Archive for the ‘DIY’ Category

December 1st, 2022

Snowflake Star Christmas Lights

Here are the outdoor Christmas decorations that I made this year. Each star is made with 4 ea 1 1/4″ x 24″ x 1/4″ wood slats and 4 strands of lights each having 20 mini lights. I decided on 20 light strands so that each section of the star would use the entire stand and avoid the complication of trying to make the strand wiring jump from one section of the star to another mid strand. I purchased the light strands from the dollar store for $1.25 each.

To start creating the stars, I used a scrap piece of pegboard as template. On standard pegboard, the holes are spaced apart 1″ on center. I considered making alternate templates with the holes farther apart, but the wire spacing between the between the bulb sockets on the strands that I had would not really support this. After enlarging the holes so the light sockets would fit snugly, I inserted all the lights in the strand while leaving an open hole in the center. This seemed like it would work, so I proceeded to use the template to drill the wood slats that would become the stars.

Before drilling, be sure to do several test holes in the material that will be used for the star sections to find the drill bit size that allows the bulb socket to be snugly pressed into the hole. The center hole should be 1/4″ to fit a carriage bolt that will join the star sections together.

After drilling all the slats for the stars, start assembling the star by pressing the bulb sockets into the holes of the first section. For the two bulbs on either side of the center hole, press the sockets all the way through the hole. Now use hot glue to secure the all of the sockets except the two in the middle to the back of the slat.

For the second section, use hot glue to attach two or three washers around the center hole on what will be the back side. Then pass the section under the wires at the center of the first section. Insert a 1 1/2″ or 2″ carriage bolt and secure it temporarily with a nut.

The lights can now be added to the second section. Be sure to tuck the wires down on one side of the washers at the center.

Now remove the nut and place the 3rd and 4th sections into the carriage bolt making sure to tuck the wires down to the side of the washers. Secure the all the sections together with a washer and nut.

The remaining strands can now be added. The holes on either side of the center will be partially obscured by the first two sections so it may be necessary to drill the holes again at an angle so the sockets can be inserted. After all of the sockets are inserted, they can be secured with hot glue.

Now on the front side, press the lights around the center of the first two sections down as far as possible and secure with hot glue.

To finish the star, I trimmed the extra length off the ends of the star sections except for the one that was to be the top. For that one I left around 2″ of material above the last light and then glued a doubler piece on the back side. Once the glue dried, I drilled a 1/4″ hole to use to insert a wire to hang the star. Cable ties were used to tidy up the extra wire leading from the stacked plugs.

June 30th, 2021

July 4th Mini Flag Stands

This a quick project that can help you use up some of your small scraps of hardwood. During this time of year there are lots of inexpensive small decorative flags in every store. The small ones seem like they are always used by sticking them in the ground. But a small block of wood with a hole drilled in it makes a great way to display them indoors.

I started by cutting up my scrap hardwood pieces into cubes. The smallest usable size seems to be about 1 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ for heavier woods like oak. Below are my first prototypes. A 13/64″ hole was drilled in the center but not all the way through.

I probably could have just stopped here. But the wood cubes looked like they needed something else to smooth some of the sharp edges. So I decided to cut a 30 degree bevel along all four sides of the top.

For finishing, I used stain and clear spray polyurethane on the oak pieces and red, white & blue spray paint on the maple pieces. Here are some pictures of the finished stands:

December 12th, 2019

Repair Power Supply for Nortel Norstar Phone System

If you have a Nortel Norstar 3×8 or 6×16 phone system that stops working, it is probably the power supply that is faulty. I have a system that has been in operation for over 18 years that recently stopped working. After a storm, the arrow indicators on one of the phones were flashing and there were no other signs of life. I initially thought that the KSU was fried because the voltages on the power supply tested good, so I purchased another old on ebay. But when I hooked it up with my original power supply, the phones all were still not working. So I put the original one back in and plugged it in with the ebay power supply and it immediately came back to life. I decided to see if I could fix the original power supply and I pleased to say that it now works fine after spending about $12 to replace two capacitors.

The part numbers on the power supply are:


Start by opening the case. The two halves of the plastic shell are fused together. Insert a screwdriver in the seam and start prying the case apart. On mine, the plastic weld was starting to fail so I was able to pull the two pieces apart without breaking them.

