Scale model cockpit FPV

cool scale cockpit video

Funny Zoo Snap

man enjoys elephant My wife noticed this in the family archives.

RC Nitro motorcycle racing

rc motorcycle Motorcycle racing in Lilliput.

Manned RC Multicopter

manned multicopter
Here’s an RC multicopter big enough to ride on!

Make: Talk 004

make: Talk 004
I had a fun time talking to Mark Frauenfelder in episode 4 of his new podcast, Make: Talk!

One Man Basement Band

one man band
I feel like I could be getting more mileage out of my right foot.


liberty vintage motorcycles An Etsy portrait. Thanks, Danny.

Tequila Sleeve

tequila the champs
Champs sleeve

Wolf-Stelzer Book Lamp

Book Lamp
My friend Tess just made the cover of ReadyMade with her cool lamp design.

Tree Stump Bug

Can this be for real? The design is so awesomely Thunderbirds. Via

The Nothing Box

nothing box


Thunderbirds are go
Are Go!

Command Center

command center
Sweet assemblage spaceship’s bridge.

Four Drano’s

Watch the sink slowly, all but disappear from the design .

Toothpaste Aerosol

toothpaste aerosol
Aerosol toothpaste

Make an Oil Painting

June 2nd, 2007

oil painting from photo

I was so impressed that Linda had agreed to let me buy a 55 inch taxidermed yellowfin tuna to hang above the fireplace in our living room, that I changed my mind about it and decided on something that I knew she would really like. A portrait of the two loves of her life.

I have really been getting into contemporary/pop surrealist painters lately, and I have some ideas of my own that I would like to pursue, so doing this fairly straight portrait from one of our favorite photos will be a good chance for me to hone my technique before I bust out on some of my own themes.

Painting with Crutches

Talented artists might just squint their eyes, and start blocking out the basic forms, but I am a hack, and need to employ a few tricks to help me get going. To make it interesting, and easier on myself, I decided to do the painting in a monochrome blue rather than “living color”. I am also using a little Photoshop manipulation, and a grid to help me block out the basic foundation.

oil painting from photo

Photoshop Cutout Filter

After I changed the color to a blue monochrome, I ran the cutout filter on the image.

Filter » artistic » cutout, with the following values:

No. of Levels: 8
Edge Simplicity: 4
Edge Fidelity: 2

oil painting from photo

The result is an 8 color image with distinctly delineated shading.

Grid it

Getting off the grid of all good and well if you’re talking about becoming energy self-sufficient, but if you aren’t the worlds greatest sketch artist, and you want to do a well-proportioned portrait, you might want go stick with the grid (or better yet, an opaque projector). I printed out my filtered image, drew a grid onto it and indexed both axes with numbers and letters.

oil painting from photo

Then I drew a similar grid onto my art board to use as a guide while roughing in the image. After getting the basic face outline and feature position, I drew in the “cutout” lines that the photoshop filter produced.

The idea is that I will just fill in the basic shading as if I were doing a Paint By Numbers kit. I will then put on a few more layers of shading, making it progressively smoother, with subtler gradients each time, before adding the final detail and line work. Wish me luck.

oil painting from photo

Next up: Putting on some paint.

Needle Anaglyph

May 30th, 2007

needle anaglyph
this image is set up for right eye RED glasses.

Stereo nerds! Pull out your 3D glasses.

After I was done photographing some dirt under my stereo microscope the other day, it occured to me that I might be able to make some 3D micrographs. I took one shot through each eyepiece of the microscope by just holding my camera up to it, then combined the images to make this anaglyph.

This is the same needle as the one pictured above.

Is This a Meteorite?

May 29th, 2007

micro meteorite

Note: This thing is a spec of dust – maybe 200 microns in diameter.

I‘m a little bit embarrassed about the last time I asked, but it’s different this time, really.

They’re falling all the time

You see, just becuase you’re not awakened at night by a crashing sound, then wander into the living room to find a smoking crater in the floor and a hole in your ceiling that you could drop a refrigeratior through, doesn’t mean that a meteorite didn’t land on your house.

My son and I set up a micrometeorite collection rig in the back yard as a school science project, and while we were waitng for the space dust to fall into our trap, I ran a magnet along the inside of our house’s rain gutter – I read that this was a good way to find metallic micrometeorites.

