1 Million Views - All Time on Blogger

Well apparently my humble little blog has reached 1,000,000 total page views. 

1 million blogger stats, views

I’ve written about some milestones before:

Half a Million Views
300th Blog Post

Not much has changed since writing those.  Some things that have changed along the way are that i’ve slowed down a bit.  For a while i was writing, taking pictures, and publishing a new blog post every 2 days.  Now i’m lucky if i post something every 2 weeks.  The viewers to the blog really took off around 2011- 2012 when i started getting interested in SEO.  That’s back when i had lots of time to devote to learning about how the Google search engine work, how to increase viewers, how to get your pages higher up on the search results, and how to make a little bit of money from ads. 

Another thing that’s changed is that i’ve focused more on Youtube and the video aspect.  Before when i worked on a project i would take lots of pictures and only very rarely record a video.  However when i wanted to upload a video of something i built, i didn’t have anything.  I tried making a hybrid video using transitioning photos, but it wasn’t very good.  Everything seemed to change when i built my third storage shelf.  Since i had already built 2 previous shelf’s i figured that it wouldn’t be very helpful to anyone if i just took the same pictures for a third time.  So i tried recording a video and explaining all the steps it took to build the shelf.  It was very weird at first having to stand in my basement and talk to a camera about how i was going to cut a board, or why i built something a certain way.  It took me several attempts to record just a simple 20 second clip. 

Storage Shelf - Cheap and Easy Build Plans

But after i recorded everything, edited it together and uploaded it to Youtube, it became my most popular video.  And it still is today.  Not only in terms of views, but also in the amount of money i make from it.  At the time of this post it is up to 78,000 views.

That’s when i realized the potential of Youtube and started devoting more time to recording video’s of projects i built.  Since then i’ve done several more of those types of video’s.  I still think it’s kind of corny and weird recording myself while i’m fixing a clothes dryer or cleaning out air ducts.  But it seems like the more corny you act and talk in a video, the more popular it is.

But as far as the blog is concerned, my favorite posts have stayed pretty much the same.  I still think that 2,600 Miles on a Honda is my favorite post(s).  Also i haven’t changed my mind about what the favorite pictures i’ve taken along the way.
the bean, chicago

sleeping bear dunes, michigan

homemade nd filter

trevi fountain, rome, italy

I’m still doing lots of projects at home that i plan to upload to the blog.  The only problem is time and motivation.  I don’t have the time or motivation after a project is done.  It takes me about an hour to go through all the pictures and sort out my favorites, several hours to write everything down and what i did, 2+ hours going through all the recording and editing them into one concise video, then upload everything to Youtube and the blog.  Then after that if i want to get lots of viewers i still have to create a project, links, articles and run them for weeks in an SEO program.

But pretty soon i’ll have to come up with a new streamlined system.  Just take a couple pictures, write a couple of quick sentences and press publish. 

Rotate Tires and Alignment

A quick summary of some of the things i’ve fixed on the 2005 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP in the past couple years:

I left off last time talking about my car, saying that i got a flat and when changing it, noticed that it was from the steel wearing through the rubber. 

dent aluminum rim, fix

It was on the tire that got dented from a pothole in February.  Several years ago i hit a pothole with the same tire.  Both potholes that i hit were less than 1 mile from our house.  The first time i just had to replace tire, the sidewall blew out, and the sway bar link, the bolt busing broke.  But the time in February, although the rim was dented everything else was fine. 

The car rode fine, although i did have to fill the tire up with air about every month or so.  I asked a couple of places and read online about anything i could do to fix the dent but there was no solution.  Steel rims can be reshaped into place, but aluminum cannot be rebent, it would crack and be no good.

It must have been a combination between a slightly flat tire and the dented rim which caused the uneven tire wear.  I was worried that it might also be a tire alignment issue.  Most things that i read online about uneven tire wear is from bad alignment.  But all the pictures of those tires are 1/2 of the tire worn and 1/2 of the tire in good condition.  My tire tread was completely fine, only the “corner” of the tire was worn.  It wasn’t a common problem.

I looked online and a new/used rim for a Pontiac Grand Prix GTP Comp-G car was between $195 and $300, plus shipping.  It has to be a used rim because the car is from 2005 and Pontiac isn’t even in business anymore.  So i wrote down the phone numbers of a bunch of tire places in the area that sold new and used rims.  Karrie ended up calling some of the numbers one day and she finally found a place that had the rim.  For $138 we got the rim and tire.

I didn’t want to put the new rim on the front, so i decided that it was a good time to rotate the tires.

Here’s a video of the whole rotating tires process.  But continue reading for all the pictures and descriptions of why i did what i did.

How to Rotate Tires the Right Way


I checked the owners manual for the Grand Prix and it showed the correct rotation pattern.
how to rotate tires

The front tires went straight to the back, the back tires crossed sides to the front.  This was one of those times that i was glad i have 4 jack stands.  I started by jacking up the car at each wheel and putting it on a stand.  Then i just went about rotating the tires as shown. 
how to change a tire, rotate tires

I was surprised when i removed the other front tire and saw some of the similar tire wear as the other front tire.
typical tire wear

The back tires were perfectly fine.  In fact they had basically the same amount of tread on them as when they were new. 
unusual side wall tire wear

Here you can see the hole in the tire.
wear on sidewall of tires, hole, puncture

It must be that because the car is front wheel drive it puts more force and more strain on the front.  That combined with the fact that the front tires are doing the turning as well.  So i moved the rear tires to the front and vice-versa. 
rotate car tires, how to

The car rode fine but i felt a slight vibration.  I wasn’t sure if it was an unbalanced wheel, alignment issues, or just because i put newer tires on the front.  I didn’t want the same thing happen to the new tires i put on the front, so i took it into the shop to get an alignment.  I did see a few video’s on Youtube about how you can do an alignment yourself.  It involved very precise measurements using a string pulled tightly parallel to the tires.  After watching some of them i didn’t feel confident in doing it correctly.  There was lots of measuring to arbitrary points on the rims. 

