Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Table Top Lantern Holder with adjustable clamp

Here is a quick project to fabricate a Lantern Hanger.  It also has an adjustable clamp to adapt to a variety of table tops from wood to concrete.  This project assumes you have some metal working skills and able to gas weld (Braze) or wire weld....and know all the hazards and safety precautions that go along with welding.  It can be broke down by unscrewing 2 wing nuts, then unscrewing the conduit tube from the clamp.  Detached, the clamp can be used for other purposes if need be.

Beef up this design and make a couple.  With a piece of cross tubing you would have a great support for a tarp over your table.  Add 4 vertical adjustable tent supports out at the corners, with tie downs.   You are set to camp in the rain.

I used hardware I had on hand.  Threaded rod, Thumb bolts, bolts, wing nuts, a closet pole support bracket, EMT Conduit, and a adjustable clamp.

My bolts and threaded rod size are all ¼ inch.  If I were to do it again I would use 3/8 for the added strength. EMT is 1/2 inch, but 3/4 or 1 inch could be used.  Adjust the fender washer diameter accordingly.

We start the fabrication by first brazing a nut to a fender washer.  Screw a bolt in the threads before brazing.  This protects the threads from splattering metal.  Carefully braze to avoid brazing the bolt to the nut or washer.  Braze on the nut side of the washer only.  Once the nut is brazed over the hole of the fender washer, remove the bolt. 

Cut a length of EMT conduit to whatever length you want above the average table height. 

Place the washer with the brazed nut, nut side up.  Place the EMT over the nut so the nut is up inside the EMT.  Braze the washer to the end of the EMT.  All brazing done on the conduit side of the washer.

Next braze the threaded rod onto the end of your clamp.  Add a fender washer and support the clamp/washer so it is perpendicular to the threaded rod attached to the clamp.  Do all the brazing on the back side of that washer toward the clamp side.  The tip of this camp bolt will thread into the end of the EMT with the brazed in nut.

Screw these pieces together until snug. 

Hold your Closet Pole support up against the EMT and mark where you will drill holes.  I attach the clamp to a table first.  Screw the EMT on snug to the clamp bolt.  Then position the Closet Pole support to hang over the table, rather to either side.  This will insure it will support the maximum weight.  I drill two sets of holes (total of 4 holes) so that I can adjust the height if I wish to.


Drill the holes through the EMT at the Closet support hole locations.  Attach using ¼ x 20 Thumb Bolts, and ¼ x 20 Wing nuts. (Shown here with 1 1/2 inch length Thumb Bolts)

Clean up the brazing points and give it a coat of paint.   

This project took 45 minutes start to completion including one coat of white spray paint.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

BBQ Pulled Pork

BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich
This is a southern style sweet BBQ that is not spicy hot.
Recipe & Images by Rick Beach



3 ½ lbs  Pork Loin trimmed and cubed to 1 ½ inch chunks
              (Could use a combination of pork and beef stew meat)
6            Whole Bay Leaves
               Salt & Pepper
1 Med   Sweet Onion Diced
¾           Celery Bunch Chopped (About 6 stalks)
4            Cloves Garlic Minced
2 Cans  Tomato Soup 10oz cans condensed undiluted
½ Can    Water (1/2 the soup can or 5oz of water)
1/3 Cup Worcestershire Sauce
2 Tbls     Liquid Smoke Hickory Flavor
½ Cup    Wine or Cider Vinegar
¼ Cup    Brown Sugar
1 Tbls    Mustard (Regular Yellow “French’s”)
1 Cup    Ketchup

Optional ingredients such as Sriracha Sauce, or various peppers, could be added to the basic sauce to spice this up.  Add in very small amounts and cook at least 30 minutes then taste test before adding more.  Hot spices tend to intensify as cooked.  It is easy to overdo hot spices and ruin a batch for the majority of your guests.  The basic sauce has always been the most popular in large groups.  Spicy is not.  You can multiply this recipe based on the group you are serving.   The BBQ can be made ahead and put in the freezer for later use.  This is served on hamburger buns.  A stack of coleslaw on the BBQ before adding the top bun makes for a killer BBQ sandwich.  This recipe makes approximately 24 standard hamburger sized bun servings.  Shown in the photos is a double batch (7lbs of meat) being done in a 12 inch Lodge Dutch Oven.

