Eric goes to Metal Shop

I recently spent some time in metal shop.

No, not like that. More like this:

I have for the last – well, let’s just settle on “many” – years been working in wood, and if I do say so myself – and I do because there’s nobody else around to say so – I’m pretty good at it. I can do carpentry well, finish carpentry okay, and I dabble in cabinetmaking, though I’m only okay at that.

And I’ve worked in concrete and tile a bit, but there’s one area that I haven’t done much in. Metal. I’m okay with a drill press, a hacksaw, and an angle grinder, and I can identify lathes, mills, and welders in a lineup, but I don’t know how to use them.

Okay, that’s not quite correct. I like to read and my mind soaks up a lot of useless facts, so I have a lot of theoretical understanding of machine tools and zero practical experience. I mostly regret my inability to weld.Welding is, after all, what separates humans from the other animals.

I decided to do something about my lack of metal experience, which led me to a bunch of web searching, and, finally, to the Metal Shop class at Makerhaus. The class meets for 5 Saturdays from 9:00 AM to 12:30 PM. It was pretty much exactly what I wanted, except that it’s in Fremont. Have you ever heard the joke about the man who stops by the side of the road and asks a farmer directions? The farmer thinks for a while, and finally says, “You can’t get there from here”. That’s what it’s like to get to Fremont from my house.

The weeks before I order the materials for class:

  • A 2” aluminum rod 12” long
  • A 2” x 24” piece of steel (3/16” thick IIRC)
  • A 4” x 12” piece of sheet metal (also steel)

The first week finds me in a class with 6 other students, with various levels experience; some have never done anything shop-like, and others have taken classes before.

I should probably note that the previous picture is not, in fact, the Makerhaus metal shop, which is smaller and quite a bit cleaner. Here’s a quick tour, though it’s a bit more lived-in now. It contains the following tools (strangely, I couldn’t find the list on their website):

Main room:

  • Drill press
  • Horizontal bandsaw
  • Lathe
  • Magnetic brake for bending sheet metal, a pretty nice one.
  • A manual shear for cutting sheet metal, also pretty nice.
  • A big vertical mill.

Hot/Loud room:

  • Belt/Disc sander (for smoothing and preparing metal)
  • Air compressor (for the wood shop as well IIRC)
  • Sandblasting chamber.
  • Welders (2 MIG, 1 TIG)

Both rooms have appropriate benches and there is some auxiliary equipment (welding jacket and helmets, clamps, etc.). There are some community tools outside the shop in a rolling tool chest; they are the quality that you would expect from tools that are used by random people.

The first day is about introduction and safety, and our instructor Alex walks us through each of the machines, showing how to set them up and how to perform various operations. Oh, and telling us how we can hurt ourselves on each of them. His introduction is good, but I’d also like to have some guides to read before each class to remind myself on the basics, and perhaps links to some online videos. We ended the first day a bit early after going through all the tools.

The second day is getting started on the project. The project that Alex gave us is a candleholder with a welded steel frame and turned aluminum holders for the candles – which would let you use all the tools – but you can choose another project if you would like.

This is probably my biggest complaint about the class; it would have been very helpful to have an idea of the project scope ahead of time. If I had known that, I would already had something in mind and would have saved a couple of hours. I think it was harder on the other people in the class; I’m used to taking a concept and iterating on it a few times, so I got to something that would work quickly. It would really help to have the basic project and some options available online.

I choose to do a modification of Alex’s design. It’s going to have a frame welded together out of the steel, and I will turn and machine the aluminum into candle holders.

At this point, I don’t remember what I did on which day, but I’ll talk about each of the parts from start to finish. In reality, I jumped back and forth between them, but I think this will be a bit clearer.


I do a few drawings, and then mark the steel and cut it to length on the horizontal band saw. It’s an interesting machine; you lift the blade up, and then in comes down under gravity with the rate fine-tuned by a valve. I cut out the lengths that I need, and then take them into the hot room. I square up the cuts on the sander, and then bevel the ends so that there is room for the weld bead.

I do a test weld with some scraps. We’re using MIG welding; there is a spool of wire in the welder that feeds out when you hit a button on the welding torch, and that wire is energized. Assuming the workpiece is grounded, you touch the wire to the metal and it arcs, vaporizes, and melts the material that you are welding along with the wire. The “IG” part of “MIG” means “Inert Gas”; while the wire is feeding through the torch an inert gas (CO2, argon, some other gases, or a mixture (I told you that I had lots of theoretical knowledge…)) flows to the welding spot, pushing the oxygen away and facilitating a nice weld. You can control how much voltage is put into the gun, and the feed rate of the wire through controls on the welder. With a bit of adjustment, I get a decent – if a bit big – bead across the metal, but the weld I tried between two scraps looks really rough (who did that weld? Vandals?)

I move onto the welding the frame pieces. I get acceptable results (enough penetration for the weld to be solid), but the bead is pretty big and not very even. It’s really hard to see what’s going on; the welding helmet auto-darkens to keep from frying your eyes (a good thing), but all you can see is a green light where the arc is and a bit of a glow from the melted metal along the weld line. The second one is a bit better. I then move to the 90 degree joins where the candle holder will attach to the wall. My results here have the same problem as before, with a lot of extra metal at the join, but the penetration is okay. I realize afterwards that I had the wire feed a little high; a slower feed rate would have gotten me a good weld with a smaller bead. I think. I also think there may be a small welder in my future.

I decide to do the rest of the finishing for the frame at home, as I have the right tools and I think my drill bits are in better shape. I drill three holes to mount the candle holders, and then countersink them on the back (so I can use flush screws), and then two holes on the upright that will be used to mount to the wall.

