Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Make Your Own Diesel Fuel

If you are or have ever been interested in making your own biodiesel, you have probably noticed that the only simple instructions to be found deal with making a tiny, one liter batch using 2-liter drink bottles; hardly enough to be worth the bother, except as a means of getting your mind around exactly what it is you are trying to do. The rest of the readily available instructions are full of science, require a fully-equipped laboratory, and stress a need for perfection in measuring and testing.

Many people have been turned off entirely from the prospect of making their own fuel by the seeming requirement for a PhD and thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment and chemicals. Others wonder, if the simple method can make a liter of acceptable fuel, why can’t it make 5 gallons?

Read more: Biodiesel The Easy Way

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

DIY Dryer Repair

This is a series of videos detailing, step by step, how to fix any problem your Whirlpool heavy-duty dryer may develop. The video producer is an appliance repairman by trade, and he says this is probably the best and most common dryer on the market, having been produced with no major changes for over 30 years.
What he says appears to be true. My dryer is actually labeled a Kenmore, sold by Sears. I looked up the model number and found that the 110 prefix denotes Whirlpool as the manufacturer. Mine was made in 1986. I replaced the heating element 12-14 years ago. Last week it started making a rumbling noise, so I looked around for a replacement. I found several locally on Craigslist, and the most common by far were Kenmores and Whirlpools that look identical to mine. I found that interesting, and an idea began to form.
I read an article once in the short-lived Practical Survival magazine about buying used commercial washers and dryers. When this dryer started making noise, I remembered that article and decided to see what I could find. Looking at prices on ebay quickly made me take another look at the old Whirlpool. The fact that there are so many functional used Whirlpools out there is an indication that it is a good design. Also, there is a ready supply of new and used parts.
As this video series shows, these dryers are simple to work on. I'm keeping mine.
Here's a link to a replacement belt for these dryers. If you have a dryer like this, you will eventually need this belt:

Friday, September 9, 2011

SoCal Power Outage

The power grid glitch that left millions without electricity yesterday in parts of California, Arizona and Baja, Mexico was reportedly caused by a power company employee switching out a problematic piece of equipment in Arizona. Some people aren't buying that, and claim there must be more to the story. I'm not one of them.
This just illustrates how vulnerable the national grid is. The distribution system is running very near capacity if such a minor occurrence can bring it down, even if only for a few hours. Of course, if an unintentional act can bring it down, consider what an intentional act might do. It wouldn't have to be anything as dramatic as a suitcase nuke on Hoover Dam, either. A few firebombs in strategic locations could just as effectively cripple large parts of the national infrastructure.
I was reading some of the online comments about this story, and amid the usual "conservatives" blaming illegal aliens and "liberals" blaming tea partiers, there were a couple of interesting nuggets of, if not wisdom, at least food for thought. The first was someone who opined that the federal government should invest in our infrastructure (invest what, exactly?) and the second asked, "where is all the solar power Obama promised us?"
 I have some advice for those people, and anyone who will listen: stop sitting around waiting for the government to take care of you. You can buy a backup generator that will keep a refrigerator and a small air conditioner running for as little as $200. You can buy an inverter that will do the same for well under $200, although you will have to spend at least $500 on a bank of golf cart batteries or the like to power it, and a charger to keep the batteries charged when the power is on. A setup like that would at least keep you going for a few hours. Better yet, do both while you can. Later on, add one of those under-$200, 45 watt solar panel sets to help keep the batteries charged without needing fuel.  Do you think there is never going to be another power outage? Even somebody working at McDonald's while supporting a family can occasionally invest $200 in preps. That is the best thing you can do, not only for yourself and your family, but for the country too.
Consider that last point. Nowadays, the government tries to convince us that individual prepping and self-sufficiency is suspect at best, bad for the country, bordering on terrorism. Believe it or not, there was a time when the government told us it was our patriotic duty to be as self-sufficient as possible. It doesn't take much brain power to realize that the latter sentiment is closer to the truth. If the grid goes down in your area and you switch over to your offgrid power system (no matter how rudimentary) for the duration, switching off your main breaker and waiting until you know power is restored in your area before switching it back on, you have just reduced the load under which the grid will be laboring when it does come back. That helps to prevent problems from the sudden startup surge, and it protects your appliances from the voltage spikes that accompany that surge. It also keeps you from needing to be rescued if the situation persists for several days or longer, which makes the job of the recovery teams easier. In short, preparing for this stuff in advance is win-win all around. Think about it.

Here is a video of a makeshift backup power system I threw together during the tornado event a few months ago, when the grid was down for several days. I have a better setup here now.