Friday, December 26, 2014


Nearly 20 years ago, I decided that I needed to build a harpsichord from a kit. There were two major harpsichord kit manufacturers in the US, Hubbard and Zuckerman. Both companies are still in business now, and still have a variety of kits to build. I decided on Zuckerman, and Mary Ellen and I spent a weekend in Stonington, CT, so I could attend a two-day seminar on building the kit.

It took me about three years to build, but it turned out to be a fine instrument, one that we used for a number of years with Allegro Chamber Orchestra. Here's a photo of Mary Ellen at the harpsichord in 2005:

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sharon's Cabinet

Every once in a while, I'll take on a project even though I have some mental reservations. This was one of those! Bob Zimmerman, the superb electrician who rewired the entire Grant St. Garage, asked if I would look at a cabinet that his wife Sharon bought at auction, for the princely sum of one dollar. He said, "I just want you to put a back on it."

Well, Bob has done a lot for me, including using his MIG welder to un-stick a seriously stuck bolt in the Z3 Coupe (link). I said OK, and decided I could make the cabinet better, at least. It was "rustic" at best, having lived in a barn for many years. We agreed that I would try to make it structurally sound and useable, while leaving the rustic exterior untouched. Bob said that they might put it in their kitchen as additional storage.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Milestone Reached!

Not much posted about the Z3 Coupe lately, which is kind of odd. After all, this blog got its start as a project log for that car! But as things happen sometimes, the project car sort of morphed into my daily driver. And I like it that way, because driving that little car makes me happy!

For the past year, I've been saying "nearly 200,000 miles." Today, the milestone was reached, and I can drop the "nearly." 

Jack Miller, of Jack's Auto and Aero, once said to me, "You're unlikely to put the next 100,000 miles on it." I decided to take that as a personal challenge! I'll post the picture when it hits 300,000.

Monday, December 1, 2014

An Uninvited Guest

The Thanksgiving holiday last week meant that the Grant St. Garage was mostly dark, since we had company all week. But, I did make it by on Saturday afternoon just to drop something off, and was annoyed to see a car in the side lot, parked none too carefully, and in the way if I wanted to pull into my overhead door. Annoying!

I actually am quite laid-back about that lot, because I am so often NOT there. I made it clear to the neighbors that they were welcome to use it on a temporary basis, when unloading stuff or when they had guests for a few hours. But I asked a couple of neighbors, and they said the car had been there several days. Since I was just dropping by, I didn't do anything right away. I made some calls to other neighbors and renters, and no one knew whose car it was.

So, this morning (Monday) I called the police, gave them the license number, and asked that the car be towed.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Milling and Lathing

Recently my friend Phil Oles came for his first visit to the Grant St. Garage. Phil is a talented machinist who has been a big help as I've floundered around, trying to reach minimum proficiency with my little mill and lathe. He started about the same way I did, with small machines of limited capability, but has gone a lot farther. See this link for some videos of engines he built from scratch.

Phil dropped by to have a look at my lathe, because I am unable to make a clean cut unless I take at least 0.005" off at a time. Since it's often useful to take off 0.0005" I was clearly not doing well. We decided that the problem was excessive play in the carriage of the lathe - the bit that carries the tool and moves along the work.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Wine Rack, Part 4

Mary Ellen and I went to The Fridge for supper the other night. It's a very good pizza place, with what is being called "artesanal" pizzas. You know, all local and natural ingredients, odd combinations, etc. The also have a large refrigerated case filled with interesting beers, hence the name.

When we walked in, who should be there but our friend Matt Sware! You can see Matt's picture in this post, holding a Bilstein shock absorber. Anyway, we ate together and had a great visit. But in the conversation, Matt said, "So, this wine rack is going to be done, like, 10 years from now?" Ouch! So here's a project update, just to prove it isn't stalled.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Shop Truck, Part 2

I continue to make interesting and enjoyable discoveries about my new shop truck. Last Saturday, I took Mary Ellen for her first ride. All was well, except that when I reached up to adjust the inside mirror, it came right off in my hand! We laughed and laughed, and stopped by the Pep Boys store on the way home to pick up the special kit used to glue inside mirrors back on. So easy anyone can do it - just follow the instructions.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Shop Truck!