The rest of the work on the frame is grinding and finishing. I do a fair bit with a metal grinding wheel in my angle grinder, do some research on what to do next, and buy some sandpaper flap discs.

I use them to finish grinding off the welds – the 90 degree ones are especially fun – and then work to get an even finish. I stop at 80 grit, partly because I like the look, but mostly because I’m not sure I can get a better finish, and at this point the roughness looks intentional.

That pretty much completes the frame. Here are a couple of pictures. It took about 15 minutes of grinding on each of the 90 degree beads to make it look that way. I do like that, unlike wood, if your weld is good, you pretty much end up with a seamless look where the weld was.

Back and underside. The holes are countersunk to use flat-head screws. You can see the still-a-bit-ugly weld bead on the right side.

Here’s the top/back side. The weld was done from the underneath, which is why there is a visible join line. If I had been smarter, I would have welded across the top and then ground it down for a nicer look.

Close-up of one of the corners. I’ve cleverly drilled the mounting hole so the candle holder will mostly cover the ugly seam.

Candle holders

My design for the candle holders is three 2” sections of aluminum bar. This is a bit complicated because I need enough room to chuck the bar in the lathe, but it can’t be too long because the lathe isn’t great, so I settle on one 7” section (which I’ll machine two holders out of), and then one 5” section (which will give me the third holder). The lathe looks like this:

We’ll start with the lathe. It holds a cylindrical piece of stock (we call that a “rod” or “bar”) in a chuck and spins it. In the middle is the carriage, which is a very sophisticated and precise tool holder; it has wheels that you can turn to move the carriage left and right (x axis), front and back (the y axis), and a third bonus axis in the XY plane that can be adjusted to different angles. I start by “facing” the end of the stock; turning it to get it flat. This is done by carefully moving the tool until it starts to cut on the end, and then turning the wheel to push the cutting away from me (towards the center of the bar). Move a fraction to the left, and repeat. Keep doing this until you’re satisfied. How well it works depends on how much metal you are trying to take off, the angle of the cutting tool (which is just a pointed metal triangle in this case), and the speed at which you turn the crank (also known as the feed). After a couple minutes, that is done, and I move to cleaning up the outer part of the cylinder. You do this in a similar manner, except you advance the tool away from you until it starts cutting and then turn the X-axis crank to move the tool to the left. Advance the tool and repeat, until the cylinder is round and you are okay with how it looks. Your initial cuts are pretty quick, but you need to go slow on your final cuts as the tool is actually cutting a spiral, and if you advance it too fast it’s pretty obvious.

This is what it looks like when I’m done:

To make the holders look all fancy, I cut grooves into them. I lay them out and mark the aluminum with black sharpie, and then turn some shallow grooves about 1/4” wide at the end of each piece. I do this three times, and I’m done with the lathe. Here’s a blurry picture of the grooves (better pictures later):

I need to cut the sections that are turned so that I can keep machining them. I think it’s common to do this on the lathe with a parting tool, but we don’t know how to do that, so I cut two off with the horizontal band saw. This is very slow going, and they get so hot I can’t hold onto them, so it’s a trip to the dunk tank outside to cool them off.

I should probably clarify that I mean something like this:

not this:

I don’t want to hog the band saw because there are other students who need to cut up their metal, so end up doing some careful research at home, and cutting off the remaining one on my DeWalt chop saw. You *can* cut aluminum with a good high-tooth-count (80 or so) carbide blade if you keep the feed rate slow, and it only takes about 3 minutes to cut all the way through, which is faster than the band saw. Note that even with a  shop vac hooked up, you’re going to get aluminum all over your garage.

And it’s off to the vertical mill, which looks something like this:

There is a spinning cutter that is mounted vertically (like in a drill press). You clamp your work into a vise attached to the worktable. There are handles on the mill that allow you to move the table left and right (X axis), in and out (Y axis), and up and down (Z axis). You can also move the cutter itself up and down (Z axis). The Makerhaus mill is old, big, and weighs at least a ton; it has controls to do CNC (computer-controlled) machining that we won’t be using. It looks exactly like this:

I take my three turned pieces to the mill. My plan is to flatten off part of the circle on all three of the holders. I put in a couple of spacers to raise the stock to the proper height and clamp it in, putting the flat ends against the clamps. I will be using an end mill to do the machining. End mills look like drill bits except they are flat on the bottom and they are made to cut moving to the side.

End mills come with different numbers of cutters (“flutes”) and you use them for different purposes. In this case, I’m using a 4 flute 1/2” end mill. I put it in the mill, and then crank the vertical adjustment to put the cutter approximately where I need it to be.

Ready to start, I call Alex over for some advice on how big of a cut I should take, he shrugs, I choose something relatively light, and as the cutter touches the metal, the metal rotates up, jumps out of the clamp and lands on the floor a few feet away. Alex reaches up and turns off the mill, and I turn to him and say, “Well, that was exciting…”. Apparently, my idea of clamping pressure isn’t enough, but luckily the aluminum is soft (compared to harder metals such as steel), so the mill just took a few nibbles out of the end, and I’m planning on machining the ends anyway. I put it back in the clamp, and get to machining.

The basic process is:

  1. Zero out the Z axis measurement.
  2. Move the cutter down until it measures a reasonable amount (I really don’t know what’s reasonable, so I’m doing light cuts. I’m pretty sure they are lighter than they could be).
  3. Using the wheels on the table, move it back and forth under the cutter until the cutter has covered the whole surface.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 until you get tired.

This is all done by hand, and is a fair bit of workout if you are moving fast. It takes me quite a while to remove all the metal to take off about a third of the cylinder. My last pass is very light, so that the cutter will leave a nice finish on the piece. I convert my plan from machining all thee holders to just one; the other ones just get two flats machined into them.

