Grinders – they’ll F you up.

So I’m working on my Sting sword and so far I’m happy with it. Its a lot harder to cut and grind 1/4″ steel than it is to do 3/16 steel, but I got through   cutting the basic shape last night.

That done, I pulled out the grinder and replaced the buffing wheel with a regular rock wheel. But I was a lazy asshole and didn’t put the side guard back on the grinder, and ripped a hole through  the corner of my index finger.

So – don’t be a dumbass. Replace your grinder side guards. After that I started paying a lot more attention to where my extra fingers were, so I don’t get relieved of them suddenly and violently. But I put the grinder away and started with the belt sander, which is a lot more friendly to the fingers.




It Stings, It Stings!

So I got my steel in for “Sting”. Yeah that handle is going to be a bitch. It’s funny to read nerd fights online when trying to decide what to make. For example, in The Hobbit, Tolkein describes Bilbo’s sword as “little more than a letter opener”, an Elvish dagger.

BUT – if you buy a Sting prop replica – which is really a thing – the sword is about 22 inches long, because it had to be the right size for the actor who played a hobbit, and the actor was normal human size (Hobbit actors being in short supply, as they were). So the nerd fights usually say “Sting should be a dagger in a human’s hand, NOT a regular sword”, or conversely, “Humans want a sword that looks in their hands just like Bilbo’s sword did in the movie, the prop is the right size!” Interestingly enough, the newer, very costly “prop replicas” actually have a silver inlay in the handle, whereas on the original movie prop, the silver leaf decoration was a vinyl cutout…after all, it was meant for display and not actual combat.

So, what to make? Given the intricate details in this thing, I think bigger is going to be better. The leaf shaped blade is going to be tough, but overall I thnk a larger blade with shallower curves will be simpler than a small blade with tighter curves.

There are MANY different versions of Sting online, as well. Some of them have runes on the hilt which follow onto the blade itself, which say something to the effect of “my name is Sting…blah blah blah”. But that makes no sense – Bilbo didn’t pick up the sword and have someone tell him “That says Sting”. He stuck a giant spider with it and the spider said “It Stings, It Stings!” Ergo, the sword became “Sting”. It wouldn’t have the name “Sting” etched on it in runes by the maker.

Now here I am, having a nerd fight with myself.

Houndsbane – the electronic version

I’ve had this irritating problem next door for a while. Actually at both next doors. I can’t go into my own carport without the dogs on both sides of me barking like crazy. I understand if I was going into their yard, but I’m coming and going from my OWN HOUSE no where near them. They also bark at other things, like squirrels, feral cats, whenever any dog in a five mile radius barks, or when the molecules of the air actually move. Their favorite time to bark used to be from 1am until 4am, on and off for hours. I even had to go so far as to write the neighbors a letter and call the police one night at 2am.

Amazon to the rescue! After searching online for various ways to kill my neighbors’ dogs, and also searching for the penalties for killing my neighbors’ dogs, I decided on a more humane approach. The ultrasonic dog bark eliminator. Basically its the ultrasonic equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. Not particularly painful, but irritating enough that after a while, dogs learn if they don’t want to hear the sound, they don’t bark.

Now instead of constant barking when I get near the fence to work on my grape vines, the dogs sort of chuff and growl at me under their breath, and if a cat or squirrel wanders by, they don’t have to bark at the empty air for 90 minutes. I have two of these on posts pointing at the neighbor’s yard on one side of the house.

Unfortunately, after a year, the dogs have learned that if they go all the way to the other side of their yard, they can bark until their hearts are content, and the little birdhouses either don’t pick up the sound, or the speakers just aren’t powerful enough. Also, the dogs on my other side are across a road, and the little birdhouses can’t reach them either.

So, what to do? So I looked at a more powerful unit, because why not more power? If a little birdhouse works, then obviously a more powerful device would work better… This unit is advertised to work up to 150feet away, and even comes with a remote in case the microphone doesn’t quite pick up the annoying canine. There’s even a $100 big brother to this thing that’s supposed to work slightly farther. But still, how much volume can it really put out with another 9volt battery, and the biggest complaint is it eats batteries inside of a week. So again, We need more power. 

What ARE these things anyway? Basically they are ultrasonic generators. They generate a beeping sound above the range of human hearing. So all you would really need to make a unit of your own would be a set of speakers that can put out tones in the 20,000 to 25,000 hertz range (most people can’t hear over 20,000hz), a power source for those speakers, and a tone generator.

Back in my youth I made a lot of circuits for one reason or another, and the most common time-base chip was the ubiquitous 555 Timer IC, a little 8 pin chip that would create very stable oscillations based on some resistors and capacitors you added to the circuit. I found this circuit online:

But with it you’re not really sure what you have until you hook the thing up to a schematic, or you have a dog handy to check the thing out with. And since I have some high range hearing loss, I could never be sure the neighbors weren’t hearing the noise, especially if kids or teenagers were around, because apparently they hear higher frequencies than adults. So I’m poking around on Amazon looking for other stuff and I run across THESE little beauties:

Programmable, stable, barely any soldering required, signal generators. So all I need is to punch up 23Khz, and drive a pair of speakers. But what speakers? And with what? Amazon again! I need speakers that can handle frequencies above the range of human hearing… and these fit the bill. They also handle up to 400 WATTS! Factory stereos don’t go that high. 100 Watts is a LOT of audio power. I had to look it up because I don’t know a lot about speakers but driven to their full rated power of 400 watts, at one meter from the source these things would be as loud as a chainsaw, but in the ultrasonic range. That’s loud. Much louder than a birdhouse running a 9 volt battery. And that’s EACH. So 2 chainsaws running side by side.

So what do you drive it with? Amazon, of course! To drive a speaker, you need an amplifier, and thankfully the car people can oblige:

According to the manufacturer, It could handle four of the little tweeters at reduced power if you wire two in series for the left channel and two for the right, if I’m reading it correct. I’ll have to do some more reading. But even at a reduced power, you’re still talking over 100 decibels, which is still the level of a garbage truck, farm tractor, or train. So yeah, I’m looking forward to that. Of course its all manually controlled so I would have to get up and turn the SOB on… but I don’t think it would take many times for the dogs to get the point that I really want them to shut the hell up. Just a few button presses when they are really annoying.

Of course, the best solution seems to be to put the tweeters inside pieces of PVC pipe, both to protect them from the weather and to make the sound more directional, and concentrate it in an area. I’ll get the tweeters and the signal generators in a few days and if I can make the speakers make noise, it may be time to start putting this thing together.


That’s Wintertainment!

One of the biggest issues in hiking that I face is the lack of stuff to do on Winter hikes. You hike until 5pm, then set your stuff up and eat (usually in the dark). After that it is cold, and hopefully you can hang out in the shelter or around a fire. But if the shelter is packed or it’s raining/snowing or you’re  in a place without sufficient firewood or a decent water supply to put out the fire, sometimes you’re in the tent by 6pm. And then you lay there for 12 hours.

Most of us don’t sleep for 12 hours, even after hiking, and if you go to bed at 7, you’re probably going to wake up at 4 with nothing to do. One of my favorite means of entertainment has been copying my DVDs and BluRays to itunes, and then dropping them into my phone so I could take them with me. I use SlySoft AnyDVD to do it, but it’s tough to get! They are in a foreign country and only accept BitCoin as payment, but the software is updated regularly to get around stuff the studios do to their discs to keep you from ripping them, so it’s really worth the price.

But you can only watch your movies so many times. How many hikes can you do and watch the same thing you’ve seen at home, over and over? YouTube is a good source for free entertainment on all sorts of stuff, but cell service is not always reliable. I’ve found it helpful to just download youtube videos and take them with me. The plus side is, once you download them, there are no in-video ads!

The easiest way around it is to install the youtube downloader add on for firefox. The bad thing is, YouTube is getting greedy. Not only do they push ads at the start of most videos, now they want you to upgrade and pay for the service, and they’ve started restricting HD videos and audio to those that pay extra. So Firefox may not be able to grab that concert in full HD, because of Greedy youtube. But there are other ways around it:

Up until recently I’ve used a free program called YouTube Downloader. I can’t recommend it any more. I only paste the screen shot here so you know what to avoid unless you just want one video every so often. 

It worked okay for a LONG time, but they are becoming more and more of a pain in the butt about making you pay for it. There’s a nag screen on startup begging you to pay, and they restrict you to one download and then throw up an Upgrade nag again. And since the internet is all about FREE stuff, I hate someone begging me for money. The program lets you copy and paste a youtube link, and download the mp4 file. But if you try to download a second link, it won’t let you, it tells you to pay for Pro. The only way around it, is to open the task manager, scroll down to YTD, and kill the process. Then restart the program and try again. So unless you want to pay $10 a year (which means giving someone your credit card number…) for a service that used to be free, then there are different options. One such option is 4K Video Downloader.