Place the chunked up Meat, Bay Leaves, Onion, Celery, and Garlic, in a greased heavy pot with lid for baking.  Preferably a Cast Iron Dutch oven is used.   Meat is slow cooked with lid on.  If using a Dutch Oven, and coals, use coals for 325°F heat.   If using your kitchen oven use 325°F also.   Use a pot sized to be at least half filled to avoid burning.

Bake for 2 hours then stir the meat chunks to rotate the bottom pieces to avoid burning.  There should be plenty of liquid remaining at this point and the meat just starting to shred apart.  If liquid is completely gone add 1 cup of very hot water, cover, and bake for 1 more hour.  Stir again and check for liquid.  If the meat is falling apart it should be ready to shred.  If not, bake an additional hour but make sure there is some liquid.  I have never had to go more than 4 hours baking.  Remove lid and keep on heat or in kitchen oven just until all liquid is absorbed or evaporated.  Check and stir often during this process…don’t burn it.

Once the meat is falling apart easily, remove the bay leaves and discard the leaves.  Use 2 forks to shred the meat….I like to use a potato masher to speed up the shredding.  Break apart the meat until it is all completely shredded.

In a large mixing bowl place the remaining ingredients.  Add the Soup, Water, Worcestershire Sauce, Liquid Smoke, Vinegar, Brown Sugar, Mustard, and Ketchup.  Whisk until combined.   Then pour liquid mixture into the baked & shredded meat mixture.  Then stir and fold to combine.

Cover and bake for 1 more hour.  Ideally the finished mixture is a sloppy joe consistency that doesn’t run.  If you’re finished BBQ is too thin/watery, cook/bake with lid off, stirring occasionally to avoid burning.  Cook/Bake uncovered until it reaches your desired consistency.


Friday, May 8, 2015

Solar: My first venture into building a solar system

My first venture into solar had me doing hours of research.  My main purpose is two fold.  First I want a system to use on an RV.  Secondly just to satisfy my own curiosity.  With a lifetime career in electronics and engineering I am always tinkering.  So part of this is self education.  A "real world" hands on experience.  I can see a bigger project on my horizon should this trailer project prove successful.

During research I found there are many systems, many components, and many so called experts.  I found it difficult to pin anything down as being the "best" or "better" in all those categories.  Theory, numbers, and charts, are great but what really works when you start bolting stuff together?

I could have probably bought a cheap packaged deal to throw out on a sunny day... to charge up my battery?  It would either work or not work.  That would be the end of my knowledge gain.  Not much fun taking that approach.

I don't want to come across as an expert by any means.  Closer to the opposite.  For the most part this is a search, and experience, for my own knowledge.  I will try to put this information into a non-technical format so that any half handy person might benefit from the info, my success, hurdles to over come, and my failures.  Learn as I learn. 

Depending on how well this trailer project goes I am also exploring adding a small solar system to my house to power a 12/24 VDC evaporation cooling system to lower my air conditioning expense.  This would be an "off grid' system with grid system backup.  I would not be going to the expense of tying in to the power company to receive power credits.

Based on what I have seen so far, the home power/cooling system might cost me $4000, including the solar & the DC powered Evaporative cooler.  I estimate my air conditioning alone costs me an additional $1000 annually.  So pay back on the system would be about 4 years.  As the electric rates continue to rise this looks more attractive.  I may shell out the $1500 for the cooler and run it off an 110VAC to 12VDC converter before jumping into to solar part.  I initially want to see if the cooler can indeed do the trick? If it does, pay back will be 1.5 years on the cooler.   In fact I may be able to adapt my trailer to power the cooler initially when the trailer is sitting at home?  This is based on the cost of a 3000 CFM cooler rated at 120 watts/12VDC

My objective/budget is to build my initial trailer solar system for around $1500.00

The initial system is being built to keep two deep cycle batteries charged, and provide the ability to run my 12V 82qt ARB Fridge/Freezer.  I want enough capacity to run the fridge perpetually while boondock camping for long periods.  I want components that I can expand without replacing existing parts if I grow the system.  Future plans are for a pure sine Inverter

I am starting with (2) 140 watt/12 Volt panels for a total of 280 watts, a 30 Amp charge  controller, monitor/meter, battery temperature monitor, and two Marine Deep cycle batteries (Batteries are my existing auxiliary trailer batteries).

