My Storied Soggy Suburban

I have an 18 year old suburban I use to make runs to the hardware store. Plywood, piles of rock, plumping parts, etc. It has been slowly degrading with an increasing number of cosmetic blemishes and features on the fritz. I normally don’t mind these too much, but I had a really odd one. I opened up the door after not having used it for a few weeks and there was mold EVERYWHERE! I needed to pick up stuff that day, so I cleaned it all and moved on with life. I thought it must have been raining or something the last time I used it.

I made a vow to drive it more often and didn’t think about it. I did notice though, that the windows were always fogged up every morning. Everything was super humid inside. I got in one night when it was raining to look for a leak and couldn’t find a thing. I crawled all around and finally got over to the driver side. The carpet made a sickly squish sound. It was soaking wet.

I saw water drops under the dash, but could never locate the issue. Took it to the mechanic and they said it was a deteriorated windshield seal. Got the windshield replaced, still more water showed up when it rained. Now I had all the dash bits apart and I could see it was coming in from high up on the A pillar. It actually looked like it was coming out of the folds of metal around the frame. I thought the roof rack was leaking water into the layers of metal that make up the roof.

The screws were all incredibly rusted, and the threaded segments in the body were in poor shape as well. I pulled everyone off, cleaned the area, replaced all the hardware with fresh stainless and caulked everything. Leak check? Yep, still leaks!

I had been trying to use fans to dry out the carpet, but this was the point when Dorian was bearing down on us. After we got setup for the hurricane I started going through and pouring water around to see if I could induce the problem. Pouring water on just the driver’s door seal would cause it to leak out of the windshield area. Pulling the door seal off I noticed it was in rough shape, and behind it was seams of metal.

I think what is happening is that water gets past the seals and rides in the bottom of that U channel the door seal makes and gets soaked up into the seams of metal. The top of the door is higher than the A pillar.

Water starts up high on the door seal, soaks in, and comes out starting near the upper part of the windshield (blue arrow). The picture below shows it from the inside. It comes out along the whole A pillar, starting up at the top edge.

To remedy this issue I put some flowable silicone in a syringe with a thin plastic tip and shot it all along the drivers and passengers side door seams.

I ordered new door seals and when they came in I removed the old ones. It turns out there is a U shape of metal in there that helps keep everything clamped and sealed to that inner lip of the door opening. The metal had fatigued and wouldn’t hold the seal shut anymore. Dry rot on the rubber didn’t help.

The new seal fit nicely on the door opening lip, and was new and puffy enough to make the door slightly harder to close. It seals well now! Through a minor rain, carwash, and direct spraying with the water hose nothing has leaked in.

It took forever to get the carpet dry. The padding underneath was super soaked and I couldn’t figure out how to remove it. Eventually I just put my dehumidifier in the truck and sealed it up for a day. It got hot and dry and eventually moved all that water out of the carpets. Hopefully it will stop smelling like a bog and attracting frogs from now on out.

Hurricane Dorian

Though the storm’s impact will be felt for years to come in the Bahamas, hurricane Dorian has left us with little negative to report. Honestly the only thing is that, Nigel, our beloved new lime tree was felled. Not sure if it had an issue with the trunk, or if we didn’t have it staked well enough. Someday I will get a real lime tree to grow big and tall and give me lots of limes.

I have updated the hurricane guide with a few minor pointers. One piece of advice I have in there is to do a practice run of your shutters at least once to make sure everything fits right. Sure enough, I had put it off and ended up needing a lot of work to get everything in place. There is a screen that goes across the back of the porch. The anchors in the pool deck were all completely full of crud. Some even had broken off studs that required me to drill them out.

I spent hours clearing them out with a pick and compressed air. Thankfully there was plenty of time to work on this. A Fast moving storm would have induced a bit more panic. The other issue was that the two screens used to come together into some kind of bar at the corner of the porch. That doesn’t exist anymore, and the screens don’t really mesh together.

I just used some rope to lace everything up, but it was a hokey solution. I am going to get some kevlar cord that doesn’t stretch and has a high test load to pull it all together next time.

