Friday, May 18, 2018

Supercooling a House in the Desert: part 3

I'm going to talk about the APS (Arizona Public Service) phone software for monitoring your power. For folk that don't live here (Arizona, USA), much of this will be of little value. It might give you a clue as to how your own power company works, but this is directed at my neighbors.

I'm not going to describe how to look at your bill, or make a payment, etc. I want to talk about the usage numbers and graphs they provide so you can monitor how good or bad you're doing at saving money by juggling power usage.

First though, I want to explain a bit for people in other countries with different rules around providing power. The name, Arizona Public Service is historic and not actually reflective of what it is. APS is a private company that supplies power to a big part of Arizona. They are publicly held (as in stockholders) and regulated under Arizona's version of a public utilities commission, the Arizona Corporate Commission (AZCC). The AZCC is also in charge of licensing corporations in this state. So, if APS wants to increase its rates to customers, it has to get approval from the AZCC. Confused yet?

One of the things that is part of every submission for a rate increase is the statement, "fair and reasonable return on investment." Which means that if APS runs their business sloppily and doesn't make enough profit, they ask for a rate increase to increase the profit. Nice business to be in. If you screw up a business decision, there's someone out there that will guarantee you a profit.

No, I'm not being completely fair, there are various government requirements that APS is forced to meet, and those do increase their costs. But, every time one of those comes along, a new 'fee' is added to our bill. AZCC approval of these items is almost automatic.

Enough background, on to the actual application.

The app is called 'APS' and is on the google play store for download. Once you get it installed, you can log in to your web account with APS and look at billing and usage. There's also hints on ways to save, but that's just the usual things that we see every day about conservation. The last choice is 'apsFYI' that is the same things that they send with the bills. I'm not going to discuss the billing areas; it's hard to remove my account information from every single illustration. I may get to that at a later point though.

Lets go to 'MY USAGE' and see what it shows for me when I do it, that's where the fun stuff is:

You get a nice display that shows your percentage of use on peak. That means of the amount of energy you used so far this billing period, some percentage was during the peak demand period. Mine was 7%, which must mean that the rest, 93% was off peak usage:

And they have a display for that as well. The real data that can actually help is found by touching the 'Detailed Energy Usage' link at the bottom.

This is actually a nice chart that shows my energy usage for the last 6 days. It's only been six days so far this period. The bars are divided into peak usage, green and off peak usage, blue. The height of the entire bar is my total usage for that particular day. So, I used a lot off peak and only a little bit on peak; the actual values for these can be displayed by touching one of the bars.

So, what does this mean? It shows you when you are using the most power, on peak or off peak, and that's important because the billing rates are considerably different. I want to use as little as possible on peak and concentrate my usage to the off peak periods. That way I can use the larger appliances and pay the least possible for it.

If you touch 'LAST CYCLE' you'll be shown the entire period and you can inspect each day to see if you ran something big during the peak period.

This display can be scrolled left and right to get to a particular day. You can then see the days where you used the most power and work out a plan to deal with it in some fashion. Notice that I used almost 80Kwh on the 28th; it was Saturday and off peak, so I just let the AC run. Rates are much cheaper off peak and I can afford to do this. You certainly wouldn't want the green area to get large because that would result in probably an excess of $100 addition to the bill.

Up at the top of the display is a drop down menu currently labeled 'Daily Energy Use', This menu will let you look at a more detailed display that will actually show you your usage times. Here's mine:

For the last week this displays my usage on a time line so I can get an idea when my major usage occurs. My chart above shows that I cut the usage way back during the peak period (green) and then let it run wild the rest of the time. The big peaks just after the demand period is the AC kicking on full bore to cool the house back down to where I normally keep it. Also in there is the stove, dryer, pool pump, all the things that use a lot of power. See how I control my usage to only the cheaper times?

The reason they call this 'Demand' is because you can scan the green area to see when something turned on a drove the demand number up. They save the highest of the green parts as your demand number and use it as a multiplier on your bill.

If you choose 'Day' up near the top, you can get one days usage and a good indication of the time of day that you used a lot of power.

