Archives for : Preparedness

Headlamp Demonstration

Over the weekend, while working on my son’s Audi, we took a short break to compare the headlight we are selling in the store with the other headlights we’ve used when working on cars. In a workshop situation or underneath a car, it is best if the lighting covers a broad area. Some of the lights we’ve used create a tiny, bright “hot” spot, which would be fine when hiking, running, or bicycling in the dark. In a workshop or breakdown situation, when you are working on a car you are looking at something that is quite close to your head, rather than a number of yards away. So, it is better to have a broader, more “volumetric” beam of light. The light we are selling in our store is ideal for these tasks. Check out the demonstration here:

If you’d like to get one of these for yourself or one of your loved ones (Christmas is coming!), check them out in our store. The price is good and shipping is free!

Whether you are interested in these products or not:

May the Lord bless you and keep you running on all cylinders!

Sump Pump Circuit

I was unhappy with my Basement Watchdog backup sump’s controller, so I built my own simple system to control the pump and keep the battery charged. I took some video of the effort and posted it on YouTube yesterday.

Yes, I know I need a better camera, lighting conditions, and the sound quality leaves much to be desired, but I still thought I should share what I made with you.

May the Lord bless you and keep you running on all cylinders!

Sale on Tri-Fuel Kits

I’m working on some diesel projects right now, and will post on them soon, but I needed to share this with anybody who is following my blog right away:

I need to make a quick plug for the guys at US Carburetion.  They currently have a sale on their motor snorkel kits.

I installed one of their older kits on my generator and I love it!  It can now be run on propane or natural gas, in addition to gasoline as fuel.

Consider a situation where the power is out in your county for a week or more.  Everybody who owns a generator will be running to the gas station every day or two and standing in line.  However, if you have a large propane tank or have natural gas piped to your house, you can run your generator from that supply while paying attention to other family and community needs that may crop up in an emergency.  I still wouldn’t recommend running a large 5kW generator all day and night (the bill could be astounding, and running generators at night during an outage might attract undesired attention), but this certainly would allow more flexibility in your preparations.

These newer kits are much easier to install that the older version I used.

I have no business interest in US Carb, I’m just a happy customer who wants to share some useful information!

Stringing With Lasers: Building and Calibrating a Better Tool

Taking Alignment Measurements

Once two parallel, vertical planes of light have been established, it is fairly easy to measure the distance from the rims to the light and determine the wheels’ angles.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, but I thought I should share this useful information.

In a previous post I mentioned that “stringing” is the classic method for do-it-yourself wheel alignments.  By creating two parallel planes of laser light, one on each side of the car, one can easily take measurements from points on wheel rims to those planes.  Using those measurements and a bit of trigonometry, one can easily determine how the wheels are pointed and make adjustments.

The first time I mentioned stringing with lasers, I used laser levels with gratings that fan the laser light out across a plane.  The fact that these lasers were attached to levels was irrelevant, except that I had a pair of them in my workshop and they had 1/4″x20 threaded inserts that allow them to be mounted on tripods.  So, I mounted them on some small tripods and then went through the laborious process of adjusting the light planes to be vertical and parallel to each other.  It’s a great idea, and better than tripping over strings stretched between jack stands, but the alignment process is still quite a pain!

Lasers Mounted on a 2x4

I mounted my laser levels to a 2×4 in order to ensure that they would remain aligned relative to each other.

Shortly after I wrote that article, I got a crazy idea and bolted both laser levels to a 2×4.  This would ensure that they would only require, at most, very small adjustments in the future (due to warping wood, or getting bumped around in the shop).  However, this was still a huge improvement in shortening my setup time.  Note that the calibration process mentioned below would work for any material that one might choose to use.

Realizing that wood isn’t the most stable, sturdy platform in the world, I chose to make a new alignment device from pieces of steel.  I would gain more assurance that there would be no changes in the alignment between the lasers from one alignment session to the next.  I would still do a quick check, though, to be sure!

Tubing Welded Together

Two 4′ pieces of 1″ square tubing were welded to each other, in order to get an 8′ long piece. The angle iron reinforcement at the center was also used to mount the level.