Expert Opinions Needed

Quite a few particles stuck to the magnet. This one looked the most like a meteorite to me. To get a sense of scale, the pointy thing in the picture is the tip of a small sewing needle, and the white surface is #2o bond.

What do YOU think, micrometeorite, or not ?

How to Make Concrete Steps

May 28th, 2007

concrete steps

Got a spot that needs a set of concrete steps? Readymade wood stair stringers make great, easy forms for small concrete stair jobs. Intended for use as a structural part of wooden staicases, they also save you the brainwork of figuring out the proper rise and run when bulding forms for concrete steps.

concrete steps

I’m sure the pros could give you better advice, but here’s how I did mine:


Dig out the dirt where you will be building the steps. If you have loose or sandy soil, remove all of the dirt from the spot where the stairs will go. If you have hard, or clay type soil, you may be leave some of it in place as a “core” to your steps. I had to remove all of mine.

Build The Form

Position the stringers where you want the sides of your steps to be. Make sure that they are level. Cut some face boards from 2×8 studs for the upper steps, and one out of 2×6 material for the bottom step. Use screws to attach the boards to the stringers – this things needs to be really strong. Stake the form into the ground so that it doesn’t move when you pour the heavy concrete into it. (I used big rocks to keep my form from moving).

concrete steps

Fill With Rubble (not shown)

Stack rocks or concrete rubble inside the form to take up most of the space so that you don’t have to mix up a million bags of concrete. Weave in a little re-bar just for good measure. I used 7 80lb bags of premix for this job.


Mix up the concrete and pour or shovel it into the form, making sure to work it down in-between your rubble filler. I mixed mine in a wheelbarrow, but if you have half a brain, you will rent one of those power mixers. Bang of the frame a bit with a sledge hammer to vibrate out as many air pockets as you can. You may still have some voids showing on the outside, but you can patch them later.

I plan to add flagstone treads to mine later.

concrete steps

Find a Kid

Go find a kid and let them leave a handprint in the wet concrete, Leave it to Beaver style.

Warning, here is what one disgusted commenter had to say:

“Well as someone who does concrete work I need to tell you a few reasons why I would have to rent a jack hammer and redo these stairs if I had done this for any paying customer. And, you should do the same! These stairs are a hazard and everything but the hand print looks like crap!!! As someone pointed out already: the bottom riser being so much shorter then the others is a trip hazard going down. You need to measure how far the stairs have to drop and calculate the risers to ensure they are even. Example” if the difference in height from his gate to the patio is say 28″ then he should have made four 7″x ? risers.
Its looks like the only finishing you did was hand floated it flat and put a hand print in it. Good job on the hand print but bad job on the rest. It doesn’t look like you edged it to put a smooth round finish on the edge of each step. So, the sharp edges you left are like concrete knives! I would hate to trip and fall on them because you will most certainly lose some skin! And speaking of falling. It also doesn’t look like you broomed the stairs either. This leaves a rough texture on the concrete to minimize slipping. The surface of smooth poorly finished concrete is like ice when its wet! These are the reasons why no one should ever pour a stairs anything like this one.
The base work was also done wrong too. You need to use properly compacted material for your stair base and I doubt any rebar went into this project so you may not need to worry about them for long anyway. The concrete is poorly supported and will likely crack and heave. Mother nature will jack hammer them out for you over the next few seasons. Especially if you get winter. And, what kind of concrete did you use? There are different types of concrete too!
Some projects are do it yourself and some aren’t. Concrete isn’t.”


May 4th, 2007


There is looking at life’s debris (see finkbuilt masthead), and then there is encapsulating it in one-inch diameter clear plastic balls and selling it in gumball machines. D.C. junkman/artist Christopher Goodwin does the latter with his wonderful Trashball! project.

Mail Order Trashballs

If you’re not in the D.C. area (currently the only city that has Trashball! machines) you can have them delivered right to your door for the unbelievably low price of $3.00 for a randomly selected 4-pack. Being the debris enthusiast that I am, I found it irresistable to give Trashballs! a try, and today my order arrived – a mere 3 days after I placed it.

The Balls

The actual capsules that the trash treats are packaged in are not your ordinary gumball machine bubbles. These clear polycabonate spheres are not meant to be easily opened. The only place that I have ever seen a case like these is at the core of of one of those light-up superballs. I actually had to destroy one ball to get it open. So what did I get?


Trashball 1: Rather uninteresting register receipt for $2.09 worth of flooring materials from National Wholesale Liqudators.


Trashball 2: Also sort of uninteresting bit of refuse, a baggage claim ticket.


Trashball 3: Slightly more intriguing, an auction lot stub for 2 chairs from a school auction in K.C. Missouri

[+ enlarge]

Trashball 4: Here is where it gets more interesting, at least for the visually oriented like myself, this one has the most story to tell. An unmounted frame of Ektachrome showing a woman in a nightgown helping a little kid in the late 1980′s or so, trying on his new prize-fighter gear that he presumably just received for his birthday or Christmas.

At $3.00 for a 4-pack, I probably won’t be ordering more, but if there was a Trashball! machine at my local watering hole, I would deffinately be plunking quarters into that thing like a blue-hair at a slot machine.

Try some yourself.

Sand Hopper Done

April 12th, 2007

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tamiya sandscorcher

There it is, the Tamiya Sand Hopper. It’s a Grasshopper sporting a Blitzer Beetle body, painted in Sand Scorcher box-art livery. Conspicuously absent are the rear cage and stinger exhaust, but I’m calling it done for now.

More Sand Hopper Progress

April 7th, 2007

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Here I am 40 years old and still building model cars.

License Plate

The original Sand Scorcher came with a plastic license plate which had the words “BAJA BUG” molded into the plastic. The Tamiya Monster Beetle came with a flat plastic plate blank. I decided to give mine a vintage green and white style Washington plate. I hit google imges and found a picture of an old Wa. plate, shrunk it down to size and printed it out. I painted the plastic plate silver so that it would sort of approximate a chrome license plate frame, and glued the Washington plate to the “frame”. A couple of coats of clear acrylic should keep the inkjet from running when it gets damp.

Headlight Lenses

Unlike the Sand Scorcher, the Monster Beetle Body came with a smoked glass parts tree, so the windshield and headlight lenses are unnaturally dark in tint. I won’t be using these parts. I am planning to run without any window glass, but the headlight rims looked really funny with no bulbs in them (and I sure don’t want smoked headlights), so I made some out of discarded “blister-pac” material. First I scored some vertical lines into the plastic to give it that lenticular look, then I hit them with some 6o grit sandpaper to give them a frosted effect. Then I simply trimmed the lenses, creating little tabs to fit the slotted headlight rims.



Masked for blue paint.


Blue paint applied.

Next up: Decals, and coming up with some sort of motor to fill that big void in the rear.

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Suburba Car DIY 3-Wheeler

March 30th, 2007

trike car design

It was about 15 years ago that I purchased Vol. 3 of the Popular Mechanics Do-it-yourself Encyclopedia at an estate sale. Inside that red, hardbound collection of reprinted PM feature projects, I found an article that would ignite a long-standing, sometimes dormant but never extinct desire to build my own car. Specifically, my own 3-wheeled micro car.

The book contained a 1965 article detailing how to build the “Suburba”, a 3-wheeled, motorcycle engine powered mini-car platform for which you would design your own body. PM originally ran the article as a “design a body” contest, and the hardbound edition also included the top body designs – submitted by PM readers. The winning trio of designs, submitted by Norman K. Niemi was great.

The R.Q. Riley Factor

Eventually I would stumble upon the work of R.Q. Riley, who has been designing and selling DIY plans for “vehicles of the future” since the 1970′s. Riley’s thoughtful chassis designs, which often utilize major components from existing auto platforms, captured my imagination and I never again really considered building the PM chassis. But Norman Niemi’s body styling was so cool, I would love to emulate his coachwork for use atop a Riley platform.

The recent buzz over the upcoming release of Riley’s new X-R3 deisel-electric hybrid DIY trike brought my Build Your Own Car demons back to the surface, so I dug out the original article that started it all for me (check out page 2, I’m pretty sure that’s Al Franken in the passenger’s seat).

One of my co-workers is acting very committed to starting an XR-3 build as soon as the plans become available so, with any luck, I may get to actually help one or 2 come to fruition.

trike car design

trike car design

trike car design

trike car design

trike car design

trike car design

trike car design

Build A Car out of Foam

Sand Scorcher Replica Progress

March 24th, 2007

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tamiya sand scorcher

One of the things that I have noticed about model driver figures, is that they tend to end up with a really alarmed, kind of Marty Feldman on crack sort of bug-eyed stare. I thought that by toning down the “whites” of the eyes a bit, I could achieve a more relaxed look. Instead, my driver ended up with a slight lazy-eye, and and extrememly advanced case of hepatitis.

tamiya sand scorcher

Grasshopper chassis and Moster Beetle body set.

tamiya sand scorcher

Chassis with custom body mounts.

tamiya sand scorcher

tamiya sand scorcher

Ready for some color.

Once I figure out how to mask around tight radii, I will spray on some blue in the classic Sand Scorcher box art scheme, and apply the reproduction decals.

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Model Tire Sidewall Lettering

March 10th, 2007

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sand tires

In 1980 I saw a TV commercial for the most remarkable model car that I had ever seen. It was a radio-controlled off-road buggy from Tamiya called the Sand Scorcher, and it could jump through the air, blast through water, and generally tackle the terrain like no other “toy” that I had ever known. I would do whatever was necessary to own one.

A new class of RC Car

The Sand Scorcher chassis was an amazing piece of work. The die-cast metal suspension was pretty much a scale replica of the actual Volkswagon setup that was used by the full-scale baja racers of the day, with a twin trailing arm, torsion-bar sprung front end and a swing-arm in the back.

The kit was also available as the “Rough Rider”, which had a baja desert racer body instead of the VW baja dune-buggy motif of the Sand Scorcher.

Sand Scorcher

This car launched a massive interational off-road RC car craze. The problem was, that these were expensive kits to manufacture and purchase. To meet the exploding demand for Radio-controlled action, Tamiya soon abandoned the scale, precision beauty of the Sand Scorcher and moved on into their “plastic era” and brought cheap, high-performance RC action to the masses.

Sand Scorcher

I really like scale stuff and was never able to embrace these “plastic era” cars. Compared to my Sand Scorcher, they just seemed well, sort of Radio Shack. The bodies and chassis were not so much models of actual 1:1 vehicles, but a whole crazy thing of their own.

Project Sandhopper

A while back, my friend Hugh brought his Tamiya Fox back from his parents house back East. This got me thinking about my old Sand Scorcher, which I had long ago cannibalized for parts for other projects before selling what was left at a garage sale.

I thought that it would be cool to pick up another Sand Scorcher so I hit ebay looking and quickly found that they were pretty much now worth their weight in gold, with mint-in-box kits selling for as much as $2,500.00. A basket-case Scorcher could be had for $200.00 or so, but that’s without a body, or radio. You could expect to spend triple that amount restoring one.

The Tamiya Re-issues

My browsing on the topic revealed that Tamiya has been re-issuing many of their early RC buggy kits. Unfortunately, due to the cost and quality of the early cars, a Sand Scorcher re-issue seems unlikely. However, the entry-level Grasshopper has been re-issued, and although it has a cheap, crappy-looking plastic chassis/supension, it does use the same tires, and sport a similar wheelbase and track as the Scorcher, so I have chosen this to serve as the platform for my Grasshopper-Sand Scorcher hybrid, the Sandhopper.

I got a Grasshopper re-issue kit with futaba radio and 1900MAH battery for about the cost of an NOS Sand Scorcher antenna whip. And although NOS Scorcher body kits are going for $300.00, the tooling for the Tamiya bug body was pressed into use into the 1990′s. The VW beetle shell was used on the later “Monster Beetle” and “Blitzer Beetle” models, so I was able to get a Blitzer Beetle shell for much cheaper. It should be trivial to adapt the Beetle shell to the Grasshopper chassis. All I need to find now is an appropriate sheet of vintage off-road sponsor decals, and I’ll be set.

Tire Sidewall Lettering

As of today, all I have is the rear tires, so I will show you how I paint the white lettering on the sidewalls of the rear tires. It really does add a nice scale touch.

sand tires

  1. Wash the tires with soap and water to romove any oil or mold-release compound that might prevent the paint from sticking.
  2. Find a sharp instrument like a dental pick or a needle.
  3. Carefuly paint the moulded sidewall lettering with white latex paint using the sharp instrument. The latex is pretty flexible, and won’t crack of flake off right away. You will botch the first one as you figure out your technique, but you can wash it off and start again if you dont let it dry for too long.

*This is really a display model technique. The lettering will hold up alright under the stress of running the car, but it will rub off pretty easily.

Vintage Tamiya links:


Tamiya Base
Club Tamiya

Stay tuned for the rest of the Sandhopper buggy build. I promise to follow up on this one.

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