Art of the Hands

Time to Tinker

Month: March 2018

Solar Balloon Part 5-Up, Up, and Away!

The day is finally here, the day that we have been dreaming of for months now. It was time to fly our solar balloon! The sun is hot, the wind is present but manageable, and the skies are clear. We arrived at a local park at about noon on Saturday and immediately started filling up the balloon with an nervous excitement that is to be expected with a maiden voyage. The wind was slightly gusty so while we were waiting for the wind to die down, we scoured the surface of the balloon, patching any holes we could find. Because the wind was blowing decently strong so we were forced to hold the balloon down in an effort to limit the pull the wind had on the large surface of the balloon, however, as a result, we couldn’t get a good idea of exactly how much lift was being generated. In fact, we were considering refilling the balloon with hot air to try to boost the lift a little higher. We honestly didn’t think it would fly very well, not with the thermal test from last week and the amount of air that had leaked out of the balloon by this point. By rough estimate, the balloon was only about 3/4 full when the wind finally let up enough for us to give it a test flight. We made sure the balloon was tied to the fishing line which was attached to the fishing pole we used to control the balloon while it was in the air, and it was time for a test!

When we finally let the balloon go, it beautifully formed into a sphere and instantly started rising, much faster then our last balloon did. We knew that we needed to keep the balloon under 300 feet for legal reasons so after only going up maybe 200 feet, we locked the fishing line so it wouldn’t fly any higher and that is when it happened.

Disaster struck!

At first, I didn’t know what happened but it soon became apparent that our fishing line broke and as a result, we had lost control of the balloon. In hindsight, using a small Gage fishing line to hold a balloon designed to lift at least several kilograms was not a very smart idea, but this balloon was about the same size as our last balloon and that sting had handled the stress beautifully so we didn’t think anything about it. In desperation we chased after our balloon as it continued to rise, hoping that it would sink to an altitude that we would be able to recapture it. It quickly became apparent that not only were we not running fast enough to catch the balloon, but it had no intentions of returning to the earth anytime soon. Even chasing it in a car would not have been plausible as it quickly rose higher and higher, quickly shrinking unto the blue sky, leaving us with nothing to do but take pictures.

Our feelings at this moment were very mixed as the balloon worked much better then either of us had predicted it would. As I said earlier, just before we released the balloon, we were about to go reinflate it with hot air to try to make it fly better. The fact that it had enough lift to break our line was exciting because that meant that our balloon was working as good, if not better then intended. That feeling was mixed however as we were watching over 7 hours of hard work float away into the sun.

The experience was not a total waste either because we now know that, while a sphere generates the most lift of all the shapes we could have used, it is not the easiest to make. Andy has, on his own, make rectangular balloons of similar size in only a few hours while a sphere took two people over 7 hours to complete. Also, we now know that we need a stronger rope to hold our balloons how with. Right now we are researching the possibility of using paracord or deep sea fishing line for our next balloon. In the meantime, however, we got to enjoy watching our balloon shrink into a dot in the distance and then finally disappear in the clear blue sky. I hope you found this post interesting, we will be doing more building in the next Solar Balloon post so if you are interested in that then I hope to see you in the next one. Untill then, Happy Tinkering!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

A little while ago I was digging through my grandparent’s shop and I found an old hammerhead that was completely covered in rust and in some serious need of TLC. Other than the rust, the hammerhead was in excellent condition and just needed a new handle to become functional again. While I was holding this rusty project, I was reminded of a technique for removing rust that I had seen several times on youtube videos that I had always wanted to try. The technique was to soak the rusted part in vinegar for a few days, with the idea that the acid would eat away the weaker rust, and leave you with a rust free hammerhead. The technique didn’t seem too difficult so I decided to give it a try.

The hammer is an 8 lb. mallet head and so I knew that I would need a lot of vinegar cover the part completely. for this project, I went and bought a large container of regular white vinegar and a plastic container with a lid that would be big enough to hold the entire hammer without being so large that I would waste vinegar. The main process of this experiment was easy to accomplish as it just required that I submerge the hammerhead in the vinegar for an extended period of time.

