Wooden ties for electric train track

Someone asked me the other day about the dimensions of the metal ties on vintage electric train track, presumably to cut some wooden ties to match. So I pulled some track out of my stash, got out my caliper, and took some measurements.

Vintage electric train track from American Flyer, Lionel and Marx had large gaps in between the ties. Filling those gaps makes the track look more finished and a bit more realistic.

Matching them exactly using the wood and the tools available to you may be difficult, but you don’t have to be exact. I have some tips for that as well.

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How to replace an AC power cord

A damaged power cord doesn’t have to mean the end of life for a tool or appliance. Power cords are usually replaceable with simple tools and minimal expense. Here’s how to replace an AC power cord.

If you can open up the device, open it up, snip the bad cord off, tie a knot in the replacement cord and splice it onto what’s left of the old cord.

If you can’t open the device, snip the cord off above the defect, splice the replacement cord onto what’s left and insulate it well with heat-shrink tubing.

Here’s how.

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How to cut corners on baseboards by not cutting corners

Cutting baseboards can be tricky. Rooms are rarely perfectly square, so just cutting baseboards at 45-degree angles on the ends doesn’t usually yield a perfect corner. So instead you usually have to fit the pieces into the corner, trace the outline of one onto the other, then trace the angle onto the top and bottom, then cut the outline with a coping saw–at the correct angle.

But what if I told you that you didn’t have to?

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How to mark vinyl tile on the front

Sometimes you need to mark vinyl tile on the front before you cut it.

Here’s the scenario. You’re cutting a vinyl tile to fit an intricate spot on the floor. And you need to measure it with the top showing. So you measure it and draw your pattern. Then you start to cut, and you find out the hard way that the pencil or pen marks wipe away. And they’ll probably disappear before you finish cutting.

Here’s an easy answer: Use a crayon. The marks will most likely be covered by whatever trim work you lay. But if not, the crayon wipes away with a bit of effort–but it actually takes some effort, which means your marks will be there when you need to cut. If you want to be safe, select a color that blends in somewhat with the colors on the tile.

I hope this helps. While you’re laying tiles, you may run into issues with getting them to stick. I have some help for making vinyl tiles stick too.

Need an emergency paint remover? Use baby wipes.

I don’t remember where I picked this up, but baby wipes are surprisingly effective at removing paint. So if you get paint on some trim or on the floor and you don’t notice right away, reach for the baby wipes–or buy a package of baby wipes.

Paint that’s only a few hours old will come off with little effort. Paint that’s been on a while longer will take more effort.

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How to replace a Lionel transformer power cord

When using vintage Lionel transformers, it’s important to make sure the power cord isn’t broken or frayed to avoid the risk of electric shock or starting a fire. If yours is, here’s how to replace a Lionel transformer power cord.

Replacing a power cord safely is a lot easier than most people make it sound. It’s possible to do the job safely with simple tools and a few dollars’ worth of parts from the nearest hardware store.

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Scratchbuilding, Marx-style: Finishing the roof

This is a continuation of something I wrote well over a year ago detailing how I build Marx-style boxcars out of simple materials. Train season is starting up again soon, so it’s about time I finished this story.

Once the box that will become your Marx-style boxcar is dry, it’s time to tend to the roof.

This method won’t produce a contest-quality roof by any stretch, but it will produce something that will blend in well with Marx cars. The idea here is to produce something that most hobbyists can accomplish in an evening and that won’t overwhelm the other cars in the train. Read more

Don’t defrag Android. TRIM it.

I had a question come in the other day about how to defrag Android. Since Android devices use solid-state storage, you don’t want to defrag it. I directed him to Lagfix, an Android app that forces the underlying Linux kernel to issue a TRIM command to perform garbage collection on the internal storage.

It’s not quite like defragging, but the concept is very similar. Most Android devices do this automatically, but if things start lagging too much, forcing TRIM can pep things up a bit.

Defragmenting solid state storage traditionally had limited benefit, and in the long run can damage it. TRIM has similar benefits and actually works somewhat similarly, although it works at a lower level. But unlike defrag, TRIM can extend the life expectancy of the device. But besides that, the Linux filesystems Android uses are much less prone to fragmentation than Windows filesystems.

This is a typical case of asking for the wrong thing. But there’s no shame in that. If you know what the person is trying to accomplish, you can still help by directing them to the help they need.

The deal with Android memory usage

Continuing this discussion of Android, the next question that came up was what the deal is with Android memory usage. I wondered the same thing at first, so that seems like a good topic to explain.

Prior to 2005, operating systems tended to use a set amount of memory, then what was left over was for programs. So a freshly booted system would have 2/3 of its memory left free, if not more. If you read my book and my blog way back at the turn of the century, you might have a lot more.

Fire up an Android, though, and you might only have 1/4 of the memory left, or less. Much of this is by design. Read more

Fighting OS rot and lag in Cyanogenmod 10.3

So I have Cyanogenmod 10.3 running on a Nook Color that I use as a secondary tablet. It’s outmoded, but still useful enough that I want to keep it around. But a week or two ago, it suddenly started to lag really badly. So I looked into it a little bit.

Some other Android tablets have some trouble with TRIM. Android generally handles it decently on its own, but it doesn’t always seem to. I found an app–for rooted tablets only–called Lagfix that lets you force TRIM yourself. Read more