I’m glad i took it into the shop.  Beyond balancing the tire, they had a machine that used lasers to check the tires alignment, camber, and caster.  And everyone knows that anything that uses lasers is way better then something using a string.  For $80 they adjusted the rotation and twisting points of the tire until they were in their correct specifications. 
print out for camber alignment car tires

I was surprised to see that the front tires were fine, totally within the range of acceptable values.  But it was the rear tires that were out of alignment.  Then i remembered that i had changed the struts twice in the rear and changed one of the hubs.  I don’t think it was hub, because i have also changed the hubs/wheel bearing in the front too.  So it must have been the minor change in the rear strut location when i changed them that caused the tires to be slightly misaligned.

After everything was fixed the car seems to ride better.  The vibration was gone, but that was probably the result of the unbalanced tire.  Mainly it’s just peace of mind knowing it’s all good and the new tires on the front shouldn’t wear out like the other ones did.

Easy Landscape Block Wall and Mulch


Easy Landscape Block Wall and Mulch

The front of our houses has stayed exactly the same for as long as we have owned it.  It’s just a concrete porch with 4 bushes in front.  It looks like there used to be some mulch underneath the bushes, but it’s all gone now.  Replaced with just dirt, which turns into grass.

how to improve a front yard, edging, mulch

Not the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen.

front yard original condition

We decided that it was finally time to start looking at different ways to update the front of the house.  We realized that the thing we needed most was some type of edging and mulch.  The edging would add a nice transition between the landscape area and the grass.  Our options for edging were:

  • wood planks
  • plastic rolled edging
  • metal edging
  • concrete blocks

We didn’t like the look of wood planks or the rolled plastic edging.  They seemed cheap and didn’t match the front of the house.  So we ended up deciding to use concrete blocks.

Here’s a video of the entire process of upgrading the front of our house with block walls and mulch.  It was basically 1 long day of work, but we are really happy with the final result.

Easy Landscape - Block Wall and Mulch

Full Version - http://youtu.be/9S5CMXwZumg
Short Version - http://youtu.be/6MbI2B6wtv4

Karrie saw an ad in the paper one day from Menard’s.  They were selling concrete retaining wall blocks for $1.19 each.  Unfortunately we don’t have a Menard’s close, but we wondered if Lowe’s would price match it for us.  We had previously looked at the concrete blocks at Lowe’s and liked them.  Although they were priced at $2.50 each.  

But we went to the store with the ad and talked with the manager at the counter.  Luckily he said that since we were only buying a small amount they would price match it for us.  Even though it was technically a different brand of block. 

The other two things we needed were mulch and a weed barrier.   Again Karrie saw an ad in the paper for Lowe’s which had mulch for $2.00 a bag.  Typically the mulch is $4-$5 each and there were several other types of mulch there at that price.  $2.00 per bag was a great deal.

I had drawn the layout of our house a few years ago on AutoCAD and roughly knew the size where we would be working.  We used this for estimating the length of block we needed and square footage.

landscape plan, front yard

Here’s a summary of what we initially purchased, size, quantity and price:

  • Retaining wall blocks        11”x7”x4”        47        $1.19
  • Black Mulch                       bag                  20        $2.00
  • Pea Gravel                           bag                 5          $3.50
  • Fabric weed barrier             roll                  1         $11.00

For a final total of everything we spent, length, area, etc. see the table at the end of the post below.

The drawing that i had was only a rough measurement of the landscape area, so we had to guess a bit about the square footage.   We thought that 1 roll of weed barrier fabric would be enough.   But if not, we could always go back and buy more.   Determining how many bags of mulch we needed was a bit more difficult.   On the front of each bag there is a table which shows how many bags you need to cover a particular square footage at a certain depth.

how many bags of mulch do i need, area, calculate, depth , sq.ft.

We figured that we would need about 15 bags to cover 150 square feet at a depth of 2”.   But since it was the last day of the sale on the mulch we decided to buy a few extra.   Worst case scenario we just lay the mulch down a little thicker.   That’s why we bought 20 bags.  And just in case you are wondering, 20 bags of mulch completely fills up the trunk and back seats of 2 Pontiac Grand Prix’s.  

The 5 bags of pea gravel were for the base of the block wall.  We knew that with the cold Michigan winters, frosts would cause the concrete blocks to heave and become uneven.  We definitely didn’t want to put the concrete blocks on the clay soil in our yard, which is why we got the bags of pea gravel to act as a 1” stone base.  

With all the materials we thought we needed it was time to begin.  The first step was to mark out exactly where we wanted the front the blocks to go.   I used a shovel, rake, and an electric edger to cut a curved line into the grass.   Once that line was cut I dug out the existing dirt about 2” down into the ground.   I wanted to get an idea of how the final blocks would look.

test block wall height

The blocks are 4” tall and after testing out a few different options, we decided that we liked the look of just the top 3” of the block.  That meant that 1” of the block would be buried into the ground.  

After our test to see how the final product would look I dug another 1” into the ground because we would be adding and compacting the pea gravel.

how to improve bushes, shrubs

As i went along i needed to use my grandpa’s old ax to cut some tree and bush roots growing near the surface.  Then using a shovel, I dug out the 8” trench where the blocks would be placed.  Once the trench was dug I poured in 1” of the pea gravel.  I tried compacting it as best as i could using a big 3lb hammer and stomping on it with my foot.

fun in the front yard, family project

It wasn’t super critical to get the stone compacted since we would only be putting one layer of concrete block. If this were an actual retaining wall, which was several feet high it would have definitely been more of an issue.

