New Brake Shoes

Recently I felt the brakes on my 2004 Toyota Tundra were not as effective as they should be, especially with sudden stops. I took off one rear wheel and one front wheel to check how worn they were.

Now this vehicle has disc brakes with pads in the front and drum brakes with shoes in the back. The brake pads in the front looked like they had quite a bit of life in them yet, but the brake shoes in the back had seen better days.

I have changed a lot of brake pads, but I had never changed brake shoes. I briefly considered taking it to a repair shop which would have cost between $135 and $150. I decided to tackle the job viewing it as a learning opportunity.

I made a trip to a local auto parts store for a new set of brakes shoes for $29, a hardware kit for $12, a specialized tool for the brake springs for $13 (top tool in picture below), and another specialized tool for retaining spring washer for $8 (bottom tool).


The hardware kit (springs, washers, etc.) was not absolutely necessary. However, as long as I was going to the work of replacing the brake shoes I felt it was worth doing the new hardware too. I probably could have gotten along without these tools as well, but the proper tool sure does make the job go more smoothly.

It took considerable effort to get the first drum off the pickup. I later learned there are threaded holes in the drum you can turn bolts into to push the drum off and remove it. As I was trying to assemble everything it became quite clear I should have paid more attention before removing the old parts or at least taken a picture. I decided to use my a jack stand on one side and take the other side off to figure out what I needed to know.


It took me about an hour to get things taken apart and put back together on the first wheel. As is usually the case the second one only took about 20 minutes since I had a little better idea what I was doing. I then just needed to adjust the spread on the shoes so they would make quick contact with the drum.


I did not end up saving that much money on this endeavor, about $75. Despite that, I learned something new, I have a couple tools I can use down the road, and I did not have to hassle with leaving my vehicle at the shop for a day to pay to have the work done. Those things are worth it to me. And I just enjoy working with my hands too.

Topdressing Lawn with Compost

The grass in some areas of my lawn is not as healthy as it could be. Not surprisingly, those are the same areas where the weeds seem to thrive. I have tried Scotts Weed & Feed with little to no effect. Perhaps I did not apply it at the right time or at the proper rate of application.

A few years ago I decided to spread a thin layer of compost in a section where the grass was thin and the dandelions were thick. I have the benefit of our local landfill making compost of available to homeowners free of charge. I also overseeded that area. The results were dramatic. I have done a couple of pickup loads each year since.

On my most recent trip to the landfill to get compost I went back over the scale after I had my load. I am a poor judge of how much things in large quantity weigh. I guessed I had 1,200 to 1,500 pounds. I had 2,400 pounds!


One pickup load takes me 5 hours of work. The landfill is about 30 minutes from my house, so that is one hour. It takes me an hour to load, an hour to unload, an hour and half to spread, and 30 minutes to overseed.



The section on the left in the picture below is from the first load of compost I hauled two weeks ago. The section on the right is from one week ago.


I recently learned this process is called topdressing. I am happy with the results and I will definitely keep doing it, maybe even one more load this season.



Tale of the Tape

Due to some sort of flaw in my stride I frequently clip the inside edges of my shoes when I run. Over time holes develop and grow while the rest of the shoes are in good condition. This has happened numerous times on different brands so I know it is me, not the shoes.


I have put duct tape on the holes after they show up to prolong the useful life of the shoes. I have even used duct tape preemptively where I am prone to wear holes before they form. Whether before or after, the duct tape begins to peel leaving a sticky and grimy residue. I have often wished there was some sort of tape-like material I could use which would be more effective.

I think I finally found it. Enter Tenacious Tape by Gear Aid. This stuff stretches. It can be used on fabric, vinyl, inflatables, metal and plastic. It is tear and peel resistant, stays flexible in the cold and can be washed. As you might expect it is a bit expensive at $6.95 for two 3″ x 5″ pieces. However, if it can do what it claims it will be worth it.


I have had it on my current pair of running shoes for about six weeks. I have run in snowy and muddy conditions (not at the same time) and it seems to be holding up with no evidence of peeling.


The website where I found the Tenacious Tape has all sorts of products to fix various materials such as GORE-TEX®, neoprene and mesh in their Care & Repair section. I have a feeling I may be ordering more items from them.

Laptop Platform v. 2.0

Last week my team at work shuffled cubicles. In the process I gained an extra shelf. I had noticed recently a few people in the office had stand-up desks the benefits of which are apparently debatable. I still wanted to give it a try.

Now I did not want my desk permanently elevated so that I had to stand all of the time. I realize there are desks and platforms available such as VARIDESK whose height is adjustable. However, I don’t have a pressing medical condition to warrant such an accommodation. Plus, why pass up a perfectly good opportunity to build something.

It was time to re-engineer the Laptop Treadmill Desk. This design would be much simpler since there was no need for it to be adjustable for different people. The shelf is a bit high and a further reach than I felt would be comfortable. I thought by bringing the laptop forward with the keyboard at a downward angle both of those issues would be resolved. I took a few measurements and drew up my plan.


I wasn’t sure exactly what materials I was going to use to build this platform, but I was pretty sure I could find something among what I already had. A few years ago I had picked up some veneered MDF at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and this was the perfect project for it. I used two 2 x 4s cut at an angel to serve as the base of the platform. Two separate pieces of MDF went on each plane.

I put two extra 2 x 4s perpendicular to the first two toward the back to provide some extra weight and keep it from tipping forward. I then added a strip of wood at the back of the platform on the bottom edge to keep it from sliding forward on the shelf. Finally, I secured a strip of MDF at the front on the bottom edge to ensure the laptop would not slide and fall.

