Essentially Electrifying

We’ve spent the past week or two essentially electrifying the rest of the house. With very few exceptions, the electrical phase (pun intended for you electrical engineers out there) is now all done.

The work involved several days of me under the house and Cynthia inside the house, the two of us fishing, running, and pulling about 500-feet of wire. After all that wire was placed, I spent the better part of a week wiring all the plugs, switches, and lights, and installing the switch-plate covers. The results are illuminating and it feels very good to be able to walk through the house and turn on any light we want. Cyn is thrilled to no longer have to trip over extension cords.

I may have mentioned this before, but many years ago when I was in my early twenties, I helped an older electrician by pulling wires and crawling under houses, doing the work for him that he could no longer do because of his failing health. In the process he taught me a lot, including the principle of “a path of light” through the house. So now, thanks to Ernie, we can walk from room to room to room, switching off one light switch and turning on another without ever being in the dark.

Following are some photos that show the completed electrical work:


The lights over the sinks in the master bathroom are working.


A switch on the wall as you enter the bathroom turns this light on by the toilet.


At this point in construction even the smallest items make a huge difference. It is so good to see the switches and the metal covers in place rather than the gaping hole in the wall. By the way, we used safety grab bars for our towel bars; the thickness of the bars separate the towels so that they dry better in this humid climate. Plus, they just look industrial, don’t they?


In the master bedroom there is a lamp on either side of the bed and a hanging lamp over the chair. The lamp over the chair turns on from either of the two entrances to the room.


A strip of LEDs provide general lighting in the loft. (Cyn says don’t pay any attention to the chaos of the boxes, they’ll be re-organized soon.)


To light the stairs, I bought ten, truck side marker LED lamps and mounted them under the hand railing. I ran the low-voltage wiring inside the square steel tubing that the railing is fabricated from.


Here is a photo from the bottom of the stairs. The lights make a good night light and consume almost no electricity.


The mass of spaghetti wiring under the microwave counter in the kitchen is now organized and nicely tucked into a large junction box. A sharp eye will see that the Romex connector at the top of the box is upside down — there just wasn’t enough room under the counter to install it correctly. But at least I installed one!


The wires in the junction box go to and from the new switches that control the kitchen lights and the exhaust hood over the stove. I used waterproof exterior electrical boxes because they look so much better than the standard electrical box. We used a lot of these boxes in the house and they AREN’T CHEAP!


Eight of Cynthia’s red kitchen lamps are now controlled by switches. Here are three of them. The open kitchen cabinets make a good segue to the upcoming cabinetry project. Stay tuned for a few more weeks.


I took this photo from the second bedroom, looking through the laundry room, the master bathroom, and into the master bedroom. I wanted to show that the light in the master bedroom is working. Also, I don’t know if I have posted about how we used safety grab bars for door handles.


You can see that the lamps in the living room are working. Also, I installed a light fixture high on the roof support column. This lamp illuminates the photos in the concrete frames and is controlled by a switch on the other side of the column.


Looking from the front door, here is a shot of the dining room and living room with all lights working.

Back in the kitchen, there was a big-ugly-stinking-mess at the shelving and electrical panel to the right of the refrigerator:


Using my homemade, DIY sheet metal bending brake, I formed some aluminum shelving and also a cover for the electrical panel. To cut the aluminum, I set up shop in the carport:


My shop is a mess, but I had just enough space to bend the cover for the electrical panel:


Here are the shelves and panel cover in place:


The shelves hold the house phone, the wifi printer, and the monitor for the security cameras. Later I will stain the wooden baseboard the same color as the floor.

The door can be opened to access the electrical panel:


So with just one or two tiny electrical details left to do, I can almost cross this one big task off my list. I consider the electrical work a success — I had just two small issues to figure out — I transposed two wires on one three-way light switch, and in the bank of switches in the kitchen I inadvertently screwed a switch mounting screw into a bunch of black wires, causing a dead short when I flipped on the breaker. Once the smoke cleared, both issues were easy to figure out and fix.

