In our former house, we frequently used the fireplace mantle to hold all sorts of things from photos to Christmas cards to TV remotes. Our passive solar home does not have a fireplace (I tore it out in prior posts).

One idea I had was to install a floating shelf in the location where the fireplace used to be. This floating shelf would serve all the same function that our mantle used to.

After some measurement and thought, I decided to mount the shelf high enough that would could still put a chair below it. Measuring the space in the room, I settled on a shelf that measured 12" x 48". I didn't want the shelf to be too thick and look chunky but I wanted it to be strong. So I chose a thickness of 2.5".

To get the thickness I wanted, I began by ripping down a couple of 2X4's to 2.25" thick. I chose to go this route over buying 2X2's as I get better quality lumber going this approach.

I then assembled the ripped 2X4's into a box type frame using polyurethane glue and 2" finish nails (I could have used screws but the finish nails were set using my brad nailer and this kept me from splitting the frame).

Once I had the frame assembled, I marked the studs on the wall using a stud sensor and then secured the frame to the wall using 3" wood screws and an impact driver.

With the frame in place, I ripped down a piece of .25" thick pine trim to 2.25" and cut it to length to fit the frame. I used the trim as a finisher for the frame and attached it using polyurethane glue and 1" brads.

I then attached 0.25" plywood to both the top and bottom, again using polyurethane glue and 1" brads. Here's the final shelf.

To finish the shelf, I filled the nail holes, sanded the shelf out to 220 grit and then primed and painted. I'm pretty happy with the results.


A couple of weeks ago, my 2001 Rodeo Sport (2wd) started leaking transmission fluid. The leak came on fast and it was leaking quite a bit of fluid. In my case, I left my house in Boulder with no leak and when I arrived at my workshop in Broomfield (30 minutes away), it was leaking enough to leave 4" diameter spots in the driveway. I noticed it because it was snowy and I saw the red dots in the snow.

After peeking up under the truck, I decided it was the accumulator piston cover that was leaking:

Here's how I went about replacing the piston cover:

1. Compress the cover and spring:

The accumulator cover has a large spring behind it that presses the cover into a snap ring. That snap ring is all that holds the cover in place. To remove the snap ring, though, the spring must be lightly compressed. There are a number of ways to achieve this but I chose to make a small compressor which pushes the cover inward by leveraging the frame. Here's what I came up with:

To compress the accumulator cover into its bore, I pushed the socket against the seal and then wedged the block of wood against the frame. I tightened the nut nearest the block of wood to lengthen the rod and compress the spring. I compressed mine until there was about 1/8" between the snap ring and the accumulator cover.

To keep the block of wood from sliding, I used a wood clamp tightened onto the frame. But this wasn't really necessary.

2. Remove the Snap Ring (this is the hardest part of the whole job):

Once the accumulator cover is pressed inward, the snap ring will be free to move. Before trying to get a pair of pliers in there, use a flat-blade screwdriver and rotate the snap ring in its bore until the two holes on the ring are at the 9 O'clock position. This is the only place with enough clearance to get the pliers in and remove the ring. It took me an hour of frustration to figure this one out. Once the snap ring was in the correct position, I then used a pair of snap ring pliers to remove the snap ring:

With the snap ring removed, I removed the homemade spring compressor. At this point, before removing the accumulator cover, I thoroughly cleaned the area and bore with paper towels and solvent to minimize the chances of dirt getting into the transmission. I also used some 400 grit wet-or-dry sandpaper to clean up the area and remove any burrs or corrosion. This will help prevent damage to the new cover during installation. Here's how things looked with the snap ring removed and the bore cleaned up:

3. Remove the accumulator cover:

To remove the accumulator cover, I used a blind bearing puller. This was recommended in a thread on an online forum I frequent,, and I thought it good advice. This particular set was purchased on Amazon for under $30.

I used the third largest collet as it fit best. I greased up its internals and slid it into the center of the accumulator cover and then tightened it down firmly. This provided a good grip on the cover.

