Sunday, February 26, 2017

Hot Wire Foam Cutter

Over the last few weeks I started looking at different soft cases available for my AR15. The particular cases I was looking at were in the $50-$80 dollar range when I came across the Plano All Weather Rifle Hard Case for $62.00.

Plano claims their All Weather cases "create watertight and airtight shields that protect your guns even in the most extreme conditions" and "are designed to withstand the continuous bumping and jarring of airline travel". I found a lot of positive reviews on it so I went ahead and ordered one.

The main layer of foam in the case consists of approximately 2.5" of "pick and pluck foam" which consists of partially cut 1" squares. Once you have traced an outline on the foam you pluck what is not needed. It makes it easy to make a cutout for the gun but it gives it an unsightly appearance and it is not at all durable. It is not as supportive as solid foam and if anything catches on the foam it will pluck that piece out.

Here is a picture of a newly done gun case with pick and pluck foam, note how the pieces around the gun are already starting to be displaced.

 This one shows the same type of foam after it has been in use for a while. You can see where it has started to deteriorate and separate.

 The alternative is using solid foam that is cut specifically to the items you are trying to protect. This is a far more durable option that produces a more professional appearance. There are various ways to cut solid foam from regular knifes to water jets and lasers. Hot wire cutters are fairly simple and make very clean cuts so I decided to build one.

I purchased a folding tailgate table from "The Walmart" and using some scrap metal I had along with some uni-strut constructed a, way more complex than it needed to be, hot wire foam cutter.

The folding table made the entire project much harder than if I had just used a simple piece of wood. I wanted something I could fold up and put away when I wasn't using it.

The top piece of the cutter has an adjustment knob for when the wire heats up or stretches. The wire itself is Kanthal and seems to be fairly durable. The adjustment knob also allows for the wire to be quickly disconnected and strung through the foam for making inside cuts. The fan was a last minute addition to blow the smoke away from the cut.

The cutter clamps to the sides of the table by interference fit. There is a common beam across the bottom that has a tongue which fits into the main piece. This is also interference fit which allows the entire cutter to be quickly installed or removed.

A simple automotive battery charger is used to apply 12v @ 2 amps to the cutting wire.

This video shows the cutter in action with an old piece of 3" thick foam. This was the first time I tried using it.

With the cutter working the next step was to make templates for the items I wanted in my gun case. Using poster board allows the wire to be run along it, because the wire wont quickly cut the poster board it makes for very accurate cuts.

The templates are difficult when the item does not sit flat, the gun itself took me about 90 minutes to accurately trace. This can be done more quickly if fit is not a big concern.

Once it was traced out I cut it with scissors and pinned it to the foam. It took about 6 minutes to cut it out with the hot wire. The cutouts are then placed on their side for a perpendicular cut this is to make a piece that goes back in the cutout hole and raises the item in the cutout hole. In the picture below I set up a simple fence for the amount I wanted to cut off the gun cutout. If I were to make a hot wire cutter again this would be something I would include in the design.

Overall I am very happy with the hot wire cutter, I have about 45-50 dollars invested in it. The foam itself can be very expensive, I was lucky enough to find a few pieces in the trash at work that were close to the size I needed. Below is a shot of my first try at foaming my gun case, It was a lot of work but I am very happy with the outcome.

I positioned the gun to the left side in anticipation of the Hearing Protection Act. To offset the weight of the gun I have 5 loaded mags positioned to the right with a minimum of 1" spacing from any item to the edge of the foam.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Scope Zero

I've been researching scopes for my M&P 15, early on I decided on 1-6 versus a red dot, the 1-6 is more versatile in my opinion. My price point took me to the Vortex 1-6x24 Strike Eagle which is a very popular scope and didn't appear to ever go on sale. I found it after thanks giving as a package deal at SWFA for its normal $329.00 with a S.S.A.L.T. mount and two Magpul magazines.

Over the last few weeks I have added a Magpul MOE handguard, a Fenix PD34 TAC and the Strike Eagle.

Yesterday my buddy contacted me, he said he would be working on some projects outside and I should stop over to sight in my gun. When I got there I set up his shooting bench, grabbed a couple targets, and his bench bag.

I shot 21 rounds before I was satisfied with the setup, probably way more than I needed to use but I had only done this once before and never alone.

I numbered my three shot groupings on the photo below with the last shots I took being at the lower right corner of the target.