I have a new shop truck! But I actually wish I didn't own this truck. That is to say, I wish the reason the truck was for sale had not turned out that way.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Make717 Makerspace

This afternoon I was able to pay a brief visit to a new "Makerspace" right around the corner from my house. For those not from around here, "Make717" refers to our phone area code. It's in Warehouse D, a pretty cool space right next to Building Character, off of the 300 block of N. Queen St. You can find the group on Facebook at

A makerspace is like a geek clubhouse with tools.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Useful Velcro Variation

This is a post for those who follow my modest blog, but aren't about to really spend days in the workshop, or crawl under a car. This project, anyone can do - all you need is some sort of drill/driver and a pair of scissors.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Western Maryland Street Rod Roundup

Almost every year on Labor Day weekend, we visit our dear friends Rebecca and Nelson down in Cumberland, MD. Labor Day weekend is the last weekend I have free every summer before beginning the choir season again at Lancaster Church of the Brethren, so it's a great weekend to get away. But we don't get to skip church! Rebecca is a Methodist minister, so we usually wind up providing some sort of special music for her service. This year was no exception.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Z4 Window Reset (plus a windsheld wiper problem)

I had a weird problem the other day: the wipers stopped working in my Z4. Well, not completely. If I pulled the wiper lever toward me to activate the windshield washer, that worked, and the wipers wiped correctly. But, it wouldn't work in any other position. Obviously, the wiper motor and all associated linkages were fine, since they would work with the washer.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A New Wine Rack, Part 3

I've spent about 10 hours across the week on this project, and a casual observer would say, "It still looks just like the end of Part 2!" But not really - there has been a lot of detailed work on deciding how things are going to fit together, and on the many operations needed on each part. Fair warning: this is going to be a sorta long post, because I'm storing things here to remind myself how I did it, should I want to do it again later. In the narrative below, I call the parts already completed, with the scallops to hold the wine bottles, the rails. The short pieces that connect the two rails are called the stretchers.

First, here's what didn't work.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The "Dangerous City"

This isn't a project post at all, except that it involves a trip to the Grant St. Garage to work on my wine rack. I want you to forward this post to all your friends who think it's dangerous to set foot in the city!

Tonight, Mary Ellen needed to practice the piano, and also wanted to watch a TV show that I didn't care to see. So, I set out on foot for the six-block walk to the Grant St. Garage. It was around 8:45 when I left, so it was already dark. Here are the dangerous, scary things I encountered while walking over:

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A New Wine Rack, Part 2

Some good progress on the wine rack. After figuring out the basic layout and the setup to cut those curved bottle holders in Part 1, it was time to get down to business on the real thing. The first step was to create what is called a "story stick" - it basically tells the story of how to make something complicated. It's well worth the time, especially if you think you'll do it again someday. I used stable 1/2" plywood to make the stick, and scribed the location of each bottle.

Friday, August 1, 2014

A New Wine Rack, Part 1

This project started with a tracing - you know, tracing the shape of something onto paper. I was visiting my friend Sydne, and noticed her wine rack. I've been wanting to build one, but just couldn't get started. Looking at hers, I realized the design of the actual rack that held the bottles was exactly what I wanted. Basically, the bottles sit close together on two horizontal pieces, with different-sized cuts front and back to hold the bottom and the neck of the bottle.

I asked for a pad and pencil, and traced the shape of both rails, and made a couple of notes about size, distance apart, etc. - enough that I could duplicate the layout in my design:

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Road Trip!

In the nearly three years that I've owned the Z3 Coupe, this blog has recorded a pretty good pile of work I've accomplished (with the help of some good friends) to bring it back from some deferred maintenance and looming problems. After all that, it was time for the Coupe's first substantial trip, and I couldn't think of a better one that to participate in the Hemmings Cruise-In in Bennington, Vermont, to celebrate National Collector Car Appreciation Day. The short version: great trip, and the car ran flawlessly! A 692.3 mile round trip, with the car delivering 25.4 mpg with an average speed of 48.4 mph.

Friday, June 6, 2014


It's just amazing how Mary Ellen always knows what to get me for birthday or Christmas gifts. Of course, "get" is a relative term. She "gets" it, but I choose it, buy it, have it shipped or pick it up, etc... This one, I told her to not even bother wrapping it!

Saturday, April 26, 2014


This isn't a project log like most of my posts, because the project at hand is so geeky, and so well documented elsewhere, that I wasn't even going to post it. But, something interesting happened so I wanted to log that, at least. The project (now completed) is to convert my mini mill from a spring-type lift to an "air spring" - sort of like an automotive shock absorber to lift the mill head.  The bit in the red circle below is what went away - the spring is under the round cover:

Friday, April 25, 2014


You wouldn't think that cupholders would be a great source of controversy, but in the BMW world they have been for years. Long after American auto makers were putting useful cupholders in cars, BMW either omitted them, or made them so inconvenient to use that you might as well not have them. Legend has it that when asked, BMW engineers would disdainfully say things like, "You Americans and your beverages. Don't drink - drive!"

Even as late as 2005, BMW was still making cupholders that held only small cups, and somehow managed to work poorly while still being masterpieces of German over-engineering. The left photo below shows the driver's side cupholder in the Z4 in the closed position, and the right photo when open:

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Transmission - DONE!

