The Trekstion display.

Recently on the facebook uBitx ham radio group, there was a discussion about replacing the stock LCD screen with a touchscreen display that seemed to make running the thing easier, and displayed a lot more information. But, I didn’t want to risk my current radio by screwing around with it.

As luck would have it, someone was selling their uBitx radio kit, complete with enclosure, knobs, and partially assembled, for a lot less than the bare bones kits coming from India. He said he just didn’t have the time to mess with it. So we worked out a deal and I got his radio kit. I was pretty impressed with the little case, and there was room for other stuff.

The case came with a power supply to run it from 120v wall power, but since I always run the uBitx from a 12 volt supply, I left the wall supply out. On the  right side, in the big clear space, I decided to put a computer case fan. Since the front of the box was clear, and everything else was blue, I got a PC fan with blue LEDs to light the whole thing up.

I also added the same power boosting board that I always use on the uBitx, to squeeze a bit more juice out of the power transistors. Right now its set up to feed the transistors with 20 volts instead of 12. They can handle up to 30, I think, but I didn’t want to tax them too hard. With 20volts in, they push right around 20 watts of radio power out, which is twice what the original output is set for.

In the front, you can see the hole for the original 16 character, 2 row screen. Thankfully  it is  easy to remove, as it just slots in with some pins. The replacement screen is by a company call Nextion, which makes touch-sensitive screens for a variety of industries. They even provide a simple programming interface. There is already a set of files for the little onboard computer that lets the screen and radio talk to each other. Someone else already did the hard work.

The uBitx is controlled by an arduino, a little computer on a chip that is often used to create simple projects and help people learn about programming and such. Its the little blue board to the right of the above pictures, and its not much bigger than a USB flash drive. The Arduino talks to the monitor through two wires, blue and yellow, above, through a serial port. The monitor has its own computer and control software.

Programming the Nextion screen was pretty easy. Again, most of the work had been done already by other hams and engineers, so all I really have to do is make backgrounds and move the click-boxes around so the old stuff and new stuff match up. The table above is the frequency change page, with all the little labelled click-boxes.

As popular as Star Trek and Star Trek computer stuff is online, it was really easy to make a new background in PhotoShop, put it into the programming interface, and move the click-boxes into position. My screen is bigger than the original, about 4.5″ versus the setup of 2.5″, so I had some extra room to play with on the sides of the images. Below was my first screen, completed. LCARS – for those not complete nerds, is Star Trek’s “Library Computer Access and Retrieval System”. Its basically their name for the computer system that runs the ship.

After finishing that screen, I did the main screen, which you spend most of the time looking at and running the radio from. After figuring out where I messed up and fixing several things, I uploaded the data to the display and waited. Then I rebooted it, and the Trexion  display was born.

So there it is sitting on the desktop, the red light in the background is just the power light for the Arduino and its board. Unfortunately, the screen pulls more power than the little LCD, and it wasn’t long before I almost overheated the arduino’s voltage regulator. The screen started flickering, and I unplugged everything.  So I had to get a 12v to 5v converter, which will mount next to the fan. I can power the screen separately from the arduino, which will keep it from burning out important stuff.

While I wait on parts and keep working on the case, I’ll redo a few more screens. There are at least two more common screens I want to work on, but there are about 5 I’ll almost never use.

This would make a decent road radio for car camping or even parking lot activations, but its too heavy and the power consumption is a bit much for backpacking. But its a fun engineering challenge.

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Argggh me hearties! Unfurl the mainsail and hoist the colors.

Since I haven’t been hiking recently, I have been playing around with making more knives and swords. Swords are SO much work. The grinding isn’t that bad. With my new grinder I can really rip out a blade in a third of the time of my old machine. But the SANDING is terrible. After I grind the blade to shape and bevels and all, I have to sand out all the grinder marks and belt divots. It takes HOURS of back-hurting, sweaty, dirty work. I thought that was the grinder’s job, but no, on all the facebook groups they say there is really no way around the hand sanding.