After I’ve done this on the holders, I need to machine the ends. Some are rough from being cut, and others have a lathe finish and I want them all to match. The operation is the same as I’ve been doing, but luckily I don’t have to take much metal off and this doesn’t take too long. I choose to machine in a spiffy spiral pattern, which leaves the holder looking like this:

Finally, I’m ready to machine out the holes for the candles, which will be 3/4” in diameter. This is going to be complicated; I’ll use a series of drill bits moving up gradually in size, but I’m going to need to use an end mill because a) there are no drill bits here bigger than 1/2” and b) I want a flat bottomed hole. I’m going to have to proceed through a series of bits:

  1. 3/16” drill
  2. 3/8” drill
  3. 1/2” drill
  4. 5/8” two-flute end mill
  5. 3/4” four-flute end mill

To make sure I stay on the right spot, I won’t touch the X and Y controls. Each operation becomes the following:

  1. Lower the table so that I can fit the bit in the mill.
  2. Put the bit in the mill (this is a bit involved – you choose the collet that is the proper size for the bit, put it in the collet nut, install that in the mill, put the bit in, and then tighten it)
  3. Raise the table so that I can drill deep enough.
  4. Zero out the Z axis measuring device.
  5. Start up the mill.
  6. Set the speed on the mill (around 2000 RPM to start).
  7. Drill the hole, stopping perhaps once to clean the shavings off the bit.
  8. Stop when the hole is the proper depth (I aimed for 0.6”)
  9. Turn off the mill
  10. Clean off shavings from the bit
  11. Lower the table so I can get the bit out.
  12. Remove the bit, take the collet out. 

This repeats for the 5 different bits, and I do it once for each of the candle holders, so that’s 15 bit changes. Here’s an annoyingly blurry picture in the middle of the process:


I get a good workout cranking the Z axis up and down. About 90 minutes later, I’m finished, sweaty, and the holders look like this. You can see that there is a slight burr around the hold; I need to touch that up with a dremel.

Only one bit of work left; to drill some holes in the holders and cut threads into this. I bought some nice flathead brass screws and figured out which tap to use. A test hole in one of the leftover pieces of aluminum to make sure I had the right size drill and the correct tap, and then I started on the holders. The holes were quick to drill, but the tapping is slow; do a quarter turn, back off, another quarter turn, and repeat, until it gets harder to turn. Unthread the tap, clean off the chips, and repeat the process until you get deep enough.


All that is left is the final assembly, and we’re finished:



Full gallery is here.

As far as the class goes, 8/10, recommend.

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Hills of the Eastside–Finn Hill (Juanita)

View all Hills of the Eastside posts…

Finn Hill is located Northeast of Kirkland, near the north end of Lake Washington. Most cyclists call this hill “Juanita”, because Juanita Drive is a common way to ride up it.

There are many ways up Finn Hill. Some are easy, some are hard, and a surprising number are stupid-hard.

From the South

By far the easiest way up the hill is from the South, riding up Juanita Drive (A). The first part of the street (up to the stoplight) is pretty flat, though it kicks up to 7-8% on the last pitch before the top. The first part is featured as “Hill #2 (Juanita)” in the 7 Hills of Kirkland. It has a great shoulder so it’s not too bad from a traffic perspective and it has some nice views of the lake as you climb up. Coming down is a bit more intense’ the shoulder isn’t as well configured and the traffic is more impactful. There are bike lanes at the bottom .

This is also the only real way up from the South, though there is a variant from the south and from the east. See also “the Western Climbs”.

From the North

There are four basic ways up from the north.

Climbing up Juanita drive (D) is a mostly constant climb, with a slightly steeper pitch at the top. There is unfortunately a curb right at the end of the traffic lane, which puts you in a thin section of pavement next to the curb. It may be a good place to ride, or it may have debris or other cyclists in it. This is a nice descent with a great run-out at the bottom that may be marred by traffic and some sketchy pavement near the bottom. It pays to pay attention on the descent.

If you head East a bit, you have two options. There is Simonds Rd NE (E), a 430’ climb with a hard constant 12-13% section in the middle, and there is a variant that starts on Simonds and then heads south on 81st (G), which is slightly steeper, but with the advantages of less traffic and a little break part-way through. They both end up basically at the same place.

Finally, there is 76th Ave NE (F). This climb starts serious (10%), levels off, gets steep (13-15%), and then it gets silly (17%+). Bring your low gearing. There is a variant that turns off at NE 163rd St partway up that I have not ridden but promises a similar amount of fun. Have fun with that.

If you have done any of these climbs, I suggest heading south on 78th; it’s  a nice street without much traffic. Turn right when it ends to get to Juanita drive.

From the East

Climbing up from the east, you can climb up Simonds Road (H). There isn’t much of a shoulder, but there are two lanes so you can ride in the right lane. The gradient peaks at 10-11%. This is the easiest way up from the east.

A bit more to the south is NE 132nd St (M), which has easy and hard sections. Like Juanita from the north, it has a curbed-off section on the side. I’ve had decent luck with that section, but IIRC there are some drains you really need to watch out for. This hill has a lot of traffic, so keep that in mind.

Between these two climbs, we have three other choices. They all have the advantage of being short, they have good pavement, and they are through neighborhoods so there isn’t too much traffic. They are all, however, bastards. Climbing these, I don’t ask myself when it will end. I ask myself whether I can tack back and forth because I’m riding so slow that I think I might fall over, and I hope that my drivetrain keeps working cleanly because, if something happens, there’s no way I could clip out before I fell over.

NE 137th (L) is a pretty straight shot of pain, peaking at something more than 15%. It is probably the least bastardly of the three, but that is a somewhat dubious distinction.

