years ago, I bought a Fenix LD22 flashlight. (The LD22 they currently offer is a significantly upgraded version of mine. The new one is 300 lumens, mine is somewhere around 200, and the way the modes work is a bit different as well.) I have worn it on my belt ever since, every day. And it's held up beautifully. The flashlight came with a belt holster or sheath. I quickly found that the belt loop on it was much too low on the sheath, making the flashlight come too high on my side and flop around. It didn't take much to cut the thread stitching the belt loop to the holster and sew it on higher.

The velcro also wore out. I bought some 1/2"x1/2"x1/16" rare earth magnets and sewed them into the holster where the velcro was. That improved matters, but eventually it wore out the sides of the sheath. I took it apart and rebuilt it using scrap jean material. That worked pretty well, but the flashlight had a tendency to flop a bit and the end would come out from under the flap of the holster, making it loose and leading me to worry I might lose it. And it started wearing through the jean material.

This time, I decided to build a better holster.

The idea was to create a very similar sheath for the flashlight using the same kind of material that had withstood the wear and tear of daily use: nylon strapping.

When making the cuts, I would cut the strapping with a sharp pair of scissors, then melt the cut edge with a butane lighter. When sewing, I used a sewing machine, but due to the thickness of the material and the number of layers, wound up driving the sewing machine's mechanism by turning the wheel by hand. Someone with actual skill with a sewing machine might be able to run it at speed, but I could not.

The main piece was 19.5" long, with magnets sewn into flaps on either end. The end of that piece which would become the flap, I folded over 2.25" and sewed magnets inside that. The other end I folded over 1.5" and sewed magnets inside it as well. I arranged them edge-to-edge, as if they were a single 1"x1/2"x1/16" magnet in each end.

main-strap.jpg

I put a wide stitch into the ends to secure the magnets rather than stitching across. I positioned the magnets in the top flap so they pull the strap down onto the flashlight. This should also mean that the flap extends beyond the magnets by 1/4" to 1/2", giving something to grab onto to open the holster

I cut a 10" piece, then cut it in half on a 45 to create the two sides.

sides-cut.jpg

I sewed those to the sides of the main piece with a wide stitch. I determined their placement by wrapping the work in progress around the flashlight.

sides-sewn.jpg

I cut a piece to use for a belt loop.

belt-loop-cut.jpg

And sewed that to the back side.

belt-loop-sewn.jpg

And sewed the front edges of the sides to the main strap. For this seam, I sewed through the two layers, unlike for the back edges which I sewed across the edges.

front-sewn.jpg

And here is what it looked like with the flashlight in it:

finished.jpg

And here is how it rides on the belt:

on-belt.jpg

After using this for a few days, I had to make two small repairs to it. One was to reinforce the stitching near the top corner of the sides because I had not done that well enough during initial fabrication. The other was to melt the 45-degree edges again because they had started to fray; they're holding up better now.

Overall, I'm quite happy with the new sheath; it holds the flashlight securely, the magnetic flap stays where I want it, and it appears to be holding up to daily use very well over the course of about a month.

Tablesaw Dust Collector

I have an ancient Craftsman tablesaw which had no dust collection system for it. The underside of the saw was simply open, and sawdust went everywhere. In order to get it under control, I cut a cardboard box to fit under the tablesaw. Since it was large enough to fill the space under the saw, it collected the sawdust quite well, but it was too large to pull out from under the saw's legs. That was my temporary solution for the past decade, but I had done some work on the tablesaw, and when I had put it back on its feet, I had not put the cardboard box in place. Time to get around to implementing a better solution.

Using these (scrap) materials and some scrap plywood...

boards-cut.jpg

... I built a shallow box with a dust port.

The top view:

assembled-top.jpg

The bottom view:

assembled-bottom.jpg

I used pocket-hole screws for the frame of the box, tacked the plywood into place with a few nails, then used construction adhesive around the edges of the plywood to keep it in place and allowed that to dry.

The lip on the box rests on top of the sheet metal body on that end, and on the other end, I put a 1x4 inside the sheetmetal lip of the body of the tablesaw.

mounting-board.jpg

Screws inserted through the 2x2 board on the end screwed into this board so both ends of the box are supported. Installed, it looks like this from below:

installed-bottom.jpg

The end result looks like this:

installed-corner.jpg

This will allow me to use some of the space under the tablesaw that used to be entirely filled with that cardboard box.