After the seventh grouping I stood an empty brass up at 50 yards and dialed in another click of elevation, I hit the casing on the first shot. I'm by no means a good shot but I am more than happy with the sighting on the gun.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Red Bull Air Races

Yesterday was the first time for the Red Bull Air Races in Indianapolis, I was more excited about this than the 500. It would be a lot less people and basically all seats would be fairly equal. I first saw the Red Bull Air Races on TV about seven years ago, not something I would go out of my way to watch but it was entertaining and the venues provide very interesting backdrops.

To promote the race Red Bull put out a video shot with this years Indy 500 winner Alex Rossi and two time Red Bull Air Race World Series Champion Kirby Chambliss.

We found some residential parking (free) about five blocks west of turn four, our tickets were for seats on turn three. Attendance was obviously much less than the 350k+ for the 500, they estimated it just over 40k. The majority of those 40k were in turn three and four, all the other stands were closed for safety reasons including the short chutes between turns three and four.

Below is a layout of the course, the aircraft took off from the road course and immediately entered through the starting gates. After two timed laps they would circle off track while the next competitor did their run. When the next competitor finished their run the previous one would land. The timing of all of this was very well orchestrated.

At first it didn't appear the weather was going to cooperate. It rained off and on during qualifying the day before, and yesterday the ceiling was less than their minimum 1k feet. This delayed the start of the races by an hour during which they had motorcycles performing stunts on the track and an aerobatic paraglider performing stunts over the track.

This was a view of the finish gate from our seats in turn three. None of my pictures a very good for the day, the weather combined with the distance and speed of the aircraft were greater than my abilities as a photographer.

Here are some various shots I took during the day.

The last two shots were taken at over .5 mile distance. The first shows a track worker zipping in a new section of pylon, they are wearing black and yellow shorts and their legs are sticking out of the top of the pylon. This was the first set of air gates after the start gate, the wind was blowing the southern pylon towards the northern causing it to be clipped six or seven times during the day. Generally the workers had the pylons on the course repaired and back up within 3-4 minutes.

This is the B-17 Yankee Lady that did a flyby.

We had a great time and I hope they come back again next year.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

New Gun

With it looking more and more like Hillary is going to win the election, or at least that's the excuse I'm using, I decided to buy an AR. I figured they would either be impossible to get or stupid expensive.

Ive been looking for a while and out of the numerous entry level AR's I decided on an M&P 15 Sport II. Rural King had them for a good price so we drove down to Martinsville to get it. After doing the background check and getting ready to pay for it I found out that I had to purchase a case for it that was lockable to buy it. Apparently the Rural King is within 1000 yards of a school so state law requires it to go out of the store in a locked case. I found a Ruger soft case that had a hole in the zipper pull, which the clerk locked with the guns breech lock. After I paid for the gun they called the store manager who carried the gun to the front door and after we walked through it she handed it to me. I'm not really sure what that did other than insure they sell a lot of gun cases, I guess the people that buy there regularly know to bring one along with them.

I was able to get over to my buddies house a few days ago and sight it in. Shooting iron or in this case plastic sights at 50 yards was fun for my old eyes, but using a gun vice on his bench we had it dialed in with six shots.

I dont plan on modding it too much but would like to put some optics on it. I'm looking more along the lines of a 1-4 or 1-6 scope versus a red dot. I think the scope is a bit more versatile.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Vacation - Smoky Mountains

Last weekend we took another driving vacation, this time to the Smoky Mountains. We hung out around the house on Saturday, I got the car loaded and ready to go and Sunday morning we headed to our first stop the National Museum of the USAF.

I was there in June with a group from work and though we were there most of the day I only had time to look at two of the four hangars. One that I did get to spend time in was the Presidential Gallery, I enjoyed it very much and thought Tania might enjoy it as well.

I took a couple of shots of unique things, the first being on Harry Truman's Douglas VC-118. It was a vintage Boston pencil sharpener mounted near the navigators station.

The second was a Chance-Vought/LTV XC-142A one of five built in the early 60's to explore VSTOL aircraft, these aircraft were the predecessors to the Osprey. What really struck me as odd on this aircraft was the rotor on the tail, it just looked so out of place.

The third was the North American F-82G Twin Mustang used during the Korean war, it was originally developed as a long rage bomber escort and looks like two P-51 Mustangs connected at the wings. It was actually an all new design and credited for downing the first three Korean aircraft during the war.

There are literally hundreds of unique items and incredible aircraft to look at, a day is not enough. The museum is open seven days a week and costs nothing to enter, it is well worth the trip if you are anywhere near it. There is much more than aircraft to see.