The view with the cover removed:

It look like one of the capacitors had bulged:

Time to replace some capacitors. Start by removing the frame from the bottom part of the case.

Now remove the two clips that are holding the voltage regulators to the heat sink.

Now the circuit board can be removed from the heat sink. The ground wires are riveted to the heat sink so it will still be tethered to the board. In this picture I have de-soldered and removed the two main capacitors.

The board with the capacitors removed.

Next I cleaned the glue and flux off the top of the board as much as possible.

I broke the small black spacer cleaning the board, but replaced it with a computer motherboard standoff clip. I think it is mainly an alignment pin for assembly so it probably could have been left off.

Lets take a moment to check the old capacitors:

The first one is only showing 4969uf instead of the rated 6800uf (27% loss of capacitance).

Now the other one. It only has 1161uf instead of the rated 15000uf (92% loss of capacitance). No wonder the phones didn’t work!

And now the replacements… I used Rubycon MXG series with the same values as the originals (6800uf at 35v and 15000uf at 16 volt).

Replacements installed. Be sure to match the polarity properly. The negative side of the capacitors with the stripe should face inward.

Another look with the heat sink clips re-installed. Make sure the insulator pads are still in place behind the ICs. But wait, something looks funny. Look at the capacitor polarity stripes compared to the before picture.

It looks like someone soldered the capacitor backwards at the factory. This is very bad for capacitors and would typically cause immediate failure (with bulging of the top). But somehow my system worked for 18 years despite this! So I am going to say that these systems are basically indestructible.

Now with the capacitors replaced. Lets check our work. The 15 volt rail looks good.

And the 5 volt rail is spot on.

Lastly I glued the case back together with model glue and clamped it while the glue dried. I used model glue because it does not have fumes that make a white spots on black plastic like super glue does. I think this power supply is now good for another 18 years.

Parts used:

Rubycon MXG 6800uf 35v volt 25mm diameter – DigiKey p/n: 1189-3907-ND

Rubycon MXG 15000uf 16 volt 25mm diameter – DigiKey p/n: 1189-3863-ND

July 24th, 2018

A Bright Idea

I saw this a while ago on one of the woodworking sites and decided that I needed to build one. It is light box with an old fashioned Edison bulb. It is a fairly simple project requiring just one piece of wood, a light socket, a dimmer and a bulb.

I made my light box out of a single piece of red oak. I purchased a 1″ thick board to have a thicker base and then planed the side pieces down to 3/4″. The dimensions are 8 3/4″ wide x 9″ tall x 5 1/2″ deep.

After cutting the base piece down to size, I marked the center of the board and drilled a 1″ hole approximately 3/4″ into the 1″ base. I drilled a 9/32″ hole through the side for the cord to go through. The socket was located on the base in order to pre-drill the mounting holes. I used 1″ screws in the porcelain socket that only protruded 1/4″ into the base so as not to interfere with the wire channel.

Here I slipped the 9/32″ drill bit into the hole for the wire in order to mark the side piece and continue the hole through the side. The box was then glued together using biscuits at the top.

The finished piece with socket and dimmer installed. I used an inline dimmer with a woven cloth covered cord. It can be purchased here: The socket can be found here:

The finish is gun stock wood stain and one coat of spray polyurethane.

December 16th, 2017

Kids Workbench

I made this kids workbench as a Christmas present for me niece. I found the plans for it here:

The bench is 24″ high at the work surface, 17 1/2″ deep and 41 3/4″ tall. It is made out of select pine 1×4 and 2×2 boards with an MDF top, shelf and pegboard. The joinery is all done with pocket screws. The finish is tung oil.

November 1st, 2017

Halloween Zombie Apocalypse

Here is my yard haunt for 2017. I have done a miscellaneous display for the past couple of years but this year I finally came up with a theme. The house was turned into a zombie containment lab with the zombies trying to get out.

My display was somewhat abstract with lighting and sound creating most of the effects. I started putting out props several days leading up to Halloween to tell the story that the house was being transformed/taken over by the zombie containment activities.