4K Video Downloader works even faster than YouTube Downloader, because they don’t throttle your download speed. I have given it a try and it seems to work okay so far. Someone online mentioned a trial period and then you have to pay, but upon install I didn’t see anything about a trial period. They do offer a one time $15 payment to unlock options. For example, if you have a youtube playlist you have made, it will download your entire playlist into separate movies or MP3 files. But since I’m just grabbing movies or music, I really don’t need anything else. Of course, sometimes the old way works best: Use the software for 30 days, and when the free trial is up, uninstall it and reinstall it, and see if it works for 30 more days. 90’s kids know all about manipulating calendars to get around shareware trials…

But what about non YouTube sources? What if you are watching a video on another service or even streaming a netflix series, and want to take that with you. OhSoft has a neat little recorder call OCam. It doesn’t require you to copy and paste links, it just records whatever is coming across the screen inside the green box that you set up, and records whatever audio that is coming out of the system.

The only downside – it gets EVERYTHING under the green box and EVERYTHING coming out of the speakers. So if you have system alerts or email dings or something else go off while recording, or even if you move the mouse past the recorded section, that’s going to be recorded. So basically make sure you don’t have a bunch of system sounds set up, and then hit record and back away. IF you try it with youtube, and there’s a mid-video ad, you’re going to record the ad. The simple solution is to click through the ads the first time really quickly, then restart the video. They usually only make you watch the ads once, so if you want to record an ad-free video, just click past them the first go-around. oCam is well suited for services that DON’T give you in-video ads.

Example: You want to take a netflix movie with you, but netflix won’t let you download it to your phone. Open netflix, make sure the window is small enough to fit both the stream and the Ocam software box on the monitor, set up the green record box, press Play on the netflix stream, then press Record on oCam. If you don’t want to watch the stream, set a timer on your phone and turn the monitor off and the speakers down. When the movie ends, press “stop” and then copy your mp4 file to itunes or your android phone.

So hopefully that will give you some things to work on, until March when the daylight is more camping friendly, right before the bugs come out in force and make you want to give up camping for good.

Houndsbane – Part 3. A sword needs a sheath.

With the sword done, I needed a way to carry it around. After all, one does not simply walk around with a sword in one’s belt, lest one stick people or damage the upholstery when one sits down.

I’m not sure why there aren’t more pictures of this. After all, unlike heat treating, there’s low risk of fire, severe burns, and maiming. Except, of course, when using the router. I hate the router. Sure it is a great tool but you REALLY have to respect it, due to the fact there is a rapidly spinning blade out there in the open just waiting to rip your finger off. Plus, when the blade is surrounded on all sides by the wood, it tries to just wander to the softest part, no matter what you do.

I put my newly heat treated and slightly curved sword against a piece of half inch thick, 1.5″ wide Poplar, and traced out the sword. I flipped it over and did the same on another piece of wood, then routed out JUST the inside to the sword blade’s shape, and slightly over half it’s thickness. They say never SAND the inside of a scabbard. The sandpaper bits get embedded in the wood and every time you slide the sword in and out, the abrasive scratches the sword. Chisel or router it, but no sanding.

That done, I flipped the scabbard halves over, adjusted the blade, and routed the outsides down to a more manageable thickness, giving me about a 3/16″ thick wall between the inside and outside of the scabbard. Once I was satisfied I clamped the halves together, gave the sword a test fit, then undid the clamps and epoxied everything together between two pieces of flat wood, so I wasn’t putting pressure on the thin part. After a drying period, I pulled the clamps.

Then it was time to go back to the belt grinder. I used 60, 120, and 220 grits to taper and bevel the scabbard to a vaguely familiar scabbard shape. The profile down the length is tapered like the sword, and a cross section of any part was a nice oval. Once I was happy with the overall look, I used 220, 320, and 600 grit hand sanding to finalize the shape and remove the tool marks from the belt sander. It can REALLY rip into the wood it you aren’t careful. A quick 600 grit belt sanding to the throat of the scabbard and it was ready for staining.

I used a simple mahogany stain and gave it a few coats, and now I’m just waiting on some leather bits to show up, so I can complete the look.

