The $500 Light Mount

LED’s are everywhere now:  Flashlights at Walmart checkout?  LED.  Shop lights?  LED.  Cel Phones at an Offpring concert?  LED.  Turn signals on your Corvette?  LED.  They are everywhere and can be wired for almost anything by anybody with a pair of dikes and a roll of black tape.  Two kinds of folks have traditionally been fans of auxiliary lighting:  Cops and off road guys.  I am not a cop, I am an off road guy.  And among the off road motorcycle guys, there is a sub culture that marches to their own fashion drum; the Adventure Tourist.  And them fellas love their lighting.

Now it doesn’t matter if this textile clad midlife crisis is on a Honda Grom with knobbies and a bucket for a fairing or or a fully loaded KTM 990 bound for Alaska at 85 miles and hour with a hot Starbucks shot, he is going to have some extra lights.  And the days of PIAA 510’s is long gone, folks.  Now is the day of the LED light bar and the LED pod, or five.  A quick check of the marketplace, or any Hoonigan video, will let you know this.  And the mounts and complete kits are brutally expensive.  Five hundo is nothing when shopping LED kits.

Because Mrs. Dano and I have two boys away in college, there is little discussion when I start to fiddle with unattended items in the shop.  By comparison, there are lots of discussions when I spend $500.  One boy left an 8″ LED light and the other an assortment of pods.  I am sure all of them came from Amazon via China.  There were at least two wiring and relay kits still in the wrapper in a nearby box.  He lives out of state and I had a free afternoon and I am as frugal as, well, a frugal person with two kids in college.  I do not have a hot Starbucks shot.

I looked curiously at the front of my 2007 BMW 1200gs.  It works perfectly well even absent the auxiliary lighting and monkey bar set of crash bars that adorn 90% of these boxers.  There had to be a way to make this work.

I knew I had an empty circuit on my Centech auxiliary fuse box (no CANBUS issues with this project), a wiring loom and an LED utility light, so I set out to see how cheaply I could join the crowd of the LED enlightened.

The fork tubes of the GS measured 54mm with my dial caliper and I found a pair of round light mount brackets from a buggy/ side by side specialist for $14.  The wiring harness had an automotive type rocker switch and I wanted a motorcycle switch for the lights; done at $8.  I needed a fuse for the circuit and the kit at NAPA was another $8 for an assortment.  I was missing a metric bolt for the light (it may have been eaten by our puppy), so that was another $4 at AutoZone on a Sunday.  Total in parts: $34.

I got rid of the round rocker (at left) and replaced it with the square motorcycle style rocker that bolted onto the handle bars in seconds.  I used the harnesses own switch connector and two others in the harness, thanks to solder and heat shrink tubing.

In fitting a square light between two round pegs,  I needed to bridge the gap between the width of the fork mounts (wide) and the brackets that came with the light (less than wide).  I wrestled with this for about 40 minutes and three different configurations of my 54mm brackets.  I decided that a 2″ wide piece of 12 gauge stainless strip would solve the problem.

I measured the shit out of it, cut it with an abrasive wheel, bent it with a hammer in the vise and drilled four holes in it in under an hour.  It fit like Bridget von Hammersmark’s foot going into that shoe in “Inglorious Basterds”.   I was happier than Colonel Landa at this point.

I whacked it with a scotch brite pad on general principle then painted it Satin Black.  Satin Black is the official color of Adventure Riding.

Wiring a relay is relatively straight forward.  Just google “wiring an automotive relay”, print one of the pictures and go from there.  If you can tell one battery terminal from another, you can do this.  Why use a relay?  Why do the battery cables not come up to the dashboard of your car?  Because relays allow better use of heavy gauge wiring and better protection via fuses.  Taking the bike apart is only inconvenient; not difficult.  Don’t let your dog eat your parts.  Do not be afraid.  When doing final assembly, I used blue Locktite to prevent loosening.

Because I ride year round and use actual water to wash the bike, I did solder and shrink wrap everything.  If you don’t know this skill, get a Weller 8200 PKS kit for under a $100 and get busy on youtube.  The days of twisting wires and duct taping are over.  I did my soldering on the table and attached a spare light to the harness.  I connected the entire thing to an 18 volt DeWalt cordless drill battery and test fired the harness.  The switch, relay and light worked.  Then I put the whole mess onto the motorcycle and connected it for real, adjusting wire length as I needed.  I used an online calculator to determine the amp rating needed for the fuse in the fuse box; placed a 10 amp fuse in the Centech and buttoned everything up with some zip ties.