Heading north, next up we have NE 139th (K). The description on the site says, “short, steep, and brutal”, and that’s a pretty good summation. Has an extended section well about 15%, and comes close to 20% in places. After that steep section, it levels out and gets easy. Ha Ha, I make joke. It does level out, but only to a 10+% section.

And finally, that brings us to NE 140th (J). This climb has two sections; a nice 13% warmup, a short respite, and then a brutal climb with two spikes nearing 20%.

I go back and forth on which of the two are the worst. I usually settle on 140th because the spikes are so painful to deal with, but I sometimes go the other way. I suggest riding both of them and making up your own mind, preferably one right after the other. Bring your own defibrillator.

The Western Climbs

To the west of Juanita Drive are two wonderful climbs. They are in a loop; you go down one of them, and up the other one.

If you are heading north, you turn left at the first light on the Juanita drive climb (76th Pl NE), and descend. At the bottom, you will find a nice little waterfront park, and, as you head north, you will reach the base of Seminary Hill (C). This is one of the classic climbs in the area, and it rose from obscurity amongst all of the great climbs in the area because it is climb #3 in the 7 Hills of Kirkland, and it is the first indication how hard that ride is going to be. For first time participants in the ride, Market is a challenge though not too steep, the first part of Juanita is pretty easy, and then Seminary rises up and slaps you in the face, and its 414’ gives you a lot of time to think about what you got yourself into.

The hill gets its name from the Seminary that used to be just north of the top of the hill, the present-day location of Bastyr University.

The climb is rolling and curvy, making it hard to judge your progress and presenting a couple of demoralizing steep stretches as you round corners. It’s definitely a climb where starting easy and settling in is a good approach, but it’s not particularly easy to do. It’s quite a pretty climb, under a tree canopy the whole way up, so if you have a few brain cycles free I recommend looking around. You will eventually top out at the top of the Juanita drive climbs.

Going the other way, Seminary is a fun and curvy descent. Note the stop signs at the bottom.

If you are heading south, you descend down Seminary, and then climb up Holmes point road (B). This is a great little climb that almost nobody rides; it’s under full canopy the way Seminary is but the total elevation is less and the gradient is much easier. And, when you get to the top, you can turn right and have a big chunk of the Juanita drive descent remaining.

Juanita Business Bypass

If you are heading north out of Kirkland, there’s a nice option that lets you bypass much of the business district of Juanita and adds in a little elevation.

On Juanita drive, you turn north on 93rd Ave NE and work your way to the base of 94th Ave NE (N). It’s a short but steep pitch that gets you up to 132nd, at which point you can either turn left and finish the 132nd climb, or you can turn right and descent, and either keep heading east on 132nd or head north on 100th.

7 Hills 2014

The forecast did not look good. In fact, it looked pretty bad.

It was Sunday of Memorial day weekend, and I was forecast-shopping. That’s what I do when I want to ride and the weather is marginal; I look at the different weather forecasts (Accuweather, wunderground,, national weather service) to see if I can find one that I like. They said – if I recall correctly – Rain, showers, showers, rain.

I was registered to ride 7 hills for the nth time (where 5 < N < 10) on Memorial day. To be specific, I was registered to ride the 11 hills “metric century”. Quotes because a kilometer is about 8% shorter on this ride, needing only 58 miles to reach the metric century mark.

I had tentatively agreed to ride with a few friends, which is not my usual modus operandi; after a few rides where a group ride turned into a single ride, I started doing most rides by myself.

I rolled out of bed at 6AM on Memorial day, and took a look outside. It was wet but not raining. A look at the radar (the NWS National Mosaic is my favorite) showed that not only was there no rain showing, it looked like it was going to be that way for the next 6 hours or so.

Normally, my ride prep would be done the night before; I’d have everything that I wanted out on the counter, appropriate clothes chosen, and a couple of premixed bottles in the fridge. Since I expected not to be riding, I had to do all of this in a bit of a hurry. I got packed, grabbed my wallet, keys, phone, and GPS, and headed out.

I passed the first group parking on Lake Washington Blvd (people always park too far to the south), find a spot and unload. I roll into the park, get my registration band, route sheet, and find my companions. I’ll be riding with riding friends Joe and Molly, and their friends Bill and Alex. We roll out at 8:20 or so.

Market street (Hill 1) is quickly dispatched, and we head up Juanita (Hill 2). The first two hills are fairly easy; something like 5-7% gradient max. We regroup at the top of Juanita (well, actually not the top of the hill, but the part where we head back down). My legs have felt pretty good so far, but we are coming to Seminary hill (#3), which is steeper and harder than the other two. I think it’s the second-hardest climb of the ride. It also is a bit misleading; there’s a steep kicker right at the beginning, a flat part, and then it steepens up again for the remainder of the climb.

I start the climb. I’m have a secret weapon – my power meter. I know from the intervals that I’ve been doing that I can hold 300 watts for 2 minutes. I also know that I can hold 240 watts for 10 minutes, so I set that as my “do not exceed” level. I pass a few people, pass a few more, and before I know it, I’m at the top. I do have legs today.

The others filter up soon after. Well, that’s not factually true; Joe and Alex finished quite a bit faster than me, and Molly and Bill filter up soon after. Joe is my benchmark for comparative insanity, so I know that him finishing in front of me just means that things are right with the world.

We head north to descend; Joe/Molly/Bill have an almost-incident with a right-turning truck. We get on the trail and spin to Norway hill. As we approach the base, Joe is talking with a few friends, and we turn right and the climb starts. The road turns left, and I see a bunch of people on the hill. I start passing people, and strangely, nobody is passing me. I hit the stop sign, keep climbing, and eventually top out. I passed 40 people on the way up, get passed by none. Though in the spirit of full disclosure, I did pass the last 5 as they were getting ready to pull off near the top, and most of these riders are out here for the “7 hills” version of the ride.

