Monday, November 20, 2006

Screwing On The Cheap

(The original title of this illustrated article was ‘Screwing For Free' until a lady editor pointed out that nothing's really free nowadays.)

In 1991 my wife gifted me with a Makita battery-powered drill. Battery is that long 9.6v jobbie. Very handy tool, especially with the charger that plugs into the cigaret lighter. The tool isn't very useful as a drill for sheet metal work - - heavy and much too slow. But it has paid for itself many times over as a powered screwdriver, nut driver and even drilling an occasional hole, some of them atop radio towers and other awkward places.

Unfortunately, I live near Sandy Eggo, where electrical energy is considered a luxury, along with gasoline (we pay the highest prices for both in the Lower 48). To make matters worse the Quality of Service provided by San Diego Gas & Electric is of Third World standards, with frequent outages and 117VAC @ 60Hz a largely mythical goal - - something to strive for but rarely achieved.

On the other hand, we got lotsa sunshine.

I'm a ham radio operator and have always maintained my own emergency power system. In the 1980's I began plating the roof of my garage with photovoltaic panels, using them to keep a collection of used car batteries charged. Usta be, the batteries just sat there, waiting for the Big One - - the Richter 8+ earthquake that occurs periodically along this portion of the San Andreas Fault - - which is now overdue by a few years and we've been told to prepare for. But since the Oil Patch gang pulled off the big energy scam I've been using my ‘emergency' power system to run tools in the shop and some lights in the house.

And for screwing, too.

I realize most of you aren't hams and wouldn't know an erg from an amp if they walked up and pee'd on your leg but you really don't need to understand ‘lektrisity to use it and that's what this message is about.

May I assume you've heard of Harbor Freight? (If you haven't, lemme know where you live - - I wanna go there :-)

Harbor Freight sells a pretty good variety of PV panels - ‘solar' panels, et al - some of which you can simply plug in to your tools in order to charge them. One of the arrays they sell - - their Item Number 44768 - - is a small (1.5 W.) solar panel designed to clip to the sun visor and plug into the cigaret lighter of your car. While the output is small, it is sufficient to offset the current drain of the electrical vampires found in modern-day vehicles. Given a couple of days, it will also charge your Makita or any other battery-operated tools that's happy with 12vdc. The price? Ten bucks, if on sale. (Hint: Wait until it's on sale.)

Need I mention it will also work in airplanes?

Yeah, I know - - you're one of those rich bastards with a hangar. This message is for all the poor bastards, like me :-) But even if the bird is under cover that doesn't mean the solar panel has to be. Here in the States simply screw it to the south wall (outside, please), angled about the same as your latitude and run some light-gauge flex to the cockpit. (Or to an accessory plug under the cowl.) The nearer you are to the Line, the better it will work. (Sandy Eggo is about 33N; works pretty good.) Standing on your head in Oz? Then point it North. Hernando Chan? Just throw it out on the roof somewhere; the sun is almost straight overhead mostah the time.

Since the thing is designed to plug into a cigaret lighter socket, a handy accessory is a cheater consisting of a cigaret lighter socket connected to a pair of battery-sized alligator clamps. This is a standard 12v accessory among hams, most of whom roll their own bit it isn't that difficult to find already assembled. (All Electronics and American Science & Surplus have each carried them in the past. Which is no guarantee they've got them in stock. Radio Shack may carry them but I don't shop there; their prices are too silly.)

Folks who don't prepare for disaster tend to roll their eyes at those who do. But when Shit Happens, as it always does, it takes surprising little to ensure you will not become a burden on your community; that you will still have heat, light and communications. In the meantime, you can do a lot of screwing on the cheap.


No comments: