Art of the Hands

Time to Tinker

Category: Projects

Solar Balloon Part 6-What next?

With our last balloon drifting through the stratosphere, it is now time for us to look forward to our next project.

The first thing to work on is obviously the quality of our tether rope. Just out of simplicity, I think we have decided to use paracord to hold out next balloon, partly because it is so light, and partly because it can hold so much weight before it brakes. We may also look into the possibility of a second safety line or an anchor that can act as a fail-safe, just in case.

The next thing that we will be changing is the design of the balloon itself. As I mentioned before, a sphere is a very good shape to use on paper, but the problem is it is very hard to produce, making the construction phase take far to long to complete. To try to solve this problem, we decided to change the shape into the cube. A cube is geometrically similar in shape to a sphere but is also much easier to produce. Another way we are going to make the building process easier is by increasing the size of our plastic. We decided to buy some painting drop cloth, which we will use to make the walls of our balloon. this way we only need to fuse two pieces of plastic instead of +50. Because our drop cloth is clear, we are also going to be covering the inside with black paint pigment. It can be bought at Walmart for an only a few dollars and can make our balloon black and so able to absorb the sun’s energy as well, if not better, then the trash bags.

The next modification we wanted to try is one that we have seen on professional balloons but have not tried ourselves yet. That is to put a clear balloon over the black one. This will help us because as the black balloon absorbs the sun’s energy, it will radiate that heat in two directions, in and out. The heat radiated in is already being collected by the black balloon but right now all the energy being radiated out is simply lost energy. By adding a clear balloon outside the black one, we can collect the energy being radiated out as well, increasing the efficiency of our balloon.

The final thing we want to add to our balloon is a black box. Though we do not intend to lose a balloon again, our last outing has taught us that anything can happen. Because of that, we decided to add a sensor package to our balloon so that if we do lose our balloon again, we can find it when it lands. Our box will have several sensors to help know what our balloon is doing at all times.

  1. A radio tower based tracker. This is similar to what professional weather balloons use, it allows us to track the balloon based on what radio signals are picking it up. We decided to use this tracking device because it is more versatile than a GPS tracker and is also cheaper.
  2. A camera. One of the main goals of our last balloon was to be able to hold a camera so we can take pictures from 300 feet, just because it would be cool. Because we still want to do this, we are getting a cheap Go-Pro and putting it in our balloon, so that as we fly we can record our flight and hopefully get some good pictures. we chose a Go-Pro because it is smaller and tougher then other cameras and so can survive an impact better. (Even though we hope it never will need to)
  3. An altimeter. Though we hope to never lose another balloon, we do want to prepare for the possibility. To accommodate that wish, we decided to track our height so if we do lose another balloon and we recover it, we can at least know how high we went.
  4. A thermometer. Because temperature is so important in calculating our lift, we decided it would be beneficial to add a thermometer to both measures the temperature of the air inside and outside the balloon. This way, we can start to get a better idea of what temperatures we should use in our future calculations.

Because finals are rapidly approaching, both I and Andy agreed that we were too busy to build our next balloon right away. When we do, these are some of the changes we will be making and hopefully, we will get another successful flight. Until then, good luck with your projects and Happy Tinkering!


I’m sure that all of us have experienced the frustration of headphones getting tangled on us, then getting broken because of it. I know that feeling because it happens to me all the time. Recently, I decided to try to fix my perpetual problem with a little bit of engineering.

One really common you I see people keep their headphones from getting tangled in their pockets is to wrap them around their fingers then tie it off like a piece of rope.

While I have used this technique does succeed in keeping your headphones untangled while they are in your pocket, I have found that it has a fatal flaw that will decrease the life expectancy of the headphones. That fatal flaw is the jack, in order to keep the knot from unraveling it must be tucked into the loops of the coil and as such is bent at a fairly severe angle. with repeated use, this stress point results in damage to the wiring and eventually a short, likely only in one ear. At least this is what kept happening to me.

Now I know that many cheap headphones will practically come from the factory with a short in them, but either way I wanted to make an apparatus to minimize the stress placed on the headphones, hopefully increasing their lifetime. With that in mind, I decided to grab some copper wiring I had laying around and make myself a copper whatyamacallit to solve my problem.

The result is basically a small, wire, Christmas light holder. The loop in the middle is so I can catch my earbuds and hold them together while I wrap the wiring around the prongs. The gaps in the wiring are also strategic as they allow me to remove my headphones without unthreading my headphones completely.

The key feature of this device is how it keeps the wire from unraveling. Instead of relying on a knot to keep everything secure, it instead uses the pressure created by squeezing the headphone jack between the wiring of the prong and the headphone wire itself. The friction is strong enough to keep the wiring from unraveling, and the way it grabs the headphone jack allows for the wiring to be kept nearly straight. Because the wiring is fairly straight, there are no concentrated stress points that will fail faster than the rest of the wiring. as a bonus, the rigid frame from the wire also helps to keep the headphones from getting bent while in your pocket.

I don’t think that this is a perfect system, I do think that it is better than the alternatives. I have only been using my apparatus for only a month or two so I don’t know if there is a failure point that I haven’t seen yet, but I think that my headphones will likely die from work before they die from my pocket, and that was the goal anyway so I am happy with that right now.

I hope that you have enjoyed this post. If you want to repeat this project, then don’t worry about being exact, all you need is some wire, some safety equipment, and some needle nose pliers. make a general shape that you are happy with and then test it. you will probably need to make modifications to do that and once you are happy with your design then cut away the excess wire and voila, you’re done. Have fun with this simple little project and I will see you in the next one. Till then, Happy Tinkering!


With the approach of spring and the reappearance of nice weather, I have started to have a hankering for hiking again. In that spirit, I have decided to do a project with a hiking theme today. I hope you enjoy!

You may or may not know this but I have celiac disease which means that I cannot eat gluten at all. Gluten, for those who don’t know, is a protein inside wheat and is often used as a bonding agent in many cooking recipes and as such, there is a lot of foods that I cant buy store bought, I have to make them. In the last few years, there has been an increase in store-bought foods that actually taste good and don’t cost a fortune, but there are still some foods that this still isn’t the case, and jerky is one of those foods. Most store-bought jerkies either have gluten in them directly or are produced in an environment where gluten is used, making it untrustworthy as to if it is actually gluten free. Because of that, I have decided to try to make my own.

I got the idea for this from a church-run camping trip I went on last year called treck. While you are at treck, you are divided into groups called families and you have adult volunteers leading the family who you call Ma and Pa. While on treck you pull handcarts with all your stuff for four or five days so you can experience to journey that the Mormon Pioneers experienced as the crossed the plains in their journey to the Utah Valley. My Ma and Pa were also eating a gluten-free diet and they brought with them this homemade jerky that was amazingly salty and delicious. They make it by cooking some thin cuts of steak then salting it and letting it dry in the salt. The result is a very salty and chewy jerky perfect for activities where you will be needing to replace the salt you are sweating. steak is expensive but I wanted to see if I could replicate the treat using hamburger meat. Why hamburger? It is what I had on hand, you could probably do just fine with chicken or possibly fish if you wanted.

I started by squishing some hamburger meat as this as I could between my hands and then cooking them in a frying pan.

once I was done, as you can see they swelled a little bit so it might be a good idea to squeeze as much of the fat out of the meat as you can before adding the salt. The salt will remove the fat anyway so you might as well reduce the mess by getting rid of it early. Once the meat is degreased, all you need to do is throw it in a bag with some salt and suck out the air. using larger salt pieces would probably work better but I used normal table salt and that seemed to work just fine so it is up to you.

Once you have let your meat cure for about a week, then all you need to do is wash the salt off in the sink and let the meat dry and you should be good. Don’t worry about removing the flavor, it has already soaked into the meat so thoroughly removing the salt on the surface of the meat will not hurt the flavor at all. If you are using a dense meat like steak or chicken then you might be better to just brush off the excess but the hamburger was so absorbent that you will defiantly want to remove as much salt as possible.

Fair warning, you will want to thoroughly remove as much salt as you can. This jerky can be a bit of an acquired taste because of the amount of salt in the meat. Unless your body is experiencing a salt deficiency,  your body will actually react and recoil at the amount of salt in this meat. You may find it disgusting or inedible. However, if you are in a position where you need a lot of salt fast then this meat is heaven sent. I have seen it revitalize people who were feeling faint because of the lack of salt in their system and I know from experience that the more salt deprived you are the more your body accepts the salt increase and so you stop finding the salt so unappealing and you get to start tasting the meat.  After a week I was totally hooked on this meat and have wanted to make it ever since. Steak is a better meat to do this with because it absorbs less salt, is chewier so it takes longer to eat, and has fat reserves to help you replenish your energy, however, hamburger meat will still work, you just sacrifice the chewiness and some of the fat for a lower price. as a bonus, I was able to make quite a bit of jerky with just one pound of meat so this is a cheap and easy was to make a delicious hiking snack for your summertime adventurers.

One last note, I tried flavoring my meat and it didn’t really work. Just stick to salt, it works way better. I hope you found this post interesting, good luck prepping for your summertime adventurers and I will see you for the next one. Untill then, Happy Tinkering!

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!

Solar Balloon Part 2-lets do the math

The solar balloon is by far the largest project I have ever attempted and so an element of risk comes with it. I usually don’t like doing math when I do my tinkering projects, however, both me and Andy decided that if we were going to be making a full-scale solar balloon capable of carrying one or two people then we might want to take some safety precautions. One of the first precautions we wanted to take was to know the math so that we would at least know that our paper works on paper. If you find math to be very boring then you might want to move on to the next post but if you find this interesting or you are attempting this yourself then you should stick around.

The math behind a solar balloon or any hot air balloon is very similar to a boat. the reason is a lighter than air device like a balloon literally floats on top of the air like a boat floats on water. to solve for this, we can use the buoyancy equation which says that the buoyancy force on an object is equal to the weight of the air (or water) that you displace. in math-speak that is:


or the pressure of the displaced air (P) multiplied by the pull of gravity (G) and the volume of displaced air (V). For our solar balloon that is modified to:


(Po= outside pressure and Pi= inside pressure)

or the difference in the density between the air outside of the balloon and inside the balloon (Po-Pi), multiplied by gravity (G) and the volume (V). Though this will get you the buoyant force, we wanted the only variable to be the temperature of the air and to incorporate this we use the ideal gas law which is:


or the pressure of the gas (P) multiplied by the volume of gas in question (V) is equal to the amount you have (the number of moles)(N) multiplied by a constant (the ideal gas constant)(R) and by the temperature of the air (in Kelvin )(T). When you combine this with the buoyancy equation you get:


Once we had this equation, Andy, who knows programming, but this into a program so we could easily modify the terms and find a volume that works for our purposes. The code he wrote looks like this.

we then did some research and found the lowest temperature difference recorded in a solar balloon was about 2 degrees and so decided to use that as our test temperature. we will probably get more heat than that in our balloon and our next balloon is going to be a test platform to find out stuff like this but for now, we figured that this would be a good baseline. We started to test the program at different volumes and these are the numbers we came up with.

  1. A spherical balloon with a 5-foot radius (or 10 feet across) with 1 degree of temperature difference will lift 0.594 kg and with 2 degrees of temperature difference will lift 1.185kg
  2. A spherical balloon with a 10-foot radius (or 20 feet across) with 1 degree of temperature difference will lift 4.754 kg and with 2 degrees of temperature difference will lift 9.487kg
  3. A spherical balloon with a 25-foot radius (or 50 feet across) with 1 degree of temperature difference will lift 74 kg and with 2 degrees of temperature difference will lift 148kg

This data shows that a balloon with a 2-degree temperature difference and a 25-foot radius will lift a 220 lb person with ease. This is fun to imagine but for now, we will be making a 5-foot radius balloon and its cargo will be a video camera (mostly because we wanted a cargo and though that pictures might be kinda fun). this balloon is probably going to be much too big for just lifting a camera but that means that we can use it as a test balloon for a long time coming.

I recognize that math can be very boring but we decided that it was worth knowing so we don’t take weeks making a balloon that doesn’t work. I hope this post was insightful to you and happy tinkering!