Unfortunately, there isn't enough room near the accumulator cover to actually use the slide hammer. Instead, I opted to use the slide portion as a handle. I disassembled the slide and removed the hammer, leaving only the threaded rod. I then fed that through the passenger side wheel well and tightened it onto the collet. This gave me something to grasp.

I gave the handle a firm pull and the cover popped out, spurting out about 1/4 quart of transmission fluid with it. The spring remained inside the bore. The accumulator cover popped free with some force and I caught myself in the chin with the front fender . . . ouch!

Here's the blind bearing puller and seal as removed. Hopefully this will clarify how the tool was used:

4. Install the new cover:

With the accumulator cover removed, I used a lot of paper towel and solvent to clean the bore and the area surrounding it, ensuring that there was absolutely no dirt or gunk inside the bore or in the snap ring groove. I then liberally coated the bore with fresh transmission fluid.

I also cleaned the spring and snap ring and sat them aside. Here's the spring, new seal and snap ring. The seal I'm using is an aftermarket seal but seems on-par with the original GM part quality wise.

I coated the outside edge of the new accumulator cover with transmission fluid, inserted the spring and then slid the cover in place. The cover will fit almost entirely into the bore before the spring begins to compress. This allowed me to install the spring compressor without fear of the new cover falling out. Here's mine, sitting in place:

5. Compress the spring and new cover:

To install the new cover fully, I inserted the socket end of the homemade compressor tool into the center of the new seal and then wedged the wood block against the frame. I tightened the nut nearest the wood block until the cover was set in about 1/8" behind the snap ring groove:

6. Install the snap ring:

With the new cover pressed into place, I positioned the snap ring so that it's holes are at the 9 O'clock position and pressed the snap ring into the bore as far as I could by hand. I then used snap ring pliers to compress the spring and push it into its groove. I confirmed it was seated by rotating it around with a flat blade screwdriver.

Once the new cover was installed, I started the truck up and let it idle while I cleaned up. When the main pan was warm to the touch, I topped up the fluid using a transfer pump. It took about 1/2 quart to fill the pan.

I drove the truck back to Boulder when done and, so far, no signs of a fluid leak are present. I'll give it a few hundred miles and report back. Stay tuned. . .

I mentioned in the prior post that I'd bought a 2010 Specialized Allez Sport which I intend to run on my trainer. Well, good news, I did put it on the trainer, and I like it. Ergonomics are good, it rides well, and its fun.

One thing I didn't like is that this bike has older Sora drivetrain. I think its Sora 3400. My gripe here? The shifters. They have a thumb shifter for downshift which is mounted right off the hoods. I spend the majority of my time in the drops and reaching up each time to pop that little shifter annoys me. But what to do, you ask? Well, my friend, let me tell you. Replace the shifters.

BTW, you can see that little thumb shifter here in this image I borrowed from

After a good deal of parts hunting and price comparison, I decided to use Tiagra 4700 components. I have them on my Orbea Avant and I like them. These shifters are 10 speed and feature hidden cables, which I really like.

With some extensive parts searching, I managed to source new bike take-off components including the crankset, derailleurs and rear cassette. I added some new parts; 105 brakeset, Ultegra chain and Jagwire cables. All of this came to about $360.

Earlier this week, I sold the Diamondback on my local Craigslist for $400 so I'll call this one break-even (though, not really).

I set about upgrading the bike after a 20 mile Zwift ride. I disassembled the Allez all the way down to its frame. This let me polish up the paint, do some touch-up work and repack the headset. As an aside, the Allez frame weights 1485 grams with the headset cups and without the fork.

Removal of the original Truvative bottom bracket gave me quite a bit of grief, but honestly, bottom brackets always do. I'm somewhat afraid of them.

Assembly went well with not much to note. Initially, I did have a problem with the rear derailleur contacting the spokes and realized I'd forgotten the cassette spacer. Adding that 1mm spacer to move the cassette outward and resetting the limit screws resolved the issue. I finished the build with some Profile Design Drive bar tape. I love this bar tape. It has a basket-ball type texture and feels great in the hand. It doesn't get slippery when I sweat on it and its durable enough to pull tightly on install. So if you're reading this and you want a good bar tape, give this a look.

