Engineer & Entertain

Ideas I grapple with

Get off your high horse

Traditional Japanese woodworking is performed while seated on the ground. So as to not cut into your tatami, saw horses low to the ground are used.

I do not frequently crosscut while sitting in seiza, but I have found many uses for the horses

  • Several sets of them on the floor of your shop make it very easy to break down sheet goods
  • Take a pair and a saw when you go to purchase lumber. Yes, most places will cut the lumber for a small fee, but where is the fun in that?
  • Use them on your workbench to lift work off the bench.
  • Push up bars. Crank out a few push ups while you contemplate your next saw cut.

The low horses are also a great project to help you bootstrap your wood shop. They are cheap and easy to build. Also, they can be built with only hand tools.

I largely followed the procedure laid out by Make Skill Builder: Building Woodworking Low HorsesI cut four legs at 8 inches long and two beams at 22 inches long.

Some assembly required.

I found the center of the beams’ thickness. I also found the center of the legs’ length. These marks allow for dead-on layout for the Lincoln log notches which will be sawn out.

The notches are 1/2″ deep. I did not measure their width. I marked where I wanted the notches and then used the connecting piece to mark the width. Measurement is the enemy of precision. I used a coping saw to cut the walls of the notches.

I then used the coping saw to remove the waste from the notches.

Cut as close to the line as you can. It will make for less clean up with a chisel & mallet later.

A chisel will clean up the notch. Like an electron killing psychopath, I used a trim router with a straight bit to square everything up.

I cut relief with the coping saw in the bottoms of the legs to create feet. Again I used the trim router to tidy my cuts, but a mallet and chisel could be used.

I applied glue to the notches and clamped everything together.

The other one looks exactly like the first. I love a good set of twins.

I skipped cutting any design into the legs. Despite my aversion to aesthetics, sawing curves into the horses provides practice for curved cutting and makes them easy to identify as yours.


Spiraling into control

I am building a table for my Handibot as one of my biggest challenges thus far is registering the machine in the same spot when I move it to change bits. The table will have dog holes bored every 3 inches. The Handibot will have a fence and work pieces will be clamped against the fence via offset clamps.

The screw does not go through the center of the circle. It is offset so the circle rotates like a cam.

Rather than cut circles and mount them offset, I decide to make cams based on the Fibonacci spiral. I am not sure if there is any advantage or disadvantage to this. My reasoning was that a spiral would have a smoother transition in clamping. We’ll see how this works in practice.

I laid out a rectangle and spiral based on the Fibonacci numbers with a pair of dividers. Alternatives to using dividers/compass include:

  1. Multiplication – the 3″x3″ square is effectively the number 8 square in the picture below. To make the 5 square, multiply 3 by 5/8ths. The 5 square is 1.875″ x 1.875″. To make the 3 square multiply 3″ by 3/8ths and you will find the 3 square is 1.125″ x 1.125″
  2. Print a spiral. Adhere the paper to your work piece with spray adhesive and cut it out.

I laid out a 3″ x 3″ square on a scrap of 3/4″ thick plywood. I set my dividers to divide the square into 8ths.

The 3″x3″ square can effectively be thought of as the 8 square

From the outer corner of the 3″ x 3″ square I paced out five spaces. This is the corner for my 5 square.

Five little steps and I made the 5 square

I repeated this process to create the 3 square, 2 square, and 1 squares.

I used a compass with a pencil to trace the arc in each square. The compass legs are spaced the length of a side of a square.

Then I cut out a small rectangle from the 8 square. This provides a handle for me to grip when tightening the clamp.

Cut with a handsaw.

Next I used my fret saw to cut the spiral. I used a sander to sand down to the line.


I drilled a 3/4″ diameter hole in the spiral for a dowel. The dowel is 1.5″ long and glued in place.

Looks like a duck

The clamp does hold pieces against a fence, but I am unsure if it will be strong enough while using a CNC router. I’ll report back with those results eventually.

Band names of 2015

Is your resolution to learn to play guitar, form a band, rise to fame, do coke off a hooker’s ass, trash a hotel room, fall from fame, and make a comeback? If so, here are the band names I came up with in 2015. If you use one of these names, please remember me in your Grammy acceptance speech.

