Saturday, July 27, 2013

Spliter v2.0: batter boards

We learned many lessons from the collapse of our Snow Splitter v1.0. One is that a snow splitter is a Very Good Idea. The other is that is has to be not just strong but square. We put in the uprights by eye. Now John has a better eye than I will ever have, but even he is fallible. So I spent the weekend building batter boards.

These are devices probably known to the Ancient Egyptians:
As you can see, the batter board is not a complex creature. One board is three stakes hammered into the ground. On these stakes are nailed pieces of board. Strings run from our ground truth, the 4x4s on the porch itself, to the boards. There is one cross-string. The thing is, it is much, much easier to move a piece of string than to move a whole foundation. From the intersections of the string you can see where your corners should be. You can measure your diagonals. If these are equal then the thing is square. Euclid strikes again.

Making these things was, however, not a walkover. The mosquitoes were ferocious. They tried to eat me. Fortunately I had a head net. I do not like being a buffet lunch for mosquitoes, and I wore long sleeves and pants. I roasted in the heat. But besides that, I found a willow tree that was impeding my lawnmowing. I cut 5 stakes out of it. Some scrap tree gave me the sixth. Work for a bowsaw. Then I pointed the stakes with the axe.  Pounding the stakes in (with the maul) was difficult, because there is gravel on some of the area covered by the boards, and it had to be dug out.  I placed the stakes by eye (my eye is far from perfect). But it doesen't matter much because the strings tell it all. String theory, they call it in Physics. I did level the boards. Then I strung up the harp of strings. All by eye. Again it does not matter. The next step is to get two people on the problem and start measuring diagonals. Takes two, one at each end of the tape. Then we adjust the strings until (a) the proper distance from the porch is met (3 meters) and (b) both diagonals are equal. Then we drop a plumb bob from the intersection; that's the center (or edge) of our post. At the end I was wet and very tired. Hard work, but worth it. And I can see that even with John's eagle eye, the posts are way out of place. No matter. They will be replaced.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A turnip grows in Willow

I always start my tomatoes somewhere around march. So I dutifully stuck the tomato seeds into the pot, crossed my fingers, and hoped for the best. But after a while I noticed that the biggest plants in the pot (I use big yogurt containers, repurposed) did not look at all like tomatoes. I called them "Freds" after a Muppet's Christmas Special of long ago. Too obscure a connection to explain. "Classical Reference," as S.M. Stirling's Change novels say. Anyway, I had no idea of what had happened. In retrospect, I must have picked up a few strange seeds with my fingertips. So I stuck the Freds into the greenhouse along with the tomatoes. And behold, today I pulled up some turnips, because that is what the Freds turned out to be.
Surprise! Ready mid-july, even with the late planting. Well, the turnip has just gone up in my estimation. We had some of these turnips with dinner. Delicious. Of all the pleasures in life, eating food you have grown yourself has to be at the top.

As I bonus, my tomatoes have some room to grow now. Freds are fearful leafy veggies. They will choke out your tomatoes.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sundials, and milling wood on a lathe

About a year ago I was into (as current argot has it) sundials. I made quite a few. Alas, one of them broke. It dropped on the floor, and the bottom portion of the dial itself broke. Sigh. Although the material cost on these things is zero, I have usually put in quite a bit of time carving the numerals and marking out the dials. The one that broke was an equatorial, too. Easiest to mark out,  hardest to get the inclination just right. The stylus (the pointy thing that casts the shadow) must be exactly parallel to the polar axis of the earth. That is, it must tilt at an angle equal to your latitude (62 deg in my case). Well, I decided to repair it. So the bottom part of the semicircle that forms the dial had broken off. I built a replacement piece out of scrap wood, and then I cut a groove in it with my tiny Lee Valley rabbet plane. Now I had to make the dial fit into the groove. So I set it up on the Taig lathe with a milling attachment.

The real problem with machine tools is not the machining itself. It is holding the blasted piece down while you machine it. The forces exerted by the machine are enormous, and will slew, jiggle, or skew your workpiece out from under you. As you see, I have an end mill held in the chuck of the lathe. Poor practice, by the way, but I have no collet big enough to hold the end mill. Bolted to the milling attachment on the lathe is the invaluable milling vise I got for Christmas. Thank you, my children. But to hold the dial still, I clamped a scrap board in the vise. This gives support to the dial. It is also clamped by the vise. There is a piece of paper under the vise. It miraculously keeps things from slipping, don't ask me why. Thanks a million to myfordboy for the tip. In the foreground, the slottted piece I must fit. Later I will cut it to shape. And to the scrap board I have attached a pair of very small C-clamps which (by serendipity) I found at a flea market a couple weeks ago. Very small clamps are hard to find. Now the dial is stable and I can mill it down to fit the groove in the slotted piece. I am actually routing on the lathe. Only we call it milling!

In the end it does not look so bad.

The stlylus now needs to be lengthened, or a new stylus made, because the shadow it casts is too short. Haven't decided yet what to do. But it was interesting, if not high-tech. And I didn't have to carve a new dial, which takes forever (art, not science).

Friday, July 5, 2013

Garden report

From a completely dry and overheated June, we have gone to a rainy and cold July. The weather is of course crazy under the best of circumstances, but this is unprecedented. The rain did not seem to hurt the garden outside.
 The outdoors garden is coming right along. The cabbages in particular, nearest to the camera, are doing very nicely. Cabbages do very well in this state; people routinely grow 40 Kg cabbages. I doubt that we will do so well! Of course, the monsters are freaks, grown entirely to win prizes at the state fair. That is not our objective. Meanwhile, a shot of the greenhouse.
Foreground two tomatoes bought at the remnant sale at Fred's Grocery store, when things looked desperate in the heat. They are doing rather well. Background, one of this year's experiment, eggplant. It is not usually grown in Alaska, most certainly not outdoors. One zucchini that survived the heat wave is next, and some new (seeded) ones poking up. Desperation measure, to seed zucchs, but no alternative.

On the left of the picture you can find cucumbers, peppers, and some strange root vegetables that crept, unobserved, into my tomato plantings. Godzilla strikes again. Much work yet to be done, but at least we are up and running. It is race with time.  We are at least two weeks late, couldn't help that, so what comes out remains to be seen.