1 day build, front yard

Here’s a closer view of the 8” wide pea stone base.

how to build a concrete block retaining wall

This is what the front looked like with the dirt in piles and the stone in place.

pea stone wall base

Here is another view from the other end. You can see that we also had to deal with the gutter drain pipe.  Luckily though there was enough slope from the house to have it drain over top of the wall into the yard.

cost per foot of landscape edging, grass, garden

Then it was time to start adding the concrete blocks.  First I cut and set a piece of weed barrier fabric in place.  I placed the fabric on top of the stone and cut it as close as i could to the base of the bush.  I then set the concrete blocks on top of the stone and fabric.  I wasn’t too worried about weeds growing in the stone but it also worked to hold everything down and in place.

cheap garden edging

Here is another picture which shows how the process went along.  I would put down the weed barrier fabric and then add the next few blocks in the row.  I repeated this process until all the blocks were set in place.

how to install a block wall, retaining wall

It was important to cover the entire landscape area with the weed barrier fabric.  If we missed a spot, or didn’t overlap enough, it would provide a place for weeds or small trees to grow through.   A little bit of effort here would save a lot of effort pulling weeds in the future.   Weeks after we were done, Karrie’s aunt said that newspaper also works well as a weed barrier.   Although the fabric is suppose to last a lot longer.

cute pretty yard, front yard

Working out the rough shape of the wall and fabric.

front yard ideas

All of the blocks were installed at this point.  We decided that draining the gutter downspout out of the side would be a great option.

cheap concrete block wall edging

Also I forgot to mention that before we started doing all this work, I trimmed up the bushes.   I used a hedge trimmer to clean up the top and sides and used clippers to remove several branches at the bottom.  The three bushes on the left were able to be trimmed and looked just fine.  However the bush closest to the sidewalk didn’t turn out so well.   While trying to trim the bottom branches evenly I ended up cutting too much off and looked really bad.  So we decided to just tear the whole thing out.

how to fix the front yard, easy flower, bushes, garden

We pulled back some of the weed barrier fabric, got the saw out and cut it down to the ground.  We then got the shovel and dug to where the entire root ball could be removed.

fix the front yard problems

In hindsight the turned out to be a good thing.  The area looks much better without that bush blocking the entrance.  For years it was hanging over the sidewalk and people brushed into it as they walked to the front door.   To replace the bush, Karrie went back to Lowe’s and purchased some new plants, two small flowers and another larger bush.

garden weed barrier fabric, newspaper, how

I’m not sure what type of plants they are but they look much better than the large bush which was there originally.  We planted them with some potting soil and then re-wrapped he barrier fabric.

Finally it was time to add the bags of mulch.   We started by adding the mulch near the block wall then filling in the areas behind it, up to the concrete porch.

mulch bag calculation, how much

This almost felt like the fun part of the job, if such a thing exists.  All the stuff before was really difficult, but this was relatively easy and made the area look great.

landscape edging

The main area that you see here is after we emptied 14 bags of mulch.  And like I said earlier, we fill it to around 2” thick.

cost to landscape yard, mulch, price

Here’s a close-up of what the concrete blocks and mulch looked like.  Since the blocks were set 1” into the ground and extended 3” above the ground, the 2” of mulch was 1” below the top of the block.  We thought that looked just fine.

easy yard edging

 The transition from landscape to grass looks much better now.

free block wall for house, concrete, black mulch, lowe's, home depot

It was at this point that we decided that the little triangle shaped area between the sidewalk and driveway should be redone as well.   You can see from this picture that it didn’t look very nice and didn’t match all the work we’d just done on the other side of the walk.

how to improve your front yard entrance

Before we could do anything, we had to create enough room for the concrete blocks to be installed.  So I had to dig out some of the existing plants and move them back about a foot.  I could then dig the 8” wide trench.  At this point of the day we didn’t care what we did, we just wanted to be done.

home landscaping

Then is was one last trip back to Lowe’s for 2 more bags of pea gravel.  Something we did different was this time before adding the gravel, was that we decided to put a barrier down first.  I’m not sure if it makes a difference but we thought it would do a better job of it was underneath the stone rather than above it.

install concrete block wall  yard

Then just as before we cut and fit the weed barrier fabric, placed the blocks, then filled in with 4 bags of mulch.

diy do it yourself landscape mulch block wall

It was a really long day of work, but I’m happy we did it.   We weren’t 100% sure what we were doing at the start but everything turned out fine.   Although I guess we won’t know for sure if we did it right until next spring after the frost melts.

Here’s the final/total summary of everything we bought:

ITEM                                   SIZE            QUANTITY         UNIT PRICE           TOTAL PRICE
Retaining wall blocks        11”x7”x4”                47                    $1.19                       $55.93
Black Mulch                          bag                       20                    $2.00                       $40.00
Pea Gravel                             bag                        7                      $3.50                      $24.50
Fabric weed barrier                roll                        2                      $11.00                    $22.00
Plants                              1 large, 2 small             3                     $10.00                    $30.00

Total Cost                            172.43    + 6% tax =    $182.78
It’s nice to know that just one day of hard work can really transform the yard.  Instead of that ugly jagged edge between grass and dirt we now have a nice block wall and clean looking mulch area.  It makes the front of our house look loads better.

landscape mulch, easy home improvement

Yet again, another project around the house that after we finished i said, “Why didn’t we do that a year ago?”

how to install block wall mulch

3 Common Problems - Chrysler Town & Country


3 Common Problems - Chrysler Town & Country

We have recently become the new owners of a Chrysler town and country.  We bought a 2007 with 85,000 miles.  We are really happy with the minivan it drives well and is in great shape. Also we really like the flip down seats and all the space available in the back.  I really like the fact that a 4 x 8 sheet of plywood fits perfectly.

chrysler town and country, common problems, fix

There were 3 problems though after we purchase the van which needed to be fixed.  And after reading online about the Town and Country we realize that both problems are very common.  I also learned that both the Chrysler Town and Country and Dodge Caravan are the exact same vehicle.  I think they are made in the same factory and then they just replace different panels and slap a different logo badge on the hood.  But all the parts and inner workings of the minivan are the exact same part.  So everything i describe below is exactly the same whether you have a Town and Country or a Caravan.