I had two 1″ square pieces of steel tubing that were each 4′ long.  I really wanted an 8′ piece of tubing, so I butt-welded them together and reinforced the center where they met with a piece of angle iron.  The angle iron wrapped around the square tubing.  In addition to reinforcing the steel tubing, the angle iron gave me a convenient place to mount a level.  I didn’t worry about getting the tubing perfectly straight, or ensuring that the angle iron reinforcement would be perfectly parallel to the tubing.  All of this would come out in the wash when the lasers were adjusted and the setup was calibrated.  The important thing was that the connections were solid and weren’t going to move.

Feet Welded On

A foot was welded onto one end of the tubing. Also, 1/4″ holes were drilled in the tubing on both ends to mount the laser levels with 1/4-20 screws.

On both ends I drilled a 1/4″ hole at 1″ from the end.  These were to mount the laser levels.  Later I measured from one level to the other and found out that the actual distance between the lasers would be 93 15/16″  I made note of this for calibration purposes later.

Then, on one end I welded on a piece of metal that was cut so that it would touch the ground in two places.  This forms two feet of the tripod that  supports the device.  I angled these two feet so that the laser levels would actually point upwards a bit.  The laser fans are somewhat wasted when almost half the light is pointed into the ground.  More importantly, they might not be wide enough to take measurements at a car’s rear wheels if the device is set on the floor close to the rear of the car.

The Third (Adjustable) Foot

A third foot was made from all-thread. The pointed end goes toward the ground and it is adjustable to level the device.

On the other end I drilled a 10 mm hole inboard of where the laser level would mount.  I cut a piece of all-thread and ground one end to a point.  This point would be the third foot in my tripod.  By using this piece with a pair of nuts, I can adjust the entire device to be level when it is in use.

I strapped an inexpensive level to the angle iron and used this to level the device.

I bolted the levels onto the ends of the device and started calibrating the system.

First, I pointed the device at my garage door from a distance of 13 feet.  This should place two vertical lines on the garage door, but of course I could easily see that some adjustment would be required.  First, I adjusted the third foot, to ensure that the level at the center of the device showed it to be level.

Adjustable Beams

The gratings on these laser levels can be adjusted. I wanted to make these light planes perfectly vertical.  Note that the laser level is purposely pointed in an upward direction.

The grating on the lasers can be adjusted on these levels to get the desired angle.  I placed a long construction level upright on the ground against my garage door.  By inserting shims underneath its bottom, I was able to get it to stand perfectly vertical.  I adjusted the laser fan on that side such that the line went straight up the edge of the construction level.

Without moving the device, I moved the construction level to the other line on the garage door and did the same.  Now I had two vertical planes, but I had to confirm that they were parallel to each other.

Measuring Between the Planes

Now that the planes of laser light are both vertical, I measure between the two with the device at a distance of 13′ from the garage door.  Yellow stick-on rulers are stuck to the door in a horizontal line just below the bottom hinge.

When taking my wife to a fabric store, once, I found stick-on rulers that can be used for measuring lengths of fabric on a table.  I stuck these to my garage door, starting at zero at the door’s center and working outwards horizontally.  They come in one-foot lengths, so I used several of these in each direction.  I used another ruler to look along each sticker’s length to ensure that the measurements weren’t drifting from inaccurate placement.  I used these for other alignment approaches in the past, but today I could use them to measure the distance between my laser light planes.  Earlier, I had measured the center-to-center distance (same as the left-side to left-side distance) between the laser levels at the point where they mount to the square tubing.  Now I confirmed that the distance between the planes was the same at the garage door.  Obviously, I needed to make some adjustments.  Once I had the measurement within 1/16″ (at 13′, this corresponds to 2/100 of a degree), I tightened the screws used to mount the levels and checked it again.

Then, I got out the construction level and checked that the lines on the garage door were plumb, again.

Completed Device

Here my completed alignment device has been painted, reassembled, and recalibrated. It is shown in position for doing an alignment on “The Silver Standard,” my TDI.

Now I have two vertical, parallel planes of laser light that can be used to “string” a car for alignment.  I normally place the device behind the vehicle with the laser light planes extending forward.  I then align the system with the car by making the planes as parallel to the rear rims as I can get it.  Of course, this is a good approach for cars without independent rear suspension.  Some commercially-available systems use a third laser mounted in the middle to align the system with the car’s center line.

This system has been accurate enough that I’ve completed alignments and didn’t have to re-center the steering wheel when I was done.