I started two new sword projects, the first was a viking (Carolingian) sword. Basically very similar to a crusader sword, but with a shorter handle and a heavy pommel and guard to balance the weight. Along with that, I started a cutlass for a friend. It was easy enough to design. Basically Google “cutlass” and there are hundreds of design variations. But in general, a cutlass is a shorter, curved sword useful in either stabbing or slashing. A shorter sword is useful in the close confines of a ship, and much like a cavalry sword, can also be used in slashing attacks from horseback. I cut the sword from 3/16″ steel with an angle grinder. I started with 2″ wide stock and drew a curve into it, instead of starting with straight stock and trying to bend it. Since I started this one, I have also started a katana, and heating and bending straight stock is pretty difficult without the proper tools.

After bevelling, I tried to put a fuller into the upper edge above the blade bevel. A fuller is often mistakenly called a “blood groove”, because some people think it’s there to let blood out or even to prevent the sword getting stuck inside someone because of some sort of suction. A fuller is only there to lighten the weapon, and in the case of forged fullers, is moves the mass from the center of the blade to the edge, to make the edge stronger.  I TOTALLY screwed it up. It looked horrible. First, I didn’t have the right size wheel to try a fuller on a smaller sword. I have a 6″ wheel that works fine for viking swords, but it’s terrible for smaller diameter cutlasses and such. So, I ground out the fuller.

The brass pommel was my absolutely favorite part. I had a piece of brass I had completely destroyed before. I had broken a drill bit off in the middle and wound up cutting it in half. So it was waste brass I held on to. Thank goodness… brass blocks aren’t cheap. They are cheaper than steel, but not inexpensive. I pulled the brass block out, drilled a hole through the middle with a decent bit, and then carefully ground off the torn up parts to make a rectangular prism about the size and shape of a pair of dice stacked together. Then I ground off the corners at a 45 degree angle, so I had sort of an octogonal shape looking at it from the end. Then I visually divided it down the center and ground each face in a bit towards the tips. It came out really nice, with interesting facets, all in about 30 minutes. Next, I had to make the D guard.

I’ve never made a classical foil or cutlass style handguard. Up until now, even with the viking sword, I just made stand cross pieces. Cutlasses need handguards, and thankfully like the swords themselves, there are as many kinds of handguards as there are swords. I went with something simple, that I wouldn’t have to heat and beat too much. After my issues with the brass, I wasn’t really looking forward to this. SO I used my time wisely, and picked up a bunch of pinecones, and chucked them in my home-made forge.

 

First – it seems pinecones are NOT the best forge fuel, even with forced air. They smoke, a LOT. they also burn like crazy when they do catch fire. They burn crazy fast and hot, then they are done. So the whole time I’m trying to heat and beat my handguard, I’m stoking the damn forge with pinecones  like I’m in the boiler room of the Titanic, and the smoke is about to put me down every time the wind shifts. But finally I get the dam guard beat into a shape close enough to what I what.

Of course, with the hand part beat into sort of a bowl shape, There’s no way to clean it up on the belt grinder, so I’ll be doing it ALL by hand. Then I ground down the pommel spike and fit the pommel. The damn pommel was too long, so I ground down the bottom end to fit the shape of the guard and the length I needed.


Once I beat the pommel into place and heat and peen the top, the gap at the top of the guard will close up. I need to think about a handle at this point. Being a pirate sword, I’m thinking simple wood, wrapped in leather. It would hold up without much maintenance. With everything happy, it was time to heat treat the sword. No pine cones this time – lump charcoal only.

I through in a piece of steel that was 1.25 inches wide or so, hoping to bend it a bit and make a katana out of it later. There was barely enough coal to do the job, and I JUST got the sword hot enough to quench before the fire started dying. I had a slight warp, but I was able to straighten it after tempering. All in all I’m pleased so far. Still lots of sanding after the heat treat, and then I have to make a scabbard, finish the handle, peen the pommel on, and give the blade a final polish.

Knives are SO much easier…. they are shorter. Less to sand.

Props to Ham Radio Outlet

I just wanted to take a minute to say some good things about Ham Radio Outlet.

