What was the most ill-conceived, unsuccessful, and worthless/expensive
DIY style project that you undertook (I would say without counting any
injuries as they could outweigh everything else)?
My biggest one is a shed that I built. Not counting my shoulder sprain
due to a posthole digger, the shed is way too narrow to be truly
useful. It is attached to the deck along its longer side, so it is
inconspicuous, but if it was 3-4 feet wider, it would have been a lot
more useful. The shed stands, is dry, and functions as designed, but
it was poorly designed.
My worst project was buying a used Onan powered 5kw generator/welder. I
got it very cheap since it turned over with virtually no compression. I
figured that it would have only one major glitch, the engine was the
problem. Got it home, stuck valve, freed that up, started right up. But
no power output.
Spent good money buying brushes, flashing the stator, etc. No go. Tore
it down, half of the windings were completely burned out. Onan wanted
$1700 for the new windings. NOT! Scrapped the generator section.
Found a 5 kw generator head on a close out. Built a frame to marry the
two together. Not stiff enough, doubled the steel in the frame.
Additional welding caused it to warp badly. Got things aligned with a
lot of grinding and shims.
Used a Lovejoy coupler to marry the engine to the generator head. Just
enough misalignment left over to wipe out couplings within an hour or two.
Sold the unit for less than I had in it in parts, not to mention all the
hours of messing around with it. And still didn't have either backup
power or a portable welder.
Mine was a dredge. At the time, I was interested in gold mining, and had
built a very efficient trailer mounted sluice. 5 hp Honda 2" pump, and
first class quick connects and components. We did okay with that, and found
five ounces of gold in one day one time. We did not do that good on every
trip, but in all, the trailer was profitable. We were doing dry placer
Then I got interested in dredging some local swimming holes for Indian
artifacts. No gold, but interesting stuff and potentially profitable. I
had experience with air lifts from my commercial diving days. I built three
prototypes before arriving at a final design that worked slick as can be.
The tanks were designed so that when the top of the dredge became full of
lithic debitage, it would tilt 90 degrees in the water, and the debitage
would simply fall off. Simple. Efficient.
What I had failed to investigate was the legality of it all, and the federal
Antiquities laws put the kibash on the project. My best location was a
privately owned spring, and we had the permission to dredge. We had tested
the dredge three times, and it worked great. It even brought up tin cans
and broken glass, which made the owners happy. Right when we got ready to
do some serious dredging in the areas where we thought the artifacts were,
it went into bankruptcy, and I couldn't even get the bank to return phone
calls. I took what I could off in the way of reusable fittings, but the
rest went to the landfill.
Loss of about $3,000.
Not mine, but one I steered clear of.
This summer I came across a yard sale where the guy had a box of lawn
mower parts, mostly new looking. It seems his ex had hit something and
bent the crankshaft on a relatively new B&S 3.5 HP and insisted that
he attempt to repair it himself. He claimed to have close to $200 tied
up in new parts but never got around to putting it back together
before they split. He was willing to let the engine in a box go for
$10 but no deck etc. I told him I might have given him the $10 if he
still had the deck, but apparently someone had already had that brain
wave and then left him with the engine which he considered to be a
good deal till I explained that in the last month I had dragged home
three free machines, all repairable engines but rotted out decks.
I designed and built a wire cutter to cut 3" long .014" wire, 6 coils at a
time. It worked well in that a bundle of wire looked like a mirror on the
ends. I never could figure out how to orient the cut wire and the machine
made piles of wire that looked like hay. Then I figured it would only cut
1/6 of the amount that my rotary cutter would do without disorienting the
wire. I figure I have about $2,000 in it and nothing is reusable except the
1/3 hp motor and the fasteners. Ooops!
A massive Westbury universal mill that took all my time for 'bout two
months. Had it all apart and was starting to paint and reassemble. I
had heated the bull gear in preparation for re-insterting the
spindle. The spindle hung on the way in and wouldn't budge. To add
insult to injury I broke one of the shifter forks trying to get
leverage. The whole thing went to the scrapper.
Well, I tore up my back trying to drag a 375 Lb surface plate
out of the back of my car. I have slid heavy stuff around
before, but I was at the wrong angle, the skid caught on the
carpet or something, and I did major damage. I was in great
pain for a couple months, and it slowly healed. But, my back is
never going to be the same. As long as I take it easy, avoid
exhausting the back muscles and avoid the movement of pulling
something toward me hard, with my back, then I'm OK.
With my back totalled, I did manage to rig the surface plate to
my lawn tractor and pull it around to the basement door and then
winch it in. It sat on the floor for a year, then I built a
table for it when I got my TIG machine.
Sorry about the clutter in the picture :
are plugs in the pipes that have angled 1"-20 TPI threads
so the adjusting feet go straight up and down. I milled those
threads by CNC. It has 6 feet, 3 on the floor, and 3 holding
the granite plate.
The project came out great, but I sure wish I hadn't wrecked my
back. I'd managed to save myself from wrecking my back up until
I was 55 or so.