One key when using a ruler to take measurements from the rim to the light:  Keeping the plane of the ruler vertical, swing the ruler forward and backward a bit, to find the smallest measurement — this ensures that you are taking measurements that are truly normal to the laser light planes and not succumbing to optical illusions.

–Keep it straight!

Finally an Update! Free E-Book, Chickens Processed

Chickens Ready for Processing

I built a cover for my trailer to haul the 26 chickens for processing. Sorry about the bad photo. I should have taken a snapshot in daylight.

Sorry I haven’t posted in almost two months!  I’m still doing projects in diesel modification and preparedness, but I’ve been slow and I really haven’t written anything in a while.

The Job.  I found a path away from the military work I was doing and took it.  It turned out that this small company had been languishing in an undermanned spiral for some time.  So, I show up, try to fix what I can, and wind up working 12-14 hour days all of the time.

I’m looking at another opportunity.  My boss, a VP of the company, is aware of this.  He and some others have made an offer to make it more attractive for me to stay.  The other opportunity seems very attractive, though, and I think I’ll still take that when they make the offer.  I’m still thinking about it, though.

Meanwhile, I got over the hump on getting a quarterly review out, and chose to take today off.  I got caught up on a number of things and thought I’d start seeing what I can do to promote my book, again.

Chickens in the Freezer

Here we have 20+ chickens that now occupy my dedicated freezer.

The Book.  I’d like to announce that my book The Art of Diesel: Building an Efficient Family Hauler will be available for free this coming Friday through Saturday (25-27 July).  Go grab a free copy and be sure to write a review of the book on Amazon!  Also, if you buy the paperback version, you’ll get the Kindle version for free.

Chickens.  I’ve mentioned that this blog is about preparedness, so I’ll point out that we raised some 26 meat chickens from chicks and after ten weeks they were ready to be “processed.”  In fact, these breeds are so pitiful that if you don’t slaughter them right away they’ll start developing all kinds of other problems, including not being able to walk.  They are bred to get big fast.  We’ll look at some other breeds next time.

I didn’t get a good photo of what I did to my trailer, but I built a cover to haul them to the Amish ladies who do the processing at a low price.  Eventually we want to learn these skill for ourselves, but we don’t want the learning experience to be under the gun with more than 20 to do at a time.  We’ll make it a point to set a few aside, next time, and learn.  Or, we’ll get with some friends who process their own.

So, after ten weeks in a Darby Simpson-style chicken tractor (we only live about two miles from him, by the way), these chickens were ready to go.  We dropped them off early in the morning and picked up processed chicken ready for the freezer.  One guy commented that these were some very large chickens, and here’s a snapshot of our freezer stuffed with them.  They are very tasty and we feel comfortable about how/where they were raised.

Other Projects.  I have had to make some repairs and do some maintenance on my Jetta TDI that now has 266,000 miles on it.  I’ll take some time to post on that later.  I hope to make regular blog posts on this and the sister site: Core 4 Liberty  much more often.

–At least I’m starting to blog, again!


Generator Fun: Follow-Up

Kill-A-Watt at 60Hz

The generator needed to be adjusted to provide a correct 60Hz output. Here I’m observing the frequency as the furnace cycles, and only small changes are seen in the a/c frequency.

Early in the week I mentioned that I had some issues running my natural gas-fired furnace using my generator — which has been converted to run on natural gas as well.  Experimentation proved that there was something wrong with the power being provided by the generator.  My family was lucky that the lights came back on on Sunday night, as we’ve heard stories of people without power for up to 48 hours.  This is horrible when temperatures are in the negative teens and windchills are in the neighborhood of -30F (windchill will increase how much heat is lost through the walls of the house–by the same convective mechanism that affects your body).  I also talked with a few people who had power, but were still having issues with frozen pipes.

I thought about my technical problem during the week and considered my actions to determine the exact problem and make a correction.  First of all, I knew we needed more extension cords, so I stopped at a hardware store and picked some up, along with some cheap cord-wrap organizers and some water-tight cord connector covers — which were what we should have used for weather-exposed connections used to power heat lamps for chickens and rabbits. I picked up a heavy-duty 12-gauge cord long enough to reach from the generator to the furnace.

The generator had been left out and plugged into the natural gas line, in case we needed it again. Note that the ball valve before the quick-release was disconnected to avoid any natural gas leakage.  With my sled/shelter protecting it, I wasn’t worried about blowing snow or rain getting into the control unit or the gas metering system.  Because I live on a dead-end street in the boonies, only one (trustworthy) neighbor sees the side of the house where it was parked, so I wasn’t worried about theft.

