Engineer & Entertain

Ideas I grapple with

I CNC what you did there

I make it a point to not purchase a new tool or material unless it is truly needed. The basis for this rule:

  • I do not want to buy a tool that I will not use frequently enough to justify its cost.
  • Often I can use a tool I already have or build a jig to allow the necessary process to occur.
  • Having a limited set of tools puts constraints on my work and constraint breeds creativity.

Recently though I made a purchase which violates this very rule.

I have no need for a robot which can perform routing, engraving, cutting, and milling operations. But I have wanted one since I used a computer numerical controlled mill in my high school engineering class. Creating with a CNC machine provides an abundance of possibilities. The Handibot has an astronomical amount of potential.

My main attraction to the Handibot was twofold. First, I did not have to assemble it. There are many plans and DIY kits to assemble your own CNC for far less than purchasing a ready-made machine. Knowing that accuracy would be paramount in a DIY kit I opted to not go that route. I know others have built their CNC machines accurately and easily, but I do not have the patience to do so.

My second draw to the Handibot was its size. CNC mills range in size from small enough to fit on your desk to large enough to handle a 4 feet by 8 feet sheet of plywood. You bring the machine to the workpiece with a Handibot. While its cutting area is 6 x 8 inches I can move the Handibot anywhere on the workpiece and run a process. I am not sure how often I will mill on a sheet of plywood, but it is nice having the ability without having to dedicate the space to a large machine.


The software installation was fairly straightforward; I followed the dialog boxes as directed. I did have a run time error when I tried to run ShopBot 3 because it tried to divide by zero. Turns out I was supposed to run ShopBot_PRSDesktop2418.

It comes with VCarve Pro which is the design and layout software. PartWorks 3D is CAM software. These two bits of software can either be downloaded and installed from a zip file or with the included flash drive. The flash drive also has ShopBot Design (communicates between the device and computer) and ShopBot Editor (reads and edits the ShopBot files).


After installing the software, I zeroed the XYZ axes as directed. I then ran Shopbot’s version of “Hello World”.

The Handibot carves Shopbot’s logo with a 90 degree V bit. It provides fairly clean edges, but the detail will be dependent on the sharpness of the bit and the material being cut.

All of the fuzzy wood chips could be brushed away with an old toothbrush.

Cutting the birch plywood produced very little dust. I ran the sample twice – once with a shop vac attached to the dust port and once without. In both cases there was no observable airborne wood chips or dust. Regardless, you should always wear respiratory protection, but I am not concerned about my computer being near a router.

With and without a shop vac for dust collection.

On Deck

The main limiting reagent is my lack of knowledge of VCarve Pro. The last time I used CAD, CAM, CNC, or any other engineering software my roommates were my parents. Thankfully Vectric provides resources on how to use the software and there are other tutorials on YouTube and Instructables. My attempts at making some other logos and text in plywood were met with failure. I am sure I will figure it out in due time. Or I will become so incredibly frustrated with it I will sell it on Craigslist. Either way.

I am not sure what projects I will attempt with my new tool. Suggestions are always welcome. I love the promise and bright future it offers.

Donation of the Day

Kenya send me to Ethiopia? Donate by clicking here.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Oh Snap!

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

I certainly have no need for another old, lame magic trick like the snapper. I made the device so I could appreciate the lesson Roy Underhill provided when he made it on The Woodwright’s Shop.

The snapper could be made could be made by cutting the pieces first, drilling the hole, and then shaping it. You could drill the hole, shape it, and then cut the pieces. You could shape it, drill, and then cut. You could . . . as you see, Grasshopper, there are many wats to the tree. So, why do we do it the way we do it? We drill the hole first, shape it, and then cut the individual pieces because it is easier to work the wood as one unit. The lesson is in order of operations: leave it long, trim to fit.

Let us move from theory to practice. The wood is 3/4″ Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
And about 4″ long. Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

A 1/4″ hole is drilled in the center of the square end. Photobucket Pictures, Images and PhotosThe hole runs the length of the block. A 1/4″ diameter is used because that is the size of the dowel rod used to make the hook of the snapper.

One end is chamfered by cutting the corners with a saw. Photobucket Pictures, Images and PhotosThe chamfers were then shaped with a rasp. Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

The individual pieces were then cut. The body is 3″ long and the snapping end is 1″ long.