My big power usage spike came after the peak period (green), so I paid the lowest price for it. Notice how I keep the green area (peak usage) as low as possible? That keeps my demand number down to save money. You can get to a specific day by using the little calendar symbol on the upper right.

Doing this will allow you to zero in on some usage period that may be giving you trouble. Fridays after work when you're hot and kick the AC on too early, or the day the kids were home and fooling with the thermostat come to mind. Little things like that can mess up the demand number and cause an unexpected large bill.

That's pretty much the guided tour of the APS app. It can tell you how well you did at controlling usage and help isolate troublesome events. What it doesn't tell you is how you are doing right now. You can't get the current day, or a close to real-time display to tell you something is on that shouldn't be. You can only look back.

My contention is that this nice display was designed to help the APS representative prove it was your fault you get a large unexpected bill. However, given enough time, you can use it to learn what hurts and what you can get away with; you just have to pay for the mistakes when they happen.

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Thursday, May 17, 2018

More on House Power Monitoring: Prebuilt Device

There's been a lot of new devices appearing on the market for monitoring power. I decided to get one and see what was actually going on. I prowled around Alibaba for a while and settled on this one, the PZEM-004:

The reason I picked this one is that it has a TTL serial output that I can play with as well as a display, and for a long time now I've wanted a display to put on the water heater to show me when it is actually using power. This might just fit the bill as well as giving me an output that I can use to record the actual power usage. Since the water heater is 240VAC, this should do the job. If it works.

Naturally, when it came in, I took it apart to see what was inside:

The power and CT inputs are on the right and a ttl serial port is on the left. The two big chips that do the work are: Atmel 24C02N a 2 wire serial eeprom <link> and SDIC RWTS SD3004 energy monitoring chip <link>. 

These 'energy monitoring chips' are a relatively recent thing. Manufacturers took the interest in smart meters and energy monitoring seriously and produced a whole lot of special purpose chips to sell. They're pretty nice, and for an industrial application, do a good job. Every smart meter out there has something similar inside it. The problem I see with them is that for a person like me, they're too darn complicated. They take a bunch of support circuitry and need special commands to do what you want. For the time being, my own devices will use the older methods I already understand, unless this device changes my mind.

The rest of the circuitry is power supply, serial interface, support for the displays and such. I can't recommend that people get one of these because there is no clear separation between the parts that can kill you and the rest of the board. They appear to be relatively safe, but missing are the board cuts and clear indications of where the high voltages run. For a beginner that wants to start monitoring devices, this could get them in trouble.

But, trouble seems to be my middle name.

My water heater is solar. I have a panel on the roof of the garage that heats water, and when the temperature in the heater is less than the temperature of the solar heater, it pumps water from the panel to a heat exchanger inside the water heater. The heat exchanger is necessary because the fluid used in the panel is partly ethelyene glycol to avoid the possibility of freezing up there on the roof. The heater tank is 80 gallons to hold enough hot water for a long time. There is a little 45W motor that moves the water around to do the heat exchange.

Additionally, there is a helper element inside the hot water tank. The helper element is activated whenever the water needs heating, including when the sun is out and the solar is working. They recommend that people put a timer on the helper element, instead I hooked it into the house controls <link>. So this device gives me the ability to use the serial output from the power monitor to record the energy used by the heating element of the water heater.

But, why is that important to me since I have a solar water heater. Firstly, because I can. Secondly, it would be good information to know what a water heater actually uses in energy for my purposes. Heating a bunch of water is an efficient task since the element is actually submerged in there, but it still uses a heck of a lot of power. I want to understand this.

The very first thing I encountered was hooking the darn thing up in some kind of test bed. I really didn't want a bunch of jumpers carrying 220 hanging off my water heater, so I cut up an old extension cord and built a test bed for a 110VAC light that had two bulbs. That way I could change the bulbs and see different values as a kind of calibration test. I made darn sure the wires weren't exposed so I wouldn't rest my arm on them. The meter worked fine and actually gave a reasonable reading first try.

Next I went looking for how to hook up the serial port to my laptop. The USB to ttl serial cable that came with it had a fake chip in it and wouldn't work. I chased down the correct drivers for the chip and got the serial working, but couldn't find the proper baud rate anywhere in the (slim) documentation that came with it. That got me to searching the web for information.