So for the outlay of under $40 and a few hours in the shop, I got a few more lumens to help me down the back roads of the sierra foothills or around the west.  Just in case I happen to find an adventure or a hot Starbucks shot.

 

The Fire Pit Project

 

Mrs. Dano had mentioned wanting a fire pit for some time now. She wanted one and not knowing where to put it or exactly what would work, I (being a diligent husband) dragged my feet, made excuses and avoided the topic by all means. That all changed when I took delivery of a rock crusher cone from a local gravel pit.  Game on!

These thousand pound beauties are relatively common and I have seen pictures of them installed as fire pits around the interwebs. I scoped out a location out back that wouldn’t wreck our traffic patterns and dirt bike test loop on our not so vast one acre estate.

Dropping this thing into the ground presented two problems: (1) How to dig a tapered hole to match the crusher cone angle and (2) how to lift it from my trailer and get it into the tapered hole all the while sitting level. The tapered hole is a must as you don’t want this bugger shifting about after a few rains.

I used a common shovel to dig the hole in a relatively short time. I then placed two straight edges (some half inch square tubing) leaning along the tapered sides extending above the ground. I used a common length of mild steel welding rod to copy the angle of the cone. I compared the rod to the two straight edges by eye until they met.  I checked the depth with another straight edge and a tape measure; I wanted a lip to extend a few inches above the ground level.

I must admit being more than thrilled when I remembered my friendly neighbor a quarter mile down had an operable field forklift that he uses on his citrus ranch.  Bingo!  I asked if I could borrow it, and in a few minutes I had roaded it back to the Casa Dano.

I rigged up some chains to get a grip on this heavy chunk of iron and manganese alloy or whatever the hell they make these things out of.  It took me under twenty minutes to place it level into the hole.  I delivered the forklift back to my neighbor in under an hour.  I was thankful that the forklift had allowed me to complete this project on my own.

After back filling along the sides with water and soil I dropped some gravel into the bottom and packed it in.  There is about a ten inch diameter hole in the bottom of these things, so it will drain while sitting in the ground.  I had a round grate from an old Weber BBQ that I tossed in the bottom to keep the fire off the very bottom.

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Because this thing has a diameter of about five feet and a lip above the ground and could cause a tripping hazard.  I rolled some 2″ angle and 40′ of 3/4″ HR round rod into this interesting looking human roll cage and foot rail.  I placed a horizontal rod across the center to allow hanging a dutch oven at some point; we shall see if it ever gets used.  It should keep drunk people out of the fire.

I finished up the odd shaped small area with some random utility pole segments dug down about half way and a trailer load of 3/4″ crushed rock.  The seating is from some redwood benches that were old when we bought the house 20 years ago.  Was this project a ton of work?  No, not really.  But if I didn’t have the tools and equipment that I do, it would have been necessary to spend a few bucks at the rental yard to make it all happen.  Mrs. Dano is happy with her new fire pit and that is all that really matters now, isn’t it?

 

 

Things that Suck

If you are shopping for security lights, barn lights or other “dusk til dawn” lights, you must at all costs avoid fixtures with this bulb in it. There is maybe only one manufacturer of this bulb, Utilitech and they straight up suck.

Why do they suck? Because the tubes are glued into a ceramic base and the adhesion lasts just about as long as the career of a blind outfielder in MLB.

Do yourself a favor and buy a quality LED lamp such as the ones made by Simkar or another commercial grade manufacturer.

A Year in a Boot.

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We all wear shoes.  People buy all kinds of them for all kinds of reasons.  Folks buy them because a singer or actor told them “these will get the girl” or “these are made of recycled bags and dead car batteries” or some shit.  Maybe some washed up quarterback agreed to have his picture on an ad and the memory of that guy driving his team to victory in 1987 makes you drop $100. Good for everybody involved; that is the free market at work.  There are many of us on the job and in the trades that make a  work shoe or boot purchase based on something a little different:  Performance on the Job.

Wherever your job takes you will determine what you put on your feet.  If you just go out and buy what your Cousin Freddy says is a good deal, you may be disappointed.  Or if you sit most of the day, you may be able to cut a few corners.  If you can get away with purchasing Brahma Boots or Herman Survivors, then great for you.  You will have more beer money on Friday night. To be brutally honest (and to clear my name from being a shoe snob), I had a really good experience with a pair of Herman Survivors 10″ Wellingtons one summer.  These can be found for under $50 in some cases.  You CAN spend a LOT more if you go very far down the rabbit hole (check out Russel Boots if you want to see what that pair of Ostrich skinned hunting boots you’ve been dreaming of is going to cost you).