Here’s a video i made showing the three problems and how to fix them.  But for more details and additional pictures, continue reading.

Chrysler Town & Country - 3 Common Problems and How to Fix

Problem 1
The first problem we had was with one of the sliding doors.  The electric push button didn’t work.  Some people said they experienced problems where the sliding door would go part way, stop, and reverse.  Other people had the same problem we did, where the door wouldn’t move at all when you pressed the button.  It didn’t matter if you pressed the button on the remote or on the dashboard, the door would not move.  We could hear the auto door locks engage and disengage when the button was pressed, but there is no sound or movement from the door or sliding door motor.  We knew it wasn’t with the remote, relay, fuse, or switch since the passenger side door opened and operated just fine. (as long as it was unlocked…see problem 3)

So after reading some more we determined that it could be a few possible causes.  Some people said they needed to replace inner motors or switches inside the door panel.  But by far the most popular cause for the door not working was a broken wire.  With the sliding doors there is a bundle of wires which run in a plastic chain at the bottom of the door.  It’s a crummy design where all of these wires coil and on coil as the doors open and shut.  It seems to go bad for most people between 50,000 and 70,000 miles.  For us it was the driver side door which didn’t work, I guess that means in a few years the same problem will happen with the passenger side door.

You can see from the diagram how the plastic chain coils up as the door closes.

I forgot to take a picture of the actual break in wire, but here’s another person who had the same problem.  Luckily they only had to remove a few links of the plastic chain to find the break.

The fix is to crack open part of that plastic chain and look in the bundle of about 10 wires for the break.  The first time I tried looking for the broken wire I didn’t find one.  I only opened about five or six links of the chain and didn’t see anything. But after reading more about it I knew that one of those wires had to be broken inside.  And sure enough after I removed every link of the plastic chain I noticed one large wire which appeared to be solid, but as it was bent there was a clear break in the copper wire.  So I used electrical pliers and stripped the casing off the wire.  Here’s what it looked like after i removed casing on both sides of the break.

chrysler town and country, sliding door won't work, won't open

Next I slid on plastic shrink wrap tubing which would protect the fix after I was done.  I usually forget this step and have to wrap it in electrical tape.

chrysler town and country, how to fix sliding door

I then got out my spool of solder, flux and soldering iron.  I used an old piece of concrete board to protect the other wires and give me easy access to where I would be working.  Remembering to coat the wires in flux, i then soldered the two wires together.   It wasn’t pretty but it held together well.

minivan sliding door won't open, won't work, button

Now at this point since I remembered to put on that heat shrink tubing before I began I was able to slide the tubing over the damaged area and used a lighter to seal everything up.  Very professional looking.

car electrical wire fix, properly, heat shrink tube, solder

Here’s what those heat shrink wrap tubes look like.  For electrical connections that might get water into them, they are great.

electrical heat shrink tube

I did realize that this ‘rigid’ point in the wiring could be a perfect place for it to break again.  It’s possible that in a few years it will snap at the exact same point and I would have do the same repair.  But it’s much easier and cheaper than some people who replaced the entire wire harness.

The funny thing is that Karrie’s father has the exact same van and had the exact same problem with the sliding door.  One day when he was over I found the break in a completely different wire, soldered it together, and fixed theirs in about 10 minutes.

Problem 2
The next problem we had with our Chrysler Town and Country was with the interior dome light. There’s two lights right above the driver and passenger seats. Neither of those two lights worked, even when we pressed the switch.  For this it could’ve been a fuse, but I looked in the owners manual and checked the fuse box and everything seemed to be fine.  Also there wasn’t a specific use for that overhead dome light and nothing else in the car was out.  If it was the fuse not only would the overhead light have been out also the radio and some switches on the dashboard.

So we watched a video on how to remove the clear plastic cover plates.  They said to use a plastic shim and pop the plastic cover plates from the front not the rear.  At the rear there is a plastic tab which is where the cover rotates.  I got this little plastic shim tool several years ago and i’ve used it tons of times when working on the car.  It’s rigid enough that you can use it as a prying tool, but it doesn’t leave a mark and damage anything.  I use it later in ‘Problem 3’ to remove the door panel, but it was also the right tool for the job of removing the dome light cover.

plastic car trim removal tool

Once we remove the cover we pulled the light bulb down and noticed that they were burned out.  It was a bit tricky when we went to try and buy these light bulbs.  None of the auto parts stores had them in stock.  Even when Karrie went to the dealership they didn’t even have them on file.  But luckily the guy noticed them on a shelf in back, he had 2 left.  We looked online and Amazon did have them for five dollars each, but it doesn’t sound like a very popular part, even though they’re in thousands of Chrysler and Dodge minivans.  It seems strange.

The part was Phillips 3M PC579. 

chrysler town and country, dodge caravan, dome light, light bulb, model phillips 3m pc579

It was a little tricky to install the light bulb.  On the sides there is a plastic wedge that needs to lock into place.  I found that it takes quite a bit of force to push and turn the light bulb before it actually locks to where it should be.  I was almost twisting to the point where I thought it would break the plastic before it settled into its correct location.  You will hear a snap, or click when it locks.  

The other funny thing is that Karrie’s father also had this same problem too.  However his light bulbs were not burned out they were just loose in their connection.  I poped the cover plate off and noticed that they were loose in the socket.  I had to really twist before the light bulbs snapped into place.  Another bad design and common problem for the van.