The elements:
1. Lighting – Green flood lights in all the windows and 4 DMX controlled LED PARs slowly alternating from yellow to green with the occasional strobe. Leading up to Halloween the green lights in the windows faded on and off slowly to indicate something was building up.

2. Driveway – Lighted signs warning of zombies inside along with a motion activated scoreboard buzzer combined with blinking stage light with radiation symbol gobo.

3. Sidewalk – Motion activated store bought hanging zombie prop and atmosfearfx zombie apocalypse dvd projected in the front window. Also a homemade control panel that appeared to be ripped off the wall was made to flicker via a florescent starter.

4. Front door – An industrial control panel made from plywood and electrical parts (indicator lights, meters, knobs, etc.). When the door bell was rang the store bought electrical box prop mounted on the side of the control panel was triggered along with a strobe light inside the front door.

5. Miscellaneous – Mr. Cool fog machine, a few random severed limbs, ‘caution’ tape, a 50 gallon blue drum, and some other random warning signs.

January 24th, 2017

IKEA Cabinet Modification

IKEA can be intimidating. The store is humongous and the options are seemingly endless. It takes some study to narrow down the options to find what you need. In my case I needed a laundry cabinet above the washing machine. This cabinet will store the detergent and other laundry supplies. While the big box home centers have stocked a plethora of options for oak and white thermofoil/melamine kitchen cabinets, there was a big problem. In test fittings at the store, it became obvious that none of the currently available laundry detergent dispenser jugs will actually fit in a standard 12″ deep upper cabinet.

I thought about custom building a cabinet but it seemed like there should be something commercially available for this purpose. Meet the SEKTION cabinet line from IKEA.

The SEKTION line of cabinets turned out to be exactly what I needed. To start with, SEKTION upper cabinets are all 15″ deep instead of the standard 12″. I my case, I needed a single door upper cabinet. Within this one variation of cabinet, there are 17 different height and width (12″, 15″, 18″, 21″ & 24″) options available. There are also many different choices in door styles available. I ended up choosing a 18″ W x 30″ H cabinet with the very basic white ”Häggeby” door.

After obtaining a pick ticket and paying at the store, I went to the pickup area and got a nice tidy bundle of packages brought out to me on a cart. Since the cabinets are modular, the individual components are picked that make up the finished unit that is desired.

The only issue now is assembling and mounting the cabinet. It turns out there is a small problem that must be overcome. The cabinet system is designed to be mounted on a hanging rail system. To make the installation easier, a metal hanging rail is screwed to the wall studs and the cabinets are hung from it. The only downside to this system is that it holds the cabinets out from the wall slightly. In my case, I decided not to use the hanging rail system for just one cabinet. This required some modifications to the cabinet box as seen below.

To avoid using the hanging rail system, nailer strips needed to be added to the top and bottom of the cabinet box. I used 3/4″ x 1 1/2″ melamine strips to accomplish this. I cut biscuit slots in the strips so the #20 biscuits would align with the groove in the cabinet that was intended to accept the back panel. I then applied a melamine edge banding to the two strips before cutting new grooves in the top to accept the back panel. The biscuits and then glue were then applied to secure the nailer strip to the top and bottom panels of the cabinet.

After the glue dried, the cabinet was assembled per the IKEA instructions (cam locks, cam screws and dowels) after cutting the back panel down to the size needed (26 1/8″) to fit between the newly installed nailing strips.


Below is the completed cabinet with the door installed after screwing it directly to the wall studs through the newly installed nailing strips. It holds all of my laundry supplies quite comfortably.

November 20th, 2016

DIY LED Christmas tree

Here are two of my DIY Electronic Christmas trees. The first one was made two years ago for an office Christmas decorating contest. I decided to update it this year with a little more modern technology.


