Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Making Tunable Tubular Wind Chimes

If you want to make a really personal gift for someone or create something special that will give your garden or porch your own personal flavor. Really pretty wind chimes can be really expensive to buy, but they can be really affordable to make yourself and it doesn't take a whole lot of special skills. If you can handle a drill, tie a knot or operate a saw, then this project should be a breeze!

You can build your chimes out of anything tubular. Even solid hardwood can make a lovely sound, like marimbas. You can also make your wind chimes out of tubular metal, bamboo or even plastic - virtually anything that makes a musical sound when struck by metal or wood. You can even tune your chimes to play the notes of your favorite tune - not necessarily in order, but enough that when the wind blows, you'll almost recognize the music. It's really quite fascinating to here the sound.

Tools You Need:
  • Drill and bits
  • Saber Saw, table saw, band saw, radial arm saw or any saw that can cut the material you are working with and wood. You'll need the right blades, of course.
  • Electronic keyboard (if you are tuning the chimes)
  • A roll heavy of 80 pound monofilament or multi-filament fishing line.
  • Tubing that sounds pretty when struck (metal, glass, wood, plastic, bamboo, etc.)
  • Nylon cord
  • Small boat hook for hanging the chimes
  • 1/2" hardwood board - enough to make a 6 to 8 inch disk.
  • Sander and sandpaper
  • Oil stain (wipe-on)
  • Varnish/polyurethane
  • Brush and paint thinner
  • 3/16 hardwood - 2-1/2 inches by 6 inches 
  • Five small eyelet screws
  • Medium sized hook

Step 1:
Mark off a six to eight inch circle on the half inch plywood. Cut the circle out with a saber saw or band saw.

Step 2:
Sand the edges of the disk, top and bottom rounding all the edges. If you have a router, you can do some fancy edgework.

Step 3:
Draw a 3-1/4 inch circle in the center of the half inch wood circle you just cut and cut it out leaving the circle a donut. Sand the edges round and smooth. Sand the 3-1/4 inch circle's edges smooth and drill a small hole in the center.

Step 4:
Drill a pair of 1/16th inch holes 3/4" apart halfway between the inner edge of the donut shaped disk and the outer edge. Space other pairs of holes so that there are a total of six pairs or holes, each 1/6th of the way around the disk from each other.

Step 5:
Cut the tubes. Stagger the lengths for visual effect or, if you are tuning them, cut each tube to whatever length gives you the note you want. You can do this by using an electronic keyboard or piano to sound the notes as you gradually cut down the chiming tubes. Cut the tube so that the note is a little lower than the note you are going for.

Step 6:
Next drill small holes large enough for the monofilament line to pass through the tube very near the top. Suspend the tube by running a foot of line through the holes so that the tube swings freely when struck. 

Step 7:
Then, gradually shave off the other end of the tube a bit at a time till the tube  sounds the note you want when struck. You can tune the tubes to a chord or to a six note sequence. I know a friend who tuned his notes to the opening of the Harry Potter theme. In a wind it plays variations on that theme and it's quite lovely. Set the keyboard to a chime that sounds close to the material used in the chime.

Step 8:
When finished making the chimes, tie the tubes through the pairs of holes in the O-ring and tie them off. Drill four small holes evenly spaced in the top of the donut and screw in four eyelet screws.

Step 9:
Run nylon cord from the top eyelets in the donut together about 8 to12 inches above the donut and tie them to the boathook. Now you can suspend the donut and the chimes and it will be easier to work with.

Step 10:
Tie a single cord to the boathook and let it run through the center of the donut down through the center of the chimes. Cut it off about a foot below the longest chime.

Step 11:
Drill a hole through the center of the 3-1/2" wooden disk large enough to accommodate the nylon cord. Thread the cord through the disk and tie a knot below it so that it hangs just above the bottom of the shortest chime so that the cord swings freely and the wooden disk striker swings equidistant between all of the chimes.