Our shed seemed pretty well built, but I cut a piece of 2×4 and ripped an edge so it would go over the door threshold and push the door shut securely. I also marked where screws should go so as to best tie them into the frame of the ramp. This is easy to install and remove, and guarantees that the doors will stay shut.

While I waited out the storm I had a lot of time on my hands. I spent it putting all the hurricane hardware in order. It was in a loose bucket, and is now in organized bins. This has the bolts, nuts, anchors and install tools I need to put up the back screen. Including instructions would be good too!

Going through all the hardware I ended up throwing out more than half of it. Someone had used a #2 philips bit or something. The heads all had some damage, and many were heavily stripped out. Replacing this will mean an easier install next time.

Conclusion: If you haven’t checked the hurricane hardware for your house, assume something is going to be wrong with it. Even if you have, and it has been years, it is worth a check.

Smoked Bacon Hurricane Prep

Like a towel on an intergalactic trip, nothing says “I’m prepared for a hurricane” like hurricane rations. No hurricane rations are better than smoked bacon. I am taking Lucky’s thick cut peppered bacon and hickory smoking it at 325F. 30 or so minutes ought to do it.

Hurricane Dorian is right around the corner and we still don’t know if it will be standoffish or come up close and give us a big hurricane hug. As usual I have learned some lessons from this go around and will be updating the guide when it is all over. Hard to believe this picturesque landscape will soon harbor harsh winds and torrential rains. I hope everyone stays safe and sane through the ordeal. Good night and good luck!

Sprinkler Tools

I have been doing a lot of trenching and digging in my yard in service of a rock border project that has been going on for months now. One result of that project has been a lot of sprinkler repair. I have broken pipes underground while cutting up roots, and tried to dig straight through hidden sprinklers. That plus regular sprinkler maintenance has been a new chore for me. The last house didn’t have them and I am learning on the fly what I have and how to fix it.

Most of this is pretty routine plumbing, but repairing or replacing sprinkler heads is a bit different. They are buried, and often very overgrown with grass. Once you get to them, they tend to be tough to pull out of the ground. To help with all this I 3D printed some tools.

First up is a large hole saw looking device. A 1/4-20 bolt fits in the center and gets chucked up in a drill. It has a 3in ID which encompasses all my sprinkler heads. I had a sprinkler that needed to get an extension put on it, so I used it as an example. The bit breaks up the soil and grass around the sprinkler head making it easier to fully expose and extract.

Even with the grass broken up it is still hard to get a hold on those sprinklers without doing a lot of digging. To help with that I made a tool that grabs onto the ribs around the head and provides a good handle. It made extracting the unit very easy.

That one is designed for a Toro 570 series sprayer. I also have some Hunter PGP sprinklers that rotate on their own. Those are a lot bigger and require a different tool to extract. All the designs are bundled together on a single thingiverse post.

Rotted Back Door

One of the lingering repair issues on our new house was a rotted back door jamb. It is on the porch well under the roof line. A thing I noticed though is that when it rains really hard the gutters over flow and water backs up to this door on the pool deck.

This showed up on the home inspection. I probably shouldn’t have let it go this long, but what can I say? I started chiseling away at the rot and found it was pretty heavy down low, but didn’t go too far up. The 2x4s in the walls ok. They must have some kind of treatment to help prevent rot.

Once I was done putting out the rotted stuff I squared everything up so I could start putting new material back in.

I went with a foundation of pressure treated wood with PVC wood on the outside. The thicknesses didn’t all match up in places. I don’t really care that much, this will definitely not rot.

I did some heavy calking to fill all gaps and painting to keep the wood that is left in good shape. A lot of the door seal is missing at the bottom, but I haven’t seen anything splash against this door, just the rising tide of rainwater backing up. The closet is not under AC, so the seal wouldn’t matter for that either.

I fixed the door rot, but really the root problem is water backing up on the porch. I fixed the door 2 months ago, and it took me working off and on all that time to fully address every aspect of the problem.