Next week I have some more aluminum to cut and bend to make shelves for the little office, plus make a few remaining shelves for in the walk-in master bedroom closet.

In other news, I spent a lot of last Sunday modifying my new GoPro camera. GoPros can take excellent quality photos and video, but the fixed lens gives somewhat of a fish-eye effect. Also, the focus is fixed so that the foreground and the background are always in focus. But a modification kit exists called the Backbone Ribcage that removes the stock lens and allows for using virtually any other lens made for photography. Of course I had to give it a go. Here is what the modification entails:

Here I am readied to do surgery. The original GoPro is at the bottom left. The other parts and pieces are for the modification:


Here is the camera all torn down and ready for the rebuild:


I drew little boxes around the screws that I removed and labeled them for proper reassembly.

And here is the final product with a nice little wide-to-telephoto lens:

P1020979-001Everything worked well, but when I tested the camera, the video came out black even though I had removed the lens cover. I sent a quick email to tech support and heard right back from the owner. He told me that he once made the same mistake — the iris in the camera was shut completely down, preventing any light from hitting the sensor. Duh Fred.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

In The Kitchen Plus This, That, And The Other

I know, I know. I haven’t posted in a few weeks now. I usually take Sundays off and write a post, but the last two Sundays I have been consumed with getting Cynthia into her new kitchen.

Last Sunday night she cooked her first meal in the new kitchen. There are still many, many details to go, but at least she is out of the wind and all her equipment and supplies are now in the same room. Here is how she had to cook in the camp kitchen:


You can see that I had to hang a tarp so that the wind wouldn’t blow out the burners.

On the checklist, the gas is now piped to the kitchen stove, the kitchen water heater, plus the clothes dryer and the water heater for the bedroom part of the house. I’ve installed the sink and the faucet. I installed the dishwasher. I installed the new gas range. I built an exhaust hood (but I still have to install the motor). I did a bunch of electrical wiring, and I grouted the floor.

Here are some photos as the kitchen is now:


Note the electrical receptacles and switches mounted in the side of all the island cabinets. At the bottom of the aluminum siding on this cabinet you can see that we are experimenting with frosted glass for the baseboards. It would apply nicely with silicone adhesive. We’ll see.

Here’s the new American Range and the hood that I built using my DIY homemade sheet metal bending brake. Also, check out the shine on the concrete counters:


Here we are installing the exhaust hood. Armando and Francisco are holding it in place as I drive screws up into the beam at the ceiling:


Here is an overview shot of the kitchen. Cynthia chose a charcoal gray paint for the end of the container. The TV will be mounted on that wall. We will have a love seat backed up to the third island:


We can’t wait to get more color in the kitchen. Just the addition of the two placemats makes a huge difference. Cynthia is going to make some colorful slumped-glass lights to hang from the beams. Her supplies are in the mail and on their way.

The electrical took some extra doing. It is not unheard of (understatement) for electrical spikes to happen, taking out expensive appliances along the way. (At one of the rentals that we lived in, some wires got crossed on an electrical pole, sending 220-volts down a 110-volt line and into the house, blowing out all the light bulbs, a microwave, refrigerator, stereo, and a TV!)

At the electrical panel, I wired receptacles where I could plug wiring from the stove, refrigerator, dishwasher, coffee maker, etc. into circuit protectors. Like this:


The two boxes at the left of the circuit panel are controls for the well pump. After I finish all the electrical, I’ll build an aluminum enclosure around all the electrical stuff. As a redundancy to the plug-in circuit protectors, I’ll also wire in a whole-house voltage protector at the main circuit panel.

