Saturday, March 31, 2012


The dreaded season, called "spring" in the lower 48 states has arrived. If not with a bang, then with a rumble. The rumble is caused by snow sliding off the roof. Our first hint was March 29. The snow came off the shop with a roar, I suppose. I didn't hear it, the house is surprisingly soundproof.
Note that the blocks of snow are piled level with the roof. This, of course, is why in Alaska we call it breakup. We look forward to it and dread it at the same time. The house roof is clear (but not the back porch, it is very gently sloped, nor the ridge on the roof). As I typed this there was yet another roar. I suspect we have lost some ridge snow. We have had a record snowfall, total 1.8m say. It has compacted, so there is less than that on the ground. How long will it take this stuff to melt? Can't say. Never had so much snow, almost 100% over previous norms. It will be "interesting," remembering the Chinese curse: "may you live in interesting times."

Yesterday's ski run convinced me that skiing is over. Snow awful for skiing, either hard ice or slush, and it all happened very quickly.

And today I went snowshoing instead of skiing. In places I went in over my knee. Especially under the spruces. I suppose that since spruce is an evergreen, the snow next to a spruce is not as dense -- leaves turn aside some sow. Maybe. All hypothesis. Anyway, here's to breakup!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The loop in the woods

We have had about 1.7 m or snow, and the skiing is just lovely. With all that snow, the brush is completely buried. You can go almost anywhere, so let's go skiing on the loop. This is a trail I broke out this winter. Since out here there are no groomed trails, you get to do it all yourself. The loop begins at home, of course. We have carved, with the ice axe, a place where I can clamber up on the snow. Our route lies off to the left of the picture, but first we must warm up.
And now I am on my warmup track. The track is the first thing I break out when the first snowfall comes. It goes around my back yard, so to speak. I go around the warmup track four times. In college, the track coach always made us do four laps to warm up. Vestigial memory. We pause at the far corner to see how the house is doing.
There is some buildup of snow where the chimney blocks the natural slope of the roof. Onward. We complete our laps, and branch off to the left of the first picture.
Now we are on the loop. We are headed roughly Southwest, up towards the ghost house. Notice the total absence of brush. It's all buried. Tough on the moose, but it is very nice for us. We now come to the first turn. In the woods, it is hard to ski in a straight line. There are always trees in the way. But this is the real SW corner of the loop. We pull off mittens so that we can operate the camera. Our hands freeze. No sacrifice too great for blog-land.
We note the downed birch at our right, hung up of course. Prime firewood candidate, and we may be able to get the tractor in there come spring. We are turning East, a longer leg of the loop. The leg looks a lot like the rest of the woods. But there are always interesting tracks. Maybe fox or weasel. Maybe even wolverine.
On we go. Eventually we can see Beryozova road. Halfway through now. Another left turn and we are running paralllel to Bery road. Going north now.
No tracks here. Too close for the road. Animals avoid us, and I don't blame them. So finally we get to the last left turn.
The house is but 200 meters away. Can't see it in the shot, center left. I had a shot of the final approach but deleted it by mistake. New interface to DigiKam. Not, in my opinion, entirely an improvement. Anyway, we do the 200m and we are home. It has taken us an hour, but it can be done with good snow in about 40 minutes. This time it took an hour, but we were taking pictures and pulling off mittens and the whole routine. Took a while longer. But the woods are really beautiful in deep snow. So you had a rest form the nanomill, and a nice ski in the woods.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The evolution of a moto-tool stand

Long ago I made a stand for my "Moto-tool" device. These were originally made by the Dremel Company, but nowadays there is a horde of imitations, asiatic and otherwise. Giving credit where credit is due we will call it a Dremel-type tool, or DTT. Dremel offers a huge number of accesories for this tool, and more are available elsewhere. But a DTT is made for hand-holding, and I often find this extremely inconvenient. Especially when I am grinding. So I made a stand for my DTT, which is nothing particularly noteworthy.
Just some scrap wood with a hole big enough to take the DTT. This has given me great service. Drilling the holes to acommodate the DTT is the problem. It can be done with a hole bit if you have one, or with an adjustable circle cutter, which is how I did it. The rear hole is split and held in with a bolt and nut. This is part one of the saga.