Well, I have a couple derelict projects, maybe not what you are
looking for, but ....
I tried to build a hybrid electric car. A friend donated a
massively rusted out VW bug, no floor on driver's side, you
could see both rear tires from the driver's seat, etc. I cut
out a piece of scrap and welded a new floor onto it. I think my
welder at the time might have been 48 V worth of trolling motor
batteries for the car. I got a Kaylor adaptor which mounts a
jet engine starter/generator to a VW flywheel. I built a
switching regulator for the generator shunt field, and I could
vary motor speed from about 3000 - 7000 RPM or so. I had some
big transistors to switch the armature, but never built that
controller. So, I had a spool of wire as a starting resistor
and just blipped that and then cut in the main relay, and it
sounded like a jet engine! The particular motor/gen I got had
such a light field structure it vibrated as the armature slots
went by. I had to make the giant bayonet fixture that holds the
motor/gen on the Kaylor adaptor, it didn't come with the
motor/gen. That actually came out OK, I would have been REALLY
pissed to chew up what would now be $100+ of aluminum and have
it not fit right. I had few measuring tools or precision setup
skills at that time. It was too big to fit on my 10" Atlas
lathe at the time, so I had to do it all on a rotary table on my
Anyway, the thing actually ran as an electric car. I have no
idea how far it would go on a charge, 4 90 AH trolling motor
batteries aren't a huge amount of energy. It did run quite
well, I ran up and down some hills near my house. I think it
probably was snappier than the original VW engine.
Then, I tried to put in the hybrid conversion. I bought a Honda
350 engine from a guy who I should have been more wary of.
After I cleaned the thing up, I found obvious signs the serial
numbers had been chopped up with a chisel. I eventually got the
engine running as is, it ran incredibly rough, and blew a lot of
smoke. I was never able to keep it running more than a minute
at a time. I don't know if it had an ignition problem, or what.
Anyway, I plunged ahead, building a frame for the engine, and
then modifying it to bring an extension of the crankshaft out
where the centrifugal oil separator was. I made an adaptor to
plug in where the oil separator cap went on the side cover that
brought the oil ports out to where I could hook up an external
paper filter. I added an oil pressure gauge, and it went so far
past 100 PSI that it bent the needle hammering it against the
zero peg. I made a totally horrible resilient coupling to a
stratofortress generator, that is a work of lightweight
mechanical art (the generator, that is). 400 amps at 30 V, and
the thing weighs about 30 Lbs! My coupling was way out of
balance, and didn't have anywhere enough resilience to handle
the uneven power strokes of the vertical twin Honda engine.
(With the pistons 180 degrees out of sync with each other, the
power strokes happen 1/2 rev apart, then there's a full rev and
a half with no power stroke.) After a couple short runs, a
disassembly showed the crankshaft extension was twisted, and
would obviously break within a couple more minutes' run. I was
going to have to redo that whole thing with a MUCH heavier
shaft. That is about where the project stopped. I still have
the jet engine starter motor, the Kaylor adaptor, the stratofort
generator, and the electronics. I gave away the Honda engine,
but one carb off it is on my lawn tractor. I kept the
trolling batteries for a while, but didn't bother to keep them
charged. While trying to recover one of them that wasn't
charging, I increased voltage to try to get it to take a charge
without realizing an intercell connection had gone open, I
managed to blow the top off the battery with a hydrogen
explosion. it sounded like firing a 12-gauge in the basement.
I'm damn lucky it was triggered up on top of the electrolyte or
I might be typing this on a Braille keyboard! Sheesh, how
stupid one can get sometimes! I sold the VW to a guy who needed
a good transaxle. This all happened about 1982 - 1985 or so.
I remember wrestling my 100 Lb vacuum-tube oscilloscope down the
steps to the garage to work on the switching regulator circuit.
Another insane project was building a 32-bit bit-slice computer.
The main CPU section was built on two hand-made wire-wrap boards
about 14" square. It had 16 K words of 96-bit wide control
store for the microcode. I actually got it running at the
blinding rate of 8 MHz for 2-register operations and 6 MHz for
3-register. I wrote an emulator in BASIC and a macro assembler
for it, and had a pretty sophisticated (for the time) download
and diagnostic system for it that ran on a Z-80 system with
S-100 bus and PC/M. (Is that the right OS for the old S-100
systems?) I was going to implement a 32-bit microprogrammed
computer with it, based loosely on the IBM System/360, and then
have to adapt an OS to run on it. Well, I got bogged down in
microcode, and never got anywhere NEAR finishing the thing.
Then, it became possible to buy a DEC MicroVAX-II CPU piece by
piece from brokers, and I never looked back! I still pull out
the huge wire-wrapped boards for visitors to marvel at.
All of my purely mechanical projects usually work in some
fashion, sometimes after a little adjustment, and seem to serve
their purpose. They are usually a lot less ambitious than the
--Well here's a link to some of my smaller mistakes:
...but my biggest mistake was probably "Z-Key", a hex key that fits
in a tight place and has plenty of torque. Sounds like a good idea but after
I spent something like $20k on tooling I found I couldn't even give them
--Oh, and then there was that day in 1974 when, having recieved the
first stipend from my 10-years-dead father's estate, I drove my excellent
little VW beetle over to the Porsche dealer and swapped it for a 911-S. In
the ten years I owned that car the maintenance bills would have bought two
brand new beetles.
--Next boondoggle: I'm getting ready to build a weird car from the
ground up, with surplus parts (lesson #1: don't buy new if you can get it
used and in good condition!). If it doesn't work at least I won't be out too
much hard cash.
Sounds interesting. I for one would be interested to hear more about it,
if it's not too painful to discuss.
Speaking of painful to discuss:
Without a doubt, bar none, my biggest boondoggle (ongoing, slowly) is my
shop & house project. I'm severely allergic to burying my butt in loans,
and I have been throughly disgusted with various shoddy crap I've found
in dealing with multiple houses built by others over the course of time,
so I wanted one where I could look in the mirror and complain straight
to the idiot that screwed things up.
The house is still a figment, the shop is going up first. Land was
bought in 1998. A backhoe was bought in 1999. Driveway through the woods
took a while. Concrete was poured and much progress made in 2003. Since
then, things have slowed down a lot. It's still more of a construction
project than a place I can actually get woodworking and metalworking
done. I'd no doubt be further along if I was cursing some idiot's shoddy
construction, and paying to heat their crappy insulation, and (ewww)
paying interest at the frigging bank.
Should be nice whenever it's finally done, but in hindsight I should
have bought the house with a garage and two shops that came on the
market at a tolerable (but mortgage needed) price a couple years after
we bought the land.
Still, not a cent borrowed so far.
As for having someone else do the work - other than my concrete
contractor, I've yet to find anyone to do the work right - in fact, the
other major thing I contracted out needs to be fixed, still, as the roof
is definitely sub-par.
If doing it over, I'd make it larger area and one story, as the second
story (staging, getting stuff up there, etc) is a big part of what's
taking so long.
[ ... ]
Is that a granite surface plate -- or a cast iron one? The
edge looks granite, but the top looks rusty -- perhaps the appearance of
the spotting compound on it already?
and how big a plate it it? My largest is an 18x18 cast iron,
plus a 12x18 granite and a small 6x12 ping granite from Starrett
(through some other ownership along the way. :-)
O.K. I can't seem to see the near leg on the right actually
touching the plate -- but it must be, or it would be toppling.
Yes -- three point support is the right thing to do with either
the granite or the cast iron.
It is a pity that you did in your back. Any hopes of it getting
better over time, or is what you currently have as good as you can
it was bad for a while, now it is just a slight annoyance.
It is a Chinese 24 x 36 x 4" black granite plate, and yes, it
has some spotting compound on it. The bottle of red Canode
spotting dye is visible on the right side of the plate. I use
that instead of Prussian Blue because it easily washes off the
I'm afraid that it's got to be listening to my neighbour when he suggested
that we could clean up the corners of the pit that we had excavated for under
my workshop, by driving the mini-backhoe into said pit (water table is very
high in my garden). The result cost me a week's work about $3000 and a lot of
The pit does the job it was intended for, but is neither as big or as deep as
I had planned. If I were to do the job again under similar conditions I would
dig out trenches and immediately fill them with concrete and rebar before the
ground had a chance to move. Once the concrete was hardened I would excavate
the ground from the centre section, pumping as necessary to control water
[ ... ]
[ ... ]
Long saga mostly deleted.
Interesting. I remember considering making a Motorola 6800 CPU
from 2-bit bit-slice modules (for a hoped increase in speed), but never
got around to starting that project.
Lots of wire-wrapped things with 6800, 6802 and 6809 CPUs.
Pretty good for wire-wrapped. I wonder how much it could have
been boosted by more careful design of the routing of the signals?
Close -- CP/M. The PC term did not exist until IBM started
using it for their initial 8086-based system, IIRC.
Sort of like when I used to refer to my Altair 680b (MC6800 CPU)
as "my pet computer" before Commodore came out with the PET computer,
which led to enough confusion that I dropped the term.
An impressive project, anyway.
I moved from the Altair 680b to the SWTP 6800, and then the SWTP
6809, (the last finally running with DOS-69 and OS-9 at the flick of a
switch) before I started picking up Sun workstations and servers,
starting with a Sun 2/120, and up through a current pair of Sun Blade
1000s and a Sun Fire 280R.
That nasty Red Canode spotting dye - Now I understand.
Bought a couple 3x4' plate of 3/8" HRS at the special scrap yard.
The top was red - but I wasn't thinking - thought primer.
Cut out some needed patterns and started working - gloves red. Ish.
Washed it off with many paper towels.
Martin H. Eastburn
@ home at Lions' Lair with our computer lionslair at consolidated dot net
TSRA, Life; NRA LOH & Patron Member, Golden Eagle, Patriot's Medal.
NRA Second Amendment Task Force Charter Founder
IHMSA and NRA Metallic Silhouette maker & member.