I'm quite happy with the final results and the bike is already back on the trainer. The new drivetrain is smooth, quiet and works quite well. If you have one of these and its time for an upgrade, I recommend this path. For a few hundred $$, you can have a bike that looks good, rides well, and will give you years more service. Now onto many more miles before I get the upgrade bug on this bike again.

While browsing my local Craigslist bikes section (which I do way too much), I came across a 2010 Specialized Allez listed for $200. For the Denver/Boulder bike market, this is a crazy good deal. I reached out to the seller and he still had it, so I loaded up the truck and headed south. The bike was about 100 miles from where I live and I worried it'd be either gone when I got there or in bad shape.

But it seems I lucked out. Here's what I found:

A 2010 Specialized Allez Sport. This one is stock but includes a cadence sensor, speedometer and bolt on tri bars. Its in great shape with exception of a noisy drivetrain.

I'm thinking I'll sell the Diamondback and use this bike on the trainer instead. After all, the heart wants what the heart wants.

I currently have my Orbea Avant on the trainer. This is my long-distance bike and I use it for Century rides and day trips. I recorded a video a short while back showing how much the frame flexes when the bike is used on the trainer and this has me worried about wear and fatigue.

I've decided to put together a trainer bike that will stay on the trainer full time.

Enter my first bicycle, a Schwinn Circuit hybrid that went through a host of upgrades. This one has rotten ergonomics but most of the parts are low mileage.

An eBay Diamondback Century 1 frameset, a new headset and a smaller 9-speed cassette and we're ready for a build.

The intent here is to use good-enough components to get this into a workable training bike with the intention of not using it on the road. So to that point, old and used parts are ideal.

Here's what I ended up with: A Diamondback Century with Tiagra 4500 shifters, Sora 3500 derailleurs, Avid brakes, Shimano wheelset and miscellaneous ergonomics. Total bike weight, just under 10kg (22 lbs). Not too bad given that the frame itself weights more than 2200 grams.

As I'm sure you're aware, it's winter time. It's cold, it gets dark early and the roads are covered in snow, ice and gravel. I don't enjoy riding much below 50F, so it's time to move the cycling season indoors. To do that, I decided to buy a trainer.

I'm new to the whole indoor trainer thing so I sat down and thought about what I expected for indoor training. My requirements included having the ability to connect to software remotely, have the trainer manipulate resistance automatically, and the ability to ride virtual routes including videos and workouts. I wanted the trainer to be controlled by virtual ride software so that resistance changed throughout the ride.

Once you start down the research path, you'll discover dozens of good smart trainers. I had originally considered Kinetic's Rock and Roll as I liked the idea of swinging the bike side to side in a sprint. But after some research, I decided it didn't support all of the connection protocols I wanted. Eventually, I chose CycleOp's Magnus trainer. Specifically, I liked that it supports both ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity. I asked for that Magnus trainer for Christmas and my sweet wife got it for me. We found a sale at REI and was able to get one under $500, including the front wheel stand.

I set up the trainer in my basement and attached my Orbea Avant. I installed a Vittoria training tire and a Cycleops front riser stand. To keep cool, I stuck a box fan on a table I had laying around.

To run training apps, Netflix, Youtube and other applications, I decided I wanted a dedicated PC so I bought a used one on eBay (more on this in a moment). I set up an older Dell LCD monitor and sound bar on an old laptop stand my wife had in the basement. It put the monitor in the right place and gave me a surface for the keyboard and mouse. Here's the general setup:

My previous experience with indoor training included riding the exercise bikes at various hotels during travel. Those were mostly LifeCycle bikes with the riding interface that allows you to ride along video routes while the program changes resistance. I wanted a similar experience from my trainer.

My original thought was to use an application called Rouvy. Rouvy lets you ride virtual routes which are filmed by riders and are available from all around the world. I liked that idea.