We spent about seven hours at the museum and then headed to Knoxville for the night. The next morning we got up early, drove around for 40 minutes looking for a self serve car wash only to find one half a block from the hotel we stayed at. We had driven through some heavy rain right before we got to Knoxville and I wanted the car clean for our next stop, Deals Gap.

Deals Gap is a mountain pass on the North Carolina - Tennessee state line, it wasn't actually my destination the road was. To get to Deals Gap the road has 318 curves in the last 11 miles and is called "Tail of the Dragon". Its a mecca for gear heads and motorcycle riders, it was also a bucket list item for me.

The start of the dragon was just over twenty miles from where we were, we filled up with gas, took the top off the car and set out to enjoy the day. About 10 miles outside of Knoxville we came across a dirt track, it really caught my eye because I had never seen one with red mud.

The road had numerous scenic overviews along the way, this was Calderwood Dam viewed from Dragon Overlook.

Along the "Tail of the Dragon" there were numerous photographers that take pictures of the cars as they pass by then post them online for purchase. When I checked there were about 25 of us, the three below are the ones I purchased.

The road was fun to drive and a bit challenging as the sun would blind you then you would drop into dark shadows multiple times through a corner. The temptation to go fast is hindered by the traffic and the three different patrolmen on the side of the road over the 11 miles.

At Deals Gap there is a "motorcycle resort" its basically a small hotel and gas station that sells shirts and Dragons Tail memorabilia. In the parking lot was a tree called the "Tree of Shame" it was covered with motorcycle parts from bike wrecks along the road.

We bought a couple of shirts and talked to a few people before we headed back the way we came. There are many interesting roads in the area but our next stop was Gatlinburg and the only way we could see on the maps to "get there from here" was the way we came.

I was looking forward to the drive out but it was hindered by a long line of cars following a elderly gentleman on a bagger driving 15-20 miles an hour, completely ignoring the train of cars behind him. We even pulled over for a while to put some distance between us and caught up to the train again within five miles.

On the way out we stopped in Maryville and ate at an open air roadside place called the Dragon Pitt, they had good food.


The drive to Gatlinburg was all two lane backroads and we arrived mid afternoon. We drove through town and stopped in a self serve parking lot at the end of town. We had been in the car for about five minutes looking at pamphlets for what we wanted to do when the parking lot attendant informed us that we could not park there without paying. I told him what we were doing and that I would pay when I got out of the car. He then walked around the car took a picture of my plate, he informed me we were stealing and that he was calling the cops. I started the car to find another lot as he chased us shaking his phone at us while yelling the cops were going to get the Corvette. it was rather bizarre.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in Gatlinburg, which is a complete and utter tourist trap. We did go to the aquarium which was actually pretty good. It has a rather long tunnel that runs through one of the tanks, the tunnel has a moving walkway that also rotates you as it moves.

We ate supper in Gatlinburg and then drove back to Pigeon Forge to spend the night. The following morning we got up and the Corvette wouldn't start, the battery was dead. I called AAA and while we were waiting I ordered a new battery. Less than two hours later and after a trip to the auto parts store we were driving through the Smokys on our way to Clingmans Dome, the highest mountain in the Smokys.

It was a beautiful drive which started just outside of Gatlinburg, the first of many stops we made gave this view of Gatlinburg.

The next turnout we stopped at had this river, one of probably hundreds in the park.

The next was another vantage point about seven miles from our destination. There was a large structure here which I didn't realize at the time was a marker for the Tennessee / North Carolina state line.

The seven mile drive from our last stop was as enjoyable to me as the drive to Deals Gap the day before.

Clingmans Dome has a long narrow parking lot that was mostly full by the time we got there. The lot is .5 miles from the outlook tower on top of the peak. The path leading to the tower is a 10-12% grade for almost the entire length. I took this picture from the parking lot and the outlook is located next to the tower in the center of the picture.

I took some pictures from the outlook but the view was very hazy and the pictures came out poor. We spent a couple of hours here then headed back to Pigeon Forge for lunch.

After lunch we decided to go to the Titanic Museum, I'm not really a big fan of the whole Titanic thing but once you see the outside of the place it kind of sells it. I totally spaced taking a picture of the outside, this is one I found on the net.

The tickets were a bit pricey and they didn't allow photos inside, they gave both of us boarding passes with actual passenger names on them and we were to determine if we lived or died. The tour itself was self guided with audio devices we carried. Around the museum there were signs with numbers on them that we keyed into the device and a recording would follow.