A small plug for the bottom of the body was cut from the dowel rod. Photobucket Pictures, Images and PhotosIt is glued in place with a rubber band. Photobucket Pictures, Images and PhotosAs the rubber band does not actually do any thing, there is no particular method needed to secure the rubber band in place. I simply shoved it in with the plug and glued it all with wood glue.

Notch the dowel rod to make the hook. Photobucket Pictures, Images and PhotosLike the rubber band, the hook serves no purpose. It does need to look like it could hook the rubber band though to sell the trick. The hook is then glued in place. Photobucket Pictures, Images and PhotosOnce it is dry, the dowel is cut flush with the head. Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

To use the snapper, squeeze the chamfered ends to shoot the end into the body. To make this entertaining you need to act like there is some skill and dexterity needed to hook the rubber band. Also, to make this entertaining, it helps if your audience consists of your young nieces and nephews.

Support male modeling & medical mission trips


You may donate here. Thanks for being awesome!

Be the brilliance to my sundial

My nursing skills are my sundial and they will be shared in Ethiopia in April thanks in part to a nonprofit called Health Gives Hope. They believe that healthy communities begin with healthy women and children, so they focus their efforts on improving maternal and infant health. They also work to build healthy communities by establishing access to safe drinking water, basic sanitation, and providing general clinical services to the community. Health Gives Hope has a maternal & child health clinic in Bora, Ethiopia where I will share my trade for ten days. This trip will continue to build on the relationships formed with the local people to provide care and education.

A sundial functions because there is brilliance surrounding it. In order to bring my skill set to Ethiopia; however, I will need your help. I need to raise $3,100 to support this medical mission trip. Please donate by clicking here and clicking the “Donate” button to the right on my donation page. You can also send a check to Health Gives Hope. Please make checks out to Health Gives Hope with my name in the memo line. Checks can be mailed to Health Gives Hope, P.O. Box 567, Dublin, Ohio, 43017. Your donations are tax deductible.

Thanks for being awesome,


In order to get to the clinic I will need to hike 6 miles to an elevation of 10,000 feet. I’ll handle the mountainous hike if you provide some of the financial support.


You’re Not The Bus Of Me

After an exciting camping trip last year in Morgan-Monroe State Forest, my friend T. Rex and I decided to have annual outings. T. Rex’s wife was coming to Las Vegas for a convention and T. Rex figured this to be the perfect time for an adventure at Red Rock.

As I live 4.5 hours away my plan was to ride a Greyhound Bus to Vegas. Multiple bus failures meant stranded passengers. The stranded passengers were placed on the bus I had booked and consequently I was bumped from the ride.

Buses do not scramble nearly as well planes and the next bus was due in 13 hours. It would bring me into my destination 24 hours later than anticipated. After calculating the cost-benefit ratio I opted to drive to Vegas.

If my plan to ride the bus was subverted, then others’ plans to ride the bus were ruined as well. One rider was Keiko, a Japanese woman who came to the American Southwest because she saw The Lone Ranger. I was meeting a friend in Vegas that morning while she was meeting a plane to take her back home to Tokyo. The 13 hour late bus meant she would miss her flight by 8.5 hours. I offered her a ride and she yes and-ed by buying me coffee. With a full gas tank and an international passenger the die was cast.

After I said, “konichiwa” my Japanese language skills were spent. Her English skills were thankfully on the border of conversational. We discussed our jobs (she’s a film art director), hobbies (she loves movies and travel), and favorite foods (we love all of them).

The rest of the drive was unremarkable. A fuel stop here and a pit stop there and in no time we were at McCarran International Airport with plenty of time to spare.

The time in Red Rock was awesome and I am glad I did not delay waiting for another Greyhound Bus. I am also grateful for poor bus maintenance. If it weren’t for a bus breakdown, then how would I have had the opportunity to offer a ride to a fellow stranded traveler who came to America because of Depp & Hammer? You never know what events will transpire to get you home to your next adventure.

Router Table Saw

On Router Forums (there is a forum for everything just as there is adult content for everything) a user posted an insert made for the extension on his Ridgid table saw. I have a different router and table saw, but the same desire for maximizing utility in a small garage workshop.

The router table rests on 1/8″ thick angle iron (made of aluminum). The router table has 1/8″ thick flat bar running across a 1/2″ thick plywood bottom. The top is 3/4″ melamine.

The 1/8″ + 1/8″ + 1/2″ + 3/4″ brings the melamine flush with the table saw top. The router top being flush with the saw top allows me to use the table saw fence and miter gauge.