First off, the gutters often fill with leaf debris which causes them to backup and overflow on the porch. I have been keeping the gutters clear, but still get overflow sometimes. As it turns out, when it rains hard enough, the water has a lot of velocity coming off the roof, and it can skip out of the gutter.

Next up is the channel drains in my deck. In doing some reading, paint isn’t good for them. I noticed in places the deck paint had completely covered the drainage slits. I used a pressure washer with the narrowest stream to strip the paint off the channel drain.

That was an improvement, but they still didn’t drain well. I picked up a pressure washer drain jetter hose. It is a pressure washer hose with a bullet shaped fitting on the end that shoots water forward and backwards at an angle to help you break up clogs and flush out drains and gutters. It was messy work, but I managed to flush the years of sand and sludge from my deck channel drains.

More improvement, but still not all in the clear. It turns out a root had grown up inside the side of the drain near the rotted door. The channel would move water, but was half full of roots, and didn’t drain as quickly as it should. A lot of work later, I got the roots cleared out.

With gutters clear, paint off the drainage slits, sludge out of the channels, and roots cleared out, it seems like they drain well now. Even if it doesn’t work perfectly every time, this should flood my porch a lot less than it has in the past. I will keep an eye on the water level and check the bottom of that door for cracks. The joys of home ownership.

Straight Edge Clamp Saw Guide

Track saws are one of the hot new things in woodworking. I guess they have been around for a while, but it seems like every power tool company has jumped on the bandwagon. They look handy and appear perform nice clean cuts with the way the track backs the saw blade. They are all really expensive though.

A cheap substitute is to use a clamped straight edge to run your saw or router up against. It works, but doesn’t prevent you from wondering away from the guide and doesn’t back the cut. I have a few clamping straight edges from a company called E Emerson. They sell a saw plate to attach your own circular saw to their track, but it has abysmal reviews and doesn’t back up any of the cuts.

Instead I am going to 3D print an adapter to hold a sheet of 1/2″ plywood to act as a moving saw plate base. I took a pile of measurements and after a few iterations came up with the right design that would hug the tracks available on the clamp.

I had some phenolic faced plywood left over from making my own table saw inserts. I cut the plywood to the rough size of my circular saw base, and attached two long guides.

To attach the saw, I tried printing some different bracket styles, but was never happy with how they held. Instead I found a 1/4″-20 threaded hole in the base near the front to take advantage of (I think it was for some kind of moveable crosscut guide you could buy), and just drilled a hole in the back. It worked out though, the ribbing in the saw plate holds a nut perfectly. I counterbored holes in the bottom to keep the screw heads from interfering with the plate’s movement.

The saw is well fixed now and ready for me to plunge the blade through. With this setup I cut a slot that is perfectly sized for the blade. Now any cutting I do will be well supported and have little to no tear out. It is like a moving zero clearance insert.

It just so happens that I had a full sized sheet of plywood that required crosscutting down to reasonable sized for a project. Here is the setup ready for its first cut.

Everything went smoothly until I got to the end. The guides got hung up on the folding clamp lever (blue and pointing downward in this picture). It left me with a few extra inches of plywood still left un-sawed. Kind of a bummer.

I regrouped and decided to move the front guide back until it touched the rear one, this would buy me a little. It still wasn’t quite enough, and some heavy sanding was required. Once I shaved it down at an angle I was able to make a complete cut across the plywood.

Once I got the cutting part figured out I wanted a set of guides. Setting up one of these straight edges always involves a bit of math. You need to know the distance from the blade to the edge of the saw plate, and are you concerned about the inside or outside edge of the saw kerf? I made a set of plywood blanks that show exactly where your cut will land. Now you can make a mark. line the blanks up, and voila. Just line it up and that is where the cut will happen.

I made a number of different length guides all designed for 1/2″ plywood and uploaded them to thingiverse.

TPU Printing Tips

Printing flexible filaments holds a mixture of horror and delight. On one hand making something squishy and flexible allows for custom grips, cushions, dampers, and all sorts of fun wiggly toys. On the other hand it can print like a nightmare. I had enough bad experiences early on I nearly completely swore off printing flexibles. Eventually I had someone requesting some flexy parts, so I got back into it.