It was actually a very good attraction with an unbelievable amount of items both historically related to the Titanic as well as from it. Throughout the museum they had replicated various parts of the ship such as the wheelhouse and the grand staircase. The display they were most proud of was the violin belonging to the band leader. Apparently it had sold for well over a million dollars and was being relocated in the next few weeks.

After we left the museum we sat in the parking lot deciding if we wanted to do anything else or head home. We decided to head home and maybe make some stops on the way. We spent the night in Knoxville at the same hotel we had stayed at the first night. We ended up driving straight home the next day which was fairly uneventful but gave us a few days before we had to head back to work.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Hoopty Bike

Matty bought a 2006 Honda 600RR last year, it has over 30k miles on it and he got it cheap. He had it just a couple days when he layed it down in a slow speed turn and busted up the already busted up fairings. For the last year he had been working on them on and off, there really is no good way to fix them. I helped him with some fiberglass repairs and he painted the majority of them. A few months past and he lost interest in it then he stepped on one he had just finished and broke it. Two months ago he decided to order some Chinese fairings on ebay which came in last week. He put them on yesterday and they actually look pretty good.

He recently tore down the top end and adjusted the valves, replaced the automatic chain adjuster with a manual one and replaced the throttle cable with a gear drive unit. He also replaced both tires and has new rotors and pads he needs to install.

When he bought the new fairings he also bought a new headlight housing, the old one was sun damaged and yellowed. He also bought a HID light kit which makes the bike much more visible. Hopefully his fairings will last a while, the cost of the entire set was the same as just one factory fairing. They are a much harder plastic than the factory ones and I'm afraid with the quality of them they will end up cracking.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Yesterday a tornado passed a quarter mile north of our house. It took down a lot of trees, some mini sheds and did some roof damage in a small neighborhood.

Matt had just made it home on his motorcycle and the two of us stood on the back porch and watched it pass through. While we were watching it the news stated their radar had it located three miles east and a quarter mile north of where it actually was.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Not Gimped!

I play around with modifying photos in Gimp and get a lot of enjoyment from it, the best photos are the ones you don't modify though.

Yesterday when I was walking into work this truck was parked at our loading dock.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Tire shopping

Last Saturday I went to Discount Tire to buy some new tires for the Corvette. I wore probably 2/3rds of the tread at Putnam last fall and the front tires were very thin at the inner edges. Over the last few months I had researched what tires I wanted. I was not very happy with the Nitto Invos on the car and I wanted a higher performance tire. The tires I was looking at fall under the "Extreme Performance Summer Tire" category, unfortunately no one makes a tire that fits my car in that category. The TSW rims I have on the car are one size larger in diameter and one inch wider, the width isn't the problem its the diameter. They are actually the same diameters as the C7 Z51 Corvettes, but most of the tires available in those sizes are run flats.

I initially inquired about some 2015 model BFGoodrich Rivals which are very limited availability, and of course they were unavailable. Then I asked him to check on Continental Sport Contacts again they were unavailable. He said he could check with some alternative warehouses on Monday, so before I left I asked if they would put my tires on the spin-balancer and make sure none were bent. I have already replaced two of the wheels for being bent and I found out a few months ago that TSW no longer makes them. If I have any bent wheels that would change everything.

Twenty minutes later they called me out to the shop to show me that both back wheels were out of round. Basically the inner barrel farthest away from the spokes was oval, no damage to the lips of the wheels and the same issue I had with the two wheels I had replaced. These are spun forged wheels and tend to be more malleable than a cast wheel which would just crack. Other than the total suck roads in this area I'm not sure what is causing this. Pot holes usually don't get a back wheel without damaging the front one.

I asked them to put the wheels back on the car and drove home to decide what to do next. Its strange that I could not hear or feel the .5" of run out on the back wheels.

The frustrating part is I really liked the wheels I had and outside of spending 4-5k on a forged set that are custom made there aren't really a ton of choices. I started looking on CL for a factory set, they come up quite often and are generally in the $600.00-$900.00 range for just the C6 rims. Of course there were none listed in the Indy area when I looked. There were a few sets in the Chicago area including a too good to be true price on a forged set. The guy had a bad picture posted of the wheels and a receipt that didn't match the wheels he had pictured.

Now I'm frustrated and ready to step away for a while but decided to check Louisville area first. I got a hit on some C7 wheels in black off a Z51 car, this is important because the Z51 wheels are spun forged. The seller had them listed for $200.00 which is just stupid cheap. I called him and he said he still had them but he had one person on the way to look at them and another he was to call if the first didn't take them. We talked about the rims for a few minutes and I told him he had listed them way too cheap, he agreed and said he didn't think he would have so many calls on them. I told him "It's too bad I can't just offer you $400.00 for them and you tell everyone else they are sold". he said he would have no problem doing that. We agreed to meet at his house and 5pm, so Tania and I jumped in the truck and headed to Louisville.