Part two was when I made the NanoX table. (It is now the NanoY table.) I did this mostly for the experience, and it's in my posts somewhere. But it moves on one axis. So we have a problem, because it is very difficult to put it just where you want it. Especially for grinding edges on my microforged tools.

Part three when I tried to make a milling vise for the Taig lathe milling attachment. This was a failure. The reason was that the holes were drilled imprecisely. When you are doing metal, you have to work to at least 0.1mm. In wood, 1-2mm will get you by. Another universe, as they say. Can't do it by eye. But I looked at it and thought that if I remade one piece it might work, not as a vise, but as a cross-table for an X-Y table. This is milling machine-speak. A mill is a bit like a drill press with a table on which you put the work. The work is shaped by a rotating cutter. The table can move left and right (X) and back and forth (Y). Milling machines also can move vertically and this, obviously, is Z. Sooo...
Here is the beginning of the thing. At the top, the NanoX table (which has become NanoY now) that I made last year. Below it is the new NanoX table. It has two pieces of square bar, in which a couple of pieces of hardware-store rod about 5mm fit. This came out of the failed Taig milling vise. The white plastic block is a piece of snow machine, found while I walk. I know not its original purpose, but it is some sort of synthetic and very easy to machine, so I drilled holes to fit the rods and tapped the center hole for the feed screw. The NanoY fits right on top of (new) NanoX:
And behold, I have both X and Y movements at the turn of a screw. The real problem in this megilla was scribing the centerline of of the square bar at left. I finally figured it out. I put the thing into the milling attachment of the Taig lathe. This gadget essentially turns the Taig lathe into a mill: X, Y and Z all there. I chucked a scriber in the lathe. With a magnifying glass I registered the scriber at the very bottom of the square bar. The Taig milling attachment has a handwheel that will give you "thous" i.e .001" or .025mm if you wish. Measure your bar with digital calipers. Calculate how many full turns + thou it will take you to get to the halfway point. Hint: 20 turns per inch. So one turn gets you .05". Horrible, I am reduced to RGU. I don't mind it too much. All decimals. It is the fractions to which (not to end a sentence with a preposition) I object.
You do that with the vertical (Z) feed on the Taig. Then with the Y feed (the cross-slide in the lathe incarnation) just draw the scriber across the bar. You have coated the bar with machinist's blue, maybe, but I use a sharpie felt-tip pen. Machinist's blue is hard to find in Alaska. You have a centerline as exact as you can get it. You are limited by the very marginal travel of the Taig cross-slide. Hey, it's a watchmaker's lathe. Don't be too harsh on it. It was made to cut stuff 1cm across. You are demanding 5cm from it. Tough on you. It is a fact of life. No matter what lathe you buy, it will be too small. But it worked. The X-Y feed table, bar a few details, is a done deal.

In machinist-speak, what I did was lay out holes by the coordinate method. Any time you think high school algebra was a waste of time, think of that. In these days of Computer Numerical Control, or CNC, it is even more important that you understand coordinates. If your avocation is poetry, you have no need of them. If you want to make things, then do brush up on coordinate geometry.

And now I have figured out (I think) a feed in Z. I will have made the DTT into a micro-mill. But I haven't done it yet. So I am holding my breath, and my posting, at this point. Stay, as they say, tuned.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Woof, woof! We're off to Nome!

The time of that Great Alaska Institution (GAI) was here last Sunday. The time for the Iditarod race, Anchorage to Nome. "Over 1150 miles." says the blurb on the Iditarod web site, or say 1800 Km. A long way to go by dogpower! So the restart is within walking distance of my house, say a mile and a half or two klicks away. A nice Sunday walk. John and I walked. Driving exposes you to the utter madness of parking, and then getting out of there. We were not the first people there.
There is a certain festive air about the thing, sort of like an Alaska Woodstock without the hippies. The hippies find it a little too cold for comfort. Temperature? Oh, about -5C at 1400 -- that's 2PM for those challenged by 24-hour systems.