The angle iron was cut to 21 15/16″ in length. The extension arm has a depth of 0.617″. 1/2″ wide piece was removed from both ends of the aluminum angle so it sits in the extension arm groove.

Holes were drilled in the 1/8″ thick flat bar with a step bit. The bars were screwed to the 1/2″ thick plywood. The plywood was mounted to the melamine with screws as well.

A fitted recess was cut in the bottom of the melamine using a straight bit.

Toggle clamps hold the trim router in place. A 1 3/8″ hole was drilled for the router bit.

The space savings and ability to use the tablesaw’s fence & gauge do not make up for the fact the router shifts in use. The torque of the router shifts the table top ever so slightly. Fine if the project has loose tolerances, but not so for something more exact. I may try to remedy this with a heavier router or locking the router top down to the table saw or the angled aluminum pieces.



GORUCK Light is an introduction to the team-based training found in Special Operations. While wearing a backpack (or ruck in military parlance) with 2 or 4 bricks in it, you and your team receive a guided tour (AKA rucking) of your town with good livin’ (AKA PT) along the way. It is not a race. You do not win or lose, but your team does. The only way to succeed is as a team.

The class learns teamwork through adversity. This adversity is orchestrated by a cadre, an experienced member of Special Operations. Danny, a SF medic, was our cadre for class 311.

Each class may have up to 30 teammates. There were nine people in the class. I thought it was only going to have four as only four people signed up on the Facebook page. The Facebook page is the main source of information about your event and I highly recommend signing up. That said, several members stated they couldn’t find the page; a problem I also had which was rectified with an email to Goruck.

Three of us (myself included) are civilians. Five of the military members were going through a two month leadership course in southern Arizona and the other is a member of the National Guard. The National Guardsman, a combat medic, completed several Goruck Challenges and Lights. His girlfriend was doing her first light.


There are many ways to prepare for GRC or GRL. I followed their 6 week program and felt fairly prepared for the physical challenges. How ever you decide to train, make sure your training includes rucking.

Although the event is physically challenging, the mental taxation is a far greater problem. It is very easy to quit rather than push through the event. My mental training consisted of watching Apollo 13 the night before the event. What better movie/event to reinforce the concept of teamwork under harsh conditions?

My motivation for the event. If I ever became down and out I was going to reflect on my dad’s military service, my time with the Ship of Fools, and becoming a nurse. I never felt down and out.


As recommended I wrapped my bricks in three layers of duct tape.

Members of the GRT community recommend wearing the bricks high on the back and securing them so they do not shift around. Just as there are many ways to train for the event there are also many successful ways to pack the bricks.

I strapped my between two yoga blocks. The lower block elevated the bricks and the upper block prevented the bricks from hitting my head during bear crawls.


My 3 liter hydration bladder sat on top of the bricks.


To prevent it from slipping to the bottom of my pack, I secured it with a carabiner to the interior MOLLE webbing.

My food and electrolyte tabs were kept in a 1 quart Ziploc bag in the outer slant pocket. I kept a Clif Shot in my cargo pocket for easy access. After I ate, I replaced it the next opportunity I had. I packed more food than I needed. I had enough to share with others, but so did everyone else. I also had Nuun electrolyte tabs. Imagine Alka-Seltzer crossed with Gatorade. These tabs are excellent and definitely kept me hydrated.


As long as you have a durable, comfortable pack, you will be fine to complete the event. That said, the GR1 is made for this event. It is expensive, but it is durable and well made.

Five of the military personnel wore ALICE packs which jut out. The packs worked well, but when we did low crawls under our teammates (Tunnel Of Love) the ALICE packs definitely whacked some of us. Our lone female reported having a mastectomy as a result of the packs whacking her. A low profile pack is not a necessity, but it is appreciated.

A Pelican Box 1020 contained a first aid kit (gauze & duct tape wrapped around an Aleve tube), my ID, cash, Leatherman PS4, and my challenge coin.  I also brought a cycling windbreaker which was kept in the mesh zipper compartment. Of all of these items I only used the Leatherman (we used another teammate’s first aid kit though). I would not hesitate to bring all of these items again because their weight is minimal in comparison to their utility. I also brought a pen and a rite-in-the-rain note pad. I brought them in case there were complicated orders (there were not). It is not a huge weight, especially in comparison to three liters of water, but I would not bother to bring them again.