Problem 3
The last problem we had is another common problem with the Chrysler Town and Country, and also the Dodge Caravan, the automatic door lock.  It’s technically called the door lock actuator.  Specifically it’s the “motor” which moves the locking mechanism up and down.

We didn’t realize it until after we owned the van for a month, but the lock on the passenger side sliding door didn’t work.  It didn’t matter if we pressed the button on the remote or on the door.  All of the other doors would lock and unlock, but that door did nothing.  A big problem with that is you think the doors are all locked but someone could just come up and open the door.  Also if you manually press the lock button, then press the button to open the sliding door, nothing happens.  You have to manually lift the lock button for the sliding door motor to work. 

I probably should have gotten out the multimeter and checked the fuse, relay, wiring, etc.  But after reading how common it is for the actuator to break, i figured that it was the broken part.  The bad thing was that the actuator was $50-$60.  Fortunately Karrie had a 35% off coupon for Advanced Auto Parts, so she ordered the actuator.  Normally it was $60 but she picked it up for just under $40.

Here’s what it looks like.  The white plastic piece is something you have to switch depending on whether you are replacing the drivers side or passenger side door.

chrysler town and country, dodge caravan, door lock actuator, sliding, rear, drivers side, passenger side

To figure out how to actually do the repair i did what i normally do, i looked for a video on Youtube.  There was only one where the guy replaced the actuator, and it was only on the driver side sliding door.  It looked pretty simple, remove the door panel, unscrew the actuator, install the new one, put the panel back on.

So one afternoon i started working.  I removed the door panel with my little plastic panel tool.  The same one i used to pop off the dome light cover.  I told you it’s really useful.

plastic car trim removal tool

The panel and trim piece came off fairly easily.  Although i always think that i’m going to break the plastic when i’m doing it.  Here’s what the door looked like at that point.

chrysler town and country, dodge caravan, remove door panel

The actuator was located at the rear of the door, it had lots of cables and wires going to it.  It’s kind of covered up in the picture above, but it’s on the far right side.

Again i tried pressing the lock/unlock to see if maybe something was just jammed.  But just like we noticed before, there was no sound or movement.  Then i figured, before i go any further, i should connect the new actuator and see if it works.  If i connected the new part, pressed the button, and nothing happened, then i would know that it wasn’t the actuator that was broken.

So i unplugged the wire harness and plugged it into the new actuator.  This time when i pressed the lock/unlock the actuator lever moved back and forth. Here you can see the new actuator dangling down, just for testing.

chrysler town and country, dodge caravan, fix broken door lock, sliding, won't open

It was good knowing that we were right and it was the actuator that was bad.  Now i just had to install the new part and i’d be done.  Easy, right?  Unfortunately it was more complicated then i originally thought.

In the video the guy was able to remove the actuator after he took out 1 screw.  There was an access hole in my door panel, but the screw head was not visible.  I looked with a flashlight at every side and every angle but could not find the screw to remove.  I tried to pull off the old actuator but it was definitely held on somehow.

I realized that my only option was to remove the entire metal bracket which held the actuator, cables and door latch. All of those wires and cables go to the metal bracket.  I had to remove all that to get to the screw to remove the actuator.

chrysler town and country, dodge caravan, door actuator, lock

That meant that i had to go out of the van and remove 3 big bolts at the end of the door.  This is the point in the job when you are like “I think i’m getting in over my head.”

remove sliding minivan door lock bracket, metal, won't lock

I was a bit nervous removing the entire thing, not sure if i could get it back together.  But after i got the whole bracket off i was able to see and get to the small screw holding the actuator in place.  I guess they just put the access hole in the wrong spot on this van or something.  Here’s the old and new actuator.

dodge caravan, chrysler town and country, sliding door lock, actuator, fix, broken, won't open

I put the new actuator on and put in and then the screw.  At this point i missed something, but didn’t notice it until later.  So i reattached the metal bracket and put the door panel back on.  Happy with the work i’d done, i wanted to test the lock to see if it worked.  So i pressed the button to lock and unlock the door.  It sort of worked, but the latch wasn’t moving very far.  It seemed like it was caught on something. 

That meant that i had to remove the door panel again and figure out what was wrong.  It turned out that there’s a metal pin that has to fit inside of a plastic channel.  When i slid the actuator into place, i forgot to make sure the pin was in the channel. The gold pin on the left should be inside that oval track.  Installing it properly meant that i had to do everything over again.

sliding door actuator, lock not in place, moving

So i had to remove the entire bracket again, remove the small screw again, reset the actuator with the pin in place, then put it all back together again.  This time it worked perfectly.  It was a little more work then i thought it would be, but not super hard.  Now the door locks and unlocks like new.  I’m glad that the 3 main things wrong with the van that we fixed weren’t too difficult. 

So if you know anybody is complaining about either of these three problems you can tell them it’s very common quite a fix.

Wood Tool Box


Wood Tool Box

I’ve always wanted to build a simple wood tool box but i never got around to it, until now.  The look that i had in mind was one of those hundred year old tool boxes sitting in the back corner of an old barn.  The type of tool box that’s been used for years carrying old tools and parts.  Something that looks beat up and worn down. 

Also I think the point of toolboxes like this are that they are made of scrap wood that you have lying around.  So after looking on the wood shelf I have, which stores all my wood, I found some scrap boards to use.  Here was my selection of wood to use.

2x4 shelf, wood shelf, easy to build storage shelf

For the end pieces I had some 3/4” thick by 16” high pieces of pine.   And for the side pieces I used some scrap plywood.   Originally my plan was to use old would from junk pallet boards, but they weren’t so much as worn as they were cracked.  So I used plywood.  I cut it to size using my new-to-me Craftsman table saw.  Usually i spend some time drawing out ideas before i start building anything.  This time i just quickly sketched up a few profiles for how i wanted the end piece to look and started building.

sketch, tool box, ideas, simple, plan, pattern

Here’s a video i did of the entire build.  I explain and show pretty much every step in building the wood tool box.