When I first got into Ham Radio stuff I bought my radio from them. It was “Yaesu Month” and I got a percent off on the rig, and got a free Heil HM12 Microphone – which is like an $80 desk mike (instead of the glorified CB mike that most of the radios come with). I didn’t need to buy anything else from them for a while. Basically I pretty much just got a desk setup and was done with it.

I built my own antenna, and while it tunes 7 and 14mhz really well, it isn’t that happy on the other bands. So I bought a little MFJ945 antenna matching box. Its job is to make the radio happy with the antenna so you don’t blow anything up. I had one of these when I would do CB stuff in my youth, and it worked equally well on the Ham Radio side.

But – if you read my stuff before, I use the desktop radio in the house sometimes, and then when the wife goes to sleep sometimes I go out into her she-shed and use the radio I set up on the desk out there. That radio has its own antenna, and its tuned for 7 and 14mhz only. The shed radio is REALLY unhappy with any other bands. So I wanted to move the little tuner to the shed and get a second one.

The thing is – these little boxes aren’t cheap. So I found an open box special and picked it up.

Ham radio operators have a saying: MFJ stands for Mighty Fine Junk. It either works really well, or its crap right out the door. This was crap. I messed with it for several days. It would say it was tuned and my radio would show an antenna mismatch so bad that it wouldn’t even transmit, sort of a self-protection mode. Then when I could get the two meters close, the slightest switch would send the needles wide open – as if I had no antenna at all. I asked the people on the facebook radio group about it.

That was stupid. I got answers from “did you read the manual” to “did you have the switch on the right connector” and “what wire size is in your antenna”. They were more useless than Essential Oils against the flu. I said I was going to send it back and they told me “Some other Ham might get stuck with it, open it up and figure it out!” Ummm… no. Last time I bought a power supply I had to open it up and replace the fan, on a new power supply!  I didn’t want to deal with having to fix another “new” item. No way. I’m sorry if someone gets stuck with it… maybe they’ll return it to MFJ for a refurb.

So I called Ham Radio Outlet – at the lead sales guy asked me a bunch of questions and finally said “Well, send it back”. So I did. No further questions asked. I had thrown the box away, so I dug through the cardboard recycling bin at work and found it. All in all, I’m out $12 for the shipping back to HRO – but the company was great to deal with. No restocking fee, no hassles, and a very quick refund.

If I have any disposable income in the future and want a bigger, better radio, I know where to shop.

 

Brass is hot when it’s in the fire…

I was playing around with some brass the other day. I was trying to expand my knife and sword making ability by beating some brass into the shape of a hand guard. I got a shot-put (don’t ask) and put a flat sheet of brass on it, and started beating it with a ball peen hammer. It looked okay at first but brass work hardens. I was told to anneal (soften) it, by heating it up and dropping it into water, which would soften it and let me work it some more.

So I did that a couple of times, dropping it into a bucket of water. The problem I had was – I forgot at one point that the handle was going to be hot. Essentially I had a spoon-shaped piece of brass with a bowl I was pounding out, and the handle I wasn’t worried about yet. My bucket of water was only deep enough for the bowl part, and a few inches of the handle. So I heated the brass the last time, grabbed it with the tongs, put it in the bucket, then for some ungodly reason I reached into the bucket and picked it up by the handle. I dropped it REALLY fast. So yeah, brass is hot when it’s just out of the fire.

It doesn’t look that bad but it REALLY hurt, and I flattened my fingerprints right on down. Even a week later, they are still smooth. And to top it all off, after another round of beating, I put the thing back in the fire for too long, and the bowl part melted right off the handle. So I ruined my attempt at making a cutlass hand guard, AND I burned the shit out of my fingers. I had enough brass to try again, and a few days later I worked hard on it. I’m still not happy with the results. At least the blisters receded. My phone won’t recognize my thumbprint, so I had to add my other thumb to the scanner. Everything started peeling today, so hopefully sooner or later I’ll be back to normal.

I’ll say this about making knives at home – it’s never boring. There’s always the chance I’m going to poke, slice, or burn myself on Something.