Step 12:
Drill a hole in the 2-1/2 by 6 inch 3/16 inch hardwood board near one narrow end. Attach the paddle about 6 or 8 inches below the sounder. This paddle will catch the wind and knock the sounder against the chimes when it catches the wind.

Step 13:
Stain and varnish all the wooden parts and hang your chime in a place where it can catch the wind. If you didn't get the chimes perfect they'll still sound good. If you did get them tuned right, the sound will be amazing.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Give Your Hound Dog Something to Celebrate on Thanksgiving.

Everybody should celebrate on Thanksgiving including your faithful hound. Here's a neat trick for giving your dog a happy Turkey Day and for getting rid of all those horrible bits and pieces of turkey and those giblets you never use.

First you need a Kitchen-Aid Mixer with the box of attachments. This is essential equipment for any kitchen and a lot of people have all they need for this project in a box shoved in the back of their cabinet that they never use. Drag it out. It looks like this:

Your attachment box may not be as torn up as my box, but it looks like this inside:

This link covers assembling and disassembling the grinder mechanism. Reverse it when your done to clean it out. It's all pretty simple to put together.

Step 1:  Assemble the grinder mechanism as shown in the pictures below. Once you've picked the bones of your turkey and put aside the meat you want to keep, gather up the scraps and bits and pieces, the skin and other edible parts your dog may enjoy. Remember it doesn't have to look tasty to you. It's going to be ground up and unrecognizable.

Step 2: Place a bowl under the grinder outlet to collect the ground turkey. Then just start feeding the
turkey scraps and giblets into the hopper. The corkscrew mechanism inside will force the meat forward past the chopping blades and out through the holes in the front. Just catch it as it comes out. Just make sure not to feed bones into the mechanism. It might simply grind up smaller bones and cartiladge for extra calcium. Your dog can eat it without harm. Might even do her some good.

Step 3: Finish grinding up all the meet and stuff, then take the grinder apart and clean it out good.

Step 4: Bag up the ground turkey in small sandwich sized bags or any size zippered freezer bag you've got.

Step 5: Freeze the bags of turkey. You might want to mark them for the dog, although it probably won't hurt you if you make turkey burgers out of it. It's likely you've eaten worse in turkey franks from the store.

Preparation:  Just take the bags out of the freezer and heat in the microwave for a minute or two. It's already cooked so you don't have to worry about cooking it. I mix it with dry dogfood and the dog loves it.

Note: If you have lots of turkey left, you can run the good bits through the grinder and make turkey burger out of it. Season it and stuff it into sausage casings you can buy at kitchen supply stores and you've got homemade sausages and weiners.

The beauty of doing this is how fast it clears off turkey leftovers and puts them into a convenient storable form that you don't have to worry about going bad or drying out on you. 

© 2014 by Tom King

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Jogging for the Busy Writer

Exercising the Vocabulary: Skill-Tweaking Strategies for Would-Be and Professional Writers

We all get bogged down writing stuff for profit that may or may not be something that's totally in our wheelhouses. Sometimes you just need to do something for yourself. I'd like to invite you writers out there to sign up with Blogspot. This website builder lets you easily build your own weblog. I have six going now. If you want to make a lot of money at blogging, go to Wordpress, but that's not what my Blogspot blogs are for. What I do with them is use them as a personal place for my creative non-commercial stuff and as a dumping place for things I post on forums or on Facebook that I think are particularly erudite and that I hate to just fire off and then forget that I wasted an hour working on that incredibly clever answer to someone's snarky question or comment

Sometimes others' posts and comments can kick you off into a nice essay. So, don't waste it. By creating a humor/philosophy blog, a political blog, a religious blog, a how-to blog (my most popular), a top 10 list blog and a poetry blog, I have a place to put all those bits and bobs I would otherwise waste on mere "comments". Plus, I have a Google Adsense account and have posted their ads on my weblogs. I make a couple of hundred dollars a year off my blogs and the more entries I post, the more money I make on ads. Just make sure to share your new posts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google Plus. You'd be surprised how many people will read your stuff that way and get to know you as an author. THEN when your book comes out, they're more likely to invest in a copy AND you've got a place to advertise your new book.