After much research and consideration I have started gathering components for my system.  While I could get by with just a panel and a charger, I intend to maximize how much energy my system will capture and store.  Plus do this charging in the shortest time possible to maximize available sunlight.

Most cheaper chargers, even the better 3 step chargers put out a fixed absorption charging voltage, before dropping further during "Float" mode.  In most devices this  voltage is a set value and not adjustable.  That really isn't enough to completely top off flooded/wet cell batteries to 100%.  Over time the slightly under charged batteries will deteriorate faster than batteries charged to 100%   Slightly undercharged batteries will also store less energy than a battery that is charged to 100%.  Even a loss of 5% is a tremendous loss of potential stored energy you could otherwise tap for use.

When looking for Solar Panels look at their specs.  If you are building a 12V system, get one rated as such.  Watts can vary depending on your preference.  Dimensions also depend on the area you have to work with.  For surface area, my thought is to get the highest possible wattage for the real estate you will be using.  But cost may be an issue.  Many say the different types of panels made today are relatively comparable in performance.  Start shopping for Price per Watt if price is a big factor.  From research and testimonies, I tend to believe American made, or Japanese brand panels, are of higher quality.  This is where your own personal research comes into play.  You have to jump in somewhere.

On a 12V system make sure the panels are 12V rated, and for charging batteries.  Look for the VOC spec is somewhere in the range of 20 to 22 Volts.  VOC stands for "Voltage Open Circuit".  It is the measurement with a meter across the output panel voltage, in full sun, and no load connected.  Next make sure the VMP spec indicates it is rated between 17 and 19 volts.  VMP stands for "Voltage Max Power"

In my case I also wanted a J-box mounted on the panel.  I wanted to stay way from proprietary type connectors.  Stuff that breaks, hard to find, Special tools required.   Keep it simple.
I ordered a TriMetric SC-2030 Solar Charger and a companion TM 2030-RV Meter/Control, plus a 500 amp shunt and a remote Battery Temperature sensor.  

These components will provide:
Solar Charging
Remote Meter and Control of the SC-2030 Charger
Battery Temperature sensor and control
500 amp Shunt

Perhaps over kill but I want to be able to add more batteries, more panels, and an inverter in the future.  I do not want to change out components if or when I upgrade.

As I indicated I also want the ability to adjust the charger output voltage.  To increase it from a fixed max voltage to a higher voltage to match up with the Battery specs max charge rating of a Flooded/wet cell.....pushing near the 15V range.  

Or to adjust in the case of AGM battery use, to a lower charging voltage.  I am talking in general about the Absorption charging voltage since the Absorption charging voltage and Float charging voltage differ even within a given charger.  Those charging voltages also differ with each battery.  Get your manufactures specs on your specific battery.   Even getting 5% less of a charge greatly reduces the stored energy you will get to withdraw to run your electronics.

You do have to know your devices that are plugged in can handle this voltage change.

Those that dispute my thoughts on adjusting the charging output can research on their own, then come to their own conclusion.  Check the battery specs of what you will be using.  Other people may sight that this increase in output voltage will overheat the battery....hence the battery temperature sensor that also connects into the SC-2030 and further overrides any charge settings, the charger is following, should the battery become too warm.  I am only trying to get max charging when my panel(s) is/are converting the suns energy.  To store that energy as quickly as possible.  I am only passing on what I am doing, and things I learn along the way.  I am not trying to trigger a debate on chargers, voltage, or batteries. 