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I think it turned out quite well. It is sturdy. The platform is heavy enough it does not move around and the laptop’s rubber feet along with the strip at the front edge keep it securely in place too. I have used it about an hour each day and so far so good.


All Decked Out

Our deck was in dire need of refinishing and some refurbishing to make it more sturdy. It had been painted, and the paint was peeling quite badly in some areas. The stairs which led down to the lowest point of our walkout basement were long (13 steps) and shaky. The plan was to move the stairs to the other side of the deck which would only require 6 steps.

I rented a 12″ x 18″ sander with 20 grit paper to use on the floor of the deck for $110 for a weekend. I know 20 grit sounds extreme, but that is what it took get the paint off. I had an orbital sander and borrowed a belt sander to use on the other surfaces.

The balusters were too close to sand in between so I was removing every other one. After doing that a number of times I determined it would be easier in the long run to just remove all of them to sand them.

As I mentioned before, one of my objectives was to relocate the stairs. I had planned on using cedar for any new wood, but cedar for the stair stringers would have cost $100 and I would have to cut them. I was able buy them in treated pine pre-cut for $45.

Previously the stairs landed on a cement slab. I needed something for the new stringers to rest on in their new location. I dug in three landscape blocks putting them on a base of gravel to serve as the new landing.


The instability of the deck was due to three factors. The first was rotten wood and rusting screws we were finding. I thought I would be able to reuse portions of the stairs, but they so rotted out there was nothing salvageable. I found screws with a severe amount of rust and corrosion and ended up replacing 5 floor boards.

The second factor was loose bolts connecting the deck to the support posts. Tightening them up made a huge difference.

The last reason for the instability was lack of structure for the railing other than the balusters themselves. I decided to use 4x4s and cut a quarter out of them using my Kreg Rip-Cut jig to either fit in the corners (at the top of the stairs) or around the corners.

With the rails and corners providing the structure I was able to start reattaching the balusters. I wanted to get them as evenly spaced as possible while maintaining about four inch spacing. This proved challenging because the balusters were not all the same width. I finally figured out measuring from the leading edge of the baluster I just installed to the leading edge of the next one would eliminate the variability of the width of the baluster. By the time I got around to the last side of the deck I marked out the location for each baluster on the whole side which made for more efficient installation.


When I was reassembling the top rail I thought I need to use a stronger joint at the corners than the standard butt joint which had been previously used. There are many possibilities for the type of joint to use each having their advantages and disadvantages. I decided to use a corner lap joint which I think turned out pretty well.


Finishing out the rail with the top ledge board required some patience to get the mitered corners right. We had considered painting it, but changed our minds and got some ARBORCOAT stain from our local Benjamin Moore paint store. Before putting it on we decided to just let it weather naturally and returned the stain.

We spent about $625 in materials and the sander rental. I think it would have cost upwards of $2,000 to have hired someone to do this. What started out as a project I thought would take a couple of weekends and a few evenings ending up taking two months of weekends and evenings. We are happy with how it turned out in that we now have a rock solid deck and saved some money.


Bad Ignition Coil

This morning on my way to drop my son off at school it seemed that my 2004 Toyota Tundra just wasn’t running right. It felt and sounded off. I thought maybe I hadn’t allowed the engine to warm up enough. After all, it was a few degrees below zero.

I had driven 5 miles and my check engine light (CEL) started flashing. I had never seen that before, so I decided to go back home instead of continuing to work as planned. I hooked up my code reader which yielded “P-0302 Cylinder #2 Misfire.” It may not be universal, but my limited online research suggests a flashing CEL indicates an engine misfire on more vehicles than just my Tundra.

I quickly found a YouTube video that identified which cylinder was #2 on my vehicle and three possible causes for the misfire…

  1. Spark plug
  2. Valve issue (yikes!)
  3. Ignition coil

I had replaced the spark plugs 9 months ago and I didn’t want to even think about what a valve problem would involve. I checked the plug anyway and made sure there weren’t any loose connections. The issue persisted. So I went about tracking down an ignition coil. I checked Amazon and they had plenty, but seemed too cheap at about $20 and did not have good reviews. A local auto parts store had one in stock for $75.


I installed it after work in about 5 minutes and went out for a test drive. No more flashing CEL. Now the question is should I proactively replace the other seven?

Replacing a Toilet Fill Valve

The cold water supply in the bathroom in my finished basement has always been an issue. If I would turn on the cold water at the sink, there would be adequate pressure for a few seconds and then it would diminish to nothing. The toilet would flush fine, but the tank would not refill. The hot water was fine in the shower and the sink.

I decided to do a little troubleshooting to see if I could figure out the source of the problem without having to open up the wall. I turned the water supply off to the toilet and disconnected the supply line. I directed the supply line into a bucket and slowly tuned the water back on, and the pressure was strong. The only option remaining was the fill valve in the toilet must have a problem and needed to be replaced.

I went to my local home center and found far too many 528z_inoptions. I ended up getting a Korky WaterWI$E Fill Valve for $12. You can find numerous other options at that site depending on your needs.

I was able to install it in about 30 minutes, and the toilet works as expected. In retrospect I always wonder why I didn’t investigate and pursue this simple repair sooner. Since there were problems with the water supply to both the faucet and the toilet, I was convinced the problem was in the wall and I did not want to tackle that.

Now the cold water still doesn’t work as it should at the sink. I suspect I need to replace the faucet or take it apart and see if there is any blockage if I am feeling ambitious.

I should have done some research before going to the store, but it was Sunday afternoon and I just wanted to get it done. As I have looked around at toilet fill valves online, I now see the brand I bought doesn’t have great reviews. If it fails, I’ll go with a Fluidmaster.