Really fortuitous problem. There are a lot of sites out there that have messed with this device and put up examples. I even ran across a library to support it in github <link> so I wouldn't have to do everything from scratch. By the way, the baud rate is 9600!

So, I added a little arduino to my test setup and started to peck away.

Yes, I know it's not the safest setup in the world, but as long as I remember to pull the plug before grabbing that metal screwdriver, I should be OK.

As you can see, the monitor worked first try and all the displays worked. The picture missing some things is an artifact of the pulsed display. I didn't have as much luck with the software I found though. It took me a bit to figure out what 'yield();' was that was keeping me from compiling, but it turns out that that is simply a delay(0) for the esp8266. I added a stub for that.

Everything worked from then on Here's the serial results as it came out of the box:

The power, voltage and stuff was right on the money when I compared it to other devices I have around the house. The current transformer they supply is one of those that you have to remove the wires to use. You can see it in the picture above. In some places you can't get the wire loose for various reasons, so I tried a SCT-013 that can be found all over the place and I happened to have. The results were not as pleasant:

If I need to use one of those, I'll have to hunt down and change the burden resistor since I can't get to the calibration. The displays shows one bulb at first and two about half way down; roughly half what it should be. There are no markings on the supplied CT, but I bet it has half the windings of the SCT-013.

(Edit: I looked up the various datasheets, the SCT-013 has a ratio of 1:1800 and the split core version of the included CT is 1:1000. Not quite half, but close. There is a split core CT that will work with this, the PZCT-02, that costs about five bucks and has a 30 day delivery. I'd still like to be able to use the SCT one though)

So, now I'm at a decision point. Do I add this to the water heater setup or not? If I do, do I use a separate system from the garage device. The garage is currently handled by an Arduino that controls the water heater and the garage doors. This device could be for the water heater like I have one for the freezer and such.

Decisions, decisions.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Supercooling a House in the Desert: part 2

Last post I examined how much my house's internal temperature rose over an eight hour period of temperatures that exceeded 100F with no AC at all during the period. That gives me a feel for how much I'll need to cool the house down during the peak period, but to really understand how to control things a closer examination of some other things needs to be done. First, lets look at recirculating the air inside the house between rooms.

Recirculation can be done easily by simply leaving the AC fan on and set the mode of the compressor to 'OFF'. This will move the air around the house and even out the temperature of the various rooms. Essentially you're taking cool air and displacing some warmer air in areas that might be hot spots. I tried this and found it to really works well for evening out the house.

However, I'm really frugal (aka cheap) and having both of my AC motors running all the time was too much for my personal sensibilities. I stagger them so only one is ever running, and I don't run them all the time. Here's a chart to show you what is happening.

Those little steps in there are each fan running as measured by my whole house device. It actually monitors the house's incoming power real time <link>. There's other stuff going on in the house, so the graph isn't a perfect set of steps. If you look closely, you'll notice that one of the fans pulls more power than the other; that's because one AC is a 5 ton and the other a 3, so they use different sizes of motors in the air handler.

There are thermostats that can handle recirculation for you, but they are rare. I had a couple for a while before I built my own and they worked fine. A bit hard to set up though; the manual was many pages long. My plan over time is to get rid of the thermostats entirely in favor of a computer that monitors the temperature in each room and adjusts the fans and compressor for the most comfortable environment. I'm probably a year away from that goal. Folk that don't want to bother with that can look around, there are lots of good thermostats out there.

Note that I DO NOT recirculate during the peak period. I'm just too cheap for that. Instead I use ceiling fans to move the air around in a single room and keep it feeling fresh. No, this doesn't even the entire house out, but it does well in the most used rooms. This is another of the list of personal preference items you need to consider.

Now, let's talk about the high surge current that an AC compressor uses when starting up. It's an absolute fact that most electric motors pull very high current when they first start up. When I looked at my AC compressors, they pull around 4kW when running, but the peak surge getting them started was way up around 14kW. Yes, that's nothing to laugh at; it's a lot of power.

But, it's only for a second or two. Here's a chart that shows the spikes created by starting an electric motor. In this case, it's my refrigerator, freezer and the freezer out in the garage.