After about 40 miles miles on Rouvy, there were a few things that really detracted from the experience. Several of the ride videos are filmed using cars, not bikes, so they are out in traffic, at a high vantage point, and moving at speeds I wouldn't ride in real life. This distracted me enough to keep me from getting my head in the game. Rouvy also seemed to have issues controlling my smart trainer's resistance. Small changes in % grade would result in large changes in resistance which I found frustrating.

A friend of mine who is an avid cyclist recommended Zwift. I looked into it and after reading several reviews, thought I'd give it a try. Zwift is an online game, if you will, that connects to your smart trainer and controls resistance to match what you ride within it. It features a video-game like environment where you and a host of other riders ride can ride around. Within this environment, you see those other riders, along with their nationality, power specs, current mileage and position. You can ride freely within this environment, access a workout, join a group ride or even accept a challenge (like, say, burn 10k calories in a month, or take on an elevation goal). This social aspect really makes Zwift appealing.

After verifying that my trainer would work, I signed up. There is a membership fee of $14 per month. After joining Zwift and starting a ride, you're greeted with your [customized] avatar standing roadside with one pedal clipped in. Start riding and your avatar starts too. This avatar matches your cadence and away you go. As you ride along, other riders zip past, their name and nationality displayed alongside thier avatars. Gain speed and you too, pass other riders. When you near another rider, the program encourages you to close the gap. Those faster riders motivate you to ride faster to keep up.

If you choose to ride a loop, Zwift will challenge you, including sprints and other in game challenges. In game rewards open up new features and avatar customization, as you'd expect with any video game and these keep you motivated. As you zip through the Zwift world, you are drawn in and forget that you're in a basement or garage. The challenges and other riders give you a varied ride and make the whole thing fun. You push it and no longer notice the work or the pain or the sweat.

Zwift can connect to a trainer, cadence sensor, speed sensor, power meter and heart-rate monitor. I use the trainer for cadence and speed and a Wahoo TICKR for the heart rate monitor. The trainer and monitor both connect through ANT+.

  • Connecting Bluetooth devices requires a smart phone to act as a translator between the device and Zwift. This is an important consideration if your trainer doesn't support ANT+.

Because Zwift is a video game, it requires video game type hardware if you want a really good experience. I run it on a dedicated PC, an old HP 8300 (i5-3750) that I bought on eBay for about $140. I've upgraded the memory to 16GB, installed an SSD and upgraded the graphics card to a Geforce GTX 1050. This setup lets me ride in 4k high definition and the graphics experience and frame rates are fantastic. I've added Bluetooth and ANT+ dongles to support my trainer, a heart-rate monitor, and a pair of wireless headphones and the experience is seamless.

Of course, you can run it on your phone or iPad at lower resolutions, too.

So if you're stuck in a place with a winter climate, I highly recommend both the Magnus trainer and Zwift.

While having the house painted, the painters noted some rotten trim on the octagon window on the front of the house. Since painters are painters and not necessarily carpenters, I asked them to paint around it, expecting I would repair and paint the window myself.

I set aside half-day on a Saturday in November with the intention of replacing the trim. A few minutes into trim removal, I realized that the entirety of the lower portion of the window was rotten. Ugh. This is going to take more than some trim paint.

The first thing I did was remove the rotten trim. Of course, I broke the window glass in the process. Damn. This was done by cutting the caulking and prying the trim loose using a wonder bar.

Once the trim was gone, I noted that the bottom of the window was also rotten. A previous owner had installed a piece of Plexiglass on the inside of the window and sealed it in place using clear silicone caulk. I suspect that moisture built up between the glass panels and slowly rotted out the wood.

I removed the rotten sections of window casing using a vibrating saw. Because this window is octagonal, the pieces interlock to a degree that pulling them using a hammer wasn't feasible. Cutting them allowed me to then pry them upward and remove them. Here's the window with all of the rotten wood removed. Note that I'm leaving the top three pieces of casing in place.