Here is the floor all grouted. I made a custom mix by combining “cocoa” colored grout with “terra cotta” colored grout. It really isn’t visible to the casual eye:


Another little detail that I had to take care of is where the open shipping container doors on container #1 meet the container. There is a space from floor to ceiling that had to be closed:


I bent some aluminum scrap on my brake and caulked and riveted it into place:


In other news, I have measured for all the glass in the dining room/living room and we have placed our order. The glass should arrive in about a week. But before I install the glass, I want to paint all the trim around the windows. But what color? Way back, we decided to paint the house a dark gray/green with black trim. But the good part about building over such a long period of time is that you can change your mind without having to redo a lot of work! So now we have chosen a lighter body color for the house, a gray, sea-foam minty green, if you will, with a darker green for the trim. Yesterday I sprayed a gallon of the new body color on the wall by the front door and started priming the galvanized metal window frames. I had to quit because the wind picked up and put more paint in the air than on the metal.

Here is a photo of the wall. To me, it looks more blue than green on my monitor. But it really is on the green side of the spectrum so what you see may not be what is:


Remember those clay pots that a neighbor gave us? The guys cleaned them and Cynthia and I bought some plants. They look good on the front landing.

Here is a closeup of the plants in the new pots:


With the dry season rapidly passing, it was time to get some outside welding done. When we built the perimeter fence, it was raining too much to weld on the pipe at the top of the fence. Aramis, the welder that worked for us for six months, has other work, but he recommended his godfather, Ramiro. Here is Ramiro hard at work rapidly completing the fence:


Armando and Francisco have their hands full with an outside project that will make a huge difference. Before, our back yard was all but unusable because if you walked in the grass, you would be eaten alive by the no-seeums. We want to have more garden and less no grass. So Armando and Francisco are creating a path that will go all the way around the house:

Here is a photo from the second floor before they have laid any rock:



Step one is to remove the grass with a pickaxe. Step two, dig a shallow trench for a foundation for the rocks borders. Step three, build the rock borders. Step four, put down weed cloth and bring in gravel for the walkway. Step five, plant plants and more plants. Jabo knows that there is an armadillo or an opossum under the house…


Jabo can now patrol the entire property. Before, he understood that if he went in the grass that he would come out with ticks. Now he runs the path like a race car driver.


The back garden was looking kind of sad, so I bought a few drip irrigation hoses and an automatic timer. Now the garden stays well watered and is doing much better:


We still want to fill in the empty spaces with a few more plants.

Here are some closeup shots:


This is the torch plant starting to open.


Here it is more open.

Cynthia’s favorite is the Heliconia:


Remember Victor, that man who drilled our water well? He and I have stayed in touch. From time to time he needs help finding a part for his antique drilling rig. He tells me what he needs and I take to the Internet to find it and to talk to the vendor in English. I recently gave him two leads to nearby people who need his services, and the other day he stopped by with a couple orchid sprigs for us. He was on his way to a lake in El Valle to set free the box turtle that he had had for five years. “He needs a girlfriend,” he said.

Cynthia asked Victor how his wife is (for proper etiquette in Panama, you always ask how a person’s family is, even if you have never met the family). With a big smile and a laugh Victor replied, “GORDA!” What a joie de vivre he has!

Here is Victor with his turtle:

P1000942Victor also told us (and has photos on his phone to prove it) about the small yellow bird that has returned to his house every year for seven years. The wild bird eats bread and milk out of his hand. We like Victor.

It’s been a busy two weeks since my last post. It seems to me that I have used every tool that I own, but still nothing is done! It goes like that sometimes. But that’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Concrete Kitchen Counters ~ Part 2

With some tears-of-frustration and a lot of joy and excitement, the concrete counters in the kitchen are all but done (I still need to find some carnauba wax and polish the counters).

In my last post, we had just removed the forms from the countertops. The concrete looked good, but there were hundreds of tiny holes — professional concrete guys have concrete vibrators and vibrating tables to coax the air out of the mix. But I don’t, so we had to deal with the holes the hard way.