I especially like this graph because I caught the garage freezer for the entire starting spike. A limitation of measuring power is that you have to capture discreet instances of power, you can't get everything. I capture it in about 1 minute intervals and often miss most of the rising spike. It's just impossible to grab everything all the time; there isn't enough storage to keep it. The reason I used the appliances is that I don't filter the readings as much. If you don't filter the reading, they're all over the place and you can't get any accuracy at all because of the inherent noise. The whole house power would be a real mess to try and read with the start up spikes from everything in the house showing up.

But back to the spike, notice how much higher it is than the run current just next to it? Here's a cutout of that particular piece all by itself.

While the normal run current is only around 100W, the starting surge is almost 900W, but also notice that it is only for less than a minute. Since the peak demand number is for an entire hour, that's not enough to impact it. The surge peaks of  electric motors is so small in actual power used that it just doesn't matter on your power bill.

There is another reason to avoid the incessant cycling of larger motors though, wear. On something like a freezer it doesn't matter much because they are fractional horsepower motors, but on an AC unit, starting and stopping a compressor is tough on the mechanics. Bearing, armatures, pulleys, etc wear out often enough, we don't want to increase the wear by 'short-cycles' on the motors. When you start it, let it run a bit if possible.

But ignore the uninformed when they speak about the huge power usage of the AC starting; it just isn't a problem. Unfortunately, many of the uninformed are AC 'experts' that we all have to listen to from time to time.

Now, since I mentioned the appliances, let me expand a bit on them. I have separate appliances for the refrigerator and freezer as well as a chest freezer in the garage. These have to run all the time to keep my food safe. I don't want to spend the money on spoiled food instead of power. I've already charted the usage of all of them above, let's look at a stacked chart of their power usage during a typical peak period. Stacking means that I add each chart line to the others so you can see the total usage of all the appliances at a glance.

I also filled the items so they would be easier to see. The fridge and garage freezer use around 100 W each and the house freezer uses about 130 W. Since they don't always run, there are actual periods where no power is used by the appliances, but not very often. The fridge runs about half the time in long periods, while the garage freezer runs in predictable periods, but still about half the time. The house freezer runs the most, partly because it has two defrost cycles a day that it has to recover from opening the door to get ice which lets the cold out. You can actually feel the cold air hit your feet when you open the door on this stand up freezer. Very convenient though.

The appliances create an almost constant draw on power that is roughly 350 watts. Combine this with ceiling fans (a necessity in the desert to keep the air moving) and the usual passive devices and my particular baseline power usage is close to 500 watts ... constantly. Everything else I run just adds to it. I don't think I can get it below that without some risk to my food supply.

It's important to note that the fridge and freezer in the house vent right into the kitchen. That takes the heat that may be inside the appliance and dumps it into the house making it necessary to remove that heat with the AC. This is good in the winter since it will keep the house warm, but not so good in the summer where you have to get rid of that heat. I may someday have to look at that as a factor, but it's a really hard thing to measure.

So, factoring all this with the appliances, the very best demand number I can possibly get is .5kW. That would actually be great, there's always something. microwave popcorn, lunch, TV, whatever makes life more fun and comfortable will creep into my power bill.

Remember, your mileage WILL vary. Your lifestyle, house, habits and the way you hold your tongue will conspire to create your own personal profile. Use this as data for decisions, not as an absolute.

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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Supercooling a House in the Desert

A while back I ranted a while about power politics in the desert <link>, and after some thought and because I've been doing this for years now, I decided to post a few articles on 'supercooling' a house to lower power bills. Another impetus is that the latest rate increase has caused many people in my area to feel the 'heat' of the new power company rate increase.

First, what the heck is 'supercooling'?

This term came about over time because people (me!) were clobbered by power bills based on the 'demand' billing method. I first posted about this quite a while ago and even dedicated a page to it back then <link>. As I pondered and tested, I created thermostats and temperature gauges, and a lot of other stuff. This blog was actually the result of experiments and actual devices that have been copied by people all over the world to mimic some portion of my efforts.