The container that you see in this picture ended up not being waterproof which is why I ended up buying the new container, but here you can see just how rusty the hammer was before this process. I ended up soaking my hammer for about a week in the vinegar, however, the exact time depends on the amount of rust you are removing. if you just need to make the rust easier to remove and you don’t want to damage the metal than I would recommend soaking your project for only a few days, but if you need a deep clean than a week of a month may be more applicable. The longer you soak your project, the more material will be removed. A week worked well for me because it was at that point that the vinegar started to be discolored, which doesn’t have any effect on its acidity but at that point I was unable to monitor the acid’s progress anymore so I figured that it might be time to at least take it out of the vinegar and take a closer look. One interesting thing I noticed while checking the progress throughout the week is the number of bubbles that were forming on the surface of the hammer. each bubble was small, but there were hundreds of them and they were constantly rising from off the hammer. I don’t know what the bubbles were made of, but it was cool to look at.

By the end of the week, as you can see the vinegar had turned a muddy color and the metal already was looking much cleaner. The discoloration is likely due to the vinegar dissolving the iron oxide, or the rust, and so inheriting the reddish color as a result. what surprised me the most was what the hammer felt like after I took it out of the vinegar.

The rust came off in flakes so easy that you could remove it with just your finger, and the whole hammer was slippery. seriously, much of the hammer was covered in a slime of some sort that gave it a slippery texture which, coupled with the flaking rust and the 8 lb. mass, made the hammer surprisingly hard to hold on to. I must warn you that cleaning this hammer was a very messy process, but not for the reason that you would expect. While the vinegar mostly dissolved the rust, it also removed some of the iron and the result was a black residue that made a mess of the sink and scrubbers that I used.

If you try this process yourself, it would be a good idea to only use cleaning equipment that either is never going to touch anything that needs to be food safe or only use cleaning equipment that needs to be retired anyway so you can replace them after cleaning the rust. I don’t know if that black residue is food safe or not but I would rather not risk it.

This project turned out to be surprisingly easy to do and extremely effective at removing rust from unwanted metal objects. Above you can see a before and after comparison that I think says it all. One interesting side effect of using acid to clean this hammer is that left the surface of the hammer full of miniature holes, likely where there were imperfections in the metal that melted away leaving tiny holes in their stead. I hope you enjoyed this project, I learned a lot from it and really enjoyed playing with acid, even if it was only vinegar. good luck with your projects and Happy Tinkering!

Solar Balloon Part 4-lets get to building

Now that all the math and production procedures are all worked out, it is finally time to start building my first solar balloon. The first thing that We needed to work out was how we were going to cut out the pattern correctly. We brainstormed using a projector and tracing that line to make out the pattern. This idea was quickly disregarded because the scale needed and the relatively small work area we would be working in made us doubt that any projector has an area of vision that big. Even if it did, both me and andy agreed that there would likely distortions in the pattern as we got to the end of the image so a projector was out of the picture. The only thing we could think of that would let us duplicate a shape big enough was to use some kind of a template. This idea also had problems because of the sheer size we are talking about. In case you don’t remember from some of my previous posts on the solar balloon, our solar balloon is designed to be 10 feet across and so, if we do the math, we need a template about 5 feet wide and 15 feet long. Funny thing, you cant go down to a craft store and pick up a 15-foot long template for a sphere, that kind of thing is just not made anywhere we could find. because of this, we were forced to make our own. our first idea was to get an image from the internet and then printing it ours on a mega scale printer located in the printer of the library where we both go to school. Turns out trying to print a piece of paper this big would cost us over 100 dollars, which is obviously out of the question for a build that is supposed to be a very cheap project. Finally, we got the idea (from my Mom) to use a painters drop cloth. a quick trip to LOWES found us with a piece of plastic measuring about 10 feet wide and 20 feet long, just the right size for our template.

The next challenge was to put the pattern on our template. We couldn’t use a projector, for reasons mentioned earlier, so we decided to the math and draw the shape ourselves. Because we decided to make our balloon out of pieces of this template, all we needed to do was a little math and in no time we had ourselves a template. we folded the plastic in quarters just to expedite the cutting process and made sure to include a hole in the bottom so we could fill it up with air before take off.

With the template ready to go, we started an assembly line with Andy making giant sheets of plastic by fusing about 8 disassembled trash bags into one giant sheet which I then used the template to cut the sheets into balloon parts. In case you were wondering why there is a hole in the nose of our template, that was an accident where we accidentally melted our sheet of plastic to the template and was forced to cut that part away from the template and plastic sheet in order to separate the too. As an upside, the template now looks like a rocket ship!