We head south, and turn left on 132nd. The previous course would take us all the way to my favorite intersection  – 132nd st and 132nd ave – but this year they instead route us south, and then to a food stop near Evergreen Hospital. Somewhere on the last section, the sun has popped out, and we feel pretty good. I get some sort of energy bar and pretty tasteless bagelette. After a bit too long waiting, we head out again, and take 116th north. We descend down brickyard, and turn right, heading towards back on the south towards Winery hill.

And into the headwind. I go into ride leader mode, and settle in with the rest of the group somewhere behind me. After a few minutes, Bill – who is tall and wide like me – passes and pulls for a little bit. Soon enough, we reach the base of Winery. The route that we are taking – through the neighborhood – is a series of climbs and flats. We hit the first one, which is something like 15%, and Joe and Alex ride off. I try to stay around 300 watts on the climbs and recover a bit on the flats. Soon enough, I hit the top, and find the the 7 hills bagpiper is too busy having his picture taken with riders to play. He starts playing as Molly pulls up and we ride off down to the next food stop. The new route has changed this experience; previously you would have to climb north while being demoralized by the riders approaching because they had already finished winery, and then have the opposite feeling when you come down the same road after Winery. The new route is fine but is missing a bit of the emotional experience of the old one.

I grab a dark chocolate chip cookie, refill my Nuun bottle and deploy some cheez-its, my wonder ride food.

We now have a decision to make. We have done 6 hills, and we can either descend down into the Sammamish River Valley, ride south, and climb up hill #7, Old Redmond Road, or we can head east to grab an extra 4 hills before returning for the last climb. We decide to do the full metric and head east. This takes us on 116th to a short but really steep (say, 17%) climb. There’s a route via 124th that is much more gradual, so I’m not sure whether this route is because the organizers don’t know about the other route or it’s a deliberate choice.

This is one of the downsides of being a ride leader; I know the vast majority of the roads out here and if I’m on an organized ride I’m constantly plotting where we are going versus what the other options are.

The next climb is Novelty Hill. There really isn’t a lot of novelty involved; it’s a 500’ or so climb with a lot of fast traffic. On the way up, I find myself stuck on “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands”, planted by Joe a few minutes before. A few minutes later, it morphs to the surprisingly appropriate “I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name, it felt good to get out of the rain” (America, 1971).

We finish, regroup, and head south to Union hill road. There’s a bonus half hill here that isn’t part of the 11 hills, we finish that section, and head north to descend Novelty again, and head up NE Redmond Road (not to be confused with Old Redmond Road, which we will climb later). This is a fairly easy climb but everybody’s legs are a bit tired. Even Joe’s, though his are tired because of the miles that he has put in the past few days. Another hill top, another descent, and we head up education hill on 116th for the second time (re-education hill). That takes us to the last food stop, where I have a fairly pedestrian ham and cheese wrap and make up another bottle of Nuun. Unfortunately, it seems that I chose “moldy fruit” flavor, so I’m not too excited about it, but I choke a bit down.

We descend, head across the valley with a vicious sidewind which turns into a headwind as we head south. I pull for Molly for the couple of miles, then Molly and Bill and I hit the base of Old Redmond Road at the same time. This is the last hill, and I open it up a bit, passing X people (5 < X < 300,000) on the way up. We crest, regroup, and head down  the last descents and the final run on Lake Washington Blvd back into Redmond. I get ahead, wait for the group, Joe goes by, and I find that I have one last sprint in my legs, so I open it up, and catch him.

Then it’s through to the finish, chocolate milk, and strawberry shortcake.

Normally at this point, I would talk about stats, but I only have 30 miles of the ride. I *can* say that I got PRs on Seminary, Norway, and Winery hills, so it’s pretty clear that I did have legs.


Eric goes to Metal Shop–day #1

I’m pretty good with wood. I’ve done a lot of carpentry – decks, sheds, finishing off rooms, a fair bit of finish carpentry (stairs, railings, wainscotting), and a bit of cabinetmaking.

Metal, however, is not my first choice, and when I do choose it, I’m a bit of a hack. I’ve decided to remedy that, and I’ve signed up for “Intro to Metal Shop” at Makerhaus, a hackerspace in the Fremont area of Seattle. The class started today. There are 7 students in all, 5 guys and two women.

Today was an introduction to the types of metal and how they can hurt you (be cautious machining zinc-coated steel), and how to use all of the tools in the workshop and all of the ways we can get hurt by them. The tools we covered:

  • Horizontal band saw (used for rough cutting)
  • Drill press (drilling holes)
  • Shears (used for cutting metal)
  • Brake (used for bending metal)
  • Lathe (used for machining round pieces of metal
  • Vertical mill (used for general machining)
  • Metal sander
  • Mig welder (used for, duh, welding)

The machine shop is pretty nice; there are two rooms, one for the clean tools, and then a second closed-off one for the loud and dirty tools. I tool a quick look through a window at the wood shop, and it looks nice as well. It is unfortunately inconvenient to my house, but as there aren’t any spaces like this on the eastside.

Hills of the Eastside–Hollywood Hill

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Welcome to the second installment of “Hills of the Eastside”.

After doing Education Hill in the last installment, it made sense to move onto Hollywood hill, because it is directly to the north and they are really the same ridge. I chose 124th / 128th as the logical dividing point between the two hills because it’s a bit of a valley and it’s a busy street.  The north boundary is Woodinville Duvall road, which is also a bit arbitrary. The west and east boundaries are the Sammamish river valley and Avondale Road, which, as the low points, are much less arbitrary.


I’ll break the hill into two sections; the north and the south. You can connect them a couple of ways if you would like.