One of the methods I tried was to cool the house way down during the off peak hours and then turn the AC off entirely during the peak period, and let the house coast through the peak period. That made my power bill the envy of all the neighbors. They weren't willing to do the same thing, but they commented on my work many times.

So, supercooling is cooling the house down a bunch before the peak period begins, turning the AC completely off during the peak and then turn it back on after the peak period ends. This is all the result of demand billing explained on the link above <convenience link>. For folk that live in the cold country, this will work the opposite way as well. You can heat it way up and then let it coast. However, I don't have any direct experience with that living here.

My early efforts resulted in great savings under what I would have been paying. So much so that solar power companies can't match me. I had inadvertently beaten the ability of solar power to save money. Here is a chart of my power usage back then:
I know, ancient charting software. But forgive me, this was in 2009 and I was new to this blogging thing.

It was very important to me that I kept the power usage to the absolute minimum during the peak period, and in those days it was from noon to 7 PM. I actually used more power this way, but paid a much smaller bill. The huge spike in power just before the peak period is me supercooling the house before I shut off the AC units entirely from noon to seven.

Basically it worked ! I was a happy puppy and decided to automate the house and take control of my power usage so I couldn't get screwed by an accident again. Thus, the adventure of the the last years began.

So, that's supercooling and my adventure into it.

Now it's time to study it some more because people want to know what to do to accomplish some of my results. Not everyone wants to tear out walls, climb up on the roof or bury wire to the septic tank. They just want to understand how to save some money.

That's quite enough background for now. Let's get to the first experiment I did.

Before the new rate increases came into effect I modified my thermostat code <link> so that the peak period was from noon until 8PM; this is a union of the new peak period 3PM to 8PM and the old, 12 noon to 7PM.  I did this so that whenever they actually implemented the rate change I wouldn't be caught by surprise and get an outrageous bill. It worked, the transition was smooth and I didn't get any bad surprises. Since it was for a very long period, it was perfect to test the heat rise inside the house; I just had to wait for a hot day.

Naturally it came with a vengence, and I was already gathering data, so first I did one set of rooms that are wide open to each other no restrictions on the air flow and are air conditioned (duh). For the test I let them cut off automatically at NOON, because I wanted enough time for good measurements. I kicked them back on at 8PM .

Here's a graph showing the set of rooms and the outside temperature. You can tell which is which. At noon, the room temperature was 76F and at 8PM the room temperature had risen to 81F for an increase of 5 degrees.  I haven't done it for only the period of 3PM to 8PM yet, because I wanted to understand the rise in temperature so I would know the settings to try first. Here's the graph:

I was surprised how little the temperature changed without AC when the outside temperature varied up to 105F. Of course your mileage will vary due to every factor known to man, things like: did you open the doors, curtains open, insulation level, ceiling fans, etc. Most everything inside and outside your house will have an impact. However, for me it means I can lower the temperature by five degrees and survive until 8PM from 3PM when the temperature is in the low hundreds. I'm sure that I'll have to drop another degree or two when it gets in the teens, but I have a place to start.

I did notice that the concrete floor was absorbing heat. It seems the sun shining on the foundation outside was travelling UNDER the insulated walls and radiating into the house. The walls in that area were cool to the touch, but that's subjective. I'll have to go around the house and check the temperature on the exposed areas to see what the floor temperature is; it may just be over-sensitive bare feet. Good excuse to buy an infra-red thermometer.

What? you want to see the power usage during the same period to see how things are going power-wise?

Notice that from noon until 8PM I use almost no power. The little rise towards the end of the period is my TV and the hump around 3:50 is me warming up some stuff in the microwave. I didn't supercool the house for this test, but I did let everything kick on normally at 8PM. That's the huge spike you see on the right.

Yes, I watch the power that closely, at least during peak periods.

One of the fallacies I see mentioned a lot is staggering appliances. This will help during the peak period by keeping the dryer from adding to the AC or something similar. That keeps the demand number lower during ONLY this period. The rest of the time (off peak) it doesn't matter at all. During those periods power is power, so go ahead, run the dryer. During peak, keep that darn thing turned off. You don't need that shirt right now, wear the least dirty one from the laundry instead.