  • Midnight Hawk Snack
  • Tiger Blender
  • Most of a Pizza
  • Raw Floor Biscuit
  • Cock Orphan
  • Break the hymen
  • Bring a change of underwear
  • Two guys, a girl, and a pizza place

GORUCK Light Thanksgiving AAR

Light Class 1044

I signed up for several GORUCK events and impulse purchased a light for Thanksgiving weekend. Class 1044 started and finished with 71 people. My first light had 8. My first light went for 6 hours, had a 1 hour welcome party and covered 8 miles. The Thanksgiving light went for 5.5 hours, had 3 hour welcome party, and covered 4 miles. Though the specifics are different the outcomes were the same: I had a great time with some good livin’.

The event started late because the Challenge which started the night before ended just before the light started. The Challenge had to push a 70,000 lbs (31,751 kg) semi truck. 15 of the people who did the challenge also did the light. They essentially performed one long event which ran 20 hours as they did not have time between to reload and refuel.

Cadre Sean and Cadre Daniel, both Army Special Forces, started our event with sprints and PT with our ruck. We also had some team building activities in there like inch worm pushups (think the human centipede performing pushups), low crawling under our teammates, body surfing our teammates to the end of a line, and rolling underneath our team.

Inch worms

Tunnel of Love

Body surfing

These events were followed by bear crawls, wheel barrow races, buddy carries, and more PT.

Cadre Sean then shared how mortar fire saved him and his team several times in Afghanistan. A nearby volleyball court allowed us to appreciate his love for mortars. After crawling on our backs and dragging our rucks between our legs, we linked up – legs around the waist of the guy in front of you. We grabbed handfuls of sand and threw it straight up in the air. This was repeated until the mortars provided the necessary support.

Fire in the hole!

Sufficiently sandy we were ready to start rucking with the worm – a group of sandbags connected by carabiners. A young man was tasked with adding the weight of the worm. It weighed 560 lbs (254 kg). The worm had some specific requests. At first it wanted to be carried low, then it wanted to be carried on our shoulders. Its most interesting request was to be carried between our legs.

While rucking to Encanto Park, some teammates were deemed casualties and had to be buddy carried. The worm and our casualties arrived safely in the park. We reformed rank and file. Half of the team jumped in a pond while the other half held plank. Then we switched. During this movement a participant received an actual injury. A girl fractured her ankle although we thought she sprained it at the time.

Not cold enough to elicit the mammalian dive reflex.

I am grateful that I repeatedly jumped in Lake Michigan in the winter. The pond class 1044 jumped in was cold, but those dives in Lake Michigan taught me the water can always be colder. In order to warm up we performed more PT. 5 minutes of arm circles turned into 8 minutes because we had to restart any time someone’s arms dropped. Once we were warmed, we rucked back to the Margaret T. Hance Park.

Chop your own firewood and you will be warm twice.

Passing our rucks back and forth while doing sit-ups.

A mile out from the park 50% of our females were casualties who had to be carried. We were given a time limit to make it back to the park. For every minute we were over, five more females became casualties. Once back at the park we formed rank and file again. We held our rucks overhead and began marching. With that drill we earned our GORUCK Light Thanksgiving patches.

New piece of flair.

Cadre Sean also handed out patches to individuals who had participated in 5, 10, or 15 events with him. He gave a patch to a woman who had done 15 events and to his recollection, she is the only one to do that thus far.

Pictured left to right: Beer, Cadre Daniel, Me

Cadre Sean also shared how the patches are just swathes of cloth that mean nothing. It is how it is earned that means something. He displayed a cloth sample which meant nothing, but was earned in an extraordinary way – his green beret. The cadre shared some interesting experiences with us and kept us motivated and entertained the whole way through.

Cadre Sean

Wear & Gear

Not much changed between my first light and this one.

  • Merrell Grassbow Air trail runners instead of my Saucony ones (they were finally worn out)
  • Patagonia Rockcraft pants instead of shorts
  • GORUCK 10 lbs (4.53 kg) rucking plate instead of two bricks duct taped together. The plate was supported by a yoga brick which was cut down to width. The plate was stowed in the laptop compartment of my GR1.