His house was easy to find and the entire transaction took less than 15 minutes. He had bought a new Z51, didn't like the black wheels so he bought some Chinese multi-spoke chrome replica wheels. He also threw in two sets of factory lug nuts, one chrome and one black. We were about a half mile from his house and deciding wither to eat or head home when my phone rang. It was him calling and asking me if I needed tires too. He said a buddy of his had a set that were almost new and he thought they were those "yoko" tires. We waited on the side of the road for him to drive by and followed him over to his buddy's house.

When we arrived his buddy was in his tiny garage, he had a new C7 as well and the tires were sitting next to it. I looked each of them over they weren't those "yoko" tires but better than that for me they were Hankook Ventis V-12 Evos. They had not patches and the buddy said he had maybe 1k miles on them, he went on to explain they were off his old Corvette. I have had a set of these before and was very happy with them, after dealing for a few minutes I agreed to $400.00 for the set. We had to drive about 8 miles to an ATM because I had only brought enough to buy the wheels.

While we were loading them in the truck, the seller asked me about my Corvette and it turned out he had the same car, same color and the same TSW wheels. He went on to tell me he still had some parts off the car, so we went in his garage to see what he had. He had a stock hood, some chrome and trim pieces I wasn't interested in, a set of TSW chrome wheels and tires and some RPI fuel rail covers that were color matched. I unwrapped one and took it outside to look at in the sun, he told me he would sell them for $100.00 (they are over $300.00 new) I was slightly interested but didn't feel like making the trek back to the ATM and it was getting late. I got his number and told him I would contact him if I decided I wanted them.

I got in the truck and Tania asked me what I was looking at, I told her what they were, how much they cost and what he wanted for them. She informed me that she had taken out $500.00 at the ATM so I thought about it a few minutes and then went and got the fuel rail covers from him.

Here is a shot of the wheels and tires he had put the rims in his replica boxes.

 Here is a closeup of the rim, I painted the Corvette lettering to match the car, it was a lot harder than I thought it would be because the lettering is a very shallow recess. I don't know how well I will like the gloss black versus the flat black the current wheels are. The paint on them is not a real good quality which surprised me, I thought for a minute that these might be replicas but none of the replicas have CORVETTE cast in the lip of the rim.

Here is a shot with the RPI fuel rail covers installed. They purchase new GM fuel rail covers, paint them to match and insert black metal lettering in the recesses. I would have never spent the money on these had the price not been so cheap. I probably should have dickered more on the price since they only made C6's this color for like 3 years and they were low production, he didn't have much of a market. He did throw in the matching oil cap which I guess is a bonus.

It will probably cost me around $125.00 to have the TPS sensors removed from my old wheels, rebuild kits installed and the tires mounted and balanced. Still all in all I think I got a very good deal. Next I want to find some C6 center caps, I don't like the chrome trim ring on the C7 caps and I don't want the C7 logo's on my car. The logo is recessed into the cap or I would just cover them in vinyl.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

4th of July Festivities

My buddy contacted me last week about coming over for the 4th, to do some shooting, eat some food and blow some stuff up.

We arrived about 11am and started hauling everything from the truck down to his range. He had a 10x20 tent set up over his shooting bench at 50 yards and I set up my tent at 12 yards for us to shoot pistols from.

This arrangement works very good, we just leave the tent at 12 yards in place and shoot through it when we are shooting rifles.

Around 2pm we fired up his charcoal Webber and through on some teriyaki chicken, garlic chicken and steaks. His neighbors had brought some deserts and the lady clear down the street that was just bored brought by some good salad and spent the entire day there just chatting.

Normally when he contacts me about shooting, its the day of, in this case he contacted me days before so I had some time to plan. I decided my contribution would be 30 1/4lb jars of Tannerite, after all its the 4th!

 These sounded like cannons going off, I think we ended up shooting about 10 of them total, letting everyone there take turns shooting them. They would definitely make you jump at 50 yards.

As the afternoon progressed some more people showed up and at dusk we fired up the grille again and finished off the meat we had not cooked earlier. My buddy had bought a bunch of mortars and we finished off the night with a fireworks display next to his range.

It was one of the best fourth of Julys I have had in years, I hope we can repeat it next year I still have about 20 1/4lb targets to shoot.