I'll be doing more observations and experiments over the next weeks, months, whatever, and I'll try to keep links between the posts so you can follow along (if you actually care about this kind of stuff) without hearing about hydraulics, septic sensors, old tractors, wifi controls, etc.

This could get interesting and a good place for me to look when I forget why I started this mess.

Oh, this page will attract spam like crazy. Every solar service in the world will be posting something with a hidden link in their name or some word inside. There will be arguments aplenty about the costs of solar vs nothing. Off grid suggestions will probably abound. I know how to deal with this ... I delete it. So, solar sales people, don't bother, you'll just get deleted. Same for people that want to compare their solar savings, gone. Also, at some point, I'll actually have to turn off comments because I get tired of messing with the constant spam. And, I love suggestions for things to look at (if they don't cost me much).

But for now, comment away.

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Sunday, May 6, 2018

Another Garage Sale Find

I found something else at a garage sale that I'm going to write about. I promise I'll get back to technical projects for a while after this.

I was looking through a bunch of really old TV repair equipment. There was even an old B & K sweep marker generator there.

The guy had lots of old equipment. Looks like he had bought out a storage locker that was abandoned by an old TV repair shop.

This was in the days when tubes (young folk, look it up) were used. Back when we actually had tube testers to tell us if it was bad. We'd slap the side of a tube gently with a screwdriver to see if sparked. Ah, those were NOT the good old days. I didn't buy any of the electronics, they were just too old and that stuff, while magnificent in its day, just wouldn't do the job today. I don't really want to start a museum.

After spending some time prowling and remembering, I stumbled on a wine rack. It wasn't special, but he wanted $12 for it and the metal rings it had in it were more than that at the steel supply, so I bought it.

I took it home and stuck it on the counter top where I wanted it and it didn't look too good.

It was too dark for the room, and too wide for the spot. Crap, I should take a tape measure with me for things like this. Actually, that wouldn't have worked because garage sales are all impulse items or rare finds that you can't turn down. You never find the exact right thing when you're looking for it.

I guess I could sell it at my own garage sale, but I did buy it for the rings that hold the bottles. Maybe I should pursue that.

If you notice, I have unlimited space up top and a cabinet that is three rings wide would fit in the space, so I got inventive. I took the 4 x 6 arrangement

Got out my hand grinder and welder and turned it into a 3 x 8 arrangement of the rings.

I took the rings inside and sure enough, it would fit. So, then I needed a new box to hold it. I just happened to have some hickory plywood left over from my cabinets; the guy that designed them over ordered. Naturally I kept the excess because that stuff is expensive. Now was a chance to actually use some of it instead of moving it around the garage from time to time.

I built a basic box with no back:

then test fitted it into the same spot as before:

Yep, it was going to fit. I used crown molding for the base so it would be a little more stable and to cover up some saw marks. I had this left over also. Now, to finish it off , it was just install the metal rings. 

Add a little finish to make it shine a bit, and move it back into the house.

Now it fits the space and matches the existing cabinets. I have more room for wine bottles than I have interest in buying wine. Perfect.

Yeah, I know, I could have bought the rings off ebay and done exactly the same thing, but I never thought of that. Also, each time I visit a garage sale, I come away with more work to do.

I hope  I don't find a '32 Ford at a garage sale.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

So, I Went to a Couple of Garage Sales ...

Driving down the road this fine Saturday in the desert I saw a sign for a garage sale. I don't normally go to these because I haven't had much luck finding anything of interest, but a couple of weeks ago I stumbled on a really cool clock (more below) and thought, "what the heck?"

Sitting on a table being ignored by the other customers looking for the perfect piece of glassware, child's clothing, big crescent wrench or first printing Gutenberg Bible was a 16 port gigabit TP-Link Ethernet switch. Trying to hide my excitement I asked the owner, "How much?"  "How about five bucks?"

Here it is:

Brand new, in the box, ready to go on the shelf where all the little computers are.

I've been thinking about getting one to support all the little computers that seem to be breeding over there. Right now I'm down to the last port on the switch that handles them and the next one would require this or something like it. Five Bucks?! This particular one is $76 on Amazon right now. Score!