Much of the content I post, I make deliberately "evergreen" except in the political blog. If a post is tied to a subject, an issue or a solution to a problem, people will keep visiting it. One of my most popular blogs ever was one on how to unstick a sticky piano key. I was looking for instructions on how to do it myself and found that no one had ever written one. So I did it and photographed the steps and wrote it up. I've had more thank-you notes on that one blog than you can know. My build-it-yourself canoe rack for pickups is another one that's done well. People send me pictures of the ones they have built and I post them.

Ever so often I post a link to an old blog on Facebook to generate traffic. I've had a couple of my posts go viral without my name on them. One, a skit based on Abbot & Costello's "Who's on First" bit has Lou buying a computer from Bud. You can look it up on Youtube. Several folk have posted comedic versions of the skit "Lou Costello Buys a Computer" on Youtube. I had to really work to get my name credited as the writer. I retained the copyright but still give permission to any acting teacher that wants to use it for teaching kids comedic timing. It's pretty widely used.

Anyway, you'd be surprised where your work may wind up or who may see it. You may not make a lot of money, but who knows? A pet interest of yours, turned into a blog, just may take off like Michelle Malkin's political blog or Brett McKay's "The Art of Manliness".

The sidebar to the right has links to some of my more popular blogs on this and other blog sites I write and manage. There's no telling what bit of your recycling may catch fire on the Interweb, but if it's not put out there, you'll never know.

At the very least, when you pitch face forward into your keyboard, you won't just leave behind a long string of random letters on the screen and a lot of debt. Your kids, your grieving spouse and your inquisitive grandkids will be able to read all your old blogs and see what is in reality, a personal memoir of you that will hang there in cyberspace for who knows how long after you're gone? (so be careful what you write, that is if you don't want your tombstone pushed over by a lot of angry relatives).

- Tom

P.S. I originally wrote this for a writer's forum and then posted it here on my How-to blog. I guess that makes me a literary recycler.
P.P.S  My poetry weblog is the one where I practice my wordcraft. I highly recommend poetry as a writing exercise. Writing poetry is like jogging for the vocabulary. I have in mind a workbook I intend to do on using writing exercises in poetic forms as a way to hone your vocabulary and sentence structure skills to sharpen your communication. If you'd like to check out my poetry blog, here's the link.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Commas: An Enigma Wrapped Up In Phrases, Clauses and Parenthetical Expressions

This post is the direct result of a brief and furious discussion of the vicissitudes of proper punctuation on one of my writer's group. I fastened on the great comma conundrum: "Do you put a comma before the final "or", "and" or "but" in a series. As you probably noticed, I do not.

Commas are tough. I used APA style in grad school, AP style in my journalism work and Chicago Style in ghost-writing. Somewhere along the way, I picked up the "no comma before and/or/but" habit.  I do not feel comfortable writing a series of nouns, verbs, adjectives and phrases with a final comma before the final "and" in the series. It just doesn't look right to write "ifs, ands, or buts." It makes more sense for the commas to replace an implied conjunction. If you have the conjunction, why do you need the comma? And yes. I know about the great "mac and cheese" paradox.

The rationale, in using a comma between all words in a series, is to simplify (i.e. dumb down) the rules of grammar. Unfortunately, for me, as a practicing poet, punctuation is too important a part of my poetic arsenal for me to give up perfectly good punctuational tricks because some people have weak verbal skills.
I don't dumb down mathematical symbols to make it simpler for me to do calculus. I just don't do calculus. I ask the same courtesy from the mathematical community.

Commas, especially, tell the reader where I want them to pause to take a breath.  In the last sentence, I didn't want the reader to pause at "where", although a case can be made for placing a comma there. Commas tend to separate ideas into more or less discreet linguistic packages. What I wanted to do, was connect "tell the reader" and "where I want them to pause" as a single thought in the reader's mind. In normal speech, I wouldn't pause there, as I just did after I wrote "In normal speech".  See what I mean.