I made a mix of cement and black colorant. We didn’t mind if the holes were filled darker, it would only add interest. Cynthia and I spent a morning troweling the paste over all the surfaces.

The next morning, I started wet-grinding the smallest counter top. As I ground away the cement filler paste, I realized that the filler had filled virtually none of the holes. Oops! Damn! But now I was faced with grinding all the counter tops back to ground (pun) zero — two days of filling and grinding for naught. I was wrought and fraught (hey, it rhymes). The wet grinding was very slow, so I tested the orbital (dry) sander with coarse sandpaper. It worked better than the wet, but still took the entire tiring day.

We considered our options. Tile over the concrete — absolutely not! Apply that glossy bar top epoxy — toxic, it will scratch, and it doesn’t have the natural patina that we wanted. No.

Finally, the winner — what we did was to partially seal the concrete with an acrylic polymer concrete sealant. Then I made a paste of black grout mixed with water and the acrylic sealant (I figured that there would be a good bond between the sealed concrete and the acrylic-modified grout). I made a small plastic spatula from a plastic jug and spent the day tediously spreading the grout in at least six directions over each and every hole. I had to beg and coax the air out of the holes as I introduced the grout. I kept the grout as thin as possible on the surface. Did I mention that it was tedious? I kept the grout moist with the occasional teardrop.

The next day I put a 220-grit sandpaper disk on the orbital sander. Happily, the sander made quick work of removing the residual grout layer, and with only a handful of disks left a very smooth surface.

Then I spread more of the acrylic sealer on the concrete, keeping the surface wet while the concrete drank its fill. I kept the sponge moving for about six hours and used a gallon-and-a-half of the sealer. Eureka! We now have a really smooth surface that we can protect with wax.

Here are some photos:


As the concrete absorbed the sealer and began to dry, we were delighted to see that the black concrete mix had retained much of its color.






Cynthia and I commented almost simultaneously how the concrete looked “rustic.” We tossed out words and it was odd how the word “nostalgic” came to our minds. The counters look as if we had re-purposed some old counters from a farmhouse or a nineteenth-century factory. They look durable, like they were made in a time now past. They go well with the recycled, industrial-strength aspect of the shipping containers. And with our eclectic style, we can’t wait to see the high-tech aluminum-faced cabinets below the massive and hand-wrought counters.

So even with the distress of not knowing what to do about the air holes, we have emerged completely jazzed with the look.

In Other News: One day I woke up and was really tired. Cynthia asked, “Why don’t you just take the day off?” That sounded like a great idea. After my shower, I went into the dry room/walk-in closet to get my clothes and get dressed. Struggling to get a shirt off the packed-and-temporary closet rod I said to myself, “Boy, it would be nice to just have more room on the closet rod (that Cynthia and I were sharing).” I thought that it would only take a short while to install one of the new closet rods. “I’m just gonna do a quick project,” I told Cynthia.

By bolting through the container wall with some short screws, I installed two brackets. I cut a piece of one-and-one-quarter-inch galvanized tubing, sanded it smooth, and attached it to the brackets. Total time: about a half-hour.

I moved my clothes to the new rod.

It wouldn’t be too much more work to put up the second rod, the one for Cyn’s clothes, so I did that, too. Another half-hour or so.

We had been using those wonderful and ubiquitous chrome steel shelving units that PriceSmart (and probably Costco, etc.) sells. But now, with the new rods in place, the racks didn’t fit. So I took another hour; Aramis working on one side of the container wall and me working on the other, we screwed some adjustable shelving standards to the container wall. But now there were no shelves.

So I dragged out the table saw and changed to a fine-toothed blade. I had Aramis help me cut sheets of diamond-plate aluminum that I bought some time ago for this purpose. The shelf brackets measure 18-inches, so we cut strips of the aluminum 20-inches wide. We cut enough strips to make four, eight-foot shelves and four, four-foot shelves — three 4’x8′ sheets of aluminum with just a small amount of scrap that I can use for baseboards or other trim.