I like to have anything I can connected hardwire into the house ethernet because I don't have to worry about how far away the nearest wireless access point is. This addition to the 'little computer shelf' will help out a lot.

No, I didn't ask them where they got it ...

The clock I mentioned above was an impulse purchase I made a couple of weeks ago at an estate sale. Estate sales are sad (at least to me) because someone passed away and a company is liquidating their belongings. I always get a little stuffed up when I wander through them thinking about the pleasure the items gave their owner, and I usually pick something out that probably had some meaning to them so I can help a little bit in keeping a tiny piece of history around. OK, it doesn't fit my image, and I'll never say that out loud.

I saw this mantle clock that had had a hard time of it, the poor thing was stuffed on a shelf and was brush painted white. Sad little fellow kind of whimpered, "Take me home." So I did:

The white paint had brush marks in it and the brass was tarnished. There were a couple of chips here and there, but they had the key and it ticked. I had a new old clock.

Got the thing home and started tracing the history of that model and it's roughly a hundred years old. Since it still ticked, it hasn't seen much actual use as a clock because the bearings would have long since worn out. I wound it up and rolled the minute hand to the half hour and it chimed. So, I moved again to the hour and it announced the hour nicely. So far, so good. I had $20 invested in this thing it better pan out. I went out and got some paint remover I had left over from another project and removed some of the nasty white paint:

The grain on the wood looked OK and it appeared to be a mahogany laminate on the top of the tambour (curved part) with solid mahogany for the trim. So, I took the guts out and dug in.

Like any 'normal' person in the 21st century, I watched a dozen youtube videos on furniture refinishing and followed the ones that weren't blatant advertisements for some furniture product. I got all the paint off and it was looking pretty good:

And a huge collection of little tiny parts. These are the parts from only the door on the back where you can service the thing:

I didn't want to post the parts and pieces of the clock and chimes because that would have meant taking them out of the Ziploc bags I put them in the instant I got them loose. Losing a single little part could have been a disaster and would have certainly dropped the value of the restoration. You don't use new parts on something you're restoring if at all possible to keep it original.

Anyway, I spent several afternoons refinishing the cabinetry, another one putting the parts back in and this is what came from the effort:

I realize that tambour mantle clocks are not of great value and I wouldn't get much profit if I were to sell it on ebay, especially since shipping would cost as much as I paid for it. But that wasn't the point. Now my family holds a little piece of another families history that we can care for.

At least until the estate sale.

Thursday, March 29, 2018


A while back I posted about the front loader valve on my big tractor, then forgot to post an update <link>. Well, after several screw ups and two separate orders for new hoses and such, I got it installed on the tractor.

Looks good doesn't it?  I had to cut off the old mounting arrangement entirely since there wasn't enough room for the new valve in the existing one. Then I had to get some 1/4 inch plate steel and bend it to wrap around as shown above. This gave me a place to mount the valve itself. Here's the old mounting arrangement:

Compared with the new:

That was an interesting project in itself; mainly because I'm not a welder, I just make stabs at it from time to time. That mounting plate was cut with a plasma cutter and then I bent it by cutting some lines about half way through the plate and bending it over in a vise. I stitch welded the cuts to make them hold. The entire plate was welded on the side of the front loader pillar so it would be in approximately the same place as the old one.

The old valve was plumbed with steel tubing and some of them wouldn't fit the new valve, so I got some hydraulic hoses from an on-line vendor and connected it that way.

My return line is the one on the bottom; that leads to a new fitting I put on the fluid tank.

You can just barely see the fitting under the mount on the side of the pillar. On this tractor they used the frame of the loader as the reserve fluid tank, so I couldn't drill any holes for bolts and such. It all had to be welded. Here's a better view of the return line:

That was another new experience, welding with a MIG loaded with flux core wire in the desert winds. Try fitting your head in there with a welding helmet around it. I have a couple of new scars to brag about.

After fixing a couple of leaks and crossing my fingers, it worked first try. I used the tractor to move some stuff around and the new valve was great. I probably have the only 3000 series Ford tractor with a joystick. Other folk have thought about it, but I haven't read about anyone actually doing it.

Aren't tractors fun?