Lining a Truck Toolbox

I bought a toolbox for my truck, but before I loaded it up with tools, I wanted to take steps to increase its expected serviceable life. One of the tools I carry is a hydraulic floor jack. This thing is heavy, and has a tendency to slide around. I didn't want it (and the other heavy, sliding-prone items it shares the box with) to hammer on the box. I grabbed some plywood I happened to have, and cut a section to fit the floor of the toolbox to protect the bottom. That left about 8-9" of plywood of the same length, so I cut that in half to make two ~4"-wide pieces. I nailed some scrap 2-by material to that to create a slot for end-caps, and made end-caps from some other scrap plywood I had lying around.

Each corner looks like this,

corner.jpg

With the ends like this.

end.jpg

The end-caps hold the long walls vertical, and the 2-by bits nailed to the long walls keep the end-caps where they're supposed to be. So everything stays put, but it can all be disassembled and removed.

The end result looked like this:

top-view.jpg

side-view.jpg

Since the toolbox has seen a bit of actual use, you can see the dark gray places on the right half where the hydraulic floor jack's metal wheels have been sitting and sliding around. If you decide to build something like this, I'd recommend building the walls the full height on the inside of the toolbox; I noticed some scrapes where other tools have been rubbing on the inside walls. But for something thrown together quickly with materials already on hand, I'm satisfied with the result.

Making Stake Pocket Anchors

I bought a toolbox for my pickup truck, and needed to mount it to the bed rails securely. Using some J-hooks to bolt it to the metal inside the stake pockets did not work well enough; the loaded toolbox shifted from side to side while driving, scraping up the bed rail covers in the process. I needed a more secure mounting option for the toolbox that did not require drilling holes in my truck, and if I could avoid drilling holes in the toolbox, even better. Oh, and I needed to get it done immediately to avoid additional damage. While Magnum Manufacturing offers the stake pocket tie downs they use for their headache racks, I needed to solve the problem immediately, not wait for a well-made product to arrive.

The concept is to have an assembly that fits into the stake pocket which I can bolt onto from the top, and fasten from the side. My solution was to cut some scrap 2x4 down to fill the stake pocket, and cut out space for a bracket, and a recess for the bolt.

cad-wood-block.png

I fabricated the bracket from 1/8"-thick 2x2" angle iron; cutting it to size, drilling counter-sunk holes for the screws, and tapping a hole for a bolt on top.

cad-angle-iron-finished.png

I drilled pilot holes in the wood block and assembled the anchors with exterior wood screws:

cad-assmbly.png

Given that I was in a hurry and making it up as I went along, the actual anchors looked a bit more like this:

real-assembly.jpg

I dropped the anchors into the stake pockets and marked the location of the hole inside the truck bed, then drilled a pilot hole in the center of that.

real-marked-assemblies.jpg

Installing the anchors in the truck meant dropping the anchor in place

dropped-in-place.jpg

and securing it with an exterior wood screw and fender washer.

secured-in-place.jpg

From there, it was a matter of lining up the toolbox slot with the bolt hole

aligned-box-slot.jpg

and bolting it down.

Now, the toolbox is much more solidly anchored to the truck.

Making toy wooden swords

One of my sons bought an inexpensive wooden sword at a nearby Renaissance festival. And naturally, his older sister wanted one as well, but...it's gotta be a bigger one. Sibling rivalry? What's that?

Looking at the design of the sword, I could see it was pretty straight-forward to replicate, so I told her that if she bought a 6' 1x3 select pine board at the local hardware store, I'd turn it into a sword. Woodworking is fun! And educational!

The basic design is to cut a board for the cross-guard, 5 to 6 inches long. Then cut another piece to the length of the blade and hilt. I mounted the latter board on a 1x6 with a clamping set to get a straight tapered cut from the tip to where the cross-guard would be. I then put the tablesaw blade at about a 45 and gave it 4 cuts to provide some shape to the blade's cross-section and that look of having a pseudo-edge. My daughter had sketched what she wanted the hilt to look like, so I used a bandsaw to get a rough shape to the grip and pommel, then took that to the bench sander and shaped it generally "by eye". For the part of the grip where the cross-guard belongs, I was aiming for a shape that would fit into a slot cut with a 3/4" straight router bit. Once I had the size of that determined, I shaped the rest of the grip and pommel to have a cross-section no larger than that. Then I mounted the cross-guard in the mill and cut the slot into the center with a 3/4" router bit. Four passes on the tablesaw to take off the corners, and I had a cross-guard.

The two pieces looked like this:

short-sword-disassembled.jpg

The select pine is right at 3/4" thick, so the cross-guard slid over the hilt with a friction fit.

short-sword.jpg

Of course, a 6-foot board was enough to make *two* swords, so I made an even longer, two-handed sword.

long-sword.jpg

The dangerous duo:

both-swords.jpg

While a proper template and a router would have yielded more precise results for the grips, overall I was pleased with how they turned out.