Detroit Maker Faire – Motor City Mayhem!

Kids of all ages learning to solder!

Detroit! The Motor City! Despite having fallen on some hard times, Detroit is still my favorite American city, and the 2015 Detroit Maker Faire was a perfect example of why I love the place. Great people with great ideas are making it happen against the odds. Garage entrepreneurs rolled out their latest 3D printers and laser cutters, right next to teams of school kids exhibiting amazing DIY robots. Traditional fiber artists and woodworkers hob-nob with hackers. If the Maker Faire is any indicator of what’s ahead for the Motor City, Detroit’s best years are still ahead of it! [Read more…]

Are the Seeds Savable? – How to Know if You Are Planting Duds

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At some point in their lives, most gardeners have found themselves staring down at an old packet of seeds and wondering just what to do with them. Are they any good or not worth the effort? Growing plants may be touted as an economical hobby but, like so many things, this is true only if you’re able to exercise restraint. After all, there are some of us that simply can’t resist adding another packet of seeds or a miscellaneous plant to our baskets at the local garden center. So, we look for measures to salvage our garden budget, such as saving half a packet of basil and sowing it later. This naturally works for some types of seeds but not others. [Read more…]

Rockler Bandy Clamps – Spring Clamps That Don’t Suck!

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Spring clamps. I have a love/hate relationship with them. For years and years, I only bought the old school metal spring clamps for a few specific uses around the shop. Inevitably, the little rubber boots crack, and end up falling off. If they were in a jobsite toolbox in the van, they get rusty and the rubber gets brittle even faster from the change in temperature. So, like most folks I moved to the plastic or nylon jobees, which also tend to crack and lose their pads over time. But spring clamps are so handy! What to do? When I received the Rockler Bandy Clamps for review, I took them out of the box and immediately thought… “Hey, these look like they actually might not suck!” [Read more…]

KEEN Utility Media Event – Keeping Marc From Getting The Boot

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Quick – when you hear the term “Work boots,” what’s the first image that tromps through your brain? For me, it’s a big, clunky pair of brown or black clodhoppers, with a steel toe insert you can frequently see from the outside – and feel on the inside. Turns out there have been some changes for the better over the past few decades. Work footwear has made some great strides, so to speak, and the innovative team at KEEN Utility is also helping to re-boot domestic manufacturing, by opening a plant in the U.S. [Read more…]

Kobalt 80v Blower – The Answer is Blowin’ in the Wind

The new 80V Max from Kobalt

Leaf blowers. Those screaming-loud, smoke-belching destroyers of weekend morning quiet. Of all tools in the entire world, these things are my least favorite. I just don’t get the attraction. Why do you need a leaf blower when you have a perfectly good rake or broom? Nothing personal to leaf-blower lovers out there, but I think you need to seek professional help. That is what I thought until I was introduced to the Kobalt 80 volt cordless electric leaf blower. Wow. Maybe I was just a little bit off-base about these things…. [Read more…]

Lasagna Gardening – Compostilicious!

Patricia Lanza wrote the book on Lasagna Gardening.

Last year, I posted an article about double-digging, and how to turn some problem soil rapidly into a healthy garden that you could plant right away. Well, summer has flown by, and although I double-dug a new strawberry patch large enough for 100 strawberry plants (which are doing great, by the way) there is another old patch of garden that I started several years ago, and then abandoned because the soil was just hard clay, and I planned to amend it “next year.” Well, yes, another next year has come and is rapidly going, and I managed to keep the weeds down before they went to seed, but there were just too many other projects that took priority over that old garden. This time, I pledged to make a preemptive strike! I am going to start a large-scale sheet composting operation and make the garden a lovely warm winter meal of lasagna! [Read more…]

DEWALT Mechanics Tool Sets – Shiny Wrenches Without The Tool Truck

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Back when I was a young whippersnapper, I frequently got enlisted to help my dad repair one or the other of our family cars. He had an old set of Craftsman tools and a lot of enthusiasm, and he was fearless about tearing pretty much anything apart. We usually ended up getting at least MOST of the parts back on, and I acquired lots of new colorful phrases to go along with my new mechanical skills! When I was a bit older, I lived in Florida for a couple of years, during which time I attended motorcycle mechanic’s school. The Snap-On Tool truck would roll in on a regular basis, and most of us were in perpetual debt to the driver. Those were some sweet (and EXPENSIVE) tools! Fast forward a few decades, and I still love useful, well-made tools. And now it’s possible to own a nice set of sockets and wrenches, WITHOUT owing your soul to the company store, thanks to DEWALT Mechanics tool sets! [Read more…]

Heat Resistant Plants – Pansies Need Not Apply

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Hate it or love it, summer is in full force in most parts of the country. Gone are the days when we could think “Oh, it was only 60 degrees outside at the most. Besides, I watered the plants yesterday and it rained two days ago. They probably could stand to dry out a bit anyway.” At this time of the year, gardeners find their thoughts going along different lines: “I watered the plants this morning, this evening, and all the drooping ones again at midnight just to be on the safe side.” Yet the very next day, you notice that about half your plants still look crunchy around the edges and, unless you’re an atheist, you begin praying to your deity of choice for a summer shower. [Read more…]

3D printers – Next Big Thing, or High-Dollar Techie Toy?

A finished print– A cover for a Raspberry Pi computer.

There is a whole lotta buzz out there about 3D printers right now. Folks are saying that 3D printing could be heralding in an era of “desktop manufacturing” echoing the major successes of desktop publishing in the 80’s, and desktop video in the 90’s. But is this fuhreals? Can the 3D printer unleash a new era of good ol’ American ingenuity? I’ve had the opportunity to get up-close and personal with a couple of 3D printers lately at the Iowa Innovation Learning Center in Hiawatha, Iowa. I got the chance to develop and print my own original designs, as well as open source designs from sites like Thingiverse.com. I gotta say, this technology is serious FUN. Is it ready to save America’s manufacturing economy from the onslaught of CCC (Cheap Chinese Crap)? Honestly, probably not, but I do think that this scrappy upstart tech has some serious potential. [Read more…]

RoboReel Air – The Organizing Orb!

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RoboReel has come up with a new solution to an old problem- the tangle of air hose that follows you across the workshop floor. Yes, I know that the idea of a hose reel is not a new one, but RoboReel has taken a decidedly high tech approach to “building a better mousetrap.” Unlike spring-operated or crank hose reels, RoboReel uses a small electric motor and “smart” controls to prevent the “whipping” action that happens when you let go of spring loaded reels. RoboReel manufacturer Great Stuff Inc. provided one for us to review. [Read more…]