My gear, what I wore, and how I trained were otherwise all the same. I performed the GORUCK 6 week training plan before this event and felt well conditioned. If I continue to ruck and PT I think it is safe to say I would be ready for any GORUCK Light in a moment’s notice.

My most recent failure

There is really no such thing as failure, only more data. Here is my most recent bout of data collection.

I attempted to make a Roubo book stand. This stand is made from a single piece of wood and has chiseled hinges.

The hinge is laid out on the side of the board and its dimensions are carried across the front and back of the board. The board is divided into five equal segments which are then alternately chiseled down at a 45* angle from the center line. The board is then flipped over and the opposite segments are chiseled down at a 45* angle from the center line.

My next attempt will involve using my combination square as a 45 degree angle jig.

Next the stand and feet are rip sawn down the center of the board to open the hinges.

I look forward to using a proper ripsaw like this guy at the Woodwright’s School


Only at the end of all this work do you learn if you made a book stand or firewood. I made firewood.

When testing where I needed to remove waste to open the hinges I split the stand. While I am out a book stand I think I understand where I failed. My cuts were not complete; I chiseled too shallow on some of the segments.

I made this!

So what did I learn?

  1. I need to give more attention to the chiseling.
  2. I am taking a class on the Roubo book stand with Roy Underhill in the future. Consulting with an expert always helps to learn the nuances of a project or process.
  3. I dislike resawing by hand. I can understand arguments for and against using hand tools in any process, but I cannot understand an argument for resawing by hand. A band saw will be in my future.
  4. I am proud of the ogee I made at the base of the stand. Laying it out with a ruler and compass was enjoyable. I am always pleased when I can apply something I learned (especially if that something is geometry).

Ogee! O wow!

If you want to make your own, Roy Underhill will provide you instruction courtesy of PBS. View it here.

Lessons From Ethiopia

A transcript from my presentation I gave to my coworkers at a nursing conference. My slides were my pictures from the trip. This presentation has been modified from its original version. It has been reformatted to fit your screen.

For about two weeks in April I went to Ethiopia with a group called Health Gives Hope. It is run by two people; Amber Kaufman, an American, who worked with us last fall, and an Ethiopian named Israel Dejene. The organization takes medical relief trips in April and November and they have done so for about five years. In addition to medical relief trips, Health Gives Hope also runs trips to bring those with particular skill sets to solve other problems. Most recently they evaluated water sources and infrastructure to deliver clean water throughout various villages.

When I told someone I was going to Ethiopia they would mention one of two things to me: Ebola or Sally Struthers. The ebola outbreak was occurring on the west coast of Africa in Liberia and Sierra Leone while I was working on the east coast. It would be akin to me catching a disease from LA while working in NYC.

The other thing people remembered was Sally Struthers asking for donations for the Christian Children’s Fund during a famine. Another famine could certainly happen, but the main problem in Ethiopia is infrastructure. The government has pushed for investments in textiles, tourism, and manufacturing. As you can see from these photos, there are roads and new construction. There is a horse on this highway in the capital of Addis Ababa. The roads were paved or stone in the cities, but between the cities you may trade asphat for packed earth. This definitely affects the logistics of moving man, materials, and machines.



And this is what Ethiopia looks like. It’s rather green. Not unlike Flagstaff really. It was mountainous, dry, cool in the morning and warm in the day. The weather was awesome. Also, every photo you take cannot sufficiently capture the beauty of Ethiopia. I highly recommend going just to see it in person. When you go on a trip like this, you learn a lot about yourself. I thought I was a night owl, but it turns out I was just in the wrong time zone. Here are the other lessons which were reinforced from my trip.

  • Improvise Adapt Overcome
  • Teamwork

“Improvise Adapt Overcome” for those who served in the military I am sure you know this phrase or at least this sentiment. Generals make battle plans, but then have to change them once the plans meet the actual battle field. This whole trip was about being flexible and figuring out what you could accomplish with your brain and two hands. There are many times we made plans to do something only to have to change them for some unthought of reason.