On Saturday, when I had some time for experimentation, I fired up the generator and plugged my Kill A Watt meter into it.  The voltage was right at 120V, so that was OK.  I looked at the frequency of the alternating current, which should ideally be at 60 Hz.  I found that the output was actually at just over 63 Hz.  On a common, inexpensive, non-inverting generator like mine, the frequency is actually set by the speed that the engine is turning the generator head.

Engine Governor Adjustment

To get the alternating current’s frequency to the ideal 60 Hz, I had to adjust the governor on the engine, as shown here.

To adjust the frequency, I checked the throttle mechanism on the engine and found the governor.  This was easily adjusted with a Phillips head screwdriver.  The tip is to make adjustments while the engine is running.  On my generator’s Honda engine, turning the adjuster clockwise increased engine speed and A/C frequency.  I would expect other brands to be similar.  I slowly turned the adjuster counter-clockwise until the Kill A Watt indicated 60.0 Hz.  Then I observed it for about a minute.  Even unloaded, the frequency will wander +/- 0.5 Hz, and the key is to ensure that that the range centers on 60.0 Hz.  After a little more tweaking, I was ready to try running the furnace on the generator.

After letting my family know what I was doing (and waiting for a load of laundry in the washer to finish its cycle), I shut off all the power to the house using the master switch.  I wasn’t sure that other energy sources weren’t used for the thermostat or any other systems, so I decided to simulate (create) a full blackout.  I ran the cord into the furnace room, unplugged the furnace from the wall, and plugged it into the Kill A Watt meter which was plugged into the cord.  I was in contact with my son via walkie talkie, and asked him to turn up the temperature on the thermostat so that the furnace would kick in.

The furnace started right up with no complaints.  I heard the exhaust motor spool up first, followed by the ignition sequence and the main blower motor.  As the generator was loaded up, the A/C frequency stayed in the 59.5 – 60.5 Hz range.  I expected more fluctuation, and was favorably impressed with the result.  Further cycling showed that voltage was constant.

I’m satisfied that I’m ready for the next winter power outage.  I’d say “bring it on!” except that many others in the area aren’t prepared in this aspect and I’d like to see human suffering minimized.  The lesson I’ve learned is that a system with any level of complexity should be fully ops-checked before it is needed.  That’s obvious, but I hadn’t tried this out, and I wasn’t as ready as I thought I was.  Now my Kill A Watt meter will be kept with my generator supplies, in case further adjustments are needed.

-Be smart: Try not to learn things the hard way!

Cold Weather in Indiana: Generator Fun

Negative Teens in Indiana

Here’s a quick shot of the house this morning. I didn’t stay out there for very long!

It was fairly warm, with temperatures in the mid-30s (Fahrenheit) yesterday.  We had heavy snow in Indiana yesterday, with perhaps ten inches of depth.  As the sun went down, the snow continued, but the gusty wind was added as the arctic front came through.  This morning temperatures dropped into the negative teens and we will see a high today of nine below zero.

Hoosiers, for the most part, aren’t equipped or prepared for this kind of weather.  This wouldn’t have been a big deal where I was raised in Minnesota.  Everything is closed today, including the place where I work.

The coming snow and cold was something that everybody in Indiana was well aware of for the past several days.  Grocery stores were good places to avoid for their crowds and cleared shelves.  It wasn’t a scene of panic, but people around here sure rush to the store when a storm is announced.  Milk and bread are the first things to disappear.

Yesterday morning, as a wet, heavy snow was falling, we started noticing that our lights were flickering.  The area I live in is notorious for power outages.  If there is a thunderstorm, we are the first ones to lose power and often the last ones to recover.  This happened quite a few times earlier this year.  My family and I are well-practiced at rolling out the generator and running extension cords to where power is truly needed.

Quick-Release Fitting for Generator

The rubber hose that drops into the snow, here, is connected to a quick-release fitting.  The other end is connected to the generator.

Considering the possibility of long-term blackouts, the relative reliability of the natural gas system used to heat our home and water, and the cost of natural gas versus gasoline on a per-BTU basis, I decided that the generator should run on natural gas.  I purchased a tri-fuel (natural gas, propane, and gasoline) conversion kit for my generator and the necessary plumbing and hose fittings to make it work.  I put a tee and a quick-disconnect just after the meter on my house’s natural gas supply.  Now, as long as I have natural gas I can run my generator.