The Treadmill Sucks

Lets face it, the treadmill is a terrible thing. You’re walking or running like crazy and there’s no wind in your face. If you fart, instead of leaving it behind, it just stays there with you, suffocating you. But, still it’s better than walking on the road and maybe being hit by some moron texting on their way home, or stepping in dog crap because some inconsiderate asshole lets their dog take a shit anywhere they want. But the treadmill gives you lots of time to think. I think about a myriad of subjects, but sometimes I delve into fantasy.

One of my repeating fantasies involves catching someone breaking into the house. Yeah, I know, most people are like, “what would I do if I won the lottery” or “what should I do if I found a big sack of money in the woods?” Well, for the first one, you keep that shit a secret because people can sue you for three years after any perceived wrong… so you pretend to get fired from your job and go live in a house trailer in the middle of nowhere for three years complaining about living off food stamps and medicaid, then when three years is up you buy your own plane, change your phone number, and disappear to the Caribbean. For the second scenario – easy. If you find a big sack of money in the woods, Bend at the knees when you go to carry it to your car. You don’t want to hurt your back.

But as for catching someone breaking in to the house, that opens up a whole realm of possibilities. The first of course, is arriving home and finding a strange car or truck in the driveway, and some dude is carrying out your TV. He drops it and runs off into the woods because you blocked him in, and there’s no way for him to get the car out. There’s no way in Hell I’m going to be chasing someone through the woods…I’m out of shape and he’s on adrenalin and probably has the advantage of being on Meth.

BUT – I have his car. Of course as soon as he figures he’s safe, he’s going to call his friend or his baby mama and tell the owner he got into some shit and they need to report the car stolen, quick. Because that’s what they ALL do… someone jumps out of a car during a police chase and the cops take bets on how long it will be before the car is reported stolen. So in the case of my break-in, the cops will go take a report, the owner gets the “stolen” car back, and the dude that broke in my house is never caught. But, for now, I OWN that car. I’m going to ENJOY that car in my driveway. See, I have this wood splitting wedge that’s basically a sledge hammer on one side, and a pointy yet dull axe-looking thing on the other side. So I’m going to go to TOWN on that car. By the time the deputies get there to take the report, that car is going to look like it flipped three times and came to rest in my driveway. The seats are going to be cut, and a half gallon of milk will be curdling in the floorboards. When the owner gets the car back, they are going to be like “what did you do to my car”? And the thief will say, “I didn’t do that!” What recourse do they have? They lied about it being stolen…

The second, and bloodier way it could end, would be for me to actually catch them at gunpoint. Of course, people say, “Shoot Them!” But where’s the fun in THAT? I mean you shoot them, they die in around three to ten minutes and it’s all over.

See I figure I would prefer to catch them and have them handcuffed to the big iron pole in the carport that holds up the roof. It’s set in concrete so really once they are handcuffed to it, there’s no where to go. So then I go and get some rope and tie it to their ankle while they are blubbering about going to jail and “can’t we work this out?” and all that crap. Better yet if they make threats like “When I get out of jail I’m coming back to get you.”

So once I get them handcuffed and a rope around their ankle, I loop the rope around the column at the corner of the carport and really stretch their leg out. At this point I call 911 and tell them I caught someone in my house and to send the police and an ambulance. When they ask if anyone is hurt, I say, “not yet, but I’m going to cut the thief’s foot off”. And watch his eyes. Then I set the phone down on the carport just out of reach and head down to the woodpile, bringing up a nice log and the aforementioned splitting wedge.

I encourage the thief to tell the 911 operator whats going on, if he can manage to keep himself together, as I lift his ankle and slide the log between it and the concrete. I expect a good bit of thrashing around by this point. Then I tell 911 I’m putting a tourniquet on his leg, and ask how far out the ambulance is, because he’s going to be bleeding quite a lot in a minute.