The SC-2030 is Solar Charger for either a 12V or 24V system and rated at 30amps.  The unit will work on flooded/wet cell, AGM, or GEL Cells  (They are pre-set for flooded/wet cell batteries).  The Unit also has the ability to be set for the other outputs in less than a minute.  Pre-sets on 12V are:
Flooded/Wet =14.6V Absorption and 13.2V Float 
AGM or Gel =14.3V Absorption and 13.2V Float

The TriMetric TM 2030-RV will give me a remote monitoring ability to meter and see what is happening with my batteries and charging.  This remote will also give me the ability to alter the charging voltage to the higher sittings I will be using to insure my batteries are charged to 100% and not to 95% or something else less than 100%

The Solar Panels I ordered are a Kyocera KD140SX-UFBS 12V 140 watt  Panel with Junction Box.  I wanted max wattage, and simple connections.  This panel is also the largest that can be shipped via UPS Air.

You need panels rated for charging batteries.  Panels with specs outside this range are not designed for charging batteries.  This panel is rated at 12V, 140watts,  VOC=22.1V  VMP=17.7V and comes with a standard Junction Box for terminating the power wires.  I did not want special connectors to contend with, try to mate up a wiring harness, or try to replace/repair during trips.
Cost including Shipping $315.49 per panel

Check back often.  Over the next few weeks I hope to have the system up and working.   I will provide photos and wiring diagrams.  

Parts Purchased from & recommended solar vendors.

BACKWOODS SOLAR They also have a great free catalog that is packed with all kinds of info such as wire gauge voltage drops, as well as what they sell.   I actually thought I had ordered from them but after checking my receipts I realize I must have been side tracked and ordered elsewhere.
SOLARSELLER  I purchased my TriMetric Charger and Controller, as well as a Battery monitor/sensor and 500 amp shunt here. 

NORTHERN ARIZONA WIND & SUN I purchased my solar panels here.  I had called a company in Massachusetts first. When they quoted me shipping to Nevada I said wow!  They then actually recommended I call Northern Arizona Wind & Sun since they are much closer to me.  Hard to find a business willing to do hats off to them as well.  It also made me feel like NAWS would take care of me with that recommendation.  That proved to be true also.  I paid a little extra for 2 day delivery.   If I lived on the east coast you can bet I would be using 

In hindsight, knowing what I know now,  I would purchase all my components from Northern Arizona Wind and Sun (NAWS).  They are competitively priced, excellent customer service, and ship fast.

Since the first panel arrived and I had the opportunity to test it and make sure it was the one I wanted.  I then ordered a second panel.  It has since arrived and has been tested also. NORTHERN ARIZONA WIND & SUN was great to deal with.  Both panels arrived unscathed (I have read of horror stories on panel deliveries) and at my front door in 2 business days.
The past week had me gathering the necessary metal tubing and parts to construct a roof rack for my trailer.  I did not want to drill holes in the roof.  I will be fabricating a rain gutter mounted rack.  I have to span about 8 1/2 feet and will be using 1x1 and 3/4x3/4 16 gauge steel tubing.  

I had several designs in mind to construct the gutter clamps.  After pricing material and hardware at Home Depot I found it easier and probably nearly as cost effective to purchase heavy duty  pre-made clamps from Smittybilt.  I purchased these at 4wheelparts.

I am using their Defender series Rain Gutter Clamps (P/N: S/BHDS-4)  That gets me (a set of 4) clamps and hardware for $104.99.  The 90° metal part that would be used to attach their rack will be discarded.  The clamp back plate will be modified by welding it to a piece of of flat steel about 14X3 by 1/8 inch thick to create a vertical upright.  The cross member 1x1 steel tubing will be welded to the uprights.  

The roof line high center point requires 12 1/2 inches of clearance, which includes a 2 inch gap in case of flexing.  The uprights will be left high enough to allow stacking a second 1x1 cross member in case the 8 1/2 ft span is found to flex too much using only one cross member.  Once weight testing is competed with the basic bar system the additional bar will be added, or the uprights trimmed and finished with the one cross bar.

