Comments from my life, family, and projects I enjoy.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Random Thing In No Particular Order

I've had a folder with some photo's I would like to share. Many of them are not related, but I think I will throw them all into one post. So get ready. This will be random and I will just jump from topic to topic.


Back in the spring of this year I spotted something odd on the side of the highway while going to work. At first I thought it was a stuffed animal, but a second look revealed what looked like a large cat. I looped around and stopped to take a closer look. It was an adult female bobcat. She was hit on a section of interstate that passes through some farmland adjacent to the Congaree river. I hated to see she was killed by the traffic, but felt lucky to have seen such a beautiful creature up close. It is my understanding that these animals have adapted well to living close to humans and are sometimes spotted in urban areas after dark. I thought this was interesting and unusual enough to post on the blog and share with others. I hope you find it interesting as well.

Now for something of beauty. Fall is just around the corner in our part of the world, and I have noticed many of the insects of summer are near the end of their life cycle and are slowing down in their final days. This afternoon I spotted an almost perfect butterfly in the back yard. It even allowed me to get close and take some snapshots.

I have also been wanting to talk about some kitchen knives I like to use. My favorite knives are what some people would call "those ugly old knives". I'm sure many of you may recall similar knives in the kitchens of an elderly Aunt or your Grandma's kitchen drawer. If you were lucky enough to inherit some and smart enough not to toss them out, then you probably know why they are my favorites. These old high carbon steel knives are easy to sharpen and take a wonderful edge. The downside is, they will rust if not properly cared for. That means you can't run them through the dishwasher. They must be hand washed and dried before putting them away. I know that most people prefer the modern stainless steel knives that are shiny and can go through the dishwasher, but I just don't like them. Stainless is hard to sharpen and I can never get an acceptable edge. With the old high carbon steel knives, all I have to do to get a fresh sharp edge is about three strokes on each side of the blade across a sharpening steel and the blade is sharp. Here is a photo of my "old ugly knives". A couple I purchased and the others were made by my Grandfather. His favorite material for knife blades was old saw blades. I hope to pass these on to my son, and I hope he learns to cherish them as much as I do.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Some Things That are Cheaper and Better Now Than In the Past

Anyone that reads this blog on a regular basis will know of my fondness for older items that were designed well and built to last, but there are some things that have actually improved over the years. In some cases these items are much better thanks to modern materials and computer aided design. Some things that immediately come to mind are automobile tires and batteries. The last battery I replaced in my old Nissan lasted more than 7 years and was not an expensive high-line battery. Quite amazing I think. When I first started driving back in the 1970's it was considered good to get 3 years out of even an expensive battery. Today's tires also perform better, stop shorter, are less likely to hydroplane, return better fuel mileage and last much longer. When I was a teen' it was considered good to get 40000 miles out of a set of tires. Today even the cheapest tires will easily last that long while outperforming even the best tires of the '70s. More expensive tires often last up to 80000 miles or more if properly maintained.

And while many of the older electronic devices were well designed and manufactured with care, some of the components available to designers today are nothing short of phenomenal. Capacitors have always been a weak part of many designs and electrolytics in particular are prone to failure or loss of capacitance as they age. The MCS 3275 receiver I have been repairing is no exception. I will be replacing all the electrolytics in that device while I have it on the bench. The power amplifier voltage supply is filtered by a pair of Rubicon 10000uF 63 volt caps. A good quality part when it was made and probably one of the more expensive passive devices in the set. One of the challenges faced when sourcing a replacement is finding a part that is physically large enough to fit in the original mount without having too much capacitance. The replacements I chose are Panasonic CE THA of 15000uf at 63 volts. The new part is considerably shorter than the original, but the critical mounting dimension is the diameter, so this one will fit without modification. The capacitance is higher than original, but still close enough that it won't require any circuit modifications. It should actually perform better.