First tree:
This is a fiber optic tree with a halogen light and color wheel in the base. I decided on a technology theme using electronic parts that I had on hand by making my own blinking light strands out of red and green LEDs soldered onto cut up ribbon cables. The LEDs are driven by a 555 + 4017 + 2803 IC combo circuit assembled on a breadboard. For those who are not sure what that means… The 555 is a general purpose timer IC that supplies the clock pulses. The speed is adjustable by the potentiometer knob. The 4017 IC acts as a sequencer/chaser. It has ten output pins that switch on in sequence per each clock pulse. The next chip is a ULN2803 that acts as a amplifier for the output of the 4017 to drive multiple LEDs. In this case, I am using 7 channels of outputs with two LEDs on each strand. Here is a schematic if you want to make this circuit:



The ornaments on this tree are old ICs that were spray painted white and red. I am happy to report that I did win the decorating contest with this effort. I was going for an ‘electronic steampunk’ theme, which I think this captured. Charles even said that it looked ‘old school’, high praise indeed!

Updated Tree:


This year, I updated the original tree with a Bluetooth LED controller instead of the discreet ICs of the original version. I decided since now that it is 2016 and all of the box stores sell LED light strands and power strips with embedded Bluetooth controllers and their own ‘app for that’, my entry should reflect that technology. I thought about using a Raspberry PI and writing some PWM code in python to blink and dim the LEDs (and send tweets too!), but I decided that was a bit overkill.


I settled instead on a standalone Bluetooth LED controller (BL 370) that I bought for $25 on A-Maze-On. The device is made to control RGB LED strips, but I thought it would do fine driving 6 each red, green, and blue LEDs for my Christmas tree (Note that there is a 470 ohm resistor inline with each LED; I re-wired them after taking the pictures). The device has its own app called ‘Magic Light BLE’ for Android and IOS. The app works pretty well with lots of options to blink the lights. The only downside is that it seems like a fairly dodgy app since now on Android it requires location permission to start. So I borrowed my Mom’s old iPhone to load the app instead. While sitting next to the tree, the phone actually complements this years theme of ‘App for that Christmas tree’. Any suggestions on what to use for ornaments?  Maybe of bunch of cut off USB connectors if I can find a ready supply?

October 26th, 2015

Fence Picket Plant Stand

My mom needed a plant stand to fit into a corner of her back porch. She searched for a long time to find a piece of furniture to fit in the space without success. Having recently torn down a dilapidated fence, I had a pile of old fence pickets that needed to be re-purposed or get thrown away. I decided to try and build a plant stand that would be custom sized to fit the space.


I started by finding eight pickets that were the straightest and had the fewest cracks to use as the corner pieces. I took off some of the finish with a random orbital sander since it would hard to do once the corners were assembled. I then cut some biscuit slots and glued two pickets together to form a corner piece.


I used clamps and 3D squares to hold the pieces together while the glue dried.


I then assembled the table by screwing the four corner pieces together with 1×2 stretchers at the top and bottom. The five pickets pickets along the back were secured by screwing through the stretchers into the picket with four screws each.


My mom painted the whole assembly along with the slats for the shelves. The slats were made from extra fence pickets that were cut down to size. The painted slats were then secured to the top and bottom shelves with 18 gauge brad nails.


The completed plant stand:


March 31st, 2014

Guitar Amp

I got a guitar a while back, but no amp to go with it. So I decided to make my own practice amp mostly using electronics parts that I had lying around. The amp cabinet is based on a vintage Fender Champ (5F1) practice amp that was introduced in the 1950’s. For my version, the cabinet is constructed from a single select pine board and joined together with finger joints. The speaker panel is 1/2″ plywood and holds a single 6″ speaker. The back panel cover pieces are 1/2″ birch plywood with edge banding on the tops. The cabinet is finished with Minwax golden pecan stain and two coats of tung oil.

The amplifier section is my implementation of the Noisy Cricket Mark II schematic from Beavis Audio. The Noisy Cricket amp is designed around an LM386 1-watt audio amplifier chip that is intended for clock radios, boom boxes, etc. The amp circuit is constructed on a small project board with only a few resistors & capacitors as support components. The three knobs control volume, gain, and tone. The switches control power and grit (distortion). The amp is powered from a 9v battery.

Here is a video demonstrating the Noisy Cricket amp:








Click this link for the picture of the plans that I found and used for this project.

Edit: It looks like the Beavis Audio site has gone away. I have put the plans for the amp circuit here.

Edit: Almost 6 years later, now it has a handle! I used a Penn Elcom Tan Leather (218mm), model # H1008-TAN. I used tee nuts underneath to secure it with machine screws.