Note: It was a good thing I anticipated the fact I might have to double up the cross member.  I had made my vertical extra long just in case.  The vertical risers ended up being 14.5 inches high.  My cross members are 100.75 inches.  The cross member with just one 1x1 tubing flexed too much.  Adding the second 1x1 tubing beefed up the cross member nicely.  My solar panels weight 35 lbs each so there should be no problem supporting 70 lbs.
Vertical Riser Welded to the Gutter Clamp

Vertical welded to Crossbar and 45° Brace

Rough finished rack component

Welding the Gutter Cross Arms together to create a square mount

The power board (Build it modular)

Layout was started with the major components and wire terminations

Shown above is the solar charge/controller (upper left green & black device).  Two 40amp DC circuit breakers on the cables that will connect to the solar panel feed.  The black and gold device in the center is a "shunt", necessary to provide metering capability.  A third 40 amp DC breaker is shown toward the bottom in the "Positive" Battery cable run.  Then there are five terminal posts that the various power/battery cables will be connect.  This board is built as a module to aid in allowing it to be installed in a cramped place.  It is much easier to construct this panel while it is on a work bench. 

Shown here is the complete Controller Power Board.  All wire connections were soldered and heat shrink applied

Shown above are the additions of additional wires and connections.  A fuse block (ATC Style) was added to connect fused "loads".  Out of the Solar controller there is a standard telephone cord.  The SC has a RJ11 connector inside.  The other end of this is to be connected to the TM-2030-RV meter, which also has a RJ11 connector. 

The installation manual requires a telephone cord that provides a "Cross Over" Connection.  The standard cords do not provide that type of connection.  You can cut the end off and crimp a new connector on the opposite way to make that required connection.  I opted to use a cord with the modular connector on one end and spade tip terminals on the other.  I shortened the cord to about 4 inches.  The spade tips are terminated in the RJ11 block jack you see on the back board, the modular connector plugged into the back of the SC-2030 printed circuit board.  This allowed me to do the reversing within the jack.  This allows me to use a standard cord to connect the SC to the meter.  Something I wished in case I ever need to replace the cord while on the road.

There is a 6 position terminal strip mounted on the board to allow the (4) conductor 22ga wiring to connect to a fused power source, and 3 points on the shunt.  A similar wire is run between this terminal strip and the Meter (TM-2030-RV).  There are screw down terminals on the rear of the meter.

The remaining 2 screws of the 6 screw terminal are for the Battery Temperature Sensor (TS-2) to make connections.  This sensor comes with a 2 conductor wire and a special 2 pin connector....all factory made.  I plugged the 2 pin connector on the rear of the SC and extended it out to the 6 position terminal strip.  The wire was cut and connectors were soldered on.  Heat shrink was added too.  The other end of that is the sensor end that mounts at the battery.  The cut off end for that side was also terminated with soldered on terminals to attach to the 6 positions terminal strip.  Though the installation manual stated polarity is not an issue on the two conductor wire I did mark one side with a sharpie before I cut the wire.  I kept things straight through both sides of the terminal strip.

As of 6/6/2015 I attempted to turn up the system and was disappointed to note I did not have power coming out of the Solar Controller.  I did have good voltage from my panels to the input side of the SC.  I called both the manufacturer and the seller.  The device it pretty simple.  Not anything I can do if my input voltages are correct.  None of the SC indicator lights ever come on.  I suspected a bad unit?

I shipped the unit to the manufacturer for inspection and repair/replacement.  It shipped out from me 6/8/2015.  I wasn't happy about this time delay since I was working toward a timeline having to do with a big trip coming up.  I saw the writing on the wall this was going to not be a quick turn around.  The on-line seller did reimburse me for my shipping charges to the manufacturer.  More on this once I know.  We will see how long the turn around time is.

I ordered a new SC-2030 from NAWS (not the original seller)  They were shipping a new one over night.  More on this once it arrives.