With winter coming, I saw that I could use the generator to power the controller and blower on my furnace; keeping the house warm.  This meant that heating my house would only require one grid to be functional, rather than two.  My furnace was hard-wired into the house’s power with only a breaker to disconnect it.  This makes powering the furnace difficult without a transfer box (perhaps I’ll get one installed later).  So, I added an outlet and rewired the furnace so that it plugs into it.  Now I can simply unplug it from the wall and plug it into an extension cord from my generator.

Generator With Sled/Shelter

The sled I built for moving the generator into position through the snow was used as a shelter to keep the snow out of the generator.

We had a based snow from a few days ago on the ground, heavy snow was falling, and the lights were flickering.  I started wondering how I’d get the generator through a foot of mushy snow to the location where my generator’s hose can reach the natural gas supply.  I recalled a pallet that my wife had left leaning against the back side of the barn, and thought about fashioning a sled.  I added some 1x4s with a 45 degree angle, some planks, and covered all of the gaps with shower board that I had laying around.  Voila!  I had a generator sled.

In the past, I’ve thought that I should build a shelter for the generator, so that it can be run in heavy rainstorms.  As I was building the sled, I realized that it could be placed inverted on top of the generator, in order to provide some shelter from the snow.  I added some sheets of Solex (leftover from a greenhouse project) to the sides of the shelter which would be exposed to the prevailing wind.

As predicted, the power went out.  Dragging the generator to the back of the house was one heck of a workout, as the sled could use more surface area for flotation; the generator and sled kept sinking in.  At every time I stopped to rest, my first movement as I restarted would basically lift the entire system to get it back on top of the snow, using the ramp I’d built into the front end.  It was a slow process, but it was possible due to the sled.

After dragging it through the snow, I rolled the generator off the sled into position.  I plugged the generator into the natural gas system and fired it up with no issues.  I agree with those who say they actually run better on natural gas than they do on gasoline.  I put the inverted sled on top and held it down with bungies.  Amazingly, it stayed in place, even with last night’s howling winds.  The snow buildup on top probably helped.

We ran extension cords everywhere, and I found out that the furnace wouldn’t fire up.  I experimented with multiple potential causes:

  • Bad ground?  Generators aren’t often grounded.  I thought the furnace was being fussy, so I grounded the system to the house’s ground and it made no difference.
  • Was too much natural gas being used by the generator to fire the furnace?  I shut off the natural gas supply to the generator and switched it over to gasoline, to find that it made no difference.
  • Adequate power?  This generator is rated at 8 kW peak, so I have no doubt that this would power the furnace which pulls a maximum of 12A (1.44 kW).
  • Inadequate extension cord?  I think this is it!

The startup transient must suck a lot of current when the blower starts up.  With the panel removed to troubleshoot the situation, I could see and hear the controller trying to start the blower.  It would blip the motor and stop right away.  The controller must have seen a momentary drop in voltage and reset each time.  I monitored a/c voltage with my multimeter and didn’t see the voltage drop, but it may have been too quick for my multimeter.  I think I need a better gauge of cord for this application, and will certainly ops-check it before we need it next time.

Thankfully, the power came back on at around 8:00 pm, but I know that many Hoosiers are without power with -30F windchill today.  My neighbors and I are OK, but this could be a real emergency for some.  It would have been tough for us, but in the worst case we would have moved to a single room, closed the door, and huddled around a space heater with blankets.  I would have to keep checking pipe temperatures in the basement to ensure that they were OK.

Good: We were well-prepared with stored food, LED flashlights, and candles.  We used our gas stove (lit manually with a handheld lighter) to heat water and vegetables to go with the home-grown chicken that my wife had been cooking in the crock pot all day.  Everybody simply dug in on what needed to be done.

Bad: I had made preparations for a situation like this, but hadn’t ops-checked the power system to see if I could really power the furnace.

