Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas Update

Just a quick note to say Merry Christmas to both my blog readers. I feel a little bad that I haven't posted in a long time. But I'm sure you prefer decent posts once every long while to a steady stream of tiny updates. And it's so much faster for me....

So what's new? Lots of things. We sold our Suburban, and got a 1995 Honda Accord station wagon to replace it. We are big fans of the 1st gen Odyssey minivan and so the Accord is a natural fit.

The woodgas truck has been down for some time, I had an air leakage problem that melted one of the grate hanging chains. Until I have time to repair it, I've been lighting it once a week. This keeps it from rusting internally. It's not a hard fix, I just have had zero time to spend on it. Likewise the Metro engine is still not rebuilt, and so on. It will happen as soon as I get some bigger projects finished.

Drive On Wood has grown steadily, and we've seen half a dozen trucks finished, with several others on the brink. Our meetup in Indiana should be much more lively this year.

I've taken part time work at the Wernick Method. I've been helping out now and again for a while now, but it's nice to get paid and see some steady work from it.

The woodgas plans book is really really close. We've been working on the second 90% for some time now. I wanted to be done by the end of the year, but so much else is happening right now that the true chances of finishing are slim to none. But it should be done soon after that, IF we keep it going at this rate.

Oh yes, I did buy a new toy. I bought a Samsung Chromebook for $250 from Newegg.

I was a little torn between that and a Nexus 7, but in the end it was the right choice. The Chromebook lets you get real work done if needed, but at the same time is as portable as a large tablet. It's super zippy, fairly light, runs silently, reboots almost instantly, and runs very advanced web apps that begin to replicate desktop functions. If you really need the desktop, you can easily remote in using Chrome's remote desktop app. I've edited video in Adobe Premiere Pro, by remoting in from the Chromebook on the living room couch. Fun stuff! This runs very smoothly for me, between the Chromebook and a Windows 8 machine.

So, any downsides to Chrome? You do need a wireless signal. My room is built from concrete blocks. So if I want to use the Chromebook I usually take it into the main part of the house. Once I find a way to connect to a Connectify Hotspot on my main PC, I will be completely satisfied. Plug in drives get pretty bare bones support, but that's really outside the use-case for this machine. It's for internet, nothing else.

I also bought Wayne a Chromebook, and he's thrilled. The same machine that can satisfy a Google nut like me is also perfect for a computer novice, someone who just needs it to work and not break. This concept has sold a lot of Apple devices. Now it applies to the much cheaper Chromebook, and I suspect that many of them will go for this purpose. Heck, Wayne even joined a Google Hangout! Not even possible from his old setup. It was the familiar story of a glacially slow PC, barely 5 years old. How many of those users are ready for a cheap upgrade for simple tasks? I know at least one who is very happy now. And if his Chromebook is physically intact after 5 years, it will be at least as fast if not much faster than it is now.

[Note to my loyal blog readers who noticed the template change. Yes it is intentional and yes, I reverted back to the old-style blogger template. The newer "dynamic" template is just too buggy, often fails to load properly and isn't very customizable. So until I build a full up Drupal blog, this will have to do.]

Well that's all for today. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Update from Frankfort

It's been too long since I updated this. It used to be a regular item on the schedule but I have many projects now tugging at my sleeve, using up nearly all my computer and non-computer time. But here I am with an update.

  • We moved! After two long years of waiting the house finally sold and we have moved into town. Frankfort is a great town, is affluent for its size, not big like Lexington or Louisville but within a close drive of both. A half hour drive used to put us into Campbellsville, a town of 9,000 with mostly just a Walmart. Now that same drive puts us in Lexington - 436,000 people. The house is in a nice older neighborhood, solid construction that you never see any more. We did have to update all the original 1949 wiring to modern specs. There's a small detached garage with a room over, both have become my domain. In return I have taken on several vehicle maintenance projects (more on that in a bit).
  • The truck is running great! I have about 2000 miles on it so far, and a big chunk of that was a trip to the gasifier meetup in Indiana. Read all about that on the Mother Earth blog and on the Drive On Wood forum. I have lots of things planned for it, it's really not even finished yet. Really a testament to Wayne's wonderful design that I can take a 90% finished truck and drive it thousands of miles with no trouble.
  • Speaking of Drive On Wood, we are seeing a great deal of interest in the site and in Wayne's plans. Folks have been steadily signing up and many have started projects - even before the book is ready! This is possible due to the extensive video tutorials we have posted. As soon as the book goes out we should see a flood of new projects started.
  • We may have a small garden this year. Matthew has taken an interest in tilling up a plot behind the house and planting some tomatoes. There's several community gardens established in Frankfort. The concepts of local food and organic produce are well understood. 
Vehicle projects:
  • My poor old Metro is out of service, I took it on a trip to NC and neglected to fill the oil. I didn't know until I heard a clacking coming down a mountain pass. Oil starvation. The oil light was apparently not working. I had done some dashboard wiring which probably messed it up. So that engine is shot and I will be rebuilding a junkyard engine to go into it.
  • The Honda Odyssey is due for a timing belt change. I have never done it on this vehicle since it is a very infrequent repair and in "the old days" we always had it serviced at the shop. Given the expense and that I have gained some skills and experience since then, I am pretty sure I can handle it myself. So wish me luck.
  • The truck itself needs an overhaul. There's a slight rattle evident which is not pinging. I am leery of the timing chain going out or wearing a hole in the cover, so I will be changing that and the water pump together. Plus new plugs and wires etc. At the same time I need to reroute some woodgas plumbing under the hood.
  • The Suburban has outlived its usefulness to us. We have found it quite useful in many unexpected situations, but at this point it's just an extra vehicle - right now a much needed one with the Metro is out of service. But soon enough I will be fixing all the little problems and getting it ready for sale. On the list: it leaks power steering fluid pretty bad, the brakes need changing and bleeding, and the drivers seat mount is broken, giving a rocking chair effect which will not impress buyers.
Next month I will be returning to the KSU research farm for a demonstration of the woodgas truck. They are having their Third Thursday event, this one will be their 15th anniversary. It'll be more impressive to show people now that it actually powers the engine and not just a flare in the parking lot. I have an entier presentation showing how woodgas works and documenting my trip to see Wayne.