Most printable flexible filaments are either TPE (Thermo Plastic Elastomer), or TPU (Thermo Plastic Urethane). TPEs tend to be a little softer, but you can print a structure with more infill to make it stiffer, or less to make it more complaint.

Problem 1: Bed Removal

Normally when 3D printing it is a hurdle to get things to stick to the bed. Not so with TPU. It sticks to the bed sheet material with such fervor that it will actually peel the PEI layer off the bed. I did this in the past and was upset about it. I found spreading down talc powder helped, but never fully alleviated the issue. Then along came my little purple friend.

I have heard people talk about glue sticks to help print adhesion. I never had any luck with normal hard plastics. But it acts as kind of a barrier or release agent with TPU. Sticky enough that it won’t come off during printing, but soft enough the part can be peeled off. It builds up over time, but is water soluble, so just wash it away in the sink. A thing layer is all you need. I never heat the bed when printing TPU.

Problem 2: Loading

Once I tackled the removal issues a little while back I was happy to perform occasional prints. Loading flexible filament could be a pain though. Half the time it would jam and wrap around the extruder. I did some reading and experimenting and came up with a two part solution.

When loading, increase the temp 10-20 degrees. It makes the TPU flow better. My Prusa has an automatic filament loading function. It detects the filament, loads quickly, then slows down to extrude new filament and flush the old residue. That initial quick load gets me in trouble about half the time. Instead I insert the filament, but not all the way to the extruder gear. I let it perform the fast load, then push it in the rest of the way when it slows down. It hasn’t jammed yet using that method.

Problem 3: Stringing

My TPU prints had crazy stringing. It was annoying, but a set of side cutters would take care of it. I was just so happy to be printing flexible materials I didn’t care at first. Now I am annoyed at the post process work required. I started googling and came up with some things to try.

First up, a number of places talked about the flexible materials not working well with retractions. It is flexible and might jam, but I thought that would make the stringing worse. Sure enough, it was a lot worse.

My original settings were what came with the Prusa Slicer. No retraction caused considerably worse stringing. Ok, how about instead we lower temperature, that was supposed to help out.

Sure enough, that worked. It makes sense, the stuff wants to solidify faster. I checked the manufacturer of my filament, and 240C is a little hotter than they suggest. I tried one at 220C, but was starting to get poor layer adhesion. I also slowed down the retraction speed from 35mm/min to 20. Some stringing still exists, so I will try to retract further.

Even better! There are some nubs left (hard to see with black filament), but this is so much better than before. I will call this good for now, but might go back in the future and do more turning.

While I was testing these I was slowly increasing my initial Z off set. They were coming off the bed more easily with 100um of increased Z height without significant impact to the bottom layer quality. It turns out you can alter the first layer Z height in the slicer, so I made that change for my flexible material profile.


TPU sticks too well?

  • Use a layer of purple glue stick on the print surface, it acts as a release agent
  • Increase initial Z height so first layer doesn’t get pressed in so hard

TPU strings badly?

  • Reduce temperature till you have layer adhesion or jam issues, then back up. Lower temps have less stringing.
  • Longer retractions at slower speeds might be needed.

What does one print with flexible material? Well Those test prints were feet for my macbook laptop. The originals keep falling off and getting lost, so I have been printing new ones and gluing them on.

Speaking of feet, I printed a set of vibration damper feet (thingiverse link) for the printer. The first set looked so ugly I figured I had to spend some time tuning to get rid of all this stringing. The before and after tuning results are pretty dramatic.

Other fun prints are a set of flexible hex bit holders (thingiverse link). They grip well enough to keep the bits from slipping out, but are easy to insert and remove. I tried making a set from hard plastic, but they just don’t compare.

Lastly the support arm on my tablesaw had a rubber guard to keep you from catching the edge. It got lost ages ago and and I have found it to be very uncomfortable when impacted at walking speeds. I made a push on flexible cap, but it too got lost after a few months. This one bolts into place in such a way as not to interfere with the fence. I bet I won’t be losing this one. Hopefully I won’t be racking my hip on it either.