After we completed six of these balloon parts, the next step was to fuse them into a sphere. To tackle this, me and Andy set up a system to make creating a 3D object on a 2D floor easier. we started joining each section by first joining the middle and then moving to the nose (where the hole is in the template) with Andy fusing while I was putting each piece in place so they would be ready for fusing. once we reached the nose, we then repeated the process moving about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way down the tail. We didn’t completely finish it for reasons that will soon become clear. with one side of the plastic balloon part fused, we repeated that process five more times until finally, we were at the final seam. Because this seam was the one that closed the balloon making into a sphere, we needed a different plan of attack for how to finish this. What we finally decided on was Andy was going to crawl into the balloon and I was going to drag the cloth over his back so he could position it for fusing. I was also in charge of making sure he had enough air to breath as neither of us thought to bring a fan for ventilation.

This image is a picture of Andy inside the balloon and hopefully, this shines some light on just how big this thing was. With this final seam, we started at the nose and worked our way back until we got to the tail and this is where leaving the remainder of the tail’s unfused was a good idea because it created a hole big enough for andy to work in. Once andy was out of the balloon, the only thing left to do was fuse the tails and give it a test.

In case you still haven’t gotten the scale of this balloon, your tallest friend could, if we made a hole for him, crawl inside this balloon and stand straight with feet of clearance between their head and the top of the balloon. Also, if you were wondering why were wearing hearing protection, my boss was amazing and let us use one of the backpack leaf blowers that we use for work and it is was so powerful that it filled the balloon in just minutes while still running on idle. There was hardly any sun that day so we didn’t really expect to get it flying but we still wanted to see it inflated and get some information about how hot it was inside the balloon even with almost no sun. when we inflated it, we found that our method of fusing had malted dozens or hundreds of holes in the ballon of various sizes that all needed to be taped together so it would be mostly airtight. also, we tested the temperature difference between the outside air and the inside air and came to about 5 degrees of temperature. This was worrying because our math had said that a balloon this size should be lifting almost 1 kilogram with only 2 degrees of temperature difference but in hindsight, the fact that the balloon was not flying yet was not entirely surprising because of 2 reasons.

  1.  the balloon was probably slightly smaller than we intended it just due to manufacturing imperfections that were unavoidable
  2. The balloon was not full of air like the math required, it was probably only 80% full at the time we measured the temperature so the total lift would have been reduced because of that

Though this result surely surprised and worried us, we soon found that this was not going to be a problem in the slightest. If you remember, one of the purposes of this balloon was to decern an approximant temperature difference we will be getting in our balloons so we have a base for our future calculations. Because of this, we over-engineered this balloon so that it should work in almost any condition, and indeed we will see in the next Solar Balloon post that our earlier concerns were unfounded.

I hope that you have enjoyed this post. If you are attempting to build one of these Balloons yourself than plan for this build to take you multiple hours to complete, it took us approximately 10+ hours split over two days, so plan for either more people or similar build times when you do yours. Either way, I hope this post was helpful for you and until next time, Happy Tinkering!

Solar Balloon Part 3-Time to Melt stuff

This week me and Andy wanted to start construction of a new solar balloon using the new numbers that we had run in the last solar balloon post. one of the things that we bost agreed was the downfall of the first solar balloon was the weight added by all the tape used in construction and patching or holes. Because of this, we wanted to see if we could find a new and lighter way to seal everything together. We wanted to see if we could get a method of fusing the plastic together to work. The idea is that we would use heat to make both layers of plastic melt slightly so when they cooled back down they would be melted together and therefore fused without adding any of the weight that would come from using tape.

Because one of the major design goals for this balloon is to keep the cost at a minimum, we have decided to build our balloon, at least for now, out of cheap plastic trash bags. One of the advantages of this is they have a very low melting temperature making fusing easier. The next thing we needed was a heat source. We decided to try a cheap iron like the one that can be bought at Walmart for ironing your clothes. we went with this because it has multiple heat settings that will help us to while in on the ideal heat for fusing but not melting the plastic.

the next thing that we needed to address was the rate at which the heat was being transferred to the plastic. Even at the lowest setting, the iron can easily melt straight through the plastic if you are not careful. We received a tip that placing a layer of parchment paper between the plastic and the iron will help to slow the heat transfer rate to a degree that it becomes more manageable.