The easiest way to the top from the South is A (172nd), a steady climb that doesn’t get very steep. The reason it doesn’t get very steep is that you’re already near the top of Education hill when you start, but you will still climb nearly 200’ to the top. At the end there is a bike/ped trail that can get you over to 168th (the top of climb C). It has a good shoulder most of the way and doesn’t have too much traffic. That’s really the only easy way up to the top.

Starting at 124th on the west, B (162nd PL NE to the north) takes you most of the way up. The road surface is good and traffic is calm, but it’s pretty steep – say, 13% or so – on the early pitches. At the top, the road is closed off with a barrier *but* on a bike you can go around it and continue on 168th to the top of C. There is another climb on that section that I should show but don’t; it isn’t that long but it’s pretty steep.

From the west, we have C (Hollywood Hill). If you say “Hollywood Hill”, this is the climb that most people think of, so I guess it’s the traditional way up. It’s a fairly nice constant climb, and would be one that I seek out except for the fact that a) it doesn’t have a shoulder and 2) it’s the main way up the hill from “civilization”, so it gets a lot of traffic. If you’re doing to ride it, a rear blinker is highly recommended. Pavement and traffic may be an issue on descents.  You can turn left at the first bend (155th) for another option.

There are two nice ways to climb up from the East (Avondale) side of the hill. J (NE 154th) is a nice climb up the east side from Avondale. Just before the top, there is a small dirt trail that takes you through to the west side of the hill. K (NE 143rd PL) is another nice climb up the east side from Avondale. It tops out near the top of A, and you can take the same trail through to the west side.


Starting in Woodinville, there are 3 ways to get up to the top.  D (NE 171st) and E (NE 174th) start at the same point. The first is hard, and the second one is harder. Both of these take you up to the high point on Hollywood. Nearby, you can find G (NE 178th), a steep climb up to a dead end. F (Woodinville-Duvall Road) is the traditional route up, and also the easiest, used by rides such as RSVP to get east enough to head north towards Maltby.

From the east side, there are a couple of ways up. I (NE 172nd Pl) is a nice rolling climb up from Avondale that isn’t too steep, and it will take you all the way to the top. It’s a great road to ride the other way; curvy and fast with a nice long flat spot at the bottom. On the way up, you can turn left (south), and H (171st Pl) will take you upfrom 172nd to the top of the traditional climb. It’s very steep at the top.

Climbs D and I meet at a stop sign at 164th and 175th. You can turn north and get up to Woodinville-Duvall, or you can head south and work your way back to the south and down the West side of the hill.

Printrbot Simple Metal Black (kit)

I had my eye on a Printrbot Simple, but luckily waited just long enough for the new metal version to come out.

They say that the build was of moderate difficulty. I’m an experienced maker in a lot of ways, and it was mostly easy but I wasted a fair bit of time figuring a few things out.


 Thoughts on the build:

  1. The instruction manual is done solely in pictures. This works okay in most if you are used to looking at pictures and figuring them out, but if you don’t, it can be hard.
  2. It would have been nice to have a page that detailed all the screws and small hardware from a size perspective. I spent a lot of time differentiating between the different lengths and sizes of screws.
  3. In step 5, the wires had too much solder in places, so I had to bend them tight towards each other to get the nut off.
  4. In step 7, it’s fairly clear how to put the belt on, but there’s no data around how tight it should be.
  5. In step 13, the hole for the proximity detector was slightly too small; I had to screw it in. This would make tuning it later harder.
  6. In step 14, it’s not clear how tight the tension should be.
  7. In step 16, the z-axis block was slightly too wide, so the screws didn’t line up with the holes in the stepper frame. I machined a little of the plastic away with a dremel and it worked fine.
  8. In step 19, it would be good to understand the tension level.
  9. In step 22, it would be great to have a list of all the wires that need to be bundled here.
  10. Step 24, there’s no way all of those wires will fit through the grommet. I got two of the 5 connectors through, and could get no more. I ended up cutting the grommet.
  11. Step 26, it would be great to know how long each wire bundle should be to permit full travel.
  12. Step 27, it’s really hard to see how the stepper cables should be connected, and it would be nice to have a description of which motors are X/Y/Z/E.

Then it’s onto the setup. This was quite a bit more frustrating than the build was.

I got the teensy driver (windows) and repertier-host installed easily. Then, it got difficult. 

Thoughts on the setup:

  1. My power supply died the second time I plugged it in. Luckily, I had an exact replacement on hand.
  2. It would be really nice to have a quicker way to set up the values for Repertier and Slic3r. This takes a while and it’s easy to mess up.
  3. The print size is specified as 200mm and the center as 100mm, when the correct values are 150mm and 75mm.
  4. Repertier won’t talk to the system until you hit OK in the manual controls part.
  5. The setup guide says just to use the manual controls to check if the steppers work. This is a decent step, but it will not detect whether the steppers and switches are wired correctly. I had one stepper backwards and the Y limit switch not connected, but it took me hours to figure this out. I suggest the following sequence instead:
    1. Use the manual X/Y/Z controls to verify that the steppers move, and that they move in the right direction. For example, if you press the “Z+” button, the extruder assembly should move up, and “Z-“ should move it down. This allows you to verify that the Z stepper is hooked up correctly. This should be done for each axis.
    2. Use the home command in each axis to verify that the switches are set up correctly. In the manual control section, do the following:
      1. Type “G28 X” and hit “run” (or execute, or whatever it says). The print bed should smoothly move all the way to the right, and then move back until it is centered. If there is any clunking sound, the X limit switch is not connected or not working. If the bed moves to the left, the X stepper connector is backwards.
      2. Type “G28 Y”, and hit “run”. The extruder assembly should smoothly move all of the way back, and then move forward until it is centered on the print bed. If there is any clunking sound, the Y limit switch is not connected or not working.  If the bed moves all the way to the front instead of to the back, the Y stepper connector is backwards.
      3. Type “G28 Z”, and hit “run”. The extruder should smoothly move down until it is close to the bed.
  6. Better directions to set up the Z offset would really help.
  7. I watched the video on setting up the auto-leveling bed. I understood the concept, but there really needs to be a guide for it.