Aramis and I took the strips into my shop and made one-inch, 90-degree bends on each of the long sides of the strips. Like this:


I could bend the four-foot shelves solo, but it took two of us to bend the eight-footers. We applied so much force that one of the welds on my brake popped loose with a resounding BONG. A quick re-weld got us back in service.

I used the saber saw to cut notches on the back side of the shelves so that they would fit over the shelf brackets. Then Armando and I washed the processing oil off of the shelves and dried them to a nice shine. I installed the shelves on the brackets:


Cynthia and I then populated the shelves with our clothes and other stuff that we need to keep in the dry room so that they don’t grow mold. I will make a few more shelves, especially over the closet rods:


These new industrial-style shelves work just fine for us. I am capable of making a wooden, high-end closet installation with fancy drawers shaped like socks and racks for all the ties that I no longer own, but in this climate, open shelves and plastic boxes work the best in our experience.

Cynthia and I finished about 5:00 in the afternoon. And a fine day off  it was!

We discovered a weak point in our window security bars, so Aramis and Armando spent two days welding in an additional curve to each window, grinding the welds, and painting the new metal.

Additionally, Aramis has installed the last of the loovered windows, and Armando worked with me for a day cleaning the concrete dust from the kitchen.

Jabo has found the closet under the stairs and thinks that this would make a swell dog house. It is only temporary, Jabo…


That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by. Happy new year!

Time To Build The Staircase ~ Part 1

After two years of debate and indecision and tabling the motion, the Design Committee finally had to make a choice as to which material to use for the stairs to the loft and the roof deck — concrete or steel? Whichever we chose, it had to fit into our Natural Industrial Bling design style.

Concrete would be easy. Just build form work and pour. I’ve done it a zillion times. But if we chose concrete for the stairs, we would have to tile them, and how do you squeeze Natural or Industrial or Bling out of tile? We were at a loss with concrete.

But steel. STEEL! It just screams INDUSTRIAL! And if we were to use diamond plate (also called floor plate) steel, well it just doesn’t get any better than that! Here is a photo of diamond plate (source) :AAA - metal-diamond-plate

So with no experience working with this metal, and without knowing if my homemade sheet metal brake would be able to bend the stuff, and without knowing how I was going to support the staircase, I made my measurements and headed down the mountain.

For $85 per sheet, I returned with five, one-eighth-inch thick, four by eight-foot sheets of diamond plate steel. I also bought four sheets of diamond plate aluminum (also $85 per) to make shelves in the dry room. But that is another post.

Here are the sheets in the Honda. The aluminum is on top:


The first order of business was to cut the steel plate into pieces — a riser and a tread in each piece. As big as my DIY sheet metal bending brake is, it didn’t even begin to bend the eighth-inch steel. So Aramis and I talked and decided to use the angle grinder to make a groove half-way through the thickness of the plate. One “step,” consisting of a tread and a riser, looks like this before it is bent:


You can see the groove that divides the tread from the riser. We made the groove on the backside of the metal.

Here is a video of Aramis cutting the groove for easier bending:

Next we put the sheet in my homemade sheet metal brake to bend it: P1000624-002 Cynthia shot a short video of Aramis and me bending the steel. My back was sore the next morning! I didn’t really care whether the stairs started in any particular place on the first floor. They could go a foot one way or the other. But it was important to have the stairs end up at the triangular top landing. So I decided to build the stairs from the top down. In the States, a friend used to call me “The Upside Down Carpenter,” because I frequently worked from the top down. Anyway, here the triangular landing is in place and we are installing another landing; I hold the landing while Aramis welds it into place:


The top triangular landing is somewhat small, so to give people a few extra footsteps to get their balance, I made a second landing just below the triangular landing. By the way, the right side of the lower landing still needs to be leveled and welded into place.