Wood Tool Box - Simple Homemade Design


Now i said that i didn’t spend much time drawing anything up before i began.  But i did spend a lot of time looking at other tool boxes to get ideas for the shape that i wanted.  There’s a million different shapes I could’ve gone with, but I liked the look of the simple bell curve the best.  So I got a piece of paper and drew out a shape that would fit on the end boards.  I drew it out on the board first, transferred that to the paper, then traced that with a thick Sharpie marker.

tool box pattern, plan

After tracing the pattern onto the wood I cut it out with the jigsaw.  Then I used the router to round over the top edge so that it didn’t have such sharp corners.

For the handle I decided that i wasn’t going to use the typical wood dowel that everyone would use.  I was looking for something more natural and rustic.  So I went in the backyard and started cutting some branches.  There is a tree which grows in the corner of my yard, I’m still not sure what kind of tree it is, but all of the branches are twisted and curved.  The other bonus is that the wood is very hard.  So after cutting about six or seven handles sized branches I took them down to the basement.  Out of those seven branches, these two looked the best.

twisty wood branch, tree branch, wood handle

I used a forcner bit too cut the hole for the handle.  It took some scraping with the wood rasp to get the handle to fit correctly.  I didn’t want it to be flush with the edge of the toolbox, I wanted it to stick out a little, again for that rustic look.

building a wood tool box

After I knew the handle would fit snugly it was time to glue and nail it together.  Here is what it looked like before it was all assembled.  Super simple.

easy to build wood tool box, make, glue, nail, wood

A quick sand and i was ready to add the finish.  A picture that i forgot to take was the work i spent on the handle.  I used the rasp to remove the bark, used sandpaper to smooth it all down, then added stain and wax.  I thought it would look cool to have the box be painted and the handle a natural color.  So i covered the handle with masking tape to protect it while i was painting.

finish wood tool box, paint, how to

To finish the rustic look I decided that I should paint it and then roughing up the paint to make it look old.  I used some of that same red eight that I used for my welder cart and miter saw stand.  Here’s the first coat.  It looks a bit bright at this point.

make an old looking tool box

By the second coat it starts to get more of a dark/rich red color.

old tool box

Time to start “weathering” the tool box.  Weathering is when you intentionally make something look old.  I got the idea from Adam Savage from Mythbusters, who is also part of the site Tested.  He used to be a movie prop maker and many of his jobs included weathering object to make them look more natural in the movies.  

My plan was to wet everything down, then add black and brown paint in random patches.  Immediately applying the paint i wiped it off with a rag.  The cracks and crevices would not be able to be wiped clean and stay a dark color.  Here’s what it looked like as i was weathering the tool box.

how to weather, weathering techniques

Now this is the first time i tried to weather something and i think it turned out ok.  I definitely like the tool box better looking old and worn then if it were brand new and shiny.  After a few hours i felt like it was looking good, so i thought it was ready for a finish top coat.  I had to decide between use polyurethane and wax. 

easy homemade tool box, diy, wood, paint

I ended up using wax, which you can see on the left.  I’m glad i did, the wax gave it more of a natural finish.

cool easy to make tool box

Here’s another picture.  I think it turned out well.  And i’m happy that i left the handle unpainted.

great project, tool box, wood, build, make

I’m still not sure what I’m going to put in the toolbox may be some screws or hand tools that I’m constantly using.  But overall it was a nice quick and easy project that should hopefully last for many years.

Car Rear Hub Install - How To

A quick summary of some of the things i’ve fixed on the 2005 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP in the past couple years:

The reason i needed to replace one of the rear hubs on my Pontiac Grand Prix was because of a mistake i made weeks before.  While replacing my rear struts for the second time i accidentally hit the plastic ABS sensor with the 3lb hammer.

fix abs sensor, strut, shock, brake, wheel bearing, hub

Here’s the entire process of installing the new hub.  But continue reading for more in depth description and pictures.

Install Rear Hub - GM - Pontiac Grand Prix

The struts are held onto the car with a couple of big bolts.  And in order to set them in place i needed to use the big hammer.  On one of the swings i missed and hit the back of the hub.  For some cars it wouldn’t be a big deal.  But on my car i have a plastic ABS sensor which measures the rotation of the wheel. 

So even though i didn’t mess up the ABS break itself, just one of the 4 sensors, it still caused an ABS warning light to appear on the dashboard.  It’s annoying that if just 1 part of the whole process is broken, the whole thing doesn’t work.  That’s like saying if the ‘Q’ button on the keyboard is stuck, the entire computer won’t work.

A few years ago i replaced the front hubs/wheel bearings on the car, with the help of my friend Mike.  I bought the hubs from Rock Auto via Ebay.  This time i compared a few other sellers.  The first thing i did is use my favorite trick for auto parts, checked Advanced Auto Parts.  They are usually more expensive but online there are always coupon codes that you can use to get $10 or $20 off when you spend at least $50.  Next i checked Rock Auto for their price.  And the last place i checked was Ebay.  It turned out that the best deal i got, on a part that looked to be well made was from Detroit Axle via Ebay.  The part looked good, had the ABS sensor attached, was less expensive then the others, and it was from nearby Detroit. 
detroit axle, how to replace rear hub, wheel bearing, grand prix

It arrived in the mail a couple days later and i went about putting it on the car.  This was one of the first jobs that i also got to use my new tool cabinet.  It was nice not having to run up and down the stairs after tools i needed in the garage.  Here was everything set out that i thought i needed.
garage tools, shop, car fix, repair, brakes, replace, hub, wheel