Houndsbane Part 2 – Heat Treating

Heat treating sucks. There’s just no way around it. I mean, I know the reasons WHY we have to do it, but its a pain in the ass. So, I had myslef a sword-shaped object, but it was still relatively soft, as steel goes. For example, in the following picture: 

You see the tang sticking out the top of the handle. A tang that wide would never fit the ball I was going to peen on, so I had to cut it down to size with my friend the angle grinder. As I was cutting into it the angle grinder dug in and kicked back a bit, bending the tang. I stuck the tang on a flat surface and whacked it with a hammer twice and it went back straight. So…not the kind of thing you want your sword doing. Thus, heat treating. I had to get the sword to 1500 degrees or so, hot enough that the steel loses its magnetic properties. Yeah… hot. So, I built a forge. Now, I could buy a sword forge online for $1500, but since I don’t HAVE $1500, I went to lowes.

And so, Geordi TheForge was born.

10 Cinder blocks run about $22, but since I had 7 leftover from another project, I only had to buy 3. Three patio pavers ran about $9. I already had the fire pit, so I just set it up in there. The iron pipe with end cap was about $12. It costs me about $2 worth of angle grinder discs to cut slots into it for airflow. The most expensive single piece of material was the expanded metal grate which I got from Amazon. It cost me $25. Even my forced air unit from Amazon was cheaper at $12… but hey, it WAS made by Revlon.

So I just saved $1434 by doing it myself. Oh, I did have to add about $12 worth of charcoal… So on to heat treating now that Geordi was ready to fire up. I decided to heat treat Friday Night. After all, Saturday and Sunday were going to be raining, and I could see in the dark if any fire escaped. Plus, it is easier to see the red glow of the sword in the dark.

I took the top off the forge, dumped the charcoal around the air tube, and put everything back together and poured in half a bottle of charcoal lighter fluid. Then I tossed in a match and watched the flames creep slowly over the coals. I turned the air on, and it took a while but the coals finally caught throughout the forge and I started getting some even heat. I slid the sword onto the grate and waited, turning it back and forth with pliers and welding gloves until it was a nice cherry red. The sword had to reach at least 1500 degrees or so, where it was no longer magnetic. I had a magnet on a stick and kept checking it. Finally it hit the temperature and I was ready. I pulled the sword out and dropped it into a tube of cooking oil. There was an extinguisher ready, but all it did was bubble like crazy. It never caught fire like I was expecting.

After cooling the sword, then I had to get it up to 425 degrees and hold it there for an hour. Crap. I cut the air off to the forge and pulled the top blocks off. Thanks to the welding gloves, it was easy, but they were hot, a good 180 degrees on TOP. I put the sword back on the grate until the temperature gun said 425, then I moved it to a pair of steel rods on top of the now open cinder blocks. I had to keep moving it back and forth and checking the temperature. Next time I’m making a knife. I can put that in the oven inside the house and be done with it.

It was at this point I noticed the sword blade had a very slight bend, like a samurai sword. I think it’s because it caught on the aluminum foil dropping into the oil, and it got an uneven quench. BUT, it was so slight I wasn’t worried. Besides: First Sword. I get to make mistakes. Also, I should have brought out some steaks because those coals were going GOOD.

Now I had a heat treated and tempered sword blade, but it was black and cruddy and gross. I’m glad I didn’t go any farther with the sanding, pre heat treating. what a mess. 

So it was back to sandpaper. I sanded off the scale and took it all the way to 2500 grit paper. I have several belts on my belt grinder, so I would sand down the blade with the paper, then across the blade with the next grit up on the belt, then another grit up on the paper. The highest my belt will go is 2000 grit, and when I hit 2500 grit on the blade by hand, that was all I had in me. The edges were getting sharp, although they are not supposed to be. Remember – a small sword is all about thrusting, not cutting. Still, I got careless and let the edges get sharp before sanding them back again.

Then it was off to the buffing wheel for two rounds of polishing compound and I was happy with the blade. I can still see some of my original milling scratches that I could NOT get sanded out, but for the most part the blade has a nice smooth mirror finish. I glued the handle pieces on and clamped them overnight, then sanded down the brass pins. 

At this point the sword was all done but the peening. The peening was the second most harrowing part. After all, I had already filed the pins and re-sanded the handles. My biggest fear was damaging the handle while filing the pins, but I took it slow and let the sanding belts polish the handles back up to a nice shine. All I had left was peening. At first I looked into threaded pommels, but decided against it. I had a cheap tap and die set years ago, and never could make the work worth a damn. So I bought a brass ball from Amazon for $6, and drilled out the small hole that was already there. After everything else was done, I clamped the sword to the table with cloth spacers so I didn’t scratch the blade. I heated the spike end of the tang I had made, and slid the ball on. It took a while to get it right but finally I got the end mushroomed out with the ball-peen hammer ($12.50, lowes). NOW I know what the round end of the ball-peen hammer is for!