Oh, and if you're curious to see all the details of this gasification stuff, please check out all the free info available on the Drive On Wood website. It's all there. You could spend six months absorbing all that material - I know because I did.  And if you're really interested in building a system, we have all the info you need to get started building. Alright, enough of the shameless plug. Just go check it out! http://driveonwood.com

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Trip Report

Well, I am happy to say... we finished the truck. It runs on wood now!!! Not only that but I was able to drive it all the way home on wood power!

I spent two long weeks in Alabama with my woodgas mentor and business partner Wayne Keith, who agreed to help me finish my truck - a rare and precious opportunity for me. I can't thank him enough, and so I encourage everyone to just go preorder the book - it's worth the $50, actually worth far more than that. Check out driveonwood.com for more info on the trip. OK, enough shameless plugs.

Here's some photos of the last two weeks.

Headed down early Monday morning. Burned a whole $100 in gas to get there.

Wayne welds much better than I do. I will keep practicing...

Working in the master's shop.

Tally Keith shows off his muscles.

Here's how we did the plumbing under the hood. Two throttles on two pedals. Gasoline carburetor is always there if you need it, full and waiting. But like the Maytag man, the call never comes...

Gasifier  is nearly done, ready for paint.

Ready for the road.

300 miles home on woodgas. Burned 400 lbs of wood.

 Stopped on the Wolf Creek Dam.

 Video of the ride home:

Video of a hill climb outside Dunlap TN:

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Here's the progress so far. Of course I mean progress on the woodgas truck, version two.

I went to visit Wayne in Alabama and came home all the same day. It was a long trip, but well worth it.

Wasn't too sure what happened when I got there - right as I pulled onto his street the Metro started bucking and stalling, the dash lights flickered on and off, and I barely made it up his driveway. Long story short, it turned out to be a loose ground wire:

Why a loose ground wire would kill the entire engine I don't know. It's a bad design, but at least the problem got fixed quickly.

With that straightened out, we got on to business. Wayne loaded me up with supplies and I helped him with some computer issues. Which reminds me, check out his latest video! I put this together for him:

If you haven't seen it yet, here's the site I built for Wayne.


It's a great place to learn about gasifiers and woodgas vehicles. Wayne is a woodgas pioneer, why not take it straight from the guy who drives on wood every day?

I've started building things now, and the plasma cutter comes in really handy. Here's some thick pipe I cut:

It's not smooth because I am still learning my plasma technique. And I'm officially very bad at making holes! I have five burned out heat shields to prove it:

The problem comes when I try to use the plasma to pierce thick stuff; it widens and increases into a bowl shape, and doesn't always punch through. Like this one:

There's just nowhere for the molten steel to go. So my workaround is to predrill the holes.

Finished the condensate tank. It's not hooked up, and there may be further changes made, but here it is:

And started the dashboard wiring. Here's four control cables, three new switches and a vacuum gauge:

Not bad for two days work, eh? And more to come...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Condensate tank

I have to get a lot of things done before I can go to Alabama with the truck. Here's one of them: the condensate tank. You may remember I was using a propane tank for condensate. Since that holds a measly 3 gallons before causing problems (and was full of water because the valve was plugged up), I took it off and went with Wayne's solution: a full out water tank. This is actually a well tank from the scrap heap. It was rusty and had plenty of scale and dirt in it. But it cleaned up pretty well, and should hold around 10 gallons or more.

Covering up the old holes and making new ones. Find leaks by filling with water:

The gas goes in the sides, and out the dual pipes on top. Single pipe is for the blower. Note the bolt on cover I made with the plasma cutter:

Long pipe is the drain. Now to install on the truck, and plumb it in!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Plasma Cutter

I have wanted one of these for  a long time... And I finally realized that I wan't saving money, time or energy by putting it off any longer. I have a lot of fabricating to do, and so I bit the bullet and bought a plasma cutter.