I wore Saucony trail runners. Five of the military personnel wore combat boots which retained water and did not drain well at all. The civilians wore trail runners or running shoes and had no problems with water retention.  Of note, our cadre stated he wore trail shoes on missions & patrols and wore combat boots for general duty.

Injinji toe socks were worn on the recommendation of long distance runners. With fabric between to the toes I had no hot spots, blisters, or other feet abnormalities. Being made mostly of wool they wicked water & sweat and dried quickly.

Any athletic wear will suffice for the event. All but one person wore shorts. I wore swim trunks which I typically wear when working out or running. I was going to wear Patagonia Rockcraft pants, but they were too hot when training. A cycling jersey served as my top and the pockets in the back proved useful for keeping items close at hand.

Mechanix gloves protected my hands when carrying coupons and enjoying bear crawls.


We met at Wheeler Park on a windy, sunny afternoon. After going through a safety briefing, Cadre Danny called for a non-military, non-Goruck candidate to be team leader. As there were only three options, I volunteered as tribute. The cadre provides mission details to the team leader who then leads the team on said mission. Our goal was to move from Wheeler Park to Thorpe Park in 8 minutes to meet a contact. We did not make the time hack and as a result the corrective action was physical exercise. Once we arrived in the general area, I was looking for an actual contact (we were originally assigned two cadre so I was looking for the second one. This was wrong). That error taught us a chant, “Pain now. Beer later”. The first part of the chant is said in the down position of a push up. The second portion is thus said in the up position.

Once we arrived at Thorpe Park, we entered a pond up to our shins. We then received our welcome party which consisted of squats, flutter kicks, squat thrusters, and other body weight exercises.

Our next mission was to pick up a cache of weapons and move to a safe house. Cadre Danny showed me a map of where we were and where we needed to be. Like last time, the route was up to us.

Our weapons cache which required eight of us to move it.

Our safe house was this open field where we performed bear crawls, bear sleds, buddy carries, and the infamous Tunnel of Love.

This is a non-standard buddy carry.

I was then fired from being team leader and another person was brought on. From the field we had to march to the Lowell Observatory on top of Mars Hill.

Class #311

From there we went to the woods behind the observatory and performed a few more team building challenges and earned a jerry can filled with 5 gallons of dirt.

With a new team leader, the American flag, team weight, and other coupons we marched to Northern Arizona University to take out a target. We had to borrow 4 minutes of the Cadre’s time, and we paid him back with squats, push ups, flutter kicks, and more.

Some more shenanigans occurred which brought two teammates to share a leg.

We rucked to our exfiltration point on time and proceeded to do more PT. With the last round of bear sleds complete, Cadre Danny had us rise and receive our GRL patch.

Nothing in life is to be given. It is only to be earned.

We covered 7 miles over the course of the event.

Cadre Danny with me and the team weight, the Designated Individual Comfort Killer

A Class Cut Up

My goal in life, aside from being better than sliced bread, is to engineer and entertain.  I want to make things and entertain people. Roy Underhill does this effortlessly. The main instructor of the Woodwright’s School and personality of The Woodwright’s Shop also enlightens, engages, and educates like a fish swims.

The school is in downtown Pittsboro, NC. It is a quaint town that has not forgotten its 1785 establishment. While waiting for Roy to open the school, I chatted with my classmates. Most of them were from North Carolina and the rest were from the East Coast. Out of no where, Roy turns the corner carrying a 10 foot board of tulip poplar with a box of donuts balancing on it. Clad in a gray vest, a flat cap, and a smile, I was surprised when “Kildare’s Fancy” was not playing.

Our benches were decorated with models of the joints we would soon be learning and cutting. Mr. Underhill quipped we could just take those home and go to the bar now rather than learn the skill.

Guess whose bench this was?

Roy warmly greeted all of us and asked us about our experience levels in woodworking and creating dovetails and mortise & tenons by hand.  There were people with no experience all the way to more experienced than St. Roy. If you think you are not good enough to take a class taught by Roy, you are wrong.

Roy demonstrated the through dovetail and along the way shared hilarious anecdotes and delightful feghoots. He then set us to task and we created our own dovetails. At one point in time I was having difficulty paring. Rather than removing thin curls with my chisel, I was pulling off chips. I called the Master over and he performed the same task with the same results. He blamed the chisel and I was relieved that he used that excuse as well.

He set out to sharpen the chisel and this came to a tangent on sharpening tools. What is typically a 4 minute shop task became a 40 minute discourse on grinding and honing.