Oh, I almost forgot. The power amplifier repair on the 3275 was successful.  Good clean audio from both channels and no smoke.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

More of my recent activities

Recently, I have also made some time to work on some of the electronics projects that have been gathering dust.
I recently repaired a Sansui AU710 Integrated Amplifier. This is an export unit and is essentially the same as the US spec. AU717 except the AU710 has a dual voltage power transformers and is derated  by 5 watts for 50Hz operation. These are really nice Direct Coupled amplifiers with dual power supplies. One of the nicest designs from the Japanese stereo craze of the 1970s. They are conservatively rated at 90 watts per channel on the AU717 and 85 watts per channel on the AU710. One issue that is common to any Sansui products from this period is glue rot on the printed circuit boards. Sansui used a brown adhesive to stabilize the larger capacitors on the boards so they would better withstand the shock and vibration of shipping. Unfortunately as the adhesive continued to out-gas and dry to a brittle state, it becomes hydrophilic and begins to absorb moisture from the atmosphere creating galvanic corrosion of the surrounding components.

The good news is the boards in the AU710 are all single sided, so none of the PWB wire traces are affected. I carefully scraped away the offending adhesive and replaced any damaged components. This was required on both power amplifier driver boards and the power supply/protection boards. Once all that was taken care of, the unit was reassembled and tested. After allowing the amp to warm up by playing a cd for about an hour, I set the bias current in the outputs and reattached the cover.

The most recent project on the electronics bench is a MCS-3275 stereo receiver. This particular unit was made by NEC. The black face NEC version is model number AUR 8075.

While not as nice as the Sansui, this is still a formidable unit at 75 watts per channel, plus it is a big fancy silver dial unit that most of us remember from the 1970s. The final PA power transistors were shorted in the left channel. These are obsolete NEC devices; 2SDA588 and 2SB618. I replaced these with ONSemi MJL3281A and MJL1302A. These are much more rugged, but it did require some modification to the heatsinks and the mounting scheme. I also replaced the driver transistors and recapped both boards. If this repair is successful I will then recap the rest of the unit.

Update On My Activities.

Back in June, my assignment with the temp agency came to an end. So, what have I been doing, you might ask? Well I have been keeping myself very busy. Come along and let's have a look at what I do when I am allowed to run amok.
I spent some time working out in the garag....Er...Ugh I mean shop, and built this neat little adjustable box joint jig from plans in a magazine I have been holding on to for about 20 years. Mine was built from whatever stock I had on hand, so it is not as pretty as the varnished maple version in the magazine, but is every bit as functional. I made a test joint on some scrap and was able to stand on it without the joint breaking.

 I have also been able to get some paint on some of the parts from the old DeWalt model GR Radial arm saw I have been restoring. For those just tuning in, this old beast was built in 1948 and swings a 14" blade. The old girl is 3 phase, so I will need to build a rotary phase converter, but not to worry; I will take lots of pics and provide a bunch of details so anyone that wants to play along at home can join the fun.

I have also started building a dust collection system for my smaller radial arm saw. It consist of an angled box that mounts behind the blade. There will be a narrow slot at the rear and a tapered chute where the vacuum will attach. The idea is to keep the vacuum slot at the rear narrow so the flow velocity remains high. Initially this will simply be screwed together without glue so that I may make changes as needed. If this initial design does not work well, I will open up the throat in the back so that gravity can assist with the dust collection.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Some Things I like.

Today I took some snapshots of some of the things I like. Mostly it's things that work well and get the job done. None of them are particularly valuable, but they are priceless to me because they work well.

One is my old radial arm saw. It's an old DeWalt made in 1958. I got it for free, as it was destined for the landfill if no one wanted it. I took it, cleaned it up and have been using it ever since. Sure, I have more modern tools that are more powerful, but the little DeWalt is so darn handy to use that it calls to me often for a variety of task.

Another favorite is my old Gravely Model LI two wheel tractor. Made in 1971, this is a design that dates back to the 1930's. Heavy castings with a pressure lubricated gear drive, this little tractor is built to last. Gravely built this same basic model until about 2006. I haven't found any grass or brush this machine can't handle. It can even handle saplings up to 2". Every time I use it it pleases me and I am always a little sad when I think that these great machines are no longer made.