Here is the underside of the triangular landing: P1000626-002 Next we installed seven steps and another landing. Another landing? Yes. There are eighteen steps in this flight of stairs. Should someone fall on the stairs, it is a long way down without the extra landing. Here is the underside of the steps so far:


On the left wall, the steps are welded to pieces of rebar that will be firmly embedded in the stucco. On the right, the steps are welded to pieces of angle iron, which are in turn welded to the container wall.

And here, at the end of day two, are the steps from above:


It will be quite dramatic when someone walks to the top of the stairs and is faced with a wall that is entirely glass. There will, of course, be a handrail across the window.

I think that once the diamond plate steps are cleaned and oiled that they will will have a nice Industrial Bling quality and a stunningly simple design:


I absolutely love the nice crisp bends on the steps. I’m happy that I spent all that time making my DIY sheet metal bending brake. By the way, as the project progresses, we will trim the foam panels on the right to follow the angle of the stairs.

The next day, Aramis and I fabricated and installed the remaining seven steps. Cynthia tested the staircase, acting out my favorite scene from Gone With The Wind: P1000634-002 And Jabo, who doesn’t have much experience with stairs, tried them out, too. He caught on quickly and had a ball running up and down the stairs:


This picture shows the midway landing really well.

Here are his antics in video:

Later, after Aramis had left for the day, I spent an hour cutting the foam panels to their new elevation:


I use special clips to tie the panels together while Jabo stands guard.

Here are the stairs from the top. My plan for the stairs is to wire brush them (using the angle grinder) clean them, then heat them somewhat with a torch and apply boiled linseed oil, then buff off the excess oil. I think that this will give a real nice gun-metal finish. The stairs may need retreating a couple times per year, but there won’t be paint to scratch, or paint to hide the beautiful steel patina:


On the right side of the stairs you can see spaces where the container wall corrugations go in and out from the stairs. I plan to apply the M2 foam panels on this wall, also, to hide the spaces.

The next photo shows the foam panel wall from the living room side. The handrail will be hidden just below the top of the wall. We chose to enclose the stairs behind the foam panels so that people will be surprised when they go around the corner and see the unexpected style of the stairs for the first time. The wall also provides more space for hanging art in the living room: P1000655-002

I worked out the height of all the steps and marked the elevations on the container wall. We used the laser level to transfer the marks on the wall to each individual step as we worked our way down to the bottom step. Here are my calculations, mostly in centimeters:


To keep the height of the risers just under six-inches, easy for the senior set, I chose to use 18 risers. And because each riser worked out to five-and-fifty-one-sixty-fourths, difficult to measure with a tape measure, I chose to work in metric. Much easier once you get the hang of it.

And if you want to make a similar flight of stairs, remember to bring money for cutting disks, two-to-three dollars each:


There is still some life left in a few of these originally-seven-inch disks. And once they get down to four-and-a-half inches, you can use them on the smaller angle grinder for cutting other metal stuff. But still, this is a lot of disks and a lot of cutting!

And here is Jabo, signing off for this post: P1000646-002 That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

DIY Sheet Metal Bending Brake ~ Part 3 ~ It Works!

It has been a long time of no progress on my homemade, DIY sheet metal brake. But now that the push on the interior walls is over, I have had some time to work on the project.

You can catch up on previous work on the brake at Part 1 and Part 2.

I have good news to report: It works!

After my Part 2 entry, I lightly tack welded the “hinges” in place. I made the hinges from three-quarter-inch diameter, three-inch long bolts with three nuts. You can see in the next photo that I used the angle grinder to grind away the I-beam to allow two of the nuts to rotate on the bolt:

Then I cut away part of the angle iron to receive the bolt on the part of the brake that swings up to bend sheet metal:

By the way, the angle iron pieces are stamped with the name “Sheffield Steel,” a foundry in business in Ohio since 1955. I got the steel from a building that was being demolished at the old U.S.Air Force, Howard Air Force Base just outside of Panama City. So I have a piece of history right here in my shop.

