Metal Detector

My daughter and her family own some land on Butler Island that used to be an old farm.  There are cellar holes, silo pads and all kinds of interesting remnants of life 100 years ago.  We could see some of the stuff, but what couldn’t we see?  So I started looking for a metal detector.

During my search I found a very interesting Canadian electronics guy who had built all sorts of stuff and gave the schematics on the site.  He felt this particular metal detector was as good as a $1,000 commercial detector and could be built for $100.

I cannot read electronic schematics.  At. All.  But I know what the various components are and what they supposedly do.  So I bought the printed circuit board from him for $6, took the blown up picture of the completed board to Radio Shack and bought the components.  Not an easy task.
But it worked.

I used 1/2 inch PVC (sewer pipe from Home Depot) for the handle.  The hardest part, I think, was the coil.  I spent quite a bit of time winding the wire and working to keep it flat.  I then covered it with Lexan top and bottom and put yellow electrical tape around the perimeter to keep dirt out.

The battery is a 12 volt, 8 amp hour rechargeable that I bought for about $16 from the local battery store.

This metal detector works very well and has found some very interesting stuff and the digging for the metal it found has brought a bunch of exciting glass jars to the surface.


My son-in-law, Steve, takes a lot of pictures.  Always with the pictures.  Lately he usually has a GoPro Hero 2 attached to some body part.  We stumbled upon a very cool video camera platform at  Arduino and radio controlled, this thing is something to behold.  Go to the website and see some of the videos the flyers are making.

We bought the aluminum frame from the website and the various electronic parts from here and there, including China.  You know, it is tough buying stuff from China.  And it takes forever.  I can’t figure out how you buy $100 in batteries and speed controllers and the box arrives with a customs tag valuing the contents at $3.  Makes me feel like I overpaid or something.

Unlike the CNC router, this project requires lots and lots of soldering.  But the open-sourced instructions are very well done and it’s really not difficult to put it all together.  I think, if you have everything you need, you could build this thing to ready-to-fly stage in a day.

Anyway, this beauty has four sensors – gyroscope, accellerometer, magnetometer and barometer.  Using open sourced software, the sensors work the four motors to keep the copter level and steady.  Just what you want if you are taking high def video.

But, like all real radio-controlled helicopters, it takes some hours to be able to control it properly.  We are in the get-it-to hover stage. We need to be diligent, though, as we have committed to fly the thing at Vermont’s first Maker Faire in September.  I will keep you informed of our progress.

DR Equipment Rebuilds

I really enjoy DR equipment.  Built right here in Vermont and really excellent machines.  I buy tired DR stuff for usually about $100 and tear them all the way down, sandblast the crud and rust away, replace what needs replacing, make the engine happy and end up with what I consider excellent yard machines.  The brush hog (above) is one of their earliest builds and the drive mechanism is very clever and effective.  It swings a huge blade that will destroy anything in its path. It usually costs about $100 to bring them back.

This is typical of what you get for your $100.  This string trimmer is great on our summer island because it will cut down grasses and weeds as tall as you are.  Very well balanced and will last a very long time if you maintain them.

So far, I am the happy owner of the brush hog, two string trimmers and an excellent limb chipper.  Orange Rocks!

CNC Router

I was looking for a way to cut down on the time I was spending milling the Trek plastic “wood” for my adirondack chairs when I stumbled upon a wonderful website .  This wonderful contraption is built out of MDO, which is basically a sheet of paper and glue.  It mills well, doesn’t warp and is reasonably cheap, available at your local big box lumber stores.  It doesn’t, however, like to be screwed.  So you use bolts and barrel nuts.

Everything moves on 90 degree angle aluminum as tracks, and the same angle aluminum with roller blade bearings as the car:

I built the 2′ by 4′ machine for about $100.00, not including the router, which I spent another $100 on.

I am using 1/4″ threaded rod to move everything, and almost anything else would be better.  But it works.

The motors, controllers and power supply came all together, purchased from the website and went together very easily with no soldering.  The whole project is easy to build and really fun to watch.  I got a really old free computer headed for the trashpile at work and loaded CamBam to draw the pieces and Mach 3 to run the tool.

I haven’t used the machine as much as I would like – it tends to make dust and noise.  I need a shop!

This is really an easy project and I would recommend it to anybody with a curious mind that likes to make things.  Step by step instructions are at the website.  By the way, the first thing many builders make with their new CNC router is another CNC router.

Trek Adirondack Chairs

I got really tired of painting old pine or cedar adirondack chairs.  Finding and dragging them back to the porch after a windstorm wasn’t very special, either.  So I decided to build them out of a fairly new plastic wood called “Trek.”  I had replaced our deck with this “wood” and was very happy, knowing I would never have to stain it, or do any maintenance other than power-spray it once in a while.  The problem is that it is about an inch thick and quite heavy.  So I found a chair that I felt was comfortable, took it apart and made patterns for each piece out of MDO.  I had to resaw each piece down to 3/4″ on the table saw.  I used the table saw, a saber saw and a router.  The fasteners are traditional decking screws and 8 stainless nuts and bolts for the legs.  These live outdoors all year around, are very sturdy and will never need painting.

Every time I showed someone these chairs, they asked if I would build one for them.  An easy sell at about $110 for an outside chair that should last a lifetime.  And, at about 35 pounds, won’t blow off the deck unless a “problem wind” comes along.

I decided I was spending too much time milling the “wood” so I decided to build a CNC router to do the legwork for me (except for the resawing, which, I guess could have been routed as well).

Not having a shop, and living in a condo, meant I had to build these in my garage.  The project came to a halt when the neighbors started complaining about all the activity.  Never should have moved from our real house with a real shop.  Oh well.