Writing should reflect our speech patterns and punctuation helps do that.
For a while they were teaching us that that the comma before the "and" was unnecessary. It is, especially if you are a good writer and in firm control of your writing. 

As I said, there is the macaroni and cheese conundrum, against which, the dumbed down version of the commas-in-a-series rule was deployed to prevent.  If I said something like, "We're going to have potato salad, beans, macaroni and cheese," then, things get confusing, especially if you have never heard of mac and cheese and don't know that mac and cheese is a single dish.  Duh!

If I redistributed the words and wrote that, "We're going to have potato salad, beans, and macaroni and cheese it doesn't look much better, but the mathematical analyst with an ironclad rule might just be able to suss it out. I do use a comma, however, when connecting two clauses with unequal weight, as I did in the last sentence where "but the mathematical analyst" didn't feel like it had the same "weight"  as the main thesis of my sentence. But, I digress.

Instead of throwing a comma in to rigidly mark out the elements of a confusing "mac & cheese" series, the competent writer simply rearranges the list as necessary to make it easy for the reader to comprehend.
The writer, with full command of language, simply creates a multi-faceted menu like this: "pork and beans, potato salad, macaroni and cheese, peas and carrots, pot roast and apple pie". No confusion there except, of course, whether the period goes inside the quotation marks or outside.

The rigid mathematical grammarian always places the period inside the quotes. If I am using quotes to set off a word for "emphasis", then I put the comma outside the quotes; thoroughly infuriating my grammatical betters.

I won't even start on semi-colons, whose very name sounds like a digestive ailment.

The word processor is a gift from God to the professional writer.
It allows us to fix what we write, in any way that we like, without penalty.  There may have been some excuse in the old typewriter days, when you had to retype the whole page if you wanted to rearrange things in a list or move commas around. With the modern word processor, you have absolutely no excuse for not taking firm command of the written page.

The final comma—the one between the word "and" and the preceding word—is often called the serial comma or the Oxford comma. In newspaper writing, you will seldom find a serial comma, but that is not necessarily a sign that it should be omitted in academic prose. As far as I'm concerned, academics are welcome to dumb down their grammar, if they wish, in the interest of not confusing each other. I have noticed that people with Ph.D.'s tend to be easily confused. I suppose that's why they need to have iron grammatical rules in order to submit more or less intelligible papers to "noted scientific journals". 

I find iron grammatical rules to impose a rather less than human quality to one's writing. Like the rule about complete sentences.

My personal rule of thumb is to insert the appropriate punctuation mark wherever it feels like one belongs. Especially, as a would-be fiction author, I think about what kind of cues the guy, who reads the audiobook version of my book, needs in order to make the narration sound real and not wooden.

I find that people, whose reading sounds wooden, hate nebulous grammar rules. I believe they need them because they don't understand how to emote when they are reading someone else's writing. Unfortunately, such folks don't make good audiobook readers in any case and in many cases make their own writing sound wooden when they read it.

So, in the end, I write as I wish, punctuate deliberately and leave the more egregious of my errors to my editor to fuss over. After all, what else does he get paid for?

Just sayin'.

Tom King
*Excerpt from © 2014 by Tom King

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Emergency Barbecue Sauce Bottle Bird Feeder

BBQ bottle bird feeder - mounted
Our dark-eyed juncos are building a second nest this year in our creeping Charlie planter out on the catwalk.  They look exhausted and we've been talking about putting out a feeder for the birds. I dug around in the recycling and came up with an old barbecue sauce bottle.

I scrubbed it our and cut it as shown below with an Exacto knife and a pair of scissors.  It makes an L-shaped feeder when turned on its side. The remaining side of the bottle makes a shallow bowl/perch at the bottom.

To mount it, I drilled a hole in the cap and screwed it to the deck post.  Then, screwed the bottle on tight, twisting it around till the bottle was turned in the position shown. Then, all you have to do is pour a little seed in the tray part. I also put leftover greens, bread crumbs and such. The feeder is right outside the kitchen window, so I am constantly reminded to add goodies for the birds.