The first step was to remove the tire, break caliper and disc.  Then i had to remove the 4 bolts which held the hub in place.  I sprayed WD-40 and Liquid Wrench over the 4 bolts and gave it time to try and soak into the threads.  Also i tried a trick that i learned from working on the motorcycle, tapping on the top of the bolt head.  Just adding small taps will help to try and loosen threads that had been fused together for almost a decade.
replace wheel bearing, rear hub, pontiac grand prix

To access the bolts there are 2 holes drilled into the hub.  This allows you to insert a socket wrench with an extension.  So i tried loosening the bolts with a socket wrench.  I had to put a metal pipe over the handle to give me a bit more leverage.  But i eventually got all 4 bolts loosened and removed.  However that did not mean that the hub could be removed.  It is still set firmly in place because the round hub was rusted/fused/corroded in place inside of the fitting.  I’m not exactly sure what the name of that part is, the swing arm or the knuckle. 
how to remove hub, rear hub, car, bolt, rusted

It took me about 20 minutes of hammering with a large hammer to remove the hub.  I hit it from every angle, hit it with a wood block, hit it while pulling on the front.  I eventually saw some movement from the swing arm, and a few minutes after that the hub was removed.  I could actually see the broken ABS sensor.
abs sensor, damaged sensor, hub, wheel bearing, gm

Before i put the new hub in, i decided that i should test to see if it will fix the problem.  So i connected the wire to the back of the new ABS sensor.  When i started the car the warning light went away and i knew that it would fix the problem.  To fit the new hub back in place i first needed to remove the corrosion.  So i used sandpaper and a wire brush.  Lots of white powder came down
replace hub, pontiac, rear end, install, fix, replace

while i was scraping.  Even after the sanding and scraping the hub didn’t seat easily.  To get it to fully set in place i had to gradually tighten the 4 bolts down, sort of in the same way as you would tighten down lug nuts.  My goal was to get the hub to tighten flush with the swing arm socket.  If it wasn’t straight, the wheel would be out of alignment.  But after i felt that the hub was tight, i reinstalled the disc and caliper.  Then rebolted on the wheel.  Everything seemed to be working fine.

Then a couple of things happened.  The first unrelated thing was that my front tire popped, not the tire on the rim i just replaced.  I had hit a pothole back in February and my tire rim was bent.  Because it was an aluminum rim there wasn’t anything that anyone could do.  If it were a steel rim it could be bent back into place.  But the car still rode fine, for 6 months at least.

This is a picture of that same rim, when i hit a pot hole a couple of years ago.  Apparently in Michigan your right front tire (closest to the curb) takes a lot of abuse from pot holes.
dented aluminum rim, fix aluminum rim, flat tire, pothole

When i took the flat tire off i was surprised to see that it wasn’t a puncture, but rather the top-inside edge of the wheel was worn completely down to the steel.  It was probably a combination of riding with a slightly flat tire and because of the dent in the rim.

I’ll have to publish another post about finding a new rim and tire and rotating the tires.  But also i have to mention that i did need to take the car to get an alignment.  I looked into doing it myself but it was too complicated.  The fronts were ok but the rear tires needed some minor adjustment, probably from the two times i replaced my rear struts.  For now though, it’s riding fine and will hopefully go last a while before something else going wrong.

Arts and Crafts Room - Ribbon Rack, Shelf, Desk


Arts and Crafts Room - Ribbon Rack, Shelf, Desk

Earlier I posted some pictures about a white box shelf that I made for Karrie.  It was something I completed back in October and it was made to hang on the wall.

wood wall shelf, crafts, organize

That was just the first part of her new arts and crafts room.  She wanted a place that she could sit and have everything she needed to be able to make different arts and craft projects at home.

Karrie just started making some small hair bows and she’s trying to sell them on Etsy.  Hopefully this would make it easier for her to make the bows and keep everything in order. You should check out her store and maybe by a couple of the handmade bows, she’s selling them for just $6.

Here’s her home page where she plans on having all of the different homemade bows she is selling:

And here is the direct link to her first page where she has 2 different types of bows she is selling:

etsy hair bows, handmade, bowtique glam, etsy, for sale, hair bow

So we looked online for a while until she found something that she liked.  The first thing she saw and asked for was a simple work desk.  It was made of three pieces, two bookshelves and a countertop. 

arts and crafts room inspiration, storage table bookshelf

I thought it was a great idea and a way to incorporate both a work area and storage.  I liked it because of its simple design, combining form and function.  She could put some of her supplies on the bookshelves below the table.

We already had 2 bookshelves from when my office got rid of some of their old furniture a year ago. We’ve had these two small bookshelves in the basement since then.  They were both roughly the same size but one was slightly shorter than the other.

small bookshelf table, level, adjust

You can see that I had to add some 2x4 blocks as legs in order to raise the bookshelf to the same height as the other one.  Real simple though, I just use some wood glue and nails.  Obviously they need to be the same height so that the work surface is level.

how to make a bookshelf table, desk, craft

Then I painted everything white. It took a few coats since it wasn’t real wood that these shells were made out of, but rather a laminate which was glued onto particleboard. The first few coats were kind of streaky, it was sort of like painting on plastic.  Here’s what one of the bookshelves looked like after the first coat.  It wasn’t good.

painted bookshelf, white

But after the second coat of white paint it was much better.  Then i put on two coats of polyurethane, which gave it a shiny and very strong protective finish.

Next we had to decide what type of desk work top to use. So we put the bookshelves in place and tried to figure out a size using a measuring tape and a piece of cardboard.

tabletop pattern, trace, cardboard

We ended up deciding that the best thing to do would just be going to Lowe’s and buying a piece of melamine.   Melamine is a very dense particleboard with a hard white plastic coating on either side.  It was actually very similar to the material that the shelves were made out of.  Although it was much heavier and much stronger at 3/4”.  The only downside was that the 4x8 sheet cost $35.   But since that was our only real expense for this entire project it wasn’t too bad.