The meter (TM-2030-RV) is working as it should, and monitoring my battery conditions.  This works even though the Controller is not.  I have since turned on my backup source
WFCO  AC to DC  converter/charger to maintain my batteries unit I can get the new SC-2030 shipped.

6/9/2015 The brand new (second one) Charge/Controller came today.   This time I ordered it from Northern Arizona Solar.  I had purchased my panels from them.  I knew they were fast at getting orders out.  The new SC-2030 arrived the next business day (today).

I had already pulled the original SC-2030 that was an out of box failure and shipped it back to the manufacturer for repair or replacement.  I am happy to say that (For the original purchase) refunded me the postage expense to ship the unit to the manufacture for repair.  Unfortunately I was in a time crunch and couldn't wait for the turn around time on the repair.  I had hoped the Seller or Manufacturer would have shipped a new one to me that day.  That ended up costing me around $150 to get a new one in my hands quickly. 

I wired up the new one as soon as it arrived.  My doubts about my skills at wiring dissolved when the indicator lights came on, and my meter showed I now had charging voltage.

Once I tweak the settings my next test it to power my ARB Fridge for around 5 days strictly off my 12 volts.  The air temp is suppose to go over 100°F in that time frame.

6/14/2015 Happy news to report.  I am into the 5th day of testing.  There have been days with outside air temps as high as 106°. One fully cloudy day, and on 2 occasions some rain.  

The inside trailer temps hit highs of 115°.  My ARB Fridge/Freezer was set at 25°F.  That was a cinch.  Run it for 3 days that way.  Then I set the ARB to 0°F.  I was not only impressed with the solar capabilities, but also the ARB.  The ARB Fridge/Freezer maintained an internal temperature more that 100° less than the ambient air temperature it was sitting in.  Wow!

My highest over night draw down on the batteries was 4%  That's when the ARB was set to 0° and the inside trailer temp was over 100°. 

The panels are in the shadow of my house early morning.  By 8am (About 2 hours after the sun was breaking the horizon) my batteries would be back to 100% charge.  The panels were still in the shadow cast by the house.  That was impressive too.   I did over build the panels on purpose since I had no intention of messing around trying to angle them when camping.  (280 watts worth of panels).  I also went with the largest gauge wire that my connects could handle.  In the case of the SC-2030 I was limited to #6.  DC Voltage degrades quickly.  Distance and gauge has a huge effect on loss.

I used Ancor Marine #6 copper, 2 conductor between my panels and my solar controller....and ran a separate ground to ground my panels.  I used #1 Battery Starter Cable to connect my batteries.  I kept my controller as close to my panels and batteries as possible.  About 12 feet of wire are run between the panels and the controller.  About 4 feet of wire is run between the controller and the batteries.  I tried to keep all positive and negative conductors the same length between devices.

All terminals were crimped, then soldered, with two layers of heat shrink applied.

As of 6/16/2015 I am still waiting for my replacement SC-2030.  They did email me to let me know the unit was defective and not caused by something I did.  They are replacing that unit and giving me a 1/2 refund on the 2nd one I purchased.  They would have refunded the entire amount and just not replaced the original.  I opted the other option offered so I can carry a spare controller.  I am not sure at this point in time when the replacement will be here.

More as it happens!

Actual Measurements on power consumption

Having the TriMetric meter (TM-2030-RV) allows me to put loads on my system and measure actual power consumption in amp/hours.  Here are some that I have measured.

Filament light bulb 1156                   = 0.5 amp
Filament light bulb 921                     = 0.5 amp
Replacement LED for (1156 & 921) = 0.1 amp
ARB 82qt Fridge/Freezer                 = 1.1 amp when running
 (Slightly higher when first starts)
Fan-Tastic 3 Speed Fan                    = 3 amps/High,  2.3/Medium, 1.9/Low
CO & Propane Detectors                 = 0.1 amp (both combined)
LP Furnace Blower                          = 2 amps     
12V Water Pump                             = 1 amp
400 watt Inverter                              = 0.5 amps (No load)
32 Inch Flat Screen TV 110V AC     = 0.9 amps (0.5 Inverter + 0.4 TV alone)