I shopped around to find reviews on cheap plasmas, and tried to ignore all the anti-Chinese sentiments from people who shelled out for a Miller or a Lincoln. I found several folks that said this model cuts as good as the name-brands, if you don't need the bells and whistles. As it turns out, plasma cutting technology has come a long ways in  a few years, thanks to digital power inverting chips that can crank out the amps in a small form factor. Everything is solid state inside, except the cooling fan and the compressed air.

I found the one I wanted, one of the few that can run 110 and 220v. Got it on Ebay for $285 shipped.

Here's my new Lotos 5000D:

It requires 110v or 220v, and a source of compressed air. It actually didn't come with an electrical plug, just bare wires. So I had to run to town and get one. I also had to assemble the air fittings and try to get them not to leak. Fit and finish? Yeah. But it's the right price.

It's not even as big as my Harbor Freight welder:

Sure it took a little work to assemble. But it ran like a dream. I've never used a plasma cutter before, and within 10 minutes of use I cut this 9" circle out:

Not bad, eh?

The jagged parts are operator error. I did this entirely freehand:

I also tripped the breaker, since this thing pulls a solid 20 amps along with the compressor's 15 or so. My shop suffers from Unplanned Electricity Syndrome, causing extension cords to sprout from unlikely places and get strung together at scary lengths. I make it a rule to only run one thing at a time, and for the most part this works out. But the plasma cutter counts twice. Plus, even when it was running on stored air, dad said he could hear a funny buzzing in the wall upstairs(?!) High frequencies, etc... don't want to buy everyone new computers. So I will be moving operations to the barn, which is wired with a basic service panel, and plenty of room for more if needed.

Here's the project compressor I got, which should be able to keep pace better. Needs new valves and switch.

And just for grins, here's a shot of my supply of tanks and pipes for the gasifier. I still need more, because some of them are the wrong size.

So now that I can cut and weld equally well, the first project is the condensate tank, visible to the right above. It will go under the truck bed to collect water condensing in the cooling rack. Here's Wayne Keith draining the same tank under his truck:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Woodgas proceedings

It's been way too long since I posted. And there are several good things happening that I need to write about! Sorry for the long silence, but things are moving fast and I am trying to keep up.

I think the last you heard from the woodgas project, I had gone to visit Wayne Keith in Alabama and studied his truck. I wanted to glean what I could and apply some of it to my own truck. Wayne was gracious enough to put me up for the night and give me a thorough tour of his trucks and his farm. While I was down there he mentioned that Mother Earth News had been pestering him for a set of plans, to go with their upcoming article on his woodgas truck in the spring. I told him that he really could do well to publish his stuff, it would help out the DIYers and get more Wayne-style trucks on the road. Then I headed home and started thinking about my truck and all the changes I was going to have to make, to be more like Wayne's trucks.

About a month later, I got a call from Wayne. After we talked a bit, he came down to business. He was ready to publish his plans, and he wanted my help. In particular, he needed a website with premium content, and a format for his plans to be sold in. I was surprised and pleased to get the call. I immediately accepted, and went to work on the website, and outlined a general plan of attack for Wayne.

So long story short, I am still working on the website two months later, and I will post a link to it soon. Wayne is busy building a new truck and carefully documenting all the parts of it with photos and video. He is going to be publishing his plans in paper form sometime this summer, but preorders will be available soon.

Meanwhile the woodgassers are thinking about spring, and when we should plan a meetup. I started gently nudging the members to get off the dime and decide when we are going to do this. As is often the case, the nudger gets the job for himself. So I am now the treasurer and contact person for the event, and have been coordinating some of the efforts involved. It's not a huge gathering, but there are around 20 folks coming to Argos IN on May 18-20th, and it will be open to the public on Saturday. As treasurer I have been getting a lot of checks in the mail.

So all that is perspective for what the UPS man brought to my door this morning:

One of the woodgassers, Brian Smith is also VP of Manufacturing at Goop! So he sent all this along with his contribution. Wow! That's a lot of hand cleaner....

Quick plug - I have to say, I do use a lot of hand cleaner (usually Fast Orange), as does anyone working on cars or welding steel. You get pretty grimy. I can't say as I have tried enough of them to tell a real difference. This one works at least as good as the Fast Orange I've been using. They advertise that it's effective on clothes too, which Fast Orange is not. There's original and orange-citrus. I tried some of both, and it works great. I guess I won't be buying any hand cleaner for a while... But when I do, it'll be Goop, because I might as well support a fellow woodgasser, and the product seems to work well. I'll let you know in six months how the supply is holding out!

So in all the shuffle, what happened to my truck?

The short answer is I have been too busy to do anything with it. I haven't touched it since I got back from Wayne's in December. BUT! I am about to start back on it again. I am actually going to drive it down to Alabama, on gasoline. Wayne and I will work on both his new truck and my truck, getting them both finished in time for the woodgas meet. I'd like to drive home on woodgas. So I want to have as much ready as possible before that happens. So I will be working on little things to get ready and make the time down there as productive as possible. I will be posting regular updates once I get back to work on the truck.

So, that's enough for today. It's still not everything I've been doing - just the highlights.

Till next time!