Wonky Wheels

The last few times I have mowed my lawn it seemed my right front tire was just too close to the mower deck. And it looked like the front tires were out of alignment. Sharp turns on grass were not normal, but doable. However, when I executed a sharp turn on asphalt I knew I needed to figure out the source of the issue.

I found plenty of YouTube videos about adjusting steering linkage, but my mower’s steering linkage does not have any adjustment to it. I did find a forum post suggesting that maybe the welded front axle was cracked which made sense given the symptoms I had. Upon further inspection I could see the right side was ever so slightly tipped forward which caused that wheel to run further back and tilted outward.

A few days later my new front axle from Amazon arrived. It was somewhat challenging to replace since I had to remove the muffler in order to back out the bolt holding the axle in place.

It was definitely cracked.

I am not sure if I had hit a hole or this is just wear and tear. This mower is eight years old and it has had some rough use. Or it could be my 14 year-old turning at full throttle. In any case both wheels are now heading in the same direction and no more rubbing on the mower deck when I turn.


Smoother Roads Ahead

The ride on our 2005 Honda Pilot had been getting progressively rougher. That is not surprising considering the 225,000 miles it has traveled. When we purchased it 5 years ago it had 129,750 miles. Perhaps the shocks and struts had been replaced before, but in any case it was time to do it again. I opted for the pre-assembled shock and strut for the front so I wouldn’t have to deal with compressing the spring.

Removing the old strut assembly was not too difficult. Just three bolts on the top through the access holes. I did need help installing the new one because it is heavy and I could not reach around the top to get the nuts started by myself.

I also replaced the front stabilizer links because I could not get one of them off the existing strut. The effort to replace the rear shocks was minimal since the are pretty easy to get to and only involve two bolts each.

As I was working on the front end, I noticed one of the ball joints moved more easily than I thought it should. So I ordered a set of front lower control arms with the integrated ball joint.

They were not too bad to remove, but getting all of the bolt holes lined up on the first one was very challenging. On the second one I put the bolt in the hole I had the toughest time with first and that went much better.

Unfortunately, this is not where this story ends. I took the vehicle out for a test drive after getting everything put back together. I made it about a mile from home when it just did not want to go anymore. Shifting into “Park” caused horrible grinding noises. I was able to go about another 1/4 mile before I could go no more. I pulled over as far to the side of the road I could get, turned the engine off before putting it “Park”, and put the hazard lights on.

I had left my cell phone in the garage because why would I need that. And of course I had finished this job at about 11:30 pm so I had a nice walk back home in the dark.

We considered towing it home, but instead my wife, two oldest sons, and I went back and got it pushed a little further off the road. Upon further inspection it looked like it had lost all the transmission fluid. As we went home we could see the trail all the way back to within 100 feet of our driveway.

I called a tow truck company right away in the morning and had it taken to our local car repair shop. Their diagnosis was as I worked on changing out the lower control arm I had dislodged the CV axle allowing a significant amount of transmission fluid (they put three quarts back in) to leak out.

One of the boots on that axle was broken so I had them replace that. In addition I had twisted off one wheel stud. Replacement of that also required replacement of the wheel bearing. Certainly I could have done those repairs myself as well, but I did not really have the time and frugality fatigue on this project had set in pretty hard.

I suppose if I had the shop do the shocks and struts I would not have had this problem and could have avoided the tow charge. However, that would have cost me more that the $450 I spent on the parts. As for the broken wheel stud; I am not sure what to think about that. I might need to get a torque wrench. Any recommendations?

New Pickup Bumper

Over the last few years a hole has been rusting its way through the left side of the rear bumper of my 2004 Toyota Tundra. It had grown to about 5 inches tall and 10 inches wide. Over the winter another smaller hole had started corroding through on the other side.

There is no fixing an issue like this so I did my research and ordered a new bumper assembly from eBay for $233. I had considered getting one from a junkyard, but I expected it would have jump start on the rust that was the cause of my problem.