Next I temporarily clamped the angle iron in place and welded, little by little, the bolt and nuts in place. I kept testing to make sure that the angle iron would swing on the hinge. In the next photo is the completed hinge assembly. Also notice that I had to build a truss to keep the swinging angle iron in a straight line and to keep it from deflecting:


UPDATE JAN 2016 ~ Several people have asked for better photos of the hinge. Here are two recent photos showing how I welded the bolt head and the nuts to the brake body and the hinged part:

P1030569-001 P1030571-001

There has been some wear and tear on the machine in the past couple of years!


I slapped on a few coats of paint to keep the rust at bay, then took the brake out for a test drive. For the first bend, I cut a strip of 26-gauge sheet metal to make inside corner trim for Cynthia’s studio:

Here’s a video of one of the first bends; the material is thin, 26-gauge galvanized steel. I’m sure the brake will bend heavier gauge, but probably not in full eight-foot pieces.

Here is a close up of the action of the hinge:

I’m slap-a-knee darn happy with the ease of operation of the brake and the nice sharp line of the bend it makes. I know that all my welds aren’t professional quality, but hey, I’m easily bending eight-foot-long sheet metal in my shop for less than $150 in materials vs. $2,500 or more for a commercial brake. Makes me smile.

I still want to make a press brake in the space below the sheet metal brake, for bending heavy-gauge bar stock. So watch for that post any year now.

And then am I done? Well, no. Cynthia has asked if I can upgrade the cabinet that I made to hold her 1,500 watchmaker’s tins that store her vast collection of seed beads for making necklaces and other items. I made the cabinet out of wood and the termites have been having tailgate parties on each of the 48 plywood drawers.

“Could you make drawers out of sheet metal?”

“Well yes, dear, but I will need to make a box and pan attachment for the brake.”

As it stands now, my brake can bend angles in one direction only. A box and pan attachment allows for bends in two directions, as in bending an open-topped box or drawer. So it is off to the drawing board for the next part of this project.

In other news: We are seeing signs of the end of the rainy season. As we do every year, we got hammered with rain pretty hard in November. But now the tell-tale alternation between wet days and sunny days is becoming more common. Around the fifteenth of December the rain will stop as if a switch were thrown, and the Tourist Season will begin.

Why all the rain in November every year? There is a band of low pressure that circles the globe. This band moves up and down over the equator twice a year, delivering heavy rains as it passes over Panama. It is called the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ).

You can see the ITCZ passing over us in this recent screen shot from The Weather Channel (Panama is the little arch of land between Costa Rica to the west and Colombia to the east). The right-most orange cloud was just about over us at the time posted at the bottom of the picture:

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.



DIY Sheet Metal Brake ~ Part 2

I’m delighted by the progress I am making on my DIY sheet metal bending brake. There will be a Part 3 and more before I am done, but here is progress so far:

The Down Clamp: Since writing Part 1 I have successfully fabricated the Down Clamp. This is the piece of 1/4″ thick, 3″x4″ angle iron at the very top of the brake. Any sheet metal to be bent slides under this clamp. The clamp is then pressed down to hold the sheet metal in place.

I should note here that I had to make a decision about how to hold the Down Clamp down against the I-beam. Most professionally-made brakes use a rapid cam-action lever. Very nice, but DIY fabrication of a cam mechanism seemed complex. And as I will use the brake only infrequently, I decided on a simple nut and bolt affair.

Back to fabrication of the Down Clamp: First, I made a notch at either end of the angle iron to make room for the hinges (I have already planned the hinges). Then with the angle grinder and a drill bit, I made a three-quarter inch hole at each end of the angle iron. Next I welded a five-eighths inch hex-head bolt upside down on the I-beam. I dropped compression springs over the bolts. Here is one of the bolts welded to the I-beam:

Then I placed the angle iron, with the big bolts coming up through the holes. I put nuts on the bolts and cranked the angle down all the way. As I predicted it might, the angle iron deflected upwards at the middle. Not much, but enough that the sheet metal would not be held firmly in place. I had already thought that a strengthening truss would be needed.