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For those of us who carry a few extra pounds and who work on concrete all day long, the decision can mean avoiding leg and or back pain.  My weapon of choice the past few years has been the Red Wing model 405.  It kills me that this is not made in America, but the combination of waterproofing, cushioned wedge sole and moc toe is a winner for me.   Paint, mud, manure, weld spatter, grease, oil and sharp objects all take their toll one day at a time.  Nothing will last forever, but I take care of them and I get what I pay for.  The picture below is what a year in a boot looks like from my view….at about 60+ hours a week.

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Does that mean that this boot will be the perfect one for you?  Likely not. Firefighters swear by Whites.  The Australians go for Red Backs, Rossis and Blundstones.  Wolverine, Thorogood, Danner and Chippewa also make some great work boots; some are even American made.  Justins and Ariats are popular around here and with my two sons.  Go to the store and try some on with no intention to buy.  “Hand Stitched”, “Heritage”, special materials and limited runs are a way for the old brands to lure in the hipsters and improve their bottom line.  I am not in a position to spend $300 on a pair of shoes, so you will have to get reviews on those products elsewhere.

Make a good work boot buying decision!  Think about what you do and where you do it before you hit the store to see what the latest models are going to promise.  Do your homework.  If you are lucky, you will be able to find something that works well for you at a price that you will be able to afford.  Your body will thank you.

Shop Furniture

I’ve never had a job welding from a task chair or a recycled office chair that some foreman bought at a pawn shop.  But I have seen plenty of TIG welding fellows in sneakers burning up bicycle parts in some pretty comfortable office furniture.  It looks like a nice gig with that air conditioning and the RHCP on the stereo….    Whether it is a table, chair, cabinet or some random crap that Uncle Fred left you in his will, you need some furniture to make your shop work.

I had an acquaintance stop by yesterday and he commented on my primary welding table.  I built it about ten years ago and take it for granted most days.  And I hope that some 4 year old doesn’t split their head wide open on party days when it hosts the buffet and the kids are cranked up on Sunkist Orange Soda and their parents are watching NASCAR.

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At 52×99 inches, it will handle items over 4×8 with ease.  At 1,200 pounds, it will not likely be stolen.  The one time I had to move it, I used a car trailer and four friends who work for beer.  The casters are older than I am and came to me in a junk trade.  The main frame is 3x3x.188 square tube and the top is four pieces of 1″x12″ steel with a 1″ gap for clamps.  It is fat, flat and handy as hell.  It cleans up nicely with paint thinner or WD-40.

A shop guy needs to sit once in a while, and one chair is not going to cut it.

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I was in a second hand store in Bozeman Montana recently when the local Schwinn collector (a nice guy, BTW) told me this kind of task chair (above) was a $300 chair. I passed and found this sweet as hell example of the same damn chair at an estate sale in California a few weeks later for about $30.  I cleaned it.  That’s it.  Infinitely adjustable; its pretty bad ass.  Will it solve all my problems?  No. But neither will $2 draft beers and we all find those wildly popular.

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Some useful things are not visually appealing; like $500 cars.  That ugly as hell thing in the left rear is over 20 years old and still works great for painting small parts outside.  The current cover is paper with masking tape over black widow eggs and bird shit.  The rusted metal stool next to it has obviously seen some outdoor duty, but I haven’t painted it yet, so it stays out when relatives visit.  The black topped thing on the right was a gift and is only good for pizza and beer duty.  These are at Costco and have held up pretty well.

The round Craftsman stool on the left came with shit wheels.  Fred Flintstone could do better.  Two years in and it was cooked.  When I rolled (figuratively) into Sears to exchange it, they told me to pound sand.  Screw those guys.  I went to Orchard Supply Hardware and dropped the value of a brand new replacement Craftsman stool on five 2″ casters that changed its usefulness by ten fold.  I love that thing now.  The squatty square red thing in the front is useful if you weigh over 225 pounds and like to fall over backwards a lot.

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This homely AF stool was built about 1991 by me in a rush because I needed something to sit upon on some Saturday afternoon.  Since then my kids painted it, I painted it, it lived outside, I screwed stuff to it; I abused it.  But that notch in the front of it has a story.  I had a 6″ bench grinder clamped to it one day (before the welding table from above was built) and the wheel grabbed the rod I was grinding.  It came out of my hand and spun down hard enough to rip into that 3/8″ plywood and flip that stool and bench grinder onto the ground still running.  I shit my pants and went inside.  I still don’t have a great place for the bench grinder, but its not going onto this rickety thing again.

If you like to have all your junk sitting in plain sight, you need a tool bench.  My dad LOVED tool benches!  He thought they were useful; I don’t.  He never had a real tool box.  A tool box for him was a hand box.  He was a much smarter man than I, but he was clearly missing the boat on the modern roller tool box idea.