So the sword is done. Next up, scabbard.

Houndsbane, Part 1

Every sword has to have a good name, at least that’s what the Game of Thrones characters say. Actually, the characters on The Hobbit and LotR say it, too…

Since my sword will be mainly for defending me against marauding aggressive dogs and other beasts, Houndsbane seemed an appropriate name. But first I have to make it.

The first step was ordering steel. Thankfully there are many places online to order steel in small quantities for making knives and swords. I got a piece 3 feet long, 1/4 inch thick, and 1.5 inches wide from Jantz knife supply. The first step was to cut out the basic blade shape, starting at one width and tapering down towards the point. I started trying to grind it out with my bench grinder and quickly discovered There was no way in hell it was going to work. I would have ground down the whole stone first. Then I tried cutting the edges off with a hacksaw and after five minutes of making zero progress I called my friend. “Go to lowes, buy you a cheap angle grinder and a ton of cutting wheels.” If you’ve never used an angle grinder, you’re missing out. Theres something about quickly spinning discs shooting out sparks ten feet into the yard thats bad ass. I really want to take a long exposure photo at night where I’m using it.

So I cut the blade to its basic shape and left about two inches at the bottom after the taper ended, to make the point. I tried drawing it out with a sharpie  and duplicating it on the opposite side but eventually just said screw it, and took it back out to the grinder and slowly worked the taper into a point. I was really pleased with how symmetrical I got it in the end. After I was happy with that, I had to cut down the tang, the part of the sword that would go through the handle. I decided to make mine a hidden tang, meaning that the handle would wrap around the tang, and it would be invisible inside. I can shape wood easier than metal and figured if I messed up the handle I could sand it down easier without a strip of metal through it, and my pre-made sword guard had a smaller opening in it than I planned for the width of the tang. Back to the angle grinder.

Then I had to start beveling the edges. My knife making friend said I was going to have a very hard time with it. First, I had 4 bevels to do instead of 1 or 2 like on a regular knife. They also had to meet in the center of the blade and not wobble all over the place. I bought a 1×30″ belt grinder and a set of belts. Most serious and pro knife makers get a nice variable speed 2×72 belt grinder, but since I was just starting I didn’t have the funds to lay out for a $1500 belt grinder. I could have bough several movie-accurate combat ready swords for that, and just taken one hiking anyway.

Beveling is a slow process and throws iron shavings all over the place. The cool thing is, if you throw some in the fireplace, the burn up and crackle like little sparklers.

After a LOT of work on the belt grinder I came up with a halfway decent sword shaped object. My knife friend was pleased with my first project. The hardest part was the bevel along the taper. Because the end was thinner than the part nearest the hilt, The bevel had more of an angle to it. As I ground the sword I had to constantly twist it just a little to keep the bevel meeting in the middle.

After getting the sword blade to the right bevel and grinding the tang down to fit the guard, I started working on smoothing and polishing the guard and everything else. Its REALLY hard to sand 1084 steel with sandpaper but you have to get all the grinding scratches out to make it look halfway decent. I kept taking the sword blade to my mentor and he finally told me it was looking good enough to heat treat.

I left the blade along while I worked on setting up my heat treating forge, and worked on the handle. I had a couple of Sonoran Desert Ironwood blanks I had intended to use for something else. Desert Ironwood is a very dense, hard wood. I split a block in half with a miter saw and then routed out what would be the inside. I had started off with a hammer and chisel and was wearing myself out. I finally figure out how to best use the router on such a little piece of wood and got the center ground out in about two minutes of actual tool work. From there I super-glued the halves together in just a few spots, so I could crack them open later, and put the handle to the belt grinder.

So after a lot of grinding, then cutting and grinding the very end of the tang to a rod, I could drill the holes for the handle pins and slide on the brass pommel ball. There’s still some work to do on the handle, it is not completely even, but it’s starting to come together finally. I’m pleased with the brass handguard as well. Its basically the same shape it was, just rounded and polished, and I have cut a few little indents into the edges to make the round bits at the end resemble something more like beads than just round edges.