My bumper was attached to the frame with heavy duty hitch. Ideally, I would have left that alone and just removed the bumper face replacing it with the new one. Things did not work out that way.

There were 10 bolts attaching the bumper face to the hitch. I was able to only remove three of them intact. I twisted the heads off five of them and had to cut the heads off the other two with my Dremel.

Now I had seven threaded bolt holes each with a rusty bolt stuck in them. I was able to drill through each of them, but i still did not have the old bolts out. Off to the hardware store. I picked up both a straight flute screw extractor and a spiral screw extractor. Neither of those worked.

I decided my only option was to remove the heavy duty hitch. That meant removing six rusty bolts on each side which were all an inch longer than they needed to be. Those 12 bolts alone took about two hours to remove.

Once I had the old hardware removed it was pretty easy to put the new bumper on. I am not going to be able to pull any heavy loads, but the reality was I never did anyway.

I estimated this job would take me 4 to 6 hours. It ended up taking about 10 hours, but that included two trips to the hardware store. It was pretty physically demanding. Not quite as bad as putting new CV axles on our 2003 Audi A6, but close.

Drywall Patch

A few months ago some friends who shall remain anonymous were staying with us. Somehow the towel bar in the guest bathroom tragically got pulled out of the wall.

Repairing drywall holes really is not that big a deal given the right tools and supplies. We had wanted to repaint this bathroom anyway.

First you need some drywall compound and piece of drywall of the same thickness large enough to fill the void. Now there likely is more than one way to do this, but this repair kit makes it easy.

Here is each step of the repair with a corresponding photo in the slideshow below…

  1. Cut rectangular hole for a simpler patch. I used a rotary saw, but utility knife would work too.
  2. Fit the clips from the repair kit to the wall.
  3. Attach the drywall patch piece to the the clips.
  4. Snap off the protruding portions of the clips.
  5. Mix up some drywall compound and apply according the directions.
  6. Sand it smooth.
  7. Spray on some texture from an aerosol can.
  8. Paint.
  9. We opted for hooks secured to studs instead of a towel bar.

They will be back in a few months to test out the new hooks. 😉

Middle Mouse Button Gone Missing

As with many things in life you do not realize how much you rely on something until it is gone. And so it is with my middle mouse button. Almost all mice have a scroll wheel that also serves as a button if you click it. In most web browsers that middle button click will open a link in a new tab or close a tab.

We have been using Logitech M325 wireless mouse at home for a number of years with no issues until a few weeks ago. It was as if my middle button click had died.

 I made sure I had the latest driver. I dug through the settings in Logitech’s SetPoint software. Nothing. I finally settled on installing the Right Click Opens Link New Tab Correct Order Chrome extension. There is one for Firefox too. That worked alright, but then I could not access the context menu for any links because my right-click event was being intercepted and opening a new tab instead.

I had been using a Logitech M510 wireless mouse at work for about 18 months with no issues until a few days ago. You guessed it, the middle button click was no longer working. I needed revisited my earlier solution with the mouse at home. There had to be a better way.

I found all sorts of information addressing this issue from a software settings perspective. However, I had a hunch that this was a mechanical issue and the button was just worn out. This Mouse Event Test Page help me confirm when clicking the wheel (on both mice) was not registering an event so there was no action to take.

I knew I could redefine the functionality of the mouse button with SetPoint, but I did not initially know exactly what I needed to do. I decide I could live without the “Back” function of the left-tilt of the mouse wheel. Instead I set it to behave as the “Middle Button” and just like that I was back to opening links in new tabs.

Fireplace Refresh

The green faux marble tile around our fireplace was in dire need of an update. We had put it off because we were not sure exactly what we wanted and the fireplace did not work.