For example, the Easter holidays occurred the week before we left. On Friday we were supposed to render medical treatment to prisoners, but we were unable to do so because Ethiopians are orthodox. Their holidays are celebrated a week later thus every thing was closed for Good Friday. All of the administrators for the prison were on holiday. None of the guards had the authority to let us in. They could not reach the prison administrators. We had to adjust our plans and it all worked out because I got to use this as an example for improvising, adapting, and overcoming.


The other lesson which was reiterated is teamwork. And honestly I hate this. It is such a cliche and we’ve all been on teams where we said, “I’m putting my name down twice because I did my work and yours”. But this team worked out really well. We all clicked and I think the main reason for this is because we wanted to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.


Which brings us to the story of baby Israel. He is a 15 month old who came in with lethargy, vomiting, and severe dehydration on the last day we were in clinic in the village of Bora. These are our two nurse practitioners. Amber is an FNP and Heather is a pediatric nurse practitioner. Heather started a line on baby Israel and wanted to do a bolus. We did not have any IV pumps however. In fact, the saline bags do not even have volume lines on them. So what are we to do? Improvise adapt and overcome. I got to do the thing that all nurses know how to do, but never do except on the medical math test in nursing school. I calculated a drip rate! I love nursing because you never know what bit of knowledge will be useful for your patients later on. Nursing encourages you to learn everything.


Calculating the drip rate also excited me because I got to use math to overcome a hurdle. This only got us over one hurdle though and there were many more to come. At the end of the day, baby had two 140 mL saline boluses, received saline at a maintenance rate, received 770 mg of ceftriaxone, and ibuprofen & acetaminophen as needed and he still wasn’t doing much better. We had to decide what we were going to do with baby given this was our last day in clinic. We could discontinue treatment and send mom and baby back home which was a 12 mile hike up and down mountains. We know what would happen if we did that option, so it wasn’t really an option.

We could hike 6 miles down a steep mountain and take the baby to Chencha. There is a clinic and doctor there, but we don’t know what capabilities they have. They could be the same, better, or worse than us.

We could remain in the clinic and have a slumber party. The main advantage here is that all of the medications and supplies are here. This second set of photos shows the interior of the clinic. You can see a good looking guy there in a ball cap triaging some patients. I also need to give a shout out to our non-medical people. We had two nurse practitioners, three nurses including myself, two pharmacists, and six non-medical personnel. The non-medical personnel were awesome at keeping the clinic running, building side projects, and just generally doing things so the medical people did not have to worry about any thing.

Our next option was to hike 1 mile from the Hidota clinic to the village Bora. This by the way is the view we had every morning and evening as we hiked to and from the clinic. This one mile hike beats any thing you might see on the Dan Ryan, I40, or I65. We could turn on of the huts in the village into an ICU.

We opted to hike down to Bora. We did this for logistical reasons. The clinic does not have beds or furniture, our gear was in the village, and dinner was in the village. You can see our two NPs discussing differential diagnoses. The gentleman in the kelly green scrubs was one of the two pharmacists. His wife was the other pharmacist and they were also our photographers hence you typically see one of them, but not the other. They were awesome pharmacists. They prepared all the meds they thought we would need so we could treat baby overnight without having to think, “How do I reconstitute this again?” And you can see me carry the IV bag. If you are six feet tall you are perfect height to be an IV pole.

The man in the camouflage jacket is Israel, our Ethiopian guide, translator, and everything else. The other guy in the lab coat is the chief of Bora.  When we arrived in the village Israel and the chief lead a prayer with some of the villagers around the baby. The whole time we were converting our quarters to be an ICU there were villagers coming in to wish mom and baby well. They have an amazing support network which would actually prove problematic later on.

Baby had been vomiting and we had only been giving him normal saline. In order to balance his electrolytes we made an oral rehydration solution out of our water flavorings. Again this excites me because I got to use basic chemistry to get over another hurdle. My excitement should not surprise you as you all are aware I am a nerd. Amber, Heather, and I rendered care to baby Israel throughout the night. At about three in the morning we heard our diagnosis. Let me say that again. We heard our diagnosis. We know what that means; baby Israel has pertussis. As you’re all aware pertussis is extremely contagious and we just had an entire village come in and wish mom and baby well.


