July 2nd, 2006

#105: What $35 will buy

I mentioned in the last entry that I'd gone to Harbor Freight, the cheap-ass tool store.

Generally the stuff Harbor Freight sells is pretty fair stuff. It's not professional-grade stuff. If I was going to use it to earn money, I probably wouldn't buy there. Most of the stuff is made in China and it's not exactly the highest quality. The tools are cheap and will do what you need them to do, but don't expect miracles from them.

In general I've been pretty happy with the stuff I've gotten there. Learning that one was a twenty-minute drive from my house made me happy, and since then I've bought literal hundreds of dollars worth of tools there. I've bought a micrometer set, a dial caliper, a welder, an auto-darkening welding mask, a tap and die set, a hole saw set, a body hammer-and-dolly set, a floor jack, two mover's dollies, a hand truck...and that's the stuff I remember buying since 2004.

The welder I bought was on sale for $119.95. Its normal price was something like $190; after I got the insurance check for the Escort I immediately bought one because I didn't want to miss that sale price.

I have never seen it off sale. It's been $119.95 pretty consistently since December. I suspect that Harbor Freight lists certain items as being "on sale" when they are actually stating the thing's normal price.

This was my thinking about the tool cabinet. It had been "on sale" for a long time at $179.95. I figured I had time to get my crap together--so imagine my dismay when I saw that it was no longer on sale.


I looked on the bright side: I don't have to spend time cleaning and rearranging the garage in order to cram it in there.

It wasn't a wasted trip, though. I had other items on my shopping list. I got a remote starter switch, a set of thumb wheel ratchets, some rubber gloves (to keep paint off my hands), a slide hammer, and a powder coating kit.

The powder coating kit is one of those things I have wanted to buy for quite some time. I've heard good things about the Harbor Freight powder coater from other Fiero fanatics, who have used it to good effect. Its price of $90 wasn't the problem; the problem was that in order to powder coat something, you need an oven. A conventional electric stove whose oven has a "self-clean" function will do the job, but once you've used the stove for that, you will never use it for anything else, because the powders emit smelly fumes which would ruin any food you tried to cook in that oven.

Of course you can get a purpose-built oven for the job. HF sells one for a mere $400. They used to have a cheaper one but that one was discontinued a while ago, worse luck.

But I saw some magic words which prompted today's purchase: "CLOSE-OUT SPECIAL". Price? $35. $44 with the two-year warranty I bought--not quite half-price. This means I have the damn thing, and for $45-ish. They can go ahead and stock a similar replacement which costs twice this one's MSRP (like they did with the oven) and it doesn't matter. Ha!

Of course, I can't use it until and unless I find an oven to cure the powder in.

Powder coating works by electrostatically charging the powder and the item to be coated. Compressed air sprays the powder onto the item, and it clings to it. The item is then baked in an oven until the powder melts and bonds with the surface; the oven is shut off and allowed to cool. Once cold, the powder forms a coating which is tougher than paint. And the powder is available in all kinds of colors, so you can mix-and-match; and done correctly you can even layer them!

I have no idea how the hell I'm going to get or install an electric oven in that garage. That's a project for after I've gotten some cars fixed....

#106: Another Reason That I Rule

Believe me, I have to count them. I'd have no self-esteem if I didn't.

The house here is prone to flooding. Before this neighborhood existed, a creekbed ran approximately through our back yard. If the sump pump is not completely functional, our basement floods.

We don't have the problems that others have had. The house to the northwest of us, across the street, used to flood every time we got more than a spattering of rain. New sewers fixed that, but the house was there for years before that happened. One of my friends in high school, his house would get raw sewage in its basement during strong storms.

Anyway, Dad took measures to fix the issue, and one of them was an "Ace in the Hole"--a battery-operated backup sump pump. Well, earlier this summer we had a power failure lasting several hours, and the "Ace in the Hole" failed utterly...so Dad decided that it had to be replaced.

That's where I came in. Guess who got to do the replacing? Guess who got to go buy the thing?

Guess who had never installed a sump pump before in his life?

The old pump connected to the sump line horizontally, with a T fitting. The new one had a vertical discharge and had to connect to the sump line in a different configuration. I re-used about 18 inches of the original vertical piping; the rest was replaced because I basically had to re-plumb that part of the sump line.

So I spent my entire day on this project. But it works! And it looks about 3000% better than the previous installation looked, too. And as I was having a much-needed shower afterwards, I realized: who else do I know--whom I am not related to--who could do what I did today?

Damn few!

It's a display of "good old-fashioned American know-how". Americans used to know how to fix things and make them work; but these days most people find it easier just to call or otherwise hire an expert. I mean, some people call AAA to change a flat tire, for crying out loud!

That's why Radio Shack no longer stocks as many electronic components as it once did. Who tries to build anything electronic any more?

So it's another reason I rule: I know how to fix things. Hoody hoo.