So I back up and raise the Maul (that’s what it’s called, right, a maul?) and then sit the sharp edge on his ankle, and start to raise it up. I tell him to close his eyes, and just before I swing I flip the maul around so the blunt side come down on his ankle just as hard as I can swing it, making sure he never walks without a limp, again. Of course he’s going to feel like I’m cutting it off and is probably going to shit himself and pass out. But at least he won’t bleed to death. UNLESS: If he threatens to come back and get me after he gets out of jail? Yeah, the foot’s coming off. The right foot, because it’s hard to drive a car with no foot.

 

And by the time I’m done with thinking all that stuff up, it’s time to get off the treadmill. What do you think about?

Turning Turning Turning

The wife does some crafty stuff, which thankfully has meant we built her she-shed and I have a ham radio station out there. Recently she decided to try “cup turning” which is where she will take a tumbler, decorate it, and then coat it in epoxy, to be turned over and over on this machine, so that the epoxy comes out smooth.

Of course, this all started with a bunch of YouTube videos. I got the parts for a turner from Amazon, and put it together.

The hardest part was the wiring – getting it all stuck in the little box. I wired it to a 120v plug for the wall. On the back are 2 AC motors that run at 2-3 RPM, turning the cups slowly around. But people complained their motors got hot, so I added heat sinks and little PC fans. I needed a source for 5 volts, so I added a 5 volt converter board inside the box. The whole thing is fused at 6 amps, way  lower than the 20 amps that the wall plug could put out.

 

I used Raspberry Pi fans. They don’t put out much but they are pretty quiet. So far they seem plenty to keep the motors from getting hot.

The bearings are the only bad part. I oiled up the sleeves the pipes sit in but they still vibrate just a bit, creating a sound not unlike the wailing of the damned. They are glued to the uprights, I could really take the tape off at this point, but they look so cool…

Go Sting…and Beyond

Wow I really didn’t know I was this far behind on my posting stuff. Sometimes its hard to remember to write things down. I finished the Sting Sword. I was rather happy with the final outcome, given what happened.

So I heat treated it in my home made forge, heating it to 1600 degrees or thereabouts, and quenched it. The sword warped to one side pretty good. So I asked my knife making friend and he told me to reheat it, and then clamp it between two flat things, and let it cool. So I did and it got flat again. Then I had to start all over with the heat treating and quenching.

I built a much better quenching tank, which is vertical. That way it doesn’t tend to cause the blade to bend to one side or the other. After quenching and then cooking in the oven for an hour at 425, It was yellow. I cleaned it up as best I could. Sting looks a little battle worn, but fine otherwise.

 

I think the most fun and rewarding part was the brass handguard. It was a struggle to get the slot cut in the bottom, and I had to use a lot of filing to get it done, as I don’t have a drill press and end mills. The scabbard itself was interesting as well because I have never done ANYTHING with leather. It was easy enough to cut and shape the scabbard out of wood, but adding the leather component to it was something I didn’t think would go right. I got upholstery leather from Tandy Leather Company to get it done.

I didn’t carve the top of the handle perfectly symmetrical so the pommel looks slightly twisted, but its on straight I promise. The pommel is brass too, and peened to the top of the sword. The handle is a single piece of Red Heart wood, was is also called blood wood. It really gets its name, because after you sand it, the dust looks like blood when you wash it off. I had to drill a hole through the middle of the handle and then file it out to make room for the sword tang.

After Sting, I decided to go with something a little shorter and hopefully easier. I decided to take the Sting theme to a logical conclusion and make a set of knives that would be more like what Sting would look like in an adult human’s hand. So I shrunk the sword to around 16 inches overall, and then extended the handles just a bit. Instead of the fancy handguards and pommel, I figured I could just make those from the steel itself.

After cutting to basic shape, I had not one, but TWO knives to make. I figured why not make a matched set? Even if you’re making a matched set, you’re still making TWO knives. Two handles, two blades, and two scabbards. For these I went with a dragon inlay pin in the middle. Again the handles suffered a bit, I”m just not that great at creating symmetrical curves on the handles. But I was really pretty happy with them. I screwed up on the handles at first and had to recover, and had barely enough wood to do it. The knives came out within two grams of each other, which is the weight of half a US Nickel, so I was surprised at that.