Overall thoughts:

I’ve done a few prints with the printer, and it has performed quite well. Overall, I’m quite pleased.

Hills of the Eastside – Education Hill

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Five or seven years ago, I started riding with the Eastside tours group. We ride Tuesday and Thursday nights all over the east side, and we climb a lot of hills. A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to inherit the leadership of the group from Per Sunde.

I’ve learned a lot about the hills on the east side during this time. In my spare time, I run a website – – that show the different ways up those hills.

I’ve decided to share that information through a series of posts that talk about a hill and the different ways that you can climb it. If you want to know the easiest way up, I’ll show you that, and I’ll also show you the harder ways. I’ve ridden up pretty much all of the routes I’ll show; if I haven’t I’ll let you know.

Since I’m hoping it will be educational, I’m starting with Education Hill north of Redmond.

Education Hill

Education hill is the hill directly north of Redmond. It is named because of the number of schools that it contains.

Easier ways up

  • The easy traditional way up the hill is from the west [A], starting near 60 acres. This climb starts with a very steep (15% or so) section right at the beginning (okay, so it’s not that easy), and then is a mostly easy climb except for the last little pitch near the top. This climb is featured on the 7 hills metric century ride.
  • There’s a nicer option [B] that starts at 124th and avoids the steep climb at the beginning. It tends to have a bit less traffic, but the road has a few deep grooves in it, so pay attention.
  • From the east, NE 116th St [D] is the easiest way up, and is also featured on the 7 hills metric century. It has a couple of steep sections but isn’t too bad.

That’s it for the easy ways up. The other options are harder.

  • If you head east on 124th, you can turn tight and climb up 162nd Pl SE [C]. This is a steep climb, peaking at around 15%, but is pretty good from a traffic standpoint.
  • From the east, there are two harder ways up. The first is 104th [E], which is really steep – a sustained pitch in the 15% range, and it has a lot of traffic. It does feature a bike lane, but I don’t think you are going to enjoy it, and I don’t recommend it. Just to the south off of Avondale, there is the Hidden Ridge Trail [F]that cuts into the neighborhoods to a nicer climb. Still quite steep, but with less traffic and a bit more rolling; this is a much nicer way to the top.
  • From the south there are a few options. The westernmost one  is 166th Ave NE [G]. This is a two lane road without any shoulder, so I wouldn’t recommend it unless it’s a really quiet time from a traffic sense. A bit two the east, there are three options. 171st [I] and 172nd [J] Aves NE both start with a steep pitch on NE 80th, and then both turn north and run parallel to each other. I think 172nd is a bit easier, though ask me tomorrow and my answer may change. 171st has a bike lane, while 172nd doesn’t, but 172nd has less traffic. Both peak at perhaps 11%.

    A climb through a new development just to the west of these, 169th [H] offers a route that gets steep and flattens repeatedly. The maximum gradient is around 14%.


The easy ways down work fine when descending east or west. I do not recommend descending 104th to the east; it’s super-steep, it ends at a stoplight, and there is sometimes a bit of grit on the road. Either take the hidden ridge trail, or head down 116th. Heading to the south, 166th is a nice way down; just beware the stoplight right at the bottom of the hill.

A better way to treat that cough…

About a week ago, I had a problem. My wife and I were getting ready to leave on a week-long ski trip to Colorado, and I had a cough. Not one of those light coughs, the kind of cough that becomes that is more of a career than a distraction, the one where you cough for 15 minutes straight.

It was, not surprisingly, making it hard for me to sleep. One night, while sitting up on the couch in the basement, waiting for it to stop, I decided to do a little bit of research. Just like anybody would do, I pulled out my laptop, fired up Chrome, and did a search for methods of cough treatment.

Okay, that’s not true; first I searched for cough and came up with an impressive list of deadly diseases that I had a minute chance of having. Then I did a search for cough treatments, and, after a bit of digging, ran across the following paper.

Diagnosis and Management of Cough
Executive Summary
ACCP Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guidelines

The ACCP is, of course, the American College of Chest Physicians. Amazingly, the paper is free (most journal articles are not), so I pulled it up and started reading. It’s heavy going if you are a medical amateur, but basically, they did a huge study of the available evidence relating to cough and came up with expert recommendations. After a bit of reading, I came to the section on the common cold (section 11 if you want the details). It has two interesting findings:

  1. Patients with acute cough (as well and PND and throat clearing) associated with the common cold can be treated with a first-generation A/D preparation (brompheniramine and sustained-release pseudoephedrine). Naproxen can also be administered to help decrease cough in this setting. Level of evidence, fair; benefit, substantial; grade of recommendation, A
  2. In patients with the common cold, newer generation antihistamines are ineffective for reducing cough and should not be used. Level of evidence, fair; benefit, none; grade of recommendation, D

Pseudoephedrine was most commonly available as Sudafed, which was great stuff until it started getting used for meth production and got moved behind the counter (at least in Washington; in some states it’s by prescription only). Naproxen is available over the counter as Aleve. Note that dextromethorphan, the most common cough-suppressant in OTC cough medicines, is not recommended in this situation (it does show up elsewhere, as does codeine).

So, on the way to the airport, we hit a pharmacy, and I picked up some 12-hour Sudafed and Aleve, and, when we got to our first night, took both.