On cold weekend last February we decided it was time to figure this out so we started demolition even though we had not fully decided what we wanted in its place. We knew wanted a different mantle so I was not careful in dismantling it. While things were torn apart I thought it was a good time to get the fireplace fixed. I contacted Zoom Fix and for less than $300 we got a thorough cleaned and working fireplace.

We went shopping for tile at a few local home improvement stores and found some we liked well enough, but none really stood out. Next we ventured to a flooring store which had many more options. We saw some 3″ hexagon Carrara marble that grabbed our attention as did the price. Either we needed to adjust our expectations or our budget. We headed home to think it over.

I assumed that buying tile online would be prohibitive due to the shipping costs. However, we were able to find the same tile (or close enough) for significantly less than at the flooring store. And more importantly within our budget. We ordered samples from two different companies and decided to go with these.

For the mantle we settled on a floating mantle shelf and ordered this one from Hayneedle. That seemed like a good idea until it arrived. Damaged.

It simply did not have enough protective packaging. We contacted their customer service and sent it back. A replacement arrived within about 10 days. Also damaged due to not enough protective packaging. I would expect a company sells and ships heavier items would have this perfected. Not Hayneedle. We sent it back again and this time requested a refund. It was time to build my own mantle.

I was able to find some furniture grade 1″ x 8″ x 8′ mahogany boards on sale. Along with other necessary supplies the total cost was about $80 (just over $100 less than the mantle from Hayneedle).

I used a table saw to set the edge for rabbet joint where the top and bottom meet the front and sides. I then removed the excess with a straight cut bit in my router. I cut the miter joint where the front meets the sides with my compound miter saw. I glued and clamped it all together using a few brad nails to hold things in place while the glue set up.

I ripped a 2″ x 6″ to the proper width to serve as a ledger board and mounted it to the wall with 4″ lag screws into the studs. The final step for the mantel was to secure it to the ledger board. I drilled three pilot holes for screws on the top and on the bottom to prevent splitting the mantle since these holes were relatively close to the edge. I used brass or gold colored screws to make them less noticeable. I was a little concerned with how solid this would be. Not to worry. It is sturdy!

Finally, we were ready for the tile. I had never installed tile before. And of course, we chose these complicated hexagon tiles.

We got busy with other projects and activities and kept putting off installing the tile. I finally got around to buying/borrowing the needed tools and supplies and we were ready. I found this really helpful blog post on HOW TO INSTALL A MARBLE HEXAGON TILE BACKSPLASH. However, as I thought through all the cuts I would need to make I began to have second thoughts about doing this myself. When my wife suggested we contact a tile contractor a friend had just used I immediately agreed.

I gave the recommended contractor a call on a Saturday. We traded a few texts and on Monday morning he called to say he had a cancellation and could come later that morning. We agreed on a price for the job on the phone. I talked to my boss about switching some time off I already had scheduled and headed home. Four hours later the tile was set.

About 10 days later the contractor came back to grout the tile which took less than an hour. While I had intended to do this project entirely on my own I am so glad we hired this done. There were numerous things he knew to do from experience such as laying the tiles on the floor first to get the proper spacing from the fireplace. Hiring a professional led to significantly less stress and marital tension. And an outstanding result!

A Shade Too Big

We have not had any sort of permanent window covering on our southwest facing kitchen sink window since we had moved into our current house 6.5 years ago. When the sun got to be too much of an issue my wife hung a small tablecloth over a spring-loaded curtain rod and that was good enough.

It seemed there was always something higher on the budget priority list. A few weeks ago we decided to go look at our local home improvement store to see what they had to offer. We weren’t finding anything that we liked from both an aesthetic and cost perspective. We were about to leave when we saw some bamboo roll-up shades on clearance for about $25. Not exactly the look we wanted, but the price made up for it.

Unfortunately, they did not have the width we needed and this was not the type of shade they would cut to length. However, I could cut it with my compound miter saw. For $20 we decided to take a chance.

I wrapped the shade in masking tape in an attempt to limit splintering. I did get some, but nothing too serious. We like how it turned out.