With no tools to blame, I finished my through dovetail. There are many dovetails, some better and some worse, but these dovetails are mine.

Shake your dovetail feathers.

After lunch at a soda shoppe next door, we made half-blind dovetails. Half-blind dovetails are like through dovetails, but the tails are shorted and sit in a socket.

Half-blind dovetail wears an eye patch

The method Roy taught us to make half-blind dovetails could easily be used to make through dovetails and vice versa. There are many ways to the tree, Grasshopper.

We then moved on to making a mortise and tenon joint. Mortise and tenons are frequently used in making tables. Roy imparted some great wisdom about making tables, “How long do you table legs need to be? They must reach the ground!”

The joint is very simple in that we are cutting a peg to put into a chiseled hole. That said, I still managed to err the layout of my mortise and tenon. Roy shrugged it off and said I am just creating a new school of art.

What you see on The Woodwright’s Shop is exactly what you get when you take a class from Roy. He is a warm and entertaining teacher. Not only does he teach you a skill, but he teaches its application to bigger projects. With practice, I will be making neater and tighter joints. And in no time, I will be applying them to making tables, drawers, keepsake boxes, blanket chests, and plenty of other items my family will hate to receive for Christmas and gift-giving occasions.

Yes, I am holding a 4 foot dovetail saw.

He signed my lab notebook. “Thank you, Benji. May the grain be with you! Roy Underhill 2013″

Cobalt F. Milanowski, M&M

He wrote hit Ke$ha songs


On 09 Dec 2013 at 1200 MST, Cobalt Foxunit Milanowski, my greyhound, died at a kennel. A staffer at the kennel passed the hound before letting some other dogs out and noticed he was laying around like greys typically do. A few minutes later he returned and noted blood was coming from Cobalt’s mouth. The kennel called several veterinarians and determined Cobalt died quickly and peacefully in a matter of minutes. The kennel called me immediately. I was mid-flight, returning home from a vacation and planning on picking up the dog that day.

The kennel offered to cover a necropsy. The logical side of me that wants to know what happened also told me to let go and let Cobalt have peace. The idea kept turning over in my head; ultimately, my clinical compulsion won and I ordered the autopsy.


Cobalt had swelling on his right rear ankle on 12 Nov 2013. He saw a veterinarian on 16 Nov. The vet’s differential diagnosis included valley fever, a tick borne disease, and osteosarcoma.

A blood panel came back negative for valley fever. Rather than run a tick panel, doxycycline was given prophylactically to treat any tick borne illnesses. A radiograph displayed cortical bone loss which is a sign of canine osteosarcoma. The vet recommended we periodically x-ray the site to insure the loss did not become greater.

The swelling reduced some, but resumed a day before the vacation. My plan was to make a vet appointment for him upon my return, but death intervened.

Cobalt’s past medical history includes a heart murmur when dehydrated, a bout of vomiting (which was never diagnosed, but resolved itself), and cryptorchid which was resolved surgically before we adopted him.


Another vet performed the necropsy. Upon gross examination the vet observed petechiae on the abdomen and free blood in the abdomen and thoracic cavity. He found a tumor on the left atrium (hemangiosarcoma). The disease typically begins around 8-10 years of age. Cobalt was 7; he was detrimentally precocious.

The vet reported Cobalt likely had an underlying malignancy which triggered an autoimmune storm.  A cascade of events occurred in a matter of hours and Cobalt’s death occurred in a matter of minutes.  His end was sudden, quick, and peaceful.


A hemangiosarcoma would not show up on radiographs and would only be visible on an ultrasound. If the disease was detected in its very early stages, then treatment might have been a possibility. Chemotherapy would be performed in addition to a very vexing and delicate surgery to remove the tumor from Cobalt’s atrium. Even with surgery and chemotherapy the hound’s life is only extended by 8-9 months. Furthermore its treatment is generally limited to the expertise of a veterinary cardiologist, something not found in Flagstaff. Cobalt’s life might have been extended, but at what cost to the dog’s quality of life?

Given there were no outward signs nothing could have been done. Even if the disease was detected, at this stage the animal’s death could occur at any time. Early detection is the key to cancerous conditions in both humans and animals.

I am grateful for Cobalt. I am also grateful he did one last thing for me and expanded my knowledge of canine health. I miss my hound. Hopefully his dog brain was able to understand that my wife and I love him dearly.

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