Sevtec Hovercraft – Making Wind

After I decided that going over to our summer cabin on Butler Island in Lake Champlain in the winter was too cold, too prone to pressure ridges and thin spots due to warm springs from the bottom, I decided that what I really needed was a hovercraft. After spending a bunch of time on the internet, I decided the best design for me was a design by an engineer in Washington state called the Sevtec Vanguard. I built mine 16′ long, with a Vanguard 2 cylinder 22 horse power engine.  I purchased the foam and skirt materials, the propellers, the lift propeller cowling, the plans and a build video from Sevtec.

It took me a little over two months of spare time to build the body – cutting the foam boards to size, hot gluing them together and fiberglassing them.  I spent another two months doing the metal work – engine stand and fan shroud.  There came a point when I had to start up the engine with props on and measure to finish the skirt install.  I tied all four corners to things in the garage and turned the key.  I had been sanding and sanding and sanding for weeks while building the body and the cloud of dust that blew out of every possible nook and cranny was unbelievable.  I couldn’t see three inches from my face.  I stumbled out of the garage absolutely covered in the worst possible fine dust.  So I let the thing run for about 10 minutes to clean the garage out then crawled under the floating beast and made the measurements.

The end result was really quite successful and a lot of fun.  I could fly off the trailer, across the parking lot, down the boat launch ramp, across the river or lake and bring it back again, right up onto the trailer.  And it was great on ice.  The only problem was that it had no brakes.  It did, however have a very clever way to dump the air out of the front of the skirt and stop reasonably fast.  You could take it out on the lake, shut the engine down and fish or swim.

The specs said it could carry four adults, but I found two were perfect.

I finally sold it to a guy from Virginia and have no idea where it is now.

Take a look at the Sevtec site:


DN Iceboat

After building Fast Betty, I got interested in iceboats.  The winters here in Vermont tend to be long and cold.  Lake Champlain is about 120 miles long and 10 miles wide at its widest point.  All the bays freeze, and the entire lake freezes periodically.  That’s a lot of ice and what better way to spend time on it than with a little wooden missle with very sharp skates.

A little research led me to the DN, based on a design which came up from a contest held by the Detroit News.  As it turned out, it was quite popular around here, I just didn’t know where to look for them.

Anyway, I ordered up the plans, went to the lumber store and bought some sitka spruce. ash boards (for the plank) and a sheet of okoume plywood and started building.  I bought the official blades and mast and boom and this is how it came out:

I trimmed the cockpit with some black walnut that I had around and sanded and varnished her until it seemed like it was time to try it out.

It was a perfect day, good ice and a nice breeze.  The boat was very fast and very light, so I found myself going very fast with the windward blade up in the air.  I liked it very much, but you can’t share that kind of fun because this is a one-person boat.

I sold her to a very good local sailor who took her to the world championships that year.  Checking the rankings on the DN website, I see that hull number 4009 was rated 33rd in the national standings for 2011.  I’m glad she is still getting used.

I decided to purchase a boat big enough for two – a skeeter class boat called a Nite.  That is a big, comfortable two person boat that will go as fast as you dare go.

I finally sold the boat because I needed the space for other things that were appearing in my life.

Fast Betty Aquarail – DIY Jetski

In August, 1972, Mechanix Illustrated had an article about building what they called an “Aquarail.”  Think of it as a mahogany jet ski driven by an outboard.  This was back when Mechanix Illustrated and Popular Mechanics told you how to build stuff that was actually stuff.  Some of it was dangerous as hell but they put it out there and told you how to build it.  Lawsuits finally changed that practice.  Anyway, I sent in my $5 and got plans.

Ten years later, after I had the beginnings of a shop to build stuff in, and a few power tools, I built one.  I used luan (door skins) for the plywood and cedar for the solid wood.  I went to the local Harley Davidson shop and got the twist throttle.  Everything else came from the lumber or hardware store.

Aquarail first ride on the Winooski River, circa 1978.

Aquarail first ride on the Winooski River.

My Mom used to call herself ‘Fast Betty,” so I named the little vessel after her.  She and my dad flew out from Colorado to pour some champagne over her bow before we launched her.

It has a fiberglass bottom and an 18 horse Nissan.  It’s actually a comfortable, dry ride.

She lives up at our summer home on an island, in a barn.  I haven’t taken her out in 10 years now.  This year I will.

You can see the original Mechanix Illustrated article here:

Soap Box Derby

Soapbox Derby
The beginning of it all

When I was 12, I got permission to build a Soapbox Derby car.  In order to do this, I had to get a sponsor.  The cost to build was limited to $25 and I could have absolutely no help from any adult. My father didn’t own even one power tool, so it was me vs. the wood using anything I could find. The car had to have brakes and steering and use the official axels and wheels ($10, available from the Chevy dealer).  It couldn’t weigh more than 250 pounds with me aboard.  I found a sponsor in Durango Music, who figured my parents would be buying the trombone he couldn’t sell later in the year, so why not spend the $25.

That’s the end product on race day – car number 4, proudly carrying the Durango Music lettering.  As I got close to race day, before the car was covered, we weighed the thing.  Together with driver it weighed about 170 pounds.  Not good for a gravity driven machine.  So I took green aspen logs and glued them on the top, in front of the driver and covered the  car in yellow cardboard.  Final weight 205 pounds.

I was about in the middle of the pack, weight wise, with some experienced builders coming in at 245 pounds.  There were some very interesting crashes, as I recall.  One guy took a hard 90 degree turn halfway down the run, into an open and, luckily, empty garage and out the back wall.  No damage to the driver.  Several others went through the hay bale barrier at the bottom.  My car worked fine.

I didn’t win, but I did learn that even kids can build cool things.  That has stayed with me my whole life.