In order to get the most use out of the desk Karrie and I decided to not just keep the board square, but rather conform it to an “optimal shape”.  A shape that would have the most usable work surface, with everything on it easy to reach, and fit in a small space.

how to cut melamine, jigsaw, optimal desk size

We decided that cutting the board to a length of 5’ was the best size for the room.  That meant I had to measure several times to find the center of the 5 foot section, then draw out several radius points before cutting everything out with the jigsaw.  Here’s half of the desktop cutout.  You can sort of see that when Karrie sits in the middle she will able to reach much more surface area of the desk than if it were just a square board.

cut out melamine desk top, best material

I then took a large wood rasp and rounded over all the edges. That way nothing would chip and it would be a smooth edge rather than a sharp corner.

rasp, wood, smooth edge, close-up

To make the cut edge look more finished I took some drywall joint compound and smeared that to all the exposed wood surface.  I actually had to do about two or three coats, standing in between, before it got the smooth finish that I was hoping for.

spackle for smooth wood, joint compound

The last thing I did was paint the edge with some more white paint and the arts and craft table was done.  This was definitely the easiest part of the whole room.  Although none of the three things I built where that difficult.

The last thing that Karrie had wanted was something to hold all of her ribbon spools.  The obvious choice was a very simple ribbon rack which attach to the wall and easily held several spools, all at easy access.  Here were some of my early drawings that I used before I started to build anything.  I was mainly trying to figure out the angle of the cut-outs in the side boards.

ribbon rack plans, design, dimensions

The first thing I did before building was to make a pattern. You can see from this picture that I used just an 8.5x11 sheet of white paper.  On that I drew out two of the five slots that go on each side of the board.

wood ribbon rack dowel pattern, cut out, build plans

Earlier we bought three - 4’ dowels which were 1/4” in diameter.  We used that sized dowel because most of the ribbon spools holes were that size.   Each dowel cost less than $1.  I cut the 4’ dowels in half and a rounded over the edges using the wood rasp.

1/4" wood dowel, dowels, cost, how much

I had some scraps of pine 1x6 in my basement and that’s what I used to make the ribbon rack box.  It was real simple just a square box with slots cut out for the dowel.

wood needed to build a wall shelf ribbon rack

After using the pattern to trace out the five slots, I used the jigsaw to cut them out.

craftsman jig saw, how to build a ribbon rack

After trying to cut out the first slot I realized that with the large jigsaw blade it would be difficult to make the sharp 180° turn.  So a quick shortcut i came up with was to use a drill bit and remove the end portion.  That way I would only have to go toward the end of the slot and the piece would come out by itself.

tips to make a simple easy ribbon rack for arts and crafts room

Here’s what the ribbon rack looked like after I cut out all the slots then glued and nailed it together.  I used my new nail gun and air compressor and it made for quick work.  Yet again, another job that I can’t imagine doing without my new nail gun.

plans tools ribbon rack build

Here it is standing up right with the dowels in place.  At this point I was trying to figure how I would attach it to the wall once it was all done.  I thought of using little metal brackets but I ended up coming up with an even simpler solution that was actually stronger.  I’ll show you how I attached it to the wall at the end.

easy to build ribbon rack, how to

I took some of that spackle I had and filled in all of the rough edges, nail holes, or gouges in the wood.

quick tips to make a finished look for arts and crafts projects

Then I sanded everything down with my vibrating sander.   Also I sanded inside the cut outs of fine wood rasp.  It was pretty dusty.

sanding spackle, dust mask

Here’s a quick video i made while i was building the ribbon rack.  I’m trying to do more video’s in between taking pictures because i think it gives a better description of what i’m building.  Although i’m terrible at explaining what i’m trying to do.

Ribbon Rack - How to Build Plans


After it was all sanded I put two coats of white paint on it and then two coats of polyurethane.  Just like I did for the bookshelves.

finished ribbon rack, sand, paint, finish

Here’s the ribbon rack attached to the wall with some of the spools of ribbon on the dowels.  You can see how all the different types of ribbon are easily accessible in this very simple design.  You just lift the entire dowel off.

ribbon rack

Now I said earlier I would explain how I attached it to the wall, so here’s what I did.  I drilled two holes through the back of the top cut out.  The first hole, which i drilled from the front, was big enough for the screw head to be countersunk into the board.  Then I drilled a through hole all the way to the back, just large enough for the thread portion of the screw.  That way all it took was one screw to hold up the shelf.  And the screw was not visible at all since it was countersunk halfway through the thickness of the board.

how to mount shelf to wall, ribbon rack

Next I attached the wooden box shelf of the wall.  This was much heavier than the ribbon rack and I had to come up a different plan of how to attach it.  I knew I wanted to attach it to the studs in the wall and not just screw into the drywall.

So this time I took some angled aluminum and cut out small brackets.  I attached the brackets to the shelf at 16 inches on the left, center, and right of the top and bottom boards.  I used six brackets in all.  I attached them in a way that they would screw into the studs and that the shelf would be centered on the wall.  It took a bit of measuring, and using the stud finder, but it wasn’t too complicated.  Then all I had to do was hold the shelf in place, making sure it was level, and screw the 2 inch drywall screws into the studs.

cheap aluminum bracket, 2 screws

Here is what the finished arts and crafts room looked like.  Everything seemed to match since the shelf, rack and table were all painted white.  It didn’t take up a lot of space, there was plenty of storage space for all the arts and crafts supplys.

arts and crafts room, build, make, home, small space

And here’s what it looks like with everything put in place.  Karrie got the red baskets from the dollar store.  We plan on getting a different chair, something a bit taller, but for now are using this old office chair. 

how to make an arts and crafts room, shelf, ribbon rack, save space

The last thing she needs is a good light to brighten up any of the projects she is working on.  It will have to be something that can move around and adjust its height when she’s working on a small projects.  But for now everything seems to work great.