With all this together, all that was left was to find the exact temperature setting for our iron. If you are going to be duplicating this technique for one of your own projects then keep in mind that not only will your iron be behaving differently but also the heat required to melt different plastics is drastically different so you will need to find your own heat settings for your situation. what worked for us was to turn the heat all the way up then take one or two quick passes over where you want to fuse the plastic together. Any longer and the plastic ends up melting holes in itself and any colder and the two layers don’t actually fuse. done right and you end up with a lightweight bond with few to no holes and yet just as tough if not tougher then the original plastic.

I hope this post was interesting and helpful to you. We certainly learned a lot about it and super excited to start building the mid-scale balloon very soon. until then, good luck with your own projects and Happy Tinkering!

*A note from future me. Though this technique of fusing did work, we found that it still had some major flaws that will need to be worked out before going full scale. I will be talking about some of these in the next Solar Balloon post but keep in mind that this is not a perfect technique and so feel free to experiment on your own to see if there is a better option that we haven’t thought of yet.

Paracord Rescue Belt

A long time ago I was in need of a new belt but I didn’t want a boring generic belt so I decided to make my own. Right around this time I discovered the world paracord bracelets and had been experimenting with making some of my own and was always disappointed with the amount of rope each bracelet held. Each bracelet holds about 10 feet of rope which would be extremely valuable in a survival situation but I figured that where 10 feet could be good, 100 feet would be better. And so, I bought 100 feet or paracord and started tying. This is a link to some instructions on how to make the knot that I used so if you want to make this yourself I would highly recommend looking at that as he explains things way better than I would be able to. I chose this knot over any of the other knots out there because it only uses one strand of rope so I could fit a solid 100 feet of rope around my waist without cutting it. It also is a quick untie knot which is important in a survival situation. Some of the other more popular knots used in paracord survival bracelets claim to be a “quick release” knot but I have tried untying them and it takes a pair of pliers and lots of time to do, defiantly not easy and absolutely not a good survival knot.

To start my project I needed to choose a rope type and color. Because the knot I am using only uses one strand of paracord, the final belt will be one solid color and so I needed a color that would work well on its own. I also wanted to be able to use this belt as my church belt so my color choice was limited to either black or brown. I chose black partially because it is easier to find in long sections but also because black matched the black belt buckle that I salvaged from my last belt. Aside from the color, I decided to use 550 paracord which has a minimum breaking strength or 550 lbs, hence the name 550 cord. The rope also has seven internal nylon strands that can be removed for fishing string, bowstring, tent string ext. meaning that for any emergency survival situation meaning that I would have a maximum of 800 feet or differently sized rope tied around my waist at all times.

Tying the knot proved to be very easy once I got the hang of it.

I made my belt 5 strands wide (even though in this picture it looks only 4 strands wide, the way the knot works it is actually 5 wide) which ended being almost too big to fit into a belt loop so you may want to try 4 strands wide and see how that works for you. If you want to make this belt you should use this kind of belt clasp. The idea is that you push the prong (the straight bit) through the weaves of the knot that the belt is made of. A friction type belt buckle might still work but I personally have my doubts. another option is to use a traditional clasp but those will probably break faster and it will only give you one size in your belt so I chose to not go this route.

Once you get the rope attached to the belt buckle, the next step is to just start tying. My belt uses 100 feet of rope and fits my 220 lb frame with about 5 feet of wiggle room. If you are extremely skinny then 80-90 feet might work for you best while if you are fatter or just like a lot of extra belt length than try 120 feet of rope. Keep in mind that if you have extra rope when you get done tying then you can easily just cut it shorter but if you have to little rope then you get to untie the whole belt and start again with a longer strand. Also remember that this belt is going to be thicker than a leather one so it will likely be a tight fit to squeeze the belt twice through a belt loop, however, that also means you don’t need to worry about it accidentally coming out of your belt loop which is why only having enough extra to just reach the first belt loop has worked for me quite well.

