Friday, August 12, 2022

Portable Car Jump Starter

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.
Last week I mentioned that I wasn't worried about my LED road flares losing a charge because I have a 20,000 mAh power bank in my car designed to jump start a dead automobile battery that also has USB outputs for charging other devices like a phone... or LED road flares.

There are many products similar to this on Amazon with company names that suggest only a passing familiarity with English -- this one is AVAPOW, mine is TACKlife -- which leads me to believe that products like these are all being made in China and perform more or less the same. I picked a unit with a low price ($60) and decent rating (4.5 stars and 1,617 reviews); by the time you read this you may find one with a lower price or better reviews or a higher amperage. Consider this post a generalized "Here's what these do" article and not a recommendation of a specific product.

These units are basically the following:
  • a large capacity battery bank
  • a set of jumper cables connected to a sensor module
  • a carrying/storage case
  • at least one USB cable
Because these are just large batteries, the manufacturers have added utility by giving them an LED flashlight and output ports to charge electronics. This is why I said I'm not worried about having rechargeable road flares in my car: if I can recharge a tablet twice or a phone six times with one of these, then I can recharge three LED flares without any problems.

This unit seems to recharge only by USB; the one I have has a 12 volt input with both a car charger (so I can, ironically enough, recharge this from my car's cigarette lighter power port) and a wall-mounted transformer. Mine also has a 12V output so that I can power things like lanterns, spotlights, and so forth. I really like the flexibility this gives me, but be aware that you'll pay extra for that.

The manufacturer claims that this model can start a vehicle 40 times before needing to recharge. While I cannot prove that, the honest answer is that I don't need to; it just needs to work once as far as I'm concerned.

Just like with the LED flares, I have not tested my unit under real conditions; at this moment I don't need a battery jumped and I understand that it's dangerous to jump a full car battery. That said, the process itself is very easy:
  1. Connect the sensor module (with cables) to the battery.
  2. Attach the clamps to the battery. Like always, red is positive and black is negative. Unlike with car-to-car jumpstarts, do not ground the black cable to your car frame. 
  3. Start your car. 
  4. The sensor module acts like it's another car and feeds power to your battery, which hopefully makes the engine turn over. 
  5. Remove the cables and put everything away.

Speaking as someone who has had to jump her car about a dozen or more times, I appreciate how much safer this feels than having to attach leads to a very live, and potentially dangerous, car battery. I especially like how the clamps are manufactured with extra plastic that bulks them up such that it's impossible to short anything out my having the teeth touch each other; I would have to deliberately circumvent the safety features to short-circuit these. I also appreciate how the sensor module has lights which tell me if I have the positive clamp attached to the positive terminal or not. 

In conclusion, whichever model you buy, if you use your car regularly and/or are planning a car trip, buy something like this. Not only is it cheaper and faster than AAA sending someone to help you, and safer than depending upon the kindness of strangers to jump your car instead of jumping you, but it's also a source of backup power for your cell phone, GPS unit, road flares, and other necessary devices. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Weed Killers, Maaaaaan

Anyone who has a yard, whether there's a garden present or not, has to deal with weeds. On our property, the driveway is long and gravel, so during the high growth months, nature tries to reclaim it for her own.

Because of the size of our property, we have a lawn service and they do have some serious chemical weed killers they can use. However, we don't want anything like that near our vegetable garden, so other solutions are necessary. 

The easiest but most time-consuming is pulling weeds as they appear in the garden. Less simple, much faster, but also somewhat less effective, is using weed-resistant fabric on top of the soil before planting. While it should be covered with a layer of mulch, weed-blocking fabric can also be used on its own, though it won't stop as many weeds, nor last as long, due to UV breakdown. We can usually get two years out of ours without mulch, and three to four with mulch.

(Speaking of mulch, it's available in natural wood and rubber forms, both shredded. Rubber lasts considerably longer, but isn't always best for food-bearing plants due to possible chemical contamination.)

You can also use layers of newspaper in the same way as weed blocking fabric. The concern here, like with rubber mulch, is with chemicals leaching into edible plants; many printers use soy-based ink, so there are safe (or at least, safer) alternatives. Newspaper will generally last one season at best.

For plants trying to get into the raised gardens from outside, I use a home-made weed killing spray:

  • 1 gallon of white vinegar
  • 1 cup of table salt
  • 1 tablespoon of liquid dishwashing soap

Mix these ingredients together and put in a sprayer. I use a large pump sprayer, but a simple spray bottle can work as well.

The vinegar and salt both work to dehydrate the plants, and the dish soap both helps them stick and reduces surface tension on the mixture so that it flows better.

For smaller applications, a mixture of one quart of water per two tablespoons of 91% rubbing alcohol sprayed directly on the plant can be effective. It works to kill plants pretty much the same way, by dehydrating them.

For both of these compounds, the best application time is early on a sunny day. Be very careful not to get any inside the garden area, as these concoctions will damage or kill any plant with which it comes in contact!

If you are fighting weeds with deeper roots, one of the simplest methods is just pouring boiling water onto the plant. Use enough to saturate the soil and burn the roots.

Speaking of burning, the classic propane weed burner can also work well. Two things to keep in mind:
  1. The charred remains of burned plants can make for excellent fertilizer, nourishing any follow-on plants, so quick follow-up will be necessary to prevent rapid regrowth.
  2. Never, ever, ever use this method on something like poison ivy. The itching and blistering on our skin is bad enough; it's much worse if it gets into our lungs.