People bring snacks, chairs, tents, and of course the inevitable snow machines. Sometimes it seemed as if there were more snow machines than dogs! The ceremonial start to the race is at Anchorage, the day before. As I understand it the restart is in order of arrival at Wasilla. But Wasilla hasn't enough snow for a decent restart, a victim of the Urban Heat Island effect, or UHI. So the Iditarod has officially moved to Willow as the restart point, much to my benefit.

After about 20-25 minutes after the restart time (1400 hours) the contestants start to appear. Here's the very first to appear:
Followed by Number three, with a huge team:

As I count it, he has 8 pairs of dogs. This is a lot more than you need to get to Nome. But attrition is an important factor. There are a number of mandatory stops along the route. At each stop, the dogs are examined by a veterinarian. If the vet says "this dog won't go" the dog goes no further. Do not worry about the dogs; they are flown out to comfort by the "Iditarod Air Force," a bunch of volunteer bush pilots who fly (among othe things) lame dogs out to safety. Pity the musher: out one or more dogs.
Here is number four. Can't tell the player without a program and I had none. He is also running a huge team, 16-18 dogs. Smart. You might ask, "what's in that sled?" Glad you asked. There is mostly mandatory equipment. Emergency rations. A firearm, in case an enraged moose attacks your dogs. Please do not laugh. it is no joke, out there in the boondocks (from the Tagalog bundok, the wilds). Moose and dogs just do not co-exist. And if your dogs are tromped by moose, then you are out in the bundok with no recourse. Also they must carry some form of stove and sleeping equipment.

John took his video camera with him and got extensive footage. He will edit it, and do a production. When it reaches maturity, I will post it or a link to it, anyway. So stay tuned. Videos of the woofies! Marvels of high-tech. In the meantime, woof!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The evolution of Polecat

By now you have met (and may be sick of) polecat the bungee lathe. But polecat is really not satisfactory. Remember, he is based on a vise-clamped (UK readers read vice-clamped, although in the US vice refers to an unhygenic habit). The problem with polecat 1.0 was (still is) that I had to drag the workmate under the ceiling hook. Mind you, we have achieved our original objective, which was to turn tool handles in a vise-clamped bungee lathe. But evolution is relentless. Nowadays we do not want to drag the workmate under the ceiling hook. So once on Bodger's forum there was a picture of a different lathe. I can't remember where it is. But I do remember the principle. It had a long upright and a lever off of that, and the bungee tensioned the lever.

So, since uprights in the winter are hard to find -- I would have to wade throough 1.70 meters of snow to find one -- I used a broken ski pole and a found wooden strip, about 10mm wide by a meter plus by about 4mm thick. A notch was cut in the ski pole to allow the strip to pivot. A finishing nail is the pivot pin.

This actually worked, up to a point. But as you can see above, I used the ski pole handle as a clamping point. Not too good. Tends to slip too much. Next day, I took the handle off and stuck it with glue into a piece of 2x4. Much improved, although you can't see it in the picture that follows because stuff is in the way.
You see how it works, I am sure. The bungee is connected to the long stip (the lever) at the right end of the picture. The strip is quite long, say a meter and a half. The pivot is the same, a finishing nail. The treadle is connected to the cord, which wraps around the workpiece. I can adjust the tension of the bungee by a tautline hitch in parachute cord on the bungee, in turn attached to said parachute cord. At the other end, cord connects to faithful mop-handle treadle, described in a previous post. As you see from the picture, I am on my way to yet another tool handle.

Not all the bugs are out of polecat 1.1. For one thing the treadle, inner tube rubber or no, tends to wander. For that matter the workmate itself tends to rotate. When it had a thirty-kilo bandsaw on top of it, this was not a problem. I see sandbags in my future. Perhaps kitty litter would do it. As Sir Isaac Newton would certainly have said, I need more mass. Stay tuned. Also, I have a plethora of tools handles. Time to turn something new. Again, stay tuned.