That's all there is to it. When the birds find it, I'll get some pictures of the feeder in use.

Cut the bottle along the lines shown. Don't forget to pour out the
barbecue sauce first, of course.

It took a while for my birdies to find the feeder. I put bird seed in it, bread crumbs and any other tasty-for-birds stuff. The feeder is outside my window and the birds visit all day long, especially when the wild fruit and seed supply gets low.  Here's one of my little visitors who came by this morning.

© 2014 by Tom King

Monday, June 23, 2014

Building A Really Great Homemade Reflector Telescope: Part 2 - The Newtonian Telescope

In part one we covered how to build John Dobson's low-cost, non-equatorial plywood telescope mount. Dobson's clever invention makes it possible for astronomers on a budget to build some pretty spectacular homemade reflector telescopes. Instead of spending as much or more on the mount, you can put your money into the optics of your scope. A fancy clock-driven equatorial mount is all well and good, but the cost of one can force you to buy a scope that's smaller than you really wanted - and who doesn't want a giant instrument?  


Dobson's invention lets us spend our cash on stuff for the biggest, light-sucking telescope you ever saw. To go with the mount in part 1 of this series, we will give measurements for a 10-inch telescope of the relatively simple Newtonian design. 


Sonotubes painted black
  • 12 inch Sonotube 8 feet long (available at a concrete supply store)
  • 10 inch primary telescope mirror
  • 10 inch mirror mounting cell
  • 10 inch Spider mount for the secondary mirror
  • Secondary mirror
  • 2 inch focuser
  • Eyepiece
  • Saber Saw
  • Drill and bits
  • Hole saw
  • Screwdrivers
  • 1-inch screws, 1 box
  • Wood glue
Building the Scope:

Mounted cell and eyepiece

Step 1
First we mount the mirror onto the mirror mounting cell. It should come with instructions unless you've cannibalized a mirror from an old telescope and then, it's probably already mounted on the cell.  Follow the instructions that come with the mounting cell.  Test fit the mirror mounting cell in the lower end of the sonotube and mark the tube where the screw holes go for the mount. Drill the holes, fit the mounted mirror into the end of the tube with the mirror facing inward.
Mount the telescope mirror on the mirror-mounting cell following instructions that came with the cell.  Drill holes in the lower end of the Sonotube to match the mounting screws and screw the mount into the end of the tube. Use flat washers to protect the integrity of the tube around the holes.

Step 2
Check your mirror specifications (comes with the mirror). Subtract 6 inches plus the length of the focuser from the focal length of the mirror.  Measure from the center of the mirror and mark the side of the Sonotube at that distance.  The six inches is for the radius of the tube. Added to the length of the fully partially retracted focuser (right) it shows you where the secondary mirror needs to be in order to put the focal point of the mirror within the eyepiece when it's mounted in the focuser.  When you've marked the spot, then  measure an additional 4 inches and cut off the rest of the Sonotube at that point.  Be careful to hold the sonotube upside down with the mirror on top while cutting. That way you don't get dust on the primary mirror. 

Step 3
Drill a 2-inch hole in the side of the tube with the hole saw. the center of the hole will be where marked the adjusted focal length. Don't forget to hold the sonotube upside down to carry off the dust. When you are finished wipe the inside of the tube with a damp cloth to get up any extra dust particles. Dust is the enemy of the astronomer.

Step 4
Next you'll mount the secondary mirror in the spider mount (right shown assembled). I bought my already assembled. You can hand build them, but that's a whole other blog.  Mount the spider across the open upper end of the tube so that the secondary mirror is directly below the 2-inch hole with its center exactly at the adjusted focal length (focal length minus 6 inches plus half the length of the focuser half extended. Once I figure out where the legs of the secondary spider will attach to the side of the sonotube, I drill holes for the screws. Then I cut a bit above and below the holes in line with the tube so it makes a slot so that I can adjust the legs of the secondary slightly. You'll need that later he you collimate the mirror, secondary and eyepiece. Also, this spider doesn't show it, but I use flat washers to protect the integrity of the tube around the drilled and enlarged holes.