This is about as far as I needed to go with demolition. First step was to replace the lower casing. For this, I measured the width of the remaining casing. In this case, 6". I then ripped a piece of #1 pine down to 6". Because this window is an octagon, each piece meets the next at a 135 degree angle. I cut three pieces of the 6" stock to 22.5 degrees and tested the fit. To my surprise, they were consistently 9 3/4" long and all slid in place.

I used Gorilla Glue's polyurethane glue to glue the new pieces in place. To do this, I moistened both sides of the joint and then applied a thin layer of the glue. Polyurethane glue uses moisture to cure and so that's why you wet the joints. I then installed the new casing pieces and used shims to press the joints tightly together. I finished this by driving finishing nails through the casing into the framing.


To secure and seal the new glass, I added some door stop molding to the inside of the casing. I glued the molding to the casing using the polyurethane glue and secured it with brads. This will give me a surface to push the glass into, allowing me to seal it. As with the casing and trim, these pieces were cut to 22.5-degree.


Well this cured, I cut the shims off using my vibrating saw and took on the task of making new trim. Given the style of our home, a passive solar house from the early 80's, I didn't want to do anything fancy with the trim. Not even brick molding. So I used some more of that #1 pine stock and ripped it down to 3". I then cut 8 pieces at 22.5 degrees.

To hold the trim pieces in place, I applied a bit of polyurethane glue and then used my brad nailer with 18-gauge, 1 1/4" brads. I shot the brads into the casing.


I let this all cure overnight, mostly because I ran out of daylight. The next morning, I fabricated rails and stiles from 3/4" #1 pine. I ripped this down to 3/4". I chose this measurement to give me some strength and to give me a thicker look to the panes. The stiles and rails were then secured to another 3/4" piece of pine and the whole thing secured to the casing with glue and brad nails.

I cut pieces of glass into the four diamond shapes and pressed them into the new stiles/rails, securing them with a small amount of DAP glazing. This glazing gives a bed to hold the glass and seals out the weather. I then ripped some length of the 3/4"x3/4" pine with a 45-degree chamfer and installed it on the outer side of the window pane to finish the outside of the window. Here's the result, with a bit of primer:


I finished the window by caulking all seams and openings and then painted it brown to match the rest of the trim on the house. I think it looks pretty good.


After painting our Passive Solar home in a modern scheme, the house numbers we had, which admittedly were temporary, really didn't fit the style of the house. My wife suggested maybe some larger house numbers would look nice.

I initially searched for pre-made numbers but only found a few and they were expensive. So I then thought I'd design some in AutoCAD and have them water cut from Aluminum. But that approach wasn't much cheaper.

Then I decided that cutting them from plywood would be the best alternative. Here's how I made these house numbers.

I have a couple of old Dell Hybrid Studio machines. These are a very small form factor desktop machine that uses laptop components and very little power. They have C2D processors and only support 4GB of ram per Dell's specification.

BUT, the machine will support 8GB of memory. I've used PC2-6400 laptop RAM in 4GB chips to achieve this. Since these have 2 ram slots, you need two (2) of the 4GB chips.


Inside the BIOS, the system reports the 8GB of memory but indicates only 3GB is usable.


Once in Windows, however, the system reports the 8GB in full. I've used Intel's testing utility to load the memory beyond 3GB and it has used the full 8GB.


So if you have one of these and you want to improve performance in Windows 10, an 8GB memory upgrade will work and the system performance will improve dramatically. If you pair that with a T9500 CPU (which also works quite well), you'll notice remarkable performance improvements.

I'd mentioned earlier that we had a company come out to paint the house. Well, it's done. Our experience with that company was mostly good though we had some concerns with professionalism. I won't talk about those here.

The good news is, the house is painted and we like the way it came out. The bad news is that the painters found some rot. I'll share the fix for that rot in a subsequent post when I find time to write it up.

The blue tone we chose, Sherwin William's Distance, is more blue than we'd anticipated. And the Urbane Bronze, more blue too. But we lucked out; both colors go quite well together.