Corrections:  We identified several things we need to do:

  • Get a good extension cord for the generator.  Installing a grounding rod would be a good idea, too.  Ops check the whole system.  Drag out my Kill-A-Watt, too, in order to characterize what’s happening.
  • Get more inexpensive extension cords.  Because we were worried about rabbits and chickens in the cold weather, we ran some 150′ of cords back to the barn’s greenhouse and chicken coop to run heat lamps.
  • I need some ski pants or other lower body covering.  Cotton jeans are a terrible idea when slogging through the snow.
  • We need a lantern to light up one room.  (We ordered a Rayovac SE3DLN on Amazon today.)
  • Eventually, we should consider warm weather clothing using open-cell polyurethane foam, based on the Phillips Arctic Living System (PALS).

Stay Warm!


Ham: VHF Antenna

Son With Slim Jim VHF Antenna

My son and I built this VHF (2m) antenna from copper pipe.

Why is my son posing with an object that resembles a trombone?  It is actually a homemade high-gain amateur radio antenna!

At my house we’ve been giving preparedness a higher priority, lately. Jack Spirco’s Survival Podcast puts it well, “Helping you live a better life, if times get tough or even if they don’t.”  I believe that Jack’s philosophy on what he calls “modern survival” is right on the spot, and his podcasts are excellent.

I’m concerned about SHTF scenarios, because I believe that an out-of-control government (whose extremes have been enabled by private banking cartel with the deceptive name of the Federal Reserve) has put this country in a precarious position. Both parties have taken us down a path that can easily lead to what Peter Schiff calls “The Real Crash.” Schiff believes that what happened in 2008 was only a blip compared to what is likely to come, and I agree with him.  Along with Austrian school economists, I believe that hard times are coming, and that no government decree will keep them at bay for much longer.

There are many things that families should be doing for preparedness. To name a few, these things include storing food, learning to grow food (including fruits, vegetables, and animals), learning to use and maintain firearms, stocking up on firearms and ammunition, figuring out how to get things done in a grid-down situation, and determining alternative means of communication.

I work 27 miles from my home in a county that appears on Mark Slavo’s article “Where You Don’t Want to Be When It Hits the Fan.” I work in Indianapolis in Marion County, the blue county appearing right at the center of the state of Indiana in that article’s map. 50% of the US population lives in the 146 counties that Slavo identifies. High population densities are a good thing to avoid.  I would avoid them, but a guy has to make a living!  Thankfully, my family doesn’t live in Marion County.

If “it” hits the fan, the chances are very good that I’ll be at work when it happens. The situation I worry about is one where roads are blocked, cellular communications aren’t functional, the grid is down, and I have no way of reaching my family. Walking 27 miles isn’t the worst part of these situations, it’s the fact that I’d have no way to communicate with my family so that I know they are OK and vice versa.

The solution to this is obvious in my view: ham radios. Some people mess around with CBs, GMRS, FRS, MURS, and a number of other systems for communication. Amateur radio is the best answer, though, primarily because FCC and ITU regs open up a wide variety of bands for hams to use legally worldwide, and the wavelengths / powers available may open up options for communications with people thousands of miles away. Like firearms, the use of ham equipment should be practiced in order to be effective. Like firearms, legal restrictions may make it difficult to practice the use of these bands, so it is worthwhile to get an FCC license.

My son and I used an online class from Ham Test Online to learn the basics and take practice tests. This tool was very useful, as we went to a local ham club to take our tests and both walked out knowing that we would be receiving our Technician licenses in a short while. When they came in, we found out that we have consecutive call signs, which is cool!

Currently, my son has a handheld Yaesu FT-270 2-meter transceiver that we gave him for his birthday last year (we are trying to give our kids gifts that are useful things rather than cute garbage). He was quite happy to get it, but the 5W output with a rubber duck antenna is pretty weak. He could step outside and go through a repeater ~7 miles away for long-distance communications, but we have to assume that the repeaters won’t be available if the grid is down. So, this year he is getting a 70W linear amplifier and the cabling, connectors, and power supply necessary to make it work. He still needed a good antenna, though, so we built one today.  We can run the amplifier from a car battery, and I’ll ensure he knows how to hook it up that way.

1/2 Inch Copper Components

The antenna was made from standard 1/2″ copper pipe intended for plumbing purposes.

We found the directions for making this antenna on Ham Universe, where it is called a “Slim Jim.” Apparently it has high gain in the horizontal plane, so this seemed like a great antenna to build. We measured off appropriate lengths of copper, cut them, polished the ends, sweated them together with flux and solder, and used PVC tubing to add some structure across the gaps.