Step 5
Screw the focuser assembly into the tube directly over the 2 inch hole. You'll need to collimate or align the three main optical elements - the primary mirror, the secondary mirror and the eyepiece. Again, that's a whole other blog, but when the three elements are mounted, it will look like this:
Alignment of the primary, secondary and eyepiece.
Step 6
Mirror cell mount and adjusting screws.
The body of the focuser will align the eyepiece. When you remove the eyepiece and look down through the focuser, you should be able to see an image of the primary mirror in the secondary mirror. If you don't see the primary and the shape of the open end of the scope centered there, adjust the secondary's mounting screws up or down to align the image. Once it looks right in the focuser hole, the image will center in the eyepiece. If you did your measurements correctly, the focus point should be findable in your eyepiece by adjusting the focuser up or down. If the primary is out of whack, you'll have to twiddle with the collimating screws on the bottom of the mirror cell mount. Don't force the screws. Let off very gently on the screws on the side you need to tilt the image toward and very very gently tighten the screws on the opposite side. Do this in very small increments. If you tighten a screw too tightly, you can crack your very expensive mirror.

Step 7
Handy right angle
finder scope
shown without mount.
Mount the finder scope. You want to put it about a quarter of the way around the tube from the focuser. Far enough that you don't bump into it with your head, but no so far that looking through it requires you to circumnavigate the telescope every time you move the scope to reacquire the image. With Dobs, you do have to move the scope by hand, so you want to be able to switch easily between the finder scope and the eyepiece.

Step 8
Calibrate the finder scope. It may have instructions, but if not, here's how I do it. Note, I'm giving you this before you mount the scope on the Dobson mount. Really it's kind of pointless to adjust the finder till the telescope is mounted, but it's kind of a logical step in setting up the optics so here goes.

In daylight, point the telescope at a distant building or object (Mt. Ranier works up here in my neck of the woods because you can see it from everywhere).  Adjust the telescope so the object is in the center. Look through the finder scope and see where the object is. There are adjustment screws on the side of the finder scope mount that can be tightened or loosened. Carefully so as not to move the telescope off target, adjust the mount screws on the finder scope till the object is centered on the cross-hairs of the finder. The telescope image should be centered on the exact spot. That way, when you are looking for something at night, you can push the tube around till the finder scope is lined up on what you see and then the same thing will be in the eyepiece of the telescope.

That's pretty much it. It's really not hard except for getting your measurements right.  Having that focal length right is the key.  If for some reason you don't have the focal length for your primary, try the method for calculating the focal length described at this link.

Mother Earth News: A Homemade Telescope

Larry Brown: Homemade Astronomy

Scopemaking:  Plans for a Homemade Dobsonian Telescope

Howdy Ya Dewit:  A Homemade Telescope: A Quick Run-Through

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Resetting "HowdyaDewit!"

I've been buried with work since Christmas and realized I haven't posted anything since then. I had a disk crash on me December 26. I worked for days trying to restore it and was able to recover the pdf versions of my old greeting card files through September, but lost everything after that. I have PDFs stored online for everything, but my original PageMaker files weren't recoverable by any of the commercial file recovery software I could find. I got back Word files, jpegs, videos and mp3 files, but that's about it.

I'm now set up to backup even my SD cards in two different places at least weekly on my drives and to a cloud server so I never want to happen again. Since December I've ghost-written a couple of dozen books and haven't had the time to restart the greeting card series. So, in a bit I plan to reorganize the site so things are easier to find. Then I'm going to restart and finish the greeting card series and finish with a whole pile of DIY entries that have been languishing in my files for quite a while.

I'll be back soon with a bunch of new do-it-yourself pieces including how to assemble a Squared-Eel homemade banjo kit. Very cool.

© 2014 by Tom King