After the HUGE effort that Kelly Williams helped me with (parts 1, 2, and 4), along with Bob Zimmerman (part 3) and Troy Nace (also in part 4), along with some serious tool development and trans repair by myself in part 5, it was finally time to put everything together and get the car going again. John Zimmerman was the person who helped with the heavy lifting to finish the project in this post, part 6. What a project. Along the way, I wondered if all this effort could possibly be worth it, but now that everything is working and really, really improved I can say: YEAH! What a sense of accomplishment to get a transmission out that seriously didn't want to be disturbed, renew all that needed to be renewed, and put it all back together.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Pairing the Z4

My recently purchased 2005 BMW Z4 has turned out to be a fine daily driver, as long as there's not snow on the road. But one thing that puzzled me was how to get my phone paired to the Bluetooth that was clearly built in. I'm a real believer in having Bluetooth in the car for phone use. I always cringe when I see an SUV bearing down on me, with a distracted driver holding a phone to his or her head.

In 2005, Bluetooth was quite new, and BMW chose to treat that pairing code like a bank PIN, with unique numbers to each car. The car was delivered with a slip of paper containing the code, but that was long gone. I did some Internet research, and could scarcely believe what I saw - I'd have to disassemble a good bit of stuff to uncover where they hid the code in the car. But I confirmed that fact with Rob Howry at Faulkner BMW, so this afternoon I dug in.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Transmission Progress!

After I completed the detent repair on my transmission, it was time to prepare to re-install it. First up was rebuilding the shift mechanism, which basically involves replacing everything that isn't metal. Not hard, and I had ordered the parts months ago. The time-consuming part was just cleaning all the grease and gunk off.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Good Day at the Grant St. Garage

Last night, Kelly and I met at the GSG to put my newly-repaired transmission back in. That's a whole 'nother story that I'll report soon. This story is about my parking lot, which has been a muddy mess in bad weather ever since I bought the property two years ago.

While I was waiting for Kelly, I was working in the shop with the overhead door open. A very nice, and very large, Dodge crew cab pickup stopped, and three men got out. One introduced himself, and said, "We're with Penn Paving, and we're paving right around the corner. We have some material left, and we're going to do some patching for your neighbor right across the alley here. Would you like some repairs on your parking lot?"

Thursday, March 20, 2014

More Stuck Stuff!

With the transmission out and on the bench, it was time to fix it! The problem was with the shifter, and it is a very common problem with this series of transmissions. The spring-loaded detent pins that center the shifter seize in place, making it very difficult to shift, and also making it hard to find 3rd gear. The fix is "easy" but it requires removal of the transmission. I've already documented how "not easy" that part was, with nearly every bolt seriously stuck. As you'll see, the trans had stuck stuff too!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Unsticking the Stuck, Part 2 (of 2!)

Today, Master Electrician Bob Zimmerman came to do some work at both my house and at the Grant St. Garage. When you see pictures in the shop, with the huge bank of 6-bulb florescent fixtures and quad outlets every four feet, that's all Bob's work. He started over at the electric meter, and rewired the whole place. Bob's dad, John Zimmerman, came along to supervise and help think. Turns out that was helpful in the end too.

See, I got the bright idea to text Bob:
"Do you have a MIG welder?"
Bob: "120 Volt"
Me: "Bring it!"

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Patient ready for surgery!

Starting at the end: here's the transmission, sitting on the workbench, ready for surgery:

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Little Side Trip

This is the convergence of two separate threads in Mary Ellen's and my automotive lives. Perhaps the more pressing  thread belongs to Mary Ellen - she has a leased 2011 BMW 328i xDrive sedan that we have to give back in about a month. That has occasioned much discussion concerning her next car, perhaps more than she wished she had to endure. It was out of that search that I wound up trading my BMW 128i convertible for a brand new VW GTI Driver's Edition - I was looking for her a car, and somehow...

Monday, February 17, 2014

Two Steps Back

Work has been slow at the Grant St. Garage. Kelly Williams and I did get to spend a couple of hours on the Z3 Coupe almost two weeks ago now. After my success in getting that stuck bolt on the transmission out, we thought we were finally making progress.

We did get a couple more bolts out, and also removed the "X-brace" that was limiting access - sneakers in the shot to give it some scale!  That brace is showing just a couple places with a tiny bit of surface rust, so I'll clean it up and treat them with POR-15 before reinstallation.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Supporting the Engine

In part one of this Winter project, Kelly Williams and I started the process of removing the transmission from the Z3 Coupe. We ran out of time and energy at about the same moment, with a big bolt that was very hard to turn. I fretted over that, and even emailed Mike Miller, the BMW club tech specialist. His advice was succinct: "It is either stripping or not stripping." In other words, the only way out of that mess is through it! If it comes out, all is probably well. If not... well, out comes the Sawzall, followed by much cursing.

Friday, January 10, 2014

So It Begins... Winter Project 2014!

The Z3 Coupe is back in the air, and it will be there for a while this time. It's the start of the 2014 Winter Project!

The Project List includes: