Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Jaycar Digitech Wireless LCD Thermometer and Hygrometer (XC-0322)

After some clambering around in the roof space over the weekend I've decided it would be useful to get an idea of temperature and humidity readings from both the roof space and also sub-floor areas. I was hoping that the Jaycar Wireless LCD thermometer and hygrometer with options for up to 3 external sensors would do the trick.

Somewhat disappointed at initial inspection... I notice the box is actually mis-labelled 'Hydrometer' (a device for measuring specific gravity not humidity!) not a great sign from a quality perspective. Turns out the remote sensors only report temperature and not humidity (the latter being of most interest in terms of establishing whether to invest in electric ventilation fans for underneath the house). I find this somewhat misleading as the write-up suggests it is useful for monitoring a greenhouse remotely (where I really might want to be able to check humidity levels).

Accuracy wise, with both the base unit and 2 remote sensors sitting side by side on my desk, none of the sources agree on the current temperature (currently reading 25.1, 25.8 and 25.6 degrees celcius). The instructions suggest there is some method to manually calibrate to a known value but at this point I think I've lost faith in this other than as a novelty.

Another nuisance is the rubber seal around the battery compartment is a poor fit and jumps out of its groove whenever the compartment cover is removed.

It being Christmas there is certainly an opportunity for some regifting here of this admittedly modestly priced set up. Really I should be thinking about something a bit more hi-tech which will allow for ongoing data logging and analysis over the seasons - perhaps based on an arduino build. I guess you get what you pay for.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Do Birdies Raised Garden Beds work?

This is steel raised garden bed from Birdie's Garden Products set out in the 3.5m x 0.9m configuration.
Having been in place for 18 months the structure remains sound bar a slight sagging on the sides. The bottom half of this bed was filled with coarse sand to aid drainage, the top with a mixture of rich soil, cow manure, charcoal and sugar cane mulch. Growing from left to right above - pumpkins (to be transplanted), soy bean, Japanese Daikon, and another pumpkin we will leave and place and allow to run the length of the fence behind.

No chemical fertilisers have been employed, only occasional watering with a capful of organic liquid fertiliser and seasonal replenishment of manure and sugarcane mulch. With the daikon attracting a few pests to the bed, a plastic container of beer is occasionally hidden between the plants to lure snails to their doom.

OZITO Demolition Breaker (Rotary Hammer Drill)

Like most budget priced power tools, the Ozito Demolition Breaker (rotary hammer drill) is probably not the ideal choice for those who need to jack-hammer their way through a reinforced concrete wall or floor. In the situation pictured above however, it proved itself to be absolutely ideal.

The problem: removal of a galvanised metal clothesline pole which had been set in concrete at the edge of a flower bed. The top left of the image shows the hole after the cement plug was broken up, allowing it to be removed in larger chunks which were then shattered into fist sized pieces which could be easily disposed of. The concrete base, partly due to its weight and shape, and partly due to surrounding tree roots, could not be lifted out of the hole. Repeated strikes from a 7 pound sledge hammer and 6 foot pry bar (and half an hour of heavy work) did little to challenge the concrete's integrity. 10 minutes with the rotary hammer drill and pencil point bit in contrast had the job completed with nothing left to do but to clean up the pulverised concrete and back-filling the hole.

The interesting thing about using these tools on solid concrete (as opposed to say chipping tiles using a chisel pointed bit) is that initially it seems that the repeated blows of the hammer action are having no effect on the concrete. A little patience and eye for likely weak spots (such as between the concrete and steel post) helps, and soon the concrete is giving way as though you are cutting through chalk.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Projects to do before Christmas gets here

A couple of jobs crept onto my "do before Christmas" during a long and uninteresting meeting at the office today. Not sure why these exactly, other than they are big enough to take some time to do right, and I need the push of a deadline to make sure they happen.

  • Setting up the 9 inch hercus lathe:
    Parts of this mighty machine have littered my workbench since I managed to lug this beast into the garage and reassemble it (almost doing my back in as part of the process).