I unscrewed the nuts and placed a one-eighth inch spacer under either end of the angle, then bolted it back down. At the middle of the angle, I used a couple clamps to pull the angle iron down to the I-beam, thereby creating a very small center-downward arch to the angle iron. Then using five-eighths inch rebar, I went about fabricating and welding a truss onto the angle iron. When I was done, I removed the clamps and spacers and ta-da… the angle iron held its little arch. As I screwed the nuts down, the arch in the angle iron compressed and mated perfectly with the I-beam. I was not able to see any light passing between the angle iron Down Clamp and the I-beam and it firmly held a piece of paper everywhere under the clamp. I breathed a big sigh of relief and did a happy dance because this was one of two mission-critical parts of fabricating the brake. (The other mission-critical part is the pair of hinges.)

I finished the Down Clamp fabrication by welding on an adjustment bolt for aligning the front of the Down Clamp with the front of the I-beam. In the next photo you can see the Down Clamp front edge alignment bolt. The nice thing about this being adjustable is that for steel sheet metal, which can take a nice sharp edge, the Down Clamp can be set precisely just a tad (the thickness of the sheet metal being bent) back from the front of the I-beam. However aluminum wants a more rounded corner or it will crack, so I can back off on the bolt and the Down Clamp will move backwards a little bit more (thickness of the aluminum plus a whisker or two), giving more room for the aluminum to round over. Here is the front edge alignment bolt at the lower right corner of the next photo:

I’ll replace the long carriage bolt with a shorter hex-head bolt. I may weld a tee handle on the new bolt to make tool-less adjustments.

The Hinged Angle Iron: The next big part of the project is to attach hinges to the other piece of angle iron so that it can swing up and bend the sheet metal. This is going to be a delicate operation as the hinges must be positioned perfectly. If the hinges are even a fraction off center or a tiny bit crooked, the bending operation will be faulty.

Recently I spent a lot of time at the Discovery Center in Panama City, looking at hinges and also at things that are not hinges but could be if I thought outside of the box. All the hinges, dozens of different styles and types, had potential flaws. Most were not strong enough, allowing for stretching or bending of the hinges. Others were not accurate enough, allowing for slop to enter the process. Even others wouldn’t allow the alignment axis that I need. I’ve seen good DIY hinges on other peoples’ brakes, but I couldn’t find tubes and pins that would mate closely enough to make a good homemade hinge.

Finally it dawned on me. The LED light bulb above my head turned on. How about using a bolt with a bunch of nuts? If you put a bunch of nuts on a bolt and tighten them, the bolt won’t turn. But if you leave a small space between the nuts, the bolt will turn. Or more correctly for my application, the nuts will spin on the bolt. And the action is quite smooth and accurate. I picked a few parts out of a few of the hundreds of bins and started making mock ups. I settled on beefy three-quarter inch, three inch long bolts with three nuts on each bolt. I can weld every other nut (and the bolt head) to the two pieces of steel to be joined by the hinge. Here is a photo of my imagined hinge:

Next I will cut very accurate notches (to accept the hinge) in the I-beam and the angle iron, then weld the hinges in place.

But sorry, that will have to wait for another day as more pressing tasks are calling for my attention.

In other news: The front garden is doing well. The weeds are doing too well, but we are trying to have a ground cover, a pretty little plant with blue flowers, do battle with the errant morning glory weed menace. Here’s a garden photo:

At the far end of the garden we left a tree stump, and have been seeding it with bromeliads and orchids:

We are nestling plants in every nook and cranny of this old stump.

One of the orchids is in full bloom:

I’m sure that others will be flowering in due time and I’ll post an update.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.