My little white GE radio is another one of the simple little things that I enjoy every time I turn it on. A cheap little AA5 tube set, it was a cheap little radio when new, and still is not worth much, but I like it a lot. I replaced all the old electrolytic caps and the wax paper caps, about 18 years ago, and she never lets me down.

Briggs & Stratton engines are another favorite of mine. Cheap, simple little aluminum motors that always seem to respond well to a little maintenance and care. My oldest mower is over 25 years old and still works like new. My latest is a trash picked mower built in 2008. Cleaning out the carburetor and gas tank fixed her up and I even gave her an oil change. I've never liked the foam air cleaners the cheap ones use. They are a wet filter and tend to clog easily, requiring lots of cleaning. I decided to add a dry pre-filter to mine. It's just a scrub pad from the dollar store cut to fit. I like the cheap ones because they are thin. So far it is working well.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Blogger Silence

Warning! Rant ahead. I was recently told that today is Blogger Silence day or some such non-sense, in response to the disastrous events recently in Japan. Now, don't misunderstand and think I am uncaring. I really do feel bad for the misery inflicted upon the Japanese people by recent events, but remaining silent, or having a Blogger Silence day does nothing, but make a bunch of self appointed net-nannies feel important and morally superior to others. Therefore, I am officially calling "Bullshit" by blogging away as normal. If you wish to do something to help Japan, then I would suggest doing something tangible such as a donation to the Red Cross or other reputable international aid agencies. If I hurt anyone's feelings, then perhaps you should walk away from your computer and stand in the rain with a candle and sing a sad little song.

On a brighter note, While out for lunch the other day, I happened to notice some plants in bloom around an empty lot where an old house once stood. I took a few minutes from lunch to walk around and shoot a few pictures. There were daffodils, flowering almond, spirea, hawthorn, and forsythia. Further back on the property were the remnants of an old apple orchard. The old plants were still putting on quite a good show almost coquettish in there display. It looks like the property may soon be developed. Sort of a shame to see it turned into another strip mall or some other example of suburban sprawl. I went back the next day and got some cuttings to try and root. Enjoy the pics.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Something from the shop.

I've recently been going through some of my things out in the radio room and came across this little analog multimeter. I picked it up at an AWA meet a few years ago for $5.00. A very well made little Bakelite meter with a mirrored scale. Reasonably good impedance for an old analog job; 30000 ohms/volt DC, 15000 ohms/volt AC. I'm sort of a sucker for a mirrored scale so I had to bring the little guy home. The little meter works just fine and looks like new inside and out. There are no maker's marks anywhere to be found; just "Part Number 145-0254" and sn 772. This meter looks to be typical of the high quality Japanese electronics that began flooding the US market in the 1970s. I wonder where it came from? Was it a kit, something from a correspondence course, or just an inexpensive meter from one of the many mail order houses that catered to hams and electronic hobbyist? I may never know, but it sure has been fun wondering and doing a little searching. Pretty good fun for only $5.00.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Made In the USA. It matters

Today I needed to purchase a water pump for one of our vehicles. I went down to the local Advance Auto Parts store since one is only a couple miles from the house. Once the clerk had looked up the part, I asked where it was made. Her reply was Taiwan. I told her I did not want Chinese or Taiwanese parts for my car and asked if there were any USA made parts available. Her reply was no and that's just how it is in this country now. I declined to purchase the parts and went to their competitor Auto Zone. Much to my delight, Auto Zone had a new USA manufactured part available and it was $1.00 less than the Advance part. I simply refuse to put Chinese parts on any of my vehicles. Yes, there are some good Chinese suppliers and they are getting better every day, but for every good supplier there are thousands of bad or terrible ones. I simply have no way to tell what the qualification standard are for a parts store vendor. In Advance defense, Taiwanese manufacturers tend to be considerably better than the mainland manufacturers, but still it is not a North American manufactured part. If you are at all concerned about the reliability and safety of any replacement parts, then it pays to ask. I have even gone to the trouble of purchasing some parts directly from the auto dealer in order to get the quality and performance I desire.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Urban Homesteading! Suburban Homesteading!