    It is lacking a gearbox, for which http://australianmetalworkinghobbyist.com looks like a promising supplier. I have always thought it would be really cool to have a metal lathe, and now that I have one, I guess I better set it up properly and make something with it!
  • Setting up my little wood lathe properly:
    My 1/3 hp no-name wood lathe has sat on the corner all year with only occasional attention. Its begging to be set up properly so I have an area to while away time and make wood shavings.
  • Getting a draft of a book onto paper:
    I've been playing around with a few ideas for a long time and despite producing thousands of words both for my day job and moonlighting activities, its always been too easy to put the big ideas off. Time to get started.
  • Releasing the inner (amateur) nerd:
    I have boxes of radio equipment I haven't switched on in 20 years. At the very least I think it would be cool to set some gear up to pique the curiosity of my kids as they poke about the garage workshop.
  • Sweep up the workshop floor:
    Entirely optional. Will see how the year pans out before committing to this one. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Best money saving DIY Jobs done around the house (so far)

As you may have gathered from my last post, I am not one to try to save money by DIY wiring or running my own gas mains. Largely I try to keep my work to things I know I can do properly and that have miminal chance of burning my house down in the middle of the night.

There have been a few DIY jobs however that have saved me big dollars were pretty simple and were able to be completed over a period of time for next to nothing. Importantly, not only did this work save me from upfront costs of hired labor, they have also probably headed off expensive repairs that could have resulted from ignoring them.

The jobs that spring to mind specifically are:

1) Clearing the storm-water drains: Although I had to hire a plumber with a high-pressure water jet to finish the job, the majority of labor was performed by me. This involved locating the storm water access points (including several risers which were buried in garden beds around the house), as well as clearing mud and other surprises from the drainage pit at the side of the house. Several hours spent flushing the drain with a garden hose retrieved all sorts of rubbish from the drain, the entrance to which had been lost under 4 feet of solid mud. 

2) Clearing rubbish from under the house: While the previous owners seemed to enjoy stockpiling old cardboard, televisions, broken window blinds and every other piece of garbage imaginable in the crawl space, I figured this could only lead to problems with roaches, termites or who knows what, not to mention making under-floor access next to impossible for plumbers and electricians. This hidden cache of garbage which somehow didn't get mentioned in the brochure when we bought the place transformed into a small mountain of cr*p in our carport until finally council clean-up day arrived along with the usual procession of scrap collectors who were only too willing to take away anything made of metal. I had been quoted $450 to have this load hauled to the dump and ended up needing only to drop off at our community recycling depot the long abandoned CRT television which had lived happily under my front porch for who knows how many years. Total cost zero.

3) Trenching: It turns out that plumbers don't particularly enjoy digging holes in people's yards, especially when they have to be 40 feet long and a foot deep. $500 (at least) saved by doing my own trench (necessary to replace rusting water mains and for the installation of new gas pipes). The key to this job was not bothering trying to following existing plumbing work and simply establishing where the pipes were not then digging away. Costs nothing for the man who owns a duck-bill shovel although beer consumption rose noticeably that week.

Some nasty (and a few expensive) surprises that come with a new house

2 years in to living in our new house and I seem to still be finding unexpected surprises.

One of our ceiling fan-lights had recently died in the lighting department and being a cheap import the ballast proved to be an impossible item for our electrician to replace. Biting the bullet, we decided to replace 3 existing fan-lights and install another 2 in the kids rooms. Buying 5 units in one hit proved quite attractive as the supplier was practically throwing a 20% discount at me (I did not even mention it) but couldn't argue with getting the 5th fan for nothing.

The main reason for replacing the existing fans that came with the property was that they were all equipped with very dim circular fluoro bulbs (16 watt T4 style) which proved difficult to replace and provided barely enough light to read by. Although the fan function still worked well enough ,upgrading to 80 Watt halogens mean we would actually be able to see what we were doing from now on.

The nastiest surprise however was the installation of the existing fans - all 3 units were improperly mounted and none were earthed. Whoever had installed these fans in the past clearly saw no reason to actually screw them into solid timber nor to run any earth wires. Getting my electrician to do the job properly (which ended up requiring a touch of carpentry in the roof to install new timber battens (not to mention yards of new earth wire) cost me more than twice what I paid for the 5 replacement fan-lights ($700 for the lights, $1600 for the installation which included a few other bits of electrical tidying up).

Monday, January 14, 2013

Recently looking for a cheap fix for a gaping hole in a door (that will be replaced soon enough). The prospect of pouring $10 or more worth of commercial filler into it did not appeal, so paper mache was used. The filler pictured is made only of shredded newspaper (soaked overnight and pulped with a drill powered paint mixer) plus a small quantity of bondcrete.

In hindsight, I would experiment with the additional of a small amount of plaster to speed up the drying process. Results definitely warrant the consideration of paper mache as a viable under-filler which could then be skinned with your choice of builder's bog, plaster, etc.

Applied paper mache filler (wet).

Two Weeks Later, fully dried, very strong. Shrank less than expected.