It made a huge difference; I had no big cough attacks that night. I did note, however, that the aleve made me feel spacey and I didn’t sleep well, so I dropped that in later nights.

Note that Sudafed makes an OTC series called “Sudafed PE”, where the PE stands for “Phenylephrine”, not “Pseudoephedrine”. You want the real stuff.

Ski instructor secrets

It’s the question that nobody asks.

They find out that you are a ski instructor, and they ask you where you teach, how long you’ve been teaching, but you can can see it in their eyes, that one question that they want to ask…

They’ve heard the stories – surely they must be exaggerated, but just as surely, there must be something behind them – and they want to know more, but they don’t ask. Maybe they think that you would consider it too personal to talk about. Maybe they think that a secret agreement prohibits sharing the detail with them. Maybe – and this would be the worst – maybe they are afraid that you would tell them that none of the stories are true, and that would shatter the picture they had built up in their mind.

The time has come to share the details – or, to be more precise – to do what is in my power to provide some confirmation of the rumors. I regret that, under PSIA policy, I cannot discuss certain matter, but I can provide an answer to one question:

As a ski instructor, do you get to teach a lot of cute single babes?

The answer is yes. I can confirm that, as a ski instructor, you do get to work with a lot of single babes. I can also confirm that the majority of them think you are great, and that the phrase, “babes dripping off of him”, is, at least sometimes, true.  And they are cute, some of them heart-meltingly so. It should come as no surprise if I were to tell you that working with them is one of the best part of the jobs.

Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately, given my relationship status – the vast majority of them are 6 years old.

Tricks you can play on yourself #23 – ski edition

The school that I teach for has a Freeride team – they ski all over the mountain (including cliffs for some of them). The last lesson day of the season they have an informal competition, and, for the second year, I volunteered to take pictures of them. This lets me keep my sports photography skills up, and lets me work with a great group of kids. Oh, and it excuses me from helping out from helping out with the other “last day” activities, though I still found time to reprise my role of “Mr. Catsup” in the hot dog line.

The chosen location for the competition was 7th heaven, a double-black diamond section at the top of Stevens pass.

I am a decent off-piste (“ungroomed” for the non-skiers and/or less pretentious among you) skier. By “decent”, I mean that I can get down most slopes that don’t involve the words “drop” or “cliff”, and that I ski them with occasional flashes of competence. It’s a little harder to ski with a 5lb camera (Canon 7D + 70-200mm F2.8L 2.8 IS II lens) on my chest, but it’s not too bad.

After a warm up with the team on Big Chief (where there was some surprisingly nice powder (and no, I just can’t call it “Kehr’s Chair”…)), we headed over to Skyline, and then up the 7th Heaven Lift (yes, it is as steep as it looks), which is 4 years older than I am but luckily, far less cranky. The original plan was to head over to the side of Rock Garden (a bumped but not super-steep run), but there was a fair amount of skier traffic, so we headed down Cloud 9 and hooked back towards Meadows above the Skyline run, to a steeper and less bumpy run.

There was some very nice snow; the kids skied down to get the feel of the run, and I skied down to set up above a small clump of trees.

Shooting on a steep slope – this one looked to be around 45 degrees – takes a bit of preparation. Actually, just taking off your skis takes a bit of preparation, lest you sink in and slide down the hill, and I spend 5 minutes carefully down the snow to try to get a 12” wide platform I can stand on. Then, I take my skis of – carefully – and stuff one at each end of the ledge so people can see me, and then enlarge my ledge with my boots. I get the camera out, get it set up, get my shooting gloves on…

And then I wait. and wait some more. The kids need to ski down to the bottom, and then cycle up two lifts, then work their way back around to this slope. The time that it takes is directly proportional to how cold it is, and since it’s pretty darn cold, foggy, and lightly snowing, it takes a long time. Eventually they come back, and the shoot goes well; I shoot for 20 seconds, wait for the kid to ski the bottom half and be scored, and then shoot the next kid. I think I’m doing pretty well but I can’t really tell; the eyepiece has some snow in it and there is a lot of frozen snow on the camera and lens. My hands are pretty frozen even with gloves on them.  (editors note – they came out quite nice. See gallery here).

I finish shooting, check signals with the two coaches, and get ready to leave. The camera goes back on the chest carrier, coat closed, and gloves on. I pull my goggles down and find that they are totally ice-covered, but a minute of scraping with my fingernails fixes them up. Skis on, and I’m almost ready to ski out – after I demolish the ledge that I built, so that nobody gets tripped up by it. I climb up until I’m on top of it, scrape snow down into the ledge, and then compact it a bit.

To ski out requires a small traverse, then a short tight-ish section until the slope open ups. I start to slide forward to get into position, sideslip a bit, and am surprised to find that I have fallen over backwards. Falling down is not a great idea on this sort of slope, and it’s especially bad to fall over backwards.  I get up, slide forward again, make one turn, and at the bottom of the turn I lose balance and fall over backwards again. This freaks me out a tiny bit, which always inspires me to ski better. Ha ha – of course it doesn’t – it actually makes me much more tentative.

I think I know what is going on, but to fix it I will have to pull my skis off, and since I’m in the middle of a tight section without great visibility from above, it’s really not a great idea to stop. I muddle my way through one turn, do a huge (and unstable) traverse, and then stop and pull of my skis.

I find what I expected. The bases of my skis were facing uphill, and they got the same coat of ice on them that my goggles did – but the ice was only on the front of the skis because the back half was stuck in the snow. The meant that whenever I went to push them sideways, the front would stick and the back would slide downhill.  I scrape them off with a plastic piece on my gloves, and finish the slope.

So – Important Safety Tip – it’s not a great idea to leave your ski bases exposed when you stick them into the snow.