I will follow this article up with another one soon.  When the equipment arrives for his birthday this week, we’ll take some photos showing how we set everything up.  We’ll be tuning this antenna to minimize his standing wave ratio (SWR) — ensuring that the power provided is actually be transmitted, rather than reflected back into the amplifier.  I’ll also let everybody know what kind of range we are able to get between my Suburban’s 50W unit and his boosted handheld transceiver (HT).

Son Cutting Tubing

My son had an opportunity to learn how to use a tubing cutter.

Son Sweating Pipe

My son had an opportunity to learn another valuable life skill: sweating copper pipe.

PVC and Zip Ties to Provide Support

We used some pieces of PVC pipe and zip ties to give the antenna more rigidity and ensure that the geometry wouldn’t changed, once tuned.

–Remember this: Preparation can and should be fun for the whole family!

Desiccant: A Better Solution

Gun Safe Desiccant Packet

This gun safe desiccant packet was fully saturated, turning the indicators pink. Was it ever blue, though? I don’t remember.

This post may seem pretty pedestrian, but keeping your documents and weaspons dry is vitally important!  Nobody wants to pull an important document out of a fireproof safe to find that it’s moldy, or find out that a valuable weapon has rusted!

Recently I had an issue with moisture in a safe where I keep important documents.  This was quite the surprise, because the safe is in a fairly dry place and hasn’t been exposed to anything unusual lately.  The safe has an airtight seal on it, too, so any moisture appearing in the safe must have come from inside.  I considered some of the other items as sources, but that doesn’t make sense.  I had placed some gun safe desiccant packets inside, and they had been overwhelmed by the moisture, turning the indicators pink.  The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if these had been pink, already, when I bought them.  I believe that the safe, itself, was the source of the moisture.  Being a fireproof unit, I’ve read that these use the boil-off of moisture in the lining — absorbing energy to protect the contents.  If you store anything sensitive to moisture in a fireproof (technically, they call it a “fire resistant”) safe, beware!

Desiccant Beads

I found this quart-sized container of color-indicating desiccant beads on Amazon for $16.  Note that I saturated a bead with water and taped it to the front of the container for reference.

I pulled some packets out of my gun safe, too, finding that they were always pink.  I cooked the desiccant packets in my oven at 200°F in order to dry them out.  This turned them all blue, and I have a funny feeling that this is the first time that I’ve seen them this color.  Could they have been saturated, already, when I bought them?  I don’t even remember when/where I bought them.  I decided, though, that I needed a better way to absorb more moisture.  As I considered options, I placed one of these “recharged” packets in my gun safe and saw it turn pink in just a couple days.  Yikes!

Cheap Walmart Containers

These containers, roughly 1/2 cup in size, were found on Walmart in a six-pack for $1.84.

So, more silica gel is better than less, right?  When I looked on Amazon, I found a gallon-sized container of silica gel beads for $20.  These weren’t treated to change colors based on water saturation, so how would I know when it was time to change them or dry them back out?  Then, I found quart-sized container of color-indicating desiccant beads on Amazon and it was Prime-eligible, and ordered it so that it would be here by this weekend, and it was.  Here’s where I found it: Advanced Tool Design Model ATD-7886 1 Quart Jar of Replacement Desiccant. While a one-quart jar for $16 sounds pretty expensive compared to a whole gallon (4x the volume) for $20, I really needed a visual indication of water saturation and realized that this amount of silica gel could probably fill a hundred of those little packets.

I read some online how-to documents about making bean-bags out of muslin, but then I wouldn’t be able to see the condition of the beads inside.  The only important aspect of these containers is that water vapor can reach the beads to be adsorbed (actually, this is the right term, rather than “absorb,” for what silica gel actually does).  It’s obvious that the solution didn’t need to be very complex.

Drill Bit & Desiccant Container

I drilled dozens of 3/32″ holes in these cups and filled them with desiccant beads.

I went to Walmart and found a stack of six of these small containers for $1.84.  I threw out the packaging too quickly, but in my judgement they each have an internal volume of about 1/2 cup.  They are probably used to pack salad dressing or other condiments in lunch sacks.  They were very cheap, so if the experiment failed I wouldn’t care.  I took them home, drilled dozens of holes in them that are smaller than the beads and filled them up with the silica gel.  I placed these in my safes, and we’ll see how that works.

–This appears to be a very cost-effective way of providing desiccant for the storage of papers and weapons!