Get more transformer outputs by using a grounding bus bar

Train transformers have one pair of screws for each output, which is generally enough for a simple layout, but once you have more than one accessory or building with lights in it, you’ll find it’s difficult to attach all of the wires to the transformer posts.

You can get more on the cheap by repurposing ground bus bars, intended for circuit breaker panels. Read more

Using PC ATX power supplies on a train layout

Using PC ATX power supplies on a train layout

PC power supplies are exceptionally cheap and plentiful these days. If you’ve noticed and wondered whether you can use PC ATX power supplies on a train layout, wonder no more. You can.

Thanks to the miracle of mass production, even the cheapest, nastiest PC power supply gives far more power output per dollar than any train transformer. So if the lights and accessories on your electric train layout can run on 12 volts DC, which is a fairly good bet, you can get a lot of wattage for very little money by repurposing an inexpensive ATX power supply, whether new or secondhand. And on a wattage-per-dollar basis, they’re about twice as cost-effective as outdoor lighting transformers, which are another popular option for hobbyists. If you need AC power and more than 12 volts, get a lighting transformer. Otherwise, you can go ATX.

All it takes to use these cost-effective ATX power supplies is a bit of rewiring.

Read more

Using a computer power cord on a garbage disposal

Using a computer power cord on a garbage disposal

When I replace garbage disposals, I prefer to use a power cord rather than hardwire them straight into the wall. The thing is, I don’t like paying $12 for the official power cord, which is chintzy looking and, frankly, looks under spec’ed. Instead, I prefer to use a computer power cord on a garbage disposal.

The label on a 1/3 HP Insinkerator Badger says it’s rated for 5.8 amps at 125 volts. I found a computer power cord in my stash that was rated for 10 amps at 125 volts. It’s overkill, but when it comes to electricity, overkill is good. Best of all, it let me repurpose something I’d already paid for and was probably never going to use.

Read more

Use this file to find out how much your antivirus is protecting you

Unlike some security professionals, I still regard antivirus as a necessity. It doesn’t catch advanced threats, and everything it does catch can be caught through other methods, but it is the most cost- and labor-effective way to catch the best-known, least sophisticated attacks. If you put a $100,000 incident responder to work hunting ordinary viruses, you’ll waste a lot of money on salary and quickly lose that incident responder to another company offering more interesting work.

Of course, there’s a great deal of discussion in the mainstream computer magazines about which antivirus is the best. I don’t agree with their methodology though–they might as well be looking for the longest 8-foot 2×4 at the home improvement store. Yes, you can probably find some variance if you get out a micrometer, but what have you accomplished?

SANS has a good real-world test to see how much protection your antivirus software is really giving you.

Read more

Plywood floors for a hardwood look at around $1 per sqft

A comment over at Lifehacker got me thinking about plywood as flooring, which led me to a blog post at Quarry Orchard. The author is one of many people who have had success making floors out of strips cut from ordinary 4×8 sheets of plywood, the variety that sell for around $14 at home improvement stores.

I’d be a bit concerned about durability but there’s a lot to like about the idea as well.

Read more

Loose brick repair with epoxy

Loose brick repair with epoxy

My home inspector told me about an easy, inexpensive and nearly permanent repair: Loose brick repair with epoxy. It works really well if you need to fix a loose brick in something like a fireplace or a retaining wall. Epoxy is a effective loose brick adhesive.

Epoxy works because it’s stronger than cement. And while it’s not economical to use epoxy for mortar instead of cement, in small quantities it’s cheap enough, and much quicker.

Read more

How to build a simple, inexpensive train table

How to build a simple, inexpensive train table

Building a train table doesn’t have to be a difficult or expensive proposition, but I realized this week I’ve never talked about how to go about doing it. Here’s how to build a simple, inexpensive train table.

I built my tables in an evening with a knowledgeable friend helping me, at a time when I knew little or nothing about tools and hardware. With the plans I’ll outline, someone with little or no knowledge could replicate those efforts in a couple of hours with no more tools than a saw, a drill, and a vehicle large enough to haul the materials.

Costs will vary, but this 4×8 table I’m describing would cost about $32 to build, using materials from your nearest home improvement center. If you’re lucky enough to live near a locally owned lumberyard, you could source materials from there as well, and probably get better quality. Read more

How to light the underside of your train table

There are few things worse than fumbling around in the dark under a train layout. So I mounted a ceiling-mount light socket underneath my train table to create a work light so that I could see when I’m working on my wiring. It’s another one of my 15-minute projects, one that pays dividends by making future 15-minute sessions more productive.

I did most of the work with stuff I had on hand. If you want to duplicate my project, you’ll be able to get everything you need at your nearest hardware or home improvement store, and the materials will cost less than $10. I provided Amazon links for everything, so you can see what these items are. Some people know what a wire nut is before they know how to read, and some people may be well into adulthood before they undertake any kind of electrical project. Yes, this is an electrical project. As long as you check and double-check all your connections and don’t plug it into an outlet until after it’s done, it’s safe. Respect electricity, and you’ll find there’s less reason to be afraid of it.

Read more

Three months with Viglink

Last fall, Amazon abruptly ended its affiliate program in Missouri, and they didn’t pay any of their pending affiliate fees either, which was a nice touch. I wasn’t getting rich off affiliate links by any stretch of the imagination, but it at least covered the expenses of running the blog. I looked for replacements, and settled on Viglink. Viglink is nice because it honors all of your existing Amazon affiliate links. It pays at a lower rate, but at least the old links still work. And if Viglink finds the same product at a different affiliate that pays a better rate, it will convert the link for you.

Another advantage in my case is that Viglink will monetize links to a lot of brick and mortar retailers. So if I mention something that one of the big-box home improvement stores sell, I can link it. People can click on it, see what it is, go buy it that day, support their local economy, and I make a penny or two. It’s not much, but when you’re the lone page on the web explaining how to do a handful of things–which I am in a few cases–those pennies can stack up. And I was making $0 off them up until October.

A final nicety over a lot of other affiliate programs is that the payout amount is pretty low. Amazon didn’t pay anything until you made $10, and Google doesn’t pay anything until you make $100. Disclosing earnings is probably against Viglink’s terms of service, but my first payment wouldn’t have made Amazon’s minimum.

It’s a slow start, but once Viglink has seen your most popular pages with links that it can monetize, it picks up. Three months in, Viglink is probably accumulating 50-67% of what Amazon would have made.

The amounts are lower because Viglink signs up for the affiliate programs, I provide the content, and we split the revenue. But the upside to that is that Viglink lets me participate in affiliate programs I never was eligible for before because I didn’t meet the minimum requirements for traffic volume, or that I simply didn’t know about. So that gap could theoretically close.