Hopefully, these options will help the gardeners among our readers keep those pesky weeds at bay without risking their health or the health of their produce.

Good luck, and good harvest.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

The Boy's Axe

Sometimes it's great to be a boy... or at least, it's great to use their tools.

Recently I was cruising through a hardware store, getting parts for a work project, when I stumbled across a most curious tool. It was a compact axe, and it was so striking that I had to bring it home with me.

Before I say much more about my new axe, allow me to set up the hole that it fills. In my life, I've encountered 3 common axe-type objects: the hatchet, the full-size axe, and the splitting maul. All three are great for certain tasks, but have weaknesses that are very limiting. 
  • Hatchets are light and easy to carry, but their light weight and short handle leave them lacking in actual chopping power.
  • Splitting mauls are the exact opposite, with heavy heads and long handles. They hit like sledgehammers, but packing 6-10 pounds of maul isn't anyone's idea of a good time. They're also useless for tasks like felling trees or cutting downed timber to length. That big head which splits firewood like a dream makes them very difficult to control in anything but a straight downward swing. 
  • The full-size axe is a decent middle ground between the two, but it's still a bit heavy to carry in a pack, and the full-length handle is a bit cumbersome to pack around as well.
Enter the Boy's Axe, so named because it's an axe suited for young men to use. With a 2-2.5 pound head and 24-28 inch handle, it's about half the weight of a standard axe, and about 10 inches shorter. Its compact form factor is still a foot longer than a hatchet, with roughly twice the head weight, which means it hits far harder than the hatchet while being much easier to carry than its full-size brother. The longer handle also allows for (almost demands) 2 handed use, granting even more control and power than the hatchet can muster.

As with most tools, prices vary from "the cost of a decent meal" to "I'll never financially recover from this." And as with most tools, you get what you pay for (to a point), but buying the most expensive one isn't going to garner much of an advantage. 

If you're buying online, find one that has a substantial number of reviews with a consistently high rating, like the unit linked. If you find one locally, handle it a bit; the handle should be comfortable to hold, with no burrs or snags, and move easily in your hand. The head should have a decent edge, be firmly affixed to the handle, and have some kind of finish on it to minimize rust and corrosion.

If you do pick one up, have fun hitting and splitting.


Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Stop! Wrong Cartridge!

Back in November of 2021 had two different posts where I talked about how certain chamberings could fire multiple different cartridges safely. I stressed that this isn't always the case, however, and that care must be taken to stay on the safe side of cartridge combinations.

A friend recently shared an experience he  had at the range. A few benches over from him, some guys were shooting a very nice Weatherby rifle, and as is common on the gun range, he went over to chat. While there, he noticed their ejected brass looked odd. After a short conversation, he found out that while the rifle was chambered in .300 Weatherby Magnum, they were firing .300 Winchester Magnum.

As they told him, .300 Winchester Magnum was cheaper and easier to find, and it worked just fine in their rifle. With their permission he collected a couple of pieces of their fired brass. Later he sent me one of those fired cases, along with both .300 Weatherby Magnum and .300 Winchester magnum cases that had been fired in the correct rifles.

L-R: .300 Winchester Magnum; 
.300 Winchester Magnum fired in .300 Weatherby Magnum; 
.300 Weatherby Magnum

As can be seen, the cartridge fired in the wrong chamber has had its shoulder pushed forward, leaving a very short neck. If done intentionally, this is called fire forming and is part of the cartridge conversion process. In this situation, it was done out of false economy. While they saved some money on the ammunition, it was at risk of damaging or destroying a very expensive rifle:
  • For example, the unsupported case of the shorter cartridge could have separated and lodged in the end of the chamber or further down the barrel, and the next round fired would have hit that obstruction; the ring just behind the shoulder on the middle casing may be a sign of incipient case separation. 
  • Another possibility is the bullet of a fired round could hit the front of the chamber off-center, also potentially leading to an obstructed barrel.
  • Even if these events don't happen, if a number of the shorter rounds are fired they will cause a buildup of carbon and other combustion residue at the end of the chamber. If left in place, this can cause damage to the neck of the chamber.
  • Furthermore, if the correct ammunition is fired without the rifle being thoroughly cleaned beforehand, this ring of buildup can cause problems with extraction. Anyone who has experienced firing some rounds of .357 Magnum after a few cylinders of .38 Special is familiar with this experience.

.308 Winchester fired in .30-06 Springfield, 

Due to the difference in overall case length, the middle .308 Winchester cartridge has been transformed into practically a straight-wall case with the neck blown almost all the way out. Looking closely, there's a slight curl at the very end of the case where the shoulder of the .30-06 Springfield cartridge would start; in fact, it looks almost like an all-brass, rimless .410 shotgun shell.

There are other examples of this concept, such as .40 Smith & Wesson or .357 SIG in a 10mm chamber, that aren't generally dangerous but can still cause problems. Of course, there are also potentially disastrous combinations, such as .30-06 Springfield in a .270 Winchester, .300 Blackout in a .223 Remington, .40 Smith & Wesson in a .357 SIG, and others. While these combinations shouldn't always be able to chamber, it has been known to happen, with the result usually being damage to the firearm and, all too often, to the shooter as well.

More details on these cartridges and many others can be found on the SAAMI (Sporting Arms & Ammunition Manufacturers Institute) website.

Always make sure that the ammunition being used is correct for the firearm. There's no need to take unnecessary chances in life; the necessary ones are bad enough.

The Fine Print

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