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My version of my dad’s “tool bench” is a roller table with peg board and a power strip to charge shit.  This is where the DeWalt batteries and other pop culture items go.  It is a catch all for the shop and is, not surprisingly, not very organized.  You can find this style base table at auctions from time to time.  I modified this one by a bunch.  They still make them; I wouldn’t buy new.

If you want to hide your junk, you need some old lockers.  These have worked well for the kid’s motorcycle gear, but could work equally well for a variety of other shenanigans from arts and crafts to motor parts.  I sanded and painted these, but that is it.

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If I were to avoid something in the line of shop furniture, it would be fiber board and other shitty materials.   Buy things at auction, clean them, sand them, pick a color, paint it and call it your own.  In my quick trip through my own shop furniture, there are not many “new” items.  Buy good, used solid pieces and make them your own; or build your own.  It they get run down, think of recycling and repurposing them for paint stands or other dirty jobs.  Your shop productivity will thank you.

The Mysterious Ratchet Strap

Mrs. Dan works in the Agriculture Industry and has the frequent need to deliver pallets or bins of goods to customers.  Most of the employees at these places are men who of course want to help her out.  I know that this has happened when she arrives home annoyed that the common person cannot operate a ratchet strap properly.  For the safety of our highway traveling public, and tourists in rental cars everywhere, Dan’s Shop Class is eager to post our first How To:  The Mysterious Ratchet Strap.

Everybody has seen a motorcycle on a trailer going down the highway secured by a few nylon cam lock straps like the ones shown here.003

These work great for light loads that do not move much.  Ancra brand are among the best (IMHO) and the cheap ones you get at the discount parts place in the strip mall generally suck and will wreck your weekend.  Cam Lock straps are notorious for coming loose on their own.  As these wear out around our shop, we cut them up to make handlebar loops like the ones shown.  These keep the metal hooks off your spendy Pro Taper bars, but that is for another day…..

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The better way to handle loads that will likely move or are heavier than a few hundred pounds are Ratchet Straps, like the ones above.  The yellow ratchet at the top is rated at 5,000lbs and the lower one perhaps 400lbs.  These come in a variety of sizes and lengths so you can buy what you need to secure your junk on the highway.  The uses for these things is limitless, from desert race trucks to commercial gardeners and weekend hacks like most of us.

Their use is relatively straight forward, but a mystery to most.  The handle fully closes in one direction only.  In the above picture, you see that the handles are almost all the way closed.  This is the direction from which you will feed the strap into and out of the ratchet.

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You will see the load side of the strap is inline with the hook side of the ratchet and the dead end of the strap is next to the handle.   This is what it looks like in the real world:

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All we do next is pull up the slack with one hand before we start ratcheting this bad boy with your other.  The silver tab below my knuckle is the secondary pawl.  It works against the ratchet just as the primary handle pawl does.

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Make sure your tie downs are safe for the weight and don’t use a cheater bar or lever on the handle.  Just use your pizza grabbers and make it snug and finish with the handle fully down and latched.  Without fail, you will have a long, loose tail waiting to flap in the breeze all the way to Bakersfield.  If you get lucky, you will drive over it on the highway resulting in a custom length strap!  Some people overthink this long end and use tape or zip ties to secure this end (like the hot rod shop with a Discovery Channel TV show who we cruised with for a day…).  The easier, faster, safer and WAY cooler technique is to wrap up the end against the loaded strap and simply pass the end under the last pass and snug it down.  I have never had one of these come loose; your results may vary.  Practice makes perfect.  The hot rod shop had never seen this technique before. I taught them and that lesson gave me wild street cred with Mrs. Dan and the hot rod shop.

 

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To undo the strap, you will unfurl the remnants of the flapping tail.  Then you will move the primary handle (the one you tightened) up a bit and then you will TIGHTEN the strap just a bit to allow you to pull back the secondary pawl (the real term for that spring loaded thing) and then you will work the primary and secondary pawls against each other to allow the strap to loosen.  Again, a little practice makes this much easier.

Your straps will not last forever.  That is a fact, so get some longevity out of them by storing your straps indoors without tension on them.  Sunlight and abrasion will kill a strap in no time, as will tightening it with a knot in it (you will never get it out).  Throw some WD-40 or Tri Flow on the mechanisms once in a while and they will last for years.

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With a pair of properly secured ratchet straps, this top heavy, sketchy looking rig is ready to go safely down the road!  Yes, that machine is a lot of fun, but like so many things around the Dan’s Shop, we will have to get into that on another day.