Once you have gotten the belt to your desired length then it is time to tie it off. because you want to be able to disassemble this belt with minimal to no tools you must be careful with how you end this belt

at the end of your last loop, if you cut the excess rope very close to the body of the belt, then you can melt the remaining excess away with a lighter as you seal the end of the rope. By smoothing the molten plastic with a wetted finger you can get a flush, smooth end to the belt that can be removed by scraping it against a rock or cutting it with a pair of scissors.

Once you get done you should be left with a professional quality belt that will last longer than most storebought belts will. I have been using my belt for the last 5 or so years and the belt is still holding strong, while it is the metal clasp that is actually wearing out. in addition to lasting a ridiculously long amount of time, this belt can be unraveled in minutes to produce 100 feet of potentially lifesaving rope strong enough to support your weight, and yet still looks amazing, even when worn in conjunction to a full suit. It also passes under the radar remarkably easily so most people would never know you had it on, and those who do are always extremely impressed. In all, I would absolutely recommend that you make one of these for your self! this belt was made with survival in mind but with some different knots, you could have a lot of fun with different colors and patterns that would work with every wardrobe. I hope this post was interesting for you and I hope that you do make one of these for yourself! until next time, Happy Tinkering!

Wood work

Lately, i have been missing my woodworking shop. luckily for me, about a week ago we were clearing some bushes called Russian olive trees. it is an obnoxious tree with thorns about an inch long and extremely painful. We were removing one of these trees and I asked my boss if I could have the base of the tree where it is the thickest and spikeless. I have had this in my bedroom waiting for about 3 weeks taunting me to do something with it and I finally decided what I was going to do. Thanks to all these blogging posts I have accumulated a large collection of assorted drill bits with nowhere good to keep them. I, therefore, decided that I would carve myself a catch-all drill bit chest.

I started this project by cutting off a smaller branch of wood from the main stump so I would have a manageable piece to work with. next, I recut the ends so they would be mostly parallel. then I cut the branch in half so that I could start carving

Once I had 2 halves, I used a chisel to carve out a cavity for the drill bits to be put in. this took a long time and there are a few things I would recommend if you wanted to try this on your own.

  1. First, USE GLOVES. Seriously! I have been doing woodworking for a long time and I now have two new scars to add to my collection on my hands. the problem is that to carve wood like this takes a lot of force and that means that when the chisel does something that you don’t expect, it does it very quickly and with a lot of force. if you aren’t wearing gloves then I would not be surprised if a chisel could go into your hand enough to need stitches, but if you are wearing gloves then you should be fine. both of the new scars I got were because I was being dumb and was not wearing gloves. I got lucky but it is better to not take the risk.
  2. take small shavings. I know that it can be tempting to try to take a huge chunk of wood out in one pass with your chisel but this is a bad idea, for two main reasons. one reason is that it is easier to get yourself hurt like I talked about earlier, and second is it is very annoying to work around. you end up trying to clean up around the huge canyon that you have just carved in the middle of your workpiece and that is not only time consuming but also frustrating. take it from me, don’t get greedy and only cut small shavings at a time.

one thing that I should note is that this is going to take a while to do so make sure that you are prepared to spend multiple days on this project. This is something I should have done better because about the time that I finished half of the carving, I.E. I finished carving one of the halves of the toolbox, I got impatient and decided that I was done with this project, at least for the time being. I can carve the second half later but for now, I had already spent several Saturdays working on this and so I was ready to move on to another project.

to finish this toolbox I bought a hinge so the 2 halves can swing open like a proper toolbox. I also removed the bark because it was getting a bit torn with all the work I had spent on this piece already. I was a little bummed about this because I was hoping to leave the bark on so the final piece would have a woodsy/rustic feel, but sometimes the plan has to change.

In all, I am a little disappointed with how this turned out. Its probably just because I am used to working with power tools, not hand tools, and power tools can get a much cleaner finish with much smoother edges, but sometimes you make do. I will probably be adding feet at the end but for now, this is the final product.

I hope this blog was helpful to you in some way. one of the things that a lot of college students, like me, have to deal with regularly is the lack of prime materials or tools. however, if you have enough time and a small assortment of cheap hand tools you can still make everything that you want to without the need to buy an expensive power tool. Feel free to try this yourself! All you need is a piece of wood big enough and a little creativity and the world is yours. Thanks for joining me and Happy Tinkering!