In the morning baby Israel was improving by leaps and bounds. The nurse practitioners and Israel, the adult, figured out who came in close contact with mom and baby and thus needed prophylactic treatment. I stayed with baby Israel while the rest of the crew went up to the clinic to get the medications for prophylaxis. Amber, Heather, and Israel returned to our makeshift ICU while the rest of the crew began their 6 mile descent to Chencha. Yesterday was our last day in clinic and we needed to return to our base city after all. The four of us distributed medications, provided “discharge instructions”, and packed our gear for the descent. Upon our arrival in Chencha, the team greeted us and took us to get this.


The most glorious cup of coffee I have ever had. No one on the team ever thought about just his or herself. They thought about the team. And this team thought about our restless night and took us for coffee.


Baby Israel is just one of many patients that we had. We encountered patients with dehydration, typhoid, parasites, GERD, and much more. I need to thank all of my family and friends who donated to send me to Ethiopia with Health Gives Hope. Their donations helped save baby Israel and brought quality healthcare to hundreds of others. This trip is definitely a cherished experience for me. I love any opportunity that lets me challenge my mettle. It was fantastic to be a part of such a motivated team.

Tooling Around

After running Shopbot’s hello world, my first project was Shopbot’s accessory holder. The project takes you through the basics of designing in VCarve Pro, creating tools paths, and running the file with a CNC.

Tooling around

So as to get more practice, I made some revisions to the tool holder to store the accessories I received with my Handibot. I removed the three large holes which hold spare collets, three of the 1/4″ bit holders, and reduced the rectangular recess. I added six 3/16″ holes at the top to hold allen keys and a second slot to hold a 7mm wrench.

Tooling around

The 3/16″ holes were milled first with a 1/8″ single fluted bit. I marked the location of the Handibot by tracing around it. I switched out the 1/8″ bit for a 1/4″ upcut spiral bit. The rest of the tool holder was milled and cut out.

The redesign worked well in that it gave me more practice, but admittedly it is not how I prefer to store tools and accessories. Even though I thought I was thorough in realigning the Handibot with the pencil tracings when switching out the bits, I was still off. Thankfully the design had loose enough tolerances to accommodate a less than perfect alignment.

Science Friction

After watching “The Hot Seat Card Magic Trick” episode of Scam School I became interested in the Pilot Frixion pen. Watch the video below if you want to learn the trick in full, but what interests me is that the pen’s ink is erased by heat.

Previously I was only aware of the erasable pens which used an ink mixed with a rubber cement like material. Until the rubber cement set, the ink was erasable.

My first thought, “Could I use this pen to journal my plans of taking over the world and then throw it in a hot place to erase the evidence when the FBI raids me?”

The answer is yes, but really no. While the ink does disappear with heat from an open flame, oven, or vigorous rubbing, the content is still easily read by applying a raking light to view the impressions made by the pen.  Not to mention the FBI could use electrostatic detection to read my plans for global domination.

A raking light is applied so the impressions can be read.

Highlighting some of the impressions.


Furthermore, the ink reappears when the paper is chilled in a freezer. It is not as dark as when it was first written, but it is very legible. I like the idea of writing a secret message, erasing it with heat, writing a non-secret message over it, and then having the recipient freeze the letter to read the hidden message.

The original message

The message reappears after being frozen for less than a minute.


Microwaving the ink would require a considerable amount of time to be erased. I microwaved an index card with a message for 10 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds, 60 seconds, and 120 seconds. When microwaving the card, I also microwaved 1 cup (250 mL) of water. The water was there for safety reasons as I was unsure if the index card would catch fire if it was microwaved alone. The message remained intact until it was microwaved for 120 seconds. After being microwaved for a two minute duration, small portions of the message were erased. Not enough for me to recommend microwaving the message as a method of erasing it for a magic trick or removing evidence of a plan for global domination.

After microwaving for 120 seconds

After microwaving for 120 seconds.


The Frixion pen is useful for magicians, people who schedule their calendars with ink, and students who want to appear they live life on the edge by taking a math test in ink. Despite all of these uses I cannot recommend it for planning the crime of the century.

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

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