Like many folks these days we are trying our best to economize. Of course economizing ties in well with the concept of Urban Homesteading, or in our case suburban homesteading. We try our best to re-use, re-purpose, or recycle as much as we can. Almost no food is allowed to spoil or waste. Leftovers are sent out as lunch the next day and any other leftover bits and pieces are incorporated in new dishes or new meals. Anything that cannot be consumed is recycled into compost for the garden. Glass containers that can be re-used for canning are cleaned and set aside for blackberry jam, green tomato chow-chow, and canned tomatoes. Currently we have several beds in hard-neck and soft-neck garlic varieties. It won't be long now before we are setting out tomato plants and other garden delights. I've also been trying to figure out a way to keep some chickens without being discovered by the neighbors. I would love to have some backyard poultry to have my own supply of fresh eggs like the ones we periodically get from my in-laws, but it is currently against city ordinance to keep backyard poultry. Keeping a few birds would be very beneficial to the suburban homestead for the protein as well as the nutrient rich litter for the compost pile. If any of you have any good ideas on flying under the city radar with around five birds, I would love to hear about it.

On our morning walk, we decided to just walk along the power line right of way that runs between the neighborhood and the Congaree Land Trust nature preserve. Along the right of way there is an area where some folks from the neighborhood have been dumping yard debris that caught my attention. Now normally it would anger me to see this illegal dumping, but one of the unintended benefits of this activity is the brushy undergrowth that has taken over this area is providing good habitat to the local wild bird population. In just a few minutes I was able to spot over a dozen small birds taking advantage of the cover provided by the brush, so even though this spot may look a bit untidy, it is an important part of the local wild bird habitat. Along the way, we also spotted a very nice brushy plant in full bloom that looks very similar to spirea along with some yucca that were discarded by some local homeowner. Then it was on to the neighborhood streets and back home.

Thanks for visiting.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A sewing machine named Faye

Several years ago we spotted a sewing machine on the side of the road in a trash pile. Being one that can never walk away from perfectly serviceable machinery, I had to stop and save it from the dump. If it's free, it's for me. The first thing I noticed was the weight. This thing is heavy! Lots of iron castings and steel. The machine is a Morse, one of the Japanese machines popular in the '60s and '70s. Sometime during it's history, someone etched Faye in the main casting, so we've decided she is the Morse named Faye. Faye was completely locked up and rather grimy. With some WD-40, sewing machine oil and elbow grease, I got it working again. The wooden base was falling apart, so I made some replacement pieces, and glued that back together. Life then got in the way and Faye was set aside while other projects and task took our time. Recently we pulled her out again and did another cleanup and lube. Soon she was ready to work again. Somehow, I just couldn't see putting her back in that ugly old base and grimy case, so I recovered the base with some imitation leather, repainted the hardware, and gave the case a thorough scrubbing. I think she turned out rather nice. I think she has earned a space in the sewing room as a backup machine. A little research turned up some interesting facts. The old Morse machines were actually made by Toyota. Yes, the same Toyota that now builds quality automobiles. It seems that part of the MacArthur recovery plan after WWII, was to convert the Japanese war machine to the production of consumer goods for the US and European markets. Sewing machines were identified as one such consumer good that would be in demand, providing a ready market for the Japanese manufacturers. There is a Yahoo group called vintagejapansewingmachines dedicated to these old Japanese machines. It is simply amazing to view all the different brands colors and styles that were imported. Enjoy the pictures of Faye.

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About Me

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Midlands of South Carolina, United States
Husband, Father, Quality Engineer, Electronics Professional, and tinkerer. Facinated by old technology and well made old tools. Old iron is good.